7:00 AM

Book Review - The Peace Corpse: Misadventures in Love and Africa

Today's Q. & A. is something a little different for me, a memoir! It's about author Andy Christofferson's two year journey in Tanzania, Africa volunteering with the Peace Corps.

Amazon Synopsis/Description:
 I may very well be the only Peace Corps Volunteer in the history of the organization to sincerely, foolishly, and romantically propose marriage to a local girl...and have her say no.

In addition to my failed romance, I taught advanced chemistry at an all-girls school, kayaked my way into Zimbabwe, and learned just how little water a human being can survive on. I also once woke up completely covered with ants.

My goal with this work is to give a very raw, straightforward, analytical - but also humorous - picture of both what a typical Peace Corps experience is like, as well as offer some insight into the current conditions of life in East Africa, going beyond the superficial mentality of "look at the stupid things those crazy Africans do" and trying to explain why they do the things that to us, from our Western perspective, seem strange. Because there is a reason.

Personal reaction:
 The Peace Corpse: Misadventures in Love and Africa was a really interesting read about a Montana boy's journey to Tanzania for a 2 yr stint with the Peace Corps. Honest, interesting, educational and entertaining. Written in a familiar conversational style. Although the book was largely written after his "tour" was over, original emails that were sent to friends and family at the time pepper the book to lend authenticity along with amusing quotes from the author and others he met on his journey.

If you've ever been curious as to what goes on the Peace Corps, this memoir gives the reader a good, detailed idea of one man's journey.


Q:  Is this the first book you’ve written?
Technically no. That would be a high fantasy novella I wrote when I was 16—which of course has not been read by anyone but me. This is, however, the first book I’ve written that I’ve been foolish and egotistical enough to put out there for other people to see.

Q:  What prompted you to write about this experience?
Ants. Also, there are a lot of misconceptions out there about both the Peace Corps and about Africa in general. My goal with this book was to help people understand more about the nature of the organization and the experience a Volunteer goes through during their service. In addition I wanted to explain a little about the culture of East Africa and try and look at the reasons people did things that to us often seemed illogical or counterintuitive.
But I use lots of humor to keep it interesting.

Q:  It was a very honest retelling. Did you ever consider leaving out some of the more…embarrassing parts?
No, not really. One thing I observed in Tanzania was that so many problems were caused by secrecy, by people who withheld or covered up the truth. It bothered me a lot, and it seemed to me that I would be defeating the purpose of everything I was trying to do if I withheld information or left anything out. Also, I apparently have no shame.

Q:  What’s the one thing you want your readers to come away with after reading your memoir?
A greater understanding of the problems facing Africa. The entire continent is going to be dealing with complicated issues for many years to come, and as much as I love to joke around, this is something I do take seriously. I don’t think trying to look at the problem from a solely Western perspective is going to give us the answers we need, and if I can do even a little to help people see things from an African angle, I can feel like I’ve accomplished something.

Q:  If you could have changed any one thing about your experience in Tanzania, what would it have been?
If I said that here I’d be giving too much away. So I’ll settle for the number two choice: getting dysentery.

Q:  What prompted you to make the “Stan” character?
Everything that “Stan” says or does in the book was said or done by a real person, but it seemed needlessly distracting to introduce each one as an individual if they had no further role in the narrative. Thus “Stan” is a “stand-in” for all the people who crossed my path, said or did one or two funny or interesting things, then went on their way.

Q: Who are your writing influences?
Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, and Jose Cuervo. For humor I look to Dave Barry, Patrick F. McManus, and Scott Adams, but for more serious stuff Hemingway, D.H. Lawrence, and Somerset Maugham.

Q: Did you read a lot of other memoirs before deciding to write your own?
No, should I have? Well, yeah, I guess I probably should’ve. To be honest I never intended to write a memoir when I started out, but I wanted to include some events that really occurred and I realized that unless I specifically stated that it was non-fiction, some of the things that actually happened to me would just seem contrived and poor plotting if they were to appear in a work of fiction by a novice writer.

Q: What can we expect from you next?
Peace Corpse: The Musical. I’m also releasing a collection of short stories in the beginning of August, entitled Bits of Paper—which is kind of ironic since it’s an ebook.

Q.  Where can fans contact you and where can they purchase the book?
I would love to be contacted through my fake publishing company, Videlicet Productions, because that page could use some more hits. The book is available as an ebook or paperback through Amazon, and in a variety of electronic formats at Smashwords. I also have a blog specifically dedicated to the book, with lot of pictures and funny quotes, here.

Q: Lastly, for fun, if they made a movie out of The Peace Corpse, who would you want to play you and why?
Orlando Bloom. Not just for the uncanny likeness, but also because they’d have to use expensive CGI to make him look 22 years old, virtually guaranteeing that the movie wouldn’t be a financial success. Then, 30 years from now, future hipsters can talk about Peace Corpse: The Movie as the greatest underrated film of all time, “but you probably haven’t heard of it.”

7:00 AM

What prompts you to buy an ebook?

Being that I am most likely going to be self publishing some of my work, I'm curious as to what draws a reader to a specific ebook.

Is it recommendations from others? Flipping through Goodreads or posts by book bloggers? Personally, recommendations hold a lot of weight for me. Especially when I know the person enjoys similar books as I do.

How much do the covers fit into your decision? When I browse in a store, it's definitely the jacket/cover that catch my eye and make me want to pick it up. With cover images for ebooks being a thumbnail, they definitely don't catch my attention as much. If I do click on it and find that the cover art is obviously not professional, I admit it could turn me off. (yeah yeah I know, don't judge a book by its cover)

What about price? With so many people self publishing these days, there are tons of books out there ranging between $0.99 cents and $3.99. Are you willing to take a chance on those more unknown authors because of the cost or do you see $0.99 cents and automatically think "Oh...self published, I bet it hasn't been edited and isn't any good"? Be honest now. I won't get mad. I'm just honestly curious as to what goes through people's heads. Since we're being honest, I'll say that the $0.99 cent ones will give me pause, especially if there are no reviews accompanying it. If the synopsis is intriguing enough, I'll pick it up. After all, even though I've gotten some "bad" books for a buck, I haven't gotten anything totally awful and it helps me look for things not to do in my own work.

Is it the self promotion that piques your interest? Reading an excerpt on a blog or seeing the author tweet about it? Does it annoy you to see someone tweet constantly about their books for sale? How much is too much? If the author is running contests for a free copy or swag, will that prompt you to check it out even if you don't win?

So faithful readers and fellow writers, educate me. What makes you stop and hit that 1-click button or whatever you use to purchase your ebooks? Have I missed something here? What will draw you to my work when it's available?

7:00 AM

How to be a good beta reader

If you're an author and have other writing friends, chances are you'll be asked to do beta reading for some of them. I have to admit, it's pretty cool to be one of the first people to read someone's work. It's kind of brag worthy, ya know? Especially when that person becomes all famous! Heh

In my opinion, there are two kinds of beta readers. The first type is someone who strictly reads the story. They let the author know about things like plot holes, unanswered questions and unbelievable dialog. Two dimensional characters and other continuity problems are something else readers can inform the author of and of course whether or not they enjoyed the story.

The second kind of beta reader does a little more in depth  job.  This tends to be the kind of beta reading I do. I will take their manuscript into word and put on the track changes and comments features. As I read, I'll make changes or suggestions on word order, whether or not dialog tags are needed and if things make sense, along with the other things a reader would point out (stated in the paragraph above).  For example, I recently read the first eight chapters of a friend's work in progress. It was a great story so far, but it's written in first person and her main character is blind. I went through and made comments in spots where the main character wouldn't know certain things because he can't see.  This way obviously takes more time and a closer look into the manuscript, which brings me to the next point.

If you offer to be someone's beta reader, find out what kind of timeline they are looking for. If you know you're going to be very busy with other projects, don't offer to read unless they don't care when it comes back to them. While I'm sure they understand these things take time, they also have to know when they're going to be able to move ahead with the project and possibly make changes based on your suggestions and comments.

Above all, be honest with your author. If the opening line doesn't catch your attention, say so.  If the formatting is funky, making it hard to read, let them know.  Perhaps a chapter would work better if it was moved to a different part of the story. Maybe there's a character who doesn't seem to work well with the plot. It may not be easy to let someone know their writing needs a little polishing, but they will more than likely thank you in the long run.

Finally, remember being a beta reader isn't just about finding "problems". Let the author know what you did like as well! I love to leave little comments about comical lines and things that made my eyes go wide ("People don't eat horseys!"). They want to know if you enjoyed the story and I think the little comments help them know if they've hit the mark they were hoping to. As someone who writes humor, I'm always worried readers won't get my jokes. It's nice to see when they do!

It may seem like a daunting task to be someone's beta reader, but think about the great service you're providing them with and that you get to read the story before the masses.  You can further help the author by rating and reviewing their book later on Amazon and Goodreads before it's available to the public, which will help generate interest in their work.

Happy beta reading!

7:00 AM

Paying it forward - part two

I heard a lot of good feedback from last week's post about paying it forward and decided to add a second post to continue to  help you help others while also building up that good karma reserve.  This is something that both writers and readers can and should be doing.  It's the review.

For those of you who have been following for a while, you know I don't write a typical review. I believe the synopsis is there to let prospective readers know what the book is about. The review should let others know what you thought of the book. Did you like it? Why? Did you want to throw it across the room? How come? (but be careful not to give away important plot info!) Was it a familiar story? Were the characters believable? etc.

It's a very nice gesture for you, as a fellow writer or reader, to put these reviews on your blog and then promote the blog, but be sure to also go to places like Amazon and Goodreads and rate the book there as well.  This is especially helpful for the self published authors who probably don't have a print book available in stores.

Now, some of you might be scratching your head asking "Goodreads? What the heck is Goodreads and why bother rating a book there?" Goodreads is a community; a social network of writers (both traditionally and self published) and readers.  You can become a fan of and follow your favorite authors and make friends with other readers who have similar tastes in literature as you do. It's a fantastic place for book recommendations and to see when new books in a series or from your favorite author are due out. As you make friends, every time they finish and rate a book, or put a book on their to read shelf, you will get it in a daily email.  This, my friends, is how I find 95% of the books I read. If I see a friend has read something and rated it 4 or 5 stars, it piques my interest and drives me to go see what it's all about. I am more likely to look into it if they write why they gave it such a rating, but sometimes if the stars are there and the title catches my eye, I'll check it out.  I almost always will go to Amazon after checking out the book on Goodreads and read over the reviews there as well.

Here's another thing gang. Your reviews? Be honest with them. While I can't speak for other writers, I would rather have a reader tell me if they truly didn't enjoy the book or didn't like a specific aspect of it. That doesn't mean you have to be nasty about it, but how am I to improve and win you back as a reader if you don't tell me what sucked?  OK, sucked is a strong word that hopefully none of you will ever use towards my writing, but I'm prepared for anything! As stated before, you can't please everyone, so I'm sure there will be unhappy reviews. I would almost prefer bad reviews to no reviews at all...Almost, but not quite. Hey! At least I'm honest about it!

So what's your task going forward? You're going to try and remember to rate and review the books you read, good and bad. Authors will appreciate knowing what you thought and where they might look to improve. Readers will appreciate knowing what others thought before spending their hard earned money on it. You will be doing a lot of people a service and hopefully, if you're an author, they will do the same for you in kind. So get out there and pay it forward some more people! It certainly couldn't hurt.

7:00 AM

Paying it forward

I've discussed before the wonders of Twitter as a social networking site. I've made a lot of friends, both aspiring authors and other people involved in the industry. They are very supportive, giving advice and passing along my Tweets, etc. That's why I'm really making a conscious effort to try and pay it forward.  Twitter makes it easy to help you support your fellow writers.  Here are a few ways you can say thanks to your followers as well as promoting them.

#ww  The hash tag #ww stands for worth watching and also Writer(s) Wednesday. What better a day to share with your followers the Twitter names of some of your fellow writers that are worth watching? It's up to you whether you want to send out one #ww Tweet or several through out the day adding in different names.

#ff The #ff hash tag is very similar to #ww except that it stands for Follow Friday. Because it's not writing specific, you can use it to recommend anyone you follow, but it's a nice way to share with others those you find especially amusing, entertaining or informative.

With both of those hash tags, you can individualize them for people and go into detail on why others should pay attention and/or follow them. For example:

You should #ff @patricialynne07 because she's got an amazing vampire book coming out soon!


It's #ff and you need to follow @shiki_boy because he writes sex scenes that will make smoke come out of your ears!

Besides the hash tags, there's also Retweeting. If you're unfamiliar with the term, it's similar to forwarding an email. There's that special little button on Twitter you hit and it displays the same message with a RE: in front so you can send it out to all your followers allowing more people to see the message.  It could be something funny or profound, or if could be someone's blog post you especially liked or maybe the announcement of their book being available.  You obviously don't have to Retweet everything, but it's a nice way to help people get the word out about events, news, etc.

If you're still looking for ways to say thanks and help other authors, there are several non-Twitter related things you can do. If you run a blog like this one, you can offer to review someone's book.  You can have them guest post or even do little interviews with them. It's highly likely that you do not run in the same exact circles as the other person so you will be helping them to possibly expand their fan base and make new friends.

You can also offer to help if they're looking for beta readers. Then when they're ready to publish, you can leave reviews on Amazon or Goodreads or other places their book is being sold. I think people are more likely to give a book a chance if they see others have read and reviewed it.

Writers seem to be a close knit community and many have gone out of their way to lend me their knowledge or leave me a comment or Retweet my posts, so I'm happy to return the favor and do the same for others, whether or not they have helped me. I think it's good to keep the karma level on the good side. Be sure to thank your friends and fans as well.  Remember what they say, turn about is fair play!

2:03 PM

Wednesday teaser!

Here's a little teaser of a project I've been working on for years, tentatively titled Near Death.

Chris walked into the room looking around for an empty seat. There was only one in the class and it was right next to Sara.  He felt uncomfortable being near her, but had no choice but to sit there.  She smiled when he sat down.

“How nice that we’re in the same class,” she said trying to be friendly.

“How sad of you to be manipulating Gabriel like you are,” he told her bluntly. Her smile momentarily slipped from her face and Chris saw pure hatred in her eyes.

“I don’t know what you’re referring to Chris.” Her smile back in place. “This class is pretty easy but if you need any help please don’t hesitate to ask me.” She was quiet for a couple of minutes, waiting for the teacher to arrive.

“I heard that you and Aya were involved in that big bus accident the other night,” she said casually. “How horrible. Both of you are lucky to be alive.”     

“It wasn’t our time,” he said flatly. “How horrible of you to try and force your time.”

“Force my time? I was simply doing what I had to to survive.” Chris looked at her, disgusted with her attitude.  He shook his head slowly.

“If you’re not careful with your other problem, your time will come sooner than you think,” he said.

“My other problem?” she asked. “I have no other problems.”

“Maybe the fact that you don’t think it’s a problem, is the problem."

She glared at him. If looks could kill, Chris would have been a goner.  He turned away from her and sat quietly, hands folded on the desk awaiting the arrival of the teacher.  He could feel her staring at him with hatred.  He decided the best course of action was to just ignore her and concentrate on the class. After it ended she turned towards him.

“I had heard from Jack why you are here in this world,” she said. “Don’t you want to go back to where you came from? I think I know a way you can go back there.”

“A way? There is no way,” he said.

“Well, if you were sent here because you saved Aya when you shouldn’t have, don’t you think you can go back if you complete the job you kept from happening?” An evil smile lit up her face. Chris stared at her, eyes wide with disbelief.

“You want me to kill Aya?” he asked barely louder than a whisper.

“I don’t want you to do anything Chris,” she said sweetly. “I just thought if you were desperate to get back to where you came from, it was an idea worth considering.” She looked up and noticed Gabe waiting at the door watching them with a strange look on his face.  She flashed him a big smile.

“Sorry to keep you waiting!” she said hugging him when she got near.  Gabe continued to watch Chris from over Sara’s shoulder.  The blonde boy looked pained.  Gabe didn't know they have possibly been discussing.

“Let’s go Gabe,” Sara said to him dragging him away by the arm. She called over her shoulder,

“Bye Chris! Remember what I said. I’d be happy to help you with it too.” She smiled innocently and  bounded off towards her next class with Gabe in tow, looking confused.

6:30 AM

Do you remember the time?

Writing a book is a long process, and I'm not even counting prior research, making time lines or edits.  Most authors can take several months to years to finish a novel (with maybe the exception of the lovely Hannah Moskowitz , who has super human powers to complete writing a novel in the blink of an eye). In that time period, it's not unusual to forget all the little details that went into the beginning of one's work.

As I was doing a read through of Tears of a Clown, I found several mistakes of that nature. Seems like her step mom had a sudden name change half way through the book. Oops. Also, Jazz's car was originally blue. I guess the next time I wrote about her in a car, I decided she was such a spunky kick ass kind of character that she needed something shiny and red! Then there were the two instances where my fingers just betrayed me and typed Chaz's name as Chris. I don't know what brought that on...but I don't think it's unusual to find those little issues. While you may keep your character descriptions, it's impossible to have lists for all the little details you add in. That's what editing is for anyhow, to catch those discrepancies.

Here's the other time related issue I find I'm running into, the actual passage of time and days in my writing. While I could, and should, keep a graph of sorts to remind me of when a day has gone by in storyland, that doesn't help with the actions that happen during that day or night.  I  find myself re-reading things and thinking "Wait...did enough time pass for him to get upstairs, change into those skimpy running shorts and lift enough weights to get that sexy light sheen of sweat going on?" As the author, we know where the story is going and how we want it to get there (most of the time) so I think we sometimes just write and write without stopping to think about things like "did I leave enough time for her to get to her locker and class before the bell?" and "is it safe for him to come to the door so soon after her folks left? Maybe they aren't even half way down the road yet!"

I think we get a little leeway because it is a book, but I wonder if people really do stop and think about that stuff. I mean if it's blatantly impossible, like someone getting from one side of the state to the other during a 5 minute conversation, then yes, I think people will call the author out on that,  but the little stuff? I have a feeling most people will skip over the slight improbability factor. What says you fellow readers and authors?

7:00 AM

My 2 cents on "dark" YA literature

I think many of you who follow this blog have already heard plenty about the article recently posted in the Wall Street Journal called Darkness too Visible in which the author, Meghan Cox Gurdon, talks about how themes in today's YA literature is too dark and depraved for young readers.

Yesterday, the ever outspoken Maureen Johnson, who as an author of 10 YA novels is quite knowledgeable and involved in the genre, and Ms. Gurdon discussed the topic on WHYY radio (click here to listen to the show or here for a quick overview of some of things that were discussed).

I decided I want to share my own experiences from being an avid reader as a child to my opinion on the topic now as an adult, as aspiring YA author, a child caretaker, an aunt and an educator.

As cliche as it may sound, I devoured books as a kid. Yes I read all the "happy" girlie series like the Sweet Valley stuff, Babysitters Club, etc. but by the 6th grade, I moved into adult literature because I was bored by the small collection of children's books (YA didn't exist then to the extent it does today). I read Gone with the Wind and a whooooole lot of Stephen King books. Did I ever have nightmares? No. Did I  have aspirations to kidnap and hold my favorite author/musician/actor captive and have them make their art for me? No. Did the gore and killing bother me? Not in the least. Why? Because my folks did a good job teaching me the difference between fact and fiction.

I didn't have the perfect childhood/adolescence either. Books served as an escape, not a manual on how to live my life. I wish there had been more books aimed at teens back then because maybe I could have found a character to sympathize with to help me get through my issues, but there weren't, so I used them strictly as a get away from my reality.

As an aspiring YA author, I spend the majority of my time reading other YA novels. You can see from my lists of what books I read in a month just how much I still read and that 90% of the titles are in the YA genre. Have I found anything I think is "inappropriate" for teens? No. I will say I've come across several I wouldn't recommend for younger teens, but even those, it depends on the maturity of individual.  If parents are concerned about what their kids are reading, then they ought to read the books first. If you think your child is too impressionable, then find them Middle Grade books to read until they mature, or sit and have discussions with them about how the books they're reading are fiction and that some of the scenarios can happen in real life (if they're reading contemporary novels) and explain to them how they could handle it if it happens in their own life. The topics some of these books touch on, bullying, date rape, depression, etc. they're topics parents should be talking to their kids about in the first place.

Here's the other thing, if YA wasn't around, these kids would be like me and gravitate towards adult works. Why that isn't an awful thing (and many of the avid readers will anyhow) what about those who can't relate to adult characters? What about those who are into movies and video games and need to start reading more? Anne of Green Gables is probably not going to cut it for them and get them interested. They need those stories with a lot of action, some horror, some cussing (let's face it, they all know the words already anyhow) and the darker aspects to catch their attention. Again, I think if parents are discussing important topics with their kids, they won't end up mimicking the characters.

I also think it's important to stress to young readers that fictional books are for entertainment purposes, just like movies and video games. They are not for them to base their lives and actions on. The authors create and control the world and the outcome of the characters. Just because a character in a book is being chased by a bully and gets away by breaking into a condemned building doesn't mean that's how the reader should handle that kind of situation. Just because a character seeks revenge by feeding their enemies prune laced brownies and gets away with it, doesn't mean the reader can do the same and escape persecution from the powers that be.

All in all I think it comes down to parents being involved in their children's lives and knowing what they're reading, watching, listening to. It's about having discussions with them about the "dark" topics. I think it's about teaching children the difference between fact and fiction. Do I think YA today has some dark themes? Yes. Do I think that means kids shouldn't read them? No. Besides, if your kids are anything like I was, the books you tell them not to read are going to be the ones they gravitate towards the most and they will read them without you knowing. I did and I turned out just fine.