Reading Resources Roundup

Here in California, we’re now starting our third week of the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order. It’s rough, and I’m eating WAY too many peanut butter cups and using too much alliteration in my blog post titles. But I know I have it easy compared to some others–I’m looking at you, parents who suddenly find yourselves thrust into the roles of teachers. Who are on around the clock. With no help. While possibly also trying to work another full-time job. I feel for you.

Books are here to help! Reading is not only a great way for kids to bridge the learning gap while they’re out of school, but it might just be a way for parents to buy a few moments of peace and quiet as well. As an educator and writer, I’ve rounded up some great spots where you can get free or discounted books for this moment. I’m touched by all the ways that publishers, authors, and booksellers have shown up to make literacy accessible to all in this time. So sail away with a book from these sources!

  1. Check your library’s website for ebooks and audiobooks you can borrow for free!

2. Audible.com is offering a selection of audiobooks free during this time! The books are grouped for different ages, from preschool through teens, but the list also includes a number of classics that are great listens for any age.

3. Many classic books are available as free Kindle downloads on Amazon.

4. Bookbub.com offers a weekly roundup of ebooks you can get for free or at a steep discount. You choose the genres you’re interested in, and they’ll send you a selection of deals by email every week.

5. Smashwords.com offers a huge selection of ebooks at a wide range of prices. Right now they’re running a sale called “Authors Give Back,” in which many authors have discounted their titles through April 20 (The Illuminator’s Gift is only $2)!

6. Looking for paper copies? Local stores are closed, but independent booksellers like Books Inc. are still fulfilling online orders (with free shipping)!

7. And let’s finish out with some fun! The first 10 people to send me a Facebook message will get a free promo code for one of my audiobooks! Just tell me something fun you’ve been doing to stay sane while sheltering in place, and which audiobook you’d like. Choose from The Illuminator’s Gift (#1), The Illuminator’s Test (#2), or The Illuminator Rising (#3)!

Books not only fill the time; they also teach us how to live and cope in the midst of the stress and boredom and cabin fever. I hope these resources bring you some joyful reading in these crazy days!

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

If you’re not up to the minute on the global COVID-19 pandemic, you’ve probably been living under a rock (and for now you should probably stay there). For me, it’s difficult to read any amount of news without a raised pulse. The situation is unfolding moment by moment, especially here in the San Francisco Bay Area, and each new development seems worse than the last. Today officials in several Bay Area counties issued a shelter-in-place order that will last at least three weeks, so we are all now hunkering down with our stocks of snacks and (oh-so-precious?) toilet paper.

But I don’t need to tell you that.

What I’ve been thinking about, partly to help myself stay calm in the midst of all the anxiety, are the things coronavirus can’t touch. It is easy to feel helpless, to feel defeated, by such a complete global crisis. But one of the reasons I love fantasy literature is that it clearly delineates the conflict between good and evil, and it instills a strong sense that good will win out in the end–if we choose it.

So here’s where I see goodness, hope, joy, and love still very much alive and well, even in the time of coronavirus.

I see it in the faces of a few friends sharing a home-cooked meal (albeit a few days ago), practicing social distancing yet closing all the distance between them.

I see it in a homemade Communion of white wine and sandwich bread, dipped with washed hands and shared among family members around the kitchen table.

I see it in Netflix nights and blanket forts.

I see it in slow-cooked meals made from scratch, savoring the preparation and enjoyment of joyous flavors.

(Do you know what these are? They are DUMPLINGS that I made FROM SCRATCH!)

I see it in church services held on Facebook Live, the viewer count in the upper left corner ticking higher and higher as community comes together.

I see it in connection with elderly neighbors, standing six feet away, yet knowing they are provided for and not alone.

I see it in the slower pace of life, hectic schedules replaced with time for the classic introverted pleasures: good books and movies, writing projects, self-taught skills, feel-good music.

(A sign I saw in a bookstore window a few weeks ago.)

I see it in video chats with loved ones, the screen jerking and halting as a five-year-old bolts up the stairs to show off her dolls.

And I see it not least in my puppy, whose passions for snuggles and crunchy apples are undimmed by any number of global crises.

Though I am terribly afraid and confused and uncertain of the future, there is love, love, love, tenacious and unstoppable, pushing up through the sidewalks and jetting out through the cracks of pandemic lockdown–through text, video, Facebook Live, six-foot-distant smiles in the grocery store, and around the kitchen table.

So be safe, everyone. Follow the CDC health guidelines, and get a good laugh out of these amazing hand-washing music videos from around the world. And in these strange times, whatever the form, hold on to goodness and love. I give you one of my favorite fantasy quotes, taken from The Fellowship of the Ring:

‘The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”

Fire by Night: Release Day!

It’s poetry book release day!! Fire by Night is now available online!

To me, it feels appropriate that this book goes out into the world on the weekend Daylight Savings Time ends. The days get shorter, the brilliant trees go bare, and we must remember how to be in the dark.

But this is also one of my favorite times of year. As an introvert,  I love few things more than curling up with a good cup of tea and a cozy blanket. Yes, there’s less daylight. But that can also mean a slower pace of life. (Maybe) a less hectic social calendar. More time to process and think, to read and just be. It’s a good time for authenticity and reflection. A good time for poetry.

Fire by Night isn’t an easy book. It’s raw; dark in places. But as the days shorten and the dark comes early, it’s also about the authenticity and hope to be found along the way. 

I hope it is a quiet companion at the close of the year. 

Find the book now on Amazon! In a few weeks, signed copies will also be on the shelves at Books Inc. Campbell!

Announcing: Fire by Night

Last autumn, I gave a TEDx talk called “Do Something Worth Writing.” It was about the strange feeling of accomplishing a dream and the disorientation that can come with that. Writing The Voyages of the Legend series was the work of over a decade. Finishing it left me wondering: what’s next?

The answer is: poetry.

With a mixture of nerves and delight, I announce my 5th book: Fire by Night, releasing on November 2nd. It is a collection of 50 poems grouped around the theme of wilderness wandering. These poems explore dark places, such as loss, grief, depression, anxiety, and spiritual deconstruction. Yet they also catch glimpses of love, joy, wonder, and above all, hope–a theme this book shares with my previous novels.

This is the most personal and honest piece of writing I’ve ever published, which is why it’s both exciting and scary. But I share this book because I think every person’s voice has something unique to contribute to the music of the world, and because courage means taking a step in the right direction in spite of fear.

The e-book is available to pre-order on Amazon now, but both the e-book and paperback will officially launch on November 2nd. After that, Books Inc. Campbell will stock signed copies in time for Christmas! I’ll be publishing poem snippets to my social media pages (links at the bottom of this email) so keep your eyes peeled for upcoming clips like this one!

Stone Church

Prayers are candles
in a dim stone church.
Some are slim tapers
in tall glass flutes.

Mine are squat,
smeared with sooty fingerprints,
mismatched all.

Still,
the flames rise
and light.

The Particular Rock I’ve Been Under

Well, hello there. It’s been a while!

Where have I been? I’m so glad you ask.

Under a rock is the answer. A very particular, very heavy rock.

I spent this last year teaching.


Yes, last fall I accepted a job with a one-on-one private school. I taught English and Life Skills to students with a variety of learning needs, from ADHD and dyslexia to autism and severe anxiety.

It was very rewarding. I met some incredible kids and inspiring teachers. Education is amazing, because you literally get to see your work growing up in front of your eyes. Someday I’ll probably end up writing about the experience.

My English-teacher Halloween costume. (Also Hamlet in the corner.)

It was also hard. Extremely hard. Even if I don’t mention the hours (ahem, unpaid overtime), that doesn’t even begin to touch on the stress and the chaos, the student meltdowns, the last-minute sub requests, the weekly Contagious Diseases Roulette, the discipline, the lengthy and critical parent emails, the active shooter drills.

If you can read this, go thank whoever taught you to read. No, really. Stop what you’re doing. Okay.

For myself, I decided to step away from the position at the end of the school year. While my teaching experience left me with immense respect for everyone who works to help young people grow up okay in a world that isn’t, I also realized that being a full-time classroom teacher isn’t for me. A worthwhile experience in itself. And the reason I have been mostly MIA from the writing/publishing world for a year.

Which was one of the hardest things about this job. Writing gives me life, and it was so tough to have nearly no time to work toward my passion. However, in spite of the chaos, I did still manage to accomplish a few things on the writing front this year. I wasn’t very good about communicating them, though, so here’s a brief recap in case you missed anything!

  1. I released audio versions of The Illuminator’s Gift and The Illuminator’s Test
  2. I gave a TEDx talk called “Do Something Worth Writing”
  3. I had a poem published in an online literary magazine
  4. I wrote a handful of new poems
  5. I’m just happy I stayed alive for a year, let alone published anything!

Now that I’m starting to recover from a year’s worth of lost sleep, the creative juices are flowing once more. I have a few new projects coming down the pipe, at least two of which I hope to release before the end of the year! Keep your eyes peeled for:

  1. An audiobook of The Illuminator Rising, read by my awesome British narrator, Wendy Wolfson!
  2. A completely new book! It’s still very much under construction, but I will say that it is a book of poems.

Yes, poems!

I focused on fiction writing during my English studies and have never primarily thought of myself as a poet. Yet I’ve been writing poetry since I was 12 and have read, studied, and taught poetry in various contexts. I’ve even written about poetry, shared a few poems, and interviewed a poet on this blog. More importantly, poetry is the clearest way I know to give voice to the truth as I see it. And to make music with words, because words are beautiful and interesting and filled with all the meaning in the world. It will be very different in genre and tone from my previous books, yet I can already see that they will share a number of themes, such as loss, hope, and redemption.

More details to come! For now, I am happy to be climbing out from under my particular rock.

The Illuminator’s Test Comes to Audio!

Merry Christmas…Audiobook #2 Is Here!

Hooray! The second audiobook in the Voyages of the Legend series is here!! If it’s possible, I’m even MORE excited about this audio adventure–more characters, more action, and more amazing voices by Wendy Wolfson! It makes a great companion for holiday travels (or holiday introverting).

Buy it on AudibleAmazon, or iTunes (a great use for some of those holiday gift cards!)

Not already an Audible.com member? Then you can listen to the audiobook for free by trying a 30-day membership (you can unsubscribe anytime you want!)

(Did you miss out on Book 1, The Illuminator’s Gift audiobook? Check out the debut of Wendy Wolfson’s spellbinding British narration and incredible cast of character voices!)

Enjoy this new adventure (and those holiday leftovers!)

TEDx talk: “Do Something Worth Writing”

About a month and a half ago, I was invited to give a TEDx talk at Saratoga High School. It was scary, but exciting to talk about my writing and publishing journey. Here’s the video, entitled “Do Something Worth Writing.” Enjoy!

Meet the Voice of The Illuminator’s Gift: Audiobook Narrator Wendy Wolfson!

Today I’m delighted to welcome a special guest: Wendy Wolfson, narrator of The Illuminator’s Gift audiobook! Wendy’s lovely and versatile voice brings such life to the cast of characters. Here she talks about superhero poses, tree climbing, her secret recipe for a limber voice, and her favorite character in The Illuminator’s GiftWelcome, Wendy!


So tell us: how long have you been narrating audiobooks?

I am relatively new to audio narration, and The Illuminator’s Gift was only the third book I have done! I have completely fallen for it though! I studied English literature at university, and have always loved words, books and reading, and now I get to do it aloud as a job! The editing takes much longer than the reading and is not quite as much fun, but I enjoy the whole process.

That’s awesome! What made you want to be an audiobook narrator in the first place?

When I was 14 my father was unwell and used to ask me to read to him. I read him lots of P.G.Wodehouse books and loved them, and my father said then that I should either work on radio or read books for the blind. It has taken me a while to get around to doing narration professionally, having been a teacher of English for a while and then having worked in the public speaking industry, but I feel like I am finally doing what I was always meant to do.

Where do you do your recording? What is some of the recording equipment and/or technology you use?

I record in my own home studio with a Yeti blackout microphone and pop filter, and my little sound booth. I use a teleprompter app on my iPad to read from, and I have my laptop outside the recording booth with the recording software on it.

Image result for yeti blackout microphone

Wow, there’s a lot that goes into it. Do you have a ritual or routine you do before sitting down to record?

A cup of honey and lemon tea sets me up for the morning along with some vocal exercises to limber up my vocal chords. I sit down when I am doing my editing, but I always stand when I am recording – usually in a superhero pose! 😊

Hooray for superheroes! What do you like to do when you are not narrating audiobooks?

I love spending my free time with my husband, our little boy, our dog, and 4 cats. We live in a wood in an eco house that we built ourselves, so lots of tree climbing and den building goes on!

That sounds like fun! Where is your own lovely accent from?

I was born in London, but grew up in a rural village in the South of England. Accent? What accent? 😉

When you’re narrating an audiobook, how do you keep track of the characters’ individual voices? How do you keep them consistent?

When I read a book that is well written, I ‘see’ it more than I read it. The characters in The Illuminator’s Gift are so beautifully written that I have a complete picture of them in my mind’s eye. When they are interacting in a scene together I simply visualize them, and their voice goes with them. I know I shouldn’t have favourites….. but I love Jariel, and her energy and attitude!

I’m quite fond of Jariel too 🙂 What was your favorite scene/section to narrate from The Illuminators’ Gift?

There are so many I enjoyed! Without giving too much away……Ellie’s first dream meeting with Ishua was a favourite, as was her standing up to Nikira in the Legend’s library. I also really felt the emotion of the events on Amalpura – but I don’t want to give too much away 😊

Oh good, no spoilers! What do you like most about narrating audiobooks overall?

The books 😊

Last thing: Do you have any tips for aspiring narrators?

Do what you love. Follow your instincts and choose the books you enjoy doing – if you love what you are reading it will come across, and you will have so much fun doing it, it will barely feel like work at all!

Thank you so much for sharing your insights with us, Wendy!

Get The Illuminator’s Gift audiobook now on Audible, Amazon, or iTunes! Click to hear a free sample of Wendy’s lovely narration. (And if you’re not already a member of Audible.com, you can get the book FREE by signing up for a 1-month trial!)

Happy listening!

The Illuminator’s Gift Audiobook Release!

 The Illuminator’s Gift audiobook is online NOW!

 

Get it on Audible.com today! (It will also be available on Amazon and iTunes in a few days!)

The audiobook is officially listed at $19.95 (a pretty good deal for nearly 9 hours of addictive British narration). But here are 2 ways you might be able to get the audiobook for FREE! 

1) If you’re not already a member, you can subscribe for a free 1-month trial of Audible.com. Just for trying it, you’ll get a credit you can use to download The Illuminator’s Gift audiobook for free! You won’t pay anything, you can cancel your membership anytime, and you get to keep the audiobook regardless. It’s awesome! (And in case you’re concerned, I do still get paid through this option!)

2) Do you run a blog, book review site, or YouTube channel? If so, you might be eligible for a free review copy of The Illuminator’s Gift audiobook! To apply, send me an email with a link to your site or channel and a quick description of why you think you’d make a good reviewer!

Even if neither of these options works for you, I hope you’ll still give the book a sample listen and consider downloading! It’s been a pleasure to create, and I hope that enjoyment will carry over to your family as you listen.

Now, go forth and listen! Enjoy! Share with friends! And if you’d be so kind, please leave a quick review on Audible to let others know your thoughts!

Audiobook update!

The Illuminator’s Gift comes to audiobook June 21st!!

I’m delighted to announce that recording for the audiobook of The Illuminator’s Gift is now finished! I’ve listened through the whole book, and I know you’re going to love it!!

Image result for headphones

I’m excited about this new audiobook for three big reasons!

First, the narrator, Wendy Wolfson, is AWESOME! She has an amazing British accent and brings lots of dramatic flair to the characters’ voices. She’ll be stopping by this blog for an interview next week and sharing her story of becoming an audiobook narrator, so stay tuned!

Second, audiobooks are a great family memory for me, and I’m glad to get to share that experience with you! I remember long road trips, the back seat uncharacteristically quiet as my brother and I got sucked into the magical world of the story we were listening to (on cassette tape, of course). I’m happy that The Illuminator’s Gift will now be roadtrip-ready for your family (and hopefully bring you some peace and quiet from the back seat)!

Third, this book has been a longtime dream of mine because Ellie, the heroine of The Illuminator’s Gift, is dyslexic. She loves stories and learning, but feels like she’s not smart because she has difficulty reading. I’ve talked with so many students who have various print disabilities, including dyslexia and blindness, and I’m SO thrilled that at last, there’s an alternative format of The Illuminator’s Gift available. I believe strongly that visual difficulties shouldn’t keep anyone from enjoying a good story. If that describes you or someone in your family, I am hopeful that this audiobook is everything you’ve been waiting for!

So when can you get started listening?

Release day is June 21st  (the first day of summer)!! So whatever you have planned, Ellie and her friends from the Legend can go with you! If you want to get notified as soon as it’s available, subscribe to my author e-mail newsletter(No spam, just occasional book release updates!)

While you wait…want to hear a teaser clip of the audiobook???

Stay tuned! Release day is almost here!!