Blog Archive

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Engaging the Middle-Grade Reader with Fun & Adventure: Author Interview with John Krause

What made you choose writing books for middle-grade readers? 

I love middle-grade fiction because, as an author, I can really do anything (within reason for the age group, of course.) For instance, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory simply wouldn't work if the finders of the golden tickets were grown-ups. In my favorite book, The Phantom Tollbooth, the story's hero, Milo, is magically whisked away to an enchanted land of words and numbers. This story only works because Milo is a kid.

How did you come up with your lead charact, Pudge Amazon's  name
When my kids were younger, and it was time for bed, I would say, "Time to get ready for bed. Get your pajamas on. Puh-jamaz-on. Pudge Amazon. Hey, that would be a great name for a character!" That name stayed in my head for years until I was ready to write the book. Pudge Amazon just happens to be an 11-year-old in fifth grade, which means his adventures had to be written for the middle-grade reader.

How do you get in the mindset for that age group? 
My youngest child has given me story ideas and helped shape plot points. They were an early reader of my first Pudge novel, but have since grown out of the middle-grade reading level. I suppose I'll need to find a new 8 to 11-year-old coach.

Author David Farland says that middle-grade stories must have the following five elements: wonder, humor, horror, adventure, and mystery. The Goosebumps and Harry Potter books have been so successful because they perfectly blend these elements. I have not yet found that perfect formula, but keeping these elements in mind helps me include settings and characters that readers will enjoy and helps me weed out things that don't meet those five criteria.

Is Pudge your alter ego?
Yes, Pudge Amazon is my alter-ego. Pudge is spontaneous, adventurous, and loud. He dives in without first checking for rocks. I am introverted and cautious. The only thing we share is our sense of humor.

You are an indie author. Other than writing, what other parts of the process do you personally do? What do you hire others to do?

I've learned how to do interior formatting using Adobe InDesign. Although the software has a steep learning curve, I do love the flexibility that InDesign offers, and I'm satisfied with the final product. There are other book formatting softwares on the market, and I may try them in the future. However, for the Pudge Amazon books, since I want the interior formatting to be consistent across all the books in the series, I'll be sticking with InDesign.

I've also designed my own "sell sheet" for each book - a one-page info sheet with the book's cover, blurb, ISBN, page count, etc. that I use to pitch to schools for author visits.

I do hire out the editing and cover design. I do a considerable amount of self-editing, and I am a member of two writing critique groups that help tremendously with story development. However, I wouldn't dream of releasing the Pudge stories out to the world without the guiding hand and critical eye of my professional editor.

I may be an artist with words, but I am by no means an artist with brush and pen. I was lucky to find cover artist and designer Nathalie Kranich to bring Pudge and his friends to life on the book covers.

What do you know now about publishing you wished you had known sooner?
I do wish I had created more pre-publication buzz before I hit the publish button. I did a few things to generate interest and excitement: a website, a newsletter, and a launch party. My first novel, Pudge Amazon and the Ugly Ostrich, didn't launch to crickets - I had a few buyers - but I could have done more to generate a larger following beforehand. Now that I have three books published - a series - my focus over the next few months will be marketing my books.

What is the best writing advice you’ve received or could give?

It's not writing advice, per se, but the best advice I have received is from author Seth Godin in his book Linchpin: "If you want to produce things on time and on budget, until you run out of time or run out of money. Then ship."

"Ship" for an author means "publish." My books will never be perfect. I can self-edit, proofread, and agonize whether or not the story is "good enough." Instead, I set a publication date, work as hard as I can on the book until that date, then publish it and move on to the next book.

Are there any other points about writing you would like to add?
Perhaps the second-best writing advice I've received is from author Jeff Gerke, who says that the number-one objective of a novelist is to get readers to keep turning pages. There are myriad writing craft "rules." Yes, I strive to continually improve my writing craft. But even if I follow all the "rules" of grammar, syntax, and plot structure, if I don't have a compelling story with interesting characters that keeps you reading for "just one more chapter," then all those rules are meaningless.

What is the next book coming out? Can you give me a short synopsis?
I have three more stories planned in the Pudge Amazon series. The next book is titled Pudge Amazon and the Caribbean Cruise Caper, which may still be a year away from publication.
Pudge's mother wins a Caribbean cruise in a contest. Pudge is enjoying the pool and buffet until his grandmother's priceless diamond necklace is stolen. With the help of two new friends he meets on the ship, Pudge embarks on wild misadventures in search of the necklace before the ship returns to port.

That's all for today's interview. Thank you for all your great insights on writing and publishing. Hope you will check out his website and Amazon page to discover all of his books.
Amazon sales page:
And here's a bonus tip for my readers... Sign up for his newsletter on his website and get a FREE eBook story,  Pudge Amazon and the Lost Lunch

Friday, April 12, 2024

From a Dream to a Book: Author Interview with Steve Physioc

You were a baseball sportscaster for decades starting with high school teams then moving up the ladder to the pro teams. However, you wrote two books about Italy during WWII 
before you wrote your baseball books. What inspired you to write that first book?
While vacationing in Italy in 2006, my wife and I were staying at a bed and breakfast on a farmstead in Southern Tuscany. One night I had a vivid dream of a great walled city and two families struggling to produce a great wine. Instead of going back to sleep, I got up and wrote down the outline of my dream. I told my wife about the dream the next day and then we continued our Italian tour to Florence and Venice, Viareggio, etc. One week after the dream we were to meet three other couples in the town of Lucca. 

As we were driving towards Lucca, I saw the walls and exclaimed, "These are the walls from my dream! If you turn left you'll go by a portal where we can enter and there'll be a market and church from my dream!" Sure enough, they were all there and I was fascinated by both the dream and inspiration. 

I bought a book about the history of Lucca and developed my story...Two families trying to produce a great wine during Italy's dark days of WW1, the rise of fascism and Mussolini. It took me 12 years to write The Walls of Lucca and the sequel, Above the Walls, but was blessed to have both books win the Readers' Favorite award for Best Historical Fiction in 2018 and 2019.

How did I go about plotting the WW2 mystery? 
As a long-time sports broadcaster I'm used to doing exhaustive research for my games, so staying true to not only my story but accurate in every detail was critical. What led to Italy entering WW1? Why did they choose fascism over democracy? Why did the King and Pope cave to Mussolini? How did those decisions affect the citizens and agricultural workers of Italy? Why did Mussolini join forces with Hitler? And, can love be found in the ruins of war? Ya gotta have a gripping story of protagonists and antagonists, don't ya? The Walls of Lucca and Above the Walls are both love stories and historical fiction. 

In my research, I found an anti-war speech given by Mussolini in August of 1914, then discovered a pro-war speech by Mussolini from December of 1914. What changed in the four months between speeches? Why did he go from anti-war to pro-war? After much research I discovered that Benito found out that Italian politicians were having discussions with France and England about Italy leaving the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria and joining forces. Mussolini was a chameleon...whatever way the winds of power were blowing, he went that way...and eventually his con-artistry led to his ruling Italy. 

Why didn't you write a baseball story first?
I actually had the idea for Walks with the Wind and Catching the Wind much earlier than my Italian stories. But, I didn't put pen to paper until I was finished with The Walls of Lucca series. Walks with the Wind is the story of a young man's vision quest. Yes, a quest to make it to the Major Leagues, but also to become the man he was meant to be. Walks has no definitive genre. It's a baseball/action-adventure/political/spiritual/family saga of a Native American boy's faith journey. I'm a person who believes we're spiritual beings having a human experience and all my stories have a spiritual edge to them. I was blessed to have Walks with the Wind win the Writer's Digest Grand Prize in 2021 for self-published e-books.

What's worked best for you in marketing your books? 
I have no idea. I built a web page, Steve  I've tried social media advertising, I've hired marketing people to help me, but since I just recently retired from sports broadcasting, I now can finally investigate getting an agent and learning more about the crazy book marketing world.

What is the best advice you could give about writing?
Show, don't tell. Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Show, don't tell. And, don't give up. Keep writing...even if you think it sucks...keep writing.

Are there any other points about writing  you would like to add?
Read good authors. Diana Gabaldon of Outlander fame is one of my favorites. I think she's brilliant. I also enjoy Kristin Hannah, Sue Monk Kidd, Jodi Picoult, Vince Flynn, Anthony Doerr, Elena Ferrante, Nicholas Sparks, Kenneth Roberts, Marianne Williamson, etc. Reading good authors leads to good writing.

When is the next book coming out? 
2025. I'm going back to WW2 Italy. Another lovestory/historicalfiction. It's inspired by a true story that happened at the Farneta Monastery in September of 1944, and dedicated to the women of the Italian Resistance. I just finished my first draft, now go through my personal editing process before handing it off to my brilliant developmental editor, Nicole Ayers, for her to tear apart and tell me what I need to strengthen my storyline or make my characters more powerful. She's awesome!

That's all for today's interview.
If you would like to learn more about Steve's writing, here are some links to get you started. 

And here's a bonus for my readers... If you like reading historical fiction about WWII, here are 2 free eBooks currently available for free on Amazon.