Author Interview: Amy Harmon

Amy Harmon knew at an early age that writing was something she wanted to do, and she divided her time between writing songs and stories as she grew. Having grown up in the middle of wheat fields without a television, with only her books and her siblings to entertain her, she developed a strong sense of what made a good story. Amy has been a motivational speaker, a grade school teacher, a junior high teacher, a home school mom, and a member of the Grammy Award winning Saints Unified Voices Choir, directed by Gladys Knight. She has written five novels: Running Barefoot, Slow Dance in Purgatory, Prom Night in Purgatory, the New York Times Bestseller, A Different Blue, and coming October 20 [2013], Making Faces.

1. Tell us about your start as a writer.

I started writing full-length novels about eight years ago. Not because I had any definite plans for publishing, but because it was just something I wanted to do. I have always been a writer, but prior to my first novel, I wrote song lyrics and poetry more than anything.

2. Why did you decide to publish your novels independently rather than through a traditional publisher?

My youngest son was born with a facial deformity that is fixable, but it requires ongoing, expensive treatment. My oldest son started really struggling with his health around the same time, and our medical bills started really mounting. I knew I had to do something to change our circumstances. I didn’t have time to wait or time to waste. I researched self-publishing and put my first two books out on Kindle in April of 2012, not knowing anything but the bare minimum. I don’t know where the confidence comes from, but I guess it’s more “blessed assurance” than confidence. I really felt like I was led in that direction.

3. How do you market and promote your books?

I don’t. Ha ha. Seriously, someone told me that the best marketing strategy is just writing another book. My fifth book, Making Faces, comes out on October 20th (my birthday). That means I have published five books in a year and a half. Obviously, I didn’t write all those books in a year and a half, but with each book, I’ve gained new readers and new momentum. Facebook has been my best friend for marketing. I try very hard to interact with as many bloggers as I can and to always be available for interviews, etc. I always respond to messages from my readers. There are outlets like Bookbub and other book promotion sites that are also very helpful.

4. Now that your books are getting national and international attention, have traditional publishers approached you?

I have a very well-respected agency, Foundry Media in New York, and that developed right before I hit the New York Times bestsellers list in June. A Different Blue has been picked up by a publishing company in Italy, which is exciting, and I have had some interest from traditional publishers, but I write romance that isnt typical, which makes me harder to place. My books tend to be cleaner, yet not clean enough for Christian publishers. I suppose I straddle that line, which I believe has given my books very broad appeal. They don’t turn off the non-Christian reader, yet they don’t offend those who like their reading material less graphic.

5. What catapulted A Different Blue to the New York Times Bestseller list?

Again, I really don’t know. I had published three books in quick succession and had created a little reader base, but A Different Blue, my fourth book, grabbed the attention of some bigger bloggers who read it, loved it, and really put it over the top. Two months after it came out, I put it on sale, and it just exploded. The sale wouldn’t have worked if the book hadn’t already grown legs, but A Different Blue hit not only the New York Times list, but also the USA Today list and the Wall Street Journal list. It was absolutely the most awesome, humbling experience of my life.

6. Tell us about your upcoming novel Making Faces.

Maybe because I have a child who has a facial imperfection, I am sensitive to what people go through Making Faces is a story about war, disability, beauty, and most of all, love.  Here is the synopsis.

Ambrose Young was beautiful. He was tall and muscular, with hair that touched his shoulders and eyes that burned right through you. The kind of beautiful that graced the covers of romance novels, and Fern Taylor would know. She’d been reading them since she was thirteen. But maybe because he was so beautiful he was never someone Fern thought she could have…until he wasn’t beautiful anymore.

Making Faces is the story of a small town where five young men go off to war, and only one comes back. It is the story of loss. Collective loss, individual loss, loss of beauty, loss of life, loss of identity. It is the tale of one girl’s love for a broken boy, and a wounded warrior’s love for an unremarkable girl. This is a story of friendship that overcomes heartache, heroism that defies the common definitions, and a modern tale of Beauty and the Beast, where we discover that there is a little beauty and a little beast in all of us.

7. Who does your book covers? They look great.

Well, me mostly. My nephews and nieces are on my first four book covers. I had a photographer take the pictures and then I used Amazon’s CreateSpace Cover Creator to do the covers. My photographer added the title and my name to the photo I liked for A Different Blue, and then I uploaded it to a template on CreateSpace’s Cover Creator. The latest cover [for Making Faces] I had someone design for me. I picked a picture I liked from Shutterstock, an online photo site, and had the cover artist do her thing with my input.

8. Who are some of your hero authors?

I greatly admire people like Lucy Maud Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables), Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, Jane Austen, because they made me fall in love with books. But I also love Stephenie Meyer because she inspired this little Mormon mom—she made me believe if she could do it, I could too. I also like Dean Koontz: I think he’s a master, even though I don’t usually care for Sci-Fi. I like historical fiction and love the intelligence and study it takes to write books like Herman Wouk’s Winds of War and War and Remembrance. I loved both of those books.

9. What advice do you have for discouraged writers?  

Just keep writing. Really. Don’t expect to sell thousands of copies with your first book. I gave away thousands of copies of my first book through Amazon’s Kindle Select program. My goal was just to gain readers and recognition. And don’t wait until you “know everything” before you take the leap. I cringe a little at how green I was, but I’m grateful for my ignorance too. I didn’t know it couldn’t be done.

Author Interview: Justin Foster

I met Justin Foster at the Utah Publicity Summit in August where he gave a high impact presentation, to put it mildly. Justin is a brand strategist and the co-founder and chief marketing officer of Klowd.com. After working in corporate sales, he co-founded two marketing agencies and a tech start-up. Justin is also part of Price Associates, an elite team of leadership performance consultants.  He is the author of Oatmeal v Bacon: How to Differentiate in a Generic World.  His second book, Human Bacon: A Man’s Guide to Creating an Awesome Personal Brand, will be available late 2013. Justin and his family live outside of Boise, Idaho.

1. What made you decide to write Oatmeal v. Bacon?

Three things: I saw boring brands pretending to be interesting (often egged on by their ad agencies). I saw the emerging trend of social media and realized it would fundamentally change the traditional rules of branding. I saw my generation (Gen X) getting stale, fearful, and boring.

2. Why do you think branding is so important to companies and professionals?

Two reasons: When you have a brand, you have competition. Competition for dollars, mind space, attention, etc. is at an all-time high. Therefore, brands desperately need differentiation. A brand is the outward manifestation of an inward culture. And culture creates innovation, products, stories, etc. that can’t be copied. Ergo, a great culture is the ultimate brand differentiation. A full circle!

3. If you could go back 15 or 20 years in your career, what would you do differently? 

Reach out and find mentors sooner. Plus, learn more skills through formal education.

4. If you could teach a class to new business students, what would you tell them?

I would tell them if you bring unconditional love (or passion) with unconditional standards (commitment) to any endeavor, you can’t help but be excellent. So if you can’t find something or someone to love and can’t commit to an idea or venture, then you aren’t ready to be in business.  Secondly, I would tell them that until you own your education, then someone will own you. So have a strategic plan for learning for the rest of your life, not just formal education.

5. What advice do you have for someone who wants to write a book?

Have absolute clarity about why you want to write a book and what results you expect.

6. Are you writing a new book? If so, tell us about it.

Yes!  I’m releasing Human Bacon: A Man’s Guide to Creating an Awesome Personal Brand in December.  It’s primarily directed towards men over 30 (and the people who love them).  The intention of the book is to help men over 30 stay relevant and have tools to compete with Gen Y and Millennials.

7. Tell us about product SlideKlowd.

I’m proud to be a co-founder of SlideKlowd! SlideKlowd is an audience engagement tool that allows presenters to share slides, push polls, and surveys, and respond to comments and questions via the audience’s smart devices in live events.  It’s the first true audience engagement platform on the market.  The science behind SlideKlowd: measure the attention of the audience, elevate their attention and emotion, convert emotion to data and behavior.

8. What is the key to success in life and business?

Love and commitment backed by a healthy level of self-worth and friends and mentors that feed your strengths and starve your weaknesses. And good coffee 🙂

As you can tell, Justin has something to say. I can personally recommend his book—I have a well marked up copy myself. His message is unique and hopeful—especially for men who are mid- to late-career—and that comes across when you meet him in person. He has helped a lot of people become more aware of their personal brand, and how to make it sizzle.

You can follow Justin on Twitter or Facebook.

Author Interview: Cheree Alsop

I recently met Cheree at a writer’s conference. I was amazed at how many novels she has written, and I was touched by her sheer determination, as you will be after you read her interview.

Cheree is a freelance writer, prolific author, and the mother of a daughter and twin sons. She is married to her best friend Michael who changes lives each day at his chiropractic clinic. She enjoys reading, riding her motorcycle on warm nights, is also an aspiring drummer and bass player for her husband’s garage band.

1. When did you first begin writing?

I wrote my first book in a spiral bound blue notebook when I was fourteen. It was a tragic western called One Man Alone (yeah, I know—I was fourteen so I didn’t care if the title was a bit redundant!). That book made my mom cry and gave me the first realization as to how writing could touch a person. My goal now is not to make my mom cry, but if I bring her to tears with the tragedy or turning points of my books, I know I have still done a great job. She is a marvelous supporter and put me in my first writing class my freshman year in high school, much against my wishes. Thank goodness for a mother who was stronger-willed than her stubborn high school student!

2. Tell us about your early experience with traditional publishing.

I have a collection of close to 1,000 rejection letters in a closet. I went to writer’s conferences and pitched to agents, and I have written enough query letters to fill a book. I did have a couple of interested nibbles on a few books, but nothing that turned out to be substantial. Every time I collected about 100 or so letters, I would move on to writing the next book. I never let it bother me (maybe a teeny bit once in a while, but I quickly squelched that by moving on to the next adventure). I never could quite get that little break or foot in the door into the world of traditional publishing until two months ago. I met an agent at a writer’s conference and emailed him later about my success with self-publishing; the fact that I had a strong reader following and proved myself to be a dependable author was definitely key in signing my Small Town Superhero series with Stonehouse Ink.

3. Why did you decide to become a self-published author?

I was at a writer’s conference about two years ago and sat next to a cute, super friendly girl named Ali Cross. I told her about my struggles with getting traditionally published, and she in turned shared with me the fact that she was going to self-publish her books. As she was showing me the cover she designed and the steps she was taking, it felt like a door opened. I determined at that moment that I was going to be self-published within the next few months. Thank goodness for Ali Cross! She is an amazing self-published author with great success for her Desolation series.

4. What is the name of your first novel and how did it come to be?

I’m never the type to do things small. When I determined at that writer’s conference to self-publish, I decided to do so for my first four novels and get them out right away! After much research and formatting, I released four books on December 16, 2011. I published Silver and Black, the first two books in my Silver Series, and I also published Shadows and Galdoni. It was a day filled with great excitement and happiness, and as soon as midnight hit, I began working on the next books.

5. How many novels have your written?

I just released my sixteenth book today actually! It’s part one of an epic fantasy called The Heart of the Wolf. I’ve published two dystopian fantasies—Galdoni and Stolen. I have a paranormal fantasy series about high school werewolves called the Silver Series that currently is made of six books. I am writing the seventh and plan to release it in a month. I have two epic fantasies names Shadows and a branch off called Mist. There is a Christmas novel named The Million Dollar Gift. There is a fantasy named Thief Prince and a backwards werewolf story called Keeper of the Wolves that is a love story about a wolf who turns into a human in the light of the moon. Small Town Superhero and The Small Town Superheroes will be released from Stonehouse Ink in a few months. All in all, it’s been a busy last two years!

6. Who is your favorite character in your novels and why?

My very favorite character is Jet from Black, the second book in the Silver Series. His story isn’t the easiest to read because of his past, but his depth of character and the way he surfaces from his situation leaves his story in your head. I feel like the love story that follows is much more real and heartfelt because of where he came from and the girl who captures his heart.

7. How do you manage to be so prolific in your writing with young children at home?

I have a crazy writing process! My twin boys are three years old and I am so happy to be able to stay at home with them! I take my little computer with me everywhere. We’ll go to the park and I’ll grab ten minutes or so of writing time. When we’re home and they’re playing with their toys or being superheroes, I use another ten minutes. When they fall asleep or food is cooking for lunch, there’s another few minutes.

I used to think that such a disjointed writing process would hurt my writing; I’ve found instead that it’s a blessing in disguise! If the kids are gone and I have hours to write, I can’t write anything. It’s the interruptions that give me time to think about the next scene or something a character says. I might have to do a bit of smoothing during the editing, but all in all, it works really well!

8. Can you share your formula for success as a novelist?

When I was fourteen I wrote to one of my favorite authors, Robin Hobb, author of the Farseer Trilogy. I told her that I wanted to be an author like her someday. She was kind enough to write me back, and in the letter (a real letter!) she wrote this advice that has stayed with me ever since: You will never have more time to write than you do right now. I embrace that. I may, in a hectic day, write 5 minutes, and in other days have an hour or two, but I always write. I love writing! It is one of my passions. You have to be passionate about something like writing in order to make it work for you. Once it becomes a job or something you have to do, do something else. Writing should be a dream, a goal, a passion. It should drive you because there always is another world to write in, another story to tell.

I just want to say thank you to all of my readers. When I was young, books were my escape. I used to climb a tree with an armful of books and a bag of carrots and read away the days on the farm (when I wasn’t swathing or ripping fields). I always wanted to give the same escape to others. The emails I receive and the reviews mean the world to me. Thank you for being there. I will continue writing for you.

You can find Cheree on Facebook and Twitter. Buy her books (e-books and paperback) on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.

Author Interview: Eric Bishop

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Eric Bishop, a novelist and author of the modern Western The Samaritan’s Pistol. It’s the story of a Desert Storm veteran whose life is turned upside down when he kills three Mafia henchman in self-defense. Eric was kind enough to answer a few interview questions. You’ll enjoy his story and wonder why you’re not writing a modern Western yourself.

1. When did you first become aware of your desire to be a writer?

In third grade, I hoarded paper from school to take home. I crafted stories built around my favorite television shows. There was always some alternate storyline I wanted to explore or a character I wanted to add. Sometimes things weren’t believable, or I craved more heroism and action. I think that’s true for most authors—we write the story we want to find in a bookstore.

2. When did you start writing The Samaritan’s Pistol and why?

I started about six years ago. The why is a bit tougher. Daily ideas for novels float through my head. A few mornings ago, I noticed a crew of a construction guys at a convenience store parking lot getting into a rusted out Lincoln Continental. The car was as big as a boat. It had long hood and trunk with huge swinging doors. Rust speckled the body and there was an assortment of dents. For these burly guys, it was perfect transportation. The two largest workers got in the back where they stretched out to suck on their fountain drinks. The scene made me wonder about where that car had been. I could write novels about that car and the people who had driven her. The Samaritan’s Pistol was an idea similar that just wouldn’t leave me. It percolated until I sat down to write. I think it was inevitable. I don’t want to get all mystic, or act like I had some lofty calling to write something, but in many ways it was the right story for me to author at the perfect time in my life.

3. What are some elements that set apart the modern Western from the traditional Western?

There is far more that the two time periods share—horses, guns, a love for mountains and scenery, and resilient characters. I love traditional Westerns, but I think there’s a disconnect between the genre and today’s readers. Weaving technology into the narrative is huge. Teenagers still wear cowboy hats and boots. They attend rodeos. They train horses and work the land. Having characters doing all of that, but who take a cell phone call in the barn makes the entire setting more appealing to a younger audience. One of my favorite scenes in The Samaritan’s Pistol is when a teenager has a texting conversation with an elderly ranch hand. At the time I wrote it, the two characters were simply communicating, but now I see it as a bridge between eras of the same genre. Hopefully it’s a link of accessibility, a way to make the story relatable and draw a younger audience.

4. Tell us how you landed your first book deal.

From the moment I sat down with Christopher Loke of Jolly Fish Press, I knew he understood everything I tried to do in writing The Samaritan’s Pistol, from the cross-genre appeal to writing characters from the six major demographic groups. I’d worked hard to make the writing good. I knew that if he read the book, I had a chance.

5. What are your writing habits? What keeps you going?

Depending on the noise level in the house, I bounce between my home office and a woodstove heated man cave where I read, write, or critique something daily. Each of these things is essential to the process. If my prose starts to slip, I’ll read or critique another writer to examine how they crafted their story. Critiquing helps me find my mistakes in others’ work. I’m better at finding their mistakes than my own, but when I wield the red pen to mark up another writer’s words, the hypocrisy genie screams in my ear, “Eric, you made the same mistake on a specific page of their manuscript!”

6. What advice would you give a new writer just getting started in the trade?

Be like Winston Churchill or your own noble protagonist and never give up. Don’t try to make something square roll smoothly when the wheel of writing has been studied since the dawn of civilization. Find writers who are better than you. Help them craft their stories. What you give comes back to you in the writer’s game. Imagination is infinite. Help others and you’ll find your own story.

7. What is on the horizon for you book-wise?

I am currently working on a novel titled Twelve Steps from Winslow. I hope to have it to my publisher before year’s end. They’ve agreed to publish it, and then I’ve agreed to do a sequel to The Samaritan’s Pistol.

You can purchase Eric’s book on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Watch the YouTube book trailer here.

Write Your Book in 24 Hours!

Hey. I wrote a book for you—that soul out there who needs to write a book in a hurry but doesn’t know how. Yet. It’s possible to write a book in as little 24 hours.

Write Your Book in 24 Hours, available on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s Nook, was written for you.

Earlier this year, I got this crazy notion to write a book in 24 hours. And what better book to write in 24 hours than a book on writing a book in 24 hours? (You still with me?)

To tell you the truth, I felt inspired to write this book for someone. Something kept prodding me to write it. When I get that kind of prodding, I know I’ve got to take action because someone out there really wants something I have to share.

Listen: Listen to Leesa Myer’s BlogTalkRadio broadcast on how to write a book in 24 hours (airs Thursday, September 5 at 12:00 noon MDT but you can listen to the recording after that).

(I feel this more often about blog posts. I sometimes feel compelled to write them on a certain topic at a certain time. And when I get a comment like, “This is just what I needed to hear,” it’s a confirmation that I was motivated by a positive power outside of and beyond myself.)

Follow the directions in this book and you will outline, dictate (that’s the secret sauce), compile, edit, reorganize, proofread, create a cover for, and publish your book on one platform (Kindle) in record time.

Note: You won’t write the book in 24 contiguous hours—a long day without sleep. However, you can get the job done in 24 hours of total elapsed time.

Until September 30, you can buy the book on Kindle or Nook for 99 cents.
I’m glad we found each other. Please drop me a line or two here.

(I plan to write a book from start to finish in a single, 24-hour day. I’m not there yet. That’s going to take some planning, but it’s on the bucket list. Stay tuned.)

How I Got Started as a Writer

When I was a boy, I wrote stories and drew pictures. I still have some of those stories and lots of drawings. I never considered becoming a writer then. Not until I was 18, when I had an epiphany.

I was standing over a copy machine in a church in Salem, Oregon. As the optics flashed, I had an idea. “You will write books.” It was an unusual idea, a clear idea. It was like a vision.

That was in 1976. It has been my guiding star for almost 40 years.

Jump to 1983. When I told my dad that I had decided to major in English, he said, “What are you going to do with that?” I told him that I wanted to become a writer—at that time, a technical writer to be exact. He replied, with anti-swagger, “You can’t be a technical writer.”

Thank you, dad, for your gift: Motivating me to prove you wrong.

I graduated from BYU with my bachelor’s in English 30 years ago this week. A few months later, I got a job as a technical writer for the company where my dad worked for 25 years.

Soon after I landed the job—my first, real, grown-up job—my dad and I had a conversation in the backyard of his house on the ranch. I said the most disrespectful thing I have ever said to him. “Dad, you can just eat crow.” He smiled. I knew he was proud, but he wasn’t accustomed to expressing emotions that John Wayne wouldn’t.

Fast forward to 2013. I have written 18 books which have generated revenue approaching $1,000,000.00. I haven’t seen all that revenue as income, but I have been able to take home almost 10 percent of that in royalties.

So here I am, looking back at the impact of a single moment 37 years ago, the moment that electric vision wrote itself on my heart. It has not been easy. Sometimes it has not been fun. But I have never given up. Not entirely.

Well. I did give up once, but only temporarily. I wrote my first novel 22 years ago, but I threw it away in a fit. I actually threw away several books. It was a discouraging time in my life. But my star kept shining.

I write everyday, in several genres. It never gets boring. I never tire of it. Besides my journal, I am actively working on three books right now: (1) a technical book, a second edition of one of my programming books; (2) a how-to book on how to write and publish a book; and (3) I am nearing completion of my second novel, a YA fantasy set in the modern West about a girl who talks to horses and falcons and rattlesnakes, and they talk back.

Andi, the protagonist of the novel, is getting ready to save the world, what part she can save, but she doesn’t know that yet. She’ll figure that out in book 3. Right now, she is just trying to deal with her mother’s betrayal and why someone wants to kill her. A horse named Jubi is helping her.

I have no plans to retire.

P.S. You should be writing, too. Why aren’t you? A salutary practice, writing.

Seven Thousand Pages

Yesterday, I reached seven thousand pages in my personal journal. I am near the end of my fortieth volume.

My first journal entry was on April 20, 1976. I was 18 years old. I have kept it up for 37 years.

Why have I kept it up?

Number 1. I am a writer. Writers write. It’s what writers do.

Number 2. We have a choice: expression or depression. I choose expression. Or it keeps choosing me.

Number 3. A journal is a place to practice with few negative consequences.

Number 4. It’s history. It is for my children and grandchildren. I hope it will be of value to them someday. Someday.

Though at times I have ripped pages out of my journal, it is mostly an intact record of my adult life. A record of my woes and joys, of trials and triumphs, of miracles, of my ever changing perspective.

Some of it is self-enamored drivel. I know that. But I forgive myself for that.

It is a pathway. It is both a method to relieve my madness and to relive my madness. And happiness. It works. It has been worth the effort.

I only wish I had written more.

P.S. This is not an April Fool’s joke.