What’s Life Like in the Messy Middle?

So before we begin, I messed up last week. After sharing with you my weakness for marketing I then proceeded to botch the most important bit, telling you where to get the new thing I was talking about. My heartfelt thanks to those of you who pointed it out. For everyone else, here is the missing bit of information.

If you would like a copy of the new hardcover edition of “I Don’t Want to Go to School” simply go to your favorite local bookstore and ask them to order it for you. If there are multiple versions, ask for the hardcover edition and if they are still super confused, give them this ISBN number: 978-0-9990878-1-7

With your support, stores will start to stock this book and then it will have even more of a chance to help anxious kids find the courage to go back to school.

Ok, now on to more… messes. The wonderful Maring Higa had me on her podcast “The Messy Middle” this week. We discussed all sorts of things such as the nature of persistence and what it means to pursue “success.” It’s a heartfelt discussion and I definitely recommend it for anyone who thinks that they aren’t where they should be in life. Here’s the link to subscribe to her podcast and give a listen to our show.

Thank you again, Maring!

Now for the final bit. This past week I pulled a whopping twenty-two books from the Amazon Kindle store. Crazy, right? The titles removed included “The Lighthouse Orphanage” and all of the stand-alone “Monsters A to Z” books. I did this for a couple of reasons. One, it helps highlight the books that most people really enjoy, and two, it will give me a chance to re-make some of these stories at a later date.

I like to say that I have grown as a writer in public and you, the reader, are very much a part of this growth. What you review, like, share, and buy, guides my understanding of what the world wants from me. That’s not to say that I want to be a sequel machine, I just want you to know that your opinion is important and that I am listening.

To see what survived “the great Amazon de-listing”, check out the remade “books” section at my website. You’ll notice that the survivors each got their own elaborate description. Who knows, maybe you’ll find something you didn’t even know was there! (Seriously, I had way too many books.)

As I told Maring in the podcast, life is a constant evolution and mistakes are part of growth. If life is perfect and clean then you are not actually living, you’re just repeating a pattern. Thank you again for joining me in this mess. I hope to have new stories for you soon as well as some exciting news until then, take care of yourself!

Much love,
AJ

Life of Music: Alice Cotton, Fellow Fridays

In the beginning, many years ago, ten-year-old Alice Cotton had her head under the piano lid of her father’s baby grand piano. She was plucking the strings and listening to all the resonating sounds it made. For hours! Then, later, as a teen, after playing clarinet in a school marching band, she started performing and writing songs with her new guitar.  Unbeknownst to her, she was also in the process of meeting her future music partners who would be accompanying her in creating successful music acts around the U.S.

It started in New Orleans, where Alice Cotton and her childhood friend, Cora McCann (Writer & Editor, Content Marketing, Cleveland Clinic), wrote songs and performed them as a duo acoustic guitar act called Sunstorm. They performed on Bourbon Street at one of the top New Orlean’s tourist nightclubs. They continued working in taverns and clubs around the city, making a name for themselves until Alice decided to move to Oregon. Cora eventually moved back to Ohio.
In Oregon, Alice co-led one of the top performing night club bands that she shared with another childhood friend, Lisa Coffey, (harpist/instructor). Of course, their music was very original with the sound of harp strings next to the guitar, bass, and drums. They worked hard to become one of the top working bands in the area. This is when Alice learned to play electric guitar as a rhythm and lead player.
Later, Alice joined the Byll Davis band that played on the weekends for dances and private clubs as one of the only female lead guitarists in Oregon.  The rest of the time she taught 4th and 5th grade in public school and math and art to homeschoolers, always encouraging her students to pursue music and performance in fun ways.
Along the way, Alice learned about book writing from her mother who was a screenplay and book writer. Eventually, this all led to Alice’s interest in writing books for children. Of course, the books are all about music characters like Largo, the half rest, who goes on a search for his missing key in her book, Musical Tales, and Presto, a newly written sixteenth note, that escapes from its music in The Case of the Flying Note

Alice Cotton’s goal now is to tantalize young people (as she was at age 10) into pursuing a life that emphasizes an awareness of music. “It is all around us”, she says, “and is part of who we are as human beings. It has been proven that music helps our children improve overall performance (academic included) and to create well-balanced lives. She continues to say, “It is no wonder that many young people start playing an instrument at an early age. They write songs, listen to the sounds in the world, and are filled with wonder.”

In the end, Alice Cotton became a master teacher of music, art, and mathematics. Her wish is that music not be ignored in the raising of our children, hence she writes musical fantasy books for 8 – 11-year-olds.  Go here to see all her books and acquire a unique gift for a loved one: alicecotton.com

 

 

The Trojan Horse of Shock Value- Poop

Why a children’s book author would write a book called Poop.


No one ever said writing is without risk. Writing is a funny thing, people ask all the time for you to bear your soul and to be as honest as possible. Actually, only writing that is honest, perceptive, and takes a risk has any shot of being noticed by readers. Yet, even when we bare our core there is still a chance that people won’t like it, or worse, they simply won’t care.

When I started working on Poop two years ago, I was in a bad place both financially and spiritually. I did what most writers do when they can’t figure life out; we write. I purchased a little red Moleskin journal, the writer’s confidant, and plotted out a story about a boy who was also going through a hard time and his imaginary friend that would help him go through it. The plot sat at the front of the book, though I didn’t have all of it, and I would reference back and forth as the year went on and the story continued.

Normally I don’t hand write work, it takes too long, but there is a certain magic that happens when you slow down. Text gets more dense, meaning becomes more layered, and the texture of the words feel organic. The red notebook came out anytime that life got particularly stressful. One of the key moments in the book was even worked on as a real estate agent was negotiating the contract for the house I was living in in the room next to me- a contract that would eventually lead to me needing to find a new home. Emotions charge writing, even if that emotion doesn’t come through on the page.

I wanted Poop to be honest. I wanted it to have emotion, to feel like something that actually happened. Characters were allowed to act on their own, say what they wanted to, and only move the plot forward when they felt like it. Many times I had to restructure the plot simply to afford a character who had made a different decision and, unlike most of my work, I had no idea what the ending would be until the book was almost done.

Poop came from a vast reserve of life experience- much of the plot actually happened to me. During the writing I underwent two cat scans and an endoscopy to root out the cause of my own stomach issues. I had arguments with loved ones just like Liam did and I came to some of the same conclusions on maturity and life that Liam eventually holds. In short, I was translating and understanding my own real world experience into this book. It felt like crystallization, like the memories were being converted into something more solid. Yet it wasn’t a journal.

When I finally finished, I started to understand what I had created. This book, the one with a smiling pile of poo on the cover, was actually about maturity. It was a Trojan horse ready to spring on unsuspecting readers. Liam’s journey through the book is one of self-realization in regards to his place in the world. He starts off feeling like he is the butt of existence, at the mercy of everyone, and it slowly dawns on him that not only is the world not against him- the world really could care less about him.

While that may seem like a harsh lesson, in reality it’s a great relief to the boy. That moment when we realize that life isn’t about us is crucial to maturity. It’s a threshold that some adults never cross (Liam’s father is just such an adult.) This change is entirely facilitated by Liam’s imaginary friend, Poop, who is in actuality Liam’s sense of fatherhood guiding him through the process.

Liam makes mistakes, he acts out for attention, and he heroically strives to solve his problems. He is everything that I wish I was and, eventually, what I became in my own life. For me, Poop represents turning your weaknesses into your strengths through a process of confronting life. Writing the book, in the same way that Liam writes his essay for the climax, was an alchemical process turning a miserable situation into inner peace.

My greatest hope for this book is for it to translate that same process for children going through their own difficulties. Yes, most of the people that respond to it have suffered from celiac or some other stomach condition, however, maturity is something that we all grapple with at one time or another- if not continually.

So why would a writer risk his reputation to publish something with a shocking title? Answer: when a writer feels that it’s the best avenue for conveying truth.

Poop is out and available for your Kindle and in Print. Follow this link to claim your copy.

Playing Teacher, Ky Adams- Fellow Fridays

According to my parents, I have been playing “teacher” since I was very young. When I couldn’t corral parents, siblings, cousins or the dog into being my “students”, I would line up stuffed animals and dolls and “teach” them.

Author pic

No surprise then that my entire career has been teaching in one way or another. I started my professional life as a Kindergarten teacher and I will never forget the 2nd day of my first year of teaching when the mother of one of my students came to speak to me when she brought her son to class. She told me how much her son loved Kindergarten the day before and that he told her I read them four books. He told her what each one was about. And then she said… “If I had known he liked books so much, I would have read to him.”

I was stunned! But I learned that not everyone views books and reading in the same way. There are many homes where no books are present. Not everyone comes to it from the point of view of an educator. I am so thankful that there are many groups who have done much in the past few years to encourage reading to young children. Many hospitals now even give books to new parents when they leave the hospital with their new baby.

Zana 2 Cover

Even the smallest children learn so much from being read to. They learn about the rhythms and cadences of language. They learn vocabulary. They learn the mechanics of reading: we go from the left to the right and top to bottom. And of course it’s always wonderful to be snuggled on a lap and read to!

Zana 2 back

I’m a firm believer that every child should have books that they own and learn to take care of and read over and over. My Zana books are broken up into easy chapters and have lots of pictures to keep young readers engaged. I love early chapter books for young readers, they make them feel “big” and accomplished as readers and they encourage children to stay with a book over several readings. You have to remember the story line and where you left off. Beginning chapter books teach many critical skills like logic (I wonder how that character will get out of this?) Sequencing (understanding how the elements of a story or an event happened in sequence). They can give children valuable insight into decision making. (Well, that didn’t work; I bet she tries something else.)

Zana 1 Cover

I have always been passionate about encouraging young people to read all books but my particular love is science, space and the future. My series of “Zana’s Space Adventures” is a way to get children thinking about the future and space and what our roles will be in it. I created a funny world where a young girl can take off in her own rocket to have space adventures with her sidekick robot Ira and still be home in time for dinner.

Zana 1 back

This creates a problem at home for me because my husband is a NASA engineer. He is a wonderful proof reader and he will check manuscripts for grammatical errors and then he’ll say something like; “Now you know this could never really happen… right?” LOL, bless his heart! I tell him that’s why they call it “fiction” honey! And who is to say what is possible in the future? People who drove a horse and buggy never dreamed of the possibilities of flight.

World in hands

Children are our future scientists, diplomats, policy makers and inventors. Let’s give them tools that foster creativity, imagination, and problem solving. Our world is complex and only becoming more so, we are going to need some creative thinkers!


Ky’s Books are available at Amazon.com

Follow Ky on Twitter: @GKyAdams

And Facebook: KyAdamsAuthor

Sandra Bennett, Australian Children’s Author- Fellow Friday

Picture Books Are Wonderful Conversation Starters

Have you ever been afraid of the dark?

Frightened of monsters hidden under your bed or in your wardrobe?

Picture books can be a wonderful way to start a conversation with children about ways of facing those fears or sorting through other emotions.

Why not read a picture book and start a discussion today?

I realized the power of picture books and their potential to start a dialogue when I was teaching a year 5 class one day. It was one of those moments when I needed an impromptu lesson, so I grabbed a picture book out of my trusty resource bag and began to read aloud. The initial class response was stunned silence. What was I thinking reading them something with pictures and very few words! It didn’t take them long to sit back, relax and enjoy the experience. After reading the story, the real work began. A lengthy conversation ensued that lead to some amazing writing of their own. I had re-opened the world of picture books to 10 and 11 year old students.

 

Curtin South Preschool

What was this amazing picture book that enlightened and brought so much wonder to our classroom? One of my favourites, “Diary of a Wombat” by Jackie French. Written so simplistically, yet capturing the character of a wombat so magnificently.

Since then I’ve now written two Australian picture books myself. My goal, is to introduce unusual Australian creatures to children around the world while opening opportunities for conversations with parents and teachers. Through my stories children can learn a little about Australia’s environment, the animals that call it home and something about themselves along the way. Each book finishes with a few fun facts about the characters contained in the story.

My newest release is “Frazzled Freya.” A rather timid frill neck lizard so scared of shadows and unknown monsters she is too frightened to join in all the fun and games with her desert friends. Set in the harsh Australian Outback, the vivid yet earthy colours used by my illustrator, Dianna Budd, depict perfectly the heat of the sun Freya is desperate to avoid.

Frazzled Freya_cover_amazon_001

 

Parents, teachers and children can read along and discover Freya’s journey to triumph as she conquers her fear with a little help from a few unusual desert friends. The story provides an excellent opportunity to begin talking to your little ones about facing their fears, trying new experiences and stepping outside of their comfort zone.

Emma the Eager Emu,” tells the tale of a very unusual bird who can’t understand why she is so different from all her friends at flying school. She is desperate to learn to fly and be just like everyone else. An assortment of colourful yet different species of Australian birds come to Emma’s aid. Through her tenacity to never give up, Emma eventually learns the significance of individualism and discovers her own special way of doing things. This is another wonderful conversation starter as children struggle to fit into peer groups at school and learn to understand and embrace their own unique qualities and differences.

EmmaEMU_black fontcover1_001 - Copy

Is there a topic you feel you would like to discuss with your child? I’ll bet you can find a picture book to help lead you into the conversation. So, pick up a picture book today, snuggle with your child tonight, share the book and read aloud together. If you’re a teacher, don’t be afraid to use a picture book in a middle grade classroom. You just might be surprised by the conversation it helps start.


Sandra’s Website

Sandra’s Facebook 

Grab your copy of Frazzled Freya here or Emma the Eager Emu here

 

Judging Your Book by Its Cover

The fantastic David (Maurice) Chuka created this post on the importance of your cover. Believe it or not, readers really do judge a book by its cover!


Writing is fun. Putting together a children’s picture book and getting it published is always an exhilarating experience. However, that is the fun side of writing. The not so fun side is actually marketing your book and getting as many people to know about it and hopefully buy it. This is the part of writing or publishing a book that leaves most writers frustrated.

The reality is that just because a book is published does not mean it can never be revisited. I always read and re-read books I’ve written to see if there’s something I need to edit that can improve a reader’s experience as well as boost sales. With this in mind, one of my books has been given me cause for concern.

An author’s books are like his babies and he/she wants them all to do well. All my children’s books so far have been favorably received by the market and have all achieved best seller status in one or multiple categories in the Amazon store. However, What Do You Call a Baby Lion? hasn’t done so well. I’ve really been thinking of what I could do to make it more popular.

Over the weekend, I believe I discovered what has made this book not so popular. Two things actually and they are:

  1. The Title
  2. The cover

The Title – I believe (and please feel free to disagree) that the title doesn’t lend itself to a wide audience. Anyone who isn’t interested in lions will overlook this book. Also the title doesn’t fully represent what the book is really about – BABY ANIMALS. The concept behind this book was to introduce little children to the names of baby animals. The book starts with a little boy whose mom has just had a baby girl and he wonders what baby animals are called.

The Cover – You know the popular saying ‘Don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ Well, with regard to a human being, I totally agree. You might be making a big mistake judging as hopeless the scruffy, shy looking guy in front of you at the check out till who might actually be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. However, when it comes to books, your cover is everything. Or at least is the first frontier upon which the battle is either won or lost.

Of all the books I have published, I never had that YES feeling (with What Do You Call a Baby Lion?) when I got it back from my book cover designer. Too much white space, I really wasn’t feeling the brown font, the square around the lion seemed forced etc.

So for the past month, it’s been rumbling in my mind what to do with ‘What Do You Call a Baby Lion?’ And over the weekend I came up with the solution.

The title of the book will be changed to ‘I Love Baby Animals

Also, based upon the feedback I have received, the cutest animal in the book was the baby hedgehog.baby hedgehog This will now be the main character on the book cover. There will be yellow text on a green background for the cover. This has worked really well on my other books and I’m hopeful it’ll be the same on this book.

My designer is currently working on the book cover and once that has been completed, I will relaunch the book and have a free download day.

If you’re an aspiring author and wondering why your book isn’t selling so well, there’s always something extra you can do. I’m hopeful the tweaks I have done will have a positive effect on the sales of this book. Will report back sometime next week to let you know how it went. Also watch out for the announcement on the free download day.

I would really love your comments with regard to this post.

Thank you.

David (Maurice) Chuka

Protect Your WordPress Blog, Save Your Sanity

Eagle eyed readers may notice that my site recently underwent a major transformation. That’s no accident. On the contrary, it was forced.

My web host service (IXWebhosting.com) notified me that my website had been compromised by malware. To be more specific, my WordPress blog had been infected and was busy sending out spam email to heaven knows where.

The spike in traffic raised a flag, IX shut down my site, and I lost everything. The malware had been installed through brute force password cracking (a computer kept trying to log in until it guessed right, literally millions of times.) Once inside, it created an account for itself, gave it full permissions, and started executing PHP scripts while modifying the other PHP files that were there already.

PHP files are what makes WordPress function. They are basically programs that can be run server side. Once the malware virus started changing these though, it made it almost impossible to recover from. IX cleaned the server and removed the bad files, but the damage was done. The malware had changed critical WordPress PHP files and I couldn’t get them back without reinstalling everything.

If all of that sounded confusing or full of jargon, don’t worry, I only understand it because I had to. You don’t have to understand PHP though to protect yourself. Here’s three easy steps you can take right now to keep this curse from happening to you.

  1. Install a firewall program on your WordPress blog.

    Under plugins search for Firewall and find one that both stops robots from accessing your page and also limits the number of password attempts. WP Security and WordFence come highly recommended.

  2. Make your password stronger.

    Your last name combined with your birthday won’t cut it anymore. Even adding extra characters and punctuation won’t help much either. Use the password generator under Users to create a strong password. Those are usually around 16 characters and have random numbers and letters. Copy and paste into a password file if you can’t remember it.

  3. Backup your files.

    I didn’t have any backups so I had to start from scratch, however, WordPress supports backups and restores. Follow this tutorial to learn how to save your work.

Preventing an attack is much easier than recovering from one. I’m lucky that it was isolated and that I have such an awesome and supportive community, however, if I had known better earlier it would have saved a ton of stress. These steps only take a few minutes but they can save you weeks of work.

As for me, I’m making a tall pitcher of lemonade out of these lemons.

😉