Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Best review ever!

I'm so excited! I got the best review EVER! Here's just one part of it:

"Do you believe in Magic? I think after reading Toren the Teller's Tale, you will absolutely believe in Magic. The way this story is set up by the author is absolutely mesmerizing." "Even with a black and white Nook, this book is a visual pleasure. I love you Shevi Arnold, and I adore Toren The Teller's Tale."

Thank you, thank you, thank, thank you!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Happy holidays!

Hope you're having an awesome holiday!

My Hanukkah has been going pretty well. I've been making lots of gluten-free, sugar-free, lactose-free doughnuts, and they're delicious. Lots of latkes too.

As for presents, I got three awesome Think Geek tees, including one that says "The book was better," a Hitchhiker's Guide one with a Twitter fail whale, and this one with the definition of interesting.

I think it's a good idea for writers to make their stories interesting, particular according to the third definition.

I'm currently working on the paperback version of Toren the Teller's Tale, which is a much bigger job than it sounds.

The formatting for a paper book is completely different from the formatting of an e-book. For example, while an e-book has 72-DPI JPG graphics, a print book has 600-DPI PNG graphics, and Toren has a story patch in the header of every chapter--so that's a lot stuff I need to format! I think it will be worth it, though. And thankfully, I'm almost done. There's only the front and back cover and the copyright page left for me to work on.

I'm listening to a funny Pandora station to keep me entertained while I work. You can check it out, if you like, but be aware that some of the content is "mature." (Weird how sometimes mature and immature mean the same thing.) That's not entirely my fault. Pandora is meant to find similar music, but some of the stuff they've selected isn't similar to what I picked for that station. My original selections included music by Jonathan Coulton, the Barenaked Ladies, Weird Al Yankovic, Garfunkel and Oates, MC Lars, Allan Sherman, Matthew Ebel, Jimmy Fallon, Spinal Tap, They Might Be Giants, Monty Python, and more.  

Enjoy the rest of your holiday, and may your magic shine brightly in 2012!


Thursday, December 22, 2011

What Every Writer Needs To Know

Do you ever experience writer’s block?

In his autobiographical book Rewrites, playwright Neil Simon explains that writer’s block isn’t when a writer has no idea what to write; it’s when a writer has plenty of ideas but doesn’t trust himself to choose the right one.

The main thing you need to know is that writing is about taking a leap of faith in your story--and yourself.

Detail from Toren the Teller's Flight, book two of Toren the Teller's Tale

Toren the Teller’s Tale is a fantasy novel about a magical storyteller and her struggle to accept the magic within herself. She has a hard time taking that leap of faith. It seems wrong. The world doesn’t approve. She loves her own magic, but trusting in it is scary, terrifying, in fact.

In a way, Toren’s story is the story of every writer. We all have fears. We all struggle to accept our own magic. But we have to accept it. We have to believe. Our stories need us; but, more importantly, our readers need our stories, although they might not know it yet.

In the following scene from chapter nine, Toren is attending a tellers’ gathering as a storyteller’s apprentice. What the others at the gathering don’t know is that she’s a girl disguised as a boy, and that her real master is a wizard who hired a storyteller to take her to the gathering so that she can learn about the magic of the storytellers.

“The first step to becoming a great teller,” one elder master said, “is to know your audience. You must know what they wear, eat, think and believe, how they live, how they die, and where their souls go when they slumber. Your story is a journey to a greater truth, and your listener will not join you on that journey if he doesn't see it as his journey. You must paint your story in such a way that the listener will see himself inside it.”

“So true, so true,” commented another. “A teller must study everything--from the smallest details of our mundane existences to our grandest hopes and fears.”

“Is that what a story is then?” one of the older apprentices asked. “A mirror showing the listener exactly what he is?”

A wave of laughter rippled through the hall.

“Of course not,” shouted a teller in the back. “That is the very last thing a story should be” He stepped closer to the platform so everyone could see and hear him. “Indeed, it must start with the listener, but it should take him far from his reality. In each person’s mind, he is the center of the world, for it begins and ends with his experiences, thoughts, and beliefs. The listener is the one and only hero of the story of his life. In his mind all other heroes and all other stories are insignificant. But in reality he is of no more importance than any other sorry soul of the millions who have lived or have yet to live. He is a drop in the endless ocean of existence, which carries us all where it will. Of course, you must never tell your listener that. If you do, he will throw you out on your ear. The only mirrors you should show him are those he sees in his dreams. You must say, ‘Look here you are in my story. The perfect hero, that’s you. You only need to close your eyes, and I will take you there.’”

A murmur of approval greeted his words. A few even applauded.

Giddy yawned. “Don’t you find this dull?” he asked me.

I raised a finger to my lips to tell him to be quiet. My real master’s words echoed in my mind. Pay close attention to everything the master tellers say, he ordered. You are here to learn about the magic of the telling. And so I did.

“Now, now,” countered the first elder master, “not all of our stories are dreams. Sometimes we lead our listeners through their nightmares and guide them safely through to the other side. Only two things remain constant: the listener is always the starting point and our goal is always the greater truth. The easiest stories to tell are the dreams or nightmares you and your listener share. Discover what you have in common, and from that common place of departure begin the grandest journey your soul will allow.”

“But what if you and your audience have nothing in common?” asked one of the apprentices. “What if you tell a story to a king, for example? Do you tell him a tale about royalty, even though you know nothing about life at court? It won’t ring true. And what about all the tales of princesses and daring knights? Surely, they’re not only for nobles. My master tells these tales to peasants all the time, and they love them.”

“Yes,” said another apprentice. “And what about made up stories, ones that deal with fantastic things that could never be true? Where’s the common starting point, and where’s the greater truth?”

The elder master said the answer to this question was obvious, and he turned it over to us. I hesitated at first, but when no one else spoke, I asked if I might be allowed to. He nodded.
“We all have common hopes and fears,” I said. Sol reminded me to raise my voice. I continued a bit louder. “From the lowliest peasant to the king, we dream of someone who will love us more than life itself. In her dreams, every maiden is a princess longing for love; in his dreams, every youth is the one who will win her heart. Even the king’s hopes and fears are as common as our own.”

“And what about fantastic tales?” the elder master asked.

“My master’s story was fantastic,” I replied. “And yet it’s true. A man wants a son to follow in his footsteps and may be blinded to a truth he doesn’t wish to see. A woman may know the truth and be afraid to speak it. And a child may suffer for not being what the world demands her to be.”

The elders smiled at my answer, but one of them shook his finger.

“Although what you say is true, young man,” he said, “I believe a story’s truth is even greater than that. One day you’ll see. You’ll think you are telling a story, but the truth of it will take over, and you’ll realize the thing you thought you created was always there--not in this place and time but somewhere in the infinite universe and as true as your own existence. We tellers are bridges from the past to the present, from the present to the future, from distant lands to here, and from here to everywhere.”


Realize there’s a journey your reader needs to make, and only you can take your reader there.

Embrace your own magic. Trust your story. Trust yourself.

Your story, your characters, and your readers are depending on you.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Some illustrations from Toren the Teller's Tale

Toren the Teller's Tale book release!

Toren the Teller's Tale is about a magical storyteller and her struggle to accept the magic within herself. It's a literary fantasy about the greatest magic of all: the magic of stories. It's about the magic that takes us to strange new worlds and allows us to experience that world through another's eyes. It's about the magic that makes us think, feel, laugh, fall in love, and discover things we never knew about ourselves. 

I'm very excited to announce that Toren the Teller's Tale is now available for download in two parts! 

You can pick up book one, Toren the Apprentice's Tale, AmazonBN.comSmashwords and the Apple iBookstore for just $1.99.  My husband and I are currently working on making the complete novel available for download and in paperback. 

I'm now on a Bewitching Book Tour to help promote the book. Thanks so much to all the bloggers below, as well as Roxanne Rhoads, who runs Bewitching Book Tours; and Trista DiGiuseppi, the author of Nails Jane, who also hosted me on her blog. It's very much appreciated.

Dec 19 Guest Blog

Dec 20 Promo

Dec 21 Guest blog

Dec 22 Interview

Dec 22 Guest Blog 
Natalie Cole Bates

Dec 23 Promo
Roxanne's Realm

Dec 26 Guest Blog
Fang-tastic Books

Dec 27 Guest Blog and review
The Wytch's Mirror

Dec 28 Promo and Review
Book Briefs 

Dec 29 Guest Blog and review

December 30 Guest Post
Lisa’s World of Books

Dec 30 Guest Blog

January 2 Promo and Excerpts
Reader Girls


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Find the Perfect Gift for a Writer--No Matter Your Budget!

Are you looking for a gift for a writer? Trying to find the perfect something in your price range? Or would you like someone to FINALLY get you the right present, something that acknowledges who you are as a writer, and not just someone who happens to wear socks?

If your answer to any of these questions is “yes,” here are my tips and a list of some great gifts by price range. If you’re the writer, you might want to tell that special someone about this post and your thoughts on it. You could even print it, attach it to your refrigerator, and circle your favorite in red ink with arrows pointing to it. It’s not subtle, but it should do the trick.

And now here it is. (All prices are current for December 11th, 2011 and may change at any time):

A Writer's Wish List


1    Time to write!

If your spouse is a writer and you have kids, just getting the kids out of the house can be very helpful. Give the writer a coupon booklet with ten coupons good for one hour of time at home alone to write. Also throw in coupons for five undisturbed baths, five massages, and five hour-long trips to the library.

2   Cards

Diana Greenwood suggests sympathy cards for rejections. I think inspirational cards that show your support could be a great gift. Just print up cards with things like “You know who I believe in? You!” “You’re amazing in all the write ways,” and “The only thing you can’t edit…is a blank page. Keep on writing! I believe in you.” Hold onto the cards and give them out when your writer needs encouragement and support
3   Books on Writing or Publishing

I would particularly recommend ones that provide inspiration. Here are a few that could be great if the writer doesn’t already have them:

Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius in You:  by Ray Bradbury  ($7.99 from Amazon)

o The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron. This was recommended by my Facebook friend, Deborah Blake Dempsey, although I know several other writers who love this book. ($11.55 new in paperback or used for $2.84 and up with $3.99 for shipping from Amazon)

o The Writer’s Retreat Kit: A Guide for Creative Exploration and Personal Expression by Judy Reeves ($19.95 new from Amazon, but starting at $3.99 plus $3.99 shipping new from an Amazon seller.)

o Time to Write: Professional Writers Reveal How to Fit Writing Into Your Busy Life by Kelly L. Stone ($11.01 new from Amazon or $0.01 plus $3.99 used from an Amazon reseller)

o The Writer’s Workout: 366 Tips, Tasks & Techniques from Your Writing Career Coach by Christina Katz ($12.63 in paperback and $9.99 on Kindle from Amazon)

o Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul, edited by Jack Canfield ($10.17 new and $4 and up used from Amazon)

o The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform Your Fiction by Brian Kiteley—recommended by Deborah Blake Dempsey, who says, “This is a good one for jump starting the creative juices or for someone stuck in their writing.” ($10.47 new from Amazon or $5.30 plus $3.99 shipping new from an Amazon reseller)

4    Autobiographies of Famous Writers

Two that I've enjoyed are On Writing by Stephen King ($10.88 for the latest edition new, although older used version may be available for less)  and Rewrites: A Memoirby Neil Simon ($1.30 plus $3.99 new from an Amazon reseller).

5   Books that Reaffirm the Magic of Stories

Novels like Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart ($8.79) and, Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series (starting with The Eyre Affair, $10.88 new or used for $3.79 including Super Saver shipping) , or my own soon to be released, Toren the Teller’s Tale.

6   Writing Materials

Pens, paper, sticky notes, notebooks, or a journal (for those writers who like journaling) can be nice presents. Writer Deborah Blake Dempsey says, “The Sharpie Pen. It doesn't bleed through paper. You can write, sketch or doodle your way through writer's block. I can't get enough of it and, for a writer, it's a great gift. Oh, and if a journal is given along with the pens . . . perfection.” I know that writer Lisa Yee is particularly fond of Pilot G-2 pens. After having tried them, they’re now my pen of choice too. I prefer the ones with black ink. For an author doing book signings, a fancy pen might be good. I like metallic gel pens, particularly gold.

7   Tea

My Facebook friend, Jackie Garlick-Pynaert, wrote, “Good tea. Inspirational-flavoured tea, like Green Kamboucha, Higgens and Clarke chai, or white pomegranate. Writers need their tea!” (I’m guessing this is a UK company. I wasn’t able to find it in the USA, although Trader Joe’s, Revolution Tea, and Bentley’s seem to offer similar flavors.)

8    Dark Chocolate

When I worked as an editorial cartoonist, dark chocolate helped me continue working well into the night. My favorite is Max Brenner, which has shops in New York City as well as online, but dark Dove chocolate Dove will also do.

9    A Wrist Rest

My friend, Amy Lynn Spitzley, suggested “Some sort of a wrist brace!” 3M has gel wrist rest that can be used to help support your wrist when you use a mouse. It’s just $8 from Amazon and eligible for free Super Saver Shipping.


10   Board Games

Writers usually love words, so a word-based game could make a nice presents. Here are some of my favorites:

o Taboo ($16.99 from Toys R Us)

o Banangrams ($14.95 from Amazon and most other places it’s sold)

o Scattergories ($16.99 from Toys R Us)

o Scrabble ($8.99 from Toys R Us)

11   T-Shirts for Writers

I like this "The Book Was Better" one from Think Geek ($16.99-19.999) :

Think Geek also has tees inspired by certain books, like Alice in Wonderland, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and The Princess Bride. Or if your writer is a NaNoWriMo 2011 winner, let them know how proud you are of them with an official NaNoWriMo winner’s tee for $25.

12   Writing-Themed Handmade Jewelry and More

Etsy, the handmade arts-and-crafts store, has a huge selection of jewelry and other fun stuff for writers. Just type “writer” into its search engine and see what you get. It can be overwhelming, so you might want to enter the name of a favorite book or something from a favorite genre instead. For example, when I typed in “science fiction” and limited the list to just jewelry, I found this adorable I, Robot necklace for $14 plus $4 shipping. 

13   A Special Edition of a Favorite Children's Book

It could be a first or hardcover edition, an illustrated edition for a book that isn’t normally illustrated, like The Hobbit, or a signed copy. Ask the writer what his or her favorite childhood book was, and start looking for it on Amazon, Ebay, or Half.com.

14   Writer's Digest

A one-year subscription costs $19.95, and it's worth it.

15   Coffee

If your writer is also a coffee addict, a favorite brand in a writing related mug, like this one (which I designed) from CafĂ© Press. The front shows a hound dog typing away in pajamas and bunny slippers, and the back reads, “Do not disturb: Writer at work.”   ($15 plus shipping, coffee not included. Posters and tees with the same design also available):


16   Membership in a Writers’ Organization

Membership to the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) costs $85 for the first year, $74 a year after that. There are numerous benefits you can find out about here: http://www.scbwi.org/Pages.aspx/Membership-Benefits

17   A One-Day Writers’ Event

My local SCBWI group has events all year round with prices starting at free for members and $60 for non-members.

18   A Good Printer

There are many models for under $100, so don’t make your writer suffer with a printer that just doesn’t work. The Canon Pixma MG5320 wireless all-in-one printer seems like a good one. ($99.99 from Amazon)

19   Scrivener

Scrivener is a different kind of word-processing program designed specifically for the way writers think, with places for storyboarding, character information, and much more. There are videos online to help explain how everything works. Scrivener is available as a download for Windows ($40) and Mac ($45). What’s more, if you’re a recent NaNoWriMo winner, you can get Scrivener for half that (check the NaNoWriMo site for details).

20   Dragon Naturally Speaking

Dragon is speech-to-text software, which is great if you don’t type very fast or have a problem typing a lot. Get the latest version that will work with the writer’s current computer system, and look for it when it’s on sale. The version I use is 11.5 Premium, which works reasonably well with Windows 7. (The advantage of Premium is that it will also read my words back to me, which helps with editing.) The current home edition of Dragon is now on sale for $74.99 here. Also, get a good headset, preferably a USB one. I’m pretty pleased with my Sennheiser headset. It’s a fairly expensive set I bought on sale, but there are much cheaper ones like the Sennheiser single-sided voice-recognition headset

21   An E-Book Reader

Prices for black-and-white models start at $79 for the Kindle and $99 for the Nook.

22   Back Support Cushion

Diana Greenwood suggested a “super-duper back pillow for support at the desk chair, because we all know that there is no chair that can help with cramming when on a deadline.” I haven’t been able to find a good one yet, but here’s one option: Kensington memory foam backrest ($31.24 from Amazon)

$100 AND UP

23   A Writers’ Conference or Writers' Retreat

I’ve been to many SCBWI conferences, and although they can be pricey, most attendees would say they’re well-worth it. Try to find a good conference for the writer’s genre in your area, so you can at least save on airfare and maybe the cost of the hotel. Of if you’re getting this for your spouse, perhaps you’d like to join him or her? My husband did this once, and because conference attendees were given a discount, it ended up being a relatively affordable family vacation.

24   A Good Ergonomic Chair

These are usually over $100, but I was surprised to find what seems like a decent one for just $59.99 from Office Depot. Staples also has some nice-looking chairs on sale starting at $49.99, including a well-reviewed high-back office chair for $69.99.

25   Kindle Fire—So much more than an e-reader, the Kindle Fire is Amazon’s tablet, priced at $199.

Needless to say, I want one.

26   Nook Tablet

Also so much more than an e-reader, the latest Barnes & Noble Nook can even stream TV and movies from Netflix and Hulu! It costs $249, and needless to say, I want one of these too.

27   The iPad

$500 and up, the iPad is the tablet all other tablets are measured against.

28   A New Laptop

If your writer is struggling with an old computer, he or she really needs a new laptop. I’m very happy with the Acer Aspire I have, and I know many people love the fancier Toshiba Satellite laptops. I’ve heard good things about Apple’s laptops, too, although they do cost significantly more. My recommendation is to figure out how much you’d be willing to pay, check Amazon, ZD Net, and CNet for reviews, and then compare prices at sites like DealCatcher.com: http://www.dealcatcher.com/laptops. Right now they’re showing one of the latest Acer Aspire laptops at the top of the page. It’s $479.99 from Amazon (the screen is kind of small, but it’s light and has many other nice features).

And that's my list. There should be something here for every writer and for every budget.

What about you? Is there something you'd particularly like from this list or something else I left out? Leave your comments below. I look forward to reading what you think. Thanks!  

Monday, December 05, 2011

The Story Behind Toren the Teller and the Tale

Toren changed my life.
I don’t know how old I was when I first became a storyteller, but I do know I was quite young. I remember telling my youngest cousins and my older cousins’ children stories when I was about ten. I loved the excited look on their faces, how my stories drew them in and captured their imaginations and their hearts. I also remember telling stories to the younger children on the van ride to school. I particularly remember one little girl who would ask over and over, “What happened next?” It was such a delightful question to answer.
As I was growing up, I read anything and everything I could get my hands on. I read encyclopedias and science magazines, because I was very curious, and couldn’t read enough about this world. I also read a ton of comic books, particular collections of Peanuts strips. My favorite books were funny, fantasy or science fiction. I loved the works of Peter S. Beagle, Ursula Le Guin, Anne McCaffrey, J.R.R. Tolkien, Gene Wolfe, Harlan Ellison, Douglas Adams, Isaac Asimov, Orson Scott Card, John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, and so many others.
But while I enjoyed these books, I kept looking for one about a girl like me, a girl who loved stories and loved telling them. I knew stories were magical, perhaps even the most magical thing we can experience. I couldn’t possibly be the only one who felt like this, could I? And who better to write about this particular magic than a storyteller? But the more I looked, the more I realized the book I so desperately wanted to read did not exist. No one had written it yet.
When I was seventeen, my family had moved to Jerusalem, and I had just started college. That first year I studied Hebrew and a variety of other subjects, like Advanced Algebra, Political Science, and Computer Programming. My plan was to eventually study filmmaking, because I wanted to be a director.
You see, I didn’t just love storytelling on paper: I loved it in all its forms, and I thought that movies were the best way to tell a story, because they brought so many of those forms together: with and without words, visually, and through music. I studied the movies I enjoyed, and I tried to figure out how they worked. I still read books, but I read them mostly for entertainment. These were books of my choosing, books that made me laugh and cry, think and feel.
This one night, a book had kept me up late. It was sometime after midnight that my head felt heavy, and I laid it down on the open pages. I looked out of the window of my room. The moon was big and full, far above the horizon. I stood up and walked to the window. I leaned on the windowsill and thought again about that book that didn’t exist, the one about a storytelling girl like me. I closed my eyes and made a wish.
When I turned around, a young woman was standing behind me in my room.
Although she was short, there was something about her that seemed larger than life. She was amazingly beautiful, with her long, dark, curly hair, and her olive-colored, almond-shaped eyes. She was wearing a garment the likes of which I had never seen before.
I asked her for her name.
She said something, but it wasn’t in English. I didn’t understand.
I shook my head.
She slowly reached up and touched my forehead with the tips of her fingers. She closed her eyes, and for a moment, she gave off a golden glow. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.
“Thank you,” she said, with a voice that reminded me of honey. “You have taught me your language. Both of them, in fact.”
I felt like I should apologize. “I’m still learning Hebrew.” 
 “And now so am I.” She smiled. “I understand you wanted to meet me.”
“I did?”
“A girl like you who understands the magic of stories?”
I was so stunned and happy and excited I couldn’t speak.
“You have taught me your language and about your world,” she said. “How should I repay you?”
Of course, there could only be one answer to that question. “Tell me your story.”  
“I can do better than that.”
Again she touched my forehead. She closed her eyes, and I closed mine. Her name was Toren, and her story flashed inside my mind. I saw, heard, smelled, tasted, and felt all of it. When she pulled her hand away, I was laughing and crying.
I was in awe.
She smiled at me and bowed her head. She looked out the window, and I followed her gaze. A part of me expected to see something magical on the other side. When I turned around again, however, she was gone.
Her story remained with me, and I treasured it. I re-experienced it whenever I was lonely or bored and wanted to be reminded of the magic of stories.
But, like everyone else, I had my life to live. I couldn’t study film, because the university only offered that as an M.A., so I studied English Literature and Theater instead. By the time I had graduated, I realized I didn’t really want to direct movies. I earned a teacher’s certificate, but I didn’t enjoy teaching. Instead I first became an editorial cartoonist, and a comic-strip magazine editor; and then I became an arts-and-entertainment writer, and a consumer columnist. I got married and had two children. I was very happy.
Unfortunately, I had to leave my job and my old life behind when my family moved to New Jersey in search of a better education for my autistic son. I didn’t know what to do. If I couldn’t write, edit, or illustrate for a newspaper or magazine, who was I? What was I?
A few months passed before I realized the answers to those questions. I was still the little girl who loved telling stories to the other children in the van on the way to school. Toren’s story had given me so much joy over the years. And I had been selfish. Somewhere in the world there had to be someone just like the girl I had been, someone who desperately needed a story about the greatest magic of all. It wasn’t just Toren’s story. It was my story, too, and the story of every storyteller who’s ever lived.
Perhaps it’s your story too.