Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Five Star Review From Josephine's Library!

There was a very pleasant surprise waiting for me this morning. A stellar review of The Nightmare Birds from Josephine's Library! Here's a preview of the five star review:
"When I read Strange Luck, it was unlike anything I'd ever read before. It was an amazing mixture of mystery and fantasy...And with The Nightmare Birds Ms. Winters has succeeded in leaving me mesmerized all over again...With a dazzling array of characters and a vibrant plot, it's no wonder this book is near impossible to put down."
You can read the full review HERE. If you'd like to check out her review of Strange Luck, you can find that HERE.

I'm so happy that the sequel is being so well received. Phew! I poured so much of my heart and soul into this story and have made it my mission to create something unique, mysterious, and imaginative, so reviews like this seriously make my week! Thank you so much. :D

If you've read my book(s), I'd love to hear what you think. Shoot me an email, post in the comments below, or send me a link to your review. Readers, like you, have the power to make or break a book, and every bit of feedback is appreciated.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

I Was An Aerial Acrobat...Well, Sort Of

As I mentioned in my secrets of Strange Luck post, I love learning secrets behind a book, like where an author got a particular idea or wrote their story. It really adds something to the whole experience. I thought long and hard about some interesting tidbits I could share about The Nightmare Birds and this is what I've come up with. I hope you enjoy them. :D

1.   I took the title ‘The Nightmare Birds’ from a poem I had written 10 years ago. It was about nightingales in my neighborhood that were chirping all night and driving me crazy. Here's a pic of my journal with the poem:

2.   While writing this book I took aerial acrobatic lessons to get a better sense of what it was like to be a circus/theater performer. It was a lot of fun, but I wasn't very good at it. Here's a goofy pic of me striking a pose:

3.   One of the working titles for this book was ‘An Evening at the Theater of Secrets.’ I didn’t want to lose that name completely, so I used it as the title of the mysterious book in the story.
4.   Christine is actually based on a German foreign exchange student who lived with me when I was in high school. Just like the character in the book, her real name was Christine and she was kinda odd. She would always suddenly leave the room while you were talking to her, and she was obsessed with anything orange.

5.   My real-life interest in existentialism trickled into the story, especially Daisy’s fascination with Simone de Beauvoir and Friedrich Nietzsche. They are some of my favorite philosophers.

6.   Originally the “nightmare bird” was a nightingale (like in my poem), but I've always liked owls more, so I changed it.

7.   I wrote The Nightmare Birds as a standalone title years ago and worked closely with an agent to develop it. Per the agent's guidance, the story ultimately went a direction I didn't like, so the relationship dissolved and I decided to go my own way. I wrote Strange Luck next, then decided to adapt The Nightmare Birds as the sequel.
8.   In the original story, the protagonist's name was 'Rune.'

9.   The reference about people who voluntarily lived in caves without light and lost all track of time is based on a real (and super scary) experiment. Look it up.

10. Arianrhod (Daisy's mom) is based on a Goddess from Welsh mythology. The Goddess shape-shifts into a wise owl which enables her to see into the dark depths of the human soul.

I hope you enjoyed learning more about The Nightmare Birds. Don't forget to check these out too:

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Writing, Tomatoes, and How I Trained My Puppy to be a Therapy Dog

This summer has flown by, but it's not to say that it hasn't been productive. Here are some highlights from my summer:

Loki Is Officially A Therapy Dog! Before I even adopted my pug, Loki, I knew that I wanted him to be a therapy dog. I got the idea from visiting my grandparents in their assisted living facility. They had a resident parrot in the lobby that everyone went crazy over, and when my mom would bring her little black pug named Bosco, the response was even more overwhelming. Whenever we would visit my grandparents, the residents would inquire about Bosco, and it was evident that he was the highlight of their week. It makes sense. Whenever I see an animal it instantly brightens my day. Seriously, if I'm writing at my desk and look out the window and see a chipmunk hopping through the grass I can't help but smile. On particularly crappy days, I'll look at cute animal videos or pics on YouTube or Pinterest and all of my worries seem to instantly vanish. Anyway, I started hearing about "therapy dogs" on the news that were visiting people in need, especially after a major disaster or incident like Sandy Hook. These therapy dogs give so much to so many in times of need and I knew that this was something I wanted to be a part of. If you're interested in learning more, or getting your dog certified, here's how I did it:

-   Therapy dogs have to be one-year-old to take the official test and I adopted Loki when he was 9 weeks old. It was highly recommended that Loki participate in puppy training prior so that he could get used to other dogs, people, and scenarios, so I enrolled him in puppy school when he was 3 months old at my local pet supply store.

Say cheese! You graduated from kindergarten.
 -   After he completed six weeks of puppy school, which taught him the basics like how to sit, stay, and walk properly on a leash, I enrolled him in six weeks of puppy kindergarten. These scenarios were a little more advanced like coming when called, venturing through tunnels, etc.

-   Next was the Canine Good Citizen class for another six weeks. A lot of the scenarios in class were similar and/or actual components found on the Therapy Dog International (T.D.I) test like leaving your dog with someone else for a full minute without them freaking out or being aggressive, coming when called on a twenty-foot leash, etc. When Loki passed, I sent in his paperwork and he got a certificate and ribbon. You can learn more about the purpose and qualifications for the Canine Good Citizen here.

Here we are doing a test simulation.

-   I enrolled Loki in a T.D.I. class to train on specific things that he would be tested on. The class was six weeks long. I trained with Loki every day at home, and as he mastered more scenarios, I would continue to do the same training in different locations like in the backyard, upstairs, in the park, etc. Sometimes the teacher allowed us to do simulations outside as well (as pictured above). His biggest problem areas were pulling on his leash and jumping on people. During one of the test simulations in class, Loki also tried to pee on an orange cone and I quickly found out that peeing on anything during the test is an automatic fail. Yikes!

-   It was time to take the test! About 12 dogs showed up, comprised of people from the training class, as well as any community members who wanted to test their dog. The process was a little overwhelming I have to admit. There was one evaluator who had brought several volunteers and she decided to hold the test outdoors. Good thing I practiced outside! Test scenarios ranged from having to walk your dog around a wheelchair, a flashing light, a kid playing with a streamer, and someone on crutches without the dog freaking out, being aggressive, or pulling, to someone in a wheelchair offering your dog food and he has to 'leave it' at your command. The thing I was worried about most was Loki jumping up on people since he's so small and gets very excited around new people. During the test he did jump a little bit, but I was able to call him down so that the volunteers could pet him as he sat. I was also worried about him peeing on a cone again, so I probably took him for 3-4 potty breaks during the test. The whole testing process took about 2 hours. It was a huge relief when he passed! You can view all of the testing requirements here.

Isn't this the cutest patch ever?
 -   After Loki passed his test, I had to work through a big stack of paperwork. First, I had to have his vet sign it saying that he was up-to-date on all of his vaccines and submit proof, then I had to fill out general info about the Loki. I mailed in the paperwork with the fee, as well as a picture of Loki. He'll be receiving a special bandana with a T.D.I patch, and I'll soon be getting my special laminated badge that I'll be required to wear on visits as well. Once we receive our identification, we'll be visiting low-income assisted living facilities as well as children's hospitals in the area. I'm really looking forward to it!

Everything I did took a year to complete, but Loki is an unusual scenario. Some of the dogs in our T.D.I class were older and had regularly been exposed to kids and hospital scenarios since their owners worked there, so not all had gone through the recommended training. Some of these dogs tested well, but some didn't. This was primarily with dogs that had been adopted later in life so it was difficult to break them of bad habits. I really think that all of the training that Loki had from an early age helped the process, which is one of the reasons I decided to adopt a puppy in the first place.

This WAS NOT an easy process. It's up to the owner to pass just as much as it is the dog since the dog is obeying your commands and following your lead. It was extremely difficult to train a puppy and some days were very discouraging. I was very nervous on the day of the T.D.I test and worried that he wouldn't pass after all of the hard work and time I had put in to get him certified. No matter how hard you train, there's always the 'what if' factor since dogs can be unpredictable.

Hello, friend! I'm here to cheer you up. :D
I'm truly honored to be a member of T.D.I. I've learned a great deal during this process, especially all of the different ways that therapy dogs can help others. For example, I just learned about a new program where therapy dogs are used to calm down children in a courtroom if they need to testify. There are funeral home/bereavement dogs. There are even therapy dogs brought to colleges during the week of finals. Wherever Loki goes I'm confident that this little face will bring cheer to people who need it most.

In other news...

I Started My First Real Garden: I'm talking a real bonafide garden in the ground and everything! I've always had potted plants indoors, and maybe a few here and there outside, but nothing actually in the ground, so this is a big deal for me. I planted onions, four different kinds of tomatoes, cilantro, jalapenos, anaheim peppers, basil, and bell peppers. So far, I've harvested tons of cherry tomatoes, cilantro, and basil, and the others are still coming in.

There's something so incredibly rewarding about eating food you've grown! My hope is that I'll be able to can jars of pesto and salsa before the winter. Yum!

Aren't they purty?

In Writing News: Yesterday I got two awesome reviews of The Nightmare Birds. They seriously made my day! :D

Here's a snip-bit of what the talented author J.D. Estrada had to say:

"Dark, mysterious, ethereal...A worthy follow-up if there was one, it raises countless questions... but one floats above the rest.... when will we see more?" You can read his full review here.

Book blogger Linz the Bookworm had this to say: 

"The most important thing I can stress about Nightmare Birds is how incredibly creative it is." You can read her full review here.

In other writing news, I'm taking a much-needed break until the end of the month. Then, I'll start working on Book III in the Strange Luck Series. Whoohoo!!! :)

That's it for now...

Thursday, August 18, 2016

I Heart Reading Interview

What was the most difficult part about writing my new book?

Are birds and squirrels necessary for my writing process?

Why was I inspired to write the Strange Luck series?

Find out in my interview with I Heart Reading. While you're there, be sure to check out Majanka Verstraete's books. She writes really cool speculative fiction children's books, as well as supernatural YA books!

Monday, August 15, 2016

How to Write A Fantasy Book and Have Fun While Doing It

It wasn’t until I stopped writing for the market and started writing what I really wanted to write did I realize that I was writing fantasy. And the more I wrote, the more I loved writing about magic, other worlds, and supernatural creatures. Simply put, I was completely in love with the limitless possibilities for imagination. But how does one write a fantasy book exactly? Here are some tips and tricks I’ve learned on my publishing journey:

Love Fantasy: Write what you love. If you genuinely love fantastical things and stories, it will show. You’ll also be more likely to create an original story since you’ll have a good idea of what’s already been done.  

Read Fantasy: Not all Fantasy books are 5,000 pages long. Not all are cheesy. Not all have orcs. There are actually dozens of Fantasy sub-genres. Find the sub-genre that inspires you and study the popular books in these categories. See what other authors have done and study how they did it. While writing my debut novel, Strange Luck, I was reading several Neil Gaiman books, The Neverending Story, The Princess Bride, The Maze Runner, and lots of H.P Lovecraft. These groundbreaking books really pushed me to try to think outside the box. Plus, they are so much fun to read! It also doesn’t hurt to watch fantastical movies to help get your creative juices flowing. 

Do Your Research: If your story is completely fantastical, anything goes, so have fun with it! Do you want to have a character who shoots rainbows out of her eyes? Go for it! Why not? It’s your story and as a fantasy author, you have the power to create something original and imaginative. However, if your story is set in a specific period of history, like medieval times, research medieval life and get your facts straight (e.g., types of clothing, food, d├ęcor, etc). If something magical happens in the story, like there’s a sword that doesn’t behave like a real one, be sure to explain its magical properties.

Map It: Planning a magical world is hard world. Mapping your world with pen and paper will help you write about places and their characteristics more accurately. If you’re more advanced, use map making software. Including a finished map in your book or on your website is an awesome extra for readers. 

The Rules: Figure out the rules of magic in your story, including limits. If a character can do absolutely anything, then there will be no suspense or struggle and your story will flop. Let your readers know what the most important rules are and be sure to follow them. Let your protagonist conquer obstacles and solve problems based on his or her abilities. 

Be Original: Lord of the Rings, Hunger Games, Game of Thrones—they’ve all been done. Be creative and use your imagination to create something never seen before. Remember, it’s fantasy, so anything goes!

Keep Your Story Moving: It can be so much fun to create worlds and creatures with their own histories, geography, and supernatural rules, but sometimes these details can overshadow the actual story, leaving you with a lot of awesome detail, but with a story where nothing is happening. Your main character(s) should have a goal or problem that they need to solve. Throw in some complications and you’re on your way!

Share Your Story: The most important piece of advice I can give any author is to have other people look at your work. No matter how many times you’ve reviewed your story, there will ALWAYS be an inconsistency or error. That’s just what happens when you’re so close to something. Give your book to family and friends to read and ask for their honest opinions. Once you’ve ironed out some bugs, give it to people who love to read fantasy and see what they think. If you’re struggling to find people to read your story, join a local writer’s group or look for one online. Once you’ve ironed out any remaining issues, it’s time to hand it over to a professional editor.

Good luck on your fantastical writing journey! 

Have you checked out my other posts on writing? You might enjoy these, too:

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Real Theater of Secrets

I was certain I left the map at Fisherman’s Wharf—the intoxicating aroma of fresh fish and chips distracting me. I thought I would remember the street names she had labeled and headed out again into the city, only to drift deeper into an 
entrapment of fog, brick, and night.

~Chapter 3 of The Nightmare Birds

 ~ ~ ~

Did you know that all of the places described in The Nightmare Birds are based on real-life places in California? It's true! I'm a California native and the fictitious town of Sea Salt is actually based on some of my favorite coastal towns. The entrance to the Theater of Secrets and the hotel Daisy stays in are also based on real places. There are a few other places in the story where the real names are listed like Fisherman's Wharf at Pier 39.

The adorable sea lions are my favorite attraction at Pier 39
You can explore these places through this interactive map. You'll also get to read excerpts from the book about each location. Enjoy!