books

Intel of Magic – !

I’m happy to introduce a newly minted book by my friend, MK Wiseman, titled MAGICAL INTELLIGENCE. I was lucky enough to be a beta reader for this gem many moons ago, and I’m thrilled to see it finally out in the world. And here’s this, the MC is an empath. And if there’s anything we need more in the world today, it’s empathy. Let’s see how it plays out in a magical realm…

MagicalIntel_FrontCover copy

Here’s the blurb

When you are a member of Britain’s first team of wizard spies, every mission might be your last. But as the dawning of the 20th century draws ever nearer, magic grows weak. Violectric Dampening, the clash of man-made electricity with the Gifts of magekind, threatens M.I.’s existence. And if that isn’t enough, they’ve now been discharged from their own government. Obsolete. Distrusted.

And now hunted by one of their own.

Myra Wetherby has always feared her so-called fits, strange visions of people and places that she cannot explain. It is the emotional manipulation, however, a strange empathic connection to those around her, which threatens her very sanity. A danger to her family, Myra runs away, falling straight into the hands of the newly ousted Magical Intelligence team. Who just so happen to need an ability like hers.

Which makes Myra one of them . . . whether she likes it or not.

How to buy & review!

 

About the author

M. K. Wiseman has degrees in animation/video and library science – both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Today, her office is a clutter of storyboards and half-catalogued collections of too, too many books. (But, really, is there such a thing as too many books?) When she’s not mucking about with stories, she’s off playing brač or lying in a hammock in the backyard of her Wisconsin home that she shares with her endlessly patient husband.

M K Wiseman - promo photo 300 square copy

Book Excellence Winner!

I am incredibly excited to announce that I have been recognized as a Book Excellence Award Winner for my book, BOY ON HOLD in the THRILLER Category.

Out of hundreds of books that were entered into the Book Excellence Awards competition, my book was selected for its high quality writing, design and overall market appeal.

BoyOnHoldcover

 

Released in August 2019. The book is perfect for anyone high school age and up, especially boys! Here’s the blurb:

Cabbage Night, 1991. The traditional night of pranks takes a disturbing turn when a violent crime rocks a small Adirondack town. Even more so when the only witness is a seven-year-old boy. Hen Trout, who had hoped to catch a pet hedgehog that night, instead sees his beloved Miss Sally become a victim.

Single mom Marcella Trout is blindsided when Tyler, her seventeen-year-old, is arrested for the very crime Hen witnessed. Now Tyler’s eerie mood swings seem dark and frightening and rooted in a family history Marcella has desperately tried to bury. As the criminal investigation churns on, the tenuous fabric of the Trout family begins to unravel…and even Hen begins to question the truth.

Want to get a copy? Click here.

Look for Blue Sky

Back in November, too early for holiday gifts, a package arrived containing a book: Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver. No note included. I thought my mom — a Kingsolver fan — may have ordered it, but no. Was it sent by mistake? Nope. My husband uncovered the mystery. “My colleague sent it. He read Boy on Hold and it reminded him of this book by Kingsolver.”

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Stop. the. press. Caught in a moment of greatness, I was speechless. One of my very favorite authors, Kingsolver is a genius at tackling big world issues in an articulate and moving way. Back as a student teacher, I taught Poisonwood Bible — allowing me to study the imperialism of Republic of Congo, while dissecting each conflict and character down to the nub, leaving me scraped raw and vulnerable and brimming with emotions I didn’t realize I had. That book remains one of my favorite books of all time.

To be considered alongside Barbara Kingsolver in any capacity is a huge honor. I mean, *my book* reminded him of one by the great and brilliant BARBARA KINGSOLVER?!?

How it got into the hands of my husband’s colleague is a compliment in itself. Turns out, BOH was recommended to said colleague’s daughter — a psychology student at NYU — by her professor. (Let me say that again.) An NYU psychology professor recommended Boy on Hold to one of his/her students. *pinch me* So, BOH made its rounds in the family, which led to the Kingsolver gift…

Such an overwhelming compliment, it was a bit intimidating to read Unsheltered. But of course, I did. And it certainly held up.

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

The book’s logline sets the tone and could very well apply to Marcella Trout in BOH: How could two hardworking people do everything right in life, a woman asks, and end up destitute? 

Alternating time periods between current day and post-Civil War era, Kingsolver layers climate change and environmental issues of today with the evolution controversy of Charles Darwin. Kingsolver’s smart prose certainly made me think. I’m grateful for the introduction to Mary Treat, the 19C biologist “whose work deserves to be better known.” Kingsolver deftly wove in strange but true events such as Treat’s feeding her own fingertip to her Venus flytrap as an experiment. As the story turns more serious, though, it made me appreciate those who take a stand on a large or small scale — even if it comes at great cost with no reward. It also made me rethink the value of “stuff” in general, as also eloquently put in this article my friend pointed out to me today.

All in all, the message rings clear: Rather than fight change and for a life we think we deserve, find creative ways to adapt and be open to happiness that waits for you there.

An Unsheltered excerpt that’s stayed with me:

…when God slams the door on you…you’re going to end up in rubble…you won’t find your way out of the mess if you keep picking up bricks and stuffing them in your pockets. What you have to do is look for blue sky.

A message Marcella Trout should absolutely consider as her world turns upside down and she finds herself “in the rubble” at the end of BOH.

I want to hear from you:
Have you ever had to adapt to a new normal? How did you find blue sky? 

First born, first book

When I started writing Catcher’s Keeper, my oldest was five. He was so little, it never occurred to me that he would ever read it someday. But recently, at age 14, he did. And he loved it.

Reading Catcher's Keeper

Inspired by The Catcher in the Rye, I originally wrote CK for adults — though it’s often paired with Rye in high schools as a YA book (fun fact: Salinger originally wrote Rye for adults too). I may have cleaned CK up a bit if I’d known kids (especially my kids) were going to read it.

I mean, its prose has a toilet mouth. Take the first line:

Not even a week since I moved in with my brother and he’s testing my pacifist nature, butting in on my shit.

And that’s just the first line. (The word ass appears another paragraph down…)

It’s an odd feeling. My son peeled back a layer and saw another side of his mom. One that writes in male voices and curses like a truck driver. Yikes. To say I was relieved that he liked it is an understatement.

Though it was published in 2014, the book has gotten a boost recently. Still a favorite for book clubs, it also resides in several classrooms as a Rye companion. There’s been a slight uptick in sales, which is nice. In November, it was featured on this cool website, Snowflakes in a Blizzard, which highlights and brings awareness to some awesome, lesser-known books.

And hey, the ebook is a bargain at only $2.99!

I’m proud of my first book. But even prouder when I read this from my first born:

I’ve read Catcher in the Rye and I thought it was great. The voice, the conflicts, the hidden messages. But, when I read Catcher’s Keeper, it shed a whole new light on everything. The characters were all so believable as adults, you’d think it was written by JD Salinger himself! That signature Holden Caulfield (now Alden) voice is ever-present, but you experience and feel everyone else in a whole new way. The struggles, the twists, that suspicious MD, and an unforgettable ending makes this book a must-read for anyone who’s read Cather in the Rye. 5 stars. 

Catcher's Keeper book review

Characters make the story

Effective characterization is invisible. In fact, the term “characterization” shouldn’t cross your readers’ minds at all.

Yet, readers will experience your story *through* your characters. Through voice, action, and dialogue. Readers cry for them and laugh with them. Hopefully, readers remember them.

Olive Kitteridge. Auggie Pullman. Miss Havisham. Major Pettigrew. Holden Caulfield. Eleanor Oliphant. Owen Meany. Katniss Everdeen.

What’s the secret to creating memorable characters?

Donald Maass of literary agency fame, has said of David Corbett “(he) is the grand master of character development, adroitly reconciling the complex interplay of forces in every character’s life so that writers can create true depth on the page.”

Before publishing anything, I attended a talk by David Corbett at the 2013 DFW Writer’s Conference in Dallas, Texas. He stressed the importance of secondary characters in overall plot development. (Something I hadn’t given much thought.)

A dynamic speaker, his mastery of the craft clearly evident, he had us all hooked. Bubble charts and diagrams appeared on a whiteboard that spanned the room. Unable to write fast enough, my jaw agape, I kept thinking, “Wow, I want his brain!”

What the heck had I been doing the past decade? Playing with words? Without applying his strategies, I wasn’t writing compelling fiction.

The realization stung.

He signed my copy of The Art of Character, writing out my full name despite the “JD” on my name tag. “For Johannah, whose name I finally got right!”

Needless to say the book is excellent. But be forewarned, it gets beneath the skin. The exploration exercises made me dig so deeply into my own past and my own psyche, I *cried.*

Writer friends, have you ever been brought to tears by reading a book on craft?

Yeah, it was a first for me.

David Corbett also happens to be extremely kind and generous. In my debut, he helped me distinguish the “villain” from the “flawed human being” — in a single-paragraphed email response.

Recently, he gave me the best gift: a blurb for my latest book.

Poignant, compelling, and beautifully written.

His shining endorsement means more to me than a promotional boost. It validates my cast of characters which I painstakingly built using his techniques.

Not only an acclaimed writing instructor, David also is an award-winning and bestselling author with over a dozen novels under his belt. My favorites are Mercy of the Night and The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday. But more exciting, for me, is his new release The Compass of Character — which will surely inform my next novel and all my future novels.

To learn more about David and his books, visit his website.

Here’s the full blurb from David for Boy on Hold. 🙂

“JD Spero’s Boy on Hold provides an especially poignant, compelling, and beautifully written update on the tale of the troubled child who witnesses a shocking event. Hen Trout and his off-kilter fascination with the world will steal your heart. Equally unforgettable are his stoic mother and all-too-teenaged brother, whose concern for Hen, even as they push through their own daily struggles, is equally moving. This family, under extreme duress, demonstrates how wisdom, kindness, and concern for one another can overcome even the greatest challenges. An utterly impressive debut that reveals incredible promise from this gifted writer. ” – David Corbett

Boy on Hold by JD Spero - mystery thriller

 

What’s your Cabbage Night story?

Not only is Halloween just days away, so is CABBAGE NIGHT!

What is Cabbage Night?

The night before Halloween, the traditional night of pranks. The night of the inciting, tragic event in BOY ON HOLD. Outside of upstate New York, it may go by a different name…or it may not exist at all.

In my hometown, Cabbage Night was more popular than Halloween. One neighborhood in particular got extra special “attention.” All innocent fun, no damage done…but we sure made a lot of noise.

Boy on Hold by JD Spero

A little context from the book

Chapter 2, Marcella Trout to her son, Tyler: “The night before Halloween…I know that’s when you teenagers do all those pranks. I hope you weren’t egging people’s cars or toilet papering trees. What do you call it–the night before Halloween?”

“Cabbage Night.”

At this line, during my reading at the official launch party at Northshire Bookshop in Saratoga for BOY ON HOLD, the crowd erupted in applause.

launch party for BOY ON HOLD

BOY ON HOLD launch party at Northshire Bookshop

But what happens on Cabbage Night changes Tyler’s family forever.

Cabbage Night, 1991. The traditional night of pranks takes a disturbing turn when a violent crime rocks a small Adirondack town. Even more so when the only witness is a seven-year-old boy… 

What’s your Cabbage Night story?

I want to hear from you! It doesn’t have to be long, just a few lines or even a phrase. Like, “Knock, knock, ginger” (Unfamiliar? Google it.)

Dig into that memory bank. I’m sure we all have some repressed (or not so repressed) memories of Cabbage Night from our teen years. Not that Marcella’s description had anything to do with my experience. *mischievous smile*

My littlest loved Forte

His older brothers were at least 10 before they read it, but Chaz finished Forte on the eve of his 9th birthday…and then gave ME the best gift: a glowing review!

Middle grade fantasy FORTE series

My littlest reading Forte on vacation

As part of his review, he drew a picture of Sami using her piano magic to defeat Aquamarine.

Middle grade fantasy Forte series

Sami using her piano magic in Forte

His review:

What I liked about FORTE! 

Everything but the kissing parts!

Then I urged him to write just a bit more…

FORTE is about a girl who loves piano. She tries out for volleyball which she has never done before but when Coach Payne touches her she becomes amazing! She soon finds out that Coach transferred Aquamarine which is a drink that helps you in sports! But she learns she will die if she doesn’t stop drinking! 

By Chaz Spero

2019/July/23

Middle grade fantasy series Forte

Original draft 🙂

Next on his reading list: CONCERTO!

“I can’t wait to read it!”

COVER REVEAL!

I’m beyond thrilled to share the amazing cover design for my upcoming book, Boy on Hold, which releases August 13, 2019 by Immortal Works Press!

Boy on Hold by JD Spero

Here’s the teaser…

Cabbage Night, 1991. The traditional night of pranks takes a disturbing turn when a violent crime rocks a small Adirondack town. Even more so when the only witness is a seven-year-old boy. Hen Trout, who had hoped to catch a pet hedgehog that night, instead sees his beloved Miss Sally become a victim.

Single mom Marcella Trout is blindsided when Tyler, her seventeen-year-old, is arrested for the very crime Hen witnessed. Now Tyler’s eerie mood swings seem dark and frightening and rooted in a family history Marcella has desperately tried to bury. As the criminal investigation churns on, the tenuous fabric of the Trout family begins to unravel…and even Hen begins to question the truth.

 

Author’s Choice

Recently, I was invited into a classroom to speak about Author’s Choice. They’d been studying the different elements in a novel that require clear decisions by the author, such as setting, character names, structure, voice, etc. Though I’ve taught these things in my own classroom, analyzing classic novels and other texts in the curriculum, this was the first time I thought about my choices as an author. And it gave me pause. It made me think about all the choices I make as I write, consciously or subconsciously, to build a story that people will want to read. See, that last part is key. Your ultimate goal as a novelist, really, is for people to want to read your stuff. That said, the choices an author makes are informed by that goal.

Allegory about climate change

Reading from Concerto on the topic of climate change

Here were some talking points for my classroom visit:

Don’t kill Sophie. (naming characters)

Authors get asked a lot how they choose the names of their characters. I’ve been known to respond, “Whatever’s easy to type!” Truth told, I go with my gut. Some names come easily and some have fits and starts before being finalized. But here’s the Sophie story: A friend of mine wrote a book in which a secondary character (named Sophie) was killed off toward the end. It had to be done for the story, which is usually fine. However, since she wrote the book, she was haunted by her choice. She met several people with the same name—lovely people. New friends, new colleagues, children, pets, and the list goes on… It’s worth noting, though, that she was haunted not because she killed off a character, but because she named her Sophie.

Bitch voice. (voice/POV)

The third book in the Forte series is told by a minor character’s POV, and tells her story. As the first two books, this is also written in first person (which feels more YA to me than third person). But I was so concerned that the voice be different, I opted for an edgy tone I thought might be cool. Turns out, a hundred pages in, the edgy voice I was hoping for sounded downright bitchy. I thought, “No one is going to want to read anything this bitch has to say!” So, I threw out the 100 pages (and the next 100) until something clicked. What clicked? The backstory. I wrote a backstory for the character that no one will ever see but made me feel sympathy for her, which in turn will make readers feel sympathy for her. Here’s hoping!

I have a Nevus spilus. (genre)

As I embarked on writing a book that included magic, it needed to be relevant to me. Many authors don’t have this problem and can build make-believe worlds with nothing but their imaginations. I don’t have that kind of confidence. I feel like people wouldn’t buy it. For that reason, a lot of my magic stems from Greek mythology, which I taught for years and feel well-versed in. Also, my main character’s magic is triggered by her birthmark on her hand, a constellation of freckles in a condensed circular pattern. When I was little, people sometimes thought the Nevus spilus on my hand was dirt. Now that I’m older, some people think it’s a severe case of “age spots.” Ho-hum. I’d rather think it’s magical.

Dead whales. (author’s message/theme)

Have you seen the viral video of that washed up dead whale *full* of plastic? It had ingested so many plastic bags that were floating in the ocean, its stomach was literally full of them. And how ’bout them polar bears? With their habitat melting away, the problem seems insurmountable.

Climate change. Global warming. Beyond these buzz words in the political arena, when I think about the kind of environmental problems we are passing on to the next generation, my mama-tiger claws come out. But then, despair hits. What can I, a writer, possibly do?

Write a book that’s an allegory for battling climate change. The result? Concerto, book 2 of the Forte series.

English teachers want to torture us. (structure/word choice/literary devices)

This pretty much sums it all up, doesn’t it? When I taught high school English, one of my students interrupted our lesson on literary devices to say, “I don’t think authors mean to write that way, with all the metaphors and similes and stuff. I think it’s just the English teachers who find stuff in books so they can make us learn it.” Hmmm. I have to say, I didn’t like what she said. It rumpled my feathers, for sure. But now that I’m a published author, I know for a fact that word choice and  use of literary devices are absolutely intentional. Why? We need to find a creative way to say something without being cliché or simply listing what’s happening. Making the readers feel what the characters feel. Putting the reader inside the story. That’s what will make people want to read your book. And be touched by it. And recommend it to all their friends.

And that, at the end of the day, is what we writers really want. Isn’t it?

         

Spread love through books!

This year, my November was chock-full of book events. It was a reminder of how important it is for writers to step away from their computers and their writing to connect with the community on a personal level. Here’s what I’ve been up to:

First, there was the BOCES Artist & Presenter Vendor Fair on November 1. Educators and administrators came through to meet artists of all shapes and sizes. I met some colorful characters, including the guys from AudioBody who had recently performed at my son’s school. Looking to book a gig for your school? Check out the arts & enrichment BOCES vendor listing.

Next, the annual Chronicle Book Fair in my hometown. It’s one of my favorite events in the community. I enjoy meeting other authors and connecting with readers. “This is your fan base!” one of my biggest supporters told me that day. The best part? My extra special visitors!

On the 7th, I attended the Lake George Jr/Sr High Volleyball banquet, an event that was bittersweet. Despite an undefeated record, the varsity team was disqualified from playoffs because they played one more game than was allowed in their regular season. The community was up in arms about this unjust and irrevocable decision that came from the NY state school athletic association. This hit home for me as an alum. As a gesture of support, I presented each player and coach an inscribed copy of Forte — which features a young girl who magically becomes a volleyball superstar in her small upstate town. Rather than a typical teenager response, these girls were genuinely grateful and appreciative. Their strength and spirit in the face of huge disappointment is truly an inspiration.

  

The last week of November, I had the honor of meeting with a local Girl Scout troop as part of a special visitor series on professional writers. We talked about story creation and fictional story telling. “A story isn’t a list of things that happen. A story has a shape.” They totally got it, and told me about their “story mountains” they are working on in ELA. One girl in the group was especially excited to meet me after winning my book basket at a school fundraiser (Brayden’s Family Fun Night).

  

November is typically the national month for writing, a la NaNoWriMo, the annual national writing challenge to complete a 50K-word novel in the month of November. How about NaNoPROMO?

You may have read my post about why I don’t do NaNoWriMo. It doesn’t mean I don’t write or edit or revise or work on my latest book(s) most every day. I do. But, for me, this month was about the other side of being an author — getting out there and spreading love through books.

But these events aren’t just about book promotion. They are my creative fuel. Giving my readers faces and voices and smiles . . . inspires me to keep writing.

Thank you to everyone who helped make it all happen.