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Thursday, January 18, 2018

A good read for a winter day: Tall Chimneys by Allie Cresswell

From the books blurb: 
Considered a troublesome burden, Evelyn Talbot is banished by her family to their remote country house. Tall Chimneys is hidden in a damp and gloomy hollow. It is outmoded and inconvenient but Evelyn is determined to save it from the fate of so many stately homes at the time - abandonment or demolition. Occasional echoes of tumult in the wider world reach their sequestered backwater - the strident cries of political extremists, a furore of royal scandal, rumblings of the European war machine. But their isolated spot seems largely untouched. At times life is hard - little more than survival. At times it feels enchanted, almost outside of time itself. The woman and the house shore each other up - until love comes calling, threatening to pull them asunder. Her desertion will spell its demise, but saving Tall Chimneys could mean sacrificing her hope for happiness, even sacrificing herself. A century later, a distant relative crosses the globe to find the house of his ancestors. What he finds in the strange depression of the moor could change the course of his life forever. One woman, one house, one hundred years.

The setting is a small hamlet on the Moors of England. The active action, not the flashbacks, are WWII. Written in the first person, this book features a protagonist who in turn pleased me and infuriated me. She was strong, yes, but she was weak also. She was controlled by circumstances and I wanted her to rail against those circumstances many times. Still, I liked her. The author writes vivid descriptions, often too many and in too much detail. Every male character, no matter how inconsequential to the story, was described in detail, especially their lips. Many times, I didn't care what they looked like or that greasy spittal was running down their chin.
Still, I like the book. It was good for this winter of many indoor days. The epilogue saved the book for me. The wrapup was unexpected but welcome. The book is written in first person. Some people do not like first person, but that didn't bother me. The author tells the story rather than showing through a lot of immediate action and dialogue, but again, this didn't bother me, but it will bother some readers.

416 pages. Available through online retailers and brick and morter stores. 
Classified as historical romance. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

So here's how it Indie published biography to film option contract.

I'm writing this because so many Indie published authors bemoan the fact that they get little recognition or else they silently accept that their book might languish in the land of 'read, but not by many' for years. I had both feelings and many others that might be found in an Indie author's 'what am I doing?' file, but I knew why I was an self-publishing. I am soon to be 75 years old. I want to see my books published, not under contract to be published. I want to enjoy them, and I do. I publish for me.

My first self-published (Tommy: The Civil War Childhood of a President) was truly self-published for this was before print on demand. I did everything, even drove the typewriter-generated manuscript 50 miles to the printer and weeks later, with first grandchild (now 22 years old) in my arms picked up my first paper baby. I thought it would languished in 'thank heavens for family and friends' land but I had two things going for me. We owned an independent bookstore, and my book belonged in a historical niche. The niche actually became the most important factor in the number of sales.

That niche could be seen as being very wide, Civil War, or very narrow, Civil War childhood of presidents.  Through that niche I was able to promoted it, give book talks across the state and sell 2000+ copies (the number of the first printing) before I ran out of steam. One night alone I was able to sell 300+ copies for I was in the home of the subject of my book. It is still selling on Amazon, through Createspace and at gift shops. For my first Indie effort, I felt pretty good. 

Think about your project or idea. Do you have a niche? If so, use it. If you don't think you do, search your themes, look at society and history. Try to find a niche or two. Then use them!

Because we owned a bookstore I was assured of a book signing and prominent shelf placement. One week I was our store's best seller until somewhere around Thursday of that week J. K. Rowling published a new eagerly awaited masterpiece. Down I went!

My other books have been traditionally print on demand through Createspace. I've been happy seeing my books in print and making a little money, but nothing spectacular. Now comes the subject of today's post.

I have sold the film rights of my latest book, Something to Prove, A biography of Ann Lowe, America's Forgotten Designer.  It has sold fairly well, and I would have been satisfied, but again it is a niche book. And luckily for me, I found that niche just as it became highly marketable.

I think the book's blurb will tell you why the book is now marketable and why I have sold the movie rights to a respected, successful producer.

From  the book's blurb:
"For any designer, designing the wedding dress to be worn by Jacqueline Bouvier, future First Lady of the United States, for her marriage to John F. Kennedy would be a lifetime achievement. For Ann Lowe, it became a statement. The iconic gown would become the most photographed wedding gown in American history proving that (in Ann’s own words), “a Negro can become a major dress designer.”

Years earlier, as the sun rose on the morning of Ann’s birth, no one in the small town of Clayton, Alabama could have dreamed of the heights she would achieve for she was born a squirming, scrawny, little black girl in the Jim Crow South.

From an early age she recognized her dreams. Her path would not be easy, and any success she might have was certain to be achieved only with steadfast effort and fortitude on her part. Armed with a great inner strength and natural talent, she rose above all obstacles and forged her own future. 

When she designed and produced Jacqueline Bouvier’s wedding dress, very few knew her name. No one but her staff knew of the disaster that preceded the delivery of that now-historic wedding gown to the home of the bride. Fewer knew that she was the granddaughter of a former slave.

Even today, few know her story."
Publication day was September  5, 2016. By May 12, 2017 I had received four offers from producers and since then four more. Again, niche! In early May I chose between the two best offers, the one that suited my desires and that I felt would do the best presentation of the subject. I signed and have never looked back. 

No, I had never heard of the producer or her production company just as she had never heard of me, but research proved to me that she knew her business and the right people.(The Hundred Foot Journey, It's a Very Muppet Christmas, Border Wars, Farscape, The National Geographic Channel, and several episodes of Ted Talks among other things).  
An online search also showed photos of her with Oprah and Spielberg, producers with who she has co-produced. 

She and I have talked, emailed, and video-conferenced enough for me to know that I made the right decision. I can't wait to see how she and her associates present Ann's story.
How did she find my little book about Ann? Her associate found the book through a referral and things took off from there. Every time I get an email from another producer, I wonder, how are they finding this little self-published biography? I don't know, but it keeps a smile on my face. 

So, any advice from me to all my fellow self-publishers? I truly believe this happened because of my choice of subject. Though dead for over 35 years, Ann Lowe guided me, introduced me to wonderful ladies and fashion, and told me a fascinating story. 
I met Ann Lowe in an airport last fall. I was in the airport, she wasn't of course. Waiting for my plane I was 'surfing the net'. I came upon two sentences about her. A 'did you know' kind of post. I was blown away, for no, I didn't know and I thought the circumstances were such that I should.

And so, my research was born and Ann came to life. Born in 1898, the great-granddaughter of a slave and a plantation owner, the granddaughter of a slave and a free man of color, she entered the world in a small, rural town in the Jim Crow South. Through talent, determination, and a desire to reach a goal, she refused to let the circumstances of her birth keep her down. She didn't preach; she didn't march, she didn't give up. She allowed a dream to be born in her heart and in her own personal way, she overcame all obstacles and achieved her dream.

When I began my research, I was writing historical fiction. Soon it became clear to me that her story, her true, unvarnished story had to be told. It was at that point told only in bits and pieces and often with the bits inaccurate and the pieces changing with each retelling. I began my research to clarify things for myself and found myself getting to know a strong woman from a family of strong women.  

Along the way I have learned to marvel at what she overcame, and at the people she met. This woman who under normal circumstance would not be welcomed in their homes, became a darling to the Duponts, Rothschilds, the Rockefellers, Roosevelts, Lodges, Posts, Auchinclosses, the Bouviers,..well you get my drift. Soon I knew I wanted Ann to speak for herself. And she does. On my part, I wanted to share her story and present her to the world as the inspiration she is.

Concrete advice:
Back in the practical word of Indie publishing, I admit that I did agonize over the search terms for Createspace and Amazon. As an Indie, think long and hard about your terms. Are readers searching through words that fit into your description? In other words are there some 'niche' words that you could use? For Something to Prove... I made a list of possible words: Ann Lowe, designer, African American designers, African American women, fashion designers, Alabamians, Tampa, Fl., Gasparilla, Jacqueline Kennedy, John and Jacqueline Kennedy wedding, New York City, Harlem, Harlem Renaissance, etc. Narrowing this list down was the hard part.

Do your best when researching, then research some more. Verify every fact you find, several times over. If you see inconsistances in various sources, it is up to you to verify before you use one of them. I read old newspapers, ordered back copies of magazines, back to the 1960's, and read any and all items I could find online. I visited her hometown, spoke with people who still refer to Ann and her mother as if they are just around the corner. Strong, accurate research, even when the amount of factual items is small, is a must.

When writing, reread what you've written several times silently and aloud. When editing, do your own, have a trusted reader or two do an edit, then send it off to someone who truly knows how to edit. Publishing, ask others for advice on their choice of POD publishers, and always, ALWAYS get a physical proof copy no matter how many times your've proved on the computer. I must have more than a dozen physical proof copies. I want to see how it looks on paper and when I make changes, I want to see how they affect the end product.  

Advertising? You might want to get advice from others on this area for I'm not a heavy advertiser. I know that I don't give it enough time but I have contacted various newspapers which have a connection to my subject or which I think  would be interested in my niche baby. Ann and I made the front page of our local newspaper after aa very long wait. Don't get discouraged. On the 'net I've joined book groups and spread the word that I have this wonderful creation out there. I've written about Ann several times in this blog and shared that. I don't spend much, if any, money on advertising. If you have it to spend, spend wisely.

Reviews...check my books on Amazon and you will find that my reviews are practically non-existant. Oh, well. I have some beautiful letters from readers. They seem to feel more comfortable writing to me personally than publishing their thoughts. And the ladies I wrote about by name in the book, all of whom gave me prior permission to use their photos and thoughts about Ann, have been most complimentary. Ann's family? They are thrilled. 
Finally, then, enjoy it all and never give up on yourself. I know I never will, even as I get older and my thoughts come out as gobbledygook, I'm not giving up on myself. You shouldn't either. When you're pulling your hair out or yelling for more chocolate and wine. enjoy the process. If it takes off, wonderful. If not, I hope you have written something you enjoyed writing.
Good luck, 
Julia Faye Smith

I have a color version (color photographs of Ann's designs), a black and white version, and a Kindle version which shows well on some devices and not so well on others. We're working on that problem. I also have created a pinterest page showing the gowns found in the dress. 
                              You  may contact me at

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

In Memory of Susan Vreeland

The world lost Susan Vreeland on August 23. The literary world lost a gem.
I'm repeating an earlier review of Susan's Lisette's List, which has been available for over a year and a half now. If you have not read it, what are you waiting for? It  is a work of historical fiction about art, war, and love  It is a work of historical fiction that I fell in love with and is in itself a work of art.

From the book's blurb:
"In 1937, young Lisette Roux and her husband, André, move from Paris to a village in Provence to care for André’s grandfather Pascal. Lisette regrets having to give up her dream of becoming a gallery apprentice and longs for the comforts and sophistication of Paris. But as she soon discovers, the hilltop town is rich with unexpected pleasures.

Pascal once worked in the nearby ochre mines and later became a pigment salesman and frame maker; while selling his pigments in Paris, he befriended Pissarro and Cézanne, some of whose paintings he received in trade for his frames. Pascal begins to tutor Lisette in both art and life, allowing her to see his small collection of paintings and the Provençal landscape itself in a new light. Inspired by Pascal’s advice to “Do the important things first,” Lisette begins a list of vows to herself (#4. Learn what makes a painting great). When war breaks out, André goes off to the front, but not before hiding Pascal’s paintings to keep them from the Nazis’ reach."
My thoughts:

When visiting art galleries, there has always been one gallery that I could speed through. That gallery would be housing Camille Pissarro, Paul Cezanne, and Marc Chagall. I simply did not understand most of their paintings. While I still do not understand all, Lisette's story helped me see things in the paintings that I had not, seen before. In fact, I became so enthralled when Lisette would learn of the meaning of or the reasons for the paintings, that I would come to the computer and research that painting. Often I would simple have the painting on screen as I was reading about it. Wow! Most books do not do that for me. Two of the eight paintings discussed in the story are not actual, but this in no way detracts from the novel. Additionally, the book is so well researched that Ms. Vreeland uses passages from known writings or discussions by the artists themselves.

The blending of the horrors of WWII in France and the life and times of these artists, and of  the other characters in the book, make an evocative read. Lisette is a Parisian embodying all the glamour and free spirit of that word just before WWII. She is enamored with the art scene in Paris and wants to work in a gallery. She has just received the opportunity she so desires when change occurs.

Suddenly, this young Parisian must move with her husband, Andre, to Provence in the south of France to care for his dying grandfather. Grandfather Pascal introduces Lisette to more art and art history than she could ever have learned in the galleries of Paris. She learns that in his early years Pascal was a color pigment salesman representing his beloved village which mined the materials needed by artists. Through his work he became friends with the artists of the day.

His humble cottage in Roussillon, Provence, France, was sparsely decorated but did feature a wall of paintings given to him by those friends from the art world in Paris. He leaves these to Lisette and her husband Andre. He also leaves them his memories, both written and oral. These works of art and the artists who painted them are lifelines that help Lisette get through life after the war takes Andre's life and Lisette must live along and learn to survive as a provencial woman.Through necessity she becomes a fighter, facing shortages, sufferings, and starvation.

My only small complaint would be that, too many times, we had to read through Lisette's mixing of various items to achieve color pigments that she wanted to duplicate. Since colors and pigmentation were essential to the story, I understand these inclusions. They did not detract from the overall story.

Beautifully written with vivid and colorful descriptions, thoughtful insights, and life in Provence, what more could a reader ask?  I highly recommend  Lisette's List. I think book clubs could have stimulating discussions about the book. This is my first Susan Veerland book. It will not be my last. I received an advance reader's copy of the book from Net Galley.

After publication of the book, Vreeland again toured the lovely French settings of the book, this time with a group of readers and admirers. Regrettable, I was not part of that group, but have enjoyed the photos of the trip shared by Mimi Placencia. Check out her photo below.

The Memory of Camille Di Maio

I read this book several months ago. At that time I wrote a short, noncommittal review, but I did not share it. I really wasn't sure how I felt about the book, but through the months I've been unable to get this book, or more specifically its characters, out of my mind .

From the Blurb: "Julianne Westcott was living the kind of life that other Protestant girls in prewar Liverpool could only dream about: old money, silk ball gowns, and prominent young men lining up to escort her. But when she learns of a blind-and-deaf brother, institutionalized since birth, the illusion of her perfect life and family shatters around her.
While visiting her brother in secret, Julianne meets and befriends Kyle McCarthy, an Irish Catholic groundskeeper studying to become a priest. Caught between her family’s expectations, Kyle’s devotion to the Church, and the intense new feelings that the forbidden courtship has awakened in her, Julianne must make a choice: uphold the life she’s always known or follow the difficult path toward love.
But as war ripples through the world and the Blitz decimates England, a tragic accident forces Julianne to leave everything behind and forge a new life built on lies she’s told to protect the ones she loves. Now, after twenty years of hiding from her past, the truth finds her—will she be brave enough to face it?"

This blurb is one of the few I've read that truly sums up the book. There are several streams woven throughout this book and each one is a facet of what I believe is the overall theme of the book: war changes the lives of all who are alive at the time, not just the military or the politicians involved, but all of us. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The mind forgets, but the heart never does...Before We Were Yours

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate is a beautifully written book about an ugly subject. It is fiction built around factual events and places. It gets in your mind and stays there long after you close the final chapter.

I loved it! So much so that I read it twice in two weeks. It's that good.

The book has many layers and themes, many truths to be uncovered, and many lessons to be learned. All beautifully presented.

From the book's blurb:  Two families, generations apart, are forever changed by a heartbreaking injustice in this poignant novel, inspired by a true story, for readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale.

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize that the truth is much darker. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together—in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions—and compels her to take a journey through her family's long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation . . . or redemption."

First, fact from fiction...the characters of the children are fictional, but based upon the recollections of numerous children who lived the fact. They show us the innocence of youth.

The modern day characters are fiction, but the main adult character, Georgia Tann, the baby broker, is real. She shows us the ugliest side of humanity for the novel is based on the notorious real-life scandal of Mrs.Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization who kidnapped poor children and sold them to wealthy families. This was accomplished under the guise of charity and accomplished through the Tennessee Children's Home Society in Memphis.

Our young characters, and later as the elderly adults they become, are well drawn, thoroughly believable, and thoroughly touching. First there's Rill, a river-rat with spunk, a female Huckleberry Finn. There are then her three sisters and a brother. Their stories drive the novel and expose the cruelty of Georgia Tann as well as the acceptance of her 'work' by society.

Then, as adults, we meet Rill and her sisters again. We hear their stories of mid-life, but it is the living of the elderly years of two of them, that touches our hearts, and brings the story full circle. It is through them that we poignantly learn such truths as : "You need not be born into a family to be loved by one," "The music of old age is difficult to hear when it's playing for someone you love," and finally as Hootsie says, "What the mind don't 'member, the heart still know. Love, the strongest thang of all. Stronger than all the rest." 

One beautifully written passage has stayed with me: "Life is not unlike cinema. Each scene has its own music and the music is created for the scene, woven to it in ways we do not understand. No matter how much we may love the melody of a bygone day...we must dance within the music of today."

I found the story engaging, deeply touching, and deeply moving. Some readers will find the story difficult to read at certain points. Still it needs, it deserves, to be read.

I received an ereader preview copy from NetGalley and then won a hardback copy through a Talbots summer reading program. I am thrilled to have that copy to add to my bookcase and to share with my family. The book is available at all major outlets and online.

The history behind the story. Here's a brief except from the New York Times Post of June 17, 2017. Click the link below to read the entire article, complete with photos.

This woman stole children from the poor to give to the rich:

Babies were snatched off the streets by strangers in passing cars. Or taken from day-care centers or church basements where they played. Or stolen from hospitals, right after birth, passed from doctor to nurse to a uniformed “social worker” — before vanishing in an instant.
Some were dropped into dismal orphanages; others were sent to a new family, their identities wiped, no questions asked. Most would never see their birth parents again.
While it sounds like something out of Dickens or the Brothers Grimm, this happened in the United States in the 20th century. Thousands of times.

She was the mastermind behind a black market for white babies.
It was the dark handiwork of the Memphis branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, a supposedly charitable organization, led by a woman named Georgia Tann.

Tann was a pied piper without scruple; she was the mastermind behind a black market for white babies (especially blond, blue-eyed ones) that terrorized poor Southern families for almost three decades. It’s estimated that over 5,000 children were stolen by Tann and the society between 1924 and 1950 and that some 500 died at the society’s hands as a result of poor care, disease and, it is suspected, abuse.
Particularly vulnerable were newborns. In 1945 alone, as many as 50 children perished in a dysentery outbreak. The precise figure, like so many terrible details about the society, is not known.
Tann had various means of procuring babies and children for her wealthy customers. She bribed nurses and doctors in birthing wards, who would then tell new parents that their babies had been stillborn.

It’s estimated that over 5,000 children were stolen by Tann

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Grand Junction, Colorado and The House on Seventh Street

The House on Seventh Street by Karen Vorbeck Williams

I read this book because of the setting...Grand Junction, Colorado, one of my favorite places. I had just returned from a week's stay in a vacation house on the corner of Sixth and Chipeta Streets in Grand Junction,  just one block from Seventh Street, so was interested from that perspective. Also, I was familiar with the lovely Seventh Street homes because thirty years ago I drove past them every day on my way to work. Thus, my interest in this book was born.

From the book's blurb:
"When Winna returns to settle her father’s estate, she knows she’s heading into an emotional maelstrom. Estrangement, nostalgia, old wounds, and a rekindled love pull her in every direction. Then she finds a diamond ring hidden among her childhood marbles – and suddenly nothing in that grand old Edwardian house is what it seems. She would do well to let it all go to the estate sale and move on. As she delves deeper into her family’s past, Winna makes a dangerous discovery: the house on Seventh Street is hiding an 80-year-old secret – and someone is desperate to keep things buried."

The book wasn't earth shattering, attitude changing, or even historically enlightening. It was plain and simple a multigenerational mystery. Our protagonist returns to the house after inheriting it from her father and wondering why her sister was disinherited. The questions multiply: Was Grandfather who she thought he was? Did he kill someone? If not, did someone in her family commit murder? What about Grandmother? Wasn't she always a staid, be careful, follow the rules kind of person? Finally, who is now trying to kill our main character?

Enter the sister, a high school sweetheart, a hunky handyman, and the desert/mountain landscape surrounding Grand Junction. All come together for a lightweight, but enjoyable who done it.

The author, Karen Vorbeck Williams,  lived in Grand Juncton for part of her youth, so the descriptions of the town, the surrounding scenery, and Colorado National Monument ring true.
Available on Amazon.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Is "The Woman on the Orient Express" Agatha Christie?

The Woman on the Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford

The woman is, of course, Agatha Christie in disguise, trying to escape from situations in life that overwhelm her. Two other women are traveling the same train and both have problems of their own.  After the three meet and get to know each other, her disguise is uncovered and the adventure begins.

From the book's blurb: "Agatha isn’t the only passenger on board with secrets. Her cabin mate Katharine Keeling’s first marriage ended in tragedy, propelling her toward a second relationship mired in deceit. Nancy Nelson—newly married but carrying another man’s child—is desperate to conceal the pregnancy and teeters on the brink of utter despair. Each woman hides her past from the others, ferociously guarding her secrets. But as the train bound for the Middle East speeds down the track, the parallel courses of their lives shift to intersect—with lasting repercussions."

This is an interesting book with settings most of us will never visit. Agatha Christy followers will know that Agatha Christie did actually disappear for a time leaving a world of questions and speculations behind her.  Her followers will probably read this novel and come away with mixed feelings. I know I did, but still it was an enjoyable read for a lazy weekend.

The book is available at all major book retailers and online.