Friday, 30 June 2017

The story behind Sophie's Quest by Sonja Anderson

In this next post in our back story series, Sonja Anderson tells us of how she became inspired to write her lovely children's book, Sophie's Quest. With our authors' international backgrounds, it's even more interesting to read where they got their ideas from. In Sonja's case, the first spark came to her in Japan.
Sonja Anderson

"What is truth?" retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, "I find no basis for a charge against him. John 18:38
The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it,
but in the end, there it is. 
Winston Churchill

I'll never forget listening to author Frank Peretti addressing the idea of truth. "If it's true," he said (and I'm paraphrasing here), "It's true whether you believe in it or not. Whether you even know about it, or not. It's just TRUE."

The truth is a hot topic these days. The idea of "fake news" is thrown around casually, as if it's a widely understood "fact" that many journalists have abandoned all their training and integrity and are just writing any old thing that gets people to pay attention and believe what they want them to believe. And maybe that's the case for some.

I like to believe that, deep down, we all still value--and want to know--the truth about things. No one has a corner on the "truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," but there's a sense that the truth is out there for us to find, somehow, someday.

Sonja's international class in Japan
Years ago, 2nd graders in my multifaith class at an international school in Tokyo wanted to know what was true, too. These were kids of every faith background except for Christian (those kids were divided between Protestant and Catholic groups), and so I started with the basics--I read stories from all the major world religions and tried to focus on something universally good about each story. I tried hard to be a good teacher and read all the stories with equal enthusiasm and equally earnest facial expressions.
So it astonished me, after reading some Bible stories, that the hands shot up. The Muslim and Buddhist hands. The non-religious hands too. "Is that a true story, Miss Young? That's a true one, isn't it?"

It was that experience that triggered my own journey toward writing Sophie's Quest. After a brief glimpse of an owl character in my mind (owls are supposed to be wise, after all), I set aside the idea of writing a story that would investigate who God is until my own daughter brought it all back up with an argument on her elementary school playground. At age 5, she was trying to educate some of her friends about the truth, as she understood it, about God's power and "bigness."

My owl flashed back into my mind, and the rest is history. While I probably raise more questions than answers in the story, I sincerely hope that the truth that God exists, that He made you and loves you, and that He wants you to trust Him with your life, shines through the words on the pages of the Sophie Topfeather series.

Thank you so much, Sonja, for this special insight into what inspired your books. For those interested in viewing and reading Sonja's lovely books, here are the links on Amazon.

Sophie's Quest

Sophie Topfeather Superstar

Friday, 23 June 2017

How to Create a Book: Bridge to Nowhere and Bridge Beyond Betrayal by Stephanie Parker McKean

This guest post from Stephanie Parker Mckean is the first in a short series of posts we are going to be publishing on the 'back story to the books'. We thought it would be great for our readers to know where the ideas for our authors' books came from. This week we are kicking off with a post from Stephanie Parker McKean. She tells us the very special back story behind her series of books featuring the zany Miz Mike. 

Stephanie Parker McKean with her book
Bridge to Nowhere

As Stephanie says:
Folks sometimes ask me where I get the ideas for my books. Not being facetious, but the answer is simple. Anywhere and everywhere.

Not an unusual site in Miz Mike's home
Bandera, Texas
The idea for my first Sunpenny-published mystery-romance-suspense “Bridge to Nowhere” came at me literally – out of nowhere! One day while taking a new route through the Texas Hill Country I came to a humongous new concrete bridge. It was impressive! What was even more impressive was the fact that the bridge – didn’t go anywhere. I was so mystified when I got to the other side of the bridge and found that it went nowhere that I turned around and went back across it again from the opposite direction to see what I had missed. Surely an expensive new bridge on a paved road must go somewhere – but this one didn’t.
Another scene from Miz
Mike's home ground
Over the next few weeks, I couldn’t get that bridge to nowhere out of my mind. I was working for a newspaper in Bandera County, Texas, at the time and not even my fellow reporters could explain the bridge to nowhere. It wasn’t in our county, so digging up facts proved time consuming. Only a partial story emerged out of my investigation: a housing development was scheduled for that area to provide homes for San Antonio commuters. The developer had matched funds with the state highway department to have the bridge built. Some county residents were outraged, however, that tax dollars had been used to build a bridge that benefited no one. The “bridge to nowhere” became a joke with a razor-sharp punch line. And that's where the title for my first Miz Mike book came from.

While at work sorting through boring minutes from county commissioners’ meetings, my mind spun off into intrigue and adventure. I never planned to write a series originally. My idea was to write a book that I would enjoy reading. I wanted an older protagonist more in line with “Baby Boomers,” and a clean-reading mystery-romance-suspense that would entertain without embarrassing. Texas Miz Mike was born.

The problem with creating a zany, slightly bonkers, slightly klutzy character like Miz Mike is…that she’s fun! She’s fun to write about, fun to read – and too good to get shoved into computer files and forgotten. She somehow bounced off the pages and became so real that I know what she’s going to do and say without stopping to write down an elaborate outline first. Outlines wouldn’t work with Miz Mike – she wouldn’t stay inside the lines! She also couldn't be confined to just one book.

A real Texas Longhorn
Miz Mike started out as “Nicole,” because my invented author could write her invented mystery series under “Nick Rice” so men would be more inclined to read them. Then a spiteful Nicole blundered into my life and I couldn’t bear to use that name. Nicole changed to the Biblical name of King David’s wife, Michal, or “Miz Mike.” She can write her imaginary books under Mike Rice to attract a male reading audience.

Since a series wasn't part of the plan when I wrote “Bridge to Nowhere,” Sunpenny and I spent painful months agreeing on a title for the sequel, "Bridge Beyond Betrayal". My original title was, “Dead Body in a Pickup Truck,” but editor Jo Holloway pointed out that was perhaps not the best title for a romance. Without giving the story away, the story revolves around a body that Miz Mike finds, a body that keeps disappearing again until no one believes her.

From the first, Mike was supposed to fall in love with and marry her cowboy hero Marty, which is where the secret M&M candy game came into the books (the secret is in the books!), but Miz Mike refuses to stay between the lines and when a handsome new feller comes along…well, again... it’s in the book. Who betrayed her, why she was betrayed, and how she recovers from that betrayal explains the title and bridges the two books.

Both Bridge to Nowhere and Bridge Beyond Betrayal are packed with comedy. The intent is to help the reader laugh and celebrate life.

Sadly, Bridge Beyond Betrayal doesn’t make me laugh as much as it once did. My son USMC Major Luke Parker was killed in a plane crash just before the book was published. Bridge Beyond Betrayal is dedicated to Luke, and the prophetic poem he wrote one year before his death is included. For me, it helps take the pain away. For other readers…I hope Miz Mike will go crazy enough outside the lines to make them laugh!

Stephanie, thank you for sharing your story. It's a special background to a special series!For anyone interested in reading these first two books in Stephanie's Bridge series, follow the links below:

Friday, 16 June 2017

Writers, Find Your Readers! Guest post by Suzanne Cordatos

Suzanne Cordatos

Today's guest on our blog is the lively and lovely Suzanne Cordatos, author of The Lost Crown of Apollo and other children's books. She is writing about a very special Faire that she enjoys attending in her home state of Connecticut. Over to you,  Suzanne!

"When my first books were released in the past year—a heady rush of a middle grader’s novel and two picture books for the younger set—I put on my author marketing hat. I had been waiting for this day to come for years. This side of becoming an author did not scare me, because I manage outreach communication for a career. I love meeting young readers, teachers, librarians, talking about the writing process. All of it! 

I did the usual things

Put out a notice on my facebook page and kidlit author groups. Wrote articles for my blog. Researched the local area for author fairs, holiday markets, library story times. The big Barnes & Noble store has been supportive, inviting me to at least three or four author book signing events. Doing these activities, I have met lots of great people, but book sales have not exactly made JK Rowling shake in her shoes from the competition. Children love my books when they’re introduced to them. THE LOST CROWN OF APOLLO is a mystery/boating adventure set in ancient ruins on a Greek island, and my picture series is about a fun-loving little dragon who gets into big friendship dilemmas, with titles CAMP DRAGON-FIRE and SNEEZE-FIRE. The usual things weren’t reaching enough kids (or their wallet-carrying parent) fast enough. 

 Where could I find readers? 

Suzanne's book for very young children
I needed something UNUSUAL. Ok, this isn’t me, but it IS my book! On my writer’s desk I have small figurines that remind me of the books I’m writing, such as the cute little dragon I bought at a Renaissance Faire years ago. The Faire! Dragon-fighting knights and ladies! The Faire is a wacky event that allows people to dress up in medieval attire, walk around eating huge turkey legs and shout “Huzzah!” at jousting matches. I met this dragon-costumed character at the Faire, who sells dragon-flavored ice cream and bought my book to read to kids in hospitals around the country, dressed as a dragon. WOW!

Held in my state, Connecticut, in early fall each year, people also attend the Faires to shop. Booths sell everything from fairy wings to dragon figurines. A booth would be impossibly expensive for me to rent, but I searched online for the next Faire anyway—it was only March—and learned the organizer wanted to host a free “Author’s Tent” booth for the coming fall. I was the first to respond and by October, there was a waiting list of authors. I sold 15 books in about two hours of fun at the Faire and have a wonderful invitation to come back this year and be a storyteller with my dragon books not just stand at a booth! They put out this nice ad ahead of the Faire, too. 

To find readers for THE LOST CROWN OF APOLLO, I reached out to Greek food festival coordinators. A few worked out to solid success, but I ran into the high cost of space rental. However, a Greek Orthodox Sunday School teacher invited me to do a book talk after church one day. The kids worked on a simple book-related craft project I had brought while they listened to a book talk about taking travels to Greece and spinning a tale. The parents snapped up copies and the Sunday School director bought five for the church library. My strategy, rather than waiting for the next random author invitation, is to send a copy of the book to several Greek churches in the region and ask if I can get on their schedule to bring a craft, books and talk to their kids about my love for Greece and writing." 


Suzanne, thank you! What a lovely vibrant post. We love your marketing approach and it shows shows that outlets for books can be found in all sorts of unusual places. 

For anyone interested in the Faire itself, here is a link Suzanne has sent us. 
In addition, visit Suzanne's blog which is on the list at the top right-hand side of the page here and visit her Amazon page here for her delightful books:

Monday, 12 June 2017

Guest post: Blogging - A writer's sketchbook from Val Poore

Blogging is a valuable platform for both writers and publishers, so this week, Val Poore has written a guest post for us on the creative benefits she has personally gained by writing a weekly blog.

Val Poore

"How often have we noticed artists sketching architectural scenes? Or people? Or animals and wildlife? I remember my father always had a sketchbook with him along with a selection of well worn pencils of different grades. He was an architect by training, but he enjoyed painting for relaxation. I used to love it when we went to the park as children and he would sit on a bench and draw. Later, he would select one of his many sketches and produce the most beautiful water colours based on the images he had recorded in his little book. These days, many artists take photos and use them as their 'sketches' but I still see others now and then with their notebooks full of finely detailed drawings.

An artist's watercolour sketch by my father, MV Poore
So what do writers do to prepare for their books or stories? I know many who keep journals of impressions, stories and ideas. They write in cafés, trains and anywhere they can sit down and make notes or write short pieces of things they have suddenly thought of or observed.  These are their sketches.

Then, there are the many who prefer to write short stories or flash fiction as a means of honing their skills.  These writers frequently go on to develop full length novels from an idea they have first sketched out in a much shorter narrative. Added to that, the discipline needed to write a complete piece of fiction in a limited number of words can be beneficial to improving a writer's skill for encapsulating atmosphere, setting, thoughts and emotions with deft economy. But there are still others - and I am one of them - who use a blog as a means of practicing their craft.

For me, my blog is my sketchbook. It is the place where I ensure that I write a complete piece every week to keep my writing current, vivid and alive. I use it to write descriptive texts or accounts of incidents, sometimes involving dialogue and humour. At other times, it is simply a diary of certain events going on in my life; for example, travelogues about the places I have been to and explored with my partner. Occasionally, I use it to publish interviews with other authors and even to write about writing techniques, but more often, my posts are the sketches about my life from which I gather the ideas for my books, especially my memoirs.

Another point is that a regular blog post is a tremendously good routine for a writer. If, as in my case, writing is not and cannot be a full-time job, it is often difficult to find the time to work consistently on a project. As a  consequence, it would be all too easy to spend several weeks without producing more than a few pages of the current book-in-progress. With no other writing outlet,  the will and self-discipline needed to keep going with a book can wither away before slinking off to a dusty, unused compartment of the brain where it can quietly die. That might sound a bit melodramatic, but it's painfully true and a familiar fear for many writers.

This is where I find my blog is not only useful for keeping up the momentum, but it also provides me with the challenge of working up something that is (I hope) interesting to read, creatively stimulating and also enjoyable to write. My book-in-progress is not forgotten and I never lose sight of it, but I don't feel the frustration of not having written anything for long periods.  As a writer, I need to write and keep writing to improve (wasn't it Stephen King who said that?), so at those times when I cannot work on my main project, my blog is a sufficiently diverse creative outlet to keep the muse satisfied.

In effect, then, my blog is my notebook, my journal, my creative palette and my recreation all in one. As someone who makes a daily living from teaching others the basic mechanics of the writer's craft,  my blog is also my weekly relief from the more technical side of the skill. It is where I can play with words, sentences and images; it is where I can be myself and have some fun.

So coming back to my original idea, we often use the word 'sketch' to talk about rough unfinished drafts, don't we? I believe this is what a blog can be as well. It can then serve as the basis for a complete book or story: in short, a blog can be what I suggested at the beginning of this article - a real sketchbook for writers."

An evocative sketch by my father that would also inspire a writer
Thank you, Val! To finish this week's post, we'd just like to mention that the links to most of our authors' blogs are in the sidebar on the upper right-hand side of the page. Do visit them and read their posts. Many of them write regular blogs like Val and would enjoy hearing from our readers too.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Relax with Romance

In our last few posts, we've focused on different types of books for your summer reading. We've also made some suggestions for the children, as well as for those who love memoirs. However,  some readers prefer to relax with a good romance. At Sunpenny, we like to combine romance with other themes and in particular, fiction with an underlying Christian ethic. That said, our romantic novels are lovely books that would appeal to everyone who enjoys intelligent stories with a strong element of romance, and of course our authors have that rich international background that gives the settings such exotic appeal. Here is the 'blurb' from some of the books we haven't mentioned in our earlier posts, and which give you thoughtful or exciting romance stories. This selection focuses specifically on novels set in the southern hemisphere.

Broken Shells by Debbie Roome

Can what has been broken ever be truly mended?
The woman was young, beautiful, and obviously pregnant. Logan Marsh wondered what had urged her to walk into the icy, dark waters of Wellington Harbour, and whether she would thank him for rescuing her. Staying at a women’s refuge run by Logan’s aunt Greer, Taylor can feel life returning to her soul, but she won’t speak about the mystery of her baby’s father to anyone. Still unsure of her own feelings about all that has happened, Taylor draws strength from Logan’s friendship and faith. But with all that she has to face, will it be enough? And can there ever be anything more than just friendship between them – especially when it seems Logan’s ex-girlfriend is less “ex” than he has claimed? Meanwhile Donny, a young man with Down syndrome, has a secret he’s been hiding. Worried, and unsure how to handle it, he waits for God’s guidance, but Taylor is constantly on his mind. What the outcome will be is something you will nee to read for yourselves! This is Debbie Roome's second novel set in New Zealand. Her first novel, Embracing Change, is set in both South Africa and New Zealand.

Only partly a romance, Dance of Eagles is an explosive adventure-thriller set in 14th-century Africa, and in the 1970's bush war of Rhodesia-Zimbabwe. Powerful characters who shaped their worlds, interwoven into a vivid tapestry that melds two stories: Tcana, daughter of a cattleherd, wife of a prince, high priestess of a new religion that will rip apart the ancient city of Tsimbaboue in the 1300s; and American TV journalist Rebecca Rawlings, caught up centuries later in the remnants of Tcana's faith and a violent war of attrition –Rhodesia, during the 1970s. Peter Kennedy, commander of the famed Selous Scouts. His friend and right-hand man, Kuru. And Kuru's brother, Mandhla, trained as a top flight freedom fighter by the Russians. In this gripping tale of love and retribution, Mandhla stalks the woman he sees as the key to his revenge, as surely as Peter and Kuru stalk the man known only to them by his nom-de-guerre: the Mamba.

Another New Zealand story, Breaking the Circle is about Emily Danvers, a young teacher, who finds herself doing relief work in a primary school where one of her pupils will need her to go above and beyond the call of duty to rescue not only him, but his mother and stepfather too, from the circle of abuse. In the midst of being strong for everyone around her, Emily suddenly discovers that a new friend Don, though clumsy and socially awkward, has hidden depths, and his own quiet strength becomes her rock. Unexpectedly she finds that her feelings could well become something more than just friendship … but can she really give up her city life to move to the remote dairy farm where he lives, surrounded by his brothers and widowed mother – not to mention one large, floppy sheepdog cross?

When career-focused Amanda McCree discovers that her controlling Great Aunt, as a last request, has especially asked that Amanda carry her Aunt's remains to Cape Town, Amanda is furious. The last thing she wants is to be forced to visit her parents there after so many years of bitterness over their rejection. To top it all, she finds herself stranded at her stopover in Bulawayo due to fuel shortages! But through the love of a family that takes her into their game reserve home, the economic crisis of Zimbabwe, and a man who daily lives with his own guilt and heartbreak, Amanda realises that God is more interested in her than she had ever thought. In the heart of the African bush, as she is let into the world of the handsome Caleb Jacobs and his family, Amanda is forced to face her own family divisions and to depend upon the God she thought had failed her.

Why not go armchair travelling then and enjoy some excitement and romance too? Click on the titles for the link for each of the books mentioned. These will take you to the Kindle page, but as we've mentioned before, you can buy the paperbacks from all the major online bookstores, notably the Book Depository and Barnes & Noble.  Happy deckchair reading - or if you happen to live in the south, happy fireside reading instead!