Category Archives: Stuff about Writing ~ Research Tools

Reviews ~ The World Beyond Facebook

Virtual Book Tours, Effective Online Book Promotion from the Comfort of Your Own Home by Jo Linsdell, Available in Kindle for a special release price of $2.99. ($4.99 after the tour)

virtualbooktoursJo graciously asked me to provide a review of her new release as part of her book-tour-in-progress.  I have to admit I am quite honored and shall give her the full Alcove Treatment.  First the basics.

Virtual Book Tours are a great way to create a buzz for a new release, or to put life back into an older publication. This book takes you through everything you need to know to be able to set up and carry out a successful virtual book tour.

The book is divided into 4 main sections for easy navigation:

1) What is a Virtual Book Tour?
2) How to organise your own tour
3) Promoting a tour
4) Useful resources

You’ll find it packed with links, tips, and advice to help make your tour a hit.

I don’t often visit the world of writing on my blog.  Most of the writers I have interviewed were invited to contribute to a special interest of the time, such as research for books on science fiction or history or some other topic I was delving into.  Sometimes I just get excited about something I’ve found that really helps me as I work through my own writing.  Most of the time, I stick to building my platform and letting my fans and readers get to know me.  That process is rooted quite deeply in how a blog is managed.

I adore many of the friends I have made over the past couple of years as I have become more deeply involved in social media.  I probably spend far more time on Facebook than I should; it is, however, my main source of “outside world” contact.  Granted, that can be a bit skewed.  What I have noticed is that many of the places I visit, the groups that have included me in hopes of my contribution, and the pages that are created for various and sundry books, products, or people, have become overwhelmed with advertising.  Some of my most cherished groups have clamped down hard on hawkers and provided a day or a place to “hang out your shingle.” Then, the managers work hard to keep the communication as informative as possible.

Many marketing gurus in the book industry will tell you that blasting your new release in a dozen or more groups/pages in social media is looked on as spam and does more harm than good.  Sadly, I tend to ignore most of those announcements, focusing more on the informative chats and concentrating on building my network.  I must smile as I write this, because I almost missed a review on my own book with this inattention. So, where can you express yourself, tell people about your latest work, define for the world the thing you most want to say?  On your blog. There are books on how to structure a really successful blog, whether you want to sell books or not – and I will look at them in coming weeks.  Right now I want to talk about Jo Linsdell and her marvelous little book about tours.

Blogs are wonderful things if used to their greatest advantage.  I use mine as a quiet place to express my discoveries, share my wonder, and build an audience for the way I think and write.  In that process, it is often fun to entertain a guest.  This, of course, is what happens in a blog tour.  It is a time when you have someone in for tea (or coffee) and chat about a mutual interest.  Jo shows you how to use that chat to the best advantage of the host and the guest.

There are rules one should follow to be a good guest and a good host.  If you want to discuss some aspect of a work in progress, then you need to find blog hosts interested in your topic, the way you work, how you write, where your inspiration comes from.  As noted, I have invited guests to share their point of view on a number of topics.  It gives my blog life, draws traffic and, well, I usually learn something very interesting.

I learned a great deal from Jo’s book.  She will take you through all of the steps of organizing, managing, closing and analyzing a blog tour.  This little book is packed with page after page of links and references to help you find the blogs that fit you like a glass slipper.  There are even commercial resources you can take advantage of, if you don’t feel confident enough to manage the first tour on your own.

One of my favorite parts (since I’m so obsessive when it comes to organization) is how you think through the process of organizing.  What do you want to accomplish?  What is your goal for the tour in general?  (Don’t cop out here and say – “sell books.”)  Think about what is most important about your work.  Do you write fun youth fiction where the character grows?  Is it steampunk or scifi fantasy?  Do your characters portray historical personalities?  If you know where you are going, then you have a much better chance of picking effective blog hosts (ones that will actually welcome you) and you will know what type of blog posts you want.  Reviews are only one.  There are interviews (of you and your characters) or feature stories.  Jo knows I like to do book reviews, and that is what she asked of me.

As it happens, I also work with a small publishing company, and marketing is one of our highest priorities.  Her book has saved me hours of research combing through the internet.  All those feeble attempts to have volunteers help me dig up suitable blogs for tours for our authors became passé the moment I read her book.  For this I will be forever grateful!  People are busy and volunteers do have lives.

I think that Jo has addressed a really important aspect of the cyber world, and she has given clear and sound advice.  Exchanging ideas, progress, thoughts, and connections in a media that allows reflection and preparation has a very different flavor from the “buy me,” “like me,” freebie  hurly- burly of social media.  Don’t get me wrong: I believe that there is a place and time for marketing on the big network sites.  But I much prefer the path described by my friend and colleague, Jo Linsdell.

Here comes all the “where to find her and who she is!”


Jo Linsdell is a bestselling author and internationally recognized book marketing expert. She is the founder and CEO of the Writers and Authors blog and the annual online event Promo Day. Learn more about Jo at

For more information about Virtual Book Tours: Effective Online Book Promotion from the Comfort of our own Home, please visit or contact

Some of the titles now available by Jo on Amazon are:

Children’s’ Books:  Out and about at the Zoo, A Birthday Clown for Archer (& Coloring book and in Spanish), Fairy May

Guides: Italian for Tourists: Pocket Edition, A Guide to Weddings in Italy

Social Media Links:

Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube,
Goodreads, Amazon

Click to tweets:

Add Virtual Book Tours: Effective Online Book Promotion From the Comfort of Your Own Home to your to-read list

Learn everything you need to know about virtual book tours in this book by best selling author Jo Linsdell

Must read book about organising virtual book tours! #Authors


Filed under My Bookshelf (and a movie or two), Stuff about Writing ~ Research Tools, Stuff about Writing ~ Tips and Tools

Alternative History ~ More Than an Adventure, It’s a Mind Expanding Point of View

As my readers know by now, I am a history junkie.  My banner pretty much says it all because I believe there is much we have left behind that could teach us about what we have “yet to find.”  My writing tends to explore both the past and the future and is, consequently, driven by research.  For this reason I like to find fiction writers that do much the same thing because it helps me at least try to share the passion I have for my subjects with my readers.  Learning how people build fictional worlds that attract an audience helps me see the parts that interest readers so I can arrange my factual material in an engaging way.  My current interview target gave me some very interesting ideas.  We will visit my thoughts after we hear from Rob Cerio (

Steampunk World Building and the importance of knowing your history…

One of the trends in science fiction and fantasy literature is toward the rapidly growing genre known as “Steampunk”. For those that are unfamiliar with the genre, it’s a world of steam engines, Victorian sensibilities and fashions, and good old human courage. For those that write Science fiction, it’s also a nice departure from our usual, dreary dystopias and a walk into a brighter world. I have heard it described by many to be the shared universes of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, or by others as visions of the future as envisioned by the 19th century. What most of these definitions fail to realize is that Steampunk at its core is an exercise in alternative history, and the best Steampunk Authors do a lot of research into the Victorian era, and the technology and terminology of the time to give their worlds authenticity.

dgstorecovThe key point of divergence between our real world and the imagined universe that most Steampunk stories use is the inventions of Charles Babbage. In 1822, Babbage proposed a device for completing complicated mathematics that he called a “Difference Engine”. The device was intended to replace error prone humans in the calculation of complex polynomial tables for engineering and science reference material. He later refined this design by the mid 1800s broadening its usage to an “Analytical Engine:” a very basic computer. The tremendous cost of building these intricate machines proved too high for him to continue his research.  If he had it was entirely possible that the Computing Revolution of the mid 1970’s could have happened a hundred years earlier, in the “age of steam”, most notably before the development of the internal combustion engine.

Which leads to a neat question… “If modern computing had been applied to the refinement of the steam engine, would we have ever developed the internal combustion engine?” Somehow, I don’t think my uncle would appreciate his Corvette if he had to shovel coal into it every 300 miles.

Steampunk literature suggests that the great scientists and engineers of the Victorian era would have made tremendous advances with access to Babbage’s Difference engines. We are asked to imagine a world where the Montfoglier Brothers used computers to turn their Ballooning experiments into practical airships… A world where Nikola Tesla was able to figure out the Unified Field theory 60 years before Einstein even got a job as a patent clerk… A world where Captain Nemo’s Nautilus was a practical machine instead of a flight of fancy.

As a result, to write confidently in the steampunk genre, there is a lot of research you have to do, especially since readers of your fiction will absolutely call you on any errors in facts or style. (I had an editor return a story because a character used the term ‘patsy’ when the word wasn’t in popular usage until the 1920’s or so). On your reading list should be at least one of the works of Jules Verne, and of H.G. Wells, as well as some Mark Twain. The first two are to help you establish the conventions of the genre, the third to help you get the tone and jargon of an American of the period set into your mind. Depending on where you set your story, you may need to look into the real-world history of the country in question.

Many Steampunk stories are set in Great Britain and the United states, but the genre has been opening up to include the Far East, Africa, and the moon. This is great for authors that love writing in the genre, but I still cringe every time someone refers to it as “Space: 1899.”

In my case, the post-Civil War America that my short story “The Great Steamship Race” is set in is very much our current reality. Despite my embellishment of ironclad airships, the tensions in the post-war south and animosities that were held onto for generations are still in evidence. The race that takes place between my fictional airships Natchez and Robert E. Lee is based upon a real event and real historical figures that I discovered while researching other works. While some authors might look at the restrictions of using real history to frame an alternative history story as a chain binding them from telling interesting stories, I would say that they haven’t researched thoroughly enough. The Victorian era of both British and American history is rife with vibrant characters that truly shine when handed futuristic technology.

In addition to old fashioned library and internet research, there is quite a bit of real world research you can do to give your locations and Steampunk devices life. I am lucky enough to live in New Orleans, where one of the last steamships operates on the Mississippi River. By asking politely, I was able to get a behind the scenes tour of the engine and boiler rooms of the vessel, as well as a rare look at the wheelhouse. While not everyone has a steamboat in their backyard, there are steam locomotives that still run the rails in most states as tourism ventures. While much of what you learn by observing these machines in action may never make it onto the page, knowing the smell and feel of these amazing machines in action will help give your fictional versions life. I would also recommend trying on some Victorian era clothing… while I have never personally worn a corset, many of my female author friends insist that it was key to bringing a certain perspective to their heroine’s lives.

Me, I just settled for a top hat and a pair of aviator goggles.


So, the ideas that Rob has popped into my head?  If you have ever watched Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series you may remember a segment where he mentions that the Greek renaissance of science and math that started somewhere around 570-495 BCE was squelched by Pythagoras and his mystics.  If not for him then the first ship on the moon may have had a Greek name and it may have been centuries before the Americans made their landing.  Maybe, maybe not.  As a race we tend to fear those things that we do not understand.  We give them the aura of mystery and magic and sometimes call them evil.  Or, we do our best to control them.  Some of those “mystics” Mr. Sagan was so perturbed with became the fathers of a more lasting modern science: Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, Einstein, Kepler, and on and on.  There are several Jesuit priests in the mix as well.  Many men, and women, discovered much about our universe while seeking the mind of God: and shared their passion by showing the world what they found.  Sometimes it is a war between the mystics and the rational thinkers; sometimes it’s a matter of timing.

So, what I learned from a point of view such as Rob’s, is a way of inserting or taking away a concept that could change helicopterhistory in order to better understand the pivots of that history.  For instance, what if Leonardo had gotten his whirly bird off the ground?  It is interesting that Rob mentions Mark Twain as a source since he used this approach himself.  If you haven’t read A Connecticut Yankee in King Author’s Court you should give it a try.  An excellent example of “what if they had this!”

Thinking through the “could have beens” help us better understand the “what is now” and may help us build a better “what will be.”  In the meantime, check out Rob’s website and see what he is up to.  You can also let me know what you would like to learn about as we explore our history, our thoughts, our hopes and dreams.

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Filed under Stuff about Writing ~ Research Tools, Stuff about Writing ~ Tips and Tools

Science Fiction/Fantasy Research – What Ingredients Make a Cake Part II

So, in continuation of this miniseries I interviewed a slightly different sort of author, one who writes for children.  Sharon L Norris write children’s books in order to wrap a story around some fun fact from the sciences.  Here are her responses to my areas of interest.  I have left her delightful Australian spelling and usage as written.


Does your research drive your story; or does your story shape your research?

The concept for my children’s early reader book ‘The Blink-off’ was derived from reading a Little Golden Book on ‘cats’. It mentioned that cats did not blink. I then started researching this phenomenon and found that cats do blink, but not very often. They have a third eyelid, a clear one that covers the pupil and keeps out dust and dirt. This means they do not blink as often as humans do. I was fascinated by this concept and developed a story for early readers around it.

Research was paramount in driving my mid-grade novel ‘The Balloonatic’, published by Macmillan Education Australia. This story, about a young boy who loves hot air ballooning and has to land a balloon when the pilot collapses in mid-flight, required significant research on the subject of ballooning. In the research process, where I learned about the dynamics of flight, I found some wonderfully illustrated books that gave me ideas for the landing scenario in this novel.

How do you keep yourself informed of new developments in the scientific fields?

I am currently writing a YA novel set in the future so I am using the internet to find blogs, pages and discussion fora so I can remain up to date with particular things like weaponry, military behaviour and strategy – things I know little about personally. I am also considering a sequel to ‘The Balloonatic!’ and am expanding my knowledge of modern hot air ballooning.

Do you try to shape your stories around hard science; or do you ignore or reach beyond what is known into the possible, probable, or does it matter?

I specialise in writing for educational markets and the success of ‘The Blink-off’ has encouraged me to continue to explore scientific concepts in fiction for early readers. The language that needs to be used for early readers can sometimes limit what you write. Abstract thoughts and concepts are not encouraged in early literacy materials as they are often too difficult for young children to understand.

What sorts of things inspire your interest to seek more information?

As a children’s writer, I’m fascinated by the natural environment and how things work. The smallest thing can be of great interest to young children, but they need to clearly understand and make connections in order to make sense of what you’re trying to tell them. Researching topics young children find fascinating is part of my job as a children’s writer.

What sorts of things tend to spark the idea of a story?

I’m an avid people-watcher. When I’m on a bus or sitting on a park bench I discreetly take note of everything around me and what people are doing. How children interact with each other and with older people. How they speak and what they say. Riding the bus has given me so many ideas just from hearing people’s conversations. I don’t strain to eavesdrop – buses are noisy so passengers will naturally talk louder to be heard. They just don’t realize how far their voices carry!

The media is also another source of story ideas for me. Reports of real life events, people, places and things will spark story ideas that I then elaborate or embellish. My mid-grade novel ‘Finders Keepers’ was sparked by a media report about children who found a dinosaur egg in sand dunes and hid it when the Government tried to take it away from them. In my story, the two child protagonists find and then hide their dinosaur egg when a greedy uncle tries to sell it to the highest bidder. They end up donating the egg to a museum so it would belong to everyone.

Do you often have characters in mind and find yourself in search of a scientific background to suit their character and its development?

I once imagined what the late Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, was like as a boy. He was alive then and I could just imagine him as a little boy running amok on his parents’ wildlife reserve (which later became the iconic Australia Zoo). I developed a boy character I imagined was very like Steve Irwin as a child, and thus was born my short novel for early-fluent readers titled ‘The Croc Shock’. This novel chronicles the adventures of Jack Sherman, who lives on a wildlife reserve and takes a baby saltwater crocodile to school for Show and Tell Day (or Show and Crow Day as it’s called in the book). When fear and ignorance about the crocodile threaten to get Jack into a lot of trouble, he gives his Show and Tell talk to the entire school to educate them. In the process, the reader learns a lot of scientific facts about ‘salties’.

Do you like to teach science with your writing and if so, is it your only goal or do you just have a lot of fun playing with the ideas that scientific theory presents?

I challenge myself to take a concept that interests me and look for an ‘angle’ I can explore, just as journalists look for the angle they will take when they write their stories for newspapers and magazines. There is always a lot of fun in this process.

Do you see correlations between scientific theory as it develops and your own philosophy or world view?

I learn a lot from the research process and from critically evaluating the research. I feel this can only stimulate my development as a writer and mean a better story for the reader.

Does this perspective become part of your characters’ development, or just background?

It’s important that child characters in children’s books solve their problems or dilemmas with as little help from adults as possible. So for me, it is important to ensure that I can suspend disbelief so my child readers know their protagonists can achieve the impossible if that is needed to solve a problem or dilemma.

In ‘The Balloonatic!’, for example, my character Monty is a walking, talking encyclopaedia on hot air ballooning but he has never actually flown in a balloon until he receives a gift certificate on his birthday for a dawn flight. When the pilot collapses in mid-flight, Monty has to use every ounce of knowledge he has to bring the balloon down safely as three lives depend on it.

What is your most favorite, wonder, awe-inspiring thing that you have learned in the last few years?  Something that confirmed or changed your point of view of the world and all that is in it?

I am intrigued by the fact that despite the wide-reaching arm of technology and development across the globe, we continue to hear that there are newly discovered tribes living traditional lives in remote parts of the world. People living in complete harmony with their environment, and damaging it a lot less than many of us living in highly developed, technologically proficient societies in first-world countries. There is a fantastic eco-message in that for all of us.

What is your favorite writing project which involved research into the sciences?

I have completed another mid-grade novel (unpublished at this time), which involved researching magnetism. I found out many interesting things about magnets and magnetism and this helped inform the plot and the development of my character, Eric. It was a lot of fun finding ways to incorporate those things into the story.

Sharon L Norris lives in Brisbane, Australia, and is the author of four books for children published in educational markets in Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore and the United States. Her motto is ‘take the ordinary within you and make it extraordinary’, and feels this is the perfect inspiration for a children’s writer. You can find out more about Sharon’s work via her website at, and can follow her on Facebook at

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Filed under Natural Sciences from the Observation Deck, Stuff about Writing ~ Research Tools, Stuff about Writing ~ Tips and Tools

Science Fiction/Fantasy Research – What Ingredients Make a Cake – Part I

My blog often discusses recent scientific discoveries that may have roots in history or philosophy.  It also addresses the art of research, whether you are a writer or not, how does one go about finding things out?  How do you fill that sense of wonder that we have?  How do you feed a voracious appetite for knowledge?

These thoughts inspired me to ask some of my Facebook friends who are very much involved in writing, editing and reviewing books that fall into this genre.  I will be featuring my volunteers over the next few weeks and will introduce you to their writing philosophy and their work.  Some chose the interview format, some will most likely present an article.  Here we go with guest number one:  Angus Day.  He chose the interview format.

having nice thingsDoes your research drive your story; or does your story shape your research?

My story line drives my research.  Whether it be technological, historical or theoretical I will find what is currently thought and consider it.

How do you keep yourself informed of new developments in the scientific fields?

Depends upon the field.  Chemistry, materials and things in that vein I have sources as a professional.  Most anything else I skim BBC, NASA, space news sites.  When I use Wiki is at the beginning to determine if there are any credible sources referenced but I never use anything directly.

Do you try to shape your stories around hard science; or do you ignore or reach beyond what is known into the possible, probable, or does it matter?

I do not shape my stories based on what we think we know today.  How people can make determinations about what is possible when we haven’t effectively left the fish bowl yet is beyond me.  I don’t ignore the doubters, but I may try to spin the story so that they get discredited for having closed off their minds.  Addressing the ‘does it matter’, I dislike the hand wave.  Have some guts and build a world where things are possible.  Weave a story of hope.

What sorts of things inspire your interest to seek more information?

Extrasolar planets, out of the box propulsion schemes, myths of my ancestors proven to have merit within new interpretations and someone egotistical enough to claim something is not possible.

What sorts of things tend to spark the idea of a story?

A breeze, news item or an extraordinary event.

Do you often have characters in mind and find yourself in search of a scientific background to suit their character and its development?

Not all of my characters are scientists.  Sometimes they are military, business people…  The fifth novel will have a main character that is a moron finding his way through one accident at a time without any real redeeming qualities.

Do you like to teach science with your writing and if so, is it your only goal or do you just have a lot of fun playing with the ideas that scientific theory presents?

I try to blend the concept of scientific discovery into the lives of my characters.  There is a way to turn me off from reading a science fiction novel and that is the dreaded ‘info dump’.  I have fun with it.

Do you see correlations between scientific theory as it develops and your own philosophy or world view?

My world view is that there will always be the unknowable in everyone’s lives.  It may be out of our reach during our time which does not make it impossible.  Too often people are ready to declare something impossible because it conflicts with what they think they know scientifically and or theologically.  True scientific method seeks to disprove a statement because if you can not then it is possible.

Does this perspective become part of your characters’ development, or just background?

The perspective becomes integral with the character’s development.

What is your most favorite, wonder, awe-inspiring thing that you have learned in the last few years?  Something that confirmed or changed your point of view of the world and all that is in it?

I don’t believe that I learned it but became more comfortable with the view that one’s belief system is personal.  There is no need to strive for conflict with others that don’t believe the same unless they are trying to oppress you.  I try to write open and accepting protagonists.  Antagonists I try to construct believable character flaws that lead to selfish behavior and decisions.  My spinnings are my view of the current and future worlds we live in.

What is your favorite writing project which involved research into the sciences?

Fictional development of the Vascaran drive in Legacy of Daddy was my favorite because it is representative of the boundaries needing conquering in order to graduate to interstellar civilization.  I’m not done with it yet.

I live in Fort Collins Colorado with my wife and son. My daughter has embarked on her career as a graphics designer. I’ve been an Infantryman, Swine Farmer, smattering of other trades and jobs and now I’m a manufacturing pharmaceutical chemist. What aspect of my life that is devoted to fitness favors swimming in open water which means I spend most of the year working out in a pool then hit the lakes when it warms up a bit. My wife Cheryl safety kayaks for me when we manage to make it work.

Some other places to check Angus out: Facebook Group:  Next You Utopian Estates

And on the web: The Next You Universe


Filed under My Bookshelf ~ Fiction, Natural Sciences from the Observation Deck, Stuff about Writing ~ Research Tools, Stuff about Writing ~ Tips and Tools

Research – A Special Kind of Treasure Hunt

Photo by Kass Lamb and provided through WANA Commons

We are going to explore something a bit different today.  Don’t worry, book reviews will return; however it appears as though my developing fan base includes some history buffs and some writers so this topic will be of interest:  how to find stuff.

So, remember in school when we were assigned a report, taken to the library, and taught how to use the index card file, the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature, encyclopedias and all sorts of other reference materials?  Sometimes, during a research project, you had to become great friends with the research librarian so you could find 100 year old texts and get to look at the thing through a rather prolonged and sometimes expensive process called, “Inter-library Loan.”  Well, those days are long gone and the intrepid researcher is no longer bound by what is available in the corner library (but don’t forget to support that library – we still need them)!

With the digital age upon us, finding source material is an adventure, but it can be done.  Even that classic, Readers’ Guide is on the ‘net!  So, now and then, I will share some of the treasure troves I have found.  Little corners of the internet that have something special to offer to those of inquiring minds.   Today’s stop: World Digital Library.

To provide a little background, in June of 2005 a librarian of Congress, James H. Billington proposed a “World Digital Library” to UNESCO.  It wasn’t until December of 2006 that working groups were formed in order to establish content and selection guidelines.  A prototype was developed by October of 2007 and in April of 2009 it was launched for public use.  There are now some 6,142 contributions from every member country of UNESCO (as of today).

This collection includes rock paintings from Africa dated to 8,000 BCE, maps, coins, paintings, photographs, objects and manuscripts from all parts of the world.  There is a slider timeline on the home page that allows one to reduce the search to a specific time period.  The data base can be searched by place, topic, type of contribution or contributing institution.  The digital renderings are fabulous.

So, for a fun afternoon of prowling through our history or when in need of strange and wonderful points of interest, try a visit to this online institution and be introduced to a world of incredible human ingenuity, art, and history.


Filed under Stuff about Writing ~ Research Tools, Stuff about Writing ~ Tips and Tools