Social Media Primer

When my editor called me in August, 2013, with the good news that Kensington wanted to publish my first novel, one of the things he told me was that I should have a presence on Facebook as a writer. It would allow readers to find me online easily and also allow them to interact with me and with each other. So I got a Facebook author page. The publisher also wanted me to be accessible to readers not on Facebook, so I started my blog, got myself a website, and signed up for Twitter, too.

I’m supposed to update the status of my author Facebook page at least once a day, but frankly, sometimes I find that a little forced. Even boring. And I’m quite sure I’m not the only one who feels that way. For any of you who may be unfamiliar with Facebook, it is common for authors to dedicate a Facebook/social media page to news about their work, their author events, their publicity, etc. And it’s important to keep it updated so people know what an author is currently working on or promoting.

I like to use my author Facebook page to introduce readers to the places I write about. It’s common for a reader to find pictures of Boldt Castle, Singer Castle, the Thousand Islands, and other upstate New York locales on my author page. As I move into 2015 with a book out in April, I’ll be posting photos of South Carolina, the Lowcountry, and Charleston more frequently, since that area of the U.S. is the setting for my new book, The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor.

I also like to post funny things I find online that might be of interest to readers, such as grammar puns, literary cartoons, and jokes about books.

I try to limit bald-faced promotion on Facebook and Twitter to one day a week, usually on Tuesdays, when I invite people to have a look at my blog post for the week. As a release date gets closer, I do have to do more outright promotion, so those posts become more frequent. The same is true for this blog. As you know, I often mention my books in my blog posts, but it’s almost always in connection with another point I’m trying to make. And as the release date nears, I point my blog readers to the places online where my new book is being featured. You are free to check out those sites, or you don’t have to. It’s completely up to you.

If readers aren’t on Facebook (and believe me, there are plenty of reasons not to be part of Facebook) or Twitter or they don’t follow my blog, they can always go to my website, where they can send me an email to contact me. They can also read more in-depth about my books and find music and wines that I suggest for a nice evening of reading.

Here are the links to the places you can find me online:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/amreadeauthor
Website: http://www.amymreade.com
Twitter: @readeandwrite

Are there things you’d like to see on my author page, my blog, my website, or in my tweets? I’d love it if you’d share your thoughts with me.

Until next week,

Amy

P.S. If you’ve read Secrets of Hallstead House, would you consider leaving a review on Amazon, bn.com, or Goodreads? I never realized until I wrote my first book how important it is for readers to leave book reviews on these sites. Reviews help drive traffic to authors and businesses, and the reviews are very much appreciated. Thanks!

Location, Location, Location!

I have a friend who has lived in Indiana most of his life, except for going to college in Texas and working for a brief time in Washington, DC. He said to me recently that even though he only spent a few years in Texas, that state feels like home to him. I’m sure there are Texans wondering why everyone doesn’t feel that way.

I understand how he feels. A place can exert a powerful pull on a person, even if the person hasn’t spent much time there. Maybe it can happen even if the person hasn’t spent any time there.

That’s why book settings are so important. Could Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier take place anywhere but the Cornish coast of England? Could The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner take place anywhere but Mississippi? The setting of a story is often its most essential element; in other words, there are stories that simply wouldn’t make sense if they were set somewhere else. IfRebecca took place in Paris, the story wouldn’t have the same heavy atmosphere and spookiness that it has in Cornwall. If The Sound and the Fury were set in small-town Vermont, what would be the source of Quentin’s cultural angst?

Secrets of Hallstead House is set in the Thousand Islands, one of those places that has a strong pull for those who have spent any time there. I don’t know of a single person who has been to the Thousand Islands who didn’t want to return. Could my story be set somewhere else? Not as far as I’m concerned. The St. Lawrence River and Hallstead Island are characters in the story just as much as any of the humans are.

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The same is true with The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor, my story set near Charleston, South Carolina. That’s another place that stays with a person. Have you ever been to Charleston? It’s inhabitants are passionate about their city, much more so than lots of other cities. And I can see why–it’s a beautiful city with a rich history and culture all its own. It’s like no other city in the South.

I am lucky enough to live in a place which has that pull, a place that people return to year after year (particularly in the summertime). When I first moved here, I was amazed at the number of kids who went away to college and wanted nothing more than to return to their hometown to find work upon graduation. Their happy memories of many seasons spent at the beach, of surf and sand, of the boardwalk and sunrises over the Atlantic Ocean are strong enough to make those people want to return.

So in that same vein, my third story, as yet unnamed but tentatively entitled Hanging Jade Hale, (pronounced “hah-lay”), is set on the Big Island of Hawaii. I know of exactly two people who have been to Hawaii and didn’t absolutely love it. It’s a place where people experience a kind of magic that is only found there, a magic that comes from the ocean and the mountains and the trade winds and the knowledge that Hawaii is alone in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. A story set there can’t take place anywhere else in the world, and that makes its setting special.

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Is there a place that calls you back, even if you’ve never been there? I’d love to hear about it!

Until next week,

Amy

First Book Signing!

This past Saturday I had my very first book signing for Secrets of Hallstead House. I was at Corbin’s River Heritage in Clayton, New York, as a guest of Alan “Hutch” and Marilyn Hutchinson, owners of Corbin’s. I never guessed that a book signing could be such a thoroughly enjoyable and fun experience. I will admit that I was a little nervous at first, but Marilyn and Hutch were friendly and gracious and put me at ease immediately.
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For those of you who have never been lucky enough to visit Clayton, it’s a small town right on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. The public dock area has a well-kept, beautiful park with Adirondack chairs and comfy benches. I could have sat there all day watching the boats go by. The main streets down by the water are filled with boutiques and cozy restaurants nestled side-by-side with old-fashioned hardware stores, Save the River! offices, and one of my favorite cheese shops (River Rat), just to name a few. I even found a place I hadn’t visited before- an oil and vinegar store that invites shoppers to sample each and every one of their delicious offerings. The 1000 Islands Cruet is my new go-to spot for special oils and vinegars. This time I only bought one bottle (Black Mission Fig Balsamic Vinegar), but you can be quite sure that on my next visit I will pick up a Vermont Maple Balsamic Vinegar as well as at least one bottle of oil- probably the Tuscan Herb Olive Oil. If you get to Clayton, I highly recommend the Cruet.

Happily, Corbin’s is situated next to the best sub shop in Northern New York or anywhere else on earth- Jreck’s. Not to put too much pressure on Jreck’s, but I did read recently that one of my old friends traveled 1700 miles to get one of their subs. Okay, it was in conjunction with a visit to his family, but the fact that he wrote about how good the sub was tells you something, doesn’t it?

Corbin’s itself is a gem of a bookstore. The walls were covered with black and white photos and drawings of the river and its environs. My favorite was an old photo of a horse race that took place on the frozen river years ago. And as for the books, as I told Marilyn, I wish I could have bought at least one of every book in the place. If there is a book in print about the Thousand Islands, St. Lawrence River, or surrounding region, Marilyn and Hutch either have it or can get it. It doesn’t matter if it’s fiction, non-fiction, a book for children or adults, a cookbook, or a book of photography, they’ve heard of it and can talk about it with authority. I saw them discussing books with countless patrons who came in looking for specific items or just general ideas of what they wanted to read. Marilyn and Hutch were able to tailor their suggestions to each and every person who asked for assistance.

The best part of my book signing was the opportunity it gave me to meet lots of wonderful people. I met locals and tourists alike of all ages, and enjoyed talking to each one of them. Several members of my family (close and extended) stopped by, so that was an extra-special treat. I loved the stories that people shared with me about the recipients of the books I signed and about the writings some of them have produced.

So to Hutch and Marilyn and all the people who were kind enough to visit Corbin’s on Saturday and share a few moments with me, thank you. You made my first book signing a wonderful experience that left me with many happy memories.

Until next time,

Amy

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A Preview of SECRETS OF HALLSTEAD HOUSE

Before I forget, please visit the next blogs in the blog hop this week: http://jlgregerblog.blogspot.com and http://amymbennettbooks.blogspot.com.

Breaking News: As Vanessa Coggshall was preparing for the blog hop yesterday, her baby decided it was time to be born! Vanessa’s blog may be offline for a bit!

And now to my post, since I’m done having children. My post today is an excerpt from my first novel, Secrets of Hallstead House.

***

My journey was almost over.

It was raining, and I looked out through the drizzle across the
blue-gray water of the Saint Lawrence River. Only a few boats were
out on such a raw and rainy day. From the bench where I sat on the
Cape Cartier public dock, I could see several islands. Each was covered
with trees—dark green pine trees and leafy maples, oaks,
birches, and weeping willows. In the chilly late September air, the
leaves were already tinged with the colors of fall: yellows, reds, oranges,
browns. I could glimpse homes on the islands, but I didn’t see
any people. It was beautiful here—so different from the city I had
just left behind.

Even though twenty years have come and gone since that day, I
can still remember the calm that settled around me as I waited for my
ride to Hallstead House in the middle of the Thousand Islands. My
nerves were still ragged, but the river had an immediate and peaceful
effect on me. I was only twenty then, but I had been through so much.
Though I had been traveling for just a few hours, my journey to this
place had begun six long weeks earlier.

As I listened to the raindrops plunk into the river, the sound of the
motor from an approaching boat cut into my reverie. It was an older
boat of gleaming mahogany with a large white awning covering most
of it, protecting the cabin and the pilot from the rain. It puttered up to
the dock slowly and in a few moments had pulled alongside, close to
where I sat. The pilot moved to the stern and climbed out quickly, securing
the boat to the dock with a thick rope. He turned to me with a
questioning look and said, “Macy Stoddard?”

“Yes.”

He shook my hand curtly. “I’m Pete McHale. I work for Alexandria
Hallstead. She sent me here to pick you up. That all the luggage
you brought?”

“Yes, that’s it.”

He shot me a disapproving look and said, “I hope you brought
some warm stuff to wear. It starts getting cold up here pretty early in
the fall. It’s colder here than it is in the big city, you know.” He
smirked.

Determined to stay positive, I ignored his look of reproach and
replied that I had plenty of warm clothes. Once he’d stowed my two
large suitcases in the boat under the awning, he helped me on board,
where I chose a seat in the front so I could see where we were going
and stay dry. I had been in a boat once as a child when a furious storm
blew up, and I had hated boats ever since. Still, though I was unhappy
and nervous to be riding in one, there was absolutely no other way to
get to my island destination. Pete untied the boat and we slowly
pulled away from the dock. As he scanned the river and began turning
the boat to the north, I glanced at his profile. He looked like he was
in his mid-thirties—medium height, with light-brown, windblown
hair, and green eyes with creases in the corners that made it look like
he squinted a lot. He wore faded jeans and a Windbreaker.
When he had steered the boat out of the small, sheltered bay at
Cape Cartier and into the more open channel, he glanced at me and
said, “We’ll be at Summerplace in about ten minutes.”

“Summerplace?”

“That’s the name of the house on Hallstead Island.”

“Oh. I thought it was called Hallstead House.”

“Its official name is Hallstead House. The people who live on the
island just call it Summerplace.”

We sat in silence for several moments, and finally I asked, “Why
is it called Summerplace?”

Pete sighed. Evidently he didn’t relish playing the role of tour
guide. “It’s called Summerplace because it used to be a summer retreat
for the Hallstead family. Now Miss Hallstead stays there for as
much of the year as she can. In early to mid-October she moves the
household over to Pine Island and spends the winter there.”

To keep my mind off my abject fear of being on the water, I turned
my attention to the islands we were passing. Each one had a home on
it, and all of the homes were beautiful. Some looked empty, since
their occupants had probably left after the summer ended, but some
still had boats tied to docks or housed in quaint boathouses. The
homes themselves, most of which were huge and had large, welcoming
porches, were surrounded by the ever-present trees. Several had
bright awnings over the windows.

In the face of Pete’s apparent ambivalence, I had determined not
to ask any more questions. But as I sat looking around me I forgot my
self-imposed rule. “Are there really a thousand islands in this area?”
I blurted out.

“There are actually over eighteen hundred islands in the Thousand
Islands,” he replied. To my surprise, he seemed to warm to this
subject and continued. “In order to be included in the count, an island
has to be above water three hundred and sixty-five days a year and
support at least two living trees.”

I continued to draw him out, asking, “What do you do for Mrs.
Hallstead?”

His attitude changed again, becoming colder. “It’s Miss Hallstead.
She never took her husband’s name.”

***

Until next week,

Amy

The Genesis of an Idea

Last Wednesday I had the pleasure of speaking at Career Day for one of my kids. The students who signed up to hear my author spiel were quiet, respectful, and asked some thoughtful questions. The question I received the most was “Where do you get your ideas?”

There are as many places to find ideas for stories as there are writers who write those stories.

This is what I told the kids: I start with my setting. I find that once I decide where my story is going to take place, the ideas flow from that. My first novel takes place in the Thousand Islands; as you might imagine, there are parts of my story that could only take place on an island in the middle of a river. My second novel takes place near Charleston, South Carolina, so a plantation great house has an important role in the story. Not every writer starts with a setting, of course. Some get an idea and the setting grows out of it.

One thing I told the kids on Career Day was that some writers get ideas from reading the obituaries. They read the obits and imagine things that may have happened during the lives of the people who have just passed, whether it was someone who survived the Holocaust or someone who emigrated from Italy as a teenager or someone who spent his or her life as a singer/songwriter. The obituaries are fertile ground for vivid imaginations.

Where else do writers get their ideas? How about newspaper articles? Some writers get ideas from reading the headlines and making up their own backstories. Some read regular columns and make up corruption and intrigue that amp up the excitement. Others use stories from their own jobs; there are more than a few ex-lawyers who use real legal cases in their books. The same is true with doctors and almost any other profession you can imagine.

Ever heard of the book Cape May Court House: A Death in the Night? It’s a book by Lawrence Schiller, an investigative journalist who studied a real case from Cape May Court House, New Jersey (not far from where I live), involving a husband, a wife, their daughter, and a tragic event. Though Schiller stuck very close to the original story, there are lots of real crimes that get fictionalized by authors who are looking for a realistic story line.

The last thing I told the kids was this: ask “what if?” every chance you get. You’re driving by an abandoned house. What if a murder took place there? What if the most recent owner was a recluse? Or you see a father strike his child at a grocery store. What if that father was stressed out because his wife just left him? What if that man wasn’t the child’s father? Maybe you see two people talking on a park bench. What if they’re undercover agents? What if it’s a clandestine meeting? The possibilities are endless.

So think of a place you’d love to set a story. Read newspapers and Internet news stories and the obituaries. Ask “what if?” every once in a while. You’ll stimulate your own imagination and you might just think of something fantastic.

Where do you get your ideas? I’d love to know.

Until next week,

Amy

The Thousand Islands

As regular readers of my blog know, my first novel, Secrets of Hallstead House, is coming out in July. It’s set in the Thousand Islands. For those of you who aren’t lucky enough to be familiar with the region, the Thousand Islands is an area that stretches for about fifty miles from Southern Ontario, Canada, into Northern New York.

Here’s a good way to picture it: if you think of the St. Lawrence River as a huge unclasped necklace, the Thousand Islands are its emerald jewels.

Part of my goal in writing the novel was to acquaint readers with the region. I’m hoping this blog post will serve as a primer for people who don’t know the area and as a good memory for those who do know it.

I grew up close to the river, and I spent lots of time there as a child and young adult. The place I remember most vividly is an island called Lazy Bea Isle. It’s not known by that name anymore because it has changed owners, but the island used to belong to my grandmother’s aunt and uncle and I spent lots of time there as a child. We used to stay there during the summer sometimes. It was never like camping, which I don’t love, because there was a big cottage and a bathroom and shower and kitchen and all the things one needs for comfort. It always smelled like pine trees. We used to pick huckleberries from the wild bushes that grew there and we could go fishing and swimming right off the rocks in front of the cottage. The island wasn’t far from Schermerhorn’s Landing; we could walk through the woods near Schermerhorn’s and row a small boat that was kept there over to the island. Or we could hop on my grandfather’s boat at the landing and take the long way ’round.

My grandfather’s boat is another thing I remember well. He and my grandmother and the six people in my family would pile in on a Saturday and just ride around for a few hours. We would take a cooler with lunch and there was always Fresca, which is still my favorite soda. My grandfather kept his boat until I was in my 20s, when he finally had to sell it.

And then there’s Boldt Castle, which makes an appearance in my book. It’s an actual castle located on Heart Island, not far from Alexandria Bay, NY. The three photos below, taken by H. Ross Ney, give a glimpse of its splendor and magnificence. If you ever have a chance to visit the Thousand Islands, don’t leave until you’ve toured Boldt Castle.

Amy Picture 2

Amy Picture 3

Amy Picture 1

The St. Lawrence River is where I learned to water ski, too. I always wished I could be as good as my aunt, but I never achieved that kind of skill. I had a hard time jumping the wake, so I always stayed inside its boundaries. She could ski inside or outside the wake, and on one foot. I couldn’t do that, either. It’s been a long time since I was on water skis and I’ll probably never do it again, but it’s a great memory that I cherish.

My favorite memories are really more of a feeling than a remembrance of certain places. It was a feeling of freedom, of joy, of amazement at the size and majesty of the river, the different beauty of each island, the quiet, and the sheer fun of being on the water. The memories are part of me. I hope that someday you have a chance to visit this wonderful place.

Many thanks to Ross Ney for taking the time to send me the beautiful pictures of the castle and the river.

What are your favorite memories of growing up? I’d love to hear them.

Until next week,

Amy

Who’s Your Muse?

Do you have a muse? Do you know what a muse is? I had heard the term bandied about, but never really understood it’s meaning.

So I looked it up.

The word “muse” comes from the nine mythological goddesses who presided over the arts and sciences. There was a goddess for lyre playing, epic poetry, comedy, history, and astronomy, among others.

So what is a muse in modern parlance? I guess you’d define it as the source of creative inspiration, and it’s usually a person.

I have always read about authors and songwriters and artists and their muses. For F. Scott Fitzgerald, it was his wife Zelda. For John Lennon, it was Yoko Ono. For Alfred Stieglitz, it was Georgia O’Keefe.

As I thought about muses throughout history and the artists and writers they inspired, I got thinking…who’s my muse?

And the more I thought about it, the more obvious it became that I don’t have one. There is no one person who inspires my writing. And I consider this a good thing. I noticed while I was reading about historical muses that the relationships between them and their respective artists were often toxic and depressing. They frequently seemed unhappy and lost. And I don’t want to cause the people around me to feel any of those things.

I am inspired by places and by nature. I love to read about people and locales all around the world, and so I suppose it’s natural that I would choose to write about those same things. I want to inspire people to visit the places in my stories. My first book takes place in the Thousand Islands in upstate New York, and if I can get my readers to want to know more about the Thousand Islands, then I’m happy. My second book is set in South Carolina, near Charleston, and I hope I’m able to describe it well enough that readers will be able to share the experience of being there. My third book will be set in Hawaii. The islands are a feast for the senses, and I want to share that with the people who read the book.

I’d love to set a story in New York City (where I used to live) or in South Jersey (where I live now). I’d love to set a story in San Francisco (where I’ve visited) or England (where I’ve never been) or in Scotland (also, where I’ve never been). When I visit someplace new, I take lots of pictures and maybe even some notes about interesting things and people I see. I keep maps of the places I’ve been, because they can be helpful in setting a story.

I get inspired by people, too, but I could not refer to any of them as my muse. The inspiration these people provide is not creative, but motivational.

Do you have a muse? Or are you inspired by something else? I’d love to hear about it.

Until next week,

Amy

What’s Your Favorite Descriptive Word?

As I write this, the Mid-Atlantic (and particularly my neck of the woods, in Southern New Jersey) is preparing for a foot of snow. When I went to the grocery store this morning to return my movie (“Captain Phillips,” which I highly recommend) to Redbox, I couldn’t find a place to park. I didn’t go into the grocery store, but if I had, I suspect I wouldn’t have been able to find milk, bread, toilet paper, or fresh fruit.

My daughter and I took our dog, Orly, for a walk earlier this afternoon because the dog may be home-bound for the next couple of days. It was already raining when we left the house. We walked in the woods near our neighborhood. The woods are my favorite place to walk Orly; it is quiet and peaceful there, and I love going when it’s raining or snowing because I love to hear the raindrops- and even the snowflakes- falling on the trees and the pine needles underfoot. And when it’s wet outside, that’s when the woods smell the best.

Days like this remind me of the importance of descriptive words in writing. When I’m writing, I sometimes forget that a story is more than plot. It’s also feeling. It’s also lots of other things, but I’m going to talk about feeling in this post. In the rush to get words down on paper (or on a computer screen) it’s easy to hurry past the words that help a reader feel what’s going on in the story. A reader’s reaction to a particular book is not just about the action in the story. It’s about the five senses, too. It’s important for writers to remember to involve at least one or more of the senses in a given scene…seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching.

What does the air feel like? Is it moist? Dry? What does the ocean look like? Is it frigid? Warm like bathwater? Is it cyan or gray, like the color of slate? Is a particular food sour and puckery? Buttery? What does the air smell like in the summer? Freshly-cut grass? Hot asphalt? And what does it sound like when snow falls in the woods? I would describe it as an almost-silent “shush.”

Ernest Hemingway was a master at using words beautifully and descriptively, even when he was describing something that wasn’t beautiful. He described a rhino as a “dangerous practical joke let loose by nature.” And this is how he began a piece for The Toronto Daily Star in 1922: “We were sitting in the cheapest of all the cheap restaurants that cheapen that very cheap and noisy street, the Rue des Petits Champs in Paris.” You probably wouldn’t read a sentence like that in a newspaper in 2014, but his description has a wonderful quality that allows the reader to imagine exactly what the Rue des Petits Champs looks like.

In my first novel, Secrets of Hallstead House, the story is set on one of the Thousand Islands in the Saint Lawrence River. That setting is rich with opportunities for description, and my hope is that people will read my book and want to visit that area of New York to see its beauty for themselves. My second novel, with a working title of Low Country Twilight, is set on a plantation outside Charleston, South Carolina. That’s another place that lends itself to lavish indoor and outdoor settings. Will it inspire people to visit and learn about the history of the area? I hope so. And my third novel, as yet unwritten and untitled, will be set in Hawaii, a place with a name that conjures up lush tropical scenes and settings. I don’t really think anyone needs a novel to inspire them to want to visit Hawaii, but the very existence of Hawaii inspired me to write a novel about it.

I’d like to hear your favorite descriptive word. Mine is “capacious.” It practically makes fun of itself.

Until next week,

Amy

P.S. The school district just called a snow day for tomorrow. Maybe I should write that novel about Hawaii right now.

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Orly, the snow lover