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Jamie Jo Hoang - Author & World Traveler

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Travel Iceland


Iceland is a paradise unlike anywhere else. An island in the Arctic Circle, it’s a haven of colorful architecture, kind-hearted locals, and otherworldly landscapes.

Make your way to Reykjavik and get your walking shoes on. Your first stop for the afternoon must be Baejarins Beztu Pylsur: The famous hot dog stand.

A simple hot dog, it’s covered with mustard and a gravy sauce. The best part though is the crispy onion beneath the hot dog. Come hungry and order two with all the fixings. 

Continue on your walk and you’ll discover colorful buildings, ornate churches, snow-white swans, souvenir shops, wool clothing stores and cafes galore.

Now that you’ve worked off the hot dog, hop in your car and make your way down to the Blue Lagoon. A place synonymous with Iceland it is not to be missed. Stop by on your first day or make it your last stop on your way out. A large pool with cloud blue water, a swim-up bar, facial station, bridges to cross under and a waterfall to stand under it’s an oasis like no other.

 

When you’re done relaxing, hop in your car and head for the Golden Circle. Strokkur, Geysir Hot Springs, and Thingvellir National Park are must-see attractions. Personally, Gullfoss Waterfall was a bit of a letdown. Yes, it’s massive in size, but its water is a murky brown and it’s so touristy that its grandness gets lost among the crowd. I’d skip it.

After the Golden Circle, you MUST dive Silfra. Silfra is in Thingvellir National Park and was formed by the divergent tectonic drift of the Eurasian and North American plates. It’s the only place in the world where you can dive between the fissures. At 2 degrees Celcius it’s a bit chilly, but that’s what your dry suit is for! With visibility up to 100 feet, it’s one of the most incredible experiences you’ll ever have. 

After a peek into the deep, make your way south to the Ring Road (Route 1) which goes all the way around Iceland. You can start north or south but I recommend starting in the south so that you’re prepared to drive in the north. Just like in Game of Thrones, winter hits the north first. We’ll come back to that later.

If you loved the Blue Lagoon, but didn’t like the smell and want a smaller more intimate hot spring to sit in, make your way to The Secret Lagoon. The water is crystal clear and fresh (no need to lather yourself in conditioner). The sand beneath your feet is a sparkling black and all around you are bubbling geothermal hotspots in case you didn’t get enough of those at Strokkur.


 

Driving along the Southern Region, you’ll see why I said to skip Gulfoss. There are waterfalls everywhere. Anytime you see a sign with “foss” as the end make you take the detour if you love waterfalls. Here’s a few of our favorites. 

Thingvellir National Park

 

I am convinced that the only way to see Iceland is to rent a car and drive. The roads are well paved, but I’d recommend getting windshield insurance because it’s inexpensive and flying gravel is common. 

We traveled to Iceland in late September so it was raining at times. Because of this we skipped Vik and went onward toward Jökulsárlón. This natural phenomenon is where black sand meets giant furniture sized glaciers.

 

 

Frolic around on the beach, take your photos and then continue on up toward Myvatn. The Myvatn Nature Baths are the Blue Lagoon of the North. It’s smaller in size but filled with the same famous sulfuric blue water. The temperature here is less regulated so you’ll find hot spots and cool spots within feet of one another. Visit during the day to see the blue water, but come at night and you may catch a glimpse of the Nothern Lights. 


If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones then your next stop must be the Grjótagjá CaveIt’s unfortunately no longer open for public bathing because the geothermal hot spring has risen in temperature and can get up to 45 degress Celsius. Hot to the touch, it won’t burn you if you fall in, but it’s far too hot to be comfortable. Still, it’s worth a visit.

A trip to Iceland is always going to be uniquely yours. Where you stop, how long you stay and what you see are all up to you. You don’t need an itinerary, in fact, I’d recommend going without one. Pick one or two places a day that you definitely want to see and then give yourself the freedom to stop or keep driving as you please. Don’t rush through the trip or you’ll miss out on some amazing rainbows! 

And last but not least, download the My Aurora Forecast App and make sure you look up at the sky! You can pay $150/pp to take a Northern Lights tour with no guarantee that you’ll see them, or you can be diligent and catch them on your own. They can last anywhere from five minutes to two hours, so check often.

Traveling Finland & Estonia


It’s been a while since I’ve posted about travel. Life–as it happens–got in the way. But I finally got my wings back and I feel enriched in a way that I haven’t in some time. In my twenties, I launched into travel after heartbreak and in my thirties, it would appear that it’s been revived by love. Go ahead barf away (I won’t lie, typing that made me gag a little.) But it’s true nonetheless. Anyway on to the good stuff. 

Finland. We landed in Helsinki in the dead of the night, grabbed a shuttle to a nearby hotel to crash and then picked up our rental car and headed up north. I was hellbent on seeing the Northern Lights and if that meant driving 12 hours to the Lapland then that’s what we were going to do. Finland in September is lush with Autumn colors. The roads are well maintained but mostly two-lane and you can drive for miles and miles and only see one or two other cars. 

We stopped in Tampere for lunch and through the blog of an expat American living in Finland, found Kauppahalli, this fantastic marketplace with a wide variety of things to taste. If you’re traveling in a large group or are a foodie this is the place to go. Walk around and you’ll find bread shops, jam shops (get the cloudberry jam), famous fish soups, meats, desserts, and souvenirs. 


 From Tampere, we drove to Oulu, Finland. Oulu is a small town on the western border of Finland which touches the Baltic Sea. Great for walking around, the area is surrounded by tiny islands that are connected by bridges. If you’re into food there’s also a fantastic restaurant Sokeri-Jussin Kievari restaurant known for their karelian pie, salmon soup, bread cheese Leipajuusto (cream and cloudberry jam), homemade cloudberry ice cream, compote. The cloudberry ice cream alone is worth a visit. 

Also, look out for these fantastic walking signs everywhere on the streets. Love it.

On your way out of Oulu, to stop and stretch your legs during the long drive, you’ll want to stop at Cafe & Bar 21 in Rovaniemi, Finland. The hot chocolate and waffle desserts are amazing. They also have this super creative vibe that makes you want to pull out your laptop and tell a story. 

Once we finished  writing, drinking and stuffing our faces (just kidding we didn’t write, but we thought really hard about doing it.) We made our way up to Kakslauttenan.

The entire Northern area above Noway, Sweden, and Finland is called the Lapland and it’s known for being one of the best places to spot the Northern Lights. 

Since this was our honeymoon we splurged and got a cabin with an igloo attached. An oasis in the Arctic. Equipped with our own sauna, fireplace, kitchen, living room, and incline beds inside the igloo sipped hot chocolate and waited for the Northern Lights to show up. We waited and waited some more and then realized the darn clouds were just not going to go away, so we went to eat came back, started a fire and looked up just in time to catch a faint glimpse of some green in the sky. Once we caught a glimpse it became an obsession which I’ll talk more about when I get to Iceland. 

The great thing about having this cabin for two days was that there was hardly a need to leave it. We went on a hike but the weather wasn’t cooperating, we fed some reindeer at the reindeer farm on the property and then we were forced to do something we hardly ever do. Relax. At first, it was hard, we’d sit and then talk about what we should do next but then I crawled under the covers to get warm and became a bear in the dead of winter–hibernating. 

Relaxed and ready for more sightseeing we booked it back down to the port of Helsinki and made our way to Tallinn, Estonia. 

When we booked our trip to Finland we started asking friends who had been for suggestions on where to go and three out of the three people we asked told us to go Tallinn. Weird. We’re asking you about Finland and you’re telling us to go to another country? Humm…

Just a two and a half hour boat ride from Helsinki to Tallinn we disembarked from the boat and immediately understood why everyone told us to visit. 

A town that modern and medieval it’s a mixture I’ve never seen before. 

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The town is 100% walkable. So much so, that I would say a car is more of a hindrance than an asset. Here a few highlights: 

The St. Petersbourg Hotel. This 700-year-old hotel looks simple from the outside, but it’s full of decadent art and design on the inside. Also, their customer service is top notch making it worth the higher priced rooms. 


For places to eat, there is the famous Pegasus (shown above) which has one of the best chai tea’s I’ve ever had and this snack plate with crispbread, and meat, fish, and vegetable paté’s was phenomenal. Also if you’re looking for a more traditional meal Olde Hansa is a  must. The servers are dressed in traditional costume and the whole atmosphere is like being transported back in time. 

And then, before you go you MUST MUST MUST visit this bakery, KALAMAJA PAGARIKODA, in the Northwest part of town. You can the smell the fresh pastries as you walk up the block. They’re served warm and just melt in your mouth. 

Old town is small so you don’t need a map. If you decide to stay at the St. Petersbourg, just orient yourself from there and wander. You won’t get lost and you’ll find lots of cool little gems hidden along the way. 

 

And to cap off the trip, we spent some time in Suomenlinna. A Unesco World Heritage site, the fortress was built in 1747. The island is built almost entirely of stone. There are long pathways where you can wander around the island but the most interesting thing was these tunnels which run so deep that even the during the day it’s pitch black inside. We went in the evening and most everything was closed, so I would recommend doing this during the day. 

End cap: The fish in Finland is amazing every time. You can’t go wrong. Their coffee however is hit or miss (mostly miss) but their hot chocolate is superb. Always get the hot chocolate.

 

An Author’s Voice


For the first time in a while, I found myself so enraptured in a book that I stayed up until 4 in the morning trying to finish. The book TRAIL OF BROKEN WINGS surprised me. I found the book, I hate to admit, because I was the runner up for a book award, which Sejal Hadani won. After reading a slew of really terrible indie books, I decided to read one that beat me out in a contest. To be honest I can’t remember which one it was; in any case I’m glad I did.

I am generally not a fan of books that have multiple main characters, I find that the author’s tend to rush the story lines and the book ends up being unsatisfying. Not the case here. TRAIL OF BROKEN WINGS is about a family who suffered from an abusive father and how they, as adults, try to reconcile their lives. The characters are rich, and often do things that make the reader cringe, but root for them nonetheless.

I have struggled for a long time with my own identity. Am I Asian? Am I American? Do I have to pick? The Asian identity is rooted in criticism, distrust, and distance. But I was lucky enough to grow up in America where every kid is told they have potential and every dream is a real possibility. But when it came time to describe the main character in my first book, I chose to make her white. Not because I despise being Vietnamese, but because I didn’t think anyone would read it.

Asians are stereotyped as doctors and lawyers or pharmacists, we are pragmatic and responsible. And as with all stereotypes, there is some truth to it. My parents’ idea of getting creative is building a dog house using scrap wood and has more to do with problem solving (and saving money) than creating art for art’s sake. They are immigrants who had to earn everything they have so of course they are this way.

They did their best to try and instill the same values in me. I graduated high school with a 4.6 GPA and attended a well known and reveres university, UCLA. When they sent me off to college, I took with me their hopes and dreams for a better life.

I wasn’t supposed to be a dreamer, yet here I am living in a world of make believe.

As I read Hadani’s book, I had to wonder to myself, how much of it is real? How much of the pain and suffering that her characters face does she know about first hand? Maybe none, maybe some, and maybe it doesn’t matter. As a reader, it certainly doesn’t matter, but as a fellow author, I want to know.

Part of finding our voice, is infusing who we are into our writing. And what are we if not the experiences we’ve had in life? I have been told that BLUE SUN, YELLOW SKY is so vivid that it reads like a memoir, and I’ll admit that there are moments stolen from my actual life, but for the most the part Aubrey’s journey is her own.

But when I read something like TRAIL OF BROKEN WINGS, which has captivated audiences with it’s 4,000+ reviews and thousands of highlighted passages and I have to wonder. Did she connect with readers so well because she made herself vulnerable? And if that’s the case, am I willing to do the same?

My second book, which I’m working on now, takes place in Brooklyn with a Vietnamese protagonist. In part it’s because I believe it’s time I stop hiding from myself, but also because like every little girl watching TV as a kid, I would like to live in a world where I’m represented and reflected in the mainstream media.

And, as a creative person I recognize that it starts with me.

Twitter for Authors


As a self-published author I turned to Twitter as a way of promoting my book BLUE SUN, YELLOW SKY, but over the past year, it sort of shifted into something more.

Twitter is a great tool for authors. Not only do we get to practice marketing 140 characters at a time, it’s a great way for us to send out 140 character snippets throughout the day. I look at it as short bursts of creativity.

However, if you’re expecting Twitter to sell your book, I hate to break it to you, but it’s probably not going to work. A year and a half, and 48,000 followers later here’s what I learned about using Twitter as an author.

Treat Twitter like a giant networking tool. I began by following as many writer’s as I could find every day. At first only a few of them followed me back, but then I made a dramatic shift in the way I used Twitter. Instead of pumping out blurbs or advertisements for my book every day, I began posting content with “added value.” This means I began posting content for the benefit of others.

As a writer, the things that really interest me have to do with writing. So I started looking up great writing quotes and posting those along with a short comment about the quote. Low and behold, now not only did writers start following me back, they started finding me through the retweets of my followers.

And then, a great thing started happening, people actually came to my Twitter page to look at all my Tweets and there they were met with my banner which advertises my book. Because they had an interest in my Tweets, I now had a greater chance of getting them to purchase my book. Yay! A handful of my reviews on Amazon, are from people who found my book through Twitter.

But I should remind you here, that I don’t sell a ton of books this way. However; that’s not the value of Twitter for me. Again, it’s more of a networking tool between myself and the hundreds of thousands of other writer’s out there.

Recently, having gained over 45k followers, I decided to see if I could help create a shift in the indie market. So every Sunday I host an event called ReTweet Sunday, where I tweet indie and small press books to my followers.

I love this event, because I get to see so many books pass through my Twitter feed and I occasionally buy one that interests me. Every one of us indie authors is fighting for FaceTime with readers surfing the internet, but sometimes we forget that writer’s are readers too. Very veracious ones at that!

Also, we indie authors are in this together so I think it’s important that we support each other by reading indie books. Actually, if I’m being honest I was severely disappointed in the books I’d randomly chosen to read by indie authors who’s path I crossed on Twitter. That was, however, until I learned how vet the indie books by looking for seals from book award contests and by reading the negative reviews left by other readers.

Why the negative reviews? I find they tend to be more helpful. Glowing 5-star reviews are great, but a 3-star review that highlight’s something I might actually like, has way more sway in getting me to read a book.

Another added benefit of using Twitter is that my feed, which is full of motivational tweets for writers, often times inspires my to write too! And anything that pushes me to get my fingers to the keyboard and working is a good thing in my opinion.

High Marks from the 23rd Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards


Writer's Digest Award Logo

I just received my scores from the judges and BLUE SUN, YELLOW SKY received a honorable mention with 5/5 in all 5 categories of the 23rd Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards. Honestly, I am so blown away and humbled by the support of my fellow writer’s and writing community. This entire journey with my little book has been enlightening as well as educational. I spent the last decade reading articles on Writer’s Digest and admiring other writer’s who had the courage to write a book and then release it to the world and I’m so happy to be able to call them my colleagues now!

I wrote my first article for Writer’s Digest this past year thanks to the wonderful Chuck Sambuchino who contacted me after reading a review of BLUE SUN, YELLOW SKY in Kirkus Magazine, and I hope to ingratiate myself into the Writer’s Digest community even more in the coming years.

For all new and emerging writer’s you probably know this already, but there is a wealth of FREE information on Writer’s Digest and if you take the time to read the articles, it’ll save you a lot of time, headache and money, down the line when you’re ready to publish.

Anyway I’m blabbing because I’m just so excited about the judge’s commentary, so without further ado here it is:

Entry Title Blue Sun, Yellow Sky

Author: Jamie Jo Hoang

Judge Number: 63

Entry Category: Mainstream/Literary Fiction

 

Books are evaluated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “needs improvement” and 5 meaning “outstanding”.

Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 5

Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 5

Production Quality and Cover Design: 5

Plot and Story Appeal: 5

Character Appeal and Development: 5

Voice and Writing Style: 5

 

Judge’s Commentary*:

In Blue Sun, Yellow Sky by Jamie Jo Hoang, we are presented with an interesting premise that builds emotional tension as the pages turn and we fall more in love with a character, and a situation, that is fated to change as the novel progresses.

The title seems brilliant, a great way to hook the reader in and get them asking questions. The book is structured well with chapters that are nicely paced, with enough meat to make them satisfying but not so ponderous as to make it difficult to keep track of the narrative as it develops. The overall design of the book is professional and first rate, while the cover image for the book is evocative and interesting. I particularly like the title font as a way of conveying theme and tone.

The characters here are fully realized, vivid and alive, and often do surprising things—or do/say things that are very human, which can be rare. I especially like Aubrey, who seems able to keep her head and her emotions in tact, all while dealing with a situation that might cripple other people. Instead, she reminds us of the lively nature of living a life well.

Amazon

Note from Writer’s Digest: *If you wish to reference this review on your website, we ask that you cite it as such: “Judge, 23rd Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards.” You may cite portions of the review, if you wish, but please make sure that the passage you select is appropriate, and reflective of the review as a whole.

Note from me: Please, please, please, share with anyone you know who might be interested in reading the book! Sharing is caring =)

 

Why KDP is Really the Only Platform for Indie Authors


kdp-logo-stacked-color

I have been promoting my book BLUE SUN, YELLOW SKY for a little over a year now and I’ve tried everything under the moon to boost sales and get the word out about my book. The thing is, it’s really hard to compete with the hundreds of traditionally published books with millions of advertising dollars behind them. I’m not complaining, this is the just the nature of the game at the moment.

Yes, there are anomalies that have emerged and multi-million dollar books have come out of kindle sales, but you see it’s just that. 100% of successful self-published books rose out of the indie slush pile through the kindle.

As an indie author, I really wanted to try and spread my book as far and wide as possible. I put my book up on Kindle for the first 90 days and sold about 80 books through the free promotion, and then I made the mistake of pulling my book from the KDP program so that I could have my book listed on the Nook, iBooks, Kobo, etc. I shouldn’t have done that.

The thing that kills me is there were signs/red flags everywhere telling me as much. Every statistic and indie book blog reiterated the same thing: 99% of sales happen through the kindle and about 1% is sold everywhere else. After reading that for the hundredth time, a light should’ve gone off in my head telling me “Focus your sales on Amazon,” but of course my desire to appear everywhere (as most prolific writer’s do) took over and I spent the past year advertising my book through every imaginable outlet that ultimately the campaign reached only a select few.

I had placed ads on Facebook, Twitter, Google Ads, and Goodreads and no to avail. Sure, I sold some books but it was at a very heavily discounted price AND they resulted in NO REVIEWS, which in all likelihood means that the vast majority of people who download “free or discounted” books don’t necessarily read them. It was only when I learned that I could advertise on the Kindle that I went to check it out and found that, low and behold, the Kindle does have a natural selection process (KDP Select), which my book was not eligible for.

Why wasn’t it eligible? Well, Amazon is smart. As a business, they want to monopolize the e-book world, and if the stats above are any indication, they’re doing a pretty good job. So they will help move your book, IF AND ONLY IF, you sign with them exclusively. Now, if Nook, iBbooks, Kobo, and Google Play were smart they’d offer up something similar and entice indie authors away from Kindle’s exclusive deal. But they don’t. I’m guessing because they don’t care, or they’ve thrown in the towel and admitted defeat to the almighty Kindle.

Now, being able to advertise on the Kindle doesn’t mean that I’m going to be an overnight success, but at least Kindle algorithms allow for direct marketing and if readers seem to like your book, Kindle also hand selects titles like “The Martian” to promote for free. It’s still a bit like finding a needle in a haystack, because of the sheer amount of e-books being published now, but there is hope.

I’m also pretty sure that there are benefits to having Createspace do your paperback books, but the quality of the print is so much worse than IngramSpark that I’m having a hard time justifying that switch.

The Book Every American Needs to Read – IT’S WHAT I DO


Photo taken from the It's What I do website. All rights are the owners.

Photo taken from the It’s What I do website. All rights are the owners.

This post was meant to be a book review of sorts. But as I’m listening to the last 30 minutes of this incredible book, IT’S WHAT I DO, this post is slowly turning into a pleading message to every American: Please, please, please, read this book. 

Lindsay Addario, a photo journalist for the New York Times, recounts experiences living at the edge and capturing images in the midst of war. As a spectator reading articles in the newspaper, I don’t think I ever truly considered the risk a photographer takes when capturing bullet-ridden moments with nothing but a lens with which to shoot back.

Addario speaks with candor and enough self-detriment to make her approachable, but the stories she tells are so incredible that I had to wonder if she wasn’t really a cat with nine lives. And I am certainly not saying that every American should hop on a plane and head to a war zone, but perhaps our distance from war makes it hard for us to empathize with those who are suffering all around the world.

Right now, outside my window, I’m watching as a defiant man is being held back by six sheriffs after throwing several punches at a tow truck driver who was sent to repossess his car for non-payment. It’s a poor neighborhood, riddled with stories of sorrow and bad luck, but in this particular case it’s about arrogance. The “owner” of the vehicle “purchased” the car but doesn’t feel the need to pay for said purchase; therefore, the car is being taken away. Sounds pretty simple until the owner starts claiming that his rights have been violated. To avoid a lawsuit, and perhaps to protect himself from further physical assault, the driver has no choice but to call the cops. Hence, the string of police outside my window.

I mention this story because on the one hand I’m listening to Addario describe a war zone and the suffering of those born into the crossfire, and then on the other hand is this self-righteous American not only looking for a handout, but demanding it. His lack of appreciation mocks the liberal agenda so many have fought for. There is a need for social programs–there are people in America who truly need it–and then there are those who see an opportunity to not only exploit it, but demand that they deserve it. Whatever happened to being grateful for the things given to you?

I’m not a politician and I have no idea how to fix this, but I wonder if this man would be so self-righteous if he’d read Addario’s story. I wonder if his kid who stands behind him, hands balled into fists and itching for a fight, could learn something about humility if he understood how much he has just in the way of freedom. It makes me angry to see people blatantly taking advantage of the system and yet I am torn because these social programs assisted my refugee parents 35 years ago.

I have half a mind to take this book, grab the kid, sit him down, and force him to read it. Force him to educate himself in order to not follow in the footsteps of his father. He’s a good kid–I can tell by the polite way he always greets me and the ashamed look he has when he knows his parents are “milking the system” and he has no choice but to play along. But I can’t do that. I can do nothing but sit back and watch him join the ranks of others on this block as they all eventually find themselves handcuffed and in the back of a black and white police car.

I am a writer telling stories that I hope will compel and inspire readers, and I am begging everyone out there to please, please, please read this book and then pass it along to a friend.

An Open Invitation to all Indie Authors


I am one of the millions of indie authors out there fighting for shelf space in an already incredibly saturated market. It is controlled by book publishers who have the financial ability to spread their advertisements far and wide and push my book to the back.

I’m not saying I have a Pulitzer on my hands (not that I would ever know since surprise, surprise, I can’t submit my book without the backing of a publisher!), but even getting a book on notable lists like the New York Times, Pop Sugar, and The Guardian is nearly impossible without paying gobs of money to a publicity firm, which in the end may or may not even be able to get you a spot anyway. My book, BLUE SUN, YELLOW SKY (shameless plug) has won three major Indie Awards, got a starred Kirkus Review, and multiple book bloggers I approached gave it five stars. Yet, unless you Google the book title specifically, you’ll never find it.

Recently, I’ve started studying book lists. You know, the ones titled: “If you loved BLAH, BLAH book, you’ll love THIS BOOK,” and “15 Must Read Books for the Summer.” And what I found is that the same top 10 National Bestsellers come up on every list.

Of course, National Best Sellers are good books–millions of people have read and loved them–but instead of us all reading the same 10 national best sellers, how about we build a network for readers to discover “the next National Bestseller?”

As an indie author, I want to support indie books. But when searching for indie titles, I find books like The Martian, which is no longer indie. If a reader loves my book, there is no place they can go to find a similar indie book to support. Even Googling “Top 5 Indie Books” yields a less than fruitful search. A schmorgesborg of random titles in random genres comes up. How can we indie authors support each other’s books if we can’t find them?

So, today I’d like to start a new trend. I’m calling all indie authors to use the ever growing hashtag #IndieBooksBeSeen. Start your headlines with: “If you loved this INDIE BOOK you’ll love these BESTSELLER books.” Here’s my list of 8 Books you’ll love if you loved BLUE SUN, YELLOW SKY.

 

Indie Book Wheel2

Let’s change the way publishing works and start putting indie books front and center!

 

Unfortunately, I’m not a graphic designer or fancy flash coder (otherwise I would love to provide everyone with a drag and drop easy tool!) but I do have this template as a Photoshop file, and you’re welcome to download it FREE here! Don’t forget to tag me @heyjamie on Twitter so I can retweet it to my 29K followers.

Boom! Indie book front and center. Now here’s the catch: I need other indie authors to do the same. Yes, that’s means you, Mr./Ms. indie author sitting there reading this and wondering how to promote your book. Together, let’s create in a shift in the market.

Reddit changed the way we get the news, with viewers pushing articles they want to see up the ranks. My dream is to see authentic indie books finding their way into the mass market via readers like you and me.

I know what you’re thinking. Hey Jamie, WTF? You say you want to promote Indie Authors, but here you are showing us more bestsellers! You’re right. I hate that I had to do this, but like I said, it’s impossible to find indie books that are actually similar to mine. If you’re an indie author and you wrote a women’s fiction book that you think my readers would love, send it my way. If I agree that it matches I’ll gladly bump one these books off my pinwheel.

We’re part of an exciting shift in publishing. Consumers now have a say in what books become popular and guess what Indie writers, you’re a consumer. The books you buy and review determine what the next National Bestsellers are, so how about the next time you go to a bookstore you browse the Indie or Local Author section and add one of those to your TBR pile?

The eventual goal is to, as a community, build a network of indie books that are recognizable to our target audiences. We need the help of bloggers too! Imagine ourselves, the readers, typing in a book we love on Amazon and seeing our titles pop up alongside it. Let’s even the playing field and help each other gain visibility for our indie titles.

South Park, James Cameron, and Writing


Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last 5 years you’ve probably seen this video South Park made of James Cameron. They’re clearly making fun of the fact that he has to actually “do” the things he makes movies about and that he, in fact, does everything. Cameron has a thirst for adventure like no one else and the end result of that curiosity are his incredible movies.

My dad rarely ever goes to see a movie. Mostly because his grasp of the English language isn’t good enough for him to understand or catch all of the subtext or innuendo’s. But when I took him to see Avatar, he totally got it. Moreover, he really enjoyed the visuals. I think for someone who has known poverty, and lived through a war, he was blown away by the magic on screen. Afterwards, he kept asking me, “How do people get ideas to come up with things like that?” My snarky response was, “I don’t know Dad, if I did do you think I’d still be living here? Nope I’d be a millionaire exploring the seven seas on my yacht.” “What’s a yat?” he asked. I sighed, “A boat. I’d be on my own boat.” “Oh,” he says, “Well hurry up and figure it out.” Thanks Dad.

His question did pique my curiosity though and when I googled James Cameron I found that it wasn’t just that he had a more vivid imagination that I did, it was that he had explored so much more of the world than I had. In my quick google search of “James Cameron” I found the TED Talk he gave below. In his 17-minute talk I learned that he convinced the studios to make Titanic because he wanted to go deep sea diving. The love story and box office millions were an aside. As a diver myself, his exploration of the deep sea hit a nerve with me.

As writers, we create worlds that other’s get to live in, but our creative minds need fuel. A car doesn’t run without gasoline and we can’t write without inspiration. This is the fun part of our jobs! Yet, we’re made to feel like we’re undeserving of the “fun research” because what we do for research is what other people call “entertainment” or “vacation.” But here’s the thing. James Cameron could never have made Titanic the way he did without that deep sea dive. Nor do I think Avatar would have existed without his incessant need to explore the world.

Exploring the things that draw on our senses is what opens our imagination to creating worlds beyond what anyone thought possible. I think there’s a reason writers are usually slightly ahead of our technological time. We not only see things, we want to experience them for ourselves. I personally am fascinated with the passage of time. The lifespan of a seed becoming a flower is immensely interesting to me, and the details people seem to love so much in my writing comes from caring–albeit, a ridiculous amount–about the process.

So, I hereby give all writers–ok, you don’t have to be a writer–permission to: eat at that expensive restaurant, travel to an exotic location, zip-line through the Amazon, climb to the highest peak, dive to the deepest part of the ocean, and just do whatever. Say yes to everything and see where it takes you!

A Visit to Pablo Naruda’s House in Santiago, Chile


 

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La Chascona–Pablo Narudas house in Santiago, Chile. Fun fact: There are two identical doors at this house, one for him and one for his mistress.

 

A few months ago I went to a beautiful wedding in Uruguay (a story that still needs to be written). From Los Angeles I had a daunting 24-hour flight, which included two layovers before reaching my final destination. The first stop was a quick drop down in Lima, Peru where 70% of the passengers disembarked and new people took their place. Pretty uneventful. Next stop, Santiago. I had an 8-hour layover so I decided to go exploring. There was a bit of a rush in knowing I only had a few hours, was in foreign country where I could barely speak the language, and was risking missing my connecting flight–in other words, everything was awesome! Damn that Lego movie for having such a catchy tune.

Just after clearing customs I hesitated momentarily, then proceeded through the baggage claim area in search of a taxi company. After finding one, I tried to explain what I wanted (mostly with hand gestures and pointing): I needed a driver for 2 hours to take me to San Christobal Hill and Pablo Naruda’s House and then back to the airport. I showed the desk attendant google map printouts of the two places and drew stick figures of me and a taxi driver visiting each one then coming back to the airport. When she still didn’t understand, I cursed my 8th grade Spanish teacher. The poor desk attendant looked at me with a blank stare and just as I was about to call it quits and head back into the the airport, another girl approached saying she spoke ‘minimal’ English. “Well, we’re in luck because I speak minimal Spanish,” I said, and she laughed. I explained my situation again and this time was rewarded with an “Ah…” before she smiled and spoke in rapid Spanish to the attendant. A number was scribbled on a piece of paper: $12,000.

“TWELVE THOUSAND DOLLARS?” I exclaimed.

“Pesos,” she corrected me. Quickly, she calculated the conversion to US dollars and wrote $80 US on the paper. Okay! $80 I could manage. In fact, $80 for 3 hours in a cab seemed like a steal. (Side note: It’s not. My older sister, an obviously more seasoned traveler than I, would later tell me I was severely ripped off–no matter, I was on a high and having the time of my freaking life!)

When I met my driver, he never gave me his name, but for the sake of this story let’s call him Robert. Robert glanced at the 4 receipts I handed him and a look of confusion of crossed his face. Not again, I start to think. But he turned to me and said, “So you want to go to San Cristobal Hill, Pablo Naruda’s House, and then come back to the airport?”

“Yes!” I smiled. “You speak English?”

“So, so,” he said. “You speak Spanish?”

“Muy poquito. Very little,” I laughed.

It was about 7:45 a.m. local time and I was ready for the grand tour of Santiago, so imagine my surprise when we arrived at San Cristobal Hill only to find that they didn’t open until 8:30 a.m. Well crap. Robert told me it’s not a problem, we’ll just see Naruda’s house first. This sounded like a good plan until we arrived at the house, properly named La Chascona, and saw the sign that said, Open at 10:00 a.m. I was about 40 minutes into the trip and my wild solo excursion in a foreign country was turning out to be an epic fail.

“What do you want to do?” Robert asked me. I just paid $80 for his services so I hardly wanted him to just drive me back to the airport. I didn’t say anything for a while and racked my brain for a solution. A few minutes passed and I got the feeling he was becoming super annoyed with me but then he said, “I can take you to see the House of the President? And then probably San Cristobal will be open after.”

“Okay!” I shouted enthusiastically. There was a little guy in the back of my mind telling me he was about to charge me up the wazoo for this little detour, but I didn’t care. When else was I going to get the chance to explore Santiago? We hopped in the car and almost instantly Robert went from taxi driver to tour guide. He pointed out the national library, a famous cathedral, a huge indoor market–popular as a place to get a bite to eat after a heavy night of drinking. He told me if I ever came back I must be sure to check out a stall inside that sells the best crab in the world. Come to think of it, I was kind of hungry…but Robert had already gone above and beyond his duties so having him to pull over would’ve been asking to be abandoned in a foreign city. We pulled up to the President’s Palace, and he pointed out the guards surrounding the building and told me they were the most respected division of law enforcement. I told him they are were quite handsome and he laughed.

When I finally arrived at San Cristobal Hill he took me to the top, parked the car, and said he would a nap while I looked around. By this point, we had a pretty good rapport going so I was pretty sure he’s wasn’t going to leave me there; nevertheless, I looked for his car every time it was within view just to be safe. I hadn’t done a lot of research before coming to Santiago; to be honest, I wasn’t sure I had the guts to actually leave the airport until I did it. So all I knew was that San Cristobal Hill had the best view of the city and man, did it ever. Hundreds of thousands of buildings and roads all sprawled out in front of me. Behind me a staircase led further up the mountain and toward a large statue of Mary, complete with a mini chapel at the base of her feet. The main character in my novel, BLUE SUN, YELLOW SKY, visits Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, something I had yet to do, so as I stood beneath Mary I tried to imagine being in my character’s shoes. I could write an entire blog just about that experience so I’ll refrain from getting into it, but what I will say is this: as a first-time author it was affirming to know that my character’s experiences weren’t wrong.

Robert was in the driver seat playing a game on his phone when I returned to the car. At the sight of me, he shut off his phone with a smile and we headed back down the mountain to Pablo Naruda’s house. After paying a fee, I was handed a listening device that looked like a long skinny telephone before being ushered into a courtyard. There were about 14 stops on this tour of Naruda’s house, but I only had a few minutes before I risked missing my connecting flight so I decided halfway through the first description to skip to the next one. Big mistake. At the end of each section the narrator kindly tells you where to walk next. This left me wandering around the courtyard with a security guard eyeing me suspiciously. I turned down a wrong corridor and get scolded in Spanish, which ironically sounds a lot like a scolding in Vietnamese, but he pointed me in the direction I was supposed to go. I moved through the downstairs portion quickly, past the dining room, small bedroom, his mistresses’ quarters, and then finally I reached the place I came to see. Pablo Naruda’s study.

It wasn’t very large. In fact, it seemed quite small given Naruda’s notoriety and fame. There were wooden bookshelves lining the back wall, a desk, reading chairs, and lots of artifacts that reminded me of Native American relics. Maybe they were? If I’d had more time I probably could’ve listened to find out. His desk was clean with nothing more than a few pieces of paper, his glasses and a pen. It was also tiny, not much bigger than the desk I used at home. The room was brightly lit with tons of windows. I wanted really badly to sit down in one of the chairs and imagine being him; to look out over his garden and think about the words that would flow together into poetry.

For a writer, the 8-hour layover in Santiago was enlightening. I walked in the shoes of one of my own characters and sat in the house of one of the greatest writers in history. AND I did it all with time to spare, so after going back through security, I took a seat at the bar, ordered a Pisco Sour and toasted myself for a layover well spent.

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