Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Sneak Peek - Secret Agent Disco Dancer: You Don't Know Jack


Note: The following is an excerpt from my upcoming children's book Secret Agent Disco Dancer: You Don't Know Jack. This is an early preview and may contain typographical or grammatical errors that haven't been corrected yet.

Chapter 1: Monster

“Today is a special, special day,” Miranda reminded herself and nodded ever so slightly. She looked down at her Spiderman lunchbox, a gift from her father who had purchased something he liked rather than what was appropriate for a young frogling her age on her first day of Bay Lake Elementary. “Oh, daddy...” She shook her head and set the lunchbox on the seat beside her. He was always doing crazy things like that, and where the heck was he? He promised that he’d escort her to the bus, this morning of all mornings, but as usual, he called in and told momma that he had to work late again, and cried into the phone before hanging up.

“Really, again? That’s like the third time this week.” Her smile turned into a frown. Silly grown ups and their silly jobs. “If I had my way...” She looked around the bus. “I’d get rid of jobs once and for all!” A smile returned to her frog face.

“Eek!” A girl screamed as she got onto the bus.

“What is it, dear?” The large bus driver who had introduced herself as Beatris several minutes before looked at the frightened girl.

“There’s a monster on the bus!” She pointed to Miranda.

“Hey, I’m not a monster! I’m just a wee frogling.” Miranda nodded, agreeing with something her father had said the last time he joined the family for bedtime stories.

“It’s Swamp Thing!” said another girl as the children ran off the bus.

“Swamp Thing? What does that even mean?” Miranda tilted her head to one side and stared out the window. What was wrong with those crazy kids? Hadn’t they ever seen a frog before? Surely she was larger than they’d seen before—about the size of a toddler and a good foot shorter than the smallest six-year-old human.

But clearly she wasn’t a monster in any sense of the word. That belonged to the creature hiding in the back that she’d noticed while stepping on the bus. Though he managed to conceal himself well that morning, he certainly couldn’t sneak one past her. (Besides, Miranda had older brothers who looked just as scary...)

Still, he wasn’t much of a monster.

“Right, Jack?” Miranda peered over her shoulder.

Secret Agent Disco Dancer: You Don't Know Jack is now available >>

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sneak Peek - Secret Agent Disco Dancer: Santa's Super Helpers


Note: The following is an excerpt from my upcoming children's book Secret Agent Disco Dancer: Santa's Super Helpers. This early preview may contain typographical or grammatical errors that haven't been corrected yet.

Chapter 1: Extra Crispy

'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the top secret government black ops field office, not a creature was stirring except for a diabolical pig with devious designs on taking over the world and other self-serving plans, a crazy disco dancing frog, and, well, the entire I.T. staff...

"I can't believe they're having us work on Christmas Eve." Secret Agent Disco Dancer propped up his feet on the desk and leaned back in his chair.

"Yeah, tell me about it," said Gruber, a twelve-year old genius and youngest agent ever to work for Black Eagle. His glasses looked like the bottoms of Coke bottles, his hair short, straight and spiky. Although it was cold out, he wore shorts. Even Secret Agent Disco Dancer couldn't believe his boss, the brown Andalusian Special Agent Halfwitz, let him get away with it.

Gruber rolled up his diagrams, which detailed where to add additional firewalls and other security measures to make the network impervious to outside hackers, and slid them in a long cardboard tube.

"Don't you know? Evil never rests. And, well...it's not like you numbskulls were doing anything, anyways." Earnest T. Bacon, the T undoubtedly for Trouble, stepped into the frog's office with a present in hand--a black bow over black wrapping paper.

"If I had my Firetoad clearance, I'd be more useful." Secret Agent Disco Dancer sat up straight. "It's crazy, really. Even though I have a direct line to the president, I can't read my own memos--even from missions that I took part in!"

"Need-to-know, froggy woggy, need-to-know. And it's better that you don't know anything. Not that you do, of course." Earnest coughed, surprised at the venom coming out of his mouth that eve. "Although it pains me to say this: Merry Christmas, Secret Agent Disco Dancer. You survived the first year, which is longer than I ever thought you'd last. For that, you deserve a reward." The pig set the gift down carefully on the desk.

"Really? I don't know what to say..."

"Well, if I were in the Christmas spirit, I'd say don't open it," Earnest thought to himself and grinned.

"That's not fair. I didn't get anything for you," said the frog.

"There's always next Christmas," Earnest smirked as he said it. He walked away as fast as he could, hoping Secret Agent Disco Dancer did not hear the ticking coming from inside the package.

"Wow, that's nice of him. Is that the same pig?" Gruber peeked down the hallway at the fleeing swine, then back at the gift. "So what do you think it is?"

"Oh, it's a bomb, of course. Say, can you hand me that jar?" Secret Agent Disco Dancer pointed to a glass jar filled to the brim with popcorn kernels.

"Sure." Gruber fetched it for him and readjusted his glasses.

"As they always say, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade, or in this case, when covert assassins in the highest places of government hand you bombs..." He reached inside his desk, grabbed a blast bag, unzipped it, tossed in Earnest's gift, sprinkled popcorn kernels on top, and zipped it back up. "Make popcorn!" He shook the contents around until the bomb detonated.

The bag jumped out of Secret Agent Disco Dancer's hand, expanding ten times its normal size before finally deflating. He put his head up against it and heard the faint sound of popping. "Ooh...I think it's almost ready... You wouldn't happen to have any butter handy, would you?"

Gruber checked his pockets then shook his head, mortified one of his coworkers had tried to take out the outrageous frog.

Secret Agent Disco Dancer unzipped the bag and gaped at the charred remains inside. "Oh Orville, what have they done to you? Well, so much for smoked brisket popcorn." He dumped the blast bag in the trashcan, which caught fire.

"You're not going to report this?" Gruber asked.

"Report what? It's Christmas!" Secret Agent Disco Dancer grabbed a fire extinguisher from around the corner and put out the fire.

"But he gave you a bomb."

"That's not the worst he's given me."

"Right. So, uh...what did you get your children for Christmas?"

"Great Scott!" The frog nearly jumped out of his skin. "Tomorrow's Christmas! How did it sneak up on me?" He looked around. "Oh, the horror! I didn't get my children anything. Quick, there isn't any time to lose." He hopped out of his chair.

"What is it, Secret Agent Disco Dancer? You want to go to the mall? I hear Pentagon City is open till midnight."

"That won't help at all, especially since the post office shut down for the holidays."

"Huh? What are you talking about?"

"I need to speak to main man himself if my children have any hope of getting presents. I must find...Santa Claus!" Secret Agent Disco Dancer held one finger high, the fire reigniting in the waste basket behind him.

Secret Agent Disco Dancer: Santa's Super Helpers is now available >>

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Yet Another Russian Translation Published

Available in the iBooks Store
After writing yesterday's blog post, I sat around and wondered, "Why haven't I published that other Russian translation?" 'Twas a good question--jolly good, I must say--for I had no reason not to finish the partially completed work and get it out the door.

So that's what I was up to yesterday afternoon--doing all the things I'd neglected to do for the Russian version of My Little Pet Dragon and finding a way to finish. And that's what a lot of writing/publishing is about: finishing. Though the journey may be long, there's something about that last mile when the end is in sight that makes one want to work that much harder. I call it "the eye of the tiger," for in many ways you're going for the kill; sleighing a beast of a problem that you've been wrangling with for far too long.

And once it's over and you take a breath after submitting your newest work of fiction, there's a sense of euphoria that is second to none. You did it! No longer is it just an idea floating around your head. You materialized it with sheer will alone. You can share it, profit from it, and hopefully affect others in some positive way.

Though this was just a translation that I didn't transcribe myself, there was still quite a bit of work involved. There's nothing glamorous about mocking up a book that you've already translated a dozen times. Yet, there is something mysterious about it. What does the Russian language look like when paired with the images? The new version with the odd cyrillic script gives it a personality all its own. What might it sound like if read aloud? Such thoughts provoke my mind to wander.

And wander I have...

Anyhow, Мой Маленький Домашний Дракон is done and I've sent My Crazy Pet Frog to my native Russian translator, Anna Marine. She also took another look at this book and gave me the thumbs up. (It's been a few weeks since she provided me with the translation, so I knew she'd be able to view it with a fresh eye if I sent it to her.)

Although it's still early in the publication process, you can find it here:

Apple: http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1278689701
Google: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=q70zDwAAQBAJ Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/745993

And my apologies in advance. Amazon doesn't allow books written in Russian on their site. It's a crummy thing, and I find that more and more of my books aren't making it into Amazon. Like my other Russian children's books, I do have a MOBI version for Kindle devices, so if you're interested just contact me.

Please also be aware that I'm in the process of pulling the last of my books out of Kindle Unlimited. There are about a dozen titles left, so if you have Kindle Unlimited and would like to check out my work, please do so soon. Afterwards, the only subscription service my books will be available in is Scribd, though Kobo does have Kobo Plus that is being tested in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Russian Translation Published

Available in the iBooks Store
It's a good thing to have a native speaker look over a book that you've recently translated. In this case, my Facebook friend Anna Marine took a look at the Russian language version of I Love You, Teddy and spotted a number of errors. Chief among them was one that I'd made on the cover: one of the words had been cut off. Oops!
As for the rest, I can only say that I'm surprised. The Russian translator who worked on Alphabet All-Stars: Be Safe This Halloween did a perfect job; so much so that Anna didn't find a single thing she'd change. I'm not going to speculate as to why this happened, but without Anna I wouldn't have known that there was anything wrong with the original translation.

Get your work independently reviewed, folks. I can't stress this enough!

In the end, I have what I set out for--a solid translation of a solid children's picture book. I also gained a translator in the process. From now on, Anna Marine will be handling all of my Russian translations and has already finished up My Little Pet Dragon, which contains Russian and English text, side-by-side.

Is there a Russian market for children's picture books? That I do not know. I went out on a limb when I had my books translated into Italian, French, Dutch and Norwegian--all with good results. Now I find myself doing it again, and if nothing comes of it, at least I tried. Certainly a few kids can benefit from the effort, particularly those in bilingual households.

Why did I have my children's books translated into Russian in the first place? Good question. When I was translating Alphabet All-Stars: Be Safe This Halloween into multiple languages, I identified all the countries that celebrate Halloween in one form or another. I was surprised to read that Vladimir Putin wants to get rid of the holiday, and since many Russian families already live in the United States, I was determined to do it.

As it turns out, I was lucky the first time around with getting the book translated. And the second book has led me to an even better translator.

And that's the thing--it isn't always easy finding good translators, and when you do, you've got to keep them busy. Even if it's a book that you really don't need translated, I feel that it's important to keep translators engaged and the line of communication open, that way when a really important job comes up, you know what their availability is.

I'll translate a few more picture books and see what happens. Translations of My Crazy Pet Frog, Pigtastic and A Little Book About You will happen. Beyond that, who knows? There's also the time factor involved. Every hour spent on a translation is an hour that could be spent writing a brand new English language book. And when it comes down to that, I'd rather be producing new content than translating old content.

If you'd like to see what I've done, you can download a free copy of Alphabet All-Stars: Be Safe This Halloween here:

Apple: http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1271133575
Google: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=6ZswDwAAQBAJ
Inktera:http://www.inktera.com/store/title/d1f2cbb7-d9d9-418d-b2ea-c8cfa9c3ebfe
Kobo:https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/9o7-gtA7uzaPeAuh-N8xYw
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/741967

You can also purchase the bilingual English/Russian version of I Love You, Teddy for a nominal fee here:

Apple: http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1269890995
Google: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=okcwDwAAQBAJ
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/741401

(Sorry, neither Amazon nor Barnes and Noble want Russian books. I do have MOBI/Kindle versions available upon request. Just contact me.)

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Russian Translation Unearthed

So there I was--cleaning up my iMac hard drive and deleting off various junk that I'd acquired when I stumbled upon something surprising. Although I'd paid for the Russian language translation of Alphabet All-Stars: Be Safe This Halloween, I'd forgotten that I'd done the same for another widely-translated title of mine: I Love You, Teddy. At first I thought it was a mistake. I'm pretty good when it comes to these types of things, or so I thought. But after I opened the file and scanned it over, I confirmed the embarrassing discovery--that I really did have all the necessary text to publish a new work of fiction.

How do these things happen? Well, life happens. And when you stop writing for weeks or months at a time, it's easy for these things to fall through the cracks.

But a complete translation, really? I know, it's bad. What can I say? Dementia runs in the family. (And I won't even comment about the short story that I'd forgotten I'd written and had to read through to the end because I had no idea where it was going.)

So upon discovery, I swore that I wouldn't delay any longer. The title would get done, that very day if possible, but likely the following day. Now it's 99% done, and I'm just waiting for a Russian friend to look it over and give me the go ahead to publish it. It's a simple bilingual book, and if I remember correctly, the translator did a good job the last time around. (Or I'm confusing him with someone else and am in for a nasty surprise when my Russian friend gets back to me with a list of corrections. Hey, these things happen.)

Whatever the case, I'm glad I finally did something with it. Not only was there a small sum of money invested, someone invested their time to get the translation done and open the door to a whole new audience. I hate that I dragged my feet on it, but it's done. Almost. Soon...

Until then, enjoy the cover I put together--which looks exactly like the other variations of the same title, but with funky characters. (And who doesn't like funky characters, right?)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Sneak Peek - My Crazy Pet Frog: The Nightmare Pizza Before Christmas


Note: The following is an excerpt from my upcoming children's book My Crazy Pet Frog: The Nightmare Pizza Before Christmas. This early preview may contain typographical or grammatical errors that haven't been corrected yet.

Chapter 1: Restless


I was snug as a bug, or so the saying goes, and I was most definitely curled up in a rug, for my sheets were still in the wash and I was too lazy to stick them in the dryer. Tomorrow, for sure.

Ah yes, tomorrow—that place where all inconvenient tasks like doing dishes go, especially scrubbing toilets and washing my oversized underwear. Pew!

As I lay there contemplating all of the tasks that I pushed off till the following morning, I began to think over the Christmas list that was still fresh in my mind. I'd sent poor Aunt Edna a ham, hadn't I? Surely I had, but did they delivered it? And was Aunt Edna even alive these days? I tended to get her and her twin sister Emma mixed up. One had a stroke not that long ago. Or was it her husband? Or wait...perhaps it was her cranky, old father who had kicked the bucket one Christmas too early?

“No, Edna never married!” I pushed the rug aside and sat up in bed. “Emma—Emma's the one who...oh, yes! Her father had a stroke. And she had asked me to send a honey-baked ham his way since he was on a meager pension (Did they still have those these days?) and quite lonely, and didn't have anyone to cook for him except his two daughters who visited infrequently, and were afraid that they might be delayed flying in from the west coast, blah, blah, blah.

Though I'd told Emma...wait! Emma's the vegetarian!

Though I'd told Edna that I'd sent the ham to her poor, old father, had I actually done it? I certainly didn't want to inconvenience her with taking a ham aboard her flight. I mean, who wants to bring aboard a ham carry-on, or check hammy at the terminal? Traveling was already difficult enough, but traveling with hammy? They'd be lucky if the staff didn't gobble it up before it arrived on the opposite coast.

If, in fact, it arrived.

Finally, I could take no more, and put on my slippers and lumbered across the room. I opened my ledger—which I preferred to keep by hand since I didn't trust modern computers, and found my way to the holiday gift expenses. “Oh, dear,” I mumbled, still half asleep. I didn't see any notes or special instructions accompanying the appropriate line item. If I'd sent the ham to her father, I would have put an asterisk next to the expense, but no such marking appeared in my trusty ledger.

Likely I'd forgotten, and unfortunately Emma would have a heavy-hammed haul from one airport to the other, from one cozy home to that tiny shamble in the middle of-

“Good grief!” I looked out the window and jumped back.

That crazy, good-for-nothing life-sized frog pressed his face against the window, mouthing the words Merry Christmas.

Instantly I stepped forward and pulled down the shade.

“Aw, come on, dude. Don't be like that. You're not really going to shut me out on Christmas Eve, are you?” he groaned.

Was I?

The smart move would be to play Christmas music until he eventually went away. But with the swirling winds outside, I understood exactly how bone-chilling it could be.

And wasn't he a cold-blooded creature? Surely he wouldn't last until the morning. And then there was the matter of the falling snow. I certainly didn't want a froggy snowman to greet me when I shoveled the driveway Christmas morning.

As I reached for the shade, I wanted to slap my hand away. “Bartholomew Bundt, what is wrong with you? Remember the last time you let him into your house?” I told myself. Between preparations for the zombie apocalypse and the rogue pizza that found its way inside, he nearly destroyed my humble home. I wasn't keen on handing out Christmas spankings, but this one...I could see the pain in his big, red eyes. He was struggling, this one. “Perhaps I could open my house to him for just one night.” I surprised even myself when the words rolled off my tongue. “Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if...” I pulled up the shade.

But there was no one there.

“Oh, don't worry about that. I already let myself in!” came a voice in my ear.

“Ahh!!!” I jumped so high I nearly cracked my skull on the ceiling.

“I hope you don't mind. I just helped Santa deliver presents all over North America, and well...I'm hungry!” He rubbed his big belly.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

What Did I Do? And What Am I Doing?

So I've reached 227 published works, and now that I've had a chance to sit back and watch the dust clear, I'm wondering, "What did I do?" I have a bunch of shorts, no novels to speak of, and most of what I've published are children's books.

Is there something wrong with this? And should I be made to feel like something is wrong with what I've produced?

Due to changes in Amazon's payout system, the operative advice is to make your books longer. Write more, if you can, especially if it fits the story. In this, I don't really have a problem. I actually have a couple novels that I haven't published yet, and I will eventually change gears and finish them off. Eventually.

But I love short fiction, and based on reader feedback, they seem to like it, too. Should I give up short fiction for a while and put everything I have into novels?

Not so fast…

Picture books need to remain short--around 30 pages--so that young readers can actually finish them. Although extending stories might seem like a great idea, I've received complaints about some books being too long. That's right--a picture book that's too long. Is that even possible? But the readership is speaking, and I do not necessarily disagree with them.

All stories have a desirable length that they fit in, and each is different. Writing longer simply doesn't apply to children's books as it does to other genres.

So what's a children's book author to do? What they always do: produce more books, not stretch existing ones.

Can you imagine if Dr. Seuss tried to extend the Cat in the Hat to make a few more pennies from borrows? It might have a disastrous effect on the final product. Money has a way of muddling things, and that's exactly what I think this is: a muddle.

Some readers like my picture books because they're short and sweet. More complex works, like the 16,000 words I poured into Bubblegum Princess: Pinkberry Patch, create an entirely new reading experience. Forcing one to become the other isn't always in the book's best interest. Since the book is a showcase of our efforts, you would think an author would take a more guarded approach.

Such is not the case from what I've seen, and I worry that authors might screw up perfectly good stories to make a few bucks.

While each of us has to do what we need to survive, I'm going to avoid the temptation of extending anything and simply write more stories. I'll write as long as I can, but not at the expense of the work at hand. I'll also tackle larger, more complex books, such as Secret Agent Disco Dancer, which I've avoided for one reason or another. (Which is a nice way of saying that I've been lazy.)

Another thing I read about is authors getting stuck writing in a particular genre. I'm a free spirit, and I understand exactly how this feels. I love the challenge of producing something new and following my instincts. The thought of rehashing something or continuing to write a series that I'm no longer fond of doesn't appeal to me, but even that's secondary.

What writers seem to forget is that they're getting the opportunity to write what they want and make a decent living off of it. Some of us will even become rich off of our endeavors. That's not such a bad deal.

But forget about the money or what you'd rather be writing instead. Just write. Write as much as you can whenever you can. Let your universe explode!

While it might sound like I'm advocating scattering one's focus, I'm not. I'm just of the mind that if other writing projects are important, you'll find a way to fit them in. You'll wake up an hour earlier, etc., just for the chance to live in that world.

And why not? If you have an idea, go for it. Don't put limitations on yourself that you can only write certain types of books, etc., because there's no money in certain genres. Your desire to write other things may be an indication that you need a break, and will give you the opportunity to test out new waters.

Just yesterday I finished up Bubblegum Princess. "But the picture book has been available since 2012," you say. Yeah, but I wasn't satisfied with it. It didn't represent my best effort or fulfill reader expectations. So I vowed to write a little each month, a chapter here and there, until it was done. Although the project dragged on, I never forgot about it, and forced myself to sit down and extend the lines a little further. I'm proud of what I accomplished, even if there's no financial reward.

I kept my promise, that's the important thing. I gave the reader something closer to what I had in mind. And it feels good. So very, very good.

Now I'm presented with a challenge: Do I work on Story A or Story B? Why do I do this to myself? Isn't the intention to write all of them? Just dive in and take them all on. Be fearless! Challenge yourself, don't limit yourself! If all of us acted on our instincts rather than getting lost in the benefits of writing one book versus the other, we'd produce a lot more content, and thus, make more money.

That's what I'm trying to do right here--to break out of this narrow mindset. If I can even accomplish one tenth of what I set out to do, I'll do far more than I would otherwise.

Sure, a successful series brings with it obligations, but that doesn't mean that we can no longer be creative or try out new things. We just need to mix them in: a sequel here, a brand new picture book there. And by all means, none of us should ever feel stuck. Enjoy all of the writing, even if there are other things that you'd rather be writing at a particular moment. Give it a chance, and you'll be surprised at the results.

So at 227 published works, what am I doing? Starting over. And moving on to #228.