Category Archives: Uncategorized

Book Signing in Sarasota

Some authors don’t like book signings in bookstores. There have been reported cases of an author assigned a table by the entrance, their books plunked on that table, and the author then waits with pen in hand – ready to sign books for the crowd. And waits. And waits.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen to me in Sarasota due to the efforts of Monika – organizer and Estonian extraordinaire.

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It was my first book signing in the USA, and Donna, from Barnes and Noble, was fantastic. It was a pleasure to meet a book lover who is involved in the community, and engaged with schools, librarians, and teachers.

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I was delighted to meet the small, but enthusiastic group of Estonians. Given the events in Crimea – the establishment of military presence, a vote to join Russia, and the inability of the West to intervene – all very familiar events to the Baltic countries  – it was timely to talk about The Darkest Corner of the WorldIn turn, some of the audience shared their stories and experiences of the war, and their thoughts about the current situation in Ukraine. 

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Thanks everyone! It was great to meet you!

And being in Florida, the sunset was pretty spectacular as well.

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The Loyalist’s Wife

Elaine and I met a few years ago in one of Brian Henry’s writing courses, and I’m delighted to interview her about her new historical novel, The Loyalist’s Wife. She welcomes everyone to the official launch on Saturday, October 6th from 2-4pm at the Quality Inn, Woodstock. Thanks to Elaine for taking the time to share some great advice about writing historical fiction, and self-publishing.

About The Loyalist’s Wife

When American colonists resort to war against Britain and her colonial attitudes, a young couple caught in the crossfire must find a way to survive. Pioneers in the wilds of New York State, John and Lucy face a bitter separation and the fear of losing everything, even their lives, when he joins Butler’s Rangers to fight for the King and leaves her to care for their isolated farm. As the war in the Americas ramps up, ruffians roam the colonies looking to snap up Loyalist land. Alone, pregnant, and fearing John is dead, Lucy must fight with every weapon she has.

With vivid scenes of desperation, heroism, and personal angst, Elaine Cougler takes us back to the beginnings of one great country and the planting of Loyalist seeds for another. The Loyalist’s Wife transcends the fighting between nations to show us the individual cost of such battles.

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What inspired this story and these characters? Do you have a personal connection with this story?

 The Loyalist’s Wife came about because I wanted to write something more substantial than the family stories and recipe books I had written. I said as much to my soul-mate son, who talked about my qualifications and ended with, “If not now, when?” Indeed. The next week on holiday in Hilton Head, I bought a book, “How to Write Your Novel” and away I went. Following its suggestion to pick a topic about which I was passionate, I chose the Loyalists in the American Revolutionary War. One of Butlers Rangers was named John Garner and so is my brother so that just seemed to be the right name for my male lead. His wife became Lucinda or Lucy after my great aunt. I loved the historical quality of the name and the fact that I could delve into her buoyant personality with the short form.

My personal connection is that I come from these Loyalist folks and writing and learning about them has been a voyage of discovery in very many ways.

 What advice would you give to authors who write historical fiction?

 There are so many excellent historical fiction writers that I hesitate to give advice. Perhaps that is the advice: read excellent writers in the genre. I have many favorites such as Colleen McCullough, Margaret George, Sharon Kay Penman, Edward Rutherfurd, Anne Easter Smith, Diana Gabaldon—the list is far too long to complete.

 Do you have other projects in the works?

 The Loyalist’s Luck is well underway just now and I hope to have it finished at the end of this winter, ready for final revision with a publication date of June, 2014. This is the second in The Loyalist Trilogy with the third, The Loyalist Legacy, slated for June, 2015, completing that series. Then there is a memoir floating around my brain which would build on a lot the family stories I’ve already worked on. Shaping them into an actual memoir for the public will be a labour of love with emphasis on labour. This project has already suggested a number of problems I’ll have to solve so I leave it in the future, out there, waiting until I’m ready to tackle it.

 And now questions about the business side of publishing. Marketing any novel is a challenge, but a self-published book has unique challenges. What have been your most effective marketing tactics to date?

 This is a tricky question as it’s too early in the game to know how effective some of my thrusts have been. I chose to self-publish for a lot of very good, well-considered reasons and, so far, I am delighted with my decision. I have control. Perhaps that is the greatest advantage I’ve found so far. I decide on the cover designer (she’s wonderful, lives in Victoria), the interior designer (again wonderful, lives in Paris, France), and the final thrust of the story itself(professionally edited twice). Along the way I’ve been given much advice by those in writing circles and in the business. What I finally learned was that I had to trust my own intuition and write, with the study and knowledge I have, the best book I could. And I had to learn to trust my judgment, born of a lifetime of reading historical fiction’s greatest authors.

As far as marketing, The Loyalist’s Wife is on Amazon, both in print and Kindle e-book, and on Kobo as that format is very popular in Canada. I intend to do more formats soon but Kindle is such a universal choice among readers that I found it a good place to start. Having print books with me at all times has proven to be a successful marketing strategy as people, friends and strangers alike, get a special look on their face when they learn I am an author. I’ve sold at a garage sale, local book store, women’s club meetings, speaking engagements, book club visits—you name it, I’ve been there. Because I love people the signings are a joy. I guess you could say that love of people has opened a lot of doors for me.

 One of the keys to a successful marketing campaign is to identify and target your audience(s). How have you connected, or plan to connect with your “ideal reader?” What advice do you have for writers about finding and communicating with their target audience?

 What a great question, Urve! The usual audience touted for historical fiction is middle-aged women and I believe that to be true. I do not, however, limit my queries to that segment as I know many men who love HF. I even had a neighbor shout at me from his doorway at 7:00 o’clock in the morning so that he could stop me and tell me how delighted he was with my book. And this man is a reader. Nevertheless, with women in mind, I am looking at various women’s groups and book clubs on the local front and am moving toward expanding that thrust with wide-reaching speaking and reading engagements. Already I am speaking at a historical society and a men’s club, both of which will, I hope!, like the historical quality of the book and the fact that it is written giving equal time to John’s story and to Lucy’s story. The very makeup of the book, with the two stories intertwined, appeals to both men and women. Advice? Look at your story, define your target audience, and look for the places online and off where large numbers of that audience congregate. Go there, too.

 Goodreads is a great medium for writers, but can be confusing (at least for this writer). What is your experience with Goodreads?

 I am still in the early days with Goodreads. I have a couple of reviews which are complimentary but I haven’t even set up my author page there yet. I subscribe to Sharon Kay Penman’s site on Goodreads and love to get the weekly digest of posts she has made. One of these days I’ll find time to set up my page and try to emulate SKP. Meanwhile I continue with guest posting, blogging on On Becoming a Wordsmith, and working through the dozens of emails I get every day with ideas for outreach. Oh, and I do write for two hours every day. J

 Any advice to writers who want to self-publish their novel? 

 Self-publishing is not a way to skip the necessary steps to writing the best book possible. Realize that you need fresh eyes on your work, you need to do enough courses and critique groups to be able to decide for yourself what to keep and what to dump, and you need to have the goal in mind. Mine has always been to have work of which I can be proud, both for myself and for my family. Ask yourself if that version is the best it can be? Would you want to leave it to your grandchildren as an example of your very best work? Some day they won’t have you. Will your books be the legacy you want them to have?

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Kind words from Terry Fallis about The Loyalist’s Wife:

“Elaine Cougler has written a page-turning novel of the American Revolution through the eyes of a conflicted loyalist soldier and his indomitable wife. You’ll feel the hardship of homesteading, the fear of the enemy, the blows of battle, and the pain of separation. You’ll be transported through history. This is not just a novel written about another time, it seems written in another time.”  Terry Fallis, author of The Best Laid Plans, Stephen Leacock medal winner

About Elaine Cougler:

A native of Southern Ontario, Elaine taught high school and with her husband raised two children until she finally had time to pursue her writing career. She loves to research both family history and history in general for the stories of real people that emanate from the dusty pages. These days writing is Elaine’s pleasure and her obsession. Telling the stories of Loyalists caught in the American Revolutionary War is very natural as her personal roots are thoroughly enmeshed in that struggle, out of which arose both Canada and the United States.

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The Writer’s Journey by Chris Vogler

I’m in Seattle attending Day 1 of the StoryMasters course, organized by Lorin Oberweger of Free Expressions. I met Lorin a few months ago at the Niagara SCBWI course where she kindly donated this workshop to the silent auction table. I bid, and won, and booked my ticket!  I couldn’t wait to hear the three gurus of storytelling – Chris Vogler, James Scott Bell, and Donald Maas.

Today was all about The Writer”s Journey by Chris Vogler. It was one of the first books I bought when I decided to write a novel. I’ve read this book many times over the last few years, and would highly recommend it. It’s based on the work done by Joseph Campbell, one of the world’s foremost scholars of mythology.

Even though I’ve read the book, the experience of hearing Chris Vogler speak about his work added another dimension to my understanding about the hero’s journey, and it’s relevance to modern literature. My notes are over 4000 words. I think I wrote for the entire time he spoke. But I’ll share a few thoughts that really resonated with me.

He emphasized that a good story needs to connect with the reader on an emotional level. Your stomach should knot with suspense when the hero is trouble, and your throat should constrict when ending threatens to make you cry.

Chris went on to talk about the meaning of “entertaining” which means to “hold the attention of your audience.” He emphasized that we, as writers, should be entertaining in that sense. We should surprise our readers, deliver something new on every page, and use all the five senses. He quoted Ray Bradbury as saying “I do something simple. I put all five senses on every page.” How many of us can say we do that? I know I can’t.

Chris talked about the definition of a story, and asked the group about their thoughts. So what is a story? A simple question. The answer is more complicated. Here are some of the answers from our group.

  • It is an explanation and insight into the human condition.
  • It is a character in conflict with a problem.
  • It is about characters having series of experiences that have meaning.
  • It is a universal situation or problem or desire being expressed

Chris’s definition of a good story is that it is a metaphor. A story allows us to compare how we are doing in our own lives. The need to constantly compare ourselves to another person is a deeply human thing. We need to measure our progress or situation to someone else’s. Whether we are taller, or stronger, or faster, it is part of the human condition to understand how our situation is better, or different, or worse, that that of other people. How do we fit in? Stories give us metaphors that help us manage our lives and give us ideas about how we should behave in various situations.

Tomorrow: I look forward to comparing James Scott Bell’s session to Chris’s.

My next (big) thing…What I’m working on now

This is a writer’s version of tag – a questionnaire about what people are working on currently. I’ve been tagged by Marsha Skrypuch, whose post about her next big thing can be read here.

Bwhahaha… It’s my turn to tag unsuspecting writers. I pick Don Cummer, Mahtab Narsimhan, Jackie Garlick-Pynaert, and Rosemary Danielis.

What is your working title of your book?
1944: The Curtain Closes

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
In 1944,  an Estonian girl must choose between freedom and her family when the Soviet Army occupies Estonia,  and the Iron Curtain shuts over the Baltics.

 Where did the idea come from for the book?

My first novel, The Darkest Corner of the World, is set in Estonia in 1941. Madli, a fifteen-year-old girl faces unimaginable decisions as she tries to survive the threat of both the Soviet and Nazi armies.

My work -in-progress sheds light on another little-known story of World War II. In 1944, thousands of Estonians (along with Latvians, and Lithuanians) tried to escape from their country as the Soviets stormed in to occupy the Baltics. Hundreds of people did not survive the hazardous journey across the stormy Baltic Sea in the fall of 1944.

What genre does your book fall under?
Historical fiction.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I could see Dakota Fanning as Madli. She has that quiet intelligence, but is feisty and a bit sassy.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
My first novel was published by Dancing Cat Books. I don’t have an agent, but am interested to be represented should the opportunity present itself.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
It is a work-in-progress. At the moment, research is consuming most of my time, but I make notes for potential scenes in an outline. The Darkest Corner of the World took about four years, but this one should take a few months. (fingers crossed)

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

One of the most prolific and popular writers of World War II historical fiction is Marsha Skrypuch. I started reading her books a few years ago when I first began to entertain the thought of writing a novel. She deals with horrific topics, such as the Ukrainian famine, and Armenian genocide, with compassion and intelligence.

Ruta Sepetys’ novel Between Shades of Gray tells about the deportation of a fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl during World War II. Thousands were deported from the Baltics in June 1941.

World War II historical fiction set in Eastern Europe, and stories of Stalin’s atrocities are remarkably under-represented. There are so many stories that the world is still unaware of, mostly because these countries, and their people were locked behind the Iron Curtain for over fifty years. It is only in the last few year that stories have started trickling out, and many of them are published in languages other than English. Much of my research was done by reading Estonian life histories and textbooks that have not been translated into English.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My current work-in-progress is based on my mother’s escape from Estonia in 1944. She grew up on the island of Hiiumaa. For years, I thought that it was a sleepy little place. It wasn’t until I started to research my first novel, that I realized that the front passed through her farm twice; once in 1941, and again in 1944. She was an adult when she left Estonia with only an apple in the pocket of her coat. As a teenager, I never appreciated the struggles that she faced but I’d like to write this story for my children.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Though I write for young adults, The Darkest Corner of the World, seems to appeal to older readers as well.  A number of book clubs are reading the novel, and have asked me to participate. I love getting feedback from readers.