Monday, February 23, 2015

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Ryan Leone, Author

Ryan Leone, Author
Ryan Leone’s WASTING TALENT, a novel about drug addiction, is described by reviewers as “intense” and “captivating and real.” Reviewers also say that it is a book that “stays with you.” Leone brings his own experience with heroin addiction to the novel, and describes writing it as a "therapeutic experience" and "vicarious escape."

Despite a history of drug addiction, Leone has always been able to successfully return to writing and has had several poems and short stories published. Today he is off  drugs and lives in Los Angeles with his photographer fiancé. He is working on a second novel about “lucid dreaming and prison,” which he claims will be more realistic than WASTING TALENT.

Q: Despite some serious interruptions in your life, you have always pursued writing with some success. What makes you write? What drove you to write your latest novel WASTING TALENT?

Ryan Leone: I started writing poetry and short stories while I was in high school. It was always an outlet for me; if I was angry I’d write a story and feel better. I ended up getting some stuff published early on and it was encouraging enough to make me want to pursue a writing career as I got older. I had a pretty nasty spell with heroin addiction. I ended up going to federal prison for four years and I used the time to write my first novel about my experiences with addiction. Writing offered a form of vicarious escape and solace while I was in prison. I wrote for five hours each day and I completed a lot of material.

Q: Reviewers seem to agree that WASTING TALENT is “intense” and the “darkest story I’ve ever read.” Others claim it’s their “new favorite book” and “captivating and real.” Did you write WASTING TALENT to entertain, educate, and/or deliver a message?

Ryan Leone: I don’t know what I set out to do when I wrote it. I knew that I had been through some indelible life experiences that would make a good story but the themes and messages didn’t reveal themselves until the end. It was a therapeutic experience for me because it allowed me to internalize the horrible things I had been through and gain some clarity. In 2009, when I started writing this book, it was en vogue to write literary/genre novels, so I was trying to do that. A lot of the straight literary novels out there are incredibly boring because they aren’t plot-driven. There is plenty of subtext in my book but I wanted to make sure that the reader was entertained the entire time. 

Q:  How important is humor to telling your story?  Many of the reviewers of WASTING TALENT mention it.

Ryan Leone: I address humor in the epilogue: “…it’s the only functioning device they have left to deflect sensitivity.”

I was talking about how drug addicts use humor to comfort themselves. I made the novel darkly satirical because that’s the way addicts deal with the insanity that’s happening around them. When I was an addict I found humor in everything, it didn’t matter that I was in and out of jails or that people were dying around me. A big commonality between addicts is the way they use humor as a coping mechanism after all of their other emotional responses have been stripped away. It was an important part of the story because it made it more authentic and helped readers get through some pretty awful imagery.

Q: Is the concept of villain vs hero important to telling your story?

Ryan Leone: I tried to make a really memorable villain with Mike Virgin. But what I think is more interesting is that the hero of my story becomes less and less of a hero as the novel moves forward. When you’re on drugs your self-worth deteriorates and you get to a point where you legitimately hate yourself. I wanted the protagonist to start having things about him that the readers found deplorable. In a sense, he becomes just as much of a villain internally and externally as Mike Virgin, forcing the reader to choose the lesser of two evils to root for. If I did my job as a writer, you accept Damien for his faults and cheer him on unconditionally. These are the same dynamics you deal with in real life with an addict.

Q: Why do readers care about your characters? How much of you is part of your characters?

Ryan Leone: I think that character development was one of the deficits in the book. It’s really difficult to create multi-faceted characters that are strung out on heroin. There is this empty stoicism that all of the characters exhibit, essentially they are thin shells of the people they used to be before the drugs. I really admire strong character development in literature. I look at my characters more as caricatures: the stripper, the rave princess, the agent, etc. The characters in my book are mostly based off people I actually knew and a lot of times I didn’t even change the names. I really had an agent named Adam, I had a run in with a guy named Mike Virgin (he died from an overdose a few years back, I read the obituary online), I knew a pregnant stripper, etc. Damien was me in a highly sensationalized way. I wasn’t a rock star but I always fantasized about that lifestyle in my drugged out delusions. The only character that was completely fictionalized is Blair. She’s the girl of my dreams and I ended up meeting her a few months after I completed the manuscript, she is even prettier in person.

Q: WASTING TALENT is described by several reviewers to be “good insight into the world of drugs.” Do you agree? Why?

Ryan Leone: I think I have some real authority on the subject. I shot heroin for a decade and sold everything from cocaine to peyote. I was involved in the festival and rave culture. I spent four years in federal prison on drug charges. I’ve been to rehabs and detoxes all over the country. I’ve experienced almost every facet of the drug world and everything is included in the book except for my experiences in prison.

Q: Who are the most likely readers of WASTING TALENT? Do you consider it an “inspirational” book?

Ryan Leone: I think that the readers of WASTING TALENT are addicts themselves or have been touched by the disease in some way. I didn’t want to romanticize addiction but at the same time I wasn’t trying to give an inspirational message. The themes of the book are about isolation and what it means to be truly alone. I think those themes are pretty universal and can reach people that have no experience with addiction at all. I was just trying to write something with candid authenticity, an honest look at the mistakes I made while I was using. If being honest about addiction conveyed an anti-drug message then I’m all for it. But it wasn’t what I intended.

Q: How helpful is setting to create a background for your story?

Ryan Leone: I think that setting is an incredibly important aspect of any good novel. The setting of WASTING TALENT is California because that’s where I grew up. I think the most lyrical lines of my prose have to do with the natural beauty of California. It was a love letter to a state I’m still very much in love with. I really tried to make atmospheric scenes that would resonate with people that have been there, like the foggy cityscape of San Francisco, the picturesque mountains of Santa Barbara, and the urban decay of Los Angeles.

Q: What’s next? Will we see more novels?

Ryan Leone: I’ve been working on a second novel about lucid dreaming and prison. It’s much more realistic than my first book and it lacks the hyperbole. I have several short stories that I’ve written over the last six years and I think I’m going to polish a few and submit them to literary magazines that I’d like to be included in. The other day I was talking to an agent about optioning my book as a film. I feel that a screenplay writer would try and sanitize my story and give the protagonist redeeming qualities that would mutilate the book’s message. The agent said, “Why don’t you just write the script yourself?” So I might spend some time doing just that.

Q: Tell us about Ryan Leone. What do you like to do for fun when you’re not writing?

Ryan Leone: I recently got engaged to a beautiful professional photographer, she helped conceptualize and shoot the cover for WASTING TALENT. We moved to Los Angeles a couple of years ago and I think it’s the best city in the country. There’s always something to do. We go to a lot of concerts, art shows, and other events. Sometimes on the weekdays, when we’re bored, we go see television shows being filmed. We go hiking, play poker, travel, go to the beach, and spend a lot of time watching movies and reading. I’ve been sober for three years now and I attribute my success to lifting weights, it’s something I picked up in prison and it has been a great addition to my life.

About Ryan Leone

Ryan Leone grew up in Santa Barbara, California. He was expelled from three high schools for drug related offenses, spending much of his teenage years in and out of institutions. Despite these setbacks, he got several poems and short stories published in various anthologies. He was later accepted to a prestigious internship program in Boston for television writing but was quickly asked to leave because of his growing drug problem. He spent the next decade in innumerable jails and rehabs throughout the country. In 2008, after a two year federal investigation, he was indicted for his involvement in an international heroin cartel based out of Mexico. He spent four years in prison and wrote his first novel, WASTING TALENT, during his incarceration. It was published in 2014, and he recently had an essay appear in Beatdom. Rehabilitated and off drugs, Ryan Leone currently resides in Los Angeles with his fiancé.

His music could have made Damien Cantwell the star of his generation.

But living fast has its consequences, and Damien soon finds himself spiraling into a dark world full of unfettered debauchery and brutal violence.

The horrors of drug addiction are painted in sharp, biting prose in this novel about throwing away everything and finding that some things are too precious to lose.


Twitter address: @Ryanleone85

Monday, February 16, 2015

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: M. Howalt, Serial Author

M. Howalt, Author
M. Howalt  is a unique author for this blog for two reasons: She is Danish, but writes in English; and she writes in serialized format. Her story is free for anyone to read—a format that she embraces as a way to get reader input. Readers can read and comment on her novel ACONITUM here by chapter--a story which features a werewolf hunter who hears about a werewolf who can change shapes.

 Howalt has been drawn to science fiction and fantasy since she was a child. She currently lives in Denmark, serves as a translator, and teaches English to adults in addition to writing. She is working on a middle-grade children’s book and is considering publishing ACONITUM as a book. She enjoys photography and her cats.

Q: You post your novel, ACONITUM, piece-by-piece, free for everyone to read. What inspired you to publish in serialized format? How does this format benefit the reader? Who likes to read serialized novels? How does it help you as an author?

M. Howalt: I had not considered serialising the novel before I came across the publishing site JukePop Serials, but when I read about the submission process and the benefits (such as detailed analytics regarding reader habits and the potential of being included in library catalogues), it seemed like the perfect option for my story.
Serial novels are a little like TV series. A lot of readers enjoy the idea of following the story as it develops through regular updates that lengthwise are suitable for a commute, a lunch break or for reading before bedtime.  The chapters can be read in a web browser or an app for smartphones and tablets and stay available so new readers can catch up on the story whenever they want to. According to the analytics, people of all ages read serials (my readers are between 18 and 64), and the interest does not seem to be related to gender. A lot of writers like to read serials. And since they're free to read, it's a great way to sample novels and help other writers by providing some feedback.

Which brings me to the benefits for an author. The best thing, to me, is that I get to see my readers' reactions to the story as they happen. I get invaluable insight into reader responses when people comment that they are surprised by a plot twist, are suspicious of a certain character, can relate to a situation in the story, really like a specific scene, and so on. All that is not something you would find in a review of a story that is published as a complete novel.

I finished writing the story a while before serialising it, but I am still editing as I go. Knowing that I have readers who wait for a new chapter every Thursday is a great motivation.

Q: ACONITUM features a werewolf hunter. Why werewolves? What drew you to this type of story?

M. Howalt: I've always wanted to tell good stories that engage the audience, and I've been drawn to science fiction, fantasy and supernatural fiction for as long as I can remember. I think these elements can add a dimension to a book and be used to shed some light on various dilemmas and human conditions.

Werewolves are interesting to me because of the duality involved. Are they people, or are they wild animals with a thirst for human blood? Sometimes they're both. The protagonist of ACONITUM is indeed a licensed werewolf hunter, but he discovers that there is more than one kind of werewolf and has to deal with some very difficult choices on his journey. What do you do when someone you want to protect is turned into a monster? Or when a so-called monster doesn't behave at all like a monster should?

Q: How important is credibility to engaging your reader in a story about werewolves? If it’s important, how do you make it believable? Did you conduct any research?

M. Howalt: Credibility is everything to me as a writer. The most important thing is that my readers believe in the characters. They don't always need to sympathise with them or agree with them, but I hope that they can relate to them on a general, human level. I suppose you can call what I strive for emotional realism. It's essentially a story about people, and I think that plays great part in making any story believable. ACONITUM is a story about very human characters in a fantastical world. But of course such a world and the werewolves in it need to be credible too.
I did do a lot of research on werewolf myths and folklore. When writing a story with supernatural settings, it's important to have clear rules. I hope to create a realistic and believable account of the world in the novel. There needs to be backstory and a reason why things are the way they are. I can't claim that a person gets turned into a werewolf if they are bitten by one without having considered whether it is a supernatural, immediate transformation, or a gradually spreading illness, if the condition it can be cured, what society's reactions are, and so on.

Q: How helpful was setting ACONITUM in an “alternative Germany” to telling your story?

M. Howalt: I didn't want to write a story with a modern urban fantasy setting in which nobody knows that werewolves exist. In the world of ACONITUM, their presence is common knowledge. I wanted to explore how and how much it would shape society. It turns out that it's a lot. Silver is in high demand (since it is used for fighting werewolves), licensed hunters are treated like soldiers or heroes, the industrial revolution was halted, criminals can try to pin a murder on a werewolf, and some religious groups view werewolves as a godsent punishment. - Just to mention a few things. I chose the area around Frankfurt am Main as the point of departure for a couple of reasons; There is a lot of werewolf folklore in the region, and the properties of the landscape, the climate and the culture there suited me very well for this kind of story.

Q: What makes readers care about your characters? Is humor useful?

M. Howalt: Personally, I respond well to three-dimensional characters in fiction, and I believe that my readers do to. The characters in ACONITUM are not perfect, and they all have a past that has shaped and molded them. I hope to make them feel like real people. Sometimes it makes readers care when they see traits in the characters that they can regonise in themselves. I remember one person telling me that the protagonist's reactions during an emotional scene in the novel really mirrored feelings that they had experienced in a similar situation. That meant a lot to me. Humour is definitely useful too, and I think it's part of creating credibility. ACONITUM is not a comedy, but funny things do happen in life, even during serious or tragic events, so they do in my novel too. I also like to make a little bit of fun of the characters now and then to lighten the mood.

Q: Does the concept of “heroes vs villains” apply to ACONITUM? What makes an effective villain?

M. Howalt: I think that almost every character in the novel are both. People can have good intentions and still do bad things, and unlikable characters can do the right thing. I suppose you could say that the werewolves are the villains and the hunters are the heroes, but I believe I can disclose that it isn't entirely accurate without giving too much away. So it's not a story with good guys versus bad guys in the traditional sense. However, I think that what applies to creating effective protagonists applies to villains too. In order to be believable, they have to have motivations and goals.

Q: Do you write ACONITUM strictly to entertain or do you want to deliver a message? Educate? Make readers think? Other?

M. Howalt: I definitely want to entertain readers with an engaging story and interesting characters, but I certainly would like them to think and to feel something as well. There's no lesson or message wrapped up in the prose, though. It is up to the readers to decide for themselves what they think of the characters' actions.

Q: You are Danish, but you write in English. How influential is your Danish background to your writing? How does your day job of a visual media translator affect your approach and attitude toward writing?

M. Howalt: I am very comfortable with writing in English. I actually think and dream in English half of the time, and most of my favourite literature is written in English. But I still think that my linguistic and cultural background has some influence on my writing. We are only a few million speakers of Danish in the world, and we are taught several languages in school to be able to get by internationally. Denmark is surrounded by other nations with different languages, so we learn very quickly to identify and notice languages and accents. This combined with the fact that my English accent is not one I was brought up with, but one that was learned and cultivated at the university, may make it easier for me to put aside my own vernacular in English and adopt another for the narrative or a certain character's voice or accent.

When you make subtitles, there simply is not room or time for translating everything. One of the most important factors is learning how to keep things short and precise and still make the written word convey feelings or a mood to the viewer. That discipline has influenced my writing. ACONITUM is a serial, but I want everything in it to be there for a reason, so there are no filler episodes or scenes or descriptions that are not essential to the story. And because my main narrator is very blunt in his way of thinking, this style suits the story really well.

Q: What’s next? Will you continue to write serialized novels?

M. Howalt: A lot of JukePop authors submit their works for traditional publishing, crowdfund their novels or self-publish afterwards, and I think it's safe to say that I'll explore the possibilities when the ACONITUM serial ends. I am considering writing a sequel as well. There are plenty of storylines and characters that I would like to explore further and which won't fit into the current book.

I am also in the middle of the second draft of a children's book (middle grade) in Danish that I think is more suitable for traditional publishing. Apart from that, I have a number of first drafts for stories, which I really want to work more on at some point.

One of the projects that I have in the works would work well as a serial novel, and I must say that I have grown very fond of the medium because of its dynamic nature, so I certainly expect to serialise more novels in the future. I am also writing a collaborative story with a talented fellow serial author from JukePop, K.R. Kampion. That's a great project to get to work on, and I'm always excited for the next part and enjoy sharing ideas for it.

Q: Tell us about M. Howalt. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

M. Howalt: I am a translator and I also teach English to adults at night school. And like every other writer, I enjoy reading. I am fond of a lot of different books, but have a penchant for supernatural, speculative and literary fiction. I also take a lot of photos. Many of them are of my lovely cats and some of urban and rural landscapes. I used to work with graphic design while I was studying. These days I only draw in my spare time, though (often characters from my stories). But I took the photo for the cover of ACONITUM and did the design myself. I enjoy listening to music and have a playlist that serves as the unofficial soundtrack for every story I write. When I want to unwind, I like to go for a walk, hang out at a café or play computer games with friends.

About M. Howalt

M. Howalt was born and raised in Denmark and started writing stories at the age of 11 when the local library ran out of the kind of books that the science fiction and fantasy enthusiastic kid longed to devour. Over the years, the stories grew quite a bit more complex and some of them a whole lot longer, but it was not until after graduating university with a master's degree in English studies that Howalt decided to pursue writing more seriously. By now, a number of flash fiction pieces have been published, most notably on Every Day Fiction and QuarterReads. The novel Aconitum is currently being serialised on JukePop Serials. When not writing, M. Howalt translates TV shows, teaches English at night school and serves feline overlord Reid and his furry nephews.


As if being a certified werewolf hunter isn’t enough of a moral morass already, Hector Rothenberg hears rumours of a wolf who can change its shape at will, and he realises that he must investigate the truth.

But he needs to hurry up - especially if routine missions keep going almost fatally wrong.

ACONITUM is the story of one man’s physical and mental journey. It is also the tale of a society which knows that werewolves are a real threat, of a doctor with a dark secret, a skilled lady in a lucrative business, a rich aunt, a grumpy, old mentor, a cheeky Frenchman, a village idiot, tragic death, romance gone wrong, and a young man who really wanted nothing to do with any of that.

A literary supernatural tale of werewolves, the ones who hunt them, and the people who are caught in the crossfire.


The villages in this area were rarely visited by hunters unless they specifically sent for one. It had taken Hector several days to get there from Darmstadt, and he was met with curiosity when he approached the cluster of houses that was called Kleinburg on the few maps it was on. At least that was charmingly self-conscious of the inhabitants. Was there even an inn, or would he have to rely on a family to put him up for the night? Judging by the looks he was given, people did know what he was. And since nobody rushed to him, they probably were not in dire need of his help.

A wooden sign swung sleepily from rusty chains on one ordinary looking house. The Little Lark, a tavern. He would have a beer there and something to eat. In case there had been any sightings of werewolves, the barman would know, or the customers. No reason for him to go about this in an official manner and flash his badge at the priest, the doctor or any other authorities that the village may boast of having.
Hector had only been sitting at the bar for a couple of minutes with his beer when a man noisily dumped a bag on the floor and sat down on the stool next to him.

“Heading south, hunter?”

Hector looked up. There was a certain tone to the question, an almost teasing know-it-all note, that made him study the man for a moment. His clothes were ragged and had been patched up in several places, and his shoes were worn and dirty. Not bad. If anyone possessed more gossip and information than people of Sera’s profession or a barman, then it had to be a man of the road. They caught on to details that other travellers wouldn’t necessarily do because they were used to going from place to place, and because their lives may depend on those details.

“Should I be?” Hector asked. No reason to reveal whether it was his intention or not and whether he had any idea what the vagabond was hinting at.

The other man sized him up. “I would say so.”

“Then maybe I am.” Hector gestured at the barman. A beer for the ragamuffin. “Why don’t you tell me what you know?” Headquarters received reports from all over the district regularly, but they could not possibly know everything. It was ridiculous to expect that they did, but nevertheless people tended to. And did a hunter not know of a particular case, there was always a risk that they would lose credibility.

The vagabond thanked him for the beer and sucked the foam off the top. “Well, there’s that werewolf what was captured,” he said, purposefully casually, “in Niedermark. I haven’t seen it myself, but the rumours …”


The vagabond’s eyes met Hector’s. “They say it’s not your normal werewolf.”


Twitter: @mhowalt

Monday, February 9, 2015

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: David E. Shaolian, Author

David E. Shaolian, Author
David E. Shaolian brings HAPPY CAMPERS to us—a thriller inspired by his experience as a photographer at a summer camp and books such as William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Shaolian depicts his villains as “corrupted” and his protagonist as ‘a fish out of water.’ Although the story is a thriller with some “potent messages,” he adds humor to “lighten the mood.”

Originally from Ottawa, Shaolian currently lives in Toronto with his wife and two children. When he’s not writing, he serves as a high school English teacher, and enjoys spending time with his family and friends. He takes pleasure in pursuing photography, swimming, dining out, and traveling, and despite his book he still likes to go camping.

Q: What drove you to write HAPPY CAMPERS? How did you conceive of the story? Did you have an experience on which you based the novel?

David E. Shaolian: A number of summers ago, I was the camp photographer at a great camp, and some staff members were consuming alcohol and/or drugs, something that occurs, to some degree or other, at all overnight camps.  After all, everyone is there to have a great time, so it’s inevitable.  This issue, which is highly exaggerated in the novel for dramatic effect- and the safety concern it poses, inspired the novel.  However, I should mention that while the camp in this novel could be virtually any camp, in reality, it’s completely fictional, as are all characters and events.  

HAPPY CAMPERS was also inspired by some classic works of literature, especially William Golding’s Lord of the Flies; although the two novels are quite different, my novel deals with some of the same issues.  Once the story came to me, it got stuck in my head, and I kept getting flooded with more and more ideas, until I decided to begin writing the novel.  

Q: A reviewer applauded your ability to “hook” readers and describes HAPPY CAMPERS as a “thriller.” Would you characterize the book as a thriller? How do you “hook” readers?

David E. Shaolian: It is befitting in the sense that there are many surprises, things that you would never see coming in the story.  In fact, some of these events, which were never in the original draft, would have surprised even me.  There is one event in particular that’s really ‘out there’ later in the novel, and I had never considered including it originally.  It was included in the final draft since it is crucial to the protagonist’s character development and the story’s progression.

Q: How do you get readers to care about your protagonist? What makes us engage in his story?

David E. Shaolian: Simon Green, the protagonist, could easily be considered ‘a fish out of water.’  At camp, he’s considerably older that almost everyone, so he doesn’t relate well to many staff members, and his values differ greatly from theirs.  As a result, some of these relations are highly antagonistic. He spends a great deal of his time there alone. Even back in the city, he’s a bit of a loner, since all his friends are married and busy with their families, while he’s still single, so he rarely sees them. I think many people can relate to feeling out of place or lonely at times. 

Also, Simon experienced a break-up a few years before the novel opens, and has not recovered, so he is still discontented, and feels a great deal of regret as the novel opens. Most people have experienced this at least once, so this is another way readers will connect.      

Q:  You’ve written HAPPY CAMPERS in the first person. Why? Did you find it restrictive or helpful?

David E. Shaolian: I found it very helpful.  I wanted readers to understand what Simon Green is all about, what makes him tick. He’s basically a good person who tries to do the right thing, but he has some character flaws, which are an impediment.  No other perspective would allow readers to access the character, his thought process, actions, and the impact of his decisions like the first person point of view.

Q: Does the concept of heroes vs villains apply to HAPPY CAMPERS? If so, can you identify your villains? What makes an effective villain?

David E. Shaolian: Yes, this concept definitely applies to HAPPY CAMPERS. There are three main villains in the novel, namely Miranda Divine, Haze (Jake Hazelton), and Ted Savage.  Miranda is the camp director, who turns out to be extremely cruel and corrupted.  It is also largely due to her weak leadership that the situation is so chaotic at camp.  There are some fascinating revelations about her as the story unfolds.  Haze is the camp program director, who is often high on drugs, and unconcerned about his responsibilities, or anything else, except having a great time.  Ted Savage is a very violent counsellor, who is also often high, and blindly obeys his close friend, Haze.

A good villain is someone who is evil or corrupted, someone the reader dislikes more and more as additional information is revealed in the story.  The reader hopes that the villain gets what he or she deserves by the end of the novel, that there is a sense of justice.  In HAPPY CAMPERS, although Miranda Devine is quite loathsome,  she is briefly humanized too, through an account of her back story.

Q: Do you like to go camping? Just curious! Have you had any interesting experiences you’d like to relate?

David E. Shaolian: I do enjoy camping a great deal.  I had a wonderful time as the camp photographer, roaming around the campsite as I worked, meeting lots of great people, and enjoying the facilities, especially the lake.  I also enjoy pitching a tent at a campsite with friends or family.  I did that a few times many years ago, and it was lots of fun too.

Q:  I really appreciate your cover. The sign with its broken chain link tells me immediately that there is more to HAPPY CAMPERS than, well, “happy” campers. Did you intend to deliver a message when you wrote the story, or were you writing strictly to entertain?

David E. Shaolian: My publisher’s graphic artist did a great job with that cover; it’s really reflective of what’s inside.  Just like the sign is broken down, so is the situation at camp- broken down and corrupted.  The intention was to deliver some very strong messages, especially about the importance of responsible leadership, as well as the significance of conducting oneself altruistically, instead of placing personal concerns first.  The title is supposed to be highly sarcastic. Simon is anything but a happy camper, even before starting to work at camp; he's been devastated by a horrible break-up from a few years earlier, and still hasn't recovered from it. Although he enjoys his gig as photographer at camp, he is mistreated there, and is forced to face a major dilemma, and this only adds to his troubles.  Later in the novel, as a result of the corrupted situation and its inevitable consequence, nobody will leave camp a happy camper.  However, perhaps someone will, ultimately, emerge a happy camper, as a result of his/her camp experience.

Q: How helpful is humor to telling your story?

David E. Shaolian: Although HAPPY CAMPERS is a serious story with some potent messages, there is some mild humour throughout the novel.  It’s not all doom and gloom, but I included some humour to lighten the mood, especially before some very intense scenes.

Q: What’s next? Will you write more novels?

David E. Shaolian: Hopefully, I will write more novels.  I absolutely love writing, but I need the right idea to be inspired. 

Q: Tell us about David E. Shaolian. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

David E. Shaolian: When I’m not writing, I enjoy spending time with family and friends, photography, classic literature, swimming, dining out, and travelling.

About David E. Shaolian

David E. Shaolian, who is originally from Ottawa, Canada, is an experienced high school English teacher.  He is an alumnus of Tel Aviv University (Overseas Student Program), Carleton University, and the University of Windsor.  This book, his debut novel, was inspired by his experience as camp photographer at one camp, issues of alcohol and drug abuse at overnight camps generally, and classic works of literature.  He lives in Toronto with his wife and two children.

Simon Green, high school English teacher and photography enthusiast, is offered the camp photographer position for Camp Black Pines, an overnight camp attended by campers from mostly wealthy families in one of the most prestigious cottage areas in Canada. Following a thorny period in his life, Simon accepts the position, attempting to escape his woes by immersing himself in his passion for photography.  However, the natural beauty of this locale masks weighty issues: a prevalence of an 'anything goes' attitude concerning widespread drinking, illicit drug consumption, and promiscuous sexual activity among staff, eclipsing concern for the safety and well-being of the children attending the camp. It's a volatile recipe for disaster, where anything can happen at any moment.  How long will this situation persist before everything boils over and disaster strikes?  Will Simon, an innate procrastinator with a commitment phobia, act altruistically, or will his reluctant nature prove an impediment?  And how would such a situation impact on him and others?  

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Thursday, February 5, 2015

WHAT THE EXERTS SAY: Paul R. Hewlett “What Will Get Children to Read?”

Children’s author Paul R. Hewlett writes books to increase children's interest in reading "by combining entertainment and values." In the following article, previously published on this blog, he highlights how we can encourage our children to read across various age groups.

Hewlett, a US Air Force vet, lives with his wife in Illinois. When he’s not writing or reading, he loves White Sox baseball and Indiana Hoosiers basketball.

What Will Get Children to Read
Paul R. Hewlett

This is an age-old question.  As a children’s author I have asked myself this very question many times. 

There are several points to examine in order to answer this question. First, is reading age dependent, and if so, does one need to use different means for different age groups? The next question deals with how to get them to read. Is there a certain approach that should be used?  Finally, we must ask what kinds of characters and situations children want to read about. In taking a closer look at these points, we will find the answer to our question.

I don’t believe that reading is age dependent.  I believe exposure to reading should start at a very young age and continue throughout one’s life.  I do believe, however, that different means should be used for different age groups.  Exposure should start with reading aloud to children.  Reading to children creates an interaction between child and parent that is very strong.  They will remember this time spent with Mom and/or Dad and will look forward to this time and the story that is being read to them. 

Continue to build on that, adding to it piece by piece as they get older. I like to view this approach as layering. Layering is a fantastic approach to help children build a strong foundation in reading. As children get older, another layer should be added. Introduce them to libraries and book fairs. Make sure to sign them up for a library card. Most libraries issue library cards to children older than the age of five. This will make them feel invested in the experience.

Let them pick up books, handle them, examine them, and check them out using their very own library card. It doesn’t matter if they are reading advanced books or comic books, as long as they are reading. Libraries often have activities such as book clubs or readings. This is another great opportunity to further expose children to the wonderful world of reading. 

Add another layer to that, such as setting aside family reading time. Parents can read aloud to younger children, and then as children get older, set aside time for the family to read their own individual books together in the family room. Teenagers may want to read on their own, and in this case I would still encourage parents to ask questions and encourage discussion about the books they are reading. 

Do not be afraid to reward children for reading, even if the reward is simple praise. I believe parents are the biggest influence on getting children to read. By incorporating these different means for different age groups and layering these activities, I believe, the foundation will be built for a lifetime of reading pleasure and enjoyment.

The next point to be examined is what kind of characters do children want to read about? Do children want to read about certain types of characters? I’m not convinced that there is any one type of character that appeals to all children. Children have different tastes, just like adults do. With that being said, there are certainly specific types of characters that they seem to prefer to read about. 

A strong main character that they can relate to is important. A likable character that has flaws and a good heart is always well received, everyone has flaws after all. They can identify with them and they tend to pull for these kinds of characters. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself how many children are rooting for Harry Potter? Children, for the most part, want to read about strong, likeable characters with flaws that they can relate to.

That begs the question then of what kind of situations do children enjoy reading about these characters in? They enjoy all kinds of situations, quite honestly. They certainly enjoy ones that they can relate to. Many children imagine themselves as the main character and enjoy reading about them in situations that they have experienced and can relate to. They also enjoy fantasy; finding themselves in other worlds or using magic is very well received. 

These types of situations allow children to leave everyday life, go to new places and experience new things, things that are impossible to do in the real world. Whether it is a familiar situation or a fantasy, the only thing that really matters is that it reaches the child. That is why it is so important to take them to the library or book fairs, read to them, encourage them to read, discuss what they are reading, and let them pick up dozens of books and look through them. By doing this, they will learn what characters and situations appeal to them.

In closing, I believe getting children to read is extremely important. We have determined that reading is not age dependent and that different means should be used for different age groups. We have examined these means and in doing so, have identified the layering approach to help get them to read. Like building blocks, layer one experience onto the next as children get older to build a solid foundation.

We also looked at types of characters and situations that they like to read about. The comprehension skills, vocabulary, and imagination that they develop and use from reading are invaluable. Parents play a vital role in getting children to read and should take steps to encourage it. Ultimately, it is up to the child whether they will read or not, but by exposing them to the many layers of reading mentioned here, I have no doubt that read they will. Children are very smart and as a children’s author, I always write with Maxim Gorky’s words in mind:

          “You must write for children in the same way as you do for adults, only better.”

Let’s all put our best foot forward and get children to read.  They deserve it!

About Paul R. Hewlett

Paul R. Hewlett is the author of the Lionel's Grand Adventure series. Lionel’s Grand Adventure: Lionel and the Golden Rule was released in December of 2011. Lionel’s Christmas Adventure: Lionel Learns the True Meaning of Christmas is the second book in the series. These books are early chapter book for ages 7-10. Paul is a US Air Force vet who is married and lives with his wife in Illinois. He loves White Sox baseball, Indiana Hoosiers basketball, reading, writing, and spending time outdoors (when it’s warm enough). He is currently working on finishing his degree at Eastern Illinois University while writing and working full time. His aim is to increase and foster children's interest in reading by combining entertainment and values

Lionel is sick of his brother picking on him and of his mother yelling at him. One day, while cleaning the closet his mother has been after him about, he discovers not only boxes and old clothes, but a lucky charm with more magic than he bargained for. After an unusual encounter with his brother, Lionel knows things are about to change for the better.

Together, Lionel and his lucky charm are able to stand up to his big brother as well as make Carrie—the cutest girl in his class—notice him. While learning the quirks of his magical charm, Lionel ends up at a casino in Las Vegas, escapes an evil dog, becoming a hero to the other kids, and finds himself playing in the Great Series with his favorite professional baseball team. Will Lionel master the trickster, over-the-top magic, or will it mess things up beyond repair?

Lionel is sick of his brother picking on him and of his mother yelling at him. One day, while cleaning the closet his mother has been after him about, he discovers not only boxes and old clothes, but a lucky charm with more magic than he bargained for. After an unusual encounter with his brother, Lionel knows things are about to change for the better. Together, Lionel and his lucky charm are able to stand up to his big brother as well as make Carrie—the cutest girl in his class—notice him. While learning the quirks of his magical charm, Lionel ends up at a casino in Las Vegas, escapes an evil dog, becoming a hero to the other kids, and finds himself playing in the Great Series with his favorite professional baseball team. Will Lionel master the trickster, over-the-top magic, or will it mess things up beyond repair?

Have you ever wanted something you couldn't have? Meet Lionel, a loveable bully-magnet who desperately wants a new sled and will do anything to get it.This fun Christmas book follows Lionel from Larrystown to the North Pole. His magical Three-Toed-Potbellied Walbaun foot is back and is as unpredictable as ever. Whether Lionel's sledding, ice skating, or in a life-sized gingerbread village, it takes him on some grand adventures. Filled with great Christmas imagery, this book is perfect for young readers and family story time. This 2012 holiday, be careful what you wish for, you never know what might happen!

Coming soon!


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