6 Dates to Disaster

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6 Dates to Disaster by Cynthia T Toney is a thought-provoking book for high school students. Wendy is coasting through the last weeks of school eager for her family trip to Alaska to see Mrs. V and Sam. Unfortunately, financial struggles threaten that dream. Wendy is determined to figure out a way to get to Alaska. When a job opportunity from a classmate looks like the ideal way, Wendy is forced to consider whether or not it’s too good to be true. There’s also a fun mystery involving a jewelry box, and Wendy’s former best friend has a new boyfriend who is bad news.

Pros: See my comment below about one of the main plot points related to a scandal that arises as a result from Wendy’s tutoring job. The ensuing ethical dilemma was thought-provoking. Cynthia creates strong and fun characters. Her stories are humorous and realistic but are clean and morally uplifting. Wendy’s stepdad looses his job threatening her summer plans. Consequently Wendy pitches in to earn money for her Alaska trip to see Mrs. V. David and Wendy handle coupledom without being too physical or dramatic. Wendy is a big-hearted girl, especially when it comes to her stepsister Alice and her former best friend Jen.

Cons: Not too many. There are a few ethical things that come up. The aforementioned plot point of Wendy’s tutoring job. Also, Jen gets involved with an older boy who is a bad influence. There’s alcohol involved, which is handled very well. It’s clear that underage drinking shouldn’t be condoned and that drinking and driving is extremely dangerous. David and Wendy kiss and physical temptation (at a very PG level) comes up. The two “put on the brakes” fast so the story doesn’t go far with this.

Rating: 5 Stars. I bought a copy of this book and will buy other copies for teens. It’s definitely a book for high school kids, possibly seventh or eighth graders. There’s nothing really inappropriate in the subject matter. However, it’s is a bit too mature for kids any younger than this.

Personal Opinion: I’m a big fan of the Bird Face series and 6 Dates doesn’t disappoint. Wendy is as funny and plucky as ever. Alice is sweet. David, Gail, etc. round out a strong supporting cast. Without spoiling anything, we’re reunited with several characters from 8 Notes to a Nobody (Book 1).

Discussion points for parents & teachers:

  1. Job Loss
  2. Family
  3. Dating/Relationships
  4. Academic Dishonesty
  5. Underage Drinking/Drinking and Driving
  6. Integrity
  7. Priorities

Most of all, Wendy’s dilemma about her tutoring job challenged me. She is concerned that she’s doing too much for the students she’s tutoring.  As an adult, I didn’t see anything wrong with what Wendy did. However, I had to step back and put myself in the shoes of a high school student. While adult writers might hire an editor or someone in another profession might have a peer or senior colleague review their work and mark it up with corrections and suggestions, that isn’t really the role of a tutor. They’re just supposed to help a student understand concepts not heavily correct or even rewrite assignments.

Cynthia T. Toney

Blog:  http://birdfacewendy.wordpress.comFacebook Author Page:  https://www.facebook.com/birdfacewendy

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/CynthiaTToney

Twitter:  @CynthiaTToney

 Instagram:  @CynthiaTToney

Pinterest:  Cynthia T. Toney, YA Author

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7 Sites where authors can list books FREE

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So your book is published, but you’re in charge of marketing it. It’s listed on the retail sites you or your publisher chose and on the reader review site Goodreads. Where else can you list it for readers and reviewers to find without spending your advance (if you received one) or your royalties before any are earned?

Here are some sites that allow you to list free at least one book, and some allow as many as you have published! Do check out their particulars thoroughly on your own, including any book-deal email subscriptions as well as requirements and rates for advertising on those. For some of these sites, it’s been a while since I listed my first—or first two—books. Their criteria or features may have changed.

Readers Gazette is for Kindle authors only and requires you wait to be accepted after you apply. Books must be at least 20,000 words and 80 pages. Novels, children’s books, books of poetry, and cookbooks are acceptable. No erotica. The great thing about Readers Gazette is that they Tweet my books’ listings regularly each week. Then other authors RT those tweets, and I RT theirs.

Readers’ Favorite Book Reviews and Award Contest allowed me to list both my books, and the first book was reviewed at no cost. When I did not pay for a review of the second book, that listing was eventually removed. Although the site lists some celebrities as award contest winners, I’ve read mixed opinions about the contest’s overall validity. The 2016 contest claims 650+ winners and finalists in 120+ categories. The contest is not free but boasts cash prizes and “chances” at other recognition. I’m going to keep my eye on Readers’ Favorite until I’m more sure about it.

YA Books Central describes itself as “one of the largest professional book recommendation sites targeted towards tween and teen readers.” List your books free, and then hope that one of the many teen reviewers on the site will want to read and review your book. If you would like to review a book, you must join the YABC Community to do so. I plan to email YABC and pitch one of my books for a review. An author can also request an ad kit containing advertising information and rates.

Clean Indie Reads does not take non-fiction except narrative non-fiction that reads like a novel and only takes clean novels for middle grades and up.  Take a look at their listing for my Bird Face series to see what’s included in a listing. The site states, “As long as your FB identity shows something to do with being an author (and it’s “clean”), expect to be approved within about 24 hours.” Information about submissions is there and on their group Facebook page, which also has cross-promotions info. Clean Indie Reads has members who are active Tweeters and RT other members’ tweets.

You can also get free listings on BookGorilla, UndergroundBookReviews, and Ripley’s Booklist, which offer reasonable prices for spots on their email lists and other advertising, last I looked. Ripley’s Booklist is rather new and specializes in Young Adult and New Adult, which I appreciate.

This is certainly not a complete list of all the sites where I’ve listed my books free, but these are sites that I will likely continue to use and may even be willing to spend money with.

Note: If you happen to be a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), look into adding your books to their Fiction Finder. Criteria for indie authors and for authors whose publishers are not on the recognized publishers list have recently changed.

If you’re an author, which are you favorite sites for listing your books? If you’re a reader, where besides the retail sites do you go to search for books and read reviews?

The X Author Files

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Image courtesy Morguefile free photos

I want to talk about fear. The fear new authors have after publishing that first book or two, when they run out of steam for a while and wonder, “How many more books are in me, and can I get them published?”

I know an author who has gone back to a day job after publishing one book of her own and collaborating on another. Her name will be forever in the ex-author files if she doesn’t return with another book, even though once you’re an author I don’t suppose that label can be removed.

But the big question is, who will remember authors like this? Especially if their books go out-of-print. New authors come onto the scene every day.

With only two published novels in the Bird Face series, I don’t want that to happen to me. I’m under contract with the same publisher for a third book in the series, but it’s taken longer to complete than I’d hoped. To say I procrastinated may be a bit strong. There have been unforeseen personal delays such as a 500-mile move, sickness, adjusting to my husband’s retirement, a death in the family, … but that’s life.

However, I asked my publisher for an extension with a deadline of May. I need tight deadlines; it’s how I operate best. Must be a throwback to my newspaper days.

It’s easy to convince myself that, because I need to write a blog post or online article or anything else, I don’t have time to write fiction that day. So I plan to eliminate as many distractions as possible to get the job done and avoid the X author files.

I’ll see you back here on The Scriblerians in June!

profile_pic Cynthia

Seeking My Niche

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Image courtesy of Morguefile free photos

I have one of those in my house—a niche. It’s carved out of the wall at the end of a short hallway. Not much fits there, but I placed a tall pottery vase that is flattened from front to back so it nestles in the space just right.

And boy, is it showcased.

Isn’t that what we authors are supposed to do? Find a niche for our work? An audience where it’s showcased rather than one of many similar, cluttered objects where none stand out.

I suppose those are extreme examples, but books can’t yell for attention like humans can. How do I find the audience(s) where my novels might catch fire, so to speak?

I’m thinking out loud now. Thanks for sticking with me.

My YA novels in the Bird Face series use humor and hope to address serious issues facing teens today. Each novel addresses at least a few. It’s the way I like to write stories, with my protagonist facing multiple issues and crises that are intertwined.

So, how do I find a niche for those books?

Right now, I’m looking for teens with particular challenges or areas in teens’ lives where certain types of stories or characters are lacking. Stories featuring a teen that is hearing-impaired are hard to find, for example. So are those with Catholic teen characters.

I wrote my first book because I care about kids who are shy or bullied. It’s fiction that contains elements of Christian faith, and the half-Cajun Wendy naturally became Catholic because all the Cajuns I knew were Catholic.

I wrote my deaf teen character Sam in my second book because I care about hearing-impaired teens. A good friend in my twenties taught at a school for the deaf, and she shared her experiences.  I grew up not understanding much about the hearing-impaired children I met, but I later worked around hearing-impaired adults, who referred to themselves as deaf and who became my friends.

Like an ethnic group, both hearing-impaired and Catholic teens like to see characters similar to themselves occasionally depicted in the fiction they read.

I’ve decided to try target-marketing to both Catholic teens and hearing-impaired teens (as I continue to market to all teens, Christian and non-Christian). I know, I’ve selected two niches, but I’m still figuring this out.

Anyway, that’s my plan for today.

Are you an author struggling to find your niche? As a reader, are you attracted to specific religious aspects of story or social issues in story lines?

Cynthia Toney

Cynthia Toney

Does your novel need a Teacher’s Guide?

One of my few fond memories of the junior high years occurred in seventh grade English class. Together we read Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne.

Our teacher seemed to have a lot of knowledge of the story, and she made it come alive. But I never noticed her referring to notes. She reviewed new vocabulary words with us and asked an occasional question to spark discussion, but otherwise we simply read. It didn’t feel like school at all! It was reading, something I did for pleasure at home when I had the opportunity to get books from the library. (My parents didn’t have the budget for purchasing books at the time.)

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By eighth grade, my family moved. Organized reading at my new school consisted of the SRA Reading Laboratory.

Laboratory? That was enough to discourage me right there. It was a color-coded system of cards containing segments of stories, at least in its early stages when I encountered it.

And I hated it.

“Why can’t we read a real book?” I asked my teacher, and she ignored the question.

I’ll admit that the top reader in my class said she enjoyed using the system. (In case you’re unfamiliar with the SRA Reading Laboratory, it adjusts to students’ reading abilities by starting them at a color/level they’re capable of and allowing them to work through and upward into higher levels at their own speed.)

But back then I wondered if these dissected stories were real literature. At thirteen years old, I hadn’t been exposed to enough books, particularly the classics, to recognize them. And I wasn’t fond of having to stop reading after each segment/card to answer questions before I could continue. Talk about interrupting the flow of a story.

I’m sure the SRA Reading Lab has improved since my day, and if you or your child loves it, that’s great. If you’re a teacher, and it helps assess and place students at the appropriate reading level and encourages their reading, I think that’s wonderful.

But each time the teacher passed out her copies of Around the World in Eighty Days, I felt such a thrill. I couldn’t wait to get that book into my hands again, and I was sorry when we turned them in at the end of class. I would’ve been extra sorry if I’d known how rare an experience reading a good book together as a class would be. I never again experienced a group read in school.

Do entire classes ever read a book together nowadays? I hope so. (And I don’t mean each student reading the same book on a computer screen.)

To encourage teachers to bring more classic and new literature in paper form into their classrooms for a group reading project, more and more middle-grade and young-adult authors are creating teacher’s guides.

I’ve looked online and found a few I like for some of my favorite debut novels. One was on the author’s website, another on the publisher’s. Everyone seems to do something a little different, but these guides are not simply a list of several discussion questions, as for a book club. They include a variety of activities and questions covering a number of subjects, from the arts to the sciences.

My Teacher’s Guide for Bird Face is on my website, www.cynthiattoney.com, listed under My Work on the home page as well as on others. It’s a reproducible PDF, so anyone is welcome to download and copy it as needed for use. It’s currently eight pages long, but each time I review it, I think of something I want to add.

I just came across a 45-page guide for using a novel to teach reading and language arts specifically: How to Teach a Novel. I wish I’d found it much earlier because it’s loaded with ideas for teaching any novel.

This is probably the longest post I’ve written for The Scriblerians, and there’s more I’d like to say about developing teacher’s guides! But I hope those of you who are familiar with them or who’ve begun creating one yourself will share some of your knowledge in the comments.

Thanks, happy reading, and happy teaching!

cynthia-toney Cynthia

Bullied? You Are Not Alone

BIRD.FACE.FC.tinyVanessa writes: today I’m talking to author Cynthia T. Toney. Her new book, Bird Face, is an entertaining—yet enlightening—novel about a teen girl dealing with issues such as suicide, eating disorders, and bullying in the public school system.

 

As I read Cynthia’s book, it resonated with me because of my own experiences—which are still quite vivid despite the passing of years. In high school, two girls consistently harassed me in the halls, the cafeteria, the gym, wherever our paths crossed. They were tall and loud and insulting, abullying leaves scarsnd the constant stress ruined my high school years. At home, my father had a debilitating, chronic illness and my mother was his full-time caregiver, so I was reluctant to tell my parents I was in trouble. Like many victims, I felt isolated and just wanted to survive until it was over.

Fellow readers, if you or someone you know is being victimized by a bully, you’ll find immediate help and resources at the bottom of this blog post.

Cynthia, thanks for coming to the blog today and talking to us about Bird Face and the subject of bullying.

Vanessa: My first question is about your main character, Wendy, and how she faces difficult challenges and discovers something about herself along the way. Did you draw from personal experience?

Cynthia: I did. Not so much as a young person, but later. It takes some of us a long time to understand that we have within us the strength to do more than we initially think ourselves capable. I remember thinking as a teenager and a young adult, “If only I didn’t have this difficult situation to deal with” or “If only I could get over this hurdle” or “solve this problem” then I could do such-and-such. But often, forcing oneself to move forward and get involved somewhere else you’re needed, or to work at solving a different problem, helps resolve the previous one.

Vanessa: Were you bullied in school or did you know anyone who was, and how did you deal with it?

Cynthia: There was a girl in elementary school who bullied other kids into giving her candy. I had only one encounter with her but didn’t give in. Nothing further happened because of that. In upper elementary, I was called Bird Face a couple of times, and it hurt a little, but the bullying was short-lived and didn’t affect me the way it does Wendy. My daughter experienced instances of bullying when she was in school, but I experienced more verbal bullying as an adult from other adults.

Vanessa: Indeed, adult Iamavictimbullying is now getting attention, too. Scientific studies indicate that the resultant stress—regardless of age—causes depression, anxiety, PTSD, migraines, stomach trouble and a host of other physical ailments. In Bird Face, is the bully, John Monster based on anyone you knew in school?

Cynthia: The idea for John-Monster came to me because of the variety of bully types in the news. A bully doesn’t always fit the stereotype of years past — that of the hulking male who shoves his way through life. It can be anyone, including someone like John who is verbally bullied at home and turns the same toward his classmates. It can also be the pretty and perky girl next door who bullies someone over the Internet.

Vanessa: How did you develop the bullying plotline in such a believable way?

Writing in first person point of view creates challenges. I had to write the character John-Monster to show us why he verbally bullied Wendy the way he did. Neither she nor the reader could be allowed to get inside his head. I didn’t want her or the reader to understand the reasons for his bullying right away, so I wrote clues into the story as it went along. And I had to show he was still lovable, and loved by someone the reader knows.kid yelling other kid crying

Vanessa: Your research and insight are fantastic.   Most victims are bewildered at being the object of a bully’s vitriol. Bird Face delivers believable, multi-dimensioned characters instead of simple black and white, right and wrong. What advice would you give kids (or parents of kids) who are being bullied right now?

Cynthia: Parents and other adults responsible for children in their care should pay attention and listen to kids. To me, one instance of name-calling doesn’t necessarily equal bullying, and a talk with the parties involved may put a stop to it. Repeated offenses that distress the victim to the point that he or she withdraws socially or turns on others shouldn’t be ignored. It’s important to be aware of what’s happening at school and what your child is doing on the Internet.

Vanessa: Thanks for talking with us about Bird Face and this important social issue for teens. Fellow readers, I highly recommend Bird Face. I bought it for my fourteen-year-old daughter and she found it entertaining as well as informative. A rare combination in children’s literature.

Cynthia: My pleasure. Thanks for inviting me.

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Ms. Toney holds a BA in art education and began her first novel while working as an advertising designer and marketing copywriter for a number of publishers. She enjoys writing both contemporary and historical fiction for teens. Also once a decorator, her articles on interior decorating appear at homeguides.SFGate.com. She has a passion for rescuing dogs from animal shelters and studying the history of the South, where she resides with her husband and as many dogs as space will allow.

Connect with her:

Email: birdfacewendy@gmail.com

Personal Blog:  http://birdfacewendy.wordpress.com/

Member Blogger:  https://thescriblerians.wordpress.com

Facebook Author Page:  https://www.facebook.com/birdfacewendy?ref=hl

Twitter:  @CynthiaTToney

About Bird Face:

Anonymous sticky-notes, a scheming bully, and a ruined summer send almost-fourteen-year-old Wendy down a trail of secrets and self-discovery.

At the end of eighth grade, Wendy Robichaud doesn’t care one bit about being popular like her good-looking classmates Tookie and the Sticks—until Brainiac bully John-Monster schemes against her, and someone leaves anonymous sticky-note messages all over school. Even her best friend, Jennifer, is hiding something and pulling away. But the Spring Program, abandoned puppies, and high school track team tryouts don’t leave much time to play detective. When secrets and failed dreams kick off the summer, will Jennifer still be around to support her?

Using humor and offering hope, this story for ages 10 to 14 (grades 5-8) delicately addresses issues of bullying, eating disorders, imperfect families, and teen suicide

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 how to stop bullyingIf you or someone you know are being bullied, do not remain silent. Bullying is wrong, and you deserve to live in peace, without harassment. Get help and know your options.
  1. Resources for coping with bullies, approaching school authorities, and other strategies: http://www.stopbullying.gov/get-help-now/
  2. Crisis hotlines and informational websites: http://www.teenhealthandwellness.com/static/hotlines

Tell us about your own experience with bullying. We’d love to hear from you. Together we are strong!

 

 

 

 

The Wannabe

In the last several weeks, we’ve been posting items related to Bird Face , written by our own Cynthia Toney. We interviewed the author, shared tales from junior high school, and reflected on where we are today because of our experiences. Bullies and bullying have existed since Cain and Abel, yet we humans need to periodically discuss the issue and make sure we continue to battle our fallen human natures.

Anonymous sticky-notes, a scheming bully, and a ruined summer send almost-fourteen-year-old Wendy Robichaud down a trail of secrets and self-discovery.

Anonymous sticky-notes, a scheming bully, and a ruined summer send almost-fourteen-year-old Wendy Robichaud down a trail of secrets and self-discovery.

On one of those rare days when I could sit and read to my heart’s content, I picked up Bird Face  and never put it down until “The End.” Whether you’re a parent or a teen or a kid old enough to read a chapter book, you’ll be able to relate. While a few of the characters initially seem as stiff as one of those  cardboard cutouts of a celebrity advertising the latest soft drink in your local convenience store, that’s not the author’s fault. It’s Wendy’s. And who of us has never done that – made a judgment on a person we don’t know very well and relegated them to a flat rendition of their true selves?

Like some of the other Scriblerians, I can relate to more than one of the characters. I had Wendy’s total lack of self confidence, Alice’s reticence, and Tookie’s desire to be popular. The combination came off as arrogant snob, and I assume the In Group labeled me a Wannabe. Wannabes may or may not have excellent qualities, but they want, they covet, recognition.

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I hung around the fringes of the in-group, what Wendy calls the Sticks and the Suaves. I went to their parties, but was too self-conscious to enjoy myself. I made the cheerleading squad. Yay! Rah! And at a whopping 120 pounds, I provided a nice, solid base for our pyramids. Instead of being grateful for an excellent singing voice, I noticed who sang with more pizzazz, and I was green-eyed jealous.

Unlike Wendy, it took until my senior year of high school to get comfortable with myself. With no regrets, I walked away from the Sticks and the Suaves and discovered new and true friendships. I began to search for what I could learn from others instead of seek their admiration, but it wasn’t until I surrendered my life to Jesus, that I truly learned how to give of myself without the desire to get something back.

Does Wendy learn how to thrive by the end of eighth grade? Or does she keep messing up for more years than I did? I won’t tell you. Don’t want to be a spoiler. But if you choose to learn the answer, you’ll enjoy a great read.