“Indoorsman” expert meets quarantine with inspirational humor

Pastor, expert “indoorsman” and award-winning author John Driver provides some comic relief during this time of social distancing and staying indoors.

Co-author of the bestselling book Vertical Marriage, as well as the autobiography of the inspiring Purdue superfan Tyler Trent, Driver adds his uplifting voice to the conversation surrounding COVID-19 with his comedic and faith-based survival guide for the “indoorsman.”

The Ultimate Guide For The Avid Indoorsman: Life is Better in Here teaches readers how to fully embrace the indoor lifestyle. This hilarious handbook provides tips and tricks to help you thrive in your comfy, climate-controlled world. Learn the finer art of setting up a perfect home theater, cleaning with minimal effort, developing indoor hobbies, etc. – and take the complimentary online Indooreagram Quiz.

Driver is putting something into the hands of people trying to survive the extended indoor lifestyle that will brighten their mood amid all the chaos. He knows the power of a good book – and laugh – can soothe the soul and calm the spirit. At a time when fear surrounds us, Driver hopes to remind us all we have to be grateful for within four walls.

#BooksForwardHelpline: Helping you learn how to download ebooks and audiobooks, and connecting you to your next great read

With libraries and many bookstores closing physical locations for quarantine and Amazon suspending nonessential shipments, book lovers who prefer physical copies are faced with a dilemma: How will you get your hands on your next great read? We understand not everyone is familiar with how to access ebooks and audiobooks, and figuring this out can be daunting if you’re self-isolating due to COVID-19.

Books Forward has organized a free helpline to connect readers with the books they need. Call us at (615) 212-8549 between 9 a.m and 5 p.m. CT, or browse our resources below.

We can help you:

1. Learn how to download ebooks and audiobooks

Read our helpful guide, and call us if you have any questions. We can walk you step-by-step through the process of downloading digital and audiobooks so you can easily begin reading or listening to a new book at the touch of a button.

2. Troubleshoot downloads to your preferred e-reader, iPad, computer or phone

Providers offer online help desks to assist you through common issues you may run into:

And call us if you still need help figuring out the best way to download reading material, regardless of your reading device.

3. Offer reading recommendations to help you find a new book you’ll love

Need something new to read and not sure where to start? You can join our #BooksForward Reading Challenge, where we are reading, sharing and discussing one new book each week (a great way to feel more connected right now!). And check out our curated reading list, where we’ve compiled some of our favorite books that are particularly helpful and relevant for readers who are stuck at home during this time. Or call us! We have tons of great recommendations for you based on your reading preferences!

4. Discover how to support indie bookstores and libraries from home

You may be able to pick up a physical book curbside at your local bookstore or library. But you can still engage with and support your favorite independent bookstore and local library, even when their doors are closed. We’ll teach you how to order ebooks from bookstores and use your library’s app to download books.

Ready to get reading? Call our Books Forward helpline at (615) 212-8549 if you have any additional questions, and let us help you get connected to your next great book without leaving home!

Also check out these resources and articles from our family of authors and experts in response to coronavirus: 

May you have happy and healthy reading.

New to digital and audiobook downloads? Here’s what you need to know. 

You’re homebound due to COVID-19, your local library and bookstore are closed, and you’ve just finished the last book on your shelf. What’s a reader to do? With popular online retailers like Amazon suspending nonessential shipments such as physical book deliveries (although we would argue that good literature is essential in times of stress or crisis), the fact is that digital and audiobooks are now your best, most easily accessible reading option.  

But what if you’re new and unfamiliar to the world of literary downloads? Not to worry: purchasing digital and audiobooks is easier than ever, and we’re here to walk you through it. 

There are multiple sites and apps where you can easily purchase ebooks and audiobooks. The most popular are Kobo, Amazon Kindle, My Must Reads, Libro.FM, Scribd and Audible

We urge you to support your local bookstores even while their doors are closed for coronavirus, by purchasing digital ebooks from them directly using Kobo and My Must Reads, and you can purchase audiobooks from them via Libro.FM. A few clicks, and boom! You’ve got a new book downloaded immediately to your phone, tablet, computer or reading device, and you’re benefiting your local bookseller. Indiebound also offers helpful info on each service.

Kobo enables you to purchase ebooks directly through indie bookstores, and BookRiot has super helpful step-by-step instructions on how to create an account and start downloading books from your preferred store. (Note that Kobo is not compatible with Kindle readers, because they have partnered with indie bookstores to sell their own ereader.) 

My Must Reads has a list of indie bookstores right on its homepage, giving easy access to purchase ebooks directly from the store.  

Libro.FM is a monthly subscription service for audiobooks, and right now they’re offering all new members two audiobook downloads for the price of one ($14.99) with 100% of your payment going to a local bookstore of your choice. Helpful tip: You have to purchase books on Libro’s website and then it goes to your app.

While each site has a slightly different approach, the basic steps are: 

  1. Register for an account or subscription with your preferred site. 
  2. If you don’t have an ereader, download your preferred site’s app to your computer, tablet or phone. You can find their app in the App Store of your device.
  3. Once you’ve created an account and are perusing the site, select the books and audiobooks you would like to purchase and download. You should be able to download them, or add them to your cart, with a single click.
  4. Pay for your selected downloads (if you purchased a subscription, you may skip this step, as you will have access to multiple or even unlimited downloads). 
  5. Start reading and/or listening to your next great book! 

Be sure to also check out our Books Forward Helpline (booksforward.com/helpline) for reading recommendations and other helpful resources related to social distancing and reading from home.

Now let’s take a closer look at what you may see when using these apps to download books:

 

#BooksForward reading challenge celebrates how books provide connection, even with social distancing

Reading is one of the most powerful tools for connection and comfort. Let’s make meaningful virtual connections and share our love for literature during this isolating time.

Before settling in for another Netflix binge or anxiety-inducing scroll through your newsfeed, consider that self-quarantine can be an opportunity to catch up on the books you’ve missed. Good reads simultaneously relax and stimulate our brains, entertain us and connect us through shared recommendations, and take us to far away places. In our #BooksForward Reading Challenge , we invite you to read, discuss, and share new books with us and other readers. It’s the perfect way to connect, even when practicing social distancing. Choose books (any books!!) that pertain to the suggested themes, then join us on social media to share and discuss!

Each week, Books Forward will be giving away ebooks to our reader friends. Enter by using the #BooksForward hashtag on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with your reading choices and updates. One reader who completes the challenge will win a $100 gift card to your indie bookstore of choice.

If you’re new to ebooks and audiobooks, and need some help learning how to download reading material, visit booksforward.com/helpline for tips and more book recommendations. We’ll teach you how to use your library’s app and still order books in a way that supports independent bookstores, along with other ebook and audiobook app information.

Need some inspiration on what to read? Below are some potential themes We’ve got some recommendations for you from our incredible roster of Books Forward authors, and head over to our Books Forward Instagram (instagram.com/booksforwardpr) to discuss more!

A how-to book that teaches you something you’ve wanted to learn
Ever wanted to learn next-level origami, the secrets of time-management gurus or how to build that studio space you’ve been dreaming about? Now is your chance to learn something new!

  1. Get inspired and create your perfect work-from-home space with Donald M. Rattner’s My Creative Space: How to Design Your Home to Stimulate Ideas and Spark Innovation.
  2. Embrace the indoor lifestyle with this hilarious handbook full of tips and tricks to help you thrive at home in self-quarantine with John Driver’s The Ultimate Guide for the Avid Indoorsman: Life is Better in Here, and be sure to take the accompanying Indooreagram Quiz!
  3. Learn how to cook restaurant-worthy meals from your stockpiled staples using this tongue-in-cheek cookbook based on AMC’s hit TV series, The Walking Dead: The Official Cookbook and Survival Guide by Lauren Wilson.

A book set in a futuristic society
Literature can sometimes predict the future. To be well-read is to be prepared.

  1. Ponder author Pat Mckee’s question of if artificial intelligence can learn morality in his exciting new legal techno-thriller Ariel’s Island.
  2. Examine the dangers of data mining and the dark side of surveillance in Michael C. Bland’s thrilling sci-fi title The Price of Safety, an eerie depiction of the not-too-far future that reveals humanity’s dependence on both technology and family.
  3. Follow Lieutenant Sandy Attiyeh as she returns from being either a celebrated hero or war criminal, depending on who you ask in Sayde Scarlett’s near-future sci-fi read Clouds & Earth

A book from a genre you don’t typically read
Don’t remember the last time you’ve picked up a memoir, high fantasy or horror novel? Time to give a new or unfamiliar genre a test drive. 

  1. Meet the secret society of high-end escorts and the men who hire them in Jami Rodman’s delicious tell-all memoir, The Las Vegas Madam: The Escorts, the Clients, the Truth.
  2. Get swept away by a YA fantasy series about a teen girl who stumbles into a school for those who possess powerful magic — and who are threatened by a dark force — in D.E. Night’s The Crowns of Croswald.
  3. Get sucked into this vivid first-person narrative as Special Operations Joint Terminal Attack Controller Wes J. Bryant and his commanding general Dana J.H. Pittard give fascinating and detailed accounts of America’s fight against ISIS in Hunting the Caliphate.

A book about an interesting time in history
Whether it’s a romance novel set during France’s Reign of Terror, the biography that inspired the musical Hamilton or a nonfiction profile of America’s first serial killer during the Chicago World’s Fair, let’s get historical. 

  1. Get a shudder-inducing (and surprisingly relevant) look at how our ancestors bathed, how often they washed their clothes, what they understood cleanliness to be, and why our hygienic habits have changed so dramatically over time in professor Peter Ward’s  The Clean Body: A Modern History.
  2. Discover how the first African-American basketball player in the Southeastern Conference, Perry Wallace, transformed the game — as well as civil rights and race relations in America — in the New York Times bestselling nonfiction Strong Inside.
  3. Take a deep dive into WWII history with bestselling author Samuel Marquis’ gripping, accurate historical fiction books, including his newest release Soldiers of Freedom.

A book that’s fun for the whole family
Children’s and middle grade books can be especially poignant, hilarious and fun. Find a book you’d want to share with the fam!

  1. Inspire young minds to build their own castles and change the damsel in distress narrative to one of self-reliance (with the power of science behind it) in Rachel Kowert’s Pragmatic Princess.
  2. Unravel mysteries and crack secret codes with two tween girls who start their own sleuthing business in Kristen Kittscher’s delightfully clever and funny middle grade duo, The Wig in the Window and The Tiara on Terrace.
  3. Learn what school kids have to say about their experiences living in a big city in Katie Burke’s family-focused Urban Playground, which includes conversation-starting questions to ask your own kids like “If you could have one lucky weekend with a parent, what would you want to do together?” or “If you made your own salad, what would you put in it?”⁣⁣

A book that’s been recommended to you
Remember that book your best friend, co-worker or great aunt wouldn’t stop talking about? Time to see what the buzz is about! May we also suggest:

  1. Discover the shockingly true story of a young woman who must fight for her independence and her dreams after discovering her family secretly covered up her mother’s death in Barbara Donsky’s poignant memoir, Veronica’s Grave: A Daughter’s Memoir.
  2. Dive into Tori Eldridge’s The Ninja Daughter, a Kill Bill meets The Joy Luck Club action-packed thriller about a woman who must fight the Los Angeles Ukrainian mob, sex traffickers and her own family.
  3. Giggle your way through Suzanne Park’s The Perfect Escape, as a budding teen romance begins in a zombie-themed escape room. The delightful #ownvoices YA rom-com is also a thoughtful exploration of diversity and classism.

A book about self-improvement, health and/or wellness
Keeping ourselves and our communities healthy is at the top of everyone’s minds. Books can help us learn something new about ourselves, our mental health, our emotional well-being, our fitness and how to improve our health.

  1. Be kind to your neighbors and communities, especially in times such as these. Donna Cameron inspires and shows us the impact kindness can have in her award-winning A Year of Living Kindly.
  2. Take some spare time you have at home in the coming weeks to practice self-care and break unhealthy work addiction habits, with Bryan Robinson’s #CHILL.
  3. Prepare for extra “togetherness” with David and Julie Bulitt’s The Five Core Conversations for Couples. The married couple of 33 years (a divorce and family lawyer, and a family therapist), offer a unique expertise on how to keep family relationships healthy, especially through times of uncertainty.

A book that’s been adapted for film or TV
Check out a book that’s been made into a movie. Then grab some popcorn and watch how the big screen adaptation lives up to its literary roots! 

  1. Fragments features an all-star cast of celebs like Forest Whitaker and Dakota Fanning — but did you know it was adapted from Roy Freirich’s first novel, Winged Creatures? We wonder if his most recent psychological thriller that unravels a small town stricken by mass insomnia, Deprivation, might be seeing Hollywood stars as well?
  2. Mark Wahlberg is set to bring Eric Maikranz’s The Reincarnationist Papers to life in Paramount’s upcoming Infinite. You’ll get a glimpse of the Cognomina — a secret society of people who possess total recall of their past lives, leading to near immortality.
  3. While you’ll have to wait a bit to see the TV version, prepare for the Wreckage of two seemingly brave plane crash survivors who happen to be keeping the true story a secret, written by Wall Street Journal bestselling author Emily Bleeker.

And if you’re a fast and eager reader, may we offer these additional themes for inspiration:

  • A bestseller you’ve been meaning to read. What chart-topper has been sitting on your to-read list? Time to dive in!
  • A book you loved when you were younger. Dust off one of your favorite books from when you were a kid, teen or younger adult. How does it read now?
  • A book that is a guilty pleasure. We all have them: those books that you know won’t impress your “literary” friends, but that you can’t. Stop. READING. C’mon, let’s dish.
  • A book you started but never finished. Maybe you got busy. Maybe your reading list got too long. Maybe Netflix released the next season of Stranger Things. Whatever the reason, it’s time for a second crack at an unfinished read.

We can’t wait to hear what you pick to read!

Escape, learn and connect with this curated Books Forward reading list as you read from home

As we all adapt to social distancing and quarantine efforts from COVID-19, many of us are spending a lot of time at home. Soon, we’ll learn there’s only so much TV we can binge, card games we can play and anxious newsfeed scrolling we can take — so why not catch up on a good book?

Good reads simultaneously relax and stimulate our brains, entertain us, connect us through shared recommendations and take us to far away places. We’ve curated a list of some of our favorite reads below — whether you’re eager for wellness advice or wanting to take a break from coronavirus news, we’ve got something for everyone.  

Be sure to also check out our free Books Forward Helpline (booksforward.com/helpline) for tips on downloading great ebooks and audiobooks, and how to still support your local indie bookstore during this time.

Books about staying healthy physically, mentally and emotionally at home

The Ultimate Guide for the Avid Indoorsman: Life is Better in Here by John Driver

Embrace the indoor lifestyle with this hilarious handbook full of tips and tricks to help you thrive at home in self-quarantine. Establish an indoor routine, dress the park by thinking simple and sleek, explore the science of ergonomics behind setting up your indoor space, and be sure to take the accompanying Indooreagram Quiz!

The Clean Body: A Modern History by Peter Ward

How often did our ancestors bathe? How often did they wash their clothes and change them? Why have our hygienic habits changed so dramatically over time? The Clean Body explores one of the most fundamental and pervasive cultural changes in Western history since the 17th century: the personal hygiene revolution. Based on a wealth of sources in English, French, German, and Italian, The Clean Body surveys the great hygienic transformation that took place across Europe and North America over the course of four centuries.

My Creative Space: How to Design Your Home to Stimulate Ideas and Spark Innovation by Donald M. Rattner

According to science, creativity isn’t all in your head. Sometimes it’s in what’s around you — especially when you’re at home. For over 20 years, scientists have been discovering connections between our physical surroundings and the creative mind. Written by a noted architect, My Creative Space is the first book to turn this rich trove of psychological research into practical 48 techniques for shaping a home that will boost your creativity.

Stop Landscaping and Start Life-Scaping: A Guide to Ending the Rush-rush, Humdrum Approach to Landscape Development & Care by Monique Allen

Transform your outdoor space into a powerful place that boosts your imagination, recharges your batteries and uplifts your soul, with this garden expert’s holistic approach to landscaping. The author shows how your landscape is your connection to nature and ultimately the lifeline to inner peace and the well-being of our communities.

#CHILL: Turn Off Your Job and Turn On Your Life by Bryan Robinson

Stop stressing and learn to chill with this mindfulness and meditation guidebook that can help workaholics and others let go of anxiety and achieve and maintain the healthy work/life balance they need. Licensed psychotherapist and professor Bryan Robinson provides a month-by-month guide with meditations that help center and soothe us, allowing us to step back, close our eyes, take a long breath, and focus on the moment. Filled with wise advice, inspiring quotes, and gentle guidance, #Chill gives us the tools we need to quiet our anxiety, break our addiction to work, and bring compassion, calm, confidence, and creativity into our daily existence — and at last have the peaceful, balanced life we all deserve.

A Year of Living Kindly: Choices That Will Change Your Life and the World Around You by Donna Cameron

Being kind when we don’t feel like it, or when all of our buttons are being pushed, is hard. But that’s also when it’s most needed; that’s when it can defuse anger and even violence, when it can restore civility in our personal and virtual interactions. Kindness has the power to profoundly change our relationships with other people and with ourselves. In A Year of Living Kindly — using stories, observation, humor and summaries of expert research — Donna Cameron shares her experience committing to 365 days of practicing kindness. She presents compelling research into the myriad benefits of kindness, including health, wealth, longevity, improved relationships, and personal and business success.

Finding the Wild Inside: Exploring Our Inner Landscape Through the Arts, Dreams and Intuition by Marilyn Hagar

In Finding the Wild Inside, Marilyn Hagar encourages readers to discover that creative place inside us that knows there is more to life than we are currently living―the less rational part of ourselves that she calls our “wild inside,” a place most of us have not been taught to navigate. Hagar shows us how, through playing in the arts, contemplating our nightly dreams, fostering our intuition, and reconnecting to Mother Nature, we can discover our own authentic wild self. 

Ambition Addiction: How to Go Slow, Give Thanks, and Discover Joy Within by Benjamin Shalva

Self-described ambition addict Benjamin Shalva (Spiritual Cross-Training) has written an insightful and illuminating book for anyone who wants to control that destructive strain of ambition and live with integrity. He identifies the signs and symptoms of ambition addiction and profiles iconic achievers to help readers identify unhealthy motivations. Then he reveals the five steps to living a fulfilling life of healthy, productive ambition in which grand but elusive fantasies give way to the true happiness of the here and now.

The Gyroscope of Life: Understanding Balances (and Imbalances) in Nature by David Parrish

Many of us recall childhood science classes with little enthusiasm, having felt alienated by seemingly esoteric concepts. Appalachian naturalist David Parrish is here to change that. The 50-year practitioner brings biological studies to the curious nonscientist in an accessible and relevant way, inspiring readers to consider the world around us in a new light. Whether you’re curious about the sustainability of modern agriculture or the accuracy of “The Big Bang Theory” theme song, David Parrish will move you to think like a scientist in his insightful, unconventional — and often humorous — love song to biology.

Inspiring true stories of resilience in times of adversity

Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South by Andrew Maraniss

Based on more than 80 interviews, this fast-paced, richly detailed biography of Perry Wallace, the first African-American basketball player in the SEC, digs deep beneath the surface to reveal a complicated and profound story of sports pioneering. And bonus – there’s a Young Adult version to this New York Times bestseller, so you can read as a family!

The Impatient Dr. Lange: One Man’s Fight to End the Global HIV Epidemic by Dr. Seema Yasmin

Pulitzer-finalist Dr. Seema Yasmin reveals the poignant true story of her mentor, Dr. Joep Lange — a shrewd Dutch HIV doctor and scientist who was working on a cure for the HIV pandemic when he was a passenger on the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

What a Body Remembers: A Memoir of Sexual Assault and Its Aftermath by Karen Stefano

On a summer night in 1984, 19-year-old UC Berkeley sophomore Karen Thomas leaves her uniformed patrol job and walks home alone in darkness. At the threshold of her apartment a man assaults her at knife point. She manages to escape but is left traumatized. She goes on to become a criminal defense lawyer, defending those accused of crimes as heinous as the one committed against her.

Waking in Havana: A Memoir of AIDS and Healing in Cuba by Elena Schwolsky

Compelled by her anti-war work with returning Vietnam veterans and her passion for social justice, Elena Schwolsky travels to the then-forbidden island of Cuba in 1972 with a brigade of youthful volunteers to help build houses for workers and support the still young Cuban Revolution. It was a decision that would shape her life and ultimately lead her back to Cuba 20 years later.

Shedding Our Stars: The Story of Hans Calmeyer and How He Saved Thousands of Families Like Mine by Laureen Nussbaum 

During the German occupation of the Netherlands, 1940-45, German official Hans Calmeyer used his assignment to save at least 3,700 Jews from deportation and death, dwarfing the number saved by Schindler’s famous rescue operation. Laureen Nussbaum―née Hannelore Klein―owes her life to this brave German official, and now she reveals his story as well as her own in this a book about courage in the darkest of times, and the resilience of the human spirit.

When a Toy Dog Became a Wolf and the Moon Broke Curfew: A Memoir by Hendrika de Vries

After seeing her father deported from Nazi-occupied Amsterdam to a POW camp in Germany, and her mother join the Resistance, Hendrika watches as freedoms formerly taken for granted are eroded with escalating brutality by men with swastika armbands who aim to exterminate those they deem “inferior” and those who do not obey. This is a story about the fight for survival―and through these harrowing experiences, Hendrika discovers the woman she wants to become.

Hunting the Caliphate: America’s War on ISIS and the Dawn of the Strike Cell by Dana J. H. Pittard and Wes J. Bryant

In this vivid first-person narrative, a Special Operations joint terminal attack controller and his commanding general give fascinating and detailed accounts of America’s fight against one of the most barbaric insurgencies the world has ever seen.

Escapist books to take your mind off coronavirus

FICTION

What it Seems by Emily Bleeker

A page-turning novel of suspense about the perfect family, and the perfect lies, by the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of When I’m Gone, Wreckage and The Waiting Room. Adopted by her controlling foster mother, Tara has seen little of the outside world. Her only distraction comes from watching the Feely family’s online videos, and the opportunity arises for her to intern with them. Daring to run away, and defying Mother’s rules, Tara is welcomed into the loving fold, but soon realizes that not everything is as it seems.

The Lucky One by Lori Rader-Day

Twisting and compulsively readable, The Lucky One explores the lies we tell ourselves to feel safe. As a child, Alice was stolen from her yard but against odds her father tracked her down and rescued her. Later in life, she volunteers for a true-crime website, searching for clues to help reunite families with their missing loved ones. When a face appears on Alice’s screen that she recognizes, she’s stunned to realize it’s the same man who kidnapped her decades ago. And the post is deleted as quickly as it appeared, leaving Alice with more questions than answers.

The Perfect Escape by Suzanne Park

Giggle your way through this delightful #ownvoices YA rom-com, as a budding teen romance begins in a zombie-themed escape room. Also thoughtfully exploring diversity and classism in her writing, Suzanne Park’s readers can look forward to a second book release in August – Loathe at First Sight featuring a Korean-American producer tasked with launching a feminist video game while being antagonized by the company’s new MBA intern.

Four Feasts til Darkness series by Christian A. Brown

Strap in for a rich, long fantasy epic ala Game of Thrones in Christian A. Brown’s new series including Feast of Fates, Feast of Dreams, and Feast of Chaos. Morigan lives a quiet life as the handmaiden to a fatherly old sorcerer named Thackery. But when she crosses paths with Caenith, a not wholly mortal man, their meeting sparks long buried magical powers deep within Morigan. Unbidden visions begin to plague her—visions that show a devastating madness descending on one of the Immortal Kings who rules the land.

A Matter of Chance by Julie Maloney

When 8-year-old Vinni Stewart disappears from a Jersey shore town, Maddy, her distraught single mother, begins a desperate search. Maddy’s five-year journey leads her to a bakery in Brooklyn, where she stumbles upon something terrifying. Ultimately, her artist neighbor reconnects Maddy to her passion for painting and guides her to a life transformed through art. A detective sees more than a kidnapping in the plot-thickening twists of chance surrounding Vinni’s disappearance, but his warnings to stay away from the investigation do not deter Maddy.

Scenes from the Heartland: Stories Based on Lithographs by Thomas Hart Benton by Donna Baier Stein

A contemporary writer turns her imagination loose inside the images of an iconic artist of the past. Here are nine tales that bring to vivid life the early decades of the 20th century as witnessed by one of America’s most well-known painters, Thomas Hart Benton. Though his lithographs depict the past, the real-life people he portrayed face issues that are front and center today: corruption, women’s rights, racial inequality and more.

Blackbeard: The Birth of America by Samuel Marquis 

Here is the true story of Edward Thache — former British Navy seaman and notorious privateer-turned- pirate, who lorded over the Atlantic seaboard and Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy. Based on reliable historical records and the latest research, this adventure tale illuminates the true man behind the myth and his doggedly determined pursuer, revealing a cat-and-mouse game and important historical figure lost to us in a “fog of legend, myth and propaganda” for 300 years.

As Night Falls by Jenny Milchman

From the acclaimed author of Ruin Falls and Cover of Snow comes a breathless new novel of psychological suspense about a dark, twisted turn of events that could shatter a family — a read perfect for fans of Gillian Flynn, Chris Bohjalian and Nancy Pickard.

NONFICTION

The World is Just a Book Away by James J. Owens (Editor)

At first glance, the 60 people in this anthology may not seem to have much in common — but they all share their personal love of books. James Owens provides readers with unique insight into the personal stories of five Nobel Peace Prize laureates, actors, royalty, world leaders, scientists, humanitarians, and other prominent people, including: His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Liam Neeson, Natasha Richardson, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Yo-Yo Ma, Jude Law, Miep Gies, Jane Goodall, Martin Scorsese, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Buzz Aldrin, and many more.

The Las Vegas Madam: The Escorts, the Clients, the Truth by Jami Rodman

When a scandalous news story splashed across mainstream media about an elite escort agency in Las Vegas, people were shocked to learn there was a tiny mastermind behind the company: a small town girl from Oregon named Jami Rodman who went by the pseudonym Haley Heston. Meet the secret society of high-end escorts and the men who hire them in Rodman’s delicious, shocking tell-all memoir about her career as a Las Vegas madam.

Veronica’s Grave:  A Daughter’s Memoir by Barbara Donsky

Discover the true story of a young woman who must fight for her independence and her dreams after discovering her family’s shocking secret: They covered up her mother’s death. 

She Rode a Harley: A Memoir of Love and Motorcycles by Mary Jane Black

A schoolteacher escapes an abusive marriage and finds love on a blind date. Mary Jane’s new man, sure that riding a Harley will restore her confidence, ends up following the white lines with her through 15 years of marriage, an uncertain diagnosis and a poignant, unforgettable story of personal transformation. 

Threads Around the World: From Arabian Weaving to Batik in Zimbabwe by Deb Brandon 

Take a voyage through these pages and see how today’s artisans continue to create traditional fiber arts with age-old methods. Blending well-researched information, engaging style and inspiration, the pages explore espadrilles, flatwoven rugs, mittens, voudou flags, mirror embroidery and the histories they all hold. This open-eyed approach will appeal to textile devotees, from the casually curious to professional artists, and to people who are interested in heritage crafts and diverse cultures. 

Socially-relevant books to help you stay engaged and learning

FICTION

The Plot to Cool the Planet by Sam Bleicher

An outspoken climate scientist is murdered as the world’s weather patterns descend into chaos. Frustrated by the global paralysis, three small-island diplomats secretly launch a rogue venture to cool the planet — and their project uncovers surreptitious interventions and perilous political, diplomatic and military confrontations.

The Reincarnationist Papers by D. Eric Maikranz

Soon to be a major motion picture starring Mark Wahlberg, the book offers a tantalizing glimpse into a secret society of people who possess total recall of their past lives. Evan Michaels struggles with being different, with having the complete memories of two other people who lived sequentially before him – until he meets Poppy, a member of the secretive Cognomina.

Dark Matters by Michael Dow

Dark Matters is set in a not-too-distant future of extreme income inequality, where a select few of the über-elite have the resources and cutting-edge technologies to choose what’s best for the rest of humanity. Are they committed to saving a world gone wrong? Or simply bent on perpetuating their new status quo?

Clouds and Earth by Sayde Scarlett

The Long War changed everything. For Lt. First Class Sandy Attiyeh, the peace she helped create seems to be working for everyone but her. She is willing prey for Lyndon Hamilton, CEO of Hamilton InfoSec, who needs someone to engage in a little corporate espionage. But when Sandy’s face starts to show up on activists’ pamphlets, and rumors begin to circulate regarding her alleged war crimes, any hopes she had of a future in the civilian world begin to unravel. Unable to escape Hamilton’s twisted ambitions, Sandy, caught between her old comrades and her new employer, must find a way to save the peace she sacrificed everything for. 

NONFICTION

Cultivating a Creative Culture by Justin Dauer

We create human-centered interactions and experiences in our field. Empathetic purpose drives our every decision. Mobile First? In reality, it’s humans first. This same mentality, turned inward, forms the cornerstone of something amazing: a creative culture. The principles discussed in this book derive from the perspectives and skillsets we already use daily: empathy, objectivity and, yes, ample creativity.

The DNA of Democracy by Richard C. Lyons

An American poet writes a compilation of historical vignettes, discerning the future of our democracy by rediscovering the combative, instructive, fascinating past of tyranny and democracy. Just as DNA is interwoven in every aspect of the human body, tyranny and democracy have their historically distinctive DNA that have shaped our democracy today. Lyons traces democracy from its historical roots to the modern day, constructing a blueprint of what defines tyranny or democratic government.

Broken Bargain: Bankers, Bailouts, and the Struggle to Tame Wall Street by Kathleen Day 

This engaging history documents the country’s financial crises, focusing on those of the 1920s, the 1980s, and the 2000s, and reveals how the two more recent crises arose from the neglect of this fundamental bargain — and how taxpayers have been left with the bill.

A Manager’s Guide to Unleashing the Intrapreneur by Debbie Wooldridge

Millennials will dedicate futures to companies that stake their confidence in and allocate resources to them. This book helps managers establish and promote intrapreneurship in their organization to help them generate new business growth, support and sustain innovation, as well as accelerate and manage change as the workplace transforms to adapt to address the needs and desires of millennial employees. 

Wounds of War: How the VA Delivers Health, Healing, and Hope to the Nation’s Veterans (The Culture and Politics of Health Care Work) by Suzanne Gordon

U.S. military conflicts abroad have left nine million Americans dependent on the Veterans Health Administration for medical care — but the VHA has come under fire from critics in the White House, on Capitol Hill and in the nation’s media. In Wounds of War, Suzanne Gordon draws on five years of observational research to describe how the VHA does a better job than private sector institutions offering primary and geriatric care, mental health and home care services, and support for patients nearing the end of life. 

Global Sustainability: 21 Leading Ceos Show How to Do Well by Doing Good by Mark Lefko

Smart business leaders care about sustainability. It’s not just good PR — it’s good business. And a growing number of leading CEOs are embracing it. Mark Lefko shares profound insights gleaned from his one-on-one interviews with business leaders of all stripes, from the CEOs of Global Multinationals to Fortune 50 giants to visionaries leading plucky start-ups.  

America Deconstructed by Chaithanya Sohan

“There are some people who are coming to take me away.” Naseer was 9 years old when he escaped  the Taliban and fled Afghanistan with his mom and siblings. His story chronicles the resilience of a young boy as he traveled from Afghanistan to America in his quest for the American dream.

Books to keep the kids entertained and that are fun for the whole family

Pragmatic Princess by Rachel Kowert

Inspire young minds to build their own castles and change the damsel in distress narrative to one of self-reliance (with the power of science behind it). The book offers a diverse compilation of short stories for children age 3-8+, by a research psychologist who creates fun and entertaining stories that also maximize learning opportunities.

The Field and Catalyst by Tracy Richardson

There is more to this world than meets the eye in this environmentally-themed sci-fi YA series, with The Field introducing readers to the possibility of access to an endless supply of energy, and Catalyst’s focus on Marcie, who has an intuition that extends beyond normalcy. 

Urban Playground: What Kids Say About Living in San Francisco by Katie Burke

In Urban Playground, Katie Burke interviews 50 children, ages 5 to 9, who live in San Francisco. In each conversation, she explores one of 10 different themes — family, school, pets, vacation, work, heroes, holidays, favorite foods, talents, and sports — followed by insights on the topic. She rounds out each segment with five questions for adults and kids to discuss after they’ve read it together, encouraging open, honest dialogue about young readers’ thoughts on the subject matter at hand. 

Games of Deception: The True Story of the First U.S. Olympic Basketball Team at the 1936 Olympics in Hitler’s Germany by Andrew Maraniss

From the New York Times bestselling author of Strong Inside comes the remarkable true story of the birth of Olympic basketball at the 1936 Summer Games in Hitler’s Germany — perfect for fans of The Boys in the Boat and Unbroken.

The LEGO Animation Book: Make Your Own LEGO Movies! by David Pagano and David Pickett

The LEGO Animation Book will show you how to bring your models to life with stop-motion animation — no experience required! Follow step-by-step instructions to make your first animation, and then explore the entire filmmaking process, from storyboards to post-production.

Dr. Brainchild & Radar: A Popcorn Discovery by Cole Williams 

Join the fun as Dr. Brainchild and Radar discover how a little bit of creativity, some wacky inventions, and a whole lotta science can transform the ordinary into something EXTRA tasty! Science is for everyone, so come along and enjoy the ride!

An Ordinary Day: Kids with Rare Genetic Conditions by Karen Haberberg

An Ordinary Day is a documentation of the personal lives of courageous kids who have rare genetic conditions and their families who love and support them at all costs. Displaying unforgettable photographs set against intimate conversations, the book documents the lives of 27 children living with rare genetic conditions.

Working from home new to you? 7 career writers show how to do it best.

Professional writers and published authors are experts at the work-from-home game; they have spent weeks, months and even years at their home computers in pursuit of their chosen profession. Their dedication results in finished manuscripts and published books, so they’re a great resource for those new to working remotely.

Maybe your boss has closed the office doors for COVID-19, and now you’re home in front of your laptop, still in your PJ’s, ready (or not) to embrace work-from-home life. Your morning commute now consists of the walk from your bed to your computer, and there’s no need for office attire (out of the video conference’s camera view, anyway). That part sounds pretty nice—right?

The truth is that working from home is like being an author: it sounds almost universally appealing in theory, but in practice it’s a lot more challenging than most people realize. Now unsupervised, those little social media breaks, furtive Netflix episodes and other distractions can really pile up. Keeping a consistent schedule may seem easy at first, but over time your discipline starts to slide and you become less organized. Perhaps most surprisingly, it can be lonely. You may not miss your coworkers, but as the days go on, that absent human interaction might make you go a little stir crazy. 

And if your kids are home as well due to school closures, well: that’s a whole different ball game. 

Here are some helpful tips from career writers on successfully working from home: 

  1. Determine your strengths and weaknesses. 

“I would suggest that people new to working from home figure out their strengths and weaknesses—strengths so that you can lean into them, and weaknesses so you can try to rein yourself in. I have to be on social media for #authorlife, but it’s hard to know when to stop. So I use an app to keep myself off social media when I need to be focused. I also use noise-cancelling headphones and a soundtrack that I put together for each book. My strength is that I can get a lot done when I’m focused, but I do have to make sure I am scheduled for it, or the day quickly falls away. Oh, and I try to block off days from meetings and calls so that I have some days dedicated to whatever nearest deadline I have.” Lori Rader Day, Edgar Award-nominated and Anthony and Mary Higgins Clark award-winning author of multiple thrillers, including most recently The Lucky One

  1. Schedule out your breaks. 

“The biggest advantage for me when I work from home is the ability to get started earlier in the day. I find that I’m most creative in the morning, but typically mornings are spent getting myself ready for work and the kids ready for school, then sitting in traffic for 45 minutes. So, when I have the opportunity to work from home I love waking up early and sitting down to write. Everything I accomplish before 10 a.m. seems like gravy. Given all the distractions at home, I try to just acknowledge them rather than fight them. I’ll schedule time to look at my phone, do the laundry, clean my closet, go for a walk, or just take a snack break. Having that time set aside helps keep me from taking a million mini-breaks.” Andrew Maraniss, New York Times bestselling author of Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South

  1. Create an inspiring designated workspace, and find a comfortable position.

“A great technique for enhancing creativity at home is to bring elements of Nature into your workspace, whether by means of outdoor views, desk plants, scents, abundant daylight, colors, decorative motifs, or artwork. Best of all, these same environmental cues also reduce stress—a welcome salve for these trying times. Try writing while reclining rather than sitting. Research shows that the part of our brain responsible for raising alertness deactivates when we assume this posture, which in turn makes us more relaxed and open to taking creative risks. It certainly seems to have worked for people like Michael Chabon, Truman Capote, and Virginia Woolf! If you’re feeling a bit cooped up, try looking at pictures and objects from the past, like personal memorabilia and souvenirs from trips taken. Besides mentally releasing you from your physical confines, psychologists say it can also boost idea output by putting you in a more abstract, big-picture state of mind.” Donald M. Rattner, My Creative Space: How to Design Your Home to Stimulate Ideas and Spark Innovation 

  1. Stay in contact with others—but also set some boundaries. 

“Working from home can be isolating, so it’s important to reach out to others as part of your work day (or after your work day for fun!). As humans we need connection with other people. You can connect with others even while at home through phone, email, video chat, private messaging, texting…there are so many options. I’ve found that when I’m working long, hard hours alone that video chat, even just a five minute call, feels the most connected to me because I see the other person’s face as well as hear their voice. Skype, WhatsApp, and even Facebook Messenger are great, easy-to-use video chat options…I’ve also found that in working from home it’s important to have boundaries. Boundaries for other people, to let them know when you are working and don’t want to be disturbed. And boundaries for yourself, to make sure that you don’t work yourself too hard (I’ve been known to still be editing or writing at 10pm), or too little (social media is a huge distraction, especially when we need to be on it as authors). I think it’s also important to build in little pockets of relaxation, play, and reward.” Cheryl Rainfield, author of Scars, the No. 1 American Library Association’s “Top 10 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers”

  1. Use the tools available to you to increase your productivity and focus.

“Whether you are quarantined because you have come in contact with someone who was exposed to the coronavirus, or you are limiting social contact voluntarily, turn the reduced level of activity into a positive for your work-in-progress. Set clear identifiable goals such as writing to plot point X or finishing chapter Y or set specific word count goals, and resist the temptation to look at the news until you have finished. Use an app such as Freedom or even write longhand to stay off the internet and keep yourself from constantly checking updates. Rely on social media to stay connected with other writers, or start a private email chain between writers you know. Share daily progress, talk over the scary current reality, and cheer each other on. Despite the scary time we are living in, you may find this an especially productive time.” Jenny Milchman, USA Today bestselling author of Cover of Snow and forthcoming The Second Mother

  1. Put together a playlist that helps you focus, and only listen when you work. 

When I write from home, I curl up in an overstuffed reading chair with my laptop. Though those writing sessions are not easy for me, I get through them by playing classical music, which I don’t listen to at any other time, but which works well for my writing because it seems to focus my brain on the writing task.” Katie Burke, author of the family-focused conversation starter Urban Playground

  1. Remember to enjoy your life regardless of circumstances.

Take advantage of this restrictive time to clear clutter out of your basement, pull weeds in the garden, or get caught up on projects you’ve neglected for a while. It helps to have water-tight boundaries so you can focus on your job. Treat your work space as if it’s miles away. If possible, only go there to work. Keep it at arm’s-length after hours. Don’t allow intrusions to cause you to lose your focus or procrastinate: doing laundry, vacuuming, or organizing your spice rack. When not working enjoy other areas of your home: gardening, watching a good movie, reading a book, or cooking a fun meal. And lead as much of a full social life as possible such as having non-symptomatic friends over for dinner. Be creative and don’t let your circumstances dwarf your tranquility, happiness, or productivity. Your greatest power is your perspective. It can victimize you or empower you when you look for the upside in a downside situation and figure out what you can control and what you can’t and accept the things you can’t. That’s survival of the fittest.” Bryan Robinson, author of #CHILL and more than 40 other nonfiction books and novels

 

The library is your friend, even if you can’t get to it

So you’re stuck at home, either because you aren’t feeling well or because you’re doing social distancing until the coronavirus hopefully goes away for good. For me, the library is my safe space – I go there when I’m stressed out or just need to escape. And it can still be that for you, even while you’re homebound!

Take advantage of all the other amazing opportunities the library offers online! Most libraries have either the Libby by OverDrive or the original OverDrive app, and others use Hoopla, cloudLibrary or RBDigital – all of them make it easy to download ebooks and audiobooks to your heart’s content.  For FREE! 

Here’s a step by step guide for those readers new to the online resources libraries offer:

  • First things first, if you don’t already have a library card, standard practice is to go into the library with a piece of mail that has your name and current address on it. But give your local library a call to see if they’re letting people sign up online during this unique time.
  • Download your preferred app from your phone’s app store – Libby by OverDrive is the most common option, but Hoopla and RBDigital are similar.
  • To find sign in information, go to your library’s website, and see if you have a personal account. You’ll have to use your library card number (found on your card itself) to sign in, and most libraries assign a password to you – there should be a section that walks you through the steps. But if you have trouble, just call and they can help!
  • We’re almost to the really fun part! When you have your library card number and password, open the Libby or Overdrive app on your phone, and enter your library card number and password.
  • Behold all the options open to you! You’ll see the library’s suggestions, but there’s also a search bar at the top where you can check and see if a book you want is available.
  • Audiobooks have a small headphone icon below the cover graphic to designate them from ebooks.
  • If a book is not currently available, instead of “borrow,” it will say “place hold.” Once you place your hold, you’ll get an estimate of how soon the book will be checked out to you – it’s usually pretty accurate! 
  • When you check out a book, it will go to your “shelf,” which can be found at the bottom right of your home screen. This will show you the loans you currently have, and all the books you put on hold.
  • Audiobooks open within the app, and most ebooks can be read within the app or on your preferred e-reader.
  • And you can check out multiple books and audiobooks at a time, because who doesn’t love options?
  • If you like to listen at a faster speed than the narrator speaks, there is an option at the top of your audiobook to speed things up. Just tap until you find the speed you prefer.
  • You can also increase the size on an ebook’s font with reading settings, and change the page color to best suit your preference!
  • Most libraries also make it easy to put books on hold through their website, and then you’ll get an email when it’s available for pick up. Some even offer drive-thru windows – all of these steps will help limit physical contact if you prefer a physical book!

Let’s take a closer look at how to use Libby!

 

Need some suggestions or have more questions on how all of this works? Visit the Books Forward Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/booksforwardpr/) for video explanations on our stories, and check in with us – we’re more than happy to help! And if YOU have more tips to share, please comment here or on our Instagram post. Book friends gotta stick together!

Our Books Forward team cannot stress enough how crucial libraries are to our society. On top of providing communities with books and other media we love to consume, they offer many other trustworthy, reliable and informative resources, including on the coronavirus. Check out this handy guide put together by the Eastern Virginia Medical School Library to help us all understand the outbreak.

JKS Communications celebrates 20 years with launch of Books Forward publicity and Books Fluent publishing

Veteran book publicity firm JKS Communications has been moving books forward for 20 years, and the company is proud to celebrate this anniversary with the launch of two new companies under its brand. Books Forward will continue the signature creative, customized book marketing and author publicity campaigns, and a new indie publishing division, Books Fluent, will provide professional editorial, design and publishing services. 

BOOKS FORWARD

JKS has promoted more than 700 authors, small presses, literary award programs and publishing houses since 2000. The Books Forward team will continue to represent both traditionally published authors and independently published books that meet high industry standards. Services include traditional publicity through mainstream and book-centric media, book tour development, author branding and digital marketing.

Books Forward has a particular passion for books that empower, inspire and move the world forward. Clients include New York Times bestselling author Andrew Maraniss, whose award-winning historical nonfiction examines race and social justice through sports; USA Today bestselling author Jenny Milchman, famous for the “world’s longest book tour”; YA author J. Elle, set to release her #ownvoices debut after garnering attention through a social media campaign; Mary Higgins Clark award winner and national president of Sisters in Crime Lori Rader-Day; indie published success story S.B. Alexander, who later helped Books Forward build its digital marketing division; “The World is Just a Book Away” anthology of stories from Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Academy Award and Golden Globe winning actresses and other world leaders; Chaithanya Sohan, who explores themes of home and belonging in the U.S. through immigrant stories; Holocaust survivor and scholar Laureen Nussbaum, who shines light on unsung heros; and #1 YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick author Cheryl Rainfield, an international child abuse and feminist advocate.

“Our foundation is built on veteran journalists, giving our team a unique strength. Through national media outlets, we share books to make the world a better and brighter place,” the company’s President Marissa DeCuir said. “And it’s that love of meaningful stories that powers our team to share authors’ important messages, and inspire readers with engaging fiction and nonfiction. The world needs some positivity, and readers crave books that matter — to them and to our world.”

BOOKS FLUENT

JKS’ new indie publishing company, Books Fluent, transforms manuscripts into high-quality commercial books that equal or exceed industry standards. 

Having guided authors through the self-publishing process for years, Books Fluent’s team of industry experts expands upon these services. The company offers professional book editing, on-trend cover design and interior layout, savvy distribution plans, and management of ISBNs, copyrights, and other nitty gritty tasks.

Books Fluent’s expertise empowers authors to learn the unique language of this industry and become successful publishers, rising above the competition of more than 3 million books released every year.

CELEBRATING 20 YEARS

Books Forward and Books Fluent will celebrate their launches throughout 2020 with prizes, special announcements and exclusive opportunities for authors and readers alike — including one grand prize of a free book publicity campaign for an author working to help move the world forward. To enter, submit an application here

As part of the company’s continued mission to elevate voices, Books Forward is also launching the #booksforward campaign to celebrate all the incredible ways stories have made the world a better place. Book lovers are encouraged to join the conversation by using the hashtag and sharing about literature that has impacted their lives.

Social media:
Twitter: twitter.com/booksforwardpr
Instagram: instagram.com/booksforwardpr
Facebook: facebook.com/BooksForward

Why Even Internet Addicts Need a Publicist

I confess– I spend more hours than I want to admit online.  Yet as a debut novelist, I needed a more extensive network of media contacts I could call upon when I released Things Unsaid a year ago.

Yes, all authors have to be willing to learn how to market their books. You will be a writer without a readership without good marketing and publicity. Reaching readers to make them aware of your book requires a team effort, and the publicist is part of the author’s team. You have to be realistic about what you can do on your own, and what requires a helping hand.  Publicists provide:

  • research on social media strategy
  • introductions to  brick-and-mortar bookstores with a cult following,
  • book award contests and book review opportunities.
  • chances to write columns for online magazines.

The competition is fierce for a small number of slots from traditional media. Coverage is a brutal blood sport and newspapers, radio, even television increasingly have limited outreach in a cyberworld. Furthermore, traditional media coverage may feel very good when it happens, but it doesn’t necessarily move the needle all on its own. The authors who work best with a publicist are those who understand what they’re up against, but feel positive about how much there is they can do.  It will take some time to see the effects of an effort and there are no overnight successes. Effective marketing yields increased momentum for your book.  In contrast, publicity is more about getting people to recognize who you are in a world of oversaturation and elevates you above the rest of the chatter.

“I don’t want to ask for reviews.” Yet that’s the job. You avoid reaching out to friends and family yet again to come to a bookstore event or write another review for another website. You have to constantly pitch. I hired my partner JKS Communications three months before launch date with a lengthy Excel spreadsheet of blog sites I had already contacted for possible reviews of Things Unsaid. I needed someone to help with the heavy lifting.

The first thirty days after publication can feel a bit surreal. You expect something to be different, affirmed, if not sanctified, by the rights and privileges of publication.   You should be happy and enjoy this major accomplishment. But when you visit your local indie bookstore, you notice there isn’t even a copy of your book on the local authors bookshelf.  Everyone starts to ask when your next book is coming out and you’re exhausted because there hasn’t been time to write while you’ve been promoting this book.

Book clubs may invite you to speak and plan to borrow copies from the library or buy used copies on Amazon. A year after the release of the book, your royalty check won’t even pay one month’s electric bill. Before you know it, they’ve remaindered the rest of your books they have in inventory.

Your publicist is there to support you through that period too, when post-partum-publication depression sets in.  Success will take longer than you think and your publicist is a touchstone to that reality and managing expectations.  She can also be a shoulder to lean on when you are just plain tired of the task at hand.

Marketing and publicity never really end—but with the right publicist you can start out of the gate prepared for what lies ahead and energized by a partner who knows what you are going through.   The timeframe for success stretches over years rather than months. It can be a slow burn, or even a simmer.

Thank you,  JKS Communication!  “Successful marketing is a marathon, not a sprint.”


 

DIANA Y. PAUL is a former professor at Stanford University. Her short stories have appeared in multiple literary journals, and she is the author of three nonfiction books, Women in Buddhism, Philosophy of Mind in Sixth-Century China, and The Buddhist Feminine Ideal. She lives in Carmel, California with her husband and loves to create mixed media art. She is working on her second novel, tentatively titled A Perfect Match.  Visit her author website at: www.dianaypaul.com Twitter: @DianaPaul10

Gerald M. O’Connor impresses in his debut coming-of-age adventure novel, The Origins of Benjamin Hackett

Inspired by a controversy that once tore families apart in the heart of Ireland, Down & Out Books is releasing The Origins of Benjamin Hackett by debut novelist Gerald M. O’Connor on Feb. 6, 2017.

The Origins of Benjamin Hackett is a unique adventure tale set in County Cork, Ireland. The story introduces readers to a young man on the cusp of adulthood whose parents reveal that he is adopted on his 18th birthday. This revelation sends Benjamin on an unforgettable journey with a friend to find his birth mother – and himself – before the people determined to keep his origins a secret destroy his records forever.

O’Connor’s book draws on a time when the Catholic Church in Ireland would quietly take children from mothers in convents and Magdalene Laundries and deposit them into new homes, making it nearly impossible for these kids to find their real parents. Attempts by children to find their birth parents were often blocked by a dark web of secrecy and bureaucracy that, in many ways, still continues to haunt the country today.

Brimming with unfathomable escapades, a motley crew of characters and a healthy serving of Irish humor, O’Connor’s book is steeped in Irish culture told in the inimitable Corkman’s brogue. Set in a time before the chaos of modern digital culture, The Origins of Benjamin Hackett takes a step back, allowing space for readers to escape and think about the realities of growing up in a family founded on a lie. In his stylish debut, O’Connor shows an amazing ability to paint heartbreak and longing that will keep readers thinking about The Origins of Benjamin Hackett long after they finish the story.

GERALD M. O’CONNOR is a native Corkonian, currently living in Dublin with his long-term partner, Rosemarie, along with their three children. He writes character-driven novels of various genres by night and is a dentist by day. When he isn’t glued to the keyboard, he enjoys sci-fi films, spending time with his family and being anywhere in sight of the sea. He is currently working on his second novel, The Tanist.

 

An Interview with Gerald M. O’Connor

The Origins of Benjamin Hackett takes place in your hometown of Cork, Ireland. For people who are not familiar with the region, what is it like and why did it become the perfect setting for your book?

The county of Cork is no small place. It is a big unwieldy organism that is almost impossible to pin down without living it. I would need a year to decipher it properly to do it justice, but even then I fear I would fail miserably. But you did ask, and so I will try. First a few fun facts: Cork is known as the rebel county. The Irish for Cork is Corcaigh translated as “marsh” as it began life on a swampy estuary. We are best known for Murphy’s stout, All-Ireland winning teams, a glorious coastline, a rich vibrant history and our bullet-speed wit. As with all populated areas, there are the good and the bad parts. The locals can swindle or charm you on the whim of the weather, but at the heart of Cork is its inimitable character.

It has the layers and complexities of an urban area with solid rural roots. It has been the center of rebellion and republicanism for centuries. It was the only place in Ireland the English could never truly tame. It is surrounded by the Atlantic sea and has some of the sandiest beaches you will see the world over. Some say God gave us foul weather to counterbalance the beauty. And I’m fine with that, as it keeps the fair-weather types away! I firmly believe there is no better place to be than down at Barley Cove beach when the summer is at full-throttle, and the sun decides to shine. At the heart of Cork are the locals, or Corkonians as we call ourselves. We are a fiercely loyal, bitingly bright and determined people. I have never been in any other city where I have felt that same burning sense of belonging than when I lived in Cork. If you are from there, you will recognize the words I am saying as unadulterated facts. If not, the county may sound like some Fenian stronghold that still thinks the War of Independence rages.

In our hearts and minds, we are unique, abandoned by those up in Dublin, constantly fighting for our share of the pie, stuck at the bottom of an island that’s barraged by sleet and rain. We are often negated or chastised as insular or bull-headed, but we do not give a damn. Because we are proud of that community mind, the hive mentality. If you ever come across a Cork man or woman anywhere in the world, in any walk of life, I can wholeheartedly say that not a single one will talk with anything but fondness for the county at the southern tip of Ireland. I do not imagine there is a better plaudit than that as proof of our county’s effect on its natives.

I set the novel in Cork for various reasons. First, I know it better than any other part of the world, so it was natural for me to use it as a setting. And second of all, despite us having a host of fantastic writers from our city—Seán Ó Faoláin, Frank O’Connor and Joseph O’Neill to name but a few—there is a real lack of recent Cork-based Irish literature in comparison to other parts of Ireland. I hope my writing this novel may have righted those scales a bit. But predominantly I focused it on Cork because of the lilt of the locals, the characters I have met and known throughout my life, and the sheer breath-taking beauty of its landscapes and surrounds. To use the old adage, I wrote what I know, and I know Cork.

 What inspired you to write a coming-of-age novel? Did your own childhood influence your characterizations of Benjamin or JJ?

I have always been drawn to these type of tales. In many ways, that period in your life, when you are on the cusp of adulthood with all the hormones and fears of the future spinning your head into glue, can be the most traumatic of our lives. Having something that upends your sense of self is almost always a shortcut to figuring out the convoluted mess of life. If stories are all about trouble inducing change, I can think of no greater contrast in character than the growth from child to adult. Setting a story in this borderland of life always seems to be fertile ground for wild adventures. You can never get away with the same level of naivety, or ill-considered actions, in someone other than a youngster. Rip their idealized life apart and the reaction is nearly always bedlam. I wanted the freedom to write a story fueled by the white hot rage of teenagers. The coming-of-age adventure story allowed me to do so without the rigid logic of maturity stifling the madness.

As to whether or not my own childhood influenced the characterization of Benjamin and JJ… in truth, I am not too sure. I know I did not consciously draw the characters from my life growing up in Blarney. I was not adopted, nor did I know anyone who was. I had a large group of friends from the estate and village where I lived, but none bear any true resemblance to these characters. But we are the sum of our experiences, and my childhood clearly influenced me in my life, so there must be some subconscious part of me that comes out in those two lads. If it is not in their stories then it is most likely in their camaraderie and kinship and general outlook on life. I had a fantastic close-knit crew, still do to this day in fact, and it would not surprise me if they saw threads of themselves in the characters on the page. But rest assured, if they do, it is by pure happenstance rather than design. 

Your book tackles some serious topics, including the main character’s quest to find his birth mother, but you eloquently infuse the story with a bit of humor. How would you describe your sense of humor, and how does it play a role in your novel?

As with most of my fellow countrymen, my sense of humor is severely grounded in self-deprecation first and foremost. I do not think anyone could survive growing up in any parish in Cork without having that quality ingrained into you. We use humor as a shield in Ireland, hiding our fears and insecurities behind it, and as a weapon to bludgeon anyone with notions (people with an inflated opinion of themselves). It is like a code in its own right, nuanced, secretive and governed by rules only understood by those who grew up there. Cork is a county dripping in good-humored mockery. And nothing is sacred. Everyone and everything is a potential target.

Sometimes we go too far, of course, and the line between genuine comedy and thinly-veiled insults becomes this shady, intangible thing defined by the mood of the person on the receiving end. But on the whole, we manage to strike the balance just right. The general rule is this—if you ever find yourself on the sharper end of our tongues, then you probably deserve it.

For the uninitiated arriving in Cork, though, be warned. You had better do so fully-armed for banter. We slag and hop the ball, mock and deride, and there is nothing in the entire world that can savage your ego faster than a quick one-liner from a Cork-born native who is in the mood for badness. And God help you if they know you, because they will have total knowledge of all your weak spots and will package their goading up into perfect bullet-shaped assassins and riddle you senseless. If I ever get too big for my boots, all I have to do is pop down to my local, and I’ll be righted within the hour.

So as you can probably imagine, comedy is not a construct or a style choice used for any particular reason in my novel. It is there simply because that is how we behave in Cork. I could never have written a story set in my homeland without infusing that quality into it. It would have been dishonest to my roots.

Over the course of their road trip, how do Benjamin and JJ develop as characters?

To answer this truthfully would force me to spoil a lot of the surprises. So I am reluctant to go into too much detail. Suffice it to say, at the start they are at sea in life, unsure of what they want to do, as is the fate of many teenagers the world over. JJ is the straight-man in many ways, loyal to a fault and a lot more emotionally balanced than Benjamin. There is not too much in the way of change for him from beginning to end. Benjamin, though, goes through a large evolution in character. He does not cure himself completely, as he is still naïve and reckless by the end. But his reaction to the adoption and his ultimate decision at the close of the book shows how he has matured from a boy to a man and begins to see the world through adult eyes. It is the natural arc for a tale like this, really.

How does the history of adoption in Ireland play a role in this story?

Adoption plays a massive part. Benjamin’s story solely exists because of him being secretly deposited into a new family without the knowledge of his birth mother. The history of adoption in Ireland is a sore point and still very current. In the mid-20th century having a baby out of wedlock in Ireland was culturally unacceptable and would result in rejection by family, friends and society in general. The stigma was so bad that many unmarried women would be sent away to convents and Mother and Home facilities run by the church and funded by the government. For example, in 1967 over 97% of all children born out of wedlock were adopted and the vast majority were done without the full knowledge and consent of the mother. I did an almighty amount of research into it while writing this novel. It is funny in a way, because there’s barely the thread of the facts I uncovered in the book. I think you could have a lifetime of material if you researched the stories hidden behind the doors of those convents and Mother and Baby homes.

What can you tell us about your next book, The Tanist?

My new book is a world apart from this one. It is a thriller set in a turbulent Celtic world, drawing on the folklore and myths of the early 14th century in Ireland. I cannot divulge too much as I am in the midst of finishing the first draft, and a lot may change by the time I have a polished product ready for publication. But The Tanist is a far darker novel, devoid of humor and set in a violent and unforgiving time. The tag line goes something like this: “Unjustly banished for murder, an innocent boy must survive three impossible tests in a foreign land, before his city is destroyed, his people enslaved and his freedom lost forever.