Tuesday, December 12, 2017

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Mayra Calvani, Author

Mayra Calvani with Ramses
Mayra Calvani recently released her latest children’s book MAMA GRACIELA’S SECRET for three-to-seven year olds about the efforts of Mama to save her restaurant from being closed by an inspector due to her large number of cats.  Reviewers say it’s “a picture book with character, voice and story.”  Calvani, who also writes award-winning adult fiction and non-fiction books, enjoys penning all types of books but appreciates the “quicker gratification” she receives from children stories.

Wishing there were more hours in the day, Calvani is currently doing final revisions on another picture book manuscript and is also working on a YA mythological fantasy novel under pen name Zoe Kalo. She lives in Belgium with her husband, two children, and her three pets.

Q You have written a number of children’s books besides your newest, MAMA GRACIELA’S SECRET. What started you to write children’s books?

Mayra Calvani: First of all, thank you for having me on your blog, Joyce! I fell in love with children’s books after I had children. Before then, I was writing only for adults, but reading picture books to them every night made me fall in love with the genre. I had many ideas for stories so I thought, why not give it a try?

Q: Your newest book, MAMA GRACIELA’S SECRET, has a touch of mystery along with its whimsical side of  “TENDER, CRUNCHY, SPICY bacalaitos fritos enjoyed by people and cats from all over the island.” Do you find that a touch of mystery appeals to kids? Or is it all about the magic?

Mayra Calvani: You must be referring to the scene when Mama Graciela gathers all of her cats to help her find a solution so that her restaurant will not be shut down and all the cats taken away. You’re right that there’s a touch of mystery there. It’s kind of a mystical, otherworldly moment because there’s a communication between Mama Graciela and her cats. Who wouldn’t want to communicate with their pet? I suppose there’s also magic in that, not in a literal sense but in a figurative way.

Q: What kind of characters do children relate to? Is Mama Graciela someone that a kindergartner will understand and care about?

Mayra Calvani: Children relate best to children protagonists, but they can also relate to adult characters who have childlike qualities and who have feelings that kids can empathize with. Mama Graciela hasn’t just rescued a few cats. She has rescued one thousand cats! And she will do whatever it takes to protect them. You know what they say, when you save a life, you’re responsible for that life. 

Q: You’ve said that MAMA GRACIELA’S SECRET is for children ages kindergartner through SIX. Do you write for different age groups? How do you adapt your story and characters for different ages?

Mayra Calvani: I write fiction and nonfiction for adults and I also write YA fiction under my pen name Zoe Kalo (www.ZoeKalo.com). Language and content set the difference between the various ages groups. The younger the audience, the simpler the language. The older the reader, the more complex and sophisticated the content.

Q: The illustrations in MAMA GRACIELA’S SECRET are special and important for children. How did you meet Sheila Fein? How did you impart to her what you wanted for illustrations? Or do any of the illustrations come first?

Mayra Calvani: It was my publisher, Tannya Derby from MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing, who provided the illustrator, so I didn’t know Sheila before then.  She was wonderful to work with and at all stages of the illustrating process I was able to provide feedback. We went back and forth on all the artwork until the completion of the book. At the beginning it took a couple of tries to get the color palette right, one that would fit with the tropical island setting. The same happened with Mama Graciela, but once we had those the rest moved pretty quickly. It was more about the finishing touches than big modifications.  

Q: You also write non-fiction and fiction for adults. Do you prefer children’s story over adult fiction and non-fiction?

Mayra Calvani: I love both! They’re so different from each other! The thing with children’s stories, though, is that since they’re short you get quicker gratification because you see the end result--meaning the completed manuscript—sooner. It may take me a few weeks to write, edit and polish a children’s picture book, but it may take me up to two years to finish a novel for adults.

Q: Do you include villains and heroes in your children’s stories? If so, what characteristics do villains have that you find effective?

Mayra Calvani: Yes, I do. In Mama Graciela’s Secret, Mama Graciela is the hero because she selflessly sacrifices her secret recipe to save her cats. The Health Inspector is the villain because he is in the way of Mama Graciela keeping her cats. He wants to shut the restaurant and take away her cats. But he is also doing his job and preventing a health hazard. This is important because successful villains must have a good quality, too.

Q: Do you embed messages in your children’s stories to help teach values to children? Or are your stories strictly for entertainment?

Mayra Calvani: Never only for entertaining. My children’s stories always have a message, but I don’t hit readers over the head with it. Mama Graciela’s story teaches about love for animals, self-sacrifice, decision-making, and ethnicity.

Q: What’s next? What else are you working on?

Mayra Calvani: I’m doing final revisions on another picture book manuscript that I must send to my agent. I’m also working on a YA mythological fantasy novel under my pen name Zoe Kalo. I have many ideas for many more books. If only there were more hours in the day! J

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

Mayra Calvani: I lead a quiet life. I like to think myself as a disciple of writing. But when I’m not writing or revising, I love reading (duh!), journaling, dining and going to the cinema with my hubby, and just spending time with my pets and kids.

About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her children's picture book, Frederico the Mouse Violinist was a finalist in the 2011 International Book Awards; her anthology Latina Authors and Their Muses was a First Place winner at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards; her nonfiction book, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing, was a Foreword Best Book of the Year winner. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications like The Writer, Writer's Journal, Multicultural Review, Bloomsbury Review, and others.

She lives in Belgium with her husband of 30+ years, two wonderful kids, and her three beloved pets. When she's not writing, editing, reading or reviewing, she enjoys walking with her dog, traveling, and spending time with her family. www.MayrasSecretBookcase.com   

 About the illustrator

Born in Queens, New York and living in Los Angeles since 1987, Sheila Fein has always been
inspired by the changing world around her. Earning her BA in Design from Buffalo State College of New York, her concentration was on drawing, painting, printmaking, and photography. Sheila's education as an artist has taken her everywhere from Fleisher Art Memorial in Philadelphia to Bath University in England. Today, Sheila Fein runs two figurative workshops, Imaginings Sketch in LA and People Sketchers in Thousand Oaks. She has been featured in numerous collections, magazines, books, solo and group exhibitions. Her paintings and drawings reside in public and private collections. Sheila loves to make the imagination of others a reality and has done so through her commissioned Fein Fantasy Portraits and Interactive Paintings. In addition to being a fine artist Sheila works as an illustrator. She just completed the book "Mama Graciela's Secret" for Maclaren-Cochrane Publishing.

Mamá Graciela’s TENDER, CRUNCHY, SPICY bacalaítos fritos are the best in town...
Local customers (including stray cats!) come from all over the island to enjoy her secret recipe. But when the Inspector discovers that Mamá secretly caters to so many cats and he threatens to close her tiny restaurant, Mamá must come up with a plan to save it—and all of the animals she loves.


MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing Orders@maclaren-cochranepublishing.com
Publishing company Contact Info: MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing 1024 Iron Point Rd 100-1478 Folsom CA 95630  916-897-1670
Tannya@Maclaren-cochranepublishing.com www.maclaren-cochranepublishing.com
MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing 620 Buchanan Way, Folsom, CA 95630 916-897-1670 www.maclaren-cochranepublishing.com
**This book also has version printed in the Dyslexic font, the typeface for people with dyslexia. Go to www.dyslexiefont.com to find out more about the typeface.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Jyoti Arora, Author

Jyoti Arora, Author
Jyoti Arora brings us her third romance novel, YOU CAME LIKE HOPE, about Peehu who believes no one wants her and has assumed a false identity; and Adih, who hates all women. She writes them as ordinary people who have reached the end of their rope. Although the story is set in India, the novel offers the universal theme of love and romance.

Her first three novels are romance with a social theme. Jyoti next wants to write a purely romance novel without a social theme. Given that she is a patient of Thalassemia Major, she has a special appreciation for technology and the internet, which have enabled her to achieve much of her livelihood.

Q: Why/how does your novel YOU CAME LIKE HOPE fit into the genre of contemporary romance? How is “contemporary” romance different from “traditional” romance?

Jyoti Arora: YOU CAME LIKE HOPE is a romance because its main focus is on the love story. Although it is a realistic fiction with realistic characters, it has several romantic elements and scenes.

Contemporary Romance is a sub-genre of Romance and deals with people and themes that are current and contemporary. So, I labeled YOU CAME LIKE HOPE as a Contemporary Romance because the characters and situations are all based in the current times. The main conflict of the story is also based on a current social issue.

Q: Tell us a summary of your plot. Who are the main characters? What happens to them? (Do not divulge the entire story, but just offer some description of the plot.)

Jyoti Arora: The romance in the book revolves around Peehu and Adih. Peehu believes nobody wants her and has assumed a fake identity. Adih believes he needs nobody and hates all women as cheaters. Love is their only hope of salvation. But it cannot succeed until they overcome the blighting shadow of their past, battle with their fiery emotions, and accept their new realities.

Running parallel to the romance of Peehu and Adih is the tragic history of Adih’s brother Arunav. It is his story, told through tiny chapters (50 – 400 words), that raises the issue of fake cases filed by women.

Q: Did you write YOU CAME LIKE HOPE to entertain your readers or did you intend to deliver some messages and influence your readers?

Jyoti Arora: I wrote  YOU CAME LIKE HOPE to deliver a message in an entertaining way. That is why it has a social issue woven in the fabric of a romance.

Q: Do you believe that YOU CAME LIKE HOPE has universal appeal? Will readers world-wide appreciate and relate to it?

Jyoti Arora: Yes, I believe so. Although the location and characters are Indian, the story is such that it can happen anywhere. My heroine believes she is an unlucky loser. My hero hates all women as cheaters. These people can grow up in any country, and still feel the same. The main conflict of the story is a rising social issue in India, but it is not restricted to India.

Besides, YOU CAME LIKE HOPE is a romance. Romances have universal appeal, I feel.

Q: How do your characters engage the reader? Why will readers care what happens to them? Are they super-heroes or ordinary people in extraordinary situations?

Jyoti Arora: My characters are ordinary people hanging at the end of their rope. My heroine, Peehu, feels trapped in the web she herself has created under the mistaken belief of giving happiness to her parents. My hero, Adih, is denying himself all the pleasures of life and youth to take care of his orphan niece. They are both good people caught in bad situations. I believe they will tug at readers’ heart and readers will want them to be together and happy. The story shows that Peehu and Adih need each other. Readers will want them to realize this, stop running away from love and be happy.

Q: Does the concept of hero vs villain apply to your story? What makes an effective villain?

Jyoti Arora: There is no villain that thwarts the hero or heroine at every step. However, there is one woman whose treachery causes a lot of pain to the hero and his family.

As for an effective villain, the ones that I like best are the ones that can chill your heart with one quiet word. A villain that can sway everyone with his cunning is very effective.

Q:  What inspired you to write YOU CAME LIKE HOPE? Did you base the characters or events on someone or something in your own life?

Jyoti Arora: I got the idea of writing YOU CAME LIKE HOPE when I got trolled on Twitter one day! My second novel LEMON GIRL is a Feminist Fiction. One of my tweets about it got trolled a lot one day. That’s when I realized that there was an opposite side of the problem I discussed in LEMON GIRL. I decided to write a book about it too and YOU CAME LIKE HOPE developed.

Q:  You are also intrigued with the world of technology and have written an award-winning technical blog. Does the world of technology help you to create your stories? Are romantic fiction and technology somehow related?

Jyoti Arora: I don’t know where I’d be today had it not been for the advancement of technology. The magic of internet has done wonders in my life. Due to my medical problems (Thalassemia Major), I live a very home-bound life. I wouldn’t have been able to do much had it not been for the support and opportunities granted by internet.

I don’t think the technology helps me in imagining my stories. But it helps me in everything else. As for relation between technology and romance, well, I don’t think there is much relation. Although, I do use characters inspired by my experience as a tech. blogger. The hero of LEMON GIRL is a Technology Blogger. And one of the characters in YOU CAME LIKE HOPE is developing a smartphone app.

Q:  What’s next?

Jyoti Arora: I have written three novels so far: DREAM’S SAKE, LEMON GIRL, and YOU CAME LIKE HOPE. All three had love stories revolving around a serious social issue. I want to try my hand at something purely romantic now, for a change.

Q: Tell us something about yourself. What do you like to do when you’re not writing or blogging?

Jyoti Arora: I am a hopeless bookworm. I fell in love with books ever since I learnt to read. When I am not writing, I am reading mostly. I also enjoy listening to old Bollywood songs, watching English TV shows and Hollywood/Bollywood movies. I used to be good at drawing and handicrafts too, but don’t get the time to indulge in this hobby now. I’m addicted to technology and love talking about it. I’m currently living in Ghaziabad with my parents. And through my writing and the magic on internet, trying very hard to reach the readers worldwide.

Jyoti Arora is a novelist and blogger from Ghaziabad, India. YOU CAME LIKE HOPE is her third novel, coming after DREAM’S SAKE and LEMON GIRL. She is Post Graduate in English Literature and Applied Psychology.

Jyoti has over five years of experience working as a freelance writer. This experience includes abridging over 24 famous English classics like Jane Eyre, Moby Dick etc.

Jyoti Arora is a patient of Thalassemia Major. But she does not let this stop or discourage her. For her determination and achievements, Jyoti has received appreciation from Ms Sheila Dixit, Ms Maneka Gandhi and the Ghaziabad wing of BJP. Her life story has been covered in various local and national TV shows, radio programs, newspapers, magazines and websites like YourStory and Inspire India. She was also one of the ‘100 Women Achievers of India’ that were invited to witness the Republic Day parade of India (2016) as special guests.

Besides reading and writing novels, Jyoti also enjoys blogging and has won several blogging competitions. She loves checking out latest technological innovations, watching movies, and listening to old Bollywood songs. Reach her at jyotiarora.com.

YOU CAME LIKE HOPE tells the love story of a girl who considers herself an unlucky loser and takes up the identity of someone else. Her love interest is a young man who belongs to a family wrongly accused of abusing and torturing a woman. He’s scared of love and happiness and has decided never to trust any woman or think about getting married. Love brings them together and gives them the strength to overcome their weaknesses and fears. More than the fate, they have to fight against themselves to win this love and attain their bliss.

Purchase Sites

Author Sites
Twitter: Jy0tiAr0ra

Paperback: Not yet available, but will come soon on Amazon, Flipkart and PayTM.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Sybrina Durant, Author

Sybrina Durant, Author
Sybrina Durant created THE BLUE UNICORN’S JOURNEY TO OSM, targeted at teens, but to be enjoyed by all ages. She thought of the concept almost 40 years ago, and completed her vision recently with an illustrated book that includes unicorns with “personality and depth” and a story that is an “action-packed adventure,” according to reviewers. Durant’s unicorns also display humor, an attribute that Durant believes is critical in our human lives.

She is currently working on a full novel of THE BLUE UNICORN’S JOURNEY TO OSM and also plans to publish a glossary about the characters, places, and things she created in the world of her book. She lives in Texas, and when she’s not writing books, she likes to write songs.

Don’t miss an excerpt from the book following the interview. 

Q: What inspired you to write about a blue unicorn? Why choose a unicorn?

Sybrina Durant: Nearly 40 years ago, when I first conceived of the idea for THE BLUE UNICORN’S JOURNEY TO OSM  I had read a lot of fantasy books which completely mesmerized me.  The ones which really stood out to me were books like “Watership Down” by Richard Adams (which was about a rabbit warren with members who thought and acted like humans), “Dragonriders of Pern” by Anne McCaffrey (with dragons which could speak to humans telepathically), “The Oz” books by L. Frank Baum (with the talking lion, talking monkeys, talking chickens and more), “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll (with the talking white rabbit and the Cheshire cat) and oh so many others. 

I was fascinated by the idea, throughout all of the different stories, that animals could be reasoning creatures - that they could love and war and exist as communities within themselves or with humans.  But I was especially influenced by the unicorns from Phaze in Piers Anthony’s “Apprentice Adept Series”.  Those unicorns ranged in a multitude of colors and were as intelligent as humans.  They were musical and magical, too.  I was also enamored with the word play in Piers Anthony’s writing style.  He would take ordinary words and give them completely different but clever meanings.  I wanted to try my hand at that style of writing so I set about developing the metal-horned unicorn tribe from Unimaise. 

Each would have a different metal horn with coat, mane and tail colors derived somehow from the properties of the metal.  For instance, since burning copper has green flames, the copper-horned unicorn is green.  The unicorns would each have a different magic power somehow associated with the properties of their metal.  Since copper was once used exclusively for water pipes because it was thought to keep water flowing through it clean, the copper-horned unicorn’s magic power is to purify water.  That’s the theme I tried to stick with in developing all of the characters but I had to use a lot of poetic license at times.  Only one unicorn would be different.  He would have no metal and no magic.  The story is about the blue unicorn’s quest to save his tribe despite his overwhelming “disabilities”. 

After intense research in dictionaries, encyclopedias and real library books, I ended up with index cards for each unicorn and all of the other characters that I wanted to feature in the story.  I wrote a very long outline and summary and even drew a detailed map of the land of MarBryn.  After typing up about 50 pages of the story, I just came to a screeching halt and didn’t start up again until a couple of years ago.  Life just got in the way.

Q: Who are your target readers for THE BLUE UNICORN’S JOURNEY TO OSM?
Is this a book for children, young adults, adults? Reviewers say that, “This book transcends age groups.” Do you agree?   

Sybrina Durant: Originally, this book was going to be an adult fantasy but after becoming acquainted with the amazingly talented Sudipta Dasgupta, I decided I wanted this to be an illustrated book that could appeal to a younger audience.  I had nearly finished the novel by the time he approached me about doing the illustrations.  In order to best present his artwork, I realized that I was going to have to minimize the amount of pages and enlarge the page sizes.   I went through the very tedious process of reducing the story text so that each chapter would fit into just two pages which would precede a picture spreading across two pages.  The best reading experience is definitely the print version but it is available in all ebook formats also. In addition to reducing the word count, I also simplified a lot of the text but I left in many concepts that (in some people’s opinions) placed the book beyond the middle grade age group. 

Since many parents wish to protect their children from subjects like war and death as long as possible I decided to rate this book for teens and up.  I have tried to write an appealing story for all ages to enjoy but I think it is up to each reader, no matter what their age might be, to decide for themselves about whether it reaches out to them or not. 

Q: Did you write THE BLUE UNICORN’S JOURNEY TO OSM strictly to entertain? Or did you intend, as one reviewer says, to write a book “with deeper meanings and themes?”

Sybrina Durant: I have always been interested in the “science of things”.  I wanted to bring as much of that into the story as I could to make it a learning experience which was both magical and entertaining at the same time.  The further I got into writing the story, it began revealing things to me that I had not anticipated.  That long outline I mentioned earlier was thrown out the window.  I never really referred back to the summary, either.  I redrew a lot of the map and instead of having only one journey line, there are now two.  Some characters who were barely even there before became major players.  They wanted their stories to become prominent and so they are now.  I am very glad that readers have found deeper meanings in the book than they thought they might find when they began reading the story.  I guess if the book has a main theme, it is “You can’t judge a book by its cover.  You must open it to find what’s within.”  That is true for every person, place or thing we come across in our lives. If you give a little of your time and consideration, you will almost always find some reward.

Q: When writing about a unicorn and magic, how do you create believability or credibility? How relevant is consistency in your world-building? What will cause a reader to stop reading? 

Sybrina Durant: This story is a blend of magic and realism.  Everybody’s got to eat and these unicorns especially love eating.  Luckily for them, one of the unicorns, Tinam, has the magical ability to conjure meals from thin air and to even preserve them in tin cans of every shape and size.  Of course, in real life, no meal will ever be magically plucked out of thin air but most readers have the ability to suspend disbelief when it comes to magical creations.  Some might stop reading the book the first time they read about Chef Tinam’s magic power but those readers probably prefer more reality-based books.

I try to be consistent with my world-building by always thinking about the real science behind what might be happening.  For instance, the unicorns in my story have split hooves which they use for picking up things.  Their knees (or elbows) bend in the same way that a human arm bends and moves so they can bring a fork up to their mouth the same way we can.   They can sit on their rumps on stools around a table for a meal the same way we can.  Real horses could never do such things but these are not horses…they are unicorns!  These unicorns also spend a lot of time singing and dancing – even though they are facing complete extinction.  Of course most humans would never be able to cast aside their fears to such an extent that they could immerse themselves in such ridiculous behavior…or could they?  Some readers might have to stop at that, but I hope they don’t.

Q: How do you create characters to engage your readers? What makes a reader care about them? Are you able to use the setting to help develop your characters?

Sybrina Durant: I’ve tried to give each character a personality that is uniquely their own.  And I’ve tried to show individual concerns, grumpiness, sense of humor, cool under pressure and so on, so that as you’re reading you can tell who they are by how they speak and act.  One of the methods I used to give each one a distinctly different personality was to think of a popular actor or actress of the time.  These actors were all part of my index card character development and they were greatly loved by the viewers of the television programs they starred in.  Many of those actors and actresses’ names won’t even be recognizable today to your younger readers.  But here are a few just for fun:  Cornum the Brass Horned Unicorn was based on John Ritter “Jack Tripper on Three’s Company.” Style the Steel Horned Unicorn was based on Jackee Harry who played “Sandra on 227.”  Nix the Nickel Horned Unicorn was Bruce Willis who was starring as “David Addison on Moonlighting.”  Alumna the Aluminum Horned Unicorn was Shelly Long who played “Diane on Cheers” at the time.  I have the entire list and it is interesting to look at it again.  I’d love to know which young people might play the unicorn parts today. 

Q: How relevant is the concept of hero vs villain to tell your story? What are the characteristics of an effective villain?

Sybrina Durant: In my mind, hero vs villain equates to good vs evil.  But just because someone has become a villain, it doesn’t mean that they always were one.  I think an effective villain is one who you can almost have a little sympathy for because you know something about how they were before they became one.  That sympathy can almost make you think there’s hope that they might change back to they way they were but as they do more dastardly things they make you realize that they are far beyond changing.  Sometimes, you have to make a conscious choice to turn away.

Q: How helpful is humor to tell your story or develop your characters?

Sybrina Durant: Have you ever heard the saying, “If I don’t laugh, I’ll cry.”  Humor is the most important thing we have going for us as human beings. It can help us out of the most dire situations.  Right now, as I’m writing this, I am sitting at home surrounded by water on all sides.  Luckily, my neighborhood seems to be an island in an ocean of water surrounding the entire state of Texas. Earlier today, my husband posted on Facebook, “I don’t know what we’re going to do when we run out of paper towels”.  Now, that’s the least of anyone’s worries right now but it got a lot of laughs out of a lot of seriously stressed out people.  Some of the characters in the blue unicorn’s story can look a little silly at times. . .some of the humor might even seem a little juvenile but it is always placed there to relieve some stress.

Q: Reviewers also rave about the illustrations. What can you tell us about them and the artist?  

Sybrina Durant: I am so happy that Sudipta Dasgupta approached me about illustrating this book. He found me in an illustrator/author group on Facebook.  I think some things are just meant to happen the way they do since, as I mentioned earlier, I had never intended for this to become an illustrated book until he came along.  It took us over a year to come up with all of the ideas and final illustrations.  I almost felt like I was writing a movie scene for each illustration.  First I would write out the setting of the scene.  Next, I listed all of the characters in the scene.  Then, I broke down what everyone in the scene was doing.  I would always provide the text of the story for the scene, too.  I spent a lot of time gathering photos of items that I wanted in the scene so that he would have an idea of how to draw them.  Sometimes, I actually changed where I was going with the story because if an illustration I received back from him.  I really enjoyed working with Sudipta (or Steve as he’s known to most Americans) as he is thoughtful, thought-provoking and amazingly creative. 

There are forty-two full-color illustrations in all but we didn’t stop there.  It broke my heart to quickly realize that the cost of the full-color illustrated book was going to be out of the realm of accessibility for most potential readers.  It - is – very - expensive.  So, I commissioned Steve to also create all of the pictures in black and white – in the wood-cut look of old fairy tales -  so that I would have a very inexpensive version of the book to offer for sale.  In fact, it is just 1/3 the price of the full-color book.  It happily has an added bonus of being what I’m calling a “Read and Color” book.  Read a chapter and then color the following illustration – how fun is that?  Steve also did the illustrations for a companion Coloring/Character Description book and for a set of trading cards featuring all of the unicorn characters.  The trading cards and lots of other Unicorn Bling are available at my “Journey To Osm” collection on zazzle.com.   

Side Note: There’s also an audio version of the book.  It is narrated by Troy Hudson.  I don’t want to leave him out of all of this.  I never imagined that one person would be able to give voice to so many characters and do it so well  He really makes the story extra fun. . .especially if you read along with Whispersync.

Q: What’s next?

Sybrina Durant: “The Blue Unicorn’s Journey To Osm NOVEL,” of course!  I still plan to offer readers the original expansive version of this story.  It is a few hundred pages longer than this illustrated book and is much more in-depth.  And I’ll also be publishing a humongous glossary that I’m calling “The MarBryn Compendium.”  It’s especially for those people who just can’t get enough information about how the characters, places and things in the land of MarBryn and the world of Unimaise were imagined.  Then, there’s the movie!  OK, so there’s not a movie in the works yet but wouldn’t it be cool?

Q: Tell us something about Sybrina Durant. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Sybrina Durant: I like to write songs as well as books so all of my stories have accompanying songs.  You can hear the songs in the book trailers for this book on Youtube.

When I’m not writing, I’m usually marketing and promoting.  As a self-published author, it is a never ending process but luckily one that I very much love.  This leads me to give very heartfelt thanks to Joyce Strand for sharing space on her amazing blog with me to discuss “The Blue Unicorn’s Journey To Osm.” It’s because of people like her that authors like me have the very rare opportunity to let others know that our books even exist.  With hundreds of books being offered to the public for sale each and every day in the US alone, an interview on a blog like hers means a lot in these times of immense competition for attention in the book world.

About Sybrina Durant

Sybrina is the author of many different types of books.  Some are technical and others are fanciful.  Illustrated books are her favorite.  She believes that you can capture a reader’s attention with a good story but amazing artwork will reel them in and keep them riveted.

“I'm Sybrina. . .. . .Just one of millions of wannabe author/singer/songwriters out there but I hope, after reading or hearing my books and songs, you'll think my contributions to the world have as much value as any other famous artist out there today.

Fame is all in being in the right place at the right time but at least with the internet and venues like this, all of us have opportunities to share our creativity with the world. I'm so happy that I am able to share my works with you. That is awesome!

The books I’ve written span a wide range between illustrated picture books, coloring books and YA novels to technical and how-to books. If you’re so inclined you can read a little bit about the inspiration for each one below."

“The metal horned unicorns are doomed!” That’s what Lauda Lead Horn wailed when she first saw the tribe’s new savior. OK, so his horn was not metal. . .and he did not have a magic power. . .and he was really a puny little runt. But doomed? Were things really that bad? 

Well, things were pretty bad in the land of MarBryn. Magh, an evil sorcerer utilized unicorn horns and hooves to create his magical potions and spells. Those he used, to increase his power and to conquer everyone in his path. All of the unicorns from the Tribe of the Metal Horn were now gone . . . except for twelve survivors. 

Before the blue unicorn was born, Numen told Alumna, the aluminum-horned oracle, that he had a plan to bring the tribe back home to Unimaise. His prophecy was, “Only the blue unicorn can join with the Moon-Star. Until then, no new unicorns will be born.” Blue was the last unicorn born. Twenty years later, his horn was still covered with a plain blue colored hide. There was not a glint of metal to be seen on it or his hooves. And he still didn’t have any magic. But he was no longer scrawny and he had his wits. Though no one else in the tribe thought he had a chance, Blue felt ready to make Magh pay for his evil deeds. And he went off to do it alone. That was Blue’s first mistake. If the entire tribe was not standing horn-tip to horn-tip at the proper time and the exact place to help usher the Moon-Star Spirit into Blue’s horn, he would die. Then, the rest of the tribe would really be doomed. 

Readers will follow along two journey paths in this book. Blue is joined in his travels by his mentor Gaiso, the Stag and his friend, Girasol the Firebird as they try to find their way across a danger-filled MarBryn to Muzika Woods. The rest of Blue’s tribe is forced to follow another route due to Nix Nickle Horn’s unfortunate incident with a Manticore. Nix, the great unicorn defender must safely lead the way for Ghel, the Golden-Horned unicorn; Silubhra Silver Horn; Cornum the Brass-Horned unicorn; Steel Horned Style; Cuprum the Copper-Horned unicorn; Tin-Horned Tinam; Dr. Zinko; Iown the Iron-Horned unicorn and the others in an action packed adventure to their destination in Muzika Woods. Both journey paths converge there in the Nebulium Circle.


The firebird hovered at the entrance of the canyon watching the three of them. 

Blue was crunching on a rock. He giggled and said something that sounded like “silly bird” to the pendragon and they all laughed.   

It was ridiculous.  Girasol felt completely powerless and her feelings were hurt, too.  She had no idea how she could help them. 

“How can I make them listen to me?” she asked the mountains.  Her normally bright orange flames had become a faint red glow. 

"You can't," a voice which seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at the same time answered.  "I have induced hebephrenia into their feeble minds."

"Who are you and what is heb-phren-whatever you called it?" Girasol flared, melting some of the ice from the nearby rock faces.

"My, aren't you a hot-head?" the voice chuckled at her display of anger.  "I am Yegwa.  They call me the spirit of false springtime.  I have put your friends and the pendragon under a spell which makes them think this is a wonderful place to live."

“Let them go," the firebird demanded, blue-white sparks spouting from her feathered crown. She could not see the spirit and was very frustrated.

"Let them go?  I wouldn't dream of it.  It’s not often I have this much fun," Yegwa said in a voice hungry with anticipation.  "My magic doesn’t seem to work on you though,” she said thoughtfully.  "It must be that hot blood of yours."

"What kind of spirit are you?  How can you enjoy watching your victims freeze or starve to death?" Girasol asked.  "You are so wicked.  I don't know what's worse—you or that evil sorcerer, Magh," she shouted disgustedly.
"Magh?  Sorcerer?  Do tell…he sounds like someone I would like,” Yegwa asked with interest.  “Is he single?”

 “Single?  What?” Girasol blazed.  “Forget about Magh!  I don’t have time for this back and forth with you.”

 “Ooh, well, la-ti-da…aren’t you the peppery dish,” Yegwa said, letting loose a shrill cackle.  “If I had teeth, I’d eat you right up!”

"What about my friends?" the firebird asked again.  She looked around the top of the canyon walls trying to find the owner of the ghostly voice.  

"You're welcome to keep company with them if you wish.  I don't keep anyone imprisoned, you know," Yegwa said, trying to sound sugary sweet.

 “Thanks a lot,” Girasol said sarcastically.  She tapped her head with her right wing, trying to figure out a way to save her friends.  “Hot blood. . .hmmm. . .Warmth. . .that’s it,” she realized.  “If they’re going to snap out of this, they need to be warm!” she thought suddenly. 

They were going to freeze to death if she did not help them soon. She remembered seeing Blue pick up some pepo seeds earlier.  She searched the bag hung across his shoulder and brought one out.  He was so far gone, he did not even notice her.  One seed would give her enough energy for five days.  “In this cold, I might need this and more to keep them warm,” she thought, while chewing the seed. 

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Twitter address @Sybrina_spt

Monday, November 6, 2017

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Sandra Nikolai, Mystery Author

Sandra Nikolai, Author
Book 5 of Megan Scott/Michael Elliott Series
Sandra Nikolai just released BROKEN TRUST, the 5th mystery in her series featuring ghostwriter Megan Scott and investigative reporter Michael Elliott. Reviewers of previous books claim the series is “well-plotted and punctuated with shocks” and “impossible to stop reading.”

According to Nikolai, the pairing of protagonists helps “create tension and move the plot forward.”  By setting this mystery in Ottawa, she takes advantage of the capital city’s  healthcare decision-making, which supports the development of her plot.

Nikolai is currently working on Book 6 of her mystery series. When she’s not writing, she enjoys baking, especially anything with chocolate in it as she is a fan of desserts.

Q: What draws you to write Mysteries? Who is your favorite mystery author?

Sandra Nicolai: Puzzles have always intrigued me, and mysteries even more so. The ultimate test arrived the day I decided to write my first mystery novel. I’ve been published for five years now, but ensuring that all the pieces in a mystery fall into place is still quite the challenge. And I love every minute of it!

Some of my favorite mystery authors include Donna Leon, Linwood Barclay, Kathy Reichs, James Patterson, and Louise Penny. I also enjoy discovering new authors and regularly add their books to my to-read list. I don’t think I’ll ever catch up!

Q:  In your new book, BROKEN TRUST, you’ve paired Megan Scott and Michael Elliott together again in your new book as double sleuths to solve the mystery. Does this pairing help to develop the plot? Romantic interest?

Sandra Nikolai: Yes to both questions!

In my latest book, BROKEN TRUST, as in the other books in the series, Megan and Michael’s characters differ in ways that help to create conflict in the story and move the plot forward. As an investigative reporter, Michael meets with seedy informants in dark alleys in his hunt for murder suspects. He thrives on taking risks. Megan’s participation in his sleuthing activities provides an exciting break from her “boring” job—ghostwriter of non-fiction material. Since she tends to be cautious and worries about Michael’s safety, their covert outings enable her to pull him back from the brink of death when necessary. Of course, Megan’s curiosity sometimes gets her in trouble too, so it works both ways.

The romantic interest between them originated in the first book, FALSE IMPRESSIONS, and continues to grow through the series. Is marriage a possibility? Michael might be inclined to the idea, but Megan’s bad experience with her first marriage planted doubts in her mind. The topic creates tension between them, which helps to develop the plot.

Q: How do you turn your ghostwriter into an amateur sleuth? What makes her credible?

Sandra Nikolai: FALSE IMPRESSIONS launched Megan’s investigative teamwork with Michael when they became prime suspects in the death of her husband and a female companion. That’s when Megan got her feet wet, so to speak. Her interest in Michael’s work prompted him to take her along on some of his ventures. They share a high standard of ethics that drives them to seek justice for crimes committed, but they have different approaches to analyzing the evidence.

When it comes to suspects, Michael is objective and trusts his instincts to guide him. Megan is an in-depth researcher and often deciphers the tiniest detail and nuance on the path to solving a crime. She bounces her theories off Michael and, although he doesn’t always agree with her, he appreciates her input. In the end, Megan’s contributions play a key role in resolving the crime.

Q: How useful is Ottawa as a setting to help develop your characters or the mystery? Would the story be different if set elsewhere?

Sandra Nikolai: Ottawa is Canada’s capital city and the setting for BROKEN TRUST, the fifth book in my mystery series. The city is home to the federal government where major political decisions affecting national health are made. My sleuths investigate the fentanyl crisis here. For readers unfamiliar with fentanyl, it’s a synthetic drug that’s fifty times stronger than heroin and the cause of thousands of deaths by overdose.

My sleuths are Canadian and have a special interest in how organizations are handling the drug crisis here. As they investigate the death of a young woman who supposedly overdosed in their Ottawa hotel room—yes, they walked in and found her body!—Megan and Michael interview key administrators regarding the fentanyl problem. A mystery set in a government town might sound dry to some readers, but I promise you, it’s a thrilling ride!

Q: Reviewers enjoy the suspense you’ve created in your previous mysteries. How do you create that page-turning drive?

Sandra Nikolai: Readers like to get to the heart of a story, so I keep the narrative as tight as possible. I cut back on excessive descriptions of people and places and avoid dialogue that doesn’t move the plot forward. I pepper my stories with clues (including red herrings), tension, and conflict.

My chapters are short and end with a cliffhanger. I ensure the momentum is fast-paced so that the action doesn’t stall. Readers tell me they can’t stop reading—they have to find out what happens in the next chapter. This tells me my techniques are working!

Q:  What do you consider to be the key elements of a satisfying mystery?

Sandra Nikolai: The first pages should draw in the reader. Without a captivating hook, the reader will move on to another book. Setting a mysterious mood that foreshadows the journey ahead is also an important element.

Suspenseful dialogue between realistic characters is vital to retaining reader interest. It’s similar to eavesdropping on a heart-pounding conversation between people you know. My suspects often lie or withhold crucial information, but I keep readers in the loop so that they come across the clues at the same time as my sleuths do.

Wrapping up loose ends by the end of the story is another essential element. Readers need answers to confirm what they already know or didn’t know about who, why, what, and how. A satisfying resolution to a mystery means a reader will most likely read another book by the same writer.

Q: Why do readers care about your characters? How do they relate?

Sandra Nikolai: Like most people, my main characters have strengths and insecurities. Readers can relate to Megan’s determination and Michael’s courage as they track down perpetrators. They admire their mutual loyalty and respect and the way they interact with each other.

Readers root for Michael and understand his anger and frustration when he lacks the evidence to bring a cold-blooded killer to justice. They empathize with Megan’s lingering memories about her husband’s infidelity, as well as her qualms about Michael’s safety and the future of their relationship. They support Megan as she confronts dangerous situations, despite her fears.

Q: What are the attributes of an effective villain/criminal?

Sandra Nikolai: A credible villain is one that has good qualities and bad qualities. The criminals in my stories often work in typical jobs and have family or friends, yet they manage to get sidetracked by the darker side of life.

We’ve all seen news reports about police arrests of doctors, lawyers, and professors. Who would think that people in such respectable positions could be murderers? How many times do neighbors discover that the “man who lives down the street” is a killer? Criminals can’t be typecast. The creepiest part is that they often live among us.

Q: What’s next?

Sandra Nikolai: Book #6 in the series. My sleuths return home to Montreal where their greatest challenge awaits them. It will be a roller coaster of a thriller. Oh, I can’t wait to write this one!

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

Sandra Nikolai: I love desserts, so I’ll bake anything with chocolate in it. No surprise there, right? I also like to read, shop, watch movies, go for walks, and catch up with friends over coffee. My routine might sound dull to some people, but the first half of my life was quite hectic, so I welcome the change. I wouldn’t be able to write without the peace and quiet I now enjoy.

Thank you for inviting me, Joyce!

About Sandra Nicolai

Author Sandra Nikolai weaves ordinary characters into extraordinary, life-threatening situations, using the premise that evil often lurks in familiar places. She is the author of a mystery series featuring ghostwriter Megan Scott and investigative reporter Michael Elliott. BROKEN TRUST is the fifth book in this series.

Sandra has also published more than a dozen short stories online and in print, garnering Honorable Mentions along the way. She shares her writing experiences on her blog and has been a frequent guest writer on other blogs. 


Hotel rooms often come with perks. A corpse isn’t one of them.

Ghostwriter Megan Scott and investigative reporter Michael Elliott discover the body of a young woman in their Ottawa hotel room. Not what they expected on a business trip to Canada’s capital. She’s wearing a black lace teddy. A carafe of red wine and two glasses sit on a table. A closer look inside her purse reveals thousands of dollars, three business cards, and a supply of pills.

The detective initially writes off Becca Landry’s death as an open-and-shut case of overdose, but Frank Landry, an ex-military, believes his wife was murdered. Convinced that autopsy results will prove him right, he fears the police will soon target him as a prime suspect. He asks Megan and Michael to investigate.

As they dig deeper, they unearth shocking links that expose the dark underbelly of a city where widespread fraud, illegal drug trafficking, and a sense of entitlement defy the system. Elusive conspirators up the stakes and threaten to block their efforts at any cost.

How can Megan and Michael ensure their trust in each other is enough to save them on a perilous quest for a cold-blooded killer?


Twitter: @SandraNikolai