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IMG_2453aaCatherine Astolfo retired in 2002 after a very successful 34 years in education. She can recall writing fantasy stories for her classmates in Grade Three, so she started finishing her books the day after her retirement became official. Her short stories and poems have been published in a number of Canadian literary presses. Her story, “What Kelly Did”, won the prestigious Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Crime Story in 2012.

In the fall of 2011, she was thrilled to be awarded a four-book contract by Imajin Books for her Emily Taylor Mystery series (previously self-published), and has never been happier with this burgeoning second career!

Catherine’s books are gritty, yet portray gorgeous surroundings; they deal with sensitive social issues, but always include love and hope. They’re not thrillers, but rather literary mysteries with loads of character and setting. And justice always prevails.

Website: www.catherineastolfo.com

FB: http://tinyurl.com/kc4n5xw

Twitter: www.twitter.com/cathyastolfo

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, SWEET KAROLINE. What was your inspiration for it?

A: Thank-you! Sweet Karoline explores the mindset of a psychologically fragile character throughout a journey of self-discovery that involves universal themes of beauty, racism, love, treachery, family history, and crime. There were several points of inspiration for Sweet Karoline. The first one is a theme that runs through all my books. I am fascinated by evil, by the psychopathology that leads people to harm others. How is a monster created? Are they born or developed? How can we recognize them? For Sweet Karoline, I explored that theme through the complicated relationship between two women. My second inspiration, which I have to admit also runs through my other books, is my children’s background. They are a combination of white, black and native ancestry. I find the history unique and intriguing, in particular the family’s undocumented connection to Joseph Brant. As for Anne, the main character, she was very strong and inserted her personality into the book right from the beginning.  In addition, one of my children and his wife live in Los Angeles, so I am somewhat familiar with that area and was inspired to place Anne in the film industry, as my children are filmmakers.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist.

A: In the first sentence of the book, my protagonist tells use that she killed her best friend. But did she physically murder her? Or is she just feeling guilty about Karoline’s suicide? Anne is a very beautiful woman. She’s part native, white and black. She’s so gorgeous that the attention is actually a problem for her. She builds protective walls around herself. Her world shrinks to two best friends whom she trusts implicitly. She’s very complicated. Sometimes she calls herself the “Ice Queen” because she has a mean side to her; sometimes she’s sweet and loving. I don’t think Anne’s much different from most of us, but she endures some traumatic events that threaten to send her far off course.

Q: How was your creative process like during the writing of this book and how long did it take you to complete it? Did you face any bumps along the way?

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00070]A: The hardest part of writing Sweet Karoline was choosing a path for Anne, my main character. She kept resisting the storylines I gave her! Not surprising, since she’s a complicated, feisty, intelligent woman who is undergoing an enormous trauma. She has an emotional breakdown after the death of her best friend. Anne falls in love for the first time. She discovers a trail of manipulation and betrayal that would send anyone into shock. Naturally she was a little taciturn and resistant to her writer. As a result Sweet Karoline went through several permutations.

The creative process for this one taught me a lot about patience. The novel developed very slowly in comparison to my other four, taking almost three years to complete. It was like the taciturn child after giving birth to several placid babies. I learned to let go. Follow my subconscious muse that was directing me away from the ordinary. When I finally gave in to that mode, it was exhilarating. I believe it has changed my writing forever.

Q: How do you keep your narrative exciting throughout the creation of a novel?

A: Part of what I do is to give out sections of the novel to my daughter as it evolves. She’s a producer/casting director and has a terrific visual sensibility. If the narrative is not exciting, she’ll let me know, but she will also give me some suggestions on how to keep it going. As well, I read parts of it aloud, either to myself or to my critique groups. Reading aloud gives an entirely different dimension to the writing. You can hear the mistakes, as well as the cadence of words that are beautifully arranged.

Q: Do you experience anxiety before sitting down to write? If yes, how do you handle it?

A: I don’t usually feel anxious until I’m part way through the novel. The anxiety sets in when I’m afraid it’s not good or I won’t have the inspiration to keep going. I try very hard to soothe my tension by rereading particularly good sections. Sometimes I even allow myself to edit. Lots of my writer colleagues tell me that editing causes their anxiety, but for me, the process often alleviates it.

Q: What is your writing schedule like and how do you balance it with your other work and family time?

A: I don’t have a set schedule, though I try to set a goal of 500 words a day. Some days I’ll get a lot more than 500 completed and the next day, maybe none. I write when and where I can, whether I’m sitting in a waiting room, out in my backyard or in my office. That’s why I love the freedom of the laptop! Bless you, little MAC. In some ways, I’m fortunate because I didn’t start writing until I retired from my career as an educator. My time is very much my own, so I can build in family and other work without too much trouble. I wasn’t able to write much when I was younger and juggled children and a job. But waiting ‘til now means I’m a little older than many authors.

Q: How do you define success?

A: I equate success with joy. To me, joy is a state of satisfaction, peace and love. In my writing career, success is having a reader like my books. Just one reader who really understands my vision can make my day a success.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers whose spouses or partners don’t support their dreams of becoming an author?

A: Oh my. I could cruelly say that you have the wrong partner. However, if someone is determined enough to keep the relationship as well as pursue the art, s/he must find a way to make compromises in order to fulfill both partners’ needs. Get up very early in the morning, when everyone else is asleep, to write. No one’s time is being intruded upon.  Or keep a diary in the bathroom.

Q: George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Do you agree?

A: I don’t, actually. I’m a pretty selfish person and probably wouldn’t keep doing something that was horrible or like a painful illness. I LOVE writing. I can’t wait to sit down at my laptop and create. I miss it terribly if I’m unable to write for a while, so I’ll even cook scenes in my head. Now that I’m retired, I experience joy pretty much every day because I can imagine I’m standing on a mountain or cuddling a baby all while sitting at my desk.

Q:  Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?

A: Since one of the greatest joys for a writer is feedback, I encourage your readers to write reviews for their favorite authors. As a writer, I’m interested in your reaction to my novel. This is your opportunity to write two or three sentences giving your opinion. You are not bound by the old rules of book reviews that you might have learned in school. You are relieved of the summary task! You don’t have to prove any expert literary skill to anyone, although you may want to demonstrate correct spelling and grammar to be taken seriously. Your only goal is to tell other readers what you thought of, reacted to or how you felt about this particular book. I’d also love emails from my fans! My email address is cathy@catherineastolfo.com.

Catherine Astolfo’s Bibliography

The Emily Taylor Mystery Series:

The Bridgeman. Imajin Books, October, 2011

Victim. Imajin Books, November, 2011

Legacy. Imajin Books, April, 2012

Seventh Fire. Imajin Books, July 2012

Awards:

Winner, Arthur Ellis Best Crime Short Story Award, 2012

Winner, Derrick Murdoch Award, 2012

Winner, Bony Pete Short Story Award, First Prize, 2010

Winner, Bony Pete Short Story Award, Second Prize, 2009

Winner, Brampton Arts Acclaim Award, 2005

Winner, Dufferin-Peel Catholic Elementary Principal of the Year, 2002, the Catholic Principals Council of Ontario.

Winner, Elementary Dufferin-Peel OECTA Award for Outstanding Service, 1998

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Hi all,

Some news about Amazon:

https://community.hsus.org/campaign/US_2008_amazon_fighting4?

If you’re an animal advocate and would like to help further, you can send a message to Amazon’s CEO (using the link above) urging him to stop selling material that promotes illegal animal fighting.

Thanks,

Mayra, aka The Dark Phantom

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An interview with Jerry D. Simmons, regarding the far-reaching implications of Amazon’s announcement that any small press or print-on-demand publisher doing business with them would need to print books through their publishing arm: BookSurge. Jerry is a former Executive with the Time Warner Book Group who left there in 2003 to build one of the leading social networking sites for Independent authors, NothingBinding.com.

What’s the real outcome going to be from this Amazon decision?

The publishers impacted will follow the demands of Amazon and print their books with Book Surge. The wider implication is that Amazon strengthens their position with these publishers and creates a monster with their vertical integration. This leaves each one of those publishers vulnerable to new demands by Amazon. What’s next? Higher discounts. Right now these publishers have been forced to change vendors, it might have cost them a bit more money, but remember, they market to writers not consumers. So if they are unable to place their authors’ books on Amazon, it looks bad in the eyes of their customers, the writers. These publishers don’t have the courage to say no and take a stand. And it’s not about the fact they sell a ton of books on Amazon, it’s about their customers’ view of them and their ability to market their own books.

How do you predict the long-term effects of this as it relates to the small author and publisher?

The long-term effects for the author and publisher are devastating. With Amazon strengthening and securing their place in the distribution and sales channel, they can do anything they want. The next move will be to squeeze these small authors and publishers for placement fees, advertising fees, and eventually higher discounts. When you give in once, it never stops, this is the way of the publishing world and booksellers. It will get to the point where they start to lose money on each book sold. Only then will Amazon back off, but you can bet they are going to push authors and publishers to the wall and take every possible nickel out of the equation.

What can an author/publisher do to “fight back?”

Draw the line with this decision, pull their books from Amazon, create a new online market for selling their books, a central location for all self-published, print-on-demand books that has no alliance with any publisher or printer. Again, it’s not about selling books, it’s about how they are seen in the eyes of their customers, the writers. They are concerned about their own pipeline for new business drying up and that is much more important than giving in to Amazon’s demands. Each one of these publishers could switch all their allegiance to B&N.com today, but they haven’t, and the reason is that in the eyes of the writer, they feel they must be on Amazon to be successful. Short term it hurts business and they are more concerned about that than the longer term impact which is going to be a continual erosion of their profit margin.

What alternatives do authors and publishers have besides selling their books on Amazon?

It’s time for the self-published, print-on-demand companies and small publishers to begin creating their own marketplace, totally and completely separate from all the online platforms that sell their books. I strongly believe that the website http://www.NothingBinding.com is a solution, and for full disclosure, it is a site that I founded. But here is the key, if you are not part of the traditional world of big New York publishing, from which I spent 25 years, then authors must realize it is fruitless to continue to struggle to become part of something dominated and controlled by the largest publishers in the world. Amazon is clearly inside the traditional world, and they are setting restrictions on anyone outside that wants to be part of their world. This will never end! It’s time now to create your own community and establish a voice in the marketplace. I’m confident that Nothing Binding can fill that void, becoming the community and voice for Independent publishing. The name alone signifies a non-alliance with any publisher or printer. A social networking website that allows authors free placement of their books with links to outside sources is a perfect way for authors to separate themselves from the traditional world of big publishing; in fact, it’s the only way to create a market and achieve increased sales they so desperately want and need.

Do you think this was a bad decision on Amazon’s part and if so, why?

Obviously Amazon weighed the profit from the sales of all these POD books versus the additional revenue of printing AND sales. They made a calculated gamble and it appears they have been right. Now there is no stopping them on their demands. It won’t happen overnight, but they will make new rules and continue to do so until it negatively impacts their own revenue stream. Giving in is a monumental mistake for the author and publisher, if the POD companies had taken a stand against the decision and risked short-term profits, they would have been much better in the long term and more respected by their own customers in the marketplace. Why do you think Amazon did this only for the print-on-demand books and not books that are offset printed? They claim they did this so it would be easier for them to marry books with other products that customers wanted, combine the package and shipping for convenience and cost savings. What about all the other books that are offset printed? They have the same problem with marrying books and products, but they don’t own an offset printing company, yet! If I was running any company that does a substantial amount of business with Amazon and saw what they were doing with books, I’d keep a close eye on what other parts and manufacturing companies they purchase. Vertical integration in this case is good for Amazon, no, great for Amazon, but bad for the publishing business and possibly very bad for other product lines sold on Amazon.

Since AuthorHouse/iUniverse and Lulu have signed the contract with Amazon, does this change the playing field for the other publishers, or is it irrelevant (and if so, why)?

With Author House and Lulu agreeing to Amazon’s demands, it puts pressure on the other companies to follow suit. None of these companies can risk their own business drying up and even though it’s doubtful they lose a ton of sales if they dropped from Amazon, it would be the negative perception their own possible customers would have, i.e. the writer, and of course their competition would use this as leverage in their own marketing as “being the one company still doing business with Amazon.” These writers don’t really understand the implications, yet, all they see is that their books are or are not on Amazon for sale; that’s all they care about.

In the survey of writers I completed long before NB was started, I found that virtually 98% felt they must have their books on Amazon, and clearly 70% hated the fact they had to give a 55% discount to them. When asked if Amazon went away tomorrow, how much would it impact sales, only about 15% felt they sold enough books on Amazon to make a difference. They must be there, they hate being there, yet it doesn’t really make a big difference, so what’s the point? Once Amazon raises the effective discount, or asks for ad or placement fees, and the publisher passes this along to their authors, they might wake up. But who knows, right now, all the authors care about is making sure their books are still listed and for sale on Amazon.

Fighting back should be done gradually and not a knee jerk reaction. I think if these authors and publishers set a deadline for Amazon to reverse their decision or else they would pull all books, they could get positive media attention to this, they will have capitalized on this in a way that would draw attention to them and their books, and in the long run they would be out from under the thumb of a very big online retailer. The analogy I use is that if the U.S. had been serious about alternative fuels back in 1973 during the oil embargo, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are today, 35 years later. Of course you can’t compare oil to books, but the fact remains, this cave in to Amazon is a very steep and slippery slope and it won’t take anywhere near 35 years for them to realize their mistake, maybe 35 months!

If authors seek out other platforms to sell their books – how will they compete with the “comfort level” consumers feel with Amazon?

There is no way to compete with the comfort level of Amazon and that of course is a problem, but a short-term one. Solutions will create short-term discomfort, but I strongly believe people buy books on Amazon because it’s all they know. If there was a viable alternative, then I think consumers would welcome it. The responsibility is on the shoulders of the publishers to counter this strategy with cover price discounts, until the consumer starts to feel comfortable again and then you can readdress the price issue. These publishers will have to make some short-term concessions to attract their consumers, but it beats what they are going to have to endure when they cave to Amazon. There is no easy solution, there is no silver bullet that will make everything okay tomorrow, there will be some issues that have to be worked out, but if all these authors and companies would combine forces, create a new online market for themselves and their books, in 35 months they will be glad they did. Eat it in the short term for long term gain-that is the answer to the Amazon problem. Because Amazon is going to do nothing in the future to help the POD companies’ bottom lines, they are going to continue to eat away at their margins in a number of ways while at the same time squeezing them on price and discount. It’s a no win situation for the authors and publishers and it doesn’t appear that they really realize the situation they put themselves in by giving in to Amazon’s demands.

Reprinted from “The Book Marketing Expert newsletter,” a free ezine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques. http://www.amarketingexpert.com

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