Monday, December 03, 2012

Guest Blog Post: Russell Elkins, Author of Open Adoption, Open Heart

Anyone who knows me knows I'm adopted. I've known all my life and have never made a secret of it. I had a very satisfying childhood and view the family that raised me as my true family. That said, I was found by my birth mother several years ago and we now have a steady, ongoing relationship. The experience inspired me to write Battle Axe, which is not to say it is based on my experience in any way--it simply served as a catalyst for my imagination to run wild and wonder what would happen if a man my age suddenly found out he was adopted, at age 40, and was subsequently found by his birth mother...or someone claiming to be, at any rate.

I continue to be an advocate for adoption and for adoptees and their birth parents to find each other--and then decide if it's right to continue a relationship. I know such reunions--much like open adoptions--do not always go as intended, but one must keep an open mind. 

With that, I turn this blog over to Russell Elkins, who has just published Open Adoption, Open Heart: An Adoptive Father's Inspiring Journey. More information about Russell and his book follows this post. Russell's appearance was arranged by Kathy, who writes the wonderful I Am a Reader, Not a Writer blog.

All of the most wonderful people in the world have had a group of people hating them. Jesus Christ was crucified; Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered; even people like Michael Jordan had people who despised him simply because of his achievements. Every church, organization, group of people who band together to do good in the world have another group opposing them. Adoption is no different.

I didn’t really realize the extent of it until I jumped into the adoption advocacy world. My favorite thing I’ve been called is “adopta-raptor” because people like me swoop down and snatch people’s kids. I’m sorry, I know that even though she was trying to be malicious when she called me that, the way to insult someone is not to call them something cute like that. I had to laugh.

Most of the people who hate adoption are people who have felt cheated or wronged by the process. Almost universally, at some point in their adoption experience the control over their own situation was taken out of their hands- a mother forced by her parents or someone else to place her child for adoption, a grandpa who didn’t want his daughter to place her child, a woman who chose adoption after being raped, a father whose children were removed from his home by the state, etc. Hatred toward adoption is almost always centered around a situation having gone wrong at some point. Not many people who have had little to do with adoption truly hate the concept enough to fight against it.

That’s why my wife and I stand as tall as we can for adoption. We see things so very differently from our side. For us, it was a way to build a family, and family is what life is all about. Family is what helps us learn to love in ways that we can’t experience anywhere else. And with adoption, especially now that most adoptions are “open” adoptions, we have learned to love our children’s biological parents in a way that we never understood possible before.

The relationship we have with our children’s biological families is very unique. It’s not natural for us as human beings to want to share the concept of parenthood with someone else- that goes for the adoptive side as well as the biological side. Yet, we make it work! Not only do we make it work, it works very well. It was not automatic, though. Open adoption is not a single event- it’s a journey. It’s a road that twists and turns and both sides have to find the balance together.

I’m a better man because of open adoption. I’m a better man because I have learned to love in a new way- the way only a parent can learn to do by being a parent. I’m a better man because of the way I’ve learned to love that unique branch of our family tree that we call “birth parents” because, yes, we love them and, yes, they’re our family too.

All I’ve ever really wanted to do and all I’ve ever really wanted to be is a father and a husband. Everything else I am and do is a tangent of that. Adoption has made that possible and I will be forever grateful for that.

Author Bio:
Russell Elkins was born on Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, D.C., in the fall of 1977. Along with his five siblings, he and his military family moved around a lot, living in eight different houses by the time he left for college at age 17. Although his family movedaway from Fallon, Nevada, just a few months after he moved out, he still considers that little oasis in the desert to be his childhood hometown. He and his family now live in the Boise, Idaho area.

Russell has always been a family man at heart, looking forward to the day when he could be a husband and a father. It took him a little while, but eventually his eyes locked onto a beautiful blonde, and he has never looked away. Russell and Jammie were married in 2004. Years of struggling with infertility left Russell and Jammie with a decision to make and their lives changed dramatically when they decided to adopt.

Russell and Jammie have adopted two beautiful children, Ira and Hazel, and have embraced their role as parents through open adoption. Both are actively engaged in the adoption community by communicating through social media, taking part in discussion panels, and writing songs about adoption. Russell also writes a weekly post for and contributes regularly to Adoption Voices Magazine.

Book Summary:
The world of adoption has changed dramatically over the past twenty years. No longer do biological parents have to say goodbye to their child forever. They now have more options when deciding the type of adoption to pursue, such as open adoption. Open adoption creates the opportunity for a special relationship between biological parents, the adoptive parents, and the child.

Open Adoption, Open Heart is an inspiring and true story, which takes the reader deeper into the feelings and emotions experienced by adoptive parents. As you read this incredible story, you will experience the joys, difficulties, and amazing victories facing adoptive couples. Russell and his wife, Jammie, invite you to share in their inspiring and heartwarming journey.

See the book trailer here.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Interviewed on "Just Following a Dream" blog!

Jessica Sayler, author of the "Just Following a Dream" blog (and author of a WIP tentatively entitled "Awakened") was kind enough to host me on her blog and ask me a series of interesting--and random--questions. However, as fellow authors know, there's no such thing as a random question or thought when it comes to fiction. Anything is fair game and anything can lead to inspiration, a plot point, dialogue or a character. The interview deals with both my humorous suspense novels, the recent Kindle Book Review honoree Ring of Fire and Battle Axe, and touches on my own WIP Opposite Day). You can read the brief interview here.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ring of Fire Selected as “Best Indie Book of 2012” Semifinalist!

The Kindle Book Review has selected Ring of Fire as a suspense/horror semifinalist in its annual Best Indie Books competition. The page has had over 50,000 hits in the last couple of months so this is some invaluable exposure for my debut novel. The final five finalists from each category will be announced on September 1, and the six winners (one in each category) will be announced on October 1. I'll be sure to update you as I find out, but this is a huge thrill for a book that was once agented and had lost hope of finding a "home." 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

North Carolina Month on Booksie's Blog!

It's North Carolina author month on Booksie's Blog. Ring of Fire, my humorous suspense novel set in a thinly-disguised Chapel Hill, is featured today.

Friday, June 15, 2012

"Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile" Interview

Certified bibliophile Jessica Torres has interviewed me on her "Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile" blog and you can read the brief interchange here. Like many things these days, it was done entirely via email, which was quite convenient, I must say. I'm trying to round up as many of these as I can, in addition to building up my book reviews, in the hopes of mounting a more aggressive promotional push (blog tour, giveaways, etc.). Jessica is holding a contest to win a free e-copy of each of my books, but hey, if you'd like a free e-copy of either in exchange for a review, just let me know!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

They're Even Funnier If You're Drunk.

The esteemed Crossroads Bar at the landmark Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill has been completely renovated in what looks to be a permanent tribute to Daily Tar Heel cartoonists. Four of my pieces are framed around the room, including one entire Man from UNCle strip (the popular “steal the Old Well after graduation” one). Also included are a few illustrations I did to accompany columns and editorial pieces. My friend Trip Park is represented there as well, as is Charlie Daniels, Jeff MacNelly and other, much more famous alum.

(Sorry for the sloppy appearance of the play window--my html skills don't go much beyond "cut and paste.")

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Top Ten Musical "Novelists"

Music figures prominently into both of my humorous suspense novels—in Ring of Fire, one of my main characters is a college student whose iPod is improbably crammed with selections from the Great American Songbook. In Battle Axe, the protagonist leads a weekend swing band. If I had any musical aptitude, I’m sure I would have tried to start my own band at some point in my life. As things went, I’ve had to settle for lyric writing for my best friend (who IS a world-class musician, songwriter, and now ebook cover designer) and simply surrounding myself with good music whenever and wherever possible. In fact, whenever I’ve changed addresses, the stereo is always the last thing packed and the first thing unpacked.

You hear people say “oh, I like all kinds of music,” but they don’t really mean it. I really mean it. Among the 30,000 songs on my iPod, you’ll find everything from Benny Goodman to Bob Marley, from Flight of the Conchords to Frank Sinatra. Classical, country, Latin and jazz, too. Basically, if it’s got a melody, it’s fair game.

Lyrics are another matter. I can suffer through lame lyrics if the melody’s catchy enough, but not the other way around. To me, great lyrics set to bad music is simply poetry. Great lyrics set to great music, however, is timeless. Sorry Bob Dylan—I can’t hum words.

Here are my Top 10 Musical Novelists. Criteria? The ability to consistently create compelling, memorable characters, conjure up moods or atmospheres or flat-out tell a story. All in the context of an unforgettable tune.

Billy Joel
Haven’t we all known a Brenda and Eddie? Or had a Leyna we were fruitlessly obsessed with? I was born well after the early days of rock and roll, but An Innocent Man takes me back, every time. And when 2017 rolls around, I will be nowhere near Miami.

Ben Folds
Thanks to Ben, I know how it feels to take your girlfriend for an abortion. I know how it feels to get fired after working for a newspaper for 30 years. He cheated recently, because he did an album with a novelist. But for my money, Ben’s lyrics are as good if not better than Nick Hornby’s.

Fountains of Wayne
An easy pick—their titles are characters: Michael and Heather, Denise, Yolanda Hayes, Richie and Ruben, even Stacy’s Mom. Their eye for detail—no, rhyming detail—is amazing, and no action is too mundane to be immortalized. Oddly enough, it all rings true. “Checking out the women on Spanish television?” Come on, we’ve all done it.

Paul Simon
Paul is a thinking man’s lyricist, but he knows it. He gave Billy Joel the complete Oxford English Dictionary as a wedding present. Sure he’s oblique, but he puts you in places you’ve never been before. When I was in Brussels recently at the Magritte museum, I had trouble focusing on the artwork because I couldn’t get “Rene and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog After the War” out of my head.

Aimee Mann
Texturally, Aimee can get a little redundant, and her voice has its limits, but when it’s singing plaintively to Mr. Harris, it’s right on the mark. In her hands, the 30-ish woman pining for her 60-ish neighbor isn’t creepy, but naively sweet.

Weird yet accessible. I’ve never sat on a picnic blanket by a babbling brook in the English countryside in the dead of summer, but I have listened to “Summer’s Cauldron/Grass,” and that’s pretty much the same thing. “Then She Appeared” is either about Botticellis’s Birth of Venus or the church doors parting, revealing my soon-to-be-wife walking down the aisle.

Bruce Springsteen
I admit I’ve never been a huge "Boss" fan (mainly because of that ragged voice), but for working class characters with oversized—or shattered--dreams, no one can touch him.  Rosalita, Sandy, all the tortured souls on The Rising. If you aren’t these people, then you know these people.

Donald Fagan
If Springsteen creates characters you can relate to, then Donald Fagan creates characters who send you scrambling for the Purell. Cousin Dupree is the guy who gets a little older, gets a little money and “befriends” Janie Runaway. There are no morals here, only self-interest. Come to think of it, I guess I can relate to that.

Leiber & Stoller
In 2 ½ minutes, tell me a story about a sideshow belly dancer, describe her gyrations, her tattoos and her jewelry, and do it from the POV of a fan who stumbled upon her act, fell in love and started a family with her. Never mind, it’s been done: “Little Egypt.”

Stephen Sondheim
Before he was “allowed” to write music, he was tossing off classic lyrics for West Side Story and Gypsy. When he finally had control over the entire songs, he created one of the latter day classics, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which perfectly complemented the slapstick script. Yet when the story called for murder, blood and cannibalism, he was right there with the uncomfortably hilarious “A Little Priest.”

All over the map, right? I warned you. As long as we have music, we have the means to put ourselves into whatever kind of mood we wish. Hope you enjoy Battle Axe on Wattpad and give Ring of Fire a chance, too. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Podcast with Wattpad!

I've done announcer-type work and voiceovers for years as kind of a side job, but I still don't love listening to myself. You, however, are welcome to. This is an interview I did last week with the exceedingly nice Pam from Wattpad, a very popular site for writers to post their work and gain free exposure. I'm bound to Amazon to keep "Ring of Fire" there exclusively for another few weeks, but I posted "Battle Axe" on Wattpad back in March and it's already received over 100,000 "reads." Pam asks me about my background in fiction, cartooning, advertising and whatever else we can think of.

Listen to it here.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Choose Your Friends Carefully

What I mean by that is, if at all possible, during your formative years, become friends with someone who, a few decades later will offer to design your ebook cover as a personal favor. Make sure this person is someone who displays very little aptitude or passion for graphic design at the time, but through hard work and dedication miraculously transforms into a visionary artist and Photoshopper par excellence.

Well, that's what I did, anyway, and look what it got me.

I'm posting a larger cover of my debut novel Ring of Fire here, mainly to give it a place to live so I can send out links. My designer--the multi-talented Mike Sottong--worked with my crude notions of a concept and created what you see here. The plot of Ring of Fire involves a nefarious (and occasionally hilarious) scheme to monitor college student's purchase habits--using hidden cameras--and then exploit them. Where are the cameras? Based on this cover, where do you think? The basis of the ring on the cover was Mike's (and my) actual class ring, from the now-defunct Robert E. Peary High School in Rockville, Maryland.

There are conflicting opinions on whether ebooks even need covers, or if a cover makes a difference. That's a topic for another blog post. However, I'm also making Ring of Fire available as a paperback, and paperbacks need covers. Shamefully, I do judge books by their covers, and I wanted mine to look professional. First impressions and all.

Should you desire a cover for your ebook/paperback, Mike has graciously offered to work with select indie authors at a greatly reduced rate (possibly for free, depending on the terms). Just let me know and I'll hook you up.

Friday, March 16, 2012

What'd I Miss?

A lot has changed since I was last here, mainly in the publishing world. The ultimate goals used to be 1.) find an agent and 2.) get published. Not that I'd turn down either an agent or a publishing deal at this point, but I'd give them a lot more thought than I would have in 2009. Why? The rise of ebooks and indie publishing. 

I've spent the last few months devouring all kinds of research on how to properly take one's fiction directly to readers. It's not only possible, it can be highly rewarding--not in terms of money, although that would be nice, but just getting your book (or a digital version of it) in readers' hands. I've had my share of beta readers (friends/family) and my writer's group, but we're talking strangers--people who choose to read your book with no personal knowledge of you. I wanted to do it right, and doing it right takes a while:

  1. Comb through the book yet again, knowing it will be making its public debut
  2. Edit and format it to within an inch of its life
  3. Design a professional cover
  4. Make sure it looks exactly how you want it to in each format you plan to offer
  5. Register a domain
  6. Launch a website
  7. Establish a Twitter identity and attract followers
  8. Set the price for your paperback and digital content
  9. Launch titles
...but you're still not done. Now you'll need to:

Promote them aggressively on a daily basis.

I had a good buddy help me extensively with the covers and I must say, I think they really capture the look and feel I was going for. And they can hold their own with any professional cover out there--and they blow the pants off a lot of amateur covers. No offense.

I built the site myself from a template, but I'd like to think it comes off as a custom job. It's all keyword-optimized, so hopefully, over time (and through new content via this blog), its rankings will improve. 

Both Ring of Fire and Battle Axe went live this week, as paperbacks and ebooks. No sales yet, but I'm still building relationships and seeking a base of reviews before I start more aggressive promotion. I hope to do a free Kindle promotion with Ring of Fire soon that should get it a little more attention, and I'll report on the results here.

I guess this posts marks the shift in the focus of this blog. It will still be about my writing process, as I plan to write many more books in the years to come (and am 2/3 of the way through my next one, the middle grade adventure I've referred to here before), but now it's decidedly not about "trying to get published." As far as I'm concerned, I am published. Now I just have to get read.

Note: if you'd like a free copy of either book in exchange for a review, just let me know. I've got tons of them sitting around on my hard drive.