One of the best parts of being an author out in the world is the chance to meet and support fellow authors. I met R.D. Stevens in the summer of 2022. We connected as people do–on Instagram. We read and reviewed each other’s debut novels, which both came out last summer, and pretty quickly, I could tell we were going to be friends. Stevens is not only a whip-smart philosophy teacher with a great sense of humor, he’s also a damn fine writer. And I’m thrilled to help him virtually celebrate the launch of his brand new young adult dystopian novel, The Freeze. It’s a fun, fast-past romp full of conspiracies, taut action, big-brother moments, and memorable characters.
We’ll be hanging out virtually this coming Friday, February 17th at 4 PM EST / 9 PM GMT. Come join us for some good conversation! Click HERE to register for free.
Here’s a bit more about The Freeze:
It is the year 2064 and London is in crisis. More than thirty percent of the world’s population has been killed by a global pandemic and the city state is divided into four zones to prevent further spread. For the past twenty years, each month has seen a different zone plunged into ‘freeze’ state, the space and its inhabitants literally frozen in time for thirty days. The government explains this as a natural quantum temporal anomaly, but there are those who suspect foul play.
17-year-old James is stuck in the poverty of Zone 4, moving between foster placements with his twin brother, Jake. When he meets the magnetic, rebellious Sasha, he is introduced to the dangerous world of ‘tripping’ – the illegal practice of breaking into frozen zones. Before long, James is caught up in the schemes of Thaw – a group of young misfits working together to stand up to the government’s inequalities – and finds himself with an impossible decision to make.
James wants to uncover any hidden truths about the freeze and save those he cares about from injustice, but how can he do this when it’s hard enough to save himself?
The Freeze is a dystopian novel for young adults, brought to you by R.D. Stevens, the award-winning author of The Journal.
This just in from the good news bureau. Yesterday, I learned that my wonderful audiobook narrator, Nicola Fordwood, has been nominated for a Voice Arts award for her performance of my debut YA novel, Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze. Bringing the audiobook to life was a true labor of love. Since my publisher doesn’t do much audio just yet, I knew that if I wanted an audiobook of my novel, I would need to do most of the up-front work. That meant finding a narrator, creating a schedule, fronting all the advance costs, and seeing the process through to the finish without any prior experience. But I couldn’t do it alone, of course. Someone had to read the damn thing.
Luckily, I found a home run collaborator in Nicola Fordwood, a Bay Area based voice actor who, lucky for me, fell in love with Rainey Cobb and Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze. I knew going in that Nicola was a pro and that, once contracts were signed, would do a great job, submit her work on time, and all the rest. What I didn’t expect was the level of passion and dedication she would bring to the role, which went way beyond the paycheck. In her performance of Rainey Cobb, and all the book’s characters, Nicola went deep, getting to know the characters inside and out and putting every ounce of her talent into bringing them to life so that the listener could truly disappear into the world of the story. Audiobook narration is difficult, painstaking work that takes a powerful brew of artistry and stamina to pull off, and as I listened back to the final recording, I found myself so immersed that I almost forgot I was listening to a book that I wrote. I’m gushing, but Nicola is that good. And I’m so proud of her for this well-deserved nomination. The winners are announced in December, so keep your fingers crossed.
If you haven’t heard the audiobook yet, what are you waiting for? Click here to add it to your listening list. And if you’d like a teaser, click here to listen to the first chapter for free.
For the past two and a half days, I’ve been in the Northeast Kingdom, in the northernmost tip of Vermont, only a stone’s throw away from the Canadian border, on a writing retreat. As usual, I’ve been quite productive, accomplishing in only a few days what normally takes me weeks, or even months, to work through at home. None of it would be possible without the support of my wife, who 2-3 times a year, lets me leave home and completely unplug so I can get truly myopic and immerse myself in my writing with no boundaries or limitations. She’s pretty much my hero. I think she lets me go because she knows I’d be sort of miserable if I couldn’t, and because she loves me. And because we both know that, life, and also marriage, are at times like an airplane emergency. You should put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. Caring properly for yourself makes you a better carer for others.
For creators, it’s hard to overestimate the value of creative retreat, which truly must happen away from home. It must happen away from work. Away from spouses. Away from children. Away from responsibility. Away from reality, really. For me, it must be done with a willingness to completely unplug and give myself over to and elevate the part of myself that is always a bit player in my normal life. That sidekick who wishes he had more stage time, but will always be seventh or eighth on the call sheet. If you’re a writer, musician, or any other kind of creative person, you know exactly what I’m talking about. At home, there’s never enough time. On retreat, there’s nothing but time.
What you come to realize, when you stop doing everything but writing is how much you actually DO in your day to day life. You realize that most days you spend in a blind frenzy, going from one thing to the other, deluding yourself into thinking you’re focused and present, when most of the time the sheer volume of tasks and requirements that each day hurls at your face has you in perpetual survival mode. This is especially true for people like me with school age children. When you strip everything away, when you stop measuring your minutes by how they connect to the next thing you have to do, your mind is freed to wander and dream in a way that’s hard to quantify, and truly rare. And it’s why I am always astounded by how much work I can get done in only a few days when there’s nothing else to do but put one word in front of the next.
For many years, I retreated alone. I’d book an AirBnB in the woods somewhere, or on the back part of somebody’s farm, and barely leave the house for three days on end. I’d be like a strange sort of word hermit, unshowered and talking to myself, delighted by my own strange company. But for the past couple years, I’ve been going on retreat with my writing group. At first, I worried that the distraction of others would compromise the purity of my retreat goals. I worried I wouldn’t be as productive. Amazingly this has not proven true. If you find the right company, people who want the same thing out of retreat as you do, which is mostly to be left the hell alone and wring the lemon out all the way, it can be wonderful. A lovely routine develops. We rise on the early side, meet up in the kitchen as we brew our coffee and tea, exchange a few morning greetings, then disappear to our individual hovels, mine always messy and strewn with books and piles of paper. Throughout the day, conversations might occasionally spring up, or we might have lunch together, but there’s an unspoken understanding that there’s no obligation to socialize or hang out. The work is everything, and not having to explain that to anyone, not having to justify your needs, is fabulously freeing. Then, in the evenings, there’s usually a shared meal and some beverages. Some retreats, when there’s 4-5 of us, we might play some music or read from what we’re working on and talk about it. Sometimes there’s none of that, and that’s fine too.
Life is difficult. Life is tiring. Life takes everything you have. It’s easy to fall into the habit of being a martyr. Of believing that always sublimating your own needs for whatever greater good (work, family, society) is akin to nobility and grace. And, of course, it’s important to be a good citizen, family member, etc. But I think that our society undervalues tending to one’s own garden. To nurturing one’s own health and spirit, which is strange because your own happiness literally depends on it. So, get out there and retreat in whatever form you can find it. Turn off your phone. Ignore social media. Sink gleefully and gluttonously and un-guiltily into whatever thing fills up your cup, and give yourself permission to stay there for a while.
You’ll come back better for it. At least, I always do.
As a back-to-school treat, I’m giving away THREE signed copies of Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze. Just a fun way to help you celebrate a book loving TEEN, TEACHER, LIBRARIAN, or FRIEND in your life. I’ll inscribe it however you want and send it off to them. Everybody loves getting books as presents, and now you don’t have to do the hard work!
There are two easy ways to enter:
Enter right here by sharing your favorite book read from this summer in the comments below. A comment = an entry. Easy.
Go to the giveaway post on my Instagram page, and follow the instructions.
The giveaway ends Sept. 7th at midnight so enter now. Winners will be chosen at random. If you win, I’ll reach out directly with details.
This is going to be awesome. Ready…go!
**Must be willing to share your address with me **U.S. residentws only
First off, have you gotten your copy of Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze yet? Click HERE to order the paperback, e-book, or audiobook! Also remember to add it on Goodreads HERE.
Now…on with the program!
Collaborating with voice actor Nicola Fordwood to bring the audiobook for Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze to life was one of the most joyful and surprising parts of the publishing process. I sat down with Nicola to talk about her journey into voice acting, what it’s really like to record an audiobook, and whether she would consider taking the plunge again.
How did you become a voice actor?
It was actually a friend who introduced me to the VO world. I was working a corporate job and kind of losing my mind because I wasn’t being creative. My friend thought doing voice acting would allow me to act again and release some of that creativity. I took one character class and I was hooked!
This was your first audiobook. What made you decide to take the plunge?
First, audiobooks have always scared me a bit because they are a big commitment. You also need to have great stamina to keep your energy up throughout the book. But when you step outside of your comfort zone and try the things that scare you or intimidate you, that is when the magic happens. Second, I got a small sample of the book to audition and when I read it, I could just feel it. I could feel Rainey. I know it sounds insanely cheesy. But I wanted to tell her story. I wanted to know more about her journey. I also LOVE the 90’s, thoroughly enjoy young adult/coming of age books and feel very strongly about the power of a mixtape.
How do you stay focused while recording for long periods?
I am an introvert. I love silencing the outside world and just concentrating on one thing. I think both of these things really help me with being in a small dark booth for hours by myself everyday. Once I am focused on something that I really enjoy, I get hyper-focused. I would do most of my recording in the morning to early afternoon and then I couldn’t stop thinking about anything but the book and the characters. I would fall asleep just wanting to wake up and continue working on it. It was kind of exhilarating.
How did you approach creating the voices for the characters in Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze?
Acting, even voice acting, is a very physical thing. So for me it was first talking with you (Benjamin) about the characters and then actually standing and playing with the voices. I stood how I thought the characters would stand. Do they lean back on one hip when they talk? Do they hunch over? Do they fidget with their hands? I would then write down any of those notes of how I was standing or the placement of my mouth or hands to help me get back into that character.
What surprised you the most about this process, both good and bad?
How emotional it was. How attached I got to Rainey and also how much I enjoyed it. I recorded this book every day over the course of 2.5 weeks and on the final day when I finished the last chapter, I cried. Not a sad cry, but almost that overwhelming, surprised cry when you finally complete something that has been your focus for so long.
How was voicing an audiobook different from other kinds of voice work?
Voicing an audiobook was like performing a play just instead of one role. I got to play all the parts/characters, including the director. It was the closest I have been to being in a play in a long time and it reminded me of why I love acting/performing. I love bringing a character’s soul to life and sharing that with an audience and hopefully making them feel something.
How did it affect your process to have access to me (Benjamin) to talk through things?
It was amazing! I have never had that opportunity before where I can ask the author about each of the characters: what are their dreams, what are their biggest fears, etc. For most character work I have to make a lot of it up if it isn’t obvious in the script, but instead I got to go to the source. It was so nice.
How did you consider the audience/listener while you were recording?
Audiobooks are so intimate. Most of the time you are literally sitting directly in someone’s ear telling the story. So as a narrator, you have to keep that in mind. That being said, I found this book to be very intimate. It is told in the first person through Rainey, so the listener is hearing her innermost personal thoughts. The listener is basically her daily diary entry. There is an emotional rawness to that and especially to Rainey herself that I really wanted the listener to hear and I hope comes through with my delivery.
Rumor has it that a sequel to Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze may be in the works. Would you consider voicing Rainey again?
My heart just jumped a bit when I thought about getting to see Rainey again and continuing on her journey with her. This book is one of those books that has just stuck with me. I still think about it a lot. About a lot of the characters, but especially Rainey. Yes, absolutely. I really would be honored to.
Click HERE to learn more about Nicola’s voice acting and hear samples of her work.
Click HERE to listen to Track 1 of Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze for FREE!
I love audiobooks. The immersive experience they provide, especially when in the company of a good narrator, creates a literary journey that’s second to none. I struggled for years to get through Moby Dick, that is, until I started listening to the audiobook narrated by the peerless Frank Muller, whose raspy voice sends the sea spray right into your eyes and makes the quarter deck slick with whale blubber. That’s what a good audiobook can do.
So, from the moment my debut novel was accepted for publication, even though my publisher doesn’t yet do much audio, I knew that an audiobook version of Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze was a must, even if much of the legwork fell on me.
The process wasn’t easy, but once I found my dream narrator in the amazing Nicola Fordwood, whose work ethic and friendship inspired and humbled me, I knew that we had a chance to create something special. A uniquely immersive way to experience the world of Rainey Cobb and her journey through being fifteen. Listening to the final audio files…well, let’s just say tears were shed. That’s how good Nicola is at making the words sing, at making you feel these characters all the way down to your tippy toes. It was almost like experiencing my book for the first time, or as if it had been written by someone else.
All this as a very long way of saying I’m beyond thrilled that the audiobook is now available and ready for your ears.
I’m so excited, in fact, that I want you to hear the first chapter right now. Click HERE to listen to Track 1 for FREE! Try not to get hooked.
Then, once you are hooked, click HERE to listen on Audible or purchase your copy today!
As always, thank you for being here and supporting me and my work.
First off, have you pre-ordered Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze yet? Click HERE to pre-order your copy now–thank you! Also remember to add it on Goodreads HERE!
Now, to business.
After years (and years) of trying, my debut novel finally comes out next month, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of time, and how time gets soft and stretchy around moments of great expectation. Why is that? I hate to fly and in the days, hours, and minutes before I board an airplane, time seems to puff up, to press in on me. Minutes fall into quicksand and drag interminably. Similarly, as I await my book coming out, time has gotten labored and unreliable. I’m simultaneously wishing I could wind the clock forward to July 22nd and my moment of jubilation, but also trying with every shred of my being to savor the experience, to soak it up. To look around. Remember how I feel. But time has me in a strange grip as of late, and it won’t seem to let go.
Be in the moment, I tell myself. Be here now, I say. You’ll only publish your first book once, don’t try to race through it. But how exactly do you do that?
I have two sons, and when you’re a parent, you come to realize that parenting is a journey that makes one hyper aware of time. I remember when my first son, Felix, was perched in my lap, only a few days old, barely able to hold up his own head or make conscious facial expressions, totally unable to control his own bladder, and even then I was already thinking: won’t it be wonderful when he can walk? I was thinking: I can’t wait until he’s older and I can teach him to play tennis and take him to hear live music and share with him all of life’s wisdom. And then he’d smile quite by accident, the way babies do, and I’d be hurled back into the moment, feel his warm soft skin against mine and I’d kick myself for drifting, for not being as present as I would like to be. For not being right here, right now.
Does this happen to you? (Please say yes)
The strange thing is that it feels almost impossible to stop this from happening. Even if you gain momentary control over your sense of space and time, if you find yourself in a moment that you’re so deeply in that time ceases to exist, it’s fleeting. At least for me. Before long, I’m thrust back into the weigh station of anticipation. Thrown into a box with high walls and just enough air. Forced back into asking that perpetual question I will forever associate with The West Wing: What’s Next?
But still I try.
My book is currently in the hands of early readers and reviewers, some of whom I know but most of whom I do not. As a professional writer (my day job is as a copywriter), and soon to be published novelist, I dine out on feedback. Everything I write gets picked apart in one way or another. I’m used to it. I like it. My writing being critiqued is literally my life. And yet, awaiting the judgment of strangers on the relative quality of my novel is a uniquely out of body experience, the likes of which I’ve never known before. I’m genuinely proud of my book, and I know I did the best I could. My conscience is clear. I know even bad reviews won’t change that. Nor will good reviews. And yet…the goddamn waiting.
I hope you’re not over there rolling your eyes at me. I hope, at least in part, that you’re nodding your head just a little bit in understanding.
Would you like to read an advance copy of my debut novel, Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze, before it comes out on July 22nd? Of course you would! And I’m doing a giveaway just for followers of my blog to make it happen. Because I do love you so.
The rules are simple:
Be among the first 5 people to click HERE and send me a message saying you’re interested.
Then, I will send you a secure link where you can download the e-book to read on your Kindle, Nook, or e-reader of your choice. Or you can download the digital ARC (advance reader copy) version of the paperback.
Did I mention it’s FREE? Clink the link and let’s make this happen! Yay books.
Much like getting a golf ball to fly in the direction you intended it to go when you hit the damn thing, writing is way harder than it looks. That goes for whether you’re sweating your college admissions essay, or trying to get your novel’s opening to work a little better. And it’s why it helps to have an experienced guide along for the ride. Someone who can look at your writing from an honest distance, give you tips to hone your craft, and help you build confidence.
And, you’re in luck. I happen to know a guy.
I’m thrilled to be offering my services as a freelance editor, copywriter, writing coach, consultant, and spirit guide.
Why should you work with me?
With an MFA in creative writing from Lesley University, twelve years of teaching experience, five years as a professional copywriter, a debut novel on the way, and around a billion hours polishing manuscripts until they shimmer and shine, I can help you see what’s working in your writing—and what needs work.
Are you applying to college and need that college essay to really pop? I got you.
Need a gut check on your novel’s opening pages? I got you.
Looking for big picture feedback on your completed manuscript? I got you.
Need to improve the copy on your website or in consumer facing materials? I got you.
Just getting started and not sure how to move your story from your brain to the page? I got you.
I’m professional. I’m punctual. I’m supportive. I’m honest. I promise not to waste your time.
But mostly, I think you should work with me because I love words and stories more than anything in the world, and I genuinely believe my experience can help you accomplish your writing goals.
Click HERE to get learn more about the writing services I offer.
Or, simply go to my CONTACT page and send me a message.
With my debut novel set to come out on July 22nd, it’s time to start telling you a little bit about it. I thought I’d start with the back cover blurb/teaser that I recently wrote. Have you ever tried to write one of these? I don’t recommend it. It’s really hard. When you write an entire book and then you sit down to try to summarize that book in a compelling way that piques someone’s interest, but in a way that doesn’t oversell or tell them too much, but also somewhat fits the tone and feel of the book inside, but without seeming too casual or annoying, it feels like someone has just asked you to juggle some flaming unicycles.
And yet, I’m proud of this blurb, and of the way it introduces my main character, Rainey Cobb, the girl on the cover. Readers, after all, will experience the blurb in conjunction with the cover art, and I wanted the teaser to establish Rainey as a person and bring her world and dilemmas to life in harmony with the cover. I love this character so much, and I hope readers love her too.
Fifteen-year-old Rainey Cobb never thought meeting someone could actually change her life. But, then again, she’s never met anyone like Juliet.
It’s 1995 and The Cobb Family Band, led by Rainey’s rock star parents, has arrived for a week-long gig at the Midwestern resort owned by Juliet’s family. Dazzled by Juliet’s carpe diem attitude, DIY tattoos, and passion for grunge, Rainey falls hard. And when Juliet gives Rainey a mixtape that unlocks her heart’s secret yearnings, Rainey starts seeing herself—and her vagabond, show-biz life—through new eyes.
If Rainey quits the band, her parents’ fading career might never recover. But if she doesn’t leap now, she might be stuck forever in a life she didn’t choose… and always wonder who she could have been.
Does that make you want to buy the book? Damn, I hope so. Pre-order links coming SOON!