Monday, 1 August 2011

Self Publishing Spotlight: The Raven Girl by Kathy Cecala

Welcome to my Self Publishing Spotlight!

This month I'm very pleased to say my spotlight has landed on author Kathy Cecala and her mystical book The Raven Girl, the first book in The Foreigners' Saga.

Ireland, 1488: An unusual young woman washes ashore on a remote Connemarra isle. Astonished by her golden skin and raven-dark hair, the primitive islanders set out to capture her. Resourceful and intelligent, the girl--called Marra, or mharra, by the islanders--manages to elude her pursuers, while struggling to understand the strange land she has been thrown into. Meanwhile, Aedan, a young scholar from Galway city, journeys to the isle with his mentor to investigate, but is unprepared for what happens when he finally encounters her, Her very existence challenges his education and notions about the world and its peoples; and the powerful love he comes to feel for her will change his life forever. Who is she, and where is she from? Mara's tale of her own strange journey from the other end of the world merges with Aedan's efforts to win her freedom and her love. The Raven Girl is a novel inspired by actual historical events and explores the clash of cultures that will emerge with the European discovery of the New World and the Americas; and a temporary escape from the 21st century--even if human nature has not changed so much in 600 years.

Intrigued? Well, Kathy has very kindly sent me a guest post all about her books and her experiences in the self publishing world, with one or two words of advice to anyone out there who may be facing tough times. Enjoy!

Hi! I’m Kathy Cecala. As the author of a historical novel set in Ireland, you might think I’m Irish; I’m actually American, a native New Englander of partial Irish descent. (‘Cecala’ is Sicilian-Italian, my husband’s family name, and it means ‘cricket.’) It was my own family history which led me to write this novel, The Raven Girl, which was begun several years ago after a trip to Ireland with my extended family to seek out our ‘roots.’ I just loved the place, bought lots of history books (so many, I had to pay an extra baggage fee on the trip home) and set out to write a great Irish-American saga, which topped out at nearly 1,000 pages. I called it The Wild Swans (unaware of a more famous novel by that name).

How did a bunch of swans become a raven? I’d actually had a book published before, a contemporary romance for adults, by one of the biggest publishing conglomerates on the planet. I once visited their offices in New York City and their building took up an entire city block. I appreciated the nice check I got as an advance, the equivalent of a good year’s salary. But I soon learned when you take money from a big publisher, you don’t get to make the big decisions anymore. I felt like a serf with a distant, uncaring master. This giant publishing company gave my book only the tiniest bit of publicity—I’ve since learned they save their marketing dollars for their ‘stars,’ not their first-time authors. The book came out, was in the bookstores for about six weeks, and then it was all over. I’m not ungrateful for the experience; I had a book published, it was popular locally and also sold at the Frankfurt Book Fair to a German publisher, all good things. But the rule in American publishing seems to be that if your first book does not quite make the right ‘numbers’, there is no second chance. When I tried to market several books afterwards, the first question was always, “What were your sales figures with that first book?” I felt very discouraged, and gave up writing fiction for a while. And then, I made that fateful trip to Ireland.

When I finished Wild Swans, I felt utterly heartsick at the prospect of trying to sell it. I did not want to get onto that agent-publisher carnival ride again. I knew my former, big-time agent would have no interest, since she had professed a strong dislike for historical fiction of any kind. And when I approached a number of other agents with it, their first response was, of course, what about that first book? Why didn’t it sell? The few who actually read Swans commented favorably on the writing, but thought it way too long. I became discouraged again, and I literally stashed the manuscript under a sofa I had in my upstairs hallway—I couldn’t even look at it anymore!

That was five years ago. In late February of this year, I lay awake one night at about 3 am, unable to sleep. I turned on my iPod, and decided to check out the headlines. I read a story on USA Today’s website about self-publishers, and the phenomenally successful Amanda Hocking. I was astonished to learn how many books she had sold on Kindle. And I thought: Why couldn’t I be an e-book author, too?

The very next day, I retrieved Wild Swans from under the sofa, blew off the dust, and took a long hard look at the book. I decided it was too long, and that each chapter could actually be a book of its own. Moreover, I decided the new book would be geared toward older teens, young adults, because I had just begun a new career as an English tutor for high-school students. My students were constantly complaining they could not find good books to read, and a surprising number of them wanted truly accurate historical fiction! So I took out the chapter I liked best, renamed it The Raven Girl, did some hard-core editing and proofreading. My husband, who is a graphic artist by trade, began work on the cover. Midway through the process, I decided I wanted a real book, too, and found out about CreateSpace, which turned my simple text into a tidy, lovely little paperback, at no cost to me. By the end of April, I was once again a published author, both in print and online. I actually cried, when I saw my brand-new page, featuring The Raven Girl.

This self-publishing experience has been the exact opposite of my first experience. Money-wise, there’s very little, but the sheer satisfaction of producing a book that is truly all mine, that I can be proud of, has made up for it. I find the best marketing tool is simply to seek reviews both online and from print sources. They are hard to come by, since many established reviewers are still reluctant to review a self-published book. But my sales build a little each day, and I’m very proud of my sales in the UK, which are almost equal to my North American sales. I’m reminded of the story of a stone thrown into the sea, setting off waves that gradually build into a tsunami. Anything can happen!

So now you know, there will be more books to come! The Raven Girl is the first in a kind of loose-knit series, The Foreigners’ Saga. All of the books are set on the same fictional island off the west coast of Ireland—Inis Ghall--and all involve the introduction of an non-Irish foreigner or stranger to that setting, though each is set in a different time period, with completely different characters. The next is a tale from circa 300 AD, called Earc: Coming of Age in Ancient Eire, and will be out next month, on or about Sept. 26. Future books will deal with the Vikings, the Black Plague, the Spanish Armada and the Irish emigration. You can learn more about my books at my website,

Lessons to be learned: Persistence pays off! As does patience. Save all your manuscripts, don’t destroy them…and insomnia is not such a bad thing, either!

Well, you've read the blurb, read the first chapter and read the story behind the story, so now all that's left for me to do is tell you what I thought of The Raven Girl.

I’m ashamed to say that despite being next door to Ireland I know next to nothing about this country’s history – except maybe something about a potato famine… So when Kathy gave me her first self published book to read and told me it was set in Ireland towards the end of the 15th century I jumped on it and was thrilled to find myself whisked away to this mystical land to explore this fascinating time.

The story of The Raven Girl lies at one of those times in history when a settled and simple society faces the challenge of rampant discovery. Global trade has increased bringing exotic goods, and with the goods come encounters with exotic people but there are those in the most rural parts of Ireland who immediately cast suspicion upon different things or people, driven either by Christianity or pagan superstition. Poor Marra is an instant victim of this as she washes up on the shores of the island of Inis Ghall and Kathy really captures the reaction of the islanders and the mainlanders as it would have been at that time. There’s a real sense of the mystery of the era as people encounter new objects, new countries and new races and try to reconcile these things to their relative ignorance. In the 21st century we take differences for granted, and in fact we delight in them because that’s what makes the world such an interesting place, but amongst the poorly educated of the late 15th century, why wouldn’t you consider a dark-skinned girl to be the daughter of Satan? Kathy is so thorough in recreating the time and is so consistent with her portrayal it’s hard to believe this is not a true story.

I think one of the most fascinating aspects of The Raven Girl is that it is an exploration of ownership and how each character believes they have some kind of ownership right over another character. Aedan’s wealthy Spanish merchant biological father and his priest foster father are constantly clashing over who owns Aedan and who gets to determine his future. Kathy has such a subtle hand as she explores Aedan’s dilemma and his torn loyalty but when Aedan meets Marra she hints towards a third option: that he could own himself. Even Aedan, however, is not innocent of possessive behaviour towards Marra. He just assumes he knows what’s best for her but you can forgive him because Kathy has given him such a kind heart that, as the reader, you know this really is what is best for her, lost and vulnerable as she is in this strange land. Ironically, it is the uneducated heathen, Marra, who is the only character that does not claim ownership of anyone but she is the one everyone else believes they possess, just because she is different. It is heart-breaking to witness her go through such persecution but at the same time it makes the aspiration of freedom even sweeter.

The Raven Girl is like a gradual awakening. Kathy is so efficient at playing out the misconstrued truths that Christianity and superstition created at the time and so graceful at unveiling the real truth to each character in turn, which for some leads to their downfall. As Aedan and Marra’s relationship develops they each come to see their futures not as they have been told they will happen but as they choose them to happen and that is what makes this story such a beautiful and delicate one.

That just about wraps up this month's Self Publishing Spotlight. A huge thanks to Kathy for participating, I can't wait to read the next books in the series. I highly recommend treating your Kindle to The Raven Girl, and when it's only a couple of £s/$s there's no reason not to really. You can download it from Amazon:

UK      US

Or if you prefer a paperback version you can get one at CreateSpace or Amazon. If you do read it, make sure you check back to tell everyone what you thought!

More information on The Foreigners' Saga and getting your hands on a copy at Kathy's website: 

To find out more about the Self Publishing Spotlight feature or to submit a book, click here. I'm especially interested to hear from authors planning to publish in the new year.

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