Olivia Teese Interviews Ben

Ben in cafeOlivia Teese has interviewed Ben. An Interview with Ben Starling is now live!

In this interview, Olivia talks to Ben about what it’s like to be a dad; his muse, a Great Dane named Edington; and about his newly released novel, Something in the Water, available now on Amazon…

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What’s Jutoh? And how it began…

boxshotmediumI was fortunate enough to learn about Jutoh from a fellow author just before I published my first book. It’s a game-changing software program for self-published authors that creates ebooks for Epub-using platforms and Kindle, in a re-flowable format. Along with Scriven, this is the one other author tool I could not imagine living without.

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“Re-flowable” means it reshapes to fit all devices.

Re-flowable – what’s that? Re-flowable means that no matter whether your readers use Kindles, iPads, iPhones, Android tablets, phones, Macs or PCs, your work will always “reshape” itself to fit the screen of the device they prefer (as opposed to having to scroll around from side to side to see each page).

DSC02093Jutoh also enables authors to publish a high quality product on any ebook distribution site, including Amazon’s Kindle, Apple’s iBooks, Google Play and Kobo. And it creates PDFs suitable for sending to print-on-demand services. What’s not to like?

Julian Smart, co-author of Jutoh and the tech genius behind it, kindly agreed to answer a few questions about this software.

Welcome, Julian and thanks for joining us. You have a degree in computer science, a PhD in Artificial Intelligence and have developed software for many different kinds of applications, including a sonar navigation system for autonomous underwater vehicles – how did you find your way to developing software for authors? What made you think of this application in particular?

JulianThank you very much, Ben! It’s an honour to be invited.

My main inspiration has been my wife, Harriet Smart, who writes historical novels. In 2002 I was made redundant by the Linux company Red Hat UK, at which point Harriet and I designed our first writing tool, Writer’s Café, which had been brewing in our minds for some years.

Editing Screenplay

Editing a screenplay in Writer’s Café

Writer’s Café focused on early parts of the writing process, with tools for planning stories and exercising the writing muscle. As the ebook became a practical and commercial possibility thanks to Amazon and others, we realised that there was a gap in the market for a tool to easily create ebooks for self-publication, without resorting to writing HTML and CSS code.

There was plenty of scope to offer alternatives to word processors, that offered ebook-specific tools, optimisations and structuring that conventional word processors don’t cater for. Harriet’s writing needs have definitely driven and shaped the tools I’ve been writing for the last 14 years, and I’m glad to say she’s still an enthusiastic user of Writer’s Café and Jutoh, planning in the former and writing all her novels in the latter.

boxshotmediumWhat key things did you and your co-author, Harriet, consider while developing Jutoh?

Simplicity and flexibility are two major considerations, often tricky to keep in balance. Jutoh is used by a wide range of people, from authors who know just enough word processing to get by, to publishing houses with demanding expectations of how Jutoh will fit into their existing workflow. So Jutoh must neither overwhelm nor limit.

I try to keep advanced settings hidden until needed, notably with the ‘configurations’ concept which allows the user to control more esoteric facilities such as conditional inclusion of content according to distributor or format.

One of the features of digital publishing is the large number of pitfalls and ‘gotchas’ due to variations in the way e-readers handle content, limitations of HTML and CSS compared with word processors, display size differences and so on.

paper-people-1316581-638x459So Jutoh has an extensive warning and error system to help the user identify problems in their books, and there is also a help system with instant keyword search for the manual and a 200-article ‘knowledge base’ comprising short answers to specific technical questions. So this way Jutoh tries to clear some of the fog surrounding the mysteries of ebook creation, and Jutoh’s own behaviour.

How long did it take for you to develop Jutoh?

Editing Jutoh user guide in Jutoh

Editing the Jutoh user guide in Jutoh

I can’t remember exactly when I started working on Jutoh, but probably a year or so before the first release in 2010. However, I had a big leg-up reusing code from some of my other tools, including Writer’s Café. Complex software is never really finished, and I have been improving Jutoh and adding features since version 1, so another answer to the question is ‘the last 7 years’.

boxshotmediumWhere does the name Jutoh come from?

All the names we tried to come up with that had writing connotations sounded horribly cheesy, so we opted for an arbitrary word made up of the first letters of our names: Julian, Toni (our daughter) and Harriet. This had the advantage of being an available domain name.

What was the most difficult part of designing this software? The easiest?

Editing Tables in Jutoh

Editing tables in Jutoh

Hardest: tables! Jutoh’s text editor is written from scratch, and implementing all the parts of table layout, import, export, and editing with all the required property dialogs, was a massive job. During much of this I was bedridden for 9 months and as a distraction I worked feverishly on table support for Jutoh 2.

Easiest: probably the tab-based document management system, since much of it had been written for Writer’s Café.

Are there any famous authors using it?

Most conventionally-published authors will leave ebook creation to the publisher, but there are many quietly successful ‘indie’ authors using Jutoh who will be familiar within particular genres, such as Stephanie Bond, Ruth Harris, Freda Lightfoot, Holly Lisle and Barbara Freethy. Other notable users include the publishing guru Jane Friedman, and ‘Early Edition’ TV series creator Vik Rubenfeld.

What should authors think about before deciding if this product is right for them? Is it more useful for fiction or non-fiction?

I would encourage authors to consider if they are happy giving control of the editing process to a third party, who charge per book and make it harder for you to make corrections and changes later; books-freeimagesand whether they want a high-quality result compared with a simple-minded document conversion.

If retaining control appeals, and the author doesn’t mind a little work in getting to know new software, then Jutoh should fit the bill. Since a demo is available, authors can determine whether it suits their way of working before purchasing.

Jutoh can be used for both fiction and non-fiction; although most users are probably novelists, users have also created highly technical, large books with Jutoh, making use of features such as bibliography tools, indexing, footnotes, cross-references, pictures, and tables.

It has been used to create interactive Epub 3 tutorials, children’s books, memoirs, cookery books, photography books, travel guides, self-help books, manuals, and medical textbooks. Jutoh is of course used to create the Jutoh user guide!

Are any special skills required? Do most users have a technical background?

CreatingEbooksUsingJutoh_CoverKnowing how to use a word processor is a good start, together with a little patience for where Jutoh diverges from a conventional word processor. Formatting for digital publishing requires a little more precision and care than day-to-day word processing, and therefore good habits may need to be learned, such as using named styles consistently.

Most users aren’t particularly ‘technical’, if by technical you refer to programmers or web site designers. But obviously there is some skill in using any reasonably interesting piece of software.

life-saver-2-freeimagesJutoh comes with lots of documentation to help get the user up to speed on what formats are supported, how to use Jutoh, troubleshooting problems, and so on, and of course we are very happy to help users if they get stuck.

Have you created any other tools for authors? Or do you have any new products planned for the future?

I’ve mentioned Writer’s Café; my other software has been mainly for programmers, such as DialogBlocks (for creating user interfaces) and HelpBlocks (for creating manuals). Right now I’m temporarily reducing my focus on the nuts and bolts of software development to think about the next phase.

mp3-player-1416240-639x452I’m interested in the use of digital books by the visually impaired, and am looking into support for DAISY digital talking books. Jutoh can already be used to create MP3 files using text-to-speech, with features that allow you to improve speech quality and also preview audio for all or parts of the project.

Editing Speech

Editing the speech sample project, a leaflet optimised for text-to-speech (MP3) and large print output

The sample file Patient Advice Speech Sample demonstrates a medical information leaflet with speech optimisations that can create files for Epub, Kindle, ODT in normal and large-print versions, and MP3 speech. I’d like explore how authors can deliver their books to visually impaired readers more easily – the current self-publishing infrastructure, such as Amazon’s Kindle platform, is not yet adapted to this, and bolt-on audio hardware for Kindles is only a stop-gap measure.

There needs to be a better route for authors to add custom pronunciations and specific content for people listening via text-to-speech readers. Epub 3 has been rather a damp squib as an update to the DAISY format, with few devices or applications taking advantage of speech markup features offered by Epub 3. So there’s much scope for improvement in this area, and I will be looking at how Jutoh can help.

alfie07When you are not developing tools for authors, what do you do?

I enjoy playing ball with my cat, prowling around antique shops with my wife, renovating old properties, and checking out interesting architecture. I watch far too much TV drama – there’s so much quality stuff these days, it’s hard to keep up. My wife calls it ‘research’, so she has an excuse.

Who are your favourite authors? What kinds of books do you enjoy reading?

Harriet book

Grrr. A bear-faced plug for the latest Northminster Mystery

I confess I spend more time reading articles online than reading books; I tend to consume stories in TV and movie form, but I’m a big fan of the Northminster Mysteries by one Harriet Smart.

I’m also promising myself the time to read William Morris’ sci-fi novel News From Nowhere as Morris is a significant part of our decorative schemes.

And my all-time favourite questions: If you had a supernatural power, what would it be? If you were a super hero, what would your name be? What costume would you wear?

I would be Sash-Man, sporting astragalled specs, a white sash and the ability to instantly transform plastic windows into traditional wooden windows (sash-and-case where appropriate). The UK housing stock has been comprehensively ruined by tricksters selling ugly plastic windows that rip the soul out of old buildings, and only a superhero – or a benevolent dictator – could fix this mammoth scandal.

JulianJulian Smart was born in Nottingham, UK, and has degrees from the universities of St Andrews and Dundee. While working for the University of Edinburgh, he created the open source cross-platform GUI toolkit wxWidgets, used for nearly a quarter of century by individuals and organisations all over the world, and the bedrock of Anthemion Software’s applications. Julian has also worked for Red Hat UK, and the Scottish Crop Research Institute.

In 1996, Julian and Harriet founded Anthemion Software to create tools for programmers and writers, including the productivity software Writer’s Café and the ebook editor Jutoh. Julian is based in Edinburgh with wife Harriet, daughter Antonia, and cat Alfie.

You can find out more at www.jutoh.com and www.writerscafe.co.uk

Note: Just in case you are wondering – I (Ben) have not received any compensation for highlighting this product here. It’s a great tool for writers that I have found useful and am happy to share it as one of my favorite finds.

Meet Ben – Author Skype Visits for Book Clubs

BEN blue_actors headshot sq_AUG2015Would you like an author Skype visit for your book club?

Drop Ben a line at benstarlingauthor (at) gmail (dot) com. He looks forward to hearing from you!

Planning to read Something in the Water, An Ocean Romance with your club? The Book Club Reading Guide is now available at Ben’s website.

Ben Interviews Author and Adventurer, Melanie P Smith

Melanie_Motorcycle

Tell us a little about yourself. What do you do when you’re not writing?

4WheelingI have a lot of hobbies. In fact, between writing and my regular job it’s hard to find the time to enjoy them all. There’s nothing like taking a road trip on my Harley with my Iraq Pictures 2004 036husband, especially when we take a new route we’ve never travelled before. I also enjoy camping, ATV’s and horseback riding.

I have always enjoyed writing, but for years I used my creativity to write college essays then in my professional career it was limited to web development, award certificates and event programs and scripts.

Is this your first book? How many books have you written prior?

Warrior Banner_ Series 6I currently have six novels and two anthologies in my Warrior Series. I have also released one romance novel and my most recent release is Mount Haven, the first in my Thin Blue Line Series, a romantic suspense. In addition, I also have a short holiday story (New Beginnings) that is always free on my website.

What genre is your recent release and what is it about?

3D Book for WebMount Haven is a romantic suspense: When Rowdy Cooper’s life is turned upside down he & his family must find a way to go on. Will the move to Mount Haven prove therapeutic or lethal?

Bailey’s on the run. For years she’s been able to keep her secrets and fly under the radar. Will that all change now that there’s a new sheriff in town? She loves Mount Haven but maybe it’s time to move on before her past proves lethal for everyone.

What inspired you to write this book?

My husband. Since I released my first book, my husband has been asking me to write a book using my knowledge of police, police procedures and crime. I finally decided to give it a try and have to admit I really enjoyed writing this one. So far, those who have read it are really enjoying it.

Tell us a little bit about your cover art. Who designed it? Why did you go with that particular image/artwork?

Billboard_Gray SkyI am an amateur photographer and most of my covers are pictures I have taken myself. I am always looking for that perfect shot that will look good on the cover of my next book. Luckily, my husband is a good sport about it when I spontaneously blurt out: “Pull over!”

What is your least favorite part of the publishing/writing process?

Editing/proofing. I have a fairly lengthy process that sometimes feels boring and tedious but necessary. This is hands down my least favorite part of the process and I routinely find myself thinking about my next story instead of paying attention to the work in front of me.

What are you working on now?

I am currently working on a short horror story that will be published as part of a collaboration with a group of fellow authors next fall. I am also writing the second installment of my Thin Blue Line Series. And finally, I am in the process of editing/proofing the seventh and final novel in my Warrior Series.

What is your next project?

I have a few ideas and haven’t yet decided on my favorite. I am considering another paranormal trilogy as well as a stand-alone criminal suspense. I also have a few ideas for a criminal suspense series. I guess my fans will just have to stay tuned for a surprise.

Do you have a pet or pets?

Yes, I have a cat named Charlie and a Border Collie / Aussie Shepherd mix named Port (short for Porter Rockwell). He thinks he’s a people and loves to camp and ride ATV’s.

Do you have any scars? What are they from?

Tons of them. I was a very active child that grew up playing sports and playing on a farm. Cuts and scrapes were common place. But, my most prominent scar came from barbed wire. My sister and I were racing across a neighbor’s field – something we did quite frequently. Unbeknownst to us, our neighbor had recently strung a line of barbed wire across his field to keep out stray cattle. Neither one of us saw it until it was too late. I still have a scar directly above my lip and she carries one across her eyebrow. Needless to say, my mother wasn’t thrilled when she saw her two oldest children barge into the house with blood running down their faces.

What were you like as a child? What was your favorite toy?

I was a very active child. My sister and I spent most of our time outdoors. If we weren’t tending to the animals, we were swimming in the canal (don’t tell my mom) or riding our bikes. I also played softball competitively and loved to ride horses and water ski. My favorite toy was probably my bike. I could explore for hours and still get home in time for dinner.

Melanie 028Melanie P. Smith went to Dixie Collage and the University of Phoenix where she received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Management. She also has a Postgraduate Certificate in Conflict Resolution and Negotiation from the University of Utah.

She has worked for the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office for over 26 years, most of that time has been in the Special Operations Division. She is part of the support staff for the SWAT team, which requires her to respond on call-outs where she mans the radio in the Tactical Command Post, coordinating communication and logistics. She is also a member of the Logistics Unit of the Child Abduction Response Team. In addition she works closely with Search & Rescue, the Mounted Posse, K9 and the Motor Unit. www.melaniepsmith. com

You can also find out more about Melanie at her blog and on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, StumbleUpon, Amazon, Goodreads, Warrior Series Brochure and at Indie Authors Support and Discussion.

 

Shelley Wilson Interviews Ben

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Shelley Wilson has interviewed Ben. Author Q&A with Ben Starling is now live!

In this interview, Shelley talks to Ben about the coolest thing he’s ever done; recurring dreams and nightmares; and about his newly released novel, Something in the Water, available now on Amazon…

Sign up to be the first to know about more releases from Ben!

Ben Interviews Jess Mountifield

TheFemaleCharmMedium

Welcome, Jess. Could you tell us a little about yourself?

I’ve been writing for almost a decade now, and still totally love weaving new stories around my characters. I also love discovering other people’s characters and spend a lot of time reading, binging on TV series on Netflix and playing RPG style board games with friends. I can be very geeky on occasions.

Is this your first book?

The Female Charm is my thirteenth book although it’s my seventeenth if you count the four short stories I have in anthologies with other authors (something I love writing for). It’s also the fourth book in its series.

What is the book about?

The whole series follows Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s elder brother. It’s set just over a hundred years after the last story Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote and hints at the two Holmes brothers being immortal, or close enough to. They don’t know exactly why they are and others aren’t but over the series, as Mycroft decides to take on his own disciple, the very bright Amelia Jones, more clues are revealed. This story specifically follows a section in his training of her and how she copes in his murky world.

What inspired you to write this book?

I’ve loved Sherlock for many years and also really enjoy studying characters from other well known authors’ works. A little over two years ago, I was talking with a good friend about Mycroft being an interesting elder brother and before we knew it, we’d decided he’d make a great character in a series of his own. Shortly after, Amelia was born and I have found I can write about little else since.

Where do you write?

Mostly I write at home these days, but there’s a wonderful café in Bath called the Velo Lounge that has been one of my favourite places to write in for many years. It has the perfect blend of atmosphere, and there’s often a lot of other creative types popping in and out throughout the day. I almost always see someone I know in there as well, which means even on a bad writing day when I’m struggling to get the words out, I come away feeling like it was good to be there. Not to mention how good their hot chocolate is.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I always find this question a little tough to answer. I’m a little bit of both, really. I always have some idea of the plot, even if it’s just a bare bones structure of the most important events or character decisions, but I will rarely know exactly what’s going to happen for the whole book, and even on the few occasions where I’ve tried to plot, my characters have gone off and done their own thing anyway.

Tell us a little bit about your cover art. Who designed it?

I’ve been using the very talented Elizabeth Mackey for my cover design for a couple of years now at http://www.elizabethmackeygraphics.com/ . She’s an extremely gifted young woman and a total breeze to work with. She always seems to know exactly how to capture the feel of the stories I write and seeing a whole series of covers side by side that she’s designed can really look great.

What are you working on now?

At the moment, I’m going through edits for the fifth book in the series and also playing around with the sixth. When I started writing the first one I was only thinking I’d write three or four, but the more of them I write the more ideas I seem to get. So far it looks like there will be at least seven, but more likely nine in total.

What genre do you enjoy writing the most and why?

I find it really hard to stick to one genre, something that can be both a blessing and a curse, but I always have a hint of romance and some kind of action or adventure theme in all my books. The rest hop around Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Mystery. If I write in one genre alone for too long, I always find myself wanting to write something in one of the others. Next up, I think Sci-Fi might grab my interest.

What do you wear while writing?

If I’m at home, pj bottoms and a sweatshirt. I like to be comfortable. If I’ve gone out, usually some comfy jeans and one of my geeky mashup t-shirts like my cat version of Doctor Who characters, or my Groot and Rocket as Hans Solo and Chewy one. I’m working on some steampunk clothing though and might have to work that into my everyday attire.

If you had a supernatural power what would it be?

I’ve always wanted to be able to fly. To go anywhere and see anything would be amazing. And flying, it’s pretty exhilarating.

JessJess Mountifield was born in the quaint village of Woodbridge in the UK, has spent some of her childhood in the States and now resides near the beautiful Roman city of Bath. She lives with her husband, Phil, and her very dapsy cat, Pleaides.

During her still relatively short life Jess has displayed an innate curiosity for learning new things and has therefore studied many subjects, from maths and the sciences, to history and drama. Jess now works full time as a writer, incorporating many of the subjects she has an interest in within her plots and characters. www.jessmountifield.co.uk

You can also learn more about Jess on Facebook and Twitter.

Day 8 – Ben’s Poem – hope rises…

Ben's Valentine Poem_12FEB16

Scroll down to see today’s new verse…

To help me with the next verse, add your comments here, tweet me, or PM me on facebook with your ideas. I look forward to hearing from you! All the best from,

Ben  x

ODE TO A WREN

A graveyard squats beyond a wall
Where they bury dreams with rocks.
As child, as adult, those dreams once called
And on those caskets knocked.

Each year a thinning wail would stray
From walls bulged thicker, taller.
Each day my prayers, more distant, play
In silence to the caller.

Until that sleety autumn noon
When quiet cloaked my pleadings,
As thorns and claws and hooks of Moon,
Tore love from spirit’s bleedings.

Now death puffs its heartless chest
On bones through broken soil,
A waxen, tuxedoed dinner guest
Slurps grinning at the spoil.

Time tried but failed to fix
My endless melancholy,
A constant acid reflux mix
A three-legged border collie.

Okay, so the dog makes zero sense,
I bet you can’t do better,
Onward then with the suspense,
As I struggle with every letter.

One day the calendar did turn,
And a wren, of fluffy breast,
Who’d dined on creepy-crawly things, and a worm
Flew by to build a nest.

The graveyard scared the birdy so,
It jettisoned its eating.
A deluge white as driven snow
Spattered barren soil in greeting.

And in that spattering, a seed was sown
It germinated quickly.
Then roots and trunk and branch were grown.
The plant grew tall, and thickly.

It burst the walls, it let in light,
The voice of hope returned.
The dreams with their attendant might,
Bore fruit in all I’d yearned.

….

…to be continued.

Suggestions and encouragement welcome.

Add your comments here, tweet me, or PM me on facebook with your ideas for this Valentine’s Day poem.