Red Flags: How a book was “born” (Includes ordering information)

For every book, there is a story about how it came to be.

The story behind Red Flags starts in 1997. The figure skating boom of the 1990s was in full swing. The Internet was in its infancy. Instead of blogs and social media, there were primitive websites and Usenet newsgroups. The hive of Internet skating fandom at that time was a Usenet group called, also known as RSSIF. The RSSIF-ers were a knowledgeable,  passionate bunch. Flame wars between different factions were common, especially during the summer months when there weren’t many skating competitions to dissect. Gossip about skaters’ private lives was discouraged, but it seemed unavoidable in an era where elite figure skaters were A-list celebrities whose latest escapades routinely made tabloid headlines.



At some point during the summer of 1997, the RSSIF regulars got into a heated discussion over which topics should or shouldn’t be allowed. On a whim, I decided to write a little soap opera that covered all of the forbidden topics– closeted gay skaters, eating disorders, extramarital affairs, abusive coaches, crazy skatemoms, bickering pairs– albeit in a fictional skating world populated with characters who were completely made-up; they were not stand-ins for real-life skaters. I titled this soap opera The Strong and the Sequined.

I figured I’d keep the soap opera going for a few weeks, maybe a few months. But each time I posted a new chapter, I would be swamped with requests for back chapters. (Today, I would have posted them on a blog, but blogs hadn’t been invented yet.) I couldn’t believe people were actually reading my little story– I was literally making it up as I went along! I had only a vague idea of what was going to happen next. At that time, I was definitely a “pantser” not a “plotter.” The Strong and the Sequined took on a life of its own.

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Meet the skatemoms from Red Flags!

Happy Mother's Day!!!

The skatemoms in the above picture would like to say Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there– and to all the caregivers who have ever filled that role in someone’s life.

Before they would agree to pose for this picture, these skatemoms made me promise to tell you that they do not, in any way, fit the stereotype of the pushy skatemom from hell. They also want to make it clear that they are not the skatemoms from Red Flags. Indeed, it would paint a false picture to show the Red Flags skatemoms standing in a row at an ice rink together. In the book, the American skatemoms never meet the Soviet skatemoms, who are not allowed to travel outside the country.

So, without further ado, here are the skatemoms from Red Flags, in order of appearance…

Lyudmilla Belkina Lyubovskaya, also known as Milla, is Larissa’s mother. She gets pregnant with her only child at the age of seventeen, by which time she is already showing symptoms of a mental illness that grows progressively worse over the course of the novel. Unable to care for Larissa, the two switch roles. But whenever Larissa appears on TV, it is Milla who spots her “baby” first.

Zoya Alexandrovna Panova performs most of the heavy-lifting skatemom duties during the early part of Larissa’s skating career. An elderly neighbor who is not blood related to Larissa, Zoya was close to Milla’s late mother and feels a deep sense of responsibility toward the child. Like most Russian women of her generation, Zoya has had a hard life. She is the one who teaches Larissa how to survive.

Marina Turchenko, another non-relative, forms the female half of the husband-and-wife coaching team at Larissa’s hometown skating rink. I will leave it up to the reader to determine how much of Marina’s gentleness and warmth is sincere and how much of it is contrived to manipulate Larissa into performing well on the ice.

Gladia Rathbone is beyond the stereotypical skatemom from hell. She and her daughter, Cassandra, are the first Americans Larissa encounters when she starts competing internationally. Although Cassandra is older than Larissa and her skating is more artistically refined, Gladia still views Larissa as a threat and treats her accordingly. But Gladia is at her worst with Cassandra; the other American skaters compare them to Joan and Christina Crawford.

Elinor Brown, a minor character, is another American skatemom who views Larissa as a threat to her daughter. But unlike the raging Gladia Rathbone, Elinor is high-strung and jittery. She has to live separately from her husband so that her daughter, Ellen, can train at an elite skating club in another state with a coach who (hopefully) knows how to deal with Ellen’s eating disorder.

Dmitra’s mother is the only skatemom Larissa encounters at the athletes’ dormitory in Moscow; the other parents live too far away to visit their children. Larissa scoffs at the way Dmitra’s mother babies her daughter, yet she is secretly jealous. At the age of thirteen, Larissa recognizes that Dmitra has a family to protect her while she, Larissa, is on her own.

#Indie #Author Day 2017: Saturday, October 14! Start Planning NOW!

I checked the Indie Author Day website and one of my local libraries is participating. I need to find out more about this!

Sally Ember, Ed.D.

#Indie #Author Day 2017: Saturday, October 14!

The second annual Indie Author Day will be held on Saturday, October 14, 2017. This event brings together libraries and local writers around the world for a day of celebration and inspiration devoted to indie authorship.

Registration for Indie Author Day 2017 is officially open. Visit the Indie Author Daywebsite, . to learn more information about this year’s event and how to get involved in IAD programming near you.

From the Indie Author Day website:


In addition to a selection of on-demand video workshops that will be available from Indie Author Day sponsors, there are many activities for your #library to offer as part of its Indie Author Day 2017 event.

To get you brainstorming, here are some suggested activities that #libraries have done at past events:

—An #author panel featuring traditional, hybrid and self-published #authors from…

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Another Twitter ad for Red Flags

For my latest Twitter ad, I decided to bring back Shirelle and Becky. I wish I could use them for a Facebook paid ad campaign, but Facebook won’t allow ads with a lot of text. They had issues with every single ad I submitted that had any text beyond Red Flags and my name. What happens to authors with longer names and longer book titles?


Will Shirelle and Becky make more appearances? I don’t know. The figure skating season is over, so for now I’m just playing around with different ideas.

A plea for reviewers – can we open up a dialogue about self-published books?

Nail Your Novel

So I find a lovely-looking review blog. The posts are thoughtful, fair and seriously considered. I look up the review policy and … it says ‘no self-published books’.

Today I want to open a dialogue with reviewers. If you have that policy, might you be persuaded to change it? Or to approach the problem in a different way?

I used the word ‘problem’. Because I appreciate – very well – that in making this policy you are trying to tackle a major problem. Your time as a reviewer is precious – and let me say your efforts are enormously appreciated by readers and authors alike. You get pitches for many more books than you can read and you need a way to fillet out the ones that are seriously worth your reading hours. A blanket ban is a way to fend off a lot of substandard material and save you…

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My new Twitter ad for Red Flags

With the conclusion of the World Team Trophy competition in Japan, it’s curtains down for the 2016-17 figure skating season. To mark the occasion, I made a new Twitter ad for Red Flags. This one has a more fun, lighthearted tone than the straightforward ads I’ve used so far.

Meet Shirelle and Becky…


These illustrations came from Canva; I just changed the color scheme so the skaters would show up against the rink background (which I made myself). I don’t know why Shirelle carries a purse on the ice, but I hope she puts it down when she practices her scratch spins. What if she lets go of that thing and it becomes airborne?

23 Tips from Famous Writers for New and Emerging Authors (5 min read)

Great advice! There’s even a small figure skating reference. 🙂

Millionaire's Digest

Written by Millionaire’s Digest Staff Member: Amber M.

Founder & Owner of:A Not So Jaded Life

Millionaire’s Digest Staff Team, Author, Successful Living and Writing Writer

1. “I have advice for people who want to write. I don’t care whether they’re 5 or 500. There are three things that are important: First, if you want to write, you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you. Where you just put down what you think about life, what you think about things, what you think is fair and what you think is unfair. And second, you need to read. You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader. It’s the great writers who teach us how to write. The third thing is to write. Just write a little bit every day. Even if it’s for only half an hour — write, write, write.”―Madeleine L’Engle

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3 Habits of Prolific Writers

I’ve gone through prolific periods as well as dry spells where I didn’t get anything done. I’m at an in-between phase now.

Writers After Dark

Prolific writer is one of those terms that is difficult to nail down. The word prolific just means: productive, abundant, or creative. In other words, we may “know it when we see it,” but the meaning is subjective. It’s a quality that requires comparison. And by comparison, history has delivered some very prolific authors. Interestingly, a review the top forty prolific writers, reveals many names you might not recognize.

Sometimes the reason may be as in the case of the German author, Rolf Kalmuczak who wrote over 2,900 novels but did so under over one hundred pen names. In other cases, such as Barbara Cartland’s 772 novels, the unfamiliarity may be because you’ve never endeavored to read romance. But there are other names, such as Isaac Asimov and his 506 books, you may know even if you’ve only experienced his stories in movies (Bicentennial Man and iRobot). The numbers, however…

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For Those of You Writing a Book that You’re Scared No One Else Will Understand

As someone whose novel doesn’t fit into a distinct category, I can relate to this…

A Writer's Path

by Lauren Sapala

Why doesn’t my book look like the other popular books in my genre?

I get this question, in various forms, from my clients all the time.

Sometimes it’s an issue of genre-blending. For instance, up until a few years ago most of the sci-fi/western writers out there felt like freaks, because this was a very small genre with a select audience and there was not yet a level of cultural acceptance that came with it. If you were writing sci-fi/western stories in the year 2003 you might have just given up altogether when you got back rejection after rejection from agents who didn’t really understand what you were writing or how it might sell.

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