Saturday, May 31, 2008

Kunati Books Named Publisher of the Year

Some of the most exciting news I've heard since Kunati Books picked up the rights to Heart of Diamonds was that my publisher was named Independent Publisher of the Year.

The announcement was made at Book Expo America by ForeWord Magazine, which made it to celebrate the magazine's tenth anniversary. Here's what they said:

ForeWord has always championed independent presses,” Publisher Victoria Sutherland said, “and this new honor is another way for us to shine the spotlight on publishers that are doing revolutionary things and producing quality books.”

Kunati is one today’s most innovative independent publishers. It produces book trailers for every new release, maintains a blog, and encourages its authors to blog and actively participate in marketing their books. Kunati currently has several movie deals in the works, and its roster of authors includes Pulitzer Prize winner John E. Mack.

ForeWord described Kunati’s Women of Magdelene by Rosemary Poole-Carter (978-1-60164-014-7), as “a brilliant example of the best that historical fiction can do.” ForeWord has also published reviews of Hunting the King by Peter Clenott (978-1-60164-148-9) and The Secret Ever Keeps by Art Tirrell (978-1-60164-004-8).

It has been called “a publisher to watch” by Booklist and “impressive” by Publishers Weekly; now Kunati Books is ForeWord’s 2007 Independent Publisher of the Year.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Muppets Changing the World - Part 1

Gary Knell has a permanent twinkle in his eye. And why not? He’s a 54-year-old guy who goes to the office every morning to teach 70 million kids to read with the help of an eight-foot yellow bird. Sure sounds to me like a lot more fun than selling municipal bonds.

Knell is Big Bird’s boss, not to mention Kermit, Cookie Monster, and the goofy, glorious Elmo. He’s the CEO of Sesame Workshop, the non-profit educational organization that brings your pre-schooler Sesame Street each morning. I dare say every single kid in America—and their parents—know where Oscar the Grouch lives and can sing Ernie's “Rubber Ducky” song.

But all is not just sunshine and happy songs on Sesame Street these days. Sometimes, it’s more like trench warfare. “In 1988, there were two pre-school shows in the United States, Mr. Rogers and us,” Knell says. “Today there are literally fifty pre-school programs on TV, plus six competing networks.”

Sesame Street is still the number one show for kids 2-11 in the New York DMA (where I live), according to the A.C. Nielsen ratings for February, but it’s closely followed by Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on the Disney Channel, and Ni Hao, Kai-lan and Dora the Explorer on Nickelodeon. Nickelodeon, Disney, Noggin, Discovery Channel, TLC, and the Cartoon Network basically ran the commercial broadcasting stations out of the kids television business several years ago. Is Sesame Street next?

Not if Knell and his little staff of 350 have anything to say about it. With their measly annual budget of $125 million, they go toe-to-toe with the mega-media likes of Disney (annual revenues $36 billion), Viacom ($13 billion), and Time Warner ($46 billion) every day, vying for the attention of all those three-year-old consumers in an electronic universe with hundreds of TV channels as well as DVD’s, web sites, cell phones, and video games. To win, Knell has led the organization into new media with a vengeance since he took over as CEO in 1999.

You’ll find Sesame Street everywhere on the web, starting with “You have access to 2,000 video clips in perfect digital quality that are catalogued by curriculum and by character,” Knell says with a trace of wonder in his voice. “If you want to teach your kid to count backwards, for example, you can call up a video with Count von Count. We view that as our channel of the future.” The brand is also a big draw on YouTube—a segment with Chris Brown and Elmo last year drew over five million views.

According to Knell, Sesame Workshop had the #1 podcast on the web last year, too. “Word on the Street” on iTunes uses Conan O’Brien, Brian Williams, John Stewart, and other well-known media personalities to help kids build vocabulary by playing with a word of the day along with a Muppet. Don’t be surprised if you see a mom holding her cell phone in front of a kid in the supermarket checkout line—she’s probably showing them a Sesame Street clip.

Then there is video on demand: “You can pull down Sesame Street and play it back for your kids while you’re cooking dinner,” Knell points out enthusiastically. He says a million moms and kids download Sesame Street through Comcast alone each month.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Soak Them Bones

While golfers like me often think of outdoor hot tubs as the place to soak our bogey-beaten bones, a remarkable array of indoor spa facilities are available, too

Indoors or out, spas offer real health benefits for golfers and civilians alike. “Body-healing temperature is 102 degrees,” says Association of Pool and Spa Professionals Chairperson Penny Johnson. “Just ten minutes in water at that temperature can make you feel like a whole new human being.” The Arthritis Foundation says hot tubs relieve stiff joints, tight muscles, and poor circulation. Sleep researchers have long prescribed a hot soak before bedtime as a great way to encourage a good night’s sleep. There’s some evidence that spas help with weight loss and reduction of cellulite and many people also believe hydro-massage encourages production of endorphins, which enhance your feeling of well-being.

Jaccuzi spaYou don’t need a huge outdoor hot tub to enjoy those benefits, either. Manufacturers like Jacuzzi and Kohler offer whirlpools and air baths in numerous styles and configurations that fit any d├ęcor and lifestyle. Kohler BubbleMassage baths offer full-body hydro massage from more than 100 adjustable air jets that inject warm air into the bath and allow use of bath oils and salts. Other options include chromatherapy, which illuminates the bath with color to enhance your mood. The Kohler Purist model starts at $5,300.

The Jacuzzi Fuzion Salon Spa bath (starting at $4,900) provides seating for two with sculpted arm supports and contoured backrests with pillows. There are also fifteen jets (with eleven dedicated to the back and feet) that are fully adjustable to provide twelve different hydro-massage experiences in addition to the thousands of warm air bubbles generated by the bottom channels. You and your partner will also enjoy the infinity edge drain system so you can fill the tub to the very brim and a chromatherapy lighting system with 256 mood-enhancing colors.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds