Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Goodreads Giveaways

Any author, especially those of us doing our own publishing and/or own marketing, will tell you what a struggle it is to get our work into the hands of new readers and what a joy it is when that finally happens. We love the people who already know about us, or read us, but are they buying books? Are they clicking on our books to put them into those shopping carts and spend their hard earned money on them? Or are they the friends and family we just send free copies to because it's no use those copies taking up space in our own cupboards at home? (Granted - with print-on-demand books now available, we no longer have to deal with a ton books stored in the garage.)
Some of the books in my cupboard.
Some of the books in my cupboard.
Pile o books 2

There is always a fleeting hope that our friends and family will help us hawk our books out into the world and that they will somehow be bought by someone who will tell all their friends and then we'll be cooking with gas cuz they'll buy all our books! Yeah, baby! And then maybe Oprah!

But the reality is that our friends and family have lives of their own, possibly books of their own, and they may tell a few people, but mostly our books will sit at the bottom of the Amazon sales list and will be returned by the independent books stores we send them out to.

The point is, after we've saturated our captive audience of friends and family with the marketing of our books, we need to somehow reach past that boundary to new readers; it is we the writers who are the ones responsible for the hawking of said books and for trying to reach those new readers.

So, it was with great interest when I ran into the Goodreads Giveaways program a couple of months ago (as a reader this means you can get free copies of books if you go through the list and find books you like; as a writer this means sign your books up!).

Any author or publisher can sign their recently published book (within the last six months) up for the program. Provide the book description, copy of the cover, ISBN, etc., as well as how many copies you are willing to give away (and remember to include how much that will be in postage when budgeting for yourself), and time limit (from a few days to a few weeks) for the giveaway.

After an approval process, Goodreads places your book on a list of books that Goodreads readers can go through and sign up for books they would be interested in receiving for free. At the end of your own self-appointed time limit, Goodreads uses their own system to choose the appropriate number of people to receive your free copies. You get their names and addresses (with the understanding that you will not be using that info for nefarious purposes) and they get your books (with the understanding that after reading your books they will post a review).
You can see how many people signed up for my book, and I was only giving five away.
You can see how many people signed up for my books, and I was only giving five away.
So, looking at the above pic you can see that about 300 people who would not otherwise have been exposed to my book, saw it and clicked on it and liked it enough to sign up for a free copy. And currently five copies of each book are winging their way to people completely outside my current circle of influence. Hopefully, I've broken past that boundary and into a new set of people who will (again hopefully) enjoy my book enough to spend the time to write a positive review. And maybe their friends will trust that review enough to buy a copy, and they'll tell two friends, and so on (as the old commercial says).

I'm crossing my fingers.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Archeology at Home

Cross posted at Blogetary:

If you're a renter in most cities then you've probably been through the whole thing where people come through your home every year or so to make sure the walls are not peeling paint and the toilet is not leaking through the floor. And sometimes these visits end up with someone announcing that walls need repainting or the floor needs to be redone, etc., etc.

It's been fifteen years since I moved in, so it is about time some things were done. The paint is looking a little worn, so I wasn't surprised when this time round the guy said that the living room and kitchen needed to be repainted. However, at first there was a demand for it to be made within a couple of weeks of when they did the inspection. I panicked. There was no way I was going to be able to pack up most of my apartment, shove it to another part of my apartment, find a place to stay for a few days with Pye and then move back in, all within two weeks. But I requested and was given an extension (thank you!) so that helped decrease the stress levels somewhat.

But it still needs to be done. So, since I had helped my dad clean out some of his things back in September I decided to make a concerted effort to clean out things in my own apartment in October. This way I hope to make it easier for when I need to pack up things for the big paint.

I used to move more often, so I used to do this kind of purge more often. And in fact, my mom used to have us go through and clean things out once or twice a year when I was a kid. But, I had gotten settled, let go of some of those purging habits. My purging had decreased down to cleaning out the fridge and going through my books and movies occasionally to see what I could sell on Amazon or donate to the Friends of the Library book sale. So, it was time to get down to business.

It was a good thing I did. You really don't know what you have until you physically go through it. I knew I had cards, letters and photos from friends and family over the course of my lifetime that I had stashed here and there. The trouble was, I was only remembering one or two different places where they were stashed, such as my steamer trunk, and I had forgotten about other places, like my keepsake box and several drawers where I'd just tossed things — which underscores why I needed to go through "all the things" in my apartment.
Forgotten drawer of cards, letters and photos that I opened when I thought I was close to being finished.
Forgotten drawer of cards, letters and photos that I opened when I thought I was close to being finished.
Keepsake box even had photos and cards that needed to be winnowed.
Keepsake box even had photos and cards that needed to be winnowed.
Linen closet before the great purging of '14 with all the sheets and blankets just tossed up on the shelves where I couldn't reach them unless I got out a ladder.
Linen closet before the great purging of '14 with all the sheets and blankets just tossed up on the shelves where I couldn't reach them unless I got out a ladder.
Closet after I had brought sheets and blankets down to put into the steamer trunk, and then gone through the cards and photos in the trunk and organized them in the tubs and put them up out of reach since I rarely need them.
Closet after I had brought sheets and blankets down to put into the steamer trunk, and then gone through the cards and photos in the trunk and organized them in the tubs and put them up out of reach since I rarely need them.
I decided to focus on winnowing the cards, letters and photos first because I knew for a fact that they had gotten out of hand. But I also went through and cleaned out my clothes closet, my dresser, the bathroom cabinet, my jewelry and some of the kitchen shelves. It was amazing, to me, how much of an archeological "dig" it was to go through all these things. It wasn't just a purging, it was an emotional dredging up of memories and emotions I — some I had completely forgotten about. I found letters my best friend and I had written each other in grade school and junior high. I found my old diary from grade school and had to set everything aside to read that. The Valentine card I got from one of my very first big crushes made me stop and sigh for a bit. I found family history notes, cards from friends and photos of events I had completely forgotten about. It was one of the most difficult nonpaying jobs I have ever had to do. It was worth it.

I ended up throwing out about thirteen to fifteen large garbage bags of stuff (and I might still end up tossing out more before the Great Purge ends). Some of it I may regret tossing out (like the inflatable mattress I used to use for guests, but really, who is comfortable on those things?). I did not use the donate/sell/toss/keep method; that takes time and a car to take things to the different places where they need to be dropped off and then trying to deal with people online when selling your stuff (something I only have patience with when it comes to books). So, instead I used the "Does it spark joy?" method. No need to decide on a pile. Just an easy Aye or Nay when faced with all this stuff. Aye — I keep it. Nay — straight to the garbage. The company that picks up our Dumpster for the apartment building actually goes through and sorts what is in there into garbage and recycle, so I didn't feel bad about just stuffing it into bags and hauling it downstairs and into the bin.

Other than the closet pictured above, you can't really see a difference. It's all the little cupboards, drawers and cabinets where the purging can truly be felt. They're more organized, less cluttered, and easier to find the things I want to use more often. For example, the violin music has moved from the bottom of a milk crate in the back of a kitchen cabinet to a drawer in the living room where it lives with my chin rests and music stand. My manuscript print outs have gone from a disorganized pile to a file box right next to where I need them to be. My craft supplies are right next to them. My sewing machine and kit are now the only things hiding under my kitchen table.

But the little archeological finds are now cleaned up, processed, labeled so I can visit them again when I need to.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Who Will Sub for Miss Simmons? An Excerpt

And here's a video of me reading the prologue and first Chapter of Who Will Sub for Miss Simmons? I apologize for the fumbles I did it on one take rather than trying to do it more than that. But you can also read a preview of the first chapter elsewhere on my blog if you prefer not to watch me trying to imitate Miss Simmons. Click the picture or the link above to go to the YouTube video.
Me trying to imitate Miss Simmons.
Me trying to imitate Miss Simmons.

Firebird Sweet: An Excerpt

If you would like to hear the first chapter of Firebird Sweet then click here or on the picture below to be taken to the YouTube link.
Me holding a copy of my new book "Firebird Sweet".

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Paper Magician - A Review

Paper Magician 

I picked up The Paper Magician quite by chance on a pre-publication deal. I wasn't sure, about the story, but I liked the cover a lot, so I thought I would give it a go.

It falls in the "steampunk" category or alternate history, taking place in a Victorian England that has magic academies. Ceony, the heroine of the story, has just graduated from one such academy in one year on a scholarship. She is on her way to an apprenticeship where she will learn how to become a full Magician. In this reality, magic is conjured only through man-made materials. But once you bond with a material and can do magic with it and through it, you can't bond with any other materials. So there are magicians who work with metal, glass, plastic and paper. There are even evil magicians who do magic through flesh. These are called Excisioners.

Ceony has always wanted to be a Smelter and bond and work with metal. However, apparently lots of other people have, too, and not enough apprentices have gone into Folding, which is bonding with paper. So, the headmistress and the powers-that-be have decided that Ceony, because she was so brilliantly fast in going through the academy, will be bonded to paper and become a Folder, without any input from her. And once she bonds with a material there's no going back.

This is one of those stories where I enjoyed it, but I'm glad I don't live in the reality. Ceony doesn't even think about say applying to another school, maybe or leaving to find an apprenticeship on her own. She just does what she is told. She isn't very nice about it, but she does it.

Her new mentor, Emery Thane, seems very whimsical and more than a tad quirky. He seems to understand her disappointment and reticence, but from the other side, as someone who was also forced into Folding, but now it's just a way of life.

I wasn't sure I liked Ceony at all when I first started reading. The first chapter, before Mg. Thane shows up, I was ready to walk away from the book. It could be I'm too old. She's 19 and full of herself and thinks nothing of snooping around and making judgements and she "won't hold with secrets." Oh, please! I think I am too old for that. Later on in the story, she grows on me, as her character grows and the book shows the other parts of her, but in the beginning I'm rolling my eyes a lot.

It is a good adventure story. It's creative. Using paper for magic. And the different ways to incorporate paper into magic. Once the action starts, it's doesn't stop and you're led around the story while Ceony works to accomplish great feats with little or no training.

There were four spots, at least, where I got pulled out of the story and thought, "maybe I don't like this as much as I thought."

1) Another one where I had a hard time at the beginning of the book. It didn't go smooth. Used to, it was understood in books that the beginning introduced the setting and the characters. It was like a nice smooth carriage ride up a drive. These days, everyone is being taught to shove as much attention getting stuff at the beginning as possible, to keep the reader's attention. But instead, it's just confusing. You have to choose what to introduce and let the rest come when it may. Take your time.

2) P. 76 or 75. Continuity. Ceony snoops in her mentor's bedroom and finds his dress uniform and thinks it's a good thing he didn't wear it when they met yesterday. However, the scene takes place two-three weeks after she's moved in. So, I think during revisions, no one caught that. If they just deleted "yesterday" it would be fine. But I stewed over that for a while. Put the book away to read later because it bugged me.

3) p. 170 where Ceony thinks "I know you don't love me. Not yet." Yes, typical 19 year old girl thought process, but it put a sour taste in my mouth. It feels too romancy and one of those falsehoods that women have bought into over the centuries and we need to not let get into our heads and here it is yet again. Brainwashing us. "You don't love me yet, but I can make you love me." Why isn't she thinking: "You don't love me. Fine. I get that. But we're friends and I want to help you." OR "You don't love me. I get that. I'll find someone who DOES love me." But that "Not yet." Just - Eeeeyuch! and

4) Toward the end, after the adventure, a doctor is examining Ceony and she tells a lie to her headmistress, basically skimming over a major portion of the conflict with the villain. That's understandable, but she's obviously covered in blood and has finger bruising around her neck and neither the doctor nor the headmistress call her on that lie. And they're not the types of characters to let apprentices skim over those types of lies. So, either they are blind to details (not likely) or they decided to let it lie (which feels weak).

However, as much as I didn't like Ceony in the beginning, her character does grow. I do appreciate that. In fact, one of the major bugs early on was the whole comment about no secrets. She sees her mentor working on something in secret in the middle of the night, wonders what it is and is kinda nasty in how she judges him on it. Hello? It's his own house. He can do whatever he wants in the middle of the night and it's none of her business. And by the end of the story, she is much more likely to think that. To realize he gets to have his own life.

So, in sum, setting, characters, growth of main character, adventure tale - all good. Some confusion at the beginning, not so sharp as it could be and some continuity details and other things that bugged, brought it down a bit. I gave this book a solid 4 out of 5. I wouldn't pay $14.99 for the ecopy, but if I saw either the trade paperback or the ecopy on sale for $5.99 or less, I'd get it.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Murder is a Family Business - A Review

Murder 

Recently this was available on sale or for free so I got it and read it. I know Amazon is a bit like the Empire these days, but you can sign up for both BookBub and for Amazon's newsletters to be let known about deals. The other thing to do is just occasionally Google free Kindle books.

Anyway, sometimes the free/cheap deals work out .... and sometimes they don't. This time, it worked out okay. The main character is from a family of private investigators from Palo Alto that works on corporate espionage in Silicon Valley, mostly. Until the main character, Lee Alvarez, stumbles over a dead body. It's a pretty good set up and a pretty good story. It was entertaining, and despite what the cover looks like, she's not always running around in short skirts and losing her high heels. She is from a well-to-do family (half Mexican and half WASP), so you do get good clothing descriptions and cool technology. She's gotta computer geek brother. She's nosy and can't keep anything alone. She's intelligent and knows her job. She knows a lot of investigation is leg work. It's nice to have a blend of Bay Area socialite and immigrant-makes-good in the main character's background.

On the other hand, there were some hiccups. I had a hard time getting past the first chapter. Took me a few tries. I liked it enough to want to keep trying, but for some reason, I kept stumbling over the sentences and descriptions. They didn't flow and it was confusing and it took a couple of tries to get past that.

After that, it was fine, mostly. There were a couple of continuity issues (January in the Bay Area sunset time was one issue that threw me off during a particular scene). And a few other moments where I felt pulled out of the story because of inconsistency or something that felt off. But I mostly like it. I would give it a solid 3.5 out of 5, especially if it's on special or free.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Who Will Sub For Miss Simmons - Blog Contest and Preview

Well, I thought Labor Day would be a grand day to officially introduce my most recent labor, Who Will Sub for Miss Simmons? I was hoping to have a complete and correct hard copy to show by now, but Lulu is having some issues. According to a recent email: "In recent weeks, we have experienced the perfect storm of mishaps - a combination of unusually high order volumes, a broken printing machine, and an early outbreak of fall cold season at our US print vendor. Unfortunately, this means that we are late in shipping your order (or orders)."

Oh, well.

For now, the closest thing to something shiny and new to show you today is the ebook, which right now is only available through Lulu.com (as an epub) until the ecopy is approved for the iBookstore (iBooks), Barnes and Noble (Nook), Amazon (Kindle) and Kobi.

Click on the cover to see the book description on Lulu.com. On sale for $1.25 through September 30.
Click on the cover to see the book description on Lulu.com. On sale for $1.25 through September 30.
So, because of all the above, the book is on sale for the month of September at Lulu.com (remember, epub version) for one whole shiny dollar. Click the picture above or here to read more about the book or click below to purchase.

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I'll let you know when the paperback is available and maybe come up with something fun to do when that happens. We'll see.

Until then, if you have any good slug stories, or other good bug stories, share them in the comments. At the end of September I'll put your name in a hat and you may win a fun treat! (Well, maybe not candy corn, but something.)

See below for a preview: Chapter One from Who Will Sub for Miss Simmons?

Chapter One

Miss Simmons

The boy stretched taut the rubber band, took a line of sight, adjusting for wind, weight of the pebble, then waited for it to be clear.

Thwack! The bit of gravel hit Mary smack in the rump.

"Hey!” she yelled. "Who did that?" She whipped her head around, a couple of kids standing in line for square ball dodging her long ponytail in the process.

"Eddie James! I saw that!" shouted Jill, the short girl next to Mary. She burst from the line, a small red and brown blur running across the playground. She skidded to a stop in front of him, looking up, hands on hips, her curly hair shaking in anger. Mary arrived a minute later, arms crossed. They stood in solidarity glowering at their playground nemesis.

"I didn't do nothing," said Eddie. "You always blame me, besides,” he paused, giving Jill a look, “if you do anything, I'll tell Miss Simmons you were the one who hacked her cell."
"Did no such thing!” Jill’s light brown cheeks turning a bright pink. She screwed up her eyes and shoved her face up into Eddie’s “Fink!"

Eddie leaned down, black eyes meeting her brown ones. "Did. So.” He looked up at Jill’s halo of curly brown hair. “Fathead!"

“Back off, Eddie,” warned Mary, voice low and hands now clenched and ready.

“Psst! She’s coming!” One of the kids watching hissed before sauntering back over to the square ball court.

The children quieted as they saw Miss Simmons' lean form coming toward them. The turnip-shaped bun on her head seemed to bristle with irritation, the pins holding it in place flying out as she strode toward them in her brown polyester pants, the squish-squeak of each step heard across the playground. Upon arriving, she straightened her olive green cardigan and peered down at them over her glasses.

“Now children," cooed Miss Simmons, grabbing Jill and Eddie’s arms. The points of her long, dark red nails bit into their flesh, adding to the pain of her steel-like vice. “What could possibly be the problem between two such lovely, well-behaved youngsters? Would you like to tell me about it?" Her voice edged into a slight threat. “Or…,” she looked back to the portable next to the school building, her homeroom and where most kids ended up spending detention — sooner or later.

Jill, Mary, and Eddie held their breaths and exchanged looks. Some of those kids were never seen again, supposedly because they were suspended or expelled, but…

Eddie and Jill weren't the first kids to “makeup" to avoid detention and Miss Simmons’ sugar voice and acid remarks.

"S-sorry, Miss Simmons," stammered Jill, anger-fueled confidence suddenly gone. "We were only p-playing." She hissed as she felt the hard fingers around her arm squeeze down even harder, one of the fingernails puncturing her skin.

Miss Simmons leaned down to look the children in the face, sharp nose pointed at each in turn. Something flickered deep in her basalt eyes. There was a clicking and a hiss, then a bright smile.

"That's better, now run along and play,” answered Miss Simmons. As she turned and stalked away there was a small noise, as if she was cackling. The trio watched her walk away, making sure she was really gone.

“Hey,” Eddie whispered at Jill and Mary as they watched Miss Simmons enter her room in the portable. “By the tree after school?”

Jill nodded, rubbing feeling back into her arm. She licked her finger and wiped away the blood from where Miss Simmons’ fingernail had pierced her skin.

“Yeah,” said Mary. “We’ll be there.”

Back to playground politics as usual....

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Princess Callie and the Totally Amazing Talking Tiara - A Review

Princess Callie 

Downloaded this one because it was free on Amazon, and this is one of those times when I was glad that BookBub had tipped me off about it. I have to admit I was more than halfway sold by the cover and the title. Loved that pink cover! And who could say no to a "Totally Amazing Talking Tiara"!

So, who is Princess Callie? Callie is a girl who discovers that she is a princess on her 12th birthday. Her mother died a little over a year ago (maybe it was two?) and it's just been she and her dad, and more recently her dad's girlfriend. Callie is not so sure about the girlfriend, though. She doesn't like thinking her dad is replacing her mom. So, she does what a lot of kids do, which is to ignore the girlfriend and get on with her life. Her best friend is Lewis and he's really smart and very logical. The classroom bully is Wanda. She's not so much the kind of bully who beats up people as she is a snitch who needs to be paid off because she can sniff out a playground misdemeanor at 100 yards.

Callie doesn't know she's a princess until her cereal starts sending her messages the morning of her birthday, before school. That wigs her out a little, to say the least. She's not able to let her BFF Lewis know, and her dad has told her he's got a surprise for her for her birthday! And then a mystery package arrives for her in the middle of math class! What's a 12 year old to do with all this stuff going on? I really enjoyed this story. Yes, it is one more story in a plethora of stories about a kid hitting their tweens and suddenly discovering they are special and being introduced to a new world, but that's still a fun story to tell. And I do enjoy this retelling of that particular type of story.

Without going too much into the story, some of the things I enjoyed was that 1) this was an upbeat story. Nothing too heavy. Yes, the author deals with Callie's lingering sadness over losing her mother, and there are wicked people that Callie, Wanda and Lewis encounter, but it's deftly kept light without going saccharine. Callie and Lewis are fun to follow and the reader is given a good back story with Wanda (which I think will be explored in later books). 2) We get to meet more of Callie's family and there are lots of secrets and special devices and treasures that she and Lewis get to find and use. 3) While you know there are more stories to come, this was a full story, a full book, with a complete arc and story line all its own.

Two of the things I wasn't so sure about - 1) Lewis disappeared a bit too much for me. I wanted him around more. There was some explanation for when he was "off stage" but sometimes there wasn't and it bugged me. He is Callie's BFF after all. 2) (this is a big one for me) Callie's dad's self-involvement at thinking announcing his engagement to Callie on her 12th birthday is a good thing. I know parents, and most of the parents I know wouldn't be that selfish. They would let the kid have their birthday and make "special" announcements to the kid on a regular day. Getting remarried is a big deal. You'd think an adult would understand how that might upset their child and how the emotions would be escalated if such an announcement were made on a special day - like a holiday or birthday. So, either he's the Densest Dad on the Planet and the writer wants us to view him that way, or the writer doesn't know parents. Because she even has the future stepmom trying to go all logical and lawyerly and guilt Callie into accepting it all right now. I am HOPING that what this means is that the writer is setting up the story for a future evil stepmom, who might be an agent of evil, and who wants to make Callie's life miserable and take over her father's life. So, I'm hoping that's what the writer is meaning to do. Otherwise, she's painting a pretty selfish picture of the adults in Callie's life.

Outside of that, it was a fun read. Like I said - there is action, adventure, violence, and even a horrific death scene, but I think it's handled well. I love the talking tiara and meeting Callie's grandmother and learning about Callie's mother. I think I might really want to follow along in the series and see how Callie is able to cope at being a princess.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Great Yawp in the Echo Chamber of the World

Crossposted from Blogetary: 

Whitman resonates with me. I can pick up Leaves of Grass and open it just about anywhere and within about a minute I'm saying, "Yes, that's it exactly!" In my opinion Leaves of Grass is a true epic poem of the U.S. It might not be Homer’s Odyssey or Virgil’s Aeneid or Iliad, but Whitman uses the poems within this volume to try to encompass the greatness and the potential he saw in the U.S., and I feel him.

One of the passages that I have been thinking of a lot lately is about the great "barbaric yawp" — Walt Whitman's description of our need to express ourselves:

"The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me—he complains of my gab and loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed—I too am untranslatable.
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world."
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, Lines 1328-30

Many people didn’t really pay attention to the “barbaric yawp” until they saw Dead Poets Society, where Robin Williams’ character is trying desperately to get these young men to let go their yawp and make their mark on the world.

In a very real sense, Leaves of Grass is Whitman’s own “barbaric yawp” which he admits to being “untranslatable”.

But lately, sometimes it feels like everyone out there in the Internets is clambering to be heard. Are these authentic yawps though? Are they truly shout outs in expressing of ourselves? Our "Song of Ourselves"? Or are they merely grabs for attention?

Sometimes it feels like when we strive to make our truly authentic yawp sound out over the roofs of the world that no one is listening. It’s a big echo chamber and people are so busy trying to make themselves heard, or so tired of the yapping and yawping, and trying to tell the difference between the true and the fake, that they have gone off….

And so you reach your authentic self and try to really yell out, really let go, cuz this one’s for real baby —

And there’s no one to hear. No return answer, no acknowledgement that you’ve found your authentic self and are showing it to the world in this bold-as-brass expression!

Or maybe there’s a snort of derision.

And maybe it’s untranslatable.

That doesn’t make it any less authentic, or real, or absolutely your own expression that you have every right to put out there in the world. It just means that, like Whitman, sometimes we have to live with the fact that not everyone is going to get our “yawp”. We’re going to let loose and get a load of crickets in return. But that’s okay.

One of my recent strivings toward expressing myself has been to enter my book of short stories, UnCommon Faire: A Fiction Sideshow, into a contest for published collections of short stories of speculative fiction. It sounds like the college press (Etchings Press at University of Indianapolis) is trying to build up their library of scifi/fantasy short stories to use as study material, because even if you don’t win, they’re keeping the material for future use in their department library. And they want everything that’s a novella or smaller.

My striving to “yawp” in the direction of independent bookstores, of trying to reach beyond those people I know on the Interwebs, didn’t work. All but one of the 30 books I sent out on consignment was sent back to me. I would have loved for the bookstores to keep them, “just in case”, but in all cases they’d already kept them at least six months past their three to six month cut off. My yawp went unheard, or was untranslatable. The yell fell flat in the echo chamber of independent bookstores (Yes – I tried both Village Books and Skylight Books, and Chevalier’s was having none of it after my tiny little first book signing).

But this contest at UIndy — they HAVE to listen. They might snort in derision, but they HAVE to keep the book I send, even if I lose (most importantly if I lose). So, I tossed in my other three novellas (even though they were separate from the collection, they WERE novellas, after all – like Cinderella – they are still “ladies of the house”). I included my contest reading fee (otherwise known as a $20 bribe for them to keep my books!), and a letter explaining that the novellas were extra (not part of the contest) as I believe in not only proselytizing writing, but also proselytizing speculative fiction writing, so I was “donating them to the cause”.

The deadline is September 1. I put them in the mail on Monday. They arrived today (per USPS tracking number), and I feel like I can breathe. But I'm still crossing my fingers that some overly diligent Dudley or Dudleyette DoRight doesn't decide to mail them back to me. I have sounded my “yawp” — or one of my “yawps”. And this time they have to listen. They just have to.

City of Dreams 2012 ad sm

Friday, August 8, 2014

Deadly Magic by Elizabeth Crabtree - A Review

Deadly Magic by Elizabeth Crabtree, the first in its series, is currently free on Kindle.
Deadly Magic by Elizabeth Crabtree, the first in its series, is currently free on Kindle.
William Kotzwinkle, author of the book E.T. the movie is based upon, and also author of dozens of other books, including Christmas at Fontaine's, has a way taking quirky people from all walks of life, putting them together, shaking them up, and then seeing what happens. This is a definite talent. The quirks aren't cutesy. These aren't cute people. Both the people and the quirks are irritating and distracting. And yet, by the end of the story, you care about these characters. You want the best for all of them. You believe the story.

In Deadly Magic by Elizabeth Crabtree, I think she tries to do this as well, mix all the quirky characters together to come up with a fun story; she is somewhat successful, but not entirely.
This cozy murder mystery starts out interesting enough. The 20-something (I'm guessing 27 or 28 since her high school reunion is coming up) main character, Grace Holliday, and her coworkers are at a magic show that is being put on for her boss's 50th birthday. She works for a toy company. It's Halloween and everyone is dressed up. She is on her first date with someone. She has a work nemesis who loves finding reasons to make her life miserable.

Plus, magic shows! Magicians! Illusions! And the story begins on Halloween and ends around Christmas. And her last name is Holliday....

This is all very promising. Lots of cute cues and leading.

Within the first chapter she's already 1) been part of the magic act, 2) had a kind of ruined first date, 3) been asked to work at while at the party, 4) discovered someone's panties (!) as well as been made privy to some (but not all) family secrets (not her own family). Oh, and someone gets murdered.
So, it is very promising—this is all a hook and you want to keep reading. And the characters are so quirky, and it's such a train wreck, what with the crazy boss and company going down hill, etc., that you kind of feel like you need to keep reading just to make sure the main character gets through everything okay. Which, I suppose, is a good thing, since the reader is still reading.

However, I got to about the mid point and almost had a fit of "rage quit" a couple of times with this book. The only reason I didn't throw the book across the room was that it was on my Kindle and I didn't want to damage that.

*sigh* I know Grace is just in her 20s, and I'm reading this book from the stance of a cynical, middle aged person, but she really was a lot like a female version of Dudley Do Right. She never said no to anything. She let everyone talk her into doing things. And she believed everything everyone told her, and even I, the reader, could see that they weren't telling the truth. She let people push her around. She'd been at the same company for 10 years and risen in the ranks to toy designer merely by not getting fired or quitting in a fit herself for that length time.

The writer does make a case for that, in that the company structure is kind of ridiculous. But it did seem almost too incredible.

I kept reading, eventually, just so I'd find out "who done it". There were some cute bits, like when Grace realizes she can get free furniture from a new roommate foisting themselves on her just by letting them raid her closet (her sister's clothes). But there again, who lets a stranger foist themselves on you as a roommate. If you've been living in New York City for 10 years would you really let someone you barely know move in? Really? Without vetting them properly? Making sure their check clears?

And then when a second murder occurs, you can see what the writer is doing, the situation she is setting up, and it's not bad. It's one of those things that works. Dorothy Sayers would have pulled something similar in a Lord Peter Wimsey story.

But then this was followed by a lot more of me thinking, "Really?" as I read more situations where Grace is letting herself be led around by the nose.

Sometimes in stories we write we have to create ridiculous situations or push a character into a ridiculous situation. But when we do that, we have to make sure it's somewhat believable. My suspension of disbelief didn't suspend for very long on this story. And again, that may be different for others. At the outset, this was an entertaining set up and I wanted to enjoy it. But by the end, I was over it.

And maybe the writer was over it, too. Because when it came to the reveal, it wasn't something Grace really "solved". I mean, she solved a small part of it, sure. And even then, when one of the perpetrators is revealed, you wonder how Grace could have stayed alive in NYC for so long if her radar for people is soooo off. She shoulda been killed in her sleep a long time ago. Maybe, like Dudley, she's just so steadfast and true, that it keeps her alive.

But the reveal went on for a long time, as if the writer didn't want to bother with writing out another few chapters to bring the story to a close. It wasn't all wrapped up when she solved it. It kept getting more "wrapped up" - as in the people around her kept adding their... "and then.." bits during the end and the epilogue. All synopsis. All hearsay. And the end just went on a little too long for me. I like a good epilogue, really, I do. But at a certain point, it just needs to be written as more chapters.

I wanted to like this story. Grace is a likable character (though, I kept forgetting her name). And in fact, I read the additional first part of the next story in the series that is included for free in the back of the book, just in case I might like it better (maybe it was just this story). And again, nearly threw the Kindle across the room. This woman has no survival instincts. At a certain point you say to people who are talking you into things, "no, I will deal with it this way." Or if you can't seem to do that, you nod and smile and wander off and still do it your way. You don't let people talk you into things that you should have figured out were not good for you when you were six years old.  In this case (the case beginning the second book), her sister talks her into wearing a big pink prom dress for their reunion because Grace's luggage got lost and the reunion is formal. Again, Really? I can be a huge wimp when it comes to saying no, but even back in my 20s I would have said No to that, sprayed and brushed off my jeans, borrowed some heals, brushed my hair, washed my face, reapplied my makeup and borrowed a nice sweater and just said, "Sorry, my luggage was lost" once I got to the reunion. Wouldn't be the first time, wouldn't be the last. If the writer wanted Grace to end up a in a ridiculous big pink prom dress, then she needed to find a more believable way to do it. At that point I realized that no, I wouldn't like the next story and quit reading.

Again, if you're going to push a ridiculous situation on the reader, it needs to be believable.

Read this story for the some of the entertaining bits. Try not to throw your Kindle straight across the room when you run into the thin plot.

Monday, August 4, 2014

"No one will ever love your stories as much as you do..."

A college friend of mine passed away over the weekend. It was quick, sudden, unexpected. He was someone who was loved by all. And while I mourn the loss of the friend I knew in college and pray for his family and close friends, I also — selfishly — mourn my failed plans to go visit he and his wife (another college friend) some day and show them the story with the character based on him. Mourn sharing the remembrances I have of asking him (one of my first adult friends I confided my need to write stories to — one of my first adult "geek" friends who unapologetically loved scifi, fantasy, and superheroes) about space/time continuums and how he thought they might work.

But that is not about the man. That is about the story. And going through that realization reminded me of this saying:

"No one will ever love your stories as much as you do..."

I remember reading or hearing that somewhere in some writers thing and immediately my brain, focusing on the absoluteness of the statement, came up with all the arguments about how that couldn't be true. For example, there are lots of stories that a reader will focus on because of something in their own life and the writer, once that story or poem is out there, lets it go to have a life of its own. And there have been stories I wasn't sure I liked at all, that other people who read them loved. So, when I first encountered that statement my kneejerk reaction was to reject it.

But now I understand the statement a little more. Stories are a little like children (especially novels). And every parent/child relationship is different, and that is a little bit what it is like. No one loves a baby like their mother or father. No one else woke up in the middle of the night with an idea about that story. No one else watched the main character morph and grow into his or her final self as they went through the story. No one cried and screamed and stayed up until 3 a.m. with that story. You. The writer did.

And yes, by the end of that story, you are so over it. You have spent sooooo much time with that story you can't wait for it to get out of the house. Like a teenage boy driving his parents nuts, you want to shove the story out the door and tell it to go get a job or play ball in the street or SOMETHING. But, like the teenage son (or daughter), if you shove it out the door, send it out to other people before it's ready, then you might be asking for trouble. And some stories, like children, take longer to get out the door than others. That's life.

I confess. I have had a tendency to use the submissions process as a sort of pro tem source of feedback for my stories and poems in the past. I'd do the best I could, get a sketch of feedback from friends, rip through the proof and then send it out. And cry when it wasn't accepted. But then in the meantime, after all that time out in the world, I could look at the story and see aaaaalllll the mistakes. And then if there were editor's comments, there were even others pointed out. I had sent my poor child out into the world without his or her galoshes and raincoat. I had forgotten to straighten their jacket and remind them to say please and thank you. It wasn't the story's fault it had failed, poor thing. It was mine!

I used to say, and still kind of think, that you don't exist in writer world unless you have a submission out there to show editors you still are around. So, I used to feel this pressure to always keep something out there. "Don't forget me! Remember I am out here writing. Like my stories and poetry!"

But I've been learning that pushing stories and poetry out there too soon is like pushing your kids out in the crosswalk before teaching them how to look both ways. Sometimes it's just good to enjoy this creation you're creating. Don't think about where it will go and what it will do. Revel in the creation and the shaping and the editing and revisions. Really take time with the proofing and the feedback from friends and the research to get things right. Just spend time and sink into the world. It will leave your hands soon enough, most likely.

In the meantime, just love your children. Because no one else will love that story like you do.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Under the Ember Star by Charles Allen Gramlich - A Review

Under the Ember Star

First of all, a story and full disclosure. When this first came out and my friend, Charles, announced it, I bookmarked it and kept meaning to get it. Just like I keep meaning to try the Talera books. But it sat there. I think it was on my Amazon wishlist for a while, and then moved to my cart. And then I got a Kindle and thought, "Yeah! Now I'll get it!" So, I did. But it just sat there, downloaded on my Kindle. I wasn't sure I was in the mood for a scifi adventure story. Sometimes I was, but mostly not. Last year or so I've been cozying up to cozy mysteries and fantasies. And I even started it a couple of times, but never got into it.

But then, it was weird. It was a year later, and it was like it was time. I had been reading a cute little chick lit cozy and a middle grade princess story, and enjoying them. But suddenly they just were too too for me. They were bugging me. I just was not in the mood suddenly for girls or women who were getting themselves into trouble or were being railroaded or cajoled (and passively accepting) the adventure.

So, yesterday, on a whim, I clicked those stories shut and paged over to Under the Ember Star, which is a story that is completely the opposite of those others. I had it half read by last night and finished up the rest of it today. And I loved it! I don't know why it took me so long to read it!

Ginn Hollis has been on her own for the last 10 years or so, since she was about 14 years old, when her father died. She's been living on the streets, by her wits, surviving day-to-day, on a dying planet where the humans only get along grudgingly with the Kelmerians, or Kelms as the humans refer to them. The Kelmerians are an ancient people who used to have a vast civilization, before the sun started dying.

The ember star, or dying sun, has a cycle of rotating about the planet of 28 earth days for every Day/Night. So there are 14 days of Day and 14 days of Night. The sun itself is a red dwarf and doesn't give off enough energy to really keep the planet warm, and water is scarce. It's a mineral poor planet that is now mostly cold desert. About 20-30 above zero when the sun is up. If it weren't for the Collectors, ancient technology orbiting the planet and harvesting some of the heat to keep the planet going, it would have died a long time ago.

These are the basics.

But the story begins with our heroine, or maybe anti-heroine is a better term, breaking into a bar and stealing drugs from a criminal who's basically a drug lord so she can feed her addiction. Shortly after she meets the character who will help propel her on her adventure.

Unlike the cozy or the middle grade princess story, however, Ginn is not being cajoled or railroaded passively into an adventure. She's being kicked, shot at, punched and pulled. And she is kicking, shooting, punching and pulling right back. She knows and accepts who she is. And she might not trust some of the beings she meets, but if they prove trustworthy (or not) she adjusts. She's smart, experienced, thinks on her feet. She's constantly having to balance between the demands of different characters, all with their own agendas. Even the "good" and honorable characters have their own agendas that could get her into trouble.

This wasn't some romance dressed up as scifi adventure. This was romance in the purest term. An adventure story. An adventure story like Lawrence of Arabia, but with a faulty female hero at its heart fleeing through the desert to aid a Kelmerian in helping to find out about himself and his planet. It was also a little bit like a twisted Wizard of Oz in some parts, especially toward the end. But I didn't realize that until I'd already read past that part. At the end. It was cool (I don't want to give it away. "Spoilers, sweetie.").

One of the refreshing parts was that the only time I knew what she looked like was when she was taping the drugs to her chest for safe keeping, and that was just to tell me she was wearing a black tshirt and BDUs. Oh, and the times she was being shot at and had gotten hit with a laser gun, so she had burns on her body. Or when she was throwing up and had to wipe her hair back from her face. No, this wasn't about being pretty or getting the guy. It was about adventure.

One of the other refreshing parts is that, generally, when I'm reading a story a friend has written, I can "see" them in the story. They kind of bleed through. I kept forgetting who'd written this story. I kept forgetting it was my friend Charles. And then I would remember and I could see it, because he is a masterful storyteller of adventures. But mostly, I was just immersed in the story.

Oh, and the "guys"? Cuz there were guys, for people who think there need to be guys in a story. Well, there were some guys. And some people who were not guys. And then there was Ginn. And she was like the gem of the story.

Seriously. I really liked this story. Last I checked, the Kindle version was only $2.51. If you're looking for an adventure, one that's gritty and dirty, intelligent and sharp, but not dumpy and depressing, just fast moving and action pumping, then I suggest you download this one.

P.S. - The only thing I didn't like about this story was that I wanted more and there wasn't more. Not sure if there are more stories on this world, but I think I would like it if there were.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

'Deadly Gamble: A Charlie Parker Mystery' by Connie Shelton - A Brief Review

"Deadly Gamble" by Connie Shelton
Deadly

I gave this a 4 out of 5 Stars.

So, I had a semi-productive day trying to sell classified ads the other day (semi productive meaning out of about 10 people I contacted, one got back to me and said, "sure, maybe"). And I decided to treat myself with another murder mystery. This one was also free on Amazon (it's still free, actually: http://www.amazon.com/Deadly-Gamble-Charlie-Parker-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B002OHD1WQ). This is the first in a series, so it's supposed to pull you in so you buy the rest.

Charlie is an accountant for her brother's investigation practice. He does the leg work and she makes sure they get paid. Then one day while her brother is out of town, her former best friend who ran off with her fiancé comes by and begs Charlie to help her find a watch she thinks someone stole from her. Well, okay, it was stolen from her by a man she was sleeping with while her husband (Charlie's former fiancé) was out of town....

And later that guy ends up dead. So, Charlie has to help her former/now not so former friend prove that said friend is NOT the killer.

Now, what I like about this story is that it is a real detective story. Charlie investigates. She doesn't just run into the information. She isn't invited to help by the police. No, she's really not supposed to be helping at all (no license, active murder investigation, etc.). But, she's making phone calls, going on stake outs, asking questions, and trying to figure it out. And in the meantime, she's also doing taxes and books for the business and taking care of the dog. Unlike the Flock and Fiber mystery, this is really a story where the mystery is the central story. We don't go off on wild tangents about breeds of dogs or her chosen profession as a CPA or her brother's profession as an investigator. We might get a little big of that information to fill in the story, but it doesn't take up the bulk of the story. The murder investigation is the central part of the story. And when we're given bits of trivia in this story, we know to remember it because later on the coin drops and there's a reason for it.

What I don't like is that sometimes the author's viewpoint bleeds through in a little preachy bits through Charlie's thoughts. Not too much, but enough to make me squirm.

However, it's not a bad story. It's free. It's a fun read. Where I gave the Flock and Fiber story 3 out of 5, I gave this one 4 out of 5.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Murder Comes Unraveled 'Flock and Fiber Mystery' - A Brief Review

Crossposted from my Blogetary:

I give this one 3 out of 5 Stars.
Unraveled

I couldn't sleep the other night so I decided to read one of the "free" books I'd downloaded from Amazon (Murder Comes Unraveled by Veryl Ann Grace, http://www.amazon.com/Murder-Comes-Unraveled-Flock-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00A42SBAK now $2.99) and it should have put me to sleep. Really. It should have mediocre-ed me to sleep.

It's not badly written, it's very cleanly written. But everything is too perfect. Places that would naturally use contractions were written out. I stumbled a bit in the reading of the sections before I got used to that. In the descriptions of what the character is doing as she goes through her day, the author goes through every step, whether it's necessary to the story or not. "I put all my handspuns and fleece out on the shelves, then took the dolly back to the truck and put it away. I gave Denali a pat. Ellen waved at me." That's not an actual quote, but an example.

Now, I'm all for setting the scene and describing things, and really getting into the life of the character, but after a while, you wonder what you need to pay attention to, if one of these pieces of iota will mean something later. But they don't. They're all just trivial pieces of life. And it's not even a statement on the trivia of life. It's just a mediocre mystery. It's a pleasant read, but it's just mediocre.
And the mystery is nothing, really. There's not much tension at all. I know it's a cozy, but even cozies have something. Anyway, whilst reading this thing, I did learn about fibers and wools and spinning and weaving. The author spent more time on Great Pyrenees dogs, alpacas, llamas and sheep than she did on the murder mystery. There's even a little bit of a romance, but you wouldn't really know she was in anyway invested in the love interest. And everything, even the conversation, is kind of like reading an informational book, except that all these women call each other "lady". And that's the thing. This is a murder mystery. The murder should be the most important thing, not the fibers or how great Pyrs are.

On the upside, besides learning about fibers and Great Pyrenees dogs, it's set in Washington state and it was nice to read about home. I haven't put corn chips (or heard about people putting corn chips) in my chili since before I moved to California. Used to do that all the time. The "lady" thing I remember from home, too. "Hey, lady! It's good to see you."

But, I couldn't sleep, so I ended up reading it in its entirety, even though I knew I should quit. And I didn't keep going because it was good. I just kept going because – just because.

Good for reading in the waiting room or while traveling.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik - A Review

Crossposted from Blogetary (www.puttputtproductions.com/blogetary).
Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik
Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik
This will be a brief review, I think (Well, we'll see - well - maybe not) of Crucible of Gold, the 7th book in the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik.

I have reviewed other books in this series previously, though Tyrannosaurus Press's Illuminata is no longer available online anymore. But as I have said before about this series, the language mixed with the story, set in an alternate world where dragons exist during the Napoleonic wars, hits many of my story sweet spots. You can read some of what said in my review of Empire of Ivory, the 4th book in the Temeraire series.
Empire of Ivory
Review of Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik in The Illuminata, Tyrannosaurus Press, July 2008.
Here is a review of Victory of Eagles, which is the 5th book in the Temeraire series.
A review of Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik in the April 2010 issue of the Illuminata.
A review of Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik in the April 2010 issue of the Illuminata.
But this review is about Crucible of Gold, which is the 7th in the Temeraire series.

But first, some background. The 6th book, Tongues of Serpents, takes place in Australia, where Will Laurence and Temeraire have been shipped as their punishment for being traitors. Though, as Temeraire and Laurence have demonstrated, it's funny how being a good person seems to come in conflict with being a good captain on more than one occasion. But Laurence and Temeraire try to make a go of building a new life in Australia whilst staying out of politics. It doesn't work, of course, but it's a good adventure that includes a journey through the interior, being attacked by bunyips, dragon eggs, making friends, fleeing and fighting enemies, discovering criminal activity, etc.

By the end, however, it looks like Laurence and Temeraire have found a home in a lonely valley where they can have a farm, some cattle, and maybe get on with their lives. This is where the Crucible begins, with Temeraire building a pavilion while Laurence checks over other plans with workman that they have for their farm. (Of course, the prologue shows Hammond, the diplomat from China in a previous book, stumbling into the valley as he falls off a courier dragon and Laurence saves him from bunyips, but then we go to the first chapter). They are busy building and content. It's not the life either of them thought they would have, but it's better than when Laurence was trapped in a gaol ship and Temeraire consigned to the breeding grounds in England, or when they were prisoners in France. They are free. They are - for the most part - happy.

In comes Hammond. If you read Throne of Jade, then you know he can be conniving and passive aggressively aggressive in foisting his (and Britain's) plans upon people, though he usually does sort of fix it in the end. Hammond arrives with a notice that Laurence may be re-instated as captain in the corps once again, if he takes up a mission to Brazil.

While Laurence and Temeraire have been busy becoming Australian, Napoleon has continued to take over Europe. England thinks it can go through Portugal and Spain (with those countries' permissions) to get to Napoleon, but Portugal is dealing with the Tswana from Africa attacking Rio in Brazil. The dragons of Tswana did not like the Portuguese (or anyone) taking their humans, or as they are referred to, their "kindred", into slavery. The riders and dragons, in draconic fashion, have decided to take their kindred back. It has been hinted that if England will help in this matter that Portugal will let them take their military through to attack Napoleon.

Now, Laurence's parents are abolitionists, as is he. However, the House of Lords decided a few years back to not go against slavery (because in a sense, their dragons are slaves). And they (or the Home Office) want Laurence to go with Temeraire and some other dragons to help out the Portuguese in getting rid of the Tswana.

It goes against what both Laurence and Temeraire believe in, but it's a chance to "get back in the game". They don't like sitting still. In addition, if they pull this off, not only will they earn back their reputation, but it will also earn back the reputation of everyone who was on Temeraire's crew. Because when Laurence and Temeraire were stripped of their rank, so were many of the senior officers in the crew. They don't know how they'll do it, but they're willing to give it a try, and hopefully at least partially repair some of the damage they have done to former crew members.
Though it may seem like this is giving away much of the story, it's just the first one or two chapters. Once they are back on the Allegiance (a dragon transport ship captained by Laurence's friend Tom Riley), the adventure really takes off.

If you've read the other stories, then you know this will be another adventure story in the vein of Horatio Hornblower. So far, Novik has taken her readers from England to China to Eastern and Central Europe (Austria, Prussia, Istanbul) to France to Africa to Australia, and now to Brazil, and in between Inca (or Peru), and after, I hear it will be Japan (Blood of Tyrants). And I have no idea where League of Dragons will go (that will be the final book in the series). This will be no different. There will be hardship, treachery, mutiny, flights and fights, death, dragonish behavior, prejudices, romance (as such) and who knows what all (I'm not telling - you have to read the book!).

Emily Roland is now 15 years old, so there is that to deal with in a crew of men. In truth, though, I believe Novik didn't deal with this as much as she could have. Or should have. This isn't Roland's story, of course. But 15 year old girls can be hellish, and Roland, while sometimes irresponsible, was not as hellish as I've known 15 year old girls to be. But, she's also been working on a dragon since she was 10 years old, so she's a much more responsible and adult 15 year old than many I have known. But I did think she would cause more trouble than she did.

We also learn more about Granby, who had been Laurence's 1st lieutenant, but is now captain of Iskierka, a flame breathing dragon. And Demane, who became captain of the now heavyweight Kulingile almost by accident, is having to grow up. Again, I expected him to cause more problems than he did, but for the most part he was a pretty typical 15-16 year old boy.

Several incidents occur in this book in the series that are life changing events for Laurence, Temeraire and their friends and crews. They have been through other harrowing experiences, of course, but some of the things that occur in Crucible are the kinds of things that we say now would cause PTSD. But they all happen one right after the other. And of course, in British fashion, they just take it and move on. Joke about it and go to the next thing. It was bothering me a little bit how little they seemed to be reacting to these events (I don't want to say what they are because - well - spoilers, sweetie).

Not that they're going to go to the 18th century version of a shrink and take meds, but I wanted more (and maybe that's just my 21st century brain). And then, the funny thing is, Novik dropped in the reaction right past the point where I thought - "Oh, come on! What about the.....!" And then there it was. And there was the reaction, and the dealing with other things. And of course, that is the way life is, many times. You just deal and deal and deal, and it's not until later that you react. So, while it felt a little long, to me, to wait for that pay off, it does come, albeit in an understated British manner.

By the end of the book, while things are wrapped up in a suitable fashion, Temeraire and Laurence are taking off once again for foreign parts. There is no rest for them now, and many of the actions Novik set up were not addressed, but will obviously be addressed in Blood of Tyrants and later in League of Dragons. Like setting up dominoes, she'll just need to click the first one and then there it will go.

This is a book that could be read on its own, like the others, maybe. But I have read the others, and I had to go back and re-acquaint myself with events from previous books to keep up with some of the events in this one. So, you might want to save this one until you've read the others, if you haven't already.

Finally, the writing style felt to me like a return to the 18th century style that I so enjoyed in the first few books. Sometimes I just sat and read a paragraph over and over again just because (something I tend to do with Italo Calvino and J.R.R. Tolkien as well).

I heartily recommend this series. I've said it before. I'll say it again. Dragons. DRAGONS. DRAGONS!! Adventures reminiscent of Horatio Hornblower, Treasure Island and Kidnapped. Language reminiscent of Jane Austen, Robert Louis Stevenson and Henry Fielding. Characters who push against the grain.

It comes in a Kindle edition, as well as paperback and hardcover. I got my Kindle edition on a special deal for $3.99 (it's back up again now, I checked), so if you're strapped for cash, check back every once in a while and see if it's gone down again. Or get it at your library.

Like I said - Dragons!


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Spontaneous summer cranberry sauce for the win...

It's the little things that make your day.

Cleaning out the freezer I discovered a couple packages of cranberries I'd tucked away, and I realized that while I didn't have tangerines or oranges (or pomegranate seeds), I did have lemon simple syrup I had made recently, which is a much more summer appropriate flavor anyway. And I even had some walnuts stashed away somewhere else. So, even though it's not Thanksgiving or Christmas, I made a bright and flavorful cranberry sauce that will taste totally fantastic on toast and all sorts of things, and cheered myself right up!

I used to share cranberry sauce with the Cocktail Fairy, so it's a little sad, but it's also a little happy. And I feel like I was able to make gold out of straw.

One point for the Alchemists!

Summer Cranberry Sauce

Sunday, May 25, 2014

When I Say I Like Tolkien. . . .

Everyone has those authors they adore as well as those they hate. And it's hard to hear the writers you adore dissed. But, chances are you probably hate the authors someone else adores, so it all evens out "in the wash" as my family says (personally, I can't stand Hemingway, and every time I see a Flannery O'Connor quote, or story or anything, I just want to find her ghost and punch it's face–she makes me very cranky).

But, I do get tired of people dissing my favorite authors, so I just wanted to put this here:
Letters from Father Christmas, J.R.R. Tolkien Artist & Illustrator, Illustrated version of The Hobbit, A Tolkien Miscellany, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. Used to have a book comparing Tolkien and Lewis, but I sold it on Amazon over Christmas to make rent, etc.
Letters from Father Christmas, J.R.R. Tolkien Artist & Illustrator, Illustrated version of The Hobbit, A Tolkien Miscellany, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. Used to have a book comparing Tolkien and Lewis, but I sold it on Amazon over Christmas to make rent, etc.
I first read the Tolkien trilogy in about 1976/77; I was 12. I read The Hobbit after I read the trilogy. My friend Peter had me read them (fellow comrade in arms in the imagination department). I can't remember if he lent them to me or I checked them out at the library. But I remember spending all of 8th grade (around 1978) exchanging letters with him written in runes. We'd both practice writing in a calligraphic style on paper that we'd stained with coffee or tea (I got into so much trouble with mom for wasting the coffee that way!). His letters had really cool pictures and decorations. We didn't even say all that much, really, but it was all in rune, or in English dressed up like runes, so it felt cool.
My "runic" writing.
My "runic" writing.
For Christmas 1982, my Aunt Lola gave me a box set that included The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King. They were beautiful, yellow, blue, green and red, with gold foil on the box. Of course, I hadn't yet learned that lesson about not loaning out books (even though I'd lent out some of the Narnia books to friends; mom had bought them to read to us and we never to saw them again - my sister is still pissed about that). So years later I picked up another copy of The Hobbit, but it wasn't the same. Still a good story. And I did get the illustrated one. I think it was on sale as a remaindered book, plus I had my employee discount at WaldenBooks.

And although I don't have them pictured here, I've read The Silmarillion, parts of The Children of Hurin and his translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (which is in the Miscellany). And The Complete Tolkien Companion is around here somewhere, too, I just couldn't find it to include in the picture above.

When I was nine years old I used to say I was going to "grow up to be a writer like Laura Ingalls Wilder and Louisa May Alcott" (I added Lucy Montgomery later on). After my introduction to Middle Earth and Narnia it was, "I'm going to take classes from J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis." I was distraught to learn they'd already died. So of course I did all I could to read and try to make up stories like the ones they wrote (and then felt like I'd discovered a grand secret when I found out about Charles Williams and read some of his stories).

I love a number of writers, but their worlds all end up getting compared to Tolkien (and by extension Lewis and Williams). From Patricia McKillip's Forgotten Beasts of Eld and Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea books to Brooks' Sword of Shannara and Castle for Sale to Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover Novels, Anne McCaffrey's Pern series and Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar books, and on to Charles DeLint's Newford stories and whatever Neil Gaiman happens to be writing at any time. All of them are held up to Tolkien. Is the world as rich and full of history and possibility? Could I go there and camp out for a week and feel as if I'd really been somewhere else?

As a writer, I pull from a number of places to get inspiration. Mythology, different belief systems, the stories of my favorite writers (see above). And when I think about world, story and character creation, it begins with a foundation layer of Tolkien, and then all the rest get added in "to taste" - like a big smorgasbord of a dish to make my very own version of whatever it is I am creating.

Until the movies came out I would take out the trilogy and reread them all once a year - every year. Last night I realized how long it had been since I'd read my favorite friends of Middle Earth and I pulled a book down off the shelf and fell in.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Finding the right audience for your draft

There have been many discussions on how important it is to “know your audience” when writing your work. These discussions are typically about the final audience, the reader who will (hopefully) spend money on your book so they might have the finished product in their hands. And that is an important topic to go over, but recently I have been thinking how important it is to also know your audience when you share your draft copies of your work with people, be they critique partners, proofreaders, editors, writers groups or beta readers.

I have said before that finding a critique partner is like dating – trying to find the right person who is at a similar level in their writing and who has an understanding of what you want out of a critique. Same with finding a writers group. The same goes when looking for a proofreader/copy editor or editor for your work.

But it doesn’t stop there. I think that, as in any relationship, it’s a mistake to think that once you’ve found your proofreader/editor/critique partner/beta reader/writers group that they are it for life. That’s right. There is no such thing as monogamy amongst people who share critique. I’m saying it loud and saying it proud – critique sharing is an exercise in polygamy.

First, it takes work. You have to keep up your end of the bargain and do the writing, the revisions, the outlining, the plotting. And don’t think riffing off a first draft a half hour before group will get you good feedback. It will get you plenty of feedback, but you’ll be so new to your WIP that you won’t know where to place the feedback in the hierarchy of importance.

I remember reading an interview by an author (and of course I’ve forgotten who it is now) in Poets & Writers who said she never took a draft to her writers group unless it was at least the seventh or eighth revision. And her reason for this was that it took her that many drafts to understand what she was trying to say. If she took her work-in-progress (WIP) to her group too soon then the editorial voices of her critique partners would get stuck in her head and she’d get jammed in between where she thought she was going and where those voices were pulling her. That doesn’t mean she didn’t listen to the critique, just that by the time she shared her work she had a good idea of what she wanted it say and do. So if she got comments that seemed to steer her in another direction she had enough confidence to say, “that’s another idea to explore, but that is not my story. That is your story. I want to go this way with this story at this time.” Or to give them a little more importance and possibly consider them.

Next step. No assumptions. For example, when people ask for my services as a proofreader we go over several things such as formatting, what this piece is being used for and subject matter. Just because I am a proofreader doesn’t mean I’m the proofreader for your work. I have turned down work because I knew I was not a good match for it, either because I knew that I didn’t have the background and knowledge base to do the work well or because my spidey-senses were tingling and I knew communication would be off between me and the client. Sometimes I’ve taken work anyway because I knew enough that I could research further if I needed to to ensure technical and/or academic terms and phrases were being used correctly. Those clients needed to find the right “audience” in me, to make sure they’d found someone who could properly gauge if, for example, the vocabulary was what it should be.

But, if a client wanted to use my services for an historical romance, say Regency, then I may not be the best person for the job, unless I invested time and/or money in learning the speech patterns, grammar and syntax of speakers during the early 19th century. And even then Sure, we “dumb” things down a little bit for the modern ear, but it would still be my job to make sure what was there was correct and that I and the client could have an intelligent conversation about it if we had.
The same holds true for writing groups and critique partners. You don’t necessarily need to write in the exact same genre as people you share critique with, but you better be sure that they appreciate and/or enjoy the genre you write in and vice versa, and that you, or they, can converse intelligently in that genre. For example, splatter horror does nothing for me. And while I would be willing to read (and have read) such a story for someone I share critique with, there would be a resistance inside the entire time I was reading it. A little voice saying, “But I hate these kinds of stories!” would be influencing my critique. And who knows how much unconscious prejudice my writing partner(s) would have to filter through to get to the gist of what they could use of my comments. And I may even try to fight that prejudice, but it’s still going to be there, which means it’s still going to be an uphill slog for both the reader and the writer.

So, does this mean you need to find other proofreaders/critique partners altogether? No. It just means that you need to be aware of what it is you are sharing and who you are sharing it with. This is polygamy, remember? Not monogamy. Just because someone hires me to write a cover letter or personal essay or bio for them, doesn’t mean I am the correct person to handle their tech-heavy resume, for example. And while I could proofread/copy edit a users manual on say a drill, I would probably not be the best person for the job when it came to say specs for a race car engine.
And when it comes to sharing your drafts, this is even more important. You already know that people are going to critique your “baby” and find something wrong with it. You hope they’ll tell you it’s perfect, but you know that will not be the case. So, there will already be that. Ensuring that the person you’re giving your WIP to read already likes the genre is making sure that you’re not going to be fighting an uphill battle. Don’t give your high fantasy piece to a professor who specializes in contemporary American literature. You don’t need to change what you write just to please your reader, but find the right person to read it. Find someone who enjoys high fantasy. Don’t give your WIP romance novel to someone who thinks romance novels suck and are pure drivel. You’ll already be clutching your gut and you haven’t even gotten the notes back. Find someone who likes romance. Send your work to them.

Don’t send a story about zombies to someone who doesn’t appreciate zombies. It’s that simple.

They may not be your regular critique partner or part of your regular writers group (or editor or publication you normally work with, etc.), but that’s okay. This also means that you may not have anything to share with your regular critique partners sometimes either, if what you’re writing doesn’t match up with what they’re reading. But again, that’s okay. It’s not your job to change what you’re writing to suit your critique partner or writers group or even your proofreader. It’s your job to write the story or the dissertation or business brochure or whatever. The people you share that work with are simply giving you notes on ways they see things can be done better. Some of it you will agree with and some of it you won’t. And this process works better if they already like the type of work you are writing.

It’s either that or just always be disappointed. Always thinking you’re doing it wrong when actually, it’s just that what you wrote and what that person reads do not mesh. It’s like that quote by Einstein: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Trust yourself. Be the fish. Find the pond. Leave the tree climbing to the monkeys.

Recently I found a note from a friend of mine who passed away. She had written it after reading The Holly and the Ivan. She had read my poetry, Rae’s Bar & Bistro, and had liked it and wanted to support me. The note about The Holly and the Ivan read, “Well, Darling, it certainly isn’t my cup of tea – good writing tho a few redundancies – it’s surely meant for the Twilight crowd or under – But, bravo…” She wanted to like it, but she couldn’t it. It wasn’t her thing. The poetry was her thing.

It reminded me of the saying by Lin Chi: “When you meet a master swordsman, show him your sword. When you meet a man who is not a poet, do not show him your poem.”


Know your audience.