Friday, August 12, 2011

Routine Disrupted By Move... News at 11

Actually, no, there is no news at 11, the title pretty much says it all. We've been moving all week, and it's been exhausting and time-consuming. The place we're moving into is lovely, but much smaller than our last place, so I've been sorting through everything, trying to cut it down to size. Largely successfully, I'd say. And it means I've come across all my old stories that I keep in shoeboxes. I didn't take the time to reread more than a few lines here and there, but it's cool to see them again. I'm hoping to have everything finished soon, but IKEA has contributed to the delay--we bought a new bed, and they didn't include the hardware in the box with the new bedframe, so while we wait for them to ship the screws, etc., to us, we're camped out on the living room floor... needless to say, this makes putting stuff away more difficult, especially for a klutzy pregnant woman.

Today I do plan to have a look at a link the East Coaster left me in the comments of my last post, regarding world-building. You can check it out here.

Monday, August 1, 2011

It's Monday, Time to Get Back to Work!

There's a new post on my pregnancy blog here.

I took the weekend off from my routine, and enjoyed the lake, which was lovely. But now it's Monday, and I'm committed to getting these revisions done, if not completely today, by Wednesday. After that, I'm not sure what I'll work on. I'll be sending the revised ms of Fire to Mary Baader Kaley in the hopes that she'll beta it. And anyone else who's interested, really. Please let me know in the comments if you'd like to beta. But for my writing time every day, I haven't decided whether to focus on Veronica book 3, or work on universe building for this other idea. I'll probably start with that, actually, and see if it goes anywhere.

Have you ever done any universe/world building? Do you have any tricks or techniques you really like? One fellow writer, Will, once referred to a program he uses that draws maps... I'll have to see if I can dig that up. Although I see this story as involving planets and space travel rather than being tied to one world, so I think a world map may offer more detail than I need. I wonder if there are universe map building programs out there?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Just a quick note for those concerned...

The good news is, the pregnancy symptom was almost completely innocuous--I have a yeast infection so that's never fun, but it's a lot better than leaking amniotic fluid which is what I was afraid was going on. Sorry for the TMI for those of you who can do without the details. I am considering creating another blog and linking it somehow to this one to talk about the pregnancy, since the subject seems to keep butting in here. Maybe I'll do that today.

On the writing front, as predicted, my insomnia totally blew yesterday as a writing day. I ended up in the hospital for nearly two hours undergoing the tests to check out my issue, and anyway I was kind of a zombie. Today's a bit better, although I still felt tired when I woke up this morning, despite a good night's sleep.

I'm batting around some ideas for a new, non-Veronica book. I'm not sure if it will go very far, but I may spend a bit of time world-building and see how it looks. My idea is sort of sci-fi/fantasy/space western, so it will require quite a bit of world (or universe, really) building. Which can be fun. I want to get through the revisions I'm working on first.

The baby is kicking. I cannot tell you how distracting it is. I mean, I realize having the baby on the outside will be a good deal more distracting, but still! I love it when he kicks, though. He's starting to do it a lot more strongly. I'm hoping his dad will be able to feel him soon.

Edited to add: the new blog is here. Please have a look! Does anyone know how to edit the picture (of the sonogram) to make it a bit smaller? Do I have to edit the picture itself and then re-upload it?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Establishing a Routine

So of course I shot myself in the foot yesterday by bragging on twitter that I'd finally gotten this elusive writing (and exercising) routine down. I could blame Jeff for staying up until 1am, at which time I woke up to find he wasn't in bed, and have not been able to go back to sleep since (he's snoozing away as I type). But truthfully, I'm up because I'm stressing over what will probably turn out to be a totally innocuous pregnancy symptom. I wish I could just get it checked right now, and then I'd be able to sleep. It's almost 4:30am, there is no way I'll be getting up at 7:30 to go swimming and then writing... unless I never manage to get to sleep at all, then I suppose I'll be up. But I think the first thing I'm going to do once it's a reasonable hour for such things is try to see my doctor. So tomorrow does not look good for the writing routine.

And to be precise I'm not writing so much as revising, and it's taking me a lot longer to do than I expected. Has that ever happened to you? You think you'll get the rest of it done tomorrow--meanwhile, four days later you still have a hundred pages to go? That's where I am. And it's just the first round of revisions. By the way, anyone want to beta this ms? I've gotten one person to do it, which was helpful, but I think I'd like someone else to do a complete read through as well as post it on the WSE forum chapter by chapter.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

After a long hiatus...

Hi everyone! Let me start by saying, THANK YOU for sticking around despite my disappearing act these last couple of months. I've been focused on everything but writing, and since I intend for this blog to mainly address writing, it seemed better to wait until I had something to say about that. Here are some brief news updates, not all of which have to do with writing:

Fun Summer Stuff:
Jeff and I have been having a great time this summer. Among other things, we went to Reno for our anniversay and renewed our vows in the presence of the King. That's right, we got (re)married by Elvis.

We also saw a concert by Chris Isaac, who has now rocketed to the top of my favorite performers list. If you're ever considering seeing him in concert, hesitate no more, just go.

The Pregnancy:
I'm 20 weeks along, doing well! The baby is BOY. I was dreaming of a girl, so I had this moment of adjustment where I had to let her go, but I find that my new dreams of the boy are wonderful, and I'm super excited about him. And, surprisingly, I have discovered that boy clothes are actually cuter. Usually.

The Move/Rental Debacle:
So frustrating. I'm actually not going to go into a lot of detail here, because it still makes me mad. The short version: we're out of the house and the owner is prohibited from pursuing us for anything above the deposit, but she did get to keep that ($2000) as a settlement, and Jeff has since run into her and she admits we did no damage but shows no remorse for having extorted us. Meanwhile we've been living with my inlaws but are now going to try to find our own place.

The eBooks:
Good news there, as I've managed to sell somewhere between 6 and 12 without doing any promo. I even sold two on B&N this month (very first Nook sales). Someone reviewed "Veronica in Paris" and gave it 5 stars, so, awesomeness. And all of this came as a complete surprise as I haven't done more than throw out the occassional tweet, about how I'm not writing, since, like, May.

The Writing:
I've done a little bit of revising, and about 6 weeks ago I wrote something like 3000 words, but it's been, to say the least, patchy. HOWEVER, the time has come to BUCKLE DOWN. The plan is: go to the gym to swim 30+ laps every morning first thing, then at least on the weekdays, off to the internet cafe for two hours of writing. Today was all about getting back into the platform (hence this post). I plan to finish the revisions I've been doing (on the sequel to The River and the Roses) tomorrow. After that, I want to reconnect with my online writing groups (I'm waving at you, Mary, and also at you, Mare, as well as at Will and everyone else on WSE). Sooo... with a little discipline I should be back on the horse soon. :)

How have you been? Has your summer been more productive than mine? Has it been as much fun as mine?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Update for the Week: Mostly Me Venting About Our Rental Woes

First, the good news. The baby is healthy and active. We had an ultrasound yesterday and saw the little jumping bean squirming and somersaulting away. What a relief--a couple of days before at my physical the doctor was unable to find a heartbeat. With everything else going on, I was a wreck.

So now, on to the bad news, AKA everything else going on. The job continues to be a drain. On Thursday, Jeff and I both called in sick and we went to Spiny Gooseberry Shangri-La with our dog and a dog we're taking care of for a week and had a very nice hike. So that was great--we both needed it.

The big issue we're dealing with is the problem with our house's owner, which I described a little bit here. To sum up: she's convinced our cats are destroying the only carpet in the house.

She has now declared that we were dishonest from the beginning because we knew there was a chance a cat might pee on it. We made the mistake, a few weeks ago, of saying that we deliberately chose the bedroom with the carpet to discourage that from happening--our cats don't pee where we sleep. She interprets that to mean that we knew one of them, who does tend to pee outside his box (like a foot outside his box, where we've put down two sheets of thick plastic, lynoleum, and newspaper), would pee on the carpet in the bedroom. She insists that the smell of cat pee is coming from the bedroom in such concentration that she can smell it in all other parts of the house. She's hired this guy, ostensibly to handle the rental, but really to handle pushing us out, and he also claims to smell the awful odor of cat pee, and he says it's so bad he has to hold his breath. Meanwhile, Jeff and I sleep in this room. We've checked all the walls and all the visible parts of the floor: no stains. We smell no cat pee. Jeff's mom smells no cat pee. So anyway, the owner is now claiming we are in violation of our lease and she has the right to evict us. She says she doesn't want to do that. She's convinced she'll have to tear out the rug and the floor boards underneath, and probably the floor under that, in order to rid the house of the alleged smell. All of which, according to the lease we signed, we'll be financially responsible for.

Why is she doing this, you ask?

She needs to sell the house, desperately. Last fall she got laid off and her partner of 27 years, who was still employed, died. It's awful. We felt terrible for her (although I confess, at this point my sympathy has dried up). She owns two houses here in Mount Shasta, one that she lives in, the other that she rents to us, and she must sell them both and move back to the Bay Area where she has a chance of finding employment. Her fear is that with the pee smell, this house won't sell. In reality, there is no smell, but the house won't sell because there are plenty of houses in this neighborhood in foreclosure. They are listed for substantially less. Also, people are moving away from Mount Shasta. There are few jobs here and it's still fairly expensive to live here. Our enrollment at the schools is decreasing so drastically the superintendent is in a constant state of panic. So she's not going to sell this house any time soon. However, she's convinced that if she can get us out, she'll make the renovations necessary, and sell it over the summer. So the fact that our lease would take us to July 31 is unacceptable to her.

She and the man she hired to strong-arm us insisted on coming over yesterday (we agreed before we learned that they can't insist on any such thing, also we didn't know yet how pushy they were going to be--we won't be agreeing again). They were patronizing from the beginning and I nearly lost my temper. By then I had read up on our rights and I was not buying in to their apparent conviction that they were coming from a place of strength. They wanted a "drop dead date" for when we'd be out of the house (previously they'd tried to get us to sign an addendum to the lease saying we'd be out by June 13--three days after school gets out, and as a result totally unrealistic for us). I told them our drop dead date was July 31--they didn't like that at all. They claimed to be being very generous by not evicting us, because clearly we were in violation of the terms of our lease, etc. etc. They kept insisting that we sign something in writing saying we'd be out at least by June 30. This went on for nearly an hour, until I told them I had already consulted a lawyer and we wouldn't be signing anything. They didn't like that either. I thought for a few minutes they would refuse to leave until we signed, and I considered calling the police to have them removed as trespassers (you can do that--I looked it up).

I did in fact call an attorney last Monday and while I'd like to avoid things getting nastier than they already are, I think I'm going to set up a time for a consultation. My father-in-law thinks we should make a list of everything wrong with the house (there are several things) and demand that it all be fixed. That way if she tried to take us to small claims for the cost of the bedroom renovation, we could counter with everything we've been living with. I'm just not sure I want to give her any reason to keep coming back to the house and harassing us. So at this point I want to find out from the lawyer what is in our best interest, legally. I've found in the past that what makes sense to me doesn't necessarily work with the law, so it's best to get a lawyer's advice. My in-laws don't want us spending the money and I admit it's a painful choice, but at this point I think these people are trying very hard to manipulate and intimidate us, and I just don't know enough to make a path through this minefield.

I'm also furious. I don't want that to cloud my judgment and it's possible resorting to a lawyer comes out of that fury. What would you do, if you were in my shoes?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Spiny Gooseberry Shangri-La

Yesterday my colleague Tim and I drove to Yreka (about 40 minutes away) to check out what sorts of things they are doing at their continuation school. The way my principal had been going on about it, I expected them to be all shiny and superior to us. Turns out they have just as many problems as we do and are suspending more this year than before, so in the end I sort of wondered why we went. Although the principal there did hint that he might like to hire me for a job opening up over the summer. Which was nice and flattering, but he has no idea I'm pregnant, and in any case the position in question is full-time. I'm currently finding my 75% time position to be exhausting. I don't see adding a 40 minute commute and another 25% in the fall when I'll be carrying a bowling ball around. But I did tell my husband about it. It's an independent study job which is appealing to Jeff. He'd have to take an English CSET, though, and in my experience, once you have an English credential people don't want to hire you for anything else. Still, if Jeff has his way he's only ever going to teach IS for the rest of his career, in which case having English as well as social science would be a good thing. So anyway we'll see--he wants to wait and find out if our current district decides to screw him first.

After the school visit, which we got done with around 11:30, Tim, who is a scrupulous and conscientious person, said he didn't want to go directly back to Mount Shasta before 2:15. I considered pointing out that I am only required to work until 1:30, but I didn't want to burst his bubble of sincerity. (I, for one, have no qualms about getting an extra hour or two off--I know, I'm wicked). We went to a coffee shop and talked a bit about the school and he proceeded to list four possible places we could go next for either a walk or a drive and to eat our bag lunches. My mind started to wander. Hey, I really like Tim, but my concentration isn't what is could be these days, and most of the time I'm contemplating a nap. So all I could remember was the first place, so I said I'd like to go there.

What luck! He took me to the Shasta Valley Wildlife Area and we walked up the side of a hill to see the view. At first I didn't take much in because I was too busy trying to keep up with him and avoid bursting a lung (I'm a little out of shape from all the couch naps). But on the way back down, I saw a spiky-looking bush. I stopped and checked it out, and called Tim over (who is the science and math teacher at our school and probably one of the most outdoorsy people I know). "Look," I said. "Spiny gooseberries!"

What in the world are spiny gooseberries, you ask? Well, last fall I stumbled upon a bush of them for the first time. They were frightening: they looked like red currants on steroids. Big, nasty steriods.

At the time I took a photo (this is not my photo, mine was horribly blurry--I found this in a websearch--but this is exactly what ripe spiny gooseberries look like). I was careful not to touch them, and it took me about a week to finally identify what they were. Turns out, they are edible.

So I was pleased to find this bush, because by the time I got back to that first bush I found, someone else had already picked them. So I never got to taste them, and I suspected that there wouldn't be enough on one bush to make jelly (as I understand it you must cook them, if for no other reason than to soften the spikes coming off the berries). So now I'd found two bushes. Sweet!

Tim was very curious about them, and we discussed the bush for a while, and then moved on. About two feet away, I found another bush. And then a yard more, and there was another. In fact, this entire hill was covered in them, and they cropped up all around the pond we walked around. There are so many, I will never be able to pick them all, once they are ripe. Pretty cool! I hope they taste good.

Have you ever had gooseberries? Perhaps the more tame variety that are green like grapes? What is the strangest fruit you've ever eaten? Do you like to pick wild berries, like blackberries or blueberries? Would you try some of my spiny gooseberry jelly or would you be afraid? :)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Never in Single Spies, or: Why I'm not writing

I'm living through a rather complicated time right now. I'm trying to stay positive about it, but some days are hard. My husband and I were not laid off this year (we're both teachers), and that's a very good thing. The downside is, we both have the jobs nobody else in the district will touch. Jeff is especially burnt out but even I don't see doing this for longer than another year. What I want to teach is history, and I'm thinking of doing an online program to get my MA in history (I did all of my MA coursework at San Diego State and never finished my thesis) so people will maybe more inclined to hire me for my history credential rather than my English credential. I've actually had a school bait and switch me--I drove 20 hours (20 hours, people!) and paid for a hotel and everything for a job interview for history, and when I got to the interview they informed me that they had filled the history position--but would I like to interview for the English position they also had open? I was not amused.

Anyway, Jeff is trying to switch over to slightly less onerous position which would also allow him to be closer to me next year, something I'd very much appreciate with the whole I-might-go-into-labor-at-any-time thing I anticipate happening in the late fall. So here's problem number one: our district doesn't do things in an orderly fashion. they just sort of pick and choose who they want in which positions. Seniority means nothing to them. For example, a man at my current school who has been with the district for 29 years wanted to move over to the big high school when a position opened up there. They gave it to a guy who's been with the district for 4 years, instead. We've heard some things about Jeff's situation that make us think the district may screw him over and keep him in the VERY CRAPPY position he's in now (for the teachers among you: he has 8 different preps and he's "teacher in charge" which means he's acting principal 4 out of 5 days--for no extra pay). I won't go into it more than that, but if that happens, it's going to make staying here pretty hard. But with the pregnancy, moving to a new district (we're far from any others) would probably be close to impossible--I don't see anyone hiring me knowing they're going to lose me for two months or so.

The other thing about staying here (Mount Shasta, CA) that is becoming increasingly depressing to me is the length of the winters. It is SO BEAUTIFUL here, but the forecast for next week, the week of May 16, calls for more snow. More snow! I don't think I can do it. I can't live in a place where is snows from October to MAY.

The biggest stressor right now, though, has to be the owner of the house we rent. She's had some hard times, and I was feeling pretty sympathetic. Her partner died of a heart attack without warning. She had other family issues that were very hard, and she got laid off. As a result, she decided to sell the house we live in. Since January, we've had realtors walking people through our house an average of once a week. We hired a housekeeper to come in twice a month, but Barbara, the owner, also decided to bring someone in on the days of showings before the realtor would arrive to clean the house. The problem: I guess in the last month or so, she thinks she smells an increasing odor of cat pee.

I don't, but then, my sense of smell isn't great. Jeff (known for having a "supersniffer") doesn't, other than from the cat boxes when they need to be cleaned. But Barbara is convinced that a cat is peeing on the only carpet in the house, in our bedroom. You'd think we'd smell it if it was in our bedroom, but we don't. And even if it's really happening, it would be because strangers are spending hours at a time in our house, often running vacuums, with terrifies the cats and causes them to hide under the bed for hours at a time. Anyway, I don't think they are, and we've got a black light, which I need to buy batteries for, and I'll use it to confirm that this weekend. So at this point Barbara, who is a very nice lady, is totally panicked that the house won't sell. She's hired a guy to be the rental manager for her, and he's been throwing around words like "eviction." We have been nothing but accommodating to her from the beginning of all of this, and I think what's really going on is that she wants us out of the house early so she can foreclose. Our lease goes until July 31, and the manager tried to have us sign a paper saying we'd be out by June 13. Which would leave us exactly 3 days after school gets out to move. I've called a lawyer and left a message. I'm hoping he'll get back to me today.

So it's all stressful, and on top of everything else, I may have a complication with the pregnancy (I don't think it's anything dramatic) which I'll find out more about when I have my physical and my second ultrasound next week. At this point, though, I've had enough of it all, and I'm ready to run away to France and live with my mother. Sigh.

With the fatigue of the pregnancy, and all of these others things, I haven't been writing. I did write on Saturday (3000 words--not bad). But the rest of the time I sit on the couch and watch movies. And Glee. This weekend Jeff's driving four hours to do a gig with some old band mates and I can't decide whether to go with him. I probably will, although I need to find out where we'd be sleeping. No floor for this pregnant woman, thank you very much.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Update for the Week

Well, this week there is good news and bad news. Good news: I sold a book! Considering the fact I did close to no promo (that's the bad news, also very little writing or editing), that's pretty wonderful.

Here's the thing, folks. I'm pregnant. Yep, about a week after I wrote that blog entry about being child-free I found out. I'm due in December. This is my first experience with pregnancy and I vascillate between joy and terror. I'm 38, which means the pregnancy is higher risk than it would typically be for a 25 year old, but so far all my tests are good.

The biggest downside is, I'm exhausted most of the time. My friend tells me I'm building a placenta and that's a big job. Okay, but I'm a writer! I need to write! A lot! Yeah. My body has other plans, involving eating crackers while lounging on the couch and watching 40s movies. And of course, I still have to go to work, and some days it's really really stressful. We had a day last week where three kids got suspended (I personally suspended one of them: a six foot tall, 250 pound, 18 year old country boy who likes to bully women) and a fourth got arrested and spent the week in the hall for threatening to stab his teacher (the same woman who told me about the exhaustion of building a placenta, actually). So the writing and everything associated to it has been suffering.

Nevertheless, I will write! My big plan for May was to do a pseudo NaNoWriMo to get 50K words written on Veronica book 3. Realistically, it probably won't be 50K. I also planned to edit the heck out of Book 2 in the hopes of being able to publish it soon. The good news is, school lets out for summer June 10, which is also the start of my 2nd trimester, and I'm told the second trimester is the least exhausting. We will be moving either in June or July, so that will take a chunk of time and energy, but I'm still hopeful that the summer will be a productive time. I really want to get Book 2 out because I plan to lower the price of River to $0.99 promotionally when I do and I'm optimistic about sales picking up then.

What kinds of crazy, unexpected things have been popping up in your life, and making achieving your writing goals harder than you expected? Do you have children? How do you find the time to write as a parent?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

An Award for Moi

I'm so spoiled. I have some really really really supportive online writer buddies who give me way more credit than I deserve. One of them, Mary Frame, has given me an award!

This award comes with a few conditions:
1. Thank and link to the person who nominated me. Thank you Mare!!!
2. Share seven random facts about myself.
3. Pass the award along to 5 new-found blogging buddies.
4. Contact those buddies to congratulate them.
So this is one of those nice ways to create connections on the internet, and Mare's blog, It's All Fun and Games Until Someone Gets an Agent, is full of great writing advice, so start by checking that out. Then check out the five I've chosen to pass the award on to below.

But first, my seven random facts:

1. I was in commercials when I was a kid. My dad had a successful career in advertising (he was one of the Martins in the Martin Agency, which meant something back in the 80s) and he got me in a couple of tv ads and several print ones. I don't remember a whole lot about it, except in one there were several rows of people standing for the photo, and they had to find a box for this one guy to stand on because he was too short. In another, there was fake snow--I was supposed to pretend to look for Santa as I stood out on a porch. And in another I had to pretend this woman was my mother, and she looked nothing like her. And I remember after another one getting recognized in a grocery store. But eventually I wasn't cute enough anymore--I mean literally, that's what the photographer who used me as a model said. Ah, the crushed dreams of ten year olds. Actually, I don't remember being all that crushed.

2. I spend 6 years living in Paris, 5 of which were my 8th grade through high school years. Veronica in Paris draws heavily on that experience. I never really bonded with French kids, though, although there were boys I had crushes on. My friends were all expats from all over the world. As a result I never see them anymore--I wish I did! I'd be jetting off to New Zealand or London or Beijing...

3. I like to forage wild food. Today we went mushroom hunting, but didn't find any. Which is typical of my experiences with mushroom hunting. I'm much more successful at berry hunting but that's a few months away still.

4. I was an AmeriCorps member for two years in San Diego. It was the hardest job I've ever done, but probably also one of the most rewarding, mainly in the second year when I was a team leader. The admin let us team leaders have a lot of say in how the program was run, which was really satisfying. Now when I see people in admin making inefficient or even counterproductive decisions all I can do is take deep breaths and think, "I'll find a way to work around this." Back then, I could say, "That's not going to work, here's why, and here's what we should do instead," and 90% of the time, they'd listen. I miss that. But the job was still incredibly difficult. We were supposed to do these huge community service projects and we literally had no budget. It was a rule in the grant that funded us--we were not allowed to have a budget. We had to find in-kind donations for everything. It was really really tough. I would periodically interview for jobs elsewhere. I'm glad I stuck with it, though. Completing those two years (the max you could stay with one program) taught me all sorts of skills and also made me realize I could stick with something even when it's hard.

5. I was a bit of a goth kid in high school (yes, in Paris--what a place to be a goth!). I used to think I'd name my first born son Lestat.

6. The first ever play I auditioned for was in 7th grade (still in the US)--I got the part of Miss Lucy in Dracula.

7. I will eat (and enjoy) a lot of things the average American would be totally freaked out by--deep fried pigs' feet, snails, raw sea urchin, tripe sausage, chicken livers and liver pate, etc., but I cannot stand pieces of corn in cornbread. Ugh! Ptooey ptooey.

Okay, so now for the list of award winners:

I'd pick Mary Kaley but Mary Frame already got to her.

So, the first award goes to:
Michael R. Hicks, who writes science fiction, and is enjoying a fair amount of success at epublishing. I've been following his blog with enthusiasm, as he is sharing the secrets of that success. Last I heard, he's seriously considering quitting his day job. That's such an inspiration to me!

Award #2 goes to:
Kelvin O'Ralph, who has been doing wonderful, wonderful things for a small group of writers (me among them) on Goodreads. He set up a group and is having everyone follow each other and tag each other's books. Great stuff.

Award #3 goes to:
Alexander Hammond, who writes humor. Anyone who can make me laugh or even smile after some of the days I have at the continuation school deserves an award.

Award #4 and #5 go to:
Lori Sizemore and Cynthia Robertson, because both of them have been so supportive and they only just met me, and on Twitter, to boot.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Book Review: Secret Storm by Amelia James

Purchase Secret Storm for $2.99 here.

Sara and Jack have a strong attraction, but for years they’ve never found each other at the right time. Finally they are both single—but secrets in Jack’s past may ruin their love before it can bloom.

I started reading this novel on Saturday and finished it on Sunday. It was an entertaining read. As an erotic romance, Secret Storm certainly delivers. It’s a sexy story, and the descriptions of sex are well done.

I do have some concerns:

From the perspective of someone who has worked with survivors of domestic violence, Jack’s behavior threw up some red flags—I think the author ultimately handled it so that I was not left feeling uncomfortable, but it’s worth mentioning.

I understand the need to draw out the satisfaction of finding out what Jack’s secret is, but I think this became artificial after a while—more external obstacles would have helped, although when he finally decides to tell Sara, an external obstacle does come up, and it seems too much by then. Also, the scene from his past is awkward—better choreography would have justified the events in a more believable way.

However, these are small parts of the story and overall I enjoyed this novel a lot. I found the characters likable and I wanted to see them overcome their challenges. The recurring imagery of storms added a poetry that I appreciated.

I would recommend this novel to any mature reader who enjoys erotic romance.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Weekly Update on the ePub journey

No new sales, unless you count one free download to a reviewer. But the good news is, I'm starting to get the books reviewed, and the reviews are positive! The very latest was 5 stars (well, "ratties" by this blogger's system) for The River and the Roses. She said she couldn't put it down! Yay! That sort of thing is SO GOOD to hear, because I do get discouraged. I worry that I have an unrealistic sense of how good my writing is. I don't think it's the best ever, you understand--but I do think it's just as good and sometimes better than a lot of what's already bestselling. But it's like that verse in Desiderata says,
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Not to mention the Fate Factor, as Nathan Bradsford recently put it. How much luck do I need to make this writing-as-my-day-job thing happen? Quite a bit, I suppose. Oh, for a blog post that literally made me laugh until tears streamed down my face, on the topic of whether you're ready to be a professional writer, go here.

But anyway, marketing helps. And I haven't really been doing a ton of that lately--not for a little over a week, other than to tweet links to my recent reviews. I'm holding back, because I figure I need to accumulate more followers... but I do think I'll be making some announcements about the sequel to River coming out: The Fire and the Veil. You, my beautiful blog readers, are the first to know. The question is, when? I need to get it beta read and to put it through its paces on my writing forum. This whole process will probably take a minimum of two months. So I think announcements about it probably need to wait until the launch date is a good deal closer.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Reminder: to myself and others


Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

by Langston Hughes

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book Review: Dorothea's Song, by Ron Vitale

Purchase Dorothea’s Song for $3.99 on Amazon, here.

Some weeks ago I sent out a tweet asking if anyone wanted their book reviewed, as a way of generating blog material. One person who responded was Ron Vitale, and he agreed to read and review Broken Ones in exchange.

He sent me Dorothea’s Song, and I had no idea what I was getting. I had just bought a Kindle, so this was my very first Kindlebook. I hoped it wouldn’t disappoint—and it didn’t! Right away, Dorothea’s Song captured my attention, so much so that I abandoned the novel I had been reading (a traditionally published novel so full of “to be” verbs and bad phrasing, incidentally, that it made my hair stand on end—and people insist that epublishing means the demise of quality—please).

Anyway, Dorothea’s Song struck me immediately because not only was it cleanly formatted and edited, but because it combined two very different stories. The premise of Dorothea’s Song is that a 16 year old student at a private school is writing a fantasy adventure story for his French class—translating portions of the story into French for the assignment. He has a wonderful French teacher, who he cares for, and he writes about his main character, Dorothea, as a tribute to her. The majority of the novel is the fantasy story, but the young man’s story interrupts every so often. I found both stories to be compelling, and it struck me that the voice of the young man was very authentic. I teach high school English, and it sounded very much like what a sensitive, articulate student might write. I found out after finishing the novel that Ron actually wrote it as a teenager—so my feeling was confirmed!

The choice to include the young man’s voice was a brilliant move, because it gave me a reason to forgive the flaws in the writing. Some phrasing is awkward and the dialogue is fairly wooden. But keeping in mind that this is meant to be a story written by a sixteen-year-old, I found it didn’t bother me. I think it wouldn’t bother the average reader anyway, even without the teen protagonist.

My only complaint comes at the end of the narrator’s story. An interaction with the teacher left me feeling disappointed and I didn’t really understand what she said to him. I wish this could have been better resolved.

Overall, however, I enjoyed Dorothea’s Song. I recommend it to older teenagers and fans of YA fantasy.

Visit Ron's website, here.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Weekly Update on Sales (or lack thereof)

This week, I sold two books, and that was on Sunday. Since then, crickets have been chirping.

I have given this some thought, and here's my theory as to why.

  1. I reformatted two of the books at the beginning of the week, and sent out a lot of tweets about that. So I figure, I probably lost some customers because they were concerned about my formatting, even though the point of the tweets was to let people know that an existing problem was fixed, and that I'd comp a new copy to anyone who had an old, flawed version.
  2. I raised my prices on two books: the two full-length novels. They went from $0.99 to $2.99. Although Amazon is still discounting one of them to $0.99, at least last time I checked. I did this after doing some research on prices, and I think it's the right choice. And I expected sales to slow a little but then recover. At this point, sales are beyond slow and show no signs of recovering, so we'll see. Also, the price change doesn't explain the halt in sales of "Veronica in Paris," which remains at $0.99.
  3. It's possible the pre-programmed tweets I sent out were in some way unappealing. I've been puzzling over this. I know a little bit about sales, and what little I know I've been applying to the tweets. For one thing, don't ask a rhetorical question, because a person's internal response may be "I don't care." As in, "Will Veronica find out who the murder is in time to save her friend?" My own response to such tag lines is often "Who cares?" so I don't want to make that mistake. And then if you do ask a question, make it one people will say yes to. So I had a couple of tweets going out with a question at the beginning, "Got a Kindle?" figuring some people would say yes. The next thing I asked was, "Like stories about ghosts, psychics, and strong women?" figuring that after the first yes they'd be more inclined to say yes again and click the associated link. However, that seems not to be the case. So I want to go back to my drawing board and figure out a different formula for my book tweets. I had a couple of others going out with just a summary tag, like "Veronica must accept her psychic ability or someone she loves will be the next to die." Those were generally more successful, if you believe my sales of the first two weeks were in any way correlated to them, and I think they were. But they didn't work this week. So maybe people got bored of them.
  4. It's possible that I've reached all the potential buyers I can within the first two weeks, among the population of followers I had on Twitter and Facebook. I've gotten new ones, but I have decided to wait at least a few days before putting out any more advertising. I figure if my tweets were in any way annoying, I'd better give people a break before starting up again.
Anyway, so this has been discouraging, but of course I'm not giving up. I'm focusing on the fact that 24 people have bought the books and presumably are reading and enjoying them. That's pretty cool. Also, on other blogs chronicling eBook sales, it seems typical to have bad weeks. I've got all three books out to reviewers, so I'm hoping those reviews will be good, and that once they are posted on Amazon and the rest, I'll see a return to regular sales. I've been getting mixed messages about the value of tagging, and in any case I can't seem to convince anyone to tag my books, so I'm not going to obsess about that. I may join the Independent Author Network, but they do charge a fee ($19.95), so I'm not sure yet. I probably will.

If you have any ideas for me about marketing, please let me know! Have you had to deal with any writing setbacks this week?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Why losing All My Children and One Life makes me a sad panda

Okay, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Really, Sophia? Soaps?" Well, I love soaps. I'll proudly admit it. Here's why.

  1. I was raised on them. My mother used to have them on while she painted. I'd watch them sometimes with her.
  2. When I moved to Paris as a teenager, the soap Santa Barbara had made it across the Atlantic and was one of the few American tv shows. I loved it, and I discovered one of my favorite actors on it: Robin Wright. Oh, also, A. Martinez.
  3. I love the way soaps work. I love their internal logic (if a character gets pregnant, the paternity WILL be in question at some point, regardless of any other consideration, and there's an 85% chance the baby born will be separated from its rightful--not necessarily biological--parents within an hour of its birth--this goes up 1% with each passing hour) and their consistent morality. I'm not saying they're highly moral, just that their morality is consistent. You have characters you can always count on to be good, characters you can always count on to be evil, and characters who move in a more gray area--but there are clear cues as to which hat they are wearing in any given storyline.
  4. I love the extraordinary weirdness they get away with. Plastic surgery: not only is it possible to completely pass for someone else, but all the people who have known and loved the original will be fooled, even after the imposter makes monstrously huge mistakes. And don't get me started on the surprise family relations--only in Victorian classics do people turn out to be related coincidentally as often. And some soaps took this to an extreme. Ever heard of Passions? They had storylines with animated dolls, trips to hell, and witches.
  5. I love that they are on every day of the week and are seemingly endless. It's consistent and reassuring. So I've had a crap day at work? I can turn on my soap and watch the characters make horrible decisions with their lives and feel like, yes, I, at least, am not about to sleep with my sister's new boyfriend because we got stuck in an abandoned mine shaft together.
  6. I love that they take a topic and try to educate their audience with it--to me, watching a soap is a way of gauging what people are thinking about things going on in the world. Which brings me to the next reason:
  7. Soaps can be cutting edge. No, seriously. They can! Anyone who is interested in how gays are represented in the media has probably heard of All My Children. They had the first lesbian kiss on daytime television. They also had a whole storyline around a transgendered character. One Life to Live had a storyline about a male gay couple struggling to adopt a child. This is very cool stuff, people, and it's reaching out into the homes of average Americans. An exciting new show about food is not going to do that.
So I am sad to see AMC and OLTL go. I realize there's no sense in fighting it--people who fight the inevitable baffle me. But what I'm going to hope is that ABC will lose lots and lots of money with this decision. And when, as a result, they realize what a stupid thing they've done, they'll either bring back these two shows or start new ones. Because while soaps may rightfully be known as low brow, they are also immensely valuable.

Do you agree? Or do you think of soaps as trash, and think, "Good riddance"?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

fixing the formatting

So I finally got to the bottom (more or less) of the weird formatting problem. As far as I know, it only turned up in Broken Ones (although I ended up reformatting The River and the Roses, just to be safe). Some em-dashes, for no apparent reason, were different from the rest, and as such, unreadable to most ereaders. They would instead show up as 3/4 signs. Just figuring that out took me a while. Then fixing it was a real pain, because I'd copy the bad em-dash and try to do a Find/Replace, only to have Word inform me that there were no such symbols to be found in the document. And I'd be staring at a page with four of them. Argh.

So for the benefit of those who are reading and thinking, how do I avoid this happening to me? I'm going to tell you the best way I've worked out to format a clean copy, free of bizarro em-dashes or other glitches.

First off, read the Smashwords Guide on how to get rid of things like text boxes and inconsistent indents--I never do these even in first drafts so they are not a problem for me. And let me say, if you use tab to indent your paragraphs, it's time to break that habit. The Smashwords Guide gives excellent instructions on the proper way to indent, and I won't go into that here.

The following instructions are based on Guido Henkel's guide to formatting, although I have made several alterations to deal with my em-dash issue and also some other problems I ran into with it. Also, his guide is long and can be intimidating to get through, although I recommend reading it if you want a more thorough explanation of why you're doing each step than you're going to get here.

Download JEdit and Calibre. These are both free programs and you'll need them to make your clean, glitch-free formatted ebook. There are other similar programs out there--if you're confident using them, do so. I know virtually nothing about them and can't adapt my instructions--I can only tell you how I did my formatting, and I used those two programs.

Before you start these steps, go into your word processing document and make sure you have all curly quotation marks. You may choose to do Find/Replace on each type, to be sure: there are “double” quotation marks and ‘single’ quotation marks. Make sure all of these are curly. You also need to Find/Replace all typed out ellipses to a symbol representing ellipses. That is, you probably have three periods in a row, like this: ... but what you need is a single ellipses symbol, like this …  . They look pretty much the same, right? But if you use the arrow keys to go over them, in the first instance you have three separate characters, and in the second, just one. You can copy and paste from this page into your Find/Replace boxes, if you like.

Okay, now that those preliminary steps are out of the way, we're ready for the process that will kill glitches in your formatting. Take a deep breath. There's some code coming up, and it can look scary. It's okay, though--you're just copying and pasting, and finding and replacing. You can do this.

Steps to Clean Formatting

In your Word doc:
1. Find/Replace: In Find box, type Ctr + i and in Replace box, put <i>^&</i>  . Replace all. (This preserves any italics you've got in your document for later--if you don't do this step, you'll lose all italic formatting.)
2. Ctr + A   Ctr + C   (Selects your whole document and copies it.)
3. Open Notepad (NOT WordPad), then Ctr + P  (Pastes your whole document in Notepad, killing all weird hidden Word formatting that is destined to mess you up later. Also known as the "Nuclear Option" in the Smashwords Guide.)

Now working in Notepad.
4. Find/Replace all em-dashes with --
Select an em-dash from your document and copy it, paste it in the Find box, then manually type the two hyphens in the Replace box. These will be replaced with real em-dashes later in JEdit, in such a way as to prevent weird 3/4 characters and the like from turning up. You might want to scroll through your document and make sure you don't spot any lingering em-dashes; but chances are, you got them. Also, while you're scrolling, look for empty box characters--just little squares. These are nasty symbols that cause glitches. If you find one, highlight it and copy it. Determine what it was supposed to be (in my case, an em-dash), and do a Find pasting in the box, Replace for what it was supposed to be.
5. Ctr + A    Ctr + C     Open JEdit, then   Ctr + P

Now working in JEdit.
6. F/R    ^(.+)$   with   <p>$1</p>    (This will put <p> and </p> symbols around each line)
7. F/R     with   &hellip;   (Copy that code from this page, including the semicolon.  DO NOT do this until you have replaced all three-dot ellipses with a single ellipses symbol--otherwise very weird stuff happens.)
8. F/R   --    with   &mdash; 
9. F/R  curly right    with  &ldquo;  and left    with &rdquo;
10. F/R curly right    and left    single quotes with  &lsquo;  and  &rsquo;
11. Save with an .html file extension. You will have to manually type .html after the file name.
12. Copy and paste the following at the top of the file, before any text:

 <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "">
    <style type="text/css">
      html, body, div, h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6, ul, ol, dl, li, dt, dd, p, pre, table, th, td, tr { margin: 0; padding: 0em; }
  text-indent: 1.5em;
  margin-bottom: 0.2em;
  text-indent: 0.1em;
  font-weight: bold;
  font-size: 1.5em; 
  page-break-before: always;
  margin-top: 5em;
  margin-bottom: 2em;
 text-indent: 0em;
 font-weight: bold;
 font-size: 1.2em;
 margin-top: 1em;
 margin-bottom: 1em;
 text-align: center;
  text-indent: 0em;
  text-align: center;
  font-size: 1.2em;
  font-weight: bold;
 margin-top: 1em;
 margin-bottom: 1em;
13. Put </body> at the end, after all text.
14. F/R  <p>Chapter    with    <p class="chapter">Chapter    (Unless you have not named your chapters, "Chapter 1" etc.--in that case you probably can't use Find/Replace and will have to go through and manually replace the <p> in front of your chapter heading with <p class="chapter"> . <p class="chapter"> still should have the word chapter in it, even if you don't use the word in your chapter headings--in the code, it refers to a style.)
15. Put <p class="chapter"> in place of <p> in front of any chapter-like heading. You may want to do this for About the Author, for instance. Note that this heading style is not centered, though, so it's probably not the best choice for your title page.
16. F/R <p>section break symbols</p> with <p class="centered"><span class="centered">section break symbols</span></p>   (Except replace the phrase "section break symbols" with whatever you use as section break symbols, such as *** or ~~~, so it would look like <p>***</p> and <p class="centered"><span class="centered">***</p></span>)
Note that you must have both the p class="centered" and the span class="center" and corresponding closing code </p> and </span> to properly center text. Guido explains this if you want to know why.
17. Through your computer's start menu, open Documents and double-click the .html document you're working on to check how it looks as a webpage. It will automatically open as a new tab on the web, also long as your browser is capable of making tabs.
18. Apply heading formatting wherever else it needs to go, like the title page.
I've created additional p class="centered" + span class="centered" formats with different names (eg. p class="centeredsmall" + span class="centeredsmall") in order to have some additional options for centered text in various sizes, etc. Copy the original ones, paste after the originals, and change the names. You must make sure both the p style and the span style have identical codes and don't contradict each other. To mess with sizes, simply alter the number by font-size, for instance. I like to mess around with this, saving and then reloading the webpage that corresponds to the file, to see how it looks.

Once you're satisfied with all of that, you have your basic .html document. You can use this to upload to Amazon. ALWAYS look at the preview they offer, and be sure you like what you see.

In order to use this document on Smashwords and B&N:

Highlight the entire webpage of your document and copy it (Ctr + C). Paste that into a Word document. Make sure your Word document doesn't have any weird spacing or other default formatting that will annoy Smashwords. Use their guide if you aren't sure.
Save in .doc format. That's what you upload to Smashwords.

This is why you need Calibre.
1. Open Calibre.
There is a row of buttons at the top--we'll be using several of these.
2. Open your .html document in Calibre by clicking "Add Books."
3. Select your .html document in the book list, and click on "Edit Metadata."
Fill in the information (Title, Author, ISBN if you have one, etc.) and upload your cover.
4. Making sure your book is still selected, click on "Convert Books."
In the upper right hand corner, there's a drop down menu of format options.
You can convert to MOBI here if you want, and upload that to Amazon instead of the .html, and it will be faster--also, if Amazon throws up an error when you try to upload your .html, doing this can fix that.
For B&N, convert to EPUB.
5. Click on "Save to Disk" and select a folder in your documents you'll have no trouble finding later. Calibre will create a new folder within the one selected, most likely titled after your author name. Your book document is in there.
6. On B&N when you upload your book, browse into that author folder and choose the EPUB file of your book, and upload that.
Their preview will even show your cover, as long as you chose one when you were doing metadata. It's very cool.

You're done. I'll let you know if I run into any more problems, but it's my conviction that going through these steps will give you a properly formatted, glitch-free eBook.

If you have more complicated formatting, such as images to include, PLEASE read Guido Henkel's guide. I in no way have his expertise--I'm merely posting what I figured out after hours of trial and error, AND with his help. I emailed him twice with questions, which he graciously answered. So I owe almost all my formatting to him, and the rest to Smashwords.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Weekly eBook Sales Update.

Things are moving along!

The only fly in the ointment? Two readers have reported some formatting issues in two different Kindlebooks. I suspect it's the em-dashes, which some ereaders don't translate correctly. I am, at the moment, pretty stumped about how to fix this. The two readers both got their books from Smashwords (right Kathryn?) so I have no way of uploading the html version Guido Henkel teaches you how to make which is the only one that would address this, as far as I know. Smashwords only takes .doc files. So mostly at this point I'm crossing my fingers that the formatting won't be bad on most ereaders. On my laptop, using Amazon's Kindle for PC app, I am unable to reproduce the formatting bug. And I'm also unable to bring it up on my actual Kindle.

Another possibility would be to find/replace all my em-dashes and make them into "--" instead. I'm reluctant to do this without more of a sense of how pervasive the problem is, though. The "--" just doesn't look as professional to me. It's probably just me being anal. What do you all think?

Anyway, to the numbers!

Smashwords, total sales by title:
Broken Ones = 5
Veronica in Paris = 2
The River and the Roses = 4

Amazon, total sales by title:
Broken Ones = 4
Veronica in Paris = 4
The River and the Roses = 2

B&N, total sales by title:*
Broken Ones = 0
Veronica in Paris = 1
The River and the Roses = 0

*Keeping in mind that B&N has a reputation for being slow to report sales.

Total sales of all titles, just this last week: 14

Total sales since the beginning: 22

My sales have almost doubled since the first week. This is very encouraging! I've been submitting my books for bloggers to review. I'm hoping once the books get reviewed, they'll really start selling.

By the way, if you have a minute, something you can do for me is go to the sites of each book and select some of the tags associated with each. For instance, The River and the Roses has the tags: psychic, ghost, mystery, etc. The more times people click on these tags (signifying that they agree with them) the higher up in certain lists the books go.

For Amazon, US, go here. That should bring up my three ebooks. Select one and scroll down the page until you get to the tags. Click on a few of those. That simple!

For Amazon, UK, go here.

For B&N, go here. Edited to add: I can't seem to find tags on B&N--did you? I think maybe they don't do them. Please let me know--sometimes I don't see the same stuff because I published the book.

Smashwords doesn't do tags the same way.

Anyway, THANK YOU whether you have a chance to do that or not--just that fact that you are here, reading this blog, shows me that you are supporting me.

Please comment and let me know how your own pursuits are going!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

the aftermath of my week long writing binge...?

I have these ambitions.

I decided that spring break would be filled to the brim with writing, editing, and publishing... and that happened. I published three books (although I'm going to have to upload a new copy of the third, because I rushed it and then realized I needed to still fix a few things). I finished the first draft of the WiP. I came up with a new story idea. I pretty much drove myself nonstop for ten days (we had a snow day added to the break). It was wildly productive.

And now I'm tired.

I don't regret it. At all. But there's a part of me that's really dissatified with the fact that I can't keep that pace up ALL. THE. TIME.

I decided to make April my personal NaNoWriMo. I planned to come home every day after work and write, like I did in November. That hasn't really happened. Yesterday I came home and took a nap on the couch. Today the hubby took me out to eat, and I'm dreaming of just going to bed right now--and it's 7:30pm.

And I know I'm genuinely tired, because even though I have that whip-cracking inner voice going off about it, it's a very faint voice, and the rest of me can't muster up any energy to care.

I've done the rewrites on the third book. I could take it down from the sites and put the new version up right now. It probably wouldn't take me more than fifteen minutes to do. And then, I could find all the reviewer-blogs I've been collecting and start submitting my books to them like I've been intending. This would be a good marketing step. But it's probably not going to happen tonight.

Tomorrow, with any luck, I will make it home earlier from work, and I'll have time for a nap if I need it, and then I'll find the energy to do the new uploads and write some more for ApriNoWriMo.

I think, actually, with ApriNoWriMo, two things are slowing me down. 1) Definitely my fatigue. 2) The story idea. It's not a bad story idea, but it's a new one, totally outside my Veronica series, and as such, I'm not bought in to it yet. I takes me a while to get bought in, which is why I like the NaNo format--I'm in such a rush to get words down by the deadline that by the time the month is over, I've bought in at some point without even noticing. So what I may need to do is come up with Veronica Barry: book 3. One of the lovely things about writing VB: book 2 was that I slipped right in--no initial struggle to form an attachment. That was way cool. So maybe I don't need a break from it, as I had decided when I finished the first draft of book 2 during spring break. Maybe I need a little breather and then to dive right back into Veronica's story...

Something to ponder.

My question to you is, how do you deal with fatigue? Do you ever push yourself very hard and then pay the consequences? How do you handle that, if you do, or avoid that, if you don't? Do you write in series? If so, do you take breaks between each book to write something else, or remain immersed in your series' world?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

quick numbers update

For those who are interested in my experience so far with epublishing, here's the update for week 1.

Sales by title:
Broken Ones
Smashwords 2, Amazon 2, B&N 0*
Veronica in Paris
Smashwords 2, Amazon 2, B&N 0*

Total sales this week: 8

*I've read that B&N can take a while to report sales, so there may be some that I don't know about.

So... eight! Several bought by people I don't know. In fact, the first purchase was by someone on twitter. SO. COOL. I about died and became one of my own ghosts, people. And every time I check my numbers and one's been added, it's like, JOY!

Even if my books never take off, this experience has been worth it. It's so worth it to know that people out there are reading my books. And from what one person has told me in direct twitter messages--enjoying them! And it's not even the same twitter person. Ha.

This week has been amazingly productive. It was spring break, and I used just about every waking moment (minus showers, meals, and dog walks. Oh and sleep. But not a lot of that--I'm too manic at the moment)doing something writing-related. Here's what I did:
  • Finished the WiP, The Fire and the Veil.
  • Finished the RiP, The River and the Roses.
  • Created 3 finished covers and started collecting possible images for The Fire and the Veil.
  • Published 3 ebooks, Broken Ones, Veronica in Paris, and The River and the Roses.
And I also did a bit of critiquing. And I intend, now, to do some more of that. I've gotten so much help from fellow writers. It would be gratifying to give back a little!

And I've got some ideas percolating... short stories? Novellas? Novels? All I know is I'm going to try to do ApriNoWriMo. So whatever happens happens.

What about you? What successes have you had recently? What goals do you have for April?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

a realization

Bear with me, you probably realized this ages ago. But for me, it's a recent thing. I've figured out what I think the coolest thing about epublishing is.
  • the immediate gratification? No.
  • the royalties? No.
  • the control over just about all aspects of the book? Sort of.
To properly explain the coolest thing about epublishing, I have to backtrack. Let's go back to January, when I entered the ABNA contest with my novel, The River and the Roses. I also started perusing the ABNA forum, which is full of wonderful, supportive writers, by the way. I highly recommend it. One thread prompted everyone to submit their first paragraph to be evaluated. So I did. Originally, my first paragraph was nearly half a page long, and contained a detailed description of my character. Zzzzzz. But I'd never thought about it before: how you open your novel can make a huge difference in your reader's interest.

For years I wrote for myself, creative writing teachers, and writing groups, but didn't have any interest in pursuing publishing (I was intimidated). When I was in my teens and early twenties, I read a lot of books on writing. Then I eventually consciously stopped doing that, because it was fueling my internal editor, and my internal editor, when fueled, is a nasty mofo. My point is that while I knew some things about writing, I really never paid any attention to writing to sell.

So going on that forum opened my eyes: the first paragraph of my novel would put people to sleep. Okay. So I gave that some thought. At what point in The River and the Roses did things really start to pick up? Well, that question was easy to answer. My main character, Veronica (the same Veronica as in "Veronica in Paris" fyi), has been repressing her psychic ability for most of her life, but when a murder happens near her apartment, a nightmare-vision of it overcomes her defenses. This is the inciting incident for the novel. I figured, perfect. I'll start the novel with the dream, and then flashback over the day leading up to the night of the murder (important stuff happens that I couldn't cut out). I sent this new version to a couple of my beta-readers, and they both liked it a lot. So I thought, alright. I'm good. I'm ready for this novel to go to the contest. And I posted the new opening paragraph. That's when some comments I got started to make me uneasy.

"Never open with a dream."

Agents hate it. You'll sink your manuscript the moment the agent realizes you're starting with a dream.

At first I figured, well, maybe that's true most of the time, but Veronica is a psychic. She's very much inspired from tv's Medium. How can it be wrong to open with a dream in her case?

But the more I read, the more this got hammered home. I read agent blogs. I read other forums. I read articles. Everyone said the number one bad way to open a novel was with a dream. So I scratched the opening and started over. I tried starting the novel a few minutes after the dream, when Veronica finds the body and the police arrive. She's in shock, there are flashing lights, they're taking her in for questioning. Exciting, right? Good opening, right? No, apparently not.

Disoriented characters are a no-no, too.

Plus, this flashing forward and then flashing back to the day that preceded it wasn't going over well with critiquers either.

So I went back and cut the flashforward scene entirely. Now I was left with a similar opening paragraph to the original, although I'd chopped the description down a lot. But still, it was pretty low energy. So I tried cutting the very beginning out and starting a bit later, when Veronica is at least doing something, planning a party and shopping, and after a couple of short paragraphs she has her first weird psychic thing. Nothing major, like the dream, but still.

So, I got it, right? It's a decent opening, right? No.

"You have to start with action! You have to grab your reader by the short hairs and yank them into your book!"

Sigh. I wrestled with ideas. I'd come up with something, and then throw it out. It got so I hated that opening chapter. And then I came up with a new thought, which tied in to a subplot I had already decided to introduce throughout the rest of the novel. I wrote it up: Veronica is walking her dog on the morning of the day of the murder, and she sees a ghost. She's embarrassed because she reacts to it and no one else can see it. Good, right? You guessed it. No. Too dream-like.

Luckily for me, at this point, one critiquer said she did like it, and she pointed out some ways to ground it more so it wouldn't feel so dreamy. So I took her advice, and I'm pleased with the result. I'm not changing the opening again, people. I'm done.

So this is a super long-winded way of getting at the coolest thing about epublishing, but I still have more I have to tell you before I can get to it. Still there? I'm amazed.

While I was laboring over my novel's opening, I was also still reading novels before bed. I read one called Unholy Ghosts, by Stacia Kane. Good paranormal suspense book: I recommend it. As I started this novel, it struck me that Kane opened it exactly right. High action, introduces the character and what she does, etc. In fact, it was so perfect, I felt like it must have gone through the vetting process at absolutewrite. As a quick explanation, absolutewrite is a big writer's forum. It's got some amazing people on it. There are experts who will explain things to you never thought you could find out about (in my case, arson investigation, the territorial disputes between PDs and FDs, Koreans and shamanism, and more). There are people who will give you step by step instructions to accomplish some formatting feat in your Word document. And there are the Share Your Work boards. Maybe it's because I opened myself up to it by saying, "Critique me with your gloves off," but I have gotten beat up one side and down the other of those forums. The worst being "Query Letter Hell." But my first chapter of River didn't fair well, either. And to be honest, most of the feedback I got wasn't very helpful, because people would say I was doing this or that wrong, and never suggest how I could do it right. Anyway. So I'm reading Unholy Ghosts, and I'm thinking, man, Kane is nailing it. She's got it down. Her book would totally pass muster on absolutewrite. Yeah, because she's a mod there. No joke. And there's nothing wrong with that. Is there?

"We are the same"

I started to think about this experience I'd been having, with the opening. And I'd also been reading a lot of articles and forum posts about other right and wrong ways to do things (you can even see the results of some of that in my blog post from earlier this month about naming your character and ending your novel). In fact, I became obsessed with the idea that I could write a perfect novel that followed all the rules (a bit like Kane's). I started gathering all of the rules I could find in a notebook. I outlined a novel to follow every one of them.

And then one day, as I was walking my dog and chatting with my husband, I started feeling uneasy about it. Not so much because I learned long ago that I can't force myself to write something, even if I like the idea (Stephen King talks about how he wishes he could write like Amy Tan, but he can't--I can totally relate--I want to be Jacqueline Carey so much; it's like she took all of the things I love and put them in Kushiel's Dart... but I can't write like her). But because I started to think, wow, eventually all the commercial novels out there will be fundamentally the same. Not the stories, but how they are told. A horror novel and a mystery novel and a western and a romance--they'll all start the same way, follow the same path, and end the same way. Not blatantly, you understand. But the skeleton will be the same--start with some nondreamy exciting incident, go through the correct number of plot steps, include all the important aspects of a plot, and end by tying all of those together. And the only novels that won't do that will be from established authors who can get away with ignoring the rules.

I already can tell you the ending of most movies or what a character will do next in tv shows without having seen them before. Knowing the structure and rules of novel writing means I can do the same thing when I'm reading, and the best I can hope for is that while I'll know a twist is coming, I won't quite have figured out what it's going to be.

How sad is it to know a twist is coming?

Which brings me, at last, to the coolest thing about epublishing.

There are no more rules.

Don't get me wrong. I think River's Veronica-sees-a-ghost opening is good, and I'm keeping it. I'm glad I had to work on it so much, because I do think it's better for it. But the cool thing is, if I want to open my next novel with a dream, because that's the best way to open it, I can. No agent will look at it and say, "Damnit, another dream opening!" and throw it in the garbage. Epublishing means the only people I'm beholden to are my readers. I'm guessing that breaking all the rules may create a big mess, but just think of the creative possibilities of that mess! Just imagine the weird directions novels can now go in! Or, how about this... I have a critiquing partner on a forum who wrote an epic fantasy that's the first book in a trilogy and it's something like 200K words. He's been told on forums like querytracker that he's got to cut that thing down because no agent will consider publishing a first novel that long, epic fantasy or not. But he feels that it's already as trim as its going to get. So if he epublishes it, does he have to amputate some part of it that he feels is vital to the story? No! How cool is that?

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Is this really a good thing? Don't authors need the gatekeepers in traditional publishing to force them to tighten their prose, make better plotting decisions, etc.?"

I put it to you that the answer is no. The only people authors need to please are readers. If my friend publishes his epic and he gets readers, that's all that matters. Now what may happen is that when an author puts a novel up, very few people will buy it, because it has massive flaws and gets bad reviews. Then it's time to go back to the drawing board. And who wants to have to keep pulling their novel off the retail pages to fix it? No, I think good authors will work their hardest to create the best novel they can to begin with anyway. Most of us are not hacks trying to throw a few cliches together and thinking it will sell. Most of us love what we do. We love our characters. It matters to us that a story hang together well. It feels good when you come up with a solution to that plot point nightmare you've been struggling with for weeks. So while there will be people who epublish before their novel is ready, they'll learn. And once they do, they'll become better writers for it. And best of all, the novels they will produce will be original and wonderful and not fettered down by rules!

Pretty cool, huh?

You've made it through this whole post. That means you have an unusually robust attention span. So tell me, what do you think about all of this?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Schedule for Up-coming Posts in fellow writer's blog

Below is the schedule of posts for April at .

4/01—Six Questions for David A. Bright, Editor, Gemini Magazine
4/04—Six Questions for Randall Brown, Founder, Matter Press and The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts
4/06—Six Questions for Mandy Ward, Editor, Welcome to Wherever
4/08—Six Questions for Keely Christensen, Editor-in-Chief, The Red Asylum
4/11—Six Questions for Mike O'Mary, Founder, Dream of Things
4/13—Six Questions for Betsy Dornbusch, Editor, Electric Spec
4/15—Six Questions for Stephanie Taylor, Publisher, Astraea Press
4/18—Six Questions for Laura E. Davis, Founding & Poetry Editor, Weave Magazine
4/20—Six Questions for Darby Larson, Editor, Abjective
4/22—Six Questions for David James Keaton, Editor-in-Chief, Flywheel Magazine
4/25—Six Questions for Amanda Deo, Editor, Thunderclap
4/27—Six Questions for Chris Deal, Editor, Nefarious Muse
4/29—Six Questions for Celia Kyle, Publisher, Summerhouse Publishing

Saturday, March 26, 2011

epublishing your novel

I'm so excited. I've epublished my novel, Broken Ones, on Smashwords, and it will soon also become available electronically on Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Clicking the "publish" button on Smashwords was SO COOL. Seriously. So cool!

So I had to do a fair amount of research to get it all done, and I thought I'd bring my findings here so that perhaps someone feeling as overwhelmed as I did yesterday can get it all in one place.

First of all, publish to at least these three retailers: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.* Every retailer has their own format to follow for epublishing. This is annoying, and I suspect when we move out of this "wild west" era of epublishing, one of the things that will happen is standardization of formats. But in the meantime...

The simplest order to epublish is as follows (at least in my experience):
  1. Publish to Smashwords
  2. Publish to B&N
  3. Publish to Amazon
Why? Because Smashwords has this wonderful free guide: Smashwords Style Guide. Warning: it is 73 pages long. Don't be intimidated, though, the first two dozen pages or so just tell you why using their guide is useful. The bulk of the instructions exist from around page 25ish to page 68, and there are a lot of images. And it is totally worth doing what they advise.

One thing I didn't think they made clear is that they won't take a .docx file. Only .doc, so "save as" .doc (it's listed as Word 97-2003) if you're using the latest Word.

Once you have your Smashwords formatted document, it is way easy to convert it to B&N and Amazon. Just remove the Smashwords copyright info and replace it with the appropriate info for whichever format you're doing. On the B&N site, you can upload the Word doc as is. For Amazon, you have to convert the file to html. Don't worry, all that means is "save as" a web page or as html, depending on what your program calls it.

Always look at the preview. When I first uploaded my file to Amazon I saw I had lost my paragraph indents. Then I realized I'd uploaded the .doc file, not the .html file. Because Amazon will take a .doc file, but the .html file keeps all that nice Smashwords formatting you created whereas for some reason it loses some from the .doc file.

Alternately, you can use Guide Henkel's guide to formatting, which provides you with step by step instructions for creating a clean, issue-free html file. Note that you cannot use this file for Smashwords. You definitely can for Amazon, and I didn't try for B&N. I ran into one problem with it, and commented on Guido's blog, and he responded within like, an hour. Really supportive. If you do decide to go with this guide to format your Amazon Kindle, be aware that the first line in the style sheet needs to be changed. Quoting Guido here from the email he sent me:

Simply change the first line in the style sheet

       html, body, div, h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6, ul, ol, dl, li, dt, dd, p, pre, table, th, td, tr { margin: 0; padding: 0.1em; }

to this one

       html, body, div, h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6, ul, ol, dl, li, dt, dd, p, pre, table, th, td, tr { margin: 0; padding: 0; }

and you will be fine. Kindle does not interpret the padding command properly and applies it only to the left side of the page.

When you're ready to upload your formatted book:

Have your bank account information handy when you are ready to upload your book. This will save you time and help you avoid annoying your significant other by asking him/her five different questions about your bank account. Believe me.

I created a paypal account for B&N because they pay you every time you earn $10 with paypal, versus every $75 if you choose to be paid by check.

A note or two about creating a cover:

You can do it yourself. I did. There are places online with free stock photos and illustrations, but in the end I went to dreamstime and set up an account, and paid $9.99 for 8 credits to buy a 4 credit image. So I paid, essentially, $5.00 for my cover and the right to use its photo commercially. I then used Paint to add the title and my name. I chose my photo carefully, as I wanted to combine the concept of "broken" with a sense of hope, and I also wanted a literal broken window since two windows get broken in the book. I also like to think the sunbeam could be a ghost image, but that might be stretching it. And I also carefully chose the font and how to format it. I suggest you look at your cover as a thumbnail in your file directory, because it will be that small (or nearly) in some of the directories Smashwords lists it in. If you can't read your name and title, start over.

You want an image that is minimum  800h X 600w because that's the minimum required by all three companies, I believe. At least two out of the three, for sure.

If the thought of creating your own cover gives you hives, you can, I'm told, go to DeviantArt and hire an artist on the cheap. One person told me it would cost around $35. One of my critiquing buddies is going to have his nephew do his cover. There are lots of possibilities.

Finally, some things to consider:

  • Price: if you go by what epublishing guru J.A. Konrath says and does, price your ebook at $0.99 for promotional periods, then raise it to $2.99. Why? For one thing, on B&N and Amazon this makes a big difference in terms of your royalties. B&N Nookbooks priced between $2.99 and $9.99 earn 65% while anything outside of that range earns 40%. Amazon Kindlebooks priced between $2.99 and $9.99 earn 70% while everything else earns 35%. So once you've got some momentum going on your sales and you have some five star book reviews, it may make sense to raise your price to $2.99, especially if your book is at least 65K words. Readers apparently judge value based on length a lot of the time. I've also read that some authors prefer not to list at $0.99 indefinitely because the $0.99 ebook attracts a certain kind of reader, and that kind of reader can be unpleasant. I wish I remembered which blog I read that on, because I'd link to it, but I don't, so do some searches for more information.

  • Don't publish your book until you've given it revisions and a thorough edit. I mean, don't get me wrong, I probably missed some typos in my novel--I think I catch them all, and they still slip by me, masters of stealth that they are. But I think typos are forgivable. What hangs me up when I'm reading are things like passive voice, overuse of to be verbs, etc. And stories that confuse me, etc. So don't put your book out there until it's been through some beta-readers, etc. Broken Ones had a total of six beta-readers and I still caught way too many gerunds and to be verbs in my last edit. And try to eliminate every "there was" or "there were" you find. And to quote Stephen King, "The adverb is not your friend." Apparently a lot of crappy self-published ebooks exist out there. I believe that while some of these are selling, eventually the cream will rise to the top. Make sure yours is creamy.
I'd love to hear from anyone who has epublished or is considering doing so. Please comment and tell me a bit about your journey!

*ETA: I have been asked, "Why go through the trouble of reformatting to submit to Amazon when Smashwords automatically formats for Kindle (as well as many other formats)?" My answer: because at this time Smashwords does not place your book for sale with Amazon. That means if you want your book listed on Amazon for people to buy for their Kindles you must submit it separately to Amazon. Smashwords does list your book with B&N, but only if you make their Premium List, and I'm not going to take my chances.