Friday, November 29, 2013

Off and Running?

I used to have a blog. I used to go to all sorts of writers forums and groups and gatherings. I used to go to writers conferences. I used to interact with a lot of different writers and readers. Used to. So, what happened?

Even I'm not sure. The internet moves quickly - with lightning speed. Things change rapidly. Places to go cease to exist. New places pop up, fade away. It seemed I could no longer keep up. I faded away. My energies were shifted, diverted, to other things to occupy my creative needs - editing, making jewelry, craft shows, etc.

But I think it's time to come back. I have been going through my Guardians of Glede series books - making up a family tree for the publisher, getting new covers, checking for errors. And it got me thinking about the books again. Ok, I'll just say it - I like reading my own books. The characters are like family to me after all of this time. And it has been a very long time.

I started writing the series when my second child was just a wee one. He is now 27. That's a long time. I didn't actually publish anything until the late 1990's though. That was when epublishing was in its infancy, just getting started. And all I heard was that no one wanted to read books on the computer. No one. Everyone wanted print. Now?

Well, no one seems to want print anymore. I have stacks of printed books in my closet that I can't give away. Now, everything is electronic.

I was also a little disillusioned by my own expectations. Of course, all artists have them - the expectations. We'll be famous. People will want to read our stuff. People will rave about it. We'll be in a warm, happy glow for years and years. And the money wouldn't hurt either.

But it soon became apparent that what I envisioned didn't happen. Sure, I had really nice reviews, I won a few awards for small press, I sold some books, my name is in a lot of places on the internet. But it didn't seem like I had envisioned it at all. I wanted more. But I didn't know what more I wanted.

Then came the piracy of my books. Lots of it. I was told I should be happy - people were reading my books, after all, and shouldn't that be enough? But, strangely, it wasn't really. I felt almost as if I was being mocked - yeah, we like your books - but only if they don't cost us anything. I became jaded. And sad.

I let that sadness eat at me. I quit.

I quit trying. I quit promoting. I quit writing. I haven't written anything new in over a year. It's not that I don't have creative juices still within me. I do. But every time I try to write, I think "why bother"? There are so many books out there, so many new authors, so much to read. How on earth will my little stories ever compete? Ever make it anywhere besides on my computer and in my dreams?

But now I'm back. I think it's time. Time to do something, time to move forward, time to start writing again. I hope so. Will anyone even read this?

I hope so. If anyone does, let me know.

And here's a picture just to end on a happy note:

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Being Thankful

I suppose it's a little bit cliched to write about being thankful the day before Thanksgiving. But, too bad, I'm going to do it anyway.

So, here are a few things I am thankful for (and lets just assume that the top of the list is my family and my friends and my health, etc and go from there, shall we?)

1) Writing buddies. There's nothing like having someone you trust read your work and give feedback. It's a vital part of my writing process.

2) NaNoWriMo. This month long push to write 50,000 words has gotten me through a few first drafts of stories, when I might have stopped part way through, frustrated that the story was not going where I wanted. By forcing myself to push through, I found the story again.

3) Libraries. I could never afford to buy as many books as I would like to read (as much as I'd like to own them all).

4) The Internet and the way it helps me stay connected with far-flung friends and family.

5) Nice travel days (and it looks like we won't have one today as we head off to family in another state) - so I'll be thankful my car is in decent shape - and I'll be really thankful if we arrive there in a timely fashion.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Free Birds

I do movie reviews at my regular blog on Fridays. And since this one is an animated film, I thought I'd share it here first. :)

Free Birds

Starring: Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Amy Poehler, George Takei, Colm Meany, Keith David, Dan Fogler, Jimmy Hayward, Kaitlyn Maher, Carlos Alazraqui, Jeff Biancalana, Danny Carey, Carlos Ponce, and more.

Directed by: Jimmy Hayward Screenplay by: Jimmy Hayward and Scott Mosier Story by: David I. Stern and John J. Strauss Art Direction by: Kevin R. Adams Music by: Dominic Lewis

Premise: Reggie had found the perfect life after being chosen by the President's daughter as that years pardoned turkey and got taken to Camp David . That is until a fated evening when he's kidnapped by one of his own, a muscle bound turkey named Jake. And according to Jake, it's Reggie's destiny to come with him and help him use a top secret time machine to go back in time and stop turkey from becoming a holiday meal tradition. The Great Turkey told him so. (Rated PG)


1) Voice Acting - Total Thumbs Up: Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson are a lot of fun as Jake and Reggie. But 'hands down', it is George Takei who steals the spotlight as S.T.E.V.E. He was a total riot! Amy Poehler was cute as the chief's daughter Jenny. Kaitlyn Maher as the President's hyperactive daughter was utterly adorable.

2) Artwork/Animation - Total Thumbs Up: Reel FX Creative Studios did a great job with the animation. They brought in a lot of little touches to the film that made some of the visuals unique. I especially enjoyed the inventiveness with how the tukey use their wings. The time machine take off and travel scenes were quite spectacular and also very funny.

I thought it a neat touch, too, that the turkey from the past showed a lot of the same visual qualities as their indian neighbors. The animated jokes for Jake and Jenny's brother testing each other's manliness were both hilarious and disturbing.

3) Plot/Story - Total Thumbs Up: Reel FX did the 'most fun thing ever' just as the film began. First they freely admit to taking some liberties with the historical facts in the making of the film. Then they reassure us that talking turkey, however, are real! This seemingly small bit does wonders in setting the whole tone for the audience right from the start. And the fun only grows from there.

Several themes are explored and are interwoven through the film and characters - belonging, perceived happiness, loyalty, faith, guilt, acceptance. They do touch a few times on rather sobering items, but they don't linger on them and they actually add depth to the tale being told.

Kudos for how they decided to do the character of Jenny. Her lazy eye problem, while originally something which would be off putting, becomes a rather endearing trait by the end of the film. It also shows that one need not be perfect on the outside to be loved or appreciated by those around them.

No unexpected or innovative plot surprises, but plenty of time travel foolery - which made for a lot of fun. S.T.E.V.E. was the best idea ever. Though I have to say he seemed to quickly evolve into more than was originally intended. He even appeared to have a universal translator - a nice SF in-joke.) Plenty of SF and regular jokes, visual and not, for the parents and the kids.

Conclusion: "Free Birds" was quite enjoyable, especially with all the usual hijinks one can expect from a time travel movie. George Takei was a blast. Make sure to sit through at least part of the credits as there is an extra scene.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5 (Hubby's Rating: Worth Full Price of Admission)  

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

My Kind of Town

Savannah, GA : Bonaventure cemetery - Embodies the South...
(I originally wrote this for my other blog, but since the whole experience is still so vivid for me, I thought I'd share it here, too.)

Savannah, GA : Madison Square - Poetter Hall SCAD Admissions
Normally, the next word in the line "My kind of town" is "Chicago," and normally, that would apply to me. I grew up in Chicago and have called it, and the area around it, my home for my entire life. But last week, my husband and I were treated to another town that is definitely one of my kind, as they say.
Welcome to Savannah, Georgia, the most haunted city in America. When I first read that claim, I was somewhat skeptical. I know, me skeptical? What's up with that? But I was thinking, how could Savannah possibly be more haunted than New Orleans? Or Washington, DC? Or St. Augustine? San Francisco? Even my own stomping grounds, Chicago? We've had so many disasters here it's not even funny. But when we took a ghost tour of the historic district, well, I guess I found out.
For one thing, Savannah is a massive burial ground. Literally. The city is built on a burial ground and even if you haven't seen the movie "Poltergeist," I'm willing to bet you know that such a site choice does not have the makings for a peaceful, placid kind of place. Secondly, there is all kinds of history in Savannah, from the first encounter with the indigenous people, through the Revolutionary War, piracy, slavery, and the Civil War. There is more history there than you can shake a stick at, and why would you want to? You might accidentally invite something, if you shake a stick at it.
No kidding. The ghost tour Jim and I booked stopped off at some of the more disturbed locations in the city. The Pirate house, where people were literally shanghaid into service on the seas. Or simply murdered, if that's what suited the folks behind these goings-on. The Sorrel-Weed house, that was featured on one of my favorite TV shows, Ghost Hunters. It was the site of the show's first live Halloween broadcast and some of what occurred that night was enough to drive away at least one of the site's employees, we were told. The house on Abercorn that is owned but not lived in. No one is allowed to live in it. Women are even cautioned against approaching the place, it is so malevolent. I'm not an idiot- I kept my distance from the place. Dave, our tour guide, told story after story as we drove through and around the historic district, and encouraged picture taking just to see what would wind up on the photos. (And for the second time in our ghost-tour taking history, Jim captured something in a picture that we can't quite explain. LOVE IT!!!)
But the one, true reason Savannah is my kind of town? People talk about ghosts there the same way they talk about the weather. I have a belief that everyone has a ghost story. The folks there seem to have several apiece, some more than that, and they aren't shy about sharing their tales. There's no hesitation before they launch into their narratives. There is no embarrassment or quick peeks to see if you are looking at them with skeptical eyes or disdainful expressions. No, they just tell you what they saw, when, where, and then go right on with the conversation about restaurants or sweet tea or what have you. And I REALLY LOVE THAT.
We were only there for a couple of nights and we both agree we'd go back in a heartbeat. We both want to know more of the history. I know Jim wants to explore the river and maybe eat more of their amazing seafood. And me? I want as many ghost stories as I can handle. Absolutely my kind of town. 
 (Pictures from the Savannah, Georgia Photo Album website. Top: Bonaventure Cemetery. Below that: Madison Square-Poetter Hall)

Friday, November 8, 2013

How Awards Matter

This month's blog post is slightly related to my blog post in September about a possible YA Hugo Award. I'm back from attending the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton, UK, where, among the various discussion and book launch parties and award presentations there was a panel entitled "Do Awards Really Matter?" Panelists included Elizabeth Bear, Pat Cadigan, Ellen Datlow, Tricia Sullivan and Melanie Tem. (Neil Gaiman was also supposed to be on the panel, but he had to present a Life Achievement Award elsewhere at that time. Huh.)

The panel summary was "It seems that these days everybody and their dog are giving out awards on the basis of general popularity, being a member of a group, or decided by a panel of judges. But just how important is any award to a writer's career, and is it ever ethical to actively campaign for your own work?"

It was interesting to have a discussion of this topic at this convention, being that the convention had the meetings of two societies - The British Fantasy Society and the World Fantasy Board - and both societies' annual award ceremonies. What was odd, though, is that the panelists all mentioned that the awards they had won had not benefited them in any way that they had noticed (except for those awards that had money as part of the award). Awards to them were a matter of recognition of their work, that "someone is reading" as one panelist mentioned.

As someone who won awards as well (and granted, an EPPIE for Best Fantasy and a Dream Realm Award for Best Anthology is not in the same league as a Hugo or a Campbell or a Locus Award), I agree that the recognition is nice. But I do think the panel might have benefited from having either a small press author or a librarian to join in on the conversation. It struck me that someone from a traditional publishing house might be noticing only the short term and totally overlooking what those from small press have been encouraged to see as "Long Tail". One of the panelists did mention that there had been an small increase in sales of the book that had won the award, but it hadn't affected the sales of her other books. There was also a polling of the audience to see who among the audience paid attention to awards in regard to their book purchases (the answer, oddly enough at a convention where several awards were being given out, was very few. But this could be because people attending purchased books when they came out and not a year later when awards were announced).

As a librarian, one thing I've noticed over the years is that award winning books tend to stay in print. Of course, it depends on the award. Caldecott and Newbery Award winners and nominees are carried by public libraries, school libraries, and academic libraries (if the university in question has an education department and classes in children's literature). When I tried to replace books that had been damaged or stolen, I had problems replacing books that had been published more than a year ago. I never had any problems replacing Caldecott and Newbery award winners and nominees, however. Books published even fifty years ago are still in print, both because they were award winners and because people still wish to study them. When the English Department at my university developed a science fiction class (finally!), I found that Hugo Award winners are often still available, though the older ones are not republished as often as those which won awards for children's books. I have no information on how fantasy or horror award winners have done.

So, though some of these award winners are not noticing any benefits now, in the long run, they may. I only hope that some convention will re-examine that topic when they do. I've already noticed that some conventions ask in their participant questionnaires if the person has won any awards. But perhaps that's more for the benefit of the convention and their advertising.

What do you think about awards? Do you pay attention when purchasing a book? Do you nominate books for awards and root for particular authors?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


What do you think about killing the characters in your stories? Should an author do so? Are there certain times it's best? Or is that a no-no, most times?

Recently, in my WIP, I killed one of my characters. He wasn't the main character, but he was one of the major characters and important to the story. One of my critique partners, however, was not thrilled with what I had done. In fact, she hated the story after that. Whoa! Had I made a bad mistake?

Not long after that, a book in a series that I was reading did the same thing. The author did away with one of the major characters, and I felt the same way my crit partner had. I thought he should have survived. His death really disturbed me. So the ending of the series was ruined, in my opinion.

After these startling revelations,I revised my story and brought the character back to life. And you know what? The ending is much better, I believe. The reason for his survival is stronger than his death was. Recently I read a neat article entitled "Don't Kill the Dog." I loved it. The author says that in her book, the dog dies. She thought it would help her character grow and change when mourning the loss of her dog. The author's beta readers questioned if the dog had to die, as did her agent, and one editor told her a pet peeve of the editor was reading a story where the dog died. Yikes! Finally, the loss of her own dog recently made the author wonder about her story. To read the whole article go Query Tracker. It's great.

So how about you? Have you ever killed one of you main characters? If so, how did you feel about it?


Other news: My short story "Music in My Heart" is included in the anthology CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL, MIRACULOUS MESSAGES FROM HEAVEN.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

The New Edition...of my first HERE!!

As I was typing the title I had an 80's flashback, sorry.

But this week I am celebrating the release of a brand new edition of my first book. The original title was Talisman of Zandria,  but we've added The to the new one. It's got a brand-new cover, which is SUPER cute (I personally love the dragon silhouette), and a new trim size (I think, I don't yet have hard copies in my hands), and a ton of new material.

When I wrote this book the first time, I really had pretty much no idea what I was doing. Looking back it's fairly impressive that it was published at all, even though I had put a ton of work into it, going to online critique sites and sending it out -- IN hardcopy, because back then hardly anyone was taking e-subs. I printed and mailed I don't know how many query letters and samples, only to get the form rejection letters. Good times, good times. But a tiny little publisher in Pittsburgh picked it up, and the rest know.

So when the rights to the Zandria books were returned to me, I had to decide what to do. I was still selling copies at events, everywhere I went. I still had kids tell me how they loved it. Could I let it go? I still love this story, and so decided that I would apply my ten years of writing knowledge to this old manuscript.

I think it's better than before. It's certainly longer, with a whole lot more interesting things to see and smell and read. I added a lot of dialogue, and I am pretty sure it's a MUCH better book. Those who read the first edition will see the change right away, and those who never did, I hope enjoy it.

It's available now on Amazon in Kindle , Nook and Dead Tree formats, and look for it soon at the Publisher's Website.

In other news, for the first time in probably I don't know how many years, I am attempting NaNoWriMo. I will be racing to get the first edition of the LAST Library of Athena book completed, so that next year at this time I'm talking about its release!