Monday, April 30, 2012

Fact or Faked? Effortless writing

Fact or Faked is a television series on the SciFi channel (Yes, I know, "Syfy." I'm just still in denial.) The premise of the show is that the staff takes evidence of the paranormal, usually in the form of videos, and then tries to replicate the happenings to show how it could have been faked.

Sometimes the hoaxes are elaborately created costumes, or weather balloons flying high in the air. Other times, it's just good computer editing. A well-doctored photo can make a pretty convincing Sasquatch.

So when it comes to flawless writing by the authors you love - just how effortless is it?

We all want to think about the writer who sits down and cranks out a perfect novel. And to be sure, some authors claim that it's just that easy, minus a little proofreading.

But most writers will tell you that the idea of instant perfection is a fake.

It isn't even easy for Nora Roberts.

Having spoken to a number of published authors, I can tell you: none of them have claimed writing was easy. Many of them, however, have mentioned spending long hours editing, revising, screaming at the computer, and threatening to defenestrate perfectly innocent keyboards.

There are two secrets to producing their novels:

1. Write.

2. Edit.

Because at the end of the day, it's easier to fix a bad scene than a blank page. And even painful writing, poor plots, and strained dialogue can be fixed. Of course, that means it needs to be fixed, but that's part 2.

For most writers, effortlessly creating flawless work fake. And most of the faking comes from good editing.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Tips on How to Edit

Ever had someone ask you to edit for them?

Let's say you have. Now you're wondering, with two hands full of manuscript, just what you're supposed to do. Should you take out every book on writing? Should you describe in detail every piece of advice you've ever been given?

Yes, but no.

When someone asks for an edit, it's important to know what they're asking for. This is big: are they really ready for an edit, do they want proofreading only, or are they looking for encouragement? If it's the latter, disregard all this and tell them it's fantastic. If they actually expect feedback, mention a grammar error or two. But don't tell them it's ready to publish unless it really is.

Proofreading and style edits are for mechanical issues. These are things such as spelling, grammar, and style help, and are very tedious to make. You'll cover things such as adverbscomma rules, and that vs which. I won't say don't do them; they are very useful and will probably put the writer forever in your debt. Just know that you're basically going to be writing targeted grammar lessons, and the work will be very tedious.

'Editing' in the general sense is mostly about the bigger picture. This is about how to improve the manuscript as a whole. Here's my advice on editing the manuscript that means so very much to someone you obviously care about (if you're willing to edit for them!) These are only recommendations, but hopefully, it'll give you someplace to begin.

First off:

Read the story. Unless anything noticeably jars you out of it, try not to make too many editorial notes - focus on writing down your emotional reactions instead. This is helpful to a writer trying to bring forth a desired effect, and will help your writer make sure what you feel is what she wants you to feel.

Okay, done? Have you read from beginning to end? Now go back to the beginning. I bet there are things you'll see this time through that didn't make sense the first time, aren't there? That's why you read the whole story. Now you know what to look for.

Macro edits

Macro: big. As in, storyline. These are the important edits. What is essential to telling the story? Where does the writer deviate - and is it a worthwhile deviation? Here is where you make notes on the big issues, the plot issues.

Make note of sections where you're not deeply involved in the story - maybe the pace is slow, maybe the character is doing something that isn't sensible. It's important to point these things out. As a writer, would you rather have a friend (or trusted beta) call your main character TSTL (too stupid to live), or would you rather have the entire Internet mocking?

Look out for plot holes and time twists, mismatched mathematics and overarching errors. If a writer consistently makes the same mistake (whether it be frequent head-hopping or a character whose hair color accidentally changes every other chapter), note that. Offer advice on how to fix these errors. Macro edits are things that are a big-honking-deal, things that affect the story as a whole or entire scenes, not just a line or two.

Your focus at this point should be on plot, not on mechanics. If there's a style or mechanical mistake that the writer makes consistently, such as misuse of which, you can make a note. Indicate that it applies to the story as a whole; don't waste your time pointing out every instance it happened. (Pointing it out every time falls under proofreading, not editing.)

Note the best parts!

Also make note of anything you really like. This is just as important as noting errors. A writer should know his or her strength. This makes those good sections more likely to reoccur, and tells a writer when she's doing well. Try to have at least one positive note for every improvement note.

Micro edits

Micro: small. As in grammar and style edits, these are actually among the least important edits - although they're still important. They should not be the focus of your edits; these are things the writer needs to fix before publication, but will probably have plenty of time to get to after she finishes her macro edits. Consider the following:

You misspelled "loofa" -  should be "loofah," or maybe "lufah."

I kinda got lost in this section. Why is your character taking a shower when she knows there's a murderer in the castle with a penchant for shower-stabbing? It would be more logical for her to go to the group baths, or get a buddy or a trusted maid to help. Or, you know, not shower when there's a psycho running around.

Then the writer, seeing the sense in the latter advice, deletes the entire shower scene and has her hero go down to the women's public baths in town to bathe (where they only use washcloths) before she gets ready for the ball so that she can pretend nothing's wrong to the oblivious prince, so he won't confiscate her castle.

How important is it that loofah is spelled correctly? Not really. If you take out that scene, it doesn't matter in the least.

On the other hand, it's also possible that the writer might write a maid into the scene to watch the heroine's back as she showers. In this case, there's still a loofah, and you don't want the writer to embarrass herself by submitting a story with obvious misspellings. Don't ignore the microedits. Just remember that it's the macros that will get the story in shape.

Be tactful, but be honest.

"You should rewrite the entire story in 3rd person, and never use parallelisms because you can't do them well" is probably over the top, sorry. "Have you thought about writing in third person? I think it would give you better flexibility" is perfectly acceptable.

Again, don't be afraid to say something that doesn't work. "This scene doesn't make sense to me" or "this dialogue doesn't sound natural to me" are both also examples of decent feedback. These are things the writer needs to know. And if possible, give explanations - "because people don't usually names in dialogue and they keep saying one another's name" or "I thought he had a hammer in the last scene; why is he fighting with a sword? Also, I don't think it's particularly realistic for a 3rd grader to be able to bench press an ogre. Plus, I think the ogre has three feet here." These details help the writer avoid the same mistakes (usually) in the future.

Send it back

Send the edits back to the writer. Either she'll make them or she won't - at the end of the day, it's her story. She might have something different in her head than you have in yours. Don't be offended at any advice that doesn't get taken. If there are things you'd want done differently - well, pick up that keyboard and start writing! It's not your job to write this novel you've edited; that responsibility belongs to the original author, as does the final say in any changes.

Remember, it's not worth losing a friendship over.


Last notes

Be careful about parroting advice. A lot of writers have taken creative writing courses; chances are, they've heard the advice before (I bet you've heard this one: "Never, ever use an -ly word!"), and hearing it from someone else doesn't make it more likely to be followed. Repeating it frequently won't help, either, and might make your writer friend less likely to listen to your advice in the future. That's not to say it's bad advice. Make a note once of a good source for a reader to go to for help, if necessary, but also remember that a creative writing instructor can only teach one thing: how to write like that instructor. There's more than one valid style in the world - take Tolkien and Rowling.  Don't sweat the small stuff - make a note and move on.

Also remember that every writer has his or her own particular style. Don't completely edit out another writer's style if you can help it. There will always be a line or two you think could be better, but that the writer prefers her way.  In writing, it isn't "my way or the highway" - otherwise, Tolkien and Rowling would never be able to both be published. Mark grammar edits that are genuinely wrong, of course! But try to keep an eye out for what's actually an error, and what's just a difference in styles. While a note of "I'd do it this way myself" isn't out of line, chances are structural style notes will be ignored. And that's okay.



And that's okay.
It wasn't a mistake; I meant to spell it as karat.
It shows how much it means to the hero, see?

Ever been asked to edit a manuscript? What advice can you offer other editors?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Feasting on a Budget: London broil

You may remember I've mentioned my weekly Dr. Who Girls' Night, where I invite a few friends over to make dinner and watch Dr. Who. Dinner is usually a delicious feast that feeds anywhere from four to eight people (usually five or so). You may also remember that I've learned to live on a budget.

How does a woman feed four people without breaking the bank?

She shops sales and buys the right foods. Our menus are usually planned around whatever's on sale this past week.

So here begins a semi-regular feature: What We Had For Dinner, or Feasting on a Budget. These are meals that can feed more than four people for under $40 (we always make extra just in case).

First menu:
London Broil, French Onion Potatoes, and Lemon Garlic Spinach
Cost: $30 not including on-hand ingredients
(We already had garlic, olive oil, and red wine vinegar on hand - last month's unfinished, now undrinkable red wine works just fine for cooking purposes)
Feeds: about 5
Big sale item: London Broil BOGO
(and thanks to Mary, our chef, for typing up the directions!)

Shopping list:
6 cloves garlic
Worcester sauce
1-2 cups red wine vinegar
1 package bacon
London broil, 2 lb
Spinach
1 lemon
6-8 medium-sized Russet Potatoes (buy them by the bag for best deal & have potatoes later in the week)
1 package Lipton's onion soup mix
1/4-1/3 cups olive oil (or butter if you prefer)

Directions:

London Broil
Chop two large cloves of garlic
Marinate in Worcester sauce (shake out to cover side or roast; flip roast and cover other side)
Pour about one glass of red wine vinegar over roast, being sure to coat both sides
Sprinkle with half the garlic; flip and sprinkle other side
Let sit for about an hour and a half, turning occasionally
Preheat oven on broil (for us this was after we cooked the potatoes, so it was a quick heat)
Lay strips of bacon on the London broil – we used 4 strips per side for a good sized just over 2 pound roast, but it’s going to depend on the size of your roast
Cook 8 minutes per side; it can be as low as 6 or as high as 10 depending on your oven. Generally they cook in about 15 – 20 minutes total

Spinach with lemon and garlic
Wash spinach well and remove stems
Zest and juice one lemon
Chop 4 cloves of garlic  
Place frying pan on stove to begin to heat – the bacon seems to cook faster if the pan is heated already
Take two strips of bacon and cut into small pieces using scissors (tip; do them at the same time, as the thickness makes them stiff enough to hang straight and are therefore easier to chop. You can run the scissors through the dishwasher later) directly into the frying pan you intend to use
Add garlic and saute until translucent
Add spinach and lemon juice and zest; saute until to desired wilt on spinach

Oven-roasted potatoes
Preheat oven to 450°F
Coarsely dice about 6-8 medium russet potatoes and put into an oven-safe pan large enough to contain them (I prefer glass for stirring and cleaning purposes)
In a separate bowl mix one package of Lipton Onion Soup mix and about ¼ to 1/3 cup olive oil
Pour olive oil and soup mixture over potatoes – stir well to evenly distribute mixture
Bake in oven for 35 minutes – it’s hard to really overcook these, and I usually leave them in for 45 minutes because I like that texture better. When in doubt, read the package – the directions are on the box.



Hungry yet? If you try the recipe (or any part thereof), drop back by and leave some feedback!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Grammar Brigade: Lay vs. Laid

I admit it: this one has tripped me up before. When do I use lay, and when do I use laid? Part of the confusion comes from the fact that the question is also lie vs lay, with the past tense of lie being lay! What? Huh?

I'll make it easier. To start with, let's focus on the present tense of lie vs. lay.

To lie: (past tense, lay) to move in such a way that results in lying down. The subject does this motion itself without help.

To lay: (past tense, laid) to put something down. Requires a direct object (that is, the thing being put down, where the thing being put down is used as a second noun in the sentence.)

And easier still:

I lie down. (Did I do it myself? Then I use lie.)

The book is lying on the table. (The book is lying there. I'm not helping it sit there.)

On the table tells me where;  the "where" is not considered a direct object because it's part of a prepositional phrase. On, by, under, beneath, in, etc. are all "where" statements that tell you the location is not an object.

I lay a book down.  (The book did not lay itself down. If someone else is doing the action, use lay.)

I lay myself down. (Yes, I'm doing the action, but I'm doing it to myself, so myself is the direct object. If you use lay in the present tense, you must use a reflexive noun [myself, itself, yourself].)



Past Tense

Okay. Now let's look at past tense. Here we have lay vs. laid. This is confusing because lay is the past tense of lie, and laid is the past tense of lay. Holy homonyms, Batman!

I went to the store. When I got there, I lay down in the cereal aisle. (I was doing this without help, so I use the past tense of lie.)

The book was laying on the table. (Nobody was helping it sit there.)

I laid a book down on the floor. (I was the one doing the action to the book, so I use the past tense of lay.)

I laid myself down in the cereal aisle. (Myself: if a reflexive noun is used, then we're probably dealing with the past tense of lay.)


Still confused? Look at it this way:

Present                Past               Object Needed?
Lie                       Lay                No
Lay                      Laid               yes


I also suggest checking out Grammar Girl's explanation if you'd like more practice (since that's where I went to figure this out in the first place!)


Practice:

1. Yesterday, my kid brother threw a fit and ___ himself down in the middle of the cafeteria.

2. The hero ___ his love interest down on the operating table to remove her spleen.

3. There's a dragon ____ in the middle of the road. Do you want to ask him to move, or shall I?

4. Yesterday, a goose ____ beneath the troll bridge. Apparently the trolls were on vacation.

5. Three weeks ago, I got mad and ___ down in the cereal aisle.



Answers:

1. laid      2. laid/lays    3. lying    4. lay   5. lay

Now you try! Write a sentence using lay and laid correctly for the comments. For extra brownie points, make it related to the previous comment!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Publishing News

Publishing news for the past couple of weeks!

News

The DOJ has officially filed an antitrust lawsuit over e-book pricing against Apple and 5 of the Big Six publishers (but not Random House). HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette Group will be agreeing to a settlement in the DOJ vs. Big Five and Apple case. Apple, Macmillan, and Penguin will be fighting the antitrust charges in court. The terms of the settlement are quite a hassle, although they don't necessarily mean an end to the agency model - just the ability of publishers to set the prices, which is why the publishers wanted the agency model in the first place. CNET analyzes the case and suggests that it's not likely that the charges will stand against Apple, even if they do against the publishers. CEO of MacMillan, John Sargent, posts his statement on the issue on Tor.com. Amazon intends to lower prices on eBooks again.

(If you're not up to date on the case, here's a longer and more thorough summary. Or, you can check out the short version at the bottom of the page.)

Probably because of this ruling, at least two of the Big Six in the publishing world have, for the first time, not signed Amazon's latest annual contract. I assume this means their books will not be available through Amazon, at least not new. This follows in the pattern set by the Independent Publishers' Group, who also refused to sign with Amazon after disagreeing with their terms. 4,000 titles lost their eBook "buy" buttons on Amazon for the refusal, although they are still available through other sellers such as Barnes & Noble and Apple, and in some cases on Amazon in paperback.

Smashwords has announced that they will continue to use the agency pricing model.

Also, there was no Pulitzer Prize awarded for fiction this year. The other categories all have awards, but not fiction. The lack of an award is not unique; it's happened a total of 62 times across all the categories.


Industry Blogs

Jessica Faust over at BookEnds, LLC will be ceasing her frequent blog updates after 5 years of consistent blogging - if you've been here before, you know I'm sad to see it go. She's still got all her great posts available, though, and may occasionally post in the future when something good comes up. Also, in case you missed it, all the agents at BookEnds now have new e-mail addresses. Don't send your queries to the wrong ones.

Jane Lebak over at QueryTracker offers suggestions on writing your synopsis. You should expect to have it 500-1000 words, and include only what you need: Your character's inciting incident, and he or she decides to do about it. Give the ending, and include side characters only if absolutely necessary. Danyelle Leafty joins her with advice for figuring out what your writing style is: are you an outliner or a pantser (do you outline, or make it up as you go), a marathon writer or a sprinter (do you write in short spurts, or long marathon sessions), a flypaper or a fisher (ideas come easily, or ideas come hard)?

QueryTracker also offers its Publishing Pulse for 4/13. (edit Friday afternoon: and 4/20.)

Over in PubRants, Agent Kristen reminds us that if we're asking about "the next big trend," we're already behind it! By the time the story would be written, printed, and published, the trend is almost over, and certainly no longer the fresh new thing on the block.

Rachelle Gardner gives suggestions on beginning a career without sabotaging yourself. Are you in this for the "long haul"? Then never stop improving your writing, don't make agents or editors mad at you, stay positive, and keep your eyes on new technology! Also, don't screw yourself up with social media.

And she offers two sides of the debate: Why authors self-publish and why authors still look for publishers.

Nathan Bransford offers a nice recap on the whole DOJ vs. the Big Six and Apple lawsuit, and speculates on what the world will look like after it's settled.

Over at the Ink-Stained Scribe, Lauren Harris offers advice on using Yarny to work writing into a busy schedule. It's a cloud-based program that writers can use to, say, write during their lunch breaks. Because it's internet-based, the documents are accessible anywhere the internet is.


The Short Version of DOJ against five major publishers and Apple:
When Amazon began selling eBooks at a loss, they gained almost 90% of the market. Shortly thereafter, five publishing houses and Apple each approached Amazon and pretty much said they wouldn't let Amazon sell their books if Amazon didn't switch to the "agency model" of pricing. This raised eBook prices, because it meant the publishers would be setting the prices instead of the retailers. Ironically, this earned the publishers less money per book than the "wholesale model" that allowed retailers to set the prices, as Amazon was absorbing the initial loss under the wholesale model. But since Amazon could use sales from their other markets absorb the cost of selling eBooks at a loss, Amazon began to dominate the market. Since the implementation of the agency model, Amazon has declined to about 60% of the eBook market, allowing other sellers (such as Apple and Barnes & Noble) to compete. Then the Department of Justice filed a antitrust lawsuit against Apple and the five publishers who demanded the agency pricing, on grounds that they colluded in an anti-competitive way to raise the price of eBooks. Amazon has come out and said the first thing they intend to do is lower prices on eBooks as soon as they can.

More related articles: US sues to lower prices of best-seller e-books, E-book antitrust suit against Apple a win for Amazon, and Speculation abounds that Amazon triggered e-book lawsuit. All three have a bias against Amazon (which is something to keep in mind when reading them), but they do give implications on how the ruling may affect the industry as a whole.

Amazon does give grants to independent booksellers and publishers adding up to a total of about $1 million. There's a long list tucked away on their page of their beneficiaries. Recipients say the grants are crucial to staying in business, but critics speculate on the possibility of Amazon using the grants to buy off independent publishers. It can't be denied that Amazon has been crucial to keeping some of these independent publishers in business, though.

What publishing industry news have you seen in the past couple of weeks?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Wednesday Writing Prompt: Make a plan

What? My plans for the future? I have a plan?

I hope you've got one! If not, today's the day to make one.

Where do you want to be in five years? How are you going to get there? Set a goal, and then decide what will be required to get you there.

Do you want to be a full time writer? If so, how much do you need to earn? How many books do you need to have written each year to be earning that yearly salary? And how soon are you planning to publish in order to be gaining enough income that you can be relying on it in 5 years' time?

Or maybe you're like me, and love your job. Are you going to juggle a career and writing? It can be done; I bet you're doing it already. What sort of regime are establishing to be able to continue the double career without burning out?

Also think about the income. If you have full-time job, what do you plan on doing with the income from writing? How much can you invest before you're cutting into savings? Will you pay off debt? Put it into retirement? I suggest setting aside your taxes from your royalties before you even begin - that makes budgeting at tax time much easier! Also remember that not every book you write will sell. Start saving money to cover those time gaps.

(*Note: I'm not a tax specialist. But that's just common sense!)

So what's your plan? 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Learning to Like Tea, part 2

(Learning to Like Tea Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Guest Post: Types of Tea, Guest post: Getting the Best Cup of Tea)

On Monday, we talked about first teas to try. But eventually you'll be interested in expanding your repertoire.

Let's assume you're wanting to move on to traditional tea (don't surprised if it takes a few months - especially if you don't drink tea every day!). Before you do, we should talk about preparing your tea.

Brewing your tea too long or using water that is too hot may burn the leaves and turn your tea bitter. Black tea and herbal teas are usually fine with boiling water. With black teas, don't brew them for more than five minutes unless you like a bitter flavor; in most cases, 2-4 minutes is sufficient, even if longer is listed on the package. For stronger tea, use more tea bags.

Black tea often contains caffeine (unless you purchase decaf!), but less so than coffee. It is also frequently flavored with nutty, spicy, or floral accents. It's also pretty easy to make, and there's lots of good options. For chai teas, I recommend adding a high percent milk (2% or whole) or cream, or just go ahead and steep your chai in steamed whole milk if you've got the magic touch that heats milk without scorching it.

For green or white tea, you want water that is cooler, about 175 F or 79 C. Either pull your water off the stove before it boils, or let it sit a few minutes before pouring. One good way to avoid scorching your tea leaves if you think your water may be too hot is to put two ice cubes on top of the tea bag, and pouring the water onto the ice instead of the bag. For green tea, steep less than two minutes (45-80 seconds); for white tea, 4-5 minutes.

Many green and white teas will taste lightly sweet when brewed for the shorter time range. This is my own favorite way to drink them. It's white and green teas that have the most antioxidants, so if that's why you're getting into tea, these are the sorts you should be aiming for. Green and white teas are often flavored with fruit or floral accents, so if you don't like the traditional flavor, try a flavored kind.

Good beginning black teas:

Earl Grey (Twinings)
Lady Grey (Twinings)
English Breakfast (Twinings)
Chocolate Hazelnut (Stash Tea)
Vanilla Nut Creme (Stash Tea)
Chai Teas, with lots of milk & sugar (Stash, Twinings, and Celestial Seasonings all have good versions at reasonable prices)
Black Pearl (Lipton - thanks Lady AritĂȘ!)

For green and white teas:
For these, you'll get the best taste from more expensive brands. Yes, I know. But white and green teas are more expensive, and I find it's worth the investment. Nor do you have to break the bank; the brands I recommend I can find for less than $10, even the most expensive ones, and Stash is often less than $5. I suggest going with either a classic green or white tea, or one flavored with either jasmine or a fruit of your choice.

Good bagged brands to try:
Two Leaves and a Bud
Stash
Numi
Mighty Leaf


Note: I do not personally like Mighty Leaf's Earl Grey (the only one of their black teas I've tried), but the other brands have good black teas, too.

Okay, and now let's break that down by "Tastes." Remember my last post, when I separated the 5 tastes of tea into floral, fruity, spicy, natural, and nutty? If you had a favorite taste, this is what I'd most recommend for your second (third) type of tea to try:

Floral:

Green tea with jasmine (Try Mighty Leaf or Two Leaves and Bud)
White tea with jasmine or rose
Black tea with lavender


Fruity:

White tea with a fruit accent
Green tea with a fruit accent
Black tea with a fruit accent
(I'll let you choose your own - there's a billion to choose from!)
Natural:

Green tea (any unflavored green, brewed short, unsweetened)
White tea (any unflavored white, brewed short, unsweetened)
Peppermint white tea (Try White Christmas by Stash)
Black tea (Try new brands. Cut back on the milk & sugar until you get the natural taste. Try brewing with lemon and honey as a variation.)

Nutty:

Black tea with hazelnut (Chocolate Hazelnut by Stash)
Black tea with almond accents (Vanilla Nut Creme by Stash)

Spicy:

Any Chai tea with milk & sugar
Lemon-ginger tea

Do you have any brand of bagged green tea you'd particularly recommend? Any favorites flavors? What about favorite black teas?

(Learning to Like Tea Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Guest Post: Types of Tea, Guest post: Getting the Best Cup of Tea)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Why I Still Fear Spiders

I do not like spiders. I tried, once, to make peace with and overcome my childhood phobia; I extended the olive branch and tried to get the spiders to accept it for their web-spinning pleasure.

I tried this at age eight. Out in the woods, with my parents but not my brother; we'd taken a car trip and heaven help me if I remember why. But mom and dad left me in the car - yes, by myself; they weren't going far and I was a relatively trustworthy tyke with a disregard for the curiosities and wonders of Outside-The-Car-(And-Into-the-Scary-Woods). Still, when I noticed a multi-legged, swirl-patterned creature crawling over the back of my hand, I though, "Isn't time to be a big girl and not scream? To get over this little-kid fear?"

I let it crawl across my hand, over my wrist, and watched as it began to make its way up my forearm, all without stopping to sadistically attack me like I'd always imagined Evil-Little-Monsters-of-Doom would do. I was feeling pretty at-one with nature at this point.

At this point, mom returned, saw my new 'friend,' and shrieked, "Oh my goodness, you've got a tick on you!"

I have never tried to make peace with spiders since.


Although, to my credit, they haven't tried to make peace with me, either. Ever since the bite on my neck that masqueraded as a hickey for three days during a professional event before finally swelling to the size of an Easter egg, if I catch a spider in my room at night, I do not sleep until it is dead or relocated far, far away.

What childhood fears haven't you put behind you? Have you ever tried to get over a fear and have it turn out disastrously? How did you get over the fears you have lost?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Wednesday Writing Prompt: Holidays

Admittedly, this is a prompt that mostly applies for fantasy or science fiction writers. But:

Assuming your world has at least one holiday different from our current holidays, what is a holiday your characters celebrate that we do not?



My example:
In Kelly's version of Earth, the 6th day of September is a notable holiday set aside to honor the contributions of Powered in the government. Most people dress up like FBI agents (or their interpretation thereof) to celebrate, although the holiday was originally more for those in the armed forces.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Learning to Like Tea, part 1

(Learning to Like Tea Part 1, Part 2Part 3, Guest Post: Types of Tea, Guest post: Getting the Best Cup of Tea)

You've heard the rumors: All writers love tea. You're a writer. Therefore, you must love tea.

Only you don't.

Having trouble falling in love with tea? Trying to develop a taste for it? Part of the process is just figuring out what teas will fit your taste. So let's talk about where to start.

I'm going to separate teas into 5 flavor aspects: fruity, floral, natural, nutty, and spicy. I'm sort of making these up, but these 5 aspects will help me direct you down the most likely to appeal to your tastebuds.

Some flavor aspects are more common (spicy, nutty, and fruity). You'll encounter these in places other than teas, so you probably already have an idea of which you might like to try first. Floral and natural tastes are less common outside teas, so you may have to experiment a little.

Most people who are unaccustomed to tea will probably appreciate starting with a herbal tea. Although technically herbal teas aren't tea, they'll get your taste buds accustomed to the strength and start building your palate. Do follow the directions on preparing your tea; herbal teas are more resilient than traditional teas, but black teas can become bitter if they're steeped too long.

Also, I am going to suggest beginning with bagged teas. Why? Because loose-leaf teas tend to be more expensive and more difficult and time-consuming to prepare. I personally don't suggest making the investment until you're starting to enjoy teas on your own, because there's always a chance you might just not like tea.

Each tea I'll list will be listed with either LH or MS. LH means make it with lemon & honey if you need a sweetener/flavor. MS means I recommend making it with milk & sugar. For your first cup of tea, I do suggest sweetening if you at all like sweet. Then, as you get used to the tea, cut back on sweetener to get a stronger sense of the tea's normal taste, or continue using additives for a mellower taste.

Also listed will be brand abbreviations. Brand does make a difference, and we all have our own preferences. These are my recommended brands, the ones I happen to like best, but don't be afraid to branch out to whatever floats your boat. CS=Celestial Seasonings; T=Twinings

Good beginning teas:

Fruity:
  • Raspberry Zinger (LH/CS)
  • Lemon Zinger (LH/CS)
Floral:
  • Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride (MS or unsweetened/CS)
Natural
  • Peppermint (MS/CS)
  • English Breakfast, Lady Grey, or Earl Grey (MS/T)*
Nutty/Spicy:
  • Pumpkin Spice (MS/CS)


You'll notice that I don't include chai teas or green teas in this list. A well-made cup of either is just delicious, but they're both somewhat difficult to make if you haven't made them before. I might suggest buying a chai tea at a coffee shop; one taste and you'll be hooked. Green tea can be more difficult; cultures that drink a lot of it are more tolerant of the bitterness that develops when it's steeped for a long time. Get someone who has experience making it sweet to make your first cup, or wait until my post on how to keep your green tea from becoming bitter.

*English Breakfast is a traditional tea, not an herbal tea. It's also the only one on this list that contains caffeine. If you drink coffee and enjoy it sweetened with milk and sugar, you may be ready for milk & sugared cup of English Breakfast. Lady Grey and Earl Grey are both variants on traditional black tea. My favorite is Lady Grey, which I find to be the mildest in flavor.

What kind of teas do you like? What do yo recommend for a first-time tea drinker? For new tea drinkers, what do you think of the teas on this list?

(Learning to Like Tea Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Guest Post: Types of Tea, Guest post: Getting the Best Cup of Tea)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Publishing News

Quick question for my readers: do you prefer the links popping up in a new window, or acting as direct links? Warning for this week: I have them opening in new windows. Just trying a little something different. Let me know if you prefer this format!

Industry News

The DoJ is close to settling with Apple over price-fixing. This settlement may end Apple's "most-favored-nation" status. The deal may also shift pricing control from publishers to retailers, which is a move away from the agency model publishers have been using and back towards Amazon's wholesale model. Good news for Amazon.

Estimates on the amount of money lost by untaxed Amazon purchases puts the number at about $52 billion. That's right, with a b. Taxes that could have gone to fixing state deficits.

According to GalleyCat, 20% of global readers have purchased at least one eBook in the past 6 months.

Google ends its eBook agreement with indie bookstores, meaning it will no longer sell eBooks through any medium except Google Play as of January 2013.

Got something published? A new site has pirated copies of many copyrighted works, including romance and other genres, despite claiming to be only for children's eBooks. I suggest checking the site for your own work and request it be taken down, assuming you don't like e-pirates handing out free copies of your work without permission. Terms for getting the material removed are on this page. The site's copyright agent in charge of these issues is Josh Jones, 427 California Ave, Unit 1, Santa Monica, CA 90403, e-mail: copyright@epubbud.com, fax: 310-862-4900. Books may be posted with slightly incorrect titles and may or may not include the author's name, which only makes finding out if you've been pirated all the more fun.

Is fanfiction going mainstream? With the publication of Fifty Shades of Grey, which acknowledged its origins as Twilight fanfiction, readers and writers begin to question the boundaries that have prevented fan-written fiction based off other published works (including manga, TV shows, movies, books, etc) from entering the market in the past. Of course there are legal issues, but there's also the question of a possible shift in cultural regard towards fanfiction as a legitimate form of literature.

In Nova Scotia, libraries are protesting Random House's price increase by no longer purchasing Random House eBooks.

A look at publishing in Russia, the 3rd largest book production market in the world (after the US and China). Due to declining reading habits, the country is expecting a loss in sales this year.

BookExpo America is opening its doors to the public for the first time this year. Okay, so it's invite only (there's only a thousand extra tickets floating around, offered to publishers and booksellers to award as they choose to fans).

Industry Blogs


Talking about BookExpo, Rachel Stark weighs in with her opinion. Some booksellers aren't too happy, but could having a book convention be a good thing? ComicCon sure gets a lot publicity, and is very popular. Would a book convention generate the same excitement towards reading?

Thinking about creating an interactive book in Apple for the iBookstore? The system still has a ways to go yet; only links and videos work (except links to Amazon); anything else places the book under the "Apps" page.

There's a contest on BackSpace for the best logline of a fictional work (as in, a manuscript that has not yet been written).

And the deadline for the FF&P's On The Far Side contest has been extended to May 30, with a new category added. Entries must be romance with any of the following subgenres*: Hard SF/Futuristic, Dark/Light/General paranormal, Time Travel/SteamPunk/Historical Elements, Dark/Urban/General Fantasy, Young Adult, any of the above With Romantic Elements *(meaning the novel isn't romance but has romantic elements), and new this year: Erotic Paranormal Romance.

GalleyCat suggests scanning your author website (or any personal website, for that matter) for malware, and offers suggestions on how to do so for free.

A writer asks Jessica Faust if she should look for another agent after a contract expires. BookEnds doesn't do automatically expiring contracts, but she suggests in cases that you make formal your contract severence before seeking a new agent. It's not okay to look for a new agent when you're still active with your current one. However, if the agent hasn't placed the manuscript, consider offering her your next to sell. Many now-published authors didn't sell their first manuscripts, anyway, but made their first sale on subsequent ones.

She is also asked about permissions for quotes. There's a bunch of different factors involved; it's best to check before using them. That isn't something to worry about in the submissions to agents process, but it should be taken care of before publication. (I would especially look into it as a self-publishing author!) And how long do you wait for someone to get back to you on a full manuscript submission, when you've been referred to them by another agent? Wait about 10 weeks before giving them a nudge. Also, respond to people on Twitter - make it interactive for them. And don't forget to update your website. Your real fans will check by every so often (I probably check Lisa Shearin's site once a month or so, myself), so don't let them leave disappointed.

Rachelle Gardener reminds us to treat our writing like a business in terms of taxes. That is to say, go ahead and set aside your tax when the check comes in, because it's not automatically taken out. Keep your receipts. And put something into savings!

She talks about making a living as a writer: Part 1, Part 2, Challenges, and what one writer did to make ends meet when she quit her day job.

Nathan Bransford publishes the Last Few Weeks in Books. He also talks about why the Harry Potter eBooks are and are not a big deal.

QueryTracker posts the Publishing Pulse for 3/30.

And they offer lessons to be learned from the investment industry, and tips on social networking (make it interactive! Don't "follow and unfollow," and respond to everyone, not just the same select few. And don't constantly advertise your book. People aren't following you to receive spam.)

Suzanne Purvis offers 16 tips for getting productive in the writer's seat.

Janet Reid instructs that writers should not put a table of contents into their manuscript submissions. She also lets us know the proper filename to give our manuscript submissions: TitlebyAuthor.doc (.rtf, etc)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Great and Mysterious Liebster Award

Thanks to Author Alden and S. P. Clark, I have been awarded the long-running Liebster Award! Drop by their blogs and give them a read. Doing so for Author Alden will currently net you a post in the A-Z Challenge (a challenge in which the writer posts every day in April except Sundays with a post for each letter of the alphabet.) His A-Z is speculative fiction tropes! And at S. P. Clark's blog, you'll get to hit up a blog chain and an assortment of book reviews, worth checking out.

What is the Liebster Award? It's an award granted to blog authors who motivate and inspire us. There are certain limits, though: blogs may have up to 200 followers. The purpose is to summon new followers and increase awareness of other noteworthy blogs.

In turn for receiving this award, I will continue the tradition and nominate 5 recipients of my own! One of these is a writer whom I've known since college; the others are fellow members of my RWA writing groups.

1. Lauren Harris
    Local writer whose blog first inspired me to start one of my own.
2. Andris Bear
    Usually has a hilarious story for us, with a witty take on motherhood, writing, and life in general.
3. Nancy Leanna Badger
    The blog of a chaptermate who has inspired me and kept me writing.
4. Jennifer Delamere
    Another chaptermate who motivates me. Expect to see her on the shelves soon!

Take a look through their blogs!

Were you nominated? Here's the deal on how this works:

To  Accept the Award:

Thank the person who nominated you on your blog and link back to them.
Nominate up to 5 others for the award.
Let them know by commenting on their blog.
Post the award on your blog.

Monday, April 2, 2012

With a little time-travel

Zombie update:

Having received a call on my cell phone from my future self, I received updated information on the location of the ham-sandwich gone zombified.

Contagion removed and sterilized via flame-throwers and a gallon of rubbing alcohol.

Crisis averted. Please continue with your regular lives.