Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Yes, I too am a fangirl

It's Tuesday, May 29th.

This means that Lisa Shearin's All Spell Breaks Loose, the final book in her Raine Benares saga, is out.

Why do you not get to see this post until Wednesday? Because then you might have beaten me to the bookshop, and they would have been sold out, and that would be NOT OKAY.

As you see, I have completed my collection, so all is well. :D Six signed books, the entire series!

Let's take another look:

Does anyone else get those funny little letters in their vision?
Yep, that's what I'm seeing!

So please excuse me while I catch a serious case of NIBS (Nose in Book Syndrome). Yes, I am a fangirl. Hey, reading lots of books is one of the best ways to improve as a writer. Not that you need an excuse, but if anyone asks - it's professional development.*

*Just like going on a beach vacation to get in touch with that beach-set romance I plan on writing. Well, I'll write one eventually. Just as soon as I think of a plot for it... Better go sit in the sun for some more inspiration.

What books are you waiting for, or have you waited for in the past? Do you have any signed books of your own?

Friday, May 25, 2012

On the Road

On the road for Memorial Day! No post on Monday, and just a few random interesting factoids for amusement today.

Random factoids:

  • Tomato plant stems and leaves are toxic to most pets.
  • Cocoa trees can live to be 200 years old, but they only produce chocolate-usable cocoa beans for 25 years.
  • Butter was the first food product allowed by law to have artificial coloring.
  • Rain has never been recorded in some parts of the Atacama Desert in Chile.
  • The first animal to orbit the moon was the tortoise.
  • Baby porcupines are called porcupettes. 
  • A cat has 32 muscles in each ear.
  • A pregnant goldfish is called a twit.
  • Babies are born without knee caps.
Learn something new? Your turn: add one random factoid to the list! Leave your answers in the comments. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Feasting on a Budget: Lamb and Kale

It's another feasting on a budget recipe! How about a delicious herb-rubbed lamb dinner, with a side of kale and a loaf of fresh bread? We had 3 people and tons of leftovers* (oops!)

Lamb, kale, and good bread: another delicious 4-person feast for under $40!

Shopping list:

Lamb (2 lbs on sale for about $13)
Kale (Farmer's market: 1 lb for $2.50)
Fresh bread (Farmer's market: 1 loaf for $5)
fresh mint, thyme, & rosemary ($2.50 each)
Bacon ($4)
Chicken broth ($1)
2 shallots ($1)
Approximate total: $29


Lamb (2 lbs, or 4 1/2 chops)
Kale (Farmer's market: 1 lb)
Fresh bread (Farmer's market: 1 loaf)
fresh mint, thyme, & rosemary (about 1/4 cup each)
sliced shallots (2 should be plenty)
3/4 cup Chicken broth
(5 tablespoons) Olive oil

Black pepper (to taste)
Sea salt (to taste)
2 slices Bacon
1/3-1/2 cup Balsamic vinegar/red wine vinegar
1/4 stick Butter (2 tablespoons)

Slice your fresh bread. Fill a small plate with herbs, sea salt, and pepper, then add a little balsamic vinegar/red wine vinegar and olive oil. Dip your bread in.

Heat a large frying pan to medium-high. Add 2 slices of bacon that has been cut into chunks, and let cook. When bacon is mostly cooked, add the kale. Cook until it's wilted. Serve with a little sea salt and black pepper.

Mince fresh thyme, mint, and rosemary. Add sea salt and fresh ground pepper, and rub into lamb chops. Cover and let sit for 15 minutes for flavors to soak in.
When lamb is ready, heat frying pan to medium-high. Drop lamb chops on and cook for about 3.5 minutes on each side. Set onto serving platter to keep warm.

Lamb gravy:
Add shallots (sliced) to skillet. Cook until just browning.
Pour in red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar, about 1/2 cup. Add 3/4 cup chicken broth. Continue to cook on medium until gravy has reduced by at least half. Remove from heat, add butter, and serve with kale and lamb.
(Note: Fresh bread is excellent for soaking up the delicious gravy!)


*Guilty admission: One of our ladies also treated us to an extra appetizer: Sliced mozzarella, tomatoes, and prosciutto with olive oil and sea salt. Given that the meal could have easily served 6, I took off 2 servings for the extra appetizer.
Fresh mozzarella-$8, 2 roma tomatoes-$2, l small package chopped prosciutto-$4. (Brings the total to $43, although sometimes you can find cheese-case mozzarella on sale for less than $8, or you can skip the prosciutto entirely and still have a delicious appetizer!)
Slice mozzarella and tomatoes and layer in a 9x9 pan; drizzle olive oil over. Add prosciutto and a little sea salt and pepper to taste, plus some leftover herbs. Broil until mozzarella is mostly melted.
Served over the fresh bread instead of dipping it in olive oil! Delicious. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Cats, Flowers, and Cat-Friendly Gardens

I first posted this last year, but it's that time of year again (okay, maybe a little after most of the planting has been done, but still useful!) So here's a repost of pet-friendly garden plants!

If you're like me, you've got a cat (and it seems like a very large number of my writer friends have felines to 'help' them type.)  And if you're like me, you like flowers.  And if your cat is actually a cat, it probably tries to eat your flowers when you have them.

I did a little research, what with it being spring and all, and looked up some cat-non-toxic flowers.  I've included a couple of links if you'd like a wider variety.  Both links also include a "toxic" list.  Always keep an eye on your cat when you introduce a new plant, just in case they've got an allergy, but these flowers won't warrant an emergency vet call if they 'mysteriously' disappear.

Non-toxic plants for cats:
Dahlias, Gerbera Daisies, lavender (not blooming, but it's a good time to plant,) most herbs (including rosemary, basil, oregano, thyme, cress, dill, and of course catnip,) begonias, celosia, aster, roses, orchids, pansies, impatients, and zinnia

ASPCA toxic/nontoxic flower list: (also lists for dogs and horses)
Edit: I had another link, but it was broken. So here's a different one: Jennifer Copley's lists of plants that are and are not safe for cats.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Publishing News

Publishing news for the past two weeks. Yet another episode of "what's going on in the real world!"


Larry Kirshbaum, who will be overseeing Amazon Publishing, sits down for an interview on how Amazon Publishing will work. He says they will be a small publisher, putting out 40-50 books a year, and that they will publish a lot of books. They plan on using recommendations to help sell books - "if you like that, you'll like this" - to target books with audiences. However, he also recommends writers do their own publicity.

The DOJ rejects the motion to dismiss the class-action suit against Apple and 5 publishers for price-fixing. This is despite the settlement the DOJ has already reached with 3 of the publishers. (There's a shorter article here; these are not two separate cases but simply a motion to dismiss this single one, which I felt wasn't quite clear in the first article.)

People are still reading. They're reading more than apparently they were 50 years ago (or just admitting it more!)

Random House has created a Brand Marketing position for their Crown Publishing Group, and filled it. It appears her job is to help authors create and market their brand (i.e., their names). I imagine she'll be doing the same for the imprint itself.

Back in 2008, Georgia State University violated copyright laws by digitally uploading numerous copyrighted works to their archives without permission and making available for free to students. Most universities do this to some extent, but it's a question of scope: how much is available, such as chapters versus entire books; and how long it's available, as in for a semester or for decades; and how protected it is, as in can non-students access it.  This case precedes the Google Books case of uploading by a couple of years. Now the case has finally come to a close, with courts ruling against GSU. The Association of American Publishers has released an official statement on the decision. They're happy that suit has succeeded, but are disappointed that GSU was not held entirely liable and is still abusing some "fair use" laws.

Industry Blogs

QueryTracker's Publishing Pulse for 5/11 and 5/18.

Nathan Bransford posts The Last Few Weeks in Books. He also mentions the challenges facing the industry in this new era (that is, during the advent and expansion of digital publishing.) If you've been keeping up with the news the past couple of years, you've probably come across most of them yourself, and been wondering the same things. I'll pay you an imaginary $10 if you can guess them all before reading.*

On QueryTracker: You get a request to revise and resubmit from an agent in reply to your submission. What do you do? First, consider the revisions. Are they reasonable? Is this the right agent for you? If so and if you agree with the revisions, take your time. Don't rush, even if it means you get the resubmission done months later. Be thorough, and if you think of a better revision than the suggested one, do whichever is best.

Rachelle Gardner tells us not to count on the income from the first book. Sure, some may be made, but the money won't go nearly as far as you're hoping it will. And worse, writing for the paycheck because you need to pay the bills will slowly kill your love of writing. If you need the money, get another job - even if it means less time to write. That's not to say you can't ever make an income on writing; it just means be smart about it and make sure you can support yourself if the cash isn't what you expect.

And it can be tempting to put a book out before it's ready. Really tempting. But don't. Good books take time, and it's a loss to the reading world to publish a could-be-great book before it's had its proper editing. Not to mention that putting a lower-quality book than you are capable of into the hands of readers might just kill your career before it begins. Sure, they might know your name - but do you want to be known as "that writer who rushed the plot and didn't edit"?

There's also the question of "what if my agent doesn't like my next book?" Your agent signed you because they believed you were capable of writing, and writing well. But sometimes it happens. Ask yourself why: is this book the same quality as my last? Remember that your agent is not required to any book you write, just because you write it. Your agent is your agent because she/he is looking out for your career. Chances are, she'll work with you to fix the book and bring it up to par. If you trust her advice, move on. Otherwise, maybe it's time to get a new agent.

Self-publishing? Take a look at the Kentucky Indie Writers' post on the importance of editing. At the very least, good editing shows your self-respect as a professional. Teresa Reasor (post writer) also lists reputable editors to help you make the most of your work, and a link to find Editor Freelancer Association rates so you know what to expect to pay.

Agent Kristen teaches us what a plot catalyst is, and how to use it to write an amazing query in a vlog. Query plot paragraphs do not sum up the entire novel; they just identify the plot catalyst. That's the thing that happens that starts the novel going. Figure out what the plot catalyst is, and build your paragraph around it. And don't defenestrate your computer during the suspense-building slides.

Darcy Pattison talks about how to build an author platform, even if you're not yet published. Mostly? Talk about what interests you. Talk a lot, and connect with people who have similar interests. Just because you're not talking about a book doesn't mean much - you're making connections who will be more likely to read what you write when you are published.

GalleyCat offers an amusing chart on the process of publishing.

What news in the publishing world have you come across in the past two weeks?

*Did you win? Great! Instructions for collecting your imaginary $10: Close your eyes. We're sitting on a tropical island in the middle of nowhere, a school of dolphins jumping out of the blue water on the horizon. I hand you a $10 bill. "Congrats. Now keep your eyes closed just a little longer while I take advantage of this free tropical vacation. Thanks!"

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wednesday Writing Exercise: Quantum Sheep

So browsing the web yesterday led me to a story about a woman who spray-painted sheep with words, and then noted down the poems formed by the sheep as they grazed. She then published the poetry in her book Quantum Sheep (along with other poems).

Today's writing assignment is to take advantage of randomness. Whether using fridge magnets or spray-painted ping-pong balls in a swimming pool, go make some random poetry. And as an added bonus, read it to your characters and figure out what they'd say.

(With the online geek magnetic poetry kit):
Never love a humanoid
computer & avatar
native must figure
he is the girl

(Shown to Kelly, protagonist of Into the Tides who has never played an MMORPG [or almost any other video game], and Trax, her famous rock star brother)

She stares at it for a minute, cocks her head, squints. "I don't get it." Another minute passes. Her eyes light up, and she points to the last word. "So that's why he married the trucker in the game. I figured they were dating in real life, but they were both actually antisocial and couldn't manage a real relationship, right?"

Trax just shakes his head and covers his eyes in shame. "Seriously, Kel, we've got to set you up with an account."

She taps her lower lip with a finger. "So you don't think he knew his hot online wife was a guy?"

"Of course he knew."

"Then they were in a real relationship after all?"

"Probably not." Trax sighs, scratching at the base of his Mohawk. "Okay, let's make a deal. I take scuba lessons with you, and you let me sign you up in the game."

"Fine. But I'm not online marrying you." She sticks her tongue out at her brother.

He smirks. "You wouldn't be my type, anyway. My main character is a girl."

Monday, May 14, 2012

Your Process: find it and respect it

Mary's one of the writers in the Heart of Carolina Romance Writers, and she's been a success for more than one novel (SEALed with a Kiss, SEALed with a Promise, SEALed with a Ring in a bundleSEALed Forever on Amazon). At the writers' meeting this past Saturday, she gave me this advice:
"You have to discover your process, and what you do, you have to respect it."

Every writer writes differently. Some people write their best when they plot out the story beforehand; others write their best when they write by the seat of the pants. It's really easy to tell someone else how you write, and it's really easy to find books of other people telling you how to write.

But one of the hardest things to do is to discover how you write best. And when you find it, follow it.

For some people, this means sprinting - writing short spurts at a time. For others, marathons work best. Some people have to have tea at hand and an open window; others need earplugs and complete darkness. Sometimes we try to write in a way that doesn't work for us. Sometimes, we try something new and find it works better than the old way.

Never let anyone claim they know how you write better than you do. It's your process. Do it your way. Don't be afraid to try something new, but don't force yourself to keep doing something that doesn't work.

How do you write? What's your process?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Creating a Language: Start at the beginning

Lesson 1
(Creating a fantasy language: (Lesson 1, Rationale, Lesson 2Lesson 3Lesson 4Choosing words, Creating an Alphabet)

Tolkien created Elvish.

Star Trek has Klingon.

Robert Jordan had the Old Tongue.

So creating a language isn't impossible. Admittedly, in most cases the language makes only smattering appearances in the novel itself, but as a way to further develop a world, sometimes it's nice to create a language.

First choose your phonemes: Will you use all the sounds of the English language? Most? Some? Will you throw in both a rolling r and a soft r? Make an alphabet. For simplicity, I'm going to say we're using the English alphabet, with English letter assortments and sounds.

Once you have your alphabet, it's time to start writing the language.

Where do you start?

At the root, of course. The root words, that is.

Choose a verb, preferably a verb that is made past tense by adding -ed, and create a root for it.

"to drop," let's say, is "san."

Now let's think of things that could be related to dropping:

"to fall" - sanko

What's the difference between dropping and falling? Well, falling is dropping yourself. So "ko" must be a root for "self."

How about "to put down"? Let's say, nansan. Here, "down" is a preposition, nan. And I've decided (quite arbitrarily) that compound preposition verbs should have the preposition in front of the root. Write the rule down on a list of grammar rules and stick to it; consistency is important!

Logically, nansanko would be to lie down, so that's four words. And ko, the root for self, is a powerful root that can lead to lots of new words: koma, self-aware; uzko, to be under oneself (which I think means to be sick, thus birthing an idiomatic phrase!); kopalli, to self-reprimand.

All of these new words, of course, produce more roots. And each root produces more words. Once you have a basic vocabulary, you can move on to stage two: the basic blocks of grammar, such as conjugating verbs and making phrases.

Keep in mind that the most important concepts will probably be short words, and strong verbs and nouns may break the original rules you set down.

Have you ever wanted to create a fictional language? What for?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Wednesday writing exercise:

You have a bag of Starburst with you, and ask your characters if they want one. What color do they take, and why? If they don't take any, what do they do instead?

My example:
Kelly grabs an orange Starburst. She likes the tart, almost sour taste of the oranges. 

Trax tries to grab a sweet pink one, but his oh-so-loving agent snatches it away from him before he gets a chance to eat it and starts haranguing him about too many sweets and putting on weight right before a tour. ("Do you want to horrify your fans with flab melting under hot stage lights? Rock stars don't get fat! I worked hard to get that six-pack on you. You can't do that to me.")

Derik just raises an eyebrow at the bag and goes to the fridge. "That's not a fruit snack," he says, and waves a strawberry around. "This is a fruit snack." And then he pulls out the homemade whipped cream, a slices up a batch of local strawberries, and melts fancy chocolate over it all, just to prove his point.

Monday, May 7, 2012

What not to do in your query

What not to do in your query:

Don't do this.

But it sure makes for a good Monday morning laugh.

Breakdown of some of the "faults" of the mock query sent to Janet Reid, Query Shark:

  • started the query with a character other than the main character
  • ridiculous description
  • focused too much time on minuscule details and mostly ignored the plot
  • claimed to be a murder mystery without mentioning who died
  • misspellings
  • described the story as "funny" (never describe your own story as anything! Let the agent figure out what to call it.)
  • compared her work to literary masters
  • compared her work to wildly different genres that don't blend well together
  • had a 350,000 word manuscript
  • threatened to stalk the agent
  • considered getting a joke published to be "publishing credentials"
  • attached a file without agent's express permission
  • rated the story
  • included a quote from a friend
What other query-killing mistakes can you find? (Once you stop laughing, that is!)

Friday, May 4, 2012

Publishing News

Lots of blogs this week, and some interesting news as well!


Microsoft invests in Barnes & Nobles Nook. As in, $300 million investing. This gives the Nook system the funding to start standing up to Amazon (if not on equal footing yet). Microsoft will get a 17.6% equity in the subsidiary of B&N that handles the Nook eReaders.

Starting in July, all Tor/Forge books will be DRM-free.

Target drops Amazon Kindle from shelves. Why? Because Amazon encourages buyers to scan items in stores and then purchase them online through Amazon.

Publisher Pearson plans to "mount a robust defense" against the DOJ lawsuit.

Industry Blogs:

QueryTracker posts their Publishing Pulse for 4/27 and 5/4.

A new agent joins FinePrint Literary Management: Becky Vinter, with an interview on what she's looking for.

Not happy with the DOJ lawsuit against Apple & five big publishers? Dystel & Goderich tell you how you can weigh in with your opinion on the proposed settlements by mailing the DOJ.

Both Jason Ashlock and Janet Reid talk about the fact that agents aren't scared about the digital revolution. Why? Because agents are career managers, not just liaisons for traditional publishers. And authors still need career advice. Getting into the field is a lot easier with an expert to help you decide where to go, and that's what agents do.

Tolkien's The Hobbit is one of the cornerstones of fantasy, but it didn't get written overnight. Roger Colby takes a set of his letters and extracts Tolkien's 10 tips for new writers.

On the Ink-Stained Scribe, Lauren Harris discusses the 5 reasons some public libraries may not carry 50 Shades of Grey. They're not the reasons you might think; looks like 50 Shades may be a fad, and in the world of budget-cutting, libraries aren't willing to take the financial risk - especially for the first book in a trilogy.

Rachelle Gardner reminds you to savor the good stuff when it happens. That's how you don't get burnt out. She also has advice for your spouse: be supportive! You're not going to stop being an artist, and your spouse needs to accept you for who you are for the marriage to work. Also, don't expect millions to come rolling in tomorrow.

On QueryTracker, a couple of questions are answered: should you submit an exclusive query? Not unless it's specifically asked for, and make sure you put an "expiration date" on the exclusiveness. What is a press release, and how do you write one? It's an article aimed at journalists to get them excited enough about a book to check it out and review it. It's not an advertisement, it should be 400-500 words, and it's aimed at journalists instead of readers.

Also, what is an expert witness and how are they qualified to be called into court? An expert witness is someone called to the stand, usually a scientist, to present their knowledge. A crime scene technician, for example, could present on how she came to a conclusion about evidence and the scientific method she used for analysis. He or she has to undergo something called a "Voir Dire" examination by the court before the testimony will be accepted as "expert." This examination is basically a "what are your qualifications" set of questions.

If you haven't got a website yet, but you also haven't finished your manuscript - don't panic. In fact, the best time to get cranking on the social media for your first manuscript, according to Agent Kristen, is probably while it's on submission.

She also talks about why agents don't always take manuscripts they think will sell. Sometimes, another agent has better connections for the genre, or sometimes an agent has a schedule that's just a little too full for a story she isn't 100% enthusiastic about - even if she does think it's good enough to sell. Sometimes it's just not a good fit. And she gives criterion for evaluating agents: mostly, what else have they sold, and where to?

Janet Reid answers whether or not you should talk about disabilities or ill health in a query letter, if you think it will interfere in your timelines: no. That's not the place for it. Timelines are set later, and they're not the same for all writers, anyway.

Stacey Kennedy at the Futuristic, Fantasy, & Paranormal blog asks writers whether or not they should thank reviewers, and suggests ignoring bad reviews.

Nathan Bransford talks about the top 5 social media blunders not to make. One I hadn't heard before anywhere else, but makes very good sense: Don't link your Facebook and Twitter accounts. Why? They're two different audiences, and what appeals to one won't appeal to the other.

What publishing news have you encountered in the past two weeks?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Wednesday Writing Prompt: Birdcages

Today seems like a good day for randomness. So the writing prompt for this week is:

Your character wakes up as a bird in a birdcage. How did he or she end up there? And does the caged bird sing?