Monday, September 30, 2013

Official Cover Reveal!

My novel Into the Tides has a cover!

Release scheduled for this winter or early next spring--details to come!
Tone-deaf Kelly considers her inborn music magic to be mostly useless--until her stopgap control over it gives her a clue on how to collapse the bubble of wild magic enveloping the American South and its millions of people, including all of her own family except her twin brother. The catch? To do so, she'll have to enter the magic herself. That's something neither her twin brother nor her kitchen-invading, green-eyed neighbor Derik will let her try alone, since failing means becoming one of the lost, and they're not about to lose her. Trying to save everyone might just cost her everything she has left.

This amazing cover was put together thanks to Samantha Collins and her incredible Photoshop skills.

(If you're looking for some Photoshop cover help of your own, you can inquire about rates at

Friday, September 27, 2013

Establishing Setting

I'm the sort of writer who adds descriptive details last, because to me, the story comes first.

But that means I pay special attention to settings when I do describe them. Establishing the feel of a place in just a few sentences is an art form--and not always an easy one for me.

I believe in describing settings like characters--just a sentence or a couple of words for passing-through settings. For a town you're driving through and won't see again, "It was a small place, quiet, tucked away in the woods and forgotten by the world" works just fine.

But every author has her personal pet peeves, and calling a story-important town something as oblique as quiet just doesn't sit right with me. A setting that plays a role, like a main character in a story, deserves a paragraph or so of description. Being me, I probably wouldn't give it more than that, because description isn't my favorite part of writing (for me, the story is the most important part, and too much description just gets in my way.)
"The trees on island's only through-road thinned into a smattering of houses, and then those faded into the business district of Main Street. First shop on the right was the used bookstore she'd bought her fifth-hand copy of Moby Dick and every other required high school reading book, battered texts recycled year after year for each new generation. She paused at the four-way stop that marked the center of Main, her eyes scanning over the town hall where her father had once won the island's annual chili cook-off: in a town that couldn't quite pull together a full high school baseball game without pinching a few middle schoolers, Chili Champ was the highest honor a man could earn. He'd gloated all year, until the mechanic's grandmother got so tired of it she challenged him to a one-on-one and flattened him with her local-oyster chili."
Why does this work for me? Because it comes through the main character's perspectives: her memories, a couple of personal details, her emotions. Because it addresses the feel of the town: tiny, unimportant, close-knit.

It's the sort of paragraph that you can use to sneak foreshadowing in: what buildings will be important, maybe a name or two of people who will play parts. Perhaps the mechanic is an old school friend who'll play a role in the story, or maybe Moby Dick is a reoccurring book in this story.

It includes the relevant details: that the town is on an island with only two ways off (either side of the single road running through it), there are no traffic lights, there are woods, the people don't have a lot of new things since they'd rather recycle books than buy them new. Chili's an important past time, as is baseball. Oysters are found locally, so oyster shells are probably used for decoration and practical purposes, it's probably a local industry, and chances are the probable seaside oyster shack serves the most delicious oysters you've ever had.

You also get a sense of attitude and a hint at some of the obstacles the main character will deal with: It's probably a little chauvinistic and old-school, if someone thinks he can challenge a grandparent (with decades of cooking experience) to a cook-off and have a chance of winning. This means you can expect the main character, a woman, to face some underhanded condescension if she tries to complain about something being off, her claims brushed off as hysterics: "It's okay, sweetheart; you were probably dreaming, or hearing a fox. The town's perfectly safe," when she mentions footsteps outside the window at night, or large, flashing yellow eyes watching from the woods.

For me, all that's really needed. One good, solid paragraph. Later when she goes into different shops, or visits friends, or checks out local landmarks, I can elaborate on history and backstory (yes, just like I would for a character). But for its initial introduction, the town gets little more than a paragraph.

Do you like detailed descriptions of settings, or short and to-the-point descriptions? What are some of your favorite setting introductions you've read in the past?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Good Idea/Bad Idea

Yesterday morning, agent Janet Reid posted some very pertinent advice on her Tuesday Morning Question Emporium. If an author receives an offer from a small publisher, Janet was asked, should the offer notify the agent to whom a query has been submitted?

Well, yes. Etiquette says this is a nice thing to do. Read her blog for more details on when, how, and why.

But when you do, don't hold your manuscript hostage. Let's play a game of good idea, bad idea on how you should word your query.

Good Idea agent e-mail: Be polite, mention time frame, leave the agent room to say yes

Subject: (agent's requested subject line)-Publishing Offer
Dear (actual name of agent),
I recently sent you a query for (name of manuscript), but have recently received an offer from Small Publish Publishing Shack. I requested a week to consider their offer while I waited for your response, and would appreciate it if you got back to me within 7 days. For your convenience, I have included my original query here.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
Your Real Name, writing as Your Pen Name

Bad Idea agent e-mail: Demand a response NOW. Threaten to take the story hostage.

Howdy Agent,
I recently sent you a query for MY MOST AWESOME STORY EVER. I'll give you a minute to go find it.
Isn't it great? Anyway, I just got an offer from a small publisher. You have 3 days to get back to me, or I'm rewriting the plot from the perspective from the family dog. And if you don't get back in 5 days, I'll kill the dog at the end of the book. If you don't get back in 7 days, you'll have lost your chance to work with this soon-to-be best-seller. 
Keep it real,
Toma Toplant

In general, do try not to alienate a member of your own professional community.

(And yes, the purpose of this blog was an excuse to write a "bad idea agent e-mail.")

Monday, September 23, 2013

Monday Morning! Oh No!

Oh dear. It's Monday Morning.

Not the Monday. Anything but the Monday!

Just terrible. So sorry I let Monday happen.

Friday, September 20, 2013

This week's publishing news and industry blogs covers 9/7-9/18, as I'll be afk from Thursday until Monday. Expect the extra couple of days to pop up on the next edition!

Publishing News

Barnes and & Noble founder Len Riggio answers questions about the business. Nook spin-off is still not happening.

In the Google Books bookscanning case, the Authors Guild asks Judge Chin to force Google to stop until Congress makes laws dealing with the copyright issues raised by modern technology.

ReaderLink, a company that helps place books in stores such as Walmart, Target, and CostCo, wants publishers to raise e-book prices, based on the idea that the cheap e-book prices are making print books less profitable and therefore net them less room on store shelves.

The judge has signed off on the final ruling of the Apple vs the DOJ price-fixing case. Publishers Weekly offers a sum-up of what the ruling means for publishers, consumers, and Apple.

Publishers aren't enthusiastic about Amazon's Matchbook, which is set to go live in October, and allows purchasing of e-books at a steep discount after purchasing a print book.

There's a new e-book seller in the market, but with a catch: Libiro sells only indie-published books, at an 80% royalty rate.

In the UK, it looks like 61% of e-books are downloaded and read for free (with 83% done so legally, in case you're wondering, and 58% of books sold were sold in print.)

No surprise on this study: reading for pleasure improves school performance.

Industry Blogs

Agent Janet Reid says that getting an excerpt of a novel published as a short story is a good thing. She also answers a question (which, frankly, confuses me)--Should a writer be frustrated if a story that was rejected by agents and editors gets fantastic reviews after being self-published? No, of course not. (Why would that even be a question? Celebrate your great reviews and build a fan base, and get nice profits off the self-publishing!)

How much do fantasy authors earn? GalleyCat gives a summary link (short version) to the original Reddit thread (long version). And having trouble getting pieces published by literary journals? GalleyCat's summary link and the original advice by an editor in a literary journal on Reddit.

On GoodEReader, a survey comes back with the results that 71% of British travelers would rather tote a paper-and-ink copy of a book than an e-reader.

Four agents and four editors weigh in on what they think New Adult is, what a book needs to be successful, and more in a New Adult FAQ.

Rachelle Gardner posts her pitching advice. Going to pitch your manuscript to an agent in person? Here's where to start.

A new small publisher opens its doors, Resurrection House. There still isn't a lot of info about it yet, but Writers' Beware alerts authors to one non-disclosed point: the names of the staff members. Among them is the acquisitions editor, the former owner of Night Shade Books, now bankrupt. He is not an owner of this new house and won't have a hand in running the company, but it would have been nice if this information had been disclosed immediately.

Try to remember to see everything through multiple points of view as an author, suggests Jane Lebak on QueryTracker.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Mandarin Silk 

Reviewed by: Rebekkah
Type of tea
Oolong, loose-leaf
Flavor aspects and Aroma
Flavor Aspects: Natural, herbal
Aroma: Almost like licorice, only smoother and richer and lovely even if you dislike licorice
Where I got it
Yosefa AntiquiTea, Boone, NC
How I brewed it
2 tsp in a 16 oz mug, hot water from the coffee machine poured over, steeped for 2-ish minutes
Rebrewing notes
I usually get 3 cups before it start losing its flavor. Holds taste and color very well through rebrews.

Om nom nom.

I really dislike licorice. One of those people who just hates it, I'm afraid. Yet I LOVE this tea. It's smooth, almost like a black tea in flavor, but with a rich, sweet scent that smells like candy. It has just a touch of sweetness to the aftertaste, too, that's reminiscent of licorice without actually tasting like it, and despite the tea being no sweeter than any other oolong tea. Not really sure how better to describe it than that, and that hardly does this decadent tea justice.

It's a very resilient brew, too. I've used water too hot, made it with break room coffee-machine water, steeped it too short and steeped it a touch too long, and every time it comes out tasty. The least flavorful is understeeping, of course, but even weak it still packs a delicious scent.

If you can't guess, I do like this tea. I'd highly recommend it, especially if you like black tea. Despite being an oolong, it really does taste mostly like a good-quality black tea. Good plain (as I usually drink it) and also good with milk and sugar.

Reviewed by:

No second review yet.
Type of tea Aroma
Where I got it Cost
How I brewed it Rebrewing notes

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

Monday, September 16, 2013

Ig Nobel 2013

"Science that first makes you laugh, and then makes you think": this is the motto for the Ig Nobel prizes, which spoof the much more serious Nobel prizes.

The tradition involves giving odd but valid scientific studies prizes. And while many of the winners are for things that seem hilarious, the science is done with a purpose.

Some winners, past and present, have included:

  • Ponytail physics, where the winners produced an algorithm for determining the shape of a ponytail based on hair type, thickness, etc.
  • A great way to collect whale snot, where scientists used a mini-coptor with a petri dish to hover over a whale's blow-hole to collect exhalation samples (for analyzing the health of the whale, of course; what else would you use whale snot for?)
  • Teen repellent, or a type of particularly annoyingsound that teens can hear but most adults cannot
  • Management probability, in which scientists determined that a company's efficiency could be improved by promoting people at random
  • Dissolving shrew bones by stomach acid, in which scientists swallowed boiled shrews whole and then analyzed the, er, results to see which bones dissolved and which did not

This year's winners can be found here.

What candidates would you nominate for an Ig Nobel award?

Friday, September 13, 2013

Sharknado: Heckle Heaven

Last week, I finally got my chance to see Sharknado.

It was exactly as advertised.

Case in point: One of the major early features of the movie is the fact that "a hurricane is striking California for the first time." If this movie coincided with reality, this would actually be more or less true, as storms of that caliber formed in this part of the Pacific move West, away from the Southern California shore. There really haven't been tropical cyclones hitting that particular part of the US, because wind and the motion of the Earth and the cold California waters all say "no."

But don't worry, weather sticklers; the hurricane is only present for about 1/8 of the shots, anyway. In the rest, it's a either a mildly cloudy day, or if the sky isn't in the show, downright clear and sunny (you can tell by the golden light and the strong shadows).

For a detailed plot summary, go here,
where I got this screenshot.
Also, you can't see them, but this bus is surrounded
by giant sharks. Because, that's why.
Of course there was quite a bit of gratuitous shark. After all, it's Sharknado. There are sharks found only in warm Atlantic waters storming the Pacific coast from the West and mixing freely with sharks found elsewhere. The sharks only eat humans, target humans, and go after humans, in a complete and utter reversal of actual shark taste and biology (very few species will eat people; we taste bad. Most will let go after a single bit.) And then there's the rather obvious flip-of-the-bird to every kind of physics and biology, such as when a 10-foot shark repeatedly swims out from behind a 3-foot-wide door, like a psycho in a horror film with access to a dimensional portal.

One of these hats.
You can get them here.
This was all before the sharks became airborne. And I haven't even mentioned the ridiculously inconsistent water levels yet... Like the house that floods from the inside until it collapses and sends water streaming down the hill, or the  giant hammerhead sharks swimming around in about 18 inches of water.

There was so much gratuitous shark, in fact, that at one point after the sharks started flying, someone began throwing a shark hat into the air, and it took me a moment before realizing the hat wasn't part of the show. In fact, it wasn't until the shark was thrown a second time that I was sure. This despite an obvious "something in front of the screen" shadow.

On the whole, I'd say this is pretty much exactly what it set out to be: a horrible, terrible, spectacularly funny fail of a disaster movie. From shallow romances that don't even follow their own logic (Wait, are you the father's girlfriend, or the son's?), to chainsaws and sharks that swallow people whole, to random rappelling-down-to-save-the-obligatory-children-who-mysteriously-disappear-to-safety-afterwards, to sharks who do everything from breathe air, fly, and climb ropes, it's a movie 100% made for heckling.

The poster was right. Sharknado, enough said.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wednesday Writing Exercise: Fancy Rides

Your character has some form of transportation. Maybe she walks, maybe she rides a horse, maybe she takes a horse and buggy or a royal carriage. Or, maybe she actually drives a car.

What are your main characters' dream rides? Choose their typical mode of transportation and offer them the fanciest version they could imagine. How do they react?

Norita found the pair of shoes under the bridge. Beautiful boots, with soles of sturdy, dark green leather that would withstand any amount of hiking. Traces of gold on the inside of the cuffs showed a soft fabric lining them, and scrollwork in the leather etched the impression of wings. Boots like these would last a lifetime, and were worth their weight in silver.

"No thanks," Norita shouted at the woods. Tossing the boots rudely back into their nook, she hmphed and tossed her hair. "Stupid elves," she muttered. "They're not catching me that easily."

Monday, September 9, 2013

Moment of Remembrance

It's been a sad week for authors who keep in touch on the blogosphere. We've lost two people who have consistently gone out of their way to help developing writers.

Ann C. Crispin
Ann C. Crispin, of Writer Beware, passed after a battle with cancer. She devoted years of public awareness to help writers avoid being scammed. Countless authors owe their continued financial security to her warnings: because of her efforts and those of her colleagues, they know what to look for to avoid being bilked for thousands of dollars.

Carolyn Kaufman
Carolyn Kaufman, of QueryTracker, passed after suffering an aneurysm. Her blogs helped writers improve their craft and approach writing as a career, inspired hope, and welcomed new writers to the community.

Thanks to both of these amazing women for all they've contributed. I, for one, am grateful to have known their work.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Publishing Industry News

Publishing news and industry blogs for 8/24-9/6/2013. Not a terribly busy week--I think most Americans, at least, spent too much time nursing sunburns after Labor Day to make too much news.

Publishing News

Spectacular Solutions and Balboa Press hit the Writer's Beware page, as does Sandpiper Publicity.

Hey, wouldn't it be cool if you could get the e-book cheap when you bought a paper and ink book? Well, Amazon's MatchBook is making that finally happen.

Remember hearing about how careful you have to be about FaceBook promotions? They've amended their official policy, in ways that will make authors much happier.

Both Amazon and Overstock have filed suit in the Supreme Court to stop the ruling that would force them to collect sales tax for online sales to New York. American BookSellers Association responds to this with a cheeky note, taking Amazon to task for claiming to support online sales tax.

In the Apple vs the DOJ case, the DOJ lightens the injunction against Apple, after telling Apple to put their objections in an itemized list (more or less). Macmillan has to wait the longest (4 years) to renegotiate its deals with Apple, but at least they're renegotiable, instead of terminated, right? Meanwhile, in the settlements by the publishers, refunds for e-books rise.

Google and the Authors' Guild are still going at it, eight years in, on the Google bookscanning case. (Quick refresher: Google scanned library books for its Google Books project. The Authors' Guild says this violates copyright. Google Books says that it counts as fair use. There's a lot more to it than that, but we'll stop there.)

Amazon and Kobo both release new version of e-readers.

Figshare launches a platform for colleges to host academic research and make it available, citeable, searchable, and basically discoverable.

This year's Hugo Award Winners are out.

Industry Blogs

QueryTracker's Publishing Pulse for 8/30 and 9/6.

Nathan Bransford's Last Few Weeks in Books for 8/26.

Getting bullied on GoodReads? Heard about an incident where an author decided not to publish? Writing on the Ether discusses what really happened and talks about bullying, GoodReads, and escalation.

Publishers Weekly takes a look at Kobo's relationship with the American Booksellers Association, one year in. Also, GalleyCat offers a guide on how to buy from your local indie bookstore through Kobo.

And a brief look at current book-buying behavior, again by Publishers Weekly.

Speaking of which, how many e-books have been self-published on Smashwords? Now over 250,000.

About to launch a book? Jared Dees posts a nice guide for getting the word out.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What we missed: Dragoncon Cosplay

From 2009, the last year I got to go.
Cosplay: It's when fans of a show dress up as characters of the show.

Dragon*Con: One of the biggest sci-fi/fantasy/geek conventions in America.

Cosplay is an art form. And if you want to see it at its best, attend a fan convention. Sadly, I missed Dragon*Con this year, but here's a couple of links for this year's Cosplay galleries:

CNET's cosplay gallery
Geeks of Doom
io9's Cosplay gallery

I won't say much else, because seriously, you'll waste enough time admiring the artists' works.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Dibs on the table!
Dibs: the concept that what you claim is yours because you said you wanted it before anyone else did.

Commonly used as:

"Dibs! I saw it first!"


"I've got dibs on the blue chair."

Of course, calling dibs is usually informal at best, childish at worst, so it's not something you'd do in front of your boss. But it implies a level of camaraderie, and a willingness to uphold loose verbal contracts; calling dibs means you trust those around you to respect your claim.

It's a clear statement of intent, too: "I want this." But because it's so casual, it's not often taken seriously.

If a character declares dibs on something, you expect that the thing desired is not of vital importance. Villains might call dibs on inappropriate things--calling dibs on a romantic interest, for example, clues you in the character thinks of the person as a trophy instead of a person. It's also a way for a character to both hide and reveal a true desire: by trivializing the object of interest, it seems as if it holds less importance than it really does.

Have you read any characters who call dibs on something lately? What did they call dibs on, and what does it say about how they feel about the subject of the dibs and the people around them?