Monday, December 28, 2015

No Post--sick

No post last Friday. No post today. Please excuse this author as she goes to curl up and try to sleep off the last of the food poisoning.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The importance of scenery

Scenery in stories... what difference does it make? As a writer, how do you choose what scenery fits a story? As a reader, how does the setting change the plot?

Whether it's the room where characters are, or things they hold, or the town or city in which they live, everything they touch influences the tone and mood of the scene. A coffee mug tells the reader the character is tired. A new set of armor tells the video game player the avatar has succeeded a challenge and gotten a reward. A volleyball tells the player the NPC to whom they speak is a sports player and probably on a team of some kind. And a story that takes place in the kitchen gives a sense of home, of family.

We choose backgrounds carefully in photography and art of all kinds. Stories aren't any different. Have you ever seen a story where the background didn't fit? And what kind of scenery is your favorite?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Publishing Industry News

This week's publishing news and industry blogs post covers 12/5-12/18/2015. Here's all the publishing news that happened while you were busy gearing up for Star Wars! Fair warning, it was pretty busy in the publishing world, too.

Publishing News

Publishers Weekly reports that some supply issues at Amazon have caused a backlog of some titles, impacting sales for several small and indie publishers.

Retailers reacted to the new provision on the Customs Reauthorization Act--a provision that, unrelated to the main subject matter of the bill, removes the possibility of taxing online purchases (called the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act, guaranteeing sales tax can't be collected on Internet purchases). The language was later removed, but an Internet Tax Freedom Act (not permanent) was passed as a part of the federal spending package, which basically extends the status quo of no sales tax on the Internet.

Seven amicus briefs have been filed in support of encouraging the Supreme Court to review the Apple vs the DOJ price-fixing case, each arguing Apple should not have been found liable. The DOJ has until Jan 4, 2016, to file a responding brief of opposition.

The lawsuit against the JD Salinger Literary Trust has been dropped after the case was transferred to the home state of Salinger's widow, New Hampshire. The suit alleged the trust of interfering with the Devault-Graves Agency's attempts to license foreign editions of Salinger stories that have lapsed into the public domain in the US, but that aren't necessarily public domain yet by the laws of the foreign countries where they were to be sold.

The Book Industry Study Group adds 512 new categories to the subject headings list, improving particularly how young adult titles can be classified by separating young adult from juvenile.

Smashwords expands its global distribution by signing new e-book agreements with worldwide e-book retailers.

Ingram acquires a new service that allows publishers, retailers, and authors to sell and produce print and e-books directly through their own websites, social networks, and blogs.

Books-A-Million finalizes it privatization with Clyde B Anderson acquiring the company. Shareholders are entitled to $3.25 per share.

Author Peter Beagle sues Conlan Press on the grounds of elder abuse, defamation, and fraud. Author Jim Hines gives his take on the Peter Beagle vs Conlan Press lawsuit, filled with lots of additional links to further reading material, showing his support of Beagle. (Couldn't find much about this one online elsewhere. Thanks to AritĂȘ gunĂȘ Akasa for the link!)

In Britain, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals campaigns for British politicians to stop closing libraries and start taking care of those that are left.

Industry Blogs

Victoria Strauss on Writer Beware posts a success story about the Neoverse Short Story Writing Competition, in which the new, small-publisher sponsor listened to criticism about and requested feedback on the rules, and then re-wrote them to make them more fair to the authors.

On the other hand, again on Writer Beware, Strauss notices that a different publisher, Almond Press, responds to criticism of the less-than-ideal rules of its own contest by giving one-star reviews to all her books.

Agent Nephele Tempest posts Friday Links for 12/04 and 12/11 and 12/18. Check out 12/4 for a link to some short story competitions.

Agent Kristin Nelson shares her #2 reason for passing on queries even if the writing is good: stakes aren't high enough. She also gives a couple of tips for what to do with your manuscript after NaNoWriMo.

Agent Jessica Faust weighs in on self-publishing: as long as you're shopping a book that hasn't been self-published yet, having an established self-publishing career won't hurt you anymore--but it won't necessarily help you, either. She then expands on why she won't shop a book that has already been self-published.

Agent Janet Reid answers questions and offers advice. She explains why she thinks authors shouldn't use italics, especially for more than one word at a time. And she explains when you shouldn't write your query like a dust jacket.

QueryTracker answers the very important question of when to give up querying (or at least take a break).

On the Futuristic, Fantasy, and Paranormal blog, how to keep mythology fresh in a modern setting, even when everyone else is writing contemporary-set mythology. And why an author newsletter is a must-have for marketing.

Author Nathan Bransford offers the Past Few Weeks in Books for 12/14.

Author Kristine Kathryn Rusch muses on thinking of your writing as a gamble, and why that's a terrible plan.

On the Boston Globe, an article about how dead authors' books are enormously popular right now.

A look at the anatomy of modern romance covers (published in November).

A digital subscription service, Playster, goes live in the US, offering access to media content including (but not limited to) music, books, films, and video games.
What other major publishing news have you encountered in the past two weeks?

Friday, December 18, 2015

Spirit of December...

The spirit of the season here! As heard in the office:

Coworker 1: Happy holidays, guys! Thanks for the yummy treats.

I've made this 4 times now. Or is it 5?
Coworker 2: Take more. (Unspoken but clearly heard addend: Please, no, really. Don't make us eat these ourselves.)

Just another example of December's annual baked-goods arms race. Who'll emerge with the title of the most-eaten delicacy: the person who baked the brownies, the pie, or the quiche? And is there really a victor in the month-long waistline-expansion wars? Dunno, but at least my taste buds are happy.

In other news, this week's publishing industry news post will have to wait until tomorrow, as A) It's been an exhausting week, and B) King's Quest saga chapter 2 has come out. See you tomorrow!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Communication in fantasy and sci fi

No matter what world you're in, your characters have to communicate. How do they do it?

Games have everything from Star-Trek style communicators to radios to standard cell phones. One of my favorite fantasy series, the Chronicles of Elantra, has magic mirrors--in fact, mirror scrying in different forms is a pretty common fantasy substitute for cell phones, or at least phones. Scrying's pretty common, too. Role playing games live on the principle of never separating the party, but even if you do, there are message spells to communicate back and forth. Or you could always send an owl.

Low-tech worlds, meanwhile, rely on older forms of communication, such as sending runners. That can make an interesting plot point, because the messages don't always get there in time. But instant communication is something many readers in this day and age have come to expect, and it shows in modern stories.

What are your favorite methods of fantasy communication? Of the books you've read that are recently published, are there any that don't have instant communication? And there any fantasy worlds that make especially good use of the lack of communication?

(Hello, it's Monday! Er, wait, what happened to Friday? Oops... Here's some photos for public domain as apology...)

Monday, December 7, 2015

What's your avatar style: Cool, crazy, or close to home?

How do you create your avatars? Realistic, attractive, or as odd as possible?

Can I make this my next avatar?
Recent games have so many options for creating avatars, which I write watching a blue-skinned pando-faced character with white-streaked red hair being created. Hey, I'm not one to judge--my mii might just be cross-eyed and have a mustache-level unibrow. We're more the ridiculous-style at my castle.

On the other hand, it doesn't take long online to realize that most people make avatars that look good, or at least decent.

So what do you go for when you make an avatar?

Friday, December 4, 2015

Publishing Industry News

Many of you spent the last couple of weeks guesting or hosting and eating turkey, ham, or tofurkey, and working desperately on NaNoWriMo in your free moments. So here's a link digest of the latest publishing news and industry blogs for 11/20-12/4/2015.

Publishing News

Penguin Random House decides on the final, unified terms for library e-books, going with the Random House terms for the merged company.

The Supreme Court has given an extension for the DOJ to file opposition to Apple's petition to have the e-book price-fixing case reviewed. Meanwhile, the Authors Guild, ABA, and Barnes and Noble file a brief in support of Apple's petition.

Industry Blogs

On QueryTracker, tips on surviving the submission process.

Agent Janet Reid answers questions and gives advice. Your first line of an effective query should be a viable answer for the question "Have you read any good books lately?" Make sure you clean up your web presence before querying. Do agents consider a writer's age before signing? (Reid doesn't; but if you're worried, just don't mention your age in the query.) Why doesn't your memoir, filled with everything someone in your situation would need to survive, sell? (Agents look for memoirs that will help those not in your situation, too, in order to have enough of a market.)

More from Reid: No matter how frustrated you are with the query process, you still should follow the guidelines. If you've got one manuscript submitted to an agent, and have meanwhile finished another and gotten into top-notch shape, can you query the second? (Yes, and do.) How long do you have to submit after a pitch? (Better good but late than messy and early.)

Author Jamie Gold has been participating in an Indie Publishing Paths series. Here's her latest, which looks at the things indie authors should consider when pricing their books. (First post was back in August, which I completely missed at the time, on setting goals.)

On BookEnds, agent Jessica Faust explains that no, not all editing and feedback is good, and it's okay to not follow every little bit. And she explains why using Track Changes in edits is useful. (We use it my dayjob as a copyeditor all the time, and yeah, it saves people's sanity.)

Agent Nephele Tempest posts some writing links for Friday 11/20 and 11/28.

Author Kristine Kathryn Rusch in her Business Musings posts talks about why "writing to a market" isn't really a thing for the indie market, and why it's a thing in traditional publishing in the first place. She also shares some of her thoughts on the international markets.

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

Monday, November 30, 2015

What makes a game frustrating instead of fun?

It being the holidays with my family, board games came out. Of course, Friday we rearranged the six-person table and the card table to be more appropriate to an Arkham Horror marathon:

Card table is for food, real table for games of unusual size.
We tried the expansions, and found ourselves dead twice to the claws/tentacles/unmentionable horrors of Quachiluttus thanks to the additions of some expansions. Our guest told us that the expansions were created with the idea of making the game more challenging... but between the new, difficult-to-reach gates for portals, a short doom track, instant death, and an Ancient One that auto-killed one player each round and had both magical and physical immunity, I'm not sure it stayed in the realm of possible.

That's not to say it wasn't fun, because Arkham Horror is almost always fun if you've set aside the time to play it and enjoy the tactical challenge of trying to stop Cthulu-esque creatures from consuming the board game world. But it was demoralizing, and after two runs we came to the conclusion that we weren't interested in trying again with that boss.

We also played a few games of Airlines and Settlers of Catan. In both games, it's possible to get so far behind that you just can't possibly keep up. (They're also much shorter than Arkham Horror, if you don't have 4 hours to devote to a single game...)

It seems like most people who reach the point of impossible-to-win (who are reasonably good sports) fall into one of two camps once they reach this point: they cease having fun because there's no chance of winning, or they stop taking the game seriously and focus on enjoying the gameplay and time spent with the family. Both are frustrating, because no one in a game wants someone to not be having fun, and yet having a player who's no longer truly engaged in the game means they no longer make the smart moves, which can mess up the strategy and gameplay for everyone else. Or, they may the game "interesting" in the form of sabotaging certain other players (usually the best player/ leader), which can be amusing, but makes the game less fair.

Some games have ways to keep all the players engaged. They may offer secondary prizes, or have a "rubber-band" effect that prevents anyone from getting too far behind (which can be its own kind of frustrating). Or they may be designed so that you don't know who is winning until the very end. Cooperative board games are good in that by default no one can get shut out unless everyone does, so no one is hanging around hoping the game will end soon. But then, when everyone gets shut out, finishing the game becomes an exercise in futility, so it's frustrating for everyone instead of just some of the players.

But I find myself wondering, which do you think most makes a game cross the line from "fun" into "frustrating": knowing you can't win, not being able to know who will win, knowing that skill has less effect than luck, not being challenging enough, or something else?

Friday, November 27, 2015


I recommend baking 50 minutes in
a glass pan, by the by; it turned out
perfect for us. So glad we made the
trial run!
I can now say I've hosted my first Thanksgiving, and if the crowd was a reasonable 5 people, they were people we love, and the oven was fixed by Monday, so the food still turned out edible, and nobody got sick, and I discovered a few good new recipes, and for this and many other things, I am thankful.

I hope your Thursday was great, and if you're in the US, you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Rewriting Plans

It was a Sunday of plans gone awry. Not that it turned out badly.

Decided to do a test run for the cranberry brownies I’m making as dessert for my first year hosting Thanksgiving. This turned out to be a great idea, because our oven died. Better today than Thursday!

Surprisingly easy to find a place for brownies and games.
Of course, this meant we had a panful of brownie batter that was completely uncooked. Our plea for use of a working oven in exchange for brownies was quickly fulfilled. So instead of having an afternoon and evening at home doing laundry, we wound up having an impromptu game night.

I also learned that the recipe needs an extra 15-20 minutes of baking time in a glass pan. Good things to know. Good things to know indeed.

So, yeah, sometimes things in life break, but it winds up being better in the long run.

(Here’s the recipe, in case you’re interested.)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Publishing News

This week's publishing news and industry blogs post covers 11/7-11/19/15.

Publishing News

The Anderson family has come a step closer to acquiring all the shares of Books-A-Million. creates a self-publishing service for audiobooks, rather like Smashwords' service in that it distributes to multiple retailers and distributors.

Amazon and Apple are under an anti-trust investigation in Germany. (Link has sound)

HarperCollins starts a new digital-first imprint that accepts unagented manuscripts.

Industry Blogs

Victoria Strauss on Writer Beware talks about the dangers of arbitration clauses, and what to look for in them, and clauses you can probably get to mitigate them versus what you can't.

Agent Nephele Tempest talks about the advantages of having a writing community, and how to find one.

Agent Janet Reid answers questions and gives advice.  Writing a non-fiction book that has its main relevance within a couple of years, and wondering if you should be querying now before the book is done? (Yes. Different rules for non-fiction, and timeliness is a thing.) A writer friend has died, and you wonder if you should notify query-ees, and also if it's possible to get the piece posthumously published. (An e-mail is polite, and not very likely.) She also shares inept book promo--and explains what's inept about it. And while you're out, how about how to query badly?

Agent Kristin Nelson gives an agent's perspective on how to succeed at NaNoWriMo. She also explains her #1 reason for passing even when the writing is good.

On the Editor's Blog, some tough love about your favorite, clever first-draft lines--like it or not, there's no sacred cow in writing; sometimes you just have suck it up and cut that line you thought you liked during rewrites.

On QueryTracker, why truth is important in fiction.

Author Kristine Kathryn Rusch reminds us why it's important to have contact information available and make it possible to get in touch with you.

Wondering about the brick and mortar Amazon Books store? Amazon Books VP doesn't plan to sell products other than books there; she explains how books will be chosen and displayed; and yes, they're hoping for more brick and mortars in the future. (I bet you'll probably see books from the Amazon Editors' Best Books lists among those selected.)

For a collection of NaNoWriMo tips, check out GalleyCat's Resources page.

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

Monday, November 16, 2015

Prayers for the World

The world grieves this weekend.

Terrorism and bombings in Paris, Beirut, Baghdad. Earthquakes in Japan and Mexico. Our thoughts are with them all.

When given the choice between love and hate, remember: hate begets hate; love helps heal the wounds hate causes. Always choose kindness over hatred.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Tea review: Dry Desert Lime by Numi

Numi: Dry Desert Lime Tea

Reviewed by: Rebekkah
Type of tea

herbal, bagged
Flavor aspects

Where I got it

Whole Foods
(online brand store here)


$6.99 at Whole Foods
How I brewed it

1 bag in a 12-oz mug for 5 minutes with slightly less than boiling water
Rebrewing notes

Did not try to rebrew

I ordered a cup of this tea at a cafe, and then immediately ran across the street after the meal to buy a box. It's just really, really good.

It's very tart; I think most drinkers would prefer it with a teaspoon of honey. I enjoy it plain, but then, I eat lemon and lime slices like orange slices. To me it tastes very much like "summer" or "warm tropical places," which is the kind of vague description that covers citrusy, natural teas. It's a very real, natural flavor; none of that fake lime flavor, just real citrus, which makes sense, as the only ingredient is "dried lime." Organic, natural, one-ingredient: this tisane is lime and that's it.

Basically, if you love lemon or lime, it's a good drink for you. If you're not a huge citrus fan, you're probably off making it with more sugar than your usual tea, or blending it with another tea to mitigate the citrus-sour.

As an herbal tea, it's caffeine free, yet it's a great pick-me-up thanks to the bright flavor. Good for afternoons if you're trying to avoid more caffeine, or for anyone who is cutting back on the caff. Also a good starter tea, especially if you like lemonades. Pretty much the only people who I wouldn't recommend it for would be those who are sensitive to tartness and those who aren't citrus fans.

As for me, I'll be keeping a box or two of this stocked on my own shelves from now on.

From the Numi website

Monday, November 9, 2015

Favorite Fantasy Creatures?

In terms of fantasy creatures, dragons are my favorite.

Specifically, I'm a fan of good dragons, whether they work with the heroes or are the heroes. Sometimes they're wise and sometimes they're less than intelligent, but both ways they speak of adventure and quests and ancient history. Whether it's Robin Hobb's self-centered creatures, who need flattery to cooperate and careful and diplomatic care to survive, or Mercedes Lackey's tempestuous but trainable dragons, or the sexy dragon men of Katie MacAlister's Aisling Grey series, they're fun and they're full of themselves.

EiC's about the closest thing to
a mini-dragon I have on hand.
Seeing the different takes on them is a joy of reading, playing, and watching fantasy. I think Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern is one of my favorite takes on dragons, especially the dragonets. Ever since I first read about them, I've wanted a tiny, psychic dragon friend. (Although I'm fairly sure the cats are a close relation to dragons.)

Faeries, zombies, shifters, trolls, aliens, goblins, hellhounds... choose your genre, choose your creature. What's your fantasy creature of choice? And what's your favorite series with them in?

Friday, November 6, 2015

Publishing Industry news

This week's Publishing News and Industry Blogs post covers 10/23/15-11/6.

Publishing News

Amazon opens its first physical bookstore.

The American Booksellers Association's online platform IndieBound releases a buy button to see if it increases sales.

The Dear Author lawsuit filed by Ellora's Cave has been settled

A court case about whether three JD Salinger books, now public domain in the US, can be licensed overseas has been moved to the home state of the current Salinger heir.  The Salinger Literary Trust makes the argument that the longer copyright protection in the other countries can be upheld; the publisher seeking to license the translations makes the argument that the shortest copyright protection should be used. Both arguments are based on the Berne Convention.

Apple asks the Supreme Court to overturn the verdict on the e-book price-fixing case. The Supreme Court has not yet decided to take the case.

Industry Blogs

On the Futuristic, Fantasy, and Paranormal blog, how take your villain from mustache-twirling trope to fully-fleshed, worthwhile villains.  Or even the villain your readers will love (to hate).

Have you ever wondered how the QueryTracker database is kept current? QT reveals.

Which, as agent Jessica Faust points out, is very important for agency databases--be sure to check the agent's website before sending anything out. And if you're disappointed that it's taking a while for an agent to reply to you, you should probably glad she's waiting until she's hungry for a new client instead just wanting to clear out the inbox. She also shares a compilation of the top 10 worst pieces of query advice.

Agent Janet Reid offers advice and and answers questions. If you're trying to find an agent for book 2, how much of book 1 should you mention in the query? (None; you're querying book 2. Do say that book 1 is published, and whether or not the publisher has dibs on the series.) You've queried personal connections and have heard nothing; does this mean your book is bad? (No. Now go query someone else.)


An infographic  from Stop Procrastinating looks at a survey of NaNoWriMo writers.

GalleyCat collects their tips for NaNoWriMo from previous years.

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

Monday, November 2, 2015

Halloween-favorite costume and candy?

Halloween means kids in costumes and candy to me, and that makes it one of the cutest holidays of the year.

What was the best costume you saw this year (of any age person)? And what's your favorite Halloween candy? 

Friday, October 30, 2015

No Humans?

What if you woke up as a monster? What if everyone did?

I've been watching iZombie, which follows a woman as she tries to adjust to life post-death. It's half Walking Dead, half Medium, and half CSI. Yes, the math works--think Venn diagrams.

Monster shows always seem to be from the "trying to survive" side--either as the monster or as a human fighting off monsters. Sometimes they even have a "trying to live a normal life" angle. What if everyone was a monster, though? What if monster was normal?

I've seen a couple of pieces where there are only a few humans left. (Last Blood comes to mind.) These are interesting, but again, it's a story of survival. Still, it's a pretty cool look at where humans are the minority.

The closest I've seen is in science fiction, stories where there has been a disaster and humans are almost extinct. What about in fantasy, though?

Have you seen many shows or books where no one is human, or almost no one? Was it done well?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Paint your own pottery

In my case, it's a Hylian Crest and
some hearts.
Painting your own pottery is one of those things you don't realize is incredibly fun until you do it. There are a lot of ceramic options these days, from sculptures of dragons to Boo! statues to gnomes for your garden, but my favorite is still the basic blank plate.

A blank plate is like a blank page--it's endless possibility. It's a little of everything until you decide what you want to do with it.

It's a blank canvas. And as anyone can tell you, a blank canvas is only boring if the person using it is boring.

Turns out much brighter after baking.
The tools don't make it easy, but going with a friend made it fun. Great way to keep the hands busy while we caught up. Definitely something I'd do again. Also, I have a new large mug that's the right size for tea. (Too small tea mugs are always a problem.)

Have you ever painted your own pottery? What did you make?

Friday, October 23, 2015

Publishing Industry News

This week's publishing news and industry blogs covers 10/10-10/22/2015.

Publishing News

The US Appeals Court affirms that the Google library book scanning project is indeed protected by fair use.

Apple's court-ordered monitoring has ended, the monitor having been originally appointed as a result from the anti-trust case.

Amazon sues over a thousand people for writing/selling fake reviews, targeting account holders on Fiverr. Most of the people aren't named as they're not actually known yet. (Actual complaint filed can be viewed on Scribd.)

American publishers (12 of them) have signed a pledge to "monitor and address incidents of censorship in Chinese translations of books."

Industry Blogs

Of course, NaNoWriMo is just around the corner, so here's a blog from author Nathan Bransford with NaNoWriMo resources to get you started/back into gear.

A new Author Earnings report is out, this one looking at a variety of e-book markets.

Agent Kristine Kathryn Rusch analyzes the newest author earnings report (that came out right after her last post with some of the very information she'd mentioned wanting to see), discussing its limitations and possible business implications.

Agent Jessica Faust explains how to follow up gracefully on your submission.

Agent Janet Reid answers questions and gives advice. Is there a best time of year to send your queries? (No.) She gives advice on how to make the most of a group critique at a conference. Do writers get rejected because of typos in the query? (Yes.) Her thoughts on the best and worst kinds of authors swag.

Agent Nephele Tempest posts some interesting writing-related links in her Friday Links post.

Agent Janet Grant of Books and Such Literary agency talks about how to gain and take advantage of word-of-mouth publicity.

Pew Research Center has, in their latest survey, noted among their findings that slightly fewer people on average have read a book (digital or print) in the past year, although reading percentages in younger readers (18-29) is higher than older generations.

On The Editor's Blog, a list of grammar resources for all your grammar questions. (I'm a Chicago Manual of Style-based writer myself, but hey, there's lots of style guides to choose from.) She then answers some specific grammar questions from readers.

Author Karen Dionne explains the best way to leave your agent.

On the Futuristic, Fantasy, and Paranormal Romance Writers blog, Rebecca Zanetti posts about world building and characterization, and how the two interact.

At Publishers' Weekly, a report on how much people at various jobs in the publishing industry earn. It also looks at the traditional publishing industry's demographics.

Bowker, seller of ISBNs and barcodes for books, now can help authors and publish register copyrights during purchase of ISBNs.

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

Monday, October 19, 2015


A friend recommended a game to my fiance and me, so we tried it out this weekend: Undertale.

It's a very cute, very silly RPG (you can find it on Steam) that subverts tropes. Sure, you can fight your way through the first boss... but why not talk your way through instead? And what's not to love about a game where sleeping at the inn gives you a refund because you only slept for two seconds?

You start out as a kid who trips and falls down a hole into GenericLand the ruins, remnants of when monsters fought humanity and were then banished underground after losing. You're immediately rescued by a helpful friend, who obviously desperately wants a kid to love and protect and raise as her own. (And you, sweet child that you are, immediately begin running off down side paths and getting into trouble. Because you can.)

The writing is prettier than the graphics.
It's not going to wow you with graphics, as it's an 8-bit game. Pretty standard game music. And it makes no bones about being a pretty generic plot and world, at least at the beginning. But the concept is cute, and in execution it comes across as amusing and fun. Silly pretty much throughout and the gameplay is easy to pick up. The writing is clever, and be prepared for the fourth wall to occasionally be broken.

I'll admit I haven't finished it yet, but so far it's been worth the playtime.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Work in fiction

Work. For most people, it's a default setting on life: you go to work, and if you're lucky, you go home in time to do other stuff. Sometimes you go to more work. And most of us really prefer this state to the more terrifying prospect of "too much free time"; job searching sucks.

But have you noticed how little work interferes with fictional characters' lives?

Lots of winery/brewery/small
business owners in fiction.
In some stories, it's because the job is the basis of the storyline; the character is defined by what she or he does: bounty hunter, detective, police officer, soldier, doctor, lawyer, etc. Boom, setting and character all wrapped neatly up together. On the other hand, you never get any heroes from less interesting jobs this way. No delivery workers, no office junkies, no barista/burger flipper/retail workers. By the definition of interesting characters, only interesting jobs that involve a lot of moving around and flexible scheduling can be used for this.

It's a theme of fiction, though, that adventures can happen to anyone. So how else do writers deal with jobs? You know, like those jobs everyone wants to pretend no one does, or no one wants to think too hard about because it hits a little too close to home.

"Zoo worker" in books seems to involve much less
waste-scooping and much more cuddling with giraffes
or tigers or wolves than the real thing.
Vacation is a useful tool, for workers who get it. And in the nature of adventures, typically workers who can't get time off are pulled away in such a fashion that their main source of worry is staying alive, not how they'll pay their rent. A lot of them are young and not yet in the work force, while some are unemployed and staying with family. And in some cases, the heroes keep going to work and the story only progresses in the off hours, because nobody wants to ride along with a hero while she is spending her 9-5 redeeming other peoples' savings bonds and telling them their new bank balances.

And of course, there's always the tried-and-true "vaguely described job that somehow earns lots of money without interfering with the character's schedule except when it's convenient for plot." That one comes out a lot.

At the end, though, we often have to turn to the suspension of disbelief. Characters in books and movies have more time than we do, and get paid more so that they can better stuff and bigger homes. I call this the wishful thinking effect: we write it because it's what we wish our lives were.

Can you think of any books where the protagonist has a mundane job where the job is handled realistically? And which characters' jobs do you most wish you had instead of your own?

Monday, October 12, 2015

Tea Review: Tazo Pumpkin Spice Chai

Pumpkin Spice Tazo Chai Tea

Reviewed by: Rebekkah
Type of tea

black, bagged
Flavor aspects

Sweet, spicy
Where I got it

Harris Teeter
(online through Amazon here)

On sale at HT for $4.50;
online $6.99
How I brewed it

1 bag in a 12-oz mug for 5 minutes with slightly less than boiling water
Rebrewing notes

Did not try to rebrew

Enjoyable. It's pumpkin-spice chai. Ginger, cinnamon, cloves, the whole shebang. I brewed it with water, no milk or sugar, and it was still good, which isn't always true for me for chais; it's naturally slightly sweet and the flavor is rich enough to stand on its own.

I found it on sale on the seasonal rack at the grocery store, and am pleased with what I got. Tazo, in my experience, typically makes pretty good bagged teas, and this is no exception. If you're looking for a pumpkin-spice tea for the season, whether for a gift or yourself, and don't want to splurge for some loose-leaf fancy seasonal novelty (few of which I've really found worth it), then this is a good buy.

I don't tend to rebrew bagged teas, since I rarely find second brews worth it, so admittedly I didn't try with this one, either. If you have the inclination, I would suggest trying it with milk and sugar; chai teas tend to be pretty amazing made that way, and if you want to impress, it's a good way to make your tea seem fancier without adding a lot of extra cost or effort.

Note that I have not tried the pre-brewed versions of this; this review only applies to the bagged version of the tea.

Picture from Tazo website

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Publishing Industry News

This week's publishing news and industry blogs post covers 9/25/15-10/10/15... and is a bit late. Uh. Sorry. It was a long work week. Whoops!

Publishing News

Michael Glickstein put in a bid last year (on behalf of his investment firm) to purchase majority stakes Barnes in Nobles, but did not have the financing to do so; as such, he was charged with fraud. A settlement has now been reached.

A class action case against educational textbook publisher Pearson has been approved, for now, on the allegation of failure to pay proper royalties.

Industry Blogs

Agent Nephele Tempest posts writing-related links for 10/2 (and have you set your writing goals for this year?) and 10/9.

Agent Jessica Faust explains that when an agent is looking for something in particular, that doesn't mean they won't accept something else from their already-established clients. Also, why agents don't sign non-disclosure agreements before reading submissions. Also, start your query with "haves," not "have nots"--don't start off talking about what you haven't done.

Agent Janet Reid offers advice and answers questions. She explains how to evaluate a small publisher. Should an author looking to drastically change genres with a new pen name go ahead and create the new persona, or wait until query success has been reached? (Yes, start now.) She gives examples of questions to ask potential agents if they offer a chance to ask questions. What if your current agent hates your newest book and won't try to sell it? (Talk to your agent, see if you need to part ways, know that you shouldn't "shop around" until you've ended your previous contract.)

Reid answers more questions and gives more advice. If you've posted parts of a story on a writing website, is there a way to know when that will affect your ability to get a contract with a publisher? (It's up to the publishers whether to accept these or not; digital-first/only publishers will probably be the most affected by this.) Can you use citations from works in the public domain without permission? (You need permission if the copyright is still in effect, and you still need to cite your sources even if it isn't.) In nonfiction, what is considered platform

In Shelf Awareness' latest issue, Simon & Schuster CEO's keynote address to the Book Industry Study Group is summed up, with some pretty big looks at the recent changes the publishing industry is taking into account, including the power of metadata and the desire for print books.

Author Hugh Howey releases another set of author earnings' reports.

Author Kristine Kathryn Rusch analyzes S&S's CEO's keynote for what it means for authors, and how "frontlist" and "backlist" are now outdated terms when what really matters is "accessible or not." She also analyzes the Author Earnings reports, for both their weaknesses and what she has gleaned from them.

Agent Kristin Nelson shares 3 tips for improving your manuscript gleaned from a recent conference discovery: less is more, don't try to get too fancy too often with language, and anchor the reader in the setting during dialogue.

On The Editor's Blog, how to properly capitalize holidays, and their greetings.

Cover designer Fiona Jayde talks about cover designs and reminds authors that they're to give the reader the gist, not the exact details.

Twilight author Stephanie Meyer publishes a gender-swapped version of Twilight. (link goes to video of interview/announcement)

On the Simply Novel Teachers Blog, an infographic on challenged and banned books.

In T-Magazine, an infographic of Penguin Books' 80 years of business.

The employees at Amazon selected their Top 100 Sci-Fi & Fantasy novels (link to GalleyCat as it's easier to read the list than Amazon's, which is in browse-buy format).

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

Monday, October 5, 2015

Weddings in stories?

Ack! I forgot Friday's post! Well, you know the drill. Some more pictures for public domain.

Why did I miss the post? I was a friend's wedding. Which makes me think about the weddings I've seen at the ends of stories. Not "Red Wedding" kind of weddings (obviously no one can stop reading a Martin-style wedding), but happy weddings.

It's not a bad way to wrap up a movie (usually one or two short clips of a wedding, like Aragorn and Arwen's wedding), but I rarely see weddings ending books. I've actually seen more weddings-for-the-sake-of-wedding endings in fantasy books than in romance books, probably because we all know what a regular wedding is like, but fantasy one is something new and different. (Although there are entire romance genres where a wedding starts the book... but that's serving a different purpose.) What was the last wedding you read in a book? Did you think it wrapped it up well?

Anyway, since I missed last Friday, here are some pictures for the public domain:

Let's call this the "textures and memes" set.

A little texture, anyone?

For all your meme-ing needs.

Light playing on a bottle.

I'm sure there's a thirsty meme for this one, too.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Video Game Icon

When I think of video games as a medium, I flash back to my girlhood days of Super Mario Brothers. It's not my favorite all-time game (although I did really enjoy it), but it is one of my most fundamental memories of video games.

If I were to choose a symbol to represent video games as a whole, including all video game genres, it would probably be Mario. To me, the Mario series is pretty much the icon of video games, and Super Mario is the block on which my video game memories are built.

If you ask me what I think of when someone mentions playing video games today, it'd be more along the lines of the most recent BioShock or Halo or Final Fantasy or some other modern iteration of a popular series. But as an icon, a symbol that represents video games? Super Mario Brothers.
If FFVII isn't someone's icon,
I'd be pretty surprised.

For others, video games go farther back than that. Some people consider Tetris their symbol of video games. Others, Halo.

What do you consider the your video game icon, the video game that is the very first thing you think of when someone says "video games" as a generic noun?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Publishing Industry News

This week's publishing news and industry blogs post covers 9/4-9/25/15.

Publishing News

The Authors Guild conducts a members survey an discovers that writers are apparently earning far less now than they did six years ago, on average (using the median, not the mean). This and the Fair Contract Initiative are apparently part of the AG's new approach to more actively represent and support its members.

Another class action suit against Author Solutions has been dismissed.

E-book subscription service Oyster is shutting down. Google has hired some of their staff.

Apple and the Big Five could be facing another price-fixing lawsuit, this time from retailers whose startups were unable to thrive without the bundles and discounts they'd been relying on, after judge Cote decides the case could proceed. On the other hand, Judge Cote also warns the plaintiffs their claim will hard to prove.

Meanwhile, Apple considers appealing Cote's verdict to the Supreme Court. If they don't, consumers could be seeing the payment soon of the $400 million in refunds, as per the liability judgement.

Copyright holders will have to consider fair use before filing DMCAs, according to the US Court of Appeals.

A number of well-known authors advocate for freedom of expression in China.

Goodreads will soon be available in UK via Kindle Readers and tablets. And Amazon is also expanding Kindle Scout internationally.

Industry Blogs

On QueryTracker, 7 things your query must have. Also, how to edit your synopsis.

Agent Jessica Faust advises writers create career plans and revisit them at least yearly. Also, go update your Amazon Author Page.

Agent Janet Reid answers questions and gives advice. If an agent read a full but rejected kindly, is it still a no-go to mention the rejection at the conference? (Depends.) Which awards are worth mentioning in queries? (Ones with independent judging and that don't have more winners than entry slots.) If you've self-published a novel, how do you mention this in a query? (Simply. Also, be sure you self-published for the right reasons.) And how NOT to ask for a review.

More from Reid: If you won't take a deal unless it offers big-mega money to prove they're serious, and are worried about giving away your manuscript to those who won't market it sufficiently or maybe even not publish it at all, should you mention that in your query? (Yes. That way the agent knows to skip you and doesn't waste her time or yours.) And what does "previously published" mean, and does it really hurt your publishing chances? (Agents can negotiated "previously published" clauses; also, 50 Shades. But probably best not to publicly post your novel.) And how to do you vet an agency? (Research--look at what they've actually published.) Also, how to evaluate a small publisher.

Got extra clauses in your sentences and not sure how to handle them? On the Editor's Blog, "Interruptions," from parenthetical phrases to parentheses to em dashes. And learn about Either, Neither, and their correct Verbs. Also, details that make your setting seem like it's written from a native's POV--important little things that make your story seem more real.

Agent Kristen Nelson shares a story of an out-of-print book that sold film rights and became a success... because that's the world we live in, where digital means out-of-print never really has to happen. And another piece of advice on choosing an agent: go with one who is financially stable doing her (or his) agenting job, because if the agent needs the paycheck, you might wind up with a less than stellar deal. Also, some hints on how to tell, because don't think agents are going to go around announcing their bank balances to the world.

On Publishers Weekly, 10 Tech Tools for Writers.

The AP Stylebook is now available as an e-book.

Pew Research Center finds that library attendance has dropped in the past year. America Library Association counters that libraries are a lifeline and most communities feel their loss would have a major impact on the community.

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

Monday, September 21, 2015

Fall officially arrives Wednesday

It's the time of year when fall flowers proliferate in yards and roadsides, and wild asters and mums and solidago pepper the sides of paths and sidewalks.

It's the sort of damp, drowsy weather that requires tea-based hot chocolate, and speaks of shorter days and longer nights.

It's the promise of cats agreeing to curl up in laps in exchange for warmth, and books and tea piling up on side tables.

It's fog in the mornings and nights, and sun in the mid-afternoons; it's three layers of jacket to sweater to T-shirt in the course of a single day.

It's tantalizing hints of color in the trees, and the scent of cinnamon in the mornings, and the loss of warm summer nights. And this Wednesday, it will officially be here.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Finding and Working with Critique Partners and Beta Readers

(Publishing News will be next week)

Every writers knows the value of good beta readers and good critique partners. But how do you find them? How do you know whom to ask, and how do you know what advise to listen to, and how do know they're good?

Finding Beta Readers and Critique Partners

You may have to train your own. But if you are trying find good beta readers or partners, here's what to look for.

First of all, don’t ask close friends or family to be the ones giving you advice; that’s an emotional mine field you don’t want to play in. If you make exceptions, make sure, really sure, they’re ready to be that exception—either writers themselves used to giving and getting honest, good feedback, or readers used to giving good feedback. 

Find readers of your genre to be your beta readers. Listen to them. Don’t take all their feedback, but know where your story’s weaknesses are. Find people who read a lot and who are capable of telling you what they like/don’t like in a particular story, and ask/bribe/beg them to give you honest feedback on where they fall out of your story and why. Don’t demand flattery.

Find writers of your genre to be your critique partners. Learn to give a good critique yourself, because you won’t keep a good partner if you can’t give as good as you get. Don’t take all of their advice (unless it's all perfect for your story... but it rarely is), and when two or more betas/critiquers give contradictory advice, use your best judgement. Know your own story. Also, listen to them, and follow as much advice as you can without sacrificing your story—which may still mean you have to rewrite half your story to eliminate/add characters or subplots, because “lots of work” isn’t the same thing as “sacrificing your story.”

There’s a fine line between honesty with tact, honesty without tact, too-harsh because they want to feel like they’re doing a good job and think that’s what honesty is, and downright bullying. And sometimes bad advice is offered in full, honest earnestness. The only way you can know is through experience and having more than one form of advice, and keeping your own common sense first and foremost. And, uh, common sense is formed mostly through experience.

How to learn what good advice looks like

"I advise you stop writing and pet me." --Bad advice
"I advise you stick me on your lap so your butt stays in
the chair and you get lots of writing done." --Good advice
Joining a writing group that gives feedback on short pieces can be good training on what is and isn’t appropriate, if the group has good rules and does a good job of this. The established, open-membership critique group I'm a part of has 3 people share each meeting (and not the same people) and everyone gives them a minute of feedback. Although I rarely read, I learn a lot about my own writing from hearing feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of other works of fiction. It's also taught me how to better differentiate between useful feedback, good but not useful for me feedback, and criticism that's not appropriate (aggressive, not specific enough, good but not tactful, so "tactful" it doesn't actually pinpoint areas for improvement, etc).

If there's not a good group in your area, there are other ways to get an idea of what good criticism looks like.

Honestly, if you can afford it, paying a developmental editor for a first 50 pages (or first 10) can be good training on what good feedback looks like, should you have heard of a recommendation of a good developmental editor who is available and willing.

Some writing contests require judges to give feedback on entries along with scores. This is a crapshoot, because you could get a judge who gives good feedback or bad feedback, but I've found it worth the entry fee most of the times I've done it with various RWA chapters. It can also provide an example of what feedback could and should look like, from a more experienced author. 

There are occasionally also classes offered on how to give a good critique (again, I've seen them through the RWA, in which I'm a member). Consider taking one of those, or looking for classes from another writers' or editors' organization on this topic.

And look at whatever national organization your genre has, and what resources are available to both members and nonmembers. They may have advice, too.

Don't expect established writers to be willing to take on a new critique partner unless they specifically say they're looking for a partner. It's nothing personal--a good critique takes a lot of work, and many writers already have partners to whom they have critiquing commitments. If they want to have time to keep writing their own novel, they'll have no choice but to turn you down. That said, don't be afraid to scoop up an experienced writer who is between critique partners (people move; lives change; partnerships don't always work out). Writers' groups are especially good for this, because they can help connect you to others looking for critique partners.

In any case, once you find willing partners and beta readers, you'll have to work with them--and this may include training those who've never done a beta read or a critique before.

Training and working with betas/critique partners

Working with someone who has never beta'd or critiqued before? Don’t get offended when people tell you your baby is ugly, or that your baby would be prettier if she had a second nose, or didn’t have three arms, or had brown eyes instead of blue, or if she wasn’t related to her ugly father and maybe you should just have had an affair with handsome Pool Boy over there; please splice out husband’s genes for the cutey’s. Because what they’re really saying is “I trust you to not get offended with the very advice you’re asking for, and if you do, I will never give you honest advice ever again.” (Actually, this is true for experienced beta readers and critique partners, too! Especially if they've not worked with you before.)

Sometimes it helps to arm a new reader/partner with a list of specific questions, asking for both positive and negative criticisms, to train them and help them feel more comfortable giving feedback. Respond positively to all the feedback, no matter how off-base it seems. “Thank you” is key. Never argue or verbally/in written word disagree, even if you don’t take the advice.

Don’t take advice from anyone who is just abusive. Because that’s not helpful and there are, indeed, people who go on power trips when “editing.” There are also those who really think they're being helpful, because they've been paired with bullies before and therefore think this is how advice should be given--but the result is 'advice' that isn't truly helpful.

Ignore advice that eliminates your voice.

Never say anything to feedback other than “Thank you.” That’s the number one rule for keeping partners. Don’t offend them by defending yourself, not even if the advice is bad advice.

When the trust has been built and well-established, then you can do more of the bounce-ideas-off feedback, and ask advice on feedback. But I never recommend doing anything until at least 3 days after reading a critique, because no matter how thick your skin, good advice still stings—even though your baby really would be prettier with Pool Boy’s eyes. It usually takes a few days to be fully objective about that.

Learn the difference between good advice and bad advice. Tactfully find ways to explain to beta readers/critique partners why you took some of their advice but not all of it. Find critique partners who know not to get offended when you take only some of their advice, and don't get offended when they don't take all of yours. Don’t change things in your story that shouldn’t be changed, but do change things that should.

Expect that you will have to make serious edits on a manuscript you thought was perfect. Expect that you will see some great ideas from your beta readers and critique partners that you will ignore, because they would have weakened the story (or perhaps not the story, but the series you plan).

And somehow already magically know all these things, without training, or experience, or knowing whom to ask.

Oh, and learn good (or at least decent) grammar. Nobody’s going to want to work with you for long if you don’t.