Monday, April 27, 2015

Spring is for villains

Walking into the farmers' market is a strawberry-scented wonderland. I got a nice big basket to take home, perfectly sweet and nice and ripe. Delicious! Every bite I take results in red juice dripping from my mouth... and boiling them into a dark red compote is both creepy and delicious... in fact, I'm starting to think the season is trying to tell me something.

I take it young and nurture it with
love and maybe a little evil.
It's also time to plant flowers and veggies, finally warm enough in NC to not worry about a late freeze. Though I do feel a bit like a supervillain when I plant tomatoes. Buried the little thing up to its neck, caged it, and in a few months, I'll eat its babies. Meanwhile, the strawberry plants swung happily in their free-hanging basket, just out of reach of the rabbits and with no sign of ever planning to produce strawberries for me to eat. For now, I'm telling the tomatoes the strawberries are my minions, who will report if the tomatoes try to escape.

The bugs, of course, are also back, and lending to the feel of villainy. There was the little red spider-bug whom I'd feasting on my flesh while I feasted on minestrone in the sunshine, a bug that quickly became a red smear (vengeance is mine!). And dozens of mosquito eaters (may they have long and fruitful lives) have begun tapping against the windows in the mornings and evenings, being not quite solid on the concept of glass and all. If I could give them matching minion suits and promote them, I would, for they fulfill a valuable service and should be rewarded.

All in all, I think springtime must surely be the time of year for being just slightly evil. Then again, I suppose I might just have watched a little too much Once Upon a Time. Anything's possible.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Publishing Industry News

This weeks Publishing News and industry blogs post covers 4/11-4/24/15.

Publishing News

The official Penguin Random House website has gone live, now officially merging the publisher's (formerly publishers') online presence(s).

HarperCollins and Amazon reach an agreement over sales terms. Details are still vague but seem to be similar to other publisher agreements with the retailer.

Apple's court-appointed monitor is reporting that while Apple has made some progress in its
anti-trust program, it has experienced 'significant setbacks.' 

Industry Blogs

On Writer Beware, Victoria Strauss explains the recent paper submitted to the United States Patent and Trademark office concerning the need for a database that tracks the authors of works and helps find rightsholders. Current problems with modern systems (such as the lack of sufficient inclusion of self-pubbed authors and a lack of information about authors, instead listing publishers) mean the groups submitting the paper feel a better system is needed. She also reports on Amazon cracking down on fake review websites via lawsuits (those sorts of places where people can buy fake good reviews for their books), and explains why fake reviews hurt businesses and consumers both. Part of the lawsuit is for the companies to hand over their list of clients--bad news for anyone who thought buying fake reviews was a good idea. And if you have heard of Raider Publishing International, run, run, run away as fast as you can--seriously, they managed to get an F with the BBB. They and the other publishers owned by the same person were on hiatus for a while, but apparently Raiders is trying to make a comeback.

Agent Janet Reid offers advice and answers questions. If you meet an agent socially, is it a good time to pitch your novel? (NO.) Short on cash; is self-publishing a MS Word doc of short stories going to count as being published? (Yes; also, it's a terrible idea that won't make you money.) You find out you queried an agent with a book that probably won't quite fit her tastes, but you have another book she'd like better; is it okay to withdraw the first query and send a different one? (Yes, and it's a pretty smart business move if you do it right.) How do you find an independent editor who won't suck the soul out of a manuscript? (Read books they've edited. Also know what you need.)

On QueryTracker,  Rochelle Deans explains that 'networking,' a dreaded part of the business, is really just another way of saying 'making friends.' Ash Krafton explains how to write a good author bio.

Agent Kristin Nelson explains why most agents dislike prologues.

Author Kristine Kathryn Rusch posts Part Two (How to Survive Lean Months) and Part Three (Worst Case Scenario: When You Just Don't Get Paid) on how to make a living as a freelance writer. (Also: Part One if you've forgotten it.)

Agent Nephele Tempest posts a set of links. Of particular recommendation is the link to Publication Opportunities for Writers for May and June.

A new software tool aims to help authors and publishers enhance published ebooks with extra online content, even e-books already out in print.

Ever read a book with so many characters you have trouble keeping them all straight? One online app aims to help with that, letting you create book-specific "dictionaries" for your books without exposing you to spoilers, using community wikis.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Enjoying a Writers' Retreat on a Writer's Budget

Oh! It's Tuesday! Where was I yesterday? Recovering from a Writers' Retreat.

Sometimes you just need a jump-start to get you working, and there's not much better than a weekend away surrounded by other writers to get the creativity fires burning.

The early risers enjoy coffee and a
spring morning in the mountains.
Of course, a lot of writers' retreats are week-long getaways, or a couple of hundred dollars. But if you have a group of trusted friends and a weekend, you can do a decent retreat on a budget. We pooled 15 people together to rent a cabin and kept it under $100 each for two nights at a lodge in the mountains. It's not free, but it's a heck of a lot cheaper than most commercial retreats, and most vacations, for that matter.

We let everyone volunteer for a meal and/or beverages and general supplies. It's also a bit of a drive for us, so several sets of people carpooled. A Google Spreadsheet did a lot for us, though if I do again, I've had people suggest doing Forms or other signup methods that force people to sign up for meals and decide whom to room with right off the bat. Having a group of people who all know each other was especially helpful in arranging rides and rooming arrangements. We had a couple of friends-of-members who came, but since we limited to members and friends of members, and no friends-of-friends, everyone had someone they were comfortable around.

If you're within driving distance of the NC mountains, the
Davis Family Lodge is a great for a writers' getaway.
I did learn a few things from being the sucker coordinator in charge of planning, like charge as if a couple fewer people are going to show up than have planned to do so if you don't want to stress before the event itself trying to fill last-minute spots, and also that having a great group of friends really makes it possible to relax. There's a lot of things that could have gone wrong, but as everyone who went was responsible, easy-going, and invested in the trip, nothing did and I didn't feel like I had to worry about much.

Want to plan a writers' retreat yourself? A money-saving hint: go off-season. You're writing, not partying, so the weather isn't that important anyway. Look for a place with comfy sofas, a nice kitchen, enough sleeping spaces for everyone, and plenty of outlets; nearby attractions aren't very important. In fact, distractions are what you're trying to get away from, so a place out in the middle of nowhere is ideal. (Okay, the hot tub was a bit of a distraction, but a nice one, and everyone still got lots of writing done anyway!)
Lots and lots of comfy seats, indoors and out,
helped make sure everyone could focus.

I skimmed through VRBO to find a good place. Do note that a lot of places charge flat fees in addition to than the listed price, such as rental insurance and cleaning fees at the end of the stay--make sure you read the whole description so you know what deal you'll be paying. It may still be an excellent rate even with the extra fees, so don't let those deter you--just know they exist and will probably up the price listed.
A lot of retreats are run to make a profit for the hosting group, and for the most part those sound pretty amazing. But it's also possible to just get a bunch of friends together for a weekend in the mountains, at a rate you'd spend for a single night at a hotel. The keys are communication and having a group you know you can trust.

Friday, April 17, 2015


Look! Spring flowers!

(No, I'm not just trying to distract you from the fact that I forgot today's post... >.> I'm also trying to distract me, too.)

I'm releasing these photos to public domain status, because that's what I do when I forget a post. So sure, you can totally use these for any nefarious purpose you desire, without even worrying about crediting me.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Tea review: Genmai cha

Genmai Cha

Reviewed by: Rebekkah
Type of tea

green, loose-leaf
Flavor aspects

Natural, bitter
Where I got it

Adagio Teas

How I brewed it

1.5 tsp in 16-oz mug, brewed for about 2 minutes with water from a coffee machine cooled for about 3 minutes 
Rebrewing notes

Flavor balance at the second brew changes--slightly less toasted rice, slightly more sencha. Haven't gone past two brews yet.

Genmai chas (or genmaichas) are an interesting tea. Do you like green tea from Japanese restaurants (where it's often served as part of the meal)? You might like this, then. It's more bitter than most green teas. But, in a way, that's part of the appeal. If grassy flavors are okay in your book, or a tea that tastes like toasted rice (think rice cake), or sencha tea, then this is a good tea for you. It's made with toasted rice, which is pretty cool, and you can definitely taste the rice, and the "toasted" part of the rice. The first time I had it I thought the tea was over-steeped, but once I realized it was the rice I was tasting, I started tasting it as rice-cake flavor rather than bitterness.

The rice is what adds that strong aftertaste. I like it, and a lot of tea drinkers enjoy the unique taste... but if "grassy" is a reason you dislike green tea, you'll probably hate this one. Then again, others have said that the toasted rice makes it taste less "grassy," so I guess it's how your tastebuds perceive it. That said, if you like sencha, sencha green tea is the base for this genmai cha. It's an interesting flavor, and generally makes a good tea for drinking with a meal, as it goes well with savory flavors.

As compared to some other genmaichas I've had, Adagio's is quite tasty, and not a bad price. That said, my genmaicha experience is actually fairly limited, mostly to what I've had a restaurants and what my friends have shared with me, so I can't give a great comparison to other brands of the tea in terms of quality and price, as I don't know where the other teas originated or for what price.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Publishing Industry News

This week's publishing news and industry blogs post covers 3/28-4/10/15. (If this goes up incomplete, it was probably the storm knocking out power... It'll be finished Friday evening.)

Publishing News

Amazon and HarperCollins appear to be butting heads, with rumors of HarperCollins refusing to sign the new contract Amazon is offering now that they are allowed/required to sign new deals with retailers (following the DOJ vs Big Six court case in which they were banned from using the agency model for a while). (Also in the New York Business Journal)

There's a lot of controversy over this year's nominees for the Hugo Awards. A group called Sad Puppies block voted a number of books supporting certain rightwing ideologies into the Hugo nominations. looks at it, as does George R. R. Martin, and the Atlantic, and i09, among others (fellow local writer Fraser Sherman writes an opinion piece with some relevant links). One thing everyone agrees on: what the Sad Puppies group did to get their nominations in was perfectly legal according to the rules of the contest.

Oyster, an e-book subscription service, adds a retail side to begin selling books.

Industry Blogs

On Writers Beware, Victoria Strauss looks into a site called BookBzz, which offered a contest a while ago... and disappeared, taking the entry fees with it. The site is back, and promises to pay the winnings now, but with some not-terribly-encouraging posts. Also, if you find yourself talking to a Peter Thomas Senese, make sure it's not this guy: a conman who ran a literary scam before going on to scam parents of lost children.

Agent Janet Reid answers questions and offers advice. You got your rights back from a small publisher; can you market to bigger publishers now? (You can; be sure to include who your book didn't reach yet.) How reliable and how useful is a Publishers Marketplace subscription? (It's a useful tool for what's not posted and what is; the exaggerations aren't terribly important for your purposes as a writer.)If you're writing a non-romance, such as mystery, should your book to have sex scenes? (Write what you're comfortable with--this is truly your discretion.) Is it okay to use a pitch session to ask an agent for advice? (In Reid's opinion, yes... though she doesn't do pitch sessions anymore...)

On QueryTracker, guest poster Peter Hogenkamp gives the 5 steps to getting a literary agent. And read your contract; Jane Lebak shares some terms from one magazine that are utterly horrific.

Agent Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency explains another defining point of what makes a good agent (versus a bad one): good negotiating skills.

Author Kristine Kathryn Rusch posts another business blog, looking at the recent end of the gold rush of indie publishing. She also goes on to explain one of the ways authors are making up the difference, through freelance, and what that means, and how to make it work.

On the Editor's Blog, more writing and style advice: why smiling and laughing as dialogue tags don't work, the meaning behind some writing advice, and using -ing words.

On the Books and Such blog, agent Rachel Kent reminds writers not to write the same book over and over (I know I've seen [and stopped reading] series like this...)

On the Futuristic, Fantasy, and Paranormal blog, editor Peter Senftleben is interviewed. So is agent Kathleen Ruschall.

Publishers Weekly offers a review of publisher acquisitions for 2014.

A report on new business models for book-industry-related business models in the digital age (the 2014 report) is released.

Publishers Hachette and Penguin Random House make a statement of support for the amendment forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity to the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act. These publishers both have warehouses in the state.

(In a random note, is it weird that I'm somewhat gleeful at feeling the need to type the year? I've been doing versions of these posts since July 2011. Wow! How time flies.)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Leftover cream makes good pancakes

You could just feed it to me.
("Lactose intolerant"?
What's that? Silly human...)
So you make a delicious lemon-chicken pasta with a heavy cream sauce. Then you have slightly less than a cup of cream left, and then you make tea with cream, and then you make some strawberries and cream.... and you wind up despairing that you'll ever finish off the cream, because don't have quite enough to make another recipe's worth of the pasta, and yet you have too much to run out by trickling over strawberries before it goes bad.

Plus you've got a banana on the counter that's gone slightly browner than you like. It's tragic, because you know it's still edible, and if you had six it would be perfect for some banana bread, but it's all alone.

What to do?

Pancakes. Chocolate banana pancakes.

It's as easy as replacing however much milk you planned to use with cream. This is the original recipe, but here's my updated version:

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
~1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 eggs
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons melted and cooled butter, plus unmelted butter for cooking
1 banana, cut into bits
3/4 bag chocolate chips

Sift the dry ingredients together, minus the chocolate and banana. In another bowl, whisk the cream, milk, eggs, melted butter, and lemon juice. Let that sit as you mix the dry and wet ingredients together. There should be lumps; don't beat these out. Add the bananas and chocolate chips.

Cook over medium-low (that's about a 4 on my stovetop, which goes from 1-9). If you first pancake blackens before it finishes cooking all the way through, turn your heat lower. I started at a 4.5, which is usually pancake-fine on my stovetop, and had to turn it down more. These are thicker than regular pancake mixes, so go slightly lower in temperature than you usually do.

You'll also need to keep them small. I used two large spoonfuls per pancake, and I ended up manually spreading them with my spoon when I added the batter to the pan, as much as I could.

But I promise, they may be high-maintenance pancakes, but they're worth it. Very filling. Very rich. Soooo delicious.

Good luck.

Friday, April 3, 2015

At least it's a good story?

I was going through some old card collections when I came across the taped-assembled make-my-own Magic card. "Player may take a card from opponent's deck and place it in their own," it read, with ransom-note-style cutouts cannibalized from other magic cards, and stuck into place with masking tape. I think I remember it turning out about as well as you'd expect... didn't net me too many cards, we'll put it that way.

But hey, I was ten, and thought I was clever.

How many stories start (or end) with a one-liner like that? One that you know means trouble--or at least a good laugh?

Usually the stories are funny. Sometimes they're just eye-roll worthy. But you always know you're about to hear about someone doing The Dumb.

"It was college, and I was drunk..."

In retrospect, gun-swords were probably not such a great idea.
But boy did the idea sound cool, right?
"Well, we lost our map, but we thought we remembered the route pretty well..."

"It was Vegas..."

Sometimes it's something you know will make you mad, or worried.

"Now don't be mad, but..."

"Nothing's broken!"

"I can fix it."

What are some story starters that let you know you're in for a funny story? Which lines tell you you're about to be mad, even before you hear the story? And which one do you dread the most?