Tuesday, November 30, 2010

And sometimes there are just days...

It's not often that I end up on my blog day with nothing to say, but today is one of them. Call it end-of-year fatigue or what-not, that's probably the closest thing I have in my vocab to express how I feel right now.

We've just returned from what I hope is my last plane flight for the year. If I look back over the past month or so, I've flown about... bah. Cape Town to OR Tambo Airport; OR Tambo Airport to Livingstone International, Zambia. Livingstone International to OR Tambo to Cape Town International... Cape Town International to Lanseria and back again. Twice in the past two weeks. It feels like a bloody litany.

The reasons for these trips include reviewing accommodation, attending a friend's funeral and being present at film screenings. To say I'm tuckered out is a plain understatement.

Oh, and I spent exactly twenty minutes in Zimbabwe to view the Victoria Falls. Call me crazy.

Somewhere between all that I've still had to cope with the end-of-year madness at the newspapers while keeping head above water with my editing obligations, which include taking care of edits for two of my own releases due over the next six months, oh, and be the beauteous wifey who cooks supper and keeps the house in some semblance of order.

I really just want to hide in my treehaus for a few weeks and pretend I'm not home.

How do I cope? I'm not quite sure, but when things threaten to overwhelm, I make sure I attack the situation one deadline at a time. That's the only advice I have. What is the most important fire that needs to be put out NOW.

Then I put out the fire. Oh, and try to get more than five hours' sleep a night.

On the plus side, I chatted with a lady at the SA HorrorFest this year and told her about my Khepera series, not expecting to hear from her. To my absolute delight, she's gone and bought book one. She'd told me she liked crime thrillers, and I told her my novel can fall under the "occult crime thriller label" (and no, I wasn't taking a long shot, okay?)

Well, this morning she messaged me on Facebook to tell me how much she was enjoying Khepera Rising. That kinda made my day a little better.

Now, go on and make an author happy. When you read their novel, mail them or post something nice on a site like Amazon or Goodreads.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Be a patron of the arts

A well-known South African author whom I’m friends with has been incredibly encouraging of my initial faltering footsteps into the world of publishing. She imparted these words of wisdom: “You know, it doesn’t matter who you’re published with, it’s word-of-mouth promotion that will get people reading your novels.”

And, if one looks at the success of authors such as JK Rowling, Stephenie Meyer and Stieg Larsson, it’s definitely been a case of readers raving to each other about a particular novel until such point that just about everyone either knows of the titles or are intending to borrow or buy copies.

Granted, not all authors are going to write novels that are universally popular, but sometimes, just sometimes, an author has the ability to tap into an “X-factor” as I call it, that offers almost universal appeal to a large cross-section of readers. It’s almost like a snowball that turns into an avalanche and, face it, most of us who’re starting out with the small presses dream of one day “making it big”.

Most of us, however, if we are diligent in our craft and, if we’re lucky, build a small, dedicated clique of readers who will rabidly follow our releases. That’s great, but there’s quite a bit we can do as passionate readers and author to help each other.

One of the most important methods is to review each other’s writing. And, I’m not talking only blogging about each other, but also posting reviews at sites such as Amazon or Goodreads, that attract a good deal of traffic. I know that if I am considering buying a book, I visit these two sites to see what others have written about the book I’m about to purchase. Every person will read a story and come away with some opinion and I find it fascinating to see who likes what.

So, write those reviews! Then, Tweet them and paste links on your other social networking sites such as Facebook or forums where you participate. Spread the word. If there’s an author you really like, the best thanks you can give them after enjoying their story is to let the world know.

Or, if you’re a passionate blogger, add to this by interviewing your favourite author. Nowadays there is so much information out there it’s sometimes difficult for an up-and-coming author to be heard above the thousands of others who are competing for the same piece of the pie.

And, lastly, a small word on piracy. There are numerous sites out there that offer pirated ebooks for sale or download. Don’t support them. Sure, an ebook may cost you around $9 but that money goes to support people who work very hard to ensure that they bring you only the best in the latest novels.

Just like I make a point of purchasing music directly from my favourite musicians, I like to support my favourite authors by purchasing legal copies of their works.

In the old days, artists, musicians and authors often had to have a rich patron supporting them, nobles who took pride in the fact that they had the likes of JS Bach or Handel “on their books” so to speak. Nowadays, you can do the same, and even brag about the fact that you’re supporting a particular creative. And, really, it is something worth bragging about, and you’re taking a small but positive step to encourage the arts and investing in our cultural heritage.

* * * *

South Africans can now purchase my Khepera series (books one and two) directly from one of our largest national retailers, Exclusive Books. See: http://www.exclus1ves.co.za/books/search/;jsessionid=B494300F895DECF94658936C0BA53381?q=khepera+&submit.x=10&submit.y=15

5 things I'm thankful for

The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving. ~H.U. Westermayer
This week is the American Thanksgiving, so I thought it would be appropriate to list some of the things I'm thankful for. These are in no particular order, nor is it an all-encompasing list.

  1. Family and friends. By family, I don't mean my husband and kids, though I'm very thankful for them. I learned a long time ago that family isn't made up of only your blood relations. I have a few "brothers from other mothers" and "sisters from other misters" and sometimes I think they understand me better than the people who share my DNA.
  2. My wonderful hubby. Okay, so that's a little like number 1, but a little different. This is a guy who makes it his mission in life to spoil me. Who wouldn't be thankful for that?
  3. My publisher. Second Wind Publishing has been awesome to work with and for that, I'm completely thankful!
  4. A house. I'll be totally honest, this one is probably lame. But I have a reason for it. Did you know that an estimated quarter of a million people are homeless at any given time? And that's an old number. With the economy the way it is, that number could be much higher. Today, however, I'm completely grateful for the warmth of my home. The six or so inches of snow blanketing my little corner of the world probably has something to do with why this is on my mind!
  5. My health. This one might be a little lame, too, but I'm serious. There are people who have much greater challenges than I face.
What about you? What are you thankful for?


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Skipping the bandwagon

Sci-fi fantasy blog io9 has decided zombies are the new vampires, as detailed in this post A History of Zombies in America. The post has some interesting ideas and the new television show The Walking Dead has certainly gotten a lot of buzz. However, I don't care. You can have your zombies if that's your cup of tea, but I remain firmly on Team Vampire. The zombie trend is one I am happy to let pass me by. I sat through the movie Zombieland and that was enough for me.

Why do I dislike zombies? I think it's two reasons. One is the overwhelming amount of gore found in zombie stories. It's just too much for me and I don't enjoy it. That level of gore is not remotely entertaining to me, but that's just a personal preference. It doesn't bother others and that's fine. I try not to judge people for their entertainment choices, unless it's reality shows. I think reality shows are stupid, which coincidently is my second reason for disliking zombies.

Most portrayals of zombies are of the brainless cannibal variety. One point in the io9 post is about zombies being something of a metaphor for mindless consumerism and I think that is an excellent point. If you want to see a zombie horde in action, go to Walmart on Black Friday, the opening bell ringing in the holiday shopping season. We were actually going to go this year because our microwave is dying and we thought we'd get one on sale. Come to find out, Walmart won't have any microwaves on sale. So now we have no reason to go to any shopping place on Black Friday and I can't tell you how relieved I am. I'm so relieved I could bake (and I never bake. My husband does the baking in our family.)

Basically there's just nothing interesting to me about zombies. There's no clash of wills, matching of wits, and certainly no seductive temptation. I know there are authors out there who are refashioning zombies into something new and different rather then the old brainless shambling lump, and I applaud their creativity. I hope this new zombie craze brings them fabulous books sales. And I hope they understand when I don't jump on the bandwagon, either as a reader or a writer. I will follow vampires back into the dark shadows from whence they came.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Query, query quite contrary...

When I wear my editor hat, I end up reading a number of queries each week when it’s time to go through submissions. And, trust me, just when I think I’ve seen it all when it comes to abysmal query letters, an author will come up with something fresh that will make my toes curl.

One of the things I hate seeing is when authors tell me what to think of their novel. An example: “Readers will love the fast-paced action of the story, and be thrilled by depth of vivid world-building…”

Really? And what if the manuscript doesn’t live up to my expectations after I’ve been told it’s set up to work in a certain way? Yes, by all means generate excitement by writing a short blurb at the start of your query but let the editor or agent you’re querying make up their own mind. Please.

Here’s an example of a hook that will make me want to go on to reading the synopsis, with apologies once again to Little Red Riding Hood:

The Great Forest is dark and dangerous, filled with creatures with sharp teeth. Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother lives in a clearing at its heart, and the young lady needs to take her granny her all-important medication. Little does Little Red Riding Hood know that her journey, this time, will be fraught with terror. A predator is watching her, and he is hungry.

That definitely puts another spin on an old classic, doesn’t it? See if you can sum your entire novel up in one paragraph. Think of the kind of copy you’d see on the back of a novel. The editor or agent reading your query reads dozens if not hundreds of queries each day. You need to convey the essence of your tale in as few words as possible.

Afterward, you tell the author/agent what you’re offering:

Little Red Riding Hood, a fantasy novella complete at 23 000 words, is available for your consideration.

Then, go on to offering publishing credits or, if you don’t have, relevant experience that would indicate that you know what you’re talking about. For instance, if you’ve written a novel about sword-fighting, relevant information would be that you’re a member of a fencing club or that you collect ancient weapons. Once again, keep it short. In general, agents and editors don’t care that you’ve been working as a plumber and are now writing books on fairies. The catch phrase is “keep it relevant and to the point”.

If you’ve had a few stories or novels published before, list them, but do realise that self-published works don’t count in your favour. I'm normally a bit leery of self-published authors because I worry that they may be difficult to work with when I make editorial suggestions. But that's just me.

And, lastly, when you query agents or publishers, do your homework. Don’t just send out queries blindly in the hope that someone will pick up on you. I usually first visit a site like www.publishersmarketplace.com, do a search to see which agents are accepting in a chosen genre. Then, I click through to the agent’s official website. I ask myself, does this agent represent books similar to mine? Do I think we’d gel? It's no good if they're very conservative and your book is about things that may upset them. If things look all right in that department, I do a background check. This includes checking their status by searching on sites such as www.absolutewrite.com/forums and Preditors and Editors: http://pred-ed.com/

If something smells fishy, it probably is. Remember that no agent is better than a bad agent.

Ditto for publishers. If anyone asks for money to publish your novel, avoid at all costs.

And lastly, the wheels of the publishing industry turn slowly. Be patient. Often agents and editors simply don’t have the time to tell you why they’ve rejected your novel. It could simply be because although the writing was sound, the story simply didn’t appeal to them. Why an agent or an editor doesn't like your manuscript could be that they simply didn't love it as much as you do. Keep trying. Don’t take rejection personally and, if you do get some feedback from an agent or an editor who tells you why they rejected your writing, take that advice to heart and see where you can apply it to future works. Good luck! And don’t give up! And keep on revising and resubmitting.

For some great examples of how not to query (and sometimes how to query), I suggest subscribing to http://queryshark.blogspot.com

Monday, November 8, 2010

Time is fleeting...

Madness takes it's toll....

Okay, so I have the Time Warp (from the Rocky Horror Picture Show) stuck in my head this morning. But those two lines are important to any writer—especially a mystery writer.

Think about it, people read fiction as an escape. They want to be entertained and amused. In order for the author to deliver, timelines need to be, well, adjusted.

As someone on one of my mystery lists recently said, the fastest way to kill your story is to ask for a search warrant. True...

But the reality of solving crime isn't the only time issue an author faces. When do you introduce characters? How soon do you explain the crime? How long will it take you to write the novel? What about all those things that are not in your control? You know, those things commonly referred to as life?

Of course, I have no control over life. Who does? But the timeline of my novel, I can control. I have a large white board on my office wall. On it, I have one huge timeline with important events listed. It is the way I keep my characters on track.

Do I list every little thing? No. And sometimes I find events that would work better and need to erase. Sometimes I have to move things to keep the action going. Thankfully, I have lots of dry erase markers and sticky notes!

Yes, time is fleeting. But by using the tools I have, maybe I can keep madness at bay.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Special recipe

I've hit a snag in my current work in progress. Not a major one, but rather a minor case of "what happens next?" I have a rough outline of the story but not all of the little detours are mapped out. The subplot is still a bit on the vague side, too. I have to figure out a way to get my characters from Point D to Point E in the main plot, preferably with a detour that involves the subplot. If I don't come up with something soon, I'll have to use my special story recipe.

What is my Special Story Recipe, you ask? It is a time-honored proven method of advancing the plot, action, and character development in any story. Here goes:

Out of the frying pan, into the fire. Lather, rinse, repeat.

You may have also encountered this under another name, Blow Stuff Up.

Complications are an integral part of storytelling. Without complications, your story is going to be very short. If you're writing a short story, that's fine. With a novel-length work, you're going to need complications, twists, and turns. You're going to have to make your characters work for their resolution, and sometimes that means throwing bombs at them. In action oriented genres like urban fantasy that might mean a literal bomb, or a supernatural creature that causes as much chaos and mayhem as a bomb. In the romance genre, or a romantic subplot, that might mean finding a way to complicate the relationship. For instance, misunderstandings or romantic competition might make for a complication. So would Character A accidently revealing something they didn't want Character B to know. Something guaranteed to make Character B absolutely livid…

Um, okay. I have to go blow something up now, and throw my characters into a fire.