Thursday, July 28, 2011

Time to say farewell

The time has come to say farewell, not only for me, but for Frightening Journeys too. Earlier this week, I came to a decision to bow out of the blog. It wasn't easy. I don't like to give up or set things aside without a good reason. Still, I felt with my family obligations, I couldn't wholeheartedly commit to being here each week anymore and hadn't posted in a long time. I had yet to tell the others when Nicole contacted me about putting the blog to rest. After consulting with Nerine and Sonya, we all agreed it was time.


We started FJ in October of 2008. None of us were published, just hoping and working hard to make it there one day. Each of us had families, jobs and other commitments, but we also had a dream to become published authors, helping others by sharing our pitfalls along the way. We said farewell to four wonderful ladies Heather, J.K. Mahal and Barbra Annino who started blogging with us, and Sandra Sookoo who joined us later and became a must-read author. And welcomed Nerine Dorman, multi-published author and editor, and authors Sonya Clark and Melissa Glisan. We've all grown as writers since beginning FJ and I can't help but think we learned alot from each other along the way.


As for my absence, well my husband is in bad health and has been since his car wreck in 2007. March of last year, he caught pneumonia and wound up in ICU for a week. Then in May he got very sick. We thought he had a virus, but he was back in the ICU with Diabetic Ketoacidosis. A month later he was put in for the same symptoms and we learned he has Gastroparesis, a complication of Diabetes. Since he was diagnosed, he has been hospitalized at least once a month, sometimes twice, for a week or more at a time. At last count he's been in ICU at least ten times. Needless to say, the stress of spending days at work, evenings at the hospital until midnight, trying to keep up with contract deadlines, edits and just for fun lets throw in the kids volleyball and cheer obligations. Things went crazy. They still are and I'm not sure if they will be "normal" again. 


I'm nearing the end of my Elemental Magic Series. Miraculously, I've managed to finish four of the five books amidst the craziness. The fourth will release next month. My editor and publisher have been very understanding, moving release dates around to give me more time to compose when his illness keeps me from work.  My bosses at work have done pretty much the same, allowing me to be off when I need to, etc. I am blessed to work with great people and I thank God for them everyday. Right now I'm really thanking God for my job in the lovely air conditioning. It's a heat index of 100 outside and that's mild compared to last week.


So, thank you everyone for following along with us. This doesn't mean we have given up blogging for good. You'll be able to find us on our individual blogs.  I try to post every couple of days at brynnacurry.com. I hope you'll visit me there. 


Nerine, Nichole, Sonya, it has been wonderful working with you ladies. I wish you all the best in everything you do. Thanks for letting me be a part of your journey. 


Until we meet again, be blessed.


Brynna

Monday, July 25, 2011

So long, farewell...

They say all good things must come to an end, and that seems to be true for this blog. After this week, there will be no new posts here.


We’ve had a good run, I think, but each of us Frightening Journey bloggers have decided that we can’t continue. I’m a little saddened, I won’t lie. The idea of a blog where authors of paranormal mysteries was originally my idea. It morphed, obviously, into a blog for paranormal authors. And that was a good thing.


Now we seem to have morphed once again. Or maybe we just outgrew this stage, like a child outgrowing his favorite shirt.


I will miss my fellow bloggers, but I hope I won’t have to miss you. I plan to blog at my own site (http://www.nicholerbennett.com) on a more regular basis.


Thanks for joining us on this “frightening journey” toward publication and may all your dreams be achieved.


Blessings!

Nichole

Monday, July 18, 2011

Making room for the art

I'm sure just about everyone has heard about "art imitating life." For an author, that phrase is even more true. Even in the sci-fi or paranormal genres, an author does write what's familiar. At least a little bit.

Even as a "paranormal cozy mystery" author, my life does manage to make its way into my writing. Some of the characters in my work bear a distinct resemblance to people I know in my day-to-day life. The locations I write about are ones I've actually visited.

I have trouble, however, making time for the art. Lately life seems to get in the way. Or, to use another phrase: "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans."

I've been having trouble balancing my life and my art. Not just the writing part of my life, either. The knitting, the spinning, the painting...they've all been suffering lately as well. I'm not sure why. My theory is that there are a ton of changes going on in my world and it's sucking my creative juices right out of me. Maybe not, but it's better than having no clue at all.

So for all the creative people out there: what do you do when your creativity is on vacation? I'm looking forward to your suggestions!

Blessings!
Nichole

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

There’s more than one way to publish words

(Or how to get a bunch of authors hot and bothered)

You know, I didn’t really want to get dragged into this whole debate because, you know what, opinions are like assholes, and everyone’s got one. But yeah, I’m going to let mine hang out now.

What sparked this off was a passing comment by an unpublished author, that small/indie publishers are somehow not real.

Now that I’ve managed to unglue myself from the ceiling and I’m not spitting fire anymore, I want to ask you what makes one form of publishing any less valid than another. Granted, we may not *like* a particular form of publishing but the point remains is that words are still disseminated to readers. Hence, a story is published.

As we say in South Africa: finish en klaar, hey?

Well, yes and no.

What is clear is that the entire publishing industry is in a massive state of flux. When you have big names heading into self-publishing or starting their own publishing companies, then something’s up. Let’s not look at the analogy of rats abandoning a ship but yeah…

Plainly put, the old model of publishing is not sustainable. I’m not saying it’s going to fail. Hell no. It’s just that the big traditional publishers are going to have to seriously relook at the way they’re doing business.

What we’ve also seen is a massive influx of small and indie presses that have grabbed an opportunity with all the new technology coming online. Authors have never had such a wide variety of publishing options available to them and, with the growth in reading gadgets, avid book fanatics are spoilt for choice.

The problem comes in when one discerns quality. With so many authors now getting heard, it’s not always easy telling the difference between the good, the bad and the ugly. That’s not to say that the indie-published fantasy adventure that could have used a bit more spit and polish is somehow worth less than the polished traditionally published fantasy novel that may not have such an unusual storyline.

And even that’s a broad generalization. I kinda like my reading rough around the edges where authors have cut loose and experimented a little.

At the end of the day, the reader is the final arbiter, and some books certainly have more appeal to some readers than others. Does it really matter at the end of the day who published the book or how?

With regard to quality, the onus is on the author to ensure that his or her words are as good as they can be. An editor can only make so many suggestions. Obviously traditional publishers carry more clout with their editorial suggestions but it’s still up to the author to decide whether he or she will comply. It’s also up to the author to make sure that their writing evolves and that they don’t repeat the same mistakes over, and over again.

So, how do we wade through the glut of published novels to find the author we like? My answer to this is to follow authors’ and reviewers’ blogs. Follow your favourite publishers and authors on Twitter. Goodreads is also a fantastic place to find new authors to read or to discover which ones aren’t so hot. It’s kinda like an Easter egg hunt, or at least that’s the way I’m looking at it. And I can tell you this much, I’ve discovered some fresh voices that would have been lost to the world had it not been for the shift in the industry.

You may not like the books I read but you know what? That’s okay. Really. I probably won’t like yours either. Just be glad that we now have a greater selection that is almost instantly available in a variety of formats.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Just My Blood Type

While there's a lot going on behind the scenes, I'd love to share a bit of news. A few weeks ago, I teamed up with author Carrie Clevenger to collaborate on a bit of a short fiction entitled Just My Blood Type. At time of writing we're finalising the final proof before we upload, but we can share the cover art.

To give credit where it's due, the photography and retouching is by none other than my lovely husband, Thomas Dorman. You can see more of his artwork here.

The typographical treatment for this was done by the very talented Danielle Eriksen, who is available for layout work. She can be contacted at Danielle@dislocate.co.za

Of course the real star of the show is Xan Marcelles, a drop-dead gorgeous vampire who plays bass in the band Crooked Fang. Therese von Willegen, erotica author, swung by the town of Pinecliffe, Colorado, to interview him, and got a little more than she bargained for.

Follow Xan Marcelles on Facebook, or look out for him @crookedfang on Twitter, and keep up to date with developments. We'll announce the short story's release soon.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Nichole discusses research

I really enjoy research.

Don't laugh. I do. It doesn't matter what I'm searching for, I love the thrill of it. Whether it's hunting for treasures in the Black Hills National Forest (a hobby called geocaching) or searching for a long-lost relative as I trace the family tree (I love ancestry.com), the idea of researching energizes me.

There's a lot of research involved in my writing, as well. I spend a lot of time looking for the right murder method: poison, gun shot, stabbing. I visit the locations where my books are set. Of course, it helps that I live in the area.

I even research the paranormal aspects. For Sleeping Bears, the second Cerri Baker novel, I've read everything I could get my hands on about fairies. For my second series featuring Allison Webber (at least I think that's going to be her name) I've been studying up on auras.

Researching the paranormal is harder than researching genealogy. Finding a document from the 1860s usually leads you to another document. Finding a website or book about auras doesn't normally lead you anywhere else. And often the next book or site you find will give you different information.

That's where the fiction writer takes over for the researcher. It's the fiction writer in me that determines which information to incorporate and which to ignore. And which to totally change for the world I've created. It's not always easy.

Sometimes I find that what I want to happen flies in the face of all the research I've done. But this is fiction, and that's okay. It just means I have to make sure that the rules in my world are consistent, even if there's no one else who believes what I need.

Maybe that's what makes fiction so enjoyable for me to write: it's an opportunity to learn something but still make up my own rules.

Blessings!
Nichole

Monday, May 30, 2011

Happy Memorial Day

To all the US, have a happy and safe Memorial Day. Rather than a fresh post today, I would like to just point you all to the post I did on Saturday at Second Wind Publishing's Blog.

Nichole

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Call for Submissions: Meet me at Dusk

As Edgar Allan Poe once deep into darkness peered, to wonder, fear and doubt, he also dreamed dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. And Nietzsche, while warning against hunting monsters, was quite fond of that abyss which gazed back.

The light of our hearts' delight can only shine sweeter against a backdrop of despair. Darker stories swirl and fester in the midst of the mundane; mysterious creatures prowl at the edge of awareness to seduce and devour.

Conflicts bleed into our world, to snare unwary mortals; tantalize us with hints of magic and enigma beyond our ken. Love is lost and found, empires rise only to crumble, and few dare to step beyond the threshold.

Did you grow up reading Poe, Burroughs and Lovecraft? Do Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere and The Sandman graphic novels languish on your bookshelves next to Poppy Z Brite's Lost Souls and Storm Constantine's Wraetthu novels? Lyrical Press is looking for works of dark fantasy that explore the contrasts of modern urban living with that of the supernatural, expressed in a gritty tone redolent with pop culture references and noir elements.

See the submission guidelines at http://www.lyricalpress.com/submissions.php and email nerine@lyricalpress.com with your query.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Would you like some cheese with that whine?

I've been really struggling with my writing the past month or so. It's not that I don't have ideas floating around in my head.

My problem is purely technical.

In early May, my hard drive crashed. I lost everything. Yes, everything.

I lost family photos. I lost passwords. I lost work files; I'm a web designer, so that goes hand-in-hand with the passwords. I had to re-install software. It was not a pretty sight.

I managed to recover most of my WIP*, thanks to my critique groups and some friends who I'd sent various parts for their input. All but one chapter, that is. The second to last chapter I'd written before losing everything.

You would think that losing a "middle chapter" wouldn't be so bad. And I'm more grateful then anyone will ever know to have only lost one chapter, believe me. And I know where I want the chapter to end up, I know what clues must be woven into the fabric of the story. I just can't remember exactly how I got there.

For everyone who is nodding sagely, thinking "run an anti-virus" or "make sure you back up," I have another confession. It was my Mac that bit the dust. It had nothing to do with spyware or malware or viruses. A section of the hard drive lost it's magnetism. (Or some such thing...the computer guy tried to explain it to me, but I was still devastated at the time.) And I own an external hard drive. It's even connected to the computer in question.

But external hard drives are only useful if you actually put stuff on them.

Learn from my misfortune. Back up your important files. Heck, back up the things you don't think are that important. Then you won't be missing a section in the middle.

Blessings!
Nichole

*That would be Work In Progress. Or the novel I'm currently working on.


Monday, May 9, 2011

Superstitous?

The word "paranormal" can mean a whole lot of things. Ghosts. Witches. Shape shifters.

No matter what, though, there are almost always superstitions attached to the word.

Personally, I'm not really superstitious. I don't "knock on wood" or hold my breath crossing a bridge.

Some superstitions make a lot of sense. Really, is it bad luck to walk under a ladder? Maybe not, but I don't think it's that smart. If you bump the ladder, whoever is on it might fall. Or they might drop that bucket of paint all over you. It may not be bad luck, but it doesn't seem smart, either. Does one apple each day keep the doctor away? Doubtful. But people who pick more healthy foods are usually, well, healthier. What about the idea that a cat will try to steal a baby's breath? Not true. But a cat will try to get that milk all over the baby's face and can (in extremely rare cases) smother the baby while doing so.

Some superstitions have made their way into the realm of tradition. How many brides have worn something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue?

One of my "favorite" superstitions, however, happens this week. Friday, to be exact. Friday the 13th.

Friday the 13th is a combination of two different superstitions: Friday and the number 13.

Most people have heard of the number 13 being unlucky. And anything to do with that number is "taboo." Hotels skip the 13th room, buildings the 13th floor, city's the 13th street. It's not lucky to have 13 letters in your name: Jack the Ripper, Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, Theodore Bundy. Planning a dinner party? Avoid having 13 people at the table. One is said to die within the year, a superstition that dates back to the time of Jesus when he dined with his 12 disciples.

Bad luck on Friday is a less common belief. Most people I know look forward to Fridays, since it's the last day of the traditional work week and the start of the weekend. Sailors, however, avoid Fridays. Years ago the British government wanted to quell the "Friday superstition" and did everything they could to prove how silly it was. They commissioned the HMS Friday, christened the ship on a Friday, launched her on a Friday, selected the crew on a Friday. They even put Captain Jim Friday in charge. The ship disappeared on her maiden voyage.

Combine it all, and it's understandable why some might be tempted to stay home this Friday. Those who don't may have some "bad luck"—or they may find themselves victims of a self-fulling prophecy.

Me? I'll be going out to dinner with the family. No, not as a way to thumb my nose at fate. Instead, my family will be celebrating. It's not every Friday the 13th that the baby of the family turns 18, is it?

Blessings!
Nichole

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

When an author's creations come to life


While I can't show the visuals, I had an awful lot of fun on Saturday with some of the BlackMilk crew, who offered to help me shoot some promotional visuals for my next vampire novella, What Sweet Music They Make. Now, if all goes well, my publisher will like the final results well enough to use for the front cover. Or at least that is my intention. And even if the visuals don't make the grade, I've some stunning prints to use as promotional material when release day swings round.

Why am I doing this? Many years ago I majored in illustration and photography when I studied graphic design, and I'd always hoped one day to have a shot at cover design. While I'm no PhotoShop wizard, I do have an idea of how to style visual communication.

The secret now: work with professionals. I am heavily indebted to the expertise of Leon Visser, who is the cinematographer and editor for BlackMilk Productions, an indie film production company here in Cape Town. Thanks go to my husband, for lending us his professional lights. Many thanks also to Lohan Koegelenberg and Anika Molnar, who took the roles of Severin and Tersia respectively, for this shoot. The two happen to be close friends and when I'm ready to show the final results, you can definitely see the chemistry.

In the meanwhile, you'll have to contend with the after-shoot silliness where my creations spring to life to give me a nibble, or two.

Follow me on Twitter: @nerinedorman or like my Facebook author page here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Nerine-Dorman-author/173330419365374

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Paying it forward

When I was just starting out with getting into author-mode a few years ago, I bumped into an old friend of mine who was a little further along the way than me. She was already **gasp** agented, and she graciously offered to beta read for me. And boy oh boy did she poke sticks at my writing; made me cut reams of exposition **sobs** and generally tell it like it is in publishing.

I value this woman’s no-nonsense judgment. I wouldn’t have gotten this far if it weren’t for her. She can say horrible things about my writing at times but I know I deserve it, because good constructive criticism freely offered is worth more than paying an editor to do it for you. By the same measure, she praises, telling me when she can see where I’ve improved. And I feel like I can believe her. To be honest, I’d sooner have honest judgment than vague reassurances that everything’s just hunky dory. ’Cos it’s not. There’s always room for improvement.

What matters now, more than ever before in publishing, is a buddy system. I remember the encouragement I received from the likes of Dave Wolverton, Fiona McIntosh and John Everson, who always replied to my emails with sound advice. Yes, I may still be in awe of these people, but they never lost that essential human touch. They weren’t up on a pedestal.

While I’m nowhere near reaching their stellar heights, I’m already much further along the line than I was when I sold my first novel in 2008. I’ve made an effort to make friends, not only with my fellow authors, but also with the authors for whom I’m now playing editor. We help each other, be it a friendly eye or a guest-blogging slot or review. Hell, sometimes we give the go-ahead for a bit of name-dropping. It all helps. The publishing pond is big enough for everyone and I’m amazed at some of the doors that have opened to me because I haven’t developed an attitude.

And if I develop an attitude, I expect my buddies to slap me upside the head.

A funny thing has started happening now. I’m paying it forward. It’s a weird feeling. Aspiring authors are turning to me now for advice, are looking up to me as someone who's been around the block a bit, and, while part of me wants to shake her head and exclaim what the hell, I’m able to pass on some of the advice I’ve been given.

I can’t tell you how great it feels to see an author take those first toddling steps, get their first contract offered, or start making those sales. Then later I get a quiet email on the side saying, “Hey, I just want to thank you, I’d never have…”

Feck. It feels good. And I’m going to carry on paying it forward. It makes the overall experience better for everyone concerned.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Music for writing

I'm of the belief that creative people are creative in lots of different areas. I, for example, spin and knit and sew and paint and well, lots of things.

But sometimes it's tough to get into the creative mood. Those juices don't always come on demand.

Those are the times I listen to music. And lots of it. There's just something about music that helps to inspire me.

And I like all kinds of tunes. As a child of the '80s, I fondly remember the "big hair bands" like Warrant, Poison, and Stryper. My first album was a Men at Work one. At some point I found a few country artists who spoke to me: Toby Keith, Garth Brooks, Taylor Swift.

Then there's the classics. Sometimes it's better to have the instrumentals just so I don't get caught up in the words.

However, my favorite writing music has a Celtic undertone. Enya and Celtic Women are often heard from my office as I crank out a few thousand words for the day.

Like any other "mental devise," though, even my stand-by selections don't always work. I'm often in search of new bands, new songs to add to the mix.

What music do you suggest? What inspires you? What is good to write to?

Blessings!
Nichole

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

In praise of free reads

Free reads are awesome. In the age of digital books and the internet, it's very easy to find perfectly legal free reads. And I don't mean just contests to win books, though that's cool too. I mean a totally free ebook, through various sources. Booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble both have free sections. Publishers will offer temporary promotional freebies to get readers hooked on an author or series or a niche genre they publish. Authors will offer free short stories on their websites to entice readers.

Speaking as a reader who doesn't have a lot of money to spend on books, I really appreciate all these sources of legal free reads. Sure, there are duds out there. Some of what I've gotten for free I never finished because I just didn't care for the book. But I've lucked into some really good stuff for free too. One of the freebies I got from Amazon introduced me to an author who is now an auto-buy for me. All these freebies are a great way to test drive authors that are new to you, authors that you might not otherwise be too sure about spending money on. But once you've tried them and know you like their work, if you're like me you probably wind up searching for their back list. Especially if that initial free read hooked you on a series.

Because I have seen myself and other readers spend money on authors first encountered as a free read, as a writer I am a big proponent of the idea. That's why I have a Free Reads page on my blog with two short stories for download that serve as prequels of a sort to my May release Mojo Queen. I think it's a great idea for any author, especially one just starting out, to give readers a free taste of what you can do as a writer. I'm hoping people might come across these stories and decide to give Mojo Queen a try. Even if it only nets a few sales, it's worth it to me. Besides, I wrote these stories out of love for the characters so it only makes sense to share them. It certainly can't hurt anything.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Work in progress

After what feels like an eternity I’m getting round to the all-important revisions for my urban fantasy novella, What Sweet Music They Make. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I’m not superwoman, and that I cannot write new works in progress while revising AND still try to keep on top of my editing obligations for Lyrical Press. And while this all happens, I’m still beta-reading for my fellow authors, reviewing books and writing blog posts and newspaper articles.

There’s more than enough work present to keep me out of mischief. What’s worse is that my revisions have been piling up. I still have my steampunk novel featuring vampires and pirates waiting in the wings, not to mention some hard decisions about revising Camdeboo Nights, my only foray into YA urban fantasy. So the buck stops here. I’m in revision mode. I’ve just completed second-round edits on Hell’s Music, my next Therése von Willegen novel, so I have no excuses keeping me from the other titles languishing in the wings.

I had fun writing What Sweet Music They Make. It combines two of my greatest loves: vampires and music. The story is a dip into the same setting where my current Lyrical release, The Namaqualand Book of the Dead kicks off. I’ve spent time working out how vampires function in my milieu and the reason why there are always fewer vampires than mortals. C’mon, we can’t all be undead and sparkly.

Jokes aside, my vampires don’t sparkle. And after many decades, most of them lose the taste for immortality, though they remain tenacious, anachronisms in many cases.

I’ve had some great feedback from my betas so far. Two chapters need to bite the dust at the start. This doesn’t pain me as much as I’d have thought, because I’ll be releasing the first chapter as a freebie prologue in anticipation of the story’s actual release. Yes, yes… I know I haven’t sold the story yet, but that’s the least of my worries. What I do know is that I’ll need to add additional material near the end, and the epilogue may go the way of most prologues upon submission.

This is the fun part of revising, where the novella is still fluid, where I can tweak and layer, make people care more about my characters. And you know what? I’m in no mood to rush, either. I’m going to savour this time where I can return to the world of Severin and Tersia, and groom them into memorable characters.

Follow me on Twitter @nerinedorman or like my Facebook author page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Nerine-Dorman-author/173330419365374?v=wall

Monday, April 11, 2011

Is the world ready for this?

When I woke up Friday morning, I heard voices.

That may not have been a bad thing if they were the voices I was used to hearing. Instead, these were new voices with new stories.

So, I have come here to ask if the world is ready for the new voice in my head.

My idea is for a young, rich woman to purchase a bed and breakfast in western South Dakota. The B&B would be located on a sheep ranch, so there is a small herd that came with the house. Because of the sheep, there would be an opportunity for knitting and spinning circles at the home, especially in the "off-tourist" season. She also sees ghosts.

There are ghost mysteries. There are knitting mysteries. There are B&B mysteries. But is the world ready for a three-for-one combo? I'd love your thoughts!

Blessings!
Nichole

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Some thoughts on self-publishing

Nerine had a good post yesterday about self-publishing and traditional publishing. I don't think I've said much directly about self-pubbing but since it is one of the hottest topics in the publishing world, everybody gets to have an opinion, right?

I recognize that people choose to self-pub for different reasons, I just hope they do it for the right ones. Want to keep your backlist out there without having to sign a contract? That's a reason that makes sense to me, especially if you can afford good cover art and book design. You've already got a foothold in commercial publishing and want to experiment with putting out a short work by yourself - I get that one too. Especially if you can afford the cover art, book design, and editing. You've been rejected time after time by both the Big Six and small press - okay, to be honest, this is the one I don't get.

Self-publishing is not for me for a number of reasons. The top reason is money - I can't afford to hire out freelance cover art, book design, and editing. I don't spend my money on books with cover art that looks like a bad Photoshop job or the free Kindle sample is littered with editing problems. I would never even consider asking a reader for money for something like that that I released. So I have to be good enough for a publisher to offer me a contract. Sometimes I am, sometimes I'm not. When I'm not I keep working on the story and it'll either get better or it goes in the trunk. I'm a big believer in writing the next story.

That's another reason why I would not self-publish. To quote Nerine: "if a novel has been rejected countless times, even by the small presses, there’s usually a very good reason for this." I agree with this so very much. If that first book keeps getting rejected, it's okay to let it go. Put that paper in a drawer, put that file on a flash drive, raise a toast to it as a valiant effort, mourn for what could have been and will never be - then tell it goodbye. Let it go like a leaf on the wind and get busy hunting for your next book. Because the truth is, if you're a writer, there's going to be a next book. There can't not be a next book, because you are a storyteller and this is what you do. The only way there won't be a next book is if you were more interested in being published than being a writer. If that's the case, then choosing to self-publish is probably more about vanity than anything else.

Sorry if that sounds harsh, but there it is. Look, I really don't have anything against self-publishing. If it's something a person wants to do and they can afford it, I wish them the best of luck. Depending on your reasons I may not understand you, but I will always wish you luck.

What I do not like is when self-publishing gets lumped in under an umbrella term like digital publishing. The term digital publishing, to me, means small press commercial pubs that are digital first / digital only. Examples include Lyrical Press, Loose Id, Samhain, Carina, Noble Romance - there are quite a few. When you're pubbed with these digital presses you get editing, cover art, all the usual stuff - and authors do not pay for these things. So to me there is a huge difference between self-publishing and getting a contract with a small press that happens to be digital. Unfortunately not everyone sees this.

Now you have my thoughts on self-publishing and frankly I hope I won't be revisiting the topic. Next week I'll talk about why I think posting stories for free can be a great thing for a writer to do. Yes, really.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Trotting out that old pony, again

Once again I’m thinking about self-pubbing vs. traditional publishing. Because, yes, face it, self-published authors, once they’re established, have the potential to earn oodles more money than traditionally published authors. Or so it seems if certain sources are to believed.

But I’m scared to do it. Really. Even though Smashwords makes it ridiculously easy to put material out there, I’m not entirely certain I want to do that. At least not yet. Granted, I’m happy to put out my short stories in that manner. After all, the paying market for short stories isn’t worth it when I consider the amount of effort that goes into the submissions process.

Making my short stories freely available to my readers makes sense. They’re already following me on Twitter or Facebook because they **want** to read my writing. That way my short stories also don’t get lost in anthologies or buried deep in links with online magazines.

My longer works?

Why I keep working through reputable small presses is because a) I don’t have to worry about cover art; b) I have an editor assigned to me (face it, mistakes always creep through, it helps to have a second set of eyes); and c) I don’t have to worry about dealing with vendors.

But… What I will do one day when my first rights revert to me (usually after three to five years) is I’ll start putting my back list upon Smashwords. Now that makes sense. It means I’ll be able to revise and apply a lot of the new tricks I’ve learnt to older works that have already undergone an editing process. I’ll be able to choose my own cover art. It means my older works will be archived under a unified banner.

Yes. I think that is what I’ll do.

Granted, there are works that may be difficult to home some time in the future. Self-publishing will offer me the chance to put them out. This is only after careful consideration, however. My feelings are that if a novel has been rejected countless times, even by the small presses, there’s usually a very good reason for this.

And yes, you know what, no matter what people say, I’m still aiming for that Holy Grail of a book contract with one of the Big Six. What’s nice about publishing now is that authors have a lot more freedom. There’s no such thing as “out of print”.

Follow me on Twitter @nerinedorman or like me on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Nerine-Dorman-author/173330419365374?v=wall

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A dash of BlackMilk

What I love about being in touch with some of the avant garde happenings in Cape Town is that occasionally I get to play fly on the wall when stuff is created. As you can well imagine, this creates much fodder for my future writings. What I’d like to share with you today is a short film the BlackMilk productions crew created over this past weekend.

My husband is one of the directors and I’ve been behind the scenes for all their films. This is hardly as glamorous as it sounds, let me assure you, but with all the hard work also comes some pretty riveting entertainment.

On Saturday some of the BlackMilk crew dropped by my house so they could work on their shot list. Of course nothing is quite that simple. We’re talking about a bunch of creatives here.

At about 10pm they hauled out our cache of musical instruments and started making a god-awful racket with piano, accordion and violin. Which they recorded (well, of course).

Please bear in mind that none of them could actually **play** any of these instruments with any degree of proficiency.

They then started talking about doing a short film since they’re currently finding creative ways in which they can promote their DVD boxed set. So… On Sunday they got all dressed up, painted and posed…

And if you click through on the link here: http://www.youtube.com/blackmilkproductions#p/a/u/0/Sra94gOiSdI

Granted, I know everyone in this but when I saw the rushes as they came off the camera, I laughed so much I cried. I thought by the second or third time I saw this I’d not laugh as much but I was wrong.

You really have to watch this about two or three times just to get all the facial expressions. One day I’m sure I’ll write a novel about an indie filmmaking crew but for now I’m just stoked that I’m able to see things in action and watch these guys grow in their art.

It's a very inspiring to be surrounded by so many fascinating people and it's definitely making me feel that I'm not the only one fighting against mundania.

The idly curious are welcome to click through here to check out the official BlackMilk website. http://www.blackmilkproductions.com/

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Can I have a coffee IV, please?

It never ends. And I never feel like I’ve done enough. Yesterday was a public holiday in South Africa and my husband and I spent the day at his office. He was busy on some awful newsletter of about 16 pages while I flattened about 40 000 words of editing. Half of this was for a Lyrical Press author I’m working with and the rest was my urban fantasy novel, Inkarna.

But there’s so much work that still needs to happen this year I’m honestly frightened because I don’t know when I’m going to find the time. This is without considering the editing work I do. Next on my “to do” list is second-round edits on my Therése von Willegen novel, Hell’s Music, which is due for line edits at the end of April. I need to finish way before then.

I still have my next urban fantasy novella to revise so I can submit to Lyrical, more vampires in a story entitled What Sweet Music They Make. Then I must finish writing a short fantasy romance story I still don’t have the right title for, though it’s called The Slavemaster’s Daughter. Tentatively. I’m about 6 000 words in. Let’s not even think about that one going anywhere any time soon. I still have to put it through my crit group.

The Black Goat is still languishing on my hard drive. I’ve done a major revision on chapter one but the novel’s been stagnant for such a long time I suspect I’m going to roar through it with massive revisions when I do get there. But let’s place emphasis on when. Ironically, it’s Inkarna that’s going onto the submissions mill way before The Black Goat, which was written more than a year ago.

On top of all this, I still have a safari-style erotic romance to write for the Therése von Willegen brand. And I’ve tentatively started outlining my next epic fantasy. Let’s not even suggest a working title for that one. You’re going to laugh. I’m calling it The Bird Girl because I can’t think of anything else right now.

Between this madness I’m still reading submissions from my existing authors and considering cold submissions that come through Lyrical. And I have a full-time day-job.

How the hell did this happen? Please can someone tell me because I honestly didn’t see this coming. I need another cup of coffee.



Now go and like my Facebook fan page, okay: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Nerine-Dorman-author/173330419365374?v=wall

Monday, March 21, 2011

What Color is Your (Character's) Aura?

Sonya's post about auras reminded me of a book I read once called What Color is Your Aura? The book, which I'm pretty sure I still have around here somewhere, is mostly one huge quiz.

It's an interesting book, even if you don't believe in auras. It's really a book to help you understand your personality.

As an author, I enjoy books like that. Not just for their insight into me, but also for insight into my characters.

Yes, I know I can make my characters do whatever I want them to. But even in the realm of paranormal fiction, I believe the character has to be "realistic." A werewolf must be part human, part wolf. An invisible man must deal with the issue of clothing. At some point a ghost must realize he or she is dead.

Characters must fit the story. If the character isn't believable, the story won't hold up. Therefore, I like those personality quizzes so I have a great idea of how my characters would act in a given situation. (I also look up their Sun and Moon signs for an astrological look into their personalities.)

If you can't tell, I enjoy the character driven stories. In my mind, nothing is as interesting as people and why they do whatever they do. Finding out what color their aura is, what their moon sign is, and even which Michael Jackson dance step they are most like is important to me.

So, what are your favorite personality quizzes? I'd love to know!

Blessings!
Nichole

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A character who sees auras

One of my favorite things about writing in the paranormal genre is it lets me indulge my curiosity about weird stuff. Actually, that could probably be said about most any genre. But it works really well with paranormal!

There's a funny scene in one of my favorite movies, Almost Famous. The fifteen year old fledgling Rolling Stone music reporter is on the phone with him mom, trying to convince her he's okay and that she has no reason to worry about him being on the road with a rock band. There's a couple of groupies trying to talk to him at the same time, hydroponic pot is mentioned at alarming volume, and then one of the girls starts talking about how she can see his aura. The kid tells his mom he can't hear her and of course HydroPot Groupie thinks he's talking to her. So she starts yelling, "I CAN SEE YOUR AURA! IT'S REALLY PURPLE!" Or something like that, and the poor kid looks like he wants to crawl under a rock.

This horrifying exchange is pretty representative of the average person's view of people who claim they can see auras: hippies high on hydroponic pot, flaky new-age types with fake names like Raven Granola Moonbeam or Crystal Glitter Dragonrider. I find the idea of being able to read auras a bit disconcerting. First let's talk about what an aura is: an energy field that radiates several inches out from the body, with colors that can represent everything from emotions and personality to physical health and psychological state. I wanted to explore what it would be like for a character who could see the aura and interpret what they mean. How old was she when this "auric vision" started? Did she have any understanding as to what she was seeing, have some idea why her vision began to resemble a hazy Impressionist painting? How does she learn to interpret those colors? Does she base her interpretation on something like chakras, witchcraft color correspondences, pure intuition, or a combination of methods? Is she able to turn it off and on, so to speak? Because turning it off would become very important, not only for her peace of mind but in order to respect the privacy of those around her. Think about it - your aura could act as a giant mood ring and tell the reader what you're feeling, whether you want those feelings known publicly or not. Would you want someone to "read" you like that? Would you want such an intimate glimpse into the emotions of others, including random strangers you're in line with at the grocery store?

And if a character were able to see auric energy, what else can they see? Spectral energy? Ghosts? Deciding the answer was "yes, ghosts!" I had my main character for my upcoming release Mojo Queen. Her name is Roxanne Mathis and she is a paranormal investigator who uses her ability to see auras and spectral energy to help people who are in over their heads with supernatural problems. That's not all she uses, but we'll talk about hoodoo another time. :)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Less than a week before release date...


The day started with good intentions and I actually had the snippet that would lead to me having something vaguely intelligent to relate about being an author but, as per the risks of working in the media industry, things went south fairly quickly. Suffice to say this blog post will be a quick and excited heads up that my urban fantasy novella, The Namaqualand Book of the Dead will be releasing on March 21.

Why should you read it?

It's set in contemporary South Africa, damn it! I'm pulling a Poppy Z Brite move on Cape Town. If New Orleans captured the imagination of dozens of readers, I counter by saying that the Mother City offers equal allure.

Step into my West Coast Gothic romance with a twist of fang.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Bright sparks during an otherwise awful week

Sometimes in the midst of all the dross, some good things do happen. I’m going to be blunt. I had a really terrible time of last week. It was a combination of the pre-production stress my husband’s film production company is going through (I’m talking near-endless meetings almost every night of the week) and also a lot of car trouble.

I find it easier to get by if my home life is running smoothly but last week it didn’t, and it had a horrid knock-on effect on my overall mindset. Coupled with this was the nagging sense that nothing good was happening for my writing career.

Most of us who are published can attest to the fact that things seem to occur in fits and starts. We can go for weeks without any feedback then suddenly get a stunning review or be contacted by someone who’d like to feature our book on their blog. Or, it can go totally the opposite, with a spate of rejections followed by one or two bad reviews. This happens. It’s a see-saw existence and we have to take the highs with the lows.

But I've had two good things happen this past week...

A chance conversation with one of my editors at the newspapers about the pitfalls of self-publishing electronically resulted in her commissioning an article, which was published in The Star before being archived on our website: http://www.iol.co.za/tonight/books/bringing-new-writers-to-book-1.1035338

Then, an added bit of happiness came when one of my reviews also went to print in The Star: http://www.iol.co.za/tonight/books/bullet-1.1035348

I guess life isn’t all bad and, even if it is, it’s important that we, as writers, need to carry on working, blogging, writing, revising and reading. We have to understand that life rarely if ever goes smoothly, and that whatever gets thrown our way, no matter how horrid, merely prepares us for the next wave of stress. And, you know what? The next time something ugly rears its head, we’re better prepared for dealing with it.

And there will always be a few bright sparks along the way.

Oh, and you can always "like" me on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Nerine-Dorman-author/173330419365374?v=wall

Every little bit counts.

Girl power!

Love her or hate her, she has shaped at least two generations of women. She's a doctor, a lawyer, a princess, a fighter pilot, and a rock star. She has family, friends, and a steady man.

She's changed a bit in the past 50+ years. She was originally a woman of "ill reputation," even, though she's long since lost that image.

She has a car, a house, a swimming pool, and pets. She is known world-wide and her very name conjures deep emotion from many people.

You name it, she can do it.

Barbie turns 52 this week. She doesn't look a day over 19.

I'll admit I enjoyed my Barbie. My mom enjoyed hers. Both my girls enjoyed theirs. I'll also admit that I'm not a big fan of the "shape" Barbie is in. I'd much rather her be more...well...normal. Maybe 10 or 15 pounds overweight. A crooked smile. Her nose a little off-center. A little smaller "up top," as my grandmother would say.

But for all her faults, Barbie did one thing really, really well. She taught little girls that they can be anything. She provided an additional outlet for imagination. That's the reason my girls had Barbies and that's what I consider to be her biggest legacy.

Here's to another generation of girl power!

Blessings!
Nichole
Read more about Barbie's history here.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mimosas At Dusk

Mojo Queen will be out in two months and to gear up for the release I've got two short stories about main character Roxanne Mathis and her best friend Daniel to post as free downloads. First up is Mimosas At Dusk.



Blurb:

Paranormal investigator Roxanne Mathis thinks her latest job is a simple ghost eviction. When she discovers the ghost might not be the scariest thing in the house, it will either send her screaming into the night or be the beginning of her strangest friendship.

Excerpt:

I knew it wouldn’t work, though. This stubborn old ghost called for a serious banishing. Holy water, bells, candles, the works. Damn it, I might even have to chant. There was a bag full of all the supplies I’d need in the trunk of my car, but was it really a good idea to do this with a dead body in the foyer? There would be enough awkward questions from cops. I didn’t need to add, “why did you wait so long to call 911?” to the list. I glanced around for a phone, distracted by a soft moan.

The dead guy on the floor, the one with no pulse and a cracked skull, sat up and gave me a wide grin. “Guess I shouldn’t have got in the ghost’s way, huh?”

One word screamed through my brain as I gaped at him: FANGS.

*
Mimosas At Dusk is 3840 words, about ten pages. It is available for download in three formats:

MOBI for Kindle
EPUB for Nook/Sony


This should give you a little taste of what the Mojo world is like and hopefully serve as an entertaining introduction to Roxie and Daniel. You don't have to read this or the second short story to read Mojo Queen - think of them as extra goodies. But you will have to wait for Mojo Queen to meet Blake the Sexy Sorcerer. ;-)

I hope you enjoy Mimosas at Dusk and feel free to spread the word. Blog it, Tweet it, Facebook it, even (gasp!) speak to someone face to face about it. :-) And feel free to let me know what you think - you know the only thing a writer loves more than fresh coffee is feedback!

Happy reading!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The story behind Inkarna

Ashton Kennedy wasn’t a nice guy. He cheated on his girlfriend, knocked up a powerful drug lord’s sister, and abused vast quantities of illegal narcotic substances. The guy who ran him over with a big shiny SUV was doing the world a favour. His very male and rather tattooed body is the last place Elizabeth Rae Perry – a member of an ancient Egyptian cult – expected to reincarnate in, instead of the three-year-old girl she’d been promised.

Not only must she now come to terms with her new existence in the body of a rather disagreeable man, and clean up the mess he made of his life, she also has to unravel the mystery of why House Adamastor’s chapter house is standing empty and find a way to protect a dangerous secret she had no idea she was supposed to keep. As if fate couldn’t deal her another blow, she has also attracted the attention of a very malicious and potentially dangerous ghost.


* * * *

Well, there you have it. My current “heart” book is complete and subbed out for its initial round of submissions. Inkarna was sparked by death. The first was that of a musician who was and is one of my heroes. I had a peculiar dream about him the week he died, before I knew he’d gone. I dreamt that I, as a woman, was walking around in this 6-foot body, shouldering past people, somehow in his frame. The disjointedness of the difference in how a woman and a man move really freaked me out. It was one of those dreams that didn’t just vanish with the dawn. I wrote it down in my journal. A few weeks later I had another dream. I was having a conversation with this man then had a point of lucidity. I told him, “You’re dead,” and he replied, “But you’re dreaming.” It was just weird. It left me rattled for days. I still get gooseflesh when I think of those two dreams and their impact on my subconscious.

Then one of my best friends died. Shaen had been sick for a while. I’d been editing his book and had always held a wild hope he’d somehow beat the cancer and we’d one day sit around a table chugging back beers again. That never happened. Shaen passed away on Halloween. Typical of him. Gotta give him points for style. I cried my heart out for him, for the guilt of being one left behind, for not having (in my mind) been a good enough friend. Because I never went to see him when he’d been in hospital. I couldn’t face the trauma of seeing a once-vital man reduced to an animated corpse on life support.

We gave him a great send-off, Egyptian style. He wrote his own funerary rites and we held an awe-inspiring celebration for him on the banks of the Crocodile River, hosted at a private lodge near Johannesburg. I dreamt about Shaen too, about three days after his death. We stood on a beach, and he was as I remembered him, in his better days. We spoke about his book, and my sorrow that he’d not been able to finish his work. I felt in a way I had to take up where he’d left off and he told me not to, that it was enough that his work had touched me, and that I must be true to my art and my magic and not take on the words of others.

Inkarna came into being round about the time of Shaen’s death but my entire year had been tinged with a grief, of a constant gnawing strain that eventually resulted in my own emotional breakdown. I stared death in the face and I realised I wasn’t ready to go.

What if we had a second chance, to put things right?

A week after my meltdown, a friend of ours committed suicide.

On December 28 I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to write Inkarna and I didn’t stop until the first week of February. I had to write this book. It was catharsis, a way to come to terms with my own mortality, a way to put all the pain I’ve been carrying in me, the sorrow, into words.
I can step back now. I feel relieved. Empty. Ready to go onto other projects. In many ways last year was hell. The person who’s writing these words has a clean slate. She’s colder, more in command. That other part of her has died and it’s good to have clarity of mind to continue.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Magical Food

Did you know that food can be magical?

I don't mean just that it helps your body. I don't mean the process of converting food to energy, either.

Food can hold magical properties.

Consider the whole idea of "comfort food." There are just some foods that make you feel better, aren't there? For me, it's chocolate. Thankfully, I have a husband who knows and appreciates that fact.

I wanted to share a recipe for some magical food that I mention in my book Ghost Mountain. Cerri Baker makes a Gypsy Casserole as comfort food. This casserole is said to help with clearing a person's thoughts—something Cerri really needs!

I found this in A Kitchen Witch's Cookbook and wanted to share it with you.

Gypsy Casserole
1 18oz can hearty beef or chicken soup
1 cup cooked noodles
1 cup cooked peas
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon dried dill week

Combine all ingredients in a microwave-safe casserole dish. Microwave on high for 8 minutes, stopping twice to stir. (Or heat for 20 minutes at 350 degrees F in a conventional oven.) Garnish with cheese for change, parsley for protection and health, or tomatoes for love.
That's Cerri's comfort food. Although she is a huge fan of chocolate, too. What's your comfort food?

Blessings!
Nichole

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Where to from here?

People seem to be under the impression that being a published author is glamorous, that there’s oodles of money involved and there’s some sort of mystique attached to getting a book contracted. I’m almost sure I’ve blogged along a similar vein before. To be honest, whether you get contracted to a small press operating out of someone’s home in NYC or a big publishing house in London offering a five-digit advance, there’s still a helluva lot of slog involved.

Granted, with the small presses, you end up looking forward to those monthly or quarterly royalty statements. With the big book deals, you worry about whether you’ll earn out that lovely advance your revenue service probably snitches about a quarter of before you get to spend it. One means working on the whiff of an oil rag; the other adds a bit of performance anxiety. What if my agent hates my next novel? That sort of thing.

Ja, hey, so I’m still languishing with the small presses. I should look back on my career at this point and feel some sort of thrill, since I’ve now published two urban fantasy novels, an erotic romance (under my Therése von Willegen brand) and an upcoming urban fantasy novella to be released in March.

But I sometimes have these days, like today, where I’m feeling the ache of burning muscles and exhaustion. And I understand that no one ever said it was easy. It’s a slow crawl forward at snail’s pace while other authors seem to live charmed existences. Hell, stabbing myself repeatedly through the hand with a ballpoint pen is less painful than being an author.

It’s not easy maintaining perspective but I need to remember where I was in 2008 before I made my first sale. I need to remember where I was: hopeful, reeling from countless rejections. A lot of people say they want to write a novel then never finish it. Some write novel after novel but then don’t bother polishing their text, putting out one title after the other in a blizzard of sub-standard schlock.

I need to remember why I write. I write because I have stories that need telling. I write because if I don’t, my life is smaller, empty and colourless. I write because words are magic, that shape my world and touch the lives of others. I write because I have to, because there are stories itching at the tips of my fingers. I must never forget that. It’s not about that PayPal deposit at the end of the month because, to be quite honest, I’d be starving pretty quickly if I had to rely on that pittance.

And, while I won’t be giving up my day-job anytime soon, I will continue to write and breathe life into my dystopian visions because, as broken as my characters are, as twisted and dark as the tales are that hit the screen, they are a small way in which I can continue to live my dreams. The best part is that I can share these dreams with my readers, and drag them into other worlds for a little while. If we lose the ability to dream then there’s no point to living, is there?

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Valentine's Day history lesson

Isn't it interesting that I would be the one to post on February 14? I think I'm the only one at Frightening Journeys who doesn't write even the hint of romance.

Clearly the Universe has a twisted sense of humor.

Or maybe the entire celebration is a little twisted.

Do you know the history of Valentine's Day? Sometime around the year 278 AD, a priest in Rome disagreed with the government. See, the ruler (Claudius the Cruel) decided to ban marriage. His thought was that if the men were single, they would be much more willing to go fight in some unpopular war. I'm sure it made sense at the time....

Anyway, Valentine thought that was kind of a dumb law. So, much like my father with the speed limit, he decided to ignore it.

When Claudius found out, he was livid. Really. He did some ranting and raving and decided that Valentine should be put to death.

Bad news for Valentine, but it didn't stop the priest. Legend has it that while in the slammer, Valentine befriended the jailer's daughter. Before his execution, he left her a goodbye note signed "From Your Valentine."

He was put to death on February 14.

Today we celebrate the day of his death by giving chocolates and flowers to each other.

A little twisted, don't you think?

Blessings!
Nichole

Monday, February 7, 2011

Happy birthday, Laura!

Today is the birthday of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House on the Prairie series and one of South Dakota's most famous daughters.

I didn't know that it was her birthday until I was searching for inspiration for today's blog post. I confess that I wasn't a big Little House fan as a kid. I didn't care much for horse books, or the idea of living on the prairie.

My youngest daughter, however, went through a big Little House phase. She is a huge history lover and the idea of Westward expansion fascinated her for a time. As an adult, then, I became well acquainted with the Little House story. I've even been to the family homestead in DeSmet, South Dakota, and seen the shack where Carrie was born in Kansas.

Even if you've never read the books or seen the television show (which ran from 1974 though 1982 and can still be found on re-runs), you know who Laura is. Isn't that amazing?

It made me think of what stories did inspire me as a child, so I thought I would share some of my favorites.
  • Anything by Dr. Seuss: Nothing can be too wrong with the world when you can be silly and laugh.
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell: This story of a young girl who risks her life for her brother only to be left alone for years on an island is inspirational.
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle: Another story of a young lady who does something incredible to save those she loves.
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell: Those who know me won't be surprised that I really enjoy satire and Orwell is one of the best.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis: Anyone surprised that I selected a series where children are empowered to save their world? I didn't think so.
I know there are more, but these were the first five I could think of. Now I ask you: What stories or authors from your childhood have stuck with you?

Blessings!
Nichole

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Villainy is in the eye of the beholder

O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!
My tables - meet it is I set it down
That one may smile and smile and be a villain.

Without a doubt the best villains are the ones that are such fully-formed complex characters, it's not hard to imagine them as the protagonist in their own story. Motivation is a big factor in this: is the villain evil just for the sake of being evil, or is there something more interesting going on underneath the surface? Something that makes you understand why the villain is doing all these villainous things, even if you don't agree with their actions.

Here's a kind of sideways example:

Laertes is a young man who sees his family destroyed. His sister Ophelia is treated horribly by her suitor, a man who seems to toy with her affections before ultimately rejecting her. Then that same man murders their father Polonius. It's a case of mistaken identity, but the killer shows no remorse. Worst of all, Ophelia is driven mad by grief and heartbreak from these events, taking her own life. When offered a chance at revenge, Laertes of course accepts. In the end, though, both Laertes and the man who destroyed his family, a prince named Hamlet, die by a poisoned sword.

But the play's not called Laertes, is it? I called this a sideways example because while Laertes wasn’t a villain in Shakespeare's play, I do think it's a good example of how one person's protagonist is another person's villain. Meaning Hamlet, of course. I used to have kind of a thing for Hamlet. Not a literary crush, exactly, more like a mild obsession. I saw him as this punk slacker who couldn’t live up to his destiny, and consequently was relieved to greet death. This eventually transformed into a mild obsession with Kurt Cobain, but that's a different topic. It's been a number of years since I read the entire play instead of leafing through the pages that mark my favorite quotes. My favorite line will always be this:

In my heart there was a kind of fighting that would not let me sleep.

There's another one that I have found myself looking at frequently. It fits with the sideways view of the melancholy prince as a mad villain.

Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world. Now I could drink hot blood
And do such bitter business as the day
Would quake to look on.


Dare I say it - Vampire Hamlet?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Wrapping grey matter around new technology

Sometimes the universe makes decisions for me, decisions like “Thou shalt have an electronic reader device other than the laptop or your computer at work.”

Last week a friend of mine in Oz told me she had a spare Kindle floating around, which she kindly donated to my cause until we discovered that the thing’s lithium batteries create a bit of a tizz with the postal services. Hence, I told her not to bother…only to have another friend drop down from upcountry for a visit, and give me his old Sony Reader, which he isn’t using anymore.

It’s taken me less than a week to fall irrevocably in love with my new Reader. No more getting my nice books munched at the bottom of my bag. No more having to haul out the laptop to read ebooks. I can read in bright sunlight. I can make the text bigger. The document opens on the same page where I left off.

The Reader is compact, it’s slim and it doesn’t weigh as much as a book (or at least the doorstoppers I'm accustomed to reading). I’ve now got almost 90 books stored on it, with plenty of space for more. There are two SD card slots as well, so I can expand with further memory, should I need to. And, after hearing some of the frightening capacities of the memory cards coming onto the market nowadays…

I’m a happy puppy. A really happy puppy.

Because, to be quite honest, I’ve run out of shelf space at home. It’s chronic. I have to start making some hard decisions about letting some books go. And, while I’ll always have a bit of a book problem **laughs** I’m so chuffed I’m now fully into this ebook thing. It feels more “real” now that I’ve a reading device in hand.

I’ve been keeping pace with some of the changes the publishing industry is undergoing, and I’m glad I got my toe in the door about two years ago because I’ve a feeling this whole electronic publishing shindig is still going to do some amazing things for a lot of authors who wouldn’t ordinarily have had an opportunity.

I don’t care much for the attitude that “ebooks” aren’t real books. To me it’s the words that count, how the content of what I’m reading makes me feel. It’s not about holding paper in my hand. New forms of media are changing the way we exchange information, and I embrace this change with open arms.

Gone are the days with me stressing about a package in the mail, of waiting sometimes more than a month for my precious book to arrive from the US or UK. What I’m getting now is instant gratification to feed my reading weevil.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Write what you know

This is an old adage: write what you know. As far as possible I try to apply it to my writing but sometimes this does require that I go out and do stuff I wouldn’t ordinarily do. Like this past weekend, for instance. I climbed a mountain in my area to specifically visit a cave I’d heard a lot about while I was growing up.

I’ve a scene in my current work in progress, an urban fantasy novel entitled Incarna, where my main character climbs the same route late at night during a storm to go hide an artefact.

When I wrote the initial scene, I’d envisioned the route, based on a vague knowledge of the area and a contour map I downloaded off the internet. Not happy with the results, I decided some practical experience was necessary so, on Sunday, myself and my long-suffering husband put on our walking shoes and embarked on our little jaunt.

While my idea of timing was pretty spot-on, the route wasn’t. I’d chosen the wrong route in my novel because the quicker route proved to be the one I’d considered more difficult by looking at the map.

More importantly, while I’ve explored caves in the Table Mountain range before, I’d not gone as deep into a cave in this region before. I’d imagined the floor to be sandy, the rocks dry. In real life they weren’t. They were quite damp and, inside the mountain it was cold, and almost frigid, with the constant drip of moisture in some areas.

When my hands came in contact with the stone, my skin came away with a layer of sludge. There was no convenient sandy floor but uneven rocks. Footing was quite treacherous.

The only happy coincidence was that in my story, I’d written in a small chamber with a narrow lateral passage where my main character squeezes in to hide his artefact. Imagine my surprise when I encountered almost the exact same kind of passage in real life.

Most of what I write is based on some sort of practical experience. I feel this gives a nice ring of authenticity to my stories. While the internet may provide a good starting point, I encourage authors to go out there and try things for themselves.

Are you writing about a mortician? Approach a funeral home in your area and talk to an actual mortician. If you’re not squeamish, go and shadow them for a day or two. Are you writing about someone who’s into fashion design? Do the same. Go out, talk them, see what their day-to-day work is like.

Authors are, by their very natures, Jacks of all trades. We know a little about everything. Make it your mission to engage in novelty at least once a month. Do something out of your usual routine. You’ll be surprised at what you may discover and how this can enrich your writing.

* * * *


My next urban fantasy tale, The Namaqualand Book of the Dead, releases on March 21. Read an excerpt here: http://www.lyricalpress.com/store/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=1_22&products_id=313

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Is there such a thing as a good bad guy?

Well, yeah. Kinda. Since I write mysteries, I look at the villain a little differently. In my fictional world, the villains usually do some seriously nasty things—murder, kidnapping, theft, whatever.

I was told once, and I don't remember exactly where, that the antagonist is the hero of his or her own story.

My villains think they're doing the right thing. They usually aren't, but they think they are. Sometimes it's a case of doing the wrong things for the right reasons. At least in their minds.

That's what makes a good villain. Very few people in the non-fiction world are pure good or pure evil. A variety of factors make us who we are: our environment growing up, our friends, our families, even our eduction. None of us live in a bubble. Everything effects us, even if we don't realize it at the time.

One of the things about fiction is that we—as authors—can manipulate the lives of our characters in ways we can't do with the real people of the world.

So what makes a good villain? Being multi-demtional. Knowing that they think they're doing something right. Them having a reason for it (even if the reason isn't logical to the rest of the world).

What I want to know, though, is this: who is your favorite villain and why?

Blessings!
Nichole

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Team Brat

One of the topics that Nerine suggested for me last week is this: how does your environment inspire your writing? I didn't think I'd be able to discuss this topic because I didn't think I felt a strong enough connection to my environment for it to inspire my writing. For the first half of my life I was raised on military installations in various parts of the US, as well as Japan and Germany. The longest we ever lived in one place was two and a half years, and frequently we stayed for less time than that. I had very little stability growing up and never had the chance to be anything but an outsider. I thought that would change as an adult and I tried to adapt to living in a small town. I could not have been more wrong. Despite all the years I've lived here, it still doesn't feel like home. I don't think any "place" will ever feel like home. My home is a person instead of a place - my husband.

So if I don't have the standard place or environment that most people think of as home, is it possible that has had some influence over my writing? A brief exchange with a friend on Facebook got me thinking about that. Okay, yes, it was either figure this out or switch to another topic. The  more I thought about this question, the more I wanted an answer, even if it was one I didn't want to publish in a blog post. My friend asked me about other writers that grew up as military brats and I couldn't think of any at that moment, but I did a Google search later. Turns out I'd forgotten all about Pat Conroy, mostly because I've never been brave enough to read The Great Santini. My search also led me to this fascinating Wiki page about military brat subculture. I found myself nodding in agreement with quite a bit of it, recognizing some of both the positive and negative patterns in myself and my life. This passage especially struck a chord:  a pattern (for those military brats who do not choose military service) of work that is more independent (self-employment / avoidance of direct subservience to authority figures) and along those lines also favoring creative and artistic professions that offer more independence. That made me think of Kris Kristofferson because he is my favorite famous brat, and then surprisingly, my own characters.

So far my main characters have had certain things in common. They are all outsiders to some extent, usually a great extent. They are all independent, and if they answer to any authority figure it's out of personal loyalty and not some kind of corporate loyalty. They are all either other themselves or unusually accepting of anyone other. (See the anti-racism section of the Wiki article. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, makes my blood boil more than the small-minded cowardice of bigotry.)

Let me break this down a little more with specific characters. Both Jessie of Bring on the Night and Roxanne of Mojo Queen believe in using their supernatural gifts to help people. I grew up around people in uniform who believed in something greater than themselves, and I believe that is a huge part of why I love hero stories. Putting yourself on the line for someone else's benefit is an amazing thing to do. Jessie has a boss but is mostly autonomous. Roxie runs her own business as a paranormal investigator and root worker. Aislinn, the main character of my Paranormal Beat series, has an editor in chief but she's her own managing editor and pretty much does as she pleases. And I recognized very early on in the writing of the first Paranormal Beat novella that standing up against bigotry and for treating all people with kindness and basic decency was a deep underlying theme. I think that's a pretty common theme in a lot of paranormal fiction, though. Right on the first page of the first Sookie Stackhouse novel vampires are referred to as having come out of the coffin, and there is nothing subtle about the "God Hates Fangs" sign briefly glimpsed in the opening credits of True Blood. Having grown up with people of different backgrounds, religions, ethnicities, it is so hard for me to understand the deliberate demonization of people who are just, well, people. The monster metaphors help me to write about this without dissolving into tears and rage at what feels like a betrayal by some of everything good I was raised to believe. They also help me to accept my status as an outsider. That's something I thought would surely eventually change, but it hasn't and I guess it never will. So I write about outsiders, and they do the best they can with what they've got to help people, to stand up for what's right, and to keep their souls and their integrity intact.

I guess that was some pretty powerful inspiration after all.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Good writing habits

It's heartening to know I can do it: bettering my previous score for NaNo. I got to 30 000 words for the 2009 NaNoWriMo then ground to a halt when my day-job bit me on my posterior. And yes... that unfinished epic is languishing on my hard drive somewhere. I suspect it's also another one of my "lost" novels.

I started writing Incarna on December 28 and I'm now just shy of 60 000 words. How do I do it, you may ask? I've been writing almost 3 000 words every day, though I don't beat myself over the head if I don't quite make it, for whatever reason. This is on top of my day-job and editing obligations for my publisher.

To be quite honest, I don't know how, save that I'm very disciplined in my approach to working. While I do spend a bit of time involved in social networking (reading blogs, Facebooking and Twitter), when I work, I unplug myself from cyberspace and go hide either in the lounge, sprawled on the couch, or in my bedroom.

I work in bursts, which means I'll start by reading 10 pages of a submission, edit 10 pages of a novel then reward myself by writing a page of my own work. This kind of round usually takes about 3/4 of an hour. Then I get up, fold some laundry, water plants or feed the animals, check my mail, and go back to the couch.

Granted, this works when I'm home all day. But on an ordinary work day? I get up at 5.30am, feed animals, have coffee, check mail for 15 minutes, get ready and catch the 7.20am train to town. I then work for 3/4 on the train, usually handling 10 pages of edits for my publisher then treating myself to my own writing until we arrive in the CBD. During lunch I usually do the same kind of editing cycle as I would on the train. The only time I have to read for pleasure is an hour on the train going home during the afternoon. This is my chill-out time, because when I get home, I wash dishes, feed the animals (including the husband), allow myself half an hour to reply to emails... and start with an hour or three of reading subs, editing and writing.

I don't watch TV anymore. Personally, it bores me to death. I have what I fondly refer to as a YouTube attention span. Anything over six minutes and I lose interest.

Also, another thing, I divide my writing time into two phases: writing and revising. I don't write new words while I'm revising. I simply can't give my revisions the kind of attention they deserve if I'm emotionally invested in laying down a first draft.

I guess what I'm trying to say is you too can write a novel in a month or two. Do so by giving yourself a deadline, and make it your goal to write the required word count every day. Identify times of the day you can use for this, even if it means getting up an hour earlier every day. If you really want to do this thing, you can. Then get your butt on the chair and write. You'll find it becomes easier the more you get used to the routine. But do remember to allow yourself to do some of the fun things between, without them becoming distractions.

Environmental factors

Since Sonya so wonderfully asked for topics and Nerine so graciously gave some ideas, I'm going to use them!

Nerine's first question was "How does your environment inspire your writing?" Well, let me tell you mine does. In just about every way.

In Ghost Mountain, the murder occurs at Devils Tower, just 100 miles from my home. In the sequel, the murder takes place at Bear Butte, 40 miles from home. Obviously, my location is important to my work. Anyone who has ever visited the Black Hills of South Dakota can attest to the beauty of the area.

But writing doesn't happen there. Yes, I may get inspired by the beauty which surrounds me, but I don't write outside. Especially not in South Dakota's winters. It was -15 F last week! I didn't want to walk out to start the car, let alone sit out there an write!

My inside writing environment isn't always the most conducive to work, however. There are days my house is more like a zoo than a house. Well, I do have four cats. And three dogs. And two kids. And a husband. So one of the kids has "flown the coup" but she still lives in town (hooray!). The other is a senior in high school and looking forward to leaving for college in the fall. But I take my mom duties very seriously and have been known to stop what I'm doing if either of them need something—even if it's just to talk. Hubby is in a class by himself as far as time commitments. You'd think that since we are both home all day, every day, it would be easier to have him wait, but I find that I drop my projects when he asks. Oh! And don't forget my other job. Yes, I may work from home, but it's still a job.

With all these distractions, I often find myself...well, distracted.

So what do I do? For starters, I have been known to give the "Evil Mom Death Glare" to anyone brave enough to enter my office when they know I'm working. It's the same glare that tells them not to bother me on the phone unless they are bleeding or dead. Doesn't always work, however. I've also been guilty of the phrase "just give me a minute" before doing something as mundane as starting dinner. Often this will cause them to cook, or at least fend for themselves. Not always the best solution, but it works. And no one in the house has starved while I finish a scene.

My environment provides both positives and negatives. But doesn't everyone's?

Blessings!
Nichole

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Help a blogger out

Here I am once again without a blog topic. So I'm going to ask you, Dear Reader, what would you like to see here on Wednesdays? What sort of topics are you interested in, what questions would you like answered? Because at this point about all I've got is live-blogging my Great Buffy/Angel Rewatch of 2011 Event. Once I actually start doing that, which I haven't yet.

Any ideas?

Suggestions?

Please?

Pretty please, with sugar on top. ;-)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Back in the Saltmines, again...

I'm quite surprised I've lasted this long. By the middle of 2011, I will have worked for the same company, a national South African newspaper publisher, for six years. Before that I'd never lasted more than two years before terminal boredom set in.

Granted, my day-job isn't the most inspiring, but it has opened doors for me to write lifestyle and travel-orientated editorial, which is published nationally. I've turned what could have been a very boring day-job into something fun and challenging, but it does require going beyond the call of duty and putting in a lot of extra hard work I don't get paid for.

What I realised this past week or so while I was on leave, is that I really enjoy my freelance work as a content editor. I've also realised that if this job were to ever pay the right kind of money, I possess the discipline to turn this into a full-time profession.

And I've really revelled in a fortnight of hiding in my Treehaus in the far south of the Cape Peninsula. After the year I've had, this time of isolation was so necessary, just to catch my breath and establish fresh current for 2011. I'm cautiously optimistic about what this year will bring and have managed to get some quiet time.

What struck me as well during my leave was that I really enjoyed working from home, on my content editing. Not only do I have the satisfaction of seeing an author's work go out into the world, but there's the quiet joy of giving authors that toehold in the publishing industry.

When I see how authors bloom and gain confidence, it's a source of joy and wonder. With each first contract offered, I recapture some of the excitement when a letter that said, "Dear author, thank you for querying, but..." reads "Dear author, we are pleased to offer you a contract..."

And when those first good reviews come in, I recall the hours of hard work and I feel that warm fuzzy glow knowing I was partially responsible for shaping these words that have pleased readers.

There's something subtle and satisfying in seeing new cover art for the first time, remembering the sometimes hesitant query letters I read when I reviewed a submission of a previously unpublished author, how a manuscript has gone from a MS Word document to a final .pdf with lush cover art.

And, while some of my charges are going on to bigger, more ambitious projects, this gives me a sense of accomplishment for having been there to give them that much-needed boost so they can go out there and realise their dreams.

Yes, I'm a facilitator of dreams, and I love it. And, while it sometimes stings that I can't do this full-time, I'm doing it because it's something that adds quality not only to my own creativity, but to those of others who are also prone to dreaming.