Coffin Hop Blog Tour

The last week of October I’ll be participating in the Coffin Hop Blog Tour facilitated and organized by Axel Howerton and RL Treadway. The Facebook group is here if you want to jump on this crazy train. I’m still not entirely sure what I’m supposed to do, but it will involve some sort of giveaway as part of a contest. This is my first time participating in one of these so right now I’m a little fuzzy on the details. The most likely prize will be a copy of my book, Revenants Abroad, which (if all goes according to plan) should release right around October 31. More details as I get them. Watch this space, and all that.

Moving Forward

 

So it looks like it’s really going to happen, I’m really going to unleash Andrej, Neko, and Anne-Marie on the world, probably late this summer. This is, quite frankly, terrifying. Honest to dog, I don’t know how I’m going to make myself do all the obligatory marketing and selling. I don’t want to become “that author” who endlessly tweets nothing but ‘buy my book!’ tweets.

But first, I have to get something, some kind of descriptors or keywords to my cover artist so he can get started on the painting (yes, not CGI. I’ve seen some really dreadful covers done in CGI). :::chews nails::: This is much harder than I thought it would be. There are the obvious things: vampires, Prague, the three main characters. I really have no clear vision of what I want on the cover so I’ll wait and see what he comes up with. I’m still not entirely sure what all he’s going to do as far as creating the digital version of the painting. So many details still to work out. I hope to have a contract in the next day or two.

I’m rethinking how/where I’m going to release the book. I had initially figured I’d go KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) but now I’m thinking Smashwords who can distribute to iTunes and loads of others, including Kobo (since that’s the kind of ereader I have).

Oh god I feel like Kermit.

Can This Mouse Roar?

:::aside to Jason – If you read this, I haven’t changed my mind about wanting the cover:::

http://images2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20070412234361/redwall/images/archive/b/b7/20070503005030!Matthias.JPG

 

I’m having wild swings of emotion these days, due in part to the change of jobs coming up. I have one week left at my current job, after which I will start at the new job at my former company. For a few moments in the office the other day as I was training one of my co-workers to take over one of my job functions, I had a feeling of competence that I haven’t really had for the last two years. This place has done such a number on my self-worth I’ve begun to think of myself as an incompetent screw-up.

Now, however, trying to pass down what I know to others to hand off everything I do (and you should have seen the list of job functions my supervisor was trying to figure out how to parcel out among the others) I realized how much I DO know about my job, and how impossible it will be to transfer all of it. And that’s only with this one particular task. The office manager has been particularly nice to me the last few days, not sure what that means.

Big Boss, however, has been as cold to me as ever. She knows I’m leaving and hasn’t said more than a ‘good morning’ when she arrives in the office. She’s out of town all next week, so I will never see her again. If I had any doubts about this being the right move for my mental health, that removed them. Financially this may not be the best move, but there are more important things.

So now I’m having second thoughts about this whole book thing. Can I really do this? Should I?  I’m still editing. And rewriting. And terrified, basically. I don’t know where people get the confidence to go ahead with these things and market their books (relentlessly) online. Moments of “Why not?” alternate with “Why bother?” Despite some aperiodic Leonine bravado, I am a mouse at heart.

Maybe my psyche’s not as strong as it once was. The older we get the more we realize how little we know. I think I’ll go write and play with my imaginary friends.

Cover Me

475px-the_scream1

 

My time lately has been concentrated on researching book covers: designs, designers, how-to, software, stock photos, pre-made vs. commissioned. What I’ve decided is since I want to give the book its best chance possible I am going to commission cover art. My reasons are thus:

1. I want good art that will stand out, and won’t make me feel embarrassed to show someone, like these would. (Fair warning: you may need trauma counseling after viewing that site.)

2. The book is the first of what I hope will be a trilogy.  I want a cohesive look, rather than a mish-mash of different styles so I’m hoping to be able to have the same artist do the covers of the next books as well.

3. Design programs like PhotoShop or GIMP have a steep learning curve. If you don’t already know how to use them, it’s not likely to be something you can learn to do well in a weekend (unless you’re a whole lot smarter than I am). I suspect it would take years to achieve the level of mastery I’m after.  I got as far as downloading GIMP and was flummoxed. As much as I love playing around with it, I have no idea what I’m doing and the effort would be amateurish at best.  Again, the embarrassment factor.

4. I love really good cover art. Most of the pre-made covers are formulaic, or just not quite right and make me want to tweak the design this way or that, even if the art isn’t bad. I don’t want to settle for something that’s almost there.

5. I’m not an artist and know only the merest basics of design principles.

What can I say? Champagne taste on a beer budget.

It will cost more money, but people do judge books by their covers (I know I do) and those cheesey, bad CGI covers with ugly fonts are a turn-off to me, so probably are to most other people as well.  I’ve solicited information from three or four artists online (and dismissed others out of hand due to their prices) and am pretty well focused on one. It’s not that I begrudge these people their rates, god knows a real artist with real talent deserves to be compensated for their work. I simply can’t come up with that much money right now. And high prices are also no guarantee of talent, as you can quickly discover. I trolled the internet for a couple of weeks, looking up all kinds of artists, checking out the DIY options, pre-made offerings. This, I believe, is the best course.

The whole process is kind of taking my breath away, and my heart beat faster. This is really happening. Unless I chicken out and decide not to do it. I’ll probably just quietly put the book up on Amazon and hope no one notices…

Say When

water overflowing

So, I quietly did Camp NaNoWriMo in April. I thought maybe without the fanfare of announcing I was doing it and worrying about write-ins and taking part in the community (although all those things are great, and a wonderful part of the experience of NaNoWriMo) I would be more focused on the writing and less on talking about it. It seems to a have worked.

What did I work on? The sequel to Revenants Abroad, tentatively titled The Age of Revenants. Is it finished? Hardly. Let’s call it a good start. It’s about as rough as you’d expect 50,000 words cranked out in haste over 30 days to be. But that’s all right, I needed to get some ideas down, and why not put them towards the goal? A couple of things are kind of going off on tangents so may get revised out later, or possibly saved for something else. But I’m pleased that I was able to get this much done. And let me tell you, it was not easy. It’s one reason I’ve been very quiet on Twitter over the last month. And I really had to make a push during the last weekend. So apologies for any crankiness. It’s an insane way to get some writing done, but I feel like I have no choice these days. Would that I could quit the dayjob and just write. I’m so close to handing in my notice I can’t even tell you.

It felt good to get some of this stuff down, but it seems like the more I write, the more ideas I get. I’ve become better about grabbing a pen and paper when I get those lines just as I’m drifting off to sleep, which seems to happen more and more. I suspect I’m not unique in this.

Now to finish RA, get a cover, and get it up at Amazon. I’ve decided to self-pub via KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) as agents seem unanimous in their distaste for vampire stories these days. I think there’s still a market, so am taking it upon myself to publish it and see what happens. As I told my dear friend Bunny this morning, I’m taking steel wool to the last few pages, finishing up edits (caught a couple of doozy typos), then I’ll need to get a cover created, and maybe a couple more beta readers, and hopefully have it up for sale before the end of the summer. I have to be done with this so I can move on to the next one. I just haven’t figured out when to say “when.”

A Crystal Age

A_Crystal_Age_(1906_Edition_Cover)

Another of my Project Gutenberg finds, “A Crystal Age” by W.H. Hudson is an early science fiction story. Originally published in 1887 anonymously, later editions had the author’s name. One wonders why it was published anonymously to begin with as science fiction was not unheard of at that time. According to Wikipedia, utopia/dystopia literature was quite the rage at the time, not unlike today.

Some of the plot devices it employs are echoed in later books. The narrator is out on a botanical expedition in the hills near his English home when he falls and then awakens much later in strange surroundings with no real explanation of how this occurs. The fact is he has been unconscious apparently for millennia, or somehow fallen through a portal in time (my own guess, it’s never mentioned in the book) and finds himself in the far distant future. This sort of magical transportation is what Edgar Rice Burroughs used in his “John Carter of Mars” series, where Carter is mysteriously whisked to the red planet without explanation, although “A Crystal Age” predates “John Carter” by a good 25 years or so.

The story is an interesting imagining of what the far future might look like, and how people of that time would behave. But our hero baffles me in several ways. A couple of points most difficult to reconcile are that everyone in the future speaks 19th century English, and yet the written language has become incomprehensible. The narrator, Smith, likens the forms of the letters in books to Hebrew characters. Why would the written language alter so completely, but not the spoken? Language changes relatively quickly, and in the span of time that must have elapsed between the England of Smith’s day and the time he wakes to find himself in where no trace remains of any city, language would have altered beyond recognition. Even today, with only a couple thousand years between us, no one knows what ancient Greek sounded like, and there is debate about Latin pronunciations.

Anyway, when he wakes from his fall after an unknown amount of time, he finds himself covered by vining plants from which he must extricate himself. His boots are muddy, dry, cracked, as if they have aged while he has not. He begins to walk in an unfamiliar landscape, passing animals that come to stare at him seemingly in wonder as if they can recognize an unfamiliar human, an outsider. Maybe they can tell a carnivore when they see one.

Then, like H. G. Wells’s “The Time Machine” our narrator right off the bat falls in love with a young girl in a small group of humans he encounters, although the young Yoletta is vastly more intelligent and independent than the Eloi Weena. While Smith struggles to understand the peculiar ways of these people, he readily capitulates to their way of life, and strives to fit in from the outset, and makes no attempt to try to understand where he is or how he got there, or how the world came to be the way it is, or what may lie beyond the small area this family inhabits. His obsession with Yoletta drives his every action, from the minute he lays eyes on her.

He never even wonders about his own family or friends, or whether they might be concerned about him. His infatuation with Yoletta has an almost slavish quality. He indentures himself to the family for a year in return for a suit of clothes such as the group all wear so that he won’t stand out or offend them, and in so doing, please Yoletta. His new benefactors are affronted by Smith’s appearance and clothing, particularly his boots, although why is never made clear. The reader can only assume it’s a quirk of their society, the way removing hats on entering a building is with us.

The people seem to take offense easily, although are equally quick to forgive and move on. They’re so accustomed to their own lifestyle that they find it incomprehensible that Smith could come from a place where things are done differently. They’re a bit like the Eloi in that they seem to spend no time in self-examination, or question their existence or have any desire to travel beyond the confines of their small corner of the world.

Yoletta is an unusual character for the time this was written. She espouses views that are progressive, while Smith’s are utterly conventional, chauvinistic. Smith loves Yoletta because she’s beautiful, even while he knows nothing about her. Despite his attempts to flatter, compliment, and flirt with her, Yoletta treats him as she would a friend, with affection and courtesy, but clearly doesn’t return his ardor. During Smith’s first attempt to tell Yoletta how beautiful he finds her, Yoletta observes:

“There are different kinds of beauty, I allow, and some people seem more beautiful to us than others, but that is only because we love them more. The best loved are always the most beautiful.”

This is in direct contrast to Smith’s idea that the most beautiful are the best loved. Yoletta is wiser than her years suggest. Smith, on the other hand, has some growing up to do.

The writing is rich, as was the custom of the time, with poetic descriptions that would bore most modern readers, but which I still enjoy. I think modern prose can often be too stark, there’s room still for more colorful writing.

“For a long time the sky had been overcast with multitudes and endless hurrying processions of wild-looking clouds – torn, wind-chased fugitives, of every mournful shade of color, from palest gray to slatey-black; and storms of rain had been frequent, impetuous, and suddenly intermitted, or passing away phantom-like towards the misty hills, there to lose themselves among other phantoms, ever wandering sorrowfully in that vast, shadowy borderland where earth and heaven mingled; and gusts of wind which, as they roared by over a thousand straining trees and passed off with hoarse, volleying sounds, seemed to mimic the echoing thunder.”

It’s a short book, more of a novella by our standards (133 pages all told, including all Project Gutenberg’s added notations and licensing and so on), definitely worth a read even after all these years.

UPDATE: 1/20/2014 – Erin Johanson was kind enough to mention it’s available on Amazon for Kindle for free as well here. (Thanks, Erin!) Project Gutenberg has all their offerings in multiple formats, including MOBI, which is what the Kindle uses so lots of ways to find books!

UPDATE 2: Changed to “The Time Machine”. Thanks, Ralfast.

Well, Here We Are.

Half-way through December with the holiday-that-shall-not-be-named right around the corner. No, I’m not ready.

I relieved myself of the pressure of NaNoWriMo about two weeks in when, as I told someone on Twitter, work exploded and I lost the will to live. The job stress led to panic attacks and the last thing I had energy or time for was trying to keep up the word count everyday.

Then, somehow I heard about Pitch Wars, about 24 hours before the deadline to get in on it. So I scrambled and put together a pitch and sent in the first five pages of the WIP, Revenants Abroad. Alack and alas, I was not chosen by any of the mentors I sent it to, but did get some really amazing feedback on it from one. Another was not as helpful and actually suggested I table the whole thing since paranormal/vampire stories are a tough sell right now. Well, maybe they are, but they’re still being published. I mean, really, what ISN’T a tough sell? Agents and publishers are all hoping for the next Harry Potter.

blacksmithBut as I said, I got some really thoughtful, helpful feedback from Julie Sondra Decker. I mean, A LOT of very specific detailed critiquing of those five pages. I was amazed and incredibly grateful. She gave me a lot to think about and  that need reworking right in the beginning but things I need to take another look at throughout. And she was right. I look at those opening pages and think, “Geez, how did I not see that before?” So while I wasn’t chosen as a “mentee” it was still worth sending it in. Not all mentors responded, only two of the four I sent RA to did, so I realize how fortunate I was.

One thing about the mentors involved is a very high percentage of them were only looking for Middle Grade or Young Adult, so clearly they were not going to be interested in my manuscript. Since I found out about the contest so late I had very little time to read through the mentor bios and pick out four who might be a good fit. I may have chosen badly in haste, I’m not sure.

So, back I go for another round of revisions. I’m undecided about participating in PitchMAS now, but may give it a shot anyway.

And if nothing else, I found a number of excellent new people to follow on Twitter.

Now if I can just get the job situation squared away, maybe I can get back to focusing on writing.

What Would Dickens Say?

The season of commercial excess is upon us, unfettered, in all it’s foul glory. Like a juggernaut, the exhortations to ‘Buy! Buy! Buy!’ come fast and furious now, and no matter how much we may bemoan the crass commercialization of this season, most of us will dutifully heed the call, in some measure. Stores opened on Thanksgiving Day this year to begin the buying frenzy, an unprecedented move that horrified and outraged many.

Scrooge would be so proud.

I caught part of “A Christmas Carol” on tv this afternoon and thought how little things have changed since Dickens’ time. Employers demanding people work on Thanksgiving… can working on Christmas Day be far behind? Sure, there have always been those who had to work regardless of holiday – emergency services like police, firemen, nurses, doctors, military. When I was in the Navy I stood watch on Christmas Eve, although I admit I don’t recall if I ever worked Christmas Day itself. If I had to, I did. We were very flexible with our festivities. I remember a large gathering at the house I rented off-base with three others while in Okinawa. Our whole group of friends gathered at our place to exchange gifts and share a meal. It was one of the loveliest Christmases I ever spent. I don’t remember what day it was, likely not Christmas Day itself.

Since that time I’ve never worked on a major holiday, but my current boss would probably like for us all to. The child labor that Dickens campaigned against and the atrocious working conditions of his time may be (mostly) gone in the First World, but they are alive and well and being exploited on a daily basis around the world: Mumbai, Shenzhen, Sub-Saharan Africa, Pakistan…

Scrooge learned his lesson on putting money above all else, but that attitude is encouraged and expected at all US businesses. It’s all about the bottom line, profit, keeping the shareholders and Board of Directors happy. My boss allows no mention of “Christmas” or any specifically Christmas-themed decorations (when I left last Tuesday I noticed a large tree in front of one of the buildings on campus strung with holiday lights, and thought “that’s gonna chap her ass…”) so we are having a ‘Winter Celebration’ in lieu of a ‘Christmas’ or even ‘Holiday’ party this week. I wonder how she’d feel if she knew she had a pagan in the office. I want a Yule tree, and a Yule log, and lots of holly and ivy and mistletoe, and lots of wassailing…

I have to think Dickens would be none too pleased. We’ve learned nothing, we haven’t evolved one bit since his book was published in 1843. Cash (or credit) is still king. The rich get richer.

In the meantime, enjoy what I consider the definitive version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, “Scrooge” from 1951, starring Alastair Sim. Just wonderful. And whatever you’re celebrating, have a happy.

 

Wæs Hæl! (Be you healthy!)

Neil Gaiman on Reading

And the second thing fiction does is to build empathy. When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.

This is a snippet of a lecture Neil Gaiman gave to the Reading Agency in London, on Monday, October 14, about the importance of reading, libraries, and librarians. Read the rest here in The Guardian. It is a long-ish read, but worth it. Gaiman makes the case for reading, libraries, books and daydreaming better than anyone I’ve ever seen (or read). Pass it on.

Now if only people would put down their smart phones and tablets and turn off the tv long enough to read a book.

book shelf