Monday, December 31, 2012

2013 Book Resolution

*Editor's Note: this post is utterly useless except to showcase how depressing and OCD my reading behavior is. I will hopefully get back to posting somwhat informative pieces next week.*

My reading goal for 2012 was to read 10,000 pages and I certainly made it. For 2013 my only goal is to read all the books I own that are as of yet unread. I got into a really bad habit of getting books and adding them to the pile and it got quite out of hand. I got rid of two big boxes before I moved and another after. Luckily I got most of the books for $2.00 or less (often free because I'd go through other people's giveaway boxes). Now I'm down to a manageable 35-ish books. Since I read 32 books in 2012, this is my next year's goal. I want to get into the habit of buying books saying "I will read this next" rather than "I will read this after I read those other 40 books I have to read."

I keep all the books I read, even if I don't like them. I enjoy having my own library and lending the books out to people that want to read them. Plus, a lot of the books are non-fiction that I keep for reference. So, my whole library mentality meant I wanted to add to my collection, even if I knew I wouldn't get around to reading the books for years. Well, I don't have room for that, I'm wasting money if I keep it up, and it made me lax on actually finishing books because I had so many in line to read. So, I'm making a real effort to read the books I have and NOT buy books I know I won't read. I don't think I could go a whole year and not buy any books. I mean, if a book I have on my wish list comes into the library donation bin that I can buy for $1.00, of course I'm buying it. It does happen, but it doesn't happen every week. And while I've only been spending $10-$20 every month or two on books, it's added up to too many books. I've weeded my library. Now I need to get to reading.

AJ's 2013 Book Resolution

Beginning January 1st, 2013 my goal is to read all the books in my "to-read" pile that I own and to restrict my book buying to a set list of guidelines.

A. The Books I Will Be Reading

1. The books I intend to read in 2013 will be written on a list and I will not be able to re-evaluate the "Books I Can Buy" section until I have completed reading all the books on the list.
2. There are some books I own and haven't read that will not be put on the list such as how-to books like that one I have about constructing and operating small-scale greenhouses.
3. Some books are a series and I will only obligate myself to reading the first book in the series before I buy more books.
4. I may add to the list for 2013, keeping a small "overflow" section that I can move books to should I buy more books under the set guidelines that I want to read in 2013.
5. The list shall not exceed 40 books, the overflow 10 books, for a total of no more than 50 books.

B. Books I Can Buy

1. Books shall only be bought if they are on my wish list. I may add to the wish list, but may only buy if I find at one of the locations listed under #3.
2. Exception to#1. Because my research is ongoing and I have stumbled upon many books that have been very valuable, I can buy books not on my wish list only from the library/used books and only if they fall into one of the following categories:
a. Fiction -- a main character with a physical disability.
b. Non-fiction -- a book that centers on disability studies, gender studies, human sexuality, psychology of physical attraction, or body image.
c. memoir with disability or body image as central theme.
3. Books may only be bought in real life from one of the following:
a. library discard table
b. library used book sale
c. library used book donation bin
d. thrift store
e. planned excursion that includes a bookstore or discounted book store
4. Even though I love stocking up at library used book sales, I have a limit of THREE books for these in 2013, the only exception being if I actually find more than three books on my wish list at the sale.
5. Buying online is completely VERBODEN unless it is to buy a book by an author I know who has published a book and I cannot get it any other way.

In short, I have 39 books on my to-read list (including some new ones I got for Christmas!) so my 2013 reading goal is 40 books, and I should just limit buying books used that are on my wish list. The end.

To everyone who made it down this far, have a great new year. May it be filled with books ;)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Everyone loves quotes

This is not a real post because I woke up with a migraine (amazingly enough the only one I've had for months, which I'm extremely thankful for) and the post I had prepared somehow disappeared. I think I know why, but that doesn't make it reappear, unfortunately. I didn't think I would be able to post today because taking head meds and wallowing under covers only made me feel nauseous, but for some reason, putting on my headphones and thrashing around like an idiot in my own invisible mosh pit with the lights out while I ate a number of Fruit Rollups in between songs made me feel better. But I'm going to ride that adrenaline through some editing instead of a blog post. Since I have an odd habit of obsessively collecting quotes, my plan B blog posts will always be quotes. So let's get to it.

“if you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”
― Stephen King, On Writing

“The man of knowledge must be able not only to love his enemies but also to hate his friends.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”
― Stephen Hawking

“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.”
― C.G. Jung

“Properly, we should read for power. Man reading should be man intensely alive. The book should be a ball of light in one's hand.”
― Ezra Pound

“The hardest thing of all is to find a black cat in a dark room, especially if there is no cat.”
― Confucius

“Her reputation for reading a great deal hung about her like the cloudy envelope of a goddess in an epic.”
― Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

“Sorrow is knowledge, those that know the most must mourn the deepest, the tree of knowledge is not the tree of life. ”
― George Gordon Byron

“Conquer anger by love, evil by good; conquer the miser with liberality, and the liar with truth.”
― Siddhārtha Gautama

“Do not think of knocking out another person's brains because he differs in opinion from you. It would be as rational to knock yourself on the head because you differ from yourself ten years ago.”
― Horace Mann

“The truly faithless one is the one who makes love to only a fraction of you. And denies the rest.”
― Anaïs Nin

Sunday, December 16, 2012

6 ways to be "that" annoying author on Facebook

With all the talk of author brands, online platforms, and finding more outlets to promote work, Facebook seems like an ideal place for an author to connect and advertise. In many ways it is, but if you're not careful you will quickly turn into that annoying person on Facebook, who gets blocked or removed from your friend's news feeds. As an author that uses Facebook with other authorly friends, here are the six most annoying things (in my opinion) an author can do on Facebook.

1. Creating too many pages, and wanting your friends to like ALL of them.

Having multiple pages for pen names or keeping your personal page separate from your author page is often necessary. But don't go overboard. I know authors that on top of having a personal page and multiple pen name pages, they make pages for each book published. Way too much, especially when the author sends like/friend invites to their entire friend's list each time they make a new page. There are only so many things friends will like before you start getting ignored.

2. Word for word multiple postings and shares.

Posting things on your author page AND your personal page word for word will show up as repetitive clutter in friend's feeds that are linked to both your pages. I am guilty of doing this from time to time and I should stop, because it is annoying. Not to mention it doesn't give anyone a reason to like/friend an author page if you post everything to your personal page as well. If you want to promote works via other pen names or your personal page, spread it out and don't copy paste. It's easy: Post. Wait a day. Post with different wordage. But only on really important things like a new book or maybe a promo.

3. No content other than "buy my book."

Not only will you get boring to your friends, new people that check out your page (who may have already bought your book) won't want to subscribe to you on FB unless you provide more content. There are plenty of LOL cats relating to books, writing, or topics you write about (zombies, cooking, rodeos).
If you want to be more serious, do book reviews, post smart things people from history have said, or cats doing serious things. Linking other social networking accounts to automatically post to your FB can be good to up content but not if you post the same things on twitter that you post on FB. (I personally like the goodreads app. For FB, as it updates automatically and I post things there I don't post anywhere else.)

4. Abusing tagging and messaging

Just because someone liked your page/friends you doesn't mean they've signed up for the mailer too. Private messages are a little better, as these are private, but tagging means it'll show up on the tagged friend's wall.

Which, yeah, then people that aren't friends with you will see you have a new book! Awesome!

No, more like annoying because it feels like you're stealing the friend's opinion and using their space for advertising. Bad.

If a friend chooses to post: "New book by Authorly Awesome, read it!" Then great. But when you say "New book by Authorly Awesome, read it!" and stick it on their wall with the clever use of tags... ouch. Sure, people can untag themselves or remove themselves from messages, but really, do you want to wave something in front of their face and annoy them to a point of taking action? They probably won't check out what you're telling them about if that's the case. Especially if you just posted it on your author page. And again on your personal page. Oy.

5. Being too casual.

Personally, I would love to post naughty words and angry self-righteous rants on my personal page, but I don't. I'm super PC, because I'm paranoid. So I'm usually extra paranoid on my author pages. Keep in mind that strangers will be looking at your page even if they don't friend/like your page. So personal, heated drama should probably stay out of your updates. Life updates like moving or kidney failure are probably good if you can tie it into why your next book is late, but daily wallowing is bad. Also, keep it professional. Have a cleaner layout, use complete sentences. No pixilated pictures for your cover photo and do not make your Schnauzer your profile picture. Using profanity is up to you. Of course if it's in your book or your book has adult themes you don't want to present yourself as having a book full of gee-whiz and sexuality that goes as far as the midriff. Just use your best judgment.

6. Calling FB "advertising" or using it as your primary marketing tool.

Having an author page is not advertising. Maybe if you pay lots-o-money for those side ads, but there are debates as to how effective those actually are. And if you think just making a FB page for the book is a good enough marketing plan... um. It's not. And if you think all 437 friends on your personal page will buy your book, you are dreaming. From the local authors I know, and from my experience, only about 10% of your friends will actually buy. A little bit more will read/download free stuff like short stories or blog posts. And less than 10% will come to a live event. Facebook only goes so far and you will soon exhaust your pool of fans and annoy them into blocking you from their feeds/unliking your page if your only advertising is done there. Which defeats the purpose when you have a new book or an event to share.

In my experience FB is best when you have NEWS which is very rare. A new book is news. The first book signing is news. An award is news. Reminding friends to buy the book you published 8 months ago is not news. Reminders are okay, if you get an influx of likes/friends from say a blog post being featured or a book event you went to. But posting every week (or every month) about old books is a good way to turn off your audience. Constant posting is good to stay updated with content, but keep it minimal. A quote here, a link there, an lol cat once a week. That way when you have NEWS you can have a cluster of postings and not be annoying/actually have people pay attention.

FB is a double edged sword, and I will return to the topic to further depress authors in a post I have in the works: why FB will disappoint you as an author. Cheers.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

10 Ways to Make Your Editor Angry

I was an in-house editor at my college for my internship and since graduation I've delved into the world of freelance editing, on a small scale in between drafts of my own stuff. I've learned a lot, especially about author/editor relations. So here's a handy list of things to upset your editor, in case you ever want your editor shaken, not stirred.

1. Giving your editor your first draft.

I'm begging and pleading here: do not give your editor your first draft. If you say to me "Brandon and Jeremy are the same person, I just haven't decided the character's name yet," you are not ready for an editor. Unless both you and the editor know it's an early draft to be gone over for general suggestions, you won't get a very good edit from an early draft.

2. Giving a ridiculous deadline.

"Yeah, I want to start formatting this next week."

Well… It takes me at least two months to edit a book. Longer if you insist that all 250,000 words in this behemoth is necessary. I've had some writers practically laugh in my face when I say it takes me at least an hour to edit 5 pages well. And I never edit more than two hours in a row because then I start rushing or looking over things. Trust me, my suggestions for plot and character development are going to take more work than just adding a comma here and there. Getting an editor may be one of the last steps in the process, but it's one that takes a lot of time, so please don't have unrealistic expectations.

3. I'll pay you in pickles.

It was really rocky for me to transition from "I need the experience, I'll edit anything for free" to "I will need some money from this." Even now I charge way less than pro editors. But I still get, "I can't pay you, but I'll take you out to lunch." or "I have half a tub of cool whip and some toilet paper to give you if you'll look this over." Really strange things. (Unfortunately, no one's offered peach vodka, which I would probably go for.) I understand it's hard for an author to shell out a lot of money, especially if they aren't sure the edit will be good. (I personally hate it when I hear stories about an author paying a crap editor. Just because they like to write or have been to college doesn't instantly make them a good editor, even if they think they are. Makes me sad.) I do my best to tell the author exactly what I would do in an edit, how I make it mandatory that they sit down with me and we go over everything together after I have edited a section to clear things up/get better ideas. I show them my work and my process so they know where I'm coming from. Unfortunately just like graphic artists and photographers I've known who have made the jump to charging for their services, people think that because it's more of an intellectual/abstract service that it doesn't deserve as much payment. I do a good job, act as a professional and truly believe I can assist authors with my skills. Please don't offer to pay me in sandwich toppings.

4. Not taking any of the editor's advice.

I know as an author myself, sometimes you think your work is so fantastic, when someone else reads it they're going to say, "Whoa, this is amazing! I mean, this comma here might not need to be there, but other than that, this is great!"

End daydream sequence here. An editor is there to edit. Cut. Chop. Murder all your sweet, innocent darlings. I actually like when an author is a little feisty and defends their ideas. Or maybe I don't get something and they say, "Well, I was trying to get this point across." Then we edit an earlier part to make the troublesome part make sense. That's editing. But when an author completely shuts down every suggestion I make, I stop making suggestions. And that is an utter waste of everyone's time and money. An author certainly does not have to take all the suggestions an editor makes. Part of being a good writer is knowing when to veto some suggestions. But don't let your ego destroy your work and your relationship with an editor. Even if it means putting the piece down for awhile and looking at it later. But yes, as an editor when I spend hours reading and editing something, just to see the final published version is EXACTLY the same thing I read…. Uh oh.

5. Giving an editor's credit without permission.

Now, this may be different for some editors. Some editors will be offended if you DON'T give an editor's credit. But for me, at the stage I'm at, I don't want an editor credit. I'm also an author, so I don't want my name popping up too much on other work that is drastically different than my own. I'm also not officially pro and can't take on several projects at once, so my name as an editor doesn't need to be out there. What I would rather have is a short write up of how I helped the author and how the edit improved their progress, so I can show that to future authors that want me to edit something. HOWEVER, if the editor does do a good job and wants a credit, give it to them. Basically, be clear about what the editor wants and never put an editor's name out anywhere unless they approve.

6. Stealing the editor's exact words.

I usually circle problem paragraphs and offer loose suggestions, but this does not mean I'm rewriting the paragraph for you. I say "this is an example," not "put this in verbatim." But often I will see the author put in the exact word or sentence that I suggested. Or I'll say, "Maybe start this differently" and start a sentence then fade out… but the author will say, "You didn't finish this sentence for me here."

No… because you're supposed to.

I don't know if other editors just rewrite entire paragraphs for authors, but I don't. Usually I talk with the author instead of writing suggestions. If you think you can just plop a manuscript down and insert the corrections the editor made and move on, you are mistaken. Which brings me to…

7. Not rebuilding your piece.

I hate it when I make suggestions and the only changes I see are commas and misspellings but no real overhaul to the piece. I do not try to change the integrity or point of a piece, but STRUCTURE, PEOPLE. You will have to perform some surgery after an edit. You can't just put in what the editor put in red. Or worse, something at the end is re-written but that just makes something at the beginning not make sense. As an author, you still have to write and see the whole picture. Or else you just make both you and the editor look dumb.

8. Sending three stories when I said I'd only look at one.

Each transaction must be agreed upon. If you say, "Hey I have this 2,000 piece work, can I pay you twenty bucks to look at it?" and I say yes and get three stories in my inbox? No good. Or I edit one book for someone, eight months goes by and suddenly book #2 magically appears in my inbox with "We can get together Wednesday about the first section edit." No, no good. Also, if I say "Well, I have too many things going on right now, I can't take this on," don't try to guilt trip me into looking into it anyway by saying I don't have to look at allll of it, just sooome of it. I don't work that way, I'm sorry. I've learned the hard way when I was not charging that if someone asked "Could you look over something for me?" I would get anywhere from 3-7 pieces sent to me. Know exactly which ONE piece you want edited when you approach an editor.

9. "So, uh, since you edited my book... and you've done this before... can you format my ebook and print book for me? And can you set up a Facebook page/tweeter thing/manage my Createspace account too? I have more toilet paper money."

Uh… No.

I have absolutely no problem showing authors how social networks work. I'm a bit of a junkie in that aspect and am on goodreads every day. I even ask about post-production in the editing process, with marketing ideas etc. because I firmly believe it is important to keep in mind during editing. But I cannot manage all those accounts for you and send updated royalty reports to you. And while I may format books for authors in certain situations, I will want to be paid in addition to the edit. I will most likely charge less than a freelancer on Craigslist anyway, so don't take advantage of the fact that I taught myself the skills you need by throwing the service in with the edit or giving me more pickles.

10. "Thanks for editing my book! It's on sale now. It's 25.00 but for you, 21.95!"
No comment. Just don’t.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Writing Technique Inspired by Tag Clouds

I call it "clouding," because I am a genius. Here's the back story.

While writing the bulk of my most recent book, I set a daily word count goal that usually changed by the week. My method would be to take a piece of paper to work and try to write a scene during my 15 minute breaks and my lunch. Then I would go home and type the scene and meet my word count. That worked okay maybe two days of the week. Most of the time my brain would be numb, I'd be lucky to write 300 words total on my piece of paper and when I got home I would be so burned out trying to produce the scene that I'd only type the words on the page and make such little progress and wallow in literary despair.

Something had to be done.

One day I was looking at my blank paper of doom and decided to chill out and just jot some things down, not worry about it being a scene, just to save my sanity. That's when I remembered the Tag Cloud on Smashwords.
A tag cloud is basically a group of words you have tagged all your books/stories with. These groupings of words together give a taste of what the writer is all about, collectively, even if the words are very different. Here's a screencap of Matilda's current humble tag cloud on Smashwords:

So, I started by just writing words that brought the essence of the scene out, which led to a rough outline of the scene with a few lines I wanted to use. I hadn't filled up much of my page at all, but I went home and typed over my word count goal. By not burning myself out and giving myself some time to brew over the essence of the scene, I was able to be much more productive.

This page is a week of my awesome clouding:

Normally, I would have tried to handwrite that much of a page at least in a day in the crevices of work. But this half a page turned into 2 1/2 chapters, one chapter is almost 3,000 words long. Much better than trying to force out scenes when I'm tired and uninspired.

I guess the lesson is, if something isn't working, try something new. Rearrange your ideals. I used to think it was impossible for me to write complete scenes unless I had handwritten them first. But my happy little clouds have proven me wrong. And I'm much more sane because of it.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sonnet -- August's Ending

My power cord finally gave out for good, so until I get a new one, all my blogs-in-progress are locked up in my dead computer. But I found this on my usb stick and thought I might share. I wrote it for a class a long time ago, but it kind of sums up how I'm feeling right now. (That and how absolutely grateful I am to have saved my current manuscript so I won't lose time waiting for the new cord in the post.)
Anyhow. Enough rambling. Poetry commence.

August’s Ending

Paling fringe closes in on a green field
like the cicadas climbing out cases.
Consumed summer, as frost on the windshield –
burnt orange wood grains – clasping ‘tween the spaces
of purple pearl drops in conversation.
What lies beyond the cracks; don’t break the skin –
Tinted cold, we tussle in transition.
The energy might die; fold outside in –
Hues of bottle brown, burgundy red wine
leave contentment to insect skeleton
and the middle class; dull to spark and shine.
These walls know nothing about moving on,
Hope after each season’s golden risings
pays with pain in reincarnated wings.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Big Three Delusions every new writer has.

Don't get angry with the title. I'm writing from experience.

1. The Copyright Symbol

The © is more than a Copyright Symbol. It's the symbol of all the insecurities and neurosis in the deep dark chasm of the authorly soul.

It isn't good enough to put By Authorly Awesome when you submit to a literary journal or print out your piece to let someone read. No. It must be © Authorly Awesome to evoke fear and legality to anyone hoping to thieve thy work!

I make fun of it now, but of course I was there. I don't think I shoved the epic threat of ©, but I made sure my name was on everything I submitted, twice. And now doing bits of freelance editing here and there, every new author I've worked with has either had the © or brought up not wanting to submit anywhere not "legitimate" because the agency/publisher/contest may steal the work.

I also see this paranoia seep in with publishing short stories or blog posts, authors not wanting to put anything out for (Gasp!) free. For some reason the author feels better having a price on it, because someone won't steal the piece if they've paid for it but they will steal it if it was free. What?

All I have to say is this: Authors are far too in love with their own work to steal yours. Do some research, but don't let irrational fears keep you from submitting, publishing or blogging. Deep breath. It's okay.

2. Universal Themes

I wrote a play once that contained Furries, disability fetishists, and a transvestite. All in the same play. But I held on to the idea that it contained a UNIVERSAL THEME of belonging. I would be off-broadway within the next week with such a resounding, relatable theme. Right.

I say this, and some disagree but I will say it again. Any book is a niche book. Writing a "literary" book instead of a "genre" book does not free you from a niche, or a niche market. I prefer reading genre because I more often get what I expect. Most "literary" works I start reading quickly fall into a romance/sci-fi/fantasy/horror genre. Until your book becomes a staple like Moby Dick or One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest you will not be able to market to everyone just because of a universal theme. Don't be afraid of niche or genre. When I first started writing I shirked on some pieces because "I don't want to get too niche-y." Wrong. Now I write what I want to write in the genres that certain readers want. And everyone is much happier.

3. I want it more/work harder/am not a wannabe

The first advice I got from a real-life, traditionally published author was to start with lit journals. Tune my craft, understand how to pitch to editors and build an arsenal of publication credits. I was a Freshmen in college at the time and I thanked the author but said to myself: "Pshh. I don't need to build! I'm good enough to go straight to publishing a book. Everyone else does other things then thinks they can write. I'm going to school for writing. I'm doing it right."

Once again. Wrong.

It took me five years to get that degree, seven years to write and publish my first book, and in the first year of submitting to lit journals, I only got rejections. The second year, two acceptances, and then I began to grow. And I haven't stopped growing. Sure people publish more than me, are better than me, do things I only dream of accomplishing at this stage. And yes there are people that talk incessantly and never publish, that rush the process and put out typo-ridden ebooks that they beg you to purchase daily via every social networking site they have. But I can't base my growth on what others are doing. Being a writer means a lot of hard work and no guarantees. But it's a risk you must be willing to take and you must be able to turn off the static of the bajillion and one other writers that are trying to be successful at exactly the same thing you are trying to do. Don't get angry with the writing community. Embrace it and learn, and don't let the less-than-helpful aspects distract you from your own work.

So, there you have it, my Big Three that caused me so much grief when I first thought becoming a writer was something I want to do. And right now I might not be able to see them, but in a few years I hope to write The Big Three Delusions the intermediate writer has.

'Til then, a little reality check from Mr. Wilde,

“In old days books were written by men of letters and read by the public. Nowadays books are written by the public and read by nobody.”

― Oscar Wilde

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Dissecting a scene

When the grind of the daily word count begins to numb my brain and create stifling trenches of ruts in my story, I like to step back, clear my palette and try new techniques. One I tried a couple years ago and I like to go back to it frequently. I call it Dissecting a scene.

I have three categories when I dissect a scene, but you can add more depending on what you are writing. My witty mnemonics are TEA: Things, Emotions, Actions.

I'll use an example from my current project since it's right in front of my face. The gist of the scene is this: my character Nelson is stuck in the Apocalypse and has for most of the book been traveling with a mean, inconsiderate character. He finally grows a pair and goes off on his own and finds some sanctuary with some nice people in a farm house. He is by himself for the first time since the end of the world for a few minutes in the farmhouse dining room. And go.

THINGS: All the physical descriptions in the room. The carpet, the peeling wall paper (and what's underneath it), lace curtains, the table and chairs, what they look like, the old framed photos, a coat rack covered in winter overalls (it's summer at the time the scene takes place), a bookshelf covered in yellowed, flaking newspapers, a saddle in the corner with an old rodeo buckle, the lantern light since the electricity is out etc. etc. etc. Think of as many things as possible, even if you don't think you'll use them. This goes for any setting: a gas station, a Victorian parlor, a jungle, a classroom. Include weather and time of day.

After I make a list of things, I tack on a sub-category of the 5 senses. I've put a lot of visuals, but then I try to add sounds (the way the floorboards creak when he walks, but the heavy silence when he stands still), tastes (I had to cheat as there's no food yet, but maybe he can visualize the table filled for thanksgiving dinner and his mom's pumpkin pie), smells (when he disturbs the dust around the picture frames) and how things feel (the belt buckle, the rough wood of the old table, the heat of the night with no air conditioning).

Keep in mind you don't have to use all of the items on your list, so go nuts. (The actual list I made of things in this scene was two pages long!)

EMOTIONS: He is feeling free for the first time. Relieved. Happy. Excited. These emotions are of course going to play on all the fear he's been feeling and the uncertainty of the future. List why your characters are feeling the way they are, even if it's leftover from previous scenes. Understand their emotional states to play on the visuals and actions.

ACTIONS: Things he is doing while he self-reflects. Looking at the pictures, pacing around the old floor, leaning on the table, sitting back in one of the chairs looking at the ceiling, touching the parts of the old saddle, making shadow puppets on the wall from the lamplight.

Since this scene is very slow moving, I don't have to worry about getting him from point A to point B. But in a scene with a lot of action, this can isolate all the other things to get your choreography down for how characters gets from doing one thing to the next to the next. Don't worry about emotions or other descriptors in this category, purely what they are doing.

Then, you can put it all together. I found it amazing how much better my descriptions were as I picked things out of the list I might never have thought of if I just wrote the scene.

I won't give away how I put together the scene (wait for the book to come out! :-P) but the shadow puppet thing, which I kind of added to my list as a joke, ended up being very symbolic and tying a lot together.

I especially like this in action scenes where I tend to focus all on the action and leave emotions/descriptions behind. Like I said, you won't use every item on the list, but having concentrated on each individually will give you more focus to choose the important things that relate to each other and make the symbolism better and strengthen theme. I also like to use this when I don't have time to think about writing a complete scene. Maybe I'm on break at work or have a few minutes at lunch, I can think of a scene, pick a category and make a list. Then when I have all the lists I can sit down and focus on the scene.

So, there you have it. I don't always use this technique, but it has proved helpful for me in certain situations. And it's much less bloody to take apart a scene before rather than dissecting after you've written the scene. Happy writing.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Ranty, Updatey Bloggity-Blog

This isn't a real post, but I've tried to put in a few useful bits at the end.

As you can probably note, I'm working on posting weekly to this blog, updating every Sunday or Monday. Eventually I hope to add to this with guest blogs and book reviews, but for now I'm stoked to be doing the weekly thing.

November is NaNoWriMo. And if you are wondering, the only part of that I see is the "No"part. It might as well say NoNoNoNo because that's my answer to that. Not that there's anything wrong with NaNoWriMo, I don't see the problem with typing 50,000 words in a month, or typing that many in a month on one project. I just can't do it right now, and that's it. Maybe someday. But not now.

I've been working full time hours six days a week in a crazy inconsistent part-time schedule. I was pounding away at Matilda's first book but that has trickled into tapping and tinkering away, though I still hope to have the book out by the end of February. Then I have a non-fiction book I will delve into and begin the transition of making my AJ name geared primarily toward non-fiction and sociology writing. I'm kind of nervous about said transition, since 19 Years is a fun PC historical time-travel.
But A) it's only been a week since the first book signing, I have some time and B) I can blog about the experience here! Hooray!

I have some posts in the works about composing and writing, so I suppose I will try to be helpful to my fellow writers who are NaNo-ing and post them in the next few weeks. I also want to look at reading behavior and since I've been helping run a Writer's Roundtable, editing has been heavy on my mind as well. So stay tuned, won't you?

All right, I'll close it up now. Here are some good quotes. Everyone loves good quotes.

Writing a book of poetry is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.
-Don Marquis

It is discouraging how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.
-Noel Coward

I'm not entangled in shaping my work according to other people's views of how I should have done it.
-Toni Morrison

I don't have ugly ducklings turning into swans in my stories. I have ugly ducklings turning into confident ducks.
-Maeve Binchy

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.
-Alvin Toffler

If you don't know history, then you don't know anything. You are a leaf that doesn't know it is part of a tree.
-Michael Crichton

If every library is in some sense a reflection of its readers, it is also an image of that which we are not, and cannot be.
-Alberto Manguel

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.
-Groucho Marx

And lastly, a personal favorite of mine,

If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library.
-Frank Zappa

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Author Authorly and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Book Signing (that turned out all right)

I had my debut book signing yesterday. I learned few things. Here's the obligatory blog post :P

My book officially "came out" on Sept 1st, 2012 and a book signing was scheduled for October 27th. I was excited and ready to barrel ahead and take over the world. I ordered postcards and author copies and rack cards and other such Authorly Behavior. I figured I would get a story in the paper and hand out all my postcards plenty early. I thought maybe I would even take a day or two off work the week before and do nothing but write on my current project, just to celebrate. But when the time finally rolled around, it was clear the master plan was straying from my carefully drawn lines.

About two weeks before, a library co-worker asked what I had to set up on my tables and how long I would need before. I stopped. I thought. Set up? I had books. Books and pens. Surely that's all I would need for a book signing. They were going to have food. I just needed the books, right? Well, it was suggested that maybe I get some antiques to put around or some reenacting gear, since it is an historical fiction. A table cloth might be nice too. All right.

I haven't reenacted in over 5 years and I gave away everything antiquey when I moved, so I was sure I was out of luck. Still, I went home and rummaged through the closets thinking perhaps I'd left a victrola or something somewhere and forgotten about it. Nope. But I still had time. I'd figure it out later.

Awhile before this I asked the newspaper for a story. They said no because I was self-published. (Even though I know of other self-published authors and bands that had independently recorded their albums having had stories in the paper. Maybe they were just as stubborn as I was.) At any rate, since it was a community event, sponsored by the library, I got an interview. I hoped the story would be out at least a week before the signing.

The week of my book signing arrived and when I went to sign a day off I was offered more hours. Being the starving artist I am I couldn't say no, so I just figured I'd work a lot and have my book signing as a reward. No problem.

Yes, problem.

Monday night I woke up ill. Not just ill. Beloved coming back from the dead crawling up out of the river ill. I had 8 hours scheduled Tuesday and I almost cried when I called in sick since I had taken Saturday off for my book signing. So I wallowed in despair under the covers and dragged myself out Wednesday.

It was then I checked around and found that no story had been published yet in the paper. I would have to wait until Friday, the day before the event. I also realized I only had two days to find display pieces for my table. Panic set in.

Thursday night I was emailed a proof of the story that would run in the paper. Sure it would be a day before, but at least it was in. No problem.

Yes… Problem.

There was some incorrect information about my freelance work, my protagonists name was spelled wrong and I was quoted as having used "Creative Space" to publish my book. I immediately called the editor and asked if changes could be made. No, it had already gone to print. But a correction could be put in at a later date.

I was upset but even I knew I was being somewhat petty. I mean, what would the headline read? Author Angry that Name of Person She Made Up Spelled Wrong. No, no correction. At least the date and time of the signing was correct.

So, I was still sick the day before and at work someone at the grocery asked if I was excited about the big book signing. "Oh," I said, "Honestly I'll be happy when it's over."

He then told me that was a sad attitude to have and I couldn't possibly expect people to pay money for something I wasn't even proud of.

Well, I wanted to go on a longwinded explanation that I was high as a kite on meds, had been misquoted in the only press about the book, and still didn't even have a table cloth. Not to mention I had gone from typing 700 words a day on my current project to 0 words a day in a stagnant pool of literary doom. But I was losing my voice so I shortened it to something like, "Here are your bananas, have a nice day."

I went on break and took more pills and stewed over the comment. Then I decided he was right. There was nothing I could do about the newspaper article, but I should definitely take some action to show pride in the book and the signing. I began picking every crevice of my brain for interesting, fall or history themed items to spice up my table. In a fit of medicinal desperation I bought the only thing I could think of at the grocery: a basketful of decorative gourds.

When I got them home I laid out the bumpy alien monstrosities over the coffee table and had a nervous breakdown. GOURDS? What was I thinking? I went to take a nap and recollect my thoughts, but the best I got was gluing googly eyes on one and setting it on my table in front of my books. Then I would sneak off into a corner with cookies and a bottle of peach schnapps and have an enjoyable time. Then maybe if Author Gourd said anything, people would listen close enough to get its quotes right.

Upset that I was actually wanting to send a googly-eyed gourd in my place to my first ever book signing I placed a text to fellow local author Laurie Hartman who I have worked with at events and always has a spectacular table. I asked to borrow some book stands. She texted back that indeed I could and she'd bring some antiquey things to set around. Hallelujah! I collapsed in a heap of neurosis for the night.

I got up on Saturday and didn't have to take medicine. Good sign. And then my husband surprised me with an electric blanket that I've been wanting for awhile. (Best husband ever, I would like readers to know).

I luckily had the foresight to make a list and unlike every other big event in my life (graduations, wedding) I didn't forget anything! And Laurie swooped in with her gear and she and my family set up a beautiful display while I was helping/pacing around like a maniac/playing with gourds.

The signing itself went well. I sold 11 books off the table and several people that came in had already bought books. In all I'd say I signed between 25-30 books. My voice held out for a reading and some people pleasantly surprised me by having had already read the book! One or two also commented on the newspaper article, so all was not lost on that.
Most of my RSVP's didn't show up, which wasn't much of a surprise since A) they were mostly on Facebook and B) 1/3 of the RSVP's to my wedding a few years ago didn't show so I was prepared. People get sick, things come up, and some people may have just not planned to come anyway. So my best advice is to plan for the RSVP'd people but don't be too sad if they don't show up.
Also, after some postings on Facebook I got some requests from both friends and through my email to order a book after the signing, so don't think that you won't sell after the signing's over.

I will definitely want to promote more beforehand for my next book, in more creative ways and at more places. I was happy with the turnout especially as busy as I have been and that I did not promote as much as I could.

The experience cemented the fact that I will have to build on events and get creative with promotions. Also that it takes more than gourds and I'm lucky to have a great support system of family, friends and readers.

I am starting out small but mighty, and I can't wait for the next step.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Unenthusiasm for my book runneth under

One of the first people to buy my print book "19 Years 10 Months 24 Days" after I got my first shipment was my mom-in-law. She texted me that she could stop at the library when I was at work there and buy it quick. I said, sounds good. The next day, mom-in-law comes in. "Hi," I say, "How are you?" "Great," she says. "I'm here to buy your book!" "Oh!" I say, "I totally forgot it!"

When I was a Freshmen in college, I'd always imagined this epic elation I would feel about having a book out. I'd tell everybody and it would be so amazing and wonderful and I'd skip through fields of Literary Poppies.

And now I just forget about it when I actually have someone willing to give me real money for my book?

I did get her a copy, but the completely un-Authorly Behavior on my part continued.

A day or two later I set up a facebook event for my book signing and invited some people. At work at the grocery the next day one of my co-workers asked me, "Oh hey, whose book is that you're promoting?" So, I told her it was mine. No one at work knew I'd published my book. They were all surprised and excited, but I felt kind of weird about the attention. I'd brought some book cards and book signing invites to put in the break room, but I ended up not leaving them there.

Then yesterday a friend came through my grocery line and was all, "Tell me about your book!" I told him about it, YA Underground Railroad time-travel. I then said to look for my next book, a zombie book, I planned to publish in a few months. He kind of laughed and said I didn't seem very excited about this book if I was already trying to promote the second one.

Even before all this has happened, and when my book became available, my first move was to write this blog post, "Don't buy my book, unless you want to."

So, what's the deal? Am I really that ashamed of my book that I'm not posting a million status updates about it or plastering posters all over town?

For the most part it's because I've been too busy with my pen name Matilda's first book that I plan to publish in February/March. Now that I know how this whole publishing thing works the way I want it to for my goals, it's on and I've been working non-stop on this other book. I'm in a whole different mindset. But, there is more to it than just that.

I wrote 19 Years to learn how to write a novel. I published it to learn how to publish. I think there are some painfully obvious literary devices I learned in school in it (parallel characters, I got those), the history is a tad romanticized (though I tried to be historically accurate), and the beginning relies heavily on my own experiences (it isn't until the main character Sophie starts jumping back in time that the tone turns from memoir-ish to fiction).

I knew all these things and I published it anyway because I still think it's a good story and one that is well put together. Things like structure and character development were important to me in the book and I spent time with these things. But honestly, I didn't go into publishing the book really expecting to promote it right away or for it to even have better sales than the other books I have lined up. I know the regular patrons at the library are interested in local history so a book about the Underground Railroad in Nebraska works for them, and I've gotten a nice reception there. However, the majority of my friends and peer authors are more in the blood/action/guts/horror/kick-ass protag category. So, I'm not spending much time promoting my super-PC time travel book to them. You can't market to everyone.

Now, if someone in the blood/action camp wants to look into 19 Years, that's great. I'm not saying that I think all readers are trapped into the box of genre and can't enjoy a book they wouldn't typically read. I'm just not spending much time promoting it to them. And right now, I'm groovy with that, even if I've sold less than 30 books.

My plan is to write a majority of my books under Matilda Loveshack (and yes, I will write about why I chose that name), mainly because they all fit into a horror/supernatural category with naughty words. Under my AJ name I plan to write more non-fiction, and explore writing about disability and maybe try to get some of the articles on literary criticism I've written into academic type journals. But I will keep the naughty words down when I write under AJ. Lastly I have some romance/erotica storylines that I plan to begin a third pen name for.

All this may seem very complicated and annoying. And on paper (or screen), it kind of is. For all my plotlines I have put together "project folders" − a folder containing a rough outline, some written scenes and potential character profiles stuck together with the working title taped to the front. AJ has two, Matilda has seven and my romance name has three. And each has some short stories I've assigned them to publish for free as short story ebooks.

My goal is to have books in many "genres" out so when I go to events (flea markets more likely, let's not lie) I can have all my pen names out and readers that want romance, or historical fiction, or zombies can have their picks. Then as I build, I will promote in line with what the pen name is all about rather than individual books. Of course I'll always have to promote individual books, but I see them more as building blocks right now, and my energy is going into constructing the books as they will work together under the pen name.

Will my grand plan work out like the fortress I have in mind or be more like an unstable, lopsided sandcastle? Who knows. But I do know it works for me, and the pen names have given me focus with my work, and a sense of purpose and organization.

19 Years means a lot to me. When I'm feeling down or lost or trapped I pull out the first handwritten draft in the huge three-ring binder that has snippets I wrote in high school. And it makes me feel better. It is worth something to me. Writing and publishing the book is a huge first step and one that I'm very proud of. But no, I don't carry my business card/book card in my pocket to hand out to whoever might come through my grocery line. I may be a little reserved when explaining my YA Underground Railroad story to certain people. It doesn't mean I think it's bad and I'm not confident or that I don't want to "make it" as an author. I just see the book as having its own place. All my books will have their own place, and I will do them the best by knowing where that place is.

But seriously, stay tuned for the zombie book. It is made of awesome.

Post Script: I wrote this then had to run to work at the grocery. I hadn't been there five minutes when someone brought up my book and a couple people wanted more info. Luckily I had exhibited some Authorly Behavior and stuck a few of my book rack cards in my glove box so I had some to give out. I even acted (gasp!) excited. It kind of woke me up to the importance of at least having my business card on me, or the book, should the topic arise. There is hope for me yet!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Proof myths debunked

With the publishing of my first full-length novel, "19 Years 10 Months 24 Days," I learned a lot about publishing that had up to that point been much theorizing and philosophy. One of the most interesting discoveries was the function of a proof in the publishing process. Here are a few misconceptions that I had. I shall call them myths, and debunk them accordingly.

I used createspace in a DIY fashion, formatting the ebook and directing the cover with my own photo and online tools. When I got the proof in the mail, it was very groovy and pretty much "that" experience that an author has. However, I had to run off to work, so I left the proof to look at later. I closed that night, and I got home an hour and a half later than usual, so I was dead tired. I ate some food and went to bed with my flashlight to read under the covers (so as not to wake the spouse unit) and wind down, as usual. For the fun of it, I decided to go ahead and read my proof, not expecting to edit, just to read. I got five sentences in and realized that reading in bed was a much, much different experience than going over my manuscript poised at my desk with a cup full of something caffeinated. Which brings me to…

Myth #1 − A digital proof is just as good as a physical one.

Now this is only a partial myth as the online and digital proofs generated on createspace were, in my opinion, very good. There was nothing in the physical proof that was not shown in the digital/PDF proofs. If you understand the PDF and digital layouts, you can make all the changes needed to have a well-formatted proof. I would have no problem approving a book for distribution after only seeing the digital proofs, if I had to.

The reading experience, however, was very different in print. I was amazed at how many things I caught that I had not found in my digital editing. I had even read the manuscript backward, five pages at a time to try to isolate emotional ties and dissect the passages from the holistic view that made me skip over words. Even more, things that I had left in intentionally trying to be artsy and descriptive did not work in my brain at midnight in bed with my flashlight. It took seeing a print version to realize many changes to make the book more reader friendly. It's very psychological. It soon became clear that there would be more than one proof to be ordered. Which debunks…

Myth #2 − Your proof is so close to done that it’s just kind of a formality/fun thing for an author to have.

I thought that I would order my proof, fix a few things here and there, and be ready to distribute in a week.

Three months later…

The first proof ended up having edits on almost every page. Having the physical proof gave me a whole new perspective, and one I really needed. I think some authors are so excited to be at the final stages of publishing that they get their proof looking to not find things to change instead of seeing the proof as a stage in the editing process. From this experience I will be ordering a physical proof earlier in the process to use specifically for editing, just because it helped me so much. I know all authors are different and with the rise of ebooks, some authors may have a better eye for screen-editing, but it's good for me to know that the print proof makes a big difference. But if you want my advice, print or screen, don't ever say "Oh, it's okay, I'll leave it" when going over your proof. Your proof is the chance to make changes before there's a copy in the library or people have bought it and you are confessing that there were too many mistakes and you will be uploading a newer version. And yeah, if I order a proof earlier, it will mean ordering more proofs. At CS, to print my book was $3.68 and another $4.00 or so to ship. To me, $7.00 a proof is worth what it allows me to do, editing-wise. And with the DIY capabilities with CS, the only costs I had directly with publishing the book were proofs. Around $21.00 when it was done. Another bit of advice: it will take more than one proof, but, don't fall prey to…

Myth #3 − It doesn’t matter how many times you go over it, you will always want to keep changing things in an endless spiral of doom.

As a writer, I've heard a million times, "Oh, I could never write a book, I'd never be happy with it and just need to keep changing it!" That's great, but my personal experience was, it did shape up the way I wanted it. The first proof was a disaster, but the second proof was much better. The third was even better and I was happy with where it was at. At that point, I took advantage of the digital proofs and formatting the ebooks for my final edits and then approved the proof for distribution. Changes and edits are good, but don't let some artistic cliché like that statement interfere with the process, because if you believe you will never be happy with it, you'll be more likely to skip over changes that do need to be made.

I'm gearing into the editing phase on Matilda's first print book, and I'm eager to put my new knowledge to the test and learn some more. Any other experiences out there with the wonderful, beguiling proof? Share in the comments!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Banned Books Week 7 Day Blog/Facebook Challenge

Happy Banned Books Week 2012!

To celebrate I've made up a 7-day post challenge. Take a look and play along!

Day 1. My favorite banned book.
Day 2. Banned book I read in school.
Day 3. Banned book that makes me laugh because it was ever even challenged.
Day 4. Banned book I really didn't like/didn't finish.
Day 5. Book I didn't know had been banned.
Day 6. Book I've seen challenged in local school/library.
Day 7. Banned book I will always stand up for.

There are many lists online of books that have been challenged or banned in the US and around the world. I probably won't stick to just the 2012 list. I'm interested to see everyone's responses!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Don't buy my book (Unless you want to)

I know this pitch sounds like the epitome of reverse psychology marketing, but I’m sincere when I say, if you don’t want to buy my book… don’t.

I think books should be like toasters. You want a toaster because it serves a purpose. To deliver delicious, yummy, gooey poptarts, strudels, or warmed bread on a cold morning or just whenever you want a damn piece of toast. It must work, and you must enjoy it. Otherwise, it’s just a hunk of metal taking up counter space where you could have something you really want, like a waffle maker or a Fry Daddy.

I feel the same way about books. If a reader isn’t enjoying reading a book, they have every right not to read it. (Literature majors, you are excluded this right. Go finish Billy Budd and stop whining.) But even more so, if they know that some genre/topic/era isn’t for them, they shouldn’t feel obligated to buy the book just because the author wrote it. Now I’m not saying don’t try something new -- I’ve been to book signings initially believing I would not enjoy the book the writer wrote only to have a new favorite author a few weeks later. I’m open minded. But if nothing − the cover, the blurb, the author’s philosophy/promo manners − makes me tick, I have no use buying their book if I’m not going to even read it, let alone enjoy it.

I’m not saying I think my book sucks and I’m protecting you and me from a heap of embarrassment by saying don’t read it. Contraire. I happily invite any book club that wants to rip my book to shreds with scrutiny of what makes an enjoyable read and give me the good, bad, awesome and putrid. (You think I’m joking, but book clubs can be vicious.)

What I’m saying is I wrote a historical time travel concentrating on the Underground Railroad in Nebraska and not everyone is going to be into that premise. If you do enjoy that premise, and like a little mystery and more character development, then I’ve taken my time and written you a good story and I hope you enjoy it. If you think you might be interested, by all means, check it out. But if you’re looking at the cover with a tombstone and an 1851 pistol wondering “Where’re the zombies?” wait until my next book. There will be zombies.

Sales don't matter as much to me as readers. I have a pile of books that I haven’t read, but felt obligated to buy at the time because the author gave me that sad, longing “you don’t support the arts unless you buy my book” look as they held out their blood-and-guts ink-and-paper baby to me and I caved. Really, it does no one any good, and I don’t want to be that author.

So there you have it. Seven years, a billion (give or take) drafts and read throughs, and if it’s not your thing, I’m cool with that. If it is your thing, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Let me be your toaster. I won’t let you down.


Print book cover. No, the dead people in the cemetery do not rise and conquer. Well, not the way you're thinking.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My response to "that" Sue Grafton quote, and self-pub philosophy in general.

So, I'm a little late on this topic, but I feel it's time that I sat down and assembled my philosophy of self-publishing in wordage. And the topic/quote is a springboard for just that.

So, bestselling author Sue Grafton made a lot of independent and self-published authors angry when she basically called self-publishers lazy wannabes. I originally saw the quote in this Forbes article by David Vinjamuri, and soon after on writer's blogs. Grafton has since issued some damage control and explanations about her quote, but the embers still burn.

Here is the quote, I found here:

"The hard work is taking the rejection, learning the lessons, and mastering the craft over a period of time. I see way too many writers who complete one novel and start looking for the fame and fortune they’re sure they’re entitled to. To me, it seems disrespectful…that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research. Learning to construct a narrative and create character, learning to balance pace, description, exposition, and dialogue takes a long time. This is not an quick do-it-yourself home project. Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall."

So, here we go.

Honestly, getting mad about "wannabe" writers is the third in the Big Three, as I like to call them, of Things Every New Writer Thinks. One is needing to put a © symbol on everything they submit/don't submit for fear of having their work stolen. Two is honestly believing that their book's themes are universal themes, so everyone will want to read it. Third, I reiterate, "Omg, I bleed ink better/harder/longer that that guy. I'm mad now." (And I'm speaking from experience as well as observation.)

I ran into the same thing in college. I was a lit major, and I took lit classes. I had peers who never read the books assigned. (That's all lit classes are. Reading books. And they didn't. Why. No idea.) Or the scope of their literary criticism/critical thinking was, "Yeah, I didn't really like that book. That wasn't a good book." Well, guess what. I loathed "Cry, the Beloved Country" but that thing is underlined and noted on every other page, and I learned a lot from reading it. At the end of the day, it didn't really matter that they just read Sparknotes and got C's or B's, when I stayed up every night reading 300 pages and got A's. We graduated with the same degree. And since it doesn't really matter if you can list Dante's circles of hell when applying for jobs in telecommunications or customer service, I guess everyone wins. (I mentioned writing literary criticism as a hobby at my interview for the grocery store. Express cashier, baby.)

But it's everywhere. In every job I've had, in every hobby I've seen, there are people standing around lamenting over the wannabes. Fearing they may be thought of as a wannabe. Pointing the finger at the wannabe, haha, wannabe! But let's not dwell on the wannabes. Wannabe's gonna

The main point that has ruffled so many feathers is "Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts." Like many of the angered self-pubbers out there, I do not see self-publishing as a shortcut. I have spent hours (Blood! Tears!) teaching myself formatting. I have honed my skills as an editor, because, honestly, good editors are very hard to find. I've read graphic design and art books to learn about cover design and have actively been trying to sharpen my skills in photography. Not to mention that I spend hours in between my three jobs reading fiction, non-fiction, blogs and articles. I take notebooks with me everywhere I go. I write on napkins, in texts, on my breaks, late at night. And many self-publishers do that. They work diligently to polish their product and get better at their craft. But it doesn't matter to anyone else that I'm sitting at my patio feverishly trying to get a page written before I have to go to work. No one's life is changed by me staying up too late again to write this blog post. We're all doing our own thing, to cope, to live, to survive, to escape, to whatever. And we get great books out of it all, that we all enjoy and share. We also get bad books.

Because, yes. The stereotypes can be true. Self-publishing can be a shortcut. Authors are people and people come up with a million annoying marketing schemes and will always feel entitlement for attention and praise. Many out there believe their 30,000-word piece can change souls and minds and make them rich without even taking off their slippers. And some don't edit. I read a self-published book… where the narrator kept making… dramatic… pauses. And one ellipses… had 14 periods. Fourteen. Not, "Oh, typo, there's four," or even "Um, didn't anyone tell you five dots is too many?" Fourteen. It begged to question if the author had ever even read a book, let alone why this person thought s/he had the qualifications to write one.

But that's not to mean a junky self-published book was put together hastily under visions of grandeur. I worked as a tutor in lit when I was in college and I worked with some students who loved literature, wanted to write and critique. But they had a hard time. Even when they read and read and discussed and we went over themes and symbols and everything, on tests they were lucky to pull B's and their writing took several rounds of editing to get to something workable. But they were bleeding more ink into it than students who easily read something once and wrote decent essays. So even if you do work really hard for years and years, your execution might be off, or you just might not be able to tell a story in a way that readers can palate. And there's nothing wrong with that. I'm on the brink of taking the plunge with my first book, and could very well not have executed the way seven years of work should have. But I'll publish again. And again. Which, in my world is exactly "taking the rejection, learning the lessons, and mastering the craft over a period of time."

I want to rally around good self-published books, because I like them, because they're well done, and because I respect the work it takes. But I will be honest, I don't want to give 5-star reviews to books I think are badly written, and don't want to review books in a positive light just because they're self-published. I want to read good books. And that starts with us, as writers.

I think self-publishers have to be on their best game to do well, or even all right. Because traditional publishers have a whole team of people and ideas crafting a product, not to mention money and resources that will far overshadow the capabilities of a softcover POD book as far as physical product goes. But with ebook and even better print technology, it still comes down to what's inside the book.

A wannabe is always going to shine through. Annoying people with self-centered selling strategies are only going to get so far. So, let's be honest. The fact that 50 Shades has allegedly sold more copies than the Harry Potter series makes me want to drink mustard and milk mixed together to induce vomiting. (A guy did that in my high school biology class once. It worked.) Not because of the sex (I want a sociology degree. I have many a sex book.) Nor because I don't think she didn't spend hours working on the book. I think she did. I just think it has the structure of a malformed plastic sack at the bottom of the stack we throw away at the grocery. But that's my opinion. It's a book. Let's look at books and quit worrying over who bleeds more, or who needs to fill a void in their life for whatever reason by writing books. I'm sure we all have one, deep and dark.

If you think a book is bad, say it's bad. If you're a self-pubbed author, for everything lovely and nice, don't solicit reviews or try guerilla tactics by shoving your book/business card in someone's face just because they're in a library. Don't try to force readers to be into something they just aren't interested in.

If you think a book is good, say it's good. Does it irk me that I stay up until 2 a.m. formatting an ebook and someone else is all, "Yeah, I paid my computer friend to format my ebook, she'll get it back to me next week and I'll be published!" Yes. It does. But if it's a good book, well-written and fresh, I will gladly say so.

So, this is where I stand. Research the writing world, but don't get too caught up in it. Work hard, read books, write, and edit every day. A pot always fills one drop at time.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Reading isn't just words

I had a problem at the library today. We had a kid’s program in the morning, and even though I get anxious and flinch more than usual around large groups of children, that was not my problem.

My problem was a boy that kept bringing graphic novels up to the desk only to have his mom take them back and tell him to “get real books.” We have some short chapter books that are about Spiderman and Yoda and all those characters guys like no matter what age they are, but even those didn’t pass her scrutiny of the authentic state of “book.”

Eventually the kid got frustrated, threw his arms out and said, “What am I supposed to do, I’m not interested in anything else!”

To which I think his mom said something along the lines of “Well, get interested in something else.”

I’m with the kid here. Granted he was calling them “comic books” which is fine and I doubt his mom would have been swayed by the slightly snobby-sounding “graphic novel.” Unless maybe I said it with an English accent... Anyway.

So what if the kid isn’t reading Hawthorne yet? If you start telling him some books aren’t real and things he’s interested in aren’t put in books then he won’t want to read when he’s older.

And seriously. Look around at all the books in the children’s library… books about police cars or how bulldozers work or bat-eared foxes. Books on colors and numbers and feeling sad or making decisions. Getting dressed, saying please, sharing with others.

Up until we’re teenagers (and probably beyond that into adulthood) we use books to learn how the world works, and most importantly how we feel and interact with our world.

Reading is psychological, social, emotional, and intellectual. So maybe some people feel that authors can cram their agenda or people blindly follow the protagonist’s lead without contemplating how they really feel, but at least there’s an opportunity to explore how you react to situations and social schemas.

Let the kid get swept away in a comic book if he wants to. He’ll be interpreting the images just as much as the words. He will find moral dilemmas, be incited to use his imagination, and give his range of emotions a little workout in a safe place between paper pages. Which is exactly what any other “real book” does.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Matilda Loveshack!

Hello and welcome to my co-author and alter-ego Matilda Loveshack here on ATJK! We've got lots of new topics coming up so stay tuned. But if you're in the mood for some reading check out Matilda's short story "A Knothole in the Window" for free download via Smashwords.

Or download the almost-novella "What Happens in Purgatory" for .99 at Smashwords or in the Kindle store.

And if there are any topics you want to discuss/see a post on, shout it out!

Any other questions/comments/baby zebras you may have for me, direct to one of the following:

Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sexiness and book...iness.

Time for too-much-info confession of the day! I secretly try to vamp up my subtle-but-sexy librarian skills when shelving. Even if I am but a lowly clerk and my skirts brush past my knees, damnit, I am a sexy librarian!

The topic I’m attempting to segue into here is a literary pinup calendar in association with artist Lee Moyer that goes to help Worldbuilders.

There’s a bit of a hubbub surrounding the work (as much of a hub or bub that can be generated in the literary world…) about whether the calendar is great or terrible. Thus far the arguments have been pretty balanced: half of the input says the calendar is cute, sexy, fun, and interesting and half say it is offensive, cheapens literature and no one should enjoy looking at pin up images.

Well, this is my blog, so this is my opinion.

If you are turned off by any part of the pin-up girl concept, then you won’t like the calendar. And trust me, I’ve been in enough male-occupied garages to develop a strong distaste for a lot of stuff that the modern pin-up has evolved into.
I can also tell you that this calendar is nothing like that.

First off, I think these are really tastefully done. Even the Twain one, set to be more provocative is very cute in my opinion. No gratuitous side-boob, and she’s not set in a position where you can see both cleavage and a full view of her derrier somehow simultaneously. (I don’t know how a model ever gets into this pose ever, but it’s pretty popular from images I’ve seen.) The outfits are beautiful in themselves and honestly are not that revealing for being pinned as pin-up (See what I did there.) I saw much more the last Halloween party I went to, and there was no intelligent irony to be found. And the women look fairly normal. I mean, yeah they are mostly thin and done up, but they still look real.

Second of all, these images contain a lot of details. I haven’t seen the full calendar, but some are very subtle and you have to look for clues about the books. Which brings me to point three: this wouldn’t work if you didn’t know about literature. Certainly you don’t have to have read the complete works of the authors presented to get it, but the cleverness emerges with the interpretation of the literature.

So, I mean, really, why can’t literature be sexy? Or intelligence, or love of classics? I’ve always held the position that we live in a sex-visible culture instead of a sex-positive one. And right now I’m pretty sure Fifty Shades of Gray is the most reserved book in our collection. People have gone bat-lunatic because it’s all edgy and erotic and crazy and right now holds the top 4 on the New York bestsellers list.

And, honestly, if we are paying homage to literary works through sex, I would much rather have this calendar on my wall than badly written erotica on my shelf.

Showin' some love for Herman ;)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


I haven’t been blogging lately, and I’d love to say it’s because I’ve been oh-so busy writing, reading, and researching, being generally productive. In actuality, I’ve been doing a whole heaping load of not much, nothing really.

Not to say nothing has been *happening*. I had spine surgery, my husband started a second job, and we’ve been hunting for a place to live that’s resulted in us beginning to sort and pack up our things to move at the end of the month. A lot’s *happened*, but I haven’t gotten anything done. (Well, today I managed to dig out our kitchen and find our bedroom floor beneath the laundry, so that’s something, I suppose.)

Lately life has been a balancing game of investment and chances. How long can we afford to live here, how long can we afford not to live here, is the gas worth it there, can we cut our grocery bill here, when can I lift anything over five pounds?
My writing has been the same way. I have several unfinished short stories, and even more ideas that I haven’t put down. I screeched to a halt on burnout with one book, only to bounce in between three other book ideas a sentence at a time. Every time I go to write, I think, ‘what’s the chance of this getting published’ or ‘what contest could I put this in’ or ‘will this poem fit in a collection’ or ‘if I publish myself, what order would this book be best in, marketing wise?’

And honestly, it’s killed my creativity.

Much like life, I remember when writing was somewhat magical, if not easy then at least pain-free. There wasn’t chance, there wasn’t mistake, there weren’t so many make-or-break decisions.

The problem is that unlike life, writing can still be the pain-free freedom it always has been. I remember when the words were practically dragging me across the page, leaping out, without a thought to the clock other than if I had to stop, when I could continue on. With my first book, when I didn’t know the difference between self-publishing, traditional publishing, and vanity publishing, I couldn’t write enough. I finished the book and was inspired to edit it. I didn’t know where it was going and it took me to the end of several drafts. Then the publishing, the marketing, the author platform, social networking, why self-publishing is doom, why traditional publishing sticks you in a box, how everything in school began to be focused on resumes and job fairs and starting wages. And it all stopped. Hesitation. Doubt. Back tracking. Squeezing, speculating, shrinking. Three years later and not a damn thing has happened with that manuscript.

I can’t say that it’s all bad. I’m not saying writers shouldn’t be business savvy, or enjoy looking into trends in the industry, or never think about their audience. But don’t get lost in the game of cost/benefits or succumb to the indoctrination of the writing religion where the book becomes the least important part of the process, taking a backseat to sales and stats and taxes and marketing.

I get enough of that balancing our monthly expenses, why would I drag all that into my historical-paranormal-time travel?

I don’t know how to keep life out of my notebooks. The emotional and physical pain of your life and that of loved ones will always take precedent over art, no matter what. I’ve found that I may think about creative stanzas while looking out a hospital window, but it’ll be some time before it actually gets put down in some form of expression. But maybe if I put aside the profitability of those creative stanzas looking out the hospital window, I would be much better off.

I’ve definitely fallen off the writing bandwagon. But I’m realizing that the tumble wasn’t such a bad thing. It’s given me time to clear my head and really think about why I write and what I’m trying to do. The answers to these questions have been surprising. As I prepare to move, I’ve even given away some how-to-be-a-writer books (for lack of a better description) and am finally getting my stride back after some growing pains.

I hope with the next chapter of my life I can get back to doing what I love – now that I realize I still love it. That, and I can begin to live with life.

(PS – As for the blog, I’ll still have random rants and posts about the writing industry. Call it a hobby… sadistic as it may be…)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"Hollowland" collab review

My first genuine Apology to John Keats, a review of Amanda Hocking’s “Hollowland.” But wait, there’s more! My first ever collab, with Kris from over at Catacomb’s Bookshelf!

So, let’s get started with Kris’s take:

"Hey folks, this is Kris of the Catacomb’s Bookshelf. A while ago, AJ read through Hollowland and she hated it. Curious, I downloaded the book for free on my Kindle Fire and I hate it too. It’s amazing how much a free book by a best-selling ebook author can turn me from a hopeful indie-authors-kick-ass reader to a how-the-hell-did-this-get-uploaded reader. How much do I hate it?

Hollowland is like eating a medium rare burger gone stale. It has all the ingredients, flavors, and condiments of a zombie book, novel, and film. But the main problem is that the meat is too damn rare and all the ingredients, flavors, and condiments are horrible.

The novel's biggest problem is its plausibility: for example, keeping beds by windows is a BAD IDEA when zombies could break in and GRAB someone from it and pull the poor sap through the window where the zombie and its hungry friends will bloodily devour with ease. I mean, the beginning was good (Even with the random guy’s gun seemingly going off by itself) but then it goes straight downhill from here into zombie cliches, Redbull-induced headaching idiocy in logic and annoying, one-dimensional characters of whom you wished would just get eaten, all written with a plot and prose structure that would best suit a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfic.

The characters are very, very irritating to say the least. In one scene where a really annoying character, Harlow, was taken by zombies, I was screaming to the zombies "EAT! EAT! EEEEAAAAATTT!!!" while silently cheering for two really minor, stupid characters to perish. Sad, I know, but then they are characters that appear very briefly, show no purpose in hanging around the main characters, and die two gruesome and awesome deaths. But the characters whine and complain too much about the current situation and a few key characters just don't know how to survive. Even one character is abandoned because zombie blood might have gotten into her system, and the effect of sadness falls flat on its face because we never got to know the character before she is abandoned.

The only character not annoying is the main narrator and heroine, Remy King, only she's pretty much the generic female warrior who can somehow somersault while on the floor and has the personality of a fembot found in the Resident Evil movies. Amanda Hocking, have you never taken a physics class? Or taken an anatomy class to understand that no one can somersault from the floor? That was a huge “What-the-fuck-that-is-so-blatantly-lame” moment that took me out of the paper-thin plot. Does she have some redeeming qualities? She has more good qualities than the other characters at least. She's worried about her brother and that's pretty much it. Her narration is tolerable because she has zero personality and that makes it easy to not want her get the crap kicked out of.

I could have done without the warrior lion who in REAL LIFE WOULD HAVE EATEN REMY AND HER PARTY ALIVE. The lion pretty much ruined any plausibility of the story and even if this story was written as a satire of the zombie novel genre, which it isn’t, it is still stupid because the lion hangs around as a walking deux ex machina device. The rock star Laszlo did not do much for me as he served as the stupid love interest and eye candy for female and gay readers. Blue the medic, although promising, barely makes a blip on the radar in most scenes. It's like Hocking forgot about him entirely while trying to make a forced, unconvincing romance between Remy and Laszlo and making stupid reasons for both of them to fuck each other. Speaking of fucking, there is a scene like that and it makes the reader question if this is appropriate for Hocking’s target audience, which is teenage girls. With all the blood and guts flying, I forgot this was a young adult book.

The thing that really kills me is that there is not an original bone in Hollowland's body. We get the same zombie apocalypse tropes like rogue groups. But the segment that really slapped my face with stupidity was when Remy and her crew take refuge with the crazed religious cult that completely rips off David Koresh's cult and the Waco, Texas tragedy. Hocking, just because his name is "Korech" instead of "Koresh" does not make him an original figure.

In short of content, Hollowland is, well, HOLLOW. There's no originality, there's no real reason to care about the characters, and there is no real reason to read it. The only good parts are some of the gory zombie details and zombie mythology: the zombies don't just move fast like the rage-infected humans do in 28 Days Later, they also evolve and use tactics to take the humans down. And Hocking's writing style, when it does not delve into idiocies, is laden with flawed clauses and a few typos that stick out. This book needed several more levels of editing as many instances of broken clauses pop up like “I’d only made it down a few steps when the gun went off behind me, and I ducked.” It makes it hard to swallow several details presented in the book. Overall, the text structure and editing is broken and at times, confusing. For a woman who somehow became a best selling ebook author, this is inexcusable.

I'm not sure how I'm going to like Amanda Hocking, but reading through Hocking's book was like forcing myself to be a zombie: not really feeling anything as I just walk along until I'm finally shot dead by the ending. Which completely and utterly sucks to where it does not feel like an ending, but it feels like the story is going on and on. So yeah, Hollowland did not do much for me and I'm afraid it did not do much for me for wanting to check out more of Hocking's bibliography."

Now it’s my turn!

First off, I’d just like to point out the first line of “Hollowland,” that is used in her promotion of the book in many summaries I’ve seen:

"This is the way the world ends - not with a bang or a whimper, but with zombies breaking down the back door."

This is an allusion to the final lines in the (gorgeous) poem “The Hollow Men” by T.S. Eliot,

“This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.”(Go read it now!)

I understand this is a widely referenced quote, and Hocking was deliberate in the usage. However, I feel, after Eliot’s poem, any time the line is used, the work referencing it just feels flat and collapses, as Eddie Izzard might say, “like a flan in a cupboard.” Unfortunately it was the best line in the whole book.

And I honestly don’t know how I managed to get through this one.

Kris reflected my sentiments about the characters and the plot. (I don’t understand how all the characters manage to be under an upside down car with broken glass and not be poisoned by zombie blood which, in Hocking’s world, is just as deadly as a bite.) Having covered this, I’ll follow with some other thoughts.

I thought this book was poorly written and not just because the description was strictly action and the narration was painfully oblivious to any structure. I had a huge problem when I found out the main character was 19. When I first started reading the book I pegged the reading level to be for 12-13 year olds, maybe. Then we learn that Remy is nearly 20? What? I’ve read a lot of good books for young readers, so that’s not my problem. My problem is that apparently, even with a reading level for middle school, throwing in some curse words and a sex scene makes it edgy and young adult. (And no, Hocking isn’t the only author in the world to do this.)

That being established, Hocking uses her character’s age to put in pop culture references including Bon Jovi and Monty Python. But then she explains the jokes. And then she has the 13-year-old character not get the jokes and the older characters roll their eyes at her. I feel that this alienates potential audience, because at that reading level, she is going to have younger readers that don’t get the reference. Plus, why would a writer explain the joke if he or she is making fun of the character that doesn’t get it? Why explain a pop culture reference at all? EXPLAINING THE POP CULTURE REFERENCE DEFEATS THE PURPOSE OF THE POP CULTURE REFERENCE SO STOP IT!

Moving along. Her character’s names were also annoying. Remy, Blue, Laszlo and Harlow. I guess all their parents just happened to be creative hippies. Forgivable enough.

But Kris sums up my sentiments when he states: “there are typos about and for a woman who somehow became a best selling ebook author, this is inexcusable.”

Exactly. The reason I read this book in the first place was because I felt a certain amount of given respect for an author that was successful being self-published, self-directed, pursued her ideas, and gained a loyal readership. But that respect has completely diminished after reading this book. This book doesn’t appear to be edited in any way other than a simple spell-check and misplaced words appear throughout the entire book. For an author that stresses how much she edits, I’m quite unimpressed. Maybe I’m just ravenous for a good, well-written book that other writers can aspire to, learn from, and enjoy. I did not find any of that in “Hollowland.”

I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but with this one, when I saw Barbie’s gothic sister lost in Mordor, I should never have clicked the download button.

In the end, I agree with Kris’s inkling about future Hocking books: They’re not what I’m looking for. I understand the value of a thrilling escape with accessible characters in a quick read, but Hocking’s brand does not sync with me. After reading this book, I probably won’t be reading any more of Amanda Hocking’s work.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

What Librarians Do

I've been gone awhile. I have a new job, and the title indicates what line of work. So now I have a slew of library related blog posts to add to my line-up of writing and publishing related posts, which shall be of much merriment, once I continue posting. Until then, these things have been popping up relentlessly on Facebook, and in this case, the last frame is eerily true, so I shall share. Til next time.