Saturday, November 5, 2011

Two New Articles For Aspiring Writers

My guest blogger at Pagan Spirits today is Harry Bingham, the UK writer behind the website The Writers' Workshop. Harry's guest post addresses:

-Obsessive editing
-Writing a good book
-The query letter, synopsis and manuscript presentation
-Professional feedback

You can read Harry's post here.

Earlier this week, I featured a post titled "So You Want to Be a Writer We've All Heard Of," focusing on post-publication marketing. This time, my guest blogger was Jane Wenham-Jones. Jane gives advice on crafting the perfect author biography.

Hope to see you there - and keep working on those masterpieces!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Kindle Author blog presents promotion tips for self-published authors

The blog put forth a set of promotion suggestions for self-published authors in November 2010. These tips, which come from ten different self-published authors in various genres, are worth repeating again this year.

Although there is no "magic bullet" tip that will make your book sell thousands of copies overnight, every book campaign can benefit from strategic promotion and careful social networking.

The list can be found at

Another good source of marketing tips for newly published authors is Social Media Examiner. Aimed at small businesses of any type, the site allows patrons to sign up for a free e-mail newsletter, which comes Monday-Saturday.

Social Media Examiner's tips address everything from the best ways to set up a LinkedIn profile to monetized Facebook applications. The site occasionally offers free e-books with additional promotion tips, too.

In September, Penny Sansevieri of Author Marketing Expert (another free e-mail newsletter) published a post called "Twenty Ways to Drive More Traffic to Your Website and Blog." It appeared in the Huffington Post.

Not too sure about things like Google Page Rank? Don't worry. Penny puts things in terms even non-technically oriented writers can understand.

Good luck, and happy promoting!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Flood Zone!

It turns out I live in a flood zone. My wife and I went to visit my mother.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Light blogging and fifty percent chance of showers

I haven't gone on another one of my long hiatuses yet. I'm doing a critique for Deadly Prose. The manuscript is fun, and I hope it does well in the publishing jungle.

Meanwhile, I may have some exciting news soon, but I don't want to say for sure until the details are finalized.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Susan R. Mills has started blogging again at A Walk in My Shoes, One Step at a Time!

I learned a lot from her blog, and even from the long period when she stopped blogging. I shouldn't read too much into that, since I've done the same thing, but I will anyway.

For a long time she posted three times a week. Every post was well thought out, and about something all writers should be interested in, except when she talked about her personal triumphs and those of her friends. She always found an appropriate picture of shoes which was related to her post. And she did all this in addition to her regular writing, rewriting, and other forms of online networking. How did she do all this without burning out? Well, she sold her children on e-bay.

Actually, I think she did burn out, at least partially, although I can't say for sure how much writing she got done while she wasn't blogging. Building a platform is important, but you have to pace yourself.

Look at Marcy of Mainwords. She has lots of great content, and she's teamed up with another blogger to critique the first page of a different author's manuscript each month. She gives herself a little break sometimes though:

Under the category of 'whatever' she says:

"when I get published...
I am so going to get me a new washer/dryer unit. One that doesn't make that horrific high pitched, grating, whining noise that mine does when I first start it up (I'm thinking belt. You?). And when it's done drying? There will be NO annoying buzzer that shoots through my skull like a laser. Like I really need a buzzer to tell me my stuff is done drying. Hello? The dryer stopped. I got the clue. Thanks."

Of course there's an art to that too. You make it personal but not too personal, knowing what not to say. People who like your writing voice enjoy these posts too.

So Susan, if you feel like you're pushing too hard, just post a picture of a single shoe. Accumulate a bunch of pictures of sexy shoes with legs in them, and nobody will mind if they're not related to your posts. And dry humor is good, but sometimes dryer humor is even better.

Of course they both have a lot more real and regular content than I do, but I think we can ignore that, or at least I can.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Am I too cheap to buy something intangible?

Apparently not. I've been known to subscribe to monthly online services. And even pay my electric, cable, and phone bills, or at least let my wife do so! And yes, I've gotten to the point where buying a book for three dollars or less to read on my iPad kindle app is preferable to going to the library when I don't happen to feel like it, especially when I see the e-book on Amazon and haven't checked my library yet. I feel bad for the librarians though. I hope nobody gets laid off because I'm paying less in fines.

Of course your big six mainstream publishers want you to pay ten dollars or more for many e-books, rarely less than four. Thus my financial support for indy and self publishers. While I would still love to have an agent and a major publisher, for the first time publishing on Amazon aka Konrath seems better than a desperate last resort to me, because I can imagine I might buy my own book if I were someone else, provided I price it at three dollars.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

You can't read the whole library!

So, if you like the library, you have more good books than you can possibly read, right? Sort of. I like science fiction, a rather small section of the library. Plus, I'm rather picky. If I read the jacket cover and the first couple of pages, and they don't hook me, there still may be a chance I'll enjoy it, but ordinarily I won't go on to find out. Life is short.

Of course you can get books through interlibrary loan, of go to libraries other than your local one. We're getting less and less convenient now, and in the former case you can't read the first page either, unless you visit Amazon.

Also, old library books may be dirty, or smell funny. It never used to bother me.

I gather it's not too hard to get books not from Amazon onto my Kindle, but so far I'm too lazy to fiddle with it. Any e-book three dollars or less is worthwhile for avoiding hassle and indulging impulse gratification, I've come to feel. It's convenient to be able to carry around several books easily, in case I lose interest in one. And my iPad is it's own book light, convenient for reading in bed next to my wife with the lights out. I know they have book lights for that with clips, but they will probably work better if I have an extra hand grafted on.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I pad into iPadland?

When I first got my iPad, one of the first apps I downloaded was the kindle reader. Many Amazon e-books are free, more than you could read. Amazon has set up a 'most downloaded' list for the free books, if you get tired of browsing a sea of mediocre free uploads. It doesn't help as much as you would think, most of the books in the top 100 aren't something I would read.

Why buy a book when you can get it in the library for free? And paper books have many advantages. They aren't so expensive when you lose them or they get stolen. You don't have to recharge the batteries. And because paper books in bookstores and libraries are mostly by major publishers with many people involved, most of the absolute dross gets filtered out.

So tomorrow I'll explain some of the reasons I'm using my kindle app more and more.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Kick Ass Heroines

(I'm sorry I'm putting up this guest blog by Beth Barany late, I tried to send her a blogger link so she had total control of the formatting. It may not have worked, and I wasn't able to check because my wife and I spent a night in a hotel due to air conditioning problems in a heat wave.)

Kick Ass heroines, Bad Girls, in Science Fiction and Fantasy
by Beth Barany

David, thank you for having me on your blog to write about kick ass heroines in fantasy and science fiction.

Major confession up front: I love kick ass heroines in science fiction and fantasy and love to write and read about them, too.

I've recently published my first novel, a YA fantasy, Henrietta The Dragon Slayer. Yeah, she's a bad ass!

Henrietta is a bit of a bad girl as the story opens. She’s gettin’ out of Dodge, leaving her hero days behind, not wanting to be her kingsdom's hero anymore. She's leaving behind her responsibilities for a life in the sunny beaches down south. Her heart is hurting and she doesn’t even know it. Yet.


Henrietta, the legendary Dragon Slayer of the Kingdom of Bleuve, can’t stomach the thought of one more kill. Yet, in order to save her dying mentor, she must go on one last quest. But will misfit companions, seasickness, and an ego maniacal king derail the quest for the healing stone? And will she be able to cut past her conscience and kill the dragon?

Read an excerpt of Henrietta The Dragon Slayer here.

Where did the inspiration for Henrietta come from?

Other bad girls!

I devote this post to the bad girls and kick ass heroines I know and love, drawn mostly my favorite authors, books, movies and TV shows. And from a few surprises thrown in for good measure.

The Bad Girl archetype is a powerful and ancient one, and well represented in our modern stories.

The Bad Girl archetype is about reclaiming female power for the good of the community and for benefit of the Bad Girl, who sometimes becomes more than just a Bad Girl. But more on that in a future post.

I'll be doing a giveaway at the end of the month for a free copy of Henrietta The Dragon Slayer and picking a winner from all the people who comment during my blog tour, so please to chime in with your favorites!

In Science Fiction...
Elizabeth Moon writes smart science fiction featuring most often women space captains. Ms. Moon was one of the first women in the Marine Corps in the 1960s and her military knowledge flows through her stories like a second skin. I love reading about women facing leadership challenges in space. There is nothing like the threat of zero atmo to make a leader come alive.
My current favorite book of hers is Once a Hero in The Serrano Legacy series. I also loved the Vatta’s War series, and the stand-alone, Remnant Population.
Sharon Shinn writes fantasy and science fiction, for young adults and adults. The first book I read of hers is still my favorite: Mystic & Rider, the first in the Twelve House series. A hardened warrior devoted only to his king and a mystic shunned by her family but trusted by the king must roust out those that scheme in secret against the kingdom.
Her heroines are complex, the love stories unique and varied in each of her books, and her worlds feel so full and real.

In Fantasy...
I have a primary place in my heart for Nikita in the original Luc Besson film, La Femme Nikita.
She’s bad out of choice and circumstance. Then she gets a chance at redemption. Or does she? I like how she has the opportunity to remake her life.
Another kick ass heroine I like is Lara Croft in Tomb Raider.
She's a spoiled rich girl, or is she? Not just. She lost her beloved father early and seems to be driven by some sort of justice. She’s strong, she’s capable, and she won’t stop until she gets what she wants.
And then there's Lilu in The Fifth Element, another Luc Besson film.
She may not be considered a bad girl, because she’s supposed to save the world. But if the world is not worth saving she will let it be destroyed. That is definitely a Bad Girl trait, in my book. That takes guts, and the strength of doing what’s right, in the face of the potential horrible loss.

In Archetypes...
The ultimate bad girl is Kali, the Hindi goddess of birth and destruction, and eternal energy.
I’ve been drawn to her all my life, without consciously knowing why. Then in preparation for this article, I read this: “She is also revered as Bhavatarini (literally 'redeemer of the universe').”
I love stories where the Bad Girl gets redeemed. She’s on the outside looking in, her violent tendencies seemingly keeping her at odds with the expectations of what it means to be a woman.
Only through acceptance of her benefits to the community that both she and the community agree on, can she find her place in the community.

In History...
Lastly, I want to mention the book, Warrior Women: An Archaeologist’s Search for History’s Hidden Heroines by Jeannine Davis-Kimball, with Mona Behan.
From an editorial review at Amazon: “Nearly one-quarter of the women buried in some late Iron Age sites were either warriors or priestesses. Even the remainder ‘hearth women’ were important players in the tribes’ surprisingly egalitarian societies. Further, southern Kazakhstan’s famous ‘gold man’ was in fact, a ‘gold woman.’ ”

I know I come from a long line of warrior women, many of them viewed as Bad Girls from the culture of their day.
It’s time for us, for me, to reclaim our Badness and use it as a force for good! And use our considerable abilities to be kick ass heroines in our own lives.
Who are your favorite Bad Girl or Kick Ass Heroines?!

P.S. All who answer the question and comment on this post are eligible to enter my July book giveaway for a copy of Henrietta The Dragon Slayer (print or ebook -- your choice!) and also the blog tour Grand Prize, Henrietta's necklace, featured on the cover. All the Giveaway rules here: Henrietta The Dragon Slayer Summer Blog Tour. The novel is available is Amazon US, Amazon UK, Nook, Smashwords.

PPS. An earlier version of this article first appeared on my blog,

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Foolish Samurai

I just read an unusual online story. One thing that makes it unusual is that I read it to the end. I abandon lots of fiction after a page or even a paragraph.

The Foolish Samurai breaks some rules, but it draws me and holds me anyhow, so the story is worth thinking about.

At the end of the long first paragraph I don't understand what is going on. Is the Samurai sleeping in the sewer drain and planning to break into the Evil Wizard's corporate HQ part of some kind of role playing game? It sounds too fantastical to take seriously even in the bounds of the story, and we have no real hint of the problems or fears, so it doesn't generate much suspense by itself. It generates a bit of curiousity though.

He doesn't exactly 'save the cat', perform some immediate deed of kindness to make us empathize with him. Somehow the wistful dream of eating fried chicken with his family brings us closer to him, even as little hints make the story more mysterious than ever.

I don't know if this story will be read in twenty years, if the metaphor for us and our society is profound or unique enough to stand the test of time. But it drew me in to the end today, and that's an accomplishment, even if the author doesn't realize or appreciate it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Love and Writing

As I navigate the world of trying to get published, I often look back on early drafts of writing. It makes me happy to see how far my writing has come in the last 14 years. Working on the skill of writing is, as it turns out, quite similar to working on a good marriage.

A marriage starts with a good proposal. Take my husband's proposal to me: We were on a romantic drive through the Appalachian Mountains. The trees were changing colors. The southern breezes must have been whispering sweet nothings into my then-boyfriend's ear. He pulled over at scenic drive along the Cumberland Gap. With an engagement ring full of diamonds in his hand, he smiled at me said, "Marry me, or I'll jump over." I laughed, of course, and agreed that marriage sounded wonderful. I love his sense of humor, but I also love that he is responsible, driven, and adventuresome.

A good piece of writing shares those same qualities. It was actually when I went to write my vows—naturally, we had decided to write our own—and began to list all the qualities I loved in him that I thought about how that translates into writing fiction.

I am a writer of young adult fiction, which means I have to pay special attention to morality in my writing. Where in adult fiction, a writer can publish a piece that is dark, a young adult piece without a hopeful ending will likely be a hard sell. But in most fiction, young adult or otherwise, readers relate to the good guy. It could be the guy who may be long-suffering, but has strength of heart or the underdog who works hard to bring his team victory in the face of difficulty, or possibly even the boy who does the right thing when the wrong thing is easier. Authors give a reader a reason to read the same way a guy gives a girl a reason to say yes to the engagement ring. It starts with some kind of moral ground.

If a character isn't driven to solve problems, you have no book. Successful characters succeed because they stay true to the one thing in life they need or want most. They don't give up. Marriage is similar. It's probably different for every couple, but if they stay true to the thing that is most important to them as a team, I think that marriage will be a strong one. I guess I can only answer for my own, but that has been my experience thus far.

Adventuresome Spirit
Not all books are adventure stories, per se, but I think they all have an element of characters doing something new or becoming something new. Great books begin with a character's problem, mystery, or desire and end in his or her transformation. So, even if a character doesn't end up somewhere physically different from where he or she started, something has changed for him or her. Readers love to follow around a character that allows them to experience a new world or a new mindset. I'd say the same is true for spouses. The very act of getting engaged and then married is doing and becoming something new. But, it can't stop there. Love and marriage is truly exciting when you realize you've become something new—something better—because you're together.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ha! The Man of Great Rat (The Art of the Anagram)

Anagram: a word or term formed by rearranging the letters in another word or term.

Writers love anagrams. Romance writer Jennifer St. Giles named her villain in Touch a Dark Wolf Dr. Cinatas, and his medical research company Sno-Med. Simply turn the letters around and you have “Satanic” and “Demons.” Dan Brown used anagrams in The Da Vinci Code. When the dying Sauniere spelled out “O Draconian devil! O lame saint!,” the message he was trying to get out was, “Leonardo da Vinci! The Mona Lisa!”

In children’s literature, Lemony Snicket often used anagrams in his Series of Unfortunate Events. The first book in the series, The Bad Beginning, features a play written by Al Funcoot, an anagram for the villainous actor Count Olaf. Lemony Snicket captured the essence of the anagram: they work well for villains because they’re slightly deceptive. They can also be funny.

A perceptive reader (especially readers of mystery novels, where they’re also frequently used) can spot them a mile away. A more casual reader may not discover the word game until the characters do. There’s also a cleverness to a good anagram that makes it fun and can make the reader laugh out loud. That’s why anagrams work well in humorous writing.

The best anagrams form words and phrases that are real words and can easily be pronounced, as in the Da Vinci Code example. If simply spelling a word backwards doesn’t turn up a good anagram, you’ll have to scramble. Write the word or phrase at the top of a piece of paper. Start picking out words you can make with those letters, crossing each letter off as you write it down below. Then check to see if you can make any words from them. It often takes several attempts to come up with a good anagram you can work into a short story or novel.

(You can also cheat and use the Anagram Genius website, which lets you input text and turns it into an anagram for you. For the title of this article it suggested, “Ahem! The arrogant fat.”)

Many people practice coming up with anagrams by starting with their own names, or with the names of famous authors. Edgar Allan Poe becomes “Ape and All Gore,” which is especially apt since he wrote gory horror stories, at least one of which (“Hop-Frog”) features an ape. William Shakespeare becomes “I am a weakish speller,” and Charlotte Bronte becomes “Tolerant Botcher.”

If you want to give a personal stamp of ownership to a piece of writing while remaining anonymous, you could use an anagrammatic name. Clever readers may find you out, though.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Book Review: The Art of War

Some people compare finding the right career to fighting a battle for their livelihood. Changing careers requires planning and strategy, whether that means attaining an associate degree, obtaining online training, or striving for an MFA, if you are a writer. It may also require being able to adapt to unforeseen circumstances, anticipating possible challenges, and recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of players in the field. Changing careers means competing with other people who are either doing the same thing, starting out fresh, or who are well established and networked within a particular market. Having the right mindset is key to exploiting opportunities and developing the means to achieve a successful shift in employment.

The Art of War was a bestseller in the 1980s when the “greed is good” philosophy was dominant in American pop culture. While many people bought and read the book during that decade, its relevance still pertains to the current job market.

Sun Tzu, who wrote this manuscript, was a Chinese general who lived between 544 and 496 BCE. He was renowned for his military successes that depended not so much on superior manpower or material resources so much as psychology. As a strategist, he is traditionally revered as a man without peers, who still has lessons to teach after more than 2000 years spent studying his methods. Going about a career change with the goal of succeeding is imperative to making it work. The lessons of Sun Tzu will enable readers to be in top form and to maximize their advantage.

While this is a battlefield treatise, it offers lessons that people can apply to their own, more peaceful, career ambitions. The twelve chapters deal with various aspects of warfare that are both specific and general. For instance, Sun Tzu recommends reconnaissance of enemy terrain and abilities before embarking on an expedition. This is what job seekers do when they evaluate their options in new professional fields. They look for strong points in any given market, as well as evaluate weak points in which they can fulfill unmet needs over other people who have similar skill sets.

The most valuable lesson Sun Tzu imparts is the necessity of being well-versed in the abilities and expectations of the competition, so much so that trouble can be avoided and success achieved with the least amount of effort. Everyone knows that time and resources are valuable for someone looking to change careers. By presenting oneself as an expert and being able to back it up, job seekers will stand out from the pack in their market.

Planning and intelligence are helpful in seeking success. So is self-assurance. A worker or business owner who presents himself or herself as a qualified individual will naturally find opportunities crop up that will lead, one after another, to many chances for career fulfillment. Research and mastery are the keys to being able to project assurance, as Sun Tzu did with great success over two centuries ago.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Strangest Book I've Ever Read (by Erin O'Riordan)

A week or two ago, if you had asked me what the strangest book I've ever read was, I probably would have answered, "Christopher Priest's The Prestige." If you've seen the film version, directed by Christopher Nolan and brilliantly acted by a cast including Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Hugh Jackman and David Bowie, you have some idea of the strangeness of that novel. Some, but not all. In a distinctively English way, Priest took the idea of turn-of-the-century dueling stage magicians to places I never could have imagined...and keep in mind I read the novel after seeing the film.

I think we have a new winner, though. The title of strangest book I've ever read must now go to The Sacred Book of the Werewolf by Victor Pelevin. Pelevin, one of the finest contemporary Russian writers, released the book in his native language in 2005. It was released in English in 2008, translated by Andrew Bromfield.

Werewolf is narrated by A Hu-Li. Apparently, the Russian translation of her name is "So F---ing What," though in the original Chinese it means "A Fox Named A."

A Hu-Li is a werefox, but she's so much more than that. She's 2,000 years old, one of a sisterhood of werefoxes from ancient China. These foxes are a kind of energy vampires, using prostitution as a cover to feed off the sexual energy of men. Through a kind of hallucinogenic effect they produce with their fox-tails, A Hu-Li and her sisters never actually have to touch these men. A Hu-Li is, in fact, a 2,000-year-old virgin.

For the first time in her extremely long life, A Hu-Li is faced with the prospect of falling in love. She goes a little too far with a client who offends her; her imaginary whip draws real blood. This arouses the suspicions of an SVR (what used to be the KGB) officer named Alexander. Alexander is a werewolf. He may be Fenrir, the wolf from Norse mythology who, at the end of time, catches the sun and devours it. The two were-creatures are drawn to each other. By twining their tails together, they can act out any fantasy imaginable in their minds.

A Hu-Li has a sister who lives in England, with a husband who's obsessed with esoteric magic and believes in the coming of a super-werewolf. Alexander is convinced he is the super-werewolf, and together he and A Hu-Li embark on a strange journey through their own minds, over which they discuss the meaning of existence itself.

My favorite quote is this one: "The energy that serves for the conception of life does not belong to people. Entering into the act of love, a human being becomes a channel for this energy and is transformed from a sealed vessel to a pipe that is connected for a few seconds to the bottomless source of the life force. I simply require access to that source, that's all." Don't we all?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Writers Guide to Shipping and Media Rates

If you’re a writer like me, you’re also an avid reader. And while this may not be news to you, I was surprised to learn that I could mail books to my friends at a media rate. It’s a lot cheaper than standard mail. In fact, media mail is one of the least expensive ways to use to ship books and manuscripts. These media rates are often the very lowest of all shipping rates. Other types of media rates for shipping books and manuscripts quicker include overnight mail, first class mail, certified mail, and registered mail with return receipt requested. An author should never ship the only copy of a manuscript anywhere, obviously. Always make at least one photocopy to save in case the shipped version gets lost or damaged during transit. Is anyone else surprised that so many publishers still ask for snail mail submissions? I marvel at this.

As I went about mailing my first manuscript submission I began thinking of the life cycle of a book from idea to finished manuscript to published book. It is a long and involved one. But any writer with enough determination and dedication can achieve the dream of having a book published.

The Idea

The aspiring author first decides what the idea or concept of the book. Then the hardest part begins: the writing. Only after the complete novel is done, does the idea get shrunk to a one page written synopsis or query, which will eventually be submitted to prospective book publishers or literary agents. The nonfiction author can sell his book idea based solely on the contents of the book proposal.

The Book Proposal or Query

The book proposal includes writing sections on what the specific audience for the book is, how to best promote and market it, the synopsis, an author bio, one to three sample chapters, along with a self addressed stamped envelope, aka a SASE. The query, on the other hand, is a pitch letter for the novel which includes the flavor or voice of the story you’re pitching. But either way, this is the beginning of the book’s journey.

Researching the Prospective Markets

There are many print and online writing market directories where authors can perform due diligence on potential publishing houses or literary agents to see which specific books they handle. Study these markets well and avoid wasting postage, effort, and time!

Sending the Finished Manuscript Out

When a query attracts the attention of an agent or publisher, congratulations! It’s time to send on the full manuscript. Manuscripts should be mailed out in securely wrapped and sealed packages using media mailing and shipping rates. Hopefully the next step in the mailing process will be signing and sending a contract to work with an agent or editor. Certified mail will now be your bestie!

Waiting for A Publication Contract

A nonfiction book author has to wait until his book proposal is evaluated before a publication contract will arrive in the mail. A fiction manuscript writer has to wait until his entire novel is evaluated and accepted for publication before an official contract will be sent to him.

Waiting for the Book to Come Out

After the contract is received; it takes about a year for the fiction writer to see a novel make it to print. The nonfiction writer has to first finish writing the entire manuscript, and about the same year wait is necessary before that book is for sale online and in the bookstores. The ARCs and then the final books will then be shipped not only to you, but reviewers, libraries, and finally the general public. I don’t know about you, but for me receiving my own book at my doorstep will be the most amazing package ever to arrive.

Jody Sparks is working her way toward becoming a published author. She's also an avid reader and blogger.

An and the Pirates - Excerpt from 'The Smell of Gas'

Lian came up with a plan. He would simply cut off An’s long hair and dress her in some of his old clothes. He would pass her off as his cousin from the country, and she would accompany him on his next pirating expedition.

It was a fine plan, except that when the men of the crew saw An, they immediately knew that she was a woman. They made some crude remarks, but Lian drew his sword, and everyone agreed An could come along on this one voyage only.

Lian’s “pirate ship” was hardly worthy of being called a ship at all. It was little more than a large fishing boat, although it did have a cannon. The rusted cannon had been salvaged from the wreck of a British trader. The ship’s crew consisted of six men other than Lian. They didn’t give An their names, and she didn’t ask. They looked as if they all had something to hide. She wouldn’t have been surprised if they were all murderers. Still, sensing that this was her only chance, An clung to Lian and sailed with them.

Three days out to sea, the would-be pirates had encountered nothing but fishing vessels. They would sometimes rob the unfortunate fisherman of their catch, their water, or their liquor if there was any, but it was hardly worth the trouble. Then, as the sun was beginning to set on the third evening, An spotted a ship’s billowing white sails in the distance. She took the news straight to Lian.

Lian took a look at the vessel and shook his head. “Japanese Navy,” he said. “We wouldn’t dare.”

“What do you mean, you wouldn’t dare?” An said. “You’re a pirate.”

“The penalty for piracy is death,” said one of the crew. “And the Japanese are even more relentless about tracking down violators than the Chinese.”

“Especially if the victim ship happens to be in the Navy,” Lian added. “Attack the Japanese military and they’ll consider it an attack against the Emperor himself. And you know how funny they are about their royal family.”

The entire crew laughed, except An. She’d met a few Japanese men in her line of work, but she’d had little opportunity to converse with them about politics.

The ship’s crew went back to what they were doing--drinking and playing cards, mostly. An watched the single-masted vessel with the white sails as it drew closer.
She soon realized it was not alone. There were three Naval vessels in a V formation, escorting the largest ship An had ever seen. She ran and reported this finding to Lian.

He looked at the ships again. He smiled and shook his head. “Somebody really important,” he told his sister. “Maybe the Emperor himself.”

“Let’s take it,” An said.

Love pulp fiction? Just try putting down THE SMELL OF GAS by Erin O'Riordan and Tit Elingtin. TSOG is full of saints and sinners you'll love to hate. There's Brigid, the high school basketball player and secret heroin addict. Fred, a Catholic lesbian teen, loves Brigid, but doesn't know about her affair with Edward, a married Evangelical preacher...oh yes, there are also turn-of-the-century Chinese pirates. Sex, ethics, religions and mythologies clash as you dig deeper into their connection to the death of a young couple. Available now in print and e-book from Melange Books.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A double thank you

I want to thank Marcy Hatch of Mainewords and Dianne K. Salerni of In High Spirits for critiquing the first page of my manuscipt on their blogs.

If you have a manuscript and you've been thinking about the opening you should visit them, they look at three different first pages a month and give suggestions and exposure to them. If you act now, you might still make it for May.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Bloggers and Intellectual Property Rights

As a writer and a blogger, something I’ve been think a lot about is intellectual property, I heard recently that the courts have been asked to keep up with technology changes while applying property laws. Sounds like an interesting challenge for them. Writers who create online content may want to know about these changes, given the way that people can steal content online. An IP lawyer can provide personalized advice on a situation. Beyond that, there are some measures that bloggers may want to investigate that will help deter intellectual property theft.

Creative Commons License
With these licenses, you can post a badge on your site letting others know exactly how they are allowed to use content. You set the allowances for how people may use your content. Likewise, having the license noted on your blog will let visitors know you are serious about protecting content. Most potential content thieves don’t want to take risks, and this type of measure could potentially scare them off.

Fair Use Warnings
One thing that an IP attorney may advise is that the law implies a fair use policy. This means that people may post some relevant portions of your content on their blogs for the purposes of summarizing, highlighting, or showcasing it. They are not allowed to post the heart of your work. If you post a fair use warning, you’ll remind would-be content thieves that they may not steal large sections of your writing. Though this won't always deter theft, it may help.

Click Protection
One of the newest ways to protect content is to click-protect your page. This means that people can’t right click to copy your content. You could also add a feature that prohibits individuals from highlighting text for the purpose of copy/pasting. While people could take the time to trudge through transcribing your work by hand, I doubt that most would-be content thieves would actually bother. Making theft a little difficult for them will probably be enough of a deterrent.

Jody Sparks is working her way toward becoming a published author. She's also an avid reader and blogger.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Review: 'The Gargoyle' by Andrew Davidson

I've got a confession to make: I don't know of very many Canadian authors. Seriously, the only one I can think of is John McCrae, who wrote the famous poem "In Flanders Field" as a tribute to the fallen soldiers of a terrible First World War battle. In 1915. And then came Andrew Davidson.

Andrew Davidson's The Gargoyle came to me through one of my husband's remodeling customers, Juanita. She and I got to talking about books when I went with my husband to swap out a medicine cabinet in her bathroom. Juanita's adult son had read the book, then sent it to her, insisting she had to read it. She allowed me to take her hardcover copy home with me. It was on my to-read list for at least nine months, but I finally got around to it.

Juanita's son was not wrong: this book is a must-read. It opens with a young porn star, a narrator whom Davidson never gives a name, who drives his car off a cliff in a stupid act of drunken driving. The resulting auto fire burns most of his body; only the car's falling into a creek saves him from near-instant death. He spends 8 months in a burn ward, recovering and making an unlikely friend in Marianne, a visitor from the hospital's psychiatric ward. Marianne claims to be over 700 years old and swears she knows the narrator from a previous lifetime.

What unfolds over the course of the narrator's recovery is an epic spanning from medieval times to the present, including a cast of characters from feudal Japan, the Scandinavia of the Vikings, Italy at the time of the Black Plague and German monastic life. Each time and place is the setting of a striking love story. Throughout the novel, Davidson weaves in elements of Dante's Inferno.

Given that the narrator is a porn star, it comes as a bit of a surprise that this novel has so much heart. Although it never becomes overly sentimental, it does espouse a theme of eternal love. Think Francis Ford Coppolla's Bram Stoker's Dracula. It's up to the reader to determine whether this 700-year romance is actual or delusional.

What's even more astonishing is that this is Davidson's debut novel. If Canadians are going to write books like this, then we Americans need to pay more attention to them.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

To politic or not to politic?

I never blog about politics on my writing blog. I've heard it's a bad idea. People may be turned off to you because of political reasons, but nobody will love your writing just because you agree with them about politics.

At first this felt like betrayal. If you believe what you believe is important for human life, it seems wrong not to speak about it frankly. And yet, I've polished my fiction writing again and again. While I've given a lot of thought to politics, many of my ideas are similar to those I hear from 'my half' of the politicosphere. I don't condone lying for my side, I just feel much less angry than when I see it done by the other side. Perhaps my political beliefs are not yet truly ready for prime time.

There is one story I want to share though, about a local election. I kept getting calls from supporters of the party I would usually support. When I asked them what their candidate would do different from the incumbent, they didn't tell me, just how nice she was and how much time she spent working for the community. They actually said they didn'tknow about policy, even though they were making calls on the candidate's behalf.

Her opponents were a bit more specific. They said that the local big cheese was using taxpayer money to pay for twenty four hour limousine service, which most politicans on his level don't have, and they were fighting it. The big cheese was calling for cuts but not making them in his own area.

So I broke out of my rut.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Critique Groups: In Person vs. Online

I've been writing with critique groups for about six years, both online and in person. I love working in both arenas for various reasons. I'm a pretty social person and love collaborative work, so that makes a critique group a great fit for me. Also, I don't let my husband, or my sister, or my parents read my work. If you're letting your family read your work, don't believe a word they say. Just thank them and find a critique group. Or, an editor. And I'll bet that if you seek an editor too soon, s/he will tell you to find a critique group. Because you need to hear the truth about your writing.

Truth Telling
The truth about your writing will come out differently online than in person. One of the things I like best about my online critique group, is that I don't ever have to look anyone in the eye. Because I can't see anyone on the verge of tears, raging, or rolling their eyes, I'm a lot more direct in my suggestions. Because everything is written down, you can choose your critique points very carefully.

In person, I'm much more careful about what I say and how I give suggestions. The "sandwich method" is recommended: praise, criticism, praise. It can be laborious. But, there is usually someone to back me up or refute my suggestions as needed. Discussion ensues. Perhaps we discover a new idea altogether. It's easier to ask questions and get answers.

Quality and Specification
I write contemporary young adult fiction. That's pretty niche-y. I also live in a flyover state where conferences are sparse. I'm extremely lucky to have found a writing group that meets in person, and that can give me insightful feedback on my genre-specific writing. I've been in groups that looked at everything from poetry to non-fiction to fantasy to picture books, and while there may be sparks of insight here and there, getting solid feedback regularly was impossible. Besides that, I learned very quickly that people have widely varying goals for their writing, and are at widely varying stages of the publishing game. You get all kinds in person.

An online critique group pulls talent from all over, which makes it much easier to find people that are writing similar things, and that have similar goals, and are at a similar talent level. Writing forums such as NaNoWriMo and Verla Kay's message board are great places to start looking for writers with similar needs.

Timeliness and Deadlines
I've found its easier to keep motivated in my writing with my in person group. I have to go and actually fact these people, so I prioritize my critiques for them. I also know that if I want feedback, I've got an actual deadline. I have a stack of papers that I physically see. I know I need to attend to it.

While the deadlines are technically the same online, I tend to be more willing to shoot that email that says, "Hey, I'm backed up. Will get to your critique soon." Again, I can't see the rage and eye-rolling. And the typing of the critique just takes longer. I swear I read slower when I'm reading on screen, too. I'd much rather read and critique on paper. And when that paper isn't sitting in front of me, it's so much easier to ignore the work.

So. To get the most out of myself as a writer, I use both kinds of critique groups. I also hit the conference scenes, attend workshops, keep my eye on a few writing blogs, and attend some Twitter chats now and then. Writing is no longer for the solitary.

Jody Sparks is a struggling writer who knows her craft has improved because of numerous critiques and critique groups. Follow her on twitter @jodysparks