Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Unraveling of Wentwater

The Unraveling of Wentwater is the latest (fourth) book in the Gates of Heaven Series by C.S. Lakin. I've immensely enjoyed this series so far, including this new addition (although my favorite remains The Map Across Time). Based loosely on the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty, it is the story of the power of words.

It begins with the birth of a baby girl, and a visit from the marsh witch...who foresees the destruction of the town (the unraveling of Wentwater). Her prophecy, like Sleeping Beauty, involves a spinning wheel, but that is where the similarities end.

This isn't the tale of a princess hiding away until her sixteenth birthday with multicolored fairy godmothers, nor is there a prince who falls in love and saves her with a kiss. It's a love triangle between a girl with pale hair and two brothers--one who steals her heart with music and the other who tries to steal her heart through a curse--that takes the town apart word by word.

What I love about Lakin's writing is her complexity of story. Yes, the characters are strong and distinct--and the villains are wickedly villainous. But what makes the books for me are the twists and turns, and Lakin's love for words creates layer upon layer in intricacy.

I also adore that this series isn't a "series" in the true sense. Rather, the stories all take place in the same realm, and are tied together, but the books can be read out of order. The series is more tapestry than time line. Which means you could actually start with this book and not find yourself lost at all. The books reference story elements in the other books, but not enough to spoil the plot if you haven't read them yet.

Oh, and the cover art is lovely on them all!

*Note--this book hasn't released yet. I reviewed an Advanced Reader Copy.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Brave Little Beastie

So can't wait for this! :D
For those of you who may be new to my blog, "Beastie 2" is what I affectionately call my daughter, my younger child, in public forums. And last year, my little Beastie was diagnosed with scoliosis. Fortunately for her, Mommy (that's me, of course) went through the same thing. The big difference: I was twelve when I was diagnosed, not a mere 8 years old. Beastie is now 9 1/2, and the curve has progressed to the point where she has been put in a back brace--just like I was put in one when I was 13.

We picked up her brace yesterday. Unlike the monstrosity I was forced to endure, hers is lightweight foam reinforced with a layer of plastic (mine was heavy plastic with metal bars), has pretty little butterflies all over it (mine was orthopedic white), and she only has to wear hers when she's sleeping (I had to wear mine all. day. long.).

Even with all the improvements, it's still a scary and uncomfortable thing at first.

But my Beastie was so brave!

She dealt with the brace for a little over six hours last night, waking up about every two hours and asking to take it off for a few minutes to stretch. Finally, the tears came around 4:30 am (she'd been in bed since a little after 10 pm) and I let her sleep the rest of the night without it. It's something that has to be built up to--not just my opinion--the doc says so, too. I'd say six-plus hours is very good for a first night, when you have something pushing against your back all night. The brace has to be worn tight, too, and it takes a while for your body to realize it can move around while it's sleeping in that thing.

Anyway, I'm just so proud of her!

On a completely-different-but-not-so-different note, it's my day at The Cheesecake Thickens, and I've posted about me being brave...and being not so brave....

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Kid Inside Me

Based on The Secret Garden
I was sitting outside in the amazingly cool weather yesterday (it's been really hot lately and a storm brought in a much appreciated cold front) as I read The Humming Room by Ellen Potter. I'm a little more than halfway through, so this is not a review or anything, although so far I'm enjoying it. Not nearly as much as her other book, The Kneebone Boy, which I highly recommend. I also recommend that if you read The Kneebone Boy you do not do so with a drink, as you will inevitably spew it across the pages--the book is freakin' hilarious.

Is this cover not awesome?
Anyway, this post isn't about The Kneebone Boy either. But, as I was reading yesterday, it dawned on me why I love MG and YA books so much.

I've never officially posted my reasoning on here, although I've commented on other people's blog here and there. Somehow, it's never completely gelled for me before. I've talked about how kids' books tend to be more creative, more imaginative. They are also cleaner--no reading past sex scenes to get to the story. And I've likely listed other little things as well that I can't remember right now.

But I think it boils down to this--I get to be a kid again. I get to look at the world through younger eyes and experience things with true wonder. I get to see and do things "for the first time." And every adventure in every book is a first time for something when you read in the juvenile/MG/YA/teen genres. Narrow it down to speculative (fantasy, sci-fi, horror, paranormal) within that set and it's doubly new. Even the darkest of books are wondrous--battling evil and/or challenging the world with a passion only found in the young. No cynicism from years of experience--just going out there and doing it.

In short, reading younger books brings out the kid in me. I'm not sure I need any more justification than that.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Weekend Observations

I have been all over the place, both physically and mentally, the last few days. If you follow me on Facebook at all, you possibly noticed that I barely posted there. For some reason, I ended up with nonstop plans all weekend.

While I was running around, though, I noticed so many things I've given thought to blogging about:

1) At a party the other night, we played "Catch Phrase"--girls against guys. The guys guessed the correct answer of "chrome" with my husband's nebulous hint of "the opposite of black." I could only come to the conclusion that Men are Borg, because how else would they all go *there* with that hint????

2) At my writers meeting the next morning, I took the prologue and first chapter of a manuscript I've had in the works for a while. No, it is not at all related to the Finding Angel series. (Actually, it's not even fantasy or YA.) One of the women there--a very talented writer, whose work I've read so far has impressed me immensely--said after reading my excerpt that it made her feel like "deleting everything (she's) ever written." This hit like a train for me, as that is exactly what I have said in the past about books that have blown me away, and hearing it about *my* writing nearly knocked me over. My Writing Did What?

3) I came home from the meeting and found that an email telling me that Finding Angel is a Finalist in the Compton Crook Award. Now, I was rather honored when they contacted me the first time, saying they had bought a copy for consideration in the contest. Yes, the Compton Crook is an award that is not just given to those who enter themselves or are nominated by others, and there is no entry fee (so I'd assume there are a lot of entrants), and the prize for winning is pretty dang spiffy, and I was so taken aback initially I wrote to the contest coordinator to make sure someone hadn't used her name to prank me! But yes, they *found* Finding Angel on their own. And now she's a finalist. I wish I knew how many finalists there are, and out of how many entrants. My research hasn't proven terribly helpful, although the few places I've found that list finalists from past years show only a handful. This leads me to believe I need to feel crazy honored to have made it this far!!!

4) I went to a party for a friend who has adopted a little boy. She already has two adopted sons, and they have a beautiful family :). I met another adoptive family there--one with nine kids! The parents are white, but the kids are of all different races. I was so incredibly impressed with them. Having nine kids alone is something that would present challenges. Having nine kids who are of different races and from all sorts of backgrounds that may or may not have involved abuse and who-knows-what takes something special. And these people have it! Those kids are SO loving--to each other, to everyone--and well-behaved. And I found out the mom could never have kids of her own due to a rare cancer she'd had as a child. I firmly believe that God does NOT bring bad things onto people--like giving little kids cancer--but He DOES turn bad things to good all the time. And He used her unique situation to lead her to adoption, where she obviously belongs. All I can say is "Wow."

This book has a story I wrote about Kalek .
Click HERE to buy on Amazon.
5) My devotional this morning centered around the beginning of Psalm 19, which reads:

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
   the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
   night after night they reveal knowledge.
3 They have no speech, they use no words;
   no sound is heard from them.
4 Yet their voice[b] goes out into all the earth,
   their words to the ends of the world. 
This is a really special verse for me because it is where the inspiration for one of my Finding Angel characters came from. Kalek is Elven, but you won't always notice his pointed ears through the mass of long, curly hair. Not too many Elven have tattoos like he does either, or wear leather, or play an electric guitar (without electricity). But even more unique, his music gives voice to the stars' declarations referenced in this verse. He is My Favorite Character in Finding Angel, even though he doesn't get a tremendous amount of screen time. He gets a bit more in the upcoming Seeking Unseen, and will have even more spotlight time in the third book (which at this point is only at the very beginning stages of being plotted out).

All right, that last isn't really part of the "weekend" but it still struck me so I included it. And obviously I'm not going to blog about these things individually now. That's okay. My days should be slowing down over the next couple of weeks, so I should be able to come up with more topics. Even though I'll be deep in the editing mire...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Mentor Me Not

Couldn't find a pic for this topic, so I just went with Snoopy :).
A dear friend-slash-fellow spec-fic author posed a question recently. She wanted to know if there are any author “mentors” out there. Veteran authors who have gone from newbie nobody to multi-published and successful , and would be willing to guide a new newbie nobody through the waters.

I answered her that I would not answer in a public forum. But I do have answers to that question, at least from my own personal experience as a spec-fic author—which basically says, Nope, sorry, yer on yer own, kid.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There ARE authors out there who are willing to help. Who WANT to help. Who bend over backwards for newbies and give advice at every turn and who are genuine and wonderful people. Which is the real reason I said I didn’t want to answer this question in a public forum. I don’t want to dis a bunch of people who have truly been there for me.

Ah, but my peeps have pleaded. And I’m tellin’ ya, there is nothing more heart-wrenching than pleading peeps.

So, here we go. My random observations about why what works for them doesn’t always translate to us.
Genre matters. Target audience matters. If you write sci-fi or fantasy, the marketing techniques of romance writers, chick-lit writers, historical writers, nonfiction writers, etc., will not necessarily work for you. There may be some overlap, but as a YA fantasy writer, I’m not going to find readers the same way a romance writer will, or a women’s humor writer. My audience doesn’t shop the same places. They don’t follow blogs the same way.  We run in different circles and have different priorities. And when you factor in the Christian card—the whole system blows up. Speculative fiction is seen as truly weird and often unacceptable in the Christian market, so we’re generally not allowed in the bookstores where more mainstream books are easily found. Which brings up my next point.

Press size matters. I am published through a small press. Because of that, regardless of genre, I can’t get into bookstores. So, when a veteran author with a big press talks about doing signings at the local Barnes & Noble or whatever, the advice doesn’t apply to me. Those places want nothing to do with me. So, I have to be more creative when it comes to marketing. I can’t rely on someone stumbling across my book as they are browsing bookstore shelves. And even during online marketing, many readers who will purchase through Amazon because they’re cheaper still take the presence of a book in a bookstore as some sort of badge of validation.

And speaking of small presses, there are budget constraints. Bigger authors have review copies covered by their publishing house. Often hundreds of review copies. Small press authors can’t afford to send out hundreds. Most of the time we only sell hundreds! Yes, these days even authors at big presses are required to invest in the marketing, but when you’re with a larger press there’s more of a guarantee of a return on that investment, partially because of the reasons listed above this. With us small press authors, the stakes are much higher.

Also, as far as investment goes—one piece of advice I’ve received is to hire a promotion service. These services can cost into the thousands of dollars. You may read this as a cop-out, but here goes. I have already imposed upon my family by taking gobs of time to write. And to attend critique groups (which also require membership fees), and a couple of conference days (which also require registration fees). I can’t justify taking money from our savings to invest in a service that may or may not pay off. Writing is a dream of mine, but it is not a necessity. I will do what I can, when I can, to promote. But I will not infringe upon the generosity of my husband and children. Also, because of the things I’ve mentioned above, about bookstores and genre, that investment becomes a huge risk. It’s fine to say “only $3k” when you know it will likely come back to you in the form of thousands of book sales. But when you’re talking hundreds, and know you likely won’t break even…

One of the things I’ve heard about promotion services is that they get mailing lists and send out newsletters, and constantly remind readers to remember you, remember you, remember you. This, I think, ties in with the genre/target audience issue. These kinds of newsletters may work for romance and chick-lit, but I’ve found that spec-fic readers, myself included, aren’t big on newsletters. I have subscribed to a few, and subsequently cancelled those subscriptions. I’ve also noted that I don’t need someone constantly sticking their name in my face for me to remember them. If I love a book—and we spec-fic readers love our books passionately—I will find a way to keep up with the author’s newest releases. A way that does NOT involve having my inbox slammed with useless newsletters. Maybe I’m wrong to generalize like that, but I tend to think if I find something annoying I’m not going to subject my prospective readers to it.

Okay, I’ve just realized everything I’ve said so far has to do with marketing. But there’s a lot more to it than that. We’re talking about trying to go from small press to big press. It’s a catch-22, though. The KEY to going from small press to big press is selling lots of books. If you sell a lot, you can get noticed by a bigger press. And selling means marketing….sigh….

Case in point. I follow a particular NYT bestselling author on her blog. She gets a lot of questions from aspiring authors, including requests to see her query letter that landed her a publishing contract. She obliged, and I was soooooo thrilled I’d get to see the letter—until I saw it. It wasn’t the letter that got her first contract—that one was with a small press. It was the letter that took her from small to large, and while written with style and personality, if stripped of those attributes it boiled down to this (in other words, this is NOT a quote from the letter, it is my dried-out paraphrase):

“Dear Agent, I’ve got two books published with a small press. They are selling so well the owner is kicking himself for not contracting that he gets first rights of refusal on everything I write. I now have a book I’d like to shop around. It’s about werewolves. Let me know if you’re interested.”

There was literally only one or two sentences about the actual project, and they were pretty vague. There was NONE of the “hook” we are told to put in ours regarding the manuscript in question—it all came from her style—and more importantly, she’d proven herself with sales.

I think going from small press to large press has to do with sales, period. And what works for one author doesn’t always work for another. We’re kind of destined for our own paths. As small press authors, much of that travel is us putting one foot in front of the other. We don’t have a huge team working to help us along.

Which brings me to:

Big names in some ways *can’t* help us.

I met a fairly big name author at a writers group last year. His path to publication involved having a connection that took him straight to a large publishing house. In other words—his path was nothing like mine. I hope this doesn’t sound bitter or jealous-y. He was one of the *sweetest* people I have ever met. I am truly happy for him. But he went straight to the goal. And it’s another place where genre matters—his writing is purely mainstream.

We had a great conversation while at that meeting, too, where he mentioned he nearly never blogs, nor does a lot of those things we up-and-comings *must* do regularly. Authors with major publishers have “people”—people to schedule their speaking events and signings—and those people have pull. Which puts us back to my original point when I said that we newbies with small presses can’t get signings. That is partially why. We’re not taken as seriously, I think, when we don’t have a publishing house setting our stuff up for us. “What, you’re in here trying to sell yourself? Then you must not be very important…”

I guess what I’m saying with all that is, some authors simply don’t have the answers because their path was sooooo different, and their genre is different, and maybe things just timed right for them. Or whatever. Or maybe they did go the “long way” but it was years ago and they’ve gotten somewhat disconnected from their roots.

(Again, let me say, this has been MY experience. If it hasn’t been yours, and you were a small press author in the spec-fic genre, especially in the YA range, and you moved on to a large press, feel free to comment below and tell me HOW you did it. Maybe you can start a service for the rest of us who are struggling along.)

My last point is something I’ve wanted to blog about for a while, but haven’t really figured out how to dig in. Well, here’s my chance.

I said above, it’s about navigating waters. But by that, I don’t mean a river. Instead, think surfing. (Now, I’m not a surfer, but I think I have a grasp on this idea.) Each “generation” of writers is like a group of surfers catching a wave. Imagine a huge, long wave that a whole bunch of surfers could line up and all ride together. The next wave that comes along is going to be grabbed by a different group-but it’s a slightly different wave. The previous group can give some advice, but much of it has to do with the unique variances of the wave you are on. It’s my understanding that the really good surfers go by “feel”-and we have to, too.

Publishing is publishing and is *basically* the same as it was twenty years ago. But a LOT of the details have changed. I’m not going to itemize them all—if you aren’t keeping up with that stuff, you may have no business reading this post in the first place. My point is, the pack in front of us had slightly different challenges to face. Their wave had slightly different properties. They can give us some advice, about publishing (surfing) in general, but it truly is up to US to catch this wave—to read its subtleties and go by “feel” based on the knowledge we’ve attained.

The key is perseverance. Studying the waves, looking at the variances, reading them, feeling them out, then jumping on. Eventually, others will get tired. Or get sucked under. The ones who keep going, getting stronger, learning, will make it the farthest. But we can’t do that by copying the group in front of us. They are on shore already. We have to find *each other* and work together to get on this wave, just like the ones in front of us did.

Have you ever wondered how so many authors know each other? Did you think it was some social club they all got to enter once they hit a certain level? What I’m discovering is that they were all working on the same wave, and got to know each other along the way. Most of them didn’t have someone from the wave in front of them holding their hand and pulling them along. Some did, yes, but not most. They turned to each other. And now that they’re successful, it’s not about them not wanting to help us, it’s about them knowing they can’t necessarily. They can stand on shore and holler advice—“watch out for that shark!”—but they know that ultimately it’s about us learning to feel the waves on our own and catch the one that’s right for us.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Stop the Remakes!

I went to see The Hunger Games on Friday night, but this is not going to be a review. If you want to know what I thought of the movie, check out this review by another blogger who totally nailed exactly the way I felt (note--she also describes her theater experience since she--lucky!--went to the midnight/first showing, and that, of course, was not at all what I experienced, but it's a neat thing to check out).

The reason I'm telling you I went is that while I was there I saw the preview for the new Spiderman movie.

I. Am. So. Irritated.

I had heard they were remaking it. I knew the new one starred someone other than Tobey Maguire, who in my opinion made an awesome Spiderman. I loved him in all three. I do not like the replacement--for both Peter Parker and Mary Jane--and will NOT be seeing the new movie. What makes me mad, though, is not so much that they got a new actor (how many Batmans have there been?) but that they are starting over.

Why does the first Spiderman have to be remade????

It has become this ridiculous trend. Another preview I saw while at The Hunger Games was for a Three Stooges movie. So, basically, two movies that were previewed were rehashes of old stuff. Rehashes of rehashes, really, when you think about it.

And then yesterday someone posted on Facebook that Total Recall is being remade.

Seriously? Why?

Again, Total Recall is a movie I loved. I am, I admit, a huge Arnold fan. Always have been. And there is. Just. No. Reason. the movie needs to be remade.

I can deal with the constant retelling of fairy tales and such. There are several versions of Snow White either out or coming out. It's kind of cool seeing the variety of dark versions and spoofs and such. But those are different. It's sort of like how it's okay to have a different take on Santa in the multitude of Christmas movies each year.

But when it comes to blockbuster films, what is happening? WHY is Hollywood investing in remakes instead of new stories? I'm so tired of it. I'm ready to start my own protest group.

I'll tell you right now--if they ever remake the first Highlander movie, you will hear my scream echo around the world.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Quick Little List

My last post was a quick little list, with adorable pics of our new dog K'rysy, offered as an excuse for my not blogging lately. This post is a quick little list, sans dog photos, of why I'm still not blogging.

I have been:

Finally working on the climax chapters of Seeking Unseen, now that I've figured out why the way I was going with it wasn't working.

Thinking about the pros and cons of Twitter, as well as all the other networks and forums to which I belong. I deleted a few of those accounts, btw. Still debating about Twitter.

Mopping my floor every 15 minutes because my old dog Dax is drooling all over the place and everyone keeps walking through it with dirty feet.

Celebrating Easter a week early with my husband's family because he's got relatives in town.

Shopping for and planning Beastie 1's birthday. He's turning 12. This can not be happening.

Experiencing Disney Quest for the first time. Me + video games = not the funnest of days. But the Pirates of the Caribbean game was cool.

Reading Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, which so far is completely and totally a can't-put-it-down novel.

Lying about not posting more dog photos: