Monday, July 23, 2012

The Fishbowl Is Feeling Rather Big

Two blog posts in one day. What's wrong with me?

Maybe the first was meant to clear my head. Although, do take it seriously. Especially my recommendation of Kerry Nietz's books.

So now that my head is clear, or at least as clear as it can be at the moment, I want to get to something that is really rolling through my mind lately.

This whole being published thing has been one wild ride, and one that has left me happy, angry, thrilled, disappointed, and surprised.

I've learned a lot along the way. And not just about writing. Not just what goes into the process of publishing a book. I've been forced to learn some things about marketing and some things about the literary world.

At random:

Look around you. The people who will buy your book and love it, and the people who will never even give it a chance, are not the people you think.

Small presses flat-out do not get the respect that large presses do. We are generally lumped in with self publishers. For some of us, this is not fair, for others, it makes perfect sense. I adore my small publisher. I think she is professional, talented, and one of the coolest people I've ever known. She has an eye for awesome fiction and knows how to pull the best out of it. And our team of authors are amazing. That said, anyone can start a small press. Anyone can claim to be a book publisher. Many who do haven't the slightest clue what they are doing.

If you want someone to leave a review of your book on Amazon, you have to ask them to. Most readers who are not writers, and many who ARE writers, simply don't. They don't even think about it. I have no idea why.

Book review bloggers mostly are in a tight circle of their own. I blogged about this a long time ago. But truly--they get the big press books for free, so most of them aren't really looking to help out indies.

What works in marketing for one person, does not work for everyone else. And finding your thing is like searching for a needle in a haystack for some authors while others have it land in their laps. It's usually the haystack.

People who are more than willing to love you to death for helping them promote their work will suddenly forget you exist when you need promotion.

Other people will show up from the most unexpected places and promote you like crazy. Those people are awesome! Love them!

There are injustices and pettiness and unprofessionalism in writing and publishing. But speaking up about those things marks you in the industry and a good little unknown writer must keep her mouth shut.

How much you love a person and how much you love their writing are often completely unrelated.

Loving a person's writing often opens doors to incredible friendships.

There is intense pressure to give good reviews to your fellow writers.

There is equal pressure to give honest (translate--> negative) reviews to your fellow writers. No matter what you do, someone is judging you.

But the biggest observation, and the one that is really bucking inside my skull is this:

We are supposed to posture ourselves as professionals. We are supposed to exude literary knowledge. But the more I learn, the more I realize I know so little. I am a tiny, tiny fish in a big, big bowl. I wonder so often if I have the writing guns to justify opening my mouth on any subject related to writing.

Those reviews I mentioned. I've given a few honest/negative reviews that have put me in the minority. Does that make me wrong? Or are others just giving nice reviews out of friendship or for fear of backlash? Should I be doing the same? Should I just not give a review if it's not good? Does my review carry any weight at all? Maybe I have no right to express my opinion on a book at all if I'm not a perfect writer myself.

In my opinion, some writers are too focused on rules. But others love to point at the big names and scream, "If they can break the rules, why can't I?" I am in the middle of this spectrum, believing certain rules are in place to help guide us, but skilled rule-breaking makes for rich writing. Am I wrong? Maybe I just don't know the rules well enough. Maybe I don't know how to break them properly? Maybe I should leave such discussions to those who do know.

Re: my last blog post...Am I off the mark? Should I shut up? Do I simply still not know enough about writing and publishing to form a justified opinion on such things? On anything related to writing?

No matter how much I grow as a fish, the bowl keeps growing faster.

He Stoops

"He stoops" is a line from Kerry Nietz's novels in The Darktrench Saga. The sci-fi series is the story of Sandfly, a lowly "debugger" who God chooses to use. I love the line because it says so much. None of us is capable of reaching up to God's level, but He is willing to bend down to ours.

This line popped into my head today as I was thinking about the continuing war among Christian writers. The whole, "Christian fiction needs to be this," vs. "No, Christian fiction needs to be this," war. Clean vs. gritty. Righteous vs. real. Hide in the light vs. plunge into the dark.

What I think is being missed in this whole situation is this:

When we say Christian fiction needs to be of a certain type, we are really saying Christians need to be of a certain type. There are people reading our books.

The person reading a certain book chose that book for specific reasons. I think we forget that all to often.

Some readers pick up a book for escape. To accuse them of hiding from reality is insensitive. What do you know of their reality? Maybe they are dealing with grit and real and dark on a daily basis and they need to take a breath and remind themselves that someday things will be different. They need to taste a world in which people say the right things and don't screw up all the time.

On the other hand, if someone chooses to read from the opposite end of the spectrum, maybe that is how they connect best with God. Just because you don't connect that way, doesn't mean their way is wrong.

Some readers love commercial, some love literary, some love easy reads, some love deep reads, some love cheese, some love classics.....and the list goes on and on.

Every person on this planet is unique. Every person has a different set of life experiences that puts them in a different place spiritually, with different needs. God is able to meet all of those needs, and fortunately He is willing to stoop to our levels to meet them.

He stoops.

That means He uses Amish romance.

That means He uses horror.

That means He uses YA fiction.

That means He uses cheesy.

That means He uses fantasy and sci-fi.

That means He uses masterpieces.

That means He uses literary messes.

That means our shortcomings as people and authors do not hinder Him.

Does it mean He thinks we may be lazy? Does it mean we are not to work on our craft?

Of course not. Just as He uses our writing to reach others, He uses it for us, too. To work on us, to build our character. To help us develop strength in the face of criticism, to help us see our own faults, to help us see we are capable of more than we thought, to help us grow.

But when we point our finger at another group of writers who does things differently than us, we're forgetting that we're all down here at the bottom. That goes for ALL sides of the war. No matter what we do, we can't do things God's way. God is so big and so beyond our comprehension, there is no way we can understand everything about His intentions.

Write for God. Write for yourself. Write for your readers. Write to the best of your ability. Write what you are comfortable with. Write outside your comfort zone. Write grit. Write Christianese. Write heavy. Write light.

None of it is bad enough that God can't use it. None of it is good enough that He doesn't have to stoop to use it. He reaches us, not the other way around. 

He stoops. Whatever you write, whatever you read--the important thing is to be there when He does.

(PS--if you have not read Kerry Nietz's series, you are missing out! Go check them out!)

Friday, July 20, 2012

In Which Kat Visits the Health Food Store and Leaves Feeling Oddly Normal

I visited a local health food store today and had a conversation with the cashier that went like this:

Cashier, pointing to the keychain on my backpack: "I have to ask. Is that a Native American symbol."

Me: "Um,'s from Doctor Who."

Cashier, with a blank stare: "Is that a movie?"

Me: "It's a British sci-fi series."

Cashier, again pointing at my keychain: "And what is the significance?"

Me: "It's a a time machine."

Awkward silence during which I feel as though I have a giant sign above my head with the work "FREAK" painted in bold letters and an arrow pointing down at me.

Cashier: "So, if you could go back in time anywhere, where would you go?"

Me, caught somewhat off-guard: "Actually, I really don't know."

Cashier: "I would go visit all my past lives."

Awkward silence in which the giant sign moves from above my head to above hers.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sneaking Unseen

Er, no, that should be Seeking Unseen. But what I'm doing today is giving some "sneak" peeks from the interior and cover art of Seeking Unseen :).

(You may roll your eyes and groan now.)

First, the "scene break" art. That's the little doohickey that goes in between scenes inside chapters. Some books just put an extra space between the paragraphs. Some put a basic symbol or whatnot. Some, like me, put actual images.

In Finding Angel, that image was a key.

With Seeking Unseen, I couldn't decide between two elements from the story I thought were cool. So I decided to use them both:

Nope, not gonna tell you the significance. Gotta read it yourself and find out :P.

I do want to give a hint of the cover, though. It is only a portion. We're still in the building stages, so I'm cropping what I have down to one corner. I leave it to you to guess what this is:

Another tiny peek, to show that I am using the keyhole from the cover of Finding Angel on this book, too:

Just so you know, the amazing and talented Keven Newsome (author of Winter) and his wife DeAnna Newsome (of Newsome Creative) are doing the actual cover design. I did some drawings, and scribbled out a concept layout, but they are doing the real work!

So? So? Whatcha think?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Slow Sunday and Talking Teen Slang

Today is Sunday and I'm not at church because both my little Beasties are sick. Cough, cough, sniffle, sniffle, snort, snort. Yep, that's been my life for the past three days. Neither of them is feeling bad, just snotty, so lots of movie-watching and video games.

Oh, wait. That's how it's been all summer, since it's either pouring rain or dastardly hot outside all the time :P.

Anyway, I've taken a blogging break because I just needed some time to veg. My manuscript was sent out to about a half-dozen beta-readers, and I've been kinda too nervous to concentrate on anything anyway.

So far, I've gotten two replies from betas. One included a "Wooooooow!" And the other included a "What a ride!" That has helped to calm my nerves a bit!

Slang from my era :P.
No, I did not talk  like that!
One comment made by a beta-reader really made me feel awesome, too. She said I did a great job with the teen slang in Seeking Unseen. I have, in so many reviews, slammed YA writers for their awful use of teen slang, so it's nice to know I didn't do so in vain ;). Anyway, since I got the official thumbs-up, I figured I'd share some of my views on the topic of slang use in fiction.

I have found that there are certain things that make slang not work: 

Overuse. If, like, every other freaking word is, like, slang, it freaking starts to, like, get on your freaking nerves.

Misplaced slang. There is a pattern to slang and placement to words. You can't just stick them in any-ole-where. Honestly, I don't have an example of this. I just know it when I see it. I'm reading along and, wham, I'm shoved out of the story because the slang word feels crammed in where it doesn't belong.

Trendiness. Slang words come and go. To me, adding trendy slang dates the story, so kids in, say, ten years are going to roll their eyes at half the slang. You also have to be careful about certain words and phrases, as they change meaning over time. When I was a teen, "hooking up" just meant meeting someone someplace. "We hooked up at the mall." But today, "hooking up" has a whole different meaning., folks. Use it.

The other thing trendiness can do is make the author look foolish. Even if you spend a lot of time with teens, even have them in your own home, you, as an author, are not likely a teen yourself. And if you are, well, let's face it, you've got to have a certain level of nerdiness to be a writer in the first place. My point is, if they're words you don't feel comfortable using because they're not really part of your vocabulary, then it will likely come across that way on the page.

That said, if you do have a character that would use a lot of contemporary slang, make sure you find someone like that character to look at your writing.

I know, no one wants to be stereotyped, but this brings up another point: There are distinct subcultures among teens. Populars are not going to use the same slang as Goths or whatever. Don't generalize.

Speaking of thing that seems to be a trend in teen fiction, especially in sci-fi, is made-up slang. One of the pioneers of this is Scott Westerfeld, author of the Uglies series and several other teen sci-fi/fantasy/steampunk series. He does it right, btw. The problem is there are too many authors trying to do this too, and it falls flat. Some examples of books that drove me nuts are Maze Runner and Glitch.

In those books I just mentioned, the made-up slang has another issue. It's not really a slang system--just cussing replacements. Like in Glitch, "crack" is the replacement for the f-word. As in, oh, man, were cracked, or that's so cracking messed up. (Just made those up because I didn't want to look up actual examples from the book, but that is how it's used.)

This kind of thing *can* work, but one thing I've noticed is that the words need to be sufficiently different from the original cuss word. In both Glitch and Maze Runner, I found the substitutions to be close enough to the real words to make if feel childish. Like, hehe, if I say shitake I've said the s-word but mommy can't get mad! That's where Westerfeld really shines. His words function as more than just cussing, and the words aren't just twists of existing words.

Just an FYI--the WORST book I've read so far when it comes to slang is Dark Companion by Marta Acosta. I cringed through that book. Well, as much as I was able to bear reading. It was horrid. The MC was supposed to be from a rough neighborhood and really street-smart, but she's speaks so cleanly except for the occasional use of "ax" instead of "ask." O.o And the slang that gets used most is that of the rich chickies at her new school, who give nicknames to EVERY freaking person and place they encounter and use the word "coitus" as a sub for the f-bomb. I normally don't go out of my way to bash books (other than Twilight) but this one is right up there! And it was published by TOR. Really???? I am devastated by that.


Hope this little list is helpful.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Cover Art Interview: Rift Jump by Greg Mitchell

Y'all know I adore cover art, and the stories behind the art. So when my publisher, Splashdown Books, revealed the art for its newest release, Rift Jump by Greg Mitchell, I got a little giddy. It's so cool, is it not? And the story is a genre mash-up of epic proportions. 

First, about the book:

Rift Jump by Greg Mitchell

The day Michael Morrison died was the day his life began.
A sinister threat is growing in the void between realities, and Michael has been recruited to stop it. Ripped from his own violent life, he is sent rift jumping to other worlds seeking out the agents of the Dark and putting them to an end by any means necessary. The love of his life, Sara, joins him as he battles Civil War space ships, sea serpents, superpowered humans, and even his own duplicate from a parallel timeline.
But the darkness he fights is growing within him too, calling him to the same destiny as every other Michael from every other world. If he is to change his fate, he must learn to love, to forgive, to trust, and to let the man in the Stetson guide him to become the warrior of the Light he was always meant to be.

Check out the prologue--but make sure you come back and learn more about the awesome cover art!

Interview with Greg Mitchell

What is the story behind your cover art?
I’m really thrilled with how the cover turned out for Rift Jump. I had been drawing Rift Jump’s heroes—Michael and Sara—since high school, so I was VERY particular about their hair, their clothes, even down to their eye color. I originally had a different artist lined up for the project, but he was buried beneath tons of other work and it didn’t look like he was going to make the deadline. So I contacted my friend and Marvel Comics colorist Thomas Mason. He was in between projects and graciously accepted my humble offer. 

I already had the concept in mind: Michael and Sara barreling through the rift, passing between dimensions. I had even decided I wanted it to be a wraparound cover with the sheet of paper that they use to enter the “In Between” on the back. Thomas had this brilliant idea of using surfers as an inspiration. He drew Michael kinda crouched down like he was surfing through a water tunnel. What’s cooler is that, if you look closely, Michael’s got his hand out, running it through the time-space continuum like surfers do with waves. It was a great touch. Plus, Thomas is a master when it comes to doing digital lighting and creating these really intricate and stunning special effects. It’s a beautiful cover.

What was your experience like working with Splashdown on your cover art?
I brought my own artist onto the project and worked with Thomas exclusively, harassing him as we headed closer to our deadline. Once he finished the art, I handed it to Grace—my esteemed publisher—and she put the text on there. I had already settled on a font to use for the main title and Grace and I discussed ideas on formatting the text. Grace did a great job of capturing my vision, plus putting some neat touches into the final product. If you notice, the title is actually a bit transparent, so that even more of Thomas’ art is preserved.

What are your contact links: web sites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter links, your book's page, etc.?
I’m everywhere!

Visit the following blogs on this Splashdown Blog Tour for upcoming features of Rift Jump by Greg Mitchell.

Grace Bridges   
Fred Warren     
Caprice Hokstad
Paul Baines       
Travis Perry       
R. L. Copple     
Keven Newsome
Kat Heckenbach
Ryan Grabow    
Diane M. Graham
Robynn Tolbert 
Frank Creed      

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Contemporary and Classic: Can They Both Be Complex?

As a homeschool mom with one kid in middle school and one soon to be, I have been thinking a lot about what books--what literature--I want them to read. My son is already an avid reader, having devoured several contemporary series. He's been a strong reader since the age of four and has developed a distinct taste in books. He loves the fantasy works of Brandon Mull (Fablehaven, Beyonders), a series called Vampirates, and pretty much anything set in ancient China or ancient Japan.

My daughter's taste is quite different, though, and being auditory where my son is visual, she prefers I read to her. She understands better when I read to her. She loves Little House on the Prairie, A Little Princess, Black Beauty, and others of that ilk.

In other words, she loves classics. The problem: she can't understand the originals and I have had to read abridged versions to her. There was this part of me that felt soooooo guilty about that. As if my high school English teachers might find out and come to my house, shaking their heads with disappointment. As if my fellow writers would find out and tsk, tsk.

But, honestly, I see nothing wrong with putting classics into contemporary language.

Don't get me wrong. Classics as written are awesome. Some amazing stories there. But the way they are written reflects the speech patterns of times long gone in many cases.

I was in all gifted classes, and like my son I read at an early age. But trying to read Shakespeare sent my brain into screaming fits. I adored the stories and characters, but I felt like I needed a translation guide. Like I was in a foreign country where I didn't know the language.

I believe that's closer to the truth than a lot of people would like to admit. Elizabethan English IS like a foreign language. Maybe a whole lot of the words are the same, but the sentences are structured differently, ideas are expressed with phrases not used anymore. It is NOT just a vocabulary issue. I have a large vocabulary, as do both my son and daughter.

But, putting it plainly: People just don't talk that way anymore.

Defenders of classics in their original form sometimes get a bit ruffled at that idea. As if  you're somehow uncivilized because you read books written in plain, contemporary English. Low brow. And, well, frankly, just not as smart.


The most beautiful structures can be built
from some of the simplest materials
I've read a lot of complex contemporary books to my daughter. Books with deep stories. Stories that really delve into the characters and require a lot of "thinking". We got some great discussions out of those reads. But when I tried reading the original Treasure Island, she was lost from page one. It's the language. She's not ready for deciphering the sentence structure and flowery language. She can't follow a sentence that fills seventeen lines in a paragraph.

One of the reasons writers are taught to write the way they do now is that it's our job to communicate to our readers

Does that mean dumbing things down?


My novels are not dumbed down. I don't use a plethora of mountainous vocabulary words, but the story is complex, the characters are complex, and reading it requires thought. (Truth be told, I've had a couple readers complain about that fact. "Ugh, I had to think about it too much.")

One thing I see happening is a reverse of simple language and complex thought--writers pumping out flowery, deep-sounding writing that, if it were to be put plainly, would have very little substance underneath. (You don't get what I mean? When's the last time you listened to a politician talk?)

My point in this little diatribe is this:

Dumbing down has nothing to do with sentence length or the use of contemporary language. A novel written concisely, efficiently, clearly--in a contemporary manner--can be just as literary, just as thinky, as a classic with all its mystical prose and lovely turn of phrase. There is no reason to write circles around your readers. I'm not saying one should never go for more...flavor when writing. You love that classic verbiage? Go for it. I'm only saying that more simply phrased writing can be just as deep and meaningful if it's used to build real story.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Truly Geeky

Right, the photo has nothing to do with the post,
but I got  my medal in the mail yesterday
and had to show off!
Yesterday was my day to post on The Cheesecake Thickens. Nothing big, just my fears about an upcoming birthday. No, really, not the getting older part. You'll see :).

On a related note, the fact that I'm turning 42, and that several of my friends are turning 42, and that we're all thinking, "Hey, cool, we're now the answer to life, the universe, and everything," has really solidified the fact that I am a true geek. My friends are true geeks. And I find this a good thing!

It's made me think of some of the truly geeky moments in my life. Thought I'd share...

One of my college profs asked an "optional" question on a test: "What's the answer to life, the universe, and everything?" Well, you know what my answer was! He, however, had never read the Hitchhiker's Guide books, and snagged me after class. "What does that mean? You're the second student to put that answer!" And it hit me--not everyone on the planet goes all gushy for Douglas Adams.

Another time, in a different class, a different prof was talking about behavior modification and mentioned that there is a movie which illustrates the use of negative reinforcement to change behavior in people. I, of course, blurt out, "A Clockwork Orange," just loud enough for the guy in front of me to hear. The prof then says, "A Clockwork Orange." The guy in front of me spins around so fast I think his head is going to fly off, and gives me a look that says, How the bloody hell did you know that????

Nearly every time I see a small structure such as a shed or anything remotely phone-box-ish in shape, I find myself at least thinking, if not saying out loud, "Is it bigger on the inside?"

I cannot hear the word "sonic" without automatically thinking "screwdriver." (And, thanks to Kessie, "hedgehog", which never would have come to mind before. My friends are making me geekier.)

I cannot count the number of times I've uttered the words, "Myyy preeeciiouussssss."

I have a friend with whom, for a while, I emailed back and forth only in limericks. We also had a Harry Potter haiku battle.

While visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the first time, we opted to not buy wands and make our own instead. The beasties and I now own two hand-made wands each, and their BFFs each own one as well. (Yes, we eventually broke down and bought the beasties "real" HP wands, but the hand-made ones are so cool, and not breakable!)

Speaking of the beasties, I love that my geekishness is rubbing off on them. I find Beastie 1 watching The Hobbit and the LotR series all the time, both beasties making swords and bows/arrows out of branches, and Beastie 2 swooning over Legolas and Aragorn when other girls her age have no idea who they even are.

OK, so now you all now--if you didn't already before--know just how much of a geek I am.

How about you? What are some of your geekiest moments?