On this blog

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Gallery of My Kindle Book Covers

Since Kindle covers are hard to see at the best of times, I'm setting up a gallery of mine in the order of their appearance in my story line:
The City of Refuge,  

the second uploaded was, actually the third one I wrote but the first in the cycle, chronologically.  I recently located its very first appearance in my imagination when I was going through some old notebooks.  I had a notation about an idea for a story - and it grew into The City of Refuge.  One of the main heroes, Lord Nebamun, is one of my all-time favorite characters to write about, and I was delighted to be working with him again in Mourningtide, which was published June 1, 2013.

Pharaoh's Son

I hung on to Pharaoh's Son, the third in the cycle (soon to be the fourth, with its 'prequel' set to come out in about a year) for a long time.  It is a lively story, the one I enjoyed writing most, and I had wanted to consider what to do with it.  I concluded that Kindle and paperback were best for it, as for my others.  I ran into my first experience of the delicacy required to handle historical fiction involving characters that actually lived.  In the case of Pharaoh's Son, the names are real, the characters are my own - though I arrived at some insights into the character of Ramesses II during the course of writing about him.  I now have a strong disclaimer at the beginning of my historical novels.

A Killing Among the Dead

Chronologically, this is the last in the Egyptian cycle - and the first one I wrote.  Egypt was rocked by a scandal of tomb-robbing and desecration in the Valley of the Kings.  It happened toward the end of the XXth Dynasty (the last of the Ramesside dynasties) when Egypt was going into eclipse.  The scandal was far-reaching and implicated some of the great mortuary temples along the Nile.  The story came to life for me, and its main character, Wenatef, is the closest I have come to a true tragic hero in the Greek sense.

The Safeguard 

I have another Civil War novel with the tentative title of Crowfut Gap underway.  Another, The Bones, has its roots in the Civil War and involves events set in motion then, but it is set in the present.  The Safeguard features two of my ancestors, who appear as Union foragers...

The Orphan's Tale

 Set in Paris in the autumn of 1834, The Orphan's Tale is my newest book. 

'Autumn is beautiful in 1834 Paris. But to Chief Inspector Paul Malet,   raised in a prison by the greatest master criminal in French history  the season's splendor is overlaid by a sense of gathering danger: something is afoot.
'When Malet learns that Victoria, England's young Heiress Apparent, will be traveling to Paris at Christmas for a state visit, all  becomes clear. Her assassination on French soil would shatter the accord between France and England. And war can be a profitable business for those criminals daring enough to mold events to suit their own purposes.'
 This is a trilogy, with the second book set to be released next year.  While the cover for #2 is problematic (do I use the hero's portrait - in which case I have to find it or the villain's?  I don't like the villain.  Decisions, decisions...)  I do have a projected cover for book #3:

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Good Sportsmanship

I  think sportsmanship is knowing that it is a game, that we are only as a good as our opponents, and whether you win or  lose, to always give 100  percent.
                      -- Sue Wicks

I participated in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, a competition for 10,000 writers sponsored jointly by Amazon and Penguin press.  The contestants, all 10,000 of them, split into two categories (young adult fiction and general fiction) presented a 300 word 'pitch' for their novels.  This is the sort of text you might find on the back of a book - check my page for A Killing Among the Dead and you will see my pitch on the back cover.  It is designed to catch the reader's attention.  At this stage each pitch gets only one reading from one person and is accepted or rejected.  Of 10,000 entries, 2,000 were selected based on their pitches.  The novels were not read during this part of the competition.

The second stage of the contest, which began today, involves the review of 5,000 word excerpts - generally the first three chapters - by Amazon Vine reviewers.  These are people who have done a certain number of reviews and are asked to participate.  Those books that pass this review are semi-finalists, and their manuscripts are reviewed by professional reviewers from Publisher's Weekly.

The top books from this review are then submitted to the public for voting and two winners are selected.  The grand prize for each is a publishing contract with a Penguin subsidiary with an advance payment of $15,000.

The contest is free, and the steps are clearly outlined.  Message boards were set up for discussion and coaching (among the members).  I submitted my pitch for A Killing Among the Dead. 

The first round winners were announced, and along with 8,000 other writers, I did not make the cut. Mathematically speaking, the likelihood of advancing is pretty slight.  Writing a pitch is hard, and once I'd submitted mine, I immediately saw ways to improve it.  But nothing ventured...

I benefited from the competition in a number of ways:

So, what did I get?
  • Well, coaching in writing a pitch, for one thing. You do have to use your own sense of style, but the guidelines are very good, and I have an excellent working pitch and guidelines for formulating others.I congratulated the winners and  sat back to see what would happen.  
  • Some really good criticism from people who knew how to refrain from pulling punches and yet gave some straightforward, sometimes harsh criticism. Very very very much appreciated.
Along with that, my 'favorites' list has been stuffed:
  • Autocrit - automated program that will help highlight usages and words that you tend not to notice. You can review and change or confirm that it's OK
  • Query Shark - excellent feedback on submission letters by someone who really needs to be thanked.
  • Authonomy - yes I know it is not a shortcut to publishing. But it's a place to get feedback.
  • You Write-on - same as above
  • Writing.com - same as above
  • Wattpad - not sure how I feel about this, but a good way to get feedback. Seems geared to YA, though...
  • Weebly - been wanting to set up a website; worth looking into
Some who had never written a novel before (and some of the excerpts I read were very good) were crushed that their books were rejected and not good enough.  We all pointed out that it was the pitch that was reviewed, not the manuscripts.

We had those who advanced exclaiming over their good fortune, those who had not congratulating them.

And then, naturally, we had the sore losers:

I should be disappointed, but I know how these "contests" are really decided, so I'm not.

Wow.  Not even a kiss-off letter...

The contest rules and procedures were clearly stated.  It was a free contest.  The odds of advancing were very low.  And - have they no sense of personal pride that they behaved in this way?

Well, I may enter next year.  Meanwhile, I'm still working on Mourningtide  and polishing my other works.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Forget it! I Ain't Listening to You!!!

...or the disinclination to listen to feedback...

I am a writer.  I write things.  I really enjoy writing stories, but I'm actually pretty good at writing reports and tightening descriptions for other people.  I write a mean complaint letter, too - rip out a hum-dinger and then sit on it for a day, review and amend, sit on it, review and adjust, and finally send out an effective, non-condemnatory missive.    It's the only way to go.  You'll seldom encounter a thoroughgoing villain in this life, and treating people like one when it isn't deserved is never a good idea.
One thing writers really need (and which many say they want) is criticism.  The text is always the same: Read what I've written:  What do you think of it?  Can you think of anything that would improve it?  Or anything that is really outstanding about it?  Could you let me know?

So, I look over what is written and give my feedback.  Sometimes nothing is needed (in my own, specific, narrowed-to-my-preferences opinion).  And sometimes there are major wordsmithing issues.

At this point the choice is to give honest feedback ('Gosh, this stinks' is never appropriate) or to soft-soap things.
I'm involved in a contest at the moment.  It's a good one, I've learned a lot from it and it's helped me to grow.  But it has also led to some disillusionment.   I have learned that there are a lot of people who want to be writers.  They do write and they do have talent, but their sub-text is different.

What they want from a reader is not criticism or suggestions for improvement, or a different point of view.  They want to be patted on the back and told that their work is very good
How do you love it?  Isn't it wonderful?  Gosh, I'm just in awe!

Most recently, two writers asked people to read previews of their novels and provide feedback.  Both people presented themselves as experienced and their work as polished.  I read the previews and reported on my impressions.  I was honest and complimentary,though I found some problems.  (As an example, in a novel set in 1860 in a British province of North America, a married woman was described as 'Mrs. Suzanne Chalfont'.  This would have been a divorced woman's name.  There was a description likening sea lions to the dark brown, globby oil - it was a little early for crude oil to be part of the normal consciousness.   The writer of this excerpt was described by self and others as an historian.)

The other excerpt had stylistic issues - a case of heightening a 'feel' by flip-flopping paragraphs, some suggestions as to wording (substituting one word with a 'dirt' connotation for another).  Neither of my reviews were dictatorial, and both were written in a complimentary fashion.  And, let us remember, both these people asked for everyone's feedback

In each case I heard nothing.  In the second case I specifically asked if the feedback had made it through (it's posted electronically).  No response or acknowledgment, though others' input was acknowledged.  I went back and checked them out.  One had the book in question published in Kindle (you can update that) and would be putting it out as a paperback some time in the future.  The other person had self-published one book and had a speaking engagement or two as well as some published essays.  The people they both interacted with said their work was fabulous, excellent, just to-die-for, stellar...

I checked the historian's blog and was interested to see that the book was one of two that were described as ready to be sent out to agents.  Aha, I thought.  With those errors you might want to polish a little longer.  But that was that writer's choice.

As for me, I hadn't been aware of the sub-text.  You take people as you find them, and you accept and enjoy them as they are.  I don't believe I'm on this earth to force others to accept my own requirements.

But still -

No novel is perfect, though it's possible to over-correct one.  I have one that is a vivid romp (Pharaoh's Son).  I've polished and polished it, but I can see changes that I really should make: hunt down and delete any hint of the passive voice.  Insert information that ties in to a novel set earlier in the timeline but written after it.  It's an ongoing thing, and while I'm not delighted to have someone tell me that he or she doesn't like the story, if they'll tell me why they feel that way, I'll look into it and probably make changes.

Someone read an excerpt of mine, and he took a lot of time to go line by line (almost) and point out tendencies I had and wasn't aware of.  Wordsmithing.  I was thrilled.  Yes, it pointed out deficiencies, but it led to a way to improve my writing, make it more polished, more gripping, less turgid. 
I may be expanding this post in the future as thoughts come to me, but as Yul Brynner said as the King of Siam: Is a Puzzlement.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

I remember Valentine's Day in grade school.  You could go to a drug store or a five and dime and buy a box full of one-side die-cut valentines.  Some of them were pretty cute:

I remember we'd count how many we got (of course, nice people gave everyone a valentine, even if they thought the recipient was an idiot.  I remember once, very daring, I gave my teacher a card with a rooster that said 'Don't be a Dumb Cluck - Be my Valentine!'  There was no fallout from that.

One year the boys gave out insulting valentines.  Or I thought so at the time.  Now I feel honored to have received one, since only the prettiest girls (those reported as such) got one. 

I love your smile
I love your gait
I love your style -
It's you I hate!!!

I wish I'd kept mine.

Well, time passes and people move on or they leave our lives one way or another.  There are several people I wish I'd given valentines to, or told them one way or another how much they'd meant to me. 

Maybe we lack the courage of one little boy in the summer of 1976.  I was working at a summer camp as one of the counselors.  I also did a stint in the office there.  I was a junior at the University, and I liked the children.

On the last day of one of the camp periods (they ran two weeks) one fellow came in to see me.  I'd seen him here and there.  He was about seven years old, sturdy-built with spiky light hair and a smiling face.

He came into the camp office and went up to me. 
"I"m leaving now," he said.  "I...I just wanted to..."  he stopped and took a long breath.  "I just wanted to tell you that I really like you, and I'll miss you!"  And he left.

Hm.  I bet he grew up to be quite a wonderful fellow.  He was most of the way there that summer, if he could express himself so well to me.  I wish him well.

And to the rest of you, here's my valentine.  I hope you enjoy it.  The fellow in the center rejoices in the very apt name 'Angel':

Monday, February 13, 2012

Scrivener - A Love Letter

I love Scrivener.  I don't think I'm the only person to say this, and I suspect my statement is by no means the most immoderate statement of love they've received.

So, what is 'Scrivener', exactly?  It is, in my opinion, the most useful creative writing system to come along since word processing began.  It enables a novelist, like me, to write a book in my usual willy-nilly fashion with an outline.  Chapters are conceived of and composed, not always in sequence, and they are inserted in the point of the manuscript where they most likely appear.

My stories tend to come in fits and starts.  I have an idea, I toy with it, have an overarching notion of what is happening and why - not set in stone, though.  I write scenes and insert them in my manuscript (which is generally a Word document).  After a while I have a long line of text and it gets unwieldy, at which point I split it into two separate documents under a file name ('Mourningtide', for example).

Here's a page from a manuscript I'm working on.  This is now in Scrivener, but here's the Word draft:

This blip has the potential for three chapters in it. The first being Khay setting things up for the jubilee. Two more chapters might involve Hori's battles. They'd have to be split up, inserted. Cut and paste work. 
Scrivener lets me do that, sort of.
Here's a chapter in my manuscript for MOURNINGTIDE:

The center section has the chapter itself.  And you can see from the list on the left (of chapters) that this is fairly early in the story. 

That column (on the left) has all the chapters of the novel in the order in which I have put them.  Here it is, in part (I have a lot of chapters):

I've given the chapters informal names to help me to know what they are.  In the finished manuscript they will be numbered with, maybe, a notation as to where they are (the action in the story takes place in three locations).  Or not.

If I decide that I want a chapter to come before one above it, I click on the chapter's name and drag it up in the list.

As the manuscript grows in size, the list itself can become cumbersome.  If I am working on a chapter that takes place near the end of the story and I want to double-check something that occurs near the beginning, it can get to be troublesome to scroll all the way up and locate the chapter.

Scrivener has taken care of that matter by inventing something called the 'corkboard':

...And here it is.  Each square (they look to me like index cards) is a chapter.  You can label the chapters as final drafts, needing work, whatever. 

One last feature that I find particularly useful is the split screen.  Recently, I was working on a chapter that referred directly back to something that happened near the beginning of the story.  I didn't want to open two pages and go back and forth.  Scrivener allows you to split the screen:

You can check back and forth between the scenes to make sure your facts are straight.  (I had some dates wrong in one of my chapters; this feature helped me to adjust things.)

...and when you're ready to produce a full-fledged manuscript, there's a command that puts things together in order, formatted, as a .doc.   

This is the 'Compile' command.  When you use it, it will show you a list of the pages you have.  You select the ones you want to put together, and whether you want 'hard page' breaks.

You then can choose from a drop-down box the way you wish to save the manuscript.  I save mine as .doc, which, being such, MSWord can work with.  

         They have places for research, for images, for character notes (and some nice templates that help organize your thoughts).  And the program is $40 US.

What's the downside?  Well, you don't get a CD.  It's download only.  I've downloaded the program to two computers (my laptop was stolen).  Scrivener folks were charming about restoring my program.  I suspect I could upload it to every computer in my house. 

Support is charming and the product is very, very good.  I can't recommend it highly enough.

If you're interested, the company is Literature and Latte.  Scrivener is available for Mac and for Windows.

And If I'm ever anywhere near them, geographically, I'll drop in with hot chocolate for all.  And maybe some Bakewell tarts...

Monday, February 6, 2012


Strange how a teapot can represent at the same time
the comforts of solitude and the pleasures of company. ~Author Unknown

There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be
much diminished by a nice cup of tea. 
~Bernard-Paul Heroux

The last time I traveled to London, I arrived before my hotel room was ready.  It had been a long flight, I hadn't slept, I was frazzled and dead tired.  I was told to return after 1:30, at which time my room would be awaiting me. 

I did, and it wasn't.

I burst into tears.

At this point three people converged on me, one of them patting my hand, the other guiding me to a nice, bright table in the dining room screened from the noise and commotion, another bringing me 'A nice cup of tea, dear...'  They scattered, then, returning after I'd drunk the tea and eaten the biscuits and dried my tears.  My room was ready...

Another novelty is the tea-party, an extraordinary
meal in that, being offered to persons that have already
dined well, it supposes neither appetite nor thirst,
and has no object but distraction, no basis but delicate enjoyment.
~Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste

I enjoyed tea in the British Isles.  When I traveled through Ireland (bed and breakfast; rental car, lots of photos...) my midday meal was tea.< 

I fell in love with Bakewell tarts, and the strong, milk-laced tea.< 


 Sandwiches, too...

And scones...

I have my laptop on my lap (where else?) I've eaten a light lunch and I'm contemplating putting the teakettle on to brew what will be my sixth cup today. I should be working on my current story-in-the-works (see my post entitled Mourningtide), but right now the thought of tea is holding my attention.>

It sounds like a good idea. There's something about a cup of tea that seems to steady and comfort (not to mention the tannin that is good against a sore throat). Definitely comfort drink...And I still haven't put the kettle on.  Excuse me, one and all.  I'll write something literary and well-thought-out tomorrow.  Tea time!>

Friday, February 3, 2012

NaNoWriMo - Roller Coaster

I was reading some emails and came across one from Flylady (an excellent, motivating group for those who need to organize and get their houses in order). She was talking about something called NaNoWriMo, a group endeavor (I can't call it a competition, exactly, because you're competing with yourself) that takes place in November. From November 1 through November 30 the participants buckle down and write a 50,000 word novel.
After looking into it further, I signed up for NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month just for fun.  The premise was interesting:  the novel didn't have to be finished or polished, it just had to be fiction and have at least 50,000 words.  (50,000 words equals about 150 pages in a standard, smaller paperback.)
Considering the length of fiction that I've written (admittedly not within thirty days) I thought it would be easy.
Rules were simple: you could not start writing your novel until November 1.  You could:
jot down character information
jot down plot thoughts
do research and make notes
do a lot of thinking
The actual composition started only on November 1.
I'd had an idea for a story arising out of my Egyptian cycle.  It involved an uprising in Nubia and the way several people handled the matter.  I had an array of interesting characters:
Maya, a master artist
His young apprentice
Merneptah, an Egyptian prince, in Nubia under training by the Crown Prince
some other folks, bad and good
I had my research set out, character notes, lots of thinking...  But I didn't write it.  It didn't seem right.
I did no writing on November 1, or not much.  I was visiting family, and the great snow catastrophe of 2011 slammed my area.  No power for a week, Not a lot of writing done.   The folks at the Office of Letters and Light (which holds NaNoWriMo) have a handy little calendar that shows a writer's output during that month: 
The red spaces show no writing.  Orange is very low.  Green is cooking right along.  Yellow is so-so.
I scrapped the Nubian story and went with one that popped, like Athena, fully armed into my head.  It has the working title of Mourningtide.  It flowed nicely, though I really had to push to get any momentum after the disruption of the blizzard and the forest of broken trees.
But - I finished!  
It's a wonderful thing to work under pressure and discover that if you don't have the opportunity to laze around and write a bit here and a bit there you can nevertheless produce the bones of a very good story within thirty days.
But Mourningtide is another post...