Back to Work!

I went on family vacation and forced myself to NOT write during it. I only turned on my laptop to upload photos. Surrounded by mountains, one might think an internet connection impossible, but my eighty-year-old engineer father is a geek and actually sprang for a router at camp. Now you can get WiFi in the outhouse.
It felt odd NOT to write. I’m used to thinking of vacations as time away from “real” work, time to do whatever I want, all the things I don’t have enough time to do while commuting to my 40-5-60 hours. This is the first official vacation I’ve taken since writing became a full-time pursuit, and the first time I’ve had to look at writing as “real work”, too.
So, I didn’t write.
I sat in the sun and quilted, I swam, took pictures, and picked blueberries. We kayaked, played outdoor darts (which, for some reason, are much more fun than indoor darts), had camp-fires, made smores, and we grilled everything in sight. (Except the blueberries.) It was great.
I tried very hard NOT to think about writing, and only partially failed.
The break was good for me, though. I’d already paused at a crucial part of the new novel, re-imagining that section, and staying away altogether freed me up to think of other things. I came up with a couple of ideas for new short stories, which I’ve begun writing more regularly, and put some more thought into the next two books, resulting in several creative leaps.
Also, I refrained from checking my Amazon sales for an entire week, and came home to discover I’d met my sales goal for the month early! As I’m currently more committed to writing than promoting, I have extremely modest goals, but it’s nice to unreservedly check something off the list.
My favorite short story by anyone, ever, is The Cask of Amontillado, though The Ransom of Red Chief is a close second. (Poe and O. Henry, respectively.) My favorite short story by me, so far, is Popcorn, Lollipops, and Porn, which has no porn whatsoever. It’s on Smashwords, Amazon, and all the usual suspects. It should be free on all sites, if Amazon’s price-matching has kicked in.
I like the main character so much that I’m outlining a novel around her, though there’s so much research to do for it, I don’t expect to put pen to paper [sic] for at least a year.

Make sure to scroll down for free links and the rest of the story…

Short story, available free this month at all the usual online retailers.

Short story, available free this month at all the usual online retailers. Give it to me free!

glass house

One of multiple “failed” flash fiction pieces- I just couldn’t manage to keep them under 1000 words! Give it to me free!


For fellow writers- when I started writing short stories again after a 20-year break, I found this article very helpful : Short Stories: 10 Tips for Creative Writers
It’s a good resource for learning, or re-learning the basics.
Well- vacation’s over, so it’s time for me to get BACK TO WORK!

Is “Further Reading” appendix appropriate for Fiction?

Does “More Info” ALWAYS equal Non-Novel?

I got a very interesting response from a reader today. Said reader, henceforth referred to as “Penelope”, gifted me with multiple insightful comments and I’d like to be absolutely clear that I mean intellectually “interesting” and not “stupid”. Penelope’s response to discovering my penultimate “Further Reading” appendix was to assume that “Perjury and Prose” is a fictionalized memoir.

MY response is one long string of questions.
Did I make a fictional faux pas?
Are additional resources only offered to readers of non-fiction titles?

When I stop to think about it, I don’t know if I’ve seen similar sections in other fiction. I can go google it, of course, but I’m interested in other writer/reader responses. Is this a categorical no-no and should it be?

The main character in P&P- Auden- is damaged, physically and psychologically. Some of her issues are a “Big Deal”. I did a good deal of research and used professional knowledge gained over three decades working in science and medicine. I felt readers might benefit from more information. Possibly someone will learn something, not a bad concept, to my way of thinking.

Do I need to clarify this prior to offering the information? Because Auden’s story is definitely not my own.

Auden’s injuries are serious and the topics addressed are weighty ones, so I’m leaving the addendum in “Perjury and Prose”. I’d feel sincerely negligent if I didn’t provide resources. Maybe that’s a career hangover, maybe it’s just good karma. But has anyone else had similar concerns and how have you handled them?

Today, by the way, is the last day to get your FREE copy of Perjury and Prose on Smashwords. Tomorrow it will cost you!

Sibling Rivalry

My sister Stefanie, who criticized me viciously for every sex scene I ever wrote, calling them “shocking” (I’m not kidding!) and worse, has been writing erotica! She’s so into the genre that she published a reference book “geared toward the writer of romance and erotic fiction”. It’s called “TheSEXaurus: Sexy Words for Writers” and do NOT ask me how to pronounce that. I had to cut and paste the title to spell it correctly. It’s live on Smashwords, 99 cents for a variety of formats, and will arrive on Amazon for Kindle later this week. Meanwhile, the PDF is free on her site. And it’s illustrated by me!

In my everyday obsessive manner, I started with her cover design and went way, way, WAY overboard. I had an idea to write a stereotypical romance story, drastically shortened to hit just the highlights of the genre, and use the illustrations to separate each section. Because it’s absolutely impossible for me to let something go, I worked on the vector illustrations for ages before I was satisfied. I ended up with results I absolutely love, though. (Oh, yeah, Stefi likes them, too! I suppose that should have come first, but we are sisters!)

Check out the book HERE on her site, whether you’re a writer or just curious. Here are a couple of the illustrations from the story inside, which I call “The Princess and the Pirate”. Apparently I read too many Johanna Lindsey novels when I was pregnant, a hundred years ago! Too funny.

Princess' Ship

The illustration above is the second in a series of eleven divided throughout the book, and a fairly good representation of what I chose to do: putting the text of the story into each image, aligned artistically when possible, and using words from TheSEXaurus as background texture. I think they came out well. These are JPEGs of the original vectors.

Below is an early version of an illustration from later in the story. See how one of the words split up near the end? I use Adobe Illustrator, and it’s a giant pain getting all the text to go where you want it when you align to the shape of an object. Text is a pain altogether in any illustration, in my opinion. This time, though, I actually think it was worth it!

Moonlit Night

Why I chose DIY publishing

The short answer is- because I read Let’s Get Digital a very good, very free book on e-publishing by David Gaughran. I highly recommend reading it before you do anything with your book. (And, no, I’m not getting paid!)

The real answer is slightly more complicated but starts with the stupid cover letter all authors are practically required by law to send to every darn literary agent in the country. There’s a very strict form one must follow in writing this letter, and if you color outside the lines even a tad, every writers’ forum in the world warns that you’ll never see the promised land of flourescent bookstore lighting shining on the spine of your novel.

Aside: This post refers in particular to “Lucky and Grace”, which at the time, I thought I’d finished writing, but which I’ve since decided to retool. In web terms, it’s been “sent to the end of the queue”.

The agent query letter for Lucky and Grace took me at least a week to write- not bad for a query letter- but I was never happy with it. Other than the daunting task of distilling three hundred pages of prose into one or two tantalizing paragraphs, my major problem was the first sentence. It’s supposed to go something like this:

Dear Ms. Gatekeeper-to-the-doors-of-Readerdom-
I’m seeking representation for my novel “Boopy and Beppy Get Kidnapped by Aliens”, a work of literary fiction complete at 190,000 words.

I had no problem with the title or word count, but the genre KILLED me. Here’s a link to Genre descriptions on Agent Query, a site which also has nearly all the information you could desire on finding a literary agent, should you decide to go that route, and an entertaining and informative Author! Author! post on query letters.

In publishing, genre is everything. It dictates your market, your cover, which agents you query- which publishers they solicit, and your chances of getting published to begin with. Each genre is fairly narrowly defined. I changed the first sentence of my query letter ten times, from literary fiction to wpetiteomen’s fiction to contemporary fiction and back again, without ever coming to a real conclusion, because my stories are all three.

Agents expect authors to have a “clear idea” of everything- their (pretty good) theory being that if the author isn’t clear on her concept, the story will also be muddy, confusing, and unclear.
I know precisely what the theme of Lucky and Grace is, the same way I know life doesn’t fit in little boxes, either. Life is funny and tragic and full of grief and optimism, sometimes all in the same day.
Life is messy! (At left, a beautiful literary fiction cover.)turkey

Your agent query letter is also supposed to match the tone of your book, another little box I didn’t want to be squished into. Lucky and Grace varies widely in tone. Her memories
of childhood are haunting and desolate, but Lucky herself is a sassy, funny, take-no-prisoners woman- on the surface. My approach to prose is always “literary”- the written word the medium I use to paint portraits of complex, often confused characters in equally confounding circumstances. Each individual chapter might slide by itself into one genre, but not the book as a whole.
(At right, a fun “chick lit” cover.)

Lucky is modern and independent- like the women who will read her story- but calling it “women’s fiction” shoves Lucky & Grace into a box that can also seem “light-hearted” and has come to denote triviality in some circles. An attitude, by the way, I find unfair to all women and all “women’s fiction”. Lucky has some extremely UN-light-hearted moments, and a reader confronted with a “Chick Lit” cover might expect a Jackie Collins beach read.

templateAs a new novelist, I’d be highly unlikely to even get “veto power” over the cover art, never mind a chance to design it myself.

It’s unlikely anyone besides me would be optimistic enough to design a “look” for me with more than one book in mind.
As a writer, I plan to keep writing. As an artist, I’d be very very unhappy with a cover I didn’t like. For EVER.  And I prefer not to be unhappy. Author Karen Brichoux tells a cautionary tale about her own cover drama on her blog. (At left, one possible template design for future book covers.)

So, here I am… with two good books fitting firmly in the Contemporary-Women-centered-Literary-Fiction genre. And I can call it anything I want- because I’m in charge!

Choose my new book cover!

I’m posting a desperate Please-help-me poll on the website today because I can’t decide on a cover design by myself! I swear, it would be easy to spend more time christopher wilhelm eckersbergdesigning a cover than writing an entire book! The most difficult part, of course, was making sure it’s clear and eye-catching at the small size of a website preview image (around the same size of the images in the cover poll) but a close second would be making the design fit the genre.I must have read too many mysteries, because the first few covers all looked like that. I felt the need to be especially careful NOT to do that since I have the word “perjury” in the title. With a darker, moodier cover it would be easy to assume someone’s getting killed in the first few pages.

I found a lot of literary fiction covers are photos behind floating text. I tried that too,vermeer but I wanted a template I could use for future books. I’m satisfied with the template- I can change the color of the black “stripes” to a different dark color and still keep the “look”, but I just couldn’t decide on a graphic. The Eckersberg painting I tried first (above, right) is still the one I think fits the novel best thematically. There’s even a scene with the main character studying herself in the mirror, but it doesn’t read well as a graphic at the small size most websites display, so I went back to the drawing table.

Next I chose the Vermeer portrait of a young girl (above left) also La TOurappropriate for the story. After I cropped it to emphasize the girl’s eyes, however, one of the comments I heard was that she looked like a sad baby, definitely NOT my point! My two favorite potential covers utilize waterhouse“Boreas” by John William Waterhouse (left)  and The Magdalena with the Smoking Flame by Georges de La Tour (at right).

I’m sure there are a few artistic purists out there who will object to the use of fine art being for a [hopefully] popular work of fiction, but I’m comfortable with it as a form of tribute. I like the idea of someone formerly uninterested in fine art seeing a painting on the cover and being intrigued enough to go look up the artist. Plus, as an artist myself, I don’t think Eckersberg, et. al, would mind at all.

So- thank you if you already voted, or is on their way to vote now- I really need the help!!

Blog Design Post

I tried to integrate WordPress to another site, but could never get it to work visually. Since it’s so easy to use, though, especially from a server-direct installation, I thought I’d give it another shot with this site… we’ll see how it goes, shall we?

UPDATE: Two hours later: Well, that was smoother than the first time I tried it. As you can see, it doesn’t exactly match the rest of my site but, using the WYSIWYG WordPress Admin panel, it’s far more customizable than it was several years ago. Eventually I’ll attempt to learn a little more WordPress and “fix” it to align seamlessly, but as long as I have a working blog, that’s way down on my To-Do list. I’d rather spend my time actually writing!

As my nephew says “it’s better to have a finished project than a perfect project”. If I could apply that philosophy to my writing, I’d have four books by now instead of two and three-quarters!

From a purely geeky standpoint, the Fatcow server install was ultra-easy, unlike a couple of the other scripts I’ve tried (b2e, etcetera). I’m not sure how it would have worked in pure html, but my site’s already in php, so it slid right in. Which surprised the Bejesus out of me after having read the “Before you install” documentation on the WordPress site. (I’m easily intimidated by SQL!)

So, thank you, Fatcow & WordPress!