Thursday, December 01, 2011

Join the Mount TBR Reading Challenge!

Do you own a lot of books? As in, over 25 at least? How many of them have you read? Do you like to stroll into a bookstore and sample all their goodies and then end up walking out with a nice fat bag full of 'em? Or do you get a bunch of them at gifts because, hey, that's what you asked for, right?

So many books, so little time. So My Reader's Block is hosting a cool challenge. It's the Mount TBR Reading Challenge! Time to tackle that To Be Read pile like nobody's business! So skip the library, leave out the ARCs, and focus solely on your massive stack of books for the year 2012. (After all, you bought them for a reason, right? And besides, might as well read them since the world is going to end next year. Don't want to be sitting in the afterlife thinking, "Dang it! I never got to read Jurassic Park like I planned! Now I'll never know if it was better than the movie.")

Head on over to the blog to see about signing up. Will I? I would love to - except my actual reading pile is about 9 books high. So instead, because I like this idea so much, I'm applying it to my TBR list. I have about 50 books on that list. I don't buy a ton of books because I just don't have the money to blow on them. But it seems to take me forever to go back and tackle a book I wrote down - even though I wrote it down because I obviously wanted to read it at some point. So while the rest of you read through your pile of books, I'll be crossing off titles from my list. So, Mt. Kilimanjaro, here I come!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Just Because October is Over...

...that doesn't mean you can't still have some thrills and chills! If you're in the New York area this upcoming July and love to read thrillers, write them, or just think some of the following authors kick ass, you might want to consider checking out ThrillerFest!

At the Grand Hyatt you'll stroll in and encounter all things thrilling. That includes an amazing panel of authors such as:

Jack Higgins
R.L. Stine
Lee Child
John Sandford
Catherine Coulter
Ann Rule
Richard North Patterson
Karin Slaughter

You can't tell me you haven't heard of at least one of those names! Cripes, I'm not even a thriller writer but if I had the money, I'd go! (I read sooooo many Fear Street books as a teen, it's ridiculous - so I'd head to R.L. Stine first!)

*gasp!* But there's more.

Agents, awards, and all sorts of goodies are ready to entertain, educate, and perhaps even get you published!

So if that sounds just as awesome to you as it does to me, head on over to the site and sign up for some thrilling good times!


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Attention Spans - Ooh, Sparkly...

I managed to click the "Send" button in my email at the right time to be entered into Miss Snark's Secret Agent contest. Amidst all the YA and MG work, I'm one of the few adult pieces in the mix (is everyone writing for YA/MG these days, or is it just me?).

Naturally, my entry is being commented on. The comments are mixed, most of them leaning towards not too jazzed. But there are two things I've made note of:

1.) The 250 words I submitted are actually different from my original 250 words. I thought I was making an improvement, but looking back, perhaps not. Hard to say because overall, it's the same scene, just different words.

2.) Along that same vein, the thing people take issue with the most is the hook and the slow start.

Now, no doubt, hooking a reader from the first sentence is important. After all, there's nothing more frustrating than having a tug on the line only to discover the fish is long gone (and with your bait too, dangit). Some people talked about how there was no action, no fantasy element, no conflict. I'm fine with the criticism - that's not what this post is about. Rather, it got me thinking about our attention spans these days.

Did you know the average time we get of one camera angle in a movie is about 30 seconds? Sure, we may be in the same scene for 15 minutes, but we'll see that scene a bunch of different ways, cut back and forth, and however else they want to splice it up. In 250 words, people expect action. They expect...I don't know. 30 second cuts of actionadventuresexcarcrashesblahblahblahoohshiny! The book has just begun, but some shit needs to go down.

I'm not saying I don't like when wild and crazy stuff happens on page one. I'm all for jumping in feet first and seeing where the current takes me. Plenty of books do that, and they do it well. But there are many others out there that need just a few extra seconds to set the stage. To prep readers for what is to come. Are we too impatient to allow for these extra seconds? A second paragraph instead of just one? Is it safe to assume you know where the author intends to go right on page one? I also don't intend to imply that you should force yourself to read a book that doesn't work for you. No one should wade through something that they don't like.

I've started up a little agreement with myself. I have so many books to read these days that if I don't like a book by the 100th page, I'll put it down. I hate not finishing things I start, but I just don't have time to slug through a book that isn't engaging me in any way. However, I haven't had to do this just yet.

But for some books, are there times when people have been a little too ADD? How about you, reader folk - what books have you read that take their time starting out before they really get rolling? Or are you all about the NOW factor?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Revising...some more

When I was about 14ish, I started writing my first book. I finished it sometime in high school. The story, I think, it still solid and a lot of fun. But when I looked at it (as I'm now 27 and have a Bachelor's in English and MA in Writing Popular Fiction), I realized just how AWFUL the writing is. Hence, it's revising time. Personally, I hate revising, but a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do, ya know?

As I go through the manuscript, I've noticed other things as well. I feel it may be fun to share them with you.

On insults thrown by bad guys and good guys:
Teen self: ...I don't really like these. Oh well.
Current self: ...I don't really like these. *Google*

On battle plans:
Teen self: This is awesome!
Current self: Wtf? This doesn't make any sense!

On numbers:
Teen self: This is will be a big battle.
Current self: Huh. I thought it was smaller than that.

Teen self: Now readers can see what everyone is doing!
Current self: What the hell is going on?

On certain descriptions:
Teen self: La la la la....
Current self: I kinda wish I was George R.R. Martin for the clothes. And what the hell side of the planet does the sun rise on?

On genre:
Teen self: This will be adult fantasy, but I'll write it so everyone can read it!
Current self: ...Is this supposed to be teen fantasy? Hmm. This needs more violence.

On names:
Teen self: I'll call that group XX. And I hate that guy's name, but I'll deal with it for now.
Current self: Ohmy...that is so cliche. I'll call that group YY. There. That's more badass. And I still hate that guy's name, but I still don't know what to change it to.

On my dragon:
Teen self: I love my dragon.
Current self: I love my dragon.

On killing your darlings:
Teen self: What's that mean?
Current self: Oh good. I totally do that.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Canon, Classics, and the Love/Hate We Bear Them

There's a fantastic string of comments going on over at Nathan Bransford's blog about classics and canon, and which books should be removed from the invisible list - if any.

Certain books seem to be getting more hate (and I use that term loosely) than others. Moby Dick and The Scarlett Letter seem to be racking up the most points. there's a part of me that actually wants to scroll through that list and tally up the number of people remarking on various books and plays. Some have included the entire work of an author; "anything by James Joyce" or "everything by Hemmingway."

Naturally, there are plenty of people who love what other people hate. Some have mentioned Orwell, and while I've only ever read 1984, I enjoyed it, so there's a chance I'd enjoy a few of his other works. As I continued to read, I started to think about which books were squeaking out of the discussion to remain safe. Like The Great Gatsby. Yet sure enough, eventually someone mentioned how it needed to go.

Then I saw a comment by David Elzey, "[...]perhaps one of the problems with the canon is that we get these books before we're ready for them?" I think he's got an excellent point.

Many of the posters, myself included, wrote about the books we disliked in past tense. Past tense as in "read it in high school." There may be some college references, and perhaps even a few people who finished a classic last month, but I think most of us never would have touched a lot of these books had it not been for high school. The issue is that when you're in high school, you're just not all that interested in what a bunch of dead people wrote. Unless you loved books (like myself) or were one of those good students who were willing to make an effort, you were too busy doing other, more interesting high school things. Jane Eyre isn't interesting until the crazy wife appears in the story. Great Expectations will make you want to hang yourself until Ms. Havisham sets herself on fire. Things like that. I'd like to take a poll and see how many of those posters were in high school when they read the books they claim to have hated.

My book? Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. I didn't understand what Ellison was aiming for, and I mildly resented being forced to read it because I was pretty sure my teacher was trying to make some sort of racial statement that I also didn't understand. If anything, I figured if she wanted to do that, why couldn't she pick a book that at least made more sense? But again, as I think back now, I wonder - did I not understand Invisible Man because I was in high school? Would it make more sense now? I don't think I'll ever answer these questions because, to be blunt, I'm not going to attempt reading that book again.

But back to Mr. Elzey's statement. How many of us read more classics now than in school? Or at the very least, are more interested, whether or not we actually act out on our thoughts? I know I am. I read a slew of classics in high school, but not because I wanted to. I read more in college, but even though they were assigned, I was an English major and was already more interested. I read SF classics in graduate school, but I got to choose the books (and that's where Frankenstein and 1984 came into the picture), and I enjoyed them a lot more becuase I was the one making the choices. These were the books I at least wanted to read, even if perhaps I might not enjoy them as I read.

With school over completely, I have an extremely varied reading list, and it includes classics. In fact, when B&N had their Buy 2, Get 1 sale on their classics, I went buck wild. I never used to own any classics or books that fall into the wild canon spectrum. Now I have 18. That includes giant collections of H.G. Wells, William Shakespeare, and Edgar Allen Poe. I still have a few titles in my long list of books to read, and still others that I'm curious about.

People don't like to be forced to do anything, plain and simple. While I'm not for throwing out the classics list, the books considered canon, or no longer making high school students read, I think a lot of these books just aren't meant for that age group, which may play a large part in why people end up hating them. After all, I don't think Melville wrote Moby Dick for a 16-year-old high school student. Most high schoolers are nowhere near the target audience for these books, and other things are not universal like so many others believe (Shakespeare is one of them).

But it is nice to see certain other books are getting onto the required reading list. They're not always going to become favorites with everyone, but hey, that's the world of books for ya!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Want to Win Some Stuff?

Then head on over to My Writers Craze and throw your hat into the ring. There are some awesome prizes waiting there! Deadline is July 25th.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Agents Get Rejected Too

We all know that once an agent takes on a client, their next job is to convince and editor how awesome the book is. We also know that obviously every editor/publisher isn't going to say yes.

But I have now seen a form rejection to an agent from a publisher.

I have to say, it was weird. I suppose I should know better, this late into the game, but for some reason I assumed that because there are fewer agents out there sending stuff to publishers that they would get actual responses. I assumed editors would send back replies saying no thanks, maybe not in great detail, but done themselves nonetheless. I don't really know why I thought such a thing, but I did. It was really strange to see though. A printed form letter with the title of a book scribbled in by someone. And it sounded almost exactly like what most of us see from agents. The usual, "Sorry we can't repsond personally, but we get so many submissions it is impossible. Sorry this book doesn't work for us, and we hope you find success elsewhere. We know someone else will probably love it." That sort of thing.

So now I know. Agents get form rejected just like the rest of us. And it probably sucks. The book they've fallen in love with yet again put back down by another editor. So even though many of us fuss and lament about getting rejected (and I'm not saying we shouldn't because rejection sucks no matter who you are), it's good to be reminded once and a while that agents get rejected too and it probably bums them out just as much.

Monday, June 13, 2011

My First Guest Blogger!

Today you get a bit of a treat - a post from Debra Webb, published author and my very first guest blogger! And at the end of the post, you're in for an extra treat!

A little bit about Debra Webb:
Born in Alabama, she wrote her first story at age nine and her first romance at thirteen. It wasn’t until she spent three years working for the military behind the Iron Curtain—and a five-year stint with NASA—that she realized her true calling. A collision course between suspense and romance was set. Since then she has penned nearly 100 novels. Visit her at


Growing up I always heard folks say, “things change, people change.” As I grew older I realized this was very true. I saw firsthand how people changed with age and experience. People and things changed with the rise and fall of the economy and, most noticeably, with the welcome of or farewell to a loved one. Simply put, life changes people. When people change stuff around them changes.

Looking back on my life thus far I have to say that there were several defining moments that led to change and brought me to the place where I am today. Getting married. The birth of our first child and experiencing the reality of overwhelming physical challenges for her. Agonizing over all the decisions related to surgeries and treatment. Searching for hope and instead finding a single cold, hard fact. I still remember that particular day vividly. Standing in the cool, sterile exam room and having the specialist look me in the eye and say, “You’re looking for a miracle and you’re not going to find it.” My firstborn child was two years old. I was twenty. It was one of the hardest days of my life, but the doctor was right. I was looking for a miracle and I was not going to find it. That moment changed me in ways that I still cannot adequately articulate. But I knew I had to move forward and be thankful for what was. My daughter’s happiness depended a great deal on mine. So, that day, I began anew. I taught my little girl that she could be anything, could do anything that she wanted. Her journey might not be the same as other little girls, but she could make the trip. And she did.

She is a beautiful young woman now, with a loving husband. Years after my first child was born, my younger daughter came along, another life-altering moment. She is precious beyond words and has brought much joy to all of us, including her big sister. There were others moments, like the loss of my parents, far sooner than I was ready. The day I received “the” call and sold my first book. Then, last summer, the injury that changed my life forever by stealing most of the use of my right arm and hand. Yes, indeed, things change, people change.

Change is rarely easy, but it isn’t necessarily an enemy. Sometimes it brings joy and prosperity. Whatever it brings, it is the way in which you respond that determines the rest of your journey. Like most, I at first responded to this latest change with immense grief and deep depression. After all, I’m a writer, I need my right hand. I’m a mother; I wanted to help my youngest get ready for her upcoming wedding. I wanted to braid my granddaughter’s hair and teach my grandson how to properly bait a hook. Not that I have grandchildren yet, but I will. I am a wife; I wanted to do all the wonderful things my husband and I love to do together—like renovating old houses. When I was sure I just couldn’t get through those dark days, my family rallied around me and helped me to see that I could still do plenty. I won’t be able to style my daughter’s hair or zip her dress the day of her wedding, but I’ll be there watching over every step. Rather than braiding my granddaughter’s hair, I’ll be content to brush it. Rather than bait my grandson’s hook, I’ll be happy showing him how to hold the fishing pole. My husband and I have learned to enjoy other activities together. The hours of therapy every day have brought us closer. He carefully exercises my fingers and my hand three times per day to keep the muscles from wasting further and becoming like rock. He works tirelessly, giving the same attention and passion to that need as he would if he were making love to me. He is my hero!

Because I couldn’t work as I had before, couldn’t get out and network or promote, I spent a lot of time reflecting on my career. I took a long hard look at my mortality and considered what I really wanted to do versus what I could do after this major change. What I could do was take charge of my career in a wholly exciting and terrifying way. I started my own publishing company, Pink House Press (more on that in a moment), and I self-published a novel that had been living in my heart for several years. When I wrote the first Jackie Mercer novel the editors loved it but the marketing folks couldn’t figure out where she fit. This was before Desperate Housewives, Cougar Town, Body of Proof, etcetera, which feature women moving into their forties (some well past) and still being vital and SEXY. Yes, sexy and sexually active!

Jackie Mercer is 45, divorced, with a son in law school and she still loves her mini-skirts and high heels. Menopause is looming and she has stretch marks that seem to be widening rather than diminishing. She’s a real woman with real problems and I love her! Oh yes, and there’s Derrick Dawson—a sexy as sin, hotter than Alabama asphalt in August younger man! I love Jackie and her debut novel DIRTY and I hope you will too! I chose the name Pink House Press because I grew up in a pink house. My parents were farmers so we didn’t have much but my mother was a vibrant woman full of hopes and dreams. She painted that old farmhouse pink and taught me the same lesson I taught my daughters: you can be anything, do anything. When I was eleven I had been hand writing stories for years so my mother bought me an old manual typewriter. We really couldn’t afford it but she got it secondhand and thought it was worth the splurge. In honor of her and that old pink house I had to go with Pink House Press!

Yes, change is hard sometimes. But I decided not to lie down and give up. Instead, I kicked some butt and did it my way!


If you feel like reading a bit of sexy fun, Debra's also giving away a digital copy of DIRTY and a copy of her new Colby trilogy (Missing, Damaged, and Broken). Leave a comment and include an email address where I can reach you if you win as well as which you want - DIRTY or the Colby trilogy (or both!). Get an extra entry by letting me know if you Tweeted this post, chucked it onto Facebook, posted it on your blog, or otherwise let the world know about it! I'll announce the winners on the 21st, so stay tuned!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Why Authors Should Be Involved

I always knew that authors don't often get a say when it comes to their book covers. That's pretty much a fact of life. And anyone who's ever read a book will eventually stumble upon one that has a cover that is in no way related to the book. When I see those, I often wonder how that happens. Was the illustrator told nothing about the book? Does someone tell them what to draw? Do they read the book or gloss over it and then come up with something on their own? The cover illustration process is not something I'm familiar with. But I've also never bothered because, again, what does it matter if I get no say in the matter?

However, what I didn't know about until today was "whitewashing." I suppose I should have - I remember actually reacting to the cover of Maurice Broaddus's King Maker, thinking, "Holy cow, a black guy on the cover of a fantasy book!" But overall, I didn't. Whitewashing, for those of you who don't know (like myself five minutes ago), is when the main character(s) of a book are decidedly NOT white, and yet the cover features said character(s) with white representations. I first read about it at Calico Reaction's journal and then headed over to The Book Smugglers for more info.

My initial thought was, "Seriously? Are we really still doing this?" The racism thing, I mean. Because let's face it - it is racism. In a really lame way. The claim the publishers make is that when there are people of color on the covers, the books simply don't sell as well. Frankly, I'd like to see the hard data on this. Then again, it's going to be kind of tricky to get a decent amount of data since there's such a small percentage of covers that feature non-white characters.

Though we're not supposed to judge books by their covers, the simple fact is that we still do. The cover is what first catches our eye. But does it really matter if there's a brown-skinned girl on the cover vs. a white-skinned girl? Yes, I think it does. But not in the way the publishers are thinking. If I open up a book and I'm reading along, I'm going to notice that, hey, this character is actually supposed to be Japanese - what's with the blond chick on the cover? Or with the example on The Book Sugglers blog of Esther Friesner’s Sphinx’s Princess, the girl is supposed to be - duh - Egyptian. To me, those look like major mistakes. It makes the publisher look stupid in my eyes. In my mind, I think, "Way to not pay attention to the book, guys." Incorrect covers always look stupid. And now that I'm aware of this issue, I shake my head and still can't believe the blatant ignorance of the publishers - especially when readers freak out enough to actually force the publishers to release a corrected cover. Shouldn't that be some sort of wake-up call to them that a great many people are over such issues? That we just want good books and we don't need our intelligence insulted?

As mentioned on The Book Smugglers, the other claim is that white readers won't be able to relate to the books if there are people of color on the covers.'s okay to slap a white person on the cover even when I'm going to read the book, the author will let me know the main character has brown skin and dark hair? If that's the case, shouldn't that mean I'll suddenly not be able to relate and I'll put the book down anyway? Hmm. Nevermind the simple fact that technically I can't relate to living on a spaceship, hooking up with a shape-shifter, being chased by demons, or traveling through time. If you're going to be racist, shouldn't you at least be racist in a more logical manner (if such a thing exists)? Everything from fantasty to SF to half the romance genres out there have situations that are so far from relatable, it's ridiculous. Yet we read them because why? They're interesting, fun, and we suspend our disbelief. That's the whole point of reading. Anyone read John Scalzi's Old Man's War? Excellent book - and the main protagonist was green.

"So Nicole, are you saying covers don't influence you at all?" Oh no, don't get me wrong, they can and sometimes do lure me in or turn me off. But not because of someone's skin color. That's old, old news (at least, I think it should be). I tend to roll my eyes and wonder when people are going to get over it. Sure, I'm not going to go out and buy books by, say, Kiki Swinson, but it's has nothing to do with the cover - I'm just not a reader of the urban fiction genre and I'm not the target demographic anyway. Even if the characters in urban fiction were white, I still wouldn't be into it. And the same can be said for horror and religious fiction. I've sampled, but I just can't get into it. What covers do turn me off? Fantasy and SF covers that look like they're still being churned out of the 70s and 80s (sorry Mercedes Lackey, but I'm just not diggin' it - but I know it's not your fault).

But that's getting off topic. I'd like to think that publishers would get over their stupidity when it comes to this particular topic and just create covers that make sense. A few outcries have already changed things, as has time, so here's hoping that they'll realize all we want are covers that look good with great stories inside of them. And for heaven's sakes, let the authors have just a little bit more input when it comes to the covers - especially when they see that their character(s) look nothing like the do in the book.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Adventures in Querying

I realize this makes me look like an idiot, what with my last post and all, but it's just another one of those things that's bound to happen once and a while.

I now know why rocket scientists are prone to screwing up. When a rocket goes into space and something goes wrong, people always wonder how that's possible. After all, with all those smart people working at NASA, how can you screw up something like forget to put on the last heat-resisting panel?

It's all about attention to detail. I know, that sounds a little backwards, but it's true. See, you're focusing so much on everything else - getting the agent's address right, spelling their name correctly, making sure your query letter is formatted right, and in my case, making sure that the envelopes are right-side up this time - that other things you normally don't screw up on get neglected. And then you screw up on them. That scientist at NASA was working so hard on the other 99 panels, he forgot the last one. It happens.

So what did I do this time? I forgot to put a stamp on my SASE, thus effectively making it a SAE. There I was, making sure my margins were correct on my manuscript sample, ensuring things were spelled right, numbers were correct, I had the right number of pages, I signed my query letter at the bottom, etc. etc. then I shoved it all in the envelope, made sure the SASE (or at the time, SAE) fit well, licked the adhesive, and carefully folded it over and firmly pressed down. I flipped it over and looked up one last time at the submissions guidelines.

The word "postage" caught my eye and in that brief moment, the image of my SASE flashed in my mind - minus postage. After a giant mental "O M G, W T F," I oh-so-carefully opened the letter again, snuck a stamp onto my SASE, and quickly licked and re-sealed the envelope. Luckily it worked out well and I didn't ruin the first envelope too much with tearing or lack of stickiness the second time around. I really, really didn't want to be stuck using tape (the envelope was already stamped, so I didn't want to ditch it, but tape just looks....bad). I hoped it would stay stuck until the morning.

The story ends happily ever after (at least, for all I know), because I sent out the letter today and it was still holding together. I just hope it can make it all the way to New York without getting trashed.

Why can I not get my snail mail query letters right??

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Your SASE Is Wrong

Today while querying an agency via snail mail, I prepared my SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope for those of you who have only done e-queries). Normally I print them—the regular envelope and then the SASE. But my printer was semi-inkless, and having half-printed addresses on there isn’t exactly professional—or smart as the post office might lose them due to part of the address being illegible.

So I carefully wrote out my address and the agency’s address in nice, printed pen. I got my query together, popped it into the first envelope, and then started to put in the SASE. Then I realized something—the addresses were upside-down. Sure, they look fine on the front, but when you turn the envelope over you realize the opening is facing down.


I debated for a bit. It’s an honest mistake, and anyone has likely done this before. Most of the time we think, “Whatever” and send it out anyway. I mean, Aunt Em isn’t really going to care, is she? She’ll just be happy to get a letter from you. Or your best friend will just laugh at you when she gets it and then open it up and think nothing more of it.

But…an agent?

I’m running out of envelopes so it annoyed me that I’d pretty much wasted one. Was I going to shove an upside-down SASE in with my query? Okay, sure, there’s a darn good chance the agent wouldn’t care at all. They might think I hadn’t noticed my goof, or just think, “Big deal” and get on with life like Aunt Em and the best friend.

And yet, I didn’t shove it in there. No way. To me, it just smacks of being unprofessional…or just plain incompetent. Like having a typo on your first few pages (which I discovered I had a while ago—well after sending out a handful of samples to agents. Yes, by the way, I’d read it, I had three people read it, I read it again, and it still got missed). I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. It’s an honest mistake, but I want to make the right impression the first time. I’m not sure which agent might spot that and wonder about the person on the other end. It does seem kind of judgmental in a way, but I refuse to take any risks with agents.

So I got a new envelope, double-checked it, and wrote a new SASE and put it in. I’d wasted an envelope (well, maybe I’ll find some use for it…), but hey, at least now I don’t look like a goof to the agent I queried.

What would you do? Use the upside-down envelope or say, “No way José” and grab a new one like I did?

Friday, March 25, 2011

In Case You Didn't Hear About Dorchester

In case you haven't heard about Dorchester/Leisure Publishing, there's a movement to boycott them. Why? They're screwing everyone over. Big time.

Brian Keene has it all down.

Mary SanGiovanni is following suit.

If you don't have time to read either of those, here's the short version of what's been happening in the world of Dorchester.

Many of you may have heard a while back that they decided to (abruptly) go all-digital. Then they backtracked and said they'd still put out trades along with the ebooks. Weird, but okay. But then authors weren't getting their royalty checks. Strange things were happening in the company. All sorts of garbled information started coming out of them. Many of their authors haven't been paid since 2009. That's right. Dorchester is essentially in the toilet, but the books are still selling, and authors haven't gotten any of their royalty money since 2009.

Some authors, Keene included, decided to ditch Dorchester and save themselves a lot of waiting and misery and requested the rights be returned to them and Dorchester could keep the money they owed. Dorchester reneged. The books are still being sold on Kindle, Sony, and so forth, but the authors are the legal owners of the rights so these sales are illegal and authors aren't getting paid for them. Other authors have requested the rights be returned to them, but Dorchester is basically saying no and continue to sell the books - and they're still not paying anyone.

So the word on the street is to boycott Dorchester/Leisure publishing (obviously not going to hurt the authors if they're not getting paid anyway!) in every way possible. Shut down your affiliations with them in every capacity; Twitter, Facebook, get off their email lists and off their memberships, and if you've been considering making a deal of any kind with Dorchester/Leisure Publishing - run in the opposite direction.

Most importantly of all, don't buy their books. Remember, it may not just say "Dorchester" on the book/ebook. It may say "Leisure Publishing" as well, but remember they're one and the same. Even if it's cheap: DON'T BUY IT. If you have friends, tell them. Make a post on your blog, spread the word any way you can. This isn't right. If you're a reader it should make you mad. If you're a writer, it should make you freaking furious.

My mentor from Seton Hill - Gary Braunbeck - had a lot of his books with Dorchester, and I'm worried that he's stuck in this awful mire and have since emailed him to find out. So go - spread the word!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Magic of the Bookstore

Not really a writing post, but I was at Nathan Bransford's blog and found a little something that made me want to rave a bit.

Originally posted here, but I found it re-posted here (where I found it). Now I'm putting it up, but with my own Barnes & Noble twist to it (as in, comments). My comments to the original are in white.

How NOT to Shop in an Independent Bookstore
by Joe Neri

You would think that browsing a bookstore is pretty easy. Walk in the door, find the books that interest you, and browse. You might be surprised, however, at what Kris and I encounter when we open the doors for business each day.

Based on our real experiences, here are some suggestions for how NOT to shop at an independent bookstore:

Let’s face it. Most of this applies to ANY bookstore. A lot of it should be common sense if not common courtesy. Granted, some of these are definitely worse when it’s an independent bookstore, but try not to be a jackass wherever you happen to go, okay?

1. Don’t tell us how much you’re going to miss Borders.
I work at a Barnes & Noble, but I still like visiting the Borders 20 minutes away from time to time because it’s a nice change. Joe’s right – don’t be babbling about bigger stores while in an independent store. I’m one of the few that will sympathize with you since I work at a big store, but be more sensitive around the little guys.

2. Don’t tell us that you just got a Kindle for your birthday.
Don’t tell US you got a Kindle either. Or, if you do, don’t ask us if you can download B&N books on it because you can’t and you should know this. Oh, and don’t ask us how to work your Kindle either because we sell Nooks, not Kindles. Don’t ask us how to use your Pandigital or your Sony ereaders either because we don’t know. We’re not paid to show you how to use devices we don’t make or sell. Call the tech support for them like you’re supposed to. Would you go to a Verizon store and ask them how to work an AT&T phone? I rest my case.

3. Don’t only look for books by James Patterson and Danielle Steele. Believe it or not there are literally thousands of good authors, encompassing all genres, who actually write the books with their names on the covers.
There are, though they may be a teensy bit harder to find at us big chain stores than the local independent bookstore down the way. But if you can’t find what you want, for heaven sakes ask because we may be able to order it for you. If not, then don’t be mad because remember – you’re in a big retail store. Unlike what you may think, we actually aren’t able to physically carry every book in existence. Why don’t you go help out the independent bookstore instead?

4. Don’t ask for paper and pen to write down the titles and authors of wonderful books you discovered by browsing in our bookstore, with the intention of buying them online. Especially don’t use our high quality (i.e., expensive) business cards and/or bookmarks to do so.
I support this for the independent guys. If you do it in B&N, I’ll likely never know and probably won’t care as long as you don’t point it out because let’s face it – that’s just annoying. When people say things like, “Well, I guess I’ll just have to get it on Amazon” loud enough for us to hear (on purpose) then it’s not cool for the simple fact that you’re acting like it’s our fault the book isn’t in stock. But we do have scrap paper so you can make as many notes as you want.

5. If you must do #4 above, please don’t steal our pens.
Dear sweet heavens, REALLY. You think just because we’re a big bookstore that we have some magical endless line of pens? I think people must stroll by and take them because one day we have a full box of pens and the next week I’m looking through drawers and behind the computers for one stupid pen. I don’t care if you borrow the pen but PLEASE bring it back. That costs money in the long run, and that costs payroll, and that means in some time down the road you may get some crap customer service because, guess what? There’s fewer employees around to help you find the book you want. You know, the one you wrote down WITH OUR PENS.

6. Don't use your cellphone's internet connection to check online availability and pricing for books you find here.
Yeah, that’s pretty rude for the independent guys. And anyway, why didn’t you do your research before going out? And you should know (or geez, at least guestimate) how much the independent store might charge. And you know what? In case you haven’t heard by now, 9 out of 10 times, online prices are cheaper. Yes, even at B&N. And no, we don’t price match our own online price. Neither does Walmart so get over it. If you’re willing to wait for shipping just to get a cheaper price, why are you even out at a bookstore?

7. In fact, don’t use your cell phone at all while browsing in our bookstore. Your need to be “connected” at all times doesn’t quite fit in with the ambiance we’re going for (why do people think they have to shout into cell phones?)
I support this. Independent bookstores are cozy, quiet, and a place to snuggle up to good books. B&N is like that too, but since our customer base is wider, people are going to use their cell phones. I don’t care, but I do care if you’re shouting. That’s a valid question up there. Why are you shouting? I think perhaps you need a better phone. And please, please, please don’t ask me to help you when you’re on the phone and only giving me 10% of your attention. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve already found a customer’s book and had to wait another 5 minutes just to let them know while in the meantime, other customers are waiting for help.

And while we’re on the topic of cell phones, I really, REALLY do NOT like it when people hand me their cell phones to talk to their sister/brother/father/cousin/roommate about the book he/she/they are looking for. I don’t know what virus is hanging out on your mouthpiece, okay? Get the information beforehand and just to be sure, write it down. And you know what? Ask them to double check their information because I’d have to say 6 out of 10 times, they don’t know what the heck they’re talking about either.

One more thing. Get off your cell phone before checking out or you might lose out on something. Why? Because half the time people don’t pay attention. So if you have a member card and fail to give it to me for your hardcover book, guess what, you just lost out on a 20% discount. Need a gift receipt? You don’t realize it until you get home. Have a coupon that expires that day? Too bad for you. Buy two books from the buy two, get the third free table? No free book for you. Hang it up already.

8. Don’t ask us to research a book, of which you don’t know the full title or the proper spelling of the author’s name, taking up half of our counter space with your notes on scraps of paper, and preventing other customers from getting service, if you don’t intend to buy the book from us.
True enough. Independent bookstores are not libraries. Neither are we. Most of the time, yes, I will bust my ass for you to find the book because there’s a big chance you’ll buy it from the store or order it either right there or online later. If you’re not buying it from the independent store you’re in, then you’re not worth their time. But for us, since most of the time you will end up with the book as you walk out the door (or at least with it on order), we try. Personally, I like the challenge and I’m damn good at figuring it out, though I must say on busy days or times when a line starts to form at the customer service desk, I really wish you had your stuff together so that I would spend 10-20 minutes trying different titles and author spellings for you.

Here’s a tip for beforehand research – find an ISBN number. An ISBN number is a 10 or 13 digit number that’s attached to the book. Either one is fine. Those numbers are like a book’s fingerprint and allows us to find the *exact* book you’re looking for the first time, every time.

9. Ditto for phone requests. If you can’t find it yourself on Amazon, don’t ask us to help you.
I am much more willing to help spend the time with you if you’re driven all the way to the store than if you just call on the phone. Why are you calling me when you know nothing about what you want? What do you expect me to do for you? This is especially true if you have a computer. Why don’t you use the dang thing because guess what? That’s exactly what I’m going to end up doing anyway when I can’t find what you want in our database. If you’re ill, stuck at home and infirm, or are without internet, then that’s different.

10. Don’t pretend to browse when all you really want is to use our restroom. Just ask – we won’t refuse your request to answer nature’s call. Just don’t take any of our books in there with you (the “George Castanza” syndrome).
Haha, oh George. We don’t have to worry about this since we’re a big store people know our bathrooms are pretty much there for them whether they’re going to buy a book or not. Generally I think most people who use our restrooms are perusing the store. We also prefer you don’t take the books in there with you – that’s why we put a little table outside the restrooms for you to place your books before heading on in there.

That said, just because our restrooms are public, that does NOT mean you get to be a freak in them. I don’t understand what it is about public restrooms that let people think it’s okay to be totally gross and/or not clean up after themselves, even something so small as flushing the freaking toilet. What is WRONG with you? Do you act this way at your house? I’d hate to visit then, yuck.

11. Don’t take books from our shelves and randomly scatter them around the bookstore. Unlike the large chain stores, our talent is our knowledge of books, not our need to pick up after you.
I take offense to this. My talent is NOT cleaning up after you. My talent is my knowledge of books and putting them right in your hands if at all possible. Just because I work part time at a Barnes & Noble does not mean I’m just some stupid girl who half-asses it her job.

I’d also like to add that most of us hate it when you pull every single cake cookbook off the shelf and leave it in a huge Sears tower pile. Or magazines. Especially magazines. Let me paint a scenario for those of you who think, “Well, it’s your job to clean the store, isn’t it?” Yes, it is, but that doesn’t mean you get to be a slob. Chew on this for a moment (and this is a real story, mind you, and happens more than you know).

When you put a book back where it’s not supposed to go, or if you grab a dozen magazines and leave them in a pile, there’s a good chance that the next person looking for said book or one of those magazines won’t find it. I had a woman call once looking for a book. Was it where it was supposed to be? No. I checked the back room. I checked nearby sections. Finally I was out of options and told her I couldn’t find it. Two days later, I discovered it. It was a book for teachers. I found it in the teen religious section.

A co-worker had a customer looking for a magazine. They searched virtually the entire newsstand section for one of the few copies left (oh, and by the way, stop damanging our magazines because then we have no choice but to recycle them and there’s no way to take them out of the system. If it says we have three and all three are damaged, there is no way for us to know this). They couldn’t find the magazine and we can’t even order magazines in so the gentleman left. About five minutes later my co-worker was cleaning up a massive pile of magazines in the floor and guess what she found? The one the customer was looking for.

Now I want you to think about when you can’t find a book. What if it’s in one of those gargantuan piles people have sitting next to them and then leave behind later? Do you do that? Maybe you should stop. I’m not above putting books away for you – bring them up to the desk and just let me know you aren’t sure where it ought to go. It happens. But if you’re pulling truckloads of books off shelves all at once, I don’t feel as sorry for you because, let’s face it, it’s hard to miss an entire shelf worth of cake cookbooks, and none of us likes you when you just leave it on the table for us as well as for the next customer who wants to sit there. This includes both the book floor as well as the café.

12. Don’t hide your empty Starbucks containers or banana peels on our shelves or under our chairs or tables. If you have trash to dispose of, just ask us where to put it.
Indeed. I don’t understand why it’s so hard for people to ask where they can throw something away. Especially when you can see garbage bins near every computer and guess what? *gasp!* We have a café! And do you know what that means?? It means there must be garbage containers there too! Oh my! What a surprise!

I don’t understand why people think we’re there to pick up their garbage. Leaving books behind is one thing, but your gas station Big Gulp is seriously another and one that we appreciate far, far less than the books and magazines. Do you know what happens with some of those? People will leave their cups half full and they can get knocked over and ruin an entire shelf of books. I’ve seen it before. If your plastic supersized cup is full of ice, condensation builds up, drips down, and leaves a puddle that can eventually seep into the nearby books. And by the way, people don’t really hide their stuff in our stores – they just set them on shelves and LEAVE THEM THERE. I’d like to let you know right now – when you do this it just makes it look like you are two things; lazy and stupid. Or maybe stupid should come first.

Of course, the above represents an extremely small fraction of our daily experiences. Most are with the wonderful book readers and book lovers that make owning an independent bookstore worthwhile and satisfying.

I’m not sure what their fraction happens to be, but even if our fraction is small, it’s still big enough to be extremely annoying and above all, obnoxious.

However, it isn’t big enough to make me not want to work at B&N because I love it there. What makes a work environment truly suck is bad management and negative employees. I admit, my PA B&N was better, but I’m plenty happy to be where I am now.

But, someday I’m going to write a book. Retail – gotta love it!
I already have written a book (or…more). Now all I need is to get it (or rather, them!) in print!

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Losing Your Muse (Is A Pain In The Ass)

It's interesting just how fast a muse can come and then slip right on out the door in that one second you happen to be looking in the other direction. Not that it matters, of course, because you never see a muse coming anyway.

A few blog posts ago, I made it pretty clear that a muse decided to show up at my doorstep and thwak me in the head with an idea. It's a fun idea, and I've been having a (relatively) good time with it, but for some reason the inspiration is gone. The ideas are there, but that "Oh yeah, that's good stuff" feeling is gone. It's a bummy feeling when your mystery muse leaves. You're left with that blank space where writer's block lurks. I've literally stared at a blank page for ten minute blocks, practically brain dead. And we know that there's a difference between what some call writer's block and the real thing.

The faux writer's block is where you can write, but you're pretty sure it's going to come out like crap. This is okay, becuase that's what revising is for. By then you'll have your story down in all its detailed glory so you'll be able to cut out all the nonsense you don't like and replace it with something with more substance.

Real writer's block is what I've been stuck with. Where you can't even come up with junk to put in place of good sentences just to get on to the next scene. The time spent gazing at a blank computer screen or, in my case, sheet of paper, mouth hanging open like a zombie that isn't actually dead. That's the nasty kind. I don't think that sort of writer's block shows up very often, but when it does, it sucks.

So then you start to doubt your writing. I mean, heck, if you can't come up with junk to fill in the gaps, what the hell is wrong with your story, right? That's what started to happen to me. What the hell was wrong with my story that my characters couldn't even come out with meaningless small talk? I was on chapter 10 - were all the previous chapters totally useless? What is happening? BWAAAAAAH!

By that point, I started to get frustrated. I needed a muse jump start. I needed something to get that kick back. Like cocaine. Okay, no. No cocaine, I'm just kidding. Music and movies though. That's what I turned to. Mostly music because there weren't many movies around for me to look at for what I needed. But even though my music library is huge, it didn't seem to have what I needed. I needed something to get the blood rushing, something to light up that magic spark again. It's tough to lure a muse in when they're so intent upon doing their own thing.

So I turned to older music. Music I hadn't listened to in a long while. Music that I thought I'd already killed. Except the funny thing is that I'd killed it with fanfiction ideas (stuff I never bothered to write down because it was too big and take up too much time - why write fanfiction when it doesn't get you anything?). And it worked. At least, one of them worked. I intend to dig around for more old music I haven't listened to in a long time to see what I can do with it. To see if I can summon the muse the way Piers Anthony does. I don't know what he uses or if he uses anything at all to jump start his writing, but I'm certainly going to bust ass on it.

I'm going to get that muse back and rock out if I have to get a pair of car jumper cables to do it. (Okay, maybe that's a bit let's just leave that as a metaphor, shall we?)

Photobucket Heeeeerrre muse, muse, muse!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I Get It (So Why Don't You?)

Sometimes I wonder about people. At present, I wonder about their imaginations.

People everywhere watch movies. They read books. They do it to escape. They do it to dream. When something comes out that appears to stretch the limits of said imagination, people wig out a little bit. Not a lot. Just a little. And that's when I wonder.

I wonder if perhaps my imagination is a bit bigger than theirs. If I can handle a wider scope of the bizarre and mind-twisting pieces. That's not to say I'm better in any way, but it's because of this that sometimes I'm not sure I get what people are talking about.

Here's what I mean.

When The Matrix came out in theatres, people were flipping out. Why? Because, dude, it was such a mind trip. People clamored about how great it was (and with good reason), but then I remember people saying things like, "You'll have to see it twice to get it" and other statements along similar lines. I thought, "Really? It's that messed up?" So I went. I saw it. And I had no clue why so many people were having trouble understanding it and the concepts within it. I saw it once, and I understood it completely. Their reality was fake, caused by machines, who were using humans as batteries. Not a difficult concept to grasp. True, I understand how some people came away with the "Whoa, what if our reality is fake??" idea, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about how people needed to see the movie more than once in order to understand the whole deal.

I think of this because of the movie Inception. People were (and still are) saying some of the same things. How it should be seen more than once so you can "get it." I saw it once. I got it. Again, not hard. From nested dreams to that cheating little end (oh Nolan, you sly dog, you). And no, I don't count the end as a mind f*ck because, let's face it, Nolan did that on purpose just to get people to talk about it and argue over whether or not...well, I won't say in case you haven't seen it.

If I saw any of these movies twice, it's because they were good. Not because I only understood part of it the first time. And I'm not saying everyone does this. I just wonder why it's easier for some to get. Are our imaginations wider? Can we imagine triple dreams and subconcious limbo easier? For example, I'm ridiculous about The Mist - not because the monsters creep me out (though they do), but because of where the monsters came from. Because of that freakish "What if" that floats around out there. Because I can imagine it and it freaks me out. That's what's always scared me long after the scary movie is over. What my imagination conjures up, and it can conjue up some scary crap.

As writers, are we more susceptible to such things? Because we dream and we often dream big, are our imaginations like sponges? Able to absorb so much more and then be wrung out later, full of ideas and fear and fake realities and are-we-real-or-aren't-we stuff? Or are we just like everyone else, our imaginations no more spacious than the people we hope read our work? After all, how can one measure the imagination?

What are you dreaming of now?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Be careful what you watch. Be careful what you read. Be careful what you listen to.

Because you never know when inspiration is going to sneak up behind you and hit you over the head with a bat.

Friday, January 07, 2011

The Numbers

I had a thought on what to blog about a while back, but never got around to it. I will, sooner or later. It'll just be something fun and goofy. But for now, I'm going to blog on something else that just popped in there (...anyone else hear the stomping of a large marshmallow man?).

The numbers. Oh, the numbers.

By numbers, I'm referring to the sheer numbers of queries that agents read. The number of queries, the number of requests, and the number of clients signed.

It's enough to make you faint and for your butler (if you have one) to go running and fetch the smelling salts.

I was visiting Jennifer Jackson's blog where she frequently delivers her numbers to those of us who might be reading. Those numbers are kind of terrifying. In many cases, I don't like to look at them. Now, don't go running off to tell Ms. Jackson that I hate her blog or something equally ridiculous. That's not what I'm saying. In fact, quite the opposite. I like that she posts those numbers. It's very interesting to see just how many queries an agent can get in a week or a month or, in this post's case, a year.

For example, this year alone Ms. Jackson responded to 7,835 queries. Yeah. Almost eight thousand queries throughout the course of a year. That's a freaking lot. And how many authors did she sign? One.

Easily enough to give all us hopeful writers a heart attack. Your query might have been one of those. Mine wasn't simply because I've yet to flesh out a query letter that really kicks butt. But back to the point. We all know that there are a trunkload of other writers out there busting ass to try and get published. We just never really know how many. Agents like Ms. Jackson put it out there for us to see. It's a good thing. And it sucks. It really is cool to see the number of queries she's looking at, which is a testament to how hard she works (in my humble opinion), and I'm sure there are other agents out there as well with similar numbers. Some of them probably even have larger numbers.

And yet it's also freak-out-worthy. Because out of those thousands and thousands of letters, only one author made it through, signed, and with a deal (and by the sound of it, a three-book one). Eek! But should that dampen our spirits? No. That's why I still visit her blog and am willing to look at said numbers. Because the numbers don't matter, in a weird sort of way. Because next time that single author might be you. Or heck, me (if I'm lucky - wouldn't that rock?).

The numbers are why I don't get on airplanes. As everyone says, "What?" let me explain. People claim flying is the safest way to travel. That you're more likely to be in a car crash than in an airplane crash. While this may be true, I counter with a few things, based on the numbers. Yes, I am more likely to crash my car (and I've done it, by the way) but I'm also more likely to survive that crash (which I evidenced by this post). If the airplane I'm in is the one out of the thousands of planes that ends up going down, chances are I'm not going to make it. So I refuse to ride airplanes.

Ok, so that's a really roundabout and really morbid way of making my point, which I'm sure you understood well before all of that. But the fact remains - don't despair because that single digit might be you someday. And that's why you need to keep chugging. And that's why you need to ignore the downside of the numbers. Sure, you'll have your random dip into blubbering and depression (which, if you rewind a few posts, you'll see mine), but it'll pass and also indicates why you should avoid reading agent blogs late at night because that's when you'll have way too much time to think (oh...wait....).

So chug away, my writing friends and future published authors. Chug away! And maybe make one your favorite number. Mine is and always was.

"Never tell me the odds!"