Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The House That Isn't There

I am getting no "real" writing done because I am on-site in East of Nowhere. I haven't been to this particular spot in six years. At the end of the day (no, not that horrible business cliche, I mean literally at the end of the day), I decided to go for a hike because there is f***-all to do in this place other than walk around.

Being an off-the-beaten-path type, I found myself walking down a road I vaguely remembered. It ended in a small clearing that centered around a white clapboard house all by itself in the middle of the woods. The very old woman who lived there made jewelry to support herself. Closest thing to a real-life gnome that I ever met.

At the end of the road, there was - nothing.

Years ago, there was a flood around here. Before the water could get up as far as her home, the Federal Emergency Management Association people declared the whole area unsafe  and picked up her home and moved it. I'd like to think she still lives in it up on a hill somewhere instead of spending her remaining days in a senior citizen's center playing bingo.

Here is the spot where the house used to be.

Which got me to thinking about the people and things that disappear from our lives. It seems that I ought to be able to fit that into a novel somewhere.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Writing Advice from a Reader

I'm easy to please. If it has words, I'll read it and like it. If it's fantasy, they don't even have to be big words. So, it's extraordinary that I've been disappointed by all of the books I've read this month. It's even more surprising given that the books were the whole range, from the twentieth book by a well-known author to a book from a major publisher by a new author to an independent author.

Since I only have one book out, I don't feel qualified to give advice as a writer. However, I've read thousands of books. I buy about 100 books a year - I bought five on smashwords last night - and check out another 150 or so from the library. Given that, I think I'm the kind of person writers want to attract, that is, the kind who will put down money for a book.

Here is my advice for how to get me to not just buy your first book, but your second, third and fourth one.

  1. Keep with the same tone. If I buy a fantasy book and the first 100 pages are a fantasy book about fairies and some quest to retrieve the important-to-fairies thing, I am happy. If on page 101 some nightmare monster shows up and tears the arms off all of the fairies and eats them alive, dripping blood, it has turned into a horror book and I am not happy.
  2. Don't get too complicated. It worked for Tolstoy but you're not Tolstoy. The worst example lately was a book that was quite good for the first 100 pages and then the author added two more main characters, one trapped in an alternate world, one villain escaped from the alternate world masquerading as a damsel in distress but the hero had to see through this and rescue the trapped character all the while the story in the first 100 page is proceeding. Yeah, it lost me, too. Enough that I didn't even bother to finish reading the book, which almost never happens.
  3. Unless you're writing a romance novel, don't spend half your book on the love interest. Lord of the Rings had that whole thing going with the elf princess and the human, but Tolkien wouldn't have the status he does if that had been the main focus of the books. 
  4. On the flip side of #3, don't make your characters just a name going through the actions to advance the plot. Do a little character development and description. This was the book by the experienced author that was such a disappointment. I did finish it but I won't buy any more of his books. It reminded me of playing paper dolls with my sister when we were little girls. The whole story was, "Mongo rose up in front of her and turned into an elephant with three heads. Shane got on him and rode quickly to Ebsinor where they met a dwarf who turned him back into her brother. Then the dwarf gave them the magic beef knuckle." Somehow, I think there should be a part in there where Shane thinks to herself, "My brother just turned into a three-headed elephant. Serves him right for being such an evil bully to me his whole life." or At the very least, Mongo should be thinking, "WTF? How did I get to be an elephant?"
I'm not going to post any of the book titles because I'm never interested in advice on books not to read. There are hundreds of thousands of books not to read. Hopefully, I'll find something really good in these next five and can post some recommendations of books that I was glad to read.

Any suggestions are very welcome.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Create Space: Not for fiction?

Short version of long story. I wrote three fantasy novels during my trips to East of Nowhere when I had nothing to do. Friends who read them liked them. They sat on my hard drive for a couple of years. So .... Since I didn't want to spend all of my time not on my day job mailing off letters to publishers, I thought I'd try publishing on Amazon and Smashwords.
So far, so good. One nice review, some nice emails from readers. Reading up on marketing I came to the suggestion that it was absolutely necessary to have a print version of your book. Okay ... so I spend several hours formatting the book for print for Amazon, spend forever trying to set up the page in Create Space, create a new cover and then I get to the pricing part. The minimum price for a print book to be listed on Amazon is $12.48 . Create Space is a sort of subset of Amazon. The minimum price for a print book on Create Space is $9.48 and you receive zero in royalties at that price.

I'm not sorry I spent the time learning how to do the print version on Amazon because I like to learn new technology and I may use this some time in the future. However, I have to be honest and wonder how reasonable this is for fantasy novels like mine. When a person can buy books from authors whose names they recognize for a $7.99 why would they pay almost five dollars more for mine?

Maybe if I was more conceited or if I had tried to write the great American novel, I could say because my books are so much better. The truth is that what I've tried to write (and I hope I succeeded) is what I think of as the genre of "airplane books", that is, books you'd read on an airplane to make the flight pass more pleasantly. And if you've ever been on an airplane in the last 20 years, you know that I'm providing a public service !

Don't get me wrong, I understand that it costs a lot more to print, package and mail a printed book than to have a link to a file to download. I also understand that people like Patricia Briggs or Terry Brooks sell a great many books and so there is a reason theirs can be sold more cheaply.

I do think, though, that people are going to be a lot more likely to take a chance on a relatively unknown writer like me if the book is cheaper. Right now, The Ex-apprentices sells for $2.99 on Kindle. So, at that price, people may think, "What the heck, it's less than $3, I'll give it a try."

Many of the technical books I buy cost $20 or way more, so I think Create Space, and the Amazon site overall, may be a good bet for non-fiction, but not for those books like fantasy, science fiction, romance or mystery where you can usually pick up books in any bookstore or on line for much less than the minimum Amazon price.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wizard's Flu

It had been nearly time for the spring holiday when Lucia had left on her visit to the academy. Denae was preparing to return home. With nowhere else to go and no reason to stay behind at the academy, Lucia was rolling up her few possessions to pack on to the pegasus.
Suddenly, she turned to her friend and whispered, “I don’t feel so well.”

Denae gasped, “You don’t look so well, either. In fact, you’re breaking out in stripes!”


In fact, Lucia was purple down the left side of her face and all of her left arm. From her left ear to the middle of her nose she had turned a neon pink. From the right side of her nose to her right ear she was a sickly shade of green, and the far right side of her body was royal blue.

“Maybe I should go with you up north,” Denae began. “I can handle any normal kind of trouble and you can take care of the magical kind- ” Just then, Lucia sneezed, and several small silver fish materialized in the air, hit the ground in a sickly thud, and then disappeared.
“Or not,” Denae finished nervously.
She turned toward the building and leaning her head back shouted upward,
 “Flagon! Flagon, are you going home for the holiday? ”

The young man stuck his head out of a window on the upper floor.
“You know I am not. I have to stay here on guard. Why do you ask?”

“Uh, could I borrow that bay horse of yours, the really fast one? I promise I’ll ride her right back tomorrow.”
Flagon shrugged his lack of concern, waved her off irritably and retreated back to his desk to continue studying.

 “Peggy could take you,” Lucia began, and then sneezed again, accompanied by another small school of fish bursting into existence around her head. They made a vain attempt at swimming in mid-air, before again hitting the ground and vanishing, just like the last ones.

“That’s what I was thinking,” said Denae, whistling for the warhorse. “The bay is for you.”

“Me? Why?” the young wizard coughed and a small dead sparrow fell from the air, hitting right in front of her feet. A few feathers fell from it before the whole thing crumbled into dust.

“Because I think you’ve been cursed, and if you fall off the bay, you’ll end up bruised. If you fall off Peggy, you may end up with a broken arm or a broken head.”

“I should go back to the professor. Cysotte can handle curses.”

“And so can Aunt Lott, and she is a whole lot of days closer. Besides, you can’t go by yourself. And, given the choice of taking you to someone who threatened to turn me into a mop the last time I saw him, and someone who didn’t, I think I’ll just pick the second one if you don’t mind too much.”

Lucia was not feeling well enough to argue. Her whole body hurt and she had never been so tired in her life. In fact, it was barely a few moments after she was on the horse that she fell forward on to its neck and was sound asleep. She was still sleeping hours later when a worried Denae leaped off of the pegasus and pounded on the door of Aunt Lott’s cottage. Since they were friends, the young women had not set off the warning sand. Lott had been sitting calmly in her chair by the fire, drinking tea, reading a story to Kole and not at all expecting visitors. Hearing the whole tale the soldier poured out, she nodded calmly. “You were right to bring her here, my dear. “

“So she was cursed by someone? Who do you think it was?”
Denae was itching to get at them.

The witch laughed, “Oh, my heavens, no! She just caught something from someone.”
Lucia had awakened and was walking slowly to the house, following the conversation with disinterest. Pulling an almost-clean handkerchief from her pocket, she blew her nose strongly. A large halibut slammed on the ground in front of them, so much as if someone had thrown it from a great height that Denae looked up to see who it was, even though she knew that there was absolutely nothing above them but a clear sky.
“She’s just sick. It’s the wizard’s flu.”

“Wizard’s flu? Is that something like the traveler’s flu?”

Aunt Lott nodded, “Something like. Except for the stripes instead of being flushed, and the sneezing little silver fish, and an occasional dead bird or halibut, it’s pretty much the same thing.”

Denae shook her head, feeling as she often did with the witch’s explanations, that they would all make perfect sense, except for the fact that phrases like ‘the same thing’ apparently meant something completely different in whatever language Lott was speaking.

“Oh, yeah, right. I better be getting home,” she edged toward the door and slipped out just as Lucia had a fit of sneezing. It began raining small fish inside the house.

“See you for the feast!” Denae called over her shoulder, as she hopped on to the bay and turned him toward town.

Inside the house, Lucia had just made her way, slowly and painfully, into the bed in her old room when she was taken by a fit of coughing.  Three little birds, one yellow, one green and one with a rainbow of red, green and blue feathers appeared with a pop and promptly dropped on to the bed. After about a moment, they evaporated into thin air, leaving just four feathers behind them.

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” Lott, entering the room with a large steaming mug, shook her head in disapproval. “That flu is getting worse. Here, drink this.”

Sitting up weakly, Lucia took a sip and would have emphatically spat it across the room except for the hand that Aunt Lott had immediately clapped over her patient’s mouth.
“Swallow that,” she commanded.
Although glaring at her tormentor, Lucia had no choice but to obey. Theoretically, she did have the choice of turning the witch into a toad or even a toadstool, but even sick as she was, she realized that Aunt Lott was only trying to help. Her eyes watered and a wisp of smoke trailed from one nostril. She swallowed.

When the hand was removed, Lucia gasped, “That tastes like bird droppings. Bird droppings mixed with old grease and rotten peas.”

“Mm-hmm,” the witch was nodding, noting that the feathers had finally disappeared.
”Here, drink some more,” she said, proffering the cup again.

“WHAT!” Lucia shouted as loudly as she could. “Didn’t you hear me? I said that was the worst, nastiest, most awful, loathsome, disgusting slime I ever tasted.”

Her shouting was cut off as Aunt Lott abruptly tilted the apprentice’s head back and dumped half a cup of medicine into her still-protesting mouth. Lucia had no choice but to swallow or drown in it. She sneezed again, hard, and a medium-sized bright, red bird popped into the air next to her ear and slammed into a wall across the room as if thrown by a catapult. It began to fade even as it was falling to the floor, and within seconds, was completely gone.

Lott nodded in satisfaction. “You seem to be getting better already.”

Lucia groaned. She felt terrible, absolutely terrible. Whether it was Aunt Lott’s famous powder or her illness, she could not be sure, but in a few moments she was sound asleep. It was not a calm restful slumber. For the next few days, her sleep was haunted by visions of people she knew, people, and even races that she had never seen in her life, and still others who were only familiar because she remembered them from earlier nightmares. Many times, she sat upright in bed, hands moving in the beginning of a protective spell only to have Aunt Lott pull her hands down, whispering, “There’s nothing there. It’s all right, Lucy.”

This is just a random section out of my first book Wizard and Spy: Book 1 The Ex-apprentices 
available on Kindle from Amazon 

and on Smashwords

Saturday, July 9, 2011

I went over the mountain to see what I could see

I've driven the back road to San Diego countless times, always thinking to myself that I'd like to climb to the top and see what's on the other side of those mountains. There was always an appointment I had to make, a deadline to meet. Until today.  After years of wondering, I parked my car, walked a mile on the county hiking trail, and then, in violation of about 179 county, fire and recreation codes, veered a sharp left and climbed to the top of the mountain.

I followed a rabbit trail most of the way to the top. I mean that literally, a trail made by rabbits. Fortunately, I'm a pretty small person, so I only needed to stomp through the chaparral here and there. Even though I live in LA, I've had enough business trips East of Nowhere that I actually can recognize rabbit and deer poop. Real wilderness types call it "scat" . Then I came across something that I was pretty certain was mountain lion poop because I was half-way up a mountain on a rabbit trail, so I didn't think anyone was out walking Fluffy there recently, I concluded two things. First, I really need to get a job that doesn't send me so far to the edge of civilization that I can now identify different types of animal poop. Second, this trail better improve damn quick or it was going to be a sad waste of a Saturday. Oddly, I wasn't at all scared of running into a mountain lion, armed with nothing but a camera. (I mean, I was armed with it. I doubt the mountain lion would have a camera.)

Here is what I saw when I got to the top of the mountain.

So, I walked down the mountain and when I came into the parking lot, the attendant asked me where was my car. I told him I'd just walked, my car was on the other side of the mountain. He looked at me like I was the creature from the Black Lagoon (I probably smelled like it, too, since it was hot and I'd been hiking for a while). He charged me $2 to go on the hike around the lake anyway.

I was telling this to my best friend in forever on the phone on the way home. She said, "Well, of course he thought you're crazy. It's 104 degrees, and some tiny little woman just walked down from a mountain that I might remind you doesn't have any trails on it because rabbit trails do not count. What does said woman want? She wants to go on a hike, which any sane person would conclude she had already done because she came over a mountain!"

 I had to explain, in my defense, that I didn't KNOW there was going to be a really huge lake on the other side, since my whole point of hiking to the top is that I didn't know what was on the other side. Also, I am a perfect size. She retorted that yes, I was a perfect size if your goal is to be shipped inside a box.

The lake was really cool. You would have hiked around it, too, wouldn't you? Now that I know it's there, next time, I'll just drive to the parking lot and hike around the lake.

Oh, and I was right about the mountain lion.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Random page from the middle of my first book, and marketing whine


I have ebook versions of Wizard and Spy, The Ex-Apprentices up on Amazon and Smashwords but now I'm formatting it for print. Even after I read over it myself and had a friend who is an excellent editor read it, I still found a few annoying errors like having a word left out on one page. Not a lot, and no one has complained, but I thought I had caught them all. GRR.

I'm frustrated that I can't do a lot more marketing, but there is not much time after my day job, writing and all the general trivia of life - washing the dishes, feeding the cat, fueling the car, paying the bills. I certainly see why people prefer to go with a traditional publisher. BUT - if I had time to send out dozens of letters and sample chapters to publishers and agents, I'd have enough time to do the marketing myself, now wouldn't I?


Below is a random page from my book because, really, why not?
Aunt Lott swept in, with a woman who looked a lot like Denae, except darker, older and much, much, much angrier at the moment.
“Exactly what has been going on here?” demanded the woman, in the same stern voice they had heard when they jumped on the path half an hour ago.
Denae paused, with a teapot poised to pour into a little white china cup.
“It’s my day for healing, Ma,” she said in her sweetest, most solicitous voice. “Did you forget?”
Lucia had to bite the inside of her lip to keep herself from smiling. No one who had not been there could possibly believe that this girl with the freshly scrubbed face and hands pouring tea had neatly dispatched several large attackers in a matter of minutes. Unless, possibly, they knew her very well, because Denae’s mother was still looking at her suspiciously, but all she said was, “Hmph,” in a very disapproving tone of voice.
Turning to Alana she inquired, much more politely, “Could you tell me if my daughter has been here all day, by any chance?”
“Oh, yes, ma’am,” nodded Alana eagerly. “They’ve been here all day. A great help to me they have been, too.”
“Well, there it is then, Rinda,” Aunt Lott said to Denae’s mother. “Though not quite sure what it is? I mean, can you believe it, conjuring up a well and dropping them down it! Who ever heard of such a thing?”
The two women began to laugh so hard that they flopped into a couple of easy chairs.
“What’s so funny about that?” asked Lucia. “You told me that’s what Azura might do to me, and I didn’t think it was so funny.”
“Azura?” asked Rinda, with a raised eyebrow, but Aunt Lott waved the implied question away.
“Nothing,” the midwife said. “We met her on the road, that’s all.”
Rinda looked as if she didn’t believe that was all there was to it, but was polite enough to keep her opinions to herself.
Aunt Lott turned in her chair to face her apprentice, “Lucy, conjure up a well and throw you down it is just an expression! I have never heard of it actually happening anywhere. It is like when you say to someone leaving on a journey, ‘May the road rise up to meet you.’ It’s an expression to mean that you hope everything goes as well as possible on their trip. You don’t really expect to see the road rising up to meet them as they walk away, do you?”
“Well, no,” Lucia admitted, and, as she noticed Aunt Lott staring at her thoughtfully, she decided it would be wise not to pursue it any further.
“It’s almost like it was done by someone who had heard about magic but didn’t really know any,” said Rinda to Lott. “But that doesn’t make sense, does it? Because if they didn’t know any, they couldn’t have done it.”
“Yes, you’re right,” said Lott, still distracted.
She might have said something else, but the captain’s laugh interrupted her.
“You’ve got to admit it was funny, all of those boys in the well. And they deserved it, too, if the story they told was true. Imagine, attacking a girl and an old lady. I almost wish it were my girl involved. Took out four of ‘em, she did. Good for her!”

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I write books I'd like to read

I wonder how many authors are really writing for an audience of one?

Probably more than admit it publicly.

Sure, like everyone else who writes, I'd like to sell 10 gazillion copies and never again have to listen to Rita the Rule Nazi harp on about how my code does not fit with the Microsoft style guide. I'd spend my days hiking and my evenings writing.

So, why don't I spend more of my time on market research and marketing for my books? Why don't I add more para-normal , dark fantasy, horror, romance and a couple of vampires?

Why don't I treat my writing like a job?

Because I already have a job. They have to pay me or I wouldn't show up. If my writing turned into a job where I had to go to meetings, write about things I'm not really interested in and do a bunch of things that bored me, I'm not sure how that would be an improvement.

Here is what I don't write and why:
Romance - I've just never really got into it. If Heather's bosoms heaved as she fell into the strong arms of Dr. Jake, well, I'm happy for them, I guess. Frankly, call me shallow, but I've never had an interest in anyone's sex life other than my own. Whether Heather felt her pulse rise as they kissed or they did the nasty on top of Farmer John's backhoe, I really don't care.

Horror - I've had some tough times in my life and have some close friends who have had way tougher ones. Horror comes just a little too close to reality for me sometimes. You don't even know.

Dark fantasy - I don't even know why anyone reads those books. I don't want to be depressed. I want to be happy. Why would I pay $6.99 to read about terrible things happening to people? I can watch the news for free.

Serious fiction - I confess, I hated English class from high school all of the way through college. I liked some of the books but not all of them. What I really hated was when we were supposed to read books like Faulkner or Joyce that really made no sense and then read them again trying to find the deeper meaning. To this day, I've tried reading some of the books on the New York Times bestseller lists and they all seemed to be writing about people as a metaphor rather than actual human beings.

Here is what I do write:

Stories.  I fly a lot from Point A to Point B and I like something to make the time pass by pleasantly after the flight attendant tells me to turn off my laptop. I really like stories that are so engaging, I forget about my laptop and working because I am engrossed in the story.

Happy endings, or, at least, not sad ones
None of my books end with the hero or heroine trapped in a dungeon while worms gnaw at his empty eye-sockets because the evil wizard's demon has sucked out his eyeballs, with the sentence "Read the rest of the Nasty Wizard Eats Eyeballs series and find out what happens." While my books may not all end with everything tied up in a neat little package, they also don't end with the bad guy snacking on anyone's entrails, either.

Romance or eroticism
There is some love interest in my books - they are, after all, people, or occasionally, gnomes, centaurs or giants, with a pegasus or two - but I like to keep my private life private and I assume my characters do, too.

All of the characters in my books (even the centaurs) are based on combinations of real people I have met. I know a lot of interesting people, so, I hope, the characters are pretty interesting. I try to get to know them because I think that makes a book interesting. Sometimes, I will rewrite a chapter because I think, "Lucia wouldn't really feel that way in that situation." I think one reason people keep turning pages in a book is that they want to find out what happened to the characters.

I knew I was on to something with my books when a relative I let read one of the early drafts came over to my house with a list of "demands". I still have it. Among other things, she said,

You CAN'T let Lucia marry Neven. He's all wrong for her! Neven should be killed off around the third book and she should marry Guillane or at least hook up with him. She should at least give him a chance!

I still haven't decided if I'm going to follow her advice, but she was quite passionate about it.

Another, younger relative wanted to know why Denae didn't get to be a wizard, that was just unfair.

I had to point out to her that Denae didn't actually exist. I'm not sure she believes me.

You can buy the first book in the Wizard and Spy series : The ex-apprentices on Amazon

or on Smashwords

Saturday, July 2, 2011

My book is out !

My book is out!

Wizard and Spy -  Book 1 - The Ex-apprentices on Amazon



I can't believe I did not think to post about this before. To top it off, I noticed I just got my first review on Amazon and it was very nice. No, it was not from my mom. I'm steeling myself for the first negative review which I'm sure is inevitable. I've never seen a book, no matter how terrific I thought it was, that someone did not think was the worst piece of writing since the invention of paper.

I did the Amazon e-book first because it seemed simpler. After downloading an entire book on formatting for smashwords I was worried it would be hard to find the time. The book, by Smashwords founder Mark Coker, was really easy to read and he was true to his word. It really did take me only a couple of hours from start to finish to have my book converted and uploaded.

I actually already have book two written. Short version of the long story - my cruel corporate overlords often send me off to places so remote that thoughts of civilization cannot even reach me. There are no bookstores, no library, but two TV channels devoted to fishing. They tell me there are business reasons for me to go but I suspect it is because they secretly hate me. While in East of Nowhere, I have plenty of time to write, so I have three light fantasy books completed.

After publishing the first, I realized if someone besides me was going to read these I'd need some sort of segue between each book. Right now I am re-writing the beginning to the second book rather than just assuming the reader has read book one.

Maybe I'm making a mistake doing the self-publishing route, but it seemed far more time-consuming to send hundreds of letters to publishers and agents, along with synopsis, sample chapters and whatever else each one wants. I sent out a few but it seemed this was quicker.

What I've written lately:


It was a bad dream. She’d been having those a lot lately, every now and then about life with Da, the screaming, the cursing and the beatings. A few had been about her old master Cysotte almost dying after defeating Ravidan’s demon and getting into a battle with the mad wizard himself. Lucia groaned and rolled over. Why couldn’t she have good dreams? Would that be too much to ask? She could dream about holidays with her friend Denae’s family. Those were good times, except for when the two gnomes tried to kill them and a huge grayish-white demon appeared and took away the corpse of the one they killed.

She pulled the blanket over her head, still not wanting to get up. Why did apprentices have to be up so early in the morning? It just wasn’t fair. She ought to have been a wizard by now anyway. Lucia closed her eyes, determined to go back to sleep. She could dream about her wizard proof, how she had created summer, at least for a small swatch of this cursed north land, with flowers and little pixie-centaur creatures that had never been seen before. Even though the pintaurs could be – okay, always were – damn annoying, they were still her very own creation. She would have passed her wizard proof, too, if it hadn’t been interrupted by Alphonse showing up missing his hands. Ravidan had taken them. Said he needed them. She was sure Alphonse would have voted to approve her wizard proof, after all, he had gotten his for creating the flying monkeys.

Lucia tossed and turned some more. It’s not like anyone was going to listen to Alphonse after he had thrown in with Ravidan in trying to take over the world and kill off all of the rest of the magic folk. Lot of good it had done him, Alphonse that is. He was hiding out now with his one remaining flying monkey, disgraced and served him right. Her time with the Thuy was rather nice, although she did not at all believe their story about being descended from the reindeer. Well, except for the part where she had turned into a giant drugrat and Ravidan had tried to kill her. Lucia sighed resignedly and rolled out of bed.