Thursday, September 30, 2010

Paranormal TV: A List of 13 On-Air Possibilities

A lot of us here at the Diner don't just read and write romance with paranormal or speculative elements, but we watch it on TV. Especially Annie! Every now and then, I like to come up with a list of all the spec-rom possibilities on the small screen in case any of us are missing something we might like.

A note on my rating system: I have used my numbers to measure how much of a certain element is in the show, how much it influences the show or could potentially influence the show in the case of a new show or one I have stopped watching. The ratings don't reflect my opinion of the show itself although sometimes I do comment on the execution of that element.

Without further ado, here's 13 shows with both speculative and romantic elements currently on air!

1) Stargate Universe--I've seen all the episodes.
Spec Elements: 9. Although the drama on the show is very human at times, the show certainly couldn't exist without the fact that these folks are stranded on a decrepit alien spaceship in a distant universe with no way to control the spaceship's functions--or get home.
Romance Elements: 3. While there are characters on the show in relationships with others on the ship or loved ones "back home", the romance doesn't influence the plots as much as it does on other shows. Also, I'm not thrilled with the execution in many instances.

2) No Ordinary Family--I've seen 1 episode.
Spec Elements: 4. Let's just say the woo-woo and superpowers are not really explained or technical, but it does influence the show some. However, part of the show's schtick is that these people still have their daily lives to deal with.
Romance Elements: 4. We have the adult couple already married but kind of estranged and two teens. There's potential but it's not the standard romance genre story.

3) The Event--I've seen all the episodes (2 at the time of this post)
Spec Elements: 3. Right now the show relies more on the thriller genre for pacing and style than SF, although there is an SF element. It watches like 24 mashed with Flash Forward mashed with V, only a little lighter on the SF.
Romance Elements: 3. The main dude is looking for his girlfriend, to whom he intended to propose. So there is a relationship, but I wouldn't say right now it has much "romance".

4) Smellville--I quit watching several seasons ago (because it sucked so hard it depressed me)
Spec Elements: 7. The hero *is* from Krypton, after all, and can do all sorts of superhero things except fly and, you know, be an actual hero.
Romance Elements: 7. The show is often over-driven by the romance plots, which are not always well handled due to shoddy characterization. BUT. There is romance in there.

5) Supernatural--I quit watching several seasons ago (because my schedule was too tight and it was too dark)
Spec Elements: 7. Like Smellville, the fact that the two main characters' lives are dictated by demon hunting and preventing the earth's destruction is pretty influential.
Romance Elements: 2. There's sex sometimes and the two main characters are Hottt. I hear the new season starts out with some pseudo domestic bliss? But I wouldn't know. However, the relationship that drives the stories is more brotherly love than romantic love.

6) Chuck--I've seen all the episodes.
Spec Elements: 4. The computer in Chuck's brain and all the spy tech whizbang definitely affects the plot. The human element affects it more.
Romance Elements: 7. Chuck's mad love for his blonde handler comes into play in every single episode, and now Chuck and Sarah are a couple. This actually reduces the romantic elements as most romances concentrate on the period of time BEFORE the happy couple gets happy. The romantic tension is gone.

7) Warehouse 13: I've seen all the episodes.
Spec Elements: 7. The mythical pseudo-scientific-sometimes Warehouse(s) and the search for strange artifacts drives the plot of almost every episode. The science is way soft but the show isn't hard anyway.
Romance Elements: 2. A couple of the characters have attempted to have romances. Is it a spoiler to say it hasn't worked out? Probably! But there you have it. The romance elements don't really drive plots because the characters are too busy saving the world.

8) Eureka: I've seen all the episodes.
Spec Elements: 6. Most of these are pseudo-science based, but even a liberal arts nerd like me knows not to think too hard about the science part and just go with the crazy flow. However, something goes "wrong" in pretty much every episode that then drives the plot.
Romance Elements: 7. The romance elements increased as the series remained on the air. Right now there are some happy couples and some not so happy couples.

9) Haven: I've seen all the episodes.
Spec Elements: 4. Like Eureka, something or someone goes "wrong" in every episode and then the plot happens to solve the mystery. It's paranormal instead of science based but it's even fuzzier than Eureka's science.
Romance Elements: 2. Right now, there seem to be some crushes and there was a fling and there's a character who can't "feel" anything with his skin, which has raised some interesting issues, but romance doesn't drive the plots. I could see the potential for this to increase, though, due to a recent development.

10) Vampire Diaries: I watched 2 episodes.
Spec Elements: 7. Everyone's a vampire or a witch or a werewolf or reincarnated or something! This is a big part of the show. Hence the title!
Romance Elements: 9. Two hot brothers are fighting for the same girl. This is a big part of the show. I gather there have been some other romantic subplots too.

11) True Blood: I've watched all the seasons on DVD.
Spec Elements: 8. See above. There are even gods and goddesses on the show, and you can't drive a car without running over a shifter.
Romance Elements: 8. This is a relatively soapy show with regards to relationships. Many characters are driven by their romantic urges and how those urges influence their duties. And stuff like that. Lots of drama.

12) V: I've watched all the episodes. No, it didn't get cancelled!
Spec Elements: 8. Aliens are among us, and they are not pretty without their human skins! They also have a plan. Wait, where have I heard that one before?
Romance Elements: 3. There's a romance subplot with some teenagers but since both characters involved are annoying as hell, I don't think it's much of a reason to watch the show. I guess there could be romance in future episodes but they just killed off one love interest and another is a priest, so...

13) Fringe: I watched the first couple of episodes and quit because it was too CSI-ey.
Spec Elements: I don't feel like I can rate this one because at first they were minor and I hear they have increased a great deal, what with an alternate universe type plot going on.
Romance Elements: 5. Again, based on hearsay -- although I could see the groundwork for it in the first couple episodes -- the two main characters were maybe considering hooking up.

Other shows I'm not covering because I haven't seen enough to rate them even as poorly as I did Fringe are Caprica, Dr. Who, Torchwood, The Gates, and Medium (is that still on?). Would anyone care to chime in on those shows or offer more (or contrasting) detail on the shows I did list? Did I forget anything awesome or terrible or just in existence?

Jody W.
www.jodywallace.com * www.meankitty.com

PS Yes I know I watch a lot of TV. Shut up.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Web We Weave

Now that the summer TV season is over and the fall season barely begun, I've been searching for my sci fi fix. I watched The Book of Eli, thinking it would help, but though the movie has an interesting post apocolyptic setting that includes cannabilism and the requisite violence, I'm one of the folks who think the book Eli protects with his life might have been better off destroyed with the rest.


In times like this, I revert back to old faves, like (wait for it) Farscape, and my first stop is usually fan site Terra Firma, which always has news of the 'scaper cast and crew. One of the big items is (sigh) Ben Browder, who's been off the radar for far too long. I had hopes of seeing him on the CW's Hellcats (and judging from the half an ep I watched, he would have done the role proud) but he withdrew to pursue "other" interests. Among them? Naught for Hire, billed as a "noir" detective, sci fi, comedy web series.



Yup, that's right--web series.

Sadly, Naught and its star, Browder, are not ready for web time yet, but the site has a few things to play around with, including a peek at a few scenes.

Of course, this got me thinking about the format in general, and I began exploring.

First, I watched an episode of Venice--largely because I'd been hearing a lot about it through my other obsession, soap operas. Venice is a web series written and produced by soap actress Crystal Chappell, starring herself as a strong, independent and self-made interior designer who happens to be gay. The series grew out of a popular storyline on the now-cancelled Guiding Light about two women who fall in love; the first episode of Venice begins with these same two actresses in bed. Because of Chappell's many connections, the performing and production quality is on par with any professionally produced television show.

Not so with most of the sci fi web series I watched.

The four I watched--It Ends Today; The Realm; The Ennead; and The Preconscious Reim--did not benefit from the same budgets and/or freebies to which Chappell has access. The acting is often hesitant and school-projecty; the film making (lighting, editing, photography, etc,) just this side of competent.


But--and it is a big but--some of the storylines were interesting.


The best looking of the bunch--The Ennead--begins when 5 strangers wake up in the woods. They don't know their names and they don't know each other. Each of them have odd items in their pockets and a few have disjointed memories of one of the others, but nothing that makes sense. Who are they? Why are they there? What's going on? Three questions that could keep you interested enough to click on ep 2.

In It Ends Today, a young woman is--literally--jerked out of her apartment, wakes up barefoot a few miles away, and finds a pair of runners beside her. Between the shoes is a gadget with a message taped to it: sync to voicemail. When she plays the gadget, she hears her boyfriend, Eric, say her name and begin a countdown from 4. What's going on? She puts on the shoes, races back to her apartment, frantically finds the key and opens the door. Eric appears gone, but seconds later, walks through the door with a bag of groceries. He is not happy to see her. Turns out she's been gone 3 weeks, and he's sure she's returned to her drug habit. But when she gets him to play the voicemail she supposedly left for him (another countdown) and synchs the two up, he starts vibrating and glowing and finally flies across the room as though the Wicked Witch of the West has been at him. When he comes to, all he can say is: it ends today. What ends? How does it end? What do these two have to do with it? To be continued...


Preconscious Reim is kind of a Quantum Leap idea about a twenty-something with a gadget that lets him experience "alternate" lives. I gathered that eventually all this leaping around will coalesce into something more important than why-not-there's-nothing-else-to-do, but there's no hint of that in the first episode. Neither is there any goal, motivation or conflict for the hero, who seems to get through the leap without much cost to himself or others. Without stakes of any kind, it's kind of hard to care, except out of mild curiosity. A lesson to all us writers. The lead has a Matthew Broderick/Ferris Beuller's Day Off kind of vibe that at first seemed amateurish, then grew on me. The series has already produced 12 episodes, so there must be something to it. I do hope the whole thing isn't shot in someone's parents' suburban subdivision, like the first ep. though...


The Realm seems to be a series of short stories centered around the human experience of reality and time, but neither of the 2 eps I watched made much sense, although both had a creepy kind of tone that I'd give props to. Each "story" begins with what looks like vintage film/animation, which may or may not be original work. If it is, I suspect most of the budget went into that. The creators of this series either consider themselves post-narrative or just don't know how to tell a story yet. Like too much sci fi, they seem more interested in ideas than character and plot.


All of these series can be viewed on You Tube, so check them out and let me know what you think.


And if anyone out there has found a really good sci fi web series they'd recommend, give it a shout out.




Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ask An Agent: Natalie Fischer


Want to learn more about the publishing business?

I’m happy to announce that Natalie Fischer, an agent from the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, is our guest at The Otherworld Diner today. She'll answer the questions we’ve collected from our readers and perhaps a few late questions you might have.
The Sandra Dijkstra Agency represents such authors as Amy Tan, Diane Mott Davidson, Kate White and Lisa See. The Dijkstra Website notes that Esquire magazine chose Sandra Dijkstra and her team as one of the nation's "Top Five Literary Agents," and the Los Angeles Times proclaimed her an "über-agent".
That is impressive. ...
Natalie Fischer has been with the agency since April 2009 and rumor has it she’s looking to add to her client list. At the Diner, we’ve found Natalie to be knowledgeable and professional, and at the same time approachable and kind –someone fun to work with.
We’re grateful to have her as our guest.



    Header by Samulli

  1. Kendall Grey asks: What's the latest trend/fad in publishing, particularly in romance? I know vampires continue to be hot, but are there other types of stories that are picking up steam?
    I hate talking trends, because as soon as I pinpoint anything it floods rapidly! I’d honestly stay away from vampires and move onto more mythical creatures, like gods or mermaids, but really, anything that’s hot hot hot and well-written with a unique plot is going to sell. I’ve seen that edgier, darker novels are doing well right now.


  2. Kendall Grey also wants to know: What is the fascination with steampunk? Is it really as popular as everyone says?
    No; I don’t know all that much about steampunk, to be honest, because I haven’t seen very much of it.


  3. Carol Rose asks: What percentage of new clients you sign in a year are debut authors?
    95% - I specialize in debut authors.


  4. Nessa asks: What are the mistakes people make when submitting their work that gets them immediately in the "trash" pile? There is no trash pile! Just a reject one. :) Submitting something I don’t represent, or a manuscript WAY over the appropriate word count for the genre.

  5. In addition Nessa queries: Are there new "basics" guidelines for submitting work?
    Every agency has their own basic guidelines. In general, you need a query letter and a completed manuscript…otherwise, research what they’re asking for!

  6. Shalanna asks: Is the cozy/puzzle mystery that doesn't have a lot of gore (and is not a suspense novel) dead?
    Not dead, but not selling well. It’s very tough to break into this market. Fewer editors are taking these on, though our backlist authors with a history in it continue to do well. So, for a debut, I’d avoid.

  7. Shalanna also wants to know: I am constantly being told that "nothing matters except what happens next"--it all amounts to what some call a cult of "action porn" within publishing. Yet I know that I often skim a page-turner and seldom remember much about the book a week later, but when I read a more thoughtful book with engaging characters, I will often remember not only the storyline (as opposed to pure plot elements) but also the characters, who are still vivid to me. When I read, I expect to experience some of the characters' inner thoughts. But then I like to read. Books that I pick up off the shelves often seem to be written for those who don't like to read and want to get it over with as soon as possible. Diane Mott Davidson writes more thoughtful mysteries, but she is established already. Could a writer publish a mystery like her first book now--or is the genre gone?
    Diane Mott Davidson was exactly the author I was referencing above! She continues to sell incredibly well – but trying to sell a novel like hers now would be difficult for a debut, but not impossible. If you have a novel with memorable characters and a memorable plot that’s well-written, someone will take a chance on it.

  8. Toni Anderson asks: How important is setting in selling a book?
    Surprisingly important. Not many editors are willing to take a chance on a romance novel set in a foreign country (excluding England) – though there are some presses, like Soho, who specialize in that (for thrillers/mystery). Time period is also important for a historical; even in regular historical fiction, novels before the 1700s start to get difficult.

  9. Toni Anderson also wants to know: Do you recommend writers getting their work professionally edited before submitting to an agent?
    NO. That is a waste of money. Use critique partners.

  10. Jody Wallace asks: You mention on the website you enjoy fairy tales and legends. What are some of your favorites?
    I love all fairy tales and legends…really. Though right now, there are a lot of spin-offs, so it would have to be almost unrecognizable as a spin-off (like a retelling) to sell!

  11. Shalanna wonders this: Imagine your ideal submission has arrived in your InBox. What genre is it (easiest to sell, your favorite)? Do you like it because of the voice and characters or the great narrative drive that pulls you along as a reader, or are you mainly evaluating it in terms of how fast the plot subjectively moves? Who will you submit it to first? Do you Google-search the author to take a look at his or her Web presence?
    Historical romance. I evaluate it on pacing, voice, and if the premise is fresh enough (there are a LOT of historical novels out there!). I usually send to about 8 editors first, including Avon, Berkley, Harlequin, St. Martins, NAL, etc. Yes, I google the author.

  12. Lori Dillon asks: What are you not seeing enough of right now as far as paranormal romance goes?
    Good writing. Often, I get a fabulous premise but the execution just doesn’t hold up – either its pacing is too slow, or the characters aren’t grabbing me, or it’s not steamy enough. (I like really steamy).

  13. And last, Lori queries: What is your take on time travels? Holding steady, making a comeback, or dead and buried?
    I LOVE time-travels. I really, really want to find a good one. Jude Deveraux had so many fabulous ones!

  14. Jody Wallace also wants to know: What are your thoughts on an author's web presence beyond the basic website? Are you a big proponent of authors doing lots of social media, online marketing, blogging and so on?
    Absolutely; authors should be as involved as possible in online critique groups, blogging, and marketing. It’s up to you, too, to sell your work!!

  15. Sapphire Phelan asks: What do you think of YA paranormals? What kind would you look for, or do you not do those?
    YA Paranormals are tough right now, since there are so many out there; right now, I’d love to find something really dark and edgy, very gothic in feel, with a very, very cool premise.

  16. Sapphire Phelan also wants to know: How about authors who write under two names, like I do? How do you handle those?
    If you’re established under both, that’s fine; however, if you have yet to publish a book, once you’re under contract for one, you need to continue to build that name before you switch to another. If you’re capable of writing a book a year for each name, more power to ya, but that’s what it would take to make it work.

  17. www.mysisterdalesgarden asks: Is there a fear of memoirs? How can a new writer convey that she is gutsy, talented, has a following and really wants to have her memoir represented by an agent?
    Just by writing it you’re telling me as an agent you’re gutsy and talented and want an agent. There isn’t a fear of memoirs, more of a hesitation, because there are so many right now. It has to be incredibly unique to work, and almost read like a fiction novel it’s so good. Your following would have to be substantial to matter.

  18. Adelle Laudan asks: There seems to be more and more erotica in several different genres. Is there still a place for the sweeter more sensual side of romance and other genres? If so, in your opinion, why is it so difficult to find a home for these stories?
    If by sweeter you mean more traditional romances, not erotica, absolutely there’s still a market. But right now, especially in this economy (how many times have you heart THAT, huh?) editors are having to be really picky in what they can take on. It has to be something that will really pop, and a sweeter, more sensual romantic story isn’t something that can do that easily.

  19. Shelley Munro asks: Are you looking for small town romances and will you consider a setting outside of USA, e.g. New Zealand?
    I would consider it, however, keep your audience in mind – it has to be relatable for the American market.
  20. Brenda asks: Although I have friends who have agents, my idea of what an agent does is vague. What typically happens when a person signs with you? What are the steps you and the client go through before a sale? Is there an average time frame to the manuscript selling?
    When I take on a new client, we go into revisions. These don’t typically take very long, as most of the manuscripts I sign are very well done! (I’m really, really picky). After revisions, I put together my pitch and sub list, and go on sale. There is no average time frame for this; it can take three weeks or nine months. If that book doesn’t sell, because I’m a career agent, we turn to the next.


    Thank you Brenda and everyone for the awesome questions!!!

Monday, September 20, 2010

The ‘IT’ Factor – Debut Author X

I had a book selected for this week’s blog. Honestly, I did. But after struggling for almost two weeks to read it and finding I was only half-way through by Saturday, I admitted defeat. This book was a wall-banger for me. Or it would have been if I wasn’t (trying to) read it on my Kindle. My husband would kill me if I started throwing expensive electronic devices and leaving dents in the drywall.

I know what you’re saying. I’ve been critical before on my IT Factor posts. True, but I like to think of it as being brutally honest. *G* While every book I’ve read so far may not be a keeper for me, I believe I’ve found something to like or at least admire in every one of them. Not so with this book. So, since mama always said, “If you can’t say something nice…” Well, I am going to say something but since I don’t believe in blatant author bashing, I’ll go so far as to not name the author or the book out of consideration. Hopefully you can learn from Author X’s mistakes.

The Pros:

  • There weren’t any. Seriously. I really tried to find something—anything—to like about this book and I couldn’t.

The Cons:

  • The story never grabbed me. I know a book is good if my family suffers because I can’t stop reading it. Laundry doesn’t get done, the kids have to make their own PB&Js for dinner, and the dogs are lucky if I get up off the couch to let them go out to pee. With this novel, the Kindle mocked me every time I walked past it, saying, “Come on. You know you need to finish reading this book for the blog.” Instead, I’d run into the next room and vacuum the dust bunnies out from under the furniture or something equally as appalling. And if you know me, I’ll do just about anything to avoid housework—except read more of this book.

  • I never fell in love with the hero. Sure, I was *told* he was sexy and mysterious. How could he not be with his wavy black hair, ripped bod, and riding around on that badass motorcycle in a floor-length, black leather coat? Which apparently was the dress code for all the members of his little supernatural troupe—every single one of them sported one at one time or another. (Can you say cliché?). The reason I read romance is to experience the rush of attraction, chemistry and lust that comes with meeting someone special. I want the excitement, the butterflies in the stomach. I want to experience that falling in love feeling I had with my husband 20 years ago every time I meet a new hero in a book. Unfortunately, the author failed miserably at this.

  • I never identified with the heroine. In the first half of the book, she didn’t do much except get saved by the hero, then hem and haw about why she was attracted to this guy. Should she sleep with him or not? Should she date him or not? Hmmm, grab a daisy and start plucking petals, why don’t you? That’s as much thought as she put into it.

  • The author used the soul mate crutch. Now, I have nothing against the soul mate plot device—I’ve used it myself. What I do have a problem with is when an author uses this as the ONLY reason the characters fall in love, sometimes even before they know each other’s middle names. “Oh, they’re soul mates, so she has to fall in love with him.” “She’s his long, lost reincarnated love, so he must be in love with her.” So, after four dates and a month later, they’re in love with each other. A month that the reader doesn’t get to experience because the author skips over it entirely. After all, they’re soul mates so why bother showing it since it’s a given they’ll end up together anyway. So they meet, they hop into bed, and the next thing we know, they’re talking white picket fences. Where’s the struggle? Where’s the chemistry and romance? Where’s the discovery of what makes that person so special? Since the author skipped that whole part, let’s just say I wasn’t *feeling the love.*

  • Lack of craft. This book read like someone cut out major scenes and forgot to put them back in. There were several awkward conversations going on where the heroine (and me, the reader) had no clue what they were talking about. One minute everyone’s joking around and in the next scene they’re at each other’s throats. Something obviously happened in between, but darned if I knew what it was. Apparently the author was trying to be mysterious and keep us guessing. Didn’t work. It just annoyed the heck out of me.

The ‘IT’ Factor:

So by now you’re asking if this book was sooo bad, how in the world did it get published? To be honest, it has gotten a few good reviews mixed in with the bad. Some people out there have liked it. But without giving too much away, I’ll tell you that this book did not go through the normal submission process. No agent repped it. This book wasn’t a buried gem pulled from the slush pile. This book wasn’t pitched to marketing by an editor who loved it. No, this book came in through the backdoor and due to certain circumstances, the publisher was obligated to publish it. ‘Nuff said.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Stereotypical Blog Entry

Stereotypes generally are considered bad things. People stereotype entire races or populations (of countries, with disabilities, rich, poor) and this can lead to misunderstanding or even hatred. Writers are warned away from stereotypes because the result can be boring, one-dimensional characters. This all makes sense, but…

In my own home, I have a right to be stereotypical if I want.

I’ll bet you’re saying, “Huh?” and that’s understandable. The thing is, I realized the other day that I was wearing a sweater, sitting in my rocking chair, and knitting. Stereotypical grandmother. If I’d written a character this way, an editor would likely come at me with a yardstick. In this case, the stereotype fit. I was happily knitting in my rocking chair, and I was wearing a sweater. And, I admit it, I am a grandmother. I was a living, breathing, knitting stereotype.

I’m not a brain or memory expert, but I think grouping things together helps our minds process and remember. Maybe humans are even “types” like the rocking granny. There’s the waaaayyy too short shorts and tube top wearing trailer trash (the reality I’ve seen many times). There’s the artistic type with long hair and loose, slightly too large clothing. The little blonde girl with a long ponytail  who likes to play soccer. And the list goes on and on. Of course, there are many, many exceptions to the “types,” and that’s why stereotypes can be such bad things. You can’t really put everyone you see in a group. Except, we probably do.

Grouping people together may help us process information, much like the grouping of numbers or colors or songs. The problem begins when we assume a person in a “type” will behave in a stereotypical fashion. People are not numbers, or colors, or songs. People are much more complex. So group if you must, but don’t expect that little girl to love soccer. And remember:

Sometimes it really is a sweater wearing, rocking chair using, knitting granny.

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Anonymity in Word Documents

I'm coordinating my local RWA chapter's romance novel contest this year, as I end up doing most years, and I have reached the stage of sending the partials to my volunteer judges. One of the issues cropping up is preserving anonymity in a FaceBook world.

Some basic anonymity can be preserved by checking certain settings in your Microsoft Word program, which so many of us use. (Note: I have Word 2002 and use a PC, so other versions and Mac versions may not be exactly the same.)

Setting one: User Information. Found under Tools > Options > User Information. This is where you can set the name automatically saved with your documents. I have mine set to my initials right now as I have no need to be anonymous as the contest coordinator.

Setting two: Privacy Options. Found under Tools > Options > Security > Privacy Options. You can check the box that directs Word to remove all personal information when you save a file.

Setting three: File Properties. Found under File > Properties. You can alter anything that appears under Summary, such as when you're a coordinator and want to remove the contestant's personal information. Statistics shows the last person who saved the document and other factoids. To alter what's under Statistics, you can save the document yourself or go with setting two.

The use of track changes and Microsoft Comments in particular is something to watch out for. If you change the File Properties but not the other settings, the commenter's personal information can appear over a comment. A commenter's information can also show up under Properties/Statistics as the last person to have saved the document. A coordinator with Word 2002 can remove some of this information by setting her computer to remove personal information upon save, as with setting two.

However, as I have discovered upon researching this, Word 2002 and earlier won't let you remove all traces of commenter identity. All commenters still appear under "Show" in the Reviewing tool bar. Thus, it's best -- if you're coordinating a contest or trying to make commenters anonymous for some reason -- that your judges or commenters handle the anonymity on their end. In later versions of Word, I understand the coordinator has more options.

As we can see here, complete anonymity on the internet or with digital files can be more difficult to achieve than altering a few settings. For example, if a contestant loves to enter contests, especially if he or she posts about her contest journey or her manuscript, Google will provide that information handily. Even if the contestant is more circumspect, if she finals, that's probably going to get posted on the internet by the host chapter.

It's easier to be anonymous as a judge since mega-shame on you if you're sharing anything about the manuscripts you're judging online. That's a big unprofessional no-no, even if you think you're being discreet. I saw Tweets and such during the RWA National contest judging period by RWA members that made me cringe. You might think you're being clever or sociable by sharing the pain your assigned books have inflicted upon you with the world, but please leave that type of behavior to editors, agents and reader/reviewers :).

Here is Microsoft's article about confidential information in Word 2007:
http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/excel-help/remove-hidden-data-and-personal-information-from-office-documents-HA010037593.aspx

This page and others state that authors of comments cannot be removed in Word 2002: http://www.shaunakelly.com/word/sharing/howtrackchangesworks.html#WorkingWithMoreThanOneAuthor

Here is Microsoft's article about metadata in Word 2002: http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us;290945

I believe there are other, more complicated ways to see a file's information, but most of your judges and entrants aren't going to be THAT driven to find out. That being said, right now I'm considering spending all my book money for the rest of the year on the newest version of Word!

Any more suggestions besides DOWN WITH MICROSOFT THEY SUK? Tell us in the comments!

Jody Wallace
2010 Melody of Love Coordinator
www.mcrw.com * www.jodywallace.com

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Scholar of Zombies: The Disturbing Move Against Education

There have been several news articles lately about the University of Baltimore professor, Arnold Blumberg, who is offering a high-level college course on zombies. The course, English 333, will introduce students to a variety of zombie artifacts, including books and film. The final project will allow students the opportunity to write their own zombie-themed script, or draw storyboards for a zombie film of their own making. This news story has, of course, received a great deal of commentary, primarily pejorative in nature. Commenters mock the seemingly valueless subject matter, the institutions that would dare offer such courses, and the lazy students who take courses about trivial matters like zombies and pop culture. Needless to say, the negative press surrounding U of Baltimore’s new class irritates me, and not just because I’m a zombie lover at heart.

I admit I’m one of those people who love school. If I could make a successful career of being a professional student, I would. I enjoy learning and I’ve never believed that the act of learning had to be boring. Unfortunately, there seems to be a great subject snobbery in our culture, even among those who do not themselves attend class. Math, science, and history are revered as worthwhile subjects, and receive no argument from me, but communication, popular culture, media, and the arts are, all too often, relegated to an inferior status. It’s as if “real” students take the classic, core curriculum classes, and the students who can’t quite hack it take the easy courses that -- shock and horror -- focus on trite and trivial matters like current fiction and social media. I find this type of sentiment appalling.

I won’t get into the full history of the study of communication, which reaches back to Plato and Aristotle and their study of rhetoric in ancient Greece. The more modern applications of the communications field, like social media and even zombie films, are no less worthwhile simply because they are more recent. A course text does not need to be written by a long-dead white man in order for the course to be legitimate. What makes a class in calculus more worthwhile than a class in cinema? Let me ask it this way; which subject matter is the average American more likely encounter in adult life?

My argument is that the pursuit of knowledge is admirable, whether the pursuer is working to become a doctor, a chef, a biochemist, a film critic, an auto mechanic, or just a more informed citizen. The disdain for certain subjects bothers me; the disdain for certain students bothers me even more. A person is not rendered more or less intrinsically valuable based on their interests and pursuits, and yet the negative press surrounding courses such Blumberg’s suggests just that. It insinuates that certain subjects are worthless, and the students taking them are, at best, too lazy to engage in "worthwhile" endeavors.

In the last decade, it seems our great country has embraced a prideful state of willful ignorance. Somehow, commonsense and education have become mutually exclusive. This is a disturbing phenomenon. Why is it that so many feel entitled to raise their nose at college courses and those who take them, regardless of subject matter? Where did the division of school and the “real world” come into play? There are not multiple worlds, just this one, and in it some people enter the workforce immediately, while others start a family of their own, while still others go on to institutions of higher learning. Some people engage in two or even all three at once. The important thing to remember is that any and all of the options are viable life choices, and all exist in the real world.

So, I salute Arnold Blumberg and the University of Baltimore for offering a course in zombies. By understanding popular culture and the reoccuring fears that saturate it (like the fear of zombies), we learn more about ourselves and the time in which we live. I hope more courses like this one become available to students across the country. There is absolutely no reason why learning can't popular and fun.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ask an Agent

Ever wonder what a one-on-one session would be like with a key professional in the book-buying business? And, in the process, to gain some insider tips on getting your manuscript published?
Continuing our series “A Look Inside,” I’m happy to announce that Natalie Fischer, an agent from the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, has agreed to visit Otherworld Diner on Thursday, Sept. 23. She'll answer questions about her job and pass along insider advice to budding writers.



The Sandra Dijkstra Agency represents such authors as Amy Tan, Diane Mott Davidson, Kate White and Lisa See. According to the Dijkstra Website, Esquire magazine chose Sandra Dijkstra and her team as one of the nation's "top five literary agents," and the Los Angeles Times proclaimed her an "über-agent".
Natalie Fischer has been with the agency since April 2009 and we hear she’s in the process of searching through the pre-published or just-published ranks for potential clients.
Although I can think of scores of questions to ask, it'll be even more interesting for blogging readers and fellow authors if they come up with the questions themselves. That's the one-on-one dimension mentioned earlier. ...
The bottom line: This Thursday Thirteen will grow as you post your questions and comments. Please don't be timid or reluctant. We're depending on you!


Header by Samulli
  1. Kendall Grey asks: What's the latest trend/fad in publishing, particularly in romance?
  2. Kendall Grey also wants to know: What is the fascination with steampunk? Is it really as popular as everyone says?
  3. Carol Rose asks: What percentage of new clients you sign in a year are debut authors?
  4. Nessa asks: What are the mistakes people make when submitting their work that gets them immediately in the "trash" pile?
  5. In addition, Nessa queries: Are there new "basics" guidelines for submitting work?
  6. Shalanna asks: Is the cozy/puzzle mystery that doesn't have a lot of gore (and is not a suspense novel) dead?
  7. Shalanna also wants to know: Could a writer publish a mystery like her first book now--or is the genre gone?
  8. Toni Anderson asks: How important is setting in selling a book?
  9. Toni Anderson also wants to know: Do you recommend writers getting their work professionally edited before submitting to an agent?
  10. Jody Wallace asks: You mention on the website you enjoy fairy tales and legends. What are some of your favorites?
  11. Shalanna wonders this: Imagine your ideal submission has arrived in your InBox. What genre is it (easiest to sell, your favorite)? Do you like it because of the voice and characters or the great narrative drive that pulls you along as a reader, or are you mainly evaluating it in terms of how fast the plot subjectively moves? Who will you submit it to first? Do you Google-search the author to take a look at his or her Web presence?
  12. Lori Dillon asks: What are you not seeing enough of right now as far as paranormal romance goes?
    NEVER MIND THE NUMBER. WE’RE GOING TO KEEP POSTING QUESTIONS. GRIN.
  13. Lori Dillon also wants to know: What are you on the lookout for from editors who've seen one too many vampire submissions after the success of Twilight and True Blood?
  14. And last, Lori queries: What is your take on time travels? Holding steady, making a comeback, or dead and buried?
  15. Jody Wallace also wants to know: What are your thoughts on an author's web presence beyond the basic website? Are you a big proponent of authors doing lots of social media, online marketing, blogging and so on?
  16. Sapphire Phelan asks: What do you think of YA paranormals? What kind would you look for, or do you not do those?
  17. Sapphire Phelan also wants to know: How about authors who write under two names, like I do? How do you handle those?
  18. www.mysisterdalesgarden asks: Is there a fear of memoirs? How can a new writer convey that she is gutsy, talented, has a following and really wants to have her memoir represented by an agent?
  19. Adelle Laudan asks: There seems to be more and more erotica in several different genres. Is there still a place for the sweeter more sensual side of romance and other genres? If so,in your opinion, why is it so difficult to find a home for these stories?
  20. Shelley Munro asks: Are you looking for small town romances and will you consider a setting outside of USA, e.g. New Zealand?
  21. Brenda asks: Although I have friends who have agents, my idea of what an agent does is vague. What typically happens when a person signs with you? What are the steps you and the client go through before a sale? Is there an average time frame to the manuscript selling?

Monday, September 6, 2010

The ‘IT’ Factor – Debut Author Pamela Fryer

The Midnight Effect
Samhain Publishing
June 2010 (print version)
August 2009 (ebook version)

Book Blurb:
A wounded cop. A frightened woman. A desperate race to save a child in danger…

In a single phone call, Lily Brent’s entire life—past and future—becomes foggy with confusion and danger. Her estranged sister is dead, and the body is lacking one definitive mark: a surgery scar from the kidney Lily thought she’d donated to her sister long ago.

There’s more than a mystery on her hands. There’s a niece she never knew she had, and a madman on her trail who’s hell-bent on getting the child back.

When a beautiful woman crashes her car into his remote mountain gas station, followed closely by a man with a silencer-equipped pistol, three years of inactive duty fall away as Miles Goodwin springs into action. He saves Lily and her golden child, but nothing can save him from the painful reminder of the family he lost. Retreating to his emotional coma, however, isn’t an option; they’re far from safe.

There’s something strange about a six-year-old girl who’s never eaten a hamburger or heard of Tinkerbell—and who seems to be the source of psychic phenomena so powerful, someone’s willing to kill to get her back.


For my IT Factor posts I normally try to review debut books that are as current as I can get my hands on. If you’ll notice, THE MIDNIGHT EFFECT came out in ebook format last August. Not exactly timely as far as market analysis goes. But I was intrigued after learning that Ms. Fryer is a 3 time Golden Heart finalist. In fact, the GH was the first writing contest she ever entered, finaling in the Long Historical category with her 3rd completed manuscript. Don’t you just hate her? *G* After finaling two more times in the GH, her 4th attempt with THE MIDNIGHT EFFECT paid off, winning the 2008 Golden Heart for Best Series Contemporary Adventure/Suspense manuscript. After receiving a Top Pick from RTBook Reviews in June when the print book came out, I figured I needed to give this one a look-see.

The Bang:
This book definitely starts out with a bang. Well, actually a crash and an explosion, followed by a hold-on-to-your-seat escape through dark woods in a truck with no headlights. Very action-packed and fast-paced. After reading the first 3 page turning chapters, I know why this book finaled in the Golden Heart. I would’ve given it a 9 myself.

The paranormal element centers around the niece Annie. Her psychic abilities are doled out a piece at a time, enough to spook the other characters that something is quite different about this child. The author isn’t heavy-handed with the paranormal incidents, preferring to keep them few and far between. This is not necessarily a bad thing and instead puts the focus on the romantic suspense part of the story.

The Sizzle:
Miles’ grief eats away at him every minute of every day until he’s little more than a shell of the man he used to be. The reader experiences his sorrow over losing his wife and child time and again. His guilt over finding Lily desirable and his battle to fight this attraction keep the sexual tension tight. Lily is guarded herself. She’s on the run not only for her life but her new-found niece’s as well and doesn’t have time for romance, especially with a man who’s still in love with his dead wife. But the attraction is there. The amount of pull and push between these two characters is just right until they can’t fight it any more.

The Fizzle: *spoiler alert ahead*

The Scar…
The Big Twist intended to surprise the reader in the end doesn’t. Because of the book blurb, I saw it coming from the very beginning. The strange thing is, the bit about her sister not having a matching scar from the kidney transplant was left entirely out of the book itself. At least I don’t remember reading it and after doing a search and find on my Kindle, I couldn’t find reference to it anywhere except in the blurb. For something that’s suppose to be so pivotal to the story, I found this omission odd.

Too Many Coincidences at the End…
  1. Miles crashes his truck through the electric fence at the compound. Since this is such a high tech place, wouldn’t an alarm go off immediately alerting security to the breach?
  2. The FBI just happen to be raiding the compound at the same exact moment Miles breaks in to save Lily.
  3. More amazing timing: An unknown, grief-stricken pregnant woman suddenly shows up on the roof to try to kill the villain as he takes off with Lily in a helicopter. And her aim is so good, she takes out the rotor causing the helicopter to spin out of control and crash before Miles’ eyes.
  4. When Miles climbs the electric fence (without even testing it first) in a desperate attempt to get to Lily after the crash, it just happens to be turned off (lucky for him). Did the FBI do it? Did it happen when he crashed through the fence in his truck? Who knows.

The ‘IT’ Factor:
There’s little to no filler here. The story is lean and mean, moving along at a fast pace that keeps you turning the pages. It has everything a good Romantic Suspense should have, except perhaps a plausible ending. The characters are well-rounded and multi-dimensional, their emotions raw and believable. I would say the first 3/4 of this book is polished to perfection. Unfortunately, the ending had too many coincidences and had me rolling my eyes one too many times. Still, this author has talent and she’ll probably only get better with the next one.
 
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