Thursday, December 23, 2010

Quotes to Celebrate the Season

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and have a super Kwanzaa. We really appreciate your visiting our blog. In celebration and as a virtual present, our dining staff would like to share words of wisdom and wit.

  1. As we struggle with shopping lists and invitations, compounded by December's bad weather, it is good to be reminded that there are people in our lives who are worth this aggravation, and people to whom we are worth the same.-- Donald E. Westlake

  2. Perhaps the best Yuletide decoration is being wreathed in smiles. --Author Unknown

  3. At Christmas play and make good cheer, for Christmas comes but once a year.-- Thomas Tusser

  4. Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas." --Peg Bracken.

  5. Unless we make Christmas an occasion to share our blessings, all the snow in Alaska won't make it 'white'. --Bing Crosby

  6. Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts. --Janice Maeditere

  7. Christmas gift suggestions: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect. -- Oren Arnold

  8. Which Christmas is the most vivid to me? It's always the next Christmas. --Joanne Woodward

  9. Next to a circus there ain't nothing that packs up and tears out faster than the Christmas spirit." --Frank McKinney

  10. 'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house Not a creature was stirring not even a mouse The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.--Clement C. Moore

  11. Every piece of the universe, even the tiniest little snow crystal, matters somehow. I have a place in the pattern, and so do you…Thinking of you this holiday season!-- T.A. Barron

  12. The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart. Wishing you happiness.-- Helen Keller

  13. Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.--Hamilton Wright Mabi

We wish you all the best this holiday season. May your hearts and chores be light. :)


Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy Holidays (a bit early)

Sorry, no 'IT' Factor post today. I've been trying to read a debut book all week but things in our house are not conducive to reading, writing or anything other than popping aspirin and pulling out chuncks of hair.

I'm still dealing with the kitchen/deck renovation run amok. After solving the *costly* problem of our backyard apparently being used as a dump site in a former life (10 old tires pulled out of 2 of the post holes), our cabinet supplier called to tell us they were going out of business just as we were getting ready to seal the deal. Then they called back the next day to say some financial backers had come through last minute and they were staying open. Needless to say, even though we love the quality of those cabinets we've lost confidence in the company. Now we're scrambling to find someone else to do the cabinets. Then the large window in the breakfast area is installed and it's the wrong size and model. Now everyone's pointing fingers over who's going to pay for the new one. A $1200 mistake. Ugh. I'm getting an ulcer and they haven't even started demo-ing the kitchen.

Hope your holiday is not nearly as stressful as mine. Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

13 Ways Dieting Can Be Like Writing

Having a healthy body and writing a "healthy" manuscript may not seem to have that much in common at first glance, but here are 13 (15) similaries I thought up today instead of cleaning my house. By "diet" here I don't mean strictly weight-loss, I mean any change to your eating habits designed to make you healthier. And by writing I mean pursuit of saleable manuscripts and a publishing career, not just writing for your own satisfaction or your close friends.


1) Free yourself from any reliance on fast foods and drive thrus.
     Some folks may assume this means genre fiction, but what I'm talking about are the things that make writing feel industrialized, while possibly making it "easier" for writers to get the story on paper -- overdone premises and writing shortcuts that can result in an "unhealthy" manuscript. Conveniences, in other words. While sometimes you just gotta make a run for the border, it shouldn't be a daily dining experience.

2) Same goes for junk food! Bad...junk food bad.
     Again, not a reference to genre fiction, but to clichés. Note: chocolate is not junk food; nor is it a cliché. It's just awesome. But too much of it will make you puke.

3) If you are especially fond of "traditional cooking" that is generally laden with fats and cholesterol, try it with your own, healthy twist.
     So you really want to write a secret baby book. A big, juicy hamburger of a story. Cool. Sounds delish. Write it! But how about using a lean protein, some unexpected, savory toppings and a whole wheat bun? Add oven-baked, oil-lite fries, maybe a fruit salad, and you've got your secret baby and your health too.

4) Trim the fat from your menus.
     Every noun does not need three adjectives and every verb does not need an adverb. I promise your manuscript will be healthier if you reduce these fatty substances, but it will not lose scrumptiousness. Because you will in turn...

5) Eat closer to nature -- whole grains, raw or simple veggies and fruits, etc. Avoid processed foods when possible.
     Make up your own stuff! Your own similes and metaphors. Your own character types. That doesn't mean everything you "eat" has to be something nobody has ever thought of before (there are reasons people don't combine certain flavors, like liverwurst and, well, anything), but the more you write with a natural voice that is yours alone, the tastier your book will be.

6) Try some foods you've never sampled before, just in case you love it.
     Pretty self explanatory. The caveat being, the foods you've never sampled that you might love (premises you've never written...personalities or cultures you've never explored...) do not include the double-fried fries from that new burger joint or the weird looking holiday Twinkies. So you might usually write what you know, or eat what you know you love, but every now and then, you need to....

7) Change out your menu so you don't get bored eating the same things all the time.
     Avoid repetition of words and phrases. Or premises. Or character types. Mix it up! Even if you're not trying anything brand new, like #5, writing the same book over and over, with different character names, is not going to excite you when it comes time to cook, and it won't excite readers when it comes time to dine. The more excited you are about writing, the more exciting your finished product will be.

8) Cut down on salt.
     What is the salt part of writing? Depends. Is there anything you're sprinkling on gratuitously to cover up possible story flaws? Of course YOU don't think you're involved in any nutritional shenanigans like salting the hell out of mediocre ideas, but healthy writers allow that they might have stylistic tics doing their genius more harm than good. This one is pretty general, I know. It probably needs a little salt to bring out the flavor, which is to say, a few stylistic tics make your voice yours, but an overdose of them is not your friend.

9) Cheese is a tricky addition to the diet.
     With most healthy diets, full-fat cheeses are not recommended in great amounts. At the same time, OMG is cheese good, and OMG do humans seem to love our cheese. Sometimes, all you want is some damn cheese. A Hallmark-style story. A sap fest. So give yourself permission to write a little cheese, stir in a little sentiment, melt your readers with some mushy-touchy-feely HEA-ness if you are so inclined, but overloading on sentiment all the time will harden your writerly arteries faster than my husband can say "3000 calorie lasagna" or "cholesterol spike". Granted, you have a little wiggle room husband doesn't do anything fast...but constant cheese can be tricky for a writer.

10) Adjust portion size to the "smaller" range.
     This one is because readers currently prefer fast-paced, shorter novels, or at least that's what's selling to a measurable proportion of editors and agents. Ten-course meals of historical epics or family sagas with lots of information dumps and segues about secondary characters are not currently conducive to publishing health. Which isn't to say no writers get away with this -- see "cheese". But adjusting that portion size might increase the odds of a healthier manuscript. It's worth a try!

11) Chew your food thoroughly.
     Don't eat at the speed of vacation and bolt from the table like you can escape the calories if you run fast enough. You can't get away from the calories you just ingested. Revise your work or it could choke you.

12) It may help to have a healthy eating support group in which you exchange ideas and cheer each other on.
     Critique groups and friendships with other authors who really get what you're trying to achieve can be invaluable. Peer pressure to stick to your diet also helps :), as do the new shoes or other rewards you allow yourself when you reach certain milestones.

12.5) Don't drive yourself so crazy with the diet you become obsessive or begin to sicken.
     This sort of relates to 12, which is why it's 12.5. (Actually it's 12.5 becaue this is a Thursday 13 but I had 14 ideas.) Anyway. When pursuit of your goal, be it publication or lower cholesterol levels, starts to make you miserable, you may need to reconsider your strategy. Being eaten up with jealousy at the success of others, for example, can send you into an ice cream and adjective-laden binge that will not do you much good. Exercising all the time to beat the calories out of yourself--writing all the time to fulfill contracts or get contracts--may mean you neglect your family and other joys and responsibilities. 

13) When all else fails, it's okay to eat someone else's cooking.
     Read! That's part of why you're doing this anyway, right? Because you love to read. Noms you didn't have to make yourself are especially delicious and sometimes inspiring.


Jody W. *

15) I just thought of one more! You can't think of this as temporary. If you really want your diet to work, it's got to be a lifestyle change.
     Butt in chair, hands on keyboard. Keep it up or you'll undo all the good your diet has done. If this is what you want for yourself--a healthier body or a publishing career--your "diet" needs to be one you can really live with on a mostly regular basis. This is, of course, barring things like chocolate, the occasional holiday binge, broken legs that keep you from exercising, etc.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Holiday Shopping Simplified

The holidays are upon us. Unfortunately, the “best time of the year” is also one of the most stressful. The sheer amount of questions that pop up around the holiday season are enough to boggle the mind: How many cookies to bake? Travel to visit the family or stay home? Just how dirty should that Dirty Santa present be? And the age old shopping conundrum, what do you get for the person who has everything?

For the last one at least, your worries are over. Just in time for the holidays, Sears has revamped its website to cater to the special people on your holiday shopping list…if those special people are zombies, that is.
Allow me to illustrate with some screenshots, taken directly from the new, zombie-friendly Sears website.

For the jewelry loving zombie, Sears offers a stunning collection of rings and bracelets (harmanz rangz bazzang, in zombish). Shopping tip - keep jewelry weight in mind. That heavy bracelet may be beautiful, but it will be more appreciated if it doesn't cause your loved one to lose a limb. Those decaying arms don't hold up like they used to.

Allow the technology loving undead in your life to capture those fun, brain chasing moments with a camera purchase from the electronics department. Shopping tip - opt for water proof. Remember the adage "blood is thicker than water"? That's true, but it's still a liquid.

And what better way to get all that nasty blood and brain matter out of clothing than with the Sears specialty washer? My zombish is a bit rusty, but I assume "bra!n za! n az rannan" means, "now with built in blood blocker to get your white's whiter." It's a loose translation. Shopping tip - skip the heavy appliances. At a certain point even the neatest dresser gives up the battle against dirty clothing. That point is zombification. And don't bother with refrigerators. Zombies are like lions, they prefer their food fresh.

Still stumped on what to get the lovable undead in your life? Ask a member of the Blue Zombie Crew for assistance.

As Sears’ new slogan says, “Afterlife. Spent Well.”

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Time-Saving Tips for the Season: Want to find Writing Time? Here’s how.

Ah, December’s here and nicely settled in. A month full of planning, shopping, cooking and all kinds of activities to be added to already busy lives. I love this season and the whirlwind of preparation, but I also wonder how to fit in writing time.
I went online and also asked writing friends for their strategies to help me in coming up with 13 tips on finding a bit of extra time. So here goes. ...

  1. Figure out exactly how you spend your waking hours in the holiday-season. Keep a Time Journal and cut or limit any activities that aren’t productive.

  2. Concentrate on one thing at a time.

  3. Actively think about ways to free-up time. Just considering your daily schedule may help you locate some much needed minutes.

  4. Try to use the time you spend waiting. For example, write out Christmas cards or pay bills while you’re waiting for food at a restaurant or filling a waiting-room chair before a doctor or dental appointment. Another possibility: Take the bus or have someone else drive so you can work while in traffic.

  5. Plan your next day before you fall asleep. Can you combine errands? What do you absolutely have to do? What can be put off?

  6. Set your priorities each day and try to accomplish the most important things first.

  7. Consider writing a list of the things you must accomplish. There's a magic in committing a goal to paper or seeing it on a computer screen.

  8. Share the load. Delegate responsibilities whenever you can.

  9. Look at what is going RIGHT in your life. Reward yourself when you get your work done.

  10. In those jobs you simply must do yourself, try to find some element you enjoy. Look hard; surely there must be something that brings pleasure.

  11. Give your writing, or whatever activity you love, a High Priority. Perhaps wake up early. I love to write first thing in the morning, when the house is silent.

  12. TV. Yes, you must cut out time in front of the television set. Record shows you absolutely can’t miss and skip the commercials. Or watch the shows as a reward for finishing other tasks.

  13. Ask others who use time wisely for their ideas and tips.

Following my 13th piece of advice, I’m hoping you’ll help me brainstorm more time-saving ideas. How do you squeeze in extra minutes in your hectic, Christmas--preparation days? Please share. --

Sources Adapted from A. Lakein. How to Get Control of Your Time And Your Life

Monday, December 6, 2010

The ‘IT’ Factor – Debut Author Cameron Haley

Mob Rules
September, 2010

Book Blurb:
As LA plunges into an occult gang war, mob sorceress Domino Riley must unravel a conspiracy that reaches beyond the magic-soaked mean streets into a world of myth and legend.

Domino investigates the ritual execution of a mob associate, a graffiti magician named Jamal. The kid isn’t just dead, he’s been squeezed — the killer stole his magical power or “juice.” Domino summons Jamal’s shade, and the ghost points to Adan Rashan as his killer. This is tricky, because Adan is the favored son of Domino’s boss, Shanar Rashan, a six-thousand-year-old Sumerian wizard. It’s even trickier because only a mobbed-up sorcerer could have squeezed Jamal and Adan isn’t a sorcerer.

As the corpses pile up, Domino must confront the killer and unmask an otherworldly kingpin with designs on her gang’s magic-rich turf.

One of the main reasons I was eager to read this one is because the author is a man, writing a paranormal romance – or at least it’s been popping up on the paranormal romance radar. No, I'm not prejudiced. I just can't recall reading a good paranormal romance by a guy lately and I wanted to see how he’d do.

The Paranormal:
The mob in Domino Riley’s world is made up of sorcerers, dealing in underworld magic beneath the cover of crime, gambling and prostitution. Graffiti tags channel all this magic (or juice, as they call it), keeping it flowing where it needs to go so the sorcerers can tap into it for power. Domino even uses sites like Wikipedia and FriendTrace (similar to FaceBook) to research and communicate with the other side. And the human world hasn’t got a clue. Very original and sometimes quite graphic and violent. I could see shades of early Laurell K. Hamilton here.

The Romance:
What romance there is, takes a big backseat. It’s definitely a subplot and not very well developed. I never really felt the chemistry between the characters and their time together was quite boring compared to the rest of the book.
“Let’s dance.”
“I’d like to date you.”
“I’d like to date you too.”
“Your dad isn’t going to like it.”
“So what?”
Very high school for a cougar (she’s 35 and he’s in his mid-twenties).

The Humor:
While the overall tone of this book is dark and a bit gritty, Domino has some good zingers in the sarcasm department. But the real gem is Honey, her piskie side-kick. Once these two get going at each other, it’s hilarious.

The Twist:
The author throws in a great twist that neither I nor the heroine saw coming. I love it when an author can surprise me this way. And no, I’m not going to give it away.

The Problem Areas:
1) Being the first book in a series, a certain amount of world-building is to be expected. However, the heroine often went off on tangents of mob/sorcerer history and backstory that were not needed and dragged the pace.
2) Domino has a lot of power even though she thinks she doesn’t. She has a spell for everything from finding a great parking spot to levitating to erecting a force field around herself when the bullets start flying. She can wield a spell to heal a broken nose, clean her house, and make herself virtually invisible. Many of the spells were just too convenient, allowing the heroine to get in and out of scrapes without much trouble. I would have liked to see her challenged more magically. Give her some flaws and limitations. As it was, the only real problems arose when she ran out of juice to power the spells. With hundreds of nifty spells at her disposal, I had to wonder why she wasn’t top dog in the mob outfit. This is explained a bit in the end, but I still thought she had it too easy with all her various spells.

The ‘IT’ Factor:
This Urban Fantasy stands out because of its originality. I loved the use of graffiti tags and the mob as the underpinnings for this paranormal world. While the main threat is headed off at the end, the war is not over by far. And there’s a hint at more romance to come, so we’ll see if the author can improve in that area.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Falling Kingdoms on the Web

A couple of months ago I did a post about web series. Well, great minds think alike, because the same subject was on the mind of the NY Times a few weeks ago. The writer, Mike Hale, did a review of several series--none of which, by the way, were ones I mentioned, so our mind meld was only partially in synch.

The article reviews 6 different series, but I'm only one belongs in the Otherworld Diner: Riese.

This Canadian-produced show airs on and has a lot going for it. First off, it's a pleasure to watch--it's professionally shot with good production values. Second, it's a kind of a steam punk infused fantasy, with the fate of kingdoms at stake. If you can imagine steam punk Tolkein, you'll have an angle on Riese (although there are no hobbits as of yet). To give you an idea, here's the villain, Herrick, half human, half machine:

And here's our heroine, Riese, her trusty wolf by her side:

She wears the requisite goggles, along with sexy leather getups. She can fight with the best, and though she shouldn't, she's a sucker for a damsel (in this case, mother) in distress. Every episode is narrated by Amanda Tapping of Stargate SG-1 and Sanctuary fame, and because the heroine is on the run amid a myriad of strangely-named lands, there's always a handy map (I love maps) to show viewers what the hell the narrator just said (What? Did she say Ass-wad? Oh, Asgard..). There's a dasterdly religious group called the Sect, an evil Queen, and, of course, a ragtag bunch of "heretics" known as the Resistence.

The acting is decent but not terrific. I love watching the actress who plays the Queen do her cold, evil thing. It's so one note, it's a lesson for all would-be villains. Riese, herself, is played by Christine Chatelaine, who Santuary fans may recognize as the "Invisible Woman" in an arc of episodes. Most of the cast has sci fi creds, but the only one I recognize is Alessandro Julian who played Gaeta on Battlestar Gallactica. Despite the shallow characterizations, the story is fun and hey--it's only 10 minutes out of your day. Besides, how many steam punk shows are out there?

Certainly Riese proves that given enough money and talent you can make an entertaining and watchable show. What I find really intriguing, though, is what the series represents. Is this the forerunner of a real format change? Will the next generation find 30 minutes a hardship and only sit for 10 minutes at a time? Or will web series go the way of the Edsel?

I don't have a clue. But it will be interesting to see the future unfold.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Well Wishes

This Thanksgiving we want to thank you, our readers.

We wish you:

  1. turkey,

  2. gravy,

  3. stuffing,

  4. sweet potatoes,

  5. cornbread,

  6. green bean casserole,

  7. cranberry sauce,

  8. pumpkin pie,

  9. or maybe pecan pie,

  10. whipped cream,

  11. family,

  12. good friends,

  13. and well, all the best.

Monday, November 22, 2010

No 'IT' Factor Today

I downloaded a debut author's book with the best intentions of reading it for today. But then the home remodel project got underway and hit some major roadblocks. Make that fill dirt and groundwater--right where the support posts for the bumpout and new deck need to go. Now the bobcat is sitting broken in our backyard, with its drill bit stuck 7 feet down in the ground. Oh, happy joy.

On top of all that, I'm trying to get my manuscript in decent shape for the Golden Heart contest (yes, I'll be one of many paying $18.30 for Express mailing next week.) So, there was no reading for me this past week. Hopefully I can read the book in time for my next post. It sounds like a good one. Oh, wait...I just heard one of the contractors cussing. This can't be good.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The ‘IT’ Factor – Debut Author Kimberly Derting

The Body Finder
HarperCollins, March 2010

Book Blurb:
Violet Ambrose is grappling with two major issues: Jay Heaton and her morbid secret ability. While the sixteen-year-old is confused by her new feelings for her best friend since childhood, she is more disturbed by her "power" to sense dead bodies—or at least those that have been murdered. Since she was a little girl, she has felt the echoes that the dead leave behind in the world... and the imprints that attach to their killers.

Violet has never considered her strange talent to be a gift; it mostly just led her to find the dead birds her cat had tired of playing with. But now that a serial killer has begun terrorizing her small town, and the echoes of the local girls he's claimed haunt her daily, she realizes she might be the only person who can stop him.

Despite his fierce protectiveness over her, Jay reluctantly agrees to help Violet on her quest to find the murderer—and Violet is unnerved to find herself hoping that Jay's intentions are much more than friendly. But even as she's falling intensely in love, Violet is getting closer and closer to discovering a killer... and becoming his prey herself.

First, a caveat:
This is a Young Adult romance and I don’t read a lot of YA. The last one I read was TWILIGHT just to see what all the hoopla was all about. Before that, it was probably a Judy Blume way back (we won’t say how many years) in junior high. For the most part, when I was a young adult I was reading Steven King, John Saul and VC Andrews. Yes, I was very into horror back then.

The Romance:
The author nailed the crazy emotions of teen romance without going overboard on the angst. Maybe it was because I’ve walked in Violet’s shoes and this book brought back all those old feelings again. I can remember having a goofy guy as one of my best friends and then waking up one day and feeling something more for him. It was confusing and scary and thrilling all at the same time. And, like Violet, I also had to contend with half of my class suddenly realizing he was something pretty special too. Then there was the dilemma: Do I let him know how I feel and possibly ruin our friendship? I never had the chance to find out. He moved away before I got the guts to tell him.

The Paranormal:
Violet’s paranormal gift is quite unique. At least, I’ve never run across it before. When an animal or person is murdered, they leave an echo. It might be visual, as in a color, aura or sheen. Or it could be a taste, or sound, or odor. Whatever it is, the sensory detail imprints on the victim and their killer and, like fingerprints, no two are alike. Violet can see, smell, hear or taste these echoes when she’s near a body or their killer. I thought that was brilliant. And the way the author hid the killer’s identity was a nice twist, too.

The Downside:
The main thing I had a problem with was this book was a little heavy on the romance side of things. *Gasp* I know, I’m a romance writer so how could there be such a thing as too much romance? But the suspense part was sooo good, I wanted more. The peeks into the villain’s psyche via brief scenes in his POV were quite creepy and the moments where Violet senses death and is closing in on the killer are gripping. I’d say the suspense to romance ratio was something like 40/60. It would have been a much stronger book if it were reversed. Hopefully the second book will be.

Oh, and the ending had the heroine going to a school dance on crutches. Sound familiar? Of the two YA romances I’ve read in the past 20-odd years, they both have a similar ending. What are the odds?

The ‘IT’ Factor:
In a world glutted with high school vampires, Derting came up with a very unique premise in Violet’s paranormal ability. Combine that with page turning suspense and a love story many of us can identify with, and this book has the IT Factor times three.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

In Search of Ideas? A Site to Visit: Especially if you’re a NaNoWriMo Participant

Happy November and happy National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)! I’m busy pounding out my yearly 50,000 word novel as a NaNoWriMo participant and, three days in, I’ve gotten to the point where I need a little plot help, some idea of where my story is going.

You may be in the same boat. If you are, I have a site for you, Seventh Sanctum. It’s full of idea generating links that are sure to get your inner creativity fired up and maybe give you a good chuckle on the way.

Header by Samulli

Here are 13 ideas from the fantasy plot generator.
1. A bitter stableboy offers to help a clever queen, resulting in chaos.
2. A brash sorceress has a question for a young demigoddess, resulting in true love.
3. A helpful stableboy and a shepherd seek a legendary spell in this tale of danger.
4. In this story, peasants and gypsies clash with a mild-mannered beggar stuck in the middle.

5. A lonely sorceror has tea with a wicked merman, resulting in true love.
6. In this story, wolves and pirates clash with a bashful troll stuck in the middle.
7. A mysterious farmer learns a secret from a wicked satyr, resulting in true love.
8. A peasant raised by merfolk talks to a foolish troll.
9. A pixie raised by pirates has an argument with a cantankerous mermaid.
10. A tinker raised by pirates spies on a mild-mannered sorceress.
11. In this story, circus performers and robbers clash with a scatterbrained troll stuck in the middle.
12. This tale of an epic struggle begins when a devious midwife betrays a proud queen.

13. In this story, fairies and robbers clash with a cowardly griffin stuck in the middle.

I hope the Seventh Sanctum ignites your imagination as it does mine. Check out the site and let me know what you find. Happy Writing.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The End is Only the Beginning

Well, as finales go, Haven's was a whopper. A major character hits the bucket, a death threat is diffused and another one enhanced, relationships are turned upside down, and the main character turns out not to be the main character. Can't hope for a better cliffhanger to lead you into next season.
All in all, the show grew on me. I'm a fan of long arc stories, so once the series settled into giving us more and more hints about Audrey, Nathan, and the "troubles," the show seemed to become more than just a weirdo of the week. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens with all the new revelations next season.

Speaking of weirdo of the week, I've just watched the first 4 eps of the new Fringe season, and am really liking it. The creators took the time-honored route of creating 2 versions of Olivia, the main character. One is in our world and the other is in an alternate world. This allows one Olivia to pursue a relationship with Peter, while the other one is pursuing other things--like her mind, which apparently she's lost.

Doubling the main character is nothing new. Farscape did a section of season 3 this way. Moya's crew gets caught on a zombie world where the evil leader has the ability to clone humans which he then traps and uses for food. John, the main character gets cloned, or "twinned" as they called it, but both Johns escape. After much wrangling, many games of rock/paper/scissors, and a couple of sneaky moves, one John manages to get himself on board a second ship with main squeeze Aeryn, while the other is left behind with the rest of the crew. One week the episode was about Aeryn and John consummating their relationship and the next week the episode was about the other John, jealously wondering what was happening with Aeryn and the other him.

Fringe is going a similar route. One week the show is about the Olivia on the alternate world and the next week the show is about the Oliva on our world with Peter. The twist here is that the former Olivia is the "real" Olivia, and the latter is a double agent working for the alternate reality. I'm sure that sounds ridiculously complicated but trust me, it works.

The intensity of the show remains, but they've added the tension of wondering what will happen when the real Olivia gets her memory back and when the false Olivia is found out. We still get a weekly freak, but we also get the long arc, mad scientist story of the alterante world's Secretary of Defense, who seems to be a serious threat to our world's peace. And some of the strange things that happened without much explanation up to now, are explained: ie, the magic typewriter that is capable of sending messages across universes, the shapeshifter, spies, and hitmen who seemed to be working for some mysterious organization--it's all an attempt by the alternate universe to manipulate our own for nefarious purposes. I'm enjoying this Fringe much more than last season's. Here's hoping they continue on this road.
Have not had a chance to watch much of No Ordinary Family, except for the first episode, which didn't particularly grab me. It's supposedly doing well rating-wise, but I'd love hearing from anyone whose been watching. Worth it or not?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

13 Things You Should Know About Pumpkins

October’s well upon us and pumpkins are everywhere: in grocery stores, at farm stands and on front porches carved as jack o’ lanterns. This ubiquitousness of pumpkins comes as no surprise: October is the month we harvest pumpkins and lots of Americans feel compelled to use them in their Halloween or Thanksgiving celebrations.
But how much do you really know about pumpkins? Here are some "riveting" facts I’ve dug up.

1. In 2008, America's pumpkin-producing states harvested 1.1 billion pounds of pumpkins. That's billion, not millions. ...
2. More than 90% of the processed pumpkins come from the state of Illinois.
.3. Pumpkins originated in ... Central America.
4.Pumpkins are a member of the cucurbit family, along with squash and cucumbers.
5.Pumpkins come in all sizes. The smallest are less than a pound while some of the largest can top 1,000 pounds.
6. The Irish introduced the idea of pumpkin-carving to the United States. But here's something you didn't know: Those good folks from Ireland originally carved ... turnips.
7. Pumpkins are more than things to carve into jack o’ lanterns. Did you know you can eat the pumpkin flowers?
8. Here's one point that all good cooks are well aware of: Pumpkins can be made into pies, breads and soups.
9. Some people relish pumpkins for their potassium and vitamin A .
10. Others like to snack on seeds baked with a touch of garlic salt.
11. Pumpkins were a popular snack for Native Americans. They would roast pumpkin strips over fire.
12. Native Americans also made mats from flattened and dried pumpkin strips.
13. Native Americans also used pumpkins for medicine. Some believed that pumpkin pulp could cure freckles while others considered pumpkins a remedy for snake bites.

... I’ve never eaten roasted pumpkin strips, but I might just try them soon. It's a perfect opportunity -- when my family and I are carving pumpkins and toasting seeds this season.
Do you have any pumpkin traditions? Or perhaps a good pie recipe? Please share.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Poor Ichabod Crane

Download it for your Kindle!

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a classic tale written by Washington Irving in a time when Halloween wasn't celebrated as a holiday.

The story is set circa 1790 in the Dutch settlement of Tarry Town, about thirty years before it's publication date of 1820. In a secluded glen called Sleepy Hollow, we met three characters in what we describe today as a bit of a "love triange." Our underdog is Ichabod Crane a lanky, and extremely superstitious schoolmaster from Connecticut, who competes for the attention of Katrina Van Tassel with Abraham "Brom Bones" Van Brunt, the town's more popular eligible bachelor.

One Autumn night, after attending a party hosted at the Van Tassel home, Crane leaves and is pursued by the Headless Horseman, who is supposedly the ghost of a Hessian trooper. This lost trooper reportedly had his head shot off by a stray cannonball during an unidentified battle of the American Revolutionary War, and who "rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head". Ichabod is pursued by the headless ghost and ultimately is knocked from his horse by a flying pumpkin, the ghostly rider transforming into a skeleton.

After his encounter with the headless horseman, Ichabod mysteriously disappears from town, leaving Katrina to marry Brom Bones. Although the truth of the legend of the Headless Horseman is left open to speculation, the reader is left with the distinct feeling that the Horseman was in reality a jealous Brom Bones in disguise.

A love triangle, a ghostly headless horseman lurking in the shadows and a pumkin round out this paranormal tale written in 1820. A classic Halloween story that has been reprinted, retold and remade into both animated kids movies to more adult versions.

I don't remember the first time I read "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" or the first time I watched a movie version - I only remember I wasn't that old, I was easily impressionable and I was scared to death of the jack-o-laterns for quite a while after! Now after almost 200 hundred years the tale of the headless horseman can still stir the imagination and raise the hairs on the backs of necks. But the romantic in me can't help but feel sorry for poor Ichabod, he was the underdog - presumably a good man - and he does not get the girl in the end. As a romance goes I find myself always hoping for a better ending...

Would you give Ichabod a different ending if you could? Or is the power of suggestion as to his fate, and that of the Katrina and Bram, better off left to your own imagination?

Monday, October 18, 2010

The ‘IT’ Factor – Debut Author Dianne Sylvan

Queen of Shadows
Ace, August 2010

Book Blurb:
Spread throughout the dark corners of our world lies the Shadow World, a society of vampires that feeds off the living. In Austin, Texas, one woman’s madness will drive her into a world that few people ever see – or even know exists…

Shortly after she picked up a guitar, Miranda Grey conquered the Austin music scene with a newfound ability to psychically manipulate her audience’s emotions. But as her powers outgrow her control, her mind is increasingly invaded by haunting secrets and overwhelming sadness. Unable to look anyone in the eye, Miranda is fast approaching the edge of insanity – with no one to catch her fall…

When he outlawed killing humans, David Solomon ignited a civil war among Austin’s vampires. As Prime of the South, his sympathy for mortals angered the old guard who refuse to control their violent urges. David has his hands full with the growing insurgency, but he takes in a broken-down woman, a musician in need of supernatural guidance. Little does he know that Miranda Grey has the power to change his world as well…


The Rule Breaking:

Rules, taboos, call them what you will, this author breaks three major ones.


Number 1 – The heroine is gang raped in the first chapter. It is brutal and graphic and may be hard to stomach for some. Was it necessary for her character to grow from it? I’m on the fence on that one. She was already on the slippery slope with her psychic abilities running amok. It was almost adding insult to injury.

Number 2 – The hero has sex with other women after he’s started to fall in love with the heroine. This is often a major no-no in many romance reader’s eyes. For me, it worked. The link between sex and blood-taking for a vampire are inextricably linked. It made him more male than martyr. Don’t get me wrong, he still pined for Miranda, choosing women who looked like her, but he certainly didn’t abstain while they were apart.

Number 3 – When the hero is not with the heroine, he is brutal. David could easily have played the villain in this story. To keep his position as Prime, he has to torture enemies (often in excruciating detail) and kill without hesitation or mercy. Being King isn’t pretty or easy and the author depicts this part of his life without holding back any punches.


The Eye Rolling:

This story is basically the same immortal warrior saving the wounded female and bringing her back to the compound/mansion full of other immortals, where he stows her away in a bedroom for most of the story while he goes out and saves the world. I’m getting really tired of that scenario. I like to see a heroine stand on her own two feet and not stay at home waiting for her man to return every night. Miranda finally grows a backbone, but it takes 3/4 of the book for her to do it.

This book should have been titled the KING OF SHADOWS because it was more David’s book than Miranda’s. At least the first 3/4 of the book was. After her rape, she spent all her time sleeping, hiding or crying in her room. Was it realistic for a rape victim? Yes. Was it interesting, story-wise? Not really. While I didn’t expect her to heal (both physically and mentally) right away, most of the book had everything happening around Miranda. She was not an active participant but more of a sub-plot until the end. Her scenes were slow and boring, with way too much thinking and wallowing in misery. David’s scenes were much more active and his war with the rogue vampires was by far more interesting.


The Re-Birth:

I loved how the author depicted Miranda’s transition from human to vampire. It wasn’t easy or quick or romantic. When it happens, she is alone and scared, and we are witness to the pain and agony of her death and transformation. Brilliantly done. Only then did Miranda become an interesting character for me.


The ‘IT’ Factor:

I think the rule breaking is what put this book a step of above the others of its ilk. It’s dark and gritty and pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable in the romance genre. Some may not like it, but it’s what made this one different from all the other immortal warrior-type books out there. If you want a typical vampire romance, this may not be your cup of tea. But if you want a realistic (if a paranormal can be called realistic *G*) depiction of how a vampire society works and how one of its dark lords holds onto his power, this is it.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Teach me to juggle…please!

To use a cliché, I can’t keep my balls in the air. There’s the family balls (one for each family member), the writing ball (actually, I think there’s a dozen of them), the housekeeping balls (don’t want to think about it), the fun stuff balls (I don’t know where I put them), and all the other balls—like appointments, errands, etc. Yikes! I’m getting depressed just thinking about it. The thing is, I have too many balls, too little time and energy and spoons. Yes, spoons. Check here to read the spoon theory.

I’ve tried different things to get my balls going in the right direction. In fact, I have a great book on time management. It was actually helping. Okay, I admit it. I don’t know where the dang book is. Boy, am I pathetic.

So, if there’s somebody out there who knows how to keep all the balls in the air (or where I put my time management book), please let me know. Until then, well, some of my balls may just have to fend for themselves. Poor balls!

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Look Inside: Self-Publishing

I used to think of self-published authors as a small group of wild-eyed visionaries who kept their excess inventory on pallets in their garage and sold books from the trunk of their car. That was years ago and I was wrong.

Now with e-books and companies such as Amazon, Smashwords and Lulu, self-publishing is affordable, practical and increasingly popular. One of the savviest authors I know, Edie Ramer, is here today to give us the heads-up on self-publishing and her debut novel "Cattitude."

Edie is a foundering member of the blogs: Magical Musings and the Write Attitude Her writing has won numerous awards. In the Wisconsin Romance Writers, Edie is both a friend and a mentor to many of us. I’m delighted to know her and I believe you’ll learn a lot from today's post. Here's her October message:

Header by Samulli

13 Reasons I Chose to Self-Publish -- and
Why Other Writers Might, Too

1. "Cattitude" had already been shopped around. I wrote "Cattitude" six years ago and had an agent, but he quit the business less than a year later. I had written a blurb on my old Website about "Cattitude" and people would e-mail me and ask when I was going to publish. So I knew this was a story people wanted to read. Plus, I’m a better writer now than I was six years ago. I kept most of the book as is, but with help from some beta readers (waving madly to Jody Wallace!), I made it a better book. It deserved to sell.

2. Self-publishing is empowering. More empowering than I expected. It’s like finally being old enough to drink and going to… oops, wrong analogy. Like finally getting out of prison… oops, wrong again. Like putting on the red shoes that belonged to Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz and realizing you had the power all along. No one is stopping you from getting your books published. It's like walking forever and then discovering that you have wings and can fly.

3. I’ve come so close to being published that my wings have been singed. I’ve won RWA contests for four different books. I’ve had short stories published in print books. I was a finalist in the American Title V contest with, "Dead People" (which should be online soon.) I’ve had close calls with other books. I’ve had -- count 'em -- four agents. And to top it off, in a review of "Cattitude," Jody Wallace recently praised my use of commas.

4. I write “different” books. I feel a bit like my heroine in the next book I’m self-publishing, the aforementioned "Dead People." Though I don’t talk to dead people like she does, I do feel a bit of an outsider. One of my beta readers for "Cattitude" said that she loved it but could see why it didn’t sell. It doesn’t fit into the genres, or even subgenres, and the agents/editors love to know where to position books. Yes, I know that many of you are thinking it’s shocking that there’s no genre for cat fiction. Obviously a big mistake, but so far that hasn’t happened. I could write to the current market, but I have a low threshold of boredom, and I like to write books that are a bit different. If the cat in "Cattitude" was a shifter, that might be more common. Instead, she changes bodies (or souls) with a woman on the run from a murderer. The cat’s soul is in the woman’s body, and the woman is running scared and hungry in the cat’s. (That’s my subplot, which I love almost as much as Belle the cat’s.)

5. The publishing industry is growing tighter. I know some midlist writers who consistently earn out their advance, yet their publishers are letting them go. A friend has done really well with her last book, but her publisher is giving her less money for her new contract. Less everything else, too. Publishers are running a bit scared and looking for the next BIG book. Try as I might, I’m not a BIG book writer. But I’m hoping I can be that little one who keeps growing and growing and growing. (I’m talking about my readers, not my weight!)

6. The stigma against self-publishing (or indie publishing) is pretty much gone. Part of the reason for the stigma was that people were paying to have their books published. We all know that money is supposed to go to the writer, not away from her. With digital publishing, that’s changed. Because a friend did my cover, I didn’t pay for my fabulous cover (though she’s working on my second cover now, and I’m insisting on paying her for it). Plus, I’ve had friends whose professional skills I trust read "Cattitude" for me (waving "hi" to Jody Wallace again), so I didn’t pay for editing services, either.

7. The money. If you sell your book for very reasonable prices on Amazon (I think between $2.99 and $9.99), you get 70% of every book sold. For Smashwords, it’s 85%. The other places vary. There's no way you’ll get that big of a percentage in print publishing. Yes, I know if a print publisher is behind you, you can get great placement in stores and they have other perks, too. And I hope you find a place like that. But if you don’t, you now have other options.. You can read more about the money part here.

8. Second chances – aka “other options.” There’s a story I’ve told on my own blog, about a man who walked down a street and fell into a hole. The next day the same thing happened. The third day he walked around it. It went like this for a while, and finally he got the brilliant idea of taking another route. It’s taken me much longer than that man to see that there’s another route. My dream was always to hold my book in my hand, and when I let go of the dream, that’s when those wings started to sprout on my back. I didn’t find the other route, I flew to it.

9. J.A. Konrath and Karen McQuestion. I’ve been reading Konrath’s blogs in which he’s been talking about how much money he’s making from his e-books. At first I thought, sure, he’s making money. He’s published in print. He has a following. But then he had Karen McQuestion as a guest last spring. She’d put her first e-book on Amazon less than a year previously, she’d been unpublished in fiction, yet she outsold Konrath. There went my excuse. After reading that, I emailed my CP, critique partner and told her I was going to self-publish "Cattitude." She told me to go for it.

10. Zoe Winters, role model. Zoe’s been a well-known indie writer for a couple years. We were friends before she put up her first novella, and I’ve watched her do really well with her three novellas (and soon a full-length book!). She’s given me a lot of great advice. In addition to being my role model, she’s my mentor.

11. I don’t want the day to come when I’d think “I wish I would have done that.” There’s a famous quote that Marlon Brando, playing an ex-boxer turned dockworker, said in the 1954 Oscar-winning movie, "On the Waterfront": “I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody. ...” Unlike Brando’s character, I’m not letting anyone keep me out of the ring. I’m not going to be a “coulda been.”

12. "Cattitude" is just the first. I have other books that deserve to be read, too. The means are available, so I’d be a fool not to do this.

13. It gives me an excuse not to clean the house. My CP made booklets with the first two chapters, and I think seeing and holding the booklets made it seem real to my husband. He’s proud of me and he’s taken the booklets to work and a few other places. It’s very sweet.
Thanks to Brenda and the Underworld Diners for having me here. And extra thanks to Brenda for the great topic suggestion!
Are any of you thinking of putting your books on Amazon and the other sites? Even my published friends are putting up their backlist books. What about you?

Edie has graciously offered to give away a free e-copy of "Cattitude" to a lucky person commenting on her work and her counsel. I’m reading "Cattitude" and really enjoying it.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The ‘IT’ Factor – Debut Author Erin Kellison

Shadow Bound
Dorchester, June 2010

Book Blurb:
Some people will do anything to avoid it. Even trade their immortal souls for endless existence.

Secretly, inexorably, they are infiltrating our world, sucking the essence out of unsuspecting victims with their hideous parody of a kiss.

Adam Thorne founded the Institute to study and destroy his monster of a brother, but the key to its success is held in the pale, slender hand of a woman on the run. There is something hauntingly different about Talia O’Brien, her unknowing sensuality, her uncanny way of slipping into Shadow.

This is the place between life and what comes after - a dark forest of fantasy, filled with beauty, peril, mystery. And Talia is about to open the door.

The book starts out reminiscent of Meet Joe Black or Death Takes a Holiday. The wraiths have shades of Sherrilyn Kenyon’s daimons, stealing human souls to survive. And then there’s homage to Sleeping Beauty. But Kellison takes each of those and makes them her own, weaving a darkly beautiful story.

For those of you who read my previous blog on what makes a keeper for me (see here under the Con section), let me just say the laundry hampers are overflowing, we’re out of peanut butter and jelly, and there’s a suspicious stain on the rug by the back door (just kidding – I did let the dogs outside to pee).

The Light:
  • Adam is not the perfect hero by any means. He’s flawed, deeply so, sometimes to the point of bordering on psychotic in his single-minded determination to kill his wraith brother and rid the world of wraiths. He doesn’t try to hide the fact that he’s using Talia for his own purposes, and this hurts her.
  • Talia, on the other hand, starts out weak. She knows she’s different but doesn’t understand how or why. When things get too much, she turns in on herself, pulling herself into the comfort and safety of her shadows. But like the Sleeping Beauty she’s likened to, she eventually awakens, discovers who and what she is and, with Adam’s help, becomes what she was born to be.
  • As I said, both characters are flawed in the beginning and it takes almost the whole book for them to work out their issues, both within themselves and with each other. I didn’t feel the chemistry or attraction between them – at first. But the story builds and as each draws strength and awareness from the other, so does their love. It’s a natural progression and by the time Adam tells Talia he loves her, we believe it.

The Shadows:
*spoiler alert ahead*

In the end, it’s revealed that there is some kind of treaty between the government and the wraith population. What the heck was that all about? It doesn’t make sense and is never fully explained. I mean, why would the government give up so easily? These things must feed on human souls or go mad (they can’t be killed – only Death can take them out). How can any government condone something like that? At the time, there were only about 10,000 wraiths in the US. That doesn’t seem like enough to warrant the entire US government admitting defeat and letting them have their way. What, they were going to turn a blind eye to that little problem and expect the entire nation to go along with it? What was the government going to do, let the wraiths feed on death row inmates and the terminally ill? That twist didn’t work for me.

The ‘IT’ Factor:
Plot hole aside, this author takes what’s been done before and blends it in a way that it makes it new and fresh. And it’s the way she did it, using vivid description and sensory detail, which I believe sold this book. The author paints with her words, pulling the reader into the scene not as a sideline observer, but as a participant. This book was extremely well done, reading like a it was written by a seasoned pro and not a newbie author. I can't wait to read more from this talented writer.

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. *

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.