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.