Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Greetings

Hi. Thank you for stopping by our diner. We appreciate your company and want to wish you the Season’s best. Happy Hanukkah. Happy Kwanzaa …
and Merry Christmas!

Or in thirteen other languages--

  1. Arabic: Milad Majid

  2. Chinese: (Cantonese) Gun Tso Sun Tan'Gung Haw Sun

  3. Czech: Prejeme Vam Vesele Vanoce a stastny Novy Rok

  4. Danish: Glædelig Jul

  5. French: Joyeux Noel

  6. Gaelic: Nollaig chridheil agus Bliadhna mhath ùr!

  7. German: Fröhliche Weihnachten

  8. Greek: Kala Christouyenna!

  9. Icelandic: Gledileg Jol

  10. Korean: Sung Tan Chuk Ha

  11. Spanish: Feliz Navidad

  12. Tagalog: Maligayamg Pasko. Masaganang Bagong Tao

  13. Thai: Sawadee Pee Mai or souksan wan Christmas

However you say it, we hope your holiday is wonderful! And again, thanks.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Indie Author Spotlight: The Jaguar Legacy

by Maureen Fisher

Book Blurb:

Ancient danger stalks the jungle on velvet paws...

Take one lost city in Mexico where occult energy abounds;
Add one sassy reporter on a quest for an exposé;
Combine with a generous helping of brilliant archaeologist who hates the press;
Throw in a dollop of vengeful ex-wife and a pinch of mysterious shaman who has mastered the mystic arts of the Ancients;
Stir until well combined before placing in pressure cooker;
Stand well back from the fireworks.

The Journey:
This book has a good mixture of many things: archeology, ancient civilizations, centuries old curses, reincarnation, shape shifting. I know it sounds like a lot but Fisher skillfully weaves them together for a fast-paced, entertaining romp through the jungle.

The Characters:
I loved the character Fisher created in the hero, Alistair Kincaid – a sexy Scottish archeologist with a penchant for tacky Hawaiian shirts. I could so picture Gerard Butler in this role. Yum! Charlie is interesting too. She has secrets, some she isn't even aware of. It's an intriguing journey as readers discover her forgotten past along with her.

Jungle Love:
The sexual tension between Charlie and Kincaid is well-played. I always enjoy a good verbal sparing between characters, and these two know how to push each other's buttons. I often have a hard time when characters fall in love too quickly. While the entire book spans only one week, there is a lot packed into it and by the end, I totally believed these two characters cared deeply for each other and had a chance for their happily ever after.

Those Pesky Mosquitos:
There were a few instances that pulled me out of the story. I had a hard time believing anyone would pack silk blouses and lingerie to take on an archeological dig in the jungle. I also had to wonder how none of the characters noticed the hidden ceremonial chamber had recently seen human activity (fires near the altar, incense burning, footprints in the centuries old dust, etc.) when they thought it had been sealed up for 2000 years. There was also a ring Charlie wore that seemed to have special significance but it was never explained how she got it. But these were small bumps in an otherwise interesting journey.

And Now For Something A Bit Different:
Like many authors these days, Ms. Fisher’s novel was previously published by a small press and when she got her rights back to THE JAGUAR LEGACY, she decided to self-publish it. I asked her to tell us how the experience has differed from being traditionally published versus indie publishing the same book. Here’s the author in her own words:

I would like to extend my thanks to Lori for reviewing my re-release of The Jaguar Legacy, a paranormal romantic suspense previously published by a small-press publisher.

Now that I have self-published two books, I can say with some certainty that independent publishing is both incredibly rewarding and also not for the faint of heart.

The major downside of self-publishing is that, in addition to writing high-quality books, the indie author must do all the tasks normally handled by a publisher. These include:

Editing: I highly recommend making an investment in yourself by hiring a professional editor. For me, this is a mandatory step to ensure a quality product. If a reader hates my book because of grammar errors, spelling mistakes, or, worse, unsympathetic protagonists or plot flaws that slipped by my beta readers, she will never return to buy another book.

Cover: The cover is a reader’s first impression of your book. An amateurish cover screams, “Novice writer,” and is the kiss of death. Unless you have the skills to design and prepare your own cover, I recommend hiring a professional cover designer.

E-book preparation and conversion: This time-consuming work requires patience, the reading of much fine print, attention to detail, and technical savvy. For the technically challenged (like me), it also means a steep learning curve. I was lucky because my husband was willing to act as my technical guru. Or you can hire someone to do this for you.

Handling all the administrative details involving taxes and dealing with distributers and/or printing houses.

Handling all promotional activities including blogging, networking, soliciting reviews, posting to promotional sites, placing ads, organizing book signings, and more. This isn’t as bad as it sounds because most publishers now expect authors to do much of their own book promotion.

On the plus side, I love, love, LOVE the control indie publishing provides. I can change the pricing, the product description, even the book content, all at will, and if book sales don’t improve, I can change everything back again.

Moreover, I don’t need to second-guess whether or not an agent or editor will reject a manuscript because it doesn’t fit into a traditional genre box and is therefore unmarketable. That means I can write any kind of book I want with no restrictions on the content. The downside of all this freedom is that I might write something no one wants to buy, thus proving that the genre boxes are there for a reason.

The good news is that my first three months of sales as an indie author have already exceeded four years of small press figures. While I still haven’t matched total revenues due to lower indie pricing, I anticipate that my revenues will soon cover my initial costs, and then gallop ahead of the earnings from my small press publisher. I have all the time in the world. Self-publishing isn’t a sprint, but a marathon.

Control, autonomy, and money! Short of a bestseller gone viral, what more could an author ask?

Learn more about Maureen at

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

All Things Yule

I can't be the only one who gets a kick out of knowing the origins of our traditions. As writers it often becomes imperative to know such things. With the holidays upon us I thought it might be fun to explore the origins behind all things yule-related.

Yule or Yuletide is a winter festival that was initially celebrated by the historical Germanic people as a pagan religious festival, though it was later absorbed into, and equated with, the Christian festival of Christmas.

The festival was originally celebrated from late December to early January on a date determined by the lunar Germanic calendar. The festival was placed on December 25 when the Christian calendar aka the Julian calendar was adopted. Scholars have connected the celebration to the Wild Hunt.

Yule is also used to a lesser extent in English-speaking countries to refer to Christmas. Customs such as the Yule log, Yule goat, Yule boar, Yule singing, and others stem from Yule. The fact that Yule is not tied to Christianity means Yule in the Nordic countries is also celebrated by many non-Christians and even by the non-religious. The non-religious treat Yule as an entirely secular tradition.

Yule is the modern English representative of Old English words, thought to be derived from Common Germanic. Specific dating is in question. Scholar Andy Orchard says that it is difficult to specify the yule-tide period more accurately than at some point between about mid-November and the beginning of January. Simek says that the Old Norse timing offers no point of reference for the feast and that the identification with the mid-winter time of sacrifice is most likely.

In most forms of Wicca, this holiday is celebrated at the winter solstice as the rebirth of the Great horned hunter god, who is viewed as the newborn solstice sun. The method of gathering for this sabbat varies by practitioner. Some have private ceremonies at home, while others do so with their covens.

Whatever you celebrate this time of year, may it be filled with blessings, peace and joy.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Celebrating National Novel Writing Month

I Win! Well, Sort Of ...

Each year, in November, writers and wanna-be novelists from all over the world accept the challenge of generating a story of 50, 000 words during the 30 days, producing 1,700 words daily. Roughly, that's seven pages of 250
words each, with double spaced sentences. Day after day after day. Fortunately, National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, does its best to inspire us to get those scintillating tales out of our heads and on to paper. For a number of years I’ve joined buddies at coffeehouse write-ins as well as meeting them online in chat rooms and we’ve poured out our stories.

Some years we cross the 50K mark and others we don’t, but we always succeed in having a good time adding to the wads of words we hope one day will wind up as a published novel. This year, despite the dramas of normal life, I won! Yes! I crossed the 50,000-word finish line. No publishers are beating a path to my door. Not yet,anyway. But I'm hopeful.

To commemorate that milestone as well as acknowledging all my writing buddies whose fingers raced over keyboards with me, I’d like to share 13 statistics about National Novel Writing Month.

  1. 256,618 people participated in this year's NaNoWriMo challenge.

  2. Together, participants wrote a total of 3,074,068,446 words. That's
    billions, not millions. Wow!

  3. The average word-count per person: 11,979 words.

  4. A total of 36,774 writers crossed the 50k finish line.

  5. That means 14% of participants were winners.

  6. In the Young Writers Program, 81,041 participated.

  7. Young Writers are those under 12 years of age. Most take part
    in activities in the classroom. They wrote a total of 368,143,078 words.

  8. The Young Writers' average: 7,199 words per person.

  9. The National Novel Writing Site recorded 5,384,040 visits in
    November. Want to visit, too? Go to

  10. Where did all these visitors come from? Well, the largest number -- 77,947 -- came from New York.

  11. Google recorded 62,286 "guests" from London.

  12. The city closest to me, Madison, Wisconsin, had 12,650 visitors to the National Novel Writing’s site.

  13. All together, 3,605,003 people in the United States took a gander at and/or participated in NaNoWriMo.

Did you participate? What did you like best about the experience? The least? Please share your experience with me. Thanks.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Indie Publishing: It's All About Control

Ask any author why they chose to go Indie and you'll get a variety of answers.

For some, it's because what they write doesn't fit in the NY box (I'm one of those). They're good writers, but their stories aren't considered marketable by industry standards.

For others, they are traditionally published authors who've gotten their rights back and are re-issuing their back-lists (often with the edits they wish they could've made the first time around), giving old favorites a 2nd life with a new audience.

Then there are those who are all about the money. They're tired of being paid slave wages for their hard work. They'd rather be making 70% on their e-books instead of the industry standard 15-17% traditional publishers offer.

But for many, myself included, it's all about control. Authors are sick and tired of NY telling them what to write. They're frustrated when they want to write a WWII romantic suspense and their editor pats them on the head and says, "No. Go write another Regency historical like a good little author. After all, NY knows best." Or they're angry when they've invested years developing a series with compelling characters and a detailed world only to have NY say they're not interested in publishing the last book. Authors feel helpless because they have no control over their cover design. "Who cares if the model is blonde and your heroine is a brunette? Marketing says blondes sell more books so we're going to use it." Heads up, NY. Readers notice this stuff and often blame the author for it.

So for myself and many other writers out there, going Indie is about taking back control. Writing is a creative process. It shouldn't be restricted by anything but the author's imagination.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why I Finally Bought A Whiteboard and Large Sticky Notes

The lovely Kaye Dacus spoke about story boarding at our Music City Romance Writers meeting a few months ago. Among the cool props she used were large (6X4 inches, approximately) sticky notes and a white board. I was intrigued.

I'm not really a pantser, but I'm also not much of a planner. Let me explain. Once I have a story idea, the next thing I do is choose my hero and heroine. I make a big deal of out naming them, giving them a back story - everything from their favorite color to their most poignant childhood memory. Most of this will never make it into the story, but I feel as if I have to "know" them before I can write them.

Next comes GMC - Goal, Motivation and Conflict. The fabulous Deb Dixon taught me that, and her book is always near me when I write. But beyond that I just write. I guess you could call me a plantster. :)

Because of this, I've written myself into more corners than I care to count. Yes, it's cool when your characters reveal something you didn't know before, or that perfect plot twist comes to you in a flash as you're typing dialogue, but those moments are more rare for me than the corners and moments of now what the heck do I do?

But a white board... and those pretty-colored HUGE Post-It Notes... imagine what I could do with those?

Absolutely essential when one is planning a six book menage series that spans an entire century. Yep. You read that right. I'm so freaking excited about this project it isn't funny, but I also realized there is no flipping way I can "plants" something like this without getting thoroughly lost, changing character names halfway and not realizing I've done so, or screwing up key elements and time lines. I must have a PLAN.

What is it about stores like Office Max or Staples? I get this rush when I walk into one. All those folders, and markers, and labels and printer cartridges, lined up like candy bowls in an old-fashioned drug store. Even the smell makes me hot. I could walk in there with one thing in mind to buy, and I still have to look at everything. I have to touch the giant Post-It Notes and the bubble wrap. Hey, you never know when you'll find the perfect dividers for all those folders you never use anymore since you now store your records on your hard drive.

So... I bought a white board. Right now it has only a few key points on it. Soon it will contain color-coordinated large, LINED Post-It Notes, one color for each specific element in the series that needs to stay consistent. I also have white board markers and a dry eraser. SQUEEE!!!

Tell me how you like to organize your projects, and don't throw that Scrivener thingy at me. :)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Still Time for Harlequin's So You Think You Can Write

This is a repost from Cindi Myers Market News:

All this week Harlequin is holding online workshops in conjuction with its second So You Think You Can Write competition. From November 11 to December 15 you can submit your completed manuscript to the contest. First prize is publication with Harlequin. The winner will be announced March 1, 2012. Even if you don’t plan to enter the contest, the online workshops and bulletin boards have lots of great advice about writing for Harlequin from editors and authors with the line. Check it all out at So You Think You Can Write.

And news from Carina Press:
The Editors at Carina Press recently revealed what they’d especially like to see in their submission in-box:

Rhonda Helms: Steampunk, urban fantasy, gladiators, historicals featuring real historical people

Gina Bernal: military heroes and heroines, romantic adventure — especially pirates, shapeshifters

Melissa Johnson: “deep and difficult conflict” and big stories with series potential

Alison Janssen: space opera, steampunk, redemption stories

Denise Nielsen: gothic suspense, dark characters with secrets

Lynne Anderson: cross-genre, multi-cultural, LGBT

Deb Nemeth: high-stakes thrillers, steampunk, Arthurian fantasy

Elizabeth Bass: historical mysteries, westerns, 20th century historicals

Mallory Braus: a zombie hunter romance, psychics, historical mysteries

Check out all the details here.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Indie Author Spotlight: Time’s Enemy

by Jennette Marie Powell

Book Blurb:

One unwanted gift. One great wrong. One chance to make things right…

Tony Solomon never wanted to be a time traveler. But when a freak accident gifts him with the ability to travel in time, he becomes an unwilling initiate in the Saturn Society, a secret society of time travelers. Determined to prevent his daughter’s murder three years earlier, he violates the Society’s highest law and becomes a fugitive. But the Society refuses to tell Tony how to time-travel within his own life, so he seeks help from Charlotte, the woman whose life he saved during a prior trip to the past.

When Tony arrives in 1933 looking for answers, Charlotte is both thrilled and terrified to see her childhood hero. Loyal to the Society, she is honor-bound to bring to justice those who manipulate time for their own gain. In giving him sanctuary, she faces a terrible choice-condemn the man she loves and to whom she owes her life, or deny her deepest convictions by helping him escape and risk sharing his sentence.

Time travel romance usually goes like this: a man or woman, through some mechanism, magic or device, travels back in time or into the future. Once they get there, they usually stay there for the duration of the book, learning to deal with their new circumstances and falling in love with someone from that time period along the way.

TIME’S ENEMY is not your typical time travel romance. It takes this general premise and gives it a science fiction edge, taking the reader on a page turning journey. Put it this way, if you take THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT, mix in THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE and sprinkle it with SOMEWHERE IN TIME, you’ll get this amazing book.

Time Travel Paradox

Powell uses this principle with deft skill and it’s the thing that makes this story shine. Any change in history, no matter how minor, can have dire consequences in the present/future. Every time Tony goes back in time, he does something (often unintentional) to alter history and when he returns, his present is altered because of it. It’s when he goes back in time to deliberately change the past that the Saturn Society steps in. He broke the rules and he must be stopped. Now he finds himself on the run, in the present and the past.

Not Your Typical Romance

Most romances have the hero and heroine meet within the first couple of chapters of the book. Not so here. The romance between Tony and Charlotte doesn’t even get started until the middle of the book. That’s a long time to wait in romance-land, but experiencing Tony’s journey getting there was well worth it. I love how the author portrays his confusion and desperation when he starts time traveling. He doesn’t understand what’s happening, he’s scared and disoriented, and has no control over where and when he goes (at least in the beginning).

Not Perfect, but Close

As I said before, I thought this was a page turner of a book. But it’s not without its flaws. There are a few points in the middle where the pacing drags in comparison to the fast paced beginning and ending; one chapter makes use of short, choppy scene breaks which bothered me; and the author has an affinity for using parentheses throughout the narrative, which was a bit jarring. I use them a lot myself (as you can tell), just not in my fiction writing. But these flaws were minor, and didn’t diminish the enjoyment of the book.

What Makes This A Perfect Indie Book

I’m pretty sure I know why this book didn’t sell to the NY Big 6. It’s a mix of romance, sci-fi, and paranormal fiction. I’m guessing editors and agents loved it, but just didn’t know how to market it. Like many indie books, this one didn’t fit in the tidy NY box, but it’s definitely one you don’t want to miss.

Learn more about Jennette Marie Powell at

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Finding Ideas in the Everyday

I read a lot. Books, magazines, product descriptions - since I'm also an editor, I can't seem to NOT read. But filling your brain with news and information gives you lots of stuff from which to build a story idea.

For example, I recently read about how lakes in Texas have been shrinking because of the drought conditions they've had. But the interesting part was what could be found UNDER some of the lakes. In one case, Lake Buchanan covered a graveyard connected to a small town, when it was filled in the 1930s. Here's a link to the article, which shows the gravestone of a young boy who died before he turned a year old:

The drought is a pretty ordinary story, but the minute those stones showed up, my mind started plotting up all kinds of ideas. What if the town was slated for flooding because the boy was murdered and the killer wanted to make sure his bones would never see the light of day again? What if his ghost haunted the shoreline near the lake's edge? What if the child died as a result of plans to make the town disappear under the lake, if his parents protested against losing their town and cemetery, if ... I could go on and on.

There are stories every day about mundane things that suddenly take a turn for the weird - or paranormal, as we like to call it. You can find many ideas in just reading a newspaper or taking a tour of the internet to see what's been happening around the country or around the world. It all depends on how you look at things and, as a writer, you should have a unique perspective on all things strange and unusual to be found underneath the simple stories we hear or see every day.

What is it that makes you think 'STORY'? Did the recent re-opening of the investigation into the death of Natalie Wood give you any ideas? Would it help to know she was filming a 'scary' movie with Christopher Walken when she died? Do you know what the movie was about?

Anything that makes you ask questions is good. If you can make your reader ask questions, GREAT! That's where you find your story - something you find interesting and then expand into something even MORE interesting - something that will grab your readers and not let them go until they've finished your story. That's what all writers hope for.

So you know there are millions of ideas out there - go find them and get writing!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Writing Discoveries, Featuring Author Karen McQuestion

Once you’ve been at a job for a while or filled a specific role, you discover tricks of the trade -- things that make your days smoother and easier. It’s the same with writing. After months, a few years or even a couple of novels, you accumulate wisdom and possibly a few short-cuts, too.
I asked a popular author, Karen McQuestion, if she would share some pearls she has learned in her journey to writing success.

For those unfamiliar with Karen, she gives this description of her extraordinary career:
“In 2009, after nearly a decade of trying to get my fiction published, I uploaded my books so they would be available on Amazon’s Kindle. What happened next was astounding! From the start, sales were good and supportive readers gave the books positive recommendations and reviews. As a result, one of my novels, A Scattered Life, was optioned for film in November 2009. And then, just when I thought things couldn't get any better, I got (and accepted!) an offer from Amazon's new publishing division, AmazonEncore, to publish the book in paperback. It came out in August 2010."
Today Karen has five books under the AmazonEncore imprint, two of which will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The bottom line: Thanks to a vivid imagination, she has achieved her lifelong dream of being a well-read author and "couldn’t be happier.”

Here are several insights she’s grateful she discovered along the way.

  1. Not everyone will love my books. In fact, there will ALWAYS be a certain percentage of readers who don’t. Negative reviews used to devastate me ... until I noticed that all of my favorite books had at least a few one and two-star reviews. Once I realized some people out there hated To Kill a Mockingbird, it got easier. My take on it is that I always do my best, which is the only part of writing a novel I can control. Ultimately, people will have their opinions. So be it.

  2. The importance of writer friends. I love all my friends, but writer friends come in handy when I want to talk shop or celebrate something writing-related. When I first started hanging out with other writers, I had this immediate strong feeling that these were My People. Turns out I’m not as weird as I thought, or at least I’m weird in a way that makes sense.

  3. There’s no competition. I can envy another writer for his or her rich use of language, or New York Times bestseller status, but when the day is done, writers are not in competition with each other. Like literary fingerprints, each author writes the book only he or she can write. Besides, there are an unlimited number of slots to be filled and new readers are born every day.

  4. To trust the process. Partway through writing a novel I always reach a point where I feel like I’ve painted myself into a corner and I become convinced there’s no way to get the book to work. It's a scary place to be, considering the time and emotional energy I’ve already sunk into the story. At some point, I realized this is part of my writing process and there’s no need to panic. I still do panic (a little bit), but it’s reassuring to know I’ve worked through this problem before, and I probably can do so again.

  5. That nothing matters except the work. Not the reviews, not the rankings, not the sales. Many deserving books never get their due. There’s a lot of heartbreak out there for writers. If you really love writing, that will carry you through.

  6. Thanks, Karen. ... After reading her "thankful" discoveries, I'll add some of my own. So here goes: Other writers and their writings can inspire you.

  7. Everyone makes mistakes. One editor told me that it takes an average of 16 pairs of eyes to make a manuscript perfect. I totally bought that idea. Now when I miss a comma, I don’t get all that upset.

  8. Although talent’s important, good writing can be learned. James Scott Bell says in his book Plot and Structure, “I wanted new writers to know that they were doomed to stay where they were. [But] they could learn craft… craft can be taught and … you -- with diligence, practice and patience -- can improve your writing.” I believe James Scott Bell, and that gives me hope.

  9. There are lots of good books on writing craft. Jack Bickham’s Scene and Sequence, James Frey’s How to Write a Damn Good Novel, Dwight Swain’s Techniques of a Selling Writer, Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict, Jordan Rosenfeld's Make a Scene and Donald Maass's The Fire in Fiction to name some. Most can be borrowed from public libraries.

  10. Look for others on the same writing path you’re on. It’s fun to write with others and be part of a bigger community, such as the Romance Writing chapters or the National Novel Writing groups. The camaraderie of friends makes even rejections more tolerable.

  11. Good critique partners can improve stories. Writing is communication and one of the best ways to check its effectiveness is asking someone else for an opinion. Look for a critique partner who believes in the stuff you create, but who's also able to give constructive criticism.

  12. What goes around really does come around. Helping others pays off. If you get a chance to volunteer or to do a favor for someone, do it. Soon you may need a blog spot to plug your new release, a person to proofread your manuscript or a friend to take you out for coffee when you receive a thanks-but-not-for-us rejection.

  13. Blogging is fun. Especially when others respond to what you write. I love to hear from you all.
    No doubt you’ve learned much along your way. I'm hoping you’d like to share a gem or two. Karen and I look forward to your comments.
    By the way, Karen has a new release this month -- Secrets of the Magic Ring -- that

I’m betting you’ll enjoy. Here’s a brief blurb:
"Nine-year-old Paul thinks getting a new swimming pool in his backyard is going to be the big excitement of the summer. But when he discovers a peculiar box in the construction hole, his life becomes crazier and more incredible than he ever imagined. It turns out the box contains a magical ring which grants wishes. At first this seems ideal, until he finds out the magic can backfire if the wishes aren’t just right. Before long, Paul is dealing with a mysterious boy who’d like to steal the ring, an annoying talking dog, and an aunt obsessed with swimming. As the wishes spiral out of control, Paul must figure out a way to set it all straight before it’s too late. ..."
Wouldn't you like to

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Finding Inspiration in Chicago

Did you ever visit a city and fall so in love with it you felt like you must have lived there in a past life? Or were simply drawn to some indescribable piece of it? The culture, the smells, a certain park or shopping mall?

I've had a life-long fascination with the city of Chicago, starting when I was very young and we traveled there to visit my maternal grandfather's family. Last month, my husband I took a trip to Chicago for our wedding anniversary. It was the first time we've been anywhere alone together overnight that didn't involve our daughter or a band function, since before she was born. We had a fantastic time!

We stayed at the Hampton Inn and Suites on West Illinois Avenue, right next to a fire station, but that didn't bother us. Being city people at heart, we loved being back in the middle of the hustle and bustle. We took a river cruise, walked about a million miles, shopped, ate too much, and I even had my palm read. By the way, according to the woman who read it, I'm due for that best seller next September. :)

I've set one unfinished contemporary romance manuscript in Chicago, and after visiting the neighborhood where my heroine lives, I have a renewed interest in tackling that project one day. Teresa, the heroine from my latest release, Playing for Keeps, is originally from Chicago, but since Teresa is a demon who's been dead over one hundred and fifty years, the Chicago she remembers is not the current one.

It was interesting to visit the Water Tower because it's one of the few structures that survived the fire of 1871, meaning you won't find many structures in the city older than that, even though Chicago was settled in 1832. Of the structures that survived the fire, most have been torn down and re-built.

What really struck me about the city were its citizens. As we stood on street corners, maps in hand, trying to figure out where Lake Michigan was because we knew then we'd be facing east, total strangers came up to us and asked if they could help. By the end of our few days there I was able to point out a street to a stranger, and it was a neat kind of "pay it forward" feeling to do so.

I love visiting cities, new and old, and it's wonderful to find inspiration in the smallest things. That's what we do as writers, after all.

What cities have you visited where you've found inspiration?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Congratulations, You're Zombnant!

Art imitates life and sometimes, maybe even often times, life imitates art. I’m an enthusiast of zombie art and media, be it film, TV, literature, jewelry, or even zombie hippo throw pillows (it's probably better not to ask). While I enjoy zombies and stories about them, I’ve never actually had aspirations of zombification. I’m more the “survive or die trying” type. Ironic, then, that I’ve finally become what I’ve studied and enjoyed for so long; a zombie.

There are many ways to become a zombie, including nuclear radiation, voodoo ritual, nanobots, rage virus, receiving a bite from a zombie, consuming expired taco meat, and, my personal favorite, spoiled milk.

I took a different path to zombification. I got pregnant.

What? There's nothing wrong with thoroughness. Or denial.
I live in a world of women and popular culture. I've seen Hollywood's depiction of pregnancy. I know women who have been pregnant. I know women who are pregnant. I thought I was prepared (I had both a zombie plan and a baby plan. I was working on a zombie plan for babies). Now I know the truth. There is no such thing as prepared. Within 3 weeks my body turned against me, going from something that functioned more or less as I requested to…something else.

 Not quite.
There we go.
I don’t recall anyone ever mentioning how bone numbingly exhausting the mere act of gestation can be. If the Olympics had a competitive napping category, I would bring the gold home to the good ole U.S. of A, no contest. I now have a profound respect for momma elephants and their 22 month gestational period. 22. Months. Let that sink in for a moment.

So, with the 3 active brain cells I have remaining, here’s the surprising link between pregnancy and zombification in a handy-dandy chart. Spot the differences between the true walking dead and those whose hormones levels are simply making them feel that way. I’m already infected, but perhaps this information can help others create their own (doomed) preparedness plan, or at least spot the signs they or a loved one may be zombnant. 

 Zombie Characteristics:
     - Unquenchable thirst for brains
     - Eyes dull and vacant
     - Skin discolored and decaying
     - Stumbling and sluggish
     - Moaning incoherently
     - High brain functions lost
     - Limited muscle control
     - Known for gathering in shopping malls
     - Uncontrolled rage in the presence of living
        human flesh

Ways to Incapacitate:
     - Double tap
     - Aim for the head

Pregnant Characteristics:
     - Unquenchable thirst for tacos
     - Eyes dull and vacant
     - Skin more blemished than a teenage chocolate
        addict's 2 weeks before prom
     - Stumbling and sluggish
     - Moaning obscenities
     - High brain functions are lost (God help me, I
        came close to chucking at a Two and a Half 
        Men commercial)
     - Limited emotional control
     - Known for gathering in restrooms
     - Uncontrolled rage in the presence of strangers
        trying to pat my stomach
Ways to Incapacitate:
     - Double fudge ice cream. With potato chips.  
     - Aim for ankles. Seriously, if I go down I'm not
        getting back up.

Have you suffered from zombancy? Did you experience symptoms similar to the standard zombie characteristics described above, or symptoms not yet touched upon?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Like Vampires? Check out SAINT SANGUINUS

Did vampires exist before Dracula? What were they like? Did they venture into the sun? Did they suck blood?

Julia Smith has written a fascinating book SAINT SANGUINUS that answers these questions and more. Her vampires exist around the year 577.

Julie is a multitalented person. Among other things, she has a film degree from Ryerson University in Toronto. She writes and directs book trailers, documentaries and a radio series. She’s also edited a promotional video, stage managed 'The Children's Hour' at The Pond Playhouse in Halifax, and been an assistant director for 'Dracula' at Seaweed Theatre in Halifax.

I know Julia from her first rate blog which lately has featured vampires.

Thanks for hosting me today at The Otherworld Diner. I’ve been a visitor for several years, now, and always enjoy the cherry pie.

To celebrate tomorrow’s release of my ebook SAINT SANGUINUS through Amazon Kindle, here are thirteen things about the time period in which my Dark Age vampire superhero origin story is set:

1 – SAINT SANGUINUS takes place 160 years following the retreat of Rome from British territories.
With no occupying military force in place, the simmering power plays between tribes had risen to shape daily life in 577, the year in which my story takes place.
This time period has attracted me since childhood. I found myself mesmerized by the exact same fluctuations following the collapse of the Soviet Union in eastern Europe. When there is no iron fist holding down the locals, the power vacuum must be filled—and it takes no time for the jockeying to start.
2 – Tribal power structure was based upon mini kingdoms. The main kingdom established by Cunedda or Cunedag in the area in which the novel takes place was subdivided among his sons, resulting in nine mini kingdoms. The weakening of centralized power by subdividing these lands made the west coastal region of Gwenydd ripe for plunder by the advancing Anglo Saxons.
3 – The tribes that made up Wales in the 6th century were part of a larger cultural group known as Britons.
In Peredur’s western coastal region, the Ordovices and Gangani tribes inhabited the area where the story takes place. Both peoples were known as fighters.
One of the brethren is a Brigante, the broader group of tribes claiming what is now known as northern England.
Another is referred to in the story as a Pict, although that is for modern convention, as no one ever referred to himself as a Pict during the 6th century. ‘Pechts’, however, was the Old Scottish term for the unconquered people living far beyond Hadrian’s Wall.
4 – Irish raiders plundered Welsh coastal settlements for slaves in the 6th century. In a few more centuries, Viking raiders made regular stops in Dublin which had become a centralized hub of slave trading, moving captured villagers from Britain to Scandinavia.
These are the raiders which Peredur and his war band go off to fight at the beginning of the book.
5 – Tribal fighting was a way of life. They loved to make war upon an enemy and much of their culture was devoted to fighting. They decorated their weapons lovingly, and collected trophy heads as an expression of ritualized violence and prestige.
Unfortunately, this lust for war prevented any sort of cohesive desire for presenting a unified front to a larger enemy like the Saxon invaders.
6 – Although modern assumptions of this time period tends to imagine an extremely primitive existence, because of the prior Roman occupation, there were many holdover traditions borrowed from the absent conquerors. This included the appetite for traded goods from far-off places.
Archeological finds during the 1980s revealed red roof tiles on buildings that had been concealed by later renovations upon various British market sites. The current British road system is often simply overlaid upon the original routes laid out by Roman engineers.
Besides the carry-over of Iron Age subsistence farming, hunting and fishing, Peredur’s world would have included markets that featured imported goods from Europe, a coin system as well as barter, and artisan production in metal, leather and jewelry.
7 – Celtic tribes owned their clan lands as a communal enterprise. A leader’s wealth was measured not by land ownership but by the size of his cattle or sheep herd. Tanwen’s father is the recognized chief both by demonstrated fighting skills and his sheep herd.
8 – Clothing worn at this time was simple long robes for women, and tunics and leggings for men, along with cloaks against the cold and damp.
Woven wool and linen, dyed in simple neutrals, browns, reds, greens and blues would be combined with leather and ornamental metals. Fur for warmth and decoration was also highly prized, as were feathers.
9 – The most common foods which Peredur and Tanwen would have eaten were grain porridge, bread, salted meat, bean, milk, some raised vegetables such as cabbage, and stew. Fresh roasted meat was generally only eaten during celebrations or feasts.
10 – Peredur’s people worshipped Cernunnos the stag-horned god representing male energy, and Epona, the female horse goddess. They also venerated various healing deities located in holy springs or wells, rivers, lakes and the sea.
The Arthurian figure known as the Lady of the Lake who is the keeper of Excalibur is a well-known example of this sort of minor goddess.
11 – The early Welsh believed that rowan trees held mystical properties offering protection against dark forces.
Known as the traveler’s tree because it acted as such a distinct landmark, the rowan makes a significant though unheralded appearance in SAINT SANGUINUS as Peredur is tied to one of these trees in order to better navigate a trial that takes him to uncharted internal landscapes.
12 – The Celtic harvest festival of Sanhaim, where they marked the passing of the world into its darker half, also celebrated a festival of the dead. While honoring their deceased ancestors, the Celts also protected themselves from evil influences by trying to trick these darker spirits through masks and costumes.
They also reinforced their clan ties by lighting a bonfire, extinguishing all family fires and then relighting their hearth fires from the communal bonfire.
13 – Peredur’s fellow villager Cavan is the son of the wise woman, the healer of the clan. She would have performed all of the duties we now associate with the medical health profession, using the herbal remedies available to her, as well as cultural belief rituals.
However, these wise women were most often shunned as supernatural beings, and later hunted, tortured and put to death as witches. The very faith which the local population held in her healing powers also made them fear her enough to insist that she live on the margins of their society.

We hope you've enjoyed learning about life in 577. To find out more please visit Julia at or leave your question in the comments. As always, we look forward to hearing from you.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Indie Publishing: Let's Talk Money

If you’re involved in indie publishing, you’ve probably heard the names Amanda Hocking and John Locke bandied about. They’re the super stars in the biz, making a million or more on their self-published books. Every indie author wants that kind of success, but unfortunately only a few will even come close. On the other end of the spectrum, for those of us who belong to RWA, we all know the magic price tag to get into PAN (the Published Authors Network) is $1,000 in advance and/or royalties on a single “eligible” novel or novella. That’s a pitifully low amount but the sad truth is many authors published with “eligible” electronic or small presses don’t even make that. So, let’s talk money. Just how much are indie authors making these days? Below, you’ll find a few authors who’ve graciously posted their sales and earnings on their web sites or blogs.

To the best of my knowledge, none of these numbers include any free downloads.

Norah Wilson
August 2010 – March 2011 (4 books) $1048
April – July 2011 (9 books) $2522
Total for 1 year = $3570

Cate Rowan
Aug 2010-April 2011 (2 books) $8300

D.D. Scott
16,653 sales (8 books) at $0.99 x 35% = $5829*
(*This amount is just a guess on my part since she didn’t post dollar amounts, just sales numbers. Right now, most of Ms. Scott’s books are priced at $0.99. However, one is currently free while 2 are priced at $2.99 so this figure might be a bit off.)

Debra Holland
May (2 books) $377
June (2 books) $2133
July (2 books) $5234
August (4 books) $6272
September (4 books) $5021
Total for 5 months = $19,037

Theresa Ragan is probably the most successful of them all (that I know of). I bow down at this woman’s feet.
Books sold between March and October 2011: 122,611
95,155 books sold at $2.99 x 70% = $198,874
27,456 books sold at $0.99 x 35% = $9,610

If I did the math right, Ms. Ragan has made $208,484 in 8 months with 5 books. Amazing. She has never been traditionally published. She didn’t have a fan base or backlist to help boost her sales, but she’s making more money than most e-pubbed authors I know and I’ll warrant more than many midlist NY pubbed authors. Even though she’s qualified for PAN 300 times over, she isn’t eligible because she self-published. She can’t enter the RITA either. Something’s wrong with that right there. But for me, is being in PAN or eligible to enter the RITA that important? It used to be, but not anymore. Outside of RWA, not many people know or care if an author is in PAN or has won a RITA. Readers just want to read a good book and quite frankly, I’d rather take the money than a shiny gold statue any day.

So, do all indie authors make this kind of money? No. I’m sure Ms. Ragan promoted her booty off to get those sales. And just like many traditionally published authors, most indie authors aren’t going to be able to quit their day jobs. I’ve heard it said more than once: indie publishing is a marathon, not a race. The trick is to not get discouraged when you’re not raking in the big bucks right off the bat. Sales build more sales. Readers follow authors who consistently write good books. Polish your book until it shines, have it professionally edited, design a kick-ass cover, put it up for sale, and then do it all again.

* UPDATE * I found 2 other authors (Trish McCallan and Jolyn Palliata) who are posting details on their indie sales. I won't post the actual numbers here, but you can see them on their blog, Total Transparency Self-Publishing.

* UPDATE #2* I did do the math wrong for both D.D. Scott and Theresa Ragan. I forgot to take into account the Amazon 35% royalty rate for $0.99 books and 70% for $2.99 books and over. The earnings have now been adjusted accordingly.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

Hope everyone is having a fun, spook-filled Halloween. Not so much for me here. Oh, I'm not one of those unfortunate folks up north with 2 feet of snow and no power on their hands. Those poor kids have got to be so bumbed to be snowbound on Halloween. No, in my neck of the woods it's just cold and rainy. Makes for not so many trick or treaters tonight to gobble down all the candy I bought. Maybe if I bring the leftovers into the diner, we can bake it into pies. Anybody got a good recipe for Milk Dud pie or Reese Cup cake?

Wishing you all a Happy Halloween from the gals at the Otherworld Diner.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Spine-Tingling Lines--Guess what movie they're from. I dare you.

Do you like to be scared?
I do. At least when it comes to Horror Flicks. I watch them all: zombies, aliens, vampires, spirits, slashers—even crazed dolls.

On the theory that you might too and that you like to play games, I’ve listed 13 of my favorite spooky lines. Can you guess what movie they’ve come from? (Feel free to check out my sources for hints.)

1. A boy’s best friend is his mother.
2. I’ve seen enough horror movies to know that any weirdo wearing a mask is never friendly.
3. Be afraid….Be very afraid.
4. They’re Heee-re.
5. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.
6. Oh, yes, there will be blood!
7. Ray, when someone asks you if you’re a god, you say, “Yes”!
8. We have to convince the little housewife out there that the tomato that ate the family pet is not dangerous!
9. He-e-e-e-e-re’s Johnnie!
10. Good, bad, I’m the one with the gun. Come git some!
11. I see dead people.
12. Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep.
13. In those moments where you're not quite sure if the undead are really dead, dead, don't get all stingy with your bullets. I mean, one more clean shot to the head, and this lady could have avoided becoming a human Happy Meal. Woulda... coulda... shoulda.

Leave your guesses in the comments. I’ll check back and let you know if you’re correct. Then at the end of the day, I’ll post the answers. Thanks for playing.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Indie Author Spotlight: Kismet’s Kiss

by Cate Rowan

I’ve been doing the ‘IT’ Factor posts for over 18 months now. In the process, I’ve discovered some real gems from traditional publishers and some, well, they ended up being little more than cheap paste IMO. Now that I’m venturing down the Indie road, I feel it’s only right to take a slight detour and start reviewing some of the Indie gems out there. You know, the ones that NY in all their brilliant wisdom *cough cough* let get away. If you’re a reader of Indie books, you know by now that some are great finds while others were obviously slapped up by writers who still have quite a bit more growing to do. Even though most Indie books are much cheaper than their traditionally published cousins, it still bites to spend money on a crappy book. So from now on, I’m going to dedicate this monthly column to helping you find the diamonds in the pile of cubic zirconia.

Book Blurb:

In the desert realm of Kad, a deadly epidemic strikes the palace of Sultan Kuramos. Only a magical healer from an enemy land has the skill to save his royal household, but Kuramos never imagined the healer would be a woman.

Healer Varene finds her own surprises in Kad. She expects the sultan’s arrogance, but not his courage or his selfless care of the ill—or the possibility that the epidemic is the curse of a vengeful goddess.

Kuramos’s culture condemns Varene’s mystical talents. Her presence triggers an insurrection, yet as he and the healer toil for a cure, he loses his heart to her. She falls for him as well, but how can she relinquish her homeland and her principles—especially when he already has a harem and his family may be cursed?

KISMET’S KISS is the sequel to THE SOURCE OF MAGIC (which is a good book too). Ms. Rowan published KISS first, so I read it first. While both books take place in the same magical realm and involve some of the same characters, they each stand on their own.

Sexual Chemistry:
The first time they meet, Varene and Kuramos are instantly attracted to each other, whether they want to be or not. However, there are major hurdles in their way. In the beginning, Kuramos is appalled that he must rely on a infidel woman and her magic to save his family. He is chauvinistic and, along with just about everyone else in his kingdom, he treats her with arrogance and distain. Varene is used to being treated as an equal, as an intelligent woman and a gifted healer. They are constantly butting heads until she shows him the error of his ways. However there’s still another teensy, weensy problem…

Kuramos has 6 wives already. Count ‘em, 6! That’s unheard of in traditional romance publishing. The golden rule handed down from NY is the hero must be single (either a bachelor, widower, or divorced) and – heaven forbid -- he cannot even think of sleeping with someone else once he’s laid eyes on the heroine. I couldn’t wait to see how Rowan was going to write her way out of that one. (She does! And no, she doesn't kill off all the wives.)

Both Kuramos and Varene have them and Rowan does an excellent job of sprinkling clues throughout the story. There’s also court intrigue afoot and the cause of the strange illness afflicting Kuramos’s royal house. Is it a curse or something else? Usually I can figure these things out early on but the author kept me guessing until the end.

Gunjan, the talking bird, is a riot!

What makes this book standout:
This book was a 2007 and 2009 Romance Writers of America Golden Heart® Finalist. It is also the first Indie book I ever read. When I saw the quality of the writing and the originality of the storyline, I had to wonder how on earth this book never sold. Actually, I do know. Ms. Rowan is a rule breaker. She writes stories that don’t fit into the NY box and they’re all the better for it.

Learn more about Cate Rowan at

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Today's Special

The pie of the day is cherry, and the coffee and tea are ready. I hope you're all out there doing what needs to be done - as I have been in the past month. Again, I apologize for being gone so much - it's been a tough year.

It's October, which means Halloween is just around the corner and tales of ghosts and goblins, witches and wizards, hellcats and hexes roam the internet looking for a home. Where would be a better place to hear about such things than here at the Otherworld Diner.

I'm hoping you'll share with us your recent writings, readings or findings in the field of the paranormal, supernatural or just plain weird, or tell us a ghost story of your own.

When I was young, my sister swore the boogeyman lived in our attic, and I was always afraid to go up the stairs into the shadows where a single lightbulb swung on its chain, waiting to go out with the slightest breath. I knew there was something lurking up there, something dark and evil, waiting... always waiting. I stayed in that house alone a few times as a teen, and the scary noises from the attic always kept me next to the phone, fingers trembling and a flashlight nearby, just in case. Call me paranoid, but I'd seen and heard too many things not to have a vivid imagination.

So tell me ... what scares you?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

October musings

While trying to think of something to write for today's post I realized we're nearly halfway done with my favorite month, so why not tell you all why it's my favorite month?

Okay... my birthday is this month, so that's reason number one. No, I'm not one of those women who hates birthdays. Hey, I've earned every not-quite-my-natural-hair-color hair on my head, okay? I don't have wrinkles so we won't discuss them. :)

It's also the month in which I was married. David and I were married on October 15, 23 years ago. We lived in Ohio then and had this unofficial holiday called Sweetest Day. It just happened to fall on our wedding anniversary that year. I was surprised to find out they didn't celebrate it everywhere, even if it is a Valentine's Day knock-off and a chance for greeting card companies to make more money. :) That October up north was a cold, blustery one, but on our wedding day we had sunshine.

And then of course there's Halloween, my second-favorite holiday. How can you not love a day when you get to dress up and people just give you candy?? When we lived in Ohio we'd decorate our house and yard, complete with dummies, scary music, and strobe lights. The last year we were there we went a bit overboard and people were actually afraid to come inside. But they did come - from outside the subdivision, even. Our house was sort of a legend in that small town.

My daughter's freshman year in high school was the last year we were there, and she was in marching band. We let her have a band Halloween party, and of course we made sure it was overdone. We decorated the basement with spooky things, filled the laundry room sink with ice and soft drinks, had movies like The Shining and Halloween playing upstairs, and kept the kids supplied with pizza. That's really all it was, and yet we had kids coming from other parties to the band party because they'd heard about Nicole's! She keeps in touch with a few friends from that town and they still talk about that party. 

Halloween isn't quite the same here in Tennessee. We tried a couple of times to decorate the yard, but it didn't go over as well. Still, I love October. Although we don't have those crisp fall nights or wicked cold winds toward the end of the month here, the trees are starting to turn golden and red - well, the maples turn red, at least. The days are steadily growing cooler, and there's a really neat Halloween store in town. I'm looking forward to having the A/C off soon, and hubby and I are going to out of town for a few days for our anniversary. We haven't been anywhere by ourselves in a long time.

Tell me what you like - or don't like about October ...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Look Inside: Entangled Publishing

Ever wonder what it’s like to be published—to see your stories in print?

Rachel Firasek, whose recently published novel Piper’s Fury has made her an EPPIE finalist, has agreed to answer my questions about publishing and she may drop by to answer yours.

1. How did you get started as a writer?
I’ve almost always been a writer. In junior high I helped with the school newspaper and had my first publication with poetry. In high school, I did some extra reports on the sly, lol. But, three years ago, my husband took a position as a contract laborer in Kuwait. I had a lot of time on my hands. A lot of lonely, cold time. Writing filled that time and writing romance made me feel a little closer to him.

2. Why did you decide to send your novella The Last Rising to Entangled Publishing?
Heather Howland was the editor for Piper’s Fury and I adored her. When I found out she was leaving and heading on to Entangled, I knew that I wanted to work with her again and I really liked the platform for Entangled Publishing. Also, Liz Pelletier managed to turn Savvy Authors into an amazing tool during her first year. Anytime you can build a community for authors that quickly, you’re doing something right. I want to work with and be surrounded by those kind of people. I’m a forward thinking woman and in this unsteady world of publishing, I wanted to hook up with the press that had a bigger vision.

3. Getting the call is the moment many unpublished authors fantasize about, that moment authors here that a publisher wants her work. Can you describe your experience?
Hmmm… each one has been different. Piper’s Fury was my debut and will always be a little more special. You never quite capture that first one twice. But, that’s not to say that if I ever land an agent and make a break into NY that I won’t hop up and down. When Entangled requested my Curse of the Pheonix series, I was so honored that they wanted me. Have you seen some of the authors over there? They are absolutely amazing and that is when you get the new set of nerves--the “how am I going to keep up” nerves. Lol.

4. How long was it from the initial publisher’s request to seeing your manuscript in published form?
Well, that differs with each press. The Last Rising was contracted in late April and Published in September. Piper’s Fury was contracted in October 2010 and published March 2011. Most of them have been in the six month range, but as more authors submit and publishers take on more works, I think we’ll see the production pushed out. JMO.

5. What steps were involved to take your manuscript from a submission to a published novel?
Holy cow. Well, with Entangled Publishing it has been like this: sign contract and send it in. About a week will pass and you’ll get all kind of logins, more papers to fill out and some other basic upkeep. You’ll go through at least three passes of revisions and then on to copyedits and maybe a few other touch up passes. If your deadline is out far enough, you may have some time in between. It’s all pretty hectic. And then you go straight into marketing.

6. What surprised you most about being published?
I think it’s been the response. I’m a little nobody from Waco, TX. Seriously, why would people want to talk to me, interview me, or even read my books. But, I love it even if I don’t understand it. Please keep contacting me and reading. I love you guys!

7. What advise would you give other unpublished authors who hope to interest your publishing house in their manuscript?
Be original and come with your “A” game. Have betas and cps read for you. Find a mentor and have them help you improve to the next level. Entangled Publishing is not your average publishing house and they are looking for a way to break molds but still apply to the mass public. It’s kind of my fave thing about them.

8. What reasons would you give an unpublished author for sending his or her manuscript to Entangled Publishing? What do you particularly like about your publishers?
I think I answered most of this above, but the biggest thing I love about them is the communication. This is my third publishing house to work with and by far it has been the most informative. I’ve learned so much from this press. And when we have a question, if the publisher, marketing director or our editor doesn’t know the answer, they find it for us. It’s truly amazing.

9. How has your life changed since being published?
I don’t sleep. Nocturnal took on a whole new meaning in my house. Lol.

10. Typically, how long does it take you to write a book? What’s your writing schedule?
I can push out 30K in a month when I’m hot on a story. Sometimes even more. It just really depends on how much a story means to me.

11. How do you get ideas for your stories?
Well, Piper’s Fury started out as a Graphic Novel. Lol. Straight X-Men-ish and latex jumpsuits. But, it wasn’t working. So four re-writes later and we had Piper. I wrote a short erotica for Whiskey Creek Press after witnessing an accident on the interstate. Men in blue looked really hot at 70 miles an hour. The Last Rising was inspired from the thunderstorm that hit Orlando, FL after the RWA National Conference in 2010. Read the book, and you’ll know why.

12. What excites you about your current work in progress?
I’m working on a YA. I’ve never written in this genre and the fresh voice is a comfort and a great break from the world of PR. Oh, and it has shifters which I hear are not that hot in YA anymore, but I’m going to make it work. I have faith. ;)

13. Could you share an excerpt from your book/s?
“Why is it I can’t get you out of my mind? You say we haven’t met, but my dreams remember you.”

Oh yeah, he’d dreamt of a woman for months now. She resembled his dream woman in so many ways, but he’d never seen his fantasy lover’s face.
She struggled against his clutch. “Mr. Alcott, I assure you we haven’t met. And for your other question, I don’t know why, but you need to release me.”
Why did that quivering bottom lip make him suspect she was lying? Turner rested his forehead against the top of hers and sucked in her scent. “Please, tell me I’m not losing my mind. Tell me you don’t visit me every night and I’ll promise to leave you alone. I just need to know.”
He sounded like a crazy man but she had to tell him. She was the only one who could put a stop to his mind’s constant fantasizing, and this feeling of déjà vu every time he saw her.
Ice wriggled in his arms, her thighs chafing against his slacks. “Mr. Alcott, you need to let me go.” She glanced around his shoulder. “Brodie is probably staring out that glass window and I would hate for him to get the wrong impression.”
She was right. He needed to get ahold of himself, but he didn’t have the strength to walk away. His hands traveled up and over her shoulders, stalling on her neck. Brushing his thumbs against her jaw, he pressed her head back and stared into hard eyes—no emotion. Couldn’t she see the battle he fought?
He teased the corner of her mouth with his thumb and her breathy gasp pleased him. So, she wasn’t completely immune to him. He dropped his head until his mouth hovered over hers.
“Mr. Alcott—”
“Shhh. I just need a taste of the sunshine.”

14. Where can readers find you on the web? (Twitter, blog, facebook, website)?

All of my links can be found at I’m on twitter by @RachelFirasek

Thank you for having me on the blog today. I look forward to answer any questions your guests have.

We hope you’ve found Rachel’s interview interesting. We appreciate your questions or comments.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Indie-Publishing: Who Are the New Gatekeepers?

If you’ve been around the romance business long enough, you’ve heard the term ‘Gatekeepers’ associated with agents and the Big 6, those mega corporations with publishing houses such as Avon, Berkley, St. Martins and Harlequin to name a few. These are the people standing between the unpublished writer and the reader.

The Agent Gatekeeper

The first obstacle in a writer’s path is the Agent Gatekeeper. Most of the NY Big 6 editors won’t even look at a manuscript from an author unless it’s handed to them dipped in Godiva chocolate and wrapped in gold by a literary agent. There are about 200 agents out there who handle romance, but most of them are overloaded and only taking on new clients if the author is previously published (with a stellar track record and an existing fan base) or they have something that’s uber hot for the moment and an easy sell. As the old saying goes, all the good ones are taken. But if you can snag one of them, you're still not in because there’s yet another gate to unlock . . .

The Editor Gatekeeper

I mentioned the Big 6 earlier. Under those 6 mega corporations, there are 13 major imprints that publish romance. Harlequin has imprints within imprints for all their series books, but the trick here is each line is so specific in how its books have to be written, that if that book doesn’t sell to that line, it’s next to impossible to sell it somewhere else. So let’s talk about those other 12 romance publishers. Each has a romance department with acquiring editors. I went to the RWA website to see just how many there are.

Avon – 8 editors
Ballantine/Bantam Dell – 5 editors
Berkley – 4 editors
HQN – 1 editor
Luna – 1 editor
Mira – 7 editors
Kensington – 7 editors
NAL – 6 editors
Sourcebooks – 2 editors
St. Martins – 3 editors
Pocket – 4 editors
TOR – 1 editor

Not counting Harlequin, which averages 3 editors per series line, you’ll see that there are 49 editors who acquire single title romance. Forty-nine people sitting in an office in NY determining which books out of the hundreds if not thousands written and submitted each year will make it onto the shelves for the entire romance reading public to buy. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think those are very good odds. If your manuscript doesn’t land on the right editor’s desk, the one who will fall in love with your voice and buy you, then too bad, so sad. Each person has their own personal tastes, their likes and dislikes. I know I have some authors who are Auto-buys and Keepers, while others are so-so or wall-bangers. But you know what? Those books that are so-so or wall-banging material for me might be someone else’s Keeper. And if I were an editor in NY, I might be the very gatekeeper preventing you from finding that book just because it doesn’t float my boat. Scary thought, isn’t it?

The New Gatekeepers

The good news is that with the surge of Indie Publishing, a new Gatekeeper has come on the scene and their voices are being heard. It’s the reader. Now there’s more choice than ever for the ravenous romance reader to choose from. Sure, there’s plenty of books that are getting slapped up on Amazon with crappy covers and shoddy editing, but as the saying goes, the cream rises to the top. There are some stellar books out there that got passed over because some agent had a full client list or an editor wasn’t in the mood for a light paranormal set in WWII Pompeii. But the new Gatekeepers are finding them. They’re letting it be known what stories they want, which authors they love, and who’s putting out the good books. I say it’s about time the power was given back to the people we write our stories for. Hurray for the New Gatekeepers!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Drive-by Oneings

A site which shall go unnamed, and which has zero moderation, allows registered users to leave rankings on books, whether they've actually read them or not, and without leaving a review or anything even closely resembling constructive criticism. The most heinous crime that results in such unrestrained freedom is one that makes authors shudder at the very name. Drive-by Oneings. That's right folks. It's happening right here in our safe little world.

In case you've been living under a rock and have no idea what this horrible epidemic is all about, I'll clue you in. But beware...this is not for the faint of heart. In fact, I hereby state that I will not be responsible for the consequences of you reading the rest of this post. Here's how it's done. Bear in mind I braved torture to obtain this information...

You register on the site, usually under a name no one recognizes. The site even allows you to make your profile private so no one can obtain clues to your true identity. Then you stalk your victims. No one knows for sure how or why victims are chosen. Some believe it's excessive use of certain words in their books, or the color of the clothing worn by the models on the cover art. But one thing is certain...once an author has been the victim of a Drive-by Oneing, they're never safe again.

The perpetrator selects all the books of their intended victim and ranks them with ONE STAR. One lonely little star that sends the author's overall ranking plummeting to the basement, and is on the site forever and ever, for the entire world to see. And, as if this weren't bad enough, the perp doesn't leave a comment. Not even one. The victim has no idea what she did to deserve the Oneing, if the perp actually read her books and just hated them, or if she was chosen for another reason. This is a random, senseless crime which often leaves its victims bewildered and depressed for years, unable to finish another manuscript, and questioning everything they write from that point forward.

Each year dozens of writers are affected by this crime, yet often it goes unrecognized. If the author speaks out publicly, she's told to "suck it up" or "that's just how it goes." We're in desperate need of a national support group for this silent yet deadly crime. At the very least I think we should try to raise awareness by way of infomercials, or perhaps a spot on a national talk show. How about Jerry or Maury? Surely they would understand this depravity and welcome the chance to bring it to the homes of millions of viewers.

Have you been the recent victim of a Drive-by Oneing? I urge you to seek professional help. At the very least you should let a trusted friend know you've been a victim. Write your Congressperson. Or better yet, contact Rosie O'Donnell. I hear Oprah's given her a show again on the new Oprah network.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

I don't know what to do

Two weeks ago, I posted an apology for my absence lately. It seems the world was not done kicking my butt, because my husband of 49 passed away very unexpectedly and suddenly this past Monday. The funeral was yesterday and I am so lost and numb and angry (a long story about his ex-wife) I don't know what to do anymore. I came here because at least I knew I had an appointment, as such, to pass on information or encouragement or laughter to those of you who read here. I'm sorry to say I will fail miserably tonight.

Please know I will pick myself up and do better in the future, although I don't know how long this will take, but know in my heart I am still a writer, as I trust you are. I just may not be a practicing writer for a bit because there are too many pieces to pick up.

I'm so sorry to bring you down, but wanted to share this news with people I've come to know and love.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Apple Facts that Might Surprise You

Summer’s over and one thing I’ve been waiting for has happened. Newly picked apples are appearing in roadside stands and in the produce section of the grocery store. I had my choice of tart granny smiths, handsome golden delicious and crisp galas last time I shopped.

In celebration of the apple, which Henry David Thoreau called the noblest of fruits, I’d like to share these thirteen facts.

1. Pomology is the study of apples.
2. Apples are originally from an area between the Caspian and the Black Sea in Asia. The crabapple is the only apple that is actually native to North America.
3. About 2,500 different varieties of apples are grown in the United States.
4. All fifty states in the U. S. grow apples, but the states that grow the most apples are: Washington, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, California and Virginia.
5. It takes four or five years before an apple tree produces fruit.
6. According to the University of Illinois Extension’s Apple Facts, “It takes the energy of 50 leaves to produce one apple.”
7. What apple variety is grown the most in the United States? Red Delicious. In 2005 farmers harvested 62 million bushels.
8. An average apple is about 80 calories.
9. The U. S. Apple Association reports that, “In 2008, the average U.S. consumer ate an estimated 16.4 pounds of fresh-market apples and 33.3 pounds of processed apples, for a total of 49.8 pounds of fresh apples and processed apple products.”
10. An average apple has five grams of fiber pectin.
11. Fiber pectin can help lower LDL or bad cholesterol.
12. Apples really are good for you and they might even help you lose weight. Researchers at the University of Rio de Janeiro found that women who eat three apples or pears a day lost more weight than women who didn’t.
13. In addition to helping you lower your cholesterol and weight, scientists at Cornell University theorize that apples may inhibit the growth of colon, breast and liver cancer cells.
An apple a day really might keep the doctor away and all this blogging about apples has fired up my craving for the fruit. I’m going to grab one of the galas. I like them the best. Do like apples? What’s your favorite variety?


Monday, September 19, 2011

The ‘IT’ Factor – Debut Author Jean Murray

Soul Reborn
Crescent Moon Press
April 2011

Book Blurb:
Asar, the Egyptian God of the Underworld, has been tortured and left soulless by a malevolent goddess, relegating him to consume the very thing he was commissioned to protect. Human souls. Now an empty shell of hatred, Asar vows to kill the goddess and anyone involved in her release, but fate crosses his path with a beautiful blonde huntress who has a soul too sweet to ignore.

Lilly, fearless commander of the Nehebkau huntresses, is the only thing standing in the way of the goddess' undead army unleashing hell on earth. But Lilly has a secret—one she is willing to sell her soul to keep. If the Underworld god discovers her role in the dig that released the goddess, she will lose everything, including his heart.

For this week’s blog, I downloaded samples of four debut books. SOUL REBORN was the first one I read and it grabbed me from the get go. But to be fair, I read the other three too before making my selection. The second one was pretty good but after a little sleuthing I discovered it was written by an established author’s third alter ego. I really hate when they label a book as debut when an author assumes a new pen name. Anyway, the other two didn’t hold my interest so I went back to the first one.

The Opening Chapters:
The author starts off with the hunt (or chase, if you prefer) of the hero after the heroine before he knows who or what she is. It was dark, action-packed and laced with sexual tension. It was a real page-turner and I couldn't wait to read more.

The Mythos:
I loved how the author combined zombies, warrior demi-goddesses and Egyptian mythology for her playground in this series. I’m not familiar with all the mythology behind it and it was interesting to see the power plays going on between them. I’m sure the powers that be at the big NY publishing houses all turned this down because it treaded into ‘unmarketable’ territory. Their loss. That’s one of the things that made this book a refreshing change from the same old, same old.

The Romance:
Here’s where the author lost me. This is a pet peeve of mine, but I can’t stand it when the characters profess their undying love for one another after they’ve only known each other for a few days. Hot and horny and ready to jump each other’s bones, yes. Commitment for all eternity together (and eternity with an immortal god is a verrrry long time), um no. I love the chase. The pursuit. The hunt. And after reading the opening chapters, I was hoping to have a lot more of this. But Lilly, for all the kickass heroine that she is, turned into a submissive marshmallow during their first encounter. She toughens up again later, but it was too late and ruined her character for me.

Grammar and Editing:
I don’t claim to be a grammar queen in any way, shape or form. That’s why I’ve hired an independent editor to go over my manuscripts before I indie publish them. No book is ever perfect, however I felt this one needed another run-through by the editing department. Every few pages there were either missing words and/or misplaced commas, which unfortunately jerked me out of the story every time I ran across one. If this is something that bothers you, consider yourself warned.

The ‘IT’ Factor:
The first quarter of this book is fast paced, action-packed, and filled with sexual tension. This is what probably grabbed the editor’s attention. Throw in the interesting mix of Egyptian gods and zombies, and the author had something unique on her hands. If the romance hadn’t been rushed and the editing had been a bit better, this could have been a stellar book for me. Hopefully Murray will hone her skills on the next books in the series.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ghost Hunting

One need only flip through the TV channels to find dozens of shows featuring paranormal investigators, or shows that claim to have actual footage from witnessed paranormal activity. Ghost hunting is nothing new among humans. Even the Bible mentions ghosts. But are they real? Can people really come back from the dead to move our furniture around, speak to us, or even - as a few believe - possess us from beyond the grave? Do we actually leave this plane at all when we die?

The fact we have two thousand years of stories claiming everything from hauntings to possessions should be evidence enough of a life beyond our mere physical beings. So why then do we not all believe in ghosts?

The loss of a loved one produces terrible grief. It's only natural to want to speak to that person after they die, and there are plenty of psychics and mediums out there who will take your money in exchange for promises of sessions where we can communicate with our dearly departed. But is it real, or are these people merely preying on the raw emotions of a grieving spouse, parent or daughter?

And what about shows like Ghost Hunters, the product of TAPS - The Atlantic Paranormal Society - whose investigators use the most scientific methods available, and who actually try to debunk the claims of shadows, strange lights, and sounds that go bump in the night? Certainly, reading their website one finds they err on the side of caution first. Unlike other shows, where every floating piece of dust caught in the beam of an infrared camera is labeled a "ghost," and where the narration sounds more like a melodrama than a serious investigative show, GH does lend an air of authority and scientific methodology to their investigations. And unless one completely dismisses their EVPs and video evidence as "fake," they have caught some truly bizarre things over the seasons.

So what's going on? It is all a trick? Are Satan and his imps having a bit of sport with us mere mortals? Can dead people really communicate with us? And why some but not all? How do they do it? Can they see and hear us, or are the sights and sounds caught with equipment merely residual energy?

There are as many theories as there are depictions of ghosts or spirits in our books and other media. We even have friendly ghosts - Casper - for example. My personal favorites are the ghosts in Dickens' A Christmas Carol

One theory suggests ghosts are merely the earthbound spirits of the departed dead. Some people are more sensitive to their presence than others, and animals and small children are especially sensitive. Another suggests they are merely trapped energy, and so play out a scene from their lives over and over, like a rewound tape. A third theory is that spirits are created out of magnetic or electrical energy.

One interesting theory holds that ghosts aren't dead, but rather actual live beings living in a parallel dimension. Still another holds that ghosts are nothing more than products of our fertile imaginations.

What do you think? What's your theory, or are you a non-believer? Do you have any stories you'd like to share?