Monday, January 31, 2011

The ‘IT’ Factor – The Contest Entrant

I’ve been doing the ‘IT’ Factor posts for quite some time now, trying to see what it is that makes an editor buy an unpublished author’s debut book. Right now I’m up to my eyeballs in contest entries so I haven’t had any free time to read for fun (or for this blog). I’ve heard the question asked of editors and agents at many conferences, “How far do you read in a submission?” The answer invariably is, “As far as it takes.” What that means is they will keep reading as long as the author keeps their interest. Sometimes that’s 2 or 3 chapters in. For a talented few, it’s the whole manuscript. For many, I’m guessing it’s not far past page 1. With the gazillion submissions they get every year, editors and agents can’t waste time on something that doesn’t grab them right away and hold on for the whole ride. With that in mind, I thought I’d do a little experiment. As I judged these entries, I put an X on the page where the author lost me. Chances are, this is where they’ll lose the editor too.

Entry #1
Page 2
Aside from the obvious newbie problems – bad sentence structure, punctuation issues, use of unintelligible dialect in the dialogue, and major plot issues – the voice was flat and the story didn’t grab me. It’s the same opening I’ve read time and time again. Nothing new here. On to the next…

Entry #2
Page 20
Started out well enough. Good, humorous voice but the author lost me when she started including scenes from a secondary character’s POV which served no purpose in moving the story forward. Once I might be able to overlook, but the author did it several times within a short time frame. I want to know what the hero and heroine are feeling at that moment. Not what a secondary character observes about them.

Entry #3
All of it
Author has a great historical voice, the dialogue was realistic and she established amazing sexual tension between the hero and heroine right away. I’d ask to see the full of this one!

Entry #4
Page 4
With the exception of the 1st 4 pages, the entire entry was backstory involving the heroine’s childhood. Booorrrriiinnng!

Entry #5
All of it
Nailed the gothic voice and did a wonderful job of setting the atmosphere. I’d ask to see the full of this one too.

Entry #6
Page 9
Good prologue but then the 1st chapter reverts to backstory. Same problem as entry #4. When the author did occasionally return to the present, the dialogue between the characters was confusing. There wasn’t enough worldbuilding to allow the reader to understand what the characters were referring to.

This is nothing new for those of us who’ve been submitting for a while. We know we have about 3 pages max to grab an editor’s attention. Probably less. But the work doesn’t stop there. Editors don’t have time for mediocre manuscripts. They won’t give the author the benefit of the doubt that the manuscript will get better, so it has to be amazing from page 1 to 400. If we don’t keep their attention, keep them turning the pages, we’re going to lose them.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Trying to Lose Weight? Thirteen Tips to Help

Can you believe it's mid-January already? How are you doing on your resolution of losing weight? If you’re like me, you may need a few tips to re-energize your plan. Here are some suggestions I’ve found on MSN’s fitbic site.

1.Take a 15 minute walk and burn about 100 calories.

2.Choose a lighter alternative. For example: Eat an English muffin for breakfast instead of a bagel and you’ll consume 220 less calories. While you're at the table, drink skim milk, which is 70 calories lighter than whole milk.

3.Consider choosing a salad rather than french fries and you’ll slice 300 calories from your meal.

4.Eat slower. It takes 20 to 30 minutes for your body to realize you’re full. If you take your time at meals, you’re likely to consume less food.

5.Along the same line, wait before opting for a second helping and you'll probably discover you don’t really want/need more food.

6.Use a smaller plate, Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D. -- author of Beat Sugar Addiction Now! --recommends. “If you shrink the size of your dishes by a quarter, such as going from a 12-inch plate to a 9-inch plate, you’ll cut 500 calories without feeling deprived," he insists.

7.Another tip from Dr. Teitelbaum: Don’t eat while watching TV. “People who snack in front of the television," he says, "consume an average of 288 extra calories a day because they’re eating mindlessly.”

8.Each day, do some cardio exercise like jumping rope or jogging in place and you’ll burn about 10 calories a minute.

9.Occasionally choose to stand. Standing burns 120 calories per hour, which is 60 more calories than sitting.

10.Drink water instead of soda. Greta Blackburn, co-author of, The Immortality Edge, says drinking 20 to 60 ounces of water daily might also help boost your metabolism so you burn even more calories.

11.Run errands. A few hours shopping and unloading groceries and other purchases can burn up to 500 calories.

12.Get enough sleep. People who try to get by on less than six hours of sleep can consume 300 calories more than those who are well rested.

13.Clean your house or apartment. All that vacuuming and dusting can burn 400 calories.

I wish you success on keeping your resolutions. And if one of your goals is losing weight, I’d appreciate any suggestions you can send my way.


Monday, January 17, 2011

The ‘IT’ Factor – Debut Author Joan Frances Turner

September 2010

Book Blurb:
Nine years ago, Jessie had a family.
Now, she has a gang.
Nine years ago, Jessie was a vegetarian.
Now, she eats very fresh meat.
Nine years ago,
Jessie was in a car crash and died.
Nine years ago, Jessie was human.
Now, she’s not.

After she was buried, Jessie awoke and tore through the earth to arise, reborn, as a zombie. Jessie’s gang is the Fly-by-Nights. She loves the ancient, skeletal Florian and his memories of time gone by. She’s in love with Joe, a maggot-infested corpse. They fight, hunt, dance together as one—something humans can never understand. There are dark places humans have learned to avoid, lest they run into the zombie gangs.

But now, Jessie and the Fly-by-Nights have seen new creatures in the woods—things not human and not zombie. A strange new illness has flamed up out of nowhere, causing the undeads to become more alive and the living to exist on the brink of death. As bits and pieces of the truth fall around Jessie, like the flesh off her bones, she’ll have to choose between looking away or staring down the madness—and hanging onto everything she has come to know as life…

At long last . . . Zombies! And they’re the good guys, sort of. They think. They feel. They love. And some would like nothing better than to be left alone to live out their zombie lives until they turn to dust. But of course, humans won’t let them.

In Turner’s world, zombies are not contagious. You can’t become the undead by being bitten. When people die, some rise as a zombie while others stay tucked in their eternal slumber six feet under. No one knows who will be turned and who won’t or why it happens, but it’s been going on for as long as humans have been around. (Guess what the Black Plague was really all about.) It’s been one dark, dirty little secret. Until now. Zombies are everywhere and the world is no longer as we know it.

The Gross and the Disturbing:
This book is not for the squeamish. Do not read it while eating. Turner is very descriptive when it comes to zombie eating habits (they don’t just go for the brains – they eat everything). But to tell you the truth, after the first ‘dining’ scene, it didn’t bother me so much although I did steer clear of the leftover ribs in my fridge. What did bother me was the violence. While zombies are sentient creatures, they are not sentimental. They say so themselves. At times they act more like a pack of hyenas, working together to bring down a deer then ready to tear out each other’s throats over who gets the liver. Even Jessie and Joe, who care about each other, fight to the point where one could easily kill the other. Then there’s the gang initiation. To be accepted in, you have to get beat up by all the members of the gang to prove you’re tough enough. That disturbed me more than anything.

The Romance:
Slim to none. Jessie loves her zombie boyfriend Joe, but very little of their romantic relationship is shown. The farthest it goes is some hand-holding (she only has one), a few hugs, and one brief kiss. After all, she died at 15. Zombies don’t age, they decompose. Their relationship has more of a twisted YA feel to it (he died at age 19).

The Plot Hole:
The only way to kill a zombie once they have risen is by bashing their brains in (literally) or with fire. Got that. However, humans figured out early on that if a body is cremated after death it can’t rise from the grave. So why isn’t it mandated that everyone who dies gets cremated? No ifs, ands or buts. Against your religious beliefs? Too bad. It’s obvious by the number of zombies shuffling around that the chain-link fence and barbed wire is not keeping them confined to the cemeteries. The only new zombies who should be rising are murder victims whose bodies have been dumped in a landfill. Of course, if you did this, Jessie would be a pile of ash and there would be no story.

The ‘IT’ Factor:
The premise of this book is so original and so cool, it’s in a class by itself. Turner dared to go where no one has gone before. She humanized zombies and made us care about these rotting corpses. Utterly brilliant.

Friday, January 14, 2011

My Space

 I sit at the desk in my office—actually the second bedroom in our new apartment. We’ve lived here for over a month, and still boxes and furniture vie for attention. The most important rooms were, of course, unpacked first. The “extra” room, AKA my office, was at the bottom of the unpacking list. “I have a laptop, I can write in the living room,” I told myself. And myself actually believed it. For a while.

Eventually I became a bit, well, obsessed. All I could think of was the room that was going to be my office. It looked a lot like a storage facility, and my desk was on the opposite wall of where I wanted it. I began to spend a lot of time in there, moving boxes, emptying things. My husband and I moved the big bookcase to the corner where it was going to live. And I moved books there, emptying boxes as I went. The kitchen began to need more attention than it was getting, and the bathroom needed more cleaning than I took time to give it. But my office was finally beginning to take shape. With my sweet youngest daughter’s help, I finally got my desk to where it needed to go (and I got to see my grandkids while I was at it!). A few days later, and I put the books and notepads and pens, etc back on my desk. I had my space back.

I know if I looked behind me right now, I’d see boxes that need emptying. And to my right is a pile of random things that needs attention. Still, I’m sitting at my desk, typing on my laptop. YEAH! I feel so much better. Last night, I even considered what I needed to do with my work in progress. Ideas are starting to swirl in my head for the first time since we discovered we were going to have to move. I love the feeling of slipping back into the world of my manuscript.

What’s the moral of this story? That I needed my own space. Yeah, I could have survived without it, but I wasn’t at my best. Many times we put our own needs and desires at the bottom of the list. Everything else seems more important, but I’m beginning to realize that if I don’t take care of me, I can’t take care of others either. When I was at the bottom of my own list, I was irritable and bitchy. I needed my space. The place where I’m simply a writer.

I would like to point out, the way some people talk about taking care of ourselves seems to mean not taking others into consideration. I’m not advocating that kind of selfishness. The kitchen really was more important and my attention had to go there first. I don’t think we have to be at the top of our own lists, we just need to be on there. And not at the bottom either. I can take time away from my own life to take care of the grandkids, or go somewhere with my daughter. But I don’t have to allow other people to take over my life, or let things I feel I have to do prevent me from taking time for myself.

This is a hard lesson to learn, or at least it was for me. In fact, it seems I have to relearn it many, many times. I hope you will listen and not be so stubborn. Take time for yourself. I believe Virginia Woolf was right, we each need “a room of one’s own.” Whatever that concept means to you, a room, or an hour, or a comfy chair in which to read or do crafts; make sure you have that space, that “room” where you can be yourself. You deserve it. Honest.

Have a great weekend!


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Real Life and Preferred Fictional Fears

Fish are dying in mass, suicidal dogs are leaping from bridges, birds are literally falling from the sky...

it's like the apocalypse is upon us and no one had the decency to alert the locusts.

Standby buddy, you're on in five

When confronted by the very real horrors found in everyday life, I tend to revert to my primary coping method and Escape Plan Alpha, burying myself in fiction. 

What? It's more effective than neurotic, pessimistic rambling or copious amounts of bourbon (Escape Plans Bravo and Charlie, respectively). I'm in no way downplaying the importance of recent events, or suggesting we allow ourselves to become uninformed (no matter how scary real life is). But if you need a momentary respite from real life tragedies, feel free to indulge yourself in any one of these, my top five favorite fictional terrors.

5. Giant, man-eating spiders who can speak and plot mayhem [courtesy of the Harry Potter series]
4. Satanic nuns of the chattering order of St. Beryl [courtesy of Good Omens]
3. Mentally unstable fairies on ill-conceived missions of vengeance [courtesy of the Southern Vampire series]
2. Sparkly vampires [courtesy of the Twilight series]

And the #1 most frightening fictional terror?

1. Zombie guinea pigs. 

Oh yes. Thanks to Jesse Petersen and her addictive Living with the Dead series, just try to get this little guy out of your nightmares [courtesy of Flip this Zombie]

Fear me
In a time when cities are flooding, governments are collapsing, and Snooki has a book deal, it's comforting to have fictional fears to fall back on. What are your favorite fictional boogeymen? 

And now I'm off to engage in Escape Plan Foxtrot, also known as pie.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

When is New Year's Anyway?

Just days ago, my family and friends rang in 2011 at midnight by watching the traditional Times Square countdown on TV, but Jan. 1st isn’t the only starting point for a New Year. Many cultures and countries begin the New Year at a totally different place in the calendar.

In case you're curious, here are 13 other dates.

  1. The Tamils in south India declare the first day of the month of Thai as the first day of the Tamil year. The date? Jan. 14th.

  2. The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates the beginning of the next year on Jan. 14th, too. However, the church also recognize Jan. 1st as well.

  3. Chinese New Year, known as the Lunar New Year, occurs on the new moon of the first lunar mouth. That means the Lunar New Year falls between Jan. 21st and Feb. 21st.

  4. The Vietnamese New Year, Tết Nguyên Đán, or the Feast of the First Morning, is celebrated on the same date as the Chinese New Year.

  5. In Tibet, the start of the New Year is called Losar, a three-day event. Because it follows the Lunar calendar, its date changes yearly.

  6. The Assyrians’ New Year, called Rish Nissanu, happens on April 1st.

  7. If you’re a Sikh, a Hindu religious sect, your New Year starts even later, on April 14th.

  8. Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, occurs on March 20th or 21st at the time of the vernal equinox, when night and day are equal, and spring begins.

  9. Nyepi or the Day of Silence -- the Balinese New Year -- falls on Bali's Lunar New Year, which starts in March in 2011.

  10. Hindus living in Maharashtra, India, use a "lunisolar" calendar to determine their Gudi Padwa, or first day of a new year. This happens in March or April.

  11. In Southeast Asian countries, a Water Festival is staged to commemorate the start of another year. This date is usually April 13 -15.

  12. To start its new year, the Coptic Orthodox Church (Egypt) celebrates the feast of Nayrouz around Sept. 11 -- yes, 9-11, but long before our 9-11.

  13. Rosh Hashanah, which means head of the year, marks the beginning of the creation as well as a new year for Jewish people. This holiday often occurs in September.

By now, you may be thoroughly confused. When do you and your family celebrate the start of the New Year?


Monday, January 3, 2011

The 'IT' Factor -- oops!

I stayed up late last night finishing the "debut" book for today's post and just as I'm ready to start writing up my review on it this morning I discover - gasp! - the book is not by a debut author at all. Argh!

This is the 3rd time this has happened to me. Luckily the 1st one I caught in time and I was able to read another book before my blog deadline. The 2nd, well I just found out about it this week while surfing the web looking up another author. That author was "debut" author Karin Harlow, who now I know also writes under the name Karin Tabke. I swear I checked out her website before I bought the 1st book in her L.O.S.T. series to make sure she was a newbie author and there was nothing in her bio about her alter ego back in August. There is now. Oh, well.

And then there's today's author, Elle Jasper. Turns out she's also Cindy Miles. After reading an Amazon review of her book AFTERLIGHT: THE DARK INK CHRONICLES, the reviewer clued me (any many others) in that she was not a debut author after all. Turns out, according to the Elle Jasper blog, that her publisher asked her to keep the Cindy Miles connection under wraps until the 1st DARK INK book was released. Fine for her but it blows my blog for today to smithereens. So, I'm not going to write up a review for the book today. I will tell you that I liked it a lot. The tattooed heroine and the blend of voo doo and vampire make for a very interesting mix. Good start for a new series.

So, what have I learned? Checking an author's website bio isn't enough. If the debut author's book I've selected is the start in a new series (as in the L.O.S.T. or DARK INK CHRONICLES series) I need to make sure it's not a new identity for an established author. Seems to be the way the publishing game is being played these days.