Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Killers from the Past

Yosemite National Park is a destination for several million people every year. 
It has beautiful waterfalls, lush sub-arctic meadows, a crystal river with snowmelt water so cold it makes your ankles numb.
It also has so much congestion that some roads are closed to cars during the summer.  It has marauding bears that are so used to handouts, they’ll rob your campsite.
And it has killer chipmunks.
Killer chipmunks?
Yep, this year hantavirus has hit the chipmunk and rodent populations native to Yosemite.
Hantavirus is not always limited to the rodent populations in California.  The most notable outbreak came from the Navajo areas of New Mexico in 1993.  That year, 48 people were reported infected and more than half of them died.  In the U.S., a total of 587 cases have been identified to date, with an overall mortality rate of 36.39%.
This year, though is different.  On Monday, park officials confirmed that two people have died, a third is ill and a fourth case is probable.  They also emailed about 1,700 people who may have come in contact with the virus.
And if possible hantavirus exposure isn’t enough, rodents—those cute striped chipmunks and golden ground squirrels who run through your campsite—can also carry plague.
Yep, the Black Death has made one Oregon man seriously ill this summer as he was being a Good Samaritan.   A stray cat was choking on a mouse and the man tried to save the cat, getting bitten for his trouble and contracting a case of bubonic plague carried by the mouse.
Actually, the bacteria that causes plague is carried by the fleas that inhabit the rodents, and the virus that causes hantavirus is contained in urine, dropping or saliva of infected rodents.
So you can still catch pictures of those cute chipmunks sitting on rocks, chittering away.
But use some caution, don’t get too close and don’t try to pick them up.
Hantavirus is a newly-discovered disease, but plague, the Black Death of the Middle Ages, has a long and terrible past with humans.

Michele Drier is the author of the Kandesky Vampire Chronicles.  Book Three, Plague: A Love Story, is currently available in ebook from Amazon at http://amzn.to/N4Pzlr
Visit her at her website, www.micheledrier.com
or contact her at mjdrier@gmail.com

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Thirteen Scoops from The Magic Most Foul Series

Have you ever finished a book in a series and wanted to start the next one immediately, only to find it’s not out yet? That’s where I was when I got to the end of DARKER STILL—I really needed to find out what happened so… I contacted the author who generously offered some clues into THE TWISTED TRAGEDY OF MISS NATALIE STEWART. It’s my pleasure to share them with you.

Leanna: Here are my 13 favorite aspects of the Magic Most Foul saga, beginning with DARKER STILL and continuing this November with THE TWISTED TRAGEDY OF MISS NATALIE STEWART. The Magic Most Foul saga is a Gothic Victorian paranormal adventure set in the gas-lit, gritty glamour of 1880 New York City. Favorite things you, Dear Reader, can look forward to:

13. Historic places in New York City that are still here for our appreciation today.
12. A lush, transportative, gas-lit atmosphere.
11. A haunted painting!
10. A 19th century Goth club! (It's in Twisted Tragedy)
9. Dangerous, compelling, spooky dark magic.
8. A striking, enigmatic mentor, confidante and all around Kick-butt widow.
7. Mean Girls, no matter what century they're in, will always be Mean. But it makes it even sweeter when they don't get the guy.
6. A hero and heroine who meet soul-first.
5. A devilish doppelganger.
4. Pretty dresses!
3. A feisty young female narrator who is a far braver woman than the author herself.
2. Overcoming disability.
1. It's a hot British Lord who is the "Knight in Distress" for a change. Adventure ensues.

Thanks for sharing with us, Leanna.  And thanks everyone for visiting the diner. Do you have any books you're anxious to read? Any novels you'd suggest I try while I'm waiting? Please tell me in the comments.

About the author:

 Leanna Renee Hieber is an actress, playwright and the award winning, nationally bestselling author of the Strangely Beautiful and Magic Most Foul sagas and the upcoming Eterna Files saga, all Gothic Victorian Fantasy tales and all set in the 1880s, Leanna's era of choice. Leanna is a three time Prism Award winner and is currently a finalist in both the 2012 Prism awards and Daphne du Maurier awards. DARKER STILL was an Indie Next pick by the American Booksellers Association, a Scholastic Book Fair "Highly Recommended" title and her books have been translated into several languages. She will have short stories releasing in upcoming anthologies and can be seen on-screen playing Deputy Kellion in the Auror's Tale web-series. Keep track of her at http://leannareneehieber.com and she Tweets often at http://twitter.com/leannarenee

Monday, August 20, 2012

Indie Author Spotlight: Shrouded in Darkness

by H.D. Thomson

Book Blurb:

Jake Preston is on borrowed time. If he doesn’t stumble upon a miracle and soon, he’ll end up dead. And even if he does, he still might end up dead with a clever killer hounding his heels. He believes that the one miracle and antidote to save him is in Margot Davenport’s house, across the country and miles away from Boston. Somewhere locked in her home is the key to reversing an experiment that is killing him.

Margot doesn’t particularly care if she ends up dead. She’s lost everything she’s ever cared for. A divorce and the loss of her job as a corporate lawyer has left her with little faith in herself or in anyone else. Most importantly, she’s lost the one person on this earth she’s looked up to and cherished–her brother, Johnny. His death in a car accident has devastated her, and she can’t find the willpower to pull herself from the chasm she’s fallen into. Her only solace is at the bottom of a wineglass. Having moved back to the small town in northern Arizona where she was raised, she’s made a point of isolating herself both mentally and physically from everyone other than a few chosen friends. Little does she know that her life is going to explode into chaos and the person behind Johnny's death is coming after her.

I did a first with this book. Usually, I’ll research a book before I purchase it to make sure it will be something I like. I’ll read the blurb, a couple of reviews (good and bad), and if they peak my interest, I’ll read the sample chapters. If those grab me, I’ll buy the book. I didn’t do that with this book. I started reading it without knowing anything about the book, other than it was a paranormal romance. It was an interesting experience, to say the least – diving in without any preconceived notions, not knowing what the paranormal element was, or who the main characters were. I really enjoyed watching this story unfold, without any foreknowledge of where it was heading and what was going to happen. I’m going to have to do this more often. *G*

Flawed Characters
Neither of the main characters is perfect. Margot is one big, hot mess of a woman, drowning her sorrows in a bottle. She knows it’s not the way to deal with the death of her brother, but she doesn’t care. If drinking herself to death will help ease the pain, it would be a blessing in her eyes. Jake is a mystery. He keeps to the shadows and reveals as little about himself as he can. But he can’t help but notice Margot’s self-destructive tendencies and he interferes, whether either one of them likes it or not.
Plot Holes
There were a few scenes that had me scratching my head. I can’t reveal them without revealing major spoilers, but they were the type of thing I’d want a beta reader or editor to bring up and question, such as: Why would X do this (behave out of character) if previously he did Y? Or why did the cops not question what happened to character Z as they should? Holes like this bug me.
The Romance
Neither Margot or Jake are interested in each other romantically in the beginning. Each has bigger issues to deal with. Margot prefers to live each day closeted away in a haze and Jake is in a race against time. But they end up drawn to each other, learning to depend on and support the other, even though the question of trust keeps getting in the way.
The Paranormal Element
Not knowing what the paranormal situation/creature/event was going in, I ended up playing a guessing game with the first half of the book. Some of it I got right, other elements surprised me. The paranormal element is hinted at, developing slowly, and often leading the reader on a goose chase before coming back and resolving itself. Very well done.

Plot holes aside, I really enjoyed this book. It had secrets, suspense, romance, and a cool paranormal undercurrent running throughout the whole story. Be sure to pick this one up.

Learn more about H.D. Thomson at http://www.hdthomson.com/

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Thirteen...or Fourteen Summer Reads

In August 2007 Alan Fram from The Associated Press gave this surprising statistic—according to the Ipsos poll “one in four adults read no books at all in the past year.”
That doesn’t match my experience. Most of my friends are avid readers. They tend to agree with Desiderius Erasmus, who once said, “When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.”

In Middle School, I was teased for my reading habit, but it did no good. I’m still an enthusiast.
Header courtesy of samulli 

 Here are 13 of the favorite reads this summer.

1.      Heaven is for Real~ Todd Burpo
2.      The Lady in the Lake~ Raymond Chandler
3.      A Scattered Life~ Karen McQuestion
4.      Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers~ Mary Roach
5.      Steve Jobs~ Walter Isaacson
6.      Before I Go To Sleep~ S. J. Watson
7.      Insurgent~ Veronica Roth
8.      Shanghai Girls~ Lisa See
9.      Maze Runner~ James Dashner
10.  Carolina Moon~ Nora Roberts
11.  The Last Apprentice: Grimalkin the Witch~ Joseph Delaney
12.  Crossed~ Ally Condie
13.  Heart of Steel~ Meljean Brooks

What have you read lately? Would you recommend it? I’m always looking for good books.

I just finished Darker Still by: Leanna Renee Hieber. The story was as lovely and well done as the novel’s cover. I’m pleased to announce she will be my guest on Thursday, August 22, 2012. She’s going to share 13 aspects of her Magic Most Foul Series.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

...Whaddayamean it's THIS week?

I posted my entry for the month for The Otherworld Diner last week instead of this week! Oops. Well, here's an oldie from EVOLUTION THURSDAY, about Static Shock. Sorry!

by Eilis Flynn

1. What gave you the idea for STATIC SHOCK?

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with electronic and mechanical devices. They end up not working or doing something unexpected that has someone who has to try to fix it stare at it, mystified, trying to figure out what happened, or what I did that would have caused it. I always assumed I was just unlucky – brand-new tape recorders fail on me (twice), hair dryers melt (once), three computers die on me (three in three months), car alternators have be replaced more frequently than normal (three), the electrical system of cars can just fail (just once!), and watch batteries wear out very quickly, just to name a few examples – but then I found out that people with a heightened electromagnetic field will sometimes have this happen. Now, for STATIC SHOCK, I had to wonder: What if people with this (dis)ability were a recognized subspecies in a world of tomorrow? Especially in a world more and more technological? They would not be welcome in a lot of places, right? And STATIC SHOCK was born.

2. What was the first scene you wrote?

A scene I ended up not using, ironically. I had Jeanne Muir, my heroine, play a series of tricks on a coworker who is incredibly unpleasant but has power over her, and she gets back at him using her electromagnetic abilities. I kept in a mention of the confrontation between them in the final version, just hinting that she’s not good with conflict and she’s impulsive, but then he’s a bully who gets what’s coming to him. Heh. It was fun!

3. Did you have a scene that you loved but ended up cutting?

The first scene I just described. I had a lot of fun writing it, but realized that her abilities had to be a little more defined, so out the scene went.

4. I usually have an aha! moment, where an insignificant detail becomes something really important. Did you have a moment like that? Will it spoil the plot to tell me what it was?

There’s a scene early on where Jeanne weighs her options about whether it’s worth disrupting a series of timed traffic lights so she doesn’t get too wet during a downpour. She has the ability to influence the light to turn red so she can cross the street, and she decides to do it – but finds out when she nearly gets hit that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should, because with a series of lights, you can throw a lot of things off-kilter if you tamper with one thing. When I wrote that, I realized that said a lot about Jeanne, and how she has a lot to learn.

5. Are you surprised where the story took you? Or if ended up where you planned, were you surprised how you got there?

I couldn’t figure out what the ending would be for my characters, until one day I read about a settlement in the Midwest with a population of one. The newspaper article was about someone who basically bought a town after its residents started to leave, one by one, until there was nobody else left. And then I read another article not too long after that about a ghost town not too far from where I live, and how it was a booming mining town a century ago, leaving only a trace of what had been. Both articles played into how the entire situation in STATIC SHOCK was resolved, with a promise for more stories somewhere along the way.

6. What story idea is sitting in the class right now, raising his hand madly, begging you to call on him?

I’m working on a story about a comatose woman and the man she meets in her dreams. Or are they his dreams?

Anyway, STATIC SHOCK is available in digital and print, and I’m pleased as punch about it. Finally, my electromagnetic field is working for me! Here’s a snippet:

I glanced up at the gigantic digital clock on the university’s neurosciences complex. I had work to get to. If I made the walk lights to cross the street, I wouldn’t be late for my assignment—but I couldn’t count on it.

I could, however, arrange for it.

There wasn’t a sky bridge connecting this side of the campus with the applied sciences complex, and it so happened the street that ran between those two parts of the university saw a lot more traffic than the surrounding streets. Sometimes, pedestrians who wanted to cross had to wait as long as five minutes before the lights changed. Anyone who had to cross when it was raining could be soaked by the time the lights changed.

Considering how many pedestrians jaywalked at this crossing, it was a minor miracle no one had been killed yet. And as far as I was concerned, it wasn’t going to happen today, either. At least not to me.

I looked up at the traffic lights.

A moment of discord shot deep through my mind as I focused. A low buzz tickled the back of my throat as the timer that controlled the lights and the “walk/don’t walk” signs clicked and flashed, but it was at a gut level that I sensed the power feeding into the simple timed system. I closed my eyes for a moment, reveling in that familiar sensation of the electricity I could connect with. In this way, electricity wasn’t my enemy; it was an ally.

The traffic lights blinked once, then went out of sequence. Unless you were watching closely or you knew what to look for, it wasn’t noticeable. I didn’t have to look around to know the other traffic lights up and down the street weren’t affected. It was only this one I was in sync with, the one I controlled right now. All the other lights could flash green, but this one would flash …

Red. Green. Yellow. Red. And it stayed red.

The pedestrian light flashed “walk.”

“Aces,” I whispered. Maybe I couldn’t lock down my abilities the way I was supposed to, but I could play with the traffic lights. And I was good at it.

I hurried across the street. A glance at the clock told me I had two minutes till my appointment. Once I crossed, I looked back to see the traffic light click back into its usual routine, with no one the wiser.

I couldn’t wear a watch, but I could control traffic lights for a few minutes. I could live with that.

I had to hope Ran Owata would think it was a handy talent if—when—he found out. I didn’t want to have my brain cut into if he didn’t.

My assignment took more time than I expected, even though it was a simple problem I was asked to consult on—electrical power was leaking out of what should have been a closed system. It wasn’t hard to determine what the problem was, but I still had to track down where the problem was in the wiring and make a recommendation on how to fix it. It was boring work, but it paid the bills.

By the time I made it back to the crosswalk, it was rush hour and the sleet had turned into a cold, hard rain. Waiting for the light to change meant I was going to get soaked.

Shoving wet hair off my face, I tried to estimate how long it had been since the last time the walk sign had flashed. Reaching out, not intending to influence the traffic light pattern—yet—I tried to figure it out by the feel of the electrical patterns coursing through the wires and cables.

Crap. The light had changed right before I got to the crosswalk. I’d be waiting a while unless …

“It’s either do it or drown,” I muttered as the rain ran down my face.

I closed my eyes and, just like that, I turned the traffic light, as if I had flicked a switch.

The walk light flashed. I knew it, I didn’t even have to look to confirm it. I started to cross …

And had to jump out of the way when car tires screeched, water splashed, and a car horn blared. Next thing I knew, I was sprawled on the sidewalk, drenched.

A car door slammed, followed by the splash of footsteps. “Are you all right? Don’t move,” a voice said.

“I’m okay,” I muttered. I wiggled my shoulders; no problem there. I might be sore later, but not now. “What happened?”

“You didn’t look both ways before you tampered with the traffic lights, Ms. Muir. And you did, right?”

Shit. I knew that voice. I pushed my hair back and looked up. Damn it.

Ran Owata, looking annoyed. Son of a bitch. It was not my day. “I was getting wet waiting for the light to change.”

“And you’re real dry now, aren’t you?”

Raindrops splattered across my nose. I wiped the moisture away with my jacket sleeve. “So I’m not a genius. Was anyone hurt?”

“Depends. Can you get up?”

“I’m fine,” I said. This was my life. Of all the times for the light-changing trick to work against me, it would have to be in front of the new director of the Geller Institute. The one with the lobotomy fetish.


And that's the post from me for the time being. See you next month!

Eilis Flynn lives in Washington State with her cutie husband and the ghosts of her cats. Drop her a line here at eilisflynn@aol.com, www.eilisflynn.com, or Facebook!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Pirates Aren’t Sexy

I was at the beach all week and several of my relatives asked what I was working on since I had my laptop out every chance I got. I told them I was fighting pirates. They thought I was writing about them for my next book. I wish. No, I was fighting real pirates on the internet seas. The piracy of ebooks has become a scourge like the old days of Napster and the music biz. I’ve always known about piracy, but that was something that happened to other authors. Not little ole me. But then a pirate in Canada set up a Facebook page and pretty much said, “I’m Canadian and I don’t have to obey your stinking US copyright laws. Stop me if you can.” Needless to say, he painted a big old bulls eye on his back and authors by the hundreds came after him. Then pro pirate folks appeared to defend the pirate movement. It was very interesting to hear from the people who support ebook piracy and their varied reasons for doing so.

Ebooks are too expensive.

A Lamborghini is too expensive for me, but that doesn’t mean I’ll go and steal one. If you can’t afford an ebook, get it from the library, a used book store, or skip that grande latte from Starbucks so you can afford it. I’m sorry, but if you can afford an ereader, you can afford the ebooks to go on it. You may not be able to get every book you want, but since when does everyone get everything they want the minute they want it? You’ll have to pick and choose, just like everyone else.

Now I do agree that SOME ebooks are overpriced. I don’t think an ebook should be the same or more than the paperback. When that happens, do you know what I do? I wait and get it from the library, or wait until the price comes down. Unless you’re an indie author, ebook pricing is controlled by the publisher. The author has no say in how much their books cost. But buy “sticking it” to the publisher by stealing the overpriced ebook, you’re also sticking it to the author, who depends on those sales numbers for their livelihood and to get them a contract for the next book.

People who download pirated books probably wouldn’t have bought them in the first place.

This may be true. It’s like people who go to an all-you-can-eat buffet and load up their plates with more food than they ever intend to eat. But there are also people who would pay for those books if they weren’t available for free. Those are lost sales for the author.

It gives me a way to try new authors without the risk of paying for a book I might not like.

Amazon, B&N and Smashwords offer samples of most of the ebooks they carry. They’re free. You should be able to tell within the first 3 chapters whether or not you will like a book. I always sample a book before buying it, even from my favorite authors.

It’s not really stealing, since the ebook is still available online.

Technically, that’s correct. If you walk into a bookstore and steal a book off the shelf, that particular book is no longer available for sale. If you copy an ebook, the file is still available for sale. So, for the sake of argument, the proper term for what pirates are doing is copyright infringement. Copyright means only the rightful owner (the author or the publisher) has the right to copy and distribute the book. Every book is automatically copyrighted under International copyright law. When you upload to a pirate site, you’re making copies and distributing the content. That’s against the law.

Isn’t file sharing just like giving a book to a friend after I’m done reading it?

It would be, if you only gave the book to one friend just like you would a paper book. Many Amazon ebooks are lending enabled for this purpose (you can only loan a book once and it returns to the original owner’s Kindle 2 weeks later). But by uploading an ebook file to a pirate site, you’re in essence giving it away to hundreds or thousands of people, few if any of whom are your friends.

How is it different than going to the library or the used book store?

A library pays for every copy of an ebook it loans out. If they want to have 25 ebooks of The Hunger Games available for their customers, they buy 25 copies. They don’t buy 1 ebook and loan it out to 25 people at one time. That would be copyright infringement. And the author gets paid for each ebook copy bought. In some countries, the author even gets paid a small royalty for each time the ebook is loaned out. Even though an ebook is virtually forever, US libraries treat them like paperbacks and repurchase the ebooks after every 65 loans or so. As far as used book stores go, it’s still just one copy of the book that someone originally paid for. That used book can only be bought again by one person at a time, not hundreds. An ebook file can be copied and distributed to thousands in minutes, if it’s a popular title.

Authors are just being greedy. Money, money, money is all they think about.

Is it wrong to want to get paid for your job? You pay the girl who to cuts your hair. You pay the painter who paints your house. You pay the babysitter who watches your kids. YOU get paid for YOUR job. Why shouldn’t authors get paid for the books they write? People seem to be under the misconception that every author is rolling in the dough, getting million dollar advances and sitting in their mansions dictating their next novel while they eat bon bons. This is so wrong, it’s not even funny. Many debut and midlist authors barely make minimum wage on a book that takes them a year or more to write.

All creative content should be free for everyone.

So exactly how are all the artists, photographers, and authors suppose to live? Appreciation for their work is nice, but it doesn’t pay the bills. If authors don’t get paid, they’ll have to stop writing and get a job that does pay them a living wage. If authors stop writing, there won’t be any more books written to pirate. How does that benefit anyone?

Pirates are actually helping authors, saving them from obscurity.

Tell that to Nora Roberts, Stephen King, and JK Rowling. I don’t think they are having any problems with obscurity, and yet their books are pirated, too. No, people who support pirate sites just want something for nothing. I’d rather not be famous and able to make my house payment with a respectable amount of legitimate sales, than have the most downloaded pirate ebook in the world and without a roof over my head.

Pirating actually increases sales.

Maybe for a select few, but for the majority, it hurts sales. Be honest, if you download the first Hunger Games book for free and loved it, are you really going to go to B&N or Amazon and pay for the other two when you know you can get them for free on the pirate site? I don’t think so. Once a person gets a taste of free, they’re going to keep going back for more until the pirate site is shut down and they can’t get them for free anymore. It’s a sad side of human nature. Sure, pirates buy some books. But if you pay for 10 books and download 300 free from a pirate site, you aren’t supporting all those authors, just the 10 you deemed worthy enough or couldn’t find pirated somewhere else.

I’ll give you a few examples of how piracy impacts midlist authors. One author discovered her book was being downloaded over 800 times a week for months. If only half of those people had bought her book, she would have hit the NYT bestseller list. Another YA author saw a dramatic drop in sales on the 2nd book in her series. Her publisher dropped her because of the low sell through. She later found out her books had been downloaded over 6000 times each on one pirate site alone. She still gets emails from fans who tell her they got her 1st two books from a free (pirate) site and wanted to know when the next book will be out. Guess what? It won’t because those free downloads didn’t translate into sales, and sales are what counts when it comes time to negotiate a new publishing contract. So if you’re wondering why an author stops writing books in mid-series, a good bet is because too many people were downloading the books for free from a pirate site instead of buying them and the series got dropped by their publisher.

You can’t stop piracy, so you might as well go along with it.

I’m not so naive to believe that piracy can ever truly be stopped. People who feel entitled or want something for nothing will continue to take what doesn’t belong to them just because they can. I’m not talking to them, because until the law comes knocking on their door, they aren’t going to stop what they’re doing, feeling safe in the anonymity behind their computers. But I am hoping to educate the people who don’t realize how downloading free books from pirate sites is hurting authors. I believe most people would like to get their books legally and support authors. After all, if authors don’t get paid for their hard work, they can’t afford to keep writing the books we love.

But wait! You can get free books without swimming with the pirates.

There are lots of places you can download free ebooks legally. Amazon has tons of them. So does Smashwords. Check out Free eBooks Daily, Ereader News Today, Frugal E-Reader, Cents-ible eReads, Bargain ebook Hunter and Kindle Daily Deal among others. These are places where the authors post about their free or cheap books and want you to download them. The difference is that the authors listed their books on these sites themselves. It was their choice. Pirate sites post the books without the author’s permission, taking away the author’s control over their creative product.

Just remember this:  If you wouldn’t take a print book off the shelf at B&N and walk out without paying for it, don’t treat an ebook any differently.  The author worked just as hard to create the story for you to enjoy. Please respect their right to earn a living doing it.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Superheroes and World Building - a blog post guest

Today, we welcome Ruth Diaz, on her blog tour for The Superheroes Union: Dynama. Superheroes and Worldbuilding For my upcoming release, The Superheroes Union: Dynama, I had to build a large city with elements of New York, Boston, and Washington DC incorporated into it. That's how Trade City was born, somewhere along the northeastern Atlantic coast of the US. Of course, Trade City has something none of those cities have in real life: superheroes. Working with superheroes turned out to be interesting from a world-building point of view, because I got to intertwine pieces of the world we live in with elements that would never be possible in the real world, and those are the elements that make the setting of a superhero story unique. It's fairly different from designing a space station or a fantasy realm in that it's much more about social adjustments than changes to a place or the people themselves. The Superheroes Union itself is probably the most unique element I built for my superheroes. Superpowers are fantastic, but so many of them have been done before, sometimes they just feel like a game of mix-and-match to me. Deciding that a technopath could "read the mind" of a computer, while a technomancer could make a machine do things it never ought to do was fun. But figuring out how the union would handle childcare, healthcare, and a duty roster for group requiring utmost secrecy was more challenging. To build the world of the Superheroes Union, I had to research subways, cartilaginous fish, tower cranes, tornadoes, unions, the US Department of State, and the Smithsonian Institute. Only a fraction of that research ever ends up on the page, but that's worldbuilding for you. And speculative fiction doesn't run without it. Then there were the villains. How would a supervillain actually function in my fictional contemporary world? How would they hide a secret lair when we can watch so many things via satellite? What would their goals be, when ruling the world seems like more trouble than it's worth and there must be ways to make money that don't involve painting a target on your back for any bored superhero with something to prove? In Trade City, it's not unusual to see superheroes flying amidst the skyscrapers or supervillains dueling with them in the city streets. The police have learned to put up barricades and just keep innocent bystanders out of the way. There are superhero fan pages on Facebook. If a superhero's secret identity comes apart, they get mobbed as if they were rock stars. Not to mention, any supervillains who hold a grudge then know exactly where to find them and everyone they hold dear. It makes dating very complicated. ;-) What are your favorite elements when you're reading a superhero comic book or watching a superhero movie? What are the pieces that make the heroes, the villains, and their world distinct from one another? What do you think makes your favorite superhero worlds/universes live and breathe, or are there any that just leave you cold? What if your evil ex really was evil? TJ Gutierrez used to be a superhero. But after the birth of her twins seven years ago, she hung up the yellow spandex. Until the day her archenemy and ex-husband, Singularity, breaks out of prison. When it becomes clear he’s after the kids, she’s forced to call the nanny helpline—and once again become...Dynama! Annmarie Smith doesn’t have a superpower. She saves the world by keeping kids safe while their parents fight evil. She temporarily moves in with TJ, and the way the magnetic mama puts family first captures Annmarie’s respect, and maybe her heart—even though she knows better than to fall for a superhero. Still, it’s hard to resist their wicked chemistry. Kapow! But they can only hide from the world for so long. When Singularity’s quest for custody puts the kids’ lives in danger, can the two women conquer the evil villain and save TJ’s family—all before their first date? The Superheroes Union: Dynama is available from Carina Press on August 20, 2012. Pre-order now! Carina Press store | Amazon.com | BarnesandNoble.com Ruth Diaz writes genre romances about non-mainstream relationships. She hides a number of publications in a different genre under another name, but The Superheroes Union: Dynama is her first romance publication. For more information, you can subscribe to her blog, like her on Facebook, or follow @RuthDiazWrites on Twitter (where she is most active and, well, opinionated).

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Bad Fruit Names (Or, How Cruel Parents Can Be)

by Eilis Flynn

Carambola is an interesting name. Tomato, not so much.

Recently, the hub and I were at lunch (or dunch, I guess, because it was a meal between lunch and dinner, or just plain food, because he hadn’t eaten yet and I was already working on dinner because I wake up earlier) when we heard one of the staff at the (real-world) diner yell, “Hey, Peaches!”

“Peaches.” Which got us discussing yet another of those odd topics that we tend to discuss as we wait for our food to be delivered. We can’t talk much about nicknames (well, we can, but that’s another topic), but what’s the worst fruit name a parent can bestow on an unsuspecting child? Gwyneth Paltrow’s kid Apple aside, of course. That kid’s going to have enough problems as it is (after therapy, I assume she’ll change her name to Amy or something equally bland).

Hub said “Breadfruit.” Yes, that would be a terrible name. And cruel.

Our food arrived right then, so we had to table the discussion. Mike threw the question over to his Facebook feed (anybody buy the stock? No? Anybody short the stock?) and got an interesting set of answers.

First, two people came up with “Uglifruit.” Yes, but that’s a name that would just be MEAN. Kumquat was another suggestion made by two people. What kind of character would “Kumquat” be? I see short, squat, distrustful. I mean, after all, if your parents called you “Kumquat,” wouldn’t you distrust everyone?

“Banana” also came up, courtesy of two people, one of whom, a French translator, pointed out that “banane” means “stupid.” Of course, I immediately thought of the Japanese author who writes as “Banana Yoshimoto.” Her real name is “Mahoko,” but writes as “Banana” because she likes banana flowers. (Of course, I didn’t even realize there was such a thing as banana flowers!)

Then there’s “Cherry.” I had to point out that “Cherry” isn’t a terrible name, and in fact, it’s relatively common as far as fruit names go. I grew up with Cherry Ames, Student Nurse novels, and of course, the best-selling author and absolutely wonderful Cherry Adair lives in this area. My old college roommate Elin, however, pointed out that there were obvious reasons that it was pretty bad for a first name. We disagreed, but then that’s nothing new (but she’s a dear soul). Then again, “Cherry Tomato,” we agreed, would be a terrible name, unless there was a new career as a stripper involved. (A British commenter said it would only work if it were pronounced “to-MAH-to.”) Also appropriate for a stripper career: “Lemon Kiwi.”

“Mango” and “Melon,” though, were borderline offensive (anyone else remember “Mango” from SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE?). And anyone with a name like “Melon” or “Melons” would encourage a punch in the snoot. Or a career as a stripper.

Then there was “Plantain,” which has to be pretty far up for terrible names, although “Gooseberry” would be acceptable but still iffy for nicknames. Not to mention “Durian.”

The penultimate in unfortunate names that are real, of course, is “Prunella,” as in “Prunella Scales” (that reminder courtesy of the hub’s old high school classmate – if you’ve ever seen FAWLTY TOWERS, you’ll recognize the name). But the British are quirky that way (spoken like an American, of course).

The best, all-time real fruit name, though, is Marion Berry, the former DC mayor. Or Marion Barry, sorry. No excuse for him!

Eilis Flynn has nothing much else to say on the subject. She writes romantic fantasy and wonders why everyone doesn't.