Friday, 11 September 2009


Novel MattersWell, well, well. I was one of the six winners at the Novel Matters Audience With an Agent contest. The six lovely ladies who write for that blog (and who are all with the Books & Such Literary Agency) sifted through a slush pile of applicants and selected six to be forwarded to agent Wendy Lawton.

OK, you might be saying, why do you need a contest to query an agent? And the answer is: you don't, of course. But I suspect an agent is going to take a closer, harder, longer look at queries (complete with synopses and first chapters) that come with a recommendation from six people whose taste in writing she respects. She is also promising feedback, something you don't normally get with a query. So I am well-pleased, and very grateful to have been selected.

And, as any writer knows, a shot of affirmation now and then is a wonderful thing. Especially when it comes from professionals.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Gift horses

It might be time to rethink that old proverb "Never look a gift horse in the mouth". Or that seems to be the theme of today's Odd News.

So here, for your entertainment and edification, are three reasons why you might just want to have a look at that horse mouth after all.

#1. Because if you don't, it might bite you. Floridian police use stimulus money as a lure to catch criminals. They say it's a lot safer to draw the criminals to them rather than go after them in their homes.

#2. Because it might be a Trojan horse. Several state governors received unexpected laptops they didn't actually order. After the first shipment, they suspected a mistake. After the second, they called in law enforcement. None of the laptops were ever actually turned on. Turns out they were ordered with bogus accounts. It will be interesting to find out what kind of Greeks were hiding in there.

Fake moon rock#3. It might not even be a horse at all. Dutch officials are dismayed to discover their treasured moon rock is just a piece of petrified wood. So did the US ambassador know it was a scam when he gave the "moon rock" to the Dutch prime minister? Looks like somebody is going to have to pull out all their diplomatic skills to explain this one.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Further thoughts on writers' conferences

Ah, if Janna says jump, we jump. What is it about that girl?

So here are my thoughts on writers' conferences, as far as they go. Please keep in mind that this is based on my very limited experience, so feel entirely free to correct me or expand on what I've said.

If you are well-informed on the publishing industry and how it works, if you read the blogs of editors and agents, frequent online writers' forums that include experienced professionals, read books on writing and participate in some form of critique groups, chances are you won't get a whole lot out of the scheduled workshops, or at least not most of them. Aspiring writers are the bread and butter of these conferences, and much of it caters to them and is therefore at a pretty basic level. But not all of it. I found Jeff Gerke's continuing workshop for novelists to be thought-provoking. I bought his book The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction and will probably buy his interactive DVD The Writer's Foundation. I found the exercises he had us do in the workshop (which were taken from the DVD) quite useful.

Actually meeting an editor was also useful, if only to hear the near-surprise in her voice when she said that I had an interesting premise. She also gave me the distinct impression that it was not right for her publishing house, despite her favourable impression. Oh well. There are other publishing houses.

The main value of most conferences is the opportunity to network, both with fellow writers and with industry professionals. To get the most out of a conference in that regard, you need to choose a conference at which the participating professionals are ones who are most likely to be interested in and knowledgeable about the kind of book you are writing. And you probably need to go for the duration of the conference. The one-day, in-and-out kind of thing that I did is really not the best way to go about this. I did manage to make some connections, but I think it would have worked much better if I'd had more time to develop them.

So there you go. Any wisdom to add?

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Quote of the day

Dorothy L. Sayers
Our speculations about Shakespeare are almost as multifarious and foolish as our speculations about the maker of the universe, and, like those, are frequently concerned to establish that his works were not made by him but by another person of the same name.

- Dorothy L. Sayers

Hat tip to Novel Journey

Friday, 14 August 2009

Looking for a literary agent

I've been answering a lot of the same questions lately from aspiring writers wanting to know how to find an agent. Finding I'm not much of an expert on, but I can help with the looking part.

To start building a list of agents, two really great resources are AgentQuery and QueryTracker. Both are searchable databases, enabling you to find out quickly who represents what.

QueryTracker, as you might guess from the name, also allows you to make up a personalized list and keep track of the status of your query. The data from all users are compiled to provide statistics on how quickly agents reply, how often they request material, and so on.

After making a tentative list, you should research each agent individually. Check their agency websites and make sure they represent the kind of book you've written, who their clients are, what they've sold. This information is usually, although not always, more up-to-date than other sources.

Check to see if they're a member of the Association of Authors' Representatives. This isn't essential, but members adhere to a set of ethical guidelines and have a record of sales, so it is generally a good sign.

And scurry over to Preditors and Editors (yes, the misspelling is intentional - think about it) to find out if the agent you covet is known as a scam artist. They're classified alphabetically by first names, in case you're having trouble finding your way around.

If you're looking to get a Christian book published, Michael Hyatt of Thomas Nelson has posted a very useful list of agents they have dealt with.

Last but not least, head over to the Absolute Write forums and check out the Bewares and Background Check section to get additional information on specific agents and agencies. You'll get lots of useful information, including comments from writers who have dealt with them.

You can also find out some pretty incredible information by Googling. Like which agent is a belly dancer, who writes about jazz as a hobby, and who they hang out with on MySpace.

Have fun looking, and feel free to add your favourite resources or ask questions in the comment section.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

I'm baaack

OK, so nobody knew I was gone. Fair enough.

I spent Friday at the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers' Conference, which was a first for me. Saturday, as predicted, I crashed. Not surprising, seeing as I attended two panel discussions, skipped a third in favour of a serendipitous encounter, attended a two-hour "boot camp" with editor Shannon Marchese, two teaching sessions with Jeff Gerke, and of course, two meals and various hobnobbing sessions. A lot for someone with fatigue issues.

I'd never been to a writers' conference before and I'm still absorbing it. And I'm wondering if it was a good use of my time.

The panels were so-so. The questions posed to the editors were very basic, things the participants should have known if they'd done any research. Google is your friend, people.

On the other hand, Jeff Gerke's continuing session on advanced fiction writing was great. Really. He's a good teacher and makes things very clear. I'm working my way through his The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction right now. The boot camp with editor Shannon Marchese was also very interesting, if somewhat less organized. I took a lot of notes, so I'll be able to review that one.

What conferences are about more than anything, of course, is networking. It was nice to meet in the flesh people I'd only known online, even if the meeting was all too brief. I also met new people, several of whom were insanely nice. You know, the kind of people you don't feel you deserve to meet, they're so nice. Three in one day has to be some kind of record.

As for concrete results, that remains to be seen. I don't need them to consider the conference a success though.

Anybody want to share with me what kind of benefits (or not) you've reaped from conferences?

Friday, 31 July 2009

The power of story

My son's band was auditioning for the right to play the main stage at a local festival. American Idol-style, these second-round auditions were open to the public. My son's band was playing the last set of the evening.

There was just one problem. One of their guitarists had already committed to playing a nursing home (yes, you read that right) earlier that evening. But they figured he'd be able to turn up on time. It would be tight, but he'd make it. When set-up time came, he still wasn't there. They set up as slowly as they possibly could, and the MC was as helpful as he could be, hamming it up and even singing a song of his own to keep the audience engaged. Still no guitarist, and there was just no way to delay any longer. So they picked a song in which his contribution wasn't too central, improvised a bit to fill in the holes, and performed the song.

Still no guitarist. This is only a four-man band, so it matters.

They looked at each other, picked another song, and started in. What else could they do? And then, partway in, the missing guitarist came sprinting up the aisle, bounded onto the stage, plugged in his guitar... just in time for his solo. It could not have been better timed if they had deliberately staged it.

And they won the competition. One of the organizers told them afterwards that they were serious contenders from the outset, but once their performance turned into a story, and one with a happy ending at that, they were a shoo-in. This despite the fact they were not a local band, and the audience vote counted for 50% of the final outcome.

And that, my friends, illustrates the power of story about as well as anything could.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Contest for science fiction/fantasy writers

Tor UK, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers Limited, is holding a contest, War of the Words, to find the next big thing in SFF. That's science fiction and fantasy, for the uninitiated, but if you didn't know that, this blog post probably isn't for you anyway. ;o)

War of the Words

You need to have a completed manuscript in the 80-150K range, plus a full synopsis (they still haven't defined what they mean by that, but I'm guessing that 1-2 page deal isn't going to cut it). You have until August 20 to submit the synopsis and the first three chapters.

We had a rather lengthy discussion on the contract terms over at A Dribble of Ink and have more or less come to the conclusion that it would be a decent contract. Victoria Strauss of Writers Beware has given it her Imprimatur in a private email too, so go ahead, send in your opus. There's no entry fee, so what have you got to lose?

Sunday, 26 July 2009

From first to last

Noveldoctor has a contest going on. He provides a choice of first lines and a choice of last lines, you provide the words in between, to a maximum of 400. And he's actually got real prizes.

It's all for the fun of it more than anything else, as well as learning how to get from Point A to Point B, but it looks like fun. Entries have to be in by the 31st so sharpen your cyberpencils and start typing.

And subscribe to his blog while you're at it. It's fun and useful. Well, sometimes it's useful.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

What librarians REALLY do at conventions

Everything you didn't want to know about library conventions and refused to ask. But I'm telling you anyway. Or rather, showing you, because I don't expect you to take my word for it.

Hat tip to the Bookninja via Moonrat.

Question: where did they rehearse?

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Join my Twibe

I know, that sounds totally pathetic. But I am not responsible for the way people name these things. Twibe = a twitter tribe. A twibe is a good way to have a focused, on-going Twitter conversation. In this case, a conversation about Christian fantasy.

If you're on Twitter, go to and click to join. Then you'll be able to read the Twibe posts. Now this is not just an amalgamation of all posts by all members. It will only include tweets by members that contain the keywords CF or fantasy. If you post directly from the Twibe website, you can choose to have it appear only on Twibes and not in your Twitter feed, if you're concerned about flooding your timeline with too many tweets on the same subject.

So, in short, the Twibes website will monitor the tweets by members and post all those that contain the keywords. Members go to the Twibes website to follow the conversation. Sort of like a mini-forum.

So come join us.

Monday, 13 July 2009

A last look at book trailers

Well, last until I find something genuinely new to say. As you may recall, I have come to the conclusion that book trailers are more likely to hinder sales than help them, unless the trailer itself is so brilliant that it goes viral. Since then I've seen a couple of decent ones that probably did not hurt sales, but I'm really not sure they will help much either.

But for anyone interested in more informed opinions, check out this post in which various publicists give their various opinions of book trailers.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Writing a sequel

It's trickier than it looks. Or at the very least, trickier than I expected.

Finding the right place to begin a story is always a bit difficult for me. And I'm discovering that it's even harder when I have a previous story to build on. I have such a sense of who these characters are and what they've been through that I leave out information that new readers are going to need. And I throw too many characters into the mix too soon.

After thoroughly confusing my crit group with my opening chapters, it was clear that a simple tweak wasn't going to fix the problems. I had to start over, to a point where I could introduce the characters and situations in small doses. In my case, that meant actually overlapping with the end of Disenchanted, the first book.

Technically speaking, Suffer a Witch is not really a sequel. It is another story, set in the same world, following on the heels of the events of Disenchanted, but with no single story arc.

Can you think of any sequels where this kind of transition was handled gracefully? Or have you written one? What did you learn?

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

When reviewers hand you a lemon

You can choose to get bitter and downright nasty, as Alice Hoffman recently did. She got so incensed about a mildly critical review that she fired off no fewer than 27 nasty tweets, including one that revealed the reviewer's address and phone number so that Hoffman's fans could protest directly. Um yeah. If you believe that no publicity is bad publicity, that was quite the stunt. Publicity it got her. Respect, not so much.

Or you could, like Brad Meltzer, make lemonade. His soon-to-be-released novel, The Book of Lies, got panned by a number of influential critics. And this was his hilarious response.

I don't know about you, but I know which book I am more tempted to read.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

How's that Espresso machine working out?

The book machine of course, not that I think coffee machines are insignificant. And yes, I have been obsessing about this machine, but I really think its impact on publishing could surpass that of digital publishing. And we all know how much press that is getting.

An independent bookstore in Vermont has had the EBM for a while now, and reports in on how that's working out for them. So far, so good.

They were hoping that there would be a wider selection of books available from the machine by now, but have been pleased to discover that in the meanwhile, self-published books have been taking up the slack for them.

While I always realized that self-publishing would be possible with the Espresso Book Machine, it never occurred to me that it would be that significant. It sounds like this will be a viable alternative for self-publishers, short-circuiting a lot of the scam artists out there. Not that it will make marketing a book any easier...

Thanks to Dominique Benoit for bringing this to my attention.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Digital Dragon Magazine

Digital Dragon MagazineThere's a new kid on the Christian speculative fiction block. Digital Dragon has launched its inaugural issue, so click on over if you'd like a look at some free fiction. If you're thinking of contributing, they are not a paying market.

I've only read one of the stories and it was decent. I do note that the copy-editing could be a little more rigorous, but I'm kind of anal that way. I still think spelling mistakes look amateurish.

But draw your own conclusions as to the quality of the stories. I haven't read enough to have a firm opinion.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Too funny

When was the last time a TV commercial made you howl with laughter? This one did it for me. Which might say disturbing things about me.

Friday, 12 June 2009

This story reeks

Back to the FutureHow often do you look for themes when you're reading stories? Or watching movies? Not very often, I'll bet, unless advanced studies in literature permanently warped your ability to enjoy a story. I was already an avid reader before I got a degree in languages and literature (which I enjoyed immensely, I might add) so I never lost the ability to just roll around in a story for the sheer joy of it.

But one thing they were right about in those classes, every story around is just reeking with themes.

"What is a theme?" you might ask. (One thing I love about readers of this blog is that they always ask the right questions at the right time.)

The theme is the other answer to "what is the story about?"

Last night we sat and watched Back to the Future yet again and I suddenly was struck by it.

"This isn't a movie about time travel," I said to my long-suffering husband, "this is a movie about learning to have self-confidence." All I had to do was say it. It was like waving a magic wand. Self-confidence issues suddenly sprang up all over the movie like dandelions in spring. Both Marty and George had fears of being rejected, fears they expressed in identical language, in case you were tempted to miss it. Doc Brown gains the confidence necessary to push his research to a successful conclusion by the revelations of a visitor from the future. When George McFly reaches deep within himself to find a courage he didn't know he had, his whole future changes. The bad-guy vice-principal is a bad guy because he specializes in destroying self-confidence.

See what I mean about stories reeking with theme? Did the writers of the script sit down and say "Let's do a movie about finding self-confidence"? I sincerely doubt it. But it was obviously something that mattered to them a great deal, because it was everywhere in the story.

The IncrediblesThe Incredibles is, on the face of it, a story about super-heroes. But it's also a movie about finding your place in the world. The list of characters struggling with this issue comprises most of the main characters: everyone in the Incredible family (excepting the baby), the villain, the father's best friend... (Sorry, I forget the names. I'm bad for that.) If you've watched the special features, you know that even in the scenes that never made the movie this is an issue, as the mother becomes infuriated by the snooty neighbours who despise her decision to stay home with her family. When the main characters resolve their issues and assume their proper roles, the story is over.

Or take Harry Potter. A recurring theme in all seven books is the value of marginalized people, from Harry's band of misfit followers to Severus Snape to Harry himself. The despised ones become the means of salvation. You can hardly turn a page without finding echoes of this theme. (Ironically, this is a theme you'll find all over the Bible too.)

The plot is the mechanics of a story, its bones. The theme is its beating heart. As a writer, you don't have to go looking for themes to "insert" into your story. It will be there, beating under the surface, whether you notice it or not. You'd be hard-pressed to keep it out.

Any other themes you've noticed in other well-known stories? Have you ever been put off by a theme?

Ever been surprised by the themes in your own work? Have you ever consciously tried to write a theme story?

Hm, I just noticed that ever single one of the stories I've cited fall under the banner of speculative fiction. I don't think this qualifies as a theme, but it's certainly a recurring motif. Make of that what you will.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Which fantasy writer are you?

I don't usually do online quizzes, but sometimes one comes along that I just can't resist. I mean, I just HAD to find out which fantasy writer I was like, right?

Ursula K Le Guin (b. 1929)

31 High-Brow, -9 Violent, -19 Experimental and 4 Cynical!

Ursula Kroeber LeGuin

Congratulations! You are High-Brow, Peaceful, Traditional and Cynical! These concepts are defined below.

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin is definitely one of the most celebrated science fiction and fantasy writers of all times. Her most famous fantasy work to date is the Earthsea suite of novels and short stories, in which Le Guin created not only one of the most believable societies in fantasy fiction, but also managed to describe a school for wizards almost three decades before Harry Potter. Although often categorized as written for young adults, these books have entertained and challenged readers of all ages since their publication.

Le Guin is no stranger to literary experiments (see for example Always Coming Home(1985)), but much of her story-telling is quite traditional. In fact, she makes a point of returning to older forms of story-telling, which, at her best, enables her to create something akin to myth. One shouldn't confuse myth with faerytale, though. Nothing is ever simplified in Le Guin's world, as she relentlessly explores ethical problems and the moral choices that her characters must make, as must we all. While being one of those writers who will allow you to escape to imaginary worlds, she is also one who will prompt you to return to your actual life, perhaps a little wiser than you used to be.

I was positively popping my suspenders with pride. Then they added:

You are also a lot like Susan Cooper.

If you want some action, try Michael Moorcock.

If you'd like a challenge, try your exact opposite, C S Lewis.

Hold on just a minute! What are they talking about, Lewis is my opposite? I LOVE Lewis.

I am hurt, deeply hurt.

But you know, you really know, you want to try it, don't you?

Thanks to Grasping for the Wind for pointing me in the direction of the quiz.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Terminating textbooks

ArnoldIt looks like I'm not the only one who believes that digital books will find their first mass market penetration in the classroom. Arnold Schwarzenegger intends to give a legislative push to market evolution and obligate California schools to buy eBooks for texts, in an attempt to save the state money.
"It's nonsensical and expensive to look to traditional hard-bound books when information today is so readily available in electronic form," Schwarzenegger wrote. "Especially now, when our school districts are strapped for cash and our state budget deficit is forcing further cuts to classrooms, we must do everything we can to untie educators' hands and free up dollars so that schools can do more with fewer resources."

The devil is in the details, they say, and I'm sure many jurisdictions will be watching to see if the Governator actually saves the state money. If he does, you can be sure that there will be many imitators. It goes to show that hard times tend to stimulate innovation, as the status quo becomes too uncomfortable to maintain.

I am cautiously favourable. I've thought for some time that the textbook industry was abusive of students, both in terms of expense and of weight, and if there's a practical way to change that - and if publishers are farsighted enough to embrace change willingly - this could turn into a win-win situation. If I were a smaller publisher of textbooks, I would be rushing to see if I could jump in ahead of the big boys and gobble up a significant part of the market ahead of them.

What do you think? Is Schwarzenegger visionary or deluded? Will the peripheral costs erase the financial benefits?

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Crafty author

Patricia WoodI was twitting Patricia Wood over on her blog a while back, informing her that she was not allowed to die because she had not yet signed my copy of Lottery. No, I cannot remember the context for that particular piece of idiocy and I can't find it either. And yes, you should go buy her book, not just because she's a webfriend of mine, but because it's a fine piece of writing. Don't take my word for it; it was short-listed for the Orange Prize.

Anyway, back to the point. She immediately rectified that terrible oversight by offering to send me a bookplate. (For the uninitiated, a bookplate is basically an autographed sticker you can put in your book to instantly turn it into an autographed copy.) Through a series of confusions on my end, it took me a while to get it, but I finally got my hands on it yesterday. Except it was a them. She sent me one personalized bookplate and several others with generic greetings.

Lottery by Patricia WoodWhat is a girl supposed to do with extra bookplates? As it happened, I was in a bookstore that afternoon, and what should I spy but a stack of her books on a table of bestsellers near the door? (See, I told you it was good.) My natural brilliance asserted itself, and I said to myself, "There's a good place for those extra bookplates." The manager was equally struck by my brilliance. Okay, I'm assuming. He said that the bookplates would be welcome, or words to that effect.

Very pleased with myself, I emailed Pat to tell her of my brilliance. She was very impressed. Okay, so she told me that's why she sent them along. So she was brilliant before me. I am still brilliant, right? (Somehow this story isn't going quite the way I meant it to.)

Anyway, I am impressed with her brilliance too. She didn't ask me to do anything, but let me think of it on my own. Now those books will sell more quickly because most people are very pleased to get a signed copy of a book. And I have stowed away another gentle marketing technique for the future. And I have an autographed copy of Lottery. Thanks, Pat.

By the way, there is still no Wikipedia entry for Patricia. Any Wikipedians around who can do something about that?

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

And now for something totally cool

I don't know if I can quite rise to the idealism of the Playing for Change people, but this is still a very cool project and some very, very cool music. I present "One Love", Song Around the World.

Monday, 11 May 2009

More thoughts on the Espresso Book Machine

Espresso Book Machine 2.0The more I think about this machine, the more I feel it will ultimately be good news for the publishing industry and especially for authors.

With print-on-demand arriving in retail outlets, we could soon see a seismic shift in the publishing industry. The whole notion of print runs could become obsolete, and the publisher's role become one of gatekeeper, designer, and promoter, with production and distribution concerns falling away altogether. I actually think that this could mean that the publishing house name could become more important, not less. It would become a guarantee of excellence, or of catering to a specific niche, much like Tor Books now.

A bookstore could be a simple home for the machines, or a larger retail outlet, with local favourites already pre-printed for the convenience of customers, looking much like present bookstores. The choices would certainly be fewer, but that wouldn't matter, because they would be backed up by the almost infinite choice of the book machine. I am assuming here that there would be a unique digital distribution channel, with all retailers having equal access. That is a huge assumption. Publishing houses could try to restrict distribution to their own retailers, which would create a very different dynamic.

In either event, I think it is good news for authors. There would be less need to sell immediately, with the current paleolithic returns system no longer distorting sales pressures. An author's reputation could be built slowly, gradually picking up speed, without a publisher feeling obliged to abandon debut authors who don't burst out of the gate quickly enough.

With this greater freedom to take a long-term view, publishers' promotion efforts could be both more focused and more spread out. More focused, because it would be easier to track where and when a book is selling (with up-to-the-minute statistics) and adjust promotion accordingly. More spread out, because we would no longer be dealing with a narrow window of opportunity and a publisher could continue marketing efforts for years, tailoring promotions to specific groups. We get a glimpse of what this could look like in the newsletters put out by AbeBooks, the online "clearing house" for thousands of used book sellers. AbeBooks will respond to current news and interests, featuring books - many decades old - that speak to the same issues. Because they are not restricted to recent releases, they can do thematic promotions much better than retail outlets.

For more information on the Espresso Book Machine, check out OnDemandBooks. I notice that the 2.0 version is already much prettier than the machine seen in the video, although I think they should have chosen coffee colours, myself. The word Espresso and the colour blue just don't go together.

How do you think book machine would change your reading and buying habits if it becames the industry norm, or at least a common utility? And if you are involved in the publishing industry, what changes do you think it will bring to what you are doing? Do the possibilites excite you or frighten you?

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Poll results on book trailers

There were 20 votes and this is the breakdown:

<0 They made me decide not to buy. 9 (45%)
1 and I regret it. 1 (5%)
1 and it was great. 4 (20%)
2 or more. I look for them. 1 (5%)
2 or more. It just happens. 0 (0%)
It's complicated. 5 (25%)

Now, this isn't a large enough sample to be scientific in any way at all, BUT did you notice that almost half the voters said that book trailers had prevented them from buying? This seems to tally pretty well with informal discussions I've seen elsewhere.

Elsewhere like on Alexander Field's blog (nice redesign, by the way), or on Jessica Faust's blog, and a couple of other places I don't remember.

What I am taking away from all this is that book trailers are risky, like book covers. They can alienate readers more easily than they can draw them in. Unlike book covers, trailers are not an essential part of the process. I personally am not going to attempt one unless I've got a killer idea that could go viral.

I do thing that a book trailer is probably wise to use a lot of words. After all, anyone allergic to reading text is not going to buy the book anyway. And many readers resent having a visual interpretation imposed on them. One of the reasons they enjoy reading is the freedom to imagine characters and settings on their own. How often have you been disappointed by the casting in the movie version of a favourite book? You see the danger.

However, if you hit the sweet spot, and manage to produce a really catchy trailer that people are scrambling to link to, you've got a winner.

As for me, I read one book because of a trailer. The trailer was better.

Anybody have trailer stories to share? Ones you loved? Ones you hated? The one you keep running in your head for the book you're writing?

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

It takes skill

... to mess up this well. But I am up to the challenge.

Tonight I was supposed to go to Robert J. Sawyer's book launch and birthday party. Pretty cool. One of Canada's most successful writers, and a science fiction writer at that. A potent combination. (OK, so I was a preteen science fiction geek. And a teen SF geek. And... well, you get the idea. Sometimes I go into remission, but the symptoms will reappear with only the slightest provocation.)

I checked out the bus schedules, and decided to take the route that would get me out and walking a bit. I transferred all my things into a purse big enough to hold the autographed book I would be coming home with and headed out the door just a couple of minutes late, meaning that with my short legs I would have to make the 15-minute walk to the bus stop at something just short of a jog. That's fine, the weather was lovely and I always need the exercise. Besides, I hadn't memorized the itinerary for the closer bus and there was no time to check.

About a block shy of the bus stop, I saw a bus coming off the exit ramp. I panicked and broke into a sprint. If the light changed at the wrong time... The light changed at the wrong time. Despair. But wait, it wasn't the one I needed. Relief. A brisk trot brought me to the bus stop just seconds before the bus I really wanted. That sprint turned out to have been a very necessary thing. Happy at how everything had worked out so well, I reached for the outer pocket of my purse where I keep my bus tickets.

You see where this is going, don't you?

There was no pocket on the outside of this purse. And I had, of course, being a certified member of the so-absent-minded-we-wonder-how-she's-still-alive club, forgotten to transfer the bus tickets to one of the inner pockets of the new purse. I could pay cash, but my smallest bill was a twenty, and bus drivers don't make change. Um, no.

I walked back home. It was a lovely evening for a walk.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

The Espresso Book Machine has arrived

And the gadget geek in me is in awe. The machine is still hideously ugly and looks like a prototype, but if it catches on, I'm sure that will change. If it does become popular, it will change the way the whole book industry works, but I can't even begin to imagine how. If I were a bookstore owner, I would go have a quiet nervous breakdown in the corner, and then order me a couple.

Hat tip to the Harper Studio blog via Twitter and @MariaSchneider.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Aggressive ignorance is hurting the American image and a lot more than just image

There is nothing worse than aggressive stupidity.
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Janet Napolitano, US Secretary of Homeland SecurityUnless it’s aggressive stupidity coupled with power. For this reason, aggressive stupidity exercised by Americans in positions of power is arguably the most dangerous in the world. Obama’s much-vaunted promises of change have unfortunately not taken effect. We still are faced with high-ranking American officials whose ignorance of the outside world and their own portfolios is absolutely devastating.

Take Janet Napolitano, Secretary for Homeland Security, for example. (You may have guessed that’s who I wanted to talk about all along.) She has gone on record equating the Mexican and Canadian borders, for starters. That’s not even comparing apples and oranges. That’s comparing Blackberries and oranges. The problems to the North and to the South are vastly different. To the South you have illegal immigrants flowing in; to the North you have congestion slowing down the world’s most vigorous trading partnership. Canadians are not crossing the border in isolated places hoping to find a better life in the US, at least not in numbers significant enough to matter. And those are probably neatly counter-balanced by illegal American immigrants in Canada.

On Monday, Ms. Napolitano took her foot and stuffed it into her mouth all the way up to her hip.

In an interview broadcast Monday on the CBC, Ms. Napolitano attempted to justify her call for stricter border security on the premise that "suspected or known terrorists" have entered the U. S. across the Canadian border, including the perpetrators of the 9/11 attack.

All the 9/11 terrorists, of course, entered the United States directly from overseas. The notion that some arrived via Canada is a myth that briefly popped up in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and was then quickly debunked.

Informed of her error, Ms. Napolitano blustered: "I can't talk to that. I can talk about the future. And here's the future. The future is we have borders."

Just what does that mean, exactly?

Even Rush Limbaugh knows better. For the record, the 9/11 terrorists all had papers in order, issued to them by the American government, and not one of them entered the US through Canada.

She has since retracted the statement, claiming she was misunderstood. Judge for yourselves.

The furor began when Napolitano was asked to clarify statements she had made about equal treatment for the Mexican and Canadian borders, despite the fact that a flood of illegal immigrants and a massive drug war are two serious issues on the southern border.

"Yes, Canada is not Mexico, it doesn't have a drug war going on, it didn't have 6,000 homicides that were drug-related last year," she said.

"Nonetheless, to the extent that terrorists have come into our country or suspected or known terrorists have entered our country across a border, it's been across the Canadian border. There are real issues there."

When asked if she was referring to the 9-11 terrorists, Napolitano added: "Not just those but others as well."

Misunderstood, eh? How many ways are there to understand "just" and "as well"?

Is it any surprise that Canadians are upset?

In February, the former Arizona governor--criticized as weak on security along her state's Mexican border during her term--ordered a review of 49th parallel security, saying the terrorist threat was greater there than on the Mexican border. Last month, she said Canada should be treated the same as Mexico--as if there were any real similarities.

As long as she repeats this rubbish, the corrections that follow are unpersuasive.

Canadian Ambassador to the U. S. Michael Wilson does his best to sow truth in hard soil, but this needs to be dealt with at the top. It is now for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to deal directly with Obama, to ensure the border remains open to visitors and convenient to trade.

Unchecked by higher authority, Napolitano's vaulting ignorance is capable of serious harm to Canada.

American friends have sometimes asked me where Canadian anti-Americanism comes from. There are a lot of answers to that question, some of them not too flattering to Canadians, but Napolitano’s shenanigans are an example of the kind of thing that creates a lot of ill will.

Will somebody please send the woman home to Arizona and find somebody competent to replace her? (So much for the stereotype of Republicans being rubes, and Democrats being urbane and sophisticated.) Anybody who believes for ten seconds that the Mexican and Canadian borders are in any way equivalent has no credibility. And she’s had considerably longer than ten seconds to catch on to that fact. If it hasn’t dawned on her in the months she’s held her position, there’s no hope of her ever understanding. This is a fundamental reality that she should have grasped at her very first briefing. It is one thing to be ignorant; it is another altogether to cling to that ignorance in the face of massive evidence to the contrary. And it is sheer insanity to give this kind of person the authority to act on their ignorance. The damage she can do to the American-Canadian trading relationship - and thus to the American economy - is unthinkable. We are, after all, the USA’s biggest trading partner, far eclipsing Japan, the European Union, and even China.

Yeah, I'm steamed. Sorry. And when you find somebody else, make sure it's somebody who has actually crossed the border at least once? Napolitano has flown over it, but has never set foot, or even car tire, in a Canadian border crossing. For crying out loud...

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Personal update

I have had all kinds of wonderful ideas for blog posts this week, but my head has been elsewhere, I'm afraid. I know that it severely disrupted your lives. I'm sorry.

After a lot of thinking and mulling and praying, I've decided to accept an offer of representation from Jan Dennis of Dennis Literary. Jan is the man who, as an editor, first published Frank Peretti and Stephen Lawhead, and who, as an agent, first represented Ted Dekker and Donita K. Paul. In other words, he is a huge figure in the world of Christian speculative fiction. I am deeply honoured that he has been willing to place his confidence in me and my writing. And still having a little trouble believing that he did.

OK, next major hurdle to overcome is to win the heart of an editor. But before I get there, I'll probably have some more revising and polishing to do. Jan will be bringing the first set of professional eyes to this manuscript and I imagine he'll have a good number of things to say.

In the meanwhile, I am going to celebrate Easter and the supreme mystery of the Incarnation.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Fun mob in Antwerp

I had a very odd emotional reaction to this video that I really didn't expect. Tell me how it affects you.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

The Global Village is here

I love the social network sites, truly I do. I have met some truly incredible people there, ones that I had no hope of meeting in "real" life. Some are passing acquaintances, others are becoming fast friends. Between blogs, MySpace, Facebook, forums, and now Twitter, the opportunities are amazing. I've conversed with CEO's, assistant district attorneys, renowned intellectuals, journalists, experts in various fields and all kinds of wonderful "ordinary" folk. Am I going to give this up? No way!

I can also keep track of people I already know so much easier. How else could I watch my niece growing up from 3000 miles away, give or take a few hundred? Or read the out-of-town newsclippings about my various offspring?

But there's a downside to all this connectedness. You've probably all heard about the fellow on Twitter who lost his job before he even started. Or the fact that human resource personnel will often check out your Facebook profiles before even making the offer. On a more personal level, I suspect my kids had mixed feelings when they got my friend requests on Facebook and I was more than a little bemused to find my own mother had got there before me. Not that I mind. But there's no way I can tell her I was busy with X, Y, and Z if she can see my status updates there, now can I? (Just FYI, I don't lie to my mother... She reads my blog too.)


My isolated semi-suburban existence is taking on some of the quality of village life. The support is there: I can launch a prayer request and have friends and churches from Georgia to Australia praying for me. One of my online friends had his house burn down and with a couple of days his cyberfriends organized a blog accepting donations for the rebuilding. So many of us rallied to his cause that it attracted newspaper interest.

On Jessica Faust's blog, it is becoming rather evident that a lot of aspiring authors are having a hard time squaring literary agents' claims that they are too swamped with work to respond promptly with the fact that some of them spend a lot of time posting their thoughts on Twitter. They like even less what some of those thoughts have been. That was yet another cyberstorm that made its way into the mainstream media. For the record, I think a lot of those complaints are unreasonable, but not all of them. In any event, agents are also discovering that they have to weigh carefully how they express themselves online. Online communities are displaying that other characteristic of village life - you can't set a foot outside without all the neighbours knowing.

I myself am becoming a little more circumspect. I had a rather strange thing happen to me recently which I can't tell you about. I'm becoming all too aware of who might be watching. No, it wasn't anything bad or creepy or shameful, just yet another thing to make me realize my voice could carry further than I think.

So now I'm curious. As this realization sinks in, will we see a withdrawal from the social media? Will people prefer to abandon them for the sake of greater privacy? Or will we learn to live with greater transparency, too smitten with the advantages of connectedness to give it all up? Will we become like the inhabitants of real villages, constantly aware of the eyes on our back, reflexively close-mouthed, yet often comforted by that constant presence?

Are your habits changing?

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Overcome the first marketing hurdle

Beyond the enormous hurdle of actually writing a complete novel and then revising and polishing it till it shines, there comes a series of hurdles between the manuscript and the market.

I've now jumped the first hurdle. A literary agent thought my premise was interesting enough to ask to see the entire manuscript or, in the industry jargon, "request the full".

This is akin to making it through the first round at American Idol. I haven't won anything yet, but at least I'm in the competition. Unlike AI, it would be much better for me if I could get waved through this round more than once, by having several agents express an interest. If I'm extremely fortunate, more than one of them will offer representation, and I'll have a choice between agents rather than a choice between one and none. Or no choice at all.

I'm not going to bore you with all the details of this as I go along, but I will post the occasional update. Feel free to chime in with questions, comments, or stories of your own.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Frank Zappa's moustache

OK, so I don't feel like tackling anything heavy today. Enjoy.

Toyota Trucks logo

Friday, 27 March 2009

Book trailers

Have you seen them floating around YouTube? Little one- or two-minute clips, designed to make your mouth water for a particular book: book trailers.

It seems logical, doesn't it? Like movies, novels are a form of story-telling. A good hint at the story should make people want to buy the book, right?

But how many people you know browse YouTube looking for books? Do you?

How many people buy books as a result of viewing a trailer? Do you?

Is it worth the time and effort and financial outlay to create a book trailer? Will anybody see them who is not already a fan?

Please answer the poll at the top of the left-hand sidebar, and then tell me why I should or shouldn't make a book trailer when the time comes. Or if you've made one, tell me what you've learned.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Nothing happens when I double click

Students wrestle with unfamiliar technology.

In all seriousness, I think it's time we gave students eReaders instead of paper texts. The texts are obscenely expensive and student backpacks obscenely heavy. It doesn't help that the publishing industry has followed an aggressive bigger-is-better policy regarding textbooks for years.

From the Practical Theory blog. Hat tip to Christa Allen.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Bunch of blithering idiots

Arab teenager in Umm al-FahmJust because you have a right, doesn't mean it is wise or desirable to exercise it in any place at any time.

In this particular case, I am referring to the Israeli marchers provoking riots in the town of Umm al-Fahm.
One of the leaders of the march was Baruch Marzel, who led the anti-Arab Kach party that was banned in Israel in 1994.

"All we are doing is waving the Israeli flag. All we are demanding is loyalty to the state," another march leader, Michael Ben-Ari Ben-Ari, a member of the Israeli parliament, told the Israeli news website Ynet."

Yeah right. Watch out for the words "All we" or "We just". They almost inevitably precede lies. They are like magician's diversions, trying to draw your eyes away from what is really important. This formulation is often an important step in the process of self-deception, eagerly used by obnoxious extremists of all stripes.

The ability to wave a flag in any street is not exactly essential to anybody's well-being. I'm all for safe-guarding human rights, but this march should never have been allowed by the authorities. Its goal was primarily provocation and its only result the souring of Arab-Jewish relations within the Israeli state. It is equally obvious that this is precisely what the marchers desired, despite all the protests of offended innocence. It puts me in mind of all those nasty Irish marches that used to cause annual mayhem until the Irish finally grew up and learned to live together without constant nose-thumbing.

A similar outburst of maturity in the Middle East is not likely to occur in the near future.

History of Umm al-Fahm from

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Monday, 23 March 2009

The Moonstone - a book review

The Moonstone by Wilkie CollinsThe Moonstone by Wilkie Collins is a 19th century mystery that provided the template for mysteries for many, many years to come, with bumbling policemen, a master sleuth, and amateur detectives all making their appearance. Because it was written in 1868, I was expecting something a bit stuffy, but was thrilled to discover that it was a warm, entertaining book. This is due primarily to Collins' skill at narrating with engaging voices. One of the participants in the mystery decides to put together a written, first-person account of the events surrounding the disappearance of the Moonstone, a huge yellow diamond, and asks various people who were present at various stages of the events to record their eye-witness accounts. So we are treated to a variety of voices. It broke down a little with the testimony of Miss Clack, who is one of those purse-mouthed, religious zealots designed to give religion a bad name. Even so, it is entertaining to see how she tells it from her point of view, but we are capable of seeing through her delusions even though she is not.

Three reasons you might like this book,
1. As mentioned above, the character of Gabriel Betteredge in particular draws us right into the story with his down-to-earth charm and the misogyny that he professes but seems to be quite incapable of practising.

2. Every time we think the mystery is solved (and I was frankly wondering what the rest of the pages would be used for), a new wrinkle comes along and things get complicated once again.

3. Although it was a contemporary novel at the time of its writing, it now fits in nicely with historicals. Anybody enamoured of 19th century Britain will be well satisfied with the necessarily authentic atmosphere and details. And grateful you didn't live then and there...

Three reasons you might not like this book
This part is going to be hard again.
1. The afore-mentioned Miss Clack. I got so fed up with her, I almost stopped reading. Like I said, I decided to be entertained instead by her profound lack of self-knowledge and general cluelessness.

2. You don't like a book that has a succession of narrators. It would have been fun to stick with Betteredge, I admit, but obviously Collins preferred the freshness of the first person, eye-witness account, even if it meant shifting from one narrator to another. I have mixed feelings about it, myself.

3. There are some plausibility issues. I am very suspicious of the medical evidence, even for the times. And there are a couple of characters I don't quite buy, but it wasn't fatal to the enjoyment of the story.

Three sentences from page 33
"The wicked Colonel's will has left his Diamond as a birthday present to my cousin Rachel," says Mr. Franklin. "And my father, as the wicked Colonel's executor, has given it in charge to me to bring down here."

If the sea, then oozing in smoothly over the Shivering Sand, had been changed into dry land before my own eyes, I doubt if I could have been more surprised than I was when Mr. Franklin spoke those words.

Other reviews
A variety at Top Mystery
Victorian Challenge
The Sleepy Reader

This was on my list for the 1% Challenge, which I had more or less abandoned because of the difficulty of handling library books when you're shuttling back and forth across the border. But when I saw The Moonstone on Feedbooks, my problem was solved. I rather doubt I'll catch up in the challenge at this point, but at least I had a lot of fun with this book.

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Sunday, 22 March 2009


FeedbooksGet thee to Feedbooks, forthwith!

Two words: free books. Works in the public domain, available as free pdf's, no strings attached. Enough to make a booklover weep for joy. You can read them on your computer, on your iPhone, on your Kindle, or your addiction of choice. And if you fall in love with the book you download, you can go out and buy it on paper, knowing ahead of time that you love it.

And if you self-publish, they will distribute your manuscript too. Doubt if there's a payment model involved, but if you just want to get read...

This is one of the cool things I discovered on Twitter.

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Wednesday, 18 March 2009

The most creative, zaniest thing I have seen in a very long time

Who knew extreme shepherding could be so very funny?

Hat tip to Creative Madness.

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Monday, 16 March 2009

The Restorer - The Sword of Lyric - a book review

The Sword of LyricThe Restorer is a Christian fantasy by Sharon Hinck and represents a bit of a departure for the author, who had been better known for her women's fiction.

Susan Mitchell is a stay-at-home mother of four whose life is disappearing under a grey blanket of depression. Her husband builds her a private space in the attic where she can get away from family demands. It works too well, as she finds herself whisked away in the mother of all electrical storms to another world. She learns - to the horror of all concerned - that she is a Restorer to the People of the Verses. Neither she nor the People have much confidence in her, but the signs are unmistakable.

Three reasons you might like this book
1. A portal story that centers around a suburban housewife who must learn to be so much more. Yes, there are some cliched tropes here, but choosing such an unusual protagonist helped to refresh them. The skepticism on both sides was also an interesting twist. Susan's struggle to grow into the role and the mistakes she makes are really the center of this story and ring quite true to life.

2. Hinck likes twists. When you think you see where things are going, you get side-swiped.

3. There is a sweetness of spirit that pervades The Restorer which I suspect is typical of Hinck. (I haven't read any of her other books yet.) The authorial voice that shines through makes me think that the author would be a wonderful friend.

Three reasons you might not like this book
1. My biggest beef is the frequency of "telling" as opposed to "showing". In other words, Hinck is constantly explaining things to the reader, rather than letting us discover them for ourselves. A quick example: "For the first day or so I was comforted by their presence. After a while I felt claustrophobic." We don't get to participate in these emotions, we are just told about them. Or she will deliver her conclusions, without letting us see how she arrived at them. It could have been a much more powerful story if Hinck had trusted her readers to get it, instead of telling them what to get.

2. I wasn't always sold on the believability factor. One major twist left Susan stunned with disbelief. Me too. Unlike her, I never bought it.

3. It's explicitly Christian. If that is an automatic turn-off for you, you would be turned off. Mind you, it's not a book that tries to convert the reader, as it is written to a Christian audience and is more concerned with the walk of faith than it is with persuading non-believers. Of course, for the intended audience, this is a selling point rather than a turn-off.

Three sentences from page 33
A shudder ran through me. "Mark," I whispered, "where are you?" The thought of Mark - who always squashed the scary bugs in our house and defended me against relentless insurance agents or dishonest repairmen - did me in.
(It was a pleasure to watch her grow out of her wimpiness.)

Other reviews
Title Trakk
Novel Reviews
Grasping for the Wind

Thursday, 12 March 2009

How a bad ad campaign kept me away from a good product

Venus razorLong legs and skimpy bathing suits. Tropical islands. The goddess in you.

It all made me gag. Talk about mindless manipulation. As if a razor were going to make a beauty out of me. I was way too smart to be snared by that kind of baloney. So I avoided the Venus razor out of principle. Fluff was not going to sell me.

Then I actually tried one, mainly because my daughter's was hanging around the bathtub. (Don't tell her. I'm counting on her not reading this blog. LOL) And didn't the darn thing work better than mine?

So I guess I'll go buy one.

In all those years of mindless advertising, why didn't they ever tell me it would actually shave better and give fewer nicks? That is a pitch I would have been interested in.

I know they will argue that the mindless stuff works. Well, maybe, but not on everybody. Couldn't they occasionally make a pitch that actually engages a brain or two?

The website where I pinched the picture (it's free advertising, Gillette, but I'll take it off if you want) is equally gag-worthy. The theme song rendered in pre-orgasmic groans. For a razor. The only other pitch that approaches this level of ridiculousness is all those toothbrush ads riffing on epic thrillers. And they wonder why I quit watching TV.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Oh boy, is the manure going to hit the fan

Frankie Schaeffer on the religious right and the Republican Party.

I have got to read that book. Have you read Crazy for God? What did you think?

Hat tip to This Changes Nothing.

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Tuesday, 10 March 2009

His Majesty's Dragon - a book review

Naomi Novak's TemeraireEverything I had read about Naomi Novik's Temeraire series sounded intriguing, so when I discovered that Del Rey was making a number of books available as free downloads, I jumped on the chance to check it out.

In the Temeraire series, we go back to the Napoleonic Wars, with one major difference. Significant parts of the war are being fought in the skies on dragonback, with captains and flight crews clambering on the rigging. Dragons are intelligent - depending on the species, sometimes more intelligent than people - and bond for life with their captains.

The story opens as Captain Will Laurence of the British Navy discovers with horror that the French warship he has just captured is carrying a dragon egg on the verge of hatching. There is no trained aviator on board to bond with the hatchling, something that has to be done before the first feeding. Lots are drawn, a young man is chosen, but the dragonet has different ideas and Laurence watches his career crumble around him. Whether he will or no, he is now an aviator.

Three reasons you might like this book
1. You like historical novels and/or historical fantasy. Other than the Dragon Corps, this is a carefully done bit of history, with the attitudes and social conditions mirroring the actual historical period.

2. The relationship between Temeraire the dragon and Will Laurence is the core of this story and it is very nicely drawn. Imagine a man and his dog story, when the "dog" is not only intensely loyal, but has a razor-sharp intelligence and can fly. That gives you a bit of an idea. But just a bit. It was enthralling. And I so envied Laurence.

3. Laurence is an interesting protagonist. He is conservative, but will think outside the box when the situation warrants. He makes mistakes, but recognizes them and makes the necessary changes. He's an honourable man, trying to do the honourable thing, even when the personal cost is very high.

Three reasons you might not like this book
1. You're like me and get bored by action scenes. Especially when they are in three dimensions. I read most of this book in a state of acute interest, in spite of the fact it was on a computer screen, but my interest started to flag in the final chapters and the big battle scene. Action tends to bore me, especially when it requires a lot of visualization. Of course, if you're an action fan, you'd have an entirely different take on this matter.

2. You don't like anything that smacks of fantasy or alternate history. You have my deepest sympathies. I personally loved the sense of wonder that pervaded this book - oh wait! I was supposed to be giving reasons for NOT liking the book. Can you tell I am having problems with this side of the argument?

3. Ummm, there's got to be something else. You think that dragons are diabolical, despite the fact that dragons don't really exist and are therefore whatever the storyteller makes them to be. But set your mind at rest. These dragons are not diabolical, but a part of the natural world. There is even a dragon expert, publishing his scholarly works on the particularities of each species. A charming appendix offers excerpts and illustrations from his book. No demons here, sorry.

Three lines from page 33
Thunder did not frighten him, nor lightning; “What makes it?” he only asked, and was disappointed when Laurence could offer him no answer. “We could go and see,” he suggested, partly unfolding his wings again, and taking a step towards the stern railing. Laurence started with alarm; Temeraire had made no further attempts to fly since the first day, being more preoccupied with eating, and though they had enlarged the harness three times, they had never exchanged the chain for a heavier one.

And might I add in passing, that I think this is brilliant marketing on the part of Del Rey. If I understand correctly, all the books make available for download (just for one month, so rush over if you want your free copy) are the first volume of a series. Great way to get a reader hooked and make them want to buy the rest of the series. I am a great believer in free samples as the most honest form of advertising, so I'm all in favour. Nothing will persuade me to buy an unknown author faster than a good excerpt.

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Saturday, 7 March 2009

I've been contacted by a publisher

Red flash caladiumAnd he wants to use a picture from my gardening blog in a children's book on container gardening.

Seriously, if you'd ever told me I'd get into print as a photographer I would have said you were nuts.

I'll get credited and will receive a copy of the book. Very, very cool.

But the irony of it is killing me.

Hey publishers, I've got a manuscript for you! Yoohoo! Over here!

Reset button needs resetting

Reset buttonAm I the only one who doesn't think this is funny?
When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton greeted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Friday before sitting down to their working dinner, she presented him a small green box with a ribbon. Inside was a red button with the Russian word "peregruzka" printed on it.

"I would like to present you with a little gift that represents what President Obama and Vice President Biden and I have been saying and that is: 'We want to reset our relationship and so we will do it together.'"

Clinton, laughing, added, "We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?" she asked Lavrov.

"You got it wrong," Lavrov said." Both diplomats laughed. "It should be "perezagruzka" (the Russian word for reset,) Lavrov said. "This says 'peregruzka,' which means 'overcharged.'"

Nobody in the American State Department is proficient in Russian? They try very hard to get a single word right and can't do it? For a photo-op that most of the world will see?

May I politely suggest that the State Department get its head out of its nether regions and realize that it is their job to understand how the rest of the world thinks and that they can't possibly do that if they don't speak the language?

The American government is like an out-of-touch executive, thinking that the occasional walkabout is a substitute for really knowing somebody.

And for what it's worth, this is not a Democrat/Republican thing. It's a part of the mindset that says, "I'm so important, everybody else has to know who I am while I forget their names." It's been a characteristic of American foreign policy for decades and is a big part of the reason why they get it so terribly wrong so often.

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Friday, 6 March 2009

Get Glassy

Dichroic glassThis is not, in general, a girly blog. That's because I'm not a girly girl.

Having said that, I'm telling you today about a website selling hand-made glass jewelry and gifts. First, because I know the craftswoman. Second, because I think there's some really cool stuff here at reasonable prices. She's got pretty things, interesting things, and funny things.

Even if you're not a girly girl, or even a girl, this is a good place to pick up a gift for a girl in your life. Or ask her to make a keychain for your guy. Or just go look at pretty things.

High voltage

Hand-painted pendant from

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Sixth picture

OK Janna. You've sweet-talked me again. But I'm not tagging anybody. I just won't do that anymore. Anybody who likes this meme and wants to do, consider yourself tagged by me.

This is a picture meme. I'm supposed to find the sixth photo in the sixth folder on my computer, post and explain it. This is a little tough, as I'm on a relatively new computer and have uploaded very few pictures. Haven't even created folders yet.

But here is the sixth picture of what I've got.

Louise Guay - Rencontre au café

This album was put out last year by a friend of mine. It's a live show that was a trip down nostalgia lane. I'd seen all these songs performed live about 30 years ago, so it really is a nostalgia trip for me in particular. Louise is a gifted singer/songwriter with a very powerful stage presence. The recording quality isn't the greatest on this album due to the coffeeshop environment, but for me, it's a rush. And yes, I bought it. (Disclaimer: we're also friends.)

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Wednesday, 4 March 2009

What do you think of self-publishing?

As you may or may not know, the publishing industry is in convulsions. A business model forged in the fires of the Great Depression is now hopelessly out-of-date, but is so entrenched that it will take dynamite to move it.

And dynamite is what it's getting. The digital revolution combined with the economic situation is a pretty formidable double-whammy. While the music industry got blasted into the air a number of years ago (the dust is still falling from the skies and its new shape is starting to be visible), the book industry managed to duck most of the impact, primarily because very few people wanted to read book-length text on a computer screen. It's hard on the eyes and there are too many distractions. Amazon and mega-bookstores did change the rules a bit, but mainly for retailers and publishers.

But the recent successes of the Kindle and the Sony Reader are starting to shake things up for readers as well. And if they follow the well-worn path of electronic innovations and drop their prices significantly over the next few years, the impact will be seismic.

So what has this got to do with self-publishing?

Simple. The rules are changing. Self-publishing is looking ever more attractive. The traditional advantages of traditional publishers are eroding.

The first advantage was distribution. The publisher - not the author - did the hard work of trying to get the book into actual stores. This is still true. But the advent of new technologies makes it a less wonderful advantage. Print-on-demand technology and digital distribution are making a physical presence in a physical store less necessary than it has been in the past. And if present trends continue, this advantage will continue to shrink.

The second advantage was marketing. A publisher would - in theory - take on the publicity responsibilities and do everything in its power to make sure the book sold. (Is that the sound of cynical laughter I hear?) In actual fact, that is now rarely true. Blogs and social networks have become the most effective way of marketing books and authors are generally expected to work these angles on their own. They are often exhorted to plow their advances back into their own publicity: publishers are too busy with the spaghetti strategy: throw a whole bunch of books at the wall and see what sticks. More and more writers are wondering what the point of signing with a publishing house is if so much of the hard work is left to the writer anyway. If you're not one of your publisher's A-list authors, this advantage has pretty much ceased to exist. (Some of the agents I am querying want to know my marketing vision right in the query letter. What does that tell you?)

The third advantage is editing. This one really matters too. But so many editors have been laid off, the survivors are dizzy with fatigue, trying to handle the workload of two or three people. How much time and energy are they really able to put into a book nowadays? A self-published author can also hire a free-lance editor to do the work, although that obviously means a financial outlay.

The fourth advantage is credibility. This one is a doozy. What if every kid that auditioned for American Idol set up a page on iTunes and released their basement-recorded singles? That's pretty much what you're facing as a reader in the self-published world. How much dreck do you want to wade through to find the rare voice worth listening to? How many dreadful books do you want to read before you find a good one?

Yet even that is not an insurmountable problem. A savvy author who knows how to generate word-of-mouth publicity and who posts an excerpt or two online might be able to do an end-run around the credibility issue. And with a good-looking website selling digital downloads, it could be done without the financial risks of publishing hardcopy books.

I'm still thinking finding a publisher is preferable, but to be honest, I'm going to be looking very hard at what they're offering in terms of editing and publicity. Because if they don't offer much in that department, it's hard to see the advantage to me of signing up with them.

What do you think? If you're a writer, under what circumstances would you self-publish? If you're a reader, under what circumstances would you buy a self-published book? If you're an industry insider, is there something important I'm missing here?

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Sunday, 1 March 2009

An unwelcome ingredient in your Easter chocolate

Children harvesting cocoaSlavery.

Child slavery.

Sometimes the children are slaves to circumstance - the children of poverty-stricken farmers who have no choice but to send the whole family into the fields. The lack of education for the children ensures that the vicious cycle will continue.

But sometimes they are literally slaves.

Children who are involved in the worst labor abuses come from countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso, and Togo -- nations that are even more destitute than the impoverished Ivory Coast. Parents in these countries sell their children to traffickers believing that they will find honest work once they arrive in Ivory Coast and then send their earnings home. But as soon as they are separated from their families, the young boys are made to work for little or nothing. The children work long and hard -- they head into the fields at 6:00 in the morning and often do not finish until 6:30 at night.

" Though he had worked countless days harvesting cocoa pods -- 400 of which are needed to make a pound of chocolate -- Diabate has never tasted the finished product. "I don't know what chocolate is," he told the press.

The largest chocolate producers are aware of the problems but wash their hands of responsibility.
For years, US chocolate manufacturers have said they are not responsible for the conditions on cocoa plantations since they don't own them. But the $13 billion chocolate industry is heavily consolidated, with just two firms -- Hershey's and M&M/Mars -- controlling two-thirds of the US chocolate candy market. Surely, these global corporations have the power and the ability to reform problems in the supply chain. What they lack is the will.

After a string of media exposes and the threat of government action jeopardized their image, the chocolate industry finally agreed to take action in 2001. On November 30, 2001 the US chocolate industry released a Protocol and Joint Statement outlining their plans to work toward eliminating the worst forms of child labor (see ILO Convention 182) and forced labor (see ILO Convention 29) in cocoa production.

Unfortunately, the plan does not guarantee stable and sufficient prices for cocoa, or any guarantee that cocoa farmers will receive a fair income in the end. Without such a guarantee, there is now way to ensure that abusive child labor on cocoa farms will cease for good.

Fortunately there is something you can do about it. Insist on Fairtrade chocolate. Yes, you will pay more for your chocolate, but is getting a lower price on an unnecessary indulgence so important that we are willing to force children into slavery? Are you willing?

I'm not.

The Australian media reports on the abuse: click here.
The cocoa industry fails to deliver on its commitments: click here.

The Biblical take:
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. ... Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.

James 5:1,4

Kommentare auf Deutsch sind immer willkommen.

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Saturday, 28 February 2009

Is Amazon killing the goose that lays the golden eggs?

...Binky Urban, perhaps the world's most successful literary agent, has some hard words for Amazon.
Another issue that concerns her is book pricing: Amazon is breaking the market, she says.

"Amazon prices books at $9.99. Books in hardback cost $30.00, and the stores give a discount and the price goes down to $15.00. Amazon is not regulated the way retail outlets are, so they can do whatever they want."

So they might wipe out the publishers. Are you fighting them?

"They can definitely wipe out the publishers. The problem is that the publishers need them. Amazon isn't an easy company to do business with. It's a very secretive company; they will not share any of their sales data."

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Friday, 27 February 2009

It's not just the throwaway children they're pimping

As a follow-up to my previous post on teenage prostitution, this report from Britain illustrates too well that it's not only throwaway children they're preying on. A suspicious teacher investigates a fifteen-year-old's bag and finds the accoutrements of prostitution. She definitely wasn't homeless, but that's about all we know.

This girl probably was reeled in with the promise of easy money, rather than out of desperation.

The pimping suspects were released "facing no further action". *Sigh* I hope that was only because of lack of evidence. Because it's actually pretty depressing.

Is a society where the stigmatism of prostitution is eroding, where middle-class young women (and much younger) dress like hookers putting our daughters in greater danger?

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I may not be Jesus

Just because it tickles my funny bone.

Good shepherd walks on water

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Thursday, 26 February 2009

I totally forgot to mention

I entered about 250 words in this end of chapter contest, hosted by Miss Snark's first victim. No prizes offered, just the opportunity for feedback.

Take a gander, if you feel so inclined. We were supposed to post 250 words from the end of a chapter, to see if readers would feel inclined to continue. Would you?

Porn star loves Christian music

Ron Jeremy, porn star, (can fat balding men really be porn stars? Please, don't explain it) really loves Christian music.

You don't need to watch the whole thing; he repeats himself a lot. A minute or two will do.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Because, ya know, pimping children isn't BAD enough

teen prostituteThe FBI did a nation-wide sweep to rescue teenage prostitutes. Forty-eight children were rescued. But why bring in the Feds?
Historically, federal authorities rarely play a role in anti-prostitution crackdowns, but the FBI is becoming more involved as it tries to rescue children caught up in the business.

"The goal is to recover kids. We consider them the child victims of prostitution," said FBI deputy assistant director Daniel Roberts.

"Unfortunately, the vast majority of these kids are what they term 'throwaway kids,' with no family support, no friends. They're kids that nobody wants, they're loners. Many are runaways," Roberts said.

The federal effort is also designed to hit pimps with much tougher prison sentences than they would likely get in state criminal courts.

Government prosecutors look to bring racketeering charges or conspiracy charges that can result in decades of jail time.

"Some of these networks of pimps and their organizations are very sophisticated, they're interstate," said Roberts.

Come again?
The federal effort is also designed to hit pimps with much tougher prison sentences than they would likely get in state criminal courts.

Government prosecutors look to bring racketeering charges or conspiracy charges that can result in decades of jail time.

Because pimping children isn't bad enough.

I remember the outrage one of my sons felt a few years ago reading the paper one day. Somebody guilty of sexually abusing a child got a sentence of ten years. Just like the guy who stole a beer truck.

What is wrong with us?

(I am in no way slamming the FBI's operation. I know their hearts bleed for these kids. It's the courts and the legislators that are messed up here.)

Organizations who are helping:
The Dream Center
I'll add more if you tell me where to find them.

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