Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Different But Still Good Blog Hop -- this week!

Yes, we're back--and this week we're going to be exploring projects that have a different interpretation on a related concept and make you appreciate that sometimes differences aren't always bad things. Think...Shakespeare's plays and the many modernized adaptations that followed, Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea (and maybe Emily, Charlotte, and Anne Bronte), or Tobey Maguire's version of Spider-Man and Andrew Garfield's. You get the idea.

Watch this space for updates, but please check out Jami's blog on the 19th.  

2/19: Jami
2/20: Morgan
2/21: Deb
2/22: Kerrie
2/23: Caroline

Fair is foul

And foul is fair

And! I was able to bamboozle Caroline, Jami, and Erin Cawood to talk about the business of writing and publishing. I rarely do things like this because I know most people couldn't care less about "my process", but I hope new and aspiring indie authors will get something out of our virtual panel discussion. Watch for that on the 26th!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

My month of reading dangerously

I did it--I kept my resolution for the month of January and avoided the television as well as internet- and radio news. I also wrote an average of at least 500 words a day, and the total was something like 17,000. Honestly, given all the reading I did, this was the easy part.

Here's what my completed reading list for the month:

Orientalism by Edward Said This book was, in so many ways, everything. About 350 pages long, but the longest 350 pages I have read in years. I will call Said's writing style "erudite", but I'm glad I made it through. What you need to know: "the Orient" is a stand in for "the Other", and the history of what we believe and tell ourselves about others is not pretty. The fact that some of what he wrote about 40 years ago is still pertinent today is just disturbing.

The Road Not Taken by Max Boot At 600+ pages, I had thought this was my going to be the most challenging tome on my list, but no. Boot is an excellent author of military histories. This wasn't simply a biography of the controversial Edward Lansdale or an exploration of the events leading up to American escalation in Vietnam; this work helps readers not only understand counterinsurgency ("COIN") but also why it's more important than how many troops or materiel we throw at any one place.

Japan in Asia by Akihiko Tanaka I consider myself well-versed in modern Northeast Asia, but I still learned a lot from this history of Japanese foreign policy in Post-Cold War Asia. My reaction to breathless news about North Korean nuclear threats and Chinese trade policy is a yawn, but I admit to being easily scandalized by the hardliners in Japan and Abe's provocative and at times unhelpful statements. Reading this gives a more accurate picture of internal Japanese politics, and not least because the full statements are reported, not the cherry-picked soundbites. Ah, books!

No Logo by Naomi Klein This is almost twenty years old, but if anything the interconnected problems with branding, production, labor, and culture have gotten more pernicious, not less. And while everything she writes about Nike, McDonald's, Shell, and their superbrand cohort is horrifying, the worst part is when she explains how these trends played out in the Bush and Obama presidencies (and yes, it's only gotten worse under our current administration). In other news, this book might have something to do with my borrowing a lot of books on sewing and knitting.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden I couldn't put this down and finished it a day. While this isn't quite as perfect as Naomi Novik's Uprooted, Arden described a world I didn't want to leave. I am anxiously waiting to get my hands on the next books in her trilogy.

Bohemian Gospel by Dana Carpenter Hmm...this started out well. In fact, the first half was fantastic. But after that point it took a turn I didn't think worked, and from there on it got weirder. That could be forgiven if the ending wasn't completely out of left field. I have, sadly, no desire to read the sequel.

City of Lies by Victoria Thompson The story about a con woman in DC and New York had potential, but the writing style was a little more jocular than I thought it should be. And why this was in the Mystery section, I have no idea.

Uniform Justice, Death and Justice, Dressed for Death, and Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon I am unapologetic about the fact that I have developed an obsession with this mystery series set in Venice and featuring the earnest-in-spite-of-himself Commissario Brunetti. The usual satisfaction readers usually feel when they get to the end of a mystery is a luxury you aren't granted when you're visiting a world where justice, answers, and the law almost never work together. And in spite of the darkness, I can't put this down, but I'll admit the comic relief provided by Brunetti's boss Vice Questore Patta and the resourceful secretary Signorina Elettra Zorzi helped.

The first week or so of January was hard, and it didn't get easier until I loaded up on fiction. Read into that (no pun intended) what you will. After that, though, I didn't miss television or the sounds of talk radio (a discovery I made: I really like classical ballet scores, but I can't get into opera). I'm actually dreading watching some of the shows my husband has been stockpiling (although I can't wait for the new Jessica Jones season).

In other news, after discovering that Amazon removed 200 or so of my reviews without saying anything, I am in the process of removing all of my reviews from Amazon as well. Most are at my local library website, but a about twenty indie titles which aren't available through my library will be moved to Goodreads. This isn't just a fit of pique; I've been contemplating this for about six or seven years. If I thought that doing so was hurting anyone, I wouldn't do it. However, 1) the value of reviews (on Amazon, at least) has noticeably diminished in the last year, and 2) since I have no idea what their criteria was for removing my other reviews in the first place, I can't say that they would have been "safe" there anyway. Bittersweet going through sixteen or seventeen years of my own reviews and deciding what to keep, but as I've gotten older, I'm less in love with my own words and happy to let some of them go.

How was your January? And what have you been reading?

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Who's going to change, me or the internet?

Disconnecting isn't just a thing anymore. It seems to be a need.

In my last blogpost, I pointed to three other people who felt the same way. I can now point to three more, and as an added bonus, another post that talks about paper and how it isn't going anywhere.

Please read all of them, most of which are short. But I can sum up the message in all of them: the internet we have now is too much and not enough. This is nothing like what we were promised, whether in the early 1980s or in 2007 when the iPhone first launched and arguably the real potential of the interconnected world was on the cusp of being realized. In some ways, ten years is a long time for an impatient civilization to give something a try, but the scope of the new tech (the paradigm shift, as it were) was massive and kept building on itself, to the point where many of us kept thinking that what we were waiting for was just around the corner. And maybe it was before it wholesale changed into something else and we were left waiting all over again.

A lot of the conversation around social media activity centers around addiction. I think the jury is still out, but it's safe to say that many of us have an unhealthy relationship with our handheld devices. But as I recall the evolution of the smartphone, I think we're missing the point. I remember the conversations around the deployment of smaller cellphones and the Palm Pilot. Of course no one was talking about how great it would be to share photos of your kids and pets with other people, but they did talk about how much more productive and accessible we could all be with these new devices. And while an increasing number of us can be convinced to walk away from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and every other sharing app, most of us aren't going to be able to turn off our phone because what if someone important can't then reach us? We worry to some extent about corporations and governments tracking our location and our buying habits so they can use than information in their favor, but most of us don't worry that we don't need to be tracked because we are always available to those who already demand the most from our time. We are always an email, text, or phone call away. That, I think, is the most insidious part of the digital revolution.

These are the thoughts that have been nagging at me since I read Solitude (recommended to me after my last blogpost). I worried that it was going to be a self-help book masquerading as social commentary, but Michael Harris isn't foolish enough to offer tips on how to disengage and be alone because that's much bigger than lists and so-called strategies. To truly reclaim our time, we need to reorganize our lives, and I don't just mean move things around in our schedule. We have to say that we are willing to be alone, we are willing to not even pretend to be social at times, and we have to risk being weird without a community of "geeks" or "nerds" to be weird with us. We have to say that we aren't willing to work every waking hour (or wake up to work at the sound of a beep) and take on all of the risks involved in that.

For reasons many reading this understand, that's not happening any time soon. We are risk-averse, and most of us can't afford to be otherwise. In the meantime, we're going to keep pretending that the problem is that no one is moderating Twitter and that Facebook and Amazon's algorithms are telling us what to read and what to buy.

But maybe we can make it a little better for ourselves, and though I don't like New Year's Resolutions, I broke tradition this year and made mine "spend less time on screens". I really can't keep conscious of something like that for an entire year, but I can break it up. For the month of January, I'm not watching television (my mother circa 1983 finally approves of me). For a month, that's not a problem (and admittedly it's made easier by the fact that I caught up on just about all of the Netflix Marvel offerings). Two days into it, and I'm not missing anything...except maybe Diane Kochilas' cooking show which is finally on my local PBS station (did you see the part above about being weird without a net?). 

In the meantime, I'm amusing myself with lots of paper.

The tools of my trade

As my ideas about were in their infancy, I reluctantly started Bullet Journaling, and I love it. I did not go out and buy a Moleskine or Leuchtturm1917 because all I want is a damn notebook. I washi taped a hardback notebook I've had since 2001 and it's been doing everything I need because at the end of the day all you want is paper that will stay together. I finished a composition notebook journal and did breakdown and buy a new one from Walgreen's for all of $10. It's actually perfect for my needs, and because I'm a worrier I'm wondering if I should go stock up.

(Aside: I'm also using the Bullet Journal as a kakeibo, and it's doing wonders for my budget. Good luck finding such a thing in the States, but check out these posts from Europe.)

The other thing about consumer technology: none of it is built to last. Every time one of my children wants to buy a laptop I try to talk them out of it because if they last three years that's amazing. I had a Chromebook for a few years that worked perfectly. Unfortunately, the connection to the cord became dysfunctional. I have been known to write on my phone when the need arises, but three hundred words in and I start to feel nauseous. I can use my husband's computer, but since he uses it for things like work, that's not a dependable option. Finally, I broke down and started drafting in a notebook (another composition book, of course) and no one is more shocked than I am that I can regularly (and legibly) write in it. My earliest fantasies about myself as a writer included me sitting at a typewriter or keyboard, but this is working very well. It's the ultimate in portable, so I don't have to worry about engaging in the comical pursuit to find an outlet in a cafe or library. However, while I'm glad I participated in NaNoWriMo this year, I just can't commit to 1700 words a day. 500 is much more my speed and something I can bust out in thirty minutes. I might try and increase that, but not by much. Consistent activity is so much more gratifying than dramatic bursts of activity.

And...I'm also using a sketch pad. I've found that sketching soothes a part of my brain that words can't touch. I'm not good, but I don't have to be in order for it to be useful. While there are plenty of programs that allow artists to sketch, that's one more thing I'm grateful I don't have to teach myself to do.

But that's not all the paper around here this month! I got two book out of the library on New Year's Eve (in keeping with my tradition of being in the library on New Year's Eve) and have something like twelve on hold. Some of it is fiction, but some of it is also politics and history. While that's always an interest of mine, another specific part of my resolution is to not only not read the news sites but not listen to news radio. I want to be clear: this isn't because I can't handle the news but rather because I don't feel like I'm learning anything. The best newspapers read like they're trying to be edgy blogs, and I've spent two and a half years being frustrated by it. I do keep informed by my local NPR radio station, but the repetition makes me feel like I'm watching CNN. So much is going on in the world, but for some reason it's not being reported with the same attention as political news that is starting to feel like gossip. (God, I miss elitist, wonky, insider-baseball coverage, because even that was more informative than what we have now.) So yes, for the month of January, I'm not going to be as up to the minute with anything, but I am going to be taking some deep dives that I don't usually have time for. Just two days in and it already feels like my brain has eaten something it doesn't usually get a hold of.

The reason I wanted to blog some eleven years ago was so I could participate in a meaningful conversation. What I was told about four years after that was that if you really wanted to "be someone" in the blogosphere you had to blog at least three times a week, even if you didn't have something to say, and you had to make sure that whatever it was you were putting out there was carefully directed at your "target audience". (Can someone prove to me that this wasn't the reason animated gifs became so popular?) I was horrible at that, and so were a lot of other people. I'm going to blog about once a month, and I'm going to do it when I have something to say. And while none of this may be of specific interest to people who read romance or science fantasy, I hope it's of interest to people who are thoughtful, because those are the kinds of readers and people in general that I want to talk to. 

I have changed none of the structural problems inherent in our economy that makes us an on-demand workforce, and I probably haven't told you anything you didn't already know or hadn't thought of. I write this in the interest of sharing, and I hope that if you have thoughts about the same topics, you'd like to share as well. 

Wish me luck for January, and I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Disconnecting is now "a thing"

I deleted my Facebook account this week. I bragged (somewhere) about doing that before, but I did keep a shadow account so I could maintain a Facebook author page. Finally, after a few years of FB making it harder and harder for anyone to see my posts there, I decided it wasn't worth it. So I deleted my page and I deleted my personal account, which had all of 30 friends on it.

And it feels so good.

A day before that I deleted my Instagram (I'd been on for less than a year), Tumblr, and Pinterest accounts. At some point all of them became primarily vehicles for ads (or sponsored posts), and everything they told us about how to tweak our preferences so we only saw the things we'd be interested in was a lie (at least it was for me). I like visual inspiration as much as the next person, but not enough to tolerate what passes for social media now.

I got rid of my Twitter account a while ago, but in that case it wasn't because they were selling to me as it was that it only wanted to show me the most extreme content that was sure to get more of a reaction (or rise) out of me. You know what the world looks like when you're surrounded by those kinds of posts and opinions? It's a scary place, and darker than I could let my web get.
I'm still on LinkedIn, but frankly I'm not going to need much of an excuse to get off of that, either. Of all of the platforms, it's the most disappointing. That's the place where I should find the most useful information, not memes, inspirational posts, or ads (no matter how business focused they are). I thought it was a problem with the contacts I had, but after culling almost 30% of them I'm still seeing updates that have no relevance to me or anything I'm interested in.

I'm also still on Goodreads, but only because I fell in with a community of local writers I really enjoy who want to use that as our primary forum. But I'm no longer telling Goodreads what books I've read or want to read, and I've whittled my list of contacts there as well. There's sooo many ads there, too, plus they keep trying to send me to Amazon to buy things.

And speaking of Amazon: I'm not posting book reviews there unless someone has a really, really good reason for me to do so. I've been reviewing there for almost two decades, but in the last two years it's become so much more trouble than it's worth. I understand why they felt they needed to privilege the reviewers who bought their items, but I'm not going to buy something I read from a library just to have the pleasure of seeing my review on Amazon's site. Right now, if you want to see my reviews, please check out my profile on the Boston Public Library website. It's not as sexy, but I'm enough of a library geek that I still get a thrill out of having any kind of presence there at all.
I was nervous about writing this because I didn't want to come off as a retrogressive Luddite (again…), but I shouldn't have been. Disconnecting is a thing.

This is what I'm saying!
This is what I'm saying!

The true genesis for me was The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It doesn't take much tidying in the real world to force you to realize that you're not deriving nearly as much joy from your time-consuming online life as you should be.

But I started to feel that I needed to take action when I heard about this study earlier this fall. In short, just having your smartphone in the room with you, even if you can't touch it, is distracting enough that it affects your ability to solve problems. Then I saw this video. You don't have to be a millennial in order to be affected by your smartphone (or social media). Since watching this, I started keeping my phone in another room while I sleep--and now I. Sleep. So. Well.

Even at my peak social popularity, I never achieved the kind of fame that exposes so many people to the kind of abuse Jack Monroe describes here. Her solution is perhaps the cleverest still: downgrade the phone so it's impossible to be constantly barraged by social media (and abusive messages). Life goal now: go get a flip phone (if they still sell them).

But it was the last post that confirmed for me that I'm not an outlier. It's not that Nathan Bransford is an authority on lifestyle trends; he's actually an author and publishing professional. I came across his blog as I was going through recommendations from my blog feeder and saw his post on disconnecting.

Serendipity? Universal truth? Something in between? I can't say, but my calendar and my life have opened up as I've pulled back. I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) and I’ve written over 12,000 words so far. My home is cleaner, and I’m reading so much more than I have in months. And I’m excited about things again—like blogging. So expect to hear a lot more from me in the coming months.

I’m not recommending that everyone disconnect to the extent that I have, and as Monroe points out in her post, for some people social media and smartphones are the only way they’re going to have contact with the people. But I am going to say that if you’ve been feeling like everything is just too much, it’s okay to play with letting go of them.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A Clean Romance #Instafreebie Giveaway

You may have noticed that the trend in indie romance is toward explicit and erotic. Which is fine, but it's getting harder and harder to find things that are a little less, er, hot. 

If you've been looking for romance with a little less explicit content, please check out this Instafreebie Giveaway, running today through the 14th. There's a wide variety of titles, and there's even some skin on some of the covers, if you just can't do without ;-) 

Hope you find something you like there!

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Everett Exorcism by Lincoln Cole (New Release, Occult Thriller/Urban Fantasy, Guest Post) Something strange is happening in the city of Everett, Washington and Father Niccolo Paladina is tasked with investigating possible demonic activity. Nothing is as it seems, however, and things quickly begin spiraling out of his control. 

When his path crosses with that of an old rival, they discover that things are worse in Everett than either of them could ever have imagined. As his world collapses around him, Niccolo will be left with one terrible question: what is my faith worth?


Watch the trailer! 


Guest post by Lincoln Cole

I love anti-heroes. I love reading about someone who struggles against their own internal demons to try and become a better person. I enjoy watching television shows like Supernatural, and my favorite movie is "The Thirteenth Warrior". A lot happens in that movie to bring the main character up to speed with the world he's been thrust into, and it is handled with clarity and simplicity. I enjoy watching the journey that characters go through to become wholly different people. It's fascinating to watch them make mistakes and then learn from them to become better (or worse) characters as their journey progresses.

Many newer movies, sadly, focus more on the effects and visualizations of the movie rather than the substance. In many cases, this will leave them looking pretty but having no heart. One of the most recent movies that came out that focused more on the story than on the visuals was the adaption of Stephen King's "IT". King's books have always focused on characters more than plot (for example, the newest Netflix release, "Gerald's Game", takes place almost exclusively in a single bedroom and focuses solely on the emotion and history of the female protagonist). There is something lacking in big visual movies when the characters are secondary to the experience.

I want to read about Byronic heroes and people who struggle against their own inner demons. This has influenced my story telling, as well, because it also means I enjoy writing about characters who have a lot of problems and can't seem to find their way in life. It reflects real people, too, because no one is all good, and no one is all bad either. There is a central question that my newest book series sort of revolves around, and that is: 'is anyone really beyond redemption?'

The Everett Exorcism is about an anti-hero trying to find a new path in his life that gives him the redemption he so desperately wants. He's lost everything that matters to him and made some rash decisions because of it, but now he's resolved to turn himself into a better person. The question is, though, where does one even begin such a journey? I think this is something we all face in our everyday lives, though not normally with demon possession or occult activity looming!

When I wrote my first horror novel, Raven's Peak, part of it included an introduction to a character known as the Reverend who has detached himself from the world and locked himself in a prison. He knows that he's a danger to everyone around him, so his exile and imprisonment was self-inflicted. That story sort of uses his struggle as a launchpad into something completely different, which was fine for that series, but after I was finished I felt like there was a lot more to this man's story than just what we see in Raven's Peak. So, if you're interested in horror and thriller mashups about heroes with a sordid past trying to figure out who they want to be, you should check out my newest novel, The Everett Exorcism!

Lincoln Cole is a Columbus-based author who enjoys traveling and has visited many different parts of the world, including Australia and Cambodia, but always returns home to his pugamonster and wife. His love for writing was kindled at an early age through the works of Isaac Asimov and Stephen King and he enjoys telling stories to anyone who will listen.

If you would like to sign up for his newsletter and receive news and special offers, then please visit his website.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

New Releases, Pre-Orders, and New Covers

Did you notice the new covers? When I started publishing in 2013, people remarked that my covers 1) were gorgeous (Keri at Alchemy Book Covers is very talented!) and 2) stood out from the crowd. In the last four years, however, that started to turn into a liability: not only are most books in the New Adult Romance category almost all based on photos, they're also a lot racier.

I didn't feel like I could justify selling something with scantily clad models, but I could make the covers fit the current market better. Erin Cawood jumped on the chance to remake my covers and streamline the look of the series. I'm chuffed, and readers who come to my site now will immediately get a sense of what my series is about.

Speaking of which: My short story, The Ghosts of Alex Sheldon, was released last week. Please grab a copy if you haven't already! And the finale (!!!) Justice, Mercy and Other Myths is coming out October 9th and is available now for pre-orders.

I hope you like them!

~~~ tried to take everything away from Alex Sheldon, but they didn't take enough. Someone thought they'd closed all the doors to opportunity, but they didn't see the ones that opened into people's worst impulses. Alex was used to power, and he was done with regret. He opened those doors with his eyes wide open and started to replace what he'd lost. He became the man everyone thought he was capable of being, and he was going to make sure nothing compromised him again.

You can't have a conscience when you casually plan a murder and calculate the profit of another human being's suffering. So why are all of his ghosts visiting him as he makes his way home to put his plan of revenge into motion? Someone might almost say that he's haunted.

Even a man like Alex needs to be wary: sooner or later, we all start to look like the company we keep. one person was ever able to fight Alex Sheldon head on. Is that the same person who finally stopped him?

A man like Alex always has a long list of enemies: Lucy Bartolome, the wealthy socialite he blackmailed for decades; Michael Abbot, Miranda Harel, and Richard Hendrickson, all of whom lost parents because of him; David Hwang, the squeaky clean politician who found himself caught in a deal with the devil; Hilary Sayles, the inept madame Alex kept under his thumb; and Mariela, the young woman who almost died when she was trapped in his web. Detective Robert Teague knows the players all too well, but his gut is telling him that Hannah Bruges, the young woman who's been taking the law into her own hands for a decade, is keeping him from putting it all together. If only she wasn't the most exciting thing to happen to him in years, he might still be able to solve this thing.

Hannah has a piece of information that's not only going to change the course of the murder investigation, it's also going to make him and everyone else question a case he thought he'd closed years ago, one that almost cost him his job. What Robert really needs to see is how he fits in, because as soon as he does, everything else will fall into place.

Everyone needs to be careful what they wish for, because solving the murder is nothing compared to living with the answer.