Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Giving It My 10%

Actually, my 9.3%

   Out of the 365 days that make up a year, this is my 34th blog post. I assumed that once I became a full time author, I would have more time to devote to blogging. Eh, that whole time management thing still eludes me. While I never planned to be a daily blogger, I was hoping for weekly at least. So this time around, no more promises. You'll get what I give and you'll like it! Or not, really, no pressure, it's all up to you.

   It is not that I didn't have content. On the contrary, there are tons of things that I really wanted to discuss that are still sitting on my idea board. But this was also the year that I pumped out an alarming four books (that's a pittance for some authors, but massive for me) and finally took the time to learn some of the social media I have been lamenting my ineptitude of here. These are not excuses, just explanations. So below is a list of topics that I may or may not get to by year's end. If I don't make it by December 31, they will carry over into 2015.
   Some of these are important enough that I will make sure I take the time to address. Others, not so much. But I am going to give you all a chance to weigh in. What would you like to hear my thoughts on? What do you find interesting? If the topics below don't interest you, please feel free to suggest something else. I'm not going to make any guarantee that I will have insights on every topic, but I will make an effort if I get some interesting suggestions.

The list:

Another installment of Social(ly Awkward) Media

More Write On! Indie book reviews

My inability to 'unplug' and why this does not make me a tech-obsessed jerk

The state of human/civil rights today and the responsibilities writers of science fiction and fantasy have in this ongoing battle

A year end roundup of new technology that pushed us closer to the idealized future of fiction past

My goals as a writer for the coming year

The bonus material that coincides with the print edition of Going Green (to be fair, I've neglected this primarily because interest in this has been beyond low. If you were one of the handful of folks who bought the book, rest assured, this is coming)

The return of The Feels, posts featuring the sensitive and emotional side of science fiction and fantasy media.

   Wow, that's a huge list. So what would you like to see first?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Middle Age in the Digital Age

   This Saturday, I turn forty. Other than having a massive book sale (that you should absolutely check out), I am not making a huge fuss about it. I'm not big into parties and I am certainly not the type to panic and act like the world is coming to an end because I am another year older.
   If anything, I feel a bit like a fraud. Forty is old, right? Adult at the very least. I mean, come on, I have gray hair, doesn't that prove I am a grown up? It might. I'm sure many twenty-somethings out there might look at me and think, "Uh, yeah, you old, grandma!"
   But do I feel old? Do I feel like a grown up? No. Not really. I am relatively responsible and I have recently realized that going out and partying is not an option when it takes several days to recover, but overall, I don't feel as if I have a whole lot in common with where my parents were at my age. Granted, that may have more to do with the fact that they had four kids, one who was in college. I'm surprised they survived with their sanity mostly intact. Sorry mom and dad!
   I have to wonder how much of this is perspective and how much is outside influence? Would I be more inclined to act my age if I didn't have access to all of the latest memes and millennial news at my fingertips? Am I any less responsible because I allow my bills to be paid automatically instead of sending off a check each month? Maybe, maybe not.
   See, there's something about being old that bugs me. It's all the complaining. Now, don't get me wrong, I do my fair share of complaining. Old people are supposed to complain about young people. That's our job.  But I try to keep my complaints from straying into the realm of hypocritical.
   The biggest complaint that I see is that young people today spent all of their time glued to their phones. No, this is not something I overheard at my Saturday afternoon bridge club. This was not voiced by Ms. Maisey Lou at the gardening society social. This was not even told to me by a nosey neighbor at the local grocery store. Primarily, I see this complaint in the form of image macros on social media websites like TWITTER and FACEBOOK. You know, those places millennials are supposedly addicted to. Seems counterintuitive to me to use the very outlets you are trying to shame to complain about someone else's addiction. It's just as dumb as people using the internet to complain about nerds and computer geeks.
   Admit it, old people, the only reason you went out, did things face to face, or looked things up in the encyclopedia was because the internet did not exist. How convenient that we can forget how addicted we were to talking on the phone. Not about important stuff, just tying up the family phone line to gab for hours with our friend who lived right down the way. All we were doing was texting with our mouths. How was our late night cable TV binge any different than a Netflix binge other than you now have more options? You didn't go out to crowded bars and clubs every weekend because you loved the noise, smells, and unsavory characters you inevitably met. You went out because Tinder didn't exist yet and dating services were the expensive luxuries of those rich enough to admit their desperation. Arcades were way cooler than console gaming? Okay, that's just misplaced nostalgia for a couple of pixels housed in a pretty wooden cabinet and oh, by the way, no one was socializing there either. Not with the high score on Centipede at stake.
   Of course, being a writer, I see the eBook hate quite a bit. The other day, an image macro was making its way around lamenting all the things one can do with a paper book that can't be done with an eBook. Barring the fact that pressing flowers in a book was actually an old timey life hack and not the best thing for your book to begin with, I do not see a paper book shortage here. But I digress. My actual complaint here was that someone made the comment: "It's scary, but we can't stop technology from happening."


   No, what is scary is that anyone would want to stop technology. As I said, I am about to turn forty. While I say that isn't old, let's take a look at what life would be like if the powers that be were able to stop technology at the time of my birth. Let's look at how awesome life would be...

   Well, first of all, how many of us would even be alive right now? Tamper resistant packaging came about as a result of cyanide poisoning in the eighties. Had we just rolled with it, what else could have happened? Let's not forget that AIDS was a death sentence until very recent medical advances came about. Everyone would still have to experience chicken pox, opening them up to the risk of shingles in adulthood. Got pain? Congrats, you now also have a morphine addiction. But that's okay, because it might counteract your addiction to meth amphetamines prescribed by your friendly doctor because weight loss is all about public image and not heart health.
   Seatbelts would be optional and airbags nonexistent, so more car crashes would be fatal. Sun screen would be unheard of and we would all be lighting our Luckys or cigarette of our choice while we grocery shopped, sat at our desks at work, or nursed our children.
   You think we have environmental issues now? What do you think the air would be like if we still used leaded gasoline and hairspray chock full of CFCs? Remember the smog around LA? Imagine a world full of it.
   Not everything would kill us, but many things we take for granted, like HBO, would not exist. Want to watch Game of Thrones in a world where premium cable and digital media don't exist? Have fun sitting in the sticky seats of the local adult theater with the rest of the degenerates, you pervert! Don't like a song on the radio? Sorry, you can't 'skip' it and good luck finding another station in all that static. Want to listen to music while you run? Too bad, the Walkman hasn't been invented.
   And last, but certainly not least, have fun cutting the scratchy garment labels out of your underwear. That's right, printed labels have only been a thing for about fifteen years.

   We have come a long way in forty years. I have too. Do I occasionally long for simpler times? Sure. Do I love that we can replicate simpler times with modern conveniences? Abso-freaking-lutely! So what is my point? Simply this: don't knock modern technology because the alternative isn't as cheerful as you think, and don't knock old people for being crabby and obsolete. You're going to need us when the robots take over and cut off the world's power supply. And when the sentient robot army cuts off the world's power supply, don't act all surprised when I become a minion/henchman for the overlords. Mamma needs her WiFi. ;)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

One Lovely Blog Hop

This blog hop is designed to show our readers a more personal side. We list seven interesting facts to help cast light onto that tough writer’s persona we all like to project. But I am human and like everyone else I have dreams, hobbies, problems and goals. I see this as a way to share some of them with you, my readers.
The rules are that I share 7 Lovely Facts about myself, and links to other blogs that I enjoy reading. If I’ve nominated your blog, please don’t feel any obligation to join in, but if you do please link back to the blog of the person who nominated you (that would be me), share 7 facts about yourself and nominate 15 blogs (or as many as you can).

Once again, I have been tagged by the super talented Chess Desalls. As I have said about a million times, I want to one day be the powerhouse of pay it forward promotions for the indie author world. Chess is already there. Seriously, she is simply amazing in her support for fellow authors! Her next book, Insight Kindling, the follow up to Travel Glasses, will be coming out early next year, so if you haven't started the series, get on that right now! Her blog is fantastic and you should definitely be following her.

So, here are my seven lovely facts about me:

1. My secret ambition is to be a stunt driver. I'm typically a pretty cautious person and I am a very mindful driver. I've successfully driven myself out of situations that could have taken a dangerous turn because I have great respect for the tons of metal flying down the highway, occasionally manned by folks who are a little less than cautious. One day I'd like to get on a closed track and strap myself into something with a little more horsepower than my Pontiac and see exactly what I am capable of.

2. I am turning 40 this week and I still want superpowers. Ideally, Wolverine's indestructible awesomeness, but honestly, I'm not picky.

3. Growing up, I thought my only career options were astronaut or the president. As I have mentioned before, I was a very literal child. I don't know how many times I heard: "You could be an astronaut!" and "You may just be the president one day!" In my mind, these were not negotiable. I assumed the people telling me this were giving me a heads up as to what job I was going to be assigned on the day I became a grown up. I felt a little smug about becoming the president, but I have to admit, the astronaut option kind of terrified me. I wouldn't decide space was cool until I was old enough to realize I probably wouldn't be the president.

4. If I am posting my opinions in a public forum, I read my comments in the voice of Richard Harris' Dumbledore before submitting. If my words sound foreign in his voice, I know I am straying into heated, rude, or otherwise irrational territory and I revise. Honestly, if everyone did this, we may have less arguments.

5. Speaking of voices, I am so sorry, internet, but James Earl Jones > Morgan Freeman. That's right, I know the real way to break the internet! Also, the most underrated and awesome female voice actor is Katey Sagal. You know I'm right.

6. As you know from reading this blog, I am an incurable introvert. But... I'm getting past the anxiety and have joined several groups for authors. In doing so, I have met many wonderful writers who are also fantastic people. I'm not ready for speaking engagements or anything crazy just yet, but life is far more bearable when there are others who know your ups and downs.

7. I beat diabetes. No really. In 2009 I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and within three months managed to get my a1c (a number that tells the amount of sugar in the blood) down from dangerous to manageable. In the next five years I lost more than fifty pounds and brought that number back into the normal, nondiabetic range. How? Diet and exercise mostly, but I did have one 'weird' trick as the scammer sites would say. My love of cooking. Seriously. It is possible to make delicious and filling food that is also healthy, but it is nowhere near as convenient or cheap as fast food and prepackaged meals. This needs to change, but that is another post for another day. I still love cupcakes, but now they are an occasional treat, not an every day occurrence.

And here are the blogs I like to read. Please check them out. You may find something you love as well!

Shoshanah Marohn is the author of Exhaust(ed) and the upcoming children's book A Murder of Crows and Other Woes. Her blog showcases her books and art, as well as the crazy s and downs of living on a farm. Her blog can be found here.

Gary Abbott is the author of The Dimension Scales and other stories. His blog is currently in a transitional state as he decides what direction he will be taking in the future, but every Thursday he still runs an Admin Cat comic, which I am fond of. His blog can be found here.

Doug Schwartz is the author of Checkered Scissors and Pickled Bananas. His blog is a mix of game development updates, author interviews, a serialized story, and other insights. His blog can be found here.

Kara Jorgensen is the author of The Earl of Brass and the upcoming The Winter Garden. Her blog is an entertaining mix of insights as a writer and grad student. She has just posted her own seven lovely facts, so go get to know more about this author. Her blog can be found here.

S. Usher Evans is the author of Double Life, the first book in the Razia series. She is a cross promotion powerhouse and often has guest posts from other talented authors. Her own posts are quite fascinating and even a bit humorous with her use of reaction gifs to drive home her points. Her blog can be found here.

Belart Wright is an up and coming author. His blog includes book and game reviews as well as character profiles and information on his upcoming book, Average Joe and the Extraordinaires. His blog can be found here.

Sue Perry is the author of Nica of Los Angeles, the first book in the Frames series. She has been participating in a weekly photo challenge, so each post has been something of a study in individual perspective that I find very cool. Her blog can be found here.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

I Wanna Be a Paperback Writer

   Okay, you have read this blog long enough to know that this title is a bold lie. You have also read this blog long enough to know that I use song lyrics in my titles to make myself look cool. While it is true that I am an advocate for e-reading and inexpensive ebooks, I have always maintained that there are circumstances where physical books are preferable. There are also times when the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.
   Rather, in my case, the needs of the very few outweigh the stubbornness of the author. My book, Kind of Like Life features one of my cousins as the beautiful cover model. Because of this, I created a physical copy so that family members could have something to show off and brag over. On that level, the physical book became a display piece, a work of art.
   But doing this also opened another door. With a physical book, I was able to run a giveaway on Goodreads, which, by the way, is still open until the 12th of November. Anyone with a Goodreads account may enter to win one of five copies.
   Self-publishing a paperback is hard work. Formatting takes a lot of time and as an indie writing genre fiction, sales of ebooks are by far steadier and more frequent. Because of this, my first series, The Eyes of The Sun will never be physically published unless a small press approaches me with an offer. However, going forward, I will have both physical and digital copies of all my future books.
   Why? Because I want to have the option of offering a low cost digital story that anyone can get wrapped up in at any time. But I also want to have a piece of art available for those who appreciate aesthetics. Which is exactly what my zombie apocalypse novella, Going Green has to offer.
   At 23,000 words, roughly 85 pages, Going Green is a flimsy excuse for a book. I would have had a pretty hard time convincing anyone to pay even production costs, let alone turn a profit. So instead, I hired an artist and added a bunch of silliness to the back of the book and can now present you with an artistic novelty item that is the perfect under $10 gift for the office weirdo or that one oddball cousin.
   One of the items I added was a zombie themed crossword puzzle. The answers, as well as additional zombie information, will be posted to a dedicated page on this blog this weekend. But that isn't even the best part. Serendipity is the word I use to describe how this all came about. 
   I came up with the ridiculous idea to publish Going Green in print while walking to the grocery store one night. By the time I got home, I had an idea of what I wanted, so I contacted an artist by the name of Ben Boyce.
   Ben had previously mentioned interest in book illustrating, but I was worried that the concept of a satirical zombie story might be off putting. Apparently not, because I cannot begin to tell you what an amazing job he did at turning my words into pictures. You will simply have to see for yourself. For more of Ben's work, visit his website or Facebook page. To see a glimpse of the book, check out the Look Inside feature (once it becomes available) on Going Green. Thanks to Ben, I now have yet another work that becomes a work of art.
   I'm still team ebook, don't get me wrong. I still champion the progress of the science fiction age. But if physical books are still what the people want, you better be dang sure I am going to make the prettiest books I can.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Write On! Indie Book Review #4 Great Beginnings

   I know I've promised more reviews, so I'm getting to it! I've got a few books to get through, so I've decided I'm going to keep the format I began in Write On! #3, so let's get started! Today's reviews are all first books in their respective series and are all highly recommended by me.

 Fate: The Legacy Book #1 by G. G. Atcheson
   As you know, I love vampires and I love science fiction. Fate mixes the two in a fun, yet tense adventure that follows LX (who is referred to as Alex), an alien who finds himself stranded on earth with a damaged ship. The first person he meets is a woman named Mellie, who we quickly discover (long before poor Alex does) is a vampire. What do vampires and aliens have in common? They are both hunted down by the government, of course!
   Alex is a pretty smart alien. Having observed us for a while, he speaks several languages and is familiar with most of our customs, but he is not without his moments of (hilarious) confusion. Slang, idioms, and regional colloquialisms trip him up every now and again. He's not perfect and he knows it. For an alien, Alex is pretty relatable.
   The government is portrayed as one would expect; an institution of scared and sometimes sadistic individuals who fear all that is different. Despite Alex's insistence that he means us no harm,the government decides that he's too far in advance of us to be allowed freedom.
   The story is told well. Atcheson keeps readers on their toes with all kinds of plot twists and oh-so-close moments. At just $0.99 and over 300 pages, this book is a very worthwhile investment. I've begun the second installment and it looks like the action continues to keep us guessing. Grab this title if you like your SciFi with a dash of fantasy.

The Earl of Brass: Ingenious Mechanical Devices Book #1 by Kara Jorgensen
   Many years ago, I wrote a blog post asking what steampunk was. I concluded that it was a style I would totally get into if I was much younger and still had the energy to put an effort into my wardrobe. Soon after that, I found some steampunk novels and decided it was not a genre that translated well into written word.
   Until I read The Earl of Brass, that it. The difference here is in the storytelling, which is impeccable and does not rely of the showiness of the steampunk elements. The story begins with Eilian Sorrell, a nobleman who loses an arm when the airship he is on crashes. Losing an arm is bad enough, but Eilian  isn't content to live the fussy life of the aristocracy and worries that his adventurous life as an archeologist is over.
   Enter Hadley Fenice. Hadley has taken over her family's prosthesis business after the death of her brother. Using his last designs, she creates a mechanical arm for Eilian that allows him to continue the work he began. Hadley is truly the character who lured me into the story. Despite the setting of Victorian London, Jorgensen uses the steampunk/alternative timeline device to give us a strong female character who does not require a man to define her.
   If I'm being vague about the story itself, it is because it is an interesting adventure that I cannot do justice to in a few paragraphs of synopsis. Fans of both Jules Verne and Jane Austen will enjoy this first installment of what is shaping up to be an enjoyable series. The price is just $3.99 or free with Kindle Unlimited or Prime, meaning you have no excuse not to check out this up and coming series.

Travel Glasses: The Call to Search Everywhen Book #1 by Chess Desalls
   Isn't time travel interesting? When done well, it leaves the reader wondering what they would do, where they would go, and if they would survive. Travel Glasses does all of this and more.
   From the very beginning, this feels like a different world and there's a reason for this. You, the reader, are seeing the present day through the eyes of Calla, a teenager and an outsider who has shunned technology after a horrible experience with online bullying. Almost immediately, we meet Valcas, a mysterious stranger in dark glasses who seems to come from out of nowhere and just as suddenly rips Calla from her safe, if somewhat limited world. And from there, it's one adventure after another.
   We learn that Valcas uses his sunglasses to travel through time. What we don't learn, is his agenda. All we know is that Calla doesn't trust him (with pretty good reason since he basically kidnaps her), and steals his glasses to escape. But... It seems that using the glasses to travel through time is not without consequences. We meet an interesting cast of interconnected characters and begin to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding the glasses, but for each answer, we get more questions.
   Being time travel, there is some science involved, but nothing so heavy that it detracts from the story. Fans of fantasy, sci-fi, and adventurous young adult will love this book. Amazon price is just $2.99, another great bargain from another fantastic indie author.
   As always, keep reading Indie authors,support Indies on social media, and for heaven's sake, leave a review!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Tagged! The World Book Blog Tour

  The World Book Blog Tour is an invitation to share not only an author’s work but also the work of other authors/writers. Then the idea is to pass it on in hopes of authors reaching authors and readers across the globe. Thanks to all of you who jumped on board to participate in the fun!

Super huge thanks to Chess Desalls for this amazing chance to pay it forward by tagging me for this tour. I met Chess because she is one of those mysterious folks who understands how to use Twitter and decided (for reasons only she knows) to follow me. As it turns out, she's not just a really nice person, but also a great author. Chess is the author of Travel Glasses, Book #1 in her YA series, The Call to Search Everywhen. Travel Glasses is a unique time travel tale that I am currently engrossed in. Expect a review in the near future. You can see her answers to the following questions on her blog, which is here. Follow her on Twitter @ChessDesalls or on Facebook.

These are the question posed by the World Book Blog Tour:
What am I working on?
   At the moment, I am working on the second book in an overly ambitious fantasy series. The series, which is as of yet unnamed, revolves around a fictional Midwestern town called Blackbird, which would be a forgettable blip on a map if it wasn't for the supernatural creatures it seems to attract. The only thing standing between Blackbird and Chaos is a handful of agents who maintain Order. The series will be a bit dark and delve into many different mythologies, but there will be loads of humor to balance it out. I am hoping to publish the first book in November or December.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
   Mainly by not wanting to conform to a genre.
   So far, I've attempted to put a different spin on everything I've published. My series, The Eyes of The Sun, takes the vampire mythologies and reworks them into a plausible tale of genetic manipulation. I've given a similar treatment to Zombies in my novella, Going Green.
   For Kind of Like Life, I didn't have a clue what genre it was going to be. Yes, there is a scientific element, but the character's love of fantasy is what drives the story. This one is more of a what-if style that I came up with after noticing certain themes that crop up all over young adult genre. I wanted an adventure, but I also wanted to touch on difficult topics such as bullying and abuse.
Why do I write what I do?
   I write what I want to read. I've been a longtime fan of science fiction, fantasy, and more recently, urban fantasy, which is a subgenre I could have used as a youngster when I had to prowl through the horror section to find anything paranormal at all. I wanted to add my spin on these wonderful genres. I also enjoy a challenge. Some of my ideas started with a single phase or even a word. I am forever amazed at where my brain takes me.
How does my writing process work?
   Typically an idea occurs to me at the least opportune time, like when I'm in the shower or falling asleep. If the idea is solid enough, I write it down and then write a first chapter. If the chapter goes well, I might just keep writing until I run out of things to say. If not, I go back and come up with an outline. Either way, the finished product is usually so very different from the original idea that I hold on to the original thought in hopes that one day I might attempt it again.
   I am also a slow writer. I am easily distracted and getting into the zone is a pipe dream. I usually write anywhere from 1000 to 3000 words in a day, but there are many days where I write nothing at all. When the first draft is done, I read it, find many plot holes and meandering text that needs to come back. Once it begins to look like a book, I give it to a select few, who pick it apart and help catch my many typos.

**Next stop on the World Book Blog Tour?**
Kara Jorgensen Kara is the author of the historical science fiction/ steampunk novel, The Earl of Brass, book one of her series The Ingenious Mechanical Devices, which is amazing and a must read. Be on the lookout for a review in an upcoming installment of Write On! The second book, The Winter Garden, will be out next year. Kara is on Facebook and her blog can be found here.
Earl Chinnici Earl is the author of Maybe You Should Move Those Away From You, a self-help book about quitting smoking from his own personal perspective. Trust me, this is a subject that I know from experience is not easy! Earl has a blog on his website and is on Facebook.
Doug Schwartz Doug's most recent work is a collection of short stories titled Pickled Bananas and other Schwartz Stories. He is currently working on a sequel to Checkered Scissors that I can not wait to read. Doug is also the creator of the 20 Questions Author Interview which is another fantastic opportunity for indie authors to get their name out there. Doug's blog is here and he is also on Facebook.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Doing It All Wrong (and not giving a damn)

   Everyone has advice for aspiring writers. Established authors, not so established authors, readers, and even folks who wouldn't know a book if it hit them in the face have something to say on the subject. And that's great. Many of us could use all of the help we can get. Much of this help comes in the form of blog posts and online forums. You know, the internet. That magical place where everyone is rational and level headed.

   Uh oh, that took a dark turn. No, this is not going to be a blog post about the perils of navigating overblown egos and self-importance in the virtual world. Nor is this going to be a thoughtful and well written list of dos and don'ts for the aspiring author. I've read lots of tips and tricks to being a successful self-published author. Some, I've taken to heart. Others, I've outright ignored. The results? Your milage may vary.

   There is no simple solution to being a success and what works for one may not work for another. Keep this in mind, aspiring authors, because what I am about to reveal to you is very important. Ready for this? The secret to becoming a successful author is...

   ...redefining your definition of success.

   Am I a success? According to most answers, no, I am very much not a successful author. I am barely recognized, I'm not yet a thousandaire, and I am not a bestselling author by any lists out there. But I would beg to differ. I have successfully published six books in two years, four of which are a complete series, all of which have landed in the hands of readers across the world. I've got a handful of glowing reviews from people who liked my books enough to tell others. While I don't sell every day or even every week, I've yet to have a month where I've sold nothing (knock on wood). Pretty impressive for a nobody without a marketing strategy, don't you think?

   Will I try harder someday? Perhaps, but for right now, I'm more concerned with building a nice catalog of quality books that people may or may not read.

   Now, let me tell you what does bother me: Seeing others in the same situation I am in getting upset and jealous of authors who are more successful than they are. I've seen too many and it just makes me sad. They think that other indie authors are their competition.
   Seriously. Apple and Samsung are competitors. Honda and Toyota are competitors. Saying other authors are your competition is like saying corn and peas are in competition. No one eats just one type of food and no one buys just one book out of a particular genre. For that matter, tons of people buy books in many genres. Fellow authors are not competition. We are all in this together. Whether you make ten bucks or ten thousand, remember that.

   That being said, I have to apologize for my woefully under managed review segment, Write On! In light of this, I'm going to continue the multi-author post that I started with #3. My goal at the moment is to review three books a month at least. Hopefully, the next will be up some time this week. Until then, keep reading indie books and be nice to each other!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Author as an Artist

   You probably didn't know this, but before I decided to dedicate all of my creativity to writing, I fancied myself an artist. I was never much good at it, but occasionally I would have flashes of brilliant luck where something would turn out sort of art-like. 
Like this exotic wood mobile I once made and could never replicate.

   But mostly what I ended up with was a giant mess of an art space full of paint splatters, saw dust, and mod podge everywhere.
   You see, art is just like writing. To break the rules, one must know the rules. I know the writing rules, but the art rules? Eh, not so much. However, I'm learning. For our anniversary, my husband and I decided to take a painting class through our local Painting With a Twist. Have you heard of this? It's fun! You supply your own snacks and drinks (booze is allowed!), and they supply the art supplies and instructions. Our class also supplied two hours of eighties music, which led to a lot of impromptu singing and dancing, even though most of the one singing and dancing probably hadn't been born when the songs were popular. I'm officially old because my childhood is cool again.
(I would like to take this opportunity to officially apologize to all of the baby boomers that I likely offended when I discovered my love of The Beatles. I'm sorry, no one should have to find out they are old in this way.)
   Our class was painting a tree in the moonlight. I tried to find a picture of what it was supposed to look like, but it isn't on their site anymore. First, we painted the sky and then we added a moon. Now, here is where I ran into my first problem. The original painting had this cloudy, ethereal look and I assumed that there would be a blending phase where we add some softening. No. That phase never happened, so my sky remained streaky. 

   Next we added the tree, which was great, until they took away our Flat Stanley brushes. (Side note: our teacher, who named the brushes Flat Stanley, had no idea this was a book. Kids! I tell ya!). All I had left to do my branches was Tiny Tina. Oh, we still had Bob. Bob was short for Big Ol' Brush. Bob would be used for the leaves. My leaves looked more like Muppets than cherry blossoms. When we were done, I used Bob to make my  moon a bit more moon-like. Below is the finished product:
   Not bad for a novice, but I knew I could do better with practice because if life has taught me anything,it's that I will obsess until I get it right! So the next day I dug out my old paints and took my 40% off coupon down to Joanne's for some new brushes, and tried again. The result? Not too shabby:
   One of these days, I might move on to something other than trees. For now, I'm sticking with what I know. I tried putting a bird on it:

   If you have a similar studio in your area, I highly recommend taking it. Date night, girl's night, guy's night, whatever, just go, bring your drinks (we did Starbucks because, as I mentioned above, I'm old) and have fun! We will definitely be taking another class. When we do, I'll post the results so that we can see if I've improved at all. Who knows? I may have it in me to be an artist yet.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Walk Away, Cliché

   We've all heard them, silly catchphrases, metaphors and old wives' tales that are meant to make us stop and think. The early bird catches the worm. A penny saved is a penny earned. A stitch in time saves nine.
   Okay, funny story about that last one. I never was very good at sewing, so I had no earthly idea what it meant. I thought a stitch in time literally meant a stitch in the fabric of space and time. What nine was it saving? Astronauts, of course. Nine astronauts were lost in space and about to fall into  a black hole,  but some benevolent being stitched it up. Seriously, I am sometimes literal to a fault.
   And sometimes I stray off topic. The point is, these phrases are quick ways to convey a point without having to say much. But I think it is time to retire some. Mainly, the ones I hear over and over when I dare complain about writing. And complain I do. Ask my husband. Every book I write is 'killing me' or is the 'absolute worst!' Fortunately for me, he is a musician and understands where I am coming from. He would never say, for example...

Slow and steady wins the race
   I hear this one occasionally when I get bogged down by the fact that I am a slow writer. Let me tell you something. Back in November, I did a 5k. It took me something like 43 minutes to complete. I was slow. I was steady. I did not win the race. In fact, I might have been dead last if it hadn't been for the fact that there were young children in this race as well. The winner had a time of something obscene like, 17 minutes. As I was plodding along, thinking about the cupcakes* at the finish line, several of these winners ran past, screaming at us slowpokes to get the heck out of their way. By the way, this was, as many 5ks are, a charity event, which was supposed to be fun. Do you know what isn't fun? Being knocked off course by someone who takes running too seriously.
   So no, slow and steady does not win the race. Neither does the promise of cupcakes*. Months of training and a competitive spirit wins the race. I guess, in a way, this is a better phrase. Not for book writing, but marketing for sure. Not that I'm going to win that race either. But hey, cupcakes* are cheap enough that I don't have to win. Speaking of races...

Life isn't a race
   Wait, what? You just gave me bad advice on how to win the race! As my father (and later Kurt Cobain) used to say, "take your time and hurry up!" Well, which is it? A race or not a race? Here's the thing: we're using this one all wrong. Death isn't the finish line in the race of life. Early retirement? Now were getting a little bit closer. We are all racing toward success. The faster you get there, the faster you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Or cupcakes*, in my case.

Rome wasn't built in a day
   This irks me to no end. Aside from the 'duh' factor that any civilization built in a day is probably a cult and a poorly managed one at that, Rome was built by conquering other states and enslaving their people. Again, this one pertains to the speed of my writing, but also to the highs and lows of the book selling process. I realize that you can't build a city in one day. And you can't write a novel in one day. Well, I'm sure you could, but you shouldn't. Not if you want it to be any good. And I certainly am not going to be a success in one day. But Rome wasn't built by one person either, now was it? Books, especially indie books, are. I didn't build the world I am writing in one day, but I built it. It is my world and I would like others to see my world and enjoy it. It's okay to be a little impatient. Just don't let it overtake you.

All work and no play make Jack a dull boy
   Okay, show of hands: How many of you just saw Jack Nicholson doing what Jack Nicholson does best?
   Actually, there is nothing wrong with this proverb. Everyone needs to realize that sometimes it's better to punch out and leave the project unfinished instead of wasting countless hours slamming your head against an immovable roadblock. Go home or go to happy hour, just don't stay in the office, drooling on your keyboard as your brain turns to mush. Go win the race that isn't life. There may even be cupcakes*.

*Why yes, I am starting my fall doctor's visit diet. Why do you ask?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

À Loaf of Bread, a Container of Milk, and a Stick of Butter

   I had mentioned once, a long time ago, that I suffer from false memories. That is, I remember things in vivid detail that never actually happened. While it is very likely that this is just proof that I'm a replicant, it makes for some interesting conversations that usually end in, "That never happened." "Yes it did, I was in the back yard on the swing..." "Christina, there was no swing." And no, my brain would realize that there was no swing, but the memory of being on said swing would remain as strong as ever.
   Because of this, I often find myself questioning my more bizarre or surreal memories of things that I may have seen on television. Fortunately, we live in a world with Google and YouTube. When I absolutely need to know if the serious situation of the singing pills who were definitely not candy was a real PSA, Google came to my rescue. The title of this blog post comes from an old Sesame Street cartoon about a girl whose mother sends her to the store for three items. I don't know which was more disturbing, the fact that she had trouble remembering this list of three items or the fact that her mother thought sending an eight year old to the store with or without a list was a good idea. Eh, it was the seventies. Parents didn't mollycoddle their kids with things like lists back then. Parental responsibility aside, I am happy to report that again, thanks to Google, I know this cartoon really happened.
   But even in this, the age where every small blip on the universal radar is recorded digitally for the purposes of being torn apart by nostalgia critics of the future, there are still two items that the internet has failed me on. I'm beginning to think that the Tyrell Corporation fed me these memories by accident. And this is where I need your help. I want to crowd source my sanity. I need anyone who is Gen X or older to pull out your WayBack machines and think back to the greatest (pre-digital) era of them all; the 1980s. If anyone remembers either of these two items, please, let me know in the comments, on Google+, Facebook, or where ever. I need to know I didn't make these things up. This will not prove that I am not a Nexus 6 typing on a Nexus 7, but it will at least prove that the implanted memories are of actual events.
   The first, which I know I have mentioned countless times in the past, is a Tab commercial from the early to mid eighties, featuring a woman lying on an inflatable raft, who has irresponsibly fallen asleep in the sun (relax, sun burns and skin cancer hadn't been invented yet) and left her Tab cola vulnerable to predators. Out of nowhere, a periscope surfaces (made more odd, because I think she was in a pool) and looks around. Now, you expect the big cartoon eye to ogle the woman, but no, it locks in on the cola. A straw then emerges and the cola is magically slurped away by a periscope. Or, you know, seeing as it's a periscope with a very cartoonish eye, it may be getting high by putting Tab cola in its eye. What, do you think parents today invented the concept of being scared that their kids are doing idiotic things to get high? Ahem... Anyway, the girl wakes up and sees her drink is gone, the end. No idea what this is trying to say or how it's supposed to make me drink Tab. Still, no evidence of this commercial exists. Did it really happen? I only remember seeing it once.
   The next item is a PSA that I may have watched on school or at home. It was about the effects of acid rain on the environment. All I have to go on here, is that the star of the show was a little boy carrying a goose, who told every adult he met,  "Acid rain is killing my duck!" This phrase means nothing to the internet. Yet for thirty or more years, "Acid rain is killing my duck!" has been my go-to nonsense phrase to show frustration. I even got a group of coworkers to use it and they had never heard of this PSA either! Did I make it up? Do I have a vendetta against geese who portray ducks in after school specials? Okay, I may have a vendetta against geese in general. I was attacked by geese as a child and my mother teases me about the "wahnt wahnts" enough to know this was a real bit of mandatory childhood trauma. But back to the PSA. Was it real?
   There may be more, but these two are the strongest of my to-be-vetted-as-legit memories. So, anyone? Whatcha got? Did I make this up? Do you remember any of this? Do you have a memory that Google can't validate? If so, let us know. Maybe we can all get some answers together!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Vampires Have Awakened

   As you may have noticed (since I mention it constantly), I tend to spend a lot more time on the robots than the vampires, despite the title of this blog giving vampires top billing. The robots have just been very persuasive.

   The vampires have finally struck back. In my last post, I discussed an upcoming sci-fi project called Princess Robot Commander. I've since decided that this story will now be a trilogy. While this is great news and I am happy that one of my joke ideas took on a life of its own, I have had to shelve it. Why? Because I am not ready for an epic of epic proportions just yet. And no, that wasn't a typo, I just didn't feel like hitting the thesaurus right now.
   Instead, for the time being, I am going back to work on a series that I have abandoned several times in the past. This one is called, for the time being, Chaos in Blackbird. It is 100% pure urban fantasy with absolutely no science fiction elements. There will be magic. There will be supernatural heroes. There will be paranormal creatures including, but not limited to, vampires, demons, angels, werewolves, and fairies. But there will not be robots.
   I am not abandoning my epic space robot story. I am just giving it time to marinate on the back burner for some time while I immerse myself in an imaginary Midwestern town that happens to have an overabundance of crazy. Believe me, it's time. I've had the foundations for this one bouncing around in my brain since the early nineties. I have five stories outlined at the moment. My goal is ten books for this series. Lofty, I know, but I am not going to attempt to write them all at once. I will put out at least three or four of them before I go back to check on the princess. If she's ready to be written, she will let me know.
   So, unless the robots rise up and take control of my brain once again, this is the season of the vampire. Oh, and once again, forget everything you already know. These are not the genetically modified superhumans that I created for the Eyes series. These are blood sucking creatures of Chaos. And I can't wait to introduce them to you. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Social(ly Awkward) Media Part 3: the good, the bad, and the ugly

   It is time once again to evaluate the progress in my fight against my crippling fear of all things social media. We are now reaching the two year mark and much has changed, with mixed results, hence the subtitle. Let's begin with...

The Good
   I've finally worked up the courage to join a few groups on Google+ and Goodreads. Not many, mind you, but the ones I have found seem to be made up of kind souls who share my interests. Of course, that doesn't stop me from second guessing my every post and frantically worrying that I've said something that will offend or outrage someone. Some habits die hard, but I'm working on that.
   There are perks to each of these sites that I am slowly discovering. Both are great ways to connect to other indie authors and to bounce ideas off of one another. There are even groups out there specifically for us introverts. They might not have as many posts as say, promo communities, but it's comforting to know that I am not alone in my struggle.
   Then there is Pinterest. I am not on Pinterest, but every so often I see where someone has pinned one of my books. This, I like. Passive social media! To all the pinners out there who do this, thank you! I'm not ready to dive into a new and vastly different form of social media just yet, but I truly appreciate what you are doing.

The Bad
   Facebook continues to be my main source of self-promotion, mainly because I still haven't made enough inroads with Twitter to do much more than annoy my followers. But Facebook is a tricky animal. It seems that for every new follower, I lose actual views and participation. I don't expect everyone to like or comment on all of my posts, but I don't think it is unreasonable to expect those who have followed my page to have the opportunity to see what I have posted. This never happens. I am therefore eternally grateful to those who do like and share my promotional posts.

The Ugly
   Then there is my personal Facebook page. The one meant for keeping up with friends and family. This is an emotionally draining endeavor that I am considering stepping away from. Why? Negativity, plain and simple.
   Several studies have shown that social media, especially Facebook, has a negative effect on people's moods and I'm sad to say, I am one of those affected. It probably doesn't help that Facebook ran an experiment in which they selected only negative or positive posts to show certain individuals and used us as involuntary lab rats. I am not a depressed person by nature, but I am what I would call... rage-y. Seeing only the bad things that Facebook wanted me to see during their experiment caused me to block almost half my friends and family and withdraw further from participation in discussions where conflict could arise. This, I am pretty sure, was not the original intent of social media.

   I don't want to end this post on a downer, so I would like to stress the good. Talking to strangers is fun. Yes, it is scary. Yes, I still worry that I am being judged. But as I said, I have met some wonderful folks, authors, artists, and other creative types, who I get to help in my own way. In fact, I've added another artist to my dedicated art page, and I will soon be constructing a page where I will have a convenient listing of all of the Indie authors that I review for the Write On! segment of this blog. In fact, I may even begin conducting interviews if I can drum up enough participation. I still maintain that paying it forward and bolstering the careers of my contemporaries is the least I can do, and aside from helping others, it helps me. Nothing improves my own mood like knowing that I have this one thing, no matter how small, that I can do to help.
   Hopefully, one day I will amass enough of a following on this blog for these little spotlight segments to make a positive impact on the careers of all those involved. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Clowns To The Left Of Me, Jokers To The Right

   Unless you are an author or work in the publishing industry, the current court battle between traditional publishing giant Hachette and Amazon has probably flown under your radar. The simple version: Hachette wants to price ebooks high enough that there is no advantage to choosing them over physical books and they want everyone else to do the same. Amazon wants ebooks priced reasonably, with the high end being $10 (technical nonfiction being the outliers, but this dispute is over popular fiction and nonfiction). As such, Amazon has incentives at this price point. Mind you, Amazon also has incentives for the traditional publishing giants, but for Hachette, this isn't good enough.
   As a self published author, I've been keeping tabs on the apparent stalemate for some time. What the eventual outcome means for us hasn't been entirely transparent, but there is a lot of speculation. But yesterday, me and millions of others like me were pulled into the battle.
After 900 bestselling authors published a public letter to Amazon, encouraging them to allow for higher price points on ebooks, Amazon called upon us to send a letter to Hachette's CEO asking him to see the benefits of lower prices.
   Well, here's the thing: there are benefits to lower price points on ebooks and in their letter, Amazon pointed out many. Lower prices mean higher sales and higher profits overall. Ebooks do not have anywhere near the overhead costs that hard copy books do, which means that the higher prices are unjustified and unfair to readers. That being said, I will not be sending my letter to Hachette on Amazon's behalf.
   Why? Because fair is fair. Traditional publishers hate the ebook market. There are many reasons for this. One of the biggest is that ebooks have allowed for authors like me, who would rather write books than play waiting games with literary agents, a quick, easy, and inexpensive way to get our product directly to our intended audience. Traditional publishers see independent publishers as a threat. They deride us as unprofessional and uneducated. They do everything in their power to suppress our visibility to potential customers.
   And they should feel threatened. Their methods are outdated. They value their quarterly profits far more than they value their authors. They came late to the digital book market and have done everything in their power to undermine the progress that has been inevitable ever since the inception of Project Gutenberg's free online library. They buy their titles into the bestseller lists and they hire consultants to dictate what YOU as the reader are allowed to like.
   Because of this, I say let them raise their prices on the ebooks that they publish. If they want a new release set at $19.99, let them. If they feel that a price point of $9.99 is taking away from their profits, by all means, allow them to sell ebooks for three times that or more. But allow the rest of us to continue to set our own prices as we see fit. When they see a decline in sales, it will be up to them, not Amazon, not any other third party distribution company, to decide what the best course of action is. And if they still feel that they have been slighted and decide higher prices are the way to go?
   Well, what's going to happen is this: Authors who have had the good fortune of becoming a household name and rely on the millions of dollars they are pulling in are going to balk at the lack of sales. Yes, these same authors who are now calling for Amazon to raise prices are going to feel the hurt when Amazon does just this. They are going to blame Amazon, even though they got what they wanted. They are going to hate me and my $3.99/.99¢ indie book price point.
   Until they realize that as an independent author, self published through Amazon, I am making more per book at $3.99 than they are with their publisher at $19.99. Then, what they are going to do, is finish out their contract with said publisher and take that household name, which has been made a recognized brand thanks to the millions spent by the publisher on a strategic marketing team, and self publish their next best seller. It has happened before, and it will happen again. And where will that leave the publishers? Struggling to catch up...again.
   As I see it, this is not my battle until the traditional publishers find a way to stop Amazon from allowing self published authors such as myself to use their services. And if we ever reach that Fahrenheit 451 level of dystopia, well, let's face it, we have bigger worries than the fate of a small time author such as myself.
   Earlier this year, I made the decision to only read and purchase books from my contemporaries: independently published authors. Moreover, I decided to seek out well written works that suffer from a lack of exposure and promote them through reviews on Amazon, ratings on Goodreads, and showcase reviews here with the Write On! segment of this blog. This decision was based purely on my emotional reaction to the bland, poorly written dreck that has carried the "NYT BEST SELLER" label for quite some time. Now, this decision hold the additional weight of showing the corporations that they are not the only game in town and I do not have to play by their rules. I can freely read the works of new and innovative authors. Authors who only want to write entertaining stories aimed at eager readers and don't give a damned what's "trending" at the moment.
    Reading for entertainment is on the decline. The boom in reading that spawned from the Harry Potter craze of the 1990s is over. Kids and adults today have so many other forms of personal digital entertainment vying for their attention that e-reading  devices such as the Kindle and Nook quickly evolved from simple readers to proprietary tablet computers capable of doing everything from watching movies to playing Candy Crush. I can't even begin to tell you how many heartbreaking times someone has asked me what I do, and when I respond that I am a writer, they smile apologetically and say, "I don't read."
   Given this, what company in their right mind would want to price out the next generation of readers? The generation that is still reading. The generation that may only consider the possibility that a book might be an enjoyable form of entertainment because there is, in fact, an app for that. The generation that now has the option to borrow electronic books from their community's public library and will do just that when they can't afford to purchase instead. Who looks at this generation and thinks, "I do not need you."?
   A company with a very narrow focus, that's who. Forgive me, but if they want to set themselves up for failure, by all means, let them. As long as there are readers, there will be writers. You better be sure that some of us are going to do everything in our power to make sure the next generation not only understands the power of a good book, but has access to them as well.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How a Blog Becomes a Book... Er... Two Books!

   I mean, there's the usual way for a blog to become a book: Write a wildly popular and entertaining blog, get a book deal. Sure, it's lucrative, but a bit boring, don't you think? Usually this is just content from said blog in book format. Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking the Oatmeal or Hyperbole and a Half for getting ALL THE MONEYS. I'm just saying this isn't how I roll. My blog actually inspired me to write fiction.
   No, my blog to book experience has been an interesting adventure. As you may be aware, I just published a satirical zombie apocalypse novella called Going Green. You might also remember that back in October, I published a couple of zombie stories right here on this blog as part of a writing exercise. Yes, that exercise spun off and became 85 pages of zombie silliness and I can't say that I'm unhappy with the results.
   But now, it's happened again and this time, the path from blog to book has been an even odder one. Wait, even odder? Did I really just unintentionally pun? I did. But anyway, getting back to the point...
   It all started when I made this post about how I didn't want to become robot food. The last line inspired me to change my job title on Facebook from author to Princess Robot Commander. My cousin and part time spiritual guide, Jacqui, commented that Princess Robot Commander sounded like a great name for a children's book. Indeed,it does, but alas, I am not a children's book writer. If I wrote a book for children, it would end badly. Not parents standing in my front lawn with pitchforks bad, but definitely kids looking at their parents in disgust for buying such a horrible book bad.
   Funny thing is, I was standing in the shower* one day and I had a brilliant idea for a new YA SciFi novel about a girl who commands a robot army. From there it spiraled and next thing I knew, I had a five page synopsis for a book titled Princess Robot Commander. As of today, the first chapter has been written. I can't help but wonder if this was truly a serendipitous happening or if the robots have a plan for me. As long as it isn't The Plan, I'm cool with it.

*This is why girls take so long in the shower. We are watering our brains and having brilliant ideas. Shampoo is like brain fertilizer.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Small Victories

   I am a writer. As posh as that sounds, let me be the first to say that I am not a literary genius. Yes, I have a basic grasp of vocabulary and grammar, but I don't go out of my way to pepper my everyday conversations with five dollar words. I can't afford them.
   Every so often, I come across a concept that I can't articulate to save my life. Five dollar word users would say I suffer from a mild form of anomic aphasia. I say I suffer a lack of language data in my Jeopardy! cortex: the part of the brain that houses random and seemingly usless trivia. This happened to me today.
   I needed a descriptive for a person who goes by a single name, for example: Madonna, Prince, Cher, etc. I was about to Google it, when all of the Latin that I never took suddenly came back to me and my brain said, "Hey, how about mononym?" It sounded good, so I typed it into Word and immediately, a little red squiggle appeared. So I went back to plan A and Googled, "what is the term for a person who is known by one name?"
  "It is mononymous, meaning, a person who is known by a mononym," Google answered in the form of a Wikipedia page. I wanted to fist pump right then and there, but Wikipedia... Let's get a second opinion, shall we?
   Several respected sources later, it turns out that mononym is the word I was looking for. I had it right! I'm smarter than Office 2010! Commence with the "Yeah baby!"s and fist pumping like I'm the queen of etymology.
   Like I said, small victories.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Jane, Get Me Off This Crazy Thing

   You already know that I love looking back at what people in the past thought the future would look like. Of course. It's fun to see the mylar space suits we are supposed to be wearing while we fly our cars and talk to our televisions. But inevitably, there are some 1950s sensibilities that rather jarringly remind me that progress wasn't exactly progressive. The family of the future was always, without fail, portrayed as white and middle class. Women of the future are always featured using the latest in high tech gadgetry. Well... Kitchen gadgetry. Silly women didn't care about computers. Heck, Jane Jetson was a homemaker with a robot housekeeper, yet what was her role? Oh, that's right, homemaker and paycheck spender.
   As much as I talk about my love for the golden age sci-fi novels, it's tough to look past the blatant sexism that persisted throughout the era. Even my beloved Martian Chronicles has a "funny" story about a lonely man who finally hears a woman's voice, only to meet her and find her physically undesirable. If I were to explore all of the issues I have with the way women were portrayed in the early days, we'd be here all night.
   But that's all in the past...

   Yeah, that was a search I just did, a few minutes ago, in 2014. And an image search for "futuristic kitchen" wasn't much better. Sure, there were plenty of empty kitchens, but when there was someone in them, it was always a woman.
   Yes, the not so progressive future remains with us, and unfortunately, it persists in science fiction as well. While there are more women writing sci-fi, how many of them are using their own names? Maybe it isn't as bad as when Alice Norton had to write under the name Andre Norton just to be taken seriously, but a quick glance through Amazon reveals a lot of first initial last name or first and middle initial last name authors out there. 
   There's also the way female authors are portrayed in the media. A male author without a day job is an author, plain and simple. A woman is often portrayed as "stay at home mom turned author" or "housewife turned author." Even JK Rowling (note the initials, they were a suggestion from her agent to appeal to a male audience) has been described as a "Unemployed single mother turned author." 
   When I made the decision to quit my job and write full time, a lot of people made comments that amounted to jealousy. Not jealousy of the fact that I was finally doing what I love for a living, but jealousy that I could sit at home and "not have to go to work." I go to work. I write. This is my job. I get up, I turn on the computer, and I write until my 'shift' is over. Then, I share the housekeeping responsibilities with my husband. To be fair, he does more of the "women's work" than I do.
   It's tough. There are still book covers in the genre that feature scantily clad women with gravity defying breasts. There are still female characters that seem strong, but realize they need a man to save them in the end (the taming of the cast iron bitch, as I like to call that trope). And let's not forget everyone's favorite: Stockholm Syndrome.
   It can be frustrating, especially as a woman writing science fiction that does have a romantic element. It's tough to give the audience what they want while maintaining the integrity of the strong female lead. This is one of the biggest reasons why I chose to self publish and why I almost exclusively read independently published books. There are no agents or publishers telling us what we can and can't write. Here, in my ever increasing community, women are finally finding their place, and it sure as hell isn't in the kitchen.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Write On! Indie Book Reviews #3 TEXAS Edition

   For those of you who do not reside in our delightful state, I assure you, adding the words TEXAS Edition (caps required) to anything makes it better. At least for Ford Trucks and several brands of chili, apparently. In this case, adding TEXAS Edition means I will be reviewing the works of three fantastic authors who happen to share the 268,581 square miles of land that I call home. I know what you're thinking; Texas? What do they write about, cowboys? Football? The Alamo? I assure you, Texas authors have talent. Whether their current state of residence has anything to do with their talent or not, each of these authors is worthy of a TEXAS Edition of Write On! and you should give them each a look.

J. Leigh Bralick
   To start, I should mention that when it comes to traditional fantasy, especially the works of Tolkien, I'm not the biggest fan. Okay fine, in will admit it, I dislike Tolkien. There, go ahead and take away my nerd card. Down a Lost Road is the first book in the Lost Road Chronicles and it is clear from the beginning that this book is not only a traditional fantasy, but it also makes several mentions of Tolkien's work. And I loved it. I loved it enough to buy the rest of the series, which I also loved.
   Down a Lost Road tells the story of Merelin Lindon, a teenager whose father disappeared a few years before the story begins. When the story opens, she's just trying to figure out why the shopkeeper at her local convenience mart is acting peculiar. Not long after that, she's transported to a different world. Here, she learns that her father knew of this world and had been looking into their forgotten history. And thus begins what turns into an epic adventure spanning three books and several different and dangerous territories of this new world.
   World building is probably one of the hardest parts of writing fantasy. Add a made up language and the author needs to tread very carefully lest they lose their audience's interest. Bralick does this effortlessly, which is what compelled me to keep reading even after the story shifted from the real world. She expertly lays out the new world without cutting away from the book's action, and there is a lot of engaging action. I'm talking, I really should have gone to sleep several hours ago type of engagement. Down a Lost Road is currently free for Kindle, so you have no excuses for not giving it a try.

Bridgett Kay
   As I have mentioned countless times before, I have no clue what I am doing on Twitter. Fortunately, Bridgett Kay seems to have a better grasp than I. For whatever reason, she decided to follow me one day and seeing that she was a real person, I followed back. When I did, I happened to notice that she was offering her book, Mephisto Waltz for free, so I clicked the link and decided to give it a look. Being neither science fiction or fantasy, it wasn't my typical read, but the description grabbed me.
   The story follows teenager Miranda Rothschild, who is coping with the suicide of her twin brother when her parents decide to move to a coastal town in Texas. Here, Miranda meets a new group of friends, including an intriguing girl named Clara. Miranda is described as a late bloomer, but soon we learn that it isn't that she isn't interested in dating boys because she hasn't developed, rather because she hadn't yet discovered her true sexual identity. Miranda's family, who are rather religious, decide that the best course of action is to send her to a camp where she will be cured of her homosexuality. As you can imagine, this does not go well.
   Aside from being well written and engaging, I was pleased to see a young adult book that covered this subject. That anyone in this day and age would think someone's sexuality was something that needed to be 'cured' is preposterous, but a tragic reality. This story will make you emotional. Sloppy emotional. But for $2.99, you can afford the tissues, ice cream, or teddy bear you may need to cope with your feelings.
   Because I enjoyed Mephisto Waltz, I also read Kay's other book, Gemini Song. This is a space opera, which you should know by now is an addiction of mine. Like Waltz, Gemini Song is well written. The story is incredibly complex. Kay manages to build not just a world, but a whole galaxy as well as an alternate timeline from which this story emerges. This book as well, is just $2.99 for Kindle. No tissues required, but you may find yourself longing for a space ship or maybe your very own space pirate to captain it.

Douglas Schwartz
  I am breaking my own rule here. It's a rule you might not even be aware that I had. You see, I set up Write On! to feature independent female authors. Kind of sexist, I know, but that was the point. We tend to be on the receiving end of sexism, especially in the field of sci-fi and fantasy. But... I couldn't write a TEXAS Edition and not include our generation's Austin based Douglas Adams incarnation.
   Douglas Schwartz was kind enough to offer blog interviews to all of us struggling authors and I took him up on this offer. While perusing his blog posts, which were quite odd in a good way, I decided to check out his book, Checkered Scissors, which is also quite odd in a very good way.
   Checked Scissors follows thirtysomething Edwin Black as he navigates from a layoff to a successful business owner, through a less successful relationship, and to his ultimate demise at the hands of a body snatching demon who haunts Ed's CD changer, but that's just the beginning of Ed's story. In between we also get to follow Max, a portable pool salesman and owner of the titular scissors. Well, former owner. The scissors are stolen when Ed accidentally reveals that they can do more than simply cut swimming pools. The point of the story, I believe, is to get the scissors back after they fall into the wrong hands.
   If you're confused, that's okay. I might be inclined to say don't panic. It becomes clear that Schwartz is inspired by Adams, which leads to a refreshing take on absurdist fantasy that is packed full of Easter egg-like pop culture references yet can still be enjoyed by younger readers. My only complaint is that there will be a sequel, but it is not out yet. The Kindle edition is just $2.99.

   See, I told you we have some great talent down here! Go read a book!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Conspiracy Theory

   I just wrote a very long post about how I have been neglecting the vampire part of this blog, comparing vampirism to social awkwardness and talking about how in this respect, I too am a vampire. I had some good points. I had some funny points. But apparently, I didn't have enough robots, so Google ate it.
   I give up. The blog is now called Robots Are The Greatest. I hear you, Google! I will never make the mistake of talking about vampires or other carbon based lifeforms again.
Princess Robot Commander Esq.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Robots on Route 66

   As a pretentious, naive, and as of yet untested youth, I drove all over this great country of ours. To me, at the time, there was something almost magical about the open road and the wonders one might see along the way. Then, as a financially secure and world wary adult, I discovered something even more magical about air travel and the concept of arriving at my destination mostly refreshed, knowing that my car was safely back home in a parking lot instead of littered with fast food debris, in desperate need of an oil change,and perfumed with eau de unshowered Christina. Sure, it was fun when I was living on the east coast and I could hit five or six states in a weekend drive, but after the fifth or sixth cross country road trip, I made a vow to fly anytime I went anywhere with a drive longer than a few hours.
   In recent years, I've broken that vow for a few notable exceptions like the seven hour trek to Corpus Christi (the best beaches are inaccessible without a car) and the ten plus hour trip through the swamplands of Louisiana that we took for book research as much as vacation. Last month we drove through the Adirondacks and into Canada because we had already flown to NY and it was a pretty short drive and well worth it. Most recently, we upped our disregard for my rule by driving nearly halfway across the country. This trip took us along the eastern half of the old Route 66, which simultaneously reinforced my belief that I made this rule for a very good reason and reignited my love of the great American road trip.

   But the great American road trip has changed so much in the last decade, thanks to technology, and I have mixed feelings about this. Yes, you read that correctly. Me, princess robot commander, who sings the praises of technology and might as well rename this blog 2579 reasons you should stay calm, take a selfie, and welcome our Google overlords, has mixed feelings about the technical advantages offered to the modern road tripper.
   First of all, let's look at the obvious. On this trip, I found myself using the one feature that I never utilize on my phone: GPS. Why don't I use it? Because I already have Google maps and I can read maps. Also, when traveling for long distances, the highway is pretty good about not suddenly deciding to spit you out in the wrong direction without giving you plenty of warning first. But GPS can do things like find the highway when you are in the middle of an unfamiliar city and sometimes it can even do this without sending you the wrong way down a one way street or driving into a lake. From this perspective, this is good. Also, GPS can tell you where the nearest Starbucks/Dunkin Donuts/Caffeine Depot is and Google can tell you if they are open. Sure, you get what you want, but it takes away the spontaneous serendipity of finding something new or exciting.
   Yes, you can look for local places with GPS and you can even look at yelp reviews and see if the locals have vetted the place you find. I admit, this is something I do in any city I visit, but there's a small part of me that still thinks gastronomic uncertainty is a part of the road experience. Also, here's a neat little quirk I have: as socially awkward as I am, I never seem to have a problem talking to people I don't know who will likely remain strangers to me. This includes gas station attendants, waiters, and store clerks. These are the people who usually have the greatest tips on where to go and what to see.
   Case in point: we were in a coffee shop in St. Charles, MO and an employee overheard us talking about a WPA project we had seen in Memphis. He told us about another WPA project nearby that turned out to be amazing and cool, but something we never would have found on our own if we relied on a Google search for places of interest along our path.
   And let's talk about those hidden gems. It used to be that finding an oddity along the way was part of the charm of taking a road trip. You might pick up a souvenir or take a picture. Now, you're already checked in on Facebook at the Sacred Miracle Cave before you are even out of the car. Then you need to post a selfie with the entrance to the cave in the background. After that, you need to post a picture of your Sacred Miracle Burrito on Instagram. And then, you need to spend the next half hour complaining on Twitter that you couldn't even see the Sacred Miracle because of the pollution from a local plastics plant. If this paragraph seemed familiar, congratulations, you are well read and now you know who my most cynical literary hero is.
   Is it all bad? No, of course not. There were a lot of things we missed due to driving through the night, but thanks to 4g connectivity in the wildest reaches of the American wilderness, we were able to look up such oddities as the Precious Moments Chapel and the Vacuum Museum, and make a determination as to whether or not we want to go back and see them someday.* And I have to admit, having a phone to call for emergency service in the middle of the night and the middle of nowhere is great (like when some hapless idiot who may or not be a younger me forgets to turn off the headlights before crashing out at a rest stop in rural Georgia). So no, it's not all bad, it's just harder to look back on fifteen hours of nonstop driving with rose tinted glasses these days.
   *Spoiler alert: we totally do.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Back In the Ghost Town

It seems as if I've been neglecting this blog. Okay, I have been neglecting this blog, but I didn't mean to. I have plenty to talk about, but this post is only going to talk about the things I'm going to talk about later. Does that make any sense?

First of all, you might have noticed that I've added an entry on the MY BOOKS page. Last week I finally published Kind of Like Life, my first attempt at breaking into the young adult market. Admittedly, this is largely why I've neglected the blog. But hey, I've accomplished something! You can't fault me for that. :)

Next up: You might have noticed that a chunk of my blog from October of last year went missing. Okay, who am I kidding? No one noticed, but it still happened. I've taken down the short zombie vignettes because they are being incorporated into my next book. Yes, I am doing a zombie themed homage to the golden age of sci-fi. Expect this to be a novella length and inexpensive offering to tide you over while I work on my next series.

As far as this blog goes, I have a handful of posts waiting to come out. One about the sexism of yesterday's future and how we haven't come as far as we would like to think. Another will address my apparent paranoia and why I am paranoid, but not in the way that you think. And finally, I have a very special Texas Edition of Write On, my indie book review. I will be posting reviews of books by three Texas writers who are all very different, but equally awesome.

After that? Well, I would tell you to expect more robots, maybe a few vampires, and to forgive me when I fall off the old blogging wagon yet again.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

My Trip Through the Uncanny Valley

For those not familiar with the term, Uncanny Valley refers to a hypothesis that when something looks or acts almost human, it invokes a sense of revulsion.
This explains why many people have a strong, visceral fear of Bjork.
Not actually Bjork. I didn't want to get sued. Or punched.
When it comes to robots, this is especially true. This is why we have no problem with the weird, obviously mechanical robot from Lost in Space, but Twiki, the robot from Buck Rogers, with his dead, dead eyes, gave some of us the willies. Even more unnerving are entirely too life like robots that have been popping up at tech shows for the last decade or so.
Personally, I don't get it. Yes, I love the clunky metallic machine men for their vintage charm. And yes, if I had to deal with a Commander Data style android I might want to punch him in the nose, but the humanoid robots fascinate me. I would love to have the opportunity to speak with one someday, if for no other reason than to see how long it takes for me to forget that they aren't a person.
I tried to tell her that matte lipstick was all the rage, but did she listen? Ug, robots!
Oddly enough, I got to take a bit of a trip through the Valley a few weeks ago.
The natives were bored. Not even their hobby of sewing fancy corsets held joy anymore.

We traveled to NY for my brother's wedding. While we were at my parents' house, we caught an episode of The Twilight Zone. It was one where a prisoner being held on an asteroid falls in love with a humanoid robot (pronounced robit in that quirky, old timey way). I'm sure it was freaky at the time, but to me it was a sad story because the robit meets an untimely demise.
Funny though, in a way, all of the old Twilight Zone episodes seem to take place in the Uncanny Valley, at least they do now. The acting and manner of speaking from that era is just different enough from today to be almost human. But again, this doesn't bother me. Neither do realistic mannequins, and we saw plenty of them on this trip as well. Well, that's not true. Full mannequins don't bother me, but those disembodied heads that hold wigs give me the heebie jeebies.
Apparently, this poor fella has seen things we wouldn't believe. He also suffers from a bad case of the heebie jeebies.

Dolls, however...
Is that a rickrack battle scar?

Typically, I don't have pediophobia, but apparently my sister does, thanks in part to the movie, The Conjuring. She happened to mention this when I said I was going into an antique mall, which freaked her out because of all the dolls. Because big sisters never change, no matter how old or how mature they are supposed to be, I purposefully went looking for the creepiest dolls in the mall and took pictures of them all. My intention was to randomly text her these pictures, preferably at three in the morning* because... well, see my last sentence.
I imagine her expression might look like this.
But after about three dozen very creepy dolls, I did start to realize the the Uncanny Valley might be real. I had to admit, some of the better dolls, the hand crafted, painstakingly detailed dolls that were probably once the cherished possessions of rich little girls, were in fact, quite a bit creepier than their cheap, cartoonish counterparts.
Admit it, if she started crying, you would be the one with wet pants.
So now I have to wonder, how would I really feel about talking to that robot? Would it still be a cool experience or would I feel slightly unnerved? Would I feel threatened? Or would I have a strange and sudden desire to watch Bjork videos?
I guess there is only one way to find out. Will someone please fund my trip to a major Japanese tech convention? I got some words to say to a fancy speaking lady robit.

*For the record, no, I have not terrorized my sister with these pictures...