Friday, December 26, 2008

Interview with Jacquelyn Sylvan on Community Fridays

Welcome to Community Fridays!

During Community Fridays, I interview authors, editors, publishers, and pretty much anyone else who I can get my hands on from the writing and publishing community. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to suggest new participants. Check out current and past interviews here. Only have a minute? Click here for interviews at a glance.

Today's guest is Jacquelyn Sylvan, author of the book Surviving Serendipity.

I was reading a blog post you wrote about a book signing you had back in June. It sounded like a great experience - lots of interesting people to talk to, and you even managed to sell out all of your books! Do you have any fun signing stories to tell? Advice for authors who are worried about their first signing?

Ha…I have a lot of great stories to tell, and I haven’t even done that many events yet! One rather interesting signing was in the Waldenbooks in Stroud Mall, Stroudsburg, PA. After giving one woman my bookmark, she looked at me, smiled, hit me with it, and then walked away. That same day, I also traded a bookmark to a gentleman for an orange golf ball, which I still have.

My advice to authors… just remember, there’s going to be at least one, if not more, signings where you’re going to tank. No books sold, one or two books sold, etc. There are going to be days where people just aren’t buying anything. But when you’re at a signing and you’re not doing well, pay attention. Try a number of different opening lines. (You are approaching people and talking to them, rather than waiting for them to come up to you, RIGHT?) If one particular opening line seems to get people’s attention more than others, play around with it. Tweak it. Don’t be a robot. And be very, very nice to the bookstore staff. Buy them chocolate and stuff. Make them remember you, so that when someone asks them for a book recommendation, yours will be the one they pluck off the shelf and hand to the customer.

Just please, please remember this… at least once, your event is going to suck. Do not take this as a sign that you should give up and go back to your day job. If you resign yourself to the fact that this is going to happen at least once, then, when it does, you’ll take it in stride. And just think…when you’re so famous people start writing books about you, it’ll make a very dramatic and heart-wrenching scene in your biography.

Would you like to tell us a little about your novel, Surviving Serendipity?

Well, since you twisted my arm... :) Surviving Serendipity is the first book I’ve written. I’ve always loved the epic fantasy genre, but was disappointed by the lack of strong female leads in that genre. So, I wrote one myself!

The story goes like this: June is an ordinary young woman, or so she thinks, until one night a stranger shows up in her empty apartment and abducts her to a world halfway across the universe, Thallafrith… a world she’s soon told is her homeland. But Thallafrith is in trouble, and June is the only one who can save it. Despite her reluctance to rise to the role of hero and accept this new reality, June uses her newly-discovered talents to guide herself and her companions through the kingdom of Prendawr. But all is not what it seems, and June has to learn the truth about her own origins as she struggles to keep her friends alive. In the end, she must make a devastating decision that begs the question—how much can one heart take?

The main character in Surviving Serendipity, June, is very much a fish out of water. In fact, she eventually realizes that her entire known life has been a sham. What made you want to write about a person gaining self-knowledge and using that to overcome obstacles?

I think that one reason we all find disaster situations, like the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, so fascinating is because they are the few situations where we can find out what people are really made of. So much of us is what we’re surrounded by; our homes, our families and friends, our things. When you strip all of that away, you find the true nature of the person. And as we sit in our comfortable living rooms watching ordinary people rise to heroism, I think we all wonder—what would I do? And so I wrote June’s story, the story of a very average girl (she thinks, anyway), who, when she finds herself in such a situation, does what we all hope we’d do.

In addition to writing, you have an interesting occupation that you've described as "professional vampire." Has this affected your writing at all, and if so, in what way?

To clarify, I’m a phlebotomist—most people don’t know what that is, though, so professional vampire seems to clear things up nicely. And, actually my job has had a pretty big impact on my writing, but not in the way you’d think. Before I was a phlebotomist, I was a veterinary technician, which translates to “animal nurse who sprints for twelve hours a day.” I didn’t exactly have a lot of free time, physical or mental, to spend with my imagination.

Then I became a phlebotomist, which translates to “woman who sits and reads library books all day, waiting for people who need their blood drawn.” Suddenly, I had a lot of free time, and my brain gave me something to do with it.

Another way my careers have influenced my writing is in my characters. Most of them end up in some profession related to either the medical or animal fields. It gives me a way to feel closer to my characters…and saves me a lot of tedious research, my least-favorite thing about writing.

What's it like to be a first-time published author? Do you have any special projects in the works that you'd like to tell us about?

Being a first-time author, or an author on any level, is a lot of work. And not just the fun kind of work. You have to be a marketer and a salesperson, too, and those things don’t exactly come naturally to me. You have to commit to changing yourself, though… the industry is what it is; adapt or die.

I do have a project I’m working on now, which is a werewolf thriller trilogy. I have an agent, who is working on her end to get the first book, Immortal Moon, sold, and I’m working to get the second one polished and the third one written. I’m very excited about it, not only because it’s a great supernatural story, but also because this is my first foray into sequels. Honestly, Immortal Moon was supposed to be a stand-alone, but when my agent told me that if I made it into a trilogy she could probably get it sold, I did.

Another back-burner project I’m working on is one I’m really excited about. I still don’t have a title; I’ve been referring to it as The Ghost Story, just to make it easier for discussion. It’s a YA supernatural romance, the idea for which came to me in a dream. My subconscious is so cool sometimes.

What is your one super-secret tip to getting published?

Faith. If you don’t believe that your book is going to not only get published, but go to the top, then a prospective publisher isn’t going to believe it, either. And if you don’t believe your book is the absolute best book out there, you’re not going to convince anyone to buy it. Come up with your best work, and believe in it.

Lastly, because this feature is about establishing bonds within the writing and publishing industries, can you name one author, editor, publisher, organization etc. who's doing great things right now, and why?

There are so many people out there doing great things it’s impossible to pick just one. Karen Syed, my editor at Quake, is one of many editors of independent publishing houses fighting to gain recognition, and doing a pretty good job. For the bigger publishers, it’s not such a big deal to invest in a new author, but for the smaller houses, they’re putting a significant amount of their total resources into each and every author. The little guys have to put so much more of themselves into their authors, and they can never stop fighting… they don’t get a break.
Another thing I want to mention has to do with some of the bigger houses. I’ve seen a trend lately that I think is absolutely fantastic—the marriage of pop culture with books. I’m sure the first one that springs to your mind is Twilight, but there are so many other authors out there who are making reading cool again; Lisa McMann, author of Wake and the upcoming Fade, is another. The world is changing, and some of the savvier authors are making sure they change with it. And any author who gets a child who “doesn’t read” to pick up a book is a hero to me.

About the Author

For more information, check out Jacquelyn's website.

Beware the sound of crying children, watch out for the barmaids, and whatever you do, don't let the Pegasus spit on you.

© Emma Larkins and Jacquelyn Sylvan

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays and Guest Announcement

I'll keep this short and sweet, because I'm up to my armpits in all sorts of holiday goodness. I'm one of the lucky ones who gets to open their presents on Christmas Eve, instead of Christmas Day - which I love, but which also means I have less time to get ready. Eep!

In light of recent events, I'd like to give out a special holiday wish to everyone today.

Here it is: take care of yourself. Listen to your body. Get out from that computer-trance crouch you're stuck in and give a good stretch. Have a loved one give you a back massage. Stop worrying about whether you got so and so the perfect gift. Take a moment to appreciate all that your life has to offer, even the little things that don't seem to matter. Like pretty frost patterns drawn across a window, warm sunlight on a cold morning, or the smell of your favorite hot beverage. It's so easy to get caught up in your job or your responsibilities or your to-do list and forget what it really is that keeps you going, that gets you up and out of bed every morning. Everyone says "focus on what's important in your life," but have you ever really tried to do it? How much time today did you spend reading about the depressing state of the economy, or playing computer Solitaire, or flipping through television stations because you can't be bothered to do anything else? If those things truly bring you joy, then by all means, enjoy them. But if something isn't right with the focus of your life, take care of it. Your body will thank you for it.

Okay, that's enough rant for one day. If you're interested in reading an interview with Jacquelyn Sylvan, author of Surviving Serendipity, take a break from playing with your new toys or cursing the unforgiving American work ethic and drop in to Community Fridays.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Interview with Resa Nelson on Community Fridays

Welcome to Community Fridays!

During Community Fridays, I interview authors, editors, publishers, and pretty much anyone else who I can get my hands on from the writing and publishing community. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to suggest new participants. Check out current and past interviews here. Only have a minute? Click here for interviews at a glance.

Today's interview is with Resa Nelson, author of The Dragonslayer's Sword and real-life swordswoman.

You say that one of your favorite parts of writing a fantasy story is doing the research for that story. Could you tell us a little about the kinds of research you do, the processes you go through, the way you keep track of information, etc.?

Because my strengths are ideas, theme, and characterization, I do research as a way to help the story come alive through details that I’d never dream up on my own. My weakest area of knowledge is history, and my novels tend to take place in the past. I don’t have any interest in writing historical fiction, but I want to make the time and place feel as real as possible. So I often begin by reading history books about the time period in order to get a lay of the land and to give myself a framework to work within. I’m also a big fan of museums. I’m lucky to live in an area where there are plenty of museums, so I’ve had good luck finding exhibits related to the novels I write. I take lots of notes about what I’m seeing and how I’m feeling. Whenever possible, I also do physical research to help me get inside the skin of my characters. Keeping track of information boils down to keeping files of notes online (from the books I read) and piling up memo pads (with notes from museum trips and other expeditions) on a bookshelf. My “filing” method is pretty haphazard, but somehow I always manage to find what I’m looking for!

While we're at it, would you like to tell us a little about your latest novel?

The Dragonslayer’s Sword is a combination of medieval fantasy, action/adventure, mystery, and romance. It’s about a female blacksmith who makes swords for dragonslayers. Everything starts going wrong when her sweetheart, the local dragonslayer, goes missing without explanation. The people in my novel are shapeshifters, but I’m doing something different with this concept. Shapeshifting is all about how you perceive yourself and other people – in other words, what you think and feel has the power to change the appearance of you or someone else. Society dictates that you always have the right to change yourself, but you don’t have the right to change other people. Because my main character is a blacksmith, I thought, “How can I write about a blacksmith unless I get some experience?” So I took a blacksmithing course. Ironically, after I took the course, I learned that I come from a long line of blacksmiths — several of my relatives are still blacksmithing today. (I even have an ancestor whose middle name was Hammer!) I also studied historically accurate methods of using medieval weapons, because I wanted to understand as much as possible about these weapons and reading about them in books didn’t give me a deep enough understanding.

How does research change the original plan you have for your story?

Doing research — especially physical research like blacksmithing and sword work — changes me. When I change, that has an impact on my characters because I always feel very close to them. For example, in April I gave a presentation at a Medieval Forum. This was a weekend conference and I originally thought I’d only have enough time to show up and give my presentation. But then I realized that it was a great opportunity to do some research, so I attended the entire 2-day event from beginning to end. There were two presentations that blew me away and revealed information about the Middle Ages that came as a big surprise to me. For weeks, I couldn’t stop thinking about what I’d learned. I contacted the professors who had given these presentations, told them about my work, and asked if it would be OK for me to be influenced by their presentations. They both said yes. This was important to me because The Dragonslayer’s Sword is the first novel in a series. I’ve just started writing Book 2, called The Iron Maiden. I had a general idea of what Book 2 was going to be about, but the story of Book 2 snapped into place after I heard those two presentations at the Medieval Forum. What I learned just happened to be a perfect fit with my goals for this series. The general idea for what I want to accomplish in Book 2 is still the same, but the story changed completely.

In addition to your novels, you've also written many articles and short stories. Do you research differently for an article or short story?

Yes. When I write an article, I’ve been given an assignment by a magazine editor, and the topic is very specific. For example, the last article I wrote was a preview of the movie Watchmen, which will come out in theaters next year. I’d read Watchmen many years ago, but I re-read it to refresh my memory. Then I interviewed the director and producer and asked very specific questions. I also use the Internet to do fact checking before I deliver an article. Short stories are very different. It’s very rare that I do any research when I write a horror story. A lot of my fantasy stories are the result of “accidental” research. For example, a few years ago I was at Connecticut’s Mystic Seaport, a living history museum. There were two exhibits that I found compelling. One was an exhibit of ship figureheads, and the other was an exhibit about women and the sea. I took lots of notes because I was interested in both exhibits. Months later, I got an idea for a short story, went back to all the notes I’d taken at Mystic Seaport, did some library research, and wrote “Black Magic,” which has just been published in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress XXIII.

Not only does your research help you write your stories, it also becomes an integral part of your life. For example, after researching about swords, you joined a real-life sword guild! What are the effects you've seen of drawing your real life closer to your fantasy life, i.e. the worlds of your stories and novels?

It makes it easy to drop a bridge between the real world and the fantasy worlds I make up. It’s easier to step into those worlds and walk with my characters and experience what they experience. In The Dragonslayer’s Sword, my female blacksmith ends up in a few situations where she has to defend herself but she has no idea how to use the very weapons she makes! So my own experience helped me figure out what kinds of mistakes she’d make, what the consequences would be, and her most realistic options. Plus, doing something like joining a sword guild and working with weapons is a lot of fun and makes it easy to meet lots of very interesting people. Not to mention that it’s incredibly fun to swing a sword around and actually know what I’m doing.

Do you have any special projects going on that you'd like to tell us about? Can you give us the juicy details?

I’m currently writing Book 2 of my Dragonslayer series: The Iron Maiden. I’m pushing my main character Astrid way out of her comfort zone in this book and giving her plenty of challenges. My novels tend to be about strong women who are independent and have active lives. There’s a lot that Astrid doesn’t know about herself, and the details will unravel slowly over the course of about four or five books. I’ve also written a novel called Our Lady of the Absolute that has just been accepted for publication (due out in 2010). This is a standalone novel that is heavily influenced by ancient Egypt. I’ve been an “armchair Egyptologist” all my life, which means I love ancient Egypt and have my own mini-library of books about it. I’ve also traveled in Egypt a couple of times and love the country so much that I feel homesick whenever I think about Egypt. Our Lady of the Absolute is about a woman who realizes in Chapter 1 that she’s going to have to choose between someone she loves and the country she loves. It’s a combination of action/adventure, fantasy, and thriller.

Lastly, because this feature is about establishing bonds within the writing and publishing industries, can you name one author, editor, publisher etc. who's doing great things right now, and why?

I’m keenly impressed with the publisher of The Dragonslayer’s Sword: Mundania Press. One of my top priorities is working with people who are honest and upfront, and that has been my experience with the folks at Mundania Press. They’re also great communicators. I learn a lot from them because they share information with their authors. I’m happy that when my novel was published, it came out in two formats: trade paperback and e-book. I want readers to have that choice. Also, Mundania Press uses “print on demand” technology, which makes them a “green” company, in my opinion. Ironically, I have yet to meet a bookstore owner, manager, or employee who knows the difference between “publish on demand” (which is essentially a fancy term for “self-published”) and "print on demand" (which is a technology that makes it possible to print copies of books only when they are purchased). Bookstores order books from wholesalers like Ingram’s and Baker&Taylor, who use “POD” as an abbreviation for both terms, which really adds to the confusion. In other words, as far as I can tell, bookstores don’t understand what print-on-demand technology is or why it matters. The publishing industry is one of the most wasteful American industries when it comes to misusing resources and money. I’m horrified that the major publishing houses continue to use a distribution system that dates back to the Great Depression and don’t seem to be taking any real action to go green, at least not to my knowledge. It’s important to me to be aligned with a “green” publisher that focuses on e-books and print-on-demand technology.

Emma's Note: This is an important issue, over which there is a lot of confusion. Simply put, beware of anyone who wants you to pay to publish your book (vanity publishing) but do not fear a reputable publishing house that uses print on demand technology! Thanks, Resa, for spreading correct information about this topic.

About the Author

Resa's book The Dragonslayer's Sword has just been nominated as a finalist for Category 12 - Fantasy of the 2009 Eppie Awards!

To learn more about Resa, check out her website.

© Emma Larkins and Resa Nelson

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Post Delay and This Week's Guest

Hi all - long time no see. Here's what the deal is...

I've been having some health/life issues, and I'm going to need to figure out how to better balance this blogging thing with everything that's going on. I really enjoy blogging, and I've missed updating these past few days. But for now, it's better if I take it a bit easy until things settle down.

However, I do intend to keep up with one of my favorite features on this blog, Community Fridays . The upcoming guest for this Friday is Resa Nelson, a very interesting character who was referred to me by previous guest Danielle Ackley-McPhail, a fellow author of Resa's over at Mundania Press LLC.

Resa knows her stuff: her book The Dragonslayer's Sword has been nominated as a finalist for Category 12 - Fantasy of the 2009 Eppie Awards! Learn more about Resa this coming Friday!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Interview with Marvin Wilson on Community Fridays

Welcome to Community Fridays!

During Community Fridays, I interview authors, editors, publishers, and pretty much anyone else who I can get my hands on from the writing and publishing community. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to suggest new participants. Check out current and past interviews here. Only have a minute? Click here for interviews at a glance.

Our guest for today is Marvin Wilson, avid blogger and author of Owen Fiddler.

It can take a lot of strength and a lot of faith to become a published author. How has spirituality helped you in your writing career?

With me, Emma, spirituality comes first. Here’s a quote from Owen Fiddler that sheds light on my spiritual life and worldviews. It’s where Kris, the savior figure in the book, says to the near-dead and in-a-coma Owen while a spirit-being in the never-world, “Understand, Owen - you are not a human being having a spiritual experience. You are a spiritual being that has been having a human experience.”

God is everything. God is All. All is One. If I am to be a successful published author it is because of the One God. Destiny. God told me to start writing, back when I was recovering from a serious narcotics addiction that ruined me, took away everything I had, cast my family and loved ones into a horrid frenzy of despair and anxiety and nearly killed me. It was my way of giving thanks, my way of turning a horrible mistake into something useful and helpful to others. So I am undaunted in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds at mounting a golden years’ career as an author, coming as I have from absolute obscurity. It is supposed to happen. It will happen. No doubts, no worries. It’s a god thang. Gotta do it.

You've got a great "do unto others as you would have them do to you" mentality. This has helped you to establish a community (actually more like a family) around your writings and your blog. How do you sustain this attitude, especially in the face of all the difficulties and troubles in the world (many of which you write about on a daily basis)?

Difficulties are the way of the world, the way of life here on this plane of existence. Facing challenges, growing and learning from difficult experiences is what we do. I’m no different than any other sentient being. So I just talk and write about my difficulties as if they were normal to every one of my readers. And they are. I have arthritis. I have financial challenges. I have a mother that worries herself to an earlier than necessary death over her family and its problems. I have children and grandchildren that stress me all the time with their normal immature dubious early life decisions. I have a brother that’s in jail. He made some awful bad decisions long ago that just caught up with him. But hey – sound familiar anyone? It’s called life. I just write openly and honestly about my life, and I think people relate to that and appreciate the fact that I am transparent about my issues. Makes them comfortable with me and willing to interact with me. My readership is part of my family and in this family we share. And care.

Christmas is a holiday of giving. How does giving feature in your life? In what ways does being a writer and having a popular blog help you contribute to the community?

On a personal “day in the life of Marvin” level, I give with my time and money. Well, I don’t have a lot of money, but I give what I can, to my church and to random people I see in need. A five spot given to a single mom standing behind me at the grocery store checkout line that is stressing over what items she has to put back because she can’t afford all the food her hungry little ones need is the best five dollars I could ever spend. Bar none. And I spend my time and use my talents volunteering for outreach programs that my church does. This week I’ve been using my carpentry skills, outfitting an outbuilding in the back of the church with shelving for the free food pantry we are launching. I ain’t thirty anymore, but I still know how to swing a hammer. And I come home tired, sore, and feeling good. I just spent the afternoon making the world a better place for some folks.

As far as the writing, the books and the blog? That delves into global community. I write books and blog about spiritual matters. Stuff that is good for the soul. I can’t be in every third world country doling out food or bandaging bullet wounds, I can’t be in every city, neighborhood and block in this country or others to help where I can physically. But I can write. I can publish. I can market. I can blog. I can network. I can spread the word, spread the Love of Christ through the giving of my time and talents at the keyboard and on the internet. The world-wide web is a wonderful tool. I use it in the Christmas spirit, the spirit of giving. God gave me the gift of expression and communication through the written word. I will use it to glorify God and create peace and harmony amongst all humankind as long as I can draw the next breath and sit upright at the computer desk.

Tell us a little about your book, Owen Fiddler. What's it about? How do spirituality and the Christmas Spirit feature in the story? Did you encounter any major roadblocks in the journey to publishing Owen Fiddler, and if so, how did you overcome them?

Well, to me the true spirit of Christmas is the spirit of giving, the spreading of the love of Christ. I pains me to no end to witness the way the holiday over the last few decades has sunk to the depths of such a consumer consumption-driven materialistic event. It’s all about what am I getting and how much - rather than how much can I give. But that’s another soap-box I’ll probably step up on and blog about near or on December 25th.

As for Owen Fiddler, he is the ultimate “the world owes me” kind of guy. He likes to dance, but never pays the fiddler. Hence his name. He racks up a huge karmic debt with his selfish ways over his lifetime and in his middle ages the tab comes due, wreaking havoc on him and the lives of those around him. But in the end, the enlightened Owen Fiddler becomes the embodiment of the true spirit of Christmas. It’s not a Scrooge remake, but it does have some of the elements that that marvelous age-old fable has.

I didn’t have lot of difficulties in the quest for publishing. It took a lot longer than I wanted to find a pub house to take it on, but that’s par for the course when you are still a relatively unknown author. Lack of patience, tenacity, and perseverance will kill an aspiring author dead, as I’m sure you well know. Ironically, all the “Christian” pub houses rejected it because there are some swear words in it and a couple sex scenes. I was like, whatever – I’m a truthful, real-life, tell it like it is kind of writer. Owen is a self-serving, foul-mouthed whoremonger most of his adult life. How could I write him up as a golly gee Mr. Nice Guy? Just as ironically, most of the secular pub houses eschewed it because it was “too religious!” LOL. Go figure. But eventually the manuscript got in front of Arline Chase from Cambridge Books, and she and her board of directors voted to give the book a shot. They will also be publishing the sequel and the series.

You're currently taking Owen Fiddler on a blog book tour. Where did you go yesterday? Where will you be tomorrow? Can we have a full schedule of your tour?

Sure! Thanks for asking. Yesterday we had a great time at the Straight From Hel Blog. Helen Ginger posted her review of the book and I contributed an article on what it’s like for a novice author when you first run into an exacting and brutally candid editor. Painful and necessary to the gainful experience. Tomorrow we shoot over to the Pretty, Prosperous and Powerful Blog, where host Lacresha Hayes and I will discuss some of the more spiritual messages within the book. For a complete line-up of the tour, the dates, blog url’s post formats, and even juicy prizes and giveaways, check out the Owen Fiddler Blog Book Tour 2009 Schedule.

You have your own unique brand of spirituality, a combination of various teachings and faiths. How does this affect your celebration of 'traditional' holidays, such as Christmas? Any special traditions you'd like to share to get us in the Christmas spirit?

Well I am first and foremost a Christian. Certainly my Zen training and Taoist studies have an influence on the way I go about my spiritual practice. I still do sitting Zen meditation to clear my mind of the incessant internal dialog, allowing me to get here and now and be able to hear the voice of God clearly. And walks in the woods, observing and communing with nature is when I feel closest to God, one with everything. But I also pray, like any “normal” Christian. Most traditional Christians think I’m kind of weird, that I don’t really “get it,” but I’m comfortable with my brand of Christianity. I consider myself a non-religious, dogma free spiritualist Christian. Ever the Maverick, that’s me. I not only read the Bible, I read early Christian texts, like the Gnostic Gospels and the Dead Sea Scrolls, and some of the books that were not included in the accepted Bible we have today like the Gospel According to Thomas, the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Judas. Why not?

For two or three hundred years A.D., early Christians read those texts and fashioned their spiritual practice after those teachings. I also read scriptures of other religions. The Tao Te Ching, The Dhammaphada, the Upanishads, the Qua’ran, all those and more. I think too many Christians are fearful of reading anything for spiritual direction other than the Bible. Afraid of exposing themselves to the writings of other spiritual paths – as if they might discover some amazing new truths in them and find out they were wrong for following Christianity. That’s crazy. The fact that all the major world religions have a great deal of overlap in their teachings is to me an endorsement of my faith. If there were none, if Christ’s teachings were so far removed from the teachings of all the other great avatars that have taught humanity over the millennium I would have to question whether or not Christianity was the best path for me.

As for holidays, I celebrate everything. If you’re a Buddhist and want to invite me to a Buddha’s Birthday Party, I’ll come. With bells on and incense lit. Jewish? Got a Hanukkah celebration happening? Invite me. I’ll join in on the fun, eat your kosher delicacies and drink your kosher wine. Heck, I’d celebrate Tuesdays every week if someone wanted to throw a party and have a bunch of people come over for some eats, drinks and good clean fun. We make too much out of arbitrary dates as if they have some real cosmic and sacred significance. The holiest of holy days is always today. The only time is now. Be one with God right now, in each and every moment, and your entire stay here on this earth will be one continuous holiday celebration.

Lastly, because this feature is about establishing bonds within the writing and publishing industries, can you name one author, editor, publisher etc. who's doing great things right now, and why?

First person to pop up in my mind when I read that question was Travis Thrasher. I just got introduced to this author by winning his latest book, Isolation, in a blog tour giveaway promotion. Great book. Thrasher is a Christian that, like myself, chooses to write outside of the traditional “Christian Book” genre. I relate to him a lot because he realizes that he reaches a much broader audience and readership with cross-over genre writing. His Christian messages and worldviews come through loud and clear, just because of who he is, but the reader does not feel “preached to” at all, or get that uncomfortable feeling that he or she is being admonished to convert to the faith of the author. Thrasher is a Stephen King disciple in terms of his writing style, and a darn good one. Isolation is one of the best suspense thrillers I’ve ever read and I now want to read all his books. We’ve started to e-communicate and I hope at some point in the future to do some cross-promotional stuff with him.

Hey Emma, thanks so much for having me on your wonderful blog today. Answering your queries put me to task and made me think and delve quite a bit, and that’s a good thing. And I want to thank all our readers today for reading my (admittedly long-winded) answers. LOL. Hey – I’m a writer! I can’t even introduce myself on the written page in less than 500 words.

I’ll be stopping in from time to time at your blog all day and into the early evening, so if anyone would like to discuss what I’ve written here or ask me any questions, I’ll make sure and reply in the comments section. Take care, God bless, and bye for now.

About the Author
To learn more about Marvin Wilson, check out his blog.

© Emma Larkins and Marvin Wilson

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wishing for a Fantasy Life

I was daydreaming the other day, and I found myself wishing for a fantasy life. Not the life of a movie star, or a famous rock n' roller, mind you, but a true, honest to goodness fantasy existence. I'm talking The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter here. The lives of the characters who live these stories are more exciting than anything I've seen or heard of in the 'real world.'

Sadly, I probably won't be transported to a magical realm the next time I walk into a wardrobe full of fur coats or jump through a brick wall onto a train. And I doubt Gandalf is going to walk through my door anytime soon. So, I'm trying to figure out how I can make my life more like that fantasy life I dream of, without having to check out of reality completely. Besides, you never know what quest is waiting for you just around the corner...

This is what I've come up with so far, some of the key components to being a fantasy realm hero:

1.) Get Moving

How It's Done: I've yet to read a story in which the main character sits in the middle of a forest for the entire book, watching the squirrels gather seeds and nuts. The hero is always on the go, traversing the land on horseback, running through winding streets to escape an enemy, dodging spells or swords, or climbing the tallest tower despite an acute fear of heights.

What I Can Do: Now that Ultimate is done for the season, I need to find a new way to keep myself in shape. Luckily, the early darkness of winter days lends an extra air of excitement to dog-walking. I can almost pretend that I'm really making my way into Narnia or Middle Earth on these misty, moonlit nights... almost.

2.) Learn to Defend Yourself

How It's Done: Every hero has enemies, and the struggles of a hero to preserve life and limb in the face of all odds are what make stories exciting. Whether with a sword, a bow and arrow, or a disarming spell, all fantasy characters must find a way to protect what is precious to them - namely, their lives. How long do you think you'd last when faced with a Dark Horde?

What I Can Do: In the past, I've taken classes in martial arts, ranging from karate to tai chi. The YMCA offers courses in kickboxing (cardio kickboxing, that is) that might suit my needs, for the time being. Want to get really authentic? Why not check out the Historical European Martial Arts Club (a.k.a. swords!)?

3.) Specialize

How It's Done: Have you ever noticed how everyone in a fantasy novel has a speciality? Either your a rogue, a wizard, a talking lion, or that guy who doesn't do much besides crack funny jokes. The message seems to be this: have a skill, or you're out of the Fellowship. And no, knowing how to work the fax machine doesn't count.

What I Can Do: I've got a few handy skills up my sleeve. I'm pretty good at building fires, although my flint-work could do with improvement. I know enough about blacksmithing to forge a rough sword in a pinch. If all else fails, I bet I would make a decent storyteller. Every quest needs a storyteller, right?

Don't forget the corollary to this one: specialize, but don't be an expert. The expert is never the hero of the story. Instead, it's always the newbie, the person who needs to prove him or herself the most. Luckily, I know all there is to know about being a newbie.

By the way, if someone out there needs dangerous artifacts delivered or all-powerful warlocks dispatched, I'm your girl. Whenever you need me, I'll be ready. I've been practicing

Monday, December 8, 2008

Local Writers' Associations - Maryland Writers and Others

Writer and book reviewer Serena from the Savvy Verse & Wit blog brought up a good question yesterday about how I learned about Edie Hemingway's writer's workshops in Frederick, MD. I thought the answer could do with repeating, so here it is - I found out through the Maryland Writers' Association email list.

I recently joined the Maryland Writers' Association, and I've received a lot of great information from my fellow members. Members also get to put their sites up on the member sites page. In addition, the discount to the annual conference just about pays for the membership, so if you're planning on going to the conference, it's more than worth it. Attention emerging authors: you ARE planning on going to a writer's conference, right?

Of course, many of the people reading this probably aren't from Maryland. For you, I have a special resource that I've been working on: my Local Writers' Associations By State site. More than two hundred writers' organizations from across the U.S. are listed here (and counting!)

You can find a lot of great information online - believe me, that's how I started. But nothing beats a local writer's association for giving you that extra insight into local conferences, conventions, workshops, readings, and more. It can be a great advantage to a new writer to join one of these organizations, or even just to stop by their site to see what's going on locally. And hey, sometimes us writers need to get out from behind the computer screen and meet with people in real life, and what better way to do this than through a local organization?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sunday Report: Bits and Bobs for the Week of December 8

Next up for the Community Fridays interview is a man who hardly needs introduction - Marvin Wilson. He'll be here discussing a little bit about writing, spirituality, and the Christmas Spirit.

I just finished the writing class I took at the Carroll County Community College with Jeffrey Roth. He's very involved in his writing process, and he has a wealth of knowledge to share when it comes to writing and reading to help you develop your skills, but I wish there had been a bit more practical application in the class. Therefore, I'm looking forward to learning more about writing workshops offered by Edie Hemingway. Edie hosts her workshops in Frederick, MD. They cover a wide range of writing-related subjects, such as point of view, finding your inner voice, and writing for children. Can't wait to find out what they're like!

One more thing before I let you go today. I've been working on a speculative fiction story about a society in which debates are resolved by dancing instead of talking. Part of the story has to do with class struggles between the Danceocracy and the Miners, who mine trash heaps for the resources necessary to continue life in the town of Sanfro. My concept artist, Konstantinos Tsiopanos, was kind enough to work me up some concept art for the vehicle used by the Miners. So here, without further ado, is the RollCrawler.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Interview with Jean Henry Mead on Community Fridays

Welcome to Community Fridays!

During Community Fridays, I interview authors, editors, publishers, and pretty much anyone else who I can get my hands on from the writing and publishing community. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to suggest new participants. Check out current and past interviews here. Only have a minute? Click here for interviews at a glance.

For today's interview, I managed to coerce Jean Henry Mead, author of the book A Village Shattered to stop by on her blog book tour. The sheriff from the book, Sheriff Walter Grayson, is here also.

Sherriff Grayson, you had to deal with some slippery characters, and convince them to tell their stories. How was that? Did they give you any trouble?

The Logan and Cafferty women think they're amateur sleuths and decided to investigate on their own. They don't realize how dangerous that is with a serial killer roaming the village in the San Joaquin Valley's pea soup fog. The Lambert woman antagonizes me every time she sees me. She may be the mother of Russ Lambert, the former sheriff I defeated in the last election. But the worst suspect I had to contend with is Pat Wilson, who flaunts his guilt like waving a flag. He's my prime suspect and I'm gonna prove he's committing the murders.

Same with you, Jean. It must have been difficult keeping everyone in their places. Any tips for how you kept your story straight?

Pure luck in most cases, Emma. I swear that they literally ran with the book and nagged me to get up early each morning to catch up with them. They literally became real people that I watched in my mind's eye, and I typed as fast as I could to keep up with their conversations. I did very little hardcore rewriting because the characters wrote the book themselves.

How do you think she did, Sheriff? Do you think she'd be able to fill your shoes someday?

I don't think she would like to have my job. She was a police reporter who got tired of writing about people's problems and tragedies. Of course she uses some of her experiences to write mystery novels, especially when it comes to law enforcement. And her husband was once a highway patrolman. I know that she much prefers writing about fictional lawbreakers than real ones.

Were there any major roadblocks you encountered in your investigation? Any stake-outs gone bad?

Sheriff Walter Grayson: Plenty of roadblocks and red herrings. The only stake-out that went bad was when one of the two main characters, Sarah Cafferty, decided to stage a stake-out of her own, she and that Portuguese roommate of hers. That ended badly, but it wasn't my fault. I'm new at this sheriffing business, you know. I won the election not long ago and my only prior experience was training police dogs.

Jean Henry Mead: Yes, the sheriff does struggle to get a handle on things but he's a good man. He tries to stay on top of things but there are so many suspects to investigate that I doubt an experienced lawman could do much better. There's also the opaque San Joaquin Valley fog to contend with. And the killer uses it to his advantage. I lived in central California's San Joaquin Valley for more than a dozen years so placing the novel there was the easiest part of the project. No background research was necessary.

What were some of the most interesting details you dug up? Did you have to resort to any less-than-savory methods to find them?

SWG: I learned that the killer stole the Sew and So Club members' roster so that he could kill the women alphabetically. I figured that it was some old guy in the retirement village who was more than a bubble off, but the suspects keep cropping up with motives of their own. And no, I don't consider any of my methods of detection less-than-savory.

JHM: Actually, the sheriff has conducted himself quite well although he lacks experience. Everyone was mad at him at first but they gradually learned that he was trying his best to find the killer. One of the village residents, Micki Fagundos, even made a play for him although he only has eyes for Dana Logan.

Here is a personal question for you, Sheriff. People have likened you to that fictional hunk of law-enforcing metallic muscle, Robocop. What are your thoughts on this? Do you try and keep your emotions out of the case? Are you just naturally gruff? Or are you hiding something?

Robocop? Not likely. I'm not an emotional kind of guy but robotic? Officers of the law have to keep their emotions under control, even if they fall in love with one of the suspects. I may be considered naturally gruff but you have to understand that I'm going through a painful divorce. That would make any man less than gracious. Hiding something? Certainly not. There are plenty of secrets hiding in the retirement village, without me having some of my own. Well, maybe one. I fell in love with Dana Logan, but I doubt she feels the same.

One of the Village residents, Dana, is a huge mystery fan. Do either of you have favorite genres or writers? How have they influenced you?

SWG: I've always been a mystery fan but I haven't had time to sleep, let alone read since I took on this case. I like Joseph Wambaugh and a good many other mystery writers.

JHM: I think the sheriff's reading habits convinced him originally to run for sheriff. Some writers make law enforcement sound glamorous. I personally like the works of Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich, James Patterson, Agatha Christie, Conan Doyle, and a host of others. I'm sure they've all influenced me to some extent.

Do you have any future plans if this case ever gets solved?

SWG: I'm not running for sheriff again.That's a fact! Police dog training has given me a great deal of satisfaction and I plan to return to that. Dogs, as you must know, are trustworthy and loyal, unlike a lot of human beings. I miss my K-9s greatly and keep a picture of them on my desk at the office.

JHM: As soon as this case is solved, Dana Logan and Sarah Cafferty will be plunged into another murder case, this time in Wyoming to investigate the reported suicide of Dana's sister, a mystery writer. But first they have to survive a Rocky Mountain blizzard in their motorhome. The second book in the series, Diary of Murder, will be out next spring.

About the Author

Jean Henry Mead has published eleven books, three of them novels. She's a mystery and western historical novelist, historian, editor and photojournalist. Some of her books are listed on her website. She also contributes to a number of blogs: Write On! (writing advice), A Western Historical Happening, Murderous Musings, and Make Mine Murder.

Please stop by and sign Jean's blog tour virtual guestbook! While you're at it, read about the other stops on Jean's tour, and how YOU can win signed copies of A Village Shattered! Also, Jean will be hanging around today, so don't forget to say hi!

© Emma Larkins and Jean Henry Mead

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Upcoming Guests and Humble Pie

Another short one today, I've been spending a lot of time poking around in one of the worlds I'm creating for a story (a futuristic city in which debates are held using dance instead of words), so not much time for blogging.

First, a heads-up on some upcoming guests. I've mentioned that Jean Henry Mead will be here this Friday for her blog book tour. And the week after that, Marvin Wilson, who you've probably seen lurking around the comments section here, will also stop by on HIS blog book tour for his spiritual novel, Owen Fiddler. Marvin is an all-around wonderful guy, fun to be around, always willing to lend an ear, and somewhat of a rogue in his field. On December 12 he'll share his thoughts on writing, spirituality, and Christmas.

And now, a bit about my big slice of humble pie. Hey emerging authors, want to get a reality check on your latest project? Get in touch with an author who has been publishing for a while, teaches workshops on writing, and holds no punches. Conferences and conventions work great for this. Then, have said author critique your work. It's completely different from doing a group critique among peers. Note: do this only if you're willing to make a complete writing overhaul. You'll realize how far you have to go, but hopefully, you'll have a clearer idea of how to get there.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Odds and Ends for the Week of December 1

Just a quick update, the Community Fridays guest for this Friday will be Jean Henry Mead. She's an author and writes some of the best writing blog posts I've come across. In addition, she's currently on a blog book tour promoting her newly released book, A Village Shattered. Be sure to stop in and give her a hello if you get the chance! To find out more information about her tour, click here.

Other than that, I'm looking forward to a quiet week after the holidays. Sadly, I didn't get a chance to get to Darkover, but I did get a head start on my holiday shopping, and a chance to recover from a hectic Thanksgiving. And now hopefully I can relax a bit and make some real progress on my writing.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Advice From Editors: Conflicted?

Just wanted to let people know that my new post is up over at the editor co-op blog, The Blood-Red Pencil. Conflicting Advice: Emerging Authors Want To Know! is about what to do when an editor's advice conflicts with your own ideas about how a story should go, or what to do when different editors disagree about a story's construction.

And don't forget to check out Mayra Calvani's interview from yesterday. A great travel story, suggestions for writing book reviews, and advice on how to juggle several genres all rolled into one!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Interview with Mayra Calvani on Community Fridays

Welcome to Community Fridays!

During Community Fridays, I interview authors, editors, publishers, and pretty much anyone else who I can get my hands on from the writing and publishing community. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to suggest new participants. Check out current and past interviews here. Only have a minute? Click here for interviews at a glance.

Today's guest is Mayra Calvani, book reviewer and author of the recently released The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing (and many other books!).

You're currently on a blog book tour for your book The Slippery art of Book Reviewing. How is that going for you? Any tips for others interested in blog book tours? Where was your last stop, and where are you headed next?

First of all, thanks for hosting me on my virtual book tour, Emma. It’s great to be a guest on your blog. My blog tour is going well. It’s been very busy! One thing I would advise anyone considering a virtual book tour is to drop everything else in order to focus on answering interviews, writing guest posts, promoting the tour and interacting with people who leave comments under the posts. All this can be very time consuming! And to think I was considering doing Nanowrimo at the same time. I had to drop Nano on the fifth day of November. It was simply too hard to do both at the same time.

Yesterday's tour stop was at Joyce Anthony's blog. Tomorrow's will be at Broad Universe.

I've reviewed a few books on my blog to date, and it seemed pretty easy. I mean, I've written things such as "I liked this book because it was a fun story about a cool girl going on a grand adventure." Okay, so I admit I'm a novice, and maybe there's more to it than that. Am I at least headed in the right direction? What are the basics that I need to know?

You’re certainly in the right direction, Emma! But there’s a difference between simply giving an opinion about a book (which is also fine, by the way!) and writing a book review—though a book review is ultimately a person’s opinion. A review goes a bit further in that it analyses the author’s writing and style.

A good book review, whether short or long, is a well-written, honest, thoughtful evaluation of a book, one that points out the good and the ugly. If negative, a good review must also be tactful. I usually, though not always, follow a simple formula for a review, something I learned from Alex Moore, Book Review Editor of ForeWord Magazine: An interesting lead or quote; a short summary of the plot (without ever giving away spoilers or the ending); an evaluation supported by examples or quotes; and a recommendation (or not). A review is written for the reader/consumer in mind, and must help them decide whether or not the book is worth their time and money. It goes without saying that a good review should be free of spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors. Finally, a good review should engage the reader, should hold the reader’s interest and attention.

Do you have a tip from your book that you can share here? Or maybe half a tip? You know, to get people hooked?

Whenever possible, try to specify the intended readership. Some books are specialized and appeal to only one group of people. Even if the book has some poor qualities, it might still be of interest to some readers. For example, a mediocre novel about the life of a violin player may be of interest to violinists and musicians, something worth mentioning at the end of a non-enthusiastic review.

Another tip: If you read all kinds of books, then review all kinds of books, but if you mostly read books in one genre, then it’s more sensible to only review books in that genre. If you hate fantasy, for instance, then there’s no point in reviewing fantasy books. Your reviews will have more insight, more “meat” when you’re familiar with other authors and books in that particular genre. Your awareness of trends and the current market will allow you to compare the book to others in the same field. Likewise, if you have read many books by one particular author, reviewing a new book by this author will let you place his new work within his other body of work, which is always a good touch in a review.

You've had a few fiction books published. What made you decide to do a non-fiction book? Was it for money? Fame? Intellectual curiosity? Something else?

I know people who have been following my tour will find this answer repetitive… Actually, I came up with the idea to write this book in the middle of the night. I woke up and heard a ‘voice’: You must write a book on how to write book reviews. From that moment on, I was incredibly motivated and didn’t stop until the book was written. Inviting Anne K. Edwards to co-author the book with me was a great idea. We worked superbly together and we able to complement our ideas in order to achieve a more complete final work. What I missed, she brought up, and vice versa. I was also motivated by the idea of writing a nonfiction book and by the fact that there wasn’t any other book available on the subject. But I had never considered doing this until that night.

Within the realm of fiction, you've dabbled in an impressive array of genres. What inspired you to do this? Do you worry that you might get "branded" as a certain type of author, and have trouble promoting all your different works? For example, the children's/Dark romance is an interesting combination. I ask because this is a personal worry of mine!

I know writing both horror and children’s books is an interesting combination, and that it’s then difficult to ‘brand’ myself as a writer—especially since I use my real name for both genres. But I don’t really care about branding. I care about inspiration and writing. I like the freedom to write what I like. Many things inspire me and I just follow that. So it isn’t a conscious decision. I write what I enjoy writing, as simple as that. And I can switch from my horror-writing mode to my children’s-writing mode in a second. No problem at all. I feel totally comfortable in both genres. In a way, it’s soothing and stimulating for the mind, to be able to delve in different genres.

You've traveled a lot, and lived in many places. Did your traveling affect your decision to become a writer? Has it affected your writing? Do you have any fun travel stories to tell?

I’ve lived in Puerto Rico, the US, Turkey and Belgium and I’ve traveled to many parts of Europe and the Middle East. Yes, traveling and seeing different cultures have influenced my writing enormously. Turkey, especially. My horror novel, Dark Lullaby, is set in Turkey and deals with Turkish myths and folklore.

I do have a fun story to tell! When I first went to live in Turkey I was a newly wed and didn’t know anything about cooking. One night we had guests so I decided to make, among other things, a lentil soup. I assumed the lentils were clean and simply ‘dumped’ them directly from the plastic container into the pan. Later, after I served the meal and we were sitting at the table, my guests started to ‘choke’ on little stones that were in the soup. The lentils were mixed with stones! None of the stones ended up in my bowl—they all ended in the guests’ bowls! Unlike in the US, where grains like rice and beans are filtered and cleaned before packing, in Turkey it is the cook who has to do the filtering! My sister-in-law was so kind that, to protect me, she blamed herself. And I, the coward, kept my mouth shut. Oh well, I was only twenty one back then. :-)

Lastly, because this feature is about establishing bonds within the writing and publishing industries, can you name one author, editor or publisher who's doing great things right now, and why?

I know this is self-serving, since this is my children’s book publisher I’m talking about… but Lynda Burch, owner and publisher of Guardian Angel Publishing, has gone out of her way to make the company succeed and we’re getting more attention than ever, especially among the homeschooling networks . We have a wonderful team of talented authors and illustrators and the books have been selling astonishingly well for such a small company. I’m very proud to be one of her authors.

About the Author

Check out Mayra Calvani's website, her reviewer blog and her children's book blog for more information.

© Emma Larkins and Mayra Calvani

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Storytime: Trippin' on Thanksgiving Joy

Ned strained to flap his wings in the enclosed space. Tiny white feathers went flying every which way. His eyes darted back and forth furiously as he spoke to his fellow captive, Chuck.

"Okay, so are you all ready? Are you ready? He's there, I see him, he's coming towards me in a great shining ball of fiery light. Get ready now, we'll only have one chance at this, ready, set..."

"Ned, there's no one there."

"What? But the farmer - I see him right there, heading straight towards me... each one of his sixteen arms waving an axe. You're telling me you don't see that?"

"Ned, get a grip! You've got to chill, man. We're still in the truck."

"Okay, okay, gotta chill, got it. I'll take your word for it, Chuck. Help me around so I can get some air. The walls are closing in, man, the walls are closing in."

Chuck fought through the wings, wattles, and grossly over-sized bodies to get Ned to a part of the cage facing the outside. Wind rushed in as they flashed past hills, trees, and rivers. Eventually, the pick-up truck slowed, then came to an abrupt halt. Ned stared out through the wire mesh. His face became calm and thoughtful as he looked up at something that Chuck couldn't see from his position.

"I see it, man. I finally understand..."

"Stop talking crazy. It's time, Ned. Time for our plan. The truck's stopped, and I think they're getting ready to unload. Remember what you said - the farmer lets us out, and we go for the eyes. If we can't reach the eyes, we go for the jugular. If we can't reach that, we go for the knees. Peck, peck, peck and run."

Ned shook his head.

"I can't. I know now what I have to do."

The cages started flying open, doors worked by unseen hands transferring the turkeys into their new, and final, home.

The door to Chuck and Ned's cage opened with a protesting creak. Instead of jumping out, as he had planned so long ago on that gorgeous summer night lit by three and a half blue moons, Ned simply submitted. Chuck froze in horror, and was himself dragged out of the cage before he could put up a fight. The last thing he saw as he was taken away to certain doom was a large billboard. On the billboard, a family of bright-faced, laughing children and adults, cousins, aunts and uncles, cats and dogs huddled around a perfectly roasted and stuffed golden bird. In the background, a family member opened the door to invite a scruffy-looking neighbor to the feast.

"Bring joy to your holidays with Farmer Joe's finest free-run, homegrown, organic turkeys. Best in the business," read the sign.

Chuck shook his head mournfully.

"Poor Ned. He might have tripped one too many times off those funny things that the neighbor boy dropped, but he always had the biggest heart. He'd sacrifice his own life just to bring joy to someone else. Not even death can take away the beauty of that odd but noble bird."


Thanks to Mike Cane for his unique suggestions that inspired this story.

Did you like my tale? Want to read more lovely Turkey-Day inspired fare? Hop over to Marvin Wilson's blog to find links to his other victims - I mean, participants.

And to the wonderful people who offered suggestions, here is your challenge, should you choose to accept it: write a Christmas story on your blog! As you can see here, it doesn't have to be at all traditional, or even sensical to work. Gayle, perhaps something about a homicidal Christmas ornament? Mike, with all of your ideas, I'm sure you could work something in. And Larry, you must have a wealth of political tales involving former presidents and the Holiday Spirit! Of course, if any of you wish, you can choose a holiday more suited to your beliefs and tastes. And I'm sure Marvin will let us all know more about this dastardly cycle of holiday stories he's stared.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

And the Results for the Thanksgiving Story sre...

The hippie-tripping self-sacrificing turkey! Thanks to Mike Cane, Gayle Carline, and Larry Hodges for your suggestions, and thanks to everyone who commented and/or voted!

The story will be posted on Thursday (Turkey Day!), along with a link to Marvin's site so that you can all go and check out the other stories. Stay tuned!

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Fictional Twist on Traditional Turkey Day and Community Fridays Guest

Marvin over at Free Spirit is offering me and several others a challenge. Way back in the middle of October, Marvin held a contest on his site to select characters for a Halloween story. Then he tricked some of us who entered the contest into continuing the holiday tradition by writing Thanksgiving stories. However, it's been my task to figure out the format and the inspiration for the story.

So I sent out a friendly little request into the interwebs, and this is what I got back:

Mike Cane, political and technology blogger, had a few very interesting ideas, ranging from hippie tripping, self-sacrificing turkey cannibals to shape-changing aliens stuck in turkey form to Thanksgiving being a cover story for the secret war between turkeys and chickens.

Gayle Carline, author and writing blogger, suggested a fantasy story about "a small town [being] terrorized by a serial killer, who turns out to be a turkey with an axe (to grind)," or alternately a real-to-life tale "of cooking all day, having family members show up 3 hours late to dinner (and they've already eaten), and at one point, walking into the kitchen to discover the cat straddling the turkey, gnawing the breast."

Larry Hodges, an expert on political history who's currently working on a novel about the election in 2100, couldn't help but put a political swing on the Thanksgiving story. His version includes Former President Andrew Jackson, thousands of Indian ghosts, and a beheading.

All of these leave me thinking one thing: what's so bad about Thanksgiving? Does everyone really have such bad memories that all they can think about the holiday involves madness and mayhem?

Now comes your part: which story do you want me to write? Leave me a comment, and let me know! Then come by on Thursday to read the story, and stop by Marvin's blog to check out the rest of the Thanksgiving tales.

And don't forget to return for Community Fridays. This week's guest is Mayra Calvani, author of the newly released The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Interview with Edmund Schubert on Community Fridays

Welcome to Community Fridays!

During Community Fridays, I interview authors, editors, publishers, and pretty much anyone else who I can get my hands on from the writing and publishing community. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to suggest new participants. Check out current and past interviews here. Only have a minute? Click here for interviews at a glance.

Today's guest is Edmund Schubert, an editor of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show and author of the recently released Dreaming Creek.

You recently had your first novel, Dreaming Creek, published. Could you tell us a little about it? If I were to ask you for one reason that I should buy this book over any other, what would you say?

Dreaming Creekis a bit of a mutt. I would say it’s primarily a mystery/suspense novel, where solving the current mystery also results in solving an older one. But the action is driven by a Twilight Zone kind of twist, without which none of the present-day action would have occurred. There is also humor (I think humor and drama are the perfect foils for each other), as well as some relationship issues. My two main protagonists are a couple, and they are tested both individually and as a couple.

The main reason I would cite as to why you should read this book is that I have a great pair of legs. I’m talking traffic-stopping legs here. Seriously, if you ever saw me in a miniskirt, you would say, Oh my God, I have to buy his book!

Before your first novel was published, you sold more than thirty short stories. What are the similarities and differences between writing short stories and writing books? Is it difficult switching between them? Or do you only write one style at a time?

I think the biggest difference between writing short stories and writing a novel is their scope. A true short story (under 7,000 words) has to be really focused -- almost laser-like, if I may coin a new and clever way to describe it -- and I think it’s best to stick with one (or two at the most) point-of-view characters, and deal with one or two central events. A novel, on the other hand, has a lot more room for exploring a world and several of the characters who inhabit it. It ought to have multiple plot threads that eventually tie back together, and the author can show more of the backstory.

As to their similarities, I think the most obvious similarity is the need that both have for strong characters. Whether you are writing short or long, having interesting, believable, motivated characters is vital the success of the story.

While I was writing Dreaming Creek I would often get an idea for a story and set the novel aside to write the short story. Once the short was done, it sometimes took me a little while to get back into ‘novel mode,’ but generally speaking, switching back forth was not a problem for me.

What inspires you about the genres of science fiction and fantasy? The existing stories, the creative potential, the community? Something else?

I think the creative potential is definitely the primary thing that draws me to speculative fiction. I read a lot outside of the genre, but when it comes time to write I can’t seem to help incorporating some fantastical element into my stories. Part of the reason is simply because there are enough mysteries and romances and thrillers and whatever other genre of stories you want to cite to be found in real life that making another one up isn’t usually as appealing to me (I say ‘usually’ because I have published about a half dozen of mystery short stories). But with spec fic, there are no limits and no boundaries, and I find that immensely appealing.

I generally don’t write fantasy stories about elves or dragons, nor do I generally write about far-flung futures filled with space ships and ray guns -- and even when I do, the point of the story is still to get at the heart of an individual character. To what degree I succeed or fail at that I will leave to the reader to decide, but as the writer that is always my goal.

The kinds of stories I find myself most interested in writing are stories that remind some folks of the old Twilight Zone episodes. Take ordinary people, put them in an extraordinary situation, shake vigorously, and see what happens. To me that’s just more fun, and the stories that have received the best are usually the ones I had the most fun writing.

What catches your eye first when you're looking for a new author to publish in InterGalactic Medicine Show? An unusual character, an interesting plot, or perhaps a new way of using language? Or none of the above?

In the end I’m looking for two main things. The first is readability; there are a lot of people who have interesting ideas and interesting characters, but not all of them have the writing skills to make their prose so smooth that I forget I’m reading. I want to get lost in a story, and anything that jars me out of the world they’ve created is a problem. The other thing I’m looking for is the same thing you hear from editors all the time: that perfect combination of compelling characters doing compelling things in compelling situations and settings. Blah blah blah…

Frankly, the more work I do on the editing side of the equation, the more convinced I become that good stories are not about any one, big ‘ah-ha-this-is it’ kind of moment; they’re about a million little things all coming together just right. That’s why it’s so hard to quantify. The problem is that while the big picture is not that hard to see –great writing, great characters, and compelling situations -- the big picture is actually a jigsaw puzzle, made up of hundreds of unique but interlocking pieces that all have to fit together. That’s hard to describe, and even harder to do well.

Do you have any tips for an emerging author just starting on the path to publication? Either things you've learned from the editor side, or things you've learned from the author side?

1) Write, write, write
2) Read, read, read.
3) Write, write, write.
4) Lather, rinse, repeat.

I read an excellent story by you, called “Fourth and Goal From The Forty-Eight” I only have one question: is the 48 yard line the one close to the goal, or the one far away? (I admit, I'm a bit of a dunce when it comes to football!)

Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed the story.

I’m hardly an expert on football myself; when Fourth and Goal From The Forty-Eight was first published I got an email form a reader who pointed out that under current NFL rules, the scenario I portrayed at the end of the game in the story isn't possible. He suggested I change the team from an NFL team to a college team, because it was possible under college rules. I didn't change the team (the Washington Redskins), mainly because I am a Giants fan and don't like the Redskins; I wanted to make the ‘Skins the losing team in this story and what's the point in being a writer if you can indiscriminately punish teams you don't like...?

However, to answer your actual question (what a novel concept), there are two 48-yard lines. There are two versions of every yard line except the 50, which is right smack in the middle of the field. The yard lines are usually referred to as the Giants’ 48 or the Redskins’ 48 (or whichever teams are playing) depending on which goal the ball is closer to -- the Giants’ ‘goal’ being the one they are defending, and vice versa.

For the record, I had to re-read the story because it’s been a very long time since I wrote it, but it turns out that the 48-yard line referred to in this story is the Redskins 48, because there is a line in the story that mentions the ‘Skins having to go 52 yards to get the touchdown.

I picked “Fourth and Goal From The Forty-Eight" as the title because, 1) while it is technically possible that a team could find themselves in that situation, it is just about the most improbable scenario you’ll encounter on a football field, and 2) I liked the sound of the alliteration; it just rolled nicely off the tongue.

Lastly, because this feature is about establishing bonds within the writing and publishing industries, can you name one author, editor, publisher etc. who's doing great things right now, and why?

Two writers who I would say are worth watching are James Maxey and Eric James Stone.

James’ name may be familiar to some folks because he’s got three novels out now (Nobody Gets the Girl, Bitterwood, and Dragonforge: A Novel of the Dragon Age), as well as having multiple short stories in anthologies, Asimov’s and InterGalactic Medicine Show. In fact, I would say that James’ story in issue 7 of IGMS (“Silent As Dust”) may be one of the best stories we’ve ever published and deserves to be in several of the Year’s Best anthologies for 2008. He’s got a great writing style and a great sense of ‘story.’ Those two things are not commonly found in one package, but James has them both in spades.

The other writer I would be negligent in not pointing out is Eric James Stone. Eric is a Writer’s of the Future winner, has sold several short stories to Analog, several anthologies, and has sold so many stories to IGMS that some people half-jokingly say we should change the full name of the magazine from Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show to Eric James Stone’s InterGalactic Medicine Show. Eric is working on a novel right now that sounds so interesting that I told him back at DragonCon (last August) that if he needed an early reader to make comments that I would gladly do so, and to be completely honest I primarily made that offer so I wouldn’t have to wait until it was published before I could read it.

About the Author

Visit Edmund Schubert's website and his blog for more information. And don't forget to stop by InterGalactic Medicine Show, where Issue 10 has just been released!

© Emma Larkins and Edmund Schubert

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Recap of Community Fridays To Date

Today's post is a recap of the most recent Community Fridays interviews. This week will be the third straight month of Community Fridays posts. Yep, it really has been that long! All the authors, agents, editors, publishers etc. interviewed here have provided excellent information about writing, getting published, and everything that comes with the territory. Check out a few if you have a moment to spare!

Karen Syed, and CEO of Echelon Press, LLC., shares her wisdom about transitioning from author to editor and authors taking charge of their destiny through smart marketing techniques.

Learn more about improving your writing skills and how to be an effective part of the writing community with Jason Sanford, editor of storySouth and author.

Laurie Paulsen is in the beginning stages of her writer's journey. She talks about how technology affects the modern writer, and how working in a bookstore helped her learn more about the writing industry.

Author of the recently released The Ride, Jane Kennedy Sutton gives a fresh look at taking a book through the submissions process. Learn about volunteering in the publishing industry and how travel affects writing.

What better way to learn more about the book industry than from the readers themselves? Avid reader Katrina Larkins provides insight into the world of those who buy and read books.

Tomato Girl author Jayne Pupek started out getting published in literary and poetry magazines. Find out why this is a good first step for authors, and which writing/reader communities Jayne recommends.

Helen Ginger is a freelance editor, book consultant, writer, teacher, editor, speaker, and former mermaid. Among other things, she gives good advice regarding book consultants and public speaking.

Where to start with Elvira Woodruff's list of publications? Fearless, Small Beauties, The Ravenmaster's Secret, George Washington's Socks, the list goes on and on. Not only that, but she knows her stuff when it comes to in-depth research and surviving sticky situations involving librarians.

Andy Ross, a non-fiction literary agent, lists eleven benefits an agent can provide to an author. Not only that, his past ownership of a bookstore gives him new perspective on the writing industry.

Maryann Miller's multiple roles as author, scriptwriter, reviewer, and editorial consultant make her a wealth of knowledge. Read thoughts on how reviewers decide which books to review, and how scriptwriting is different from other types of fiction.

Get a dose of spookiness all year round! Christine Verstraete and the delightful characters in her Searching for a Starry Night stop by to educate and entertain.

Larry Hodges wastes no time in flooding your mind with useful tidbits regarding writing workshops, science fiction and fantasy magazines, and formatting a cover letter. Not to mention he's a former table tennis coach to the stars!

And most recently, here are eight tips for having a successful convention by Tomorrow's Memories author Danielle Ackley-McPhail, along with rogue marketing techniques and how to end up speaking on a panel at a conference.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Completion of the First Draft of My First Novel, The Hidden Land of Gre

First, the stats:

The Hidden Land of Gre is a story about a girl and boy who go on a great adventure to save a dying race from an ancient curse.

Final length 71,467 words.
Start date: February 2008.
End date: November 2008.

Wow. I'm overwhelmed and speechless. I've just finished the first draft of my first novel.

I can't say that I've ever stuck with a big project like this (outside of "work," that is) long enough to see it through. It's an achievement, something to be proud of, and I think that everyone should take some time out to recognize their personal milestones. It's too easy to say "Phew, that's off my list, what's next?" But on the other hand, if I've learned one thing from all the wonderful people I've met over my last few months of learning the writer's ropes, it's that my work has only just begun!

Here are my next steps:
  • Format the novel, probably in Adobe InDesign, and print a copy or two on Lulu. It was actually my boyfriend's suggestion, and I think it's a good one. The novel still has a long way to go, but it will be fun to have a rough draft copy for posterity!

  • Let the novel sit. Most authors I've talked to have suggested this step. Despite the fact that it's been ten months since I've read some parts, I think it still needs to "gel."
  • Work on my "character bibles." My understanding is that these are documents used to get to know your characters better. I think my characters have changed and coalesced over time, so this will help when I get to the rewriting stage.

  • I'm toying with the idea of writing the next book in the series before rewriting the first book. I know the rewrites will be a pain, editing tends to be harder for me than writing. Perhaps I could do both at the same time?

  • And then, of course, rewrites, read-throughs, and edits for the foreseeable future!

Before all that, I suppose I should take some time out to celebrate... Thought it feels like a celebration just to know that I've actually done what I set out to do. Then again, watching a bit of Puppy Cam and eating chocolate is a pretty sweet, easily accessible reward!

Last but not least, I'd like to offer my heartfelt thanks to everyone on Twitter and elsewhere who've offered their congratulations. And of course, thanks to all those who've buoyed me through my writer's journey!