Saturday, April 27, 2013

X - Day 24 of the A to Z Challenge

            I’ve been working on the A to Z blogging challenge this month, writing a blog post nearly every day, covering a topic for each letter of the alphabet by the end of the month. Here I am on day 24, the day for my X post. And you know what? I got nothin'! No idea whatsoever of what to write for X.
            So… here’s some adorable pictures of my cats! Enjoy! 



And a bonus picture of my friend, Sam's cat, when she was a baby: 

Sheba, about 8 days old

Friday, April 26, 2013

I'm Getting a Whale Shark For My Birthday!

            Warning, this post is totally random, and has nothing at all to do with writing. I’m just so excited…!
            See, my 40th birthday is coming later this year, and my husband has been trying to plan something cool for me. He knows I’m not a huge fan of surprises or surprise parties, so he included me in the planning. We debated having a party, but I felt kind of meh about the whole thing. Then he suggested taking a short trip over my birthday to do something I really loved – going to see aquariums! 
          Yes, I freely admit I’m a huge bio geek. Love science. Love biology. Love love love sea creatues. I can sit in an aquarium for hours staring at the tanks and pretty much making all of the friends or family who came with me absolutely crazy. For my birthday trip, I just had to choose my aquarium candidates. In the end, I settled on ones I’d never visited before: Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Ripley’s Aquarium in Gatlinburg, TN, and, if I have time, Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. All three aquariums are within a few hours of each other, but what really brought me to the region was the Georgia Aquarium. They have whale sharks! I’ve never seen a whale shark before since Atlanta is the only place outside of Asia where they are displayed.

Whale sharks are the largest species of fish, growing up to about 40 feet in length!
(I took this over my birthday weekend and added it to this blog later.)

            Even better is the fact that we have now booked two spots to sleep over in the Georgia Aquarium. I’ve wanted to do this forever, and I finally get the chance. I really wish September could come sooner!
            Who else is an aquarium lover? Which one is your favorite?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Voodoo Movies and Books

            Voodoo has always been fascinating to me ever since I saw a movie about it long ago. I can’t even remember which one, and it was likely not at all accurate – most of them aren’t – but it sparked an interest to learn what it’s really all about.
            Voodoo isn’t evil the way it’s depicted on television. It refers to several related religions, such as Louisiana Voodoo and Haitian Vodou, with roots in West African Vodun. I’m seriously oversimplifying here because it has such a rich culture and tradition, but the point is, it’s not all about voodoo dolls and zombies!
            However, voodoo dolls and zombies make for a really entertaining story! Here are a few of the most famous movies involving voodoo:

  • Angel Heart (1987) – This dark, complex horror film starring DeNiro, Rourke, and Bonet has become a cult classic.
  • The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) – Loosely based on a nonfiction book, Wes Craven makes things downright scary!
  • White Zombie (1932) – I’m putting this one on my Netflix list since I haven’t seen it yet, but you gotta love the classics!
  • Skeleton Key (2005) – Okay, this one is a little bit of a cheat since it’s about hoodoo, not exactly voodoo, but it’s very creepy and awesome all the same.

           Warning – shameless marketing pitch here – if you want a fun fiction book with a touch of voodoo in it, check out my novel, Magick Charm! If you enjoy nonfiction, you'll also want to check out The Serpent and the Rainbow.
            What are your favorite voodoo movies and books?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Why I'm Unagented

            I’ve written on this blog before that I am currently unagented. My philosophy on agents is simple: if you find one who is a good fit with you, go for it; if not, don’t bother. Here’s why.
            Quite some time ago when I began shopping my first book around, I sent out the standard queries for an agent and signed on with the first one who offered me a contract. She worked for a smallish agency out of New York City and that was good enough for me.
            What I found out later was that she did the vast majority of her business with one company – Harlequin – and they eventually passed on my book. At that point I had to check in occasionally to remind my agent of my existence, and she’d dig around to find someone random to send the book to.
           The editors we had heard from seemed to have something in common. They all didn’t like a specific scene which they thought made my main character a little too bloodthirsty, and wished she was softened a bit. I asked my agent if I should do a rewrite. But she said no, just send her something new instead. I didn’t have anything new finished yet, though.
            Around that time, we were out to dinner with an old professor of my husband’s, and he spotted another friend of his in the restaurant – an editor from St. Martin’s Press. He immediately introduced us, and the editor offered to hear a quick minute-long pitch from me, after which she asked me to send her the manuscript to check out. I told her I’d have my agent send it along right away.
            My agent, however, seemed a bit confused by all of this. I reminded her that she had instructed me not to send anything to any editor myself, that everything had to go through her, and to please contact this woman at St. Martin for me.
            A few months or so went by and I heard nothing. I contacted my agent to see if she’d heard anything. She forgot to send my manuscript to SMP. She promised to do so right away.
            Again I waited. Eventually I checked in with her again. “St. Martin’s Press?” she asked. “I don’t have any contacts at St. Martin’s.” She never sent it. She forgot we’d ever had that initial conversation. We ended up parting ways after that.
            Do I blame the agent for what happened? No, not entirely. I think we were a bad fit for each other to begin with. I should have asked more questions. I should have followed up with SMP myself. I didn’t. I was so new to the business, I didn’t think it was appropriate to question my agent too much since she obviously knew what she was doing, right? I didn’t want to insult her. Also, I had very limited internet access at the time (we’re talking ten years ago or so), but if I had thought to do some checking up on her, I would have discovered that agent rating sites had declared her to be honest, but also noted that she made few sales.
            Now, unless you want to approach one of the Big Five publishers, you often don’t need an agent. I still don’t have one. But I’m not opposed to them at all. If I met someone who I had a good rapport with, who could get behind my publishing goals, I would love to work with them. I’m just not rushing into anything this time!
            Writers, do you have any agent horror stories?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Twins and "Twintuition"

            “Rache, you had me pretty scared today. I thought you were the one who needed a cast.”
            “You should have known better,” Rachel said in a condescending tone. “I mean, we’re twins. If I had broken something, you totally would have felt my pain too.”
            I looked at her like she’d grown a second, and perhaps identical, head.
 “I’ve never felt that sort of thing before. What makes you think I’d start now?”
            “Your third eye chakra was closed before. I hoped maybe you’d grown, you know, psychically and spiritually.”
            She hadn’t worried about scaring me with tearful phone calls from the hospital because of some mystical bull-puckie? “For the love of…”
                                                                - excerpt from Magick Charm

Twins - One having a good day, the other not so much.

            I’ve always been fascinated by the bond between twins. Lots of special powers attributed to twins have been studied for years. Twins raised apart sometimes show incredible similarities in their personalities, hobbies, and job choice, for example. It’s been said twins can feel each other’s pain. Some even go so far as to suggest twins have a certain type of telepathy, which was what I played on in Magick Charm. It was a lot of fun to match a quirky, mystical-loving twin - Rachel - with a practical, disbelieving one - Janie!
            Do you believe in special twin traits and abilities? 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Soundtracks for Novels

            You know how hearing a certain song can take you back to a specific place in time where you once heard it? This is why I like to create a soundtrack for my novels. Sometimes listening to a particular song can put me in a character’s head or can conjure the image of a specific location in my book.
            Here are the soundtracks I’ve created for my books:

Is there any music which you associate with a specific book?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Rewrites vs. Revisions

            You know what I dread worse than a standard revision/edit? A rewrite. “What is this evil you speak of?” you might ask. “And why would I ever want to do such a thing?”
            For me, the difference between revising and rewriting has to do with the story line. In a standard revision, I may need to go back and tweak a few things, make things more clear, or add a scene or two. But a rewrite is more involved.
            Let me tell you about my current struggle with a rewrite. I wrote my first draft, began editing, and realized the original love interest of the main character wasn’t doing it for me. Suddenly I had a really great idea. Get rid of guy #1 and introduce instead guy #2. Simple, right? Not so much. Guy #1 was someone I had previously introduced, so the characters already knew each other. Guy #2 was completely new. All of their interactions would be completely different from what I’d written before. I’d have to add scenes that let up to the circumstance of her meeting him (which involved adding yet another new character) and I’d have to create at least two new locations. Essentially the rewrite involves tearing the first draft into little bitty scraps and piecing them back together while sewing new bits in as well.
            Why would I do this? Once you see the way a story should be told, you can’t have it any other way. And in the end, the rewrite is going to be so much better than my original idea!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Questions about Writing and Publishing

            I often get questions from aspiring authors, and I've found that most people want to know the same types of things. So here are the most frequent questions and my answers.
            But first, a caveat. I have to admit that when people ask me for writing or publishing advice, I sometimes feel like a fraud. Who am I to answer questions about publishing? Honestly, I feel like there’s still so much I don’t know! So I tell people what my experiences have been, while assuring them there is no one road to being published. Something that works for one person or publisher doesn’t work at all for another one. And just because I do things in a specific way doesn’t mean that’s going to be the best way for you. If one method doesn’t work, keep trying until you find something that does!

How did you find your publisher?
I opened RT Book Reviews and looked up books in a similar genre to mine. I checked out every one of their publishers on the internet. Their websites have a page dedicated to submissions, where they tell you what they’re looking for and how to submit. I chose my favorite couple of publishers who were looking for stories like mine and contacted them.

Do I need an agent?
Do you want to be published by one of the Big Five? Then likely, yes. Many of them don’t accept unsolicited, unagented manuscripts. Many other publishers no longer require an agent. It’s a personal choice. Find out what agents can do for you, and if you decide you want to work with one, find one who is a great fit for you. In my opinion, having no agent is better than having one you don’t mesh with.

How much money do you make?
You’re kidding, right? Don’t ever go into publishing because you think you’ll make enough money to quit your day job. The only reason to bleed words daily onto paper (or word processor) is because you love writing and would do it for free. Because by the time you get done paying for a tiny bit of advertising, creating custom bookmarks, and upgrading software or repairing hardware, you’ll be lucky to have enough cash to buy a good meal. Really. Sure, it is possible to make a living, but only if you’re very productive and/or lucky.

What is your best advice for unpublished writers?
Don’t give up. If I wasn’t as stubborn as I am, I never would have gotten published. Keep writing, keep trying, and never stop.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Photos from St. Augustine

            I mentioned in my Amusing My Muses post that I enjoyed using photography to get my creative juices flowing. I’ve had an opportunity this week to take some photos while on vacation in St. Augustine. Here are a few of my favorites.

Crescent Moon

Hibiscus Close-Up (Macro Lens)

Gator at St. Augustine Alligator Farm

Birds Flying Over the Beach

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Outlander and Diana Gabaldon

            This week I was fortunate enough to get to listen to one of my favorite authors speak. Yes, Diana Gabaldon, author of the fantastic Outlander series, was in Fairfax for a book signing.
            I will start by saying that if you haven’t read Outlander, you really need to pick it up. I was sitting next to a man who had come to the event by himself. He asked me why I thought about 95% of the people there were female. Why didn’t men read Diana’s books too? He – along with the speaker who introduced Diana – pointed out that her books cross so many genres, there’s pretty much something for everyone. Is it a romance? Well, there’s a romantic story, but that’s not all it is. Saying it’s historical fiction doesn’t cover it either. And then there’s the time travel element, which kind of makes it science fiction. Whatever it is, her stories are fantastic!

Diana Gabaldon
Sam, my partner in crime that evening,
took this pic. Thanks, Sam!

            Also, if you ever have the chance to hear her speak, go! She talks like she writes - you’ll understand if you’ve read her stuff – so she had us totally entertained and wanting more at the same time. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Next Big Thing

            Ages ago, Shawna Romkey tagged me in her post about her novel about fallen angels, Speak of the Devil. Before you check out a tidbit about my next book, check out Shawna’s latest here.

            The Next Big Thing is an opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at an author’s work in progress. It’s also a chance for me to taunt some of my fellow authors into sharing a bit of their works in progress as well!

What is the working title of your book?

Free Spirit

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The idea for this book builds off the end of the first book, Magick Charm. I wanted to allow the quirky twin, Rachel, to try a new job, that of a paranormal investigator.

What genre does your book fall under?
It’s a light paranormal romance with a humorous twist.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I honestly have no idea! I would be so blown away if anyone ever wanted to make a movie out of anything I had ever written, I wouldn't care who they cast!

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Paranormal investigator Rachel discovers ghosts are not only real, but they can put a serious crimp into her romantic prospects.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

My publisher is Crescent Moon Press.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I wrote most of Free Spirit during NaNoWriMo, which is a challenge to write 50,000 words in a month. It took a couple more months to finish the first draft, so maybe about three in all.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Any paranormal fiction that doesn’t take itself too seriously! I try to write a light romance with quirky, funny characters.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The fans! I was so pleased that people who read Magick Charm have been asking for another glimpse at my characters’ lives.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Anyone who read Magick Charm knows Rachel has the worst taste in men! I had a great time matching her up with the right guy this time, and I hope the readers enjoy it too. Also, you’ll hear more from Jacqueline, Megan, Pete, Ted, and the musicians from Cajun Fried Steak.

I’m tagging the following authors to share some of their wip with us.
I’ve got to tag my husband, John Marani, and my friends Amy Turner and Samantha Harvey!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Amusing My Muses

            In Greek mythology, the muses are the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne. These goddesses are credited with being the inspiration for art, writing, sciences.
            How do you keep your muse amused? In other words, how do you get your creativity flowing?
            For me, it’s often simply a change of venue. If I get stuck or bored with my usual writing spot, I’ll try another room in the house or even occasionally take a trip to a quiet room in my local library.
            Sometimes in order to get my writing muse engaged, I will do something else creative, like jewelry making, sewing, or photography. I love to get out with my camera!

Fun with my camera while on vacation in St. Augustine

            And finally, I’m a firm believer in taking a vacation to recharge. In fact, I’m currently in St. Augustine spending part of the week with my family. I don’t know what my muse gets out of it exactly, but maybe she loves the beach as much as I do!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Literary Libations

“Do you drink?”
“Of course; I just said I was a writer.”
-Stephen King

            For whatever reason, writers have long been associated with alcohol. (Whaaaat? I never drink! Well, rarely. Okay, only on occasion, I swear!) Some writers have even had a cocktail named after them! My favorite literary libation is the Hemingway Daiquiri. Here's my favorite recipe for it:

Hemingway Daiquiri
1 1/2 oz white rum
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1/4 oz white grapefruit juice
1/4 oz simple syrup
1/4 oz maraschino liqueur

            Shake ingredients together with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

“Write drunk; edit sober.” – Ernest Hemingway

Friday, April 12, 2013

Kindle Ebook Returns

            There’s been something going on in the ebook world that some authors have been unhappy about. Let me tell you about Kindle book returns on Amazon.
            I can understand why they allow returns – if you click the wrong button shopping online, you could accidentally buy a book when you might have been trying to download the free sample instead. Or you realize the next day that you already have that book on your shelf. No problem. But Amazon allows a full week for you to return an ebook. I can easily read a book in less than a week. If I wanted to, I could use Amazon as an ebook lending site.
            There are ways to borrow ebooks – my library lends tons of ebooks, and I check them out all the time. But I’ve never bought an ebook on Amazon with the intention of reading it and returning it for a refund later.
            I’ve also heard readers complain that they didn’t like the book, hence the return. Most ebooks have a free sample to try before you buy. I think that’s more than fair to determine if you like the general style and tone of the book. Is it really fair, then, to return it because you don’t like it?
            My opinion is that seven days is too long. One or two days maybe would allow accidental purchases to be returned. Longer than that and Amazon can expect some people to use it as a lending library. I do understand that people don’t have tons of cash, but the bottom line is if you like an author’s work, buy it! Or at least borrow it from the library or a friend who has already bought the book. It’s hard to make a living as an author, so if you’d like them to keep writing, support their work.
            What do you think? Should Amazon change their ebook return policy? Or do you think seven days is fair?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Just Finish the Damn Book!

            I can’t tell you how many half-finished stories I have. They can’t be called books because, well, they’re not. Until I write “the end” at the end of the story, I can only call it a work in progress, not a book.
            I’m a procrastinator. It’s something I excel at! So I’m great at starting things, but not always finishing. It’s a good thing I have friends who are willing to harass me until I surrender!
            Writers, do you have problems finishing your first draft too? Do you have any methods you use to get to “the end”?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

When Imaginations Attack!

            Imagination is a necessary tool when you’re a writer, but there are some times when I’m less appreciative of it. Here are three occasions I wish I could be less imaginative:

Feeling ill
            I don’t feel well and I wonder what I have. A quick search of the internet tells me that I might have the flu. Or perhaps smallpox, bubonic plague, or ebola. Spend the next few days looking for redness in my eyes or enlarged, blackened lymph nodes.
            Solution: Do not use the internet to diagnose illnesses.

In the ocean
            I might have seen a shadow underwater while swimming in the ocean. Flashback to Shark Week. Evaluate clothing for shark attractants. Oh no, my rings must emulate the shimmer of fish scales and my swimsuit is harbor seal black! Retreat to shore, sure I will be munched by a monstrous great white any moment.
            Solution: Do not swim in the ocean.

Middle of the night
            I wake up at 3am and hear something downstairs. I try to convince myself it’s just the cats, but perhaps it is someone breaking in. Someone has surely targeted me for the next victim in his serial killer spree. But no, could it be a zombie breaking in? Nah, that’s just plain silly!
            Solution: Stop watching Criminal Minds.

            Do you ever think your imagination is sometimes a curse? What crazy things has it convinced you of?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Haunted House Stories

            Who doesn’t love a good story about a haunting? Probably my favorite book about ghosts and hauntings is The Shining by Stephen King.
            I’m writing my own ghostly tale, called Free Spirit. Here’s an excerpt when Rachel goes to talk to voodoo priestess Viola for help:

            If anyone would understand what was happening and would be able to help me, it would be Viola.
            “I, uh, have some weird stuff happening,” I said. “I think I’m haunted.”
            Yeah, that sounded as ridiculous as I’d feared it would. At least nobody here was laughing.
            Viola nodded sagely but said nothing. She looked at me for a long time. 
            “You are out of balance,” Viola declared. “Your throat chakra, it is far too open, as usual.” She seemed to wave away the cause of my occasional foot-in-mouth disease. Obviously that wasn’t important right now. “Your heart chakra is the problem. There is a darkness there. Something follows you.”
            Well, great. This visit had been ever so comforting thus far. I thought that leaving my house would be enough to keep me entity-free. Apparently, my ghost was of the take-out variety.
            “What does a ghost have to do with the energy centers in my body?”
            “The ghost has little energy of its own,” Viola explained. “It draws energy from around it to manifest, take action. Become.”
            The ghost was drawing energy from my heart? Ew! “What the hell is the ghost trying to become? She’s already dead,” I said.
            “You know the spirit?” Viola asked. “That is good. It will make things a bit easier.” It was the first comforting thing Viola had said.
            “I think she’s the spirit I saw in the cemetery last night,” I said. “But I don’t know how. She was trapped there in her plot. She couldn’t move away from her crypt.”
            “Your spirit,” Viola told me, “she is free now.”
            It was such a simple statement, and yet it chilled me to the core. Another miracle, given the temperature outside was nearing ninety.
            “How do you know?” I challenged Viola. I’d come to her for her expertise, but at the moment, I wished with all my heart she was a raving loon because I didn’t like her answer.
            Viola gave me a look like I was a particularly slow child. “Because she is there.” Viola pointed at the place my heart chakra would be. “She cannot be trapped in her grave. I know because I see her there.”

            What are your favorite books about ghosts and hauntings? And do you believe in ghosts?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Why is Game of Thrones So Awesome?

            It was inevitable I write another post about Game of Thrones/Song of Fire and Ice. Why? Because it is just so awesome! I resisted the GoT movement for a while until I gave the sample read a try and was immediately hooked. Now I’m like a junkie waiting for my next ebook or HBO fix!

Or read one book of the series either!

            I like to read with an eye toward what makes a book good (or not so much). So I’ve been thinking a lot about why Game of Thrones is so successful. It has far too many characters and plenty of foreign language bits – these are both no-nos according to typical novel-writing wisdom, but GoT fans would say they only add to the awesomeness. After all, this imaginary world is enriched by so many diverse, well-drawn characters, each with their own complex motivations and relationships to the other characters.
            What Game of Thrones does really well is the unexpected. Again, typical story-telling wisdom fails here, which says that good will prevail and your favorite characters will dodge adversity time and again. This is not always the case in the world of Westeros (I’m trying really hard to be spoiler-free here, but readers/watchers know what I’m talking about. Just keep it out of the comments for those who haven’t read it yet, please.). The story always keeps you guessing!
            If you haven’t checked it out, pick up a book or turn on HBO!