A Few Things I’d Like to Share with You

Yes, YOU. Now that summer is over (I know it’s still technically August, but trust me, if you live here, you can *feel* it – summer is over. Sigh.)… ahem. Now that summer is over, folks are headed back to school, back to work, and normal get-things-done time resumes.

I have a few things I’ve been working on over the summer, and I figure it is high time to start sharing! First of all, you may notice a new button over in the sidebar –> It says HARTHORN and it is the title of my current Work In Progress. I’ve dubbed the site “A notebook for a novel-in-progress” as we are in the stage of Serious Edits. It was a bit of a leap of faith for me to actually post some writing… but I love this excerpt I’ve posted and I hope to start gathering some folks who would like to stay updated on the progress of things. So, if you would like to be a Beta Reader, an ARC reviewer, a Cover Revealer or a General Cheerleader, enter your email address here and we will add you to the mailing list! Thank you LOVE YOU LOTS!!

Second, I HAVE NEW ART. Quite a while back, my dear buddy J.C. Lillis posted several awe-inducing photos of random finds in a New Jersey flea market (7 Fantastically Weird and Terrible Things I Saw at an Indoor Flea Market in New Jersey (Part 1)). One of the photos was a bunch of pins, and one of the pins says “all i want is a little more than i’ll ever get,” which, as J.C. comments, “inspired a full seven minutes of soul-searching by the hot-dog stand once I let it sink in.” (Seriously, though, you should check out the rest of the pins. It’s, like, seventies gold mine.)

I loved that saying so much I made art with it. And I have a new digital pen tablet that I’m trying to get the hang of, so it was perfect timing. There are two versions: Primavera (the green one), and Inverno (the grey one).

All I Want - Primavera. Illustration by Christian Frey

All I Want – Primavera.

All I Want - Inverno. Illustration by Christian Frey

All I Want – Inverno.

And the final announcement… I made a Society6 gallery, so these pieces and a few others are available as prints! You can find me on Society6 here. Also up in the gallery is my piece that was a finalist in Neil Gaiman’s Calendar of Tales project (We Apologize of the Inconvenients) and the ever-popular Conversations Overheard in a Coffeeshop on a Tuesday. I am SO looking forward to adding new pieces to the gallery – I seem to work on many different projects at the same time and I currently have a bunch of stuff in the pipeline, so one of these days it’s going to be like, ART HOSE.


The Discoverability Project: An Update

Hi there! *waves*

It’s been pretty quiet here on the blog lately. I blame work. *glares at work*. You may also be able to tell I’ve been spending a lot of time on Twitter, usually when feeding the baby or rocking him to sleep. One of the best perks of reading on an i-Device is the ability to read in the dark. It’s keeping me happy, at any rate.

Anyhoo, I was over at the Discoverability Project page doing some updates, and thought I’d share some of my initial observations from almost three months in.

  • It pretty much all boils down to “word of mouth recommendations from friends”. Especially if you include Twitter, Goodreads reviews, and book blog reviews as “word of mouth recommendations,” and I do, because the way I find books on all of those platforms is… recommendations from friends. Usually on Twitter. Sometimes I will also check out tweets from publishers that I’m following.
  • If you price your Kindle version at $10.00 or higher, you fall into a price category that puts you in competition with all the current hot-listed trad-pubbed books that I really, really want to read. The ones I will use bookstore gift certificates to purchase in paperback so I can lend them to my friends (sometimes I’ll wait and order a used copy for $5 or less from Amazon). Most trad-pubbed mid-list books fall into this category, which is really too bad, because I’d check more of them out otherwise.
  • Keep in mind I don’t fall into the category of “voracious fiction reader”. I do read a lot, but I tend to read a lot of non-fiction (both online articles and books – currently reading Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow). This means I’m terribly choosy about the fiction books I do pick up. They either have to be cheap enough that it’s no skin off my back to check them out, or one of those books that EVERYONE is talking about. Or have a really, really good download sample.
  • Which brings me to my last point. Download samples on Amazon are TOO SHORT. (Granted, their easy return feature mitigates this somewhat. But hear me out.) One of the first e-books I ever purchased (in PDF, no less, because I didn’t have the Kindle app on my phone at the time) was Catherine Ryan Howard’s Mousetrapped. I wasn’t looking for a book to read at the time – I was checking out Smashwords, this new publishing platform I’d heard about. I got sucked into the story, and was half-way through the book when the sample ended. Of course, I had to buy it at that point. This has made me an uber-fan of longer samples. Because really, who is going to get halfway through a story and NOT make a purchase so they can finish the rest? If you’ve read that far, you probably want to see how it ends. There’s no downside for authors that I can see.

By the way, if anyone wants to join me in tracking all the ways they’ve discovered books lately (public service to authors I guess? personal curiosity?) you can read more about how it works here.

Into the Woods

Into the Woods is a clever, appealing show — appealing to me, anyway — because it’s not afraid to be completely obvious. “Going into the woods” is the beginning of everyone’s story, and “the woods” are wherever your story begins. While you’re there, you encounter monsters and beautiful maidens and princes. Then you get what you want, and find out it’s nothing like what you imagined. The monsters turn out to be cool, the maidens to be weird losers, the princes to be dicks… You lose everything you have that can be lost, and find out who you are when you have to live without it.

- Emily Gould, “How Much My Novel Cost Me” (excerpted from MFA vs. NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction, edited by Chad Harbach)

We Won’t Feel A Thing

Today we’re taking part in the COVER REVEAL for my author friend J.C. Lillis! I first came across her work when I read her debut novel How to Repair a Mechanical Heart. I loved it so much I sent her an email and we’ve been chatting ever since.

So, naturally, I jumped at the chance to beta read her latest book, We Won’t Feel A Thing – a sweet and quirky romance about the perils of trying to scientifically eliminate some pesky forbidden love.

You’ll have to wait until March 31st to read it, but meanwhile you can add it on Goodreads, read a Q & A about the book, or follow the Pinterest board!

Drumroll please………

We Won't Feel A Thing by JC Lillis

We Won’t Feel A Thing by JC Lillis

Seventeen-year-old best friends Rachel and Riley are in forbidden love.

Their situation’s… complicated. And their timing couldn’t be worse—in just one month, he leaves for California and she starts college in New York. The absolute last thing they need is a reckless secret-love confession mucking up their perfect plans.

There’s only one logical option: scientific intervention.

Desperate for a quick fix, they sign up for WAVES, an experimental self-help program led by mysterious scientist David A. Kerning. He swears his Forbidden Love Module can turn passion back to safe platonic friendship in “six easy steps.”

But when you arm yourself with an untested program, side effects are unpredictable.

And sometimes when you fight love—love fights back.

Tracking “Discoverability”

So, a few days ago, Chuck Wendig wrote this post: Slushy Glug Slog: Why The Self-Publishing Shit Volcano Is A Problem. Go read it if you want to. I’ll wait here.

While I sympathize and/or empathize with much of what Chuck said, my opinion is that the market will eventually sort itself out. I’m going to pull just one part of Chuck’s post out and address it here.

“The sheer number of releases is an issue all its own. It becomes increasingly hard to stand out merely by publishing a book in either form. It’s like trying to get a droplet of water to stand out in an entire goddamn ocean.”

Personally, I don’t think “discoverability” is a reader’s problem. There’s a sh*t-ton of books out there I’d like to read, and not enough time or pesos to do them justice. Which means I have to be somewhat selective as a reader as to what I pick up.

No, I think “discoverability” is firmly in the author’s camp of problems. And maybe part of all the angst centres around not enough data about how discoverability happens. Authors think that having a ton of self-published books out there diminishes their chances for getting “discovered” by a reader. It seems logical. But is that actually true? We have no way of knowing. Maybe it increases your chances, because self-pubbed authors are readers too, and there’s now a million more people plugged into the network – you just don’t know. (Try listening to some of the Freakonomics podcasts if you want to expand your appreciation of statistics. They’re generally awesome. Maybe they’d do a podcast on this topic.)

Given that word-of-mouth still requires some genesis in discovery, let’s talk about one’s experience when going to browse an online bookseller to discover new work.

Again, is this true? Who knows? Is the genesis (starting point) for word-of-mouth discovery  Amazon or other online booksellers? The most I can say is that it’s not true for me as a reader. I’m sure online booksellers are a point of discoverability for some authors, some of the time, but I think for a lot of indies (and trad-pubbed authors), the genesis of word-of-mouth starts with their network. Again, this is a guess – we just don’t know.

So the question I pose to you is:

How do we limit the noise?

And how do we increase the signal?

Well, here’s my small contribution. For one year, I’m going to track how I “discover” new books to read. There’s a spanky new button in the blog menu, called The Discoverability Project, and you can head over to that page if you want to see how I’m going about it. Or, if you want to JOIN ME (more data = better data), send me a message and I’ll add a link to your Discoverability page as well.

Let the data-gathering begin!

In the Spirit of the New Year

Last year, in a toast to The Bloggess, I declared a practice year. A year to not worry if I was any closer to meeting those elusive long-term goals. You know, the ones that say YOU’VE MADE IT. The book deal, the bestseller, the young whatever’s award, the recognition of your peers, the adoration of fans. MEN WANT HER, WOMEN WANT TO BE HER. *sweeps hair back over coyly exposed and bonily thin bare shoulder.*

(I’m adding, for posterity, that I’m laying it thick on the sarcasm here.)

I blogged a bit about struggles with perfectionism and writer’s block this past year. While perfectionism may not be as debilitating as depression, it deserves its own brand of wary respect. You know. The kind a crocodile deserves.

And I have to say, having begun the process of liberating myself with last year’s practice year, I kind of like this new track we’re (not) on. I don’t write every day, but I do think about the stories. I chew on things. I mull. I ponder. I search out the places where things are weak, where they don’t resonate the way I want them to, and I wait for enlightenment. Sometimes it comes, and when it does, it is always worth waiting for.

Granted, we still need Constant Vigilance against the perfectionism business. The Bureau of Plans & Goals & Stuff is still mostly out to lunch, and I’m totally OK with that. You know when you read something that says, Don’t set goals you have no control over? And the BPGS is like, well DUH, that’s just common sense. Then I read something like this and the BPGS is like, That sounds so cool! Why don’t we do that? And before I know it, my mind is secretly setting goals like “Write debut indie book that turns into runaway best-seller so we can show up on speaker panels at BEA with Hugh Howey.”

SEEMS LEGIT. *shrug*

This is also really hard to put in a blog post. Because it’s SO EASY TO SEE WHEN OTHER PEOPLE DO IT. Which makes it doubly – nay, triply hard – to admit you are doing it as well.

There’s this other thing that happened this year that gave me a great excuse to cut some slack. A tiny human burst forth from my nether-regions and has been demanding inordinate amounts of attention ever since, in return for unparalleled bouts of epic cuteness. And poopy diapers. It is magical and it is mildly exhausting. Not as exhausting as hitting a magazine print deadline, but it lasts longer. Like the next 18 years longer.

(You know what is fun about babies? [Did I ever think I would have a serious answer to that question? No.] They remind you what it looks like to see things for the Very. First. Time. Sounds mundane, but is actually pretty cool.)

2014. Year Off the Rails. We’ll stomp through the weeds with gleeful abandon.

But also: Constant Vigilance. You know. For the crocodiles.

Constant Vigilance - Mad Eye Moody


Narrative Climax: Did that seem inevitable?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about narrative arcs and – there’s no getting around this dirty little word – the climax, specifically. How many times have you read a novel that had a great overall story, or at least a great build-up, but the climax – the part where the tension should be ratcheted up to a T – seemed just slightly inevitable?

Mystery stories, because of their very nature, seem somewhat immune to this phenomenon. Unless you can spot the whodunnit a mile away, there’s a large element of surprise in the ending of a successful mystery. It’s what the whole genre hinges on.

Stories in the fantasy genre could learn a few lessons from this. There are a lot of great, well-loved novels which feature a big, complex push to the climax, but the conclusion of the book starts to feel inevitable (in hind sight, at least) because the main character’s only job is to endure, or to be brave, or to not give up, until they’ve accomplished whatever mighty feat it has been decreed that they must accomplish.

I think, in fact, that that’s got to be one of the reasons the Lord of the Rings trilogy is so powerful. At the peak of the story, Frodo is supposed to destroy the ring by throwing it into the pit of doom but he isn’t strong enough to do it. The only reason ‘good’ triumphs after all is because the nasty little head-case that’s been following them around for the whole series sees his chance to make his move, bites off Frodo’s finger, and the momentum from that clash carries Gollum (and the ring) over the edge into the fiery pit of doom.

I guess my main point is this: If all the main character has to do is simply endure the unendurable, or have the bravery to do what, really, any other half-brave or moderately stubborn person in his or her situation would have done, well, I have to ask – as a writer, and as a reader – is that good enough?

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GRRM’s Version of “Plotters vs Pantsers”

“I’ve always said there are – to oversimplify it – two kinds of writers. There are architects and gardeners. The architects do blueprints before they drive the first nail, they design the entire house, where the pipes are running, and how many rooms there are going to be, how high the roof will be. But the gardeners just dig a hole and plant the seed and see what comes up. I think all writers are partly architects and partly gardeners, but they tend to one side or another, and I am definitely more of a gardener. In my Hollywood years when everything does work on outlines, I had to put on my architect’s clothes and pretend to be an architect. But my natural inclinations, the way I work, is to give my characters the head and to follow them.

“That being said, I do know where I’m going. I do have the broad outlines of the story worked out in my head, but that’s not to say I know all the small details and every twist and turn in the road that will get me there.”

– George R.R. Martin

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/technology/blogs/the-geek/a-conversation-with-game-of-thrones-author-george-rr-martin-20110801-1i6wj.html#ixzz2mjBe5SBT

Great Aunt Dorothy’s on a graveyard tour.


Great Aunt Dorothy’s on a graveyard tour. Mother, brother, two sisters, and in between of course the living relations. One last trip out to the farm because it is ten hours from where she now lives and she is eighty-nine so it will likely not happen again. Not in her lifetime.

She says this with the kind of humor and plain matter-of-factness only the elderly possess.

This is the road that Great Aunt Dorothy travels; this is the road I take when I go home. This is the road where I once picked up a New Zealand hitchhiker, a tall tanned kid with a heavy bag, because absolutely no one hitch hikes on this stretch of road and I thought he might be one of my brother’s friends caught out from a party the night before.

The hitchhiker was on his way to an even smaller town one province west. His mother had done a farm stay in the area twenty years ago and he was going to visit the same family, still on the same family farm – a minor miracle in and of itself these days.

He gave me a slip of paper with his email address on it. “You’ve got a place to stay if you’re ever in New Zealand,” he said. “I won’t remember who you are but I’ll remember this stretch of road if you remind me.” I kept the slip of paper in my wallet for ten years before I lost it.

Grandma’s grave is not too far off this road, down a stretch of gravel in a place that is so far from pavement and cell phones and cyberspace it might as well be in another world. Grandma was Great Aunt Dorothy’s sister. We lost her to breast cancer when she was sixty-seven and that was fourteen years ago.

I try to describe my grandma to people, but I always fail in the fundamental way. I can tell you what she looked like and what she did – I can tell it in in a way that sounds almost mythic. A five-foot four wiry woman with a cap of grey curls, who walked a quarter section every day in the summer and kept up almost a mile in the winter, who tended five acres of garden and left two freezers full of food for grandpa and my bachelor uncle when she passed. When we went on walks I had a hard time keeping up to her. No one dared trespass in the kitchen when she was alive but that was where the whole family crammed into after the funeral. She passed away on a biting fall day but in April of that year she pushed my truck out of an icy patch while I manned the steering wheel, scandalized. I tried to make her get in the truck and drive while I pushed but do you think she would have any of that?

This is the first time my tiny son has traveled this road. I can just brush the top of his downy head in the car seat in the back if I stretch all the way. Driving home in the dark, I wonder, will we make it the whole way without crying? And why, exactly, did I decide to drive this two hours each way today? So we could have supper with a great aunt and second cousin whom I last saw eighteen years ago? Was that it?

The night road offers up a thought, and I think I understand. This is the closest I can get to bringing him home to grandma.