Saturday, September 29, 2012

25th Anniversary - Klingon Style!

Yep, today's the 25th Anniversary of the first airing of Star Trek: The Next Generation! So here's a little video you might enjoy, and I timed the post for when the show premiered in my time zone. (Thanks to Ginny Baker Gibbs for the link!)

Friday, September 28, 2012

What's That Light Ahead? by Guest Blogger Susan C. Muller

Please welcome romantic suspense author Susan C. Muller! Take it away, Susan!

Suzan Harden sent me an email a few days ago asking if I wanted to write a humorous article for her blog. I almost burned my fingers with the speed I replied, “Yes.”

I didn’t see the need to mention to Suzan that I was running a fever of 101 at the time. I had already been to the doctor and was on antibiotic for a throat infection due to sinus allergies. I would be better by tomorrow and, if not, the day after.

The next day, even with aspirin, my temperature hit 102. I kept thinking, “I should get a glass of ice water. That would help.” I measured the distance from my sofa to the kitchen with my eyes and pulled up my afghan. Maybe later.

By the next day I felt much improved. My temperature floated through the 99’s, finally hitting normal by late afternoon. If only I wasn’t so tired. I didn’t have the energy to type, and I certainly didn’t find anything funny. But there was always tomorrow.

That was the day the side effects of taking those antibiotics hit. No writing today.

Finally, fever gone, upset stomach under control, still tired, but stronger, I decided to take a shower and wash my hair. That would perk me up. When I got out of the shower, I blew my nose. No big deal, just blew my nose. I’ve never been plagued by nosebleeds, but this one was a doozy. I couldn’t make it stop for anything.

Eventually, I lay down on the floor and propped my feet up. My dog didn’t like this at all. He didn’t know what was wrong, but he’d never seen me on the floor with a big wad of toilet paper in my nose, so he kept sniffing me. I’d pat him on the head, assure him I was okay, and tell him to go get in his bed. One minute later he’d be back, sniffing me again. I asked him if he wanted to bring me a bag of ice, but he just snorted. Isn’t that like a male?

After a while, my nose quit bleeding and I got up. Apparently, lying on your back with a nosebleed isn’t a good idea--the blood runs down your throat. The next thing I knew, I was gagging and throwing up. And back in the shower I went.

Today, I’m fine. All that is behind me and I’m ready to go. Or at least I was until I looked in the mirror. Now I have a big fever blister. Well, I may not be pretty, but I certainly feel better. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel; I’m just deathly afraid it’s an oncoming train.

But my publisher contacted me a few minutes ago. My novel, The Secrets on Forest Bend, is now available in print. I’m so excited. Even if that light is a train, I can handle it.

What about you? Have you ever had a bad week and lived to laugh about it?

Susan's book The Secrets on Forest Glen is available in e-book or print at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Another day . . . another dead body.

When Detective Adam Campbell learns that a WWII gun is connected to several murders he’s investigating, he hopes that tracking down the killer will be as easy as tracing the gun’s history. When he meets Jillian Whitmeyer, the last known owner of the weapon, the case becomes anything but simple.

Adam soon learns that people who get close to Jillian have a bad habit of turning up dead. Jillian claims that the spirit of her sister, accidently killed with that same gun, is responsible for the deaths. She warns Adam that he is likely to become the next victim. Adam’s been a lousy judge of women in the past and this one’s obviously a nut case. Or is she? How does a just-the-facts detective deal with a ghostly serial killer and the sexy-as-hell sister she won’t set free?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Writers Behaving Badly

I had an experience on Monday night that was in turns wonderful, bizarre and highly disappointing.

Edwards Theater held a free screening of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, based on the YA novel by Hollywood writer Stephen Chbosky. (If you're a Jericho freak like me, this is your man.) It was followed by a Q&A by Mr. Chbosky himself and a book signing.

First of all, if you have a younger teen or a mature preteen, take them to see the movie when it hits general release on Friday. It was a marvelous adaptation, mainly because Mr. Chbosky wrote the screenplay and directed the film. Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller captured Charlie, Sam and Patrick perfectly. They had me bawling at the end of the movie where I just felt tired with a smidgeon of hope at the end of the book. I'll give a better review of the movie itself on next week's Monday Movie Mania.

The wonderful part of the evening (besides the movie iteself) was meeting some interesting people, especially C. a junior and budding journalist from a local high school, who stood next to me in line. She and three of her friends sat on my right during the screening.

The bizarre part started with the five folks on my left. Apparently, whoever was in charge of PR for the event had sent out invitations to a few other local writer organizations besides NWHRWA as well as several high schools. But in all of the PR company's communications with me they stressed it was a first-come-first-served situation.

The original four folks on my left loudly proclaimed they were from the Houston Writers Guild, then proceeded to complain that they had reserved sixteen seats, and how badly organized the event was. They made a point of claiming the seat next to me for one of their friends still waiting in line. Then they compained about all the kids the organizers were letting in. All four people were probably in their late fifties to early seventies. Meanwhile, two of C.'s friends (who were at best seventeen) on the other side of me were quietly trying to get their calculus homework done.

The PR company did give priority seating to the group from the High School for Performing Arts. Which prompted another loud burst of outrage from the Guild people. The one woman in the group marched out of the theater, supposedly in search of the manager to complain.

Mind you, this is all happening a half-hour before the movie's actually start time.

The woman from the Guild marched back mumbling something that I tried very hard NOT to hear. A few minutes later, one of the organizers from the PR company came into the theater to check available seats. When she asked about the seat next to me, one of the men said their companion had gone to the bathroom. The organizer turned to the one woman in the group and said, "You told me your friend was still in line."

You could have heard crickets chirping. The four of them glared at the poor organizer who was just trying to do her job. A few minutes later, a male friend of the four people took the empty seat. The guy preceded to kick me in the calf and whack me with his elbow through most of the movie. It wasn't quite as bad as his friend who decided to read the screen credits in a very loud voice at the start of the film.

As I said, bizarre.

But somehow, I managed to focus on the film, and I'll repeat it again--WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL MOVIE!!

The highly disappointing part was during the Q&A when the members of the guild were just plain rude. They interrupted the kids trying to ask questions. More than once. They interrupted Mr. Chbosky while he tried to answer questions. More than once. Not even the warning looks from the FOX-TV reporter moderating the event stopped their behavior.

These are writers. And yes, I did check the Houston Writers Guild website when I got home. Photographs of three of the five people are shown on the website as members. Why, oh why, would they act so rudely at an event that was clearly geared toward the movie's (and the book's) target audience of teenagers? From the info on the website, none of the three people I recognized were YA authors. And why, oh why would that act this way at a fellow writer's event?

On the other hand, Mr. Chbosky is my new model for graciousness under fire. He was pleasant and courteous even when these other writers weren't.

I know I babbled while talking to Mr. Chbosky, but hey, it's not the first time I've acted like a total idiot in front of a writer I admire. But he was sweet and kind, though obviously very tired, and he signed a copy of his book for G.K. As I said, he's on my role model list.

And to C. (though I know you'll probably never see this), it was an honor meeting you and your friends, and I wish you the best on your own writng path. I know you don't realize this, but you've given me hope for the future.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Diva Critique Partners

Finding a great critique partner is like sending the Curiosity Rover to Mars, except it's a lot more than "seven minutes of sheer terror." Finding a bad critique partner is like shooting fish in a barrel, except a lot messier.

And a good critique partner will point out all those cliches you just wrote, and she will gently suggest that you rewrite the passage.

So here's five tips on what not to do so your critique partners don't call you a diva behind your back:

1) A little politeness goes a long way.

Constructive criticism can be delivered in a way that doesn't leave the writer in tears. Instead of saying, "My five-year-old could have written a better paragraph," try "I think your hero needs to show some emotional reaction here."

2) You don't know everything.

Make sure you know what you're talking about when you're offering criticism. "A PI, a lawyer and a cop walked into an RWA meeting" sounds like the start of a bad joke, but the three of us shared all kinds of stories of bad advice we've gotten from other writers. Just because you're an avid fan of Magnum, P.I., CSI or Law & Order does not make you an expert. If you think something feels wrong in the manuscript, mention it, but refer back #1 before you tell a twenty-year HPD homicide detective he doesn't know his job.

3) Leave your personal bias at home.

We all have them, that little thing that hits our squick button. I recently had a long conversation with a friend about the prevelence of the Cinderella/rape fantasy stories since 50 Shades of Gray came out. Needless to say, the subject does not turn me on in the slightest. Sure enough, another friend asks me to look at her manuscript which features...wait for it....a Cinderella/rape fantasy.

If you can be objective about a subject that turns your stomach, great! But if you can't objectively look at your critique partner's work, you need to tell him. Again, refer to back to #1.

4) Don't rewrite your critique partner's story.

I admit this was my BIG problem under the guise of "I'm just making a suggestion." Actually, it's down-right insulting and insinuates that your partner can't write. I've had critique partners go as far to give me whole different plots along with sample dialogue. Mention the problem you see, but let your partner find his own solution.

5) Acknowledge when the partnership is not working.

Sometimes, despite everyone's good intentions, the relationship just doesn't work. That when you take a step back and have an honest conversation. As I've mentioned before, my friend Nancy and I realized our styles and genres were too different to really be able to help each other. She writes very sweet YA, and I write R-rated UF. But honest acknowledgement kept our friendship intact.

I'm not saying gentle honesty will always work. Some folks get their fee-fees hurt if you look at them sideways. Those are the relationships that you don't walk away from, you run!

* * *
Have a brutally honest conversation about what each of you needs from a critique partner. Then be the kind of critique partner you would love to have!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Blood Sacrifice Soundtrack No. 4

When Alex was turned, he told Duncan he had a girl back in San Antonio. Duncan said Alex couldn't go back now that he was a vampire, that his lover wouldn't understand. Alex carried a torch for his lost one-night stand until he met Phillippa again in San Francisco twenty-five years later.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Serious *FacePalm* Here (And a Special Deal)

I'm totally embarrassed. I'm not sure how this happened, but the file for Amish, Vamps & Thieves replaced the file for Zombie Confidential.

So basically, for the last how-knows-how-long, folks downloading ZC from Smashwords, Sony, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo and Diesel were getting a free copy of AVT instead.

Here's the problem: I've uploaded the correct copy of ZC to Smashwords (and definitely double-checked EVERYTHING this time!). Smashwords will be distributing the corrected book file over the next couple of weeks.

If you download ZC again, it'll replace the copy that's really AVT. I don't want to punish my readers for something that was my screw-up.

On top of everything, I FINALLY received the Amish bonnet I ordered nearly a year ago. So I'll be uploading AVT with the new cover within the next couple of weeks.

So here's the special deal!
If you downloaded Zombie Confidential between June 19th and September 30th, 2012, forward me a copy of your receipt from one of the following retailers:

Barnes & Noble

 I'll e-mail you FREE copies of Zombie Confidential and Amish, Vamps & Thieves with the new cover in EPUB format with unique file names so they won't conflict with your other downloads.

Forward your receipt to suzan at suzanharden dot com.

Again, I'm terriby sorry for the mix-up, and many, MANY thanks to Mel for letting me know about the problem!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Writing Past Life

This wasn't what I'd planned for today's blog, but I made the mistake of visiting Jay Lake's blog this morning. (I haven't read his steam punk series yet, but I highly recommend the Green series or any of his short stories.)

Jay talked about writing a new story while dealing with the fact that his cancer is back with a vengence. He finished his last round of chemo in April. He starts the next one this Friday. But he's determined not to let the disease take over all of his life.

I had a similar conversation with DH eighteen years ago. I was in my first semester of law school, I had moved in with him, and we were in the middle of planning our wedding when he was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer. I dropped out of school for a year to deal with the trips to the oncologist, etc. My salary would cover the mortgage and household bills while his disability went toward medical costs.

We debated about getting married by the justice of the peace before he started chemo so I could make sure his wishes were followed if things went south, but he really wanted a church wedding. We talked about waiting until after the chemo and the second surgery, but at this point, there was no guarantee he would recover.

Then DH looked me in the eye and said, "This wedding is the one thing we can control right now. Let's stick to the original date."

Looking back, I can't imagine writing fiction through that year of hell, and I wasn't even the one who was sick.

The little interruptions I can deal with. Like the infamous interior home improvement project we were half-way through when Hurricane Ike struck Houston and Galveston. After the four years of fighting with the insurance company, lining up contractors and fighting with contractors, the exterior work was completed in May.

DH decided to take the weeks of the 10th and 17th off to paint and refloor the family room. I teasingly pointed out those were the same weeks he'd planned off in 2008. DH said, "Shut up! You're going to jinx us!"

Needless to say, we've been working out butts off on the room, and I've only written 3K in the last ten days.

But eventually, the time will come when a real problem, such as my health issues, i.e. the shut down of my endocrine system, will affect my writing. I hope I can face it with the grace that Jay and DH have shown.

Monday, September 17, 2012

When an Artist Is Used

I'm sure by now everyone's heard about the anti-Islamic video posted on YouTube. I'm sure everyone's heard about the murder of the American ambassdor to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other Americans. I'm sure you've heard about the violent protests all over the world. I'm sure you've heard about the Americans who think their right to freedom of speech outweighs any other person's rights.

I'm not going to link to the actual video because frankly I think it's obscene. Why? Because the producer of the video, Sam Bassil, decided to trick members of the cast and crew into making what they thought was an action-adventure indie film set in ancient Egypt.

As someone who earns money as an artist, I'm disgusted that someone felt the need to manipulate folks just trying to earn a living doing what they love.

There are several other problems that stick in my craw. One of which is new Arabic dialogue being dubbed. Dialogue that has nothing to do with the translation of the lines actually spoken by the actors. Then there's the intentions of the producer. Why not be honest with the actors about the real storyline the producer wanted to present? There's plenty of folks who share Bassil's views and would have jumped on the chance to make this video. Why trick people into making a film he had no intention of releasing as it was presented to the cast and crew? Then there is the producer who's mysteriously disappeared. Frankly, no one's even sure if Sam Bassil is this guy's real name.

UPDATE: The suspected producer of the anti-Islamic video Nakoula Besseley Nakoula was taken into custody by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office on Saturday morning. Nakoula was convicted of bank fraud in 2009. If he uploaded the video, he may have violated the terms of his parole, which prohibits the use of computers and the Internet without his parole officer's approval.

Now the cast and crew are having to deal with the fall-out with this chopped up bit of political propaganda. What I don't think the idiots who constructed this piece of crap counted on was any of the actors having connections.

One of the supporting actresses, Anna Gurji, is friends with writer/actor Neil Gaiman. Neil has posted a letter from Anna about the situation with Anna's permission. Read it for yourself. What would you do if you were in Anna's place?

But most of all, I encourage you to think for youself. And always, ALWAYS do a background check on anybody who hires you.

NOTE: I'm not getting into a debate over religion or the First Amendment. This is the first, and hopefully only, time I moderate this blog. Any comments not on the actual issue at hand will be deleted.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Blood Sacrifice Soundtrack No. 3

Phillippa tries to convince herself that she has nothing in common with Alex because of their 5,100-year age difference.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Diva Judges

One of the ways a new writer gets anonymous feedback is through writing contests. Some contests are better than others, some judges better than others. For the most part, everyone running and judging these contests want to give the writers a productive experience and helpful feedback.

Unfortunately, every once in a while, the writer gets a diva judge. If you've been in a contest, you know the type. I'm-the-queen-of-the-universe-and-I-know-all-the-writing-rules-and-wrath-to-the-plebe-that-questions-me!

I've talked about some of the judges I had in the past. The lady who lectured me that constables do not exist in the U.S. The three judges in the same contest who told me I needed to do my legal research while I was still a practicing attorney in the field I referred to in the manuscript.

And those are mild compared to a friend who was told by a judge that she sucked and that she needed to give up writing and find another hobby. (And believe me, I wish I was paraphrasing.) Ironically that very same manuscript finaled in several other contests and had a zillion partial and full requests from agents and editors.

In the most recent contest I judged, I gave an entrant a very low score on one section of the judging criteria. The writer was accomplished on all the other criteria,  and I'd given her high scores. But this one thing was not working for the story she seemed to be telling.

Then later that night, I lay in bed, wide awake, thinking about that score. Had I become a diva judge? Was I letting my ego get in the way?

The next morning I looked over the entry again. Nope, I still felt the same way about that one criteria. I sent the score sheet back to the contest coordinator with a note about my concerns and asking whether another judge needs to look at this particular manuscript. The coordinator e-mailed back saying I was nicer about the problem than she would have been and that she was letting the score stand as it was.

I found out some time later that I'd given this poor writer her highest overall score.

When I told DH the tale later that night, he said the time I need to worry about being a diva judge was when I didn't question myself about giving someone a low score.

How about y'all? Any judging experiences or contest experience you've learned from? Hated? Loved?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Don't Be This Sheep

This is a sheep who signed a traditional publishing contract without reading or understanding the contract terms. He lost all the rights to his book. Don't be this sheep!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Writing Full-time

I officially left the Day Job on August 31st. Last week was my first full week treating my writing career as a full-time job. Yes, I know last Monday was Labor Day here in the U.S. But my goal is to write every day, and since this is now my main source of income, that mean 'butt in chair' to produce.

I'm not saying everything is magical, songbirds land on my palm and mice create the most beautiful ballgowns for me. (Actually you can keep the mice. There's been a confirmed case of hanta virus in the Houston Metro area.) But the first week has been fulfilling in ways I didn't expect.

Minuses first
1) You need discipline to keep the family from bugging you. Since I'm home, DH (who works from home), GK (who's homeschooled) and even the Wonder Dog seem to think I should be able for their needs 24/7. The growly voice ususally works. If it doesn't, there's the Death Glare. No one wants the Death Glare.

2) You need a dedicated space where you can close the door, or at least put up the dog gate. Working in the kitchen or living room does not help at all with Minuses #1.

1) My goal was 10K words per week, or 2K average words per day. I surprised myself how easy it was to meet. (I'm not saying they were good words. *grin*) In fact, I did 3500 words one day so I could meet with a good friend the next.

2) I have a little more flexibility with my schedule. The friend in Pluses #1 was someone I hadn't seen in three years. She was in town for one day only before she moved to Indonesia. If I'd been working at the Day Job, I would have missed the opportunity to see her.

3) I'm a hell of a lot more pleasant to be around. Both DH and GK came up to me on two different nights while I was cooking dinner, hugged me and said I was more relaxed than they'd seen me in a long time. I think NOT working three jobs has more to do with that.

4) I'm not so fried that I don't have the energy to exercise. And since I'm the only one who will walk the Wonder Dog, he is ecstatic now.

5) I'm eating better and in smaller amounts. First of all, I love to cook. We haven't picked up fast food last week, other than the boys ordered pizza the night I met my friend for coffee. We're going out Thursday because it is DH's birthday. And I'm a class A-1 stress eater, so no stress equals no binging.

So, overall, this seems to be working. Ask me again in six months. *grin*

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Blood Sacrifice Soundtrack No. 2

Phillippa Mann worked as a bouncer for the brothel's madame Betsy Porter, who was based on Fanny Parker, an actual San Antonio madame noted for her incredible discretion and for entertaining both lawmen and criminals with equal aplomb.

Alex caught Phil's attention when he defended one of the girls from a drunk john.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

NSFW Video on Parental Teaching Moment

I definitely don't advocate using this, um, method for teaching your son how to please his partner, but this condom commercial from the U.K. is still pretty damn funny.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Apple Kills Star Trek

Tell me again why Paramount hasn't sued the pants off of Apple?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Blood Sacrifice Soundtrack No. 1

Something a little new for y'all. A tidbit and a song from the playlist I created for Blood Sacrifice.

Alex Stanton and  Phillippa Mann first met in 1889 in in a brothel in San Antonio, Texas.