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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Interview with Karen Dionne of Backspace

As an aspiring writer, I know how important an active network of fellow insa... err, passionate writers can be. A good critique group can take an ok novel to great! An understanding ear and soothing back pat can get you over the next hurdle of self-doubt or writer's block. These are the primary reasons I joined Backspace - the Writer's Place. I enjoyed the discussions; I can get lost in reviewing past questions and answers with agents and authors... and you can meet some excellent authors. People who have put their foot in the door of publication and really, it can be an inspiring experience for those who yearn for similar success. I sent some questions to Karen and Christopher, founders of Backspace.

1. When did Backspace begin?
Christopher Graham and I started Backspace three years ago, in April of 2004. We met over the Internet at a large, public writers board that had lots of great people posting helpful information, but because of its public nature, it also had problems - a handful of troublemakers and nuisance posts by people who weren’t serious about writing tended to overwhelm the discussion, making it difficult to find the good stuff. As aspiring writers, Chris and I felt we needed a site where writers could gather in large numbers to talk about writing and help one another understand the publishing process in an atmosphere of respect, and so we started Backspace. The Backspace discussion forums now have nearly 500 members in a dozen countries. About a third of the membership is agented and/or published, including a handful of New York Times best-selling authors. We believe Backspace’s phenomenal success demonstrates that in creating the kind of writers site we wanted, we discovered a need.

2. In your mind, what does Backspace offer to writers?
The real beauty of the Backspace discussion forums is that the membership is a mix of published authors and the soon-to-be. Writers join because they want to give and get. In that sense, no matter where they are in the publishing process, everyone's a mentor because we're all learning from each other. In not quite three years' time, members have watched dozens of Backspacers sell their books, work with their editors and publicists, do book signings, go on tour -- even hit the New York Times best-seller list. We understand what copyedits are even if we've never seen them; we know what happens at an editorial board meeting; we understand the reason for a last-minute cover change (and how little the author can do about it); we know that Amazon rankings don't mean diddly in terms of overall sales (though we also understand the author's need to check them compulsively every hour).

3. The articles and forum discussions by authors and literary agents are impressive. How did you build those relationships?
In the process of assembling the articles on the www.bksp.org homepage and lining up guest speakers for online question and answer visits, I made an interesting discovery. I found out that for every stereotypical bitter, jealous writer, there are hundreds of well-published authors and agents and editors who are eager to see aspiring writers succeed. The Backspace organization is predicated on the idea of writers helping writers. I’m extremely grateful that those in the publishing world who are of like mind recognize the value of our educational efforts, and are eager to contribute.

4. Do you have a favorite article or author discussion from 2006? If yes, which one and why?
I love all of the discussions, but a few that stand out are literary agent Jeff Kleinman’s visit back in December 2005 where he went far and above the call of duty, spending literally hours answering members’ questions, and Jerry Gross’s recent question and answer discussion that shed light on the writing process from his freelance book editor’s perspective. The article on the www.bksp.org homepages by David L. Robbins “Advice for Writers” is absolutely inspiring, as is the talk and video of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Douglas Wright’s 2006 keynote conference speech.

New York Times best-selling author Lee Child and literary agent Richard Curtis have been outstanding early supporters, and both have terrific articles on the homepages. David Morrell is a fabulous contributor to all things Backspace, with articles for our homepages, a guest speaker visit to our discussion forums, and as a faculty member at our conferences. David touts Backspace as a valuable writers resource when he attends other conferences, and recently included our url in the revised edition of his how-to-write book Lessons From a Lifetime of Writing (excerpted on our homepages).

5. Backspace has received varying levels of accolades, from literary agent support and recommendation to site awards from Writer's Digest. How does that make you think/feel about Backspace and its position in the writing world?
That Backspace has been recognized early on as an important entity in the publishing world is extremely gratifying. Again, I believe it ties back to our purpose: helping authors succeed. Writing is a solitary endeavor, and publishing is a tough business. The better educated writers are about the business they’re trying to enter, the more likely they are to break in – and to stay in. Publishing professionals know this, and have been very gracious in offering Backspace support.

6. How many Backspace Conferences have there been?
The 2007 Backpace Writers Conference on May 31 & June 1 will be our third full-fledged writers conference. In addition, last fall Backspace sponsored a one day Agent-Author seminar at The Algonquin Hotel in New York with only agents on the program that was so well received, we’re planning another for the fall of 2007.

From an organizer’s standpoint, our conferences have been a little too successful, since there are far more great folks offering to be on the program than we have room for. Naturally, the New York location is a factor – our conferences are convenient for agents and editors to attend. But I also believe the conferences’ early success is because we set the bar so high. Newer authors can learn from the material that’s presented, but our program is so advanced, even published authors take something useful away. And of course the networking possibilities at a smaller, more intimate conference like ours are outstanding.

7. What do you enjoy most about Backspace?
The thing I enjoy most about Backspace is watching members succeed. Every month when I assemble the content for the Backspace newsletter, I marvel at all of the announcements that have been posted at the discussion forums of short story placements, novel and non-fiction sales, awards won, interviews posted, book reviews in major magazines, and on and on. The cumulative success of Backspace members is inspiring!

8. Do you have any lessons that you have learned while developing your own writing that you can share with aspiring writers?
Perhaps the biggest thing I’ve learned along the road to publication is that each person’s path is different. Occasionally, an author will hit one out of the park their first time at bat, but that’s not the norm. Most spend years in the minor leagues honing their craft before being called up to the majors – as they should. The key is to persevere.

I signed with my agent in 1999. My first novel wasn't ready, but my agent loved the premise and thought my writing was strong enough that I could pull it off with a rewrite. But it really was early days for me, and while I had a great idea and a certain amount of talent, I didn't know how to craft a novel. I’m not exaggerating when I say my agent taught me how to write one. Three and a half years and three complete rewrites later, we were both so tired of it we couldn't bear to work on the story any longer, and the novel went on submission without a sale.

I spent another couple of years writing my second novel, and somewhere in the midst of that started Backspace, which quickly consumed great gobs of my writing time (as in literally years). In fact, Backspace was so successful, there were many times I considered throwing in the publishing towel and concentrating solely on it. But last month, my second novel, an eco-thriller called FREEZING POINT in which extremists plot to stop an energy company from melting icebergs into drinking water - neither realizing that the water is contaminated with an unknown, deadly disease, sold to Natalee Rosenstein of Berkley. Am I glad now that I hung in with the writing!

9. What should Backspace members look forward to in 2007 (regarding agent articles, author forum discussions, site changes, etc)?

Chris and I are currently working on a major change for the www.bksp.org website that we hope to announce at the Backspace conference this spring. The Internet is a fantastic resource for writers, and we’re very excited about the expanded possibilities in the upcoming changes. Stay tuned!

I enjoy being part of the writing community at Backspace. If you'd like to get to know a little more about Karen Dionne, you can visit her on her website.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

From the realm of superstitions

The folk tales, myths and superstitions of our human kind present endless possibilities for story creation and development. They are particularly useful with fantasy, scifi, and paranormal stories. I thought I'd share a new form of divination with you all.

Method of divination, in which a white Rooster is placed in a circle divided into twenty-six segments, each containing a grain of wheat. The order in which the cock eats the grains as a magic incantation is delivered will spell out the answer to any question perviously posed, be it an unknown lover's name of the indentity of the next ruler. A cock thus employed predicted the coming to power of the Roman Emperor Theodorus in ancient times, and over the centuries the practice has been resurrected for various purposes in many countries.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Thursday HAHA

A writer comes home to a burned down house. His sobbing and slightly-singed wife is standing outside.

“What happened, honey?” the man asks.

“Oh, John, it was terrible,” she weeps. “I was cooking, the phone rang. It was your agent. Because I was on the phone, I didn’t notice the stove was on fire. It went up in second. Everything is gone. I nearly didn’t make it out of the house. Poor Fluffy is...”

“Wait, wait. Back up a minute,” The man says. “My agent called?”

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Interview with Colleen Gleason

I read The Rest Falls Away by Colleen Gleason and just had to ask her a few questions. Here are her responses.

1. When did you begin writing with the goal to get published?

I’ve been writing since I was very young, all through school and college, but it wasn’t until I finished college—and finished my first novel—that I decided to try and get it published. And, well, it took eight more books and many more years later before I actually got the call that I’d sold a book.

Of course, during that time between college and that first sale, I was going to grad school, getting married, having a career in business, and having three children, so I had periods of time where I wasn’t writing at all (lots of them! Can you say morning sickness?)

2. Is The Rest Falls Away your first novel (completed - not published)?

No, The Rest Falls Away was my ninth finished novel.

3. What is your greatest motivation to write?

The stories that I want—need!—to tell, mainly because I don’t think anyone else could tell them the way I want to. I have so many stories and what if’s swirling around at any time that it’s hard to think that they’d never come to fruition if I didn’t write them.

4. Where did the term "venator" come from?

Venator is from the Latin for “hunter.” Many of the words in my Gardella Vampire Chronicles series come from Latin roots because Rome is where the Venators began.

5. Ok, so you've told us that we'll see more of Max and Sebastian in Rises The Night (thank goodness! I MUST know more about them!) - what about Verbena? I find myself attached to her and I wonder what will become of her?

I like Verbena too, and so do many other readers—much to my delight. She is such a fun character and she just took over when she appeared on the page, with all of her quirks and surprising knowledge.

Yes, Verbena makes several appearances in Rises the Night, and also in The Bleeding Dusk, which is the third in the series and the one I’ve just finished writing.

6. The training Victoria experiences is relatively minor in the first book, will we see some more detail of her training and how her skills will advance?

I don’t spend a lot of time on the details of her training, although she started to bug Kritanu about why she can’t learn qingongg (the Crouching Tiger/Hidden Dragon-like form or martial arts fighting) like Max, but he tells her she needs to take things in steps.

She does have a sword fight with Sebastian, however.
Ok, that sounds like it'll be fun!

7. With that said, the fight scenes are done quite well and fit in seamlessly with style and tone - how did you research for them?

Thanks for saying so. I did do quite a bit of research about martial arts—much more than what shows in the books. I wanted to use specific, real, traditional Eastern fighting skills that logically fit with who the Venators are and how they are trained. Most of my research was done online, and as for writing the specific fight scenes…well, I think those are some of the hardest scenes to write—sort of like sex scenes.

You don’t want either one to sound mechanical, nor to give a step by step description of every movement and every blink of an eye…yet you have to give the reader a sense of the flow, so to speak. I’m glad you felt they were well-written, because I think fight scenes, again, like sex scenes, can begin to get redundant if not handled carefully.

8. Can you tell us - is Victoria currently the last of the Gardella line or is there another family member out there?

There are many other Venators out there—from far-flung branches of the family, some of whom you’ll meet in Rises the Night and The Bleeding Dusk, but right now, she’s the last of the direct descendants from Gardella the Venator. She’s not the only slayer, but she’s the most powerful because of her direct descent.

9. Max and Eustacia are particularly concerned with Victoria becoming pregnant, understandable (it just wouldn't have been right in the first book), but as the last in the line, don't they want her to carry on the bloodline? Does this get touched on in the next novel?

It doesn’t get touched on in Rises the Night, although it will be hinted at in The Bleeding Dusk.

As I mentioned earlier, there are other Venators—they pop up in the widespread Gardella family tree, which has grown the world over—purposely, because of their duty—randomly, almost like a genetic mutation. LOL. So there are other Venators who are born Venators, and are of Gardella blood…but Victoria is the last in the direct line from Gardella, and that has to mean something, doesn’t it?
- Yes, it does!

10. The teaser for Rises the Night introduces a new threat, is Lilith still the main foe? Or, has someone darker entered the picture?

Lilith is still the most powerful of all vampires living, and thus is the biggest threat—although in Rises the Night her role is an off-stage one. There are other vampires, and even other creatures, that either work with her or against her. Ooo, I can't wait!

11. Can you give us any little goodies of what we can expect in Rises the Night?

Well, I mentioned about Victoria and Sebastian’s sword fight above. Let’s see….There will be a discussion about Max possibly taking up gardening. And Victoria will travel to Venice and Rome after attending a house-party in the countryside of England. Oh, and she’ll meet Lord Byron and will annoy his current lover.

How’s that?

12. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Keep writing. You have to finish a book and send it out, and while you’re waiting to hear on that book, you have to write something else. And then something else. And then something else. Always write the best you can, always have something to send out, and keep doing this until you either give up—or get published.

13. Do you think having an internet presence has made an impact on your writing career?

I hope it has. A lot more people knew about my book and about me before it hit the shelves than if I didn’t have a blog or a Web site. However, the number of people who do know about my book via the Web is such a small percentage of readers out there…it’s still an inefficient form of marketing. But I love my blog and really enjoy the people I’ve “met” by writing it, and visiting their blogs.

14. Who are your favorite authors?

Nora Roberts/J D Robb, Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels, Roberta Gellis, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Colette Gale, Liz Carlyle, Georgette Heyer, J K Rowling, and there are others, but that’s a good start!

15. What can we expect to see from Colleen Gleason in the future?

Well, there are a total of four Gardella books contracted and in the works: Rises the Night (June 2007), The Bleeding Dusk (Feb 08) and the fourth as-yet untitled one in late 2008. I hope to write a total of five books about Victoria, and then to move on and write about another Gardella woman after that!

Thank you so much for having me here! I appreciate your time and questions…and I’ll be happy to answer any questions people leave in the comments section today.

Thank you, Colleen, for sharing your wonderful world with us and taking the time to answer a few questions! :)

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The Sun Sets on the Thursday Thirteen

I was surprised to see a note on the Thursday Thirteen hub today that this week's list is the final Thursday Thirteen. I am bummed. I look forward to my Wednesday night / Thursday morning blog surfing. There are so many bloggers I've found through the TT and I make sure I always visit them when it's list time!

I think it would be most fitting that I share with you 13 of my favorite fellow Thursday Thirteeners. (In no particular order:)

1. West of Mars - Susan is the one who really got me interested in the Thursday Thirteen. She's a lovely lady with a great sense of humor.

2. Ramblings of Maggie

3. The Screaming Pages

4. Title Deleted

5. Confessions of a Sophisticated Writer

6. Colleen Gleason

7. Fond of Snape

8. Dreaming in Rhyme

9. Christine d'Abo

10. Tennessee Text Wrestling

11. Scooper Speaks

12. Whiskey Talking

13. It's so hard to just list a few. I've seen some great 13 posts that are creative, moving, inspiring, delightful, hilarious... I've enjoyed this weekly diversion and I wish all the best for you!

A sunbeam to warm you,A moonbeam to charm you,A sheltering angel, so nothing can harm you.~Irish Blessing

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

I am destined to rule the world!!

You Are Destined to Rule the World

You have the makings of a very evil dictator...
Which is both kind of cool and kind of scary!
Will you rule the world? Maybe. Maybe not.
But at least you know that you could.

And when I accept my position of ultimate power, I will follow the ever important evil overlord guidelines...

-->My Legions of Terror will have helmets with clear plexiglass visors, not face-concealing ones.

-->My ventilation ducts will be too small to crawl through.

-->My noble half-brother whose throne I usurped will be killed, not kept anonymously imprisoned in a forgotten cell of my dungeon.

-->Shooting is not too good for my enemies.

-->The artifact which is the source of my power will not be kept on the Mountain of Despair beyond the River of Fire guarded by the Dragons of Eternity. It will be in my safe-deposit box. The same applies to the object which is my one weakness.

-->I will not gloat over my enemies' predicament before killing them.

-->When I've captured my adversary and he says, "Look, before you kill me, will you at least tell me what this is all about?" I'll say, "No." and shoot him. No, on second thought I'll shoot him then say "No."

-->After I kidnap the beautiful princess, we will be married immediately in a quiet civil ceremony, not a lavish spectacle in three weeks' time during which the final phase of my plan will be carried out.

-->I will not include a self-destruct mechanism unless absolutely necessary. If it is necessary, it will not be a large red button labelled "Danger: Do Not Push". The big red button marked "Do Not Push" will instead trigger a spray of bullets on anyone stupid enough to disregard it. Similarly, the ON/OFF switch will not clearly be labelled as such.

-->I will not interrogate my enemies in the inner sanctum -- a small hotel well outside my borders will work just as well.

-->I will be secure in my superiority. Therefore, I will feel no need to prove it by leaving clues in the form of riddles or leaving my weaker enemies alive to show they pose no threat.

-->One of my advisors will be an average five-year-old child. Any flaws in my plan that he is able to spot will be corrected before implementation.

-->All slain enemies will be cremated, or at least have several rounds of ammunition emptied into them, not left for dead at the bottom of the cliff. The announcement of their deaths, as well as any accompanying celebration, will be deferred until after the aforementioned disposal.

-->The hero is not entitled to a last kiss, a last cigarette, or any other form of last request.

-->I will never employ any device with a digital countdown. If I find that such a device is absolutely unavoidable, I will set it to activate when the counter reaches 117 and the hero is just putting his plan into operation.

-->I will never utter the sentence "But before I kill you, there's just one thing I want to know."

-->When I employ people as advisors, I will occasionally listen to their advice.

-->I will not have a son. Although his laughably under-planned attempt to usurp power would easily fail, it would provide a fatal distraction at a crucial point in time.

-->I will not have a daughter. She would be as beautiful as she was evil, but one look at the hero's rugged countenance and she'd betray her own father.

-->Despite its proven stress-relieving effect, I will not indulge in maniacal laughter. When so occupied, it's too easy to miss unexpected developments that a more attentive individual could adjust to accordingly.

Every time I read the evil overlord list I just chuckle. So, if you were an evil overlord - what would you do? I think I'll use that as a little writing prompt for the day.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Interview with Joshua Palmatier

Last week I reviewed The Skewed Throne by Josha Palmatier. Joshua has the first two books of the series out now and the third installment will hit the shelves early '08. After reading the opener, I know that I'll be picking up two and three. I simply can't leave a trilogy unfinished! Joshua was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.

1. When did you begin writing with the goal of being published?

I started writing in the 8th grade, when we were assigned to write a Twilight Zone short story. I wrote "Aquantico," a short story about a man looking out the window of his space ship as his homeland, Atlantis, was engulfed by the ocean. One page. In 8th grade size handwriting. But the teacher thought it was written well and suggested I write more. The idea took hold and I started writing to see what I could come up with, including stories for shared-world anthologies like "Magic in Ithkor."

However, I can't say I got REALLY serious about the writing until I hit graduate school. At that point I'd written a rather bad fantasy novel and after finishing that I sat back and asked myself whether this was just a hobby or whether I really intended to go anywhere with it. I decided I'd get published, and worked hard for the next 10 years before managing to break that first barrier and getting an editor (and an agent) to say "yes."

2. Is The Skewed Throne your first novel (completed - not published)?

The Skewed Throne is actually the fourth book I wrote. The first book was called Sorrow, and it went through numerous revisions before I managed to get myself to set it aside and move on to something else. It's the book I used to teach myself how to write, at least in my mind. I then (stupidly) worked on the sequel to Sorrow, which of course can't sell because Sorrow never sold. Once I realized my mistake there, I began something completely different, a contemporary fantasy/horror novel along the lines of Stephen King called Fever. (Actually, I call it a cross between Stephen King and M Night Shyamalan.) I needed the break from the usual fantasy novel, a break from Sorrow and it's characters and environment. Once I'd had my breather, I returned to the world of Sorrow and wrote The Skewed Throne.

The good news is that my editor is interested in returning to Sorrow and it's sequel at some point in the future. And I hope to get Fever published at some point as well.

Now, that's definitely an interesting writing history. I'm curious about the premise of Sorrow! I'm not so sure about Stephen King, though. A mixture between his style and Shyamalan sounds intriquing to me!

3. How long did it take you to write it?

The Skewed Throne took be approximately 6 months to write. Since I teach mathematics at the university, the only real "free" time I have to write--to seriously write--is during the summer break. I wrote Part 1 of The SkewedThrone one summer, and Part 2 the next summer. Now, however, I've settled into the teaching schedule and the writing schedule, and I can actually write some during the semester as well. I hope to produce one book a year from now on, if not more.

4. Varis is an interesting character, she's strong and her emotions are equally strong. What did you do to bring her to life on the page?

Ha! Actually Varis "came to me," so strongly that she demanded I write her next, even though I had another project in mind at the time. However, that's not extremely helpful, and in the end that doesn't answer the question about how I brought her to life on the page. Yes, having a character come so vividlyto you is great it gets you halfway there, but the other half has to come from you as a writer.

So, how did I bring her to life? Well, the main point of The Skewed Throne is her development, how she progresses from a gutterscum thug to a royal assassin. So when I sat down to actually begin writing, I asked myself, "What would it take for ME to kill someone? What would have to happen to push me onto the road to being an assassin?" And that's how I moved Varis from thief to assassin. Each time I sat down, I spent a long moment pushing myself into her world, into its grittiness and reality, and then I forced myself to live Varis' life.

That's the secret to good writing, I think. The writer has to actually place himself or herself into the character's world, into their mind. To write Varis, I had to become her. Some days this was easy, others it wasn't. I listen to music while I write, because I find that it helps submerge me in the character's world, blocking out the "real" world at the same time. There are other tricks as well, such as rereading what you've written the previous day, revising as you go. This seats you into the character's mind before you start writing something new. In the end, to get that emotional impact that you want,you have to BE that character.

Excellent advice, Joshua. I could tell that you had an excellent handle of Varis. Your commitment to her character shines through!

5. The third installment of Varis' tale is coming out soon. Can you give us a few hints of what will happen? I haven't read 2 yet - but I will... will we find out why Varis can see the river? And, what is the story behind the White Fire?

What, and spoil all the fun, all the anticipation? You couldn't torture that information out of me! *grin* OUCH, OUCH, OUCH! Don't touch the hair, don't touch the ha--AHHHHHHHH!!! OK, OK, OK! I'll spill! Geesh. *grumble, grumble*

*rubs my hands together* MuHaHaHa!

Both The Skewed Throne and the sequel, The Cracked Throne, take place almost exclusively in the city of Amenkor where Varis grew up. In the third book, The Vacant Throne, due out January 2008, Varis actually gets to leave the city and see some of the rest of the Frigean Coast. I found it hard to get Varis to leave actually, because Varis herself didn't want to leave. Or rather, she did, but she's grown up so isolated that she was afraid to leave. I had to push her out, essentially.

Once she gets out, it gets interesting. New cities, cultures that are close to what we've seen in Amenkor, but with subtle differences. All of it outside of Varis' experience. Along the way, you learn more about the magic system of the world, about the Skewed Throne itself and in particular its creation, about the Frigean coast and its past. And yes, you learn more about the White Fire. I don't answer all of the questions readers might have though, because I hope to return to the coast, to Amenkor and the people we've gotten to know (and Ihope, love) in the Throne books, but I believe I wrap up all of the important plot lines while still giving the impression that the characters' lives continue beyond the third book.

Excellent, I look forward to reading it even more!

6. What else will we be seeing from Joshua Palmatier in the future?

Well, I've just signed a contract for a book called Well of Sorrows, the first book in a new trilogy set in the same world as the Throne books. However, it's set over a thousand years earlier than the Throne books on a different continent, with (of course) a completely new cast of characters. The main character is named Colin and during the course of the first book . . . he becomes immortal. The series is about how he tries to use his power, his successes, his failures, and his struggle with the idea of immortality, its advantages and its curse.

After that, I have at least four other ideas--either trilogies or duologies--set in the same world. I hope to be able to write them all, assuming there's continued interest of course.

Yup, it definitely sounds interesting to me!

7. Who do you like to read when you aren't writing?

I read pretty much everything. At the moment, I'm reading the first Harry Dresden novel by Jim Butcher called Storm Front, and the fifth book in Michelle West's Sun Sword sextet, called The Riven Shield. However, if I were to recommend an author or two, I'd suggest Tad Williams or Guy Gavriel Kay. Both can create incredibly vivid worlds, with interesting, well-developed characters. And narrowing it down to two authors was HARD!

8. What advice do you share with aspiring writers?

The best advice I can give aspiring writers is the advice that Kate Elliott passed on to me: Be persistant. Which I take to mean, write. And even as what you've just written is out there, waiting for an editor or agent to look at it, write more. Write, write, write. And when you get a rejection (and you will, it is extremely rare that an author gets accepted with their first story and the first editor or agent they send it to), yes, get upset, feel depressed--it's impossible not to--but PERSIST. Keep writing. File that rejection away, make a note of whether it was a good rejection or a bad rejection, and who it came from, and keep that rejection in mind when you send out the next submission. But KEEP WRITING. Nothing in publishing happens fast. You have to be persistant, and have some thick skin, if you really want to be published.

More excellent words of advice, thank you, Joshua.

9. Do you think having a blog and a strong internet presence has impacted your writing career?

I think having a blog and a strong internet presence allows the writer to "keep in touch" with readers, giving them a place to ask questions of the author, to voice their opinion about the books, the world the author has created, etc. Authors love to hear what readers are thinking regarding their books. Without the internet, we'd live in a void. We know our books are out there, we hope they're being read, but we rarely hear what people think of the books. And since we can't write and release a book a month, our blogs and the internet allow us to keep connected while we work on the next book.

Also, the internet can help generate sales, because you can reach readers that you wouldn't normally be able to. It's impossible--financially and phycially--for an author to travel to all parts of the nation or world in order to promote their book. The only way to do this is through the internet. And authors have to promote themselves, because--let's be realistic--if he or she doesn't, then the sales won't be high enough for the publisher to continue publishing that author. And all of us want to continue writing stories.

But in the end, it's still the readers themselves who help the author the most. If you've read a book that you found interesting, that excited you, that made you say "Wow!", the best thing you can do for the author is to TELL SOMEONE ELSE, either in person, at the bookstore, or using your blog or website. Post a review at amazon.com or Barnes & Noble. Talk about it in a chat or create a thread at a forum. Word of mouth is the most effective promotional technique, especially for new authors. So (here's where the self-promotion kicks in) if you liked The Skewed Throne, go tell someone! Let all your Myspace friends know. Get them to try the book. Otherwise, I may not be able to continue Varis' or anyone else's story.

Another reinforcement that as readers we do have the power to keep seeing the books we like. Find something you like and spread the word.

Thank you, Joshua, for taking the time to share your thoughts and advice with us. We appreciate it!

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Colleen Gleason The Rest Falls Away

The Rest Falls Away is a debut novel by Colleen Gleason. I've been meaning to pick up a copy since it came out and the debut contest was the perfect motivation to do it. This novel takes the battle between good and evil into the streets of historical London.

When Victoria, 19, begins having unusual dreams she goes to her Aunt Eustacia and discovers that she is the last in a long line of vampire hunters. Victoria Gardella has been born with the strength and skills to become a Venator. But first, she must pass a test and kill a vampire, unfortunately, this test falls on the same night of her debut ball. Victoria must balance her role in society, with her role as a lean, mean, vampire-slaying machine.

Lord Rockley, Phillip, is the tons most eligible bachelor and has set his eyes on Victoria. She can't help but embrace his love. She realizes that being a proper young socialite and a strong venator is no easy task. The silent and harsh Maximilian, fellow venator, and Sebastian, the handsome and humorous tavern owner, are the two other men in Victoria's life. There is a tantalizing possibility that Phillip is not the only man for Victoria.

Behind the growth and development of Victoria, is the evil machinations of Lillith, the daughter of Judas. Lillith is the queen of the vampires and would like nothing more than to see the last of the Gardella's destroyed. There is a venator prophecy that it can only be one of the Gardella line to kill Lillith. Is Victoria the one?

Colleen has captured the feeling of the era and placed the reader in the heart of a tantalizing story. Victoria is an enjoyable character. I enjoyed reading about her. The writing is solid and Colleen's voice is strong. There were no skips or difficult writing to get through. The plot is tight and while I'm left with many questions, they are the kind that just increase my interest on reading the second book, the continuation of Victoria's tale.

If you like historical romance or if you enjoy a good vampire tale - this is definitely a book you may want to consider. You can stop by Colleen's blog to see more about her and her writing career!

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Debut Contest Reviews List

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*Stickied! This post is staying up top till the 17th! Scroll down for recent blog posts!*

The Debut a Debut contest has two primary goals. 1. Encourage readers to read something by a new author (and hopefully find a new favorite) 2. Help promote debut books and debut authors!

We have a long list of prizes. On the 19th, Susan and I will randomly pull out participants and they will get a prize. We'll continue to randomly select participants until we are out of prizes!!! Prizes include gift certificates, books, goodies and more!

Here are the current participants:

Karen Morsie reviews The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld
Writing The Winnower reviews The Skewed Throne by Joshua Palmatier
Confessions of a Literary Persuasion reviews The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury
Eclectic Closet reviews The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs
Eclectic Closet reviews Was She Pretty? by Leanne Shapton
Littlebird Blue reviews Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife by Sam Savage
Cherie Pie reviews The Rest Falls Away by Colleen Gleason
The World in the Satin Bag reviews The Tower of Shadows by Drew Bowling
Eclectic Closet reviews Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
Karen Morsie reviews Kabbalah: A Love Story by Lawrence Kushner
SahBu reviews Nightmare in Laos: The True Story of a Woman Imprisoned... by Kay Danes
Breeni reviews Speak Right On: Dred Scott A Novel by Mary Neighbour
Eclectic Closet reviews And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander
Mark Baker reviews Death on the Flop
Mark Baker reviews A Killer Collection by Jennifer Stanley
Scooper reviews The Rest Falls Away by Colleen Gleason
Karen Morsie reviews Torch by Cheryl Strayed
Prester John reviews Rumble on the Bayou by Jana DeLeon
She reviews Don't Be Afraid by Rebecca Drake
La Lady Lisa Westerfield reviews And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander
Eclectic Closet reviews The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist
Megan reviews Disobedience by Naomi Alderman

Rashenbo's Debut Reviews

Hell's Belles
Passion Draconic
The Skewed Throne

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Friday, February 16, 2007

The Skewed Throne by Joshua Palmatier

The Skewed Throne is a debut novel by Joshua Palmatier. The story takes place in the town of Amenkor, a city of legend. Its walls are home to traders, craftsmen, merchants, the guilds, and the Mistress. She is the ruler of its people and protects them. There has always been a Mistress. 1000 years ago a white fire - with no flame or heat, swept across its glory. In its wake Amenkor began to split, the prosperous and the wealthy stayed in the heart of Amenkor. The poor, the desperate, the homeless, the criminal - they lived in the outer reaches. The old part of Amenkor known as the dredge and home to the gutterscum. The criminals could not escape the justice of the Mistress; her assassin guards, known as the seekers, would hunt them down where they hid.

The story begins five years after the second time the white fire has passed. A young teenager is struggling to survive in the dredge, orphaned at six, nearly raped at 11 - she has a hard edge and a sense of despair. But, she is just another in a sea of gutterscum, until she is noticed by Erick, one of the seekers. He notices her uncanny abilities and gives her the opportunity to learn new skills and become something more than just another dredge orphan. He names her Varis, the hunter. Varis has two gifts. The first, the ability to shift her sight and enter what she calls "the river". While in the river she can see people in a different light... and then she can see people that are a danger to her, marked in red. When she delves deeper, she can actually see how something may happen. The second gift came with the white fire... a piece of it lingered behind, within her.

These gifts are Varis' tools to change the future of Amenkor. The current Mistress has gone insane and the city is in even more peril. Only Varis can make the choice to save it.

I enjoyed this book, it has a quick pace, the reading is smooth - I finished it in about three hours. There are some timeshifts in the story and a couple of times I found myself losing a bit of the timing. However, I became attached to Varis and enjoyed being with her through her development. Joshua captures the emotional twists and turns of a young teenager who is lost and seeking a place to be herself... while using a gift that gives her an upper hand in murder.

I've read some excellent debuts and some mediocre debuts. The Skewed Throne is definitely on the excellent end of the spectrum. I'm excited to have found Joshua early in his writing career... I suspect we will see a lot more of him in the future, something I look forward to.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Ebook Review of Elisabeth Drake's Passion Draconic

As the creator and co-host of the Debut contest... I realized that I really need to also show my involvement by getting out and reading some debut works and then sharing them too! Last week I read, reviewed and interviewed Jackie Kessler with her debut of Hell's Belles. Well, this week I'm going to be reading more!

I've never actually read an ebook before. Call me a book snob - but I like having a book in my hands. I was browsing through the author list and Passion Draconic by Elisabeth Drake caught my eye. I read the plot summary and thought it sounded interesting - a fantasy romance!

The lovely Shaiandral is a healer for the Sharteka tribe, a clan of jaguar shapeshifters. She is summoned by a healer's oath to the enemy tribe of shape shifting dragons. The dragonlord, Veren, is dying by some magical disease. She must make a sacrifice to save him. Together they must combat the demons trying to take over their world.

The premise of the plot is interesting, however, this book kind of jumps fantasy and romance and goes straight for erotica. The sex scenes are well done and quite steamy... a couple of them push the ropes for me, though. This wasn't particularly my kind of story. I tend to enjoy novels with a stronger plot line than physical love sequences.

This author has potential and I'll be interested to see her career grow.

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If you like photographs...

My husband has entered the blogosphere. He's working on getting a website/blog together for his photography.

If you'd like, you can pop over and give him a warm welcome!

Yup... shameless promotion of family and friend blogs is completely acceptable! :)

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day

Another edition of the weekly Thursday Thirteen.

Happy Valentine's Day all you guys and gals. Today is the day of LOVE! Yes! I have a darling husband that I love dearly and I could certainly start a list here telling you all the reasons why I love him... but, I'm thinking you probably won't find those reasons nearly as important as I do... so how about a love list that we can share?

I love blogging and let me count the ways...

13. My husband says that I'm a happier person when I'm blogging. See... it is good for you. It's good for your soul!

12. You get to find someone who shares similar interests, a sense of humor, and strike up a friendship... much like my blogging buddy - Susan at West of Mars.

11. You get to step on top of whatever soapbox you want and rant or rave or vent... and develop a fan base while doing it.

10. Nothing makes surfing the internet more enjoyable that popping on to someone's blog and seeing what they think on a topic.

9. Learn something new. Learn something new. Learn something new.

8. Get to know your multiple personalities and give them voice!

7. You get to be one with the force! Also known as the internet....

6. You know you love something when you can spend endless hours just admiring it... much like the blogosphere.

5. The Meme... You know it. You love it. You anxiously await it's weekly arrival!

4. I love site traffic. Yes. I like all those little clicks and I lovingly check my traffic meters at least two or three times a day.

3. I've gone to bed at night and as I've drifted off to sleep.. I've thought about the blog post I'd like to research and write... and post...

2. I've clicked on someone's blog and... *gasp* experienced blog envy!

1. Mostly, I love the feeling of community and the group of bloggers I've connected with.... Thank you for feeding my obsession. :) Have a lovely Valentine's!

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Interview with Jackie Kessler

I recently finished reading Hell's Belles by Jackie Kessler. It was a fun read and I shared my review over the weekend. I had the opportunity to ask Jackie a few questions and I wanted to share those answers!

1. When did you first start writing with the goal of being published?

I’ve been writing on and off since I was a freshman in college, but I didn’t get serious about writing to get published until 2003.

2. I believe your cover says you have 9,000 comics - that's a lot. Which comics make your top ten list?

Over the course of (many) years, my top ten comics changed. A lot. I don’t collect anymore (sigh), but here’s my all-time favorite list:

Sandman. This comic single-handedly brought me back as a comic reader after a hiatus of three years. Neil Gaiman is touched by God. Really. Also in this are the Death limited series.

Hellblazer. John Constantine. Sigh... (And NO, the cough, movie, cough DOES NOT COUNT. John Constantine is British, blond, and a die-hard smoker. Period.)

Mage. Both “The Hero Discovered” (ah, Mirth!) and “The Hero Defined” (lots of fun). Matt Wagner freaking ROCKS.

Grendel. I’m still crushing on Hunter Rose. Absolutely loved the first Grendel-Batman cross-over written by Matt Wagner. The “future” incarnations of Grendel were OK — yes, I liked Warchild. But nothing compares to Devil By the Deed.

Preacher. Garth Ennis is amazing. LOVED this series, even when parts of it were, er, over the deep end. The “Until the End of the World” story arc blew me away.

Kingdom Come. This limited series showing a future world with DC heroes as older and cynical was magnificent, from the story to the art.

Hush. Shivers! This Batman story arc pulled in the major villains and introduced a new bad guy.

The Books of Magic. Charge of the trench coat brigade! This limited series introduction to, cough, the original Harry Potter was amazing. (And yes, Neil Gaiman wrote it. Why do you ask?)

1602. FABULOUS. Another Neil Gaiman winner.

The New Teen Titans/Uncanny X-Men/Avengers/Magik... Throw in LOTS of titles here, both from DC and Marvel. Dark Phoenix? The Terminator and Terra? The New Mutants? Jarvis the butler? Great stuff.

What, you were maybe expecting Archies? ;-)

3. Was Hell's Belles your first novel?

Nope. My third. My first novel was a 16-year love affair that scored triple-digit agent rejections, no matter how many times I rewrote the damn thing. That was a contemporary fantasy — complete with portal to another world, faux-medieval towns, shoddy world building, and college-senior-aged characters who were too old for YA and too young for adult markets. Oh, and the writing sucked. The magic system was pretty awesome, though. (I recently threw everything out but the magic system, recast it as a YA urban fantasy...and now it’s on submission. Wish me luck!)

4. How long did it take you to write Hell's Belles?

Two months, then about a week to revise and a week to get the query letter/synopsis right. Figure less than three months, top to bottom. (I guess I was possessed.)

5. How did Jezebel come to you? Did she slowly materialize or did she just jump out at you one day fully formed and ready for some "action"?

Jezzie was always her own creature. I knew right away she was a succubus, and I had her voice almost immediately. So I’d have to go with the Athena answer: she sprung fully formed from my head. (Yuck.)

6. Your descriptions of hell, like the lava reflecting on the obsidian castle, are beautiful. How long did it take you to come up with how Hell looked in Jezebel's world?

Thanks! I don’t remember how long it took; I do remember that I’d laid out the groundwork for the geography of Hell before I started actually writing the story. I began by drawing a map of Hell (hey, I come from a fantasy background; there HAS to be a map. It looks a bit like Manhattan), and from there I divided the Abyss by Sin. The Lake of Fire surrounds Hell sort of like Brooklyn’s Belt Parkway. I’d also researched gemstones to a degree (for the Shield Against Evil), and I learned that obsidian is connected to volcanoes; it’s formed as lava from volcanic eruptions cools within the earth. I thought between its link to lava (the Lake of Fire) and its glassy sheen, it would be a beautiful (and rather evil) castle in Hell.

7. The role of the protagonist, a demon is a little edgy, there aren't many words that have a stronger negative conotation than demon. Did you have obstacles with that in getting Hell's Belles published?

Nope. Demons are the new black. :-) There are many demon stories out there now — MelJean Brook’s Demon Angel; Jaci Burton’s Surviving Demon Island; Jacki Frank’s Jacob; Richelle Mead’s upcoming Succubus Blues. I think the only obstacle I’m running into, distribution-wise, is the title—some places may not be too keen on having the word “hell” in the title.

8. Hell's Belles may be seen as a little controversial to some: there is colorful language, a focus on harming "humans", and religion (heaven, hell, God and the Devil). What do you think about that?

Martha O’Connor (The Bitch Posse) once gave me some terrific advice: “Write like no one’s watching.” Don’t self-censor. Write the story you want to write. I took that advice to heart when I wrote Hell’s Belles. I realize it’s not for everyone. I’m okay with that.

9. Have you received any criticism on those topics? If so, how have you responded to that?

On those topics? ((grin)) No.

10. Reading Hell's Belles was just.... well, it was FUN! Tell me, was it as much fun to write it?

Thank you! It was a blast. I think that’s why I was able to write it as quickly as I did: I had a lot of fun writing it. (And a lot of nights with very little sleep.)

11. So, how much "research" did you do to really showcase Jezebel as the fantastic succubus that she is?


For the succubus part, I researched demons the old-fashioned way: I read. A lot. I cherry-picked what I liked, and made up the parts I couldn’t confirm with my research. So far, no demon has cried “foul.”

And I did tons of research on strip clubs and club etiquette — I read many books about (and by) exotic dancers, I watched a number of (bad) movies set in strip clubs, I watched HBO’s G-String Divas, I searched the Internet for club layouts and articles by strippers, I talked to a number of people who’d frequented strip clubs, and I even went to a local club to check it out in person. My Loving Husband, brave soul that he is, accompanied me. All in the name of research, of course. Sadly, he refused to let me buy him a lap dance. I would have taken SUCH good notes...

12. What can we expect to see from Jezebel in The Road to Hell?

Jezebel, or Jesse, has a Hell of a past, one she can’t share with Paul, her true love. (If she did, he’d probably send her to a place with padded walls and white jackets. And white has never been Jesse’s best color.) So she keeps mum about her infernal history—until three of her former associates strong-arm her into returning to the Pit. Unless Jesse faces off against the King of Hell, she’ll lose Paul’s immortal soul. If she’d known love was this tough, she never would have turned her back on Lust.

In a nutshell: more Jesse, more Paul, more Daun, lots more Hell...and more sex. (Hey, Jesse may no longer be a succubus, but she’s not dead. Yet.)

13. What else can we see from Jackie Kessler in 2007?

My short story, “Red,” currently appears in the April issue of Realms of Fantasy, and another short story, “To the Core,” is part of the Freya’s Bower charity anthology Dreams & Desires — all net proceeds go to a battered women’s shelter. The Road to Hell will hit the shelves in November 2007.

Two more Hell titles will be out in 2008 — a prequel novella called Hell to Pay, as part of Kensington’s Eternal Love anthology (with Richelle Mead, Lynsay Sands and Hannah Howell), and the third Hell book, Hotter Than Hell.

14. What words of advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Never be daunted. If I would have given up after my first book went nowhere, or even after my second book likewise went nowhere, I never would have written Hell’s Belles. And don’t be afraid to try something new; I didn’t know I could write humor — or a nookie scene — until I tried my hand at a completely different genre than I was used to. And read like it’s going out of style. :-)

15. Do you think having a blog has aided you on your publishing journey?

((innocent smile)) Which blog?

If you mean my personal blog, Insert Witty Title Here , that’s been a combination journal/promotional outlet/slam book/thingie. While I don’t think it’s helped me get published, I do think it’s helped me meet other authors and readers.

If you mean Jezzie’s blog, the talk-radio show Cat and Muse on my website, my publisher enjoys it almost as much as I do and has mentioned that blog on some marketing collateral.

If you mean Magical Minxes, the blog Jezzie shares with Georgina (a.k.a Richelle Mead, Succubus Blues), Luna (Caitlin Kittredge, Night Life), Sarah (Michelle Rowen, Fanged & Fabulous), Gwen (Elaine Cunningham, Shadows in the Starlight), and Gina (Jaci Burton, Surviving Demon Island), that’s helped introduce Jezebel to numerous readers and has let me work with a bunch of terrific authors.

Er, were you not expecting some shameless plugs? :-)

We love shameless plugs! :) Thank you, Jackie, for sharing these little tidbits with us!

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The Book Review Contest BEGINS! Go!

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Begins today!

The book industry faces many challenges. People seem to have less time to read and it's tough to compete with the television and Internet. Any new or aspiring author knows how hard it is to make his or her voice heard amongst the chorus of "publish me!" "Notice me!" "Buy my books!"

In many cultures around the world, Valentine's Day has converted the month of February into the month of love. This February, two aspiring authors are taking their love of reading and their admiration for debut authors and combining them into the "Debut a debut!" contest.

Take a first-time author for a spin on your "To Read in 2007" list and give yourself the chance to win great prizes! Gift certificates to Borders and more!

During the week of 12 Feb through 17 Feb, read a book written by a debut author and post your review by 17 February. Send Susan or Erica the permalink to your review and you will be entered in a drawing for some great prizes.

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Some Rules
A debut author is an author who has had their first novel published between 01/2006 and 02/2007.

Accepted publication types are ebook and in-print novels from established royalty-paying publishers or e-publishers; if you're not sure, e-mail us the name of the publisher. POD, vanity presses, or Publish America books are not considered for this contest.

The contest has officially begun!!!!! Send your links to us either in a comment or in an email!

Reviews can not be previously printed online or in print. The review of a debut author's novel must be posted between the dates of 02/12/2007 - 02/17/2007. Prize drawing will occur 02/19/2007 and winners will be notified via email.

Multiple entries are allowed.

The Prizes
2 randomly drawn participants will receive a $20.00 Borders gift certificate, books, autographed books and more!.

How to Enter
1. Buy, find, or borrow a novel that is an author's debut. (see list of some debut novels at WestofMars.com, West of Mars -- the Meet and Greet, or Writing Aspirations)
Update: Here is a list of some authors and the update to prize list!

2. Read the novel.
3. Write a review. It does not have to be a professional review. Provide a brief plot synopsis and then mention your likes or dislikes or other thoughts you had while reading.
4. Post the review online - either on a website or blog.
5. Send the permalink of the post to West of Mars or Writing Aspirations in an email message or post a comment to the main contest post with a link to your review.

Remember, the review is to be completed and posted during the week of 02/12/2007 - 02/17/2007.

A post will be created on West of Mars and Writing Aspirations with links to all book reviews submitted.

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Don't miss your chance to get some press! West of Mars and Writing Aspirations are in the process of gathering your names and titles to help our contest entrants find great books to read. Please send us links to your website, or just your name and the title of your debut novel that was published between 1 January 2006 and 1 February 2007. If you have any promotional items -- especially copies of your book -- that you'd like to donate, we'd love to offer them as prizes.

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Hell's Belles: Book Review

What happens when you are a demonic succubus rebelling against the changes in hell? You go AWOL, "borrow" someone's physical appearance and try to blend in with the flesh puppets. Only, blending in with flesh puppets isn't quite what you expect and before too long you are compelled to care for and even help those who previously provided you exquisite pleasure through their fear and pain. Jackie Kessler's Hell's Belles is a delightful and decadent read.

Personally, I'm more critical of first-person novels because I just don't care for the first person experience. I've certainly read some good first-person books, but I tend to shy away from them. Hell's Belles is a first-person narrative from the view of Jezebel. There is no POV hopping and it creates an intimate connection with one of the most interesting characters I've come in contact with recently.

Jezebel has fled from hell and is on the lamb. She's borrowed the appearance of a witch and has an added safety precaution in the form of a handy medallion. The necklace protects her from evil, but not her friends. Jezebel is fascinating with her observations of human emotion and she's definitely a naughty little succubus. She is everything I would expect a succubus to be and Jackie presents her perfectly. From the instant Jezebel meets Paul Hamilton she is drawn in a way she can't fully understand. With visits from her best friend, who happens to be a Fury, and her best pal, a naughty little incubus, we get to see Jezebel in the middle of two worlds. We experience her growth of humanity and compassion. We see her realization that she is in love with a mortal man.

The story becomes tense when the highest ranks of hell are at her heels and her medallion gets ripped from her being. She must choose to flee or stay. The actual romance between Jezebel and Paul is minor when compared with many of the standard romance novels on the shelves today. The author's voice is strong, the pace is fast and the read is smooth. The wit and humor comes off the pages in waves. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Hell's Belles. I've got quite a few favorite lines I'd like to share with you... but I'm afraid Jezebel uses some colorful language and it's probably best to just let you see for yourself! I won't give away too many secrets because I hope you pick up this book and give it a read. A price tag of $15.00 is a little more than most of the paperbacks out right now... but I think it's worth it!

You can check out Jackie's blog to meet the author and learn more about the world of Jezebel!

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Attack. Of.... the book review!!!

So... what's up with the sudden focus on book reviews?

Well, first of all, a writer - especially a developing one - should read frequently to help develop voice, style, structure, etc. Practice through example and all that.

Secondly, It's time for the Debut a Debut contest!!! I'm going to be reading and writing reviews! Not that I get any of the prizes... but Susan and I started this contest because we love to read and we especially love debut authors.

Check back later for a new book review!

Also, I'll be a guest blogger over on the Writer's Block today.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

To Say Goodbye...

is very sad.

Any regular visitor of my site knows that I'm a little nutty about writing. I've always been a voracious reader. But, I've not always loved the act of writing. In fact, while I loved to read... I would shudder at the thought of an English class: commas, semicolons, subordinate clauses, diagrams, past present participles, adverbs, adjectives, find the metaphor, what's the simile here... blah, blah, blah. I hated it. Because I was smart and could read faster and comprehend more than my other classmates I always advanced and received high grades. But - grammar and mechanics did NOT come naturally to me. In fact, I still struggle with them and it's one of my weaknesses that I have to monitor while I'm working on a manuscript.

I hated English...

until my senior year of high school.

I was placed in AP English with Mrs. Noland. Curly short hair topped a cherubic face. Her dresses often made me think of the older gingham ones, and she always had a pin of some kind on her chest. From her tutelage I developed a passion for the written word. I didn't have to be an expert to enjoy it. English could be fun. Many times I felt the lightbulb brighten above my head. In my senior year I was convinced that my calling was in education. I wanted to be a high school English teacher - just like her.

One of my old classmates just emailed me. Mrs. Nolan lost a battle with cancer and passed away the day before yesterday. I have thought of her often over the years. She was the teacher that did not just teach my mind... she taught my soul.

I wanted to share part of a letter she wrote for me when I was applying to college. She wrote:

"...I realized that Erica was an excellent student of literature, an astute reader, and a very sensitive human being. She is excited about learning. She admired some authors we studied and gave profound reasons for the ones she did not like. She particularly respected those authors whose ideas supported the dignity of the human spirit. She is a tenacious student, who refines an idea until she is comfortable with it, not merely until it earns a grade...

Perhaps Erica's ability to lead and to work so well with people is an outgrowth of sincere compassion for others fostered by her own circumstances. Perhaps she is simply as gifted with people as with ideas and academics..."

That letter touched me. I graduated from high school in 1995 and I've kept her letter because it meant so much to me. I know that letter not only got me accepted into several colleges, but it also helped me score some great scholarships. :)

I never mastered the skill of poetry, so even though my heart wants to write a suitable verse of poetic form to properly due her justice... I just can't bring the words together. So let me borrow some from Robert Frost

Nothing Gold Can Stay
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

For all of the teachers who try to enrich the lives of our youth, thank you. You do make a difference...

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13 items that tell me I'm a writer!
13. I am a passionate reader and I know that I could write as well as some of the books I read.
12. I'll be watching the news or reading an article and often one of my first thoughts is: "Would that be an interesting plot point in a novel?"
11. I have more than 6 books on how to write and I always seem to pick up another one. Although, if you have less than half a dozen you are just a wannabe! *wink*
10. I have put my work in front of complete strangers and then asked them to tell me how bad it is.
9. I have started talking about a story idea and 10 minutes later realized that I was talking louder and faster as I became more passionate about the details of my story... and noticed the person listening to me had a glazed look of complete disinterest.
8. I have talked about make believe people as if they were "real" life friends and family members.
7. I have sat in front of my computer and spent hours working on a particular scene.
6. I've tried to learn and practice and learn and practice and learn and practice the craft of writing. So many hours that could have been spent on family time, house work, exercising, reading, and I do not regret my choice.
5. I write, therefore I am.
4. The stacks of plot ideas and character notes that surround me. - on my desk, in my file cabinet, in folders on my computer, in hard copy stacks placed in colored plastic sleeves.....
3. The fact that completing a novel is one of my life's goals. There are so many goals that I can have... and that is #1 for me.
2. I love writing. I love it. Love it. Love.
1. The voices in my head say so.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Michael Crichton's Next: A Book Review

Don't worry, I'm still reading Hell's Belles and I'm definitely going to share my thoughts of it with you! I was sick yesterday though and I decided to finish a book I got for Christmas. I finished up Michael Crichton's Next.

I am a fan of Crichton. I periodically read the Jurassic Park novels and Sphere has to be one of my favorites. Often his books are complex - mixing science, technology and an interesting flavor of character. Many times his books carry a theme or a message; Next is no exception. In fact, if I were to name a fictional book as a call to action - this would be one near (if not at) the top of the list.

There is no subtlety in Next. The situations the characters face are almost extreme in the absurdity, at first you scoff and then begin to experience a sense of worry. He not only brings you face to face with disturbing situations on gene therapy, genetic patents, etc... but he also reaches out of the book and bonks you on the forehead. "WAKE UP!" He says.

So, what are these messages you ask? Don't worry. In case you can't read between the lines of the novel, Crichton provides a nice synopsis of his points in his author notes.

1. Stop Patenting Genes
2. Establish clear guidelines for the use of human tissues
3. Pass laws to ensure that data about gene testing is made public
4. Avoid bans on research
5. Rescind the Bayh-Dole Act

Yes, yes, this is all good - but what about the story? Is it a good read?

I'll be honest the story bounces between several characters and a couple of times I lost which character I was reading about. I had to stop and think, "ok, is this the scientist doing the illegal testing...", or "is this the lab president who has some wierd thing about solving his secretary's frigidness". There is a bounty hunter and his assistant. There is a father, a daughter and her son. There is a family... wait, there are a couple of families. While I found myself a little lost from time to time, I was still hooked. I was reading for the result and the message. I didn't really care which character it was because I wasn't emotionally involved with that particular character. Although, I was emotionally attached to the Burnetts.

The Burnett family has an interesting role in the story of Next. The father develops cancer, he recovers with medical treatment, and unbeknownst to him - the doctor uses his cells in research. The father's cells are special and some interesting legal situations develop. I also enjoyed the transgenic twists within the story and enjoyed the transgenic creatures, in fact, I think I may have liked them the most. (Which doesn't surprise me if that is the intended reaction.) I won't go over the plot because it's not something easily paraphrased and this is a book that has a bigger "punch" when you read it without knowing too many details.

I do admit to getting angry and disgusted a few times and that's why I say it is a "call to action". If you sit down to read a book for simple enjoyment and you find yourself having an emotional reaction to the message behind the story (rather than just loving a character) - it has moved you. It has made you think and maybe it will influence a decision you make... or perhaps get you involved in changing our society.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Monday's Writing Inspiration

The Flu

The Flu Sucks

I have the flu. Yes, it sucks. My brain is a quivering glob of grey matter, the synapses are not firing. So, instead of writing something witty, informative or clever... I've decided to let you do it for me. Here you go, a writing prompt to get creative!

Write a 200 to 500 word post that matches one of the following ideas:

1. The REAL history of the Flu
2. A fabricated news release of the newest Flu strand and it's potential to kill, save, cure, mutate(or whatever strikes your fancy) the human, pet, fish, mammal(you get the idea) species
3. Someone just created the cure for the flu - how'd they do it
4. The steps and remedies someone might take to cure themself of the flu (make em up, search old wives tales, share the secrets of your Uncle Lu - whatever)

Post them in my comments, post it on your blog... whatever you like. If you participate, let me know. I'll link my favorites here for others to read.

Maybe the one I like the most will get a prize or something.

I'm going back to bed now!


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Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Next American... Writer!!!

Bet you didn't know they were secretly filming us did ya?

Friday, February 02, 2007

What do your dreams mean?

What Your Dreams Mean...

Your dreams seem to show that you're a bit disturbed... but nothing serious.

You may have a problem you're trying to work out in your sleep.

Overall, you are very content in your life.

You tend to be a very productive thinker.

Your dreams tend to reflect your insecurities.

You have a very vivid imagination and a rich creative mind.

You secretly want to hide your dreams from your waking mind.

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