Tuesday, December 20, 2011

BlogTalk Radio stardom, and pausing for the holidays.

Business first:  Over on the left and a little bit below, you'll see a link to BlogTalk Radio.  That's because I was a guest on Book Bags and Cat Naps blogger Donna Brown's Christmas show tonight.  Donna runs Adopt an Indie, and because I'm participating in AAI in February, I was invited to be on her podcast tonight to talk about SwanSong.  To be honest, I was a little surprised at how much fun I had; after so many years of being in control of the interview, it was kind of refreshing to be on the other side of the microphone.

Anyway, if you missed the show when it aired live, you can click the link and download it.  It's a two-hour show and my segment is near the start of the second hour.

Oh, yeah, so about Adopt an Indie:  Sometime next month, the site for the February event will go live.  I encourage you to stop by and look through the books on offer, and if you're so inclined, offer to "adopt" one for the month of February.  Basically, you're pledging to read the book, and then either blog about it or submit questions for an author interview to be posted on Donna's blog.  It doesn't cost anything (even your "review copy" is free).  The idea is to promote indie publishing -- to help dispel the mistaken notion that all self-published authors are so awful that they couldn't get a publishing contract to save their lives.  This is the last AAI that Donna's going to do for awhile, so now's your chance.  I'll let you know when the site is live.

And yes, all this is happening at the same time as the craziness of the holidays.  We are deep into the cookie-baking and gift-wrapping frenzy here at La Casa Cantwell.  I spent yesterday bouncing back and forth between the kitchen and my bedroom, where I was wrapping gifts on the floor.  (Why the floor?  More room, of course.)  At one point, my daughter said it looked like the wrapping paper container had thrown up all over my room -- which was not a bad description.

Anyway, Yule:  This is the name Neopagans uses for the winter solstice.  In some traditions, the old God dies at Samhain (Halloween) and is reborn of the Goddess at Yule, the son and the sun returning on the same day.  Other traditions consider Yule the day the Holly King ends his six-month rule and turns things over to the Oak King for the next six months.  But all traditions see Yule as a day of rejoicing for the return of the Light.  It's also a day out of time -- a day to pause, after all the preparations, and mark the turning of the Wheel.

I wrote this Yule poem a couple of years ago.
Traffic lights
Tarmac lights
Headlights
Stop!

Stop
Just for a moment
And savor the season.

Tree lights.
Hearth fire light.
Moonlight on snow.

Put out the flame
At one end of your candle
And
just
Be.
Happy holidays, everyone.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Amazon wants to be your ONLY bookstore.

I got a check in the mail this week from my friends at Amazon, for royalties from the launch of SwanSong.  (Thanks for buying it, everybody!)  So I'm disposed to be cheerful toward them right now.  But they're not making it very easy.

First up this week was an e-mail from Kindle Direct Publishing, announcing a program called "KDP Select."  Amazon has set aside a fund for author reimbursement for titles borrowed from the new Kindle Lending Library.  All I have to do is enroll my book in the program, and I can get a chunk of that fund (based on the number of times my book is "borrowed" compared to the number of books participating).  Sounds like a no-brainer, right? 

Well, there's a catch.  I would have to make my book exclusive to Amazon for 90 days.  Which is to say that I would have to unpublish it at Smashwords, and anywhere else I might have made it available for sale -- even on my own website, assuming I sold my books here.  (Interestingly, unpublishing at Smashwords doesn't necessarily mean my book would be unavailable anywhere but the Kindle Store. That's because Smashwords acts as a distribution hub for a number of other e-bookstores, including Barnes and Noble's Nook store, the Sony Reader Store, and iBooks, and it would take several weeks for all of them to take down my book's listing on their sites.)

I've also heard that Amazon's not making it easy for authors who publish new works on KDP to opt out of the lending program.  Apparently, they've kind of hidden the button.  (I bet you were surprised, huh?)

Then Friday comes an announcement from Amazon about its new Price Check app for smartphones.  With this app, you can scan the barcode for an item at a brick-and-mortar store, and Amazon will tell you what it would charge you for it -- and, of course, will allow you to place an order immediately.  So far, you can't buy books this way.  But independent booksellers are already complaining.  For one thing, they stock puzzles, games, and other items that are eligible for the Price Check app.  But the real problem is that small local businesses can't afford to sell stuff as cheaply as Amazon does -- they don't do the same kind of volume, obviously, but they also have brick-and-mortar expenses that Amazon doesn't have.  Independent booksellers are accusing Amazon of encouraging its customers to use their stores as a "showroom":  test drive the item in person, then order it cheaper online.  Some are even going so far as to reward customers who can prove they've cancelled their Amazon account.

I'm not inclined to go that far.  Amazon has an amazing selection of stuff, a decent distribution system, and good customer service.  But its current business model does seem troubling, and I don't think "predatory" is too strong a word for it.  We've seen all this before, of course, when the Wal*Marting of America a few decades back caused the deaths of so many small-town downtowns.  And Amazon has already proven itself capable of taking down behemoths:  witness the death of Borders earlier this year.

Isn't this the kind of corporate behavior that Occupy Wall Street has been about?

I like doing business with Amazon.  I just hope they have the sense to rein in their winner-take-all ambition soon.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Knitting, or: my other creative outlet.

I'm letting the NaNo novel "ripen" (take that how you will!) for a few weeks before plunging into the editing process.  The less fresh any stupidities are in my mind, the thinking goes, the easier it will be to spot them.  In the meantime, I'm knitting.

The Washington Post ran an op-ed piece last weekend about twentysomethings taking up crafts, including knitting, that their mothers and grandmothers wouldn't have touched with a ten-foot pole.  The writer came up with various reasons for it, feminism chief among them.  I don't know which feminists she's been talking to, but this feminist has been crafting since she was a kid.  I was doing embroidery before I was ten, sewing and crewelwork in my teens, needlepoint in my twenties.  In short, I was crafting before crafting was cool.

I also doubt that the author has stepped away from her jam-making to visit a local yarn shop, or she would have noticed that it's not just twentysomethings who are picking up needles.  I didn't learn to knit 'til I was in my forties, and I'm certainly not the only knitter coming late to the game.  I think one reason middle-aged women are getting into it, or getting back into it, is that nicer yarns are more readily available.  There are only so many things you can make with the cheap acrylic worsted in brassy colors at the chain crafts stores.  But these days, you can walk into an independently-owned yarn shop (or find one on teh intarwebz) and oooh and aaah over handpainted and subtly shaded yarns in colors that don't look like they came from your kid's crayon box.  And older knitters have the cash to pay the premium prices for these yarns.

I have my own theory about why these homey crafts are becoming popular again.  A lot of us spend our working lives in an office, pushing (virtual) paper or answering phones.  You don't create much of anything tangible at a job like that.  I suppose you could tally up the number of calls you answered or e-mails you sent, but it's not like you can take them home and hang them on the wall.  Radio news is even more ephemeral -- you write a script, you read it on the air, and poof!  It's gone forever.  You can save scripts or tapes, sure, but who would be interested in them next week or next year?  By contrast, crafts allow you to make something to hang onto.  The hat I made in a day last weekend will still keep my head warm several years from now.  Talk about longevity.

The author of the article got at least one thing right:  women enjoy doing crafts today because we don't have to.  When I was teaching myself colorwork, I did a little reading about the women who invented Fair Isle sweaters.  They were churning out a sweater a week, using skinny yarns in intricate patterns, to supplement their household income.  A sweater a week!  I can't imagine they were having much fun.  And I would bet you money that they never picked up the needles for relaxation.


Speaking of money, I have a friend who's been after me to set up an Etsy site for my knitting.  I think I've finally convinced her it wouldn't be worth it.  Once you add up the cost of the yarn and something approaching a reasonable hourly rate for the labor, the item would be so expensive that nobody would buy it.  In addition, I suspect I would end up like those Fair Isle women, having all the joy sucked out of the craft in order to make a quota.

I have noticed something else about my own knitting: when I wasn't writing regularly, my knitting projects were much more creative.  I have been known to sit down with graph paper, yarn and needles, and devise my own colorwork pattern.  It's been quite awhile since I've done that; in fact, lately I've been downloading a lot of ready-made patterns.  It's not that invent-your-own-design knitting isn't fun for me any more -- I think it's just that lately I'm flexing my creative muscles in other ways.

And when it comes to writing and publishing e-books, the materials costs are negligible, storage space is minimal, and the inventory is inexhaustible.  Sounds, to me, like a much better return on my investment.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Success! and a review.

First:  It's not official yet (i.e., I haven't yet dumped my novel into the validating software), but my NaNo novel topped the 50,000 word mark earlier this week.  Go me!

Second:  Besides being NaNoWriMo, November is also Adopt an Indie Month.  This effort was begun (as I understand it) by a lovely lady in the UK.  The idea is that authors can submit their books for review, and then bloggers and other readers can "adopt" the book and review it.  I found out too late to submit SwanSong this year, but I did agree to adopt another book.  That book is called Finder, by Terri-Lynne DeFino.

Finder is an epic fantasy with a romantic twist.  The main character is Ethen, the Finder of the title.  Ethen has a talent for Finding things or people.  He can hold something related to the lost item, and in his mind's eye he will see an image of its location and maps that will lead him there.  That ability leads him from a life on the streets to a life of ease, but on the way, he finds and loses something very precious to him -- his soul mate, Zihariel.  She is a renowned musician whose playing evokes strong emotions in anyone who hears her.  She is also a pooni, a race enslaved by the ruling Therks.  When she runs away from her master, he hires Ethen to Find her.

I very much enjoyed this novel, especially the second half, when Ethen and Ziharial are no longer callow youths beset by their first big rush of hormones.  So many fantasies follow the track of the hero myth -- child (usually a boy), destined for greatness, sets out on an epic quest to find (insert magical object here) and finds him/herself in the process.  It's refreshing to read a story, especially a love story, that features characters in their prime.

The love story is set against a backdrop of a desert kingdom in which spices are a controlled substance and participating in the spice black market can get one killed.  This secondary plot is what drives the novel to a satisfying conclusion.  Go and find Finder -- I think you'll like it, too.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I knew this would happen, or: NaNo update for week, uh, 4.

So much for posting once a week.  Sorry about that.  I've gotten so wrapped in writing this year's NaNoWriMo novel that I've neglected just about everything else -- including the blog.  But the end is in sight; there's light at the end of the tunnel and I'm hoping it's not an oncoming train. 

But really, I ought to get some kind of pass for having written nearly 47,000 words in just three weeks.  Yes, that's right, it's not even Thanksgiving yet and I am within shouting distance of the NaNo winner's circle.  If I had only started my writing career sooner, and been able to keep up this pace, I could have been another Joyce Carol Oates.  Output-wise, at least.

Okay, I'll stop patting myself on the back now, lest I break my arm and miss the deadline, after all.  ("I coulda been a contender….")

I am trying my hand at urban fantasy this time.  It's a little different than the previous two books in that the details need to be not just plausible, but anchored pretty firmly in reality.  I'm doing a lot more googling with this one than I have with the previous books.  It doesn't help that I picked, as the main setting, a place I haven't lived in for more than ten years.  (All I can say is:  thank the gods for Google Earth!  What did we do before the intarwebz, anyway?  I'll tell you what we did:  we lived in ignorance and fear, that's what we did.  Mark my words, someday the pre-intarwebz era will be known as the New Dark Ages.) 

Also, unlike SwanSong and The Maidens' War, this book is not modeled, either in whole or in part, on a myth or legend.  That's scary in one way -- I had to write a story arc because there was no existing framework to hang my plot on.  But  in another way, it's freeing.  This story is all mine.  I can do whatever I want with it, muahaha.  (I actually found myself grinning the other day because I'd realized that this book doesn't have to end tragically!)

And it's easier to write because I don't have to weigh whether to invent a new noun for every stinkin' thing.  I don't have to worry about what this fictional culture would call a cassava melon, for example; they would call it a cassava melon.  (Not that there are any cassava melons in the book.  Let alone any that are integral to the plot.  Muahaha.)

Anyway, rest assured that I haven't forgotten about this blog.  I promise I'll be back on track, writing once a week, from here on out.  And look for the new book (whose name I promise to post just as soon as I figure out what it is…) from yer major intarwebz booksellers sometime in spring 2012.

Oh, and happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

We pause during NaNo for station identification or: can I put this post toward my word count?

First, a follow-up:  World Fantasy Convention 2011 was a great time.  I got to meet several of the most awesome authors in fantasy writing, including Neil Gaiman (who I mentioned last time), Graham Joyce (you may not have heard of him, but I love his stuff, and I nearly squee'd when he signed my book), and Peter S. Beagle.  I sat next to Steve Rasnic Tem at the banquet -- I admit I'd never heard of him before, but he's an award winning author, and we had a nice conversation about what metafiction is and is not.  I got to watch Charlaine Harris (who writes the Sookie Stackhouse urban fantasy series) get out of a queue to introduce herself to Connie Willis.

And then I went back to work, where one of my bosses admitted she didn't know who Neil Gaiman was.

But in the interim, between flying back from Never-Never Land on Monday and crashing back to Real Life on Wednesday, I had a day off -- a day that just so happened to be November 1st, also known as the first day of National Novel Writing Month.  So I waited 'til my daughter went to work, and then I booted up the computer and started writing.  Ahhhh.

What usually happens, on the first day of NaNoWriMo, is that I find myself out of town, or otherwise unable to start working on my novel on day one.  And then I spend the rest of the month feeling like I'm playing catch-up.  But this year, not only did I start on the first day, but I had all my pre-planning out of the way, and a whole day to make headway.  The result:  a comfortable word-count cushion for the inevitable days I will have to take off.  And needless to say, there have been a few since then.  Sunday, I stayed at book club much longer than I anticipated.  Last night, after work, I needed to go grocery shopping.  Tonight, I voted after work, and then my daughter and I went out to eat, and now I'm writing this post.  So it's been a little frustrating.  I still have a pretty good cushion, but it will diminish rapidly if I don't clear my schedule again.

So!  Tomorrow night, nobody tempt me with movies or conversations or shiny websites, okay?  Because I will be writing.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

World Fantasy Convention 2011, or: my inner fangrrl is squeeing.

Pardon me while I grin like an idiot for awhile.  I'm wrapping up day two at this year's World Fantasy Convention, and even though I didn't get put on a panel this year and didn't have time to set up at the mass author signing, I'm still having a terrific time.

One of the best events I've attended so far was a "conversation" -- really, a two-person panel -- comprised of Neil Gaiman and Connie Willis.  Gaiman, who is one of this year's guests of honor, is a fantasy fiction rock star; he's written the "Sandman" graphic novels and several more traditional novels, including Anansi Boys and American Gods.  (To give you an idea of just how big a deal Gaiman is:  the reason I didn't have time to set up for the mass autographing session was because I spent nearly an hour in line, waiting to get Gaiman to sign my copy of the tenth anniversary edition of American Gods.  And I started out near the front of the line.)  Willis, who is the toastmistress this year, has written several excellent novels, including Doomsday Book and Lincoln's Dreams.  Toward the end of their panel, they were each asked to provide some advice for aspiring writers, which I've decided to share here.

Gaiman began by quoting Robert Heinlein's rules for writing.  Paraphrased, they are:
  1. Write.
  2. Finish what you write.
  3. Don't rewrite unless an editor tells you to.
  4. Send off what you write.
  5. Repeat from the top.
Number 1 validates a rule I've heard elsewhere:  to be a writer, you must apply the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair, and write.  Writing, like anything else, takes practice.  That means you actually have to do it.

Number 2 is designed to keep you going through the hard parts.  Everybody starts strong and gets bogged down somewhere in the middle of the story.  Everybody has good days, where the writing flows easily and every word seems like a gem, and the bad days, where it's like pulling teeth to get words out onto the page and you feel like everything you've written stinks.  Gaiman says he has both good and bad days, too.  But he says that when he reviews the galley proof when it comes back from the publisher, he can't tell which pages he wrote on a good day and which he wrote on a bad day.  So the quality of your writing doesn't vary from day to day as much as you think it does -- a great insight, I thought, that could help someone through a particularly unmotivated day.

Number 3 will help avoid another common pitfall:  constantly rewriting the same few sentences or paragraphs to make them ""better," thereby stalling the whole project.  It's also good advice for a writer who has handed his or her work to some readers and asked for their input.  If one person says you've got a problem here, or you need more description there, well, trust your gut; if you don't think they're right, don't change your work just to suit them.  If a number of people point out the same problem, though, or if an editor tells you that something needs a rewrite, then by all means, fix it.

Number 4, obviously, will prevent you from sticking your work in a drawer.  It will never be published if you don't send it out.  And number 5 gives you something to do while you're waiting to hear back on number 4.

Willis's advice reinforced those two final rules of Heinlein's.  She said that new writers should never give up.  She told of one particularly bleak day, early in her career, on which she received a notice from the post office that she had a package waiting.  Alas, it wasn't one package, it was eight packages -- all eight of her stories that she had submitted to various publishers had been returned, rejected, on the same day.  She admitted that she thought, that day, that maybe she should pursue a different career.  But she didn't give up, and clearly she eventually succeeded.

Gaiman's final bit of advice was to read outside your comfort zone.  If you typically read fantasy, say, then pick up something in another genre, or even a non-fiction book -- just so long as you push your boundaries.  You might learn a new trick or two, or gain a new insight or new inspiration for your own work.

This whole convention is a great lead-in, for me, to NaNoWriMo, which starts in just a couple of days.  I'm looking forward to beginning my own new writing adventure.  Here's hoping the high from this weekend carries over, for me, into drear November.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Shine, greed, and some stuff about the NaNo novel.

I am bemused by the effrontery of various People in High Places these days.  First, of course, is the reaction of the One Percent to the 99 Percent protestors currently clogging up the parks across from their high-priced-real-estate-type offices.  I'll get to that in a minute.

In addition, though, there's the brouhaha over at the National Book Awards.  The nominating panel for the Young Adult books phoned in its nominations, some poor secretary at the other end of the phone wrote down Shine when he or she should have written down Chime, and nobody caught the mistake 'til the nominations were announced.  A couple of hours after the announcement, Chime was hastily added to the list of nominees.  But that made six nominees when there were only supposed to be five.  That must have bothered some folks, because then ensued a public back-and-forth over whether Shine deserved a nomination.

You can imagine how Lauren Myrakle, who wrote Shine, must have been feeling at this point.

But wait, it gets better.  The head of the National Book Foundation then called Ms. Myrakle and asked her to recuse herself and her book, "to preserve the integrity of the award," as if the award had any integrity left by then.  Keep in mind, if you please, that Shine is about a hate crime against a gay teenager -- kind of hot-button stuff.

It's all kind of amazingly unbelievable.  But everybody's got a blog these days, including a YA author named Libba Bray, who also happens to be married to Ms. Myrakle's agent.  She tells the whole story better than I ever could.  Here's a link to her post.  (The link will take you to Tamora Pierce's reply to the post.  Just scroll up the page.  And if you don't know who Tamora Pierce is, you should.  Her Alanna books ought to be required reading for tween girls.)

Okay, back to the 99 Percent.  I said I wasn't going to get into politics on this blog, but I don't think I'm going too far down that slippery slope by saying that the One Percent, and the money behind them, are going to do everything they can in coming weeks to undermine and fracture the coalition that Occupy Wall Street is building.  The ruling class really likes ruling, and it's not going to give up without a fight.

I flatter myself that I've been ahead of the curve on this 99 Percent thing.  I've felt for several years now that a lot of us have gotten the short end of the stick on the American Dream -- that we did what we were supposed to, and the system betrayed us.

Now don't worry, the novel I'm writing for NaNoWriMo won't be a polemic.  But one of the underlying issues in this book (assuming it pans out the way I'm planning!) will be greed:  what it is, how it gets out of hand, and whether there's a way to stop it.

For Christians, greed is a deadly sin; for Pagans, it's not that simple.  Our one and only moral rule is "if it harms no one, do what you will."  And I tend to object on general principles to the sort of black-and-white thinking that proclaims absolutes like "Greed is Evil!"  I'm coming to the conclusion (with the help of friends at kevinswatch.com) that greed is the extreme end of a continuum that starts with healthy emotions like ambition and desire.  Which means there ought to be a way to bring the greedy back to a normal, healthy emotional state without threatening them with burning in hell (especially since Pagans don't believe in hell).

I've yet to figure out how to do it in real life.  But I suspect that in the book, I'll have to resort to magic....

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

More power! And some other stuff.

I did a little bookshelf spelunking after posting the last blog entry.  Turns out it was Mervin Block who wrote the tip about the power position in a sentence.  And I misspoke (miswrote?) a little bit -- it's the last word or words of a sentence that stick with your reader.  Number 22 of his Top Tips of the Trade is:  
Put the word or words you want to emphasize at the end of your sentence. And don't take the edge off by ending it with weak, incidental or irrelevant words.
That's number 22 of 33, by the way.  He's also got a chapter called "The Dozen Deadly Sins," and another called "Venial Sins."  Some of his points are specific to writing for broadcast, but many can be applied equally to any type of writing.  Now that I've unearthed the book again, I'll probably post more of his advice from time to time.

Okay, glad that's straightened out.  I feel better now.

I've got a couple of big upcoming events that I wanted to mention.  First, I'll be attending the World Fantasy Convention in San Diego at the end of this month.  I was honored to participate in a panel discussion last year.  Hopefully I will get to do it again this year.  If not, I will definitely participate in the mass book signing Friday night.  Just in case, y'know, you're going, too.

Second, I wanted to put in a quick plug for National Novel Writing Month, which runs from Nov. 1 to Nov. 30.  This will be my third NaNoWriMo.  The goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days, which works out to 1,667 words per day.  It's a lot of work, but it's also a lot of fun.  And if you've ever thought to yourself, "I should write a book!" -- this could be the opportunity you've been looking for.  Even if you don't win, you'll be farther along on your Great American Novel than you were before.  Go to nanowrimo.org to sign up.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The final word, or: you've got the power.

Once upon a time, many years ago, when the kids were younger but no less goofy than they are today, I was driving us home from a visit to my mother in America's Heartland.  We'd been on the road for a long time -- it was about a twelve-hour drive from our house to Mom's, and I was in the habit of driving it straight through to save on hotels -- and we were all getting a little punchy.  As we drove through West Virginia, the girls decided it would be fun to pester Mom while she was driving.  I have no memory of what they said or did, but my response has gone down in the annals of family lore:  doing my very best impression of an Appalachian tour bus driver, I intoned, "Do not annoy the driver.  The driver is here for your comfort and safety."

Gales of laughter ensued, and we made it home without killing each other, which was the point.

Later, on another trip, the kids got rambunctious again, and again I trotted out my Appalachian tour bus driver schtick.  Through the giggles, one of the kids said, "Mom, shouldn't it be 'safety and comfort'?"  And I told her, "No, the last word has to be 'safety,' because that's the driver's biggest responsibility.  You always put the most important thing at the end of the sentence.  The last word is the power position."

I couldn't tell you where I picked up this little bit of writerly wisdom.  It might have been at some seminar for broadcast news writing, or from Ed Bliss's Writing News for Broadcast, or from Mervin Block's Writing Broadcast News Shorter, Sharper, Stronger.  But regardless of whether you're writing for the ear or for the eye, it's true:  The final word of your sentence is in the power position.  That's the thing your readers (or listeners) will take away with them.

If you think about it, it makes sense:  the last thing you hear or see is the thing you tend to remember.  If you've ever played that party game where a bunch of things are arrayed on a tray, you know what I'm talking about.  Somebody whisks off the cover of the tray and you get to look at it for a short period of time; then the cover is replaced, and you're supposed to make a list of all the things on the tray.  It's easy to remember the very last thing you saw, and probably the first thing, as well.  But listing the others is a struggle.

As you might have guessed from my analogy of the memory game, the first word in your sentence is in a pretty important position, too.  And I'm not denigrating any of the other words you might put in a sentence -- they all have a job to do.  But if you've got an idea or a concept that you want your readers to take home with them, put it in the power position.  And conversely, make sure that your final word is the one you want your readers to take away.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

In defense of commas, or: The homicidal panda.

We had a short digression of a discussion about comma usage at the Fiction Writers Guild board on LinkedIn the other day, and it reminded me of how much I miss the little fella.

Oh, sure, people still use commas.  Sometimes, if you're very lucky, you'll even see them used properly.  But like other niceties of our written language, the comma is beginning to go the way of many of the other punctuation rules I learned back when I was just a teeny writer.

Lynne Truss championed the comma back in 2004 with her book Eats, Shoots and Leaves.  The title, in case you've never read the book, refers to a joke about a panda in a cafe.  The panda sits down at the table, orders and eats a sandwich, fires a gun into the air, and heads for the door.  The mystified waiter picks up the wildlife guide the panda has left behind, turns to the bookmark, and reads:  "Panda.  Large, black-and-white mammal native to China.  Eats, shoots and leaves."

The punch line, of course, contains a comma that doesn't need to be there.  What I'm finding more often these days is not an extraneous comma, but one that's MIA.

Take, for example, your standard e-mail salutation.  Say you're writing to your friend Sally.  If you think to include a salutation at all (which is doubtful, but that's a different rant), you're likely to start with "hi" and then your friend's name, like so:  "Hi Sally!"  Right?

Right.  But technically, there ought to be a comma in there:  "Hi, Sally!"

There's some fusty old grammar rule for it, which I will leave you to look up for yourself.  The point is that the comma ought to be there, but it's gone, kaput, seeyabye.  Read the two sentences aloud.  Doesn't it feel like there ought to be a pause there, between the "hi" and the "Sally"?  That if you drop the comma, you could be misinterpreted as making a statement about Sally's intoxication level?

Commas indicate a pause.  We're supposed to stop there and take a breath before going on.  (Believe me, I know what a temptation it is to skip the pause.  Back in my radio days, I had the habit of reading right past commas on the air.  I had to replace them with ellipses in my copy...like so...or I would forget to pause.)

Commas also set off certain elements of the sentence from certain other elements of the sentence, for the sake of clarity.  If for example I dropped all the commas out of this sentence it would be damned hard to make out -- you could do it but it wouldn't be much fun would it?  You might even have to go back and read it again to figure out where the commas should have gone.  You might even be seized with a desire to track down the author and hurt her, depending on the number of times you had to reread the sentence.

Sometimes commas should come in pairs, but don't any more.  I am more and more regularly seeing dates written this way:  "On May 25, 2010 we received a letter from you...."  Again, read it aloud.  Don't you hear yourself pausing after "2010"?  Then where's the comma?  You think you're done because you put in one before "2010"?  Au contraire, mon ami.  You need them both.

Of course, the debate about the serial comma, also known as the Oxford comma, still rages.  This would be the comma before the "and" in a series:  lions, tigers(,) and bears, oh my!  Style guides vary.  To be honest, so do I; if the sentence seems clearer with it, I'll use it.  Otherwise I revert to AP style, which leaves it out.

I will admit that I sometimes overuse commas.  I like to make it very clear where the pauses are, particularly in fiction, in which a comma can make or break the rhythm of the sentence.  You can quote rulebooks all day long, but for me, the comma's most important function is to add clarity.  Please, for the love of the gods, use 'em.  Don't make me track down that panda with the gun.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

One more bit of shameless self-promotion.

In response to popular demand -- well, a couple of people have asked, anyway -- SwanSong is now available in a paperback version on Amazon.  You can also order the paperback here.  (Psst -- the author gets a bigger royalty if you buy at the second link.)

And one more request:  if you read it and like it, I'd appreciate a review.  Thanks!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mabon: the second harvest.

Tomorrow is Mabon -- the fall equinox and one of the eight sabbats, or holidays, in the Neopagan calendar.  It's one of the two days each year during which the hours of daylight equal the hours of darkness.  So Mabon (along with the spring equinox, which is called Ostara) is about balance.  Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the days have been getting shorter since June, but we've only begun to notice it over the past week or so. From here on out, though, it will become more obvious that we're heading toward the dark half of the year.  But for this one day, we can appreciate and celebrate both the dark and the light.

Mabon is also, in practical terms, a harvest holiday.  Gardens are almost all played out now: tomato plants are taking on that spindly, overgrown look; the window box full of flowers that looked kind of sparse in May and filled out so nicely in June (assuming you remembered to water it!) is crammed with greenery, most of the blooms spent (or maybe you've already replaced the old plants with mums).

In sum, Mabon is about both balance and the harvest.  So Pagan celebrations tend to center on a balanced evaluation of our own personal harvests.  We look back at where we were a year ago and how far we've come since then.  We think about our accomplishments, and we vow (once again!) to let the bad things in our lives go.

A year ago, I was preparing for my first World Fantasy Convention.  The Maidens' War had been out for just a few months -- the paperback was released just before I went to WFC -- and I was excited to be spending a weekend with some Watch friends and with other writers.  I got to be on a panel and everything!  It was so much fun!  And then I came home and went back to my real life, and realized how much more fulfilled I would be if I could go back to writing for a living.  It took me awhile to internalize that realization, as it was something of a paradigm shift. But looking back, WFC was really my first step onto the road I'm traveling now.  The road switchbacks up a mountain, and I'm only just now entering the foothills.  Climbing to the top won't be easy, and it won't be quick.  But it will be worth it.  I know this because every now and then, at a bend in the road, I get a glimpse of the view.

Blessed Mabon, and may your harvest be bountiful.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Tell me why I care, or: the plot thickens.

While I was waiting in line at the grocery store today, my eyes fell upon the latest copy of Oprah's magazine, and I found myself musing about why Oprah continues to be popular, even now that she has quit doing her syndicated show.  Sure, she's made buckets o' money with her media empire.  Yes, lots of women identify with her continuing struggle with her weight.  And she did a pretty good job of acting in "The Color Purple" and "Beloved".  But I think one of her key selling points is her rags-to-riches story.  We Americans love a good pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps yarn, and Oprah's is exactly that:  the poor, abused black girl who not only made it big, but who redefined the phrase.

Would Oprah be as big a star if it weren't for her backstory?  Maybe not.  She's made her humble beginnings so much a part of her persona that, in a way, we're still rooting for Oprah the Underdog -- even though she's a billionaire a couple of times over.  And of course, the story's not over yet -- another powerful reason to keep watching.

As writers, we can take away a few lessons from Oprah's world, and we don't even need to consult Dr. Phil for advice.
  1. Know your characters, and let your readers get to know them.  Maybe none of your characters is an underdog; nevertheless, they need to know why they should care about them.  We care about Oprah (well, some of us do) even though she's rich, partly because we identify with her weight problem.  It makes her seem human to us.  Make your characters well-rounded.  Make them human.
  2. Don't let characterization replace the plot.  Oprah's got a deep backstory, but she's moving forward and rising above it.  Now I know, I know -- literary novels often concentrate on characterization at the expense of the plot.  Some years back, on the strength of a good review, I picked up a novel by a well-respected author.  (The name of both book and author escape me now; perhaps it's just as well.)  The main characters were a middle-aged couple and their adult children.  As best as I can recall, the story involved the couple's sticking their noses into their children's lives and bailing them out of various scrapes.  Along the way, the parents' habits and prejudices were challenged in multiple ways.  And at the end of the book...the couple were back to business as usual.  They didn't grow or change; they didn't reconsider any of their opinions; and it was abundantly clear that they weren't going to stop sticking their noses into their kids' lives.  I nearly threw the book across the room.  I guess maybe you could classify story as a "charming character study," if the couple hadn't been so annoying.  As it was, what was the point of the book?
  3. Don't let plot usurp your character-building.  Oprah's current career trajectory wouldn't be nearly as compelling if she were a more private person.  If we didn't know (or didn't think we knew) so much about her, we wouldn't care as much about what happens next.  This is why most action movies bore me.  The filmmaker introduces us to the Reluctant Hero and the Girl In Danger (or maybe it's a Kid In Danger) and puts them into a situation where Stuff Blows Up Multiple Times.  Yawn.  So what if the girl is beautiful and the hero is attracted to her?  I need more information before I can get worked up enough to care about either one of them.  (Come to think of it, a deeper plot might intrigue me, too.  If all I'm after is one explosion after another, I could stay home and play a video game.)
So there you go -- plot and characters are equally important.  As a reader, I want to know the characters well enough to be emotionally invested in them.  I also want to see them challenged.  And then I want to see what effect that challenge has on them -- and there had better be an effect, or I'm going to be pretty annoyed with you.

Monday, September 12, 2011

More news! And a humble request.

I was pleasantly surprised to wake up this morning to an e-mail from Calderwood Books.  My first novel, The Maidens' War, is now available for the Kindle.

Also, if you've read either of my novels and enjoyed them, please consider clicking the links and leaving me a review at the Kindle Store.  Thanks!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Procrastination, or: Why Do Today What You Could Put Off 'Til November?

Wouldya lookit that -- I seem to have developed a nonfiction-book-type title system for my blog posts.  Or maybe it's more like the titles of upcoming episodes from the old "Rocky and Bullwinkle" show.  Anyway, I like it.  Let's see how long I can keep it up.

I don't technically have to write a new post 'til tomorrow.  But I have some uninterrupted time tonight, so I thought I'd give it a whirl.

Why, yes, I do believe I have put off starting the actual post long enough....

This topic came to me as I was looking over threads on the Fiction Writers Guild discussion board on LinkedIn.  Somebody posed the question:  How do you motivate yourself to write regularly?  I have not commented in that thread -- mostly because I'm really, really bad about writing regularly.

Writers are supposed to write a little bit every day, or every week.  Practice makes perfect, and all that.  But -- as embarrassing as it is to admit -- I don't do it.  Oh, I write every day, or nearly every day.  I post a lot at Kevin's Watch, which is a discussion board for fans of fantasy author Stephen R. Donaldson.  I check in at Ahira's Hangar, the Watch's sister site, once or twice a week.  Lately I've been posting a fair amount at the Fiction Writers Guild board.   And now I write a piece here every week.  But none of that is fiction; it's all pretty much just shooting off at the mouth.  So even though I'm writing every day, it kind of doesn't count.

It occurs to me as I sit here, mulling this over, that to get myself to write fiction, I need to be under the gun.  I kept up fine with workshops in grad school: when it was my turn to hand in a story, I churned one out on time.  And twice now, I've participated in NaNoWriMo, and both times I got a book out of it.

"What's NaNoWriMo?" you ask.  I am happy to tell you about it.  NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month.  It happens every November.  The goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days.  If you do it, you get a certificate to hang on your wall -- but more importantly, you get the first draft of your novella, or a substantial start on a longer work.

I am planning to do NaNo again this year, now that I have nothing left in the editing stage.  My 2008 NaNo novel was The Maidens' War; in 2009, it was SwanSong.  I skipped NaNo last year because I had so much work left to do on SwanSong.  But this year, the decks have been cleared.  I'm doing the preliminary research and planning for the new book now.  I'm hoping it will be the first in a series.

All of which is quite the wordy way of saying that I'm still not really writing any fiction right now.  Yes!  I'm putting it off 'til November!

Anyway, the key with NaNo, it occurs to me tonight, is not so much that it sets me a goal, but that it sets me a deadline.  It's not the 50,000 words -- it's the 50,000 words in a month.  It's the 1,667 words in a day, the 11,700 words in a week.  It's the deadline that makes NaNo work for me.

This is good news, because as I said, I'm hoping to make this book the first in a series, and I'd like to get on track to turn out two books in the series per year. (This is part of my fiendish plan to get more titles into publication quickly.  I've heard that if someone stumbles across your stuff and likes it, they may go back and buy a bunch of your titles at once.  This is supposedly how indie authors who are making lots of money at it are doing it -- they have a strong backlist.)  Two books a year is not as murderous a pace as it sounds.  Yes, it took me two years to polish and publish each of the first two novels, but that's because I let the manuscripts sit for months at a time in between rounds of editing.  I finished SwanSong when I did only because I wanted it off my plate before I started working on the next book.  In other words, I was under a deadline.  If I knew I wanted to start drafting Book Two in, say, May 2012, then I'd better not start the first draft of Book One during NaNo, finish it after the holidays, and then let it gather virtual dust for three months.

Anyway, I am going to try putting myself on the six-month plan this year.  We'll see how it goes.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Social media advertising, or: Today's a holiday, but I didn't get time and a half.

Happy Labor Day.  So far today, I've finished a sweater, taken a picture of it, uploaded the pic to Ravelry, and blogged there about the project.  I've also posted a reply in a writer's usergroup on LinkedIn.  And put up my first post on Kindleboards (mainly so I could add the SwanSong link to my sig).  And set up a fan page on Facebook.  And linked the Facebook fan page and my Goodreads author page to the Twitter account (which is a good thing, because I've admittedly not quite got the hang of Twitter yet), and linked this blog to, uh, something.  I think it was Facebook, but I'm not sure now -- I kinda got lost during the linking frenzy.

And then I realized I need to post here.  If it all works out, posting here will send a notice to the FB fan page, which will send a link to Twitter, which is already linked to my author page at Amazon.  Seamless integration is a fine thing, no?

Welcome to the brave new world of the indie author.

Yesterday, Amy and I stopped by our local Borders to see if there was anything left worth buying ("FINAL 10 DAYS!!!").  While hunting for books in the business section on mediation or negotiation (prep for this year's NaNo novel), we came across several books on advertising via social media.  I didn't buy any of them, tho -- I figure that as fast as things move on teh intarwebz, they'll all be outdated in a week or two.

I already know the basic theory anyhow:  "Blog it, and they will come."  Of course, everybody's blogging these days.  So the challenge is to rise above the noise.  There are various suggestions -- tweet every day (really?  I'm not that interesting, honest); set up a FB fan page and post every day; join a bunch of discussion boards and become a valued member by (wait for it) posting every day.  And link everything to everything else in a moebius strip of self-reference. I gotta tell ya, this is starting to sound suspiciously like work.  Plus I'm not sure that I won't end up just talking to myself and selling no books, after all.

Oh yeah, I'm also supposed to be writing books, so that I have something to sell!  [whacks forehead]

Oh yeah, I have to tell you about signing up for Goodreads.  When I put in my name, Goodreads said:  "Are you the Lynne Cantwell who wrote 'Best in Show'?"  And there it was, the cover art for one of my short stories at Calderwood Books.  So I said, "Why, yes, I am!" And then Goodreads said, "Would you like an author page on Goodreads?"  And I said, "Why not?"  So, hey presto, I have an author page on Goodreads.  No idea who put up the cover art for "Best in Show" -- nobody has rated the story.  In any case, it feels pretty good to have *one* page somewhere on the web with links to all my published fiction.  I guess I should put up the cover art to my stuff on my FB fan page, so that I have everything there, as well.  Sigh.

Okay, hitting "publish" now.  Let's see if this Rube Goldberg contraption I've built actually works.  And then maybe I'll go and knit some more.  Or maybe take a nap.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

More news, and an actual post.

First, the commercial:  As of today, SwanSong is now available for Kindle.  I'm working on getting a dead-tree version together.  I'll let you know when it's available.

Also, thanks to everybody who used my Smashwords coupon over the weekend!  I hope you enjoy the book.  If you do, please consider going back to Smashwords and leaving a short review.

Okay, phew, that's out of the way.  Thanks for your indulgence.
***
Shortly after I started this blog and committed to posting once a week, my Creative Brain went into hyperdrive.  "Oh boy, there are soooo many things I could talk about!  There's this, and this, and this -- I've got enough material for at least half a year!"  At that same time, a still, small voice -- a.k.a. Rational Brain -- said, "Y'know, you probably ought to write all of these great ideas down somewhere."  Alas, Responsible Brain, which is in charge of making lists and keeping me on track and whatnot, was at that precise moment distracted by the approach of Hurricane Irene.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Anyway, the List of Great Topics did not happen, so this week we will have to muddle along with a middling topic, which is:  Why Self-Publishing Is Not a Stupid Idea in Today's Publishing Environment.

Back in grade school, when I was just a little teeny writer, I saw an ad in our local paper from a "New York editor" who was coming to town to evaluate manuscripts for possible publication.  I pointed out the ad to my mom, who -- bless her heart -- actually called and made an appointment for me to see the guy.  So Mom and I met him in his hotel room (okay, it was a motel room -- my hometown didn't have any classy hotels) and he looked over my stuff.  To his credit, he gave me some decent on-the-spot advice about writing mysteries ("If you're going to end a chapter on a cliffhanger, don't continue the same scene on the very next page"), told me to keep writing, and sent us home without a contract.  I know now that it was probably a blessing because he represented a vanity publisher, and it would've cost Mom and Dad money to get my work published.

For decades, that's what self-publishing meant:  You paid a vanity press money to format your manuscript so that it looked like a real book and printed it for you, and then you paid them some more for copies of your book (some of which you sent to the relatives at Christmas and the rest of which languished in boxes in the garage).


At the same time, the real publishers, who paid you to publish your book, were still looking for, and signing, midlist authors:  writers whose books weren't bestsellers but which made the publisher enough money to justify publishing something else by the same writer.  It wasn't easy to break into print, but publishers back then were more willing to take a chance on somebody they'd never heard of.

That began to change (I am learning right now from Wikipedia) in 1979, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a tax case (Thor Power Tool Co. v. Commissioner, 439 U.S. 522 (1979)) that companies could not write off unsold inventory on their taxes simply because the stuff didn't sell.  Publishers, who were in the habit of keeping a lot of unsold books on hand, had to tighten up their inventory procedures.  In other words, they had to start concentrating on buying manuscripts that would sell.  This is why today, publishers prefer to buy manuscripts from authors who have made a name for themselves in some other arena:  politics, business, entertainment, whatever.  They figure the author's name recognition will help move books.

Pity the poor prospective midlist author in this environment.  If it was hard to break into publishing before Thor Power Tool, it was nearly impossible now.  For every J.K. Rowling, there were, oh, I dunno, thousands of other decent writers, maybe, who didn't get lucky.  Literary agents, who had stepped in as the first line of defense between publishers and would-be authors, had a field day picking and choosing clients.

Then the Internet began to level the playing field. First came print-on-demand (POD) operations like Lightning Source and Lulu, which take your formatted manuscript and your money and print it for you -- no editorial help offered (unless you pay extra).  Then came shady operators like PublishAmerica, which is an electronic version of the old vanity press, except worse.  Authors who submit their work to these places get a book-like object in return, but it's often a formatting mess, sometimes riddled with errors.  (Reportedly PublishAmerica is in the habit of introducing errors into books that weren't there in the original manuscript.)  No wonder self-publishing got such a bad name.


But then came the e-book.  That's when everything began to change.  Now you can send an electronic file to, say, Smashwords, for free, and Smashwords will sell it for you as an e-book.  Find an error?  Just fix it and upload a new file.

And the pay scale is better.  Under the old publishing model, the agent takes a cut, the publisher takes a big cut (which is only fair -- the publisher pays for the editing, printing, marketing, and warehouse space), and the author gets what's left.  But by selling an e-book on Amazon, the author can take home as much as 70% of the purchase price.  You do the editing and formatting, Amazon does the marketing.  The only thing an author might lose this way is the warm, fuzzy feeling you get by knowing somebody liked your work well enough to publish it.  But I tell you what:  warm, fuzzy feelings won't pay the rent.  And if the point of the exercise is to make money, and if you're going to sell at a midlist level either way, well....


Oh sure, there are still people in the publishing industry who look down their noses at self-publishing.  But that's changing, too.  I've been reading reports of agents (who really are left out in the cold by the new business model) who are setting up their own e-publishing houses and approaching indie authors (that's the hip, new label for self-published e-book authors) with pitches to publish their work.  And while dead-tree books still command a larger share of the market, e-book sales are growing faster.  Which is apparent every time you pass a Borders going out of business.


The times, they are a-changin'.


For me, self-publishing makes sense right now.  I survived broadcast journalism, another absurdly competitive business, in which it took me almost fifteen years to get a job in a major market.  I could spend another fifteen years working my way up the publishing industry ladder, the way I did in broadcasting -- but I'm eligible for retirement in eight.  And if I can make decent money by doing something I love without banging my head against the wall for the next fifteen years -- really, what have I got to lose by trying?


I just hope self-publishing hasn't jumped the shark.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

We're Irene-centric this weekend.

We're in the path of Hurricane Irene here.  The eye of the storm is supposed to track east of us, which means we're likely to get a fair amount of wind and rain, but nothing more serious than the usual nor'easter.

If you're hunkered down for the duration -- or even if you're not -- I've arranged for something to help keep you occupied (assuming you have an e-reader or the power doesn't go out).  If you go to smashwords.com this weekend, buy my book, and put the following code in the "coupon code" box at checkout, you can get SwanSong for 99 cents.  Here's the code:

BG45X

Stay dry, everybody.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

New book! and: Hearth? Myth?

First, as promised, the new novella is live at smashwords.com.  It's called SwanSong and it's based (pretty loosely!) on the Irish tale of the fate of the children of Lir.  You can find it from my author page.

"The Fate of the Children of Lir" is one of the three classic tragedies in Irish myth, the others being the story of Deirdre of the Sorrows (from the Finn MacCool cycle) and the fate of the guys who killed Lugh's father.  Only the third one really has a moral, which is: don't mess around with Lugh.

This leads kind of nicely into the rest of this post, which will be an attempt to explain why I chose the name I did for this blog.

For starters, I'm Neopagan, and among the flavors of Neopaganism I have briefly looked into is Druidry -- specifically ADF, an American Druid organization that would like to be a Druid church.  I eventually decided not to join.  But I did take away several ideas from them for my own spiritual practice -- among them, the idea of a hearth culture, or a specific cultural pantheon of ancient gods and goddesses that one concentrates on honoring.  ADF cautions both against adopting more than one hearth culture and against mixing-and-matching deities from various cultures.  But hey, like most Americans, I'm Heinz 57; I'm Czech on my mother's side and Irish-with-a-bunch-of-other-stuff on my father's side.  So my "hearth culture" is mix-and-match to start with.  And I've found myself drawn to deities from both the Slavic and Celtic pantheons, with an occasional nod to the Norse (the Cantwells were Normans who came to Ireland with Strongbow) and to some Native American gods (yes, we've got an "Indian princess" in the family tree a couple of generations back; sadly, I don't have enough Native ancestry to claim any tribal casino earnings).

To make things even more interesting, the Czechs themselves are mix-and-match.  I once ran across an article by an ADF member from the Czech Republic who said some modern Czechs honor not only to the Slavic pantheon, but the Celtic and Norse pantheons as well.  The Czech lands have been overrun by numerous folks over the centuries, among them the Celts, who passed through on their way to what we now think of as their homelands.  And of course the Northern tribes made forays into central Europe.

Anyway.  Suffice it to say that Mom was Czech and Dad was Irish (and stuff).  So I began to read myths and legends of these hearth cultures of mine, and ran across two that wouldn't leave me alone:  the Czech story of the Maidens' War, and the Irish story of the Children of Lir.  The rest is publishing history (ar ar! humor!).

But there's more than one kind of myth.  There are also the myths we tell ourselves -- our own personal stories that we use to justify our actions and our personal beliefs.  Geneen Roth, who wrote Women, Food and God, among other books, points out how damaging these myths can be, and how unconsciously we hold them.  It's not just, "If I eat that brownie, I'll gain three dress sizes and no one will love me"; it's, "If I allow myself to feel scary emotions, I'll die -- so I'll do X instead to numb the feelings."  X is often a destructive behavior, like overeating or cutting or compulsive shopping, and it can take therapy and/or years of self-insight to put these myths to rest so the behaviors can stop.  Neeve, the heroine of SwanSong, needs 900 years to find her way out from under her personal myths.  In The Maidens' War, Sarka needs to be trapped inside a mountain for longer than that -- but when she is free, she helps Maggie get to the bottom of her own story in a much shorter period of time.  And I believe that, like Maggie, we can discover our own truths in others' stories, so that it doesn't take us a thousand years to heal.

Mind you, I don't write with that as a conscious goal!  But I know I've found insights in fiction.  If my readers find insights in the stories I write, that's great -- but mainly I just hope they're entertained.

So:  hearth = both where we live and where we come from; myth = the stories we tell ourselves about why things are the way they are, both in our culture and in ourselves.

Hope you like the new book.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

New blog, same old mission.

Once upon a time, I had a blog called "Allegedly, She Has Something to Say."  I was supposed to use it to generate interest in my fiction, specifically in a couple of my short stories -- and, later, my first novel -- published at http://www.calderwoodbooks.com/.  Alas, it degenerated into political commentary before petering out altogether after, I dunno, five posts or so.

Maybe it was four posts.

Apparently she didn't have much to say, allegedly or otherwise.

Anyway, I am trying again now, on a different blogging site, with a renewed sense of purpose (now that I'm nearly ready to unleash novel #2 on an unsuspecting public, muahahaha).  I'm still having trouble convincing myself that anybody will want to read my meandering thoughts about this and that, but nevertheless, we shall carry on as if that were, in fact, the case. 

I'm going to try to keep myself on task, to a degree, and talk mostly about writing.  Some stuff about my other creative pursuits is liable to creep in -- I'm big into knitting right now, for instance.  So you may see stuff about these other creative pursuits, especially as they keep insisting on insinuating themselves into my fiction.  (You'll see what I mean once novel #2 comes out.)  But there are a zillion knitting blogs out there, and a kazillion blogs about politics --and as of yet, none about my writing.  (Not even "ASHStS.")  So I'm aiming for a unique niche!

A little more about me, besides what's in the sidebar on the left:  I've got a journalism degree that I used to use to make a living (I've worked at Mutual/NBC Radio News, CNN, WTOP Radio in Washington, DC, a moribund wire service called Zapnews, and a slew of other places you've likely never heard of); a paralegal certificate that I've parlayed into my current day job; and a master's degree in fiction writing that basically gathered dust in a drawer until one of my kids pestered me into participating in National Novel Writing Month 2008.  The resulting manuscript, titled The Maidens' War, was published by Calderwood Books.  In November 2009, the same kid pushed me into doing NaNoWriMo again; the result of that is tentatively titled SwanSong and, with any luck, it'll be out within the next month or so.  (Just in time for NaNo 2011.  Will I go for a hat trick?  Stay tuned!)

If you look for me on Amazon, you'll see that I also co-authored a nonfiction book called Live Simply in the City.  Oddly enough, I've made more money from my fiction than I did from that book, so we shall never speak of it again, if it's all the same to you.

I've alluded to having kids.  There are two, both girls, both out of college (and, at this writing, both looking for work -- so if you know of anything...).  I also have a cat.  I'm sure she'll work her way in here, too -- she certainly manages to get into everything else I own.

I guess that's enough for starters.  I'm going to aim for a post a week.  Let's see how long it lasts.