Sunday, April 29, 2012

Summer is icumen in.

Tra la! It's May!
The lusty month of May!
That lovely month when ev'ryone goes
Blissfully astray.
Tra la! It's here!
That shocking time of year
When tons of wicked little thoughts
Merrily appear!
It's May! It's May!
That gorgeous holiday
When ev'ry maiden prays that her lad
Will be a cad!
It's mad! It's gay!
A libelous display!
Those dreary vows that ev'ryone takes,
Ev'ryone breaks.
Ev'ryone makes divine mistakes
The lusty month of May!
-- from the musical "Camelot"

I know y'all are going to think that I'm rushing the seasons here, but honest to goodness, the ancient folks in the British Isles considered May 1st -- also known as Beltane -- to be the first day of summer.  (That's why the summer solstice is also known as Midsummer's Day -- it's halfway between Beltane and Lughnasa, the first harvest, which is August 1st or 2nd.)

There are many charming customs associated with Beltane -- among them, dancing around a Maypole, burning a wicker man (with people inside, if Julius Caesar is to be believed) to symbolize the end of winter, weaving flower garlands, driving the livestock between two bonfires before taking them out to summer pastures, washing one's face with the dew (it's supposed to make you beautiful), and/or sneaking off with a special someone for some afternoon delight.

I can't help you with most of those, sorry.  But I did find directions here for how to make your own tabletop Maypole.  I modified the directions a little bit for mine because I am useless with a glue gun: I used a thinner dowel and drilled a hole in the wooden base, then used carpenter's glue to set the dowel in the hole. Then I used a nail to anchor the ribbons to the top of the pole, and put a candle ring at the base.

One other thing I can help you with is some free summer reading.  As I posted a couple of days ago, Seized and "Lulie" are both free at Amazon starting today and through Tuesday.  Enjoy, and happy Beltane.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Early Beltane tidings.

Yes, it's a rare midweek post.  I've got several pieces of news to share, that's why.

1.  The observant among you will note there's a new tab at the top of the page that says, "Buy My Books".  I'm doing a test run for selling paperback editions of my books here on the blog by using Paypal.  Right now, I'm only set up to sell Seized, but I'll be adding buttons for SwanSong and The Maidens' War shortly -- as well as other novels as they're released.

One advantage to buying a paperback here at the blog is that I can autograph it for you.  I don't do many book signings, so if collecting autographs is your thing, this is a good way to do it.  Let me know how you want me to sign it when you place your order -- I'll do my best to accommodate your request.

2.  I'm going to be the featured guest tomorrow -- that's Friday, April 27th -- at  New stuff will be appearing all day, through 6:00pm Eastern (US) time, so check back throughout the day.  I had fun putting together the posts for Bunny and I hope you enjoy reading them.

3.  Last but not least:  in honor of Beltane, the Pagan first day of summer, the Kindle versions of Seized and "Lulie" will both be free at Amazon.  The sale starts this Sunday, April 29th, and runs through Tuesday, May 1st. The link to my Amazon author page is in its usual spot to the left; you can get to the listings for both books from there.  Tell your friends and neighbors to stop on by.

That's it for now.  Have a great weekend and I'll see ya Sunday as usual.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Outliving your childhood.

It's been a bad couple of months for me.  Oh, not personally, and not professionally -- things are pretty much going great there.  No, the problem is that this year, I've been watching my childhood die. 

First to go was David Jones of the Monkees.  Then, last week, Dick Clark.  And then Jonathan Frid, who played Barnabas Collins on "Dark Shadows".  All of these people were fixtures of my childhood, immortalized in reruns -- never aging, never facing any serious problems in life, always just who they appeared to be on TV.  And now they've died.  And come to find out, they were old.

I suppose it happens to everybody sooner or later, assuming you live long enough.  You pick somebody to idolize -- someone you wish you were like, maybe, or someone who just seems to have a certain kind of cool that you don't have.  Chances are pretty good that that person is older than you.  Which means that chances are pretty good that you'll outlive them.  But when you're eight or ten or twelve, you don't think about that.  It's only when you start racking up your own impressive number of decades that something happens -- like the death of a favorite actor from your childhood -- and it hits you that if that person has gotten old, you probably have, too.

The joke about Dick Clark was that he kept an aging portrait in his attic, a la Dorian Gray.  The stroke he suffered several years ago put paid to that rumor.  Then afterward, it was good to see him back on the air, helping to host "New Year's Rockin' Eve" -- but it was uncomfortable, too.  Clark was doing his best, but his speech was affected.  It was obvious he would never be the same Dick Clark who hosted musicians and helped teenagers rate new records back in the '60s.  I was a kid then, and my Saturday morning routine was to watch a whole bunch of cartoons back-to-back, and then "American Bandstand."  Dick Clark was a fixture on my Saturday mornings for years, and then he was a fixture on my New Year's Eves for years.  And then he wasn't.  And then he was back, but it wasn't the same.  And now he's gone.  He was 82.

Dick, thanks for the music.  I rate you a 100.

I keep thinking Dick Clark must have hosted the Monkees on "American Bandstand," but maybe not.  Their shows were on competing networks -- "Bandstand" was on ABC and "The Monkees" were on NBC.  "The Monkees" was on Monday nights at 6:30 p.m. Chicago time, right before "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In."  (Some of the factoids I have memorized are appalling, huh?)  Davy was my fave right from the start.  He had that cute British accent going on, plus he was adorable -- and he was short, just like me.  I wished, as I got older, that I would get no taller than his five foot three and a half inches -- and hey presto, I didn't.  (Genetics? Sympathetic magic?  Who knows?)  At one point I could even dance like Davy did on the show; friends would actually ask me to do it.  And I taught myself to sing harmony from listening to Monkees records, because -- now the shameful truth can be told -- I wanted to be the fifth Monkee.  I thought they could explain me as Davy's cousin.  And they needed a girl in the group, anyhow, right?

Years later, married and pregnant, I attended one of those '60s groups reunion concerts -- you know, where some promoter rounds up one or two or three members of the original group and assembles a backup band and sends them all out on tour to sing the old songs.  The Monkees, which at that point consisted of Micky, Davy and Peter, were one of the featured acts.  I was disappointed -- they sounded the same, but Davy just wasn't as cute as he had been in his twenties.

The Monkees dropped off my radar screen after that.  Not long ago, I heard that Davy had bought a horse farm in Pennsylvania -- so close to DC! -- but somehow I couldn't gin up the enthusiasm to try to find it.  And now it's too late -- he's gone.  He was 66.

David, thanks for the music.  I'll keep singing harmony with you.

I missed Jonathan Frid's big entrance on "Dark Shadows" -- I didn't start watching the show until well into his run as Barnabas Collins, the English cousin who didn't have an English accent (I can only blame New England inbreeding as the reason why the other Collinses never figured it out).  Frid had done Shakespeare before landing the role of Barnabas; he was certainly a good actor and made a suitably-creepy-but-still-sympathetic vampire. Due in large part to Frid and David Selby (whose character, werewolf Quentin Collins, was introduced later), I considered "Dark Shadows" the only afternoon soap opera worth watching.  Selby went on to many other roles after "Dark Shadows" (he recently played Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theatre here in DC), but Frid could never seem to shake the role of Barnabas.  And now he's gone.  He was 87.

Jonathan, thanks for the many entertaining afternoons.  I hear you did a cameo for the new "Dark Shadows" movie -- I'll be looking for you.

Eighty-seven? Eighty-two? Sixty-six?  How could that have happened?  I certainly haven't aged....

Monday, April 16, 2012

Of Apple and price-fixing, mainly.

I'm a little punchy today.  I capped a long, busy weekend with a marathon writing session yesterday -- about twelve and a half hours, including a dinner break and a couple of other breaks -- in which I finished the first draft of Fissured.  (It's a long way from being ready to see the light of day, but at least the bare bones are on (virtual) paper now.)  I started writing around 2:00 p.m.  Y'all can do the math.  And if I then tell you my alarm went off this morning at 7:00 a.m., well, you can see what I mean by punchy.

This would also explain why your weekly Sunday blog post (didn't know there was a pattern, did ya?  :D) is happening today.  Which is kind of sad because I have actual news to talk about this week.

If you follow e-publishing news, you've likely heard by now about the U.S. Department of Justice filing suit against Apple and two traditional publishers for allegedly colluding on the prices of e-books.  (Three traditional publishers settled with the DoJ out of court.)  The DoJ says Apple told the publishers they could set whatever prices they wanted for their iPad-compatible e-books, as long as Apple got thirty percent.  In contrast, Amazon was charging $9.99 for most e-books, regardless of the publisher's list price, and eating the difference (as it reportedly does on Kindle sales) in order to grab as much market share as possible.  When Apple gave the publishers the ability to set their own prices, they went to Amazon and demanded the same deal.  And e-book prices shot up pretty much overnight -- to the point where now, e-books by popular authors are going for very close to the hardcover price.  J.K. Rowling is taking pre-orders at her website for her first adult novel, The Casual Vacancy -- $21 for the hardcover and $19.99 for the e-book.  I hear what you're saying:  "But it's J.K. Rowling."  And I get that.  But still -- twenty bucks is a lot of money for an ePub file.  And who knows, she might suck at writing for adults.

Anyway, opinions in the blogosphere abound -- some of the pretty crazy -- on what this will mean for the various players in the publishing business.  Here's my (fairly rational, I hope) take:
  • If Apple and the publishers are found to be guilty of price-fixing, then publishers will certainly be hurt.  It doesn't cost a lot for a publisher to offer an e-book edition.  So it doesn't take a genius to realize that if publishers can charge hardcover prices for a product with minimal per-copy costs, they stand to make huge profits from the e-books they do sell -- and at the same time they've discouraged e-book sales, thereby propping up their dead-tree book business.  But if retailers are allowed to sell e-books at essentially the same price as a mass market paperback, publishers will lose their cash cow.  I don't think it will be the end of paper books...yet.  But young adults already have adjusted to reading just about everything on screen.  Once us old farts die off, the penchant for paper may well die with us.  Then, I expect, dead-tree books will go the way of vinyl records and CDs.
  • Readers will certainly benefit from the lower prices.
  • This won't be the death knell for bookstores.  I mean, eventually there will be a death knell for bookstores, but in my opinion, this ain't it.  I've seen some reports that show people read more books after they get an e-reader than they did before.  If trad-pubbed e-books cost less, I would expect readers to buy more of them -- and bookstores like Barnes & Noble that have skin in the e-reader game can only benefit from that.
  • In the case of us indie authors, I maintain we won't take much of a hit at all.  Most indies price their books around the $3 or $4 mark; I would be very surprised to see Amazon or Apple drop the prices on trad-pubbed e-books to that level as a general rule.  That means indie e-books will still be undercutting trad-pubbed e-books by a significant amount.  And all the other self-pubbing economics still apply:  most people these days will spend $3 or $4 without a second thought; books priced at $1.99 or 99 cents, or free, are still an amazing deal.  I don't think anything short of a drastic restructuring of Amazon's self-pubbing model will impact us.
Call me an optimist, but I'm inclined to let the big boys at the top of the food chain slug it out.  When the dust settles, I expect we indie authors will still be here.

I'd love to hear your comments.  Feel free to post 'em below.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Series structure, or: how it comes together.

Internal consistency is a bitch.
-- Stephen R. Donaldson

I sorta kinda promised that I would talk about how I'm (trying to) structure the Pipe Woman Chronicles books.  I've had no better topic ideas in the here we go.

The quote is from a response Donaldson gave in the Gradual Interview on his website,  He is currently in the process of writing the tenth and final book in his Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever.  The first trilogy was published in the late '70s; the second trilogy, in the early '80s; and then he worked on other stuff for the next twenty years or so, before coming back to Covenant's story (The Runes of the Earth, the seventh book, was published in 2004).  Covenant fans (particularly those who revere the original trilogy) tend to be of the rabid variety; they're the kind of people who can quote scenes verbatim.  So inevitably, somebody will point out to the author that he screwed something up -- that, say, on page such-and-such of Against All Things Ending, Covenant says such-and-such about the fire-lions, but when High Lord Prothall talks about them in Lord Foul's Bane on page such-and-such of the first edition paperback....  You get the idea.  Anyway, Donaldson admits that it's really tough to get all the details right every time.  I mean, think about it:  do you remember every detail of something you wrote thirty years ago?

Anyway.  I don't intend for my own Chronicles to be nearly as detailed as Covenant's story.  But even with just a few months between the first drafts of Seized and Fissured, I find I'm forgetting stuff like the color of Shannon's hair.  So I created a notebook in Microsoft One Note with a tab for each book.  It includes a chart of new characters in that volume, possible cover art, notes on where the plot might go, and so on.  I've also got a general tab with stuff that relates to the whole series -- including some information on the Sioux medicine wheel, which I'm using as a springboard for the series structure.

I think each Native American tribe has its own medicine wheel, or hoop of life.  I was surprised at that, when I noticed it at the American Indian Museum -- the themes are similar but the colors are quite often swapped.  Here is the version I'm using.  Yes, I know the illustration is flipped.  (Caveat:  I found this info on teh intarwebz, and like a dope I didn't save the link, so I'm not going to even try to vouch for its accuracy.)
  • East is yellow.  It's the place of beginnings, of wisdom and understanding that's centered in true love.  If you've read Seized, then you might recognize these as themes in the book.
  • South is red.  It's the source of knowledge and power in regard to one's destiny.  It's also about youth, and about passion.  As you might guess, there will be a fair amount of that stuff in Fissured.
  • West is midnight blue or black.  Its element is water and its time of life is adulthood.  It's also about stillness and reflection. And it's about family.  I plan to work some of those things into the third book.
  • North is white.  It's the place of wisdom, of both self-control and control generally.  Its time of life is old age; the Sioux believe the spirits of their dead go north, which is also where White Buffalo Calf Pipe Woman lives.
Many tribes recognize three additional directions:  above (Father Sky, freedom), below (Mother Earth, nurturing and giving life), and the center (the Heart).

So there you go.  Book four will feature North themes, if all goes to plan; the question is whether I can wrap up the series there, or whether I'll need a fifth book.  If I do, book five would include the themes of the last three directions.  It's looking more likely that I'll need five books.  But time will tell....
I'm , and I approve this blog post.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

What do you mean, it's Thursday?!?

I have no good excuses for not posting this past weekend -- just apologies.  I'll try to be better about it in the future.  Again.

In the meantime, I offer you three pieces of news:

1.  If you've been awaiting a hard-copy version of Seized, you can now order it here.  So far, has not picked it up -- although I suspect that will be happening shortly.

2.  I've been working on book 2 and am making pretty good progress.  I think I'm on track for a fall release.  Maybe this weekend I'll do a blog post about the themes of each novel in the series.

3.  Speaking of blog posts, keep an eye on The Indie Exchange tomorrow for a guest blog post from me.   It should be of interest particularly to fiction writers, but maybe others will get a kick out of it, too.

That's all I got right now.  Happy Thursday and see ya this weekend.