Sunday, September 30, 2012

Stalking Šárka.

It was a beautiful morning in Prague, and I was on a mission: to find Vyšehrad, reputed to be the ancestral home of the Czech Přemyslid dynasty -- as well as the ancient stomping grounds of Ctirad, whom the maiden Šárka may or may not have tricked on Vlasta's orders. (If you've read The Maidens' War, most of this should sound familiar to you. If you haven't read it -- why not?)

I dragged my friend Kim away from a scheduled tour of the Jewish quarter to accompany me. I bribed her by agreeing we could go by taxi.  It was either that or Prague public transit -- Vyšehrad was too far from our hotel to walk -- and she mistrusted my ability to get us there without getting us lost.

Of course, the castle itself is long gone, thanks to the vicissitudes of war and time.  But a lot of the fortress wall still exists.  And rumor had it that somewhere on the grounds could be found a statue depicting the fateful meeting of Šárka and Ctirad.

The taxi driver dropped us at the entrance and we started off, with no real clue where we were going.  Finally, after a walk along the river path brought us back to our entrance point, I broke out my guidebook map, and realized we had turned off the main road too soon.  Another block, a left turn, and the spires of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul came into view.

As we meandered past the cemetery, I spotted some large statues in a park across the street from the church.  Could it be...?

It was!  There was Šárka, the rope that had bound her still trailing across her shoulders; there was gallant Ctirad, supporting the supposedly stricken maiden; and in his hand was the hunting horn that, together with a jug of mead, had been placed just out of her reach to torment her.

"So where's the jug?" Kim asked me.  We circled the statue, and there it was, behind Our Hero.  (It's in shadow, behind his left foot.)
Across from the star-crossed pair, we found a statue by the same sculptor of Queen Libuše and her plowman husband, Přemysl.  In the legend, as well as in my novel, Libuše's death sets in motion the events that lead to the Maidens' War.
I guess Libuše is supposed to be announcing her famous vision of a great city that would be built on this spot someday.  She was right about that: Prague is indeed a great city.  Two days wasn't nearly enough time to see it all.

Later, after a stroll through the cemetery, I did drag Kim onto the Prague Metro, and we found our next destination, the Alfons Mucha Museum, without too much trouble. (Kim, trying to get out of the Metro station:  "Where's Vychod? I can't find it on the map!" Me: "It won't be on the map. 'Vychod' means 'exit'."  At last, my Czech classes were good for something....)

Our vacation went on (eight countries in 14 days!), but I had achieved my goal: I had stalked Šárka in Prague, and I had found her.  The rest, for me, was gravy. 

Well, maybe goulash.  That stuff is yummy.

I'm , and I approve this blog post. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

It's harvest time again.

Happy autumn!  Yesterday was Mabon, the second harvest.  I wrote a post about it last year, so I won't go into a lot of detail.  But basically, this is when we bring in the final crops of the year. 

I'm writing this post well ahead of time because, if all goes as planned, I'll be celebrating the autumnal equinox aboard a river cruise ship somewhere on the Danube, having ticked off one of the destinations on my bucket list -- Prague, the ancient home of Šárka and Ctirad -- and visited a bunch more places, too.  I'll tell you about the trip and post some pictures when I get back.

This has been quite the year for me.  Since January, I've published two books and have completed the first draft of a third.  I've joined the staff of Indies Unlimited and am contributing a monthly post to the Indie Exchange.  I've met a ton of new friends -- authors, editors, and book bloggers -- and I think I've even picked up some fans.  And I've become committed to using the Oxford comma, after years of eschewing it.  (I bet you noticed, didn't you?)

It's been a fun ride, and I'm looking forward to what happens next.  Now that Fissured is out and the first draft of Tapped is in the can (yes!  I finished it before I left on my trip!  Lots of work still to do on it, but I'm over the big psychological hurdle), I am looking toward the last two books in the Pipe Woman Chronicles with a better idea of what comes next.  Oh, I've always known where Naomi would find herself in the end.  But I have to admit that, past book 3, I wasn't exactly sure how I was going to get her there.  Now, I've got a better idea of the road she'll have to travel.  And by this time next year, I'll know whether this new map will work.

Hope you're enjoying the season, wherever you may be, on land or sea.  Blessed Mabon to you all, and I'll see you next week.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Indies and ethics.

I'm writing this way ahead of time, so things have probably cooled down by now.  But earlier this month, there was a kerfuffle in the indie world over some popular authors who had done some pretty unethical things to promote their books. 

One guy, RJ Ellory, was caught writing glowing, five-star reviews for his books and posting them on Amazon under an assumed name.  Not only that, but he would use the same assumed name or names -- oh, let's call these alternate identities "sockpuppets" for short, since everyone else is -- to leave scathing, one-star reviews for books that he considered to be his competition.

Ellory is not the only guy engaging in this kind of stupidity.  A historian named Orlando Figes was caught doing the same sort of thing in 2010.  A well-known UK thriller writer named Stephen Leather has admitted to doing it, too -- and says he doesn't see a problem with it, if it builds buzz for his books.

Perhaps my favorite story, though, is that of John Locke, whose name has been held high as one of the few indies to sell millions of books.  He even wrote a book entitled, How I Sold One Million E-Books in Five Months.  Turns out he paid big money to a shady guy whose business it was to round up people to write glowing reviews of many Amazon products, including e-books.  I'm not a hundred percent sure, but I would guess Locke left this part of the formula for his success out of his how-to book.

In response to these bits of news, a group of authors (full disclosure: the group includes Graham Joyce, and I'm a big fan of his work) posted a petition online and encouraged others to sign it.  The petition says, in part, "We the undersigned unreservedly condemn this behaviour, and commit never to use such tactics."  I signed it.  I even put a link to it on my Facebook page.

Then, Joe Konrath -- whose blog I typically enjoy, particularly when he's bashing the traditional publishing business -- wrote a series of posts critical of the No Sockpuppets Here petition.  At first glance, Konrath seemed to be complaining that other authors were piling on, either out of some misplaced sense of judgmental superiority or out of jealousy that they hadn't sold as many books as the guys who had been outed.  But then later, Konrath admitted that he was personally acquainted with Locke and Leather, and in fact had discussed collaborating on a project with Leather.  So then it appeared he was sticking up for his buddies.

Well, okay.  I'd stick up for my friends, too, I guess, to a point.  But I have to tell you that I don't see anything wrong with having a personal code of ethics and sticking to it.  And I also don't see anything wrong with calling out someone who behaves egregiously.

Konrath is right that these guys didn't commit any crimes, and maybe he's right that no other authors were hurt by their actions (although you've gotta wonder about the effects of those fake one-star reviews).  But for gods' sake, please tell me this isn't our only yardstick for ethical indie behavior.

And in a world where indie authors' marketing options are limited, trashing the credibility of Amazon's star review system with sockpuppet reviews hurts all of us.
I'm , and I approve this blog post. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

An Ode to Book Bloggers.

I'm posting a day late this week because I'm taking part in the "Celebrating Bloggers" blog hop, sponsored by Terri Giuliano Long, the author of In Leah's Wake.  Terri's got the details on her blog here, but basically, the idea is to share some love for book bloggers.  (Hint: click on the link -- there's a giveaway.)

Y'all might not realize it, but there aren't a whole lot of marketing opportunities for indie authors (or at least, not a whole lot of ethical opportunities, which I'll talk more about in next week's post).  On Amazon, I'm one author in a vast sea of others.  You can gain exposure by making your book free, and you can certainly move a lot of books that way (free is everyone's favorite price, after all), but if readers are snapping up 30 or 40 free books at a time, the chances that they'll ever find yours on their Kindle or Nook or Kobo again -- let alone to getting around to reading it -- are kind of small.  And then you have to hope that they like your book well enough to go back to the place where they bought the book and leave a review, or -- best of all -- that they remember your name and spend money for your next book.

Granted, you can take out an ad somewhere like Facebook.  But how many people will see it, let alone click through to buy your book?  If you're like me, you've got something like Adblock Plus installed on your computer, so you don't see any ads.

But book blogs?  Ah, book blogs are marvelous.

Book bloggers themselves are marvelous.  For starters, they're readers.  Nobody in his or her right mind would start a book blog if he or she didn't like to read in the first place.  I know some bloggers who just wanted a place to keep a list of all the books they've read, and the blog grew from there.  So you know that they're looking for books to read and review.  And they're upfront about the types of books they like to read, so if you do a little homework, you will know immediately whether they might like your book.

Book bloggers, as a tribe, have the patience of Job.  They often put up with pushy authors who want to know why they haven't yet seen a review of their darling.  Sometimes, authors turn unprofessional, even abusive.  It takes a thick skin and a sense of the absurd, I think, to survive as a book blogger for long.

But bloggers don't just do reviews.  They also provide a platform for indie authors to gain visibility.  Over the past year, I've done numerous guest posts, a couple of Q&As, at least one character interview, and a post that broke the fourth wall and let me talk directly to Joseph and Naomi.  This not only gives bloggers content for their blogs, but it lets us authors showcase our creativity in different ways than just writing fiction allows us to do.

So hats off to you, my book blogger buddies, and may your tribe ever increase.
I'm , and I approve this blog post. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Black Hills reminiscing.

While many of you (I hope!) are working your way through the events in Fissured, I'm immersed right now in writing the first draft of Tapped.  The setting for all of Book Three is southwestern South Dakota -- the Black Hills and the Badlands -- as Naomi travels there with Shannon to find Naomi's father.

I thought writing a novel set in Denver was difficult when I hadn't lived there for ten-plus years.  This novel is proving to be even harder.  I haven't visited South Dakota since I was in junior high, and I'm learning that Google Maps can only get you so far.

And too, our Black Hills vacation was memorable for reasons other than the scenery.

We did a lot of car trips when I was a kid, and after awhile, my father decided motels were getting to be too expensive.  So we got a camper -- the kind of RV that sits in the bed of a pickup truck.  Our truck must have been a little lighter-duty than it needed to be to carry our camper, so Dad (who was an auto mechanic by trade) got some extra-long bolts and bolted together two sets of two tires each, and then mounted them on the back axle of the truck.  It seemed to work pretty well -- if memory serves, we had run that rig to Florida and along the Gulf Coast the year before -- so Dad went ahead and planned our first vacation to the Pacific coast.  The plan was to go around Chicago in our usual way, then get on I-90 and take it all the way to Seattle.

Our first intimation of disaster happened the day before we were to leave.  Strong storms blew through our area and we lost power for several hours.  Not to worry, though -- we had a generator, so preparations continued.

We got on the road as scheduled and stopped in Iowa the first night.  There, the pump for the camper's kitchen sink went on the blink.  So my father had to fix that before we could get on the road again the next day.

Miles passed without incident.  I remember seeing the Corn Palace and our visit to Wall Drug (ramped up by all the signs for it along the way).  We got to Rapid City okay and found a nice campground; I remember the entertainment there one night was an authentic Indian dance by authentic Indian children.  I still have pictures somewhere of the dancers in their regalia.

But then things started to go to hell in a hurry.  There was one day when Mom let me have two ice cream cones on the same day -- from which I got a toothache.  Then, driving across Montana, I was napping on my parents' bed over the cab when the road suddenly seemed to get rough, as if we were going over a bridge.  Then Dad pulled over.  I poked my head out of the camper door to see what was going on, and my father proceeded to tell me that the side of the truck had fallen off.

Well, it wasn't quite that dire.  What had happened was the bolts holding the wheel to the axle had broken, and the dual wheel on the passenger side had gone walkabout in the field next to the highway.  A good Samaritan stopped behind us and helped Dad find the wheel, and then drove him into Missoula to get parts.  Thus repaired, we continued on, through the Idaho panhandle and around Seattle.  ("Dad, there's the Space Needle!  Isn't it cool? We're going to the Space Needle, aren't we?  Dad, we're passing Seattle!" "Don't you want to see the Pacific Ocean?" "Well, yeah, but Dad -- Seattle!" This, as the Space Needle receded in the distance behind us.)

We did make it to the Pacific (and went wading -- it was too cold for swimming!) and started south to Oregon, when, on a Sunday morning, we heard a radio news report about a riot in our hometown.  We'd left my brother behind, and my parents got scared.  So instead of doing the intelligent thing and calling home, we turned around and backtracked.

Somewhere in South Dakota, the same pair of wheels fell off again.  And this time, the bolts holding the wheels together snapped, so Dad got to chase the tires down separately.  At this point, he gave up on the idea of dual wheels as a bad job and mounted just one tire back on the axle.  We limped home with three wheels in the back instead of four.  But we had no further travel disasters, and when we got home, my brother was fine.

Not long after this trip, my dad traded in the camper for a trailer, and we never lost a wheel again.  Oh, and I had to have that aching tooth pulled -- but it was a baby tooth, so all's well that ended well.

Speaking of travel, virtual and otherwise, this past week was my turn on the Orangeberry Summer Splash Tour to promote Fissured.  I was also the guest on the Indie Exchange's Blog Talk Radio show -- there's a link to the left, if you'd like to listen to it.  Later this month, Swan Island will be a stop on the two-month virtual cruise at Inside the Secret World of Allison Bruning, and the cruise will stop by Naomi's condo in October.

Starting next month, I'll be doing weekly posts for Indies Unlimited.  And looking ahead to December, I'm hatching a little something for the winter solstice with the Cabin Goddess.

All this, and the Indie Exchange birthday celebration, too.  Happy September!

I'm , and I approve this blog post.