Friday, December 31, 2010

Kindness: the gift that keeps on giving

2010 was a great year for me, in which I accomplished many things, thanks to the kindness of others. With the help of several friends like Anita Davison, Kristina Emmons, Mirella Patzer and Gemi Sasson, one publishing goal is complete. I have been able to give some of that good advice back to new friends, like Michelle Gregory, as she revised and published on Kindle. My co-workers have been a tremendous support, like a second family through the good and not-so-good times. And, my real family - what can I say? Several states, oceans and two continents may separate us, but when we need each other, everyone is there. It is only fitting that my year ends as it started, with acts of kindness.

This past weekend's huge blizzard dumped piles of snow on NYC, up to two feet outside my house. It also left my mom stranded at the dialysis center she attends every other day of the week. On Sunday night, while her family was at home worrying about her, she spent the night in a chair, hungry and without her medications for diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Our one attempt to get her out left my brother in-law bogged down in deep snow. By Monday, my nerves were absolutely frayed, and I was determined that she was not going to spend another night away from the house. My cousin Tricia volunteered to go with me and we ventured out into the knee-deep snow on Monday afternoon. We got a bus, which crept along for a bit until it could not go any further on the road impeded with stranded cars and ambulances. Then we walked eight blocks until a cab came. We managed five blocks until the cab could not go further. It was time to hike, up a hill for 10 blocks to the train station. After two stops and three more blocks, we made it to the dialysis center. I might have turned back a couple of times during those six hours, without the kind endurance of my cousin.

Now, it was time to make it back home and I dreaded it, knowing that my mom was not at full strength. Two blocks from the dialysis center, while desperately looking for a bus, and fruitlessly trying to hail a cab, two Good Samaritans pulled up in a SUV and asked us where we were going. After a bit of hesitation, we told them and they told us to hop in. It took them two hours, in which we stopped twice, dug out and pushed the vehicle along the way, but we made it home. It was a nice reminder that strangers can be kind, too. To Marlon in New Jersey and Renee from Brooklyn, thanks for teaching me that lesson.

With all the blessings I've received this year, I bid a fond farewell to 2010 and look forward to 2011. Wishing all of you a happy and blessed New Year.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Amazon's New Kindle Lending Policy

My dear friend, Michelle at Beautiful Chaos blogspot emailed today to discuss Amazon's new Kindle lending policy. Little did she know it would lead to talk of devil-worshipping and selling one's soul. See the trouble you started, Michelle?

Full details are available from the Amazon website, but if I've got the gist of this: in the US only (for now), Kindle books can be loaned once for a period of 14 days, free to read on a Kindle device or any of the reading applications for Kindle. The lender has no access to the book again until the end of the 14 day period.While publishers and rights holder can determine which titles are eligible for lending, all titles made available through Amazon DTP have been automatically enrolled, which includes On Falcon's Wings and Michelle's Eldala. Great, right?

I must say, I initially thought so when the notification from Amazon DTP popped up on my Blackberry this morning. Then I remembered that age-old adage, "Why buy the cow, when you can have the milk for free?" It's applied to premarital sex, but works here, too. Why would you buy a Kindle book, when someone can just loan you their copy for fourteen days for free?

There's a few things in the FAQ section for Kindle authors that left me...concerned at first. Like the following:

Q: Will I receive royalties when customers choose to lend my book?
A: Loans of digital books through the Kindle Book Lending program are not purchases and thus are not eligible to receive royalty payments.

Hmm, okay, that's perfectly understandable. It's a loan for 14 days, not a sale. I can't reasonably expect any money from that.

Q: Will I be notified when someone has loaned my book?
A: At this time, notifications are not sent when customers loan your book.

Well, I reasoned, that's sort of okay, too. I mean, I don't know exactly where I've earned sales on Kindle in the US. In addition to not knowing who bought the book, I won't know if they lent it to anyone. It's like that, I just won't get access to that information either. Not a problem, really.

Q: Can I opt my title out of Kindle Book Lending?
A: Titles in the 35% royalty option may choose to opt out of Kindle Book Lending by deselecting the checkbox under "Kindle Book Lending," in the "Rights and Pricing" section of the title upload/edit process. You may not choose to opt out a title if it is included in the lending program of another sales or distribution channel. Titles in the 70% royalty option must participate in Kindle Book Lending and may not opt out.

If you're wondering why I bolded that last part, it's not because it gives me the warm fuzzies all over.

Over the summer of 2010, Amazon DTP began offering 70% royalties on titles that met certain criteria. Authors like myself cried, "Huzzah!" Score one for the author trying to earn a little more from his or her hard work. For me, that amounted to a net of $2.04 from each $2.99 sale, versus $1.05 at the 35% royalty option. Don't look down your nose at me. Yes, 99 cents does make a difference to a fledgling author. I still feel you doing it, by the way.

Why can't I just be as pleased as punch about the mandatory participation in this lending program for authors earning 70% royalties? It's not because I like to chafe at any mandatory restrictions on what I can or can't do, like some recalcitrant child. As I told Michelle, while I'm reserving full judgment on this new policy for now...the no opt out for those of us in the 70% royalty scheme bugs me. I can't describe it any better than that - it bugs me. The inability to opt out seems a bit like Jeff Bezos saying, "Hey author, you're already getting the better part of the deal anyway with your 70% and you should just be happy with that. No, you're not getting any royalties off the book loans and we won't tell you how many times your book's been loaned. Don't like that? Well, if you don't mind taking less of a percentage per future sale, feel free to opt out and go for the 35% royalty on your work. Happy New Year." Why does that feel akin to one of those offers from the Godfather, one you can't really refuse?

Let me be clear: I'm growing a career as a writer. Maybe JA Konrath and Seth Godin can afford it, but I really don't need readers lending my book to people who could otherwise be buying it. Same principle behind why I didn't give away a bunch of free paperback copies to friends and family. Yet here's Amazon telling me that because I'm enrolled at 70% royalty, I have no choice but to potentially give away free copies to others, who might have been paying customers. I've tried to look at this as a real benefit, but come away with only the potential for it, at best. Word of mouth is the most valuable tool an author has, and loaning the book has the same effect. But it seems only a potential for increased exposure, nothing more. If someone receives my book on loan, any guarantee he / she will read it in that 14-day window? Any guarantee of a recommendation to another person who will actually buy it? In the short term, I can't bank on possiblities.

As Kristie Cook, author of Promise and Purpose said in response to Michelle and me, "The more people who read your first book, despite how they get it, the more who will buy your second. And the more people who will be talking about it to others, who will buy it." Kristie, I sincerely hope you're right. For now, I'm eyeing this new Kindle policy and hoping for a positive impact, but also preparing for the probability that nothing may come of it that will benefit Kindle authors. In that, I'd love to be proven wrong.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

#SampleSunday: Sultana Chapter One, part two

Welcome to another Sample Sunday, where I'm posting the chapters of my next novel, Sultana, set in thirteenth century Spain. Missed the first half of Chaper One? Click here. Otherwise, I invite you to read on...

CHAPTER ONE – PAWNS IN THE GAME

GHARNATAH, AL-ANDALUS: MUHARRAM 664 AH (GRANADA, ANDALUSIA: OCTOBER 1265 AD)

PRINCE FARAJ

Brass lanterns sputtered in an orange haze of fading light. Evening shadows lengthened as defeat cast its grim pall over Prince Faraj. He faced his opponent on a familiar battlefield. The Sultan of Gharnatah leaned toward him and smiled a predatory grin, before he delivered the deathblow. “Do you yield, nephew?”

Faraj surveyed an ebony wood chessboard, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, his father’s last gift to the Sultan. Despite the passing of several years, Faraj still admired this fine piece of handiwork. A wall of his white pawns now lined the other side of the board. He shook his head in dismay, recognizing how the earlier, reckless positioning of his cavalier had heralded his downfall. He rubbed at the corners of his burning eyes and wracked his mind for a counter-move. Yet, he could not deny the truth. As in all other things, his uncle held the advantage.

He barely recalled the time when he had not lived by the Sultan’s whim and desire. After his arrival in Gharnatah nine years ago, a wearied and bloodied boy, the old man raised him alongside his own royal sons. At nearly seventy-four, the sovereign’s mind remained formidable. Despite his advanced years, he appeared rested and focused, but then, he probably slept well most nights.

For his part, Faraj could not remember the peace that sleep had once brought. The memory evaded him, just as easily as contented slumber had for nearly ten years.

“Do not succumb to idle thoughts, nephew. You have already lost pawns, as a result.”

“I do not have my father’s skill. How was it that he was able to best you every time?”

The Sultan chuckled. “Is that what he told you? Your father’s talent for exaggeration was always incomparable, but perhaps in this, he did not lie. You may not have his talent, but each day you grow more in his image. If he had lived, my brother would be very proud of you. My only regret is that he was unable to witness your union with my granddaughter today.”

Faraj kept his stare fixed on the board. He dared not raise his gaze for his uncle’s eager scrutiny. Otherwise, the hawk-eyed glint in his expression would pierce the heart of him, and reveal the turmoil brewing inside.

Throughout the day, unrelenting fear had roiled in his guts, warning him against the path he now trod. As before, the same concerns that had plagued him earlier returned now. He pushed them aside, but swallowed audibly before daring an answer. He prayed his voice would not betray him.

Jaw clenched tightly, he muttered, “I share the same regret, my Sultan.”

The sovereign leaned forward in his cedar chair, as though he had not clearly heard Faraj. “Your father would say of both us that regrets are best left in the past. In that, as in other things, he would be right. Still, I believe he would have been proud that you have attained your manhood, and taken a royal bride.”

Faraj nodded, though he believed his father would have viewed the marriage with the same circumspect opinion he once held of his own wedding: a means to an end. As with his father, Faraj had not chosen his own wife. At least his father had made a better bargain, with an alliance that benefitted their family. Faraj was not certain how his own marriage gave him any advantage. Likely, it would bring about a quick death.

The Sultan showed no awareness of his companion’s discomfort. “Your union with Fatima surely surprised many people. I suspect it has angered others, particularly the Ashqilula family, but they shall accept it.”

“And if the Ashqilula do not accept this marriage?” Faraj gasped at his own carelessness, and gripped the edge of the chessboard until the nail bed of his thumb whitened. He chided himself. Only a fool revealed his fears so easily, especially before another inclined to play upon them.

As he anticipated, the Sultan paused and cocked his head. Faraj perceived the change in him instantly, like a hawk sighting prey, and he knew their game of chess was at an end. He released the side of the gaming board and steeled himself, feigning courage he did not feel.

“Do your ties to the Ashqilula family still burden you, nephew?”

The attack came sharp and swift, tearing at his heart to the core of him. The roughened nails of his hands cut into the palms, unseen by the Sultan’s persistent gaze. How dare the old man even ask about burdens? Faraj cursed him inwardly, for having burdened his family generation after generation. Likely, the Sultan’s machinations had brought them to the brink of ruin.

Still, Faraj waved a trembling hand over his chest, as though flicking away dinner crumbs from his black tunic. He controlled the fluttering at his breast with even breaths, before he glanced at the Sultan. He hated and loved this old man, who always pierced to the heart of a matter. Faraj could almost admire the skill, if it had not been turned against him in this instant.

“Why should old ties impede me?” He despised the unsteady warbling in his voice, but the unbreakable cord still encumbered him – blood ties to the Ashqilula family.

Their blood coursed in his veins by virtue of his mother, an Ashqilula chieftain’s daughter, who had wed the Sultan’s brother and loved him until her death. Faraj shuddered at his last memory of her, bloodied and ruined, and drew a deep breath before continuing.

He forced the words from a dry throat. “I could care less about my ties to them. The Ashqilula mean nothing to me.”

The lie hung heavy in the room. Faraj gritted his teeth as the weight of it bore down upon him. A burdensome encumbrance, but one he undertook for his own sake. The Sultan expected it. He would never accept anything but unwavering loyalty from his family.

“What are your thoughts on my granddaughter, then?”

Faraj swallowed at the sudden change of the topic’s focus and pronounced a swift reply.

“I hardly know her. We have never met before I married her today.”

“That is common enough. Yet, surely you must feel something about this union. You have barely spoken of it since the oaths made during the ceremony. When my heir congratulated you before all our guests, you did not acknowledge his acclaim beyond a mere polite nod.”

Faraj cursed the old man. Why did he keep pretending that this wedding was anything other than a declaration of war against his enemies? Why did he appear so unconcerned that those enemies would now retaliate against him, and embroil Faraj in their feud?

Still, he steeled himself against showing any further weakness. He began, “My Sultan, I perceive the great honor you have bestowed upon me with this union betwixt myself and the daughter of the Crown Prince.”

“Bah! Do not dissemble. You don’t have your father’s skill for it. Not yet. Tell me, truthfully, what did you think of my granddaughter as you beheld her for the first today?”

Through the haze of his bewilderment, Faraj recalled the image of the pale, stick-thin, elfin girl whom everyone expected him to acknowledge as his wife. She had worn gaudy jewelry, garish cosmetics, and rich robes -- extravagant wastes for such a scrawny, waif-like child, in his opinion. The weight of her finery overwhelmed her, as she had sat on a yellow, damask cushion trimmed with gold filigree apart from everyone. Her features were markedly angular and gaunt, similar to her father’s in appearance, though not as sallow. If the sight of her had not stirred his revulsion for the prospect of marrying a child, he might have pitied her. Except in one instance.

When the evening breeze had filtered in from the open-air courtyard, torchlight flared and cast its glow upon her hair, the color of burnished copper. At that moment, her sharp chin rose and her stark gaze met his, unflinching. Brilliant flecks like the embers of a fire glittered in her brown eyes. The sight took him aback for a moment. Then she looked away. Even now, his lips curled at the memory of how she had turned and ignored him, with the neglect reserved for menials.

He tamped down the abhorrence souring in his belly. “Forgive me, but she is merely a child of eight years. What can I, a man ten years her senior, be expected to feel regarding her?”

After a moment, the Sultan shrugged and nodded, as he had hoped. “I suppose you have years, Faraj, in which you may come to know my granddaughter better. For now, she shall remain in her father’s household, until she is of an age to bear you children. I rely upon her father to protect her.”

“Your plans shall tear the Sultanate apart.”

“Your union with Fatima shall heal the rift. Can I rely upon you?”

Though Faraj doubted how a union with a child might preserve the land, he kept those thoughts to himself.

“You may.” He held the Sultan’s gaze without wavering. Not for the first time, he thought the old man burdened him unduly with inopportune vows.

Raised voiced echoed beyond the closed doors of the chamber. Both the Sultan and Faraj turned toward the sound. At the sovereign’s nod, two sentries stationed beside the door opened it. Faraj stood as torchlight revealed the sallow face of the Crown Prince of Gharnatah.

Abu Abdullah Muhammad sneered at the guardsmen outside the chamber before he approached. He sagged on one knee before the Sultan, his dark leonine head bowed. When his father touched his shoulder, he stood unsteadily. Faraj scratched his thin beard and eyed the men steadily.

A frown marred the Crown Prince’s brow, aging him beyond his thirty-one years. His deep-set eyes, a family trait, were red-rimmed and his mouth was a grim, fixed line. He spoke in low tones with his father. When he finished the Sultan grasped his arms, as though propping him up.

“Are you truly surprised by this betrayal? It is only your wounded pride that cannot accept it.”

“She belongs to me! I shall never give her up.”

The Sultan sighed. “If you insist. There are few places within al-Qal’at Al-Hamra where she can hide.”

“But she is not within the palace!”

The Sultan cocked his head and chuckled. “She possesses a quick wit, even greater than you anticipated. Do not trouble yourself, my son, we shall find her before she leaves Gharnatah.”

“When I have her in my arms again, she shall regret this night.” Thinly veiled rage seethed from the Crown Prince’s embittered lips.

While Faraj wondered at the import of their conversation, the Sultan patted his son’s shoulder. He strolled toward Faraj. Looking down at him, he gestured to the chessboard. “It would seem the pieces are set. The game can begin.”

The last embers within the brass lanterns crackled and died, as Faraj pondered the meaning behind that enigmatic statement. His mind swirled with myriad thoughts. Foremost, he must ensure his uncle’s plans would not threaten his own survival or interests. He was not about to become anyone’s pawn again, not even that of the Sultan.

Comments are welcome. As always, thanks for stopping by the blog.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Love in the Time of Amazon

There are lots of ways to show the writer in your life some love...but surely less expensive than this, right?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

#SampleSunday: "Sultana" - Chapter One


Kindle Author's David Wisehart, one of my favorite bloggers, recently started a new Twitter hashtag #SampleSunday. It's a way for new authors to share and promote their writing.

I'm hard at work on my next self-published offering, Sultana, which is set in thirteenth-century Moorish Spain. It's the tale of the last Muslim Dynasty to rule Granada. If you've known me for any length of time, you must have heard of it. You haven't? You truly have no clue what I'm talking about. Then I invite you dive right in:


PART I

CHAPTER ONE – PAWNS IN THE GAME

GHARNATAH, AL-ANDALUS: MUHARRAM 664 AH (GRANADA, ANDALUSIA: OCTOBER 1265 AD)

PRINCESS FATIMA

A hot, dry hand covered Fatima's mouth, stifling the scream in her throat. She awoke to a nightmare unfolding in the darkness.

The figure in a black hood and cloak hovered in silence above her. As her eyes adjusted to the dimness of the shadowy chamber, she made out the images of three others, cloaked and hooded like the one who held her captive and quiet. Two of the intruders stood on either side of the olive wood door. Another treaded quietly toward the lattice window and shuttered it, before crossing the room and lingering beside the boy closest to the door.

Fatima froze, paralyzed by terror. Muhammad ibn Muhammad snored heavily, his head lolling on the silken pillow. In a deep slumber, he remained unaware of the danger they faced. The intruder bent and loomed above the boy, studying him in silence.

One thought burgeoned in Fatima’s mind, mirroring the whimpering plea muffled behind her lips. "No! Don't hurt my brother!"

She scratched and clawed wildly at the hand pressed against her mouth. Muhammad was the eldest among six sisters and their father's heir. She could never let anyone harm him. She struggled in vain. Her captor pinched her nostrils. A choking wave of terror swelled in her throat and squeezed her chest. Her eyelids fluttered and tears coursed beneath the lashes, momentarily blinding her.

On a low table at her side, the sparrow in its gilded cage chorused a cry of alarm and beat its wings against the metal bars.

The person beside her brother stood and approached, bypassing the white marble alcoves where her younger sisters Muna, Alimah, Azahra, and Tarub slept peaceably. Only the baby Nadira, born two months before, was absent. Fatima prayed Nadira’s wet-nurse would keep her safe and away from harm.

Each noiseless footfall brought the intruder closer to Fatima. Her fingers relentlessly clawed at the hands that left her gasping for breath. A tightening sensation swelled inside her throat and her eyes widened. Her body went limp and her limbs grew stiff.

The silent figure knelt beside the cage and withdrew a square of black cloth. She panicked and renewed her struggles, fearing for her pet as much as she worried for her family. The cloth went over the cage and covered it entirely. The sparrow quieted except for a few clicks and chirps.

Then blunt fingers alighted on her captor's shoulder. At this silent command, the one holding her nostrils released her nose, though the other hand remained on her mouth. The first merciful lungful of air burned at the back of her throat. Despite the harsh pain, she sucked in the next breathed with a heavy wheeze, before she stared at the intruders.

She could not discern their features in the darkness, except for heavy lidded eyes lined with kohl. Who were these people? She felt certain they did not speak to conceal their identities further. She would have known any of the eunuchs or retainers in her father’s palace by the sound of their voices alone. Had their servants betrayed the family and risen against her father?

Fists tightening at her side, she trembled with fear and a growing rage. If they had hurt her father or kept him captive like her, unaware of the threat to his children, she would…. Her hands slackened. What could she do, a girl who might now not live to see her ninth birthday?

The one who stood beside her lifted a burly hand. She glared defiantly at the intruders. If they had harmed her father, she prayed Allah would give her some means to avenge him.

Fingertips glided across her wet cheek, startling her. She jerked her head away, recoiling from the unwelcome touch. Tears trickled from the corners of her eyes.

"Take her."

The hand over her mouth withdrew for the course of one breath. In the next, a cloth saturated with a thick odor covered her lips and nose. Blackness encroached again.


Fatima awoke to the glare of lamplight. She opened her eyes to the golden light cast by iron brackets affixed to the walls. She rested on a pallet in one corner of an otherwise empty room. At its center, the lamplight shimmered and reflected in the depths of a pool lined with marble. Fatima shuddered with the realization that she could not be at home in her father’s palace.

As she sat up and looked around, a brisk wind raced inward and whipped through her curly hair, startling her. There were no windows in the room. She swiped strands of hair away from her face and marked the flow of a water channel connected to the pool, carrying the crystalline liquid outward and around a corner.

From that direction, a feminine voice echoed, “…She has demanded to see her, Abdallah. How could I have refused her?”

A man answered, “You risk too much. You should not have brought the girl here, all for the whims of an old woman.”

“A dying woman, Abdallah. My mother.”

“Still, it is a heavy burden you bear. Now, to involve the child and ask her to….”

“I ask nothing more from her than her grandfather has already demanded. He knew the risks when he married her off. If you had seen her earlier today at the wedding…. She is barely eight years old, and already a bride. She cannot begin to understand the consequences of this union, what it may mean for her and for us all. This husband of hers,” her voice seethed with disgust, "Prince Faraj has his father’s selfishness. He shall ensure his own protection, not Fatima’s. The Sultan and my husband are responsible for her final fate. She is a mere child, not some pawn in this game of her father and grandfather.”

Fatima did not recognize the voices, though each person seemed to know her. She frowned at the woman’s reference to a chess game. How could a person be a pawn? Pawns belonged on the chess board with which she and her father played in the evenings.

The man continued, “It is finished now. The girl has done her duty.”

“Duty! She had no choice. Just like me. My husband thinks I am a fool, who knows nothing of his father’s plans. He thinks to keep me an unwitting fool, a prisoner caged within the walls of his palace. I have been nothing more than his broodmare.”

“We must leave the city at first light when the gates are opened. My coming to Gharnatah cannot remain a secret for long. Are you certain of this course? Your husband shall believe the worst of you, that you have betrayed him. He shall hate you.”

“No more than I have hated him.”

Fatima snapped aside the silken coverlet draping her, and crept across the marble floor. She winced at the coldness of the tiles, and peered around the corner into the antechamber.

A brazier cast a shadow against the wall, the aroma of ambergris and musk scenting the air. The pair in the antechamber was settled before a lattice-covered window, where the water channel dipped below the plaster wall. The man knelt beside the woman on the stool. She wore silver silk robes and a black hijab covered her hair. The man’s large, olive-brown hands covered her smaller, slim ones. She looked down her aquiline nose at him.

“There is hope for Fatima. You have given it to me, Abdallah, the means to save her from the schemes of her father and grandfather.”

“Neither of them can trouble you here. Still, I regret my part in this. You risked too much in coming. I should never have asked it. I have placed you in grave danger, ‘A’isha, you and your daughter.”

She withdrew one hand from his grasp and smoothed a lock of his thick, brown hair from his forehead. “I have known danger most of my life, Abdallah, ever since I married the Crown Prince of Gharnatah. Why should tonight be any different?”

He brought her hand to his lips and kissed the fingertips. Fatima smothered a sharp, involuntary cry behind her hands, but not quietly enough. The pair jerked toward her.

The woman’s wide, green eyes sparkled like emeralds. At first, Fatima imagined those eyes glistened with tears, but that could not be true. Fatima had glimpsed her only briefly, a few times in the past. She had never seen her cry.

Fatima’s hands fell at her side, shaking. “How could you do this to my father? Steal me away? Be here with another man? Why are you letting him,” she stabbed her finger at the stranger, “touch you?”

The woman rose and approached, her slim fingers clasped together. Her pallid face resembled a stone carving in the garden – beautiful, but cold and hard. She had rejected the charms of the world around her and the joys within it, even her children.

The man behind her stood. “Ignorant child, you know nothing of what you are speaking. You are being disrespectful to your mother.”

The woman hushed him. “Do not chide her, brother. If Fatima is ignorant or willful, it is because her father and grandfather have allowed her to be so.” She paused and held out her hand. “Come, daughter, it is time you learned the truth.”

Fatima drew back. “Don’t touch me! You’re not my mother, you never were.”


Comments are always welcome. Next Sunday: the second half of Sultana, Chapter One.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Obsessed with Amazon Sales Ranking? You're Not Alone.

Just in case you needed another reason to interrupt your writing productivity, Amazon's got a little something for you.

They must be aware that authors obsessively check the sales ranking of their books, at least three or four times a day. No sniggering, you know you do it, too - "Oh, let me just check one thing before I go to bed....woohoo! 11,395!" followed next morning by, "Hang on, just have to look at one thing...damn! It's 13,794. Heading the wrong way!!!" In fact, I know it's not just me who does this - Amazon even says so on the Author Central website. Now, authors have an (easier?) way to manage their compulsive need to check sales rankings.

If you have no clue what Amazon Author Central is, let me sum it up: a free Author Page, where you or your publisher can list your biography, books, photos and videos, your blog, and even tour events. Two things you need to get started: a book you've written and an online account with Amazon. Ever wondered where your books are selling? Amazon has taken it a step further by providing sales data paperback and Kindle purchases of your book(s) in the US from Nielsen BookScan. This service was once available only to the publishing industry at thousand-dollar fees. Also, Author Central consolidates your sales ranking history, viewable over a span of two weeks, one month, or based on all available sales data. Admit it: isn't it much easier to have all the information over a span of time, rather than obsessively checking the ranking several times a day? Feel free to check as often as you want, and jump for joy or freak out over the information - no one will ever know.

This move by Amazon has spurred all sorts of responses. Some of my favorites from Twitter are here. Reasoning behind the decision? Amazon VP Russ Grandinetti says: “Authors are an important community for us … We’re really happy to make it easy and free for them to see geographical BookScan data updated weekly, as well as historical Amazon bestsellers rank, for their books. We hope this creates an improved feedback loop for authors and enables them to develop more effective methods for reaching the widest possible audience.”

Ha! All thoughts on corporate culture and reasoning aside, I know one thing it's gonna do for me - feed my obsession! Mwahahaha, mwahahaha.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Giveaway: Free Books at Unusual Historicals

It's the fourth anniversary of Unusual Historicals this week. I've been a longtime contributor to this blog, and it's great to see how much it has grown over the years, with new contributors and readers.

In celebration of four years of Unusual Historicals, here's your first chance to win some of the giveaways being offered this week, which includes medievals by Lila DiPasqua, Carrie Lofty, Lindsay Townsend, Margaret Mallory and Blythe Gifford. Visit Unusual Historicals today.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Post-Nano Blues

I want my Mommy! Or, better yet, a new story!
I'm not quite so sure that congrats are in order, but I reached the 50K goal for Nanowrimo yesterday. Yay. Great. Meh.

I just asked a friend of mine if the following is a valid and natural response to reaching your goal - in a post-Nanowrimo moment, you look at what you've written, and want to curl up and cry like a baby. Sound familiar? If so, in my professional opinion (which counts for squat, by the way), this sounds like a case of post-nano blues. Oh, the horror, the horror!

Symptoms of post-nano blues

1) Sense of hopelessness and despair, as you consider why you ever bothered to sign up for Nanowrimo in the first place.
2) Dizzying headache, as you acknowledge that you may have wasted an entire month just spewing out new crap, whereas you could have edited your old crap, or read a book on how to avoid writing crap.
3) Maniacal, hysterical laughter, as you accept that this is truly the most craptastic crap you have ever written.

Possible Triggers of maniacal, hysterical laughter:
a) Precipitated by a recognition of yourself as some sort of feckless fool lulled into the idiotic hope that you could have created something intelligible, without any editing, over a 30-day period.
b) Prompted by the awful stench of your bad writing, with its passive voice and stilted characterization, the perusing of which has now driven you completely insane.
c) Derived from a feeling of blissful luck that your solitary efforts have escaped the attention and eyes of others, who might be inclined to laugh hysterically if they ever saw what you had written.

Cure for post-nano blues: 
...
...
...
...

Open to suggestions!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Waiting for Inspiration: a Nanowrimo story

Greetings from the West Coast. It's 5:24 in the morning in San Francisco, and I am waiting for some inspiration to write my next scene in Burning Candle. Can you tell by that pic that it's not going well? Since I'm still on New York time, I have mainly succeeded at getting writing done in the morning (not like I'm sleeping properly or anything! - damn you, internal body clock!), but today, I've been staring at a blank page since 4:45am. I'm guessing updating this blog doesn't count towards my daily writing goal? Crap.

Whoever realized all those pep talks were necessary to keep people mtivated after the first week of Nanowrimo is a genius. I read them faithfully. Writing is such a solitary experience, but doing Nano has underscored the fact that I'm not alone in my efforts. Up until this week, I've been moving along pretty steadily, even with the demands of my full-time job and the San Francisco convention we're prepping for. I'm now at just over 29,000 words. The story is a VERY, VERY rough draft - do you hear me people? Long ways to go to a final draft. I can hear Laura Miller's sigh of relief that there will be one less crappy Nano novel sent out on December 1.

Anyway, for the first time, I wrote the entire synopsis of a manuscript, timed by the historical events of my heroine's life, and that task was very helpful, for the first two weeks or so. Not so much now. Should I be worried? Should I be canvasing the hotel looking for my inspiration, which has suddenly gone missing? Or, do I call it a morning, and crawl back into bed? Decisions, decisions....

For those of you doing Nano, stop by and leave a comment about how you're keeping motivated and meeting your writing goals (or not!) No, as I mentioned above, it will NOT count towards your daily word goal either, but you might provide some motivation and much-needed inspiration. Happy writing.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Dreck

Before I get to the subject at hand, let me say at the outset: Salon.com's Laura Miller is perfectly entitled to her own opinion. Just like I'm entitled to disagree with it 100% just about every time. That being said, I offer up Miller's latest piece on why Nanowrimo is a waste of time and energy - her words, not mine.

Few things piss me off more than elitists who pronounce their lofty opinions as if their viewpoints were the only ones that mattered. Unfortunately, this is exactly what I get from each one of Miller's posts on the craft of writing, something that reads like, "Only the innately talented need apply. Plebes, stop wasting your and more importantly my time. Admit that you suck! You are mucking up my perfect writing world with your dreck. Begone!" As Exhibit A, I remind you of Miller's thoughts on self-publishing.

About the only good thing I can say for Miller is that she gets people talking. I wish she would take a different tack or tone in her article, rather than castigating an exercise like Nanowrimo that allows would-be authors to try their hand at writing the novel they might not otherwise write, or helps newbie writers to hone their craft and attempt to meet deadlines, as they would be expected to by editors. More than anything, I wish Laura Miller would actually write a full-length novel again, rather than these scathing sound bites that she likes to deliver, so she can remember the level of perseverance and commitment it takes for a novelist to complete his or her work. It is something I do not believe anyone who has not written a book can understand. Then maybe, I could have a better appreciation of her opinions. For now, her thoughts are the dreck that's mucking up my perfect writing world. Begone, Laura Miller!

Monday, November 1, 2010

My first Nanowrimo

For every Nanowrimo participant, the inevitable moment must come, that moment where you think, "Oh God, why am I doing this?" It's a little disheartening when that particular moment hits you over the head on the first day of the National Novel Writing Month.

This is my first Nanowrimo; better late than never, right? I'm too quirky to be a follower, and too stubborn to allow anyone else to dictate my pace (or at least, not be incredibly resentful of it). It's certainly not as if I'm bored at work; convention season every November at my job makes that highly unlikely. It's also not as if I don't have other things to do. There's a birthday to celebrate, a trip to California wine country, and Thanksgiving dinner to plan. So, why have I decided to do this? I promise you it's not because I lost my mind. I lost a manuscript, my fourth, The Burning Candle, which I had finished this summer. It's the story of Isabel de Vermandois, a medieval countess, wife and mistress to two of the most powerful Anglo-Norman earls in England. She was a remarkable woman, one whom I researched for a year before writing about her. Two of my dear friends managed to salvage four of the later chapters for me. That leaves twenty-six chapters to go.

There's nothing like having to start over again to make you question whether writing is your life or a hobby. As I began chapter one of this new story today, I wondered whether I could do Isabel's life justice. All the familiar worries and fears are there, but lots of hope also. I hope it will be a better story than the first draft, but mostly, I'm striving just to keep at it during the month. It would be nice to reach that 50,000-word mark too. Nanowrimo must mean something different to all the writers who undertake the challenge. For me, it's a fresh start, where I get to pick up the pieces of a story I loved and lost, and begin again. Wish me luck.

My nano name is lyarde11751. Are you doing Nanowrimo too? Good luck in reaching the 50,000-word count!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Everyone's a Critic

Some reviews are in for On Falcon's Wings from Goodreads and I wanted to share them. I don't put much stock in reviews as a whole; strange that I should enjoy doing book reviews so much at the HNR blog, but I never claimed to be a very logical person. I believe that each reader's experience is different because our expectations vary, as the following will illustrate:

Rating: 3 of 5 Stars: I won this book from Goodreads First Reads. It was an interesting story. The only problem I had was the difficulty with the names and trying to keep all of the characters clear in my mind. But, overall, a good book.

Rating: 2 of 5 Stars: I hate to do this to a giveaway book, but the writing is just not up to par. It needs more polishing - better characterization (I shouldn't be wondering how old the main characters are after 30 pages - they are called "boy" and "girl" by other characters, but already kissed and are married off very shortly after - how old are they? 10? 13? 17? I have no clue); less info-dumping of everyone's back stories with lengthy unpronounceable names and languages they speak in and who they are related to; less emphasis on describing everyone's outfits and instead on creating of the atmosphere of a certain time and place in history; less recounting and repeating of the same events from various POVs.

The book might interest some fans of historical bodice-rippers - the love story is dominant here, but as a work of historical fiction this novel is weak.

On the other hand, the cover is gorgeous and pretty much the only reason I am giving this book 2-star rating instead of 1-star.

Rating: 5 of 5 stars: I thought this was a great book. I didn't want to put it down. Had just enough sorrow and loss but also happiness to make you want to finish it and see what does happen between Edric and Avicia. A great non-stop read for teens.I definitely recommend it.

Of course, I naturally zeroed in on the 2 out of 5 star rating and my WTF radar started blaring. But, then I decided to act like a grown woman of nearly thirty-five years, instead of a five year old child, and congratulated myself on having joined the ranks of other authors, who find some people like their work and others don't. I've thanked the reader for the effort and the comment. The book was clearly not up that person's standards. I understand that sentiment; I've read books that have nothing but five star reviews, but the writing leaves me feeling as though I wasted my time. Who's right, me or the five-star reviewers? We all are; it's all up to individual taste and perspective. So who am I to say that particular reviewer for my book is wrong?

For those of us who put so much into our work and offer it up for review, keep in mind that you can't and won't please everyone. Keep on writing.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

1066: The fading of a bright star

If you've read my book, or my book reviews of anything to do with 1066, or listened to me rant and rave about the Norman Conquest, you'll know I wear a big heart on my sleeve for the Saxons at the Battle of Hastings. Those Normans and their bastard duke? Boo! Boo! Boo! Wonder why I'm always so P.O.'d about an event that took place more than nine hundred years before my parents even thought of having me? Allow me to explain.

In January of 1066, Harold Godwinson ascended the throne of England. Handsome and brave as he was, or so the chroniclers of the period tell us, Harold seemed to also be the shining star of his family. At least compared to some of his brothers, one a rapist and murderer exiled from England for part of his life, the other turned traitor to his family. Harold's father Godwin was a powerful earl of Wessex, but also the sort of man who followed favorable winds. He could be counted on to support whoever ensured the best for him and his family. The family had a great fortune and owned at least half of England between them. So, how did things go so horribly wrong for Harold?

First, he made an enemy of his brother Tostig, the traitor I mentioned above, by not supporting him when the people of his domain rebelled. A brother holding a grudge, with strong connections to the Continent and in the Scandinavian area, almost guaranteed that Harold's reign would never be easy.

Second, Harold also made an enemy of Duke William the Bastard in Normandy, who counted on Harold's support of his "claim" to England. Trust me, people; William deserves the appellation of "bastard", not just in the 11th century sense but the 21st century one as well. I call B.S. on William's claim, argued in the folds of the Bayeux Tapestry, that Harold had sworn an oath on holy relics to support him. Why an ambitious man like Harold from an ambitious family would support the claims of an outsider for the English throne defies all logic. Weren't there enough good Englishmen better suited to ruling England?

1066 was not going to be a good year for Harold. His brother enjoined the Viking king Harald Hardrada in an attack on England in September. Harold pinned his hopes on two northern earls, related to him by marriage to their sister, but unfortunately, the brothers were more interested in their own survival than protecting the English people. Harold had to take care of the invaders himself. Just when he defeated them at Stamford Bridge, a battle in which his brother Tostig died, he received word of Duke William's invasion. He marched his depleted force south to the outskirts of the town of Hastings, and on October 14, met his end there.

Harold, we barely knew you! If I could, I'd love to have a conversation with him, something like, "So, um, exactly what were you thinking when you marched a battered force south to meet William? Did it ever occur to you to wait, muster all your forces and then meet that flipping jackass? WTF, Harold!" Of course, that conversation would be very one-sided, since he wouldn't understand a word of my modern English, and there's that whole nine hundred year gap between us, him being dead and all. But it is something I wonder about, which historians have debated for centuries. I'm reading a book on the period, The History of England from the Norman Conquest to the Death of John by George Burton Adams. It's old and could be a good read, except for the ideas it promulgates that the conquest wasn't such a bad thing. It brought England into the fold with the Catholic Church, and into a more Continental, rather than Scandinavian sphere of influence. Yeah, I'm sure the Saxons who lost their families and lands were consoled by those facts. Basically, if I could, I would throw this book at the wall, except I'm not destroying my Kindle that way.

To grasp the full scale of how much 1066 changed England, imagine if Mexico invaded the United States. After a long battle, the Mexican army decimated U.S. forces and killed the president, who happened to be present in his role as commander-in-chief. They also killed most of his generals and some cabinet ministers, leaving a few still in Washington. The Mexican army decimates U.S. cities in their path to Washington. Their president claims the U.S. for his own. The new official language of the U.S. becomes Spanish, rather than English and almost all U.S. citizens who own great wealth and property lose it to the Mexican elite. That is precisely what happened to the English after 1066, when they lost against the Normans.

So, on this nine hundredth and forty-fourth anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, I give a virtual salute to the brave and brash King Harold, the last of the Saxon kings, and a stiff middle finger to William the Bastard for stealing his crown and country.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Resources: Reenactment Societies

Research has been a hot button topic for me lately. Sounds like it should be a misnomer - research as a hot issue? Yes, strangely enough. After reading On Falcon's Wings, a few people have asked about the research process itself. British history is very accessible, even for the Middle Ages. One of the best resources I've found for research isn't in history books. If you want to see living history, find out about reenactment societies.

There are hundreds of reenactment societies across the globe, covering everything from the classical Roman Age to the World War II period. Of course, some of the best societies on the Anglo-Saxon and later Norman periods are found in England. The members of these organizations have a detailed knowledge of the period and society, everything from costuming to weaponry, foods and customs. Groups like Regia Anglorum immerse themselves in the Anglo-Saxon and earlier Viking age, and offer the historical novelist a wealth of information and detail that supports historical record. Regia Anglorum also maintains a permanent site at Wychurst in Kent, offering views of Anglo-Saxon village life.

Groups like Regia also participate in reenactments of famous battles, including the Anglo-Saxon defeat at Hastings. It's an event sponsored by the English Heritage society. Each October in the second weekend of the month closest to the October 14 date of the battle, reenactors gather at Battle Abbey to recreate the Hastings battlefield. And those damn Normans win every time! Boo! It was held this past weekend, and I am so jealous of everyone who got the chance to go and be part of living history. The Guardian has posted some great images online about the event, in which 350 reenactors participated. Check out this photo: if this guy didn't have brown hair, he would be my Edric in On Falcon's Wings. He's got the animal skin on and everything.

If you want to enhance the authenticity of your historical novel, reenactment societies can be a great help. You can find a list of them here.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Researching the Historical Novel

A huge thanks to a dear friend, Wendy Laharnar, for inviting me to be Author of the Month in her newsletter, Calamity's Corner. Read the article here.




Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Random Acts

Sometimes, really good things can come out of a disaster. That's hard to believe or take encouragement from when you're in the midst of a crisis, but trust me, it's true. Here's a list of random things that came to me this weekend:
  • Kindness can come from people who are practically strangers, those whom you've lived next door to for several years and never spoken to a day in your life.   
  • Backup your important files regularly. In fact, do triple backups, preferably at two different physical locations, or including at least one, online, easily retrievable location.
  • Value your friends and they will always be there to support you. I know I said that a couple days ago, in the blog post about writing friends. It truly hit home today, when my dearest writing friends took the trouble to find portions of my writing that I had not backed up in recent months. Anita and Mirella, you are my angels. 
  • Cultivate great relationships all around. You never know when you'll need a generous boss, sympathetic co-workers, or those great neighbors and friends.
  • And last but not least - to the druggies: don't cook your drugs in the basement, just in case something catches fire and burns your house to the ground. You don't want to be homeless and then subsequently hauled off by the cops with the entire block looking on.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Things I've Learned, But Needed Reminders

This week, I had two important reminders, life lessons that I've learned along the way that could always do with a little reinforcing. One: don't warm up boiled eggs in the microwave, at least not for thirty-five seconds. They can, and will, explode in your face; spewing hot flecks of yolk into your eyes and leaving a burn on your top lip that looks like a shark took a bite out of it. Yes, folks, I have the burn mark to prove this. Two, a pain-free lesson compared to the first one: never take the friendships you've made with other writers for granted. Since this is a blog about writing, guess what I'm going to discuss further.

It's so easy, terribly easy when you're bogged down in writing and editing, blogging, tweeting, the always-looming deadline, and all that other real-world stuff you do, to forget your friends. They've read and commented on your work in critique groups, validated your skills as a writer, subscribed to your blog, followed you on Facebook and Twitter, cheered each request for partial and full, listened to you cry on the phone over your latest rejection, and given loads of helpful advice. Yet, when you just need to get that last chapter done, you retreat into your writer's cave. Don't. The best writer friends will understand that you need time to yourself, because they do as well, but they will also be there whenever you decide to stop acting like a hermit. I am so blessed to have writing friends, whose lovely voices I get to hear on Skype every weekend, who trade emails with me almost every week, who have maintained long distance friendships with me, even though we've never met in person.

Thank you to all my writing friends. Your support and encouragement keeps me going in this crazy business we've all chosen.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Royalties: Mainstream vs. Indie

Show me the money! No kidding, Jerry Maguire.

This weekend, I received my first payment from CreateSpace for the copies of my book sold in August. My earnings are $2.86 per $12.99 paperback sold; although Amazon has now discounted the sale price to match Barnes & Noble.com's price of $9.35, I'm still receiving the same share. The Kindle version of the book is now $2.99. My earnings are $2.04 per sale, based on the 70 percent royalty.

Today, I checked in on one of my favorite blogs, JA Konrath's A Newbie's Guide to PublishingHis post on Friday covers the cost of e-books, but he's provided some information on traditional earnings that almost made me fall off my seat:

"...So, for a $7.99 paperback, the author earns 64 cents per copy sold.

For a $13 trade paperback, the author earns 75 cents.

For a $25 hardcover, the author earns $2.50 to start out, though it can get to $3.75 if it sells well...."

Do you have a headache too after looking at those figures? Pretty dismal.

I still believe mainstream publishing offers a level of exposure I may never have by going indie. When I compare my royalty percentages to those in traditional publishing, I'm more than happy with my decision. In fact, it makes me consider whether I really still want to chase that big print deal. Especially, if I get to do most of the hard work, and earn much less than a potential publisher will.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

"You Wrote That? Really?"

While strolling through the park one day, in the merry, merry month of...bet you thought I was gonna burst into song, but I swear it'll never happen in your or my lifetime. Random bursting-into-song freaks me out, the end result of several torturous viewings of High School Musical with my nephews. Sorry, Zac Efron, but I hated that crap!

Speaking of other things that freak me out....The park was Madison Square Park, and the day was today, one of those gorgeous fall days that makes NYC a joy to behold. It was pretty crowded as usual at the Shake Shack, but I decided to grab something to eat on the way into work. I was standing in line with three copies of my book, which I'm shipping out to reviewers later today. A woman peered over my shoulder and said, "Wow, that's a really nice cover. What book is that?" So I gave her title, told her it's historical fiction, which she proclaimed to love with a little girlish squeal. I gave a little more detail; love destroyed by Norman conquest of 1066, yada yada. She was totally unfamiliar with the history, but said she's a sucker for lovers torn apart and maybe she'd check it out. Then, she asked the writer's name and I told her. She followed with, "But, why do you have three copies of the same book? Is it that good?" I said, because it's mine, I'm the author.

That's when it got weird. She looked me full in the face, looked at the cover, back to me, back to the cover, following with, "You wrote that? Really?" I nodded and smiled, a genuine one, not the usual sarcastic, half-assed smirk that most people get from  me. Then, total, absolute, dead silence ensued. Oh well, it was time to place my meal order anyway.

Walking on, I'm still slightly bemused by this woman's reaction, and don't quite know what to make of it. Why did she seem so shocked at the prospect that the books were mine? Was she unsure whether to believe me? Did she fear I was suddenly going to start hawking copies on the Shake Shack line? Guess I'll never know.

What reactions have you encountered from others, friends and random strangers, when they learn you've written a book?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Twitter Addiction

When I'm not writing, reviewing, blogging, or obsessively checking web stats, it's likely because I'm on Twitter. I never, I mean NEVERthought I admit this, but here goes: My name is Lisa and I'm addicted to Twitter. More than two months after my first official tweet, I'm wondering how in the world this happened to me. The same person who once swore, "I'll never be a twit!" I've now learned that's 'tweeter', thank you very much, and that I am now part of the 'tweeple' in the 'twitterverse'. It's a bit much, I know, but tweeter is fine and definitely much better than the word a cousin of mine used. She's just as sarcastic but slightly less foul-mouthed than I am. Hint: it starts with a 'T' and rhymes with 'what'.

Now, I check Twitter many times a day, too often to count on my computer and phone. I don't need an intervention just yet. Of course not. What addict ever admits that? Still, it's hard to fathom that naturally shy, introverted me has gone this route. I'm not one for talking to random strangers or people I've never met - I try to avoid those kinds of situations at all costs. So, what happened to make me change my mind? Probably the same thing that happened when I decided to start blogging. I discovered a community of writers, many of them whom I admire. I wanted to talk with them and not just about writing. Those writers can be easily categorized into two groups: those who use Twitter to promote themselves and those who don't and have lives beyond writing. I've found something interesting about the latter half: they are the ones I'm most likely to engage and to cheer on if they ever announce something noteworthy about their books. It's great to connect with people whom I probably wouldn't dream of approaching, even if we only exchange 140 characters at a time. I think my Twitter addiction is here to stay.

Are you a Twitter addict too? Tweet me @lisajyarde. Happy tweeting.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Goodreads Book Giveaway: On Falcon's Wings



Goodreads Book Giveaway



On Falcon's Wings (Paperback) by Lisa J. Yarde



On Falcon's Wings


by Lisa J. Yarde



Giveaway ends September 17, 2010.
See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.


Enter to win

What do you have to do to potentially win one of five, FREE copies, you ask?

-Click the link above now until September 17, 2010.
-Open to US and Canadian residents only (sorry to any other International Goodreads members, but the cost of shipping is often more than the cost of the book).
-Enter your information and you could be selected.

Good luck!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Changes

Fall’s in the air in New York City, a season of change. It heralded the end of my nine-day vacation in Barbados. It was great to reunite with family members living there and reconnect with others from the UK. We had an impromptu, mini family reunion. Not only did I come back with sunburn (still have the peeling skin on my forehead and cheeks to prove it), I also gained a perspective on how much things have changed over the years.


My arrival occurred long after the sugar cane harvest, so it wasn’t a surprise to see bare fields, while driving around the island. Still, I’m not accustomed to the amount of land, which was once used for sugar cane cultivation that instead supports golf courses and new housing developments. Sugar cane was once Barbados’ lifeblood and now that seems to be dwindling away. As both of my mom’s sisters say, all the good Bajan sugar is now shipped to the European Union, leaving little to none for the people who once endured backbreaking labor during the harvest season. Being a history buff who has fond memories of living in Barbados, I get a little nostalgic for the way things were, when sugar cane was grown less than a stone’s throw away from the house I grew up in. The memory of the sweet juices dripping down my hand hasn’t faded. Times are different now because of the influx of tourism. Barbados has long been a tourist mecca, for Britons especially, but I wonder how the older generation feels about the changes the industry has brought to their country. Perhaps they don’t care, if it means more foreign exchange is available. If my grandparents were alive today, I don’t think they’d recognize the island where they raised eleven kids in a small house on the south coast.

Something else of a sinister nature happened while I was on vacation. When I was a child in Barbados, some odd-twenty years ago, personal safety at home or in the workplace was hardly ever a concern. Now my aunts are locking their doors from strangers passing by, doors that used to remained unlocked until at least 10 or 11pm while we kids played outside. Then last Friday, a vicious murder of six women took place, when two men threw a Molotov cocktail at the lone entrance of a clothing store they had just robbed. The six women trapped inside died from smoke inhalation and burns. The women were between the ages of 18 and 24. When I ask my youngest aunt, “What is this island coming to?” she just shakes her head, and says, “Girl, you don’t know Barbados.” I think she’s right.

Today, my perspective on my island birthplace is a little bittersweet. A paradise it remains, but one where those my New York street smarts might come in handy in the future. And, while I know change comes eventually, sometimes it's a little sad to see.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Taking a break

No, I don't actually fish - but I am going to a nice island where other people do lots of fishing. It's vacation time, and I can't wait.

What are my plans, now that I actually have some free time for the first time in months? I plan to do Absolutely Nothing! Well, nothing that is work or writing, editing or reviewing related, that is. But I will enjoy a few fun activities: the beach, hanging out with family, sightseeing. I've also got the reading list for the plane all set: I'll start with The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell and coming back, I should be on Genghis: Bones of the Hill by Conn Iggulden, both of which I've been looking forward to reading for some time.

Be back in September. Have a great Labor Day.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Paid to Publish? Now, Pay for Reviews

Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware just tweeted about The New PW Select: A Quarterly Service for the Self-Published, which will begin listing self-published books and review those "most deserving of a critical assessment," starting in September. Authors must pay a listing fee of $149, which includes a six-month subscription to the digital edition of Publishers' weekly.

I almost snorted Diet Dr. Pepper out of my nose when I read this article, and that is just not fun! Soda in your nose actually stings, much like the article and that processing fee. One hundred and forty-nine US dollars. Really? Really really?

"But Lisa," I can hear you saying, "You've paid to publish. You said so on this blog. Why does another fee bother you?" Well, since I'm sure you're asking, I'll explain. I'm an indie publisher, not a self-publisher, by my definition. If I were truly a self-publisher, I would have my own espresso book machine at the ready, churning out books all day, or at the very least, I'd be in Kinko's every night running copies. Since I have a life beyond writing and publishing, I don't own the mechanism whereby my book is printed and shipped out to anyone who orders it. Amazon's Createspace does. So, it is perfectly reasonable for me to pay Createspace for the service of making my book available. How else would anyone read it? Someone has to print it and that sure won't be me, as I don't have the time or skill.

The $149 fee to pay someone to list a book with the potential for a review is entirely something else. Note that PW "maintains our right to review what we deemed worthy," and that the processing fee is for the brief listing - not a charge for the review. I can only assume this means any piss-poor, self-published book will be listed, but likely will not garner a review from the editors. At least, that is my hope. Yet, that would mean a writer has paid $149 to have PW print their name, book title etc. in a list of the potentially hundreds of self-pubbed books, so that possible readers can become passively aware of the book. Something that a good web presence, like a website, blog, Facebook, Goodreads, Shelfari, and Twitter, can already help a writer accomplish. For free.

I hate to pass hasty judgment, but I will. Sorry. First I must ask, what is about those of us who go the non-traditional route that some people just assume we're willing to pay for anything? I suppose the blame lies in the stigma that's still associated with self-publishing. I am aware of a few other outlets already charging fees of this sort, but I won't list them here because their approach disgusts me. Instead, I'll just get on with the process of requesting reviews from legitimate sources, like those who won't charge me for their opinion.

I'm drawing the line in the sand, folks. While I will pay to be published, I won't pay for an opinion of my work, but I'm sure others have and will continue to do so. For those people, I leave you with the sage advice of Victoria Strauss: writer beware.


Meet the characters - Sultana Moraima

The character of Moraima becomes one of two protagonists in  Sultana: The White Mountains . She is the beloved wife of her husband, Sultan...