Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Court or Not to Court

As I told many of you, this week I had jury duty in good ole Harrisburg, PA in the Dauphin County courthouse. I wasn't looking forward to it for any number of reasons.

First of all my day job is being a high school teacher. It's not easy writing lessons plans for an entire week. There are so many day to day issues you deal with as a teacher to insure class flows smoothly and the lessons unfolds as planned. As a PE teacher there are even more last minute adjustments and decisions made to insure maximum activity with minimum horseplay. So I enlisted all kinds of promises from my peers to help my substitute run my classes. Despite the perceived availability of teachers, certified PE teachers are difficult to come by. It's also the semester ending this week so I had many grading issues to deal with.

The second issue distressing me was the mere idea of driving into Harrisburg at rush hour in the morning to a destination unfamiliar to me. The vague directions to the parking garage to be used confounded mapquest and then a short sentence instructed you how to enter the courthouse with no hint of how to find your way to that door from the parking garage. And as my fellow northeasterners know, yesterday during the morning hours we were attacked by monsoon like winds and rain.

But I packed my bag with a book, a jelly sandwich and carrots for lunch as well as a tall bottle of water. I allowed myself 4o minutes for the less than ten mile trip. It took me 38 of those minutes to navigate to the parking garage. Fortunately a number of other confused jurors were searching their way from the garage to the designated entrance and we found it all of us a bit wetter and unhappy than needed. There we stood in line for another ten minutes for our turn to go through the metal detector. I'm pretty sure I could have sneaked six different kinds of weapons through but we managed. After entering, we were checked off on one sheet by an impatient lady, given a metal button to wear proclaiming us jurors in bright orange letters and then passed on to a table where we were given parking vouchers. So kind that we didn't have to pay for parking to do our civic duty. Then we had to sign another paper and finally were instructed to sit where ever we wished in a sprawling room full of chairs set up in rows.

Now these chair were old, not as in lovely antiques, but as in old heavy duty furniture of the age of my parents. Old, straight backs with uncomfortable seats and armrests more decorative than useful. They were placed tight against one another so putting your arm on one of the rests usually meant jabbing your neighbor. It took them nearly the entire first hour and a half to check everyone in. After that, one of the judges gave us a lecture on civic duty and thanked us for being there. I'm all for doing my civic duty duty but don't speak to us as if we had a choice on being there. No one laughed at his jokes which sounded much like a campaign speech.

After that we were seated in pools of between 28 and fifty jurors. My pool, the first one seated waited for an hour and a half before we were told our case had been settled out of court. I read over 150 pages during that time. After that my pool milled around until lunch break. I appreciated my foresight in packing lunch. The dinky cafeteria was very expensive and crowded and it was still raining too hard to go outside. Read fifty more pages at lunch and then after we were seated in another pool. The young man seated beside me turned out to be a former student. It was the best part of the day to see him and later another of my former students came up to speak with me. Ahh, it so wonderful to see them grown up into fine young men.

Without going into more detail, I can tell you I wasn't selected for a jury. I'm not sure why but my oldest son suggested I probably had bad body language. I admit it, the lawyers in the civil case did wear on my patience as did the bumbling of some of the court workers. They've been doing this a long time and had no excuse for massive waste of time caused by disorganization.

At the end of the day, those of who weren't selected for a jury were sent home and told our duty was fulfilled for at least three years. Hurrah!

I thought I might learn something interesting to use in my writing with this experience. Instead I learned our court system, at least in my county, works at a sluggish inefficient pace. There were numerous employees standing around with little to no duties. I heard them discussing what books they had finished the week before and what they would start this week as a couple of their cases had settled out of court and they would have plenty of time to sit around and read at work. On my tax dollar.

And speaking of dollars, PA pays its jurors a whopping $9 per day plus mileage. The nine dollars goes to my employer though they had to pay a substitute ten times that to fill in for me. The gas dollars will probably be about three bucks. The compensation is set by the PA state legislature, the worst over paid state government in the USA.

I also learned that lawyers and judges are seldom as well-spoken, clever or interesting as portrayed on TV. The entire day may have been the most boring eight hours of my life. The only thing keeping me awake was the uncomfortable chairs. I learned you need no organizational skills to work in that jury room. I'm pretty sure they've been doing things the same way for decades. If I ran my high school classroom with the same lack of common sense I would lose my job amid the chaos.

On the other hand, most of people working there were very kind and actually were grateful we had showed up to do our civic duty. The people there as jurors seemed honestly intent and serious about their responsibilities.

Have you had any experience on jury duty? Good or evil? Does your state compensate you at a reasonable rate? How would you run things differently?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Love Coffee Time

Not only do I love to drink that dark brew with all its healthy benefits, I love the review site, Coffee Time Romance. They gave me my first review ever for my first romance novel, The Greater Good.

The Greater Good is the first book in The Chronicles of Solonia. The Lesser Evil and A Ruthless Good followed that first book and this past December I ended the series with One Good Woman. And this week Coffee Time Romance blessed the book with a five cup rating of excellence.

It's sad to end a series I've loved and especially this one. The idea behind this series was the nagging need that drove me to try my hand at writing. Thank you, New Concepts, for believing in me and all the readers who bought the books and proved their faith.

Thank you, Coffee Time, for the wonderful words and support. And thank you, Lotoya, for your excellent review.

Is Coffee Time a place you go to read reviews? If not there, what sites or sources do you visit to check out a book before you invest?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Ten Things

I realized today I forgot to share ten things about me when I was thanking Helen Ginger for honoring me with the One Lovely Blog award. I'm not sure my life is so interesting but here goes.

1. I am one of 7 children and now have 6 of my own. I love a crowd at Thanksgiving.

2. I coached my third son's little league team and those boys still call me coach even though they're freshmen in college now.

3. I grew up on a dairy farm and often rose at 4:00 AM many days to milk the cows.

4. One of my very favorite hobbies is doing jigsaw puzzles, the tougher the better.

5. I bake bread at least once per week. I'm always experimenting with different ingredients.

6. I've been a high school teacher for nearly 30 years. Yes, I'm counting the days until I retire.

7. I keep my fingernails cut very short because I can't type with nails.

8. My favorite candy is swedish fish. (I don't care that much for chocolate.)

9. My grandfather was a bootlegger during prohibition.

10. I have a sister who lives in Forks, WA.

Sometimes writers only share things with each other about the craft and our careers. So now you all know a little bit more about me. Nothing worth blackmailing me for.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

One Lovely Blog

Super duper thank you to Helen Ginger for One Lovely Blog Award. If you don't have Helen's blog bookmarked, you really should stop by. She always has something interesting to say and usually provides some great links to useful information for writers.

As a recipient of the award I get to pass it along. The choices are so difficult because I follow so many great blogs. Here's a few I can't resist mentioning.

These three super ladies often make me laugh, sigh and especially get back to work. Rowena is a pirate hunting captain of the literature seas. Natalie has answers to every question one might need an answer to when it comes to writing and Ava always has some entertaining video up to make me smile.

I hope you'll visit them and leave a comment and hopefully they'll pass on One Lovely Blog to someone else.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Guest Talking

I'm so proud to be a guest at Fresh Fiction today, January 15th. Help me celebrate the release of my fantasy novel, The Keepers of Sulbreth. Learn where I find the names for my characters and the world they inhabit. Also which names did I make up and which ones have a real fantastical history behind them.

And if you still don't have enough reason to visit, Fresh Fiction is running a contest for me. Leave a comment for a chance at a Barnes and Noble $25 gift card and a special treat from Chocolatetown, USA, Hershey, Pennsylvania.

I would love to hear your comments about naming characters and visit here on Sunday for a further article about the names I use in The Futhark Chronicles.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Bless This Mess

What does it take to bring comfort and keep the creative vibes flowing for a writer? Some of us like complete silence and others prefer the background sound of music pounding out a beat to fit the mood of our story.

What about our physical surroundings? For me, warmth is the top priority and after that is something to put my feet up on. My day job, the bill-paying one, expects me to be on my feet all day. When I write in the evenings and on weekends, I like to rest my poor tired legs on a soft stool.

Then there are the tools of the trade. I used to think that meant my computer and the journal I kept all my characters and world building straight in. Now I know better. Convenient to hand must be my Flip Dictionary which I love over any Thesaurus and my massive Websters Universal College Dictionary with the incredibly small print. On the other hand is my 2010 weekly schedule book. One or two reference books helping me with my current WIP. This book they happened to be my mineral and crystal reference, Herbal Medicines and a lore book about all kinds of legends.

Spinning my desk around I can grab one of my three ring binders I use to keep my different series and all their paperwork organized in. Since I'm published with three different publishers I often refer back to their guidelines for formatting issues. Each one has a few different things in the style they prefer. Here I have lists of contact information, copies of contracts, hard copies of any interview or review for those books and of course, color copies of the covers. There is one for my newest fantasy series but since I haven't sold it yet the binder is a bit empty.

As you can see from the pictures, I actually work at two desks. One is a simple writing desk ($99 at Office Max) where I work on my laptop. Often the surface is covered with sticky notes reminding me of tasks I must complete or simply the time of an appointment. The other desk holds promotional items, files of things I'm getting to someday and usually one or two magazines I'm going to read someday. Here is my the folder I toss my tax receipts in until I take the time to organize them. There I put my alpha smart until I'm ready to use it again. So many untended but not unloved folders languish there with half started or outlined novels. Someday.

My chair is a simple one I paid less than $50 for at another office store. And a little bookshelf with my most used reference books on sits by my left hand. I have a bunch more of those but I have to get up to get them.

The room itself is a small sitting room at the front of the house I made into my office. It even has a fireplace and gets the morning sun. Completing the entire comfy set up is a folded paper towel I use as my coaster for cups of coffee or hot tea, iced seltzer water or perhaps a goblet of chilled wine. I'm finishing up my ice coffee right now and will probably had one glass of wine later tonight.

How do you arrange your writing area for comfort? Is it private or does the family interrupt you constantly? Do you do anything special to keep different WIPs organized and separate in your mind?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Lovely review for One Good Woman

What a pleasant surprise today when the author liaison from my publisher contacted me about a new review for One Good Woman from TwoLips Reviews. I didn't even know they had my book on their list to check out and there it was.

Not only did the reviewer, Merrylee, say wonderful things about One Good Woman, her words made it obvious she had read the previous three books in the series and loved them also. She put into words many of my own feelings about the ending of The Chronicles of Solonia Series.

In a few short paragraphs she summed up the goals I had with this last book of leaving my loyal readers satisfied with not only the outcome of the relationships in the various books but also the future of the societies depicted in the series.

Romance writers always talk about the HEA, happily ever after, and how it is an intricate part of a romance. I'm positive this book and the ending of this series has provided a very HEA even if the characters suffered some torment to get there.

Have you ever read a romance series loyally only to be disappointed not because it ended by how it ended?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Radio of the Future

I did my very first radio interview ever. Blog radio will air my interview about my new release, The Keepers of Sulbreth, on starting today. Hopefully one or two people will pull themselves away from tonight's bowl game and listen. If not, the interview will be available at my publisher.

As you can imagine, I was quite nervous going into the interview, but Kristina smoothed the way. Fortunately, everything was recorded so she will edit out any fumbles. She expected it to take an hour but we finished in less than that so I hope that means it went well. I can't wait to hear the finished version.

The publishers I work with for my romance novels both maintain blogs but I think I like blog radio better as far as ease for me in speaking. You can get a lot of information in a few minutes that will take much longer to type and proof. And Kristina did the hard work of cleaning it up.

How many of you have experienced blog radio either as a listener or a blogger? Do you see a big future in it or will other technology overtake it? Or has it already?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

First of Its Kind

My publisher, Medallion Press, posted an interview they did with me as part of my book release, The Keepers of Sulbreth. I like the written interview as I had lots of time to think about my answers and try to sound intelligent.
You may find out I'm not a big fan of urban fantasy and perhaps that is why I'm having trouble getting an agent. They really, really are hot for urban fantasy as opposed to epic or sword and sorcery fantasy. I hope there are lots of readers out there to prove them wrong.
What do you think about urban fantasy versus classic fantasy? I consider LoTR a perfect example of classic, epic fantasy.
Read my interview here and give me your critique, but be kind.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Futhark Chronicles Have Arrived!

Happy New Year! This year is special to me as my very first fantasy novel has been released. The Keepers of Sulbreth, Book# 1 of The Futhark Chronicles, is now available in all bookstores choosing to carry it and on Amazon and other online retail stores.

This first book in an epic fantasy introduces readers to the island kingdom of Futhark and all the complex characters involved in, what else, saving the world. That is what epic fantasy is about, saving the world from evil and sometimes from ourselves.

It's so difficult resisting the temptation to check those Amazon numbers constantly. One number I have enjoyed peeking in on at the number of copies in stock. Not that I know the exact number but at least twice now Amazon has posted their little red-lettered warning that only a few are left and more are on their way. Hopefully that doesn't mean they only had two to begin with!

So I hope this new year brings moments of peace when people can stop worrying about war and money for a short time and relax with a good book (mine, please). I wish for work for all those capable so they have money to buy books and the hours to enjoy them.