Friday, March 30, 2012

What's In a Number?

I don't get into much personal, family stuff on my blog but if you've been a reader here for long, you know my family is heavily into sports. Basically we play and we read.  If you are or were an athlete, you understand how numbers can hold power or should I say superstition.  Many young players want to wear the number of a famous professional athlete, but sometimes there is another reason a specific jersey number hold significance.  At our house, it's a family thing.

I have four children and they've all participated in scholastic athletics and two of them continued onto college sports.  When they were elementary and middle school aged, they all admired and loved their older cousin. As a senior in high school, he was being courted by numerous division one colleges for basketball and football.  A terrible accident took his life in the middle of the school year.  Evan was the epitome of kind, humble all around kid.  He was endlessly patient with his younger cousins, attending their games, playing video games and just hanging out with them.  Then he was gone.  Without any discussion with us or each other, each of my children chose to always wear his uniform numbers during their own competitions.  When it came to baseball and for my daughter, softball, they all wore #17.  My three boys have all finished with baseball and this is my daughter's final year at softball.  So number 17 is on the field one last season with the Gourley moniker on top.  It's heart-breaking and bitter sweet, but it means something. 

I signed up for A to Z as soon as the list allowed. Imagine my thrill at being #17.  It means something special to me.  Remembering and missing you, Evan.

What is your A to Z number?  Do you have a favorite number? Do you have a number you have a superstition about?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

I'm Stickin To It

I thought about taking a few days off from blogging this week. Usually I try to blog MWF and sometimes on Sunday.  But with A to Z Challenge starting this coming Sunday, I considered taking a mini-vacation from blogging and skipping today and Friday.  But part of being a writer is having the discipline to not slack off even if no one is watching.

A few things are working against my regular schedule this week. My daughter has three high school softball games this week on, you guessed it, Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  My husband is going out of town Thursday through Sunday and the grass really must be mowed this weekend. Lots of other little duties are requiring my time and attention over the next few days the largest of which is getting my posts ready for A to Z.

But I have discipline and I believe good things will come to those who work hard. One of many good things for me this week was this new review for The Keepers of Sulbreth from Dennis Royer on Amazon.  Thanks, Dennis. 

On a more personal level, my daughter received a terrific scholarship offer from Boston University, settling her agonizing decision of where to go to college. She worked so hard for this, we were all a bit giddy to see her get what she's earned come to fruition.  The only down side is that she'll be seven hours away from home.

So, I'm going to discipline myself, stick to my blogging schedule, get all my A to Z posts ready and still find some time to work on my writing.

Have some good things come your way lately? Are you disciplined with your writing time?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Melynda over at The Contemplative Cat honored me with the Versatile blogger award.  Am I versatile? Not so sure. Mostly I talk about writing. 

I have a few friends who refrain from passing around awards or who feel burdened by the awards. Not me.  Every time someone so honors me, a link is formed between their blog and mine.  Melynda took that a step further and purposefully used passing on the award as a means of making more links with other bloggers and helping out those of us she selected.  Thank you, Melynda. 

She gathered some names from the A to Z Challenge site and I was lucky enough to be picked.  The challenge is only a week away and I'm already making new friends.  I want to do a group thank to all those people who take the time to organize challenges, blogger awards and blogfests. I can't always participate but when I do, it's always helpful in expanding my online presence.  So link over to Melynda's and learn a little bit about her and find some more cool links.

Want to join a blog fest or challenge.  Visit L. Diane Wolfe if you know some sad songs.  Having security issues as a writing, share those insecurities by joining the Insecure Writers Support Group.  Want to really meet a lot of fun bloggers, join the A to Z challenge

Now I'm not passing on the blogger award but I do want to link to a friend of mine who has his first horror novel coming out in April. George R. Appelt Jr. has his trailer up for Shepherd's Fall.

Now only a few things about myself I'm supposed to share with everyone as part of the blogger award.

1. I jog between 5 and 6 miles nearly everyday.
2. I'm retiring from teaching after 33 years in June, 2013.
3. I grew up on a family dairy farm and got up some days at 4 a.m. to milk the cows before school.
4. I hate getting up early.
5. My grandfather was a semi-famous moonshiner during Prohibition.

Enough about my regular, middle class American self.  What do you think of blog awards? Are you up to any blog challenges lately?

Friday, March 23, 2012

To Each Our Own

I think no matter how open-minded we all believe we are, it's only human to stereotype.  Often we're not even aware of it.  When we're shopping and see people dressed a certain way, we assume things about them.  When we see a bunch of loud teenagers dressed in black, baggy pants, tattoos and untied, too-large sneakers clopping down the mall concourse, we all veer to the other side of the walkway.  When we see a screaming child and an impatient mother, do we assume neglect or something worse? 

Do we do the same as writers? If we have a gay male character so we make him a fashion expert? If we have a politician, so we always make him corrupt and greedy? Are all the big corporations headed by heartless CEOs who love nothing more than rolling over the little guys? Are the stepmothers always evil? There are many ways to see the world and we each shelter our own prejudices even when we believe we're the most-opened minded people in the world.

I teach teenagers and I learned early in my career to get them know as people and not judge their characters by the costumes they wear. Tattoos are very popular among teenagers now and even if I think most of them are making mistakes by marking their bodies in ways they might come to regret later, that's only my opinion and I don't think less of them because they feel differently.  Any experienced mother will sympathize with the frazzled mother dealing with a child's tantrum in a public place. Most mothers have been there.

Do you see stereotypes in your reading? Have you caught yourself using stereotypes in your own writing?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tools of the Trade

Have you ever visited a bookstore and noticed all those lovely, and usually expensive, leather-bound journals? And there are lots of them with less expensive coverings but still very cool outerwear.  I love looking at them and bought one of the priciest for my daughter last Christmas.  She's filled it with private stuff and keeps it close as one of her more precious possessions.  My one son bought me a cool leather journal too and my daughter added a little moleskin journal too.  But do I use them to write stuff in? They're really too cool to use.

In a few short months, I'll be shopping with my daughter for supplies to start her college life with.  We'll visit the office supply store.  They make such neat paper clips and binder clips.  There are so many pens, I can never decide which to get.  And of course, there are lots of colors and widths of highlighters to select from.  Staplers, pencils, and spiral notebooks. And I always look at the envelops and I check out the legal pads. I debate between the different colors and then usually pick up yellow anyway.  I can't buy stuff for her without picking up a few little things for myself. 

But I have to wonder, what exactly do I need?  What writing tools are a must for my career? I still have a box of envelops from two years ago.  I'm not sure I'll ever use them all.  Paper clips? Still have some because I don't have that much paper sitting around my writing desk anymore. Pens and pencils? Still have those I picked up from last year.  Legal pads? Maybe one but it's not an emergency. I use them to jot some notes if I go to any kind of author talk but usually it just sits there.  Highlighters? Well, my children steal them off my desk but I don't have much use for them.

The tool I really need for my writing is my laptop.  I need the internet.  I need a few thumb drives to back everything up.  A few sticky notes to jot quick reminders on and I'm set.  The only time I've needed an envelop lately is to send a free book to a winner of a giveaway contest.  I remember when postage was one of my biggest yearly expenses when it came time to add things up for taxes.  And it's better this way. I save time and money by being able to do everything online.  But I do miss restocking my paper goods and replacing those pens. I don't miss standing in line at the post office.

So what tools are crucial to your writing? Do you miss anything about the way it used to be?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Real Heroes

Most writers of fiction, like me, my novels include heroes and heroines as the main characters.  These fictional people aren't perfect but they do go about saving the world.  Sometimes they battle evil forces, magical in the case of fantasy like I write, but in a contemporary novel the bad guys can be someone giving into their personal desires to acquire wealth or power.  The more complex the antagonist, the better the story.  In the real world, the bad guys are more complicated and perhaps more difficult to identify.
From Jan's blog

A writer friend of mine knows this first hand.  Dr. Jan recently returned from a medical mission trip to Tanzania. I'm not sure of what all she did there, what challenges she faced and how many people she  helped.  But I'm going to find out.  Jan is sharing her experience on her blog, Cherished Illusions, by posting journal entries from her trip.  Her writing talent shines as she pulls you into her adventure, especially the mood of her group. I can't wait to read the next entry.  Not only am I enjoying sharing her experiences, Jan raises a lot of questions that will stay with you long after you're done reading.  You'll know what I mean when you visit. 

It's simple to put money in a collection plate or envelope and then feel you've done your part to help. But people like Jan put their time, their skills and even their lives into that collection plate.  They travel to remote areas and do what they can to defeat enemies more dangerous than wizards or maniacs who live only in our novels.  Ignorance, poverty, disease and all the terrible social woes that go along with those problems are things that are more likely to bring the end of our world than an invasion from beyond the galaxy.  Visit Jan, leave a comment of this real life heroine's blog, and you'll feel good knowing people like her exist. 

Have you ever gone on a mission trip? Do you do journaling and do you share it with others?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Month of Indie

March has been declared Small and Indie Press Month. By whom? Don't know and don't care. It's an excuse to celebrate those wonderful, hardworking, lacking in fame, small presses. Many times these publishers are run by a few dedicated people who love books and spend most hours of the day editing, promoting, designing covers, updating blogs, websites, twitter and facebook to help their authors succeed in this often heartbreaking business.

The thing easiest to love about small presses for an author is the relationship between writer and publisher. Those wonderful people actually listen to their authors. They respond quickly to emails. They're thrilled to help with promotion even though their budgets for such as very limited. Often they're entirely welcoming of an author's request for cover art.

They love hearing about your newest book. Most of them offer your books at reasonable prices so they can compete in the sprawling market of the ebook trade.

The editors I've worked with at New Concepts Publishing have been wonderful and thorough. I've learned so much from them and become a better writer because of their excellent work.

Another great thing about small presses is the great variety of them out there. Write romance? You have lots of choices. Write mystery or suspense? They're waiting for you. Write SF or fantasy? You can find a home for it. How about YA? They'll love you. So do your research if you're looking for a small or independent press for your newest book. And if you're looking to add to your TBR pile, support an independent press by sampling a book from one of their talented authors.

Do you buy books published by small and independent presses? Do you know what entity decides to set aside certain days, weeks or months for celebrations? Who has that power over the calendar or can a simple commoner like me do that?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Being Perfect

Like large chunks of the population of the USA, our family has the TV tuned into March Madness.  Except for my daughter, everyone in our family, me, my husband and five sons played some high school basketball.  The college tournament showcases a lot of teams that aren't usually featured on national coverage.  Sometimes those 'no name' teams are huge underdogs and pretty much expected to lose.  But once in a while, one of those newcomers to the big show beat the favorite.  Sometimes they have success beyond their wildest expectations.  But to do so, they have to play nearly perfect.  No mistakes, no turnovers, make their shots, in other words they need to be nearly perfect.

I'm sure many of us have read a book by a bestselling author and found mistakes. Spelling, grammatical or perhaps what appears to be a sagging middle or plot hole. Perhaps we thought some of the dialogue was still and unnatural or a character was unlovable, or some other weakness that we suspect would be unacceptable for a new author trying to sell that first manuscript.  Writers published by small presses are sometimes closely scrutinized for the quality of the editing and the substance of their books.  Writers who work for small presses or who dare to self-publish are the underdogs against the big names in the publishing show. To come out on top against these well-established and well-known book publishers, the independents have to walk closer to the level of perfection.  Their book isn't going to get published or isn't going to sell because they've sold twenty other bestsellers before this one.

But like those underdogs in the March Madness basketball games, the excitement of being part of the game, reaching that level of success, will inspire great performance.  We often hear sports announcers saying a player is giving  110%, which is impossible of course, but like those players, new authors have to work hard, giving full effort and perhaps for a long time, if we are to reach the next level in the bracket and reach the finals of the big show.

So are you into March Madness? Have you read some books from bestselling authors that don't seem to have the same level of editing as in previous novels?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Another Ebook +

I'm currently working on the third book in my fantasy series, The Futhark Chronicles, but I have other things going on at the same time. I continue to promote my romance novels under my pen name of Susan Kelley though it will be a few months before I'm back to work on a new novel for my publisher.

Another big project I'm working on is my second epic fantasy series. Though I'm feeling more comfortable and at ease with self-publishing, I'm still looking around for a reputable independent press to handle this series. The thing about this is, there are lots of those small presses popping up here and there. How am I to know if they'll do a good job with my book? Will they design a great cover? Are their editors professionals? Will they see my book is sent out for reviews? Will they make it available at all the major retailers?

These questions are important and sometimes I know an author who has worked with a particular publisher and I can learn some insider secrets relating to the competency of the company. But another good way to rate a press is by reading some of their products. And because of the reasonable pricing of ebooks by most independent presses, I can afford to sample their wares before submitting my own golden prose to them.

I currently have a list of nine small presses I'm considering for submitting my newest book. Over the next few weeks, I'll be shopping for samples of fantasy books published by these possible targets for a round of query letters. By spending a few dollars I'll get insight into the quality of books and know if a particular publisher is for me and me for him. If you have a romance book looking for a home, check out the independent press that is home for my books, New Concepts Publishing. They have a wide selection of books at low prices.

How did you find a publisher or how are you going about finding one? Have you ever read a book mainly to learn what quality of book is being published by a press?

Sunday, March 11, 2012


I was wondering what I should blog about today and while my mind remained blank, my gaze fell upon my keeper shelf. I'm lucky enough to have build in book shelves in the room I've taken for my writing office.  Most of the books on my keeper shelf are hard backs of various genres.  My focus on writing is mostly on fantasy though I still have some romance novels working.  My keeper shelf is filled with fantasy novels.  I noticed the shelves have become disorganized, mostly because my eldest son is constantly taking down a few of the books and reading them and then putting them back carelessly.  But the top shelf is till neatly in order. Why?
from FB

I realized the books on the top shelf haven't moved much in the last year or more.  Why? Because I haven't reread them and now I realize I probably never will.  They are hard-backed books which means they cost a bit.  I couldn't wait for them to come out in mass market and all of them had been purchased before I had my ereader.  I sat up late into the night reading some of them and now I can't remember why I so eagerly anticipated their release.  They're well-written books by successful authors but I have no current desire to read them again. It's my taste that has changed. 

New authors have won my heart. I can't wait for Brandon Sanderson's next novel.  Brent Weeks has earned his way onto my keeper shelf. I've really enjoyed Paul Hoffman's dark fantasy series.  Peter V. Brett had been keeping me impatiently waiting for his next book.  In the past year I've passed up new books by authors I've followed with unwavering devotion in years gone by.  They haven't changed the quality of their writing but I've abandoned them. Why?

I think there are two reasons. The first might be that they still write the same type of stories as they always have.  For some of them, their books have started to sound too similar with plots barely reworked from their previous books.  Perhaps they've had a recurring character who seems to make the same mistakes or encounters the same challenges as in the past.  They're just not new enough and I feel cheated or bored.

A second reason might be my desire to read new authors and discover what voices and plots are currently popular with the fantasy audience.  Many of the stories I've sought out recently have darker plots as good battles evil.  Some have magic used in ways I've never considered.  I'm amazed at the creativity and imagination of some of these writers.  Brandon Sanderson amazes me with the scope of the tales he weaves, his world creation so intricate and full of depth I beyond envious of his talent.

So some of my reading habits have changed.  Have you stopped reading a favorite author and why? For what reasons? What draws you to a new writer and then keeps you as a fan? 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Insecure Writer: Social Media

All writers, especially those newly published or seeking publication, are told they need to get their name out there.  We're supposed to have a web presence. I've read endless blogs, attended workshops, read professional magazines and other publications explaining how to do this.  But I have some problems with some of the advice.

I really don't like twitter. I've been on it for quite a while and at first I found lots of interesting links and met other writers, readers and bloggers.  But as my followers and the people I followed grew in numbers, I started to find less and less to interest me.  Some writers and the publishers I follow do nothing but promote.  I don't care about 99% of the celebraty news I see on there.  I check in now and then but seldom tweet myself and almost never click on links anymore.  Guess I failed that part of social media.  I give myself an D-.

I find Facebook amusing at times.  People post some interesting things and I keep up with some of my out of state relatives there.  I also find some links to interesting blogs and keep up with author friends and their successes. Sometimes I post a link there to my blog posts or those of my friends.  I do announce any of my new releases there.  I give myself a C- on FB usage for promoting myself.

The one area I'm doing okay in regards to social media is blogging. I've made lots of interesting and helpful friends.  Blog challenges like the A to Z in April and this Insecure Writers' Blogfest have helped me grow my blog audience and connected to me to other bloggers around the world. And I really enjoy.  But I know I could do better. I could spend more time visiting other blogs and perhaps I could blog everyday instead of three or four times per week.  My excuse is that I need some writing time.  I give myself a B- for my use of blogging to build my online presence.

I'm currently resisting joining pinterest.

So my insecurity for the day is that I should be doing more with social media and my excuses for not are time and lack of interest.  My overall grade on this part of my writing career isn't exactly honor roll status.

Thanks to Alex Cavanaugh for starting this blog fest.  You all can still join anytime.  So are you comfortable with the amount of time you spend working the social media angle? Do you do too much or too little? Have you seen results from doing more?

Monday, March 5, 2012

First Monday Health Tip

It's been a gloomy year here in the northeast of the USA. I don't mean emotionally, I mean literally.  We had record setting rain in 2011 with flooding and lots of depressing destruction.  2012 has been warmer than usual and only the skiers are complaining because most of us are happy for some breaks from high heating bills.  But this year has started out with plenty of rain. I think we had one dry week and now we're back in the pattern of two rain storms per week.  If you have a rain storm, you also have cloudy days leading up to in and following it.  Lots of cloud and little sunshine.

Somewhere you might have read about the winter blues and how this phenomenon actually exists. Our bodies crave daylight and sunshine. The short days of winter depress us in real, physiological ways.  I won't go into the chemical theories about that, but some of the remedies recommended are changing the lighting in your home to brighten your living area.  There is another thing you can do also.  Go outside.

On Saturday for the first time all week, the sun was shining brightly on the browned, hibernating lawn.  A brisk wind kept the temperature at winter levels, but the sun makes up for a lot of that.  The air was fresh and clean around our country home as I walked around the back acre and thought about the spring chores to come.  We're still cleaning up some downed trees from 2012's stellar destruction weather.  Everywhere in my flowerbeds, the warm winter has tricked the bulbs into early appearances. It looks like spring even though I know it could snow anytime of the next few weeks.  But the sun kissed my skin, warmed my back and fueled me with energy and hope for the coming months.

So the health tip for this week: step outside.  Push away from the keyboard and search outside for signs of spring and the renewal it brings to hearts and hopes. Our bodies need the sun to manufacture vitamin D and our souls recognize that distant glowing orb as the source of our energy and a promise of warmth and life. 

Do you feel the winter blues? How do you combat them? Is spring making an early appearance where you live?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Read An Ebook Week

If you don't read ebooks yet, don't you think it's about time to give in. We all love our print books, the library, the comforting scent of paper books and the feel of written and bound prose in our hands.  But if you own an ereader, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, or any other, chances are you love it too.  It's lightweight.  It holds hundreds of books and you add books to it within seconds.  You can find backlisted books by your favorite authors and discover new writers at bargain prices.

There have been ebooks nearly as long as we've had access to personal computers.  And now you can read books on your phone, laptop, tablet or other electronic devices.  To celebrate the ebook, this entire week is set aside to honor the invention and growing love of the ebook.  So from today, March 4th through the 10th, read some ebooks. Buy some ebooks. Share some ebooks.  Tell someone about ebooks.

The publisher of my romance novels, New Concepts Publishing, is one of the older, most successful ebook publishers in the field.  I love working with them. Check out their website. They've published at least one of my books every year for the last five years.  I hope to have a new series with them before the end of the year.

Do you read ebooks? What type of reader do you use? Do you think you would be delighted with ebooks five years ago or are you a new convert?