Thursday, June 30, 2005

Progress Toward Publication

The publisher at WCP has given me a release date of February, 2006, for Trinity on Tylos, and requested that I write the “back cover blurb,” the dedication, and some descriptions of characters for the cover artist.

Writing the dedication and character descriptions was fairly easy, but with a 150 word limit, doing the back cover blurb was a bit of a challenge.

Take a look at my final draft and see what you think:

Enamored with her lover, yet governed by her sense of duty, Venice Dylenski, security chief of the colonization vessel Excalibur, has a fascinating, satisfying life. But the Excalibur is about to encounter Azareel,an alien captain with superior firepower and a hidden agenda.

While seeking a home for human colonists, the crew of the Excalibur meets the Archeons, who take Venice and a companion captive. In short order, Azareel informs his prisoners that they will play a critical role in revitalizing his dying race, that of surrogate mothers to genetically-engineered Archeon offspring.

Venice, reluctant "to be the next Archeon soccer mom," strives to escape, but her companion seems all too willing to cooperate with their captor.

Trinity on Tylos has complex characters faced with myriad problems to solve, set in a future where man may have escaped the bounds of his solar system, but not the bonds of human emotions.

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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Why attend a writer’s conference?

A few weeks ago, I got registration information for the 12th annual Harriette Austin Writer’s Conference, which is held at the University of Georgia, about eighteen miles south of my home in Jefferson. My first visit was in 2000. I went with a friend, who basically went for moral support. Although I’d heard a number of authors do readings and workshops at conferences for English teachers, I was intrigued by the people who showed up, as well as the wide variety of information available. There is a link to this conference on my website, and I am adding one to this blog as well, just in case a writer or a wannabe writer reads this entry.

At HAWC, I met a number of authors who, like me, were struggling to get the attention of an agent or a publisher. Some were jovial, realizing that their chances were small, but determined to have fun with the process. Others were almost desperate. At dinner one evening, I met a woman, in her mid-fifties, who had wiped out her retirement account so she could spend three years devoted entirely to getting her mystery novels into print. Her game plan was to then use the royalties to pay back her retirement. And if she didn’t succeed, then she would have few more years to work and hopefully restore at least a portion of her retirement. I was amazed at her devotion to her avocation and yet troubled by her sacrifice.

Often, there are far more folks over fifty than under at such events. This seemed strange at first, but often people don’t have time to write when they are rearing children and working hard to make a living. The empty nest years and the retirement years afford the opportunity to write, so writer’s conferences will have naturally have more older participants. However, most of the ones I spoke with were filled with energy and hope, just like their younger counterparts.

Apart from meeting a variety of people, topics at writer’s conferences vary somewhat, but there is usually a choice among small sessions, and large group sessions often revolve around a successful author. I’ve found inspiration in the speeches made by those authors, but occasionally, there is a bit of wisdom which will remain long after the emotional afterglow is spent. One well respected regional writer at HAWC advised writers to listen more to the opinions of readers than to those of editors or agents. I took that to heart, and while polishing Trinity on Tylos, I gave the manuscript to three trusted “first readers” rather than seeking a professional editor. Often, editors and agents are too focused on what they feel will sell, rather than on simply judging writing on its own merits. Readers are more objective, and really, they are the target audience. How many books are purchased by editors and agents, anyway?

In choosing small group sessions, I have often visited those held by agents or small publishers, hoping to find someone who might be receptive to my writing. At first, these sessions were informative, but after each speaker covered the basics of “what I am looking for” all of their advice began to blend into what soon becomes common knowledge. If you don’t know how to approach an agent or publisher, then these sessions are quite helpful, of course, but they tend to focus on the needs of the novice.

Overall, there is probably more to learn at sessions which focus on improving writing, and often those topics are quite varied. Since HAWC is co sponsored by an association of mystery writers, there are usually some presentations by forensics professionals. I don’t write in that genre, but I have attended a couple of those presentations, and they are quite interesting.

Almost all of the “how to write” sessions are led by writers who want to plug their own work, but even so, it’s possible to take away some new ideas. One of my favorite topics was “great first lines” and the author who presented it gave some wonderful examples from modern fiction, as well as acknowledging such lines from the classics.

During the last such conference I attended, a publicist gave a talk on book promotion, which I found both useful and quite interesting. Of course, she was touting her media relations firm, and if I had a few extra thousand dollars, I’d be interested. But she did have some practical advise, and some of it conflicted with what I’d been told by my previous publisher, Gardenia Press. In fact, I wish I’d heard her talk before I got my first contract. Basically, she said that it is a waste of time to promote a book which hasn’t yet been printed, and yet many publishers push authors to promote months ahead. Apart from seeking reviews, there isn’t much to do prior to the publication date.

So, why visit a writer’s conference? To meet other writers in various stages of their careers, to be inspired by the success stories of writers, and to garner information from real people who actually work in the publishing business. Writing is a lonely task, and attending a conference is a chance to make contacts with people who just might help you later in your career. If you have income from writing, it is tax deductible, too.

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Friday, June 10, 2005

eBooks, fad or future

A few years ago I bought my first laptop computer, and I purchased my first eBook shortly thereafter. The only reason for that purchase was that the book was out-of-print, and rather than spending time hunting for it through some of the used book sellers online, I could get what I wanted instantly, at the price of a mass market paperback. That book, an electronic version of a print book, didn’t suffer from either of the biggest problems I’ve encountered with books which are marketed as eBooks— that is, it was not rife with errors which should have been eliminated in the editing stage, and it wasn’t too brief to be called a book.

Once I had that positive experience, I bought a few other eBooks, but I only purchased electronic versions of books which had begun as print books. However, as an avid reader of online book reviews, I kept seeing reviews of books which were only available in electronic format. Eventually, I tried a few of those. Some were wonderful reads, but as I ventured on to more and more publishers, I ran into the previously mentioned problems— poor editing and an occasional novella sold as a full-length book.

Despite these issues, eBooks have a few advantages over their print cousins, but just a few. First, it’s easy to store a whole bunch of them on the hard drive of a computer, or in the flash memory of a PDA. Travelers find this especially helpful. By carrying their reading in electronic format, they can have far more to read and far less to carry. Better yet, when you are finished, you don’t have a big box to sell at a yard sale or donate to charity. Also helpful, but not universally true, is the fact that many eBooks are less expensive than their print counterparts. However, the main reason I began reading eBooks is the same one that keeps me coming back, and that is the generic nature of the titles which are available from the local bookstore. I might find ten futuristic romances at a bricks and mortar store, but I can find a hundred by checking my ever growing list eBook retailers.

There are some reasons that eBooks aren’t for all readers. I can’t imagine sitting at a desktop to read a whole book, so the reader needs a PDA, a laptop computer, or a dedicated eBook reader. Sometimes a print book is best, whether you’re sitting on the beach under the umbrella or in the bathtub. I’ll always want print media for certain times, but at other times I’m willing to sit inside with my laptop and read until the battery gives up. Thankfully, editing has been steadily improving, but I wonder “where’s the rest of it?” when I find I’ve paid for a book which has about 25,000 words— which is less than half the usual count for a full length novel. And this may seem petty, but I don’t like it when I download the book and don’t get a close-up look at the cover art. Some publishers send it along, but many do not, usually because including such graphics will slow the download process.

Although they often sell poorly in comparison with print books, eBooks are more than a fad. As the internet matures, online media will evolve to include music, video, and eBooks. Just as digital still photography and video cameras are beginning to merge, one day people will have a paid access to multimedia files, and eBooks will be one of the attractions. Until then, print will sell better, but books in electronic format will provide an avenue for new authors to strut their stuff to tech-savvy readers. Many of these books provide readers with what they want, something different. And different can be better— a lot better.

My answer to the title question is simple, "Both!"

There are many eBook vendors, but I’ve bought multiple volumes from the sites below. If you’ve never seen any electronic books for sale, check out these publishers and vendors—

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Saturday, June 04, 2005

The Naming of Characters

When each of our children were born, my husband and I spent some time deciding what to name our newest family member. Having spent many first days of school mispronouncing names (just one unfortunate part of the whole school teacher experience) I knew that an “ordinary” spelling was one highly desirable criteria for naming my offspring. My husband also wished to avoid anything cute or too trendy, because we wouldn’t want to have any whims on our part to become a burden to either of them in later life.

Naming characters in fiction is not as important as naming real people, of course, but names can be a significant part of building character. In my first novel, The Gift Horse, I used names which are common in my typical southern small town, because another such town is the setting of the story. My main character, who is perhaps the only character who has any morals worthy of mention, is named Angela, which is derived from the word angel. Another character in that novel, Billie, is a woman with an aggressive personality, so giving her a feminine version of a male name helps convey her personality to the reader.

In Trinity on Tylos, which has a futuristic setting, I wanted to use some names which were not typical in our twenty first century America, but were nevertheless meaningful in their own right. The main character, Venice, has an exotic name, that of a beautiful Italian city, and this character is depicted as a very attractive woman. Her female companion, Alathea, has a name of Greek origin. Thus these names allude to both the Greek and Roman civilizations, which are often said to be the foundations of western thought. These women are abducted by an alien, Azareel, whose name is based upon a foreign king in the Bible. As the story unfolds, his role is very much that of a king, creating a little kingdom on the fourth planet in the Tylos star system. A trinity is a threesome, and Venice, Alathea, and Azareel are the first trinity of the novel. Also, these words come from the Judeo-Christian heritage, yet another pillar of western civilization.

Shakespeare once said that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” but our culture tends to associate meaning with certain names, and a skillful author is wise to remember that choosing a character’s name is the first opportunity to create an impression in the mind of the reader. Shakespeare’s Romeo asks, “What’s in a name?” and just as it was then, names really are important.

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