Friday, December 31, 2010

10 Things About Sierra and 2010

I have no Google Reader Roundup for you this week because the blogosphere took a huge break and there were far fewer posts this week! (Well, for the most part. Some of you were active as ever, which I was thankful for!)

So instead of this week's Roundup, it seemed appropriate to do a 10 Things About Sierra and 2010, which I did for 2009. Call it an annual indulgence, if you will.

1. I got knocked up. Disaster struck. Then I got knocked up again.
Six months into this pregnancy, I'm healthy and well and so is the baby. This baby, another boy, is going to be born into the year of the Rabbit, which is what I am, and that seems pretty great. Other than that, I have no clue how I'll handle two kids! I'm sure I'll rally. I'll have to. And hey, there's all that reading time while nursing to look forward to.

2. I joined a professional writing group.
That's right, I joined RWA. And you know what? I'm so glad I did. I haven't even begun to take advantage of the benefits yet but I really am enjoying belonging to a professional and well-respected organization. Best yet has been my membership in the RWA-Women's Fiction chapter, which I really enjoy.

3. Rejection didn't kill me.
And it won't. I'm not so silly as to think I don't have acres more to learn about craft and stories and everything. But I put myself out there, got some bites (some of which are still nibbling) and learned a lot. And you know what? I discovered that this is the way it goes. Rejection is a regular part of the writing life.

4. I discovered that it's okay not to love your critique group.
My Toxic Critique Group post drew a ton of hits. I found out that a few trusted readers--fellow writers whom I met through blogging and tweeting--are worth 100 in-person critique groups, when the group isn't working for you. I learned that it's okay to outgrow a group and look for something that does fit what you're writing, what you want to do, and how you want to critique. (Thanks to those of you who helped me this year. Your generosity meant so much to me.)

5. The World Cup lit up my summer.
Despite the fact that the US lost (we cried) and Scotland wasn't even a contender (Scotland being the country in which my team, Hibernian FC, resides), it was a fantastic tournament with a fabulous display of talent. In particular, I rooted for Spain from the get go, and they didn't disappoint. Plus, what was not to love about the vuvuzela? My post about 5 things you can use yours for after the World Cup still draws the most hits out of any post.

6. Goodreads made logging what I read really fun.
I absolutely love Goodreads and love connecting with you on it. I used to keep a log of books I read in Excel, so this site is a great tool for keeping track of what you read, when, and getting recommendations from friends (and giving them). Way fun! According to the stats, I read 25 books this year. You might think that's low, but between mothering, wifing, working, and writing, I'm glad I got to read what I did. Now the challenge is on to see what I can read in 2011!

7. I learned that it's absolutely about community.
I mentioned this above, but the connections I'd made on Twitter and through blogging have furthered and grown my writing career. It's put me directly in touch with agents and authors, it's gotten me recommendations, and it's gotten me support I never dreamed of. Engage! Support! Communicate! That's what it's all about.

8. There's nothing like conjoined twin growing out of your neck jokes.
Man, that one had a healthy life on Twitter, didn't it? Thanks to Linda Grimes for enjoying it and running with it, with her twisted sense of humor.

9. Cupcakes.
Yeah. I started a blog called The Cupcake Quest, and while I don't add to it on a regular schedule, it has quite its own little following on Twitter. Plus, I get to eat cupcakes and post reviews of them. What could be better, really?

10. Change is good.
2010 was really a huge year of change for me, in terms of family, work, and my growth as a writer. Everything happens for a reason at the right time I think, and I look forward to a wild 2011--and I know there will be many more surprises and changes in store.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

3 Steps to Online Storage Choices

Last week before Christmas, author Jody Hedlund blogged about how she's sitting there all peaceful in front of her laptop, drinking hot tea and feeling great, when all of a sudden a nasty trojan virus popped up on her screen. (here's the link to the post)


Jody's post was actually about how unexpected nasty things like that take you by surprise. But equally interesting to me--and others reading the posts, judging by the comments--was, what happened? Did her laptop files get wiped out? Was it a real trojan virus? The answer is yes, but Jody mentioned in her comments that she uses Carbonite online backup, so all was fine.

And when you're a published author--no, when you've written ANYTHING, you'd better have some kind of backup system in place. I know this. You know this. But are you actually backing up? Cause I sure as hell wasn't.

Here's the deal. I have an external hard drive, a big fat one that holds a million GB or whatever, but it requires that I sit there and plug into it. And because I use a laptop all around different areas of the house, I don't do that. I never do that. So, I never backup despite repeated reminders from friends, despite little pings from Toshiba (manufacturer of my laptop) to do so. I've never done it, because I was too damned lazy. I mean, for God's sake, I'm not going to go plug it in to my laptop! That is lunacy.

And more importantly, my laptop is newish and in good working order and my virus protection is up to date (actually, it just expired...guess I better take care of that too).

But Jody's post proved none of that matters. And I may not be published yet, but I started thinking about my WIP and my novel on submission and all the ideas and hours and work I've put into writing. It would KILL ME to see that all disappear or go corrupted merely because I hadn't backed up. I started feeling kind of sick thinking about it, kind of like when you eat a large chili cheese dog with sauerkraut and then drink borscht to wash it down. Ewww.

So. I am too lazy to back up to the external hard drive. What would be nice is a simple automatic thing that does it for me, with no hassle. Also, I want to back up all the photos and videos we've taken since the whippersnapper was born.

I did what any smart person does when one needs answers: I asked Twitter. And the answer was, yes, it's good-- but so are other online backup services. Mr. Sierra, darling saint that he is, took the time to research the best rated ones for me. PC Magazine and Cnet both have some great comprehensive reviews. Here are some steps I put together if you want to know the basics:

1. Decide what you want.
You might want to just back up your laptop, or you might want to back up your entire music and photo collection across 500 DVDs and hard drives. Also, you might want to back up other computers in your household. If so, you need to know which services do multiple PCs, external hard drives, and how much storage you get for your money. (See below for the basics.)

2. Estimate how much space you'll need.
They say the average user thinks they'll need like 50 GB when in fact they usually only use about 20. But when Whippersnapper #2 is born in April, I'm guessing we're going to have a crap load more photos and videos. So what I might backup now might increase over the next two years.

3. Consider your long-term plans.
Even if you don't know what you're going to do with your digital stuff, I want to know that I'm using a company that's going to be around for a while--particularly if something happens to my original copies. What happens when if your online backup company goes out of business? I mean, are they expecting to be around forever? I don't know, but the company's marketing and positioning might have an effect on my choice.

So, here are some quick service run downs but I recommend you do your own reviewing. There are many more companies out there but these are the biggest I think.
  • Carbonite --unlimited storage for $54.99 for a year, exudes stability, and also has great user interface. But no multiple PCs and no external hard drives.
  • MiMedia -- price plans depending on storage ($50 or so for the first 25 GB), and an awesome quick way to load all your crap onto a storage device and then bank it with them. But, 25 GB limit and I didn't need the extras like a web portal.
  • MozyHome - price plans depend on storage, stable company behind it, good user interface. But won't back up external hard drives or multiple PCs.
  • Norton - multiple PC backup, web based interface, about $50 for the first 25 GB, and is a trusted company. But, their interface integration into Norton security was, the last time I checked, shit.
  • SOS Online Backup -- This got a very good rating at PC Mag, but I'm giving this a huge thumbs down because when I went to their web site, there were NO links whatsoever to questions I have about the service including price--just a button inviting me to sign up...and a phone number inviting me to call if I had questions. Um, really? Really, guys? Seriously?
Here's the link to the PC Magazine online backup reviews

I ended up going for Carbonite's free trial, but I have to make some careful decisions because they don't back up external hard drives, and I need that.

But, God do I feel better about backing up.
Comments? Thoughts about other backup services/solutions/companies? Do you backup? Do you use the same excuses I did?

Monday, December 27, 2010

3 Things I love in a Great Adventure Novel

My wonderful, late great-aunt Blonda was a very special lady. She paid a lot of attention to me when I was little, and was one of the most relaxed and fun adults I knew. She actually played games with me--games I wanted to play--which was unusual among the adults I knew. I was an only child so someone who was willing to play at my level was a favorite. Blonda was also refreshingly honest, and told things like they are. And, she and I had a deal: I could curse if I wanted, and she wouldn't say a thing. One of my earliest memories of her is in her farm house in Ohio, and how we'd pick blackberries together. Some of my last memories of her are the times I spent with her after she'd moved to California.

One of the things Blonda did was send me the boxed set of CS Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, probably when I was about 11 or 12. Blonda, I think, loved fantasy and mystical stories; she may or may not have been religious (I just don't know). I still have this box set. I kept it for my own children because the books are so fabulous. (The books I've kept for my own kids are another subject of another post coming soon.) The editions I have are Collier Books. Cover photo at right.

My favorite book from the Narnia series is book 3: the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I will. The last time I read it, I was probably 13 or so. But I loved it so much. The whole Christian allegory thing totally went over my head when I was a kid (sorry, Mr. Lewis), probably because I had no background or understanding of Christianity at that point.

I am a Catholic now, however, so re-reading the books is interesting from that perspective. But after seeing the first Narnia movie some years ago (The Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe), I tried to re-read the book and I just couldn't. I'd moved beyond it. Sadly, I placed it back on the shelf. The books in the Narnia series are not fantastic--not like Lord of the Rings, but they are decently good adventures.

This is particularly the case with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which is so full of adventure and solid plot and great characters that when I picked it up again the other night, I just dove into it. Of course, I'm reading it with different things in mind now: as a Christian, on the look-out for the allegorical elements; as a writer, on the look-out for craft, plot, and character; as a fan of a damn good adventure novel. It didn't disappoint on any front.

I wanted to just call your attention to some of the finer elements:

A fantastic first line
"There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."
Holy Krakow, what a first line! He almost deserved it! Need to know more! This is about as fine a first line as I can think of.

Identification with a character
In The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, we had four kids to care about. But in the Voyage, we have a different cast--the disagreeable Eustace, who we don't actually care about because he's such a twerp (until he proves otherwise), Caspian, and two of the original four kids: Lucy and Edmund. Lucy is the only girl and everyone on board the Dawn Treader treats her with a genteel-like respect and courtesy. And she's a kid! This tickled me when I was 13, and I still enjoy this element now. Is this limited in the sexual characterization? Yes! But who cares. What I liked about it is that a girl was treated with courtesy by grown men.

Solid fantastical elements
The story more than any other in the series, perhaps because it is a seafaring adventure, really has some great classic elements that remind me a lot of Enid Blyton-style fantasy. There's dragons, sea serpents, mer-people, and tables full of delicious food that magically replenish. And, of course, there's the overall message for each of the main characters. There are also moral elements like honesty, loyalty, bravery, and behaving kindly and compassionately to our fellow humans. You could say these are the Christian elements of the story, but whatever--these are just plain excellent story elements for an adventure.

Vivid imagery
When Eustace lands on the pile of dragon's treasure, you can almost feel the sharpness of the metal and see the glint of yellow gold and red rubies in the dim cave light. When the ship enters the Dark Island, you can feel the cold and sense the nasty things on the island waiting, creeping. You can feel the horror reflected in the bulging eyes of the passenger they pick up there. You can taste and feel the lightness of the water and sun in the Last Sea. It's all very, very clear and even now at my advanced age, I was swept away by it.

I haven't seen the movie yet. I suppose I will soon, but for now I wanted to relive everything I loved originally about the book (because, as I'm sure you'll all agree with, what is better than a well-written tale?). If you haven't read this, please pick it up even if you're not interested in the rest of the Narnia series--it's a great one in a standalone kind of way.

What adventure stories were stand outs for you, either as a kid or now? I'd love to hear.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

Lovies, it's a Christmas Roundup! And with that comes snow.

Have a beautiful Christmas. If you don't celebrate Christmas, then have a beautiful day anyway.

  • Anne Allen gives a pretty well rounded list of ways to find topics to blog about in her fourth installment of her wildly popular How to Blog series--and it totally has become a series! Also she mentions me and I squeed over that.
  • Meghan Ward posts her own version of my holiday gift ideas for writers, with full credit to moi (thanks Meghan). This link listed here is a bit late now seeing as it's Christmas Eve, however I think the list is a fine one to keep handy and spend all those B&N and Amazon gift cards you're getting for Christmas. I hope. (Cause that's what *I* asked for.)
  • The HuffPo, which recently published a story on another area of its site with a photo credited to "AP File" when in fact the photo was taken from a press release I put out for my company and the photo was in fact one of our project photos-- just saying--and then didn't respond when I sent an email pointing out the fact --also just saying-- featured a link to an AOL Daily Finance story that Julian Assange has just landed a book deal. Perhaps he will write about how he raped women and got away with it. Oooh, yes I did just say it.
  • Rachelle Gardener asks, will all good writers be published? It's a good question and the answer is definitely not all-- except if your name is Julian Assange, apparently.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Beating Mike Chen

My bloggy/writing friend Mike Chen and I have a friendly competition going right now, til the end of the year. Well, it's friendly on his part. It's rather serious on my part. What did you expect? I have a nemesis, after all.

Mike and I agree on many things in life, and that includes (but is not limited to): music, writing, marriage, and what constitutes stupidity. Those are the biggies. The fact that we disagree on which is the better sport (him: hockey, me: soccer) is irrelevant, because we both agree on the extreme ugliness of some hockey players. (The winner is Mike Ricci. Yeah, he has nubs for teeth. Imagine kissing that.)

Anyway, Mike (Chen, that is, not Ricci, the horror! The horror!) and I have a deal going: we're both pushing to finish the first draft of our WIPs by the end of the year. The deal is, we're striving to reach 82-85k on our drafts. We spur each other on by working on the drafts and then send irritating little emails to each other with our word count. Well, I suppose they're not that irritating. Only if you're the one behind, which Mike currently is. I love a competition, and his word count emails definitely have spurred me on to get my draft done. It's been great because there are plenty of nights when I think I'm too tired, or need some sleep, or some other namby-pamby pregnancy woe. No. No! I have Mike Chen to beat here!

If we'd done this right, we would have the other write a public ode to the winner's favorite sport or something, but as it stands we have no prize. But it's not too late! We can! If you have any suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

And finally, if you need that extra push, I highly recommend pairing with someone to beat write with. It really gets you past the hard nights where you think you have no energy. Believe me, I have energy when I think Mike is creeping up near my word count. Back! Back, I tell you!

If you're looking for a writing push partner, you might consider leaving a comment here and seeing if you can pair up with anyone that way. Hey, that's how I found my nemesis.

Mike and I haven't decided if we'll extend the competition to the editing phase, because editing is difficult to calculate. Also, I'll be giving birth in April, and that might throw a stick in the works and I can't have Mike pulling ahead because of a little thing like birth. Mike suggested I get a netbook to write while nursing but the thought of a computer being covered in stinky spit up is too much to bear. Also, it negates the whole bonding thing.

But I'll find some way to get in there, watch and see.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mistakes and Atonement

One recent morning, my little boy, age 4, was whining his usual "I don't wanna to go to school" song. He has to go to preschool, because I have to work, and him being at home while I work doesn't compute. As well, he gets pretty vital stimulation from preschool, including lots of prep for the big K. We all get that. But he makes it very difficult when he pulls the I don't wanna go crap.

So I left the room to go get my shoes and he burst into tears--he's a great dramatist. He screamed and cried in agony over having to go to school. This crying and wailing went on for several minutes until I came back in the room and told him to stop. His response was to emit a loud banshee scream of anger and upset. The kind of scream that scatters flocks of birds half way down the block.

I lost my nut.

I threw my shoes down and marched over to him, intending to take him by the shoulders and have an eye-level discussion on what, exactly, this screaming was about, and why we didn't need it.

But funny things happen when you're reaching to grab your kid because you're pissed and not being careful.

On the way to grabbing his shoulder, the inside of my thumb nail slid across his cheek--leaving an ugly, awful red trail. He screamed more, of course, shocked by the pain of an unexpected gouging by his own mother, and I stared, shocked that I had just scratched my baby's cheek enough to make it bleed.

And the horrid thing is that I had just earlier that morning admired how thick and long my nails were getting due to pregnancy hormones.

It was just awful.

More tears resulted, of course, and then I had to explain that in no way whatsoever did Mommy intend to scratch him (and oh God the blood!), and that yes, she was angry that he had screamed, which we would discuss in just a moment, but that first he should understand that I would not hurt him on purpose and would never go and try to scratch him on purpose. (By now the scratch was swelling into a nasty welt that almost certainly would not fade anytime soon, probably not before Christmas.)

I don't know if he understood or was able to separate out the scratch from the trouble he knew he was getting in for screaming like a banshee, but I did my best to explain things several times, including why banshee-screaming over going to preschool (an inevitable destination, since we were, in fact, going) was not cool.

After a while, we calmed and he asked for a bandaid for his face. I cringed. The scratch was completely hideous, and maybe a bandaid would look better than the red welt on his cheek. Plus, he loves picking out bandaids. So we went up and he picked a lovely Transformers bandaid, so bright in its colors that it would call attention to his face from three streets away, and on to preschool we went.

As soon as we walked in--the entry mind you, not even the classroom--a teacher saw, said hello, and asked what happened to his face.

Me: Cringe.

Boy: "It's a scratch."

Teacher: "Who scratched you?"

Me: Cringe

Boy: "Mommy."

Me: Cringe, cringe.

We get to his classroom and immediately his little friends crowded around him, fascinated by the bright Transformers bandaid on his face, as though it freaking glowed and dispensed candy or something. They asked my boy what happened, and by then the boy was warming to his subject and told them all,"Mommy scratched me."

Not the best mothering moment.

I felt horrible, and I deserved to feel horrible, because after all, I'd done it. Worst of all would be when Mr. Sierra saw it and realized what his wife had done to his son. To his credit, Mr. Sierra was understanding and didn't mention at all divorce or restraining orders and little to no visitation rights. But he could have thought them. I would have, had I been him.

I hate it when these things happen. In the whippersnapper's four years, I've had to learn patience the hard way--when I had very little to begin with--and it hasn't been easy. I've lost it many times (although I'd never managed to maim my child before now). For a long time, I questioned having another child because I felt like I could barely get a handle on this mothering thing with the first one. How could I be so selfish as to have another one and subject him to the same frustration and un-model-mothering?

A lot of times, I go down what I feel like is the wrong path in mothering. I do this while I'm drafting stories, too. I make a mistake, and back out. When I'm writing, this is easy because you can just hit the backspace key or select large offending paragraphs and hit delete, like it never happened. But real life is different. I have never figured out how to "undo" mistakes I've made, especially ones as a mother. I'm fascinated by the whole concept of atonement for things you know you've screwed up on. How do you do it? What do you do? I'm not sure anyone has the answer, but I've known for several months that I'll be exploring that theme in my next novel.
(The current WIP theme is about how our parents affect us as adults.)

The only answer I've ever been able to come up with is to just do my best going forward and keep in mind the mistake I made (although accidentally scratching wasn't a mistake so much as an accident; but I could have tried the calm approach and then perhaps my hand wouldn't have gone toward his face at such velocity).

Any thoughts? I'd love to know what you do to rectify mistakes, and what you think about atonement. Have any good books for me to read on the subject?

The day I wrote this post, Carrie Heim Binas wrote her post on trying better. It really came at a good time, as you can see, and I kind of get that you screw up as a parent, or as anything--a person, a spouse, a friend, a writer. Or, not even that you screw up--but that you don't do the best job, but the next time you do it better. I didn't scratch my boy on purpose God knows, but what could I have done differently? Definitely I should work on staying calmer, because if I hadn't rushed at him, my thumbnail wouldn't have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. I get that you try better next time. It didn't erase me feeling like a hideous monster, but it helped a lot.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

  • Anne Allen gives us How to Blog Part III - 14 mistakes to avoid. Note my one that I called out about not spamming your blog followers with email about anything whatsoever. It's completely unacceptable and if you do this, I will shut you out as fast as you can click "oops". This has happened to several bloggers recently and it's not okay.
  • Jessica Brooks again talked about how bloggers and tweeters and forum users have gone on about "helpful rejections" when in fact they are referring to standard form rejection letters that merely polite in tone. Helpful refers to specific advice to improve a manuscript, a rare thing. So Lydia Sharp posted one of these on her blog.
  • Carrie Heim Binas posts a thoughtful and eloquent post on failing better. I just Carrie for this. She's so...I'm very proud of her. She writes excellent posts, and her posts keep getting better. Carrie's blog is like the evolution of a great writer in real time.
  • Joe Moore at the Kill Zone has a holiday gift for us: some awesome suggestions on where to go for aspects of our books, including characters names, locations, bios, and statistics.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pull(maning) from Others

Monday I went off on a bit of of tangent about advance copies and how I used to basically feed my soul with them. Today I want to talk about what inspired the story about Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass advance reader copy in the first place.

Philip Pullman is known for speaking his mind and telling it like it is, if you will. This past September in an article in the Guardian, he said that "...the use of the present tense in fiction had been getting more and more common, and I didn't like it."

For Pullman to say this gave me pause. I liked that he said something so critically bold, and because he's a great storyteller and a great writer, I listened. He goes on in the article I linked above to clarify that he thinks present tense is a great device in contrast and then lists some wonderful examples of what he means. You get the sense that Pullman has studied his craft and read widely. And that's what I really wanted to talk about today.

One thing that has always touched me about Pullman as a writer is something he wrote in the author's note to the completion of the His Dark Materials series, which begins with The Golden Compass, continues with The Subtle Knife, and ends with The Amber Spyglass.*

*I just used present tense in the way that he described it working; note the contrast in present in my sentence and the events of the past (writing the books in the series).

In that author's note, he says the following, which floored me completely:

"I have stolen ideas from every book I have ever read. My principle in researching for a novel is 'Read like a butterfly, write like a bee,' and if this story contains any honey, it is entirely because of the quality of the nectar I found in the work of better writers."

He goes on to list three works that particularly influenced the creation and writing of that series (The essay "On the Marionette Theatre," by Heinrich von Kleist, which Pullman says he read in 1978, John Milton's Paradise Lost, and the works of William Blake.)

We all pull from other writers, or we should. Les Edgarton's book Hooked talks about (and recommends) this concept of stealing from other writers. NOT plagiarizing, you understand, but learning from others and using what you learn in your own writing. Maybe it's a theme, or style, or word, or a style of voice, maybe it's a trick of character, maybe it's a clever use of adverb. Whatever it is, it's not plagiarizing when you read something that delights you, internalize it, and make it yours.

What I loved is that Pullman puts it out there and admits it, and he didn't have to.

Some authors I have appropriated elements, ideas, or tricks from:
  • Maeve Binchy
  • Marian Keyes
  • Gerald Durrell
  • Bill Bryson
  • Nick Hornby
  • Kate Morton
  • Mary Kay Andrews
  • Anne Tyler
  • Anne Lamott
  • Ian Rankin
These authors aren't the only ones I've pulled from, but they are but some of the ones that have influenced me most recently--and who influence me every time I re-read them, or read something new by them.

What do you think--do you do this? Should you do this, do you agree with Philip Pullman (and me)? Who are some of the authors you've pulled from recently or over your life as a reader and writer?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Advance Copies

When I was a very young lady, I worked in a bookstore for three great years. I loved the job because I loved being among books, and being in bookstores and libraries still is one of my favorite things to do today.

I did not like the customers because invariably they would be disagreeable, so when our small store was transmorphed into a huge monster-eating mega store, I finagled a position in the receiving and returns department, which was beyond fabulous because I got to see every new book that came in (this meant putting aside copies for myself of great new titles), and send under-selling titles back, which meant stripping covers off paperbacks (employees could keep a stripped copy or two; this was a great way to read older titles), and sending back older books to publishers for credit.

It also meant advance reader copies went straight into my hot little hands. In those days (I'm talking 1994-1997), publishing house reps would go from store to store and actually place orders based on our sales information. Striking up a good relationship with these reps was key because they would keep their eye out for titles and authors you liked and bring you advance copies. I was close enough with our Bantam Double Day rep to exchange Christmas cards for several years until we sadly fell out of touch.

Bookstore employees were encouraged to read the advance copies and recommend them to customers; we were also allowed to actually check out books and read them as long as we didn't breathe on them or fail to turn the pages with sterilized tongs...not a problem since that's how I treat my books anyway. (I'm kidding about them requiring that. But not kidding that that's how I treat my books.) So we employees actually got quite a few advance copies--also commonly marked "Uncorrected Proof."

One advance copy that came in around that time was The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman. I still have this copy, and it's in great condition. I have scanned the cover so you can see the fetching artwork--it's changed since then, but it reflects the original release, first edition artwork, which is absolutely what attracted me to it in the first place. I couldn't get away from that gorgeous polar bear*.

*For some reason, I am completely swayed by pictures of polar bears. If you want to lure me into a secret cave and trap me, put a picture of a polar bear in front. I'm yours. Note: this will not work for my nemesis, obviously.

I didn't actually read it for a few years. In fact, I only took it because I was leaving the store for greater pastures and was trying to get as many advance copies as I could to last me a while since I wouldn't have the bounty again. It took me probably two or three years before I got around to reading The Golden Compass, and my God. My God! What a book! By the time I was done reading it, I looked for more in the series and lo and behold, the next one was just being published. The squeeing that went on!

The point of this post was to talk about something Pullman put in one of his author's notes for this series, and I will do that on Wednesday, because today I want to wallow in the glory of how cool advance copies are. The Golden Compass copy is from 1995, and it did a lot of promotion for the book. The inside cover features a letter from the publisher imploring us to see how extraordinary and fantastic the book and Pullman are--and if you click on the cover of the image, you can enlarge it and see the quotes of preliminary reviews taking up the cover space. On the back cover, it actually lists the marketing stats. Take a gander:

  • First printing: 100,000 copies
  • $250,000 advertising and promotional budget
  • Internet publicity: science fiction/fantasy groups
  • Author tour
  • Reading group guide
Holy cow! What a plan. And how cool that they put this info right on the back of the advance copy! I should note here that my copy has "Uncorrected proof" all over it but I never saw any mistakes when I read it, which I have, several times.

It got me thinking about other advance copies. I had a ton, but I think I must have gotten rid of them over time because the only other one still on my shelf that I could find was for the beautiful book Arranged Marriage, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.

This "advance uncorrected proof," as it is labeled, is much less exciting than the one for The Golden Compass, as you can see. It features what looks like a photocopied and size-reduced picture of the actual cover, with some basic information stamped below (in the oval):
  • Tentative publication: July 1995
  • Tentative price: US $19.95/Canada $26.95
  • Please note that any quotes for reviews must be checked against the finished book.
The back cover offers a few more scintillating tidbits:
  • 5 1/2" x 8 1/4"
  • 320 pages
  • ISBN number
Not very exciting. But, it was more of a complete book than The Golden Compass, which didn't even have a copyright/publisher's page. Arranged Marriage does. Also, it's pretty clear that Arranged Marriage didn't have a massive PR campaign attached to it.

But, Arranged Marriage is signed. To me, by Ms. Divakaruni.

I met her at a bookstore signing when Arranged Marriage was finally released. I'd read the advanced copy and loved it (go buy it, it's superb), and was excited to meet her. I remember the look she gave me when she saw my copy, a plain paperback, with "Advance uncorrected proof" on it. It was kind of a double-take, and the bookstore minder next to her kind of sneered, like I was trying to pull one over on them by bringing a very different-looking book to be signed. But Ms. Divakaruni said nothing, and graciously signed it. She has since remained a favorite author of mine, and I've bought and read her later books, but I didn't realize until much later that she must have thought me horribly cheap and gauche for bringing an advance copy to be signed. But I loved that copy, because that was the one with which I'd fallen in love with her words.

Those are my advance copy stories.

Have you ever had the fortune of getting your hands on one of these gems, that were not your own (for those published writers reading)? Thoughts?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

Well guys, I was laid low by a nasty stomach flu this week, so you have my apologies for such a short list. I wasn't even able to read blogs today and gather good stuff...I'm sure I missed some great posts this week, but I look forward to catching up over the weekend.

  • A continuation of Anne Allen's blogging series, here's a list of ways to establish a popular blog. (Like this one, naturally.) Anne, I didn't get a chance to tell you this, but you wondered if your blogging on Sundays was bad because supposedly the most-read blog days are Wednesday and Thursday--I wanted to tell you that you're still blogging on Wednesday and Thursday since you blog once a week. We just get to read you at our leisure.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Writing Your Age

This year I read a lot more books than I have in recent years--probably because my whippersnapper is at an age where I can spend more time reading. And also, Goodreads absolutely is a God send in terms of keeping track. I used to keep an Excel file of books I read with little notes because I couldn't remember books I'd read the previous year. Let's just say that since having children, my mind has gone to pot.

Anyway, when I was younger I used to do a lot of re-reading of my books, but this year I don't think I re-read anything. I've been too busy hungrily reading new things in order to learn about writing (from fiction)--and also because I have this fear that I must read, read, read in case I am hit by a bus or something. But a few weeks ago, Tawna Fenske had a great post about re-reading books at different stages in your life and having a completely different perspective each time your read. That's the joy of re-reading, of course. Tawna points to Diana Galbaldon's Outlander as one of her favorites, and how depending on what age you are when you read it, you might have different reactions to the age difference between Claire and Jamie. It was a great point.

I think this happens when we write and age, too. For example, one of my most all time favorite authors, Marian Keyes, has said that she writes characters that generally match her own age. So her first novel has a main character who is about 30. Each subsequent book has older character--not by much, but a year or two. I noticed that I've done this, too. The first novel I ever wrote had a main character who was a resolute 26. Subsequent novels had characters (all women) who creeped up on age 30, and now I'm up to 33 and 34 without a bat of the eye. It just feels right.

It would follow that to challenge myself, I should probably think about writing characters at a totally different age than myself, but that's a post for another time.

Do you do this? Do your characters follow your own age, and have they done so in the evolution of your writing development? What about stories you enjoy? Do you like reading books with characters you own age?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Holiday Gifts for Writers

There are lots of blog posts going round with awesome gift ideas, and I'm going to be no different. The gift suggestions below are ones that I've found in the past few weeks that I always think "Dang, I should put that on the blog!" when I see them.

Disclaimer: I have received none of these as samples and have tested none. (That said, I am not adverse to receiving free samples of any of the below, retailers!)

Without further ado, here's my list of things to give other writers, or demand for yourself.

Fun Things

"Ask me about my book" shirt
The perfect gift for anyone--published or not. If not published, then it ensures you have that pitch ready. If published, then it gives you a walking advertising. Win-win!
Link to buy

Never Never Never Give Up plaque
Winston Churchill's famous address to Britons is highly appropriate for every writer.
Link to buy

Pacman Moleskine
This doesn't need any explanation.
Link to buy

Rory's Story Cubes
There's nice dice in the set and you roll some combo of them to tell a story. A good brain-starter, and if you use it as a party game, then you'll totally kill at it!
Link to buy

Reference books
Reference books are always welcome for a writer's shelf. Here are some of my favorites:

An Exhaltation of Larks by James Lipton
This is one of my all-time favorite books and very nearly indispensable. It lists the plural form of hundreds of animals and birds. If nothing else, it teaches you one of my most favorite: a murder of crows.
Link to buy

Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition
You know you want this. I have the 14th edition and even I want this.Confused as to how to refer to titles in text? Want to know the difference between an em and an en dash? The CMOS has it all. This is writing's definitive style manual, especially for fiction writing.
Link to buy

The A-Z Guide to Perfume
If you missed this a few weeks ago in my Google Reader Roundup, you missed a great one. This book is a fabulous collection of description of scents--and an unexpected reference for writers. Get it, learn from it, and sit in awe of the power of description. I just got my copy in the mail and even Mr. Sierra was absorbed by it. The descriptions and critiques are incredibly well-written and thoughtful, and really teach you to describe something by smell and experience. It's an incredible source. On Amazon, the reviews range the gamut from good to bad, and I noticed that the review giving it one star complained about the "the constant avalanche of snark." I'm sorry, that's a positive. The authors are deliciously and clever in their harsh judgment (and praise, too). But it's the descriptions you'll love. One of my favorites: how on perfume from the 1980s smells like "Burt Reynolds naked on a bear skin rug." As I vaguely remember the sleezy, sweet smell of that perfume, the image was right on. Get this book!
Link to buy

Other Books

The Autobiography of Mark Twain
Did you know Twain wrote this and then left instructions not to publish it until 100 years after his death? Well, it has been, and now it's published. Think of all the people who would have liked to read this but died before now, thanks to Mr. Twain's outrageous selfishness. Count yourself lucky to get a copy.
Link to buy

At Home by Bill Bryson
You can't really go wrong with any of Bryson's books, but At Home in particular is a wonderful traipse through the history of homes and houses, with a focus on those in England. With each chapter, named after a different room, you get not only the history of the room's origins, but also a sociology lesson. For example, the chapter on sculleries and larders delves in a truly fascinating account of servant's lives, especially in the Victorian era. The book in incredibly well-researched and I've learned so much already from it.
Link to buy

Have any to add? This is admittedly a rather incomplete list, but it wasn't meant to exhaustive.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

  • Pimp My Novel is discussing Genre Sales this week and next, so defo take a look. I particularly enjoyed his post on mashups--those books that are re-takes on old material, like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. What Eric says is, "Stop writing that. It was funny the first time only." I couldn't agree more.
  • This LA Times post about the Best Bookstores in the World showed up in Nathan Bransford's week in books wrap up last Friday, and I wanted to call special attention to it because it mentions one of the best bookstores I know about: Atlantis Books in Santorini, Greece. Atlantis Books is basically in a cave in the town of Oia on Santorini. For those of you who don't know, I lived in Santorini for a few years as a kid (see these posts). A few years ago I wrote a novel that takes place there, which I had a lot of fun writing, especially knowing the island's curves as I do. And Atlantis Books? Featured heavily in the novel. How could I not? When I lived there, a bookstore with actual books in English would have made me explode into many pieces of delight, rather like the volcano that Santorini is. Alas, Atlantis did not yet exist when I was there. Its presence changes the dynamics of the island somewhat, for to be without reading material know what? I need to do a blog post about this. Yes. Expect one soon. :)
  • Janice Hardy gives us a another freaking great post on telling red flags. Janice is so smart, I don't even think I could have written a post like this because I wouldn't be able to recognize half of them enough to write about them. Well, I can now, thanks to Janice.
Happy weekend, loverlies!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

2 Important Things Writers Should Remember, Part II

Monday I posted about the first important thing that I thought writers should remember: that you should put your energy into your intention. Thanks everyone who commented with super nice sweet things to say. Today I'm talking about the second thing I think writers should remember.

As I said Monday, these are just my thoughts on the big picture of a writer's pursuits, whatever those pursuits may be. For most of us, that includes representation and publication (and then success). I'll repeat here what I said Monday: I'm currently unrepresented and unpublished, so you may not really care to hear what I have to say. After all, I haven't been there, have I? These are just my thoughts. Agree or disagree, I'd love to hear what you think in the comments.

So for the past three years or so, I have spent a lot of time writing. I don't take a lot of breaks. I usually write after my whippersnapper goes to bed. I also blog then, and read, too. I've kept up a pretty feverish writing pace, and I've never regretted it. I don't question my pace because I love writing. Writing is my play, and I do it instead of watching TV or cleaning. Also, I know I had a lot of ground to cover because while I'd always written stories all my life, I'd never written novels. There's a lot of learning to be done.

Last weekend while being pampered and served by my mother, I had lots of time to think and surf the internet and catch up on my reading. One of those I caught up with was Writer's Digest. When I saw Zachary Petite's Promptly blog post on Writer's Digest about the one thing Sue Grafton reminds herself of with every book she writes, I liked what Sue had to say, and then kind of moved on. But later on, I realized it really resonated with me. A lot, in fact. I knew I'd arrived at the second important thing I think writers should remember:

Writing is play.

Sue Grafton actually said her lesson is that she should trust the process, but ends with the reminder that writing is play. When I question what the hell I'm doing, what dreck I'm pushing out, what effort I put in, why I bother researching every single agent I submit to far, far more than it takes for them to reject me, I remind myself that writing is my play. I never tire of it, and therefore I never tire of any part of the process associated with it, including the search for representation and publication. I've heard it said many times that publishing is a business and cannot be approached as a hobby or anything less than a job. And I agree, 100%. But for me, if I don't have the underlying passion and drive for the thing in the first place, if it isn't my form of play, then how can a publishing career be a long-term pursuit for me?

Your mileage may vary, of course. But I need anything I do intently and whole-heartedly to be my play, or else I won't put the intensity in that it requires. I've got to love it.

What do you think? What do you think about both of these important things writers should remember?