September 14, 2009 • No Comments
Nothing says “Get down to work!” like a cup of coffee. It’s the fuel that gets me on the road in the morning. It’s a social communion and a comfort object. When I meet with friends, curl up with a book, or sit down to concentrate on a task, a cup of coffee is usually nearby. After my laptop, caffeine is probably my number one writing tool. I’m not alone. Three-quarters of the adult population in the US drinks coffee. A National Coffee Association survey revealed average consumption among javaheads is around 3.1 cups per person per day, with men slightly ahead of women. No wonder our world is so fast-paced. We’re collectively buzzed. And jangled. As I stared at the bedroom ceiling at four-thirty this morning, pondering deadlines, I began to doubt the wisdom of worshipping the bean. I’d been up late working on my book, but now I was too wired to sleep. The next day’s word count was going to be a slog on four hours of shut-eye. Creativity requires alertness and motivation. Some of that’s got to come from real rest, not just a barista. So where did my coffee intake enter the realm of diminishing returns? When did it just plain start sabotaging my productivity? Some quick surfing (heck, I was awake anyway) produced plenty o’ factoids. Caffeine is a psychoactive drug that alters a person’s mood by raising glucose levels to provide a “buzz.” According to one web site it takes 350 mg of caffeine a day to become addicted. A 5 ounce cup of coffee contains between 60 and 150 mg of caffeine, tea 35 to 60 mg, ordinary cola 30-55 mg per 12-oz. can, and the high-test colas about 55-70 mg. In other words, it’s fairly easy to hit junkie levels of caffeine intake during the course of a day. The physical side effects are legion. Besides the jitters and insomnia, excessive caffeine intake results in increased levels of cholesterol, blood pressure, and risk of anemia as well as cardiac, gastric, and assorted plumbing problems. While caffeine may improve performance on simple tasks, it nukes short term memory and fine motor coordination. On the flip side, a Harvard web site states that the risk for type 2 diabetes is lower among regular coffee drinkers. Also, coffee may reduce the risk of developing gallstones, colon cancer, and Parkinson’s disease. Coffee improves performance in long-duration physical activities (and if novel-writing isn’t an endurance sport, I don’t know what is). Further surfing produced a range of results, some of them alarmist. The common-sense bottom line: moderation is key. For most people, a cup or two is okay, but more than that can impact health. Caffeine is one of those crutches than can eventually cripple you. I remember reading about hard-drinking, chain-smoking, hard-partying writers who approached their pages under the influence of a chemical stew and still turned out brilliant prose. I’ve always wondered if that was myth, or if I’m just a genetic weenie with a decidedly non-Pulitzer constitution. At any rate, it hardly seems fair to have to surrender yet another vice, but I like my sleep. So now, when I head into the writing zone, I’ll have to convince myself some other hot beverage will do the trick. Somehow, though, writing shoot ‘em up action scenes with a cup of Horlicks just seems wrong.
September 11, 2009 • No Comments
Yes, we here in Beautiful British Columbia are used to strange phenomena, not the least of which is our provincial politics. But there’s more, according to the local Scientific Cryptozoology Club, who are planning to have a look-see in one of our local lakes. See the article here.
Well, there’s still untouched wilderness in parts of BC, so who knows. To my knowledge, all of the lake monsters around here (Cadborosaurus, Ogopogo etc) are of the serpent-ish variety. With 39 critter-haunted lakes, it sounds like a bit more than one or two lone specimens, unless they’ve got air miles and a rigorous travel schedule.
At least, as the article observes, these sightings are worth checking out. They might not be Nessie’s BFF or Sasquatch’s tub toy, but it could be a species not previously recorded in the area. If so, it’s better know if there’s an endangered creature out there in need of protection.
John Kirk, author of In the Domain of the Lake Monsters (and no known relation to James T.) plans an expedition to Cameron Lake to look for our snakey friend on Sept. 19.
September 8, 2009 • No Comments
I always liked learning things as a kid. That did not equate to a love of school. I just couldn’t see the point, and rational argument about future job prospects is a non-starter when you’re six or even thirteen.
What I did like was the autumn—the first, wine-sharp tang of fall has always made me come alive. I treasured the fire of turning leaves, jack frost silvering the chain link fence (yes, your tongue does stick if you lick it) and the acrid smell of bonfires. It was time for the ubiquitous grandma-knitted woollies and lunchtimes of tomato soup.
Of course, back-to-school itself had compensations, like new clothes, fresh school supplies, and the contact high from other people who actually were excited. That was usually good for the first week. Then reality began to set in:
Day 1. New stuff. Goody!
Day 2. Show of end-of-summer despondency in hopes of more new stuff
Day 3. Updating gym avoidance protocol
Day 4. Phoning the drugstore 3,000 times to see if latest teen mag has been delivered because life, the universe, and school cannot progress without authorized fashion instruction
Day 5. Complaining to friend whose mother doesn’t care about said fashion authority, either. This phone call good for two hours.
Day 6. Official boy watch begins. <em>Wow</em>. In post-surveillance free time, begin <em>Lord of the Rings </em>for the third time, dreaming of Aragorn
Day 7. Boy watch continues. Surely The Boy (<em>le sigh</em>) is Aragorn-in-waiting—tall, dark, silent.
Day 8. Scientific field excursion aka welcome back school dance proves all too conclusively The Boy dances like an orc, or at least a troll. Enemy agent in disguise?
Day 9. Boy watch is definitely over. What was I thinking? Crushing on teacher because, y’know, he’s like <em>scholarly</em> and <em>mature</em>.
Day 10. Dress code? Whaddya mean dress code? Public education is a social experiment gone seriously wrong.
Day 11. First math test. Teacher <em>must</em> be Saruman in disguise. I squander my affections on the unworthy.
Day 12. My soul is made of darkness eternal, and yet we must read <em>Rascal</em>. Mock me if you will, my gloom is impenetrable.
Day 13. Gym is cancelled! Yay!
August 30, 2009 • No Comments
As if I don’t get enough flack about my lackadaisical household routines, now my plants can Tweet their complaints. Too much H2O? Too little? Now they can tell you all about it. A new system called Botanicalls, developed by interactive telecommunications researchers, allows your plants send text messages via a soil-moisture sensor device.
This is all well and good, but it brings to mind some books I read years ago. They covered a range of scientific research exploring plant intelligence, including the fact that plants can identify, at least under some circumstances, individual humans. The Secret Life of Plants, by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird is a truly fascinating read.
Okay, if plants are smart enough to turn wireless technology into more than a “please water me” proposition, things could get interesting.
My Twitter account will start filling up with stuff like:
*Schultz’s plant food AGAIN? C’mon!
*I ain’t bloomin’ for you, sweetheart, till you get me high speed cable.
*This tiny pot is KILLING my roots.
*New window. Now.
*Cat alert! Cat alert!
*Green and leafy looking for pollen fun. Woody stems only need apply.
August 25, 2009 • 1 Comment
In the quest for peace and quiet, I’ve heard stories of authors who wrote in all kinds of places. One apparently hid in the broom closet with a typewriter balanced on their knees. I understand the instinct. I’m not one of those people who can write in coffee shops or even with a radio on. A hedge trimmer three blocks down will drive me crazy, and the Demon Lord of Kitty Badness has come close to taking a one-way trip to the nearest storm drain. I need quiet!
Consequently, I write on a laptop so I can hunt out the “right” spot to commune with the muse. I may roam from spot to spot like a bird looking for the right tree to nest in. Most often I just go for the kitchen table, as it’s the biggest surface around. Since it’s on the second floor, it has a nice view of trees, squirrels, and chickadees. Also handy to the fridge and the coffee pot.
The downside of this system is that I lose things. I don’t have a proper place to do all the admin work that comes with writing. Believe me, there’s a ton—contest prizes to send out, promotion to organize, contracts, letters, schedules, blah, blah, blah. One accumulates stationery at a furious rate—bookmarks, mailing envelopes, author copies, and so on. The writing detritus is advancing like a slow tide across my living room.
Solution? I have a small, bright sewing room that I’m eyeing for an office. Someday I’ll get organized enough to move my piles of paper, printers, fax machine, and stacks o’ stuff around. I’d do it now except I know it’s a job that will take longer than I think, and I have a book due. November is looking good …. I might get my new digs set up in time to decorate for Christmas.
August 19, 2009 • No Comments
I’m not a true hot weather person. Fortunate, because we get about five minutes of it on Vancouver Island. Away from the ocean it can be hot enough to grow a satisfactory tomato, but where I live the air is one shade off chilly almost all year.
Because of the cool temperature and the lack of rain we’ve had over the past few summers, I’ve given up on growing vegetables and have been stocking my freezer from the farmers’ markets. My summer pleasure? This year it’s been spending Sunday afternoons visiting the organic farms and loading up on produce. As well as freezing berries of all kinds, I made a huge batch of spaghetti sauce from all-organic veggies and froze that, too. I’ve eaten enough blueberries and blackberries that I’ll be turning a light purple soon. I can’t wait for the apple crop to come in.
There are market days in my own neighbourhood, but I prefer the country drive. In half an hour, I can be at the small, family-run farms north of town. The old road winds too much to go really fast, so I can appreciate the view. Cows. Horses. Deer. Sheep. Other people doing hard work when I’m not.
Wandering through the fruit stands gives me the summer fix I need: warm sun, the smell of earth, the buzz of a dragonfly zooming past. I have to slow down and relax to really take in all that sensory input. I have to use something besides the madly whirring left brain. This is where I reconnect with my basic instincts about what is wholesome, good for me, and <em>right</em>. The sheer energy pouring off that much fresh, organic food must be the karmic equivalent of a spa scrub.
The few hours I spend playing with the beans and potatoes, stopping for tea, admiring a craft fair, and then wandering home with my loot is cheap and effective therapy. Better than therapy—I can eat it afterward. As a bonus, I can walk along the ocean after dinner, watching the herons hunt the silver water, otters playing, and the lights of the marina growing brighter as daylight fades.
With long summer days, there’s so much beauty to enjoy. The trick is to remember to take the time to do it. Sure, zooming through a grocery store is fast, but it’s not nearly as fun.
August 18, 2009 • No Comments
Somehow, I’m always swimming upstream. This time, as everyone else is getting ready to go back to school, I’m just entering the book-free zone.
As one of this summer’s big goals, I finished an educational certificate I’ve been working on for a number of years. Reaching the finish line is satisfying, but I’ve gained more than a piece of paper and a pile of very dull textbooks. I’ve learned to value some of the lessons that come with knocking around the business world, because I was able to transfer those skills to school. As they say, old age and trickery will beat youth and speed every time.
<em>Take charge of your own experience.</em> Or, to put it another way, work smarter and don’t be so overwhelmed by authority. When I went from high school to university years ago, I was an obedient lamb who accepted the instructors and materials set before me. This time, I hunted down alternate textbooks, tutors and auxiliary materials almost as soon as I started each course. How much I got out of the class depended in part on seeking out extra resources.
<em>You are the consumer</em>. This meant advocating for myself, being the squeaky wheel, and demanding the quality of instruction I felt I’d paid for. Ultimately, the person you need to be nice to is you. There is nothing to be gained from enduring a bad situation.
<em>Don’t waste my time</em>. If something is going to eat away hours of my life, I want it to count. I don’t have to like it, but it should do something for me.
I could go on, but you get the picture. The university experience has changed a lot. With new technology, distance education, and simply more students per class, I couldn’t afford to be a passive vessel waiting to be filled with knowledge. I had to go after the information I wanted to know.
Why am I talking about all this on a writing blog? Perhaps because there are so many encounters in the publishing industry that remind me I’m still a student here, too. And, what skills I transferred from business to school can be applied equally well to authordom: be prepared to speak up, find the resources required, and make sure every effort counts.
There’s more, too. Pack emergency food. Tests are closer than they appear on the calendar. Know when to celebrate and, um, deadlines don’t go away just ’cause you pretend they aren’t there.
Believe me I tried.
August 13, 2009 • No Comments
Over at www.SilkandShadows.com, we’re giving away one of Jessica Andersen’s books this week. If you’ve not discovered this amazing series yet, here’s a few tidbits from her latest release to whet your appetite!
Ancient prophecy holds that 12/21/2012 will bring a global cataclysm.
Mankind’s only hope lies with the Nightkeepers, modern magic-wielding warriors who must find their destined mates and fulfill the legends to defeat the rise of terrible Mayan demons.
In Skykeepers, Michael Stone is a man with a dark secret that has skewed his magical abilities dangerously toward the underworld. Seeking redemption, he sets out on a perilous mission to save the daughter of Ambrose Ledbetter, a renowned Mayanist who died before he could reveal the location of a hidden library. The Nightkeepers must find the library before their enemies gain access to its valuable cache of spells and prophecies.
Sasha Ledbetter grew up hearing heroic tales of an ancient group of powerful magi who were destined to save the world from destruction. She never expected that her bedtime stories would come to life in the form of Nightkeeper Michael Stone, or that she’d hold the key to the warrior’s survival. As Sasha and Michael join forces to prevent the imminent battle, sparks of attraction ignite between them, and they’re forced to confront the unexpected passion that brings them together–and also tears them apart.
Link to excerpt
Link to video trailer
July 22, 2009 • No Comments
I’ve noticed that in the romance market, series have become de rigeur. I suspect this has as much to do with marketing as anything else. As with movies, if one has good box office, make a sequel and cash in. Ditto books. The system works pretty well for authors because it gives us a chance to hook a readership in a way single efforts might not.
As an author, it affects how we think about plots. It’s nice if there’s an overarching idea to drive the series, but each book has to have its own logic. And what if your readers pick them up out of order? It’s a problem if there has to be pages of explanation to catch them up before the adventure even begins. In other words, we have to be clever little pumpkins to do a good job.
For this reason, SCORCHED can be read independently of RAVENOUS. They’re sequential and related, but by no means inextricable from each other. I think most authors aim for this kind of flexibility now, especially when bookstores aren’t always stocking all the titles in a series. If it’s too hard for a reader to pick up the story part-way through, the author loses the opportunity to bring more people on board.
Speaking as a reader, I love a series I can sink my teeth into. Characters become family. Places become like old friends. I start expecting to meet my favourite heroes on the street. The books become a reliable, comfortable haven—or at least a constant source of entertainment. I’m not sure I’d want to exactly hang out in Rachel Caine’s Morganville, even though I wait with bated breath for each new instalment.
Another series I’ve loved is CT Adams and Cathy Clamp’s Thrall series. It’s original and interesting and occasionally downright scary.
And then there’s C.H. Harris’s beautifully-written regency historical detective series (Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries.)
Those are just a few of my favourites–there’s no shortage of great series out there. Nevertheless, do you as a reader ever feel series exhaustion? Despite an author’s best efforts to make each book stand-alone, do you ever get tired of having to figure out which one to read first, or when you kind find the first one without ordering it on-line?
July 21, 2009 • No Comments
I was invited by Romance in the Back Seat to participate in a round robin short story called “White Wedding Nightmares.” My segment just went up today. Some of the other participants are: Angie Fox, Jacquelyn Frank, Michelle Rowan … just a huge list of really talented and fun writers! It’s essentially a story about a slayer who gives it all up to get married, but then all the paranormal hotties in her life show up to protest and the adventure begins.