Monday, May 30, 2011

Big Al's Books and Pals Gave Vestal Virgin 5 Stars

I don't usually write about reviews, but I'm delighted to see that Big Al's Books and Pals gave Vestal Virgin--suspense in ancient Rome a very thoughtful 5 star review. 

Big Al runs a "cafe" on the Amazon forums, and it's a wild place! I've stopped in on occasion, but there are so many posts that I get lost. Fun though. Writers and readers are welcome. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

5 Questions for Martha Marks--Author of Rubies of the Viper

I invited author, Martha Marks, to post on my blog, because we write about the same time period: AD first century Rome. If you like my novel, Vestal Virgin (suspense in ancient Rome), chances are you will also enjoy Rubies of the Viper

Here's a description:
When her brother is murdered in first-century Rome, Theodosia Varro inherits the family estate, going from poverty and isolation to great wealth and a prestigious position in society. Unfortunately, she lives in a time and a place that deny women of her class the very things she most desires: personal freedom and self-determination. Only by identifying her brother's killer can she feel safe, yet her efforts take her in quite the opposite direction. After her own actions and the scheming of others lead to catastrophe, Theodosia struggles to survive and recover what matters most in her life.

The book is available in eformats and in paperback

I asked Martha 5 Questions about her writing:

1.  1)  Rubies of the Viper is set in ancient Rome. If you lived in this time period, who would you be? And why?

            Assuming I’d been born female in first-century Italy, I would be Theodosia, my 19-year-old protagonist. She and I (in my younger days) share many basic traits: strong-willed, independent-minded, impulsive, stubborn, and naive. Of course, I could point out an equal number of ways that we’re different, too.
           At the start of my novel, Theodosia has just inherited a vast estate and a high social position, for which she is completely unprepared. She’s an easy target for ambitious men. As a child, her surrogate mother and only friends were slaves; now she owns thousands of slaves and struggles in her relationships with them. Her efforts to feel more secure by identifying her brother’s killer lead to trouble, as does her determination to buck social norms and live her life as she wishes. By the last third of the novel, she has dug a very deep hole for herself and can only rely on her wits and guts (plus a little help from her friends, both slave and free) to get out of it.
           I enjoyed creating the character of Theodosia and hope that under similar circumstances I’d have been as courageous and clever as she.

2.   2)  What drew you to this time period?

     I literally can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by first-century Rome. At age seven, visiting Rome, Pompeii and Herculaneum with my parents, I was certain I’d been there in a previous life. As a teenager, while my friends were reading Nancy Drew, I devoured—over and over—The Robe, Quo Vadis, Ben Hur, The Last Days of Pompeii, and other classic tales of ancient Rome. Those books influenced me more than anything else I ever read, so it’s no surprise that when I began to write fiction in the 1980s, that’s the direction I turned.

3. 3)   You mentioned that you’re working on another novel. Is it set in the same period? Please say a bit about your next book.

     My in-progress sequel to Rubies of the Viper is tentatively titled The Ruby-Serpent Amulet. It picks up a few hours after the end of Rubies of the Viper and follows the lives of several major characters through the next dozen years. I’m enjoying writing it and hope to have it out by the end of 2012.

4.  4)    At one point you were represented by Richard Curtis, a major New York agent. Do you still hope to publish traditionally?

     Richard Curtis is a wonderful man and a fine agent. After spending 5 years writing Rubies of the Viper and querying a handful of agents, I was delighted in 1990 when he snapped it up. I still have his letters from that year, telling me how excited he was to represent my novel, how confident he was that we would soon find a publisher, and urging me to read this and that book or article so I’d know “what was about to happen to me.”

     Alas, it was not to be. After a year of kind, gentle “thanks but no thanks” responses from editors, we made the decision to pull it out of circulation. I promised to send him my next book as soon as it was finished, but then I got involved in other activities that mattered to me, and before I knew it almost 20 years had passed.

     Even in 1990, I knew Rubies of the Viper would be a hard sell. Ancient Rome was anything but a hot topic for fiction in those days, and ancient Roman mysteries were not yet recognized as a saleable category. Lindsey Davis had just published her first novel, but Steven Saylor and others who would eventually write great Roman mystery novels were not yet in print. The movie Gladiator and the HBO series Rome were still a decade off.
     By 2009, however, the publishing world had changed. New technologies like ebooks and Print On Demand meant that even a book that publishers wouldn’t take on might find an audience. So I hauled my two-decades-old manuscript out; shortened, tightened, and polished it up; and put it out on Amazon and other e-retailers. And WOW! I am so happy with the results. Both sales and reviews are great, and it’s clear the stigma that once accompanied self-publishing is fading fast.

     So, to come back to your original question: Yes, when The Ruby-Serpent Amulet is finished, I will probably offer it to agents again (perhaps even Mr. Curtis). By late 2012, Rubies of the Viper will have a 3-year track record of sales and reviews. And since lots of other authors have done well with novels set in ancient Rome, perhaps the commercial publishing houses will be more interested this time around. If not, then I will happily self-publish it and welcome the feedback of enthusiastic readers and reviewers.
5.  5)  You’re not only an author, but also a nature photographer. How does the photography influence your writing, or does it?

     Interesting question! Yes, my photography does influence my writing in both positive and negative ways.

     The greatest positive influence is the fact that photography, like all visual arts, forces one to pay attention to the details of a subject and find ways to highlight what makes it special and interesting. I’ve tried to carry that into my writing. Whenever I read a review that praises the historical, cultural, and social details embedded in Rubies of the Viper, or applauds its word pictures, I know that’s my “photo eye” at work.
     Another positive aspect is that the photo subjects I most enjoy—wild birds in their natural habitats—get me out into nature. And that forces me to forget about the book for a while, giving my subconscious a chance to process whatever information I’ve been chewing on. I often find that my writing comes easier and is more artful after I’ve spent a few days outside with my camera and 500mm bird lens.

     The downside is obvious: when I’m spending time out in nature making images of birds and other wild creatures, I’m not sitting at my desk. Not writing. I’m a slow writer anyway, and having this other creative activity that I love doing makes me even slower. But that’s a price I’m willing to pay. Readers may wait a bit longer for my next novel, but it will probably be better for my escapes into nature.

     If anyone reading this interview wants to see my wildlife photo galleries, there’s a link to them at Martha's Art

     Thank you, Martha. And, if you're interested in ancient Rome, be sure to check out Martha's blog, The Purple Parchment where you'll find many interesting posts. 

By the way, in ancient Rome, important letters from the emperor we're scribed on purple-dyed parchment. Tyrian purple dye was extracted from sea snails, an expensive endeavor, and reserved for royalty. Sometimes the letters were scribed in silver or gold ink--another great luxury--but what did expense matter to those who saw themselves as gods? 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Call for flash fiction: Pink Snowbunnies will Ski in Hell anthology

Do you write short stories or flash fiction? Debra Geary (author of A Modern Witch is putting together a short story collection to benefit a non-profit organization (possibly a bunny rescue service) and she needs short stories. The deadline for submissions is June 15th. 

Here are the guidelines:

1) Flash Fiction - 100-1000 words

2) Must contain some variation of the suddenly famous "pink snowbunnies will ski in hell" phrase

3) Given the cover, humor would be great, and PG13 unless there's a dang good reason for crossing that line

4) Entries will be judged by a panel of at least three judges (for the good of KB community relations, I think I'll be keeping them anonymous)

5) Entry deadline, June 15

6) Email submissions in Word .doc format to (I will hire an editor, but please have someone proofread before you send)

For more information, check out the posting on Kindle Boards

Have Fun!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

5 Questions for Blake Crouch--About Writing and His New Amazon Deal

Blake Crouch is not only an awesome thriller writer whose books will scare the sh*** out of you, but he's an awesome person. I'm fortunate to count him as a friend. I thought it would be fun to ask him a few questions--and the timing just happens to coincide with his hot new publishing deal with Amazon

If you haven't heard, Amazon is bringing out a fifth imprint called Thomas & Mercer. Five thriller writers will be published, and Blake is one of them.  He has once again collaborated with Joe Konrath on a new thriller, Stirred. (You can pre-order now.) 

Here's the description:

Lt. Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels has seen humanity at its most depraved and terrifying. She's lost loved ones. Come close to death countless times. But she always manages to triumph over evil. Luther Kite is humanity at its most depraved and terrifying. He's committed unthinkable acts. Taken human life for the sheer pleasure of it. He is a monster among monsters, and no one has ever caught him. Each is the best at what they do. Peerless. Unmatched.

Until now...

In Luther's experience, people are weak. Even the strong and fearless break too easily. He wants a challenge, and sets his depraved sights on Jack. But with a baby on the way, Jack is at her most vulnerable. She's always been a fighter, but she's never had so much to fight for. So he's built something especially for Jack. His own, private ninth circle of hell—a nightmare world in a forgotten place, from which no one has ever escaped.

It's J.A. Konrath's greatest heroine versus Blake Crouch's greatest villain in Stirred, the stunning conclusion to both Konrath's Lt. Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels thriller series and Crouch's Andrew Z. Thomas series.

Only one can survive. And it won't be whom you think.

Here are the 5 questions I asked Blake, and his answers:

1) You decided to publish your thriller Run independently, and the book has had great success—I think you reached #44 in all of Kindle. Why did you decide to go with Amazon for Stirred? 

I decided to go with Amazon, because they're doing a lot of very smart things when it comes to publishing, involving price, true collaboration with their authors, and their ability to reach readers is  tremendous. I'm all for self-publishing, but when an opportunity arises to work with a savvy corporate partner with the resources of a company like Amazon, the choice to diversify was easy.

2) You’ve collaborated on books with several other writers, including Jack Kilborn (aka J.A. Konrath), F. Paul Wilson and Jeff Strand. What makes collaboration so much fun for you? Is there anything about the experience that you found frustrating?

All of my collaborations to date have been tremendous experiences. No frustration at all. What I love about collaborating is that it changes the way I write and the way I think about sort of frees me up a little. It's very liberating and has made me a better writer, I think.
3) What genre would be the greatest challenge for you to write? Would you ever try it?
I've written across a number of genres, but the hardest was certainly what I did with Abandon, which was an historical thriller. The history research was so much fun, but it was a real challenge to take all the information I gleaned and figure out how to fit it into a story without bogging it down. Still, I'd love to do it again if the right idea came along.
4) What are you working on now? And what are you finding challenging?

I'm working on a couple of projects, one being Pines, my next thriller, and also Stirred with J.A. Konrath. I'm having a blast with both of these. The writing is easy...the real challenge is staying away from distractions and putting up the number of words on a daily basis I feel I need to.
5) What is the biggest disappointment you’ve experienced as a writer, and what did you learn from it?

I don't want to go into a bitchfest about my experience with my traditional publisher, but it was disappointing on a vast number of levels. Financially and creatively. I learned from it that no one can sell my work better than I can, no one can pitch it better than I can, and no one knows the kind of thing I should be writing better than I do. 

Thanks for stopping by Blake!

Blake has just released Thicker Than BloodThe Complete Andrew Z. Thomas Trilogy
Check it out!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Poet, Renee Podunovich--Wheel of Fortune and Jumping Off a Cliff

I met poet, Renee Podunovich, when we both participated in a series of readings sponsored by Arts Perspective Magazine. Renee is a lovely person, and a beautiful poet. Here's one of her latest poems:

Behind the Wind
Seems like I've known him
forever. the years are stacked up like pancakes
and the stack has become so tall that the ones
on the bottom can't even be seen anymore.
are just vague, reconstructed or falsified memories.
but they are there at the bottom of the pile
holding the whole thing up.
that's how long I've known him.
but today at the beach. seeing him from behind.
the wind sifted through his graying hair.
it appears something magnificent is moving
and blowing him along the shore.
he leans over. gathering. looking.
paying attention to the world
and the moment before him
and I wonder, Who is this man?
the one running up smiling.
Look at these, he says of a handful of shells.
broken. fragments. remains. rubble mostly.
some are whole and a few are quite extraordinary.
but he is holding them like they are the most amazing
gift in the world. like someone would hold the fork
loaded with the first bite of pancakes
dripping with maple syrup and butter
before they know enough to care about the calories.
Aren't these amazing? and so I look again. more closely.
this is a man who cares about the bits and pieces.
the shards. the cast offs. the broken things of the world.
he spends the days visiting dying patients
and lately, he wonders if he's made any difference at all.
he sees first hand that people have nothing in the end.
except the time they spent doing what they loved
and loving the world the best they could.
all the rest of it. shells.
rubbed and eroded by the sea.
Yes, these are amazing, I say.
and into my cupped hands he places
this treasure.


If you'd like to read more of Renee's poetry, check out her chapbook, If There is No Center, No One Knows Where it Begins

I asked Renee to talk about the process of writing. Here's what she has to say:

Being a poet is like being Vanna White turning the letters on Wheel of Fortune— always chasing the mystery that exists behind those big black squares. Writing poetry is like big black squares of my inner process appearing all the time over the landscape of the outer world. Actually, this metaphor does not really work too well. The only good part of it is the Vanna White part and it is only because I would like to dress up as her sometime for a costume party and only because I want a fantastic blond wig to add to my collection.

The truth is, whenever someone asks me to describe my creative process, I cringe and think to myself, “I have no idea how I do it!” To me, writers write just like musicians play music or tennis players play tennis. It’s a natural proficiency and interest combined with discipline, practice and more practice.

Now being picked up by the outrageous tornado of the muse and spun out of your mind so that you are left in awe of the unbelievable power of creativity— that is a different story. I am currently in a writing group and we have several members that are brand new to creative writing. In my heart, they are the joy of the group. For the first few weeks, the writing prompts are like jumping off a cliff for them and they can’t quite make themselves leap. They stand near the edge and look over, put the pen to paper and tentatively make a few marks on the page. Asking them to share what they just wrote is like asking if they would like to be electrocuted. But they find the courage and they read and we all clap and reflect what moved us in the piece and maybe suggest this or that.

Around the fourth or fifth week, something shifts. When the writing prompt is given, they pick up the pen right away and instead of using it to gnaw on, they start frantically writing. You see, they have forgotten that they are on a precipice and that there is a jump involved. By the end of the prompt they look up, eyes a bit glazed-over as if something had overcome them. As they look back to the page their mouths drop open at the sheer quantity of words written there. They can’t believe that they jumped and something, some exquisite, numinous, fantastic thing carried them to the bottom. “Where did this come from?” they say, perplexed, disbelieving, enchanted. And that’s when I know they have fallen in love with the art of writing. They are hooked and their newfound delight at losing the self momentarily, of opening to the wide expanses of consciousness and connecting to a larger voice than they have known, is contagious. 

If they continue to write, someday someone will ask them, “How do you do that?” But the proper question to ask is, “Why?” The poet David Whyte says, “The poet lives and writes at the frontier between deep internal experience and the revelations of the outer world. There is no going back for the poet once this frontier has been reached; a new territory is visible and what has been said cannot be unsaid.” I’ve been writing for a long time and sometimes I find myself in a dark mood of jaded disdain that comes from interacting with the pomp and circumstance of the business of writing! The new writers enliven me and I find fresh eyes and an open heart as I jump off the cliff with them each week. I twirl and my skirt flows around my ankles as I spin letters around and around, smiling and smiling. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

5 Questions for Victorine Lieske--New York Times Bestselling Indie Author

Victorine E. Lieske is a phenomenon: a self-published, indie author, who sold thousands of copies of her debut novel, Not What She Seems, and made the New York Times Bestseller List for eBook Fiction.

I met Vicki on Kindleboards, my fave forum. She is always kind and polite (unlike me--sometimes the ex-New Yorker kicks in) and helpful to other writers. I was lucky enough to be a beta reader for Vicki's new release, The Overtaking, the first book in a series that combines science fiction with romance. I loved the book.

I wanted to ask Vicki a few questions, and she's been kind enough to answer them. This is the first interview I'm posting in a series called: 5 Questions

Please welcome my guest, Victorine Lieske:

1) Your debut novel, Not What She Seems, is classified as sweet romance. The Overtaking includes sweet romance, but it crosses over into science fiction. What made you take this leap?

It's funny because The Overtaking was a story I had started working on quite a long time ago, when I was first married. Like many things, I started the book, got a few pages in, and then got busy with other things. It never went anywhere. After having some success with Not What She Seems I dusted off the old beginning and took a look at it. It was horrible. I tossed the whole thing. However, I liked the concept, which was basically to have a population of people who didn't remember who they really were. I couldn't really take this concept and change it to a contemporary romance, so I added in the romance into the science fiction background.
2) I read, recently, that Not What She Seems took you four years to write. How was the process of writing The Overtaking different, and how long did it take to write?

If you're talking from when the concept started, I suppose it took fifteen years to write. However, from when I threw out the old and really started working on it in earnest, I'd say it took eight months.  The process was very different, because when I wrote Not What She Seems I wrote the first draft in one week, not knowing what I was doing, and then took four years to learn about writing and how to tell a good story. The part that took the longest was submitting chapters to a critique group and critiquing others. I submitted one chapter a week, and probably critiqued twelve other people per chapter that I submitted. And I did do this with the entire novel, twice. After doing all that, I found myself with the proper tools to write a much cleaner first draft of The Overtaking.
3) How does your own life experience influence the stories you write?

I think my life experience really does influence what I write. I'm a picky reader, and I like to be on the edge of my seat as I read, so that's what I aim for as I write. I also like romance in the books I read, but the characters have to have tension in their relationship, and I only like reading clean romances. All of these things reflect how I am in real life, and what I like to take in, from the television shows that I watch to the movies I go see.  

4) I also read, recently, that you may be writing short stories. In the past, I believe I read that you aren’t a fan of the short story form. What has made you change you point of view?

You're right, I feel very inept when it comes to short story writing. I'm not a huge short story reader, and writing them seems intimidating. However, there's a story that won't leave me alone, but I'm not sure I can flesh it out to a full length novel. So it's sort of an experiment for me to see if I can write a shorter work and be satisfied with it. Although it might turn into a novella or a novelette instead of a short story.
5) What is the greatest disappointment you have had as a writer, and what did you learn from that experience?

My greatest disappointment came after finishing the first draft of Not What She Seems, and then seeking approval from other authors that what I had written was good. I was lucky to find some very kind and honest authors who guided me in the decision to join a critique group and try to work on my writing. Of course I was disappointed that they didn't love what I had written, and didn't give me the praise I was seeking. But that's also the best thing that could have happened to me. I had no idea what I was doing when I wrote the novel, and looking back at it I'm glad for the guidance I received.

 The Overtaking is currently available as an eBook for $2.99 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Brand New Short Story on Declan Conner's Cool Site

I met Declan Conner at my fave hangout, Kindleboards. He writes short stories, and he's got a great collection on Kindle, Lunch Break Thrillers

Decan's got an interesting website, and today he's posted a brand new short story of mine called Meditation. Don't worry, it's not self-help--it will be part of a creepy little collection of short stories I'm publishing this fall, Ghost Plane and Other Disturbing Tales. Check out Meditation for free on Decan's site--might make you think twice about who's sitting next to you.

And check out Lunch Break Thrillers--just .99 cents on Kindle

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Attention Writers: Read these posts about agents, publishing and contracts!

If you're a writer who's considering hiring an agent or going through a publisher, please read the following two posts.

The first is an article by Kristine Kathyrn Rusch, Advocates, Addendums, and Sneaks, oh my! Rusch has had a lot of experience with publishing contracts. In this article, she talks about the pitfalls and how to avoid them.

A follow up to that article is a post by Passive Guy, a former lawyer, Don't Sign Dumb Contracts. That might seem obvious, but many writers do sign contracts that benefit everyone except the writer. 

In a world hungry for content, writers must protect themselves. Be wise! And cautious!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Short Story Month--Free Stories Everywhere!

It's short story month, and today I've got my flash fiction story, A Tiny Romance, posted on Alain Gomez's blog Book Brouhaha. It's part of the Dating My Vibrator (and other true fiction) collection, but you won't get it in a sample, so please check it out. And yes, sadly, it's taken from my life. Alain's blog is the perfect hang-out for short story lovers. 

Another great hang-out is Chuck Heintzelman's blog. Chuck's place is a constant source of short stories, and in celebration of short story month, he's posting other writers' stories throughout the month of May. My story, Ghost Plane, is up today. Ghost Plane was first published in CrimeSpree Magazine and it will be included in the new collection of short stories that I plan to publish this fall: Ghost Plane and Other Disturbing Tales.

Short stories are the perfect snack for hungry readers--perfect for reading on your phone, riding the subway, walking in traffic--especially flash fiction, because chances are you won't have time to get hit by a truck. Check them out!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Stop by Sibel Hodge's Blog and Grab a Latte with Me!

I dropped by Sibel Hodge's Blog for a chat and a latte. Would love for you to stop by and leave a comment. 

Sibel writes romantic suspense and romantic comedy. Her new release is Be Careful What You Wish For -- check it out. She's selling books like crazy!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Happy Endings--I Love Them

If you read my last post, about the negative review which gave away the ending of my novel, Vestal Virgin, I want to let you know that this story has a HAPPY ENDING!

I reread the other author's initial email, and it sounded so friendly that I felt perplexed. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, I wrote to her and mentioned that I felt disappointed about her husband's negative reaction to my book. I also mentioned that the spoiler review (revealing the book's ending) disturbed me much more than the negative review, which, of course, he's entitled to give. 

Wonderfully, I heard back from the author. Apparently, she had no idea that her husband had reviewed my book--and she apologized for the spoiler. Not only that, but we plan to stay in touch.

Now that's a happy ending.

The moral of the story: don't jump to conclusions.

P.S. It's probably best not to write reviews for the books of your spouse (looks unprofessional) and steer away from writing reviews (especially nasty reviews) for direct competitors. 

P.P.S. NEVER SPOIL A STORY FOR OTHER READERS in a review--and, if you feel compelled to post a spoiler (I don't really understand why that would be necessary), please include a warning.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

This Could be a Scandal--but that would be Bad Karma!

A few weeks ago, a writer emailed me. She told me that she wrote a book set in ancient Rome at approximately the same time period as my novel Vestal Virgin and asked me if I'd like to exchange books with her. I said I'd be delighted, and I was. In fact, I hoped we might develop a friendship, even cross-promote. I sent her my book as an electronic file, and she sent her book to me.

A few weeks passed, and I hadn't had a chance to read her book. And then, a few days ago, I noticed a new review for Vestal Virgin had been posted on Amazon. Until then, the book had received all five and four star reviews, so I was surprised to see a two star review--but everybody has a right to their opinion. The reviewer apparently hated my book's ending. Oh well, I thought, can't please everyone. But, as I continued reading, I realized that the reviewer had posted the resolution to my story; in other words, the reviewer posted a spoiler which ruined my book's ending for potential readers. The book is suspense, so the ending is particularly important.

This upset me.

Posting a spoiler without a warning is considered a malicious act, and Amazon will not tolerate that kind of behavior. I wrote to them, and they promptly took down the review.

But the mystery continued...

I noticed several suspicious things about the review.

1) It was not an Amazon Verified Purchase, which meant the reader had either bought the book on another site and taken the time to post on Amazon or I had personally given the book to the reviewer.

2) The timing of the review made me wonder, could this have been posted by the other author? Of course, that was just a hunch...

3) The reviewer had only written five reviews over the past two years, and one of those reviews was a 5 star review for the author who'd contacted me. Another of the other reviews (also about a book that takes place in the Roman Empire in the same time period) received a poor review--and that review referred to the book of the author who had contacted me (with a link to her book) stating the book as an alternative, and better, read.

My sleuth kicked in. Everything on the internet is trackable.

And, guess what?

The poor review of Vestal Virgin was written by the husband of the author who contacted me.

Why am I posting about this? Unfortunately, I'm not alone in this negative experience. Trashing another writer's book with malicious intent, attempting to ruin their sales, is very unprofessional behavior.

So please, don't post spoiler reviews.

Note: please see the happy resolution of situation in my May 3rd post about happy endings. The author knew nothing about her husband's review, and she apologized for the spoiler. We have a lot of common interests in our writing, so I hope we stay in contact.