Monday, December 27, 2010

By the way, I’ve signed with a new publisher!

Remember last summer when I posted about VerveStar? (July 11, 2010) They’re a highly-rated international PR firm now branching out into more comprehensive media services and publishing. I met one of the partners, Miranda Spigener, while they were doing some contract work for my previous publisher. Later I did a bit of work for them on their new website,, which is still being renovated, and was thoroughly impressed by their capabilities and operations. So when they approached me about taking over the Ammanon series, it was, like, are you kidding? I’m there!

VerveStar has a radically different approach. Actually, it’s the way it should’ve always been. Sort of an “Ah-hah!” moment in the literary industry. As recognized leaders in the PR world, the VerveStar partners understand that it’s publicity that moves the market. Obviously, you can’t sell it if nobody knows about it, right? Therefore, VerveStar is developing the publishing around the publicity...the way most businesses have done for years!

It only makes sense to build a campaign around the author and his book, and then publish in the wake of that in-place and ongoing publicity. This will provide authors with a much better outcome than the hap-hazard, largely do-it-yourself marketing programs of today’s publishing houses. VerveStar believes that the first and final product needs to be the publicity, not the book. They are publicists first, publishers second.

Think about it. Why do it any other way?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Music I Write By: Soundtracks and Genre Collections

If you’re a fantasy writer, there’s a treasure trove of music from the movie industry to move your story lines. The stirring themes from Lord of the Rings, Avatar, Narnia, Superman and way too many others can keep the creative juices flowing. But here’s a caveat: interspersed with the main themes are lengthy passages of two-note monotony. Behind the action on the screen it imbues an intense atmosphere. By itself, it imbues intense boredom. Or extreme depression. Batman is a prime example. (BTW: the soundtrack with the least waste music I’ve found so far is Avatar.)

Then there are the wild back-ups for scenes of conflict, like wars, etc. Unless you happen to be constructing a battle scene yourself, it’s big-time disruptive. You know what would be perfect? (I can’t believe they never do this!) Make an album of the main themes performed as complete individual works and LOSE the endless background stuff! I’ve seen formats that come close, which brings me to the next thing: genre collections.

The best examples in my library are Music from the Science Fiction Movies and The Fantasy Album. But they’re not perfect. “Dual of The Fates” from Star Wars I – The Phantom Menace will completely blow your train of thought. And you may not get it back until Track 10: “The Search for Spock.”

Better by far is the second one, which features suites from Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Gladiator, Mummies 1 and 2, etc. Great stuff with very little scene filler. I’m sure there’s more like that out there, but I haven’t found them yet.

Yes, I know. The best of all worlds is to burn your own collections. I’ve tried that. Recently I downloaded several tracks and still haven’t been able to locate them on my computer, much less drop them on a CD. Trying to figure it out takes long, fruitless hours of frustration, even with help from Mumbai. Used to be I could transfer selections from CD to cassette, but that wonderful all-purpose stereo system just sank into the tar pits with the rest of the dinosaurs.

Now before I leave this series of articles, I’ve just gotta ask one question: would anybody else love to hear Susan Boyle’s sweet, lyrical voice doing “I See You” from Avatar instead of the rock version?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Music I write by: Mythos

Mythos offers a smorgasbord for the imagination. This Canadian duo of Bob D’Eith (keyboards) and Paul Schmidt (guitar) knows how to combine an exciting beat with mysterious melodies and soaring vocals - great background for creating the fantasyscapes of your stories. It’s even better if you have a cup of chai to go with it.

But while it’s great food for creativity, the Mythos repertoire is uneven. One must be careful about album selections.

My first Mythos CD, Reality of a Dreamer, thrilled me with its breathless, haunting quality and emotional involvement. I went on to Purity and then to Eternity (which, by the way, features a “Kyrie Eléison” that will raise the hairs on the back of your neck - way more than in church). But somewhere along the line they introduced a trumpet with one of those attachments that makes it sound like a drugged bumblebee. I hate that. It’s a thin, bitingly nasal sound. It has its place in the Big Bands of the 40s or in jazz combos, I suppose, but PLEASE don’t assault my ears with it while I’m composing dialog in classical English! Fortunately, it’s only here and there amongst the titles, so I’m learning to live with it.

Then came Mythos ‘N D J Cosmo. The titles immediately appealed to me: “The Heart of the Ocean” (Titanic), “Unchained Melody,” “Send Me an Angel,” etc. But once past the exquisite first seconds allowed on the samples, it burst into dizzy, double-time electronic reverberations and totally fractured the melody. So be warned.

After writing the above, a new Mythos CD I’d ordered arrived. It must be one of their earlier ones because it’s entitled simply Mythos. And it’s everything that drew me to them in the first place. Fantastic!

Check them out here: Mythos CDs

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Music I write by: David Arkenstone

Do you play music while you write? What’s your favorite? There are several that I use, but it’s David Arkenstone’s compelling beat and soaring harmonies that really feed my soul.

I have only four of his CDs: Quest of the Dream Warrior, Echoes of Light and Shadow, Return of the Guardians, and Spirit of Ireland. That barely scratches the surface of this prolific musician/composer. Fifty-one albums to date. And I want them all!

Pigeonholed as “New Age,” his range defies genre. He does Celtic, Native American, Asian, Christmas, odes to movies, and blissful atmospherics – nearly all of his own composing. The brief bio on AOL Music puts it artfully: “California's David Arkenstone blends global, cinematic, and rock elements into his new age sonic tapestries.”

And he does! Influenced by the likes of Kitaro, John Williams, and Mannheim Steamroller, all favorites of mine, he does wondrous things for a writer’s imagination.
Follow this ungainly link:

Then choose an album that strikes your fancy and listen to samples. You’ll see what I mean!

Monday, October 25, 2010

New Atlantis: Kingdom of Youth

Here's a major adventure for mid-schoolers! This new release by R. W. Garrett compares favorably with the tales of C. S. Lewis. In fact, Garrett acknowledges his influence in her work.

The story centers on the Chosen Children, set apart by the Unknown God to populate three small islands north of the main continent of Atlantis. While the purpose of the divine directive is one of mercy and survival, the crafty and unscrupulous King Jorash seeks to twist it to his own liking. The Children reach the appointed age of 14, and their training begins. Adult mentors teach them all aspects of community: government, construction, farming, mining, etc.

But when the priests cast lots to choose the youthful king for this new country, it falls on the earnest, conscientious Savot, not Cain, the boy who shares the king's agenda. Thus, during the year of training, King Jorash plots with Cain and other like-minded boys to get rid of Savot and run things their way.

The time comes when the Chosen Children voyage to their new home and are left on their own. Though they now face very grown-up challenges, responsibilities and dangers, Garrett never forgets that they are kids. Pranks, antics, and youthful dialog abound. This is a complex adventure, but Garrett tells it simply, and in language appropriate for the target age group. There is plenty of suspense and excitement to keep the reader involved. The ending, while satisfying, leaves ample material for a sequel. Lets hope it comes soon!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Authors: Use the Tools Available on Amazon

This may be one of my more interesting blogs. Not because of the subject matter particularly, but because I’m dreadfully high on pain meds at the moment. Twisted something during aerobics this morning. My sweet, solicitous husband offered me of his prized prescription post surgery pills – Vicodin, I think it’s called. Since I rarely take anything stronger than aspirin, and rarely take even that, I’m having quite a reaction. I mean, I even feel disconnected from my tongue.

But this is NOT what you tuned in to hear.

Last week I talked about Search Inside the Book. Or, as those of us already Inside call it: SITB This time I want to tell you about another neat way Amazon offers to enhance your listing: the Author’s Page. It’s announced (with your photo) just ahead of your first book.

Begin with Amazon’s home page, and enter “Author Central” in the search window. No, no, don’t type in the quote marks! Geeez. That was just for illustrative purposes. Follow the instructions for entering your books, bio, photo and whatever. After you submit the info, they’ll reply that they’re building your page and will get back with you within 7 days. Parts of it may appear before others. Don’t panic. Be patient. Seven days, remember?

I’ve barely scratched the surface with mine so far. You can link it to your blog and website, add a string of photos, etc. There’s just lots of cool things you can do there to entertain and tantalize your fan base.

Take advantage of every tool you can find. Remember, the more readers can learn about your book, the more apt they are to buy it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

New Authors: Learn to use the tools on Amazon!

A great new kiddie book hit the market last week: NEW ATLANTIS: Kingdom of Youth. The author, R. W. Garrett, wrestled a compelling cover from the publisher, but I can’t show it to you because the Amazon listing doesn’t have it! This I discovered when I went to the site to post a review.

Horrified, I rushed her the link to Amazon’s Seller Central, the one I use to add “Search Inside the Book” to my own listings. They have instructions for submitting your files: front cover, back cover, and text block.

But when SHE clicked the link, it went to a whole different world of advertisements and pricey packages – no resemblance to anything I was seeing. At my suggestion, she typed SITB in the Amazon search window. No luck.

I was stunned. It’s so easy. I’ve done it with the 3 books I now have in print. Finally it hit me. When I click the Amazon link on my faves list, it “knows” me and displays accordingly. It knows what I mean by Seller Central even though it’s called something else now. Sigh.

So next time I went in from scratch – typed “” into my ISP’s search window and went in as a stranger. After a bit of scrounging, I finally found it. You may want to take notes here.

First off, here’s the link: but it may be temporary. They tend to change things between books. So…in case the link sends you hurtling into parts unknown…here’s a likely path to follow:

1. home page
2. Scroll all the way to the bottom. You’ll see 3 columns of lists.
3. On the middle one, Make Money with Us, click: See all
4. Now you should be looking at another list of choices. Choose: I want Author and Publisher Tools
5. Another display magically appears. The obvious choice here is: >> Search Inside!
6. Click that and follow the instructions.

The NEW ATLANTIS author emailed back in short order: “It worked!” Whew.

Next week: Creating an author page on Amazon.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Take the Vow to Get Old Without Getting Gross

I suppose this is just fantasy, too, but we’ve got to at least TRY! I mean, isn’t taking care of elderly and infirm relatives teaching you anything? C’mon, people! Give a thought to your family and caregivers! Now, then. Repeat after me:

1. I will NOT refuse to have my hair washed even though I’ve gotten along fine for two months and become eco-system for fleas, lice, ticks, ants, and spiders.

2. I WILL choose to be cheerful. Raging against everyone and everything because I’ve gotten old won’t change anything. Plus it wastes precious energy.

3. I WILL accept that other things exist in the world beside my stupid aches and pains. In fact, listening to the news and/or taking an interest in others can actually distract me from them.

4. I will NOT refuse basic hygiene even though I may have figured out by then why crabby old folks hate being clean.

5. I WILL change my hearing aid batteries regularly.

6. I will NOT regale all and sundry with my bowel activities. Ditto the arthritis. And my latest surgery.

7. I will NOT make every statement a complaint.

8. I WILL thank people for their efforts, even if I must (politely) pass on the Cajun crawfish with fire sauce they have prepared for me.

9. I WILL acknowledge that certain aches and limitations come with age and stop running to doctors and taking a gazillion pills trying to be “normal” again. Notice that half the meds are to correct the side effects of the other half.

10. I WILL cultivate a pleasant disposition so it’ll be habit by the time my mind goes. I WILL be like my 102-year-old Aunt Vivian who’s a joy to be around even though she constantly repeats herself.

11. Lastly, I will NOT keep griping that I don’t care about anything and just want to die. An exasperated great-grandkid just might ruin his life accommodating me!

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Silver Sycamore B&B – Rustic with Class

Deep in Pasadena, Texas (a community just southeast of Houston) there’s a rustic oasis called the Silver Sycamore. Trundling down Pine Ave., a two-lane blacktop leading away from the bustle of Beltway 8, one comes unexpectedly upon this campus of quaint cottages nestled in lush landscaping. The compound includes a tea room, a garden with a picturesque gazebo, and an elegant reception hall. It now extends across the street to a shop, spa, and bridal accommodations.

Since my publicist, Miranda Spigener, is the daughter of the Silver Sycamore’s owner, I scored an invite to an open house this Sunday. The event introduced the gift shop, four tiny rooms packed with all sorts of imaginative goodies: cold-insulated dip servers, teas, dip mixes of every description, cookies, cup & saucer sets, unique kicked-up condiments, local honey, and more gadgets, collectibles and gizmos than I can remember. I came away with a large, colorful pumpkin cookie and a pound of pecan flavored coffee beans. Tantalized all the way home by the aroma, I couldn’t wait to brew it. It was so good. It was so smo-o-o-oth. It is SO the reason I’m wide awake at 3:26 AM writing this.

On September 15, the local ABC affiliate aired a special segment on the Silver Sycamore. It took 6 hours to shoot and was beautifully done. Take a look: ABC-TV news segment

But I learned even more from the chatter in the checkout line. It seems one of the cottages is a place where a bride can sleep, then prepare the next day in the well-mirrored parlor. At the proper time, a horse and carriage arrives to deliver her in style to the site of the ceremony: either the lacy gazebo or the reception hall.

The Silver Sycamore is the inspiration of Jackie Spigener. This winsome, wispy blonde who looks younger than my daughter is the driving force behind this project. She and her husband, both with backgrounds in construction, have been bringing the dream to life a piece at a time. First the gourmet Tea Room, then the B&B, then the bungalows – all either existing historic buildings or retro-built using materials recovered from 19th century homes.

There’s so much more than I can feasibly present in a blog. Please visit their website: and their Facebook page: for the rest of the story. Better yet, go!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

“Look what I found without looking!”

That was a lyric from a mini opera on Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, and in this case it’s poignantly true. I hadn’t given any thought at all to a cover for my sci-fi The Hundredth Spring. First things first, after all. I haven’t even found a publisher for it yet. Then out of the blue my editor, Mary Sell, sends me these incredible pieces of art that immediately fired my imagination.

She wrote: Stan and I have a friend in Kentland who's an artist. His forte is sci-fi action figures. He's about 55 and disabled. He’s lived with his parents since the onset of the illness in his late teens.

"Back in the 1990s his dad took him to New York to the comic book publishers and book publishers with a portfolio of his art, but they got nowhere and it was very disheartening for him. Tom also does pencil and pen and ink drawings.

"Last fall his father died, and his mother's in a nursing home. Tom is able to live on his own. I believe he would love to do a painting of one of the scenes from the Ammanon series. I've attached samples of some of his work.

Well, the Ammanon books already have an established theme so I, of course, thought immediately of The Hundredth Spring. Obviously that would be the better application of his talents. Personally, I think his work is too emotional and expressive for comics. The pleasing play of shapes and colors, the imaginative way he leads the eye though the scene – the man’s an illustrator, not a cartoonist!

I sent descriptive passages from Spring and background notes to be passed on to Tom. Whatever his disability, there’s no doubt he’s capable of creating exactly what I want. In fact, I can’t imagine anyone doing better. So I’m calling dibs, folks!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Human Face of the New Zealand Quake

Remember my friend Glenis Thomas? I blogged about her blueberry cookbook about a month ago. She lives in Wellington, NZ. I emailed her when I learned about the 7.2 quake on the news. She replied that she’d slept through the whole thing! Wellington, you see, is on North Island. The epicenter was near Christchurch, which is on South Island. However, she’s since been sending me links to the local media and sharing eyewitness accounts that you’ll never catch on international news.

It seems that New Zealand sits above an ongoing collision between the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates. The country records more than 14,000 earthquakes a year, but only about 150 are felt by residents. Fewer than 10 a year do any damage. Now Canterbury University geology professor Mark Quigley (OMG. Quigley Down Under?) says it looks like a new fault line has been ripped in the Earth’s surface. “We saw two houses that were completely snapped in half," he said.

As you can see, the greatest damage and debris is fallen bricks. Glenis tells me almost everything there is brick. Yet only two serious injuries were reported as chimneys and walls of older buildings were reduced to rubble. Prime Minister John Key said it was a miracle no one was killed. "If this had happened five hours earlier or five hours later (when many more people were in the city), there would have been absolute carnage in terms of human life," he told TV One News Sunday.

Then, in spite of flooding from broken water mains and total power and utility disruptions, the miracle stories began coming out. Glenis shared these with me:

One lady heard water running and stepped out of her house in the dark to see what it was. She promptly fell into a deep hole that had opened up and was suddenly up to her neck in liquid sand. Her teenage daughter was following right behind her but apparently offered little help. “The woman broke all her nails getting out,” Glenis reports. “Terrifying!”

A 15-year-old boy was asleep on the 2nd floor, his bed against the outside wall. When the quake woke him, he rolled over just as the outside wall of his bedroom ripped away. He fell to the ground as the interior wall collapsed onto his bed, escaping with only scratches and bruises! The house, a lovely country home, was completely destroyed.

A young woman awoke when her friend, screaming at her to get up, pulled her out of bed just as the outside brick wall collapsed onto the bed. She said she felt the brush of a falling brick go passed her head.

Glenis says the street in a new suburb must be right on the fault line. All the upscale homes there have been moved and twisted from their foundations. They are uninhabitable as are hundreds of others.

Wow, Glenis! I think I’ll stick to hurricanes!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Getting Back to Fantasy…where would you most like to live?

A couple of years ago I tried this on the Gather networking site and got quite a response. Now that Hollywood has given us yet more fantasy places, let’s try it again. I’ll start with a previous favorite – Middle Earth: the Shire, Lothlorien, and Rivendell.

Now we have Pandora:

Then there’s Eragon’s world from Chris Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle:

And other fantasyscapes I’ve scrounged up around the web:

Of course, I'm still partial to Ammanon:

So I’ve shown you mine. Show me yours!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Irresistible “I’m Glad I’m Me” Teaches Us How to Talk to Each Other

Yes, I’m still genre-jumping! My grandson pulled this out of our children’s bookcase yesterday and I fell in love with it all over again. Sheila Aron’s little gem, “I’m Glad I’m Me” is, as an interviewer on FOX news put it, “a parenting guide disguised as a children’s book.”

The book is a dialog, a script. Knowing the positive impact messages of love between parent and child can have, Sheila offers 18 simple, everyday conversation models. It gives you the words you need. And when you read it to your kids, they’re hearing what they need to hear.

I actually met Sheila before her book. Her book signing was the week before mine, and I went just to see how they worked. I was just starting out. She was already a veteran of the signing scene, having done the likes of Barnes and Noble, Borders, and Brazos, the most popular indy bookstore in Houston.

With the event winding down, we sat down with coffee and chatted. She’s a petite brunette, very pretty in a thoughtful sort of way. I asked how “I’m Glad I’m Me” came about. It’s a poignant story. One night on the evening news she heard a story about a young girl committing a horrific crime and it struck a chord deep in her soul. Why do these things keep happening? What triggers it? What can be done?

As she explored the problem, one thing stood out for her: people don’t know how to talk to each other. In this era of tension and uncertainty, chopped up text-speak, emotional disconnection, and parental exhaustion, few can even conduct civil conversations, much less express love.

Here’s an excerpt: “…when we are working together: Thank you for helping me. Working or playing – I love to be with you.” Sound sappy? Think about it. It’s what you feel, isn’t it? It’s what you mean. It’s what you want to say. So say it! Get used to it! Start building your attitude; that positive relationship. The few minutes it takes to read and share this book could impact a child (and you!) for a lifetime.

Beautifully illustrated by Charlotte Arnold, it’s a book a child will reach for. Because of the subtitle, “Weaving the Thread of Love From Generation to Generation,” each book comes with a symbolic multicolored length of yarn, which I've found useful for marking my place when Mikey suddenly needs a potty trip.

Since the last time we talked, Sheila has set up a wonderful website: I close with a quote from it:

Sheila Aron’s advocacy for loving parent-child relationships reaches deep into her Houston community. She has donated copies of I’m Glad I’m Me to various charitable organizations including Harris County Children’s Protective Service, ESCAPE Family Resource Center and ChildBuilders™ for distribution to families served by these organizations.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Odd Moments in History – August

I know, I know. August ain’t half over yet! But already there’s quite a collection of oddities – and who knows what impact they’ve had on life as we know it? For instance:

Aug. 3, 1985 - Mail service is discontinued to a nudist colony in Paradise Lake, FL until residents promise to wear clothes or stay out of sight when the mailperson comes.

Aug. 4, 1693 –Dom Perignon invents champagne. (This day is now more popularly known as U.S. Coast Guard Day. No doubt it’s celebrated with champagne.)

Aug. 6, 1981 – Fire fighters in Indianapolis, IN return from a false alarm to find their station ablaze from a grease fire. (Turn off the burners before you leave, guys…)

Aug. 6, 1762 – The first formally acknowledged “sandwich” since Roman times (beef and cheese between slices of toasted bread) is devised for John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich.

Aug. 7 was quite eventful:
1983 – Over 675,000 AT&T employees, mostly operators, go on strike. Middle management mans the switchboards and quickly decide they need a union, too.
1947 - The balsa wood raft Kon-Tiki struggles across 4,300 miles of Pacific Ocean only to crash into the reef of a Polynesian archipelago.
1876 – The centuries old custom of tup-running (trying to seize a ram by its greased tail) goes wildly awry at Eton College. The panicked ram swims the Thames and runneth amok through Windsor Market with the boys in hot pursuit. Much mischief resulteth.

Aug. 9 was even busier:
2004 - Donald Duck receives the 2,257th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
1944 – Smokey Bear debuts as the spokesbear for fire prevention. He’s the creation of The Forest Service and Wartime Advertising Council.
1905 – Ty Cobb’s mother mistakes her husband for a burglar and kills him.
1678 - American Indians sell the Bronx to Jonas Bronck for 400 beads.

Aug 10, 1846 - Congress charters the Smithsonian Institution, called "the nation's attic."

Aug 14, 2126 - Comet Swift-Tuttle makes its closest approach to Earth. Just a little heads-up there…
1756 – And a society note here: Daniel Boone marries 16-year-old Rebecca Bryan.

Aug 11, 1984 – President Reagan (for a radio voice check): "I have signed legislation that outlaws Russia forever. We begin bombing in 5 minutes." This day has also been declared Presidential Joke Day.

August 13, 3114 BC – The first day of the Mayan calendar, according to the Lounsbury correlation.

August 15 is host to many momentous events:
1969 – The Woodstock Music & Art Fair opens in Bethel, NY (Max Yasgur's Dairy Farm). Billed as "An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music," it features
24 bands and draws over 400,000 people. The event became an iconic cultural phenomenon.
1968 – Pirate Radio Free London goes on the air. A transmitter was set up in an apartment, and their aerial was a long wire which ran across a street and a railroad track and was tied to the fire escape of a BBC building.
1877 - Thomas Edison writes to the president of the Telegraph Company in Pittsburgh stating that "hello" is more appropriate than "ahoy" when answering the telephone. Like, why not just call him about it?

Aug. 16, 1920 - The only fatality to date in major league baseball occurs when Ray Chapman (Cleveland Indians) was hit in the head with a fastball from Carl Mays of the NY Yankees.

Aug. 17, 1977 - FTD (Florists Transworld Delivery) reports that orders for flowers to be delivered to Graceland for Elvis Presley’s funeral surpasses any other event in the company's history.

And so it goes. I had no idea what neat stuff I’d be learning when I took on the “Today in History” feature for The biggest shock was August 10, 2003, which was the first marriage from space. It was between cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, who was orbiting in the International Space Station, and Ekaterina Dmitriev, who was down at Houston’s Johnson Space Center. Unfortunately, I misunderstood my source’s rather vague listing of the event and thought both were cosmonauts, and both were aboard the ISS.

But no problem. One of VerveStar’s founding partners, Miranda Spigener, is a personal friend of Ekaterina (“Kat”) and was able to correct my entry. It seems Kat even starred in a short film written/directed/produced by Miranda. ( It won Audience Choice as Official Selection at the 2001 Venice International Film Festival and appeared as part of the Alternate Selection/Audience Pick at the 2001 Berlin International Film Fest. Wow. Like I said, you never know what you’re going to learn.

Now get out there and make an Odd Moment for me to report!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Elle Newmark’s The Book of Unholy Mischief : the story is history and suspense, but the book itself is a mystery. It…uh…smells good

There is a whole lot to say about Elle Newmark. Her PR coup, a virtual book-launching party that reached 500,000 people and netted her a prestigious agent and a 7-figure advance from the likes of Simon & Schuster, is legendary. I “met” her on Nikki Leigh’s blog where her uproarious “Better Late Than Early” article was posted. Finding we were the same age and both newly published, I shot off an email with sisterly congrats. She was packing for India at the time but answered me anyway. We had a few exchanges since, and I still frequent her blog.

As for the story, it immerses us in 16th century Venice. We live history through the eyes of an urchin named Luciano who is plucked from the streets by the head chef of the lavish Doges Palace. But in the midst of exquisite culinary details, we are caught up in a vicious search for a particular book of alchemy, said to contain the secrets of wealth, power, and life itself. Beautifully and cleverly descriptive, the story twists, turns, and finally emerges as a lasting testament to wisdom and truth. (That was excerpted from my own review of this book.)

But this isn’t about either of the above. It’s the physical book itself. It smells good. That’s right. It smells good. It filled the room with a mysterious, ethereal fragrance the second I pulled it from its wrapper. The hardcover binding was absolutely steeped in it. It’s not like anything I’ve ever smelled before. It’s a haunting, hypnotic floral incense type of thing. What the heck is it? I sniffed my way passed high-end department store fragrance counters. Nope. I ducked into candle shops, hobby shops, and boutiques. I even browsed extensively in a mix-your-own perfumery in the Bahamas. Nope again.

But never mind the what of the matter. It’s the how and the why. Is it some gimmick Simon & Schuster employs with its Atria imprint? I emailed Elle. No, she’d never heard of them doing that. Ever.

I contacted the Amazon distributor who shipped it. No, she hadn’t personally spilled anything on it and hadn’t noticed anything peculiar when she acquired it.

When I was at the Book Expo in NY back in May, I stopped by the Simon & Schuster booth and asked ‘em point blank. Why, no. They’d never heard of such a thing!

Could it have happened in transit? But there would’ve been stains and fragrance on the padded envelope, right?

Ah, well. One more deep inhale and I’ll return it to the bookcase. Some things are just meant to remain a mystery, I suppose…

Sunday, August 1, 2010

So I got to Wondering: What Does It Take to Produce a Cookbook?

Another genre heard from! Even before I met Dr. Ann Moseley, author of college level English textbooks (see post on July 18, 2010) I was exchanging emails with another author, the artistic and irrepressible Glenis Thomas of Wellington, New Zealand.

Glenis and I met via my website some time back when she was gathering info on publishers. When she said she was working on a blueberry cookbook I made a point of keeping in touch. I LOVE blueberries! Just look at her beautiful website: which announces her upcoming Blueberry Recipes. In her words: “It's point of difference is that it is dedicated to one type of fruit and every recipe is illustrated.”

The first thing I wanted to know was: who took all those mouth-watering pictures? She did! Which led to the exquisite crystal and china pieces. Were they hers? Well, they are now! She boldly approached “a huge company here in NZ” and stated her purpose. And would they like a mention in her book? I guess so - they gave her a gift certificate to cover her purchases!

It helps that Glenis happens to be an extremely creative, artsy-crafty person in the first place: “I designed the book and layout. I composed and took the photos of my recipes…and had two skilled friends edit and proof read. My neighbours, my international students, and friends were taste testers.”

“Neighbours?” Uh-oh. Does than mean the measurements are in metric? At this point, she’s considering two versions for her international audience. Actually, it happens that my Pyrex measuring cups are labeled both ways. I’m sure most are. But the folks she polled in the US want things stated in the imperial system. Conversions, she tells me, are terrifically time-consuming. “So far the book has cost me 20 months work.” Blimey, mates! I want that book NOW!

What else is involved? In her own words:

Being a compilation helped, as I have several recipes supplied by cook book authors, restaurant cooks, and foodies from USA, Canada, UK, Australia, and NZ. Blueberries have only been in NZ 30 years, and commercially about 20, so it is a young industry here.

I did a lot of research about blueberries and publications. I approached experts on the subject of blueberries to make sure my history, health and storage info was correct. I also contacted the Blueberry Industry "umbrella", Blueberries NZ Inc. to enlist their help in contacting blueberry farmers and checking info. I will be going to their AGM
(Annual General Meeting) in September to personally promote the book.

Wow. So…when can we get our hands on it? A few weeks ago I pointedly mentioned that July is National Blueberry Month. The operative word here is “National.” You see, in NZ blueberry season is November. So her publisher will either release it then, or “sometime next year.” Sigh.

Okay, I know you’re all wondering. Yes, Glenis had friends and relatives appearing as extras in Lord of the Rings.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to her website to pre-order Blueberry Recipes.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

“When 102 years old you are, look this good you will not!” -Yoda

Vivian Smith, my aunt-in-law, turned 102 on July 29. No way does she look it! She takes no meds except over-the-counter stuff occasionally, but these days she does need a walker to get around. Yes, she’s very hard of hearing, but is still quite sociable and loves going out to eat. Eating out, in fact, has been her favorite thing forever.

We marked the occasion with a small family gathering at a seafood place in Galveston. The restaurant’s marquee read: “Happy Birthday Vivian Smith, 102 years.” OMG you should’ve seen the close calls on Seawall Blvd. with folks slowing down to snap pics of that sign! Other restaurant patrons stopped by the table to offer congratulations. Aunt V was, as always, warm and gracious to all.

My sister-in-law Kathy planned everything – even had the group over to her lovely house afterward for cake and punch.

Aunt V is in care now. Kathy bravely tried to do it all herself for a couple of years, but she has to work and Aunt V can’t remember to do things like eat, bathe, or change clothes. The short-term memory is totally shot. Still, she’s a happy, pleasant person to be around, and she remembers everything from 1990 on back. And that’s quite a lot.

I have no doubt we’ll be celebrating birthday number 103. In fact, Aunt Vivian will probably outlive us all.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Odd Moments in History

July 2, 1843 is remembered as the time an alligator fell from the sky during a thunderstorm in Charleston, SC. And do you know why July 22 is known as Ratchatcher’s Day? Legend has it that in 1376, that’s the day the Pied Piper led rats out of Hamelin.

Ever since I started researching the Today in History feature for the Media Room page of I’ve been amazed at the crazy things that get recorded for posterity. Like, on July 18, 1994, Crayola introduced scented crayons. Gee. That should be worth a few firecrackers. This certainly would: that same day back on 64 AD, the great fire of Rome began. No, it wasn’t due to unruly crowds at Nero’s violin concert.

Dairy Queen’s Blizzard of the Month is Pecan Pie because – guess what! – July 12 is National Pecan Pie Day.

July 19, 1994 is famous for the first game ever cancelled due to falling tiles. That happened at Seattle’s Kingdome.

July 13, 1568 is in the books as the day the art of bottling beer was perfected at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

July 17, 1070, Arnulf the Hapless became the Earl of Flanders. Are we having fun yet?

Almost every day commemorates some bizarre thing or other. July 17, for instance, is Yellow Pig Day. Yes, it is. It’s a mathematician’s holiday of sorts – a day when all the Lennys and Sheldons of the world consider the interesting properties of the number 17. The designation arose in the early 1960s when certain geeks at Princeton U discovered that yellow pigs have 17 eyelashes.

Obviously I just started this in July (National Ice Cream Month and National Anti-Boredom Month, among other things) so I am only scratching the surface of what’s Out There. Can’t wait for August…

Sunday, July 18, 2010

And I thought publishing fiction was rough! Ever try writing a textbook?

On a cruise back in May, our table assignment landed me next to a fellow author. But she was no mere novelist. Dr. Ann Moseley produces such ponderous tomes as Strategies for College Writing: Sentences, Paragraphs, Essays and Interactions: A Thematic Reader. One has gone to five editions. Talk about suddenly feeling two inches high!

Of course, that’s not all she’s done. Besides achieving multiple degrees in record time, teaching college level English, and penning the above-mentioned texts, she’s also working on a comprehensive Willa Cather Scholarly Edition. OMG.

Once I recovered from open-mouthed awe, we began comparing notes. I have one editor. She has four: (1) acquisitions editor (who works out contract details), (2) developmental editor (who manages pre-publication reviews of a new edition, which involves about 30-40% change, and includes proposals and advice throughout the process) (3) permissions editor (who negotiates permissions and fees to use copyrighted materials), and (4) copyeditor who checks for errors and problems in style. Gasp.

My process is basically 3 steps: manuscript review, revision, production.

Dr. Ann’s current work consists of eight units. After all receive final revisions (she has just submitted #3), she must then create the Instructor's Resource Manual, some brief comprehension quizzes, and additional student instruction for the website.

Well, I bet she’s never had to deal with a Third World press writer...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A VerveStar is Born!


Okay, so VerveStar has been around for a while. It’s a literary PR firm I met through my first publisher. One of the partners, Miranda Spigener, happens to live in the area so I’ve actually met her. She surprised me by showing up to my first book signing a couple of years ago. She’s done a lot for me: got me on the shelf at Borders, got me translated into Indonesian, and wrangled me a neat display box. Much more, actually – guidance, encouragement, etc.

So what’s new? VerveStar is debuting their greatly expanded media services, now including special packaging and book publishing. They have a great new website: to which my miniscule contribution is to research the “Today in History” calendar feature.

Anyway, I find the whole thing terribly exciting. Miranda and her partners have been working sleeplessly on this launch for over a week now. They’re already well proven; real hard-hitters and go-getters.

Actually, everything in this field is pretty much over my head, but I'm learning!

In the meantime, I want to wish them all the best in their new ventures!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Can’t win for losing!

You can’t do something nice for someone without making someone else miserable. This July 4th I’m caught between cooking out with my husband or giving some long overdue relief to his sister who’s taking care of two Very Old Ladies. While we were off on a luxurious cruise, followed immediately by my trip to New York City for the Book Expo, his sister was seeing to his 94-year-old mother, his aunt who will turn 102 later this month, working the Census, running her pet-sitting business, and suffering from horrendous headaches.

But here’s the thing: my husband and his sister don’t get along. At all. And Husband has little patience with Very Old Ladies. So if I’m to offer any help, I must leave him alone on a holiday.

At first he was not happy about it. He griped about me making deviled eggs for the occasion to the extent that I didn’t even mention key lime pie. I’ll pick one up on my way down. He thinks I’m going to a party, not trying to entertain two deaf women, one with little knowledge or interest in the world, the other with absolutely no short-term memory.

Now he’s reconsidered and is being very supportive. He picked up some links and hamburger and will have grills for me to clean when I get back. And eventually I will have a party. After we take Mom home and Aunt Vivian back to Concord Manor, there will be margaritas and fireworks on the beach. Since I’m not much of a drinker, I’ll stay the night and we’ll take our hangovers to IHOP in the morning. Husband hates IHOP, so that’s another plus to the outing. I’ll go happy and leave guilt-ridden.

Enough venting. Hope everyone has a great Fourth!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Submitting a manuscript - You DO realize it’s hopeless, don’t you?

The frustration continues. One publisher that I really, really wanted for Book Five of my series set their word limit at 100,000. I stressed for weeks trying to cull and rewrite so it would still make sense at that length (how the heck does Reader’s Digest do it?). Then, checking back on their guidelines before submitting, I find they’ve lowered it to 90,000.

Another publisher that I really, really want for my sci-fi only takes submissions on certain dates. Given the deluge of manuscripts out there, that certainly seems reasonable. Only trouble is, when I go to that date outlined in heavy red Magic Marker on my calendar, I find they’ve moved it up a couple of months.

Then there’s the specter of the slush pile. Forever burned into my brain is a pic I saw once of people sitting around on piles of manuscripts having lunch. Behind them were stacks reaching to the ceiling. Of course, most submissions these days are electronic, but you get the picture.

To add to your depression, here’s excerpts from an article by former slush reader, Patricia Chui: (BTW, I strongly urge aspiring writers to follow this link…)

Every editor's inbox is piled high with mail from big agents, small agents, writers met at conferences, friends of his wife's dentist and people who plucked his name off a book's acknowledgments page. Some of these submissions, generally the ones sent by respected agents, will be read carefully; some will get little more than a glance. There's really no other way to do it.

The sad thing is that I have this attitude now toward authors who send in unsolicited manuscripts… Now, I consider every unagented author to be slightly psychotic and deranged, and every unsolicited manuscript to be bad.

Was it cruel of us to make fun of the slush? Sure, maybe. But we were overworked, underpaid assistants at the bottom of a lofty totem pole, and putting down bad writing was our way of lifting ourselves up… To our credit, we readers did give every single submission, no matter how ludicrous, a fair and honest appraisal. During my reign as slush handler, a few projects garnered further consideration from our editors; one was even published.

I moved on to other jobs. And these days, as a freelance writer, I am chagrined to find that the worm has turned. Suddenly, I'm the desperate one, the hopeful neurotic who waits impatiently only to be met with rejection or no response at all. Interestingly enough, my background in slush sometimes works against me: I am less persistent than I could be, worried that editors will find me annoying and pathetic. In my weaker moments, I wonder if my story pitches are being passed around, ridiculed and ignored. I wonder if the people I'm querying even exist. Maybe what goes around really does come around.

So what are the chances? Slim and none. Well, I got lucky once. And hope springs eternal, as they say.

Note to Patricia Chiu: if you happen to Google yourself one day and run into this blog, please be advised I did my level best to get permission for this quote. I used the contact form from and checked Facebook and LinkedIn.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Submitting a manuscript

Au-u-u-urgh! I can’t believe I’m going through all this again! Three books into a series of five, and my publisher goes dysfunctional. So far I’ve had five emails asking about AMMANON Book Four, The Journey. What can I say? It may not happen in our lifetime!

Deciding not to add a years-long ordeal of snagging representation to the years-long ordeal of getting a publisher, I am, at the moment, submitting on my own. Probably a mistake, but I’m getting old, you know.

Submissions are terribly tedious. One publisher asks for a cover letter to include bio and 3-paragraph synopsis, with the ms (manuscript) attached. Another wants cover letter with contact info only, with a 2-page synopsis and ms attached as separate documents. The next one wants background on the story’s conception and research, along with a one page synopsis as part of the cover letter. The ms, this time without page numbers, attached.

The only common standard (for the ms) is 12 pt. type, double-spacing, and the 1” margin all around. When it comes to headers and/or page numbers, they’re all different. So far they differ on only two basic fonts: Courier or Times New Roman.

Obviously, there’s no cutting and pasting on the cover letters and synopses. Very little, anyway. Dealing with such radical differences, there’s no choice but to write each from scratch.

Right now I’m doing a slash-and-burn to meet a desired word count for yet another. Gone is the glossary, map, and Epilogue of excerpts from Book Five. On the other hand, much of what I’m cutting from the narrative won’t hurt the story all that much. It’s just that the voice of my first editor still guides me: “Give me more description! Put me there! Let me see it, smell it, hear it!” And it is fun to do that. However, despite my classical literary writing style, I still prefer fast-paced action to lengthy scene-setting. So a lot of these cuts are making me bleed!

Still, this particular publisher is a favorite of several authors I admire. Getting past the Word-Count Czar may be worth it.

Where am I getting my list? I started with a site called Predators and Editors that both lists and rates publishers. Unfortunately, this list is pretty old. A tragic number of them went belly up in the downturn. I’m now shifting to the BEA’s roster of exhibitors. At least I can be sure they’re still in business!

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Times Square Holiday Inn (Further adventures at the BEA)

So I told you the hotel experience was a whole nuther post. Well, here it is.

If you read the preceding, you know the main problem was air conditioning – as in too much of. See, down here in Texas, we can set the ol’ AC anywhere we want it. Given the cost of energy, that’s usually above 70°. But in NY, if you find 70° either too chilly or unconscionable: tough. If you try to set it above 70°, the heat comes on. I’m not kidding.

Now begs the question: how does Con Ed support the jillions of New Yorkers seeking relief from their steamy streets if the thermostat must read 70° or else? C’mon, people!

The maintenance guy found me wrapped in a blanket beating my head against the thermostat. I found the maintenance guy polite, professional, well-spoken, well-muscled, and altogether gorgeous. And he did get the AC to shut off.

At the time, I didn’t know that was the only option.

It took about 10 minutes for that hermetically sealed little room to become a stifling sweatbox. I turned it to a conservative 76° and tried to coax it to come on again. Nothing.

I called the front desk. Did I want maintenance to come back? Uh, let me think. First, I’d have to get dressed again. Second, how many trips could Adonis make without coming to the reasonable conclusion that grandma was just lookin’ for eye candy? And we were getting into the wee hours by now. So no. Just tell me what to do.

So the front desk suggested I reboot the unit. That is, unplug it from the wall, count to ten, and plug it back in. I did. It started back up. I collapsed back into bed.

It shut off.

I got up and rebooted the thing again. This time it stayed on nearly 15 minutes – long enough to discover it was belching forth heat with a vengeance.

I called the front desk. And THAT’S when I learned the 70° rule. So I hung up, rebooted yet again, and dutifully set it back to 70°. Thus, by 4:00 in the morning, I finally got to sleep.

Next morning, I stumbled down to the complimentary breakfast buffet. I was amazed to find a very Southern offering: biscuits and gravy. No one but me knew quite what to make of it. Then I spotted something I’d never seen before. Ever the adventurer, I picked up the tongs and dropped one on my paper plate. Analysis showed it to be an omelet: artificial egg folded around artificial cheese. Sort of like a taco. Very clever. And actually rather tasty, too. Thus fortified, I struck out for the BEA (Book Expo America) at the sprawling colossus known as the Javits Convention Center. See previous post.

But wait. I’m not through with the hotel yet. Killing time at 3:30 AM waiting for the airport bus, I noticed this diagram by the elevator:

What? The Holiday Inn Express is only 4 little rooms per floor? But it’s 36 floors high! How the heck does the building stay standing? I mean, try that with your grandkids’ blocks sometime!

No, it wasn’t all bad. About 6:00 that second evening, the news of SuperBowl 2012 ran through the lights on Times Square. It was fun to hear the excitement of the crowds. They even had fireworks.

Other than that, I gotta tell ya: suddenly Houston’s looking pretty good!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Book Expo America

If you were there at the BEA, please comment! The experience, except for a few pleasant visits at the booths, was mega non-productive for me! I want to know what it is that authors can accomplish there. For the most part it just seemed like a hard-sell event – a pitiful and demeaning exercise for authors hawking books like used cars.

First is the intimidation of New York City in general, and the Javits Convention Center in particular. See what I mean? The building is overwhelming even against that awesome skyline:

And when you walk up to it, it’s even worse:
I walked for MILES around that place - finding very few of the booths listed on my BEA Planner. The map was impossible to follow since it would’ve had to be enlarged 500X to allow for legible text. And that would have made it…let’s see what my calculator says here…about 6’ x 3.54’. Moreover, only three of the thousands of exhibitors displayed their booth number. Without an annotated map, it was impossible to see if it was one of the 84 I wished to visit. Unfortunately, see, I’d arranged my list in order by booth number rather than alphabetically – assuming (silly me!) the spaces could readily identified.

There were no places to rest on the main exhibition level. The few places on the lower floors were always taken. The food and restroom lines snaked around endlessly.

It would have been miserable even if I hadn’t been up to 4 AM that morning wrestling with the hotel room thermostat.. But that’s another post.

I finally called it a day somewhere around 4 PM. It was the hottest part of the afternoon, and I’d dressed to match my book covers: Black, set off by a flowing red print scarf. That, plus the tote bag carrying 4 books and multiple packets and brochures, made a grueling 8-block walk to the hotel on already wretched feet.

But I made it all the way back to my frigidly air conditioned room – only to find it being cleaned. Sigh. Back down in the lobby, I snagged the one remaining muffin left from breakfast and washed it down with equally leftover coffee. While eating, I called the airport shuttle for a pick-up time. What? 3:30 AM?? For a flight leaving at 7:00? OMG. Suddenly my meager repast seemed providential indeed.

LaGuardia, as compared with other terminals, is as dirty and crowded as the rest of New York. At least, the rather limited part of it I saw. The only food concession open at 5 AM just had a tray of brownies out. That, plus a very expensive bottle of water, was breakfast. Don’t get me wrong. It was an exceptional brownie. Just not my usual fare. It was supplemented 2 ½ hours later by airline coffee and pretzels.

There were more pretzels and coffee on the second leg between Atlanta and Houston. Actually, since I didn’t know they’d changed the gate number of that flight, and therefore missed it, I might have hooked up with some real grub. But by the time I’d walked back across Atlanta’s interminable terminal to the gate of the next flight out, I was too angry and exhausted to care. When my husband picked me up, I forced him to head straight for one of our favorite restaurants where I pigged out big-time. Then I went home and slept for the next two days.

Like I said, if anyone had a positive experience at the BEA, please tell me about it!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

AMMANON Book Three, The Deliverance, has FINALLY gone to press!

Let no cockeyed optimist tell you that Murphy's Law doesn't exist!

After the relative ease with which Books One and Two went through production, I was pompously considering myself a seasoned author. Not so fast, Fagan!

In all fairness, I should preface my venting by saying that the publisher has since (today, actually) sent all its authors a letter explaining the obstacles faced this past year. Even with what I now admit is an extremely limited understanding of the process, I realize the staff was doing the best they could under very trying circumstances. So bear that in mind as I rant.

First of all, communications delays were monumental. Emails from the cover artist, for example, took weeks instead of hours. And during those lapses of time, any understanding of my messages vanished. Assuming the message got through at all.

Second, I couldn't get questions answered until it was too late to make changes. Well, it could be done, but since the manuscript had already gone to galley, it was costly and time-consuming.

Two weeks after changes had been submitted to the galley proof, I attempted to gleen a status report from Customer Service. The reply came in a remarkable 2 - 3 days: "You should be receiving your galley proof within the next two weeks." Ya think?

Nevertheless, the mountain has been climbed by publisher and author alike, and I'm looking for a release no later than January 20. And, after all that, it really doesn't look too bad, does it? There's really no lesson to learn here, other than patience. The economic crash last year and the rollercoaster market ride every since wreaks its havoc on all of us. Sort of reminds me of the electronic signs along the freeway: "Pile up at I-45 and 610 Loop. EXPECT DELAYS."