Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What Labels Do Books Need?

Yesterday, The Atlantic posted an interesting article about "The Underrated, Universal Appeal of Science Fiction. The article suggests that the way we use "genre" as both a way to categorize a book's subject and a way to distinguish some books from general fiction may cause us to devalue works in popular genres like mystery, romance, and speculative fiction. General fiction becomes regarded as literature, while genre books are considered fluffy and escapist. I personally think this is an artificial distinction, as genre books can be serious too. However, as both a writer and a reader, I do like having a way to separate books with things I like (magic, science, alternate realities) from books that focus on reality and have no sense of wonder. Therefore, the labels of "science fiction" and "fantasy" do have use for me, and I'm sure fans of other genres feel the same way about their favorite books.

However, I'm now left to wonder how useful the literature label still is. Some stories that are considered classics today were very popular in their own times and might have been considered genre works once. Since self-publishing allows authors to avoid the publisher gatekeepers, any type of work can be published without getting "approved" by "authorities." That means readers will have to find other ways to pick the books they read. Some might rely on reviews or personal recommendations, while others will trust their own judgment. But when everyone brings different preferences and requirements to the same book, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to agree on what is worth reading (or calling "literature") and what isn't. Is this a problem? It might be for teachers, but for readers, more choices are better than less.

What's your opinion on the literature vs. genre debate? What, if anything, separates literature from other books? Let me know in the comments.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Blog Ring of Power--Alys Cohen

Today for the Blog Ring of Power, Alys Cohen will tell us about her writing life. You can find the rest of her interview at these links:

About YouThe Creative ProcessAbout Your Current Work: Words of Wisdom

What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine? Do you use pen and paper or computer? Work at home or at the library/Starbucks, etc.

My writing process lacks regularity.  My actual writing happens on my Macbook Pro.  I do a bit of editing on my iPad Mini, which resides in my purse and goes everywhere with me.  I take notes in a little leather-bound notebook or on my iPhone.  Yes, I’ve drunk the Apple juice.  Since I use so many Apple products, my software is all Mac-based, which has resulted in some confusion with betas and editors.  I keep track of the operating systems and word processors my betas and editors use in a different notebook. 

I write when the urge hits, which is often.  Sometimes I get a few minutes.  At other times, I’ll have hours.  My favorite time is at night when the world as I know it is asleep and I’m less likely to be interrupted.  I am also more energetic at night.

How do you balance writing with other aspects of your life?

I don’t sleep much.  I’m one of those people who can get by on three or four hours of sleep every thirty-six.  Unfortunately for me, if I don’t try forcing myself onto a regular day schedule, that sleep will happen during the day when I have be out and about.  I am generally hyper-organized and can multi-task like my life depends on it.

When do you write?

I think an easier question is when do I not?  If I’m not at my computer, there’s a good chance I’m tossing ideas.  I have an odd ability to think in detail about two different topics at once, an ability which comes in handy quite often.

How much time per day do you spend on your writing?

I’ll go for the easy answer and say a solid four hours per day is spent with writing as the primary recipient of my focus.  If I start adding in hours where I’m doing my regular job while plotting, then we’re getting into obsession-territory.

What has been the most surprising reaction to something you’ve written?

I had an early beta reader, a man, tell me he didn’t understand before why women stay in abusive relationships.  The early chapters of Sacred Blood made him rethink and finally understand.  It’s pretty amazing to be the one to help someone rethink abuse and for that person to stop blaming victims. 

What is the strongest criticism you’ve ever received as an author? The best compliment?

In one edition of Sacred Blood, the book opened with a domestic violence scene.  My goal was to shock the reader.  But a respected friend and fellow author told me that, even though abuse is horrible, he couldn’t really summon up any care for the characters because they are strangers.  I realized he’s right.  While most of us would say we’d care deeply, we have largely conditioned ourselves to put up walls to an extent to preserve ourselves emotionally.  So I rewrote the beginning so that we get to know Juliette a bit first, and to see the dynamic between her and Nathaniel. 

I think the best compliment I’ve received is that Juliette’s character arc brought tears in a reader who swears she doesn’t cry easily because Juliette’s growth inspired her, and then Juliette’s final decision twisted this reader’s heart and left her wanting more than the epilogue.

Other than your family, what has been your greatest source of support?

Trick question.  To me, family is those who love and support you.  Regardless of genetics, those who’ve supported me I consider to be my family.

How do you deal with rejection and/or negative reviews?

Well, no one book will be everyone’s cup of tea.  I know people who don’t care for Angela’s Ashes, the Harry Potter series, of Lord of the Rings.  This is okay.  I’m not offended that there are people out there who don’t care for Sacred Blood.

As for negative reviews, I’ve written a blog post about this topic.  Negative reviews are important.

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Abused and frightened, Juliette St. Claire has never
known love or kindness in her eighteen years.
Meeting Tristan LaRocque changes that,
infuriating her cruel boyfriend, Nathaniel Jensen.
But Tristan is powerless to help Juliette when merely trying
could result in her death.

As threats to her life intensify,
Juliette uncovers the mystical secrets
they have both kept from her,
and she must make some tough choices
about the men she thought she knew.

Fiercely passionate and profoundly riveting,
Sacred Blood is an outstanding story
that will leave you rethinking
love, friendship, and everything you hold dear.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Life at Seventeen Syllables a Day Now Available!

I recently finished a year-long, self-imposed challenge to write a haiku every day for a year. I planned all along to publish the collection when it was done, and it's finally ready. It's called Life at Seventeen Syllables a Day: A Journal in Haiku. You can find the paper version at Createspace or Amazon; an eBook version is available here for $0.99. Please check it out, and if you enjoy it, I'd appreciate a review. Thanks!

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Five Tips for Writing (or Traveling) on a Train

I’m sure many of you have heard of Amtrak’s free writers’ retreat or even applied for it. While I haven’t applied, I recently rode from Chicago to Washington DC and back on an Amtrak train to take a family vacation. The train rides were the most productive parts of the trip for writing, but it’s not always easy to actually write on a train. Here are a few pieces of advice if you want to try writing on a train:

1.    Decide your budget, retreat time, and sleeping requirements in advance. – Longer trips mean more writing time, right? Not necessarily. If your trip is overnight, then you may find yourself in a car with quiet time. During this time, the overhead lights are off, and noise is discouraged. I think you’re still allowed to have your personal overhead light and equipment on, but you will need to sleep sometime. Can you sleep sitting up? If you’re in coach, you may have to. (If you can find two empty seats, then you can stretch out--or curl up. You are allowed to sleep in the observation car, but there are more distractions there too.) Sleeping cars are much more expensive. If you’d rather not sleep on the train, then you either need to choose a shorter trip or stay overnight at your destination before returning home. If you do want to sleep on the train, it may be helpful to bring your own pillow and blanket, as well as a sleeping mask and/or earplugs. You can buy them on the train if you forget them, but why not save money if you can?

2.    Decide what to bring.-- You can bring a laptop onto the train without any problems. (Checking in and boarding a train is much easier than a plane.) Even in coach, you’ll have outlets available, though not all trains provide Wi-Fi. (On the route we took, Internet signals were intermittent, since part of the time we rode through mountains and tunnels.) The train can be rocky at times, so it might not be a good choice for you if you write by hand. Snacks and bottled water are available on the train, but they can be expensive, so think ahead and bring your own if possible.  You can check bags and bring on two carry-ons per person.  If you’re traveling overnight, make sure to put hygiene items in a carry-on. It’s not a pleasant feeling to go for a long time without brushing your teeth.

3.    Feel free to move around if necessary.—Because you do need to eat, visit the bathroom, and take some breaks. After the conductor has checked your ticket, you’re free to move about the train. The seats are wider, and you have more legroom than you do if you’re on a plane. You can hang out in the observation car or visit the cafĂ©. It may be a bit disconcerting to pass from car to car while the train is moving, but it’s safer than it appears. Be prepared to steady yourself as you walk around, though.

4.    Be prepared to deal with distractions.—Even if you think depriving yourself of Internet access for a few hours will help you write, there are still conversations by other passengers, official announcements (you don’t want to miss your stop or your dinner reservation!), and unexpected stops that may distract you. Plus, depending on when and where you travel, you may want to watch the scenery. (I wrote this in the observation car and was lucky enough to see a rainbow.) Know what’s going to interfere with your writing and plan accordingly. That could mean bringing earplugs or earbuds or even shutting your curtain.  Oh, yeah, and if you’re traveling with a child or children, they can be distracting too, even if they’re well-behaved.

5.    Consider using the trip as research.—Perhaps you can combine the travel with a stop at a setting you want to experience first-hand. Or perhaps you want to get into the mindset of your characters as they journey from one place to another. Even people-watching on the train or in the station can give you ideas for characters. Remember, sometimes writers need to retreat for a while to write (or to stop and take pictures of their stuffed traveling companions), but you can’t retreat from life permanently.

Have you ever taken a train trip? If so, did you find it useful writing time? Do you have any questions about train travel? Please post in the comments. If you can’t sign in to comment, you can always e-mail me too.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Blog Ring of Power--Kelly Hashway

Today for the Blog Ring of Power, Kelly Hashway will tell us about her current work: Face of Death. You can find the rest of her interview at these links:

About You : The Writing Life : The Creative Process : Words of Wisdom

Tell us about your new book and when it is out? Where can people purchase it?

Face of Death is about a group of necromancers who are descended from Medusa and at war with Hades. It’s available for purchase wherever books are sold.

Is there anything new, unusual, or interesting about your book? How is it different from other books on the same subject? 

Face of Death (and the entire Touch of Death series, actually) show a very different Medusa. She’s motherly and would do anything to protect her descendents, who happen to be necromancers in a war against Hades.

What was the hardest part of writing this book? 

Since Face of Death is the final book in the series, it was very emotional for me to write. I didn’t want to say goodbye to Jodi, Alex, and the rest of the crew. The other tricky part was finding the best way to wrap up everyone’s stories. As the series progressed many of my minor characters developed stories of their own and I wanted to make sure they all got the endings they deserved.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in this book? 

No, I wouldn’t change anything. I think every book comes out the way it’s meant to. I know not every reader will agree with the choices I make, but I know in my heart that I’m doing what I feel is best for my characters.

Tell us about your book’s cover – where did the design come from and what was the design process like? 

Kate Kaynak at Spencer Hill Press found the front cover image, which I love, but I really wanted Hades on this cover, too. So I found the image of Hades that’s used on the back cover. Luckily, Kate loved it as much as I did, and if you look at the full cover spread it looks like Jodi is looking over her shoulder at Hades, which is so appropriate since he’s always watching and waiting for her to screw up.

Kelly Hashway grew up reading R.L. Stein’s Fear Street novels and writing stories of her own, so it was no surprise to her family when she majored in English and later obtained a masters degree in English Secondary Education from East Stroudsburg University. After teaching middle school language arts for seven years, Hashway went back to school and focused specifically on writing. She is now the author of three young adult series, one middle grade series, and several picture books. She also writes contemporary romance under the pen name Ashelyn Drake. When she isn’t writing, Hashway works as a freelance editor for small presses as well as for her own list of clients. In her spare time, she enjoys running, traveling, and volunteering with the PTO. Hashway currently resides in Pennsylvania with her husband, daughter, and two pets.

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Having fallen at the hands of Hades, Jodi's enduring torture like she never imagined. Worse, she has to watch her Ophi friends suffer along with her—the punishment doled out by the very people she'd sentenced to life in Tartarus. Hell. This is one reunion Jodi hoped would never happen, but now she must find a way to free them all.

Except the underworld is nearly impossible to escape.

Jodi's one chance may rest in raising the human soul she killed when she drank Medusa's blood.

But splitting her human soul from her Ophi soul means living a double life: One as an Ophi experiencing unspeakable torture and the other as the human she could have been if she never came into her powers. With her two worlds colliding, Jodi will have to make the toughest decision she's faced yet.


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