Friday, October 29, 2010

Meet Sorcia

As Halloween approaches, I am sadly reminded that we no longer have our live-in, year-round Halloween decoration – our black cat, Maui. We lost Maui to the highway last fall, and we were devastated. He was the smartest, most personable cat I’ve ever owned. Honestly, I thought he was too smart to cross the road …

The kids wanted another pet, but my husband and I knew no cat could replace Maui. So, in our grief, we went a little overboard and acquired a GERMAN SHEPHERD.

I swear, when we brought her home, I got nervous. I looked at those markings, those ears, the shape of that head – and I felt like Little Red Riding Hood. “What big teeth you have, Sorcia …”

We’d never owned a dog before, and I admit to making some rookie mistakes. I quickly learned not to talk while the dog was licking my face, unless I wanted a French kiss. And although Sorcia loves chasing a red dot from a laser pointer as much as Maui ever did, an 80 lb dog crashing around the house produces a lot more destruction than a 10 lb cat.

When we first got her, she spent her early days trying to “herd” us all into one room and keep us there by lying across the doorway. She’s gotten better about that now, but she’s still very protective. The one time my husband went out to the hot tub without me, Sorcia barked and whined at him continuously, her feet up on the side of the hot tub, staring worriedly down into the water where I usually sit. Sorcia clearly thought that Bob had carelessly let me slide under the water and drown. He had to bring her back inside to show her I was safe (writing on my laptop, of course).

With Sorcia at my side, door-to-door salesmen don’t stay long. I’m pretty sure she would just put her paws on their shoulders and lick their faces if I let her go – but they don’t know that.

And one of the more amusing things about Sorcia is her guilty little secret … Her favorite flavor of dog food is … wait for it … LAMB.

I’m pretty sure German Shepherds aren’t supposed to eat the sheep. But I guess all that baa-baa-baa can get on your nerves after awhile, and the temptation might just become too much!

Sorcia says: "Is it dinner time yet?"

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

When the Cosmos Beats You Over the Head With a Sign …

Okay, so last week I was excited about my pre-writing, brainstorming process, but as I started to do actual research, my confidence faltered. What was I thinking – venturing into the steampunk genre? I am the most mechanically disinclined person I know. I have never understood electricity or magnetism, or the relationship between them. How could I possibly grasp the concepts behind Tesla’s work – let alone weave that into the background of a story set in an alternate reality? If I don’t understand the actual technology, how can I conceive of alternate technology?

I was losing my nerve …

Sometimes, however, the cosmos will send you a sign. Maybe more than one. If you’re really dense (like I can be), it might even hit you over the head with multiple signs in a single week.

First, I was invited to attend and perform a reading from We Hear the Dead at Dorian’s Parlor, a steampunk ball which takes place in Philadelphia every month.

Secondly, my husband and I picked out some really cool lights for our “Let’s Brighten Up the Kitchen” project. Only afterwards did we discover these counterweight lights are very popular for people wanting to decorate their home in steampunk. (Are there a lot of those people?!)

Third, I received a nice little message on my Facebook Fan page for We Hear the Dead, and when I went to reply to the person, I discovered a “I Love Steampunk” slogan on her page.

Next, Word for Teens posted a steampunk reading list.

Then, I received an email out of the blue from someone who listened to a radio interview I did back in 2007 about the Fox sisters. In his signature line – a link to a website he maintains on Tesla-related products and articles.

Finally, I SKYPED with a class of high school writing students in Florida, and when they asked me about my current writing project, I admitted I was *considering* a steampunk novel focusing on Tesla’s work. The reaction was immediate and enthusiastic enough for me to see even on the computer screen. The teacher took the microphone to tell me; “They love steampunk. They love Tesla. They say go for it!”

What’s a writer to do when an idea slaps you in the face that many times? I’m digging into my research with fervor now. I don’t know if I’ll succeed, but it seems as if I’m meant to TRY.

Have you ever been hit over the head with a SIGN?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Cut Yourself Loose from the Herd!

I’ve now had a guest blog post from nearly every member of my family -- except one. Well, today, I’m very pleased to introduce you to my husband, Bob. He’s my best friend, my advisor, my tech crew, and the reason I ever became brave enough to publish a book. Today, he’s going to share some tips on cutting yourself from the herd …

THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED - advice from Bob Salerni

“So, you like to take the road less traveled, eh?”

I was startled by the words of the Disney employee standing next to an empty FASTPASS machine. I already thought it must be broken or some kind of trick. After fighting my way thru the heavy crowds in Adventure Land, most of whose deodorant was not up to the task that day, I found myself watching other park-goers standing in FASTPASS lines 15-20 deep for the same attraction -- as my machine spit out a ticket with a small, reassuring noise.

I looked at the Disney employee as he smiled at me. He made no move to summon the other guests or to organize the mob. Was he there just keeping tabs on Disney’s little social experiment? The machine was located by itself, a short distance away from the others, but still clearly labeled and open. Why did everyone go stand in the long line? Duh! Because there was a line!

What is it about our nature that makes us want to follow the herd? As I had already read -- and was quickly discovering to be true -- when at any crowded venue, it’s best to do the *opposite* of everyone else.

A website that I used to plan our Disney trip offers a complete analysis of Theme Park crowd psychology. What’s really scary is how accurate and useful it is. Big event here today? Nope. Avoid it like the plague. Extra hours tonight? Probably not. Go to sleep and start out early tomorrow while everyone else is tired. Time and again, this strategy worked flawlessly.

I’ve seen it in operation elsewhere too. Really, almost everywhere you look you can find examples of how *not* following the crowd will get you where you want to go faster.

Even when someone offers helpful advice for avoiding a line, most people will resist. On a recent jaunt through security at the Philadelphia Airport I was waiting in a very long and growing line at Terminal B. A nice TSA employee circulated through the crowd and told everyone there was NO LINE at Terminal C. Just walk about 500 feet out of your way and back to avoid standing here for 45 minutes to an hour. Did she get many takers? Of course not. Everyone stood frozen, unwilling to risk the unknown of walking over *there* and back.

Being the risk-taker that I am (and being able to clearly SEE the other empty TSA line from where I stood!), I walked over and was on my way in less than 2 minutes.

Look around and see where you really want to go. There may be a better way to get there.

Which road do you prefer ?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Malevolent Spam

Spam seems to come in waves of pink, sticky goo. We’ve all been barraged by offers of Viagra and various other drugs that can be obtained by mail. Then, there are the Account Verifications – from your bank, from your internet provider, from the IRS and the FBI and all kinds of institutions you don’t want to annoy -- asking you to provide all your account information as verification that YOU are who you say you are. (Ironic, that!)

If you own any kind of rental property, then you’ve surely seen the scam whereby someone overseas wants to rent your property for a month as “a gift” for someone else, but can only provide you with an overlarge cashier’s check. You, of course, will write a personal check for the difference and mail that back. Yeah, right.

Lately, I’ve been swamped by the You’re a Winner type of spam. Without even lifting a finger to enter, I’ve apparently won the Canadian Lottery, the Lottery of the Netherlands, the Irish Lottery, and the Online Nokia Lottery. Boy, am I lucky.

However this week, I received an entirely new kind of spam. The subject line was: Your Death Has Been Arranged. In this email, I was informed that someone had taken out a contract on my life. The sender of the email was the hit man, who -- after spying on me, videotaping me, and recording all the personal habits of myself and my family -- was offering me the chance to pay him NOT to kill me. Otherwise, he would be coming to murder me shortly. He warned me not to contact the authorities. (Does blogging about it count?)

I have to say --- this was a new kind of spam and a pretty disturbing one. Pfishers and swindlers are bad enough. This particular email had no link to click. It wanted me to reply.

There were no personal details included in the threat, and I’m sure it went out to tens of thousands of people. In fact, a quick Google search shows that this extortion scam has been around since 2006. But unlike most of the other spam I get, it felt malevolent. It made me angry. It gave me the chills.

It also gave me … ideas. I’m a writer. I can’t help it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Timber Creek SKYPE & Happy Birthday Wishes

Yesterday, I had the amazing experience of meeting two high school creative writing classes at Timber Creek High School in Orlando, Florida – without leaving my home! This was not only the first school presentation I’ve given (uh, not counting my daily lessons as a 5th grade teacher), but also my first time presenting via SKYPE.

I have to thank Amanda Burford of The Newbie Novelist for the opportunity to meet with her two classes. (I met Amanda through WriteOnCon, by the way.) It was Amanda’s idea to do the SKYPE, and despite my initial nervousness about relying on the technology – it all went very smoothly!

It’s pretty cool to give a presentation in your own home. Since they were only seeing me from the waist up – I could have worn my pajama bottoms if I wanted to. (I didn’t though.) Okay, so my dog licked my face at one point, and the phone started ringing (I dropped it on the floor and kicked it out of the room). One of the hardest things for me to do was talk to the camera on the top of the monitor instead of to the picture of the students on the screen. I think I got better at it, but it was hard to fight that impulse to talk to their faces.

They had some great questions for me: ranging from the process of writing, fighting writer’s block, getting published, and finding inspiration. Apparently, their original list of questions also included: Is your husband hot? But their teacher edited that one out. (Of course he is.)

Anyway, it was a fabulous experience and one I’d be happy to repeat …

Moving on to other business -- I want to extend a HAPPY BIRTHDAY greeting to my blogging friend Lenny! For those of you who don’t know Lenny, please check out his blog. I won’t tell you exactly how old Lenny is, but let’s just say that Lenny’s age REALLY brings down the average age of my group of blogging buddies. And that’s just one of many reasons to love him!

Lenny’s a fantastic writer – he fooled the heck out of me during Jen Daiker’s Guess My Character Blogfest. He is also a walking advertisement for my book, since he’s fond of wearing the We Hear the Dead t-shirt he won in Candyland’s contest. And he might just be his brother’s secret weapon when it comes to getting a date …

So, Happy Birthday, Lenny! I hope you have a fantastic day!

Monday, October 18, 2010

How Does Your Brain Storm?

Pre-writing. What works for you? When you’re chewing on a story idea, how do you work it all out? Where do you begin?

I spend a lot of time just worrying the idea in my mind, like a dog gnawing on a bone. And I do a lot of reading – books and internet. I might read more in the genre, or maybe do some historical research, or just surf the internet looking for little real life gems that I can incorporate into the plot.

Do you have a character in mind? I did, this time, but it wasn’t the main character. I could clearly see his love interest (who also happens to be an antagonist in this case) but my main character was pretty shadowy. I didn’t know his problems, his goals, his backstory, and I especially didn’t know his name. (I threw a couple at him, but he rejected them.)

My idea also involves playing around with the laws of electricity and magnetism. I am absolutely clueless on both subjects, but luckily, I have an in-house expert. I’ve been bugging my husband for weeks on this subject. He’s drawn diagrams, used analogies, and recently dragged out Gabbey’s old circuit kit as demonstration. He’s been extraordinarily patient – anybody who knows me, knows I’m mechanically disinclined.

On Saturday, during a day trip to Philadelphia, I chewed his ear off in the car the whole way there – bouncing ideas off his head, and he didn’t even ducked them. By the time we reached the city, I had an idea that just might work for a setting – but setting is only a backdrop, of course. I still had no idea who the heck my nameless main character was. I had no story.

We were pretty busy all afternoon, but conversation resumed on the car ride home. This time, Bob came up with a brilliant idea for a setting that was possibly even better. We were only 20 minutes from home when I finally realized how this new setting connected to my main character. Suddenly, I knew what he was going to do – and I knew why he was going to do it – and how he was going to redeem himself afterwards. I had a story!

Am I ready to write? No way. I still have a TON of reading to do – historical and scientific research. My character has to develop some more … and he still needs a name … but I’m on my way now!

What’s your process?

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Best of Kansas

In 2007, I hosted a farewell party for my sister’s family, who were moving from Pennsylvania to Kansas. I decided to send out invitations listing The Top 10 Things We Love About Kansas. The problem was, after

1) It’s equally near to both the east and west coast
2) Not nearly as many tornadoes as you think
3) Carry On My Wayward Son and Dust in the Wind … I ran out of ideas!

My sister, unfortunately, felt the same way – at first. But happily, she has long since settled in and is guest blogging for me today, sharing the best thing about Kansas:

Hello there, my name is Laurie Kremer. My sister asked me months ago if I would write a guest piece, and I decided to share my experience living in Kansas

I’ve lived in the Midwest for a little over three years. At first I compared everything to the suburb of Philadelphia in which I used to live. I grouched about the distance to the mall and the lack of convenience stores. Our first week in Kansas, I ventured out with my GPS to a Pizza Hut a couple towns away. As we opened the door, an elderly gentleman on his way out, dressed in blue jean overalls and wearing a baseball cap claiming “SHIT HAPPENS,” leaned down, looked my 8 year old son in the eye and said “There ain’t no more pizza in there!”

Clutching my children to me, I rushed passed him and into the restaurant where I proceeded to sit down and fight off a panic attack.

I laugh at that memory now, for that truly was the exception and not the rule. In the suburbs of Kansas City, we really know our neighbors and enjoy a sense of community. People are just nice! There’s no other way to explain it.

Ever been to the Philadelphia Airport? It’s huge, difficult to navigate, and full of people running -- stressed and sweaty -- from one hanger to the next trying to catch a plane. Just a few months after moving to Kansas, I flew home alone to attend a cousin’s wedding. My husband took the day off from his new job to drive me to the Kansas City Airport. As we arrived, we had one of those classic moments that all couples have at some point in their relationship where they say simultaneously, “I thought you put the suitcase in the car!”

In my complete panic, I irrationally blamed forgetting the suitcase on the fact that he made us move to Kansas. Determined to make me happy -- or perhaps desperate to get me out of town -- Keith told me to go to my gate. He would drive home and be back with my suitcase before the plane took off.

I was sure he was wrong, but I did as he asked. The Kansas City Airport is so small that from my gate I could see out into the street where I watched for my husband and counted the minutes until the flight boarded. He did not make it in time.

As I boarded, I explained the situation to the flight attendant, and she did the most unbelievable thing. She asked what kind of car my husband drove and then went outside and stood on the curb. My husband pulled up a few minutes later to find a bubbly flight attendant waving him down.

So what’s it like to live in the Midwest? It’s really NICE! It will never replace home and family and the lifelong friendships we built through the years, but we’ve found a happiness and level of contentment that I’m not sure I thought we could have when we moved away from Pennsylvania.

Last story for you. A little over a year ago, our daughter contracted pneumonia following her tonsillectomy, and we ended up at the local children’s hospital for the weekend. My husband drove home to get some clothes for us, and when he pulled up to the house, he found one neighbor moving the front lawn and another neighbor mowing the back yard. Pretty nice, huh?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Return to Ticking Tomb

After a family excursion to the White Clay Creek preserve last Sunday, my family stopped at the London Tract Friends Meeting in Landenberg, Pennsylvania, to visit our local spooky grave, The Ticking Tomb.

It’s been years since my husband and I have visited this cemetery, although I wrote a blog post about the place back in the winter. You can read the story behind The Ticking Tomb here.

We weren’t even sure which tomb was the right one, at first. I had planned on calling up the information on the Droid when we got there, but once on the property I had no bars. NO BARS! It was a DEAD ZONE. Get it? That would have been spooky, if not for the fact that almost all of Landenberg is a dead zone.

So, we just had to wander around until I recognized it – and I did, finally. It was the flat stone inscribed only with the initials R.C., next to the oddly shaped heart headstone. Gina swears that she could hear a slow ticking sound when she pressed her ear to the stone.

Gabbey the Skeptic says no way.

Sorcia was more interested in the treats in Gina’s hand.

Me? Oh, I didn’t listen. I just took the pictures. I’d prefer not to confirm or deny this legend. I just like to wonder about it.

P.S. The mysterious Ticking Tomb is not the only interesting grave in this cemetery. Look at this headstone for Lillie Russell, Beloved Daughter. Have you ever seen one like this before?

P.P.S. Marcy Hatch, my wonderful first beta reader for the Caged Graves, has a review for Struts and Frets (which she won in my 100 Blog Follower Contest) and an interview with Jon Skovron (whom I met at PAYA 2010) on her blog today. Jon's a riot and a half, and I suggest you check out the interview!

Monday, October 11, 2010

The 10 Stages of Post-WIP Neurosis

As many of you know, I recently finished the first draft of my WIP. Then I cleaned up the plot holes and added an element it was previously lacking. My wonderful first beta read the whole thing, and I went back through it a second time, making adjustments based on her feedback. Now I’ve sent it off to a new batch of beta readers.

So what now?

I’m neurotic, of course, and I’ve discovered a certain pattern to my moods and thought processes after the completion of every WIP.

Stage 1: Elation – Just a few short months ago, I was looking at a messed-up manuscript, wondering if I’d written myself off a cliff. But in spite of pantstering the whole thing, I’ve reached the end, and it all makes sense, and I’ve tied up things I didn’t even consciously know were going to tie together!

Stage 2: Depression – I suddenly realize I have nothing to write about. I miss my characters. I wonder if they miss me. I start making up little scenes in my head about what they’re doing now. It’s pitiful.

Stage 3: Cheering Up – I remember that I’ll probably be revising this story repeatedly over months, or heaven help me, years. I’ll be spending lots of time with my characters, re-writing scenes, re-arranging scenes, creating new scenes … And I can never predict where these projects will take me. I finished the first draft of We Hear the Dead in November of 2006 – and I’m still writing about Maggie and Elisha in the screenplay, four years later!

Stage 4: Wonder: I wonder when I will have an idea for a new story.

Stage 5: Worry: I worry I will never have an idea for a new story.

Stage 6: Panic: I have no ideas! I have no ideas!

Stage 7: The Hook: Something catches my eye, or I read something – and suddenly, there’s the glimmer of an idea. It might be dim or flickering, or it might be bright and mesmerizing (the caged graves were the latter). But it’s an idea.

Stage 8: The Birth: Out of that one idea, a character rises from the primordial mist. I can see her (or him) in my mind. I can describe this person; I can place this character in at least one scene. Sometimes I even know the name …

Stage 9: The Story: Out of that one character and one scene, the shadowy plot elements begin to coalesce in the fog.

Stage 10: Chortling Happiness: Research begins. Outlines. Brainstorming and free-writes, just to explore the story. A new project is underway …

Yeah, that’s my process. What’s yours? And in case you’re wondering – I’m currently on Stage 8.

Friday, October 8, 2010

How I Got My Film Option

I realized the other day that I’ve never blogged about how I got my film option! A definite oversight on my part! Well, it may not be as long and convoluted as “How I Met Your Mother” but it’s worth a mention anyway …

You see, the front door needed painting, and I have very little decorating sense. So when my husband asked, “What color?” I shrugged and reached for my best decorating reference: Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life by Karen Rauch Carter. That’s right: feng shui.

I mean, why not? If I don’t know what colors to use anyway – or what to hang on the walls – consulting a feng shui book is a lot easier than clipping pictures from magazines. So, I buy sconces with swirls for one corner of the house, and I accent another with red candles. It all looks good to me. And plus, it might work.

The front door is the Career area of the home, and MYSCYL suggested black was a powerful color here. Besides, it matched the geometric designs of the carpet runner in the foyer. I could tell Bob was relieved. He felt confident he couldn’t make a mistake by coming home with “the wrong black.”

So, my husband painted the door and was just putting the finishing touches on it when, in the other room, I got an email from Amy Green, Film Producer, of 3Geez Films and One Eye Open Studio in Hollywood, asking whether the film rights to my book were available. I read the email about five times. It didn’t appear to be coming from Nigeria. She didn’t ask me to send her a certified check for $100,000 or transfer any money for her. A quick Google search confirmed that these companies really existed.

When I carried my laptop over to the foyer, Bob was just smoothing out the paint bubbles. I think I held out the computer to him and made little whimpering noises. He read the email over my shoulder – looked at me, looked at the door, and looked at the wet paint brush in his hand.

“What else do you want me to paint?” he asked.

(Amy, if you’re reading this, you might be surprised to discover you were summoned by the forces of the universe – but then again, I’ll bet you’re not.)

By the way, the other night, Amy gave a big thumbs up to my most recent draft of the screenplay. We think we’re moving forward from here!

It might be time to do a little decorating.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Gina's Review: Warriors: Into the Wild

Gina is here today with a review of Erin Hunter's Into the Wild, the first book in the Warriors series. I have to admit, I was unable to force myself to read these books, but my older daughter loved them, as well as many of my students. Now, my younger daughter appears to be caught up in them as well.

Gina's Review: Warriors -- Into the Wild

Warriors: Into the Wild by Erin Hunter is about a cat named Rusty who ventures into the woods one day and meets another cat. This cat attacks him until another cat comes and settles it. 

Rusty later finds out that these cats are from a group of cats called ThunderClan.  There are also three other groups.  The cat asks him to join ThunderClan and Rusty readily agrees.  So Rusty joins ThunderClan and becomes an apprentice warrior and his name is changed to Firepaw.  But when the clan is attacked it is up to Firepaw to save the day.
I would recommend this book to someone who likes an adventure story and a funny story.  My favorite part is when Firepaw comes into ThunderClan and meets the other cats. Some are sweet and some are weird or mean. My sister loved this series, and now I think I’m going to have to read all of them too.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Trick is To Catch Their Eye

The Collingswood Book Festival on Saturday was my second street fair. The first one was the Mushroom Festival in Kennett Square, PA a few years back, when I was still self-published. Someday I should write a blog post about that – we had a hurricane. Still, I learned a few things about having a booth at a street festival, which I wisely applied to this one.

This is a picture of my booth. See the rainbow streams of light coming down on it? I am pretty sure those are “spirit orbs” demonstrating their support for my efforts. (Either that or the really lame camera on my Droid phone.) I wasn’t supposed to have an empty space on either side of me – the people assigned to those spots did not show up. (Gosh, I hope the spirits didn’t hurt them.)

First of all, I used the beautiful cover posters designed by Sourcebooks to decorate my table. If you had walked around the festival and seen all the DARK book covers there, you’d know just how much this one stood out. It was startling and eye-catching!

Since there were no booths on either side of me, I hung the t-shirts my husband designed on each side of the booth. They were visible as people approached on either side, and I saw almost everybody reading them as they walked down the street. Some people laughed outright. Others came over and asked me what they were supposed to mean. Either way – it was good!

For anybody who approached the booth, I had a Ouija board hanging on one end, and a sign with historical photos of the Fox sisters and Elisha Kane at the other end. My only regret is that I didn’t make this bigger, because it wasn’t visible from a distance.

Finally, my husband set up my book trailer to play continuously on his laptop, for anybody who wanted to stop and watch it.

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The combination was extremely successful. My favorite encounter was when I watched one particular man come down the street. (His name was Robb.) He read the t-shirts and laughed. He looked at the book cover posters as he came abreast of the booth. His eye went up and caught sight of the historical photos … then the Ouija board. He kept walking, but he was moving slower and slower. He glanced back twice, and then finally turned around and came back. I was waiting for him.

“Caught your eye, didn’t I?” I asked.

“Yeah, you did,” he said with a grin. I sold him a book.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Collingswood Book Festival

I don’t know if I have many blog readers in the New Jersey area, but I’ll be at the Collingswood Book Festival tomorrow, October 2 from 10am to 4pm. This will be the 8th annual book event at Collingswood – and my first time in the town.

Street fairs are a lot of fun – I did the Mushroom Festival in Kennett Square a couple years back – and this one should be even more interesting because it is entirely centered around books. Six city blocks of authors and their books!

Tony Abbot will be there (TONY ABBOT!!) as well as Kieran Scott, Sara Shepard, and Dan Gutman! I’ll be there, too, in booth 34. (Don’t know where that is yet.)

The event takes place rain or shine. In the event of rain, it will be moved to the Collingswood High School. This is good news, because doing the Mushroom Festival in Hurricane Hannah was no fun at all and not very good for the books … And considering the weather on the east coast yesterday, I’m glad there’s a back-up plan for Saturday!

If I get any good pictures of anybody important, I’ll probably post them practically live on Facebook and Twitter. Otherwise, I’ll report back to you next week.

Wish me luck! (I will, of course, wear my We Hear the Dead charm bracelet, thank you, Aine!)