Monday, April 29, 2013

Why You Don't Give Up

I'm still working under a deadline for THE EIGHTH DAY, so this is a pictorial essay on Why You Don't Give Up.

In the 1960s, my story-telling was -- let's say -- full of stereotypes, like dragons and damsels-in-distress.

Not much survived the 1970s. When I was in high school I threw my elementary and middle school work into the trash. This handwritten story, which won me a prize in eighth grade, is one of the only survivors.

The 1980s were filled with handwritten notebooks and stories typed on onion paper (with a typewriter.) Embarrassingly, I sent a couple of these to Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. The rejections were kind.

In the 1990s, I wrote a few MG novels (saved on computer disks) and one non-fiction. A couple queries almost panned out -- but then didn't. I also published some professional teacher lesson plans.

The 2000s started with several unfinished MG science fiction novels and ended with my self-published YA historical novel.

And then ... the 2010s happened. And they are continuing to happen.

There is no excuse for giving up besides death. Got that?

Clarion/HMH is giving away 10 copies of THE CAGED GRAVES on Goodreads. You can find the giveaway here until May 2.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


I am currently entrenched in editorial revisions for THE EIGHTH DAY, due May 13 -- the day before THE CAGED GRAVES releases -- so I'm going to keep this update brief.

THE SPIRIT GAME will be showcased in the Not Short On Talent market screenings at the upcoming Cannes Film Festival (May 15 to 26, 2013). According to director Craig Goodwill, "Not Short On Talent is a collection of five 90-minute programs destined to screen at the Cannes Market and at the Festival’s Short Film Corner venue. The initiative is designed to increase the international exploitation of new short films and to promote short film talent to international buyers and festival programmers."

Meanwhile, THE CAGED GRAVES was named a Junior Library Club selection, which is a pretty big thing. It's one of the earliest awards given to a book -- usually before the release -- and is often considered a bellwether of success. This is pretty cool! I've also seen some early reviews: Kirkus said, "This unusual romantic mystery stands out" and Publisher's Weekly called it "an absorbing, atmospheric, and dense work of historical fiction." 

Dense is a compliment in this case, right?  I hope so!

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Social Part of Social Media Marketing

I'm not an expert in marketing by a long shot, so this post is just going to be my personal
opinion. I hope I don't offend anyone, and of course people are free to disagree with me.  But I think if you're going to use social media to promote yourself, your blog, your book, or your business, you need to keep in mind the purpose of social media -- to socialize.

Let's take Twitter. People join Twitter to interact with others. Nobody signs up for Twitter to see a bunch of ads. If your tweets all look like ads, you're not doing it right, and I can't believe it's effective.  I once saw Elana Johnson suggest on her blog that no more than 1 out of every 6 tweets should be self-promotion, but I have to add that the other 5 should not just be re-tweets or promotions for your friends' books. If you're not interacting with other tweeters, there's no reason to be on Twitter.

I also saw Matt McNish comment somewhere that "scheduled" and "tweets" should not be used in the same sentence. I agree. Scheduled tweets don't even make an attempt at interaction. Some may link to a blog or an article of interest and be scheduled ahead of time simply because the poster is cut off from Twitter by work firewalls. But most of them are just ads. This was incredibly obvious on the day of the Boston Marathon when the Twitter community reacted and grieved and shared information -- in between "my book 0.99 on Kindle" tweets. 

Those authors looked like jerks, even though they were probably unaware of the situation. And while anyone might tweet from their phone first and only afterward check their Twitter feed to see what's going on, a continuous parade of promotional tweets made it obvious that the person was either incredibly insensitive or not really there at all. An automaton was tweeting for them, and in that case, why would I follow a tweet-bot? 

At the very least, scheduled tweets should be limited and spaced far apart. A long string of them, promoting your book (and all your friends' books) is really just spam. I stopped following a few people last week because of this.

I saw someone respond to a criticism of scheduled tweeting by saying, "If you're self-published, you have to do this." Well, I did self-publish, so I can say that, in my experience, this kind of promotion never worked.  I did a lot of trial and error, and I made mistakes. But I never sold any books through posts that were borderline spam. I sold books by interacting with people. If they were interested in me, they checked out my book.

Yeah, it's more work that way. But nobody said it was going to be easy.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

THE DEBT COLLECTOR: Part 2 of Susan's Interview

I am picking up the interview with Susan Kaye Quinn just where I left off on Monday. We are discussing her science fiction serial, THE DEBT COLLECTOR:

“What’s your life worth on the open market? A debt collector can tell you precisely.”

3.  I understand the series has caught the attention of real life debt collectors. How did this happen, and what has been their response?

The vast interconnectedness of the internet means there’s nowhere to hide. Especially not from Debt Collectors. Ha! I have no idea how they find me, but “debt collector” must have awesome Search Engine Optimization, because they keep popping up. The coolest so far is a real live debt collector – who is also a reviewer for Suspense Magazine – who was interested in reviewing the story. I also spent a half hour interviewing him, comparing the lives of my futuristic debt collectors to his real-life experiences. It was hilarious and scary at the same time.

4.  The cover images are stunning. How are they created?

I struggled a LOT with the concept for the covers. I wanted to convey the future-noir feeling of the series, have each cover be unique yet still branded across the series, and they had to be WOW to go with the premise. And not break the bank, because I’m selling the episodes for only 99cents and each needs its own cover! I finally stumbled on a treasure trove of black and white stock art that really set the mood. My cover designer Steven Novak took those images and made them awesome. I’m having great fun finding images that fit each episode, and readers are telling me they not only are drawn in to the covers initially (which is the covers’ main job), but also that they feel the covers fit after they read the story. Win and win.

5. You've set yourself a dizzying pace for publishing each installment. It's as if we really have returned to the time of the "serials" when authors would have magazine or newspaper deadlines to meet. Does this essentially produce a different reading experience than a novel that might simmer for months, endure several rounds of revisions, and -- in the traditional industry -- be filtered through several layers of editors?

Different reading experience, as well as writing experience.

For reading, I think the whole season, read together, will have the immersion experience of a novel. It will actually be a lot longer than a standard novel, more like three short novels put together. But the reading-as-we-go experience is where it’s different. So far, readers are telling me they’re enjoying each episode, it’s killing them that the next one isn’t here yet, and they’ve never tried a serial before, but they are enjoying it more than they thought they would. All good. And for readers who want the whole thing, it will eventually be bundled.

For writing, this goes back to the fan-driven art I was talking about before. I’m only half-way through writing the first season and I’m already making (small) changes due to fan feedback. One reveal I was planning on making later in the serial, I moved up because a reviewer mentioned she was wondering about it. And I’m giving one character a little more air time in a future episode because readers are enthused about them.

I still have critique partners (including you!) who read each episode, and I’m writing the series in sets of three (with the three-episode clusters more tightly tied together), but the time scale is definitely much shorter than anything you could do in the traditional industry (unless you pre-wrote everything, which eliminates fan feedback). I honestly don’t think that’s a bad thing. Simmering and layers of editors are fine, but simmering can also let a story go flat and too many cooks in the kitchen can spoil the broth (I’m sure there’s another cliché I could throw in, but I’ll stop there). I think the resonance a story has with readers comes somewhat from the inspiration the writer has while creating it. Sometimes (not always) you have to strike while the iron is hot (I knew I could find another cliché). Not all stories come out this way, but some do, and they can come out well without tremendous amounts of editing, assuming the writer knows what they’re doing.

To be honest, I couldn’t write this way if this was my first story, or even my first series. I had to polish up my skills as a writer before I could attempt something like this. That being said, this is the toughest writing I’ve ever loved.

6. So, when can we expect a film agent to jump on this premise and pitch it as a television series?

Any day now, I’m sure! :D I think this story oozes with possibility as a TV series or even a big screen adaptation. Or a graphic novel! Whoa. I can so see this in black and white glossy noir graphic art. But if it’s never anything more than an ebook serial that keeps readers begging for the next episode, I’ll be more than happy. When the Muse popped this story into my head during that long car ride, I literally had to pull over and start writing. For me, it’s all about getting the story out into the world. Whatever happens from there is just a bonus hit of life energy on top of the normal buzz I get from creating the story in the first place.

Susan, thanks so much for talking about your new series and this exciting new time for readers and writers. A copy of Episode 1: DELIRIUM is up for grabs! Don't forget to enter:
  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, April 15, 2013

THE DEBT COLLECTOR: An Interview with Susan Kaye Quinn

Today and Wednesday, I’m interviewing Susan Kaye Quinn – a critique partner of mine – on her new gritty science-fiction series, THE DEBT COLLECTOR, which is being written and published in the format of an old-time serial.

First, an author bio:
Susan Kaye Quinn is the author of the bestselling YA SF Mindjack series. Her new Debt Collector serial is her more grown-up SF. Her steampunk fantasy romance is temporarily on hold while she madly writes episodes to keep Lirium (the titular Debt Collector) happy. Plus she needs to leave time to play on Facebook. Susan has a lot of degrees in engineering, which come in handy when dreaming up dangerous mind powers, future dystopias, and slightly plausible steampunk inventions. Mostly she sits around in her pajamas in awe that she gets make stuff up full-time. You can find her at

 Now the first part of our interview …

1. Why is NOW the right time for "The Return of the Serial?"

Ebooks have reduced the cost of delivery of written works to zero - anything from a short story to a G.R.R. Martin novel is the same cost. At the same time, indie publishing has freed writers to experiment with form (short stories, anthologies, serials) without having to worry if a publisher will find it worth investing in for a print-run. The public is used to serialized storytelling in TV form – with a wide range from formula-driven stories like Law&Order to high-concept, almost novel-like stories like Lost.

Meanwhile, novels have been getting more cinematic, with blockbusters like Hunger Games actually written by people with screenwriting backgrounds. And then there’s the fan-author connection, which has been vastly increased by social media and the advent of ebooks and indie publishing, reinforcing the incentive for writers to produce works quickly for eagerly waiting fans. The stratospheric success of indie serial Wool, by Hugh Howey, definitively showed readers care about story not format or publication path. All of that adds up to a fertile environment for serials, where satisfying story nuggets (episodes) are produced quickly, delivered cheaply, and provide a social entertainment experience more like Must Read TV than immersion novel reading.

I truly believe we’re entering an age of fan-driven art – where the connection between the artist and the consumer of the art is immediate, visceral, and drives the art that is produced. The recent (massive) success of kickstarter campaigns to fund fan-favorites, like the RPG game Torment or the Veronica Mars movie, show how this can happen at the millions-of-dollars level, but all kinds of art (music, books, games, movies) is being funded at smaller levels by fan enthusiasm. This is not to say that all fan-driven art will be remakes or extensions of favorites like Veronica Mars. Wool was a new concept that fans loved and drove to stardom. It’s still up to the artist to create something new and awesome. But consumers of said art – rather than tastemakers like reviewers and publishers – are now driving which art becomes commercially successful (at large and small scales). Readers see something they like and say, Yes! More of that, please, and writers have the ability to respond. Serials fit this bottom-up model of art creation that I believe is just going to get stronger in the future.

2.  The premise of The Debt Collector just floored me. When you owe more than your life is worth, your life force is "collected" and given to someone who, presumably is worth more. Where did the inspiration come from?

Inspiration is always a collection of things (books, movies, news, life) that you stuff into your subconscious, stir around, and see what pops out. In this case, I had a long drive in the car alone and decided to brainstorm a new story. I was mostly killing time. (Ha! Killing time! That subconscious is a tricky devil.) The idea of writing an anti-hero story had been niggling my brain for a while, so I focused on that. In retrospect, I think movies like Looper and In Time had been stuffed in there, along with the fact that the economy stinks, the country is massively in debt, several local businesses in my area had recently gone under, and my mom had cancer last year. She beat back the cancer, but she’s still facing the mountain of debt that goes along with serious illness. Consciously, none of that was in my head. What actually happened in the car went something like this:

 The Debt Collector.

Me: Er, what? Who are you?

Muse: When people's debts exceed their future potential contributions to society, he cashes them out.

Me: Whoa. Tell me more.

Muse: He extracts their life energy and transfers it to a "high potential" - someone who can use it to make greater contributions to the world.

Me: Holy Crap. That's a great idea.

Muse: He's a good man with bad power. And it's future-noir.

Me: Future-noir! Cool! Uh, what is that exactly?

Muse: Dark. Gritty. Futuristic but retro at the same time.

Me: Oh... like Blade Runner... Holy Crap, this is awesome.

Muse: You're welcome.

Okay, Susan’s interview is such awesome stuff (as is this serial) that I had to stop here and stretch it out a bit. Please return on Wednesday to read the rest of this interview … starting with what happened when real life debt collectors stumbled across her series.
In the meantime, you can win a copy of Episode 1: DELIRIUM. Enter via Rafflecopter below: a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

AT&T Brainwashing Future Customers

The newest in AT&T’s “Let’s see what the kids think” commercials makes me sick. Our friendly AT&T rep sits down with pre-schoolers and asks them if “more is better.” And the darling children proceed to spew the party line, as cutely as possible. “I want more. I want more.”

Does this make anyone besides me want to throw a brick through the television screen?

Greed. Pre-schoolers. Some of the children stammer out their greediness, almost unable to express themselves. This is supposed to be cute -- and promote the company in a positive way.

I realize that all advertising strives to reach that greedy part of our inner selves. But this one is just so blatant, so transparent, so insidious. Like they’re training up their future customers. And something about this suited man sitting down with the children in a school setting, where they are supposed to be learning something of value, creeps me out.

What’s next in this series? Coaching babies to say “More!” instead of “Mama?”

Anyone else offended by this advertising campaign? Or is it just me, because I have to teach large groups of children who have been brainwashed into greed and materialism by advertising while I'm trying to teach them to value learning, ethics, and citizenship?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Stop Chasing It

Thank you to everyone who expressed birthday wishes for my daughter and who wished me an injury-free skiing holiday in Killington, Vermont over spring break.

We all came down from the mountain safe and sound, although I reached the unhappy revelation that I am now the weakest link in the Salerni ski team. I don’t have as much stamina as the others. My knees ache after a couple hours on the slopes. And I have no interest in throwing myself down headwalls like the rest of the family.

So every day, I trudged back to the hotel early while the family went on without me. I iced my knees. (boo) I had a glass of wine. (yay) And I tried to force that brainstorming I said I was going to do. (double boo)

It wasn’t happening. I had no inspiration. If anything, I was more confused than ever. And that depressed me just as much as not being able to keep up with the skiing maniacs in my family.
The fact is, I wasn’t giving myself much of a vacation. I was mad about being out of shape and off the slopes, and I was mad that my ideas didn’t flow forth like … um, wine.

Finally, I thought back to my trip to Mexico last summer. And the one to Hollywood/Catalina Island the year prior. And the one to Disney World the year before that. And I remembered that, although I dragged my laptop along on all those trips, I didn’t get a bit of writing done. I tried. Sometimes I forced it, but that was always a mistake.

After I got home from Disney World, I finished writing THE CAGED GRAVES. And when I got home from California, I finished VOLTAGE. And after Mexico, I sent THE EIGHTH DAY off to my agent. So, I realized – Stop chasing it. You’re on vacation, and you’re supposed to be having fun. Writing is fun, but not on vacation. Stop it.

I let go of my project. I got a massage at the hotel. I may have had some martinis at the hotel bar. I beta read a friend’s manuscript. I got back out on the slopes with the fam every day.

And when I got home, I sat down and wrote the EIGHTH DAY series plan that wouldn’t come to me in Vermont – in just a few days.

Lesson learned? No matter how much I love writing, I need time away from it as much as I need time away from teaching.

And the best way to catch a breakthrough in your project … is to stop chasing it.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Happy Sweet Sixteenth!

My "baby" Gabrielle is 16 years old today. A picture is worth a thousand words, so here are several thousand:

Happy Birthday, Gabbey!
How mad will you be when I post this link on Facebook and tag you???

Monday, April 1, 2013

Cricket Wrangling and Other Chores at the Salerni House

While we were away last week, I got an email from my sister-in-law Deb O’Donnell who agreed to watch our house and look after the pets for us. Apparently, watching our house inspires people to sit down and write about the experience! I previously had a guest blog post from Deb’s husband, Larry, about what happened to him while waiting to meet the washer delivery people for us.  I don’t know how our house became so complicated. (I blame the other 3 residents …)

Deb’s email:

So I go to your house to feed the critters and get the mail. I feed and water Sorcia and then go check on the lizards. I see one sitting on a leaf.  Ok, good where is the other one? I look in the side. I look in the other side. I move the light. I stand on tiptoe and look in the top. No lizard.

I check the front again. Peer around the sides. Look closer at the leaves. Repeat. Look closer. Start to panic a little. Ok, take a deep breath and look again. Is that a tail or a piece of plant? Oh it's a tail! Sneaky critter, it's the same color as the leaf. 

So, following Gina's instructions, I head upstairs to get the crickets to feed them. The instructions were to get four crickets from the container with the net and put them in the small tupperware container for transport to the lizards.

(Me, reading email: Why didn’t Gina catch the crickets in advance for her???)

Ok, open the lid. Quick close the lid as crickets attempt to escape. All right, I can do this, let me think. I tap on the container and get the crickets to go to the bottom. Open the lid, get the net, I'm doing good. Corner four crickets with the net. I'm good. Get the crickets in the net, start to lift them up to put them in the transport container. AGGGHHHH! Three crickets jump out of the net in three different directions, only one lands in the transport container.

There's one. Missed. There's another. Missed again. Take a deep breath. Think. There's one. Got it!!!!

Sorcia comes up. "Whatcha looking at under the desk? Can I help? Oops I'm not suppose to be upstairs." Lotta help you were, Sorcia.

(Me, reading email: Sorcia knows she’s not supposed to be upstairs!)

Turn on the light. There's one on the Barbie head. Gotcha! Two out of three's not bad, right? But I better find the other one or it will probably have two million babies by next week.

(Me, reading email: Like there’s not already a million crickets loose in the house from the ones Gina and Gabbey have let escape …)

Staring at carpet, willing cricket to come out of its hiding place. Tick, tick, tick. Maybe it's over here by the chair. Looking, looking, movement!. Found it! Got it. Oops its leg got a little broken. Hope the lizard doesn't mind. Take the crickets down to the lizards. Carefully open the tank. Opening the cricket container. One cricket sees what's coming and tries to make a break for it. I'm prepared. I drop the whole container in. Quick shut the lid. Lizard didn't seem to mind the one with the broken leg.

Fished the container out. Closed up the tank. Thank goodness. Come on, Sorcia, want to come home with me for a visit?

(Me, sitting in hotel bar with my husband, wiping tears of laughter away: “It’s a wonder Deb and Larry still agree to watch our house.” Bob and I laugh over our martinis knowing the lizards are fed, the crickets have been fed to the lizards, and Sorcia is off to be spoiled at Aunt Deb’s house.)