Thursday, February 28, 2013

Romantic Fantasy or Fantasy Romance?

I wrote a guest post over at the Alexandria Publishing Group's blog, and it showed up today.  I'm pretty proud of it despite the double-word error.

http://alexandriapublishinggroup.com/2013/02/romance-vs-fantasy/


I've been pondering the question of Romantic Fantasy versus Fantasy- based romance for some time, in fact.  What's the difference?  Is there a difference?  Where does an imaginary line divide the two?

It was a fun article to write, in any event.  No point duplicating it here, the hypertunnel pathways being as efficient as they are.  Go, read the APG post, and while you're at it check out some posts from my fellow APG authors.  There's some great stuff in there!

Enjoy!

- TOSK

(Image thanks: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=27490&picture=a-couple-in-love:  A Couple In Love by Peter Griffin)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

How Not To Do PT (part 3)

At West Point (and later in the Army), PT (physical training in this case, not physical therapy) was a big part of our existence.  We spent a lot of time at it, for one thing, and for another it tended to present us with some of the longest-lasting lessons we learned there.

Speaking for myself, anyway--the longest-lasting lessons I learned, I learned in PT.

During plebe year, our PT courses were pre-specified.  Oh, some people got tortured in boxing a semester or so before others, but everyone in the male gender eventually suffered through bleeding in the gym.  Wrestling, too--all of us guys learned new and painful ways that our bodies weren't supposed to bend.  There were two other classes, but those we got to take with our female classmates: gymspastics (how the hell did I only get a C in "trampoline"?) and swimming.  Swimming class, by the way, didn't actually involve much swimming at all, but I'm gonna grant that little episode a post all its own.

Yearling year finally rolled over the horizon, leisurely coming along to our class in a testament to the fact that everything will eventually turn out okay if you just keep on pinging and breathing for long enough.  Yay, we thought.  We made it!  Now we don't have to memorize the lunch and dinner menus every day!  Now we can start taking non-general-ed classes!  Now we can pick our own PT courses!

Yeah, not so fast.  Yearlings were allowed to pick half of their courses, if "arrange in an order of preference so the department can choose something near the bottom" is an appropriate definition for pick.  Right out of the gate, I got my second or third to the last choice: volleyball.  My preferences notwithstanding, it didn't actually sound that bad, really, until I showed up the first day to be informed that it was combat volleyball.  Visions of bikini-clad girls and topless guys all sporting dogtags and diving after the ball on the beach were quickly replaced by repetitious "bump, set, spike" rehearsals of repetitive repetition. 

But we still had to take pre-selected courses.  One of those was the CQC (Close Quarters Combat) course that I, and I think many others, both dreaded and looked forward to.  In that course, the men and the women learned the concepts of CQC together.  It was a pretty awesome course.  To get the idea, think karate meets judo meets police academy.  The final exam involved walking through a darkened gym that was partitioned off into "alleys" and "back lots" using large wall pads, fending off surprise attacks from other cadets dressed as thugs.  What could possibly be more full of awesome sauce than that? 

It was toward the beginning of the course that I learned the lesson to which this post is building, though.  We were learning throws, a topic also known as what to do if someone makes body contact with you and you don't like it. They demonstrated a few times, and then paired us off to practice.

My partner--heh, you see this coming already, don't you?  Yeah, my partner was a girl.  A petite girl, at that.  She was in my cadet company, and so we knew each other.  She was a nice girl. 

So, like any good strong manly-man partner, I volunteered to get thrown over her shoulder first.  She stepped in front facing away from me, and with a great big smirk I sauntered up and negligently tossed an arm over the little girl's shoulder.

WHAM!

Did you know that you really can see stars indoors, under artificial lights?  I saw them quite clearly, laying there on my back as I was.  Took me a minute to remember how to breathe.  Once my chest has returned to its normal up-and-down motion, the nice little girl helped my stunned and suddenly much less arrogant self up and onto my feet.

She--my diminutive classmate--had apparently been paying close attention when they'd instructed us in the use of all that leverage and fulcrum stuff.  Me, I'd been--well, um, looking elsewhere.

That lesson hurt, man.  I mean, it really hurt.  My asses (both outer and inner) smarted for days.

But I learned.  I've never underestimated a person, male or female, based on their size or their gender, again.

- TOSK

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How Not To Do PT (Part 2)

At West Point (and later in the Army), PT (physical training in this case, not physical therapy) was a big part of our existence.  We spent a lot of time at it, for one thing, and for another it tended to present us with some of the longest-lasting lessons we learned there.

Speaking for myself, anyway--the longest-lasting lessons I learned, I learned in PT.

One class that we manly men were required to take in our plebe years was wrestling.  This one I was kind of looking forward to after boxing, as the wrestling professors weren't known for the same bloodthirstiness as the boxing P's.   I hadn't ever wrestled, but my mom had dated a professional wrestler once, and that's pretty close, right?  I'd watched matches, both in person (Jerry Lawler!) and on TV, and it really didn't look that hard.

I'd even watched the wrestling at the summer Olympics.  That stuff looked kinda sissified compared to watching Hulk Hogan leap off of the turnbuckle and land his entire weight on his opponent's head.  Still, it was interesting enough once you got into it, especially when members of the good ole' USA team were winning.  I remember, in fact, watching history made in 1984 as an American, an Army officer, won the gold medal in the heavyweight class of the Freestyle event, marking the first time ever that that particular medal had gone to someone from my own nation.

Woo hoo!

Fast forward, one year later: there I was, standing in the heavily-padded wrestling classroom with a bunch of other sweaty guys, waiting for class to begin, thinking how cool this one would be compared to Facebashing 101, when in walked....

Yeah, it was him.  The guy who'd won the gold.

First thought: Holy crap, it's him.  He's famous.  That's really cool, to be taught by someone who's famous.  Second thought: Holy crap, he's gonna tie me into little bitty knots finished with pretty bow ties.

He looked even tougher in real life than he had on TV.  He had one of those necks that's really not a neck; it was more of a muscular pyramid, a continuation of his pects and lats and trapeziuses upon which a head was perched.  He was so powerfully built that I had no doubt if he told the wall to move, it would. 

He curled a guy.

No, really.  I'm referring to the weightlifting curl, not the sport of bowling with rocks.  It's the lift using only the biceps.  The biceps, by the way, are one of the weaker muscles in the body despite their glamorous appearance in bodybuilding shots.  That's why powerlifters are impressive when they curl, say, 50-60 kg.  For comparison, the world records are 475 kg for bench press and 450 kg for raw squat.  A few people can leg press 1000 kg. 

This champion picked a 70-80 kg cadet up, held him sideways in his hands, and used his biceps to lift and then lower the guys' body weight. And then he did a couple more repetitions.

I suppose these days someone might say, "Hey, nice planking."  I don't think anybody in that room, though, was thinking anything other than "holy crap, that monster is curling a person."

In any event, he was a good teacher.  He and the rest of the P's spent several class periods teaching us how to get into and out of holds, how to start a match from both sides, and so on.  I learned quite a lot about the sport and its mechanics.

Then came the sparring.

If you haven't already figured it out, I wasn't that much of a combatives sportsman back then.  I was the gladiator of the swim meet, the marco of the water polo.

Yeah, sorry for that last.  Couldn't help it.

But after narrowly passing the boxing class--literally by the skin of my chinny chin chin, I think--I was looking to prove something in wrestling.  And thus it was that I was overjoyed when they paired me up against a guy my own size who was wearing a cast.

Woo hoo!  I know I'm not supposed to cheer the shallow victory of beating an injured opponent, but I was hungering to cheer a victory of any sort at the time.  A guy in a cast?  Bring it!

He tied me into a knot.

Well.  Must've been a fluke, I figured.  I squared down with him again, and....

He tied me into another knot.

"You've done this before, haven't you?" I asked as I carefully removed my kneecap from my ear and checked for hearing loss.

"Champion, State of California," my easy-opponent-in-a-cast said.

Hmmph.

Lesson: never, ever, underestimate your foe, even if he's gussied up in a cast. Or, for that matter, if he has any obvious disadvantage, you should still never assume victory. 

- TOSK

Monday, February 25, 2013

How Not To Do PT (part 1)

At West Point (and later in the Army), PT (physical training in this case, not physical therapy) was a big part of our existence.  We spent a lot of time at it, for one thing, and for another it tended to present us with some of the longest-lasting lessons we learned there.

Speaking for myself, anyway--the longest-lasting lessons I learned, I learned in PT.

Take boxing, for example.  No, really, I wish you could just take it.  I hated that class, mostly because the instructors were famous for their love of the presentation of blood outside of the body in which it belonged.  Woo hoo!  Blood makes the grass grow!  (but Professor, there's no grass in here in the gym, nobody ever said)

Didn't matter.  Boxing was one of the four classes we male plebes had to take, two each semester.  Women took another class--couldn't take boxing, in fact, and I'm still not sure what I think of that.  I mean, I know how strong women can be.  I marched with a girl with a broken foot for seven miles once, remember?  I'm 100% for equality of the genders in all things.

All things, that is, except boxing.  Boxing exists for one purpose: hitting the other guy--er, person--in the face.  Multiple times, even.  Hard enough to knock him down, too.  Have you ever really looked at the faces of long-term professional boxers?  That primary goal of the sport jumps right off of those visages.

The thing is, ladies' faces are to humanity as crown molding is to room decor: the ultimate touch.  The one greatest addition for elegance and beauty.  Whom do you know that would walk up and start smashing crown molding, hmm?  Women's boxing is like that, to me. Hit?  On purpose?  What, are you nuts?

I understand it's not like that any more.  I've seen images of women cadets boxing.  Part of me cheers on the egalitarianism of the academy.  The other part--well, I've made my point.  No smash!

In any event, I had to take the course, and so it was that I found myself early in my plebe year sharing the gym floor with other sweaty guys learning to pummel the blood out of each others' faces.  Keep those elbows in, the professors would tell us, because we absolutely must protect our cores at all times.  Because, you know, that part doesn't bleed unless there's something really serious going on, I figured.  Unlike the face, anyway, that bleeds most satisfactorily and then stops all on its own.  Nevertheless, I kept going, one day after another, learning jabs and left hooks and right hooks and uppercuts and combinations that made me feel like Muhammed Ali (and made me look like Gumby).

Finally, then, we came to the end.  Final exams.  No, no multiple choice tests there.  Of course not, right?  We were tested hands-on, so to speak, right there in the ring sparring against each other, four three-minute matches worth.

I lost the first one.  Lost it pretty badly, in fact, if memory serves.  I'm not sure, because I don't really recall that first match.  The next one, though....

There I was, matched up in the perfect Stephen's Gonna Win This face-off.  We were matched by weight, and so my lanky 6' frame weighed the same 160 pounds as my opponent's squat frame did.  I had probably half a foot of height on him, though, with a similar advantage in reach.  I remember grinning all the way into the ring, thinking "I'm gonna win this, I'm gonna win this."

I danced into the battle, perfectly executing the strategy they'd taught me.  Jab.  Jab.  Dance.  Jab jab jabbity jab.  Straight left followed by a right hook to drive him out, then jab, jab, jab again.  Dance.  Jab.  Dance.  Jab.  Jab.  Dance.

I was unbeatable, I figured.  He couldn't hit me, I figured.

I was wrong.

Along the way I started celebrating my victory a skosh before the bell rang.  I relaxed.  Before long I looked more like an Irish brawler than a boxer: elbows out to the side, fists smashing in to the opponent in a rhythm that was beautiful to behold.

Beautiful until he hit me, anyway.  He came right in under one of my jabs and planted an uppercut right in my unprotected solar plexus.

That was the next-to-last hit in the fight.  The last hit was my body hitting the mat.  Oof!

If you've never been hit hard in your solar plexus (that spot the nerves come together right in the center front of your diaphragm), trust me: avoid it at all costs.  It will make you want to lose every ounce of food you've ever eaten.  It takes all the fight right out of you.  It makes you really wonder what kind of a jerk would let his elbows flop away from his midsection in a dang boxing match.

Of course, I lost the match.  I passed the class somehow, though luckily I was doing quite well in math and chemistry classes which offset the rather low P.E. grade.

Oof.

So, yeah--you know what the lesson is, right?  Never celebrate before the final bell.  If the eggs haven't hatched, don't count any chickens.  It ain't over till it's over.  Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line.  That, and all the rest of those pithy cliches.  Ugh, ugh, and more ugh.

Seriously, don't do it.

- TOSK

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Following Directions

So, Smashwords is a big bunch of meanies.

There, I said it.  You saw me stamp my foot, right?  Well, I did it, whether you saw it or not.

You're probably wondering why I just called the largest multi-platform free author sales resource on the planet a "big bunch of meanies," right?  Especially when that phrase hasn't seriously escaped my mouth--or my fingies--for decades?

They're making me follow directions, that's why.

Remember that whole thing yesterday about authorpreneurship being hard?  Complex would've been the better term, really.  It's not hard to read and follow directions, honestly.  Keeping in mind that everybody you work with has different directions?  Still not hard, just complex.

Here's the specifics.  Back when I began this self-publishing wizardry, I successfully loaded Cataclysm up onto Smashwords.  No problem, really.  Then I successfully unloaded it when I found out about the opportunity presented by KDP through Amazon and its one requirement--that the book not be available anywhere else.

See how often I use the word successfully?

Fast-forward to now, with Married to Mars going up.  It's the boxed set of the three novels plus a little bit extra.  I have no desire to put it up on KDP, really, so it's going up on Smashwords, too.

Smashwords, though, rejected it.

What?  Reject me, an experienced authorpreneur?

I fixed the problem and resubmitted.

Re-rejected.

That's when I got serious and read the rejection note.  Smashwords, being a good partner, gives you very specific feedback on why they're saying "no, thank you."  It directs you to a specific spot in the well-written formatting guide.  Step 20, to be specific.

Oh.

See, after I published Cataclysm the first time, I was urged to put tables of contents in the books.  Many readers never use them or expect them in ebooks, but others do, and those who don't use them won't be offended if they're there.  Thus, from a customer service standpoint, they're a Really Good Idea.  And by the way, the easiest way to put a ToC in, if you're using Word, is via the Table of Contents generator and styles.  That's the method I used to teach, in fact.  

Kindle likes that method.

Smashwords doesn't like that method, though.  Why?  Because they're generating multiple formats for the ebooks, not just one.  Their auto-generator needs some fairly basic, plain text to work with.  Word's ToC generator, meanwhile, uses some awfully funky field codes to do its dirty work. 

No, Smashwords wants you to use hyperlinks instead.  Hyperlinks are more universally understandable without the proprietary field codes.  And if I'd read the directions, I'd've known that the first time.

Oh.

Big meanies, right?

Some day I'll be an expert at all this.  Then--well, then, I'm sure they'll change it.

- TOSK

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Authorpreneurship is Hard

"There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." - Ernest Hemingway

"I'm writing a book.  I've got the page numbers done." - Steven Wright

"Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very'; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be." - Mark Twain

----------------

Yeah, so writing is hard, right?  Nah, not really, at least not to me; writing is actually both quite easy and quite fun once you spend a little bit of time building up those keyboard fingie muscles.  Writing well, though--now that's hard.  Believe me if you're willing, or take Hemingway's word for it.

See, it's not just about writing.  The process of creative storytelling, I've found, is nothing more than a prolonged orgasm of right-brained imaginative production.  I sit, and I put myself into the story, and I write.  As I do so I'm constantly searching out the best way to express the next thing that needs expressing.  But it all just kind of tumbles out, really.  It amounts to pure forceful creativity.

Revising and editing, though?  That's another thing entirely.  All of a sudden my brain jumps out of creation mode and into critical mode.  Yes, there are creative periods during the revision process; typically I'm filling in the storyline and, in the past few books, I've added ten to twenty thousand words to the work as I've gone through.  But it's not the same, this examining versus inventing.

Selling?  Now that's a whole different animal entirely.

I was about to explain that traditionally-published authors get to stop at the creating and the evaluating while we authorpreneurs have to branch out into marketing plans.  That's not correct, though.  From what I know, they have to transition into selling mode in order to either secure an agent's services or get their existing agent to push the new work.  I've done that, and to me, writing a one-page query letter is far scarier than writing a 250-page novel.  It's hard to do.

We authorpreneurs, though, have even more to be done.  I've been working on my craft all day and have only written (besides this post, of course) a few paragraphs of new prose.  What have I been doing?  Well, I've been gathering images to use in cover design, and then putting the covers together.  Yes, graphic design is as much of an exercise in creativity as writing is, but--well, it's different.  It's pixels and fills and color triads rather than adjectives and verbs and punctuation.  Same, but different.

And trust me, there's nothing scarier (to me, anyway) than putting my cover designs out there on the web for the pros to hammer on.

See, Konrath pays for the services of a professional cover designer.  Most of the people in my publishing group do, too.  There's an incredibly good cover designer, in fact, in the group itself.  I--well, I don't.  I'd love to hide behind "I can't afford it," but that's not entirely true.  Fact is, I get great pleasure in seeing the finished work go out and knowing it's my own. 

But that's not all; there's also the task of building the book itself.  That part really did surprise me at first.  It's not enough, see, to write a great book with chapters and everything.  There's actually a science to the order in which you put the story into the file to be uploaded, in addition to all the other front and back matter.  Konrath wrote a blog about the order in which he puts stuff and it really kind of makes sense when he tells it.  It's not something I ever thought of while I read ebooks.  Fact is, if a book is put together well, you don't think of it.  You don't notice it.

So.  Word processing.  Graphic design.  Marketing strategy planning.  Oh, and writing.  If you want to be an authorpreneur, you need to know them all.  It's a challenge, but it's worth it.

- TOSK

Friday, February 22, 2013

Who Needs Infinite Monkeys?

"An infinite number of monkeys sitting at an infinite number of keyboards for an infinite amount of time could eventually produce the works of Shakespeare." - popular theorem

"We tried it with six Macaques for a month.  They urinated on the keyboards." - University of Plymouth researchers

"Any reader who has nothing to do can amuse himself by calculating how long it would take for the probability to be worth betting on.  But the interest of the suggestion lies in the revelation of the mental state of a person who can identify the 'works' of Shakespeare with the series of letters printed on the pages of a book." - R. G. Collingwood

------------------------

Believe it or not, we have our own monkeys over there in Facebook.  Yes, I'm aware that most of Facebook-land is actually taken up by cats, but I wasn't referring literally to simians.  I'm actually talking about a bunch of humans--both "writers" and "non-writers"--who've accepted a challenge to blog every day for 365 days.  The group name is V7N Blogging Tips and Challenges.

No, human bloggers aren't monkeys; I'm just playing with a metaphor.  You'll notice I put quotes around the labels writer and non-writer, though.  There were several people in the group who said they weren't writers when we were starting this, and my quotes are an homage to them and their incorrectness. They write.  They write fairly well, in fact.  Thus, they be writers. 

No, the number of us still participating doesn't come anywhere close to infinite.  It's quite a bit closer to a dozen, in fact, and though a dozen doughnuts equates to infinite happiness, a dozen bloggers is not equivalent to infinite writers.

No, 365 days doesn't count as an infinite amount of time.  It sure seems infinite when you're only 52 days into the challenge, of course, but it is not.

And yet I see Shakespearean-level work shaping up.

I know, several thousand late English literature professors just rolled over in their graves, but I'm serious.  What was Shakespeare famous for, after all?  Mere pretty words on a page?  A Youtube video with a funky dance that made us laugh?  No, the master bard became famous for capturing the human condition one act at a time.  His plays are works of art, weaving wit and humor--sometimes subtly, sometimes not so much so--throughout situations and characters that we can identify with, that we can yell at, that we can love. 

That's what a writer does: illuminate the human condition.  Shakespeare was a master at it.

So I clicked over into the group this morning, since I actually had a few extra minutes, to read some of the other posts.  There's one about construction and trades in Ecuador.  There's one about a skunk.  There's one about--yes, a cat (hey, they rule the Intertubes, right?).  There are several about quilting, and about beautiful scenery, and about faith, and about a great many other topics.

Each of these, taken alone, is a nice blog post. Taken together?  The human condition, illuminated on a single screen.

Who needs monkeys, then?  We already have Shakespeare-esque work, right there on Facebook. 

- TOSK

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Suck it up, Buttercup

"Our greatest weakness lies in giving up.  The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time." - Thomas A. Edison

"What winning is to me is not giving up, is no matter what's thrown at me, I can take it.  And I can keep going." - Patrick Swayze

We've all seen the movie, right?  The team--our team--is down.  Down, and most likely out.  The Tune Squad is down by one and it's up to a well-retired Jordan to sink it.  The Mean Machine just scored on a Fumblerooski and needs an unlikely two point conversion to score a W.  The Indians are tied with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and it's amazingly won by Hayes, who runs one in off of a bunted single. 

It's too bad life doesn't work like the movies do, right?

Thing is, I think it does for the most part, and several well-known quotations seem to agree with me.  "It's when things seem worst that you must not quit" ends my all-time favorite poem, for example.  Sure, life can be hard, the quotes all say, but the challenge is there to test your resolve, to teach you what you need to know, to give you something worth celebrating when you bust through.  It's there for a reason. 

So what's the difference between life and the movies?  In the movies you know, in the back of your head, that there's no way Joe Pytka is gonna let the Tune Squad lose, a catastrophe that would have Michael Jordan enslaved to Mister Swackhammer for a long, long time.  Also, you know that the movie is somewhere around an hour and a half long, a fact that allows you to pretty well judge when to expect the win for the boys--and Bugs--on the team. 

You don't know any of that in life, do you?  Some people find success on their first try.  Some need a few--or a few hundred--shots on goal.  Some end up learning thousands of ways not to make a commercially viable light bulb before they find the one way that will work.

Funny thing, that, actually.  Edison didn't invent the light bulb.  You knew that, right?  Volta demonstrated the concept 79 years before Edison's patent.  Does that mean Edison wasn't a brilliant inventor?  No, he's got a whole passel of other credits to his name.  But in the case of the invention that is most commonly illustrated with his efforts, he didn't actually invent it.  Oops.  What he did was take what other people were already doing and make it into a commercially viable product.  See, the first light bulbs didn't burn bright enough, or burned out too soon, or drew way too much power, or cost way too much.  Edison's light bulb was a consumer-grade product, though.  This product that made him famous took well over a year and several thousand attempts and what I've been told was nearly $50,000 worth of resources (a princely sum at that time) to figure out.

See, that's what made him most successful.  It wasn't that he was caught up in a brilliant flash of inspiration.  It was that he recognized something that was important to do and kept at it until he succeeded.

He sucked it up.

"Suck it up" is a phrase that we used in the Infantry to tell each other to keep going no matter how much it hurt.  Keep at it no matter how much mud you have to crawl through.  Move forward no matter how hot it gets.

Buttercup?  Heck, that just rhymes.

It's a phrase I used to hate, actually, because I associated it with hard times.  What guy in his early 20's wants to go through a rough patch?  What Infantry officer wants to come under fire en route to a hilltop instead of just walking up there?  Who goes into an athletic contest saying "Gee, I hope they make it really difficult for me to win"?

Yes, on that last, I know some athletes actually do think that way.  I didn't, then.  Now, though, I get it.  What writer wants to write half a million words that suck before he starts writing stuff that is good?  Well, now that I know it's how it works, I do.  I come home tired after a long day of work and still write, because it's important that I do so.

Nah.  I do it because I enjoy it.

I enjoy it because I've done it enough to develop that feeling, and because I know it's what has to be done to get good at it.

I enjoy it because it's important that I do so. 

Most peoples' problem, then, isn't that they don't know what to do to make a difference.  The problem is that they give up and quit before they start making a difference.  They need to keep at it.  They need to keep going.

They need to suck it up, Buttercup.

- TOSK

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Interview with Author Karen A. Chase

INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR Karen A. Chase

Today I’m interviewing an amazing fellow James River Writer Karen A. Chase. Her latest work (one that makes me jealous both for the writing skill and for the adventure within), Bonjour 40: A Paris Travel Log (40 years. 40 days. 40 seconds.) is a travel essay and memoir. The e-book was released in October of 2011, and the photographic special edition print version was just released this past December.

Please tell us a little bit about your book. 
Bonjour 40 recounts my month-long excursion to Paris for my fortieth birthday. It’s a mix of journal-like entries with longer essays on turning 40, Paris and her people, writing, photography, travel and more. The latest special edition print version also includes over 100 full-color images I took while on the trip (I took over 2000).

What is the book’s genre?
It’s part travel essay, part memoir. Unlike travel guide books that help you choose when and where to go, this book was more about my impressions of Paris, on turning 40 in a fabulous city, and the joys of traveling alone or with a partner. There are, as one reader put it, some “mushy parts,” but mostly I hope readers will find it inspiring and a bit funny. I guess it’s more anecdotal like Peter Mayle’s, A Year in Provence, and not as weepy as Eat, Pray, Love.

Is this the only genre in which you write?
I like the challenge associated with writing different genres. Or to put it another way, I’m far too easily bored by monotony. So, in addition to my travel essay, I’ve written very technical bits like websites and brochures for freelance writing projects, and I’m currently working on a historical novel about the Declaration of Independence. I hope readers who will follow my work are interested mainly in good stories versus a specific genre. Ultimately, I hope that’s what I’ll give them.

What is it about this or these genre(s) that interests you?
Travel essays have a big draw, because I adore the idea of hitting the road and essentially being paid to do it. One cannot complain about a late flight, or a missed exit because it’s part of the thankless job of being on vacation (she said with tongue in cheek). Historical fiction is the same way. In fact, I’m such a believer in touring the historic places I feature in stories, that Shelf Pleasure, a website for women who like to read, finally gave me a column called Will Travel for Words. I also have my own blog, Compositions, about writing.
 
How did you come up with this latest book? 
With Bonjour 40, if I had to turn 40, I decided to do it gracefully in Paris. So I saved for a year, planned where to stay, took French lessons, etc. Then I set up a blog as a way to communicate about the trip with family and friends back home. It grew, an editor friend mentioned I might be able to do more with it, and so when I got home, I developed longer sections to reflect on bigger aspects of the trip. Et voila! Bonjour 40 the blog became Bonjour 40 the book.

What is your writing routine like?
I do much better with deadlines and structure. I set timeframes in which to finish sections or chapters, and I set aside my mornings (9-1ish) to write. I’m religious about it until a morning comes along when I slip and get into Facebook or Twitter first. Then my whole plan goes in the toilet. Then two days later I berate myself, I get up and ignore emails and social media until one or two o’clock. I do that for a couple weeks, feel great about the writing, and then social media sucks me back in to its evil vortex and I have to go through the same routine. I like chatting with readers, but I wish the social media world were only awake from 2–4 p.m. two days a week.

What is the most rewarding thing about having finished this latest book?   
When the e-book came out, it took off slowly, but then it started selling well and climbing the charts at Amazon. I thought, “Hey, I’m a writer. People are reading my words. YAY!” But it wasn’t until a year later when the print version came out and readers held it in their hands that they made comments to me like, “Look! You’re a writer, you have a book!” Same words, same book, but when they held that printed copy then I became an author. I’m both relieved and a little perplexed.

What’s next in the writing queue?
My novel about the Declaration has the majority of my focus. Almost three hundred pages of it are with my freelance editor in New York right now, and I’ll finish writing the rest of it while she’s pouring over what’s been written. I’ve been working on this book and the research for it for nearly five years (gasp), and writing steadily on it for the last six months. That’s a long commitment considering you aren’t allowed to find a publisher to pay you for fiction until the book is done. After it’s done and hopefully being published, I have a biography I’ve been asked to write, and I’ll be working on a novel I’ve already outlined about Woodstock. I need to feel groovy after being in 1776 for so long.
 

BOOK BLURB
If Karen A. Chase absolutely had to turn forty, she decided she could do it gracefully in Paris… for nearly forty days. This stunning paperback version contains over 100 photographs, plus quotes and thoughts not found in the streamlined e-book version. What began as a blog to communicate with friends and family, became a travel journal filled with over a months’ worth of humorous and insightful glimpses into her Paris adventures, each of which could be read in about forty seconds. Journal entries are interspersed with Chase's own inspiring photography. Additional, longer stories richly fill in details allowing readers to reflect upon her experiences with food, travel, photography, Parisians, writing, and love in the City of Lights.

AUTHOR BIO
Karen A. Chase is a writer, designer, photographer, and traveler. Bonjour 40 is her first book, and she is currently working on an historical novel about the Declaration of Independence. She is also a freelance writer of historical fiction, poetry, and non-fiction.
Born in Canada, Karen has lived in the United States since 1990. As a professional graphic designer and copywriter, she has owned her own branding and design studio since 2004. An offshoot of that studio, called 224Pages, specializes in design for authors and publishers. Karen and her partner, Ted, live in Virginia with their two cats, Linus and Olive.

How can we buy your book? 
Amazon.com, i-Tunes and BarnesNoble.com for the e-book, and Amazon.com for the printed version. I might start selling the print version out of the back of my car here in Richmond. I heard that’s how John Grisham got a publishing deal, so if you see me in Carytown next to the guy selling patchouli, stop by.

And now, some fun questions:
1) Favorite author?  Wilbur Smith
2) Favorite character in a book you’ve read? I loved Stuart Little and Jane Austen’s Emma. Both such hopeful, romantic optimists.
3) Favorite vacation?  I ache to visit the pyramids and the Sphinx, but I worry I’ll never get to see them. Egypt is the caretaker of some of the world’s greatest historical treasures, and they have a responsibility to everyone to create a thoughtful and peaceful environment so their culture can continue to thrive. Their leaders continually choose self-absorbed power over nourishing their own people and our collective human history. It’s shameful, really.
4) Coffee or tea? Coffee for mornings. Tea for evenings.
5) Favorite color?  Green.
6) Favorite dessert?  Pie. No, chocolate. Chocolate pie.

Links:
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Bonjour-40-travel-years-seconds/dp/0615738141

Will Travel For Words Column: http://www.shelfpleasure.com/read-will-travel-for-words-up-the-road-back-in-time/

Author Website/Blog: http://www.karenachase.com/category/blog/

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Talent

"We are always more anxious to be distinguished for a talent which we do not possess, than to be praised for the fifteen which we do possess." - Mark Twain

On one level, Mark Twain's quote calls out a measure of vanity that is indeed inherent in the human condition, doesn't it?  We all have a certain number of talents, after all, but--well, isn't Joe's talent, what he's showing off over there, cool?  I mean, I could do just as well at it, if I were over there too.  He's good, but so am I, and you'd know it if only I had the opportunity....

At another level, though, I think the quote speaks to an innate self-deprecation and judgmentalism that is also part of who we are as a race.  

Have you ever watched a child perform?  Kids are naturally proud of themselves.  They belch, and they're proud of it.  They sing, and they're proud of it regardless of how perfectly it's pitched.  Heck, they're often even proud of their own poop.  Right up to the point, that is, where an adult tells them that it stinks. 

Right?

And so we enter this developmental stage where we're not sure of ourselves, largely because we've learned to be judgmental of our own efforts in order to save ourselves from the sharp pointiness of the judgment of others.  For many, that judgmental stage lasts way past our teenage years.  It's why you hear people with perfectly capable lungs and vocal cords say "oh, I can't sing."  At the same time, people with perfectly good fingies say "I can't write." 

Yes, yes you can.  You can sing.  You can write.  You may not be great at it at first, but if you were, that would be the abnormal case.

But are you talented at it?

See, that's the hard thing.  Talent is very much in the eye of the beholder.  Some people say Picasso was a talented--heck, brilliantly so--painter, while I'd rather look at a Kincaid any day.  Some people don't like Mozart much, but it's like music to my ears.

*ahem*  I break similes with abandon sometimes.  Did I warn you about that earlier?  I think I did.

The point is, though, that talent often follows effort, and as such it should be acknowledged and celebrated rather than shirked in favor of other stuff in life.  If you're talented at something, accept it.  Heck, brag about it.

You earned it.

- TOSK

Monday, February 18, 2013

Global Spousal Warfare

As promised, another excerpt from the new book.  This is actually the introductory scene:

Crystal faced her beloved husband, her eyes radiating anger and her arms spread wide to the side, raw elemental power coursing around her through the space that was their bedroom.  Matt, in turn, loomed in challenge, his own face unreadable.  Matt’s body also pulsed immense and powerful flows of energy as husband and wife—god and goddess—warred one against another, both pressing the primal forces of natural magic back and forth between them.  The floor shook with a rumble of masonry grinding against supports.  Lightning flickered across the ceiling, both illuminating and marring the sky scene that had always seemed too real to Crystal.  Bright bands of energy flashed once, then again, and then several times more from ceiling to floor, the god’s and goddess’s powers dancing nimbly around the room in a deadly magical storm.  Encased in the cacophonic soup of energy, Crystal wasn’t certain whether the strikes were the product of her anger or her husband’s, or more likely both, but wordlessly the pair battled on, Crystal’s expression furious while Matt’s remained stoic.  Tumultuous winds whipped about the bedroom, slamming the closet door shut and spinning the couple’s beautiful four-poster bed around on the floor before sending it crashing into the wall.  Temperatures alternately spiked and fell around the space in spots and in waves.  Specks of light appeared everywhere, energy visibly flashing and twinkling as it built up, higher and higher, reaching a display of power on a scale that Crystal had never even imagined possible.  Through it all Crystal, shielded by her powers, concentrated on the battle rather than its effects. 

Twin screams cut through Crystal’s concentration, the sound tossing a cold blanket of concern over the fire of her fury.  Instantly losing her interest in the battle, Crystal dropped her attacks and shield, knowing instinctively that her husband would do the same.

All the energy in the tempest dissipated quickly as husband and wife released their flows and spun toward the door where their twin daughters, Heidi and Linda, stood side by side just inside the bedroom.  The door was off its hinges and leaning against the wall, giving the girls full view of the domestic fury that had ensued.  The teenagers, still dressed in their nighties, clung tightly to one another, faces wrenched into terrified expressions as their cries trilled on.  With the elemental onslaught ended, their screams were the only sound as they pierced the uneasy quiet. 

The sight and sound of her daughters’ terror wrenched Crystal’s heart out through her throat.  Unable to face the reality of what had just happened, she gathered energy around herself once more and teleported out, fleeing magically to her sanctum.  It was both husband’s and wife’s sanctum, really, the little cottage at the far end of the estate, but she was the one who needed it now. 

Hastily Crystal raised one magical wall of force after another around the little stone structure.  She knew her husband wielded enough power to easily swipe it all to the side if he dared, but she hoped he was smart enough not to intrude on her horrified self-recrimination.  Everyone else, meanwhile, would be kept out, and the sound barriers would also prevent them from hearing the sobs that rushed past Crystal’s lips even as she wove the cocoon of force around the getaway.

How did it get to this?  She had her husband had never, ever fought.  They’d never needed to, since any and all disagreements were always talked through rationally.  Why now? She thought back over the past twenty-four hours, remembering the start of the debate from the night before….

Sunday, February 17, 2013

More Sets of Eyes

A discussion/debate broke out recently in the Indie Authors group I belong to on Facebook in which a writer was suggesting that editors aren't needed any more.  Most of us disagreed with him; even if you're a solid writer with solid technical skills, it's still important to have another set of eyes on the project.

By way of providing an example, I present my soon-to-be-available third book's blurb:

The King of Atlantis has been kidnapped. Every sign points to Matt, the God of War, as the culprit, and heavenly outrage is the result. As East prepares to meet West in a war of the pantheons, Crystal finds herself in the surprising role of lead investigator. Unlikely allies come to her aid as she searches to find the king—and his real abductor—before battle is joined by the most powerful forces in the universe. 

Kind of--well, kinda, right?  I presented it to my awesome publishing group (the Alexandria Publishing Group) for comment, and once I'd incorporated the wisdom the other sets of eyes had provided me, it's this:

The powerful King of Atlantis, beloved by his warrior followers, has been kidnapped.  Every sign points to the God of War as the culprit and heavenly outrage is the result.  As East prepares to meet West in a war of the pantheons, Crystal, wife of the God of War and newly-ascended goddess, finds herself in the surprising role of lead investigator.  Unlikely allies come to her aid as she searches to find the king—and his real abductor—before battle is joined by the most powerful forces in the universe.  

Better?  I think so.

Bottom line: every additional (qualified) set of eyes on your creative work yields improvement.

- TOSK

Saturday, February 16, 2013

On Finishing a Book

"Focus on the journey, not the destination.  Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it." - Greg Anderson

"Do not plan for ventures before finishing what's at hand." - Euripides

You know, I've lived by Anderson's quote above.  I love it.  Don't focus on the ending, he says, because doing so makes you forget about the joy of the journey.  Instead, enjoy the steps that lead along the way to the end.

But now?  I'm thinking the quote applies to some journeys but not all.  Take, for instance, a novel.  Sure, there's a certain amount of joy in writing scene after scene, and then in revising each scene for clarity and continuity.  There's a certain amount of joy, too, in going through what the beta readers said about the work, incorporating their suggestions as best you can.  There's even a certain amount of masochistic joy in correcting through a redlined manuscript, working to not feel too small when the editor found way more stuff than you thought they could have.

But in authoring a novel, the destination is the best part.

There's no feeling quite like finishing a novel, saving the file under the name "final" and moving on to consider how the cover will look.  That is what makes all the steps along the way worth it, not the other way around.  I do, in fact, enjoy writing, but I love finishing.

And now, having said, that, it's time to plan for other ventures.  Well, that, and get this work up for everyone to read.  Will post another excerpt tomorrow.

- TOSK

Friday, February 15, 2013

Konrath's Success

So Joe Konrath posted his sales numbers again this week.  Last time was several months ago when he announced a $100K few weeks.  This time he's--well, he's made a lot of money again.

Made a lot of people in the Indie groups jealous, that did.

Me, I got a lot out of reading his results.

Most important was a quote from his Conclusions section: "I know [sic] have over fifty titles...."  Holy crap.  50 titles.  Stephen King--the other one--has 56 novels and 13 collections I know about, and he's been writing since 1974.  Fifty titles is a bunch.  And for every title Konrath pointed out was doing very, very well, there were several that he never mentioned. 

Key lesson to pull out of that: write.  Write more.  Then write even more.

He also gave some numbers that made me question the conclusion I'd drawn that free books on KDP don't do anything any more.  Clearly, with some of his results, free book promotions still bear fruit.

So--exciting stuff there.  And now, I need to get back to a'writing.

- TOSK

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Five Things I've Learned About Writing

"You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you." - Ray Bradbury

One of those sites I read at one time or another told me that, in order to be a more successful blogger, I needed to write lists.  You've seen them all over: "12 Things An Agent Can Do For You," "10 Ways To Make More Money Writing," "25 Things You Should Never Do In A List," and so on.

Fine.  I'll do a list.  I've usually hated them, honestly, though the lists over at Cracked make me chuckle.  I mean, they have such beauties as The 5 Hilarious Reasons Publishers Rejected Classic Best Sellers and 6 Words Made Up By Stupid People and 6 Famous Things From History That Didn't Actually Exist.  Golden stuff, that.  Posts of legends, they are.  If I could write stuff like that, I would.

Probably.

Anyway, here's my first (and probably last) attempt at a list of my own:

Five Things I've Learned About Writing

1.  Commas matter.

"Let's eat, Grandma."
"Let's eat Grandma."

Heck, most rules of grammar and language construction matter.  I know, there's always a nonconformist or two out there who hated learning rules (hey, I get it--there's a lot to learn) and so he declared a manifesto against the strict constructions of the English language.  And besides, the argument goes, Twain didn't always follow the rules, right?

Well, no, but....

Hey, writing as adults really is a free-world kind of thing.  Nobody's saying you have to follow the rules.  Be as non-conformist as you wish, by all means.  Just don't expect those of us who like the rules to read your stuff.  And the thing about being a writer is that if nobody's reading what you slave over, it's kind of a useless effort.

But all that said, (the reason I picked commas is that they're in the group where) sometimes the rules aren't precisely precise.  There are clear times to use commas and others where commas should not be used, but the rest boils down to style.  Sometimes, frankly, a well-placed comma can make all the difference.  Sometimes a poorly-placed comma, can turn a wonderfully worded sentence, into crap.

So follow the rules.  And just for fun, take out a few commas and re-read your work to see how much cleaner it sounds.  

2.  Adverbs are bad, except when they're not.

I got my adverbs under control pretty quickly, I think.  I've never had anybody vociferously complain about them, anyway, and when I've checked counts of various types of words I find that adverbs are sprinkled pretty conservatively throughout.

Hey, did you notice how many adverbs I put in that previous paragraph?  I bet you did.

I remember reading On Writing very early in my own efforts and being shocked at how much the master hated that one part of speech.  It didn't seem fair, and after a couple years of experience I still consider it unfair.  I think he had it wrong, or at least oversimplified.  Adverbs themselves aren't bad.  Neither are speech tags ("he said" and "she said" and "he screamed" and such), which, I admit, have been my weakness, especially on the book to which I'm currently applying final edits. 

Fact is, anything repeated to the point where it busts through the reader's enjoyment of the story and is thus cognitively recognized is bad.  That's why thesauruses exist--though why they're called that is a mystery to some.  A quick check online suggests that the word comes from both Greek and Latin words for treasure, which is certainly what a writer can expect to find within the hallowed pages of a good thesaurus.  It's still nearly impossible to pronounce, though, especially after a drink or two, which is another reason to avoid drinking while you write.  Right?

3.  Winning the lottery is easier.

What are the odds of getting rich from your first book?  Most of my sources suggest they're very low.  I read once that there are several hundred thousand books written each year.  There are only a couple of hundred bestsellers out of that.  Most bestsellers make some money for the author, but only a very few take off to the point of making their author wealthy.

No, it's true.  Look at the authors who've made it, who are wealthy.  Most of them were helped along the way by a breakout bestseller, to be sure, but the key to really making it big seems to be writing a lot of books rather than hoping to strike it lucky by making your vampires sparkle in your first effort.  Write a lot, then, and keep writing, and when you're still not rich enough, write more.

Or you could play the lottery.

Odds of your book hitting it big this year: maybe 1 in 1,000,000?  Just a reasonable guess, since mega-hits don't come out every year.
Odds of winning the Powerball jackpot: 1 in 175,000,000.

What's the practical difference between 1:1,000,000 and 1:175,000,000?  Not a lot.  Anybody who knows numbers can tell you that you don't have much chance of hitting it big with either odds. Buying a Powerball ticket is a whole lot easier than writing a novel of any caliber (trust me!), much less the high-quality effort that will stun the world into pouring millions into your bank account.

Heck, you can even buy two or five tickets in the same amount of time it takes you to buy one.  Can't do that with a novel, now, can you?

If you want a chance at getting rich, buy a lottery ticket.  If you want to write a novel, write a novel.  It's pretty simple. 

4.  Writing is both a joy and a torment.  Sometimes, it's both at the same time.

Writing isn't hard.  Writing is fun.  I love to write.

Sometimes.

Sometimes I sit and stare at the computer screen, wishing I had some clue for the topic of my next blog post.  Wishing I had a creative idea somewhere in my thick head.  Wishing the torment would go away and my fingies would start dancing across the keyboard once again. 

The trick to dealing with the latter?  Just do it.  Quit focusing on the torment and go back to the creative core that we all have.  Write down the first three ideas that come to your mind, and look at how the ideas interact.  Whatever the most interesting intersection is, write about it. 

Just write.  It's not always fun.  But if you're a writer, it's always worth it.

5.  Everybody has an opinion.  Most of them are wrong.

To be clear, I should add "for me" to the end.  Joe Konrath is one of my great inspirations, crass though his tone may be sometimes (admittedly, I'm not innocent in that area, myself).  His opinion carries some weight with me, but you know what?  He doesn't do the same thing I do, and vice versa, so sometimes what he has to say doesn't apply.  Same with Kristen Lamb, and Rachelle Gardner, and so on.  They're all wonderfully smart and talented people, and I cherish the opportunity I have through their blogs to understand what they're thinking, but that doesn't mean I follow everything they do.

Most indie authors I know get that.  Some traditional ones, especially those who are as-yet-unpublished traditional authors, don't.  You'll see them at writers' conferences and at the sci fi/fantasy cons, following from speaker to speaker, writing down every last word the experts bequeath.  At the end they scurry home and attempt to replicate everything that's in their notes.

How do I know that?  I was one of them.

Don't be.

Your writing is unique.  You're unique.  Your readers will (eventually) come to you seeking that uniqueness, not the fact that you can precisely replicate what Bob Jones over there does.

That includes marketing, by the way.  The going wisdom a year or so ago was that authors who weren't busy with social media were doomed to fail.  Konrath was the lone voice I read arguing the other side, that authors who weren't busy writing more content were doomed to fail.  But I went off with the crowd, Tweet-bombing the crap out of my followers.  I revised my web page every week.  I joined Pinterest and Goodreads and a whole slew of other sites that would "connect me to readers."  I--well, I did it all.  And you know what?  Along the way I learned some stuff: stuff about SEO, stuff about creating content, and so on.

You know what else?

Konrath was right.

And on that note, so ends my first and last list of stuff.  Hope you enjoy!

- TOSK

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR jonny Lupsha

INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR jonny Lupsha
Today you're in for a treat.  While I've never met a writer who wasn't interesting, some are incredibly so.  Today I’m interviewing jonny Lupsha, a member of the second group and fellow James River Writer.  His work, The Broken Paragon, is an essay anthology and is released quarterly.  The last issue was released on December 12, and the next issue will be released on March 5, with a release party at Capital Ale House, Downtown, the beer lover's beer hall. 

Please tell us a little bit about your anthology. 
The Broken Paragon is a collection of scholarly essays published digitally, and quarterly, by my publishing company, A Carrier of Fire.  It focuses mainly on video games.  It includes essays written by myself for now, though I’m poaching some other contributors for future issues.  The essays are usually between 1,500 and 5,000 words apiece.

What is the book’s genre? 
The Broken Paragon is a series of academic essays.  As such, The Broken Paragon contains four to six analytical essays per issue.  These essays discuss in detail – and analyze with great scrutiny – the most influential and groundbreaking artistry in the medium.

Is this the only genre in which you write?
I only write non-fiction, which would certainly encompass academia, but I usually write narrative or creative non-fiction, which is more akin to anecdotes or short stories than articles with full bibliographies etc.  I admire and revere fiction, but it seems like such a big blank canvas that it terrifies me.  With non-fiction I have enough in my head to start with that it seems more digestable.

What is it about these genres that interests you?
Gaming now rivals American film in terms of the industry’s size, titles are being released that are based on Pulitzer-winning novels and three of the last seven Academy Awards for Best Original Score were granted to composers who have also written music for games.  Games and gamers have grown up; The Broken Paragon is just an extension of that.  Every new media without exception is run through the wringer by critics who pan it as “low-brow entertainment.”  From opera to photography, from film to recorded music, all have been hazed thoroughly before gaining any widespread respect.  We just want to help gaming along its way, where it deserves it.  In terms of what interests me about non-fiction in general, there’s this line in the David Lynch movie Lost Highway where the main character, played by Bill Pullman, says he doesn’t like video cameras.  “I like to remember things my own way – not necessarily how they happened.”  That line has haunted me for 15 years, and inspired me to put my perspective into everything in life.
 
How did you come up with this latest plot? 
My second novel, Penny Cavalier, is a year-long research project into “Real-Life Superheroes” – people in real life who, in their spare time, form alter egos and go out to high-crime areas of their towns and patrol, looking for muggers and rapists and drug dealers to stop by any means necessary, or looking for the homeless and those in need to help supply them with the things we take for granted.  It’s as likely that one of these folks will carry a baton and smoke bombs as it is that they’ll carry dry blankets and canned goods.  After writing Penny Cavalier, I started to get involved with James River Writers and found myself really wanting to give these working-class heroes the benefit of the doubt when explaining it to other writers.  That led to me asking myself what other things I know pretty well that are more worth intelligent discussion than their mass exposure may indicate.  I toyed with heavy metal but eventually settled on video games.  Given that I had a lot of practice writing essays in college, the rest just fell into place.

What is your writing routine like?
For my other work, I’ll generally think of a five- to ten-minute story from my life that I’d like to tell at a party and I’ll sit down with it for a few thousand words, pulling details and events from memory to help round out the overall story.  For The Broken Paragon, I try to think of a tidbit of information or trivia about a game that I could’ve used to impress my wife if we’d just met and follow a similar process.  I grab some back issues of gaming magazines from around the house, open Word in one window on my laptop, Google Chrome in the other, put on headphones with a couple hours of music on a playlist and get to researching.  I don’t outline as much as I should; I’m usually a few pages into an essay before I start copy-pasting sentences and paragraphs into a cohesive, flowing sequence.  Eventually, from chaos comes order and it gets into a working progression I can send in for peer review.  When those come back, I touch up the things I may have missed the first time and save them in a folder for publication.  Of course I’m also a stay-at-home father, so my typical night of writing starts at 10 p.m. after our daughter’s in bed, and ending around 2 a.m. so I can get up with her at 7:30 or 8 the next morning.

What is the most rewarding thing about having finished this latest book?   
When I was finishing my first novel, 100,000 Years in Detention, I heard a lot of people say “Anyone can write one book; the trick is getting another out,” and as hard as it is to get that first book finished, that’s still true.  I was incredibly relieved when the ball was rolling on Penny Cavalier, and when I got its paperback proof in the mail I was ecstatic.  To anyone who likes my reading, I was no longer a “one-hit wonder,” and since they were very different projects, I was also not a “one-trick pony.”  On a smaller scale, the same is true for The Broken Paragon.  I had close to 20 essays planned for it before starting on the debut issue, and picked four that were easy to read.  When that was done, it was exciting to get it out, but since it was the only material I’d finished, I didn’t have any proof beyond promises to show that it was an ongoing series.  Now that I have the sophomore release finalized and ready for layout and publication, it’s a different story.  Issue #2 is bigger and more in-depth than the first, with a different focus and the confidence from Issue #1’s positive feedback fueling its fire.

What’s next in the writing queue?
Issue 3, of course!  I’m looking at starting it right on March 5 when Issue 2 launches.  Ideally I’d like to have the time to fit in some other work between now and then, but I’m not chomping at the bit with any non-gaming ideas at the moment so I’ll have to see if and how I can punch something up.

BOOK BLURB
The Broken Paragon is an anthology of essays on gaming.  This exploration and critique of the innovations and the industry itself is a quarterly, digital production from A Carrier of Fire.  The debut issue looked at artistic liberties in the adaptation of Dante’s Inferno, featured composer Chris Vrenna’s 3-D soundscapes in Doom 3 and more.  Issue 2, which is due March 5, focuses on the Silent Hill franchise.  Silent Hill is a global phenomenon using horror as a vehicle for sociopolitical commentary, 1930s French theater revival, innovative sound design using industrial foley effects and more.  Whether you’re a gamer or not, the fascinating and intriguing discussions in The Broken Paragon have something to offer any avid reader interested in pop culture and its roots in classic art and world history.  A Carrier of Fire is hosting a launch party for Issue 2 at the Capital Ale House Downtown at 6th and Main St. in Richmond on March 5 at 6 p.m.

AUTHOR BIO
jonny Lupsha was born and raised outside of Chicago, and has lived in Hawaii and Georgia.  jonny earned his BA in journalism from Valdosta State University in Valdosta, GA, and moved to Virginia shortly thereafter.  The owner of the independent publishing company A Carrier of Fire, jonny lives with his wife and daughter in the Richmond area.

How can we buy your book? 
Paperback and Kindle versions of my novels are available by searching my name at Amazon.com; the digital versions of The Broken Paragon and my previous project, DisasterLand: Centralia are available at A Carrier of Fire’s website, ACarrierofFire.com – which also includes links to blogs and free samples of my material.  The Broken Paragon is a digital publication, and comes in a packet with DRM-free copies formatted for Word, PDF and Kindle.  Each issue is $1; an annual subscription is $4.

And now, some fun questions:

  1. Favorite author? Tie between Cormac McCarthy and David Sedaris.
  2. Favorite character in a book you’ve read? Tie between Tyler Durden and Arthur Dimmesdale. 
  3. Favorite vacation?  Centralia, Pennsylvania.  A coal fire has been burning under it for 50 years and it’s mostly been evacuated by the government.  My first digital project, DisasterLand: Centralia, is a part-history, part-personal, part-scientific look at Centralia’s story. 
  4. Coffee or tea?  Tea.  Green tea.  Stirred, not shaken. 
  5. Favorite color?   Black.
  6. Favorite dessert?   Fortune cookies.  Fortune cookies are the great equalizer between excellent Asian restaurants and terrible ones.  Even if it’s the worst, most MSG-loaded meal you’ve ever eaten, hey – at least you got that fortune cookie coming!  It’s like the crappy restaurants are saying “See, we’re a little like Peter Chang’s up at Short Pump!  We too have fortune cookies!”  Fortune cookies also try to teach you Chinese one word at a time, which is funny beyond words to me.  “Oh, if I ever get drugged and kidnapped and dropped off in an alley in Beijing, at least I know how to say ‘ice skate!’”  Or, “Man, I have this trip to China coming up next year and can’t afford an English-Chinese / Chinese-English dictionary.  Quick!  Let’s go to Hunan Garden three meals a day for the next 14 months and we’ll probably get enough words that I can get by!”  Oh, I also like Vanilla-and-Oreo milkshakes with Kahlua.  Try it; your taste buds will thank you.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Perseverance

"The road to success is dotted with many tempting parking places." - Unknown

"He conquers who endures." - Perseus

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So, this blog post is being written late today.  Generally I'll get up early and get a start on it, finish and revise over lunch, and push them out to the great world-wide web immediately or a bit later in the afternoon.  Not today, though.

I'm flat exhausted.

There's no particular reason for it; I've just been putting in 12 and 13 hour days at work and doing a lot of writing.  After working through the weekend, I worked from 7:30 am to 8:30 pm yesterday and then went home.  Spent some time with my sweetie watching a movie, and then revised the book for a couple of hours.  Finally went to bed late and then I had to get up earlier than normal in order to get in to work as the doors opened.

Ugh.

But I have to write.  Part of it is because I set a goal to do this every day, and by goodness sakes I'm gonna do it.  The other part, though, is that I've come to truly love my writing time, no matter how tired I am, and it's become much more do-able.  At first, in the early times of the blog, I had several days when I was too tired to come up with a topic, much less expound upon it.  But just like doing pushups regularly leads to the ability to do more pushups, so too does writing regularly lead to the ability to spin a line of crap no matter how tired you are.

Put simply, it really does get easier.

And now, I'm off to revise this book some more.  Book 3 will come out soon, I promise!

- TOSK

Monday, February 11, 2013

Good and Evil

An excerpt from Book 3, which is coming out soon!


“Have either of you ever met Hades?” Crystal asked to make the walk more interesting.
“Sure,” Venus said.  “He comes to all the important meetings at Olympus.”
“What’s he like, then?  Should I do anything special to prepare myself to meet the Father of Evil?”
“Hades isn’t evil,” Thor said.  “He’s Lord of the Underworld, but that doesn’t make him evil.”
“But I’ve always heard….”
“You’ve heard wrong, sweetcheeks,” Venus said drily.  “What is evil, anyway?”
“Well, it’s—it’s the opposite of good,” Crystal said.
“Okay, fine.  So what is good?” Venus pressed the issue.
“Good is—well, good.  Now’s not the time for a philosophy discussion.”
“You brought it up,” Venus said, shrugging and returning to her quick-paced walk.
Grunnsk√≥lar,” Thor said.
“What?” Crystal asked, not understanding the word that Thor said with a heavy accent.
Grunnsk√≥lar.  English speakers called it primary school, I think.  ‘Oh, that’s good.’ ‘Oh, that’s bad.’  Childish, lass.  To an adult, there’s no such thing as truly good or truly bad.”
“Sure there is,” Crystal argued.  “I remember taking a philosophy course in college where we learned that relativism doesn’t work.  There has to be an absolute good, and an absolute bad.”
“Why?”
“Well, I don’t remember right now,” Crystal said, sensing that the debate was soon to be well and truly lost.
“Must’ve been a terribly strong argument to have made such a long-lasting impact on you, sweetcheeks,” Venus said.
“Would you please quit calling me that?”
“Sure, sourpuss,” Venus said with a grin.  “Better?”
Crystal ignored the jab.  “That was way back in college.  Nobody remembers most of that stuff.  Besides, just because I don’t remember the rationale behind something doesn’t make it false.”
“Correct,” Venus said.  “But how many of those philosophy professors were three hundred seventy-five point two million years old?”
“Point two, eh?” Thor said mockingly.
“Look, my hairy barbarian companion, I ruled continents hundreds of times before your sperm won its race.”
“Thus making you an old lady,” Thor countered.  “Big deal.  Look, Crystal, let’s think about it this way.  Is it good, or evil, to be just and equitable in everything you do?”
“It’s good, of course,” she answered.
“Is it good, or evil, to be cruel in your punishment?”
“Well that’s evil,” Crystal said, feeling a trap coming on.
“Right.  So you just called Hades both good and evil.  He’s the overlord of the afterlife, such as it is.  He punishes those who deserve it, and often quite cruelly.  But what would be equitable about letting those who deserved their reward receive it while at the same time letting those who do not deserve it also receive it?”
“Well—nothing, I guess.  Okay, you’ve made your point.  I get it,” Crystal said.
“So,” Phoenix interjected, “Grand discussions of the nature of good and evil aside, it appears that we’re coming up on the gate.  Do I, as the token human here, need to start playing dead yet?”
“Who said anything about playing?” Venus asked, a wicked gleam in her eyes.  When she received the glare she was hoping for from Phoenix, she continued, “No, you don’t have to be dead yet.  We’ll address the keeper.  We’ve three deities, so we should be able to just walk through.  If we have to, though, I can just kill you and he’ll let us through immediately.”
“Oh, great.  Thanks for the comforting wisdom, oh mighty and terrifying goddess of love,” Phoenix said.
“And beautiful.  You forgot beautiful.  Sexy, too.  Exquisitely, radiantly pulchritudinous, if you really want to make an effect with your words.  Oh, and don’t worry.  I’m sure Crystal will bring you back on the other side.”
“Not likely.  Crystal couldn’t even light a globe back there,” Crystal reminded the group.

- TOSK