Thursday, May 21, 2015

Convention Season!

It's that time, again. Convention season. Grab the big red wagon and stuff it full of our gear. And that's the trick.

Eight years ago we began doing this sort of thing the same way many authors new to conventions tend to do - grab a stack of business cards and books, maybe a paper tablecloth, and head out. Experience does teach.
Now, we have a list of things, with the rule being that it all must be transportable at once by two people. What things you ask?

1. Ten paperback copies of each stand-alone novel and five sets of Dancer series.
2. Twenty-four download cards for each novel/series (our best sellers due to price).
3. One sturdy tablecloth with velcro for attached banner.
4. Two banners and stand.
5. Enough wire grid panels for a four-level tower and single level stand for the download cards to be clipped on.
6. Locomotive sculpture to attract folks to latest novel.
7. Business cards and candy, with a toad statue to hold the latter.
8. Two pillows for the chairs.
9. Two complete steampunk outfits with hats.
10. One iPad for showing video. Another to take point-of-sale transactions via Square.
11. One sign for each novel/series to afix to tower.
12. Water and snacks.

The bulk of this ends up in our red wagon. The rest in a rollable suitcase. The logistics begins a few days ahead of the event itself. Our sign listing prices is checked to ensure we're selling things at the right price - they can't get better at Amazon. Reservations are confirmed and tickets printed.
A full inventory is laid out in their appropriate boxes, and a test is made with our point-of-sale (Square) to ensure it will work. An emergency recharger is itself charged up so we're not caught without our electronics. Everything is checked for damage so that there are no nasty surprises.

Books have been ordered and received. A new banner stand has come in to replaced the previous one that's too worn and battered from many years of travel. We're ready

We've learned that being at a convention, especially a large comic-con, is all about presentation.
Stacking books on a table doesn't remotely cut it. A good display must be three-dimensional, and "attract the lazy eye" as my daughter tends to day. We'll have two wire-grid towers for blurb signs and clipping on our download cards. Props and candy to help banners lure that eye in. A star-sprinkled table cloth with constrasting red runner. Business cards for those who just want to sniff later on our website. Finally, a laid-back form of selling that lets the prospective reader approach with less trepedation. The wife and I will take turns wandering about, keeping ourselves both limber and entertained. Steampunk outfits allow others to be entertained as well, and assure folks we're part of the fun. Getting our pictures taking is a great side benefit, too.

So when that opportunity to shine comes up folks, plan early and plan well. You might not come out making money, but that's never the point. Having fun is, and being remembered is what you're there for.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Writing Teacher's Musing

AAAACK, I thought it would never end. No, not the continuous discussions about the 2016 Presidential Election – unfortunately for all of us that drabble has just begun. No, I am talking about the writing and literature classes I teach as an adjunct at an area college. Don’t get me wrong the students, for the most part, try their best, it’s a shame their best is simply not very good. In consequence, as I turned in my keys and grades my heart fairly flew out of the confines of my chest and somewhat meager bosom. I felt like Mrs. Mallard upon hearing about the sudden death of her husband, her words “Free! Body and soul free!” flitting across my brain.
Free from trying to explain how to avoid passive voice and the problem with mixing past and present tense and don’t get me started on the nauseating abundance of clichés that are so painful and so oft repeated just the mere hint of them makes my stomach ache. Free to do as I please I ponder the things my students struggled with—and with my monthly blog post due—I decided to give a quick refresher on these very things.

For today, I’ll cover passive voice, my personal nemesis.

Verbs are either active (The executive committee approved the new policy) or passive (The new policy was approved by the executive committee) in voice. (I like to call this the lazy voice where you sound as lazy as this sea lion.) In the active voice, the subject and verb relationship is straightforward: the subject is a be-er or a do-er and the verb moves the sentence along. In the passive voice, the subject of the sentence is neither a do-er or a be-er, but is acted upon by some other agent or by something unnamed (The new policy was approved). Grammar checkers are able to pick out a passive voice construction from miles away and ask you to revise it to a more active construction. There is nothing inherently wrong with the passive voice, but if you can say the same thing in the active mode, do so. Your text will have more pizzazz as a result, since passive verb constructions tend to lie about in their pajamas and avoid actual work. And I know you don't want to look like this. 

The passive voice does exist for a reason, however, and its presence is not always to be despised. It is particularly useful (even recommended) in two situations: When it is more important to draw our attention to the person or thing acted upon: The unidentified victim was apparently struck during the early morning hours.
When the actor in the situation is not important: The aurora borealis can be observed in the early morning hours.
The passive voice is especially helpful (and even regarded as mandatory) in scientific or technical writing or lab reports, where the actor is not really important but the process or principle described is of ultimate importance. Instead of writing "I poured 20 cc of acid into the beaker," you would write "Twenty cc of acid is/was poured into the beaker." The passive voice is also useful when describing, say, a mechanical process in which the details of process are much more important than anyone's taking responsibility for the action: "The first coat of primer paint is applied immediately after the acid rinse."

In a nutshell,  (oops, I know, I know, I can’t help it, I’ve been grading and listening to cliché obsessed students all semester and it’s difficult to stop cold turkey) instead of writing “I was wondering why you showed up dressed as a clown,” go with, (I wondered why you showed up dressed as a clown,” or my favorite and most direct action, “Why did you dress up as a clown.” I mean come on, she came wearing white face and a ball on her nose so ask her straight out and don’t be passive about it.

Monday, May 18, 2015


Writers need to be wine nerds for accurate detail

Have you ever listened to a bunch of grape gripers? If you’ve spent any time at wine tastings, you might have come across those for whom there is no “after taste” only a good Finish, such as a small but pleasant wine that lingers on the pallet. The pallet is found toward the back of one’s tongue, near the uvula, known to be helpful in pronouncing French words and a Dutch cheese. (Can anyone here say Gouda? “Hauda”...ahh.)

Wine is big business. Remember the 2004 movie Sideways, a word that has come to mean all is not well and has gone askew or awry? (Perfect fodder for our fiction) The wine tasting business has grown into a snobby hobby. Artists need not apply, unless their art is blending, or they are sommeliers. In real life, the restaurant in which merlot is pronounced undrinkable is a commercial looking place that could pass for a Steak and Shake. It’s quite loud for a venue where wine is a religion. We’ve been there, and WE ORDERED THE MERLOT!

If you're using a wine scene in your fiction, wine tasters or elite folk with their fingers rather than their fists around their stems will notice your details. You'll need to do a little research.

So get your Nose in the game, plunge right in nose-first before tasting. Does the wine have Character? Is it Crisp? For instance, Merlot is not crisp. The word Crisp describing some wines is more often used for a white wine. A crisp wine is most likely simple but goes really well on a porch swing at the end of a hot day. (Unless a good beer will do it for you.) Bright wines are higher in acidity and make your mouth water. Give a hurrah to acidity.
A wine with Buttery characteristics has been aged in oak and generally is rich and flat with less acidity. A buttery wine has a creamy texture that hits the middle of your tongue almost like oil (or butter) and adds a smooth finish. Viognier, a recently discovered white, is buttery but less oaky.

An austere wine is a very unfriendly wine. It hits your mouth, and then turns it inside out. It usually means the wine has very high acidity and very few fruit flavors. I like to assume my plaque has been permanently removed from teeth to heart when "eating" an austere wine.

A Big wine with massive flavor takes up all surfaces of your mouth including your tongue. It usually has big tannins. If it’s tannic, don’t panic. But don’t follow it with a Round wine, a lighter red. At a wine tasting you or your characters should work toward more intense flavors until you can spell flavor the English way, flavours.

In my cozy mystery, Kill Fee, I have the following wine tasting scene:

The wine steward held the bottle forth, resting it in his hand on a small towel, label side up. Cole (our hero) nodded for him to open it. 

            He took an Ah-So out of his uniform pocket and expertly removing the waxed foil eased the Ah-So slowly into the bottle's neck surrounding the cork. Carefully he lifted the cork from the bottle and handed it to Cole to sniff. 
            Cole placed it near his nose, glanced at the winery name inked into it and nodded his approval.  “You may pour the wine.”
            The steward poured a half-inch of wine into Cole's glass and stepped back, waiting.
            Cole swished the wine in the glass slowly and plunged his nose into it; then tasted it, rolling it around in his mouth. “Very good, you may serve the lady.”
            The wine steward stepped forward, taking (our heroine) Penny's glass and filling it one-third full. He picked up Cole's glass and refilled it to the same level. “Anything else, sir?”
            “That will be all for now, thank you.” He winked at Penny.
            The wine steward evaporated, and Penny looked at Cole. “My goodness, what a lot of effort over a little booze,” she giggled.
            “I agree, but they love to do that. Did I mention that I brought your uncle Connie here one night. We'd been working all day, and I thought he could use a little meat on his bones. His comment after the ceremony was not as polite as yours.”
            “He suggested that he didn't know whether I was going to drink it or spit in it.”
            Penny howled with delight, “Oh, that sounds like Uncle Connie, no pretenses.”    
An aside: Years ago one of my friends became addicted to the convenience of canned dinners. Her children loved Spaghettios. Knowing our household was embracing wine cooking and wine with meals, she asked, “What kind of wine do you serve with Spaghettios?”

Not to be left in the dust by my new expertise, I replied, “An interesting little red.” That became our euphemism for “the house red.”  

The Finish
Find Julie at:
Twitter: @JulieEPainter
or Amazon:



Sunday, May 17, 2015

Writing in the Key of B.B.: RIP to the King of the Blues

As a writer, and a human being, music forms a huge part of my soul. This week our world lost one of the most beautiful musical voices ever, one Riley B. "Blues Boy" King. And with his passing, the voice of his guitar Lucille goes silent.
When I wrote the very first draft of An Alien's Guide to World Domination, this scene came to me. I needed to give my main character, Louie, a profound reason to help save humanity, at great risk to herself. 
B.B. and Lucille were there.
Then B.B.’s band took the stage and started to play. Louie didn’t know if the house adjusted the sound level but suddenly it wasn’t too loud at all, it was perfect. And the band was in a groove, and the leader began whipping up some enthusiasm in the crowd.
Are you ready to have a good time?
I said, are you ready to have a good time?
I can’t hear you, Seattle!
I can’t hear you, Seattle!
Then the King himself walked on stage with his beautiful Gibson guitar, Lucille, and the crowd really went crazy. And as he played, Louie’s headache literally melted away. By the time he got to How Blue Can You Get, Louie thought the world was a fine, fine place. By the time he started his second set with The Thrill is Gone, she loved everything and everyone in that world again, and with Rock Me Baby, she believed even she could be forgiven.
It was something about how Lucille became a second voice for him—and he’d said, “I don’t play and sing at the same time, I never learned how”—but she is him singing, and she is the voice of his soul. And that voice is beautiful.
If humans can make beauty like that, maybe they are worth saving, after all.
B.B. King, the King of Blues, passed into some other realm where, I hope, Lucille still sings to him.

Elizabeth Fountain writes stories of life, dogs, angels, and aliens. You can find more of her work at her website, Point No Point.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Love or money?

Michael W. Davis

Personally I enjoy talking to readers at signings, people acknowledging, “You’re the writer I just read about in the newspaper”, or being introduced by friends as, “This is my bud, the author.” It’s one of the major returns from locking myself away for a thousand hours to craft 90,000 words that will be bound into a book. Surely not the money. I’ve been published seven years now, and the first three I operated at a loss. Although I do turn a small profit today (if you ignore the hours I put into promotion) I write for the reward of my inner peace. See, since I was a kid, I’ve always created stories in my mind to entertain myself when I was bored or driving alone or waiting to fall asleep. I get off on visualizing new worlds I’ll never see in my lifetime, or evolving characters I empathize with, suffering with their traumas, and thrilling with their triumphs.

Not saying that more of the green stuff wouldn’t be nice. Thing is, I’d just put it in an educational account for my granddaughter. Many are not so lucky. Last time I checked the stats, about 99.98% of those wanting to share the visions in their mind’s eye never get the chance. They’ll never experience a reader announcing at a signing or by email, “Boy did I love your story. How did you create such realism? Felt like I was there beside each character.” That opportunity, if only for a moment, should be experienced by all that strive for the chance to be read. That’s truly what it’s about. Call it the aww factor, because each time I get such feedback I do physically and mentally sigh.

The transition to this place, this recognition of why I (and many of my author friends) continue to hermit away in our dungeons took several years. I went through many periods of frustration and declarations of, “Hell with it, I’ll just quit!” Even had too author friends suggest, “You’ll never stop. Your stories will always need to be released, set free to be shared, even with the few,” and they were right. After this long journey, I accept where I am. Long as I can take a breath and my publisher continues to provide a haven for my imagination, I will continue to dance, on occasion, with my muse.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day

How lucky am I to have my blog due on Mother’s Day? On the one hand, I am because I have three amazing daughters, and three step-daughters I’d be proud to call my own. On the other, the day always brings a twinge of sadness because I never had a mother to relate to. I see my friends—most of us qualify for senior discounts—who care for their aged mothers, sad because they are aging. I see their compassion, their love, and wonder what it feels like. I can’t remember a time during my mother’s life that I wasn’t trying to avoid her. She was not a happy woman. She definitely did not want a second child. It took many years of therapy to recognize that it didn’t matter who I was, she simply did not want another baby.
Fortunately for me, I had two grandmothers, my Aunt Dorothy, and my father, when he returned from the war, to care about me. My father was around for roughly six years. Those little crumbs of affection saved me.
Because we moved so many times throughout my childhood, I clung to my year older brother, and books. Books were my great escape and my mother apparently approved. Not much else I did found approval from her.
I see women hugging their mothers, caring for them, and vice versa. I have no idea what it feels like to love a mother. Gads. Even into my 50s I cringed if she got too close, fearing she would strike me.
My brother and I were separated at the ages of 11 and 12, books were all I had left. I devoured them. I placed myself in the homes of the fictional characters, loving and hating them as appropriate. Eventually I began creating characters of my own.
At the age of 16, I participated in a work/school program in Miami. School started at 7 and finished at noon. From one o’clock I worked at an insurance agency, then took two or three buses home because in my senior year my mother moved out of my school district. (Miami Edison Senior High). My mother took my paycheck; I kept enough for bus fare and lunches.  Breakfast was either leftover pizza or tomato soup.
 One Saturday, I slept late. My mother came into my bedroom carrying a broom and used it to poke me awake. “Clean this pig-sty,” was my wake-up call. I got up. She shoved the broom at me, calling me a slut, her favorite name for me.
Something came over me. I must have reached the end of my tether. I jerked the broom from her hand and raised it like a bat, threatening her. “Don’t you ever call me that again, you witch!” I shouted.
She backed away. I saw the fear in her eyes.
 “How dare you talk to your mother like that,” she said.
Tears burned my eyes. “How dare you call me names? If you ever touch me again, I’ll kill you.”
She backed out of the room. I sat on my bed and studied the mess in my room, clothes all over the floor, and on the rocking chair I had rescued from the neighbor’s trash, which I had painted white and stenciled with gold butterflies. I hugged myself and rocked for a few minutes, dressed, and left the house to visit a school friend.
She never hit me or called me names again.
I left home at age 18 and never looked back. I spent 30 years living on the opposite side of the country, even abroad, just so I wouldn’t have to deal with her.
I had reached my 40s before I began taking my writing seriously. One of the first stories I wrote was a pretty badly masked incident involving my own childhood. My mother asked to see it. I dreaded her reaction when she figured out I was writing about her. When she finished reading it, she shook her head and said, “How could any mother behave like that?” She never recognized herself.
Is it all in the way we look at it? Is Nancy Friday correct, when she writes in Mothers and Daughters that all mothers love their daughters, but not all daughters love their mothers?
Now, I write. My mother passed away twenty years ago and I still can’t reconcile the joy of being my daughters’ mother, and the sadness of being my mother’s daughter. My husband says I am still trying, because a common thread runs through my writing—mother/daughter relationships.

Veronica Helen Hart is the author of six published books with two in the works. In Elena-the Girl with the Piano one can find smatterings of the damaged mother-daughter relationship she experienced. There are some parenting conflicts as well in The Reluctant Daughters, too, but no dreadful accounts of child abuse. Her Champagne books, a series beginning with The Prince of Keegan Bay¸ are tongue-in-cheek accounts of an adventurous crew of senior citizens with no baggage to spoil their fun.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Wood vs. Word

Or ‘stop me before I edit again…’

I should have decided to be a carpenter instead of a writer…  It would have been so much easier.

I do a little woodworking on occasion.  Chiefly I make coffee tables with tile insets.  Nothing really fancy, but I enjoy it, and they’ve come out pretty well.  People really seem to like them, and it gives me a real sense of pride, of having accomplished something creative.

And with building a table, there’s a definite process to it. A beginning and a finished product. You can see where you’re going, how to get from that beginning cut to that final coat of stain. Whether you buy a plan, or just design something in your head and build it, you pretty much know what you’re doing and when you’re done with it.  Once you’ve finished a piece you don’t look at it and say ‘Wow, the legs should have been shorter’ and whack them off; and then look at it again and realize that no, they really should have been just a little bit longer and have to re-do the whole thing.  There’s very little editing in carpentry.

Not so in word-working. The basic process is the same: I get an idea and decide to ‘make’ it. I create something that represents that idea. But even when I type ‘The End’, it’s really not the end. That story’s still lurking in the guts of my computer, just waiting for me to make changes. I can tweak it to my heart’s content. Too much description in Chapter Three? No problem, just edit it down. Descriptive anomaly in Chapter Seven? Global replace will fix make those brown eyes blue in a jiffy. 

And there’s really no end to it. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I can go back and re-read and decide that things need to be changed around again… and again… and again… ad infinitum. Maybe it was easier to call a book done in the days of the manual typewriter, since no one really wanted to go back and re-type the whole thing again just to make a couple of minor changes. 

With carpentry, you can look at something and say ‘it’s done!’. With a story or a novel how do you know when to stop tinkering with the darned thing? Technology gives a writer the ability to edit and fix and change and tweak until his eyes cross and his tee’s dot. And it almost becomes an addiction. ‘Just one more edit,’ you mutter, even when you know one won’t satisfy you. Like potato chips or m&m’s, you can never have just one. 

I’m currently awaiting the editorial letter for my debut novel, TRAITOR KNIGHT. That will give me one good final crack at making any needed changes and calling it finished and ready for publication. But deep down, I’m a little worried that even after the book is published (in July), I’ll still be wanting to make changes. That I’ll read back through the final copy and go “Meh, that sentence is awful. Can I change that?”


Anyone else find themselves with a malignant case of ‘can’t stop editing’? Does it keep you from sending out your story to your agent or publisher? Or have you learned the magic spell that allows you to say ‘finitum’ and mean it?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Creating Flawed Characters for Novels

Lately I have been studying the interesting problem of what makes for the most fascinating characters in novels. It’s not the goody-goody type we root for, but the ones that have to overcome some personal defect that makes them enduring and lovable in the end when they too see their shortcomings and make amends. If you tie this to your book’s external goal, then your book flows easily from scene to scene. Or at least that’s what I have gleamed from my research. So in preparation for writing a new fantasy novel tentatively titled, THE VALE, I have been thinking about my new character studies and what flaw to have them overcome (or not!) in the course of the book. So, in preparation I have compiled a possible list of glaring character flaws in classical books that maybe the right choice to give my novel huge stakes:

(1) Frankenstein: Victor is excessively curious which leads to his downfall.

(2) Harry Potter series: Harry has anger issues and is occasionally arrogant.

(3) Little Women: Jo March’s bluntness and hot temper causes all sorts of conflict.

(4) Macbeth: hubris and then paranoia.

(5) Cyrano De Bergerac: suffers self-doubt.

(6) Hamlet: indecisive and self-doubting.

(7) Percy Jackson and the Olympians: excessive personal loyalty.

(8) The Iliad: Agamemnon is excessively greedy.

(9) Harry Potter series: Tom Riddle has a fear of dying.

(10) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: extreme depression and boredom.

Well, you get the idea. Now, I need to link one of these traits to the external journey of my character to give the reader a satisfying ending, especially if the character recognizes their faults and makes a valiant effort to overcome their inner faults and win the day. Because THE VALE will feature a female lead and heroine, I’m going with a need for Meadow to grow up and accept responsibility (also why she self-doubts that she can do what she’s being pushed to do) and will tie it to a journey of learning to self-sacrifice for the good of her people and herself when she goes on a hero’s quest. She’ll also need to learn to accept the help of others as she’s a bit arrogant. She’s also lovable! Don’t worry; her immaturity makes her fun-loving too. The journey feels like a good one to make for me so I think I will be easier to put out the monumental effort required to make her journey a good one!

What are your favorite character traits (good and bad) to work with?

Best, January Bain

The Forever Series

Champagne Books


Saturday, May 2, 2015

Travel The Wacky World or Visit Wisconsin

Travel the world over and join in the celebrations at wacky festival, or in my case, I could stay in Wisconsin and partake in the same goofiness.

Gloucestershire, England boasts of a Cheese Rolling Festival. Contestants toss cheese down a hill and then Jack and Jill it. First person to tumble across the finish line wins the big cheese. Or, I could go to Colby, Wisconsin ten miles away and join the cheese curd toss competition.

How about a trip to Roswell New Mexico for the UFO Festival? In Wisconsin, take a little trip to Benson's bar and UFO Headquarters a small tavern decorated with alien and fishing decor. Don't forget to make your aluminum foil hat to prevent the the aliens from reading your mind.

Sandwich making competition in England? Boring, I can see that a half a mile away at the local Subway®. Testicle Festival in Nebraska? Fun name to say, but I'm fasting that day.

Like other states, Wisconsin has festivals to celebrate the brat, the cheese curd, beer, your church... all including too much tasty, bad for you, food and lots of beer. You can take part in a variety of eating contests and races. Human bowling, frozen turkey bowling, bed races, and outdoor toilet races. The last activity might have something to do with too much food and beer, not sure. But Sonkajarvi, Finland may have a competition Wisconsin should consider, the Wife Carrying World Championships. The men race carrying their wife and the first one across the finish line wins his wife's weight in beer. This would be the one time you should not lie about your weight.

Do you have any plans this summer? Please share a fun activity from where you live. Let us know if we can stay with you when we attend.
I'm author Victoria Roder and I write something for everyone. If you like murder mystery check out Bolt Action. Ghost Stories? You'll love Haunting of Ingersull Penitentiary. Have children or grandchildren? My picture books include, What If A Zebra Had Triangles and An Important Job to Do: A Noah's Are Tale. Are the kids reading chapter books? Sled Dog Tales and The Curse of King Ramesses II are adventure filled and fun. I also created a puzzle book for teens and adults and have a coloring book coming soon. Please check out my website Thanks, Victoria Roder