Saturday, June 25, 2011

A midsummer night's blog...

It's officially summer this week, and I celebrated by taking a vacation in the Avenue of the Giants. The redwoods are breathtaking. I actually have a few redwood groves accessible near my home, but there's something different about seeing them on the north coast. For one thing, the population density. I stopped at one of the many turnouts on the avenue and explored a nice cool, shady grove (it was a hot week, and that's my only real complaint about my June vacation... well, maybe that and the lightness of my wallet!).

My companions and I had the entire grove almost to ourselves. One other person was there, and he left shortly after we arrived. Another couple arrived just as we were leaving. For the 45 minutes or so that we wandered around, we had each other, the river, and hundreds of acres of giant trees as company. As beautiful as wine country is, it's nice to get away and experience some peace and quiet from time to time. There's nothing better than the serene beauty of the deep forest.

Upon my return, I opened my inbox and found an email notifying me that my blog tour for Tinkerer is set for mid-July. I'll post more on that later, when I'm sure the dates are solid and there won't be any adjustments. For now, I'm psyching myself up to start writing my new book! I finished a sequel to Shadow Born this spring, but I want to tweak it a bit more before release. I'm planning a third and final installment as well, and that's part of the reason I'm holding off. I don't know exactly where the third book is going, and I'd like to be able to make minor changes to part two before I publish it. But as for my new project, I'm trying something completely different.

I know. Everything I write is different. But this is really different. I'm not going to go into that too much either because I don't like to talk about my books before they're finished, but I can say this: It's a murder mystery! It's very exciting to me because I've never written a mystery before, and I don't think a mystery like this has ever been done before. We'll see. At any rate, I've been premeditating the crime for more than a month now. I've written so many notes that I almost have a complete outline, which is a first for me. Theoretically, that should make the writing process a little quicker, but I'm sure there will be a few surprises in store for me. My record for writing a first draft is six weeks. If I can pull that off again, I should be able to have a couple revisions done by September, which is when I'm hoping to publish.

In other news, JK Rowling is now a Indie author. Kind of. After years of saying the Harry Potter books will never be available as e-books, she's made an about-face. If that's not enough, she's self-publishing the digital versions and she'll be hiring her old publishers as marketing reps. How strange that must feel to them. I think I just heard the sound of another 1,000 indie bookstores closing shop. (I think fairies get their wings ripped off when that happens, but I'm not sure. I'll have to check with the people boycotting Joe Konrath.) Rowling will not be selling her books through the usual retailers, from what I understand. Instead, she's building them into her website, where she'll have direct access to the names and email addresses of everyone who downloads a copy. Is this piracy prevention or future marketing plans? A little of both, I'd guess.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The ADD Writer Part Three

Previously I discussed how writers can use different techniques to limit their chair-time. This can be accomplished by taking notes, outlining the story before writing, and by taking some time between revisions so that flaws will be more apparent (thereby reducing the number of revisions necessary). All of these techniques have various pros and cons, but today I want to talk about something a little different. Instead of limiting chair-time, today I want to get rid of the chair. 

The notebook technique is a good start for this, but I have a few more ideas.  The first is obvious: get a laptop. There was a time when the price of notebook computers were cost prohibitive, but not anymore. In fact, you can get a used laptop with minimal processing power for less than $50 online. Ebay and Geeks.com are both great places to find closeout and refurb items that work just fine (always look for a warranty when buying used, regardless of the quality of retailer!). The prices are great. The computers may be outdated, but we don't need much beyond the ability to run a word processor. Wifi is a plus, and so is battery life. Some companies out there now offer batteries that will get you 4-5 hours of writing time. Bring along an extra battery and you're probably good for a weekend.Obviously, there's no better way to get out of the chair for your writing than to do it by the lake, the beach, on top of a mountain or even deep in the redwoods (one of my personal favorites).

Another type of laptop that's growing in popularity is the netbook. If you don't know the difference, I'll try to keep it simple. Netbooks are like laptops with less. They don't require a hard drive, which is a complicated and expensive part of the machine. Instead they use solid state memory. In many cases they use less processing power so the batteries are supposed to run longer. I haven't actually used one of these but I've heard great things about them, and they can be had on sale for less than $200 new. That's pretty impressive. And most average users wouldn't know the difference between a laptop and a netbook. They're that similar.

The last piece of equipment I want to suggest is a standing desk. I know, it sounds a little strange at first, but it's actually quite good for you. Even if you don't have concentration problems, spending some time standing at a desk is clearly better for you than sitting at one. Over the course of a year, you might even shed a few pounds just by using one of these for an hour or two each day. Plus, you'll be in great company. According to this article, a number of famous authors wrote while standing, including Ben Franklin. Nobody's cooler than Ben, right? Supposedly Hemingway wrote in this fashion as well, though this particular article doesn't mention him.

I've linked to some commercial variations here, but this is something you can do yourself for next to nothing. It can be as simple as box or stand that you set on a table or on top of a desk, and place your laptop on top. It could be a custom shelf attached to a wall, or it could be something you actually build out of scrap lumber if you're handy with that sort of thing. Keep ergonomics in mind while you're shopping or building. After all you don't want to do something healthy and end up with carpal tunnel. For some more ideas, check out these images on google.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Magick & Wine


I’m a winemaker. I do it as a hobby. This year I planted my first backyard vineyard (which consists of 23 very young cabernet vines) so that in the future, I will be able to make wine from grapes I’ve grown right here in my own backyard. I’ve been watching the vines grow for a month and I can’t even tell you how pleased I am seeing the leaves peeking up past the grow-sleeves as they reach for the first trellis wire. It’s amazing to watch nature work. It’s a miracle. You might even call it magic.
I’ve made wine from grapes of course, but also from blackberries, strawberries, blueberries and apples. I’ve found each fruit possesses its own unique challenges. None have proven better suited to winemaking than the grape (surprise… I guess thousands of years of history have already proven this but I still had to try). Even grapes not traditionally used for wine like crimson seedless grapes do a decent job. (Yes, I did).
The reason I’m bringing this subject up right now is because I learned a few interesting things this week. The first is that Sting has his own label of wine made from grapes grown in his very own vineyard. Cool huh? Rock star wine seems to be big these days. I came across a video of Sting and his wife Trudie talking about it here. The reason I found this video is because I was researching something called biodynamic winemaking. Let me explain. Living where I do, I pay attention to what’s happening in the local vineyards. This year I saw signs go up at Quivira Vineyards proclaiming that the vineyards are now organic and biodynamic. I’ve heard talk about this elsewhere, too.
Hmmm. I wonder what Biodynamic means…
In case you’re in the dark like I was, here’s a snippet from Wikipedia:
Biodynamic agriculture is a method of organic farming that treats farms as unified and individual organisms,[1] emphasizing balancing the holistic development and interrelationship of the soil, plants and animals as a self-nourishing system without external inputs[2] insofar as this is possible given the loss of nutrients due to the export of food.[3] As in other forms of organic agriculture, artificial fertilizers and toxic pesticides and herbicides are strictly avoided.

Okay. That sounds pretty good. But lower on the page I see:
Compost preparations, used for preparing compost, employ herbs which are frequently used in medicinal remedies:
502: Yarrow blossoms (Achillea millefolium) are stuffed into urinary bladders from Red Deer (Cervus elaphus), placed in the sun during summer, buried in earth during winter and retrieved in the spring.
503: Chamomile blossoms (Matricaria recutita) are stuffed into small intestines from cattle buried in humus-rich earth in the autumn and retrieved in the spring.
504: Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) plants in full bloom are stuffed together underground surrounded on all sides by peat for a year.
505: Oak bark (Quercus robur) is chopped in small pieces, placed inside the skull of a domesticated animal, surrounded by peat and buried in earth in a place where lots of rain water runs past.
Yeah. Okay. Suddenly this environmentally friendly farming technique is sounding a little like hoodoo. Urinary bladders from red deer? Animal skulls? Really? It seems that biodynamic farming relies on mystical practices like burning the seeds of the weeds you don’t like to make them feel bad, and farming by the phases of the moon. Okay, I might buy the second part. After all, I’m a fantasy writer so yes, I do believe in magic. I believe it happens every day, right here in the real world. I’ve seen it. Miracles happen and I believe that’s a sort of magic. When a child is born, when a life is saved, when a room is filled with the sound of laughter, these are all signs that magic is happening. And I know that the phases of the moon have played a role in real-world magical practices as well as farming for about as long as humans have been here.
In Quivira’s defense, I didn’t stop and ask the winery’s employees if they’re using animal skulls and deer bladders. I suspect they’re probably using a more modern and politically correct method of biodynamic farming. And if they’re not… well it might be kind of interesting to hang out and watch their rituals, if they’d let me. At any rate I owe them a debt of gratitude for introducing me to this new idea. Cattle intestines and deer bladders aside, I think the idea of environmentally friendly farming is great. I’m a big fan of aquaponics, which is capable of producing more food in a small space than you’ve ever dreamed. I’d love to get a system running here at my home, but I’ve got a lot of research to do first, and it takes a lot of planning and some cash to invest to make it work. In the end though, I have no doubt it would be worth it. And these days, it doesn’t hurt to know exactly what you’re putting into your body, especially when corporations are lobbying to make sure you don’t. ‘Nuff said.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Contest is Over!

My Goodreads giveaway of The Tinkerer's Daughter ended Saturday at midnight. I thought I had scheduled it to run a few more days, but anyway I'm quite happy with the results. There were over 1200 contestants, five of which will soon be receiving shiny new hand-signed copies of Tinkerer. For those who didn't win, thank you for taking part and be on the lookout for new contests!

I have yet to see how this will affect sales, if at all, but based on the number of contestants and the short time period of the contest, I'm considering it a success. I'm thrilled to have the ability to do this, and I've got to give all the credit to Goodreads. They have built something that works for both authors and readers. It's easy, it's intuitive, and it even chooses the winners automatically. Now I just have to put the books in the mail. Goodreads has made this so easy that I might just do it again soon.

In related news, Tinkerer was reviewed over at Bibliophage. I have to admit the review wasn't quite what I had hoped for, with 3 out of 5 stars. The reviewer seemed at odds with the strange melding of steampunk and young adult fantasy, which is not a unique problem for me. I've already spoken here about my ADD tendencies, and I think they are part of the reason that I write such unclassifiable fiction. These stories come alive in my mind and I put them down on paper they way I receive them. When I'm done, they rarely fit easily into any standard genre. Two or three maybe (if not more) but never just one. Tinkerer is steampunk, fantasy, adventure, coming of age, and so on. The Darkling Wind is fairy tale, adventure, romance, coming of age, fantasy... my books are all like this. This is what keeps me interested in writing them.

I know, I know. We like to be able to classify things. We like to pick up a writer's next book and know it'll be a lot like the last one. Sometimes I wish I could be one of those writers. It'd be a lot easier for me to sell my own fiction if I knew how to describe it. Yet, in  a way, maybe my strange undefinable storytelling is just my style. I do take a certain amount of pride from the fact that when people pick up one of my books, it'll be different from other things they've read. Will they remember it? Will Breeze and Tinker remain in the reader's heads long after the last page? I don't know, I can only hope.

At any rate, you can't please everyone and I certainly don't expect to. I'm selling books every single day. I'm getting paid to do what I love. Who can complain about that? I'm grateful to the people who take the time out of their busy lives to read and review my work, good or bad. Aside from my gratitude to the kind people at Goodreads, I also owe it to all the bloggers, readers, and reviewers out there who've given me a chance. Publishing today is a strange, beautiful machine and it wouldn't work without you!