Thursday, August 28, 2014

Garden Report - August

Pineapple tomatillos, also known as husk cherries. They are marble-sized and sweet when fully ripe. These have a slight hint of pineapple to them, hence the name. They are a very prolific plant once they start going. I don't think they like cold weather. They have put on amazing growth in the heat of August.

They are ripe when the husk turns tan and papery. Gotta love a veggie that tells you when it's ripe! I like them in salads for a contrast. They are very good with arugula. I am expecting a bumper crop, so I may need to come up with some other uses - relish? Jam?
I actually got some seeds in for fall this year. Not easy when the August Ennui hits. Here are some peapods coming up. I have tries peas in the fall, but they never seem to get enough time. Since you can eat peapods at any size, I think I'll have more luck with them.
Swiss chard is liking the cooler night temperatures. We've been going down into the 50's lately. Lovely weather for sleeping with the windows open. This struggled for a bit, then got crowded by the red mustard I planted next to it. But it looks like I've finally got a dinner's worth.
Heirloom squash. This is called Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato, from Sow True Seed. A different winter squash that caught my interest. It struggled a little because the sunflowers I planted at the corners of the bed got huge and shaded the vines. I cut off some of the lower leaves on the sunflower, and that seemed to do the trick. This looks like it's going to be a little larger than I expected!

The goldfinches are back to feast on the sunflowers. I saw a couple Carolina Wrens at the feeder, too. I put some corn out for the squirrels and chipmunk, hoping to deter them from the ripening apples, and got a surprise visitor. Apparently the bunny likes corn too. (And endive. Knew I should have fenced that sooner!)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Big as a Whale, Loud as Thunder

We are told, as writers, to create interesting metaphors and similes. Avoid clich├ęs at all cost. But I think you can go overboard with that.

I just finished reading a novel that used way too many creative metaphors. At one point it threw me out of the story. I wished that the author said "big" or something similar. It felt too forced for all of the excessive descriptions that filled up the scene. I didn't need a metaphor. I was firmly in the world already.

That's the goal. To ground the reader in your world. If you say: "Her thoughts circled like gulls over a trawler." You reinforce a theme of sea, maybe fishing, boats, waves. If that helps remind the reader that your world is a small fishing village, it's icing on the authorial cake. But if it all feels that way:

"Her thoughts circled like gulls over a trawler. The air was colder than the winter sea in an artic blizzard. She staggered like a drunken sailor across the sand that stuck to her shoes like tar balls thrown up in the ever-churning waves." It slows the action. Even worse, it distracts the reader.

Writing is like painting, you need to concentrate on the focal point. If the entire image is equally embellished, the image becomes bland. In art they talk about negative space. The space outside the image that defines it. So you put emphasis on the dew drop on the pear in the still life and let the plate blur slightly. Unless you want to point out the plate. Then you can blur the fruit. But if everything is clamoring for your attention, you see nothing.

In writing, if you emphasize everything, the reader gets confused. I read a chapter from a work in progress that had the life story of a waiter in it. When I asked what relation he had to the story, the answer was - none. So why did I just spend my time learning all about this guy? Didn't push the plot forward, didn't enhance my understanding of the world, didn't affect the main characters at all. It was an odd little vignette that the writer had come up with for no apparent reason.

That's the way I felt about some of the metaphors in the book I read. They distracted more than they informed. In a couple of cases I would have preferred a plan old adjective like big. Sometimes simple is better.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Life Lessons from Fictional Characters

I've learned some important things from people that aren't real.

Captain Kirk taught me to delegate. He never really did anything (other than romance women and posture at aliens) Scotty fix the engines, Sulu get us out of here. Bones take care of him. Spock find a solution. He had people do what they were good at.

When I found myself in a managerial position, I realized I needed to delegate or clone myself. Since the cloning wasn't going to happen, I had to learn to delegate. Then I remembered Kirk.

Assigning work to people that are good at it, and giving them the responsibility to do it well is an art. It takes a long time to learn. And you have to be lucky enough to have the right people for the work you need to have done. I stumbled along for awhile, but I think ultimately I did it well enough.

I actually had an employee tell me - "I can't be held responsible for my actions!" And he wondered why he ended up with all the scut work.

The Shoemaker and the Elves taught me economics. Aside from the elves and the magic, the story boils down to a simple lesson of quality sells. The shoemaker puts out fine materials to work on the next day. The elves deliver a great pair of shoes. He sells the shoes for a profit which he reinvests in more quality materials, from which the elves create more shoes. From one good product a solid business is grown.

The other important side of the story is that his wife makes clothes for the elves. She sees their need (they're naked) and supplies a solution. Recompense for artistry. A symbiotic relationship. They produce for the shoemaker and he takes care of their needs.

Whenever I am starting a new endeavor I think of them. His success was built one pair of shoes at time. One customer at a time. A slow process that builds over years. Sometimes that's frustrating. Sometimes I hope the elves will arrive in the dark of the night.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Lethal Seasons is Out! And a bad review

Lethal Seasons is now available in print at  Amazon and in ebook just about everywhere! Smashwords has nearly every ebook format available. For more ebook retailer links, click on the Lethal Seasons page.

My very first review of Lethal Seasons was a bad one. Put me in panic mode. Oh no! What should I do now? The correct answer is: nothing. It's out there. Nothing I can do to change a person's opinion. And the review itself was a bit of a mixed bag, I think the reviewer sort of liked the story but really did not like the characters. Which will totally ruin a story for you.

But then I thought, is this a rite of passage? All my other books have gotten good reviews. Not many, but all good. Which I know will always make readers suspicious. When I see a book with only good reviews I wonder if it's all just friends and family. I feel like I need disclaimers on my reviews - This is a total stranger! Really!

So now I have a bad review. And I am oddly proud of it. I handed out the novel and got honest feedback from someone I never met. Obviously, not my target audience...some of what the reviewer disliked will, hopefully appeal to someone else. I am thankful that the reviewer explained why the book didn't appeal.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion. Reading is very subjective. I created a "shelf" in my Goodreads account called "Not my cup of tea" specifically for books that were well written, but did not appeal to me. I do try to point out why I don't like them so that other readers can decide if those elements are ones they'd enjoy. Tastes vary. As my great-uncle used to say - that's what makes horse racing.

In other news - I ordered my first batch of print books. For all the folks who won the Goodreads Giveaway - thanks for your patience! I hope to have them in hand by next week and in the mail soon after.

And now it's time to get back to work on the next book!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Lessons learned while proofing

Look at all the pretty flags...not! Yikes.

Lesson 1 - build in more time for the proofing. The best way to look for errors is to read the book aloud. That takes a lot longer than you think. And when reading, you fall into a rhythm and can easily lose focus or start scanning. So you need to stop, walk around, get a beverage, whatever. Proofing this book took me almost 2 weeks.

Lesson 2 - proof before you format. I thought my final doc was very clean. I was wrong. As a result, when I split it out to format for Smashwords, KDP and CreateSpace, I created 3 different docs that had to be corrected. All of the errors that I found in the print proof had to be fixed in all of them. More time needed for that!

Lesson 3 - keep notes! There were a couple times that formatting went awry and I couldn't figure out what I had done previously to fix it. I created worksheets this time to help keep notes as I went through each format.

Lesson 4 - It's all okay. The longer I worked on it, the more doubtful I became. Is this a good book? I got good feedback, but will people like it? Whew. Just power through and get it done.

Lesson 5 - Take your time. A couple times I was tempted to say - good enough - and rush through a step. But there is no reason for that. I would only cheat myself. The deadlines I set are mine and I can change them if need be. Take a breath, calm down and proceed with care.

These are the things I'm sharing from this round of publishing. One more week till Lethal Seasons is released!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Garden Report

Taking a little breather from the marketing. I am working my way through the print proof for Lethal Seasons now. I started a countdown for Dark Deeds, the sequel to White Lies. The tentative publication date is January 2, 2015.

Last year's carrots. I always miss a couple. I let these go to seed because they are so pretty. They make a nice cut flower. If you let them scatter the seed, you'll have volunteer carrots all over the yard.

This is the Czech Black Hot Pepper. Fairly prolific and very striking in the garden. The ripe peppers are supposed to turn a garnet red. We've eaten a couple black ones, haven't had the patience to wait. They are very mild with a good flavor.

Hungarian Pink Oxheart tomato. A huge, meaty tomato. This is one of the smallest and it weighed in at almost 1/2 a pound. Last year the blight got them all. I am being more careful this year and spraying with an organic fungicide. This is the first ripe one. I'm looking forward to making a lot of sauce with these.

Pattypan squash. I'm not a big fan of zucchini or summer squash, but pattypan has won me over. I think it has a stronger flavor and firmer flesh. This year the garden gave me lots of dill and catnip volunteers. I also planted nasturtiums all over. I am hoping that the combination of strong smelling herbs will keep the squash bugs away. I haven't planted dill in years, but every year I find it coming up all over. I've picked 4 small squash so far. This little guy should be ready to eat by next week.

Ground cherry or tomatillo. This is a tiny tomatillo, about grape-sized, with a sweet flavor reminiscent of pineapple. Yummy in a salad or just snacking. The husks turn tan and papery when the fruit is ready. The last time I grew these they were so prolific I was giving away baskets of them. But they are very hard to start. I tried three times before I got a couple very tiny, very fragile seedlings. They do not like cold weather at all.

The past couple weeks have been rainy and gray. I am worried about the tomatoes getting blight. The drying tomato I like best - Principe Borghese - is very susceptible. But it is also the sweetest, yummiest dried tomato ever. I hope to get a good crop this year. Last year I lost all the tomatoes to blight and was forced to buy dried tomatoes for the first time in years. Very disappointing.

So far it's a good garden year. Fingers crossed that it continues!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Lethal Seasons Giveaway ends and exerpt

First of all, here's a wonderful flyer that Alex made for me.

The Goodreads Giveaway ended. I think it was very successful for getting the word out - 913 people signed up for it and 453 people put it in their "to be read" file. I am expecting the first proof of the print book next week. I hope to have copies in hand, to mail to the winners, in another week or so.

And as promised, here is an excerpt from Lethal Seasons:

Wisp could sense the person waiting for him. It was a girl, and she was frightened. Her fear tasted sharp and too long held. She was worn down with the burden of it. He paused in the darkened corridor of his home and pushed his senses out into the surrounding woods. There was no one else in the vicinity of the old factory where he had lived for the past three years. The aging site had been a derelict long before the virus hunted his kind. Thick brick walls and steel beams still stood against the ravages of the weather. But it was the cellars and sub-cellars that he called home.

He continued upstairs to ground level. Twilight softened the harsh angles of debris in the yard. Old pallets and piles of stone, a tumble of bricks where a retaining wall had given way, cans and broken glass and the skeletons of weeds made a labyrinth of unsteady steps to his door. The girl waited where she was told, in the potholed remains of a parking lot. Hulking stacks of crumbling sidewalks took up much of the cracked asphalt. It held a certain symbolism for him. Someone had ripped up the sidewalks and piled them here, perhaps to be recycled. But to him it said that pedestrian traffic was no longer possible in this area. He held it as a totem, hoping it would ensure his solitude.

She was small. Not more than ten or twelve years old. A mental shiver wracked her as she stood alone in the fading light waiting for a meeting with a monster. Wisp regretted the charade, but fear was often his only weapon.

“I am here,” he said stepping into her line of sight.

She jumped. A gasp, cut off, shuddered into a whimper. “Are you the finder?”

“I am.”

“Can you find my brother?”

“What do you offer?”

Her fear was suddenly drowned with loss, with desperation and hopelessness. He could taste the ashes of her grief, the spiky pain of regret. “I have nothing.”

She was a refugee, a fugitive. Her pain was something he understood. This close he could smell her unwashed body. A child, hungry and alone and knowing there was no solace. She trembled with exhaustion. He knew he couldn't refuse her.

“I will help.”

She cried then, the relief so great. It pushed back on her burden of grief, and eased his own pain. She swallowed the tears away, stronger than her years. “What should I do?”

Wisp looked up at the clouds scudding in from the west. A storm was approaching. He smelled rain on the rising wind. The child needed food and rest. They couldn't start out until the morning. “Come.” He reached out a hand to her. “We will prepare.”

Her steps were heavy, the fear rising up. In the half-light, he wondered how much she could see. What startled her the most? His thick white hair falling loose below his shoulders, eyes so pale a blue they were almost white, or was it the tattoo down his neck that marked him as not human? As she touched his hand, he had his answer: just a man. She registered his calloused hands and muscled arms. He was a big, strong stranger, and she feared all the things that could come from that.

“I won't hurt you, child.”

“Lily. I'm Lily,” she spoke in a bruised whisper heavy with tears.

“They call me Wisp.”

She looked up at him in the growing shadows. “Is that your name?”

He bit off his response. My kind have no names. She was too young to know that story. “It will do,” he said gently. “Come. I have food and water.”

He felt her wariness lose ground beneath her hunger. She was too young to be out in the world alone. Too sweet, too innocent. He'd find her brother and send them somewhere safe. Then perhaps it was time for him to move on.
Just a little taste to get you interested! Lethal Seasons ebook is available for preorders at a discounted price of $2.99 at iTunes , Barnes and Noble , and Kobo through August 8, 2014. The price will go to $4.99 on the 9th.
Paperback will be available at Amazon on August 8, 2014.