Friday, June 29, 2007

Find the right publisher (Part Three)

Note: It looks like this may not be our final post in the series. :-) So look for more in the next few weeks.

Okay. You've found a publisher who interests you. You've checked out their site and found it appealing. The excerpts are good. The covers are nice. The stories look interesting. The purchasing process worked well.

So now it's time to start digging. A site can look great, but there may be darkness lurking beneath it. Darkness that could have serious implications for your career.

Your first stop should be Piers Anthony's Internet Publishing Index. (Note his disclaimer there, below the photo.)Mr. Anthony collects scuttlebut from hundreds of anonymous authors, editors, and publishers, and updates his list quarterly.

I'm not going to direct you to a specific letter of the alphabet or publisher here; but do take some time and look around. Remember these reports are often subjective, but pay attention.

The following is a list of what I consider to be red flags on the Index:
*Reports of unpaid royalties (this is a HUGE one.)
*Reports of trouble getting royalty statements
*Reports of low sales
*Reports of poor communication, or keeping authors in the dark about certain aapects of their business (which I'll go into more next week)
*Reports of requiring payment from authors
*Reports of management shake-ups, authors leaving, etc.

Now, again, I stress the Index is subjective. You're looking for a preponderance of evidence. For example, one listing mentions, several updates ago, royalties being paid late. There are no further reports of that, so it's up to you; what else do you know about this publisher? If everything else, from our other sources, looks good, they're probably fine.

On the other hand, this subjectivity also matters when reports are good. It's a good sign when everything comes up rosy on the Index, but it doesn't mean your research is done.

The following I do not particularly consider red flags:
*A single report of "arrogance"
*A single report of "bad editing"
*A single report of "poor communication"

All of those things are particularly subjective. What's arrogant to one author may be fine to another. Now, if you see this report more than once, you want to be careful.

Now we go to Preditors & Editors. Some companies don't have a listing on P&E, and that's fone. Not being listed is not a black mark. Some publishers are simply listed, and that's okay; it means P&E hasn't received any negative reports. But if P&E lists them as "Not Recommended", you don't want to submit to them--it means they charge fees, or try to bilk writers, or any number of little nasties.

So you've checked out at Piers and P&E, and all is well? Great.

Your next stop is the Absolute Write Water Cooler. Take some time here, too. Go first to the Bewares and Background Checks section. Look around. Search for the publisher you're looking for (the search key is in the "Threads in Forum" light blue line, it says "Search this forum", on the right hand side.) Do the search. See what comes up.

Don't just check "B&BC", though. Head for the "Writing Romance" and "Writing Erotica" threads (or, obviously, whatever genre you write.) Look through those threads; do a search there. Look for authors who work with those publishers and PM them (you have to register to send a private message, but it's free and well worth doing.) Start your own thread and ask people to PM you about their experiences, and tell them it's because you're considering subbing to them. You'll be surprised how willing people there are to help. (Note: if you see a post where someone asked about a publisher and got no replies, PM that person. Don't assume they got no replies because nobody answered; it could be that nobody wanted to comment publicly.)

Okay, so Piers, P&E, and AW all look good? Check the EREC site (linked in my sidebar) and have a look there. What sales numbers Emily Veinglory (a stellar woman) has been able to collect, she's listed there. (And authors, please submit your numbers! It's totally anonymous!) This is IMPORTANT. A publisher could be as fair and good as Snow White; it still doesn't mean you want to submit to them, especially if they're brand new or their sales are very low. You might, you might not.

Okay, remember when you collected those names and web addresses for authors at your chosen publisher? Start looking them up. You'll only very rarely (if at all) find an author willing to say on their site or blog that they're unhappy with a publisher, but what they don't say matters too. Do they mention their house and/or editor often, in a positive way? (And does it sound sincere?) If so, that's a good sign. Do they display their covers proudly, do they talk about their books, do they have more coming out with that publisher? That's also a good sign.

But if they don't mention their publisher, if they don't say complimentary things, if they put out on book with that publisher nine months ago and have since published three somewhere else? Kind of a red flag. It could be nothing, but it could be something.

So email them. Tell them why. Ask if they're willing to share any info with you. Would they recommend Publisher X? Pay attention to their response. Look for what isn't said as much as what is.

Last, do a both Google and Technorati searches. When you goggle the publisher, their site should come up first. See if you can find anything else about them. For example, I know Googling one publisher turns up, in one of the first search engine pages, a post by a review site commenting on how they'd had repeated problems trying to download books from that site. One publisher that is now out of business and had the owner apparently take off with some money turned up all kinds of things about the publisher, before anyone else had the info. (Keep in mind, Piers is only updated every three months.) Technorati could turn up more of the same.

So now, what if you've searched for this publisher at all of these places, and found either nothing negative or positive things, and it all looks rosy? Should you go ahead and submit?

Well...probably. But there's one thing I didn't tell you to look for, and it's one of the most important. There's also something I didn't tell you to look for, because it is in my opinion fairly unimportant.

Next time I'll talk about the Honeymoon Period, about length of time in business, and about RWA Recognition (although I've already blogged about that here and here. So I think you can guess which of the things I didn't tell you to look for I consider the most important.

Sorry, I did think I could do all of this in a week, but I don't want the posts to get too long either. So I hope you'll bear with me. :-)

Continue to Part Four

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Find the right publisher (Part Two)

Note: Several Months after this series first came out here, Dear Author did a worthwhile post on the same topic. It's worth checking out too.

Okay, so on Monday we looked at print publisher websites and learned a bit (hopefully) about what to look for. But epubs are different, so we’re going to look at an epub site today and see what we see.

For the legitimate epub site, I’ve chosen Liquid Silver Books. I chose them because I’m not published with them (so this doesn’t look like a plug) and because they’re not currently RWA-approved, and because I know for a fact they’re legit and have a stellar reputation. I have a lot of friends published at LSB.

Epubs almost always have a submissions link on the first page. (See it? Bottom left.) However, notice it’s still not a huge link right under their logo & slogan. It looks professional; they’re not trying to grab anything or make you submit before you’ve looked at the site. What matters most still matters here: this site is clearly aimed at selling books to the public. See, the “Cart” is right at the top, as is the list of genres.

What else do we notice?
*No typos
*Professional-looking covers (I’ll get to those in a minute)
*List of genzres is clear; there’s no twee little categories or euphemisms to make it hard to find what you want (with the exception of “molten silver”, but I think that’s easy to figure out, don’t you?)
*There’s a link for their newsletter and Yahoo Group; this is also a good indication that they try to grow customer loyalty (I’ll discuss customer loyalty probably on Friday.) They have a forum, which I love, and a blog.
*I particularly like that their series have separate websites. The Terran Realm and their Zodiac series both have them, which is cool.

So everything looks nice. This is more important than you’d think when it comes to epublishing. LSB has either paid someone to do their site or somebody really knows how to work the html here.(Note: Since originally writing this I've had an email from LSB's Acquisitions Director, Tina Burns. Tina informs me that LSB is working on making their site even more user-friendly and impressive, including a new shopping cart, wish lists, etc. They'd love feedback on the new shopping cart and welcome suggestions on other things readers would like to see on the site. She's given me permission to post her email here; it's Tina AT [replace the AT with @ and remove the spaces], and she's happy to answer any questions any of you might have about LSB as well. Thanks Tina!)

Check out the About page. Lookie there! There’s the names of the publisher, acquisitions editor, and editorial director, as well as the art director. (You also see they’re listed with Fictionwise. This is a good sign but not as important as some people think, IMO, because some perfectly legit companies choose not to distro through Fictionwise, and we’ll look at that more on Friday.) There are “Contact Us” and “Customer Service” links too, and while I prefer to have the name and email link on a page, rather than just being sent straight to email, again that’s personal taste and doesn’t mean anything as far as legitimacy or professionalism goes.

Let’s look at the covers. Now, I know there’s one legitimate press out there famous for their awful covers. But in general, covers are an important indicator of how professional a site is and how well they’re doing. LSB has perhaps an unfair advantage here, because their cover artist April Martinez is famous for her design skill. But you know what? That’s what you want. Covers are a big part of what makes a book look enticing and appealing. It’s one of the things that makes a difference between a site you want to shop at and a site you want to laugh at.

The occasional Poser cover (those artifical people with the bendy bodies and glassy eyes) isn’t a crime; some authors request those covers and some people like them. (And for people who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like, as Miss Brodie would say.) But look at the covers in general; do they look professional, or do they look like bad fonts stuck of top of clipart photos? Are the images oddly stretched? Are the colors shreiky and painful to look at? Really, is that the kind of cover you want for your book?

In general, I would say at least 50% of the covers should appeal to you. (Unless you have rather unique tastes.) And that’s a minimum.

Let’s pick a book to use as an example of what a listing should have. Once again, I’ve chosen (at random) an author I don’t know and am not to my knowledge associated with at any of my other publishers (I’m pretty sure I would remember “D.J. Manly.”)

Here’s D.J. Manly’s “Suffering Jordan”. (Personally, I’d prefer it if you could click the book’s cover for more info, rather than a link below it, but that’s personal taste.)

Okay. Title, author and ISBN right at the top. Check. Blurb makes sense, is spelled properly, and is grammatically correct. Check. There’s a nice big buy link at the bottom, and the price clearly listed (again, I prefer the price be a little bigger or in bold, but it’s certainly not hidden. It’s a reasonable price, too.) The genre is clearly shown. Even if the cover hadn’t given us a clue, we are told this is a ménage book, with m/m interaction as well as m/f/m, and some light bondage too. There’s also a link to buy more of that author’s titles, which is pretty standard and always nice to have.

We’ll look at the excerpt now. I’ll be honest and say the voice here isn’t really to my taste; but again, there’s no spelling or grammatical errors. The excerpt is long enough for us to get a feel for the book, to see if it’s something we want to buy or not.

All of which lends legitimacy, but we’re not done. You can’t possibly know if your book will fit in at a publisher after looking at one listing and excerpt. This is a process that takes time. It’s just as important as the actual writing, so please don’t skimp. Look at a lot of listings. Read a lot of excerpts. Look at genres other than yours. What kinds of stories do they sell? What kinds of heat listings do you see? Do these look like books you would read? Do they look like the kinds of books you write and the heat level at which you’re comfortable?

If not, move on. Why would you send your book to a publisher whose editing looks sloppy, whose books look dull, whose tastes don’t appear to mesh with yours? Readers tend to stick with specific epublishers. They might have several they buy from, and they might be willing to branch out, but they usually have a favorite, and that’s where they’ll buy new authors too—because they trust that publisher. So look carefully. Spend some time, I can’t emphasize this enough.

As you flit about reading excerpts and ogling cover art, pay attention to how easy the site is to navigate. Is it constantly making you pop up and exit new windows? Are any of the links broken? Are all of the pages finished—it’s easy to have a nice-looking Home page, but that care should extend throughout the site. An “Under Construction” notice is okay, but beware too many of those too.

Also look at their list of authors. Have you heard of any of them? Do you know any of them? Have you seen good reviews for them? Make note of some of their names and websites, you’ll need them later.

Now buy a book. After looking at all of those excerpts, you should have found at least one book you’d like to own (in fact, you should have found quite a few.) Buy it. You need to make sure the buying process is smooth and easy to understand. It’s better not to have to get codes and stuff in your email hours later; ebooks should be pretty much immediate (at least that’s what I think). You want to be able to choose a book, click a link, fill in some info, and get your book within minutes. Put a bunch of books in your cart and see how long the cart holds them, and if it’s easy to remove some later and add more. You should be able to keep stuff in your cart for a while; I know one non-ebook site I shopped on once deleted my cart after like twenty minutes, which annoyed me so much I gave up. You don’t want readers to give up. You don’t want them to get annoyed by having to hit extra buttons and wander through different windows. They will go somewhere else.

And if they’re going elsewhere, you might as well have left your book in your hard drive, right?

So does anyone else have anything to add?

Continue to Part Three

Monday, June 25, 2007

Find the right publisher (Part One)

Okay, so since this is a question that comes up a lot, I decided to do several posts (of which this is the first) on checking out publishers.

(NOTE: Ebook publishers are the focus of PART 2. Scroll down for the link.)

A lot of writers give writing advice. I personally don’t think I’ve achieved anywhere near the kind of success that would make people yearn for my words on that subject. You won’t see me doing workshops anytime soon, anywhere—if I ever do, which I most likely wouldn’t.

But I do know rather a lot about how to spot a scam publisher or one that won’t necessarily advance your career, and since this is a topic I’ve blogged about off and on since the beginning of this blog and one I care a lot about, I decided to give it a go.

Several months ago on a different site, one of my friends asked about an anthology and whether it was worth submitting to. I’m going to use that particular publisher as an example of a legitimate, if small, press.

For the bad? I’ll use the Champion Scammers, Publish America.

(Note: None of my comment are absolute absolutes, as you’ll see [although Publish America does SUCK]. But hopefully this will be a good base.)

So first. The house I looked at for my friend was this one: Cleis Press. I chose them because they’re small, so the chances you’re heard of them are also small. Because they’re niche, which also lessens the chances you’ve heard of them. Because their site is a good example and their reputation is stellar. Plus because I was just there. (I’ll find a different publisher to use for epresses.)

Okay, so there’s the Cleis website. What is the first thing you notice on this page?

You notice that it’s a professional-looking site. The colors mesh. There are no visible typos. The layout makes sense, too. You can see a couple of book covers, with blurbs. There’s a description of what they publish, and a link to an interview with the owners.

That last is important why? Because right there, you know who runs this business. Nobody’s hiding.

Go to the bottom of the page at Cleis. See the little menu? Notice the options. “How to Order”. “For Booksellers”. “Academic Resources”. “For the Media.” “Best Sellers”. Etc.

Those options tell you something important as well: that Cleis considers its job to be selling books to the public, and to booksellers. That they have a media/publicity department. That they keep a list of their best sellers and make it available.

Okay. Now let’s look at Publish America, our scam publisher. What is the first thing you notice on their website? What’s right near the top? (Aside from the slogan “We treat authors the old-fashioned way: we pay them!” which is a red flag because, that should go without saying.)

“Submit your book!”

This is why that’s odd:
Because most legitimate publishers already have plenty of submissions. Because, in fact, most of them are drowning in submissions, even small presses, and the reason for that is people see their books in stores, decide they liked them, and decide to submit their own work. A publisher begging for submissions is a publisher with no track record.

Let’s see what other difference we can spot on the PA (Publish America) web site:

1. This website seems specifically geared towards writers wishing to submit, doesn’t it? I don’t see any spots up near the top for booksellers, for example, but I see a lot of information geared to get you to submit.

2. The PA site also has, right near the top, a list saying how great they are as a company. That’s funny; Cleis doesn’t. Neither, for that matter, do Random House, Simon & Schuster, Kensington, or Harlequin. In fact, have a look at the websites of the publishers of any random book on your shelf; I doubt they’re bragging about how many books they publish, or how many queries they get.

Also note, not one of these publishers—even Cleis, of whom you very well might not have heard—has a link right there on the front page so you can submit your work to them. And why are they so focused on “first-time” authors and “helping” them? Why do they care if you’re a beginner or not? And why are they talking about “helping”? Their job isn’t to help you; it’s to sell books.

Note, too, that this list makes no mention of sales; only number of submissions and books published. Hmmm.

3. Let’s look at that little bottom menu now. “How to get Published”. “Get Published Free”. And some links that don’t seem to make much sense: “Children’s Book Publishers/Poetry Publishers/Christian Publishers/Fiction Publisher/Book Publishers/Directory/Resources 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8/Site Disclaimer”.

That’s kind of odd, isn’t it? None of the other publishers have a “Site Disclaimer”. None of the other publishers have what seem like generic random lists at the bottom either. And why is there nothing on the site about buying books? There’s a little button at the top for the online bookstore, but shouldn’t there be more information here about buying books, rather than submitting them? Even as you navigate through the site, there’s no link, anywhere, for Booksellers. It’s all geared towards authors.

Two more important things to note about the PA site:

1. The “About Us” link is hard to find. Take a look at it. It says “About Us”, sure—but there are, oddly enough, no names listed. Clies Press told us right on the first page who runs their company. PA? Nope. Nobody has their names listed. There aren’t any names listed on the “Contact Us” page either. (Although there is a link to “Author Testimonials”; why? Shouldn’t we be hearing from readers who love these books? Reviewers?)

2. This is a BIG one. Notice in the upper left, on the home page, there’s a box with a star that says “PA Books Become Movies!” Read what it says. A book of theirs is “stocked in a whopping 42 bookstores in 21 states”.


42 bookstores nationwide? In 21 states—less than half of the states? Is that really something to brag about? Out of thousands of bookstores in the US, one of their titles is in 42 of them?

3. Why do they keep saying their authors are “happy”? I want to know if they’re making money and being treated professionally. I’m sure some of them are happy, but why do I care? Why do they need to tell me?

Let’s go back to Cleis. Let’s click a link at random. How about “About”? Publish America’s “About” page told us how they don’t charge fees, how they put their faith in new writers, how thousands of authors who wouldn’t have been published any other way managed to get published through them, which sounds rather bad, really, but oh well.
Cleis’s “About” page features a photograph of the publishers, an interview with them about their company and work, and once again, their names. Say, these ladies have a publishing history! There was no mention of that on PA’s site, but there is here. Even before starting Cleis 25 years ago, they had history in the publishing business—as writers, as publishers, as editors, even as booksellers.

You want people who know what they’re doing..

Now what haven’t we seen yet at Cleis? There are sections about ordering their books (”For Booksellers”) and a list of their books used in classes at colleges across the country (”Academic Resources”. Both of which go far to convince us this is a legitimate publisher.

But we haven’t seen submission guidelines yet? Why? Because a legitimate publisher doesn’t usually need to go begging for submissions.

Let’s try clicking on “Contact”, though, since we’ve already tried “About”.

Ah. There it is. About halfway down the page it mentions Submissions, with a separate place to click for the guidelines.

Cleis tells you very specifically in their guidelines what they publish; provocative gay/lesbian works, sexual politics, feminism, etc. (The guidelines are there, you can read them. This is already way too long and I’m nowhere near done.) They tell you how many submissions they get and of those how few they publish. They tell you what to send and where to send it.

PA, on the other hand, doesn’t really mention what they publish. It seems from looking at the site that they’re open to anything. Nor do they seem particularly choosy; in fact, under “Facts and Figures” they mention they have lower acceptance standards.

Here’s what doesn’t matter about the submission guidelines for either:

The format in which they accept submissions. Cleis accepts only email, and there’s nothing wrong with that. PA accepts both and, loathe as I am to admit it, there’s nothing wrong with that either. Some publishers accept only paper, and that’s fine too. Cleis wants MS Word or PDF attachments, PA wants MS Word or Word Perfect, which is odd as nobody in publishing really uses Word Perfect anymore but most places don’t ask for PDF either.

Their response times. Well, not really, anyway. PA claiming to be as big as they are yet still being able to reply to queries within 1-2 days should give you pause. It might not disqualify them from further investigation if everything else on their site wasn’t so full of red flags, but some publishers (and agents) do work that quickly on queries.

So what have we learned so far (tomorrow we’ll look at ebook websites and further investigation)?

We’ve learned that the website of a legitimate publisher is geared towards selling books to the public and not on getting more submissions;
We’ve learned that a legitimate publisher lets you know who runs the company and what their publishing experience is;
We’ve learned that a legitimate publisher doesn’t need to talk about how many authors it “has” or how many books it’s published;
We’ve learned that a legitimate publisher focuses on the business of publishing, and not on discussing how “happy” everybody is.

Continue to Part Two--Epublishers.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Misplaced Loyalty

So, as I'm sure quite a few of you know, Triskelion Publishing is closing and filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy as of July 2.

All contracts with them are now frozen. Rights to contracted books and rights to published books are considered assets and are also frozen.

What this means is, a whole bunch of authors are fucked at this particular moment in time.

Blame is, of course, flying around the internet, as well as heartfelt sorrow.

I buy both, but they both piss me off too.

It pisses me off to see author blogs mentioning how sorry they are for their "sister authors". Some of those posting are the same ones who were so vehement in their defense of Triskelion over the last few months. The ones who showed up on other blogs to castigate and blame, to insist that anyone who had issues with Triskelion was merely "unable to accept editing".

Still more are the ones who refused to pass on "gossip". Who may have mentioned the company on their blogs, but only to mention how shameful the whole email scandal was, without saying a word about the lack of professionalism shown in the email itself, the allegations of the RWA, their disinvitation, the fact that authors had been having trouble being paid, having trouble getting firm release dates, that their print runs were cancelled, that the company admitted it had "bitten off more than it could chew" (or whatever the exact phrase was.)

Now they're all worried about their "sister authors". I didn't see them worrying too much last month, or any of the months before that, when rumbles and rumors were making their incredibly slow way through various author communities (and nobody wanted to pass them on, which meant they were practically impossible to find. I know a good number of former Trisk authors who tried to speak out only to be met with withering looks). Anyone who dared to suggest that signing a contract with Triskelion might not be a good move was "disgruntled" or "vengeful" or "sour grapes" or whatever you want to say. As if there could be no other motive than revenge, for wanting people not to end up in the same situation as someone else.

It's all well and good now to offer your support. But it would have been far more supportive if, whenever you first heard the rumors and learned there was some definite truth behind them, you'd passed them on. If you'd kept your mouth shut instead of leaping in to castigate those who were trying to get the word out and offer your undying support to a company that apparently thought being friends was more important than being professional. If instead of behaving as though anyone with doubts about the company or something to say had an axe to grind, and wasn't simply trying to help others.

From a blog that purports to be written by a literary agent (I have my doubts)(***interesting side note--since this morning when I found that blog, it has been deleted. I wish I'd saved the posts. The url was, and I swear it didn't feel right to me; anyone else heard of it/read it?***):
Now, let me say this. I have had a chance to meet with these editors and they are nice people. I think that much of what happened was a result of poor communication and a lot of upset people that screwed themselves over and tried to blame it on the publisher.

Oh, okay, so they're nice people. That automatically qualifies them to run a business, doesn't it? Gods I miss Miss Snark. I seriously doubt Miss S's take on something like this would be "But they were nice people, and the authors screwed them". Anyone have any thoughts on what she might say?

Much of what happened was the result of a company overextending itself, failing to behave in a professional manner as far as release dates, ARCs, promotions in general, proper publication of books (one author's print books were sent out missing the last 30 pages. She had no idea until a reader notified her), a difficult-to-navigate website with documented problems in downloads, etc. etc. etc. Make no mistake; a company that announced it was in financial trouble several months ago is not now going bankrupt because people were meeean. For all the authors out there sharing a negative experience there were some vehemently insisting they were all just a bunch of bitches, that they were liars, that they were just mad they didn't get treated like queens.

This post isn't about Triskelion, really it isn't. Triskelion's unfortunate demise is the impetus, yes, but really, this is about how the romance community seems so happy to fuck itself over. How they claim a sisterhood but there's really this nicey-nice Everybody-better-get-along-or-ELSE mentality that keeps so many people from really honestly looking at an issues. Instead of talking about professional standards, we want to talk about whether or not someone is NICE. Instead of demanding that RWA become a stronger advocate for its authors by toughening standards, we want everybody to feel special and get mad when objections are raised, or when it's implied that selling a story to some brand-new fly-by-night epub with two titles to their names isn't exactly as big an achievement, in hard professional terms, as selling to Simon & Schuster.

And now who's paying for that attitude? For the "nice beats professional" or "y'all are just mean" attitude?

Every author whose rights are now tied up indefinitely. Every one of us who expected a royalty check, no matter how small, at the end of this month (and yes, I know several copies of my trisk book sold before I got the rights back, so I'm one of them, although nowhere near as hard hit as some.)

And every author who went out of their way to bitch about those who were trying to make their voices heard and call them names, to blame people for sharing their experiences, is partially to blame. The issue with Triskelion was never about the quality of their authors; it was about their management's ability to run a company. That's an issue that shouldn't make authors defensive. How many Regan Books authors did you see out there blogging about Meanies when the OJ thing hit back in November?

Something to think about in future, everyone...protecting other authors only helps all of us.

And blind loyalty to a publisher, out of gratitude for your contract, is foolish. And Triskelion's unfortunate authors aren't the only ones who've learned that one...they're just the most recent.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Applause at the End

(No, no, I'm not going anywhere!)

Sorry for my recent absences, and my lack of post yesterday. I was hard at work, finishing my EC Torrid Tarot novel The Eighth Wand. I told my fantastic editor that she'd have it by the end of this week, but hey, I was inspired. (And luckily I'd already edited the rest of it, so had only to write the last scene.) Now let's just hope she likes it.

Also, the sd is here, which means my evenings are taken up with what the hubs and I like to think of as our Summer "Real Film Education" Program. At home it seems she's rarely exposed to such classics as Jaws and Die Hard. (I believe I wrote earlier about the fun of showing her Die Hard for the first time, didn't I?) Anyway. So we watched Jaws on Sunday. I love Jaws. And last night, we watched Speed, another film I love. I love it for its cheesiness, for the cast of stereotypes, for the sheer pleasurable cliche factor ("Pop quiz, hotshot." Yay!)

Sd loved Speed. Which is cool. But it got me thinking, when the movie ended and, as always when that movie ends, I felt like cheering.

When I was a kid, applause at the end of the movie was pretty common. It didn't matter that in suburban St. Louis the chances of anyone actually involved in the making of the film being in the theatre were slim to none; we threw our applause into the air just the same. Because it was fun. Because it made us all feel like we'd been through an experience together. because...well, because that's what we did.

But aside from The Return of the King and the re-release of Star Wars, I can't remember the last time I heard applause at the end of a movie, and I wonder why.

Are movies just not as good anymore? Are we more discriminating? Or are we too blase? Too cool to clap for a bunch of people who can't hear us anyway? And what does that say about how much fun we actually have anymore at the movies?

Sure, maybe I just haven't been seeing the right movies with the right audiences. It's entirely possible. But it still makes me wonder.

Makes me wonder, too, about books. When I finish a book I want to applaud. I want someone to applaud for me; but that (hopefully) happens much later, when the book is actually released.

I have an autographed copy of my favorite novel, The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk. My friend George got it for me for Christmas a few years ago, and it remains one of my most treasured possessions. There's a little dedication over the signature (it's a special edition printed specifically to be autographed) where Wouk basically says (with much more grace) that writing is solitary work, that you don't know if what you're doing is any good or not until it's released and even then you don't really know. But being asked for an autographed edition says something to him: "I take it as the sound of distant applause, and I thank you."

(This is particularly on my mind because I just finished re-reading Marjorie Morningstar for the nth time, and may blog about it this weekend.)

So what books do you applaud for? And if you've had a book released, what sounds like applause to you?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Father's Day!

I know I have a few Dads who read here, so I hope you guys are having a great day!

And if my own Dad, who I've been trying to call, or my brother who owes me an email, happen to stop by here...happy Father's Day to you, and I love you both.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Life intrudes

Yeah, I know. I was supposed to come back on Wednesday and post but I didn't get to. And yesterday I spent the day doing one of three things:

1. Humoring the Faerie when she insisted on sitting in my lap;

2. Baing peanut butter cakes (I promise I'll put the recipe on the Overflow blog this weekend);

3. Hunting for 1300 words of a story that somehow disappeared or got saved in a temporary file or I-don't-know-the-fuck-what, but it wasn't at the end of the story like it was supposed to be. GAHR!! Bleh. Not fun.

Yes, Mercury Retorgrade is upon us again. I know in a lot of ways astrology is a bunch of shit. I check my horoscope at Astrology Zone every month. I even read my rising sign's forecast, too. But it's almost never accurate. I was supposed to be having a great, lucky, and wonderful month; instead...

Well, instead I feel a little shitty. I feel isolated and like people are whispering about me or avoiding me. I feel like people are ascribing motives or thoughts to me that aren't true; that they think nefarious things.

Part of it is probably the retrograde. As I said, I don't necessarily believe in astrology as a way to forecast events but I do know that every once in a while I feel this way, I get that creeping dread running its cold little snail-trails up my spine, and almost inevitably it's time for a retrograde.

Is anyone else feeling isolated these days?

Part of it is the same old thing, being not only an outsider from a different country but being an outsider in a small rural town. Being home alone with a little one all day and weekends are more of the same except there's a husband around too.

Part of it may be the impending visit of my stepdaughter, who is a good kid but still not mine, so when she's here it feels like my house isn't mine either. Like I have to always be on my guard, because there are strange eyes watching.

I'm actually fine; I know this post seems a little down and depressing (sorry) but I'm actually just trying to explore what sort of effects the greater environment still has on us. The planets and the cycles of the moon; do you write better when the moon is full, or new, or does it matter at all? Do you notice the retrograde? I find I often have a hard time writing hot scenes when Merc is retro. Plot points seem to jumble in my head; scenes must be discarded.

This one lasts until the 14th of July, I believe.

And I'll be blogging over at Deliciously Naughty later about villains. :-) So that will be more fun.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Well, I have a couple of cool things to post about (although my funny title for this post will no longer work, so instead you get Hmmm. Better than my last untitled post, I guess. I totally forgot to title it.)

Blood Will Tell is up on EC's Coming Soon page!! Squee! Of course, when I first saw it a minor error had occurred and it was credited to my friend Sherrill Quinn, not me. Which was going to be the title of this post..."Blood Will Tell, by, um, Sherrill Quinn..."

But they fixed it, so I am robbed of the chance to make fun of my bad luck.

Second, Anna J and I have a release date for our X-rated EC book, Demon's Triad. It will be out on January 16th, 2008. A bit of a wait, sadly, but hopefully people will consider a long, hot paranormal which features m/m, brief scenes of f/f, m/f/m, and...well, that one very dark part, to be just what they need to beat the post-holiday blues.

Third, in honor of my appearance on the Coming Soon page, I am doing a contest. To enter, all you need to do is join my Yahoo group (you can also click the box in the bottom of the sidebar.) It's not a busy list, I post excerpts when I remember, so it won't clutter your inbox. But they are fun excerpts (I hope) and most of them are exclusive to the group, so go ahead and join.

On the morning of the 11th, I will pick a winner and send them a copy of the book. For free! The rest of you will have to buy yours.

And I'll be back in an hour or so to actually blog, because I have to go pick up Princess from school now.

Monday, June 11, 2007

So the hubs and I were discussing tattoos last night.

It's actually something we've discussed quite a few times. I have two tats already, but got the last one about twelve years ago. The urge to get more just didn't really least not until a couple of years ago, at which point I couldn't afford one. (In large part I moved away from them because I got mine a year or so before everyone started getting them, which made it unappealing.)

Not to mention, after the one on my ankle which I no longer like, I want to be very, very certain before I get another.

Hubs doesn't have any tattoos. He's been talking pretty much since we got together about getting one, but like me he doesn't know what. My suggestion of having my name tattooed on his ass don't seem to be going anywhere (they're tongue-in-cheek anyway. Ba dump bum.)

Right now he's thinking of getting a hula girl of some kind (he's a little obsessed with the whole tiki thing). We found one on this site last night that he likes, but may all be a moot point.

Me, I always wanted a white tattoo, but nobody would do it. They said the white might bleed or fade. Which pissed me off, because I always thought, it's my body and if the white ends up looking kind of crappy it's down to me, isn't it? I didn't want a mural or anything. Besides, take a look at (Not Safe For Work!! Naked boobies!! Tasteful naked boobies, but boobies nonetheless) this and tell me that's not gorgeous. It's so subtle and elegant.

You can get similar results through (pic shows lady in bra) scarification (a more fully healed, and really cool-looking, one is (bare male torso) here--I think it's absolutely stunning.)

That process, and the subtlety of the results, interests me, but I think I'm probably way too much of a coward. Apparently some people do it by using an inkless tattoo needle, which is probably the only way I'd have the guts.

I wonder, though, what drives us to get tattoos? Is it self-expression or is it some sort of deep need to "personalize" our bodies in a world where we so often feel lumped in with everyone else, where it seems the opportunities to lead an individualistic life are fewer and fewer?

The hubs and I are fans of an old BBC comedy called The Good Life, about a married couple who decide to "drop out" of the ratrace, convert their backyard into a small farm, and live in a completely self-sufficient manner. It's a lovely and very funny show...and it would be impossible today, even if it was possible then. Homeowner's associations now tell you everything from how often you have to cut your lawn to what colors you're allowed to paint your house--the house you own.

The Black Dahlia killer removed Elizabeth Short's tattoos--why? She was identifiable without them. What did they symbolize to him, why did he need, as he destroyed her body, to remove her individualism as well?

What do you think? Are tattoos still a form of rebellion? Do you ever write characters with tattoos? What do you think a tat or even a brand or scars might say about a character? And what would you think if you read such a character?

Do you have any tattoos yourself?

Friday, June 08, 2007

Bored and Hungry

I'm bored.

I'm not really sure why I'm bored, but I am just the same.

It may be the heat. Despite my pleasure in the end of a very long winter, I'm not pleased that the weather is getting so warm, so fast. Because there's no air conditioning here, and no screens on the windows which makes it hard for those of us who don't appreciate having insects in our homes to get some cooler air.

I was thinking today about body hair. (I know, what segway?) Because we have it, and its ostensible evolutionary purpose is to keep us warm. But why do we still need it? Especially when it's just so yucky (in general)?

I'm not really talking about men here, because in general I don't care much if a man is hairy (well, okay, that's not exactly true. I've noticed as I get older that my aversion to hairy chests has lessened, and I even like a little stomach hair now, but I still shudder at the memory of a man who came into the movie theatre where I worked in high school. He was wearing a tank top and I swear the man was furry. Long, thick tufts of fur--some brown, some gray--all over his shoulders and back. It was disgusting. Anyway.) No, I mean women. And specifically, women who don't shave their legs or underarms or whatever.

Why? I just don't get it. Sure, I've been lax about such things in the past. Sometimes I'm still lax now. But I never let more than a couple of weeks at the most go by, and that's in the dead of winter when not even the hubs sees my legs (pajama bottoms.) And the rest of it--I'm fairly obsessive. It takes less than a minute to shave the underarms, come on!

I'm also a fan of depilatories--the Veet razorless stuff is what I'm using these days, it smells nicer than Nair and I love that little rubber razor thingie--and I've been known to wax at home on occasion, too, which wasn't bad but didn't last as long as I'd hoped it would. I might try it again with summer coming though.

What do you use? Men, what do you think of hairy ladies?

What other little Friday notes do I have? Oh, okay. When using a Pampered Chef Food Chopper to chop shallots, don't ever, ever use your left index finger to pry a shallot out from between the blades, because your finger will bounce back up and you will slice it open and it will both bleed and hurt a lot. It's especially not good to do this where your toddler will hear you and wander around the house chanting, "Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!" for the next fifteen minutes before you manage to convince her that what you actually said was "Fump! Fubble!"

I miss my cheap Target flip-flops, that I bought for like $2. They were red.

And I guess that's it. This has been a weird blogging week. Miss S is gone, now Sonya is leaving us. I blogged on Sunday but not on Monday so the week feels longer, and I didn't have much to blog about either. Is it just summer coming, or is the whole world changing?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Stupid sore throat

Ugh. I'm not sick. I haven't really been sick, but for the last week and a half now it's felt like I'm coming down with something--probably the same something that kept my hubby home last Friday to lounge on the couch and interrupt my working schedule.

And now my throat is tremendously sore.

And I've been working a lot in the last week or so too.

All of which explains why I've been rather scarce. And, uh, why this post is actually just blathering about a movie and not much of a real post.

Hubs and I went into Barnstaple at the weekend to have a little wander-around--there are only two towns near us big enough to have any decent shopping, and by decent I mean "really not very good at all but barely adequate". While there we stopped in at a new store which seels mostly DVDs and CDs. Decent prices, too, which is unusual.

So I smiled my prettiest little smile at the hubs and got him to buy me The Libertine, a film I've been dying to see for some time now. Partly because I love the Restoration period and am getting ready to write a book set there (or, well, okay. I have on my list of projects a book set there, which means after I finish everything I'm contracted to do I may just get to it next year. Maybe. But I can dream, can't I?) Partly because I have a vague familiarity with the life of John Wilmot, the second Earl of Rochester whose life the film ostensibly protrays. And partly because--oh, come on, any of you who've spent any amount of time at all here with me can probably guess to at least two other reasons why I might want to see this film. Hot, drunken, oversexed historical bad boys? Um, yes please.

Unfortunately...the film was disappointing. It started with a bang (no, not literally, sad to say) by having Depp-as-Wilmot do a very sexy little speech about how very bad he is, in which he assures both men and women he's "up for it". Sigh. In fact, it wasn't an assurance, it was a threat, which was even hotter.

Then he sexually semi-assaults his wife in a carriage (in a good way), and I poured myself a drink and settled back to really enjoy myself.

Unfortunately...that's about it as far as sexiness went. Some of the reviews on Amazon led me to believe the film was almost pornographic; but with the exception of one soft-focus group sex scene (in which Wilmot is NOT a participant) and one extremely mild one-on-one sex scene (in which he is, and we don't see so much as a pectoral muscle, let alone anything else), it's really pretty tame. Wilmot says a few clever things and drinks a lot; the only other real sex reference in the movie is a scene with a prositute where he's too drunk to get it up. Oh, and one really, really funny bit backstage at the theatre, where an actor questions a bit of stage direction Wilmot has written.

Had the movie been about a different period of Wilmot's life this might have been different, but it focuses on his last few years, in which he seduces an actress and falls in love. Hence the soft-focus sex, hence my disappointment. (Perhaps my line of work is ruining me for such things? I'm not used to soft-focus euphemism anymore. Thoughts, anyone? Did you find the film sexy, if you've seen it?) The presence of John Malkovitch was a little depressing, because only made me long for the delightful debauchery of the Vicomte de Valmont. (Interestingly, Malkovitch played Wilmot on Broadway in the play the film is based on--I bet he was amazing. Not that Depp wasn't good.)

Large portions of the film focused on his coaching of eventual mistress Elizabeth Barry, which dragged for me as well.

The biggest problem, though, was the ending felt rushed. One minute Wilmot is pretending to be a quack doctor, the next his face is covered with syphilitic sores and he's unable to control his bodily functions. It happens so quickly that at first we wonder if he was wounded somehow, and before we're able to process his decline it gets worse and he dies. The end. That's exactly how it feels in the movie, although more heartbreaking. It really is a sad ending, but I think the saddest thing is I was left with the feeling, as Depp asks in a little postscript if I like him now, that I don't know. I really wasn't given much of a chance to get to know him.

Anybody else seen this? Any thoughts? Anybody else think John Malkovitch in Dangerous Liaisons was pure delicious sin? Anybody have any films to reocmmend that really are as sexy as they seem? (I haven't seen Quills yet--only bits--what did you think of that one?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

New Year's Res Book

Okay, it took me a while to get to this one...but boy am I glad I did!

You guys know, because I've blogged about it before, that I've grown rather weary of "sassy" first-person female voices in urban fantasy. So, although I was excited to read this one, I was apprehensive as well.

Thankfully, any similarity between Jezebel (the heroine) and any of the other hundreds of first-person heroines in UF these days ends with the letter I. Jezebel is not sassy, not by a long shot. She's witty. She'd devious. She's crisp and funny and sharp, and this book is a hell of a lot of fun.

Remember fun? Jackie Kessler does, and she's provided it in spades. I actually laughed out loud when reading it, more than once, and when I wasn't laughing I was being blown away by the sheer cleverness and the voice as sharp as gin-cracked ice. Lines like (in referring to a group of strippers) "...some of these gals scored so deeply with their barbed words that the floor should have been tacky with their blood"--among many others--made me demon-green with envy.

In a nutshell, succubus Jezebel runs away from Hell when Lucifer makes A Big Announcement. The Announcement is a source of mystery for most of the book, so I won't reveal it here, but suffice it to say it's world-shattering enough for a succubus who obviously loves her work to give it all up. Now on the run and in danger if she's found, she forces a witch to make her human and heads off to New York City, where she finds a job as--what else?--a stripper. The perfect job for a former creature of lust, with the added benefit of making good money. Jezebel's human life is intercut through the story with tales of her pre-transformation days, shepherding the souls of the damned into Hell and having fun with an incubus named Duanuan, who is everything an incubus should be and more.

In fact, if I have one complaint with the book, it's that the human love interest, Paul, simply pales in comparison with the wickedly sexy Duan. (And my other complaint, which is more like a worry, is that nobody's going to want to read about my demons after they've gotten a hold of this one! :-)) Sure, Paul's an appealing hero, but perhaps my personal prejudice comes in to play here as well--I've simply never been a fan of cop heroes, coming down firmly on the side of Bad Boys rather than good.

It's a minor quibble, though, and the rest of the story, in all its witty, exciting glory, more than makes up for it. Jezebel's switch from selfish succubus to slightly-less-selfish human, and the wistful longing to fit into human society that she hides from herself (but we clearly see), make her a thoroughly charming heroine, one I enjoyed spending time with a lot more than I thought I would.

There's a second book, The Road to Hell, coming out in October. Meanwhile, grab a copy of Hell's Belles here, and enjoy.

And, I have a new friend! Mark Henry has a book called "Happy Hour of the Damned" set for release in March of next year, and I am seriously pee-my-pants excited about it. It's about zombies. And it sounds awesome. And he is like the coolest person ever, except for all of you. You're all equally cool. So go check out his blog, and say hi, and trust me, one day we'll all be saying we knew him when.