Award-winning author
Unusual times, remarkable places

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

27 May 2009

Gearing up for my book release

Things suddenly seem to be moving quickly for Like Mayflies in a Stream, my historical novel set in ancient Mesopotamia. I now have a pub date: Hadley Rille Books plans to release it between mid-September and mid-October. The artist is working on the cover.

It’s time for me to shift gears from the book itself to marketing it—getting cover blurbs, deciding where to send ARCs for reviews, and coming up with a marketing plan, part of which involves choosing promo items to give away.

Personally, I prefer promo items with a picture of the book’s cover. I don’t usually remember names of books or authors, but I do remember covers. If I receive a promo item with a cover shot and later lose it, I can still find the book by looking for its cover. But if the promo item had only the book’s name and author, I’m out of luck.

Unfortunately, many cool promo items don’t have space for a book cover photo. My personal favorite promo items to receive (now that I’ve collected a lifetime’s supply of pens, bookmarks, and refrigerator magnets) are pocket-sized notebooks, tee shirts, mugs, luggage tags, mini-sewing kits, calculators, and measuring tapes. I also pick up promo postcards if the cover art is beautiful.

What are your favorite promo items to receive?

What type of promo item(s) do you think I absolutely need to have? Probably should have? Absolutely should not bother with?

As you read this, I’m in New Orleans without access to a computer, so I’ll reply to your comments the first week of June.

20 May 2009

Description: the good, the bad, and the boring

As I was writing my October 2008 post on evoking a sense of wonder in speculative fiction, I realized that one thread tied all my suggestions together: description that homed in on the alien, the strange, the exotic, and the extraordinary.

There’s no purpose, unless one is being paid by the word, to describe Platonic ideals, the ordinary, everyday things and activities the average reader can swiftly and accurately imagine without any description. For example, one should never describe a paperclip unless one is in the POV of someone who has never seen one before or the paperclip is remarkable for some reason, such as its gold plating, its decoration, or its conversion into sculpture.

This holds true in fiction and nonfiction alike. Reporters today still quote 19th century New York Sun editor John B. Bogart's definition of news: "When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news."

I’ve been reading books by this year’s Clarion Workshop instructors to familiarize myself with their work, and I just started Robert CraisThe Monkey’s Raincoat. This book isn’t speculative fiction; it’s a hard-boiled detective novel set in Los Angeles. Even so, Crais uses description to, as I said above, home in on the alien, the strange, the exotic, and the extraordinary as he builds characterization and setting.

Note in these examples how Crais focuses on what you wouldn’t expect, and how the description is effective enough to overcome the weakness of the sentence construction.

Here’s how Crais describes a cat and his dinner (page 20):
“...the cat walked in. He’s black and he walks with his head sort of cocked to the side because someone once shot him with a .22. I poured a little of the Wheat beer in a saucer and put out some cat food. He drank the beer first then ate the cat food then looked at me for more beer. He was purring.”

Here Elvis Cole, the hero, finds the office of a man he’s looking for (page 15):
“The door was open. There was a little secretary’s cubicle, but no secretary. A spine-rolled copy of Black Belt magazine was on the secretary’s desk, open to an article about hand-to-hand combat in low-visibility situations. Some secretary.”

And one last example, in which Elvis sits outside on his deck eating dinner (page 20):
“The rich black of the canyon was dotted with jack-o’-lantern lit houses, orange and white and yellow and red in the night. Where the canyon flattened out into Hollywood and the basin beyond, the lights concentrated into thousands of blue-white diamonds spilled over the earth.”

15 May 2009

In praise of the pencil

I should hate pencils. As a lefty, when I finish writing something in pencil, both my hand and the page (and sometimes my clothes and face) are smeared with graphite.

But like most writers, I love office supplies, and the pencil is no exception. In fact, a No. 1 pencil is my implement of choice for brainstorming and often for taking notes.

Note I said a No. 1 pencil. The standard No. 2 pencil breaks too easily under my patented "grip of death" (see at right). And forget the No. 3 pencil! The tip scritches unyieldingly against the paper and snaps every sentence or two, and the effort produces only a pale, thin, wimpy line.

Give me a No. 1 pencil anytime. The tip rarely breaks, and it makes a satisfying dark, legible line. Unlike even the best pens, it never skips. If you turn the pencil sideways, it shades drawings nicely. And best of all, it has a subtle yet pleasant give compared with other pencils, like walking on a wooden floor instead of concrete.

For my taste, the No. 1 pencil is the queen of pencils.

What weapon do you most often yield when writing by hand?

09 May 2009

Desert eye candy: a My Town Monday post

I didn't have a chance to post midweek as usual because I had (and still have) the flu. But don't feel sorry for me. The doctor gave me orders to rest, and it was a wonderful luxury to sit and read for hours at a time.

Here are some pictures from our April 5th trip to The Living Desert (Palm Desert, California), a combination zoo/botanical gardens/natural history museum/wilderness park/nature preserve/education center set in the desert and featuring animals and plants of deserts around the world and a hiking trail in the mountains. From the trail we could see the San Andreas fault, a beautiful and peaceful setting for a future violent and deadly event.

[My Town Monday is the brainchild of Travis Erwin of One Word, One Rung, One Day.]

If you tilt your head to the left, you'll see two fat-tailed lizards. (If anyone knows how to fix the Blogger glitch of turning some pictures sideways, I'd appreciate hearing about it. Thanks.)

Another fat-tailed lizard, different species. Again, please tilt your head to the left to see it.

An artificial desert oasis. Some of my forthcoming (fall 2009) book, Like Mayflies in a Stream, takes place near a reed- and palm-surrounded water hole like this one. On Gilgamesh's orders, the priestess Shamhat captures the wild man Enkidu at the water hole when he comes with the gazelles to drink.

Orange flowers.

A hummingbird with green iridescence on part of its wing.

Orange butterfly with one black dot on each wing.

Black butterfly with yellow stripes.