Sunday, October 31, 2010

If not for bad luck...

This has been one of my worst weeks ever.  Things were supposed to pop. After all, October 27 was supposed to be the release date fro my debut novel, PULL. Great reviews have arrived from
I interviewed with Bethany Hegedus, guest lectured at Romance University, had my face in the newspaper, and my book trailer was completed. I was scheduled for not 1, not 2 but 3 booksignings for November. What more could I ask?

And then, as the saying goes, the fit hit the shan.

I bought a new purse.  The strap broke after less than one week. Then I came home to find my garage door wouldn't open. And the repairman was not only late, he took royal advantage and overcharged me, knowing I was too distracted to notice until he was gone (and did he ever burn rubber hightailing it out of there).

I should have been prepared for the coup de grace, since bad things come in threes. But I was blindsided by the email from my publisher. PULL's release had to be delayed.

Somehow, the normally reliable printer had intermingled pages from another book. My 310 page opus had grown to 320 pages and could not be released. The good news, the problem was discovered before the books were shipped. The bad news - who knows how long it will be before the problem is corrected.

I had people psyched for the release. I had to tell two prizewinners they needed to wait to receive their autographed copies. I've got signings lined up Nov 8, 9 and 20, and only one of those can be moved.  While there will probably be books available for the Nov. 20 signing at the National Council for Teachers of English convention, and the Nov 8 event was moved to the end of November, my local library has already advertised the Nov. 9 group. I'll be there to talk to people, sans books to provide to a crowd that's been waiting for this since I first sold and are now primed to buy.

As they say, if not for bad luck I'd have no luck at all. I can't wait for next week's catastrophes.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Interview with PULL's "bad boy" - Malik Kaplan

The battle of the high school titans looms at Farrington High School with the arrival of new student, David Albacore. Senior Malik Kaplan is the long-term leader of just about everything in this school; guys don’t cross him and girls don’t leave him. But now there’s a new student, David Albacore who transferred in and began taking a lot of attention from teachers, students and the basketball coach. Suddenly there’s someone bigger than Malik, an unknown who has Malik’s long-time girlfriend staring, and who won’t back down.

It took a long time to get Malik to agree to an interview. Today was a short schoolday, and he agreed to hang around and talk to me. If I were a teenaged girl I guess I'd feel lucky. He knows how to let out buckets of charm. He is tall, with a build and confident air that makes him look much older than seventeen. His deep voice fills the room. No wonder he was Homecoming King, and is a sure bet to be Prom King as well.  Maybe the other students don't like him much, but they fear him.  Maybe he thinks that's enough.

“I heard there’s friction between you and the other members of the basketball team.”

His eyes narrow. “No trouble. We’d be fine if that pack of scrubs knew how to play.”

“What about David Albacore? He seems to know his way around the court.” Bringing up the new student in school is tricky. David and Malik have been enemies since David’s first day at Farrington. It’s like survival of the fittest, law of the jungle, two predators cannot occupy the same space, one has to go.

Malik's lips turn down at the corners and I wonder if this show of emotion is an indication of anger, or unhappiness or something else. “Albacore—no refugee from a fish tank takes over my school. How’d that make me look?”

"The guy's a good basketball player."

"Got you fooled too? He came from nowhere and needs to get back before someone hurts him."

I don't think Malik likes me. He's just tolerating my questions like some people tolerate a yappy dog. And when I ask, "Someone being you?", he shrugs and starts for the door.

As he reaches for the doorknob I say, “David's bigger than you.”

Just as I expected, the words make him whirl and return. “Like I give a--”

“Girls like him. Yolanda especially.”

"Yoyo belongs to  me and what’s mine, I keep. People need to know who I am and the penalty for messing with me.”

“What brought you two together?" I asked her the same question but got no real answer. I look at how he acts and ask myself why girls flocked around him. Yes, he's handsome, and his family has more money than most around here, but still, if he has a mean streak. Or was Yolanda wrong, is there more to this guy than just the ‘bad boy’ attitude and lifestyle?
"Then she should give me what I want, shouldn't she? I made her what she is. That girl was a nothing before I met her. She needs to appreciate what I do for her. Stuff Albacore can't."

"Yolanda said you were sometimes violent when you didn't get what you wanted." As I speak his jaw clenches and I notice the balled-up hands at his sides. I remember that we're alone in this office and that some people only tolerate that yappy dog for a little while.

"Piece of advice," he says. "Don't ask too many questions. You may not like the answers."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cowards way out, or Only way out

We tell kids these are the best years of their lives. Maybe we do our kids a disservice when we reminisce about the good old days of our childhoods. We say “Wait until you’re adults and have to face real problems.” My parents used to say these things to me. You want to see how bad life can be, they said, try being an adult. I know they were talking about hard jobs, debts, mortgages, sick children. I know they had forgotten what hell adolescence can be. At least, I know all that now. Back then, those words sometimes made me re-evaluate the whole want to grow up thing. Because life as an adolescent was hard enough.

How many of us continue heading for work every day knowing we would spend eight hours being laughed at, spat on, made jokes of, have foul language used to us and about us, told we were subhuman and deserved to be dead, hit, tripped and knocked down – and all in eyesight of the bosses who did nothing to make it stop. And then knew that when we went home our day would be on the news, for the world to see. We would sue or quit and refuse to return. Most middle school and high school students don’t have that option.

In fact, bullying begins in grade school. And with the internet and cell phones and the advent of cyberbullying, the torment doesn’t end when kids leave school. For better or worse, the online world is a part of today’s experience. Ask the adults ticketed because they just could not put their phones down or stop texting while driving. For many of today’s youth, the internet is the method of communication. And that means many of the bullied find themselves being just as tormented inside the supposed safety of their own homes.

And then there are the suicides.

Adolescence and young adulthood are times when we experience our strongest feelings and passions, while still having a minimum of life experience to draw on. Kids haven’t lived through enough disasters to know that things really do get better.

Earlier this year I had major surgery, a hysterectomy to remove a cancer in my uterus. I woke up in indescribable pain, with doctors and nurses treating it like it was nothing. My recovery took time, and as hours and then days passed, I remember being willing to do anything to have it end. Had someone walked into my hospital room with a gun and offered to shoot me to put me out of my misery I would have had to think long and hard before refusing what could be called an act of kindness. But I would have refused. Because, after more decades on Earth than I want to admit, I knew that no matter how bad the pain was, it really was temporary. As one of my favorite authors, Robert Heinlein, had my all time favorite character, Lazarus Long, say “These things pass…the trick is to live through them.”

But do people really know that fundamental rule of the universe, deep down in their guts, when they are eighteen, or fifteen, or eleven? Because those are the ages of the kids killing themselves over bullying. Those kids still believe that life is supposed to be fair, making it all the more bewildering for them that they are treated so badly. Its easy for adults to say that suicide is a cowards way out, but can we really expect these young people to have the life experience to know that? Any more than they know that …these things pass? And in the end, does it really matter what the bully’s motive was? If the victim is just as damaged, shouldn’t the perpetrator get some kind of punishment? Just wanting some amusement is no excuse for harassing others. In the adult world, we would call it what it is, harassment.

That’s why I’m with the “It Gets Better” campaign. Because for most kid, adolescence is not a fun time. A lucky few are happy, some get by, many are bored, and a startling number are damaged. Statistics say that 25-30% of kids in the U. S. are involved in bullying, either as bully or victim. And that, in spite of the recent publicity about kids being bullied because they are gay, most are not. Research says that all you have to be is “different.” Kids with emotional problems are heavy targets; they have fewer coping skills and are usually the last ones to tell anyone. Other sins that set bullies off can include being too tall, too short, first to develop or last, being skinny, fat, having an accent, or just the wrong taste in clothes – all make you a possible target. Even the sanest and most well-grounded of us can be irrevocably damaged after months and years of torment. Let’s do more for our kids. I taught Sunday school recently and learned that several youth in our church were being bullied, or had been in the recent past. In one case a child got no relief from the school, even though he was being bullied on school grounds. Teachers look the other way or don't believe him.

It’s not just in the papers, or somewhere far away. With suicide the number three killer of youth aged eight to twenty-four, it’s time we woke up, looked around, and did more than just feel sorry after they have found the only escape available to them.

Monday, October 18, 2010

After The CALL - They Want Me To Do WHAT!!

Visit me today for my guest spot on the Once Written, Twice Shy blog. (Yes, I am a shy writer. And proud of it too)

I'm blogging about life since getting the CALL. How this shy introvert faces the world of Promotion and Networking. I once thought all I had to do was write a good book.

Boy was I naive.

Visit me at Shy Writers for a chance to win a prize. Leave a comment about one of the pictures you see with the story. I'll pick the winner of an autographed ARC of PULL on Friday.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

And they all lived happily ever after

Or did they? And is that really what readers want to hear these days?
The trick is to craft that ever-elusive ESE - the Emotionally Satisfying Ending, and have it fit in with the four of five hundred pages that came before.

Recently my editor voiced her discouragement over manuscripts with strong beginnings and compelling middles that faltered at the end. After spending hours at home reading the most recent one (9-to-5 is a myth in the publishing world) the ending failed to fulfill the promise of the start and she was forced to reject the book.

Which left me thinking: what are the ingredients that make for a compelling ESE? The kind of ending that makes readers seek out an author’s backlist and yearn for his or her next release. An ending that sends them gushing to share their new favorite author with friends?

Act 1 begins with the all-important Hook. Writers spend long hours crafting that perfect first line. We take classes to make us better at hooking the reader, work with critique partners and use feedback from contests to make the opening pages zing as we lead our protagonists from their ordinary world into the end of Act 1 Crisis.

Then we roll up our sleeves and tackle the vast wasteland of Act 2. We devote time and energy to keeping those hundreds of pages from sagging and loosing the reader’s interest. With nose to the grindstone (I do love my cliché’s) we check plot points and sub-plots, speed up the pace, vary the setting, and make the disasters our protagonists have to face gut-wrenching. We verify goals and motivations and ensure there's enough high level and micro-conflict to keep readers turning pages.

Finally we, and our characters, reach the final lap, Act 3. At this point we sometimes sigh with relief and mission accomplished. We can relax, whip off a happy ending and we’re ready to send the manuscript off.

The problem is, sometimes we relax too soon.

Act 3 is usually the shortest act, but it contains a major story checkpoint, the moment of emotional release the Greeks called Catharsis. This is the moment when the protagonists, and by extension the reader, exhales. The emotions should reach from the page and grab the reader’s heart, providing him or her with a reward for following along the difficult road. This checkpoint, that may take a single paragraph or several pages, can make he difference between a good story and a great read.

All my favorite books have that moment  of emotional release. Whether it’s a romantic comedy or romantic suspense, paranormal or historical; no matter what happens in the plot, my favorite are defined by the end of the inner journey. They all give me endings that makes me laugh or cry or just a warm glow of triumph.

How do we as authors give our readers that sometimes elusive ESE. Those strong endings result from the build-up of emotion through every step of the Inner Journey, until the protagonists realize and overcome the character flaws that have kept them in turmoil. The writer’s final job is to provide the moment of release the reader has been waiting for. Done right, a writer leaves readers wanting more–begging and dying for more. And that frequently results in an agent or editor giving you a CALL.

My questions to writers — How do you bring your readers to the point where they feel it’s safe to relax and bring their heart rate back under control? How do you make them yearn for another book just like the one in their hands? How do you keep the reader haunting bookstores looking for more books with your name attached?

My questions to readers — Are there books that give you that exhale moment? What are your favorite books where the ending just won’t let you go?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Boy Book Review - I Am Number Four

I Am Number Four (Lorien Legacies, #1)I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book harkens back to the old days of storytelling with an author working to convince the reader that the story being told is true and happening now. That the author is a refugee from another world, one of the Elders who escaped when their planet was invaded by neighboring Mogadarians and came to Earth to hide out and wait for a chance to take on the enemy. That nine children and their guardians also escaped, and are hiding on Earth, waiting for their teen years when super powers will appear so they can take vengeance and reclaim their world. I wanted to believe and be sucked in.

I wasn't.

Too many things just didn't tie together. Apparently Mogadarians have been on Earth for some time and are planning to kill us all and take our planet. But first they have to find and kill these nine kids in numerical order thanks to a magic charm. Number Three dies in the prologue, then we switch to Number Four's POV, a boy who's now fifteen after being on Earth for over a decade and has had a ton of false identities in the effort to stay ahead of the enemy.

Number Four and his guardian move to Ohio, when Number Three dies, and immediately begin making every crazy mistake imaginable. John Smith, since that's the name number four chooses for his current identity, gains a girlfriend and a best friend who learns he's an alien and still accepts him (the friend thinks his father was abducted by aliens years earlier) and even the school bully rally's around to help when the bad guys find them because John refuses to leave his friends. I know fifteen is a time of rebellion, but the kid bears three scars on his body that represent the other three dead kids, that should remind him that the threat is real. Yet, even he discovers the enemy a mere two hour drive away from their hideout, and Number Four knows his continued presence puts himself and his friends in danger, he forces his guardian to remain until it’s too late and they are under attack.

For me the real problem was the premise: that nine kids (six now), even armed with superpowers, could defeat an enemy that defeated the combined super powers of their families and others on their planet? The author mentions things a few times, saying that something doesn't make sense, apparently in the hope that by admitting it the reader won't mind. That did not work for me. Number Four’s ability to use light and fire and his telekinesis, and Number Six's ability to become invisible aren't enough to beat the group that comes after him. So help me, they need a magic dog to help them.

I really wanted to love this book. But as number four and number six drove off into the sunset prepared to search the entire Earth for the other survivors, I was just glad this story was over.

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Monday, October 4, 2010

Boy Book Review - The Hero

HeroHero by Perry Moore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thom Creed lives in a world where super-powered heroes are real and protect humanity from super-powered villains. He hides two secrets from his father, the former hero known as Major Might but now considered a pariah after his failure left thousands dead. Thom is fast developing a superpower of his own, the ability to heal illness and injury. And the League, the organization of superheroes that abandoned his father years earlier, wants him to join them.

Thom’s other secret – he’s gay.

He fears revealing either part of himself will hurt his father. While Thom forces down his growing feelings for Goran, his rival on the basketball court, he can’t deny his desire to be accepted by the League. That means he has to learn to handle his new powers while continuing to hide his inner feelings. This includes his concern that revealing his secrets would destroy his relationship with his father, fear that he will never find true love, and pain when he realizes he’s fallen for someone who already has a girlfriend. And then there’s that Dark Hero guy who seems to be stalking Thom. Dark Hero refuses to be part of the League and no one knows his true identity. But somehow he’s always around, apparently determined to ferret out every one of Thom’s secrets.

Thom wants to make a difference in the world. He wants to find a place for himself. Most of all, he wants his father’s acceptance. Although The Hero was written several years ago, the news headlines of today documenting bullying and teen suicides like the recent deaths of Tyler Clementi and Raymond Chase, make Thom’s promise to himself that he won’t even consider suicide all the more poignant. Thom faces a moment of truth, when the only way to protect an innocent man means revealing himself to a world that considers his sexual orientation more than just a violation of the morality clause in the League contract.

Naturally, the fate of the entire world ends up resting, literally, on Thom’s shoulders. And that’s when he learns the true caliber of his father, and the real strength of their relationship

The author, Perry Moore, renders Thom's emotions and journey in a believable fashion. Yes, the book has flaws. I kept wondering why Thom didn’t at least try to heal Miss Scarlet, another League newbie, when he discovered her illness. The League heroes are such obvious caricatures of the comic book heroes I read as a child it became a game to note who was, and who was not, included. And Dark Hero’s secret was easily guessed. Yet it all worked. And when Thom and his father face each other for the last time, my heart jumped. The Hero is a major coming-of-age, finding-yourself novel, with a strong and sympathetic, a good father and strong cast of friends, and I look forward to a sequel.

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