Thursday, November 8, 2012

Win a Kindle paperwhite and more

Eleven independent authors representing many genres have created a rafflecopter contest with a grand prize of a Kindle paperwhite (or gift card equivalent beyond the US), gift cards, and free ebooks.

A $50 gift card will be awarded this Saturday, Nov. 10, and $25 gift cards next week. Each person has 12 chances to win--enter on the contest main page and go from there to each author's website  and enter again.

This contest uses Rafflecopter. Entries will be combined from all submissions for the drawings.

The first winner of 11 ebooks was Cheryl Todd.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Moving to Wordpress!

I've a new Wordpress site. I hope you'll follow me there, because in a few months I'll abandon this one.

Friday, August 10, 2012

A Cure for the Backwards Apostrophe in Word '07

I'm so proud of my discovery that I have to tell the world. I learned how to solve a Microsoft Word problem, no thanks to Word Help or online Q & A's. 

"  ' 
The marks above are straight quotes and a straight apostrophe or single quote mark, relics of the typewriter age. A straight apostrophe can never be backwards. But it's not the mark you expect to see in professionally printed documents. 

Microsoft Word Help and other online documents tell you how to change your straight quotes to curly quotes or "smart" quotes. Trouble is, smart quotes are not all that smart. Sometimes the apostrophe, which is the same as the single quote key, comes out backwards. 

The backwards apostrophe will appear in contractions like years (graduate of '12) or slang (get 'em!) if you've changed your preferences to smart (curly) quotes.  Your curly apostrophes will be fine in words like can't, where the apostrophe is inside a word. But when it comes first, like contractions of years or other slang usage, the curly quote will be backwards.

I've been frustrated by this, because though I've used Windows for several years, I used to work exclusive on Macs, and regularly used a keyboard shortcut to type curly quotes and correct, left-curling apostrophes.

Since Mac features seem to occur also in Windows, I engaged my finger-memory and pressed various control keys in combination with the quote/apostrophe key.  And suddenly I found it.

You've read enough, so here's the procedure. When typing an apostrophe that comes first in its word, press these keys: Control/FN/and hit the apostrophe key twice.  To fix an existing backwards quote, select it, then press Control/FN and hit the apostrophe key twice.

I haven't checked other PC keyboards to see if they're all laid out like mine (HP), but on my laptop the FN key is to the right of the Control (ctrl) key.

So there you go.  Let me know if this procedure does/doesn't work for you.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Good Title

Because a few readers said they did not like the title of THE GIRL ON THE MOUNTAIN, my current novel-in-progress, I conducted a survey of people who have and have not read the story. I gave a choice of fifteen possible titles to friends and family and asked them to pick one that might lead to a closer inspection of the book. From those who had not read the story, I wanted a gut reaction. From those who'd read it, I wanted to know if another title might work better.

Here are the results:

1. The Girl on the Mountain: 7 votes from those who have not read the story plus 2 from those who have. Amy, who hasn't read the story, said the title suggests "historical," which she likes. Jennifer, who has read it, said the title raises questions and better suits the story. Why I like the title: until she moves down from the mountain, May Rose, the main character, doesn't know people call her "the girl on the mountain." Throughout the story, she struggles to overcome their opinions.

2. Where Whispers Echo:  8 votes, all from people who have not read it. How this title works: A well-meaning character in the story tells May Rose it doesn't matter if she's innocent of the slander against her, because "nothing truly interesting happens here, so a whisper echoes all over the mountains, and people don't know or don't care if it's true or not."  This title is poetic but may suggest a romance, which the story is not.

Votes were scattered among nine other title ideas.

Before as Strangers: A quote from Longfellow's Evangeline, used in the story.
Sounds of the Rude World: A quote from Stephen Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer," used in the story.
Fair and Young: Evangeline
Never Falter, Never Fail: A phrase from "Life is Like a Mountain Railroad" (old hymn). A theme in the story.
As Leaves to the Light: Evangeline
Company Town: Appropriate because most of the story is set in a company town in 1899.
Prayers and Lies: I like this one because the main character prays constantly and also lies, as do others in the story.
Down in the Valley: The site of the company town. 
Unsafe: A theme.

I had fun with this exercise, which confirmed my belief that titles create different expectations. A title, however, is only one lure. The cover must also be appropriate and interesting to people who like a certain kind of fiction, and the cover blurb has to suggest an intriguing story. Finally, the first few paragraphs must capture the reader's imagination and cause him or her to read the whole story! 

Next Round: Reactions to a cover and cover blurb.

Thanks, everyone!

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Real Message in the Stars

I wish Amazon used a star system like Netflix, the rental business that ranks movies based on my preferences, not on what others say about them.

Netflix assigns attributes to each film, such as feel-good, steamy, understated, chilling.  Then it regularly asks us to rank movies we've seen and matches attributes of our favorites to create personalized recommendations--for example, 3.5 stars, its best guess for Carol.  3.5 stars usually means I'll like the movie.

Because of the huge book numbers, delivering a personal recommendation may be too difficult or impractical for Amazon, and it's certainly not possible for reviewers.  But without personalization, star rankings for books don't mean a lot.    

Then there's the other thing: some reviews and likes of reviews may not be legitimate.  I heard recently of an author with review blogs under several different names who trashes his rivals and praises the books he writes under a number of pseudonyms. This is a bad thing for his rivals as well as for readers!  Maybe it's an urban legend--I have no facts. But there's a scam for everything, so why not? Would a real reader finish a book he could give only one star?

Recipe and product reviews can be helpful--I've bought products (luggage, for example) based on reviews.  Occasionally I review a book and give stars, if the website requires it. Five stars to me means one of my all-time favorite books.  People give five stars too often--a five star review seems as suspect as a one-star.

For me, the best book recommendation still comes word-of-mouth from someone I know or a reviewer I follow who has preferences similar to my own. 

What's your take?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Too Much of a Good Thing

An enthusiastic reviewer led me to Divergent, Veronica Roth’s young adult novel of a girl coming of age in a tightly controlled society.  I loved the premise—at age 16, youth must choose their future culture or caste (overtones here of declaring a major, finding one's niche or lifestyle).  In Divergent, the cultures are called factions, and they resemble personal orientations we recognize:  Abnegation, Erudite, Candor, Amity, and Dauntless.  Beatrice is born into Abnegation, but her tests show aptitude for three factions instead of one.  She’s “divergent,” a dangerous quality she must not reveal.  At her choosing ceremony, she leaves her family and joins “Dauntless,” the reckless faction.  You can see where this is going.

I was bothered throughout by the fact that the faction names aren’t all noun forms.  But I can live with that.  More serious, about halfway the story changes its focus from the girl’s progress in her new society to her tentative romantic explorations.  For me, this emphasis was TOO MUCH.

Like the best science fiction, Divergent offers a view of contemporary society, and until it turns into a teen-age romance, the novel comes close to the effectiveness of The Hunger Games.  No doubt the repeated scenes of touching and feeling work for thousands of genre readers (maybe hundreds of thousands), but I think it causes the novel to lose appeal for a crossover audience.  A little bit would have been fine.

The second example of TOO MUCH in this story is the fighting.  Once the story shifts from training to actual conflict, the fight sequences seem repetitive and boring--blow by blow, like directions for the movie actors.  I started skimming.  Yeah, I skimmed the entire last half, so I allow that my judgment may be unfair. 

My point is emphasis and balance.  I doubt that any writer knows when enough is enough--we need astute editors and critics.  Critiquers have said to me, “You can cut this.  We get it.”  I’ve given the same critique when I think a sequence goes on too long, when I’m bored by silliness or banter or exposition or gratuitous anything. 

I suspect Divergent is a good seller.  I think it missed an opportunity to be a better novel.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Overcoming the Story Blues

I hate this.

Starting a new story is as conflicting as having a new baby with the older one crying for attention.  But worse:  my story offspring are not yet equally loved.  I have to force myself to ignore the older and nurture the new. 

There are a few good side effects.  I'm not obsessed with taking care of it. I sleep better.  I'm diligently reading, planning, writing--but find time to do other things.

It's a good thing our bodies take care of the first nine months of creating a baby.  If my mind had to develop a baby, I'd probably forget where I left it.

To shock me into a relationship with this story, I've put the first chapter up for critique. We'll see if readers stimulate any maternal instincts and if the story wants to breathe.  This is risky.  The story (The Legacy of Lucie Bosell) should be available March 28 on unless I come to my senses and pull it back to the womb.

Good idea?  Bad idea?  Death wish?

What do you know about the story blues?