Wednesday, November 03, 2010

World Fantasy Convention 2010--Day Two

Gini and I stayed up talking all night last night.  Not too smart, considering the wake up call was set for 8 am. After breakfast, while Gini was busy, I did a lot of people watching and this is what I've got.

Today, I was accosted with the worst pick up line EVER.  While I was smoking outside, this fellow came up to me and said, "I've only ever seen you with a girl.  Are you a lesbian?"

Seriously?  I mean, seriously, dude, does that kind of line ever work?  Somehow I don't think so.  So now, I've got the line of the convention and I'm going to repeat it until people's ears bleed.  Because, you know, it wasn't enough that this moron insulted lesbians everywhere by assuming a pair of straight chicks hanging out at a convention were lesbians simply because they were not with this particular troll-like speciman of humanity.  No clue who said dude was.  All I need to know is this: what a loser.

The smoking area has been renamed 'the pariah portico.' I take total credit for that name, by the way.  One thing I've definitely learned--make a point of hanging out on the smoker's patio at some point during every convention.  You'll run into some fascinating and important people.

I have a feeling that Lewis Carroll's rabbit hole actually runs smack dab through the center of the Columbus Hyatt Regency.  I keep wondering if I've fallen into Wonderland or if I've just accidentally wandered into asshole. It's easy to determine what category these writers fall into.  Those who I would gush over meeting?  They're polite and always happy to talk to another author or a fan.  Those who I've never heard of?  They're the ones sitting around the bar area with their noses in the air, pattering away on their laptops hoping someone will either recognize them or ask what they're writing.  If nothing else, it's a huge lesson in what NOT to do at a convention.

Here's another.  If someone expresses interest in your project, that isn't an invitation to whip out the I-pad and show them all your research.  Trust me.  It makes people cringe.

I've been watching an extraordinary agent at work throughout this convention and I have to say--I've learned more from watching her for a couple of days than I have from all my research over the past few years.  I've been learning the language of the sale.

And yes, Modesitt's vest was even more colorful and elaborate than the day before.  We said hello to him again today, and he was just as polite as before. I think he's starting to recognize us, though.

The mass signing tonight was precisely that: a MASSIVE signing.  The Regency ballroom was very hot and stuffy.  I spent that three hour block holding down real estate in the bar.  (What? I was thirsty, and besides--how was I going to pick which author's books to get signed?  Besides Gini, of course.)  After that, we went to a couple of small press parties.  We hung out for a while with the folks from EDGE--all very nice and lots of fun--and then went on to the Chi-Zine party, where I got to get a good look at the really outstanding books they're putting out as well as pulling out bottles of beer from the tub.  Pretty darn cool.

Today I met both Elizabeth Bear and Anne Bishop.  Very nice, interesting ladies both. Gini ran into a fan in the elevator, which was totally cool, and believe it or not, we managed to drag our exhausted butts off to bed by the reasonable hour of 1:30.

World Fantasy Convention 2010--Official Day One

---Okay, so Gini invited me to stay with her in her hotel room for a couple of nights of the convention.  I thought that would be a great idea--it would let me stay longer and get out into the action earlier (which seemed like a good idea at the time) and work out a whole mess of business.  So yeah. Good idea, right?

Right. It was, as a matter of fact. I'm known for some pretty darn clever ideas, but that Gini Koch.  Genius. Sheer genius.

We saw LE Modesitt again.  I think I must be destined to run into him and his lovely vests.  Interesting thing about Modesitt--he's always very polite but he's always also just a little wild-eyed if you approach him.  I'm thinking some half-insane fan has approached him at some point in his past, the poor man.  Very charming overall, though, and there's always that moment of "Oh my gosh--that's LE Modesitt!"

My fangster pal Beth Bernobich's Passion Play (just debuted from Tor) is visible everywhere.  Interestingly enough, right after I wrote that in my journal, Tom Doherty (as in Mr. Tor) walked by and I nearly fell through the floor.

Today is the first official day of the convention, and while there were lots of people in the hotel last night, tonight is absolutely packed with a whole slew of folks that look like speculative fiction writers, editors and fans.  It's kind of like this:  I've been to romance conventions, and there really isn't any way to look around and say, "Oh yeah--romance people."  But sci fi or fantasy?  You'd better believe it.  Overall, it's a very comfortable place to be, and thank God it's more than acceptable to do jeans and tennis shoes.  Gini is introducing to me to scads of people and I'm ashamed to admit I have no clue who ninety percent of them are.

Maybe I should take some time off from writing and do a little reading in my field?  Nah.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the convention so far has been listening to some old school gossip about some of the greats in the field back in the day.  I spent quite a bit of time with my mouth hanging open, looking like a starving Venus fly trap, while I assimilated information that under no circumstance would I ever be able to write about in this blog.  So forgive me for that "I know something you don't know!" moment.  I just couldn't help it.

But I do know something you don't know.  Just so you know.

The company was so interesting that we completely missed the opening ceremonies, but I'm thinking we didn't need to know that the convention was now officially open.  The madness in the bar made that obvious enough.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Day #1--World Fantasy Convention 2010

So tomorrow, the World Fantasy Convention begins in Columbus, Ohio--but for me, today was the first day.  I went to pick up my friend, the uber-fabulous Gini Koch, at Port Columbus.  Originally, my husband was supposed to go with me but he had to work, so my daughter Audrey drove and we took her daughter Aurora (who turned one last week) with us.

The first sign of imminent awesomeness?  A text message that reads, "I'm the gal with the pink zebra print matched luggage."

After pulling her luggage from the baggage claim--it was easily spotted, by the by--Audrey and I took the luggage while Gini took the baby and we went to the car.  As I've mentioned before, little Aurora is one of the best babies in the world.  Today she had her first trip to the airport, a convention center, a big hotel and a Max and Erma's and that baby did not cry or fuss once.  She was completely enthralled by Gini and, I must say, the feeling is mutual.  Once we got Gini checked in at the Hyatt and settled in her room, we went across the street for dinner.  Hordes of complete and total strangers stopped by our table to grin and wave at the baby--who took it all calmly, as if she expects the star treatment and isn't fazed when she gets it--while Gini, Audrey and I had an animated conversation and showed off pictures of children and pets on our cell phones.  Then Audrey took the baby home and Gini and I...

...hit the bar.

What?  Are you surprised?

At any rate, the feeling at WFC is much different from the Romantic Times convention I attended earlier this year.  To begin with, there's a certain atmosphere that surrounds spec fic writers that is completely missing at a romance convention--a whole bunch of people who look vaguely familiar, as if I know them from the backs of book jackets, and yet seem easily approachable.  I met several other authors (LE Modesitt Jr. stopped by our table, for example), went to one of the party suites on the fifth floor (where I discovered that, yes--there actually ARE drinks that are mixed too strongly for me to imbibe), got into a huge discussion about Star Wars (darn that George Lucas!), Harry Potter, the hero's journey, steampunk, John Wilkes Booth, Stephen Sondheim, steroids in baseball, Greco-Roman mythology, seven foot tall aromatic ill-groomed hobbit look-alikes (don't ask), agents, contracts, the future of the fantasy genre, OCD and just about anything else you could possibly imagine in a four hour conversation over wine and cocktails.

We also decided that Gini and I were probably twins separated at birth, despite the miniscule difference in our ages.  Always great to find a long lost sister!

At any rate, tomorrow I'm attending panels on  mashups, fantasy maps, the Surrealists and Asian horror. Should be fun.  I have now officially vetoed wearing ANY sort of heel at this convention--no way no how--and am spending a little time in the morning getting my publishing resume together--something I've neglected to do so far seeing as I'm up to my eyeballs in edits at the moment.

A day of accomplishment.  I am pleased.

By the way, Gini's second book Alien Tango (the sequel to her Booklist starred debut novel Touched by an Alien) will be available from DAW on December 7, 2010.  Pre-order it if you can; TBAA is one of the funniest sci-fi adventures I've read in a loooooooooooooooooooooong time.  Trust me.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Sticking My Toe Into The Supreme Court's Business: The Language of Hatred and the First Amendment

Disclaimer:  I am not a legal expert.  I am a citizen with google-fu, political science education, and an abiding interest in the First Amendment who is kind of pissed off.

Last week, a group from the Westboro Baptist Church stopped off in Columbus on their way to Washington, where the Supreme Court will decide on the court case that Albert Snyder, father of slain Marine Lance Corporl Matthew Snyder, brought against the group as the result of their protest at his son's 2006 funeral.  They went to a corner on the Ohio State campus, with their normal regalia, and protested as part of their 1-70 Godsmack Tour.

No offense to the rock band; I didn't name the event. They did. Voodoo is a great song, by the way.

I don't think it's a stretch to say that any decent, normal human being abhors a thought process that allows people to justify an intrusion upon a family's grief.  In my world, people don't think that soldiers killed in the line of duty are somehow God's punishment against America's 'immorality' about abortion and homosexuals.  Honestly, trying to decipher that train of thought would give Sigmund Freud insomnia.  I think it's also fair to say that the Westboro protesters are deliberately exploiting the media coverage given to soldier's funerals as a platform in which to spread their ideology.

If we could convict them for being insensitive douchebags, this would be an open and shut case.

Unfortunately, legal douchebagdom is not the issue here.  The issue is the First Amendment of the Constitution and its protection of free speech.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Westboro claims that the First Amendment protects them against civil claims.  Snyder was awarded $5 million dollars in damages, a decision that was then overturned by the Fourth Circuit Court.  So now, the US Supreme Court gets to tackle the case--and it may have ramifications upon us all.

But here's my first question: does the First Amendment actually protect individuals or groups claiming the right to free speech from private action? The First Amendment was conceived with the intention of protecting the rights of the people against the government. "Congress shall make no law" doesn't just imply that--it states it straight out. So it seems to me that a civil action between Mr. Snyder and the Westboro Baptist Church would not be not be a First Amendment case.  That would actually be a pretty good deterrent to the WBC protesters too--you have the right to say what you want at a soldier's funeral, and the soldier's family has the right to sue you for it. 

I've heard a lot of people bringing up the 'fire in a crowded theater' misquote of Oliver Wendell Holmes lately too.  Yes, you read that correctly--MISquote.  The actual quote from the majority decision in Schenck v. United States in 1919.  (The real quote from the opinion is: The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. You can shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater as long as there really is a fire.  But I digress.The First Amendment part of Schenck was subsequently overturned in Brandenburg v. Ohio which restricted prohibited speech to that which was likely to cause 'imminent lawless action.'

I'm curious to see how Brandenburg might apply to the Westboro case.  I'm reasonably positive that if my son were killed in action and WBC showed up to protest at his funeral, there would be a lot of imminent lawless action. (Trust me--you don't know my family.)  It seems to me to be a logical extension of Brandenburg, one that could apply to this case.

But, as hard as it is to say this, there are aspects of this case that disturb me as well.  The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and multiple news organizations have filed an amicus brief citing their objections to the case.  First, the brief claims that the petitioner (Mr. Snyder) is asking to silence the defendent (WBC); second, that the First Amendment does not permit the offensiveness of speech to trump the freedom of expression; and third, that tort liability would undermine the basic principles of the First Amendment.  Go read the brief; I've linked to it and it's not only pertinent but interesting.

To the first objection, I'm going to have to disagree.  I don't think Mr. Snyder cares that WBC says what they do.  His objection is to the emotional trauma and harassment his family received from the WBC at his son's funeral.  There I have to agree. A sign that says "God loves dead soldiers" can't be construed as anything other than harassment, particularly when directed at a captive audience, which mourners at a funeral are.

The second objection is a bit trickier. When does offensive speech--okay, let's get real, HATE speech--cross over the line to harassment?  I think this is where Brandenburg can come into play.  Remember the scene in Die Hard 3, where they drop Bruce Willis off in Harlem in his tidy whities wearing a sign with the n-bomb on it?  Remember what happens?

I don't think that's unrealistic.  The harassment and emotional trauma caused by WBC protests will eventually jump right over the line into violence--probably sooner rather than later. There is a legitimate case to be made that signs like "God hates fags" and "Thank God for IEDs" will eventually get some people hurt and/or killed.  So do we protect their free speech and just let them get their asses kicked? Or, do we determine that their speech is deliberately incendiary and inciting violence and restrict them to marketing their agenda of hatred in otherm more appropriate forums?

But then, we hit the kicker--tort liability and the potential undermining of the First Amendment.  We've already seen several high profile libel cases in recent years.  Remember Carol Burnett v The National Enquirer, Inc?  This was a landmark case, especially for celebrities, who had been spectacularly unsuccessful in libel cases prior to this.  What made the case so important was the court's determination that the Enquirer had employed "actual malice" and that, because they didn't comply with the California regulations for newspapers, and as thus were liable for punitive damages despite the retraction they'd printed. After some pretty strenuous searching on my part, I haven't found any undermining of the First Amendment due to this tort liability.  (I have, however, noticed that the National Enquirer has been tippy-toeing in its claims about celebrities since.)

Here' s the gig--I am a writer.  I firmly believe in the powers of the First Amendment and the protection of free speech in this country.  The First Amendment is one of the cornerstones of our Constitution.

But, we've stretched the Consitution and its intent well beyond anything the drafters could have considered in the late eighteenth century.  It is my belief that the Westboro Baptist Church has intended all along to take advantage of the American preoccupation with preserving First Amendment rights, that they want to be martyred in the public eye, that the whole reason they've carried their 'protests' to these funerals is in the hope that someone would lose their temper and attack them. I think their conduct demonstrates this, as is evidenced by this from Time:

After the arguments concluded, Margie Phelps marched down the Supreme Court steps with her sister, Shirley Phelps-Roper; both huge smiles on their faces. Phelps-Roper did a little jig and said, "If I could shout 'Woo-hoo' right now, I would say 'woo-hoo.'" (There was nothing stopping her.) Margie, so controlled and logical in the courtroom, then joined her family at a press conference where they started singing to the tune of Ozzie Osbourne's "Crazy Train": "Cryin' bout your feelings/for your sins, no shame/You're going straight to hell on your crazy train."
The Time article, by the way, has a nice breakdown of today's arguments and events.  Go read it.

I don't often break my own rules and delve into politics on this blog; I think other forums are more important. But this case incites a lot of emotion on both sides of the issue.  Strangely, almost everyone agrees in the douchebagness of Fred Phelps and the WBC and empathizes with the Snyders.  But now, the SCOTUS has to decide whether it's okay to be a douchebag and manipulate the courts or whether the cherished and sacred reverence our country has for the Bill of Rights has limits under the law.  Regardless of what they decide, we should all follow this case.

It has implications for us all.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Out of Hibernation

It's been a long time since I've been this busy.  I don't think I've ever had a stretch of out and out craziness since I started this blog.  Has it really been over two months since I posted here?  Wow!

Well, let's catch you up.

Editing has taken over long stretches of time at the Elf Killing desk.  Over the past few months, I've worked with a lot of authors both at Aspen Mountain Press and at Aurora Regency: Marguerite Butler two books--both Regencies in her Mad Hatterlys series), Kimberly Nee (two books, both historicals, in her McKenzie Brothers series at Aurora), Andy Dunn (a new author with a fabulous gay romantic comedy), Lizzie T. Leaf (two books--her Cougar Club hit Butterfly Kisses and the latest in her DEAD series of erotic paranormal romances), LB Gregg (two books: the fourth in her Men of Smithfield series In and Out and her really fabulous Halloween m/m erotic romance Dudleytown), Cindi Myers (two books, both reissues of her successful string of books from the nineties--A Willing Spirit  and  Patchwork Hearts), Jennifer Horsman (her re-release of Magic Embrace), Arabella Sheraton (one of our Aurora pre-launch Regencies The Dangerous Duke), Helen Hardt (her latest Cougar Club story, Calendar Boy, came out last Friday), Sloane Taylor (with three of her Naughty Ladies of Nice erotic romances), Cynnara Tregarth, Amber Skyze, Addison Avery, Colleen Stormer...so yeah, I've been swamped.  That's not even counting all the work we're doing to get ready for Aurora's official launch on October 15th.  Things have been hectic and wild and somehow, I'm managing to scrape through.

But things are also busy on the writing front. The second book in The Vampires Covenants series, Warding the Covenants, comes out this Friday.  Rob Graham and I co-authored that book and I'm so glad it's finally heading out the gate.  I've been really preoccupied with completing the final book in the series, Defending the Covenants.  This book is entirely mine--Rob is no longer involved with the project--and should be coming out from AMP in January.  I'm also still working on the fourth Mythos book, which I hope to finish before the end of the month.

And wait--there's still more--

It looks like my new fantasy project, Primordia, is going to be completed in time for me to pitch it at the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus at the end of October. I'm very excited about it--it's different from anything I've ever written before.

So we shall see.

At any rate, here's a peek at the cover for Warding the Covenants, which comes out on Friday, and the blurb.  I hope you're looking forward to it!

When Marcellin Dautin is named the Elder of Venice, fledgling vampire Marguerite and her husband Gunther agree to accompany him in hopes of learning more about the Russian revolt against the Conclave of Elders. After an ancient renegade vampire murders the Doge, they are drawn into a dangerous hunt for the assassin.

But as Marguerite's powers grow, so too does the danger. Some vampires oppose Marcellin's rule over Venice, the renegade has begun to stalk Marguerite and her old Russian enemies are determined to capture her and the Elder's sword she bears. While Venice dances through the Carnivale season, Gunther must lay aside all restraint to protect his young wife. Can they remain true to the Covenants they've pledged to preserve or will their love shatter under the strain of Warding the Covenants?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Taking Stock

I think now is a good time to sit back for a moment and take stock of my career in publishing.  It's only been three years since my first book was published. Since then, all four books of The Asphodel Cycle have been released, my short story collection Metamorphosis, the first book of The Vampire Covenants with Rob Graham, and now the first three books of Mythos. I have ten other books completed and another seven at various stages of completion.  Two of them are paranormal romance, one is horror and the rest are either urban or epic fantasy.

I have not been writing as much as of late--I've been concentrating on my role as an editor.  Since I began editing two years ago, I have worked on over forty books with over twenty writers.  I've advanced to senior editor at Aspen Mountain Press.  I came up with the concept for the Aurora imprint at AMP and am the head editor there. With the sneak peek of Aurora next week and the official launch of the company in October, I am focusing my energy and attention upon it.

Although I haven't been writing much, I am still meeting my daily word count requirements.  As of today, I have written almost half a million words in 2010.  My goal is one million words--and although 600,000 of them might be crap, at least they'll be on paper.

Currently, I have five other fantasy worlds completely built, down to societies, cultures, histories, mythologies, geography and races.  Those five worlds are peopled with characters who are completely fleshed out down to favoritehas the teeth colors and personality quirks.  Those characters' stories out sketched out: I always know the ending for my stories, but how I get there is made up on the writing path.

I am at a crossroads in my career and I know it.  Once Aurora is launched and I'm working on a nice, rhythmic calm schedule, with more editors to take up some of the work, I hope to be able to refocus upon my writing.  I could probably do it now if one of my story ideas took off with me. 

So that's what I'm hoping will happen.  I am taking a full week off from writing.  Yes, you heard me: a full week. Seven whole days beginning tomorrow. I am not going to open a single darn word file that begins with my initials.  Instead, I'm going to spend my free time reading.  I'm going to read every word I've got in the stories that I'm working on.  I'm going to allow my brain to consider each story, where it's going, what the stakes are for the characters, the pertinency of the conflict.  I'm going to try to determine which story has the teeth to sink into my psyche and shake me out of the morass of indecision that is stifling my direction.

Yes, I'm going to take stock. I'm going to go back to the time when writing was both entertainment and joy instead of work. I'm going to let a story take me for a while, instead of the other way around.  Sometimes every writer needs to do that, no matter what they have cooking on the stove. Feeling stymied?

Then stop. Take a break. Recharge those batteries and let your creative processes relax for a time.

And seven days from now, I'll come back and let you know if it worked.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Mythos 3: Beloved of a Mortal Now Available

The third book of my mythological romance series, Mythos 3:Beloved of a Mortal, has been released and is now available through Aspen Mountain Press.

After a prophecy that Thetis’ son would be greater than his father, the male gods of Olympus shun her. She is now an outcast, wandering the mountains in Greece and seething against the petty motivations of the other immortals.
Peleus is a Greek hero and warrior prince. On a visit to the king of Iolcos, he fends off the advances of the Queen. When she lies to her husband and claims Peleus is in love with her, the King strands Peleus on a mountain. Only the intervention of a beautiful immortal saves him from a horrible death.
Peleus and Thetis fall in love, but their future is uncertain. Can Peleus overcome the obstacles the gods have set in his way? Or will Thetis be strong enough to fight for the man she loves? When a goddess is the beloved of a mortal, only the help of those who love her can save her from the anger of the gods.
I love release days.  They're always so exciting.  There's something really cool about seeing the link to your book go live and knowing that people who have read the previous books and love the series are going to be reading your work over the weekend and (hopefully) loving this book too. 

This book has a particularly special place in my heart because it's a story I've always thought needed to be told.  The myth of Thetis and Peleus was extremely important to the Greeks but has been overlooked by more modern interpretations of Greco-Roman mythology.  I mean--these two are the parents of Achilles, the greatest warrior of anitquity and the hero (albeit a whiny hero) of the Trojan War!  And while the relationship between Thetis and Peleus was extremely rocky after their marriage, the characters still genuinely loved each other and their son.

So why not tell it?

It won't be long before Mythos 4 is completed and I'll talk more about it in the weeks ahead.  But, until then, here's my latest offering and I hope you like it.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Stalled

Yep, that's me.  Stalled.  Oh, I'm still writing--when I can.  At the moment, though, I'm so busy with all my other hats I'm having trouble finding the time to write.  Then, when I do find the time, I struggle for a few minutes with what I should be working on.

Problem number one of writing multiple projects at the same time.

There are so many things I need to get finsished.  I got Harlequin done, thank goodness, so I don't have to worry about that.  It's in the hands of a beta right now.  Terella is getting revamped again--yeah, I know.  How many overhauls can one project take?  The answer to that is simple--whatever it needs. I've been researching Oriental culture and society, wanting to give Terella a more non-European flavor.  It'll be interesting to see if I can pull it off.  I'm close to the end of the Covenants final book, but I'm not really sure what I should do to end it.  Usually, I know the ending of a book before I begin it, but this time I thought I'd let it happen organically. I'm working on the fourth Mythos book, but it's struggling.  As for the other projects, they're in hiatus--The Vengeance of Anne Boleyn, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, The Bell Demon--yep, all waiting for me to get some direction.

But until AMP's anniversary celebration is done and Aurora is launched, I'm going to have to put writing on the shelf for a little while and catch time when I can.  How annoying!  While my other jobs are satisfying to me professionally, it's writing I want to be doing. 

We shall see. I think I'm going to shut off the internet and the phone, move into the TV-less study and see if I can rededicate myself to my craft this evening.

It should work.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Major Reviewers, Third Party Sites, and the Continuing Prejudice Against E-Publishing

Not too long ago, my trusty Google alerts informed me that a blogger had mentioned my name in a post.  That had happened before--an old nemesis from my past had bemoaned the fact that mean people like me could get published while nice people like her couldn't.  Needless to say, I was steeling myself as the site came up.

What I found was totally unexpected.  The An American Editor blog had mentioned me very kindly as a good new author he'd found on Fictionwise.  I was pretty chuffed by the mention--after all, it's not very often you get an unexpected mention like that.  So a few weeks later, I was completely floored when the same blogger posted "LE Modesitt Jr and Celina Summers: Fantasy in Contrast."  In this post, American Editor compared my Asphodel Cycle  to Modesitt's Saga of Recluse series, giving Asphodel a great review in the process. 

At the time, I considered sending him a box of chocolates. After all, writers published through small presses rarely get unlooked for reviews and especially not from a professional in the business. So I sent the review to my editors and did a little happy dance and that small promotional part of me wondered, "Gee, can I use this review? It would be really cool if that review showed up at Ficitonwise or Amazon--maybe it would help sales..."

And, lo and behold, while I was dithering the review did show up at Fictionwise, posted by An American Editor.  Quite interestingly after that, I got a spike in sales for The Asphodel Cycle at Fictionwise which I assumed (and still do) was a direct result of that review.

So yesterday, my Google alerts rang up again, and once again An American Editor mentioned my name. The blog post was entitled Finding the Needle in a Haystack of Needles: Reader Reviews.  Throughout the post, the editor examined the difficulties of finding a good ebook to purchase and explored one of the reasons why--the lack of credible reviews for e-published works. I really recommend that you read the post. Aside from being fascinating, it's also very direct. 

One of the biggest problems I have as an ebook reader and buyer is finding that proverbial needle in a haystack of needles, that is, the ebook worth buying and reading that is written by an independent author. The ease of publishing an ebook has created a flood of ebooks to choose among, and making that choice is increasingly difficult.

That one paragraph encapsulates the major problem facing e-book authors today.  How do we find a readership?  In some category genres, like erotica or romantica, the key is prolific releases.  The erotic aauthor who releases a book every month or so, who begins with outstanding reviews from big romance sites, is going to build and maintain a readership.  These books are usually novellas, usually serial, and usually keep the writer in a specific niche.  I edit several authors who are able to accomplish this and my hat is off to them.

Although romance is a strong thread in my work, however, I am primarily a speculative fiction writer.  Asphodel, Covenants, and  Mythos  are all fantasy series and while Mythos  is being released as serial novellas, the subject matter (Greco-Roman mythology) lends itself to that format.  My other books are novels and big, fat novels at that. It's difficult, if not impossible in my opinion, to build a strong, cohesive readership in purely speculative fiction e-books.  My books get reviewed, yes--and usually get strong reviews--Novelspot, Love Romances and More, Coffee Time Romance, Night Owl, Two Lips Reviews and scads more have given my books four and five stars repeatedly. 

I'm not saying this to brag--I'm telling you this as an illustration.  The normal review sites for my genre do not review e-books. 

When The Reckoning of Asphodel  was reviewed by In the Library, I had to print out the book--five hundred plus pages of paper--and ship it to the reviewer.  (That's why they never reviewed past the first book; it was too darn expensive) So the reviews I get are read by people who primarily prefer another genre entirely--romance.  Not fantasy readers; romance readers.While there's enough romance in my stories to satisfy a fan of romance, it's secondary to the primary plot. And that, I think, is the huge problem for fantasy and sci fi authors published through electronic means.

We don't have many avenues to receive reviews that are credible to our target audience.
 
Reader reviews on third party sites are either just starred reviews--where you click on a star level from one to five to indicate your enjoyment of the book--or generally stilted one line comments.  Occasionally, you get a good review from a reader, but that doesn't help you to combat the hordes of re-releases choking the top of the best seller lists on Amazon or Fictionwise. I don't delude myself into thinking I can compete with Mercedes Lackey's entire backlist when it comes to sales for people's Kindle or I-pads. This is new in e-publishing.  Remember: The Reckoning of Asphodel was nbumber one on Fictionwise in fantasy for two weeks after its release--knocking off Neil Gaiman's Stardust the same week the movie came out.  The major publishers were still trying to ignore e-publishers at that point. 
 
Subsequent Asphodel novels hit the bestseller list--The Gift of Redemption hit the top twenty; Temptation of Asphodel the top twenty-five and Apostle of Asphodel only the top fifty.  I think the decrease is pretty representative of how the public view of e-published books changed over the course of those three years. 
 
So how do we combat that?  How can e-published spec fic authors break through the veil of condescenscion that masks us from our target audience, the disdain of major review sites, the immense backlog of reissues at third party distributors, the obscurity our lack of name recognition consigns us to?  Well, notices like the one An American Editor gave me certainly do help.  After his review appeared, the Asphodel books gained new readers--readers I was able to track as they progressed their way through the series.  As a matter of fact, The Reckoning of Asphodel  reappeared in the Fictionwise top 100 bestseller list in Fantasy for a time, followed by its sequels in approximately 3 week intervals.  So the word can get out there and it does have an effect.  An American Editor makes a few suggestions on their blog, geared toward reader reviews and how the third part distributors can change the way those reviews are given--offering rewards for more extensive responses to pre-prepared questionnaires about the book. 
 
I have a different idea.
 
Let's take all those reissues OFF the regular genre pages.  Let new literature live or die against recent releases, not against JRR Tolkien's legacy released all at once in a new format.  Give us six months to maneuver among other books of the same age, giving us true bestseller status and visibility.  How hard would that be?  I wouldn't think it was that difficult at all. That way, new authors can get noticed and readers searching for new voices don't have to click past fifty pages of fifty years of genre writing.  That's one way.
 
Another way, perhaps, would be easier if the major reviewers would implement e-publishing regulations.  When will the NYT review an e-wpublished book?  Heck, for that matter when will they review a book released by a small independent publisher?  How about Romantic Times? The big sci fi and fantasy reviewers?  There is a LOT of great literature out there, released by e-publishers who are willing to take a chance on literature that the major houses passed by.  Why ignore it?
 
When I was at the RT convention, I asked the agents' panel if e-published books were now considered a legitimate publishing credit.  To a person, they admitted that whereas three years ago e-books weren't, now they can be, depending upon the house that published them.  E-publishers like Ellora's Cave and Samhain (and now Aspen Mountain Press, whose reputation for good editing and strong stories) are moving beyond the one-time prejudice against electronic publishing.  That's good news.
 
That good news needs to seep into the minds of review sites, of NY publishing houses and the third party distributors who abandoned their early commitment to e-publishing in favor of mass reissues of authors' whole backlists from scanned versions of older editions.  At Aurora, I'm working with an author who is reissuing her backlist with us--one book at a time, each book re-edited and re-formatted to meet e-publishing standards and each book treated as a new release by the company.  She is a pleasure and a joy to work with, because she's committed to the idea of e-publishing as the format of the future and is bringing new manuscripts to the table in addition to her backlist. There is a difference between what she is doing and what the NY publishers, with the collusion of major third party ditributors, are doing to the e-publishing industry.  She's integrating into it; they are taking advantage of it.
 
But more importantly, what An American Editor is doing is a huge first step.  By their continued championship of e-published books and their quest to legitimize the jewels a reader can find hidden in the overwhelming mess of third party distributorship, they are calling attention to a new and growing problem e-published authors are facing.  And for that, I have to thank them.
 
And for the review too.  Heck, I'm not stupid.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Work and Work and Work

The story of my life.

Work and work and more work and work still and continuing work and new work and the same old same old work.  Good grief--I've got so much piled on my plate I'm a single person smorgasbord.

But I love it, you know? I love being so busy I don't know what to do yet.  This week, my husband's family is getting together for the first time in years.  I'm meeting his oldest brother and his family for the first time and Shannon and I have been together for a decade.So naturally, I'm scrambling around trying to get the house ready for guests--some of whom are children--while, at the same time, getting work done for AMP and Aurora and me.

Oh my.

*Yes--A Wizard of Oz moment*

I've got books to be scanned, manuscripts to finalize, submissions to read, writing deadlines and editing deadlines of my own, covers to be approved, art to be assigned, publicity to get cranking and this week I have to scrub, vaccuum, clean and conceal--the latter being necessary on the off chance someone gets nosy enough to poke around in my linen closet.  And I am in my element--loving every second of it even while I whine about how much crap I have to do.

Some of that made it onto the new Aurora Regency blog if you want to go read about that.  Yes--another project that got off the ground this week: http://www.auroraregency.blogspot.com/ is the place to go for information about the imprint, submissions and upcoming releases.  Go check it out.

I have to clean this spot on my couch.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Catharsis

Those who know how to win are much more numerous than those who know how to make proper use of their victories.


Polybius (205 BC - 118 BC)

It's not very often that I'll blog on something that has some rudimentary basis in philosophy, but my Plato is beckoning to me from my bookshelf and I'm feeling kind of sassy. So today, this thought has been bouncing back and forth in my head, on the pages I've written and throughout my life's journey.
 
You know what *those* strange single days are like? The ones where everything changes and you didn't know it? Didn't see it coming? I had a day like that yesterday.  It was a normal day, save for being a national holiday. My husband was at home.  We spent the weekend just spending time together--and I don't mean in the physical *together in the same room* kind of together.  I mean together--talking, learning about each other again, having fun, enjoying each other's company. For some people, that might involve sitting in a cabin high atop a lonely mountain, or perched on a pier overlooking the ocean.  Not us.
 
For us, that means a pretty vicious Mario Party tournament.
 
Yes, we're corny. At any rate--
 
While we played our marathon video game battle out on the screen, we were talking.  We managed to hash out a lot of issues that we've just let slide for months now--issues that crept in between us at points and brought us closer together at others. We just...had fun. No pressure.  That lack of pressure enabled us, I think, to talk freely about things that we've either been putting off or just not wanting to deal with.,  And, as a result, we're both much happier people today than we were on Sunday.
 
Okay. I know what you're thinking.
 
Celina, you're whacked. What in the HELL does this have to do with victories?
 
Well, let me tell you.
 
Aside from me stomping him into the dirt during our Mario Party war, there were other victories won over the course of the day.  Victories over fear.  Victories over procrastination.  Victories over getting into a rut. Victories over the machinations of petty people around us.  Victories over pain and its lasting and daily effects upon our personal lives.  Victories over expectations and pressures.  Victories over suspicions and mistrust.  Victories over loneliness, or neediness.
 
We won victories over the societal need for instant gratification, over the dread that responsibilities can bring.  We won victories over anger and lies and manipulations.  We won victories over those who would like to destroy us.
 
We won victories over ourselves.
 
Yep. That's an awful lot of victories over the course of 120 rounds of Mario Party 8.
 
You see, Polybius' words are general: Those who know how to win are much more numerous than those who know how to make proper use of their victories. But the application of those words can be very specific.  We all attain victories every day of our lives--most of them small; some of them huge.  But what do we do with those victories? Is it enough merely to have won?
 
Or, do we have an obligation to take those victories big and small and make them into something else?  Are they tools we can use to gain further victories? Or building blocks, perhaps, to set up a new game?
 
So take a moment and think about that.  What victory have you won lately? What did you do with it?  When I managed to get my first novel down on paper, I won a huge victory at a daunting task.  Lots of people start books; few finish them.  I did. And then I took that victory and used it to win another, and another, and another--to the tune of what now? Seventeen completed manuscripts? Nine published already? Three to be published in the next couple of months? The rest in various places at various stages?  That's a lot of victories built from the original basis of one.
 
So knowing how to win is important, but knowing what to do once you have won is, in many cases, even more so. Especially at three in the morning when you're getting ready to do a battle mini game and there are eighty coins on the line.
 
Yes. I won. I won it all.



Thursday, May 20, 2010

Ruminations and Revelations

Today is a strange day in my world.  Today would have been my mother's 77th birthday. 

My mother plays a huge role in my writing. She always has.  When I was a kid, she encouraged me to read and to write--except in the summers when she'd lock me out of the house and make me go play outside for a while.  Otherwise, I would have sat in my room all summer reading.  When I was in high school and doing all sorts of extra-curricular activities--any extra curricular activity that involved the word CONTEST was high up on my list--she would cart me all over the country to help me get my research done or get to a competition. 

When she died, I found copies of two papers I wrote for the History Day competition among her things.  I was a pretentious little cuss, and I'd written epic poems instead of plain old term papers. 

So, in a lot of ways, I owe the writer that I am to my mother.  As a first-generation American (French emigre') she was proud of my command of the English language.  She encouraged me to strive for any academic goal I wanted and went out of her way to help me attain them with whatever support she could give me.  When I won state in History Day and went on to nationals, she went with our group to Washington DC and we had the best time.  Of our group, only one other girl besides myself was that interested in hitting the historical sites, so the two of us and my mom and the two teacher/chaperones trekked all over Washington.  We walked through the White House and the Smithsonians together, went to the Library of Congress, gate crashed Senator Howard Baker's office at the Capital, did rubbings at the National Cathedral and wandered around Arlington.  We even shook President Reagan's hand (we were in the right place at the right time) and when I placed fifth in the nation, she was proud and happy.

And it was almost literally the last good time we had together.

What a waste.

Since her death almost five years ago, she's fueled my writing in another way.  My anger with her has seeped into every single story I've written.  My short story Funeral Meats (in my short story collection Metamorphosis) was entirely about how I dealed with her death--or didn't.  And now, on her birthday, I spent an inordinate amount of time today wondering what she would think about my writing now. Would she like it? Would she be proud? Would she think I was on the right path?  Would all that promise she thought I had as a kid have been justified in her eyes?

And just a tiny voice in the back of my mind wonders, Would she care?

It's a strange and sobering thought. I'm reasonably certain she wouldn't have thought that Funeral Meats, where a squirrel runs off with her metaphorical ashes, was all that flattering. Well, good. It wasn't meant to be. But would she have seen past that? Would she have set the book down after she read it and thought, "Well. At least she can write?"

Writers are driven by many strange things.  Some, no doubt, are prodded by ambition.  Still others just want to tell a good story, to entertain their readers.  I think that in some strange, warped way, I'm still energized by my mother.  I still crave her good opinion.  I still want to get up in her face and say, "Look what I did. Now what do you have to say about that?"

So as I look at my writing desk every day, I see a couple of reminders of her: a picture of my parents' wedding in Paris, her tiny citizenship flag that she cherished, two high school contest papers and something I use every day.

Her thesaurus, battered and dogeared, that she used to expand her English vocabulary.

I guess that's really my answer right there. Happy birthday, Mom.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Time Off Comes to a Close

So, yeah--my time off from blogging is done.  I've been writing and editing, but after A Month In The Life, I figured you guys deserved A Fortnight Of Silence.

All done now. It actually works out fairly well.  I've had a not-quite-stellar couple of weeks physically, including a brutal bout of insomnia and (of course) a lot of back pain.  That aside, it's still been pretty productive though.  I finished the first draft of Harlequin, which may or may not be the sequel to Deception Enters Stage Left.  I wrote the story to make. the. characters. shut. up. (Ever have a story like that? One that just wants to keep on going? Some gene in my DNA makes me want to write years' worth of fantasy soap opera. Not such a bad thing...) I'm getting close to finishing the final Covenants story--Defying The Covenants. We're shooting for a Halloween-area release on that one at AMP.  Mythos has hit the backburner.  My editor has the third book and I'm holding off on number four until I get Covenants done.

All that being said, some interesting things popped up on my Google Alerts today--a pair of reviews for the last two Asphodel books: Tempation of Asphodel and Apostle of Asphodel.  Bitten by Books had this to say about Temptation:


"...excellent tales and everything a good fantasy should be. They are multifaceted with a sweet innocence for the heroine that is definitely in contradiction to modern urban fantasy which portrays women as hard and uncompromising. Tamsen is hard when she needs to be yet compassionate and questioning when warranted....I would definitely recommend for fantasy lovers of any ages. Celina Summers slays this series!"
Hard to find fault with a review like that, especially when they follow up immediately with this about Apostle:

"...This tale is EPIC! This is the final chapter to a grand series with all of the tales in it at four-hundred plus pages. There are several worlds with different races (former enemies of the elves, the humans, or the sorcerers) coming together to battle a great evil. This series has over a dozen significant characters coming together from several of the previous tales to unite in love and mutual respect to recreate a great battle in Ilia; hopefully this time all of the characters reminiscent of the past battle will prevail, stop several curses, and eliminate a god...I would recommend it for the young or not so young dragon or harpie slayer. Slay on, Celina Summers, I will be watching for you to produce the next Harry Potter, because you have the killer writer gene!"

I love reviews like these, not only because they are very flattering but also because this is the review of a reader who got it. Know what I mean?  Sometimes, at least for me, I find making that connection is more gratifying than the raves. (Yeah, Celina--right) I love it when someone finds the dichotomy in my main character (Tamsen was written intentionally as a response to the hard, brittle fantasy heroine. I wanted to make sure she retained her humanity even in a world of elves and centaurs--and a tender love coupled with crippling emotional blows make a character more credible, in my point of view at least) or recognizes the scope in which I've written the story (the battle in Ilia--the second Trojan War in my imagined world of Asphodel--and how that one event can culminate multiple story lines). And while I really hope I produce the next Harry Potter--who wouldn't?--the fact that this reviewer saw past the story and into what I was trying to do means so much and gives me something to build from as I move into other stories.

Which, considering that Asphodel is another one of those stories where the characters. just. won't. shut. up. is a very good thing.

Well. Back to work.  I'm glad to be back to blogging; it's time to kick my daily routines back into high gear.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Mythos 2:Daughter of the Sea Now Available!

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand it's out!

Mythos 2: Daughter of the Sea is now available at Aspen Mountain Press.




The young gods of Olympus have pursued the sea god Nereus’ daughters, Amphitrite and Thetis, since they grew to maturity. The sisters are used to the adoration of immortal men and like the attention they receive. But when the imprisoned Titan, Prometheus, makes a prophecy that Thetis’ son will be greater than his father, the gods shun the beautiful nymph. Thetis hides herself away from Olympus, leaving her sister Amphitrite angry and in no mood to deal with the fickle tastes of men.

When the King of the ocean, Poseidon, watches Amphitrite dance at a feast upon Olympus, he falls instantly in love with her. His attempts to court Amphitrite end in disaster; she flees to the one place in the three realms where no Olympian can go. Can Poseidon find some messenger to break through her anger and win her heart? Or will the great god of the oceans be spurned by this daughter of the sea?

I have to tell you, I absolutely LOVE this story.  I liked writing Amphitrite--who is underknown in the Greco-Roman mythologies--because I could get away from proscribed personalities or tendencies.  I could make her (and her sister, Thetis, in the next book) more my own.  Amphitrite is a no-nonsense kick ass kind of heroine who makes Poseidon jump through hoops.  HER hoops. Literally.

Can't argue with that.

At any rate, you can take a look at Daughter of the Sea on the Aspen Mountain Press website for now and major third party distributors within the week.

And don't forget to enjoy the best abs in mythology on the cover, too.  Hard to argue with a god that looks like one. Special kudos to Tuesday Dube for the fantastic cover and a big shout out to Lori Basiewicz, my long-suffering editor.

Y'all enjoy!

Thursday, May 06, 2010

RT Pictures


The authors' panel at Bobbi Smith's workshop.  From the left, that's Heather Graham, Debra Parmley, Linnea Sinclair and Jade Lee. I tried to get a shot of Stacey Kade (who is sitting next to Linnea) but just couldn't  get a shot around that head in the way.

This is the gift basket that Lizzie T. Leaf, Sam Cheever and I contributed to for the booksellers at the convention.


Laura Baumbach talking with Robert Gregory Browne at "our" table in the bar.  We chose the table for two reasons: first, it was right by the elevator banks and second, because it gave us an unadulterated view of our banner.  Both Laura and Robert are great people to talk to--and drink with...not that I would know...


For some reason, Lizzie T. Leaf (on the left) and Sandra Hicks didn't want this picture to be seen by anyone. *grin*
So naturally, I had to post it.  I think it's funny and I'm not sure how many hurricanes and glasses of wine we'd had by this particular point in the evening.


"Saving the boys"
The Faerie Ball was a lot of fun, but we were considered a safe haven for Bret Battles, Robert Gregory Browne and Jason Scott Bell after the strip show the night before during Ellora Cave's Red party. (The male dancers didn't actually strip, which was a bummer, but the boys weren't taking any chances)  That's Cynthia Vespia on the left. keeping them entertained.  All three men were fabulous people and fantastic writers, and I've added Jason's The Art of War for Writers to my reference shelf. Outstanding book about writing--I recommend it highly.


Another picture of Cynthia Vespia, who was signing copies of her book The Crescent at the Thursday Book Expo. Female gladiators!!! Let me repeat that--female gladiators!!!!! Cyn's books are a hell of a lot of fun--but I knew that already from reading her Demon Hunter series.


Lizzie T. Leaf, looking absolutely gorgeous as she prepared to sign copies of her book Dead Done Right.  I edit Lizzie and she's one of my favorite writers to work with.



Another of my favorite writers that I edit--that's the glorious LB Gregg on the left, sitting next to Cyn at the AMP bar table. If you look closely, you can see our banner over LB's right shoulder. 


Lucynda Storey, my fabulous editor for the Asphodel series, at the Friday book signing.  That's my Mythos 1: Bride of Death cover in the lower right hand corner.  We all switched up on the promo items, mixing and matching them all week for greater AMP exposure--one of the great benefits of working together as a group to promote each other.




And this would be my husband Shannon, looking adorable and pretending to listen intently before he kills off that Killians in his hand. As far as I was concerned, Shannon won "Husband of the Convention" honors for always double-checking--and sometimes stocking--my promo lane display as soon as he arrived at the convention each night. It didn't take long for the other AMP ladies to learn to appreciate my husband either. By the end of the week, he'd been thoroughly spoiled by all of them.

If anyone else has RT pictures they want to share, just drop me a line!  Because, you might have noticed, there's something missing in all these pictures--me. *grin* Not that it was intentional or anything.

A Month In The Life--Saturday, May 1, 2010

Yep--you get an extra day in this month because this whole past month has been about the Romantic Times convention and this was the last day of it, at least for me.  So May Day was spent  dancing around the flower laden pole that is a book signing at a major event with major authors.

No, I didn't get to sign.  I got to watch and take pictures and run errands, which was total awesomness from my point of view. First off, I was in sneakers and jeans--sheer bliss after five days of misery. I'd determined from the beginning that while I would love to have every single darn book in the ballroom, I had to restrict myself. So I kept to books from writers who'd been especially helpful and/or friendly throughout the week.

First off, then, was the lovely and simply loveable Bobbi Smith.  Aside from hosting and directing the two-day pre convention workshop that was the most helpful event I've ever attended as a writer, Bobbi has one of those absolutely incredible personalities, the kind that makes you believe you can go out and do exactly what she believes you can do. I would happily spend a week or two brewing her coffee and taking phone messages for this woman--and I honestly believe I would learn more doing that that I did in four years of writing classes at college.  She's one of my new idols.


Isn't Bobbi beautiful? I wish I could wear that color pink, but alas!  Too much red in this redhead's hair.

Next on the list was Linnea Sinclair. I really bonded with her and Stacey Kade during their workshop on how to stay inspired, and bonded even more with Linnea when the subject of scam agencies and vanity publishers came up in the author's panel.  She writes kick ass science fiction with kick ass heroines--not hard to understand at all since she's a kick ass kind of gal herself.  It's been a long time since I've dipped my toes in the sci fi pool, and Linnea has convinced me to do it. I can't wait to read her book.



See what I mean? Linnea is an absolute firecracker!

I have to admit, by the end of the week I felt like a Misery-esque number one fan of Jade Lee.  Her characterization workshop completely changed the way I look at my characters and if it weren't for her advice on pitches during the authors' panel, I would never have gotten the requests I did.  But all that aside, it's really hard for me not to totally dig a chick who's as smartass as I am, writes the kind of fantasy I love, seems to have a similar outlook on writing and speculative fiction as I do AND who used my promotional document stands all over her table at the booksigning. It would be the equivalent of Albert Einstien using my abacus to demonstrate the theory of relativity and I totally ate that up.  Here's Jade in one of her more serious moments:



One of my favorite new acquaintances during the entire convention, and once I got over being totallyu gobsmacked by even talking to her, I felt like I'd known her forever.

These pictures, by the way, took place before the doors opened.  After they opened, I wasn't able to get any more great closeups and was barely able to get any books.  Why, you may ask?  Well, because there were at least 3,000 people streaming through the doors as best I could tell.  It got to the point that it was so crowded that it actually hurt to turn to one side and avoid running into someone--which, I might add, very few people other than me and Cynthia Vespia were that worried about.  We did creep upstairs to get a few shots of what the book signing looked like from above. This might help you understand.


Exactly. So while I did fight through the crowds to get books by Stacey Kade, Brett Battles and Robert Gregory Browne, I didn't dare take out my camera. 

We had a great afternoon all in all.  By the time the booksigning was over at three, all of us were exhausted. But, by the same token, I think we were all very happy.  We'd made lots of great new business acquaintances and friends, finally put some faces to the online screen names, and hopefully attracted a slew of new readers to Aspen Mountain Press.  Considering that most of our free time was spent in the bar (go figure) we ended up with a lot of fabulous talks and some amazing photo ops which I am under obligation not to post.

Until the post after this, because there's one more thing to tell you about RT that is really important.

Remember when I was named a finalist in Bobbi Smith's Creative Writing Challenge in the advanced writers' workshop?  I got to wear that badge all week. It's amazing how many people actually take the time to stop you and congratulate you when you have a big FINALIST tag between your boobs.  I'm assuming it was the badge...

At any rate, Saturday was the last big party of the convention.  We had a prom, hosted by Dorchester Publishing.  But it was important to me for another reason entirely: the winner of the Creative Challenge was going to be announced at that party.  All week, I'd pretty much talked myself into believing that one of the other two writers was going to win.  Both of them were talented young writers from what I'd heard of them in class. Besides, my storyline for Deception Enters Stage Left is so damn complicated!  How could anyone possibly judge that manuscript from the first chapter, which is all we submitted for the challenge? Although I knew that chapter was clean technically and set my story up perfectly, I was more than happy to just be named a finalist.  I'd already reaped so many benefits from that finalist position that I didn't dare to dream I'd actually win the darn thing.

So the party starts--and Jade Lee started it by doing the dance to TRHPS's Time Warp and then followed up with It's Raining Men--and there's no sign of any awards ceremony.  We're sitting at out table and Bobbi came up with a teddy bear and congratulated me for being a finalist.  So I thought, Well, that's obvious enough. The bear's cute though. I told the others I just needed to wait until the winner was announced so I could congratulate her and in case we were all called up onstage.

Shannon decided to go have a cigarette so he leaves, and not even ten seconds later Bobbi stands up and heads over to the stage, where they give her the microphone.  I couldn't help but laugh; we were sticking around for this announcement and my husband was going to miss the whole thing.  I opened up the camera and tried to turn it on--the darn batteries were dead.  So karma was already stomping the hint home--you didn't win you didn't win you didn't win...

Bobbi announced the third place finalist first.  To my shock, it wasn't me. The award was between myself and a really lovely young lady named Jennifer who I kept running into on every escalator in the whole darn complex.

But the runner-up's name wasn't Celina. It was Jennifer.  Sandra Hicks (the publisher of AMP) and I just looked at each other in shock.  Then Bobbi said, "And the winner of the Creative Writing Challenge with her manuscript Deception Enters Stage Left is--"

I didn't hear my name. I heard Deception and I was up on my feet, screaming and putting my shaking hands to my face like every Miss USA winner I've ever made fun of in the past.  That whole winning with dignity and grace crap?

Right out the window.

I managed to make it onto the stage without faceplanting--in and of itself a miracle considering I could barely walk--and Bobbi handed me this beautiful plaque with my name and the manuscript name on it (which meant that she'd known all along that I'd won) and then she handed me the microphone while she snapped a medal around my neck. Don't get excited: it was a little plastic medal, but who cares? It was cute. So while I'm juggling plaque, papers and microphone in my trembling hands, I lift the microphone to my lips and all I can think of to say is--

"Hi!"

Seriously Celina? Hi?  You couldn't even have come out with a You like me; you really like me? Absolutely and stunningly humiliating. So when I got back to my table, all the AMP ladies hugged me and laughed at me for bawling like a little b*tch and then Bobbi came over and handed me the real bonus prize.

Her agent's phone number.

And right after all this went down, my husband meandered back into the room after his cigarette and I had to face the facts: not only had Shannon missed the whole damn thing, but I didn't even have a picture of it.

Que sera sera.

So there you have it.  We left the party and went to the bar, where we downed two bottles of champagne and toasted each other.  I held on to that teddy bear and plaque like they were the last life jacket on the Titanic and somehow we managed to get through the worst part of the convention.

Saying goodbye.

Total RT stats: Six days. I was given or bought over thirty books. I gave away two hundred water bottles and five hundred document stands. I sent out ten full manuscripts: four to agents and six to publishers. I ran three pairs of hose in two days. I won one major award. I got one agent's phone number. I was introduced to a minimum of twenty-five NYT bestselling authors. I created one hell of a promotional space and had one half of the best 4 by 8 foot long banner there.

And several thousand fantastic memories.

So there you have it: a month in the life.  Now my world goes back to normal. I concentrate solely on writing and editing from here on out, shooting for my 8000 words a day and getting Aurora Regency launched while promoting my new releases and editing AMP manuscripts. I get to focus on my house and family a bit more while I continue to chase after my professional goals.And aside from a few more RT pictures, this month in the life is over. I'm going to take a couple of weeks off (ha! fat chance) and get back into my routine.

Hope you've enjoyed the ride.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

A Month in the Life--Friday, April 30, 2010

I only got an hour of sleep last night.

I was hurting too badly to get comfortable.  I couldn't sleep anywhere--the bed, the couch, the chair, the floor. Nothing worked.  I finally dozed off for an hour around four, but woke up a little bit after five and just decided to forget about it.  My ankles had both rolled the day before and both were swollen and painful to the touch.  The flats I'd worn for the last two days had literally bruised my feet, so I chucked and went with my boots.  Yeah, I know--heels are a bad idea, but I needed the support for my ankles.

I had to keep telling myself that I only had to make it one more day. One more day of dressing up. One more day of a hectic schedule. One more day of being on my feet.  One more day of pitches.

Just one more day.

After the regular stocking session on Promo Lane and the obligatory smirk beneath the banner in the bar, I limped slowly off to the area set aside for pitch sessions.  The lady in charge of the pitch sessions is a lovely, sweet gal named Patti Lewis.  A reviewer and writer and former bookstore owner, Patti and I would meet up either at the pitch sessions (where she jokingly called me her stalker) or in the smoking area with the other ten smokers at the convention.  Every day, she was dressed beautifully and always with a coordinating hat.  All week, she'd handled the pitch sessions with aplomb and a charming, professional manner.

When I got there on Friday morning, Patti was surrounded by a horde of eager writers. That wasn't new. What was rude was a girl who was haranguing Patti at the top of her voice and butting in as Patti tried to help other people. 

In front of the editors and agents who were watching and waiting for their morning appointments.

I was horrified. Not only was this incredibly rude and bitchy, but it was so unprofessional that it literally made me cringe.  When Patti had finally had enough (and that was MUCH longer than I would have lasted), she told the girl to go sit down and she'd call her when it was her turn.

So instead, naturally, the girl stood three feet away, crying and blubbering to all her little friends about how mean Patti was--again, right in front of the agents and editors. Organizing those pitch sessions was a thankless job, and Patti Lewis did it with such grace and ease that I was more than impressed; I was awed. And for some little beyotch to stand there and bawl about how mistreated she was really made me want to knock her right off her Payless two-for-the-price-of-one-plus-a-dollar 1992 clogs.

I'm not certain how successful the whiny one was, but I certainly was.  I pitched to Tor, Grand Central publishing, Sourcebooks and Jim Mc Carthy of Dystel and Goderich and they all requested the manuscript.  Jim (who'd lost a battle with curry chicken at lunch) and I (who lost a battle with two pairs of hose in twenty minutes and made it to the pitch bare-legged and bitchy) had a great side conversation about Andrew Lloyd Weber, which made that pitch session even more pleasant than it would have been.  I was really quite surprised--these agents and editors were all kind, interested people, who genuinely wanted to like my book from the beginning and didn't scruple to say so.  I like to think I am now a pro pitcher, because on this day I went into those meeting without even the slightest bit of fuss.  It was fabulous.

Never be afraid to sit down and talk with an agent or editor. You'll miss out on an interesting conversation and some really fabulous people if you let your fear get in the way of the interpersonal interactions that can take place when two people are discussing something they both love--books.

Friday was also the Book Expo, where small press and e-published authors got to sign books for their fans.  The final six water bottles (I'd hidden them) and the last fifteen document stands helped identify me to the readers, who stopped by to see me, got some cover flats, ordered some book downloads and generally had fun.  There I am, talking to a young lady whose minor is classical mythology.  We had a great conversation. All in all, the Expo was a lot of fun.

But then, after the Expo was over, everything hit me at once. Once I'd changed into comfortable clothes and replaced the boots with tennis shoes on my poor, abused feet, exhaustion and pain made me into a bona fide martyr.  As a result, my husband took me home and I missed out on Heather Graham's Vampire Ball--which was the one social event I really wanted to attend.  I iced down my ankles--now a lovely shade of green--and went to bed, actually falling asleep before midnight. 

But I did derive a very important lesson from this day at RT--one I'm going to pass on to you.  An aspiring writer has no room for "bitch" in her repertory.  Treat everyone pleasantly (even the agent-who-shall-not-be-named who ditched me for my Friday morning appointment) and act like a professional.  You never know who is watching--and who will remember you as the wannabe diva who acted like a jackass because a real lady of class and dignity didn't have the time to instantly gratify you.

Act like a grownup, FFS. Jesus--how hard is it to do?

Monday, May 03, 2010

A Month In The Life--Thursday, April 29, 2010

So, I'd decided I was going to nail every available pitch session open on the schedule, right?  Well, by gum--I did!  I ended up with ten appointments with both agents and editors from major publishing houses.  My Thursday and Friday were now booked to the point that there would only be a very few workshops I'd be able to attend.  I was quite all right with that turn of events; I was here to promo and sell--and the promo part was going like gangbusters.

I'd come in to a completely empty promotional space yet again. When I walked up with my husband trailing along behind me with a box of water bottles on his shoulder, I was just in time to see some lady rip one of my glued down cover flats from my display.

"Excuse me," I said, removing said cover flat from her hand. "Obviously, since this is glued down, it needs to stay there."

The woman turned redder than my hair. "I'm sorry. I just really like it."

"Well, if you come to the book expo tomorrow, I'll sign this cover for you," I offered kindly. Then, not-quite-as-kindly, I added, "That way you won't have to steal it."

To her credit, she didn't linger while I glued the cover flat back onto the display and restocked the shelves.  In my early naivete, I'd thought that 200 water bottles and 500 document stands along with Eden's 400 magnets for Conference Cupid would keep that space fully stocked. I was totally wrong. I didn't realize exactly how wrong I was until I ran into Jade Lee that afternoon.  I'd given her a few document stands at the pre-con workshop and she told me that she was having to fight to keep them--that everybody wanted them.

Between my promotional freebies and the banner (also known as That-which-shall=be-always-bolded), my name was literally all over the place.  I was wearing the big tag on my badge that read FINALIST from Bobbi Smith's writing challenge, which led a lot of people (morticians especially) to stare at my chest like I'd grown a third boob.  That being said, the FINALIST tag was invaluable to me during my pitch sessions that day.  It was an automatic indication that I wrote well enough at least to impress Bobbi Smith, and the agents and editors took notice. I pitched to Ellora's Cave, Harlequin and Miriam Kriss of Irene Goodman.  I ptiched Lucienne Diver of The Knight Agency on the go, trotting alongside her while she went to the convenience store.  I only had a chance to tell Ethan Ellenberg my pitch after the Agent's Panel workshop--and all five requested manuscripts.  The first two or three pitches were rambling and confusing IMO--I hadn't quite nailed down the technique yet.  By the end of the day, however, I had one hell of a tagline that paid off in huge dividends: Something Wicked This Way Comes meets contemporary American theatre.

That night, we met up with Brett, Robert, and James (the three writers from the night before) as well as my husband. Escorted by FOUR men, which no other table in the party could lay claim to, we went to the Fairy Ball. I wasn't in costume, althought I did dress nicely and wore one of the Carnival masks my daughter and I had made the week before--claiming that I was going as the fat, flightless fairy.

Yep. I was the dodo of the Faerie Ball.

The event was beautiful and the food was good. The entire event was marred only by the volunteers who were serving as the seating Gestapo, one of whom told me that my approaching back surgery "wasn't her problem" when I meekly asked if I could just go in and sit just inside the door. Other than Frau Goebbels, the evening was lovely and we came away with a lot of fantastic books.  I ended up with several books by CT Adams and Cathy Clamp--which made me very happy as Cathy is a regular at Absolute Write.

One last quick trip to the once-again-empty promo lane spot, and I hobbled to the car--literally.  My physician's comment that "There's no way you'll make it all week" was starting to look like a potential prophecy. 

A Month In The Life--Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ah...the first full day of the RT convention!

I was excited for lots of reasons. First off, the AMP ladies got in yesterday for the most part.  It was really great to meet my EIC, Sandra Hicks, for the first time--and Laura Baumbach, who is the EIC of MLR Press and a legend as far as I'm concerned.  But I also got to meet some of the writers I edit.  LB Gregg is adorable--little and sassy and spunky and shoes I would quite frankly kill for.  Helen Hardt is tall and elegant and drop dead gorgeous; Sam Cheever has the market cornered on cute and manages to do more things at one time than I do without looking like a spaz--like I do.  Lizzie T. Leaf took one look at me and instantly adopted me, I think.  Instantly, our relationship went from editor-writer to younger sister-older sister.  She told me what to do all week and I loved it.  Then, my husband went to pick Cynthia Vespia up at the airport this morning--she's staying with us in Lancaster.

The first thing I did this morning was head over to my spot on promotional lane.  Last night, I went to set it up and realized that we'd left the cover flats at home.  You know: the things with my names on them? Otherwise, all I had was a shelving unit with some Carnival masks hung on a board covered with fabric.  I ended up putting a few water bottles and document stands on the shelves, thinking I'd come back this morning and fill it all up.

Much to my surprise, it was totally empty this morning. Nary a bottle or document stand to be found. So, I decorated the space as I'd originally intended and stepped back to take a look.

No one else on Promo Lane had anything like I did.  Most of the other writers were giving away bookmarks in baskets.  So when this hit the convention:


--it got a lot of attention.  It also stayed fairly empty throughout the week, even to the point where people would grab them out of my hands while I was trying to restock.  Great fun overall, though--by the end of the convention I'd had my promo items, bookmarks from Lizzie, magnets from Eden Elgabri, flyers from Cynthia Vespia all on my promotion spot and every single darn thing was GONE.  We amused ourselves by wondering how many authors would go vertical next year with raspberry colored water bottles and red document stands in LA next year, and then by coming up with increasingly more outrageous ideas for what I'll do.  I'm thinking lights and fountains.

After all--it is LA.

I hit a couple of workshops on Wednesday afternoon, but the most important things I had to do were agent/editor appointments.  I had two scheduled for Wednesday afternoon and I was nervous about pitching to them.  I wasn't one hundred percent sure of what I was doing, so I took the time after lunch to narrow down and perfect my verbal pitch, implementing the information I'd learned the day before from the writers' panel at the pre-con workshop about pitches.  So when time arrived to pitch I was ready.

And I was stood up. TWICE.  Two totally different people from entirely different companies pulled no-call, no-shows for their appointments.  I found out later that the no-call no-shows were completely beyond their control, but that didn't help matters at the time.  I was pissed, and in my opinion, rightfully pissed and that was the state of my mind all the way through until the opening night party.

The first party was Ellora Cave's tenth birthday party and, as you can imagine, it was a little bit on the wild side.  We hung out there for a little while and then returned to the bar, where we could drink and gaze upon the beauty that was the banner--the book covers LB and I had put on that banner that now every drunk at the convention was staring at.  Those drunks (and not so drunks) were in turn stared at by the morticians' convention that was sharing top billing with Romantic Times.  I thought it was about the funniest thing I'd ever heard of: romance writers and funeral directors?  How funny!

I continued to think so until the next night. More on that later.

At any rate, I'd decided that I was going to nail down every single free spot on the pitch session schedule the next morning.  The workshops were all fine and good, but I was at RT to pitch my manuscript and that had to take priority.  Back in the bar, we befriended a trio of male writers: Brett Battles, James Scott Bell and Robert Gregory Browne.

 After a long evening of writer talk and quite a few beers, we all went our separate ways.