Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Chapters To Go Before I Sleep

There's this Robert Frost poem I just love. It's the ending that gets me: "The woods are lovely, dark, and deep/ but I have promises to keep/ and miles to go before I sleep/ and miles to go before I sleep."

When I was teaching, those last two lines regularly rattled around in my head: "And papers to grade before I sleep/ and papers to grade before I sleep." Lately, it's been "chapters to write," "chapters to edit," "blogs to post," and... well, you get the idea.

Know what, though? I discovered that I freakin' love editing. At least, I did today. I remember being afraid of not having enough to say in my writing. Somehow I thought more words was the cure for this. Today, I shaved and shaped until my manuscript was half, maybe two-thirds, what it once was. And it's stronger for it, like I sent it to the Awesome Gym and it came out all shiny. So- two days of writing with a word count of @ 2000, and today spent editing.

Business of books: Don't forget about the Indie Book Blowout this Labor Day Weekend. I've got both, yes BOTH, my books on sale for .99 cents. That's a whole two bucks saved, people! Which you can then spend on two more books! Or one small Frozen Strawberry Lemonade. Mmm. Dilemma. Books or Brainfreeze? A strawberry lemony brainfreeze....

Either way, happy writing, have a great Labor Day Weekend for those of you celebrate, and thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sunday Update w/ Much Information

This weekend at The Ides of March: ROW80 update, Carnivalesque release info, The Indie Book Blowout, Book Tours Not To Be Missed, and an extremely nerdy exercise in craft. 

1. Since last check-in, I've managed a little over 5,000 words.

2. Due to the vile evil that is adult-onset strep throat, my SF/Fantasy serial-saga Carnivalesque will be a week delayed. Considering how narrowly I avoided hospitalization, I feel pretty smug about that. Look for it sometime next week; as Indie fans know, release dates are somewhat fluid. Last time, Smashwords beat everyone by a lunar mile. It's my plan to make this a free release, so it may take Amazon longer to catch up. It will be free on Smashwords from Day 1, though. (Go Mark Coker!)  

The Business of Books:
3. I'm taking part in this thing called The Indie Book Blowout this Labor Day Weekend, when my books, along with many others, will be on sale for .99 cents. A whole bunch of genres and a whole bunch of writers are taking part, so although I write primarily YA, fantasy, and romance, there's something for everyone. Check it out here: Indie Book Blowout

4. Book Tours/ Releases Not To Be Missed:
Kait Nolan, founder of ROW80 and hot werewolf creator extraordinaire, is planning all kinds of fun stuff for her book Red's launch into the world. Susan Bischoff, another ROW80 alum, is also putting the finishing touches on an impending release for which many have been eagerly awaiting: the second book in the Talent Chronicles, Heroes 'Til Curfew. I have added awesome badges over to the right there with even more details.

5. An extremely nerdy exercise in craft: book dissection. Sounds painful, and perhaps it is a bit. There are a lot of books and how-to courses that do this kind of thing already using their own distinct terminology. I've been spending some time analyzing how my favorite books are actually constructed: How far into the book does the author introduce the protagonist? Love interest? When does casual romantic contact commence? When/ how does this escalate? When/ where/ how is the first outside conflict introduced? That kind of thing. Many of you will find this kind of structure study boringly familiar. I sat down and actually sketched out plots like I was diagramming sentences, on huge pieces of butcher paper that I could paper across my studio wall and study. No lightning bolts or anything, but it was an neat exercise in structure and "the big picture" if you're as nerdy as I am.

Wow. I could get to be a fan of this whole brevity thing. Thanks for checking in and have a good week!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wednesday Update

Another criminally brief update:

1. Thanks to everyone for your well-wishes and sweet notes. If anyone tried to get in touch with me and I haven't responded yet, it's because I haven't touched my computer until today. Daniel didn't even have to hide it from me; I was too miserable. I am literally afraid of my inbox. It's amazing what can pile up over the course of three days. But it's also amazing how wonderful a hamburger can taste after three days of "soft" food. Mmm, Niffer's Black n' Bleu Burger w/ sweet potato fries. Take that, strep throat.

2. Writing? Ha! Not even in my fever dreams. In fact, my brain feels pretty tabula rasa right now. Usually long stretches of time with only my imagination for company would be like winning the lottery.  But add pain and fever into the equation, and it just doesn't work. This was a real revelation to me: my imagination/ creativity doesn't work unless I'm reasonably healthy and happy. I think the vicissitudes of creativity are even more complex than the act of writing sometimes. Right. So, that's a zero word count so far this week. I'll see what I can salvage between now and Sunday.

3. I did get some reading done, though. Posting reviews is near the top of my evil new catch-up pile, which is on top of my usual busy to-do daily stuff. (Level 2 Glare? What? Already?) That's it, I think. Thanks again, and I hope everyone has a really productive week with plenty of word count.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday Update, with bonus Strep Throat (and feverish ramblings)

Why is it that when kids get strep throat it's all about eating ice cream and popsicles and staying home from school? But when an adult gets it, we're hit so much harder? A doctor once delivered the cheerful news that strep is actually a form of scarlett fever. Yay!
Plus I may be the only human on earth who just really doesn't like ice cream. I'm that awful ice cream eater who excavates for the peanut butter cups or the cookie dough chunks and leaves the rest.
So today's about brevity. Here's a quick and dirty list instead of a real update.

1. Word count: roughly 2500 since last check in.

2. Reading: I have gotten almost no reading done since I've been crazy busy. But guess what! I seem to have some rest time on my hands. Time to make a dent in that TBR pile. Strep throat! Yay!

3. Current project:An experiment in form inspired by some musicians I know and Charles Dickens. 'Ol Charles published his novels as serials. They appeared in the newspaper in chunks, and were later collected into novels. Serialization used to be a common practice. I would argue it's once again present thanks to the internet. But with Carnivalesque I want to try something a bit different: a cross between serialization and complete novellas, all part of an overarching story, each released very quickly after the last. I want this project to have the form and structure of a book, but the rhythm and pacing of a serial. I hope to see how my writing might fit differently into the "feed the stream" structure of modern media consumption. (Why is this text blue? I have no idea what I did. Sorry.)

Ok, apparently blogging is considered work and I'm not supposed to be doing work. Daniel is giving me Level 2 Evil Looks. Once we hit Level 3, he'll take my computer away and make me go read. So I'll skip the explanation about how these bands I know set themselves the task of putting out a single every month. One band was crazy ambitious- they did a single a week. The impact this had on their craft was amazing. Although difficult to track in concrete numbers, it gave them a vast body of work that translated directly into at least two full-length albums, more money for live performance, and representation. I guess if they were writers it would be full-length novels, more sales, and representation? Well, anyway, it worked for Dickens and it worked for my friends. Not that I'm Dickens. Seriously. I'm just experimenting. And feverish.

You know what's funny? If you whisper at someone with a perfectly good voice, they almost always automatically whisper back. Ha!
Ok, that was really close to a Level 3 glare.
More info as soon as I'm allowed back near a computer. Have a great week!

Friday, August 19, 2011

On My Bookshelf, Music, and More

Perhaps this is more of a wishlist than a to-be-read list, since I currently have half a dozen projects going. Here's the cover for the latest: I'm really excited about this one. I ought to be able to give details on Sunday, and am planning to release as early as the end of next week.
Whenever it feels like I have a ton of projects going on, I use my TBR pile as motivation. But these books are especially maddening, since I've been waiting for some of them for a very long time. They tempt and taunt me throughout my crazy days. I'm working like mad so that I can have a chance to actually sit down and read. In the meantime, here are some of the things I'm listening to and looking at.

On my bookshelf:

 Music in the air:
The band Lauderdale is part of the explosive music scene pouring out of my hometown of Muscle Shoals, Al right now. Like a lot of people who grew up in small towns, I couldn't wait to leave. But now there's a serious musical Renaissance afoot, garnering international attention. Just yesterday I came across the term "Alabamacana" in a French article about these guys. In the 70s megastars like Dylan and Percy Sledge came to my town to record; "When a Man Loves a Woman" was born here. There was a scene then, and apparently it's been reborn by: The Drive By Truckers, Dylan LeBlanc, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, The Civil Wars, and more. It figures this wouldn't happen until after I moved away. Lauderdale is one of the area's newest offerings.
I love the cover art for their cd. It features the Grant Hotel, a run down establishment that held vestiges of 1920's decor- a compelling mixture I like to call Decaying Deco. In high school we used to dare each other to run in and ask the clerk how much it would cost to rent a room by the hour. We timed each other to see who managed to chat him up the longest before being tossed or chickening out. Ah, the things we do out of entertainment desperation. I was saddened to hear that The Grant burned, but thrilled to see it so beautifully rendered. And oh yes, they don't rent rooms by the hour. Poor desk clerk.

All these albums are available on the innovative Indie record label This Is American Music (TIAM), home of the $5 record. Check it out here.

Pretty Things:

Standard Deluxe is eighteen kinds of awesome. Where else can you find great t-shirts, fine art like The Quilt's of Gee's Bend logo to our right (a nationally touring exhibit, incld. The Smithsonian), the moleskine notebooks I can't live without, live outdoor music, and barbecue? It's magic, I tell you. It has to be.  

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Update: Horror Has its Rewards

Excitement abounds here at The Ides of March. I just finished my first ever work of horror, and I have to say, it scared even me. It fits into a larger project that isn't mine to steer, but I'll give specifics soon. Suffice to say, if I was a smoker, I'd light up a cigar.

Since I'm not, I bought myself a much-coveted single: Blind Pilot's "Look at Miss Ohio," a cover of a Gillian Welch song they did exclusively for an iTunes session. I didn't even know iTunes had "exclusive sessions." Who are they, the BBC? Oh, wait. They're Apple. Move over, Peel Sessions. At any rate, I broke down and bought it. Music is much better for the lungs. Check it out in the "What's Vicki Listening To?" section.

Writers. If you hit a goal, even a tiny one, celebrate! Cigar, a single, dance the polka- it helps keep us going.

So, as far as ROW80 goals this week, I would have to say I definitely hit both word count and editing goals this week. "This Silent Country" came in at just under 6500 words, but that was after days of bouncing back and forth between 4500 and 8000 after trips to the betas.

I did not get much reading in during this time. I guess this is kind of balanced out by the my periodic binge reading episodes. I did finish Amber Scott's Fierce Dawn, the second book in her ParaRealm series (full review on Amazon and Goodreads.) Next will be Kait Nolan's highly anticipated Red, just out. Run run run for your copy! It's on the top of my "current" pile right now.

Also, I want to give a shout out to ROW80 alum Claire LeGrand, who is having her Suitcase Seven giveaway over on her blog. Her featured book is Daughter of Smoke and Bone, a read I want so desperately I have promised to erect a shrine to in the hopes of winning. Fingers crossed!

Have a good rest of the week! -V

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sunday Update: Thinking About Horror

Horror has been more than a bit on my mind. And my keyboard. And on the big folio size sheet of paper I use for outlines and such.
See, I have a couple of small horror projects cooking. I need these to be straight-up horror and then there's Blake House, which slides towards romancey horror. (Ragingly popular genre, that; romanticly suspenseful horror.) All these different projects in the air have me thinking about genre.
Daniel, after reading through one of my shorter projects, laid out his explanation of horror. It made so much sense I thought I'd share it. According to him, horror boils down to one thing: fear of being eaten by a bigger, scarier something. It really opened up the genre for me.
It could be a virus, or a shark, or an alien. But the thing is, it will kill you. You have no choice in this. If it doesn't kill you, or at least the best and brightest of you, then it's not horror. It's adventure or thriller or suspense. So knowing that you're going to die, the trick of horror becomes about how you do so and what it reveals about your character, etc. (movie spoilers ahead).

Jaws. Classic horror. Quinn, the strongest, dies. In fact, it's arguable the weakest character (the sheriff, afraid of the water) who survives. In the book, even the smart guy (Richard Dreyfuss' character) dies. The Terminator. The original is horror. Kyle Reece (sp?) dies. But the sequels are action/adventure, because the main heroes (Sarah and John Connor) survive.
I've written and primarily read romance for a long time now. To be grossly simplistic, romance is about external responses to internal changes and stimuli. It's been really interesting to think about inner responses to impossible situations.
On the word count front, I have been, as I said already, busy writing horror. I averaged about 7,000 words since my last check-in. I know that sounds like a lot, but much of it was cut in the end. I'll probably cut even more before it's over. (Fewer words are always better!) Backwards editing helped a lot with this.
Even though I have been temporarily diverted to a couple of shorter projects,  Blake House is coming along nicely. I love the preliminary cover design although I'm not sure this is the one I'll ultimately go with.
That's it! Everyone have a good week, and check in with some fellow ROW80ers for company and encouragement. -V K

Thursday, August 11, 2011

New Covers for the New Editions

It's no secret that I'll be releasing shiny new editions of the Gifts series in advance of Blood Redemption's Fall release. I am so thrilled to have the finished versions of all three new covers:

Established readers will notice some changes. Some are small, like a new series name: Angel's Edge instead of The Gifted Blood Trilogy. The biggest is ideological. I've alway felt that the series straddles the outer edge of YA. St. Martin's Press and others are calling this kind of older-oriented  YA writing "New Adult" instead. Whether it's a new niche genre or not, I think the new covers definitely showcase this direction. Plus I just love them. Have I mentioned that? Oh, right. About twenty times over my last few posts.

Will there be changes in content? Yes, but mostly editorial ones. The story itself won't change. I'm the most excited about bonus content- goodies like playlists and maps and more. I'll make release announcements here, through my newsletter, and elsewhere on the 'net as soon as I can.

Did I mention how much I love the new... oh, right. Twenty-one times now. Oh well. You get the idea.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Blessed Silence... Sort Of.

Today is the first day of school!
The house is really, really quiet. It's kinda freaky.

I've got my writing prereqs: coffee, keyboard, music. (Music does not count as sound. Not in post-children quiet.)(Video from Lauderdale, a band from my hometown. Their first album is coming out really soon and I can't wait. Since it's not released, I can't post it in the usual spot. Great writing music, and the video's directed by my talented friend Corey Hannah. I'm plotting ways to get him to do a book trailer for me.)

So far this week:
A new writing opportunity kind of fell into my lap. I can't really say     much about it at this point, other than that I'm really excited about it and it has nothing to do with either of my two WIPS. There's a deadline involved, so I've had to shift focus and do some... I can't really call it brainstorming. Adapting? Reimagining? I have been going through old manuscripts, writing parts of new ones, and trying to get the two to make friends. I am going to go ahead and claim an editing day on this one, so that's one day out of five met. I will have to write (or edit) every day, including this one, to meet goal this week.

If you've ever gotten kids ready for the school year, then you understand. Also, I recently accepted some commitments with the IBC (Indie Book Collective). We're gearing up for their Bestseller for a Day promotion on August 17th. And then there's the new project.

See, I have this 260,000 word futuristic SF series sort of stuffed in a file. I always thought of it as my "practice" series, and never thought I'd do much with it. Sometimes I'd think of it. I'd tell myself I really should do something with it. Then I'd go back to my WIP. I'm still not entirely sure what I'm going to do with it. 260,000 words is kind of a monster. But part of it, a very small and adapted version of it, may have found a home. So that's what I'm working on this week. After that, who knows? Maybe I'll rework and release this monstrous series. But it will have to wait its turn.

This will not, I repeat, WILL NOT, significantly impact any stated release dates of either Blake House or Blood Redemption. Please do not send me angry emails.

What else? I read and reviewed Frannie Billingsley's amazing book Chime. I put up a quick review on Goodreads ranking it in my Top 5 so far this year. That puts it up there with Tabitha Suzuma's Forbidden and Jeff Bryan's Jenny Pox. Why such love? Two things among many: it has one of the best opening lines ever. "I've given my confession and I'd like to be hanged." How could you not keep reading after that? And then, on about page 3, I had this major epiphany. You know how you always hear about "suspension of disbelief?" I always took it to mean that a reader, or viewer if it's film/t.v., has to "buy it," whatever "it" may be. But it struck me that suspension of disbelief is really about trust. It's about trusting a writer- that she knows what she's doing with language; that her character(s) is someone you'd like to get to know; that if we keep reading we'll encounter that marvelous yet elusive thing we chase through the pages that is so different for everyone. In Ms. Billingsley's book, I found it on page 3. I don't even know why. I just knew that I was lost, and I was going to be a very cranky mama shopping for school supplies the next day.

Thank God for Daniel. Can you believe he did both supply lists? With both children in tow. This is the new awesome: a man who is not afraid to brave Wal-Mart's maddened hordes on tax free weekend so his wife can sleep off a book binge.

Ok, to re-cap ROW80 goals:
1. Am expecting increased output due to back-to-school freedom
2. Got in one day of editing- a little behind this week but can catch up
3. New writing project! Yay!
4. Marketing/ The Business of Books: Getting involved with The Indie Book Collective.
5. Reading/Reviewing: Frannie Billingsley's Chime was epiphany-inducingly good.

Life is coffee-scented, empty-roomed, subtly musical, and full of words. So all is well. May your week be just as you order it. -VK

Monday, August 8, 2011

Introducing: Vampire Kitten and the 5 Fang Rating System

I'm what my mother used to call stupid-silly with sleep deprivation. School starts back this week so I'm going through the painful readjustment to normal people hours after weeks of summer vampire hours. The air conditioner picked the worst heat wave of the summer to die, and that hasn't helped matters. I also just upgraded from my older version of Adobe CS5 to the CS5.5 Master Collection. It's been fun picking through the more familiar upgrades and playing with images. All these factors combined to help create my new little friend, Vampire Kitten over there.

Yes, Vampire Kitten is the monstrous result of too little sleep, new design software, and a stock photo subscription. I saw him and, in a fit of sleep and heat-induced indiscretion, downloaded the little critter. I am not the cute kitten type, ok? But he was too cute not to mess with. And having invested time and a download into his creation, I decided to put him to work.

We all know I'm not really a review site. I just read like a fiend. Reviews just kind of happen. Vampire Kitten wants in, though. He thinks the star system is lame, and insists we go with fangs instead. Happily, we're both in agreement about Brenda Pandos's very newest release and the first book in a new series, Everblue:

Vampire Kitten gives it Five Fangs. Check out the full review at Goodreads or pick up a copy at Amazon.

There is actually a point to Vampire Kitten and all this playing around with graphics-intensive software: I was so frustrated trying to find covers for the Gifts trilogy that I did a few mock-ups of my own. It's not that I couldn't find good designers. My top two were booked solid, and I did I mention my cover art OCD? I figured that if I had even a sketchy mock-up of what I wanted, it would make the designer's job that much easier. Vampire Kitten took ten minutes in PhotoShop, but here's what a couple of hours of more serious effort yielded:

I don't think I have any writing that will actually fit this cover. It's more for practice than anything else. It was fun, though. Adobe's new InDesign and Photoshop, combined with a stock photo subscription, is like having a really complicated, sometimes frustrating, but infinitely fun coloring book. With a little more practice, maybe I'll be up to designing something I'd actually use.

Not that I don't love Vampire Kitten. Who has just discovered my "Cutest Kitten on the Internet" video from YouTube I posted back in July. He smugly claims I can no longer say "I'm not a cute kitten person." There goes my street cred.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

ROW80: Book III: Blood Redemption Cover

Exciting developments this week:
1. The new cover for the third book in the Gifted Blood trilogy: Blood Redemption. It's just a proof, but I think I'm in love with it. I think I want to marry it. And I think bibliogamy is perfectly legal in Alabama. (So is fake Latin.)

2. I'm planning on releasing enhanced second editions of the first two books ahead of the final book's release. This is just one of a series of new covers for the trilogy. They have the same model and same basic layout, but different color schemes, etc. In other words, they go together. I love them all, but I'll save the other reveals for another post since they're also proofs. I think I need some more time to stare at them privately because I'm going to marry them, too. Bibliogamy, baby.   

3. Lots of writing progress: 2500 words on Blake House Friday; 1500 on Saturday. So close! Now if I can just find a cover I love even a third as much as I do this one, all will be disco. 2000 words on Blood Redemption. I love that I can type the title now. I'm going to do it again: 2000 words on Blood Redemption Thursday. 

4. Stacey Wallace Benefiel has a tour coming up with writer Angela Carlie and others. Her post about this really made me think about the importance of regional affiliations with other Indies. The internet has gifted me with some pretty far-flung friends, for which I am grateful. But Stacey's upcoming tour reminded me of how important it is to have a presence at conferences and festivals. Since flying all around the country to each conference of my dreams is going to have to wait until, um, never, regional events make sense. This is so much easier to do with a network of local writer friends. Since I'm in the South and it's practically in my backyard, if I'd been a bit more on the ball, I'd have something going for DragonCon this year. I was not and do not, though, so perhaps next year. 

Have a great week, everyone. Hard to believe school is almost back in session. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Mid-Week Update: Covergate

A cautionary tale about book covers and Amazon:
I know summers are slow, so I haven't been surprised to see sales slowing. In fact, throughout July, I counted my blessings. Considering everything, I had a stellar month. But over the last few days, sales really slowed. I cringed and threw myself into the writing. We all have ups and downs. I know to expect them. I repeated the well-worn mantra: Writing is a long-haul game.

Yesterday I guess I felt masochistic. I did something I haven't done in a long time: browsed through Amazon's genre bestsellers lists to see how far I'd fallen. That's when I saw that my book cover had disappeared entirely. I'm now the proud author of "Image not available." 

To add to the bucket o' suck, I don't know how long this has been going on. The cover shows up on my product page and on my editing details page just fine. It's also the same image I've used since I first uploaded back in January. My thumbnail conforms to every Amazon requirement. It's the same image I've been using for seven months with no problems. Several books around mine on these same lists also do not have covers. Some are through major publishers and I know they are supposed to have covers. Authors, you might want to check and make sure this isn't happening to you. 

I fired off the appropriate emails. I started a thread on Kindle Boards in case anyone else was having a similar problem. I went to bed with twin sensations of "That sucks" and "That explains a lot." Then I had some weird dream about turning into a fish. (Some of you were fish too.) I was the only fish who knew about the slowly creeping algae coming to kill us all. My warnings were met with a trip to fish church, to repent my false fishly ways. 

Fish church must be very cathartic, because I woke up feeling great. It struck me that people have been buying my book without a cover. Who does that? Not me. But it's been happening with some regularity. Why I'm not ranked in the millions is a mystery to me. I also realized the whole thing was out of my control. Amazon is a massive corporation that makes mistakes both large and small. So I got caught this time. Not my fault. Worse things have happened to friends of mine. 

The irony is: I finally have a new set of covers for the whole series that I really love. They're super sexy and perfect for the edgy direction I'm taking the second editions. So I guess the whole thing is fate with a weird dream thrown in. Oh, and really, you should all check to make sure your covers haven't disappeared.

As far as writing goals, stellar progress on the third Gifts book. A little progress on Blake House. I worked on it one day since my last post. Then I wrote approx. 2,000 words on Gifts Book 3. There are lots of exciting developments in the marketing and release department, but it's a bit massive to get into right now. I'm desperate to do a cover reveal, but that, too, is a separate post. I hope everyone is having a productive week. I feel really fortunate today to belong to such a talented and upbeat group of writers.