Blog

Dressing Julian

Julian Mouret is a vampire in my contemporary novel, Bloodroom. My upcoming historical vampire novel, The Bad Death, also stars Julian Mouret. Today I took the stock image photo I bought for the cast-of-characters animation on bloodroomthenovel.com and “dressed” it in 18th century clothing for the cast-of-characters animation to be featured on thebaddeath.com. This wasn’t quite as fun as dressing a good looking man for real, but it was still pretty fun.

The hottie in the tux is from istockphoto.com/. The young gent with the pistol is from 123rf.com. My challenge was to get Julian out of his tux and into the sharpshooter’s old-timey clothes. I used my Photoshop 6.0. I can just hear the hoots of incredulity. Yes, I use 12 year old software! It has all the features I need for simple image manipulation. If you don’t have Photoshop, Adobe now has an affordable monthly subscription service for its creative programs.

I’ll assume you know very little as I explain what I did here. I copied the sharpshooter into the tuxedo photo, which put it on its own layer so I could manipulate it independently. Really, the dressing trick amounted to resizing sharpshooter’s body to “fit” Julian’s. I used the pen tool to create a path around the cravat so that I could cut and paste it into its own layer. I used the transform tool to resize the cravat and torso. To fit the cravat “around” Julian’s chin, I used the lasso tool to free select portions I didn’t need and also used the eraser tool. Julian looks awfully fierce about his new outfit. Could be that moody sky; it fortells of vampires on the horizon.

I cut the sharpshooter out of the sky and dragged the halves of the sky together. Then I duplicated layers and played with the layers blending feature till I got this moody effect. The blending feature in the Layers palette makes the layer in question “react” to the layer beneath it for visual effect. I include a screenshot of my layers. You’ll see the selected layer has blending set to “Soft Light”. If you mess with enough layers’ blending features they all sort of affect each other, which can make for interesting results.


Divine Inspiration, Conflict, Provocation, and Self Expression

Last night I read a few of my short stories from Night at the Demontorium. I read Bedring, Sparky’s First Day, and He Dreams in Yellow. The first two I wrote over 10 years ago. They’re so well written, so diverse, so original. I know that sounds conceited; but hold on, I have a point. And the point is that I should have been writing the whole time since. Who knows where my writing career would be by now if I’d made writing my primary focus? I lacked self confidence and let statistics about publishing scare me away. I spent ten years moving, flailing in relationships, and getting technical training and a Master’s degree. I don’t regret the education, especially since my firm’s tuition assistance program paid for it 100%. That and professional memberships are helpful on the day job front. But writing is my single talent. I can draw, but it’s nothing compared to writing. I was born to it. And I should do it constantly for the rest of my life. Going the whole month of May without writing (while The Bad Death is with beta readers) feels unsettling. I’ve been devoting my weekdays to marketing; but starting June 1, I’m writing every weekday, even if I have to quit six hours into a work day for marketing. That’s why successful self-published authors like JA Konrath hire out all other tasks; they know their job is the writing.

This month I’ve been thinking a lot about the next book in my series, House of the Apparently Dead. I think before the Greeley girls leave Charleston …oh wait, I should tell you who the Greeleys are. My series is set in 18th century South Carolina. The Greeleys are rich sisters who freed their slaves. They’re modeled after the Grimké sisters, two rich Charleston ladies who really were abolitionists and who eventually left the South under a cloud of unpopularity brought on by their condemnation of slavery. So in House of the Apparently Dead, the Greeleys will parcel up their plantation and deed it all away before shaking the dust off their feet on the way out. They will leave their mansion and immediate property to Charlotte, Julian Mouret’s sister. In The Bad Death, Charlotte is cossetted by her family as the fragile flower they believe her to be. But in House of the Apparently Dead, she suffers dreadfully and the Greeleys’ gift could be her salvation. There, that’s all I’ll tell you for now. No spoilers. I see the three books in my series as more than historical versions of the urban fantasy genre. I see them as carrying on the thing Jane Austen and Charles Dickens did so nicely — multiple character plotlines. Austen’s novels were about families. So, even though Pride and Prejudice is primarily a romance between Lizzie and Mr. Darcy, there were also Jane/Mr. Bingley, Lydia/Mr. Whickam, and Charlotte/Mr. Collins subplots, like vines running alongside the main plant. And Dickens — think of Bleak House, for one. Yes, there’s Esther. But there’s also Gentleman George and his estrangement from his mother and his loyalty to his ruined friend, Nemo. His inner conflict over these people lands him in jail. And there are the orphaned wards of Jarndyce who fall in love, but the boy is ruined by greed and ambition and lack of purpose. Then there’s poor Lady Dedlock, with her lost love for Nemo and her secret, illegitimate child. No wonder Dickens was a phenomenal success! Who can resist the longing within the hearts of these characters? And because each plotline holds not only its own conflict but conflicts with and propels the other plotlines, we’re hooked into the story and can’t let go until the end. So, in writing House of the Apparently Dead and the third novel (as yet untitled), I must find ways to interconnect the subplots so they conflict with and stir the others. It’s like a giant web. If you pluck a strand on the far upper edge, it causes all the other strands to move in reaction. How to make that happen? Well, that will come from God. I know that sounds conceited; but hold on. I’m just acknowledging that the talent isn’t really mine. So I must ask for an idea, and once given the idea, ask for guidance to do right by it. I’m a channel for the creative force that made me out of dust and gave me breath. The same is true for you.

What talent were you given? Have you been distracted from it? Did you play an instrument? Get it out of the guest room closet and dust it off. Did you paint? Find your brushes and start again. Don’t be afraid. Just start again. If you write, keep writing. Birds sing every day. Why not you?


Taking a Year Off to Write: Update (and a movie review!)

After four months of sabbatical, I turned The Bad Death over to beta readers who will keep it through May. Since May 1, I’ve contacted professional editors and am reviewing their sample edits to the first 10 pages of my novel in order to choose who I’ll work with. I created a spreadsheet of 35 book bloggers who might be interested in reviewing The Bad Death and I’m drafting my marketing plan. Wondering what beta readers will think, how extensive my revisions may be, and how responsive and positive book bloggers may (or may not) be has got me tense. I’m surprised to be stressed out. I thought a year off from the day job would be all cake and lollipops. But no. You’d think the minuscule sabbatical budget would be the nail biter, but that’s holding up pretty well. It’s ‘am I good enough?’ angst. Part of this is just my temperament. But I also know I’ve become someone with only one topic of conversation. I need to get out more.

So Saturday, I met my friend DeAnna for drinks and a movie. It was nice to have a couple of vodka tonics at the Oar House bar, which is open to the air and Bayou Chico, and just chat about anything. Then we went to see The Great Gatsby. Baz Luhrmann’s version of the classic is spectacular. 3D made every scene look iconic (even the credits were framed in 3D Art Deco designs). Leo gave Gatsby animal magnetism, which I think is an improvement over Robert Redford’s portrayal in the 70s version and even over the Gatsby of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel. Luhrmann and Carey Mulligan give Daisy more credit for depth and self awareness than the character deserved. Tobey McGuire, with his bug eyes, looked too impressed with wealth and with Gatsby. The novel’s Nick Carraway is a comfortable, droll observer. He has the sturdy character for which Midwesterners are known. In the novel, he moves with ease through West and East Eggs, the ash world between them, and the city beyond. A bold departure from its predecessors is that this version is extremely homoerotic, which makes good financial sense in this bi-curious era but which I found distracting. At one point, Gatsby even puts his hand on Nick’s thigh. One more kibbitz…I won’t give you a spoiler, but there’s a scene where Gatsby does something straight out of Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane. You’ll know it when it happens. I’d see the movie again. I recommend the 3D showing, as that technology actually contributes to the point of Luhrmann’s production. The emotional heart of the story is more poignant for the exaggerated setting. For fun, here’s the film trailer for the 1926 version of The Great Gatsby.

I’m so glad I got out of the house like a real human being.


Sex Scenes: Are You Doing It Right?

Yesterday, I wrote a sex scene in my novel The Bad Death and added a little to a preliminary scene where they’re lying in each other’s arms and he’s lost in her eyes. Sex scenes in a romantic storyline are harder to write than readers suspect (and people who don’t read romance would never suspect how hard it is to write a romance well).

You can’t use ‘penis’ or ‘vagina’ because that’s too clinical. But you have to choose euphemisms carefully because if you get too inventive it sounds ridiculous. A romance I read recently used ‘love muscle’ for ‘penis’ twice. I’m sorry, not only is ‘love muscle’ not romantic, I don’t think it’s even accurate! ‘Peachy globes’ for a woman’s ass is funny too. But I’m not against using the word ‘ass’ when the scene gets rockin’, especially for the guy, who can be a little objectified in this genre. The sex scene starts out small (no pun intended) and builds to orgasm, which can’t be described in porn-y terms. You can use the word ‘came’ after they’ve had sex a few times, but you usually can’t get away with using ‘orgasm’. Why not? I think it’s because intimacy, itself, is a fragile state. You can be in bed with someone you’re wildly attracted to and if it’s a new relationship, a word wrongly spoken by either person can bring the whole house o’ cards crashing down. So reading a sex scene in a romance; well, it’s a fantasy and a non-fantasy word punctures the illusion. To use a non-sex scene example, it’s like that episode in X-Files when Mulder was put in this hallucinatory state in which he’d been injured and Scully was nursing him very tenderly. Her attentiveness deepened the illusion because Mulder was secretly in love with Scully. But when she says something like (I dunno …), “I hope you feel better soon, Fox” he snapped out of it. He told her later he knew right then it wasn’t real because she would never call him by his first name, Fox. Like when I read ‘love muscle’, I giggled and the moment was lost.

Yesterday, I first set the mood for writing with music. In this scene, the mystery girl is very assertive so I created a Youtube playlist called ‘Seducing Julian’ with videos such as Chris Isaak’s Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing. Then, I started out with word salad. The English language has thousands of sexy words and I can’t keep them in mind all the time, so when I hear or read one I like I write it down. I then fold that piece of paper up and drop it in my salad bowl. To start a scene, I grab a folded slip from the bowl. Whatever that word is, I write a sentence using it. That gets me moving forward instead of sitting like a lump waiting for a stroke of genius. Write enough sentences with word salad words and pretty soon I’m thinking up words and sentences on my own. Then, I’m off! I know I’m onto something when I start getting turned on by what I’m writing.

So, I wrote my sex scene. It’s a bit long and shaggy (two words you definitely shouldn’t use together in a sex scene) but tomorrow I’ll refine it.

Readers, what are your likes and dislikes about romantic sex scenes? Writers, what are your challenges and tricks? Has Fifty Shades of Grey changed the rules for sex in romance and paranormal romance genres?


Win a Free e-Copy of Where the Dead Fear to Tread

I love film noir and horror so when I discovered Where the Dead Fear to Tread, a novel that embraces both genres, I bought it. Peter Schwotzer of Literary Mayhem calls it “…a combination old time detective pulp story, a revenge story and a good old fashioned horror story.” I’m reading it now and really enjoying it.

Now the book’s author and publisher are giving away a free e-copy in a contest that runs February 1 – 28. I’ll post the synopsis, then directions on how to win, then a few more reviews of Where the Dead Fear to Tread. Good luck!

A police officer and a serial killer search separately for a missing child while running a malevolent labyrinth populated by creatures they never knew existed.

Former prosecutor William Chandler, disgusted with his past inaction, spills the blood of those who victimize children to correct the ills he sees in the world. A self-admitted serial killer and uncomfortable with his actions, Chandler attends the funerals of those whose lives he has taken in an effort to retain a true understanding of the nature of violence.

The carnage left in his wake is investigated by Detective Kate Broadband, who becomes progressively more comfortable with the corpses left by Chandler. Envying the power she sees in him, she pursues Chandler as each search for Maria Verde, a missing eight-year-old girl.

As Chandler and Broadband draw closer to discovering what happened to Maria they are forced to confront The Devourer, an unnatural being trafficking in stolen children.

To enter you can like on Facebook and send a Facebook message to M.R. with your email address and preferred version (EPUB, HTML, MOBI, PDB and PDF).

Or you can mark as To Read on your Goodreads account and send M.R. a Goodreads message with your email address and preferred version (EPUB, HTML, MOBI, PDB and PDF).

You can enter once through Facebook, and once through Goodreads to increase your odds of winning. The contest will run from February 1 – 28. Your email will not be used for any purpose beyond notification of winning.

“Where the Dead Fear to Tread is an immensely enjoyable read; jam-packed with great action sequences and wonderfully horrific monsters that will chill you to the bone.”
~Dark Rivers Press

“It could be a future movie or video game franchise hit that you can brag about having picked up when it was just a humble indie e-book. Give it a chance and you may be surprised to find out Where the Dead Fear to Tread.”
~Robert Hibbs of Ravenous Monster

“…well-thought out. The main character, like the writing, is a complex man who you’re not sure if you can classify as “good” or “bad”. The story takes him through a supernatural mystery that will
leave you wanting more.”
~Nerds in Babeland


Taking a Year Off to Write

I took a year’s leave from my job to write full time, starting January 3. Since then, I’ve worked on revising The Bad Death to prepare it for beta readers. My goals for the year are:

•Publish The Bad Death
•Launch The Bad Death, following a marketing plan that includes guest blogging, giveaways, and social media contests
•Submit House of the Apparently Dead to beta readers

Supporting goals include shaping my blog according to advice from successful bloggers (and reader input), as well as increasing the reach of my social network. I would really love to publish the 2nd volume of Night at the Demontorium, but that may be more than I can chew.

The “why, how, and what’s-it-like” of taking a creative sabbatical?

Why. I became frustrated with time constraints preventing me from writing more often and writing more volume. In addition to working full time I was writing an hour or two several nights a week and a marathon session on Saturdays, marketing my writing, learning how to market better, working out, keeping house, and doing the occasional community or social event. You know, life. I find it hard always changing focus. I began to feel that the quality of what I wrote suffered from a lack of continuity. I wanted one focus. I wanted to wake up every morning and work on the story. Doing that for a year will help prevent regrets when I’m old and gray(er).

How. I cashed a portion of a retirement plan. This is where Suze Orman takes a moment to bitch slap me into next week. I know, I know. But in addition to having a bigger retirement plan that I left untouched, I had factors in my favor to begin with:

•Debt-free
•No dependents
•Low mortgage
•Good health

Some measures I took to reduce my risk:

•Researched and consulted an accountant
•Saved up an emergency fund
•Saved a separate fund for taxes/penalties on early withdrawal
•Created a budget at the reduced monthly “salary” and tested its feasibility
•Added a Critical Illness policy to my insurance, to the fullest payout in case disaster strikes
•Took a year’s leave of absence from work; I didn’t quit!

What’s-it-Like? From a practical standpoint, I treat it like a day job. I wake with the alarm and get ready for work Monday – Friday. The only steps I leave out are dressing in office clothes and leaving home. I’m at my computer no later than 9. I quit 8 hours later. I get up frequently but I find little breaks refresh me. I don’t leave home, though! After work, I usually go to the gym. Then I come home and do some book-related social networking and marketing. On the weekends, I run errands but mostly I lie on the couch and read. Both fiction and nonfiction books are brain food. The budget is holding up, though I will tell you with 8 more days in the month that it’s getting a little tight. What’s it feel like? Wonderful! Throughout school, the ongoing refrain of my teachers was, “Pay attention! Stop daydreaming!” Sometimes it just blows my mind that for the next year, daydreaming is my job.

Am I crazy? I ‘ll letcha know later how things turn out. For now, reference above statement about regrets in old age. One regret is dying broke under a bridge. I believe with self-discipline and sacrifice I can rebound and prevent it. Dying creatively unfulfilled? I could go to Hell for that.

Have you ever thought of doing something like this? I’d love to hear from you in a comment!


Tips for Marketing on Amazon

Marketing Your Book on AmazonThis week, I enjoyed practicing new marketing techniques that I picked up from Shelley Hitz’s new book Marketing Your Book on Amazon. Followers of my blog know I’m a Shelley Hitz fan. As expected, this new book did not disappoint.

The book alerted me to a nifty feature called Book Extras in Shelfari, Amazon’s social network for readers. Book Extras allows your book to stand out from the pack by adding descriptive details that may appeal to additional interests of some readers. For example, under the Book Extra “Characters”, I wrote short bios, starting with Julian, the anti-hero in my vampire thriller, Bloodroom. Under “Settings”, I listed Charleston, which is the setting of the book. But I also listed Drayton Hall, an actual Charleston mansion on which I modeled Julian’s home. I listed Bacchantes, Julian’s posh European-style coffee house. Maybe I’ll hook some new readers who are into coffee and historic architecture!

The book gave me a refresher on adding keywords and tags to my books’ Amazon sales pages. This will make my book turn up in the targeted searches of readers most attuned to the stories I write.

I’m excited about pointers I’ll be using when I launch The Bad Death, an antebellum vampire slayer novel. For instance, Marketing Your Book on Amazon has a section on how to announce my novel’s publication as a Facebook Milestone. And since launches are such huge affairs they overwhelm me, I am really looking forward to customizing the pre- and post-launch To Do Lists offered in the book. Oh, and I learned about a free plug-in for WordPress called Pretty Pink Lite that allows you to create custom affiliate links for your books. The Pretty Pink links also track clicks to evaluate the effectiveness of paid advertising. I can’t wait to talk to my website guru about that!


Bradbury’s Halloween Gift

This week I posted as a guest blogger on M.R. Gott’s Cutis Anserina, a website devoted to new writers and great horror fiction. I reviewed Ray Bradbury’s seasonal classic, The Halloween Tree.

The novel is a good start for anyone who hasn’t yet read Bradbury or who wants to learn more about this misunderstood and unfairly maligned holiday. So hop onto Cutis Anserina to read more about the book that deserves a place of honor on any reader’s bookshelf.

And thanks for the invite to post, M.R. Gott, author of the macabre action thriller, Where the Dead Fear to Tread.


Catching a Lifeline and Just Catching Up

I have been writing The Bad Death like my head’s on fire. That’s why I haven’t been blogging. I had the antebellum, interracial vampire slayer novel slated for publication this summer, but my imagination had other plans, so all I can say is — folks, it’s gonna be great! Not only is the novel taking off, I feel refreshed and excited about the year ahead as a new philosophy and new goals take shape. This sea change went from a ripple to a surfable wave on a recent business trip to Colorado Springs.

At the time I felt my Firm had misfired by sending me. I was unfamiliar with the client’s methods and jargon. I tried hard to contribute but ended each day feeling that I’d failed. I went to bed every night expecting the next day to be worse in unimaginably horrible ways. The Bargain Books Warehouse in downtown Colorado Springs turned out to be a lifeline.

I’ve always believed in the power of cats to bring luck and healing. Sure enough, this little lady named Pages walked across the paperbacks to say hello. After that I found an old hard copy of Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. I read the first three chapters that night. Its plain-speaking and practical advice turned the trip around for me.

Near the end of my two-week stay, I’d created the structure our group needed to build the products we intended. Before flying home, I stopped in Bargain Books Warehouse again and met their other resident cat, Booker.

This time I bought: Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Anna Quindlen’s A Short Guide to a Happy Life, Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea, and Anderson Cooper’s Dispatches from the Edge. I also bought NPR’s Story Corps collection Listening is an Act of Love; a cool, mature romance by Cheryl Reavis titled Blackberry Winter; and Suzanne Finstad’s Sleeping with the Devil, a true crime with an inspiring heroine. I flew home with heavier luggage but a lighter heart.

I’ll share my insights and opinions of these books in future, but first I’ll be guest-posting on M.R. Gott’s blog Cutis Anserina. More details on that next week.


Bloodroom Available for All e-Readers

Prima Ballerina Natalie Heyward never saw the man who attacked her and her partner with lightning speed and brutal force one moonless night. Physically unharmed but inwardly shattered, Natalie throws herself into Charleston Ballet’s new performance, but the ballet’s enigmatic benefactor, Julian Mouret, undermines her contrived defenses. Why does her attraction for this handsome stranger feel illicit? Something in him calls to her and she can’t just pirouette away.

Will Bloodroom’s damsel in distress live or die — or both? Visit your favorite e-book retailer and find out.