Thursday, June 30, 2011

Two Books about the Same Person

Like I said yesterday, I went to a panel where two authors discussed writing about A’isha, Muhammad’s favorite wife; Sherry Jones wrote The Jewel of Medina and Kamran Pasha wrote The Mother of the Believers.

Many historical fiction authors (myself included), worry that someone will come up with their idea first. To my dismay, Kamran said many of us will face this. But he said that’s okay. It’s less important to be first and more important to be authentic to your own voice.

I wondered beforehand if there would be any tension between the two of them, but Sherry said simply, "The more books about Aisha, the better." I think you'd have to really love the history to be able to say that.

When a publisher accepted Sherry's book "Muslimaphobes" went psycho. People told her encouraging Muslimism would by dangerous. The controversy grew so out of proportion that before the book was even published, it made headlines. Her publisher decided not to publish her book because of the scandal and she had to find someone else.

"They acted like it was more dangerous than satanic verses," Sherry mumbled. Come to find out, she wasn't exaggerating; that was actually a quote. 

I was shocked people could be so ignorant. I thought everyone knew Muhammad preached peace.

Then I remembered the time someone at my work got on a ten-minute soap-box about how we should kill all the terrorists and ship all the Muslims out of the country. For all our progress in tolerance, there’s still a lot of work to do.

Sherry said something that really stood out to me: “I got a lot of bad reviews from people who hadn’t even read it…” She stopped and corrected herself. “My book got a lot of bad reviews.”

“You have to tell your novel the way you want to already knowing people won’t like it,” said Kamran. “Do it for the work, because you can’t control the world. If even one person is touched by what you write, you succeeded.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Kamran Pasha and Muslims vs. Mormons

I went to a workshop called “One A’isha, Two Lives” where two authors discussed writing about the same woman: Aisha, the favorite wife of Muhammad. Sherry Jones wrote The Jewel of Medina and The Sword of Medina, and Kamran Pasha wrote The Mother of the Believers.

I went because when I first started Sacred Fire, I was terrified someone would write about the Vestal Virgins before me. I wondered how someone would handle that.

I got there early and sat in the second row. Kamran saw me, pounced into the chair in front of me, and said, “Hello! Are you here for the Aisha panel?”

Geez, I thought, It's like famous people are falling out of the sky.

I told him how much I adored his book. I connected with it because the rise of Muslims reminded me of the rise of my own faith (I’m a Mormon). Both religions started with a prophet: Muhammad and Joseph Smith. They both centered around a book: the Quran and the Book of Mormon. There were only a handful of believers at first, they suffered intense persecution, and they eventually gained worldwide recognition.

To my surprise, he said the similarities between Muslims and Mormons has been extensively studied. He’d even read about it. He mentioned a connection I hadn’t thought of before; because of persecution, both groups had to escape and start their own community: the Mormons to Salt Lake, and the Muslims to Medina.

As the conversation progressed, he told me why he wrote that Muhammad and Aisha consummated their marriage when she was nine (see the author’s note in his book for more details) when we contemporary folks look down on their age difference.

He thinks she was actually older – in fact, Sherry said during the panel there’s evidence she and Muhammad were betrothed when Aisha was 16 and consummated the marriage when she was 19, but the 1 got erased in historical records. Despite this evidence, Kamran wanted to write the book the way historians say the events happened.

"I agree," I told him. "I think it's disresepectful to second-guess historians all the time."

He talked about how Muhammad is criticized for being a pedophile and why that’s unfair. Muhammad’s enemies were critical of everything he did, but they never complained about his marriage to Aisha. This means whatever age she was, their marriage was culturally acceptable. We shouldn’t judge people by the standards of our own culture.

Both his book and Sherry’s made me interested in learning more about Muslimism. But more on that tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Learning from a Group Pitch Session

Instead of doing individual pitch sessions, Jennifer Weltz interviewed writers in groups of eight. This was invaluable because I could listen to other pitches and see what worked and what didn’t. The authors in the room had excellent ideas and Jennifer gave great advice to all of us.
After introducing herself, Jennifer asked us to go around in a circle and summarize our books in two or three sentences. Half-way through, she stopped us and said people were talking about the time period and not the book itself. She’s already familiar with the history; she wants to know what we did with it.
When one person finished, she even said, “But you still haven’t told me what your books is about.” She gave him the chance to try again, and his second try was much better.
I want to give a big shout-out to Shelley Watters for hosting her Twitter Pitch Competition. I can't tell you how much it helped me with this: 
When it was my turn, I said, “My book is about a Vestal Virgin who’s accused of losing her virginity by a vengeful priest who failed to seduce her. The only way to prove her innocence is to show she’s favored of the gods by performing a miracle.” That was two sentences, but Jennifer still looked interested, so I continued. “Tuccia has struggled with her faith ever since another Vestal Virgin was wrongly executed, so she doesn’t believe Vesta will save her. She decides to take a leap of faith and carries a sieve of water from the river Tiber to the Temple of Vesta.”
Next, Jennifer asked us why we wanted to write our books. What made us passionate about them, and why should she be passionate too?
Many of the authors talked about how they personally discovered the history or why they love history in general. She reminded us she wanted to know why the story was good.
Another complaint she had was that some people didn't say anything about their main characters, and that's the most important part of the book.
My answer went something like this: “The Vestal Virgins were fascinating women. They had to watch a fire constantly, and if they failed in any of their duties, the gods would lose favor with them and Rome could be destroyed. They were arguably the most important women in Rome, but while most people know who they are, few people know much about them.”
I can’t remember how I transitioned into this, but I also told her what I said to Shana about why if Tuccia lost her virginity, the book would be depressing and meaningless.
“That would be a bummer,” Jennifer agreed.
“Exactly. My book is more about Tuccia’s conflict between believing the other vestal was innocent and believing in the gods. She wants to be a good Vestal Virgin, but because of her doubt, she feels inadequate. She’s lived her life in doubt and fear, and when she gets accused, she decides she doesn’t want her life to end that way. That’s why she takes a leap of faith.”
Suddenly, what she said about focusing pitches on plot made perfect sense. I couldn't just tell her about my time period because regardless of the setting, I could have written anything. For all she knew, my book might have been a bummer. 

By this time the session was over, so she went around and told us what she thought of our pitches. She pointed to me and said, “I want to read your book.” I tried to suppress a grin, but I’m sure it was easy to tell how happy that made me.
She told two people she didn’t represent their genre (alternative history). That sucks for them because no matter what they said, she still wouldn’t be interested. One person gave a good pitch, but Jennifer said she wasn’t as into the story as another agent might be, so they wouldn’t be a good pair. She gave her card to another person. To some of the others, she said she didn’t get enough of a feel for the characters and what the book was about.

I always wondered what it's like to be an agent and have the power to, in one sentence, cause great disappointment or give someone so much joy.

Tune in tomorrow for a religious discussion I had with Kamran Pasha.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Lovin' the Language Blogfest

I have to interrupt my series of conference adventures to join in a blogfest: Lovin' the Language Blogfest.

You have all day to join, so please sign up!

The rules are: Pick any five lines from one of your WIPs. If you're feeling shy, and don't want to share from your own work, share from something you LOVE.

This is from my WIP Hunger.

1. He stood out from the crowd because his face mysteriously resonated with me. It was like a viola’s deep vibration when you pluck one of its strings. I had seen this man before, but I was certain we never met. It was so remarkable that I felt a sort of ecstatic panic.
2. Savvy: Eric cried until the tears dripped down my collarbone and collected in the dip of my neck. I felt a greater love for him at that moment than I ever had, but at the same time, I fervently wished I would never have to see him cry again.

3. Savvy: I was suddenly full of slime, or something sticky like tar. It was dark and revolting and I shuddered as if I could shake it off of me. Eric put his hand on my cheek and said my name, but my attention was focused inward and I couldn’t even see my surroundings.

4. The Ghost: I thought selling my soul to the devil would be less glamorous.

The Ghost: I thought it would be easy since it wasn’t my body and the soul was already dead. As I stood on the brink of the bridge and the brink of the end, everything inside me resisted. I wanted to live. I kept reminding myself that this was still just a pseudo life, one I didn't want. Still, I couldn’t move.

Now I'm off to read the others.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Nailing My First Pitch

In the morning, I got breakfast and looked around the room to see if I could spot a new friend or someone famous. I didn’t recognize anyone, so I picked a random table. As I sat down, I saw Joyce Elson Moore sitting next to me with Shana Drehs and Beth Pelke, editor and publisher at Source books.

Wow. I picked the right table.

I asked Shana and Beth about the origin of their last names, told them I hoped to make it to their panel after a pitch session, and asked Joyce Moore about her book. After we talked about that for a while, Joyce casually asked, “So what’s your book about?”

Shana and Beth leaned forward to listen to my answer.

God bless you, Joyce, I thought.

I said, “It’s about the Vestal Virgins.”

Shana and Beth’s heads tipped to the side in unison.

“Is it a romance?” asked Joyce.

“Absolutely not. My main character would only break the rules if she doesn’t believe in her religion, and if she doesn’t believe, her whole life has been wasted. Also, I’m sick of reading about women who solve all their problems by having sex. Then readers expect her to get caught and executed. That’s a terrible book!”

“So then there’s nothing like that in your book?” asked Shana.

“There is an execution. One of the vestals gets blamed for a war; people thought they lost the favor of the gods because she lost her virginity. Tuccia doesn’t believe she was guilty, but she doesn’t believe the goddess would let her die if she was innocent, so she’s conflicted about her religion her whole life.

“Then she gets accused of losing her virginity by a vengeful priest who failed to seduce her, and because he’s a priest, the only way Tuccia can prove her innocence is by showing she’s favored of the gods by performing a miracle. She carries a sieve full of water from the river Tiber to the Temple of Vesta. True story.”

Yup. Nailed it.

I told them I had to leave because I had a pitch session with Jennifer Weltz. Shana gave me her card and said, “When you get an agent, give me a call.”

So my day got off to a pretty good start.

Tune in Tuesday for "Learning from a Group Pitch Session," in which I talk about my meeting with Jennifer Weltz.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

My First Day

Everyone should have finished their entries for the Favorite Book Challenge by now, so click on the link to see what everyone wrote. Thanks for participating!

I went to my hotel room, jumped on the bed, and savored the moment. It was a cute room and there was a balcony with a nice view of the parking lot. The maids folded the toilet paper into a triangle, which I thought was so quaint that I kept folding it throughout my trip.

The first thing I did when I arrived was meet my critique partner, Kris Waldher, in person for the first time. The online world is great and all, but there's nothing like sitting to lunch with a friend face-to-face.

I found a roommate through the Historical Fiction Online forums, thank goodness.  I could have roomed with Sherry Jones, but I didn’t get to her in time. I was pretty peeved about that. Then I met my roommate, and I was no longer angry. She was awesome! We had some fascinating conversations, and I’m glad I met her.

I showed her my carry-on, which I had loaded to the brim with books to be signed. Both she and my husband were impressed that I could fit them all in. At registration, they gave me a name tag and a bag full of goodies, including bookmarks, candy, breath mints…

…and seven free books.

Apparently conferences always give away free books and everyone knew this except me. In a later episode, I'll tell you what I did with all my stuff. 

After registration, everyone gathered in a room to socialize. They drank wine while servers with bow-ties handed out hors-deouvres... bow-ties. How fancy is that? Dinner afterwards was delicious.

I brought business cards that I didn’t think would be useful. I figured, why not? Come to find out, the cards were an absolute necessity. Every time I talked to someone for even five minutes, we swapped cards. As soon as I sat down at the table, people passed around their cards before even swapping names. You can imagine how relieved I was that I brought mine.

The night ended with authors reading Fight Scenes, which was fun. Then I went to my room, practiced my pitch with my roommate, and tried to fall asleep.

Tune in tomorrow for "Nailing My First Pitch," in which I try to recreate my conversation with Shana Drehs word-for-word.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Getting Groped at the Airport and My First Famous Person

 I was so excited on the way to San Diego, I grinned like a fool the whole flight.

The last time I grinned this much at an airport, it was 12:00 am and on the plane, I had a whole row of seats to myself. I stretched out with a pillow and smiled with such contentment that one of the passengers laughed at me. “You look happy,” he chuckled.

Lucky me, on this trip I was randomly selected for a feel-up while they searched my bags. Then I was grinning for a whole different reason. I don’t know why I laugh when I’m embarrassed, but when the security guard stroked my boobies, I had to bite my lip.

Then those jerks took my hair crème because it was more than 3 oz. I hope one of the guards put it to good use, but they probably just threw it away.

I hate terrorists.

When I got off the plane, I waited for the shuttle for a long time. Someone next to me wondered if it would ever come.

“Are you here for the conference?” she asked. “What’s your name?”

“Teralyn Pilgrim.”

She shook my hand and said, “I’m Elizabeth Loupas.”

I jumped (seriously, my heels left the ground). “You wrote The Second Duchess!” I could have kicked myself for not reading that book. It was at the top of my list, too.

We talked on the way to the hotel about various things, including whether you have to travel to the places you write about. She said because of the internet, Flickr, YouTube, and travel journals, it’s not necessary. I thought about how much of Sacred Fire I wrote before going to Rome and how much after, and even though it was an amazing experience, I agree with Elizabeth. 

Later that day we talked about whether or not to read reviews. She said the negative ones hurt, but it’s good to read them at first. After a while you hear the same things over and over, so she doesn’t read them anymore.

I thought she was one of the few famous people I would meet because the published authors would stay seperate from the little people like me. Little did I know...

Tune in tomorrow for "My First Day."

Today is the last day to do the Favorite Book Blogfest. Everyone's answers should be posted by tomorrow!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Favorite Book Challenge Blogfest

I scheduled this blogfest before I realized today would by my first day back from the conference. That means you have to wait until tommorrow to hear about it. Sorry to keep you in suspense.

The challenge for this blogfest was to pick your top five favorite books and write one line of what each book is about and one line about why you liked it. This will keep going on for the next couple of days, so there's still plenty of time to join!

You have to sign up on the linky thing below, or no one will know how to visit your site.
My favorites:
The Phantom of the Opera: Christine, a gifted opera singer, believes she is being coached by a mysterious angel of music, until she discovers he is a deformed mad-man who’s irrevocably in love with her. This beauty-and-the-beast type novel delves into the psychology of overcoming cruelty, using genius that no one wants, and of loving the ugly.
Mama Day: Miranda, an African-American medical woman, helps her niece through a curse that could end her life and undo her relationship with her husband. This novel is a worthwhile literary challenge that sweeps you away into a world of magic where love lasts through eternity.
Beloved: Sethe murders her baby daughter to free her from slavery; decades later, the ghost of her child returns to punish her. Everything Toni Morrison writes is simultaneously beautiful and haunting, and this novel is perhaps her most intense.
Fahrenheit 451: When the government takes away the freedom to read books, they simplify people’s lives to the point of meaninglessness until most people can’t even recognize their misery. What’s terrifying about this book is even though Bradbury wrote it 50 years ago, all his prediction are coming true and all his advice is relevant to our lives.
White Oleander: After Astrid’s mother is convicted of murder, she struggles to find her own identity while bouncing from one dysfunctional foster home to another. There’s something magical about this book, and its lyrical quality was so superb, it helped me with my own writing.

If you've read any of these books, or if you have questions about them, please leave a comment! Then hop over to other people's blogs and see what books they enjoy.>

Friday, June 17, 2011

No New Post Today

This is an automated message:

If you came here to read the post of the day, sorry to disappoint. I'm off in San Diego talking with famous people and most likely having the time of my life. You can read about my experience (in overly explicit detail, trust me) when I get back on the 20th.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tomorrow I Leave for the Conference

I read 4,200 pages (ten books) over the course of two months. I studied my flash cards, rewrote my query, made business cards, practiced my pitch, and researched my agents. Now, finally, I'm going to the conference.

I keep telling myself, When you get there, don't say anything stupid.

Those of you who haven't followed this story from the beginning might wonder, "Why is this such a big deal? Why is this the only thing she's thought about for months and why does she keep blogging about it?"

I've wanted to be a writer since I was eight, but I didn't just want to write. I wanted the package deal. I wanted to interact with other authors, go to readings and signings, and be an influential member of the writing community. I want to be like Nathan Bransford: helpful, well-rounded, well-known, and well-liked. 

I didn't realize just how badly I wanted this until I went to a free conference in Oxford and met with some of my heroes (including Kevin Brockmeier and Tea Obreht). Like I said before, it was the most fun I've ever had.

People ask if conferences are worth the money. Um, hello? You get to meet authors and agents. Maybe I didn't make that clear enough: You get to meet authors and agents. A conference is an invitation to prematurely enter the magical world of The Published.

(It helps that I still think of authors as gods and not people. I wonder when I'll get over that?)

Am I making so much of this that I'm likely to be disappointed? Let me answer that with a question; did I mention I get to meet authors and agents?

I hope you take advantage of any social opportunities you can find. I've had more fun in the blogging world than I ever thought I would. I guarantee there are book signings close to where you live, as well as book clubs, critique groups, and events. There might even be a conference nearby. Don't miss opportunities: you never get those back. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Qurius Quirks

Brooke at Paper Mountain is doing a blogfest where people write questionaires about characters and people have to answer in the comments.

By the way, often when I do a blogfest people say, "Aw man, I wish I could have done this." There's still time! This is going on all day. I wish more people would join because answering everyone's questions will be so much fun!

I'm going to do Eric and Savvy from my book Hunger. They're basically my favorite characters I've ever written.
Character Questionaire

1. What is your greatest strength and weakness?

Eric: I don't know. Can we talk about something else, please?
Savvy: Hmm... I think my greatest strength is that I'm adventurous and willing to try new things. No, wait, I want to change my answer. I'm kind to everyone. As for my weakness? I guess I'm too trusting of people.

2. What's your favorite book and why?

Eric: The Portrait of Dorian Gray. I identify with it.
Savvy: Oh my gosh, have you read Garden Spells? It was soooo romantic, I was practically swooning the whole time I was reading it. I could lend you my copy.

3. When was the last time you cried?

Eric: The day my wife's daughter was born.
Savvy: Just the other day Eric took me to the ballet and we saw Romeo and Juliet. I bawled like a baby. Eric kissed my cheek and told me I was adorable. Isn't that sweet?

4. What do you want most? What will you do to get it?

Eric: I want my life back. There's nothing I can do about that.
Savvy: I want to be with Eric forever and ever and ever and ever. I'd die for him.

5. Do you have a secret? What would you do if your secret was revealed?

Eric: Look, I gotta go. It was nice meeting you.
Savvy: Nope! My life's an open book.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Solution to Every Problem

I don’t know about you, but I can’t count how many times I’ve slammed my fists against my desk and growled, “This isn’t going to work. My novel has so many issues, I don’t know how it will ever fit together.”

I’m not talking about simple things like using passive voice. I’m talking about big stuff, like getting from point A to point B when the leap is impossible. Problems that make me wonder if I might have to trash the whole thing.

It’s a million times worse with historical fiction. I might make Tuccia, my main character, do something only to discover it was historically impossible, or it was unlikely for a Roman woman.

(A piece of advice for historical novelists; you can save a lot of time and heartache if you don’t even think of plot or characters until after your research is done.)

I’m here to tell you that whenever a problem starts with me pounding my fists, it always ends the same way: I hit my head on the keyboard repeatedly and say, “Stupid, stupid, stupid.” Why? Because when I come up with the answer – and the answer is always there – I realize how simple it is.

I was inspired to write this article because today, I made a discovery that could potentially fix a problem I’ve had since I first started this novel. A four-year-old question has been answered today, and it was so simple.

It’s like I’ve said before: there's an answer to every question, a solution for every problem, and a cure for every weakness. Always.

Don't forget to sign up for the Favorite Book Challenge Blogfest!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Ha! And They Said it Would Never Work

You may have noticed I’m going on a historical-fiction binge. Now that I've decided it's my genre, I need to read as much of it as possible.

Looking at the hist-fics I've read, I made an unusual discovery.

Ever since I started Sacred Fire, people have consistently criticized two elements of the novel:

1.      My characters believe in their religion. The general consensus, for some reason, is that Romans worshipped their gods but had no faith in them. I wrote about this here.
2.      The novel starts with my main character as a child. They said it makes the book sound like a YA novel.

Now I am filled with a sense of triumph and bewilderment. Almost every book I’ve read is religious, and almost all of them start with their MC’s as kids. Why did everyone feel so strongly about this? They made me feel like I was breaking the mold (or digging my grave) when I was actually following the trend.


Pope Joan
Mother of the Believers
The Jewel of Medina
Helen of Troy
Daughters of the Witching Hill
The Red Tent
The Birth of Venus
Daughter of the Forest

The moral of the story is stay true to yourself. Don’t let others poo-poo your ideas, because they might be wrong.

The other moral of the story is to know your genre. Before I started Sacred Fire, I should have been familiar with the trends.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Attention and Sex

This video speaks for itself. It's a fantastic way to spend 5 minutes.

This reminds me of the article I wrote called "Time isn't The Problem." We will never fix our lack-of-accomplishment issues by gaining more time, no matter how busy we are; the key is to get a better focus.

In the comments of that post, Trisha wrote:

As silly as this sounds, during NaNo this year I found it easier to write more during the week, after getting home from a full day's work, than on the weekends. I guess the weekends where when I felt I could procrastinate a lot more easily ;)

For those of you who don't know, NaNo is a challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. It happens every November.

I hailed NaNo as the best thing I've ever done for my writing career (such as it is). At the time, I was trying to end a three-year struggle to buckle down and finish Sacred Fire. With over 100,000 other writers participating, egging me on, and insisting that finishing on December 1st wasn't good enough, I was able to complete a rought draft of my next novel, Hunger.  I could not have done that without such a determined focus.

Everyone should do Nano - everyone - at least once.

In the video, Scott Berken says focus is the key to greatness. I had never thought about it that way, but I believe he is exactly right. May we all learn to develop our focus.

By the way, I've noticed a boom in hits lately. I looked into it, and I found out that people were linking me in lists of blogs they follow (I have a similar list on the right-hand side of my page). I can't tell you how much I appreciate the support! It's made a real difference.

To return the favor, if you linked to my blog let me know and I'll do an article that briefly talks about your site, along with the others. Hopefully, it'll send some of my traffic back to you. You can just paste your link below. Thanks again!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

What's the Optimal Number of Beta Readers?

This is why:
1.       My beta readers always say the same things. I don’t need multiple people giving me the same advice.
2.      It’s difficult to find a good beta reader, so if I have three to choose from, I’ll save one for the next round. Otherwise, I’ll waste valuable resources.
3.      Beta reading is a lot of work. When I get comments back, I spend a significant amount of time trying to incorporate all the advice. I keep a list of all their comments and read through them every now and then so I don’t forget them. I already feel overwhelmed with just two!
4.      You also have to beta read the other people’s books. Right now I’m juggling three books – theirs and my own – and I can’t do more.
5.      It’s essential to have more than one. Many times I’ve read a suggestion that didn’t make sense to me and thought, “Well, that’s just you opinion.” Then I heard the same thing from someone else and thought, “Huh, maybe she was right.” I probably wouldn’t take half of their suggestions if I didn’t have two betas.

Don't forget to sign up for the Favorite Book Challenge Blogfest!

Check it out; I made a bookmark.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Books I Read in May

I'm madly trying to read as many books by authors at the conference as I can. I love it! Before I decided to go to this thing, I didn't think historical fiction was my genre. I thought I wrote a hist-fic, and then I would do something else. As I read these books and work on my pitch, I realize more and more that I've found my calling.

Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross (a conference author)
In medieval times, Joan disguised herself as a man to become educated and rose to become the pope.
Writers keep asking, “What’s a high concept idea?” This is the best example I’ve ever seen. A female pope? And the story is true, though many people deny it. I couldn’t get a hold of this book fast enough.
The history was fascinating, to say the least. Cross spent seven years researching it… can you imagine? A character can only be as intelligent as the author if you want to show-not-tell, and Joan was brilliant.  The discussion of religion was intriguing. The action keeps you on your toes. The romance was wonderful. I can’t say enough good things about this book!
Helen of Troy by Margaret George (a conference author)
People have obsessed over the story of Troy for millennia. This is a retelling of the timeless legend from Helen’s point of view.
This was impressive. George took every single tale ever told about the Trojan war and fit them together like puzzle pieces. She was true to the characters and stories even when I didn’t think it would be possible. The Illiad was my favorite book in high school, so the fact that I enjoyed this book is a big compliment.
Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt (a conference author)
This is the true story of a family with the powers of healing who struggle to cope with the 1612 Pendle witch-hunt.
It was magical, tense, and wonderfully unpredictable. It didn’t play out at all like I thought it would. This was a time period I’m not familiar with, and I was fascinated with the history. For example, I didn’t know the Catholic religion was so entrenched in magic, or that the tension between Protestants and Catholics caused this kind of conflict. I liked the characters, too.
Beauty by Susan Wilson
In a modern-day retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Alex comes to a mansion to paint the portrait of a man deformed by Acromegaly. Despite his appearance, she falls hopelessly in love with him.
I adored this book. I need to make peace with the fact that I’m a romantic. I always wanted to do a modern day re-telling of Beauty and the Beast, but now there’s no need; this was almost exactly the way I planned on writing it (except she did it better). A lot could have been done to improve this book, but for the most part, I was thrilled this novel exists and I want it to be more widespread.
You might think I’d be bummed that someone “wrote it first,” but I’m not. It’s the words that are important. It’s like people are hearing what I have to say without me having to do any work.
Watership Down by Richard Adams
It’s a literary classic, National Bestseller, written for adults, and it’s about… bunnies. I don’t know about you, but that’s all I needed to know to read it.
This book was an exciting surprise. It reads like a fantasy novel, of all things – there are quests, legends, heroes, prophets – but I liked it anyway. My husband went nuts over it and it’s his new favorite book. Every evening, he said, “Will you read to me about the bunnies?” and we’d laugh.
The Illumination by Kevin Brokemeier
A phenomenon inexplicably causes people’s pain to glow with white light. Cuts, bruises, cancer, all shine from their bodies.
Once you read this book, you’ll never forget it. Brokemeier explores the beauty of pain – not of healing, like I thought he would, but pain itself. Pain is an essential part of our existence. It makes us human and unites us in our experiences. The writing itself is reason enough to read it; you can pick any random line in the book and be captivated by it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Lessons Learned from Last Author Encounter

I talk about Tea Obreht a lot for several reasons: 1. It was my first encounter with someone in the coveted world of professional writing, 2. She’s famous and I get bragging rights, and 3. I learned from the experience.

Here are three things I learned that I’ll be sure to apply to the upcoming HSN conference:

1. Don’t talk about myself so much. I already know what’s in my head, so I won’t learn anything if I’m the only one talking. At one point in the conversation, I interrupted Tea… interrupted her, and as I did it I thought to myself, “What on earth am I doing?” I made myself look bad. Never again.

2. These are human beings, not potential tickets to fame. When I think of business and social networking, I think of playing Monopoly. It sounds like a fun game.

This is no game. This is the real world, and I have an opportunity to make some great friendships. So, here’s my motto for the trip: Make friends first, connections later.

3. For heaven’s sake, calm down! I have a weird quirk that I’m actually pretty nervous about; when I get too excited, I stop making sense. I’m literally incoherent.

I was fairly eloquent when I spoke to authors at the Oxford Conference, but on the way home my husband actually stopped me mid-sentence and said, “Honey, you’re not making sense. Take a deep breath or I won’t be able to understand you.” I can just see myself talking to a famous person and blabbing until they wonder who let me in.

I'm glad I leaned these lessons in a low-stake situation. At the HSN Conference, the stakes will be much higher.

By the way, what do you think of my business card? You can make your own at Business Card Land and download a pdf so you can print out as many as you want.

Don't forget to sign up for the Favorite Book Challenge Blogfest!

Monday, June 6, 2011

It's All Fun and Games Blogfest

For the It’s All Fun & Games Blogfest, list your three most favorite games and why. Board games, card games, RPG, video games, physical games, - even mind games! If it’s a game you enjoy playing, it’s worth sharing.

You can leave your answers in the comments of this post if you don't have a blog. Here are (a few) of my favorites:

World of Goo. It's the quirkiest video game you could ever hope to play (on the Wii). You build structures with goo balls to accomplish goals, and the goo balls are happy when you win. It's a challenging puzzle game.

Cranium. Not only is it a fun board game, but it makes me feel smarter! You have to use all kinds of skills, like drawing, sculpting, trivia, etc.

Boggle. You would think as a writer, I would be good at word games like Boggle and Scrabble. You would also think that if I wasn't good at a game, I wouldn't love it. I guess I'm a conundrum, because I'm a horrible yet avid Boggler.

Don't forget to sign up for the Favorite Book Challenge Blogfest!

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Great Wikipedia Blogfest

Rachel Bateman had an unusual idea for a blogfest. Here’s how it’s gonna work:
1. Go to
2. In the left-hand sidebar, there is a random article button. Click it.
3. Read the article…or skim it if it’s super long.
4. Write a scene or piece of flash fiction involving whatever the article is about.
5. On June 3rd, post your scene to your blog, making sure you link to the Wikipedia article.
Then see what everyone else wrote.

This was a fun but difficult challenge. My search came up with "Shimoda," which could mean:
Historical fiction is my genre, but I felt uncomfortable writing about a time period I know so little about. The work is full of scientific innacuracies as well as historical. Oh, well. Here's an event that lead to the Treaty of Shimoda.

The Tsunami of Peace

Putiatin rested in the captain’s cabin as he lay as far back in his chair as he could. It was hardly relaxing. With the whole of Japan chasing him down to kill him, it was hard to think of anything else.

It irritated me to know we wouldn’t still be here if the Shogun hadn’t refused to negotiate. Japan had decided to resist all foreign influence, from America as well as Russia. As if that were possible. Tokugawa needed to accept that the world was changing. Explorers were learning the world inch by inch like a new lover’s body, and soon, there wouldn’t be anything the Russians hadn’t touched. No one was exempt from the power of the Western world.

The Americans had proven that. Already their treaties were written and signed. Meanwhile, a manhunt was in a race to destroy Puiatin and his ship. Well, he had no intention of giving up and letting the American pigs take what should belong to Russia.
He decided to check on his crew and stood from his chair.
The floor shook. Its motion was so violent that it thrashed the ship and threw Putiatin against the walls. He lay flat against it as his desk, his bed, and all his belongings smashed against each other. He braced himself against the jarring motion that made his bones grind against each other, and even though it only lasted a few short moments, he prayed that this pain wouldn’t last forever.
When the world was still, he fell to his knees and coughed his breath back into his lungs. He laid his head against the wood floor and tried to process what had happened.
“Captain!” shouted a voice from outside. It sounded urgent the first time, but when he repeated his name it was desperate, and the third time, the word “captain” was a squeal of panic.
Putiatin tried to walk on his shaking legs and had to brace himself against the doorway. “What is it?” he demanded.
No one in the crew answered. They stared over the starboard side of the ship. Putiatin stumbled over to see what they were looking at and discovered a 20-foot high mass of water rising to the sky.
He wanted to run, but there was no where to go. A wave of helplessness hit him seconds before the brutal force of water smashed against his ship and his body.
The first thing he felt was the impact. It crushed him, though his body was still intact. The next thing he felt was the salt. It burned his insides as it ruthlessly gushed into his lungs.
It felt like a lifetime of pain passed before he was at the surface, clutching a piece of wood and gasping for air. He was no longer afraid of the earthquake, the tsunami, or drowning; the first fear to jump inside him was the knowledge that he and his crew were stranded in Japan.
Putiatin wondered what kind of deaths they would face. If he had known this would be the first step in obtaining the treaty he had worked so hard for, he would have felt differently.
Don't forget to sign up for the Favorite Book Challenge Blogfest!
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