Thursday, December 27, 2012

Winners of the Historical Holiday Blog Hop Giveaway

It's high time I announced the winners of the Historical Holiday Blog Hop Giveaway hosted by Passages to the Past. The winners are....

Terry for The Summer Garden

Vera for The Piano Teacher

Janet for Queen by Right

If you see in this post that you won a book but did not get an email from me, first check you spam mail, then contact me at teralynpilgrim at yahoo dot com.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Am I Wasting My Time?

Every now and then I look at my old life and my new life and wonder which is better. 

Last year, I worked at a frustrating job where I had to fit in as much writing time as I could in my windows of spare time. All I could think about was how nice it would be to write all day with no distractions. 

Now I write from home full time, and oddly, some of the writing "spark" is gone. I remember being so on fire at work that when my lunch hour was over, I'd close my Word document feeling angry and resentful that I had to stop. I haven't been on fire like that since I quit.

It's baffled me for six months why my writing career feels less like a passion and more like a chore. Finally, I decided I must be falling prey to the most debilitating question a writer can ask:

Am I wasting my time?

When I was at a job where there was hardly any work, all I did was waste time until I could go home. Instead of doing things that were the most worthwhile, I did things that were the most fulfilling. Writing was what got me through the day.

At home, I ask myself every single minute if what I'm doing is worth giving up that job. If the answer is no, I find it next to impossible to do it. Sometimes the answer is always no and I find myself doing nothing at all.

The problem is I'm working on a rough draft. When I revise Sacred Fire (a novel I've worked on for five years), it's easy to spend hours on it because it's a semi-finished product. It's polished and beautiful, so I know the work I put into it is worthwhile. 

Voodoo Queen, on the other hand, is a horrid mess. I wouldn't show it to someone even under torture. It's hard to put so much faith into such an ugly little thing.

One thing has saved me: my Work Diary. I've kept one for the past two years, and I read it over every now and then to remind myself how unhappy I was before I quit working. By keeping track of my progress every day, I know that even if I'm upset with myself for not being more productive, I'm still getting much more done than before.

John Lennon once said, "The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time." I need to post that in big letters on my desk. No more pressure and guilt; I need to give myself permission to waste time writing. 

It sounds contradictory, but it's not. When I write a scene, instead of constantly asking myself, "Am I just going to cut this scene later?" I should say, "I enjoy writing this scene." When I'm blogging, instead of asking, "Does anyone even read this?" I should say, "I enjoy blogging" and go for it.

It's something I'm still working on.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Digital Publishing: The Grinch Who Stole Christmas?

Please welcome our guest Tony Viardo, the CEO of Astor + Blue Editions. I was thrilled by his offer to post this article because it addresses a lot of concerns I have with digital publishing (and there are many). 

When all is said and done it's the writing that's important, not the way people read it, but none of us want to lose our libraries, book stores, and the smell of a new paperback. Mr. Viardo explains that embracing books-on-a-screen doesn't mean printed books will go the way of the scroll.

By the way, Astor + Blue Editions has put its entire first season's lift of e-book titles on a holiday promotional sale for $0.99 - $1.99. The sale will continue through January 7, 2013. Feel free to check it out!

Digital Publishing: The Grinch Who Stole Christmas?

How many articles have we read about E-books and Digital Publishing this year? For anyone who generally follows the book world (rabid booklover, book-blogger, industry pro, or casual reader), we’re literally inundated with the amazing numbers—“E-book sales up 125% (again) over the 175% they were up from last year’s 225% increase!”—and equally amazing technological announcements—“Next Fall, the new ZimWittyZoomDitty tablet not only updates your Facebook and Goodreads friends whenever you snort in disgust … it cooks dinner for you at the same time!”

This leads many to take at least casual stock of what’s going on/going to happen to the “Publishing World” as we know it.  And if your friends are like my friends (hardcore print book consumers), that stock is usually pretty morbid (sharp Greenwich Village angst not included): “Print books are doomed, so are brick-and-mortar stores.  Goodbye literary quality. Oh and some pajama-wearing techie living in a basement with a laptop is going to be the new Sulzburger; we’ll all have to bow down!”

If you (or that good friend of yours) fall into the mortified category, my take (for what it’s worth) may come as positive news:  E-books are not, and will not be, the Grinch Who Stole Christmas; in this case, the “Print World’s” bacon. Now, as the owner of a “Digital First” publishing house (Astor + Blue Editions, my opinions may easily be written off as self-serving and invalid.  But bear with me for a minute… these are fact-based observations and I might just make sense (Someone tell my mom and dad).

As someone who earns a living from publishing, I have to follow numbers and industry trends as closely as possible.  And while some see doom and gloom for Print, I see exciting developments for both Print and E-book formats.  What do the numbers show?  Digital book revenue is skyrocketing, print revenue is declining.  Natural conclusion?  E-books are killing print books. But not so fast.  Historically, Print revenue has always seemed to be declining (even before E-books were invented), but that doesn’t mean the book market is dying or shrinking.

We have to remember that in fact the book market is growing. Readership always grows because population always grows.  Every year, new readers enter the vast pool of the club that is “adult readership,” (despite Dancing with the Stars). And every year more readers are being born and theoretically being inspired by Ms. Crabtree’s elementary reading class.  **So why the decline?  Readership grows gradually, but the sheer number of books and book vendors grow exponentially, showing an investment loss almost every year. (Basic statistics: the widening universe makes it look like a shrinking pie when it isn’t).

So what does this mean?  If you look at the numbers (historically), revenue for print books may have declined, yes, but not more than “normal,” and not significantly more than it did when there were no E-books around. (This is arguable of course, but the long term numbers do not show a precipitous drop-off). The yearly revenue decline, if there is one, can just as easily be written off to economic conditions as to E-book competition.  Bottom line:  Any drop in print revenue that may be caused by E-books are not significantly sharp enough to declare that E-books are destroying print book sales.  (Hence no Grinch).

What may be happening, and what I believe is happening is that a whole new market for E-books is developing, while the print book market growth, like Publishing as a whole, is still growing at a historically gradual pace. (Boringly flat).  Come up with your pet anecdote here, but I believe that more new readers are entering the market (who otherwise wouldn’t have) because of E-readers; existing readers are consuming more books (both print and e-book) than they did before; and while it would seem that a certain print title is losing a sale whenever readers buy it in E-book format, this is offset, at least somewhat, by the fact that more print titles are being bought (that otherwise wouldn’t) because of the extra marketing buzz and added awareness produced by the E-book’s cyber presence.  All of it evens out in the end, and I believe, ultimately fosters growth industry-wide.

So take heart Print fans, E-books are not the dark villain you think they are.  And here, I should correct my earlier analogy—that E-books are not the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.  They may actually be the Grinch…in as much as, at the end of the story, the pear-shaped green guy ended up not only giving all the presents back to the singing Who-villers, he created a flash mob and started a big party as well.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Best Books About Marie Laveau

If you're interested in reading about Marie Laveau, there are three books to choose from. I recommend reading all three, but if you don't have the time, I've compared them in this article to help you choose.

This was the easiest and most interesting read. Ward paints a vivid and fascinating picture of New Orleans and voodoo. It was the first book I read about Marie, and it inspired me to write my novel.

Despite its creativity, the book was not well received by scholars. Ward hardly cites any of her sources. She describes people being in places they never were and feeling ways we have no idea whether or not they felt. 

TO SUM UP: If you're a scholar, you can skip this book. It doesn't present any information that isn't in other works, and Ward takes too many creative liberties. If you just want to be entertained while learning about a fantastic woman, I'd recommend this.

There are so many lies about Marie Laveau, it's hard to know what's real and what's not. Carolyn Long is an archivist and she searched through records to verify every fact she presents with primary sources. She explains where every rumor originated. 

While this was my favorite of the three biographies, it's not meant for entertainment. Since it's a string of facts, one might find her work a little dry. Also, since she doesn't include anything that isn't a hard fact, it left me with a lot of questions, such as why Marie might have become famous in the first place.

TO SUM UP: This was my favorite of the three books, and I use it the most in my novel. Without theories and what-ifs, however, your knowledge of Marie Laveau will be incomplete. If you're serious about studying this topic, reading Fandrich's book in conjunction with Long's is essential.

Good luck finding a copy of this. It's a college thesis and if it isn't in your university's library, it'll cost you $130. Next year, it will be available as an ebook, thank goodness.

While Long's book presents the facts, Fandrich delivers the context. She gets into African culture, the voodoo religion, and the status of free women of color in New Orleans to help you understand who Marie might have been.

TO SUM UP: Since this book includes both fact and conjecture, is the most comprehensive of the three biographies.

I didn't bother including Robert Tallant's book. His work is bigoted, racist, and inaccurate. He actually made up a few interviews! Experts place a lot of blame on him for the negative stereotype given to voodoo. 

Interestingly, Tallant died a sudden and mysterious death. Coincidence?

The Finer Things Book Club: The Yellow Wallpaper and The Phantom of the Opera

My book group decided not to meet this month because of the holidays. (Does anyone else hate how the holidays consume everyone's lives? I have to put everything on hold because people around me let themselves get overrun with planning.)

So for my blog readers, I decided to post about two book groups I've done in the past. They're not as good as the meeting for The Night Circus because I get better at this as I go along, but they were still fun.

The Yellow Wallpaper is fantastic for book groups because it's only 64 pages long, but it has so much depth that there's plenty to discuss. 

It's about a 19th century woman who feels so confined by her husband and society that she loses her mind. Her bedroom is covered in hideous yellow wallpaper, and she starts to hallucinate about a woman who is trapped in the wallpaper and is trying to get out. The woman is obviously a reflection of herself.

I didn't keep the discussion questions, unfortunately, but I think I got them from Spark Notes.

To enrich our reading, I printed off a bunch of optical illusions and taped them to the wall. I especially used the kind where your eyes go out of focus and you see a 3D image because it's the most similar to what the main character saw.

This website has a lot of fun illusions. I had this one running on my computer: it's of a girl spinning, but you can't tell whether she's spinning clockwise or counterclockwise.

The Phantom of the Opera was more of a Halloween party than a book group, mostly because I didn't spur a discussion very well. For most of the night, we decorated masks.

I like having activities like this for when your book group wants to socialize instead of discuss the reading. It helps them stay focused, it enriches the reading, and this way people who read the book don't feel like they've wasted their time.

I had the music to the Broadway show playing in the back ground. If we wanted, we could have watched the movie afterwards, or better yet the black-and-white version, for people who had enough time to stay later.

Most people in the group didn't know the opera house was a real place, so I talked to them about the building's history and architecture. On my laptop, I had a slide-show running of pictures of the opera house.

I learned a valuable lesson on this night; never host for your favorite book. I've loved The Phantom of the Opera story since I was eight, which is why I wanted to share it. But not everyone liked it as much as I did. When they bashed it I got frustrated and defensive, which is a big reason the discussion didn't take off as well as it should have.

If you liked this post and want to see more, tell me in the comments any books you would like to see us do. The club members get the final say, but we're very open to suggestions.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Historical Holiday Blog Hop: Book Giveaways

Passages to the Past is hosting an epic historical fiction giveaway, and I'm thrilled to participate! Not only is Amy Bruno giving away dozens of books on her blog, but other involved bloggers are giving away books as well.

For my blog, I'm offering the winner a choice between one of three books: The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee, Queen by Right by Anne Easter Smith, or The Summer Garden by Paullina Simons.

All you have to do is post your email in the comments along with which book you would like to win. If you're a follower of my blog or my twitter account @teralynpilgrim, you get an extra entry.

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee

In the sweeping tradition of The English Patient, Janice Y.K. Lee's debut novel is a tale of love and betrayal set in war-torn Hong Kong. In 1942, Englishman Will Truesdale falls headlong into a passionate relationship with Trudy Liang, a beautiful Eurasian socialite. But their affair is soon threatened by the invasion of the Japanese as World War II overwhelms their part of the world. Ten years later, Claire Pendleton comes to Hong Kong to work as a piano teacher and also begins a fateful affair. As the threads of this spellbinding novel intertwine, impossible choices emerge-between love and safety, courage and survival, the present, and above all, the past. 

Queen by Right by Anne Easter Smith

History remembers Cecily of York standing on the steps of the Market Cross at Ludlow, facing an attacking army while holding the hands of her two young sons. Queen by Right reveals how she came to step into her destiny, beginning with her marriage to Richard, duke of York, whom she meets when she is nine and he is thirteen. Raised together in her father’s household, they become a true love match and together face personal tragedies, pivotal events of history, and deadly political intrigue. All of England knows that Richard has a clear claim to the throne, and when King Henry VI becomes unfit to rule, Cecily must put aside her hopes and fears and help her husband decide what is right for their family and their country. Queen by Right marks Anne Easter Smith’s greatest achievement, a book that every fan of sweeping, exquisitely detailed historical fiction will devour.

The Summer Garden by Paullina Simons

Through years of war and devastation, Tatiana and Alexander suffered the worst the twentieth century had to offer. Miraculously reunited in America, they now have a beautiful son, Anthony, the gift of a love strong enough to survive the most terrible upheavals. Though they are still young, the ordeals they endured have changed them—and after living apart in a world laid waste, they must now find a way to live together in postwar America.
With the Cold War rising, dark forces at work in their adopted country threaten their lives, their family, and their hard-won peace. To regain the happiness they once knew, to wash away the lingering pain of the past, two lovers grown distant must somehow forge a new life . . .or watch the ghosts of their yesterdays destroy their firstborn son.

I Don't Want to Talk About Publishing Ever Again

I love meeting other writers in-person. It's a fun way to make new friends, and there's something about the group mentality that can't be replaced by computers.

There's one thing about in-person writers I hate. Hate is a strong word... which is why I used it. They're obsessed with publishing!

I suppose this is an odd complaint; since I quit my day-job to write, I'm also "obsessed with publishing." What bothers me is I can't get in a discussion about writing without hearing everyone's thirst for validation. If we talk about writing and publishing doesn't come up, it's as if the whole conversation is wasted.

Let me back up a little; talking about publishing isn't inherently annoying. Goodness knows, I discuss getting agents with people online all the time. It's just that all the publishing discussions I've gotten into with writers face-to-face are unproductive.

First off, everyone has a different opinion of what "published" means. We use that one word to define nearly ten different things.

I remember being told someone was published and gazing at that person in awe, only to discover the person paid to print 500 copies of a book and hasn't sold any of them. There isn't anything wrong with that! I think printing your book is fantastic. But it's not what I thought the person meant. When I was disappointed, the person was hurt.

You have to define what "published" means to the people you're speaking with before you can discuss it. This can create many disagreements and bruised egos.

Second off, it becomes the blind leading the blind. Everyone thinks they know everything about publishing and they want to grace others with their expertise. 

The leader of my last writer's group always told others what they needed to do in order to get published, even though he had been looking for an agent for years and had no idea himself. "This will never get published" became a phrase he used almost daily.

Every time he told us something we wrote could never be published, I wanted to scream at him, "What do you expect us to do? Tear it up and throw it away because it has no value? Can we please write nonpunishable crap without you policing us?!?"

I wish more people would write for writing's sake. Even if publishing is our primary goal in life, we can enjoy the journey without the pressure of accomplishment.

Since too many people know too little about publishing, it opens itself up to too many arguments. With a different group, someone thought it was ridiculous that ebooks cost as much as printed books. I was about to explain that ebooks cost just as much to make (the material of a printed book only cost $1, and you still have to pay for the author, agent, editor, format, cover, distributor, etc.). But as soon as I said "They cost the same to make," someone sitting next to me said, "That's not true."

Oooooo, it makes mad when people do that. I wanted to turn to him and say, "You caught me; I just made it up off the top of my head. I do that sometimes, say random untrue things for no reason."

I cooled down when I realized that again, we were talking about completely different forms of publishing. He was a professor who was about to print a textbook when he realized it would be cheaper to create an ebook. He launched into a rant about how ebook sellers are trying to steal our money, ignoring what I had to say.

This rant is getting long, but I've gained momentum and now I can't stop.

Another thing that gets under my skin is the idea that everyone has to have the same goal. After Nano I asked a friend of mine if she was going to do Camp Nano in the summer. She looked sad as she said, "I have to revise my last book first."

I said, "You don't have to do any revisions." She looked confused, so I went on. "You don't have to do anything. If you want to put your book on a shelf and move on to something else, then you should do it. Who says we have to edit everything we write?"

The biggest reason I hate talking about publishing is this: it's cruel.

Most of the writers you meet will never be published. There's nothing wrong with that. We can all live happy, fulfilling lives writing, revising, printing, self-publishing, or whatever strikes our fancies. That's okay.

Instead of sending out the message that whatever you do is worth doing, we send the message of "You can be famous! Climb that mountain! Reach for the sky! Follow the American Dream!" Then when they get to the end of their lives and they're still unpublished, they end up an unbearably cynical old man.

Getting published is important to me. But I'm tired of the confusion, pressure, hurt feelings, bad advice, egotism, and all the negative feelings when we discuss it. When I meet writers in person, I want to talk about writing.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Books I Read Recently

Shockingly, I only read two books for fun since July! My goal to read 45 books this year was a dismal failure. I need to put away my research every now and then and pick up some novels.

Roots by Alex Haley

Alex Haley, an African American, compiled his genealogy all the way back to Africa and based his novel on his ancestors. The novel starts with the life of Kunta Kinte, who was captured and sold into America, and ends with Alex himself.

Roots took the world by storm for a good reason. It's a wonderful, comprehensive view of African American history. It felt a little textbook at times and I wish he had spent more time on the decedents of Kunta Kinte instead of spending so much time in Africa, but nevertheless, it was a fantastic read. I'm glad this book exists.

Matched by Ally Condie

Cassia has always trusted the Society to dictate her career, husband, activities, and even when she will die, until the Society makes a mistake that leads her to Ky, a boy she's not supposed to love.

This book is advertised as a cure for your Hunger Games withdrawal. The two series are very similar; YA, dystopia, love triangle, sacrificing everything to "take the Society down." Personally, I felt they were too similar for me to enjoy both of them.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Day My Brother was a God

Cool photo, huh? No one ever believes me when I say he's built like Wolverine until I show them proof.
My brother has an unusual way of looking at the world. As an adult he's a lot like Dwight from The Office (which is just as entertaining as it sounds). As a kid, he was a clown who always kept you on your toes.

For example, once when he was maybe four we were at a family reunion and he told Mom he really had to pee. We were just about to bless the food, so Mom asked if he could hold it until the prayer was over. He said no, but she didn't believe him.

During the blessing, he noticed everyone's eyes were closed. The reunion was outside. He put these two facts together and decided it would be a good idea to pee while we were praying.

He didn't take into account that everyone could hear him. When we all opened our eyes, he turned away and looked as mortified as I've ever seen him. But he couldn't stop. We had to wait for him to finish before we could return to the prayer.

One day when he was a few years older, he and Dad were walking through the woods. (Well, Dad was walking; my brother always had a parkour way of getting around.) At one point he leaped onto a fallen log, which crumbled underneath him.

The log squished a hive of bees.

The bees swarmed around him. They went in a spiral from his feet to his head, around and around in big circles.

My brother didn't run away. He raised his arms dramatically and yelled, 
"Dad, look! They worship me!"

Inevitably, his next words were: "Ouch! Ouch!" Dad scooped him up and ran away from the bee attack, too pumped with adrenaline to laugh. 

We'll tease my brother about that til his dying day.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Types of Beta Critiques: It's Important to Know the Difference

While I've had some amazing beta readers help me with Sacred Fire, I've also been disappointed on occasion with how things worked out. I discovered a big part of that was due to poor communication. They didn't always understand what I wanted.

At Write on Con - an amazing online writer's conference - I read an article called "Tips for Choosing Readers."  It opened my eyes to a lot of things I was doing wrong.

For instance, the most helpful advice was knowing the difference between three types of critiques. I usually just hand my book over to readers and say, "Here, fix it." The results would be much better if I told them which of these I wanted: 

The I’m Stuck Read: You know there are problems with a major element of the story (the big battle scene, the love interest, the overall structure, etc.), but you don’t know how to resolve them.
The Big Picture Read: You’ve written a complete first draft. You need your readers to focus on Logic (Did the story makes sense? Was the reader ever confused); Pacing (Were there places where the story lagged or the reader was bored?); Emotional Resonance (Did the reader feel invested in the character and the story’s outcome? Did any of the emotional beats fall flat or feel unearned?)
The Line Edit: You’re done with the story and don’t intend to make fundamental changes. You want your reader to identify typos, grammatical errors, awkward language, word repetition.

How do you go about communicating to your beta readers?
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