Saturday, March 28, 2015

April 3 at 7:30PM - Building Madness in NYC

Are you going to be in New York April 3?  Head on over to the Dramatists Guild that evening at 7:30 for a reading of my play Building Madness as part of the Friday Night Footlights program.  Admission is free!  And want to know more about the cast and creative team?  Check out BuildingMadness.com!


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

London 8/18/14 - Buckingham Palace

One of the best times I ever had was getting an after hours tour of Buckingham Palace.  They took down the velvet ropes for us, let us get close and personal with the furniture (that sounds dirty), and at the end of the night, I got to walk across the crunchy gravel of the courtyard and exit via the front door.  How cool is that?  So, when I saw there was an opportunity for a private tour of the Buckingham Palace gardens, I was On. It.

The day started with an early arrival at the palace.  This time, I was among the unwashed masses and my tour guide was nothing but an audio receiver held to my ear, but man... it was wonderful.  There is a painting in the front hallway by Feliks Topolski and it is one of the most incredible pieces of art I have ever laid eyes on.  I spent probably twenty minutes on this tour just sitting there staring at it.  The moment I thought I had seen all the wonders it had to reveal, something else would pop up and blow my mind.


It is just such an amazing experience (and maybe it is just because I'm an American and we don't have these sorts of things) to walk into a living palace, where the art you're used to seeing as ancient history is fresh and new.  It's not some two-hundred year old cast off with worn gold-gilt and dusty crevasses.  As our guide mentioned on the earlier tour, "The queen lives here and we have to make sure it doesn't look shabby."  It is some of the most exquisite art I've seen and it is being taken care of.  The feeling I left with was less about a "royal family" and more about a familial custodianship of important cultural artifacts.  As I wandered through other "museum" palaces where people trampled the gardens right next to the "stay out of the planters" signs and used flash cameras to get pictures of 500-year-old oil paintings, it struck me how, as much as art and culture does and should belong to everyone, that sometimes having custodians who take a personal interest in preservation are the only reason why things survive.  It was one German general who stood up to Hitler and stopped the bombing of the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.  As I watch ISIS destroy the ancient artifacts of Iraq, I wonder if there will be one person who has the bravery to stand against it.

ANYWAYS.  This is getting way too deep.

I finished my glorious tour of the palace and had a little time before my garden tour, so I stopped off at the palace cafe for some lunch on the Queen's back patio.


They had all sorts of delicious options to choose from.  I finally settled on a caprese sandwich, some cream puffs, and a cup of coffee.


When it was finally time to take our turn around the gardens, we met in the far corner.  We weren't allowed to take any pictures, so bear with me.  Figure you've probably seen a rosebush, so you can probably imagine it fairly well.  We met up over by that white guardhouse.


The first thing they mentioned were all the trees planted around the private gardens.  Queen Victoria started off the tradition, planting trees when her beloved Albert died, and the tradition was continued with each family member planting a tree.  But they serve a greater purpose now.  A bunch of high-rise apartments are being built in the area, touting views of Buckingham Palace's backyard.  Paparazzi were purchasing rooms to set up their telephoto cameras.  So, some trees were planted to give the family a little retreat from prying eyes.  Though traffic and buildings were just beyond the walls, this garden was an oasis.  There was a tennis court.  There was a rose garden (which featured this marble urn Napoleon had carved in preparation for his victory at Waterloo.  Oops.  It was too heavy to put indoors, so it sits amongst the roses.)  And in the middle of the gardens is a little island and this little island is a wildlife sanctuary.  It is home to several endangered bird species and gives the feathered fowl a little respite from city life.  


The family is devoted to green living and conservation and Prince Charles has introduced composting and recycling systems on property.

Here are just some random pictures I grabbed towards the end of the tour when we could pull our cameras out.




I made a quick little trip in to the gift shop and loaded myself up with waaaaay too many souvenirs.  But how can you say no to this little face?


Now, most people put the exit through the gift shop, but not the fine folks at Buckingham Palace.  They put the exit through the ice cream shop.  I was powerless.


I grabbed a little ice cream, made from royal cows owned by the Queen.


And I sat down on a bench to enjoy the view.


Now, I had a little time to kill before my show that night, so I wandered over to Hyde Park.




Stumbled across the Tardis (disguised as a transport info center)...


And then made my way over to Harrods.  I needed to pick up a mug for my mom, but it is one of my favorite places.  I strolled through the displays of Baccarat crystal and all of the shopkeepers  played along and pretended like I legitimately belonged there.








  
That night, I caught the musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory starring Alex Jennings (complete with a flying glass elevator and the "World of Your Imagination" song.)  Stunning cast and when they hung Violet Beauregard (the blueberry girl) from the ceiling in blue sequins and spun her like a disco ball as the oomaploomas roller skated to a 70's inspired song, they had me.  Hook, line, and sinker. They rotate the cast and I don't have the program with me, but the girl  playing Veruca Salt was one of those kids that made you go, "Oh.  We're going to be seeing a lot of her in the future."  Just had that "it".



Gotta say, though, my whole day had that whole "it".

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Moon Rise - The Dark of Twilight Sequel

Have you been anxiously awaiting the sequel to The Dark of Twilight?  Presenting... Moon Rise!  It is not quite ready yet, but you CAN pre-order it so the moment it goes live, it downloads directly to your Kindle.


Just because the battle was won does not mean the war is over. Aein, Lars, and Finn are sent back to the swamps to protect the one object which may save their pack. But in the recent turmoil, the border has been left unguarded and nightmarish creatures are slipping through. There is a reason why two people must always be there to hold the boundary, a lesson which Aein, Lars, and Finn are about to learn.


Pre-Order it Here


Sunday, February 22, 2015

O'Hare House Mysteries Omnibus


A $10 value for only $5.99!
Wish you could read the entire O'Hare House Mystery series back-to-back?  Well, it is your lucky day, my friends!  Grab the O'Hare House Mysteries Omnibus and read books I-IV one right after the other!  You get: A Spirited Manor, Spirit of Denial, Distilled Spirits, and In High Spirits all in one easy to read ebook!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Anniversary Come and Gone

It is funny how life can sometimes get so normal, an anniversary can pass and out of the blue you suddenly remember that just a few years ago, life was very different.

I have been a full-time writer now for two years.  January 4, 2013 was the magical anniversary day, to be exact.  I emptied out my desk in my windowless cubicle and walked out the door of an institution I had called "job" for close to ten years.  That night, there was a party going on, so as I rolled my cart full of old pay stubs and random desk chum, there were literally bands playing and lasers going off.  That day, my publishers had also secured a special promotion for my book, so as I bid my co-workers goodbye, explaining I was off to become a fancy-pants writer, I also found myself saying, "And today there is this sale on my book and it looks like I'm also #4 on all of the books on all of the Amazon."

But much like a wedding, being an author is actually about the life before and the life after.  They say that success is being prepared when opportunity knocks, and I have to say that my journey has been a reflection of that truth - a mixture of dumb luck backed up by the work I put in when nothing is happening.

So, to mark this anniversary, I thought I would share some of the things that worked for me.

I self-published.  I went through five years worth of rejection letters before I made the decision to self-publish, but none of my success would have happened if I had not to taken that chance.  In fact, the moment I made The Decision, I was still waiting for a response from Simon & Schuster for a book they requested nine months earlier.  It's been four years now, and they still haven't gotten back to me.  In that time, that book which never got past their slush pile has sold close to 80,000 copies.

The sites I use to self publish are:


These are all free.  Self-publishing is not like it used to be where you had to buy 1,000 copies of your book and sell them out of the back of your car.  CreateSpace is print on demand, so when someone buys a book, they print a book.  They take a cut for the cost of printing and you get the rest.  Draft2Digital is an aggregator.  You upload your Word document, they convert it into a beautiful ebook, and they list it on all the sites for you, collect the  money, and deposit into your bank account each month.  They charge a small percentage, but it is about the same you would be paying out if you had an agent.  And KDP is Amazon's Kindle publishing site.  You take the beautifully formatted book from Draft2Digital, upload it on KDP, and you're published on Amazon.

It is important to make sure your book is something people will enjoy.  And that means you HAVE to get some other eyes on your project.  I start off with beta readers - they are trusted friends and readers who read through my book and point out plot holes and confusing parts.  In exchange for their time and talents, I beta read for them anytime they ask.  I also recommend grabbing a copy of The Complete Indie Editor.  It is worth EVERY penny.  It has a list of simple search-and-replace suggestions for common errors (its/it's, their/there/they're, that/which, lightening/lightning, etc.)  I then hire proofreaders and editors to go through my books and look for any boo-boos.  Here are some of the people I have used:


The other HUGE part of having a successful book is having an eye catching cover.  Unfortunately in our digital age, your audience will make its decision based upon a thumbnail sized picture, so the artwork you pick will need to be attractive at 3/4" tall.  If you invest any money in your book's success, THIS is where to do it.  Everything hinges on a lovely cover.  Here are the cover artists I have used that are still in business:
But there are are a ton of beautiful cover designers out there.  Here's a list of designers, many who do "pre-made" designs.  


That means the cover is all done, they just insert your title and author name, but it costs shockingly less than a custom design (so if your budget is stretched, take a look at a premade.  Many of them are only $25-$100, as opposed to $100 - $700.)

Cover design has been a place where I have gotten into trouble in the past, so as a word of caution, pay 1/2 up front and 1/2 upon completion, and establish a specific date for delivery ( and make that date several weeks before you actually need it because, with nothing but love in my heart, I have had more than one cover artist flake.) 

Write and release often.  The visibility search engines favor those who release a book every thirty days, but you can streeeeetch it to ninety days before crisis hits.  Now, I know that many are concerned writing at such a pace might have an impact on quality.  I only share this information as a reflection of a cold, hard truth we have no control over.  It is just the way the world works and expectations should be adjusted accordingly.  As a fellow author once remarked, "If you expect to make a full-time wage as a writer, you have to put in full-time hours."

SO how do you write that much?  When I get out of the habit, my attention is usually waning after about twenty minutes. Much like running a marathon, ya gotta train up to it.  What I recommend is using a timer.  This was taught to me by my mom who started using it through a site called The Fly Lady.  The premise is that you can endure almost ANYTHING for fifteen minutes.  So, set a timer for fifteen minutes and then write.  No distractions.  No getting up to do laundry.  No checking your email.  Just write for fifteen minutes.  And then once the timer goes off?  If you're mentally done, get up guilt free.  But if you're having a good time, keep going.  Repeat throughout the day.

Gather together a group of people to keep accountable to.  Over the years, for me, this has taken the form of meeting up with other writers in a place to write, checking in with other writers via email every week, taking part in NaNo.  Let's face it.  If left to my own devices, I will binge watch old episodes of Top Gear all day.  The reality of having to 'fess up to someone that I slacked all week keeps me honest.  Let peer pressure work for you!

The other thing I have started to do is to get more organized so that I'm using my writing time more effectively.  I recommend a book called 2k to 10k.  It teaches you how to go from writing two thousand words a day to ten thousand words a day.  And it works.  You spend a couple of lousy, mind melting days figuring out characters and an outline, but from there on out?  It is a piece of cake!  You just write from point to point and your fingers fly!  I have found if I don't use the 2k to 10k method, I spend months breaking my brain.  So, three lousy days or three lousy months.  It's a choice.
  
I stay on top of marketing trends.  I recommend The Writers Cafe on kboards.com.  This is a forum of indie authors very generously sharing their experiences.  The atmosphere here shifts, so sometimes it is super helpful, sometimes people are being jerks (much like any forum), so I would say lurk around, take what you can use, leave the rest.  But when something new hits the indie marketing scene, this has been the most reliable resource for information I have found, especially if you are new.  Other helpful blogs you might check out are:  Hugh Howey, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, The Passive Voice, Dean Wesley Smith, Steel Magnolia Press, Courtney Milan... the list goes on and on.  

But speaking of blogs and awesome people, get to know your peers.  Don't be a jerk.  This is not a zero-sum game.  Shared success breeds success.  So much of the good stuff which has happened to me is because of a gal named SM Reine.  A billion years ago, we came onto each other's radar on kboards.  She then invited me to participate in a group book promotion, which led to massive success for my Maggie book.  Then, she invited me to be a part of a boxed set with darlings Deanna Chase, Dannika Dark, and Jovee Winters which hit the USA Today bestseller list.  The pattern repeated itself with other boxed sets and other wonderful publishers and writers.  But what's great is that I look at the people I do business with now  and I genuinely like them.  They are generous of spirit, they look out for others, and they are not afraid to lend their shoulders for others to stand upon, because they know that person will turn around and lift them up and over, too.  Surround yourself with people like that.  Help them.  They will help you.

And most importantly, write what you love.  Keep in mind that if you are successful, that means you are going to have to write MORE in that world, not that suddenly buckets of money will rain from above and suddenly you'll have the opportunity to write what you really want to write.  No, your time will be gobbled up with demands to stay in that world you never really wanted to be in the first place.  So don't write for exposure, don't write for opportunity, write because it is something you love.  As an author, you get to play pretend all day.  You get to decide what game of make believe you want to be real.  So make it something which brings you joy.

Now get in that sandbox and start building castles!

Monday, February 2, 2015

London 8/17/14 - Part II

Read Part I of my Kew Gardens adventure here!

So where were we... ah yes!  I had survived drowning in a freak summer storm deluge, found my way to the gift shop, and snuck around a closed glass house.  No stones were thrown.

I thought I was strolling back towards the main gate but kept getting distracted by things like King William's Temple, which was built for Queen Victoria and commemorates British victories.


Nonetheless, my legs were tired and I was cold.  My usual plan to "forget" a jacket so I would haaaaave to buy a touristy sweatshirt in the giftshop had backfired disastrously.  It had only been t-shirts for as far as the eye could see!  Never mind that it had been 95-degrees and humid every day for the past month except for this one day I decide to go be "outdoorsy."  Still, one truth about travel is that when you look back on your memories, you forget what the weather was like.  So, I decided to just push on and gather as many memories as I could to drown out the cold.  

There was a beautiful lake with swans-a-swimming...




And more vistas that the aristocracy created for the views, arboretums of different kinds of trees.



 I found a Japanese house and an azalea garden, and ended up on the backside of the palm tree glass house.  Hidden back there was a glorious rose garden.  I wish I had come a few weeks earlier when they were all in bloom!  But you know... Shakespeare...



I'm a fan of the topiary hedge and when I make a bajillion dollars and marry that lord with a manor house that needs a little upkeep, I'm going to devote myself to a garden shaped hedges.  Perhaps references to literary characters?  An ax for the Woodcutter?  A little hedge shaped like Pipistrelle?  Any takers?  Anyone?  Anyone?



 I figured since I had missed something this wonderful, there HAD to be something even more wonderful on the OTHER other side of the glass house.

And indeed there was.  I discovered a wee little glass house, the smallest glass house on the property...


And it was all devoted to water lilies and other aquatic plants.






My pictures just don't do them justice.  They were SO COOL.  Some of the coolest plants I have ever seen in my entire life.  And I would have missed them all if I had decided to give in to cold and exhaustion!  The scale of these things was enormous!  A small child could lie down on one comfortably.  Just... cool.

I finally made it around the front side again and decided that THIS time, it was really time to go...  But man... what a difference just a few short hours make in the weather.



The reason I needed to skeedaddle is that I had tickets for a show at the London Wonderground called Limbo.  Now, it just so happened that the oooone Tube station I needed to take was closed, so instead, I hopped off at one next to Parliment and got to walk across the Thames to the South Bank.

"Look, kids!  Big Ben!  Parliament!"

Tucked behind the London Eye...


Was this outdoor carnival, kind of aimed at grownups.  It was gritty and kind of steampunky and just... cool.  This is a bar built into a carousel and your table is on the back of the horses.



But what I was there for was closing night of Limbo.  I found out about the show because some lady was reading the program on the Tube and the cover made me go, "That looks cool!"  And then I went back to my dorm and looked it up and went, "Oh.  I need to see this."


It was located inside this red and white striped tent with a single stage in the middle.  There were strings of white lights hanging from the ceiling and the action took place around us and through the audience.  I did end up sternly asking the Americans beside me to turn off their cellphones as the lights from their screens blinded everyone around us in the dark.  I mean, seriously, people.  Aside from it being dangerous (go into a dark bathroom and flash your camera phone in your face.  Now image trying to fly on a trapeze and having that happen), there were humans hanging from the rafters by their toes ten feet in front of your face and you're checking Facebook?  It is a LIVE SHOW!  The performers are standing right next to you!  They SEE YOU being a jerk!

ANYWAYS.  Limbo was this gritty, intimate circus with contortionists and fire eaters and sword swallowers (who swallowed a lit neon tube!) live music and just... wow.  It was kind of indescribable, so just watch this video instead.  It is so fast paced, you might need to watch it once or twice until you realize exactly what it is you're seeing.


I left there feeling like I could fly, and isn't that the experience you really want?  I ended up buying the program and the CD and just... yeah.  It was a show I wish never had to end.


I had a lovely walk along the banks of the Thames to think about everything I had seen.

"Look, kids!  Big Ben!  Parliament!"

There is something about night in a big city, that experience of walking around in the dark completely safe.  The way the night blots out all the dirt and replaces it with... I don't know... romance?  A dream like state?  Something otherworldly?  There is, for me, such a deep peace, as sense of belonging.  You're alone, but you're not.  You watch all these lives happening in these little puddles of light.  It's like the city gives you these little vignettes, these little stories in every restaurant, in each couple holding hands.  The pace relaxes.  It's just... lovely.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Presenting... THE M-TEAM!

Maggie fans?  The wait is over!  Presenting Book Five in the Maggie MacKay: Magical Tracker series... THE M-TEAM!  Available NOW! NOW! NOW!


When Maggie and Killian torched Hollywood, the World Walker Association was not happy and decided to pull Maggie's license. This is just the opportunity the bad guys were looking for. When Maggie decides to do what is right vs. what is legal, the Association puts a bounty hunter on her tail to haul her off to prison.
Unfortunately, it comes to light that ALL of the World Walkers are being hauled off to prison... and once there, meeting an untimely end. Have the vampires infiltrated the World Walkers Association? Or is an even greater evil now at work?
Or is it just another lousy day at M&K Tracking?