Posts from 2008
Jan 12, 2008 [Mike]
The third book in the Mercy Thompson series Iron Kissed is out on shelves. Sales have been stronger than we'd dared hope for, and early reviews have been largely favorable. We just got news that Iron Kissed is now a #1 New York Times Bestseller! Patty has been walking on air ever since she got the news last week. A huge and sincere "Thank You" to everyone reading her books. An author's fondest wish is that people will enjoy reading what they write, and you've made Patty's dreams come true.
On Silver Bullets
Last week I mentioned that, in an effort to get the details right, I was working on actually casting and testing some silver bullets. This has become a mild obsession, and a bit of a pet project. You can read more about it on the newly-created silver bullet page. I'll add more information there periodically for those who are interested. Also, in the "kitsch" department, we found a company selling some very nice chocolate bullets packaged in a metal ammunition box. We're thinking of ordering a bunch of them, adding some silver foil candy wrappers and selling "Mercy's do-it-yourself silver bullet kits". Hah!
Signings and Chats
Patty did a couple of signings in Portland and Seattle last week, and she had a blast. Most author signings are kind of tragic affairs, in which the bookstore provides a strategically-placed table and a pile of books. At the appointed time, the author takes up "the position" behind the table, peering at customers from behind the cover of piles of books.
At this point, the hunt is on, and the ensuing action would make footage worthy of the most discriminating wildlife shows. The wary customers browse the aisles, keeping an ever-watchful eye on the author. Then tend to browse in pairs - one browsing, the other alert for any sign of movement on the part of the author. Eventually, one of the customers, less wary than others or tempted by the recent releases just out of reach behind the table, will pass too close to the author. It's over in an instant. Eye contact is made, and the hapless victim is ensnared in conversation. Eventually, a book will be sold, the victim beats a hasty retreat, and the other customers move back further into the aisles, temporarily safe.
OK, it's not always that bad -- but signings can be, um. . . lonely times for an author. Since Patty is actually pretty shy (she's terrible at 'poaching' customers) she's gotten used to sitting alone at a table until the buzzer sounds, er rather, the signing is over. These signings were well attended by very friendly and enthusiastic readers, several of whom were even wearing Mercy's Garage shirts. Hooray! Patty's publisher (ACE) took care of travel and lodging, which were much more posh than the low-rent dives we usually occupy when traveling. The readers were wonderful and the bookstore owners friendly and accomodating (even when she fell on her, er, rump). I hope those that attended has as much fun as Patty did!
There was supposed to be a "chat" on her website on Saturday night. Unfortunately, mechanical problems delayed her flight from Seattle. Since Butte (the cradle of civilization) has only two incoming flights each day, she came in eight hours later than expected, and we had to postpone the chat at the last minute. Our apologies to anyone who was inconvenienced. On the plus side, she was able to get some sleep, and Sunday had a very engaging chat with a large number of participants. For those who missed it, the transcript has been posted.
The world is changing. Patty has long decried electronic readers. A paperback book is wonderfully designed for reading, and very hard to improve upon. Most electronic readers have been plagued with high cost, small screens that strain the eyes to read, short battery life, limited selection of materials and the dreaded DRM (digital rights management) which can render your expensive library electronic junk . Why would anyone abandon the traditonal paperback?
There are a couple of recently-released electronic readers that are, quite frankly, impressive enough to warrent serious consideration. Patty got a Sony ereader for Christmas, and has been favorably impressed. It's small, elegantly-crafted, opens like a paperback, and uses the new Electronic Ink technology that displays a credible facimile of ink and paper. This display technology also allows the unit to run for an extended period without recharging. It's not perfect; it's expensive and the selection of available books is thinner than we'd like. It does support some open formats in addition to Sony's DRM-enabled proprietary format, but only a pirate could figure out how to convert books into those open formats . . . harrr!
If Sony's offering isn't to your liking, Amazon has released a unit with the same display technology, built in wireless, and a few other features. I'm sure other companies will also offer competing products in the coming months. It's not my intention to plug any particular product, but to express my excitement over the first products I've seen that are viable alternatives to paperback books.
We move around far too often, and each time we move I get to lug about two hundred very heavy boxes packed with what my fair bride considers "essential reading". That many books takes up a lot of storage space, and storage space is expensive. A book, even with some basic formatting information, usually takes up about a megabyte of storage. A megabyte. I'm a computer professional, I work with terabytes of storage. Let me put this in perspective. A gigabyte can hold a thousand books (let's not argue the definition of Gigabyte -- the nerds and hard drive manufactures have filled volumes with that discussion). Even a modest personal computer has a 500 gig drive these days, which would store a half-million full-length novels. Even the little reader we bought, with the addition of a four-gig memory stick, can hold over four thousand novels. No wasted paper, no heavy boxes to move, no additional storage units or industrial shelving units. The current offerings are not perfect. I find the DRM to be particularly galling, but I believe I have seen the future of reading, and my aching back is excited!
Jan 28, 2008 [Mike]
New Site Design
The most obvious news is that we're trying out a new look for the website. We'd used the old design for several years, but it was starting to look a little dated. Patty is no longer writing straight fantasy, and we wanted something that reflected her current efforts. We went out looking for an image of a wolf shapeshifter, preferably a bit anthropomorphic, and ideally with a slight native americal feel. We found a perfect image in Dark Natasha's Moon Song, and she graciously agreed to let us use it on the site. There's a link to her site in the credits, and you might take a minute to look at her other artwork -- she's done some amazing work, and she's an artist that had apparently been flying 'under our radar'.
Someday I'm going to break down and hire a professional designer, but we're not quite there yet. I can write some very solid code, and have been a computer professional for years. Yet every time I try web-design I'm reminded of how much I still have to learn. On commercial projects they usually hire a graphics artist, a web-design guru and some guy like me to write the back end. I've been forcibly reminded, yet again, of what those artistically-talented folks do to earn their money. I fight through every little step of layout and CSS, and in the end what I'm left with doesn't look much like what I'd hoped for. So, bear with me, and let me know what problems you run into, and over the next month or two we'll try to beat this layout into submission.
Patty was up 'till about 5:00 am finishing yet another round of edits on Cry Wolf, a book I'm rapidly coming to hate. It's a zombie book. No, not a book about zombies (it's about werewolves and witches) but one that simply refuses to die. Patty has finished it and sent it away several times. All manuscripts come back for a few rounds of edits -- and usually edits are kind of fun. Polish a few things, add a few witty remarks, maybe correct a minor detail or two and send it off to the next bunch of editors. Not this one . . . it crawls home bearing the futile scratchings of the editing team and moans, "Heellllppp Meeee!" It's done that twice.
Patty took what was supposed to be a minor polish, and virtually re-wrote the book in a marathon series of twelve to sixteen hour days. She's looking pretty ragged, but the book finally worked like it was supposed to. It should come back for the usual rounds of edits, but it's officially been laid to rest. Her editor may wonder about receiving a manuscript with a stake driven through its center, damp with holy water and wrapped with braids of garlic . . . Sometimes, drastic measures are required.
Feb 13, 2008 [Mike]
Having finally laid "Cry Wolf" to rest, Patty has been working on two projects. The first priority is the next "Mercy Thompson" novel, which starts right on the heels of Iron Kissed. She's not very far into it yet, but it's a been a relief to have the words come smoothly and the characters behave themselves. It's like settling into that big easy chair in the living room, everything is comfortable.
She's also working on the first of the "Mercy Thompson" graphic novels with the Dabel Brothers. Holy stick figures Batman, watch out. Her version looked like a crude attempt at primitive art, until she gave up and started just writing a text description of each frame. Fortunately, the Dabel brothers keep a very talented group of artists on hand. I suspect they're going to be working very hard!
The website re-design seems to be working well. I did a little bit of cleanup trying to insure that all the pages will validate as strict XML. We still have some problems with a few of the map pages, but for the most part its now valid XML. I tweaked the style sheets just a little trying to make it easier to read.
Want to win all three Mercy books? Step right up and try your luck! Fantasy Book Critic is running giving away three sets of the "Mercy Thompson" books. That's right, giving them away. Free. Gratis. Libre. The contest details can be found here. Good Luck!
We're going to be in the Tri-Cities area for the next few days for Radcon, a wonderful convention in the area. Over the past few years, Radcon has drawn an increasing number of authors and publishers, and is now one of the most writer-friendly cons in the northwest. Of course, they've not neglected their roots as a gaming convention, and the gamers room will be full to overflowing as well. The guest of honor this year is Harry Turtledove, who we're dying to meet in person. There's also a host of regular attendees that we meet there every year and are anxious to talk to once again.
Feb 19, 2008 [Mike]
We got back from Radcon last night. In theory, there's no such thing as a perfect convention. In practice, this came very close. There were approximately 2000 rabid fans of science fiction, fantasy, and gaming filling the hotel past capacity. Numerous tracks of programming, combat demos and all the usual trappings of a big convention all ran like well-oiled machinery. For the guests, it all looked effortless.
Conventions are a bit like the ancient galley ships. To a distant observer they seem to glide effortlessly over the sea. The distant observer never sees the ranks of slaves straining at on the oars below decks. Those of us who have spent time chained to an oar are no longer fooled by the illusion of effortless progress. A convention as big as Radcon requires a lot of
galley slaves volunteers below decks. We'd like to offer a huge thank you to the concom and minions who obviously put in a tremendous number of hours.
Radcon has become a mecca for authors of all levels of expertise. They gather in hallways, in the dining rooms, and cluster in alcoves. Who's buying what? Did you hear that so-and-so sold a new trilogy? Is it true that publisher-X is having financial difficulties? How is what's his name as an agent? Little whispers of information are passed mouth-to-mouth with fevered intensity. It's a chance to associate with kindred spirits. We see old friends, exchange news and wishes for future success. We tell stories, enthuse over the good news of sales or awards, and offer words of encouragement to those whose fortunes have been rocky. Kind of a huge group-hug from those who know the long and lonely hours that writing entails.
We spent most of the convention in the panel discussions (as usual). This year, there were some excellent panels, and more importantly, some wonderful panelists. We met a number of new-to-us authors, and I have to say I was extremely impressed with how confident and articulate they were on panels. We came away with a notebook full of new thoughts and ideas, and a couple of neat story ideas sparked by the panel discussions.
Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch are two of the most knowledgeable and articulate authors in the world. They've worked as both authors and editors, and know the publishing world intimately. They took an hour for a panel most people refer to as the "Kris and Dean Show" -- a chance to get updates on what's new in the world of publishing and ask questions. For once, Patty didn't have a panel scheduled opposite them, so we were able to attend. Wow. This was worth the price of the convention, including meals, gas and gratuities. The problem with being an author is that is possible to write books, and even gain some measure of success, without knowing much about the publishing industry. We learned more in an hour than we would have otherwise picked up in a year. Dean sometimes calls a spade a spade, and doesn't necessarily sugar-coat things. It's not all fuzzy bunnies and dancing unicorns, but overall the picture is much brighter than I had expected.
Feb 29, 2008 [Mike]
An Unprofessional Entry
One of the first rules of maintaining a "professional" website is to keep it professional. So, this site should be all about the Urban Fantasy Author Patricia Briggs. I've tried not to include photos of the family dog or the obligatory author's cats, or a significant amount of "Dear Diary" type entries, while still updating the web site on a regular basis so it doesn't look abandoned. However, it's hard. Writing books is a slow process, and there's quite often nothing new to report. There's nothing wrong with that, but I'm not sure how to make slogging through the writing process sound exiting.
Maybe I should adopt the tactics of a sports announcer: "It's been a doozy of a day at the keyboard races, folks. Patty's just coming around chapter three; the introductions are over and it's time to get serious. Her delete key is still smoking from that little burnout in chapter two, but she's got it back under control and is really leaning on it -- thirty pages so far this week! It's not over yet, ladies and gentlemen, not by a long shot. There's the possibility of a dangerous slowdown in chapter four, and the mid-book doldrums of chapter six are always a challenge. The deadlines are tight, and it's anybody's race. You know what they say folks, it's not over 'till the fat lady sings, and all we've got so far is a skinny gal at a Burger King. . ."
I'm going to just go ahead and indulge myself, and be a little unprofessional. While we were in the Tri-Cities area of Washington state for Radcon, the temperatures were a balmy 50° to 60° and the sun was shining relentlessly. The first spring flowers were beginning to appear, and the trees were budding out. Several of our friends asked us how the weather was in Montana. So, I thought I'd post a couple of photos.
|Most of the time, it's absolutely beautiful here. Here's a view of a moonrise from our porch a couple of weeks ago.
|Here I am, playing with our youngest horse in the driveway. The snowshoes are not just decorative. This was taken in January.
|Just to show our friends in Washington what our weather's like, here's a look out past the round corral taken earlier this week. Gray horses are pretty well camoflauged in Montana, at least until June.
|Just to complete the picture, here's the view of the front yard. Tulips won't be along for a while yet, I'd guess.
March 6, 2008 [Mike]
The penultimate round of edits for Cry Wolf are nearly complete. After all the trouble it caused, it's shaping up to be an enjoyable read. At this point I think Patty's torn between two emotions, "Heaven help me find all the little niggling problems haunting this manuscript" and "Will somebody please slap a cover on this little ankle-biter and call it done!" I'm not sure which one is winning!
For those who like their books in audio format, there's some good news. Penguin Audio has purchased the rights to both the Mercy Thompson and the Alpha and Omega books, and will be releasing them this summer. Actually, audio books are a bit of a new discovery for us. On a recent road trip, we bought a used copy of one of Janet Evonovich's Stephanie Plum novels on CD. The voice actress was amazing, and the book was hilarious. We laughed ourselves giddy through a fairly long trip, only stopping to rush into convenience stores for restroom breaks and beverages, then running back to car to hear what happened next. Needless to say, when we go on trips now, audio books have become an essential part of our preparations.
On the books page, I'd written that Patty was contributing a story to a Christmas anthology,Wolfsbane and Mistletoe. However, I completely failed to mention one of the editors, Toni P. Kelner. Toni wrote to Patty several times over the course of writing and editing the story and was her primary contact with the anthology. She was also unfailingly courteous, even when Patty was very late delivering the promised manuscript. Omitting her was unconscionable. Toni, I'm sorry.
March 12, 2008 [Mike]
Looking over the last several posts, there's something a little strange. Several posts claim that Patty is finishing, or has finished the edits on Cry Wolf. Since editing embodies several steps, I thought I'd present a quick overview of the editing process. Patty's currently finishing up the edits suggested by the copy editor and line editor.
We also got the first cover flats for Cry Wolf. The scan of the cover was pretty, but the cover itself is gorgeous. The art department used the same foil process they've used with the Mercy books. This cover was done in a blue-green foil, and the whole thing shimmers. Hooray for the Art and Marketing folks at ACE! We're beyond happy.
March 26, 2008 [Mike]
ConBust is coming up, and Patty's getting excited. ConBust is a lot of fun, but they do something a little weird: They have the same guests back year after year. They put them up at a lovely little bed and breakfast (Patty raves about it every year). One of the interesting consequences of this approach is that the guests get to know one another fairly well. For example:
Jenny Breeden is the author of several
comics graphic novels, including the hugely popular The Devil's Panties. She and Patty always have a great time together, and Jenny's family stories are hilarious. Reality can be a hoot!
Lynn Flewelling is another long-standing Conbust veteran. She and Patty usually end up on many of the same panels every year, and have a grand time mugging for the muggles, er, explaining how to lie for fun and profit. Basically, the idea is that if you tell little lies, your doomed to be a fisherman, but if you perfect the art of really telling whoppers, inventing whole realities out of thin air, then you have two choices: politics or fiction writing. . .
Lynn has a wonderful imagination (and kind of a dark side hidden under that cheerful smiling exterior), and Patty and I greatly enjoy her writing. By the way, check out her website, her new Nightrunner novel Shadows Return is coming soon, and the cover art is absolutely scrumptious.
Cry wolf is off to the publisher again. The last edits were fairly painless, which was a huge relief. Now Patty's back to writing the next Mercy Thompson novel, Bone Crossed. Naturally, it's past due and far from complete. Never fear, she's working hard, and while she won't let me read it yet, she assures me it's coming along nicely.
ACE has decided to "repackage" many of Patty's earlier novels. She's always had the good fortune to have great covers for her books, and as always we're very grateful to the talented artists and the art directors at ACE. However, fashions change, and her early books were looking a little dated (and maybe a little racy by todays standards), so they're being wrapped in bright new covers. We've seen the first of the new covers in bookstores already. Here's quick table showing the changes:
March 27, 2008 [Patty]
Just dropping in to add that the Smithee Award people will be there, too. The people who watch hundreds of hours of the worst movies ever made to find the ultimate, horrible moment when all you can do is hold your stomach and laugh: last year it was the naked women's volleyball team swimming in a pond where Nazi zombies lurk beneath the surface. I still have nightmares. Fun stuff.
March 31, 2008 [Patty]
Conbust was, as always, a lot of fun. It's a small convention and after attending a few years it's like seeing old friends. As always, even with a small con, there were too many friends and too little time to talk. Annette Curtis Klause author of Blood and Chocolate stayed with Lynn Flewelling and I so we got to chat a bit. Viking Editor Sharyn November was there as well, but I didn't get to talk to her much. I did find out that she's Nina Kiriki Hoffman's editor, so we had a mutual friend :) Pheobe Wray, a new to me author, was a delightful fellow panelist with a new book Jemma 7729 out.
As with the last two conventions, Jennie Breedan and I seem doomed to wave and smile -- which is too bad because she's as terrifically funny as her webcomic. I also missed the Smithee Awards, which I swore I'd watch all the way through this year. Happily the Smithee crew sat across from me at dinner and shared a van ride from the airport with me so we at least got to visit.
Thanks again to Amanda, who brought me a wolf magnet -- and with Greg chatted with me for a while on Saturday (and enriched several panels with questions and comments). And also to Charmed, who moderates on my forum, and brought me soap she'd made, in the shape of a wolfprint and a coyote print -- very fun stuff.
I'd also like to thank the lovely ladies who ran us back and forth to the airport and bed and breakfast. And Lizz and the rest of the ConBust crew who exausted themselves so we could have fun. There are too many old friends to mention here, but I couldn't stop before I waved at George and his lovely wife Lori, and at Jim, Hope, Tanje and all the rest of the people are all part of what makes me love ConBust.
April 23,2008 [Mike]
Author Self Promotion
Someday I'm going to add a section on writing to the web site. Patty gets quite a few letters, especially from new authors, asking about various aspects of publishing. There's some information in the FAQ (which is poorly maintained), and some good information on the Forum, but I probably need to aggregate a little more information and put it out where people can find it. In my excessive free time, of course. This week we got a very nice letter from the author of three books asking about self-promotion. I tried to answer her, and I thought others might find it useful as well.
Disclaimer: This is one of those controversial subjects about which everyone has an opinion. What follows is just another opinion; I'm claming no divine guidance or special knowledge of the subject. Feel free to disagree.
Publishing houses generally have a publicity or marketing department responsible for promoting the books they publish. They have access to graphic artists, fancy printers, national media, travel agents and all sorts of pretty toys designed to help advertise and hopefully sell books. However, there's a fly in the ointment. Advertising costs money, and the publisher's goal is to maximize the return on their advertising budget. Launching a glitzy media campaign for a best-selling author sells more books than launching the same campaign for a relatively unknown author. The result is that a few big name authors get the lion's share of the available marketing money and the crumbs are scattered among the other authors deperately trying to attract new readers. Predictably, the big fish get bigger still while the smaller fish fish are fighting to survive.
While the allocation of marketing dollars makes economic sense, it doesn't feel very fair to the author pouring heart and soul into books that lauch without fanfare and are pulled from the shelves in a few months. It needs to be said that pure, dumb luck plays a major role in this phase of the game, where careers are balanced on a knife edge. A good review in a major publication, a blurb from a celebrity, a particularly beautiful cover, any of these can swing the balance. If an author gains little bigger audience it may trigger a positive feedback circuit. People read popular authors. Cross the tipping point and word of mouth spreads, selling more books, which take up more space in bookstores, which makes them less likely to strip your book, which makes it more likely they'll sell, which brings in more readers. Suddenly, the author is a big fish, and getting a share of the advertising dollars, which further accelerates the cycle. Or not. Midlist authors are kind of like Cinderalla waiting for her prince to come; and waiting for blind good fortune or word of mouth to magically transform your career is very frustrating.
In the mid 90's, when Patty was a new author the buzzword in the author community was "self promotion". The idea was simple: if the publisher's won't do it, the author can lauch their very own promotional campaign. No more waiting for lady luck, go out and make your own luck. For an author captive to the whims of chance, the idea that you can kick-start that feedback engine, and be off to the the major leagues with just a little effort is a welcome and seductive concept. There were some well-publicized success stories of authors who had apparently rocketed to fame and glory on a flame of their own igniting. Naturally there were books on how to do this, and panels at conventions, and even professional packagers who would organize as much promotion as an author could afford, for a price.
Soon bookstores had piles of free bookmarks, bookplates, and other kitsch stacked around the cash register, and authors were no longer at their keyboards, they were stalking promotional opportunities. Some authors were successful, but telling the average author that success depends on getting out and hard-selling their books was disasterous. I own several books purchased just because it was the only way to escape the room. We also know a few authors who spent a great deal of money, money they couldn't really afford to lose, hoping to spur their career to new heights. Not wanting to be left out, we bought several books and began planning "the campaign".
Since our means were modest, we weren't able to contemplate a nation-wide media blitz and superbowl ads. In fact, we couldn't even afford ads in the local newspaper. Here's basically the logic we followed in planning our stategy:
- We needed to generate a substancial number of sales, at least several thousand, in order to make a meaningful difference to Patty's career.
- A promotion should not only increase sales, it has to leave a favorable impression of the author. If you sell five copies of your book, and simultaneously convince a book-store owner that you're a pushy, unpleasant person, you've lost.
- Whatever sort of kitsch we gave away had to largely pay for itself. Given the large numbers of sales needed, we couldn't afford to give away a $10 mouse pad to generate a book sale that would bring in fifty cents.
- Patty needed to keep writing new material, not be on the road promoting her old material. This is vitally important. A few authors are able to do both, but know yourself before you decide you're one of them. In a related vein, honestly evaluate your social skills before you decide to go cross-country hand-selling books in shopping malls. It works for some people.
It turns out that the second point was critical for us. Cheap kitsch is, well, cheap. Probably not very persuasive. Most of the little bookmarks lovingly printed by authors on their home printer probably go in the trash without generating a sale. Given book prices at the time, Patty was making about fifty cents for each book sold. Now, what percentage of giveaways would result in a book sale? Picking a number from thin air, let's be wildly optimistic and say that 50% of our kitsch would result in a book sale, if we can think up something sufficiently cool. So, what can I make and distriubute for a quarter (half of fifty cents) that would be awesome enough to convince half the people who get one to buy a book? Think about it . . . we did. And came up empty. There's simply not enough profit in selling an indivual book to make the personal-kitsch plan very attractive.
OK then, we need kitsch that sells to more than one person. The Goodyear blimp, maybe, or radio spots. If we sell a kidney, maybe we can make it work. But how many books have you purchased because some radio advertisement told you to? That's what I thought.
Finally we came up with a workable idea. When we got the cover flats for her next book, we ran down to the copy shop and had some 11 x 17 inch color posters made. Patty signed them, and then we had them laminated with that extra-heavy plastic. The result is a colorful, reasonably large, personalized poster that's very durable. Final cost, just over $5.00. We sent them to some bookstores in the area, hoping they'd be nice enough to get hung up somewhere, and then be seen by lots of customers. Did it work? We don't know. Some of the bookstores put them up, which was good. One of the difficulties with any sort of advertising is trying to evaluate how effective your efforts were.
Having done some self-promotion, and watched the efforts of other authors, I must confess that I've become skeptical. If you could reliably create a bestseller by just throwing some promotion at a random author, the publishers would be doing that instead of paying bestselling authors. They've tried it several times, by the way, and it's just not a reliable technique. If they can't make it work, with the experts and personnel they have, how likely is it that the average author can do it? I've come to believe that most authors are probably better off writing books. That's what they're good at, and it's a craft that can take a lifetime to master. Besides, staying home writing is far better than going bankrupt or getting an ulcer trying to organize and sponser a publicity campaign you have neither the training nor the funding for. Publishers are actually pretty smart, and they try to promote whenever they think they can get more money out than they're putting in.
Even in the face of my skepticism, there are lots of good oportunities to inform the public about who you are and what you do. Having a professional web site is a great opportunity, and it's very affordable. Blogs and podcasts are cheap to produce and can potentially reach very large audiences. We've been amazed at how much traffic our forum gets, and we installed it almost on a lark. Not only has it given readers a place to hang out, it's provided some surprise benefits for us. One huge benefit is that the readers have assembled an encyclopedia of all of the characters, places, and lore in the Mercy Thompson series, complete with references and page numbers. Patty had a sheaf of scribbled notes, which she's now thrown away -- the on-line version is more accurate and far more comprehensive.
Finally, it's always a good idea for an author to stay on good terms with the owners of local bookstores. Doing local signings is good publicity, and well worth the time, even if you don't actually sell very many books. It doesn't hurt to mention your publications to local newspapers. All of the little, personal touches that make you part of your community are important, and even the most reclusive author should probably take time for this level of self-promotion. Perhaps, however, the superbowl ads should be left to the professionals.
David Edelman wrote a lovely piece called Ethical Self Promotion on his blog, which is well worth your time.
Speaking of unethical self-promotion, Dear Author and Smart Bitches have both been covering the case of a small publisher who was gaming the Amazon review system. This got a lot of digitial ink, but this is a good place to start.
Cynthia Sterling wrote The Top 10 Self-Promotion Mistakes which may save you considerable time and money.
June 8, 2008 [Mike]
Mystery in the Mailbox
OK, we've got a real-life mystery on our hands. A couple of weeks ago we found a very elegant letter in our mailbox. A translucent envelope with a logo we didn't recognize on the corporate postage. Inside there was a lovely black envelope sealed with an honest-to-goodness wax seal, bearing the same logo. Inside the evelope we discovered a single page of translucent paper bearing writing in a language we don't recognize, with the same logo at the bottom. I think the writing was done by hand, and someone obviosly did much better in penmanship class than we did.
So, the question is, what is it? Who is it from? What does it say? We're curious. Someone spent some time and effort sending this to us, and we're clueless. We're also fresh out of Scooby-Snacks®, but we'll offer a "Mercy's Garage" shirt or a signed book to the first person who can help us solve this riddle.
Update: I got an email from Zen Dog, who pointed out that there is a larger mystery surrounding this letter. Other people have received similar letters, and it's unclear at this point whether this is an alternate reality game, a viral marketing effort (if so, it's a doozy!), or something altogether different. The spoils go to Zen Dog!
May 29, 2008 [Mike]
Miscon 22 Report
|Patty signing a book after a panel at MisCon 22.
Miscon has come and gone again, and it was as much fun as it always is. This year was a little more stressful than usual: I ended up taking over as programming chair, so all the panels and so forth became my responsibility. Predictably, I sent the wrong version of the schedule to the folks who print up the program book; and the version I supplied them contained a nice smattering of schedule conflicts. It's always a joy to see the look of panic in the eyes of our hard-working professionals when they realize they're scheduled to give two different talks, in different locations, at the same time. I spent half of Friday skulking in the hotel room afraid to show my face (I'm allergic to rotten tomatos, particularly when thrown at high velocity). However, I should have had more confidence in the kindness of the attendees. Surprisingly, it all worked out fine, and the scheduling conflicts were fairly seamlessly routed around. The visiting pros really proved their mettle. Like a crack military troop ordered to take the capital with squirt guns they snapped a salute and got it done.
Like always, we managed to run flat-out for four full days, before collapsing in a coma. We got to meet lots of old friends: Cthulhu Bob, Sparky and Richard Peters, Tom and Debbie Lentz, Laurel and Lynn, and we reveled in the joy of old aquintences renewed. We also got to hang with some of our favorite authors: Diana Pharaoh Francis, Christina Morgan, Jim Glass and others. C.J. Cherryh and Jane Fancher were there (and a hoot to hang around as always). Jane is as fiesty as ever, and C.J. has this amazing ability to listen to other panelists babble for thirty minutes, then clarify the whole issue with a couple of insightful sentences -- she's kind of like Obi-Wan. The author Guest of Honor this year was Maggie Bonham, whom we met for the first time last year. She's a bit like a character from a fantasy novel: bold and active and always in the middle of everything, just a little larger than life and loving every minute of it. I can't possibly name all the friendly faces and dear friends old and new in attendence -- it's like a giant family reunion.
|Hanging with friends at MisCon. Left-to-right: Lynn, Mike Briggs, Patty Briggs, Laurel
There were a number of unusual panels this year: I scheduled a group of gun-experts to do some presentations geared toward authors. Particularly in urban fantasy, it's obvious that there are otherwise wonderful authors who know next-to-nothing about firearms. Thumbing the safety on your revolver or having the heroine pulling a Desert Eagle from her ankle holster is a great way to annoy the reader. These panels were surprisingly well attended, and the gun-pros did a phenomenal job of bringing props and things to show the audience. We also had an insty-filk panel which yielded a surprisingly good piece, so the entire panel ran over to the art-auction and performed it on the spur of the moment. Lots of zany, giddy, feel-good fun.
I also did a panel on silver bullets, which was surprisingly well recieved. Even more interesting was the number of people who wanted to beg, buy borrow or steal a silver bullet. How cool is that? Speaking of which, I've updated the Silver Bullets pages with the results of my most recent casting.
June 9, 2008 [Mike]
Many of you have been following our ill-considered efforts to cast some functional silver bullets. In the early days of this bit of insanity I was told of an article published in Gun World, way back in 1964, documenting the efforts of a creative bunch led by Jack Lewis trying to create silver bullets just like the Lone Ranger. Sadly, this article was almost impossible to find, even though it's probably the only well-documented attempt to make silver bullets, and almost certainly the source of the firmly-established dogma that silver bullets won't work.
I contacted the editors at Gun World, who put me in touch with Jack Lewis, who was willing to sell me the rights to republish this classic article here on Hurog.com. So, for those of you who want a piece of silver bullet history, here's Lone Ranger, Go Away. Enjoy!
July 9, 2008 [Mike]
The Science Fiction Book Club, affectionately known as the SFBC, has an omnibus version of the first three Mercy books, called Preying for Mercy out, for those of you who like your books hardcover (thank you, Dave, for reminding me). Cry Wolf is due out the end of the month . . . and I think there should be an audio book release of it at or near the same time.
Patty has just done the copyedits of "The Star of David" for the Toni P. Kelner/Charlaine Harris anthology Wolvesbane and Mistletoe and turned in the short story "Seeing Eye" to Pat Elrod for the St Martin's anthology Strange Brew. That leaves only finishing the story for the Dabel Brother Comic books and she's out of the short story business again for a while. No more short stories until she's caught up with her already contracted work.
Patty had back surgery last month. She had broken her spine many years ago, without knowing it, and it had healed improperly. For the last year she's been having increasing trouble with back pain, which was getting bad enough that she frequently couldn't walk. The surgery basically cut off part of the broken vertebrae, and used a bunch of screws and hardware to relieve the pressure on the spine, then grafted bone back together to fuse the lowest lumbar vertebrae with the her tailbone so it can't move again. The surgeon was superb, and the operation was a complete success.
Patty was pretty confident, going in, that she'd be up and running in a few days. The doctors told her that this was a very invasive surgery, and that she'd be down for a while, but she didn't believe them. As it turns out, all those folks with fancy titles and extra ititials behind their name are pretty smart. Most of last month was kind of a blur of pain meds, missed deadlines, and too much travel. Yes, travel. More on that in a minute. The good news is that Patty's brain finally came back on-line reliably a couple of weeks ago, she's getting around far better than she has in the last year, and she's continuing to improve. Let's hear it for modern medicine!
The Perils of Relocation
Butte has been very good to us, but many of our friends live in the Tri-Cities, and we miss them. The area may be hot, dry and scenically-challenged, but home is where your friends are, so we've decided to move back. We've gone back a couple of times this Spring looking for properties with enough land for Patty's horses. Ten years ago we could have bought large tracts of desert for nearly nothing, but times have changed. I can count the number of properties with more than ten acres on my fingers. If you look at those within our budget, I only need one hand and I could probably still play guitar with the unused fingers. Slim pickins' indeed. Still, we found a likely-looking place, and we've made an offer . . . and the wheels of loans, inspections, more inspections, surveys, appraisals etc. are turning slowly forward.
Naturally, we need to sell our current home. I was "mostly" done with a couple of large outbuildings, and the house just needed a little "spiffing up". A couple of months ago we figured we'd need a couple of weeks to spruce things up. Apparently, we're both optimists. I laid new laminate in much of the house, and we paid a professional to recarpet the remainder. New paint, trim, window shades. The outbuildings that were "mostly" done turned out to be a huge time sink. It's all the little stuff that takes time. I've installed the underground electric and sub-panel, and wired the hay harn. Doors are hung, windows set, and the cedar siding is nearly complete. I'm still fighting soffets, roofing and painting. We finally dediced that if we waited for me to be done, we'd be back to winter before we even listed the place, so we called our realtor yesterday, and had him put it on the market. So if anyone is looking for a little place on fourty acres outside of Butte, just let us know. I should have everything fixed in (you guessed it) just a couple of weeks.
August 5, 2008 [Mike]
The big news, of course, is that Cry Wolf is finally available. More importantly, the first reviews are in. Reviews are an author's best friend -- they provide some idea of how the readers feel about the book and highlight areas that need improvement. Looking at the early feedback from Cry Wolf, Patty is actually pretty pleased.
The reviews are largely positive, but several folks mention two shortcomings of the book:
- It feels like the second book of a series, and background seems to be missing
- The book starts slowly, and the action takes a while to really get going.
We don't usually respond directly to criticisms of the book, but I'll make an exception in this case. For those who mentioned these shortcomings: You're absolutely right.
The Alpha and Omega books weren't planned as a series. In fact, Patty had only planned on writing the novella in On the Prowl and leaving their story there. Novellas are, in Patty's opinion, a special kind of hell for authors. Too long for a short story, but too short to tell a "real" story in. Still, she managed to cram a few good characters and a budding romance into 70 pages. The surprise came when her editor asked her to continue the story in a series of novels.
Starting a series based on a novella had Patty pulling hair out in clumps. Other authors have done this in various ways, but none of them are particularly graceful.
- Some authors just expand the novella, and fluff it up to fill a full-length book, but the readers have already read the story and the books always feel like a fluffed up short story.
- Some authors ignore the novella completely, and start over as if it didn't exist. That usually leaves some gaping inconsistencies in the story, especially in a romance. Imagine the confusion if Cry Wolf had started with Anna meeting Charles at a ski resort in Aspen . . .
- Some authors have tried incorporating the novella as the opening chapters of the novel. That's tempting . . . but many readers have already paid to read those pages. Many years ago I excitedly purchased the third album of a band I enjoyed, without reading the play list. Much to my chagrin I found that this "new" album contained all the good tracks of their first two albums and a handful of filler tracks that obviously hadn't made the grade. I felt cheated, and Patty didn't want to do that to her readers.
- Finally, you can basically just assume that all of your readers have actually read the blasted novella, and proceed as if this were actually the second book of the series. For bonus points, the author can work the events of the novella into the narrative (try feathering 70 pages of history smoothly and unobtrusively into the first hundred pages of your next novel for a little added challenge!).
Patty, obviously, chose the last option. If you've read the Mercy series and Alpha and Omega then Cry Wolf starts off on familiar territory, and many of the early scenes are answering questions and tying up some leftover loose ends so the reader is ready to move on to the new adventure. For new readers, the first chapters come across as a little abrupt and include some scenes that don't appear to accomplish very much. It's not a perfect solution, and the criticisms are entirely valid. The real lesson here is never start a series based on a novella — there's just no good way to do it.
P.S. We're going to start an errata page for each of the books. The sample chapter for Bone Crossed contains at least two major errors: Volvo's are Swedish, not Swiss and Glock pistols don't have a safety (which is why I shoot H&K, but that's a whole different holy war).
We spent the last weekend at SpoCon, Spokane's new Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention. There were lots of familiar faces, and a surprising number of unfamiliar ones. This may have been a first year convention, but you'd never have guessed it. Other than some minor blunders related to rooms and lodging (we all rented dorm rooms at Gonzaga University, instead of the more traditional hotel) the whole event was as precise as a Swiss watch (or is that a Swedish watch?).
SpoCon had a very different feel than most of the other Conventions in this area. We still had the usual cadre of excellent authors, die-hard gamers and artists but there was an unusually large number of academics and musicians. Friday and Saturday night there was actual filking in the lounge, and the panels included not one but TWO concerts; one by Steve Dixon (whose bass makes the ceiling tremble) and another by Vixie and Tony. Vixie is a lovely young lady with a voice several times too large for her body and a highly infectious smile, and Tony (who looks remarkably like Mal from Firefly) is an amazing guitarist. When they sing songs based on Firefly it made me particularly nostalgic . . . deep, contented sigh.
The panels were great, and Patty tells me she sat on a religion panel that was GOOD and didn't degenerate into "My God's Better than Your God, My God's Better than Yours!" but had some meaningful discussion. I ended up sitting on Filk panels (apparently I'm the honorary "classic" filker, since everything I know is twenty years old), but the other panelists were gracious and kind so I had a great time.
Thanks to all the friends, old and new, and to the ConCom who worked so hard to make SpoCon a success. We had a great time. Oh, and a very special thanks to Char and Randy MacKay, the guest liaisons, who were gracious to a fault and funny to boot. See you all next year!
August 28, 2008 [Mike]
"Crackle . . . hiss . . . pop . . . hiss. . ."
Hello? Are we live? Testing. Testing.
Moving is officially hell. That, or this entire family is a bunch of pack rats. I usually don't mind moving, but this one was a doozy. Our big, strong son is in Ohio, Patty's doctor doesn't want her lifting anything and the teenage girls are. . . well teenage girls. That leaves one able-bodied person to pack, load and move all of our junk, and we've accumulated an astounding amount of it. Yup, I'm going to need some cheese with this whine.
The Tri-Cities is about five hundred miles from Butte, with two mountain passes between them. I've made the round trip seven times over the past three weeks, driving an old half-ton pickup (with a broken radio) towing a variety of trailers back and forth. The new house looks like it was ambushed by an angry tornado, but all the junk is here . . . somewhere. Naturally, we can't find anything in the maze of identical moving boxes. Patty swears that this is the last time we move, and I think she means it!
Of course one of the horses had to injure herself the day before we were going to move her -- I'd parked a horse trailer near the flatbed and she tried to run between them for no apparent reason. She impaled her side on the angle-iron railing of the flatbed, then panicked and bulled her way on through, opening a deep gash all along one side. Thanks to the efforts of a very valiant Dr. Cornelius, she has a long, long line of neat stitches, and I have a neatly-printed bill. Remind me again how much we love horses, because I keep forgetting.
Basic systems are hooked up, and we now have internet access again. The inbox had a few hundred new messages waiting. So, hello again, we're back on the grid. The web-store will remain closed for another couple of weeks, we've run out of several sizes of shirts, and we're getting a large order shipped over from our printer in Butte soon. We also need to get a P.O. box and find the rest of the inventory we moved over, I know it's here somewhere <grin>.
Cry Wolf is selling surprisingly well. It's been four weeks in the top-ten on the New York Times bestseller's list, which is very exciting. We've gotten a number of positive emails from enthusiastic readers offering support and encouragement. The book isn't perfect, of course, and we've also gotten a number of emails from people pointing out flaws, or suggesting ways the book could have been improved. On the whole it seems that the readers are happy, which makes us happy, and we'll certainly try to avoid making the same mistakes twice (Never, Never, Never write a Novella!).
Cry Wolf is also available as an audio book through Borders and emusic.com. Actually, I need to sit down and listen to it one of these days.
Wolvesbane and Mistletoe will be released on October 7, and features stories by a number of very talented authors. Oh, and Patty has a story in it as well!
Silver Bullet News
I went out with Kyle Roberson the other day, and shot a few of the silver bullets we've been making. The good news is that nothing blew up, their velocity was right where we'd hoped it would be, and they were reasonably accurate. The bad news is that I can't find the cable I need to transfer images from our digital camera, so I can't update the silver bullet page quite yet. Oh yeah, and the battery charger for the camera is also missing, probably hiding in the same box as the data cable. I'll be doing more extensive testing and a little load refinement soon.
Sept 23, 2008 [Mike]
Bone Crossed is finally written, and turned in to the publisher. That may not sound like much of an accomplishment, after all, authors complete books every day. However, regular readers will know that this book has been overdue for a very long time. One problem with being an author is that there's no good way to separate your professional and private lives. If things aren't going well in one front, it impacts everything else. The edits on Cry Wolf took much longer than expected, so she got a late start with Bone Crossed. Later, back pain made it virtually impossible to work until surgery was performed. The surgery was more involved than expected, and her recovery was much slower than we had hoped for, which of course made it harder to write. Finally, we moved to the Tri-Cities area, bringing the whole farm with us in a migration worthy of a documentary. We finally got Patty's office set up, got over the inevitable colds and flu's of moving, and the book is finished.
The good news, however, really goes far beyond finishing the book. Patty's been in pain for the past couple years. Pain makes it hard to concentrate, which makes it very hard to write well. We've had some real fears about her ability to continue telling good, creative stories. Cry Wolf was a hard-won victory, and the final product still lacks some of the humor and wit that Patty usually brings to her books. I'm delighted to be able to say that, thanks to an excellent surgeon, the pain is gone, and her recovery is proceeding very nicely. Bone Crossed is a much cleaner manuscript, and she didn't have to fight for every blessed sentence. In short, the magic is back, and Patty's feeling better than she has in years. I can't wait to see what she comes up with next!
Oh, and speaking of next, she'll be writing "Hunting Ground", the next Alpha and Omega book. Tomorrow, she says, she's going to fire up her trusty word processor and face the dreaded blank screen of a new novel. That blank screen is a challenge and an opportunity, because anything can go there. The first pages shape the novel, and right now it can go absolutely anywhere at all. With Patty feeling good, and life handing out surprisingly few lemons for a while, it should be fun to see where the story goes.
Comic Book News
The Dabel Brothers have been working diligently on the Mercy Thompson comic books. The artist is, frankly, amazing. These are in a whole different league from the comic books I read as a child. The artwork for the entire first volume is now done (well, there's a few finishing touches, but they're minor). I can't share any photos yet, but I'll see if they won't let me share a little something soon. These are going to be gorgeous, and working with the Dables has been a whole lot of fun. I'll get more details up as soon as I can.
Last week we had an interesting experience. We ended up making another trip back to Butte for a couple of days (I'm getting really tired of that drive!). This time, we were going to film a segment for the History channel. They're doing a special on werewolves, mostly centering on The Beast of Gevaudan. They were looking for someone who could talk about making silver bullets . . . and bumped into our little project on line. They were excited to find a bestselling author writing about werewolves, and wanted to see how the bullets were cast. We spent about thirteen hours casting silver bullets, shooting silver bullets and generally having a grand time.
Casting the bullets was relatively uneventful -- other than trying to coordinate all of the action around a film crew, while still keeping things safe. I thought pouring eight or ten ounces of molten, glowing silver on one of the film crew would make a very exciting movie -- but they assured me that wasn't the kind of film they were making.
The shooting portion was . . . interesting. First, we proved that my marksmanship was not the stuff of legend. Apparently, the safest place for a werewolf to be is in my sights. After sneaking a bit closer to the targets, I finally managed to make a few semi-respectable shots into paper targets. I was a little depressed, but everyone else seemed delighted to see silver bullets blasting little holes in the targets. The film crew said that, with a little Hollywood magic, they could make my shooting look like Quigley down under, and offered to take footage of me shooting from a hilltop a half-mile off . . . reluctantly, I declined.
Patty and I had cast up some blocks of ballistics gel for the shoot. Our blocks were about eight inches wide, six inches high, and about fourteen inches long, weighing well over ten pounds. We've never shot gelatin before, but I thought these looked pretty good. I didn't, however, bring a table to set the gelatin on. No worries, necessity being the mother of invention, I set the gelatin on one of the Butte gun club's beautiful shooting tables, figuring I just shoot from a little further back. I actually lined up two of the gel blocks, just in case the bullet should manage to penetrate the entire gel. I put a concrete block behind the gels so they wouldn't slide when I shot them. Then I backed up about fifteen feet, loaded a factory round, took careful aim, and pulled the trigger.
The gelatin block leaped up about five feet in the air, several feet to one side, and landed in the dirt. Gobbets of gelatin flew everywhere, splattering the brave film crew hovering nearby. The bullet had passed completely through the gelatin, tearing a nasty-looking wound channel down the full length. It missed the second block of gelatin (apparently they didn't stay neatly aligned in mid-air), but shattered the concrete block. The bullet was actually found lying on the table, nicely mushroomed. When I've seen the Myth Buster's shoot gelatin targets, they usually just jiggle a little bit. Apparently I need much bigger gels for the elephant-gun I'm using.
We re-assembled the gelatin set-up as best we could, and I backed up a bit more to insure that the muzzle blast didn't reach the target. Then I loaded a silver bullet and shot it again. Once more, everything went several feet in the air, but fewer stray bits went flying. The bullet went clear through the gelatin. And out the other side. And partway through the next gel . . . where it suddenly veered downward. Then it hit that really pretty shooting table, and carved a ten-inch path of destruction through the tabletop, throwing splinters, sawdust and debris all around. We picked the gelatin up from the dirt again, and found a very different wound-channel. This one was laser-straight and showed greatly reduced trauma -- it was so clean you could see where the bullet was spinning as it passed through the gel. I've inadvertently invented armor-piercing silver bullets. They may go right through werewolves, but they kill expensive tables dead!
Oct 4, 2008 [Mike]
Mercy Thompson is about the hit the shelves in Homecoming, a brand new series of graphic novels by Dabel Brothers Publishing. The Dabel Brother's have been awesome to work with. We've heard horror stories about production companies that want to buy the rights to an author's work, then mangle the story into something unrecognizable. Patty was unsure, when we first considered this project, whether she could turn over artistic control of her characters to someone else.
In retrospect, she needn't have worried. The Dabel's have been unfailingly considerate, and both they and their artists and producers have been willing to go back to the drawing board if something didn't feel right to Patty. As an example, the artist for the books, Francis Tsai just recently completed a detailed full-page painting for the second edition. It was stunning, and beautifully executed, but there was a little problem with it. Now, making a change to the story board or a preliminary sketch is one thing, but this was a finished, fully rendered painting, and we kind of expected to be told it was too late to fix anything. Instead, they rushed to make the requested changes, and within hours had a modified version of the painting that completely addressed Patty's concerns. The result of this level of effort is a graphic novel that captures the richness and excitement of Mercy's world with stunning graphics and detailed renderings. We couldn't be happier.
You can download a preview of the first graphic novel in .pdf format. While it's missing the text, it certainly shows the quality of the artwork and layout. The Dables have produced a press release giving more details about the series. To order the series, contact your local comic book store, or use this handy order form.
Silver Screen. . . ?
For over a year Patty's agent, Linn Prents, has been working with a film agent, Bill Contardi, who in turn has been negotiating with 50 Cannon Entertainment. A few days ago a final deal was worked out to everyone's satisfaction. A press release can be found at Publisher's Weekly. Now, Hollywood options far more works than they ever make into movies, so there's no guarantee that an actual movie will ever be made, but it's still pretty exciting news. If we ever do hear that they're going ahead with production we promise to pass the news on (just as soon as we quit squeeing and dancing around like crazy people!).
I wrote previously about the difficulties Patty had with writing Cry Wolf, particularly the problems with starting a series of novels based on a novella. The basic problem is that there's too much information in the novella to ignore, and too much to "feather in" to the story gracefully. A number of people have asked if there was some way they could purchase the original novella all by itself . . .
And the answer is, "Yes!" Ace has decided to release Alpha and Omega all by itself in electronic format for $2.99. It will be available through Sony, Amazon, Mobi, Pengin.com and a number of other e-retailers in a variety of formats. See, sometimes you do get what you ask for <grin>!
Oct 12, 2008 [Mike]
Patty's been working pretty much around the clock doing the edits for Bone Crossed. Her editor (and all of her writer's group) set what has to be a new world record for reading the draft copy, making comments and edits, and returning the work to Patty. Who now has the "simple" task of combining six manuscripts full of comments, criticisms, and suggestions into a final piece of work as quickly as possible.
She's doing great, and it's nearly done. I thought you might enjoy seeing a quck peek at how an author really works. No stuffy formal chair, no ornate desk (she uses an old WWII-vintage steel secretary's desk at work). She's in the corner of the living room, in her favorite recliner, where she's been for most of the last week. Scruffy jeans, comfy tee-shirt, headphones and a laptop, that's a writer's life! Oh, and the ever-present can of Mountain-Dew in easy reach. She keeps swearing off the stuff . . . but when she's behind on a project you seldom see her without one.
Anyway, it's a grand life, but for those of you who contemplate being authors, your future probably looks more like this than the big desk and posh office Hollywood so often portrays! My advice: buy comfortable chairs!
Oct 18, 2008 [Mike]
The edits on Bone Crossed are in! We spent the last couple of days doing some shopping, visiting friends, and catching up on all the errands we've fallen behind on. We decided to buy a car for our teenage girls, mostly so that we could occasionally take a trip somewhere. I was voting for an old beater that wouldn't bother me to see dented and broken. Patty was worried about safety, and the girls were concerned with cute. Car shopping with everyone along was not as relaxing as you might imagine. . . Unless you imagine it was as relaxing as trying to negotiate a middle-east peace treaty among armed delegates. Oh, and by the way, I got outvoted and the girls have a much nicer car than mean old Dad would have given them!
MileHiCon is just around the corner, and we're starting to get things packed and prepared for that. We're really looking forward to it. However, as nice as it's been to take a couple of days off, Patty's next book Hunting Ground was hypothetically due a couple of weeks ago . . . Yes, that's the one that has about 15 pages written at the moment!
I've been meaning to open the web-store, but I'm told we need to do some magic to begin collecting sales tax. I've installed a shopping-cart application that came highly recommended, but I'm still trying to figure out how to get this crazy program to do something as simple as our little store. Hopefully I'll get it figured out soon, because we just got several hundred dollars of shirts from the printer, so we're all stocked up with nowhere to sell.
Finally, I pulled down the FAQ that wasn't really being maintained. Most of the questions and discussion are actually happening on the Forum. I also added a new section called "On Writing" in the books tab, which has some earlier posts, bits from the FAQ and even an article by one of our very talented forum members. Hopefully future authors will find it useful. It's pretty thin on material right now, but I'll gradually start adding more.
Have fun everyone, and have a Happy Halloween!
Nov 18, 2008 [Mike]
The first issue of the Mercy Thompson graphic novel series Homecoming is now out, and should be available at your favorite comic store. The Dabel brothers have done a really bang-up job of working with Patty to produce a stunning graphic novel. It's a whole different medium, and it's been very exciting to see some sketchy ideas come back as, well, actual sketches. Then semi-finished renderings, and finally fully-finished artwork. The artist, Francis Tsai, is disgustingly good, and has been very patient with Patty and her thematic consultants asking for little changes. David Lawrence has done an amazing job of helping Patty, who's a comic book neophyte, actually get her story onto the colored pages. Without his hard work this project would have never been completed. So, we've seen the digital pages, but we're anxiously waiting to actually read the comic book. Sadly, our favorite comic store is only open Wednesday through Saturday, so we'll have to wait just a little longer.
If you want need help finding a place that sells Homecoming, just use this amazing comic book store locator.
Patty is making headway on Hunting Ground, the next in the Alpha and Omega series. She's written the first chapter three times now (that's not unusual for her), and finally has things going in a direction she's happy with. Watching her start a novel reminds me of playing with my "bump and go" robot as a kid. It was one of those cool little toys that goes forward until it hits a wall, then backs up a bit, turns a random amount, and sets off in a new direction. Sometimes a story is the result of careful planning, meticulous preparatiion, and deliberate execution. Other times, an author is better off just writing until it doesn't feel right, backing up, changing direction a little, and going forward once again. When it's all said and done, as long as the author uses her delete button aggressively, only the path that actually worked makes it into print.
I find it endlessly humorous when people talk to Patty about plotting, and say things like, "I love the way your books flow, it's obvious you've planned every little move in advance." This is especially funny when followed by a question on why it takes her so long to write a book. You see, she doesn't write a four-hundred page manuscript, she writes a twelve-hundred page manuscript and throws away the eight-hundred pages that didn't work right. Bump. Stop. Turn. Write some more! She's getting better, and now does more plotting in her head, which has probably saved a considerable number of trees. The bump and go action is not as obvious without the written evidence, but it's still going on inside her head. "Oops, the story isn't going where it's supposed to. This will never work." Bump. Stop. Turn. "Maybe if she had a bigger gun. Let me go back ten pages and give her a bazooka. Yeah, that'll work!", and off we go again, wheeee!
Dec 19, 2008 [Mike]
Merry Christmas Everyone!
Once again, I'm late getting things posted. The Christmas season is one of my favorites, despite my Scrooge-ish tendencies. And once the season is upon us, it seems to rush by by a sled ride, all frosty sparkles and breathless anticipation. The card above was created by Elle, one of our more creative forum members. Isn't it darling?
Patty is working away at the next book, it's still too early to say much, other than that she is working on it. Her Christmas present this year was a beautiful black Arab mare. A little bit bigger present than we should probably have gotten, but we're starting to have mostly older horses who've earned their retirement, and Patty loves to ride. Unfortunately, it's pretty hard to keep this particular present a secret, especially since I wouldn't dare buy a horse without Patty's input. So, Christmas came early for Patty.
Speaking of Christmas, let's remember the spirit of the season. The holidays can be stressful and even depressing times, and many people need a hot meal, a hug, or even just a smile. Today we went outside and saw a towering column of black smoke behind our house, we got in the car and drove over to find some neighbors a couple blocks away, their home in flames. Thank goodness the owners were safe, but their home and everything in it was lost. They were standing on the cold street in light clothes, shoes thrown hastily over bare feet, while their home and cars burned. We tried to do what we could for them, of course. It really brought home to me how quickly our lives can change, and how much we depend upon one another. It's Christmas, and it's cold out there. In the immortal words of Ted Theodore Logan, "Be Excellent to each other!".