You Could Be Having More Fun

nola

Bored with the blog world? Then, stop reading this blog post and instead check out the first chapters of my latest novel, Nica of Los Angeles, It is the first in the FRAMES series, a speculative fantasy with detective elements, plenty of humor, and a strong female lead. I’m excited about this series and the reactions Nica is getting so far! One thing I can guarantee – you haven’t read anything quite like this before.

Not ready to commit to free chapters? Then start with the descriptions below.

Thumbnail:

When rookie private eye Nica takes on a mysterious case, she enters a world of multiple dimensions called Frames, where buildings and lawn chairs can be sentient, where a stray cat has great powers, where books can be killers, and clouds can be spies. At home, Nica tackles missing persons cases, while in the larger reality of the Frames she is swept into an escalating battle between good and evil.

Synopsis:

Nica Sheridan Taggart Ambrose Taggart Ickovic (S.T.A.T.Ic.) craves action and change, which leaves her life as stable as old dynamite; and though she’s had more than her share of tragedy, she maintains an unquenchable spirit. Her restless nature has led her into several marriages and countless jobs. Now she appoints herself as a private detective, and her shingle is barely dry when she gets not one but three pairs of clients demanding her attention.

First comes a noxious couple that Nica secretly dubs Mathead and Scabman, who claim to seek a certain duffel bag; repelled, Nica declines their money but they won’t go away. Then, the Garcias hire her to find a missing, 15-year-old goddaughter; Nica doesn’t trust them, but decides she can help the girl in spite of them. Both cases pale beside the third demand for her services.

I became aware that the air had changed. My office smelled like a forest just after a flash flood, when everything is power-washed and tree trunks are smeared with riverbed mud. Fresh and wild.

It took much strength to gently lower that window, but the stranger’s arms – all sinew and muscle – showed no strain. I took a step back to get a fuller look and to get farther away. He was a wolf. I don’t mean a predatory flirt, I mean he was long and lean and fast and dangerous: coarse black hair, ice-gray eyes and smile full of teeth, supreme confidence backed with survival instinct.

“Please sit down,” I suggested or pleaded as I retreated behind my desk. As he complied, muscles flexed inside his garments, a loose cotton tunic and drawstring pants that were as gray as February.

She sat down, too. My other visitor was a princess: not as in daddy’s spoiled girl, as in future queen of the fairies. She was as ethereal as he was earthy, exotic but I couldn’t place the ethnic background. Cornsilk hair, slanted eyes like unpolished silver, her skin like the penny you’ve always kept in your pocket for luck. Her tunic was white as a desert sunrise.

“We are in need of your detective arts,” she said.

“That tends to be why people come to this office.” The joke was stillborn. “I’m usually good with accents but I can’t place yours. Where are you from?”

“I first arrived in the place you call Kansas.”

“Huh.” I’ve been to Kansas and there is nobody like her there. I decided I would not call her a liar and looked to him expectantly.

“Knowledge of my ancestry provides no value. We have need of your assistance,” he said, in a voice that never needed help from anybody.

“The fate of the free worlds is at stake,” she added, in a voice like the first spring breeze on snow.

“Oh-kay.” Note to self, cancel ad in Nutjob Quarterly.

Despite this bizarre introduction, Nica instinctively trusts these two, Anwyl and Anya, who draw her into adventures beyond imagining – and she’s got a crazy imagination. They travel into other dimensions called Frames, often with the Watts Towers – which are folk art sculptures in Nica’s Frame, but sentient, animate beings elsewhere. Nica learns to avoid books, which form deadly mercenary armies; to keep silent around clouds, which can be spies; and to view her stray cat warily, since cats are beings of great power and you never know what side they’re on. There is danger everywhere in the Frames, but also a mind-boggling expansion of reality. For once, Nica feels challenged, engrossed, and strangely at home.

In this first book of the FRAMES series, a band of allies that includes structures, landforms, and creatures sets out to stop Warty Sebaceous Cysts, a repulsive trio who casually commit genocide as part of their plan to free their imprisoned leader, Maelstrom. Freedom for Maelstrom would bring cruelty and horror to all the Frames, so Nica joins the allies’ cause without hesitation, though her efforts get her in trouble with the law at home, and in danger of mind control, pain, and death in other Frames. As she sees it, she was born to travel the Frames.

Cover art by Lars Huston.

Cadaverous Cliff Face(s)

I can’t decide what I think about these images in a cliff face. Look at these photos and help me decide…

Walking along your favorite beach, you pause and think, "Gee, almost looks like there are faces in that cliff. Never noticed them before."

Walking along your favorite beach, you pause and think, “Gee, almost looks like there are faces in that cliff. Never noticed them before.”

You step closer and confirm. Yup. Faces.

You step closer and confirm. Yup. Faces.

Or skulls. Eek.

Or maybe skulls. Eek.

What does this tell you about how the faces formed? Is this rock emerging after erosion? Or did Mom call Junior to come along, before he finished digging this one out?

What about this hole with a rock in it? Does this tell you how the faces formed? Is this rock emerging after erosion? Or did Mom call Junior to come along, before he finished digging out one last face?

1) Are these accidents of erosion that coincidentally look like faces? Or did some beachgoer dig out rocks in an act of 3D graffiti?… or ….

2) Or — do these suggest creatures escaping from the rock? Or have I been spending too much time in the universe of my new book series, FRAMES?

3) Are these faces cool, or creepy, or c), both of the above?

 

The WP Weekly Photo Challenge topic? Containers

Four Answers, Then Tag, They’re It!

Folks, you are about to witness my first participation in a blog tour, a newfangled invention by which indie writers help spread the word that they exist. Lisa Voisin invited me to join. Lisa has followed an interesting life path and it’s no wonder, perhaps, that she now writes young adult paranormal romance.

The way this blog tour works is that I answer four questions, then tell you about a few writers whose books I have really enjoyed. They will continue this tour by answering the same questions on their own blogs in two weeks.

Q1) What am I working on?

I’ve just started writing the second novel in the FRAMES series, the follow-on to Nica of Los Angeles, a speculative fantasy with detective and dystopian elements. Book 2, Chapter 1: my most recently completed sentence reads “As I returned to the street, the air pulsed in a series of quick blasts, punctuated with the deep screams of grown men.” Maybe we should have a contest and the winner will correctly guess what that sentence will read like by the time this new novel matures into a final draft.

Q2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Frankly, I think the author would be the last one to answer this question well.

Q3) Why do I write what I do?

I write what I feel compelled to write. The trick is to sustain that drive through the long haul of finishing a novel. More than once, over the years, I have fought the temptation to freshen my characters mid-book, by sending in a bus to run over the first bunch. Fortunately, I am having a great time writing Nica, and her second book looks to be more fun than the first.

Q4) How does my writing process work?

My subconscious has all the best ideas, but its contributions are scattershot and unpredictable. It’s my conscious writer that keeps plugging away, day after day, to draw the inspirations up to the surface and the page. Screen. Keyboard. Touchscreen.

I write first drafts on my iPad, and love sitting on a summer patio in the dark, illuminated only by my device. However, for editing and formatting, I have to return to my laptop, with its full-service software.

And now I’d like to introduce…

One benefit of being an indie writer is getting to e-meet other indie writers, all over the globe.

Hock Tjoa has this to say about himself:  “Hock is a retired teacher and banker and writes as part of his mission to make more widely known traditional Chinese values, but he makes digressions. He lives in northern California.” I read a play that Hock wrote, based on a Chinese folklore detective, and much enjoyed the dry wit and cleverness of the piece.

Louise White has had nearly as many career paths as I’ve had (!) and has covered both ends of the service spectrum, as a waitress and then a cop. She lives in Scotland and writes a young adult series about a kickass teenage girl who fights demons in a world that is … almost… just like ours. I love how normal and teenage her heroine is, in the midst of all the fantasy.

Tennesseean (?) Fran Veal also writes YA. She mingles teen drama with crime and just a touch of the paranormal. I am one chapter away from completing my first novel by her and it was painful to set it aside so that I could meet various deadlines like posting my blog tour entry on time. But hey, I’m a grown-up, right?

I sense some sniggering, somewhere. Grown-up? Reading a bunch of Young Adult books? And how! It’s one of my favorite genres! Let me know if you want some more YA recommends!

 

 

A Freebie for Book Reviewers!

nolaRead for Review:

My latest novel, Nica of Los Angeles, publishes on September 4 and is available for pre-order now! This is the first in the FRAMES series, a speculative fantasy with detective and dystopian elements. I’m excited about this series and the reactions Nica is getting so far! One thing is certain – you haven’t read anything quite like this before.

If you’ve been around the indie publication block a few times, you know how important reviews are to indie books like Nica. So, if you will write a review I will give you a free e-copy of Nica (except – in reverse order; but you knew that). To get your copy, leave a comment here… or message me on Goodreads, before the end of July.

Not ready to commit? Read the thumbnail and synopsis below. Or read the first several chapters, which are serialized right here on this blog.

Thumbnail:

When rookie private eye Nica takes on a mysterious case, she enters a world of multiple dimensions called Frames, where buildings and lawn chairs can be sentient, where a stray cat has great powers, where books can be killers, and clouds can be spies. At home, Nica tackles missing persons cases, while in the larger reality of the Frames she is swept into an escalating battle between good and evil.

Synopsis:

Nica Sheridan Taggart Ambrose Taggart Ickovic (S.T.A.T.Ic.) craves action and change, which leaves her life as stable as old dynamite; and though she’s had more than her share of tragedy, she maintains an unquenchable spirit. Her restless nature has led her into several marriages and countless jobs. Now she appoints herself as a private detective, and her shingle is barely dry when she gets not one but three pairs of clients demanding her attention.

First comes a noxious couple that Nica secretly dubs Mathead and Scabman, who claim to seek a certain duffel bag; repelled, Nica declines their money but they won’t go away. Then, the Garcias hire her to find a missing, 15-year-old goddaughter; Nica doesn’t trust them, but decides she can help the girl in spite of them. Both cases pale beside the third demand for her services.

I became aware that the air had changed. My office smelled like a forest just after a flash flood, when everything is power-washed and tree trunks are smeared with riverbed mud. Fresh and wild.

It took much strength to gently lower that window, but the stranger’s arms – all sinew and muscle – showed no strain. I took a step back to get a fuller look and to get farther away. He was a wolf. I don’t mean a predatory flirt, I mean he was long and lean and fast and dangerous: coarse black hair, ice-gray eyes and smile full of teeth, supreme confidence backed with survival instinct.

“Please sit down,” I suggested or pleaded as I retreated behind my desk. As he complied, muscles flexed inside his garments, a loose cotton tunic and drawstring pants that were as gray as February.

She sat down, too. My other visitor was a princess: not as in daddy’s spoiled girl, as in future queen of the fairies. She was as ethereal as he was earthy, exotic but I couldn’t place the ethnic background. Cornsilk hair, slanted eyes like unpolished silver, her skin like the penny you’ve always kept in your pocket for luck. Her tunic was white as a desert sunrise.

“We are in need of your detective arts,” she said.

“That tends to be why people come to this office.” The joke was stillborn. “I’m usually good with accents but I can’t place yours. Where are you from?”

“I first arrived in the place you call Kansas.”

“Huh.” I’ve been to Kansas and there is nobody like her there. I decided I would not call her a liar and looked to him expectantly.

“Knowledge of my ancestry provides no value. We have need of your assistance,” he said, in a voice that never needed help from anybody.

“The fate of the free worlds is at stake,” she added, in a voice like the first spring breeze on snow.

“Oh-kay.” Note to self, cancel ad in Nutjob Quarterly.

Despite this bizarre introduction, Nica instinctively trusts these two, Anwyl and Anya, who draw her into adventures beyond imagining – and she’s got a crazy imagination. They travel into other dimensions called Frames, often with the Watts Towers – which are folk art sculptures in Nica’s Frame, but sentient, animate beings elsewhere. Nica learns to avoid books, which form deadly mercenary armies; to keep silent around clouds, which can be spies; and to view her stray cat warily, since cats are beings of great power and you never know what side they’re on. There is danger everywhere in the Frames, but also a mind-boggling expansion of reality. For once, Nica feels challenged, engrossed, and strangely at home.

In this first book of the FRAMES series, a band of allies that includes structures, landforms, and creatures sets out to stop Warty Sebaceous Cysts, a repulsive trio who casually commit genocide as part of their plan to free their imprisoned leader, Maelstrom. Freedom for Maelstrom would bring cruelty and horror to all the Frames, so Nica joins the allies’ cause without hesitation, though her efforts get her in trouble with the law at home, and in danger of mind control, pain, and death in other Frames. As she sees it, she was born to travel the Frames.

Cover art by Lars Huston.

Stairways to Somewhere Else

Something disturbs me about an extra long flight of stairs, especially going down. Why would that be? Maybe because I’m a klutz and fear falling. Certainly the former is true! On a recent trip to New York, I snapped a couple of extra-creepy flights.

Manhattan subway escalator.

Looking down a Manhattan subway escalator.

Perhaps long staircases disturb me because I fear my subconscious. The mystical psychologist Carl Jung talked about stairs that descend to the subconscious, as I was fascinated to recently learn. Well, okay, re-learn, because I was surprised to read it in (my own damn) novel, Was It A Rat I Sawwhich I wrote a couple decades ago. But I digress. Anyway, I don’t fear my subconscious, I’m fascinated by all the things it seems to know that I don’t – and there’s no question that I get my best ideas from it!

Entrance to Le Poisson Rouge, a club in Greenwich Village.

Entrance to Le Poisson Rouge, a club in Greenwich Village.

I’m joking around. I know why some staircases bother me. It’s the sense that their steps are capable of taking me somewhere else, an unintended journey to an unexpected destination. Some building entrances feel that way to me, too. I’m finally exposing their truth in my fantasy series, FRAMES, where nothing in the universe is as it seems. The red staircase above will be a location – or maybe a character – in the second book in the FRAMES series, which I have just started writing.

New York doesn’t have a lock on eerie stairs. Here’s one that hails from Echo Park in Los Angeles:

EerieAptsphoto.smaller

P.S. I’ve finally finished the first FRAMES novel, Nica of Los Angeles. Watch for posts about that soon.

(This post responds to the WP Weekly Photo Challenge, Extra Extra.)

A Shot to the Foot — Or the Head? (Cautionary Lists for the Self-Published)

Cover art by Lars Huston.

Cover art by Lars Huston.

This is a sad story about self-inflicted damage to my recently published e-book, WAS IT A RAT I SAW, a psychological thriller involving split brain research, animal rights, and a love quadrangle.

I’ve always been a decent copy-editor, but things went terribly wrong with RAT. I thought it would be my easiest e-publishing experience. After all, I have the hardcover version, published by Bantam-Doubleday-Dell after mind-bogglingly extensive editing by their professional crew. All I had to do was retype it; and typing is easy for me.

Yeah. Well. My first e-version had hundreds of typos that I failed to notice. Not an exaggeration and not a … typo. Hundreds. I thought I had reviewed it carefully: professional-quality self-delusion! Below I itemize what I think went wrong, in case it helps another self-published writer avoid a similar nightmare.

It turns out that there are readers who ignore typos, and readers who are personally offended by them. My first several reviews were from the former group – so warm and enthusiastic! Five stars and raves from strangers – awesome! I started to get a steady trickle of sales. Then the latter group of readers posted reviews. All those typos opened the door for some nasty attacks. My trickle of sales stopped on the day the bad reviews appeared.

(Don’t get me wrong – I hate typos and don’t blame readers for hating them also. Probably because I support indie writers, I would never write an attack review because of typos, though … especially when I got the book for free. But if I didn’t absolutely love a typo-riddled book, I would avoid other works by that author.)

RAT’s problems may yet worsen. More than 2000 patrons of Amazon and Smashwords downloaded the typo-riddled version (mostly during free promotions). My initial elation about all those potential readers has mutated to fear of typo-phobic reviews, and misery that I created a situation where I may have attracted then repelled so many readers.

I’ve now spent the last couple weeks doing nothing but proof-reading and contacting reader-reviewers who were about to read the typo-riddled version and exchanging emails with Amazon and Smashwords to find out whether they can notify their patrons that a new, cleaner version is now available. (With Amazon, the answer is maybedepending on whether Amazon thinks the changes matter; with Smashwords the answer is no.)

I see sentences from RAT when I close my eyes. I induce insomnia imagining that the newly uploaded version is still full of typos that I somehow still missed. I yearn to return to editing FRAMES, my fantasy detective series. The FRAMES manuscript is dusty now, and covered with paw prints because this fellow has taken to sleeping on it:

A nice soft stack of papers makes an excellent nap site.

A nice soft stack of papers makes an excellent nap site when you don’t care about typos.

I can only hope that I will be able to restore trust and momentum with the newly uploaded, corrected version of RAT. Tune in later to find out whether I have shot RAT in the foot, or the head.

Many things seem to have gone wrong during the creation of  that first e-version of RAT:

  • Software conversion glitches? I used the Apple word-processing software Pages initially, then converted to Word. At some point, one of these stripped away certain “end paragraph” markers and adjoining dialog quotation marks.
  • Rogue auto-correct? Auto-correct is a headache-inducer so I always keep that “feature” turned off, yet some of the substituted words in RAT were so bizarre! Makes me wonder if an auto-correct got engaged, clandestinely, for a time.
  • New glasses prescription needed? Many of the typos were invisible to me until I magnified the text above 300%: for example, single quotes where double quotes should be; sign instead of sigh, i where l should be.
  • Past my bedtime? In some chapters there are clusters of typos in sections that I recognize as places where I pushed myself to do just one more page before I stopped for the night.

Here is what I will do differently from now on:

  • Stick with Word. It pains me to type that. I so hate Word. However, a Word doc is a required step to prep a file for Smashwords and Amazon, so that format cannot be avoided. And with every format change, problems can multiply. If I only use Word, I limit the number of format changes.
  • Remember, humans are the real spellcheckers. The spell- and grammar-checking functions of word processors only catch easy, obvious problems. Most of my typos were subtle punctuation errors, or mistakes that produced words that were real, but wrong.
  • Save the most careful read-through for the end. I did my most careful read-through early on. I’m still uncertain how many problems I missed and how many I introduced later.
  • Blow it up. To do a serious typo hunt, I need to magnify the text to 400% zoom, then resize my window so I can only see a couple lines at a time. This minimizes the chances that my eyes will bounce, jump, or slide past overly-familiar text.
  • Learn patience. Damn, I thought I would sneak through this life without it. When I finish a book I am so eager for people to read it! But if I can get myself to set the book aside for several months, I will regain perspective and a fresh set of eyes.
  • Print it on expensive paper? At the office this works like gangbusters: nothing like printing a “final” document to spot mistakes in it. This technique may only work when racing to meet a deadline, however.
  • Read it aloud? Other writers suggest this and it sounds like a great idea — maybe to evaluate the flow of sentences rather than copy edit? Anyway, the technique didn’t help me. When I read the words aloud I missed punctuation and syntax errors.
  • Read it backwards? This is another great-sounding idea that I couldn’t get to work for me. I found fewer mistakes when I severed the words from their context by reading backwards. Maybe I failed to select the right length of prose to read backwards.
  • Hire somebody? In principle this sounds good. Of course, one must check the checker (Horror stories abound regarding hired-gun mis-fires.) Anyhow, for the foreseeable future, I do not have the $800+ that a copy editor charges for a full-length novel.
  • Offer readers a free ebook if they report typos back to me? I have made this offer to a group of LibraryThing reviewers. Maybe they will like the offer, maybe it will piss them off and guarantee more bad reviews. Sign. (<- joke typo)

Indie authors and indie readers, I would love to get your input about any or all of this!