Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Blog Tour, My Writing Process

Theo dictates when I take a break!
Thanks to my friend and fellow author Lynne Kennedy for inviting me to participate in this new blog tour. It’s kind of like a virtual studio open house tour. I’ve not yet met Lynne in person, but we talk online and discuss historical fiction, the process and dogs. She has also given me a lot of information about the process involved in self-publishing using Amazon. 

But before I get sidetracked here is my contribution to the tour. 

I’m currently working on a work-for-hire screenplay project for a client with a great idea. That’s about all I’m allowed to say about that. Hopefully he’ll be able to sell it so I can talk about it. I’m also working on a historical fiction novel for teens set in WWII Strasbourg, France (well it’s France now, it wasn’t then). And I’m editing my novel “Out in the Dark” with the idea of self-publishing it. That decision kind of depends on where this feud between Hachette Book Group and Amazon goes. 

Those of you who have read my novella “Tales from the Fountain Pen” will have some idea of what I mean when I say that one of the main differences in my stories is the emotional component. A sense of feeling what the characters are feeling and making an at times difficult era very real, making you feel like you are there. Often my characters are quite ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances and having to make difficult choices, not only for themselves, but choices that will affect others. 

I’m not so sure I have an actual process at this point. It’s really about showing up and sitting down at the computer every day. Most of my stories or books start with either an idea, or simply the first line. There are times when I’m playing with a thought or feeling and trying to figure out how to put it into words. From there the story either flows or it doesn’t, if it doesn’t it goes away for a while till some other time. Sometimes I start handwriting a story because the very act of writing by hand stimulate a different part of the brain than typing does. 
But if you want me to get technical on what my writing day looks like:
After the morning chores such as driving off-spring to school & walking the dog & feeding the cats then letting them out, letting them in and maybe letting them out again, I’ll make a large cup of tea and fire up my laptop. 
First there is the pure and unadulterated pleasure of reading an email from a very dear friend overseas, then a quick check of the news headlines - why is it always bad news? - and after these morning rituals I get to work until lunch time. After lunch I’ll work some more, often there’s a translation that’s due in that time too so I’ll take a break and work on that. The change in work can help refresh the writing, and the rewriting, and the editing and polishing. 

UP NEXT:  And now I hand you off to another one of my writing friends, Richard Hardie of the Temporal Detective Agency series fame, all the way in England. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The High Ground

I’ve been following the spat between Amazon and Hatchette Book Group with interest and  growing concern. Actually at this point it’s not a spat anymore, but a full blown battle. What started as a disagreement, has now become a nasty business of one company undermining another company. 

At first Amazon took the big 5 publishers and Apple’s iBooks to court over E-book price fixing. Stating that the prices these big publishers set for E-books were too high and detrimental to sales and authors.  The judge sided with Amazon. Which made sense as the overhead on E-book production is very low, and therefore it follows that the profit margin is higher already. The author as well as the publisher should be seeing a larger royalty too. But that wasn’t quite how it went. I secretly suspect that publishers hoped this whole E-book thing would fizzle, which is probably one reason a number were late adopters. 

But things have turned ugly. Information is coming out of Amazon’s bullying tactics toward publishers on setting prices not only for E-books but also for paper books. Now Amazon are delaying shipments to customers of books published by Hachette or simply refusing to stock them. 

I won’t go into the details as they’re easy to find online, but what concerns me is: what will the ultimate fall out be? How will this have an impact on people who choose to self-publish through Amazon? Will it lower their chances of being picked up by a traditional publisher even further? Will they get blacklisted for - supposedly - siding with either Amazon or Hachette? 

What will happen to those of us who have good books written, but can’t get through the door with publishers, for whatever reason, or just don’t want to wait the years it can take to crack open that door, and who opt to self publish? 

Because of this growing battle are we authors suddenly at risk of having career opportunities cut short? Do we as authors continue to send out submission after submission, that may or may not, reach the person we hope to reach? And then wait sometimes 6 months to a year for a form letter informing us that we don’t fit the current needs of the publisher? 

I’m not trying to put down any side in this deliberation, as I’m a very tiny cog in an overwhelmingly large machine, but I do wonder. And I would very much like to see some discussion around this particular issue, because many of the writers I know are very serious about growing their careers, and if one - perceived - wrong choice cuts them off at the knees, it means we all lose. 

What high ground can I take here and still grow my career? 

Maybe I’ll join my cat, Seymour, on the roof for a bit to contemplate this issue. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

June Book Review

The Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer

I read this book in April, but as you know, May was a little busy with boxes, moving and cleaning, so no time for a book review. I’d like to say I’m all settled in but that’s not quite true, there are still plenty of boxes that need to be emptied … or maybe just donated? Not my books of course, they’d be hard to give up.

The Cairo Affair was perfect for those airport lounges and long plane flights in April. Nothing too strenuous, but a very enjoyable, intricately layered, spy yarn. What starts with a murder leaving an 'innocent' expat American widow, slowly unravels into a big web of intrigue, double cross, more murder and cross-border shenanigans. 

Sophie Kohl has just confessed to her husband, a career diplomat, that she had an affair while they were stationed in Cairo when he's suddenly shot dead in the restaurant in Hungary where they're having dinner. 

Since Sophie was told that it was Stan, the CIA agent in Cairo she'd had the affair with, who had told her husband, she calls him and confronts him. Stan, still very much in love with Sophie, wants to help. But both of them lie to each other, as does everyone else in the story that follows, and we learn that not all is as it is portrayed. Who works for whom? Who's double crossing which organization? And who's paying for what exactly?

The author has an excellent grip on current affairs and seamlessly blends past and present events across the globe, including Egypt, the former Yugoslavia and Libya. In a time when we no longer have the iron curtain and the cold war, we now find ‘freelance’ spies selling information to the highest bidder in an effort to raise capital for a cause in their own countries, of course with disastrous consequences. 

There were a number of unexpected, though very plausible, plot twists, and the characters were drawn in a fine enough detail to come alive without have been labored over. 

My only objection was a rather brutal description of war crimes, and some heinous crimes against women in particular. It seems to be the season for that, if the news media is anything to go by. A very sad state of affairs which almost made me stop reading. It seemed unnecessarily detailed for the flow of the story, but that's my personal opinion.

I will probably seek out more books by this author, especially since there are a few more airport lounges and long plane rides coming up later this month. And there's just nothing like a spy novel to liven up international travel!