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Friday, 23 November 2012

Marking Time Around Town Challenge

A picture says a thousand words (or in the case of Marking Time, a hundred fifty-five thousand).  A friend's daughter took this photo of her mum "doing nothing" on the beach the other day and it has inspired me to take a page from the Yukon magazine, North of Ordinary.  Readers send in photos of themselves in exotic locations, holding the magazine to show how far in the world it has reached, and their photos get published in the magazine.  

So here's my Marking Time Around Town Challenge:  E-mail me photos of someone reading the book - anyone, anywhere - and I'll post them here.  And then the reader in the most creative, fantastic, exotic, entertaining or remote location will win a character name (either your own or the name of your choice) in the next book of the Immortal Descendants series: Tempting Fate.

The kindle book counts too; just hold it up so the words or cover are visible in the photo, and make sure I know who you are, where the photo was taken, and who took the picture (so they get a photo credit).  Of course, I love knowing that people are reading Marking Time, but even more wonderful is that my readers are having adventures, perhaps inspired or enhanced, in some small way, by a book.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Review: Days of Blood & Starlight

Days of Blood & Starlight
By Laini Taylor

Days of Blood & Starlight is one of those books you stay up very late to finish...okay, ridiculously late, and then you wander around the next day trying to remember what's real and what's the book.

So, my complete hooked-ness having been said, I did feel a little like I had to wade through the middle.  It's a thing I have about second books in trilogies (at least I assume this will be a trilogy) that drag the characters down into the lowest of all possible lows.  I get it, I understand it, I even sympathize with it, it just makes me sad when characters I care about make the kind of decisions that dig the holes they're in deeper and deeper.  And yet, despite the pits of despair she crafted, Laini Taylor surprised me.  I didn't expect the direction she took and was very delightfully blindsided by some choices Karou and Akiva made.
Laini Taylor is an extraordinary writer.  She has created main characters to invest in and secondary characters to adore, with original, wonderful voices that make the reader laugh out loud and wince with sympathy.  She painted worlds with magnificent colors and crafted the kind of love to inspire passion in the most jaded of souls.

I look forward to re-reading Daughter of Smoke & Bone for the third time, and Days of Blood & Starlight again when the much-anticipated book three of this amazing series is released.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Review: The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind
By Patrick Rothfuss

Patrick Rothfuss is a genius.  Okay, maybe a mad genius (I don't actually know the man personally, but I laugh out loud at his blogs), because anyone who can create such brilliant (as in glowing beacons of personality) characters in a world so well-drawn I didn't once raise an eyebrow and go "huh?" is a truly gifted storyteller of the most unexpected variety.

Most of the high fantasy I've read was in college, usually during dead week and finals, and generally six-book series that sucked me in, wrung me out, and tossed me back to the real world to wander around on shaky legs until I remembered who I was.  But that was college where everything is surreal and in technicolor, and those were authors like Orson Scott Card, Stephen Donaldson, Frank Herbert and Piers Anthony.

And then along comes Patrick Rothfuss.  And just like those friends you make when you think you've made all the best friends you'll ever need, I was a little shocked to have found a new favorite author and a new favorite book.  Kvothe, the storyteller-within-the-story, has such a compelling voice that I sometimes forget I'm not curled up by the fire in his Inn listening to him speak.  And the tales he tells bring me so completely on his journeys with him that feeding kids, dog, and chickens are tasks that have to be written on the post-its I use to keep my place in the book.

The Name of the Wind is not just the beginning.  It is a book that I look forward to re-reading with each installment of the trilogy that emerges from the wonder that is the brain, imagination and artist that is Patrick Rothfuss.  

Thursday, 15 November 2012


Time travel has literary rules just like vampires and werewolves and fairies do.  Of course Dr. Who breaks them all on a regular basis, but we forgive him because the shows are so fun, with multiple doctors, love interests, and aliens that remind me vaguely of Sleestaks from Land of the Lost.

In Marking Time, the rules Saira and the other Descendants of Time have to follow are the ones I've gathered from some of my favorite authors.  Simon Hawke wrote the 12-book Time Wars series that set the standard about the Grandfather paradox (if someone goes back in time and accidentally kills their grandfather before he meets their grandmother, how can he exist to go back in time to kill his grandfather?). 

And, of course, timestream splits have been the subject of many long discussions over wine (I'm a little strange that way).  The way Simon Hawke describes time in his first book, The Ivanhoe Gambit, is that it's like an actual stream or river.  Throw a pebble into the stream (some random guy goes back and kills his grandfather) and the water might ripple, but it will close back around the spot where the pebble went in.  But throw a boulder in (someone goes back in time and kills Adolph Hitler) and it might even divert the stream until it re-joins behind it.  That's a timestream split.  What happens to all those people who didn't die because Adolph Hitler did?  On their timeline, they go on to have families and create whole generations of people who don't exist on the timeline we know.  But then what happens at the moment the killer leaves his own time to go back and take out Hitler?  Even Simon Hawke and his characters didn't know.  They theorized that the two timelines (the one where Hitler lived, and the one where he died) have to rejoin, and when they do, it's a potential disaster of epic proportions.

Of course, there's my favorite of all time travel novels, Diana Gabaldon's Outlander (and the subsequent series).  Claire accidentally time travels through standing stones to 18th century Scotland, meets the unbelievably dreamy Jamie Fraser, falls for him quite against her will, and goes on to have many lifetimes of happiness with him (with copious amounts of heartbreak, death, destruction and war for good measure).

Diana Gabaldon's time travel rules are less structured than Simon Hawke's, but she follows the basic premise that however much time passes in your "native" time, that much time has also passed in any other time in which you might find yourself.  And events conspire to keep history in line, no matter how much Gabaldon's characters might want to change things.  Sort of a timestream inertia, where splits are impossible because history has already happened.

I didn't want to spend chapters discussing the rules of time travel (let's be honest, I couldn't afford the extra word count), so Saira gets things a little simpler.  People can't occupy the same time twice, so there's no chance of accidentally running into yourself and dissolving into a puddle of mental mush because you just met yourself coming around the corner (always a danger in a Simon Hawke book).  And she can't significantly change history, because history has already happened the way it happened and events around her will conspire to keep it that way (thank you, Diana Gabaldon).  Of course, keeping that rule doesn't affect Jack the Ripper's presence in my story at all, since history doesn't really know what happened to him. 

But maybe Saira does...

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Free Kindle Book - Marking Time

I need your review and I will buy you a kindle copy of Marking Time to get it.  As anyone who has ever trolled amazon for books knows, the reviews are the difference between selling your book to friends and family, and finding an audience outside the circle of all the wonderful people who love and support you.

To those wonderful people who have already bought Marking Time, THANK YOU!  I need your review too.  Even if it's just stars and a couple of sentences, every review counts toward getting the notice of other readers, and just like voting, your reviews matter.

Here's how the Marking Time Free Kindle Book giveaway will work.  Fill out your contact information on the contact page, including the e-mail address you use for your account, and write "Review Copy" in the comments section.  I will then send you a gift of Marking Time from amazon.  When you redeem your gift it counts as a purchase and will go toward my sales ranking, and it will also allow you to post a review on amazon.

Then, if you would be so kind as to read the book, or give it to someone in your family to read before posting a review (please, no cheating, since amazon won't accept reviews until at least two days after the redeemed gift anyway), I would really appreciate it.  Your opinion absolutely matters to me, and even if urban fantasy isn't your thing, if a character's voice made you laugh, or the edible and medicinal botany information intrigues you, or you wonder about the (mostly true) history of Jack the Ripper, I've done my job as a writer, entertainer, and storyteller.

To post a review on this Marking Time review link will take you directly to the page, or you can go to the Marking Time amazon page directly, and just under the title is a link to "review this book."  Then give it a star rating (1 being the lowest, 5 is the highest) and say a few words about the story, the writing, the dialogue, action, plot - whatever struck you the most.  Then, if you're feeling really fancy, copy what you wrote so that after you've previewed and posted your amazon review, you can go to and post the same review there, on Marking Time's goodreads page.

So please, take me up on my gift, because your honest review of Marking Time, the book I've spent the past two years imagining, crafting, pitching and selling is the most generous gift you can give this writer.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Secret Places

I couldn't find photos of the actual Venice Beach rum runner tunnels, so this one, of a Pirate Cellar in Savannah, Georgia stood in for the entrance to Saira's tagging gallery under Venice.  The actual Venice tunnels were originally constructed to allow sunbathers to walk back to their hotels since swimsuits weren't allowed on the boardwalk in 1905.  During prohibition, those tunnels from the beach were used by rum runners to bring illegal booze in from the beach.

When I was a private investigator, I worked in the loft above the market at Windward and Pacific where Saira and her artist Mom lived when her mother disappeared.  One of my bosses had inherited a massive oriental carpet, at least 25 feet long, from his wealthy grandmother who bought it from Macy's in New York before the Depression, and the front stairwell of the building was always full of the same shadows that Saira hates.

The London Bridge Catacombs were another internet find and the wanna-be urban archeologist in me was in heaven with the plague pit excavation currently going on there.  There's a horror attraction called "The London Bridge Experience" in the catacombs, complete with animatronic zombies and ghouls designed to give tourists the British version of a Halloween scare.  The Londonist described his night under London, wandering the tunnels and avoiding the plague victim skeletons, which was the inspiration for Saira and Archer's adventures in the tunnels.

Elian Manor was modeled on a gorgeous 16th Century manor house in Essex called Ingatestone Hall.  I later discovered that the Manor has a Priest Hole that was built under a small ante-chamber of the master bedroom.  When it was discovered, hidden under new floorboards, they also found the "bones of a small bird, possibly the remains of food supplied to some unfortunate priest," and a chest containing the vestments, utensils, etc. for a Mass.  The Manor house is now rented out for weddings and corporate events, and the private rooms aren't accessible to the public, so imagination had to fill in the interior blanks.  But I invented the warded Keep inside Elian Manor as a hiding place for the archives of the main branch of Time's descendants, so discovering that a Priest Hole actually exists there was very satisfying.

And although I have no evidence that a Priest Hole actually exists under the altar in Guy's Chapel at Kings College London, it was a perfect place to hide Archer, and a place that I knew would delight Bishop Cleary, just as it delights me.  I love secret, hidden, mysterious places, just like Saira does and someday I look forward to visiting all the real locations I've written into my book, hoping to find evidence of the imaginary ones there too.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Design Schizophrenia

I've loved page design since I was the editor of my High School yearbook, and playing with cover images was a (mostly) fun game I played.  Until it wasn't anymore and I began to feel schizophrenic, darting from one idea to another, unsure of my taste, bombarding friends and family with choices, and hoping the cover image would leap out and embrace me.  Because the cover of a book is the first thing that grabs your potential reader.  At least you hope it grabs them, maybe shakes them a little, intrigues them, seduces them, but mostly doesn't put them off.

And there's the rub.  Even though I wrote my book for a young adult audience, and even though my heroine is 17 years old, she, like most teenagers I know, has an internal voice that's funny, brave, intelligent, irreverant and fairly insightful.  And even though we watch the world unfold through that 17-year-old girl's eyes, the world is strange and wonderful and dangerous; full of friends and foes and mysteries she has to navigate; hopefully with grace and usually with a bit of wry humor.  So how to reflect that in a cover?  How to invite a teenager to pick it up off the shelf, appeal to the woman who loves time travel, or the guy intrigued by Jack the Ripper?  How to describe a young adult urban fantasy with paranormal and historical elements?  (That's the mouthful I've used to query agents and now, reviewers).  How to do it all in a picture?

So I took photos that didn't match my imagination, and more, and more, then fell in love with images but couldn't find the copyright-holder.  Then I learned about creative commons (flickr has a little search-by button to find the photos that artists have given limited public rights to), and discovered a photographer with a beautiful texture-layering technique who answered my questions and gave me great ideas (thank you Jimmy Brown).  He used creative commons textures by Skeletalmess, which are fantastic!  And the spiral in the background of my cover is from a creative commons piece by Spanish artist, Zyllan.  And then my very busy, very wonderful husband Ed put all the elements I'd gathered together during a nine-hour skype call while he was in London and I was in Los Angeles, with screen-sharing, breaks for food, shared glasses of coffee and wine and patience...lots and lots of patience.  And finally, the cover was born.

Hopefully it says the story inside is a little Victorian, a little feminine, a little masculine, a little romantic, mysterious, and dangerous.  Hopefully it speaks to the Immortals, to the possibility of branding a series across three books, and to an audience as diverse as my beta readers have been.  And the first time it grabs a stranger; intrigues them, maybe entices them to look inside, I'll feel like my design schizophrenia has finally found its focus.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Actual Proof!

It arrived yesterday (the publisher proof for me to review for formatting mistakes).  The physical, hold it in my hands, proof that I didn't just make this all up.  Except I did.  And that's what's so crazy.  I just made up a girl with a missing mother and a father she never knew.  And I gave her a hereditary ability to travel in time, which let her go back to Victorian London to encounter Jack the Ripper.  And from there, she sort of just led the way.  Of course I could claim that I knew what was going to happen from the beginning.  And I did have a plan.  But these things have a way of turning out not at all as one expects.  And Saira surprised me a couple of times.  I surprised myself with plot twists and characters I fell in love with as they led the way on their own journeys through the crazy world I devised for them.

So I made something up and now there's a very cool-looking paperback book sitting on my table waiting for me to sign off on it before it goes into production and gets added to my Amazon page.  The steps in-between my imagination and the reality of this book are a whole journey by themselves, but the truly amazing thing to me is...

Actual proof is just imagination run amuck!

Friday, 2 November 2012

It's a book!

THIS is the cover of my newly published book, Marking Time.  It's available today on Amazon for kindle apps, and the paperback will be available starting next week.  And I, like many debut indie authors, thought the hard work was writing the book. 

As the four of you who actually followed this blog from its inception know, I started this journey on the traditional publishing path.  The boys and I were in the Yukon visiting Ed on the set of the show he spent the summer Story Producing (runs in the family?), and while the boys slept off the effects of midnight sun bedtimes, I researched agents and sent out query letters and sample pages, revising both daily.  If you were one of those first agents I queried, I apologize.  You got the benefit of no experience and a very awkward combination of too much and not enough confidence.  I got better at my queries later and did get some requests for partial manuscripts (my kids were very entertained by the happy dance), but as the form rejections mounted, and the few personal rejections attested, my book was just too long for traditional agents to imagine trying to sell to traditional publishers.  Apparently, the cost of production of the longer book isn't worth the risk that the young adult audience wants to read anything longer than 300 pages.  My 17-year-old niece would disagree, since she chooses her books first by the cover, then by the back copy, then by the page count - with longer being much better.  Incidentally, I wrote this book for her and readers like her, but that's a different story.

After cutting about 40,000 words from my original manuscript (which definitely made it better) and debating splitting it in two, or cutting off the first 50 pages and offering them as a free novella, or serializing the whole thing, my confidence had begun sagging around my knees.  And saggy knees are just not my thing.  My friends, who got the weekly download of plan-changes and justifications over glasses of wine (and whine) are saints - thank you for your ears, your support, and your patience.  Truly, thank you.  Ultimately, I couldn't stand myself.  I was in the waiting place, playing the waiting game, researching everything I could get my hands on about the pros and cons of all kinds of publishing.  There were a couple of author/bloggers, like Lindsay Buroker and Joel Friedlander, whose arguments in favor of self-publishing gave me back the confidence that I didn't have to start redecorating the waiting place to make it more comfortable.  I could just move out.

And so I have.  It's a place where all the design and publishing, and all the marketing and sales of my book are on me... and it is a far more interesting place to live.  But for the moment it's also a full-time job, starting before 5am most mornings and ending at homework time after school.  And I'm going to have to grow a whole new variety of confidence as I figure out how to interest indie booksellers in Marking Time, how to entice internet traffic to my shiny new website, and how to navigate the very complicated internal marketing business of Amazon.

It's hard work.  And it's really, really satisfying.