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Monday, 14 December 2015

Bilbo It Up

At 2:32am my 8-year-old son came in with a screaming headache. I put him back to bed with a big glass of water and stroked his hair until he fell back to sleep.

It was 4:36am when I woke to the sound of the boy puking. He's a good puker - calm, tried to catch it in his hands, made it to the toilet for the rest of it - a sweet boy. He's sleeping again in the other bed. The dog is curled against him to keep him warm, and he'll be staying home from school today. 

Cleaning up puke at 4:30am is generally a guarantee of wakefulness, but I wasn't ready to turn on the computer yet, so I checked e-mail on my phone and then flipped to Facebook. Pat Rothfuss had a new blog post - a long one - so I settled in to read.

Here's the blog, so you can follow along with my train of thought.

Now, I've already donated to Worldbuilders this year - a couple of times - and between the money and the books and the Tuckerization in the auction, and the fact that property taxes just got paid, and it's Christmas, I was pretty much done.

And then I thought about my morning. I thought about the clean drinking water I'd given my son, and the warm bed he slept in with the dog. I thought about medicine I could give him if he needed it, and the excellence of his school. I thought about the books I read to him every night, and the ones he reads to himself. 

And then I thought that I could give some more, so someone else's child might have clean water, access to medicine, a bed to sleep in, a school to attend, and books to read.

The thing about giving is that it doesn't have to be a lot. It can be a thousand dollars, or it can be ten. It could plant a grove of fruit trees, or it could buy some chickens so kids can have an egg for breakfast. The thing about Worldbuilders is it's not about how much you give, it's that you give. Whatever you can. As many times as you're able, or even just once.

So, I bought a couple of last minute Christmas presents from the Worldbuilders store, gave a straight donation, and then I went outside with my chipped toenail polish (it's a chick thing to care about the appearance of one's toes), and my camera, and I took this photo.

And then I posted it on twitter, with the #BilboItUp hashtag. Go there, look it up, see all the feet (my favorite is the baby feet in the unzipped snuggly), and know that every one of those people decided to give to Worldbuilders today. Their money is unlocking $200k in matching funds, and whether they gave before, or this is the first time, their giving counts.

There's something pretty magical that happens when you do something good for someone else - a little lightness lifts your heart, a little brightness fills your day. And when you take off your shoes and step outside in the cold, knowing you just made a difference in the world, there's a little sense that anything - anything at all - is possible.

When my son wakes up, he'll crawl into bed where I'm working, and I'll show him the pictures of people's feet, and tell him about the ducks we just bought for some kids who might not have had enough to eat today. We'll talk about animals for a while, and he'll think of something else to get his brother for Christmas, and then he'll read himself to sleep again while I edit. And I'll think about how very lucky I am to be his mom, to be a reader and a writer doing what I love to do, to know such incredibly generous people, and to be part of the Worldbuilders community, 

And maybe you'll join me there, in that community of givers. Or maybe you're already there and you'll give ten more dollars. And then you'll go outside, kick off your shoes, and take your own photo.

Go ahead, do it. Bilbo it up.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Worldbuilders and an Auction

Every year, Patrick Rothfuss, the team at Worldbuilders, and a couple of hundred of the coolest authors, artists and gamemakers around do this thing to raise money for Heifer International, which plants trees, provides livestock, and helps people do something as basic as EAT with dignity.

For every $10 a person donates, their name gets entered into a lottery for a chance to win signed books and games, and I've been donating copies of Marking Time to the lottery since it was the only book in the series. Each year I have more books to give, and last year, Maria, at Worldbuilders, asked if I'd consider donating something bigger that they could auction off on ebay.

A tuckerization (yep, it's a thing) of a character in Waging War earned $150 for Worldbuilders. The winner of the auction gave me a name for the character - Tam - and two characteristics: curious and clever. I had a wonderful time weaving Tam into Waging War, and because curious, clever people named Tam seem to require it, I gave him green hair. *nefarious giggle*

I was asked for another tuckerization this year (seriously, it's a word. Look it up), and the auction just went live on ebay. This one's a much bigger deal, because this character gets to play a part in the LAST IMMORTAL DESCENDANTS BOOK IN THE SERIES!

Here's the link to the auction on ebay.

The other things up for auction right now are SO COOL that you should see them all. Here's a list of Author-y things on Pat's blog.

And even if you don't bid on a thing, please consider donating $10 or $20 or $50 to Worldbuilders. Flocks of chickens are my personal favorite, but I'm also a huge fan of planting trees.

Mostly, I'm just proud to be part of so much generosity.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Cover Design - The Birth of a Book Cover

Aren't they gorgeous?!

First - news. The publication date for Waging War has been set, and I'll share it with you when the pre-order link goes live. There's a plan in place and I'm finally on schedule, and on track.

Gemma, the lovely narrator for the Tempting Fate audiobook, will be starting production on Changing Nature this month, and we'll be working to get that published as soon as possible. Thank you so much for your patience on both.

So, the new covers...

Writers and readers are very visual people. Writers have to paint pictures with words for readers to see in their heads as they read, which is why most writers I know have inspiration boards.

When I first began plotting Marking Time, I built my inspiration board into a collage with which I covered my writer's notebook.

You can see where the color tones for the first book came from. As I got closer to finishing Marking Time, I started to think about its cover. This was the first image I found that really inspired me.

I could never find a photo credit to track down the artist for permission to use it, so we tried to replicate the look in a photo shoot. It didn't work.

I thought I would be marketing the book to young adults because, well, Saira is seventeen. So every cover idea I came up with was sent to my then eighteen-year-old niece for her thoughts. She's an inhaler of books, as all the women in my family are, and her usual criteria for buying a book is cover first, then page count. If the cover doesn't appeal, or it isn't long enough, she puts it back on the shelf.

These were my early attempts. My niece was always supportive, but she didn't really love any of them, thank goodness.

The progression is like looking at the birth of a cover, and what we finally created took nine hours on screen-share and a skype call to London, where my photoshop-skilled husband was working at the time. My niece approved, and a cover was born.

I love my old covers. I love that they were relatively gender-neutral, and not age-specific. I love that they are striking and graphic, and showed readers the different artifacts of the Immortal Descendant families. Oh, by the way, here's the Monger Ring...

As time went on, and I finished books two and three, I began to really pay attention to marketing. Readership took off when I made Marking Time free, and various book lists and advertising outlets kept it in the spotlight just enough to drive sales to the other books. I began to see a pattern in the reviews, and a study of reader demographics confirmed that the vast majority of my readers are women between the ages of 25 and 55. Some young men, and some retired men have read them and become very generous supporters of the books, but I realized quite early on that young adult readers tend toward browsing at bookstores, like my niece, and my access to them has generally been through mothers and aunts and grandmothers who found Marking Time and shared it.

They say the most powerful person in the world is the one who stands on a street and waves traffic in the direction it's already going. The trick is just figuring out which direction that is.

Penny Reid is a romantic comedy author with a huge readership, a giant brain, and a massive heart. She is also a very dear friend of mine with mad graphic design skills, and when we began talking about the idea of re-branding the series to appeal directly to the women who are its biggest readers, she played around with some of the elements in the stories to create the new cover for Marking Time.

She created these stunning covers in a day, and then designed the covers for Waging War and Cheating Death in another day. I sent the new covers to my niece, now twenty-one years old. Her reponse:

"I would totally buy them."

It takes every ounce of self-control I have not to post the covers for the whole series everywhere, because they're so gorgeous and inspiring to the stories inside them, but part of the marketing thing is actually having a marketing plan.

I've never had a marketing plan before. I've always just raced through my final edit notes, hit "publish," posted a few "It's Live" teasers on facebook, then spent the next couple of days formatting the paperback.

The new plan actually puts integrity into my releases. I already have the paperback elements in place, a lovely design duo is working on creating graphics and teasers with a unified theme (another of the MANY things I've learned from Penny Reid), and there are dates on a calendar that make my editor very happy.

These new covers actually represent something bigger than just re-branding the Immortal Descendants series to appeal to readers of historical mysteries and time travel romance. They have created organization, and a schedule, and deadlines I have to meet because it's not just me hitting "publish" anymore. And they have inspired me to actively seek the audience for my books, rather than hoping readers just randomly stumble into them.

So, to any readers who may not have taken a risk on that first free book if these had been the covers - thank you so much for your support and generosity as I attempt to wave the traffic of readers in the direction they seem to be already going. And to everyone who has read and enjoyed The Immortal Descendants series, your shares, your recommendations, and your support of these books is the reason there's traffic in the first place.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Series Makeover and COVER REVEAL

The Immortal Descendants series is getting a makeover (all new covers)! If you'd like to help spread this exciting news, please fill out the attached form. The plan and important dates are as follows:

1.       OCTOBER 30: I will send you teasers, the new cover files, share graphics/links, and a $50 Amazon gift card + signed book giveaway graphic/rafflecopter link (signed books by April White, Elizabeth Hunter, Penny Reid)
2.       NOVEMBER 1: Please share the reveal graphic and purchase links (I will provide) on Goodreads, your blog, and/or Facebook page, along with a rafflecopter for the gift card + signed book giveaway.
3.       NOVEMBER 13: I will send you the 'WAGING WAR' teaser, cover, reveal graphic and preorder link.
4.       NOVEMBER 15: Please share the reveal graphic, etc. on Goodreads, your blog, and/or Facebook page.

Thank you SO MUCH for all your support!

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Winning Conditions

Nerdcon:Stories was an excellent convention.

There is much to be written about this weekend, and much will be. (The whole schedule can be found here, and should be studied by anyone considering becoming a Nerdconner). But there's always a thing that sticks with me. A thing that got thought about when I woke up to blow my nose at 1:30 am, and the spin-cycle of thinking kept me awake for another hour (yes, my son very generously handed me his cold to carry home for him).

This was that thing:

There was a panel called No Pressure : How to Keep Creating Once You've Technically Succeeded, and it was moderated by Patrick Rothfuss, so yeah, I was there. Fortunately, it was on the main stage so I didn't have to use size and determination to get a seat like I did at the Is That a Kissing Book? Writing Sex panel, which is a thing for another blog.

The panel was a good one, with surprisingly honest shares from people like Dessa Darling and John Green. It was also moderated as if it was a story itself, with Rothfuss directing his questions in an organically linear way through the beginning, middle and end. The few notes I took included a quote from Dessa about commitments that "Distinguishing the urgent from the important becomes crucial," and from Pat about book deadlines that "It (a book) can only be late once, but it can suck forever." The piece that stuck with me, the piece that became the thing, was something Pat Rothfuss said about winning conditions.

For the gamers in the audience, he referenced table top games including Settlers of Catan, which my twelve-year-old and his friends play. He talked about linear gaming strategy, and massing the elements (victory points, for example) that lead to the win. He looked at his life through the same lens sometimes. What were his winning conditions? If it was to spend every waking moment writing his stories, he was working at about 10% effectiveness. If it was to spend quality time with his kids and his family, he was probably about 40% effective at that. But if his winning conditions were to travel to great conventions, play games, meet interesting people, and create fascinating opportunities, he was operating at about 70 or 80% effectiveness in that game.

There's a strategy to identifying our winning conditions - they may not look like anyone else's, and they may surprise us, like the white picket fence John Green thought he didn't want. There will probably be some honest sharing needed to figure out our winning conditions - if not with another person, then certainly with ourselves.

My husband's work takes him away from his family for months on end. He'll be home next week, and I know we'll be having honest conversations about our winning conditions - what his are, and how his work feeds or impacts them, and what mine are, as impacted by my habits and commitments.

For example, I shut myself away in my room for hours on end to write, but then this happens:

And when I finally hit a groove with writing, I invariably get frustrated when my kids need help with homework. If my winning conditions are being home with my kids, and meeting my writing deadlines, I can do better.

When we define our winning conditions, we can create strategies and opportunities for ourselves to achieve them. It takes real honesty to admit 10% effectiveness or 40% effectiveness at things one feels they should want in life. But the game I'm playing determines my effectiveness in achieving my winning conditions. It's very hard to win at the writing or family game when one is on the road, unless the family or writing comes, too. Just as it's nearly impossible to win at the meeting interesting people and going to fascinating places game when I'm bunkered at home with my work or my family.

So, yeah. Winning conditions. It's a conversation I'm already having with myself, and one I look forward to having with Ed after he has finally kicked off his shoes and reminded himself what home feels like. It's a conversation to keep having, because the game is always changing, and half the fun is just figuring out what my empire is and how to get the most victory points in the game I'm playing.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Things I learned from Rothfuss

Pat Rothfuss is a good guy.

He's undoubtedly a generous and socially conscious person, as evidenced by Worldbuilders, the charity he founded which raises money for Heifer International every year, and which most recently matched donations to aid Syrian refugees. But while generosity and social conscience can be assessed by a person's deeds, to be good is a personal judgement of the beholder.

So, my assessment of Pat Rothfuss as a good guy is my very personal opinion, born out of two hours spent in his company, with my son and four hundred other people in the spectacular Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles. It is certainly a biased opinion, as I've loved Pat's books, laughed at his podcasts, and discussed in detail his D&D character's penchant for chandeliers with my son.

But bias is just a theoretical inclination until personal evidence can be gathered in support of a story. And in two hours with Pat Rothfuss, these are the things I learned:

1. His sense of humor is inclusive. No one is a target, and everyone can find something true in the laughter. It's a little like I imagine the writers' rooms on Sherlock and West Wing were, with fiercely quick wit that keeps a person on their toes, and makes you feel smarter by association.

2. He appreciates people. It was hot in that bookstore, with four hundred sweaty fans, some of whom, like my son and I, had been there for hours before the event began. Pat acknowledged the front row people for their endurance, and signed their books first. When he spoke, he connected with the audience, made eye contact, held it, listened carefully, and saw people. And despite the heat, despite the crowd, and despite the lateness of the hour, when it was time to sign books, he was all in.

3. He understands people. Before the event began, he suggested we think about questions we might want to ask, then made sure cards were handed out to anyone who may not be comfortable asking their question out loud. That's understanding the introverts. Later, when it was time to line up for the book signing, he asked the group to let the parents with kids cut the line so they could get home. His fans are real people with real lives, and he gets it.

4. He is generous with his stories. He warned us that Q&A was a misnomer in his case - questions could be asked, but in return he'd likely tell a story that might have a little something to do with the question, but maybe not. His stories were honest pieces of his life and his experience - often funny, and always authentic. He shared his historic lack of game with women, and how nervous he gets when he talks to Neil Gaiman. He shared, and people connected with him.

5. He has opinions and he's honest. Questions about a writer's process and writer's block were asked, and Pat didn't pull punches. Writer's block doesn't exist, he said. Plumbers don't get plumber's block - they get up, and they go to work. If they have a broken leg, they do what they need to fix it, and then they go back to work. Writers might have something that needs fixing emotionally, and since they write with their brains, it's a valid thing. But there's no such thing as writer's block. If you're a writer, you write. That's your work, so you do it.

My twelve-year-old son had a question about Pat's advice to a first-time Dungeons and Dragons game master, which he wrote down on a slip of paper and signed. Throughout the evening, Pat occasionally pulled a slip of paper to find a question (not about his beard) to answer. The first question he pulled was my son's, and Pat answered it directly to Connor, complete with a personal anecdote, a practical guide, and a piece of advice about letting other players be game master too. It makes them better players, he said, and it's more fun for everyone. I could feel Connor smiling with his whole body because Pat had acknowledged him in a way that made him feel seen, heard, and understood.

It was an wonderful evening for both of us. My son's first signed book carries with it the memory of a funny, generous, honest man who appreciated his question, and really got him. And as we floated out of The Last Bookstore with our personalized books, and our giddy memories, Connor turned to me and said. "Mom, Pat Rothfuss is a really good guy."

Friday, 18 September 2015

Kindle Unlimited

So I did this today. Putting books two and three of my series into Kindle Unlimited was approximately as terrifying as writing book one had been. Which sounds totally ridiculous, because why would a marketing plan that targets readers be terrifying? Or, for that matter, why would writing a book about a free-running tagger (I fall in slow motion, according to my husband) who time travels to Jack the Ripper's London (haven't been there because - you know, we've moved on) be scary? Well, except for the part that I COULD SUCK AND NO ONE WOULD READ IT.

Since then, of course, a couple of people have told me Marking Time doesn't suck. And those people actually went on to buy Tempting Fate and Changing Nature, and apparently those don't suck either. But, writing the books is hard enough. Marketing them is its own monster under the bed, only able to be faced with one part luck, one part research, and three parts kind people who like to read time travel books.

The research I've done into KU, especially since they changed the payout system for borrows to a per-page rate, has been compelling, and much, much wiser people than I (Hugh Howey's blog post on the subject is excellent) have written extensively on the subject. But then, a couple of weeks ago, my lovely friend, Penny Reid and I were talking about the Yukon (my summer) and babies (her life) and raising kids to be decent, interesting human beings (a universal challenge), and she brought up KU.

"You should put your books in KU," she said, during a very rare pause in the conversation. "They're really long, so the money could work in your favor when people borrow them, and everything in my research has shown that Amazon promotes KU books, especially the new releases, more than wider releases."

I'm paraphrasing, of course, because I think my brain stopped on the I-should-put-my-books in KU part. But one thing to know about Penny is that when she researches something, she's not kidding. That woman's statistical brain is phenomenal and utterly intimidating, and all I can say is thank God we're friends, because her books are awesome, and I get to benefit from her love of numbers.

"But," I argued, (to Penny, on the phone) "my first book is free, and if I put it in KU it can't stay free." For anyone who doesn't already know how to make an e-book perma-free, it's all about Amazon's commitment to being the lowest-priced game in town, so even though they don't offer the option to make a book free, other outlets do. Then Amazon has to price-match your free book in order to keep their low-price promise to customers.

The conversation went back and forth about whether readers would discover the first book when they saw books two and three in KU, and if it even mattered. But always in the back of my mind was the fear that everything would fall apart, people would stop downloading the books, sales would fall off, and ... well, you know, cats and dogs would start living together and life as I know it would cease to exist.

Or, three months could pass (the commitment to exclusivity in KU) and I could change my mind.

So, because I'm a writer, I just wrote a whole blog post full of fears and concerns, with some dialogue, and honest self-doubt sprinkled in for good measure. If I were just cutting to the chase, like I finally did today, I'd say this:

Dear Readers,
I've put Tempting Fate and Changing Nature into KU. The paperbacks are still available anywhere, but for the e-books, readers will have to download the kindle app to read them. I plan to release Waging War in KU before my three months for the other books are up, hopefully capitalizing on the increased exposure Amazon gives to KU new releases. If you read on a Nook or a Kobo device, I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience, and I'll be offering several paperback giveaways at release time on Facebook. The jury is still out on whether I'll ever put Marking Time in KU, because free is free, and, well, people like free so they still find it.

Oh, and thank you for your patience with Waging War. That's the subject of a whole other blog post that I don't yet have the courage to write, but I promise, it's coming.
Warmest Regards,

Thursday, 13 August 2015

A Yukon Short Story

As you may or may not have noticed from my Facebook photo posts of a double rainbow and big skies, I've spent the summer in the Yukon - mostly in and around Dawson City. The local arts and culture scene in this tiny Canadian town is pretty extraordinary, and this weekend is the annual arts festival, which kicked off today with the announcement of the winners of the Authors on Eighth writing contest - for one poem and one short story, under 2500 words, in the style of Yukon authors Jack London, Robert Service, and Pierre Berton, which addressed the theme "Women of the North."

I wrote this short story two months ago to submit to the contest, and am very excited to say that it won! I am now the slightly stunned owner of a stack of fantastic Yukon books and a gold nugget. But the best thing I will take away from this experience is the pride of having written something outside my comfort zone, in a style that's much more subtle than I usually know how to be, and which hopefully conveys some of the magic of this amazing place.


     He would die in the dark.
     What remained of his life that night was borrowed from the moments he’d spent with Old Ch'ák', sharing lukewarm coffee on the porch of the post office, waiting for only the thinnest letters to be loaded into oilskin bags. The weathered Hän elder had drawn maps in the ice to show him the old caves. The storm would come, he said, and the caves would save Tom’s life.
     “Beware the shallow cave, as there is no shelter there,” Old Ch'ák' had said, “and the deep cave is home to bear.”
     “So how will I know the right cave?”
     The old man’s eyes disappeared into the crevices of his ancient face with his toothless grin. “You will know the right cave when you can open your eyes after the long dark, and find your path home.”
     It had been the Yukon summer that drew Tom – the long days of light and warmth that renewed the land after the winter dark. He had grown up in the South, gone to school, learned the mechanics of being a man. But twenty-one years of classrooms did not fill a man’s soul, and he went north to discover the secrets the books couldn’t teach.
     Sheer luck had led Tom to the post office that first winter. The dark had invaded him, and hunger finally drove him out into the bitter cold. Old Ch'ák', wrapped in furs, had beckoned to Tom, and directed him inside the post office. Soon Tom found his own bits of light on the dogsleds, delivering the mail between Dyea and Dawson, along the Chilkoot Pass Trail. The light rode with the words in his mailbags that brought news to loved ones, put fears to rest, and fostered dreams that sent the strongest, bravest, and most passionate men and women to the North.
     But this night, the long dark of the North had won, fed by the loneliness of the man. Even the dogs had curled around each for comfort and denied him the warmth of their bodies. Solitude was his enemy that night, and it was the source of the lifetime of dark that gnawed on Tom’s soul.
     His small fire sparked, and an ember hit one oilskin bag. It flared like a bright star, and with it, Tom knew where he might find the light and warmth he craved. He knocked the ember away and plunged his hand into the bag. Paper edges scraped his storm-cold fingers as he withdrew a random stack and fanned the letters out before him.
     There were dreams and hopes and desires within the pages – the kind that could keep the solitude from consuming him in the dark. The first envelope came open easily. It was a purchase order by a Mr. Brown for three pair of silk stockings, one bottle of French perfume, and one yard of pink silk ribbon. It was addressed to a purveyor of fine ladies’ things in Seattle, and was written on coarse paper that smelled of cigar smoke and cheap perfume, stamped with the letter A. Tom knew the place, a cigar store in Paradise Alley, and imagined young Amy pulling the shade on the store, and charming Mr. Brown into buying fine things for a girl who was selling far more than cigars.
     He replaced the purchase order into its envelope and tucked the open flap inside. His hand skimmed over the onionskin and crisp white paper that spoke of business, and instead found the delicate eggshell-colored paper that whispered with handwritten correspondence. The glue had stuck well in the middle, but with care, Tom was able to tease the flap open and reveal the tissue-thin letter inside.

Dearest Mother,
     I hope this letter finds you well, and, indeed, finds you at all. The mail service from Dawson City can be counted on to misplace letters like one counts on the frozen winter. Thus, I shall write as many small letters as my postage allowance will support, in hopes one or two might actually make it to you.
     I know you told me it was foolish for a twenty-year-old girl to follow a dreamer to the ends of the earth, but to be honest, Mother, I’m not at all sure that I was following him. Perhaps I used his request to follow my own dream of adventure and luck.
     In any case, Jim is well and working at the surveyor’s office until he can stake his own claim and we can be married. I have taken lodgings with a woman named Claire, whose husband spends his summers in the goldfields, and his winters in Seattle with his mistress. She doesn’t seem to mind this arrangement though, as it has given her the freedom and means to pursue her own artistry. She paints the most beautiful landscapes of the Dawson summers, and my walks with her in search of inspiration have led me to my own.
     I’ve met a Hän healer who has consented to teach me her native medicines. We forage for yarrow and borage, and harvest the meadows of fireweed and wild rose. I’ve learned to make a salve to ward off the mosquitos that torment the miners, and one to heal burns. I can make soap, and have mastered poultices that draw out infection. This kind of botanical study has become my passion, Mother, and plant-gathering with my mentor reminds me of my childhood summers with you.
     Thank you for giving me the love of wild things. The small bundles of herbs and flowers that hang in the corners of my little room now sustain me through the long dark winter.
                                                                 All my love,

     Tom studied the careful handwriting that filled each transparent page, as if he could find the sound of her voice, or the color of her eyes hidden in the paper. He could picture bunches of flowers hanging from strings in the corners of her room, and his imagination added glimmers of light among the botanical treasures. This woman had done something he had not thought to do. She had gathered and protected the bounty of the northern summer, and allowed the scent of the midnight sun to linger long after the light was gone.
     He searched the packet of letters for more eggshell paper addressed to Mrs. Anna Ponninghaus of Pennsylvania, and found another envelope near the bottom of the stack, written in the same fine hand. 
     This, too, he opened with care.

Dearest Mother,
     The Hän people of the North are quite remarkable really. My native mentor has only a few words of English, learned from her long-dead son-in-law, to speak to the grandson she no longer knows. I have even less of her language, and yet our communication is seamless as she teaches me her recipes and techniques for the medicinal plants we harvested this summer.       
     The Hän are very strict with their rules about hunting and foraging, and they never strip an area bare of its bounty. I’m afraid the Dawsonites are less careful with the land and game, and within a few years, will deplete the forests of all the things which sustain us. Chief Isaac, who leads the tribes here, has moved his people about two miles out of town, so they are less susceptible to the corruption of the settlers. I long to visit that place, but have not dared to ask Ama, as my mentor calls herself, to take me there.
     Claire worries that my friendship with Ama will affect my desirability to my intended husband. I’ve told her Jim cares not for my friends, nor do I have interest in any man who would hold my friendship with such a beautiful soul against me. I’ve seen enough men choose Hän wives to know that a capable woman is worth much in this place where the long dark of winter can kill as easily as a knife or a gun, but with much greater pain.
     Jim looks tired and ill, as though the drink and smoke have already taken their toll. We have only been here a few months, yet I fear he will not survive winters here. Although we do not share accommodations, of course, being as yet, unmarried, he seems to care more for drink than for the company of one who would choose books and conversation to stave off the dark and cold. Music would also keep the winter outside where it belongs, but he does not sing, and I have yet to meet any man who does – at least not for others to hear.
     Thirty thousand people lived in Dawson this summer, and I saw more of life in this town than I’ve ever seen in Philadelphia. There’s a spirit that anything is possible when the light shines all day and night, and it’s evident in the artists that have followed the commerce to this northern outpost. I am reminded that a civilization is defined by its art, as a measure of the quality of life to be found for its inhabitants. And even now, in winter, it is the artists and the singers and the writers who may have the best survival tools of all.
     I wish you could experience this place, Mother. It is wonderful and terrible, and peaceful, and the hardest life I’ve ever lived. And yet, I cannot imagine living any place else.
                                                                 All my love,

     Tom held this letter to his nose and tried to catch a lingering scent of her. There, the echo of spruce sap, with a hint of something floral. It smelled as he imagined her hair would, washed in a shampoo she made herself from the herbs that grew in the hills around Dawson.
     The fire was dying, and Tom shifted the bag off his legs to tend it. His toes had begun to numb with the cold of the storm outside the cave. He was out of the wind, which could peel the flesh it froze off a body like an orange rind, but still the cave was thick with frigid air, as though trapped deep under the ice of the Klondike River.
     He tested his voice in the brittleness and hummed a piece of a harvesting song his Hän grandmother had sung to him when he was very small. Music belonged to the part of him he hid behind the fair skin and light eyes of his trapper father, and it was the first thing he’d lost when his father had sent Tom south.
     They were long dead; father, mother, sister. A winter storm had killed his family while he learned his life from books, warm and safe in a classroom. He, alone, was left to face the long dark, and to choose. Because succumbing was as much a choice as surviving was.
     Tom was so tired, and the storm had grown angry outside the cave, toppling the trees whose roots hadn’t grown deep enough. Tom’s eyes began to close with the certainty that this storm knew him. It wanted his life as payment for daring to think he could return to the land of his mother’s people, where his own roots had never grown deep enough, to seek light in the bitter cold and the long dark.
     Tom fished through the oilskin mail bag for another stack of letters. He pushed the band off with trembling fingers and searched for the tissue-thin paper addressed in her hand. There was one, at the bottom of the pile. He tore at the envelope, aware that the cold had already staked its claim on at least one thumb.

Dear Mrs. Brown,

     Tom stopped reading and stared at the envelope, wondering at the address to a Mrs. Millicent Brown in Portland, Oregon. He scanned to the end of the short letter, and yes, there was her signature. He continued reading.

     It is with regret I am writing to inform you that I shall no longer be able to anticipate becoming your daughter-in-law, as Jim has found fit to end our engagement. He has taken up smoking, you see, and the long hours he spends in a cigar shop in Paradise Alley have left no room in his life for the kind of wife I expect to be.
     I enjoyed our brief acquaintance, Mrs. Brown, and I wish you good health and a long life with which to enjoy it.
                                                                 With Warmest Regards,
                                                                 Helene Ponninghaus

     Hours, or perhaps days later, light crept into the cave, and Tom crawled on aching legs to bathe his hands and face in it. The storm had passed, and the barest winter daylight had commenced. It was enough, he thought. Enough light to deliver her letters. And then enough to guide him home.

     The rocking chair was empty on the post office porch the day Tom returned to Dawson with oilskin bags full of the news of the world beyond the Yukon. He waited while the postmaster sorted the new mail, glancing outside every few minutes, hoping to see the shuffling, fur-wrapped figure of Old Ch'ák' lower himself into his usual place.
     “You’ll have to go to Moosehide to find him,” the postmaster said. And Tom knew he would go to his mother’s village to thank Old Ch'ák'.
     But first he would find her.
     “I’ll deliver any letters you have for Helene Ponninghaus,” Tom said, as casually as a man with knotted nerves could speak.
     The postmaster grunted. “Save them a trip in the snow, I suppose. Here, take Mrs. Mulroy’s letters, too. And you might as well drop these off for Mrs. Collins. I hear the cold’s been in her bones something fierce this winter.”
     Tom brought Mrs. Collins her mail, and built up her fire, and put the kettle on to boil. Next door lived Mrs. Claire Mulroy with her tenant, Miss Helene Ponninghaus. His heart pounded so hard he feared it would leap from his chest and into her hands. He doubted she’d care to hold his beating heart, so he forced himself to breathe.
     And knock.
     “Miss Ponninghaus?” He asked, when the door opened and a young woman regarded him steadily.
     “Yes?” Her voice was throaty and held the echo of recent laughter, and her eyes were startling green. The scent of dried flowers danced around her like sunlight through a forest of trees.
     “I have your mail.” Tom held the letters out, but was loathe to release them yet. Fortunately, she didn’t take them.
     “Are you with the post office?” She asked.
     He nodded, and she stepped back. Behind her, hanging bundles of flowers painted shadow patterns on the walls. “Will you come in for a cup of tea while I finish a letter to my mother?”
     Tom’s heart settled back into his chest, and the warmth of her smile spread through him and filled the dark places with light.

Monday, 27 April 2015

The Next MacGyver will be a WOMAN!

This. Is. Awesome!
To readers who dig Saira, and to writers who write strong women - do this! They're looking for a show idea for the next MacGyver - A WOMAN - to inspire girls and young women to science and engineering.
It doesn't take much to enter - a great idea, a compelling character, a couple of taglines for interesting episodes, but the deadline is this Friday, May 1st. Seriously, people - we need this show, and there's no reason in the world the idea for it can't come from YOU!

Saturday, 25 April 2015

IngramSpark vs. Createspace

To: Indpendent Authors:
Re: Createspace vs. IngramSpark:

A couple of weeks ago someone posted a link on Facebook to IngramSpark with free set-ups (I can't find it now - sorry), so I did some research into Createspace vs. IngramSpark.

Everything I found said do both.

Createspace distributes primarily to Amazon, but their expanded distribution isn't utilized by most bookstores because they don't give them a big enough discount.

IngramSpark gives the industry-standard 55% discount to retailers, plus the option to return books, which makes ordering our books attractive (I just did a signing at a Barnes and Noble, and had to bring all my own books because they won't order through Createspace). They also have printers in Europe and Australia, which makes international ordering cost-effective.

There is almost no money to be made for us on IngramSpark because of the discount to retailers. But it's the one way I've found to get into traditional brick and mortar retailers worldwide.

The account set-up on IngramSpark is fairly straightforward. It's when you try to set up your ISBNs that things get interesting.
     A. Your ISBN may NOT be Createspace-generated. You have to have purchased it yourself from Bowker.
     B. If you enabled expanded distribution on Createspace, IngramSpark will give you an error message that your ISBN is currently in use by another book.

To deal with this, go into Createspace and disable your expanded distribution. Then send an e-mail to IngramSpark with the ISBNs of all the books you want to transfer over to them. THIS WILL NOT AFFECT YOUR AMAZON DISTRIBUTION. It will, however, take some time. Createspace will eventually send you an e-mail saying they've done as you asked and released those ISBNs, and they'll tell you to call IngramSpark to proceed. I've gotten through to IngramSpark customer service in five minutes, and I also once waited an hour on hold, but when I finally spoke to someone, they were always helpful. Once they have your ISBNs, they will take care of transferring everything (cover, interior file) from Createspace, and there will be NO SET-UP FEE. A couple of days later your titles will show as available on your IngramSpark dashboard.

If you never enabled expanded distribution (I hadn't on one of my books), you'll need to go through the whole process of uploading the file directly to IngramSpark. They're fussier than Createspace about embedded fonts (I found a tutorial about how to do that) and graphics (manually went through to do that, too), but a couple of tries later it was up. I had to pay the set-up fee of $49 for that book, and I think in the future I'll go the backdoor route of enabling expanded distribution in Createspace, then asking to transfer it, and letting IngramSpark take care of the rest for free.

I did order a paperback copy of each of my books from IngramSpark to compare quality. Everything about it was more expensive than Createspace is (from the book to the shipping), and frankly, the quality is definitely less. The Createspace covers are more vibrant, and the paper quality is better.

One of the options IngramSpark offers is a $60 featured placement in their catalog that goes out to retailers and libraries. I've done that for book one in my series, which will apparently take two months to happen. I'll update this post when/if that produces results.

So, although there are a lot of reasons Createspace is superior to IngramSpark, (quality of experience, quality of product) I will keep uploading my books to IngramSpark for the bookstore distribution options, and for international printing and shipping.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Festival Aftermath

There's a thing my friend, Korry, and I do after every successful school event we put on  - the recap. It's a way to get each others' impressions of the event, to check our own assessments and interpretations, and just generally a way to download our experiences.

I got to recap the experience at the LA Times Festival of Books last Saturday with my friend, Elizabeth Hunter, on Saturday night as we sank into couches with a glass of wine and take-out Mexican food. We were both utterly exhausted in the way that seven hours of being "on" with people brings. The only other time I've been that peopled out was after a day of High School English class takeovers, during which I essentially taught six classes about all the reading and writing. Ever since then, my admiration and appreciation for the work teachers do is pretty much to the moon and back.

So, because I'd never been to the LA Times Festival of Books, even as a visitor, I'll share some of the highlights of our recap for any other authors or readers who might be intrigued.

1. Three was a perfect number of authors in our booth. There were originally six authors scheduled to share booth 132 that day, but only three of us turned up - myself, Elizabeth Hunter, and S.C. Ellington, who writes contemporary romance books. So we moved one eight-foot table to the front of the booth and split the space on it three ways. I took the side closest to the Scientology booth, because I'm the biggest and least intimidated by their personal-space-hogging ways, S.C. was in the middle, and Elizabeth took the other side. All of our books were equally visible to passersby, and having three of us there allowed us to slip away to grab food or drinks as necessary.

2. Sharing a booth with authors you like, whose work you admire, is KEY! To be fair, I haven't actually read anything S.C. has written, but I've known her for a couple of years from author events and she's lovely. Everyone knows how I feel about Elizabeth Hunter's books, and the fact that she's an awesome human being just compounds the love. But it wasn't just hanging out with cool chicks that was great - it was being able to genuinely pitch and sell EACH OTHER'S work that was so wonderful. Because there were three of us available to talk to festival-goers, we often had several people come up to the table at once. Each of us could talk about our own books, as well as give a pitch for the other two authors. And we had it down, too. My books were "time travel fantasy." S.C.s were "contemporary romance" and Elizabeth's were "paranormal fantasy." And somehow, that usually translated into something for everyone.

3. There was serendipitous genius in all three of us giving away a free e-book. Elizabeth and I each have a perma-free first book in our series, and S.C. was running a five-day free special. We all had cards with QR codes to hand out, and anytime I had the sense someone was interested, but wasn't really going to lay down the ten bucks for a paperback, I'd instantly hand them a card for the free book as my "gift." All of us did the same for each others' books when it seemed someone was intrigued, but not really sure, and it made us a very gifty bunch of authors.

4. The generosity with the public wasn't limited to conversations about our books. Because our booth was named "Indie Authors of LA," there were some people who came by looking for organizations that supported independent authors. After assuring people that we weren't a group, but rather just independent authors who had gotten together to pay for the booth, conversation tended to turn to independent publishing in general. Questions were asked, and answered graciously, and information was shared with generosity. It definitely made for a lot of high-traffic moments at our booth, often with three separate conversations happening at once. But that also generated interest in passersby - sort of a "I want what they're having" thing that served to draw attention to our books.

We talked about the possibility of doing this again next year - renting a booth, and staffing it with different authors to help cover the cost. But some of the things we would implement are: no more than three authors in the booth at a time, ideally authors who like each other and respect each others' work, and break the day into shifts of 2-3 hours each. That seven hour stretch of voluntary conversationalism was a killer, and by Sunday, I wasn't doing a whole lot of talking. But working for a couple of hours, and then being able to wander around the event for a couple of hours would have been an ideal way to experience the book festival. Then maybe I could have actually seen the conversation between John Scalzi and Wil Wheaton that my son would have paid money to see.

The LA Times Festival of Books is a fantastic event, and spending a day talking about books, at an event surrounded by books, was awesome.

Though if I never overhear another hard sell about Dianetics, it'll be too soon...

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

LA Times Festival of Books

I don't know about you, but I've never been to the LA Times Festival of Books. I know, right? I live in Los Angeles, and... BOOKS! But there's always the parking and the crowds and whatever (excuses) else I happened to be doing that gorgeous April weekend that the festival was held.

But then an opportunity came along. An author friend bought a booth and was selling space at the tables to cover the cost. So I bought half a table for Saturday, April 18th. And then another author had to drop out, so I did some quick switching and bought another half.

Now here's the thing. A full table at an event like this one seems like a great thing, but I've been to author events with a full table, and I've been to ones where I've shared the table. Here's a little (TMI) background on me - I almost never feel like I fit in anywhere, and I almost always feel like an impostor at author events. So when I'm by myself at a table, trying not to feel like an idiot (there's a better word, but it's not appropriate), and hating self-promotion, it's a painful thing. But if I get to share a table with an author whose work I've read, whose books are the ones I buy for discerning friends, and shout from the social media rooftops, I don't have to talk to people about MY books. I can talk about theirs.

My usual table-mate at author events is currently on pregnancy bed rest, and she's pretty pissed about it, so I didn't even bother to ask her. It would be a little like holding up a bottle of Opus One in front of the pregnant lady and saying "I'm so sorry you can't share this spectacular wine with me." Mean, just mean. But there's another author whose books I devoured a couple of years ago, and who I (stalked) met at an author event last year. And as I suspected, not only are her books outrageously good, she's a pretty fascinating, funny, interesting person to hang out with.

And she said yes to the other half of the table!

Ladies and Gentlemen, for those of you who have (been productive/getting things done) not seen my posts of Facebook and Twitter, may I present the incomparable Elizabeth Hunter!

And just in case you have been (living under a rock) doing other things besides reading, here are some of her truly exceptional paranormal romance books:

All of them are available on Amazon, and pretty much everywhere else, and book one of her Elemental Mysteries, A Hidden Fire, remains FREE for e-books.

I will not be wearing the eponymous white fisherman's sweater my mother made forty years ago that graces not only this picture (for facial recognition purposes only, and for those of my LA friends who haven't seen me in a decade), but my character, Saira, in my books.

And just in case you missed my previous post about the revised edition of Marking Time being available, also for FREE, you can find it here.

But here's the thing about ANY author event, no matter how many amazing authors (and boy, there are SO MANY coming to LA this weekend!) and no matter how big the crowds are, it's the friendly faces of people who have read our books, or people willing to stop by and chat that make all the difference.

So, although the published literature about the LA Times Festival of Books doesn't list our names, you will be able to find Elizabeth Hunter and April White, talking about books, signing books, and just generally hanging out at booth 132 on Saturday, April 18th from 10am-6pm.

We'd LOVE to see you there!

Friday, 10 April 2015

Marking Time - Revised Edition

So, there's this thing that happens when you do something a lot. Something like writing.

You get better at it.

It helps to hire an editor who knows more than you do. And it helps to have written two books with her, because then you create a style guide together. A guide for when to capitalize things that don't have hard and fast rules, when to add commas, and whether semi-colons have a place in the universe or can they just be replaced with em-dashes (seriously, I did NOT know there was a name for that kind of dash). It also helps that she knows when I'm using Saira's voice for someone else's dialogue, or when I'm rolling her eyes too much, and it REALLY helps that she calls me on it.

And because Tempting Fate and Changing Nature were so much cleaner (in a grammarly way - get your mind out of the gutter), with tighter storytelling (again, mind/gutter) than Marking Time, it was clear that had to be dealt with.

So, I worked with my fabulous, knows-way-more-than-I-do-about-these-things editor to clean up the first book in my series. We cut about ten thousand words, fixed about ten thousand commas (okay, not really, but kind of), and even found the last hold-out typos that had eluded my eyeballs the other hundred times I saw them. I added dates to a couple of chapters to make time jumps easier to keep track of, and even axed a chapter entirely that slowed things down too much.

THE STORY HAS NOT CHANGED (note the big, shouty caps). I couldn't change it even if I wanted to - which I didn't - because there are things in the rest of the series that rely on those plot points. But now Marking Time feels like it moves better, with less lag time, and fewer words to get hung up on. I believe I've become a better writer since I wrote Marking Time, and it was important to me that new readers of the series get the benefit of my education.

You guys had to suffer through the comma-weirdness and sludgy bits, for which I wholeheartedly apologize, and thank you for doing so graciously and with such kindness.

So now, while Amazon decides whether or not there have been enough changes to push an automatic update (I've assured them most emphatically that there are), you have a choice. Ignore this blog post if you're a one-time-through reader, or you're one of those rare, fantastic people who retain books so well you never have to re-read for details. I am not one of those people, and it is my deepest pleasure to re-read my favorite books every time a new one in the series comes out - just to remember why I loved the series in the first place. If you, like me, have any inclination to ever re-read Marking Time, or if you think you might want to loan someone your e-book copy (because, you know, free isn't free enough), consider deleting your current copy of Marking Time and re-downloading it from Amazon. You can tell it's the new version if your table of contents shows 1888 on two chapters, and 1861 on two. Then, just put it away until another day when you might feel like going free running with Saira and Ringo for a bit.

The e-book of Marking Time is still free, and I have no plans to charge for it, so please recommend it to anyone you think might like a little dash of magic with their history. Here's the link to it on Amazon.

If you download the edited version - thank you. If you read it again sometime - thank you with all my heart.

And mostly, thank you for just being readers.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Road Trip Audio Book Deals

If anyone is going on a road trip for Spring Break, consider finding your favorite e-books on Amazon, and checking the price of the audiobook.

The unabridged Audible versions of Penny Reid's Neanderthal Seeks Human, and Elizabeth Hunter's A Hidden Fire are only $1.99 if you download the free e-book.

For my road trip north, I'll be listening to Patrick Rothfuss' A Wise Man's Fear, and book one of Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series, both of which were $3.99 because I already had the e-books in my library.

And speaking of libraries, I also checked out audiobooks at my local library's online page - the same library card number allows me to download both e-books and audiobooks for two to three weeks at a time (I collect library cards from every city I can because different libraries have different online collections). I was able to find the Magic Treehouse books and Gregor the Overlander, which I dowloaded to Logan's iPad so he can listen to them with headphones on our trip.

Audiobooks not only make the drive go by much faster, but my car sick-prone boys are able to survive most trips with their stomachs intact when they have something to concentrate on while they watch the scenery go by.

Here are some links to my latest audiobook downloads:

Neanderthal Seeks Human - by Penny Reid
A Hidden Fire - by Elizabeth Hunter
The Name of the Wind - by Patrick Rothfuss
Midnight Riot - by Ben Aaronovitch

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Boys Will be Boys

So, this happened.

I got a letter from my son's middle-school principal about a "wonderful opportunity" all the students will be having next week. The girls will be viewing the indie movie, Finding Kind, with a filmmaker Q&A afterwards. According to the letter, "The Kind campaign is an internationally recognized movement based on the powerful belief in KINDness that brings awareness and healing to often difficult girl dynamics."

The boys, meanwhile, will be "hearing a message of goal-setting, overcoming obstacles, and resiliency from former NHL star, Ethan Moreau. Following this inspirational presentation there will be a brief showing of the film, Miracle, based on the challenges and triumphs of the US Olympic Hockey team. Both messages are meant to be empowering and thought provoking to our male students."

Let me be clear about a couple of things. I think both of these opportunities are wonderful. I have not seen Finding Kind, but have searched the website and found nothing that says it's inappropriate for boys. I've seen Miracle - it's fantastic - and last time I checked, I'm very definitely female.

You can see where I'm going with this.

I believe men and women are different. Equal, but different. However, those differences are not about kindness vs. resiliency. They're not as easy as healing girl dynamics vs. goal-setting and overcoming obstacles. Girls are not the only ones who can be unkind, and hearing a message of resiliency is just as relevant, if not more so, given the power mean girls seem to have. 

I am a mom of boys, one of whom makes up elaborate stories for his stuffed animals, and often gets his feelings hurt by callous friends. I would love for my sons to see a movie about how girls feel when people are unkind. It might give them access to a range of emotions that girls and women have more social latitude to feel than boys and men do - at least out loud. 

Gender stereotypes exist. There's no question about this. Boys play with trucks, girls play with dolls. Except my three-year-old niece loved her brother's truck, which she put her doll into and pushed around like a stroller. 

Given access to the same options, boys and girls may make different choices. But chances are, it'll be some completely unexpected hybrid of things that are "traditionally" male and female. If we take away the equal opportunity to the options - to knowledge and understanding and access - we're putting our boys and girls in boxes, and perpetuating the gender stereotypes in a way that limits, rather than expands their choices.

So, my letter to the principal is basically this - these are wonderful opportunities - if all students have access to both assemblies. The gender lines will sort themselves out according to the education and opportunities our kids receive. If we divide them now, we're telling the kids this is okay for you to feel, or be, or do if you're a girl. And if you're a boy, these are the things that matter.

"Like a Girl" has taken on a new significance in the media with the campaign, and its push that "like a girl" is NOT an insult. Now, imagine you're a boy in the middle school "boys" assembly. You look around at the target audience and you don't see any girls. What do you begin to assume? Maybe that your school doesn't think goal-setting, resiliency and overcoming obstacles are appropriate messages for girls? And if you hear about the Kind campaign the girls got to see, you might think your school doesn't value kindness in boys.

Yes, boys and girls might make different choices, but it's our job as parents, educators and adults to give them the same access to information, so their choices are informed and truly theirs.

Friday, 30 January 2015

The USC Scripter Awards - Diversity

It's Awards Season - specifically, USC Scripter Awards time - which I've already established is the coolest awards event on the planet. You know, because I have the credentials and clout to establish such things.

The short explanation for my fangirly enthusiasm is this: The USC Scripter Awards honors both the author of the original work (novelist), and the screenwriter who adapted that work into a film.

The long version is somewhat more complicated, and it involves a little word with a very, very big meaning: Diversity.

Now my white-girl, middle class upbringing establishes about as much in the way of credentials and clout to discuss this as my proclamation of the Scripter Awards' coolness. But stay with me here, because I'm going to veer around in some pretty big arcs before I come back to my point.

Patrick Rothfuss, author of the Kingkiller Chronicles, and blogger, speaker, gamer, and philanthropist extraordinaire, spoke to a group of authors about women in fantasy literature. Basically, there are none. Obviously, he didn't say that in so many words, and just as obviously, it's an oversimplification, but he pointed out that JRR Tolkien did not write a single female character in The Hobbit. Not one.

Wow, right?

So, I had this conversation with my eleven-year-old son while we waited at the bus stop one morning. And my decidedly brilliant, reader and gamer of all things fantastic progeny had this to say. "He's right. Usually, if there's a women in fantasy stuff, she's a sidekick, or she needs to be saved." The thing about that realization that bothered him though, was not so much that it was true (he mostly just thought it was weird), but that he hadn't even noticed it until that moment.

He hadn't noticed.

Walter Mosley, the extraordinary author of over forty novels, including Devil in a Blue Dress, is being honored for his literary achievements at this year's USC Scripter Awards. It's been debated whether he writes Jewish literature (his mother is Jewish), or should be described as a black author (his father is black). If you ask Walter Mosely, he prefers novelist. He once said he writes his characters because "there are black male protagonists and black male supporting characters, but nobody else writes about black male heroes."

I hadn't noticed.

And just like my son, it bothers me that I didn't notice the lack of diversity among book heroes. Considering the number of books I read every year (over a hundred), and the fact that I'm an author with a fantasy heroine, you'd think I'd have noticed. 

When a novel is adapted to film, diversity, or the lack thereof, becomes visual. When the lead characters are of diverse races and ethnicities, when they're female, or gay, or disabled - it all makes an impact on people's expectations of normal. Having a black hero shouldn't be remarkable, just like women in fantasy shouldn't stand out as unique to the people reading and watching the worlds which artists create to entertain and enlighten us.

This is why the USC Scripter Awards are so cool. They celebrate a truly diverse selection of artists, whose remarkable work stands out for its excellence, and for depictions of unique and diverse characters:

Gone Girl, adapted by Gillian Flynn from her novel of the same name
The Imitation Game, adapted by Graham Moore from Andrew Hodges' book Alan Turing: The Enigma
Inherent Vice, adapted by Paul Thomas Anderson from Thomas Pynchon's novel of the same name
The Theory of Everything, adapted by Anthony McCarten from Jane Hawking's Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen
Wild, adapted by Nick Hornby from Cheryl Strayed's memoir of the same name

Gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, economic status, disabilities - the writers of these projects, and the subjects of their stories represent a wonderful cross-section of humanity. They're the kinds of stories anyone can find themselves in, anyone can feel a kinship with, and anyone can recognize a piece of something that feels true to them. This is diversity.

And this, I noticed.