Friday, 29 June 2012

Greater Love Can Be Yours Today!

Greater Love, the fourth book in my Eternal Hunger novella series, is free on Amazon on Saturday and Sunday this week (US time). Although the book is part of a series it can also be read on its own - but you will have to read the fifth and final book to find out what happens! You won't have to wait long as I plan (hope) to have it finished by the end of July.

The title of each book in the series is based on a quote from the bible. I'm not a religious person by any means (at least not in the traditional sense), but I did enudre 13 years of Catholic school, and the bible has some rockin' quotes and imagery.  I couldn't decide between two quotes for this book so I went with them both. They really sum up the themes of the novella, which centre around forgiveness, absolution and courage / hope in the face of adversity.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Corinthians 13:13

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:13
The series is based loosely on Bram Stoker's Dracula, so imagine my surprise when I did a search on Amazon to find out how many other books had the same title, only to discover that Bram Stoker wrote a short story called Greater Love. His story is not about vampires but it is a rather freaky coincidence!

I always planned this series to be a love story, but its taken four novellas to actually get to the romance. It was nice to bring in some lightness, because its been quite heavy up to this point, although there is still plenty of darkness in this book too.

By the time the series is completed it will come in at over 85,000 words, which beats my previous record of 75,000 for Pleasure Island. I've often wondered if I should have written this as a complete novel instead of five separate novellas, but in hindsight I'm glad I did it this way. Writing it like this has helped me to keep a very tight reign on each book in a way a novel would not have. Each novella has to be complete in itself, to an extent, and each one explores different themes and ideas. The challenge now is to bring them all together in the final book.

Here's the outline for Greater Love (there's a synopsis of the previous novellas at the beginning of the book):

When Lucia’s plans to expose the vampires for their crimes against humanity are discovered by Drake L’amour, he takes her to his father’s castle to face her punishment. Lucia refuses to recant, and the Count orders his son to drive a stake through her heart. L’amour cannot bring himself to murder the only woman he has ever loved. Instead, in Greater Love, they escape to his secret cabin in the most inhospitable part of the world.

Their life in hiding is precarious, and they must constantly watch over their shoulders, fearing that each day could be their last. When L’amour confesses his feelings to Lucia, she is unable return them. Her goal is to reclaim her eternal soul, and this leaves no time for romance with a vampire. Even if they manage to survive, she knows it is foolish to believe an immortal and a human could ever have a future together.

With Drake’s help, Lucia must fight to win back her soul, but will she lose her heart in the process?

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Lone Strong Girl

Joan of Arc, the first "lone strong girl?"

I don't read a lot of YA fiction, but I do tend to read a lot of reviews on Goodreads and Amazon for books that get my attention. I love reading about books I'll probably never get the chance to actually read. Finding out about all the different perspectives readers bring to a book is also very helpful for writers. I've noticed a few comments lately about the emergence of what one reviewer has called the "strong girl spotlight." (this review was for The Immortal Rules, which I haven't read so I can't comment on the book itself).

Basically this term refers to books that have a strong female heroine. Nothing wrong with that, I hear you say. The only problem is the strong heroine also happens to be the ONLY worthwhile female in the book. The other women are defined by their weakness or jealousy and competitiveness towards her. It seems there is more acceptance these days of strong women across genres, but is this the trade-off? Are strong female characters acceptable as long as there aren't too many of them? Another reason the "lone strong girl might be appealing to some is that she appears to be an anomaly, different from other women and in a class of her own.

Maybe I'm reading too much into the few comments I've come across in reviews, but it's an interesting issue to keep an eye on. I do worry about the messages young women are constantly bombarded with in the media because the emphasis seems to be on looks and sexual attractiveness more than ever, and this is not a recipe for female solidarity. Instead it sets girls up to compete for male approval and I wonder is this reflected in the books written for young audiences?

Are there a diverese range of role models for young women in YA fiction, or is the lone strong girl (or good / smart girl) a common character?

It's not really fair to call Lisa the "lone smart girl" in Springfield as she's really the "lone smart person."

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

A Spine-Chilling Thriller For Free!

Today I'm thrilled to announce that my novella Hunger of the Wolf is free on Amazon! (from Thursday - Saturday US time). If you like to be scared and appreciate a good story with a few unexpected twists and turns, then you will enjoy this book. It's my first non-romance book, so I'm very interested to see how it is received. At 32,000 words it's also my longest self-published book to date.

When I look back on what inspired me to write my books, I can never remember much at all about the planning phase. I do recall that Hunger of the Wolf was based very losely on Little Red Riding Hood, and although it moved away from this story quite a bit, there are still some elements from the fairytale remaining. See if you can spot them.

Here's the blurb:

Amber Lee is going through a painful divorce when she decides to take off to an isolated mountain cabin to get away from it all. She hopes the mountains will help her to heal, but her serenity is shattered when she learns that her closest neighbour, Jesse Davidson, is a suspect in the disappearance of a young girl.

Amber tries not to become too caught up in the rumours, but through a series of disturbing events she is drawn into the mystery. As she tries to discover the truth, Amber learns that appearances can be deceiving and wolves come in all types of clothing. She must confront the ugliest aspects of human nature and draw on all her inner strength as she is forced to fight for her survival.

"You know, my dear, it isn't safe for a little girl to walk through these woods alone."

Friday, 15 June 2012

A Short-Attention-Span Culture

The question of whether computers are contributing to a decrease in peoples attention spans has plagued me a lot over the last few years. I know for a fact that I don't have the patience to sit down and read a book for hours like I once did. Recently I decided to read a few more of the classics and I found it very hard to maintain my attention at first. I'm so used to reading books that are easy to read that the more difficult language was hard to adapt to, but having read many of these books in the past, I persevered because I knew it was worth it. But what about young people who have never known the joys of Charles Dickens or Jane Austen? I fear they will just give up and move onto something else because it's too much of an effort.

E-readers have contributed to this problem in my experience because they make it so easy to flick between books. Even when I'm reading something on my Kindle I'm thinking about all the other books on my Kindle that I could be reading, and instead of focusing on one I read a bit, then move to something else for a few pages. The result is I have a lot of half-read books on my Kindle. Does anyone else have this problem, or is it just me?

Although the internet has been a godsend for writers in terms of research and connecting with readers, one of the major drawbacks is that there is so much to distract you from actually writing, especially if you are a procrastinator. Instead of focusing on my manuscript I find myself writing a few lines and then checking sales figures on Amazon (which does nothing to encourage me!), then looking at my emails, finding books to download, reading reviews, checking social networking sites, skimming newspapers, and basically doing everything except writing. It definitely comes down to a question of willpower and mine is so lacking that I've seriously considered disconnecting my broadband so I can get some work done! My sadly dimishing attention span reached alarming levels last week when I found I'd been listening to the radio in my car in scan mode (ie. when you hear a few seconds of a station before it moves to the next one), for twenty minutes without even realizing it. Flicking from one thing to the next has come to seem so normal to me that it felt perfectly alright to hear just a few seconds of a song before moving on.

This article from The New York Times confirmed my fears. According to the article:

Recently, Internet mavens got some bad news. Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd of Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy examined computer use among a half-million 5th through 8th graders in North Carolina. They found that the spread of home computers and high-speed Internet access was associated with significant declines in math and reading scores. (this study was conducted before Twitter and Facebook became popular).

The opinion piece also discusses a book by Nicholas Carr called The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, in which the author argues that "the Internet is leading to a short-attention-span culture. He cites a pile of research showing that the multidistraction, hyperlink world degrades people’s abilities to engage in deep thought or serious contemplation."

Having felt real despair when reading some of the books that have made it onto the bestseller's lists lately, I have to agree with the view that readers are much less willing today to study the works of great writers and scholars, and  "immerse themselves in deep, alternative worlds and hope to gain some lasting wisdom".
A citizen of the Internet has a very differet experience. The Internet smashes hierarchy and is not marked by deference.....The dominant activity is free-wheeling, disrespectful, antiauthority disputation.

While there are definite advantages to this breaking down of hierarchies, the real degeneration in literary standards is of great concern to me. I can't help feeling that in this fast-paced, superficial, short-attention-span culture, something invaluable is being lost.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Coping With Writer's Block

For the first time since I began writing I'm suffering from a serious case of writer's block.  It could not have come at a worse time as our analogue tv transmission was switched off yesterday and we haven't upgraded our tv or brought a set-top box, meaning we now have no tv. This feeling of being drained reminds me of the way I felt when I left teaching. I'm not liking anything that I write and finding it hard to come up with ideas, so I think this is a good indication that it's time to take a break and refresh.

Since I began writing seriously about 18 months ago I've had two full-length novels published and I've self-published four 15,000+ word novellas. I also have another 30,000 word suspense novella that I'm about to upload to Amazon, and on top of that I've got three novellas that are half finished and I've written a few short stories. I think I may have overdone it just a bit! Some people are amazingly prolific, but I'm not one of them and this pace has been a little too intense for me.

One of the things I find most frustrating about writing is the fact that I can't read while I'm working on something. I don't know why, but whenever I start to read a book it just makes me want to get back into my own writing. Maybe now is a good time to tackle some of the great novels in my TBR pile. Hopefully this will provide some inspiration and help me enjoy writing again because that's what it comes down to. Although I have dreams of fame and fortune, I'm realistic enough to know that writing will only ever be a hobby for me, and there's no point doing it when the joy is gone.

I'd be really interested in hearing about other's people's experience with writer's block and how you cope with it.

I'm sure this is how my long-suffering husband feels!

Friday, 1 June 2012

Bad Reviewers Are Also Bad People

A recent study conducted by the Institute of Outraged Authors confirmed what many of us already knew: Those who write bad reviews are also bad people. The study found that critics who give one and two star reviews tend to be as cruel, nasty and just plain horrible in their everyday lives as they are on Amazon and other book rating forums.

The bad reviewers were 89% more likely to drive over a family of ducks crossing the road, while a whopping 99% of them admitted that crushing the dreams of small children and breaking their favourite toys gave them a sense of power and fulfilment. Bad reviewers were also found to be notoriously stingy tippers who enjoy spreading malicious gossip in the workplace and creating disharmony in social situations. An overwhelming majority admitted to being schoolyard bullies.

"I'm just so glad this has finally been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt," said Mark*, an author whose self-published books have received a large number of negative reviews. "Now readers will finally be able to recognise that bad reviews are in no way a reflection of the books in question, but are merely the hate-filled outpourings of diseased minds. It is my hope that this groundbreaking study will lead to bad reviewers seeking the help they so obviously need so we can rid society of this scourge."

The official spokesperson for the Society of Sadistic Reviewers (pictured above) was unavailabe for comment.

Obviously I'm joking! As all authors know, negative reviews come with the territory and you have to learn to take the good with the bad.  The best bad reviews are those that explain what they did not like about the book and don't just do a hatchet job on it. These are the ones I take notice of because they usually make valid points, as hard as this may be to acknowledge.

We can all take heart from the fact that even the most celebrated authors get bad reviews. My all time favourite for sheer nastiness is Mark Twain's comment about Jane Austen:

Everytime I read 'Pride and Prejudice' I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.- Letter to Joseph Twichell, 13 September 1898

It doesn't get more mean-spirited than this, but Jane definitely got the last laugh on her bad reviewers, providing an inspiration to us all to persevere in the face of critcism and negativity.