Got you covered

The cover for Lost in Waste was in a contest for books published by independent/small publishers.

http://indtale.com/polls/creme-de-la-cover-contest

Once my second novel clearly identified the theme and tenor of the series, Book One got a cover make over. It looks less romantic, doesn’t it?

Likewise, the cover of my first novel, a Victorian romanic satire, was simplified over time, as shown below,

When I started out writing novels, I wasn’t sure of my path as an author. As this becomes more established, so do my covers.

What do experts say makes a good cover? Most will say it should be something simple and easy to take in right away with a clear focal point and an easy to read font. It needs to give a quick, big picture overview of what the book is about and catch attention.

Here are some all time great covers.

I didn’t have much to do with designing the cover but it’s been a well-received one. I asked City Owl CEO, Tina Moss, what makes a good cover. She replied as follows:

“The biggest thing with covers is to see the what’s working in the genre. What are readers gravitating toward? Covers like trends change. And some of the top indie authors will actually change their covers yearly or more often. I don’t think that’s necessarily correct as you want to create a brand and not chase trends. But having a brand that aligns with consistency in the genre is key. 


For example, your author name should be the same font on your cover, your website, your social media headers, your business cards, your swag, etc. The cover is a tool for marketing and branding.”

Following my CEO’s advice, I attempted to match fonts for this site with my books. How did I do?

An interview with ManyBooks

Lost in Waste is launched. It’s for sale here. If you do Facebook, I’m having a “party” with giveaways here. Comment for a chance to win. Facebook doesn’t allow competition and winners will be selected randomly.

Writing my first novel six years ago was a supreme struggle. I’d written and published short stories but never a novel. Who should be the focus? What should happen? How do I write a dialogue tag? And what is the theme? Every novel I ever read showed me what should be done, but none said the same thing. Because unlike science, there are numerous answers to any question in the arts.

I wrote two versions of Natural Attraction. The science romance version and the paranormal version. The romance was picked up and published as Natural Attraction. My first publisher told me to start a blog and get social media accounts, because writing is a business. I’ve been in this novel business for five years. Social media’s become a crowded place.

I like writing books. I love being edited and working with an editor to make a book the best it can be. Promoting my own books is much less fun. I can see why there is a whiskey called Writer’s Tears. I understand how the arts have a high suicide rate, just below that of people in the construction and building trades. There’s no sure way to know how successful a book will be. Or what even defines success.

One year, I got a rejection for that first novel on my birthday. I faced the same struggles many female authors do with virtually the same comments as a writer who submitted under a male and female name and found much more success as a male. For example, my main characters aren’t emotional enough or maybe are too stereotypical. The thing about rejection is, it’s not you getting rejected–it’s your characters, who for a short while, were more real to you than you were. You hurt for them. You let them down.

A writer can learn from rejection. An encouraging rejection from Harlequin Romance explained why a novel was not a true romance–because it highlighted the time and place of the characters. After that, I embraced the milieu novel. I moved forward.

People enjoy binging these days and series are popular. Mixed In is the first book in the Unstable States Series. It’s on sale for a short time right here.

Lost in Waste continues the same dystopia a short time later. It’s my fourth novel and I wrote it painfully slowly. However, I like how it turned out. How did I get my ideas? I watched news and social media, even though I kind of hate a lot of it. I listened to people and what events they were discussing. I don’t base characters on people I know but I do base them on what people are talking about. In Iowa, the topic is water pollution. Our water is so polluted, my city had to put in a reverse osmosis treatment plant. I read books. For Lost in Waste, a friend loaned me her anthropology books and we discussed topics. I went to a workshop. I wrote a little bit every day.

Mixed In is being featured on Manybooks. As part of the promotion, I gave an author interview. Being a teacher, I like author interviews. I explain or possibly defend myself. I don’t really like my photo taken. I feel as if it’s a visual interrogation. And female writers are judged on their looks. Having sensuous lips is apparently a reason for people to buy your books. I had a nice photo for my last book but needed an update. I went with a photo which, in the words of a friend, “made me look as if I could cause some trouble.”

Here’s the interview:

  1. Please give us a short introduction to what Mixed In is about. Catrina moves to an authoritarian city-state to pursue her dream job as a scientist. A chance meeting and deep involvement with rebellious bar owner Ulysses has her questioning the value of science to humanity. But it’s what she’ll need to save him.
    2.  What inspired you to write about someone who moves into an authoritarian society? Along with several other scientists, I was visited by the governor at my workplace. She spoke about Iowa needing more scientists in purely economic terms without any recognition of the joy of science, its optimism, and its commitment to making life better for as many people as possible. From my perspective, she was basically saying she supported science because it could make more money for the super-rich and that was to be its focus. I found it chilling but inspirational. I developed a fictional society ruled by a profit-driven family.
    3.  Tell us more about Catrina.  What makes her so special? Catrina carries the optimism of science and its love of problem-solving to the extreme. No problem is too big for her. She solves problems she maybe shouldn’t. She’s a little naïve. If you’re longing for a protagonist with a can-do spirit, like Nancy Drew, Sherlock Holmes, or Hermione, you’ll love her. 
    4.  In Cochtonville, just about anything that is fun is outlawed – why did you create the story this way? Many people have told me that they think it has something to do with my hometown which is pretty buttoned up. That might have been a part of it. I envisioned a joyless place where there’s nothing to do but go to work and eat ham—and even that gets ruined. I based this on the Comstock Act of 1873 which declared many things to be lewd. I like to have mild sex scenes in my novels to help Mr. Comstock roll in his grave.
    5. Even though your characters live in a strange society, readers found them relatable and real.  How did you pull this off? I think we all can relate to the tension between private life and work life, to the complexities of love, and to being an outsider. 
    6.  Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have? I’m small and walk quietly so I can sneak up on people. Since I’m a chemist, I can make potions. And my last name rhymes with Frankenstein.
    7.  This is the first book in a series. Can it be read as a standalone? How do the other books in the series tie in with this one? Yes, it and other books in the series can be standalone. The location is the same but the events and characters don’t depend on the other books. The series can be classified as Milieu, place-based. In each book, different people are fighting a similar battle.  
    8.  Among the wealth of characters in Mixed In, who was the most difficult to create? The male lead, Ulysses. He’s not the best choice for Catrina, he’s made questionable decisions, but I needed him to be likable.
    9.  What are you working on right now? I’ve just finished up the second book in the series, Lost in Waste, about falling in love with a GMO man. 
    10.  Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you? Mixed In is Amazon exclusive right now so they can find me there. I have a blog https://catherinehaustein.com/. I’m on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/sciwords/ I’d love to hear from them!

Fortunately, being a teacher has a low sorrow rate. Which is why I won’t quit my day job. This way, I won’t have to get plastic surgery to give myself those sensuous lips I might need to make a living as an author. And instead of my photo, here are my dogs waiting patiently for me to finish this blog and get out into the real world and play.

My dogs want me to pause and play with them in he real world.

How I Wrote Lost in Waste & the dangerous “art” of satire

Cali Van Winkle doesn’t plan to find romance in her life. After all, normal men are practically an endangered species after that last chemical spill. So when she spots genetically modified men while she’s on assignment to clean up a sewage lagoon, she vows to make the best of it. Thus began the first scene I wrote for Lost in Waste, which you can purchase here. (ebook only for now.)

I wrote this scene back in 2017. I wasn’t sure where to go with it. I made progress at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival that year. At the week long workshop style course, I developed the character of NezLeigh, an abandoned pre-teen with a potty mouth and a genetic defect–very small eyes. I based this on a sad reality, although I gave NezLeigh ability to see in the dark and to create clothes and rope from plastic bags. I got some laughs when I read aloud to my festival class, so I kept going.

I expanded the relationship between Cali and the GMO man, Remmer, who’d been genetically modified but botched. Using Crispr gene editing as inspiration, I envisioned him as one of many CrispEr men, with the E standing for erotic. No, it’s not an erotic novel; he and his fellow Crispers are meant to be an enticement for women to get them to conform and work harder. Thus, I watched plenty of male stripper videos and Magic Mike as I crafted it. And from there, it grew, little by little, with the help of my English major daughter, into an 89,000 word novel. How long did it take? Nearly a year and a half.

Remmer was modified using the Crispr process, which involves cutting DNA

This was my second novel in my Unstable States series, in which Iowa has turned into an authoritarian nightmare known as Cochtonia. However, there was no guarantee the second book would be accepted, nor did I promise I’d write a series. Despite this, the idea stuck with me and I persisted. Some have said that the authoritarian society emotionally resembles my own home town. I didn’t intend this but obviously, it must have influenced me. I didn’t finish Lost in Waste and submit it to the publisher, City Owl Press, until December 2018! Fortunately, I received a contract for publication soon after.

My next half year was spent working with my editor, Christie. She encouraged me to develop a Style Sheet to keep track of the series so there would be consistency going forward. It turned out to be 14 pages long.

Christie was incredibly encouraging. I tend to write “brief”–I don’t want to be boring– and she was able to tease expansion and elaboration from me. I most certainly need other readers who are willing to critique. One major change she wanted was a new opening. For a moment I was stumped but after a trip to Petoskey, Michigan and some relaxing stone finding and polishing, it came to me.

She also suffered through having to proof read me. Thank-you, Christie.

Next came another proof reading. I admire anyone with the eye and patience to do this! When I wrote my first novel, I hired both a copy editor and a proof reader. Lost in Waste was my first venture into trusting my publisher to help me with this.

In October, City Owl artists and editors created the cover. We knocked around a title for the work. My grandkids loved Lost In Space and I wanted to be sure to have one that hinted at comedy. This is how I got the final title.

And now, at last, it’s almost here. Am I nervous? Yes. While grief flows from us with sad universality, and love is a hormone regulated experience we share, comedy, like plastic, isn’t a natural thing.

A satire is dangerous, too. A satire expresses frustration with the status quo. Satire is intended to expose our foolishness by deploying humor. It exposes and criticizes foolishness by being foolish. For example, Iowa has enacted a ban on banning plastic bags. Thus, you will find plenty of them blowing in the wind in Lost in Waste.

Satire intends to improve humanity by criticizing its follies and foibles. A writer in a satire uses fictional characters, which stand for real people, to expose and condemn their corruption.” It can’t be a middle of the road experience. It has to take a stand. Most comedy writers use a pseudonym because of the dangers comedy writing involve. In the words of famous satirist Johnathan Swift “Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own. Which is the chief reason for that kind reception it meets with in the world, and that so very few are offended with it.” It must “claim no right to absolute truth or goodness.”

Thus, I hope, you will identify with and be appalled by the “out group” in Cochtonia, with the life in the oppressive nation of Cochtonia, and even with a few of the decisions the “good” characters make. Yes, satire can exploit stereotypes and will have some. I use stereotypes for the authority figures. As in Mixed In, there is a ridiculous boss who thinks highly of himself and demands far too much. Do I personally have a boss I hate? Absolutely not. But most can relate to the sense that they are working harder and sacrificing more and getting less glory than others around them.

Why can’t I stop writing comedy? Because, if I don’t laugh, I might cry. Also, I don’t want to “kill my darlings.” I won’t shock you by killing off the main character or even a dog even though I do parody a scene from The Bear.

If you find much about society, including yourself, absurd and unpredictable, you might enjoy escaping into a satire. You’ll be glad you don’t live in the nation of Cochtonia. Then again, maybe you do.

Quirky Quickies to Inspire Strangeness

There is no beauty without strangeness. Thus wrote the author of The Telltale Heart, a short story about a man who kills his housemate because he doesn’t like his eye. Edgar Allen Poe‘s short stories are still memorable today for their exquisite strangeness. Why does strangeness have such enduring appeal? You don’t learn much from “typical.” It’s not interesting. Flawed characters are memorable because we can relate to them. Strange characters stand out in a crowd of normality. As Janet Burroway points out in her latest text, Writing Fiction, “My advice, then, is to labor in the range of the peculiar. If you set out to write a typical character, you may end up with a vague or dull or windy one.”

I prefer a dash of strange, a dose of metaphor, and a strong flavor of subtext in my fiction. Writing while strange might not garner an author acclaim, but it’s a way to write unforgettable fiction. Short stories are a great venue for instant quirkiness. If you need a quick dose of inspirational strange, here are few of my favorite strange short stories:

Mural in Detroit’s Eastern Market

The Pukey by Nigel Dennis–a sexualized, vomiting pet is a metaphor for television in this sci-fi classic.

St. Lucy’s Home for Girl’s Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell--how do you assimilate into a normal, human society if your parents are wolves?

The Perfect Match by Ken Liu –after a predictably pleasant date, Sal’s quirky neighbor convinces him to buck the system

Gross Anatomy by Kodi Scheer--a medical student learns more than she plans to when her cadaver follows her around and talks to her.

The above stories can be found in anthologies. I’ll leave you with one of mine. It’s also in an anthology.

I’m looking for suggestions. What are some of your favorite strange stories?

Is your purse big enough and other bookish concerns

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My great grandfather’s copy of The Last Puritan with a green cover. Keep or throw? Read below.

My first published novel will soon be out of print! The publisher, a small one, decided to close because of declining e-book profits. Ebooks have been good money makers for small and independently published books. They offer a better percentage payback for authors. They are low risk and low-cost alternatives to print books. At one time, a third of all readers bought them. But sales continue to drop. And I understand it. I haven’t read from my Kindle in months. Reading from a screen is not relaxing for me.

It’s not visual fatigue that is making ebooks less popular. Ebooks do not cause more eyestrain, especially if they are not read for over twenty minutes at a time and if you do not wear corrective lenses (although this is still being debated.) They may cause head and neck problems and most people find that glasses made for general use do not work with computers. This is because electronic print is not as crisp or clear as those created with ink and paper. E-reading many cause dry eyes as people do not blink as much when reading from an electronic page.

There’s a reason that people don’t enjoy e-books. Reading from “plasma” is different neurologically from reading on print. Screen reading is superficial and less deep. Your eyes jerk more. Your brain reads less completely. It’s skimming. It affects you. You become “cognitively impatient.” When you search for answers, you will tend to grab onto the simplest one, not the one that fits the data or information the best. You don’t dig in.

People don’t relish the page as they used to due to cognitive impatience. Novelists have adapted by writing “quick reads”–page turners– that are easy to follow and understand. Sometimes, this writing is formulaic. Critics say it is not “internal” enough and moves too quickly.  Supporters of the new, fast style say that these books are fun and exciting and less about the boring psychological struggles of rich, white people. I aspire to write in the middle in a niche form known as upmarket. You can see from my critics that I at times get blasted from both sides. However, it seems that “real” readers are rebelling not against the form but in the way it is presented. They demand print books. And yet, when an author submits a book for consideration, it’s understandably electronic, creating a gap between writing for print and getting your book in print.

This I find that cognitive impatience gets in the way when I grade on-line.  I’m okay for the first few papers and then, suddenly, I can’t take it all in. This is why when I grade a short story or research paper, I always print off a copy and write on it. Yes, I know that I can use many programs to allow me to comment on student papers electronically. It isn’t as deep. I write comments on their papers. Sometimes my students say that reading handwriting reminds them of their grandparents. I see this as a good thing.

The same thing is true when I write novels. I compose electronically but I must read paper, and over and over, as I polish the manuscript. Does this create a disconnect with readers? Who should I write for–print lovers or e-book fans? My latest book has sold more ebooks than print.

The situation is even murkier for professors. Print books are expensive and students use them for a limited time. They must be shipped and if students don’t order them promptly or if the books are backordered, they can miss many assignments. E-books are cheaper, easier to get,  and create less waste. However, I once had my students purchase an electronic lab manual, the only manual that came with our text, and they had a terrible time following the instructions. Now, I write and self-publish my own print manual and stress writing, on paper, a solid conclusion based on data for their lab reports.

There is also a mild debate about e-books in grade school. These can engage students, although some studies say that students have lower comprehension with e-books. Things such as flipping the pages of a book help with a tactile sensation that promotes understanding. My students tell me that unless they travel by air, they prefer print books. They agree that even the feel and smell of books is  part of the experience. One says, “A sign of a good purse is how many books you can fit into it.”

Another concern is that although blue light from computer screens is safe for adults, it may damage the eyes of children. Blue light creates alertness which is probably why we love screens. Blue light before  bed can mess up our sleep cycles and cause daytime sleepiness and poor performance in school.

There’s a downside to print books. Paper books carry a danger–they can house mold, mildew, dust, bacteria,  and particulates–these are associated with health problems in librarians! Some library books have been found to contain bed bugs and traces of cocaine.  You can remove mold and mildew from old books. You can prevent bed bug transfer by heating book bags in your clothes dryer. And bacteria can only live in a book for a few days.

There is one old book you must avoid. Green books older than the 1850s–those with covers and green print in pages–can contain arsenic.  Do not buy or keep these books. 

It’s a good idea to periodically cull old books from your shelves for the health reasons outlined above. You can always store your favorite classics on your e-reader. My great-grandfather’s book ( shown above) is worth about $15 at most. It made me cough when I opened it. I’m not sure I can part with it just yet because it’s one of the only things I have of him.

As for brains maxed out on high tech reading, neuroscientists recommend a two week respite from-e-reading to help your brain recover. So if you need a break, go ahead, get that big purse or backpack–large enough for two weeks of print reading and take it along on your next vacation.

Old books on wooden table
Magic or mildew? An old book could carry both. Replace those old copies!

 

Here’s a link to the print version of Wolves and Deer.

Prefer e-book? Here’s an excerpt and link for that.

Would you rather read a futuristic novel? Click here for Mixed In.

A tale of three taglines and their pitches

Your work of fiction is done. You’re aching to connect with readers. You dream about  where you will publish it. Brimming with enthusiasm, you tell people about it. But how can you condense this intimate experience known as your story into something that won’t take as long to explain as it does to read? How do you let readers know that your fiction is worth their precious time? You need a pitch and a tagline.

The tagline is a phrase that gives the essence and emotions of the book or story.  The pitch lays out the basic conflict–what the protagonist wants, what stands in the way, and what the consequences are.

Here is a delightful resource on the topic.

A new author might find it painful to squeeze their work  into such a small printed space. A paragraph? A sentence? After all that struggle! But not only does doing this help your potential audience, it helps you focus on what your tale is about.

You can get a feel for pitches and taglines by looking at your favorite books and movies. Here are two familiar ones.

THE HANDMAID’S TALE

TAGLINE: In the World of the Near Future, Who will control women’s bodies?

PITCH: Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leae the home of the Commander and his wife to walk to the food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read.  She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids, are valued only if their ovaries are viable.

HIDDEN FIGURES (Movie)

TAGLINE: Meet the women you don’t know behind the mission you do.

PITCH: Three brilliant African-American women at NASA — Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) — serve as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race and galvanized the world.

When I began writing and submitting and getting rejected, I found pitch and tagline creation painful and limiting. Here’s the good news, you get better at it.

Here’s my first successful attempt, for

NATURAL ATTRACTION

TAGLINE: What happens when a traveling preacher who’s never been kissed inadvertently shares a love potion with a young female scientist who has taken the guise of a man?

PITCH: Clementine is an ambitious young Dutch-American naturalist from Spookstad, Michigan, who hopes to make her mark as a scientist in the post-Civil War United States. She takes a tonic, which causes her to appear male, so she can join a prospecting expedition as a naturalist. She wins the heart of the expedition preacher, Wesley, who will be her unflinching companion, as she travels the country facing acts of nature, cowboys, freak shows, ambitious bosses, unique rodent species, a trippy sage and even the Chicago fire. Wesley is betrothed to another and Clementine fears her affection for him will hinder her dreams of becoming a well-renowned scientist and his of gaining a small parish. When Wesley disappears and Clementine can no longer hide her gender or her feelings, she must accept her true identity and keep his secret or lose everything she’s worked so hard to gain.

Penner Publishing worked with these a bit and came up with this transformation.

TAGLINE: To get ahead she’ll have to become a man–and a man, she always thought, never lets love get in the way…

PITCH/BOOKBACK: Clementine dreams of being a naturalist—a career that leaves no time for romance. To sneak on an adventurous prospecting expedition, Clementine will have to convince everyone she’s a man. A mysterious tonic offers her just that disguise.

But “Calvin,” as she calls herself now, had no idea what she was giving up. When Wesley, the expedition’s gentle preacher, catches her eye, she can’t get him out of her head; not his lush lips, wide brown eyes…or broad chest. Dare she reveal her secret to him? Can she keep her career if she does?

Among run-ins with cowboys, natural disasters, and traveling shows, Wesley’s most fascinating adventure is meeting Calvin. Though Wesley’s betrothed to another, the cute, clever naturalist threatens to make him fall into temptation.

MIXED IN

My second novel, MIXED IN, was submitted with this pitch and no tagline:

When Catrina moves to Cochtonville to work for Cochton Enterprises, she has no idea how dangerous it is. A chance meeting with Ulysses, owner of the Union Station bar, plunges her into a world of illegal condoms, vibrators, and art. Their relationship puts them both in peril as Catrina begins to understand the dark side of her employer and their society.

Working with my editor and asking friends what they thought, I came up with this pitch (now used as the book back) and tagline:

TAGLINE: When passions are regulated, which laws will you break?

PITCH/BOOKBACK: When Catrina moves to Cochtonville to work as a chemist for Cochton Enterprises, she has no idea how dangerous her life is about to become. A chance meeting with Ulysses, owner of the Union Station bar, plunges her into a world of illegal condoms, vibrators, and art. As their loneliness draws them together, they become allies in what will become the fight of their lives in the sexually repressive and culturally backward dystopia.

 Catrina’s invention, No Regrets—a scanner to test for pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections– brings increased scrutiny from the town’s Vice Patrol, made worse by an ambitious new agent who hangs around Union Station and takes up with Ulysses’s vindictive ex. Catrina’s relationship with Ulysses and her company’s new products put them both in peril as she begins to understand the dark side of her employer, her society, and science without humanity.

 But science is all she’ll have to spare the men of Cochtonville a mortifying fate and to save the life of Ulysses.

You can see that the pitch got a lot sexier–and something you might not want to show your Mom or Aunt or your students if you are a teacher. However, it immediately helps the reader know if they are going to be the right audience for such a tale.

By the time I wrote my third novel, I had learned the secret. Work on your pitch and tagline as you are writing. This helps you, the author, focus. Here’s an example:

WOLVES AND DEER

TAGLINE: Whatever happened to the actress and the prince?

This was changed by the editors to

A CRUEL BETRAYAL. A MYSTERIOUS DEATH

(Note that this has more emotion.)

The pitch did not get much editing because with time, I got better at pitches and had a group of people I could run my pitches past.

Here is the banner with the tagline and the pitch. And here is a link to purchase.BANNER2-WolvesDeer

In summary, taglines and pitches aren’t simply a crass commercialization of your creative work. They help you distill the essence of it. And with time, you’ll come to enjoy them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A pineapple of the finest flavor

When you see a pineapple at the store these days, it might be on sale for less than a dollar or cut up and sold in a plastic tub as a value-added item. You might think of the health benefits–low calorie with plenty of fiber, Vitamin C, and bone building manganese.

You probably don’t consider that between two -four hundred years ago, this fruit was the ultimate in snob appeal. Because they were trendy in his lifetime, I had King William IV carry pineapples in Wolves and Deer. I knew pineapples were a status symbol and grown in hothouses or imported by steamships from tropical British colonies. Thanks to a delightful article in The Week, I became more familiar with the crazy history of this fruit in Europe.

Apparently the pineapple was one bit of “gold” that Columbus brought to Europe. Only one pineapple made the trip without rotting but that was enough. It was praised for its sweetness, its resemblance to a pinecone, and the crown-like spiked leaves at the top. It had no stigma such as the ill-fated Biblical apple. Only the upper class had ever seen or tasted such a treat. It was royal, pure, and a testament to the Divine Right of Kings. Apparently, people were more into symbolism back then than your favorite literature professor.

It was Charles the second in the 1660s who seized upon this fruit with unbridled enthusiasm, putting it in jellies and serving a pineapple at royal dinners to impress foreign dignitaries. Around 1688, Leiden area resident Agnes Block became first gardener to grow one in the north. A frenzy ensued. The Dutch developed greenhouses to grow the tropical fruits. One pineapple was worth thousands of dollars in labor and in coal–the fuel of the day. They were so costly they became ornaments instead of food.

The first European to grow a pineapple, Agnes Block, is most known in the Netherlands for her botanical illustrations and art. https://rkd.nl/en/explore/artists/365259

In the Georgian era (when William’s father was king), pineapples were both imported and grown by aristocrats. People used the word “pineapple” to mean something with quality such as “you are a pineapple of a person.” The most commonly used pineapple phrase was “a pineapple of the finest flavor.” Pineapples became part of dining and decor. The Wedgwoods (Charles Darwin’s kin) made pineapple table wear. Pineapples were seen on furniture. To quote the previously mentioned article 

“Carved-stone pineapples appeared on plinths outside grand manor houses, pronouncing to passersby the largesse and high standing of the family within. They adorned carriages, topped garden temples, figured in countless paintings, and were turned into enormous sculptures gracing country gardens. Pineapples had become synonymous with good taste, nobility, and limitless wealth.”

In 1816, a breakthrough in heating occurred–the advent of steam heat. This made pineapples less costly to grow. Their popularity continued even though a few more people could now afford them.

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This pineapple finial has more history than one might imagine.

When William became King in 1831, pineapples were becoming more common. I read Diaries of  Charles Greville as a source for Wolves and Deer and he mentions that William’s head was the shape of a pineapple. The context did not make it sound like a compliment. It was a way of explaining William’s lack of intellect. Apparently, by the 1830s, right before Victoria wore the crown, the pineapple was a fading status symbol, but still a sign of wealth. Estates in Britain all had a “pinery” near the kitchen to grow the fruits year around. Horticultural societies still clung to their status and producing humungous pineapples became the Victorian rage. You can read about the cultivation here. By World War I, James Dole had developed pineapple plantations in Hawaii. Pineapple cultivation in England came to an end and sadly, many varieties of pineapples were lost–including ones that were pyramidal in shape– because they didn’t fit neatly into cans as was important for commercial production of pineapple.

Currently, pineapple decor is kitschy-trendy. 

The fruit is most popular in the United States with around 40% of consumers buying pineapple in a given year. A pineapple costs around $2.50 on average. That’s a -320,000% drop from its all time high. So if you find yourself longing for a luxury item, keep in mind–not everything deserves the hype and even the most lofty trend will come to an end.

 

Small press publishing: Covers & Revenge

BANNER2-WolvesDeerIt’s here–the cover for my upcoming novel Wolves and Deer. This novel is being published by a small press and with small presses, the cover is often assembled from stock photos and art. Here’s how this one went down:

After the novel was accepted for publication, the editors asked me to look through art sites and find agreeable images that reflected the content and the characters.

I looked at animal photos of wolves and deer but none were to my liking.

The novel takes place in post the Regency era, just before Victoria, but I didn’t find any images I really liked for the cover among Regency era stock photos.

Some of the novel takes place at the Royal Institution in London so I considered old-time lab photos but the main plot isn’t about science–it simply has science in it. It’s really about betrayal and revenge. Wolves and Deer has a good dose of humor along with the pathos and mystery.  In the end, I liked a photo of a woman wearing a wolf skin. It had the element of humor I wanted along with a “Red Riding Hood gets her revenge” feel. It also hinted that the novel might have a little sex in it. The woman had dark hair and a pointed nose as would be possible for the daughter of Dora Jordan.  I suggested that the background be something to do with royalty.  The cover artist came up with this cover.

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I had a decision about the back cover–the grave photo the cover designer suggested didn’t match the grave as described in the novel or the grave of Dora Jordan. I decided it should remain as the illustrator wished because it is so highly discernible as a grave. I made the same decision with the Royal gate on the front cover. The King in question spent most time at Windsor and Clarence House but they aren’t immediately recognizable to people in the US.

I also did not want my name highlighted or larger. I’m by no means a famous author. Like most, I struggle for my sales and good reviews. I don’t consider myself a selling point.

By the way, the cover for Mixed In is up for an award. This cover was also a collaboration with an artist. I wanted a splash of beer on the cover since much of it takes place in a bar.cropped-mixedinfinal.png

The cover of Natural Attraction was selected by a vote of readers.

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That’s how I got my covers. In all cases, the publisher had the last word of approval for the covers.

What do you think? Is there a type of cover that draws you in?

Wolves and Deer may be purchased here.

So angry…what makes angry characters?

Depositphotos_23652875_original.jpgIn my next novel, I’ve got characters who are angry. I did some research about anger to help me understand them better. I’ve learned a lot about it, especially from this reference,  and I thought I’d share some of it.

  1. Anger is learned behavior. Hostile and angry people are that way because they saw it play out somewhere. They learned that people bully, belittle, and argue with each other and that this gains respect. The hostile environment can be at home but school and the workplace are also places where people learn that anger works.
  2. The true emotions behind anger are frustration, hurt, disappointment, and threat/fear.
  3. Angry people want others to feel the way that they do. If they are hurt, they want others to hurt, if they are ashamed, they want others to be ashamed.
  4. The average adult will be angry once a day.
  5. People who use emotion rather than logic to guide their reasoning tend to be more angry. Emotional reasoning can lead people to misunderstand social cues.
  6. Stress causes low frustration levels and can make the stressed out person see threats that don’t exist or have unreasonable expectations.
  7. Labeling and derogatory perceptions of other groups of people —people rating–causes anger. If we look at the recent mass killers in the US most are misogynists and supremacists.
  8. Physical pain, drugs, and alcohol can exacerbate anger and frustration. Even a spate of minor irritations can build up and cause anger.
  9. Anger is not always bad. It can be motivating if used as a positive catalyst for change.
  10. Physically, anger causes a release of both glucose and stress hormones. It creates strain on the heart and pancreas. Eventually it will affect the brain, creating a hyperactive amygdala (the seat of fear in the brain) and dampening reaction in the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that controls reasoning and social behavior.)
  11. Anger can be dealt with easily by most individuals. The amygdala quickly returns to normal. Crying can help bring the brain back to normal.
  12. Ironically, people who are taught to suppress emotions such as sorrow are more likely to became angry or depressed (the passive form of anger.) Boys who have been shamed for showing pain or sorrow often find that anger is the only socially acceptable emotion they have.
  13. Type A people are often rewarded for their drive and determination. They can give others the impression that they are best able to respond to threats. They are more likely to be angry and focus on the weaknesses of others and in turn, make themselves sick.Angry people are more likely to have colds, skin problems, and arthritis. Being Type A is hard on the immune system. The stress of anger causes other problems such as weight gain, ulcers and acid reflux.
  14. Since anger produces cortisol, angry people suffer from hormone imbalances and the result can be thyroid problems and decreased bone density.
  15. Angry people are poor communicators and even worse listeners. They are often impatient and in a hurry.
  16. Angry folks will clench their teeth, sweat, pace, get sarcastic, rub their heads, reach for a drink, and might shake or tremble.

According to the Mayo Clinic, ways to control your anger are to

  1. Express yourself and be calmly assertive
  2. Be cautious.
  3. Develop positive social relationships.
  4. Change your environment
  5. Understand your anger’s cause
  6. Laugh! Laughter and joy can drive anger away. Try to find humor in your situation.
  7. Exercise.
  8. Don’t place blame. Focus on yourself and what you can do, not on someone else.
  9. Write in a journal.
  10. Listen to music.
  11. Get therapy.

Ways to deal with an angry person include:

  1. Giving them space or getting away from them if they are dangerous. Recognize the danger signs of eminent physical assault.
  2. Don’t get angry back.
  3. Work with others to resolve the situation.
  4. Calmly address the situation and identify the problem. Have empathy. Apologize.
  5. Distract with laugher but be careful, this could make them more angry. Angry people lose their sense of humor.
  6. Be respectful but assertive.
  7. Be rational.

Although life is in many ways better than it has ever been for humans, people are more angry. Anger has been a way of life in the United States and people vote for angry politicians. Spanking can cause anger as can lack of social progress  and being poor.(frustration!). Western countries tend to be more angry while Asians are less angry. However, at the bottom of the anger ladder are the Danes and Scandinavians. Danish people claim to get angry less than once a week. Since these countries value emotional suppression, the reason for their lack of anger is presumed to be their society. It might be worth reading up on it for the sake of us all. Meanwhile, I understand my angry characters–and their society–much better now. And I’m going to do my best not to be angry myself.

 

Strange Change and other Elements of Science Fiction

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One reason I enjoy writing science fiction is because it is at its best, social satire. It’s both serious and campy, insightful and strange. It is by nature, multidisciplinary, wrought with nuance and language subtleties that make it unpalatable for some readers and catnip for others.

Author David Ketterer says “Science fiction (in the inclusive sense) combines satire with the kind of visionary (or prophetic) imagination exemplified by Dante’s Divine Comedy or Milton’s Paradise Lost. ..”

If you look at the history of science fiction, you can see prime examples of  social satire. Ray Bradbury, who wrote during the era of segregation said that much of his work is about oppression and racism. The word robot derives from the Czech word for slave so often in science fiction, you can assume that a robot represents an individual who has  low social status and is oppressed, like Wall E. The term was first coined in a play, R.U.R.  In this campy melodrama, the robots finally accomplish a rebellion against their tormentors.

Likewise, an encounter with an alien or “other” may be a subtle comment about racism, classism, or sexism, often accompanied by an anti-colonialism sentiment. One of my favorite classical examples is First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells in which a scientist and a businessman have competing ideas about studying the moon vs conquering it.

James Gunn argues that science fiction has its own set of protocols set apart from literary fiction. Like science itself, it is a genre in which characters encounter the unknown,  solve problems, and create understandable universes. He describes it as “the literature of the human species encountering change.”

Margaret Atwood calls Science Fiction “Social Commentary about Now. ” She doesn’t write a novel without a modern detail hidden in the story line. An older woman, she warns what life was like, and could be like, if women aren’t allowed to control their own bodies, as happened in the past.

Since science fiction is mainly about today’s society, a person doesn’t need to be a scientist to write science fiction. Some scientists avoid it because they dislike the anxiety about science that is often found on the pages. However, the science must be plausible and based on scientific information or the story won’t have authority. To paraphrase the late author and biochemist Isaac Asimov, science fiction needs to make brains respectable.

One way that an author can gain credibility is to accurately name chemical substances. For example, vibranium, found in Wakanda, carries the Latin noun ending -ium which became common for elements in the Victorian era when many elements were discovered and named. Despite a lot of well-known memes, keep in mind that scientists are most often drawn to science because they want to help people To create fresh, realistic characters, here are some traits that scientists feel help define them.

Through its discoveries and ways of looking at the world, science creates change that society adapts to. This is why we have science in science fiction–to create strange new change.The most important parts of science fiction are people and change, and in the best cases, satire based on today.

There is no Beauty without Strangeness (Detroit mural)