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.

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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.

Natural Attraction - High Resolution - Version 1

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.

MICE: living in and writing about Milieu…and other things

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When teaching science fiction, I, and many others, use the MICE quotient to help my students focus on the type of story they are creating. Once an author knows what type of story they have, it’s easier to craft it into something that their readers will enjoy and appreciate. All stories are a blend of all of these categories. The question is, what letter dominates.

The MICE quotient was popularized by Orson Scott Card. Briefly, MICE is an acronym for these common categories of science fiction:

Milieu. The milieu novel focuses on a place and community. Most often, society itself is the antagonist. A stranger comes to town and is transformed by being in this milieu. The Wizard of Oz and Gulliver’s Travels are classic examples. The tale begins when the stranger comes to the place and ends when she leaves.  Mixed In is clearly such a novel. Without the dreary world of Cochtonville, none of the events would have taken place. All good science fiction has more than aliens and robots. It has metaphorical implications. That is, it says something about society and this is clearly evident in any milieu novel. The metaphorical implication of Mixed In is that the Midwest could become Cochtonville. In fact, it’s inched closer to the dystopia since the novel was written. Sometimes I worry I am living in my own Milieu.

Idea. The idea story is based on a question and ends when it is answered, as in a mystery novel. It begins when the mystery is introduced and ends when it is solved. Wolves and Deer: A Tale Based on Fact is an idea novel, beginning when Grace Clare learns of the death of Dora Jordan and ending close to when the mystery is solved.

Character novels are often the stuff of both high literature and romance. They start with a character with a clear problem and desire and end when the character is transformed for better or worse or accepts her fate for better or worse. An example of a character novel is The Color Purple or in the case of science fiction, Frankenstein. Natural Attraction is a character driven novel moved forward by Clementine’s desire to be taken seriously as a scientist.

Event stories are based on an interruption to a normal way of life and follow what happens as characters try to bring life back in order. A classic example is The Lord of the Rings series which begin when Bilbo discovers the ring and ends when order is restored. Most science fiction and fantasy stories are event based and my next novel will be such a novel. Then I will have a quartet of books each representing one letter of the MICE quotient.

Do you have a favorite letter in the MICE quotient? Every novel I write has a huge dose of place and time in it so perhaps I lean towards the M.

I’m excited to say that Mixed In is in contention for a Rone Award for Science Fiction. If you’re looking for a Milieu novel with a touch of romance, a dash of absurdity, and a pinch of naughtiness, check out Mixed In.

 

What ever happened to that actress and the prince?

 

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Wolves and Deer: A Tale Based on Fact (No, this isn’t the cover.)

You’ve heard the news. Here’s the Royal announcement:

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A prince is engaged to an actress! Why would an American like me have any interest in such news at all? Actually, I do have interest and an announcement of my own.

I have interest because there was another time –200 years ago– when an actress took up with a prince who was third in line for the throne. Her name was Dora Jordan. She was Great Britain’s most famous comic, and I’ve written a novel about her. I just signed a contract for it with Rouge Phoenix Press. The e-book will be published in September, 2018 with paper backs available a little later.

Here’s the synopsis:

In 1832,Grace Clare works at the Royal Institution under the direction of the well-known chemist Michael Faraday. But science isn’t all she has on her mind. She learns that her birth mother was famous comic actress Dora Jordan. Grace is dangerously drawn into the tale of Dora’s mysterious, unjust death after her twenty-year relationship with the prince who now occupies the throne–a man who betrayed his life partner and mother of his children. As the only child free to do so, Grace travels to Paris for work and to view her mother’s lonely grave. Awash with the injustice of the cruel betrayal, will Grace be doomed to a tragic life of seeking revenge for her mother or like her mother will she be laughing in the end?

 

This novel is different from my others in that it’s written in third person –an appropriate point of view for the British Empire. The protagonist is more emotional and more vulnerable than my others. And, in keeping with the times–1832–the book is less absurd. The science is 100% realistic–based in 1832.

It’s filled with historical name dropping. Have you heard of any of these people?

Charles Babbage

Evariste Galios

Samuel Finley Breeze Morse

William IV and Queen Adelaide

Ching Shih

They’re all in Wolves and Deer: A Tale Based On Fact.

My previous novels had two-word titles. How did I get this long title for my third one? Here’s the story: Dora Jordan and Prince William lived on an estate in Bushy Park, famous for its fine deer. There was no retiring or resting for this actress. She worked to support the prince’s lavish tastes. She spent lots of her hard-earned cash fixing up the dilapidated estate, only to be tossed to the wolves and the house given to the Queen who replaced her. Dora’s not the only one thrown to the wolves in this novel. My heart bled all over the pages as I read about the betrayals suffered by the lower classes during this era. There were lots of “deer” and fewer but more powerful “wolves”.

How much of this book is based on fact? I did plenty of research on Dora’s life and times. I read letters she wrote (the best I could, her handwriting was difficult to decipher). I read plays she was in. Some such as Twelfth Night and As You Like It are old favorites. Others such as She Would and She Would Not are still published with the long S, (This was used at the beginning and middle of words but rarely at the end and can be found in typography before 1803.) Try reading that.

I became an amateur expert on Dora Jordan. I even found a sketch of her that her biographer had never seen. I have a Pinterest Board dedicated to herI’ve written about her before. I purchased old newspaper clippings about Dora and even have one of her theater handbooks. I discovered that she was prone to telling tall tales. She was skilled at her own PR. Her lover, the Prince, acted as her agent and manager. It was difficult to tell truth from the fiction surrounding her. I put all of my data together and came up with the best story I could. Due to gaps and inconsistencies in history, I was compelled to fill in the blanks. I made up my own theories about her, logical and in keeping with how theater folk were expected to act at the time. As they said in the 1800s, it’s “a tale based on fact”, but it is, indeed, a tall tale of my own–a logical one created from the information gathered, but still, a tale. And it goes against the historical record, which I considered highly fabricated.

I also did research on Michael Faraday that included reading his biography and some of his letters. He took a trip to Paris and that helped me create the Paris of 1832. So did a British guide to Paris dated 1831.

For William IV, I read his biography and that of Queen Adelaide. The Diaries of Charles Greville provided some upper crust gossip–describing William as “something of a blackguard and something more of a buffoon.” And forgive me, mathematicians Babbage and Galios, I researched you too,  and I’ve painted you as eccentric.

Wolves and Deer: A Tale Based on Fact is an 85,000-word historical novel that re-examines history and provides a happy ending along with tongue-in-cheek fun, early 19th century-science, and mild social commentary. I hope you’ll love it.

 

 

 

 

 

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Carbon dioxide and the futuristic novel

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How will more carbon dioxide affect future humans? In unpleasant ways.

I still remember the sensations–pounding heart, crushing headaches, confusion, and the deep dread when I put my hand on the door to the sick building I had to work in for nearly ten years. I’ve experienced high carbon dioxide levels. My body thought I was suffocating in my own exhale. This week, I find myself reliving those unpleasant times.

You see, I’m working on a sequel to Mixed In–Book Two in the Unstable States series. It’s set in the near future. When I saw this headline about record high levels of carbon dioxide, I thought, “Damn, I’m going to have to add increased carbon dioxide levels into this series.”

It’s true. There’s more carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere than ever before due to human activities such as burning fossil fuels for heating and cooling and travel and electricity, cutting down trees, pouring cement, and eating plenty of meat. This trend doesn’t look as if it’s changing anytime soon. And if, as a fiction writer, you create a future on earth, there are consequences for your characters.

It’s time to consider: what will humans on earth experience in a high carbon dioxide world?

Here’s my list:

  1. Effects on food production. Plants use carbon dioxide to grow and give off oxygen. Some plants will grow bigger in a high carbon dioxide world. However, this may mean they are less nutritious. Not all plants will react the same way to more atmospheric carbon dioxide. How they take in carbon dioxide will determine if more carbon dioxide will make them giant, gangly, and less healthy. Some crops such as corn will not be affected by increased carbon dioxide while beans will have a growth enhancement.
  2. Climate Impacts. This is the effect most people consider when they think of higher carbon dioxide levels. Carbon dioxide acts as a blanket and holds heat in. What will happen? Here is a detailed prediction based on each part of the globe. Coastal areas will be flooded. My series takes place in the Midwest. Displaced people might have to move here. I’m not sure Midwesterners will enjoy the crowds. Warmer temperatures could mean fewer blood clots in the elderly.
  3. More rust. Yes, carbon dioxide plus water forms carbonic acid and this hastens corrosion.
  4. More ocean acidity. All life depends on the proper pH balance to maintain itself. Carbon dioxide dissolves in water and when it does, it forms carbonic acid. This acid does bad things to ocean life such as dissolving shells and bleaching coral. Fish could have seizures or even lose their minds.
  5. Mental challenges. Fish won’t be the only animals out of their minds. In humans,  increased anxiety and depression are associated with increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Drowsiness and reduced reasoning ability also occur. This is why people should not take tests or make decisions in poorly ventilated rooms. Think about what life will be like if everywhere we go is poorly ventilated.
  6. Other health implications. I worked in a building with high carbon dioxide levels due to poor ventilation and I can tell you, it’s  no fun. Skin flushing, chest pains, confusion, muscle twitches, and crushing headaches can occur if carbon dioxide levels go above 1000 ppm*. If carbon dioxide levels increase at the current rate, this will be the outside atmospheric concentration in about 300 years. Human blood pH will go down–become more acidic–just as the ocean pH decreases with too much carbon dioxide. An affected person will breathe fast and deep which sounds kind of sexy but at high levels, the person might start flapping their hands and resemble someone out of a Vonnegut novel. To get rid of the extra acid, our kidneys will need to work harder in a high carbon dioxide world. Urine will be flowing! (As a side note, slurping carbonated drinks causes the same effect and irritates your bladder and promotes urination.)
  7. Fewer mosquito bites If there is an upside, here it is. Mosquitos are attracted to the carbon dioxide in your exhaled breath. As background carbon dioxide levels rise, they have a harder time zeroing in on their prey.

Drowsy characters flapping their hands and going to the bathroom all the time–what am I going to do with that premise? And yet, this could be the future. Can technology save us? Yes, probably, but only if we invest in it and that’s not going to happen if we live in denial of the consequences. And will everyone have the technology or only a few? I’m sure you can answer that question in your next novel. I know I’m going to have to.

*Carbon dioxide levels are usually expressed as ppm or parts-per-million. When I was a kid, the level was around 300 ppm. When I was in college it was 320 ppm or so. Today,  we have already shot past the 400 ppm level. It’s thought that once we get to 450 ppm, we will begin to see climate effects that will be difficult to reverse

 

 

 

What do you need to sell a novel?

I don’t usually write about “authoring” because there are many more well-known authors who do this. However, the other day I went to an author book fair and I was complimented on my table. I thought I’d share what I did to get the flattery.

Here’s a photo of the table complete with a reader:IMG_3976

You can see that I kept it simple. No banners or anything hard to carry.–just the books, business cards, and some giveaways. The purpose of the giveaways is to get my name out there, inspire people to buy the ebook,  and maybe bring people to this blog.

Here are the giveaways–one modern and one historical. Both were carried off with equal success.  The idea to put a Qr code on the modern giveaway–a science notepad, came from author Em Shotwell. You can get a Qr code generator and reader many different places.IMG_3940

One thing I learned is not to attract children. My books are adult only and we all know that human children are difficult to manage and need many alloparents to watch them. 

So, I didn’t have food or candy at my table, as I have in done in the past. I’ll never forget last year in Pella and those kids running all over a library with my GoldRush Gum giveaway while their mom ignored them. That being said, the fair last month was not well attended and I sold less than ten books. Since it cost $50 to register, there wasn’t much profit in the day. However, the best way to sell books is still word of mouth.

Along the lines of authoring, getting started isn’t cheap. You really have to have a patron or be rich yourself to be able to do it full-time. I am neither but still plug along. I have set up some marketing surveys designed as giveaways, If you are interested in what genres attract the most attention, take a look here and here.

I’m also interested these questions about content.

And for this survey, it’s interesting that so few people even care that a book is about equality. 

I have to admit, I write to a niche market when I write about female scientists but since the books are humor, there are readers out there ready to laugh. Now, on to the next one.