Tuesday, January 31, 2017

3 Ways To Spice Up Stale Interview Questions

You're about to launch your latest novel. You're booking blog tours, podcast chats, and vlog interviews. Somewhere after the fourth set of questions, you detect a pattern...or the Borg's latest conquest.  How do you keep from sounding like vinyl with a deep scratch? 3 Ways! (Erm, those too, if that's your thing.)

3 Ways To Spice  Up Canned Interview Responses

1. Know The Audience
Before you agree to any interview, you should be a little familiar with host and the audience the blog/ vlog/podcast/broadcast attracts. The first reason is to protect you and your brand from unwittingly participating in something hosted by someone whose platform you find objectionable. E.g. after reading James's passionate and moving post yesterday, it is safe to assume he wouldn't want to participate in a Breitbart interview. The second reason is to know how to engage their audience. Is the audience a group of  12-16-year-old aspiring authors? Over age 55 multi-published hybrid authors? Is the program faith-based? Which faith? Reenactors who are experts in their era? SFF die-hards who can craft a 4-year college program over a midday MMORPG session? Straight-shooters? Silly gooses? All of this will tell you how fast and loose you can play with your responses, whether or not dropping an f-bomb will go over well, and if you're aiming for a top-gloss answer or a composition-of-dirt detailed response.

Oh, and the best way to get this info, is to ask the person soliciting your participation. They should be able to give you a paragraph about who their audience is, what makes the program unique, and if there are any topics from which you should steer clear and/or on which you should focus. Bonus points to the interviewer if they tell you the tone of their program. Triple points if they have a running gag on the site and let you in on it.

Note: Interviewers, make it easy for potential participants to say yes by including a paragraph that covers the details above when reaching out.

2. Crack a Joke & Be Unpredictable
Armed with your info about the audience, be brave, crack a joke.  To play it safe, don't pick on a person no matter the popular sentiment.  Feeling feisty? Offer a completely unexpected answer to a frequently asked question. "Where do you get your ideas" is pretty common. Try answering with something that contrasts the tone of the rest of your interview. "From Edgie, this super fat earthworm who lives under a polished rock two miles down the path from my house. Great guy. He's not really talkative, but the things he's seen..."

3. Create Your Own Easter Egg Trail
Readers who are true fans will check out your interviews in a variety of sources. Love those readers. Respect those readers. Show them your affection (and encourage them to follow) by including a trail of hidden gems that reveal a joke or--once amassed--a short story. E.g. The third sentence of the third question of every interview is a line that comes from a piece of short fiction. Because you're an expert craftsman, you know how to make that line blend into the legit answer of the original question.

Beyond everything, have fun with your answers. Oh, and be kind to everyone, including yourself.




Monday, January 30, 2017

Back on the soap Box Again

I'm interrupting my previously scheduled blog to climb up on the soapbox again. I shouldn't be, but there it is. We apologize for any inconveniecne.

I’m supposed to be writing.
I have several projects in the works and a novel that’s due fairly soon. These are paying gigs.

And yet….

So here we go. Again.

The President of the United States, Donald Trump, is allegedly about to put a new executive order in place: This time discriminating heavily against LGBTQ persons. I wish I didn’t think it was going to happen, I wish, God, how I wish, that this sort of shit was in the past. I don’t normally like to use profanity in online writings, but sometimes you just have to. The sad fact of the matter is that less than two weeks into his career as the POTUS, this man is doing everything he can to foster fear and hatred as a way of life and it seems that he’s even succeeding to a certain extent. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU for short) is putting up one hell of a fight, so are the four million plus protesters who have made their opinions known. Stop and think about that for a second. 4,000,000 plus people have gathered already to say enough is enough. This man (I use the term to point out gender. He is not much of a man in my eyes) had FOUR MILLION protesters before he’d been in office for a week. He’s had more since because of his asinine policies and his massively egotistical belief that he is above the law.

Okay, first the link to the article that I’m responding to. Please understand something. I am again writing about something that technically doesn’t affect me. I know this causes people to scratch their heads from time to time so I’ll spell it out. I’m not trying to offend anyone I’m just clarifying here. If I were walking down the street and I saw a man punch a woman in the mouth, or I saw someone backhand a child, I would not walk past it. It’s not the way I was raised. Once upon a tome I had a neighbor who was beating his daughter so violently and screaming so loudly that I could actually hear the sound of his fist hitting her through two brick walls. They lived across an open air corridor and one door left of us.

I heard the noises, I knew what they were, and I called the police, who promptly came and handled the matter. I was ten years old. My mother was horrified. Not because she hadn’t raised me to do exactly that sort of thing but because she was afraid the man I’d called the police on might try to take it out on me. He didn’t but he sure did spend a lot of time glaring at me after that. His daughter, a friendly acquaintance of mine, was very grateful. She got out of it with only a few bruises, you see, and that was a bonus for her.

Her getting the bejesus knocked out of her had no direct impact on my life. Still, I couldn’t very well let it go on. I did what I could as a kid who was still a few years away from puberty. If I saw someone kicking a puppy, there’s a very real chance that said someone would get a kick from me. It’s the way I’m programmed; it’s the way I was raised.

A little background for you. My mother was raised during WWII. She was born in Germany and the war ended by the time she was fourteen. She was a staunch Republican when it came to economics. She also firmly believed that each and every person had the same rights. When my father left, I was still in the womb. She raised six of us on her own, Two of my sisters dropped out of high school and basically spent their days raising the four younger siblings so that my mother could make a living and keep a roof over our heads. She was a very strong woman in a lot of ways. Not a saint, to be sure, but a very strong woman.

One of her weaknesses? She never wanted to accept that the Holocaust happened. It wasn't that she didn’t think a lot of people died, it was that she was profoundly horrified by the notion that the nation where she was born and raised, no matter what the flaws it suffered from, could have ever reached a point where MURDERING millions of people was acceptable.

She believed that Nazi Germany had many flaws, by the way. Her brother, who was a soldier, made that clear to her. At one point in her schooling she won first or second place in a swimming competition. Her reward was a bronze bust of Adolf Hitler. During one of the bombings that happened frequently, as the Allies decided that Germany had to be taught a few manners, the bust feel from the shelf it was on and hit the floor. The nose of the bronze bust broke off, revealing the plaster underneath.

My Uncle Ralph, whom I never met, sadly, made my mother break the bust with a hammer. He did not feel that lies should be kept as trophies.

There are a lot of stories I remember, more I’ve likely forgotten, about the horrors of my mother’s childhood. There were good times, of course, but aren’t there always when you are a kid? Christ, I hope that’s true for every child even though I know it isn’t.

She was actually quite fond of Donald Trump, back in the eighties when he first joked about running for president.

I think she’d be properly horrified now.

You see, back to my mother, she didn’t believe that people should be judged by their beliefs. We were raised in a family where we had access to the World Book Encyclopedia (and the children’s version of the same, the name of which is currently eluding me) several unabridged dictionaries, a copy or two of the Bible and an open encouragement to ask questions and actively seek answers.

We were raised to believe that each person should be judged as a person. Not by color, or gender, or sexual preferences. In a time when it really wasn’t done that much, my mother managed to make her way to executive housekeeper at several hotels and even at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Having come from what would eventually be Eastern Germany, a Communist country (and there are plenty or horror stories about THAT, too) my mother was even seriously considered for executive housekeeper at the White House Yes, that Whites House, where President Trump currently resides. The only reason she lost out was because the person who got the job had worked with the man doing the hiring on a previous occasion. And yes, she was heavily vetted by the Secret Service before she was seriously considered. Believe me.

My mother believed even back then in hiring without discrimination. You see, as a female, she had already been discriminated against and as a German with a green card (That’s former Nazi Germany AND Eastern Germany, so TWO strikes before she started) my mother was all too familiar with how discrimination tasted. My first experiences with Hispanics, blacks, gays and lesbians were all people who worked for my mother, the staunch Republican.

The staunch Republican who taught us that discrimination was wrong. Period. End of discussion. The staunch Republican who raised us to make up our own minds about religion, faith and God. My mother believed and so do I, that religion has no part in the governing of a nation, because there are too many religions, you see, and forcing your beliefs down somebody else’s throat was not right.

My mother, by the way, eventually became an American Citizen. It was the proudest day of her life. She cried when she took her oath and she smiled as much as any person who’d ever won a lottery.

She would have hated what Donald Trump has become. Not because of his business beliefs. She would have probably agreed on a lot of those. No, she’d have hated his obvious contempt for anyone who is not like him. I suppose some of my siblings might disagree with me. They are entitled to their opinions. I go solely off the discussions I had with the lady in question, who was, you may rest assured, very much a part of my formative life.

My mother, who had no problem stating her opinions on what the Middle Eastern rulers who replaced the Shah of Iran could do with their ruling through religion, could do with their philosophies, would be appalled at the way the POTUS has tried to block off access to this country.

My mother, who took in complete strangers on several occasions when emergency situations called for it, would have been disgusted by his actions. My mother, who was as proud as any patriot ever born in the USA, would have had a few choice words for the president and for the extreme right wing Republicans who are currently in charge of the Senate and the House alike. (She’d have had a few words for President Obama as well, but they would have been different words, though likely just as critical of some of his actions.)

My mother, who was often surprisingly calm in the face of national adversity and was an avid follower of American Politics, would have, pardon my vernacular, flipped her shit the very first time the now POTUS talked of internment camps. She’d have gone through the roof in her outrage if she’d heard him talk about grabbing any woman’s privates.

My mother, who was absolutely confused by the very notion of homosexuality, would have ground her teeth and made more than a few comments about the POTUS and his level of contempt for the people of this country if she heard about his plans to use “Religious Freedom” to allow people to deny any service to anyone. Ever. Gays, Lesbians, Transgenders, Bisexuals…My mother might not have understood their choices (and to her, they were choices, I heard many debates) but she would have been outraged by the very idea that anyone should be refused service. She would have pointed to the world before the Civil Rights movement. She would have gone on about her absolute hatred of the KKK in any and all incarnations. She would have pointed out that she grew up in Nazi Germany and saw good people dragged from their homes. She would have pointed out that Eastern Germany was just as bad when it came to people who spoke out.

She would have, once again, gone off about the news channels and their endless need to preach, instead of actually keeping up with the news.

I was raised by my mother to think for myself. I was also raised with many of her beliefs instilled in me via endless questions and countless discussions. When I asked about God we talked about the different faiths. She was raised Lutheran. My father was Methodist and I can count five Bishops of the Methodist Church from his side of the family, including the man I was named after, my great grandfather, the Bishop Arthur James Moore. I was raised to consider all faiths as valid, but especially those that preached peace and balance. The Dalai Lama fascinated my mother and Gandhi was one of her heroes, as was his daughter.

Common sense was my mother’s religion, but it was also tempered with compassion and empathy. She taught us to love debate, not arguments. She taught us that the best way to know anyone was to discuss everything. She warned against discussing religion and politics, because both end friendships. I decided not to listen on that last part, but that’s on me.  

Equal rights was a given for me. I heard constantly about how uneven those rights were, and long before the term White Privilege came around I was aware of the concept. Full disclosure here, I wasn't really in agreement with the concept when I was younger, That had a lot to do with moving all over the country, going to seventeen different public schools and being the short, fat, new kid with glasses who got his ass kicked a lot. Didn’t feel like privilege then, but with age comes perspective. My mother would have fully understood the term.   

When I was growing up my sister’s best friend was a young man named Gordon. Gordon was gay. Through several states and decades, my sister maintained a friendship with Gordon and through him made other friends in the LGBTQ community. Much like my mother, when I was younger I had trouble wrapping my mind around the entire concept. It didn’t stop me from hanging around with my sister and Gordon and several other people who were not exactly heterosexual. It never bothered me. They were people. They were good and some of them were less-than-good, much like with everyone else I’ve met in my life. Just like everyone else, actually. What an amazing concept: the LGBTQ community is made of people! Just like Soylent Green, only not meant to be used in your casserole recipes. Instead they are meant to be treated like, gasp, people. It’s actually very easy when you leave it at that.

Open minded thought processes, it seems, are easier when you leave religion out of it. Not always, heaven knows, but too damned often. Religions sometimes have the silliest notions, like that people should be considered property. Like it’s okay to knock the crap out of your wife, or your child if you feel the need. Like gender should make a difference or that if someone doesn’t think like you, they must be a sinner. Most of that, by the way, is open to interpretation. Most of that, unfortunately, gets interpreted in the dumbest possible ways by a lot of people. Not all. Still that old line from the song One Tin Soldier pops into my head, “Do it in the name of heaven, you can justify it in the end.”

Or as I like to think of it: the Philosophy of My God Is Better Than Your God. Just in case it slipped anyone’s mind, all of the aforementioned faiths share the same deity. It’s how they share Him that seems to cause most of the problems. It’s all about how the words are interpreted. Old Testament, new testament, that stuff that got edited out over time and the stuff that came later.

One upon a time there were people who followed the Hebrew faith. Later, after a disagreement about whether or not a man named Jesus Christ was the prophesied Son of God, there was a split in the religion. Along came Christianity. It went through a lot of changes over the course of time (as religions are wont to do) and branched out. A lot. Somewhere along the way another group branched off, convince that a man named Mohammed spoke for god and just might be the prophet of the Lord. Obviously, there’s a lot more to it than that, but I am neither a historian nor much of a follower of any religion. I have my beliefs. They are between God and me. 

Time has made changes to facts, and interpretations, and a lot of hurt feelings have come up as time has gone on. A lot. Now, the new POTUS seems to be using those hurt feelings to drive a wedge into the country that my mother was so proud of, that my mother loved more than, well, basically any other nation that ever existed.

My mother, by the way, was an avid viewer of the nightly news. When I was growing up Walter Cronkite told us the way it was. The facts, and only the facts. On incredibly rare occasions an editorial. 

There have been a lot of comparisons made to what The POTUS is doing and what Adolf Hitler did when he was in charge of Nazi Germany. They may or may not be accurate.

I know this: A great deal of what Donald Trump is doing has nothing to do with a government for the people and by the people of these United States. Many of his actions seem, as I have already said, determined to drive wedges between people. He has shown a tendency toward racism, toward nepotism, toward misogyny, and an elitist philosophy. He has used fear as a catalyst to explain why we must ban people from this nation. He has determined that a massive wall is the best way to defend ourselves from our southern neighbors, and in less than two weeks has managed to enrage or terrify people and nations alike.

If you’re guessing that I did not vote for the current president, you are not mistaken. He made too many comments (look them up, folks. I have a novel to get back to) and taken too many actions that back the last paragraph, and like that short dictator with the Charlie Chaplin mustache back in the WWII, he has telegraphed his actions. Sweet Jesus, he even told people he what he was going to do and for some insane reason that made a lot of people very happy. Enough that he somehow managed to win the election, though not the popular vote (Say what you will, that’s still a crock of feces for me).

Some of them aren’t as happy now. A lot of the people who voted for him and now shaking their heads and wondering what the hell just happened. Not all of them, but a decent percentage.

My mother said to me once, “Mark my words. The US has never had a serious terrorist attack from another country, and no one here knows how lucky we are. But someday that will change.” She told me that after one of the embassies in the Middle East got attacked.

My mother passed away mere months before 9-11. Sometimes I think about that and I’m grateful that she didn’t live through the grief and fear that came as a result. I think she managed to keep a bit of optimism and I know she continued to love this country.

Those words stuck with me. A lot of her words stuck with me. A lot of her actions and beliefs stuck, too. I am my mother’s son, after all.

My mother was a Republican. I understand and can even appreciate some of the beliefs held by that party.

I cannot understand the need to generate fear and hatred. I will not accept that being LGBTQ, or Muslim, or female, or African America, or Hispanic, or Native American or, (Insert your Target for Hatred/Fear Here) will ever be a just reason to have someone’s civil rights crushed under the government’s heel. It is supposed to be a “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” at least according to Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address.

I like to think that he was on to something there. I don’t believe the current administration would agree with me, if I’m being honest.

What a damned shame.

So it’s like this. I’m supposed to be writing. I might have to set that aside from time to time. I might even have to join in on a few marches. You can bet I’ll stand by the rights of everyone I see getting the shaft here.

My mother taught me that fear is to be overcome, and anger is best used as a motivational tool to reach your goals.  Terrorists win if we let fear rule our lives. Anger can focus you, make you remember what you are supposed to be fighting for when mostly you'd rather just give up.

And a reminder, seriously, that there’s another election in under two years and a lot of seats in the whole of Congress will be up for grabs.


You can bet I’ll be voting, too.



Sunday, January 29, 2017

How to Answer Interview Questions: 3 Tips for Both Pros and Newbies

Sunrise on the Ortiz Mountains the other day created dramatic and crisp pink highlighting on the fresh snow of the peaks. Quite spectacular.

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is an interesting one:Remedies for Stale Interview/Podcast Questions.

It's timely for me because just yesterday I did a signing with my good friend Darynda Jones at Page 1 Books in Albuquerque for our brand new releases. These are fun events for us, because signings are always more fun with a friend, and we have a lot of enthusiastic readers who are excited to see us. (Mostly her, but hey!) It was standing room only (albeit in a small space), with the final count at 48 people. Which is pretty nice for a small bookstore signing.

This is the... fourth? signing we've done together. Something like that. And quite a few people who attend are regulars. Or they see us at other regional events. As usual, Darynda and I didn't plan any particular program. We asked the audience what they wanted and they called out, "Anything!" And, "You  guys are always great - whatever!"

Which doesn't really help, but makes for a nice shiny.

Then the events coordinator calls out in this fake, high-pitched voice from the other side of the stacks, "Talk about your books!"

Oh. Yeah. Right!

The thing is, we tend to forget a key truth doing events and interviews: for most of the people reading or listening, this is their first time hearing anything about us or our stories.

For me, in particular, when I started talking about my new release, THE EDGE OF THE BLADE, I had to recall that most of the people there had come to see Darynda and hadn't read any of my Twelve Kingdoms or Uncharted Realms books. Yes, some of my die-hard readers attended, but they love talking about the books regardless. Just because *I* feel like I have talked about the books a lot, that's not true of the people listening.

So that's Rule #1:

1. There are no stale questions. They're only familiar to YOU.

This is that syndrome where it's easy for kids to remember their one teacher's name, but less easy for her to memorize all thirty of theirs. So, even though it made be frustrating or eye-rolling to get the exact same question for the 4,739th time, the person asking hasn't heard the answer before. Respect that and give them your fresh and sincere reply. I find - very interesting, too - that my answers to some of them have changed over time. I discover new aspects of my self and my process that way.

2. Limit the types of interviews you do.

One thing I've asked for so far as blog tours online, etc., is that I prefer not to answer "canned" interview questions. A lot of sites and bloggers do this, because it's much less work. I don't blame them a bit! They make up a list of questions and send that to be filled in. However, once I've answered a particular site's questions, then I've done them. There's not much sense in doing them again, particularly since they're already discoverable online. Instead I ask for questions related to the book I'm releasing. Yes, this dramatically cuts down on the number of interviews I do, but it also focuses my own efforts.

3. Keep notes as you draft and revise a book

I try to do this, and do better on some books than others, but any time I ask a question online, crowd-sourcing information, or something amusing happens, I note it in a running document for that book. This provides a treasure trove of anecdotes to tell about the book. There always seems to be interest in the process of writing the book, what was difficult, what you might have borrowed from real life, etc., and this document will refresh your memory when you feel you've said everything there is to say. Even you newbies can start doing this and, believe me, later on you'll be glad you did!

So, old pros - what tips do you have? Readers, what do you love best in hearing authors answer?












Saturday, January 28, 2017

Jake and Keanu the Cat Rule the Writer's Roost

This week we're talking about our pets here at SFF7. I've been a cat person pretty much my entire life. You can see from a few of the books I read as a child, that I'm not kidding!

Currently I have Jake and Keanu the cat, both rescue cats I adopted from a local shelter when they were 6-8 months old.. I always have two cats at a time so no one is lonely and they have another feline to play with. When I had the old day job this was more important, since I'd be out of the house so much. They romp and have mock fights and chase each other around, after which a thorough mutual bath appears to be required.

Jake is very laid back most of the time but believes he is a house puma and a predator probably ten times larger than he actually is. He's very playful and regularly distracts me from my writing by bringing me all his toys, one at a time, so I can throw them for him to retrieve. He also enjoys watching me fish items from under the refrigerator, where he of course has placed them. Jake is also a very cuddly cat and will sit on my lap and purr (and demand to be petted) whenever I'm sitting in bed reading or watching TV. He doesn't like the cell phone at all and knows when I'm 'cheating', as in not really paying attention to him. He tries to bite it.

He tends to be quite photogenic (although not as much lately - I think he got tired of the camera) and has been in my twitter feed a LOT.

Keanu is more laid back, aloof, doing his own thing, hence the name. We think he had a much rougher time during his life on the streets than Jake did and his tail has a permanent kink from being broken at some point. For a couple of years he never purred and my family's theory was that he never learned, which was sad to contemplate. Then one night I was in bed and I heard this strange rumbling noise and realized it was Keanu! He has a purple hippo pillow on the opposite end of my bed that is HIS, thank you very much, and now he'll knead his claws in the pillow and purr, which is sweet to see. He runs to the door whenever anyone comes to the house, and tries his darnedest to just casually sashay out the door. Where I live there are too many busy streets and too many coyotes to let them try going outside so I can't allow him to make his exit stage left.

My daughters say he doesn't know "how to cat". He tries, and he wants to be petted and be affectionate but his first response when he's had enough is to try to bite you. No other warning at all. Sadly, I have to keep something of a distance from him because of this, after a trip to the ER caused by a bite (broke the skin, left a small scar but no stitches needed but I'm allergic to all antibiotics) but we have worked out a system where I keep a small table next to my office chair and he knows if he jumps up on that I'll pet him as long as he wants. But I have to keep a very close eye on him the whole time and get up and move if he starts to get too wide eyed or is twitching his tail. Too much "crazy cat" demeanor means a bite attempt is coming. Although the one time he actually did bite me there was NO warning.

Oddly enough, Jake is the dominant cat in the house and eats first, and shoves Keanu off the chair next to my desk, which really is Keanu's favorite place.

Jake also believes he is the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian cat who belonged to a queen and here's the hieroglyphic proof:


So of course when I wrote my story Star Cruise: Stowaway for the Pets In Space anthology, I wrote a cat (along with an alien pet!).








Friday, January 27, 2017

The Pet Post

Once upon a time, I had an Instagram account. Oh, the account is still in my name. You can still search on it and find it. But. It is *my* account only by virtue of the fact that I am the one behind the camera. The account belongs entirely to the cats. There might be a sunset or two in there, I won't lie, but the vast majority of the account is all cats all the time. So allow me to introduce my masters:
This is Autolycus. He's the eldest at 18 (he'll be 18 in March.) He has fully graduated into a Grumpy Old Man cat post here aboard the boat. He's a super high maintenance guy at this point. He suffers from cholangiohepatitis and the early stages of renal failure. This means a grand total of nine different pills per day, plus the need to feed him every few hours. (Part of the liver disease and the fact that elderly felines can't derive the same nutrition from their food as younger cats. So he needs multiple small meals per day to keep his weight up. The other cats are apoplectic with envy.) This means that in order to preserve the quality of this dude's life, one of his humans must remain with him at all times or hire in a pet sitter. The care and feeding of the old dude are labor intensive enough that when my beloved husband heads to Florida for a wedding in the family, I will remain behind to look after the Little Orange Terror pictured here.  Why go to all this trouble? Two reasons. 1. Taking responsibility for a life isn't a convenience. It's a trust that goes beyond what's easy. There's a saying among animal people: You EARN an old cat (or dog). 2. Because this photo:
He is super sweet and he honestly appreciates every effort we make on his behalf. He's worked out that his pills make him feel better. So while he dislikes taking them, he sits still and allows me to pill him. The instant I'm done medicating, he's up and rubbing his face against mine while he purrs.

Why yes. I am a sucker and easily manipulated. Why do you ask?

He is snoring beside me as I type this. I don't know how much longer we get with him, but every second is worth the effort.

Then there's Cuillean, the middle child. She's a little camera shy. Getting a good photo of her is hard. She seems to thing the camera is a predator looking right at her. For that reason, her photo is about three years old. Appropriately captioned: All yer pizza R belong to Cuillean.


She lives for a warm pizza box to claim for her very own. She's my lap warmer and is the cat most likely to come sit with me while I work. She has a champion purr and radiates more body heat than any cat I've ever known.

She's also exquisitely skilled at human training. She went through a protracted training program with my husband - sitting on his workout bag each morning while he was trying to pack it. He would encourage her to move with "If you sit on my bag, you get pets!" Being the shy gal she is, he'd assumed that would get her off his workout bag. It worked. Twice. And then she had him. The pets became the point. Eventually, she got him wrapped around her paws so much that when the alarm goes off in the mornings, she appears. He is expected to pet her until she flops over on her side and kneads his ribcage while she drools in bliss.

Our youngest is also the queen of the castle. This is Hatshepsut.

The rumors are true. This is one who decided that me being away for a week was unacceptable. She escaped the boat and went into hiding. This resulted in an emergency flight home on my part a day after I'd gotten to Florida. It was January. I got one day of warm before having to fly home in a panic to look for a cat in 20 something degree weather. I didn't find her. I'd given up looking for the day, was feeding the other two, and from the cockpit came a piteous 'mew?' She'd come home on her own after driving an entire neighborhood crazy with looking for her. Now, when (if) I go away for any length of time, she is shipped, under house arrest to my mother's back room to be locked away until I return.

This is the one who is most guilty of adding edits to my works in progress. She takes my attention to anything or anyone but HER very, very badly. She's also the one who rushes to park on my chest in concern when I'm flattened by a migraine. Kitty purr. Very therapeutic.

Then. Because I live on a boat, there are the random 'pet' encounters. There's the Not My Cat Who Is On My Boat (and MY cats are screaming threats at him):




And there's the crow who seems to want to be my pet. She comes straight to me, follows me when I walk down the dock, stands on the dinghy rack staring into the boat to see if I'm here and noticing her. She expects (and gets) whatever cat food scraps the felines leave. I assume someone else trained her to expect to be fed - because she showed up at my boat with clear expectation and no fear of me. At one point, she learned how to meow to get my attention. O_o Or maybe it was to mock the cats. I'm not clear. But every year, she brings me her hatchlings, who never stay - she teaches them to come to me for food, but once they're grown, they bolt and never come back. Not that I mind. One crow with entitlement issues is more than enough, thanks.
No matter how you slice it. My life is ruled by animals. It always has been. Half the time, they show up in my books as characters. And whenever something diabolical happens in one of my stories, it's probably because one of the cats thought it up first and tried it out. My monsters are a lot of work, but boy, are they worth it.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Does Not Having Pets Hurt a Writing Career?

One thing frequently talked about among writers, especially at any con, is managing one's social media presence.  How do you get people to be interested in you?
And the regular answer is: take pictures of your pets.  The internet will always get invested in your cats, dogs and other domesticated cuteness.
Here's the problem.  I don't have any.  
For the most part, that's because I really can't have any.  I mean, YES, I could, but... my time is already heavily accounted for and managing my time wisely is a tough challenge.  I can't add "take care of another living" thing into that.  It wouldn't be fair to the pet.  I think that's important-- if you don't have the time or capacity to be a good Pet Parent, you shouldn't be one.  
But people love those pictures on their twitter-feed, though.  Ah, well.
Instead, I just need to keep writing.  And so many things to write!  Seriously, I revamped my writing To-Do Lists a week or so ago, and it's a lot.  So I'll get back to it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Bela {bey-LA}

She is also (sometimes) called Pook, Pookie or Pook-a-hontas, but don't you DARE call her Bella. {gag me} She is Bela, as in Bela Lugosi, and if you ring my doorbell she will make you think she's coming through the door to eat your face.
posing for Yule pictures

We found her at a no-kill shelter when she was about nine months old, by their surmising of her teeth. She's been the floor-pillow for my boys, the reason we go for walks, and the reason we sometimes hastily clear the room for over ten years now. I've seen her catch and kill small vermin and -impressively- a few ground hogs. I've seen her mope when the boys go to their dads. 

When mom moved in, I worried this big dog might knock her down the steps, but they established a 'dog-goes-first' rule and they regularly went outside together, especially when my mom would say, "Let's go smoke, Bela." Since moving north, Bela has missed mom...but she visited this past weekend. And yesterday, Bela laid in the floor of my guest room from the time the bus ran {i.e. when Thomas left for school} until it was time for it to bring him home. 

She misses my mom. If you add up dog years, they're comparable --if spunky-- old ladies. (:


her spot in my office
 FUN FACT: Bela hates treadmills.

her badass sweater 
  

FUN FACT: Bela loves bread and stinky cheese.


her spot in the living room

FUN FACT: Bela once nearly toppled a grooming table 
freaking out over getting her nails clipped.

she was both the bridesmaid and the groomsman at our wedding
FUN FACT: Bela is believed to be part Rottweiler, 
part Black Labrador, and part German Shepherd or Chow 
because of the spots on her tongue.


of course she only wanted food

this was her pose for the group shots
She has been with me longer than I have been published. 

She's been at my feet nearly every time I write.

So she is definitely part of my process, 
what with her quiet snores and her keen ability 
to force me to forego my sedentary ways 
for short periods of time. {wink, wink}

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Release Day: @JeffeKennedy's The Forests of Dru


Today, we're celebrating our Sunday captain Jeffe Kennedy's launch of the latest in her High Fantasy series The Sorcerous Moons! This week's topic is all about our pets, and while Chuffta would strenuously object to being referred to as a "pet," there is no doubt Princess Oria would be lost without her little dragon sidekick.

THE FORESTS OF DRU
An Enemy Land

Once Princess Oria spun wicked daydreams from the legends of sorceresses kidnapped by the barbarian Destrye. Now, though she’s come willingly, she finds herself in a mirror of the old tales: the king’s foreign trophy of war, starved of magic, surrounded by snowy forest and hostile strangers. But this place has secrets, too—and Oria must learn them quickly if she is to survive.

A Treacherous Court

Instead of the refuge he sought, King Lonen finds his homeland desperate and angry, simmering with distrust of his wife. With open challenge to his rule, he knows he and Oria—the warrior wounded and weak, the sorceress wrung dry of power—must somehow make a display of might. And despite the desire that threatens to undo them both, he still cannot so much as brush her skin.

A Fight for the Future

With war looming and nowhere left to run, Lonen and Oria must use every intrigue and instinct they can devise: to plumb Dru’s mysteries, to protect their people—and to hold fast to each other. Because they know better than any what terrifying trial awaits…

BUY IT NOW:   Amazon   |   iTunes   |   Kobo   |  Smashwords

Monday, January 23, 2017

I have no pets.

I know that I'm supposed to show pictures of my pets here, but I have none. Instead, I will simply cut and paste a story about the last pet that I had. I still miss the little guy.


Dinner For One: Part Twenty-Eight “Sanity and happiness are an impossible combination.” –Mark Twain“Only love lets us see normal things in an extraordinary way.” –Author UnknownAs I write this I’ve turned in the latest rewrites on two rather long short stories, resubmitted a series proposal to my agent and have also spent the better part of the last week working the day job without a break. This is my first day off in a while. As you might have guessed, I don’t really do days off very well. There’s not much to them for me. I do the day job and I work: I stay at home and I work. There are exceptions, of course, but not really that many.  That’s okay. I’ve always been a bit of a workaholic. Okay, maybe not always, but since I met Bonnie at the very least. It’s not that I don’t like having fun. I do. I happen to find the notion of having fun high on my list of things I like, in fact, but I don’t always have the same definitions as a lot of people around me. I genuinely enjoy both the day job and the writing. They both help pay my bills, and as an added bonus, the retail gig at Starbucks lets me get out of the house and meet people. Without that one I’d very likely be a hermit.In the morning I will be burying another pet. One of my very rare exceptions and a constant companion for several years. This time around a very special little fellow whose formal name was “Donnie Ducko.” He was named, rather tongue-in-cheek, by Bonnie after the movie we’d watched about a week before, Donnie Darko. As you might have guessed by the name, he was another duck. He was also raised by us from the time he was one day old or less, and he was a bit unique. His nickname was Little Bit, because, of course, he was just a little bit of fluff when we got him.
While we were at the park one day, handling the feeding and care of Bonnie’s adopted masses and keeping them from the road, a man came up with a small blue bucket and asked if we knew anything about baby ducks. Said bucket contained heavily chlorinated pool water and one very tiny duckling. Bonnie immediately said yes. Long story short, we adopted another duck. In this case he’d been caught on the filter door of a swimming pool that had just been bleached. He was caught on the door. His five siblings were pulled into the filtration system and drowned.
Little Bit was not waterproof. The chlorine from the pool had stripped most of his new-hatched glands and he would never be properly waterproof. He was also agoraphobic, and so was an indoor duck.For around nine years he’s been my constant companion. For the last couple of years we mourned Bonnie together, two bachelors in a house with too many rooms and too much junk.
And he is gone. I have no doubt whatsoever that he is winging his way to Bonnie even as I write this. I will miss him very much and I already miss him enough to leave me feeling a little punch-drunk again.
I am remembering in particular a time about five months before Bonnie passed away. As I have said on more than one occasion I was often astounded by her strength: with everything she was going through she kept her good spirits by and large and she fought hard to keep herself alive.  But on that particular night, just as I was putting Little Bit to bed (in his cage in the bathroom, where he could not get into any mischief) I came out and she had tears in her eyes.
Naturally I asked what was wrong. Bonnie looked at me and shook her head and said, “I just love him so much and it kills me to think that he won’t be around as long as me. I don’t think I could take it if he died.” What could I do or say? I held her and reminded her that he would not have even been alive if not for her, and that whatever time he had in the world was a blessing. She cried a bit more and said she knew she was being silly. I told her she wasn't being silly at all. The heart wants what the heart wants, and I have never run across a person who had a good heart that wished to be without their loved ones in this world.
One more reason not to be angry with Bonnie’s passing, I suppose. She did not have the heartbreak of losing her little boy, the closest she truly ever had to a child to call her own.
When I put him in his bath tonight he was quiet and barely swam around. I knew what was coming. As mentioned previously, you get to understand the signs if you look for them. Within an hour he was gone. Nine years, give or take. More than he’d have had in the outside world. Seven years of bringing Bonnie joy every day, even on the rare occasions when she dreaded life without him.
One last time then, I will cry over the loss of a duck. Foolish man that I am, I opened my heart again. It’s almost a guarantee of pain. A promise of suffering to come. I should know that I suppose. Had I a lick of common sense, I would look at the words of Mark Twain that are posted at the top of this particular essay and I would wish desperately to be sane above and beyond all else. Sanity would be wiser, I think. Sanity would mean not opening my heart, not risking my feelings any longer. Not once again testing the human soul’s capacity for grief.
A duck. A waterfowl. A feathered bird that always made Bonnie happier and yes, made the loss of my wife just a tiny bit more tolerable. If sanity and happiness are an impossible combination, than surely sanity and grief must also be impossible. So surely sanity would be the wiser choice.
But there are still people out there who have already won their way past my defenses. And even if I wanted to shut myself off completely from the world, I don’t genuinely believe that would be the wiser thing to do here.
As I write this, a friend of mine is just leaving the hospital with heart troubles. As I write this, another friend is hours or days away from giving birth. As I write this there are people laughing and crying all over the world. As I write this, life is occurring all around us, and death, too. They still go hand in hand, much as I might currently wish for a different end result.
As I write this I find I am once again crying, and trying to find the damned keys on my keyboard past the tears that are blurring my vision. That’s fairly common when I write these particular articles. They deal, unfortunately, with matters of the heart.
As I write this, the logical part of my mind is telling me I’m an ass for crying over a duck and I am gleefully, insanely, telling my mind exactly where it can go and how little I care what logic has to say.Because as I write this, I can remember the sound of Bonnie calling out “Little Bit!” In a loud, joyous voice after we got back from dialysis and I settled her on the bed to rest, and I can also hear the sound of our house duck lifting his head and calling back to her with excitement.
Bonnie was always happy to see her baby boy. And Little Bit, the silly little duck we rescued from a very certain death, the waterfowl who we took home and raised and kept and fed, who spent part of each night on the bed between us and who liked eating lettuce shreds almost as much as he liked throwing them across the room when he was eating them, he was always happy to see his momma. It may not have been a biological thing, but there was most decidedly love and joy between the two of them.
I’m a romantic. I asked him to tell his momma I said hi and that I love her and miss her.
I suspect she already knows.
It is what it is.
  




Sunday, January 22, 2017

Meet the Pets!

Check out the awesome cover for the fourth Sorcerous Moons book!! It releases Tuesday, January 24, but you can preorder at a few retailers. The blurb:

An Enemy Land
Once Princess Oria spun wicked daydreams from the legends of sorceresses kidnapped by the barbarian Destrye. Now, though she’s come willingly, she finds herself in a mirror of the old tales: the king’s foreign trophy of war, starved of magic, surrounded by snowy forest and hostile strangers. But this place has secrets, too—and Oria must learn them quickly if she is to survive.

A Treacherous Court
Instead of the refuge he sought, King Lonen finds his homeland desperate and angry, simmering with distrust of his wife. With open challenge to his rule, he knows he and Oria—the warrior wounded and weak, the sorceress wrung dry of power—must somehow make a display of might. And despite the desire that threatens to undo them both, he still cannot so much as brush her skin.

A Fight for the Future

With war looming and nowhere left to run, Lonen and Oria must use every intrigue and instinct they can devise: to plumb Dru’s mysteries, to protect their people—and to hold fast to each other. Because they know better than any what terrifying trial awaits…

****************
This week on the blog, we're featuring the pets of the SFF Seven.

(Or ferns, in some cases, maybe. Or the neighbor's pet - we shall see!)

Here at Chez Kennedy, we have two semi-famous pet residents. At any rate, pics of my Maine coon cats get more attention than posts about my books a lot of the time.

Not that I'm jealous.

Much.

Okay, I'm not bothered at all because Jackson and Isabel bring light and love into our lives. They're an integral part of my and David's day to day. 

Isabel is the older kitty. In fact, tomorrow, January 23, is her eleventh birthday!! Happy birthday, Isabelly!! I'm not saying I sing to my cats, but if I did, my song for her might be to the tune of "Cinderelly" from the Disney version and goes "Isabelly, Isabelly, she's a beauty, Isabelly." She is, too. She's a blue smoke, and does look blue in some lights. She also has a lovely smile. 



Jackson is our tuxedo boy. He turns five this year in March, and tends to get more press because he's always getting into trouble. Where Isabel is all about Zen grace, Jackson is irrepressible. Just yesterday I found him hanging out by the bouquet of lilies - with orange pollen all over the white of his muzzle. He just HAD to stick his face in the flowers. (Don't worry - he didn't eat any. Neither of them are plant-chewers.)



Saturday, January 21, 2017

On the topic of Killing Characters

I'm an author. I realize that there are times when a plot may have more impact if a character dies. Do I like it? No. Have I done it? Yes, once or twice, as far as named characters with whom the reader had spent time during the course of the book. People my main characters loved and respected. (Versus unnamed throngs of bystanders people the reader never met and doesn't know...). In those cases, the story really was better served by the person not living to see the HEA occur. But I made sure these weren't meaningless deaths - they accomplished something important with the sacrifice they made.

Ever since - SPOILER - the first time I read Little Women as a child, and was devastated by the death of Beth, I have an aversion to reading books where beloved characters die. Much less to writing them.

No, I'm not Pollyanna. I know - none better - that beloved heroic people die in real life and sad things happen. Every day in fact. I can even handle the occasional death of a character who's been a part of a series for several books and then meets their fate. Do I like it? No. If I enjoy the book or the series enough, I do keep reading and kinda blot that incident out in my head frankly.

Yeah, by now you've guessed I'm not a Game of Thrones fan. No disrespect intended to those who
are, or to the skills of the author - just not my thing. I'm amazed I hung in there with "The Walking Dead" and "The 100" TV shows...so I guess I do make occasional exceptions in my entertainment choices.(And I admired fellow SFF7 Jeffe's choice regarding Prince Hugh, as she discussed last Sunday in her post. It was a shocking scene, it had impact, it set up lots of key stuff for the later books...and I kinda never liked him all that much anyway. I love her Twelve Kingdom series by the way.)

When I was contemplating this week's topic, I drafted quite a long and detailed explanation in my head for you, explaining why I quite consciously do NOT write books very often where people I/we love end up dying. But you know what? I decided not to go there. Everyone has sad events in their lives. I'm not unique.

What I decided as an author a LONG time ago, was to write stories I wanted to read, full of action and adventure and romance and a very happy ending for the vast majority of my characters. I may not be able to control real life and fend off tragedies for people, but I can damn sure control the events in my own books.

So if you're in the mood for a dark story where characters you've invested in and care about die, you won't be picking up one of my novels, and that's perfectly FINE. I have nothing but respect for authors who write in that style.

It's just not me and I'm happy writing what I write. (Waves from my happy optimistic corner.)


Friday, January 20, 2017

Ding Dong the Dude Is Dead

Weeeeeell. Could last week's meme post have segued any more smoothly into this week's? I don't think it could.

I think I've provide graphic proof that I have no issue with killing of whoever needs killing. Bad guys. Innocents. Not so innocents. Folks who were in the wrong place at the wrong time - few are safe from me. And it's probably a character flaw of mine, but since those deaths happen solely to serve the story, I may be guilty of using death as plot device.

Remember fairytales? Not the ones Disney fed you - the dark and creepy tales the Brothers Grimm actually wrote - where Cinderella's step mother maimed her own daughters to get the glass slipper to fit? The penalty in those old, dark stories is almost always death. There's something ancient and bloodthirsty in the human psyche - something that whispers for the deaths of those who transgress, who keep the hero or heroine from what is rightfully theirs. No wonder genre fiction likes to off the bad guys. On some primitive level, it just feels right.

That's the bad guys sorted, but what about when it's a good guy or gal who bites it? I'll be straight with you here. It's emotional manipulation. Yep. Truth. You are being twisted into giving a crap about a character, you're being led to invest emotionally, and then you're being hauled nose first right into your own fear of death. Have I killed off good guys? Of course. SPOILER ALERT: There are likely to be more who take a dirt nap. Why? Not because I intend for you to work through your existential dread over what happens when you die - though, according the ancient Greeks, that's exactly what you're doing - that's the premise for all those tragedies they wrote. Catharsis - purging emotion. I'm not Greek. I kill off good guys because in every battle, in every crisis, in every situation with high stakes, some people learn the lessons that allow them to survive and some don't. Every action a hero or heroine takes has consequences. Sometimes, those consequences include the deaths of allies. Characters who could have been the heroes of their own stories. These are the deaths I try to be most careful with. I roll my eyes at every movie that murders some dude's family/girlfriend/partner in the first ten minutes (y'know, to motivate him) so I am very careful to not use character death as some kind of goad. That's just my particular peeve. If a character is to die, it needs to be the culmination of that character's arc - NOT a blip on someone else's arc, if you see the difference.

The one thing I can say is that I ended a book on a character's death. The series was later canceled by the publisher (not because of the death!) I'd intended to answer the question of whether that character had actually lived or died in the third book - only I didn't get to do a third book. This was not a happy thing for anyone. So. Killing characters is often necessary. Both from a story standpoint and from a character standpoint. But if there's any ambiguity about the demise, don't leave yourself and your readers hanging unless you're already contracted for the next book.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Perils of the Writer: When Characters Have To Die, When Characters Have to Kill

I'm fortunate so far, in that I've yet to get any significant pushback on killing any characters in my books.  To which I saw: wait for Imposters of Aventil.  
(Because I'm not entirely truthful about no blowback-- there's something there that one of my betas found devastating.)
I tend not to be the "let's be horrible to my characters" kind of writer.  Not out of any specific gentleness-- deaths and serious injury are abound.  But I think you need to make those moments matter, and therefore you can't cheapen it too much with frequency.
Or, rather, you need to set a tone.  If the tone is set at "Horror", then you've got to kill characters left and right.  That's what Horror is supposed to be: a setting where You Will Not Survive is the default that characters have to work out of.  
I write Fantasy Adventure books where the tone is equivalent to, say, the superhero shows on the CW.  Each one has it's own specific rules about killing and death, of course, and as the writer I have to respect that tone.
By which I mean, it's not just about if characters die, it's how my characters approach lethal force.  To continue the CW parallels:
  • Veranix in the Thorn books is closest to Arrow, in that using lethal force isn't necessarily an ideal, but it's also not off the table.  Sometimes the situation will-- in Veranix's mind-- render it necessary.  He's out there in life-or-death fights, so he can't hold back in the moment.
  • Minox and Satrine in the Maradaine Constabulary are closest to The Flash.  They serve as officers of the law, and so their mandate is a clean arrest and proper justice.  They strive to do things the "right" way, bring someone in alive.  That doesn't mean that lethal force never happens, and they don't struggle with it... but they take it very seriously.  Also, most of the time the people who die in these stories start out dead to begin with.
  • Asti, Verci and the rest of the Holver Alley Crew of the Streets of Maradaine are closest to Legends of Tomorrow, in that between their darker pasts and operating outside of the system, they don't hesitate at lethal force when the situation calls for it.  They're anti-heroes who do what they have to.
  • Finally, Dayne of the (hopefully) upcoming Maradaine Elite series is very much Supergirl.  That's all I'll say about him for now.
  Hopefully, when a beloved character does get killed (perhaps in Imposters of Aventilnow available for pre-order?), you'll understand the brave and bold choices I've made there.
A reminder that I'll be at ConFusion this weekend, and if you are there and want to get you're hands on an ARC for The Holver Alley Crew, there's a way detailed here.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

On Killing Characters

Image from  Winteriscoming.net

A List of Killed Characters off the Top of my Head:

  Numerous characters from Game of Thrones
  Numerous characters from the Walking Dead
  Spock/Kirk when facing Khan
  Mary on Sherlock
  Jack from Titanic
           **I could go on but I have a post to write. (; 

I consider myself a level-headed, thoughtful person. I believe the Golden Rule is valuable and that the commandments were a pretty good list overall. And yet:

1.) I want Arya or Tyrion or Daenerys or Grayworm or SOMEONE to beat the shit out of Cersei Lannister and cut her vile throat.

2.) I want someone to take out Negan.

Let's compare the difference in the level of vehemence in my two statements above. 

GOT: Cersei is a horrible, conniving person bent on keeping her family in power. She reads people well, anticipates their motives and acts to thwart any effort she sees as a threat. She's not afraid to unleash her vengeance-but there's a trigger beforehand. I feel she deserves to die more than most on the show who have been killed, but I have to admit last season they made me admire her inner strength. The deaths and the violence, in my opinion, feel in line with the time period and the social constructs. This 'realism,' I think, is part of what maintains my emotional investment.

**I'm no expert on the historical eras GRRM draws on for inspiration, so I have to note that WILLING SUSPENSION of DISBELIEF is a factor here.


TWD: Negan is a horrible and manipulative person, but I find him crossing the line into evil because he enjoys setting people up to fear him and to fail in order to have the excuse to hurt, maim or kill them. Watching the Walking Dead with him in it is something that must be akin to watching a snuff film. And while my writer brain understands that he is the embodiment of a level of evil that will force Rick & Co. to accept the risks of loss to up their game, I find I can no longer suspend my disbelief. I was emotionally invested until the season opener. Since then, there seems to be a personal distance. I still root for Rick & Co., but the fire has dissipated.


WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH WRITING?

KILLING CHARACTERS SHOULD HAVE UNDENIABLE IMPACT. 


I can prove it with one word:

HODOR


image from  HBO.com

In my series, I killed a character in FATAL CIRCLE (#3) who I liked so much I've thought of going back and writing her story, set a few decades earlier. I did not intend at the outset to kill her. I had a different plan. But when that moment came, I knew it was right. How did I know? See #3 below.

In books, characters die (much as they do in life) in a few ways:

1.) Random/unforseeable accident/health issue or complication
      {Guy killed by raptor in Jurassic Park}
       VALID BECAUSE:
            it happens in real life   ok, maybe not killed by raptor, but you know what I mean
            the aftermath for the survivors will show their character and possibly growth  

2.) Murdered {Abraham, Glenn; Qui-Gon Jinn}
       VALID BECAUSE:
            it happens in real life
            it shows how far your villain is willing to go
            the aftermath for the survivors will show their character and possibly growth
            murder and/or revenge continue to be suscessful stories

3.) Self sacrifice  {Kirk/Spock facing Khan; Hodor; Mary from Sherlock; Obi-Wan}
       VALID BECAUSE:
            it happens in real life
            it shows how far your hero/ine is willing to go
            it shows how far the cult leader & group are willing to go
            in the aftermath if the hero/ine is/isn't changed by this tells us something

4.) Suicide
       VALID BECAUSE:
            it happens in real life
            in the aftermath if the hero/ine is/isn't changed by this tells us something

If you're killing a character in your story, 
the real question to me...the real root of it is:
            
How does the story change without them?

Unless you're writing an out of sequence time tale, or plan to write prequels, once you kill a character, they are gone. Their impact should not be. Whether their death hurt the hero/ine or whether it was a two-paragraph entry that defines the villain, if it is there it should have meaning beyond that death scene. If it was a beloved character, the impact for your readers will resonate. Make it count!