Friday, September 18, 2015

Website updates and additions -- and a re-release!

Sometimes tweaks are needed to keep a website looking good. To that end, several changes have been made to the website.

First of all, you'll note the sidebar now contains only one book cover. The newest release will always be the "Featured Book" so you can find it easily. While it made sense to list the other covers when there were only a few, the longer the list became, the more ungainly it looked, making the front page way longer than people wanted to scroll through (but isn't that a wonderful problem to have? Too many books for a scroll list?!?).

The second change is to the "Published Works" page. You'll note the covers are there but (mostly) only the covers. Each picture links to a dedicated book page with purchasing info, an excerpt and reviews of the book. This allowed me to put up ALL my books, both those I've self-published and those published by Ellora's Cave, in a layout that is clean and easy to use.

There is also a complete list of books, as well as a downloadable PDF of the list.

The third change? The addition of an "About Me" page. This was fun to write! Spread out over many posts over many years, it seemed time to pull everything together in one spot. Be forewarned: it's long!

And finally - the newest re-release is Diamonds in the Snow. Originally written for the Diamond Studs anthology (containing stories by Ruby Storm and Ruth Kerce), this novella now stands on its own. It's available in all formats from Smashwords and in the Kindle-only format from Amazon. Click the link for an excerpt of this winter story!

Off to write a new story...

Play safe!

PS. If you find any missing links, please let me know. Amazon JUST went live, so those links on the Diamonds in the Snow page now work.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Reading notes

Like many New Year's resolutions, my intent to keep track of all the books I read this year has fallen to the wayside. In the past several months, I've read:

several of Diana Gabaldon's short stories that take place in the Outlander universe,
about a dozen romance novels in the Regency era, including Julia Quinn's Smyth-Smith series in its entirety,
and, most recently, a book called What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman. It's this book that has moved me to write this post.

My Book Club is reading this as their first selection of the year (we're teachers and retired teachers, so we go by the school calendar), otherwise it may never have come up on my radar. Not knowing anything about it, I bought it (Kindle version) and read the first chapter. Imagine my surprise to discover its set at Willard Psychiatric Center in Willard, NY - a place barely thirty miles from me! It takes, as its inspiration, the discovery of over 400 suitcases left behind by the inmates of the asylum. These suitcases were found after the Center closed and staff were going through old rooms and attics. Museums were contacted and the suitcases were saved. They're now housed at the Museum of DisABILITY in Buffalo, NY. There is also an online story of them.

So a wonderful premise with dual storylines: a high-school girl gets roped into helping to itemize these suitcases and the story of one of the inmates told in her point of view as to how she got sent there and what happened to her. I was excited to read this book.

(Warning: I'm stepping up onto my soapbox here!)

But the author's scholarship was sloppy and that pisses me off. In the modern-day story, she references real places (her description of Willard Psychiatric is spot-on), making mention of Geneva, NY and Romulus High School as well as making several references to Seneca Lake (the buildings overlook the longest and deepest of the Finger Lakes). HOWEVER, she makes up a fictional high school for the protagonist instead of using South Seneca, the actual school anyone in that area would've attended.

Her depictions of modern teenagers is also at fault, peppering the senior class of her fictitious school with stereotypes (the Queen Bee and her minions, primarily). The obligatory party on the beach, the kids who run the classrooms (none of the teachers seem to have any control over the students in the classroom - really? For one, hasn't this been done to death and for another -- really? Teachers don't take enough bashing but you need to make every single teacher ineffective and weak???).

So I had issues with the modern day story, but the story of the young woman who is sent to Willard in the 1920's also rang false. Willard was founded in the late 1860's as a humanist way of dealing with mental illness. People were taken from almshouses and poor houses and jails where they were treated abominably and brought to Willard, where the emphasis was on sunshine, fresh air, and healthy food. Yes, new techniques were tried, most of which we now know were ineffective at best, cruel at worst. But the emphasis was on curing the mental disease, not incarceration for no good reason, as the author implies.

Were there abuses? Probably. But the author used as one of her primary sources, the story of Nelly Bly and the reporting she'd done on the insane asylums near New York City in the late 1800's. Except Clara's story was set in the 1920's and 30's and considerable efforts had been spent making asylums a better place. And Willard was already a better place than most.

So yes, some Willard patients underwent insulin therapy and electroshock therapy. But I have a VERY hard time believing the character of Dr. Roach, who was guided only by his own self-interest. He might've worked as a character at a different asylum, but not at Willard.

What I think I'd rather read is one of her other source books: The Lives they Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic by Darby Penney and Peter Stastny. But I want the hardcover of that one. The photographs by Lisa Rinzler look amazing.

Long story, short: I found the book filled with stereotypes in both storylines, with poor scholoarship on the part of the author and over-done plot points. Maybe if I hadn't had such high hopes for the book when I started I wouldn't have been so disappointed. Maybe if it didn't hit one of my major pet peeves about books that deal with real-life issues or places, I would be able to recommend this book, but I can't. It just ticked me off too much.

(stepping off my soapbox)

Play safe!

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

A milestone reached - and passed

One million published words, baby! One million words!

Actually, 1,269,800. That's published in books and stories words. It does not include any blog posts either here or as a guest author on anyone else's blog. It does not include any of my academic writing or letters to friends or posts to Facebook. Nor does it include the dozens upon dozens of stories I've started but not finished.

Nope. That's 1269.8K-- PUBLISHED -- in stories and books since September 2003. That was the month Secret Submission came out as an ebook and launched my career.

And I owe it all to my husband's comment years before that.

I'd been working on a fantasy novel for nearly two decades. I had scraps of it written on all sorts of paper (the back of bank notes, backs of receipts, pieces of cardboard from the paper pads that had run out of paper--whatever was at hand); these all were shoved into a folder in no particular order. In 1991, my daughter was not quite a year old and he looked at our finances (and my mental health) and said, "I don't think you need to get a summer job this year. Why don't you write that book instead?"

I kissed him. Hard. And a lot.

What happened between 1991 and 2003? I learned a lot about writing books. That first novel? The fantasy one (working title: Discoveries)? It's still on my computer at 95K and counting (and no, that number isn't in my one million + figure!). I made a lot of mistakes and to rewrite it would take a great deal of time. Time I'll get too one of these days. :)

I also had another child (who just got married!) and wrote Hardship and Hardtack, a Civil War historical fiction based on the real Lieutenant Richard Bassett and his brother, Erasmus (Rass). That book collected several rejection letters before I self-pubbed it when that option became available (that 68.6K is included in my grand total).

All-in-all, I have written and published 36 titles (short stories, novellas, novels and poems). There are at least 55 stories in my "story starts" file - ranging in length from a few hundred words, to ninety-five thousand. I've written writing workshops and hundreds of blog posts over the years. Maybe someday I'll count all those up, too. Today, however, I'm celebrating!

I broke the one million mark. Here's to the next million!

Play safe,