Monday, January 27, 2014

Cats and Danglers

My husband and I were each getting ready for work the other day, he in the downstairs bathroom and me in the upstairs.  Our five-year-old had been instructed to get dressed in his room.

From stock.xchng
His bedroom and the upstairs bathroom share a wall.  I can usually tell if he's getting dressed or not because it seems to be physically impossible for him to do anything without singing or talking to himself, a habit I'm certain came from me.  If it's quiet, usually he's gotten distracted by a book or toy.

It had gotten quiet, so I began to listen closely.  Soon, I heard a "MEEP!"  Not usually a sound that comes from his mouth.

"Honey?  What's the matter?" I called.

"Kitty's being mean," he answered, and I figured he was letting his legs dangle off of the side of the bed.  The cat loves to play with his toes while he bounces his feet this way and that.

I yell, "Are you dangling anything?"

"Well, I am naked."

I think I would have meeped, too, were I male.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Cowgirl Without a Cow

I love to wake up to hear the sounds of grass and tree leaves rustling, mixed with the song of the western meadowlark and the wind whistling through the crevices in the wood and steel outbuildings.

Out of necessity, I must listen to the sounds of car horns, airplanes, and dogs barking, and have done so for well over a decade.

The hardest thing I have ever done is to walk away from the farm and ranch, knowing it would not flourish under my hand.  I still think of myself as a cowgirl, but I find myself without  a cow.

Perhaps that's why I write: to take myself away from the scent of refineries and pavement and back to, as Tolkien puts it, "good clean earth."  But dreams only last as long as sleep, and one cannot sleep forever.

As I step forward in my life, I often wonder if my footsteps will ever be able to turn toward the Badlands, and I pray that God sees a path that I cannot.

But for now, trapped near pavement I must be, but I long to see scoria roads and cow paths.  Some day.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Food for the Gods, by Karen Dudley

Anyone who takes a good look at me will quickly realize that I'm not afraid to enjoy a meal, especially now that I'm pregnant.  My grandmothers were exceptional cooks and bakers, so I was lucky to learn firsthand how a little bit of love, the right ingredients, and mixing things until it looks right can make for a fabulous dish.

Consequently, I love culinary mysteries, especially if recipes are included.  When I was asked to read, "Food for the Gods," by Karen Dudley, I was told it was a culinary mystery taking place in ancient Greece.  My first thought was, Oh, hell yes.

I'm very glad I said yes.  The world-building was effective and unobtrusive.  The characters were interesting and diverse, and the dialogue was pithy and sarcastic.  One would think that ancient Greek characters with British/Cockney accents would be a bit odd, but in the context of the book, it made social classes immediately clear.

Thanks, Karen, for a fantastic read.  I fell in love, and my only regret was taking so long to begin reading.My reviews are normally a bit longer, but I really don't have any criticisms.  I look forward to the second book.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Review: Originated Under Twin Suns, by Michael Pickard

I'm notoriously nitpicky about my sci-fi.  I've been a fan of all versions of Star Trek since before I knew how to properly pronounce Rene Aberjoinois.  I like Star Wars, but I don't feel the need to wear my light saber to work.  Other than that, I really am more into Tolkein and Butcher than Bradbury or Asimov.

When I received Michael Pickard's novel, billed as "space satire," my ears perked up a bit.  The first chapter made me chuckle, so I threw caution to the wind and decided to dive in.  

The Good

Mr. Pickard's experience as a previously published author made this book's quality a definite cut above most self-published books.  
  • The text had good flow and a defined voice.  
  • Language use by the Frobs were consistent and had voice.
  • It was filled with clever puns that made me chuckle.
  • There were parts that reminded me of Monty Python, which always brightens my day, even if it doesn't involve fish slapping, silly walks, or shrubberies.
  • It was easy to visualize the action.  
  • The plot was multi-layered and complex enough to be interesting, but not so complicated and spread out that it felt like reading Game of Thrones.

The Bad

  • The middle sagged, lacking enough action to compel the reader to need to turn the page.
  • Occasionally he spent too much time inside the characters' heads.
  • I see what he was going for when he wrote the ending, but I found it a bit unsatisfying.
  • The title doesn't flow as well as I'd like.

The Ugly

  • The cover art.  Eeeep.

The quality is a far cut above most self-published works.  As space satire goes, the closest analog I could think of was Space Balls, but the humor reminded me more of British understatement than Brooksian absurdity.  Overall, it was worth the read.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Bodacious Creed

As a ranch brat that hid my fantasy novels behind my 4-H projects, I have a thing for fantasy and westerns.  I wanted to BE John Wayne, Sparhawk, a Rider of Rohan, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, occasional sex changes be damned.  It's not that crazy to me to mix genres up a little, so when I got a review request for a zombie steampunk western, let's just say it got my attention.  

The only thing is that it wasn't really a review request.  It was a preview request from Jonathan Fesmire for his upcoming novel Bodacious Creed.  Jonathan has decided to do things a little differently by using Kickstarter to fund his project before it has even begun.  (Basic details for his project and how Kickstarter works can be found here, in case you've never heard of Kickstarter.)  

After reviewing his plan, I had a few questions for Jonathan.

Pretend for a moment that my readers have no idea what Kickstarter is or how it works.  (I'd never heard of it until now.)  Explain how it works and why you chose to do your project through Kickstarter than through other outlets, like traditional publishing or self-publishing.  

Simply put, Kickstarter is a site that allows anyone with a project to share it with the world. People can then pledge money to get that project funded. This new model is called "crowdfunding," and it allows artists to fund movies, graphic novels, computer equipment, and more.

Each project has pledge levels, with rewards that get better and better with each level.  So, backing a Kickstarter project is often like shopping for new and cool products that are still being created.

Each project has a time limit and a goal amount.  For instance, I set my funding period for 31 days, and the funding goal for $2,000.  Using a spreadsheet, I determined that this was the minimum amount I would need to cover expenses, including sending out the backer rewards.

Getting published by a professional house is extremely difficult, and many amazing books get rejected every day.  That's why many writers have turned to self-publishing.  Many of the best books out there are self-published, as are many of the worst, and it's the writer's responsibility to make sure that his or her book is top quality.

So, print on demand publishing and the Internet have already made it possible for writers to reach their readers directly, upsetting the old paradigm where we wrote to please publishers and then hoped against hope that our work would get noticed.

However, marketing is still extremely difficult. So you can work for a year or more writing a book, and then have few sales.

Crowdfunding turns the whole thing on its head.  Not only can writers self-publish, we can share a project to see if it's something people would like to read.  This gets the word out and gets people excited before the book is finished.

Significant backers get to have input into your book.  How do you feel about giving up some of the control over your project?  Or, do you get a creative charge out of bouncing ideas around with others?  (I do.)

I'm excited about working with higher level backers!  I have two now, and one wants to have a character based on himself as a villain.  I think it's going to be a lot of fun.

I also come from an improv background.  I did drama way back in high school and college.  At my junior college, I took three semesters of improvisational acting, and was the formative member of an improv troupe that is still going strong.  A little like Saturday Night Live, none of the original members remain.

I love the process of making disparate parts fit together.

It will be a controlled collaboration experience, however.  I'll make sure that the characters and ideas fit into the milieu.  I hope that more people pledge in that range, so I can work in more ideas and characters!

It takes a lot of stones to put oneself out there on the internet, potentially inviting criticism before a project has really begun.  Have you had negative experiences with backers, or has it largely been a positive thing?

I've been a public figure on the Internet since the mid-90s, when I had a relatively popular site called "Introduction to Fantasy."  The entire process of creating my demo reel, which Bodacious Creed is based on, is documented in an extensive blog.

As for the Kickstarter project, most people have been very positive and excited about it.  I have had some criticism.  One person thought it was just plain wrong to ask for funding to help publish a novel.  Don't you know, writers have to write first, and then struggle to get a book published, and then hope that people read the book!  That's how it's always been done, so how dare I try something different.  In fact, even telling people about it is spamming!

Another person assumed the book would be about cowgirls riding around on horses, braining zombie hordes.  You know, the most cliché idea possible.

I question the rules, and think outside the box.  In fact, as far as I'm concerned, there is no box.

But as I said, most people have been very positive, and some have even asked how to go about creating their own Kickstarter projects for novels.

How will the books be sold once they've been printed?  Do you have contracts with book sellers lined up, or will it be mostly on sites like Amazon?

I'm going to self-publish directly through Lightning Source.  That's the company that Lulu and CreateSpace both use.  By publishing through Lightning Source directly, I will pay less for each copy, and can sell the book for less.

One person wants to carry the book overseas, and I'll contact various book stores to see if I can get them to carry it. It will definitely be available online through Amazon and other sources, however.

I recently bought a children's printed book that interacts with the camera on my laptop.  My son completely loses his shit when he uses it.  Have you toyed with the idea of making enhanced e-books or digitally enhanced printed books, considering your expertise with 3-D modeling? 

Excellent question!  I don't know about creating an interactive book, though I suppose it's possible through a program like Unity.

What I will probably do, though, as I write the book, is create 3D models of some of the items or characters, and share those on my website, and on the Bodacious Creed site (which I'm developing now).

With the end of his funding period coming fast, I wish Jonathan the best of luck.  Many of you know that I'm a music educator, but this year I'm actually teaching a course in creativity and integrated arts.  (I CAN'T EXPRESS HOW EXCITED I AM FOR THAT CLASS!)  Bodacious Creed is a creative and "novel" approach to writing a novel, and I'm very interested to see how it turns out.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Review: A Once Crowded Sky, by Tom King

I was approached by Simon and Schuster about reviewing A Once Crowded Sky, by Tom King. After reading the description, which, "...fuses bombastic, comic-book-style storytelling with modern literary fiction..."I knew it wasn't up my alley.  However, I married a man that has been glued to every comic book movie ever made and knew it would tickle my hubby's fancy.  I've summed up my husband's thoughts on the book, which are largely positive.  He really enjoyed the book.

A devastating force called the Blue attacks all, superheroes and villains alike.  The Blue causes supervillains to commit suicide, leaving only the heroes left.  In order for the superheroes to defeat it, all superheroes but one to sacrificed their powers to defeat the Blue.  The world is left with left with powerless superheroes trying to cope with being normal, save one, a hero named Pentultimate, superhero Ultimate's former sidekick.  (The play on words makes me giggle.)

The Good:
  • Overall story telling was great.
  • Great twist on superheroes.
  • Not entirely predictable-the only predictable parts came from making fun of or using comic book cliches.
  • He dumped superheroes into what they'd be like in the real world.  Many weren't coping very well without their powers.
The Bad:
  • He spent a great deal of time inside the characters' heads, and at times the monologuing was a bit much.
  • Tended to drill a point to death instead of realizing the audience had gotten the idea several paragraphs ago.

The Ugly:
  • No ugly.  It was a really great take on comic book heroes, though it would probably not appeal to folks who don't care for comics.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Branding Time

My dad, uncle, brother, and husband preparing the calf table and chute.
My vaccine guns in the front, my uncle applying the second brand.
I think that when most folks think of cowboys, they think of horses, boots, spurs, ropes, calves and branding irons.  Historically cowboys used to rope a calf by the hind leg, drag it to the branding area, and then two people held it down while others did the branding and castrating.  My family uses a calf table, which allows us to do our job with fewer people and finish each calf more quickly.

Branding, vaccinating and castrating is a big job, and it probably seems terribly cruel to most.  However, ranchers don't just do it for fun.

Selling calves is where ranchers make their money, and calves can't be sold if ownership cannot be established.  Hence, the brand.  Good brands are hard to alter and are clearly readable from a distance.

Compare the brand to a tattoo, which I understand can be a terribly drawn out and painful affair.  The brand takes only seconds, and the calf's skin is far thicker than our own.

An animal rights activist once asked one of my dad's friends why ranchers castrate the poor little calves.  He could have said that it keeps fighting between males down or that it increases the quality of the meat.  Instead, he said, "It's to keep those little bastards from committing incest with their mothers and sisters."

'Nuff said.

Leg being drawn back to castrate.

Finished brand, read aloud as "Lazy F L Bar."