Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Grandma and Doing What You Have to Do

                I’ve mentioned my grandmother here once or twice.  She came to this country from Ireland in 1928, just in time for the Great Depression. In Athlone and Galway, she was a certified teacher. When she came here, she was told she couldn’t teach in America. This was the age when companies still had signs up that said Irish need not apply. She was told that she talked funny (and this in New Jersey), or that she was only going to get married and pregnant so why bother taking her on. So, as she told me, she did what she had to do.  That involved scrubbing floors and other “menial” tasks. She did marry and had four sons (a small family by standards then). Unfortunately, she married the stereotypical Irishman for that day, he was an alcoholic who liked to drink away his check.

                But she always did what she had to do to survive and hopefully thrive. 

                I wonder if we haven’t lost the ability to do what we have to do. We have become a people of doing what we want when we want. Is this some of the appeal of social media? I am just as guilty of getting sucked into the instant gratification and neglected my writing. 

                But sometimes circumstances remind us to do what we have to do no matter how uncomfortable.

                I recently resigned from the bank where I had worked for the last six years. I had started when it was called something else. It was a good place to work by and large. We put the customer first and believed that doing the right thing would drive results and profitability.  We treated employees like assets not expenses.  The place I use to work is in the terminal stages of a merger with another large bank creating a national behemoth. It was a process three years in the making.

                Those who know me know that I am not adverse to change. When the changes started coming, there was concern over the direction we were headed. But I counseled patience. Things would get better when the dust settled.  As time passed and changes continued, I counseled patience saying things had to get better.  After years of dealing with people who made a mockery of management and a farce of the term leadership, it had taken a toll on my physical and mental health and my family. So after trying patience and weighing the pros, cons and consequences, and without any immediate prospects I severed my relationship with that bank.

                This was not an easy decision to make as it puts a strain on personal finances in the near term. But in the long run, it has given me control back of my future, allowed me to begin healing my psyche from the almost daily trials. It has given me hope.

                And my muse is back. I had been too exhausted to hear her.  While I search for my next source of immediate cash, doors open for me. I am speaking at a Women in Business breakfast next month. I am putting a long term business plan together for my writing ventures and meeting some wonderful writers and entrepreneurs along the way. I am finding self-discipline and I am rediscovering my passions.  Which is a good thing, as I intend to try my hand at erotica for NaNoWriMo. But more on that in a later post.

                And in many ways I have my grandmother to thank for this.

                Have you made big changes in your life? Share your story with us.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Anastasia V.Pergakis talks about Cleanse Fire and the Wounded Warrior Project

Karen: Today, I have with me Anastasia V. Pergakis. Anastasia and I are both members of Savvy Authors. We share a common interest in world-building.  Harley is visiting us to talk about Cleanse Fire, the first book in her Kinir Elite Chronicles.

So, Anastasia tell us a little about the Kinir and the world they live in.

Anastasia: Karen, thank you so much for having me today. It is an honor to be a guest here. Even though Karen writes Urban Fantasy and I write Fantasy of a different sort, both genres have an element of world building. So today, I would like to share a little background and inside info about the world of the Kinir Elite, my special forces team of elves in my book Cleanse Fire.

The Kinir Elite are a "black ops" team with mostly top secret missions. They are still a very "public" group, unlike most black ops teams which are kept away from general knowledge. They are seen as the "super heroes" to young elves and are often the source of many bedtime stories. The majority of their missions are secret but when it's a hostage rescue situation, the news is spread around. Their country is rather small and limited in technology (compared to ours), so they don't have things like helicopters, cars, guns, etc. They use bladed weapons and bows, making for a more personal style battle/fight scenes. They use covered wagons, carriages, horses, and even dragons as their "vehicles".

They do work closely with their southern neighbours, the Tinally Elite, who are faeries. The faeries use magic and spells, unlike the physical weapons of the elves.  But the Tinally are limited in what they can do depending on location (can't use magic or survive long without sunlight or moonlight) and strength (if they use too much of their magic, it can drain them and they will need to rest to rebuild their power again). This is why the two groups work closely together. When there is a situation underground, the Kinir Elite will step in to help as the Tinally faeries cannot operate, even minimally, in such conditions. It is the same when the Kinir elves have a situation that requires flight and/or magic of some sort.

Female elves (elfas) only recently were allowed to join the Kinir Elite, while the Tinally Elite allow only male faeries. The members of both teams (6 on each) are chosen by the Captains and Commanders of the teams; members can not apply or request to join. In order to be "in the running", an elf or faerie must serve at least ten years in the Army and five years in the Kinir Rangers/Tinally Airborne. If they are chosen - and accept the invite - they pledge to serve another twenty five years. (They live for a very long time, being elves and faeries...)

Karen:  I’m intrigued to learn more about the Kinir and Tinally. Now let's talk about Cleanse Fire, shall we? What are the key elements of the story that every reader should know?

Anastasia: Without giving away too, there are three things we can talk about. The rest is for the reader to discover and enjoy.

Complete the mission, no matter what…
Captain Derac Vidor has served Kinir for nearly twenty years. It’s his life, his blood, his soul.  When his Commander betrays everything Derac holds dear, he must focus on his own life and his team instead of saving the citizens of Kinir.

Treason is only the beginning…
Fueled by rage, the team chases the source to their Commander’s betrayal – a powerful wizard bent on revenge. The wizard seeks to destroy the Kinir Elite, in both mind and body. No place is safe, even among their allies.

The past holds the key…
Derac’s tragic past may be the key to saving the team. But can he face the gruesome nightmare in time?

Cleanse Fire is a fantasy adventure novel, with edge-of-your-seat action. Epic battles, suspense, and a bit of romance too!

Karen: Well you’ve piqued my interest. But one more question: I understand that, beyond the incredible world you are building in this series and the heart-stopping stories, this project has a personal and special meaning to you. Will you share that with us?

Anastasia: Given the strong military theme in my book, I want to honor real life soldiers with my writing. Portions of my royalties from this book, and the upcoming books in the series, will go to the Wounded Warrior Project. This organization helps wounded soldiers and their families heal when they return home. You can learn more about them and read true accounts of soldiers they've helped at their website,  

Karen: As the daughter of a veteran and friend to those whose lives have been touched, I want to thank you for your generosity.

Anastasia has been gracious enough to share an excerpt from Cleanse Fire with us.  At the end you can find links to her websites and how you can get your copy of Cleanse Fire.

Excerpt from Chapter 8.

A groan escaped him as he unbuttoned his shredded tunic. His hand brushed over the crest of Kinir embroidered on the front. Two lions reared up on their hind legs, one of each side of a crown atop a letter ‘K’. Silver and green threads woven together to create a metallic green look. His fingertips felt each thread, each rise in the design. How could Palto betray us?

A ragged sigh left his lips and he tossed the uniform to the floor. He wiped the dirt and grime off his skin with a soft cloth. The water turned brown. Dried blood flaked off him and landed to float on the surface of the murky water. He couldn’t take his eyes away from the bowl. The liquid swirled, making his stomach churn.

Derac’s knees collapsed from under him and he landed hard on the floor. He dragged the cloth down his face in an attempt to wash the mines and everything from his memory. Nothing helped. When he closed his eyes he saw the tortured and starved faeries and Kie panicking in the dark.

He scrambled to his feet and dumped the murky water out the window. Full of clean water again, Derac plunged his face into it. Using the pitcher, he poured more water over his head. The dirt, he had to be rid of it. All of it.

Derac straightened and squeezed the excess water from his hair. Dried blood, chunks of dirt, and who knew what else turned the water to a thick mud. He threw the contents out the window again and wiped the bowl clean.

He yanked his brush from his pack and raked it through his black tresses. Tears stung his eyes. He told himself it was the tangles in his hair but it was a lie. How many faeries had died before the team could rescue them? How many lost their innocence at the hands of a dwarf?

Derac fell to his knees and bowed his head toward the open window. Moonlight poured in, but it did little to dispel the chill he felt in his bones.

Kie willingly entered the place of her childhood nightmares. How did she muster the courage? Why wasn’t she a wreck like him? He pulled on her strength and forced himself back to his feet. Breaking down was not going to help anyone.

Thank you again, Karen, for having me here today. I really appreciate the visit to your blog.

Purchase Cleanse Fire

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~ * ~ * ~

In honor of Veterans Day coming up, I’m giving away an e-copy of Cleanse Fire! Leave a comment on this post to enter into the random drawing by 11:59 pm November 13 (Eastern Standard Time). You MUST leave your email address IN the comment so I can contact you when you win!

All commenters will also be added to the drawing for a chance to win a signed hard cover version of the book when it releases December 21.

I'm having more giveaways throughout the months of November and December! "Like" the series' facebook page to keep up to date on all the events!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

NaNoWriMo and the Uncomfortable Zone

Earlier this week I talked about risk taking. Today I am talking about NaNoWriMo as a form of risk.  If you have not heard, every November hundreds of thousands of writers (200,500 in 2010) step up to the challenge of writing a 50,000 word first draft of a novel in thirty days. There are regional groups around the world that organize write-ins, launch parties and after-parties. So what’s the risk here and why take it?

NaNoWriMo is really about stepping out of your comfort zone. You may have “thought” about writing that novel. But as my father always says “And we know what thought did, right?” Trick question. Thought does not do anything.  But moving from thought to action can mean taking risk.

So the part of your brain that likes the word “no” says “What if you don’t finish 50,000 words? What if my first draft is shitty (with a nod to Anne Lamott)? 50,000 words! You’ve never written anything longer than a grocery list.  You don’t have the time. Why bother writing no one will like it.”

So why bother?  If you a writer, if the bug has bitten you, then you know you have no choice. The story must be heard, the characters demand attention.

So you’ve never written anything longer than a grocery list. There is only one way to know if you’ve got 50,000 words in you. Start.

What if the first draft is shitty? That’s why we edit and edit and then edit again. Sometimes referred to as rinse and repeat.

But no one will read it. Most likely no one except you will read the first draft. But after an edit or two you will call on some of the other writers you’ve met along the way to form a critique group (sounds formal but it’s often not.). They will become your beta readers and help you make the additional cuts and changes to begin polishing your novel.

Remember what I said in the earlier post. No sane person takes a risk with preparation. So how do you prepare when NaNoWriMo is a little more than 11 days away. First, don’t panic. Second go to the NaNoWriMo site, if you haven’t already, and sign up.

Then you need to do some preliminary activities:
1)      Decide if you are a paper or electronic writer. I write on my laptop because I have no patience for re-typing it later. For those who know me, I am a terrible typist when going direct to electronic. Factor in my handwriting and the scratch outs and arrow I’d have to follow.  A nightmare worthy of Stephen King.
2)      Write down your ideas and characters.  Even if NaNoWriMo on the surface appears to be an activity for pantsers, you will do better even if all you have are main character names, setting, time and four or five sentences about the plot. I recommend if you can to have some idea of beginning, middle and end.
3)      Stock up on snacks and beverages and any writing supplies you may need.
4)      Tell your friends what you are doing or, if you are not ready to come-out as a writer, tell them you have a 30-day flu and will be in quarantine. That can help handle the “enough time” problem.

What’s the benefit of taking the risk: You get the start of a novel. Make it to 50,000 words and you get a really cool certificate and bragging rights.  You meet other cool writers.

You also learn how to turn off your inner editor.  Many of us can kill a project by beating the same page to death instead of moving on. To get to the finish, you need to keep plowing ahead.  I will share a little technique that I began using. It feeds my inner editor just enough so she doesn’t whine.  I type my first draft in track changes mode.  Not to edit text, but for the nifty comment bubbles.  If I’m writing a new unplanned scene some prior information may be missing. If it stays in the next draft, it may need more set-up.  I put a note to go back and do that in the comment bubble. It helps me keep moving forward.

Maybe you are like me and want to use NaNo to experiment in a new genre. To step out of your comfort zone.  I will have a first draft done of one WIP before November1, so I’m going to try something new in November. Then, in December, after my current WIP has rested I can return to it with fresh eyes for the first round of slash and burn edits.

So are you taking the risk of creating something in November and joining me in NaNo?  Ah, you want to know what I’m experimenting with in November.  Let’s just say if it works, it will be HOT.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Risk, Reward and Dreams

What kind of risk taker are you? How far outside your comfort zone are you willing to step or, for that matter, leap? Have no idea? Okay. Let me ask a different question: If you had your way, what would you do in your spare time?  Be specific.Would you bake cookies? Learn to play the piano? Write a novel?

Often people will ask the question, what would you do, if you knew you could not fail?  Hell, if I knew I could not fail, I would jump out of an airplane. But risk involves the chance of failure (or in my case airsickness). One of my guilty pleasures this season is “The Sing-Off”. I will sing my lungs out in the car, but it would take more than a few glasses of wine to get me up in front of a crowd to sing, especially in a room where people might know me. Maybe in a tavern in Romania where no English is spoken, so they won’t even know if I screw up the lyrics. My choice of song could be a whole other blog. But I have promised myself that one day I will do it and sober.  Vague goal, I know but I have higher priorities right now.

Some of you that follow me want to write that novel. Then what? Do you show it to anyone? Let’s start with trusted readers and editors. What about publishing it to the world?  Now we’re talking risk.

Risk is not just jumping out of planes, bungee jumping, climbing Mount Everest. Let’s get real, anyone who takes on these activities or any other you can name does not do it lightly.  No sane person pulls out of their suburban driveway and thinks “I’ve never even climbed a ladder to clean my gutters, but I’m going to the airport today. I’m going to fly halfway around the world, head straight to Nepal and climb that damn mountain.” Duh? You know and I know that massive amounts of training and preparation are required.

Now writing a novel, singing karaoke, quitting your day job, or starting your own business, do not present the same physical danger as Mt Everest. I may not break a leg but I can seriously bruise my ego.
That said, I am a risk-taker.  No-pain, no-gain, especially when it comes to ego. My mantra is perhaps the other side of that coin. I always say, if you want something ask. What’s the worst that can happen: they say no? Will you be any worse off than you are right now? No regrets, no what-ifs.  Like climbing Mt. Everest, it takes a lot of preparation. You study, you weigh all the pros and cons, you know the outcome is not guaranteed and that it impacts others, but you go for it.

I’m going for a working published writer. I have studied and keep studying the craft and the business of writing and publishing. I have an agent for my first novel, but I also track and am actively involved in the self-publishing world. I am ready to do what I need to do and to do it with eyes wide open. I am also turning my years of developing my craft to helping others achieves their dream by offering editing and proofreading services.  I plan on expanding those services over the next year. More on that in a later blog, too.

I love writing and working with writers and I find myself with some extra time on my hands. I will be planning my work and working my plan. An added bonus is that, along the way, I have met some incredibly talented and supportive friends.

For a great discussion of risk taking, visit Lance Armstrong’s LiveStrong Foundation's page on risk taking. I think you’ll agree that Lance knows something about risk taking.

What kind of risk-taker are you? What will you do to make your dream a reality?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Preying Angels by Jeff Davis, a Psychological Cyber-thriller

An Internet attack on the Federal Reserve brings together two colleagues, Michael Thomas and Gabrielle Sinclaire.  Once members of the Archangel project, a Special dark-ops government computer intelligence team, they suspect the attack was committed by another Archangel, Uriel/Lucifer, gone rogue. While investigating this cyber-crime from Thomas’ Mississippi home, they are called to assist in the analysis of a teenager’s home computer that may hold clues to her disappearance and the murder of other young girls.

Preying Angels is a dark cyber-thriller made all too chilling by the knowledge that internet stalking exists and we, especially the young and trusting, are all at risk.

Jeff Davis’ debut novel is a very good beginning for a career that promises to engage the reader in plots that are intriguing and push the envelope. He deals in a straight forward manner with, I believe, just the appropriate amount of violence, with young people as victims of adults with sick and twisted minds and the grief and pain of their family and the law enforcement officials who hunt the killer,  He takes it to the next level by introducing us to a master villain whose very willingness to manipulate a psychopath to achieve his own ends creates a new level of psychological horror.

If I had any suggestions, it would be to make the hero and heroine more three dimensional.  Mr. Davis writes the bad guy well.  I would like to know more about his protagonists, what makes them tick, what are their own flaws. How did they stay on the right side of the law when Uriel/Lucifer did not.  He hints at it, but I want to feel more of what Gabby and Michael feel. Don’t worry, he doesn’t have to go all romance on us in the next book but maybe a little more Jason Bourne.  We know that Bourne is a killing machine but he get a sense of his personal demons and torture. I’d just like him to dig deeper into their psyche and let us see it on the page.

I give Preying Angels 3-1/2 triskeles and look forward to even better coming from this inventive and fearless new writer.   

Preying Angels is available through these links at Amazon for Kindle and Smashwords. A print version will be available soon.