Friday, September 30, 2011

Things I'm Learning About Formatting Books For Create Space

1) Even if the only step-by-step guides I can find in the forums are for Word, it's still a whole lot simpler to do the same formatting things in Pages.
2) Changing the font size from 12 point to 11 point Times New Roman takes over 100 pages off of a 6"x9" book.
3) Copying and pasting the text from 8 1/2"x 11" to any other size text will still mess up nearly every line break and cause random italics (only a few) to disappear.
4) Changing the format from left-justified to right-and-left-justified will mess up all the paragraph indentations.
5) I do not even need a table of contents. No YA fiction I've currently got checked out from libraries even has a table of contents.
6) The whole process of fixing all the margins, paragraph indentations, and line breaks is every bit as time-consuming as I feared it would be.  (And I haven't even tackled custom page numbers yet.  Sigh.)
7) Putting the format into "facing pages" makes it tons easier not to mess up on the look of the book!  :)
8) Okay, so I can't yet figure out how not to number the blank pages.......    grrr....  But at least I figured out that if I center the page numbers, I won't have to worry about getting them on the outside corners of the pages, flipping from right to left!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Lady MacBeth In Her Early Years

Out, damn spot!
Here's the smell of blood still!
Will these hands ne'er be clean?

Today, Max and I worked on the cover for the POD of Half-Vampire, and I asked him to scan in some photos for me, ones I'd taken of Eric's chase scene down the Royal Mile, through Dunbar Close, and over the wall into Cannongate Kirkyard in Edinburgh, Scotland.  (The photos were taken with a film camera in 2004 and 2005, as I did not buy a digital camera until 2007.) I'm hoping to use the photos to make a book trailer for Half-Vampire.
 As I was hunting through a photo album to pull out the correct shots, I found this little beauty, taken in the autumn of 2004.
I cannot remember this child's name, but she was the daughter of a couple in Perfidious Albion, a medieval enthusiast group I hung out with while I worked on my MSc degree.  We were preparing marzipan figures for a banquet, and this little gal really had fun with the red food coloring.  When I realized what she'd done to herself, I borrowed that mega-Swiss army knife from a fellow in the group (it was razor-sharp, so we had to be really careful), put it in her hands, and said, "Now, look at me like 'What have I done?!'"
Bless her heart, but she was a little ham, and she did exactly what I wanted.
I gave her parents a copy of this photo, and they framed it and put it in their living room!

This was a happy bit of humor in a day that was mostly stressful with trying to battle Amazon's self-publishing system yet again.  :)

My First Shelfari Review!

Three of you kindly posted Amazon reviews for Half-Vampire this week, which has pleased me a great deal.  Thanks to all three of you ladies.
And yesterday I also got my first shelfari review posted.  :)
Happy thoughts.

I've been requesting reviews from bloggers who SAY they want to review books and SAY they'll respond in 2 days' time, but only one of the 5 has bothered to respond in any way.  (Yes, Cherie at surroundedbybooks will be posting a review of Half-Vampire and an author interview sometime in late October.)  The others haven't even bothered to reply and indicate that they're too busy or not interested.  I find that a bit rude, actually.  I mean, these are blogs that have whole pages dedicated to their submissions policies and have said they LOVE the sorts of books I write, yet they can't even send a reply in the negative or state on their blogs that their TBR lists are too full right now?  Yeah, that's rude.
(Fortunately for me, Cherie is very pleasant and very up-front about her time and schedule.  I appreciate that very much.)

Anyway, keep those reviews coming, people!  And tell your friends (and their kids) to buy my book!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Great Mystery Of Amazon Best Sellers' Rankings

I have no clue how amazon figures out their placement of ranks for book sales.  In fact, I can see no logical connection between the amount of sales and rank at all.
A few days ago, I was listed at 185,000-ish ranking in sales.  Then, a day later, with no new sales but two new book reviews, I jumped to the rank of 139,000.
I stayed there for a few days, sold more books, and went back to 185, 000.  I was still there this morning.  Then, this afternoon, a co-worker at school bought a copy of my book -- and my rank immediately jumped to 69, 839.
For ONE book sale?
Seriously, if anyone can enlighten me as to how on earth this ranking system has any meaning or relevancy to actual sales, I'd love to hear what you have to say.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Why I Chose To Make A Wheelchair User The Protagonist's Best Friend

Joseph Mitchell, Eric's best friend in Half-Vampire, is an unusual character in a YA novel.  To be honest, I can't ever recall reading a YA novel that had a wheelchair user as a major character.  Why'd I choose such a character?  Well, I needed someone to teach Eric not to focus on his disabilities.
The character of Joseph was inspired by 3 real people.  One was "Suzy," a severely hearing-impaired girl who was in my dance group when I was growing up.  A deaf dancer?  How?  Well, she felt the music rather than heard it, and she watched everyone else very closely.  No one in the audience ever knew she heard next to nothing.  And Suzy was an excellent lip-reader, so all the rest of us had to do was remember to turn toward her as we spoke.  Another inspiration was S., a 20-something-year-old actor I worked with in community theatres about a decade ago.  Due to a birth defect, S. had legs that didn't grow after infancy, so they were amputated, leaving him to use either his hands or a wheelchair to get around.  (The character Joseph walks on his hands the way S. did.  That's where I observed the motions and the possibilities.)  S. was completely undeterred by his lack of legs; he sang, danced (in and out of the wheelchair), acted, skateboarded (a legless skater is something to see!), and never made his difference an issue.  After a while, most of us didn't notice.  The third influence was J., a young man paralyzed at age nine from the armpits down.  Yes, he's a wheelchair user, but he's also a singer, dancer, actor, and was even the student-body president of his high school.  As with the others, J's a person, rather than a disabled person.
If you could meet these three people, you'd understand why one girl once complained to S., "[name deleted], you're the least *&^% handicapped person I know, but you get all the good parking places!"
Joseph doesn't ever focus on his "handicaps."  In fact, in the scene where he's telling Eric to stop whining about his own (Eric, after all, has a genetic disorder that gives him a bad reaction to sunlight and makes him crave blood, which definitely make him different from his classmates.), Joseph admits to his own disability: the fact that he cannot sing.  (I stole that from Suzy; she really couldn't sing very well.)  It never even occurs to Joseph at the moment that his lack of legs might be a handicap.
I'm sure there might be some readers who think Joseph is an unbelievable character, but I promise you that he's not.  His amazing attitude was shared by 3 people I know who had great excuses to be negative about their lots in life.  And Joseph's physical strength and ability to walk on his hands are completely modeled after S., who could do the same things.
Plus, I thought it would be a nice change to have a wheelchair user in a YA story.
So now you know.  :)

PS.  If anyone can think of any good YA books that feature wheelchair users, please drop a note in the comments.

Monday, September 19, 2011

If You're Going To Write YA, You've Got To Stay Current.

I don't just write YA; I read it.  Of course I read it; I'm a teacher, and I have to know what books to recommend to my students.
Recently, I've read a good deal of YA with contemporary settings, and most of it has left me chuckling at how "out of it" some authors are.  One of the authors is only about 25, but she's making the same mistakes the other, older writers are. What her teenage experience was like a decade ago is ancient history now -- and it shows.
Folks, if you're going to write contemporary settings in YA fiction, you absolutely have to be in contact with actual teenagers.  You cannot assume that what you experienced in high school is still current -- because it's not.
Technology is ubiquitous today.  Unless a kid is from a dirt-poor or really strict family or is living in a remote area, that kid has a cell phone.  And that kid can text with two thumbs faster than you'd expect.  S/he can also text without looking at the phone, with her/his hands inside the pocket of a hoodie.  S/he can even text while driving (yes, it's stupid, but it's true) and while taking a shower  (I am not joking.  Kids text in the shower with plastic bags over their phones.).  Kids will text each other at all hours of the night, waking each other up to spread news.  Lack of sleep these days is not usually due to being OUT somewhere; it's due to kids' texting each other all freakin' night.  (Smart parents confiscate phones at bedtime.)  If you have a character who doesn't at least get at least occasional texts at night, you need a good reason for it in your story.  Is the kid a nerd with no friends?  Has the phone been confiscated?  Why is this teen merely sleeping through the night?  You'd better give some hints because your readers will be wondering at why this character is so old-fashioned.  (Eric, in Half-Vampire, is up half the night anyway because he's nocturnal, so this wasn't a particular problem for me.)
The most common punishment nowadays is phone confiscation; it's the new "grounding."  Kids feel they will die socially if they are cut off from their phones, so parents use this as a threat.
Facebook is so socially important that kids are stunned that some people (old fogey adults) don't use it. Kids post everything on facebook, although most of them are now smart enough to set controls so that only those they've "friended" can see their pages.  If you create a contemporary teenage character, that character needs to be very familiar with social media; if s/he's not on a site somewhere, there'd better be a reason.  Does s/he have super-strict parents?  Has s/he been cyberbullied?
Kids only send e-mail if it's something that needs an attachment or if it's to someone out of phone range.  They never e-mail their friends for social reasons. In a book I read recently, a girl gets an e-mail of acceptance to her preferred college late at night and goes through agony waiting until morning to tell everyone.  Pardon me, but how 2004 is that?  A normal teenager of 2011 would text every single friend no matter the hour and would update her facebook page immediately.  By 6:00 AM, she would not be breaking the news to anyone, for her entire social sphere would already know the news -- except for maybe her parents; they'd have to be told.
 Oh, and in one book, a character actually received a LETTER IN THE MAIL from a friend across town.  No, no, no.  This is not the 1970s.  I have students who've never sent a letter in their lives.  Really.
Most schools and teachers know all about this stuff.  Most schools have anti-cell phone policies and phones are confiscated if kids are caught using them.  A decade ago, kids still passed each other notes in class; now they text in their hoodie pockets.  I keep finding stuff in books that gets this all wrong.  Either the characters are living in the 90s and shoving notes into each other's lockers, or else they're texting in class openly, with the teachers looking on.  Not even.  It ain't gonna happen, people.
Technology is in classrooms, too.  We teachers are not luddites.  We have webpages, blogs, and e-mail.  Some teachers even use facebook pages for their classrooms.  Students do lots and lots of techy projects.  Today's child does NOT make a diorama in a shoebox for a book report; s/he e-mails a powerpoint project to the teacher or posts a book trailer on youtube.  Teachers don't get memos anymore; we get e-mails and IMs.  Attendance and grades are done online.  We don't show videos anymore, people.  We use youtube or DVDs in our computers, which are hooked up to projectors in the room.  Overhead projectors have been replaced with cameras and smartboards.  An actual chalkboard would only be in a very poor older school indeed.  Kids don't do bubble sheets to take tests anymore; schools have computer labs.  Some of my students have never even seen a bubble sheet before.
It's also important to understand as you write what kids DON'T know.  Most teenagers today have never seen a vinyl record, a typewriter ribbon, an umbrella-style outdoor clothesline, rabbit-ear TV antennas, a transistor radio, a floppy disc, or even a phone that has the receiver connected to the body by a cord -- except in photographs.  They don't realize there was a time when schools had no procedures in place for lockdowns.  They don't know what Y2K was.  Only the oldest teens right now remember 9/11/01.  Most kids don't know the sound of a dial-up modem connecting.  They can't remember when gas cost less than a dollar a gallon.  They are amused at older people who wear watches instead of just looking at their phone to see what time it is, and many young teenagers cannot tell time on an analog clock.(Consequently, they do not have a concept of time as circular, rotating through hours and seasons, as many adults do.)  They consider CDs outdated technology, and most of them have had iPods since they were 6 or 7 years old.  (They do not grasp that there was a time when songs had to be played in the order they appeared on the record, tape, or CD -- that tunes were not movable on any playlist.)  And teenagers have not hung out at malls to socialize in years.  Most of them don't even go to malls to shop; they shop in large, single-purpose stores or online.
Last week, a music teacher at our school wore a tee-shirt with this symbol on it:
Not a single kid had a clue what it was.  And a good many of the teachers didn't either.  (If you're younger than 35, you may not do much better at identifying the object.)  If you put one of these in a contemporary-set book for YA, you'd need a heck of a good reason to do so.  (And if you put one in a piece of YA historical fiction, you'd better darn well be ready to explain what it is.)
In the past few months, I've read books wherein a character gets a watch for a b-day gift, heads to the mall to try on prom dresses, burns CDs for a friend, and/or doesn't know what to do in an emergency at school.  (Schools have DRILLS for these things, people.  Kids KNOW what to do and where to go.  There are LAWS about such drills.)  All of these things are ridiculously out-of-date and would need a special reason to exist in a book.  For example, an heirloom watch given as a gift would make sense, but the character would need to get used to using it.  Burning a CD so the friend could use it to transfer songs to her/his iPod is still sensible -- or if the character's car stereo is so old that her/his iPod can't be connected to the speakers, then a CD for the car might still make sense.  A student very, very new in the school might still be confused about where to go during an evacuation drill.  And if you must have a scene with girls trying on prom dresses, then consider girls trading dresses or giggling over an online prom store together with virtual models trying on the clothes.

Okay, so this has turned into a bit of a rant, but if any current or future YA authors read this and USE it, it will create some much-needed changes in characters and settings.  And, trust me, kids sense it when an adult is trying to be up-to-date and cool and failing miserably.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

I Need Book Reviews!

Okay, people, I know you're out there.  You're buying Half-Vampire.  And lots of you have either e-mailed or told me in person that you LIKED it.
So where are the book reviews?
C'mon, Mylorac sent one by way of Tempppo, but no one has yet posted anything on Amazon or on their blog.
Sure, there are book review sites where I can send a book for a review, but most of them want print copies, and I'm still working on formatting the POD version (in between grading essays and doing mid-terms).  How about a little public support, people?  If you're telling ME you liked the book, can't you tell the rest of the world, too?  Please?
I'd like to hear something besides crickets while I battle formatting issues and try to get the bookmarks ready to roll.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Half-Vampire Is Back Up For Kindle

After two week of tedious deleting spaces after every single line of text in Half-Vampire, I've finally gotten it to the stage where the only problems seem to be 1) the Table of Contents doesn't link like it's supposed to, 2) the paragraphs don't indent like they're supposed to (although the kindle automatically puts double spaces between paragraphs, so it IS readable), and 3) the cover won't show up with the book (but it does show up as the thumbnail on the site, so that's the main purpose).  The italics show up  in the preview.  Heaven only knows if that's really what it looks like on a kindle or not.
So, it's at a workable state, and I'm putting it back up for sale.  Here's the link.
I've given up trying to set up the prologue for free.  After all, amazon has it set up so that you can both download a free sample and "click to look inside."  That should be plenty to let someone know if they want to fork out 99¢ for it or not.
Now I just have to get things working for the POD version.....
This formatting is even harder than I expected -- and I never thought it would be easy.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Scots: It's A Language.

I confess it; I have Scotophilia.
I've traveled to a great many places in my lifetime (22 countries, 25 US states, 2 territories, 3 continents, and counting), and there have been a few of them where I fell in love immediately.  Scotland was one of those places.  (I can take or leave Paris, was underwhelmed by Vienna when I thought I'd love it, and I really have no desire whatsoever to return to Las Vegas, but Edinburgh won me over in about 5 minutes.  So did Munich, Helsinki, and Budapest -- but that's a different post.)
I even moved to Scotland and earned my MSc in literature from the University of Edinburgh.  That's how much I fell in love with the country.
So, it should be no surprise to anyone that Scotland creeps into my books.  Eric visits Scotland in both Half-Vampire and in Half-Vampire Family.  Pepper, in Becoming Brigid, takes a time-travel trip through ancient Orkney.  And even Nerissa, in (Dis)Appearance, has Scottish ancestors and background.  I almost can't help myself.
I cringe, however, when American authors who've done the touristy thing in Scotland try to write in Scots. Oh my.  See, the English have done such a good job of demoting Scotland for hundreds of years that plenty of people in the world, when they think about Scots at all, believe it's a "dialect" of English.  But I learned while doing research for my MSc that linguists call it a language.  For one thing, Scots and English have more differences between them than do Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish.  And for another thing, Scots itself has dialects within it.  You cannot have a dialect that has dialects.
During the times I've lived in Scotland, I've studied the language.  I bought grammar books, dictionaries, CDs, and exercise books.  I've learned to read and understand it well enough that I can read William Dunbar, Robert Burns, and Edwin Morgan (even his translation of Cyrano D'Beregerac into Glaswegian Scots) as easily as I can read Spanish.  But, like in my learning of Spanish, the speaking is the last thing to come.
Thus it is that I know enough Scots to know I don't know enough Scots to write in it without help.  (Read that sentence twice and it'll make sense.  I promise.)
There is a character named Sharon in the Half-Vampire novels who speaks Broad Scots.  Originally, I wanted to have her sound like Sandra, my dorm cleaning lady (and general pal -- she was a great woman) in Edinburgh.  But I'd simply read way too much of Morgan's poetry, and his Scots is nearly always Glaswegian.  Hence, I had Sharon sounding like a cross between someone from Glasgow and someone from Edinburgh.  People, that's like trying to mix a New York and an Atlanta accent into the same character.  It just doesn't work.
Enter David Cunningham, author of Cloud World and Cloud World At War.
In 2008, I took a summer creative writing course at the University of Edinburgh, and David was my tutor (aka "instructor" in American English).  It was he who realized that the problem with the beginning of Half-Vampire was that what I was calling chapter one was actually chapter two.  The book needed action at the beginning.  And, at David's suggestion, I wrote what is now the prologue of the book -- and I felt a whole lot better about the entire manuscript afterwards.
But David did more than that.  This good fellow actually volunteered to copy edit my Scots in the whole manuscript.  I e-mailed it to him, and he touched it up, making Sharon completely Glaswegian.  (Note: David's from Ayrshire, which is in the West, near Glasgow.)  I was pleased to find that I actually hadn't done too badly.  My Scots was mostly correct; I'd merely meshed two sides of the country.
Fortunately, I've been able to return the favor partially, helping David's American characters more sound more convincingly American in a couple of short stories.  But I'll soon be in his debt again, as he's volunteered to go over the Scots in Half-Vampire Family as well, and that tale is set almost entirely in Scotland.
At any rate, if you ever read the copyright page in Half-Vampire, you'll find a note that the Scots copy editing was done by David.  This is no joke.  Scots is a real language, and David made sure it was done correctly for me.
So this is my shout-out for David: he's published some YA steampunk.  It's awesome.  Go have a look at it.
And, if you're an American in love with Scotland, do remember that it's not just a postcard.  It's a real place with real people -- both good and bad -- and a real language.  If you need a more realistic view of the place, try reading a little Ian Rankin crime fiction.  But whatever you do, don't mistake the language for a mere accent.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Half-Vampire Is In Limbo

While I'm trying to fix the formatting, the Half-Vampire e-book is in limbo and cannot be downloaded.  Sorry to those who've tried (I know of at least 2 people.).
I'm really having a heck of a time with this, but I think I know how to fix it now and I'll be doing some very tedious work tonight on the book.

And hello to the two followers I picked up from Scotland today!  (Okay, so one of you is really an American living in Scotland, but I still think it's funny I picked up two from the bonny wee land across the pond on the same day.)  Welcome aboard.
(David, I actually plan to do a post on you and on CloudWorld very soon.)

Monday, September 5, 2011

One Month

One month at this blog.
Ten followers.
Fourteen posts.
Three hundred eighty-two views.
Nine countries, on three continents and three islands.
Six browsers and seven operating systems.
Fifty-six profile views.
Ten books sold with no advertising except this blog  (Books sold after 8/24/11 only.).

Hey, it's a start.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Things I'm Learning About Formatting Books For E-Publishing

1) Transferring a ms from HTML to Word will remove all italics and paragraph indentations.
2) Publishing in HTML for Kindle means your ms will be in HTML, regardless of what the instructions on Amazon say about it.
3) Publishing for Kindle in Word works.
4) Transferring a ms from Appleworks to Pages (in order to avoid spending hours at Max's house fixing the italics problems created by transferring from HTML to Word and -- I hope -- to be able to publish to Kindle from my own computer) maintains the paragraph indentations and italics but removes all double spaces between sections and randomly splits paragraphs into two or three new parts for no apparent reason.  It also removes all instances of centering.

I really hope I can soon add in that I learned that e-publishing from Pages to Kindle is just as easy as the directions make it sound.  Keep your fingers crossed for that one, okay?

UPDATE 9/5/11:
5) Pages purchased before 2010 does not have ePub.
6) Pages '09 can transfer to PDF and Word.
7) Transferring Pages to Word to Kindle will remove all paragraphing and all italics.
8) Transferring Pages to PDF to Kindle will remove all centering, about half of the paragraphing indentations, and most of my sanity.
9) Kindle SAYS rtf works fine, but it doesn't.  It doesn't even upload.
10) Hours and hours of fixing errors and trying and failing time and time again makes you really tired.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The First Websearch For My Book!!

And today blogger stats show that someone did googled Confessions Of An Average Half-Vampire -- and, of course, that person wound up here on this blog.
That's the first time.
I feel all warm and fuzzy now.  :)