Saturday, December 21, 2013

Season Greetings!

It's Winter break here at ADR3NALIN3. During our 2-week hiatus (Dec 21 - Jan 5), we'll be spending time with our families and friends, and celebrating all the traditions that make this time of year so wonderful. We sincerely thank you for visiting our blog and commenting on our rants and raves. We wish you a truly blessed Holiday Season and a prosperous 2014.

From all of us to all our friends and visitors, Seasons Greeting from ADR3NALIN3. See you back here on Monday, January 6.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Holiday Robot Video Rundown

If you're my age, you grew up with the Jetson's promise that by the year 2000 we would have amazing things like flying cars, moon colonies, and robot butlers. We didn't get them.

Okay, it's true that we have an amazing communication network that nobody could have predicted. But, come on, is that really as cool as the other stuff? okay, okay, if a moon colony were established tomorrow, I probably wouldn't move there until I can get a house near a lake. And the day everyone gets flying cars is the day the ground is littered with the burning remains of mid-air collisions. But robots are different. We are living in the future, so why aren't there more amazing robots to do our household chores? At the very least, I think we should all get some robots for Christmas. Here are my picks.

Everybody knows the Roomba, and it continues to amaze me that something that something that was once in a Ray Bradbury story ("There Will Come Soft Rains") is now swiftly becoming ubiquitous in America. Plus, that commercial with the people dancing the robot was really cool.

If you think that's cool, there's a group in South Korea working on a robot, Mahru-Z, that can do household chores just like Rosie the robot maid in the Jetson's. Here's a vid of Mahru fetching tea and toast... with a lack of grace that makes C-3PO look like Captain America. But, hey, it's coming along. 

Want a little more firepower? Try the Kuratas, a personal mecha-suit you can actually own. For real. (May not be road legal in your city.)

You can customize your model, and prices start at only 1.3 million USD. Please, Santa, please! I've been good all year and I promise not to fire the water missiles in the house!

Be good, and dream crazy dreams,

Sechin Tower is a teacher, a table-top game designer, and the author of Mad Science Institute. You can read more about him and his books on and his games on

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

My Creativity Safe

I'm not neurotic. 

At least not in the traditional sense.  I have a high tolerance for germs and disorder.  I wear chaos like a blanket, we are friends, know each other on a first-name basis and frequently have tea together.  But when I write, all bets are off.  I do what I have to do to tap into my creative mind. 

I’ve heard creativity described as a well into which one dips buckets, or a river where you get in (or on) and ride the flow.  I’ve heard creativity described as an ethereal cloud, a spirit force, a chi-like energy field with it’s own network of veins and a pulse.  I haven’t heard it described as a giant udder ready for milking, but I’m sure someone with an intimate knowledge of goats or cows has probably squeezed the creativity teat a time or two.

I see creativity as a safe with a specific combination.  If I don’t get that combination exactly right, then I can’t get in and all my characters have the day off.   If they get too many days off in a row they start smoking in back alleys, or enter talent contests, or develop unsavory relationships or (and I hate it when this happens) they call other characters in other books and compare author skills.  So it is critically important that I get the combination just right.

It begins with my socks.

Not just any socks.  Writer socks.  The ones that don’t squeeze my ankles and are warm (but not too warm).  And they can’t have holes.  I’m wearing them now.  If I wasn’t this is what you would see on the page.


Then come my writer pants, which are typically sweats that have been retired from sports and may or may not have holes, but are comfortable and warm (but not too warm) and can get along with my socks.  Moving up from there—my writering shirts.  I have several, and they must conform to very specific demands.  They must be devoid of fashion, fit me like a sack, and be capable of going several days in a row before asking politely for a wash.  My wife believes that I have too many of these shirts. I disagree.  Writering shirts are like good friends and good meals, one cannot possibly have too many.

Next up are my lucky writing glasses.  The ones that I was wearing when I finished my first novel and have been repaired more times than a bull rider’s femur.  My optometrist declared them unfixable.  Ha!  Super glue, duct tape, 20 lb test fishing line—and they are wearable so long as I don’t look down more than 15% or turn my head too fast to the right.

The last two essentials are my tea which has to be exactly the right temperature in one of my two favorite tea mugs; and my writing environment, which must be free of any extraneous sounds and distractions, otherwise I can’t listen to my character’s talk, read their minds or hear the beating of their hearts.

If all these demands are met, then I am able to access my creativity safe.  I can turn the dial, pull open the door, reach in and help myself to the shimmering nuggets of inspiration that--

I just sipped my tea.  Too cold.  I need to warm it up.  While I'm at it I should probably check my email.  And the basil plant needs water.  What's that sound I just heard?  Oh, that was the door to the safe closing.  I won't be able to open it for hours.  Whatever flow I had is gone. 

No, I’m not neurotic.

Just ask my socks.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas, With Difference

You know, I was going to post today on the utility of blog tours and why they may or may not be helpful; what to look for; what not to do.  But, you know, I decided to bag it for this week and tackle that next year.  The reason?  Simple: it’s getting onto Christmas, and I didn’t want my last blog post of the year for this site to be all about business. 

Now, I’ve never celebrated Christmas; I’ve never had a Christmas tree.  That doesn’t mean that I haven’t hankered after one.  One thing you learn about growing up Jewish in the United States: you miss out on a really good time every Christmas.  When I was a kid, I really envied everyone else who got to put up lights and Christmas trees and sing carols and have a good time and eat a lot of great food.  It wasn’t about the presents; I couldn’t care less about presents.  Okay, when I was a kid, maybe I did, but really . . . not so much.  (I do remember that, like almost all Jewish kids’ parents, mine tried to make up for it by doing the whole Chanukah bit with the presents.  It’s all rather silly, too, because Chanukah is an extremely minor, minor, MINOR holiday.  Minor.  No amount of dreidel spinning and latke eating will change that, either.)   

Christmas was a time that always reinforced how very different I was.  When I was growing up, I was frequently the only Jewish kid in my class (heck, in a couple cases, the entire bloody school).  Part of this is because I grew up in the South and, because my dad was in the military, we moved around a lot.  There just weren’t many other Jewish kids around.  Believe me, there is nothing suckier than being trotted out on stage to sing “I Had A Little Dreidel” for your second-grade class’s holiday concert.  I wish I could say that I embraced my uniqueness, but come on, I was eight.  I wanted a tree and pretty lights.  I wanted to sing Christmas carols without guilt.  I think that, most of all, I wanted to belong because, when you’re a kid, there is nothing more important than belonging.  You don’t want to be different.  It’s like that song from “A Chorus Line”: "Diff'rent" is nice, but it sure isn't pretty. "Pretty" is what it's about. I never met anyone who was "diff'rent" who couldn't figure that out.”

Fast-forward forty some-odd years: do I have a tree?  No.  Do I have lights?  No.  Do I still sort of want them?  Yes, I do—and dang it, if I’m still not the only Jewish kid in town.  (Okay, there’s the husband; so I guess that’s two of us.  I haven't forced the cats to convert.)  I’ve even gone so far as to collect the odd Christmas tree ornament now and then while telling myself that, well, they’re collectibles. 



The problem is that for me a Christmas tree would symbolize my envy, my desire to belong, and—most of all—my wish not to be different.  I think those are all the wrong reasons to appropriate a symbol that has very special meaning to a lot of people.

Do I still have problems with being different?  Sure.  There’s always a split second when someone says, “Merry Christmas” when I wonder if I should say something, like, yo, I’m Jewish.  But that would be rude.  (I don’t have the same problem when people come to my door with pamphlets.  There’s a mezuzah right there, guys.  Like, catch a clue.  On the other hand, it’s a little ironic that in the one instance where I’m not treated as different—when someone doesn’t recognize that I’m unique and not like them—I get all ticked that they haven’t noticed.)  

But I have reached a kind of state of grace about the whole thing.  This isn’t my holiday; it really can’t ever be, and no amount of trappings will change that.  (My husband and I even do the very traditional Jewish thing on Christmas Day: Chinese and a movie.)  I can enjoy bits and pieces, like listen to Christmas music because it’s fun and different and only comes round once a year. And, as I said to someone recently, half of the greatest choral music in the world was written for the Church and in celebration of a religion of which I’m not a part-- and yet, it is wonderful music to sing.  The symphony chorus just did Handel’s “Messiah,” and I would be a fool to pass up the chance to sing something that glorious.

Mostly, though, I hope you’all really enjoy your holiday and this time of year.  You are all more fortunate than you know.




Friday, December 13, 2013

My Addiction to Sleepy Hollow as a Writer - Are you a Sleepy Head?

Jordan Dane


I’ve been watching Sleepy Hollow and consider myself a Sleepyhead, one of many fans who follow the show. We tweet during episodes, quoting lines we love, and mostly talk about Tom Mison, the delectable British male lead who will undoubtedly inspire books in me from here on. But what I’ve found most interesting in the show, beyond the eye candy of Mison, is the daring mix of genres and biblical and literary references. It’s got the flavor of National Treasure (by turning history on its ear with an intriguing undercurrent of conspiracy theories or good vs evil battles) woven into the luxurious velvety fabric of fantasy, mystery, humor, romance, historical, paranormal, and horror.


On top of everything else—the cherry on the top--is damned good writing. We care about the characters and what happens to them. They have personal stories we can’t get enough of, along with the good vs evil battle against demons. There’s a great mix of suspense thriller pacing, blended with the mounting risks the characters take on with each new episode, and compelling backstories to pepper the emotional landscape. The writers leave us wanting more with each new show, while continuing an overall story arc on each character. Even secondary characters become important because of how they add to the plot. I get swept away with being a viewer, but often go back to really listen to each line because these writers do NOTHING without a purpose. It’s fun to see all the threads pull together as the season continues. You have to pay attention if you want to figure stuff out ahead of time, which I really love as a writer.
Other fun things to watch for is the historical research the show’s writers must do into the history of the period. Crane’s dialogue lines are incredible studies into the English language of the time period as compared to how we speak today. Abbie represents our present day while Crane is our past. They’ve even used Middle English in the retelling of the mysterious legend of Roanoke. With Crane remembering the past freshest in his mind, he is a reminder how precious our past is and how much can be forgotten over time.
Crane is also portrayed as a renaissance man with an enlightened perspective against slavery, which works well with Abbie being a black female law enforcement officer whose ancestors crossed paths with Crane’s family. Again, good writing. Characters and their backstories are well thought out and serve a function for all that springs from their conflict or purpose. This show also has many references to literature and books. In the last episode, Crane is quoted as saying, “Without books we have no past and no future.” I hope I remembered that correctly. It stuck with me. So many quotables from the show.
Crane with shower sponge
The “man out of time” bits are hilarious and far too few, but that makes every one precious. Crane is outspoken and has trouble admitting when he doesn’t understand our present time, making each misstep of his funny to watch. His first shower, his take on modern technology and conveniences, his disbelief we pay for water or pay 10% levy on baked goods (his introduction to donut holes), his time spent on the “ninernet” and finding a porn chat room,  and his first baseball game are hilarious. Crane’s take on us is entertaining, but it’s what he teaches Abbie about the past and the way he still lives (standing up to evil or injustice no matter the personal cost), endears him to us. This is another test of good writers – to incorporate such special moments into a suspenseful story line at the right time and place, or surprising the viewer when it comes at a very unexpected moment (like the picture above where he sees his first shower sponge and doesn’t ask why Abbie bought it for him). The writers and Mison make me want the whole show to be about Crane assimilating, but of course there must be more for us to get to know characters who are quickly becoming as familiar as family to the growing legion of Sleepyheads who crave the Sleepy Hollow world.
Mison in bootsI know the day is coming that Crane will be forced from his period clothing, but I have to say Tom Mison is dream worthy in his revolutionary breeches, boots, and gabardine jacket. He’s wearing a wig for the long sexy hair, but Mison looks amazing in short hair too. Google the many faces of Tom Mison and you’ll see. Here’s fun video on Mison and Beharie. And here’s another of just Mison and his short hair. The fandom on DeviantArt and twitter and countless other chat rooms and forums have quickly evolved. Fortunately people of all ages have embraced this show.

Another writer thing – the plot and character story arcs are really good. The ground swell to Ichabod’s and Abbie’s story is building in such a tantalizing way with cliff hanger and reveals that escalates the momentum. Ichabod and Abbie are the two witnesses in Revelations who are fighting the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, malevolent spirits, a dark coven of witches, and a powerful demon behind it all. The chemistry between Abbie and Crane is growing stronger as they work together and put their lives on the line for the sake of humanity, despite the cost to their lives and loves. I want to bottle similar elements into a book. There are so many things I am learning about good writing. Thanks to Fox, the Sleepy Hollow Writers and Phillip Iscove for bringing a quality show like this to TV.
For other Sleepy Heads, have you seen the online map on the Fox site? HERE is the link. Bone up for the upcoming 2-hour finale (two back to back eps that will be an event held on Jan 20th). Yes, this means we have to wait, but this show is worth waiting for. I can’t even imagine having Ichabod for two hours. (Well, actually I can, but that’s a whole ‘nother post…with a different rating than PG.)

Congratulations to Fox and the cast of Sleepy Hollow for getting picked up for a second season within hours of the first episode airing. Fox has a major hit on its hands!!!
For the purposes of discussion:
1.) Are you a Sleepyhead? Will you be watching the 2-hour finale on Jan 20th?
2.) What are your favorite elements of the show – as a writer – as a viewer?
3.) What clothes would you like to see Ichabod wear? I’ve heard rumor of a hoodie, but I truly believe Crane’s clothes are his security blanket. Will he part with them? If not, what will his compromise be?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Great Expectations

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that sometimes our minds prevent us from seeing the truth, even when it looks us square in the face.  Expectations always get in the way.”  Molly Trail of Crumbs

I blame it on reading the wrong kind of books and watching the wrong kind of movies  during those critical growing up years. You know, the ones where you walk through a wardrobe and end up in Narnia, you find the secret code that solves the secret of the hidden stairway or a nanny floats down from the sky with an umbrella.

These set me up for great expectations, for magic just around the corner, for fairy dust.  It’s not that I haven’t been disappointed;  I have. Too many times to count. No one gets to publication without a gauntlet of disappoints. Like eager dogs in an agility class, we learn to navigate obstacles of all sizes. And if you listen to us talk, we speak as if we know better than to have great hopes.
My critique partner says, “After the ride I've been through, keeping my expectations at bay is easier than buttering toast.” But I’ve seen him butter toast. He’s all thumbs. And I’m not fooled. Because if we didn’t have hope, we wouldn’t be here sweating over every line of subtext. Even those heart grinding and gut wrenching seasons, when none of my writing is accepted or book sales are moderate at best, don’t prevent my hope meter from running.

I am writing this post on Emily Dickinson’s birthday. She is the muse of hope. After all she told the world about that endlessly singing  bird:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

As a writer, a reader, as a person, sometimes expectations do get in the way. As my husband reminds me, if I didn’t get my hopes up, I wouldn’t be so disappointed. Maybe this Christmas he’ll give me that pair of Reality Check glasses, the ones with rhinestones. When I put them on, I will know the odds. I will clearly see how few books break out, how few manuscripts are even accepted. I will know that I can’t make my book a best seller with one more tweet or conference. I will know even the kindest endorsements won’t sell my book.  I will also know I can only do the hard work of perfecting my craft each time I write, word by word.

But on the periphery, just outside the glasses’ frame, I’m sure I see a miniature door in the wall and a very tiny key.  Who knows what lies on the other side? I cast off the glasses and go for the key. All the while thinking of Gandalf’s words… It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
But that’s what writer’s do, step on to the road with great expectations. How do you manage yours?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What A Reader's Looking For, And What They're Hiding From

I have very little writing experience, but what I do know is reading. After reading approximately two thousand-ish books, I have come to realize that my reading style has pattern; anything. Having a vast variety within reach, I do however stick to YA in place of my much beloved classics. Here is what I mean to provide authors, not exactly sure how it may be interpreted but hey, what turns an average teenager off from a book or series. However, do not write strictly for readers, you will never please everyone. You must tell your story, and all the clichés that you feel need to accompany it. But if you need a little, um, guidelines to making something worth while today.

Numero Uno, A stupid flipping love triangle. It is played out and unnecessary. Unless, of course, it consists of a girl, a fictional character, and food. But let's face it, that is an unlikely novel that I would very much enjoy reading. Off topic, my bad, seriously. Teenagers who read are typically amazing but not the type to be caught between too incredibly attractive supernatural beings, okay?

Secondly, can we stay away from vampires and werewolves for a little while? Now, I am speaking strictly of average werewolves and vampires. By average, I mean the teenage forms of the two that fall in love with whiny girls. Lycans, the creepy things from I Am Legend,  and other deviations of the two are acceptable and still draw intrigue, just maybe keep them out of high school. I sound like I am attacking a certain book series, but I swear I am not doing so intentionally.

Also, let's try some older settings. Trust me, I love post apocalyptic and alien worlds, but we should change things up. I am talking some teen friendly Games of Thrones type books. (Yes, we still read those books but it is frowned upon.) The time of kings and queens and dragons was fantastic, therefore it needs more glorification. By saying fantastic, I am aware I am forgetting the lack of hygiene, modern medicine, and running water... but those can overlooked.

Lastly, where are the cool parents? All the parents I know are pretty awesome. Okay, some are pretty awesome; some, not so much. I keep reading about parents who just do not parent. And they are boring. Parents can be good guys and not all kids hate their parents. I personally love my mommy and tell my friends about it to the point that they just ignore me. Beside the point, parents can have a positive impact on their children and children can recognize it.

Do I know anything, really? No. But, I think I might speak for others. Either way, this is what choir freak, nerd fighting, highly functioning sociopath wants. There must be more of us, so let's just agree upon my cries for variety. If you have any of these, or do not, in your story, that does not make it a bad story or an amazing story. You are the one who makes it; your characters that take form; first in your mind then on the page.

You Stay Classy, San Diego.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Bidding $100 to Win $20

Game theory. Ever heard of it? I know it sounds sitting around thinking of the best way to set up a Monopoly board, but it’s actually used by the CIA to predict the actions of foreign dictators and by businesses to create pricing schemes. Writers, too, should know a little something about it, although the good writers already work with the principles even if they don’t know it.

Game theory is the science of strategic decision-making. Put differently, it’s about calculating human motivation.

Here’s an example of game theory in action. There was once a professor of game theory who sold a 20 dollar bill for more than two hundred dollars in an auction. How’d he do it? Simple: the winner pays the bid and then gets the prize, just like in a normal auction. The only difference was that the second-place bidder also had to pay whatever they bid, and they walk away with nothing. That means the top two bidders will go higher and higher, because it’s cheaper to lose in first place than to lose in second.

I decided to see if the experiment would actually work, so I decided to try it on my students. It seemed unethical to bilk a bunch of trusting teens out of hard currency, so instead of auctioning off an Andrew Jackson, I put up 10 Style Points instead. Style Points are funny class tokens with which I reward anyone who can make an out-of-class connection to in-class material, like, for example, finding an allusion to Macbeth while we’re reading the Scottish Play. Style Points aren’t worth anything—not even extra credit—but they can be exchanged for bathroom passes and a few other amenities, and occasionally I buy them back with leftover Halloween candy.

I explained the rules about the highest bidder getting the prize and the second-place bidder also having to pay, and then I opened the auction and I had a bid right away. Who wouldn’t bid one goodie to get 10 more just like it? And the next person bid two because that would still net him eight. It was all good fun and there were lots of smiles… until the bidding hit nine and 10. Then the second place person realized if he lost, he would be out nine, but if he bid 11 he would only end up with a net loss of one. The problem was that the other guy realized the same thing, and then the smiles turned into grimaces and the room sank into tense silence as the bids climbed higher and higher. I did this in two classes: in one I got 19 Style Points in exchange for my 10, and in the other class I got 29. It works.

Two lessons here. 1) These kids have a REALLY mean teacher. 2) All humans are driven by a shifting combination of motivations, including and especially hope and fear. At first, they hoped for a big win, then they feared a big loss. The class discussion then related this to the experiences of the boys in Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Perhaps a reference to this little experiment will show up in their essays to argue whether or not civilization is just a mask to hide our savagery.

How does this relate to writing? A good storyteller needs to understand human motivation just as much as any game theory analyst. If characters are going to seem alive, they have to experience hope and fear—not just the main character, but also the villain, the minor characters, and everyone in between. As Kurt Vonnegut said: “every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”

Oh, and for those poor students who ended up in the Style Point poor house because of my evil auction, I think I’ll surprise them by forgiving their debt after New Year’s. I realize that if any of them read this it won’t be a surprise, but, fortunately for me, they don’t know this blog exists. ;)

So what are your character’s motivations? What are the most interesting, compelling, or original motivations of characters you’ve enjoyed reading? I figure it’s worth spending a few Style Points to find out.

Be good, and dream crazy dreams,

Sechin Tower is a teacher, a table-top game designer, and the author of Mad Science Institute. You can read more about him and his books on and his games on

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Life Happens

Following is an account of events that transpired subsequent to my blog post(s) on the subject of Fatal Flaw.  My posts appeared on November 6 and 20.  On the morning of November 21, I walked into my office, tea in hand, ready to work on my novel.  I turned on my monitor.  This is what I saw:

21 November 2013
Dear Author
We, the characters of your novel in progress, are concerned about your protagonist's fatal flaw.  As in he doesn't have one.  The guy is as pure as the driven snow.  If you want him to resonate with your imperfect readers you need to make him more real.  If you don't do this simple task the antagonist said he will walk off the page.  We're just saying...  Apprehensively, C
I was stunned beyond words.  But I went back and tweaked several critical scenes with my protagonist, thinking I'll handle the ripple effect of those changes in the second draft.  I gave him a fatal flaw (too trusting) and hoped it would do the trick.  Here's how they responded:

22 November 2013
You call that a fatal flaw?  Ha!  It's barely more than back hair--superficial and easily solved.  Now the antagonist thinks his nemesis is a push-over and not worthy of his evilness.  Meanwhile, we have a growing concern about the B story.  It's taking over.  You don't have a grip on who or what the A story is about.  We've taken the liberty of informing the protagonist that he will be killed mid-point Act 2 unless he does something bold to cement the A story.  He didn't take this news well.  We believe this is a necessary step to save your struggling manuscript.  Sincerely, C
As soon as I started typing I noticed a profound change in the protagonist.  He was despondent, lacked motivation, and even started swearing.  His voice no longer engaged me or the other characters.  I sprinkled his dialogue with adjectives, added some hope metaphors, and in desperation tossed in a bunch of exclamation marks.  Nothing worked.  I started to think killing him off wasn't such a bad idea. 

23 November 2013
We changed our minds.  Keep the protagonist, but make him older, say 40 instead of 22, and give him a limp.  And we think the 1st person present POV isn't working.  Your tenses are all over the map and the dialogue feels contrived.  Unfortunately that isn't your biggest problem.  The protagonist's love interest you finally got around to introducing in Chapter four, has revealed that she's sweet on a peripheral character in the B story named Orvis.  She wants you to change his name to Rockwell and make him the protagonist's side kick.  We believe this simple change will increase tension, leverage the fatal flaw and retool a thus-far anemic protagonist.  Make it happen by Chapter 6, or else...   Expectantly, C
I promoted the B story minor character formerly named Orvis to A story side-kick.  This put a spark of life in the protagonist, and the love interest was rewarded with some interesting dialogue.  I thought this just might work.  Wrong.

24 November 2013
Have you ever heard of subtext?  The love interest thinks not.  She wants her scenes with the protagonist to ooze subtext and she barely gets a dribble.  She's tired of stilted scenes with talking heads.  Give her some depth.  And speaking of depth, we think you are out of yours.  It's the turning point of Act 3, and we're starting to believe this novel is a ship without a captain.  Make something happen!  Apprehensively,  C
So I made something happen.

25 November 2013
You burned down the love interest's house?  We totally didn't see that coming.  The protagonist saved the love interest's cat and now she is conflicted about her affections.  The side kick is jealous and the antagonist sees opportunities galore.  All that is good.  Unfortunately we think it is too good.  We decided that the cat should run out of lives.  Additionally, the antagonist says his arc is too flat.  He wants to change, too.  He's thinking totally bad guy gets a conscience  turns reluctant hero seeks redemption through near-death archetype.  Emphasis on 'near-death'.  Good luck with that.   Expectantly, C
I killed the cat.  Actually when the fire is out they couldn't find the body (because I hid the cat in a tree).  Everybody wins.  Right?

26 November 2013
WTF?  You didn't kill the cat!  Your supposed act of mercy had dire repercussions.  Now the love interest is convinced she owns you and has taken over the story.  It's all  about her.  Fix it, or we will.  Be advised that because of you saving the cat we were forced to kill off the side kick and blame it on the protagonist.  You will thank us later.  Now that you're nearing the climax, we also took the liberty of doing a word-search.  Did you know that you used "like" passively 252 times, "thundered" 164 times, and (bizarrely) "syncopated" 18 times.  We attached a list of acceptable substitutes.  Cautiously optimistic,  C
I ignored their stupid list with the exception of syncopated which I delete without remorse.  I reanimated the side-kick through reverse-cryogenic technology and demoted him to a one scene wonder in the B story, second assistant to the sage.  Once that happened the love interest refocused her attention on the protagonist.  He lurched out of his funk just in time to complete his hero's journey.  But something happened to the antagonist.  He was MIA.  I had a creeping sensation that treachery was afoot...

27 November 2013
This is our last communication pending a publication deal.  We anticipate a satisfactory read, but it's not a manuscript that will sell more than 5000 units.  But all is not lost!  The antagonist says you could triple your advance by allowing him to survive book one (can you spell sequel?)  He says if you extend his contract he will come out of hiding.  And while you're at it, we strongly urge you change the title to something less cliché than "Life Happens".   And one small picky-doo, the love interest would like you to make the protagonist younger, say 28?  And lose the limp.  Triumphantly,  C     PS:  The capital of Spain is Madrid, not Barcelona.  Oops!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


In Arthurian legend Excalibur is the sword that was embedded in the stone, and as Arthur pulled it from its prison he was given the power to become king, he was flooded with a sense of power and majesty he didn't realize he possessed before that moment. The sword gave him strength to do what was right for himself and the world. The metal gleamed in the sunlight reflecting his image, but he could suddenly see a world of possibilities that he has never before considered. He saw a oung man filled with courage and compassion.

It was an amazing paramount moment in his life to suddenly see himself more clearly in the blade of a sword that carried his destiny that he had ever seen in the mirror or passing my a body of water. This sword didn't take away his fear, but embolden it letting him embrace hmself for all that he was and all that he ever would be.

Most people think that Excalibur was powerful because it was a sword that couldn't be bested by any enemy, but I don't really think that's the case. I think that the sword was a mere catalyst for the potential that was already brewing inside of Arthur since he was a child. 

The pen is mightier than the sword is an age old adage that is so incredibly true. Words can be a catalyst of anything, hope, fear, courage, anger, hatred. Words have the power to cut deeper than any blade could cast itself. They can main someone beyond recognition and inflame the soul with a fire that can never be put out.Words can be a weapon that rips you in half, they can make you cry out with shame or hot tears of sorrow.

But then words carry hope. They carry emotions from people thousands of years ago scribed down to reach across the generations and suddenly you can connect with someone you will never meet, because the echoes of their emotions stir within you a reaction you can't deny. You feel a powerful empathy as you can see the life of someone who has been gone for a time you can't yet comprehend. Humanity is written across time with words that fill your head.

Words can pull people from pain and hurt that can't be explained, but merely understood as our hearts ache for someone you have never met crying out with grief, their raw throat wanting to scream but only sobs escaping; your jaw quivers as a character in a book is lost forevermore.

Words are the blue of a cold bitter winter's morning, the comfort of a mothers touch when your head is hot with a fever you hope will break soon. Words are there when you meet your soul mate , or when you hold your baby in your arms for the first time seeing its toothless smile and eyes light up in recognition of love.

Words are the hot spew of frustration after a long day when you feel like nothing could make the day any worse.

Words are all that is the past, words are the potential for the future and the path laid out before you. Your destiny.

Words entangle themselves in my mind creating the most intricate puzzle across the  They move me with a force of untold power, pushing me further every single day of my life. I am a compilation of words, feelings and thoughts swirling together with no particular pattern filling out my features with a poise that only words can posess.

I see you, a mass of memories. Memories that have led you to where you are at now, and in these memories are words that have followed you around your entire existence pushing you forward, guiding you towards a future filled with uncertainty but filled with potential all the same.

Words are my Excalibur, giving me a courage I need to face life. Providing with with an assurance that it is okay to be scared of the road that lies ahead of me.

The pen is mightier than the sword because while we can see our reflection glaring back at us from the cool metal, words show us who we are through the trials of life. The pen is mightier than the sword because while battles and wars may be won with a sword rushing towards it's opponent words follow us all. The good, the bad, the cowardly the cruel. Words are powerful because they can reach where weapons cannot. Our souls.


Lexi Brady

Monday, December 2, 2013

Getting the Word Out, Continued

Last week, I took my cue from Kris Rusch’s business blog on discoverability to talk about the task of getting the word out about your book, especially in an era when traditional publishers may be doing less and relying much more on you, the writer, to market yourself. (That imperative is, by the way, why most of us writers have blogs and do social media.) Certainly, marketing yourself is nothing new. Talk to any writer who’s been around a while or her agent, and one of the things publishing houses used to want to know was whether you’d go on tour—and, by extension, if you were the kind of writer a publisher could send out there. Not all writers could/can. Some folks are excruciatingly shy; others are boors; some pick the worst times to get drunk; a couple may be hygienically challenged . . . you get the picture. But the idea was that giving folks a chance to connect with a writer—especially those all-important booksellers—would really help readers discover a book. 

That personal connection was important, and still is because what we’re really talking about is word of mouth. In the olden days—like a couple years ago when Borders and Waldens and indies were going strong—that word of mouth was frequently a real live person at a real live story pressing a real book into a customer’s hands. Booksellers got to know their clientele. Conversely, writers formed relationships with booksellers and, if they were very savvy, with their readers that they then maintained. Nowadays, people have blogs, right? Well, way back then, many writers sent out newsletters. Some still do in lieu of or addition to blogs; I know of at least a few because I’ve received them. (Why? Simple: I wrote these writers fan letters a while back, and they responded with newsletters. I’ve been on their mailing lists ever since. Now…have I read the newsletters? No. Why? I wasn’t interested. I know: terrible but true. I didn’t care about pictures of a writer’s dogs or where an author went on vacation. In fact, I rarely pay attention to personal stuff like that, but I don’t think I’m typical that way. Many readers do care about that kind of thing, and I certainly understand it. It’s the same kind of curiosity that I might have about, oh, an actor I like.)

These days, of course, those kinds of very personal connections—where someone presses a book into your hands—are much rarer. In the case of teens, especially, I’m thinking that librarians are the folks who have always fit that job description. They’re the people who know what’s out there and they know their kids; there is, in fact, no greater gift a librarian can give than to hand a kid a book (and this is something I’ve written about, too). Having hung around a bunch of librarians, I’ve discovered that word of mouth is what it’s all about. Librarians bring in speakers; they do book talks; they point teachers to new books; they place books on display that they think are worthwhile. Come right down to it, libraries are the bookstores of tomorrow, and probably one of the few venues where kids will actually continue to be able to come into contact with physical books.

So word of mouth is key, and I was reminded of this just the other day. I was at some party, and we were talking about books we’d read recently. A couple titles came up, and more often than not, the response from folks who hadn’t read a particular work was something like, oh yeah, I’ve heard good things about that. Press just a tad more, and you come to find that, say, a friend mentioned a book, or a friend of a friend, a librarian, a work colleague. Not one person mentioned that she’d seen an ad or book trailer; that he’d read a blog or seen a post on Facebook or gotten into a Twitter conversation. One or two said they’d read a review (none of these were blog reviews). The overwhelming majority of responses revolved around word of mouth—and only rarely was this online word of mouth.

On the other hand, I wonder if this isn’t a problem with the target demographic. Remember, it was a party of adults not teens, and I know for a fact that, other than I, none of these other adults uses social media at all. 

So it’s more than likely that teens, who have the fastest thumbs in the known universe, might have a different answer about how they get or transmit their information—pass on a recommendation via word of mouth—online. In fact, a very recent Harris Poll suggests that many people do use social media with the express purpose of influencing others. I know I do; I regularly put up tweets and Facebook about environmental causes because I want to bring these things to people’s attention. Hang around Facebook or Twitter long enough, and you realize that trying to get people to come around to your point of view is frequently what a lot of posters are after. 

A cursory search—and I do mean, bare-bones fast and dirty reading of a couple abstracts—regarding the importance of online word of mouth gives contradictory data. One study suggests it has zilch impact (which I find very hard to believe) while another, looking specifically at sales and the impact of reviews on sites such as, concludes that the more reviews there are, the better and that negative reviews have a far greater impact on sales than overwhelmingly positive reviews. I had to step back from that one for a second, too, and think about it, especially that bit about the impact of negative reviews . . . and you know, I think that’s right. I know that if I see an even split in reviews, I tend to go to the three- and two-stars. Now maybe that’s because I’m a Freudian and the glass is always half-full . . . but I don’t believe that any book is flawless, mine included. So I pay attention to the less-than-rapturous reviews. 

That actually reminded me of a ploy one author, who shall remain nameless, tried a couple years back. Through Goodreads, the writer offered the full text of a new ebook to anyone who wanted it prior to its date of sale with the proviso that you, the reader, would agree to leave a review (good or bad) on Amazon. I admit; I was intrigued, so I asked for a copy. Well, I hated the book. I hated the book so much I couldn’t, in all conscience, leave that kind of review because, being an author, I just couldn’t do that to another writer. So I wrote to the author, explained my reasoning, and that was that. 
On the other hand, I now understand that author’s strategy. Is it a good one? Well, that writer sure thinks so, and Amazon sales of that author’s titles would certainly support that.

If the goal, then, is to generate word of mouth, how can I, Mere Mortal Writer, help that along? Sure, trade reviews can be gold (or killers, if no one likes the book). But it seems to me that, taking into account that writer’s Amazon ploy, we’re after volume here. We want to do things that will increase visibility. Now, for some writers, that may mean offering the book up for a read and review. I’ve seen writers offer the first x-number of pages or chapters for free while others might give away the first book in a series. (In 2008, Neil Gaiman tried a variation of that ploy with American Gods by getting his publisher to give away the ebook for a month—and, yeah, the book still did well once the giveaway was over and people had to pay again.) 

But we still come around to the same problem: as any decent businessman will tell you, consumers rely on the opinions of people they trust. In the olden days, this meant they trusted friends . . . i.e., real live flesh-and-blood people they actually knew. But these days--with all these different platforms and social media available--what constitutes a friend? What are the parameters of trust? Think about it. The trust I have in friends--people I actually see and know--is very different than the trust I might have in people I know only through an online presence. I would, for example, never give out personal information--my birthdate or address or the names of my kids--on the Internet. So what kinds of "friends" are we talking about anyway, and how far do we let them influence us? (Do people even realize or stop to think that many, many of the tweets they see are generated by Twitter bots? That a computer program can generate the illusion of popularity?)

Conversely, how do you decide which platform(s) to use? Because, let's face it, no one platform fits all needs or hits the right audiences. Yes, I use Twitter and Facebook (and the latter more than the former), but I've yet to figure out how to best make use of Tumblr or, for that matter, Instagram. 

And there is also the issue of time: every moment I'm using social media or writing this blog is time I take away from writing a book, and you have the problem of diversifying your message. For example, what you post to Twitter might not be what you post to Facebook or Tumblr; or if you do cross-post, is what you're posting of interest to the people most likely to be using that particular medium?

These are all intriguing questions, and I'll be the first to admit that I have no definitive answers. Over the next couple of weeks, though, I'd love to hear what other people think has worked for them, or influenced their decision-making, just as I'll be thinking about what direction I might want to take for upcoming releases.