Thursday, August 30, 2012

Book Review

In collaboration with Coffee Time Romance, I’m delighted to introduce Brenda McCoy whose review of Games of Command follows. Like so many of us, as a child Brenda read by flashlight under the covers when she was supposed to be sleeping. After growing up and a stint in the Army, Brenda still enjoys curling up under an afghan with an exciting new book. Welcome to Book Blather, Brenda.
Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair
Not everyone gets a second chance in life, but the revolutionary Lady Sass is one to the lucky ones. It sounds good, but there is Murphy’s Law. Lady Sass is Tasha Sebastien, the soon-to-be captain of the Huntership, Vaxxar. The Vaxxar is the Admiral’s flagship and he may hold a grudge against her for the cussing out he received twelve years prior. Reporting to the Vaxxar with a half empty bottle of wine sticking out of her knapsack, a hangover and a pet furzel called Tank may be the start of an interesting life. Or Murphy may have other ideas.
Admiral Brandon Kel-Paten’s job is to do the impossible. He is the Triad’s most loyal soldier and a biocybernetic. He is called the Tin Soldier but not to his face Biocybes were not fully human and their emotions were not acceptable. With physical strength three times that of a normal human male, analytical capabilities that matched or exceeded the computer systems of the best hunter ships, and a touch that could kill, people usually did not like to touch him. The Admiral had other ideas. One was the chance to have Tasha Sebastien at his side

Peace and cooperation had been the result of negotiations between enemies known as the Triad and the U-Cees. The resulting Alliance Personnel Integration Program allowed for an unlikely assignment of an ex-mercenary and a loyal biocybernetic soldier. Add to this mix an unlikely hero call Tank who weighs ten pounds and has long black and white fur. The question is: Is the war really over? Captain Sebastien and Admiral Kel-Paten discover that some things are not as the story is told. Mythical voids do exist and getting out of one is just another Murphy’s Law problem. Our hero will take care of the rest.
Ms. Sinclair continues with her superb command of the writer’s pen. She is constantly amazing in her ability to bring the unimagined to vivid life. From the first page you are immersed in the lives and loves of Ms. Sinclair’s fabulous characters. The story is never predictable and always exciting. If there is a Linnea Sinclair fan club, I am available as an enthusiastic member. Make her books your next addiction.

The review was first posted at the Coffee Time Romance site and was give "five cups," the highest mark possible. Visit their site at:

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Going Beyond Beer at Summer Barbecues

With summer drawing to a close, here are some tips from certified wine professional, Durella DeGrasse, for the perfect wine to serve with barbecue. Welcome back to Book Blather, Durella.

Summer is a challenging season for wine drinkers. Consider why so many people drink beer at summer events - it's refreshing and thirst-quenching. There are a number of light, refreshing wines for summer, however, that are appropriate for warm weather. I urge you to look at the alcohol content for warm weather drinking and entertaining - alcohol and sun are a bad combination for me. Also, lighter fruit flavors and crisp acidity will delight the senses and enhance your summer entertaining and cookouts. Here are some ideas:

  • Malbec. This is a great wine for barbecued meat - ribs, burgers, steaks, etc. It's a red wine that tastes like ripe blackberries bursting with fruit, with some smoke and black pepper. Most important, the best have a bright acidity that keeps them from being too heavy for summer.

  • Beaujolais. One of the great things about Beaujolais is that it pairs with just about any kind of food, so whether you're grilling salmon or serving spare ribs or barbecued chicken, it works. The French serve it lightly chilled.

  • Sauvignon Blanc. A favorite of mine for summer as the grape is naturally high in acidity and has a backbone of citrus fruit that is great on a hot summer day. Good Sauvignon Blancs are coming from all over the world today - Chile, New Zealand, France, and of course, Washington state!

  • Vinho Verde. This wine from Portugal is especially refreshing on sunny days; it's almost colorless, with some spritz that adds to the fun. It is very light in taste and alcohol, usually around nine percent. It has great acidity and is a food-friendly wine.

  • Riesling. More and more people are discovering that Riesling isn't the sweet, simple wine of their youth, but instead runs the gauntlet from very dry to sweet and from minerally to fruit bomb. Germany is the classic home of Riesling - look for Riesling Kabinett on the label.

  • Rose. These wines are getting some much-deserved attention these days. (They are not the white zinfandels that people associated with rose because of its pink color.) Rather they are crisp, dry and full of flavor. Many excellent roses are being produced within Washington state, as well as the south of France, southern Rhone, Spain and Italy.

  • Gruner-Veltliner. Austria's greatest grape. This is a wine not to be missed this summer. It has a layer of refreshing grapefruit and pepper over a light and crisp frame. Sip alone or serve with all seafood dishes.
These wines are just a few to consider - the ultimate guideline to the best summertime wines will be your own.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Brittany Shirley: Jill of all Trades

It is my pleasure to introduce the magnificent mistress of multi-tasking, Brittany Shirley, production manager for BelleBooks Publishing. Since I write for BelleBooks, one might say my attitude toward Brittany’s fabulousness is slightly skewed in her favor. This may be true, but shortly after Brittany was hired, she became indispensable. Ask her to do the impossible and she’ll give it her best shot along with a polite, “Thank you, Ma’am.” What does a production manager do? Keep reading for a day in the life of Brittany Shirley.

I ran into a good, but rarely seen, friend the other day. We exchange the niceties, “Oh, you look great.” “Wow, your hair is amazing.” I ask her how motherhood is suiting her. She tells me about her one year-old son, and I listen and nod politely. Then the first question out of her mouth is, “What are you doing now?” So I answer with the title that is written on my business card. “I am the production manager for BelleBooks, Inc. It’s a publishing company.”

“Could you be more vague?” she responds. We both laugh. I never really tell people what I do. I just say that I work for a publishing company. Because most people don’t really care to know the depth of what that means, I rarely get questioned for details. So, I do actually attempt to be less vague by answering her question.

 “Where do I begin? I work with authors.” As though someone who has never worked with authors would understand, she nods. Since we don’t have an office full of authors typing away at the computer writing bestsellers (which is my fondest wish), we communicate through e-mail. We have over a hundred authors. Imagine how many e-mails I receive every day from just them. Not a complaint, just a fact. I get e-mails in large quantities. I start by pushing the orders to Jennifer, our accounting supervisor. She is so gracious. She doesn’t even grimace anymore.

If it isn’t an order, someone needs help setting up a book signing. After the thirteenth time of telling the lovely coordinator at the bookstore that our books ARE returnable and we DO offer a discount, they finally understand and place an order. Then, someone’s book cover is missing on an eBook platform. I resubmit it, contact that platform, and keep my fingers crossed that they fix it in a timely manner. 

I look at the clock, and it is almost 11:00. Our weekly production call is about to take place. I look one last time at our pub dates and call. I talk to our main editors to discuss our upcoming schedule. Editors are allowed to pitch ideas for promotions, preorders, and marketing strategies. We talk about the new contests and conferences. Plans are made, schedules are changed, and lists are written. I walk away knowing that I now am in charge of ordering the projects for our production engineer to get us print proofs and eBooks.

With as many titles as we have coming out every month, he loves for us to order everything for him. I get back to my desk and make a tentative schedule for him to start. I have to stop with the e-mails and actually begin to work on my to-do list. I fill out six spreadsheets for our three newest titles. Then one eBook platform at a time, I upload each title. As I wait for the ePubs and Mobis to finish loading, I contact the lovely people at RWA to ask questions about the technical materials I need to make sure we have for our Spotlight. A more few spreadsheets and two preorders later, I look up at the clock. 2:00. It’s time for lunch.

After I finish eating, I have another conference call. This time I speak with a Barnes & Noble rep. We discuss BelleBooks, Inc. as a publisher. She explains our new options for promotions. We chat for a while about our titles and how well they are selling in the US and around the world. I champion a few titles for their Daily Find. I then submit them correctly and begin to write out a promotion schedule report. I look at the bags on the counter and realize I need to finish and get busy working on conference items.

Since the RWA conference is approaching, I double check the goodie bags for the authors. I have everything in each bag except the chocolates. Those are something I have to pick up in California. Just dropping off the boxes for shipment would make them melt. Ah, the lovely weather we have in Memphis! It is always humid and hot. I finalize everyone’s schedule, make notebooks, and pack up the remaining promotion materials. The PowerPoint is finalized and double checked by all of the girls in the office.

At the end of the day, I go to our blog page to set up the next day’s blog. I look at our page to check the newsletter before it is sent to the masses. I bug one of the editors for a back cover copy so I can get a new title uploaded for preorder. Before I leave for the day, I look at my to-do list and see only five things crossed off. My to-do list is three pages long. I groan that I am not fast enough, and my day is complete.
My friend sighs and says, “Wow!”

After working for a publishing company, I greatly appreciate authors. I will never put myself in that same class. They truly are remarkable people who put their craft out there for others to judge. That is an incredible feat, especially to me. I keep my crafts at home and only give them away to family for birthdays or Christmas.

Brittany Shirley is the production manager for BelleBooks, Inc. She has a Bachelor of Science in Integrative Studies from the University of Memphis. She has loved books since an early age and began reading at the age of four. Her hobbies include white water rafting, hiking, knitting, crafts, and mindlessly wandering through Pinterest. She is in the middle of two amazing sisters and has an adorable niece and a handsome nephew.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Author Valerie Storey

Meet Valerie Storey, multi-talented author and artist. This accomplished woman doesn’t limit herself to just one genre. She’s writes fiction for adults, young adults and middle grade readers. In her spare time, she writes self-help books for other writers. Oh wait, there’s more! When she’s not writing, she dabbles in watercolors, pottery and collage. Welcome, Valerie.

You’re such a prolific writer. Tell us a little about your journey to publication and your first sale.

I’d always loved to read and write, but when my family moved to New Zealand from California just after my seventeenth birthday, the idea of creative writing was strongly discouraged. It’s hard to believe now when New Zealand produces such high quality writers, artists, and film makers, but back then, creativity was frowned upon, especially when I had all these American ideas about “do your own thing” and being a free spirit.

It wasn’t until I moved to London eight years later and met up with the New Zealand science fiction and fantasy writer, Hugh Cook that I realized I’d been listening to all the wrong people! Hugh had just published his first book, Plague Summer, and he encouraged me to dive into my own writing. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude for telling me things like “buy a journal and just start writing—it doesn’t matter what, just write.” A couple of years after that I moved back to the USA and started writing my first novel, a mystery for children. When it was finished I marketed it extensively and had some of the most positive rejection letters of my life. Over and over the book came so close to being published, but then it would be rejected. Finally I sent it to Dillon Press, and they loved it too—so much so that they wanted it, and then presto—the children’s fiction department closed. The editor who had wanted to buy it was still very impressed with my writing and she asked if I would be interested in writing a nonfiction book for the company. The only criterion was I had to have lived in a foreign country. I told her I had lived in New Zealand and England. Right away she wanted a book on New Zealand, so I got my first contract and my first experience working with an editor. The book was titled, New Zealand Land of the Long White Cloud, and was part of Dillon’s Discovering Our Heritage series. It was an interesting book to write as I had to do tons of research and find the photos to illustrate the various chapters. I learned a lot from that entire episode and in many ways it helped me to be the writer I am today.
Do you have a favorite genre?

I’m always intrigued by anything labeled “literary” or “experimental” or “gothic.” I especially enjoy it when writers step outside the genre(s) and mix these three things together. For instance, one of my great favorites is House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski simply because reading it is such an adventure—there’s so much going on—humor, puzzles, mystery, even a romance. I think it’s a wonderful book.

What is your most rewarding moment since being published?

I think I’d have to say teaching writing, or presenting a workshop. It’s so inspiring to help a new writer get going and find his or her voice. Best of all is when I hear a former workshop-participant has just published a book or an article somewhere.

Any thoughts on book reviews?

I must say I’ve rarely purchased a book because of a review—too many times what everyone else has praised has turned out to be a book I couldn’t stand, or else the book I thought was a masterpiece ends up being dragged through the mud! Mainly I read reviews just to see what’s happening in the publishing world, and if the theme or something about the characters catches my interest, I’ll want to read the book regardless of what the reviewers say. Sometimes a flurry of bad reviews will really get my attention and then I want to see what the fuss is about!

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Screenplay. Screenplay. Screenplay. I think it’s the most difficult form of writing on earth, and I don’t know why I’m drawn to it. Sometimes it seems like such a futile exercise as the odds of selling a script, and then having it produced as a feature film are overwhelming. Yet, I persist for some crazy reason. I think it’s because I enjoy writing treatments, setting up my plot points, and seeing the hidden “symbolism” and visuals I could include in the story. But when it comes to writing the actual script, I find it very, very difficult. I’m too wordy; I want to describe things too much. Screenplays are my Mt. Everest.

Are you working on a new project?

I’m working on three: the second draft of a new novel set in both New Mexico and New Zealand; a screenplay (LOL) about a dysfunctional family and their last summer weekend together; and a nonfiction book on pet ownership. Of these three, the novel is my highest priority right now. The nonfiction book is a good project to work on when my energy for the novel is lagging, and it gives me plenty of inspiration for my artwork. The screenplay is “just because it’s there.” (Sometimes I wish it wasn’t.)

Do you have a recent or upcoming release? How about sharing a blurb with us.

My latest book, Overtaken is a gothic fantasy that came out in paperback just a few months ago. The Kindle version came out on July 31, a big step for me to enter the world of e-books! If you go to my listing for the book, you can check out the “Look Inside the Book” feature and read a selection there.
I also have a trailer for the book on as well as on my website, my blog, and my Amazon Author Page. All of these sites also have my trailers for The Great Scarab Scam, an Egyptian mystery for young readers, and Better Than Perfect, a YA set in New Zealand. Did I mention I love making trailers?

Any advice for aspiring writers?

It’s such a terribly overused cliché, but I truly believe in: Write every day. I can’t overstress the importance of working not just on your WIP every day, but also doing a daily writing exercise. For the past few years my favorite thing has been to take a picture from a magazine (the stranger the photo the better) and then write anywhere from 3-5 pages about what I see or feel. Some days I’ll be in a fiction mood, other times I’ll write a poem or a personal essay about an incident in my childhood. But the point is to write from an attitude of surprise without any preconceived ideas of what I’m “supposed” to be doing. The benefit of this exercise is that not only is it super-fun, but many times what I’ve written finds its way into my current WIP. Whether it’s a description of a setting, a conflict scene, or a series of character biographies, I’m constantly amazed at what you can do with this exercise.

Most writers are avid readers. What are you reading right now?

Special Topics in Calamity Physics, a Novel, by Marisha Pessl. Now that’s what I call an experimental title! It’s a gothic mystery and absolute page-turner, and it’s totally ruining my life—I can’t put it down.

Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to talk about my work, Marilee! In return I’d like to tell your readers that from now until December 31, 2012, anyone who orders any of my books direct from my website,, will receive a FREE copy of The Essential Guide for New Writers, From Idea to Finished Manuscript. All they have to do is let me know they read your blog. Happy Writing!

Currently based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Valerie Storey is the author of eight books ranging from fiction for young readers to nonfiction for adults. Before moving to the Southwest, Valerie lived in Carrollton, Georgia, as well as in various parts of California, England, and New Zealand. Her most recent novel, Overtaken, was inspired by her time spent in London where she studied and researched art history at the National Gallery for two years.

Although her primary focus is now on writing, Valerie is also a creative writing teacher and freelance editor. Her how-to book, The Essential Guide for New Writers, From Idea to Finished Manuscript is based on her series of workshops. Valerie has taught in the graduate professional writing program at Kennesaw State University and has presented numerous workshops for the International Women’s Writing Guild. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Writing Contests and the Road to Publication

Our guest today is the fabulous Anne K. Albert who writes stories that chill the spine, warm the heart and soothe the soul…all with a delightful touch of humor. She followed all five of the steps listed below on her road to publication.  Defending Glory, is the first book in her Piedmont Island Trilogy. Visit her website, blog, friend her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter. Welcome, Anne.

 The road to publication can be a gauntlet of trials, tribulations, roadblocks, potholes and traps. Yet, science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein believed a writer need only do five things to achieve success.

What are those five requirements?

(1) You must write
(2) You must finish what you write
(3) You must refrain from rewriting, (except to editorial order)
(4) You must put the work on the market
(5) You must keep the work on the market until it is sold

Sounds simple, huh? In theory, yes, but Heinlein often joked he had no qualms of sharing his “secret” because most writers lack the self-discipline to complete all five steps of the process.

Years later, Robert Sawyer took the rules one step further with simple math. This is how it breaks down….

If 100 writers decide to follow Heinlein’s rules only 50 will actually do rule #1 and write.

Surprised? How many people do you know who claim that one day they’ll write a book? If they’re serious they need to start today!

Let’s move onto rule #2. Finish what you write.

Again, only half will achieve that goal, leaving 25 of the original 100 writers.

Rule #3 dictates you must refrain from rewriting. How many writers labor on the same manuscript for a decade? I know a few. You probably do as well.

Sawyer claims only 12.5 writers will complete this rule. (I’m unsure who that half writer might be, but hey, math was never my strong suit!)

Rule #4 is putting your work on the market. Fear of rejection can be paralyzing. Fewer than 6 of the original 100 who began this challenge are brave enough to submit their work.

Rule #5 separates the authors from the writers. Only 3 will persevere and keep their work out in the market until they sell and achieve their goal.

Pretty daunting statistics, even with the new world of self-publishing, but learned how to write well, and following the five steps to success can be achieved by entering writing contests. Seriously. They provide a perfect opportunity to follow Heinlein’s rules. And it can be achieved in smaller, more manageable chunks.


(1) Contests force you to write.

You must have a story to enter a writing contest. It’s mandatory! This does not mean a complete manuscript. As few as five typed pages will do. Contests requirements vary from 5 to 50 typed pages. Start small. Five to ten pages is doable. Work your way up to ‘meatier’ contests.

(2) Contests require you to finish what you write.

Even if your submission is only five pages in length, those five pages should shine and leave the reader/judge drooling for more. Give them your best five pages.

That means no typos. No spelling mistakes. Not a single reason to pull the reader/judge out of the story. End your entry with a hook that leaves them wanting more. Never make the rookie mistake I did by submitting the first five pages, and ending in the middle of a sentence! (Duh!)

(3) Entering a contest forces you to refrain from rewriting.

While your entry should be free of typos, spelling and grammar mistakes, there comes a time when you just have to stop and let it go because every contest has a specific deadline. This deadline forces you to quit tweaking, editing, revising, and changing. Failure to do so could result in you not only forfeiting your entry fee, but missing an opportunity to get your manuscript read by a published author, an editor or agent.

(4) Entering a contest is like putting your work on the market.

Like agents and editors, contest judges are first and foremost impartial readers. They do not know you or your work. They will either be enthralled by your story…or not so much! What’s super about writing contests is that unlike agents and editors who generally just provide a yay or nay, contest judges will explain what they think you did well, as well as how to improve your story.

This feedback provides yet another step of the process. If two of three judges make the same comment, take their editorial direction to heart and make the changes that will improve your story.

(5) Entering multiple contests is like keeping your work on the market until it is sold.

Huh? It’s true. On average, most writers achieve publication after completing 4 or 5 manuscripts. That’s how a writer learns to write. Trial and error. Word by word.

In the meantime, enter contests. They’re a great opportunity for an unpubbed writer to build writing credits. Winning a contest can move you out of the slush pile and directly onto an editor or agent’s desk.

Happy writing!