Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Review of So You Want to be an Online Freelancer . . . Now What?

My writer friend Eeva Lancaster has a new how-to book coming out this week, born of her own experience as an online freelancer in the world of writing and publishing.  I know a lot of my friends, especially stay at home mothers, are looking for something rewarding to do from home to bring in a little money and personal fulfillment.  If selling essential oils or beauty products isn't for you, you might want to give this a read.  It's a short and sweet guide with practical tips for how to sell your skills build a little business for yourself.

I found it to be full of specific, actionable advice, which I really appreciate.  I also enjoyed learning from the author's personal experience.  Overall, I think it's concise, informative, and valuable for anyone thinking of dipping a toe into the world of online freelancing.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Black Lives and White Feelings: Marathon Edition

People are freaking out about the planned Black Lives Matter protest at the Twin Cities Marathon.  Apparently to interfere with the sacred completion of a race is an affront to human decency the likes of which has never been seen in recorded history.

Is this the protest I would choose if it were up to me?  Probably not, mostly because of the inherent dangerousness of a marathon as an activity, especially at the end when people need to cool down and have a disturbing tendency to drop dead.  And I would probably also avoid messing with a marathon because of the Boston terrorist attack.  But it isn't up to me.  I'm not Black.  I'm not really part of the movement.  I don't live in the Twin Cities.

But it is counterproductive to talk about the protestors as though they're threatening to burn St. Paul to the ground and hear the lamentations of their women.  People are saying the protesters will make the event unsafe or cause violence. You could make a similar safety argument against almost any protest or activity that involves large numbers of people and road closures.  I don't see a lot of people bitching about the Pope on Facebook.  And it is very rare for daytime protests to turn violent.  Usually it's not the protestors that start it, either.

But I don't think it's really about the safety.  I think you're upset because they might ruin your big day, the race you've been training for for months. You feel like they're punishing you for something that isn't your fault by wrecking something you've been looking forward to, something that's important to you.  That's unfortunate.  It makes me sad for you.  You say this is no way to win over hearts and minds, but there are occasions when your feelings may not be the only factor worth considering.

Why do you suppose they chose to protest something people care about?  Against something that has economic value, tourism value, civic value?  Could it be because the government isn't going to rein in the police until it becomes too much expense and too much trouble not to?  Could it be because that's how our country works?  Could it be that in our society, it's all about money and bad publicity, mostly money?  That reality wasn't created by Black Lives Matter.  Neither was a screwed up police culture that our politicians can't be bothered to do anything about.  That's on all of us.

To you, the marathon is personal.  To the movement, it's an economic and political event, a rare opportunity to apply pressure to the few people who can actually make something happen.  You know what else is personal?  Dead Black bodies in the street on the regular, and no one held accountable.  Getting humiliated by the police with no recourse.  That's personal, too.

Like I said, I'm not saying it's necessarily a good idea to get in the way of 12,000 runners.  I honestly do not know.  I'm saying you need to be aware that the people on the other side also have strong feelings, feelings born of genuine fear and grief over the real dangers they and their loved ones face on a daily basis.  Feelings that might prompt them to make a decision that to you seems hurtful.  Feelings that you cannot fully understand.  And it is important to consider how your choice of words about the protest might be perceived as dismissive of the value of Black lives rather than just an expression of your feelings.

Perhaps you might consider how it feels to have a black son who is a head taller than most all his classmates, who will probably look like a man by the end of 5th grade.  Because when I read lengthy, vitriolic complaints about protests, it feels like people think a marathon or their Christmas shopping or the game day traffic are more important than my child's life.  I know that isn't what you mean.  But it is how it feels.  If that's how it feels to me, a white woman with tons of white friends and white relatives and an incentive to give you the benefit of the doubt, how do you suppose it might feel to actual Black people?

If white people had half as much passion about police brutality and systemic racism as they do when complaining about Black Lives Matter, we might not need Black Lives Matter in the first place.  

Review of Her Master Protector by Sandra S. Kerns

My writing friend Sandra S. Kerns has a new release today, a mystery romance called Her Master Protector.  If you want to see how the pros of self-publishing do it right, you need to check her out.  Her novels are all entertaining and well-crafted.  The woman knows what she is doing.

First things first, you should know that the word "Master" in the title is there not in the bondage sense but because Masters is the name of a family in this series of books.   It is not Fifty Shades of Murder.

This is the last of the series, but the characterization and writing are so good that I didn't have any trouble jumping right into this one without knowing all the back story.  She fills in the background just enough.  It's kind of fun to discover a series at the end, because then you've got a whole lot more books ready to go without having to wait.  On its own, this is a fun and satisfying ride.

The main characters are both strong, smart, and adorable.  They work together to protect a witness, solve a mystery, and keep each other physically and emotionally safe.  That teamwork makes for a very enjoyable book.  

If you've never read an indie author before, she's a good one to start with.  Or, of course, you could start with me.  Then buy hers. ;)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Book Club Discussion Questions for She Dies at the End

A local book group is going to read my book (yay!), so I thought I'd brainstorm some discussion questions in case any of my other wonderful readers is interested in sharing She Dies at the End with his or her book group friends.

  1. How is the author's portrayal of vampires similar to or different from other vampire stories or movies you've enjoyed in the past?
  2. If you could have a power like many of the characters, which one would you want?  Which seems the most useful?
  3. What event in the book shocked you the most?
  4. Who is your favorite character?  What about him or her appeals to you?
  5. Which character angered you the most?  Why?
  6. If She Dies at the End were made into a movie, who should play your favorite character?
  7. With which character did you most closely identify?  Why?
  8. Which character do you wish you knew more about?
  9. Which character are you most attracted to romantically? Who is your "book boyfriend" or "book girlfriend"?
  10. Was there an image in the book that stuck with you?
  11. If you knew you had lived past lives, would you want to remember them?  Why or why not?
  12. What do you think happened to Marisha, Ilyn's late wife?  How do you think she died?
  13. Do you think November and Ilyn could ever have a healthy romantic relationship?  Why or why not?
  14. Did you learn anything from the story and its characters that could be applied to your own life?
Happy reading!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What makes a fun villain

Everyone loves a good bad guy. So what makes a perfect villain we love to hate?  For a deliciously evil villain, I think you need at least three of the following:

Unconventional attractiveness

We like our villains handsome but in a weird way.  They can't be too ugly, or too pretty.  The face has to have something a little off about it: too sharp a nose, too prominent cheekbones, a cruel mouth. There has to be something that gives you pause.

Examples: Ricardo Montalban in Wrath of Khan, Benedict Cumberbatch in Wrath of Khan


If the villain has no charisma, why would we want to watch her or read about her?  What would draw your attention or the loyalty of the bad guy's minions?

Examples: Glenn Close in Damages, Meryl Streep whenever she's a villain


There's something about an antagonist who knows how to dress.  He doesn't necessarily have to follow convention or even good taste, but it's nice when a villain has a look all his own.

Example: Walton Goggins' Boyd Crowder on Justified

Sad back story

A villain is the hero of his own story, after all.  The sad back story helps motivate his actions and gain audience sympathy even when he is doing monstrous things.

Examples: Magneto,  Loki

The voice

If the villain has a voice you'd listen to reading a grocery list, you're halfway there.

Examples: Alan Rickman, Benedict Cumberbatch, James Spader


We love villains who just don't give a good goddamn, who just want to see the world burn.

Example: Heath Ledger’s Joker

What do you think makes a satisfying book or movie villain?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Representation matters

My book, She Dies at the End, is more diverse than a lot of novels out there. So why did a white woman write a book full of people of color?

People of color are bombarded daily with the message from popular culture that white is normal and that everything and everyone else are not.  That sends a harmful message to everyone, of any race.  I didn't want my book to be part of that damaging narrative, so I have tried to create characters in which a variety if people can see themselves reflected.

If we're going for realism (well, realism in a world where vampires, fairies, and werewolves are real, anyway), my characters in She Dies at the End would not be living in an all-white world.  My story is set largely in the San Francisco Bay Area.  California is not majority white.  Why would a story set here have only white people in it?  Why would a vampire family assembled over many centuries across four continents consist solely of Europeans?

Then there is the fact that it is boring to live in a monochrome world, so why should people have to read about one?  When I started my book, I was writing for fun.  I made choices that made me happy. I wanted white, Black, Asian, Latino, and mixed characters.  I wanted a cast of characters that made me think of Oakland in all its mixed up glory, that celebrated the city where I once taught high school and where I still go to church.

My son is half Black, half East Indian.  He has an Indian dad and a white mom.  Kids like him should see people they can identify with in pop culture.  White kids also benefit from seeing people of color portrayed in a positive light.  It combats all the negative stereotypes they see broadcast every day.  It helps us all have empathy for people who look different from the way we look.

And don't tell me that talking about race makes me the real racist.  That is bullshit.  Ignoring race means ignoring part of who someone is and dismissing the lived experiences of people of color.

Did I do a perfect job realistically portraying my characters of color?  Probably not.  I did my best to use everything I have learned by listening to my friends and family of color, or by listening to strangers' stories online and off.  I may well have made a hash of it, but at least I tried.  That's more than a lot of much more successful authors can say.

Representation matters.