Monday, December 3, 2012

Nathan Hale's Calendar

If you're not reading Nathan Hale's blog you should be. He's a wonderful artist and all around creative guy. His posts aren't long and they usually involve a picture he's drawn.

He's also been known to publish whole stories on his blog. Lately, he hasn't done that as much because he's just so busy putting out books.

I'd like to have that problem.

Earlier this week, he shared his calendar. He uses it to track his work. It's simple, useful, and really cool to look at. Here's a quick explanation.

A line coming in from the bottom of a day means he started drawing a page. A line going out the top of a day, means he finished the page. Seriously, look at all those lines. For more details, you need to read and comment on his post.

Not only is it easy to see the work he got done, this feels like a sup'd up version of the Don't Break the Chain method. I love it.

In fact, I've been trying to think how I could adapt it for writing. I was thinking about tracking scenes.

I define a scene as a series of chronological events that happen in one location. This is how I write my stories--scene by scene. I don't put them together into chapters until later in the editing process.

So scenes might work. Of course, they vary in length quite a bit, some of my scenes are just 500 words while others are 5000 words. Still, I don't think that matters. What matters is moving the story forward, not how many words are in the story.

I'm also considering making writing and editing scenes look different somehow. I don't want to complicate things, so I was thinking about writing a "D" or "E" when a line comes in the bottom. In the end, it also doesn't matter if I'm writing or editing as long as the book is progressing, so I'm not sure if I'll need to do this.

The goal is to have a cool visual representation of my progress. Cool enough that the pattern I'm creating will provide motivation to continue the pattern.

So, I'm looking for other people's ideas. What do you think would make for a good calendar tracking system? Also, don't forget to check out Nathan's blog.

* Nathan's calendar image posted with permission.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Winning Nanowrimo

2012 Nanowrimo Winner Badge
I won Nanowrimo. Hurray! (And there was much rejoicing . . . and ice cream.)

This is the second year I've participated, and it was both easier and harder than last year.

For those of your not familiar with Nano, it's a challenge to write 50K words in the month of November. If you do, you win. And there are tens of thousands of winners each year.

Like I was saying, this year was easier in some ways. For one, I already knew I could do it.

The second time you do something, your confidence is higher and you doubt yourself less. Of course, it's not all happiness and roses. Doing a difficult thing a second time, is still difficult--you just know more about what you're getting yourself into.

2012 Nanowrimo Progress Chart
This year was also harder. On the 3rd day of the month, my writing ground to a halt. A problem at work required a lot of my attention. My team didn't cause the problem, but we had to help solve it. I ended up working over 90 hours that week, much of it in the middle of the night.

Playing catch up was hard. I constantly felt the pressure to crank out words, and I think it made me a little grumpy. Thank goodness I have a supportive family.

It took until the 24th to finally get caught up and pull ahead.

The story isn't finished yet. I think there is at least another 30-40K more words to go, but I have a solid start thanks to Nanowrimo.

Monday, October 15, 2012

True Colors

I've spent a prodigious amount of time on hold today.

You may be wondering why, but I'm not going to tell you. Neener-neener.

A-hem.

I got to hear a lot of so-so jazz and a fair amount of instrumental pop songs.

Funny enough, I heard "True Colors" three different times, with three different companies, and three different arrangements.

I wonder why that song?

* Can you guess what's in the picture? It's a long-exposure image of a fountain taken by epSos.de. Cool, huh?

Story Tug of War

As I'm preparing for Nanowrimo, I'm in the story planning and creation phase. It feels a lot like a big game of tug-of-war except with more than one team. Don't try to imagine how that would actually work, just go with me on this.

All stories have the big elements: Characters, Setting, Ideas and Progression. And they each pull against the others.

For example, When I come up with a great way to strengthen a character, that new strength tugs on the Setting, Ideas and Progression. Sometimes everything holds, but sometimes it pulls the Setting too hard and I have to give it some attention. Adding strength to the Setting dominoes into changing an Idea. You get the picture.

When I'm done, what I want is to see is 4 strong teams all pulling as hard as they can--putting as much tension as possible on the ropes.

Here's a real example. This is the story I'm working on right now. (Thank to everyone who voted.)
The Cepio is an advanced armor and weapons system designed to augment the most powerful soldiers in the galaxy. When a Cepio shipment is attacked by bandits, one accidentally crashes onto Earth and binds to seventeen-year old, Isaac Thomas. Isaac must learn to control the Cepio before it takes over his mind, all while keeping it out of the hands of the bandits and the galactic corporation that wants it back. Because once the Cepio binds to someone, the only way to repossess it is to kill the host.
And the breakdown:

  • Characters: bandits, Isaac, galactic corporation
  • Setting: Earth
  • Ideas: Cepio weapons system, most powerful soldiers, Cepio tries to take over Isaac's mind, bandits and corporation want it, unbinding causes death
  • Progression: Not a lot of progression details here. Isaac gets the Cepio and a lot of trouble too. We don't know what he does with it, how he uses it, how it changes him, or even the outcome of the story.
As with many of my story embryos, this one is heavy on Ideas. If I'm not careful the Ideas will overshadow everything else and my Characters will seem flat, the Setting will appear blank, and the Progression will feel haphazard and forced.

So, I spend a lot of time fleshing out Characters, planning how things could Progress, and filling out the Setting. What this often means is that my Ideas have to change.

In one of my previous stories, the embryonic Idea that started the whole thing ended up being dropped from the final story altogether. It just didn't work with everything else. But that's okay. I've already got another story that's building around that Idea, and I'll write it someday.

*This picture says to me, "Tug of war is hard, hard work." My muscles tighten just looking at it. And I can almost hear the fibers of the rope grinding and popping from the tension. You can check out other works by Scott Anderson on Flickr.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Class by Brandon Sanderson

Hidden away at in the middle of a blog post by Brandon Sanderson, he said that the lectures from his creative writing class were all online.

Say what?

So, I went to check them out. And sure enough, there they were. Each lecture is broken into multiple videos separated more-or-less by topic. Many of the videos also have the notes for the class. In a word, it's awesome! (Thanks to WriteAboutDragons for doing all the hard work.)

Want to know how Brandon plots his books? Go here.

How about advice on participating in a writers group? Got that.

Creating sympathetic characters. Meeting agents. World building. Fight scenes. And more and more. In fact, there are over 15 hours of lectures all online for your learning pleasure.

And if you're like me and don't want to click the next lecture each time, I've got you covered.

I created one, massive playlist that will start at the beginning and play all the way through to the end. Of course, you can start anywhere in the playlist and it will happily load the next video and the next. So you can  sit back and enjoy for as long as you want.

You can find the playlist here.

Personally, I'm going through the lectures as I prepare for Nano next month. I'm just past the class where he talks about creating characters and I'm going through the exercises. If your a video learner, and like Brandon's style of writing, you might like his classes, too.

Go ahead and give them a try. It's free.

* They say a picture is worth a thousand words--this picture surely is. It's titled Secrets by Sarah Horrigan. I got sucked into all the wonderful images on her photo stream, it's well worth your time. In fact, I may contact her and see if she'll let me do a whole blog post on her work. It's great.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Decisions, Decisions

Nanowrimo is just around the corner! Time to start planning.

Last year I tried something new. I wrote in a new genre. I even had you guys pick which one.

It was so fun that I'm doing the same thing this year.

This time I have three, count 'em three, story ideas all in genres I've never written in. Let me know in the comments which one you prefer.


First up, murder mystery. This one intimidates me the most.

The working title is Re: Murder (Solved). Here's the pitch:
@ChicStauff: My boss's wife was killed today! #omg I think she was murdered.
The wife of Jerry McCormick, CEO of Grayson Security, is accidentally killed in a robbery attempt. At least that's what the police say. Anya Stauffer knows different, and is going to prove it. She turns to her friends for help: a lawyer in California, a pre-med student in Utah, and a reporter in South Carolina. Using texts, picture mail, video chat, GPS and a little hacking the group puts the pieces together. When someone else dies, Anya must work fast before the killer strikes again. This time, it might be Anya who's the target.

Next up, SciFi. I've written a lot of fantasy, so I'm excited to try some SciFi. They share a lot, but there are differences as well.

The working title is Cepio. Here's the pitch:
The Cepio is an advanced armor and weapons system designed to augment the most powerful soldiers in the galaxy. When a Cepio shipment is attacked by bandits, one accidentally crashes onto Earth and binds to seventeen-year old, Isaac Thomas. Isaac must learn to control the Cepio before it takes over his mind, all while keeping it out of the hands of the bandits and the galactic corporation that wants it back. Because once the Cepio binds to someone, the only way to repossess it is to kill the host.

And last but not least, Romance. You might think this would intimidate me the most, but it doesn't. See, I don't have any delusions that I'll be good at it, but being able to write a romantic subplot is a very important skill to have. I did cheat a little and decided to write Romantic Suspense.

The working title is Deputized Heart. Here's the pitch:
Sheriff Rosalynn Banks has everything under control in the small town of Larson until ex-Marine, Garrett Browning, moves in, and his surprisingly sweet advances make her doubt how much control she really has. When a routine domestic dispute call goes terribly wrong, Ros finds herself out-manned, out-gunned, and the target of a well-funded drug cartel. She deputizes Garrett and together they must figure out who's behind the attacks and bring them to justice before anyone else dies and before Ros loses the thing most dear to her--her heart.
Those are your choices.

Let me know which story sounds the most interesting to you in the comments. You are welcome to vote for more than one if you want. I'm not picky.

But you can't vote for all three. As it turns out, I am picky.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Book Review: Case File 13 - Zombie Kid by J. Scott Savage


It's been awhile since I've reviewed a middle-grade book, so I was excited when an ARC of Case File 13 Zombie Kid by J. Scott Savage arrived in the mail.

The awesome cover stared at me for days, tempting me to ignore the writers conference. You'll be happy to know I didn't succumb to the temptation, but it was hard.

The summer is over and there's a chill in the morning air. Halloween is just around the corner. It's a perfect time to read a monster book, so when I sat down to read I had high expectations.

I enjoyed Zombie Kid. And I'm not just saying that because I have mashed potatoes on my head.

The book is full of hair raising situations, sandwich loving ghosts, talking cats, arch-enemy girls, evil curses, alligators, voodoo queens, zombies . . . and fart jokes. Yep, it has it all.

The story starts off with three monster-obsessed boys who quickly find themselves in the middle of a voodoo war, and one of them is turned into a zombie. Cool, huh? It's not all fun and games though as they struggle to reverse the curse.

I especially like how Jeff brings zombies back to their roots. These aren't some mamby-pamby-virus-zombies or glowing-radiation-zombies or high-tech-genetically-modified zombies. These are true voodoo zombies controlled by an evil Bokor. Oh, yeah!

Case File 13 Zombie Kid is creepy, quirky, and cool. It's scary enough to keep your attention, but not so much to give you nightmares. Oh, and try not to get too grossed out.



I've known Jeff for many years. He's written so many different things from a fantasy series and a mystery series to technological thriller and more and more, so I was especially curious what made this book so special to him. Here's what he said:
This is probably the closest story I’ve ever written to what I was like as a kid. I never turned into a zombie (although I might have seemed like it in my early teen years), but I loved monsters, explored all kinds of creepy places, and Halloween really was my favorite holiday. I attended Pleasant Hill Elementary and played on Dinosaur Hill. So writing Zombie Kid was a lot like recapturing my youth.
I never thought anyone would want to publish the Case File 13 series. It was too much my own twisted sense of humor, my own loves, my own story. Even when I sent it to my agent, I did so with lots of disclaimers. When he told me how much he loved it, I was still apologizing for even sending it to him. And then, when Harper snatched it up in a three book deal, I was floored. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who experienced those kinds of things as a kid, and still enjoys these types of stories.
Don't worry Jeff. If it turns out that you're crazy, then I'm right there with you. Bring on more monster books.

Case File 13 Zombie Kid comes out in December 2012, so you don't have long to wait to get yourself a copy.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Just Quit

Since the conference, I've spent a lot of time writing. I love creating stories in my mind and crafting words to convey them.

I'm reminded of a piece of advice I heard somewhere. It's advice given from an experienced author to someone just starting out. And it goes like this:
"Quit. And if that doesn't work, roll up your sleeves and pay the price for success."
While that advice seems harsh, there's a lot of truth there. Over the years, I've given up a lot of things. Some things I gave up because I didn't have the money to afford it. Others I gave up because I didn't have the time. Many things I gave up, because I wanted to do something different.

And over the years, I've quit writing. I've put it on the shelf in order to do other things. But every time, I come back to it. I like it. It makes me happy.

So, I've made a pact with myself. I'm going to finish the second draft of my Thor story and finish the first draft of a to-be-started story before the end of the year. And if I have time, I'll finish the second draft of my Dreamer story as well.

That's a lot of stuff to do, but since quitting hasn't worked for me. I might as well roll up my sleeves and pay the price.

So, what's the best writing advice you've heard? Not the advice that sounds the best, I want to know what advice caused you to increase the quality or quantity of your writing the most.

* This picture of a Go game taken by Luis de Bethencourt looked so good, it made me want to learn how to play. You should check out his other photos.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The First Storymakers Midwest Conference

It's done.

It feel so good and so sad to say that.

The LDStorymakers Midwest conference is over. I had a wonderful time. It's always a pleasure to get together with fellow writers to learn from each other and strengthen our friendships.

The conference wasn't too big which was nice. We had about 40 people and an awesome group of presenters, so everyone got to rub shoulders with some very talented authors. Just take a look at this list of awesomeness: Traci Abramson, Don Carey, Karen Hoover, Heather Justesen, Josi Kilpack, Laurie Lewis, Lisa Mangum and Steve Westover. The whole thing was organized by Danyelle Ferguson and Lynn Parsons, and it was . . . well . . . awesome!

I'm still gathering my thoughts, but here are a few things I learned:
My view of dialog was too narrow. I need to open my mind to a new way of thinking to take my writing to the next level. Thanks Traci.
Authors can be great role models for children. Even when they do teach your daughter how to disrupt an entire class from the back of the room and supply the laser pointer to do it. Thanks Karen.
It's awesome to have friends who inspire you to be better, celebrate with you when you succeed, support you through the hard times, and are willing to tell you how it is when you need them.
Being a Tech Guy isn't so bad when you get great advice and work with good equipment. Thanks BJ.
Music brings people together and can be used to teach writing techniques. Thanks Don & Karen.
Average results require average effort. Good results require double-average effort. Great results require double-good efforts. This conference was great. Thanks, Danyelle, Heather, Don, and Lynn.
When you get writers around a dinner table, you'd be suprised at the mind-boggling variety of conversation topics that come up. From science to history to teenager's habits to the best place to hide a body.
I'm not quite ready to buy a Lamborghini. There are still a few things I need to do to keep my house in order. But there are things I can do today to get ready for that adventure someday. Thanks Lisa.
Great friends are worth their weight in gold. Great writer friends are worth their weight plus three-or-four-boxes-of-books weight in gold.

For everyone who went to the conference. It was so much fun to meet you. For those who weren't there, I hope to see you next year.

Friday, July 27, 2012

You Gotta Love Your Neighbors

I've been on vacation, but when I saw this sign I had to snap a picture and share it with you. Enjoy.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Book Review: My Body Fell Off by BJ Rowley

Let's jump to the chase. If you're reading this on Friday the 13th, then you need to go here and download a free Kindle edition of this book. Right now. Then come back and read the review. It's only free for one day, so if it's not Friday you can still go and buy the book. Just sayin'.

I read My Body Fell Off by BJ Rowley several years ago. In fact, I've read all three Light Traveler books. They are exciting, funny, creative, and intense. It's great to see the series make its ebook debut.

This is a story about a teenage boy who can leave his body and transport himself to other places. That would be weird, right? But then he gets used to it and it becomes way cool. Imagine what you could do. Until he stumbles into big trouble when he overhears the plans of some dangerous criminals. That's where the flames and the airplane from the cover come in. Very exciting.

I've known BJ for a long time. He's a great guy and a good friend. He's always willing to help others, so when I asked him what made this book special, he shared several great tidbits.
"This was my first book. My family thought I was nuts for even thinking about writing a book, and pretty much dismissed my craziness out of hand. But I cranked it out submitted it. AND IT WAS ACCEPTED!! Of course, my editor immediately showed me several things that needed fixing--which greatly improved the story. I was vindicated. I proved that I could do it. I became a published author. It was an incredible few months."
I can confirm that BJ is crazy. I think all writers have to be, after all we talk to ourselves all day. Crazy in a good way.
"This story is great fun from start to finish. It's set in my high school. I attended Payson High School. I lived on the highway on West Mountain. I know exactly where Bart's locker is. I've sat on that couch up inthe light control room in the ceiling of the auditorium. The story is set in my own backyard with really fun fantasy at the same time. Who hasn't wished for that?"
I attended a much smaller high school, but I could still relate. It was the way he wove the fantasy and real life together than made this book fun.
"I remember one night writing and writing away. All of a sudden I realized I had to get up and work in 5 hours! But it was SO hard to walk away from that computer because I could hardly wait to see what was going to happen next! That's how the whole book came together. Those darn characters just kept getting themselves into trouble all over the place. Teenagers!! Before I knew it, they were bound and gagged, soaked in gas, and waiting for a bomb to go off . . . and I had NO idea how they were going to get out of there alive. It never occurred to me that I (the author) could back up and rewrite the scene and make it easier. They got themselves into that mess, and they were going to have to get themselves out of it. I stewed on that problem for several days before a solution finally presented itself. Then they got it done!"
If that doesn't hook you, then here's a bit of the prologue to whet your appetite.
The first time it happened, I was in third grade. I had been recuperating in the hospital after having my appendix removed. They had me all drugged up on painkillers, and I was feeling really goofy, so I just passed it off as a weird dream. I thought about the “dream” on and off for several weeks after that, but eventually it slipped into oblivion and was pretty much forgotten.
* * *
The second time it happened was two years later. Our school class was on an overnight camping trip for fifth graders. We were hiking in the dark, around midnight—no flashlights allowed and no talking. Our leaders thought it would give us a better appreciation for nature or something—I’m not sure. Anyway, I lost my footing climbing down a little hill and slipped several feet into a steep ravine. I landed headfirst against a big rock and was knocked cold for a couple of minutes. My friends told me that when I finally got up, I babbled and carried on, saying all kinds of stupid things. I don’t remember any of that.
The weirdness happened later, while I was lying in the back of the ambulance. It was like . . . floating and drifting and moving up and down. And I distinctly remember seeing myself strapped to the stretcher, with paramedics leaning over and doing things. It was like I was watching the whole event through a ceiling-mounted camera.
. . .
But eventually the headaches went away, and I came to realize that I was still the same old me.
. . .
* * *
The third time it happened, I still didn’t recognize the remarkable gift for what it really was.
I had just started my sophomore year in high school . . . and I thought for sure I was dead . . .
BJ has a few more chapters online if you want to keep reading.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Best Writing Investment I Ever Made

In 2005 I attended my first writers conference.

It was a small LDStorymakers conference, held in a little, brown theater in Springville, Utah. In fact, it was held in the Little Brown Theater. Less than a hundred people attended, which was good because if there were any more, I don't think we'd all fit.

At that time, I didn't have aspirations of becoming a writer or an author, but that changed.

I learned about the craft of writing, the business of writing, and the joys (and pains) of writing. That was interesting and all, but mostly I met people--kindred spirits. I formed relationships at that conference that changed my life for the better.

Now's the part where I drop a bunch of names. Just remember, back then many of these people were just starting their careers. And even today, there are still a few undiscovered gems. BJ Rowley (who is releasing an awesome ebook later this week)Darvell HuntHeather JustesenJosi S. KilpackJulie WrightJames Dashner (he wasn't a NYT Bestseller back then), J. Scott Savagethe award-winning Marta SmithAnita StansfieldRachel Ann NunesCandace SalimaRebecca Shelleyand Tristi Pinkston. (I'm sure I forgot someone. I'm sorry.)

I'm not just name dropping. Each of these people have personally impacted my life. They aren't just names or acquaintances, they're friends and cohorts in storytelling.

The people I met and the things I learned at that small, one day conference nudged the course of my life ever so slightly. Because of that shift back in 2005, I'm a writer today, and I have some of the best, quirkiest, awesomest friends in the world.

I tell you this because on September 15th, LDStorymakers Midwest conference is happening in Kansas City. There will be less than 100 people, so it will be more intimate than the main conference in Utah. It's just one Saturday, so no huge time commitment. It's not as expensive as the multi-day, main conference. And some of my friends are teaching and speaking.

There are still slots open, so tell all your friends and family. Especially pass the word to people who aren't writers. You never know what might happen. I'm excited to read someone else's story in 7 years.

Here's the link to the registration page.

* Isn't this a great picture of two friends? And I really want to see what they're looking at off camera. RAM shared this photo on Flickr. He has more beautiful shots from Lebanon you should check out.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Freedom Isn't Free


Freedom isn't free,
Freedom isn't free,
You've got to pay a price, 
You've got to sacrifice,
For your liberty.
- Paul Colwell

Every time I hear these lyrics they make me stop, think . . . and thank.

It's funny that on Independence Day my thoughts often dwell on dependence. As an American, I like to think of myself as self-made. I am the product of my labors. But that's not altogether true. I'm the product of much more than that.

Great men and women with vision, courage, and strength spent their lives to lay the foundation I stand on today.

We often look back on the founding fathers who thought and fought to form the United States. They were amazing people who did incredible things, yet even they built on a previous foundation. The foundation laid by the pioneering families who journeyed from Europe to settle in America, the deep thinking of philosophers and religious figures, and the careful work of historians to preserve the stories of other civilizations.

We stand, today, not on the shoulders of giants. We stand on the shoulders of the shoulders of the shoulders of the shoulders . . . in one giant pyramid of ideas, inventions, laws, societies, and civilizations. Except this is an upside-down pyramid. It doesn't get smaller at the top, instead it expands outward and upward. Our reach is so much greater than our forefathers.

And we don't have to look to history. Just look around us: the soldiers who defend us; the police who protect us; the firefighters and medical staff who save us; the engineers and technicians who bring electricity and water and communication to our homes; the farmers, ranchers, and fishermen who provide our food; the drivers and planners and workers who deliver goods to the stores; the parents and teachers who raise up the next generation; and I can't forget the writers and  publishers who help us see the world in different ways. To the vast army of men and women who make it possible for me to sit here in my home with my kids and write this blog post, I say "Thank You".

Thank you for your sacrifice--for the price you've paid to keep us free. Yes, I know that many of the people I mentioned are just doing their job and getting paid for it. But how much is a human life worth? $10 an hour? $100? $1000? I submit that every one of these people sacrifice to perform a duty that benefits us all. And because of this Dependence, we can enjoy our Independence.

Happy Independence Day.

* I loved these pictures so much, I had to include both of them. The amazing photo of the construction worker was taken by Saad Ahktar. It portrayed so much of what I wanted to say in this post. And the freight train photo was taken by Hunter Desportes. It reminded me of the apocryphal story about the width of the space shuttle being based on Roman chariots. The story isn't true, but it's still a good story.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Above Water Again

The last six months have been crazy.

No. More than crazy. What's the next step after crazy? Insane? That's basically the same thing.

Hell? That's a bit much, especially considering the Judeo-Christian view of hell as fire and brimstone.

Let's just say, I was solidly across the crazy line. Then, I went to a 90-minute sales presentation where I learned more about hell, and they gave me a voucher for a complimentary trip to a somewhat-hell-like place, and a $30 gift card to a chain restaurant. I think that sums it up nicely.

I'm usually a positive person. I like to look on the bright side, and as a writer of imaginary stories, I can think up a bright side to about anything.

This time was different. After a while, all the problems and challenges started to wear on me. I never became bitter, but I found myself longing for normal. Instead of looking forward and working through my problems, I wanted to take a couple steps backwards and catch my breath.

Not anymore. Break's over. Get back to work!

I needed the breather, but now it's time to get back on my feet. And funny enough, all of my obstacles are starting to look like platforms I can stand on to climb higher. The obstacles didn't change, just the way I see them.

Annoyingly-positive John is back.

And this is what I learned: Before we can make footprints in the sands of life, we first have to decide to stop leaving butt prints. (Besides, then the sand gets all up in your swimming trunks and the drive home is awful.)

Who's with me?

* Alan Light. What a great name for a photographer. When I saw this sand sculpture on Flickr, I thought, "If I'm going to leave any prints in the sand, I want them to look like this."

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Multiple Like Buttons on a Single Page (Technical Tuesday)

My last post explained how to put a Like button on a web page. That sets us up nicely to explain how to make different Like buttons for different parts of a page.

For example, imagine you have a page that lists all of your books. You could have a Like button for each of them right below the cover image.

Sound good? Let's get going then.

For the purpose of this post, let's say you have a small-to-medium-sized website. It has a home page, a page about you, a page that lists all your books and stories, and a simple form for contacting you. It's nothing fancy, but it's a start. And it looks good.

Because you read my last post, you added a Like button to your home page. Now, you want to add a Like button for each of your books, but you've got a problem. The way the Like button works, it uses the entire page. Even though you put a button next to each book, they all seem to Like the entire page. That's not what you want.

It's a tricky problem, but there is a solution.

Step 1) More Pages

Because you have to Like whole pages, that means you need to create a separate page for each book.

Each page should have the book cover image and your hook (1-2 sentences that describe your book). Fill in the Open Graph tags just the way I explained in my previous article. The page can also have blurbs, snippets, buy links, ISBN, etc. The key is that the page is devoted to the book.

Don't forget to include a Like button on this page.

Step 2) Can You Feel the Like?

Go back to your main books page--the one that has all your books and stories. Add Like buttons to each one just like you did before. The code will look something like this:


<!-- AddThis Button BEGIN -->
<div class="addthis_toolbox addthis_default_style ">
<a class="addthis_button_facebook_like" fb:like:layout="button_count"></a>
...
<!-- AddThis Button END -->


Here's the key. In the first div tag, add the following attribute:


<!-- AddThis Button BEGIN -->

<div class="addthis_toolbox addthis_default_style " addthis:url="http://url/to/your/book/page">
<a class="addthis_button_facebook_like" fb:like:layout="button_count"></a>
...
<!-- AddThis Button END -->

That's all there is to it.

Now, when someone uses that Like button, it will like the book page just as if they clicked the Like button on the book page itself.

This will work for anything. Just setup a page for the thing you want Liked. Then create a Like button using the page URL. This button can be used on as many different pages as you want.

So, what do you Like? Let me know in the comments.

* Wow! I didn't even know this monument existed before today. It's the monument set up in the square where the Nazis burned books. This particular photo was taken by Chang'r and can be found on Flickr.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

How to Add a Facebook Like Button to a Webpage

It's not Tuesday, but this will be a technical post. A few people have asked me about adding Facebook Like buttons to web pages.

Step 1) Facebook and Twitter and Bears, Oh my!

There are so many social networks these days, which ones do you choose?

We've got the big guys: Facebook and Twitter, but what about LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, Reddit, Tumblr, and StumbleUpon?

Not to mention a metric slew of sites that aren't as popular, or aren't as social, but still have fans who might want to share your stuff:
Blogger, Digg, Buffer, Bitly, WordPress, Posterous, Orkut (are they still around?), MySpace (are they still around?),  FriendFeed, Evernote, and dozens more.

*The metric slew is a unit of measure for those who want to sound precise but who really have no clue how much they are talking about.

I'm recommending you go out to AddThis and grab their code. AddThis is used by some big sites. They are simple to use and have a lot of ways to tinker with their stuff if you're the tinkering type.

When you download their code, they'll ask you to create an account. It's not required, so if you want to try them out first, that's fine. Just dismiss the sign-up window.

Here's three examples of their stuff. (The following examples are setup for web pages, so they don't work as effectively on my blog, sorry. I'll do another post specific to blogs in the future.)








Note: AddThis isn't paying me anything to promote them. For some reason, companies don't want to give me money to promote them. *sigh*

Step 2) Huh?

Have you ever gone to like a webpage and Facebook decides it wants to use the "Email Me" picture of a giant @ sign instead of the site logo, or the description that comes up is the "About the Author" text instead of the first paragraph of the page? Frustrating, isn't it.

You solve these issues for your site using Open Graph tags. These are meta tags you include at the top of your html page that help Facebook and other sites figure out what's most important.

Now, open up your page to edit it and include the following meta tags at the top in the <head></head> section:

  <head>
    ...
    <meta property="og:title" content="***PAGE TITLE HERE***"/>
    <meta property="og:type" content="***CONTENT HERE***"/>
    <meta property="og:url" content="***URL HERE***"/>
    <meta property="og:image" content="***IMAGE HERE***"/>
    ...
  </head>

These tags tell Facebook what title, url and image to use when someone likes your page. The og:type is also interesting, there are a lot of options including "article", "author" (when you're bragging about yourself), "book" (when you're promoting your book), "cause" (when you're spreading the word for your favorite charity), "activity" (when you're announcing your book release party), and quite a few more.

And that's all you have to do. Go ahead and try it out and let me know how it works for you.

Wrap Up

Now you can help Facebook and other sites know how to share your web pages.

In my next blog post, I will show you what you need to do if your page has many different things you want to like. For example, if you have a bunch of different images or videos or quotes and you want people to like each one separately.

Until then, let me know if these steps were helpful for you in the comments below.

* Ah, the open road. There's more to this picture taken by Takver and posted on  Flickr. Especially check out Takver's  holiday set and protest pictures.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Diet Sickness

FREE LIMITED TIME OFFER! ACT NOW!

For a limited time, you can visit my house and contract your very own diet sickness. Do you need to lose weight? Having problems getting over that diet hurdle?

WE HAVE THE ANSWER!

Using our patented Triple Strike Technology you too can be on your way to being pasty and too-thin.

Strike One: With our diet sickness you will lose all desire to eat anything. No more wanting that mid-morning snack or your bedtime ice cream. In fact, you won't want to eat anything. And if you do succumb to your habits or common sense and try to eat anything it will be regurgitated a few hours later. This greatly reduces your caloric intake.

BUT THAT'S NOT ALL!

Strike Two: Take advantage of a weight loss secret from the ancients. We've found record of this long-kept secret as far back as Egypt, Greece, and the Mayans. What is it? Fever. You'd be surprised to learn how much energy it takes to raise your core body temperature by 3-4 degrees. Burn calories while you sleep. Burn calories while you watch TV. It's a dieter's dream.

WAIT! THERE'S MORE!

Strike Three: Once your fever breaks you will perspire away pounds of unwanted water weight. This is better than a wrap treatment at a high-end spa.

ALL THIS CAN BE YOURS TODAY!

Bonus: Just by visiting my home and hanging out for a few hours you too can catch the diet sickness. And for the first 100 people who take advantage of this opportunity, we will throw in an extra-special gift. While you wait for inoculation, you can keep yourself busy by doing laundry, dishes, vacuuming, or mowing the lawn.

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This is a limited-time offer. Once this sickness passes through my family you will have missed out on this rare opportunity.

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Void where prohibited. Not valid in all states. All weight loss results are speculative and not verified by the FDA, FFA, BSA, NASA, or any other acronym or initialism. Sickness not actually patented. This opportunity is not rare. Side effects may include headache, body aches, slowed thoughts, lethargy, grumpiness, exhaustion, and an unhealthy increase in sarcasm.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

I'm done. I'm done. I'm done! Hooray?

I accomplished a big goal. I worked many hours over many weeks, and now I'm done.

I should be happy, right?

Instead, I feel like I should still be working toward my goal. I'm a bit lost, and unsure what to do with my time.

Strange?

I don't think so. My guess is that I've spent so much time, consistently, over the last two months that I've built a habit, so my brain and body still want to perform the habit. The thing is, I'm done. Finished. The end. No more.

I read all 35 Whitney Award finalists and cast my votes!

Now what?

I'll keep reading books. I've got a couple manuscripts that need work. I'm woefully behind on my blog posts. And I need to write some more in my journal.

But I think I'm going to just relax for a while, until my accomplishment feels like an accomplishment.

And maybe celebrate with some ice cream. Now, that sounds exciting!

Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!

* Whoa! Greg Foster snapped this picture while out hiking. I'm glad he did, and I'm glad he shared it on Flickr. He has lots of other great images, too. I almost used this one instead.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Whitney Finalist: Daughter of Helaman by Misty Moncur

Today's spotlight is Daughter of Helaman by Misty Moncur.

It's the story of a teenage girl, Keturah, who wants to join Helaman's 2000 Stripling Warriors.

Although she does encounter gender-based obstacles to her dream, most of them are of her own making. That's what makes this story so unique, it's not as much about a girl overcoming a restrictive society as it is a girl overcoming her own view of society.

There are many memorable characters and scenes, but it was Keturah's dedication and spirit that pulled me through the story. She stands at the crossroads of youth and adulthood where there are so many possibilities ahead. These possibilities are both thrilling and overwhelming. Her choices strengthen some paths and close off others. It is an exciting time of life.

The story also explores the multifaceted relationships between the characters. Sometimes Mother is a mother, other times a friend, other times a healer. Keturah's childhood friend, and fellow soldier, might become her betrothed. While her captain, and trainer, might just steal her heart. She doesn't have long to find her way before the Sons (and Daughter) of Helaman have to march against the Lamanites.

I asked Misty how writing this story was special to her.
The thing that makes my first novel special to me is the knowledge and faith I gained while writing it. The Lord blessed me . . . and opened my mind to details in the scriptures I had never noticed before. As I wrote Daughter of Helaman and continued on to the next books in the series, I learned to write by the promptings of the Spirit more than by the promptings of my outline. I learned so many things about myself during this process and my testimony increased so much that even if no one else ever gets much from it, I know it was totally worth writing.
She also shared some great advice for all writers.
As a writer, you . . . become attached to your writing. You put so much of yourself into it, and not just your thoughts and ideas. Completing a novel takes a lot of your time. It steals your sleep. It takes an emotional commitment--you have to basically develop a one-sided relationship with your characters (sometimes at the expense of your real relationships with real people!) And the whole time you're wondering if your voice is even worth being heard.

Though I am completely emotionally involved with my characters and the scriptural events I write about, I really tried not become too attached to the actual writing in Daughter of Helaman. Knowing I was going to have to share it with others by publishing it, I didn't want to get possessive of it, to think of it as only mine, or become too attached to something an editor might want to change. Still, I love it because it is mine and there is a piece of me on every page and in every character.
I agree. While writing a novel isn't the hardest job in the world, it's not easy at all. Then it takes courage to share your creation with the world.

So, let's jump right into the very beginning of the story. It starts with danger.
I crouched, still as stone, behind the broad leaves of an evergreen tree, watching the men below me. Usually when I came to the high cliff above the falls, I watched the stream meander through the valley down below or daydreamed while I gazed at the large temples in the distance.
Today I watched for my brother. Micah had left a month ago to recruit boys for the Ammonite army, and he was supposed to return to the village today. But though I watched for him all morning, I hadn’t seen him yet. Instead, I saw the small group of men traveling north toward Ammonihah. They stayed near the West Road but skulked in the cover of the trees.
Lamanite spies.
If you liked that you can read the first few pages, and then get your own copy.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Quick Update: The Third 'R'

So, I done me some 'rithmatic and I've got me a lot of reading to do.

My goal is to read all the Whitney finalists by April 23rd, and the goal is in sight. I have 13 books left which calculates to reading 1 book every 2 days. *whew*

I'm going to keep posting spotlights. I have 3 that are close to being done, and several more in the works. I hope to get all 35 books spotlighted before the gala. If not, I'll post a few after the gala.

My biggest hurdle, other than time, is that there are still two books I haven't been able to get my hands on.

Wish me luck.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Whitney Finalist: With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo

Today I'm going to spotlight With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo.

When I read the title, I immediately thought, "Romance," but I ended up being surprised. This is a story about growing up, wrapped in a murder mystery, wrapped in a historical. So, why the title?

First, this book is all about love and it's many faces. It's about love in a family, in a community, between friends, and yes there's a bit of innocent crush going on, too. This isn't an in-your-face type of theme. In fact, I didn't really catch on to it until I'd finished the entire book. It was cleverly woven into the events of the story.

Second, the main character's last name is Love.

This is a character-driven story, but Tess also worked in the time period so well it felt natural. I guess that would be my main point in this spotlight, the story just felt natural.

I would introduce the characters and setting, but Tess does it so well in the first few paragraphs:
It was the eighth of July, 1957, when Ollie's daddy slowed their rusted-out Chevy pickup near the junction of Highway 29 and Carter Road. They had come to set up for a three-day revival. Ollie sat in the truck bed with her sisters. She was thirteen and the oldest of Reverend Love's five daughters, followed by Martha, Gwen, Camille, and Ellen. Ellen was at Ollie's side, clutching Baby Doll Sue and singing "Mama's Little Baby." Ollie noticed her sister was getting the words twisted up and wrong--again.
It may have been only nine o'clock in the morning, but the summer sun was already high in the sky and sweating up the land. Fields of soft green barley laid themselves out across the earth in perfect rows--as if God had reached down and combed them just so. Ollie noticed a carved-up plank of wood that someone long ago had shoved into the dark Southern soil. It read: Binder, Arkansas.
Want to read some more? Go ahead, I'll wait.

Tess was so kind to tell me some of her personal feelings about the story.
I wanted to tell the story of characters who were in a broken situation, but who didn't consider themselves broken people. I love Jimmy and how, even though he has been terribly mistreated, he still has a deep river of conviction about who he is and what he can someday become. I love Ollie because she sees a boy who needs a friend and lets nothing stop her from being that person.

I grew up in a somewhat tough situation. It wasn't as bad as Jimmy's, but it was really difficult at times and, in spite of the chaos that surrounded me, I believed in myself. That was what got me through. So, when I started writing, I wanted to share that part of my personal experience on some level and I guess With a Name Like Love is that story. It celebrates family. It celebrates friendship. It shows us that we can overcome trials. It is really a piece of my heart.
I enjoyed this story, and couldn't believe this was a debut novel. There were so many layers to it, and it was put together well and felt natural. I suggest you get your own copy and see for yourself.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Whitney Finalist: Pride & Popularity by Jenni James

Our next spotlight is a retelling of Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice, with many of the major characters replaced by high school students.

While I don't consider myself an Austen fan, I do enjoy her writing. I've read Pride & Prejudice and liked it. Surprisingly, I liked it more than my wife did, who is a true romance fan. (I'm not sure what that says about me, but, thankfully, this spotlight isn't about me.)

When I heard that Pride & Popularity by Jenni James was a faithful retelling, I had two reactions: "Hmmm, sounds interesting," and "Sigh, another one?"

This book was light and enjoyable. The scenes were snappy. The characters and situations were interesting. And Jenni manages to stay true to the original story line. Which, I think, makes the writing that much more impressive.

Since I'm familiar with the original, once I figured out which characters were Elizabeth, Darcy, Jane, Bingley, Lydia, Wickham, Charlotte, and Collins then I knew how things were going to turn out. The story doesn't try to keep these roles a secret. In fact, several of the characters are named after their archetype. The real fun was in seeing how they were going to fill their roles. Jenni did a good job of making enough changes to keep things modern and interesting.

I asked Jenni what made this story special to her.
Pride & Popularity is special to me, because not only did it begin my fascinating craving for the writing world (Teaching me that writing a book was WAY more fun than reading one!), it also launched a career I never knew I would have four years ago. It has changed my life in more ways than one, and allowed me to contribute to the world. I've written several books (10) since beginning this one, and all are slotted for publication through different publishers over the next couple of years. I hope every single one gives a happy voice and cheerful hope to those teens who are struggling to find their way right now, or the ones who'd like to break from the norm and read something light and fun for a change.
And here's a bit of the story to get you hooked.
"Chloe!" 
As I spun around in the crowded hallway by my locker, Madison caught me up in a bear hug. She had gone to stay with her cousins in Florida for two months of summer break, and she had come back tan and beautiful. I laughed as I removed a piece of her streaked blond hair that was caught on my backpack. 
"Wow! Maddi, you look gorgeous. You obviously had a great time in Florida." 
Madison sighed. "It was wonderful!" 
"So, tell me, did you find some amazingly hot lifeguard to sweep you off your feet?" 
She rolled her eyes. "I wish." then she glanced at me suspiciously. "So how about you? Did you find anyone this summer?" 
I laughed. "Yeah, right. I just hung out and did my theater gig. Besides, every guy I'm remotely interested in ends up too self-centered and a total jerk anyway, so--" 
"You know, Chloe, one of these days some guys is going to prove you wrong. And when he does you're going to fall for him hard. Personally, I can't wait."
If you're looking for a light, clean, teen romance, you should get your own copy.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Whitney Finalist: Smokescreen by Traci Hunter Abramson

Action, drama, conspiracy, friendship, danger, Navy SEALS, art, love, and bullets--but not in that order. There you have it: Smokescreen by Traci Hunter Abramson.

Okay, okay. There's a lot more to it than that, but I don't know what else to say. The story held me from beginning to end. I didn't even have time to try to figure out the mystery because I was so worried about what was going to happen next.

The cool thing is that, this book wasn't all about action. The characters also develop solid and deep relationships while crazy men are on the loose hunting them.

Both sides of the story worked together to pull me along and raise the tension.

I asked Traci what she felt made this book special to her, and you can get a feel for how she can juggle the human-side of the story with the all-out action:
Smoke Screen gave me the opportunity to go back and develop characters I had grown very attached to in Lockdown. Quinn Lambert had become very three dimensional to me, and I discovered things about him in this book that I hadn't considered previously. I also had a great time getting to know Taylor and seeing their relationship develop.
For the suspense side of things, I enjoyed using some of my CIA background in the development of the story. Writing about CIA headquarters and some of the work I was able to do while I was employed there always feels like an opportunity to go back and visit a time in my life that I very much enjoyed. And of course, I loved seeing how the rest of my Saint Squad was doing since their last book.
This is the fifth book in the Saint Squad series, but if you haven't read any of the others that's fine too. This book stands on its own.

Here's a few paragraphs to pique your interest:
Five men. Five targets.
Quinn Lambert visualized the mission once more in his mind, a mission the whole world was watching on the evening news. Once again pirates had commandeered a vessel in the Indian Ocean, only this time the two Americans on board weren’t just a couple of innocent bystanders who happened to get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. No, these two hostages had been specifically chosen because of the ransom they could command.
Hotel tycoon Monte Eastman and his wife, Georgia, had boarded a friend’s yacht in Sri Lanka for an extended vacation. Four days into their voyage, pirates had intercepted them and had taken control of the vessel. The ransom demands began within hours. If all went as planned, another hour would be all that was needed to end those demands permanently.
If you liked this, you should pick up your own copy.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Thank You Dan Wells

This morning I was having problems with an electronic gadget, so I took it into the store to get fixed. It always takes a long time, so I decided to grab a book to read. I grabbed Dan Wells's latest. I've been looking forward to reading it for some time.

I got to the store, explained the situation, then I sat down to wait and read.

It was a good time, no one bothered me. I did notice one person behind the counter look in my direction a few times, but whatever. My device was fixed in, surprisingly, record time, and I was on my way.

It wasn't until I left that I realized I was reading a book that was clearly titled "I Don't Want to Kill You".

I'm not saying that the book had anything to do with my uninterrupted reading time or even the speedy repair, but you never know.

Has anyone else gotten better service or more attention using this little trick? If so, I'd like to hear about it. If not, it might work for you.

Whitney Finalist: Miles from Ordinary by Carol Lynch Williams

As the title says, the book starts out as anything but ordinary, spends some time trying to get close to ordinary, then turns its back on ordinary altogether and sprints headlong into the abnormal.

I enjoyed Miles from Ordinary by Carol Lynch Williams. The whole book kept me off balance, in a good way. As soon as I started to get my feet under me, things would shift again.

The story starts with fourteen-year-old Lacey who's mother has a mental illness. It's not taken lightly--it's not the "mom is crazy and we all have to walk on pins an needles" type of story. Instead, Lacey truly loves her mother, and their daily life incorporates all of Mom's quirks and symptoms into a "normal" routine for them.

That's the thing about mental illness, it affects everyone. My oldest child has Autism. It's not severe, but it still shades everything we do and affects all our plans. I remember quite a few years ago having a conversation with several of my neighbors. A family that just moved in asked what restaurants we liked. I shared one of our favorites--the food was decent and the playplace was arranged in such a way that it was easy to see the kids and also keep an eye on both exits. A good friend of mine put his hand on my shoulder and said, "John, I don't think I've ever considered that. Most kids don't try to escape." He didn't say it in a derogatory way, and it really made me think how much my "normal" was really not that normal.

Back to the story. We get to accompany Lacey on a day that turns out anything but "normal", even for her. And when I say day, I mean that the entire story takes place in a single day, but it doesn't feel rushed or forced. That's not easy to do. By the evening, the story dives into the darkness and deliciously creepy and downright scary. I love a good scary story, especially one that isn't gory or crude.

I asked Carol what made this book special to her:
Many years ago, I was walking through Utah Valley University when I met a woman who was 45-years-old and about to become a great-grandmother. A GREAT-GRANDMOTHER! She, her daughter and her granddaughter all had, or were going to have, babies at or younger than 15 years of age. So, I began a novel about a little girl who's very young mom is sort of losing it. But I couldn't make it work, no matter what I tried. Later, much later, I looked back at the book. I had two novels there, somehow, twined together like wrestling snakes. I pulled them apart and began the story of a matriarchal family and a little girl with Progeria. The book was published as Pretty Like Us. Then I went to work on the story of a child who's mom is suffering. That one became Miles from Ordinary. I think that's what makes the books important to me--that I was able to pry the two apart and they were published (after much revision).
I also like what makes Lacey succeed, what makes her strong. That she can finally get free of something she has had to carry for too long. I think there are lots of kids out there who are suffering in similar ways.
Before I give you a taste of the story, I need to share a warning: when my wife read this book it freaked her out a bit and she had a hard time getting to sleep. You've been warned.
There are mice. 
Lots of mice. Running all over my room. Letting out crying sounds that grate on my ears. They crawl on my feet. My legs. I feel them on my arms. Soft things with toenails like blunt needles. 
“Momma?” I say. She’s dressed in a long nightgown. Her fingernails are sharp like the tops of just-opened cans. “We gotta get rid of the mice. We gotta call an exterminator.” I hand her an old-fashioned phone. 
“You’re right, Lacey,” Momma says. But instead, she cuts at her face with her nails. Deep wounds open up, split wide, and blood, dark blood like ink, makes paths down her face to the floor. She cries. 
“Stop that,” I say. “Stop it now.” 
But Momma doesn’t listen. Just cuts and cries. 
* * * 
I AWOKE with a start, my heart thudding in my neck. My whole body felt like I’d been dunked in an ice bath. 
“Only a dream,” I said to myself, then glanced at the clock: 3:46 A.M. I started to close my eyes. The wind nudged at the house. I could smell the magnolia tree. 
Something moved in the corner.
Ooooo, that's creepy. I like it. If you like it too, you can read the rest of the chapter and get your own copy.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Whitney Finalist: Miss Delacourt Has Her Day by Heidi Ashworth

I'm a firm believer that writers should read stories outside their favorite genres. For me, Miss Delacourt Has Her Day by Heidi Ashworth is one of those books. It's a Regency-era, light romance with a bit of comedy.

I have to admit, it took me a while to get into this story, but once I did I found it had quite a bit of humor and some interesting character perspectives. As I expected, there isn't a lot of action in the book, although there were some fun scenes near the end. Instead the drama lies in who knows what and who has what power. There were many times I had to stop and remind myself that "Miss Delacourt didn't know such-and-such". And even going so far as to try to tease out the motives behind different character's actions (which made me feel like quite the socialite).

There are a lot of different characters each with their own motives, knowledge, and background. The descriptions of the period were good. I got to "see" the clothing, furnishings, transportation, and social activities. And a lot of time spent working through the social ladder of the day.

I asked Heidi her thoughts on the story:
I wrote the first Miss Delacourt book 15 years prior to this one for a class and never really expected it to be published. As a result, I wrote it to please myself and it turned out to be fairly autobiographical when it comes to the central conflict. So, it was a pleasure to revisit the story between these characters who had a lot in common with my husband and me to give them more air time. After 15 years, I had a different perspective on things and hopefully a more mature one. 
Also, it was a fun challenge to make a sequel work in a genre that "doesn't do sequels". Really fun. Oh--and I adore the cover 
 Here's a taste of the writing from the Prologue:
     Sir Anthony Crenshaw was the happiest of men.
     . . .
     Why, then, did he feel such a presentiment of doom when the butler entered and placed a thick letter, the address scratched out in a familiar chicken scrawl, into his outstretched hand? The vellum inside was sure to be replete with more of the same, and since the author rarely had anything to say that promised even a hint of good news, Sir Anthony was tempted to toss the whole of it, unopened, into the fire that burned merrily in the grate. The thought that the composer of this ominous epistle, though in and of himself a harbinger of doom, rarely committed his nay-saying to paper and ink stayed his hand. Reluctantly, he broke the wax indented with the seal of the seventh Duke of Marcross and took in the shockingly brief message.
     Tony,          Reed is dead. Come at once.                                           Marcross
     Reed dead! Sir Anthony thrust the letter with shaking hand into the fire as he should have in the first place. As tragic as it was for his cousin, a man in the prime of life, to have met his end so suddenly, it was tantamount to disaster for Sir Anthony. He would mourn Reed's death, but he would mourn the demise of his own freedom that much more. Just a moment ago he had been himself, Sir Anthony, a man free of any constraint except for that of impending wedded bliss. Now, he walked from the room with feet like lead, as Crenshaw, the recalcitrant heir to death, duty, and the Duke of Marcross.
If you want to read more you can purchase the book here

Monday, March 12, 2012

Whitney Finalist: Rearview Mirror by Stephanie Black

Best first chapter of the finalists I've read.

I don't know what it was about the first chapter of Rearview Mirror by Stephanie Black, but when I got to the end I had to find my wife and read it to her. I'm definitely going to pick this apart once all my reading is over and figure out its secrets.

If you've never read one of Stephanie's books you're missing out. She's very talented. She's won the Whitney Award for the last three years, so she's the one to beat. And this category is no cakewalk either.

I've met Stephanie several times over the years. She is always pleasant and incredibly nice. I don't know where all those dark, creepy, mysterious thoughts hang out in her psyche, but you'd never know it to meet her.

I asked Stephanie what made this book stand out for her.
"One thing I particularly like about this book is the way several story lines feed into the main plot, all adding layers of interest and tension."
It's true. The storylines wove together nicely. And as for interest and tension (and creepiness and surprise and twists and layers of mystery), this book has them.

I wish you could read the whole first chapter, and lucky for you, it's already online. Here are the first few paragraphs to whet your appetite, and a link to the whole thing. Enjoy.
    Sleet whipped Linda Taylor across the face. She bent her head and trudged along the muddy path that led deeper into the wooded acres of her property. Bare branches dotted with spring buds wouldn’t provide much shelter, but this was exactly what everyone wanted for her, wasn’t it? Linda, cold and wet and alone. Shoved aside.

    On the top of the bank that sloped down to the creek, she stopped and listened to the water rushing onward to oblivion, unheeded. Just like Linda. She tried, but did anyone care?

    The wind tore at her hood, pulling it off her head. Sleet and rain soaked her hair, but she didn’t bother to fix her hood. It would only blow off again. She’d freeze out here, but better frostbite than going home to be insulted and ignored.

    She glanced over her shoulder, but saw only the empty path, bumpy with roots, and the gray-brown branches of trees trembling in the wind. No one cared enough to follow her. When she was dead of hypothermia, they’d realize what they’d done to her. Linda wiped her face with numb fingers. She’d forgotten her gloves. Why hadn’t someone at least brought her some gloves? How could she possibly remember her gloves when she was so upset?
Go ahead, click here to read the whole chapter. Then click here to learn where to buy it.
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