Monday, February 27, 2012

I'll let you draw your own conclusions

The wrong words. The wrongest words of all

(Edited to add, 11 Sept 2012 -- Dear STGRB Bullies:  I have no idea what you're looking for here, but feel free to look.  I won't go to your site, so I have no idea how much of my blog post you've copied.  Maybe it's enough to warrant a warning about copyright infringement?  Hmm, something you might what to think about.

(While you're here, however, you might want to take a look at some of my other posts.  I have no reviews on this blog, and very few comments directed at specific authors, but you should be able to figure out pretty quickly that I do not like, not at all, poorly written books and I really don't like authors, self- or traditionally-published, who make fools of themselves defending poorly written books.  I myself am in both publishing camps, so I have no reason to favor one over the other, but I absolutely loathe traditional publishers.  I've been screwed by four of them, and one of the four is continuing to do so.  I'm one of the most enthusiastic champions of self-publishing you're likely to find anywhere on the Internet, but I will offer no support for writers who publish crappy books and I will condemn very vehemently any writer who criticizes, attacks, or in any way attempts to silence legitimate reviewers of books.  Got that?)

I really didn't think this issue of copyright infringement/plagiarism would resurface so quickly, but it has.  It's being covered extensively at Dear Author and SBTB.

There is, in my humble opinion, never any excuse for stealing another writer's words and claiming them as one's own.  Never.  And because there's no excuse for it, there can be no forgiveness, at least from me.

But plagiarism isn't the only form of deceit being practiced these days in the publishing world.

It used to be, in the world of romance novel publishing, there were a couple of magazines devoted to reviewing romance novels.  The major literary review outlets -- Publishers Weekly, most prominently -- wouldn't touch them, so we writers were left with Romantic Times, Affaire de Coeur, and  a few others.  When the mall stores like Waldenbooks and B. Dalton were riding high, they had newsletters, and then the online review sites started up.  The commercial reviewers, of course, were more interested in selling books and kept the reviews almost universally positive.  The review sites could be more critical, but there was a personality behind them that provided some sense of reliability.

Now, with the advent of reader-posted reviews, how does the reader determine which reviews are honest?

Dear Author did a blog about an author who was sockpuppeting 5-star reviews for his own book and was caught impersonating himself in a forum discussion on Amazon.  What was eventually revealed was that the author was actually paying for commissioned reviews but then supplying the reviews!

Let me back up a bit and explain some of this.  At one point a couple of years ago, I registered with an outfit called Textbroker.  The way they work is that you sign up for the assignments posted on their website, you write the text, send it to them, and if the product meets their (and their client's) approval you get paid.  I'm assuming Textbroker is reasonably legitimate -- I'm still getting updates and newsletters from them -- but they're the facilitator in a deal like this.  (Edited to add: Textbroker is not involved, as far as I know, in the Mainak Dhar situation.  They may be involved in others.  I don't track them at all.)

So if I were an author who wanted a bunch of 5-star reviews for my book on Amazon (or anywhere else for that matters), I'd contract with Textbroker for, say, 25 reviews of 50 words each, to be posted with 5-star ratings, and I'd pay Textbroker $5 each for those reviews.

This would cost me $125.  Textbroker would post the assignment and wait for their subcontractors to sign up for it.  Textbroker takes a cut, say $1 each, and the other $4 would go to each of the 25 writers who wrote the reviews.  They'd get paid when the reviews went live.   According to the discussion on Amazon regarding the book in question, the author also stipulated that each reviewer had to buy a copy of the book out of the payment.  But there was evidence presented that the author also wrote the reviews, and the "reviewers" were merely supplying their name and ISP address for the author to hide behind.  When the reviews went live on Amazon (or wherever else they were being posted) no one would be able to trace them back to the author.  They'd look for all intents and purposes as legitimate, independent, unbiased reviews.

Except that they weren't.

The idea that this is no worse than a TV commercial in which actors are paid to pretend to be real people facing bankruptcy or suffering from painful joints or enjoying an enhanced sex life because they bought the right brand of pancake mix is possibly justified to a certain extent.  On the other hand, we all know that the actors are just actors and that they've been paid to pretend their knees hurt or their house is about to go into foreclosure.  We know that they've been given a script written by the purveyors of the product or service.

There's no such transparency with book reviews.  There's no way of knowing who's an honest and independent and unbiased reviewer and who's a paid shill and who's the author's spouse.

As Jane wrote on the Dear Author blog, it's sometimes difficult for the average reader to determine which reviews are sincere and which . . . aren't.  She suggested that things to look for are reviewers who only have one review or whose reviews are always 5-star.  I started with her advice and I decided to do a little sleuthing myself.

I decided to compare the reviews for five more or less random books.  These were my criteria as I began trolling the Amazon lists for likely subjects --

1.  Historical romance, at least 200 pages.
2.  Self-published digitally in the past 12 months, no reissues of print publication.
3.  No more than 99-cents, preferably free.
4.  At least three 5-star reviews.
5.  At least three 1-star reviews.
6.  Not discussed on any of the discussion sites/blogs I frequent.

I thought it would take only a few minutes to find five books fitting that description but in fact it was rather difficult.  For example, Beverly Kendall's All's Fair in Love and Seduction was only an estimated 136 pages.  Denise Domning's A Love for All Seasons had been published years ago and only had two reviews.  Charlotte Hawkins' My Lady Gisborne had no 1-star reviews

After an hour of combing through the Amazon listings, I finally settled on the following five, having adjusted my requirements slightly:

All's Fair in Love and Seduction by Beverly Kendall
Daughter of Deceit by Carrie James Haynes
My Lord Wicked by Cheryl Bolen
Eulogy's Secret by Grace Elliot
Seeing the Elephant by Leah Banicki

Here's what I discovered:

All's Fair in Love and Seduction
5-Star -- 9
4-Star -- 9
3-Star -- 1
2-Star -- 1
1-Star -- 3

Daughter of Deceit
5-Star -- 13
4-Star -- 3
3-Star -- 3
2-Star -- 7
1-Star -- 10

My Lord Wicked
5-Star -- 6
4-Star -- 0
3-Star -- 6
2-Star -- 0
1-Star -- 1

Eulogy's Secret
5-Star -- 10
4-Star -- 8
3-Star -- 0
2-Star -- 0
1-Star -- 0

Seeing the Elephant
5-Star -- 8
4-Star -- 7
3-Star -- 2
2-Star -- 8
1-Star -- 10

Authors Kendall and Bolen are not newcomers, and so I wasn't surprised to see a variety of voices in the reviews.  As I made a further analysis, I was able to see that many of their reviewers had multiple reviews under their belts.  Some of their reviewers had also reviewed some of these authors' other books.  I felt that for the most part, the reviews of these two books were honest, sincere personal opinions of people who had read at least part of the book.  There may have been some 5- and 4-star reviews by friends, but there were also independent reviews.  IMHO, of course.

Grace Elliot's Eulogy's Secret had only 4- and 5-star reviews, so I was a bit more skeptical.  However, two things made me trust these reviews.  First, many of the reviewers had significant portfolios of reviews to check.  Second, and perhaps more important, these reviews went beyond the mere gushing praise of "I loved this book from the first page and everyone who loves romance will love it too!"  I got the distinct impression that at least most, if not all, of the reviewers were independent of the author and had read most, if not all, of the book and liked it.

And that leaves Daughter of Deceit and Seeing the Elephant.  :sigh:  Where to begin.

Let's start with Seeing the Elephant because I think it demonstrates a real problem for readers navigating the now published books that used to be relegated to print publishers' and agents' slush piles, 99% of which was never contracted and therefore never printed.  If anyone read these books other than the authors and the first readers in the mail room, it was only friends, family, a critique partner or two, and maybe some contest judges.  Now, however, these books are not only out for public viewing, they are for sale.  Authors are expecting readers to pay for the privilege of reading them; it used to be the other way around.

There's a huge disparity in the review ratings for Seeing the Elephant, with eight 5-star and ten 1-star reviews.  All of the 1- and 2-star reviews lament horrible grammar, especially shifts in verb tenses.  The author -- and in one case her husband -- replied to several of these critical reviews by announcing that she had engaged an editor and errors would be fixed.  In at least one of those responses dated 2 November 2011, she states that a revised version has been uploaded, but in others she says she's working with the editor and expects the revised version to be ready after "the first of the year."  So at some point the author herself acknowledges that the book as it was uploaded to Amazon in May 2011 was not, in fact, ready for publication.  She acknowledges that it needs editorial assistance.

Then how does that square with all those 5-star reviews that saw nothing wrong with it?

Well, to begin with, one of those 5-star reviews is from the author's husband.  Another is from the author herself.  Not hiding behind a pseudonym or a sock puppet.  Just right out there.  And I guess the fact that they're not hiding who they are makes it somehow okay?  I mean, I'm at a loss here.  But they are certainly not impartial independent readers with no stake in the game.  Doesn't the person looking for a book to buy generally assume that the reviewers are reasonably unbiased?  There are, in fact, some reviewers on Eulogy's Secret who explicitly state that they do not know the author and have no connection with her.  (Edited to add:  I noticed on doing some additional surfing that Sharon Ihle, under her own name, posted a 5-star review for her digital reprint of Dakota Dream,  the text of the review being an attributed reprint from the original Romantic Times review by Kathe Robin.)

Somehow or other I doubt the same can be said for all of the other six 5-star reviewers of Seeing the Elephant.  Leaving out Jeff and Leah Banicki, of the other six, four of them have only reviewed one book -- Seeing the Elephant.  Their reviews are very short, only a couple of lines, and really say nothing about the book except that it's good.

However, to be fair, many of the 1- and 2-star reviews were also very short, and eight were by people who had no other reviews on file with Amazon.  The distinction here is that all the low-score reviews cited the horrible writing style, poor grammar, shifts of tense, etc., as their reasons for not liking or not even being able to read more than a few pages of the book.  To many of them, author Banicki responded that she appreciated their comments and was going to engage an editor to help her revise the book. 

In other words, she knew they were telling the truth.  She did not try to defend her work against them, nor cite the glowing reviews with 5 stars, which suggests even she didn't believe those 5-star reviews.  Was it because she knew the reviewers were friends or family who were just being nice?  I don't know.  I can speculate, but I don't know for sure.

So. . . .
Daughter of Deceit by Carrie James Haynes features an elegant, evocative, gothicky cover photo by Konrad Bak.  Yes, folks, I cruise through Dreamstime, too.

Of the 13 reviewers who gave Daughter of Deceit 5-star reviews, six have no other reviews on file.  Five of the remaining seven have other reviews, but only of other books by Haynes, either under that name or writing as Jerri Hines.  The remaining two reviewers, identified as "Ruby W." and "RCardello," have reviewed other books, but they have given all of them 5 stars.   "Ruby W." reviewed four of Haynes/Hines' books, giving all of them 5 stars. 

Interestingly enough, Ruby and "RCardello" also reviewed books by Annette Blair, and of course gave them 5 stars also.

According to Jerri Hines' blog both Annette Blair and Ruth Cardello are friends of hers. 

And while there's nothing wrong with friends helping friends, it does appear to me -- if not to anyone else -- that only friends and family members of Carrie James Haynes/Jerri Hines are giving Daughter of Deceit 5 star reviews.  (Edited to add: One of the 5-star reviewers of Daughter of Deceit is identified as "Ramona."  Another of Haynes' novels is dedicated to her mother, whose name is Ramona.)

So let's move on to the 4-star reviews.  The three reviewers in this group have only reviewed a total of eight books between them, and four of the eight are Haynes/Hines titles.  Again, this is beginning to look suspiciously incestuous, especially when on 20 February she announced that she asked a friend "...specifically to give my book a great review, not just a good review but a great one" to test a theory that she had a "stalker" reviewer who was posting a negative review in response whenever a positive review was posted.  There are three 5-star reviews posted to Daughter of Deceit on the 20th, 21st, and 22nd of February.  All three are by reviewers with no previous reviews on Amazon.  Is one of them the review Haynes requested from a friend?

She concludes that blog post by writing "If I'm wrong, then we'll know I'm paranoid. We'll see. Should know within the next couple of hours... "

There were subsequently a number of 2- and 1-star reviews posted, but Haynes has not blogged since then.

In contrast to the 4- and 5-star reviewers, those who gave Daughter of Deceit the lowest marks in the 1- and 2-star reviews had a much more extensive background of reviewing, with four out of the 17 having 20 or more prior reviews.  There were seven, however, for whom this was their first and so far only review.  Those with more reviews, however, also had a wider range of ratings, which tended to indicate that they were giving honest reports rather than just blanket rave reviews.

The content of the negative reviews was also different from the 5-star.  The positive reviews were all quite brief, pretty much saying they loved the story.  Some gave a few details of the plot, but not much.  The negative reviews were also for the most part very short, with all citing the bad writing -- grammatical errors, usage mistakes, and so on -- for their low rating.  Many readers said they could not read more than a small portion of the book due to the distraction of the poor writing.

One reviewer provided a surprisingly extensive analysis, and for her/his pains was rewarded with follow-up from one of the 4-star reviewers, accusing her/him of not reading the whole book (which is not a requirement to post a review anyway) and of disliking the book because it had a gay character.

The replies to the negative reviews can be informative, and this was true of Seeing the Elephant as well, where the author and/or her husband posted about the revised version either being available or soon to be available.

Both authors have admitted their books needed additional editing, but neither has apologized to readers for putting up unedited, poorly written manuscripts and expecting people to pay for them.  Haynes believes there may be someone stalking her book to post negative reviews, and apparently she thinks it's because she has a gay character.  According to her blog, she's a conservative Christian, and that is a demographic that has had some difficulties dealing with the LGBTQI population.  Is it possible Haynes is working through an issue that has come home to her?  Yes, I'm sure it's possible.  And maybe it's difficult for her, so she's chosen the arena of her novel to explore it.

But none of the critical reviewers have made any mention of the gay character; it's the 5-star reviewers who seem to have the need to add the minor spoiler that oh, by the way, the major secondary character Charles is gay.  I'm sure, therefore, it is just a really strange coincidence that two of the 5-star reviewers of Daughter of Deceit style themselves as "CharlyG." and "Charlie G."  (sarcasm off)

Preliminary conclusion, then:  Is it lying to have your friends give your book favorable reviews?  Personally, I think it is.  I think the reader who is being asked to hand over cash for the privilege of reading a book has a right to know if the reviewers have any kind of vested interest in the success of the book or have any reason to be biased in their opinion.  Personally, in my opinion, not a single one of the 5-star reviewers of Daughter of Deceit or Seeing the Elephant is an unbiased reviewer.  I think some of the other reviewers, even with 5-star reviews, of the other books are at least somewhat impartial.

Furthermore, I think this is a problem that's going to haunt the self-published authors for a long time.  There are no gatekeepers any more.  None.  Except maybe the review websites.  I recommend readers find those, find a few they trust, and be very wary of those accolades on Amazon.

Lying is wrong.  Claiming someone else's words as your own in a case of plagiarism or copyright infringement is wrong, morally and sometimes legally.  But giving someone else your words and telling them to claim them as their own for your financial benefit as in the case of Mainak Dhar or as I strongly suspect is the case of Daughter of Deceit and Seeing the Elephant, is wrong, too.  Really, really wrong.

More on this subject later.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The wrong stuff: Too much of it and how to get rid of it

I have too much stuff.

Part of the reason for having all this stuff is that I can.  Either I was able to afford to buy it at the time or it was given to me or whatever.  None of it is stolen, and I didn't go into debt to get it or not pay my bills. 

Another part of the reason is that I have too many hobbies.  The collection of books is because I write and I need fiction for comparison and non-fiction for research.  Then there are the tools and the supplies for the woodworking and the lapidary: saws and sanders and lathes and drills and grinders and so on, plus the huge pile of wood and the boxes and boxes and boxes and buckets and buckets and buckets and piles and piles of rocks.  Add in the fibre and fabric crafts with the tubs of fabric and drawers of ribbon, the buttons and patterns and yarn and thread and two sewing machines. 

A third part is that growing up I often felt that I was doing without a lot of things other kids had and indeed took for granted.  So I'm sort of making up for what I perceived as the deprivations of my childhood.

But then there's a fourth reason, and it's a bit scarier.  Not only do I tend to accept any offers of stuff that other people are getting rid of, but I seem to have a very difficult time getting rid of anything of my own, even the most obviously useless and worthless stuff.

My paternal grandparents saved stuff, too.  My grandmother taught primary grades and saved a lot of household things to use in her classroom.  My dad inherited that tendency.  When my parents moved from the home I'd grown up in, my dad had a whole collection of electrical cords he had cut off lamps and other appliances, because he never knew when he might need a cord.  Dozens and dozens and dozens of them hung from the ceiling over his workbench in the basement of that house,  until my mother ordered him to get rid of them when they moved.  He smuggled a few into the new house.  He had to have his stuff, too.

When my husband and kids and I moved from Indiana to Arizona in 1985, I had to get rid of a lot of stuff, and it was painful to do so.  Very painful.  Almost as soon as we arrived, I began acquiring things, almost as if I were frantic to re-establish my stash of stuff.  Moving from Buckeye to Apache Junction in 2005 didn't entail quite the same depth of de-stuffing, but I have more room at this house and so I've been filling the space steadily with stuff.  More and more and more stuff.

I love my stuff, and because so much of it is oriented toward my hobbies, I consider it valuable material that will -- or at least can -- someday be turned into something salable.  And that's my rationale for not throwing any of it away.  Ever.

Well, hardly ever.  I'm not one of those poor souls who can't throw away a gum wrapper or a newspaper.  I have no difficulty getting rid of trash.  Or at least the obvious trash.  And I try to recycle as much of the paper trash as possible.  (We don't have any facility for recycling anything else.)

For a while a couple of years ago I set myself a quota:  Every day, throw five away.  Each day I had to find at least five items of stuff to get rid of.  They could be small items, but not too small.  A single broken paperclip, for instance, didn't count.  A dried up and useless 15-cent ball point pen did.

Why is this important? Why does it matter at all?  Because the stuff has taken over.

I can't find things that I want when I want or need them.  Yesterday I spent half an hour looking for my paints.  I used to have a huge box of acrylic craft paints, but when I went to that box, I discovered most of them had removed from that box. When I finally found what I was looking for, I also discovered I had already disposed of most of the old, dried up ones.  I had forgotten doing it.

So I have once again set myself the task of eliminating stuff from my premises.

What does this have to do with writing? you ask.

For one thing, it will keep me from wasting half an hour of valuable and scarce time looking for things I've already thrown away.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The right words and the right facts

One of the self-published e-books I started reading this past week irritated me to the point that I pretty much gave up reading it about 20% of the way through.  It wasn't that the facts in the book were wrong, but the plot made no sense. 

There's no excuse for that.  One of the basics of writing a novel is that it needs to make sense.  Every author needs to ask him or her self "Would real people act like this under these circumstances?" and if the answer is no, then the plot needs to be fixed.

As an example:  The classic gothic romance plot features the innocent young woman in the spooky mansion with the brooding hero who tells her not ever to enter the rooms in the old wing of the mansion.  The innocent young heroine, of course, has to go to the old wing in order for the plot to develop because that's where the hero's old nurse, who never got over losing his love to his first wife, still lives, violently insane.  The old wing is cold and dark and there are rats running around in it and gigantic spiderwebs everywhere.  The doors leading into the old wing are padlocked, and servants warn our young heroine that the floors are unsafe and the roof is falling in.  There is nothing she could possibly need there and she has no reason to go there. 

In a poorly written version of this plot, the heroine would just wander in there because she can't control her curiosity.  She just has to know why she's not supposed to go there.  All the information she's been given isn't enough for her to stay out.  She goes in anyway, with no earthly reason.  Or she just gets lost because she can never remember which way to turn at the end of The Hallway.  With either excuse, she's TSTL -- or "too stupid to live."

In a better plotted version, she's given a reason to go to the old wing.  She wrestles with her better judgment and believes the warnings but is compelled by outside motivations to find a way in.  Maybe it's because a beloved pet has become lost or whatever, but the motivation must be logical.  We read this and we say, yes, she was told not to go there, but she's going to go anyway because she has a good reason to.

Another kind of error involves internal facts or internal consistency.  For example, sticking with that hypothetical gothic, our heroine arrives at the mansion ahead of her luggage and has to wait for her wardrobe to arrive in a day or two.  On her first night, she suffers from the lack of a warm cloak.  No provision is made for her comfort -- no clothes from the master's dead wife or from a servant or whatever.  But the next morning, the master takes her for a walk on the windswept moors. Wait a minute!  She was cold without a cloak the night before, and now she's walking on the moors?  Why isn't she freezing to death?

Again, this is the kind of error of internal fact that a careful writer won't make -- or will at least catch before self publishing.  Critique groups or partners are great for this kind of internal error catching.

What about errors of external fact?  You know the kind of thing I'm talking about.  The contemporary story set in Chicago that has the hero and heroine meeting at the corner of Dearborn and LaSalle.  The millionaire who loses everything in the 1929 stock market crash and commits suicide by throwing himself from the top of the Empire State Building.  Plate armor on a Norman knight in Duke William's 1066 invasion of England.  You can get an idea of the worst of this sort of thing by looking at reviews of Spoil of War and Celtic Storms.  It's like, did the authors ever open a history book?

Research is a whole lot easier today than it was 20 or 25 years ago.  The Internet has put so much information at our fingertips.  There should be no excuse for the kinds of errors noted in the two above examples.  Virtually all the details are easily confirmed -- or countered -- with a little time spent on the computer.

Which brings me to my current dilemma.  Or quandary.  Or whatever.

Difficult as it is to believe, I wrote Firefly in 1984.  I had no computer, no Internet, and only the limited resources of the Carnegie Public Library in Angola, Indiana.  My 10-day vacation in Arizona had given me some understanding of what the territory looked like, and I was able to do some research via interlibrary loan.  But even ILL could be expensive -- the borrower had to pay for postage at least -- and afforded only limited accessibility, unless one could afford to photocopy a whole book.  Checking details for historical accuracy was, in many cases, difficult if not impossible.

I spent several days trying to find out when the familiar stethoscope was invented.  Could my 1884 physician have used one?  What about hypodermic needles and syringes?  Even asking a friend whose husband sold medical equipment didn't provide conclusive answers, and so I ultimately decided to leave out any details rather than make an error.

Today, however, quick Internet searches provide that information in a flash.  And I'm able to purchase a copy of Medicine in Territorial Arizona for less than $10, including shipping, and have it available for any research I might want to do at any time, rather than only being able to take notes for a couple of weeks and then send it back.

By the time Firefly was purchased in 1987, I had moved to Arizona and had a much better feel for what I wanted to convey about the area in the novel.  So when my editor -- who shall remain nameless because she's still active in the industry -- began asking questions about the accuracy of details in the manuscript, I was able to confirm that yes, Arizona looked like the way I depicted it in the book. 

Details of historical facts, however, were a bit more difficult.  Did screen doors exist in 1880s Arizona? she wanted to know, for example. 

In my personal collection I had photographs of houses from the late 1800s, probably 1890s, in the Chicago and Milwaukee area that appeared to have typical screen doors.  I had another photograph of a house in Arizona that also clearly had screens on the windows, but though the house had been built prior to 1888, the photograph itself wasn't dated and could have been taken well into the 20th century, so the screens could have been added many decades later.  After following many false leads, I ended up on the phone with a Mr. Garrison, an architectural historian who at that time was with the Arizona State Historical Society.  His research -- he had to call me back after checking -- revealed that metal hardware cloth was indeed available for making screen doors and could have been brought to Arizona along with other consumer goods once the railroad reached the territory in the 1870s.

The screen door stayed in Firefly.  So did a number of other seeming anachronisms, because I'd located information that confirmed their existence in 1880s Arizona.  The manuscript was edited, and the book was scheduled for publication in October 1988.

I had long been a fan of cover artist Morgan Kane so when my editor asked for cover art suggestions, I brought up his name and was overjoyed to learn he would do the cover. 

It's a lovely cover.  It's also very inaccurate.  There are no pine trees in the story.  Cottonwoods, yes, but not pines.  No green meadows with yellow flowers.  No gently flowing river.  Julie never wore clothes like that.  Never.  But hey, I got my Morgan Kane cover, it looked good, and he nailed Del Morgan perfectly, so I didn't complain.  And who cared about inaccurate cover art anyway?

(Okay, Christina Dodd got the heroine with three hands, but that's probably an extreme example. . . )

My subsequent books for Zebra Heartfire and Pocket had worse covers, whether inaccurate or unappealing or just plain blah, so I've never complained about Firefly's cover.

But what do I do now as I'm putting together a revised digital version, 28 years after the original was written?

Well, for one thing, I'm restoring parts that were excised when the original manuscript was deemed too long.  I'm putting back in a couple of scenes deleted as objectionable.  I'm adding to the narrative information that should have been provided to clarify issues that some readers found confusing. 

But I'll also be able to add details that I couldn't 28 years ago because I simply didn't have access to the research.  Will it make for a better book?  I hope so, because I always felt it was lacking.  It's not a matter of showing off research skills or fascinating tidbits; it's about making the story come more alive.

The problem is that having access to so much more information has revealed more than one rather significant error of fact.  I don't want readers to head to the google and start checking every word, but do I want to incorporate every single iota of accuracy, or do I want to leave the errors in place, slide in an afterword with explanation, or what?

I don't know for sure yet, but I'll probably fix most of them, make the book as reasonably historically accurate as I can.  I think it will be fun.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

My life needs a working outline

Back in the days when writing was my major "hobby" and I was active in both national RWA and a local chapter, I gave a lot of talks and workshops on the value, or even the absolutely necessity, of a working outline for a novel.  Where does the story start.  How will it end.  How will the characters get from the opening to the closing.  Backstory.  Motivations.  Complications.  Figure out where all the pieces go beforehand, then the writing will be easier.  And for me it invariably was.

Now I find that my life is in desperate need of a working outline.

Of course, my life has changed dramatically since "those days."  My children are grown, married, and moved to distant parts of the country so I've been relieved of parenting chores.  However, I'm widowed now too, so it's not just a matter of supporting myself financially with a part-time work-at-home day job but also taking care of all the household chores.  (Having a roommate who helps with utility and grocery bills and who does some of the mid-sized maintenance chores is balanced on the negative side by having higher utility and grocery bills and more low-level personal maintenance chores.) 

Also I've taken on other "hobbies," some of which provide part of that financial support with a much faster return on investment than the writing.

I know what my problem is -- I want to get rid of my day job.  It's not a particularly lucrative one, but it pays the bills.  It's not a particularly onerous one, but it drives me nuts because it's so boring and it deprives me of time I would rather spend writing or making jewelry or sewing quilts or doing just about anything.

So where and how and when am I supposed to find time for writing?  I don't know.  Yet.

Monday, February 13, 2012

And then breaking through the concrete

The nasty discoveries of the week-end took time to resolve, and as should be abundantly clear to me, I don't have any time to spare.  However, defending the rights of creative people, whether they are visual artists, performers, or writers, has long been one  of my priorities.  Way back when I was pointing out how much of Ginna Gray's  RWR workshops were lifted word for word from  Shelly Lowenkopf's 1982 article in The Writer to calling Romantic Times with the information that Sylvie Sommerfield had copied Jan Westcott's The Hepburn to letting Nora Roberts know via our little nascent group on AOL that there appeared to be passages in books by her friend Janet Dailey that a reader had spotted as copied.  It's ugly to think that someone steals like this, as if the words and ideas and visions come into our heads are nothing but randomly firing neurons and therefore free for the taking.

Sometimes, however, there can be small nuggets of gold in the tons of black sand.

Yesterday, while trying to track down the non-fiction works that had been stolen and self-re-published by "Robert Wiseman," I came across the original of one of them:  Time Management for Creative People:  Manage the mundane - create the extraordinary by Mark McGuinness.  Published online in 2007 as a PDF, the 32-page ebook contains the following copyright notice:

This e-book is published under a Creative Commons License which allows you to copy and distribute the e-book as long as you keep it intact in its original format, credit the original author and do not use it for commercial purposes.
As someone who has difficulty managing time to find enough for my creative endeavors, I was immediately intrigued by this but I had to put off reading it until I could notify the author of the apparent theft and then deal with all the other household chores that needed to be taken care of on a Sunday afternoon before dashing out for supper at the Asian buffet. 

When we returned from supper and had let the dogs out and so on and so forth, I turned on the computer and discovered that all of the Kevin Peters/Robert Wiseman had been removed from Amazon.  Yessss!

I wondered, however, if Mark McGuinness, in the UK, would ever find the infringing works.  The answer to that question was in my e-mail box this morning.  He looked and couldn't find them.  This gives me the happy task of letting him know they've been removed and pointing him to this blog and the Dear Author discussion for the details.

In addition, I have been introduced to the work of Mark McGuinness. 

I have to do something to break through the concrete of reading bad books and taking on new projects.  I have to focus on the essential.  Maybe stumbling across all those horrible book titles was a karmic seremdipity.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to tend to the urgent -- the day job -- and then get on to the creative.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Priming the Pump with Concrete

Under normal circumstances, I would not mention a book by name to pan it, and because I hate traditional publishers so much, I don't want to discourage anyone from trying their hand at self-e-publishing.


As I was perusing the recent releases on for Amazon's Kindle platform last Friday night, I started seeing some new titles that really irritated me.  Without looking at anything else, without looking at the cover art or who the author was or anything else -- just the titles -- I was annoyed.

Bad Luck Love's Me


Knight's of the Realm


He concedes to Her Victory


A Warriors Romance

Normally I would just have skipped over one or even two of these, but because I had limited my search to only historical romances released on Kindle in the past 30 days, I had a funny feeling there was more to this situation than met the eye.

What I found upon doing some more refining of my search was more than a dozen titles published in the past couple of weeks from a group of seemingly interchangeable authors and editors:  Kevin Peters, Sara Rice, Arthur Stone, Rose Stoneman, Jennifer Watson, John Wilson, Robert Wiseman, Rachel Scott, Kelly Dixson, Kevin Wiseman, James Peters, etc.   As far as I can tell, the first of these titles was published 27 January 2012.  They include not only historical romances but also erotica and what appear to be contemporary stories.

I certainly wasn't going to buy any of them, and as I began reading other people's reviews of them, I realized I wasn't the only person who had complaints.  Other readers were remarking on the poor grammar in the titles and horrible formatting of the text.

But then it got worse.  One of the Amazon reviewers reported one of the books as essentially stolen -- published on Amazon under another title and with other authors/editors/etc. but originally e-published by someone else.  The "someone else" had also put the book on Amazon.

As I began researching further, I discovered that virtually all the books published in the past two weeks by "Kevin Peters" and/or his friends were stolen.  They'd all been published somewhere else, including many of them right on Amazon. 

Not knowing how else to get the word out, I sent an email to Jane Litte at Dear Author.  Within an hour or so, I received an email reply that she had posted about it on the Dear Author website and Tweeted it as well.  Within another couple of hours, reviews were being posted to most of the Kevin Peters books, reviews that warned the books were stolen.  Some of the authors now have been alerted and have reported the infringement of their copyrights to Amazon.

UPDATE:  I sent my original e-mail to Jane Litte at 11:55 A.M. Arizona time.  By 7:30 P.M. Arizona time, all the Kevin Peters and Robert Wiseman books had been removed from Amazon.

During additional research after posting this blog, I discovered that "Robert Wiseman" was publishing non-fiction titles that were every bit as stolen as the romance and erotica titles published by "Kevin Peters."  Whether they are one and the same, I have no way of knowing.  But all the books are now gone from Amazon.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Next Effort

As someone once said, there is no rest for the wicked and the righteous don't need it.

I no longer know what "rest" is.

At the beginning of this week, I drove down to Tucson with a friend to take in a couple of the many rock and gem shows.  My stated intention was to buy some beads that I wanted to make into rings to sell at upcoming arts-and-crafts shows, and I did that.  However, while I was there, my day job called and informed me they would be adding to my daily workload.  No, they weren't asking me I wanted extra work or even could fit it into my schedule.  There really was no option to decline.  They had taken on more work than they had staff to complete it, so existing staff would have to do more, whether they wanted to or not.

Of course, the crucial part of this is that not only does the day job thus take more of my time, time I could have devoted to both my writing and my various craft endeavors, but it also puts additional pressure on my hands and fingers.  I've been lucky enough so far to have avoided serious repetitive motion injury pain, but every time I push the work capacity, the hands and fingers and wrists let me know there is a limit.  Right now, I'm at the edge of that limit.  I will not be pushed over.

So what can I do about it?  Not much, but there are options.  One is to follow through on my plans to get my other novels onto Amazon and Smashwords. 

I unexpectedly received a payment from Smashwords for copies of Secrets to Surrender that had been sold, and while it wasn't a huge payment, it was a reminder that there are people out there who are buying and reading these old books.  I need to stop feeling sorry for myself and get busy.

So I'm cleaning up Firefly.  With any luck, it maybe be on Amazon and Smashwords in the next couple of weeks.

And maybe I'll make a few rings out of those beads I bought.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Another week ends and another effort begins

Daily life intrudes far too often,, disrupting my intentions and my efforts to escape the humdrum.  Mired in the humdrum, I lose perspective.  And that's what I need to regain.  It's not always easy.  The catch-44 of survival -- it's twice as bad as catch-22 -- dominates everything.  Not just the sucky day job but the leaky faucet, the dogs' vaccinations, the aging HVAC system, the aging car, the taxes, everything.  So I fall into bouts of situational depression, which are not alleviated by Zoloft or Xanax or any of those other miracle drugs that make the lousy world look better even when it isn't.

Not having a partner, I have to deal with all of this by myself.  There's no one to talk to about it, no one to offer advice or distraction.  So this coming Monday I'm driving down to Tucson with an artist friend, and that 90 minute drive each way will be our opportunity to hash out all our frustrations.

In some ways I shouldn't allow myself to get like this.  My financial situation is not dire.  My home is paid for and I have the income from social security that is sufficient for survival, if just barely.  With the contribution from my roommate for groceries and utilities, plus my income from the day job, I am reasonably comfortable and can put something aside.  Not much, mind you, but something.  Barring any major unexpected expenses, I'm okay.

But I'm not happy.  I'm not doing any of the things that feed my creative soul.  That has to change.

So one of the things I did this morning to prime the creative pump, so to speak, was start reading one of the recently-published (by which I mean anything after 2005) historical romance novels I recently downloaded to my Kindle-for-PC.  Two pages in, I knew it was crap.  TWO PAGES.  What is wrong with the romance writing industry?  Does no one know how to write any more?

No, I'm not going to tell you what the book is or who the author is or anything else about it.  But reading that piece of dreck, even just a couple hundred words of it, reminded me that I need to find a way to do more writing.  Yes, this is a distraction, and yes, I should finish this stupid blog and get back to "real" writing.

Oh, and I got my 1099 from Amazon for my 2011 sales of Secrets to Surrender.  That was an eye-opener, but at least I ought to be able to improve on that for 2012.  Only if I get myself to work!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

So much for resolutions, promises, goals -- all down the toilet

I would like to say that the reason this blog has been inactive for so long is that I've been writing and writing and writing, and managing all the money that's come in as a result of my writing, but that would be a lie, and I really try not to lie except within the framework of fiction.  This blog is not fiction.

But it is a confessional of sorts.  It is my opportunity to put in the public sphere some of the experiences -- I would never presume to call it wisdom -- that have brought me to whatever point I'm at when I wrote that particular post.  Perspectives do change as the experience that informs them changes.  In other words, we look at Christmas much differently after we learn the truth about Santa Claus than we did before.

I came to this blog with all the same excitement and enthusiasm and hope that accompanied my long-ago writing endeavors.  The dreams I had set aside 15 or more years ago came back to life.  I revised and digitally republished one of my books, and I hoped to do the same for the others.  I was looking forward to restoring one of those books, Moonsilver,  to its original intended length and adding the segment that had been left out when the length was chopped from the 130,000 words of the original proposal to 100,000 via the contract.

Oh, the hopes and dreams and enthusiasm!

But Pocket Books would not relinquish the rights to Moonsilver and held onto them via the contract terms that said they only had to make the book "available" to readers.  What appeared to be a print-on-demand edition was offered at Amazon and Barnes and Noble online, at an outrageous price with no cover art until several days after the official "release."  Within three weeks, even that much had disappeared from

And the sales of Secrets to Surrender languished, generating far less income than anticipated and not quite even recouping the cost of a professionally executed cover. 

But other events occurred that chipped away at my enthusiasm, and even at my faith in myself.  People I trusted proved to be, shall we say, untrustworthy.  I began to doubt my judgment even -- or maybe especially -- when it came to my writing.  Was any of it any good?  Was I wasting my time?  Should I give up my dreams -- again -- and just spend the rest of my life transcribing accident claim statements for insurance companies?

The argument at Dear Author didn't help.  The backstabbing by two long-time friends was devastating.  I felt as if there wasn't much reason to continue.  Just go through life one boring, directionless day at a time. . . . forever.

Has anything changed?  No, not really.  There have been some small successes, all outside of the writing sphere.  I put some of my jewelry and other crafts on an Etsy site and made a few sales.  I did well at the art shows I participated in, especially the Canyon Arts Festival in Gold Canyon the end of January.  But
the ongoing disappointment and frustration lingered.

I'm not sure how I'm going to shake it off, but I refuse to let Caroline Tolley and Pocket Books defeat me again.