Cover Reveal: “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” by Jessica Scott

I am pleased to be part of the cover reveal for Jessica Scott’s upcoming release on November 5, 2013. I’ll Be Home For Christmas is Vic Carponti’s Christmas novella. For those of you who have read Because of You and Anything For You, I am sure that like me, you found Carponti’s wit and humor irresistible and perhaps had you begging (or stalking) Jessica Scott for his own story. 😉

I'll be home for christmas_final

Barnes & Noble:
If you have not read anything by Jessica Scott, I highly encourage you to do so. Not only is her contemporary romance steamy but her non-fiction writings are profound. For more information, see her website.

Obsessed with Fictional Characters

Have you ever read a book that just speaks to you? What about characters that keep coming to mind in your everyday life? I run into these problems on a fairly regular basis. At times, I find myself looking up movies or television shows or even books mentioned by characters in other books. Those who have watched the 2007 film, “The Jane Austen Book Club” know what I am talking about. Some characters just latch on in my psyche and don’t let go. I recently found myself watching the television show, “Storage Wars,” because it was mentioned repeatedly in a book I recently finished reading and I’ve added “Summer Nights” by Van Halen to my summer playlist on my IPod after it was noted in another recently finished book. But there are some books and some characters that I cannot get enough of nor seem to get enough of re-reading their stories.

My recent obsession has been with Pamela Clare’s “Breaking Point” novel, part of the I-Team series. It is the story of U.S. Chief Deputy Marshal, former Navy SEAL, and Medal of Honor recipient, Zach McBride and Investigative journalist Natalie Benoit. I absolutely love the heroes of the I-Team series but Zach has truly become my absolute favorite. As far as heroines go, Natalie is at the top as well. Their love story is one that pulls at my heart strings. I have re-read this book dozens and dozens of times (I am not exaggerating here at all) and I have the audiobook downloaded on my IPod so I can listen to Kaleo Griffith tell their story while I work around the house, painting, cutting the grass, etc. This is truly my favorite romance novel of all time; so far, the next I-Team book is set to be released in November 2013.

I find that reading “Breaking Point,” while it resets my book hangover, also serves as a great palate cleanser after reading one or more mediocre or disappointing books. I find it helpful after reading a lot of intense theoretical or biographical nonfiction as well.

There are some characters that appear in multiple books within a series that continue to cross my mind as well, namely Vic Carponti of Jessica Scott’s “Because of You” and “Anything For You” novels. Keep in mind, Carponti is a secondary character in all of these stories but he will be getting his own novella this Christmas and I cannot wait! Carponti has the best sense of humor and I have a lot of his dialogue bookmarked on my kindle to look at when I need a little cheering up.

When I look at the range of fictional characters that call me back to their stories, some of the traits that they share include their protective nature, courage, they tend to be wounded in some way, physically or emotionally, and finally they are very passionate about their work, their love interest, their hobbies, etc. I also like intense heroes, which is why Shane Garrison from “Because of You” and “Anything for You” by Jessica Scott is also among my favorite heroes. As far as wounded souls are concerned, Kayne Dobrescu of “Razing Kayne” by Julieanne Reeves tops the list. In addition to Pamela Clare’s I-Team series, there are series that have so many amazing heroes that it becomes difficult for me to rate them although I do tend to revisit them on occasion, including Julie Ann Walker’s BKI series, Lori Foster’s Men Who Walk the Edge of Honor and Love Undercover series, and Maya Banks’ KGI series. [By the way on the Favorites page of this site, I have hyperlinks to the author pages of the authors I have mentioned here]

What about you? What books or characters do you find yourself re-reading or thinking about? What characteristics draw these characters to you?

On A Lighter Note: The Movie Industry

Taking a 180 degree turn from the more serious content that I blog about, today I am going to take some time to talk about movies. I am a huge movie fan. When I was in graduate school, I could not afford cable or satellite so I rented movies very frequently from a small mom and pop video rental store (I’ve been boycotting Blockbuster for a very long time now, but that is a subject for a different posting). It was wonderful until the clerk started commenting on how many movies I watch a month. Not cool. I know I am obsessed, but please don’t point it out. When you study psychology, you learn that everyone has little personality quirks and the only thing that separates the personality quirk from a full-blown disorder is whether the quirk negatively impacts your day-to-day life. My obsessive movie watching and book reading are such examples of my quirks, along with my little OCD ritual I do when I exit my car (making sure lights are off, radio off, vents off, keys in hand, and then exit). Apparently this is very amusing for my passengers to watch and especially if they interrupt me because I have to start from the beginning again. J

But I digress, I was talking about movies. I have been very disappointed in the movie releases in the past few years. I don’t understand why there are so many remakes. It is one thing to remake a movie originally filmed 50 or more years ago, and even then, depending on the film, I may not be pleased that a remake is taking place. In my opinion, there is never a reason to remake an Alfred Hitchcock movie. However, remaking movies from the 1990s is just plain nuts. Some remakes are completed with an even shorter time span in between releases, i.e. “Death at a Funeral” (2007, 2010). Are there really no new ideas in Hollywood? And what is it with several studios releasing similar movies at similar times, for example “No Strings Attached” and “Friends With Benefits.” Was I the only one who thought this odd? It seems that if Hollywood is not sending out a remake, it is adding another sequel or even breaking down a story into several separate films (i.e. “The Hobbit.”). There are so many amazing stories out there that would translate well to screen but alas, they are not translated into film. There are amazing writers out there that could produce an original screenplay but yet do not have the access or clout to be heard and get the funding to make the movie. As a movie watcher, this is very disappointing.

Now there are some films that I would call iconic and thus not really appropriate for a remake, however, my lack of a degree in film studies shows here because Hollywood clearly disagrees. Let me start with “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” Why mess with such a great original? How could it possibly get updated and still be funny?

I would like to see a remake of “Gone With The Wind,” but only if the screenplay is written so that the film more closely represents the message and story of the original book. If those changes are not made, why mess with the chemistry of Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh?

So Hollywood, can’t you open your mind and try for some new ideas? Maybe you should step away from your usual contingent of writers and open your doors to some of the lesser known writers. And don’t insult our intelligence and only go with obvious story lines with no depth, but challenge the movie watcher to engage in the film and enjoy a lasting discussion and dialogue to follow. I guess this is why I’ve been watching so many documentaries lately. It’s nice not to be treated like I am a non-thinking consumer, but rather a critical thinker capable of considering a vast array of ideologies and possibilities.

The Authentic Character and Plot

One of the things that irks me when I am reading any book is when I encounter the inauthentic character, dialogue, and/or plot. You know what I’m talking about. The female cop who cries incessantly, trembles in fear when she draws her weapon, and doesn’t know any hand-to-hand combat. Then there’s a hero who is former military helicopter pilot who has flown in numerous missions under fire and during sandstorms but cannot seem to pilot a helicopter through a windy city. Really? How do these characters keep their jobs? It is not to say that certain professions require perfect behavior 24/7, but there is something about making sure a character’s personality characteristics are consistent with the demands of the profession you assign them. Yes, even are most trained soldiers may encounter panic during a firefight, but not during every single firefight. If they did, they would not survive. Lapses are understandable, but consistent behavior that lies in opposition to the task or job at hand is inauthentic.

Authenticity issues are not necessarily reserved for professions and personality characteristics, rather, it applies with dialogue as well. If you have a character who can barely read due to some learning disability, don’t have them reading Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” without any trouble. Additionally, keep terminology and language consistent with the character’s education attainment and reading proficiency. That is not to say that someone with only a high school diploma cannot handle reading high-level, scholarly books, but you need to build in the believability aspect. I have a friend who is a construction worker with only a high school diploma but he reads all the time and challenges himself with his reading material and it is plainly evident when you have a conversation with him that he is well-read regardless of the absence of a college diploma. Within dialogue, the author may feel compelled to write with the appropriate dialect, however, an English teacher will not “axe” someone a question. Yes, there are issues of dialect but not at the expense of demonstrating language proficiency, grammar, and speech.

Do not mistake my critique to include characters that I find annoying. There have been several novels and films where I found main characters to be extraordinarily annoying, however, if I am invested in the plot and/or the other characters, I overlook it. I never would’ve finished watching “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy if I let myself get hung up on an annoying or whining personality. In some cases, the annoying nature of the character is still important to the overall plot and relationship with other characters of the novel, film, or television show. So back to authenticity…

Sadly the inauthentic character, dialogue, and/or plot is something we find in a wide range of genres and sometimes, unfortunately written by popular authors. Depending on the level of disconnect I feel between the character’s personality and profession or behavior not only determines whether I finish the book, but also whether I will read any future novels written by that author. Some may argue that I am being too harsh, that when reading fiction or watching any fictional visual media, there is the willing suspension of disbelief. For me, that does not mean that I will accept the improbable as fact. If you are the only survivor of a catastrophic event, it is improbable that you will have electricity and running water. Who is working at the utility companies maintaining and operating the equipment if you are the last person alive? I do recognize that Samuel Taylor Coleridge acknowledged the reader to believe the unbelievable and place enjoyment above realism, but for me there are limits that I reach in which the object of my entertainment, be that a book, movie, or television show where I no longer find enjoyment or entertainment, rather just annoyance at the absurdity of what is being presented. This being said, I do not write reviews on works that I find to have authenticity issues. Just because I have limits to my willing suspension of disbelief does not mean that anyone else will see the characters, dialogue, and plot in the same way. That is the important part that makes us unique and I always encourage people to critically analyze any information, factual or otherwise, and come to your own conclusions.

These are my personal standards as a reader, however, I try to keep this in mind as a writer. I hope that I achieve the level of authenticity within my character development, dialogue, and plot that my readers will find to be believable.  I hope to meet the standard set by so many of my favorite authors, and they indeed have set the standard high, although I am not complaining. If it were easy, it would not be worth doing.

Is Self-Publishing the Non-Peer-Review Journal Publishing of Non-Academia?

I think I have reached the point where I am about 95% positive that I will self-publish but there remain issues that seep into my psyche as I work on my revisions. Until now, my professional writing experience has been within the realms of academic social science writing. For those not familiar with peer review, it is a process that some journals require where a researcher submits her work and several experts in the field read and review the work before the work is accepted for publication. In many cases, the work may require some mechanical editing issues and in other cases, the work may be flat out rejected due to design flaws, data collection issues, validity issues, ethical issues, etc. To avoid this, a researcher does have the option to pay to have their work published in a non-peer-review journal. Basically, you are paying to have your work published and the publisher is not going to thoroughly review your work for the abovementioned issues. That is not to say that poorly designed and conducted research never gets published in a peer-reviewed journal, only that it is very difficult to have poor research published in peer-reviewed journals. Because of the rigorous requirements among peer-reviewed journals, as an instructor, my students are required to cite journal sources from peer-reviewed journals for any research they do. I do allow my students to utilize information from non-peer-reviewed articles, however, they understand that the conclusions from such articles may be limited and in some cases, flawed.

Moving into the fictional publishing arena, I found myself comparing the peer-review process to the publishing options out there. With the increased popularity of the e-readers, self-publishing has risen in recent times. I wondered if the self-publishing option is akin to the non-peer-review publishing option and in a non-scientific way, tried to explore this comparison. I wondered if readers’ expectations of a novel would be based on publication type and so far, I have not gotten this impression. I must admit that I thought I would tend to hesitate on purchasing a more expensive novel if it is self-published rather than not, but in the interest of full disclosure, I look over the customer reviews and reviews on my favorite book review websites before I purchase any book. I tend not to seek out publishing information to start with and really only become aware of it if a reviewer comments on the publishing type. For me the reviews tend to tip the balance as to whether I will read a book or not.

My initial concerns regarding self-published books were not only concerning reader reaction and support but also issues of quality. I was concerned that self-published books would be poorly written, not only in terms of storyline but in mechanics which drives me up a wall. What I have found is that how a book is published may be independent of these issues. My initial instinct was to believe that the highest quality works would be published through publishing houses however; I have found as a reader that even large publishing houses release books riddled with grammatical, storyline, and anachronistic errors. Based on my non-representative reading sample of contemporary romance, I found that definitely quality is not necessarily correlated with method of publishing, which was a very surprising finding. I found a much higher correlation between author and quality than publishing and quality. This finding was also consistent when looking at authors that both self-publish and use publishing houses for their novels. Quality remained consistent regardless of publishing process.

What have you found in your experience? Do you think that self-published authors are akin to the non-peer-reviewed academic writers?

To Hire a Literary Agent – Yes or No?

With my first novel finished minus editor and critique partner revisions, I am faced with the next dilemma as an aspiring author. While working on this novel, I have spent a lot of time researching the pros and cons of using a pen name or using my real name. Based on the current economy, I did not want to risk my job in any way and thus decided on using a pen name. Following my decision on a pen name, I started working on my author brand and then I moved on to researching and taking an online workshop about publishing options (to go through a major publishing house or try to self-publish as an e-book).

For me, the reason I wanted to write this novel and publish it are personal and I am not seeking any particular notoriety for writing. I enjoy writing in the romance genre and will continue, but there is no aching need for me to see my name in print, my book on a store book shelf. That is not to say I dismiss those who do aspire and enjoy reaping the rewards of their success. Rather, my expectations remain grounded in my own personal reality and that is that I am writing for myself and hope that someone out there likes what I have to say. I am not about to ditch my day job and jump into the deep end thinking I will be an immediate success. I love my teaching too much to give it up without a fight. By my writing is fulfilling and until recently, has been so even in the absence of having any one else read what I have written. This novel will be the first time in 21 years that anyone has ever read a piece of my fiction writing and I must admit that I have been very anxious about releasing this novel for others to read.

As I have researched and worked through all of my options, there is one area that I am still struggling with and that is whether to find an agent. If I decide to self-publish and use freelance editors and design teams for covers, I retain a lot of control over my work. Not to say that I am unwilling to consider constructive criticism, rather, there are parts to my novel that I will remain rather firm on. Most of the advantages that I have found regarding retaining an agent is strongly connected to publishing with large publishing houses, ease at securing strong editing and design teams, and public relations issues including book readings and signings along with other promotional opportunities. I am sure that I am missing some important aspects and so I turn to you and ask, what the advantages and disadvantages are to having an agent?

Reviewing Books and Author Responding to Reviews

As I am preparing my first novel, I have been studying up on the finer points of becoming an author, issues like getting an agent, self-publishing versus going with a publication house, use of social media, etc. One of the issues that I have run across regards online book reviews.  I have always been someone who tries to give positive and constructive feedback and when I read reviews on books I am considering buying, I am amazed at what some individuals submit as a review. There are books that I have read that I have been disappointed in, however, I have never felt the need to publicly comment on those. I can understand constructive feedback like editing errors to some extent but really, calling out an author as being a no-talented hack gets you no where. When I read some of the negative reviews, I can definitely see how an author may feel the need to defend his/herself against certain allegations, however, to what end does this engagement lead? If the individual truly hates your work, nothing you can say will change that person’s mind. All you can do is rely on other readers who appreciate your work for what it is and point out the positive aspects. It is those readers who will stay loyal to you.

I have taught college for 14 years and have run into a similar issue of late with course evaluations. I cannot please all of my students and inevitably there are some students that just don’t like me, no matter what I do or say. With the recent advent of online teaching rating sites through among others, I have discovered it is best if I just ignore their existence. When I first discovered that I had been added to these sites and was being evaluated in an open forum, as I read my reviews I became distressed with the negative reviews and sadly, I allowed it to interfere with my teaching. When I wrote a particularly difficult exam after reading a few reviews on how my class was an easy A (which it is not), I realized that I was putting too much stock in someone evaluating me openly but who did not put the same evaluation in my professional, university evaluation. When I would check the online ratings, I would feel this overwhelming need to defend myself, but I always stopped myself short. What good would it do for me to reply? Whoever wrote the review probably will not look back at any of my replies and besides, that individual probably just made sure to avoid having me as their instructor for future courses. My reviews on these sites are completely all over the place from getting super high reviews to super low reviews. I hope that because there is a lack of consistency, anyone who is looking at those reviews can see that only a few students, those that either really liked me or really hated me posted on this site and therefore, it is not a reliable or valid measure of my ability as a teacher. I care a lot about my students, I want them to get the most out of my class and as such, when I read negative reviews, I lose sleep and obsess over what I did wrong. I can’t change the past, only work on the present and the future and that is when I decided it was no longer worth my time to look at these reviews. They hold no merit to who I am as a teacher and instead, I focus on feedback I receive during the course as well as in the university course evaluations that my students fill out and I receive the following semester or during the intersession break and I always look through those to find areas that I can improve on for the future. I always encourage my students to provide constructive feedback. Saying that I am a cold-hearted bitch does nothing. Saying that I did not spend enough time explaining how power relates to definitions of deviance, on the other hand, is something I can do something about. I always get the typical few evaluations from students who don’t like me and perhaps did not do well in my class, however, far more are the evaluations that tell me what I did right or what I need to change or improve upon. I remind myself that it doesn’t matter if a student does not like me, if he/she learns something from the class, that is the only thing that matters.

So getting back to authors responding to reviews, I really feel that while it is important to look at all of your reviews, try not to let the negative reviews get you down. Look for constructive feedback. If there were major editing issues, take that up with your publisher or look into how to correct those editing errors and further pay attention for the future. Not everyone is going to like the story you want to tell and for that matter, may not like how you resolve your story. I have read many books that I had hoped would end differently but just because the author chose to end it his/her own way doesn’t mean I immediately slammed the entire book in an open, online forum. Remember it is your story to tell. It is part of who you are as an author and you should not change yourself to please a few. By engaging in repeated battles against negative reviewers, you are simply sweating the small stuff and in the grand scheme of things, it does not matter. In some cases, if the interaction between the author and the negative reviewer gets particularly nasty, it exposes you to further scrutiny by others and as such may even alienate some of your following.

I have heard the argument that your readers are your customers and replying to negative reviews is good customer service. Yes, technically your readers are your customers but writing isn’t about customer service. It is about self expression and creativity and in that sense, I think that it is a waste of time to worry about the negative reviews that hold no constructive merit. A reviewer that complains that your book was not what they expected it to be is not a reflection on you as the author, rather a reflection on the reader and what led him/her to have these unmet expectations.

As an author, I hope to be able to restrain myself from responding to negative reviews, but because I am not yet published, who knows what the future holds. I hope that if I encounter a negative review that gets under my skin, I will come back and read this entry and remind myself of what is important. I am writing my novel for me. It is a story that I want to tell and if it is not a best seller, that’s ok, if it does not do well, that is also ok, because for me, it is about telling this story and maybe years from now, someone will read it and get what I wanted my readers to get from it, but I am not going to worry about a lot of these little things. I used to worry about what people thought of my writing and after a few bad critiques, I let those critiques influence me to hide my writing away for years and never talk about it or show it to anyone. I let someone’s opinion of my work influence whether I engaged in something I truly enjoy doing and I have finally reached a point in my life where I need to do what is right for me and writing this novel, spending time preparing for another novel feels like the right thing for me to do. I am not going to apologize for who I am and what I believe in and if that means that readers following me on twitter do not appreciate my posts and retweets about human rights issues or how we treat our veterans, then they don’t have to follow me. But for those who want to know who I am , where I get my ideas from, those are the readers who will follow me and appreciate what I try to do with my writing.