Feeling at home

I was welcomed home a year ago, when I attended Burning Man for the first time. Over the course of my days there, this began to seem less strange. In some ways, I had stumbled upon a community of like minded souls, and I was home. That feeling, more than anything, is why I want to go back.

Last week, I attended my first World Science Fiction Convention (better known as Worldcon) at the amazing convention center in Dublin shown above. No one welcomed me home when I arrived, but after a day or two I realized they may as well have. This wildly varying collection of geeks are my people, too, and I feel every bit as at home with them.

What is surprising is the many things I found in common between these two different events, both of which spoke to me with such force.

Be you.

I’ve never meet two groups of people so dedicated to encouraging humans to be who they are in their hearts. From the wild array of costumes (and lack of clothing) at Burning Man to the colorful masquerade ball at Worldcon (shown left), everyone can let their inner light shine.

Participate, don’t observe.

Worldcon does not sell tickets to attend. It sells memberships in the organization, and being a member allows one to come participate. Do not expect to be entertained. At either place. They are both very clear about that.

Don’t be an asshole.

I found the culture of tolerance and acceptance as strong at once place as at the other, although I recognize individual experiences do vary. Not everyone may succeed every moment, but the aspiration of being both human and kind is a huge thing.

Do be capable.

Burning Man has its ten principals which include radical self-reliance. Worldcon just expects you to step in and handle the registration desk, or provide tech support, or whatever else you’ve grabbed a volunteer ticket for, and to do it as well as you can. Everything is done by a volunteer, and usually it’s a somewhat befuddled and inexperienced one. Everyone else is expected to be kind while the volunteer figures things out. It works better than you might think.

Among other things, I got to run the spotlight for the opening ceremony and for the Hugo awards, It was a position for which I was only marginally qualified. No one cared. Everyone thanked me very much. I had a lot of fun (and a terrific seat for both events.)

Be a community.

Along with the radical self-expression and individual competence, there is a sense of being a family. At worldcon, name badges let an attendee specify preferred pronouns and unisex bathrooms provided a space for everyone to be comfortable.

Worldcon went out of its way to accommodate those with access issues. Such efforts aren’t possible out on the playa, but the custom of gifting and the encouragement of assisting those in need of help has much the same effect.

Worldcon has been going on for 77 years now, attracting 5000 or so attendees to multiple countries. Next year it will be in New Zealand and I doubt I’ll be able to go. There are people who’ve attended for twenty or more years in a row.

Burning Man has it’s root in 80’s San Francisco. It now attracts nearly 80,000 people a year, many of whom have attended for twenty or more years in a row.

I’ll never be able to do that either, but I will be back at both events, hopefully many times. I think when you find a place in this world where you feel at home, you need to grab on to that. If you’re lucky enough to find such a thing in more places than one, well …. lucky you.

(Read more about my Worldcon adventures at And the winner, she is …., at  An Irish Worldcon: I’m here!  at A New Irish Experience and at Forward into the Past.)

 

 

Dragon’s Revenge

I’m back to doing reviews on this blog and happy to be doing so. Today I welcome author and artist C.J. Shane and her novel Dragon’s Revenge.

About Dragon’s Revenge:

When Tucson private detective and Iraq War vet Letty Valdez is hired to investigate a murder, she immediately finds herself targeted by a violent criminal. To find the killer, Letty turns to an old memoir of life in late 19th century Tucson. Clues in in the memoir, with its tale of love between two immigrants – one, an Italian widow, and the other, an exiled Chinese revolutionary – launch Letty on a suspense-filled struggle to find answers, to stop the murderer – and to stay alive!

My Review:

By the time I finished this book, I loved it.

The author attempts something difficult, and that always intrigues me. She mixes an almost abrupt telling of a modern day detective story with a lyrical, sometimes even meandering, historical document from a century earlier. At first the combination is jarring, but before long it sort of becomes hot and sour soup, or fried ice cream if you prefer. However you think of it, it works well and the rich tale she has woven from the two very different pieces captivated me.

Nearly half the book is a love story between two immigrants, one Italian and one Chinese. It’s told beautifully through the eyes of her young son, and it is both touching and believable. The prejudice shown to so many ethnicities will make you want to scream, and will possibly force you to take a hard look at some of today’s behavior, too. (At least I hope it will.)

The other piece of the story involves PI Letty Valdez helping a friend solve a murder that occurs in a university library. Of course the investigation quickly becomes far more complicated, with Letty in danger, a few tantalizing red herrings emerging, and a tie-in to the century-old love story. Ultimately, there is a satisfying ending with more than one unsavory sort getting what unsavory sorts deserve.

Letty Valdez is a wonderful character, as are most of the people who populate her life. In fact, one of my few criticisms is that perhaps too many of them are a little too wonderful. A tad more nuance and the occasional trace of a fault here and there, would probably have made the story stronger. Yet, I much prefer the direction Shane errs in to the other alternative: a story filled with alleged heroes no one can like or root for. I plan to download  more Letty Valdez mysteries to my Kindle.

I readily admit that a reading experience is a combination of the skill of the writer, and the interests of the reader. Author Shane tells an interesting tale, and she tells it well. Her story also happens to intersect well with me. I’ve done a fair amount of research on immigration laws for my own writing and practically jumped out of my seat when I read about the Chinese exclusion act. I share the author’s apparent passion for social justice and her love of desert sunsets. And I practice qi gong (a relative of gong fu referred to often in the book.) So, while this is a novel I think anyone could enjoy; it is fair to disclose this is one book I could hardly have kept from appreciating.

I find the five start rating system much too confining, so I’ve gone to my own decimal point system. I give this a 4.6 (one of my highest ratings ever). It will round to 5 on all review sites.

(Know that I received a free mobi file of this book from Goddess Fish Promotions, the value of which would never be enough to entice me to write a better review for anyone.)

Read an Excerpt:

from the memoir: Mama agreed to sing at the rededication of the cathedral. She considered this a great honor and a spiritual responsibility. She wanted to do well to show her respect and devotion. Because of this, she began practicing every week as she had time, even though the rededication was six months away. She liked to climb a ladder up onto the flat roof of our adobe house and sing there. I asked her once why she went up on the roof.

“It’s the right place to talk to God and that’s what I’m doing when I sing. Singing here helps me to be strong.” Mama said. Mama was very religious. She talked to God a lot. She also talked to Jesus, the Virgin, and all the saints. Me, I never had much use for all that.

She was up on the roof one day when Drago came up the street with his cart. When Mama didn’t appear at our front door, he entered the gate to the side yard hoping to find her at the outdoor ovens. It was then that she began singing. Drago moved into the yard and stepped away from the adobe wall so that he could see her on the roof.

Mama stood straight upright, her long skirts moving slightly in the breeze. Her hands were clasped in front of her. She took another deep breath and out came that glorious mezzo-soprano, full and textured, subtle, rich with emotions I was too young to identify but would later know, emotions like passion and longing. Tendrils of curly dark hair escaped from the knot on her neck. Her northern Italian skin, pale like a pearl, glowed in the sunlight, and her dark eyes sparkled. My mama was a beautiful woman and she sang like an angel.

Drago stood transfixed in our garden, his hands at his side, his head bent upward to watch her. He was utterly still, utterly silent. I know this because I was hiding high in the branches of a tall mesquite tree behind him where he couldn’t see me. I was supposed to be doing my chores but I, too, liked to watch Mama when she was singing.

Drago stood for the longest time listening to Mama. I was watching Mama but when I looked at Drago, I saw that tears were running down his face.

I think that was the day that Drago fell in love with Mama, the day he first heard her sing.

This review is part of a book review tour sponsored by Goddess Fish Promotions.  Visit Goddess Fish on Facebook  and on Twitter. Click on the image to see the other stops on the tour.

Win a Prize:

C.J. Shane will be awarding her original artwork – an ink drawing of ocotillo on handmade paper in a wooden frame ready to hang with hooks and wire. Size of frame: 6 1/2″ by 8 1/2″ (U.S. ONLY),

The winner will be determined via rafflecopter. There are various ways to enter the contest multiple times during the tour. Enter here.

About the Author:

C.J. Shane is a writer and visual artist in Arizona. In addition to her mystery fiction, she is the author of eight nonfiction books. Her first fiction book, Desert Jade: A Letty Valdez Mystery, (11-2017) is a finalist for Best Suspense-Thriller novel, New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards.

Learn more about the author at https://www.cjshane.com/
https://www.cjshane.com/dragons-revenge.html

Also learn more about her at Goodreads, BookBub, and Facebook.

Learn more about Rope’s End Publishing.

Where to buy this book:

Amazon
Smashwords
Barnes and Noble
Kobo
iTunes

If you are interested in a review from me:

My protagonist in Shape of Secrets is a human chameleon who solves a murder, so I am predisposed to reviewing stories on this blog featuring interesting shape shifters, or any soft-boiled crime novel with an unusual premise.

I am not interested in reviewing non-fiction, romance novels, stories which promote any particular religion, children’s books, or horror of any type. Please do not ask me to review BDSM erotica or books about vampires or zombies.

If you would like to be considered for a review, contact me at Zane (dot) Zeitman (at) gmail (dot) com.

How about this ad?

It started out so well.

Shape Lock 1

After I finally gained a little traction with Amazon’s lock screen ads for my first book, I hit the jackpot with my first Shape of Secrets ad shown to the right. I got 83,467 impressions, 475 clicks, and sold four books. Wow. Yes, I spent $63.78 doing it, but hey. I spent sixty some dollars selling one book for my first novel. I was making progress.

I’d also tried Amazon’s other choice for advertising, something called a sponsored ad. You don’t write copy for these; you pick either a bunch of key words, or you find other similar books, or you select a sub-genre or two. Then you bid to get your lovely cover displayed in the banner of suggestions that appears any time anyone buys anything on Amazon.

Shape Lock 2

I’d tried a mess of keywords for first book “One of One” and got one impression. That’s right, one. It was a very cheap ($0.22) and highly ineffective experiment. Forget keywords.

So for Shape of Secrets, I looked through Amazon’s suggested sub-genres. One was LGBT Fantasy Fiction. That was a category? Okay, the book is about a young gay man who can alter his appearance to look like anyone, so I guessed it fit. I tried it and got 87,684 impressions, 170 clicks, and sold three books. Hot damn. Yes, I’d spent$63.22 to do it, so I was losing money while Amazon was laughing all the way to the bank, but at least something was happening.

Shape Lock 3

At the start of this endeavor I’d set aside a few hundred dollars for climbing my learning curve as my own advertising exec. At this rate, I was going to be out of a job soon. I decided to dial back my budgets and bids.

Shape Lock 2 (my shorthand for the second Shape of Secrets lock screen ad) got 72,162 impressions, 343 clicks, spent $57.42 and only sold one book. Oops. Looked like the only thing I dialed back was sales. That wasn’t good.

I tried again. For no discernable reason, Shape Lock 3 crashed and burned with 443 impressions, 1 click and no sales. The ad never even had a Kindle Fire version, something I’m still trying to figure out. (Any ideas?)

Shape Lock 4

Curious, I tried almost the same ad again. Shape Lock 4 did almost what I wanted it to do. Except, only did it once.  It got 5,687 impressions, 12 clicks, and sold one book for $3.24. I almost made a profit! If I could get that up to two books, and then do it a hundred times …..

But I can’t.

I’m back to trying new text, targeting smaller groups more specifically, and trying new sub-genre sponsored ads. Is there anyone in this world more hopeful than a self-published author? Possibly not.
For more about my Amazon advertising adventures see “Would this ad work for you?”

Nice to be understood

I don’t usually blog about my reviews, and with good reason. When you ask someone to take hours out of their own life to read something you’ve written, it’s best to let them have their opinion and leave it be.

I know I’ve loved books others don’t like, and missed the charm many found in popular books. Reading is an interaction between the author and the writer, and the two don’t always match up well, even when an intelligent reader comes across a well done story.  We’re all different, right?

Kit 'N KabookleNone-the-less, it made me smile this morning when two reviewers of Shape of Secrets happened to get my style and like what I am trying to do. Mary DeSantis has a blog called Kit ‘N Kabookle, spotlighting books and authors of fantasy, science fiction, mystery/thriller/suspense, romance, and ya. She liked my “thought-provoking and expertly woven tale of the human condition.”

The Reading AddictThe Reading Addict, featuring “some of the books that I have read” loved “the way seemingly unconnected elements are introduced and elaborated on until things start to weave together into a fun and complex set of mysteries”

It wasn’t so much that the reviews were basically positive (though they were and I’m glad they were), it’s that these two reviewers happened to like what I’m trying to do. It’s no given in life, but it sure is nice when it happens.

 

How does he really look?

The human chameleon Zane can look like anyone, but when I first wrote Shape of Secrets (called y1 at the time) I was obsessed with how Zane really looked. My first cover included Zane as a child, and that guided my vision.

When I decided to rename my books, I needed new covers. Current fashion is to show the characters, so it looked like I had to find someone who could show the world what the adult Zane really looked like. I found a group called Deranged Doctor Design.

The first head DDD proposed for Zane was great, but he had too much facial hair. (My realistic shape shifter is unable to alter the dead hair cells on his head and on his face.)

DDD came back with a second option and it just wasn’t right. I didn’t know what Zane looked like, but it wasn’t this. I could tell.

The third attempt looked right as soon as I saw it. He became Zane without modification.

When it came time to create the last cover, we needed Zane to make a second appearance, but not with an identical face. This particular model did have many options to choose from, but unfortunately most of them weren’t so appropriate for the sort of book I was writing.

Zanes

 

PROPOSAL 2018-0814 S R Cronin b06 v4But among all the sexy options, there was another version of Zane that would work,  particularly when paired a body that fit well with my family friendly story.

It’s funny how this model now is Zane in my head.  I guess this is what he really looks like.

Learning to Juggle

I came home from a month long trip last fall, on fire. I knew what I was going to spend the next eight months doing. I just wasn’t sure how I was going to do it.

I knew I wanted to rewrite/heavily edit all six of my books to fit a grand vision. I wanted better titles, more marketable covers, less typos, more action and more sensitivity. Chapters had to be shorter, dialog snappier, and everything more pithy. Less Michener. More poet. Where to start?

I drew on my experiences in management in a former life to chart a course, knowing I would have to motivate and direct the most challenging human I’ve ever had to deal with — me.

I do like to make color-coded spreadsheets, so I let myself go wild. It didn’t look too bad. I can do this.

Now that I’m about half-way through this, it’s time to ask. How’s it going?

Well….. Book one is out there and I’m happy with it, but I don’t have nearly enough time to advertise or promote it.  It has a review tour going which I should be putting more energy into, and I just printed out a large-type copy for my narrator who has finished a chapter of my first ever audio book and is ready for more. The sound guy will have that chapter back to us for review this week. Yikes.

Book two is out there and I’m happy with it, but I’m struggling to even get basics done like make request reviews and order hard copies for myself.

Book three comes out in two weeks. It’s still with my final proofreader and that’s making me nervous. I don’t have the paperback cover yet because I ran so late in getting the text for the back cover to my designers.  Argghhh.

Book four is on hold, having been edited. It’s ready for my final read through which I was supposed to be starting next week but there is just no way.

Book five is being edited now, and the new cover is in progress. Been through two iterations on the cover and it’s looking good. Will get what is hopefully the final version on Wednesday.

I’m not even thinking about book six.

Honestly, this is all too much to hold in my head at once. I keep checking my spreadsheet thinking I’m forgetting some essential component somewhere. There’s got to be something I’m forgetting.

Sleep? Food? Wait. In the process of trying to juggle everything, I think I’m forgetting to enjoy this.

 

90001 words and ready

Last month I held my breath and input the information to change the name of my first novel. I was changing a few other things at the same time, like of the cover (of course) and how I present my name. For all my worry, the experience went remarkably well.

Now, I’m ready to do it again. Shape of Secrets is as done, double checked, and triple checked as it is going to get. I’m into formatting and prepping mode, with the hope of submitting all formats on Sunday the 17th, getting approval Monday the 18th.

The initial word count was 125,665. This new slim version comes it at exactly 90,001 words. I think that’s really cool for a book that used to be called y1.