Wednesday, March 28, 2012

John Vorhaus: Author, Producer, Screenwriter Shows a Winning Hand

How do you interview a guy who's jumped out of planes, written for the Los Angeles Times, been multi-published in multi-genres, and says of himself:
  • I’ve taken psychedelic drugs.
  • I’ve seen Stonehenge.
  • Not on the same day.
  • I played in a women’s poker tournament, in drag. Made the final table, too.
  • I’ve worked as a mime, a ventriloquist, a jester, Santa Claus on stilts, and a pretty crap juggler.

I knew not where to begin, but I jumped in anyway.  So here's what else John Vorhaus had to say for himself, when I began asking questions.

Poker. Fiction. Comedy Writing.  Is there any subject or genre (teen vampire romance?) that you’ve tried to write and failed?

I keep trying to write a great hard-boiled mystery/thriller with lots of dead bodies flying around, but I just can't bring myself to kill with relish, which is what I think that genre requires. Meanwhile, I've tried and failed to write many things within my own genres (sunshine noir, snarky comedy, pop philosophy, how to). My hard drive is filled with projects that have crashed and burned. Every self-respecting writer's is, IMO.

How do you pick what you’re going to write next?  For a beginning writer, would you advise sticking to one project until it is done, or switching back and forth between two or three?

Sometimes I'm writing what's next on my to-do list -- and more and more these days I'm playing catch-up with a longish to-do list. But when I reach that blessed place where the only thing to write next is... whatever comes next, then I just listen carefully for the muse, and write what she whispers in my ear. I very strongly recommend having more than one project going on at once, for several reasons.

First, your projects learn from one another; discoveries you make over here are discoveries you can apply over there. Second, if you get stalled on one project, you have some place to turn other than "I suck" despair. Third, when your brain gets worn out from a long day of, say, writing dialogue, it still has energy to apply to a different sort of creative problem, for example developing a story. These tasks engage different parts of the brain, and thus extend a writer's daily window of productivity.

What genre or authors do you like to read for pleasure and/or developing your own skill set?

I read tons of non-fiction, just for fun and for learning. I'm a history buff. I adore anything by Bill Bryson, and learn by studying his airy, unforced prose. On the fiction side, I'm not too interested in reading "literature." I want my fiction reading to be easy and fun. A novel is meant to be a ride, and if I don't feel like I'm being taken along on a good ride, I tend to put the book down.

I met you at a writers’ group called AWG, then more recently online via Writer Unboxed.  You’ll be speaking again at AWG in Glendale (California) on April 7.  Why do you think writers groups are important, and is there such a thing as belonging to too many groups?

Writers groups serve a text purpose and a subtext purpose, both important. On the text level, there is so much to learn about writing that working with others engaged in the same effort is always a fruitful way to spend time. On the subtext level, we writers always want to know that we're not out there all alone, lost in solo suffering. Writers groups send the strong message that "You are not alone," and that, too, is always good. I don't think you can belong to too many groups unless you fully substitute being in groups for actual writing. As I've always said, improving as a writer is easy: If you want to get better, write more. If you want to get a lot better, write a lot more. That'll happen whether you interface with writing groups or not, but it WON'T happen if you just talk about writing without actually doing it.

Platform is the new buzzword for writers.  We know you need some kind of online presence if you want to be taken seriously as a novelist or a non-fiction author, but what about screenwriters? Would having a platform help their careers - and if so, where would you advise starting - website, blog, Twitter?

I don't think having a platform would be all that helpful to a screenwriter. The purpose of the platform (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) is to create a bridge between writer and reader (buyer). But that's a mass-market kind of thing. Your public space wouldn't attract enough of the right kind of screenplay buyer (producer, agent, studio) to be all that worthwhile -- nor would it necessarily tell them that you have the right stuff. Then again, I'm such a huge fan of "going off in all directions at once," I would never discourage anyone from having a public presence, because you never know when your market will shift and you want to reach out to consumers directly.

[Bev here: Might be useful for screenwriters to start with Twitter. Some screenwriters have leveraged it for success, and at the very least, by Following various people in the industry, you'll be updated on what's trending.  It would be difficult, IMO, to write a contemporary script without some hands-on knowledge of social media.]

What’s your personal time split - how much time do you spend writing, and how much time on platform/networking/promotional stuff?  Do you consider time spent playing poker to be fun or Research?

Time spent playing poker is fun. It's only research when I'm working on a new poker book; but really, if I call that research, I'm glorifying the term. Poker is how I unwind from writing. As to how I split my time, like almost every writer I know, I spend too little time on promotion, and too much time feeling guilty about that. The thing I love -- my drug -- is putting words on the page. The rest is just a necessary evil. However, you could look at it this way: No matter what your job is, you don't get to do only the fun part. Consider a baseball player. They love to play the game, yet even the most successful ones take batting practice and fielding practice every day. That's not the fun part, but it's necessary. Generally I devote Mondays to promo because, what the hell, it's Monday and it's not going to get any better anyhow. Also, if I run around in my writing (as I often do), I know that I can still be productive by devoting some time to promo.

Musing further, I realize that part of my daily habit is posting something new to Twitter and FB every day, first thing in the morning. For the past six months, I've been doing stuntwords: words of my own creation and definition. For instance, today's stuntword is MEGAHURTS: what a megakick in the meganuts does. I think my followers (@TrueFactBarFact on Twitter and John Vorhaus on Facebook) appreciate the daily hit of creativity, so much so that they'll then sit still for the endless links to my books that I throw in.

You travel to many different countries, like Bulgaria, Norway, Jamaica, to teach and consult.  Americans have borrowed a lot of comedy from the UK - is there anything we could or should be stealing from other countries?  Is there anything that surprised you - something that Romanians, say, think is hilarious, that absolutely would not go over well in the US?

One thing I've noticed and appreciated is how the mere act of translating a phrase from one language to another can make it seem fresh and new. There's a French expression, for example, that translates into English as "The train of your sarcasm rides upon the rails of my indifference." If I use that line, I will sound terribly clever, but really all I've done is poached a translation.

I've also noticed that many writers in many countries are terribly self-conscious about being writers. They don't think they have the right to take a stand with their work, tell other people what to do and think. Well, I think that this is not just the writer's right but obligation, so I'm constantly encouraging them to rise up, step out, and FAIL BIG! We Americans find this concept easier to grasp, because we've been taught from an early age to try to get the things we want. Maybe it's an entitlement thing or a Manifest Destiny thing, but Americans are less afraid to go for it than the people of many countries I've visited. However, writers do feel fear, regardless of nationality. To writers who feel fear, I would say... FAIL BIG. That's a mighty liberating attitude to have.

Your latest book is the little book of Sitcom.  I don’t write sitcoms, I write [drama; fiction; paranormal romance; poetry; thrillers].  Why would I want to buy this book?
Well, because it has something to teach you dramatic (not just comic) story and scene structure. Are you aware that every scene has a  pivot? The pivot is the new piece of information that triggers a change in emotional state, and it divides the scene into three parts: pre-pivot, pivot, and post-pivot. Say a guy is out having drinks with his buddies. He's having a good time; he's happy. Then he sees his girlfriend on a date with another man. That's the pivot, the new piece of information that triggers a change in emotional state. After the pivot, he is angry and concerned. The pivot tells you what the scene is about, and that is true of comic scenes and dramatic scenes alike.

Not for nothing, you'll also learn how to have an effective practice of writing, use logical tools to solve knotty creative problems, and oh by the way obliterate writer's block forever. At $5.99 at the little book of SITCOM, I think that's kind of a steal.

What question have you never been asked, that you always wanted to answer?
What's an apostrophe catastrophe? An apostrophe catastrophe is a big grammar failure and one of my absolute pet peeves. Consider the phrase, "PUNKS NOT DEAD." Well, how many punks? If it's more than one punk, then there's a word missing. It should be PUNKS ARE NOT DEAD. And if it's punk, the concept, then the apostrophe is missing, and that's just an apostrophe catastrophe. Here's another one I saw last week: "It looked at it's self in the mirror." That sort of usage makes me want to slit my wrists, yet at the same time I celebrate such unintended fails and even, I confess, collect them.

John Vorhaus is best known as the author of The Comic Toolbox: How to be Funny Even if You’re Not.  This seminal book on writing comedy for television and film is now available in four languages, and continues to be a definitive source of information and inspiration for writers from Santa Monica to Scandinavia.

An international consultant in television and film script development, Vorhaus has worked for television networks, film schools, and production companies in 30 countries on four continents, including half-year stints in Romania and, God help him, Russia in winter. He has traveled regularly to Nicaragua, where he helped build a social-action drama designed to teach the young people of Nicaragua to “think for themselves and practice safe sex.”

I did mention he's speaking in Glendale, California, on April 7, right? Which means that while you are welcome to leave a comment and ask John any question you like, right here (and I hope you do), you can also, if you're in the Los Angeles area, come to the AWG meeting and ask him questions in person, for FREE!  Have him autograph his books for you.  Rub his pretty head for luck.

(Okay, I am not actually sure that last would be cool with him.  Maybe you should ask first.)

But, you can meet John Vorhaus.  And I can tell you, you will be entertained, and enlightened.

Got questions (or thoughts to share), now?
Please do.

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Ten Random Sexy Things That Blow My Socks Off #GBE2

I'm offering way TMI, in the form of Ten Random Sexy Things That Blow My Socks Off, but here goes, anyway.

This post was inspired by the #GBE2 prompt: Make a list and title it.

Except, being a rebel, I'm not posting till Monday, and they are all supposed to be posted by Saturday the 24th.  ( I much prefer to think of myself as a rebel than simply as your normal writer, over committed and running behind deadline.)

1. Da-da-da-da-da-da-dum, Batman!

Yes, Batman was one of my earliest crushes, and retains a warm spot in my heart.  Adam West had an incredibly sexy mouth, IMO.  Apparently I have a fetish for men wearing capes and being tied up, because I always got a girly little thrill every time Batman was about to meet an untimely death by being drowned in chocolate or some such. (Although Robin, on the other hand, I wouldn't have cried over, call me cold.)  Batman's slightly cross-eyed look did not bother me then, for some reason.  And ya gotta love a man who always carries the perfect tool for every job in his utility belt.

2. Baseball.

I believe I was keeping score before I learned how to keep score.  Go, Dodgers! Thinking of the Steves, Garvey and Sax, and later, my sexy Mike catchers, Scioscia and Piazza.  (I actually met Mike Scioscia, at the height of his thinner, dimpled adorableness, but I had another guy with me at the time.  Aah, lost opportunities!)

There's something extremely sexy about a man with soft hands... Not to mention Kevin Costner in Bull Durham, and his "I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days."

Oh, my!

3.  Styx, circa 1980's

I saw Styx in concert on their Paradise Theatre Tour, and for the first time, I understood deep in my... let's call it heart, the concept of the groupie thing.  Everybody was so irresistably sexy, from Mr. Romance (and cynicism) Dennis DeYoung to pretty boy Tommy Shaw to growly James Young to those other two guys whose names I always forget... but even they were hot.  Given the opportunity, I would have had the whole show, five guys, and that's a natural fact.

4. Erica Jong, Fear of Flying

I totally fell in love with the concept of a zipless fuck.  Still am.
The zipless fuck is absolutely pure. It is free of ulterior motives. There is no power game . The man is not "taking" and the woman is not "giving." No one is attempting to cuckold a husband or humiliate a wife. No one is trying to prove anything or get anything out of anyone. The zipless fuck is the purest thing there is. And it is rarer than the unicorn. And I have never had one.


Ye-ah.  I always thought spas were for the effete. that real women, secure in their bodies and sexuality, didn't need a girly day at the spa.

And then a day job client gifted me with a spa treatment, and, being a thrifty soul, I didn't want her gift certificate to go to waste, after all.

Holy aromatherapeutic footrub, Batman, I have been missing out on one of the greatest pleasures of life!

I love sex.  Love love love sex.  Yet, if I had to choose, between actual sex vs. being rubbed, massaged, getting a facial (not that kind!) and the many other ways one is pampered at a day spa... I might well choose the spa.

If you have never yet been to a day spa, if that's one of the To-Do things on your Bucket List... Do it, now.  Before 2012 comes to a close.  (Warning: Spa Treatments = Highly Addictive.)

6. sex. lies, and videotape.  I swear, I could've given Cynthia's interview, because I, too, was surprised and shocked at the... shall we say, textured quality of a peen.

7. Skye O'Malley by Beatrice Small.

Holy early erotica, Batman!  Deflowerings, rape, incest, bestiality, amnesia sex, harem sex, FWB sex - oops, I forgot the lesbian sex!

Does anybody have a count as to how many times our heroine, Ms. Skye, gets it on with somebody in this book?  Now - not that there's anything wrong with that - here's a girl we wonder how she can even walk, given all the sex she's having. (Are you paying attention, RL?)

And then there's the food porn.  Endless descriptions of roasts and baby snow peas, freshly baked breads and confections and beverages.  It makes me gain weight just reading the descriptions, but mind you, given her amorous activities, Skye prolly needs the extra calories.

And the clothes porn.  Velvets. satins, lace underthings, the finest muslin.  Frequent baths, too, and teeth cleanings.  It may be a time when most people only bathed once a year, if that, but trust me, if you're riding the mattress as frequently as Madam Skye, you need to wash a bit more often. (Mind you, looked at through today's filter of Political Correctness, there are many, many offensive things about this novel. But at the time it was written, women and men felt differently about things like sex under coercion.)

 8. The Pleasure Chest

Remember in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, when Judy Garland as Dorothy opens the door into this fantasmic place?

"Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore," she says.

That's the experience, if you've never been, of walking into The Pleasure Chest.  Aisles and aisles of different flavored lube. The leather harness sections.  The vibrator and dildo sections, which, frankly, scared the stuffing out of me.  A floor mounted one, two feet high?  Really?  (Please tell me it's an, uh, conversation piece.)

One thing that sticks in my brain from a visit many year ago , was the handkerchief code chart, for gay men.  Apparently, the color handkerchief and placement (left or right back pocket) signaled all kinds of things about one's sexual preferences, from Cowboy on Horse to... well, I'll let you find out on your own.

If you have never been to a high class and extensive sex toy shop like the Pleasure Chest, go. Take a girlfriend or bodyguard, but go. Like Dorothy, you'll never look at Kansas the same way again.

9. Hitachi's Magic Wand
Yep.  You know.  One of my former flames called this model "The Jackhammer."

Well, sometimes a job calls for a jackhammer, ya know?

10. Discovering how very wonderful sex is, as an older woman.

I remember, when I was about 19, wondering what the allure could possibly be for old, dried up hags of 30+ years to still be having sex.  And then one day I reached that age.  And I wondered why teenagers even bothered, because sex was SO much better when I was older, than when I was younger.

Okay.  You may be reading this with the mixed fascination and repulsion I have when dealing with Bugs That Get Inside My Home.  But, if you're not totally squicked out and embarrassed at this time:

Any parts of the above you relate to, even a a little bit?
Questions, comments, laughter?
Anything you feel brave enough to share?

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

My Brand Is Not The Dollar Bill

Never discuss sex, religion, or politics in polite company, isn't that the rule?

Lately there's been a lot of heated rhetoric flying about the blogosphere, Twitter, FaceBook, and so on.  I've flown (flung?) a bit of rhetoric myself, breaking said rule, above.  And yet...

Betty Koschin, Coast Guard
Bill Koschin, Navy
My mother & uncle
March is Women's History Month.  I look at the pictures of my mother and her friends, proudly serving in America's Armed Forces during World War II, even though afterwards there was a big push to send them back to the kitchen.

Some of them went; some of them stayed working despite the push to "give the jobs to the boys from overseas", and some of them spearheaded the women's movement of the 1960's and 1970's.

There's nothing wrong with raising children. I loved having a house full of kids; many women (and men) do.  It's a valuable and extremely important job, for children, families, and for our society.

But to be ordered, "You have to go home, raise your kids, and keep that kitchen floor shiny and lemon-fresh," after being told you were needed to be Rosie the Riveter, or staffing vital lines of communication during the War (my mother earned the rank of radioman during her service in Ketchikan, Alaska)...

Many women didn't take kindly to that.

Not every woman is suited to work outside the home, and not every women is happy being restricted to it.  True in the 1950's; still true today.  During the 1950's we had segregation, we had back-alley abortions and the specter of nuclear war looming... It wasn't "the good old days" for everyone.  Keep in mind, Barbara Billingsley (June Cleaver, of Leave It To Beaver) was a working mother, even though the fictional character she portrayed looked happy, vacuuming in her pumps and pearls.

What seems to make women (and men) happiest is having choices.  A  society that truly values individual freedom offers its members the opportunity to pursue their dreams, regardless of gender, skin color, or other externals.

via Marlo Thomas
Women's rights are human rights, plain and simple.

I look at my older sisters, during the Women's Movement of the 1960's, fighting for equal pay for equal work, for access to birth control.  For simple things like the right for women to own property and have credit in their own names, not simply through their husbands (passed in 1981).  Because of the battles they fought, women have rights today that many take for granted. 

Until 1976, marital rape was legal in every state in the US.  Even by an estranged husband; after you'd moved out of the house and were planning to divorce.  July 5, 1993, rape by one's husband became a crime in at least one section of the criminal code of all 50 United States.  (Yes, that is less than 20 years ago.)

Laws and attitudes changed because women stood together. As the sign above said, we weren't born Democrat, Republican, or yesterday.  Things changed because millions of decent men also stood up and said, "No, I will not allow injustice to go on any longer for my mother, my sister, my daughter, my lover."  Men still stand with women todayMen are not the enemy; injustice is the enemy.  Whether it's perpetrated by men or women, or on men or women.

I look back at our grandmothers and great-grandmothers, the suffragettes who got the 19th Amendment passed in 1920 (less than 100 years ago).  First introduced in 1878, it took forty years of polite negotiations, unladylike protests and bitter hunger strikes to finally carry the day. 

Photograph of Kenyon Hayden Rector, Mary Dubrow, and Alice Paul standing outside the
1920 Republican Convention in Chicago and holding a banner,
"No self respecting woman should wish or work for the success of a party that ignores her self.
Susan B. Anthony, 1872. Via Wikimedia Commons"

Did you realize that women were unlawfully arrested and brutally force-fed simply because they protested in front of the White House?  Nicknamed "Iron-jawed Angels," some women were willing to risk everything, even their own lives, to secure the opportunity to vote, for themselves and their daughters.  (Alice Paul, pictured above, and portrayed in the video clip below, was one of them.)

Some women in the UK did die, as a consequence of being force-fed.

Today, women still face pressure and legislation that would attempt to drive us back to the kitchen (or the delivery room), whether we want to go or not.  Legislation is being passed to force us to carry the dead fetus inside us until it is expelled naturally, just like cows and pigs; we're told that we might be confusing normal marital relations with rape; that we should have to stay in a marriage even if we're being beaten.  WTF?!?

I would love to see women come together again, as we did in the 1870's and 80's, as we did in the 1910's and 20's, as we did in the 1940's, serving our country at war, and as we did in the 1960's and 70's.  I would love to see us reclaim the word feminism, which has somehow been twisted into being a dirty word, when it actually means:
the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.
Women make up the majority of Internet Bloggers.  We make up the majority of readers and book buyers. We are strong, we are powerful - and we are all different.  We don't share the same religion or politics; our sex lives are anywhere from freely and unabashedly recreational, to married and monogamous, to celibate by choice.

 I don't want to drawl between your legs and make your reproductive and sexual decisions for you, and I don't want some creepy legislator vicariously doing it to you (or to me either).  *shuddering*  I know I am strong enough and smart enough to make my own choices, and I trust you are, too.

We could make a huge difference - if we are bold enough to speak up.

I've heard many speakers and branding experts say, "Don't ever say, write or Tweet anything that might offend someone, or make them feel squicky."  (Like this post, lol.) I heard one agent express that a tiny link on one's author's page, which led to a support site for women who've suffered miscarriage and stillbirth, made the agent feel "uncomfortable."  Like now she knew personal things about this author that, in her opinion, were better left unshared.

I truly appreciate her honesty, and that of media "experts" who advise us to always play it safe, don't get into controversial subjects. Think of your brand, the Internet is forever, and so on.

I agree that calling names is probably not a wise thing to do, period. When you fling poo, you can't help but get poo on you, too.  (Though I did call Rush Limbaugh a blowhard and a dirty old man. Among other things.  And I'm not real pleased with Bill Maher's misogynistic attitudes, either. ) 

Yes, the experts are right, they are all 100% right that if you blog, or Tweet, or post on opinion boards, you may attract the trolls.  You may have fewer people buy your books.  You may be "diluting your brand."  You may make readers, even agents and publishers, "feel uncomfortable," even chose not to take you on as a client.

I don't want this blog to become a rant channel, every post, or even a third of the time.

But here's the thing about my brand (and I don't presume to extend this to other women and men - your choices are your own).  If I withhold the subjects about which I am most passionate, the things which inspire and shape me, I don't know that my brand is me.  I don't know if I want to even try to sell a "brand" that is cleaned-up, homogenized, and neatly stripped of all controversial content.

I don't know if I would recognize her. 

I look back at women's history, and revisit what our sisters, mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers had to sacrifice, just to get me to a place where I could have a decent-paying day job and write books on the side, hoping to turn my writing into a career.  And I'm supposed to live in fear of sacrificing a few blog readers, of losing a few book sales.  Really?

I yam who I yam, as Popeye said.  I've blogged about rape and slut-shaming.  About child molestation. About mental illness and hoarding and racism and a whole lot of ugly stuff, that has little to do with the kinds of books I write (although I like to think my characters are complex and reflect many layers and ways of being).  Still, in my opinion, we as a society need to talk and write about controversial subjects, if we want to work these things out, not simply leave it to the extremists.

I also blog about writing tips, techie-stuff and smexy short stories and pictures of yummy firefighters.

Don't get me wrong, I want to sell books. My plan is to be published within the next few years, hopefully with lots of different books available for readers to buy, and they won't be political diatribes.  But... if I suppress every bit of moral outrage, every controversial thought, everything but what might conceivably sell books and make readers feel comfortable, all the time, then what I am really putting forth as my "brand" is the dollar bill.

That doesn't feel comfortable to me at all.

What's your take?
Does a post like this make you less or more likely to buy one of my books?
Or, no difference, you'll judge based on whether the book itself interests you?

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Egypt to Nigeria to New York to Pleasure's Edge:
The Hot Flat & Crowded World of my March TBR List

Knocking out the books on my TBR list, here's my loves and hates for March:

Before Ever After - Samantha Sotto.  Although this wasn't on my official TBR list, below, it actually has been on my mental TBR list for a while. Then I got nudged by the Smart Chicks Book Club on GoodReads to read and discuss, and I was ready for a break from Les Misérables, which I am miserably (62%) slogging through.

Loved it. The hero gets blown to pieces in the prologue, leaving Shelley, the heroine, a rich if heartbroken young widow.  So the story is shown in flashback style, a la The Time Traveler's Wife, but this is a very different book.  Yes, it's a love story, and it's happy and heartbreaking and poignant, and there's much mystery as the story unfolds, but it's also light and funny, with delicious turns of phrase sprinkled in:  "Shelly made do with a breakfast of burned toast slathered with trans-fat-free disappointment."

I fell in love with Max and Shelley, with Max's baked eggs with cheese - and his chicken obsession, with The Slight Detour (which I so want to take) trip across Europe.  Sotto does a wonderful job weaving in historical places and events and sensual details.  My only quibble is sometimes her metaphors are a little overdone.  When Shelley was bothered by a big yellow and black bee buzzing around her, I thought it was an actual, physical bee, occurring at the same time as her mental breakthrough, and it threw me off.  Though the elephant lumbering after them, after their first kiss worked.  There is a magic/paranormal element, but if you pick it up looking specifically for that, there probably won't be enough here to satisfy you.

Snow White and Her Seven Lovers - Jenna Ives.  This charming <wink wink> piece is a novella, not a full-length novel.  It's a brilliant example of how a good writer can tell much story in few pages.

A beautiful young woman is found poisoned in an apple orchard.  She wakes up with amnesia, but luckily, her foxy Doc lives in a former bed-and-breakfast with his six best male friends.  And they'd all love to have the woman - dubbed  Blanche for now - stay with them until she recovers her memory.

If you enjoy explicitly sexual, witty, tongue-in-cheek stories with a generous helping of the unbelievable, you should take a bite of this book.  Ives does an incredibly clever job creating personas for Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Bashful and the rest and a unique connection to our heroine, who has very different sexual and emotional relationships with all of them.

Where this is a tiny bit weak is at the end, where the Prince of Charming Industries comes forward to claim his fiancée, and Blanche's identity is revealed.  Her stepmother is probably the one who poisoned her, but there isn't any real motivation shown, and nobody seems concerned that she might keep trying.  However, we don't get to dwell on this for very long, as we jump right into bed for a hot menage scene.

Despite the number of sex scenes (lots) they're all unique, and equally hot.  (Ives needs to better differentiate between her heroes' and heroine's sound effects, however.)  If you want a short spicy read, for less than the price of a latté, this is a great choice.

The Christmas Wedding The Christmas Wedding - James Patterson with Richard Dilallo  The Good: It's a very quick read. I didn't notice any typos. The cover is pretty, if you think a slender young women in a sleeveless white dress with a long train "works" to represent a 50-60ish widowed grandmother getting married in a pale purple dress and sneakers.  Also, a friend handed it down to me, so I didn't actually pay for it.

The Bad: The premise is that Gaby, said grandmother & widow, is getting married. She is sending video DVD's by mail (as if she wouldn't upload to YouTube or send as e-mail attachments?), bragging on her upcoming Christmas wedding to her four grown children - with a twist. She won't tell them which of three men she's marrying - in fact, she won't tell the men, either. They have to all meet her at the altar where one gets to "win" her, and the other two men are supposed to suck it up and be happy for them while being very publicly dumped.

Right. This doesn't make us like Gaby; doesn't make us like the MEN. What wusses would they be to sign up for this kind of pu
blic humiliation?   I could go on (and I did, on GoodReads) but mainly this book serves as a great example of What Not To Do for authors.

Veronica Scott's Priestess of the Nile
I've had an interest in Egyptian romance since I read Susannah Leigh's Wine of the Dreamers many years ago.  Not much written by writers (in English) on the subject - that I've come across, at least.

Scott's debut novella gives us the forbidden love story between Merys, descendant of  the priestesses of Sobek, Crocodile God of the Nile, and Sobek himself, though he doesn't initially reveal his identity to her as he courts her.

I've never thought of crocodiles as sexy, but Scott manages to give Bek/Sobek a handsome human form, even an intriguing mixed human/crocodile form, as well an an imposing all crocodile form.

Despite Merys being a mortal, and Bek being a god, they fall in love.  I enjoyed this story very much, though I was left wanting more.  I think this is a bigger story squeezed down to only 63 or so pages.  Much is told, rather than shown - Merys's life in the village as the Cinderella stepdaughter to her weak-feigning stepmother.

The rules of the Egyptian universe weren't clear to me.  There might be more tension if they were revealed more clearly at the beginning, so we knew what the lovers were going up against.  I did wonder how Scott would weave in the whole theme of the afterlife, so large a part of what we envision when we imagine ancient Egypt, and there she does a beautiful job.  I loved the way Scott brought in Isis, Anubis, and some of the other gods of ancient Egypt.

The sex scenes were... sexy, but compared to the other erotica I read over the same weekend, almost tame.  They were well done, they fit the material, but they didn't leave me squirming in my chair, if you KWIM.

If you are looking for blow-your-socks-off short erotica, this ain't it.  If you are looking for a sweet erotic romance with unusual characters in a very different setting, this is a great read.  I look forward to more of Scott's work.

Forget About ItI picked up Forget About It by Caprice Crane as the pick of my Chicklitlovers Meetup group.  Sadly, I probably will forget about it, in a few weeks.

The premise is the heroine, Jordan, has a crappy life because she's something of a human doormat.  Not long after realizing this, she's in an accident where she takes a bump to the head, and decides to feign amnesia.  Using the amnesia as an excuse, she becomes more assertive and dumps the user boyfriend, stops being taken advantage of at work, and begins drawing boundaries with her mean mom and meaner sister.

However, her "amnesia" has created other problems, as she's signed over a power of attorney to her mother, and is involved against her will in a lawsuit against her new boyfriend.  Jordan comes up with a plan to suddenly regain her memory, when she gets hit in the head by a thrown baseball, and then truly does have amnesia.

I mostly liked the tone, the pace, the New York setting, although I thought the set-up went on too long.  Yes, she's too people-pleasing and this gives her a crappier life than she deserves, enough already!
I liked Jordan's wit and creativity, and I loved Travis and his lighthouse.  What I didn't "get," despite the neglected/emotionally abused childhood, is why a woman with so much going for her would be quite so passive.  The bad guys were a little too bad; they needed some redeeming qualities that would have helped explain her ambivalence at blowing them off.  And the idea that somebody would be able to fake amnesia well enough to fool not only laypeople but doctors... pretty unbelievable.  That she would then get real amnesia, and that she would recover her memory just as she was walking down the aisle, about to marry the wrong guy... Too many impossible things before breakfast, for me.  However, I would read another book by this author, as I really liked her voice.

His Treasure (Men of Valor, #1)
Kiru Taye is a Nigerian-born author who lives in the U.K.  His Treasure, a novella, is set in a small Nigerian village, where we find Adaku, in love with a prince, married against her will to another man, Obinna.

Over the course of a year, as Obinna treats her with courtesy and kindness, and refuses to even touch her against her will, Adaku comes to respect, be attracted to, and even love her husband, just as he is giving up hope that he will win her over.

As an American, I struggled with the names a bit - my stupid mind kept converting Obinna to Obama.  As a virtual tourist, I would have liked to have seen more of the day-to-day life in the village.  They slept on pallets on the floor, had an indoor bathroom with apparently a bathtub - but was it just a bathing room, or was it a "bathroom" as an American would think of one, with a commode and sink?  Couldn't tell.  (I found later that this was supposed to be set in an earlier, not contemporary period. This could have been clearer in the novella itself.)

That said, the romance was sweet, the jealousy that flared for both of them, believable, and their consummation was sexy and skillfully written.  I'm very much looking forward to reading His Strength, the next book in the Men of Valor series by Ms. Taye.

You know how there's stuff you should read, like taking medicine, and you put it off, and put it off, because it's medicine, and you know it's not gonna taste good?  Then you find it's actually not so bad?  Kind of tasty, as a matter of fact.

Thomas Friedman's Hot, Flat and Crowded is one of those books.
It's a manifesto for a Green Revolution - a real one.  Not just driving a hybrid car and drinking filtered, rather than bottle water, and calling it a day, smug we've done all we can do.

It's not dryly written, but it is packed with research, quotes, and anecdotes, which requires the reader to take his/her time.

He points out that the way to persuade people to take action is not, "Think of the poor polar bears" when they are worried about how they're going to feed their children the next day.  People have to shown ways of making money by preserving their natural resources (forests, swampland, rivers), whereas cutting down all the trees will devastate them in only a season or two.

Innovation is necessary, but doesn't come about magically without investment.  Currently while in most industries, 8-10% of annual revenues is spent on Research & Development, in the energy industry it's about .8%. (Yes, less than 1%.  No wonder we're not zipping around like the Jetsons yet.)

Hot, Flat and, Crowded was fascinating, it was troubling, it was heartbreaking, and it was hopeful.  I don't know if "I enjoyed the book" is the correct phrase, but I am very glad I read it.  I highly recommend it.

And now, for something completely different..

Holy basket of vibrators, Batman!  Eve Berlin's Pleasure's Edge is some Seriously Sizzling Sex, but it's also a beautiful romance.

Dylan's an erotica writer, challenged to research the world of D/s (Domination and submission) for her next book.  She meets Alec, a vibrant, powerful Dom, who thinks it's more effective to show rather than tell.  Dylan has been firmly in control for years, having grown up with a bi-polar mother who was frequently incapacitated by her illness, and having taken responsibility for her younger brother.

Alec is a world traveler and thrill seeker.  He's modeled himself after his brilliant but emotionally reserved father, and Alec enjoys sex, and being a 'top.'  But no woman has ever gotten under his skin, the way Dylan has.

I loved this book.  Loved loved loved.  It is so hot, from beginning to end, that I was seriously contemplating putting on my Ove-Gloves to turn the pages.  I loved the romantic and erotic connection between Dylan and Alec. I loved the way Berlin took us deep within the psyches of the characters, exploring how the D/s game opened them up emotionally.  I loved the skillful and unquestioning use of condoms every time.  Loved that they fell in love, despite the barriers they both had erected against such a thing.

My only quibbles, and they're more with me than the book, is the names.  Alec I kept wanting to change in my head to the softer, sexier (IMO) Alex.  Dylan - I don't know any female Dylans, but I do know several, very attractive young men named Dylan, or Dillon.  This made me mentally stumble a bit. I advise writers to think twice about that kind of against-type name choice.  My name can be used for men or women, in theory, but if a character was named Beverly, wouldn't you think 99 times out of 100 he was female?

My other quibble is that both characters were much into 'sensation play' with an emphasis on spanking.  I personally find spanking more of a turn-off than erotic; but the scenes were so hot I got past it.

I will definitely be increasing my library of Eve Berlin books, and highly recommend this book.  [Suddenly, I'm quite thirsty.]

Left on my TBR list from December:

The Birthday of the World - Ursula LeGuin
Messalina: Devourer of Men - Zetta Brown
Uncut Diamonds - Karen Jones Gowan
On Writing - Stephen King
Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
Daisy Miller - Henry James
Bet Me - Jennifer Crusie
Hot, Flat and Crowded - Thomas Friedman
Pleasure's Edge - Eve Berlin
Her Fearful Symmetry - Audrey Niffeneger
Falling Leaves - Adeline Yen Mah
Picture Perfect - Jodi Picoult
Giving Up the Dream - J.L. Campbell
Shifters' Storm - Vonna Harper
Automagically - Sommer Marsden
You Can Heal Your Life
- Louise Hay
Little Black Dress - Susan McBride
Tourist Trap - Sue Ann Bowling
Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
Confessions of an Improper Bride - Jennifer Haymore

Added to my TBR list, already on my Kindle or bookshelf:
Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing - Mignon Fogerty
Pleasure - Eric Jerome Dickey
the little book of SITCOM - John Vorhaus
The Darkest Surrender - Gena Showalter
The Last Will of Moira Leahy - Therese Walsh
Chasing Kate - Kelly Byrne
A Heart to Mend - Myne Whitman
The Doctor's Lady - Jody Hedlund
Born Wicked (ARC) - Jessica Spotswood
Dev Dreams - Ruth Madison
The Inner Game of Stress - W. Timothy Gallwey
First Grave on the Right - Darynda Jones
Romance Novel - PJ Jones
Living in Gratitude - Angeles Arrien
Heir to the Underwood - E. D. Walker
Bossypants - Tina Fey
Train Your Mind, Change Your Life - Sharon Begley
Better Off Red - Rebekah Weatherspoon
Water - Terra Harmony
The Cowboy's Pride - Charlene Sands
The Bird Sisters - Rebecca Rasmussen
Mercury Rising - Daisy Harris
Hollywood Ending - Lucie Simone
Are You There, Vodka?  It's Me, Chelsea - Chelsea Handler
Devil's Kiss - Zoe Archer
Melt - Natalie Anderson
Inside Heat - Roz Lee
Beauty and the Werewolf (A Tale of the Five Hundred Kingdoms)  - Mercedes Lackey
Marriage Made on Paper - Maisey Yates
Beloved - Toni Morrison
The Awakening - Kate Chopin
His Strength - Kiru Taye
Just The Way You Are - Barbara Freethy
Bloodchild and Other Stories - Octavia E. Butler
Hunchback of Notre Dame - Victor Hugo
Twelve Times Blessed - Jacqueline Mitchard
The Lantern - Deborah Lawrenson

Yes, I did add more books than I crossed off.  Shut up!  Bet you did the same thing.

The details and sign-up are at Vicky's blog, Books Biscuits and Tea.

Are there any books you're moved off your TBR pile so far this year?  
Have you read any of the books I read?  
What did you think?
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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Dinosaur Erotica, Anyone? Funniest Search Phrases

I have no words.  Only fear.
So occasionally when I review my stats, I check to see how Google brought people to my site.

I kid you not, people apparently have searched for "dinosaur erotica."  Which brought them here.  [Hello, again!  You're back!  Kisses!]

I have mentioned dinosaurs, mostly in reference to my own less than impressive technological skills.  I've also blogged lots about erotica, because, right along with chocolate, great sex is one of my most best favoritest things in the whole world.

But together?  Really?  (Now contemplating what I could do with a title like "Velociraptor Rapture" or  "Paleozoic Pleasures.")   As a concession to my dinosaur erotica fans (you people are twisted, just sayin') I actually searched, myself, and came up with that nifty little photo from a museum in Spain.

FYI, international readers, a museum display like that would not fly in the U.S.  American mommies would be covering Johnnie's eyes in horror, and writing exclamation point! splattered! letters to their congressional representatives about the corruption! of innocent childrens [misspelling intentional]!  While urging their husbands in private to play "Hide the Dinosaur Bone."

Other traffic-bearing keywords that made little sense to me: "mind homer simpson," "no more pain lolcat," and "shamu watching."  Though at least I've mentioned, or used photos that included one of those terms.

I simply don't get the whole SEO game.  For all those claiming to be experts in Search Engine Optimization, a big part of me thinks it's all smoke and mirrors, and nobody really knows what drives searches.
Ensure Website Visibility With Search Engine O...Image by hongxing128 via Flickr
Is this even English?  What's a SERP?

Besides... I'm not sure I want a billion followers.  Don't get me wrong - if you follow me, I'm totally thrilled.  There are even bright shiny Follow buttons for that, right at the top of the page. *gestures like a flight attendant*  Along the side, too.

I'm nothing if not easy.

I want readers who love this blog, and recommend it to their friends. I would offer to bribe you to share with one of my tasty, home-cooked meals, but trust me, you don't want to go there.  *Gestures to bright shiny Sharing buttons conveniently located along the bottom of this post.  Then offers barf bag, like a good flight attendant.*

A self-portrait of the Bloggess, also known as...Image via WikipediaAnyway, my main goal isn't to be The Bloggess, though I totally adore her and her hilarious writing.  I even stalk follow her Pinterest board.

I like the idea of this blog staying small enough that I can interact with my readers, occasionally visit your blogs too, AND a) refrain from totally blowing my day job until b) I can write books that earn vast piles of enough money to allow me to write full time.

Do you understand SEO?  
Had some SEO threads that leave you shaking your head?

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Monday, March 12, 2012

Syndicate & Validate Me, Baby
Adding Networked Blogs to your FaceBook Fan Page

So you've got a FaceBook fan page - but what about content?  How on earth are you supposed to add content to your FaceBook Fan Page, plus Follow and comment on all the blogs you like, and and and. *overwhelmed and whimpering*

Well.  There's an app for that - it's called Networked Blogs.

You may have seen it on some blogs (like this one) and wondered, why are there TWO Follow boxes stacked up right on top of each other?

I will tell you.

And show you, too, with lots of pictures.  Don't be afraid.  I am not a techie-type person.  So if I can do it, anybody can do it.

Sometimes someone is on WordPress - and we're not - or a self-hosted site, and they don't have all the cool buttons showing us how to Follow them.  Yet, we want to.  Or what if we're on FaceBook a lot, and want to share valuable content with people who follow our Fan Page, without adding each link manually? Networked Blogs is a mighty handy tool, but a little tricky to learn how to use.

1. Log in to FaceBook.  Go to the Networked Blogs page, and click the blue button near the top right corner that says "Go to App".  Then select Add to my Page's Favorites. (red arrow, below)

2. Go to a great blog site you know you want to Follow, that already uses Networked Blogs.  Like Writer Unboxed, shown below.  (Or Writing in Flow, hint hint.)

Click the blue button that says, Follow this blog.

There's a little more you have to do, to get that great content on your page, and we'll get to that in a minute - but what if the blog you want to Follow and share on FaceBook doesn't have a Networked Blogs box?

You can add it to Networked Blogs anyway.  (No, it's not stealing.  It's sharing.  Unless a blog owner has specifically decided to keep his or her blog private, they LIKE being shared.  It's why we all put those Tweet and Email and SHARE buttons on our blogs.)

So, I wanted to steal share content from a fabulous blog about children's books, Carry Us Off Books, with a new Fan Page I am helping administer for a non-profit organization all about reading to young children.  Perfect fit, right?  Only Carry Us Off Books doesn't seem to be registered for Networked Blogs, what to do?

1.  Go to the blog (below).

2.  While the blog page is open, and while in another tab you are signed in to FaceBook (as you, not as your fan page) go to Networked Blogs.  (on the bottom left side of your FB page, under Friends and before pages, there's your Apps.  Click the Networked Blogs button & it will take you to a page that lists all the blogs you Follow through Networked Blogs.  Towards the top right, there's a Search Blogs Option.  Do a copy and paste to insert the url of the blog you want to add.  Maybe it's already registered, and your blogger simply didn't put a Networked Blogs box up on his/her site.  (Always do a copy and paste, because sometimes there is something in there - like the ".html" in CUOB's url, that does make a difference when you leave it out.)

Not registered?  There's a button near the top that says "Register a Blog."  Click it.

Paste the url of the blog you want to Follow into the Blog Link box (see below).

After you clicked Next, it brings you to this screen (below).  It will automatically have the blog link and the feed link for you.  Fill out the rest as best you can.

(Blog owners, if you are freaking out right now, because someone could put totally wrong information in there - YOU, as blog owner, can always update and change it when you claim the blog.)

After you click Next, you'll be asked whether you are the owner of the blog or not.  Be nice and don't lie - they have ways of verifying the REAL owner.  (Blog owners, when you join Networked Blogs and do a search for your URL, you will be able to claim your blog, and they will verify it really is your site, before handing you the keys to the kingdom.)

After the blog is added, look at the choice on the left - choose Syndication.  (if you are not seeing this page, click the little cog to the right of your name, and go to My Profile.  It will bring up, on the left, a list of all the Blogs you write, and all the ones you are Following.

Pick the blog you want to publish - in this case, Carry Us Off Books.  Click the button Add FaceBook Target.  Right now, I am Admin for three fan pages ( I know, I know), and I could add it to all of them, but this blog is most suitable for Words on Wheels.  Don't add a blog to your personal Profile and a Fan Page Target, or you'll see both posts in your personal newsfeed (assuming you have Fanned your own page).

However, if the blog is syndicating is your own, you may want to Target both your FaceBook fan page, and your Twitter feed.  (This saves me time.)

After you have clicked Add, and Close, you can do a test to make sure the content will publish to the page (see below).

It "pulls" posts based on a magic algorithm that I have not yet figured out, but the thing is, it does automatically pull the posts to the Fan Page you designate.  Which in my case serves the dual purpose of letting me easily follow the blogs I love, and gives good content to my FaceBook Fan Page, automatically.  (Being a busy writer, anything I can post automatically makes my characters smile, because then I can spend more time with them.)

Even though the process of getting it set up the very first time is a little tricky, once you've done it, it's easy-peasy to Follow and adding blogs this way.  Check the link for the official FAQ's for Networked Blogs.

Like a lot of programs, it's free - with upscale versions you can subscribe to.

One big caveat - be careful who you follow.  While I was writing this post, I saw Mashable and another site, thought they'd be fun to add to my personal FaceBook news feed, so I did.  They then began posting ALL the links within the last 2-3 days.  (Somebody told me it was 89 of them.) So I had to UNFollow the sites, then I had to separately go in and remove the "Syndicate to this Target" instructions.  So if the site you choose to syndicate normally posts 15-20 times a day, that's what you'll get, too.

Even after that little mishap, I still think it's a useful (if dangerous) tool.

Many thanks to Claudine at the wonderful blog Carry Us Off Books for giving her permission to use her as an example.  (Now go follow that blog!  And please consider fanning Words on Wheels.)

If you already use Networked Blogs, leave a comment and let me know what you think.  If you add it, following this post, please leave a comment and let everyone know how easy - or hard - it was.  (And if you found this post helpful, please DO share.)
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