Friday, August 22, 2014

#TensList: Top ten talents you didn't know I had

I get a lot of crap from friends and family for being able to do too many things. Really, I just have a short attention span and a love for collecting hobbies. BUT... here are a few talents you probably didn't know I had :) 

#1: Being clumsy.

I trip over things all the times, and slip on the stairs, and bump into things. I don't know if I'm just not paying attention, or I'm in too big of a hurry, or what, but I have perfected the art of being clumsy. 

#2: Closing kitchen cabinets. 

This must be a talent, and I must be the only one in my house who has it. I can normally walk into my kitchen on any given day, and any given time of the day and find at least two kitchen cabinets open. How do I teach this talent to the rest of the house? 

#3: Finding random things. 

This really is a talent. Unless it's my own car keys, I am usually the one who ends up finding whatever it is that went missing. It's usually in plain sight, so I'm not sure how talented I really am at this, but you get the point. 

#4: Killing plants. 

I'm a really bad gardener, which is a shame because I love flowers. At least half the plants in our front yard die every year, and less than half of what I plant in the backyard actually grows, and I typically do a pretty good job of killing at least half of what does grow. Mums and yuccas seem to be about the only things I can grow consistently, and even the yuccas are tricky. I've killed several. 

#5: Losing important papers.

I swear I put them where they'll be safe, but they get up and walk away. I once lost our tickets to go see The Lion King at UNM. I still have no idea where they went. I put them in the black box... and they vanished. I had to go pick up new ones at the UNM ticket office in Albuquerque. 

#6: Being terrible at pool. 

This must be a talent when my seven-year-old can beat me. I have no excuse, since I used to play a lot when I was a teen, but I'm just really bad at pool. Actually, I'm pretty terrible at any sport involving a ball of some kind. 

#7: Insomnia. 

This probably isn't really a talent, but I've certainly developed it as much as any talent. I frequently have trouble getting to sleep. It gives me quiet time to works on plots or dialog as I lay there staring at the ceiling, but it would be nice to just fall asleep once in a while. 

#8: Falling off things in video games. 

I don't like games that make you fight on ledges, or walk across beams. I will fall off and die pretty much every time. It's like somehow my questionable balancing skills in real life get zapped into my avatar as soon as I pick up a controller. 

#9: Crimping hair. 

I know this is not a currently fashionable talent, but what can I say. I spent a lot of time crimping my hair when I was a teen (and that was in the early 2000s, so it wasn't exactly high fashion then either, but I made it work). Now, my daughter loves to have her hair crimped, so it's still a useful talent to have! 

#10: Drawing straight lines. 

If you don't think this is a talent, you've never had to consistently draw straight lines. As an art major (before becoming a dental hygienist), I had to draw plenty of straight lines, and it's tougher than you might think. I owe this uncommonly handy talent to my favorite art teacher, Bill Hatch, who explained that you have to use your whole arm when you paint and draw, not just your fingers. If you don't agree, go try it. Draw ten really straight lines. No cheating! It's not as easy as it looks :) 

What funky hidden talents do you have?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

#BlogTalkRadio: Top Ten Book Boyfriends

Today was the launch of A Special Kind of Crazy Radio Show! 

Come join myself, Amanda Strong, and Gail Wagner talking about our picks for the Top Ten Book Boyfriends!

Current Books Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with A Special Kind of Crazy on BlogTalkRadio

Monday, August 18, 2014

#BadReviews: A surprising statistic

Is your first response to a bad review to hide your head or reach for a tub of ice cream? 

Here are a few surprising statistics that might change how you look at reviews, bad ones and good ones. 

First, here's a stat that's probably not so surprising. The Taliest Self-Publishing survey as saying that having your book reviewed by one of Amazon's top 5000 reviewers can boost your sales up to 32%. 

Amazon publishes their top 1000 reviewers, some with contact info, so those looking for products reviews can look them up. Don't just start spamming every reviewer, though. Not all of them review books, and some may not want to review your genre. Do you research before submitting. 

Jonah Berger (University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business) talked about results of a study he was part of on Harvard Business Review regarding the effect of reviews on sales. Across the board, good reviews help sales. Not shocking. What are the numbers, though? Good reviews can increases sales from 32-52%. That seems to apply to authors of any standing, which is not true for bad reviews. 

When it comes to bad reviews, being a largely unknown author is a benefit. Why? Berger noted that bad reviews for big time authors/products can decrease sales by about 15%. For the rest of us, bad reviews actually help! By quite a bit! A bad review (even the REALLY bad ones) can boost sales by 45%. Crazy, right? That's what the study said, though. 

Why does this happen? Even a nasty review is still making more people aware of your book than knew it existed beforehand. It might even make people curious. Readers are smart people, too, and they'll want to decide for themselves whether or not your book deserved that awful 1-star commentary. Here's the full report on their findings. 

Stanford's Web Credibility Project backs up this idea. They have found that what helps build product credibility (not just with books) are things like comments and reviews. The customer doesn't have to rely solely on your perfectly worded description, which they know was crafted to make them want to one-click your book. They have regular people's thoughts and recommendations, and the more the better. It gives them confidence. 

Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Baba Shiv broke it down to familiarity. He explained that the more familiar it is, the more likely it is that familiarity will factor into their purchasing decision. Familiarity is a positive feeling, overall, but, he admits, it can only take you so far against bad publicity. He also found that more well known books suffered worse from bad reviews. 

So what does this mean, other than that grabbing a spoon and a jar of peanut butter shouldn't be your first reaction to a bad review? 

It means that if you're a new author breaking into the market, don't get too worked up about a few bad reviews. Chances are, they're doing you a favor. If these reviews have valid complaints, definitely address them in your next book. You seem to have a bit of a grace period as a new author, though. Just be glad someone took the time to write a review and spread the word about your writing. Keep writing, keep improving, and hopefully by the time you become well known enough that bad reviews have more of a negative effect than a positive, you won't be getting many bad reviews :) 

Just one more bit of advice... don't even bother reading reviews of your books that are less than 3-stars. It's not worth the inevitable heartache. Most likely, the book simply wasn't for them, or they're a troll. Neither of which should deter you. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

#TensList: Ten things you probably didn't know about New Mexico

There are certain things that make a place unique. Many of my readers have never visited to New Mexico, and some probably have never even heard of it before! So here are a few things that are uniquely New Mexican. 

#1: There is a difference between Chile, chile, and chili, and yes, Chili's restaurant picked the wrong one. 

Chile is a country in South America, while chile (lowercase "c") is a pepper than is an ingredient in pretty much 90% of New Mexican dishes. Chili is made with beans. Meat is optional. New Mexicans know the difference between these three, and we just laugh when someone tries to tell us we spelled chile wrong. The best chile is grown in Hatch and Deming, NM, and fall in New Mexico smells like roasted chile peppers. 

#2: Cholo is a real word despite what Microsoft thinks.

What does it mean? Basically, it's a gangster. Urban dictionary even breaks it down by the dress code.  "A cholo is term implying a Hispanic male that typically dresses in chinos (khahki pants), a wifebeater sleeveless teeshirt or a flannel shirt with only the top buttoned, a hairnet, or with a bandana around the forehead, usually halfway down over the eyes. Cholos often have black ink tattoos, commonly involving Catholic imagery, or calligraphy messages or family names." 

#3: Roadrunners are real. 

I had to laugh the first time someone told me they thought roadrunners were just something from cartoons. Yes, they are real. Yes, they are in New Mexico. They're our state bird, actually ;) And yes, I have actually seen one. 

#4: Cheese is a staple. 

There is a difference between Mexican food and New Mexican food. One of the chief differences is the amount of cheese involved. Seriously, pretty much every NM recipe involves about a pound of cheese. That's how we like it. It is totally bizarre to me when I order fajitas at a restaurant and they don't give me any cheese. 

#5: It gets really cold here!

This applies to Northern New Mexico mainly, as the south does stay fairly warm all year. The high desert gets snow (not a lot) and it gets down into the teens and single digits during the winter. Just because it's desert doesn't mean it's year round shorts weather. And there's the wind. March through May, be prepared to feel like Piglet on a blustery day. It will literally try to blow you away. 

#6: Flooding is a real problem.

That probably sounds like craziness. It is the desert after all. Yes, we only get and average of somewhere around 14 inches of rain per year, which isn't much, but we like to get it all at once. We can get some of the craziest rainstorms you'll see that will warrant flash flood warnings to pop up on your TV. A few years back, my kids sat at the back door and watched their outside toys float away on the impromptu river that was flowing through our backyard. If it starts raining in New Mexico, get away from the arroyos. 

#7: Goatheads suck. 

You think stepping on Legos hurt? Try stepping on a goathead sticker. They actually look like little goat heads, with a round sticker with wicked looking barbs sticking out of it. If you've ever seen thorns on a Russian olive tree... that's what it feels like you're stepping on. Yeah. And to make it even worse, goatheads have poison in the barbs, so even after you yank that sucker out of your foot, it will keep hurting for the rest of the day. Oh, and goatheads, they're pretty much everywhere and the plants that spawn these little devils are impossible to kill. 

#8: Ditto for tumbleweeds. 

Not only are tumbleweeds real, you can really see them rolling down the street, or through my backyard, on occasion. They're the worst. They will roll themselves into your yard from who knows where, over your fence somehow, their pokey little stickers falling off to get stepped on or stuck in your clothes, as the go. And if you try to get rid of them while they're still green and growing... where some thick gloves. They will poke through just about anything, and they've also got poison of some kind in the stickery ends. Scratches from live tumbleweeds will itch and hurt  for quite a while!

#9: Frybread is reason enough to visit

If you've never had frybread, you'e missing out. It's exactly what it sounds like. A pretty basic dough stretched out flat and fried in vat of oil or lard. Cover it with salt or honey, or even better, all the fixings for a Navajo taco, and you're set. I''m not the best at making frybread, but it's delicious. It's a staple at county fairs, fundraisers, or some random guy's house who happens to be selling it on a Tuesday. For real, I see signs for frybread for sale around town all the time. 

#10: Christmas is a food preference. 

If you're in a New Mexican restaurant and you hear someone order "Christmas," you might be wondering what they heck they're talking out. It's summer! Those of us who live here don't bat an eye. New Mexico is famous not only for their green chile, but for red chile as well. Pretty much whatever dish you order, you get a choice of red on green chile to go with it. Some people don't like to choose, so they order both red and green. Christmas. See? We're not crazy. Personally, I don't care for red chile sauce all that much, so I never order Christmas, but it's always fun to hear someone else order it, because where else would you ever hear that? 

So, here are a few fun facts about my home state. What's something unique about where you live?

Monday, August 11, 2014

A different way to look at #Quantity and #Quality

The debate between quantity and quality usually has to do with producing more books by sacrificing quality. Here's a different way to look at these two important Qs. 

In the words of Ray Bradbury, "Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you're doomed." 

While I've only been publishing books since 2010, I've been writing since I was a teenager. The first full length book I wrote was absolutely terrible. It will never see the light of day. The short stories I attempted to write when I first started out have suffered a similar fate. I had notebooks and notebooks full of scribbled down story ideas that were only ever half developed. Yes, I started writing before the day when everyone had laptops and tablets. Everything I wrote in my teenage years died a slow death... except for one. 

Escaping Fate was the first book I published, but it was actually written when I was sixteen. And then rewritten. And then rewritten again. It took me ten years from first, lousy draft to having something capable of entertaining a reader. 

While I was rewriting Escaping Fate half a dozen times, I was working on other projects, improving my skills. One of those other projects was a mystery novel, which I seriously doubt will ever make it past my computer screen. Soft boiled mysteries are clearly not my genre. I don't know what possessed me to write a mystery novel. There were various other random things I wrote during that time. None of it amounted to anything, but it was great practice for me. Trying different lengths and genres helped me figure out what I really wanted to write... what I was actually good at writing. 

Even once I started publishing books, nothing changed. I have 13 published books right now. Guess how many I've written over the past fifteen years. About double that. Some of them are still works in progress that need fleshing out or more researching or a total revamp. Others, completely fizzled out and will never be touched again. 

Every book I've written, every book I've half-written, every book I've finished and then promptly trashed... they were all part of what Ray Bradbury is talking about. Quality and quantity isn't always about pumping out books by sacrificing quality. It's about writing good stuff and crappy stuff and mediocre stuff. It's about writing until you've honed your skills enough that you write more good stuff than lousy stuff. I don't think you ever get to the point where you only write good stuff, but that's okay, because it keeps you from getting lazy. 

So when you think about the Quality and Quantity, think about how you need one to have the other. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

#TensList: Ten Things I Hate

Since last week I shared ten things I love, I figured I might as well follow that up with ten things I do NOT love. So, here we go!

#1: Fixing my hair

In all fairness, I finally found a stylist who knows how to cut curly hair and does a great job, so now it's easier to get my hair to behave, but curls can be a pain in the butt. The second your cut gets too long, your curls start sticking out all crazy and all your good hair styles are useless. I really do like having curly hair now, even though I hated it when I was little, but it takes maintenance. 

#2: Shoes

I don't hate all shoes. I do run around barefoot a lot, however. The reason shoes make it onto my list are because I can never find ones that aren't horribly uncomfortable. Tennis shoes never have enough arch support, and trying to squish a support cushion into tennis shoes that already feel too tight is just the worst. Don't even get me started on dress shoes. If I could, I'd go shoeless everywhere. 

#3: Writing with pencils

I can't stand how the lead dust gets all over the sides of my hands if I accidentally touch it. It also annoys me that pencils don't stay sharp. I don't like writing with dull points. I'll stick to pens, thank you very much. 

#4: Sand

Okay, I don't hate sand on principle, it's great when it stays outside where it belongs, but it's not fun when it gets in your house. Living in the desert, we've got more sand than we know what to do with. It's impossible to keep it from getting in your shoes, and even more impossible for your kids not to dump it all over the floor when they take their shoes off. And FYI, growing anything is sand is a hopeless cause. 

#5: Ants

Like with sand, ants are great when they're outside doing their thing. How do they find ways into the house though? I swear, my kids drop one chocolate chip or piece of cereal on the floor and there's a bazillion of them all milling about trying to get a piece. Where do they come from???

#6: Whistling

This may be due to the fact that both my kids love to whistle, but they don't really know how to whistle a tune. It's just nonstop, tuneless, annoying whistling all day long. Seriously, it will drive you up the wall. Our house has now been dubbed a whistle free zone. 

#7: Driving through our local Sam's Club parking lot

If you don't live in Farmington, you can't sympathize, but honestly, this is the worst designed parking lot on the planet. I almost get hit by someone coming out of the gas station like it's about to blow up, or zipping across the main exit to get the the gas station EVERY TIME I drive through there. It's like playing Frogger, trying to making it through the cars that just power through without looking. 

#8: Spiders

That's probably not shocking, but I had to add it. We were starting to put together one of those wooden fort/swing sets for my kids, and inside one of the boxes was the nastiest spider I've ever seen. It was brown and fuzzy and at least as big as a quarter. It looked like a baby tarantula, though I didn't get close enough to double check. Thankfully, my brother-in-law squashed it. It was big enough that it left a little puddle of blood. Eew!!!

#9: Deciding what to make for dinner

Seriously, I don't know why this is so difficult. I literally dread it all day. I enjoy cooking and baking. I'm not the best chef in the world, but it's fun to get in the kitchen and make a mess and hopefully a good meal. Coming up with the idea is just the worst, though. I don't like eating the same thing more than once a week, and sometimes even that is too often, so I'm always struggling to come up with new ideas. My kids would literally be happy with pot pies every night, though, so this is really a self-created problem. 

#10: Sandwiches

I don't know what it is about sandwiches, but they just make me want to gag. I'm not talking Subway or some yummy roast beef on a kaiser roll or hunk of ciabatta. Those I'm good with. It's just the regular, plain Jane slice of lunch meat with cheese (American is the worst) between two squashy pieces of bread. Ugh. It sticks to the roof of your mouth and the mayo makes the bread soggy and it never quite fills you up. I'll have a salad, thanks. 

So, that's my whining for the day, and now it's your turn! What things can you absolutely not stand? 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Vlog Episode 3

Vlog Update! Today I'm answering questions from the lovely Susan Stec, about where Ketchup came from. Check it out!

Monday, August 4, 2014

There is a point...

There is a point in most writer's career when they realize... they don't crave that external validation like they once did. 

No, it doesn't come when you hit the NYT Best Seller list. I mean, maybe it does. I haven't gotten there yet, but I'm sure it's an awesome feeling either way. Regardless, it doesn't have to take accomplishing a milestone like that to have it hit you. 

When most writers start out, I think we all have that same feeling of nearly crippling insecurity. It sounds something like this ...

Is my writing good enough? Will anyone want to read it? Will my friends laugh at me if I tell them I'm writing a book? Am I totally crazy for thinking I can write more than my name? 

Then, as you get more serious about writing, it changes to ...

Can I get this published? Would an agent even be willing to entertain the idea of signing my ramblings? Why would anyone ever read one of my books when there are writers like Janet Evanovich out there cracking people up on a regularly basis? 

Then as you start submitting to agents and publishers and the rejection letters begin to pile up and your manuscript is gathering dust, that's when the panic begins to set in. It sounds something like this ...

WHEN will I get published? How do I make agents take me seriously? Why won't someone look at my book? What is wrong with my writing? Why don't people like my stories? Why don't people like me? 

Seriously, you start to feel like every rejection of your book is a rejection of you. You think you must be doing something wrong, but you have no clue what it is. We lose a few fellow writers at this point, but in general we're a persistent bunch, and we keep trying. We think everything will turn up rainbows and lollipops when we finally land our first contract. Then it HAPPENS ...and then we start to sound like this ... 

Why isn't my book selling better? Why isn't my publisher doing more? Who designed that awful cover? Is there an editor alive who actually knows how to edit for real? When will I finally get paid? Marketing sucks! This is way harder than I thought it would be. Noooo! I got a bad review!!! Why doesn't everyone adore my book? 

Writers spend years riding the roller coaster that is the world of writing and publishing. We go from emotional basket cases to deliriously over the moon to spitting mad at everyone involved in producing a book. 

And then that moment finally hits you ... 

There is a point when all of the frustration and agony you have been through suddenly doesn't matter anymore, because you realize you aren't crazy for wanting to be an author, and it doesn't matter if a few people don't like your writing (readers, agents, and publishers included), and you don't need that constant external validation from other people to understand that you know what you're doing. 

You've been at this long enough to know that you're a good writer. Whether an agent thinks your topic is derivative, or a publisher says they already have enough of what you just spent the last year pouring yourself into, or a reader thinks you're just writing Twilight knockoffs, you know that your stories have merit and will have an impact on the people who read it, and suddenly, that's all you need to know. 

Getting praise and great reviews is still fabulous, but being able do what you love is just as rewarding. If a publisher doesn't want your book, that's okay, because you have other options. You don't need them to tell you your book is good. You already know that. 

Everything else is just a bonus. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

#TensList: Ten Things I love...

Just for the heck of it... here are ten things I love, some of which are probably silly to admit to, but oh well. 

#1: Old Cartoons

I'm talking about early nineties and older. My favs are shows like The Flintstones, Scooby Do (not the new ones. It's supposed to be a real estate scam EVERY time!), Yogi Bear, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the old X-Men. They're fun and silly without having to be obnoxious and just plain stupid. 

#2: The names of paint colors

I know that sounds really dumb, but I can help enjoying names like cerulean blue and alizarin crimson and pthalo green. Don't they just sound like awesome colors? And then I get to mix them all together and make something new. In general, I love color and everything you can do with it. 

#3: Brand new colored pencils

There's just so much promise in a brand new, sharp colored pencil. It never writes quite the same after that first initial stroke. Some colored pencils are better than others, and my good ones are NOT to be used by my kids, but they hold up the best even after they lose their sharpness. 

#4: Bobs shoes

No, I didn't steal Bob's shoes. Bobs are, for lack of a better description, knockoffs of Toms. I'm not going to spend the amount of money it takes to get Toms, but the pair of Bobs I have are literally the most comfortable shoes I own. I wear them to work year round. 

#5: The Dresden Files

I really shouldn't have to explain this one, but just in case you don't know about The Dresden Files, it's a series by Jim Butcher about a Wizard who is in the phone book. Yep. I think that pretty much tells you why you have to read these books. They are amazing, and yes, Thomas is way more masculine than Edward any day of the week even with the fact that he owns a salon, bleeds pink, and has been known to dress as a pixie. 

#6: Yoga

Seriously, everyone should do yoga. I'm thinking about going back to teaching a few classes because my back has been killing me, but it's not just about pain. It's great for stress relief, focus and meditation, and staying fit. If you haven't tried it, go find a class. You'll be sore, but it will totally be worth it. 

(and yes, I can totally do the pose in the picture. For real.)

#7: Folk Music

Some of my favorite bands are Mumford and Sons, The Oh Hellos, Angus and Julia Stone, Fistful of Mercy, and Hozier. I love music that tells a story, often a somewhat dark story, while still maintaining a bit of an upbeat sound that doesn't totally depress me. 

#8: Dark Chocolate

I know a lot of people think dark chocolate is gross, but they are so very wrong. It's delicious. I don't like sicky sweet candy, and dark chocolate is so much smoother and melty than regular chocolate. Ghirardelli makes the best, but Lindt is a close second. And if you through in some sea salt... heaven. Seriously. 

#9: Old Movies

Bing Crosby, Fred Astair, Ginger Rogers, Audrey Hepburn, Vivien Leigh... I could watch them all day. Holiday Inn is just plain adorable, and not just because of Bing Crosby's ears, which always remind me of my dad's childhood pictures. His voice is pure delight, but he had this smooth, sweet personality that makes it impossible not to like him. And Audrey Hepburn... can you think of anyone who more accurate defines grace and poise. I love it. And now I want to go watch Charade

#10: Sticky Notes

They are a life saver. I have outlined entire books on sticky notes. I have a billion of them stuck to the whiteboard in my office as we speak. I use them at work. I have stuck them to the back of my phone to remind myself to call someone or pick something up. The traditional ones are the best, though. I don't particularly care for the accordion style pads. It's annoying trying to figure out which side you're supposed to pull from each time. 

So, there are my ten things I love, what do you admit to loving even if it might be silly?