Why Do We Read?

I read because I love words.
But when I read, I get sucked in and forget about the words.
I read because I’m tired of talking to people.
But when I read, I end up talking to people about it.
I read because it relaxes me.
But when I read, I get excited.
I read because it helps me forget my cares.
But when I read, I start caring about a whole new batch of people.
I read because stories let me escape the world.
But when I read, I learn more about the world.
I read to forget that I’m going to die and so will everything else.
But death happens in books sometimes, too.
I read to be happy.
But books can make me sad.
I read because I love it.
But I don’t know why.

Reading in Bed

They say it’s not good “sleep hygiene” to read in bed. Your bed should be just for sleeping and, you know — baum-chicka-baum-baum! That way you associate your bed with sleeping (and/or sex) and sleep (or make whoopie) better.

(I added the stuff about making better whoopie, but by the law of associations, it makes sense, right?)

Problem is, I love reading in bed! I can’t give it up. No way.

Today Is Tolkien Reading Day! … #MadMarchness … #TolkienReadingDay

But what if you’ve already read Tolkien a zillion times?

(Um … “more than five but fewer than ten” doesn’t count as “a zillion,” right? Okay, good. Just checking.)

As I was saying, what if you’ve already read Tolkien a zillion times? Well, read a different book with Tolkien in mind. Or read Tolkien today and buy something written by one of Tolkien’s hopeless-nerd groupies another perfectly respectable author for another day.

TDR_site_header-300x63
A bunch of fantasy writers have gathered to offer their books at the bargain-basement price of $.99 in a Tolkien Reading Day promotion. Nolander is $.99, and so are more than twenty other books. Stock up and enjoy!

Being “Fair” to Your Characters

The longer I spend with my characters, the more I feel like a parent. I mean I am a parent: I have twins who are about to turn three. What I mean is that I’m beginning to feel like my characters’ parent as well. That is to say, I feel responsible for them in a particular way that reminds me of how I feel about my kids.

When I’m parenting, I try to give my kids opportunities to succeed. I mean, I’d much rather not put them in situations where they’re very likely to fail. I’d rather try to create situations in which they’re likely to succeed. For instance, I’m trying to teach my kids to share with each other. Perhaps with twins, especially, that’s an ongoing battle. I’ve found there are moments when the suggestion to share is more likely to be accepted, and I try to jump on those, so that I can praise good behavior. Of course, that’s not always possible. Kids don’t always succeed. But I want to give them opportunities to do so — as many as possible.

I’ve realized I feel the same way about my characters. I feel responsible for giving them opportunities to be their better selves, to reveal positive traits that might not necessarily be apparent, at first. As with my kids, it’s not always possible. After all, most of my characters are adults, and real life sadly doesn’t construct itself so as to encourage any particular person’s success. Events seem far more random than that. And, even when given the opportunity, not everyone steps up and does the right thing. A fictional world in which they did would ring false. But still, if I don’t at least create opportunities for showing a better side … well, I sort feel like a heel!

Indie Authors and the “Rule of Seven”

Why market your books? It takes time away from writing, after all.

I’ve been thinking for the last few months about the so-called “rule of seven” — the old advertising saw that people need to see or hear your marketing message seven times before they’ll follow through with a purchase. Maybe it’s true, in at least a general way, that potential buyers are more likely to pull the trigger if they’ve built a sense of familiarity with a book through repeated exposure. (I’m a little doubtful about the power of seven in particular.)

So I’ve been trying to get Nolander out there a bit more in low-key, low-stakes ways. I have an ad running on Goodreads (23,309 views and thirteen clicks — about an average rate, believe it or not). Occasionally I promote a post on Facebook. And for the time being, I’m keeping Nolander discounted to try to keep it prominent in Amazon’s “also-bought” recommendations and to try to gain exposure on the other sites (the latter is not easy, that’s for sure). In a few days, Nolander‘s cover will be part of a genre-guessing game on The Cheap Ebook. Later this month, I’ll be joining with other authors on the Magic Appreciation Tour for a Spring Equinox promotion. In April I’ll be promoting the book through Kindle Boards Blog.

And sometimes a little bit of exposure just falls in your lap: today Victorine Lieske‘s terrific book-discovery site, Addicted to Ebooks, chose to feature Nolander on its front page. Isn’t that nice? Thank you, Vicki! :)

At the same time, I’m trying not to let my promotional activities eat into my writing time too much. After all, if you think of the author herself as the “product,” then each new book presents that product to the public all over again.

Why Do You Write?

“Life is pain, Princess. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.”

That’s from The Princess Bride, one of my all-time favorite movies. (Please forgive if I didn’t get it exactly right — I’m quoting from memory.)

The hero says this line to the heroine when they’re at odds, yes, but it’s a romance. There’s a happy ending. Pain and suffering are worth it because the bad experiences lead to the ultimate prize for each character. They’re a kind of dues-paying. So the movie itself undercuts the hero’s assertion: life contains pain, yes, but it’s not identical with pain. In the end, love, friendship, and satisfaction trump suffering.

But real life isn’t like that, is it? Sure, many people find happiness, but some get far more than their share of suffering. Some people — perhaps many people — spend their entire lives desperately needing something they’ll never get. Some people lose everything they love. Some people have experiences that destroy them. Maybe it’s too extreme to say “life is pain” for all of us, but it sure as heck is for some of us, and I bet many of us have dark moments when it feels that way.

And that’s why I write.

I’ve been involved peripherally in the world of writing for many years, now, and since I wrote my first book, I’ve gotten to know quite a few more authors. Thus, I can say with some confidence that people write for many reasons. Some feel they have a story inside them clawing to get out, and they find no peace until they write it down. Some write because they enjoy it, some because they appreciate the challenge. As for me, I write to make recompense for pain.

When I open a book to read, I forget myself, forget my life, forget my problems (piddling as they are, compared to many people’s). Instead I focus on other people’s problems, other people’s pain, other people’s happiness. I may suffer with them, but at least it’s not my suffering. And when they feel joy, so do I.

Some view read reading as a solitary activity. I disagree. I think reading is profoundly social, a turning away from a focus on the self, an engagement with the other. What does it matter that the others inside books aren’t real? They’re real to me, and in their variety, they show me far more worlds than I would ever see if I were restricted to my own day-to-day experiences, which are so limited by the particulars of my life.

That’s reading: a turning away from inwardness that brings a respite from the trials of selfhood, however brief, and tutors us in empathy for people we might otherwise never consider. That’s why I read.

And that’s why I write. Other authors have given me recompense many a time. Now I want to give recompense to others as best I can.

Guest Post by Elizabeth Baxter, Author of The Last Priestess

TheLastPriestessCoverToday The Active Voice is celebrating the release of The Last Priestess, a fantasy novel by author Elizabeth Baxter. Beautiful cover, eh?

There is a name that is uttered only in whispers. The Songmaker. A ruthless rebel mage, he is bringing civil war to the once-peaceful kingdom of Amaury, enveloping all in a tide of violence. For Maegwin, a tormented priestess, the path forward lies in forgiving her temple’s enemies—but she dreams only of revenge. For Rovann, a loyal mage haunted by his failures, salvation might be found in the unthinkable: defying the very king he swore to protect. If they are to succeed they must form an unlikely alliance. For someone must stand against the Songmaker. Someone must save Amaury from his dark designs. But first, they’ll have to learn to trust each other.

And so a magical fantasy of darkness and redemption begins.

Read an excerpt:

Maegwin de Romily woke with a headache on the morning of her execution.

As she roused from dark dreams she became aware of smells first: damp stone, the skitter of rats, the hushed voices of the other prisoners. Then finally, sight. Dawn sunlight fell through the barred window so brightly it brought tears to her eyes and made her head pound like a drum, beating out the rhythm of her heart.

About Elizabeth Baxter:

I’ve been a bookworm since I was five years old. The first book I ever read was about a boy going shopping with his mum. I picked it up from my brother’s bedroom floor and suddenly those strange shapes on the page made sense. I could read! Hallelujah! I was soon working my way steadily through the school library and it wasn’t long before I realised that stories about dragons, elves and great big talking lions were by far the most interesting. And that was it, my obsession with fantasy fiction was born.

I wrote and published my first book when I was six. This was a rip-roaring adventure tale called “The Golden Pheasant,” about, well, a golden pheasant. I wrote out three copies on bits of paper pulled from my school books, bound them in covers made from old cereal boxes, and gave them out to my teachers. And that’s it. I was a writer!

When I’m not writing I enjoy playing tennis (badly), playing the guitar (very badly) and watching cricket whenever I can. I’m also intent on cramming as much world travel as I can into one lifetime. Funny, but my list keeps getting longer. You can never see it all can you?

EBaxterprofilepictureYou can connect with Elizabeth Baxter on her blog, her Amazon author page, Facebook, and Twitter.

Guest Post by Vanna Smythe, Author of Protector

Can Love Bring Back The Natural Balance of Things?

Anniversary of the Veil bannerProtector (Anniversary of the Veil, Book One) is based on twin souls and the energy of love released when they find each other. The belief in twin souls, that is, a soul mate in the form of your one true love, existing somewhere in the world and pulling you towards them relentlessly and ceaselessly, is the underlying theme of Protector and the entire Anniversary of the Veil series. Only, in this world that I created the energy released when two twin souls find each other is used for purposes that are not altogether enjoyable for the pair.

In the world of the Anniversary of the Veil series, Joinings of such strong love, and the energy they release, have been used to build bridges and tall buildings, stem the flow of rivers, even change the duration and force of seasons. One thousand years ago, energy from one such pair was used to separate the world in half by a barrier only a select few can cross. On one side of this barrier, or Veil as it is called, they have continued with the forced Joinings, while on the other side the practice was eradicated. This was achieved mainly through the means of keeping the people ignorant and under the complete control of the Priesthood. The priests rule the realm from the shadows. Among other things, they also decide who can marry whom, so as to prevent any natural Joinings of love from occurring.

Protector takes place at a time when the fate of this barrier must be judged. The decision of whether the Veil should continue to stand, or if it is time to let the world be whole again, must now be made.

Princess Issa is one of a pair, called to her other half, her twin soul. She is ignorant of her true purpose, steered to go along and find her love, not knowing that a Joining waits at the end of her journey. Unbeknown to her, she is loved from a distance by Protector Kae, a soldier assigned as her bodyguard and the one whose role, whose decision, could decide the fate of all.

How long can a world where something as natural as the energy of love is twisted and used for artificial purposes exist? Will love prevail and restore the natural balance of things? What price must be paid? Answers to all these questions and more wait in Decision Maker, Book Two of the Anniversary of the Veil Series, which is already out.

You can follow Vanna on Twitter or Facebook, and visit her website.

Review: Shadow of Time, by Jen Minkman

Shadow of Time (2013)
By Jen Minkman
How did I get this book? The author sent me an advance review copy in exchange for an impartial review.
Available on Amazon.

Disclaimer: Jen Minkman is an online acquaintance of mine; some months ago, she reviewed my first book.

Shadow of Time coverOkay, I’m just going to come right out and say it: Shadow of Time is my favorite paranormal romance ever! What did I like so much about it? Its seriousness.

I don’t mean to make Shadow of Time sound like a bore. It’s not in the least. It’s an involving, well written story with characters I cared about and rooted for at every turn. It’s exciting, with threads of mystery and action/adventure underlying the romance in a stimulating way. It’s also movingly sweet and tender. And the paranormal elements are c-r-e-e-p-y!

No, by “serious” I mean that the book carefully situates its romance plot in Native American history so as to make the characters’ future matter not just to them and their friends/families, but in a bigger way.

When I first realized Shadow of Time‘s hero and heroine were a Native American man and a white American  woman, I was a little worried. I’m not a fan of Native American romance as a subgenre. (Not aware that there is such a subgenre? Oh yes, there very much is. Google it and check out the hundreds of books Goodreads-shelved as “Native American romance.”) Here’s Sherman Alexie lampooning the subgenre:

I was a little Spokane Indian boy who read every book and saw every movie about Indians, no matter how terrible.

I’d read those historical romance novels about the steroidal Indian warrior ravaging the virginal white schoolteacher.

I can still see the cover art.

The handsome, blue-eyed warrior (the Indians in romance novels are always blue-eyed because half-breeds are somehow sexier than full-blooded Indians) would be nuzzling (the Indians in romance novels are always performing acts that are described in animalistic terms) the impossibly pale neck of a white woman as she reared her head back in primitive ecstasy (the Indians in romance novels always inspire white women to commit acts of primitive ecstasy). (quoted from “I Hated Tonto (Still Do)”)

That pretty much says it all. So, I thought, is Shadow of Time going to be one of these? That would suck.

Well, it’s not. Not in the least. I don’t want to go into too many details, because they’d be spoilers, but I will say this much: Minkman has done her research. Serious, in-depth research into Navajo language, mythology, place, and history. The romance she’s crafted is inextricably woven through with the tragedy, bravery, resistance, survival, and present-day life of the Navajo people. The Native Americans in Shadow of Time are not exoticized. They’re normal people trying to lead normal lives in the complicated junction where Native American culture meets the steamrolling force of white America.

That’s what I mean by “serious.” This is a book that combines the joyful escapism of the romance plot with some serious historical heft. It’s satisfying on multiple levels at once. What a treat. I loved it.

Needless to say, I highly recommend this book. It’s appropriate for adults and young adults, including (I think) readers on the younger end of the young-adult spectrum.

Guest Post: How to Crack the Market in Your Own Country, by Jen Minkman

Shadow of Time book blog bannerI have been writing paranormal romance for almost three years now. When I first learned about the genre, it was through Stephenie Meyer’s books, which were a huge hit in Europe at the time, my own country, the Netherlands, included. Inspired by the storytelling and sheer scope of possibilities within the genre, I started writing my own book. The story was called Shadow of Time and it was a paranormal romance set in Navajo Nation, heavily influenced by Native American spirituality, mythology, and history. I wanted to do something that hadn’t been done yet, and in a sense, I was already doing that by writing in this genre — I was (to my knowledge) the first writer of the genre in the whole of Holland. So when I sent out the manuscript to several publishing houses, I more or less hoped they would jump at the chance to publish something in this bestselling genre which was written by one of their compatriots.

minkman_author-picI was wrong. Rejection after rejection found its way to my mailbox, and most of those rejection letters weren’t even saying I couldn’t write — they just said they couldn’t sufficiently market my book. Slowly, it started to dawn on me: why would publishers invest in a nobody like me when it was so much easier to acquire translation rights for a bestselling book from the U.S. or the UK? Goodbye, Jen Minkman, hello L. J. Smith.

Stubborn as I am, I just wouldn’t give up, though. I started sending my manuscript to publishers known for their publications of original Dutch and Belgian work. And the hard work paid off: in the summer of 2011, I found a small independent publisher who liked my manuscript enough to publish it. However, I had to take a detour. Since Ellessy Publications hadn’t published any paranormal romance books yet, they asked me to write a ‘normal’ romance first, in order to prepare their market segment for me and my work. I wrote a chicklit in one summer, and Back to School! (set in a Dutch high school in The Hague) saw the light of day in September 2012. My first book (which would be my second published book) is scheduled to follow later this year, in September 2013.

Shadow of Time coverIn the meantime, it had occurred to me that translating my own book into English might prove lucrative. At the very least, it would reach far more people than just the 23 million Dutch-speaking people in Holland and Belgium. So I took it upon me to re-write and translate my book into English (I come from a family of English teachers and am a teacher of the language myself) and asked a freelance editor from the U.S. to have a thorough look at it.

This is why the book is already available in English, but not yet in my native tongue. It turns out self-publication works a lot faster, despite all the hard work it took me to prepare the book for its international appearance.

The upside? I am already getting very good reviews for Shadow of Time, and this makes me more confident the book will sell well in my own country as well.

The downside? I feel like foreign readers will probably appreciate me and my books more than the people from my own country ever will, and that somehow saddens me. Who knows, though? They might learn about the title because of rave reviews abroad!