Archive for 2012

Great Books I have Read Lately

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

A couple days ago I ranted about the rash of rotten books I’d read lately, and I asked for recommendations for well written erotic romance. Twitter and blog commenters came through for me. I thought I’d report back on my reading since then.

Several people recommended Cara McKenna and I was reminded that I’d read her Willing Victim some time ago and really liked it. At the time, I recall thinking that WV was not quite edgy enough for me. However, see below. The book specifically recommended to me was Ruin Me but I also bought Brazen and Don’t Call her Angel.

Ruin Me was wonderful and it was the perfect antidote for all those badly written books that made me want to reach through my iPad screen and slap the writers with a dictionary and a copy of Strunk & White. The writing was excellent, the characters were actual adults and the subject matter was complex. YES! Total win.

For all that I adored Ruin Me, I think I liked Don’t Call her Angel even better.  I’m not so fond of the title, but it doesn’t matter. The story was complex and full of interesting moral questions. Also, the hero of the story is … gasp … Middle Eastern but he was not just a collection of cliches about Middle Eastern men. I’m sure someone who is more familiar with the culture would know how accurately he’s situated in the story, but, for what it’s worth, he did not strike me as poorly handled. I fully admit I may merely be ignorant. For everyone who (rightly) bemoans the lack of heroes of color in Romance, here’s one for you.

Brazen was also a good story and I enjoyed it. Again, complex, grown up characters and excellent writing. I also re-read Willing Victim and liked it more on this second reading than on my first. I still wish the story had taken some bigger risks, but the writing is lovely and the characters are adults. I think that’s why I liked Don’t Call her Angel so much. The risks there are bigger.

I also re-read Heat, by R. Lee Smith only I skipped all the parts I knew would drive me crazy.  Heat is a crazy-ass unapologetic story that is utterly politically incorrect. Despite the weak writing (but still better than E. L. James) I give major kudos to any writer having the balls to write Heat. I wish Smith would hire a formatter and an editor. I wish she hadn’t put some of her other stories out there that made me sad because they were just rotten for all the reasons I ranted about before, especially when I know she can do better.

I have several more recommendations to get through and I’ll report back on those, but I did want to say thank you to everyone who recommended McKenna.

 

 

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The Letter Before P: Help a Reader Out

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

I have not had good luck lately with my reading. Very, very few have been wins and this makes me sad.

I’m tired of eBooks with rotten formatting. As someone who self-pubs, I understand the complexity of good formatting, but I am now tired to death of people uploading a Word document, doing little to no QA and calling it good. Maybe for 3% of you the result is fine. For the rest of you: Not. Outsource it or learn how yourself. I guess that’s a longer rant for another day.

My main complaint now is crappy books. What’s more, crappy books with double digit glowing reviews.

Here’s a hard truth: 97% of writers who get rejected by traditional publishers are getting rejected because the writing is crappy. Period. Obviously some writers have no idea how weak their writing is and they’re self-pubbing their crap. Bleh. I’m not sure if that’s worse than the traditional publishers who obviously didn’t bother to edit, copy-edit- proofread or format their over-priced offerings.

CRAP writing. CRAP!

“I just want to run,” she whispered, her eyes strangely blank, like she was retreating internally.
He pulled her so she was sitting and put his hands on either side of her face. It was so small, so precious, so cold between then. He was finding it hard to take air in.

Worse, the blurb actually suggests this book is edgy and full of disturbing sexual power dynamics. Uh, no. This book is full of emotionally immature characters with no depth and completely implausible events. Stupid and wrong history, too.

Should have stopped at down

I read three sentences of a YA that started like this:

I stand up and look down at the bed, holding my breath in fear of the sounds that are escalating from deep within my throat.

Great. More crap writing. stand up and look down. BAD. BAD CRAP! holding my breath…. Right. How the HELL is she making any sounds at all if she’s holding her breath? Really. Hold your breath. Now try to make a sound. You can’t.  . . .sounds escalating from deep within What the hell? Escalating is the WRONG verb. WRONG!

Downhill Fast

So then I started another book and that went downhill fast, too. I want the authors I read to have spent some time seriously pondering word usage because they find the subject riveting. Because then it’s likely words will get used carefully, correctly, and in interesting, thought provoking ways. The exact opposite of the use of words in this book.

Big Dark Secret!!! —— KIDDING!

The next book had some promise. There was a big dark secret in this OCD heroine’s past. BIG. DARK SECRET! And then… it wasn’t big or dark. It was just stupid. All her fucked-upness was fucked up only because the author didn’t have the nuts to make her actually fucked up. AND, she thinks she’s plain yet the hero describes her as centerfold hot. I’m sorry, but women who look like centerfolds are rarely unaware of the fact. BAD. BAD BAD BAD.

Dumb and Dumber

The next book also started out well. It quickly crashed and burned with the characterization getting stupider and stupider. The author set up rules of her story “We cannot do X because bad things will happen.” And voila! They do X and nothing bad happens. I’ll be honest here, this book devolved into what read like the author’s masturbatory fantasies where the rules only matter during the build up and then…. o …. and there’s no need to examine the thin constructs that lead to the letter before p because, you know, you got to the climax, only now there’s still 200 pages to write…. I could not finish. Skeevy and stupid.

Billions and billions of them…

The book before that one started out well enough. It takes place in an establishment dedicated to the pursuit of BDSM pleasures. The heroine is there and oddly clueless… she is unaware she is sexually submissive … and then wait for it . . . she’s actually a journalist looking to write a story about… Oh? You mean you’ve read 10 bazillion books with the same fucking plot? (Pun INTENDED!!) Yes, yes, all the dom men stand around getting hard ons because ohmygod she thinks she’s plain abut they all know she’s hot and submissive. Shoot me now.

Guess what else? Some of these books were traditionally published.

Help!

All I want is an insanely hot book that explores sexual power in a thoughtful, edgy, dangerous way. Need not be politically correct. MUST be well written and risky. The author MUST have spent some time thinking about alright vs. all right and come to a decision about which to use when (like maybe NEVER for one of them?) and why, and she/he should probably feel slightly smug about it. If tasked with writing 250 words on the subject, she/he should feel constrained by the word count and ready to rumble on the subject.

I would like recommendations. I have already read just about all of Charlotte Stein. The two big authors who probably leap to your mind I have either already read or, frankly, are not good enough in my never humble opinion.

Anyone who recommends his or her own book will be BANNED forever.

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Happy Holidays

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012
Three bright orange persimmons

Orange. Really Orange

Christmas Persimmons. Happy Holidays to everyone. Photo by Yours Truly

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Progress Report and Craziness

Saturday, December 22nd, 2012

Life has been busy lately, to say the least. In the writing realm, I can say that My Darkest Passion (My Immortals 5 – Harsh’s book) is still coming along.

I just completed a vast reorganization of the chapters. I haven’t settled yet on the way I will structure the story. I started out purely chronological then switched to some flashback scenes and now I’m back to chronological. The second method had some extremely effective benefits, but for the moment, I am going to work on this thing from point A to point B and then decide if that’s the best way to structure the final version.

Two red pens have been sacrificed during my last set of paper read throughs. TWO! I am on my third. The good news is this means things are way better. It means I am deepening emotions and characters and honing in on what makes them and their story tick.

I am close. Very close to sending it to my editor. But not yet.

This also means you can expect to see a completely different current chapter 1 posting soon.

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Nook vs. Kobo

Monday, December 10th, 2012

I was all excited when B&N debuted in the UK. It’s a savvy move that should have taken place sooner. But hey! Now it’s here!

Color me disappointed when I went to my PubIt dashboard for my self-published work and saw the rights choices. You can only pick one:

  • Worldwide
  • US and Canada
  • US only

Well, rats. This means the only way you can get onto B&N UK is if you have Worldwide rights to your book. That means I cannot put Scandal, Indiscreet, Not Wicked Enough or Not Proper Enough on sale there. Berkley has North American rights to those books.

I emailed PubIt and explained how excited I was at being able to get my books onto the UK site and my disappointment at learning Worldwide rights were required. I pointed out that many, many authors are in my situation. They emailed back promptly, but only reiterated the rights limitations I’d already pointed out and did not say a word about whether they intended to remedy the situation.

So, alas, UK readers who buy a Nook, I have 4 books I should be able to sell to you for your Nook, but cannot until B&N wakes up and smells the coffee.

Kobo

This weekend, I met up with some friends, including writer Rachael Herron who had just bought a Kobo Mini. It was so cute! It was only $79! If you buy it from your local independent, they get a cut of the books you buy!

So, guess what?

I went to my local Indie bookstore where I found the book I wanted to get my mother for her birthday, and I bought a Kobo Mini.

Unlike B&N, I can get all my books on sale at Kobo wherever I have those rights.

But I do have a criticism, and that is that the Kobo search feature is seriously effed up. Really, really messed up. The word “dysfunctional” does not begin to cover it. Wow.

Nevertheless, I plowed through whackadoodle search results and bought some of my books (RESEARCH! But also important technology acquisition) and one or two others not by me. Nice.

Rachael, the crafty woman, had already made her Kobo Mini a pouch– it matched her dress, for eff’s sake. I am not crafty like that. So I put my Kobo Mini in the pouch given to me by author Olivia Gates. So, mine is also hand-made (just not by me) AND it’s from Egypt. It is very stylish.

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Gasp! A Title for My Immortals Book 5? A Poll

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

Last night, I think I finally hit on a possible title for Harsh Marit’s story (My Immortals Series, Book 5). I keep mulling over a few things, like, should I keep the “My [Something] [Something]” pattern of the first 4 books?

Here are those titles, by the way:

1. My Wicked Enemy
2. My Forbidden Desire
3. My Immortal Assassin
4. My Dangerous Pleasure
4.5 Free Fall
5. ????????

Should I go completely different with the titles?

Anyway, here is a poll with two variations of my proposed title. Vote for your favorite or, in the comments, suggest, comment, criticize, improve, or just tell a really good joke.

Vote For your Favorite Title

View Results

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Oh, you’re wondering how things are going?

Friday, November 30th, 2012

Well. yes. I’m sure you’re wondering how things are going.

1. NaNoWriMo: fail. This year’s excuse: jury duty and the day job. Excuse rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

2. My Immortals Book 5 (Harsh Marit): Developing really well. But not as fast as I’d like. See #1. and #3.

3. Day Job: Don’t want to talk about it.

4. Bella, our new dog. Wonderful.

5. Weather: My favorite weather has arrived. I really prefer winters, keeping in mind that winter in my part of California means sometimes I have to wear socks. Cooler weather really works for me.

6. I have posted the current chapter 1 of Harsh Marit’s story, but this weekend I will post a pretty significant update. I am narrowing down some cover art choices and need to come up with a title.

7. I have red hair now. And hey! For those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter or Facebook, here’s a picture!

Carolyn with very very red hair.

Red.

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Special for you: My pumpkin pie recipe

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Yesterday, I made two pumpkin pies. One recipe was from the Joy of Cooking and the other was from our 1957 Betty Crocker cookbook. Except I added molasses to the latter. They were both good, but not, in my opinion, amazing. Since I cooked two pumpkins last weekend I have, no kidding, something like a gallon of fresh pumpkin puree. I also had two extra pie crust balls since last night I made enough for 4 pies (assuming single crust.)

For that reason, I left the left over pies at my brother’s house, with the intention of making more. Which I did tonight.

A couple of things in advance. You can totally use canned pumpkin for this, but it’s really easy to cook and puree your own, provided you have a food processor. Pureed pumpkin freezes really well, by the way. You can also use a prepared pie crust. I use the Joy of Cooking pie crust recipe, with the exception that where it says to add water, use water from a cup you have a lot of ice in so that the water is really, really, really cold. This is the key to a pie crust dough that is not too sticky to roll out.

My pie crust was the two dough balls from last night which I had wrapped in saran wrap and left in the fridge overnight. At first I thought it was going to be way too difficult to work since it was no longer room temperature. However, I found that removing the wrap and microwaving my dough ball for 15 seconds returned to dough to malleability. Here’s the fascinating part: This pie crust dough was a billion times easier to roll out and get into the pan. It was really easy. Probably a real baker knows why that is.

Anyway. I used two nine-inch pans. I cooked the pie crust for 12 minutes at 450. I do have pie weights. (cover the crust with aluminum foil and put your pie weights on the foil.) Then, provided you have all the ingredients to hand, the rest takes about 15-20 minutes. When your pie crusts are done, remove to cool, then turn the oven down to 425.

Please note I’m giving you my best approximation of the amount of spices. Mostly, as long as you keep things proportional and don’t go crazy with something strong like clove, you really can’t go wrong. If you don’t have allspice, use nutmeg, but reduce the amount. Nutmeg is a strong spice. I just realized I omitted salt. I didn’t miss it at all. Probably you should use no more than a tsp. But I always under-salt as I prefer the taste of less salted food. You can adjust the proportions of the spices depending on your tastes.

The Pie

Ingredients – For Two Pies

4 cups of pumpkin puree
3 cups of heavy whipping cream
6 eggs – slightly beaten
4 tbs dark molasses
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar (packed)
4-5 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp clove
2 tsp ginger
1 tsp allspice
1-2 tsp cayenne pepper

Put the pumpkin in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Stir it a bit till it seems like it’s getting hot. Add the spices only and stir your pumpkin for a bit. You want things to warm up and blend thoroughly. Add the molasses and keep stirring. You are not cooking anything, you’re just heating up the pumpkin and letting the spices absorb. If you use fresh pumpkin, you may need to stir a little longer as it will probably be wetter than canned. Regardless, this doesn’t take long at all.

Add the sugar and stir some more. Don’t let it sit, and do scrape the sides down often.

Add the cream and stir a lot, until blended.

Add a couple cups of the pumpkin mixture to your slightly beaten eggs and blend thoroughly. Pour this back into your sauce pan and blend thoroughly.

Pour the mixture into your pie pans. Cover the edges of the pie with aluminum foil and put in the oven. (Next time I might just lay a sheet of aluminum foil over the top of the pies as I think it would be neater, less work, and also prevent hotter spots from developing on the surface.)

Cook for 15 minutes at 425 then reduce the heat to 350 and cook for 40-45 minutes or until a knife comes out clean.

Let cool.
My pies were done (both times) at exactly 40 minutes.

A Few notes

The consensus at my bother’s was that the pie with molasses was more flavorful, and it was. Molasses really compliments the ginger and clove. The other one was creamier, but, to be honest, I thought the spices were too subtle. I made both pies with half and half, and I felt that I should have used heavy cream or evaporated milk, the half-and-half was not quite rich enough. The difference between the two recipes from yesterday was 3 eggs and less cream, or 2 eggs and more cream. I felt the 3 egg version was slightly better in texture.

Neither of the other two recipes called for heating the pumpkin (but I did that anyway). The pouring some of the pumpkin into the eggs, mixing and pouring back, is so often done with custard-based pies that are cooked, that I figured I would play it safe and do that with this version. I didn’t with the others, and those pies were good. This pie was awesome, so I wouldn’t skip that part.

My challenge tonight was achieving a combination of the two recipes that would give me a richer, zestier flavor with a smooth texture. So, as you can see, I went with more eggs and slightly less cream. I also used heavy whipping cream, but evaporated milk would probably have been fine, as it, too, is very rich and flavorful.

Cayenne pepper is the secret weapon of pumpkin recipes. That wasn’t in either of yesterday’s recipes, but cayenne pepper is a wonderful compliment when you want subtly zippy flavor for a pumpkin pie or soup.

I also changed the proportion of granulated sugar to brown sugar. Both of yesterday’s recipes used more granulated sugar and less brown sugar. I swapped those proportions. The taste of brown sugar is what you want in pumpkin pie.

Cooking your own pumpkin

This is really easy. Preheat oven to 325. Halve and scoop out a pumpkin. Arrange, rind side up, on an oiled cookie sheet. One with a rim is best, as there will be some water cooked out. Rub some olive oil over the outside of the pumpkin. Cook for 1.5-2 hours, until very soft. The skin will peel off easily if you’ve cooked it long enough. Puree the pulp in a food processor. (Remove the skin!)

Voila. Done.

It will keep in the fridge for 5 days or so. Freeze in 2 and 4 cup amounts if you’re not going to use it all pretty quickly.

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Happy Turkey Day!

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

I was going to post a picture of the turkey we used to have, but I organized all my pictures and now I can’t find anything. Instead, I will wish everyone celebrating Thanksgiving a very happy day and show you this picture:

Close up of a white pansy with raindrops

Photo by Yours Truly.

One of these days I will save up enough money for a telephoto lens and/or a more general purpose lens than my macro lens.

I am making slow but steady progress with My Immortals 5 (Harsh’s story). I’m at the point now where it just seems like I’m working through mess after mess, but I can see where the story is very much coming together.

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Effects of Unfairly Favorable Book Reviews on Independent Readers

Saturday, November 17th, 2012

Readers are cheated when a majorly flawed piece of writing receives unfairly favorable reviews.

Books with severe language errors cannot have earned a 5-star review. Correct grammar is not a matter of opinion. The correct usage of a word is not opinion. There are reference books that contain the rules of grammar. Dictionaries contain both the accepted spellings and definition of 99 percent of all words in the English language. There is no excuse for getting these things wrong out of ignorance or sheer lack of interest.

No reader should be required to mentally substitute correct grammar, word usage, and sentence structure in order to make sense of the words the writer actually put on the page.

Readers have a right to assume the writer has written in a purposeful way such that she has, in fact, said what she means. When the connection between words, sentences, and meaning is fundamentally broken, then, objectively, that book does not deserve a 5-Star review. Yet such books do receive 5-star reviews.

Some Examples

I hated Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. I think that book has serious flaws, but none of them are language flaws. Franzen’s writing is not incoherent. He uses words correctly. My disagreements are with the story he chose to tell and the actions of his characters in that story. Reasonable people can, and have, disagreed with my opinion. I understand why someone might give the book 5 stars. There are, by the way, 1,091 Amazon reviews of this book. The average star rating is three. 307 of them are 5-star reviews. 308 are 1-star. Obviously, opinions differ.

There are two self-published books I’ve read recently and both were dreadful. The writing in both was immature and unprofessional. The plots appealed to me, which is why I bought them, but the execution was so bad, I could not finish either. One of them has 23 reviews on Amazon with a 4.5 star average. The lowest star reviews are 3-stars and there are only three of them. A book that is objectively bad did not get a single 1-star review. That is a completely unfair representation of the objective quality of the book.

Here’s a snippet from one of the reviews:

. . . one word that would express my thoughts of this book, and the only one that I can find is WOW!

Really? Really? The writing is objectively bad. BAD. The heroine is infantile and infantilized. The writing is confusing and muddled. This author brings all the insight and maturity of a five-year-old to her work. None of the reviewers who gave this book five stars said word one about any of the objective flaws. Why? What’s fair to the reader when a book receives a plurality of glowing reviews that omit mention of such egregious writing errors?

In case you think I’m picking on self-published books, how about Hugh Howey’s Wool? Howey was never NY published, and yet Wool is better, yes, better, than most of what comes out of NY. Readers found him, in droves.

There are 2,415 reviews of the Kindle Omnibus version and the star average is five. Wool is an amazing piece of writing, in my opinion. Like Franzen, Howey does not make language errors. If you read Wool, or Freedom, for that matter, you can assume the words were chosen with great care and thought and that the authors thought hard about the stories being told.

Don’t Cheat the Reader

Wool and Freedom are a far cry from books written by an author who can’t spell, doesn’t know the difference between past and passed and couldn’t correctly punctuate a sentence if her life depended on it.

Giving books like those 5-stars cheats the reader, and those reviews unfairly increase the ranking of those books.

Take Your Review with Lumps

If you’re an author, take your lumps. Franzen is considered one of America’s greatest writers, and his book has 307 1-star reviews, while books written by authors with less than a third-grade command of language receive not a single 1-star review. How is that fair? Say what you will about Franzen’s book or his blindness to the reality of being a woman in America, I’ve not heard him whine about bad reviews.

If Franzen can suck it up, so can you. If a book like Freedom, which some reviewers called a masterpiece, can end up with an average 3-star review, then surely the rest of us can live with the same result for our books.

This is my my response to this baloney.

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