Monday, March 25, 2013

Ugly Book Covers

If you search around online, you can find countless samples of ugly book covers.  Here are a few of my (least) favourites.

Looks like someone was playing on their home computer...  Even the font/font colour are unappealing. 
Even books that become classics can have an ugly cover.

I don't know where to begin...  It's the images in particular that I dislike, not the title text.

It's all just so wrong!

Don't like the title itself, don't like the design/image/fonts.
This is so bad, so cheesy, I almost kind of like it!

Even BIG NAME authors like Atwood can end up with a dud of a cover.
Another one that's so bad, it's almost good.  I especially like the bunny's teeth!

Disclaimer: Yes, I know: Tastes and preferences vary among individuals!  And, yes, I bet there are lots of people out there who think the covers of my books suck.  Just humour me with this post, okay? 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Bulwer-Lytton Bad Writing Awards

Below is a random sampling of winners and (dis)honourable mentions from the Bulwer-Lytton Awards for 2012.  The awards are given for the best (worst) opening lines for a (would-be) novel.  Bulwer-Lytton was the author of the line that has now become the standard-bearer of cheesy opening lines, even Snoopy used it:

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”  -EG Bulwer-Lytton, "Paul Clifford" 1830.

And now, here is the best of the worst:
“Chester and Harry, you don't have the stomach for this, but Dick and I do,” the leggy blonde said in a throaty voice as she headed back in to finger – and hopefully nail – the brains and muscle of the strong-arm syndicate, the heel that gutted her niece. — Bill Hartmann, Dallas, TX

 Inspector Murphy stood up when he saw me, then looked down at the lifeless body, crumpled like a forlorn Snicker’s candy wrapper, and after a knowing glance at Detective Wilson pointed to the darkening crimson pool spreading from the stiff’s shattered noggin, and said, “You settle it, Gibson; does that puddle look more like a duck or a cow?” — Carl Stich, Mariemont, Ohio

The blood seeped out of the body like bad peach juice from a peach that had been left on one side so long the bottom became rotten while it still looked fine on the top but had started to attract fruit flies, and this had the same effect, but with regular flies, that is not say there weren’t some fruit flies around because, after all, this was Miami. — Howard Eugene Whitright, Seal Beach, CA

The drugged parrots pelted the village like a hellish rain of feathered fanny packs stuffed with claws and porridge, rendering Claudia’s makeshift rabbit-skin umbrella more symbolic than anything else. — Jeff Coleburn, West Chester, PA

Their love began as a tailor, quickly measuring the nooks and crannies of their personalities, but it soon became the seamstress of subterfuge, each of them aware of the others lingual haberdashery: Mindy trying to create a perfectly suited garment to display in public and Stan only concerned with the inseam. — D. M. Dunn, Bloomington, IN

The two power-hungry, 20-something biographers met with me incognito and settled on penning my memoirs, one on a percentage of future sales and one on upfront remuneration; so there is one yuppie I pay, one yuppie I owe, ghostwriters in disguise. — Peter Bjorkman, Rocklin, CA

Her skin was like flocked wallpaper and her eyes had seen better days, but when her bloodless lips murmured “Hi, Sailor,” my heart melted from the inside out like one of those chocolate-covered ice cream bars on a summer day that runs down your arm and gets all over your new shirt. — James Macdonald, Vancouver, B.C.

The syncopated sound of the single-cylinder steam motor, designed by Mier Vander, reminded Mier of the time his father took him to the Mollen Bros travelling circus to see the “Corpulent Lady” and to sit upon her lap immediately following her lunch of sauerbraten and ale. — Jim Tierney, Murrieta, CA 



Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Food for Crime Fiction

Deadly Dining!   
I found these pics online and would love to serve some of these dishes at my next book launch party!

Monday, March 18, 2013

I'm SO Mad At Myself!

I could seriously kick myself!!!!  For the first time EVER since I started writing, I screwed up royally!  I am dumber than I previously thought.  Much dumber...  Kicking myself again and once more...

I do my writing in MS Word, and when the manuscript starts to take shape, I print it out, grab a red pen and write in revisions, all kinds of revisions - to plot, character, dialogue - and do some editing and corrections as well.

I finally had enough of the new Sasha book written to print it out and get busy with the red pen.  Then I got onto the computer and input all the revisions on the Word file.

I spent about twelve hours working on it yesterday.  

I just opened the file tonight and realized immediately that something was wrong... The word count is considerably LESS today that it was last night.  

I did not save my changes!

On top of that, last night I took out the garbage and recycling, so all those printed pages, with all that red ink are now long gone.

I have no idea how I managed to do (or rather, NOT do) that.  About twelve hours worth of work and creativity are gone.  Damn.  I am such an idiot.

** Spare me the "You should have...." comments.  I already know what you're going to say and I've said it to myself already.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Recent Reads: Last Numismatic Mutiny

The Last Juror, by John Grisham

I hate to say it, but this one just didn't work for me.  Likeable characters, a good setting, but it's not the usual Grisham thrill-ride. The pace is very slow (too slow), and the ending is predictable.

Numismatic Forgery, by Charles M. Larson

Audacity! Audacity! Audacity!  

Wow - I really should inspect things more carefully before "adding to cart" the suggestions on Amazon about "Customers who bought___ also looked at ___"

I have a mild interest in coin collecting.  I was ordering a couple of books and this popped up as a suggestion, so I bought it along with the others.  

Holy smokes!!!!  

It's not a history of or a beginners guide to or what to watch out for... It's an instruction manual!  It tells you step by step - in great detail, very specific detail - how to forge coins (especially "old" or "ancient" coins).  It tells you all the materials and equipment needed, melting temperatures, agents to make coins look aged or shiny, how to modify equipment that a jeweller might use, etc. etc. etc.  Very technical. 

This was actually kind of boring, except for the fact that it's just so darn bold!

Mutiny on the Globe, by Thomas Farel Heffernan

A real life pirate story! This has a neat start, then lags a wee bit, but soon it becomes quite fascinating and stays that way until the end.  Really glad I read it! 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Weird and Wonderful Words

A random sampling of weird and wonderful words from various places around the web.  As a fun little challenge to myself, I may try to use some of these in my next book!

BLOVIATE: to speak in a pompous manner (Wish I had known this word back when I was writing The Lies Have It!)

CONTUMELIOUS: scornful or arrogantly rude (I may be able to use this one....)

DISPLUME: to strip someone of their honours 

FARTLEK: a training system for runners  (I can see the appeal of this word to 13 year old boys...)

FOUDROYANT: boomingly loud

GARDYLOO: warning cry (I wouldn't heed this as a warning of danger; I'd probably laugh instead.)

HARDEL: the back of the hand

ICTERICAL: with a yellowish hue or tinge 

INANILOQUENT: pointless chitter-chatter (LUV this one!)

JARGOGLE: to confuse (For sure, this will end up being said in a future Sasha Mystery!)

JENTACULAR: pertaining to breakfast (It's such an UNappetizing word.)

MESONOXIAN: of or pertaining to midgets (MUST find a way to use this in some future book or story.)

OXTER: armpit

PLUVICULTURE: the "science" or sorcery for making it rain 

RATHSKELLER: a bar or tavern below street level (I'm so there! So is Sasha!)

SALEBROSITY: jaggedly rough 

SALOPETTES: quilted, chest-high ski pants, held in place by shoulder straps 

SCEVITY: misfortune

Friday, March 8, 2013

Interview with Sarah Dearing, author of The Art of Sufficient Conclusions

Your first book, The Bull Is Not Killed, came out in 1998.  CourageMy Love, which came out in 2001, was your next release.  Finally, after a decade, The Art of Sufficient Conclusions came out.  How good did it feel when you got the first copy in your hands?  What kinds of responses or feedback have you been getting for The Art of Sufficient Conclusions?

 A decade was far too long between books, and I hope that never happens again, but when I finally held a copy, it felt as though the wait was worth it for finding the right publisher and editor. Mansfield Press provided the most rigorous editing process I’ve ever been through so I felt confident it was the best book it could be, which is no small thing, particularly for as personal book as this one. The cover is perfect and thoughtful, which is not always the case. I had to fight over the cover of Courage of My Love to get it changed from a stock image of a passive woman to one with energy and life.  The most satisfying responses are from women who, like the main character Abby, grew up fatherless, see some reflection of themselves in her and realize they may not be so strange after all.  

The Art of Sufficient Conclusions is described as a “literary mash-up of fiction, memoir, and archival material.”  That’s quite the balancing act!  Did you have to rein yourself in at times?  Did Nonfiction Sarah take over at times?  Was Literary Sarah trying to steer things?

The most difficult part was stepping away from the factual and making Abby less like me, while still being true. It was constraining at times. 

As they say in real estate: location, location, location!  Setting plays a significant role in all three of your novels.  In fact, in their review of Courage My Love, The Globe and Mail said: “Sarah Dearing so strongly depicts an angle on a place and a time, so profoundly evokes a stench and a feeling, that it creates a true literary landscape. It’s a place you could paint from memory.”  Wow!  Talk about high praise!   Talk to me about place.  Do you have to love a place to write about it?  Can you write about a (real) place you’ve never been to?

Place intrigues me on several levels. I’m constantly aware of how my environment affects my mood and perspective and I need it to change frequently, even if it’s something minor like rearranging the furniture or taking a different route somewhere. It’s contradictory because I also love the familiarity and ritual surrounding certain kinds of places, like cottages, where even minor change feels like an affront. Loving a place provides a great deal of motivation to try to do it justice in writing, but it’s not necessary. It might be easier, or more enjoyable, but it’s not a prerequisite. London, England features significantly in The Art of Sufficient Conclusions, and I write about not loving it at all. I think it’s possible to write about a real place without ever having been, but where’s the fun in that?  Travel allows us to be different versions of ourselves and to discover things about who we are, either personally or culturally. I think that’s an important part of being a writer. 

The publishing landscape has undergone a sea change since your previous books were released.  How do you feel about the changes in the book world?  What opportunities do you see in ebooks and social media? 

I remember it was a bit of a parlour game when writers got together to bitch about our publicists and now we have to be our own publicists. There’s an irony there but since I try not to look backwards, I am actually quite ambivalent about changes in the book world. I think the potential is there to reach more readers through ebooks but I don’t think ebooks have reached their full potential yet. As far as social media goes, I suspect it is effective but I’m not very motivated to self-promote right now. I only want to focus on my next project, particularly after such a long gap between books. Once I’m in a fictional world, I need to be as fully immersed as possible, to the exclusion of just about everything else. I hope I can get more in the swing of it with my next novel.

I have to ask this (I already have my own answer to the question...) but if a hot-shot Hollywood director showed up on your doorstep and offered you a bucket of cash to make a movie of The Art of Sufficient Conclusions, who would you cast as Abbie?

The first person to come to mind is Lauren Ambrose, who played Claire in Six Feet Under. I’m curious who your choice would be.

What can you tell me about your current work in progress?

I have two novels in progress, but the one I’m focused on right now (maybe because I’m tired of winter) is inspired by time I spent working at a dodgy hotel on Corn Island, Nicaragua, and is more like my first novel in terms of style. It’s also narrated by a 13 year-old girl who is nothing like me, which is sort of like taking a vacation from myself. It’s a wonderful thing to be constrained only by the authenticity of voice and plot.

Mystery author Elmore Leonard once said: “My most important piece of advice to all you would-be writers: when you write, try to leave out all the parts readers skip.”  What piece of advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Read lots of great books in whatever genre you’re writing and feel envy. 

What do you think is the biggest misconception, the most frequently circulated myth about writing and being an author?

The glamour of it all?  

What are your thoughts on the following quotation:  The tendinous part of the mind, so to speak, is more developed in winter; the fleshy, in summer. I should say winter had given the bone and sinew to literature, summer the tissues and the blood,” John Burroughs, The Snow-Walkers.  

It sort of dismisses all the brilliant literature from perpetually warm places. I get what he’s saying, but maybe it’s more about the hardship and isolation of winter; the sensual and social aspects of summer.  Desert/seaside might be an equally apt comparison or mountain/valley.

When you take a break from writing and have time to curl up with a book, what do you like to read?  Who are some of your favourites?

If I really want to get out of my own head, I go for a good mystery or spy thriller from the likes of Ian Rankin or John Le Carre. I think David Mitchell is the most interesting contemporary literary writer and eagerly await whatever he publishes. T.C. Boyle for his expansive vocabulary and George Orwell for his economy. 

The last question is a bit of a freebie:  What is the one question you wish I had asked you but didn’t?  Now, go ahead and ask and answer that question.

Is CanLit ready for a pot-smoking heroine? 

In 2002, the Canadian government tabled a bill to decriminalize the possession of marijuana and I kept meeting pot-smokers, particularly among the 20 to 30 age group. It seemed like a very mainstream activity and since the book is meant, among other things, to document a particular time (post-9/11) this detail seemed important to include. 

Follow Sarah on Twitter @sarahdearing
Sarah's books on AMAZON click HERE

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Guest blogger Diane J. Reed on Teen Sex and YA Fiction

Teen Sex

by Diane J. Reed

Sex sells! We all know this. How can we not in a post-50 Shades of Grey world where suddenly the cat is out of the bag and marketers know full well that even middle-class mommies like their book club selections to serve up hefty helpings of hot & steamy erotica? This recent phenomenon has sent the publishing world ablaze, and now graphic sex scenes are cropping up everywhere. But what happens when the sex starts to trickle down to mainstream novels about teenagers?


This is precisely the issue that’s been keeping me awake at night lately. Even when it’s handled “responsibly” in fiction (i.e., teens use condoms), I still find myself cringing a little every time a 16 or 17 year old gets it going on between the sheets. Do teenagers ever have sex that is glowingly beautiful & mind-blowingly transcendent? Or is the truth more like an awkward tangle of moist lips & body parts as they try to figure out how to get things right? Part of me is concerned that writers are creating a fantasy realm that has never existed for any teenager—and on the top of that, are promoting risky behavior that might be emotionally scarring for more vulnerable adolescents. 

For this reason, I felt like I was walking a tightrope of sexual tension with my first YA novel Robin in the Hood. My main character Robin McArthur is only 15 years old when the novel begins, and she’s as obsessed about sex as most girls her age. When she discovers her formerly wealthy family is now broke, and out of desperation starts robbing banks to make ends meet, she stumbles upon super hot Creek—a 17-year-old guy who has a thing or two to teach her about crime. They soon become partners and the passion and sparks fly. After they hone their skills by robbing a local ATM machine and get separated, the following is their sexy reunion scene at a nearby lake:

“Take off your clothes,” a voice whispered at the edge of the lake like a ghost.

It was still a bit misty out, and I thought I felt a warm breath against the back of my neck—

I whipped around. There he was!

Creek, stripped to his torn jeans with his blonde hair dangling against his shoulders again, as if the powers that be had somehow beamed him right in front of me.

And he was grinning from ear to ear.

“You were a very bad girl today,” he remarked.

Unable to control myself, I hugged him with all my might, elated that he’d made it out of Bob’s convenience store okay through God knows what kind of messy miracle. And Lord, how I wanted to kiss him again! But I felt like a fool with a bag of money and a t-shirt still bulging over my belly, because I’d been too preoccupied to remove them till I’d succeeded in hiding the motorcycle.

Creek broke away from me and gazed at my tummy with a laugh.

“You rocked it!” he said, patting my stomach.

“B-But how’d you get here so fast?" I gasped.

Creek’s lips slinked into a smile. He shook his head. “Sweetheart, it ain’t hard to get a lift in these parts when you’re not wearing a t-shirt. Now we gotta move—”

He slipped both his hands under my camisole, removing the money bag and t-shirt and letting them fall with a thump to the sand. To my surprise, he threw off my blonde wig and traced his fingers beneath my camisole straps, tenderly lifting them over my head.

My heart ricocheted inside my chest. Oh my God—is this the part where we have Post-Heist Sex?

Creek’s eyes arrested mine. They were still that hard blue, broken by shards of glass in the middle like a guy totally focused on his mission. But there was a softness at the edges as well, as if maybe he wanted to . . .

Protect me?

And kiss me at the same time—

Both urges warring inside him.

Well, I decided, no time like the present to test that theory!

I rushed my hands up his firm chest and clutched his face, pulling his lips to mine for as much Heaven as I’d ever been allowed on this silly, spinning planet.

And spin I did! Inside, I felt as if I my whole being had gotten lost in a dreamy whirl. All traces of thought evaporated, only the smell and feel of his hard skin and soft hair overwhelming my senses. I was tumbling end over end, because no one had ever informed me that . . .

When you touch someone this beautiful—

It’s like falling into a pool of light.

And all of a sudden,

You’re that beautiful, too . . .

Creek’s hands surged up my bare back, and I couldn’t stop from pressing my breasts against his chest—my scratchy, Pinnacle-issue bra be damned—as my fingers nimbly undid the button and zipper on his jeans. I pulled them down his legs like they were as easy to rip from his body as saran wrap, and then I kicked off my shoes to do the same with my jeans.

Who was this girl??

I’d become a mighty blur—all animal on instinct and overdrive—who was determined to make both our bodies sing in the sunshine and sand that seemed to cry out for us to become one creature—

But then I felt Creek hoist my nearly naked body in his arms, hugging me tightly to his chest.

He kissed me uncontrollably for a few seconds, when all at once his lips broke free, and he rested his forehead against mine.

And he began to walk into the lake, gently carrying me, as though we were heading for some strange, a spur-of-the-moment . . . baptism?

“Bloodhounds,” he said breathlessly, his gaze full of alarm. “Bob’s got bloodhounds—”

From out of nowhere, I heard the echo of a chorus of dogs, their deep resounding barks growing closer by the second.

With one last kiss, Creek released me to the water, sailing me forward. The cold shock rushed to my neck, constricting my lungs and leaving me heaving for air.

“Swim, Robin!” He ordered, pointing to an inlet of the lake covered in shadows. “Swim with everything you’ve got!!”

As you can see, there’s a lot of sexual tension here but also so much action that the characters don’t actually have time to sexually “connect”. Yes, this is on purpose, because Robin is only 15, and I felt it would be irresponsible to write casually about sex with a character who’s an underage minor. 

But what about the sequel?  Yikes!

Robin will be 16 years old in the sequel to Robin in the Hood, where she goes on a journey to a foreign country with Creek to find her long lost mother. Hello! They will be totally unsupervised by adults in this story, and you KNOW they are going to have sex! To pretend otherwise would be to commit one of the greatest crimes in fiction: avoiding the truth. As much as I don’t want to promote irresponsible teen sex, I also don’t want to be branded a downright liar . . .

So what to do?

Well, I could keep them running with lots of bristling action and plot twists, to the total exhaustion of my poor readers.

Or, I could take a cue from Simone Elkeles’ novel Perfect Chemistry and Colleen Hoover’s novel Hopeless—two well-written books for young adults who go the “responsible” sex route. Yes, in these novels 16 & 17 year olds do have sex—but only once in the entire story (although there are lots of passionate kissing & detailed caressing scenes to fill up their 300+ pages). But in following their lead, am I contributing to the moral demise of our country and/or over-sexification of our youth?

God only knows. Let’s face it—teens have sex, pretty much no matter what moment in time or society you put them in, and I just can’t bring myself to be pollyanna about that. So I’m waiting until my female heroine Robin is at least 16 in the sequel to allow my characters to fully embrace their natural sex drives so I can sleep peacefully at night. And of course, I will want Robin’s first experience to be downright heavenly—the kind of thing you only see in the movies! Why? Because I don’t want to read about fumbling teens grunting and grinding in the backseat of some car, and neither do you. Does this mean I’m leading teens on just like other contemporary authors?

Well, there’s the rub. Perhaps if enough teens read these kinds of books, they will insist that their earliest sexual encounters have some quality and depth of meaning. Or maybe I’m just fooling myself? Since this is such new territory, I’d love to hear your comments and thoughts on the matter, good or bad. And until then, here is some food for thought: when I spoke to my local librarian about the subject, she stated that if there is graphic sex in a novel—regardless of whether it’s involving teenagers—the book gets shelved in the “adult” fiction section of the library, period. The trendy publishing labels of “New Adult” or “Mature Young Adult” simply don’t apply. Detailed sexual encounters = Adult fiction, so in the end, it’s up to the parents to decide if their teens can read such a book. Perhaps that’s where the final word on the matter really lies . . .


Get updates from Diane by following her on Twitter @DianeJReed and check out her website