Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Paying it forward

I believe every once in awhile you ought to give back to some aspect of life that has had an impact on you. We can't always repay the specific people who helped us along the way to grow, achieve and become better human beings, but we can always pay forward by helping others who are just beginning their journey.

Discovering the sport of running (track, cross country and road racing) taught me a lot about people, life and a little about myself and shaped me into who I am today. I hope that's mostly good, but I'm blessed to still be a part of that world and to see my kids, their friends and even people I don't know benefit from the camaraderie, the challenges and the rewards it brings.

My kids' high school, Yellow Springs, is trying to raise money to resurface and improve their track. The total estimated cost is $60,000. This school, belonging to the smallest division in Ohio (DIII), has won numerous individual and team state championships in track and cross country, thanks to the very involved coaches (shout out to John Gudgel and Vince Peters!) and community support for the program.

I will be donating the profits from my Kindle sales on March 30th to the fundraising efforts. It may not be enough to top the coffers, but every little bit helps.

Think of something that matters to you. Pay it forward. Make a difference in someone else's life today.

All the best,

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Bruce Trilogy: Clearing up confusion on titles

But isn't there another Bruce Trilogy - I mean, besides the one by me? Yes, there is.

Nigel Tranter also wrote a trilogy about Robert the Bruce in the early 1970's. Since this has caused some confusion, I'd like to address that matter. About ten years ago, I began writing a story centered on Robert the Bruce. As it often does, my research kept mushrooming and over the course of four years that story evolved until I had what I considered to be three distinct books.

When I sought out an agent for the first of these books, The Crown in the Heather, the agent who eventually took interest, upon finishing it, asked me if there was a second book and to please send it on. I did - and then he asked if there was a third. There was.

Between us, we started out calling the books 'the Bruce trilogy' and on the title pages we put the book's main title, followed by 'The Bruce Trilogy: Book I' (or II or III), so it would be clear that they belonged together and what order they went in. We shopped the books around as The Bruce Trilogy. It seemed descriptively fitting. It had been over three decades since Nigel Tranter's The Bruce Trilogy had been published, so we didn't feel we would be stepping on any toes. Not one editor objected to the title of the series.

It is a strict policy of mine that I only read non-fiction about the characters I intend to write about, no novels, because I want my interpretation to be unique. Thus, I have never read any of Tranter's books in full, although I'm sure they're quite good, since so many people still speak so highly of him.

There are also novels about Robert the Bruce (either recently or soon to be published) by Robert Low, Robyn Young and Jack Whyte, as well as many other novels set in Scotland during that time. I love it when there are multiple books about the same historical figures, because you're sure to find one that suits your individual tastes. The more, the merrier.

Neither book titles nor series titles can be copyrighted. Publishers and authors try as much as possible to come up with unique titles, but sometimes it's simply not appropriate. Many, many books bear the same title - the differentiation then is settled by the author's name, year of publication and, of course, content.

If you look up 'Worth Dying For' on Amazon, you'll find a dozen or more books bearing that as their title or part of their title. Right about the same time I released Worth Dying For (The Bruce Trilogy: Book II), bestselling mystery/thriller writer Lee Childs had also just put out a book called Worth Dying For. I chose the title because it comes from a line in my book that encompasses what the story is about. ("And in that, I never saw more truth . . . than to truly live, was to have something worth dying for.") I wasn't trying to dupe any of Lee Childs' readers into buying my book any more than he or his publishers were trying to trick fans of Beverly Barton, who also had a book called Worth Dying For published in 2009, into buying his.

When a title is right for a book - or a series, for that matter - it just is.

To complete my (N. Gemini Sasson's) The Bruce Trilogy, I plan on releasing the third installment, The Honor Due a King, later this year. And yes, I've already Googled that title. It's not taken. Yet.

P.S. To those who may have wondered, yes, there is a sequel to Isabeau planned, as well. Who knows - there may even be a third book in that storyline.

Happy reading,

Sunday, March 27, 2011

#SampleSunday - The Crown in the Heather, Ch. 10

I realize I haven't done #SampleSunday for a month! Where have I been? Finishing up courses in Anatomy, Plant Biology and Field Geology, that's where. As much as I love learning new things (or re-learning old things, in this case), I am sooo glad to be back, for tomorrow I shall sit at the keyboard, freshly brewed Chocolate Raspberry coffee steaming up from my special The Black Prince mug, and let my imagination run rampant in 14th century Scotland. Life is good.

The paperback version of Worth Dying For has finally gone to print - woo hoo! It should appear on Amazon.com within the week. Enormous apologies to those who have been more than patiently waiting for it.

Meanwhile, here is an excerpt from Chapter 10 of The Crown in the Heather. The year is 1300 and Prince Edward has been summoned to Windsor by his father, King Edward I of England (a.k.a. Longshanks). He's in trouble for having hunted on lands owned by a bishop without permission while in the company of his beloved, Piers Gaveston - a man his father considers a very poor influence.

I'm sure some readers wonder at first why the future Edward II is suddenly appearing in a book about Robert the Bruce. That's a valid question. For one, I wanted to show more of his father, Longshanks. Also, you should get a solid sense of what this dysfunctional father-son relationship was about. I can easily imagine Prince Edward on the Dr. Phil show, baring his soul and bemoaning the fact that his father neither understands nor accepts him as he is. Second, who could resist getting under the skin of a character as complex and misunderstood as Edward? Last, Edward's tragic life and how it intertwines with the Bruce becomes even more abundantly clear in the second and third Bruce books.


I ENTERED THE ROOM where my father, King of all England and more, was taking his supper at a small round table. Bishop Langton sat across from him. I cringed inwardly, but kept a level chin and square shoulders. I knew, without being told, why I had been summoned to Windsor. Behind them, the chill air of a dimming sunset poured in through an open window, so they were but dark silhouettes before it. Black-robed judges ready to levy their sentence on me, with or without a trial.

Ignoring me as one would a menial servant, the king finished off his meal to the very last pea and chased it down with half a cup of wine from a jeweled goblet. The bishop’s stern eyes never left me. He leered at me like a nagging mother who stares down a disobedient boy before she can get across the room to tweak him by the ear and drag him outside for a beating. I so wanted to prance over to him, knock the bloody miter right off his fat, bald head and then strike him senseless with the gold crucifix that swung from his short, little neck. By Babylon, it must have been heavy enough to anchor a ship. I glared back at him, rolled my eyes and sighed with annoyance.

When your time comes, your grace, God will judge you, too, by your legion of vices. I hear your steward’s niece birthed your bastard not a year ago and her belly is already swelling again.

“What is it,” my father began, as he dabbed at his hands on a square of white linen, “about the word ‘property’ that you fail to understand?” With a flip of his slim fingers, he tossed a chicken bone to the floor. His lazing brindle greyhound snatched it up, growled as it passed me with its tail tight between its legs and then lay down across the doorway, as if to block my escape.

“Mea culpa,” I muttered, bowing low in Langton’s direction. “It will not happen again.”

“Indeed, it will not.” My sire dipped his fingers in a bowl of rose water and then wiped them dry on his lap. “You behave infra dignitatem, perhaps because of those you surround yourself with. You are confined to Windsor for six months. Your ‘friends’ may not come within sight of you during that time. That should provide you with ample time for reflection.” Beneath cold, gray eyes, he smiled smugly.

My heart froze in its rhythm. Six months? Six months? “But, sire . . . Brother Perrot? You placed him in my household at King’s Langley. You cannot send him away because of one little escapade. What harm was done that cannot be undone?”

“Much. You both suffer from poor judgment. You knew you were on Bishop Langton’s lands and yet you failed to seek his permission. You killed more deer than you could bring back and left a dozen carcasses in the forest to rot, spread disease, breed flies and stink whenever the wind blows. You have been a nuisance, a wastrel and a common thief. The bishop here urged me to be more lenient with you, but I think I have been far too lax until now. Punishment is overdue. It is time to alter your ways. You are a man now and should begin to act like one.”

With a sweep of his hand he dismissed me from his royal presence. I lowered my eyes and backed away, turning sharply about as I reached the door. The greyhound let out a yelp, jumped up and snapped at my shins. I had stepped on its tail—not by accident.

Happy reading,

Friday, March 18, 2011

When doing what you love isn't easy

If we're lucky enough, we have discovered something in life that fills us with joy. Not everyone does and that, I believe, must be a sad, dull way to live. But if you have something that you love to do and can do, then you make time for it and you do it because it eases life's other challenges - even if the thing itself is challenging.

Some people climb mountains. Some race dangerously fast cars. Some people paint pictures. Some knit or read books. Others dance or sing or play a musical instrument.

The joy of doing that something isn't about whether or not you get paid to do it. It isn't even about being the best. It's simply about finding something that makes you excited to be alive, that brings you a sense of accomplishment or triumph, or that invites a brief period of peace into an otherwise stressful life.

So why am I getting all philosophical about life's little pleasures? Because up until a few years ago, I took them for granted.

I'm told that by the time I was ten months old I was running. Lucky me, I had a daughter who was exactly the same way, which meant we fenced in our front yard to keep her from running into the street. She liked to test at an early age whether she could outrace us. My son ran into doors as a toddler, but despite that early clumsiness, he turned out to be a runner, too. So is my husband. For fun sometimes, we pile into the car and all go running on the bike path. Now, this might sound like torture to the rest of you, but if so, as you read on just replace your favorite activity whenever you see 'running' in the following paragraphs.

I started running competitively in distance events in high school. I had to be talked into it by the coach, who kept telling me I 'looked' like a distance runner, but once I started to get into shape, it felt like the most natural thing in the world. And then I started to get good at it. Good enough to have several records on the board by the time I graduated and good enough to run on scholarship in college.

When I got older, other things (work, family, home) took over. Being competitive wasn't important anymore. Running became my escape. My thirty minutes of peace. My reassurance that my heart was still beating, my lungs drawing air and my muscles still functioning.

Five years ago I started to have muscle and joint pain. It got so bad that not only could I not run, there were many days I laid in bed and cried, I hurt so much. I was seriously sleep deprived, because the pain would wake me up frequently. I couldn't mow the lawn, bring in the groceries or move the laundry from the washer to the dryer. I was in my early 40's and felt like I was 90. I wrote almost all of Isabeau while lying on my stomach with the laptop on the floor in front of me.

The first doctor I went to told me I just had a muscle strain. I knew it wasn't. The second one prescribed pain killers. I used them sparingly and when that bottle was empty I went to a physical therapist. He only had one treatment and when that didn't work, he merely scratched his head.

This cycle continued for three years. I got tired of going to doctors. None of them seemed to have an answer. It didn't help that I'm the kind of person who doesn't like to moan publicly about my ailments, so I have a tendency to downplay my pain if someone asks how I feel. The truth was that most of the time I felt like hell. I wasn't me anymore. I had become my pain. All I knew is that I didn't want to live the rest of my life like that.

Finally, an osteopath discovered that I had a leg length discrepancy. My right leg is 1/2" shorter than my left one, which is a pretty significant difference. So for 40+ years I'd been walking around lopsided and had ultimately developed muscular imbalances. That did chronic damage to my muscles. Turns out I have something called Chronic Myofascial Pain. These are painful knots deep in my muscles. I will probably never be rid of it completely, but I have learned ways to manage it, like physical therapy exercises, massage therapy and acupuncture.

I still have some pain, but it's only a fraction of what it used to be. I can, at least, lead a normal life. Despite that I've had several health professionals lecture me on how I would better preserve my body if I didn't run, I do it anyways. Why? Because I can. Even though it isn't as easy as it used to be. Last year I ran my first 5K in five years. Then I ran another one. It was six minutes slower than my lifetime PR, but it felt FAST! Sprinting to the finish line felt like I'd just won the gold medal in the Olympic marathon.

Last year I went to the state track meet and sat next to a man who told me he was 76 years old and had gotten up at 6 a.m. to run his five miles early so he could get to the meet and see all the youngsters run. I said to him, "I want to be you when I'm 76."

Whatever it is that you love to do, find a way to do it. Life's too short to play it safe.

(P.S. The picture is my son. He has exercise induced asthma. He runs because he loves it, too. Even though it's not easy.)


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

How to survive a book signing

Did you ever get terribly anxious about an upcoming event (such as your wedding day, a job interview, a date), I mean so nervous that you wanted to hurl your morning coffee and Pop-Tarts and beg out on account of sickness? And you wouldn't have minded if your living room ceiling had suddenly collapsed under the weight of this past winter's snowfall and given you the perfect excuse to stay home? But then you went anyway, because you couldn't bear to fib and people were expecting you . . . and you discovered it wasn't so bad after all? Maybe, it was even a teensy weensy bit fun?

That was me last week before attending my first local author day, presented by the Enon Historical Society. (This is a picture of me signing a book and yes, it's little, because I'm pretty sure my eyes are closed.) There were ten authors total and a small, although steady stream of book browsers who showed up. The two hour event whizzed by.

A couple of friends asked me to blog about attending my first book signing and while I am still a complete newb at it, I do have a few ideas to share for the writers out there:

  1. Try to learn beforehand how big the event will be and take the appropriate number of books. Yes, I know that's wide open. How much is too much? Well, you don't want to run out after ten minutes and you don't want to go home toting the same 50 books you brought with you. I knew this was the first year for this event and it was in a small town. I took a box of 20 books and sold 7. If I were going to the local Celtic festival with my Robert the Bruce books and staying there all 3 days, I'd definitely take more, since thousands of people attend that event.
  2. Find out what you need to bring with you. I just took myself, my books, bookmarks and a couple of trusty pens. When I got there they asked me if I brought my own table. "Uhhh, no." I offered to call my in-laws, who were just around the block and could've brought me a card table, but they found a small folding table in the storeroom for me. Phew. It didn't dawn on me that since there were going to be several authors there that their supply would be limited. Next time I'll be better prepared.
  3. Take change and a calculator, if needed. I sold my books for $10, so I didn't need a calculator, but I did have to make change.
  4. Take something to display your books. Well, I didn't do this, but a few of the other (more experienced) authors had little book stands to prop their books up, so you could see the front cover. Nothing beckons from across the room more than an interesting cover.
  5. Take a tablecloth and candy. Again, this was someone smarter than me, but I do think it's worthwhile to make your little spot look festive and inviting. I lucked out and got a replica of the log cabin behind me.
  6. Bring business cards and/or bookmarks with your name and website on them. I handed out bookmarks even to people who didn't buy my books, although business cards will serve much of the same purpose. They're probably more likely to hang onto and use the bookmark, however (since they're buying books). I designed my bookmarks with my desktop publishing program, printed them on cardstock, cut them out and rounded off the corners (you can find corner-rounders at the craft store), then punched a hole at the top and tied a leather tassel to it. For $18 I bought enough bookmark material to last me for the next ten years. You need to give people a no-pressure way to remember you. Someone might leave without your book and go look it up and purchase it later.
  7. Don't chase people down and shove your book under their noses. IOW, don't be a pushy used car salesman. Readers should be afforded enough time to read the back cover blurbs, the first few pages, and weigh their decisions without getting pressured into a purchase. If they feel pounced upon, they aren't going to come back to those events. Likewise, if they come up to your table and pick up your book, don't trap them in a conversation in hopes that they'll drop you a tenner, just so you'll let them go.
  8. Don't hide behind your table with a scowl on your face and only answer questions with a grunt or nod. You want to appear pleasant and approachable (and hopefully you are). Somewhere there's a happy medium between being an aggressive sales person and a non-salesman. Since this was a multi-author event, I didn't assume that everyone who floated by my table was interested in historical fiction. It's easy to tell from my covers that's what they are. A few people stopped to ask what each story was about, which leads me to the next point ---
  9. Have your elevator pitch prepared. People will often buy based on what the story is about. Boil it down to a 30-60 second pitch. If they want to know more, they'll ask. For instance, I would tell them "The Crown in the Heather is primarily about Robert the Bruce - you know, the Scottish king in Braveheart?" And for Isabeau, I described it as "a tawdry love affair between Isabella and Mortimer, who plot to overthrow her husband, the King of England".
  10. Dress like a professional. Sure, most of us writers show up to work in our coffee-stained jammies and fuzzy bunny slippers, with our bed-hair pulled back into a ponytail so our bangs don't obscure our view of the keyboard, but I'd advise against that - although it would definitely get people looking at you (and probably wondering if you're a bit loopy). Depending on the venue, nice jeans and a button-up blouse are fine. You certainly don't have to come in a business suit. But do make an impression. Me, I wore my knee-high leather boots. I only break those out for special occasions.
Now that I've survived the first book signing, I can definitely say I'd do it again. Without hesitation.

Happy reading,

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Read an e-book week and more!

Did you know it's read an e-book week? For more details, check out The Brooklyn Scribbler.

Today's Kindle Nation Daily E-book of the Day is . . . Worth Dying For! Of all the e-book-specific blogs out there, this is perhaps the most comprehensive and informative one of all. It's a great way to find out about bargain books and new releases. So sign up for it, you Kindle-addicts, if you haven't already. Hats off to Stephen Windwalker for doing such a professional job putting it together.

The proof for the paperback of Worth Dying For is on its way. Hopefully, it'll be completely error-free (yeah, right). There's an awesome lion rampant on the back cover. Graphic designer Lance Ganey rocks!

I'll be hanging out at the Enon Historical Society building (the old Enon Library, off Dayton Rd. in Enon, Ohio, behind the village offices) today Sunday, March 6th from 2-4 p.m. Grab a free bookmark and if you want to buy either The Crown in the Heather or Isabeau - or just have me sign a copy you already own, do stop by. Meanwhile, for the next few hours I'll be trying to think up witty and erudite things to scribble above my signature.

Happy e-reading,