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I'm so excited that my lifelong dream of becoming a published author has come true. If you'd like to go straight to excerpts, descriptions, and buy links for my books, click on the covers below on the right.

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

On Process and Progress: Ponderings from Pennsylvania

Hubby and I recently took a trip to Philadelphia to visit Babysis, who's in school up there. While she recovered from finals and took care of sick bunnies, we went wine tasting along the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail.* On Sunday morning, we visited Longwood Gardens, where they were holding an Orchid Extravaganza! I didn't really mean to put an exclamation point on that sentence, but it seems like the word "extravaganza!" requires one.

Since it was Pennsylvania in March, the orchids were housed in the huge Conservatory, which is seriously bigger than the college where I met Hubby. It took us an hour and a half to walk through it. Not that we moved quickly. The crowds weren't excessive, but the flowers were meant to be enjoyed mindfully, and there were lots of them. As we walked, I had a couple of writing-related insights.

Hubby took pictures with his camera, and I got a few with my Blackberry Torch, which actually has a decent camera on it. The funny part was that our picture strategies tended to be consistent with our personalities. Hubby, a Myers-Briggs ISTJ, tends to be focused on the details, and as an INFJ, I'm the big-picture person. His pictures were of individual flowers or clusters of them, and mine focused on juxtapositions and arrangements.

I'm currently struggling with editing my novel A Perfect Man. I enjoyed working out the major plot points, but guess where I'm stuck? Line editing. The flowers and arrangements were a good reminder to me that the individual blooms, or sentences, need to be perfect and healthy for the arrangement to stand.

We walked into one room where a gloomy tropical scene had been set up, and plants dripped long, string-like tendrils to brush the heads of those of us who are tall. Hubby walked in first and made a creeped out noise that I cannot reproduce in type.

"That's what I get for being married to an aspiring science fiction writer," he said.

"Thanks, sweetie," I replied. "Now please let me get a picture of that still, dark pool."

"Is something going to come out of it and eat me?"

"Not if you're good."

Poor guy…

Back in Philly, we visited the historic area of "Old Town," the home of Constitution Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were drawn up and signed. The park ranger who gave us our tour had several interesting things to say, but one that really stuck with me was that the Declaration of Independence was edited for two and a half days to reach its current form.

This was news to me. I always imagined that Thomas Jefferson, being an introvert, of course (okay, I don't know if that's true, but work with me), had put several weeks' worth of thought into it and penned it perfectly on his first try. Apparently the Continental Congress or whoever they were at the time hated it. So yes, even Thomas Jefferson, who is considered to be one of our first great American writers, was thoroughly edited. To be fair, the original with the corrections has been lost to history, so there's not actually any proof that the intense government committee editing improved it, but it got the job done.

Philadelphia is full of statues, but I particularly liked this guy, named "The Signer." I don't know who the artist is, but I think they captured the sense of triumph perfectly. To me, he seems to be saying, "I finished my manuscript!" or "I got a book deal!" I'm going to have to get a print of him and hang it up in my writing space to remind me of how great it will feel when I finally do get that novel edited and accepted somewhere.

Oh, and here are the Philadelphia food pictures. First, a cheesesteak "wit wiz":

Now a molten chocolate cake with mini-shakes and chocolate ganache in the martini shaker from Chocolate by the Bald Man:

Apparently Max Brenner, the Bald Man, is an aspiring novelist but has been too busy learning how to make incredible chocolate yumminess and starting restaurants to actually write it. Hang in there, Max! You'll get there, and then you, too, can be as triumphant as The Signer!

* Winery reviews and tasting notes are at my Random Oenophile blog. Direct links are:
Day One
Day Two

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Metapost: The Great E-Reader Debate

I'll admit it, I'm a late adopter for technological stuff. I only got on Twitter because my husband and sister both have accounts, and in a paranoid moment, I became afraid that they would tweet about me. I've since surpassed them both with followers, and after having met some great people, I'm thinking that sometimes paranoia pays off.

My motivations for getting an e-reader are a little more straightforward. First, I love books, but I live in a small house, and my bookshelves are quite crowded. Second, I'm reviewing self-published books on my writing blog, and some of those aren't available in hard copy. Also, well, books are comfy for some of the household residents, which isn't conducive to actually reading them:

Once I decided to get an e-reader, I faced a host of other questions: back-lit vs. e-ink screen? Price point? Market share of reading materials? Do I go all out and get an iPad?

"Just go to Best Buy and Barnes & Noble and play with them," my exasperated Hubby told me after I'd been obsessing about the decision for a few days.

No, no, I wanted to figure it all out for myself because I'm stubborn like that. I found myself down to the two main e-reader choices, Amazon's Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook. Both have really appealing features. The Kindle isn't back-lit, so it's likely more sleep-friendly, and Amazon has 47-48% of the e-book market share. The Nook Color is, well, color, and has more capabilities, and my Blackberry Torch has served as a gateway gadget to get me hooked on touch screens.± It can also be hacked with an Android platform to turn it into a tablet and has external storage. Cost wasn't really an issue because I'm trading in credit card reward points, and they're about the same.

At this point, I took the most logical step possible: I engaged my social networks and took a scientific* poll of my Twitter and Facebook friends.

Twitter results:

Votes for Kindle: 3
Votes for Nook: 1

Facebook results:

Votes for Kindle: 8
Votes for Nook: 2

The funny thing about both kinds of e-reader was that everyone loves whatever they have. It reminded me of being in social psychology, or maybe it was cognitive psychology, class (those painted cinder block walls in the psych building at UGA blended together after a while) and talking about decision-making. The principle is that, when faced with two equally good options, people will rationalize whatever choice they make and convince themselves that whatever they don't choose wasn't right for them, anyway, which made me suspect just how much people love their e-readers. Poll results: out the window because, darnit, I'm going to figure this thing out for myself!

I was still torn, so I did what I should have done in the first place: I went to Best Buy and Barnes & Noble at Edgewood and played with them. I was hoping that a Best Buy geek would appear to answer questions for me, but apparently I wasn't in the big-ticket item section, and they never appear when you actually want them. The ladies at the B&N were really helpful, and they showed me that it is possible to manipulate the brightness and contrast of the Nook to minimize the back-lit impact.

So that's what I got, a Nook color. Thanks to everyone who helped me with this decision, and especially to Hubby. I went and played with the e-readers on Friday, which was his birthday, so I was able to give him the best birthday present a woman can give a man: I told him he had been right all along.

Now I have to be patient and let the darn thing charge before I can play with it…

± I'm really hoping the next step isn't an i-thingie.

*Okay, not really.

P.S. Here's what I got for Hubby's birthday. Chocolate mousse cake, which was more like creamy chocolate mousse with flecks of chocolate on a chocolate pie crust. Yes, it was chocolate heaven and almost worth admitting he was right.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Book Review: From Sea to Shining Sea On U.S. 20...

It's hard to write, finish, and revise a book, and it takes courage and money to get it out there if the author wants to self-publish. Readers who are interested in self-published books but who don't want to waste their time on low-quality ones need a place to go for reviews. I'll post a review of a self-published book the first weekend of every month so that authors and readers can connect with each other. Interviews have been put on hold for now due to time constraints.

A disclaimer: I'm going to start with books by authors I know through real-life connections and through Twitter. If you're interested in getting your book reviewed, please email my assistant at bert{at}ceciliadominic.com or follow Bert on Twitter and message him there.

Title: From Sea to Shining Sea on U.S. 20: Boston to Newport, Oregon
Subtitle: Driving through the history of the expansion of the 13 Colonies across the continent
Author: Perry Treadwell
Genre: Travelogue/History

I have to admit, I'm not a big history buff. I enjoy going to museums and seeing how people lived in the past, and I like going to historic sites, but my eyes tend to glaze over when reading historical accounts with, "and this happened on this date, and this happened on that date…" In From Sea to Shining Sea, Perry Treadwell connects history with geography in a way that is both entertaining and informative.

U.S. 20 is a non-interstate highway that crosses the country from Boston, Massachusetts to Newport, Oregon with only a brief break in Yellowstone National Park. Treadwell traveled it from end to end in ten years and five trips. He did the first three for the Western part (Chicago to Newport) first because it seemed less built up and therefore more interesting. However, he is fascinated by the past, and the Eastern part (Boston to Chicago) encompasses a lot of history integral to the founding of the country and the establishment of religious freedom.

I found the first half of the book to lack some organization. Treadwell had to choose how to discuss the many historical events that occurred during the founding of the country, and doing so geographically makes sense from the perspective of the book, but the history jumps around as a result. Those with a good background in history would likely be able to follow it better, but I found myself skimming descriptions of battles heavy on dates and casualty numbers.

As I mentioned above, Treadwell researched, traveled, and wrote the second half of the book first. It was this half that grabbed me and kept me coming back, possibly because I could feel Treadwell's initial passion and enjoyment. It's also lighter on war stories and has more anecdotes about settlers and their challenges.

Although I enjoyed this book, there were a few things that would have enhanced the experience. The first is maps. In spite of this being a travelogue, there are no maps aside from what's on the cover. Sure, the reader can go online and look for Google or other maps of the areas, but I prefer to read away from my computer, especially in the evenings. Having a map of U.S. 20 and the cities it crosses in each chapter would have been really helpful to anchor the journey in my mind. More pictures would have been nice, too, especially of the odd geographic structures out West. Second, I found a lot of typos in this manuscript. Treadwell has dyslexia and said he makes use of editing programs and beta readers, but there seemed to be more errors than one would find in a traditionally edited manuscript. Some were unintentionally funny, like the "serge of pioneers" he mentioned at one point, which prompted mental images of settlers in coonskin caps and plaid jackets and breeches.

I'm putting my third criticism in a separate paragraph because I realize this might just be me. U.S. 20 crosses just north of the Finger Lakes in New York and at the southern end of the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Treadwell mentions a wine-growing area in Ohio in passing but completely neglects to mention wine as a major industry in these two areas. That's history I'm interested in, but maybe others aren't, and perhaps it occurred later than most of the events Treadwell recounted.

The two things I really liked about the book were the descriptions of how religious freedom grew and became formalized as part of our country as well as the acknowledgment of women's roles in the history of the U.S. Treadwell also deserves credit for not glossing over the horrific treatment of the Native Americans, and he demonstrates throughout the book that trying to define the "good guys and bad guys" is tough when it comes to the founding and expansion of the United States.

Bottom Line: An entertaining travelogue, especially for those who love history. It certainly piqued my curiosity about U.S. 20.

For those who are interested in self-publishing and its history, check out Treadwell's web site. He was self-publishing and blogging before it was cool to do so.

From Sea to Shining Sea is available from Lulu in paperback and .pdf.

Previous Reviews:
James Huskins' Silent Scream: A Groovy Mystery Caper
Laura Eno's Don't Fall Asleep: A Dream Assassin Novel
Donna Carrick's The First Excellence -- Fa-Ling's Map
Kenn Allen's The Golden Cockerel

Up next: Back to fiction with Gint Aras' Finding the Moon in Sugar

Disclaimer: This review was of a courtesy copy received from the author for no charge. My opinion of the book was not biased by this or by the fact that Perry and I are friends.