Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Thank You, Veterans…Thank You, Current Service Men and Women

Orvalle Harmon

Your hard work, service, and dedication are neither forgotten, nor overlooked.

My family has a strong history of military service: grandfathers on both my mother’s and father’s side of the family and more uncles than I can count have served. Some have given their lives in service, some have dedicated their lives to serving.

Pictured is my grandfather, Orvalle Harmon.

I often wonder, not just on days of remembrance, what life would have been like had they not made the choice to enlist. I know it wouldn’t be as good as it is.

To all U.S. Military personnel: Thank You.

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From the Department of Veteran’s Affairs Web site, History of Veteran’s Day:

The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a concurrent resolution on June 4, 1926, with these words:

Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and

Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and

Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Are you Blind? Let’s Talk e-books…

Depending on your point of view, my title might have been a little inflammatory. I only meant to grab your attention. On the other hand, if you really are blind, I do want to hear from you. I want to know how you feel about e-books.

This is a tad long, so please bear with me…

In my day job, one of the hats I wear is “Section 508 Coordinator.” Very briefly, Section 508 is a part of the Rehabilitation Act which requires making the Web accessible to people with handicaps. (Right now, it only applies to federal agencies…but I can see it being expanded in the future.) The law’s been around for quite a while, but lacked enforcement.

When President Clinton was in office; however, he gave the law teeth. The legislation he signed allowed anyone to sue a government agency for not making accessible products.

For the last several days, I’ve been attending a Section 508 Conference where there’s been lots of discussion about new technologies, and ways and means to make existing technology accessible. Today was the vendor dog and pony show.

What’s exciting is that many of these technologies can be useful for non-disabled folk, too. For instance, there is software (and I’m not going to name names, because I don’t want to make an advertisement) which will read aloud all the words on the computer screen. It’s meant for use by the blind (or folks with “low vision”). But couldn’t the elderly benefit from it, too? Or anyone, for that matter, who finds reading the written word difficult.

Another company makes similar software, but it highlights the word on the screen as it’s being read. Couldn’t it be used to teach children to read? Or persons for whom English is a second language? In fact, I could see myself using it, say, if I wanted to tidy up my desk and “read” at the same time.

Interestingly, I learned today from a vendor that Web sites, software, hardware, etc. which conform to 508 standards usually garner a market share of use 20 – 40% higher than those who don’t–mostly because they’re reaching a segment of the market that is largely ignored by others.

Wow: 20 – 40%.

With that thought on my mind, I got to wondering about e-book sales to the blind. With assistive technology (AT), e-books are very accessible. (And believe me, the voices of the AT readers are a jillion times better than the craptastic voices included in some bundled or freebie software, making the narrations pleasant to listen to.)

I had the opportunity to chat with several blind and low-vision folks today at the conference. What I wanted to know was: have they found a much larger selection of e-books lately? And, have they been purchasing more?

Overwhelmingly, the few folk I chatted with usually purchased audio books. I expected that. But, many of those I spoke with said that they *are* purchasing more e-books than they used to. And why not? Rarely is an audio book available at the same time the print version comes out, but an electronic version is often available simultaneously. Not only that, there’s a much larger –as well as current–selection available.

I’m a big fan of e-books for a lot of reasons. Until today, I never considered their marketability to the blind. (You might say, my eyes have been opened…)

So: are you blind or have low vision? I’d love to know how you feel about e-books. The debate is heating up over all kinds of issues, but this isn’t one I’ve seen explored yet. Please drop me a comment below.

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

Susan’s Got Me Thinking…

Community

Susan Adrian posted a great essay on her Web site a few days ago that really got me thinking. It’s called, “How Not to Act,” and she describes two writers she’s following through the course of their careers.

One writer takes the time to comment on blog posts and to reply to comments on her own blog as well as to any tweets she receives, etc. The other doesn’t.

Guess which one sets the better example, according to Susan?

Susan tells it better. Go read her essay and then come back.  I’ll wait.

I know her post is about many facets of Web etiquette, but it really got me thinking about commenting on blogs. I read a lot of blogs but rarely comment – especially if I have nothing new to add to the conversation. After all, why should I comment if my point has already been made? I get tired of reading, “Me, too!” comments on blogs…so why should I inflict them on others?

Why, to build a community, of course.

(And there are much nicer ways to say, “Me, too!” without actually saying it.)

Susan really hit the nail on the head.

If I’m not commenting, how do you know I’m even reading your blog? How do you know I’m out here listening to what you have to say? How do you know I care?

The thing is…you don’t.

So, I think I’m going to change my personal comment policy… I’m going to try to comment a bit more on the blogs I read…even if someone else beat me to my point. At the very least, it will have me considering how can I say, “Me, too!” without using those words? Writers love these kind of exercises, you know…

Thanks, Susan!

 

photo credit: http://isferea.jrc.ec.europa.eu/Communities/Pages/default.aspx
Monday, November 2nd, 2009

Good Review for Blood Soup!

Cover of Blood Soup

Blood Soup went out to several reviewers in September and October and I’ve been anxiously awaiting a response.

I’m thrilled to see the first is a good one.

Kari at Kari’s Korner Reviews apparently enjoyed it very much. I’m doubly honored since Kari reviews mostly romance.

To wit:

With the scary title BLOOD SOUP (Eternal Press, ISBN: 978-1-926704-53-1) by Kelly A. Harmon, it even has a cover that immediately catches your eye and makes you shiver. This is a medieval tale about a kingdom destined for certain dire ruin if the King’s heir isn’t a girl.

The characters in the story work together AND against each other as they secretly manipulate, scheme, hope, and react to the surprising birth of the King’s heir.

Filled with murder, mystery, and very dire consequences, this is a fast paced Novella with vivid portrayal of events and characters, pulling you into this harsh world the author has created and no doubt leaving her with new fans eagerly awaiting her next book.

 

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If you’re interested, Blood Soup  can be purchased:

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

Happy Halloween!

 Halloween PumpkinHalloween is my favorite holiday!

I can’t wait to hand out goodies and see all the costumes. I’m a big fan of scary for Halloween, so anyone in a scary outfit scores more points in my book.

Hope everyone has a (safe and) frightening holiday!

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Back From Retreat

I’m back from retreat at the Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virginia. This was the view from my window in the early morning. Isn’t it gorgeous?


Glorious Mountain View

If you’re looking for an inexpensive location to get away to for “recharging” your writer’s batteries, I can’t recommend it enough. The Abbey built the retreat house specifically to lure people to the grounds, ostensibly for religious retreat, but not necessarily. My face-to-face critique group chose the Retreat House location primarily for writing.

One wonderful aspect of the Retreat House is a rule of respectful silence.

No talking is allowed at meals, no visitations are allowed in rooms, and guests are requested not to talk when meeting in the halls. In fact, it’s encouraged not even to meet the eyes of others or to nod or greet each other, as one aspect of retreat is meditation, and a simple acknowledgment of another’s presence could possibly interfere with his or her thoughts.

This silence created the perfect atmosphere for writing.

If that doesn’t excite you, the scenery might. Holy Cross Abbey is located in the Shenandoah Valley, surrounded by mountains and hundreds of acres of pastureland. I spent a few afternoons soaking up the sunshine, banging away at the keyboard, listening to the cows low.

I sound like a commercial, don’t I? I can’t help it. I’ve had a fabulous week on retreat, and I’ve got all kinds of ideas kicking around in my head now. I can’t wait to get started.

Friday, October 16th, 2009

Capclave 2009

Capclave Dodo I’ll be at Capclave tomorrow, reading from Blood Soup.

Capclave is hosted by the Washington, DC Science Fiction Association and promotes short fiction. Their motto is: Where reading is not extinct!

The convention tends to be small and literary, but enjoys participation from big names in the field. This year’s Guest of Honor is Harry Turtledove.

I’ll be reading with other members of Broad Universe, including Jean Marie Ward, Roxanne Bland, Victoria Janssen and Diane Arrelle. We’ll be doing a “Rapid Fire Reading.” Each of us will read for ten minutes or less from out works.

And, we’ll have chocolate.

If you’re in the Washington Area around 1 p.m., please join us. I’d love to meet you.

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Blood Soup Available on Your Smart Phone!

Blood Soup by Kelly A. Harmon - Cover Flat

All Romance.com has partnered with Aldiko (an eBook reading application) to make their entire 10,000+ book-catalog available to Android Smart Phone users. (Here’s the entire Press Release at PR Web.)

The bottom line is: Smart Phone users can obtain stories via their phones without a computer, cables or subscription!

Which means, if you’re interested, you can purchase Blood Soup from pretty much anywhere you have a cell phone connection. (Blood Soup can be purchased here. )

I also recommend these titles from Eternal Press:

The Sea Wagon of Yan Tai by Steve Southard
Frenzy by Carole Johnstone
10:15 by Trent Kinsey.

If you like to “try before you buy,” Aldiko can hook you up. Download and install Aldiko and choose from thousands of books.

From the Gadgeteer Website: “Aldiko comes with Sun Tzu’s Art of War and H. G. Well’s The Invisible Man pre-loaded. However, you can browse and load any of the books available on Feedbooks right from the application. The site contains thousands of public domain and creative commons works.”

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

On Finding an Agent

Christina over at MiG Writers posted an excellent article yesterday about searching for an Agent. She calls it searching for your “Agent Mate.”

Nifty.

In a nutshell, Christine advises creating a chart of prospective agents, researching all about them by reading blogs, twittering, and attending conferences to meet and learn about them.

Her chart looks like this:

Agent Agency Books Repped Tidbits Date Subbed What was sent Response Comments

The chart process immediately appealed to my inner geek, especially because it’s dual purpose: it lines up the research and then acts as a contact record. (It also aligns nicely with the submission tracking chart I keep for all the stories and articles I send out. I can see myself adding this gem to my own Excel spreadsheet…)

I think Christina is right on the money when it comes to doing your research. But how do you find out the names of prospective agents?

Google is your friend…and there are tons of conferences you could go to find names, as suggested in Chritina’s article. But there are a number of Web resources containing most (if not all) the basic information you need. They provide the detailed information in a very short time–much faster, I think- than other sources.

I’d start with:

www.agentquery.com

Agentquery.com allows you to search by genre or keyword, and provides detailed information about agents which match your query, including:

– what the agent is looking for
– often, what the agent is *not* looking for
– authors and books the agent represents
– upcoming sales of the agent
– much more

Agentquery.com also links to hundreds of agent’s and publisher’s blogs, as well as the blogs of a veritable who’s who in the publishing industry. You can’t go wrong by checking it out.

WritersNet.com is another place to search for agents. I don’t think the search or the results are as good as AgentQuery, but it has the added value of “how to find agent” articles in your face as you search.

The Association of Author’s Representatives. This is the definitive location for agent information. In order to join, agents must meet specific criteria. The advanced search is cumbersome, but once set up, can be saved for future use. Also contains information about what agents do.

Once you find the names of prospective agents, set up your spreadsheet and begin your research: read his or her blog, follow the agent (or the agency) on twitter.

I think Christina’s chart is excellent, but I’d modify it a bit…because, well, once I start a chart, I can’t help but collect as much information as I’m able. Here’s what mine would look like…

Agent Agency Books Repped Author Repped Rights Sold? Notes What Appeals to Me About This Agent?

A, B or C List? The D List Date Info Was Collected Date Subbed What was sent Response Comments

What I’ve changed:

Added: Author Repped. This is important to me as I get to know authors in the field. The author becomes an additional source of information about the agent’s style and method.

Added: Rights Sold? Has the agent sold foreign rights? Movie rights? Each of these kind of deals requires a level of knowledge or expertise. Obtaining an agent with this kind of track record could be good for your own career.

Changed: Tidbits to Notes.
Just a personal preference. Serves the same purpose.

Added: What Appeals to Me About This Agent? After you follow an agent’s blog or twitter post’s for a while, you’ll begin to know them a little better: their style, their proclivities, etc. Once armed with what you know about him or her…why do you desire their representation? What makes this agent stand out? Write it down here.

Added: A, B or C List? This is a means to categorize where this agent might fall into the hierarchy of your desired representation. It’s likely there are a lot of agents who meet the criteria you need. Based on what you know from your research, choose a first, second and third tier of agents to attempt representation with. This makes your search more focused, and possibly, more successful in getting the exact agent you want.

Added: The D List. A list of agents you’re never going to contact. Make a note in this column if you’ve learned something about an agent that turns you off: perhaps your styles don’t jive (you like email, he likes snail mail). You’ve done the research, you don’t want to delete the info.

Added: Date Information Collected. Information ages. What you’ve learned today may not be the case tomorrow. Add some date information so you know how timely your data is.

What’s Next?
Create your query package and send it to the “A” list. Find an agent? Great! If not, move on to your B list, then C, if necessary. You could also try D…but I’m willing to bet that between searching through A, B, and C, there may be some new agents representing authors. Do another search and start again.

Friday, September 25th, 2009

Preparing for a Self-Directed Writer’s Retreat

I talked to the Baltimore Chapter of the Maryland Writer’s Association a few months ago about “Getting the Most out of a Writer’s Workshop.”

Much of what I talked about related to instructor-led workshops. But what about “self-directed” workshops or retreats? No agenda exists for them, not even a boilerplate one can subscribe to.

So, how do you prepare?

(Or do you toss preparation to perdition and ignore planning?) Maybe your idea of the perfect writing retreat is to grab your laptop and just sit down and write…?

You could do that.

I agree that taking that approach might result in extraordinary verbiage…but what will you have accomplished other than obtaining the writing equivalent of a high score?

I think if you take a more focused approach: get your writing affairs in order and make some goals, you’ll enjoy a more satisfying experience. That’s what I do.

I’m gearing up to go on retreat in October with my face-to-face critique group. I’ve no doubt I’ll spend some time with them while we’re away for the week (we haven’t discussed how much), but I believe we’ll be spending the bulk of our time away together…alone.  And I plan to use that time to target projects to get off my desk and submit to various markets. I’ve no doubt in doing so that I’ll manage satisfactory, if not a veritable high score, of word count along the way.

Discounting everything about the retreat except my writing (What should I take? What should I wear? What should I bring? Etc.) these are the things I’m doing to prepare:

1 – Cleaning Up My Writing Files – Both Paper and Electronic

I create a new electronic file for each article, story or chapter I’m working on almost every time I open it. There’s a reason for this: I might change something so drastically that “track changes” can’t revert. Keeping the old file allows me to do that. Or, the file may be corrupted as I carry it around on my thumb drive – I’ll have the previous file for retrieval.

Mostly, I maintain a separate file so that I can see how the word count grows each time I work on it. But those files tend to multiply rapidly…often in the wrong directory as I go from desktop to jump drive to laptop. They need some cleaning up.

My paper files aren’t so bad, but I have many projects running all the time: so there are lots of pieces floating around. Likewise, there are usually scraps of “story ideas” laying about: prints from science journals which caught my eye, something torn from a newspaper, lots of scribbled notes, etc.

I’ll be spending several hours putting it all away. And then I’ll be dusting off the desk and pushing the chair “just so” under it.

Why do this?

When I was younger and still lived with my parents, my Mom encouraged the family to clean the house top to bottom before we left for vacation. Everything had to be in its place: toys away, clothes washed and hung, floors vacuumed and swept. I hated it. We often cleaned until the minute we packed up the car to leave. Mom insisted there was no better feeling than coming home to a clean house to relax in after an exhausting vacation.

Mom was so right. (Are you reading this, Mom? You were right!)

When I get home from retreat, everything will be spic and span, files and research will be where I can find them, and my desk will be free of clutter to distract me from the writing momentum I hope to achieve while away.

2 – Evaluating Everything on my Writing Plate

My “writing plate” consists of everything I’ve ever started writing that hasn’t been sold yet. Big plate.

It includes the novel I’m shopping and the two novels I’m currently writing. It also includes a bunch of short stories that are languishing for whatever reason: plot holes, lack of market to send it to, forgotten about, not enough time to finish, etc. I also have some files of “vignettes” I started writing: scenes with wildly interesting characters or stories that petered out after the initial torrent of words spewed onto the page. Some are a mere sentence long; others, a few thousand words. And then, there’s the idea file: hundreds just laying there waiting to be written.

Lets not talk about non-fiction items.

I’m reviewing each article/fiction item/idea and evaluating what needs to be done to it in order for it to be marketable, and making a list of those items to work on while on retreat. There are several things I’m contemplating as I evaluate:

* How close is the piece to completion?
* If it’s complete, why is this piece still on the plate and not out making its rounds?
* What will it take to finish?
* Does it only need polishing? How long will that take?
* Does the item require more research before writing can continue?

Sadly, I have several stories that are finished and critiqued by my critique group. They only need the groups’ comments incorporated before sending out. These will be the top items on my list to complete.

(This would probably be a good time for me to make a “Master List” of all my files, along with notes of what needs to be done and how soon I think they can be completed. I should probably keep this kind of list up to date as I write…but I’m usually too busy writing to bother with the details… If I find time, I’ll probably do this while I’m evaluating.)

3 – Ranking the List

After reviewing all the items in my files, I’ll rank them in importance against my criteria (Should you feel compelled to try this insanely detailed system yourself, your criteria will likely be different, according to your goals). Items with the highest number of points at this stage will be put at the top of my list.

Below is my arbitrary point system. A story can meet multiple examples below and thus leap to the head of the pack with a very high score.

25 points Anything currently under a deadline, including self-imposed deadlines.
20 points All my completed, critiqued stories.
15 points Anything that’s almost done. Items that only need dedicated time at the computer to polish up.
15 points Any item in my “work in progress” directory that’s been there more than 12 months.
15 points Any non-fiction item – complete at 1500 words or less – for which the research is already done.
10 points Vignettes, story starters and scenes of 1000 words or more. (These may need additional evaluation later, to see if an actual story or plot emerges. For now, if I anticipate there may be time to work on any of these items while I’m gone, I’ll add them to the list.)
5 points Story ideas that might be worth tackling if there’s time.

Once everything is evaluated and ranked, I’ll return to my file cabinet and get any research or critiques which accompany the pieces and set them aside to take with me. Now will be a good time to make sure I pack any reference books I might need. (Of course I’ll take a good dictionary and thesaurus, but maybe my story set in ancient China will require me to pack the history book I was reading which inspired the tale…I’ll get that now and put it with the other items I plan to take.)

4 – Reviewing Market Lists (or: Modifying the Ranks)
There are many Web sites and newsletters which specialize in listing markets which are open to submissions. These are usually broken down by category, genre or closing date. I check several regularly: Ralan, Duotrope’s Digest, SpecFicWorld’s Market Database, to see if there are new or emerging markets than those I regularly submit to.

If any market looks interesting, I’ll review my list again and look for potential matches. I’ll add the points below to existing work and then re-rank the list, if necessary.

10 points Add to a story which might be a match for a market currently open to submissions.
15 points As above, if the market has a tight deadline.

The existence of an open market will allow me to focus even more on finishing an item.

5 – Making Sure All Completed Items are Out for Submission
While I’m doing all this record keeping, I’ll be updating my Submissions List: a spreadsheet of items I’ve got circulating to various markets. It’s an invaluable resource for me: I can see, among other things, what pieces are out and how long they’ve been at a particular market.

It’s also a nag.

A quick glance shows me which items have sat too long at particular markets, or (rats!) which pieces have been rejected – or whose rights have reverted back to me – and should have been submitted the day I got them back.

Ideally, those items shouldn’t have been left sitting, but sometimes I ignore the “business end” of being an author so that I can spend more time writing. So, before I leave, I’ll query, or resubmit, all those languishing items.

This isn’t a deal breaker. If I don’ manage to get this far, I’ll still go on retreat. But if I can manage it, all the better. How nice it would be to return not only to a clean desk, but a check in the mailbox!

So, that’s my plan. If I work hard enough before I go, I’ll have a roadmap for success (my weighted-list of projects to complete while I’m gone), a pristine work space to return to, and possibly an acceptance (or check!) in the mailbox as well.

As detailed as it sounds, I don’t intend to work the plan “no matter what.” Perhaps my muse will strike and I’ll work on (and one hopes, complete!) something new and exciting while I’m on retreat. If that happens, all the better. The prep work is still valuable…and puts me in the proper frame of mind for writing.