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For those of my friends who enjoy clever Regencies, and/or fantasy novels with sophisticated worldbuilding and well-thought out magic systems, this is a book not to be missed.

Regency + magic = win. Sylvia Izzo Hunter's first novel THE MIDNIGHT QUEEN combines two of my favorite things-- the intelligence and witty dialogue of a classic Regency romance woven into a fantasy world where Oxford's colleges are the center of magical studies. I loved all the details that made up this alternate Regency Britain, from the cleverly designed magic system, to the seamless integration of the regional languages and local customs. Sophie and Gray's romance is charming, sharing equal time with their quest to foil the sinister conspiracy they've uncovered. The ending is suitably satisfying, while leaving room for more novels in this universe. Both fantasy readers and romance readers will enjoy this book, highly recommended!
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Today is the official publication date for THE MIDNIGHT QUEEN, a debut novel from Sylvia Izzo Hunter.

Published authors reading my blog will remember how we felt the day our first novel hit the stores. After months (or years) of telling our family, friends, coworkers, strangers on the street that "I'm an author, Yes, I've sold a book, No, it wasn't out yet, but would be soon," the day had finally come when the book could be found in stores, and ordered online. Looking back I'm surprised that I didn't float away, like an untethered helium balloon.

I'm thrilled that this day has finally come for Sylvia, and hoping it's the first of many successful book launches for her. And I can't wait to read my copy of THE MIDNIGHT QUEEN--a fantasy novel set in an alternate version of Regency England, it's two of my favorite things together, like she wrote it just for me.
pbray: (bike)
This month was the (nearly) annual bike vacation, and our trip took us to Mount Desert Island, Maine, and Acadia National Park. We had a fabulous time, biking, hiking and even a morning spent kayaking. There's something about a bike trip that disconnects you from your daily life--your focus narrows into the day's mileage and enjoying the sights, rather than the latest horrors in the news, or controversies on social media. I did occasionally log on my tablet, but in our downtime I was much more likely to pick up a book.

I need to figure out how to do this now that I'm back in my daily life. I enjoy being able to connect with friends on social media, and follow interesting people, but at the same time it can be a tremendous time suck and source of negative energy. There has to be a better balance.

For those following along, here's the tally of bike tours so far. And yes, we're already talking about which tour we want to take next year.

2014 Coast of Maine (Acadia), Discovery Bike Tours
2013 *no trip*
2012 Big Sur--Monterey to Santa Barbara, California, Backroads
2011 Santa Fe/Taos, New Mexico, Bicycle Adventures
2010 Outer Banks North Carolina, Carolina Tailwinds
2009 Black Hills South Dakota, Timberline
2008 Northern Shenandoah VA, Carolina Tailwinds
2007 Crater Lake Oregon, Bicycle Adventures
2006 Canadian Rockies Alpiner, Timberline
2005 Historic Quebec, Classic Adventures
2004 Bryce/Zion Alpiner, Timberline
2003 Finger Lakes, Classic Adventures
2002 Blue Ridge NC, Carolina Tailwinds
2001 Nova Scotia, VBT
2000 Mid-coast Maine (Camden, Castine), VBT
1999 Nantucket weekend, Easy Riders
1998 Middlebury VT weekend, VBT

Trips before Stacey became my personal trainer :-)
1996 Kerry Ireland (9 day), Easy Riders
1995 Maryland Eastern Shore, VBT
pbray: (bike)
Tomorrow is the annual Prouty Ride to raise money for cancer research, treatment and patient services. I've been riding in the Prouty since 2008, graduating from the 50 mile course to the 77 mile course last year, and doing the 77 again this year. It's a great cause, and if you feel so inclined you can sponsor me here.

Over the years I've done charity bike ride events both large and small, and the Prouty is both the largest and the best organized. But there's a special challenge when you have food allergies--because I'm allergic to peanuts and most nuts, much of the food provided at the well-stocked SAG stops is off limits. I can't eat most brands of granola bars, and likewise the pb&j sandwiches are a no-go. So while I can snag water, Gatorade, a banana or the occasional chocolate bar, for the most part I need to bring my own food. Not the easiest thing to do on a road bike, but for short rides I bring my own Patricia-safe snack bars, and for long rides I've mastered the science of packing sandwiches and keeping them cold with mini ice cubes.

And Pringles. Ah Pringles, my secret addiction, something far too dangerous to have in the house because an open can of Pringles is an empty can of Pringles. But for Prouty day I'll bring a small can of them, because they pack really well, and around mile 50 I'm going to need a treat.

Then of course at the finish line they'll have post-ride bbq. And ice cream, because I can always bike for ice cream.
pbray: (TFB)
As an author, it's always difficult to tell which pieces of promotional swag are helpful, and which ones are a waste of money. The strongest reaction I ever received was for the lizard keychains/bottle openers I gave out for THE FIRST BETRAYAL. The lizards were both fun & useful, and were remembered by Elizabeth Bear when it came time for authors to list their favorite book swag in the essay Love It or Leave It.

One lizard to rule them all....
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Means that you believe there's no age limit for getting an Avengers sticker as a reward for a good dental checkup.
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I tweeted the other day that I feel like a badly written timeslice algorithm--there's never enough cycles to go around. Whatever I choose to do, there are multiple other things that aren't getting done, and I never seem to catch up.

Of late my writing has been the thing shortchanged. I don't have a deadline I'm working to, and thus it's easy to focus on the other parts of my life that do come with pressing deadlines.

A while back I was invited to attend a writers retreat, and at first I was enthusiastic. Then the realities of trying to schedule this around the day job started creeping in. But in the end, I realized this was something I needed to do, for myself and for my sanity. With a little schedule juggling, I crossed my fingers and said yes. Then I went ahead and booked the plane tickets, so I'm committed.

So now I have a deadline. Three months from now I'll be hanging out with other writers, discussing our works. So I damn well better have something that I'm enthusiastic about working on and sharing.

And cross my fingers that the day job doesn't get any more insane.
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Putting together an anthology is like building one of those fiendishly complicated jigsaw puzzles where they throw in extra pieces that don't quite fit. For CLOCKWORK UNIVERSE: STEAMPUNK vs ALIENS, we received far more stories than we could possibly use, and thus this past weekend Joshua drove up from Binghamton so we could work on making our (almost) final selections.

We were in agreement on which stories were our favorites, and which ones had missed the mark. The arguments were all over the stories that fell into the middle, and we agonized over the selections.

After narrowing down the list of candidates, we started thinking about the structure of the anthology. We cut out strips of paper with the titles of each story, then arranged and rearranged them until we were satisfied. We need to start and end on our strongest stories, which are generally from our anchors. In the middle we try to separate stories by theme, tone, setting, etc. A humorous story will be followed by one with a darker tone, a story set in Europe may be followed by one set in North America, a longer piece will be offset by two shorter stories. As we starting building the table of contents, stories that had been on our list of potentials started to fall off, because they didn't fit with our other selections.

Here's a picture from when we were pondering. .

So are we ready to tell the submitting authors if they've made it in? Not quite yet. We're still waiting on one of the anchor stories. Once we have it, we'll make one more pass through the proposed lineup to make sure that everything works together, and then we'll start sending out the notifications. Then it's revisions, formatting, and finally the best part--releasing the book into the wild.

I can't wait.
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You'd think this would be obvious, but recent evidence suggests not.

First, never assume that your cover letter is going to stay attached to your manuscript. This is especially true for electronic submissions, where your attached file may be downloaded and stored separately from the email. Always include your contact info on page 1 of the submission.

Second, always include page headers with the page number and either your name or the story title, preferably both. I received multiple submissions without page headers of any kind, and it was a freaking pain in the butt when the printer spit pages on the floor and two of those stories got mixed up. Not to mention that later I'll wind up adding page numbers to make it easier to discuss the story with my co-editor, e.g. "The scene that starts on page 4 is..." What makes it even more inexplicable is that these stories were submitted in Microsoft Word where adding page headers is a basic function.

Even stranger was the story where the author had forgotten to put their name anywhere in the manuscript. Just a bare title, no name, no contact info, presumably they assumed that I'd be happy to hunt back thru the emails to figure out who had sent it in.

Finally spell check is your friend. Proofreading is your friend. Take that extra hour for one last pass before you send your story in. And if you know you're terrible at catching your own mistakes, have someone else take a look at your work.

Remember, first impressions count. A poorly formatted story sends the signal that you can't be bothered with the details, and will be difficult to work with. Don't give the editor a reason to be cranky before she reads a single line of your story. Because if it comes down to a choice between two stories that are equally good, the editor is going to pick the one that didn't make her sigh with annoyance. Trust me on this one.
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Back in 2012 when my beloved ASUS netbook died right before I was leaving on vacation, I replaced it with an ASUS Transformer, a tablet with optional keyboard attachment. The tablet works fine for websurfing and typing short bits of text. But it's always been a pain to use when you have the keyboard attached. The cursor has a habit of jumping unexpectedly as you type, and it's incredibly easy to hit the send key by accident. All my friends know that any email from me that unexpectedly ends in the middle of a sentence will be followed by another with the missing text and a string of curses directed at the ASUS. Googling revealed that I'm not the only one who has these issues--it's apparently a design problem.

And the Android operating system can be a pain--many websites assume that I'm on a mobile phone and don't give me the option to click thru to a full featured version of their website.

I've put up with this for about a year and a half, but I've finally lost my patience. So I'm looking at possible replacements, and the Microsoft Surface is at the top of the list. I don't want to join the church of Apple so an iPad is out, and I've heard good things about the Surface from friends. Though I can't help feeling guilty at the idea of replacing a tablet that is still perfectly functional--normally I only replace electronics after they have catastrophically failed.

Think tomorrow I'll head over to the store and take a look at what's available in the post-Xmas sales.
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Turns out the Yellowstone supervolcano is 2.5 times larger than previously thought (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-25312674). mizkit and I agree this calls for a new Syfy movie, in the tradition of Supervolcano, Super Eruption, etc. All we need is to file the serial numbers off an old script, throw in a handful of sharks a la Sharknado, and we're good to go. We could probably write the whole thing in an afternoon.

This post started as a joke, but now I'm halfway convinced that we could do this, and get Syfy to buy the movie rights.
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What is the collective noun for a group of stories? Forest came to mind, because of all the trees represented here. Cacophony also seems appropriate, or perhaps riot, since they are currently in competition with one another for space in the CLOCKWORK UNIVERSE: STEAMPUNK vs ALIENS anthology.

Whatever we decide to call it, jpsorrow and I are keeping ourselves busy reading the stories that have come in so far, including a tall stack from my Odyssey students. The hard part will be making our final selections in January. That will require copious amounts of chocolate. And alcohol. And paintball guns at high noon in case of disagreements.
pbray: (crime)
Chemist Pleads Guilty in Massachusetts Crime Lab Scandal.

Annie Dookhan pursued renown along a path of lies in depth background piece.

Estimates are forty thousand criminal cases were potentially compromised. Over one thousand cases have been dismissed or failed to be prosecuted since August 2012.

Between 2009 and 2010, the time it took Dookhan to conduct a test went down by more than half. At most work places this is the time when your boss would ask you to share your best practices with the team, so everyone could achieve the same rates of efficiency. Instead she remained the lone outlier, over twice as productive as the next best employee. By 2010 she was five times more productive than the average lab employee.

If she had kept her test numbers merely high rather than inflating them astronomically, it's likely she would never have been caught. And we'd be naive to believe she's the only bad apple in the system, and that this is the only crime lab that had inadequate supervision and a complete lack of checks & balances.
pbray: (crime)
Their best conclusion is that Gareth Williams managed to padlock himself inside a duffle bag that was placed in a bathtub, without leaving a single handprint on the bathtub, or any traces of DNA on padlock, both of which have been described elsewhere as wiped clean. Wow. I thought David Copperfield had mad skills.

Perfect crime and MI6 agent not killed.

I'd never get away with this in a book.
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This summer I was a guest lecturer at the annual Odyssey Writing Workshop. My talk was on writing a series, spanning everything from why you might want to write a series, the pros and cons of doing so, the various types of series, to plotting techniques for both individual book arcs and series arcs. Along the way I shared bits of wisdom from my own experiences and those of fellow writers on how to (and how not to) write a successful series.

The lecture has now been distilled into a two-part podcast at the Odyssey Podcasts website here. Look for podcast 67 (Part 1) and podcast 68 (Part 2).

And my thanks again to Jeanne Cavelos for inviting me back to Odyssey, and to the students who made it such a great experience.

Stay safe

Oct. 27th, 2013 07:01 pm
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Sending good thoughts to all my friends traveling to WFC, hoping the weather doesn't ruin any plans. Stay safe and have a great time.
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A friend is working with a new house publicist on their 2014 book release. For obvious reasons I will not name either friend or publisher, but the marketing plan seems to have missed the point that this essay was meant in jest Our Marketing Plan by Ellis Weiner.
pbray: (TFB_Cover)
And now for your listening enjoyment, THE CHRONICLES OF JOSAN trilogy available from Audible.

I remember when the idea for the story first came to me--it was a rainy day on the Outer Banks, and as I looked over the dunes I had this image of a windswept island, and a man standing beside a lighthouse. For days I kept turning the idea over and over in my head. Who was this man? Why was he there? And where did those goats come from?

The result was the story of Josan, a scholar who is unwillingly swept into international intrigue and discovers his soul is, perhaps literally, not his own.

More about the series )

I know many people who listen to audio books during long commutes, or while working out, and I'm thrilled that they'll now have a chance to listen to my stories.
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I've skimmed some of the diversity in SFF conversations over the last week, as they unfolded on blogs and over Twitter. I can't possibly react to everything that has been said, but I've come to realize something about my own reactions to the topic.

If you're doing it, it must not be important )

The discussions going on are useful, and they've raised a host of issues that I was only peripherally aware of. But at the same time, they are draining. Every time someone makes what I think is a reasonable statement only to then be jumped on by yahoos, it makes me angry and depressed. There's something to be said for the good old days, pre-interwebs, when you only ran into these jerks at conventions and booksignings, and they weren't invited into your (virtual) home 24x7.

I applaud those who are carrying the dialogue forward, and who are giving thought into how to craft solutions. But don't be surprised if I'm a bit scarce. I've run out of spoons.
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The town I live in has experienced two 100 year rain events this summer. I'm pretty sure they need a new scale, or perhaps they meant mayfly years. The amount of rain recorded between June 1st and August 31st was over three times the previous record for that period. Not three times average, three times the wettest summer ever recorded.

Oddly this is a fairly localized problem. The region as a whole has not experienced record breaking rains, and even the severe flooding in July was pretty much limited to within the town borders. Storms have basically parked themselves overhead and just let go. Those of my Binghamton friends who believe there is a giant bulls' eye on my dwelling may be on to something.... I'm consulting my usual sources on how to propitiate the angry rain gods.

It's been a busy weekend including painting projects and other home improvements, a luau Saturday night (indoors because of rain although it dried up enough that we were able to sit around the firepit later in the evening.) And last night was the Ghost Shark viewing party, done MST3K style, with a variety of shark inspired cocktails and food stuffs--Jen and Chris outdid themselves with the shark-watermelon.

This morning I woke up to heavy rain and flash flood alerts--not surprising given how much rain has fallen in the last week. Trying to decide what I'll do today-- a morning bike ride is out, obviously, and even if the rain stops, the trails will be too muddy for hiking. It may be a day for the movies, or visiting a brewpub.

September 2014

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