Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Ten reasons Why I Didn’t Blog About Working At Home Today

In no particular order. From the Home Office of Karina Fabian:

Kids kept interrupting me for help on their schoolwork. (If I have to spell "privacy" one more time...)

Steven was yelling at Liam because Liam hit him, but that was because Amber was kicking him because he (Liam) was in her spot and she couldn't see the TV, and besides, Steven is grounded from TV and Alex even told him so, but he wouldn't move so Liam hit him but...

The toilet backed up, and I'm the janitorial staff.

My friend IM'd about a problem she was having with her latest story, so of course, we worked on that and then we chatted about moving and kids... They should call it Yahoo! Watercooler.

I couldn't concentrate, so I took a long shower to think about it. Had a great idea for a story and wrote that instead. Took another shower to think about the blog.

I went to make a pot of coffee and realized the dishes hadn't been put away. Putting away the dishes reminded me I still had clothes in the dryer, and as long as I was folding them I may as well put another load in…Did those ever get put in the dryer? I'd better check.

Husband came home "frisky."

The dog wanted to play. Who can resist a dog with a squeak toy in her mouth?

It was 90 out and the pool looked sooooo good!

Oh, wait--I just did it! Never mind.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Friendships Bring Energy to Writing

This week, I had the chance to go to New York City to visit some writing friends from the Catholic Writers' Guild, Ann Lewis and Lisa Mladinich. We'd become good IM buddies, and I was thrilled to get to meet them face to face before I moved halfway across the country. We had a real writers' holiday.

On the flight up, I critiqued Ann's latest mystery. It was more of a character-driven story, with the mystery tossed in the middle that helps him answer his own personal crisis, but somehow, the mystery hadn't achieved its purpose. I got an idea for restructure and wrote it down just as we were landing.

Ann picked me up and on the way to Lisa's house, we talked about my idea. It might work, but still had some flaws, these of a more theological nature-the mystery involves the famous Fr. Brown--so we decided to bring it up to the writer's group Lisa was hosting. In the meantime, Ann noted a flaw in my mystery novel. While the book was a lot of fun, there was no immediate threat to give the book some depth. "Why should I, the reader, care?" Ann explained. I'd sensed the same thing, but had dismissed it as asking too much of the plot. Now the doubts came back.

At the writer's group, we met some wonderful ladies. There were poets, children's book writers, illustrators and even a bookstore owner. We shared our stories, played with verse, and exclaimed over the illustrations. Ann's plot problem was brought up and soon we had a new organization that looked promising. I shared some of the other stories and background of Dragon Eye, PI, and in doing so, came up with my plot complication--and yes, it's so cliche'! Just like the Faerie. I gave a copy of ISIG to the bookstore owner, with some marketing ideas for it, and even sold a copy to another lady in the group.

After everyone had left, Lisa, Ann and I started our brainstorming session for a Catholic cartoon we'd been working on. Later, when Ann had to get home, Lisa and I chatted about books and writing and life (isn't it all one in the same?). I told her my Miscria plot and told her daughter my Witch Androvitch stories. She told me more about her book (Catholic paranormal romance--it's GOOD!), her puppets and her hopes for the Catholic cartoon. We talked about prayer and needing to ask God to guide us in our writing.

The next day, Ann returned, bringing her 3-year-old son, and while he played in the backyard and amazed us with his wit and intelligence, we got the majority of a pilot episode hammered out. There's a real energy from discussing something in person. Would we ever had fallen so in love with Gus the Caterpillar if we hadn't been able to see Ann pinch her glasses and lift them ever so slightly with a funny half smile as she acted out Gus in a moment of discovery? Would Lisa have come up with her lovely song if we hadn't been discussing different hymns? We decided we need to try to meet at least once a year.

As I flew home, I found myself refreshed and inspired. What a great couple of days.

We sometimes think writing is a solitary experience, but there's an energy in working with others that cannot be denied.

Thanks, ladies!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Book Signing and Lessons

We had our first book signing today!

We held it at the Salem Church Library in Fredericksburg. I called a couple of weeks ago, and at the advice of the event manager, agreed to set up with a table at the lobby. I sent out some press releases, forgot about it when my computer decided to run MicroSloth instead of MicroSoft, then scrambled to let folks know the day before.

It was a busy day at our little library, with a used book sale and a quilting show. At about 9:50, we showed up at the library with our books and our paraphernalia and our box of books. The lady at the reference desk asked us what kind of table we wanted, and since it was Rob and me, we chose a long one rather than the card table. She gave us tape to put our sign on the table cloth, taped the poster to the front, and lined up some books along the left with the EPPIE trophy. On the right, we set one book on a stand, and the flyers, post cards, etc. In the middle was the sales flyer and a sign-up sheet for visitors.

So we sat for the next four hours. We greeted everyone as they came in. Usually, they'd smile and make a quick left turn to the quilts or used books. Some would come right to us...only to ask where story time was, or if there were water fountains. After awhile, I got more comfortable and started saying to anyone who would do more than give a distracted "hello" as they stared at the artwork behind us, "If you like science fiction, come look." That drew a little more reaction, even if it was just to say, "Nope, sorry. Don't like sci-fi."

About 15 people stopped and asked us about the book. Some gentlemen sat on the bench and perused it while their wives perused the quilts. A couple of people stopped to discuss the interaction of religion and sci fi. Some signed our guestbook. Some took cards with our e-mail address to check if their friend or relative were interested. We only made one sale and donated one to the library, but it was a good first experience.

Here are some things we learned:

--PR!! Don't just rely on media releases. Put up flyers in areas that attract your kind of readers. Invite your friends and neighbors. Tell them when you make the announcement, a week before and the day before. Ask them to tell a friend. Use your contact list.

--At the library, it's good to have a book signing when they're having other events. Other events draw folks. Our only sale was to a lady who came for the show. She was delighted to go home with quilting patches and summer reading.

--If you have family in the area, tell them. (Can you believe I forgot to tell my mother-in-law? She was not happy with us.)

--Don't expect your title to reveal the genre. We thought "Infinite Space, Infinite God" was obviously religious sci-fi, especially with the cover--a monstrance against a background of stars and earthscape. Nonetheless, we had several people say they couldn't figure it out. Make sure your poster gives the genre.

--Bring a scrapbook. While we had our EPPIE trophy and the sell sheet, there were times I could have generated more interest if I'd shown them the story synopses, reviews, etc.

--Have a sign-up sheet. We made one with name and e-mail, and places to checkmark for the genres we write in and whether or not we could contact them with info about our next efforts. These will add to our contact list. (I'm also sending the thank you e-cards.)

--Make sure they give you an e-mail if they want to be contacted. I have two folks who didn't.

--Take notes. Keep track of how many people you talked to. At our library, the book signing actually counts as a meeting and affects their funding. By giving them the number of folks who "attended" (had extended conversations with us), we were able to help them.

--Bring tape, straight pins (to pin things to the tablecloth) and extra pens. And a cushion. Library benches can get hard on the fanny.

--If you have a laptop, make a little video scrapbook to play on it. You might include your book trailer, read some of your reviews, give tidbits. Don't make it too long, but keep it interesting. If you're going to have sound, ask first--esp. at the library.

--Bring a camera and get a photo!

--If you're working on your next book, bring the manuscript to work on. I've got a couple of folks who are interested in my fantasy novel. Plus, it gave me something to do, so I didn't feel so pitiful.

--Meet and thank the staff. Because of timing, I didn't get much chance to do this, but these are the folks who will market your book for you after the sale. Go early and introduce yourself, bring a treat, donate a copy of the book, and give them a thank-you note. Offer to write a compliment, and give them the stats of your signing--number of folks contacted, number who showed interest, number of books you know you sold.

Done a book signing? Have extra tips? Leave them below!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Forging a place for Faith-Filled Fiction

I have a friend who is working on a novel in which a character who is, for the most part, agnostic, but is marrying a devout Catholic girl. The story takes place in Victorian England, so there are some issues of prejudice, but the real intent of the story is his own personal musings on faith. In the end, the character does not undergo any miraculous conversion, merely the realization that there is more to faith than he’d previously assumed, and that perhaps he needs to give it more attention. Nonetheless, she’s concerned that she’s going to put readers off.

A week ago, a friend tried to get me a book signing at her local Catholic bookstore. The timing is bad (the owner is recovering from the post-First Communion rush), so I suggested a secular bookstore. She said she couldn’t see how she could successfully approach a secular bookstore when my book has a Monstrance—a Catholic symbol—on the cover.

I find it ironic that in a mostly Christian nation, the bookstores—esp. the sci-fi, fantasy and horror sections—are full of pictures of demons, pentagrams, and other occult symbols and books with descriptions of pagan ceremonies and magic, yet Christian writers are certain of a strongly negative reaction against their books that mention faith—either as a characterization, plot sequence or cover art.

I see this as sadly indicative of two things: how hypersensitive we have become to the topic of religion and how many Christian writers have only made the way rougher by writing high-handed, self-righteous works under the guide of fiction. Certainly not all, and perhaps not even most, published Christian writers do this, but enough have done it to give faith-filled fiction a tarnished reputation.

However, much has been said on both of these topics, so today I want to talk about what we as writers can do about it.

First and most obvious is simply to write good speculative fiction. For example, as I explained to my friend, Infinite Space, Infinite God is science fiction first, with Catholicism as its “twist.” When we put out a call for submissions, we judged first the quality of the writing, then the plot as a SF story, and finally the positive use of the Catholic faith. That’s why it’s gotten great reviews, even when most of the reviewers are not Catholic.

Second is to make the faith an integral part of the universe and the characters rather than make the characters, plot and world work for the sake of the Biblical message. In Flashpoint, for example, Frank Creed has a lot of Scripture in his story, but he’s woven it in as part of the cyberpunk universe. If it weren’t for the notations (Matthew 3:16, for example), someone not familiar with the Bible might not even realize that they’re reading the Word of God. Many successful Christian writers I’ve met have told me that they do not force the moral into their books but rather concentrate on the story and let the Holy Spirit weave its way into the writing.

Once we’ve worked our pieces so that they are quality literature with a Godly message rather than Godly literature of dubious quality, we need to promote. Not just to a narrow Christian audience, but to the mainstream. If people want a book to help them pray or learn about their faith, they may go to a Christian bookstore. However, if they want to read something for entertainment, they go to a secular one, whether independent or a big chain. If we want to reach people and sell our stories, we need to go to them. After all, Jesus didn’t just sell his stories in the Temple, nor did he tell the Apostles to preach only to a select few.

We need to go out there, unapologetic and un-apologetic. Promote your books to the secular market as a great read in the genre. Don’t hide the religious nature, but don’t hammer it, either. After all, folks should read our stories because we’re good writers with compelling tales; if they want a “Christian message,” they can go to Church or read the Bible itself.

When I promote Infinite Space, Infinite God to secular stores, I tell them the anthology has all the things that define sci-fi: interstellar and time travel, fantastic futuristic devices based on current and speculative science, utopias and dystopias garnered from projecting the trends of today. There’s even a good-old-fashioned alien abduction. Yet all are done with a twist—a Catholic world view. If I get raised eyebrows or just simple interest, I’ll go on to explain that just the Church has played an active and positive roll in science and technology for thousands of years; in ISIG, we see that roll continuing as the Church and Catholic characters use their faith and ideals as well as technology to handle the conflicts they face. Thus, this is not evangelization but the study of how technology and faith interact—and what is sci fi if not a chance to explore these kinds of questions?

Finally, once we’re out there, we need to build our audience—and we do that by being kind and encouraging, fun and informative to talk with—and by producing more great stories.

Only when we take our place as a rightful member of the mainstream--not defensively feeling like we need a special store or even a special spot in the store, but with confidence that we, too, have something readers will enjoy—will we be able to gain acceptance for our own unique take on a well-established genre.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Tribute and Thanks to Lea Schizas

Today, I'd like to tell you about an amazing woman, Lea Schizas.

Lea is an author, mother, editor and organizer extraordinaire. It seems she's always up to some new scheme, project, or adventure.

I first met Lea when I attended the MuseOnline Writers Conference. As founder and organizer of the conference, she kept over a 1000 convention goers, five chat rooms, and scores of seminars—not to mention a HUGE Yahoo group—coordinated and running. If you were on a chat, she was there. If you had a problem—e-mail her and it was good as solved. But even more, she was always positive, even thrilled to do whatever needed to be done to make the conference a success. And a success it was. When I went to the conference, promoting ISIG seemed like an expensive, daunting endeavor. After the workshop, I saw it as doable and even fun. Even more, I made some good friends.

Lea is not one to rest on her laurels, however. Next, she invited us to attend a website building workshop. I was new to the website world, having hired someone to build mine and thought building one on my own would require a college level course. She taught us how to make one with free services like tripod and freewebs, where she has her own sites. Thanks to her, I have a book site for ISIG, a site for my Dragon Eye characters, and a media room that attaches to the standard website. (HTML still intimidates me.)

So Lea is a great lady for teaching groups and getting folks together, but she's also been a mentor on a personal level. From encouraging e-mails and featuring me on one of her blogs to getting me involved in a critique group, she's done more to help me in my writing than any single person.

This is what Lea does, but it doesn't really tell you what she is: enthusiastic, positive, encouraging, and lots of fun. Lea is a lady as well as a writer. She has undying energy, it seems, and an incredible desire to give. Because of that, she has touched the lives of many writers, and as a future generation of writers comes into its own, several of them—several of us—will have Lea to thank.

We didn't want to wait until that day, however, so we've chosen this weekend, Mother's Day weekend in the US, to tell our Writer Mother Hen, "Thanks."

God bless you, Lea. You're part of the power beneath our pens.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Where I've Been

Haven't blogged in a week, and while there's really no excuse, I do have reasons:

#1. I've been busy sending out copies of Infinite Space, Infinite God to reviewers and those who pre-ordered from me. If you would like a pre-release promotional copy of ISIG, signed, please e-mail me using the Contact button on the menu. I've also been trying to get some book signings.

#2. My computer is freaking out again. I have decided I am indeed some kind of computer jinx. This time, the problem (in addition to a return of the keyboard and DVD door problems) is slow run time. After it took over an hour to do a 10 minute cut-and-paste job on my Virtual Book Tour blog, I gave up. I tried to tackle the problem—cleaning the drive, getting rid of old programs and running virus and other security scans. Each new thing just made it worse, it seems. It's now at HP and I'm on my husband's laptop. Pray I don't "curse" it, too. Of course, this means that, even though my data is backed up, it's not easily accessible until my old computer is back from the shop and everything is re-installed.

#3 and best of all, I got a manuscript request from a publisher. A couple of months ago, I proposed a novelization of my fantasy mystery serial, Magic, Mensa, and Mayhem. The publisher is intrigued by the idea (which I hope means something along the lines of, "ROFLMAO! This is such a riot. I can't wait to see what happens next!") So for the next couple of months, I'm on a NaNo-style typing quest. I need to have the full manuscript done by the end of July and remember, in the intervening months, I'm
--homeschooling the kids
--selling our house
--planning a move to Minot
--attending Commander's Wife school in Colorado

So anyway, life is busy and fun—except for the computer trouble. I can't even come up with a good theme song. Maybe something will hit me later.