Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Holiday Time Off

Hi, all,

We're taking a break for the holidays. Posts will resume in early January.

Have a great winter holiday of your choice, everyone!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Winners - Books of the Year

by Raelene Gorlinsky

Thank you to everyone who commented on our Books of the Year post. I have a list of books and authors I want to try, based on your recommendations!

So, random drawing for winners amongst the participants:
Cathy M
Cara Bristol

Ladies, please email RedlinesDeadlines@gmail.com and provide your mailing address. We'll send you a prize collection, including the 2011 EC Cavemen Calendar. (Probably will mail after Christmas.)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Books of the Year

Seems like everyone is doing a list of their top books of 2010. We don't want to be left out! But we'd like to be a bit different. So tell us some special stories that you read in 2010 (don't have to be new release in 2010), in the categories below.

And yes, of course, there will be prizes! Since it's the holiday season, we'll mail you a 2011 Ellora's Cave calendar and some other great goodies!

From the stories you read in 2010:
1. Story that resonated the most with me, emotionally.
2. Story I recommend most to others.
3. Story I wish I hadn't wasted my time on.
4. Most unusual story.

Put your responses in Comments by December 20. Oh, and please say why! We're always looking for book recommendations. I asked for an Amazon.com gift certificate for Christmas - help me spend it.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Eyes Have It

by Raelene Gorlinsky

We've mentioned common romance stereotypes before. And this one was a question on Kelli's Fiction Feud. But this week hit me with a really stunning example of the heroine eye color issue.

Yes, we all expect romance heroines to be beautiful and somewhat unusual. But what, pray, is wrong with eyes of brown or black or hazel? Nice colors. But it seems like a massive percentage of heroines have blue eyes--almost always with some adjective to enhance the blue. Well, this week I read a story where the heroine had sapphire blue eyes and her BFF had eyes of emerald green! WTF, did they rob a jewelry store? If you see people with eyes of those colors, you can bet that over 90% of them are wearing colored contact lenses.

Do authors know how rare green eyes really are? It is the most recessive eye color gene. I read an article in a science magazine that said that within the next two generations, green eyes will be virtually gone. There are so few people with green (not hazel) eyes, and how often do two of them get together for child-creating? The green eye color has been bred out of the gene pool.

So although I love the colors blue and green, and I appreciate stunning-looking heroines, please...let's try for more chocolate brown or jet black. (Oh, and no one but Elizabeth Taylor gets to claim having lavender eyes.)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Best & Worst Book Videos

The Huffington Post has listed their choice of the 19 (why 19?) best and worst book videos of 2010. Take a look. Do you agree with them?


Friday, December 3, 2010

2010 Bad Sex Award

Britain’s Literary Review awards the "Bad Sex in Fiction Award” each year. The 2010 winner is Rowan Somerville's The Shape of Her. In accepting the award, Somerville said, “There is nothing more English than bad sex, so on behalf of the entire nation I would like to thank you.”

The novel contains sentences such as "Like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin he screwed himself into her." A nipple is compared to the “nose of the loveliest nocturnal animal, sniffing in the night.”


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Fiction Feud Winner!

Yeah. It was just as hard as we'd thought it would be.  :)  Many thanks to our 15 players for giving it their best shots. And special thanks to Lynne and Barbara for making us laugh our asses off.

The actual game at RomantiCon had the top 4 or 5 answers for each question, and a lot of you got the number 2 or number 3 answers. (For example, wet or moist, which most of you guessed for the most common adjective to describe a vagina, was the number 2 answer.) Had we played the full version of the game, it would have been a super tight race.

Several of you got 4 of the top answers correct, but our winner, with 5 correct answers, was B.! Woohoo! Congrats! B, just email Martha@ellorascave.com and tell her which book (and format) you'd like to receive.

Now the answers:

1. Name the most overused hero name: Lucius, Lucian or Luke

2. Name the most common adjective used to describe an erection: Hard or rock-hard (several of you gave us "cock". Tsk, tsk. That's a noun, people)  :)

3. Name a type of sex play authors throw in their books to get the BDSM icon: Cuffs, ties or scarves (we'd also accept "bondage")

4. Name the most common uncommon eye color for heroes OR heroines: Emerald green (we'd also accept just "green"; several of you listed "brown". Is that uncommon these days?)

5. Not counting those that are sexual or romantic in nature ("passion", "love", "desire", etc.), name the most overused word in erotic titles: Night (the toughest question, based on the fact no one got it. Other overused title words: dark, hunt/hunter/hunted, bound, blood, fire)

6. Name the most common adjective used to describe a vagina: Hot

7. Name the most common thing a hero does to a woman's nipples: Lave or lick ("suck" was a super close second)

8. Other than a bedroom, name the most common place characters have sex: Shower

9. Name the most common last name authors use for their pseudonym: Black (Lee/Leigh, James and Quinn are hot contenders)

10. Name the most common occupation for romance heroes: Police/FBI (some form of law enforcement)

11. Name the most common way that M/M heroes meet: In a bar/club

12. Name the most common euphemism for coming: Explode

Thanks again for playing, folks. Your consolation prize would be our undying gratitude, which is worth a pretty penny on certain author black markets. Oh, and we're currently dreaming up games for next year's RomantiCon...if you have something you'd like to play, by all means, let us know!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Reminder: Fiction Feud Contest

Remember, Tuesday is the deadline for the Fiction Feud! Enter your answers in Comments. Winner will be announced Wednesday.
(Hint: Don't bother sitting next to Barbara Elsborg and copying her test answers!)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Review Repetition?

by Raelene Gorlinsky

My turn to talk about something that's bothering me. What does Kelli call it, Me Time?

As a reader (NOT wearing my editor or publisher hat) I'm getting a bit concerned about a particular aspect of online reviews. As in, how many of the reviewers actually thoroughly read and think about the books--or how many are just copying someone else's review? Every person has individual reading tastes and preferences, so I'd expect opinions on books to reflect that diversity. Why am I seeing more and more online reviews that say the same things about a book? (I'm specifically talking about online review sites and bloggers who post reviews, as those are the most prolific and the ones I'm most likely to read. I'm not talking about reviews at big businesses like Publishers Weekly or the New York Times.)

Okay, if a book has very apparent glowing elements or serious flaws, likely most readers/reviewers would notice and mention those. But type of plot, characters, setting -- everybody's different, so should have different things to say. But I'm seeing multiple reviews with almost the same wording. And that's not matching up with the diversity of comments from my fellow readers. For example, I just read a steampunk romance by a well-known author. The book got a lot of buzz and a number of online reviews. A lot of those reviewers had close to identical comments about the hero. Yet when I read the book, I saw the hero in a completely different light, I had a different understanding of his motivations and emotions. And when I talked to others who'd read the story, they had varying takes on and opinions of the hero. If a dozen readers voice a dozen different opinions, it seems odd that another dozen readers who happen to label themselves reviewers churn out almost identical opinions.

The same thing happened with a recent erotica story. Every reviewer seemed to make the same comment about an item they felt was unnecessary. In fact, the sentences in reviews on different sites were practically duplicates. And yet comments from readers reflected that some of them appreciated that element or felt it was not a problem -- again, diversity of reader opinion that was not reflected by diversity in reviewer opinion.

A "reviewer" is just a reader who posts their comments for others to see. And nowadays anyone with a blog wants to post reviews, whether they have any skill at explaining a book's strengths and flaws or not. It isn't like there's special training or testing to be allowed to call oneself a reviewer. Just (hopefully) a love of books and an ability to analyze what you like and dislike about a story and express that coherently.

Unfortunately, sometimes authors are so hopeful to have someone mention their name and praise their book that they provide free copies to any person who says they'll write about the book on a blog or review site. Authors should research all such requests for review copies: ask the person for all the places they post reviews and under what names, how many books they have reviewed and in what genres, what their process and timeline are, what their criteria are for selecting books to review and what books they will not accept, what they do if they DNF a book. Make sure you trust this person to read your whole book and give it a fair and well-thought-out review. (And I am leery of reviewers or sites that never post negative reviews -- I don't want nasty, but I do want honest. I learn a lot about a book that got an F or DNF at AAR, SBTB, DA or GBU, and I may choose to read some of those books based on the analysis in that review.)

It was pointed out to me by someone associated with a review site that six online reviews are not necessarily six reviewers. It isn't just that a person may post their review in multiple places -- lawdy, how many places can you find the same Harriet Klausner review. But some reviewers use several "pen names" to post on different sites. They just slightly modify the wording of the review to post it elsewhere as if they are a different reader. And it has always been rumored that some reviewers don't read the books -- they read the blurb, excerpt, and other reviews, and then post a review under their own name. So of course in such a case they'd be mimicking someone else's comments and reflecting the same opinions.

Why? Are some people so eager to believe their opinion matters to others, to suck up to authors, or to see their own name online that they will "cheat" in order to post lots of reviews?

I don't really care whether a reviewer liked or disliked a book. I read reviews to find out about the plot and characters, the writing style, particular elements it contains -- so that I can decide if it's the type of story I would like. So it does bother me that I may be misled by reviews that are just a copy of someone else's opinion. For example, I would avoid a book if multiple reviews say the heroine is TSTL -- I assume if that many people had that same reaction, it likely is accurate about the story. But now I wonder if I'm missing books I would enjoy, because really only one or a few people had that opinion, and others just copied them.

I appreciate insightful and informational reviews, I thank and applaud the dedicated reviewers who put time and effort into reading and analyzing a story. So it's discouraging that I'm seeing less of that, more useless repetition from a minority who are diluting the value of the reviewing process to readers.

If you read reviews, have you noticed this phenomenon? Do you post reviews and have an opinion to offer on this?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Fiction Feud!

By Kelli Collins

One hundred people surveyed, top five answers are on the board...

Not really. Just the top answer is on the board, but if you've seen Family Feud, you get the gist. All the fun of the game without all the perviness of Richard Dawson! Win! The following is a shortened version of a game I hosted at RomantiCon 2010, used to illustrate some of the most over-used items in Ellora's Cave books. If you weren't able to attend, here's your chance to get in on the action and prove your romance/erotica smarts. Using Comments, post your best guesses to the questions below, whatever you suspect might have been the #1 answer. The person who guesses the most correct answers wins an ebook of his or her choice!

Deadline: Tues., Nov. 30; answers posted and winner announced Wed., Dec. 1. Good luck!

(Tip: Answers are collectively culled from all genres. And your gut instinct is usually correct.)

1. Name the most overused hero name

2. Name the most common adjective used to describe an erection

3. Name a type of sex play authors throw in their books to get the BDSM icon

4. Name the most common uncommon eye color for heroes OR heroines

5. Not counting those that are sexual or romantic in nature ("passion", "love", "desire", etc.), name the most overused word in erotic titles

6. Name the most common adjective used to describe a vagina

7. Name the most common thing a hero does to a woman's nipples

8. Other than a bedroom, name the most common place characters have sex

9. Name the most common last name authors use for their pseudonym

10. Name the most common occupation for romance heroes

11. Name the most common way that M/M heroes meet

12. Name the most common euphemism for coming

Friday, November 19, 2010

Recommended Links

"A Few Words on Professionalism" by Anne Rainey
Three Wicked Writers blog

Every author and aspiring author should read and follow this advice. Writing is a profession, you can help yourself be successful by being professional.

All About Japanese Tentacle P*rn" by Cecil Adams

Well, it actually makes sense once he explains. "Till 1993 Japanese law prohibited depictions of penises and intercourse. So Maeda was obliged to come up with a substitute: tentacles."

Dorchester Hires New CEO; Sets New Plan (Publishers Weekly) 11/16/10

It's very sad, but it looks more and more like Dorchester is not going to survive. They launched a lot of great writers, and have always put out some excellent fantasy and paranormal romance.

Write Us a Story!

Ellora's Cave Publishing announces its special theme series for 2011.

~ Story length 18K - 45K words.
~ Any genres, settings.
~ Must use the theme as a primary story element.

Submissions should be sent (as .doc email attachment) to Submissions@ellorascave.com. Include full story, 2-page synopsis, and professional cover email. See our Author Information brochure (available under Submissions heading on our website) for additional info.

Submission deadlines are firm. Earlier is preferred.

Theme is pirates: historical, contemporary, futuristic/space, or your interpretation.
Stories will release in June 2011.
Submission deadline is January 15, 2011.

Theme is tech sex: all the ways to meet and fall in lust and love via modern technology--texting, IM, skype, online dating.
Stories release in October 2011.
Submission deadline is April 30, 2011.

Theme is love letters, cards, diaries.
Stories will release in January/February 2012 (in time for Valentine's Day).
Submission deadline is August 31, 2011.

Stories must be set in Canada, at least one of the main characters must be Canadian, and the story should have a Canadian "flavor" (slang, customs, holidays, etc).
Submissions for this can be any length 7K to 120K words.
Submissions must be received before September 1, 2011.
Stories release throughout 2011.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Jaid Black's BLOWJOB

At the 2010 Ellora's Cave RomantiCon convention, best-selling author Jaid Black presented a workshop on  writing sexual tension and erotic stories. Remember the acronym "blowjob".

Basis: What is the conflict to start the tension? Why is this happening? What is the underlying foundation, the reason for the story? Start fast with the story, have impact at the beginning.

Libido: Establish that the hero is "larger than life" in all aspects. Building the heroine is even more important; she's the one readers will identify with. Make her real. What is missing that she needs from this hero?

No Orgasm too soon.

Withhold: Build as much sexual tension as you can before the first sex scene. To get the reader hot, you as author should be aroused by what you are writing.

Journey: Take time with the sexual journey, keep it building. You don't have to jump into penetration and orgasm right away, use other types of sexual interaction to advance the intimacy and build sexual arousal.

OMG Moment: The moment before the "moment", holding on right before orgasm, where you (the heroine) can't take it anymore.

Burst: Then go back and do it all again, building up that tension again.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Story - Book

by Raelene Gorlinsky

I'm trying to watch my words. To me, a "book" can be any format. But most people still associate that word with print on paper. If I am talking about a specific product, then I differentiate--a print book, an ebook, an audio book (and who knows what could come in future). But here's the important point--what authors, editors and publishers deal with is not a "book", it is a story. That's what we care about--the words themselves, the ideas and information they convey. Authors write a story, editors acquire and edit a story, publishing companies produce and distribute a story. That story will be provided to readers in a variety of formats, but that doesn't necessarily change the story itself.

One of my favorite sayings is All words are pegs to hang ideas on. The terms you use have an effect on people's perceptions, sometimes beyond what you intend. It's like the old argument about using "man" or "mankind" to describe human beings as a whole. Yes, logically we all know that word means everyone, regardless of gender. But what it conveys subconsciously is that males represent the world, are the important people, and women are subsidiary. The underlying implications of words are more often limiting rather than inclusive.

So I'm trying to remember to use "story" instead of "book". Because that's what is important--the story you are telling, not the format in which the story appears.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Assistant Needed

By Grace Bradley, editor

As my stable of authors continues to grow, I find myself needing more hours in the day. Since that is clearly not a possibility, I decided to bring in some help. Piper came very highly recommended, the purrfect editing assistant. She has it all—intelligence, good looks, a fondness for cheap lunches out of a can. I really didn’t see any way this could go wrong. But she’s been on the job for three weeks now and my schedule is not any less hectic. In fact, I’m working just as much as I ever did and the grocery store runs for Fancy Feast are cutting into my work day.

I can credit Piper with one thing, and that is her ability to keep a close eye on office inventory. She pointed out to me recently that we are running low on red and pink pens. This is a problem for two reasons. First, I can’t edit without them. Second, I buy them in a twelve pack. This can only mean that I’m getting some messy manuscripts. Piper has one thing to say about that: Self-edit.

Either this manuscript is really awful or Piper hasn’t taken her morning cat nap. She’s falling asleep on the job. You’ve got to grab her on the first page, folks. Unless you’re writing about the extra-groovy feeling your character gets while imbibing in catnip or sharing a can of minced meat with the one they love, you’ll lose her. She neglected to tell me in her interview that she had been spayed. Sex scenes will not do it for her. This is a problem, considering what I contract.

She’s taken over the office like she owns the place. Here she is again, falling down on the job. I’ve tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, but this is an internal submission from one of my best authors. It certainly shouldn’t put her to sleep. So sadly, I must let her go as my editing assistant. I think I’ll keep her on as the family pet, though. I kinda dig the way she sits in my lap while I work and purrs. It makes me a happy editor, and that makes all the empty red pens more tolerable.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Romance Recipe for Success

One of the reader discussion groups at this year's RomantiCon convention was "Recipe for Success", hosted by authors Fran Lee and Amber Skyze. They solicited reader opinions on "the most important ingredients for a breathtaking, satisfying romance" (with emphasis on erotic romance).

As always, there was wide diversity of opinions, but consistency in basic areas.

The five most important elements in a good romance:
  • HEA
  • Hot, delicious sex
  • Strong romance
  • Believable plot/conflict
  • Strong, engaging (and enjoyable) characters
Almost all agreed that a relationship was of the utmost importance in a romance. They wanted to see the characters develop strong emotional connections.

Humor was appreciated.

About half stated that sweetly poignant moments were essential to their enjoyment of a novel.

Plots were expected to be unique, not simply makeovers of overused situations and reworked “same-old, same-old”, and have believable world building.

Many stated that the author's voice was important.

Sensual content: Two-thirds of the participants stated that they liked to see a delicious, hot buildup of tension between the H/H. About half stated that instant hot sex was good, but most of these also liked “slow buildup”. The general consensus was that the sex must be hot and intense when it did occur, but that slow and seductive was appreciated as well. Most participants made it clear that the sex must fit the story. No one wanted gratuitous sex just tossed in. The sex had to be part and parcel of the plot, and be steamy. One said “must be breathtaking and memorable”.

Heroes: The overwhelming majority wanted alpha heroes who were strong and tough. Roughly half added “flawed” and “bad boy”. A few added “tortured” or “smart”.

Heroines: Saucy and sexy. About half liked heroines who exhibited tomboy tendencies, were wicked, strong, and/or flawed. About one-fourth liked their heroines to be ultra-feminine. A few participants added “smart”, “smart and independent”, “witty…keeps hero on his toes” and “tortured”.

Genres: When presented with a list and asked to indicate all their preferences, almost all marked Contemporary. Over half also chose Paranormal, Vampire, Shifter, historical, BDSM, Erotic, GLBT, Cougar, Ménage, or “all of the above”. Erotic, Cougar, and Ménage were most notably chosen. Sci-fi/fantasy was included in about one-third of the responses.

Book length: A majority of participants preferred novellas or short novels, but about half said they also enjoyed full length novels.

When asked what made the participant re-read the same book over, most responded that they liked to go back and re-read the good parts, memorable sex scenes, or the hilariously funny parts. They liked to re-read the places where the characters began to build their relationships, and a good percentage liked to go back to the scenes that really “touched” them.

One person stated that she found that each new reading revealed even more than she had found in the prior reading. One person stated that she almost never re-read a book, but that she does search for more by the same author if she liked the book.

As Fran said afterwards, "The responses were gratifying in that every single participant reinforced our impression of the deep sense of individuality in our readers. We found that our readers (and the participating reviewers and authors) are discerning and share a taste for high-quality books that leave them emotionally moved. Not willing to sit back and simply accept what is offered out there, they were most willing to step up and tell us what they wanted."

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Nothing but 'Net

By Kelli Collins

The lovely ladies over at Three Wicked Writers plus Two tell me they've fielded lots of questions from new authors regarding websites. As in, whether or not to have one, and the importance of the content contained therein. What works, what doesn't...and what editors recommend. That's where I come in, by answering some of the Wicked Writers' most frequently asked questions. I'm honored you would want my opinion, ladies. The fact you may have asked because I never shut up and have an opinion on everything has crossed my mind...but I don't care! I'm taking the opportunity and running with it! (Oh, and gentlemen, we love you and we love men who write erotica, but considering the industry is dominated by chicks, I'll be going with the feminine pronoun for the purposes of this post. No offense, dudes.)

Why do editors need to look at an author's website?
Need? Well, some think they don't. But for my money, it's the quickest way to learn about a prospective author, in particular how she presents herself. And not just her site...but her blog, tweets and Facebook posts as well. Is the site a raging grammatical nightmare? That's likely how her submissions will look (don't kid yourself; your mom's/sister's/friend's proofing skills only go so far, in most cases). Is the author slamming fellow writers or (god forbid) publishing companies on her blog? Is her Facebook wall just a loooong rundown of game posts? To me, these things matter. They tell me pretty much everything I need to know. And they continue to tell me things after an author is signed. (Your edits are 5 weeks late because you've contracted a disease that renders your fingers immobile? That's funny. According to FB, you've been playing FarmVille for the last 15 hours straight, and your Twitter feed from the last week could be a novel unto itself.)

If a website seared your retinas and offended your sensibilities to the point you thought the author had committed web page murder, would you feel compelled to tell then they may be better off changing their website?
Yes. Lol! I have no problem telling authors why I don't visit their sites. The music (which I can't turn off!!) makes me wanna commit hari-kari. The home page is a visual nightmare, with texts and graphics seemingly placed at random so my eyes ping-pong all over with no place to land. The text is too small; the colors are too visually straining (black is always easiest to read...but not on an equally dark background). Some semblance of order is needed. Without it, it's just too mentally exhausting to navigate the site.

If yes, how would you broach the subject and what would you say?
Well, seeing as how I have little to no filter, I just lay it on the line: "Hon, you need to revamp your site." Followed by all the reasons why. It's not personal for me, it's business. And I relay that to the author, explaining as best I can why her site might be offending the masses. Websites are an author's number one promotional tool. If you're lucky enough to get readers to visit, but can't get them to stay, well...you're pretty much screwed.

Where does your gaze land when you view a website for the first time? The banner? The sidebars?
On websites, as in newspapers and magazines, our eyes are attracted to images first, large headlines second. I'm no different. Because our eyes are also trained to read top to bottom, left to right, my eyes are drawn to the banner first if there's an interesting graphic element. My eyes almost always go to sidebars last; an argument to place links to site pages beneath the banner. (We're conditioned to think sidebars are largely reserved for links, advertisements, etc. Things that may hold my interest the least.) Because graphics and headlines are so frequently viewed, make them count. Use them to point readers in the direction you want them to go, to entice them to read your posts and as tools to keep readers on your site as long as possible.

If you see a vulgar website, does it put you off reading any of the author's work?
Not necessarily. While vulgarity does tell me a bit about the author as a person, it doesn't necessarily reflect the type of books they write. But that's years of experience talking. An author might not get so lucky with readers, who may well assume a crude site is a sign of crude books. But while I might still read authors' works, their use of vulgar images, language, etc., is another thing that might keep me away from their sites. For instance, I swear like a sailor and I love looking at hot bods as much as the next person, but there's something to be said for teasing glimpses and a modicum of professionalism. There's at least one site I no longer visit because I'm just not interested in seeing the author's "cock of the month" pictures. There are plenty of other places I can go for that, if I really want to see it. Websites should appeal to the broadest range of readers possible.

As tastes are subjective, what one person thinks is an ugly website, another will like. What are the basic things you look for when visiting sites?
Some sort of order; if I want to see your bio or view your current releases, finding the pages easily is key for me. A degree of simplicity (you don't need to pack every square inch of the site with content or images. Seriously). A pleasing color scheme. If my eyes are happy, I'll stay on the site longer.

What is the one thing you do NOT want to see on a website, as in, something that looks unprofessional in your opinion?
See previous "cock of the month" mention...

What is the main thing that turns you off a website?
Disorder, followed very closely by dated information. I can't tell you how often I visit sites that haven't been updated for months. There's just no point in having one if you're not maintaining it. Silly, poser-style images. Come on, people, there are oodles of free pics available on the 'Net, nearly all of which are more appealing than creepy-looking pod people. Finally, no contact link. If you're interested in publishing...you might want to give editors/publishers a way to contact you (and of course, readers LOVE to email authors).

Would you advise authors to post portions of a WIP on their website?
Man. Tough question. And I'm truly torn. Half of me would rather see a short, super-enticing blurb. For one thing, I've seen some seriously long excerpts (as in, several chapters). Why should readers buy the cow when they're getting the milk for free? But more importantly, excerpts from current WIPs are unedited. No. I'm sorry. I don't care if you've had 12 people read it. They're still unedited. And that can work against an author in a big way, particularly if the excerpt doesn't specifically state it's unedited (no, most readers won't assume).

On the other hand, I'd be lying if I said I haven't invited authors to submit books directly to me on the strength of excerpts on their sites. I've done so frequently, actually. If an author follows me on Twitter, for instance, I check out their site (if they are smart enough to link it in their Twitter bio). If there's an excerpt or a free read of some sort, I read it. Nearly every time. And knowing these things are largely unedited makes me doubly impressed if I stumble upon one that's clean and compelling. I don't hesitate to invite those authors to submit. So I suppose in the case of new authors, there are great advantages to excerpting your WIPs. But if you choose to...for the love of all that's holy, make sure the excerpts are as clean as humanly possible and chosen VERY carefully (use the excerpt you think will instantly hook the reader).

Three Wicked Writers plus Two are Tess MacKall, Regina Carlysle, Anne Rainey, Natalie Dae and Madison Scott. Together, along with a host of guest bloggers, they post several times per week.

Monday, November 1, 2010

It's a Small World--Help Keep It Clean

By Grace Bradley, EC editor

Despite how large the publishing industry seems, in actuality it is very, very small. This business relies heavily on networking—Facebook, Twitter, blogs, personal relationships—and as a result we are all very well connected. This is an excellent thing…most of the time. We become so comfortable in our own little “bubbles”, not thinking for a moment that what we say outright (meaning what we type) or imply will go far beyond the regular visitors to our blogs, our friends on Facebook and our followers on Twitter. Remember the part about personal relationships? That’s where your personal business ends up receiving a much larger audience than you intended.

A recent incident led me to write this blog. I received an email from someone in my network (which is extensive—when you’ve been in this business for a while you get to know a lot of people) who thought I might find something “interesting”. She had been directed to a particular blog by someone in her network because that person thought she would find the little tidbit “interesting”. Without going into detail, the blog in question aired some insecurities an author had, along with the author’s personal take on what led her to be in that position. Not only was her perception of reality not quite on the mark, but to make matters worse, negative comments followed—none of them made anonymously. So I’m sure you can see how this downward spiral is forming. I am now aware of several authors’ general negativity and harsh comments about an industry they are a part of. If I were a writer, I wouldn’t want my name associated with negative thoughts or actions because Big Brother is watching. But that’s just me.

The publishing business is tough and anyone who is in it knows it requires a tough skin. You must be able to accept criticism, constructive though it may be, on something you’ve poured your heart into. You have to be able to accept “no” when everything in you is screaming, “yes, yes, yes” (you’re thinking about an orgasm right now, aren’t you?). You have to adhere to your publisher’s policies, your editor’s schedule, your editor’s evaluation of your work, even if you don’t agree. You have to be flexible and understand that unforeseen changes occur in business and you have to roll with those changes.

Are you allowed to be frustrated, heartbroken, incensed? Absolutely. We’re all human, after all. Should you post these reactions in public? Absolutely not. Remember how small this big industry is. So share your concerns with a friend, a spouse, a fellow writer (via email or on the phone, please), the poor soul who is unfortunate enough to be stuck behind you in a long line at the grocery store (of course, assuming they aren’t in the industry…just how small can it be, right?). And the best solution? Take your concerns to your editor or publisher. I know that I would much rather have an author express their concern directly to me so that I have an opportunity to ease their distress and do what I can to reassure and help them.

If you take anything away from what I’ve written, it should be this: Do not publicly post anything you would not want your editor or publisher (or authors and readers you don’t know) to see. While editors don’t spend our time trolling the net looking for “authors behaving badly”—we simply don’t have the time or desire—Google Alerts set to our publishing house and networking contacts are quick to point out what we’re missing while busy working on your books. My best advice? Keep it clean, people. :-)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Frog Addiction

by Helen Woodall
Hello, my name is Helen and I’m addicted to frogs. But no thank you, I am not looking for a 12-step plan to overcome my addiction. I love my froggies, all 200+ of them.

Do I hear you asking why? Just look at the smile on the green tree frog’s face. How can that not make you smile too?

And although green is my favorite color—green for frog!—whatever your color scheme or favorite color, they match!
But apart from the sheer cuteness and lovability factor, frogs are a vital part of our ecosystems. They are bioindicators. Because of their permeable skin, once frogs get sick it means the environment is sick. Toxic substances have entered their skin and will harm humans too. As well as that, they keep our lakes and rivers clean by eating algae, they eat insects that are harmful to humans, such as malarial mosquitoes and flies that carry germs. Really, they are all-round good guys and if your frog population starts to die off, it’s time to start panicking.

Fun facts: The smallest frog is the critically endangered Cuban frog Eleutherodactylus iberia. These frogs measure only 10 mm (0.4 in) when fully grown. The biggest frog is the Goliath Frog Conraua goliath, which lives in western Africa. They can grow to be over 30 cm (1 ft) long, and weigh over 3 kg (6.6 lbs). This species is also endangered.

You can see some Australian frogs here:

And to help save frogs throughout the world go to: http://savethefrogs.com/

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Some Like It Hot Writing Contest

Author Tawny Taylor is running a writing contest:

Starting October 25th, 2010, I will be hosting a writing contest!
The final judge is an editor from Ellora’s Cave.

All SubGenres of erotic romance accepted.

This contest is open to both unpublished and published authors of erotic romance fiction. All entries shall be the author's original work and not contracted for publication prior to the entry deadline. (Authors currently published with Ellora's Cave are not eligible to enter.)

How the contest works:
* You may submit one chapter--not to exceed 5000 words. Stories must be complete. (A one-page synopsis may be included.)

* Each Monday, two stories will be selected by Ellora's Cave editor Grace Bradley. At the end, six weekly winning authors will submit a partial (first three chapters, last chapter and synopsis) to the final judge for ranking.

The first place winner will receive ...
A critique of the full winning manuscript by EC editor Grace Bradley!

The second place winner will receive...A critique of the partial manuscript by EC editor Grace Bradley (first three chapters, last and synop).

The third place winner will receive...
A critique of the first chapter by EC editor Grace Bradley.

Additional Prizes:
One entry will be selected each week by random drawing to received a detailed critique by an author published with Ellora's Cave.


* Starting Date: October 25th 2010. Entries will be accepted until 11:59 pm November 12, 2010.

* Three rounds
Submissions received between 12:00 am October 25th and 11:59 pm October 29th will be considered for round one. Submissions received between 12:00am Oct. 30 and 11:59 pm November 5th will be considered for round two. And submissions received between 12:00am November 6th and 11:59 November 12th will be considered for round three.

* Weekly Finalists Announced on November 1, 2010, November 8, 2010 and November 15, 2010.

* NO Entry Fee or purchase necessary to win.

* Send entries to writingcontest@tawnytaylor.com. Include genre, word count, and your name and contact information. A one-page synopsis may be included.

Before entering, please see all the details at: http://www.tawnytaylor.com/WritingContest.html
For any questions, email Tawny (tawny@tawnytaylor.com)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Stop, You're Killing Me!

by Raelene Gorlinsky

Are you a mystery fan or fanatic? Then you must check out this website!
Stop, You're Killing Me! : A website to die for...if you love mysteries.

They list 38,000 titles, 3400 authors, all the major mystery book awards. You can look up books by time period or by location. Amazingly, even by character name or by the job of the main characters in series books! You're into gardening and want to read mysteries involving an herbalist? Want stories set in Australia? In the Baroque period? You know the books were about a PI named Haggerty? Look it up here! There's even a Diversity Index - find stories about seniors or gypsies.

There are also book reviews, "if you like xxx, then you may like yyy" recommendations, and a newsletter to notify you of new mysteries being published. Alas, it looks like they do not include digital-only books.

Wow, how much effort and research does it take to maintain all this?! I am in total awe. Please, could someone do this for other genres?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Killer Coworkers

By Meghan Conrad

If you've ever been to the EC offices, you're aware of the fact that until very recently, we shared our space with Manaconda, a massive twenty-two-foot reticulated python. She finally outgrew her enormous, custom-built cage here and was ultimately rehomed to someone who had more room than we did.

I have to admit that I was a little afraid of Manaconda. Not because I have any particular aversion to snakes, but because we're talking about a twenty-two-foot-long snake who was as big around as my thigh. And I don't have particularly small thighs. Sure, it's unlikely that anything bad would happen, but you know how it is--the snake gets out just once, and you spend the next four years worried that it's going to happen again, and this time she's going to get you. I mean, you guys have seen Anaconda, right?

So when I heard that we were adopting a new snake, I was a little nervous. That picture up there is Ellora. She's a four-foot-long red tail boa, and is expected to grow to between twelve and fourteen feet and weigh about sixty pounds. She lives in a cage we refer to as Ellora's Cage and generously allows our building manager/IT guy to share her office with her.

Ellora loves Randy, actually. Randy's quite fond of her as well, and as we were discussing her this morning, he mentioned that she is--and I quote--"the friendliest snake that has the power to kill you."

I feel better already.

Monday, October 18, 2010


by Raelene Gorlinsky

Whenever I mention that EC is looking for steampunk romance submissions (really great ones, please), the question of "What is Steampunk?" comes up.

Steampunk has been around in science fiction for quite a while, and has moved into the romance genre more recently. So a lot of romance authors are still wondering what differentiates this subgenre from others.

It's more than just dirigibles and goggles and clockwork monsters.

My definition: Steampunk is a story set in an historical era (Victorian is most common, but it could be almost any time) that incorporates advanced technology based on the science of that time. Strong, detailed and consistent worldbuilding is critical. (And of course steampunk romance is a story with that worldbuilding, but where the focus is the development of a committed romantic relationship.)

The 1999 movie Wild, Wild West is a good example of steampunk. Steam-based advanced technology set in the latter half of 19th century in the western (frontier) U.S.

Some definitions from others:

From Meljean Brook:
"Steampunk is essentially historical science fiction. The advanced technology is usually steam-based (steam engines and locomotives, for example) and can be combined with various forms of Victorian-era technology and science: airships and clockwork-powered automatons are common. The machines can be small, like singing mechanical birds, or include giant robots."
From a blog article by Heather Massey, reviewer and blogger:
"Steampunk as a literary genre gained notice starting in the 1980s. A subgenre of science fiction and fantasy, it developed as a rebellious response to the science fiction that preceded it. Core elements of steampunk include:
~ Steam power
~ Alternate history settings (mostly Victorian/Edwardian era England)
~ SF/Fantasy elements
~ Devices that reflect the period but are ahead of their time (e.g., difference engines, airships, etc.)"
And there's always Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steampunk

Steampunk can also incorporate elements such as paranormal or futuristic.

Steamed by Katie MacAlister uses time travel.

Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series (Soulless, Changeless, Blameless) is steampunk romance with paranormal. It's set in Victorian England, does indeed have machinery, steam-powered things, dirigibles--plus werewolves, vampires and ghosts.

"Cherry Tart" by Angelia Sparrow and Naomi Brooks in EC's Flavors of Ecstasy III anthology has Victorian society colonizing other planets using steam-powered space ships.

Nathalie Gray's Mechanical Rose is mild erotic romance.

So you can combine your favorite romance genre elements with steampunk for something original. Just be sure you plan well and get the worldbuilding complete and coherent. And then send EC your submission!

I'm about to start MelJean Brook's The Iron Duke, having read the related novella in the Burning Up anthology. What steampunk romances have you read and would recommend?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Book Review: Punctuation Celebration

review by Meghan Conrad

Punctuation Celebration by Elsa Knight Bruno is a book aimed at kindergartners though second graders, and it's all about--who guessed already?--punctuation.

Which, I realize, sounds fairly dull, especially for those of us who have children who are maybe not as enthusiastic about reading as we'd like them to be. (Isn't that every parent?) And it's probably true that if your kid won't read a book about monsters or fairies or talking trucks or crime-fighting ducklings or whatever it is that kids these days read books about, you're going to have a hard sell getting them to read a book about punctuation.

For those of us who are lucky enough to have children who will at least deign to look at books that we present to them, though, Punctuation Celebration is a series of cute, breezy poems that give kids a basic overview of the primary forms of punctuation: periods, question marks, exclamation points, commas, apostrophes, quotation marks, colons, semicolons, parentheses, ellipses, dashes and hyphens.

The information sticks to the basics--a comma, for example, "does not say 'Stop.' It simply says 'Slow.'" Given the number of adults who struggle with sometimes-complex punctuation rules, I thought the author did a good job in covering the primary uses of each mark without getting bogged down in possible nuances of their use.

The poems range from five to fifteen lines, and each poem talks about what the mark does and offers an example or two. Each page is illustrated with colorful artwork depicting the example from the poem.

My only complaint about the book, and it's a minor one, is that the rhyme scheme sometimes gives rise to a slightly tortured rhyme or reference that's a bit too mature for the target age group. The poem for exclamation marks says that exclamation marks have clout and make you want to shout, and I can honestly say that I'd never before thought of an exclamation mark having clout, nor can I imagine a bunch of first-graders thinking that it did. Similarly, in the poem on quotation marks, the author uses "fourscore and seven years ago" as an example--what the heck kind of seven-year-old knows what fourscore means?

Overall, though, Punctuation Celebration is a charming little book, and one that's worth buying for any budding grammarian.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ebook Sales Still Soaring

From Publishers Weekly

E-book Sales Jump 172% in August

While sales in the print trade segments shrank in August, e-book sales had another strong month, jumping 172.4%, to $39 million, according to the 14 publishers that report sales to the AAP’s monthly sales estimates. For the year-to-date, e-book sales were up 192.9%, to $263 million. AAP said that of the approximately 19 publishers that report trade sales, revenue in the January to August period was $2.91 billion, making the $263 million e-book sales 9.0% of trade sales. At the end of 2009, e-book sales comprised 3.3% of trade sales. The mass market segment, where sales were down 14.3% in the first eight months of 2009, represented 15.1% of trade sales through August

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Twitter's Where it's @

By Kelli "@EditMeThis" Collins

Here at EC, we heartily support excessive author pimpage. Gotta sell those books, after all. Authors have bills to pay, mouths to feed, sex toys research materials to buy. And of course, it’s a genuine delight to pimp our authors when they rock harder than a porch full of assisted-living residents. Though really, EC authors promote themselves and each other better than we ever could. They’re everywhere. Websites, MySpace, Facebook, the blogosphere, at conferences and conventions, etc.

For fans who can’t afford conferences, have gotten in trouble for reading blogs at work and are just too darn sophisticated for Facebook, try Twitter. Tons of your fave EC authors are tweeting away daily, sharing everything from upcoming release dates to writing angst to short stories told in 140-character increments. You just sign up and lurk, pretty much. No communication required (though if you’re inclined, you’ll find most authors more than willing to tweet with fans).

The following is not a full list of EC authors; likely not even a full list of EC authors represented on Twitter. But it’s a hella great start. Don’t forget to follow @ellorascave for the latest releases, calls for submissions, etc. (And authors, if you don’t see your @name, comment so we can follow you!)

AuthorJuniper (Juniper Bell)
caismith (1/2 of Marilu Mann)
CCRomance (Catherine Chernow)
hahiestand (Heather Hiestand)
heatherpens (Heather Howard)
K8JohnsonAuthor (Cat Marsters)
McKennaErotica (Pam McKenna)
mystikwriter (Heather Holland)
O_Waite (Olivia Waite)
Pararomance (Renee Field)
scarscoromance (Scarlett Scott)
skaneauthor (Sam Kane)
TarotByArwen (1/2 of Marilu Mann)
TracyCP (Tracy Cooper-Posey)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

We're busy at RomantiCon!

This Thursday through Sunday is the second annual RomantiCon, the convention for Ellora's Cave readers and authors. This year is extra special, as it is the company's tenth anniversary. Yes, ten years of reading Ellora's Cave books!

So, anyway, we're all at the convention and super busy. We will resume blog posts next Wednesday or Friday.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Do You Know Where Your Books Are Tonight?

by Raelene Gorlinsky

Where are your books, and how are they being sold? You do find that out when considering a publisher or publishing contract, right? As in, what formats will they be available in, what webstores will offer them for sale, and in what parts of the world will they be available or not available?

After all, you want to sell as many copies as possible, which means being sure that readers can find and purchase your books with relative ease. So you need to understand things like territorial rights, distribution, online vendors, ebook formats, and DRM.

Here's an example of the WRONG way for a publisher to sell your books. Both these readers were trying to get the same ebook. It is a novella by a very popular author, available only in digital format, not print. (NOT an EC book.)

Reader #1 contacted EC in desperation. She knew we didn't publish the book, but she is a happy customer of EC and knew our service is excellent and helpful. She'd tried emailing the publisher and the ebook vendors selling the book, and gotten no assistance. Please, could we help her understand?

She is located outside the U.S., and when she tried to purchase the ebook from vendor sites, received messages that it was not available in her country. Huh? It's an ebook, she said, she just wants to download it, how can it be not available? So I explained "territorial rights" to her, that publishers contract for the right to sell the book either worldwide or in specific regions. In this case, apparently the publisher has only North American or U.S. or some other limited territorial rights. They cannot legally sell the book outside the specific region(s). The e-vendor systems check your location when you click to buy and cannot allow a sale outside the territory. [BTW, EC always contracts worldwide rights.] Oh, and because the ebook was DRMed, it was not possible for her to get a US friend to buy the ebook and email the file to her--the DRM makes that impossible.

Reader #2 was also desperate for the same ebook. She searched, and found it was only available on a few e-vendor sites, and in only three digital formats. None were the format she needed, and all were DRM-protected. Which meant she could not print it to read it, could not convert it to another format, could not move it from her PC to any other device. In other words, the digital formats available were useless to her.

I think you can guess what is unfortunately the readers' easiest or only solution for both these problems -- pirate sites. NOT what an author or publisher wants to happen, but the only way readers can get the book in these conditions.

Luckily, these were both honest and ethical people. Yes, they might be driven to downloading from a pirate site, but neither wanted to cheat the author out of her income from the book, did not want to "steal" it. Reader #1 swore she was mailing a check directly to the author. Reader #2 went back to a vendor site and purchased the ebook; she didn't bother downloading the to-her-unusable format, but her action assured that the publisher and author would receive payment for one purchased copy.

So if you as an author want to maximize your sales potential and decrease pirating, you need to pay attention to where and how your books are being sold. Make sure your readers can buy them!

(BTW, there is a slightly happier ending for anyone in Reader#2's position. This ebook is now offered at more e-vendors and in additional formats, including ePub, although it is still DRM-ed.)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Your Favorite Banned Books

As we reminded you earlier, this is Banned Books Week, an annual event to encourage freedom of speech and reading and to discourage censorship. This year's slogan is "Think for Yourself and Let Others Do the Same."

We, along with other writing-oriented blogs, are inviting you to post a review of your favorite banned book in Comments here. You can find a list of banned books on the American Library Association website.

So we'll kick it off with a couple of reviews from our own editors.

When I looked at the “Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009” list, I was totally gob smacked. Many, many of these books are on assigned reading lists for high school students here in Australia. (High school starts at the seventh grade here, not the ninth.)

And not just books from lower down the list. Harry Potter (#1), The Chocolate War (#3), Of Mice and Men (#5), Huckleberry Finn (#14), Forever (#16), Go Ask Alice (#18), and Catcher in the Rye (#19) are compulsory reading books. I counted 20 I had read for class in school without even scratching my head to remember.

But the book I’d like to talk about is Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. This is an incredible book with detailed historical research (early 12th century Britain), fascinating facts about architecture and medieval life at different levels of society from the highest to the lowly, absolutely brilliant characters — engaging, well-drawn, fully rounded and the kind of people you love or hate or both in the same breath.

I cannot imagine why this book was banned. Yes, it has sex in it, but it is by no means erotic. Yes, at times it is a tad disrespectful of the established church of those days, but it is a sympathetic disrespect, not at all mean or nasty. There is some magic in it, but nothing evil. Basically it is a stunningly well-written epic novel that is ideal vacation—or long plane trip—reading. And the Cathedral they build is every bit as much a real character as the humans in the book.

This book gets 10/10 for characters, for plot, for story, for historical realism, and for romance. I have read and reread this book many times.

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell (2005, Simon & Schuster)
This picture book is about real penguins at the Central Park Zoo in New York City. I'm not a big fan of anthropomorphizing animal actions--I wasn't fond of a few lines like "They had no baby chick to feed and cuddle and love." But overall this charming story focuses on instinctive penguin behavior in pair-bonding and that both parents share the nest-sitting and chick-care duties. It takes two full-time adults to provide enough warmth, food and protection to give a chick any chance of survival. In this case, it's two male penguins. Their keeper noticed that they were a "pair" and even built a nest; he placed an orphaned egg in the nest to see if they'd care for it, since it would not have survived otherwise. And it doesn't seem odd that they do indeed hatch the egg and raise the chick, since the males are only doing exactly what they'd each do anyway with a female partner. For penguin chick-raising, two daddies perform the same as a mommy and a daddy in their parental duties.

Same-sex attachments have been documented in a number of species. And in many studied cases, it is not a sexual attachment, it seems more based on the need to have a partner to survive in tough conditions. This true story has been demonized by those who feel it "promotes" or "condones" homosexual relations, who read between the lines or inflate what is really there. If you must compare it to a human situation, it is two men adopting and successfully raising a child. As the story describes to a child all the things adults do to care for babies, it is a celebration of parenthood. As the story says, they were "just like all the other penguin families."

Forever by Judy Blume

“Ms. Kwiatkowski, would you like to come to the front of the room and read some of your book for the class?”


Fuck no! No no no! Please God, oh shit no!

I was only twelve years old when this conversation took place but, thanks to my billions of older brothers and sisters, already well versed in the cursing arts.

The book in question was Forever, by Judy Blume. And I was reading it in class. In math class. Instead of paying attention. The reason for my colorful inner monologue? I had just gotten to the good part. You know. The part where Katherine and Michael do it (!!*teehee*!!) on his sister’s bedroom floor (on a multi-colored towel thoughtfully provided by Michael in case any bleeding occurred).

Of course, I had no idea this was about as far from “good” as sex could get. I was twelve, what do you want from me? And [spoiler alert! if you’re one of the three people who haven’t read this book] Michael and Katherine even break up in the end, which I realize now was the point of the title but as an impressionable pre-teen, was I pissed!

I learned years later how realistic Katherine and Michael’s timeless story is, however. In fact, if more schools and libraries allowed it space on their shelves, Forever probably would have scared some young tarts off sex until they were old enough to handle it emotionally. Because Ms. Blume had it right. For most of us, it does hurt the first time. We do indeed bleed (though not the buckets of blood I’d previously imagined). And while first loves seldom last forever, the emotions tied to them are everlasting. I credit Ms. Blume for helping me understand the difference, and teaching me to let go of the former by embracing the latter.

Oh, and that teacher? She took my book away, forcing me to save my allowance for three whole weeks to buy another copy! For all I know, she read the thing, possibly making me the reason it was later banned in our junior high school library (the reason I had to buy a copy to begin with; damn thing was always checked out). If that’s the case, um…sorry, Ms. Blume.

It's So Amazing by Robie Harris, with (wonderful) illustrations by Michael Emberley.

I have a seven-year-old daughter, and about two years ago we got the dreaded question: "Mommy, where do babies come from?" So we bought this book. And I could see right away why people would want to ban it--it's aimed at children and, horror of horrors, it's a really lovely, inclusive book about where babies come from. It starts with a discussion of biology, clearly and concisely addressing vaginas and penises, and skipping all the horrible "va-jay-jay" and "wee-wee" nonsense that you sometimes find in books aimed at children. It talks about how people get pregnant, how babies develop, and how families end up with babies.

It addresses different types of families (a mommy and a daddy, a mommy or daddy alone, two mommies, two daddies...), adoption, and medically assisted pregnancies in easy-to-understand terms. It manages to talk about complex, loaded topics like masturbation, people who get pregnant without meaning to and even STDs (including HIV and AIDS) in a very non-judgmental, child-appropriate way.

The book is presented almost like a comic book, with fantastic, colorful illustrations. It's narrated by a bird who's totally excited about everything...and a bee who's sort of embarrassed by the whole thing. The funny, awkward parts of sex and biology aren't glossed over, but are used to lighten and liven up reading material that could otherwise be dry.

Obviously, when you have a book that provides kids with loads of useful, age-appropriate information, the right thing to do is ban it as quickly as possible! Or you could do what I did--run out and by a copy for the kid in your life, and then spend some time reading it with them. We've gone over the book in full, and Maura keeps it in her bedroom, looking at it on a regular basis, and sometimes coming back to ask questions about this or that chapter. Engaged reading, age-appropriate material, and a kid who's educated about her body. What could be better?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Books About Bad Things

by Raelene Gorlinsky

I used to complain about how so much of the currently popular YA fiction is dark, depressing, violent, frightening. It's either disturbingly dystopian or about the worst aspects of contemporary life. Why would we want to expose our children to that, and what is it doing to them emotionally? Then a librarian friend who specializes in YA books and really seems to understand the teenage mentality explained how these books help today's kids cope with the real fears in their world.

Now Janet Reid, a literary agent, has very eloquently defended this literature for our children.

"I think it is incredibly important that people who are learning how to live in the world get to read about people like themselves.

And very bad things can happen to people.

Let me be specific: I think it's incredibly important that books for teenagers about horrible subjects - rape, incest, school shootings, death - get published. And even more important that those books are available in libraries so kids can read them even if they can't afford to buy them, or don't want anyone to know they are reading them.

If I had my way, if YOU had your way, no kid would ever need to hear or see or know anything about rape, incest, school shootings, death. Not the kids we love. Not even the kids we don't.

But we live in the real world. A world we wish was different. But it's not. It is what it is."

I still don't enjoy reading these types of books myself--I read for escapism--but I no longer worry about those who do. Janet's right, we can't and shouldn't shield teenagers from reality. That would only lead them to think that if one of these awful things happens to them, they are alone in their experience, have nowhere to find support, and should feel guilty and ashamed for being the victim. Instead, much as we want to protect them, we have to give them the opportunity to face the bad things that can happen in life and learn to cope and survive. And if fiction about others in such a situation can do that, then I'm now all for it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

2009 Ten Most Challenged Books

To challenge a book is to request that it be banned from libraries, including school libraries, because it is "inappropriate". Inappropriate in what way, for whom? And who is to say what is inappropriate for me to read, or for me to decide my child can read.

Says Barbara Jones, director of ALA's office for intellectual freedom, "Even though not every book will be right for every reader, the ability to read, speak, think and express ourselves freely are core American values. Protecting one of our most fundamental rights - the freedom to read - means respecting each other's differences and the right of all people to choose for themselves what they and their families read."

According to the American Library Association (ALA), many hundreds of challenges are filed each year. The ALA records eighty-one instances in which materials were actually removed from schools and libraries in 2009.

According to the ALA, the ten most challenged titles of 2009 were:

1. TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series) by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs

2. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Reasons: Homosexuality
[See review of this book on this blog Thursday.]

3. The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Anti-Family, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide

4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Reasons: Racism, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

5. Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group

6. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

7. My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
Reasons: Sexism, Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide, Violence

8. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

9. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

10. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fall Back

By Kelli "Slide Rule" Collins

So now that school’s started and most of the little beasties are clear of Walmart or Staples or wherever and I’m not in danger of tripping over little limbs (or strangling some squawking brat), I can safely indulge in my fall ritual—stocking up on school supplies!

No, I’m not a student, but I have a longstanding love of paper, pens, folders, etc. I’d always felt a giddy sense of anticipation while shopping for this stuff every fall, and the giddiness has followed me into adulthood. To this day, as I stand in the aisle weighing the benefits of liquid vs. stick glue, I can summon the bygone feelings of school dances, sleepovers and float-building committees; of begging my dad for use of the car to attend the first home football game (read: actually skipping the game and instead cruising all 1.5 miles of our main street over and over at 25mph); of tasting the first crisp wisp of fall on my tongue and carefully selecting that perfect first-day-of-school outfit. Even after entering high school and becoming the punk I am today, school-supply shopping was still a guilty pleasure.

We didn’t have iPods back then; we walked around campus with our trusty Walkmans hooked to our belts. Not a single student had a cell phone—or a computer, for that matter. And nearly everyone, boys and girls, took Typing 101, which featured (gasp!) actual typewriters. And yes, I painted my nails with the Whiteout. Often.

(It was only the hardcore geeks who took the one and only computer course available. The monitors were about 9 inches; green type on black backgrounds. I got a Brother WP1 Word Processor my sophomore year; the “screen” allowed you to see three whole lines of type and you saved your work on expensive little disks that held 240KB. I was the total shit!)

My annual trek got me thinking about some of my fave must-have school supplies that are no longer de rigueur among the Bieber-Twilight set (or hell, not even available anymore). So please indulge me while I take a visual stroll down memory lane to revisit some of my favorite fall buys.

No. 2 Pencils
The be-all-end-all of school supplies. I never did learn the importance of No. 2 versus, say…No. 1 or 3 pencils. I just knew I had to have them. And woe be the student who bought the wrong kind. Ridicule!

Trapper Keeper
Ah, Mead. You knew what students wanted. My Trapper Keeper had some swirly, sparkly cosmos scene, and I usually managed to keep everything within tightly organized. For about 3 weeks.


Texas Instruments Calculator
I had some deluxe jobby with triple the number of buttons as other calculators. Because obviously, the more buttons, the more you learn. I still have my calculator, actually (damn, those things were built to last!), and just like back in school, I still only use the plus, minus, divide and percent buttons.


Pencil Erasers
Yeah, I usually had a lovely Papermate Pink Pearl as well, but I preferred the standard erasers that fit on the ends of pencils. For ease of chewing during tests, of course.


Friendship Pins
Remember these? If you were a chick growing up in the ’80s, you likely wore them all over your shoes, in your hair, fashioned into necklaces and bracelets, etc. During sixth through eighth grades, I would make a shit-ton over the summer and give them to my BFFs on the first day of school.

Ruled Notebooks
Well duh. One (or several) for every subject. I had one teacher who would go ballistic if his classroom floor was littered with the little bits of paper that flew like confetti when you tore sheets out of the book. (It was about that time I switched to the uber-sophisticated Composition notebooks. Nothing says “sophistication” like faux marbling. Nothing.)


Erasermate Pens
It’s ink! That you can erase!!! The technology, it boggled.

Scratch and Sniff Stickers
SUPER popular when I was a young’un. They usually smelled like shit, lost their scent in about an hour and were a bitch to remove from all the ill-advised places you stuck them throughout the year (my elementary-school principal dedicated an hour on the last day of classes specifically for the task of removing stickers from our desks. Maybe that qualifies as janitorial experience if this whole book-editing thing doesn’t pan out).

Push-Up Pencils
Of course I had my beloved no. 2s, but push-up pencils were way too much fun. In cases of extreme boredom, I’d remove the top piece of lead-tipped plastic, push it back through the end of the pencil to reveal the next tip, then repeat. Over and over and over. It was always such a tragedy if the end cap broke and you lost all your lead.

Metal Compass
I think I still have scars from these things. And I’m sure they’d be confiscated as weapons at most schools these days.

Pencil Holders
I still use them. This is my current one. :)