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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Shalanna's LiveJournal:

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Tuesday, June 10th, 2014
9:27 am
Saturday, April 26th, 2014
6:10 pm
Did I mention that my YA urban fantasy is up FREE for the Kindle this weekend?

CAMILLE'S TRAVELS, my gritty, streetwise YA fantasy/urban fantasy ebook is FREE on Amazon until Tuesday.

Camille MacTavish is a seventeen-year-old runaway escaping an abusive home life with a stolen magic dragon in the pocket of her jeans. Which could be fun, if the dragon didn't attract all the wrong people. Who is after her, and why?

PLEASE take advantage of this and get your FREE book. Tell me what you think of it.

Hey, what can it hurt--it's FREE!

Thursday, February 13th, 2014
2:10 am
Brainstorming time
I need some brainstorming help!

I've finally realized why it has been such slow going (slogging!) on LOVE IS THE BRIDGE, my paranormal/techie romantic suspense ghost story. Some of y'all will remember this one as having started out as SONG FROM THE HEART with Paige the goody-goody . . . at least fifteen years ago. It's quite different now, as far as plot. (And she's not so goody-two-shoes.) I have the first 3/4 of the book. It's just the final bit that is messing with me.

At least I know what's missing now.

To set the scene: a ghost is pursuing Paige because it thinks she is the reincarnation of its old love, the Swedish Nightingale Jenny Lind. Or is it all an elaborate hoax done by some crazy stalker who has it in for both Paige and her new friend Alan? If it's a hoax, it sure is elaborate, and the hoaxer is an accomplished hacker who keeps screwing up Paige's life and Alan's business. If it's a ghost . . . well, Alan doesn't even believe in ghosts, but he's starting to think that the only way to get rid of this one (which has infested his business, a music studio where he does jingles for commercial radio and Internet radio clients, because it "heard" Paige singing there) is to treat it as if it is a real entity and convince it that Paige is NOT the person he thinks she is.

Okay. In the last fourth of the book, they "exorcise" the studio, first electronically and then by means of music (it makes sense in context, I promise). The entity is persuaded to leave via a spiritual chant and musical "event" of sorts. Poof, there it goes, and we are left to rebuild what it has destroyed . . . but it has also brought these two together, which is Fate and so forth. Yay?

BUT! What's missing here is . . . that I haven't ever been able to come up with a way to convince the entity that Paige is not the person he thinks she is and that he should go on to the next world, where he will find the real Jenny he seeks and will at last find peace. We "send him away" by means of ritual (basically), but HEY, this is a powerful entity. He wouldn't GO away for any reason (he kind of has to consent to leave) unless he were made to understand and believe that he has been in error. He'd just come back again. He still thinks she is the person he is after--how will we make him believe that she is NOT so that he'll leave peacefully?

I tried to say that Paige didn't know stuff that Jenny would've known, but of course she could be faking it, so my character (the ghost character!) didn't buy that. It didn't care if she looked somewhat different, because of course your second entry into the material world wouldn't necessarily look like the old you (even if the ghost claims her voice is EXACTLY the same). It didn't buy the historical arguments I dug up in my research. So I'm in a fix.

I have to come up with some reason that the ghost would suddenly gasp and say, "Of course! I should've known!" and agree that she is not the person he wants, and that he should return to the correct plane of existence (he crossed over from Limbo . . . again, I hope I've "explained" this in the first part of the book) to reunite with the real Jenny (or meet his proper fate, in whatever sense.) I got nothin'.

I can only hope that some brainstorming will help.

Help . . . ?
Thursday, January 30th, 2014
1:43 am
APRIL, MAYBE JUNE launches in March!
(Information cross-posted, somewhat, from my other journals at http://deniseweeks.blogspot.com and http://shalannacollins.blogspot.com)

We have a cover and a release date for APRIL, MAYBE JUNE, my YA fantasy/adventure that kicks off what we're now calling the Bliss Sisters Magical Adventures series!


I'll be appearing at Left Coast Crime in Monterey, California, the week of March 18th (my birthday!) Muse Harbor Press is throwing APRIL, MAYBE JUNE a launch party there, and I'll be meeting the editor and publisher. I'll also be meeting the publisher of Oak Tree Press books (NICE WORK and my mysteries) and several fellow authors. I hope to do lots of networking and strengthening of connections. It should be a real trip. (Pun alert!)

More info as it becomes available.
Sunday, December 1st, 2013
2:35 pm
Sample Sunday! One of my witchy books
Today is Sample Sunday. I have a "witchy" book (think "Bell, Book, and Candle" or "Bewitched," and MAYBE even "Sabrina" with a sprinkle of "Charmed") that I need to finish. (I have the first 3/4 and the ending written--it's just a saggy part that has to connect everything that needs plumping up.) I thought it might be fun to see whether anyone would go out and read about MIRANDA'S RIGHTS.

MIRANDA'S RIGHTS by Shalanna Collins


The demon Asperioth felt himself being conjured just as he was finishing up a complex three-day working.

Because the first tug came when he had his hands full, he couldn't even try a countermeasure. The working was too strong, anyway; someone out there must have his Name. He rose up into the air tail-first, cursing and dropping the components for the last step of his spell as he was sucked into the vortex between the demons' realm and that of the mortals.

The feeling was like being pulled butt-first through a knothole. A too-small knothole.

He materialized in a deep-forest clearing bathed in the light of the full moon. Someone must know a little about what they were doing. His hooves crunched on pine needles; the scent turned his stomach. Looking down, he saw he stood in the center of a salt-encrusted pentagram inscribed in a double circle engraved in the soft dirt. Apparently, someone knew quite a bit.

Or had been reading up on Summoning in the occult literature.

He blinked. As his infravision adjusted to the harsh light, he could make out a petite figure. A human female stood before him with black-draped arms upraised, her toetips barely tangent to the edge of the magickal figure.

Her voice squeaked forth with a whiny nasal accent. "Asperioth, I command thee!"

She'd heard his Name somewhere, or read it in a book, he supposed. That made things tougher for him: once they knew your Name, you couldn't resist the conjuring when you were called. That was part of the reason he'd been pulled so suddenly. And unless you could fool them, you were compelled to obey. Within reason.

"What do you seek by calling me, O woman?" He boomed it out with an echo, hoping he sounded properly fearsome. Asperioth couldn't quite remember the language, the exact phrasing that he was supposed to use. It had been so long since he'd had his Name called by a mortal. "I have little time to spend here. Tell me your desire."

"I want more power." Her eyes gleamed in the moonlight. "More power at my command without all these material components and . . . rituals." Her lips parted, revealing slightly pointed canines at the edges of her smile, and she glanced over her shoulder.

Asperioth followed her gaze to a naked human male, almost as young as she, panting on a woolen blanket behind her. The youth lay unnaturally twisted and still, as though stunned from a working. It was a sophisticated method of raising power; she was no newcomer to the Craft, nor apparently to the rules of diabolical magick.

"I could give you more power in the same way this one has given it." Asperioth beckoned, hoping he wasn’t leering too obviously. "Come hither into the center of my pentacle, and I shall grant your request."

"I am young, but not one day old, dear." She grimaced. "A demon child is not in my plans. Anyway, I've never heard of going into the pentacle with the demon."

Asperioth winced. “Please--we prefer the more correct term, ‘antiangel.’”

She rolled her eyes. “Whatever.”

Asperioth spread his arms wide, then pulled them in a bit as a shower of tiny blue sparks shot from the edge of the pentacle’s central pentagon, in which he stood. “I will do you no harm and plant no seed. You will find I can give you great pleasure as I increase your power.”

She gave him a hard look. "Don't mess with me. You can give me power at my command with a single word. I want that word of power."

Well, it had been worth a try.

"All right. But within the confines of this figure, I feel cramped and uneasy. When I am made to be so, I cannot think." The pentagram seemed claustrophobically small; it was squeezing his potbelly and his rear pillows. "Rub out a line so I can come forth, and I will grant you a word which will allow you to command power in an instant."

"Forget it." She glared at him. "You're not coming out here, and I'm not coming in there. Do I look stupid? You stand right there and think fast. Just give me the word."

All right, he would give her a word. But first he had to know what it was worth to her. "What is the payment you are willing to give for each use of this word?"

She scowled, pushing her wild dark hair back behind one ear. "What are you talking about?"

So she hadn't read up as thoroughly as all that.

"I mean there is a cost for each use of the word. The power does not come from the sound of the word alone. It must be paid for by the sacrifice of some mortal component."

"Component." Her voice wavered a bit.

He paused for dramatic effect. "Your pet . . . the use of your right arm . . . your singing voice. . . ."

"Those things are not negotiable. They're too personal." She squinted into the blue light that surrounded him, as if thinking, although he doubted it was remarkably deep thinking. "What about another person?"

"That could be satisfactory." Asperioth looked at her with new respect. He had to admire her ruthlessness and her brazenness in demanding such things so confidently of a power like himself. And she was almost as free from the burden of compassion as he was. However, she should have had all her dragons in a row before Calling him. "This grows tedious. State your exact offer."

"I don't know yet. Can I state it at the time I use the word? Another person, still to be named."

"Named at the time of the casting. All right." He felt he was giving her ample exception.

But she paused. "Wait a minute--let me think if I want that, or if there's a better way." Stroking her chin as if she were an aspiring member of Z Z Top encouraging her beard, the human appeared ready to muse until Tuesday.

His own abandoned spell would be ruined, unrecoverable, if she kept him here much longer. He could feel steam rising out of both ears. "Do not anger me, mortal woman. Show the same courtesy you would use to a fellow magician, or better. You forget what I am and what you are."

"Sorry. Jeez--"

He clapped his hands over his ears before her invocation of Light could do any damage. "Please! No need for that kind of language. I have your word of power." After waiting one suitably solemn moment, he pronounced a word in the magickal tongue. Guttural and hissing all at once, it would be a challenge to her.

"Can't you give me an easier one?" She squinted at him as if things were blurring over, which would mean her hold on him was fading. She was running out of energy.

"The words are the words." He sent a hostile light out of his eyes to convince her. "They cannot be other than what they are."

"All right, all right. Say it again clearly so I can get it, and you can go."

He pronounced it once more for her, slowly, to be fair, because she had proven herself brave as well as admirably wicked. “Use it wisely. Remember the price.”

She smiled and raised her arms. “I release thee, Asperioth, and return thee to thy proper realm.”

He felt himself slipping back into his own dimension. "Thank you," he heard her calling as he clattered back onto the floor of his own workroom.

He bared his fangs in what passed for a smile. Her fatal mistake was a beginner's error. She had failed to pronounce the peace. She should have ended not with a stupid thanks, but with something like, "Depart now, and may there ever be peace between me and thee. So mote it be."

So now he had her. When she Called him next--if there was a next time--he had no obligation to comport himself with peace. "Mortals today," he muttered, picking himself up and dusting off his legs, which were sticky and covered with dried cinders from the floor. "Complete fools. But when has it ever been otherwise?"

Rhetorical question.

Chapter One

On the morning of her thirtieth birthday, Miranda Callahan came awake with the certain knowledge that her best friend was casting a spell on her.

"The moon enters the house of the dragon, and Hecate works her magick on me." Miranda groaned, raising her head off the sketches for her latest cartoon panel. She'd fallen asleep at her drawing table again.

Charcoal sketches are unforgiving. The entire page was smudged like yesterday's mascara. In the gentle morning light, the new cartoon seemed particularly uninspired. Her fingers flew to her temples, where they automatically started massaging in circles.

What could be worse than waking to unfamiliar magick--except, of course, waking up in a cold bed without Alex. Which she'd cleverly avoided by conking out at her desk around three in the morning.

She had to put a stop to this enchantment, immediately. Being manipulated was never her preference, no matter how well-meaning the manipulator.

But the spell was already working on her.

This spell was benevolent, though, she'd swear. She felt optimistic, for a change, and a little buzzed, as if she'd been affected by the margaritas she vaguely remembered drinking in her dreams.

Her stomach guggled. She hadn't been spelled unexpectedly like this since her mother had semi-retired from the Craft.

Reaching toward the ceiling, she rolled her head back and forth, working at the crick in her neck. She knew she ought to be concerned, perhaps even panicky, about being magicked. As a confirmed control freak, Miranda was uneasy around witchcraft; she'd witnessed its unpredictable power too often in childhood. Yet she found that being the focus of a spell weaving its way around her moment by moment was oddly soothing. Somebody cared.

She was tempted to give in, to surrender to the euphoria that the spell wanted to build in her, maybe just a little.

"Dagnabbit, Zepp, quit it," Miranda said aloud. "Don't turn me into a frog, because I know what your idea of a great lilypad is. Isn't it bad enough having another birthday so soon?" But the spell was not to be waved away.

Sweet, misguided Zepp.

This old mock-Tudor mansion was drafty, especially up in this third-floor turret. It had been Alex's idea to add their aerie of a bedroom during the first phase of remodeling, but he hadn't realized how inadequate the cheapie brand of insulation would be. Slipping her feet into her marabou slides, she reached for Alex's brown velour bathrobe. Burying her nose in its collar, she sucked in his musky scent. She could hardly believe his "two weeks away to gain some perspective" had stretched out to seven and a half.

She doubled the robe's belt around her waist, shivering a little. Anything sprung on her without warning and utterly outside her control--such as this spell--usually made her teeth itch. Howsomever, Miranda was certain that Lynn Zepp wouldn't pull a trick like this unless the spell was intended to help, unsettling as the differences between her concept of "helpful" and Zepp's might be.

The intense aroma of bacon--with a suggestion of burning sugar, as in cinnamon toast--wafted up the turret's spiral staircase. Miranda sighed. She'd put on three pounds last week, yet she knew she'd offend her mother if she didn't eat a plateful. Cooking was Mim's passion and her current mission in life.

Mim--alias Mimetia McGaha, the "Divine Madam Mim," albeit retired--seldom practiced the Craft these days, at least not openly. Still, what Mim had learned over twenty-eight years she certainly hadn't forgotten in five. Miranda padded downstairs, confident that her mother would know what could be done about her impending ensorcelment.

As she emerged in the sunny morning room, her two orange Pomeranians rushed for her legs. She snatched up first Woofie, then his sister Amadée, and kissed each firmly on the head before setting them back down to compete for her attention. Deciding on the coy approach, she smiled at her mother. "Morning, Mamacita. Notice anything different about me?"

Mim looked up from behind the pastry island and smiled indulgently. The spot of flour on the end of her nose told Miranda that she'd been mixing up biscuits from scratch.

"Happy birthday, sweetie. Do you feel any effects from Lynn Elizabeth's magicwork yet?" Mim habitually called Zepp--along with everyone else--by first and middle names, despite Zepp's expressed preference for being called solely by her last name. Those who normally objected to this Southern-gothic practice made an exception for Mim. "She started raising power and sending a spell your way about forty minutes ago."

Miranda winced, for drama's sake. "And this didn't move you to come wake me--or, better yet, try to block the spell?"

*end of sample*

Current Mood: accomplished
Saturday, November 9th, 2013
6:08 pm
Little bookses on the hillside, all made of ticky-tacky
(That's an allusion to Malvina Reynolds' wonderful folksong LITTLE BOXES, as popularized by the great Pete Seeger.)

Books are getting ruined by being homogenized and made all alike. Authors are told that to make their work more commercial, they must write just like all the bestseller people. It ruins individual voices and makes reading boring. It's terrible when someone like ME finally stops liking to read (at least the new stuff).

Here's an eloquent post that says what I mean SO MUCH BETTER: http://gillpolack.livejournal.com/1223804.html
Monday, October 7th, 2013
12:36 am
Amazon reviewing can be a jungle--here are a few tips from someone knowledgeable!
I found these wonderful guidelines for Amazon reviews on Anne K. Allen's blog. She also gives helpful advice for those who are promoting books. What's not to like?

Summarizing a section of her advice:

Amazon reviews are guides to help other customers, not essays for the New Yorker. You don’t need to ask yourself, “Is this _War and Peace_?” A better question is, “does the book deliver as advertised?”

Here’s what an Amazon review isn’t:
• A school book report. It’s informal, so don’t worry about writing perfect prose or giving a complete synopsis of the book. Talk about the things you liked/disliked. Others will do the synopsis, and it isn't what readers need to know. (I {Shalanna} have given tips on writing reviews over on my Official Denise Weeks Author BlogSpot Blog.)
• A show-offy piece for the New Yorker. Don’t get your Pauline Kael snark on.
• All about your personal tastes. It’s not about you. Don’t give a cozy mystery a negative review because you personally prefer thrillers. Giving a bad review to a good book in a genre you don't particularly like isn't helpful to the reader.
• A critique to help the author “improve.” (If you think an author has made an error, it’s more useful to contact her through her blog or website than pan her book. Almost all authors are accessible to readers these days, and most of us would love to hear from you.)

Anything less than 4 stars means “NOT RECOMMENDED” to the AMAZON ALGORITHMS. 2 or 3 star reviews are going to hurt the author's sales, no matter how much you rave in the text. And you know what a 1-star does (pulls down the average, among other things.) I personally believe that until you've gotten a 1-star review, your reviews look like they're all from your friends . . . but that's not always bad.

Read the rest at Anne Allen's blog. Also see her post about the pitfalls of promotion, not including Penelope Pitstop (again I paraphrase!)

Thanks, Anne!
Sunday, October 6th, 2013
5:16 pm
Branding, or being a dual-boot author
Remember when you were eight and first read CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG by Ian Fleming? That was when I first read it, and I immediately marched over to the library (the low-tech book acquisition method in those days) to find more books by this wonderful author. Of course what I found were the James Bond books, completely different in every way except for the slightly tongue-in-cheek, twee, ironic tone that came across.

The librarian threw a wall-eyed fit upon discovering that I had been allowed to check out CASINO ROYALE, even though most of it went right over my head. Whenever I came across a word or concept I couldn't figure out, I simply BLEEPED over it and tried to press on, but the book seemed dumb to me at that age. I was sad that Fleming hadn't written any more "good" books about flying cars and tetched inventors.

Many authors can write in different genres and styles. Readers don't always appreciate both, and don't want to be misled about what they are getting. They want mysteries from J. D. Robb and romances from Nora Roberts, and that's that.

Thus was born BRANDING.

This is why I write my mysteries using my driver's license name of Denise Weeks, but continue to publish YA and fantasy novels as Shalanna Collins. Think of it as a Nabisco/Keebler divide. You can count on getting what you expect when you see the author's name on the spine.

Muse Harbor Publishing wanted me to have a separate Facebook presence for my APRIL, MAYBE JUNE series and other fantasy works. Thus I created Shalanna Collins Books to accompany the existing page Denise Weeks Books for my mysteries and literary/mainstream works.

This promotion stuff is a lot of work and takes up valuable time that could be spent writing, editing, polishing, or washing dishes. But it looks like my new publisher is knowledgeable and willing to help promote, which is exciting. Wow.
Friday, October 4th, 2013
11:32 pm
The Friday Five for 4 October 2013...
Originally posted by ariestess at The Friday Five for 4 October 2013...
  1. When did you/your family get your first computer?
  2. What type of computer was it?
  3. What were your favorite things to do on your first computer?
  4. When did you/your family first connect to the Internet?
  5. How did you spend time online when you first connected?

I cannot tell a lie. When I first told people (back in 1982) that I was buying a computer, they said, "WHAT would you need or want a computer for? To do your checkbook?"

No. I wanted it to play Zork and to mess around with coding in Pet Basic (later Applesoft) and (most of all) to call BBSes and CompuServe.

"Why would you want to type to people you've never met and don't even KNOW? What kind of WEIRDOS are out there on COMPUTERS?"

Yes, this was the general consensus in 1982. The IBM PC had *just* come out in 1981, the year I graduated from SMU, and the Apple ][ Plus cost around $2500 bare-bones, $4000-$6000.00 tricked out with an Applesoft card and perhaps one 5-1/4 floppy and crappy dot matrix printer. But I wanted to run a BBS myself, and therefore I applied to my employer's program for software engineers who wanted to buy a computer through the company, at a discount, through payroll deduction. Alas, the only computer that Rockwell Collins then offered was the Commodore PET. (I would have to wait another year before I could buy an Apple ][ Plus from a computer store that was going out of business.)

No one knew what a modem was or why I would want one. Again, it was thought of as "extremely WEIRD" for anyone to get online, whether it be on CompuServe (I was [70356,62] Shalanna) or on a local bulletin board system (BBS). Later, when Prodigy came along, a few more people understood the appeal of online services such as GEnie (available only after 6 PM!), but you could still count on very few people knowing what you were talking about.

I discovered a couple of really neat bulletin board systems that were local to me. One was Teledungeon, a system run by a professor at UT/Arlington and maintained by one of the prof's favorite students. On this board, people played Dungeons and Dragons (or some variation thereof) through leaving public messages and having the DM run rounds about every day or so. Yes, it was REALLY slow. No, it WAS fun. There was also a general topics board on which you could post questions about computers or games.

I asked a question about Zork II and got an answer from the guy who maintained the board. He had completed the entire game, and told me about several Easter eggs and tricks. Soon we were talking online about books and which courses he was taking in grad school. I remember one exchange about Dickens, to which I replied, "You are smart," and he replied, "I'm not smart--just well read."

Around Christmas time of 1982, I'd had my BBS running for a few months at home on a second phone line and my new Apple ][ Plus. My mother and grandmother just shook their heads at the idea that I would spend SO MUCH MONEY AND TIME in order to have Other People using my computer. At the time, most systems were dedicated either to messaging or to downloading (of various pieces of code that were supposedly freeware, usually). Mine was dedicated to writers and to another online D&D game. The guy from Arlington became a regular user of my board. He'd page me (you could "page" the sysop by pressing CTRL-G, which rang the system's bell!) when he got home from his night job as a computer operator, and I'd wake up and get online to "chat." Think of this as an early version of texting. It was an extremely slow way to communicate, but it felt like a new and different online world.

I suppose it was, after all. Eventually I threw a Christmas party for the users of my board, and when I opened the door to this guy, it was love at first sight. Well, at least *click* at first sight. We started dating and were soon engaged. People thought we were CRAZY for "meeting someone online." Now that meeting online is the norm for people who are dating, I can say that we were early adopters, ahead of our time.

When we married in 1984, I had gotten rid of the Commodore PET and we had two Apple ][ computers and one IBM clone. Our families joked that we had more computer equipment than kitchen stuff, and they were right. We both had jobs in software engineering by that time, and were insufferable about belonging to various computer enthusiast organizations and being online a lot.

Back then, digital cameras were only a gleam in someone's eye, and cell phones were still lunchbox-sized and relatively rare. I've had the privilege of watching everyone else adopt and become addicted to "that weird hobby of yours." Ha! Too bad I didn't make any money doing all of this. It was all hobbyist at first and very much a subculture. The first time I suggested to my boss at work (by this time I was at E-Systems) that we use an e-mail system that was installed on one of our mainframes to talk to other employees, he said, "Why? You're afraid to meet me face-to-face?" To him, it was a sign of some sort of weirdness to want to be able to drop him a note as a status report instead of standing in his office doorway reciting my weekly accomplishments and being judged on what I was wearing and how my voice shook. Now people can't get off their phones texting long enough to drive down the street.

Actually . . . wow.
Tuesday, October 1st, 2013
11:06 am
(Publishing) They're getting scared! We're gaining on them!
Well, once again the traditional/New York publishing houses have noticed that we're here and that we're not going away. They didn't act when e-publishing began to be taken seriously, and they ignored those of us who went the indie route, saying we weren't WORTHY and we were writing CRAP (even though they've been putting out crap that's cloned from crap for several years rather than championing new authors and fresh voices.) They scoffed at us, and for a while that was enough to keep many readers away.

But now that the Kindle and other e-readers rule the roost and CreateSpace/Lightning Source routes make it possible for authors to be published independently of the Machine (and when most publishing is controlled by a mega-corporation that sees books as interchangeable widgets and only wants to put out "more best-sellers" from the mold of the most recent hit), they're getting frantic. Yet another "of course they aren't REAL" statement comes out of the Huffington Prattle, I mean Post. (A glorified blog, IMHO. They have a larger readership, but ultimately they're just a blog like this one. Where are their "credentials" as far as being the all-knowing ones? Nowheresville, man.)

Their latest article, "Are Self-published Authors Really Authors?" is tarring us with the same old brush. It's "poisoning the well" of the usual stripe. This is coming from the traditional publishing houses, who have now followed the Hollywood formula to put out ONLY works they're sure will bring in money (even if they don't). Readers grow weary of seeing nothing on the shelves but clones of the Same Old Thing with nothing original about them and fan fiction with the serial numbers rubbed off (and sometimes not even that).

Their business model is failing, and they don't know what to do other than advance the usual ad hominem arguments. "If we didn't publish them, then they're not worthy of being published and read!" they cry, like the boyfriend who said, "You're not pretty and you're not good enough for me, and no one will ever love you!"

The remaining "Big Five" publishers have always mocked anyone who took an alternative route, although they were not above picking up books that caught on after the writer sold books out of his or her trunk and did all the promotion on his or her own dime. They sniff at us if we're not one of their anointed few, but maybe they're NOT the most perfect things in the world themselves. Who made them demigods and rulers over all print? The public "bowed to their wisdom" for years. Now that wisdom has failed. Look at the recording/music industry and how it has fragmented into vertical markets rather than having a nationwide Top Ten list of singles that "everybody" is listening to on every radio station. They weren't ready for change, and it overwhelmed them and passed them by. Readers will do what music fans did. We are ready for CHOICES.

Why isn't there room for both traditional publishing and Indie publishing? If a book is not going to appeal to the broadest swath of readers, that doesn't mean it isn't of literary value and of interest to its audience. Most works will find an audience. If someone wants to publish independently, that shouldn't make the "pros" nervous . . . unless the indie stuff is threatening their pocketbooks.

Authors were once completely at the mercy of the old ways--agents who took 15% just to keep you from being taken advantage of (but didn't always succeed), contracts that grabbed all electronic rights in perpetuity for free, book launches that didn't even reach bookstores before getting returned and pulped (and books that stayed on the shelves for six weeks at the most, getting no publicity and no push from the publishing house). Now authors have a choice. If they feel they can get the word out about their books, and they are confident the books are good and properly copyedited and ready for prime time, they now have an alternative route. Where's the threat in that? You said you didn't want it, buddy boy. Why should you be able to say that if YOU don't take us to prom, you will prevent us from going at all?

Billie Sue Mosiman writes, "Now we are free and with freedom comes chaos sometimes, but in the end I will want the freedom over being without choice."

Friday, September 6th, 2013
10:41 am
Archy on planning ahead (Don Marquis reference)
(Via houseboatonstyx and karinmollberg)

i met a toad
the other day by the name
of warty bliggens
he was sitting under
a toadstool
feeling contented
he explained that when the cosmos
was created
that toadstool was especially
planned for his personal
shelter from sun and rain
thought out and prepared
for him

do not tell me
said warty bliggens
that there is not a purpose
in the universe
the thought is blasphemy
a little more
conversation revealed
that warty bliggens
considers himself to be
the center of the same
the earth exists
to grow toadstools for him
to sit under
the sun to give him light
by day and the moon
and wheeling constellations
to make beautiful
the night for the sake of
warty bliggens

to what act of yours
do you impute
this interest on the part
of the creator
of the universe
i asked him
why is it that you
are so greatly favored

ask rather
said warty bliggens
what the universe
has done to deserve me
if i were a
human being i would
not laugh
too complacently
at poor warty bliggens
for similar
have only too often
lodged in the crinkles
of the human cerebrum


(Don Marquis, writing as Archy the cockroach who could type on an old Underwood)

"Man is a marvellous toad."
"Yeah, and I don't even EAT flies."

Thanks for the inspiration today!
Thursday, August 29th, 2013
2:29 am
Which is more frightening . . . rejection or acceptance?
On our writers' mailing list* yesterday, one of my colleagues wrote:

"Here I sit, >this< close to published and I'm terrified. What if everyone else thinks it sucks? What if they don't? What if--?

Is this a normal way to feel at this point?"

I think so.

Frankly, one reason that I adopted the 'net name, sysop-ette name, and pen name "Shalanna Collins" (made from aunt Sheila, aunt LanaBelle, and family name on Mama's side Collins) MANY years ago was so that "Shalanna" would take the heat and anger that a woman on the 'net who put her writing out there was definitely going to garner. I never have liked my birth name (the kids did a lot with "Denise" that went further than "DeNephew" and in odd ways), and my last name from Daddy was too hard to spell and pronounce, so I knew I would need a pen name. It insulated me from the hate.

So they said Shalanna was a loudmouthed be-yotch who thought she knew it all? Well, that wasn't ME, and I didn't have to have palpitations, chills, and the sweats over the thought that hate and anger were pointed at me. So what if they hated Shalanna's prose? It could be fixed. The fragile inner child of ME could say, "They aimed that at her, not at me."**

So possibly a pen name is a good thing for some of us.

If, however, you want to publish under your legal driver's license name, that's fine. You just have to know that there WILL be haters. There WILL be people who, just for fun, just to see if they can get a rise out of you, will write bad reviews or poke at you on FB or wherever they can. They get their jollies this way. You have to rise above it. You have to let that initial rush of self-hate, anger, wildness, and so forth just crash over you in waves, and then calm yourself down. What does it matter? It's just the Internet. In 200 years, who will remember or give a hoot? The art is what matters. It stands the test of time. These people fall away and go to dust. The art does not. You and the art ascend into Heaven and are written in the Book of Life and in earthly history. So there! Take that, dust!!

Now, I think I am a special case, way out there, because all my life, all through school, people who were not my immediate family were blown away because I had mastered the mechanics of spelling, then of punctuation, then of grammar, then of style/diction, and had developed a distinctive voice that I can't hide. I tried having sockpuppets LONG LONG AGO on other online venues, but it never worked, as someone would come along and say, "Shalanna, that is you." (heh) I have a writing voice, and in addition each of my books has a somewhat distinctive voice because the character (or its originating archetype) has a voice of her/his own, but you can usually tell I wrote whatever it is. That's partly because I do not buy into the workshoppers' and minimalists' "rules," and in this sense I'm kind of like the UK and Australian writers who still have strong voices and haven't been damped down to the faux-Hemingway level. (And it IS faux. These people have apparently never READ Papa. Never read _A Moveable Feast,_ definitely. And God forbid they ever run across Henry Miller!!)

So I've always BELIEVED. What the teachers said, what the workshop leaders said, the remarks of contest judges, the encouragements of all the agents who ultimately didn't take me on but who said they loved my voice and were sure someone else would pick up my work posthaste . . . I believed it all. I still do. I still think my work is good and will find an audience. But not everyone likes every book. If your book does not ever reach those people who will love it, it's not going to get that word of mouth and it'll remain obscure. No matter how great it is.

All of this means that there WILL be people who just DO NOT GET IT. They are honest. They really ARE bemused. Why WOULD anyone ever use the words "numinous" or "exegesis" when some dumber word that doesn't mean quite the same thing (but that they may already know) would "do"? Never mind Mark Twain (pen name of Samuel Clemens, for similar reasons to many of ours!) and the lightning/lightning bug analogy. What is going on with these metaphors, these classical and pop cultural allusions, these passages that contain subtext and are nuanced? They want simple, direct, easy to read. Period. And they shake their heads in true confusion. My work does not fit into the bestseller mainstream. So why wouldn't I want to change it to fit?

I can't explain it to those people. I merely have to listen to the little voice that says, "Only Believe." The little flame inside that says, "The work is good. Never mind them." The knowledge that I will fulfill my mission in life, even if that mission doesn't seem useful to most of the others.

That is what you must keep as your vision, fellow striver. If they say bad things . . . if they don't like the book . . . if it takes a long time to find its audience . . . so be it (as Christian Slater's "Pump Up the Volume" dude said). This makes no difference because it doesn't have anything to do with the work's true quality and value. It's just the way it is. If the book actually IS bad (and it isn't!), it's still better than other bad books because it has YOUR voice and is a tour of YOUR mind and doesn't have silly howlers ("As a policeman, the criminal doesn't respect me.") It was not just dashed off like so many of the dollar Kindle books that make me roll my eyes ("and then make me grit my teeth"!) It is a work of art. Always remember that.

Art does not match the sofa!

Be strong. They're going to ignore you, mock you, or whatever. It happens to everyone. (Look at Joanne Rowling and her mystery career.) You can't let it deter you from your mission.

When you finally hold the published hardcopy in your hands--it'll be worth all the effort!

FOOTNOTES (who writes a post with footnotes?!)

* To join our mailing list and benefit from the craziness, leave a comment and I'll tell you where to send the blank e-mail.

**After all these years--since around 1984 on my own BBS and on CompuServe--"Shalanna" is now me, and it no longer shields me. Hubby first met me on my BBS and knew me only as "Shalanna." Many people call me Shalanna/Denise interchangeably. I may pick up a new pen name for edgy stuff, though, someday. Everyone needs a suit of armor.
Wednesday, July 31st, 2013
9:34 am
An embarrassment of riches--interview and review!
A new interview with me is up this morning on the Dames of Dialogue site!

Dames of Dialogue!

Come see what I blathered about and leave a comment. There's always the chance that I said something interesting! (LOL)

Also, another surprise today! Reviewer Kevin Tipple of SENIOR NEWS talks about MURDER BY THE MARFA LIGHTS today on his review blog. C'mon over and see what he thought!


I've even left the first comment to get people started. I like what I came up with about Ari's life being not a rollercoaster ride but more of a "dark ride" like the old Spelunker's Cave at Six Flags used to be--blind turns, murky, weird visions, a sudden lightning/thunder storm, rolling in a barrel, insights coming out of strangeness. This is definitely not an action thriller, and I wouldn't want to disappoint readers. Fans of Vince Flynn and James Patterson would throw it across the room. But if you like character-driven stories with more depth, or you are a fan of Diane Mott Davidson, Donna Andrews, Judith Van Gieson, or Gillian Roberts, you might like this one.

But you already knew that!

Current Mood: Cheerful
Wednesday, June 12th, 2013
2:03 am
Come see me (us) at Firewheel Barnes & Noble tonight!
Heads up! I will be speaking at the Mystery Book Club at the Firewheel Mall(Garland/Rowlett) Barnes and Noble tonight, Wednesday, June 12, at 7 PM about my books, the state of publishing, mystery novels, and general philosophy. If you're in the area, feel free to drop by! We'll be in a circle somewhere in the middle of the (huge) store. I'll also have promo materials to give out free and a few copies of my books for those who are REALLY interested in getting one, heh. I will force them on the others. Also, my mother will be attending with me. Watch for the lady in the leopard shirt using the red walker!

If you're coming for sure, let me know by email or via commenting here so that I can bring you a lollipop. (Also so that I can tell them there might be an extra person or two.)

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013
11:45 am
Our Goals as Readers/Writers
Reading Mary Montague Sikes' latest blog entry, "What Are Our Goals as Writers?" made me think about what my goals actually are, versus what most people think they are or should be. (LOL)

First, I want to talk about our goals as writers.

She mentions winning writing contests. Well, I've done that. I can do that. I won the Golden Rose award a couple of years ago with APRIL, MAYBE JUNE. (Their award is an actual gold-plated rose. My mother went crazy over it, and I put it on one of her bookshelves to be admired. It didn't come with a publishing contract or make anyone interested in the book, though.) I won prizes in the Robert Benchley essay contest a couple of times. (This year, they haven't yet announced the contest. ???) The way I got into Oak Tree Press was via winning the Dark Oak Mystery contest and getting NICE WORK published in 2011.

But I've noticed that contest winners aren't much appreciated. The St. Martin's Press contest would seem to be a major big deal, and you'd think winning one of their contests and publication would be a coup. However, I don't really see sales going big for those who win the contest, not since Donna Andrews was discovered (her books are that perfect blend of over-the-top funny and believable.) One recent winner has gone off to publish newer books with small presses, saying that she has more freedom there. I don't know whether winning an award of any kind does anything for your career. Getting your book made into a film or TV show, on the other hand . . . yes.

She also mentions financial success. That has always eluded me. I haven't made it a major goal, though. As I see it, those who attain financial success are usually the people who can schmooze and sell. If you are a born salesman, you can sell yourself, and the people will want your product. This sort of thing has never been my strength. I haven't had to rely on my writing to make a living so far, which is definitely a good thing.

What about readers? What are our goals as readers?

For many readers nowadays, it's ALL ABOUT PLOT. They don't mind wading through clunky prose (they have no ear for it, or don't care one way or the other? Don't know which) and aren't bothered by stereotypical flat characters. They're reading for WHAT HAPPENS, and if things aren't happening fast enough for them, the book hits the wall and they grab another (so many free downloads out there, why bother to push through all that thinking or feeling?) They were weaned on action movies, and they want to see things blow up and see people make snap decisions, whether or not the decisions are wrong.

But that's not STORY. Teresa Nielsen Hayden once said, "Plot is what happens, but story is a force of nature." I believe people need/use story to make sense of life, to understand what life wants from them and what they want from life. A story is a promise to the reader that they're going to learn something or have some sort of insight as a result of reading it. Otherwise, they close the book and say, "So what? What was all of that FOR?" They "got nothing out of it." It was "a waste of time that they can't get back." This is not what we're aiming for, I'm sure.

Story has always been a means of transmitting the culture down to the next generation(s). The Bible, Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens--the Great Books, if you will--have passed along the great ideas of Western culture over the centuries. A great story should give you some new insight into the human condition. It shouldn't feel hollow when you finish, as though you were waiting for the author to make his or her point but never got anything. You can write solely for entertainment and still have a point . . . I'm not saying that everything has to be Ponderous and Meaningful. But most people want to feel they've learned something from your book, if only that the Kelvin temperature scale goes down to absolute zero or that 73 is the perfect number (because it means "Best regards" to hams!)

It seems that the popular kids have decided they're going to write books. They never wanted to do this before, but now that it's a matter of typing into a word processor rather than feeding endless pages into a typewriter, they want to. EVERYONE is writing a book and putting it on the Kindle or going with a self-publishing deal. Writing books was always uncool before. It's kind of nice for it to be The Latest Thing, but I suspect that these same people tried to be rock stars and found they couldn't sing even WITH AutoTune, and turned to writing because they wrote in journals all through school and figured, "How hard could it be?" Some newcomers to writing are natural writers, of course, but I suspect that some just fell into it and have had lots of luck (and lots of friends who like them and therefore read their books). There are more books being published every minute these days than there were every YEAR in past decades. Lots of choices--good. Lots of slush--check. (LOL) Many books that leave you feeling hollow, as though "is that all there is?" were the question.

So why DO we bother to write books, when there is so much else out there that our stuff probably will come and go without being noticed?

My purpose in writing stories has always been to be heard--to reach those I would never otherwise reach with my voice or during my lifetime. I have always hoped that my book would be sitting on a shelf (or waiting for a download, wink) when someone who needs its message/philosophy/theme right then comes along and picks it up or downloads it to read. This person may be younger or older, in the future or in the present, but whoever the person is, he or she needs to hear what I have to say with this book, needs to be entertained with witty banter, needs to commiserate with the dilemmas and celebrate the happinesses of my characters. This person can experience vicariously a hot-air balloon ride, hear about someone's fairy godfather, work on perfecting the Schubert Moments Musical, and do whatever my characters do . . . it's a tour of my mind in my voice that no one else can give them, and I like to think it can enrich their lives and make them happy for a moment and then for several moments as they think on these issues and ideas I have brought to them.

That has always been my goal, and that is why I often resist making my books into action movie screenplays. I like to leave in the parts that made the books I have loved throughout my life into "keepers." I haven't thought much about temporal success, although my family and friends are quite fixated on the dollar; I do know that money is the way most people keep score, and the way they judge your work's quality, at least initially, so I guess I should at least TRY to do a popular book so my other books can have a chance at being checked out.

What if no one were keeping score? (Grin) If I serve art (Art) (whatever), that should be enough (but it probably isn't.)

So what are your goals? What is your purpose in writing stories?
Thursday, May 30th, 2013
5:23 pm
How Science REALLY Works
I may have mentioned that one of our neighbors went to be with the Lord (crossed the bar) (crossed to the other side of the Veil) (went to the Summerlands) (not trying to be flippant, just trying to get the idea across in non-offensive religious terms) a couple of weeks ago. My mother has been quite distraught, as the lady has been a neighbor of ours for years and years. I ended up baby-sitting for two of the neighbor's granddaughters several times over the course of the fortnight so as to allow her daughters to take care of business and grown-up stuff. Well, they're not babies any more--they're nine and seven, and QUITE sophisticated for their age.

Maybe that's how sophisticated kids of that age are now. WE certainly didn't know (at that tender age) the stuff THEY know about. I think they taught ME a couple of interesting tidbits about life in the post-postmodern world, unchained as it is.

So! One evening, they informed me that they were ALWAYS allowed to watch the "Big Bang Theory." I am still a bit doubtful about that, but they quoted back much of the show's backstory to me, so maybe it's true. I didn't think the show's occasional naughty language and sexual situations would perturb them, after what they'd been telling me all week (eep). At any rate, we all sat down for dinner (macaroni-hamburger scramble and a very non-diabetes-friendly casserole, which we all participated in making, even my mother) and a rerun of the Bob Newhart episode of the series.

In case you are not a devoted fan of Sheldon Cooper, Leonard, and Penny (I like the others, but not as much as these, as I identify with each of them to some extent), I'll tell you that in this episode, the great Bob Newhart plays a has-been "Mr. Wizard" television star who now does kids' parties. He is invited to Sheldon's place to give his show to the grown-up scientists. The ubiquitous science fair demonstration comes up: the potato clock.

Of course, they play it for laughs. "Is it a trick potato?!" Penny shrieks. "What makes it go?"

They never cover the real explanation in the episode, but when the show ended, I asked the girls, "Do you know about the potato clock? How do you think it works?"

The elder girl said, "The potato has potential energy that is conducted through the wires."

I was taken aback. We certainly didn't know about the concept of potential energy when I was in third grade. This is a dang good guess, in MY opinion.

The younger one said, "The potato has life-force and that's why when you eat it, it gives you energy that comes from that life-force. The life-force flows down the wires before it goes back into the potato. So that's what causes the clock to run."

After I picked my chin up from the floor, I said, "That is a really cool explanation." I didn't dare probe further, for fear we'd get into a discussion of Jedi knighthood, which I'm not too clear about.

After clearing the table, I let them get on my computer to Google up the "real" answer. I had sort of forgotten exactly how science explains it (I was thinking in terms of electron flow myself, but VERY hazily. It's actually a chemical reaction because of the coating on the nails that are used.) The real explanation is not nearly as good as the one about life-force. I think from now on I will adopt the life-force explanation.

Are these kids today little Einsteins, or what?!

(They can still enjoy a rollicking game of "Mouse Trap," though.)
Sunday, May 26th, 2013
4:47 pm
Trivia game junkie--need to delete the craving
Since my husband got the tablet computer, I've been playing "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader?" and have reached a fairly high level. However, I've been upset by the WRONG answers that they are approving as correct (and rejecting the correct answer that's right there on the screen.)

Last night they asked which US President was the youngest when he took office. Teddy Roosevelt. I know this because when I was in fifth grade, I was in one of those pull-out groups who got to do special projects instead of the grunt work and worksheets all the time, and we did a study of the presidents. John Kennedy is the SECOND-youngest, although everyone thinks he must have been the youngest, for some reason.

(Although John F. Kennedy was the youngest President ever ELECTED to office, aged 43, Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest to ever take the office. At the age of 42, he assumed the Presidency after the death of William McKinley.)

The people who programmed/loaded that game think so, too. They marked Roosevelt wrong and said Kennedy is correct.

That irked me.

A few questions later, they asked a question that was intriguing and probably doesn't have a pat answer. "What is the opposite of OR?" The choices included AND, NOR, MAYBE, and YET. Well, I would say that since OR is a choice between A and B and AND means BOTH A and B, AND is the opposite or OR. They marked that wrong and claimed it is NOR. Well, I can see the faulty logic they're using, but I claim that NOR would be the opposite of AND. AND means both, and NOR means neither ("not this one, either"), so I don't think NOR could be the "opposite" of OR in any sense. "Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor dark of night shall keep this courier from his appointed rounds." "Rain, snow, sleet, and dark of night deterred us from trick-or-treating." "Neither A nor B." "Both A and B."

That one takes a little thinkin' and canoodlin'. It really takes more time to argue it out than the fifteen seconds that they allow for a tap on the screen to choose an answer.

You get to play up to four games in one sitting before your points run out and you have to wait for more points to come along (I'm not about to BUY points), so this isn't a major time-waster. I generally play it if I'm waiting for something else and just sitting there idle. Still, it's a time-waster, and I need to be practicing those Schubert Moments Musical.

(The biggest obstacle to piano practice is that "it drowns out the TV" and the family cannot bear THAT . . . also, my mother always finds some reason that I MUST come in there and wait on her just as I'm finishing up a few measures. I am not a potential contest winner or concert artist, mind; I play to feed my soul. It goes hungry much of the time because I live among the typical TV-adoring Philistines. I'm not a fan of digital crap and plastic keyboards, either--the feedback from the baby grand is a must. No, those things do NOT sound like a baby grand. Play Bach's first "little" prelude, in which you hold down the C octave below middle C while playing arpeggios, and you'll hear the constant changing of harmonies as the various strings are stimulated by the others and it rings inside the piano. This does not happen with the keyboards, even though they can make a passable "koto" sound if that's what you want.)

I miss that NTN trivia game they used to have at Friday's. Our Friday's doesn't have it any more, alas.

Probably just as well.
Friday, May 3rd, 2013
3:28 am
Yes! I am still here!
Wondering where I've been? I've been completely snowed under with the planning, execution, and aftermath of our charity book signing and author salon here in Dallas at the beautiful Lucky Dog Books location in Lochwood on Garland Road. Whew! I am just now getting some energy back! (It really takes it out of you to have a sinus infection, be on drugs for that and for diabetes as well, and do all the hauling and planning for an event. I never dreamed it was so complex. I think I'll start being a party/event planner, but I'll have to charge $500/hour.)

Go look at all the pics over on my official author blog at http://deniseweeks.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-signing.html.

In other news . . . so much drama in "real life" this week. Too tired to type it all in. But I'll do it as soon as I can. Tidbit: I might have my own Internet radio show soon. It will be all-purpose, including radio plays and readings and live piano playing by yours truly, but the tentative show name is "Super Roper Redneck Revue." Possibly will not be permanent name. Also, it is FREEZING and the wind is blowing wildly. Could we not install "SPRING" to replace "WINTER"?
Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013
12:13 am
SUNDAY, APRIL 28 from 1-4 PM in Dallas, Texas: Charity Book Signing!

Ever doubted my supernatural powers? Well, doubt no more. I've enticed several best-selling authors to Dallas and we're all doing a signing--for charity!

Jenny Milchman, author of the suspense novel COVER OF SNOW (recently released by Ballantine Books in hardcover), will be in Dallas on Sunday, April 28, and will hold a book signing from 1 to 3 PM with me (Denise Weeks AND Shalanna Collins--you know, like Athena is also Minerva), Janis Susan May Patterson, Kevin Tipple, and Earl Staggs at the Garland Road location of LUCKY DOG BOOKS.


Here's how it's going down.

Jenny will speak briefly at 1 PM and take questions from the audience. We'll be collecting books from each author present during that time and putting them into a raffle basket. Then we'll have the signing! Everyone who buys one or more of our books gets a raffle ticket. We'll draw a name out of the hat (watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!) and award the basket of books! We'll then draw ten more names, and those lucky people will get to stay after for a "Getting Published/ Craft of Writing" session with the authors.

Now, about the charity part. Where will the profits go? Ms. Milchman intends to donate all profits she makes from the event to a Plano family, Kevin and Sandi Tipple and their two sons, who are saddled with medical bills and overdue rent. (Ms. Patterson and I wlll be donating a large share of our profits; we had to buy our books from those mean old publishers at almost full retail, alas.) Pretty cool, huh? Anyone who wants to help out will be welcomed with open arms. In fact, pretty much anyone who shows up will at least get a handshake and a cookie!

Here's the official flyer for the event. We'd love to see you!

Map/Directions to Lucky Dog Books, Lochwood location on Garland Road in Dallas (Casa Linda area, next to Casa Linda Bakery, in fact)

Lucky Dog Books is about a mile or so from White Rock Lake near the Lochwood Shopping Center, located on Garland Road just past Jupiter (if you're coming from the east). The store is next to a church (in fact, I think it's located in an old church building itself) on the right-hand side of the street a few long blocks past Jupiter Road, just beyond the Casa Linda Bakery. You can reach it from the north and/or west by coming east and southeast on 635 (LBJ) and taking a right turn on Jupiter Road and then another right on Garland. If you aren't that far north, just take Northwest Highway to Jupiter and then turn south on Garland Road. It only SOUNDS complicated. Better directions on their website.
Saturday, March 16th, 2013
1:22 am
Authors: God is in the details
I can't tell you how many mysteries (small press and self-published for the Kindle, as well as NYC house output) I've read recently that leave me feeling unsatisfied and irritated with the author.

So many times, there's something that should have been properly explained or properly set up, but the author doesn't bother. Perhaps she or he figures that we TV/movie watchers can be distracted and won't notice a few plot holes. "Oooh, shiny!" will take our attention away from whatever it was that needed explaining, and then we'll forget alllll about it like good little dum-dums. Sorry . . . it doesn't work for me.

The reason I have always liked "Back to the Future" so much is not just because of Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd at the height of their powers. Not just because it's such a clever idea. Not just because I love that 1950s fantasy world of nostalgia and all the wonderful cars, furnishings, and clothes. No, it's because EVERYTHING is accounted for by the end of the story. Even the dog, Einstein, whom I thought might be an "oopsie" in the plot, is shown jumping out of the van at the end of the film. So every detail is explained and it's all wrapped up. Even with the "hook" for the sequel at the end, we feel satisfied and we'd have been happy with no sequel and just our own imaginations to say that they lived happily ever after.

But many, MANY books that I read today (ones that are recently published) don't bother to tie up even the easiest of loose ends, and when there's an important question to be answered, they simply ignore it if it would make things tougher to write out. Characters are Too Stupid To Live or no one mentions the elephant in the room or an important clue is torn to bits and just "oh, well" forgotten about. With just a LITTLE work and care, these problems could be corrected and the storyline could be far more memorable.

Here's an example. In a NYC-published popular recent cozy, we have a man who tells a woman to come to a particular spot and watch for him to enter a restaurant. He says he's going to sit down with some people briefly, but then has his smartphone set to go off in about five minutes, and he'll beg off. Then he will exit the restaurant and go to a blue SUV parked on the street to wait for her. The heroine is intrigued. (He's in great demand as a semi-celebrity and every date they've tried to have has been interrupted, so this is the plan for them to sneak away together and have their first real date alone.)

So the heroine goes to this spot--a Christian Science Reading Room sort of place (remember those?) where you can go inside and read, and there's no one to monitor you, and this one is on the second floor across the street from the restaurant, so it's a perfect crow's nest. No one sees her going in, no one else is there, and of course she doesn't sign in. She plays on her Android tablet until she sees him going into the restaurant. She watches as if she's a hawk who knows a bunny is about to materialize, but he doesn't emerge from the restaurant. After about forty minutes she's angry enough to want to break up that little party and/or confront him. It's nearly nine o'clock and she hasn't eaten, and he knows that. She packs up her stuff (unfortunately not leaving anything behind but buttprints on the futon) and marches into the restaurant.

But he's not there. No large parties. It's all intimate dining and family seating. She makes a minor scene with the people at the front who seat you, but they insist he hasn't been here. Our Heroine feels this was yet another example of him "playing" her and sits down to have an elaborate dessert, defying anyone to say a word to her.

She marches back to her hotel room (they're on assignment out of town, of course) and flings the door open to find--his body sprawled out at the foot of her bed, of course. Dead, of course.

She screams and calls the police and does everything right, but naturally she is the major suspect. People say she wasn't seen until nine in the restaurant and she can't prove she was in the Reading Room watching for him. This kicks off the mystery.

Okay, fine. BUT! One little detail kept niggling at me for the rest of the book. I was confident this could be easily explained . . . but why, if he told her to meet him at the restaurant, was he in her room?

It's going to be the key to the plot! He is planting something in her things. Or he's searching for something that he's going to take or alter that she has. It's to sabotage her career with the company. Or there's some other good reason he is in there.

I'm waiting for the rest of the BOOK, but this is NEVER addressed. No one even ever ASKS why he was there when he was supposed to be meeting her, not even Our Sleuth. Wouldn't you wonder why he'd tell her to meet him at X and then he sneaks into her room? The cops are right to think that she lured him to her room to kill him. I'd think the same thing, except I'd marvel at her stupidity at not establishing an alibi and at leaving the body in her own room.

She never even tries to figure out what he was up to. She just says, "Oh, no, someone killed him in my room!" She is a real patsy and I kind of hate her from then on.

So much could have been done with this. He was there to plant something--and then she could have traced that back to find out who really did him in. He was there to steal something--and when she finds it on someone else, she can pounce. But no. We just kind of never know what the story really was, and it's irritating.

Details like this are common in today's not-vetted e-books. In fact, more e-books have "errors" that bug me than ever before. In lots of books, the heroine neglects to ask a simple question that anyone would naturally ask immediately, and goes on to ignore the issue through the entire book, not even answering/asking it in the final wrap-up. I don't mean the stupid stuff that happens in category romances, like the woman assuming he's cheating on her when the chick who was eating out with him was actually his cousin, but no one ever asks/tells anyone this until the end of the book. I mean things that create actual plot holes. Gaping plot holes. Things that I simply cannot BELIEVE. And the suspenders of disbelief snap, and the book is over for me.

What have you seen in recent novels, movies, or TV shows that's a deal-breaker for you? I'll bet you have a particular incident that you could have fixed easily if only you were the lucky writer!
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