Friday, October 17, 2014

This week in obsessions







Hey, if you were intrigued by last week's mention of Susanna Clarke's classic Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, they're doing a reread of it over at Tor.com























Because if that picture doesn't say 'delicious' and 'autumn' then I don't know what does. (From Honestly Yum via Remodelista) And suggestions for putting together the perfect cheese platter from Real Simple and The Food Network.

Where will the next generation of writers come from? Possibly YouTube, as book publishers continue to chase authors with ready-made platforms.







What's your decorating style? It appears mine is "darkly romantic" (go figure). If this sounds like your taste as well, you might want to check out this article at Houzz.











If you're like me, you want to make your house as efficient as possible. As the husband and I are contemplating a big house remodel, I gobble up articles like these about maximizing storage. A whole week's worth of ideas for architectural storage via Remodelista.



















Ready to go all Ghost Hunters in honor of Halloween? Here's a list of twenty haunted houses in America--surely there's at least one near you.

Friday, October 10, 2014

This week in obsessions

What's caught my eye this week:


What I'm reading this week: The Secret Place by Tana French. Not because I'm a fan of mysteries and police procedurals but because I'm a fan of hers. But I'm also reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, the early-2000s fantasy classic. I started reading it about a year after it came out, didn't get very far for reasons I don't remember, and shelved it. Somehow managed not to give it away in the intervening years. Picked it off the shelf during a night of insomnia and enjoyed it so much that it kept me up later than I wanted. Also, the awesome Keith Donohue's latest novel, The Boy Who Drew Monsters, is just out and is getting rave reviews. Just thought you might like to know.







What we're eating: Pasta with eggplant and tomatoes sauteed until meltingly tender. Yes, please. Get your fall veggies at your local farmers market. Recipe from NY Times.

What is he? 50 Shades of Grey
Not too early to start thinking of costumes for Halloween. Don't forget Pinterest. Clever ones, funny ones too.

Don't we all dream of having a cozy nook in our homes, someplace we can escape to? Funny how often a nook includes books. Some great nooks in this article in Houzz.








Where I'm at: I'm at Capclave, the Washington DC-area science fiction and fantasy convention this weekend (October 10-12). Capclave is focused on literature, not media, so if you like sci fi/fantasy books you should be here.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

This week in obsessions

Going to try something new, a weekly link wrap-up of things that have come across my radar during the week, in an attempt to rejuvenate the blog. It will include things bookish and not-so-bookish. Let me know what you think in the comments.

What I'm Reading This Week: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell gives his take on the soul's place in the universe. The link will take you to The New Yorker's review. I'm a huge fan of Mitchell but haven't made up my mind on this book. However, he has such an amazing imagination that the book is helping me to push the limits of my own imagination as I work on my next novel.

The iconic house from Gone With the Wind is getting a second life, thanks to a Civil War historian. (via ElleDecor.com)












Are you a design maven and live in the Hudson Valley area in New York? You might want to go to Field + Market next weekend, a modern craft fair.












Fall, my favorite time of year, is coming to this corner of Maryland. Perfect time to make these Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls, recipe courtesy of my favorite food blog, Smitten Kitchen.














Speaking of fall, next weekend I'll be at Capclave, the annual conference of the Washington Science Fiction Association. The wonderful wonderful Holly Black is one of the guests of honor; Paolo Bacigalupi is another.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Why does social commentary frequently bring out mob mentality?

A few years ago, my work involved analyzing social media. This was in the early days of social media, when new social platforms (Facebook, Twitter et al) were seemingly springing up overnight. The very common, almost throwaway criticism of social media--usually made by people who spent little to no time on social media--was that it was all so nasty, all that flaming and trolling, so much negativity. As a researcher, that was all part of the environment and I didn't think much about it (or tried not to) anymore  than a zoologist notices the rotten banana peels on the ape house floor.

Then I also became a novelist, my first novel coming out in 2011, when social media and the book publishing business were just getting to know each other and working that relationship hotly. In short order, I got to see what it was like when anyone and everyone had an opinion about your work and the ability to voice it. Ouch.

But after a short while, I learned to ignore it, to stop reading the reviews. You thank people when you find out they've said something nice about you but you learn not to click on links that will only take you to someplace you don't want to go.

Because I've trained myself not to look at the comments that follow a blog post or to dig into forums, I was a bit taken aback by this article in ELLE DECOR, "The Ugly Side of Beautiful Rooms: Design in the Age of Internet Comments". The sub-title says it all: "You'd never walk into someone's home and say 'vomit'. So why is this happening so often online?"

To be honest, my first reaction was deja vu. If you think "vomit" is a harsh reaction from a stranger to someone's hard work (in this case, interior design), try reading some book blogs. Try being pilloried by a reader who has obviously skimmed your novel at best and seems to be channeling another review (a phenomenon that was even mentioned in David Mitchell's latest novel, The Bone Clocks, in which one of his characters, a novelist, sniffs that reviewers in the internet age just seem to google what others have written about a book and sample liberally. If you don't think this happens, you aren't paying close attention. Talk about mob mentality.)

My second, more measured reaction, was surprise. Yes, surprise to hear that there are still people who practice widespread negativity in online forums. That's not naivete on my part; there have been several recent studies on how hopeful, cheerful, optimistic items are circulated more on social media than negative ones. People don't tend to share, retweet or otherwise spread negative items with their social networks, and from a commercial (non-personal) perspective, that's the whole point of social networking. People tend to drop or shy away from someone's vitriol-spewing diatribe. The picture that gets shared a million times on Facebook is not of someone stoving in another person's head with a shovel.

What's the point of this post? I'm afraid it's fairly pointless because you can't say anything definitive about online behaviors. Ten years (roughly) into social media and people are still pointlessly vicious to each other while at the same time 'liking' and sharing simple-minded photos of kittens smiling or babies dressed up as flowers. You'd think these can't be the same people doing both these things and you'd be right and wrong. In the end, social media is about human behavior. It's remarkable in that it makes observing that behavior easier and readily countable. But it doesn't appear to change human behavior, at least not yet.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

"My Writing Process" blog tour

I was asked by my friend, author Alia Yunis, to participate in a blog tour of authors sharing their writing processes. I'm honored to a part of this tour. At any live event I've done people--whether aspiring writers themselves or avid readers--seem most curious about the writing process (how do you get your ideas? how to you go from concept to a full-blown novel?) If this describes you, I hope you'll take a look at the posts by all the writers participating in the blog tour. I'm sure we'll all pick up some valuable tips along the way. (And you can start here and follow the links: Alia's post; Myfanwy Collins' post; and Patricia Dunn's post.)

I met Alia at the Squaw Valley Conference of Writers. The conference organizers invite alumni to come back to the conference to do a reading after they've been published. Alia and I attended Squaw during different years but we did our debut reading the same summer and this is where I got to meet her. When I first arrived, everyone kept mistaking me for Alia. Okay, our first names are similar and we're both women, and we're both on the short side and have dark hair. But that's where the similarities end. She is younger and prettier than I am and has a bubbly, fun and wildly creative personality. I honestly can't imagine how anyone who knew Alia would mistake her for me. She is enormous fun to be around especially if you are a creative person. We were roommates, too, which gave me time to get to know her. I love getting to spend time with Alia but since she lives in the UAE, where she teaches at university, those times are all too rare.

Okay, let's get to the questions . . .

What are you working on?

I handed in a manuscript to my agent recently and so am shifting between ideas, trying to decide which will be the next project, while knowing that once notes come back from the agent I'll probably spend a few months (at least) tied up with that. I'm thinking about a rewrite of a book I was working on before the one I just handed in, a historical fantasy that has some knotty problems to be worked out. But I also had an idea for something new and I'm working on the outline and writing some scenes to try it on for size. Since I much prefer creating fresh to rewriting, I find I'm being drawn to the new project . . .

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I'm going to give an oblique answer to this question. I was a music journalist many years ago and noticed that bands (especially new, young bands) used to hate it when I asked them about their genre. "Don't label me," they seemed to be saying; judge us on our own merits. Which is all well and good--we all want to think as artists that we're doing something fresh and unique--but at the same time, it's really important for people to be able to quickly grasp what you're about so they can determine whether it's something they think they'll like. So being part of a genre is not a bad thing.

When my first book came out I bristled at the question of genre because I felt my book was different from most of the books it typically got compared to. Now I see that this resisting categorization hurt me.  So now I embrace my genre, though I think it's a pretty broad genre. (I'd put Diana Gabaldon in there as well as Audrey Niffenegger, and Anne Rice, too, though lots of people probably wouldn't think of those three writers in the same breath). So, how are my books different? I think all our books are different in some way. The Taker Trilogy put the reader very close to the narrator; "so much emotion" was how one reader described it or, as another reader put it, "All the feels!" I think the next book will be a little different from the Taker books in that it might not take the reader on such an emotional rollercoaster ride.

Why do you write what you do?

It's the way my brain works, I'm afraid. The book I just handed in is a historical, no fantasy, and I have to say that in some ways it was a much easier book to write. More straightforward. But since then, the stories I've been able to think of all have fantastical elements in them. I must be trying to escape from the constraints of life.

How does your writing process work?

Usually, I come up with the premise and broad outline for a story quickly and start throwing down chapters, broad brush, in sequence.  At this stage, it's like a strawman. It might not even have much personality. The true nature of the characters and all the deepening and enriching comes in when I go back and expand those chapters. Anyway, that's how it usually happens but the book I'm working on now is being written out of sequence. I like to mix things up for the fun of it, and to keep my writing fresh.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Ebooks on your desktop

The vast majority of you are not going to need this post. I'm writing it because every time an author (ahem, like me) lets her readers know that the ebook version of one of her books is on sale, there are always a few number of people who will write that they'd like to take advantage of the sale but that they don't have an ereader. 

The fact is, you don't need an ereader to read ebooks.

So for that tiny minority who think apps are restricted to smart phones and tablets, I'm going to post instructions on how you can read ebooks on your computer:

You download the desktop app of an ereader program (if there is one) to your computer and then you can use the ereader's store to purchase books and open the application on your computer to read them. For instance, here is a screen shot of the page where you go to download the Kobo desktop app:


Click here for Kindle desktop apps (for Windows and Mac)
From the Kindle app page: psst, links are down here, under the devices!

Click here for NOOK for Mac and NOOK for Windows

What about iBooks? Well, it doesn't look as though Apple has come through with a ereader app for Macs though it said it would last year. There are other apps you can buy to make reading books in the most popular ereading formats on your Mac, though, and here's a good article on the subject. Similarly, there are apps to let you read ebook formats on your Windows machine. (And where are they? That's what Google is for :-)

This just solves the problem of "how do I physically read the ebook". I understand there are people who are politically opposed to reading a book if it isn't printed on paper. That's fine, though you should know that some independent bookstores sell ebooks, too. Then, once you decide to go ahead and read ebooks, you have another political decision as to which vendor you're going to support. Just remember that you probably want to stay with one ebook provider so you don't have books shelved electronically all over town.

There! So you really have no excuse not to buy that tantalizing novel when you see the ebook version is on sale.






Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Win a Vial necklace - AS SEEN IN TRUE BLOOD

If you're like me, you're hanging on every episode of TRUE BLOOD as it airs on Sunday evenings, even as you're mourning the fact that it will all be over soon. 

So you can imagine how happy I was to learn that one of the characters in this season, Mr. Gus (portrayed by Will Yun Lee, whom you've seen in movies like Wolverine) has been wearing the necklace as his character's signature piece.

In honor of this fact, I'm giving away a Vial necklace! To win, all you have to do is email me at contest@almakatsu.com. The deadline to enter is August 19th at midnight ET. The winner will be chosen at random. (Please note: the contest is open to the US only. See complete rules below.)


The necklace was designed by Janet Cadsawan, who is the official designer for lots of literary works such as Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, EL James' Fifty Shades of Grey and Deborah Harkness' Discovery of Witches trilogy. It's been an honor being represented by Cadsawan Jewelry, being among such great literary company. In case you can't wait to see if you win, you can order a necklace or bracelet from Janet right here

For those of you who are unfamiliar with The Taker Trilogy, the books for which the necklace was designed, please do me a favor and take a minute to read a little bit about them here. Charlaine Harris herself had some nice things to say: "I was really grabbed by the narrative voice, and I was fascinated by the story--what a story!"

CONTEST RULES:  One entry per person. Contest is open to US only: the prize must be sent to a valid US mailing address. Not responsible for items lost or stolen in shipping. Contest ends at midnight ET on August 19th and winner will be chosen via random number generator. Winner will be notified by email within 24 hours of the end of contest and has 72 hours to respond to claim prize. If the winner does not respond within 72 hours a new winner will be chosen, and the same rules will apply.