Automotive Heaven Can Wait

Last week I was in automotive heaven… and it turned out to be more of a pain in the butt than I’d anticipated.

Rick and Sandy (of Hand Crafted Images) and I were doing the photographs for Book 2’s updated cover.  Car buffs may recall that Aydan drooled over an Audi R8 in THE SPY IS CAST, and wonder of wonders, I got up-close-and-personal with a real R8 this week thanks to the generosity of Doug S. and the staff at Glenmore Audi.

As with most undertakings that involve me, there was inappropriate laughter.

The dealership is a pristine building featuring bright white ceilings and sleek grey floors.  Other cars were scattered throughout the showroom, but two Quattros crouched protectively beside the R8, their feral headlight configurations watching us like predatory beasts.

Yes, I was slightly intimidated.

At first we trod reverently around the R8, not approaching it too closely so our heated and unsteady breathing wouldn’t fog its gleaming paint.

We were completely freaked out at the thought of being close enough to damage an automobile that costs more than twice what I paid for my first house.  We checked and re-checked the tripods that held the backdrop, cringing at visions of the metal poles toppling onto the car.

At last we had the backdrops in place and the moment of truth arrived:  It was time to unlock the car.

Then I would strip down to my ignominious outfit of stiletto heels and gym shorts (because I didn’t want to wear a skirt and accidentally emulate the Basic Instinct leg-crossing scene) and… yes… I would actually sit in the driver’s seat.

That’s where the giggles started.  In the first place, a woman wearing makeup, gym shorts, and stiletto heels just looks ridiculous.

Also, this woman wearing stiletto heels looks slightly ridiculous anyway.  The R8 tops out at four feet.  In heels, I’m 6’-2”.  I towered over the car (and everybody else in the dealership).

The next issue was that the stilettos give me a 38” inseam.  Try stuffing those long legs into a car while holding your breath in case a lethal heel scratches something that costs more than your entire car.  But I managed.

In short order, the next issue surfaced.  The R8’s seats are set in quite far from the exterior body panels.  If I sat in the driver’s seat, my legs barely made it out of the car.  To get the shot we wanted, I’d have to perch on the rocker panel.

For the record, the R8’s rocker panels are not designed to comfortably accommodate a human ass.  (Nor a human posterior, for that matter.)

It got worse.  On the original cover, the model’s lips are parted.  It looks as though she’s pronouncing the letter ‘D’, and it’s supposed to look pouty or sensuous or something.

My pout looked more like ‘Duh’.  I stared vacantly into space, slack-lipped and clutching a cardboard cutout of a Glock.  I only managed a few minutes of that before dissolving into helpless laughter.  Thank you, Sandy and Rick, for your infinite patience!

But at last we packed up the equipment and vacated the premises with relief, leaving the fabulous car unscathed.  (Which was more than I could say for my aching ass.)

It was only afterward I realized that my butt was the only part of me that ever touched the car.  I never even put my hands on the steering wheel.

I guess I’m just not cut out for automotive heaven.

* * *

P.S.  Unedited proofs are always good for a chuckle.  Note my alter-ego in the reflection beside me:

My inner werewolf sneaks out when I least expect it…

My inner werewolf sneaks out when I least expect it…

Meanwhile, Inside My Brain…

3yrold cartoonTrue to form, Book 9 isn’t even out the door yet and already Book 10 is demanding my attention.  Good thing I love writing!  Speaking of Book 9, SPY HIGH is on schedule to be released this Friday, January 16/15.  As usual, it’ll be out on Amazon and Smashwords first, followed by all other channels within a week or two.  I’ll keep you posted!

And That Was My Week

The week after I finish a book is always interesting.  During the final stages, I’m so immersed in writing that everything else just… goes away.  Including my brain.  And it hasn’t come back yet.

I tried to come up with a coherent blog post and instead spent an hour staring into space and mumbling non sequiturs.  So I’m just gonna go with that.

Here’s what my week was like, in no particular order:

Ironic:  This week I kickboxed, lifted weights, planted a few thousand square feet of garden, shifted a ton of garden soil, mowed the lawn, did some minor home renovations, and generally abused every muscle in my body.  I was fine.  Then I hurt my back… bellydancing.

Efficient:  I finally discovered the secret to efficiency:  a to-do list.  In the morning I wrote a list of all the things I wanted to get done during the day.  Then at the end of the day, I wrote “Tomorrow” after the “To-Do” title.  Voila!  Efficiency.  Now I don’t have to make another to-do list.

Fashionable:  In my closet, I have a skirt… hey, don’t laugh!  I really do own a skirt.  It’s a broomstick skirt, which, for the uninitiated, is a skirt that looks as though you’ve rolled it up in a ball and slept on it for a couple of months before wearing it.  It suits my attitude toward dress-up clothing just fine.  I unearthed it a while ago, shook it out, and then hung it tenderly back in my closet.  You never know when I might need an easy-to-care-for skirt.

Oblivious:  I showed the above skirt to a friend about a month ago, and she said, “Oh, what a great skirt!  I remember when those were in style!”  Then the conversation moved to other topics.  Just yesterday it filtered through my thick skull that my beloved skirt had been insulted…

Illogical:  About six weeks ago I hurt my arm kickboxing.  So I ignored it, because everything gets better sooner or later, right?  But it kept hurting, and a couple of weeks ago I threw a punch and ouch!  So I went in at the beginning of the week and got a diagnosis.  Apparently I have tennis elbow.  From kickboxing.  Makes perfect sense.  (Fortunately muay thai allows strikes from fists, feet, elbows, and knees, so I can still train.  Otherwise this heading would be “Illogical and Cranky”.)

Absent-Minded:  I went for a walk, and half a mile down the sidewalk my brain suddenly shrieked:  “Wait!  Did I forget my pants?!?”  The relief was indescribable when I looked down to discover that I was actually dressed.  The subsequent question, “Are they done up?” was anti-climactic by comparison.  Unfortunately, accidentally going sans pants isn’t an inconceivable scenario for me.  I’m not in the habit of wandering around half-naked, but when I’m this distracted there’s always a possibility that I might begin to change clothes and just forget to finish the job.

Gluttonous:  Because the universe has a cruel sense of humour, it was my week to be Designated Driver.  So I haven’t even had a beer to celebrate finishing Book 8, but I compensated by eating a candy apple and a triple-chocolate ice cream cone that was as big as my head.  And I have plans for beer this weekend, so all is well in my world.

And that was my week.  How was yours?

What My Library Says

A little while ago, I ran across a link to the website of artist Nina Katchadourian, and I was instantly captivated by her Sorted Books project.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I decided to play, too.

But first, a disclaimer:  Obviously, she’s an artist and I’m not.  Her books are beautifully arranged and photographed, the subjects are carefully chosen, and the whole thing is a meaningful artistic expression.

I’m just a copycat, and a poor one at that.  My photography sucks, my arrangements look like they were stacked by an inebriated orangutan, and my subjects are distinctly low-brow.

But I’m a rabid book lover, and I’m endlessly fascinated by the variety of titles we all have stockpiled on our shelves.  And besides, this was fun!

Here’s what I came up with from my personal shelves:
In the “Philosophical” category…

Some days...

Some days…

I usually feel this way about half-way through writing a novel.

I usually feel this way about half-way through writing a novel.

In the “Contradictory Advice” category…

So... what am I supposed to do?

So… what am I supposed to do?

In the “Okay, That Makes Sense” category…

Sounds like a standard action-movie plot...

Sounds like a standard action-movie plot…

Can anybody else relate?  P.S. "In A Fix" is by my blogging buddy Linda Grimes - check it out!

Can anybody else relate? P.S. “In A Fix” is by my blogging buddy Linda Grimes – check it out!

Seems like a natural progression to me.

Seems like a natural progression to me.

In the “I’ve Got A Dirty Mind” category…

'Nuff said. But check out "Trousering Your Weasel" by another blogging buddy, Murr Brewster!

‘Nuff said. But check out “Trousering Your Weasel” by another blogging buddy, Murr Brewster!

When you find a title like "In The Wet", it's hard to avoid saying something inappropriate...

When you find a title like “In The Wet”, it’s hard to avoid saying something inappropriate…

In the “What Was IN Those Brownies?” category…

Aaaawww... man... now I've got the munchies...

Aaaawww… man… now I’ve got the munchies…

And in the “Lines Forms Here” category…

...and if you really believe you'll find such a thing... please take a number.

…and if you really believe you’ll find such a thing… please take a number.

The line forms to the left - please, no pushing!

The line forms to the left – please, no pushing!

What is your library saying?

Just Like A Normal Person

This has been a seriously weird week for me.  For the first time in three years, I don’t have anything to write.

That’s not to say I don’t have work in progress; I do.  I’ve begun planning Book 7 of my series, and Book 6, “A Spy For A Spy” is with my editors.  My next blog compilation, “Definitely Inappropriate” is scheduled for mid-May.

But this week, there wasn’t any actual writing to be done for any of those projects.

I don’t know what to do with myself.  Seven days a week I’m up between six and six-thirty and at my desk by eight, cup of tea in hand.  I usually stay submerged until ten o’clock at night, with occasional breaks for meals and meetings and family/social responsibilities and workouts at the gym.

But this week, I’ve been dealing with my business email and bookkeeping, reading the news and a few blog posts, and then wandering aimlessly away from the computer by nine or ten AM because there’s nothing left to do.

I’ve read eight books in three days.  I’ve baked bread and cookies and made granola and three kinds of soup in addition to our usual meals.  I’ve listened to music and done some sewing and gone to the gym and gone for walks.  I’ve done jigsaw puzzles online and surfed YouTube for hours, digging out obscure Dr. Hook videos from the 70s.

I’ve planned a trip and organized the tools I’ll need to install a hardwood floor at my step-mom’s house in April.  I’ve worked on marketing campaigns for my books.  I’ve cut Hubby’s hair (yes, he asked me to – I’m not quite desperate enough to force him into something like that).  I’ve even *gasp* watched a couple of movies.

And I’ve left the house and actually interacted with other human beings, too.  I went to a car show and a blues jam and to the pub with friends.

Even after all that, I’m still wandering around like a lost soul.  I keep trailing back to the computer in case some important task has materialized while I was gone.

I guess this is what it’s like to be “normal”.  I’m doing my best to relax into it, but I have a sense of impending doom.  I feel as though I’ve forgotten to do something really, really important and soon disaster will strike because of my negligence.

It reminds me of one of my trips to the doctor many years ago.  After a battery of lung-function tests, the specialist smiled at me and said, “You act just like a normal person.”

I said, “Can I get that in writing?”

But on later reflection, I realized he hadn’t actually said I was normal.  He only said I fake it convincingly.

So I’m faking it for all I’m worth this week, but normalcy clearly doesn’t suit me.  I can hardly wait to go back to communing with the voices in my head for hours a day.

If I was a normal person, I might be worried about that…

Is anybody else living a “normal” life?  Tell me, what’s it like?

* * *

Woohoo!  The cover for Book 6 is ready!  Check it out on my Books page.

Sorry I’m A Douche

Earlier this week I was pretty pumped about helping with the Movember campaign.  Now I just feel sick.

I was doing my rounds of the blogs when I ran across a post about sleazy book marketing tactics, and the second tactic they mentioned was donating a portion of book sales to charity.

The writer specifically targeted authors who announce a special offer on their books in support of a charity.  His exact words were, “…there’s an invisible line between using your work to help a good cause, and using a good cause to sell more books.”  Relenting, he did mention he thought it was okay if the author’s personal story was somehow related to the cause in question, or if it was a community effort.

I thought I was doing a good thing by advertising that I’d donate half my November book royalties to the Cancer Society.  I’m part of Bloggers for Movember, and cancer looms larger in my personal story than I’d prefer, but that post still hit me like a kick in the gut.

What kind of slimy, contemptible douche would exploit a charitable cause for their own personal gain?

Is that what I’m doing?

When I read that post, I felt as if I’d just mugged a cancer patient for lunch money.

I still feel awful.

My mom died of lymphoma when I was nineteen.  Anybody who’s lost a loved one to cancer knows how it ends:  the naked scalp, the bruised and jaundiced skin, the stick-like limbs, the sunken eyes and distended belly.  She had been a slim, attractive, athletic woman.  When she died ten months after her diagnosis, she was barely recognizable.

My dad was successfully treated for prostate cancer.  My aunt survived an intestinal tumour.  My step-mom is just recovering from her recent (and successful) fight against breast cancer.  Pretty much every year, my doc removes some bit of my skin that’s starting to look “suspicious”.

I’ve donated regularly to the Cancer Society for nearly three decades.  Often it wasn’t a lot, but even when I could barely make ends meet, I usually managed to send a few dollars their way.

Exploiting Movember wasn’t my intention.

I didn’t mean to be a douche.

But I really feel like one.


A Scholarly Treatise On The Care And Feeding Of Your Pet Author

Authors can be lovable and agreeable family pets.  Most are easily housebroken, though some may exhibit a disturbing tendency to piddle while absorbed in a particularly difficult bit of plotting or worldbuilding.  This is not a sign of aggression.  It is simply inattentiveness on the part of your author.  Gently but firmly insist that they take regular potty breaks, or, if this proves ineffective, place an adult diaper on the chair before they sit.  The author is unlikely to notice or object.

Authors are territorial by nature.  It is important to nip this behaviour in the bud.  Your author must learn that he or she is part of the household, and as such, must share the domain with the rest of the family.  However, your author will be happier and more relaxed if you allow him or her to have a “safe zone”.  If possible, provide your author with a small desk, and refrain from disturbing the area unless absolutely necessary.

Your author may begin to show possessiveness toward other areas of the house, usually by leaving behind droppings such as laptops, pens, papers, and so on.  If this happens, immediately remove the droppings, clean the area thoroughly, and relocate the droppings to the author’s safe zone.  Your author will soon learn that leaving droppings outside their own territory is unacceptable behaviour.

As with any pet, it is important for you to be vigilant about your author’s diet.  Authors will gobble almost any food they encounter in an effort to return to their safe zone and resume their natural writing behaviour as quickly as possible.  Be strict.  Your author’s health depends on it.  Although an unhealthy diet may seem harmless when your author is young, you will ultimately pay the price in medical bills as your author ages.

Regular exercise is important, too, but sadly, most authors resist almost any form of fresh air or exercise.  Some authors may be enticed to exercise if offered rewards such as the opportunity to work out with attractive and scantily-clad members of the opposite sex, however, this is by no means a sure-fire method.

Some owners report that they have successfully induced their authors to exercise by running away with the liquor bottle, forcing the author to chase them in order to retrieve it, but this strategy may ultimately result in hostile or aggressive behaviour on the part of your author.  This is an area in which you must apply your own creativity to find the best solution.

Many laypersons consider authors to be nocturnal creatures, but in fact, authors are capable of wakefulness at any hour of the day or night.  If the clicking of the keyboard disturbs your sleep at night, or if your author sleeps through important daytime events, it is possible to gradually adjust your author’s sleep rhythm to one that is more compatible with your household.

Begin by determining your author’s favourite treats.  These may include food, alcohol, or sexual favours, but be cautious in your use of the latter.  Nobody likes an overly-affectionate author, and many authors are incapable of the level of judgement required to discern appropriate public behaviour.

Regardless of the type of treat you choose, you must begin the conditioning process up to one-half hour before you want your author to retire for the night.  Gently direct your author’s attention to the treat (remember, it may be dangerous to startle an author who is deeply involved in writing behaviour).

Once you have engaged your author’s attention, lure him or her into the bedroom with the treat.  Then allow your author to enjoy the treat.  If your author tries to leave the bedroom afterward, offer subsequent treats until the author loses consciousness or falls asleep.  Repeat every night for at least twenty-one days, or until the new habit is established.  Note:  This method is only successful if you withhold the treat at all other times.

The keys to the entire training process are patience, firmness, and consistency.  Though keeping an author may seem an arduous chore at first blush, your efforts will ultimately be rewarded with long years of loyalty and affection, dedications in obscure books, and occasionally, royalties.

News:  I’m so excited!  I’ve got the cover art for my first four books, and the planned release date for the Kindle version of NEVER SAY SPY is October 15 (hopefully all versions will be released that day, but will know more soon).  Covers and book blurbs are here.

99-Cent Train Wreck

Update May 30/11:  I just found an excellent post, “The Pricing of eBooks and Perceived Value“, on Bob Mayer’s blog.  Seems I missed two critical points in my post: 

1) There’s a place for 99-cent e-books as a method of diminishing risk for potential buyers.  The important point here is that not all your books get priced at 99 cents, and they don’t necessarily stay priced at 99 cents.

2) I didn’t mention the sliding royalty scale that’s applied to e-books.  Bob does the math in his post.  When I advocated jacking up the price of e-books, I was thinking in the range of $2.99 to $8.99.  Bob’s post explains why that range would be okay, but anything over $9.99 doesn’t currently work to the author’s advantage.

Here’s my original post:


I’ve seen a lot of discussion on blogs lately about the idea of selling electronic books for 99 cents.

I’m a business owner in real life.  I’ve spent the better part of the last four years reading up on marketing, consumer behaviour, and pricing.

This is like watching a trainload of people hurtling towards the proverbial busted trestle sagging into the proverbial canyon.

I only hope a few passengers will notice my frantic gesticulations.

Oh, look, charades!  Two words, sounds like… head… no… brain.  Neck.

Brain neck?

Yeah, that’s what I said.  Train wreck.

Bail out now, folks, ‘cause if you stay on that train you’re gonna end up with a locomotive parked on your chest.  At the bottom of the canyon.  Submerged in a raging river.  Surrounded by hostile…  Well, you get the picture.

On my business website, I priced my computer training workbooks exactly the same for the paper and electronic versions.  Nobody ever quibbles.  They buy electronic, because they can have it immediately.  They rarely buy hard copies.

Your work has value.  When people buy your book, they’re not paying for the way it’s delivered.  Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, they’re paying for the privilege of transferring a little bit of your brain into theirs.

That value isn’t diminished just because nobody killed a tree.  Spin that another way, and the electronic version is actually more valuable because the customer can have it instantly.

As soon as we begin to discount electronic books, we’re entering a commodity pricing system.  Simply put?  Some cheap bastard will always offer it for less.  And everybody loses.

This train ride is a one-way trip.  Once we let consumers believe that electronic books are “less valuable”, they’ll take it as a personal affront if we try to jack up the price later.  We’re in the early stages of this game.  Now’s the time to educate our customers about what they’re really getting.

Some people argue that lower pricing decreases the perceived risk for the buyer.  “I’ll buy it because I can afford 99 cents.  If it’s crap, I haven’t lost much.”

True.  But what’s the customer really thinking?  “This might be crap.”

Gee, that’s the reaction I’m looking for when somebody considers my book.  Not.

There are better ways to reduce perceived risk without diminishing value.  Let ‘em see the first chapter.  If it’s crap, I won’t sell any books.  But, arguably, if it’s crap, I shouldn’t sell any books.

When people buy something expensive, they value the item more.

Pens come to mind. Cheap pens cost about thirteen cents apiece if you buy a box of fifteen.  Or I can buy one fancy pen for upwards of thirty dollars.  A single refill for it costs six or seven bucks.

Why the hell would I buy one pen when I could spend the same amount of money and get enough pens to last me the rest of my friggin’ life?  When they look at my signature, nobody can tell what kind of pen I used.

But fancy pens still sell.

Why?  Somebody sold the customer on the look of the pen, the feel of the pen, the quality of the writing experience, the status of owning a pen that murmurs in a well-bred voice, “I am worthy of respect because my pen cost more than your shoes.”

That’s differentiation.  It’s a “better” pen.

As writers, our opportunities for differentiation are somewhat limited.  As long as the cover art is good and the title looks interesting, there’s no way to tell whether the book inside will whisk you to the pinnacles of literary ecstasy or make you recoil at the steaming heap concealed within its pages.

But ya know what?  If I pay six bucks for it, I’m gonna expect a little more ecstasy.  And if it delivers, I’m gonna go back and get me some more.

Whether I sell one thirty-dollar pen or three hundred cheap pens, it’s the same amount of money in my pocket at the end of the day.

Except that tomorrow, I have to go out and find more customers.  Three hundred is a lot.

We can’t stop people from pricing their books at 99 cents, short of creating a self-policing professional association.  I’ll stop laughing now.  The phrase “herding cats” comes to mind.

But maybe that’s a good thing.  It gives us an opportunity for differentiation.  I say jack up the price of those electronic books so people understand and expect the value they’re getting.

What do you think?