Tuesday, June 28, 2011

DIY: Book Trailers for Authors on a Tight Budget

Up to a year ago, if you had asked me whether I watch the clever book trailers that most authors were coming out with for their novels, I would have said, "What for?" A book and a short series of clips about events in the book – why is that necessary? Surely, the two couldn’t be more different. You can appreciate that I have these slightly naive moments and not hold that against me, right? Then, I started to think about the some of the best books I had read lately, and in particular, the comments I would make about them, like “I could really see that scene; the author paints great visuals with his words,” etc. For each of them, the author opened up my imagination, so that I could visualize the world of his or her characters on the page. When you can connect readers with your characters and portray a world so vivid that it’s so clear in the mind’s eye, you’re doing a great job as a writer.

Book trailers add another layer of marketing tools to your work, a means by which you can portray the most important events or a summary of the main conflict facing your characters AND hopefully, convince buyers to snag the book. Still, for a while, I was unconvinced that I should attempt one. After all, I didn’t know a thing at the time about getting the right images and music. I didn’t know what I wanted to convey in a trailer. That’s the hardest aspect of all. If you are unsure about the story elements you should focus on, look at your blurb or synopsis. What were the key themes you focused on? Before you begin the process, ask yourself, what’s this story about?

Once you’ve defined your focus, time to assemble everything you need. Do you want pictures or short clips? Voice narration or just text? What type of soundtrack, if any, would suit those elements? If you’re on a budget, you’ll have to choose very carefully. Also, think about the length of your trailer. The first one I did for On Falcon’s Wings was a whopping two minutes and forty-six seconds, which equals WAY TOO LONG! Think of your book trailer as performing the same function as your blurb or pitch: it needs to entice a reader, but it should also be also short . So, I learned something from the first trailer and have keep all subsequent ones to less than a minute and a half. 

I’ve already shared with you my favorite photo / video sharing sites, for cheap and quick access to high quality images. Titling each visual works for me, though I have liked several trailers where the author or someone else narrates. If you have a microphone and recording software, you can do it. Let’s skip to soundtracks.

Music conveys the mood of your story and should complement the visuals. Have you written an upbeat chick-lit tale? Does your historical work feature an epic battle? A tragic love story? I’ve found two great sites for soundtracks that complement any book trailer. Pond5, where I obtained the music for Sultana’s book trailer, offers tracks from sale in every length and variety, from acoustic sounds to world music. Incompetech, which Gemi Sasson recommended, provides royalty-free music. I like this site in particular because you can search by mood; for those epic historical battles, try searching by Feel with the elements of Action and Intense.

Now that you’ve compiled your photos or videos, added the music and decided on the narration, how are you going to put everything together? I rely on Windows Movie Maker and Windows Live Movie Maker, software that comes pre-installed on most PCs. Simplest way to put everything together is to save the music, visuals and if you’re using it, narration, to one folder, ready for import.

I’m showing a much older version of Movie Maker here, but the process remains the same; grab your visuals in the order you want to display them. Next, add your music and/or narration. If the music is too long, you can trim it. You can add stylistic elements to your visuals and titles; do you want to zoom in on your hero’s face as he prepares to meet his adversary, showing the tired, sagging lines etched in his features and then fade to black? Do you want the title to remain stationary, or ease in and fade out? Have fun with the process, but don’t include every element.

Here are two examples of what I did with Movie Maker, with the trailer for Long Way Home, an upcoming contemporary novella, and Live Movie Maker, for Sultana’s Legacy. Both are somber stories, so I chose visuals (courtesy of Fotolia) and soundtracks (both from Incompetech) which would convey that mood.

After the compilation and editing are finished and you’re ready to debut your brand-new trailer, where can you go to upload? There are a variety of video sharing sites you can try. My personal favorites are YouTube and Vimeo. Have an author page on Facebook? Upload it there. Of course, you should have an author page at Amazon’s Author Central as well – you can showcase up to eight videos there. I believe you’re still limited to one upload at the UK and German Author Central sites. Are you a Goodreads author? Post your trailer there too.

And, if you’re like me, and still wondering whether all this effort is worth it, I know firsthand that it can be. Within the first week of my trailer for Sultana, which I posted on YouTube, someone left this comment: “I NEEEED THIS BOOK !!!” Which she promptly bought from Amazon. You never know who might discover your work and the mechanism that will lead them to it. In the competitive world of book publishing, book trailers can be one way to stand out.

Friday, June 24, 2011

“Amazon is full of crap!”

The following post is likely going to piss off several people. Oh, well. I’ve pissed off people before. I don’t see any reason to stop now. It will also shock others. “Two blog posts in one day? Has Lisa gone mad?” No, but I am annoyed and confused.

The last two weeks have been saturated with news of how much PLR content, aka spam, dreck and hackneyed crap is now available for download through Amazon’s Kindle. Detractors of self-publishing LOVE this one. “See,” they say, “not only do readers have to sift through those poorly written / formatted shits masquerading as books. Now, they can’t even be sure that what they’re downloading is a book, and not some pirated novel, articles cobbled together or a phrase repeated 700 times.” This is prima facie evidence, some say, for why Amazon should charge self-publishing authors to upload their books. Cause, you know, it’s not like spammers who make millions of dollars can afford the $20 or $50 it might take to upload crap.  

Well, in what I’m sure will come as groundbreaking news, Amazon has several ways to address this issue of crap on Kindle. I’ll start with the simple, if not obvious one. It’s called a sample. That’s right, ladies and gents, Amazon will let us try, or rather read, before we buy. Say I’m not sure if that ebook on managing or selling my timeshare will really give me some good information. I could download a sample. A-MAZING! I don’t know about anyone else, but if I download a sample that purports to be one topic, but clearly is another from the first or by the tenth page, I really don’t buy the whole book just to be certain.

But, if I buy an ebook on Amazon, there is a period in which I can request – wait for it, here it comes – a refund! Isn’t that just A-MAZING? If, for some asinine reason, I read the sample of that book on timeshares, found out it was about working as a maid in a timeshare instead and bought it anyway, I can ask for my money back. But there’s another argument often trotted at this point. It sounds a little something like, “Most of these crap books are 99 cents impulse buys! No one reads this stuff within a certain period and by the time they get to it, it’s too late for a refund!” I’m not going to quibble about 99 cents or 99 dollars. Dammit, if it’s my hard-earned money spent on crap, I want a refund! Here’s where I have to ask, though, who made me buy that book? Why did I get it without checking it out via a sample? Why was this festering turd on my Kindle for a year before I got to it? Um, no one is responsible for that except me. It sure as hell wasn’t Amazon’s fault.

Dear Reader, this is the part where I’m really going to fuck with people’s heads. Ready for it? Here I go: TAKE SOME RESPONSIBILITY WHEN YOU SPEND YOUR HARD-EARNED MONEY. Whether you’re plunking down 99 cents or dollars, don’t buy fucked up shit on Kindle and complain, when you could have avoided it by sampling. By reading reviews. By asking other readers, “Do you know if that book on timeshares is really what it says it is?” We solicit the views and read the reviews of major appliances before we buy them, right? Why does a 99 cent price point absolve us of checking something out?

Lastly, I’m sorry, but I just don’t get some of the analogies that refer to this Kindle stuff as spam. Here’s my definition of spam – it comes into my inbox, telling me how I can enlarge my penis (because I must be a freaking hermaphrodite or something) and forces me to give it some attention. Either, I have to manually delete or provide examples to my lovely (!) SpamBayes program on how to recognize junk for the junk folder. If you have a Kindle that actually shows you the crap on Amazon AND makes you delete the view from your device, can you tell me which model you have, so I don’t get that one for my nephew as a graduation present? Seriously, have they invented a Kindle that shows you crap you don’t want to buy? So loved the old method of going online and searching for what I wanted, sampling it and buying. I wish they had just stuck with that.

Here’s where the other argument comes in about wading through crap. Again, ever seen the Search and Filter by Relevance features on Amazon? STUPENDOUS! (Figured you were probably tired of A-MAZING). You can search for the type of book you want and filter the results by their relevance. Don’t know if the books you find will be any good? Re-read that paragraph above about sampling.   

They say don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Since Amazon helps me earn snack money every day, I suppose that should apply to me. But, as I’ve already pissed off some, let me just add that I don’t think everything Amazon does is right either. Great, now I’ve pissed off Amazon too. Where there is outright piracy and fraud, yes, they should move much faster to prevent it. Ever heard of software that detects plagiarism? It exists. However, in this instance, please do not try to convince me that this is Amazon’s fault for not policing their site. I refuse as a reader and book buyer to put all the responsibility on Amazon to make sure that I spend my hard-earned money wisely. I have a brain and use it to make intelligent decisions on what I buy. Amazon certainly isn't shoving crap books on to my Kindle and stealing my hard-earned money.

As for how PLR content is any reason why self-publishing needs to go away, I'm still scratching my damn head about the logic. Sorry folks, but the self-pubbers, like me, are here and we’re here to stay. Get used to us.  

"I will stop reading reviews of my books!"

He probably just read a review of his book.
This morning, a darling friend of mine emailed and mentioned she'd received her first poor review. Apparently, the reviewer must be used to those kick-ass Victorian heroines, who somehow manage to kick all those asses while wearing dresses with bustles, rather than the sedate, much more historically accurate girls of the period, who never kicked anyone's ass for fear of being disinherited and ostracized. So, when I reply to my best bud at lunch, I'm going to say this, "Don't read reviews. They are not for you. They are to inform potential buyers and readers. Ignore the reviews. Stop it. I said, stop it!"

Why? For the same reason that I seem to keep forgetting - reviews will vary, because every reader has a different taste and expectation. I know this. My Amazon freebie of On Falcon's Wings is still going on - I think / hope the price should change next week back to $2.99, now that all the other sites have also reverted back to that price (except Kobo - waiting on YOU). Thousands of downloads later, I'm getting in some reviews from 1-star ("too many characters") to 5-stars ("lots of characters, but the reader kept it all straight"). See why I shouldn't be looking at reviews - who's right here? Yet, each time a new review is posted, my heart skips a little beat and my thoughts do a little sing-song, "A new review? Let's go see!"

No, let's not. Let's just get on with the business of writing the next book and making it even better. That's my goal and I'm sticking to it.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Making the Connections - Characterization

I just completed tweaking the novella that I'm writing under a pen name, and sent it off to an editor in the hopes that a small publisher will accept it. My heroine’s not a pirate, but she sure curses like one. Writing a contemporary has been so freeing! I explained to one of my best writing buds, as much as I love historical fiction and will continue in that genre, I just wanted to write freely in this instance. To put aside a typical year's worth of research into the past and just focus on the writing instead. The approach didn't necessarily make my task any easier. I still had to look up pop culture way back in the 1990's, from music, movies and fashion trends to the dynamics of highway traffic accidents and plane crashes. Did I mention this novella wouldn’t have a happy conclusion? So sad.

The one aspect that is universal to anything I write is how much time I spend crafting characters. It took me several years to understand the concept of show vs. tell, especially when it comes to characterization. It's deeper than, "Don't tell us your protagonist, Jane Doe is a divorcee who's getting older. Show us." It's more than Jane's rheumy eyes, her gnarled hands cramping and shaking as she gropes for the pill bottle on the nightstand, while she lies alone at night in her bed. It's about getting a reader to make a deep connection with Jane, to care about what happens to her.

How many times have you read a book, where you just couldn't connect with the main character? Whether he or she was too perfect, too pathetic, something about this character just felt unreal. I’ll bet you may not remember the entire plot of some of your favorite novels, but something about the story stood out. Typically, that something is a character. How many of you writers have slaved over getting the characteristics of your protagonists and villains just right? Do you ever ask yourself why you go to the trouble? For the same reason that I do - to make your characters true to life, as flesh and blood as you are, with faults and foibles to spare. No protagonist should be too perfect. If he or she can always save the day and do just the right thing without any consequences, I have to ask, where’s the conflict? Why should I stay tuned to find out if Mr. Perfect Hero really will get the vaccine from the villain’s HQ in time to save the dying villagers? I already know he’s going to do it, if the writer has painted him as someone who can do no wrong. We're not perfect. Why should our characters be?
I've heard of lots of different approaches to crafting characters. One method I've come to rely on is a character sketch. First, I summarize a character in one or two lines, to define their basic personality. Then I go beyond the physical descriptions of the characters (so that black hair doesn't suddenly turn brown with highlights; I've done that before!), to refine their personalities. I keep a table in Access with answers to questions like, “Most painful childhood memory?” or “Does he or she like children? Why or why not?” and, most important in my mind, “How does he or she deal with change?” Change is a vital aspect to building up a strong character, showing how a person grows (or not) by altering their circumstances.

Once I have answered the questions, it’s easier to think about what will happen scene by scene, and how my characters will deal with the events that transpire. I look to see how much havoc I can wreak in my characters’ lives, and ways in which they can, or perhaps can’t, work themselves out of trouble. Sometimes they just don’t make it. I did mention there’s no HEA in that novella, right? Don’t crucify me by calling it a love story gone wrong! I warned you.
With Edric, my hero in On Falcon’s Wings, he’s best summed up as a Saxon lord’s son, living in the shadow of everyone else’s expectations, until a forbidden love affair challenges him to find his own happiness. The first third of the book shows Edric under his father’s thumb, then under the sway of his lord, Harold Godwinson. It’s only in the latter third of the book that Edric comes into his own, and fights for his family and future at the Battle of Hastings. Fatima, my heroine in Sultana and Sultana’s Legacy is devoted to her family. Bitter rivalries among its members force her to make the wrong choices, for all the right reasons. She remains one of my favorite protagonists and I loved writing about her, because she is so incredibly flawed. She loves her family to the point where she will do anything, even murder innocents, to protect them. Part of creating memorable characters is showing them at their best and worst.

Tell me about some of your favorite characters. Why did they resonate with you? Also, if you’re a writer, how do you create a memorable character?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

#SampleSunday: Father's Day Edition

Chapter 1

Fathers and Sons

Prince Faraj

Tarif, al-Andalus: Dhu al-Qa`da 693 AH (Tarifa, Andalusia: October AD 1294)

Faraj stood again with Muhammad and Khalid at either side of him. The sun blazed across the sky, beating down upon their heads mercilessly. He longed for the evening, when the sky in its myriad colors ranged above. However, today he felt hollow and suspected the view would not provide the same enjoyment as it had in the past.

An abrupt silence descended. Even the winds had calmed, leaving the air brittle and heavy. Doñ Alonso returned to the battlements. He strode toward the wall, with his men at-arms following him. Faraj’s gaze swayed to the tower window to the right where his woman stood. Her sharp nails gripped the ledge. She stared down at the child and waited to hear the fate of her eldest son, along with everyone else.

Suddenly, a fierce coastal breeze reared up again, whipping about Doñ Alonso’s short, red cloak. His gaze resolute on the boy below him, he withdrew a dagger from his belt, its handle covered with spinel and bloodstone. Faraj knew Christians believed gemstones carried certain properties offering aid to the bearer. Spinel was for improving character and, bloodstone, a form of jasper, for strengthening the will. The edge of the dagger caught the glow of the setting sun. Prisms of light danced across the blade.

Doñ Alonso began, “Fernan Alonso de Guzman y Coronel is my firstborn son. No father ever felt so much pride in his offspring as I did, when first I beheld him on the day of his birth. No father has ever felt the satisfaction in a son as I feel today. Now, Prince Juan would have me choose between the pride of my heart and the honor of my family. I did not father a son to be a pawn against the country I love and the land I call my own. I fathered a son who, in my stead, might have one day fought against the enemies of Castilla-Leon, be they Moorish or Christian.

“Prince Juan has by his actions, by his treason, made himself an enemy of Castilla-Leon. I shall never yield Tarif or betray the mantle of trust that King Sancho has placed upon me, not even to save my own son. If this rebel prince, who is little more than a dog, should put my son to death, he shall affirm my honor as the loyal defender of his sovereign lord, King Sancho. He shall ensure my son’s place in heaven as a martyr of the Christian faith, who died doing his duty before a faithless lord. He calls down eternal shame on himself in this world and the everlasting wrath of Christ Jesus after death. If Prince Juan wants to test my resolve, if he needs a weapon with which to murder my son, he may have my blade for his cruel purpose!”

Doñ Alonso flung his dagger down over the wall. The weapon spiraled before it landed with a heavy thud, a short distance from where the Prince sat mounted. Doñ Alonso nodded to his weeping son, bowed his head and turned away.

His shoulders were stiff, as he strode across the battlements. His steps never faltered. As one, those who ringed the ramparts bowed their heads as he passed them.

Faraj did the same to honor the noble but tragic sacrifice their adversary had chosen. His heart tore inside his breast for his enemy’s sake.

Prince Juan leapt down from his horse and now brandished Doñ Alonso’s dagger. He dragged the kicking and squealing child against him and forced his head back, exposing his tender neck. With a snarl directed toward the battlements, he pressed the glittering blade against the pale flesh. Tears flooded the boy’s face. In a swift motion, Prince Juan sliced a deep cut from ear to ear. Blood sprayed in a ruby-red arc out across the glittering sand. Shouts of dismay and horror flowed from those assembled on the citadel walls.

As the viscous redness gurgled and spilled down the dying child’s throat, he sagged against his captor. Prince Juan pushed him forward into the sand. The mutilated child fell at the feet of the horse. The stallion nickered and sidestepped the body. A viscid line of red ran from the dead boy’s throat and pooled on the sand beneath his nearly severed neck. The Castillan Prince tucked the Doñ Alonso’s dagger in his belt, still stained with blood and wheeled his horse around, dragging the lifeless body behind him.

No one within the Marinid encampment spoke. Some turned their faces away from Prince Juan, who stared straight ahead. Even the wind stilled completely.

Faraj sought out Doñ Alonso again. He had halted at a doorway though he did not turn around. Someone gripped his arm and spoke with him. Doñ Alonso’s shoulders slumped for a moment and he bowed his head. Then he nodded and re-entered the citadel. He never looked upon the grisly trail leading across the white sand.

Faraj whispered, “As a father of two sons whom I love dearly, I shall honor this sacrifice. I cannot taint this battlefield with the blood of our enemy now that his child’s life has been stolen in such a way.”

Chapter 9

The Union

Princess Fatima

(Malaka, al-Andalus: Rajab 701 AH (Malaga, Andalusia: March 1302 CE)


Her father’s voice beckoned and she stepped into the light. “I did not mean to intrude upon you and my husband.”

“You could never be an intrusion,” he said, holding out his hand. She rushed to his side and laced her fingers with his. His hand shook in her hold.

“Are you well, Father?” She studied the fine lines etched in his forehead.

He nodded. “I am overcome by the joy of this occasion. If you have a moment before you return to the wedding guests, may we speak in private?”

“As you command, Father.” She glanced at Faraj.

He bowed at the waist and then grinned at the Sultan. “I pray you may come to us again in the spring, when the Wadi al-Madina shall flow. The hunting shall be good at that time of year.”

Father said, “I look forward to it. Tell my grandsons I shall see them in the spring.”

Faraj nodded and pressed a hand to Fatima’s shoulder. She squeezed it and smiled at him, before he left them.

She slid her arms around her father’s waist and pressed her cheek against his barrel chest. “It’s so good to have you here, for Leila’s sake. You have honored our daughter on her wedding day, with your gifts and your blessing.”

“If only I might have done more, when she was a child. Now she is a woman and one day, she shall have children of her own. I have not spent enough time with my grandchildren. I should have known her, them, much better than I do.”

“It is the burden of your power. You shall always be my father and the grandfather of my children. But foremost, you are Sultan of Gharnatah. You belong to your people, not to us. It has always been so. I knew how it would be from the moment you ascended the throne. It has never diminished the love in my heart, the honor with which I revere you, as my father and lord of my life.”

He sighed. “I have not always deserved your love and respect. I feared I might not be welcome here today, after all the things I have said and done to your husband. To you.”

 “Father, that is all in the past. You and Faraj have forgiven each other. My heart is whole again, not torn between the love that I would bear a father and a husband, once at war with each other.”

“I have made many mistakes in these long years. Things I must undo. It is part of why I came to you and Faraj, to seek your forgiveness.”

“You have it, oh, Father, you shall always have it!”

She hugged him again. His frailty shocked her, bones and sinew knitted together in a wiry frame that was half his normal size. How did he possess the strength to stand?

She drew back and searched his gaze. “Something more than the troubles between you and my husband, more than Leila’s union has drawn you to Malaka. Father, what is the matter?”

His long sigh confirmed the suspicions that had dogged her since his unexpected arrival at the wedding.

She maneuvered him to the carved stone bench on the belvedere. When he settled on the seat with a groan, she sat and took his hand. He held her fingers in a shaky grasp and looked out on the water. Sunlight shimmered in the depths of the White Sea. Birds whirled and circled against the blue backdrop and wisps of clouds.

“Fatima, have you ever slept for so long that when you awoke, it seemed you had been slumbering for years?”

When she shook her head, her father continued. “I have lingered in a haze of dreaming. I am awake now. My eyes are open. I see the world as it truly is. I see my son Muhammad for what he truly is.”

Her heart pitched with fear for what her brother might have done and in heartbreak, for whatever painful discovery her father might have made about Muhammad.

He squeezed her fingers, with some effort and cupped her chin with his free hand. “I want you to know, you were right to caution me in the past about your brother. I indulged him too much. If he is deceitful, it is because I have failed him as a father, as I failed you.”

 “No, no, you have never failed me!”

“Fatima, hear me in this. I should have trusted in you and your instincts about your brother. You have never led me astray before. But I needed you to know that you were right. Now, I pray Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful, may continue to bless you with the knowledge I did not possess. Be strong, my daughter, in the days of trial to come. Have the courage to see your loved ones as they are, not as you would wish them to be. Wisdom and strength are all I possess at the end of my days.”

“Father, what are you saying? You’re not dying, you can’t die now, not when we….”

“Hush, child and listen well. This is my last and best legacy, which I bequeath to you. Promise me, you shall hold fast to it, no matter what may come.”

She blinked hard against her tears and embraced him once more. She buried her tears in his familiar comfort.

“To the end and with my last breath, I shall honor you always, Father.”

Friday, June 17, 2011

New Voices: Steve Drennon

Author Steve Drennon
Where does inspiration come from? For me, it was my 16 year old daughter. Last year she was helping me clean out the garage and sorting through some old stuff. I’ve always been something of a pack rat, but from time to time I’ll decide it’s time to toss some of the old memories.
                As we were going from box to box, my daughter came across one that I hadn’t seen or opened in many years. When she looked inside she found a stack of neatly typed pages wrapped in an old newspaper. This was the only remaining copy of a manuscript I had tried to shop around over twenty years ago. The story was a fantasy, complete with wizards and warriors and demons and such, and when she asked if she could read it, I said of course!
                Over the next week or so, I’d see her sitting in her room, flipping through the pages, but I resisted the temptation to ask her what she thought of it. I was just thrilled that she was actually reading it! So, I kept my distance and waited to see if she would come to me with any opinions on it, and eventually she did.
                After she finished reading the entire book, she came and asked me why I had never bothered publishing it. I tried explaining that I had sent it out to several publishers, and at one time there were a couple who actually showed some interest. However, after following their suggestions and doing a couple of rewrites, I had eventually grown weary of the process and gave up on it. She told me that was too bad, because she thought it was a really great book!
                Even if I had never sold a copy of that book, just hearing her say that made me more proud than I had felt in a very long time! A couple of months later I started reading about this self-publishing craze and how simple it was to get your book published as an e-book. I started researching it, and then after a couple more months, I decided to do one last rewrite on the book before publishing it myself.
                Since then, I’ve sold over a hundred copies, and I discovered that I had the desire to write again. For the first time in many years, I found myself working on a new book, and just this past week I published my second fantasy novel!
                However, the best part of this story is the impact it had on my daughter. Shortly after I started rewriting my first book, she decided she was going to write a book based on a story idea she had! I’ve had the opportunity to read parts of it, and it’s really quite good! My daughter is now 17, and within the next couple of months, she will become a published author as well, and I think that will be one of the proudest days of my life!

Thank you, Steve, for being such a supportive friend to other writers. Lean more about Steve's poetry and fantasy fiction at his website and follow him on Twitter, @sdrennon!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Resources: Stock Photos

As a blogger and a writer, and in general, one of those picky people who has very precise ideas in mind of the images I want to associate with my content, I literally can and do spend hours scouring photo-sharing sites. Like I really need to add something else to my busy day.  

Recently, I had a generous 30-day trial of a photo-sharing site, Fotolia US, a site I've used before. I have had the Fotolia desktop application installed since last year, and  obtained one or two images for the trailer of On Falcon’s Wings, which I ultimately did not end up using in the final version. With the premium subscription, I saw a full-range of the offerings. The site offered a wide variety of high-quality images to suit my needs. Every image had great resolution, and was easy to download and use for a variety of projects, including some new stock images for this blog. In particular, the search function works really well. I tend to concentrate on images of people in my searches, with certain keywords. No matter how obscure my term, I usually found most of what I was looking for. When I had purchased images in the past, I liked the flexibility of being able to purchase the number of credits I wanted for their total value. Overall, for the quality and volume of images, I liked Fotolia.
Another site I have visited regularly for downloads is Dreamstime. It is where I obtained the rest of images in the trailer for On Falcon’s Wings, as well as all the stock photos in Sultana. I know I will be back to Dreamstime and Fotolia for Sultana’s Legacy and future projects, particularly for the pricing. Both have comparable pricing, but I remember Dreamstime as having a certain minimum credit purchase with their flexible buying package. I did not have that experience with Fotolia. Both sites offer somewhat similar images, but when I was looking for several images of the model featured in Sultana’s book trailer, I found more stock photos of her through Dreamstime, than when I searched on Fotolia.  I have yet to find a "one-stop" solution for all my imaging needs. 
What I wish I could find more of all these sites? Photos of people in medieval or ancient costume. Since I am writing about both periods and could always use models depicting certain periods in costume. Yet, sometimes medieval gets lumped in with Renaissance, vampires and most annoying of all, chicks with swords. The women I write about are tough enough to wield weapons, but none of them carries swords. Wish there was a way to weed that stuff out in my searches.
Of course, there are other more popular sharing sites. I have also purchased from iStockphoto, and still have two credits waiting for use – do you know of anything that I can buy from that site with just two credits? I bet you can’t come up with something and here’s why. In a comparison of Fotolia, Dreamstime and iStock, the latter is definitely out of my price range. It does offer great images and video, but a bit too expensive for my pockets.

When you need stock photos and images, where do you go? Are there any other sites you would recommend? Share, because you know I am always on the lookout….

Sunday, June 12, 2011

#SampleSunday: The Rule of Love, Chap. 5

Chapter Five: At the Courtesan’s Pleasure
Kausambi, India – Late Summer
In the Reign of Kumara Gupta I (5th century CE)

The strains of a flute followed Chandi, as she led Nandika toward her chamber. Her fingers interlaced with his, they strolled and shared a silent smile. Anticipation shone in his gleaming eyes, yet his countenance wavered as they approached the door.

She paused just outside the curtain and cupped his cheek. The prickly hairs in his beard tickled her palm.

“You are pensive now. Share your thoughts with me.”

He leaned into her hand and kissed the skin. Her stomach clenched in response.

“My jewel, my thoughts are only of you, and the delights to come.”

Suppressing her shudder, she laughed instead. “You forget that I know you as my own heart. We’ve known each other since we were children.”

He reached for her cheek. His finger caressed her flesh, his thumb sweeping across the curve of her lower lip. A ragged breath escaped her when their gazes met and held.

“Goddess, you’ve always known my thoughts without asking. I have never had to say the words. You know what I want, now.”

She looked away, but he framed her face in both his hands. Passionate warmth radiated from his touch. She trembled under the intense scrutiny of his darkened gaze, where passion and yearning swirled. Until now, his desires had never frightened her. She swayed against him. 

“I pray, Nandika, do not speak its name.”

His grip tightened. “Why? When it is what we both want?”

Lightheaded, she willed strength into her quaking limbs. Her lips clamped together, she fought against the urge coiling through her belly, demanding her surrender. She would never allow another man such control. Not again.  

She pushed her shoulders back, tossed her hair and returned his probing gaze. “And your wives? Would they look upon our arrangement with satisfaction? You have never been a selfish man. Will you begin now?”

A heavy sigh whistled through his lips. His hands dropped at his side and his gaze fell away.

Her heart damned for her a fool, pounded a tattoo of bitter resentment and regret. His obvious hurt pained her, but she could not risk the mistakes of the past. A painful lesson left its mark, cutting so deep that not even the balm of his love could soothe the old wound. 

Still, she wound her arms around his neck, soothed his slumped shoulders and cradled his neck. For a moment, he froze. Then his hands grasped her about the waist, though he kept his eyes averted. On tiptoe, she kissed his cheeks and forehead, her body pressed against his. She nuzzled his beard, inhaling the scent of sesame oil coating the dark hairs. The sounds of the musicians on the veranda faded. Muscles tensed beneath the caress of his hands. She explored the contours of his nut-brown skin, nails raking down his arms. With a ragged groan, he pulled her tighter. He met her stare.

“A fool can hope. If that is all I have, then it must be enough.”

She hushed him. “Tonight, you have me. I am yours.”

Smooth and supple, his lips parted. She pressed her mouth against his, their breaths commingled. The taste of mango and cinnamon on his tongue, he pressed her against him. The power of his ardor made desire leap in her belly. She clung to him, as though this embrace might be their last. Soon, it would be. Then she pulled away. He leaned into her again, but she laid a firm hand over his throbbing heart.

“Come with me.”

She led him into her chamber, crushing patchouli beneath her feet. They entered the bedroom, where the lone lamp on a small table by the bed banished the rest of the room into shadows. She glanced at the lacquered screen directly across from her bed, and then settled herself on the pillows arranged on the floor, Nandika reclining at her side. Offering him a smile, she clapped her hands twice.

At the sound of a drum echoing from the veranda next door, Samavati appeared, framed in the doorway leading to Chandi’s balcony. She bent at the waist, a fringe of black hair falling over her eyes. Chandi smiled at Nandika, who returned the gesture before he leaned forward, his gaze intent on the younger courtesan.

Samavati raised her hands in the invocation to the gods that begun the kathak dance. The drums continued in a slow rhythm, mimicked by her movements. As she moved, Chandi often turned her attention from Samavati toward Nandika. At times, he caught her gaze and flushed, as though embarrassed. Still, he could not keep his eyes from the entertainment for long.

When the tempo of the drums increased, Samavati twirled on her heel in a spin, winding faster and faster. The long braid spun in an arc. Flushed, her golden skin a glimmer of perfection in the lamplight, ragged breaths tore from her lungs. When she finished, Nandika roared his approval.

Samavati bowed. “Thank you, Master.”

“You have a rare talent, one hardly seen in one so young,” he replied.

She glanced at Chandi. “I’m not so young, but thank you for the compliment, Master.”

“You deserve better tokens of my praise.”

Nandika removed one of the bracelets on his wrist, gold inlaid with lapis lazuli. He held out his hand. Chandi recognized his approval, curiosity, and desire. For a brief moment, she pursed her lips and tossed her hair, but when Nandika looked at her, she pushed aside the flare of jealousy.

“Would you like Samavati to remain with us, my lord?”

He swallowed and rubbed the back of his neck, before turning away. She leaned toward him, took his hand in hers. She waited in silence until his sheepish expression returned to hers.

“I would like that. Would you allow it?”

“Do you need my permission?” She smiled, intent on reassuring him, although her heart thrummed inside her chest.

He shook his head and gestured for Samavati. 

The courtesan’s eyes widened. She drew a deep breath and licked her lips. The lamplight revealed her watering eyes and pinched lips. Her pain-filled expression found Chandi, who patted Nandika’s arm. He turned toward her again, a question in his gaze.

“Forgive us, the offense is mine. I should have explained. Samavati would prefer another’s touch, a woman’s own to be precise.”

His eyebrows flared for a moment. Then he settled back against the pillows. A lazy smile curved the corners of his lips.

“I can deny you nothing.” He paused and turned the pleasant expression of his face on Samavati, “not even her. If it is your pleasure, it shall be mine.”

Friday, June 10, 2011

New Voices: Anita Davison

Author Anita Davison

Born and raised in London, the city’s colourful history has always influenced Anita Davison’s writing, even when it was stories scribbled in lined exercise books. Having lived all over the UK and parts of Europe, the author of Trencarrow Secret is now back in her home city where she immerses herself in writing about the 17th Century.
Trencarrow Secret

Isabel Hart is afraid of two things, the maze at Trencarrow where she got lost as a young child, and the lake where her brother David saved her from drowning in a boating accident.

Interview with David Hart

I appreciate your showing up for this interview, David.

You’re welcome, and why wouldn’t I turn up? I’m usually close by whenever I’m needed.

Perhaps, but you have the reputation of being somewhat elusive.

[Blinks] Really? I wasn’t aware of that. I admit time is a concept I don’t have a firm grasp of, and I like my own company. I tend to hang around down by the lake. I have some sort of connection with the water and like to sit looking at it for hours at a time.

And the boathouse I believe? Isabel tells me you prefer to stay there during your summers in Cornwall rather than the main house.

[Shrugs] Nothing wrong with craving a little privacy is there?  I brought some chums from school down one year and we had a grand time, swimming at night and holding supper parties in the boathouse.  I suppose the main house with its rigid timetable lost its appeal after that.  Besides, no one bothered me at the boathouse unless I invited them. That suited me very well, so I continued the habit.

Doesn’t Isabel miss you?

Why should she? I’m always close by whenever Izzy needs me. She’s a shy, insecure girl and has needed me quite a lot recently. Ever since......

The accident on the lake?

[Narrows his eyes] I realise you need to delve into our lives, but I’ll offer a word of warning. No one in the family talks about that day Isabel almost drowned.  The poor girl had nightmares for weeks and even now she keeps well away from the water.  I tend to meet her over by that old oak where the bench is. Somehow the lake still upsets her. She won’t discuss it, even with me.

But  you saved her life, surely you have discussed that day with her?

Not really. She mentions how it felt sometimes, to be dragged down by weeds and to see the sky through deep green water but not be able to reach it, while her lungs felt as if they were bursting. Pretty horrific for her I’d say. She always starts to shake at that point so I change the subject.  Why upset her?

She’s almost twenty-one now. Don’t you feel that she’s over protected because of something that happened four years ago?

 [Rolls eyes] Time means little when something like that happens. Has it really been four years? I had almost forgotten that myself. Perhaps I should remind her she has her whole life to live and can’t live in the past.

How do you feel about her becoming engaged to Jared Winters?

[Sniffs] I don't like it at all actually. Jared isn’t right for her, but I can’t simply go up to her and order her not to marry him. She thinks she’s doing what Ma and Pa want.

And is she? Doing what her parents want?

[Stares off across the lake] Pa certainly. He pays attention to all that social status and marrying the right kind to keep family assets intact sort of thing. Ma is more concerned about Isabel’s happiness. I had a word with her actually about this very subject.

Does your mother intend to do something about it?

[Face lights up] Oh, yes.  But Ma is very ill you know, and Isabel hasn’t been told.  Ridiculous if you ask me, she isn’t a child. However, Pa says he wants to wait until the time is right. I’m more practical and if it were up to me I’d come right out with it. And actually, Ma and I have something up our sleeves concerning Isabel.

What do you mean?
Well, Ma has invited a charming young man to spend the summer at Trencarrow. Chap called Lord Strachan. I doubt it’s a plot to match make or anything like that, but who knows?  She thinks that if Isabel is made to realise there are other attractive, eligible young men willing to pay her some attention, she will decide for herself that she doesn’t have to do what she thinks is expected of her all the time.

Suppose this young man doesn’t take to Isabel?
Hah! How could he not? Isabels’ quite the most lovely thing I have ever seen, and that’s quite an admission coming from her brother. She’s built like a racehorse, all red gold mane and long, graceful limbs which make her look as if she glides rather than walks.  She has a kind heart and the sweetest disposition too, which would be entirely wasted on Jared. I only hope she finds out before it’s too late.

Weren’t you once engaged to Jared’s sister, Evaline Winters?
[Nerve jumps beside his mouth and he looks away] How did you find that out? Oh well, no matter. It’s true. We were very young and Evaline would sneak off and meet me at the boathouse. Young love is very strong and all that. I doubt we would have made it official at all if my father hadn’t found us.  Before I knew it, there was an announcement in The Times. Evaline was thrilled of course, engaged at sixteen seems to be something girls in our circle go for. Heady stuff for a seventeen-year- old – and I’m talking about myself!

So what happened – because you didn’t marry Evaline?

[Inhales through pursed lips] I fluffed it I’m afraid.  Acted like a complete idiot and during a raucous night out at the theatre in London with some school friends, I took up with some actress from the show. Can’t even remember her name now.

Evaline found out and broke off the engagement. Broke her heart apparently, not that I fully appreciated that at the time. Too busy thanking my lucky stars for my escape.  [Sighs] I wonder sometimes that I may have been to rash and imagine what being married to her would have been like. Quite agreeable I should think, she’s quite a character. Too late now though.

Tell me more about yours and your mother’s plans for Isabel?
Ma knows she’s dying, and she’s determined to tell Isabel the truth about her and Pa’s marriage, how it affected her life and that she wants more for Izzy. She’ll pick her moment and when she does, it will be perfect. Ma’s shrewd like that.  She may look like a fragile iris whose neck can barely support her head, but she’s cleverer that Pa at times, and persistent. She’ll put Izzy right, you’ll see.

You could help do that too. Isabel listens to you doesn’t she?
[Frowns] Yes, she does. We’ve always been close. Maybe I’ll put an odd word into her ear too. Let her know she has alternatives no one will hold against her. I would hate to see Izzy trapped in a cold marriage with a bounder like Winters. He’s young and brash, and casual about other people’s feelings. There’s a cruel streak in him too, and I doubt he’ll treat her with the delicacy she needs. He’ll trample over her emotions and disappoint her. 

You’ll have to pick your moment too won’t you?

[Laughs] indeed I will or Izzy won’t thank me for meddling. She won’t like it that we’ve been keeping secrets from her either, but I’ll have to face that one.

Thank you for talking to me, David. I do hope you can help make Isabel see things more clearly.

I’m confident I will. [Sniffs the air] Summer’s coming, I can feel it. May it be a good one this year.

Learn more about the enigmatic David Hart in Anita Davison's Trencarrow Secret, available now from MuseItUp Publishing, Smashwords and Amazon for Kindle.

Time flies when you're having fun, or writing novels.

It's been a tremendous twelve months. A new job and health issues have impacted my writing time, but I'm still at it, trying to wrap...