Wednesday, January 28, 2015

#MFRWHooks Hot Hook Wednesday


My last post was all about issues and ideas - jump HERE if you want to see what I'm talking about - but today I'm taking things a little easier. Welcome to another round of #MFRWHooks, where a group of bloggers get together and share tiny little snippets of their current releases. Below is a snippet from my $0.99 novella, Between the Sheets. This happens in the first scene, when our heroine Maggie is out for a beer with her best friend Krista. Maggie hasn't had a date in a while, and Krista has a problem with that...


“You know what I love?” Krista started yapping as soon as the waitress left. “The feeling when a guy first slides himself in, you know?” She faked a shiver. “You might not remember this, but the first long thrust, when everything is tight and you have to work it in. It’s so…yum.”

 Aw, now she’s playing the sexy card. I blinked once. Twice. I fought to keep my eyes from widening and bit down on the tip of my tongue. Hard. She did the fake shiver thing again, her chin jittering on the inhale. I couldn’t help myself. I laughed, coming very close to snorting beer out my nose.

“You are so full of shit.”

Maggie called that right. Krista's full of something!

Maggie does find the opportunity to change her dateless status - it's a romance, after all - and if you'd like to find out how, check out one of the buy links below. And while you're at it, check out the linky list of all the other participating bloggers. There's some fun stuff out there!
Peace,
Liv


Blurb

Life for music teacher Maggie Schafer has been full of flat notes lately. Sick of being single and celibate, she vows to get her groove back at the upcoming Western Washington Choral Directors Annual Retreat.

Too bad the only guy who seems interested is a pompous dork who thinks he’s God’s gift to women—and the music education world. When he gets a little too arrogant and crosses boundaries, gorgeous pianist Randy Devers swoops in to run interference. After sharing a shockingly hot kiss in front of the whole conference, Maggie and Randy come up with a plan to pretend they’re dating.

However, the more time they spend together—and the more physical their “pretend” relationship gets—the more she wonders if there could be anything beyond just smoking chemistry and a friendly agreement between them.

Maggie’s got history, Randy’s got baggage, and they’ve got a weekend to get their rhythms in sync and figure out how to turn their solo lives into a beautiful duet.



Buy Links



Monday, January 26, 2015

What Does Facebook Owe Us?

Is this porn?

Artwork by Jay Aheer - Simply Defined Art


What about this?

Michael Stokes image cropped from Facebook. Here's a link to his website.
The artist who created the first image, Jay Aheer, got a take-down notice from Facebook, on the grounds that the image violated community standards for nudity. The artist who created the second image, Michael Stokes, is currently on a 30-day suspension from Facebook, because apparently his work doesn't meet Facebook Community Standards, either.


Screenshot from 1/26/15


Lately, there's been a lot of chatter on my Facebook stream about people having their work taken down or their accounts suspended because they've run afoul of the Community Standards police. However, that police force is primarily made up of other Facebook users, who report images they find offensive.

And one person's pornography is another person's art.

In the discussions on my Facebook stream, words like censorship, harassment, and homophobia get tossed around. Digging a little deeper, I learned that if I knew where to find them, I could see pages dedicated to antisemitism, violence against women, child pornography, and animal abuse.

What do Facebook's Community Standards have to say about that?

Here's a link to the Facebook Community Standards page. According to the opening statement on the page, the goal is to...

"...help you understand what type of expression is acceptable, and what type of content may be reported and removed."

The list of standards include statements about violence and; threats, self-harm, bullying and harassment, hate speech, graphic content, and nudity, among other things. It all makes perfect sense, until you consider that it's possible for someone with a set  political agenda to target specific users by reporting images or content that doesn't fit their ideology. Here's are some excerpts from an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg, written by author Sara York regarding the Michael Stokes suspension:

Michael Stokes, a photographer out of Los Angeles, California, was targeted by an individual and told that she would “ruin him” because he posts artistic photos of male models. 

Yes, we all know Facebook has community standards, however Facebook’s standards are double standards, allowing abusive photographs of women, pornography of women, images depicting women in demeaning situations, and other abuses to stay on the site and yet photos of two men fully dressed but kissing are deleted. Do you really want to be known as the company that supports abuse towards women and gay men? 


Stop allowing people who habitually report clean gay images and images of the male form from trying to “ruin” good people who are working to foster equality.


(You can find the full letter HERE.)

I've recently read a number of news articles and blog posts from people who have had images or other content taken down by Facebook, and the process appears to go something like this: a user posts something, another user sees it, takes offense, and reports it, FB takes it down, and then FB researches the content to see if it really does fail to meet their standards. Sometimes content is restored. Sometimes it isn't. And not all take-downs get researched, because the number of reports exceeds the capacity of FB to handle them all.

So one user with an bee in their blister really could make a lot of trouble. Which had me asking myself a question.


Why does it matter?


Because really, Facebook is a business, and businesses are allowed to make their own rules about how their business is conducted. Facebook doesn't charge users for it's service, so if their business model doesn't allow for woman's nipples or two men kissing. it's their prerogative to limit that kind of content.

Right?

Except Facebook isn't like any other business. This quote from the post Fascist Facebook attempts to explain why...


Facebook is a not just a private corporation; Facebook is a crucial component of contemporary popular culture. Facebook is a place and an activity that large portions of the world use today. According to a 2013 Pew study on the social networking practices of Americans, as of September 2013, 71% of online adults use Facebook (the numbers for young adults are even higher). For many people, Facebook is essentially a required social activity. ..

...When such a critical part of global human culture, when the world’s de facto social media platform, is privatized, monetized, owned by a private company whose primary concern is not creating a safe, non-oppressive environment in which individuals can share their experiences, interests, and ideas with one another without fear of harassment or attack, but rather extracting profit from every possible social interaction, there is great reason to be concerned. 


Now that's the rub, isn't it? Almost every single person I know has at least some interaction with Facebook. My kids have FB accounts, as does my mother. And Facebook is making money off of every single one of it's users. They make billions (yep, that's a B) of dollars from advertising revenue off their 1.35 billion (yep, another B) active users.

I figure if they're going to make money off the time I spend on their site, they better treat me the same as every other user.


That's why FB should work to prevent an individual or small group with an agenda from interfering with other users. While there's a place for standards, most questionable content can be handled with the "hide this post" feature, and I think Facebook should do more to keep targeted harassment from happening.
There are several concrete suggestion for how to limit abuse in this petition created by Taylor Law, found on Change.org - Change the Reporting Policy to Prevent Harassment and Bullying. Among other things, the petition suggests flagging users who report more than five posts in a one-week period to help identify users with an agenda. There are over 13,000 signatures on this petition, and it'll eventually be sent to Mr. Zuckerberg.

Because all we want is a level playing field.

What do you think about Facebook's standards? Have you had your content reported? Thanks for reading along.
Liv


UPDATE
This appeared in my Facebook stream a little while ago...



Facebook has reinstated the Michael Stokes Photography page, the one under suspension when I first wrote this post. I'm encouraged that their process of investigating reported posts does work, though it's still not perfect. Mr. Stokes history of take-downs & suspensions speaks to that. At any rate, thought I'd share...
Liv

Friday, January 23, 2015

Debra Presley's "Finding Us" Cover Reveal


Cover Reveal

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Book Title: Finding Us
Author: Debra Presley
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: March 2015
Hosted by: Book Enthusiast Promotions
Cover Designed by: Cover Me, Darling

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Synopsis


Pop star Abby Murphy has fame and fortune and handsome boyfriend and guitarist, Sean. That changes the night she finds him in the arms of another woman. But Sean won't accept the breakup, and she soon finds out he's working with her mother, who's also her manager, to keep him in her good graces.

As Sean ratchets up his threats against her, Abby turns to her bodyguard, Danny Nucci, who will do everything in his power to keep her safe.

But when Abby realizes her feelings for Danny run much deeper than she'd like, she pushes him away as much to keep her own independence as to protect him from Sean's machinations.

When Abby finally finds the strength to confront all that is wrong with her life, she seeks refuge with Danny, but is it too late? Has she pushed him away one too many times for him to trust her now? Or can he put his own demons aside to help repair them both?

Teasers

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Book Trailer 


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Meet the Author

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Debra is a native New Yorker who made her escape to the suburbs. She often visits her hometown to enjoy a bagel with butter from her favorite deli, because there’s no better bagel than a New York bagel. When not in search of bagels, Debra spends her time running Book Enthusiast Promotions, an online promotions company that helps indie authors spread the word about their books. She’s also the owner of The Book Enthusiast blog.

She started writing lyrics in her wall-to-wall NKOTB bedroom at the tender age of thirteen while dreaming of the day she’d become Mrs. Jordan Knight. That dream never came to fruition, but she has continued to write. Now she’s working on her first novel.
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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Plotter's Delight

This is me, plotting...

So last week I sent Aqua Follies off to my agent, who will hopefully read it and love it and offer me tons of helpful comments to improve it.

And then she'll sell the hell out of it.

That's the plan.

I love it, and have high hopes for my little story about the coach of a synchronized swimming team who falls in love with a handsome trumpet player. The thing I liked best about working on it was digging into the 1950s. Once I got beyond the "Happy Days" clich├ęs, I learned a lot of really cool stuff.

But that's not what this post is about. This is about what happens next. I set a goal of writing two novels this year, and a couple of novellas, and when I finished Aqua Follies I was really, really, really eager to put down my editing toolkit and just plain write.

Eager, but uncertain. I wasn't sure what direction to head. I blogged about that uncertainty HERE in my Spellbound Scribes post this month. I knew I wanted to work on something that reflected the diversity I see in real life, and I suspected it would have another historical setting. I also wanted to do another m/m romance. 

I'm so excited about the idea I came up with I can barely stand it. It's a two novel set, and the working titles are The Lyric Assassin & The Clockwork Monk. The first book is about Emma who's, well, a lyric soprano, and also a spy. She idolizes her older brother Trevor, and he plays a key role in this story. In the sequel, their roles will reverse. He'll be the POV character, and she'll be a main player. 



As soon as I finished dancing with glee for having come up with this concept, a funny thing happened. I wrote a few pages, just letting Emma speak, but I couldn't go any further until I had a better handle on the plot. Part of the reason may be that since the threads are going to wind from one book to the next, I needed to lay as much out as possible before I could really get started.

I spent the end of last week and all weekend brainstorming, and by Sunday afternoon - while the Seahawks were driving us all crazy - I'd hammered out a beat sheet for Emma's book. Even better, by using the template in Blake Snyder's Save the Cat, I'd been able to figure out how many pages, scenes, and word count each section should have.

Like, I know where I'm going. I'm not crazy like a cat behind the wheel of a car.

This will be my fifth full-length novel, and maybe that has something to do with it. Like many writers I tend to struggle with the middle. The set up is easy, and I know how I want it to end, but figuring out how to get from A to B can be a crap shoot. The coolest thing about developing the beat sheet was making a list of all kinds of possibilities for how to cover the big middle sections. I know I'm going to need X number of scenes, which will take X number of words, and the hero and the heroine have to buzz around each other while her brother's causing trouble and bombs are going off.

Oh hell yeah. It's gonna be fun.

Now I now some of you make THIS face when people talk about plotting...



But I'll tell you what. This is the best I've felt at the start of a project. Things may still turn to worms, and for sure some of my brilliant inspiration will end up in the discard pile, For now, though, I am ready to write.

So where do you fall on the plotter-to-pantser spectrum? Would a beat sheet give you hives, or do you write a synopsis of every chapter before you start?

Inquiring minds & all...
Peace,
Liv


Monday, January 19, 2015

Home Town Pride and the Perfect Cup of Coffee

See? It doesn't rain all the time.

So this post has no agenda. I'm not going to tell you about business plans or writing craft or some book you really ought to read. For just a few hundred words here, I'm going to squee! Because I live in a pretty cool place - and that's not just because a certain football team pulled a miracle out of their collective asses on a recent Sunday afternoon.

Don't even ask me how many times I listened to Macklemore's Can't Hold Us yesterday.

A couple months ago, my agent Margaret hit Seattle for a brief layover on her way to a conference. I picked her up at the airport and we drove into town to meet one of her other clients for lunch. Tracy writes mysteries based around a yoga studio - her newest, A Killer Retreat, just released - and as the three of us explored the city, both Tracy & I pointed out locations from our books.

That's right. It wasn't, "Oh Margaret, look over there. It's the Space Needle."

We were all, "Hey, right there is where so-and-so got killed," or "Up that block is where Ryan's parents' live."

(psst...Ryan's parents live only in my mind, and in the pages of a book...)

When you think of Seattle, what comes to mind? Rain? Coffee? Flannel shirts and hiking books? My Seattle has all that, along with really smart people who like to read books and watch movies. There's an ocean, a Sound, islands, two mountain ranges, and a whole bunch of lakes that regularly blow my mind with their beauty. There's a culture of politely independent thinking that some call the Seattle Freeze, but I tend to think of as doing my thing without getting in anyone else's way.

There's a mosque a couple blocks from my house, and there's a country band that rehearses in my basement. (The Fentons...They're awesome.) There's a surprising history of police corruption I learned about in my research for my novel Aqua Follies, and there's a stronger history and tradition of good jazz music that I hope to explore in an upcoming project. Our basketball team was stolen - I still can't watch an NBA game without getting pissed off - and our football team's gonna play for the Super Bowl again this year.

And yeah, you can get some pretty good coffee in this town.

Writing forces me to learn a city in ways I otherwise wouldn't, and on one level, the stories I set in Seattle are more like love letters. This is a cool place, and I want to share bits of it people otherwise wouldn't see.

Go Hawks!
Liv

If you've got a favorite city, or have set a book in your home town, tell us about it in the comments. Or if, you know, you just like coffee...

Cool photo of a not-so-attractive building.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Let Me Love You by Iris Blobel


You guys know how I'm infatuated with all things Australian, right? My sister married an Aussie 20-some years ago and has lived in Melbourne for just about as long. I haven't spent nearly enough time there, but it's really one of my favorite places on earth. At any rate, when I saw the chance for a promo post from author Iris Blobel, I was like, let's do this!

Iris lives in Melbourne, and her story is set there. Even better, it's about baseball! I do like stories about baseball players getting naughty. Clearly this book hits all kinds of sweet spots for me, so while I head over to Amazon, you keep reading, okay?


Blurb:

Oliver Dempsey, pitcher for a Melbourne baseball club, loves the women, and they love him…

But he keeps them at an arm’s length, and when he meets Tamara, he’s unprepared for the attraction he feels for her.  Told by his coach that she’s off limits, only draws him in more.

Tamara Amis moved to Melbourne to find some distance between her past and herself…

With the help of her uncle, the coach of a Melbourne baseball club, she quickly finds a job, and a place to live. Yet, one meeting with the handsome pitcher stirs unexpected emotions that threaten to overwhelm her.

It’s Oliver’s injury that brings them together, but as they find out about each other’s pasts, how can they be ready to share a future?

Buy Links:
Amazon Australia: http://bit.ly/1Aq2J7r
Kobo Books: (tba)
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/1u9xtVE


Author:
Iris Blobel was born and raised in Germany and only immigrated to Australia in the late 1990s. Having had the travel bug most of her life, Iris spent some time living in Scotland, London, as well as Canada where she met her husband. Her love for putting her stories onto paper only emerged a few years back, but now her laptop is a constant companion. Iris resides west of Melbourne with her husband and her beautiful two daughters as well as their dog. Next to her job at a private school, she also presents a German Program at the local Community Radio.

Where to Find Me:
Twitter: @_iris_b

Excerpt:

Sweat ran down Oliver’s back, soaking his shirt. He’d been on the field for a couple of hours, but frustration grew in him with every ball he missed. He placed his hands on his knees and took a deep breath, fixing his stare at the ground. For Pete’s sake, he was a pitcher, not a hitter, and well known for his fastballs as well as his perfect curveballs. Alas, he had neglected his hitting. Today, his swing was below average, and, unable to focus, he walked over to the bench where he spotted Coach Becker shaking his head towards him.

Pointing his finger back towards the field, the coach said, “Head right back out there, Oliver. You need to improve your hand-eye coordination. I want to see more, and better.”

Oliver cursed under his breath. “It’s not going to happen. My shoulder’s killing me. It’s been a long day.”

Coach Erik Becker rubbed his face.

“It’s not gonna happen today,” Oliver persisted.

With a grimace on his face, his coach nodded.

"Righteo, call it a day. But I want you back out there again in the morning, though.”

Oliver eased off his gloves and shoved them into his back pocket, before removing his helmet.
The coach gave him a gentle slap on his back. “I need you to concentrate more tomorrow. Remember what I told you. You need to focus on your proper stance as well as swinging the bat. Keep your eye on the ball as it comes towards you. Try to connect the bat with the ball, preferably at the fat of the bat. We have a game coming up soon. Go and deal with the shoulder issue. Check in for a massage.”
Oliver wiped his forehead with his arm when he noticed a woman standing in the coach’s shadow. Raising his eyebrows, he nodded towards her as to ask who she was.

Erik turned slightly. “Oliver, this is my niece, Tamara. She’s moved here from Perth. Tamara, this is Oliver.”

Oliver extended his hand towards her. “Nice meeting you.”

She ignored his hand and took a step back. Taken aback by her reaction, Oliver instinctively checked his hand for dirt or sweat. Questioningly, he looked at his coach.

Erik ignored the situation and simply said, “Have your shower and see me before you head off to discuss your training schedule.”

Nodding, Oliver took another quick look at Tamara. For a brief moment, their eyes met, and he was puzzled by her expression. It seemed as if her intense blue eyes were trying to hide something. The distant look in them was almost mysterious, and combined with her body language, he couldn’t help but get the impression something was wrong. She was very guarded.

With one last look towards Tamara, Oliver turned and left.

As soon as he got to the locker room, he peeled off his t-shirt. Pain shot through him the instant he lifted his right shoulder. He’d been ignoring the twinge during the training session, but knew he had to have it looked at. The fucking skateboard rider had nearly knocked him over the previous day when he came out of nowhere. Oliver hadn’t had a chance to move out of the way fast enough and slammed his shoulder into a post.

He slowly stripped out of his track pants before grabbing a can of Coke out of his bag. Leaning against the wall, he chugged half of the drink while enjoying the quietness around him. Everyone else was still out on the field trying to please Coach Becker. He choked a laugh, hoping his mates would put Erik in a better mood than he had. They had a few important games over the next few weeks before the season ended, and for the first time in years, the club was doing well.

As he walked to the showers, he thought about his training session and wondered whether his shoulder was to blame for the bad hits, or his lack of training. But who was he kidding, he always liked to throw everything he had at people, yet was hopeless in receiving anything thrown at him. That applied in baseball and in life. When he’d been to see his first baseball game as a kid in Los Angeles, he’d known he was born to pitch.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Business Plan: Next Steps

Created as an exercise in the GIMP class I'm taking.

Last week I blogged about developing a business plan (here) using some of the ideas found in The 7 Step Business Plan For Writers, These seven steps cover the basics of planning - brainstorming goals, identifying themes, grouping and prioritizing, and detailing the specific tasks needed to accomplish your goals. For my own plan, I added two additional steps: checking my progress, and modifying my activities if things aren't working.

Remember: Plan - Do - Check - Act.

I'm not putting this out there because I'm some kind of business expert, or because I'm raking in the big bucks selling books. Quite the opposite, in fact, which is why I feel the need to take steps to regroup and refocus. There are no guarantees, though I'm optimistic that by both applying structure to my writing life and by taking it more seriously, I'll be able to accomplish more.

And I put it all in a blog post so people can learn along with me.

In my last post, I came up with several goals so I could create an example of a business plan. Over the weekend, I took another look at those goals and refined them. The thing to remember when you create goals is they should be within your control. Researching agents to query is within your control. Getting an offer from an agent isn't. Keep it concrete and do-able, and you'll increase your chances for success.

I looked at my new list of goals and came up with three themes. My next steps were to lay things out over the year, so I don't feel the pressure to do everything at once. For example, my project for January is to come up with a weekly schedule template, so that I have a set number of hours dedicated to writing, and I have a general idea of what I want to accomplish on any given day. My hope is that I'll be able to get more done in less time, because I won't be fooling around on Facebook during hours I know I should be writing. (Many of you probably already do this because it's common sense. Apparently I need special help.)

Here's what the time management goal looks like on my business plan:

Theme
Goals
Timing
Action Items
Evaluation
Modification
Increase Productivity
Improve time management with a weekly schedule template
January
1. Track activities for one week.
2. Use data to create a weekly template that takes into account whether or not I’m working.
3. Apply template to organize work.
Use template for three months, then take a week to track activities



The Modification box is empty, but I'll fill it in this spring with my response to what I learn in the evaluation step. While I mostly work night shifts on the weekends, my work schedule can be variable, so coming up with a template might not be realistic. Even so, I think the exercise will be useful in helping me see how I'm really spending my time.

Another example of how I took timing into consideration is this goal from my second theme, Increase Visibility.

Theme
Goals
Timing
Action Items
Evaluation
Modification
Increase Visibility
Develop one writing-related class.
Summer
1. Brainstorm topics.
2. Talk to Rhay about what makes a good e-class.
3. Generate a list of possible teaching opportunities.
4. Apply for teaching opportunities
After I present a class, track how much fun I had and if I sold any books as a result.


I like to teach, and I've learned a lot in the last five years. Hopefully I'll be able to turn that knowledge around and share it with others. Which is all very worthy, but if I had to deal with this at the same time I'm coming up with a schedule template and blogging and keeping up the (crazy high) word count goal I set myself, I'd implode. So I set this project aside for next summer. If an opportunity slaps me in the face between now and then, I'll take action, but for the most part this is something I'll set aside for now.

The plan I created is pretty comprehensive, but it doesn't cover every possible action I could take to develop myself as a writer. For example, I haven't made enter (x-number) contests a goal. I know contests are a great way of getting your name out, but they're not something I get all excited about. With my plan in mind, the next time someone suggests I enter a contest, I can smile and nod, knowing it's not on my list of goal/action items so I don't have to feel guilty for saying no. Now, if in six months or a year I haven't seen much progress, I can go to my evaluation/modification columns and add enter contests to my bullet points, if I think that'll move me ahead faster.

Bottom line: I've prioritized certain goals that I believe play to my strengths, and by limiting the number of those goals (2-4 for each of my three themes) I'll be able to hone in on these areas with less distraction.

One final thought about the evaluation step...I tried to keep things as discretely measurable as possible. One of my goals is to blog regularly, and the measure for that is to track blog hits. I'll also be looking at whether blogging interferes with my word count goals, which is a little more nebulous, but I want hard data wherever possible. Another goal is to publish two more of my short stories over the next six months, and for those I'll track Amazon sales rank and (if I can figure out how) author rank.

So, here are the bullet points for my writer's business plan:
  • Plan - do - check - act
  • Keep goals within my control
  • Consider timing - I don't have to do it all at once
  • Specific and focused but flexible
  • Measurable outcomes
When I started the post last week, I thought I'd need a few posts to cover everything, but this pretty much sums it up. The next time I blog about my business plan will be in a couple months, to take a look at how it's going - unless something relevant happens between now and then. Meantime, I hope you find something useful here. 

Cheers!
Liv

Do you have a business plan or have you thought about developing one? Why or why not?