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Monday, October 31, 2011

Ghosts of my Past

Halloween might be the staple fall holiday in the US and Canada, but in MesoAmerica, it's the Day of the Dead. This is the day when the living can commune with the dead. My father used to scare the heck out of us when we'd visit my grandmother's grave. I just knew one of these days we'd bring back some hitchhiking ghost.

Ghosts startle me, (well, what doesn't) but if I can spend a few seconds getting used to their presence, that fear usually morphs into curiosity. Invariably though, if a ghost crosses my path, it's more likely he's passing through or looking for something. He's not interested in my questions.

But there was one time I was left at a disadvantage. We had traveled to Chicago to attend my father-in-law's funeral. As soon as we arrived we were shuttled to the wake. I kept complaining to Greg that I wasn't feeling well. Greg dismissed it as nerves. (Why do husbands always dismiss our ailments as nerves?)

Finally, I told him I had to go home (in this case, my parent's home). I felt terrible about it because I wanted to be a comfort to him in his time of need, but I plain just felt bad. He dropped me off with my kid sister, then rushed back to the wake.

My sister was very young at the time, maybe 12 or 13, and the poor kid kept calling Greg at the funeral parlor, insisting I was getting worse. (In retrospect, I might've died had she not been so unrelenting.) After the third call, Greg had had enough and came home to see for himself.

One look told him I needed to go to the hospital. All I remember was a terrible backache and me pleading with him not to take me to the hospital. He didn't tell me that I was white as a sheet and delirious. They barely got me into surgery when my appendix burst.

Poor Greg had lost an uncle a week earlier, his father less than two days ago, and now the doctors were telling him his wife's life was in danger. Greg was having a very bad week.

Fast forward a few weeks and they finally released me from the hospital, but ordered me not to fly home. I would have to stay with my parents a few weeks longer. 

The first night home was a doozy. I was restless and couldn't sleep. I couldn't shake the feeling that something was in my room. It made me especially anxious because I could barely move due to the huge incision on my stomach. I finally managed to sit up when I saw Greg's father manifest, then sit at the edge of my bed. 

I stared at him in disbelief. He looked good. Healthy. His mouth was moving, but I couldn't hear him speak. Somehow--and don't ask me how--I knew he was looking for Greg. As soon as I told him that Greg had returned to Texas, he disappeared, hopefully to find his son and say a proper goodbye.

I wish more than anything he could have stayed a little longer, but I had the feeling he was in a hurry. 

It's pure speculation on my part, and something I alluded to in my latest book, but I have to wonder if there's some transitory state of souls, right before a metamorphosis.

What do you think happens when you die? Are there stages of afterlife like there is in life? I am fascinated by different views. I hope you'll share yours.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Iko Ate The Winner

You guys made me feel like a celebrity Monday. Every time I got on the computer I saw a Google Alert for Chain of Souls or my name. Your blog posts and tweets were terrific. But I have to give kudos to Mike Keyton for the most original intro.

Mike is one of my all time favorite writers and he outdid himself when he used two characters from his current WIP to showcase Chain of Souls. If you're not following Mike, you should. He is quirky, way smarter than I am, and his blog posts are always entertaining.

As promised, I let Tank pick the winner of my mini contest for those who tweeted, FB'd and blogged about Chain of Souls. Unfortunately, things didn't work out the way I planned. Tank was a little too polite to simply take a cookie off the platter, and it forced us to call in reinforcements.

Sorry for posting two videos but I had to stop filming so we could bring in Iko. As you will see, Iko is a dog of opportunity and he had no compunction taking a cookie.

But again, we came across an unexpected problem. By the time we got the cookie out of his mouth, he had swallowed the half with the winning number on it. I had to go back and figure out who hadn't been eaten to find out who the winner was.

I should've kept filming, so you could see us trying to get the cookie out of his mouth, but we were in our jammies, and nobody wants to see that.

By process of elimination (and you can take that in more than one way), the eaten entry was... Renee Miller.

Congrats Renee! I'll email you later today.

Several people have approached me about doing another blog tour. I don't think I'll do one this time. What with two series now underway and two other books I want to sub to traditional outlets, I have my hands full.

I will probably appear on a blog or two in the coming months, but those are stops that have already been promised.

Did the video come out okay? I wanted to zoom in on the cookies so you could see the numbers that were taped on them, but my little camera doesn't have that function. Once I start rolling, it stays at one focal length.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Chain of Souls is LIVE

If you plan to buy Chain of Souls, today would be a very good day.

Chain of Souls
Book Two of the Second Chances series 

Banished from Heaven for refusing to harvest an unwilling soul, Liam Chase drinks to forget until the night he’s visited by the Angel of Death.

For the price of a few humans souls, Ziva promises to get him reinstated into Heaven. Liam doesn’t doubt her influence, but milking humans of their light is an abomination, punishable by eternal oblivion.

He’d rather rot on Earth than commit such an unspeakable crime. But the Angel of Death didn’t get where she was by taking no for an answer. Ziva is a huntress of extraordinary skill and cruelty. If he refuses, his loved ones will be her next targets. And Ziva never misses.


Don't forget that you can Tweet, Blog or Facebook about Chain of Souls through Wednesday when Tank, the Wonder Dog will eat choose the winning entry.  See rules here.

I thought it would be nice if from time to time I explained the background behind some of what you see in my writing. Today, I'd like to tell you about one line in particular.

In nearly every book I've ever written, somewhere buried within the dialog is this line: "Not today." It has various meanings depending on who says it and how, but there's an inside story on why I use it. You see, it's kind of special to me.
When my father was dying, I sat on his hospital bed and held his palsied hand. He was shocked to see me because of all his children, I lived furthest away. In his mind that could only mean one thing. 

He looked up at me and said in Spanish, "Daughter, I am dying." 

To which I replied adamantly: "Not today, Pa."

I told myself that if I kept saying, 'Not today', he'd have one more day with us. My dad lasted nearly two weeks.

So now you know where that line comes from and why I use it. It'll be our insider secret from now on.

Thank you, guys, for being so supportive. I really appreciate you.

Book 2, Chain of Souls is at:

Find Book 1, The Devil To Pay at:
Amazon, Smashwords, & B&N

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Mention 'Chain of Souls' & Get Eaten

You guys are so great. Already some of you are mentioning Chain of Souls on your blogs.

If you BLOG, Tweet or FB about Chain of Souls, be sure to include the cover and the buy links shown here. (You might have to cheat on Twitter and just use one link.)

If you TWEET, use @MariaZannini so I can see the mention and give you credit.

If you mention this on FACEBOOK, use my FB link MariaZannini, so I can see you shared this.

If you want to make sure I caught your mention you can email me and send me the link. 

You can do this all the way through Wednesday, but Monday would help the most. On Wednesday, noon, 10-26-11, I will wrap each name around a dog cookie and lay them out for Tank to choose. 

If your name gets eaten, you WIN.

I should note that Tank has never met a cookie he didn't like, but he's a gentleman, so I know he'll only pick one at a time. (I hope.)


You can also mention Book 1, The Devil To Pay if you so desire.
Amazon, Smashwords, & B&N

Note 1: I will try to take pictures of the dog cookie scramble and post them next week.

Note 2: LIKE and TAG Chain of Souls at Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords. If you want to add Chain of Souls to your Goodreads reading list here's the link for that.

Thank you! 
PS  Tank wants me to thank you too.  Nom, nom, nom.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Birth in 3, 2, 1…

Chain of Souls is live--well mostly live, but DON'T buy it. Not yet.

I want to give it a proper birthday on Monday, October 24, 2011. Will you help me? If you plan on buying it, buy it on Monday. If you've already bought it (smooches) or don't plan on buying it \0/ --can you give me a plug on Monday anyway? 

It doesn't have to be elaborate. Just a cover and a link to Amazon, B&N and Smashwords. It would mean so much to me to get a little sugar from you guys. You know I can't pay you, but anyone who posts my cover and links on Monday will have their names thrown into a pot. I'll come up with a nice Fall/Winter prize for the winner. (If you live down-under, I'll make it a spring/summer prize.) I'll mail the prize anywhere in the mortal realm.


So let me tell you about the labor pains I had formatting this beast. The Devil To Pay was easy-peasy. No problems whatsoever. But Chain of Souls was a difficult birth. Even now, it's not yet on Amazon, but it should be in a few hours unless something else goes wrong. Addendum: The Amazon link is now live! See it here.

What took longest--aside from minor glitchiness and an uncooperative internet connection is the front and back matter you should add to your books.

This time I added an Acknowledgements page in the front and an author bio in the back. 

Acknowledgements are so hard for me to write. There are so many people I feel need to be thanked, but I'm one of those people who hate long, drawn out Acknowledgements so I forced myself to keep it short.

I thanked my crit partners because they've suffered the most. (The story grew another 10k after they looked at it.) I thanked two of my biggest fans, Jackie Burris and Angelina Rain for being so tweet-tastic when The Devil To Pay released. In gratitude, I named two characters in Chain of Souls in their honor.

As always, I left the Dedication to Greg. It'll always go to him. Unless he does something stupid. But I'm not worried. He hasn't done anything stupid in years. Oh, lord. That means he's probably overdue.

I really like this story. From here on out, the stories will get bigger and more epic. There will still be personal trials, but they'll now be joined by big whopping battles and bad guys.

I hope you'll buy Chain of Souls (on MONDAY). And if you haven't picked up The Devil To Pay, get that first so you'll understand where these characters started and how they're changing.

If you like the books, I hope you'll leave me a review in any or all of the usual places.

Stay tuned for Monday!

You can buy The Devil To Pay at:
Amazon, Smashwords, & B&N

Monday, October 17, 2011

Clean Up on Aisle Seven

I spent part of the weekend deleting blogs from my reader. Being a bit on the anal-retentive side, it was not unlike surgery. As each new blog post popped up, I examined its history for content.

• Did the blogger brag too much? I don't know about you, but I get a little tired of authors who carry on about all the beautiful things they've bought with their book money. It's like meeting someone at a party and she keeps pushing the Hope diamond under your nose. I just don't care. Good for you if you can afford these things, but if you brag too often it comes off as conceit, and it boots you off my guest list.

• What's the promo to actual content ratio? I expect authors to promote their work. This ain't grandpa's publishing anymore. Everyone has to toot their own horn. But when every other post is "buy my book" it turns into spam.

• How many excerpts (published or unpublished) do they post? I'm not a big fan of excerpts. Aside from the obvious pitfall of someone stealing from you (like I reported in this post), it's generally not too interesting out of context. Now that could be me. I like a little background to center me in the scene before someone tosses out an excerpt.

The other thing that turns me off about excerpts is that it makes me feel obligated to compliment it. A blogger should never make the reader feel put upon or uncomfortable. You don't invite people over and expect them to gush over your kids, do you? (This could be why people with children never invite me to their homes anymore.)

Note: Despite my dislike of excerpts, I adore reading first paragraphs/hooks from a book. I just do. Often times it's enough to get me to buy.

• Blogs that tweet. I have had a few blogs on my feed that post tweet feeds. Talk about being out of context. On what world do you think people are going to care about a one-sided twitter conversation?

• Is the blog a one-trick-pony? You know the ones. They talk about the same thing over and over again. Most of the time this is a new author. S/he is so excited about his new book, that's all they can talk about. I usually cut them some slack, but if they can't find something new to say after three months, I say adios.

• Depressing blogs. All of us go through rough patches. But we have to remember that the internet is not our diary. Who knows who reads our posts? Worse yet, they can't be deleted. Not even if you physically remove them. I know this because a friend of mine went on an ugly rage about something. She deleted the post but it's still on Google Reader. The same with RSS feeds. It NEVER goes away.

Whether you're published or not, you become a public figure when you post anything online.

When I go through particularly hard times, I stay offline. No one should have to put up with my bad mood--except Greg. It's in his contract.

Have you ever deleted a blog off your feeds? What makes you stop reading them?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Title Treats

I've been so out of the loop lately, I'm only now beginning to see what's new. Here are a few that just came out. 

The Check Your Luck Agency by Cara D'Bastian

Set in Asia, this has the makings of a great series. And I love this cover!

Cara D'Bastian is the pen name of KS Augustin. I've been reading Kaz's books for years and I highly recommend her. Her books are smart. I like smart. 

Find The Check Your Luck Agency at Amazon. For other markets go here.

I started reading Marguerite earlier this year and became an instant fan. Get a load of this tidbit from the excerpt:

Lady Calandra leveled her pistol at the Earl of Camden's heart. Upon further consideration, she lowered it to aim at a more precious portion of his anatomy. 
She got me at 'precious'. LOL.
Get Death By Scandal at Musa Publishing.

Lyon's Legacy (Catalyst Chronicles, Book One) 

I remember this from a query Sandra posted way back when. Science fiction and time travel, what's not to like?

And I used to read Sandra's work back when I was on OWW, an online crit group. She's going to be one to watch.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Plotting for 2012

The problem with lying around flat on my back for a week is that it makes me think. (That's always dangerous.) Thinking evolves into brainstorming and that births monstrous projects that are just too exciting to ignore.

This week, I noticed nearly a dozen blog posts bemoaning the lack of time. For me, the answer is simple. Since I can't create more time, it means if I want to start something new, something else will have to go away. That's where I am now.

For months, although Greg has always been supportive of my fiction writing, he has been urging me to put it on the back burner and concentrate on non fiction. While I was off my feet, his gentle prodding took shape.

I've come up with a series of short books on a subject I can claim absolute expertise. I have a series title, a list of very specific topics, and even an alter-ego who will be your guide throughout the series. The books will be short, to-the-point, and chock full of useful information. No fluffy filler.

Presently, there are 13 books on the roster, with a bonus book if I can get Greg to co-write that one with me. I will need his expertise for that book.

The subject? Stay tuned. I want to be able to give it a proper reveal in a few months, complete with fanfare.

In a perfect world, I'd love to be able to have a book every month, but I'm simply not that fast a writer. Instead I will concentrate on a new book every 2-3 months, interspersed with my fiction.

In order to accomplish this monumental series, something has to give.

Blog: Effective next week, I will blog only two days a week, Mondays and Thursdays. I hate to do that because I enjoy posting and apparently, I always have something to say. :grin: I will interrupt normal programming if something big happens along the way though.

Blog Hopping: This is actually the biggest drain on my time. I have a HUGE reading list of blogs. This weekend, I will cull to only those who regularly interact with me online or off. I used to comment more often but I kind of got tired of people who never replied to comments or visited. Networking is a two-way street. If they're not interested in reciprocity, why should I kill myself to visit, right?

Twitter: This one still vexes me. I enjoy it when I'm there. I regularly talk to @Jenny_Schwartz, @CathyPegau, @ReneeMJ, @Darke_Conteur, @JacaBur1, @TerriOsburn, and @JaneFerst. And @danceauthor, that sweet man, is always sending people my way.

My problem is that I can't seem to tweet consistently. I don't like the mornings. It's crowded with idle blathering or boring promo. I prefer the evening shift when the chatter is more interesting--or perhaps it's just not swallowed up with spam-like content.

I'm considering either picking a couple of days a week to tweet or maybe a half hour every night, answering return tweets in the morning. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to handle Twitter? How much time do you spend there?

Facebook: I hate to admit it (especially to Raelyn Barclay who's responsible for turning me to the dark side), but I've grown to like FB. I'm not limited to 140 characters, yet I can post little snippets of my life without being boring. And so many of you stop by and comment there. I love you guys!

Because of the new series coming out in 2012, Greg thinks I should start another blog, but that way leads to madness. Instead, I am considering starting a Facebook Page on my subject (rather than on myself). It might bring the most amount of traffic without taking more time.

I think the thing I hate to lose the most is not reading all the blogs I follow. But I will promise that anyone who comments on my blog will always get a reply and/or a visit.

If my plans net even a fraction of what I envision, 2012 is going to be one heck of a year. End of the world be damned.

Have you made any plans for the new year yet? Have I piqued your interest? I promise, this series is going to rock. I just need to scale back a little to get everything lined out. If I'm a good girl and work hard, 2012 should be a blockbuster of events.

Monday, October 10, 2011

36 Years Ago Today

...I said: I sure do.

It might seem like a long time, but we can recall the smallest details like it was yesterday.

On our wedding day:

• the family dog followed me around nervously as I packed my bags.

• Heading to the courthouse, it was rainy and gloomy, but the sun came out as we descended the steps as husband and wife.

• and my family tricked us into believing that we were just going to stop off at the house for a bite to eat before we went on our honeymoon--in Canada. They threw the most beautiful wedding luncheon I've ever been to in my life. All in secret, and all made from scratch.

Greg was a nervous groom. I got over my jitters two weeks earlier when I came down with hives. Yes. Hives! My boss at the time was friends with the leading dermatologist in the country and she made him see me right away. 

He gave me some meds and said the welts would go away in a month. I nearly stopped breathing. I told him I was getting married in two weeks. 

--so he gave me something that took away the rash in two days. :cue happy bride:

We were married by an elderly black woman judge (back in the day when such a combination was rare indeed) and she was as mean as a wolverine. LOL. I wish every judge was like her. She did everything she could to talk us out of getting married. Scared the dickens out of me.

That dear, sweet judge is probably dead by now, but I wish I could visit with her again to thank her and assure her those two dumb kids did all right.

Thirty-six years and counting.

Changes are afoot for this blog and the writing front. I'll go into more detail Wednesday, but you might be seeing less of me in the coming months on the social circuit.

Friday, October 7, 2011

About Covers

There are times when I think I should give up writing and design book covers. It drives me nuts when I see clumsy layouts or poorly rendered art.

For those of you new to my blog, I used to be an art director--and before that a graphic artist. But until I did my first cover, I had no idea what was involved since my experience had been solely with advertising layouts. It turns out, it's very much the same thing. Once you've found a good art database, the rest is just a matter of Photoshop expertise.

But this is where a lot of people get into trouble. There is so much more to a good cover than just merging a couple of photos. There's typography, layout, and legibility. The cover has to look good at 6 x 9 as it does at postage stamp size.

This week, I've seen no less than three covers that would not have passed inspection if they had crossed my desk. One was from a major publisher, the second from an electronic publisher, and the third from a self-publisher.

I give no slack to big publishers. None. I expect them to hire the best of the best.

Electronic publishers get a little leeway. Because they produce so many books, they're on a tight deadline. There's no time to make every cover unique. Plus, they're probably working with a 'house' look. I'm willing to settle for formulaic as long as the layout is executed professionally.

When it comes to self-published work, you see a wide range of caliber. I've seen some phenomenal work, some better than the pros. But there are also plenty of shoddy covers--the kind that make me feel the author got taken for a ride. On the same token, the author has to take responsibility for his decision in choosing the artist (or doing the art himself).

A bad cover won't destroy your credibility as an author, but neither will it help. Be honest with yourself. Get outside opinions from people whose aesthetic opinion you respect.

If you're going to hire an artist:

• Examine their portfolio carefully. Better yet, show that portfolio to someone with no vested interest in your work. Do they get the same giddy feeling?

• Do the covers look similar? Most e-press covers are remarkably generic. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but since this is your money we're talking about, steer toward an artist whose covers look custom-made for the book.

• The artist's skill level is hard to gauge without the benefit of experience. I can tell at a glance if the artist missed something or did a sloppy job merging the art. You're paying for expertise. Get your money's worth.

Please do not give the artist an inventory of items to put on your cover. If you crowd the cover, you lose the message. Less is more--most of the time. There was one series that deliberately used a crowded cover, but it was very well done. And considering the theme and genre, it worked.

I hate to see people get taken--or worse, fall in love with an ugly 'baby' because it was designed for them. Cover art can be expensive. If you're paying for it, demand quality.

Collecting great cover art has turned into a hobby for me. I'm always on the lookout for the next awesome cover. Are there any covers you've especially liked?

PS  If you have any questions about cover art or choosing an artist, feel free to leave them in the comments. I'll help if I can.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Edison Doesn't Live Here

While I was off my feet, several people sent me cards, emails, or called to check on me. Thank you! I love you guys.

I have to apologize to those who tried calling me. Apparently, I am one of the hardest people in the world to reach by phone. When the real estate agent brought us to this property, we thought it odd that we couldn't make a call when we were in the house. We dismissed it as a bad signal and didn't think about it again.

I came back to the house a few days later to make a checklist of things I needed done in each room. While I was there I also brought a list of phone numbers for utility companies and other services we wanted started.

Imagine my surprise when I realized every other word was a crackle. Weeks later, Greg bought me a signal booster but it only helped marginally. Since the day we bought this house, if I wanted to have any substantial conversations, I had to go outside.

We could install a land line, but since neither of us like to talk on the phone much, it seems silly to add another monthly bill.

We could install Magic Jack, which uses the computer--only if you've followed me long enough, you know even a slight breeze knocks out my satellite connection (like all this week). No computer, no phone.

It's inconvenient to talk outside, but at least I don't have to climb a telephone pole like Eddie Albert did on the old tv show, Green Acres.

I don't really miss phone conversations, but my mother is horrified that I live this way. She gets even madder when I cut our conversations short--especially when it's hot, or rainy, or cold. Sorry, mom.

So if you want to contact me, use email. It's not immediate, but with few exceptions, it's more reliable than the phone.

Country living has some definite disadvantages. Communication is at the top of the list. Having to drive long distances to shop or visit friends is a close second. But when we list the pros and cons, I'd gladly give up the phone for the chirp of birds and the occasional crazy woman yelling at a coyote to get away from her chickens. (Oh, wait. That's me.)

Could you live without a phone? Would you want to?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Some Kool-Aid is Cheaper Than Others

I take off a week and Amazon goes and gobbles up another piece of the universe. I have to hand it to them, their marketing team is the best I've ever seen.

Meanwhile, Barnes & Noble is caught with its panties around its ankles. How will they catch up? They've already taken too long as it is. 

I want competition. I want B&N, and Apple, and Google to give Amazon a run for its money. It's not healthy to have one behemoth cornering the market. It makes the consumer too dependent. Choice is good. But like Wal Mart, Amazon is creating deliberate loss leaders to get us in the door.

It's marketing genius. 

Greg has an iPad. He's been dying to buy me my own for months, but the price is prohibitive so I've resisted so far. Now that the Fire has come out, I'm not so sure I want an iPad anymore.

I'll probably wait until the second generation comes out, but I see a Fire in my future. It has too many of the things I want and at a price that even a frugalista like me can accept.

Apple isn't the only one with a Kool-Aid. Amazon's Kool-Aid is just as tasty, and cheaper too.

Facebook: Did Facebook shoot itself in the foot with their recent changes? I don't like that they feed me what they think I should be looking at based on their algorithms. They still run everyone's updates on the right sidebar, but it's smaller and harder to read.

My workaround: I created a new list and labeled it, 'ALL'. I put all my friends on it, and this is what I read instead of the original feed. It's pretty much like the old Facebook now.

Surgery sucks. Right now I'm in a brace from ankle to foot. I also have an electrical stimulator that shocks the knee three times a day. I look like a Borg--but I walk like one of those Imperial Walkers (as it's about to fall). Not pretty.

I tried to read blog posts while I was down, but it was too hard to read that many on my phone. I finally had to admit defeat and delete them from my reader.

Speaking of deleting... I can't remember what day this was, but I deleted 71 emails from my phone--by accident. Now I can't get them back. I thought I was deleting one message, instead I got them all. If you wrote me and I didn't answer, your email might've been in the pile I accidentally deleted.

We have a winnah! Joy Kenney correctly guessed the title to my new novella.

Congratulations, Joy! I'll be sending you books one and two (when it comes out).

And the name of the novella? 

Chain of Souls
Book Two