New Year’s Resolutions? Not this time…

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When I think about all the sugar and junk and deliciously bad food I’ve eaten over the last few days, my first instinct is to cringe. To have a wave of massive guilt and say, “At least January 1 is coming, so I can start all over.”

Yes, I am totally that person. The one addicted to doing new personal resolutions each year. Perhaps this could be the year I’d learn to speak German, or lose that extra weight, or read 5000 books, or whatever. Every year, for as long as I can remember, I’ve sat down with my blank piece of paper on December 31, excited about the prospect of how I was going to change myself. Better myself.

I’m not going to do that this year.

Instead, I’m going to try a different strategy. This year I’m going to not write a list of how I can make myself “better”–less stressed, less fat, more educated, more efficient, blah blah blah. This year, I’m gonna focus on all the awesome things I already have and simply being happy with who I am right now.

Loving my job. My body. My family. My life. Stop worrying so much about trying to achieve these goals that will supposedly push me to the “next level” and make my life complete.

My life IS complete. And I should be happy about it. Appreciate it.

What about you? Are you a person who loves making personal resolutions? Or do you prefer not sweating them?

That Time I Unexpectedly Got Engaged

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by Tara Stevens, Carina Press acquisition team member

Once upon a time there was a shy, redheaded girl who worked at a romance novel company. She was in charge of the eNewsletter program. On her first day of work, she met a dishy Italian fella who would copyedit her newsletters and change her life. Yes, he diligently pointed out all her missing commas and awkward phrasing, but he also lent her his book on Woody Allen films and asked her to go for a walk at lunchtime. Sometimes she would sneak secret looks at him when he walked to the printer or they had a meeting together.

Eventually, through a gift of kismet, they found themselves sitting across from each other in an open-plan office and falling in love. They tried to keep their romance private, but her blushing cheeks often gave them away when they were caught standing a little too close together at a social event. One sad day he left the company to work at an awful banking job and she missed her lunch partner and best friend. One happy day they moved in together with a plant called Bernard. Twenty months later he made her a delicious brunch for her 30-something birthday. Then he slid off the couch, popped onto one knee and asked her to marry him. She asked if it was a joke four times, then said yes.

***

Confession time: an unexpected engagement will not only tilt your world in a wonderful-yet-scary way, it will also steal all your blog post topics. It’s been three weeks since I got my surprise sparkler, but I find my mind has been taken over by all things betrothal.

With all this excitement in my personal life, my what-to-read-next thoughts are naturally turning towards books featuring engagements and weddings. I want to read about other women experiencing this magical, special time and bask in the glow just a little bit longer, before all the wedding planning reality sets in.

I’ve begun compiling a list of wedding-focused reading material to devour once the holidays arrive and I have time to lose myself in books. Of course, I started with any Carina Press titles that fall into this category that I haven’t read yet! The first one that popped into my mind was Ask Her at Christmas, by Christi Barth, along with the first book in her popular Aisle Bound series, Planning for Love. Fatal Destiny by Marie Force is another must-read on my list, since I adore her Fatal series.

I know there must be loads of other titles out there that fit this theme, and I’m greedy for more! Which romance novel with an engagement or wedding as a major plot point is your favorite?

 

Leah Braemel, Anne Calhoun, and KA Mitchell – Red Hot Holidays

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Get holiday Bound in Red Hot Holiday

It’s no secret that the holidays contain the rest of the year’s emotional journeys, but taken to a power of ten. People laugh more, cry more, worry more, buy more, drink more, eat more, and feel more during the holidays. This time of year is bound to magnify everything that’s beautiful and conflicted in a character’s life. In the Red Hot Holiday anthology three couples find themselves bound in a variety of interesting ways, but ultimately to each other, forever. Read on for insights into how each author created her story…

Buy the Red Hot Holiday anthology at Carina Press, Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble

Bound and determined…I Need You for Christmas by Leah Braemel

Leah: Whenever I buy my family and friends presents—not just for Christmas—I try to put as much thought in them as possible, so they’ll know that I’ve listened to them, that I care for them. I think it was inspired by listening to O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi when I was little. So when I was writing I Need You for Christmas, I knew I wanted my characters to have that much love and passion that they would be willing to give up their most prized possessions for the person they loved. And given they’ve been kept apart by family and career obligations for years, now they are bound and determined to give each other the best present they can. Themselves, for the rest of their lives. Even though it means making sacrifices, of their careers, and even of their family. That they decided to make those sacrifices a surprises, in keeping with the Gift of the Magi story, adds a slight complication…

Buy I Need You for Christmas at Carina Press, Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble

 

Bound in darkness…Breath on Embers by Anne Calhoun

Anne: I have an ambivalent relationship with the holidays. When Angie James approached me in February about writing a Christmas novella, I was thrilled to work with Angie and Carina Press, but less than delighted to think about Christmas. I was still coming down off the previous holidays and not feeling particularly cheery, Christmas-y, or sentimental. That resistance to thinking about yet another holiday season less than two months into the New Year carried over into Thea Moretti, the widowed heroine of Breath on Embers. Thea used to love the holidays as passionately and vibrantly as she loved her husband. But he’s dead, and yet another holiday season is upon her. She has to choose between staying trapped in the darkness of grief or choosing to embrace the light the hero, FDNY lieutenant Ronan O’Rourke brings into her life.

Throw in the holiday setting of New York City and you’ve got what I hope is a compelling story that celebrates the tipping point that takes us from long, dark nights to the coming light of spring.

Buy Breath on Embers at Carina Press, Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble

 

Bound to find trouble…Wish List by K.A. Mitchell

K.A.: My Wish List character Jonah and I share the wonderful, agonizing, infuriating trait of procrastination. To us, deadlines are both helpful because they force us to act, and horrible because they induce panic and resentment.

One thing those incomprehensible people who get their work done on time often tell people like me and Jonah is to make lists, and one of the most list-filled times of all is December: shopping lists, gift lists, Christmas card lists, naughty and nice lists, all with the intractable deadline of the twenty-fifth. I got to thinking about what other pressures I could put on a procrastinator to make him feel as if he’s running out of time and drive him to make a list—and what would happen if that list fell into the best and worst possible hands. As if Christmas wasn’t stressful enough, imagine facing a surprise wedding proposal, possibly in front of your boyfriend’s relatives whom you’ve met only twice before, and you have an idea of why Jonah’s sweating bullets when he finds a ring box in his boyfriend’s desk drawer.

Buy Wish List at Carina Press, Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble

Giving Thanks for Series

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Happy Thanksgiving to all those in the U.S (and happy Thursday to everyone else)! Depending on when you’re reading this, I’m either helping prep an intricate turkey dinner, enjoying that delicious turkey dinner, or napping after said tryptophan-laden turkey dinner. Yum.

Today, many around the country are thinking about the things they’re thankful for. Me? I’ve got all the usual biggies on my list: family, friends, health. But on a lighter note, I’m just thankful I was able to finish the first five books in George R.R. Martin’s gargantuan A Song of Ice and Fire series before the end of 2012.

Cue the theme song

Like many recent fans, I was spurred to pick up the books after watching the HBO show. I downloaded Game of Thrones to my ereader on January 31, 2011 and turned the final page of A Dance with Dragons in the wee hours of October 29, 2012. Whew! Now I know why it’s called epic fantasy.

Reading a series—whether made up of thousand-page tomes or shorter, but more plentiful volumes (J.D. Robb anyone?)—requires commitment. And I don’t know about you, but I have some personal quirks when it comes to series. Aside from the length and my snails’ pace reading, one thing that slowed my journey through A Song of Ice and Fire was the simple fact that I bought the first book but checked the second out of the library. Because I’m a weirdo who doesn’t like to own some books in a series but not others (and who hates spending my precious book budget on things I’ve already read), I was at the mercy of the library wait list. See what I mean by quirks? Lesson learned: buy the book bundles!

All about instant gratification, I prefer to start a new series when there are at least two or three other books already available. I have mixed feelings about cliffhangers, but keep me interested and I’ll keep reading until I feel burned out or need a palate cleanser. Not that I haven’t fallen out of love with series in the past—sorry, Stephanie Plum. Sometimes I’ve fallen behind (again, J.D. Robb anyone?). And a recent post at the Dear Author blog sparked a thoughtful conversation about whether a seemingly endless run can possibly be detrimental to a series.

Still, despite the time investment reading a series demands, when an author creates a world or characters that capture the imagination, I’m happy to come back again and again. Treat me right, authors, and I’m a loyal reader.

What about you—series, yay or nay? Do you have any quirks about reading a series?

You tell us: Do you read science fiction?

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OCT 1, 2012 — I’ve met many women who don’t read science fiction. They might enjoy supernatural, fantasy or historical romance. But anything with aliens, robots, space ships or lasers, don’t bother to beam them up, Scotty.

Reasons for their dislike include a lack of characters to whom they relate, pervasive misogyny in the genre, absence of emotional depth or romance, too much violence, and too many boring descriptions of aliens, machines and technology.

I’m a woman who likes science fiction, sci-fi, SF, or whatever you want to call it. There are women who write great futuristic stories for Carina Press. And I meet women at science fiction events. Yet, even there, I hear a lot of “I only became interested after watching Firefly with my boyfriend.” Or they don’t read the stuff, they just like steampunk cosplay, anime, RPGs or video games.

Maybe I should keep this to myself, since I’m a science fiction author, but I don’t read a lot of science fiction, either. I’m turning into a fan of steampunk, but steampunk is kind of a weird cross-genre thing that can be science fiction-y … or supernatural, fantasy, romance, historical, horror, mystery, Western and just about anything else.

For the purposes of this question, I’m mainly talking about futuristic lasers-pew pew science fiction.

I grew up with Star Wars, Buck Rogers, Battlestar Gallactica, Alien, Terminator and Star Trek. As a kid, I read my dad’s Heinlein books and Omni magazines, though I preferred Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes to his Martian Chronicles, and Michael Moorcock to Isaac Asimov, so I guess I had steampunk/supernatural leanings even then. My doctor is the Ninth Doctor and my favorite TV characters are Jayne Cobb, G’kar and Gul Dukat – all from science fiction shows.

Yet, when I settle down with a book, I tend to chose fantasy, romance, classics or non-fiction. With maybe a dash of supernatural. And I spent most of my life writing non-fiction or fantasy. Which is why I’m still a little surprised that my first published novel, Stellarnet Rebel, is science fiction — as is my second, Stellarnet Prince, coming out next month. And I have a third Stellarnet Something WIP. How did that happen? (I’m being sarcastic, but… no, really, how did that happen?)

I’ve had several female readers say, “I don’t usually like science fiction, but I loved Stellarnet Rebel.”

So, here I am wondering what’s up with that — not with my books, specifically, but the genre in general. I’m addressing women, because I have yet to hear a man say, “I don’t like science fiction.” But, if you’re a man, I’d like to hear from you, too.

You tell us: Do you read science fiction – hard, soft, military, cyberpunk, futuristic, apocalyptic, space opera? If not, what turns you off of the genre? And if you do, what are some of your favorite titles and why?

J.L. Hilton is the author of the Stellarnet Series, a regular blogger for Contact-Infinite Futures, and an artist whose work is featured in the books “Steampunk Style Jewelry” and “1000 Steampunk Creations.”

* I know some people use “science fiction” and “sci-fi” interchangeably, while others make a distinction between the two. I’ve also received conflicting information about the abbreviated “SF” — it’s used in place of “science fiction” and also “speculative fiction,” in different circles. I’ve chosen to just use “science fiction” throughout, but you’re welcome to substitute your favorite term, abbreviation or euphemism as you read.

You tell us: How do you like your steampunk?

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Long before I heard the word “steampunk,” I knew I loved clock gears, old keys, Art Nouveau, Neo-Victorian costumes, time machines, Michael Moorcock and anything with brass, copper and rivets. But it took me awhile to warm up to contemporary steampunk literature. Carina Press authors such as Robert Appleton, Christine Bell, Cindy Spencer Pape and Seleste deLaney finally turned me into a fan.

Robert mentioned Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle when he blogged about The Mysterious Lady Law. Which might explain why I enjoy his books so much. I read quite a bit of Victorian Era literature and some of my favorites include those authors, as well as Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, William Thackeray and Elizabeth Gaskell. Since steampunk is based on the Victorian Era, I expect it to have a voice and feel (at least somewhat) akin to the classics of the period.

One of the charms of steampunk is that it may be mixed with a variety of other genres. Cindy Spencer Pape’s Gaslight Chronicles series includes magic-and-fantasy. Island of Icarus by Christine Danse is a Male/Male romance. Christine Bell’s The Bewitching Tale of Stormy Gale is a time-pirate adventure. Cruel Numbers is a detective mystery by Christopher Beats. Selah March’s Heart of Perdition is gothic horror along the lines of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.

With anything I read, I want great characters and a compelling plot, of course. But I think world-building is absolutely essential for steampunk. I don’t want to read, as my friend Jill calls it, “find/replace steampunk.” As if the author wrote a generic story, then went through and substituted “dirigible” for “airplane,” “corset” for “dress,” and “steam” for “electric.”

But enough about me. You tell us, how do you like your steampunk? Romantic? Supernatural? Scientific? Do you enjoy elaborate descriptions of fantastical contraptions? Automatons and mad scientists? Explorers and airship pirates? With Victorian morals and conventions, or with modern sensibilities? Are you getting a little bored with gears, goggles and dirigibles, or can’t get enough? Do you want it set in Victorian London, or would you like to read some steampunk set in far-flung locales? What are some of your favorite steampunk stories, and what do you think is missing from the genre?

J.L. Hilton is the author of the Stellarnet Series, including Stellarnet Rebel (January 2012) and the upcoming sequel, Stellarnet Prince (November 2012) published by Carina Press. She is also a jewelry artist whose work is featured in the books “Steampunk Style Jewelry” and “1000 Steampunk Creations.”

You Tell Us: Labor of Love

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Before I was lucky enough to make things up for a living, I had a number of jobs. The first, in high school, was as a telephone solicitor for an insurance company. Hated that. Then I worked as a hostess in a restaurant with a chubby guy in red & white checks on the sign. That wasn’t a lot of fun either, but it was high school, and it was a little extra spending money. Then came the summer jobs in college: camp counselor, day camp counselor and summer dorm repair crew. All of those had their moments. Fast forward to adulthood and the list gets even weirder. Bank teller, receptionist, substitute teacher, elected politician, college instructor, wildlife educator. My original dream was to work with Jacques Cousteau in marine biology, but no way was that going to pan out. Each of those jobs has taught me something, and each has brought me to where I am no, so I’m not complaining a bit.

One question I have for you today is what you wanted to be when you grew up, and if that’s what you ended up doing? Mostly, in honor of Labor Day in the US today, I wanted to get some feedback on the careers of the protagonists in our books. When I was little, romance heroes were doctors or tycoons. The heroines were nurses, or teachers, or secretaries–all valuable vocations, but often tame by the standards of today’s adventurous characters. In science fiction you saw a lot of scientists, military, and explorer archetypes, which now we’re seeing in romance as well.

So tell us: what professions do you like to see in your fiction? More cops? Fewer cops? More scientists? Firefighters? Artists?  Teachers? Musicians? More esoteric professions? Something totally different? I’m always curious to see what the reader is looking for.

The Art of Filling out an Art Fact Sheet

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by Tara Stevens, Assistant Manager, Digital Products

Since I’ve taken over the role of managing the cover process at Carina Press, I’ve learnt a few eye-opening things, the most obvious being: holy guacamole, we create a ton of covers every month!

Once I wrapped my head around the sheer volume (anywhere from 12 to 17, depending on whether we’re doing any anthologies that month), I began to realize something else: there is a definite art to filling out an Art Fact Sheet (AFS for short).

It’s sort of where everything begins, the genesis of the cover process. It also sets the tone for how easily and quickly the cover comes to life. If you get nothing else out of this blog post, remember this: every great cover starts with a great AFS.

We usually give authors about a week to fill out their AFS. It’s sent via email, and has sections on character description, story setting, time period, and the overall tone/mood of the book. We also encourage the author to include any images that they think represent the book, whether it’s the way the characters look, to their surroundings, to strong visual elements/symbols that tie in to the story.

I can’t stress enough the importance of these images. A lot of authors choose to leave this part blank, but it always helps us (not to mention the cover artists) to have more information, rather than less. I’ve also noticed more and more authors including their Pinterest boards for a book when they submit their AFS, and that’s another cool way to see if we’re on the same page and get some inspiration for the cover.

Other elements we ask for in the AFS are suggested taglines for the book, a quick synopsis, the author’s brand/bio, and a quick elevator pitch. This really helps me get to the heart of the story, so when I brief the designer, we’re really focusing on the most important aspects of the book that we want to convey on the cover.

Authors, don’t be afraid to go into detail on an AFS! Feel free to quote short passages from the book itself if it gets your point across. Suggest a scene you feel might work visually. We want to create a cover that fits your book in the best possible way, so the more information we have at the outset, the better. Including samples of competitive covers in the same genre or other Carina Press covers you think have a similar atmosphere to your book also helps us get a sense of what you’re looking for.

Is there anything you’d like to see included in our AFS that we don’t currently have? Have you ever created a Pinterest board for a book you’re writing? Do you find it helpful?

Something Old, Something New

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I love books that turn an idea on its head to make something new. Books that show me a new perspective on an old trope. Books that cast a familiar character in an unfamiliar plot.

Actually, I like this concept applied to my real life, too. I love book art — sculptures made from the pages of a book are the ultimate in taking the familiar and creating something new. And have you seen how unbelievable some of these sculptures can be? (The Guy Laramie pieces are truly breathtaking.) Last year, when my husband and I were planning our wedding, we decided to use books as centerpieces. (And favors!) But I wanted something to gussy up the big stacks of mysteries and romances, and came across these: Book vases.

So I set about making dozens of vases to scatter across our tabletops. Though the tutorial above shows how to make a book vase from a hardcover, I found that I preferred the size of mass markets. Tiny vases are just so adorable!

If you’d like to give tiny vase making a try, you’ll need:

1 well-read mass market paperback, the thicker the better

an X-acto knife

craft glue

cardboard (to make a template)

pencil/marker (to help give the vase its shape as the glue dries)

tape

2 small c-clamps (optional but very helpful)

 

First, decide on the shape you’d like your case to take. A simple curve is a good way to start. Cut your piece of cardboard down to size.

Remove the covers from the book, being careful not to cut the glue that holds the papers at the spine.

Now, if you’ve got a c-clamp, clamp the template to the book, and clamp both of those to a sturdy table. It’s best to clamp either end of the book, inside the cardboard template. That way, when you slice through pages, they’ll fall to the ground and your book vase will be securely affixed to the table. When I made this round of vases, I couldn’t find my c-clamps, so I just held everything together very carefully instead.

 

Begin cutting away pages. Be patient, go slowly! And be careful not to angle the blade in & under your template — you’ll end up with too-short pages that way.

Sometimes it helps to move the template down through the book as you cut (especially if you’re cutting sans c-clamps).

 

Don’t worry if some of the page edges are ragged — you can fix that (or at least smooth out the roughness so it’ll be less noticeable on the finished vase.


Spread out the pages of your vase, Don’t be too delicate — you want the spine to be pliable in order to get the best result. That’s why it’s great to use a well-worn paperback for this project. (For our wedding vases, I scoured my local St. Vinnie’s for very old mass markets.)

I really like to make two vases per mass market, so when I’m finished with the main shaping, I go back and cut the vase in half. If you want to do this, make sure you create a template that will give you two vase shapes!


Apply craft glue to the front and back pages of your book vase. Gob plenty of glue near the spine edge — that’s where you’ll want the strongest hold.

Wrap the pages around a pencil (or marker, depending on how thick your book’s spine is), pressing the glued pages firmly together. Secure with tape, as close to the spine as possible, to hold the vase together while the glue dries.


Remove the spacers and the tape, and fluff the vase pages out.

 

Enjoy!

Monster in My Closet - coverNow back to my original point: Books that take the familiar and create something entirely new. R.L. Naquin’s debut release, Monster in My Closet, does just that. She takes familiar creatures — closet monsters, brownies, dragons, reapers, and more! — and recasts them in a world that’s unique and wonderful. This is fresh urban fantasy, and when this manuscript came across my desk, I was delighted by the whimsy, imagination, and sense of fun within its pages. I highly recommend it!

 

 

Historical Definitions

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I was having a discussion about historical fiction on Twitter not too long ago and someone brought up an interesting question: How far back in time does the setting of the book have to be before it’s considered historical? We can all probably agree that a story set in the 1800s is definitely historical, but what about books set in the 1970s, 1980s, or even 1990s? Are they contemporary or historical? One person argued that if she could remember the decade, then the book isn’t historical. For someone like my grandmother, this would mean only books set before the 1930s could be considered historical fiction but for a 12-year old, a story set in 1998 would be considered historical fiction since they weren’t even alive during that year.

Personally, the fewer cultural and societal norms that I can relate to in the story, the more likely I am to consider it to be historical fiction. For example, I don’t remember the 1980s but many of the events, clothing, and music still influence my life now, so the decade isn’t very “historical” to me. On the other hand, I consider the 1960s (or as I like to think of it, the Mad Men era) to be historical because typewriters, rigid gender roles, and black & white televisions seem so far removed from my everyday life.

I think, as a rule of thumb, the fewer people alive from a particular era a book is set in, the more “historical” the book becomes for readers.

What defines historical fiction as “historical” for you?