New books available on all platforms

Posted by on Oct 22, 2017 in #writing, Millersburg Quartet, News, novels | 0 comments

New books available on all platforms

I’ve recently released a set of books to multiple platforms, and I can’t wait to share them with you.

So, from today, available on Smashwords, Nook, iBooks and Kobo – The Millersburg Quartet, Shades and The Offering Museum.

You can also get all of them on Amazon, as usual.


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Writing ‘Down’ to readers, I can’t, I won’t.

Posted by on Feb 14, 2015 in #writing | 0 comments

First, because I love words too much. I’m a writer. Words are my paintbrush. They’re how I draw you, my readers, into the story and help you get to know the characters I love so much. (And some I hate.)
Second, I can’t write ‘down’ to my readers, I respect all of you, of them, too much. I trust you to understand, and if you don’t, to get understand by how a word is used.

What brings this subject up? Someone posted to a Facebook writers group I’m on that someone had instructed him that maybe he needed to write ‘down’ to his readers. There was an astonishing amount of debate on the subject.
I consider myself primarily a fantasy writer, although I love to write thrillers, and I wrote a four-part romance series. And, following the maxim of writing the things that scare you, I also wrote a horror novel based on a recurring nightmare, and a book about a young woman trying to overcome childhood abuse and grief to learn how to love again.
A sere desert – used in Demon’s Kiss

However I also write erotic romance under a pen name, and I remember getting a virtually joyous letter from a fan waxing rhapsodic about how I had used the word ‘sere’ (for those who aren’t familiar with it, it means parched, dry) in an erotic romance. She was so happy to find a writer of erotica who used words like that.

My dear darling husband is one of the smartest men I know – he reads philosophical and religious non-fiction all the time to expand his understanding of those topics – but he was born in Appalachia and his spelling and familiarity with some words varies. He has no problem, though, with understanding words in the context in which they’re used, and if he doesn’t, he looks the word up. He’s smart that way. I think most of my readers are, too.
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The Fear Factor

Posted by on Nov 19, 2014 in #writing | 0 comments

There isn’t much that’s more paralyzing than fear. Even worse, in my family, there wasn’t much support. Bullying gave it form. Our family had moved, and my sister and I were the new kids in school, which was difficult enough. Add to it that – for me – I was bright, wore glasses, but I was small, too. A perfect target. I was ostracized and subjected to daily attacks – tripping, pushing, even having snot rubbed in my hair. With little sympathy at home, I took matters into my own hands, and dared my chief abuser to fight me. No matter how many times he knocked me down, I got back up. I was suspended from school for a week but my bully also became my friend. I also knew we were moving again, and I was terrified. Even worse, in my family, you weren’t supposed to talk about your problems. So I didn’t, but the fear was still there.

As with so much in those days, treatment didn’t deal with the cause, just the symptoms. So they gave me this medication. It tasted awful, but deadened the fear, and enabled me to get through the day. My worst fears – of physical abuse – didn’t come true, but we had moved to an area where most of the students had grown up together so I still felt isolated and making friends was difficult. What few friends I did have were often what would be considered  the ‘wrong’ choices – ostracized for being different themselves.

When we moved again, though, I was prepared. I had lost weight, I took off the glasses, and became somewhat popular.

Bullying, by the way, begins at home – both for the perpetrator and the victim. It certainly was true for me. I had been writing stories since I was a small child – especially as an escape. Knowing that my parents – and especially my father- wouldn’t consider sending me to college to learn creative writing, I decided to study journalism. That didn’t happen. In fact, both my parents would spend the next ten years sending me newspaper and magazine articles about how bad a career being a journalist was.

Needless to say, I was more than a bit discouraged. And then life chipped in. My first marriage was a classic example of domestic violence – which I at least escaped early.

Writing, in and of itself, is a difficult career – one which everyone feels they have the ability to do and the right to critique. *laughing* I couldn’t have chosen a more difficult job, although I did lots of others in the meantime.

Over time I would write over 20 stories, books and novels.

Then I was diagnosed with liver disease, and with it came a whole host of new problems. Not including the most terrifying one. At its worst, I woke up one morning absolutely panicked, and unable to remember how to do some of the most basic functions – like brushing my teeth. I couldn’t remember how to use mouthwash. Bless my husband, who got me calmed down. (No thanks to my doctor, btw, who had kept palming me off on nurse practitioners.) Memory returned. The fear, though, lingered in the back of my mind. I also found myself forgetting things, important things like words. And with that came doubt. Crippling doubt. No matter how great the idea, in an hour the doubt would set in. Is this any good? It was aggravated by every bad review, which only seemed to confirm my doubts. Despite all the good reviews my books received, the anxiety every time I try to write kills me every time.

I’m still working my way through it. Still fighting it. Wish me luck.

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Tell us the tale of the Grammarian (Sung to the tune of Piano man)

Posted by on Aug 28, 2014 in #writing | 0 comments

We’re not really sure how it goes, but it’s sad and it’s sweet, and we knew it complete, when we wore a sophomore’s clothes.
Why do I make such a big deal about grammar? I mean, who cares if someone uses that instead of who when referring to people? (A personal pet peeve, but in this day when corporations are people, too, I suppose we can excuse some folks for the error.) Especially when even Stephen King says not to worry about it so much. I don’t think he means it the way you think he does. Mr. King has a Bachelor of Arts in English, which means he knows the rules, and he knows how to break them.
By the way, I’m not God’s gift to the grammar world, that’s why the Gods created editors. Even so, I try. Why does it matter so much? Because it makes a writer look stupid and hard to understand, and it makes their editors work harder than they need to in order to make sure the writer is understood.

And there’s another reason. Do you want to be an international best seller? The rest of the world studies English and the rules of using it. It’s much harder for them to understand what you wrote. Just think how hard it is for you to understand someone with a heavy accent. Imagine how hard it would be to understand them if they didn’t know proper English.
My darling husband went to China on a business trip. While there he used the phrase “You’ve got to be kidding me”. His Chinese coworkers didn’t understand what he meant, until he found a way to demonstrate the proper usage of the phrase.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a writer ask ‘what’s passive voice’? That’s one of the most basic tenets of writing.
‘Caesar was stabbed by Brutus’ is passive voice.
‘Brutus stabbed Caesar’ is active voice.
Novels are about things happening, about action, about doing. They engage the reader and draw them into the story.

Before a painter decides what kind of artist they want to be, watercolor or oil, landscape or portrait, realist or impressionist, they learn the tools of their art first, how to portray shape and perspective, the difference between watercolor and oil and how to apply them. They don’t leave extra lines in the painting, everything has a purpose, even a subtle shading here, or a dash of color there. The same is true of the artist who writes.

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How watching Survivor can make your writing better…

Posted by on Dec 30, 2011 in #writing | 2 comments

If you’re looking for character motivation, it doesn’t get any better than Survivor, whether it’s for villains or heroes writ large or small..
Just watch.
Case in point, this last season.
If you ever want to know how cult leaders, Adolph Hitler or even the kids in the high school clique operate, just watch Coach.
Talk about a cult of personality. For forty days the charismatic sonofagun successfully managed to get his people to do anything he wanted even as he convinced them that Ozzie (another character) was the enemy.
Not one of them seemed to realize that the biggest obstacle to winning a million dollars was… Coach.
It went right down to the wire. Top three. The only thing Coach forgot was the people he was loading onto the jury.
It’s basic human nature on a small, intimate scale. Want to know why the good guys don’t win? Watch Survivor where the ‘good’ guys have only won once or twice – and usually by default. Although Ozzie played a cleaner, more honest game – actually sacrificing himself at one point in a very dramatic, and silly, move – it was Coach’s personal portrayal of himself as a ‘Christian man’ that kept him alive, no matter how many principles and people he sacrificed to accomplish it.
Want a petty character who’ll do anything to win/succeed/triumph, then watch Jon a few seasons back – who told everyone his grandmother had died just to gain votes. (His grandmother was very much alive.)
I remember one season where all the attention was on the two ‘big guys’, the muscle men, one of whom everyone liked and rightfully so. It came down to a contest of strength and endurance, loading bags of sand onto the contestants. Everyone expected it to come down to those two.
But it didn’t.
With quiet dignity and true courage, it was an attorney from Chicago who won, bearing up beneath the ever increasing bags of sand as both the big men fell by the wayside. Although he stood up for his team, no one noticed.
Even afterward the focus was on the two big guys failing, especially the  popular one, and not the one who’d won the contest. He was voted off shortly later for being an ineffective leader, which he wasn’t. He just couldn’t overcome the cult of personality, the focus the network and the host had on another character. It’s one of the realities of life, the unsung hero.
BTW, he became the love interest in one of my novels. No, I’m not telling which one, you’ll have to read them and guess. The one that gets the answer right gets the series of their choice, free. (It’s an easy bet that most of you won’t get it right.)
Seriously, though, if you want to understand motivation, character and how people can justify even the most heinous actions, just watch Survivor. After a while, you’ll get it.
Even watching host Jeff Probst in action as he asks the questions at each tribal council is an education in and of itself. In a few moments he skillfully picks apart the fragile bonds between the tribe members, or exposes one person’s machinations against the others.
Or not.
Although I understood the basic motivation of the characters in my current work in progress, especially the villain, a part of me that struggled with it. I’m not a follower by nature so I had trouble understanding how even basically good people could follow someone like him. Until I watched one of the people in the current Survivor.
Then I got it.
There’s an intrinsic human need to be liked that could be easily perverted, and was.
Survivor is a fascinating study in human nature. I can’t wait until next season.

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Ancient Cultures/Modern Writing – Avoiding Prejudices

Posted by on Oct 19, 2011 in #writing, writers | 1 comment

One of the things I find amusing is to listen to people talk about ancient cultures and describe the lives of those who lived then as ‘hard’. In comparison to ours, they definitely were. After all, most people barely lived past the age of forty and cause of death would be as likely from tooth decay. That was for men. We act shocked by the idea that young women of that time were married by twelve and old maids at fourteen, without considering that by the time their children were adults they’d already lived over half their lives. That’s if they survived childbirth, one of the leading causes of death for women. Many children died young, either in childbirth, or from disease or accident.

Yet if you asked those people if their lives were hard, they’d be surprised at the very notion. After all, it was all they knew. It was life, they lived and loved, worked and fought, had children they nurtured. Just like us.

Many archaeologists and historians, though, operating under modern prejudices of society and faith, made similar assumptions and judgments – those ancient cultures were barbarian, filthy and pagan, they must have led a miserable existence. This despite all evidence to the contrary. Don’t believe me? See how many movies portray the people of eras as unwashed, as if they didn’t know simple hygiene. Yet ancient Egyptians used makeup, balms and ointments – many scented – and were nearly obsessed with cleanliness. It would take Christianity to make bathing a sin. In truth most ancient cultures were far more advanced, happy and egalitarian than assumed.

For the ancient Egyptians, its clear from their writings and their statuary that marriage was a sacred institution for them, and husband and wife were considered equal. As were women in general, many of whom ran their own businesses.
In most ancient societies the relationships between people, whether as couples or friends, were important and valued. If you read their writings, without the cynicism imposed by our own society, you can see it. In ancient Egypt husbands wrote to wives and wives to their husbands, of their devotion to each other without shame or embarrassment. Something that in our society until the last half century. Imagine something like that now.
There are tales throughout history of friends who sacrificed their lives for each other – now we refer to such friendships in derogatory terms like bromances, or BFFs.

People also had rights many today would envy. In early Rome women could get divorced and own their own property, something that didn’t exist in some parts of the US until this last century.
Yes, there was slavery, but slavery still exists in this world, and many slaves had better rights than many of those who work on production lines or in cubicles, since their owners were at least required to feed and clothe them.
Cultural assumptions were also much different, or non-existent. Homosexuality wasn’t an issue. In many cultures no one cared.
Sexual roles were also less defined. Without the societal assumption that women were the ‘weaker’ sex, women in those ancient cultures were able to do any job or hold any career they wished. Even serve in the army.
For example, in some pre-puebloan societies it was men who did the weaving – a task considered women’s work for many these days – and a boy who wished to court a girl took a particularly fine blanket, woven by his own hands, to his prospective mother-in-law for judgment.
Yet in much of our writings we tend to condemn those societies based on our own cultural assumptions. It’s easy to do so, after all, through the lens of our own judgments.
For instance, we condemn Cleopatra and portray her as being a harlot for marrying her brother but by the terms of Egyptian culture, what she did wasn’t sacrilege or incest, it was their culture. After all, the Gods Isis and Osiris were also brother and sister (a neat way to explain how the first gods managed the whole procreation thing, unlike in the Bible, where a whole different tribe just appears).

What we do tend to forget is that some of these cultures existed, relatively peacefully and successfully for centuries longer than ours has.
We are fond of the image of Rome as that of the Coliseum and the ‘poor Christians’ being thrown to the lions. It was a fairly common, if brutal, punishment for criminals in those days. Yet from the point of view of the Romans, many of those early Christians were criminals, condemning the religion of others, fomenting rebellions, stirring up slave riots and fighting among one another. And much of that image isn’t historically accurate either.
We condemn ancient Rome for its excesses and yet some in the US Congress or on Wall Street could certainly give them a run for their money. As we also tend to look down on the pharaohs and early Caesars but most of them understood  they held their place at the will of their people. More than one ruler found himself overthrown when they forgot that. Some folks in power now might do well to remember it.
Given the importance of interpersonal relationships among those early societies, an argument could be made that the first sign of their failure was when those relationships were devalued, when the excesses of those in power diminished the value of those relationships and began to take away their rights. Not that they were all perfect, but in many cases they were far better than we’ve assumed.
Some of what we know now appears relatively new, but isn’t, but the assumption that there’s nothing new to learn is equally untrue.
The burial place of a female gladiator was only recently – relatively – accepted as such, in spite of  the fact that  all evidence pointed to her sex as being female. The evidence for it long existed, it just couldn’t be seen past the lens of our own assumptions.
We’re still uncovering new information. They just recently discovered previously untouched (except by thieves) ancient Egyptian tombs.
We now know that we understand much less about the ancient Incan culture than we once did, based on new discoveries.
So, are you or will you write your novel from the point of view of your cultural upbringing, to espouse a certain concept, or will you try to write it without preconceptions? And how will you market it? As ‘factual’ or as a ‘re-imagining’?
There is a group of reviewers that say they’ll review your novel, not just the quality of the writing, but for historical accuracy. My only question is, whose history? From which point of view?

For example, if you’re writing a western, and you want your female character to do certain things, would her actions have been acceptable or even possible for the period? I had started one, but was caught short by questions about that era. A little research reassured me that not only was my concept possible, it was even more likely to be right than the images we have of western women now. I’ll definitely be citing my research on that one.
In a few days I’ll be releasing a new book, a thriller/horror/romance based in time of the early dynasties of ancient Egypt. I’ll make no claims that it will be 100% historically accurate – it is fiction after all – but I did try to stay as true to that era as possible. For example – I had my heroine riding a horse, possible given where she’d come from but unlikely even then, and certainly in ancient Egypt. The horses of that time hadn’t advanced so much, they were much smaller. Breeding and time would change that.
The problem is that many people assume the author made the effort to do the research and so believe a lot of what they read. However I know a lot of books that were/are wildly inaccurate historically, others just mildly. Bodice-ripping is much harder to do than most assume. And let’s not talk about the movie Pocahontas. I also had someone chide me about the danger of using the word Nike in the title of my book Nike’s Wings – it was clear  the individual had no clue that Nike was the Greek goddess of victory and not just a shoe manufacturer. Most of us know of a few novels written about ancient cultures from a specific point of view and some of those authors have quite a devoted following. If the native cultures they described could read those books, I wonder if they would recognize themselves? Especially given that some historians and archaeologists now question some of those assumptions?
So, what does this mean to us as fiction writers? (Non fiction writers have different issues) What are our responsibilities when it comes to referring to or describing these incredibly complex ancient cultures? First, before we put pen to paper, we must decide how true to that culture we want to be, how fictional is fictional? What do we owe those ancient societies? What do we owe our readers?
Honesty, that’s all.

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Valerie Douglas, Author is Stephen Fry proof thanks to caching by WP Super Cache