Dumb Mistakes That
Will Doom Your Book

my-first-boat1

Don’t get whistled out of the game on fouls before you have a chance to show off your best moves. – Miss Snark

By PJ Parrish

So I’m watching Hassan Whiteside play in the Heat game the other night and it got me thinking about writing books. Or maybe it was Marco Rubio in his last debate. I dunno. Not sure who inspired me more. But what I want to talk about today is dumb moves.

Shooting yourself in the foot. Stepping in it. Dropping the ball. Screwing the pooch. Whatever you want to call it, this is not something you want to do in your career. Ask Whiteside. He threw an elbow into the face of his Spurs opponent and got ejected (his third this season). Or ask Rubio. He became Chris Christie’s chew toy after he robo-repeated a talking point three times in thirty seconds. (and paid for it by dropping to fifth in the New Hampshire primary.)

Hey, we’re all human. We all make mistakes. Believe me, I have. Some that adversely affected my writing career. So let’s take a look today at some of the wrong moves that can, as the great agent Miss Snark said, get you knocked out of the game before you’ve even had a chance. Your contributions to our guide to dumbness are welcome!

When writing the book…

extinct

Don’t chase the trend: We can go way back to Jaws for examples here. In the wake of Benchley’s novel, we quickly got such memorable chum as Megalodon (oil rig explosion unleashes giant shark), Carcharodan (prehistoric shark freed when iceberg melts), Extinct (killer shark preys on boys in Mississippi River) and Meg (really big pregnant shark bubbles up from Marianas Trench and eats dumb tourists.) After Anne Rice, Charlaine Harris and Stephanie Meyers dug up Bram Stoker, we got a full decade of un-deads. And après Dan Brown came le deluge of conspiracies (Templars! Cathars! Christian Inquisitors! Oh my!) Here’s my point: By the time you decide you want to follow a trend in publishing, it has begun to wane (and surely will be over in the 18 months it will take you to write it and get it to market). T.S. Eliot might have said, “Mediocre writers borrow, great writers steal.” But if you’re trying to break into the bestseller bank, chances are the money’s already gone. So think twice before you use that unreliable narrator or try to wedge “girl” in your title.  You are a snowflake. You are unique. Let your book reflect that.

Don’t be content with dull titles: Your title is your book’s billboard, meant to be glimpsed and grasped as a reader speeds by in the bookstore or on Amazon. It is ADVERTISING and it must convey in just a few words the essence, heart, and all the wonderful promise of your story. Work hard on this. Yes, slap anything on the file name as you work, but always, as you work through the writing, search for that pithy phrase that capsulizes what you are trying to say. Try Shakespeare (The Fault Is in Our Stars, Infinite Jest) or poetry (No Country For All Men — Yeats).  Go for weird juxtapositions (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) or intrigue (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil  or Then There Were None) or humor (Hello, Vodka, It’s Me, Chelsea!). Twist an old phrase (Dr. Suess’s You’re Only Old Once.). So many times, I read manuscripts (or published books) where the title feels like an after-thought, almost as if the writer used up all his juice just getting 300 pages down, breathed out whew! and then went back to page 1 and typed The Templar Conspiracy Book I. Click here for some good tips on titles.  Click here if you want to read the worst titles of maybe all time — and see some butt-ugly covers. Which leads me to…

Don’t use ugly covers: Now, if you’re traditionally published you have little control over this. (although some enlightened publishers are getting better about seeking author input.) But if you are self-pubbing, don’t let your nephew who flunked out of Pittsburgh AI design your cover. Don’t go find free lousy images and try to do this yourself. Nothing screams amateur louder than an ugly cover.  It tells potential readers that you think so poorly of your story that you’re willing to send it out in the world in dirty sweatpants and a Led Zeppelin World Tour 1971 T-shirt. Pay someone to do this. It’s worth every schekel. If you cheap out, don’t be surprised to see your ugly cover end up HERE.

After the Book is Done…

Don’t forget to copy edit it:  This is tedious. This is awful. This is grunt work that comes after even the hell of rewrites. Well, tough. After you finish your filet mignon, you have to floss. You might be really tired of looking at the thing and all you want to do is get it out there in the world, wait for someone to love it, and throw shekels your way.  Resist the urge to do this. Instead, PRINT IT OUT and read it for typos, misspellings, stupid mistakes, grammar lapses, brain farts. After you’re done, go back and do it again — maybe with a ruler held under each line so you go reeeeeal slow. I know authors who copy edit their stuff backwards so the mistakes jump out better.  You won’t get all the bad stuff. But the goal is to make it as clean and professional as you humanly can.  If you don’t know the difference between lay and lie, find someone who does. Agents and editors all say if they see dumb errors in manuscripts, they won’t read on. No one will take your words seriously until you do.

Write a great query letter:  This isn’t easy but it’s really important.  Agents want to fall in love with new talent and every affair begins with a magic moment.  A great query is simple, direct but has a terrific hook. Which is not the same as a plot summary. In Hollywood-speak, it is a “log line” that capsulizes the essence of your plot with a strong emotional pull. (ie from Aliens: “In space, no one can hear you scream.”)  This is hard writing. Even if you self-publish, learning how to write a great tease for your book will serve you well when you go to write that Amazon copy. Click here to see a simple and very serviceable query template.

Have some cajones: There is nothing worse than a falsely humble author. If you are doing a book signing, would you tell someone who walks up to your table, “Oh, I know you’re busy…you don’t really want to know about my book.” So, in your query letter, don’t spend precious words apologizing for “wasting” an agent’s time by sending them your letter. If you don’t have faith in your book, how do you expect anyone else to?  Even if you aren’t a pro yet, act like one.  Be like that wide receiver who doesn’t spike the football in the end zone — act like you belong there. (I got this one from a great blog by agent Jenny Bent.  Click here to read the rest of her advice on submitting.)

 

Follow the rules when submitting your novel:  Reputable agents are good people; they truly want to find the next best thing because they love good books. So be a pro and follow their rules. Research what types of novels they are looking for. Find out their names and how to spell them. (DEAR AGENT is sorta off-putting, you know?) Format your manuscript in the way they want it — ie, double-spaced, courier or roman, etc.) And finally: Don’t forget to number your pages. Don’t use colored paper or add weird stuff like glitter. And for God’s sake, don’t call your book “a fiction novel.”  You laugh? I saw the actual query letter that had that gem.

I don’t think that guy ever made it off the bench.

 

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Are Book Events Worthwhile?

Nancy J. Cohen
 
I’ve been doing speaking engagements for many years now. It’s a way of giving back to the community and meeting new readers. But after this last one, I’m wondering if they are a waste of time in the digital age. I gave up three hours to speak to this group, had my hair done, painted my nails, and chose my wardrobe with care. Fortunately, it was local, so I didn’t have to travel far.

Sixty women attended this book and author luncheon, so you’d think they would all be readers, yes? The tables were beautifully decorated, with homage given to my latest title, Shear Murder. In this story, Marla the hairstylist discovers a dead body under the cake table at her friend’s wedding. Witness the cake motif on the centerpieces.

JCC Centerpiece   JCC Event

It was a lovely event. People were friendly and welcoming. But when I finished my speech, and after the raffle ticket numbers were called—an event as long as my talk—people left. Oh, a few came over and complimented me before asking if my books were available on Kindle.

Now, I wouldn’t mind if they went home and some of them ordered my titles. Most ladies took the brochures that I designed and had printed in two-sided color, but I did not sell a single book. Had they spent their money on raffles and ran out of cash or didn’t want to spend anymore? Was that it? Or do readers expect books on the cheap now and a signed copy means nothing?

I’m all for going out and meeting the public to increase readership, but consider the value of my time. I lost three hours of work and more, if you count the prep time. This is why I started charging a speaker’s fee if I go out of town for a talk. But even locally, is it worth the time and effort? Should I cease ordering my books to sell at these events? Already I have cases full of books stocked in the house. How will I get rid of them, other than donations? And even that means paying postage and a trip to the post office. It’s easier to do a giveaway with a digital copy.

If you are a multi-published author, and not a newbie looking to build a readership, do you still seek out speaking opportunities in the community? Would you go if—as one woman suggested to me—you’re invited to talk at her gardening club across town? Or will you suddenly have deadlines that prevent you from accepting?

I love speaking at libraries, but groups looking for a free speaker? Not so sure anymore. I know it’s not so much about the book sales as it is about meeting new readers, so I guess it’ll depend upon the circumstances. Or I might, in lieu of an honorarium, request a minimum book purchase agreement. Your comments?

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The Touring Test

By Boyd Morrison

This week at Bouchercon I’ll be on a panel called “State of Grace: How not to go crazy on tour,” and my first answer will be that you should sell a couple million copies of each new book. Nothing helps preserve your sanity like flying by private jet, staying in ritzy hotels, and eating gourmet meals. I know of several major authors who travel in that kind of luxury, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard them complain about touring.

Most of us, though, sell a few copies short of a million, so we have all the hassles of any other business road warrior when we go on book tour: unpredictable flight delays, hotel snafus, fast food caught on the run, and early wake-up calls to get to the next city so you can save money by spending only one night in each hotel.

To non-writers a book tour is the ultimate sign that you’re a real author and sounds glamorous. Those of us who’ve been through tours know they can be both exciting and a tedious grind, often on the same day.

The reason for going on tour initially seems self-evident: to meet readers and sign books for them. But for a new or up-and-coming author, recruiting fans outside your friends and family can be difficult without a unique angle or significant publicity from a publisher. The true reasons for touring are two-fold. First, you’re building relationships with bookstores that can hand-sell your novel, resulting in sales long after you’ve left and loyal fans eager for the next book. Second, you try to schedule appearances on radio and TV in the cities you visit, which gets your book in front of a lot more people.

A book tour should be considered an investment, because the truth is you will never sell enough books on tour to cover the cost. If you have a publisher paying the freight, I say go for it. The in-house publicity staff can make connections with stores and media that would be hard for you to get for yourself. But if you’re thinking about paying for a tour on your own, I’d advise against it unless you can drive your own car and stay with family.

I liked touring, but I only went to five or six cities when I did it, and even that many was taxing. I’m just not a fan of cramming myself into coach seats and packing and unpacking on a daily basis. The key is to have everything organized before you leave, down to planning what clothes you’re going to wear each day. One nice thing if a publisher organizes the tour is that they often provide an escort who will pick you up and drive you to all the places you need to be.

What made my second tour go even more smoothly than the first was that my wife went with me. We were visiting cities where we knew people, so it was a great tax-deductable way to see friends and family. Even though she’s a doctor by day, she could have an excellent career as a PR rep. Not only did she help keep me on track (and keep me company), she also is a big part of my publishing story. In Milwaukee she was on NPR with me, and in Denver the talk show host even brought her on set to participate in the interview. She definitely made me look good.

I guess the main way to not go crazy is to have fun, even when you have the inevitable one-person book signing, (it happened to me several times, including in Milwaukee). Remember that lone person may be a perfect stranger who came to see you because you wrote a book, which is pretty incredible when you think about it.

What advice do you have for making a book tour more bearable?

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The Rising Costs of Touring

by Michelle Gagnon

One of our local independents just announced that in the future, authors will be charged a $75 fee to hold an event at the bookstore.

Immediately, the local bookish listservs lit up. Words like “heinous” and “disgraceful” were thrown around. Boycotts were threatened; conversely, so were Occupy Wall Street-style sit-ins.

I understand that times are tough for booksellers, and that independent bookstores are vanishing faster than the proverbial snowball on a Texas summer day. I also appreciate the fact that by and large, most author events are a losing proposition. Frequently stores stay open late to host the event, which means paying overtime for staff to set up/clean up, ring in purchases, and MC. They also pay extra overhead during those hours (lights, heat, AC, etc), not to mention the costs of publicizing the reading via posters, newspaper listings, mailings, etc.

I get all that. But the thing is, times are tough for authors now, too. Advances have decreased dramatically. Print runs are smaller. Already negligible marketing budgets have now withered to the point of being virtually non-existent. There’s less co-op space available than ever before, and the battle for those critical high-visibility spots is intense.

A few years ago, I visited twenty-seven bookstores over the course of six weeks to promote my book. Had I been forced to pay seventy-five dollars to each vendor, it would have cost me nearly two grand. Mind you, that doesn’t include my own considerable expenses: gas and/or tolls if I drive to the event, flights and hotels if I fly. Most authors not only organize their own tours, they also pay all the associated costs out of pocket, chalking it up to necessary marketing fees. And sometimes, you drive an hour (or, heaven forbid, fly for a few), arrive at the store, and end up pitching your song and dance routine to three people, one of whom is the bookseller.

But we do it anyway. Because it isn’t just about selling books the night of the event (although that certainly never hurts). The main goal is to get to know the bookseller, and develop a relationship that will hopefully lead to them selling copies of your book long after you’ve exited the premises. At least, that’s always the hope.

Moreover, this does seem a bit unjust. There are authors who have the marketing machine squarely in their corner, whose tours are planned for them, who are met at the airport by media escorts who cart them from store to store. Authors who routinely attract between 50-100 people wherever they appear. Authors who, I’m willing to bet, will never have to dive into their own pockets to pay that $75 fee–in all likelihood, their publisher will pay it for them, and they’ll have no idea that the exchange even took place.

So here’s my proposition. Charge those authors more for their events: $125, say, or $150. For a top tier bestseller, the publishers will throw down that amount without blinking. Keep the events free for writers who aren’t regulars on the NY Times list. Give the midlisters a chance to get the word out about their books via your store, and who knows–maybe someday, they’ll be the ones attracting shoppers in droves.

That’s my two cents. But then, I can’t quite see myself camping out in the middle of a shopping mall with a placard.

It would be truly sad to see the grand tradition of book touring fall by the wayside, yet another casualty of the ebook onslaught.

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Giving Good Book Tour

by Michelle Gagnon

In my last post, I mentioned that I was offering a seminar on book events at a writing conference. A few people requested that I post excerpts from what was, if I do say so myself, a brilliant PowerPoint presentation (At least no one fell asleep. Well, the one guy who did wasn’t actually snoring until the very end).

So here are my tips, in a somewhat random order:

The Basics:

Timing is everything, in life and especially in book tours. When planning yours, a few things to bear in mind…

3-6 months before your release date:

  • Contact stores and libraries to set up your tour. There’s a strikingly long lead time for events at some venues, and it’s important to get on their calendar early
  • Partner up (more on this later)
  • Pitch a “theme” event (also, please see below)
  • Convince the booksellers that you’ll be able to draw a crowd, then do your best to fill those seats. Get in touch with the local MWA and SinC chapters of whatever region you’re visiting, and ask nicely if they’d mind posting an announcement about your event. Work those social networks to make sure your followers know that you’ll be coming to their hometown. Call long lost relatives and demand that they show up and buy ten books to make up for that incident in 1992. Whatever it takes.

The week before your book hits shelves:

  • Call a week before to check details. I learned this one the hard way, when my publicist gave me the wrong date for one event, and the wrong time for another. Hell hath no wrath like a bookseller who promoted an event that an author showed up to an hour late. Trust me, checking the details personally in advance can save everyone a lot of tears.
  • Arrive at the venue at least fifteen minutes early to doublecheck the set-up, and (more importantly), to introduce yourself to every bookseller in the store
  • ALWAYS bring extra books. The only times I haven’t also coincided with the times when I packed the place, the bookseller had only stocked a handful of copies, and they rapidly sold out. Times like that, most sellers are happy to buy the books from you on consignment.
  • Remember to bring promotional materials (bookmarks, magnets, pens, etc.) I always tend to remember this one as I’m sitting on a plane, picturing the stack of bookmarks still sitting in a bag by my front door.

Partnering:

I loathe doing a book event by myself, I truly do. Whenever possible, I prefer to share the burden with at least one other author, which has led to some fascinating experiences with a cast of characters ranging from teddy bear aficionados to reformed bank robbers.
Offering an event with one or more other authors has some key benefits:

  • You can interview each other, do a Q & A, or just talk up each others’ books, which tends to be much easier than lauding your own
  • It’s easier to secure a book signing, since booksellers believe (rightly) that two authors are a better draw than one
  • Cross-promotion; your fellow author’s fans learn about your books, and vice versa (and hopefully, they buy copies of both)
  • Worst case scenario, if no one shows up, you have someone to play cards with

Another option to consider: set up an event with more “unconventional” partners. To date, one of my most successful events in terms of sales was at a cocktail party hosted by a friend. She invited me to sell books, a jewelry designer to sell jewelry, and a rep from a kid’s educational toy company to sell toys. And all of us sold out–people came prepared to spend money, and after a few glasses of wine they shopped like mad.

Theme Events:

Booksellers and readers both love novel experiences (no pun intended). If the subject matter of your book naturally lends itself to a theme, fantastic. If not, get creative. Here are some examples:

  • Rhys Bowen hosted “Royal Tea Parties” at bookstores for the release of “Her Royal Spyness.”
  • Kelli Stanley held the release party for her 1930’s era novel “City of Dragons” at a modern day Speakeasy.
  • Heather Graham hosted a séance for “The Séance” release in Salem, Massachusetts.

So if your book involves classic cars, I’d recommend hitting at least as many car shows as bookstores. Same with any craft-related novels–get thee to quilting bees, scrapbooking parties, the works. The teddy bear guy (and no, I’m not making this up, there is a teddy bear guy, and he’s lovely), told me about teddy bear conferences where he’ll set up a table and sell a few thousand books in a single day.

My books don’t tend to have themes, outside of dirty bombs, kidnappings, and terrorists (and those terms don’t naturally lend themselves to mass attendance). At Thrillerfest one year, a group of us were discussing how tough it can be to land events in New York City bookstores.
The following year, we found a way around it– during Tfest, we organized a mass reading at a local Borders with the theme, “Quick Thrills from Out-of-Towners,” asked the extraordinarily gracious Lee Child to serve as our MC, and we managed to pack the place. Creativity can pay off.

In a nutshell, those are my top recommendations. But I’d be curious to hear from both authors and readers: what’s the best book event you ever attended, and what made it so great?

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“It’s Chinatown, Jake…”

by Michelle Gagnon

Promising to “bring to life the tales of San Francisco Chinatown’s supernatural past and present,” The San Francisco Chinatown Ghost Tour features a meandering walk through Chinatown’s alleyways just after nightfall. Our local Sisters in Crime chapter has been holding semi-quarterly “field trips,” and chose this as one of them, both for research and for fun. Not necessarily as much fun as holding a loaded weapon (our previous excursion was to a shooting range), but really, what can compete with that?

We met at Kan’s restaurant, where our hostess (Empress Yee) got us appropriately spooked by inviting us to share our own personal ghost stories and offering a brief discussion of Chinese astrology. She also showed us a family heirloom, a key that apparently flipped of its own accord. Whether it was just a parlor trick or not, it set the mood for the evening.

From there, we did indeed wander those alleyways. Along with a few scattered stories, some of which are local legend, others related to things her own family members experienced, we learned the origins of the term “hooker” and “Shanghied.” (Prostitutes on the upper floors of a building used fishing hooks to snag passing men’s hats. Apparently once a man has climbed three flights of stairs for his hat, he’s easily convinced to pay for sex. Perhaps because he’s worked up an appetite?)

That alone made it worth the $25 for me (plus we stopped in at the city’s own mom and pop fortune cookie factory. Very cool, and included free samples).

It was also fascinating to learn why residents of apartment buildings whose rooms face open alleyways hang eight-sided Bagua mirrors above their windows. I lived a few blocks from Chinatown for a few years, and noticed these little mirrors everywhere; at the time I simply figured it was some sort of strange decorating fad. Little did I realize it’s actually part of the practice of Feng Shui, designed to fend off bad energies from your home (and everyone knows, bad things come down alleys, both spiritually and otherwise).

I have to say, we definitely went through parts of Chinatown that I wouldn’t have been comfortable going through alone at night. Not due to any sense of heightened danger, but mainly because I wouldn’t necessarily be welcome. This is definitely a section of San Francisco where once the sun sets and the tourists have retreated to the restaurants bridging the main thoroughfares from here to North Beach, the alleys assume a life of their own. We strolled past sweatshops that afterhours converted to mah jong gambling houses, the clink of the tiles and light spilling out of open doorways. Our guide tipped us off as to which buildings housed the “real” Chinese mob, and gave us a brief history of the local family associations/tongs. She’s also a frequent consultant on films shot in San Francisco, and sprinkled the tour with everything from leftover sets from Nash Bridges (apparently the locals liked it so much, they asked that it remain after shooting) to showing us buildings set so close together the Jackie Chan happily climbed up the space between them doing stunts for one of his films. And along the way, we exploded lots of “poppers,” both to scare off any ghosts that might want to tag along and to provide some general giddy entertainment..

Good times, all. I head to Baltimore next week, and a tour of Quantico that I’m positively giddy about. I’ll tell you all about it when I return. In the meantime, a question for you: name your Chinese astrological sign, and whether or not it suits you (aka, “What’s your sign, babe?”)

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Oh, The Glamour of it all

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne
www.clarelangleyhawthorne.com

How I wish that air travel was like it used to be – glamorous, exotic, even adventurous. Now it is a grueling ordeal which, after the recent long haul flights to and from Australia, makes me wonder why I even bother to fly at all (probably because I have no choice).

Our flight to Sydney was actually good – we had two rows of four seats for us all risking that no one would, in their right mind, want the middle two seats in the final two rows in economy if they knew there was a three and a half year old sitting on the aisle. Our plan paid off and the boys got to stretch out, so we actually got a fair amount of sleep on the 15 hour flight over. But landing in Sydney in the middle of a thunderstorm,with each twin threatening to throw up and crying the eternity it took for us to land amid the lightning and rain, soon brought home the realization that flying is no fun at all.

Once on the ground we also had to wait on the tarmac as lightning prevented any of the ground crews from operating the jetways with the result being that four jumbo jets (at the very least) all deplaned (a word which I never thought existed) at the same time once the storm passed. Two hours getting through customs and immigration – and we’re bloody Australian citizens – meant that we missed our connection to Melbourne and could not get on another flight for four hours. Great, four hours in Sydney airport with three and a half year old twin boys after a 15 hour flight. The thing that got to me the most was that no one seemed to give a shit. Not at the airlines, not at customs. That’s what flying is all about now – endurance.

Can you put up with the power play of the customs guy who refuses to let you go in the shorter line because (and I quote) “Just because I said no” (bastard!) despite two little boys in tow.

Can you put up with the Qantas staff who shrug and say ‘oh well’ when you are faced with a four hour wait after a long flight mainly due to the fact that Qantas had originally cancelled your international connecting flight (without telling you) forcing you on to a domestic flight which meant clearing customs etc. in Sydney – which meant you were screwed.

On the return flight, there were no spare seats so the boys got to sprawl over us instead (I was in a mini Yoga session trying to contort my body so I could sleep amongst the toddler heads, feet and arms). Qantas flight staff appeared maybe three times the whole flight and couldn’t even be bothered handing out a kids activity pack (good thing I always have about 100 hours worth of entertainment packed into a backpack and miracle of miracles our in flight entertainment did work – the family behind us had none that worked!) I guess at least the return flight was smooth but still the food was lousy, the service (if you can even call it that) was indifferent and this was on an Australian airline – which used to be a safe haven – an expensive but welcome change to the American flying experience.
No more.

So as I gear up for my first ever book tour which my publisher, Penguin, is actually paying for (!) for The Serpent and the Scorpion my excitement is tinged with trepidation. Because lets all face it – flying today is not what it used to be. Flying even in Australia is not what it used to be and that’s damn depressing.

So much for jet-setting to glamour and fame.

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My Second Life

by Michelle Gagnon

So the last stop on my book tour for BONEYARD was a virtual one in Second Life. I was a little trepidatious. I’m not exactly a Luddite, but when forced to deal with computer tech support people I find myself saying “Which thingy was I supposed to click on again?” with alarming frequency. And they assume the tone one takes when explaining things to a very small, somewhat slow child. So the thought of navigating a virtual environment was nerve-wracking to say the least.

Apparently the good people at the writer’s enclave on Athena Isle have dealt with my kind before, since they sent multiple documents explaining the entire process step by step. I’m sure they thought the experience had therefore been idiot-proofed, but I was the idiot that proved them wrong.

I successfully downloaded the Second Life software, only to have it crash every time I tried to open it. By the tenth attempt I was ready to throw in the towel. One of my Second Life advisors suggested I try installing it on a different computer, since Vista was notoriously quirky. So I appropriated my husband’s Apple and presto: I was in.

Of course, figuring out where the heck I was, and how I was supposed to get to Athena Isle, was a different matter. I alit on some sort of “welcome” island, with lots of confusing signs everywhere. Remember that scene in the Matrix, where they pull Keanu Reeves out of the water and he can barely see? Kinda like that. I found a “sample” house, wandered inside and ended up chatting with another girl who was having the same issues that I was, in that a) she kept walking into walls, and b) she couldn’t figure out how to sit down. Or do anything else, really, aside from type.

I should back up a bit here to describe my avatar. Turns out that in Second Life it’s possible to buy yourself blue eyes, pink hair, and a complete outfit for the equivalent of two dollars This was extremely exciting, the only downside being that the only clothing retailers I could find apparently catered to streetwalkers. Seriously, the attire in Second Life is scanty at best. And even if you skew your avatar toward the “athletic” body type, she’s still going to be endowed with a Lara Croft-esque bust line. Not exactly my usual author look, but I decided to go with it.

After wandering around aimlessly for an embarrassing length of time, I discovered “teleporting.” Yes, teleporting, as in Star Trek. I’m one of those people who absolutely cannot wait for this technology to be available in my day to day life, along with that food machine that makes whatever you’re craving in a minute or less. I don’t care if teleporting means occasionally getting separated from a body part, as long as I no longer having to deal with the debacle that air travel has become. So far this was shaping up to be my kind of experience.

Unfortunately, regardless of which island I clicked on, every time I teleported I somehow ended up on the bottom of the ocean. Which forced me to circle the entire thing until I found a beach to climb on to. Seriously sad, I know. One of my gracious hosts finally sent me a link directly to the event location, and I ended up in what looked for all the world like a Tahoe cabin.

Another thing I want from Second Life is this magic table that my host, Alas, had. Every time a new person arrived, another chair appeared at the table (and a lot of the guests materialized in the air above the table, a very cool effect. Clearly they’d figured out how to avoid the whole deep-sea diving thing.)

The event itself went well, as far as I could tell. I’ve done online chats before. For some reason, it was actually more distracting being able to see other figures there while chatting. I suspect part of the reason was that as someone was typing a question, their hands moved as though they were at an imaginary keyboard. And the time lag felt a little more unnatural when I could see everyone else sitting there awaiting my responses. Plus it was fairly silent, aside from some simulated ambient noise. I’d compare it to a Quaker meeting, with Friends dressed like they dropped by en route to a rave.

The questions were fairly standard, there’s a transcript posted online here

However it was the first time I’ve fielded questions about getting an agent from a Faerie (at least I think that’s what she was, but I could be wrong.) I wandered around on my own afterward, visiting a few more islands. People kept trying to bite me, which I found somewhat disturbing, and they got offended when I refused (I think I missed the biting protocol sheet). I also discovered that I’m just as inept at small talk there as I am in my first life. Plus, I tried to change into a new outfit and ended up wearing the bag it came in. I did finally master flying, however, and that was very cool.

When I looked up, five hours had passed. Ouch. I reluctantly signed off and decided to steer clear for a few weeks while I got my life back in order post-tour. Honestly, if I had more free time on my hands, I could see quickly becoming hooked. The various environments you can visit there are so amazing, it really is a virtual Shangri-La. But I barely have time to get through my email every day as it is, and I’m constantly missing deadlines. I’ve already sworn off Scrabulous (temporarily—I mean, let’s be reasonable) and have begrudgingly acknowledged that the last thing I need in my life is another time-suck. And even at $2 an outfit, I could still probably do some damage to my bank account once I figured out how to wear what I purchased. So Second Life, I’ll be back for more someday. Just promise not to bite me.

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Welcome to…THE KILL ZONE!!!

By Michelle Gagnon

That sounds so ominous, doesn’t it?

So I drew the short straw for the inaugural Kill Zone posting. It’s a lot of pressure. I feel the need to write something weighty and momentous, a breathtaking post befitting the gravitas of a blog launch.

After a week of pondering, I’ve still got nothing. So in lieu of providing an illuminating perspective on an important issue, I’m going to do a whiny wrap-up of my recent book tour instead. With any luck, John and Clare have come up with something more impressive for their turn. A person can always hope, right?

And away we go…

My Book Tour, aka “Death March with Signing Pen”

Just to clarify, I’m not really complaining. I’m know that I’m lucky to have books published, luckier still that people appear to be reading them, and that foolish booksellers allow me into their stores armed with my bookmarks and refrigerator magnets. I love bookstores in general, and I’m a shameless performer, so the opportunity to get up in front of people and pontificate is something you’ll have to pry from my cold dead hands. That said, as I enter week four of my book tour (which I’ve officially dubbed “death march with signing pen”), I have come to notice the downside. I’m truly a homebody at heart; I love spending ninety percent of my time locked indoors with little but a keyboard for company. So being gone for extended periods of time is not only wearing, it makes me start missing things…

1. Food: I have no idea how a person manages to eat dinner during these tours. I leave my house around 5PM to get to most of these events, and then I generally get home around 10 or 11PM. Most local restaurants have closed by the time I’ve finished reading, and when I get home I don’t have the energy to assemble a bowl of cereal. Seriously, I haven’t had a hot meal in weeks. I’m wasting away. I’ve developed a theory that this is how Lee Child remains so svelte.

2. Television: I’m way behind on my programming. I’ve actually had to delete things from my Tivo UNWATCHED to make space for more critical shows. Which presents a horrible conundrum for me: though I have yet to watch the HD version of “The Science of Sleep,” I had intended to watch it someday. Will it be on again in the future? Can I really risk deleting it in favor of an episode of Project Runway?
Which leads to my next concern: as far behind as I am on my regular series, I’m completely in the dark when it comes to reality shows. This might not seem grave to some of you, but when my husband has a better idea of who might win “So You Think You Can Dance” than I do, things have gone horribly awry.

3. Company: I can pretty much guarantee that if you do more than a few tour stops with the same author, the two of you will quickly adopt the worst attributes of an old married couple. So it was with Simon Wood and I. Early on, we found each other charming. He chuckled at my “accidentally killed off my main character” story, I gasped during his “trapped at an underground fight club in Tulsa” anecdote. But the bloom quickly faded, and by week three we were sniping at each other, rolling our eyes, and generally behaving like the main characters in “The War of the Roses.”

4. Family: Granted, this should have come first. You know things are getting bad when your kid stops recognizing you. All right, I’m exaggerating (I am a writer, after all) but after being gone for five days, then heading out for a different corner of the Bay Area every night, it does become a little surreal. Plus, I reflexively tried to sign my name on my toddler the other day. Not good.

5. Beds: Of course, at times the beds have been the least of my problems. There was, for example, the Days Inn behind the strip club in San Diego, with all sorts of sketchy characters lurking in the corridor outside my room. But a month of sleeping on strange beds does tend to wreak havoc on my spine.

6. Flights: I’m not a nervous flyer; in fact I used to look forward to getting on a plane and going somewhere exotic. Now that I’ve spent the past four weekends getting on and off planes, I have a few…let’s call them helpful suggestions…for the airlines. For instance, why not take off on time? I swear, I haven’t been on a trip in over six months that didn’t experience a two-to-five hour delay at the airport (or better yet, on the tarmac). And hey, is it really so difficult to have some form of nourishment available? I’ll pay for it; I would just love to be able to purchase that twenty-dollar mealy sandwich on the plane if I didn’t have the opportunity to grab one during my two mile-long sprint from gate 1 to gate 50 as I changed flights. And while we’re on the subject, consider turning off the seatbelt sign from time to time (an especially good idea during that three hour-long stint on the tarmac). When the person next to you maintains a running monologue on the size of their bladder, as the flight crew flips through celebrity rags and growls at anyone attempting to get out of their seats, it becomes abundantly clear that the glory days of civilian jetsetting have drawn to a tragic close.

So, anyone else have war stories to share? Best comment receives a signed edition of my first thriller THE TUNNELS. If you don’t win, console yourself by signing up for my newsletter at www.michellegagnon.com and I’ll toss your name in the hat for an Amazon Kindle, iPod Shuffle, Starbucks gift certificates, and other fabulous prizes.

Michelle Gagnon is a former modern dancer, bartender, dog walker, model, personal trainer, and Russian supper club performer. Her debut thriller The Tunnels was an IMBA bestseller. Her latest book, Boneyard, depicts a cat and mouse game between dueling serial killers. In her spare time she frantically watches television in an attempt to make room on her tivo drive.

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