Tag: 2013 A to Z Challenge

F is for Four stars or five? #atozchallenge

Day F of the 2013 Blogging from A to Z April challenge. Today’s topic: four stars or five?

Last summer, I put out an ebook on Amazon. I opted into the Kindle Select program and was able to give away a bunch of copies for free, which netted me a bunch of reviews.

Here’s the breakdown of reviews of “Tim and Sara” to-date:

(And there’s also another 4-star review on Amazon.ca).

Most writers I know want as many five-star reviews as possible. But I actually prefer having four stars mixed in.

The reason is simple: no book is perfect. Let me repeat that. No book is perfect. Not yours, not mine, not any bestseller or Nobel prize winner. So when a book has only five-star reviews, that sends up serious flags for me because it means someone is lying.

Maybe I’m too cynical. But when your reviews come from your mom, your friends, your aunt who doesn’t even read in your genre, and your writing group members, do they really think that your story is the best thing ever written, or are they just saying it to avoid hurting your feelings? What do strangers and those who have nothing to gain actually think?

I use Goodreads to track what I read, and one of the things I look at is the reviews. I actually won’t read something with all 5-star reviews, because that tells me the reviews are exaggerated.  Because if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

As a writer, how do you feel about 4 stars vs 5? As a reader?

E is for Ebooks #atozchallenge

Day E of the 2013 Blogging from A to Z April challenge. Today’s topic: ebooks.

When I published a short story as an ebook, I opted into the Kindle Select program, which means I received extra benefits (like free days) as long as it was exclusively on the Kindle. I didn’t renew it, however, so hopefully this weekend I’ll be able to put it up on Smashwords and Nook.

I’m releasing a book of short stories in May (just got the cover back last night and it looks awesome!), and this time around I’ll be hitting all the big guys – Kindle, Nook, and whomever Smashwords distributes to.

When it comes to reading ebooks, I don’t actually have an e-reader.  I have the Kindle and Google Books apps on my phone, and I’ve used Amazon’s cloud reader on my computer to read ebooks.

Which do you prefer – Kindle, Nook, or other – and why? If you’ve published, have you focused on one format over the other, and if so, why?

D is for D-bag #atozchallenge

Day D of the 2013 Blogging from A to Z April challenge. Today’s topic: d-bags.

I’d planned to write out a long post about Dostoevsky and Russian lit for D-day, but I’m tired.  So I’m going to tell you a story about my students instead.

Last year I taught job- and life-skills classes, full of high school kids who wanted to go to college but needed a boost to get there; kids who could be successful in school if they got an extra boost; kids who were stuck in my classes as a last-ditch effort to keep them from dropping out; and kids who just happened to have an empty spot in their schedule and were put in my classes.

Needless to say, it was quite a diverse group: socioeconomically, academically, and racially/ethnically.

But they all had one thing in common – they loved to call each other d-bags.

Granted, my classroom management style was a bit unorthodox. These kids had so many issues that writing them up for every little thing would’ve gotten me nowhere with them. On day one, I told them my views on cursing: it happens. As long as it’s not excessive, and it’s not directed at everyone, I’m going to overlook it – but I WILL write you up if you use the words “gay” or “retarded.” And for the most part, the kids were great with it; other than a couple slips at the beginning they respected my ban on those words, at no point was the swearing directed at anyone, and it was never excessive.

Except for d-bag and its variations.

I tried to fight it.

N: “Mr. S is such a douche.”

Me: “N, don’t say that.”

N: “Say what, douche?”

Z: “What’s wrong with douche?”

A: “Who’s a douche?”

Me: “Stop saying that word.”

S: “What word? Douche?”

Z: “What’s wrong with douche?”

And so on. I was more concerned with debating the merits of Machiavelli’s leadership style, or showing them how to fill out a resume, or teaching them Latin roots to improve reading comprehension, than getting them to stop saying that word.  But finally, on the last day of the semester, it happened.

N: “Mr. S is such a douche.”

Me: “N, don’t say that.”

N: “Say what, douche?”

Z: “What’s wrong with douche?”

D: “You guys know what a douche is, right?”

A chorus of no’s.

D (a guy), clearly embarrassed: “It’s this thing a woman puts in her, um, uh, vagina to clean it out.”

A chorus of disgust.

And from that day on, I never again heard d-bag or any of its variations in my classroom. I pride myself on the fact that if there’s one thing I got through to those kids on, it’s that they stopped vocally calling people d-bags. And that’s a skill that will serve them well in life.

C is for Cinnamon Rolls #atozchallenge

Day C of the 2013 Blogging from A to Z April challenge. Today’s topic: cinnamon rolls.

I love to cook and bake. Unfortunately though I’m not a big eater, so I generally try to give away most of the food I make. Leftover risotto or lasagna can easily find a home; whole carrot cakes and several dozen cookies, not so much.

One thing I don’t have a problem devouring are these cinnamon rolls. My six-year-old son, who’s inherited my love of baking-not-eating, eats three of these in one sitting. He made them for Easter breakfast (I read the directions while he got out the ingredients, measured, and mixed), and since they were so yummy and easy, I want to share the recipe.

Cinnamon Rolls

In your bread machine, combine the following: 1 c milk, 1/4 c softened butter, 1 egg, 3 c flour (I throw in some gluten too because I don’t use bread flour), 1/2 c sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, 2 tsp cinnamon, and 2 tsp yeast. Set to dough setting.

After the dough is done, combine 3/4 c brown sugar, 1/4 c flour, 1 tbsp cinnamon, and 1/3 c chopped cold butter until it resembles course crumbs. Divide the dough in half and on a floured surface roll out to a 12″x8″ rectangle. Sprinkle half the brown sugar mixture on each and roll up, starting with a long edge. Cut into 12 pieces and arrange in a greased 13″x9″ cake pan. Cover the pans and allow to rise for 30 minutes in a warm place. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes.

To make the glaze, combine powdered sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, 2 tbsp softened butter, and 3-4 tbsp milk. Pour on top.


B is for Best #atozchallenge

Day B of the 2013 Blogging from A to Z April challenge. Today’s topic: Best, as in, trying to determine how and if something is the best – best song, best book, best ice cream flavor, etc.

Do you ever have a night where you open someone’s link to a YouTube video, and then click on something recommended, and click on something recommended, and three hours later you’re listening to songs in some northern European language where they reference Don Draper and dance in leotards, watching German industrial horror videos, thinking that yes, Taylor Swift does sound much better with goats, and wondering which Primus CDs to get your dad for his upcoming birthday?

My dad loves music, and because he used to play the bass, I thought he might enjoy a couple Primus CDs for his birthday, since I can’t afford to get him a dishwasher (namely because I hate doing dishes) like I really want to.  But which ones?

I turned to Google for an answer, but I couldn’t get anything definitive.  Some lists were based on sales; others on the listmaker’s opinion, and some on a vote limited to just a few chosen or self-selected fans and critics.  Some gave reasons (great bass playing, crappy lyrics), and some just proclaimed their choice as infallible law.

Books are the same way.  What makes one the best?

Sales? 50 Shades of Gray sold a kajillion copies, and we all know the writing is barely proficient.

Endurance? Moby Dick is a classic that won’t die, but trying to read it puts me to sleep.

Lists? It depends who’s putting it together.  Is it literary critics who automatically disdain anything commercial? Is it a specific demographic who’ll therefore lean towards a specific genre, plot device, or setting?

What criteria would you use to pick the best book? Using your criteria, what do you think the best fiction book is, and why?

A is for Antagonist #atozchallenge

(Last year I signed up for the 2012 Blogging from A to Z April Challenge. I met some great writers, so I thought I’d do it again this year too. Basically, you write a blog post every day in April except Sundays, going through the alphabet.)

Day A of the 2013 Blogging from A to Z April challenge. Today’s topic: antagonists.

A couple years ago I wrote a short story, “The Kindness of Strangers,” which appeared in the The Indiana Horror Anthology 2011. Basically it was about a girl who wanted to get revenge on her ex-boyfriend, and she was helped by an evil paranormal antagonist, Alec.

Usually I write about a character once, and that’s it; I have very few recurring characters.  But Alec stuck with me, and when I started a story about a guy driving through the Midwest causing trouble just for the fun of it, I realized that guy was Alec.  The story is mostly written, except for the end, and I’ve been stuck on it for quite awhile.  This past weekend, the story unstuck itself.

I realized that I’d been looking at Alec all wrong.  Yes, he’s the antagonist.  Yes, he’s an unsympathetic d-bag whom readers will probably want to suffer for his crimes.  But he’s more than that; he has a back story, and motivation, and a goal.

I read somewhere recently that every character is the star of his or her own story, and antagonists are no exception.  Great antagonists are ones who could be us except for the (subjectively?) bad choices they’ve made.  They’re trying to reach their goals as best they can, skewed by their moral perceptions and backgrounds.  And my Alec is no exception.  In order to connect, in order for an antagonist to be memorable, I think a big part of it is just getting to know the antagonist as well as the protagonist.

Who’s your favorite antagonist, and why? Do you prefer nuanced villains or one-dimensional bad guys, and why?

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