Saturday, September 27, 2014

My Sexy Saturday Post from a W.I.P.

Deep in an English wood...

What's a W.I.P. you ask? Simply it's a "work in progress" and this time around I've decided to post seven sexy paragraphs from our current work in progress entitled Driving in England. I say "our" because this is story was written by me and my husband, the talented A.J. Matthews. Right now, it's tentatively scheduled for a January 2015 release from Devine Destinies, so if you like this excerpt more be coming soon! In the meantime, be sure to check out my other mainstream romantic fiction at

A brief synopsis: Susannah, a woman of a certain age, travels to England on behalf of her boss, a rich oil tycoon, to do a little snooping into his family tree. What she doesn't count on is butting heads and then falling for the handsome genealogist Duncan Balfour. 

Excerpt set-up: Who says older lovers can't have as much fun as younger ones, especially when it's a warm day and an empty forest meadow beckons? ;)

Oh, my!” Susannah shot him a glance that covered his body from face to bulging pants. Her face looked pink. “We’re like a couple of teenagers.”

Duncan thought of something. “Let’s get past Norwich. Thetford’s not too far down the road.” 

“What’s in Thetford?”

“It’s not what’s in Thetford, it’s what’s around it.” When she looked blank he smiled. “Thetford Forest. There are a number of trails running through it. We can find one and be... private for a few minutes.”

She chuckled. “You wanna do it outside? Hmm, Duncan, what a naughty boy you are!” 

“But you like the idea?”

She nodded. “Oh, I like.”

Enjoy the rest of your Sexy Saturday blog hop!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Beware of Book Mills!

I love my current publishers!

Writers, beware of book mills!

Things are going along fairly smoothly in life when suddenly a mistake you thought you’d corrected years ago rears its ugly head. No, I don’t mean my ex (ugly as he is!) showed up on my doorstep. That I could easily handle by kicking his butt to the curb. This mistake has to do with one of lowest of pond-scum-feeding con artists who exist in the publishing world—the book mill.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, here’s a quick definition. A book mill simply churns out book after book after book with little or no editing or consideration of the material. Any and all topics and genres and writing abilities are fair game because no one at the book mill actually reads the manuscripts submitted. All the book mill wants is for wannabe authors to buy tons of copies of their own books so the book mill can make a tidy profit with little effort. They may promise “promotion opportunities for only $99!” but the author receives little or no sales boost from handing over money to the book mill, and, of course, it’s a non-refundable fee. In fact, the book mill routinely bombards its authors with meaningless communications promising to put their titles in front of famous talk show hosts and radio stars, along with entering the books into prestigious book expos—all for a fee, of course. It’s not hard to see that a running book mill is a great way to scam a lot of money off of anxious writers who have no knowledge of how the publishing world works.

I didn’t realize at the time (well over a decade ago) that I was dealing with a book mill, but it gradually became obvious. I had sold the electronic rights to my novel to an ebook-only press, but I had been asked to sign print books at a book-signing. This is way before the Kindle debuted, so not many people were interested in having an e-book author at a book-signing event. Where would I get print copies to sign? An online acquaintance recommended this book mill, and from his comments I thought they sounded legitimate. The book mill agreed to the print rights only to my novel since I informed them I had sold the e-rights earlier. Win-win, right?

The book mill did a quick spell check for “editing” and then told me my novel was now available for purchase. I bought some copies for the signing, but I was very disappointed when they arrived in the mail. The print books were extremely expensive for the quality of the product. A stock image photo slapped onto a rather sorry solid color with the book’s title printed above in a standard font was the “cover art.” (Even I could have done that well over a decade ago!) But at least I had a book in hand to sign at the event. I was hopeful it would eventually sell well in both print and electronic formats.

Flash forward a few years: With practically zero print sales (none I couldn’t account for personally), I requested my book’s print rights back from the book mill and asked them to pull my title from their web site. Years passed and I never heard a peep from this company. I heard nothing about them on the grapevine either. I figured the book mill must have gone out of business. I felt very relieved to have escaped their clutches.

My novel’s e-rights eventually expired with its first electronic publisher. I revised and re-sold the novel to a publisher of both print and ebooks with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with for some time now. With fresh edits and a snazzy new cover, I was happy that my “baby” had found a good home. Everything seemed to have come together for this well-reviewed book with its mixed-up publishing past. 

Flash forward to a few weeks ago: An email arrives in my inbox from an unknown company saying they’re publishing my novel and that I can pay them money to promote it. What the…? Who are they and why did they pirate my book? I immediately contacted my publisher and then wrote back to this unknown company asking them to take my book down from their site. Immediately the abuse began. I eventually learned that this new company was in fact the same old book mill I had dealt with more than a decade ago operating under a new name. They claimed I had “infringed upon my copyright.”

Say what? Along with other legal-sounding mumbo-jumbo the email stated they’d “return my copyright” for a mere $99. Imagine that! Thing is, if I didn’t pay them right away they claimed they’d take me to court and sue me for the "infringing on the copyright" to my own work. Wow! (I dug out the old contract. There’s not a word about having to pay them any fees whatsoever in their contract or that they would file for a copyright on the work.)

Weirder yet, I had filed for the copyright for my novel with the US Copyright Office many years ago. It’s my book and I registered the copyright, so what nonsense is this? My current publisher said to stop communicating with this company directly, as they’re obviously trying to frighten me into paying them money to shut up. She wisely asked for the book mill’s legal counsel contact information so the two “publishers” could discuss the matter. The book mill seemed to ignore this request.

Weeks later, another email arrives in my inbox stating that I need to buy my copyright back from the book mill since my book hasn’t sold any copies in over a year. Well, of course it hasn’t sold any copies! I told the company many years ago to take it down from their site, and I’d requested my print rights back. Since the “new company” is actually the “old book mill” surely they have this information at hand and could see it was all a mistake, right? I was advised by my publisher to send them a short and simple email to the book mill reminding them to contact my novel’s current publisher as requested earlier, just in case the first email had been missed.

Then all hell broke loose.

The most unprofessional and nasty emails followed. There’s simply no other way to describe the horrid tone of these communications. Personal attacks? Plenty! I must be an axe murderer in my sleep. What an odd sideline for a romance author!

The book mill also sent these insulting emails to my publisher as well, since I had provided contact information. We can only assume they did this for maximum fright tactic/belittling effect. Apart from calling my current publisher every name in the book (how professional!) they continue to insist I’ll be in a world of financial hurt if I don’t pay them. I’m beginning to wonder if they haven’t taken lessons from either Tony Soprano or the Godfather. Needless to say, my current publisher and the company lawyer will be conversing directly with the book mill from now on.

You know what? Even if I win the lottery tomorrow, there’s no way I’ll ever pay these people. Who gives in to a bully? Why would anyone pay a bully for the rights to his/her own work? With further research, we’ve discovered that this book mill has been sued before for employing similar tactics with their authors.

A Better Business Bureau web site says the book mill in question publicly stated that their contracts don’t last more than ten years. My original contract would have ended a few years back then. This might explain why I’d never heard from the old book mill with the new name until recently.

It doesn’t appear they were bought out or sold. It’s simply the same book mill operating under a new name. Why on earth should a business change their name in midstream unless they’ve got something to hide? This is an ongoing nightmare, so I’ll fill you in on any news as it comes available.

The moral of the story is this: Writers beware of book mills! They are not your friends, especially if they constantly request money for so-called services. And never ever forget the old adage: “The money flows from the publisher to the author—not the other way around.” A legitimate publisher takes you on as an author because they truly believe in your book (like my novel's current publisher). You deserve nothing less!

Editor’s note: My husband and I will be leading a panel called “What makes a good publisher?” at ConClave 38, October 10-12, in Dearborn, Michigan. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

I Got the Doctor Who Let Down Blues


I Got the Doctor Who Let Down Blues

by Cynthianna

The tension has been building up for months now—eight months to be precise. The new season of Doctor Who with a new actor in the title role has been touted since last Christmas with only crumbs dropped now and then to feed the fans’ rabid appetite for news and gossip. Big kudos go out to the BBC marketing department for their expert dangling of the carrot in front of the fervent fans and for preventing our attention from ever wandering too far. The Beeb promised us a mind-blowing, landmark-making, scrumpdillyupmptious sci-fi/fantasy event of unbelievable proportions. In the last couple of weeks Whovians were whipped into a frenzy further with the Doctor Who World Tour featuring the main actors and creators of the show. (Once again, kudos to the BBC marketing department.) Doctor Who fans have bemoaned the long wait but they were totally and sincerely psyched when at last the big day, August 23, finally arrived.

I guess it’s only natural after so much whipping up of excitement and expectations, a fan girl might feel a bit let down after actually viewing said long-awaited first episode of the new season. No, you can put the tomatoes away—I adore Peter Capaldi as the Doctor and have no problems with Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara the companion—but I will say I’d hoped for a stronger vehicle for their debut story together. Once again, I don’t fault the actors or the special effects or even the story idea, but I found some very avoidable faults in the scriptwriting that literally set my teeth on edge. (To quote a fan about what made the Matt Smith era seem less than stellar: “Moffat!”)

Where to begin? I don’t want to give spoilers to those who haven’t seen said episode yet, so I will be general in my comments. Also, I will compare and contrast the classics series of Doctor Who to the new series in hopes this will illustrate where I see the newer episodes have lost their luster. If I had to give a one word quote about what I feel the new series of Doctor Who is missing, that word would be “intelligence.”

“Intelligent what?” you may ask. Don’t worry, I’ll get there. Here’s some background first: My husband and I are very fortunate to be able to receive the Retro-TV channel where we live, and since August 4 we’ve been watching nightly episodes of classic Doctor Who, starting with the very first Doctor as portrayed by William Hartnell. Also, this past summer we’ve been checking out DVDs of classic Doctor Who episodes from our local library, having recently watched a number of the third Doctor’s (Jon Pertwee) stories. 

Okay, BBC marketing department this is where you guys might have made a big mistake by asking us to wait eight months for the new season to begin... Those of us who were big fans since the last century have had ample time to re-watch our favorite moments on DVD and broadcast TV. We can leisurely stop and pause our DVDs and discuss what works and what doesn’t in a particular Doctor Who story. Surprisingly, even if we agree that the special effects could have been better in an episode, we very rarely complain that the writing is weak, the characters aren’t realized well, or anything sets our teeth on edge.

Not bad for a sci-fi show whose entire yearly budget in the 1960s - 1980s was no where near what they spend creating just one episode today—even when adjusted for inflation. So, if a bigger budget and flashier special effects don’t make for a better Doctor Who experience, what does? This is where I posit my thoughts on what is currently missing from the series—intelligence. What do you take away from a Doctor Who story? What lesson(s) did you learn? Did you find out anything new about science or history or humanity or yourself?

I know some of the new series fans will argue, “Doctor Who has never been a family friendly show—it’s not about teaching kids things,” but that’s where they’re wrong. All one has to do is go back to the original 1963 proposal for Doctor Who to see that it was created to be a television show for families with school-aged children, and it was to have “teaching moments” scattered through-out its futuristic tales along with facts and insights tossed into the historical storylines. The point I’m making here is that the writing was strong enough to both entertain and enlighten both adults and children. Viewers never felt as if they were being talked down to or manipulated by catch-phrases and multitudes of explosions. (Plus, they never felt as if being a person of faith was somehow suspect, a common theme in the newer series. It's okay if you don't believe in God, Mr. Moffat, but please don't try to purposely offend those who do. It's just plain rude.)

I celebrate fans--not insult them, Steven!

No doubt, the newer series’ emphasis has drifted away from the educational premise. Alas, sometimes it doesn’t even entertain. One can walk away after viewing a new series’ episode and fifteen minutes later totally forget what the premise or point of the story was. Sure, you might remember the Doctor wore a dressing gown or rode a horse or cracked some funny one-liners (possibly of a sexual nature), but nothing stays in your mind of any importance. You don’t feel like the show helped you to think more intelligently. You may not feel that some of the content was appropriate for your six-year-old. Classic Doctor Who writers probably wouldn’t recognize it as the same show anymore.

To clarify, let’s look at the 1973 story, The Green Death. The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and his assistant, Jo Grant, along with his friends at UNIT, are fighting against an international chemical company which is bent on polluting the water supply and killing people (through the infected maggots created) so the corporation and its masters can reap mega-profits. Change “Global Chemical” to “Monsanto” or “Dow” or “Bayer” and this story of how important it is for humanity (with help from the Doctor) to rise up and stop this disaster before it’s too late would make for an episode that is both entertaining and educational and very relevant in the year 2014. Added bonus, once viewers watched such an episode they might actually be motivated to become more environmentally aware and take positive action.

The Third Doctor era can also boast of another intelligent environmental awareness storyline—1970’s Inferno. If you’re alarmed about the increasing earthquakes and ground water pollution caused by hydraulic fracturing or fracking, this is a story that bears close viewing. Even more amazing, the 1964 story Planet of Giants starring the first Doctor deals with a businessman who kills a government official in order to make a fortune off his new pesticide that destroys everything it touches... Recent headlines about “bee-killing” pesticides called neonicotinoids are both shocking and frightening. But can one imagine Doctor Who in 2014 touching upon such a burning topic that could affect life on Earth as we know it?

Intelligent television? Yes, even a fictional TV series can work for the good of humanity. At the very least it could make us all more aware of state of the planet and our impact upon it. Wouldn’t it be better to inspire a new generation of ecologists and astronauts and historians simply than create a mad marketing rush to get the kids to haul ass to Hot Topic to purchase millions of dollars in Doctor Who T-shirts, fezes and bow-ties?

I got the Doctor Who Let Down Blues. I was hoping for more intelligent writing for Peter Capaldi in his new incarnation as the Doctor, but producer Steven Moffat didn’t want to disappoint his perceived audience’s tastes—he kept things on the rather silly level. All I know is that I’m too old to care for discussions about “boyfriends” in the Tardis or learning the funny put-downs the Doctor and his companions will use with each other for the next year. Whatever happened to the Doctor and his companions treating each other with respect and kindness? Are women in the Whovian universe to be seen simply as sex objects?

Case in point: Girls kissing lizards? Who needs it? Not my bag, baby, and I don’t believe that scenes of adult sexuality add anything to a show that should be family friendly, even when it outright refuses to be “educational for school aged children” as the original 1963 show premise states. Silly sex talk—that’s what late-night TV and locker rooms in middle schools are for, isn’t it? Rise above it, please.

Perhaps both George Lucas and Steven Moffat should be banned from attempting to write/produce any of their story ideas ever again. Remember The Phantom Menace, another long-awaited event that proved to be disappointing? These two guys should stick to their strengths and recruit strong writers who can craft intelligent, respectful, and moving storylines without all the adolescent fluff. Who knows—some of these writers could even be adult females?

I think the Doctor—with his numerous intelligent and strong female sidekicks—would approve.

Addition, 9-1-14:
I enjoyed Peter Capaldi's performance as the Doctor in the latest episode (Into the Dalek) much more than in the first story, but Clara is still not a very defined character. She slaps him hard in the face--wow! What sort of "teacher" would strike a "pupil"? I almost think that was producer Steven Moffat's idea of another "funny gimmick", but to me it turned Clara into a bully. I like the idea of the new Doctor needing a "teacher" to help him--just look at the first Doctor with teacher companions Barbara and Ian. They really helped him to learn a lot about himself and humanity. I just wish the producers could keep a consistent tone and skip the gimmicks of slapstick/adult sexuality that Moffat seems to think fits. Doctor Who is a science fiction/fantasy tale--SF lovers tend to be a bit more sophisticated than fans of The Three Stooges. I still feel that Russell T. Davies wrote and supervised much more intelligent scripts.

Monday, August 11, 2014

What Makes a Story? Beginning, Middle… End?

I usually post a modified version of the book reviews I do for an established literary site on my blog and Goodreads, but this time I don’t feel comfortable doing so. I’m a different type of book reviewer, you could say. I’d rather say nice things about a writer’s work, or at least make some constructive criticisms of where he or she could improve it, but sometimes I’m at a lost for words. This is one of those times. Amazing, isn’t it?

Back in the day of the dinosaurs, those of us who had the pleasure of taking English composition classes and creative writing courses where taught the basic structure of fiction. Every short story, novella or novel has a beginning, middle, and last, but not least, an end. These are sometimes called by fancier names such as inciting incident, rising action, and resolution, but they pretty much mean the same thing. When a reader sits down to read fiction he or she expects to find character(s) who start a journey of sorts—physical and/or emotional—and after a series of incidents, which illustrate the personality of the character(s), the story comes to a resolution of sorts. A story may have a “happily ever after” ending or a “happy for now” ending or the merely satisfactory  “that’s the way it goes but tomorrow is another day and we’ll keep trying” ending. One thing is certain—the tale comes to a conclusion

I guess this isn’t the case anymore. How did I know my English professors back in the dinosaur days were wrong? After recently reading a “short story” collection by a recent graduate of an Ivy League Institution, I’m led to believe that strings of words thrown onto a page can qualify as a story. Okay, it’s not all that bad, but in a way it is. It’s a crime. A young author, with a strong voice and a talent for coming up with interesting characters and situations, has been taught that telling just the beginning and middle somehow equals crafting a complete story. To me, and probably the majority of humanity, it doesn’t. Who would knowingly mislead impressionable students?

Another sad observation—when did using passive “was” verbs and adding he saids all over the place equate to creating dynamic prose? I’ve learned a lot over the years from genre writing workshops, particularly that a good writer shows not tells the story. Readers don’t want to read a listing of dry facts. Readers want to imagine the characters in their minds taking action. In the process of exercising our imaginations, we readers walk away from the story feeling that we’ve learned something about ourselves or life and, better yet, were entertained in the process.

How can readers learn anything from being told the beginning and some of the middle of a character’s arc? We can’t. An incomplete piece of fiction breaks the cardinal rule of all artists, “Whatever you do, don’t be boring.” Maybe in Ivy League literary fiction circles the entertainment factor isn’t considered all that important and, subsequently, has been junked? Perhaps root canals are considered entertaining in those circles? Yikes!

 Throwing up academic credentials as an excuse for being boring reminds me of a conversation at a party a friend and I had with a man introduced as a creative writing professor from a local private university. My friend asked him what sort of creative writing the professor had published recently. This gentleman stated that he didn’t publish his fiction because, “It was too good to be published.” My friend and I continued talking about our recent novel ideas and book deals while the creative writing instructor looked at us as if we’d grown horns or a third eye.

I surmised the professor didn’t enjoy receiving rejection letters from publishers, so he simply didn’t even try to pen publishable fiction anymore. But then that begs the question—Why should parents pay tons of money to a college which employs an instructor with no interest in writing publishable fiction to instruct their children in the craft of creative writing? Shouldn’t the professor teach “creative ways to avoid rejection” classes instead?

After this recent book review, my impression of creative writing classes offered at prestigious and costly private colleges has not improved. I learned one simple axiom in many writer’s workshops: Writers write. And the sole purpose of writing for publication is to connect with readers—not to bore them. I liken offering incomplete works to the reading public to a master chef tossing uncooked ingredients willy-nilly onto a plate and calling it a culinary masterpiece. (I realize some enjoy sushi, but I want my fish cooked.) When you can’t finish the job, you’re not really a success, are you? 

I can’t boast an Ivy League education, but my books have received some great reviews over the years. Not one reviewer has ever said my fiction was boring or incomplete. I listened in English class and took notes at writer’s workshops and became a published author. Thank heaven I received good advice!

Click on the Cynthianna Mainstream Romance book link at the top to learn more about my PG-rated romance novels and novellas. You can even review one if you wish. ;)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Responsible Gun Owner Amendment

I had a dream that somehow we needed to add an amendment in the Bill of Rights that protected people harmed by others who misuse firearms and deny their fellow citizens the right to live in safety.

That's why I created a petition to The United States House of Representatives.

Will you sign this petition? Click here:

Here is the text I wrote in full:

“The Responsible Gun Owner Amendment”

I propose a Constitutional amendment which states:

All individuals in the territorial boundaries of the United States of America and its possessions who wish to own a personal firearm must pass all mandated federal, state and local background checks and pay a $1000 per year federal licensing fee per weapon. Owners who do not renew their firearm license and undergo an annual background check review will be fined $10,000 for each firearm not in compliance with the law. Persons found to be in possession of an unlicensed firearm whose legal owner cannot be verified will bear full responsibility of paying any and all fines and fees associated with said firearm and must be able to pass all mandated federal, state and local background checks. These federal fees and fines are not intended as a substitute for punishment of criminal or civil laws, and the state or local municipality where the owner/person in possession of the firearm resides retains the right to file criminal and/or civil charges against the firearms owner and/or individual in possession of said firearm for violation of state or local laws.

For every use of a firearm in the commission of a crime and/or physical assault against another person or persons by either the owner or an individual in possession of said firearm—whether or not permission to use said firearm was expressly granted by the owner—the owner of the firearm will be fined $1,000,000. Furthermore, for every instance of permanent disability or death of a victim of firearm violence incurred, the owner of the firearm will be fined $10,000,000. If the legal owner(s) of a firearm used to commit a crime, assault or death cannot be verified, the person or persons found to be in possession of the firearm will bear full responsibility of paying any and all fines and fees associated with said firearm. These federal fines are not intended as a substitute for punishment under criminal or civil laws, and the state or local municipality where the firearm violence occurred retains the right to file criminal and/or civil charges against the firearms owner and/or individual in possession of said firearm for violation of state or local laws.

All moneys raised by the firearm licensing fees and fines for misuse of firearms will be deposited into a designated federal fund that will go toward compensation of property/livestock/pets stolen, lost, damaged, destroyed or harmed during the commission of a crime while using a firearm. Also, moneys from said fund will go toward compensation to the immediate family for any and all wages or income lost by the disability or death of a family member by firearm violence. Moneys raised by the firearm licensing fees and fines will also go toward funding the mental and physical rehabilitation of the victims, friends and family members who have suffered as a result of firearm violence, as well as funds to create information programs to educate and promote firearm safety.

A firearm is defined as any weapon that is capable of propelling a projectile with such force to cause harm or death. Such weapons include hand guns, rifles, and automatic assault weapons. Antique or replica firearms used for display purposes or historical reenactments that are modified so as to become incapable of shooting a harmful projectile will be exempt from the law, provided the owner can demonstrate safety precautions have been taken to the satisfaction of law enforcement officers and accepts liability for any misuse of the firearm under criminal/civil laws.

Firearms owned by the federal government and in the possession of active duty members of the United States Armed Services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, National Guard, or Coast Guard) while on sanctioned maneuvers will be exempt from fees and fines, but the possessor of the firearm may be subject to criminal/civil laws. Firearms owned by the federal government and in the possession of active duty members of federal policing agencies while on sanctioned maneuvers will be exempt from fees and fines, but the possessor of the firearm may be subject to criminal/civil laws. Firearms owned by state or local municipalities and in the possession of on-duty law enforcement officers (i.e., police, sheriff or highway patrol) will be exempt from fees and fines, but the possessor of the firearm may be subject to criminal/civil laws.

Firearms owned by private clubs or organizations, incorporated or unincorporated, will not be exempt from the law. The officers or presumed leaders of the club or organization will be considered the owner(s) of said firearms and will be held responsible for the licensing and care of these weapons in compliance with the law. The officers or presumed leaders of the club or organization designated as owners of said firearms will be liable for any and all fees, fines and criminal/civil charges for misuse of the club’s/organization’s firearms by them, their members or others who may take possession of their weapons.

Congress has the right to enact further legislation to aid the implementation of this amendment such as a gun amnesty program in an established period before the law goes into effect to allow individuals and organizations to relinquish without penalty any and all firearms they do not wish to license.