December 31, 2012

Moving my website, just a little too late

Illustration by Ayhan Yildiz •

I’ve never been one for new year's resolutions. If a change is going to be made, one might as well make it now as wait for some arbitrary date on the calendar. But it just happens that a change I’ve been planning for a while coincides with the turning of that page from December to January.

My website has needed an overhaul for ages, and I have heard from Author Media and tons of other sources that WordPress is the way to go. Since I’m already familiar with WordPress because it’s what New Authors’Fellowship is built on, it seemed like a great idea.

I’ve also been wanting to shift to a different website host, because having my site hosted by AT&T has not been a good experience. For example, I sent the help desk an e-mail asking how to set up WordPress on my site. I was told I couldn’t do that under my current hosting plan. This was not a surprise, because I was on the lowest-cost plan available. But the help desk did not say, as a helpful person would do, “We’ll need to upgrade your plan, which will cost an additional so many dollars per month. Shall I go ahead and do that for you today?” The answer to this question, had it been asked, would have been, “Yes, thank you.”

But in one of many Great Fails, The helpless desk said, “Your plan doesn’t support WordPress. You’ll have to contact the sales department for an upgrade.” So I e-mailed the sales department and asked how much an upgrade would cost.

Three weeks later, I got an e-mail back that said, “Did you ever get that upgrade you were asking about?”

No, because I was never told how much it would cost. At this point my answer was “never mind,” because I’d already decided to switch to a new host.

By the way, when I asked my new host, HostGator, how to set up my account for WordPress, I was given detailed instructions. I got off to an OK start, but when I ran into a snag and e-mailed the help desk again, I was sent another set of directions followed by "or, if you prefer, I can do it for you." To which the answer was, "Yes, thank you," and the job was done quickly.

Unfortunately, I then got hung up on the design.

Coming from a print page design background, I knew what I wanted my website to look like, but not how to make it happen. While with AT&T, I tried several different web-building apps, but none of them were ever as intuitive to use as they claimed, and none were as flexible as InDesign. I mean, using InDesign, I could place a graphic exactly where I want it, and overlay or run around text, and … well, anyway, every other page layout program pales by comparison, and web design apps are just not in the same league.

While I fiddled about on the design end of WordPress, AT&T “upgraded” my website and e-mail services. This “upgrade” produced two e-mail outages within three weeks. If only I had switched to my new host in October, instead of waiting. Oh, well. That’s what I get for being fussy about appearances.

I finally gave myself a deadline and picked up a copy of Launch a Blog In A Day For Dummies, though I've spent more than a day on it. I'm taking advantage of the end-of-year slowdown to migrate my site. I hope to have the shift completed by January 2. After that, articles related to writing, editing, and publishing will appear at Some of my articles about the writing journey, faith, and publishing will be at New Authors’ Fellowship. I’m going to try increasing the frequency with which I blog about business topics at Central Florida Christian Chamber of Commerce. Anything left over will go here.

I pray your new year will get off to a great start, and that if you have any changes to make, you will make them now, and not delay while waiting for another page to turn.

December 24, 2012

My Christmas prayer for you

Over at New Authors' Fellowship,  I wrote about the Mayan Doomsday Hoax and Christmas, which aren't as incompatible topics as you might think. Christ's second coming will herald the end of this world as we know it, and his first coming is what we gather to celebrate this week. Here's a summary of what I said over there.

© jurand -
Christmas is incomplete if we forget why God put on flesh to dwell with us.

It wasn’t because he thought it would be personally fulfilling to be born in a pen with the livestock and grow up poor and learn to work for a living.

It wasn’t because it would be great fun to walk along dusty roads from one end of the country to the other preaching to people, most of whom wouldn’t even listen, let alone take his words to heart.

It wasn’t because he thought everyone would believe him if only he could be tried on trumped-up charges and get executed in the most brutal way ever devised.

It was because having gone through all that, his rising again on the third day demonstrated his ability to overcome anything — all opposition, all sorrow, even death itself. The cost of teaching us that lesson was the incarnate Word that governs the universe debasing himself to our level — to the lowest of the low, even into the grave. If he’d do that much for us, how much more will he meet all our earthly needs?

I pray that whatever opposition you face, whatever needs are weighing on your mind, whatever sorrows are breaking your heart, you will find comfort in the one who faced more opposition, poverty, and sorrow than we can imagine — and overcame them all.

Happy Christmas.

December 19, 2012

Blog Hop: The Next Big Thing

Lists of questions are often used as conversation-starters on the Internet. Lately, this is the string that's been running around my circle. Each writer answers these questions about her book, and then passes the baton, as it were, to five more writers. Pretty soon everyone who ever even thought of writing a book will be tagged.

Robynn Tolbert, author of Star of Justice, tagged me as part of a string of authors promoting their Next Big Thing. Her post went up last week; now it's my turn.

1) What is the title of your next book/work?
© Anyka --

Alara's Call, Book One of The Prophet's Chronicle

2) Where did the idea come from?

I had a kind of vision -- almost like watching a movie -- of troops riding through a gate, flags flapping in the wind. I started writing to find out who those troops were and why they were there. There's only a bare vestige of that scene -- the flags -- left in the book.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

"Sword Opera," which is like fantasy only without the magic, elves, and dragons. Thank you, Caprice Hokstad, for coining this term.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I have yet to see any actors who could play the heroine, Alara, or the hero, Dorrel. The only role I've been able to cast so far is Alara's mentor, General Rariden, who will be played by Harrison Ford.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Alara is called to prophesy to world leaders -- starting with her father.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Agents seem utterly unwilling to represent this genre. They say there's "no market" for that, but since I know plenty of people who read this genre, I know that what the agents really mean is "the market for that is too small to be worth my time. I am hoping to place the manuscript with a small press that doesn't require agent representation.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

A few months, but it was horrible, and sat in a drawer for ages before I took it out again and rewrote it. Several times. Eight, actually.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The Blood of Kings trilogy by Jill Williamson
The Legends of the Guardian King series by Karen Hancock
The Duke's Handmaid by Caprice Hokstad
Prophet by R.J. Larson
Daughter of Prophecy by Miles Owens
Star of Justice by Robynn Tolbert
Amberley by Mary Elizabeth Hall

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The aforementioned vision. And, I like to think, God. At least, I hope this book honors the gift he's given me.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Although most fantasy worlds are medieval (you can thank medieval expert J.R.R. Tolkien for that), Alara's world is more like 19th-century Europe. And although there's some swordplay, it's more about political intrigue.

I'll tag P.A. Baines, who has already done his homework, Ralene Burke, Diane Graham, Avily Jerome, and Will Ramirez. Yes, I picked all New Authors' Fellowship members. Because a fellowship sticks together.

December 14, 2012

A weird way to celebrate Christmas

Last week, I described the long trip "Mighty Fortress" took to publication, and I promised to explain how I came to write two drastically different Christmas stories.

"The Feast of Stevens" is a science fiction Christmas comedy about turkeys on a space station. "Mighty Fortress" is about the persecution of Jews in Austria in the 1930s. Yet both have a common origin.

Years ago, the editors at Orlando Business Journal developed a contest for the staff called "Twisted Christmas." The idea was to write a Christmas story that was, in some way, not what one usually sees in Christmas stories. The stories were distributed, without names on them, to anyone on staff who cared to participate in the judging.

I was overconfident, figuring I had studied fiction most of my life and the others were deeply steeped in boring old journalism. But year after year, I lost to my editorial colleagues, always to stories that were macabre or gory. So I mistakenly tried to write that way. I put way too much pressure on myself for a contest that had no prize at all other than an announcement at the company Christmas party.

An earlier version of "Mighty Fortress," called "Ein Feste Burg," came in second or third one year. I honestly don't remember which and can't find it written down anywhere. It's dark, being set in Nazi Austria, but still lost to something more macabre.

Realizing I would never produce my best work by writing to what I thought judges liked, and that I was never going to write horror, I decided to go totally the other direction and write a comedy. The year I wrote "The Feast of Stevens" was the year I finally, finally, won that stinkin' contest.

I got a little vindication when "Ein Feste Burg" won First Place at the 2007 Royal Palm Literary Awards in the Best Short Story Unpublished category. And more still when "The Feast of Stevens" was published by The Cynic Online Magazine and subsequently won an Honorable Mention in the 2010 Royal Palm Literary Awards in the “short story, published” category.

When Cynic took "The Feast of Stevens" offline, I published it on Smashwords. And this year, unable to find a home for my award-winning historical, I published "Mighty Fortress."

After "The Feast of Stevens," I wrote one other Twisted Christmas story that won by default because I was the only one who entered the contest that year. A hollow victory, indeed. We stopped holding the contest after that. I haven't written any short stories since. I prefer to concentrate on my novel-writing, and on writing what comes naturally and what I love rather than trying to meet the expectations of judges.

December 10, 2012

Story published five years after winning award

Last year at about this time, I launched my first e-book, "The Feast of Stevens," though it's hard to call it a "book" when it's less than 5,000 words.

This year, I'm releasing another e-short-story, "Mighty Fortress." This story, under its previous title "Ein Feste Burg," won First Place at the 2007 Royal Palm Literary Awards in the Best Short Story Unpublished category. So here it is, published, after five years, a title change, and a kick-tail edit.

It's not as if I spent the last five years collecting rejections of this story. No, I gave up even trying to place it because I could not find a venue that would accept a 4,000-word historical short story. Every publication I could find required lower word counts than that. And as my aforementioned tail-kicking editor, Kat Heckenbach would tell you, this story was already too sparse.

So it was liberating when Kat told me I needed to add things. With no concerns about arbitrary word count limits, I was able to reveal much more about Pastor Gottlieb, the story's hero.

This is the great thing about e-publishing. It doesn't matter whether I call it a book or not. The story can be, as a pastor of mine used to say, "as long as a piece of string." Which is to say, as long as it needs to be.

I now have three stories on Smashwords, two of which are Christmas stories and all of which can be downloaded for free through January 6:

Mighty Fortress
Pastor Gottlieb helps a Jewish family escape the Nazis, but their elderly grandmother must stay behind. He hides her in the church, caring for her and learning from her, until one fateful Christmas Eve.

The Feast of Stevens
On a space station far from Earth, animal liberationists inadvertently jeopardize thirty-eight innocent turkeys. The station’s cook, Stevens, ensures the fowl shall not have died in vain. In this science fiction Christmas comedy, cultures clash, hearts are won, and dinner is served.

The Last Buffalo
The legendary White Buffalo Calf Woman said that when the last buffalo dies, the world will end. The zookeeper caring for the only remaining American Bison is about to see that prophecy fulfilled.

Next time, I'll discuss how I came to write two such drastically different Christmas stories as "The Feast of Stevens" and "Mighty Fortress."