Debunking myths on genetics and DNA

Musings on writing, genetics and photography. My debut novel CHIMERAS, a hard-boiled mystery with a genetic twist, is now available on Amazon.

Monday, August 18, 2014

When the "cure" is only the beginning: author Deirdre Gould's talks about war, guilt, and the inspiration behind her books

There are many zombie and post-apocalyptic books out there, yet very few ask the following questions: "How do people live with each other after doing horrendous things to each other?" Especially when those "horrendous things" weren't meant, as if, for example, enforced by a disease. What if the "zombies" were cured and suddenly realized they had killed and eaten other human beings?

Author Deirdre Gould addresses these and many other questions in her books After the Cure and The Cured. Deirdre is an anthropologist whose novels were inspired by "a severe addiction to Post-apocalyptic literature combined with a lifetime of a very rural existence, first in central Maine and now in northern Idaho," as she herself states in her biography. And, also quoting from her bio, she says: "Though fiction can never come close to the reality of living with atrocity, it can help us ask important questions about our world and our treatment of each other." I was so intrigued by these ideas that, after buying Deirdre's book, I knew I had to have her here on Chimeras for an interview.

EEG: Welcome Deirdre! Let's start from your background: what prompted you to study anthropology and how does this inspire your stories?

DG: I studied anthropology because writing, husband and kids weren't part of THE PLAN (you know, the one you think your whole life is going to follow perfectly). I went to college to study war. Not how to fight it and not the history of war, but why we as a species seem to have a perpetual need to fight. And not the way an animal fights. We fight over the same things that animals do: territory, mates, and resources, though we dress it up in more complicated reasons. But we take it farther than other animals. Most animal fights don't end in death (some will, but most don't). One animal capitulates and to the victor go the spoils. And the fight is done. We don't do that. Our wars cost more. We're cruel to one another, we do terrible, terrible thing to the losers in war, even today. Enslavement, torture, genocide. And I wanted to know why. I wanted to know why so I could help stop it. I'm not crazy and I'm not isolated- some colleges even have Peace and Conflict Studies majors. Most of these recommend political science classes as their core. But during my freshman year I happened to take an anthropology class on Postmodernism and Development (which is a fancy way of saying that because of terrible things like slavery and war and colonialism in the past, some countries are at seemingly permanent disadvantages to others) and it struck me that studying man as a species, how we act and why we think the way that we do both as individuals and as societies was going to get me much farther in understanding war than any obscure law on international trade ship flags ever would. That's not to discount international law and its importance, it's a vital tool in ending and preventing wars. But anthropology was like studying the face behind the mask of government, the why instead of the how.

Obviously, anthropology and warfare are heavily present in my stories and in my own reading lists. It colors everything from how my characters think and act to their societal setting and the long running themes of all my stories (even the children's book!) though a lot of the time it's more of an unconscious way of exploring those things than something I set out to do (I try not to be preachy).

EEG: Your book's premise is novel and fascinating: a cure has been found. For most books, this would be the ending. Yet you take it as the beginning point and ask the question: "What now?" When did you get the idea and how did it evolve into After the Cure?

DG: After the Cure started as a mash up of me reading too many zombie books and studying warfare as mentioned above. I was on the gazillion and first zombie novel I'd read (I love em, all sorts, can't get enough) and it struck me that of all the causes of zombieism, I hadn't read any that started with a bacteria. Viruses, chemical spills, radioactivity, weird signals, all kinds of stuff, but no bacteria. And I started to wonder why. It struck me that there is no cure for a virus. Vaccines, yes, cures, no. But a bacteria could have a cure. And I thought, what would a place that had cured zombies look like? (this was before In the Flesh by the way so I had no guide!) The story would have to have certain rules: 1. the "zombies" couldn't be undead, just normal people that got sick, 2. it had to be the sickness that caused the violence, not people's will, and 3. I wanted my zombies to be able to remember. Without that third rule, the story would become a dystopia, sure, the healthy people would never trust the ex-zombies and would treat them as second class at best. And without memory it lacked what real war sometimes also lacks: Guilt. With a massive "G" Because this world would be very much like a country that had been at war and had certain groups commit atrocities during that war. Think Germany after World War II, Rwanda, Serbia and Croatia, Cambodia, the U.S. after slavery and forcibly confining Native Americans to reservations. These people who had done terrible things, for the most part, went back to their daily lives afterward, with their victims as their neighbors. And that is both fascinating and maddening to me. So I got to arrange a little Karmic justice and complicate things even a little more. The ex-zombies in After the Cure remember, whether they want to or not, both what they have done while they were ill (which in many cases included killing and consuming loved ones) and what has been done to them (being hunted or in Henry's case in the next book, The Cured, being used as a guard dog or for other purposes by healthy people). Unlike some real atrocities, nobody in this world is innocent. The innocents are long dead. Everyone has killed or thieved or left someone else to die in order to survive. And the memory is what makes them accountable to each other. Sure, the ex-zombies are still treated as semi-second class, but they aren't hunted down and an uneasy peace exists, at least within the City. And absolutely everyone is walking around with this massive weight of guilt for what they have done, because the memory still exists. They can't deny what's happened. There are witnesses. And the fact that everyone is involved makes those witnesses undeniable and undismissable. Of course, this is fiction and no fiction can ever come close to what people have actually suffered in the world, but maybe it can help people think about how personal guilt can perhaps lead to healing, about the impact of war, and especially about blame. At least, I hope it does.

EEG: What's next in the series? How many books do you have planned?

DG: The next book in the series will be called Kríses and is the third book in what is planned to be a five book total. It will introduce a few new people but readers will also see a few familiar faces from After the Cure as well. I'm working hard at it right now!

EEG: You've also written a children's book. What was the inspiration behind The Moon Polisher's Apprentice?

DG: The Moon Polisher's Apprentice is completely due to my daughter, Laura. The Moth Queen is the first of four parts. I needed something to escape from the grim post-apocalyptic stuff I was writing too, so this is a nice change of pace :) I wanted something that would give her something to reach for as an early reader but would also be entertaining when she was older. She wanted a "real" book so I worked very hard to make it something that would appeal to others as well. It's about a little girl who has to save four versions of the moon from thieves. The next part will be The Mist Pirates and I will be working on it as a break after Kríses.

EEG: Ooh, I love those titles! What else are you working on besides the next installment in After the Cure?

DG: I just finished a story for the Robot Chronicles and a part of a collaborative story for a box set, and aside from The Moon Polisher's Apprentice episodes, that's probably all I will schedule myself for besides the Cure books this year. I do have ideas percolating away, so if I get a chance to work on things between, I will be doodling away on those, but probably nothing serious yet. Once all the kids are in school, I will hopefully be able to be more ambitious!

EEG: Oh, yes. I too have been waiting for school to start ever since the beginning of summer! ;-) Best of luck with all your writing and thank you for sharing your thoughts on wars, guilt, blame and human nature.

DG: Thanks for inviting me to do this Elena!

To connect with Deirdre Gould and learn about her forthcoming books, follow her on her blog, Twitter and Facebook.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A mosaic vaccine that could potentially protect from different ebola strains

Disclaimer: The mosaic vaccine paper discussed in this article is from my own group and overlaps with some of the research I do. 

I'm sure you've been following the latest news about the Ebola virus outbreak in Africa.
"The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is the world's deadliest to date and the World Health Organization has declared an international health emergency as more than 1,000 people have died of the virus in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria this year." [Source: BBC News]
The ebola virus was first described in 1976, with outbreaks reported starting from 1967 [3]. It's part of the Filovirus family and its natural reservoir is believed to be fruit bats, though there is evidence that it could be wider than we think. In fact, ebola can infect other animals like monkeys and pigs. Because the virus is transmitted through bodily fluids and it can survive for a few days after the host's death, it can be easily spread through the butchering and consumption of bushmeat.

You've probably heard from the news that two infected Americans were treated with "serum". Some headlines even dubbed it a "secret serum." The serum is actually no secret and has been used not just for ebola but also for other viruses like RSV [1]. The treatment, called passive transfer of antibodies (or antibody serum), is based on the transfer of antibody serum from one organism to another. The idea behind it is that the immune system of a person previously exposed to the virus has developed antibodies that can help other immunologically naive patients fight the infection. For the ebola virus, the therapy is still in the experimental phase and, up to these two patients, had only been tested in animals.

There are several vaccines currently being tested, each one at various experimental phases. Friedrich et al. [1] list a nice summary of all the current testing in their review. The one they do not mention in their review is a mosaic vaccine being developed by my group, which is based on ideas originally designed for an HIV vaccine.

What is a mosaic vaccine?

A vaccine is an attenuated form of a virus. Even though unable to start a full infection, when injected into the body, the attenuated virus is detected by the immune system, which can then mount the appropriate response and "create" neutralizing antibodies. Typically, the attenuated virus is created from the natural virus found in organisms.

And then came HIV and baffled everyone.

The problem with HIV is that every single HIV-infected person has a different virus. In order to protect from every possible infection, one would need to put into a vaccine the over half a million genetically distinct circulating strains. Clearly, that's not possible. How do you protect people from a viral population that's so diverse? Natural strains are no longer sufficient. You have to come up with clever ways to 'summarize' the whole population of viruses with just 2-3 viral strains.

That's when computers come in handy: the mosaic vaccine is a vaccine created in silico. Suppose you want to create one genetic sequence that "summarizes" all the genetic variants found in a population of 100 strains. The algorithm that creates the mosaic starts from the 100 strains and it literally reshuffles them bit by bit. The "bits" are not cut out randomly but in a way that, when reassembled in a full genome, the proteins are still functional and working. In other words, you want to make sure that after the reshuffling you still have functioning viruses. You repeat the reshuffling for a few times and at the end of the iterations you pick the one strain that best represents the original pool of 100 genomes.

HIV-1 mosaic vaccines have given great results in guinea pigs and monkeys. But what would be the advantage of using them for ebola?

If you are familiar with phylogenetics, you will certainly object that the two viruses (HIV and ebola) are quite different: while HIV spreads out in a star-like fashion (which translates into the fact that no two individuals have the same virus), ebola evolves more like the flu, with new emerging viruses causing new outbreaks. So, why would the mosaic vaccine help with ebola?
"While the techniques used here are very similar to those used for HIV-1 mosaic vaccine design, a pattern of repeated introductions of the filoviruses into humans (and primates generally) gives a crucial difference from HIV-1. HIV-1 shows great diversity within the pandemic, but that diversity has developed continuously, leaving intermediate isolates in its wake. In contrast, known filovirus diversity has episodically increased as new outbreaks are found to result from novel viruses, lacking intermediates." [3]
The fact that the ebola virus "lacks intermediates" seems to indicate that there are reservoirs that we don't know of where the virus accumulates diversity. This is worrisome: we not only need to protect from the current outbreaks, but also be prepared for new viruses that might emerge in the future. In [3], Fenimore et al show how the mosaic algorithm can be readapted from HIV to ebola, accounting for the evolutionary differences between the two viruses.

A mosaic vaccine would protect from all ebola subspecies and also against new strains that could potentially develop from the current outbreaks. The problem with ebola is that its reservoir could be wider than we think. The viral diversity found in bats has not matched the diversity of the ebola strains found in humans. So, where are the new viruses coming from? There are likely pockets of diversity that come from reservoirs we don't know of.
"The implication is that a vaccine against the filoviruses should strive for good coverage of common epitopes from the maximum number of types and strains currently available, in the hope that future outbreaks will retain these elements, so the vaccine will still be effective when challenged by a novel strain in a new outbreak." [3]
The authors tested the ebola mosaic vaccine on a mouse model and compared it with a vaccine created with a single natural strain from Zaire. All vaccinated mice in either group (mosaic or natural) survived the challenge. The natural strain vaccine provided 82.8% coverage of other Zaire strains, but only 14.0% coverage of non-Zaire strains. On the other hand, the single mosaic vaccine provided 54.7% coverage of other Zaire strains (still sufficient to protect the mice from infection) and 23.2% coverage of non-Zaire ebola virus strains, proving that a mosaic can indeed improve protection against different subtypes. Furthermore, comparing a cocktail of a two-mosaic vaccine with a two-protein natural cocktail and a vaccine that was previously tested in macaques (Hensley et al., 2010), the mosaic cocktail achieved the highest coverage.

[1] Friedrich BM, Trefry JC, Biggins JE, Hensley LE, Honko AN, Smith DR, & Olinger GG (2012). Potential vaccines and post-exposure treatments for filovirus infections. Viruses, 4 (9), 1619-50 PMID: 23170176

[2] Fischer W, Perkins S, Theiler J, Bhattacharya T, Yusim K, Funkhouser R, Kuiken C, Haynes B, Letvin NL, Walker BD, Hahn BH, & Korber BT (2007). Polyvalent vaccines for optimal coverage of potential T-cell epitopes in global HIV-1 variants. Nature medicine, 13 (1), 100-6 PMID: 17187074

[3] Fenimore PW, Muhammad MA, Fischer WM, Foley BT, Bakken RR, Thurmond JR, Yusim K, Yoon H, Parker M, Hart MK, Dye JM, Korber B, & Kuiken C (2012). Designing and testing broadly-protective filoviral vaccines optimized for cytotoxic T-lymphocyte epitope coverage. PloS one, 7 (10) PMID: 23056184

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Weekend Writing Warriors: this Sunday's MOSAICS snippet

From MOSAICS, Chapter 18:
“You think too much,” Satish said.
I peeled the label of my Corona off the bottle. “Maybe.”
He wobbled his head. “It’s okay. You think too much, you screw your own life. You think too little, you screw everybody else’s life.”
“What a philosopher you are, Satish.”
The above is my Sunday snippet submission for the Weekend writer Warriors (you can find the Snippet Sunday group on Facebook, too). Make sure you check out all Weekend writer Warriors participants, it's a fun way to find forthcoming books -- all genres welcome, there's something for everyone's tastes.

MOSAICS, the second in a detective thriller series featuring LAPD Detective Track Presius, is now available for preorder! I'm planning a giveaway with lots of freebies on the release day, so, to make sure you don't miss all the fun, sign up for my newsletter and download a free desktop wallpaper as a thank you for subscribing.

The first book, CHIMERAS, is now available from Amazon.

Book Description: Dubbed the Byzantine Strangler because of the mysterious mosaic tiles he leaves at the crime scene, a new serial killer is stalking the streets of Los Angeles. Racing to decipher the code encrypted in the tiles before the killer strikes again, Detective Track Presius faces a new challenge: the "awakened" genes that make his vision and olfactory sense so sharp are now taking a toll on his life. When a new set of tiles appears in his own backyard, Track makes a chilling realization: those very same genes that are threatening his life are drawing the Byzantine Strangler closer and closer. The line between hunter and hunted has suddenly blurred. Will Track be the next piece of the mosaic puzzle?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"It's in post that you can bring out your true vision": award-winning photographer " talks about his work, his passion, and the true value of post-processing

"Eternal Flux" © Sairam Sundaresan

A couple of weeks ago I posted a pseudo-tutorial on textures and said how textures can turn a landscape shot into a "story-telling" shot by evoking a different set of emotions. This reminded me a of a great photographer I met through G+, Sairam Sundaresan, and his G+ mentorship titled Storytelling Landscape Photography.

Sairam's work is outstanding and mind-blowing, and if you haven't seen it already, you should. Last year, Sairam won 12 Honorary Mentions at the prestigious International Photography Awards, and this year he was just recently awarded First place in the PX3 2014 contest in the Nature/sunset category with his image "Apocalypse". That's why I'm so excited to have Sairam here at the blog today, to share a few tips and secrets about his work. Welcome, Sairam!

"Apocalypse" © Sairam Sundaresan

EEG: Tell us a bit about your background and how photography has become your passion.

SS: Well, I'm basically an engineer by day and a photographer by night. Growing up by the coast, I'd often visit the beach. The cool waves, the colorful sky, and the glowing sand used to excite me every single time I went there. My parents had a nice kodak camera when I was a kid, and I used to play around with that. Given that it was a film camera, I'd have to be careful with how many shots I took before a new roll was needed (I ended up using a lot of it!). Rest assured all the family portraits I took had the background landscape in sharp focus and my family all blurry. Little did I know then that I would pursue landscape photography as a serious passion. In college, all my friends jumped onto the DSLR bandwagon. I didn't quite know what the fuss was about, but I saw their pictures and wondered how they managed to get such high quality images. Without a second thought, I invested in a Canon Rebel Xs, and started pressing all the buttons on it. At first, all I did was shoot in one of the auto modes. While the pictures I took looked nice, I didn't quite feel happy about them. There wasn't this sense of "creation". One fine day in late 2011, I decided to switch to manual mode, and there started the journey. I made a ton of mistakes, but never stopped shooting. I used to pore through blogs, videos, and books on photography and glean as much as I could. Somehow, reading was never as good a teacher as actually going out there and shooting. While looking through my collection of images, I realized that most of my subjects knowingly or unknowingly belonged to the natural world. Fast forward three years, and I have never felt more excited about shooting my next landscape image. I guess nature gives me a sense of peace. When I am out shooting in the wilderness, there's a sense of connection that I experience with the whole world that I quite don't find anywhere else. Alright, I'll stop now before this becomes a novel.

EEG: When you set off shooting, how do you choose the perfect spot? In other words, what factors come into play: angle, light, framing ... ?

SS: I strongly believe in preparation. Mother nature is extremely talented at throwing curve balls at you, so the more prepared you are, the more you can embrace the moment and capture what you experience. With the evolution of technology, we've been blessed with several tools that help us prepare and plan way ahead. If I'm visiting a spot I've been to many times, I first focus on weather conditions. Natural light changes dramatically based on weather, and I try to pre-visualize what kind of light I may have at the scene based on the weather. Say it's the coast that I'm going out to shoot. I look at the tide charts. High tide and low tide offer completely different opportunities. By knowing how the tide would behave, you can have a sense of opportunities that will be available for you. For example, in low tide, you could have the possibility of reflective sand, since the water washes through the sand and recedes. This allows for symmetric compositions where the sky can be seen in the sand. Next, I look at the google maps for directions. If I had a nickel for every time I've lost my way to a scene, I'd be richer than Warren Buffet. Knowing where to park, how much traffic there will be and most importantly how to get to the place will save you valuable time that can be better invested in searching for good compositions. Now if it's a place I've not been to before, I search online for images of that place to see what opportunities are available. I don't try to "learn" compositions from these images that I could use at the scene, but rather get a sense of light direction, foreground elements, etc. I also look at google maps to see how the terrain is to find out more opportunities. At the scene, I like to take my time to find nice compositional elements to incorporate into the shot, so I usually get there ahead of time. Once I've found some interesting opportunities, I wait for the right light. Without good light, even great compositions fall flat. I like to find some elements that tie everything in my shot together. It may be things like colors reflected in the foreground, or shapes that the clouds and the foreground elements share and so on. Most importantly, I believe it's important to keep an open mind while shooting and embrace any opportunity that comes your way. Trust your gut. If there's something that made you stop in your tracks and take notice, there's probably something worth shooting there.

"Shine on You Crazy Diamond" © Sairam Sundaresan

EEG: Tell us about the G+ mentorship. I love the idea of story-telling through landscape photography: how do you go about doing that?

SS: Google+ has been a real blessing for me. I've been able to connect with so many world class artists and learn from them. It's a platform where inspiration is available for free. One such artist whom I owe a lot to is Robin Griggs Woods. I got the chance to participate in her mentorship at G+ and my eyes were opened. What really touched me was the fact that Robin taught so many amazing things for free. Look around anywhere else for this kind of knowledge and you'd be asked to pay out big bucks. I felt it was time for me to give back to this nurturing community, and that's when the idea of the "Storytelling Landscape Photography" mentorship came about. I approached Robin with this idea, and she graciously accepted my request to teach. With her guidance, I prepared a 12 week program which covered things from basics to a little more advanced tools in landscape photography. I wanted to make this knowledge available to anyone who was interested, and I didn't want people to go through the same "Search and hit a brick wall" routine that I went through. I put out a post on G+ announcing this mentorship, and nearly 100 people signed up. I had a really hard time culling down the list to 27 people. I also had the help of some amazing friends I "met" during Robin's mentorship in running the actual mentorship. They'd comment, inspire and help out the "mentees" when I wasn't there. In the end, I ended up learning a lot from these amazing people, and they inspired me and my work in a big way. The goal of the mentorship was to provide each participant with the tools to tell a compelling story. Without a story (literally or in a more abstract sense), a landscape image wouldn't have much visual value. I'm delighted to have been able to offer something small back to the community, and hope to offer it again in the near future.

EEG: What do you value more, in-camera work or post-processing? (I'm guessing it's a mix of both.)

SS: You guessed right! :) It's definitely a mix of both. I'd add one more thing to it, "Vision." A great image is an equal combination of Vision, technique in the field and post processing. Knowing what you want to shoot, pre-visualizing an idea really helps focus your energies in the field. Developing a vision is probably more difficult than actually shooting, and processing an image. With the right vision, it's important to capture the scene in the way that will best bring out this vision. For this, proper technique is essential. Ensuring the image is well focused, properly exposed, and has a powerful composition all give you something worth working on in post. Finally, post-processing is just as important as technique. A lot of people say, "I believe in Straight out of Camera shots." Even there, the camera actually does the post processing for you before it saves the jpegs. I really feel that it's in post that you can bring out your true vision of the scene. Learning good post processing can make a good image a great image provided the RAW file you started off with had the first two elements I spoke of. To conclude, I'd like to show viewers how a place 'feels' like and not how it 'looks' like.

EEG: I really love that, the "feels like" rather than "looks like." That's exactly where the creativity comes in, otherwise the camera would be a mere "recorder", instead it's a medium, just like oil paints and watercolors.

Thanks so much for being with us on the blog today, Sairam!

SS: Thanks a bunch for interviewing me Elena!

Check out Sairam's portfolio for more outstanding eye candy, and don't forget to add him to your circles if you're interested in his next G+ mentorship.

Wishing Well © Sairam Sundaresan
Eye of Mordor © Sairam Sundaresan
"All Roads Lead Home" © Sairam Sundaresan
Big Bay Boom © Sairam Sundaresan

Friday, August 8, 2014

Cutting dependence on technology: bestselling author Michael Bunker talks about his life off the grid and his upcoming webinar, "Indie Book Launch Secrets"

Today's guest on CHIMERAS is an amazing person, besides an acclaimed indie author, and to prove it to you, I'll start quoting his intro on his website: "Author, Homesteader, Reasonable Man." Michael Bunker is the bestselling author of WICK and Pennsylvania, besides a number of other books, both fiction and non-fiction. Michael and his wife and four children have been living "off the grid" since 2005 and so, when I contacted him for an interview, I was interested in learning more not just about Michael's books, but also about his life and choices. What I learned about this man is truly compelling, so please join me in welcoming Michael Bunker to CHIMERAS.

EEG: I read the interview you did with Jason (fantastic interview, BTW!), and I understand that you weren't raised "off the grid", but that you and your family made a deliberate choice in 2005. What prompted this decision? Was it something that had been brewing at the back of your head for many years, or did something happen in your life that suddenly made you see things in a different way?

MB: We'd been moving slowly in that direction since 1994, when my wife and I (we had one daughter at the time) chose to leave the Dallas/Ft. Worth area to move back to Lubbock, Texas, to "get out of the rat race." Well, before long Lubbock was a rat race and we wanted to move even further "out." So we got 5 acres of land out in the country and started a small farm. That was 1997. From '97 to 2005 we learned a lot about farming and gardening and we learned that we wanted to go completely off-grid and that we wanted to, if possible, live around like-minded people. So in 2005 we made the plunge and moved here to Central Texas. Several friends made the leap with us, and we bought land in a bunch. Others moved down later. All the way, we were studying off-grid living, sustainability, and the "Plain" life. It has just been a long and interesting journey!

EEG: I really like your philosophy on technology. Your office is solar-powered. You produce what you need. If we all did that, our planet would last longer and there wouldn't be so much waste and pollution. Correct me if I misstating, but with technology, you take what is needed and doesn't compromise the environment, and refuse the rest. Let me ask you, though: do you ever find yourself on the fence about something? Something you can't honestly tell whether it's "good" or "bad"? Take modern medicine, for example: the technology it uses is not always black and white. I'm asking because as a scientific researcher, I often face questions that are not black and white.

MB: There is always going to be that moral conundrum about technology. We just try to be deliberate in how we live. We never accept something without really thinking about it and discussing it. Is it good for us? Is it good for our community life? Will the negatives outweigh positives. Unhappily, most people think in "parts" and not "wholes." Decisions are made in microcosm and not looking at the ramifications to life, happiness, the planet, the community, and what kind of lives our children will have. So we try to be deliberate about what we accept or reject. And we have a philosophy that helps us decide. The over-riding philosophy is DEPENDENCE. We will accept some technologies so long as we don't become dependent on them for life, living, or happiness. We won't accept a solution that has great positives but that causes us to depend inordinately on something we cannot make or produce. Such that if that technology disappeared or was disrupted we would harm our likelihood of survival, or the lives of our children, or the sustainability of our land. So those philosophies help us make decisions. I have technology (Internet, power, wifi, etc.) at my office, but I do not allow myself or my family to get dependent on it for our survival. We want to be able to turn it off and walk away. Toward this end, we've worked very hard to make sure that these technologies don't become life-support systems for us.

EEG: That actually makes a lot of sense. And it teaches a great lesson about life. You know, as a European immigrated to the US, I love this country very much as it has become my home and has welcomed me in a way that no other European country ever welcomes immigrants. At the same time, I'm shocked at how wasteful most people here in the US are: food, water, electricity--all resources that, if used sparsely instead of wastefully, could be shared across the planet and last a lot longer. Same goes with technology.

Let's talk about writing: your books are an intelligent mix of science fiction and history, of literature and adventure and, in a way, of past and future. Take Pennsylvania for example, which features an Amish young man, Jedidiah Troyer, who embarks in a colonization adventure searching for new farmland in the planet "New Pennsylvania". Basically, you invented the "Amish science fiction" genre. What inspired the story?

MB: I think it came from a lot of my own experiences. I walk from my completely off-grid life that might as well be 200 years ago down a trail to my office where I have a laptop, the Internet, an iPad, and a cell phone. That jarring contrast every day keeps me thinking about technology and how it affects our lives. So I thought about the original Anabaptists... the people in Europe who became the Amish and the Mennonites. And the decisions they had to make to leave Europe and get on frightening and technologically advanced ships to come to America. There was no difference, in my mind, to what a modern Amish would have to face to travel to another planet for more land. And I believe the Amish would do it. So it is a completely natural examination of a truism. When I was at Worldcon in San Antonio last year, people asked me, "Don't you think Amish Sci-fi is just too cute? Too outlandish?" And I said, "No. I think it is the most natural and perfect example of what Sci-fi is and what it has been historically."

EEG: Given the beautiful intertwining of past and present of your books, and mixing of genres, who are your readers?

MB: I have to have the most eclectic and diverse mix of readers in all of sci-fi. I have "Plain" people (actual Amish do read my books), Sci-fi geeks, ultra-conservative back-to-the-landers, ultra-liberal save-the-planet folks, anti-government people, pacifists, history buffs, survivalists, you name it. It's a crazy thing sometimes reading my mail and getting to know all of the different kinds of people who read my books.

EEG: Crazy but also very satisfying, I bet. Especially given that most traditional publishers these days veto "cross-genre" books, at least from starting authors (I know from personal experience). So, not only you're proving them wrong, but you're also showing that a cross of genres reaches a much wider audience.

I loved your post about "Kindle Stuffing", the idea that with so mean "cheap" books out there, people tend to "stuff" their Kindles, but the fraction of books they actually read is very low. Given that you believe the era of the 99 cent bestsellers is over, what advice do you have for indie authors who are just starting to sell their books?

MB: To be clear, there are now and probably will always be .99 books and .99 bestsellers. My position is that the era of using .99 or free books to Kindle Stuff and use that for the basis of building a career... that is over. .99 still works IF you can build value and demonstrate quality - either in your book you are launching, or in your brand as a whole. I just had a magnificent .99 sale on Pennsylvania and I demonstrated a really long and effective tail after the sale precisely because I was patient and built in the notion of quality and value before I went to .99. I have data that shows that this is the only way .99 really works any more. Without taking the time to build-in value and demonstrate quality, here are the facts about .99 (or free): Fewer people are reading their Kindle Stuffing books. Of those that are opened, fewer readers are getting past the 10% mark in the book before quitting. Of those that read the books from cover to cover, the probability that the reader will remember the name of the author has plummeted. So this trend has to be combated. And the only way to combat this trend is to focus on quality and value up front. Building brand. Building platform, and demonstrating quality and value. My advice for new Indie authors is to up your game. Stop thinking that dumping books in Kindles is the way to success because that day has passed. You want READS and not downloads. Focus on quality, harvest reviews, build your email list. Soft launch at full price and don't do a Grand Opening kind of hard launch until you have 50 reviews. 100 would be better. Keep your price high and work on saturating your superfans for at least 60 days before you go for a big promotion and a price drop. There's more to it, but this is what I'd do if I were just starting out. Also, don't try to make your first novel a bestseller. Build your backlist first.

EEG: Well, that makes me feel better. :-) Chimeras has certainly not hit the bestseller list (though I haven't given up hopes), but it really helped me set the foundations of a faithful readership.

What are you working on right now?

MB: I am completely overwhelmed! I'm working on Oklahoma, the sequel to Pennsylvania. I'm writing three Pennsylvania short stories for collections and box sets. I'm working on a brand new Amish Sci-Fi thriller entitled Brother, Frankenstein that is exciting and tragic and dark. If people thought just Amish/Sci-fi was groundbreaking, BF is a Amish/Robot/Frankenstein story. Think WITNESS meets Transformers meets The Hulk meets Jason Bourne only in a Gothic/Noir world. Yep!

EEG: That's actually pretty fantastic. :-) Do you want to tell us about your Indie Book Launch Secrets Workshop coming up on August 19th?

MB: As you might expect, I've been kind of hammered by authors who want information/data/tips on my marketing and promotion philosophy. But because it is so contrary to the common wisdom, and because it takes some time to show how the philosophy all fits together, I've had difficulty even wanting to share the information. Well, Tim Grahl - my friend who is one of the foremost experts on platform building, social media, and book marketing - talked to me after my recent Pennsylvania promotion. I was going through page after page after page of insights, data, philosophy, and anecdotal evidence and after 4 or 5 long email pages Tim stopped me. He said, "I want to talk to you face to face about this." Just dumping the information was very confusing. So we had a Skype call and Tim easily understood it all and he said, "We need to put together a webinar. You explain it all better in person." Well, we didn't want to have a free-for-all where just anyone could attend because the technology we're using would get bogged down bandwidth-wise, and Tim felt it was better that the information not get diluted by too much use. We wanted the strategies to remain effective, so broadly broadcasting them would have a deleterious effect on the success of the suggestions. So we decided to limit the participation to only 100 authors. It will sell out.

EEG: Thanks so much, Michael! I'm not as brave (and resourceful) as you in order to make a lifestyle choice like you and your family did, but I do believe that we could all do our part by wasting less and stop the binging craze. People like you and your family set an example. Thank you.

MB: Thank you Elena! I appreciate you very much and thanks for having me!

More about Michael Bunker on website, Facebook page, and Twitter.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Sequels, nail-biting, and POV switches

This is a monthly event started by the awesome Alex J. Cavanaugh and organized by the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Click here to find out more about the group and sign up for the next event.

Well, this is my chance to let it all out: I just sent out advanced copies of my new book, MOSAICS, and I'm a nervous wreck. Yes, yes, I was nervous when I sent out the first book in the series, CHIMERAS, but somehow, I wasn't this nervous. After all, many agents had read CHIMERAS and loved it. Many readers loved it too, to the point that they started asking when the sequel would be out. Which brings me to MOSAICS and the fact that now I have a responsibility towards the small readership I built with CHIMERAS: I'm thrilled by the response, but I don't want to disappoint them.

There's one issue in particular with my books that makes me nervous -- the switch in POV. Such switches are common, but you usually see them done from either always a third person POV or always first person. Tess Gerritsen, in her series The Surgeon, has first person chapters interspersed in a mainly third person narrative voice. I do the opposite. My books are narrated mainly in the MC's first person voice, except I occasionally add a third person chapter. This seems to through some people off. I had a beta reader tell me she refused to read those chapters. So, in this second book, I took them all out. The next reader asked what happened to the bad guy's POV, and why had I taken them out because she missed those parts. So I threw them back in.

Mind you, there are things I feel strongly about and so, no matter what readers say, I'll keep them in. Like with freeways, for example. A couple of readers criticized me for constantly naming freeways in my books. It's clear those readers never lived in Los Angeles.

Back to my third POV chapters. I'm on the fence about them because I agree the switch can be jarring. On the other hand, I like to probe into people's heads and I do believe that evil guys are way more interesting than the good guys. I like to probe into their motivations in a way that the good guys could never find out. Thomas Harris does the same: he probes deep into his bad guy's head, only he does it using an omniscient narrator. That, too, can be jarring at first, yet once you get into the plot you can't help but love it.

I do agree that switching from first person to third is highly unconventional. Yet, please don't tell me you don't like it just because it doesn't go by the rules. We wouldn't have masterpieces like One Hundred Years of Solitude or Ulysses or The Castle if all writers strictly stuck to the rules. Those books take some mental effort to read. And yet ,when you take the leap and make that effort, you discover a complete new world. So, let's find the guts to break the rules, and do it creatively. Perhaps the most beautiful review CHIMERAS has received is from Rabid Readers, who wrote: "Giorgi is also not a fan of convention and tends to shift P.O.V. as needed to advance the story." You can find the full review (which is awesome, BTW) here.

So, yes, I'll be biting my nails waiting to see what these first readers will think of the switch in POV and of the new book in general. Though I kinda know I'll be keeping those parts in. ;-)

What about you? What bold choices have you made in your work that make you nervous? And how do you go about addressing your readers' feedback?

Monday, August 4, 2014

Meet My Character Blog Hop -- Skyler Donohue, from my forthcoming sci-fi mystery GENE CARDS

First off, I wanted to share Combining Genetics, Photography, and the Power of Smell: E.E. Giorgi Answers Her Muse, an interview with fellow author and bioengineer Anthony J. Melchiorri, in which I talk about genetics, photography and my forthcoming books Mosaics and Gene Cards. I really enjoyed answering Anthony's questions, and Anthony will be a guest here on Chimeras, too, to talk about his thriller Enhancement.

Now to the blog hop: I was tagged by Cindy Amhrein in the MEET MY CHARACTER BLOG TOUR. Cindy is a historian and fellow writer whose recently released book, Bread and Butter: the Murders of Polly Frisch tells the story of one of the first women to go on trial for murder in the rural town of Alabama, NY. Cindy and her co-author, Ellen Bachorski, put a lot of work into the book, and were literally "history sleuths" as they dug out trial transcripts and old documents to reconstruct Polly Frisch's story.

Cindy is also one of my most valuable beta readers, but that I'm keeping a secret before other writers "steal" her from me. ;-)

I like the idea behind this blog hop, Meet My Character, because it gives authors a chance to introduce their characters and the book they are currently working on. Since I've been talking plenty about Track Presius, the main character in my detective thriller CHIMERAS, I think this time I'll take the chance to talk about another character of mine, Skyler Donohue, who will be featured in GENE CARDS (to be released October 2014).

What is the name of your character? Is she fictional or a historic person?
EEG: Skyler Donohue is a Biothreat Agent from the fictional city of Liasis. She investigates all crimes that fall under the "biothreat" category, including pathogens (whether natural or manmade), biological weapons, and anything that could be used in a bioterroristic attack.

When and where is the story set?
EEG: The story is set in the city of Liasis in 2056, in a society that is ruled by wi-fi technology and genetic identification. Different law enforcement agencies compete with one another for turf, and mutual mistrust is the norm. Every person is under the radar, making hackers and those who manage to fall off the grid the best criminals of the century.

What should we know about her?
EEG: Skyler was born in 2024 and raised by an abusive mother, from whom she fled when she was 16. Forced to make her way through society on her own, Skyler learned the hard way to always stick for herself. Her quaint fascination for cadavers -- likely a consequence of being sick all the time when she was a child -- prompted her to seek a career in law enforcement.

What is the main conflict? What messes up her life?
EEG: Skyler's main conflict is a woman, Yulia Szymanski, a murderer, and one of the most wanted hackers of the century. Szymanski has been dubbed the "DNA chameleon" because of her ability to hack into the country's super secure genetic database so that every time her DNA is found on the scene a new ID -- never hers -- turns up in the system.

What is the personal goal of the character?
EEG: Her main goal, at first, is to find Yulia Szymanski and bring her to justice. As the story unfolds, though, a new deadly pathogen randomly strikes people in the city of Liasis. Skyler, given her background, feels that she's the best person to be put on the new task force, yet her line manager excludes her from the investigation. So, as she keeps tracking down Szymanski, she also fights the higher forces in her own agency who want to keep her in the dark about the new investigation.

Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
EEG: The title is Gene Cards and I have a page up on Goodreads, where you can read the blurb and also enter a giveaway for two signed ARC copies of the book. Hurry up, the giveaway ends August 20! :-)

When can we expect the book to be published?
EEG: I'm hoping to release the book this coming October. Anyone interested can sign up for ARC copies (e-books I'll be sending out to early reviewers) here.

Here is the blurb:
When the cure for some means death for others, how far will you go to save your own?

Yulia Szymanski is a murderer and one of the best hackers of the century. Her mission: break her brother out of a high security jail before he dies of a rare genetic condition. On her trail is Biothreat Agent Skyler Donohue, a decorated Muay Thai fighter with a strange fascination for corpses. The obstacle to overcome: an invisible, deadly disease that strikes at random and has the city of Liasis locked in a bioterrorism siege.

When the latest to fall ill is Skyler's best friend's daughter, Skyler wants to drop the Szymanski case to chase the baffling pathogen that nobody is able to isolate. What she doesn't know is that finding Yulia is the only way to stop the epidemic and save the child's life.

In a world where identities are based on gene cards, and privacy no longer exists, survival is only granted to the rich, the healthy, and those who've learned to become invisible to the system.
And here are the awesome authors who accepted my invitation to join along. Stop by and visit them when they post on August 11th!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Snippet Sunday: MOSAICS

From MOSAICS, Prologue:
The first to burn are always the eyes. They crackle and hiss inside their sockets until there’s nothing left but two gaping holes. The nose dissolves next, skin receding over cartilage flaps.
Flesh liquefies.
It bubbles and oozes and evaporates, leaving behind clean, white bones.
He tilts his head and smiles.
For you, Laura, he thinks, gripping the scalpel. The next toast will be for you.

The above is my Sunday snippet submission for the Weekend writer Warriors (you can find the Snippet Sunday group on Facebook, too). I took a bit of a hiatus over the summer, and now I'm right on time for new book release. Make sure you check out all Weekend writer Warriors participants, it's a fun way to find forthcoming books -- all genres welcome, there's something for everyone's tastes.

MOSAICS, the second in a detective thriller series featuring LAPD Detective Track Presius, is slated for publication on September 8. I'm planning a giveaway with lots of freebies on the release day, so, to make sure you don't miss all the fun, sign up for my newsletter and download a free desktop wallpaper as a thank you for subscribing.

The first book, CHIMERAS, is now available from Amazon.

Book Description: Dubbed the Byzantine Strangler because of the mysterious mosaic tiles he leaves at the crime scene, a new serial killer is stalking the streets of Los Angeles. Racing to decipher the code encrypted in the tiles before the killer strikes again, Detective Track Presius faces a new challenge: the "awakened" genes that make his vision and olfactory sense so sharp are now taking a toll on his life. When a new set of tiles appears in his own backyard, Track makes a chilling realization: those very same genes that are threatening his life are drawing the Byzantine Strangler closer and closer. The line between hunter and hunted has suddenly blurred. Will Track be the next piece of the mosaic puzzle?

Friday, August 1, 2014

"Don't be afraid to be vulnerable:" author Laura Mullane talks about her books, motherhood, and horses

I've been doing many author interview lately because I love to discover new authors and share views on writing, finding inspiration and marketing. Today my guest writes in a completely different genre than mine, and I'm totally blown away by how she completely masters it: Laura Mullane is a freelance writer, horse rider, editor, author, and communication consultant based in New Mexico. Her first book, God Sleeps in Rwanda, which she co-authored with Joseph Sebarenzi, was nominated for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. And her second book, Swimming for Shore, Memoirs of a Reluctant Mother, is a brave and painfully honest take on motherhood that will make you rethink the relationship not just between you and your children, but also with your partner and parents. Laura's writing is witty, funny, and insightful, and you'll find yourself unable to put this book down.

So, it's my great pleasure to have Laura come here to CHIMERAS to talk about her books. Welcome, Laura!

EEG: Tell us about your first book, God Sleeps in Rwanda, which you co-authored with Joseph Sebarenzi, the former speaker of Rwanda’s parliament. How did the opportunity to write it show up and what did you learn from the experience?

LAM: Joseph found me on the web, believe it or not. I’m a freelance writer whose “day job” is writing for companies and organizations—articles, speeches, web sites, marketing materials, etc. I have a web site promoting those services, and Joseph found me just by Googling “writer Washington, DC,” which was where I lived at the time. It’s funny, I wasn’t interested when he first called me. I get a lot of requests from people to write their life stories, but usually the stories are pretty boring and no one would ever read them. When Joseph called me and said he wanted me to help him write his memoirs, I kind of rolled my eyes, thinking, “Here we go again.” But then he started telling me his story—about surviving a Tutsi genocide when he was a child by hiding under his neighbors’ bed; about fleeing before the horrific genocide in 1994 that killed nearly 1 million people, including his mother, father and seven brothers and sisters; about returning to become Speaker of Parliament, only to have to flee the country again when he found out the President was trying to have him assassinated. I knew this was a story that had to be told—and that it would have a wide audience.

Writing it was an amazing experience in many ways. I got to learn about this small African country I knew nothing about. I had to immerse myself in a culture and landscape I had never seen firsthand. Being a white American woman and having to write in the voice of a black African man was a challenge, but one that I really loved. The hardest part was reading and writing about all of the incomprehensible violence that took place during the genocide. Reading about children being raped and murdered in front of their parents before they, too, were killed—well, it kept me up a lot of nights. My children were only three and four years old when I did most of the writing and it was hard to look at them and imagine the horror those children endured. Thinking about it now, I get tears in my eyes. I think it really changed me. I have a sense of vulnerability as a parent that I don’t think I had before.

The other, more mundane, challenge was the challenge that comes with writing as a team. It’s a very laborious process—many, many hours of interviews and then a lot of back and forth on each chapter. And sometimes we’d disagree and argue with each other, but that’s to be expected, and we always worked it out.

But mostly it was a great experience and I’m very grateful for it. Joseph is an incredible man—with a capacity to forgive that is unmatched in most people. I’m glad I got to know him and that he trusted me with his story. It was also exciting because the book got published by a big publishing company (Atria, an imprint of Simon & Schuster) and they nominated it for a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. I doubt that will ever happen again with anything else I write, so I’ll cherish it always!

EEG: When did you get the idea to write a memoir? And how does one go about writing a memoir?

LAM: I was very reluctant to have kids and then, after I had them, I was overwhelmed by it—and not in a good way! I’d heard all my life that having children would be the most rewarding thing I would ever do, and then I had them and all I could think was, “Really?”—because it didn’t feel rewarding; it felt suffocating. I loved my kids, but I didn’t love being a mom—the exhaustion, the monotony of daily life, the crying and tantrums.

I found myself fantasizing about my life before kids and truly mourning its loss. I was always outdoorsy—hiking, backpacking, training and competing horses—and none of that was conducive to having young kids. All of that got put on hold and I was really heartbroken. I didn’t like what my life had become.

I wrote this book because I felt so alone in those early years. I never heard other mothers talk about the deep doubts that I had. I figured no one had them but me—that I was some sort of freak. So I wrote an article about it that was published in The Washington Post, and was surprised by the positive reaction I received. So many moms wrote me saying, “I’ve felt the exact same thing, but been afraid to say it.”

So I basically wrote the book I wish I’d had when my kids were young. I really hope it can help other mothers of young children feel less isolated and have more courage to talk openly about motherhood—both the good and the bad.

As for how I went about writing a memoir, I started by just writing notes about everything that happened that I could remember that was relevant. And then I thought about the major themes I wanted address—isolation, feeling smothered, feeling overwhelmed, marriage and the division of labor, the “perfect mother” myth—and kind of built chapters around those themes while creating a narrative out of the stories. It took me a long time. I wrote it in fits and starts over the course of about three years. Then I finished it and gave it to my agent (Faith Hamlin at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates). She liked it and took it on, sending it to 13 big publishing houses—they all rejected it, saying that the mommy market was saturated and/or I wouldn’t be sympathetic to other mothers, which I found laughable, but, whatever. I was pretty depressed after that and didn’t do anything with the book for another three years, when I finally decided to self-publish—so here I am!

EEG: What was the most challenging task you faced when writing Swimming for Shore?

LAM: I think the biggest challenge is just continuing to write despite the internal soundtrack of self-doubt that says I’m a bad writer; no one will ever read this; those who do read it will think I’m selfish and spoiled; etc. etc. Really, there’s no end to it! I have a quote by Samuel Beckett that’s framed and hangs in my office: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” I read that whenever I feel myself wavering.

It’s also hard to write about your own life because you’re writing about people close to you—your husband, your kids, your parents. You want to represent them and your relationships with them honestly without being cruel or compromising their privacy. That’s a delicate balance.

EEG: What's the best advice for people who seek to be "more effective" in their communications to the public?

LAM: Be honest. Really, I think that’s the best advice for every writer. Take your ego out of it. Even if it’s fiction, a reader can tell an honest writer from a dishonest one. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Expose those wounds you don’t necessarily want others to see. It’s those wounds that show the true nature of being human—and readers recognize that and respond to it. They might not necessarily agree with you or feel the same way, but most readers respect the honesty regardless.

EEG: And, of course, I have to ask you about your horses: I know this passion of yours started when you were a little girl. Tell us what you feel when you're riding and when you accomplish new milestones, like you recently did with your horse West, whom you trained to jump and compete.

LAM: I try not to talk about horses too much because I worry I’ll bore everyone to death ... but since you asked ...

There’s a great quote by Helen Thomson, “In riding a horse, we borrow freedom.” I think that’s why I love riding so much. It gives me a sense of freedom unmatched by anything else. It’s funny, my father flew high-performance military jets and then became an astronaut. He hates horses—doesn’t ride, won’t even pet them—and I hate flying—yet I think we share the gene that makes each of us love those things: the gene that longs to be free from the bonds of earth. And, of course, there’s probably an adrenaline junkie gene in there, too. I think with both riding and flying, you’re always on the edge of chaos. You’re controlling this thing that’s so much more powerful than you—that with one wrong move can kill you—and yet there’s great serenity in it. Riding for me is a meditation of sorts, because it’s one of the only times in my life when I’m completely in the moment. (When I’m on a good writing streak, I feel that way, too.) The type of riding I do—dressage and jumping—requires a lot of concentration. You have to think about what your legs and hands and seat and even shoulders are doing, and how the horse’s body is responding to what you’re doing, and you have to make constant, sometimes miniscule adjustments to make sure you’re communicating to the horse what you want to communicate to him. It really is a conversation—just a physical one instead of a verbal one—and so it requires absolute focus. If I’m in a bad mood or tired or have had a bad day, riding always, always makes me feel better. It’s my therapy—very expensive therapy, but therapy nonetheless!

I have two Thoroughbreds who are ex-racehorses. One, named West, is a six-year-old I got off-the-track a year and a half ago. When I got him, he didn’t know how to do anything but run. I’ve been retraining him to do dressage and jumping and he’s doing amazingly well. I’ve taken him to a few horse shows and he’s placed in the top three each time. He’ll jump anything I put in front of him. This is the third ex-racehorse I’ve retrained and he’s by far the biggest star. So often a horse has the body for the job, but not the brain, or vice versa. West is the whole package.

It’s really gratifying to see his transformation—especially considering I got him for free because he was a track discard! This happens more than most people realize. Horses can live to be 30 years old, but most racehorses’ careers are over by the time they’re four years old. So that’s another 26 years when they need a job. More and more, people like me are getting these off-the-track Thoroughbreds for not a lot of money and retraining them, and they’re doing really well.

Laura and West competing at the Watermelon Mountain Horse 
Trials this past May. It was West's first competition at this level
and he placed third. Picture © Mike Mullane.

My husband asked me the other day if I ever thought I’d stop getting off-the-track horses and someday just buy a horse that’s already trained and that I can just get on and go. There’s a lot of appeal to that, because there’s definitely risk in retraining off-the-track horses—you don’t know what you’re getting and they can be pretty explosive—but I’m not sure I’d enjoy riding a “made” horse as much. It’s such a feeling of accomplishment bringing a young horse along. It makes even the worst days of writing seem tolerable!

EEG: Wow, congratulations! Sounds like you gave West a new life and he's doing so well! Thanks so much Laura for sharing a bit of your life with us!

To find out more about Laura Mullane's writing and riding adventures, check out her blog for future book release and of course, lots of pictures of horses, kids, and life in New Mexico. ;-)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Tracy Banghart guest posts on Alloy Entertainment purchasing her new book, Shattered Veil

Tracy Banghart is a guest on CHIMERAS today, with a big announcement about her forthcoming book. Please join me in congratulating Tracy and a chance to win an Amazon gift card (see details below). 

FINALLY!!!!! I can spill my freaking awesome news! WHOO HOOOO!!!!!! So here it is....
Shattered Veil was bought by Alloy Entertainment! Here's the official press release (because I've never been in a press release before! Whee!!): 

Alloy Entertainment Launches New Digital-First Imprint with Amazon Publishing
First three books release today

SEATTLE—(NASDAQ: AMZN)—July 29, 2014—Today, Amazon Publishing and Alloy Entertainment, a division of Warner Bros. Television Group, announced a digital-first imprint that will focus on young adult, new adult and commercial fiction. The new imprint, named Alloy Entertainment, will be part of Amazon Publishing’s Powered by Amazon program. Powered by Amazon enables publishers and authors to leverage Amazon’s global distribution and personalized, targeted marketing reach.
Today also marks the publication date for the imprint’s first three titles:

  • Imitation by Heather Hildenbrand, which follows Ven, the clone of a wealthy, 18-year-old named Raven. Imitations like Ven only leave the lab when their Authentics need them—to replace the dead, be an organ donor, or in Ven’s case, serve as bait when Raven’s life is threatened. It is Ven’s job to draw out Raven’s assailants, but she must decide if she is prepared to sacrifice herself for a girl she has never met.

  • Every Ugly Word by Aimee Salter, a coming-of-age story about a teenager named Ashley who sees her 23-year-old self when she looks in the mirror. Her older self has been through it all before, and helps Ashley survive torment from high school bullies, unrequited love for her best friend and a volatile relationship with her mom. But her older self also carries the scars of a terrible and imminent event in Ashley’s life that she’s powerless to stop.

  • Rebel Wing by Tracy Banghart, a sci-fi fantasy adventure set in the war-torn Dominion of Atalanta. For Aris, the fighting is worlds away from the safety of her seaside town until her boyfriend Calix is drafted into the military. When Aris herself is recruited to become a pilot for an elite search-and-rescue unit, she leaps at the chance, hoping to be reunited with Calix. But what starts as mission driven by love turns into one of duty as Aris becomes a true soldier determined to save her Dominion...or die trying.

    Alloy Entertainment acquired the books based on the unique voices of the authors and originality of the stories. The company worked closely with each of the writers throughout the publishing process in an effort to gain the widest possible readership. The books will be published under the Alloy Entertainment publishing banner, which currently includes more than 75 New York Times bestsellers.
    “One of our strengths is working with talented authors to create and develop properties that have mass entertainment appeal,” said Leslie Morgenstein, President of Alloy Entertainment. “This program is an exciting extension of our business and will allow us to leverage Amazon’s ability to distribute to an incredibly diverse and broad readership.”
    "Rebel Wing is the book of my heart. It’s a story I felt compelled to tell, both from the perspective of an Army wife and as someone who believes you can never have enough strong female characters in the world," said author Tracy Banghart. "Being given the opportunity to work with the incredibly talented folks at Alloy to make it the best version of itself was an exciting and affirming process, and knowing that its distribution will be handled by Amazon—a company that has already made so much possible for me as an indie author—is pretty much the definition of win-win as far as I’m concerned."

“Alloy has a tremendous track record developing stories, like Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars and The Vampire Diaries, that our customers love,” said Jeff Belle, Vice President of Amazon Publishing. “We’re thrilled to promote these books from Alloy Entertainment with our Powered by Amazon program. It’s a great fit.”

Authors who publish with Alloy Entertainment’s new digital-first imprint receive an advance and royalties paid on a monthly basis. Alloy Entertainment will also look for opportunities to develop acquired titles as television series, feature films, and digital entertainment.

About Alloy Entertainment
Alloy Entertainment, a division of the Warner Bros. Television Group, develops and produces original novels, television series and feature films. More than 75 of AE’s books have been on The New York Times bestseller list, including The Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars, Gossip Girl, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Luxe, Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line, and The 100. AE has successfully adapted several of its properties into hit television shows for broadcast across multiple networks, including The CW, ABC, ABC Family and Nickelodeon. Current Alloy Entertainment television series include Pretty Little Liars, The Vampire Diaries, The Originals and The 100. AE feature films include Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 1 & 2, Sex Drive and The Clique, with several additional projects currently in development including Sisterhood Everlasting, The Merciless and The Brokenhearted.

Amazon opened on the World Wide Web in July 1995. The company is guided by three principles: customer obsession rather than competitor focus, passion for invention, and long-term
thinking. Customer reviews, 1-Click shopping, personalized recommendations, Prime, Fulfillment by Amazon, AWS, Kindle Direct Publishing, Kindle, Fire phone, Fire tablets, and Fire TV are some of the products and services pioneered by Amazon.

So....YEAH. How freaking amazing is this????????? Here's some more info on the three books, details about a Facebook party we're having today, and a giveaway to celebrate!! And to everyone who has read and loved Shattered Veil, THANK YOU. Your amazing reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, your excitement for Aris and this story, are SO important to me. You kept me going....and you're a big reason REBEL WING is making its way into the world (also....there are still 2 more books in the series. Don't worry! They're coming!! ;-)). BIG SQUASHY HUGS!! <3


YA Scifi Adventure

“I've never been actively jealous of a fictional character .  . . until now. Aris's adventures set my imagination on fire, and made my heart take flight.” ~Kass Morgan, author of New York Times bestseller The 100


The Dominion of Atalanta is at war. But for eighteen-year-old Aris, the fighting is nothing more than a distant nightmare, something she watches on news vids from the safety of her idyllic seaside town. Then her boyfriend, Calix, is drafted into the Military, and the nightmare becomes a dangerous reality.
Left behind, Aris has nothing to fill her days. Even flying her wingjet—the thing she loves most, aside from Calix—feels meaningless without him by her side. So when she’s recruited to be a pilot for an elite search-and-rescue unit, she leaps at the chance, hoping she’ll be stationed near Calix. But there’s a catch: She must disguise herself as a man named Aristos. There are no women in the Atalantan Military, and there never will be.

Please join me, Aimee, and Heather, along with some other great YA authors for a Facebook party this afternoon to celebrate the big launch! And don't forget to enter the giveaway below!  

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The appeal of textures (an improvised tutorial)

Memories © EEG
Reaching for the Sky © EEG
Gratitude © EEG
I just got back from a trip to Europe, where I definitely re-bonded with my camera. One thing I discovered in this trip are textures. I'm really grateful for photographers like Karen Waters (I used one of Karen's textures for the image in the middle, Reaching for the Sky), Joel Olives and Brooke Shaden, who are so generous to regularly share their textures (check their websites to see what awesome textures they have!), and I've been thinking for a while now to start making my own library of textures and sharing it. And this trip gave me the opportunity: you wouldn't believe how rich in textures old Europe is! But before we get into that, I wanted to also share a few things I've learned about textures.

What are textures?

A texture is a layer that you overlay to a picture to give it a special mood and/or vintage feel. In my experience, old walls are the best candidates for textures. A texture also helps blending when compositing several pictures together.

Why use textures?

I personally use textures when I want my picture to convey certain emotions. Another super talented photographer I follow is Sairam Sundaresan, who teaches a G+ mentorship titled "Storytelling through Landscape Photography." While I haven't been able to attend his mentorship (shame on me!), the title has always intrigued me. (On a side note Sairam shares lots of tips on landscape photography in his blog). How do you tell stories with just a landscape? Over this last trip I learned that in order to make an image that is not only beautiful, but also tells a story, you have to shoot your subject in a way that it poses a question and/or captures a particularly emotional moment. I also learned that textures can definitely add, and even change, the emotional appeal of the image.

The pictures I posted above are an example. Each image above is trying to convey a sense of suspension in time and, hopefully, raise a question in the viewer and a bit of wonder. I believe the same images, without the overlaying textures, would not achieve that.

And now to the key point: How do you use textures?

I am a self-taught photographer, so I'll share the textures I've shot and my own way of using them. You can download a set of 30 textures I collected from various parts of Italy and Scotland from this public album. Please use the textures for your own work and, like all of my images, keep in mind that these images too are to be used in agreement with a non-commercial creative commons attribution.

These textures are "raw" and minimally edited. This is because I like to edit them after I overlay them on the image I'm working on, not before. Every image is different, and the same texture can be edited in different ways according to the image I'm making. Specifically, here's what I do: I pick a texture that I believe will work with my background image. I make the decision based on color (I choose a palette that enhances the base image; for example a pink/orange for a sunset, green for foliage, etc.) and lighting (I ask myself: where do I want the highlights to be?). Because my textures are quite rough, once I overlay them (in Photoshop Elements, just copy and paste the texture as a new layer, then choose blending mode "Overlay"), I usually add some degree of gaussian blur to smoothen them and make them blend onto the base image better. This is done by clicking on Filter -> Blur -> Gaussian Blur. Next, I look at the overall feel of the image. If the texture is too much, I decrease the opacity a bit. If there are areas that are too patchy or where the texture feels like it's adding noise, I blend it down with the clone stamp. And if the image doesn't feel quite done yet, I add another texture. It's all really about playing around with your image until you get a result that you like.

What about you, do you enjoy using textures? And if you do, how do you use them?

Feel free to download the textures from my album and if you do use them, come back to show me the result! :-)