Monday, September 29, 2014

Unleashing The Inner Fangirl, And A Book Review/Recommendation!

Well, here I am yet again, trying to be productive, and wandering over to this blog instead. This is becoming an addiction, methinks. I hope you are having a good day, fellow digressors, and that you are being more productive than I. 

I did manage to make some headway last night, though -- I finally got to work on writing a book proposal for one of my novels. Some kind soul posted a sample proposal and introduction online, so that all the "learning by observation" people like me could stop pulling their hair out and wailing over how they had no idea what they were doing. (The sample introduction/proposal, by the way, is here. You're welcome.) 

With some of the mystery taken out of the process, I've discovered that writing proposals can actually be kind of fun. Maybe I'm crazy for thinking that. That's okay; I accepted the reality of my own insanity a long time ago. But really, I have had way too much fun writing the synopsis for the book in question. I'll probably have to pull a Frankenstein on it later by chopping it up and cobbling it back together, but hey, it's better than having a blank page in front of me. (Although I'll probably have to find some alternative to an electric shock to bring it to life, considering that I'm using a computer to write/edit it...) 

Yesterday was an exciting day for me. Nothing big happened, I suppose. It was a Sunday like any other. Well, except that I managed to make it through morning services without having panic issues; that actually made it kind of an awesome Sunday. But after I went home, I decided to do some shopping on Amazon. And by "shopping," I mean, "looking up the same books that I've been drooling over for weeks and trying to talk myself into actually buying the paperbacks." The books were 'Captives' (first in 'The Safe Lands Trilogy') and 'By Darkness Hid' (first in 'The Blood of Kings Trilogy'), both by Jill Williamson. I became acquainted with Jill via a Facebook group/blog called Go Teen Writers, which she and Stephanie Morrill (another awesome author/person) headed up, and not only is she an awesome person with a heart for helping others, but her books are great. She writes what she describes as "weird fiction for teens," which happens to be exactly what I tend to read and write most, though she does a better job of it than I do. The 'Blood of Kings' trilogy happens to be my favorite series ever, actually. (As evidenced by the fact that I'm buying the paperback for 'By Darkness Hid' when I've already read the eBook; I just don't do that.) 

*steps off of fangirling soapbox for a moment to take some deep breaths* Okay. I'm okay now. For the moment, anyways. 

So anyways, the exciting thing was that, when I checked out copies of 'Captives' that other people were selling on Amazon, I found one that is supposedly signed by the author. Yes, it made me happy. No, don't bother going to look for it now, because I already claimed it. Sorry. 

It's unusual for me to purchase paperbacks these days. Why? Well, being a Lymie with no consistently-paying job, who also likes to save her shekels to publish future books, turns me into sort of a tight-wad. Oftentimes, if a book is not available at my local library, I'll just put it on a wishlist, or maybe use gift card money to get the (usually cheaper) eBook version, if that option is available. But I've read a preview of 'Captives' (via a FREE sampler of Jill's writing that is available here), and heard recommendations from friends. Those things, combined with my abiding love for 'Blood of Kings', convinced me to purchase the book, and I've caught myself checking my e-mail way too many times since to see whether the book has shipped yet. (That reminds me, I haven't checked in a while. *scurries off to check it, then comes back*) 

When the book gets here and I've read through it, I will be more than happy to post my review for you lovely people to read. Until then, here is my review of 'By Darkness Hid' (which can be purchased here): 

"I learned about this book through a writer's group which the author, Jill Williamson, helps manage. The premise intrigued me, and the idea of Christian, non-magical -- well, unless you count the bloodvoicing as magic -- fantasy also excited me. [EDIT: I have since read the other books, which are also awesome, and discovered that it is not non-magical, but the magic involved is handled very well.] I decided at once that I wanted to read it. I spent months drooling over it, putting it on every wishlist, longing desperately to dive into the story therein. 

I was not disappointed. 

From the first pages, I connected with Achan, and rooted for him through every trial and disappointment. What angered him made me livid, and what made him sad brought tears to my eyes. When I reached Vrell's first chapter, I was prematurely disappointed, sure I could not love her as much as I had Achan. She quickly proved me wrong, and I ripped through the pages (well, digital pages), anxious to see what would happen next, holding my breath whenever it seemed her secret (revealed to the reader early on) might be revealed. I found the world well-developed and believable, the characters well-rounded and dynamic, and the storyline exhilarating, heart-wrenching, humorous (in a good way), and breathtaking in its turns. I highly recommend this book (and the books following) to anyone who loves fantasy -- Christian or no -- or just a good, well-written story. I look forward to the next book! *runs off to purchase and read book two*" 

So there you have it. I should also note that I don't often remember to leave reviews for books, either, but I just had to trumpet about this one. And if you're looking for a blog with great advice for writing and editing, with contests and fellowship with other teen authors (well, okay, some of us are older, but it's geared towards teens), check out Go Teen Writers here. There's also a Facebook page full of young writers who actively discuss books and writing, encourage one another, and sometimes even act as beta-readers. Seriously, it's great. I hope to see you there, if you aren't already a member! 

...I came on here intending to write a semi-serious post to raise awareness for something, or to give some sort of devotional thought for the day. I failed. But hey, fangirling works, too, doesn't it? Of course it does. Also talking to yourself. You know, some studies have indicated that people who talk to themselves are actually smarter than people who don't do the same. I guess that means I must be a very smart person, indeed. I wonder where you'd go to get that tested... 

...But of course, I digress. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Being Productive (And A Comparison Of Traditional And Self-Publishing)

Well, hello again, fellow digressors. I hope you have all had a pleasant day/evening. The weekend has just begun, and I hope you have some awesome, productive (or at least enjoyable) plans to look forward to. 

Today I actually managed to be somewhat productive. Sadly, I did not build a teleporter or a time machine. Not yet, anyways. I'm still working out a few of the bugs. Instead, I finished writing another vocal song that I'd started a few weeks back, and came up with music for it. That might not sound like a tremendous accomplishment, but I only write about one or two songs per year to completion, so it's nice to actually finish one and be able to share it with others.

Am I sharing it here? No, at least not yet. Maybe sometime when my brain is fried and I can't come up with an interesting blog post topic, I'll cheat by uploading a recording of the song. Because I am such a wonderfully dedicated blogger.

My evening was not so productive, but it was relaxing, nonetheless, and I am closing it out now by trying to write a proposal letter for one of my novels. Of course, "trying" is the operative word there. My distractible brain would much rather play a game, or make a character quote picture, or log onto Blogger and write a post for you lovely people.

But of course, my conscience tells me that I ought to do what I set out to do in the first place, so I shall compromise. I don't know enough about writing proposals to give you all a comprehensive presentation on how to write one effectively. In fact, I have never before written one. Something -- call it wisdom, laziness, or cowardice, whichever you like -- held me back. Instead, I chose the route of self-publishing for my first two novels.

So, since my digressing brain is not particularly interested in writing a book proposal tonight, I shall present to you my views of traditional and self-publishing, respectively. (Let us see how well I focus until my brainpower fizzles for the evening.)

Traditional publishing gives us most of the books we read every day (or every week, month, or year, depending upon your personal reading habits). It is the dream of almost every aspiring author to write the next great novel, find a great agent, submit said manuscript to some prestigious publisher, and become a widely-read, respected author. Many a scribe has sighed and lovingly brushed the dust off of their favorite book, and said to themselves, "One day I will be on the New York Times Bestseller list and the whole world will read my books. I wonder what I'll say when they interview me on television. What would be a good color to wear? Maybe I should get a haircut beforehand..."

Or is that just me?

Actually, I'm more likely to sit hugging my favorite book in a corner and stare in terror at my laptop while feeling guilty for being too much a perfectionistic coward to actually send anything to a publisher than I am to pick out an outfit for my hypothetical interview on the Tonight Show. Many self-published authors have noble reasons for choosing their path, and cowardice plays no part in their decisions. Or at least, I assume those people are out there. I'm still not convinced that it's possible to be an author of any caliber without wanting to run in terror from potential readers a few times. Me, I'm terrified of publishers. Of course, this fear was not the primary reason driving my decision to self-publish, but it did come into play a bit.

I think the primary reason that most authors aspire to being traditionally published is that it demands respect. When your book sits on the shelves of Barnes & Noble with a publisher's logo on its spine, it broadcasts to the world that this book is viable. Extensive work has been employed to write this book, edit it, and prepare it for public consumption. (Consumption in the sense of reading and enjoying it, of course. Please don't eat books. That's just disrespectful.) There are some books out there (which shall not be named here) which perhaps do not deserve the credibility that such presentation gives them, but nonetheless, just the fact that the novel has gone through a credible source is enough to inspire confidence in potential readers.

The primary reason authors get into self-publishing, I believe, is the freedom and ease-of-access involved. It can be as easy as creating a cover (preferably with the help of a professional designer) and uploading your book file to an online retailer to be made available within days. Some services, such as CreateSpace or Lulu, offer print-on-demand services, as well as editors, artists and formatters for covers and interior layout, all for a fee. These services can be utilized to produce a product of equal quality to any traditionally published book you might find at your favorite bookstore. Additionally, there are no contracts involved, and you are fully in control of the pricing and distribution of your work. You answer to no-one, and you reserve all rights to do with your work as you please. And, perhaps best of all for the timid folks like me, there is no middle man, no-one barring you from getting your work out to the world as soon as you can come up with the resources to publish it. 

I have heard many arguments on the topic of whether traditional or self-publishing is best. Speaking as one who has considered both routes extensively, I don't believe one is universally better than the other. Some authors will find that traditional publishing is the better option, while others might find that self-publishing more effectively serves their purposes. It is all in what you hope to get out of the publishing experience, and what you are willing to put into it. Here is my in-depth, highly informed analysis of the two options and how they compare to one another. 

At least, it would be in-depth and highly informed if I were an expert on these issues. Sadly, I am not. But here goes nothing: 

Traditional Publishing 

As I stated previously, traditional publishing offers credibility. However, this credibility comes with good reason: It is tremendously difficult to get published by this method. There are certain expectations of quality which must be met, and these expectations differ between publishers. A book might be intriguing, well-plotted and well-executed, and still be rejected on the basis that it does not meet the needs of the publisher to which it was submitted. In the same way, a book which is rejected by one publisher for being too outlandish might be accepted by another for its fantastical feel. 

Most publishers expect authors to use a literary agent, who must be carefully selected and promised a commission in order to even get your manuscript a second look from a publisher, much less a letter of acceptance. It is not an endeavor for the faint of heart, and succeeding in it is surely a feat to be celebrated. Once you have gotten that letter, a contract must be drawn up and agreed upon, and once the rigors of editing and design have been completed (in which areas I am uncertain how much the author is involved, since I've never gotten that far), your book is officially published. The list price is set by the publisher, and you get your agreed-upon royalties if/when the books start selling. The level of involvement past this point seems to depend upon the publisher, but although many (especially smaller publishing houses) expect a fair level of marketing participation from the author, it is still at a less significant level than for a self-published work. 

The publisher owns your work, but that means they also pay for the print runs, distribute copies, and take care of a lot of the nitty-gritty details that you might not have time to handle. This restricts freedom to some extent (and this extent varies depending upon which publisher you use), as the publisher reserves the right to change things as they see fit (or send it back to you to be changed, depending), adjust list prices, determine distribution, and so forth. And once you have signed your book over to them (as far as I can tell, being on the outside), it essentially belongs to them, though of course it remains your intellectual property. The world of traditional publishing, overall, is challenging to get into, and may not offer all the freedoms which some authors would like, but garners respect and requires a lower input of resources and energy to maintain. 


Self-publishing often gets a bad rep because, as previously stated, there is often no middle man. It is easy to get your work out there. You could invest the capital to print physical copies of your book, or just upload the file to an online retailer for free. You could even do your own editing and cover design (not recommended, but some people like me do it). Sure, formatting is a pain (BELIEVE ME), and producing a quality cover can be challenging, but you can do it, and you can get away with it, even if what you're submitting is trash. You could be a dedicated author who pours his heart into everything he produces and does his best to ensure that his work is polished to perfection before releasing it to the public. But you could also be some high-school kid who pounds at a keyboard for a weekend, decides he likes what he's written, and uploads it to an online service on a whim.

The only way the reader knows which product they stand to consume is by word of mouth, or by taking a chance and reading your work for themselves. Many readers are simply unwilling to take that plunge, though self-publishing has gained more respect in recent years, and does not hold quite the stigma it once did. This is why marketing well and garnering reviews is so crucial for self-published authors. Readers are much more likely to take a chance on an author they know and who comes well-recommended than on one they only discover by accident whilst browsing through the new releases on Amazon. Don't misunderstand me -- self-publishing can be a very rewarding route to choose, and it is much easier to get into than traditional publishing. But it also requires a significant investment of your time, energy, and resources to get much of anywhere. 

On the other hand, with self-publishing, your work remains entirely your own, with no contracts involved, no-one choosing the prices for you or making all the decisions that you might prefer to make for yourself. And while publishers may be reluctant to publish a book which has previously been released via self-publishing, some may still accept it, and as the work has never been signed off to a third party, you are free to do with at as you wish. You are your own publisher, with all the freedoms and responsibilities that job entails. 

Recently, a friend of mine who plans to pursue traditional publishing joined a critique group, and was encouraged by other members to try self-publishing instead because it was easier. On one hand, it is encouraging to hear self-publishing presented as a viable option, while back when I was looking into publication options for my own books, any expression of my intentions to self-publish might well garner looks of horror and lectures on why it would never work. On the other hand, I have to laugh and shake my head a bit at the assertion that self-publishing is either easy or a superior alternative to traditional publishing. In the same way, I am disappointed when people claim that self-publishing is the lazy alternative and that traditional publishing is the only way to go. 

In my mind, they are both worthy options. It all depends on what you hope to accomplish in your publishing journey, and what measures you are willing to take in order to succeed down the road you've chosen. 

Am I glad I self-published? Yes, I am. I have managed to sell some books and, by God's grace, have even garnered a modest following. I am not the most dedicated marketer in the world, and there are some things I wish I had done differently, but overall, it has been a rewarding, worthwhile experience. (Seriously, though, having friends randomly stumble upon chatrooms full of Sehret fans makes my heart very happy.) 

Would I ever seriously consider publishing traditionally? Yes, I would. In fact, I am already taking the first steps towards taking that leap of faith. My perfectionist brain sneaks behind my back and feeds my cowardice with fears of rejection and assurances of my own inadequacy, but the road seems a worthwhile one, and I am determined to walk it, no matter how terrified I may be. (And hey, if I get a book deal out of it, all the better, right?) 

"For God hath not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and love, and of a sound mind." - II Timothy 1:7, KJV 

"I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." - Philippians 4:13, KJV 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go plan my speech for when they call me for that TV interview. Hey, I've already picked out a publisher and started planning my proposal letter. They'll come breaking down my door any day now, won't they? Of course they will. Now to pick out an outfit for that interview... 

...But of course... I digress. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Getting To Know You... Oh, Wait, Never Mind -- That's Me.

Well, here I am, starting a blog at long last. Fantastic, allons-y, geronimo, and all that stuff. I am in no way new to writing in general, but as this is my first time posting for all you lovely people, I will introduce myself.

Hello. My name is Carissa Barrows. Some of you might know me as C. F. Barrows, or you may not. That's my pen name. Very creative, I know. No-one must ever learn my true name. Ever. Disaster and a painful, untimely demise would ensue.

Oh, wait... I've just told you my real name, haven't I? Whoops.

Ah, well. Now that I have secured my own doom, I might as well continue with my introduction. I have self-published two novels so far, and have no intention of stopping anytime soon. I was homeschooled all the way from preschool to my high school graduation, and don't regret it in the slightest. I think if you asked most people to give one trait by which to identify me, they would say that I carried a book everywhere. Going to church? Maybe I'd get to read between services. A movie theater? Well, maybe the previews would be boring, and I'd have to ride in the car to get there, anyways. Whether I love books has never been in question.

It's a little more complicated, however, to answer the question of how I came to write my own books. I've been making up stories for as long as I can remember, and writing them down since I was a child. I've also dabbled a great deal in poetry, and written a few songs. When I speak with old friends who have not seen me for a long time, very few are surprised that I decided to become a novelist.

Me, an overly imaginative child? Me, have my head in the clouds to such an extent that everyone wondered whether I even knew how to stand on solid ground? Nahhhhh.

To be fair, I also have other interests. For example, I've grown up in a musical family who fostered in me a love for music. I am a coloratura soprano (high range, lesser power than a dramatic soprano), and have played the piano for thirteen years. I write vocal songs (as I mentioned earlier) and like to compose pieces for the piano, and also play by ear. I also know the basics of violin, and can play guitar and harmonica (my Hohner chromatic harmonica is awesome). Not a day goes by in which I do not immerse myself somehow in music. I also love to sketch, mostly portraits of people. Every notebook I own, and nearly every sheet of paper I have used in my lifetime, is covered in drawings, and if one could be arrested for drawing her own characters too many times, I would be a jailbird for the rest of my life. I am also a perfectionist. Perfectionism is a hobby, right?

I am also a Chronic Lyme Disease sufferer. This is a controversial condition which many in the medical community say cannot exist, so it brings with it some stigma and, admittedly, a fair amount of frustration. It is a degenerative disease, and can affect virtually any part of the body. Many of my symptoms are neurological, culminating in brain fog, clinical depression and anxiety, neuropathy, photophobia, chronic fatigue, and a myriad of other symptoms. I contracted the disease when I was perhaps sixteen, and was diagnosed at age eighteen. I am thankful to say that I have received proper treatment, and seem to be on the path of recovery. However, there are many who cannot say the same.

A heartbreaking number of chronic Lyme sufferers go to their doctors for help and are told that their symptoms are all in their heads, or that some other condition is to blame. Some have to travel to other states just to get the proper treatment, and doctors can get into trouble for tackling these cases. And even if the patients find a Lyme-literate doctor who is willing to treat them, often their insurance companies will not pay for their treatment.

It is an ugly disease, and changes the lives of those who contract it and are unfortunate enough to become chronic sufferers. So how do I do the things I do when my body is worn out, my brain is scattered and fog-ridden, and everything within me wants to just go back to bed and watch Netflix on my iPad all day? (Seriously, though, I love my iPad. It is so nice for those days when I'm too lazy/dizzy/fatigued to sit up.) How do I push myself to write books, of all things, when it takes me all of two seconds to forget what someone has said to me? (You haven't said anything yet, have you? No? Okay, just checking.)

Well, the truth is, I don't. Not alone, anyways. I have an awesome family and great friends who are there with me every step of the way, and support me even when I'm irritable, depressed, freaking out at everything that moves, or unsure what I had for breakfast this morning (or even if I had said breakfast).

And above all, I have my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. I don't talk about Him as much as I should, and I won't try to claim the title of "Best Christian" anytime soon, because even if such a title existed, I would not be worthy to claim it. But He loves me through my randomness, my ups and downs, my wordy lectures and my befuddling outbursts, and the days where I don't have the strength to take another step.

"I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." - John 15:5, KJV

The above verse is very true for me. Without God, I could do nothing. Zip. Nada. Pack your bags and go home, because the show is canceled, if I even remembered to cancel the show. (What was that show called, again?)

So if you ever read one of my books or blog posts, hear one of my songs, or see one of my sketches, remember that He's the one who enabled me to do all those things. And by His grace, I hope to turn this blog into something that enriches your life, whether in the areas of your own faith, learning to write more effectively, finding good books to read, picking a great movie to rent on Movie Night, or discovering a great recipe for egg nog, or an archive of awesome Doctor Who quotes to make your day. Or C. S. Lewis quotes. Did I mention I really like C. S. Lewis? 'The Screwtape Letters' is an awesome book, and no-one can deny. I shall have to talk about it sometime...

...But, of course... I digress.