Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Naming Resource & Other Updates

Tired of some of my usual character naming resources, I went on the hunt for a new website this month. I found one that has a few handy tools for expecting parents and authors alike! Babycenter's name finder may not be that special, but click on "Sibling Names" or "Suggested Names" next to any name for an interactive tour of complementary and alternative names. (Am I using the word "name" too much?) If your character has siblings or you're just searching for that perfect moniker, try this tool. It's awesome!

In other news, Dead Locked is now available as an ebook in several different stores. Here is the current list:
Diesel eBook Store
Barnes & Noble

And it's coming to print soon!

As a final note, check out the Eyecandy Blogfest going on this Saturday at Rambles & Randomness. I've got my pic lined up and I can't wait to see what everyone else posts!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Laying a Foundation With Character Interviews

I decided to write about character interviewing today after spending a while this weekend doing just that. I had two very murky characters in a new idea I'm developing and I wanted to feel them out. And let me tell you, it got the ball rolling. Who they are and their roles in the story are really taking shape. So where can you start with an interview if you don't know that much about a character?

I literally started with "Who are you?" and got writing without over thinking the response. Then I asked what they both knew about the situation that starts the story. After a few general questions like that ("Did you kill him?" "Do you know who did kill him?"), I had responses that led to more specific questions. It didn't take long to get the ideas going and by the end I had a much better idea of who I was dealing with. At times it felt like an interrogation, but it helped me to quit side stepping the tougher issues and face them head on.

At the end of it all, I felt I could move ahead with both people. I now know who they are (always a good starting place!) and how they play into the story. But the questions also revealed more about their personalities and personal issues. I still have a lot to learn, but the interviews gave me a foundation to build on. And sometimes that's the hardest part.

What sort of questions do you ask your characters?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Test Your Pirate I.Q.

For the final day of Pirate Week, I wanted to do something fun and interactive. So go ahead and test your knowledge with this short quiz!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tales of Real Buried Treasure

While the idea of buried treasure is mostly unrealistic (most pirates squandered what they stole), it's not entirely mythic either. There are some actual cases of buried treasure - or what is at least thought to be buried treasure. Read on and decide for yourself if it's real.

Captain Kidd's Buried Treasure
As mentioned in Monday's post, Kidd got into a little trouble with the government. Though technically a privateer for England, he had a misunderstanding with the British East India Company, and that coupled with political goings-on contributed to his downfall. Whatever led to his unhappy ending, Kidd discovered he was wanted as a pirate and took off for Boston to get the backing of influential friends in New York (where he lived).

He stopped in various parts of New Jersey first and then headed for Boston, Mass., to meet with the governor, who promptly arrested him when he arrived. Captain Kidd claimed he hid 40,000 British Pounds and he wasn't lying entirely. British authorities dug up nearly 10,000 Pounds of treasure on Gardiner's Island off of Long Island. Kidd insisted he had lots more buried where that came from. Unfortunately, he didn't get a chance to prove it and a quick trial and hanging proceeded.

Despite repeated attempts at finding the rest of Kidd's buried treasure, nothing but a few coins on Block Island (off of Rhode Island) has ever turned up. Did he bury more loot and we just haven't found it? Or was Kidd lying to save his own skin? It's too bad he didn't leave a map.

Treasure on Oak Island?
While a small island off of Nova Scotia may not seem like the place to find buried treasure, it was a hot spot for pirates in the 18th century. So in 1795 when Daniel McGinnis stumbled on a strange circular depression in the earth covered by some tree branches that looked like someone cut them to work as a pulley, he grabbed two of his friends and they got to work.

They and future treasure hunters dug and dug, unearthing flagstones, oak timbers, charcoal, putty, coconut fiber, inscribed stone, spruce, metal pieces. What does it equal? Basically, a clever safe equipped with booby traps. When the original discoverers returned to dig again eight years later with The Onslow Company, they sprung a trap and water flooded the pit. No matter what methods they tried, the pit always flooded and they couldn't pump it out fast enough to extract the treasure.

Later, in the 1840s, another company brought in a drill to see what was actually down there, pulling up samples of the items mentioned in the previous paragraph. They decided the wood and metal pieces were chests filled with money. After testing various methods and failing every time, The Truro Company discovered that the booby trap designer had created a drain system. Though this should have solved the problem, the company's two attempts to block the drain failed and they gave up.

But other treasure hunters followed through the decades, four of them losing their lives in the process. More recently, in the 1970s, treasure hunters discovered a human corpse and treasure chests using modern camera equipment. They tried to dive the site but strong currents and visibility issues inhibited any further searches. Even with modern machinery and technology, no one has unearthed whatever is buried. It's incredible that the booby trap is just as effective 300 years or so later!

Bonus Treasure
Before hanging for piracy, Olivier le Vasseur apparently told the spectators that he had buried treasure and flung a necklace into the crowd with a cryptogram that led to it. In the 1920s a woman found evidence that le Vasseur buried his treasure in the Seychelles. After decades of work and clue deciphering, nothing of real value was ever unearthed.

Get detailed info about Kidd and Oak Island at these wonderful websites:
The Mysterious & Unexplained
Mysteries of Canada
Kidds Island

Check back tomorrow as we wrap-up Pirate Week!

Photos from Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Interview With Isaac Crewe From Dead Locked!

Even though Captain Isaac Crewe only makes a cameo in Dead Locked, his story affects Imogen Bell and her colleagues deeply. And because he's a pirate, I figured he's the perfect person to interview for Pirate Week!

Thanks for joining us!
My pleasure really.

Let's start with how you got into piracy in the first place.
Like most good pirates, I started as an innocent sailor on a merchant vessel. Sea life is grueling and harsh with little reward when you're on the lower rungs. Eventually, pirates attacked our ship and I was taken hostage. After weighing the life aboard a pirate ship versus a merchant ship, or any other kind really, I chose to stay. And within a short time, I became the captain of my own ship.

You must be good at what you do. And what exactly is that?
I overtake ships carrying gold, silver, jewels, or other precious items and plunder them. It's fun.

And rewarding apparently. Enough to balance out a life at sea?
Oh, a life at sea is still rough and not every person is cut out for it. The difference between sailing on a merchant ship (or for the Royal Navy) and sailing as a pirate is equality. We divide our loot relatively evenly so everyone makes out very well, especially with large takeovers. And we welcome anyone as a pirate regardless of race or ethnicity. The more of an outcast you are, the better.

You're compensated for losses I understand?
Yes. Life as a pirate comes with plenty of combat and danger. Most of us lose something eventually - a leg, an arm, an eye. But you're paid equal to the loss, if that's any consolation.

What types of ships are popular prey?
Ships traveling from the East carry great spoils. But pirates also favor slave ships because of the amount of money they have on board after they've finished trading.

So enough of the technical stuff. I hear you scored a giant, shiny rock in one of your escapades and gave it to your girlfriend. Is that true?
If you don't know than I certainly don't. Besides, wouldn't my answer give too much away about the storyline?

Oh, fine. I'll ask something non-spoilerish. How did you meet Georgiana?
I met her by chance when my ship made port in Newport. I was a young sailor, she was the daughter of a ship captain. I wrote to her after we left and the next time we had a chance to see each other, I had turned pirate.

And Georgiana didn't mind this or you just didn't tell her?
No, she knew. I never said it directly in my letters, but I think she guessed at some point. Then when I told her for the first time in person, she looked very serious and said, 'I suppose it's too late to worry about it' and that was that.

You give my heroine, Imogen Bell, a lot of trouble. Do you have anything to say about that?
Give my apologies to Mistress Bell. But since we live 300 years apart from each other, I had little control over what would happen. However, even if I had known, being that I'm a pirate, I doubt I would have changed my course.

Good to know. Any last words for our readers?
Beware of pirate ships disguised as innocent merchant vessels. And when you do face capture, save yourself and your crew, and surrender.

Duly noted, Captain Crewe. Just two more days left of Pirate Week! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pirate Week Day 2: Talk the Talk

There are lots of terms associated with pirates that you may hear, but do you know what they actually mean? Well, find out with this brief list of words and phrases so the next time you say it, you'll know its origin.

Jolly Roger - The flags pirates flew (or at least some did). Most pirates seemed to design their own special flag so you'd recognize them when they wanted you to. Pretty good branding tactic. The term may come from the French "jolie rouge."

Maroon - The Hollywood image of a man left to die on a deserted island may not be too far from the truth. Marooning was apparently a prime punishment for naughty pirates (especially for those who stole from fellow thieves).

Piece of Eight - Common currency - and therefore plunder - during the late 16th and 17th centuries (and still in circulation up to the 19th century). The term "piece of eight" comes from the fact that the coins were often cut into pieces to make payments, and because one piece of eight equaled eight reales.

Careen - Routine ship maintenance. A few times a year, ships needed to be beached and the hulls scraped. It prevented rot and made the ship sail faster. Even modern, non-wood vessels need their hulls scraped regularly.

Letters of Marque - Permission given to privateers from various governments, which basically let them steal from opposing governments - as long as they returned the loot to their employers.

Buccaneer - Comes from the word "boucans," which means smokehouse. These men had an odd start as pig farmers on the island of Hispaniola. At first, they traded their goods to passing ships. But after the Spanish attacked them, many fled to become some of the most vicious pirates of that time.

Galleon - A type of merchant vessel favored by the Spanish who used these ships to haul their loads of gold and silver from the Spanish Main back to Europe. And often got attacked by pirates en route until they smartened up and started traveling in packs.

East Indiaman - Eventually, the Spanish Main dried up and Europe looked East, especially the Dutch and British, and East Indiamen were there merchant ships of choice. And, consequently, became the choice target for pirates.

Bonus Material
Rob Ossian's Pirate's Cove is one of the most awesome pirate history sites I've found. I used it extensively while researching for Dead Locked. Learn everything you wanted to know and then some at that site.

Stay tuned for a special appearance this week from one of the character's in Dead Locked!

By User:Fred the Oyster [see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pirate Week Begins!

I blame Disney World for my love of pirate history. I have vague images from when I was three of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and I'm almost positive that ignited my interest. And while movie pirates make better heroes than the real thing, the truth can still be fascinating. To kick off pirate week, let's explore a little about pirate history and the people who made it.

Not Just in the Caribbean
I imagine many of us think of the Caribbean when you think of pirates (or maybe you think Somalia). But piracy goes back to ancient times and covers pretty much every coastline. The Aegean Sea was a special hot spot for ancient pirates (and today is a hot bed of shipwrecks). The Vikings count as pirates. Corsairs from the Barbary Coast in Africa threatened the Mediterranean once upon a time. Farther east in the South China Sea, pirates were so prevalent that they had their own squadrons!

Booty Galore
When you think of pirates the obvious next leap is treasure. Pirate loot included cold hard cash, but they took almost anything of value, including necessary items like salt. Jewels and amphorae filled with olive oil also made good plunder. Corsairs especially valued the humans on board the ships they attacked - they used slaves as oarsmen for their galleys. (Wealthier captives were ransomed.) Basically anything considered valuable by the people of the time was fair game for pirates.

Famous Pirates
Some pirates are more famous to the general public than others. For instance, Edward "Blackbeard" Teach is infamous for lighting his beard on fire during pirate raids. Mary Read and Anne Bonny are probably more famous than the man they worked under. Henry Morgan may also be a familiar name thanks to a brand of rum.

You may know Captain William Kidd's name. What you may not know is that he started as a pirate hunter and was accused of piracy by the British East India Company while in this profession. It looks like a misunderstanding from today's perspective. But whether he was innocent or not, Kidd was promptly tried and hung, and they set his body up in a gibbet as an example to would-be pirates. Poor Kidd may not have been what he seemed to the government at the time. But it's rather too late to save his reputation now. (We'll see more of Kidd later in the week.)

"Black Sam" Bellamy is another name you may have heard but know little about. He has a love story attached to his name and supposedly returned to New England to marry his sweetheart after one last successful capture. Unfortunately, the poor guy sunk with his ship in a bad storm just off of Cape Cod, Mass. before that could happen. (Get more of his story in the Behind-the-Book section on my site.)

Not Even the Half of It
I could write pages and pages of info just covering the highlights of pirate history. I have a couple of favorite go-to reference books that are both fun and informative and not at all the dry pages of text often associated with history books. If you're a history geek like me who prizes an interesting read, check out Piratepedia and Pirateology. I know they seem like they're for kids, but they're really just as good for adults.

And thus begins Pirate Week! Stay tuned to get caught up on your pirate lingo, get the scoop on some real buried treasure, and find out how much you know about pirates!

Now it's your turn. Do you have any interesting tidbits about pirates?

Photos by Simon Carrasco & me

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Go Behind-the-Book With My New Website!

I just launched my website - - and it includes some cool features. Instead of just the basic book info, bio, and contact pages, you can peek behind-the-scenes of Dead Locked and find out who inspired Isaac Crewe and the story of The Freelove, learn how the characters came about, and read trivia tidbits about the story and characters. I plan to add to this section as time goes on so check back for updates!

I think it's time to shake things up a bit here at amy & the pen so next week is officially Pirate Week! From December 13-17, get the scoop on pirate terms, history, and treasure. Every day will feature something fun and different and there may even be a Dead Locked character appearance. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge 2011!

While following a blog trail last night, I found the Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge 2011 hosted by Book Chick City. As this is my favorite genre, I had to join! Even though I love to read, I don't have as much time for it as I used to and I shy away from reading challenges because I doubt I'll succeed. But this challenge is relatively simple. You read 12 mystery/suspense novels between January 1-December 31, which (I think) I can manage. I can't wait to scope the shelves and pick my winners!

If you're interested in joining, you can sign up easily here. Also, I know many of you love urban fantasy and may be more interested in the Horror & Urban Fantasy Reading Challenge 2011.

Did you join any reading challenges in 2010? How'd you do? Have you joined any for 2011?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Dance Opera Goodness

This is completely off topic, but it's Friday and a good time for randomness. I love dance and I'm a shameless addict of movies like Step Up 3D. So I was thrilled when my friend introduced me to LXD on Hulu, which I would describe as a dance opera. It's a good vs. evil with dance superheroes kind of story, featuring awesome dancers like Harry Shum, Jr. from Glee. Every episode I watch becomes from favorite, but the episode "Duet" is definitely at the top of the list. Enjoy and have a fabulous weekend!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

3 Reasons to Publish With Smashwords

As a part of the "Spread the Word About Smashwords" campaign, I'm posting their little presentation today. And I thought I'd share three reasons to publish your own book through Smashwords.

1. Painless DIY Publishing. Smashwords founder Mark Coker provides lots of specific help so you're not in the dark about formatting or distributing or even marketing. A step-by-step style guide makes formatting simple, and once a book passes muster it's available (we're talking waiting hours at most). I was able to create my own cover, which helped, but Smashwords can offer references for cover artists too. (You can also check back for my "Design for Writers" series debuting this month where I'll show you how to design a simple book cover.)

2. Awesome Exposure. I was sold the minute I read that you can sell your book through major ebook retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple. And I like that it's an umbrella deal. Instead of dealing with a bunch of places individually, you're distributing and receiving royalties through one place, which makes tracking it all much simpler. Plus, they always seem to be working to make things better for the author, which I definitely appreciate.

3. Cost-Effective. Self-publishing used to be a lot of money out the door without a guarantee it's coming back. It doesn't get much more cost-effective than free. You don't pay anything upfront to distribute through Smashwords. They take a percentage of the royalties and that's it. And author royalties are incredibly generous.

So that is my little rant about Smashwords. If you want to get your book out there and read, give them a try!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Self-Editing One Phase At a Time

Editing and revisions can be the most tedious tasks for a writer. With something the size of a novel, it can also be overwhelming. If you're facing this task, how can you approach it to make the transition from incomplete draft to finished product as painless as possible? Here are some tips to help you work efficiently and logically from beginning to end.

Start with the big picture. Don't immediately start fixing typos and grammatical errors. Take a step back and evaluate the plot and character development. I like to print out my books as it helps me see the big picture more clearly. I go through and scribble notes in the margins: need a scene here, this paragraph belongs somewhere else, that character need fleshing out. Those sorts of things. After you've made your changes, have a friend or someone else you trust read it. Make sure the story makes sense to someone not inside your head and find out what they feel is missing before you move on to the nit picky stuff.

Move in a little closer. Once you've got your big picture work done, it's time to pay more attention to your phrasing, transitions, and dialogue. Read how things sound (even out loud) and start smoothing everything out and tightening it up. Make passive sentences active, and choose words that pop and sing.

Attention aux details. I heard this endlessly from my French professor in college and now I get to say it to you. Yes, the details do count, especially when you've already invested all this time into your book. So proofread more than once, checking for typos, grammatical errors, spelling errors, and other minutiae that can help you look like the pro you are. If possible, have another person with fresh eyes check for you too.

It's the way of a writer to make changes down to the last second. But having a system and taking the editing process in steps will help you get your book from first draft to finished novel before you know it.

On a different note, today is the last day to download Dead Locked for free by using code KR98Q. Enjoy!

Photo by Nic McPhee
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