Friday, February 24, 2012

Road from the West - Free on Kindle This Weekend

Madison Street Publishing is offering my latest novel, Road from the West, free on Kindle this weekend, from Saturday, February 25 through Monday, February 27. I would love it if you could spread the word about this exciting promotional. Let's see how many copies we can give away before the end of Monday!



A tale of Courage, Conquest, Intrigue, and Honor. 

You've heard of the Knights Templar, you've heard of Richard the Lionheart—now learn the story that started it all with the adventures of the First Crusade.

Haunted by guilt from the past and nightmares of the future, a young Norman named Tancred takes the cross and vows to be the first to free Jerusalem from the infidels. As he journeys to the Holy Land, he braves vast deserts, mortal famine, and the ever-present ambushes of the enemy Turks—but the greatest danger of all is deciding which of the Crusader lords to trust. A mysterious seer prophesies that Tancred will find great love and great sorrow on his journey, but the second seems intent on claiming him before he can find the first. Intrigues and passions grow as every battle brings the Crusaders one step closer to Jerusalem. Not all are destined to survive the perilous road from the West.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Inkblot Society

Sometime last autumn I became involved in a Facebook group for writers that one of my friends put together. After sending out invites to other friends and acquaintances on the literary road, our numbers swelled to around a dozen. We made a rather timid start to helping each other with our writing aspirations, posting links to writing resources and sharing our own writing goals.

Then, in January, we had a meeting which brought some impetus and structure to our formless group. We decided to review monthly submissions from members and create a biannual journal of our work. In February, after much pain and travail, we gave birth to a suitable name for our motley crew--The Inkblot Society, known informally as The Inkblots. Here is a description of our society, drafted by Bethany of The Erratic Muse for our display at the Trinity Arts Festival last week.
a rabble of dedicated, but busy, writers striving to honor God with the terrifying and wonderful world of words. We have variegated taste and focus, different strengths, weaknesses, and end goals, but we are all committed to learning from each other and providing encouragement, accountability, and feedback. Whether it be with a four-line poem or a seven-book series, we strive to use the various genres of writing to change the world. We meet monthly and are currently conjuring up a biannual journal.
The first edition of the journal will hopefully be published in June. We still need to conjure up a name for our publication, and after all the agony that attended choosing a name for our group, I'm not really looking forward to the process. Suggestions welcome!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Patronage, Artists, and the Trinity Arts Festival

When I think about art and the viability of making a living as an artist, I am reminded of a scene from Hello Dolly
Ambrose Kemper: And I'm telling you that I will marry her!
Horace Vandergelder: Not without my permission, you won't!
AK: This is a free country, not a private kingdom. She's consented and I'll marry her.
HV: I'm telling you that you won't.
AK: I'm telling you I will.
HV: Ermengarde is not for you. You can't support her. You are an artist.
AK: I make a good living.
HV: A living, Mr Kemper, is made by selling something that everybody needs at least once a year. And a million is made by producing something everybody needs every day. You artists, you painters, produce nothing that nobody needs, never.
* * * 

Has there ever been a time when an artist could make a living? There used to be a time when it was--perhaps--easier to do so. In an article titled "The Lost Art of Patronage," Charles Erlandson argues that from its earliest days the Church has proved an important patron for artists. He writes:
After Christianity had found an imperial sponsor in Constantine, the church became an even greater sponsor of the arts.... Funds from the imperial treasury were now available to the church to patronize Christian art, and the decorative arts in general and more specifically painting were supported, as were the best artists. 
But the artists of this time were not given free rein to create whatever they imagined. Their art was encouraged, supported, and patronized only insofar as it could be useful to the Church itself.
What we never find in the patronage of the early church is an art for art's sake mentality. Actually, "art for art's sake" is a peculiar interpretation of art developed in the nineteenth century, and I suppose what I really mean is a notion of art as an entity which is capable of standing on its own, divorced from its explicitly religious context. The early church is not alone in this idea; every culture that has existed, with the notable exceptions of Greco-Roman civilization and its modern, secular heir (which in this sense would have to be dated from the Renaissance) has understood art as primarily a means of worship. It is a relatively recent idea that art is something completely different and separable from worship and even religion in general. 
Book of Kells
This view of art as inseparable from religion is evident throughout the Middle Ages. The monks of Ireland and England used art to beautify the Bible, creating illuminated manuscripts such as the Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospels. Musicians found a venue for their work in worship with Gregorian chants that developed into the polyphonic masses of the High Middle Ages. Poets exercised their pens with hymns of praise that could be set to the music of the worship service. A glorious new expression of architecture reared its head with the construction of cathedrals.

During the Middle Ages, very little art was produced without a direct or indirect connection to formal worship; the Church itself was the inspiration, the breeding ground, and the employer for artists of all kinds. And the Church provided a living for the artists who breathed life into the Church's worship.

With the Renaissance, however, all this began to change. Private noblemen, like the Medici of Florence, began to take over the Church's role as patron of the arts, and the connection between art and religion was severed. Erlandson writes:
This new form of patronage, with its emphasis on calling attention to the patron and its idea of art being worthy in and of itself of contemplation, bears the distinct marks of the modern conception of the arts and patronage.
This notion of private persons as the new patrons of art continued to gain prominence after the Renaissance until the Church almost entirely lost its position as patron of the arts. Today the Church provides little opportunity or incentive for artists to exercise their talents. Artists must look elsewhere to find patrons for their work.

* * *

On Friday I attended the Trinity Arts Festival hosted by my home church, Reformation Covenant Church in Oregon City, OR. This was the fourth year the festival has been held, and the attendees all seem to agree that it was the best festival to date. While my church is a long way off from being in a position to provide employment for artists, the Trinity Arts Festival is a great way to encourage the arts in the congregation and the community. The art and music entered in the festival did not have to be explicitly religious, but participants were asked to share with the audience a way in which their piece brought glory to God.

Musicians sang and played instruments in the sanctuary and a couple smaller rooms throughout the church.

Art of all kinds--nearly a hundred pieces--was on display.



One of my favorite paintings there, by Lindsey Lyons

This painting by Kerilynn Ayers won the Peoples' Choice Awards

Woodworking and Textiles

One-of-a-kind displays like this Etch-a-sketch drawing

Postcards were available for sale of some of the artwork at the event.

The festivities were enhanced by food--some of it submitted as art in its own right--and wine.

I submitted a poem for the festival, and it was displayed on the table put together by my writers' group, The Inkblot Society.

What is The Inkblot Society? The answer to that question deserves a post all of its own, a post that will be forthcoming later this week. But for now, I will leave you with this: just as the Trinity Arts Festival hopes to encourage art of all kinds within the church community, The Inkblot Society hopes to encourage, more specifically, the art of writing.

Thanks to all the organizers who made the festival such a fabulous event! Thanks to all the musicians and artists who participated. And thanks to Peter Mahar for allowing me to use many of his photographs in this blog post. I'm already looking forward to next year's Trinity Arts Festival....

Monday, February 6, 2012

If You Can't Spellcheck, Can You Be Trusted to Fact Check?

Several years ago when I was teaching junior high and high school, I had the privilege of developing the history program for the small, start-up school at which I worked. Finding curriculum that I liked was a frustrating experience. Most programs were too simplistic and incorporated barely any primary sources. I didn't want my high school students to just read and absorb a textbook account of past happenings. I wanted them to understand the process of uncovering history, how to glean information from the writings and artifacts of the people who lived during the period we were studying.

The lack of primary sources wasn't the only problem. Two of the curriculums that I looked at (the titles and authors of which shall remain nameless) made a big impression on me--and not in a good way. While scanning the pages, I noticed several typos in the chapters. One author confused the word "throne" with "thrown" and even made the egregious error of stating that the people "sang hims of praise."

I was a little appalled that an error this blatant could get into print, and especially into something that was being marketed as educational curriculum. It also made me think: if the author did not take the time to check his own spelling, what was the likelihood that he had checked his historical information? Were his chapters all based on one book he had read, ignoring the multitude of other sources available? Did he even look at the primary sources while performing his research, or was he merely regurgitating the popular view of history as told in (outdated?) secondary and tertiary sources?

In short, poor orthography leads one to suspect poor historiography

For self-published authors, the same rule applies. A poorly edited historical novel can lead one to suspect that the author doesn't really know her stuff. Who is going to trust an author's scholarship or stay immersed in a novel's storyline if the author clearly can't tell the difference between "then" and "than"? Editing: if you can't do it yourself, then find someone who can.

And now that I've rung such a peal over bad spelling, I suppose I'd better proof this post nine or ten times before I publish it. I wouldn't want to make the same misteak that I've just been complaning abowt. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Nothing To Do With Being an Author

It's time for a post that has nothing to do with being an author and everything to do with being a mother. Last week my husband David and I welcomed our third son into the world and named him Marcus Jasper Spears. When the twins were born, David wrote a very eloquent post about the reasons behind the names he chose for them. This time I had the privilege of choosing Marcus Jasper's name, and the reason behind it is simply this: I chose it because I liked it.

It did help that I spent all last summer devouring the Marcus Didius Falco novels, by Lindsey Davis. And the fact that Jasper Fforde is one of my favorite authors may have contributed in some minute way. But mostly, it was just a name that appealed to my aesthetic sense. Here are a few pictures of boy number three, all courtesy of Aunt Amy's exceptional photographic skills.

One day old - chubby and sleepy

An attempt at a family picture

Adam - Marcus - Oliver

Did I mention that he weighed 10 pounds at birth?

Welcome to the family, Marcus Jasper. Maybe Mommy can get some writing done once life around here settles down.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

They Weren't Going to Buy Your Book Anyway

One of the features that Amazon is offering with its new KDP Select program is the ability for you to list your Kindle book for free for up to five days during each 90 day period. This feature has been the subject of much discussion among authors. Is it savvy, sensible, or even fair to give away for free something on which you have spent so much blood, sweat, tears, and time? Some authors would say no--they can't afford to give away free books, even free e-books which have no production cost for the author/publisher. It is not unreasonable to expect the public to pay for their work, and they do not want to miss out on the royalties that these books would have earned. Others argue that giving away free books for a limited amount of time is a wonderful marketing tool. It gives your book exposure to a wider audience and provides a way to garner more word of mouth advertising and reviews.

Below is a video interview with Neil Gaiman on "Copyright Piracy and the Web" that addresses this very topic. Gaiman shares that in countries (like Russia) where his books were pirated on the Internet, his sales actually increased. The Internet pirates (who were essentially giving away free copies of his books) were introducing his work to a whole new audience who then became fans and purchased his works legitimately. These people would have never taken the plunge to buy a book from an unknown author, but after becoming familiar with Gaiman through a "free copy" of one of his books, they were happy to shell out some dollars--or should I say, rubles--for other books by their new favorite author.

To authors who say they can't afford to give away free e-books, Gaiman (in a nutshell) says: "You're not losing sales by doing a free promo. The people who download the free book weren't going to buy your book, anyway."

Having embraced Neil Gaiman's line of reasoning, my publishing company, Madison Street Publishing, is doing a couple of free promos this month.

I Am My Beloved's: Christian Devotionals for the Bride to Be, by Amy Hayes, is currently free on Amazon Kindle through tomorrow (Friday, February 3).

My own book, Road from the West: Book I of the Chronicles of Tancred, will be offered in a free promotional later on this month. Stay tuned for more details.
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