Got Zen?

Four months ago, I did a blog post about the new popularity of archery as a sport, particularly in schools.  Today, my 12-year-old son participated in the Texas State Archery tournament. There were some jitters involved with this, and the kid was nervous, too. : )  I’m happy to report that T performed very well, scoring a personal best 262 out of 300 (we’ll find out rankings and how his team did as a whole later). If you can’t tell, I’m one proud Mama!

Zen stones

But the jitters involved in competition brings me back to the post I did last Friday, about Pressure.  We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to perform, often in clutch situations. I’ve spent the last week thinking about that, and determined I need more Zen in my life. Stress is good for you in some respects, especially as a motivator, but too much isn’t a good thing. So, Zen.

Or, in the words of that great poet, Mr. Lebowski, “The Dude abides.”

This will sound weird, but I often find my Zen in the gym, especially at the end of a hard workout. There’s just something very centering about it. I do my best thinking on the elliptical, too. Sometimes, though, I’ll be in such a hurry that I’ll skip my workout to fill that hour with something else–usually something that will add to my stress, rather than remove it.  That’s also when I notice I’m crabby, easily freaked out and tired. Huh, pushing my body makes me less tired–odd, right?  

Over the next two months, I’m going to try to find my Zen in the gym five times a week. Y’all keep me honest, okay? Then I’ll let you know how I’m feeling in April.

How about you? What’s your Zen activity?

 

Controlled Demolition

It’s been a few weeks since we featured any mayhem on the old blog, so why not blow a few things up? TNT

People often have a morbid fascination with watching destruction. Like a train wreck, you can’t look away. Still, I always feel guilty–and sad–about gawking at a car accident or the like. But what about controlled demolition, when something’s meant to be destroyed? Watching a team with a ton of skill in engineering, math and spatial relations drop a building so it doesn’t disturb anything around it? Now that’s what I’m talking about.

Controlled demolition, while not used very often, is often a last resort when you need to remove an old, unsafe building, retired bridge, tall chimney or just about anything stuck in the middle of an urban area that has to go neatly and without impacting anyone around it. It’s very cool to watch, sure, but also pretty darn dangerous. Spectators have been killed because they stood in the wrong part of the impact zone…or mistakes were made and debris went places the engineers didn’t expect. Most of the time, though, the demolition goes exactly as planned. Pretty mind-boggling when you think about it.

So, how does it work? Essentially, based on computerized and mathematical models, the engineers determine how, where and in what order they want the pieces of a building to fall. They then drill holes in the support beams throughout the bottom floors of the building and plant explosives in strategic spots (using as little explosive material as possible). With remote-controlled detonators, they set off the explosions at precise times to make the building fall in on itself. Seriously, who came up with this idea and made it work?

And I sure wouldn’t want to clean up the mess afterwards, but it does make for a really awesome five-second show! 

Here’s a great video montage of some demolition work done in 2002. The tree at the end, which stood quietly by while a building went down just across the way, is pretty telling to just how scientific this process is. And just listen to that happy elevator music!

 

Pressure

Happy Friday Rambles, everyone. Today I’m talking about pressure.

Stress. Anxiety.  I have it.

Why, you ask? That’s simple:  The Matt Archer series is doing better than I expected, especially Blade’s Edge, which is getting really strong reviews.

And it’s scaring the hell out of me.

Doesn’t that sound totally counterintuitive? I’m doing well, so I’m stressed out? WTF, Kendra?

Even if it sounds stupid, I get why. I’ve learned enough about the business to be nervous now.  MA1 (Monster Hunter) flew from my fingertips with a ton of joy and the fun of discovery. It was the 4th novel I wrote (the other three will never, ever see the light of day) and I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Ignorance is bliss, right?

MA2 (Blade’s Edge) took a lot more work. I’d written a couple manuscripts between it and MA1, so I knew more about my craft and could see the flaws. I’d also gotten used to tough critique and sought out more this time.  The manuscript was torn from my soul with a pair of rusty pliers and bled onto the page like so much junk. Then I worked for months to clean it up—and it turned out better than I thought it might.

Much better.

Now I’m drafting MA3 (Title TBA), and I’m going through the same thing. Scenes I wrote a few years ago show their age. Scenes I wrote last week feel repetitive, derivative and stale.  Deep down I know there’s gold somewhere in the 90k+ words I’ve slapped on the page, but right now I’m worried it won’t measure up.

Here’s the thing…the story in MA3 is so much bigger, and MA4 will be bigger still. Some really epic crap is happening to Matt—and to Will, Mamie, Uncle Mike and Aunt Julie. Everyone is altered in some way by the end.  The question is…can I tell this story in a way so people will care?

The other issue is one of time. Can I write MA3 fast enough to meet the deadlines I’ve set for publishing it? I had a head start with the first two – they were drafted before I started down the road to publication. Now I’m writing against the clock and that adds its own pressure. I don’t want to turn out crap in a hurry, but I also don’t want people to wait a year  or more to find out what happens to Matt next. The benefit of self-publishing is that I can tell the story more quickly, without leaving readers hanging for ages before they get the next installment.  The flip side is that I have to write more quickly. I can’t agonize over a single sentence like a used to.  In some respects, that’s good. I’m getting more efficient.  In others, I’m having to fight for time to write and hope  it will be enough.

But it’s not all “woe is me” all the time—I love putting Matt into the world. I love hearing that people enjoyed the story. And thanks for the support y’all have given me on this journey. I know at some point I’ll pull my head out of its funk and things will be awesome again. I just have to have a moment of self-doubt every once in a while. But I’ll get past it–no one likes a whiner, anyway. :  )  

What gives me hope is a very simple fact from Earth Science in seventh grade:  How do you make a diamond?

Time and pressure.

 So how about you? Is there an endeavor that’s left you a little breathless, wondering if you’ll succeed? Or is there some mantra you think I need to try to get past my own doubts?

Why Reader Reviews Matter

Greetings! Monsters and Mayhem is slammed at work this week, so I’d like to offer up a guest post I did for Ana at The Adventures Within blog this week about why reviews (and really any kind of feedback) are vitally important to authors. 

We should be back with more monsters next week…because if I don’t finish this work project, it’ll be mayhem around here. Until next Tuesday!

Guest Post: Why Writers Need (and Love) Reviews

In the wake of the “sock-puppet review” scandal, it’s easy to see why readers are wary of leaving—and believing—reviews. But it’s still one of the most important Writer Writingthings you can do to support your favorite authors. Genuine, earnest reviews lead to sales. (So does word of mouth…we’ll come back to that.) Sales lead to more books by your favorite author, which means more awesome stuff for you to read.

It’s not only for sales, though. Knowing what you like—and what you don’t—helps authors improve their writing, determine if a story-line in a series is working or whether certain characters are annoying or beloved.  Let’s face it, though…the primary reason authors love reviews is because we want to be heard. It’s very exciting to know people other than Aunt Sally and the next door neighbor are reading our books. These days, readers expect authors to be interactive on Twitter, Facebook and blogs. For some, this is a necessary evil. For others, like me, it’s a chance to learn what resonates with our readers and make connections we might never have made.

So, let’s go back to the word of mouth thing. Publishers can buy all the advertising in the world. A book can get a stellar review from Kirkus and Booklist. Yet, it still might not sell. Why? Word of mouth.  Even with the reviews and the advertising, if enough readers are saying “Meh,” about the book, its sales will level out, then drop.

To counter that point, there are tons of books selling really well on Amazon that have a mixed bag of reviews because people are talking about them.  If you love a book, you tell your friends about it, right? And they might buy it. If your friend likes it, they might post something on Facebook, which might get shared, then suddenly the book’s sales take off. The readers—you—have the power to make or break a book. Writers rely on you…without readers, our stories would go unheard.

The next time you read a really amazing book, take a minute to leave a short review…or tell a friend about it. Your review or recommendation could be the one thing that keeps a writer going while creating that next story.

As a reader, it’s all in your power.

The Superbowl or Downton Abbey?

Last year 114 million people watched the Superbowl.  I watched the commercials and Madonna–there wasn’t anything else on, and it was nice to relive my teens by subjecting my kids to the Material Girl’s halftime show. Besides, as a college football fan, I’m just not that into pro-ball, and the Superbowl isn’t must-see TV for me.  Heck, I didn’t even know the Ravens and the Giants ‘Niners (thanks Ladonna…LOL–see what I mean?) were playing until yesterday. I do watch it, but I’m secretly rooting for the commercials.

But this year, there’s a new competitor for my attention:

 downton_abbey-ad6eed9916a5bfdf50c8b5899ba1b8e048724409-s6-c10

That’s right…I’ll give up on America’s biggest sporting event to watch a bunch of aristocrats and their servants make not-so-polite conversation and struggle to find their way in 1920s England. Downton Abbey is my favorite show on TV right now (since Fringe ended) and it’s fast becoming event television for me. Frankly, after last week’s episode, I’d have to have TICKETS to the Superbowl to miss Downton this week.

What’s so absorbing about watching a period drama about a gentler time, you ask? Because it really was a gentler time, or at least the show  portrays it that way, and I think we could all use a little of that in these digital times. Civility in the face of disaster, charity in the face of ridicule, strength in the face of tragedy–these are traits to emulate, not eschew. On the show, there are no explosions (now that the WW1 episodes are completed anyway), no lurid affairs (well, if you discount that youthful transgression of Lady Mary’s) nor any yuk-yuk-yuk humor.  What they do have is an engaging story that shows the struggles of the upstairs as well as the downstairs…and no one has it easy. The acting is superb, the costumes are beautiful, and there’s something amazing about how a drama full of good breeding and courtesy can still be so dramatic. Last week’s episode had me crying my eyes out. Downton Abbey takes risks, not just in being a “quiet” show, but in how expediently the creators use their characters to create tension. From Carson’s regal, old-school butler to the progressive, yet often unlikable, Edith–the show doesn’t shy away from showing the prejudices and weaknesses that make us human. And that makes for darn good television.

So that’s what I’ll be doing Sunday night (I’ll still watch the commer–I mean, the Superbowl until Downton Abbey comes on). Are you watching the game? Or are you taking advantage of low traffic at your favorite restaurant because everyone else is at home, glued to their TVs?

On the Road with Blade’s Edge

Hi! Welcome to Monsters and Mayhem.

We like things that blow up, growl, slobber, ooze, crash, go bump in the night, have secret lairs and wreak utter havoc. It’s our thing.

Reading Addiction Blog Tours

Today, I’d like to share that the second Matt Archer book, Matt Archer: Blade’s Edge, is on blog tour for the next few weeks.  There’s lots of fun in store, including a FREE book offer (Matt Archer: Monster Hunter) and a discount on Blade’s Edge.  Plus there will be reviews, guest posts and interviews.  On today’s stop, Danielle at Known to Read posted an awesome review of Blade’s Edge along with a guest post that’s near and dear to my heart — writing for a YA audience.  With Kendal on Kinx’s Book Nook, I gave the 411 on the types of music that help get Matt out of my head and onto the page. Other stops include a motivational post comparing writing a novel to  The Little Engine That Could, and the importance of reviews and word of mouth in launching an author’s career.

The tour dates are below, and I’d love it if you’d stop by and say hi!

Reading Addiction Matt Archer: Blade’s Edge Blog Tour:

January 29 – Known to Read – Review/Guest Post
January 30 – Words I Write Crazy – Review/Guest Post
January 31 – Kinx’s Book Nook – Review/Guest Post
February 1 – Solitary Bookworm – Review
February 2 – Twinsie Talk Book Reviews – Review
February 3 – Andi’s YA Book Reviews – Review
February 4 – The Adventures Within – Review/Guest Post
February 5 – My Reading Addiction – Review
February 6 – My Cozie Corner – Review
February 7 – Laurie’s Thoughts and Reviews – Review/Interview
February 8 – RABT Reviews – Review
I hope to see you there!

Baseball and Book Launches

Welcome to Friday Rambles.  I’d like to start by saying you have my husband to blame thank for this particular post. : )

Kendra Ball game_World Series

At the 2011 World Series

In nineteen days, pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training. OMG, it’s almost baseball season!!!  Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve been a Texas Rangers fan since before I knew the difference between a strike and a ball. Summer vacations were pretty simple back then. We had family in Texas, so we’d pack up the Oldsmobile and head south to  Dallas. We’d spend a few days with my Grandma and Grandpa, another day or two with my Granny, visit various aunts, uncles and cousins, then head into the “big city” to stay at a hotel. Gasp – a real hotel, with the miniature bars of soap, baby shampoo bottles and housekeeping banging at the door before we’d had a chance to get out of bed.  For those few days we did two things: went to Six Flags to ride roller coasters, and visited Arlington Stadium. Bliss.When the Rangers organization built The Ballpark at Arlington, going to our first game there was like a pilgrimage to a holy land. I had a friend take a picture of me on my knees in front of the home plate entrance. It was a religious experience, let me tell you.

Now, we have half-season tickets. We go out there with my kids, or my dad, or even—gasp—with a few adult friends for date night. We know all the mid-inning gimmicks (Kids Steal-a-Base, singing Yellow Rose of Texas, Kiss Cam, Flex Cam, and, my favorite—the sport of kings…The Dot Race). Baseball is summer to me.

Now, you’re probably asking what the heck this trip down memory lane has to do with book launches?  That’s easy—launching a book is a lot like preparing for a baseball season:

  • Practice  The first step is to hone your writing. This starts long before you even think about playing in the majors or publishing a book. You work on your craft. You get coaching. You try out for teams (or contests, as it were). You get feedback to see if you have what it takes to make it in a tough market with difficult odds for success.
  • Training Let’s say you make the team (or decide to publish a book). Then the real work starts. Spring Training is exactly like readying a book for publication. You edit to polish your work so that it shines. You make tweaks to ensure better success. You chance your stance or the way you throw or re-write your ending to make your work tighter. It’s a necessary step.
  • Marketing  So the Rangers’ season tickets guy starts calling me in December.  First game isn’t until the first week of April, and the last game only ended in October. Yet, there he was, asking what plan I wanted this year, and trying to upsell (this year, it worked).  It’s the same thing with a book launch. To receive good exposure you need to contact book bloggers, come up with an eye-catching, professional-looking cover, have an updated website and build an online social media presence. Books aren’t “If I write it, they will come.”  Writers have to search for readers, and it’s hard work. Starting early, like my season ticket guy, is the trick to success there.
  • Selling Your Product  The Texas Rangers had more sellouts and sold more tickets than nearly any team in the MLB last year. There were two reasons. 1) The front office had worked really hard to put together a team of strong talent who could win games. But not just that—they put together a team that was free from egos (except for Josh Hamilton, but he’s with the Angels now, so that’s their problem). Young, hungry guys out there ready to prove themselves every single day. It was super-fun to watch them play—they took real joy and pride in their work. 2) The Rangers’ marketing team worked overtime. Promotions, a family atmosphere at the stadium (they even had “bring your dog” night!) and  relatively inexpensive tickets for a major sporting event (bleacher seats were $10—try to find a $10 seat in Yankee Stadium…you can’t do it) brought the fans running. To launch a book well you have to price it right, show it off and even give away books and other swag to draw readers in.
  • Quality  When the Texas Rangers were the butt of most jokes in the American League (longest running franchise without a single play-off game win), they couldn’t give away tickets to the games. But when that front office went after young, cheap talent and poured resources into developing them, they started to win. In fact, they made it to back-to-back World Series (don’t talk to me about the infamous “game-6” against the Cards. I’m still bitter). And that’s when they started packing the stadium.  The same holds true for a book launch. Put together a well-written, well-edited, visually-appealing (both cover and interior formatting) novel, and readers will talk about your book with other readers. Word of mouth is the most powerful sales tool out there.

 My first set of Rangers’ tickets are for April 6 against the Angels.  I can smell the nachos already. J  My first book (MA: Monster Hunter) launched in August of 2012, and the second launched in December 2012 (MA: Blade’s Edge).  Now, while the Rangers are battling for the pennant, I’ll be wrestling with the manuscript currently known as Matt Archer 3, getting it ready for its own debut in July.  Looks like the boys of summer and I will both be busy training this spring.

 So, what’s your favorite sports’ movie?  I waffle between Major League and The Replacements. I love a good underdog tale.  

 

Monster Marketing

When you think of monsters, you probably are thinking more about a creature with fangs and claws ready to rip you to shreds than, say, Elmo. In the Matt Archer books, monsters are to be feared — they’re dangerous and up to no good. That’s not always how marketers see them, however. Why?

Monsters sell.

Let’s take a few steps back…to 1969. That’s when Sesame Street first aired on PBS. Since then, it’s gone on to spawn toys, movies, live shows and art supplies using its name. I remember lying on my stomach, staring up at our big console TV, watching my favorite monster–Grover–romp about with Oscar, Big Bird and Cookie Monster. These monsters were so friendly, they let a vampire live on their street. The Count was lucky Sesame Street didn’t have a home-owners’ association. Just saying.  When a new, red furry monster moved to town, Sesame Street‘s already impressive popularity exploded. Elmo had arrived, along with his pet goldfish and his friend, Mr. Noodle. Elmo has suffered a few setbacks recently, but we’ll let those go by since this post is focused on a different point.

Monster-marketing works. Monsters are the sponsors of energy drinks and dry cereal. They endorse everything from applesauce to beef jerky. Anyone seen the Messing with Sasquatch” commercials? Those crack me up. But it goes back to the idea that monsters sell. They aren’t portrayed as bloodthirsty demons; rather, they’re lovable, funny and endearing.

Why this obsession with monsters? I have a few theories–we want to explain the unexplainable, but also to shine a light on the darkness and say, “hey, that’s not so bad.”  What about you? What do you think?

On the Fringe

Greetings!  I’m a bit late for my Friday rambles, considering it’s Saturday morning, but last night was a special event in the Highley house, and I wanted to wait on this post.

It was the FRINGE series finale.

Over the last four years, I’ve become a huge fan of the show. Now, I’m an unrepentant geek, so that’s probably not a surprise. Next to The Big Bang Theory and the Ron Moor Battlestar GalacticaFRINGE has been one of my favorite shows of the last decade. The stories were weird and gripping and the acting was amazing. Anna Torv proved that a beautiful blond could be super intelligent and kick-ass tough. Joshua Jackson is the thinking-girl’s pin-up guy with a biting wit and slightly dangerous attitude. And John Noble was a revelation as the broken, but redeemable, Walter. The episode “White Tulip” was one of the finest hours of TV that I’ve ever seen, and it’s a crime Mr. Noble never won an Emmy for his work. (It’s also a crime that Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell never won for BSG, but alas.)  FRINGE gave you sci-fi of the highest order; horror in generous, but palatable, doses; family drama of a high caliber; and a love story that burned slowly and beautifully.

And there were Easter Eggs. Each week they gave you a new, hidden gift.  I loved playing “Find the Observer” (it’s like Where’s Waldo on an epic scale), or looking for the little gems the writers threw in. The series finale was the best, showing seven “greatest hits” in a 60-second scene. My husband and I were like, “Look, it’s…OMG, was that?!….Wait, that was from…Squee!  Look!” throughout that scene.

But the best part? The creativity and sheer audacity of it all. Episode 19 of each season became the stuff of legend. Animation, future-jumps, and, my favorite, a detective-noir musical. Yeah, they sang! Here’s the trailer for “Brown Betty:”

Then there’s the opening credit montage. It changed each season, providing clues as to what the season would entail. They also did different openings for unusual episodes (check out the 8-bit opening for the past-episode set in 1985) and, when the show included two universes, they blended two openings. Red for “over there”, blue for here.  When the stoylines merged, we had an “amber” opening.  The final season, when the Observers occupied the world, you even got a dystopian opening that was both eerie and hopeful. See a montage of all the openings below — the “fringe-sciences” mentioned are very cool:

 


I’m really going to miss this show, especially Walter. How about you? Did you watch it? What did you think?

Help Me Share a Little Monster Summer

Greetings Monster Hunters!

First, I want to thank everyone for their thoughts, prayers and condolences regarding my grandma’s passing last week. She was really special to us, and today we lay her to rest. So thank you, your thoughts mean the world to me.

After a surprise snow (THUNDERSNOW at that!), my family is facing a somewhat treacherous 70 mile trip out to Grandma’s funeral today, so I’ll be brief in order to go scrape the sleet and snow off the Jeep. I’ve never been happier to have a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Just saying.

Now, on to the point of this post: sharing a little Monster Summer.  Two things have prompted this post. First, the revelation that a book that looks a tad like Matt Archer: Monster Hunter is traveling up Amazon’s charts this week. I won’t provide the title, but it came out after MA1 and I was a little stunned to find out about it.

Second, I’m just really boggled by Amazon.

I’ve been trying to have Amazon price-match Matt Archer: Monster Summer to free since it went free at all the other retailers…in early November. For two months, I’ve pinged the “tell us about a lower price” link, and sent them links to Barnes&Noble, Sony, Smashwords and iTurns. Nothing. The story is still $0.99 on Amazon.

So I’d love a little help. If you could follow the Amazon link to Monster Summer and click on the “Tell us about a Lower Price” Link (see picture below), a window will pop up. Select “website,” and copy/paste one of the other bookseller’s links below into the window and follow the instructions.

I would really love to offer this short story for free, because it’s fun and the first chapter of Monster Hunter is included, which gives people a risk-free way to try out the story (which is back on sale for $0.99, yay!). That, in turn, might help new people discover the other books in the series. But it’s not just that…I feel like a real heel having a short story priced the same as a whole novel on Amazon. It looks hinky, and I worry it’s turning off readers. 

Tell us about a lower price

 

 

Links:

Amazon:  Click here to access Monster Summer

Barnes and Noble (copy link and paste into Amazon’s reporting window):  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/matt-archer-monster-summer?store=allproducts&keyword=matt+archer+monster+summer

Kobo (copy link and paste into Amazon’s reporting window):   http://www.kobobooks.com/search/search.html?q=matt+archer+monster+summer

Sony (copy link and paste into Amazon’s reporting window):    https://ebookstore.sony.com/ebook/kendra-c-highley/matt-archer-monster-summer/_/R-400000000000000840416

Thanks, everyone! I really appreciate your help…both in getting the word out and asking Amazon to price match this story!

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