Friday, July 29, 2016

Ant-Man Spoiler Free Review

So, finally got to see Ant-Man! It's funny how things morph as you grow. I still love Marvel, but I'm not as fanatical about it as I used to be. Basically they killed off my favorite character and broke up all of my favorite pairings in the same year, as well as launching the stupidest storyline ever, and I was like... "WELP." (I also got married that year and that kept me busy.)

We don't watch movies in theaters because of my health issues (they give me migraines) and we wait until most movies go on sale before buying them. Sure, we rent a Redbox from time to time, but lately we've been binge watching various shows and that has kept us busy (plus we'd already paid for Amazon Prime.)

Anyhow, it took us way too long to finally sit down and watch Ant-Man... which was a shame because it was pretty fun! Not anything too surprising, but some clever uses of familiar tropes, and just well executed overall. It might not be the most original movie ever, but it was great fun. And I love superhero movies that are great fun. (Avengers 2 was heavy. Too heavy, imho.)

I think my only peeve with the film was that we didn't get to see more development with Evangeline Lilly. However, knowing that "Ant-Man and the Wasp" has already been green-lit helps, as obviously she is going to be much more central in the next film.

I LOVE that Cassie plays such a central role in the film. FINALLY a superhero lineage playing into a film!!! For those that don't know, Cassie grows up to be in the Young Avengers, and she has the same powers as her dad. I really hope that they are using this to lay the groundwork for a Young Avengers film down the line... given that they have movies planned out for the next five years, that would give young Cassie plenty of time to grow up and learn some action moves of her own.

Once again, I'm floored how Marvel can take a concept that sounds corny and make it awesome. I mean, I thought Guardians of the Galaxy was a cheesy idea and was not excited for it at all, even though I knew Marvel would probably make it awesome (and they did). I just thought Ant-Man sounded stupid, largely based on what I knew of the Pyms. (I think Janet is generally liked, at least more than Hank, but I can't forgive her for stealing Havok from Polaris. GRRRRR.)

Anyhow.

Marvel, of course, made the Ant-Man movie marvelous, I mean, a guy who can shrink and grow at will seems crazy, and mind controlling ANTS? Wut. But it worked, and worked well. Gosh, they managed to make ants both cute AND scary. I was impressed. And I'm always a sucker for a good heist film, so that was another plus.

In terms of content... there was a tad more innuendo than in most Marvel films--more Ironman level than Captain America level for sure. But it still wasn't much, and despite the fact that Ant-Man is a thief (ahem. Cat Burgler), the film has very strong family values, which I deeply appreciated. There's action violence, but not really as much as we normally see in Marvel films. The only part that bothered me was (mild mild spoiler)  a failed particle test that reduced one human and one lamb to piles of goop. I was horrified.

Anyhow, it was a solid film of fun that I'd definitely recommend to anyone who likes superheros, heists, and family. If you have serious ant phobia, you may want to skip this one. However, I DO NOT like creepy crawlies, but I did just fine, so unless you have a really bad problem, you'll be okay.


Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Year Ago, My Life Changed

Facebook's "Memories" feature is a mixed bag. MOST of the time, for me, it is fun to check. Today, there wasn't a specific negative memory... but I didn't need Facebook to remind me of what this week is.

A year ago, my life started to go to hell. I got my really bad migraine on, I believe the 22nd of July, and my health never fully recovered after that. I'm doing so much better today than I was a year ago, but I'm still not where I was at two years ago--and honestly it may be quite some time before that ever happens. I refuse to believe that it will not happen, but a full year is an awfully long time.

I love my new house and my puppy. They make my life so much better. When I am here, I manage okay. Some weeks I have headaches and those are not so good (this weekend has been bad), but I am going much longer in between ER visits, and I can do small shopping trips.

My life is still very small. I rarely leave the house. I have to really restrict how often we have guests. I love my garden and my sewing room and my clothesline and I'm grateful for every day I can use them.

But I can't use them every day. And this is the best my life has been in a year. I can't believe it. In August I thought "oh, a month is a long time, but I can handle it." Now... it's been twelve of them.

And it's hard. We call it Fibromyalgia, but the truth is far more complicated than that, and while we've made progress, it has been much slower than I ever anticipated.

It sucks. Most of the time I can be positive and thankful for small blessings. But some days, like today, it hits me hard. I have to do some grieving, just as I did when I hit my birthday and processed how different my life was at 27 than I'd hoped.

On the other hand, the fact that I managed to finish my book despite my health issues AND moving into a new house AND adopting a new puppy... well, that's God's Mercy and I'm so grateful for it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Proofing the Proof

Proofing in between watching my dad do a fundraiser race/relay
"Does it get hard, reading it over and over again?" My mother asked me as she watched me mark up my proof copy of "The Mermaid and the Unicorn."

"Not really," I told her. "It's been awhile since I've been able to just sit down and read it, and it's cool having it in real book format."

I spoke too soon! Three days later and my eyes are blurring. I love this story I've made, but I'm going to be very relieved to have it done. Four years is enough!

Mateo thinks Mummy's book is worth devouring!
I knew there would be some edits to make in the proof copy, but I didn't expect quite so many. In addition to the formatting mix-ups of transfering WORD to INDESIGN for the first time, there is just something different about paper vs. the screen. New things are popping out at me on this read-through, even though I've read those exact words at least four times before, if not many more!

Crazy.

Jansina has been a real comfort this week as she has reassured me that this is very normal, and that our timing will be tight, but doable. So thankful to have her assisting me during this final phase of publication! (I'll be writing up a blog post soon about my whole experience working with Rivershore Books)


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

What having a puppy has taught me about God

It's been almost one month since Mateo bounded into our home and it's been quite the adventure. Just now I am trying to balance writing this blog post and keeping him occupied with one of his favorite toys - the broom. It's a joy, but it is also crazy enough to make be grateful that we're waiting a little longer to have kids!

One of the most surprising parts about welcoming a puppy into our family is how much it has taught me about the nature of God. Mateo, for all of his deep Shih Tzu contemplative expressions, is a dog. He does not 'speak human.' And a lot of times there are rules we have to enforce with him that he simply does not understand. He wants to run around wherever and eat whatever, whenever he wants. He doesn't 'get' why we have to say 'no' and take his treasures away or put him in his pen. He whines and it breaks my heart, but I have to be firm because I know what is better for him.

The gap between my understanding and God's wisdom is far greater than that between me and Mateo. And yet, I know that God watches over even the smallest sparrow, so he is certainly watching over me. This year has caused me to act a lot like Mateo - "Why, God? Why, God? Why?" I ask over and over. But as I watch Mateo crying over something that is good for him, I realize... God's plan may not make sense to me, but I still trust him. I may feel distress now, but I believe that he is sparing me from a greater pain later on.

And just as I always do my best to give Mateo what good things are actually good for him, I know that this verse is also true:

"If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" - Matthew 7:11

My timing is not God's timing, but I know that it is perfect timing.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Book Business and FAQ's

Wow, but this last week has been crazy. I thought once we got the editing done there would be a bit of a break - but no! Of course, it hasn't helped that Mateo has been kind of sick, so that's added another layer of stress to everything. ;/

This is going to be a bit of a long post. If you just came here for the Book FAQ's, then scroll down to the very bottom of this post, OR check out the dedicated FAQ page over at GeekHausPress. :)

Secondly - if you are just following me on the blog, you are getting posts once or twice a week. However I do post more regularly on Facebook, so please do feel free to follow me there! (Link is in the sidebar). At this point I don't friend anyone I don't personally know because otherwise it gets too hard to manage my real life friends when I'm doing personal parties and stuff, however I love chatting book and geek stuff with fellow-minded folk so feel free to chime in on the posts once you start following and I'll do my best to respond! :) 

Anyhow, last Tuesday we finished up the edits on "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" and sent it to our formatter, Jansina of Rivershore books. She and I traded notes over the next few days, tweaking margins and fonts and page numbers and opacity. Janny has been a long-time friend and writing companion (we have had dozens of coffee shop dates over the course of this book), but I've never worked with her in her professional capacity before and it was really cool to get to see what she does for a living. I have a new appreciation for her abilities now! 

Another friend for whom I have new appreciation is my friend Anthony. Many of you may remember him as "Fish" in our movie version of "The Shadow of the Bear," but you probably don't know that he is also a very talented photographer. He agreed to do my author photos, and although I knew they would be good, I didn't realize just how far he had progressed from our last photoshoot and I am just so excited about the photos I've seen so far! We're still narrowing down to our final pick, but I'll be showing them to you very soon! (He does do professional photography now and I'll include his contact details when I release the official photo). 

I also finally got my sister to be my personal stylist for this photoshoot - but more about that in another post!

Of course, the other part of self-publishing is handling the marketing. This means that I had to get some promotional materials for "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" made up. I originally planned to do bookmarks, but when researching the cost, I realized that it would just not be worth it at this point in the game (I will have some later when I have more books in the series out). So this time I went the good old Vistaprint route and made some business cards for the book. They haven't arrived yet, but based on the digital rendering Vistaprint sent me, they're looking pretty cute!!!

It was also time for me to make up some official author business cards. Up until now I've only had my seamstress confession cards. I'd been holding off on the author cards until I had a book release date. Well, that time is here!


For half a minute I was going to go with a premade Vistaprint design, then I remembered that my plan was totally to use my blog header. So. Duh. But then I realized that I had a cat on it... when now Mateo is my little writing buddy! (I do have a cat, but she lives with my parents cuz she is old, has spent her whole life there, and she can live outside and catch mice when she wants to there). So I found a photo of Mateo and inked in his profile.

Also, yes, I have an email devoted to my writing endeavors now. So if you want to contact me about anything book or blog related. send a message to ElizabethAHajek(at)gmail(dot)com. (Wondering why I don't just spell it out? Spam bots. Seriously.)

My final vistaprint item was a signature stamp. Since my fibromyalgia affects my hands more than any other part of my body, I have found that I can only handwrite a few lines before my fingers cramp up (weirdly, drawing is different, as long as I use brush markers). So I made up a special stamp with my author signature (must be different than legal signature) and a little note. If you order a book from me and ask for an inscription, I will try to add that as well, but for any events I do, I probably won't be able to guarentee that. However I will have my special autograph stamp, and I promise that only I will ever use it - I won't even delegate to Nathan.

So. Marketing materials? Check. Interior of the book? Almost check. I have uploaded the cover and interior and am about to order the proof. After that arrives we will probably have a few more tweaks to make before I'm done. Janny also has to format the ebook version.

I have also sent out digital ARCs to some bloggers who are going to write up reviews of the book and possibly do some interviews with me as well! I will link back here with the blog tour posts when they are up. Pretty exciting! I've been getting comments back from the fastest readers and it's been really fun to see what they think!

My application for a Library of Congress Catalog Number is in. The first part of the process went smoothly, and I should know in a week what the official number is for "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" unless there is a major backlog. I'll write more about that process once it is complete!

I need to add more to GeekHausPress.com and I'm open to suggestions. What info would you like to see on that site? This blog will still be my main hub, but I need to flesh out the publisher website somewhat.

Okay! Book FAQ's! Here are the answers to some questions I've gotten so far, or expect to get soon. If you have any that are not addressed here, please leave them in the comments, on Facebook, or email them to me at ElizabethAHajek(at)Gmail(dot)com.

Please note that this is my first time going through this process and any of these answers could change at any time. I hope to set up an actual FAQ page soon, but would like to get more solid answers first. Right now these are just my best guesses.

Will this be a digital book or an actual paper book?
Both!

Will I be able to buy the book on Amazon?
Yes! The ebook may be exclusive to Amazon at least while I give Amazon Unlimited a try, simply because I think the book borrowing idea is cool. But that could change based on how I like it, and whether there is demand for another format.

The PRINT version will be for sale on Amazon and on GeekHausPress.com. If you order from me at GeekHausPress you will pay a higher shipping rate, but you will also get a signed copy and a bookmark. If you have Amazon Prime, you should be able to order from there with free shipping, but won't get the inscription or bookmark. It's up to you, really. I get paid a bit more if you order from me, but it's also more hassle for me and more cost for you, so I don't honestly care which you do. Whichever you prefer!

How big is the book?
The answer to this keeps changing somewhat as we go through the formatting process! The trim size will be 6x9 (the same size as the Fairy Tale Novels for those of you who own them and want a reference), and right now we are at 338 pages with fairly tight margins. The latest wordcount is just over 127,000 words.

Will I be able to buy the book from my bookstore?
At this point, unlikely. It is difficult to publish independantly and get into a big bookstore like Barnes and Noble. Smaller bookstores (particularly Catholic ones) may choose to carry the book if they get request from readers - (that's you!) - but right now my book probably won't be carried in any publishing catalogs so bookstores won't know about me unless you tell them! And even then I may not be able to offer them a good enough wholesale price for it to be lucrative for them. For now, I am focusing on online marketing and in person appearances. (If you own a bookstore and would like to discuss wholesale terms, please contact me at ElizabethAHajek(at)Gmail(dot)com.)

Will I be able to get the book from my library?
If you request the book, they may decide to carry it. I am applying for a Library of Congress Catalog Number, which will be useful for this aspect. Once the Amazon page is up, it should have all the relevant info for you to request the book from your library. I am very willing to give a discount to any libraries interested in carrying my books. (Contact me at ElizabethAHajek(at)Gmail(dot)com).

Okay, so how much will the book cost?
I'm still nailing down the cost, so I can't say this definitively yet. My hope is to keep it under $15 for the print version and under $4 for the ebook, pre-taxes and shipping.

Will there be a hardcover version?
Not unless there is a LOT of interest. It's more work to pull together, and costs significantly more. I'd do it if there was interest down the line, but it is currently low on my priority list.

Will there be an audiobook?
Honestly, I'm surprised that I've gotten this question, but I have. It's so early in the game that right now I have no plans whatsoever to even think about doing an audiobook. It is a very expensive process, and since I'm deaf, it is not something that I personally can exert much control over, so I am very reluctant to imagine it happening. On the other hand, I know a lot of people in my life love audiobooks, so if the right mix came together, I am not opposed to it. It's just very unlikely.

Are you going to do book signings? Talks? Conferences?
God willing! I certainly intend to do as many venues as I can, as it is a key part of marketing, but right now so much depends on my very unpredictable health. As of right now, I can't schedule anything because there is only a 50% chance that my health would allow me to make it. I'm hosting a launch party for family and friends and that is the biggest commitment I can make right now.

I am, however, very interested in doing blog visits. So if you have a blog and would like to interview me or host a guest post, please contact me and let me know! I would love to discuss ideas with you! I wish I could visit podcasts, but since I am deaf, there are some logistical issues there. ;) Please send me an email at ElizabethAHajek(at)gmail(dot)com if you'd like to talk about visiting your blog!

Is this a series? Will there be more books coming? Are you still connected to that series at Chesterton Press?
Yes, it is a series! "The Song of the Fay" is the official title, and I currently have two novels and a novella planned for sure! (The first draft of the novella is half written). None of these are at all connected to the Chesterton Press series - we connected my book completely from that and I'm now writing in my own universe. This is good because it means you are finally getting to read this book, and it should also mean that the next books in the series come out faster because I'm only coordinating with myself, and not multiple authors.

I definitely still love Chesterton Press and everyone there, and highly recommend their works if you're looking for Catholic Fiction (and of course I recommend the Fairy Tale Novels to anyone and everyone all the time, haha). Everything is very amicable between us all. :) I owe them a big debt for getting me started on this story in the first place, and they continue to be lovely mentors. :)

The book is still Catholic, right?
Yes, it is! It's a little weirder for me now, since I'm no longer writing this series for a Catholic press, but I wrote "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" as a love letter to my wonderful friends at the Fairy Tale Novel Forum, and I'm sticking to that. Also, I find Catholicism easier to portray in print than Protestantism.  I've contemplated doing a spin-off series in this world featuring Protestant characters, but there's nothing fixed about that right now, just ideas.

 Either way, my goal is to portray my characters accurately, and to tell a good story with human truths that resonate regardless of religious affiliation. I think writing characters of all beliefs is a good way to grow as a writer. I just wrote a Star Wars scene with a friend where I had to write a character who was working for the Empire, which was really bizarre, but also made me think really hard about motivation and development. And that, in turn, grows my abilities as a writer.)

Okay, that's all for now, folks! Thank you for reading and please let me know if there are any questions I missed/you want answered. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Bane's Eyes (IAM Book 4) by Corinna Turner

"Bane's Eyes," book 4 of the "I am Margaret" series by Corinna Turner,  released in the US last week. If you're been keeping up with the series, you should head on over and get your copy at ChestertonPress.com!

(Haven't read the series? Skip this review and go over to my report on Book 1!)

So, "spoiler free" section first, for those of you who have read books 1-3 and want my thoughts before you head into book 4.

I will be very honest and admit that "Bane's Eyes" read to me more like a coda than a 4th book. "Liberation" wrapped up a very significant amount of the action - all that was really in doubt was which way the vote would go, and honestly we didn't really need a 4th book to tell that story. The result could have easily been included in the end of book 3.

Personally, I have never been tremendously invested in the Bane/Margo relationship, so for me the focus of the first half of the book was rather slow. (More on that in the spoiler section). What kept me reading was the growing friendship between Margo and an old enemy. However, while extremely fascinating from a psychological perspective, it is very different from the action of the first books, so if you were expecting an intense action-packed finale, you'll want to change your expectations before picking up this book. But that's not a bad thing.

Why?

After writing my first draft of this review, I went and talked to someone a bit about it to make sure I'd really written the full picture I wanted to capture here. In doing so, I realized that I forgot to really highlight the main theme of the book, which is forgiveness. And that's what makes this book such an important part of the story. In "The Hunger Games" the story ends after Mockingjay and (spoilers if you haven't read that series) Katniss is so messed up after it that you know her life is not going to be that happy for a long time. The epilogue of that book is a great relief, but it is a very small slice of the picture. The thing about Christianity is that our second greatest commandment is to "love our neighbor as ourself." So, since IAM is a Catholic series, it was crucial that we see Margo deal with the aftermath, and reach a point of forgiveness for those who had harmed her the most. "Bane's Eyes" is a necessary installment to the series, the book that fulfills the Catholic worldview and focuses on that tremendously important step.

I was also asked what I would sum this book up as, the way I called Book 1 an escape story, Book 2 a survival story, and Book 3 a war story. I'd call this one "life goes on after the big adventure." It is, in many ways, what the spoiling of the Shire was to "The Lord of the Rings." The story never is completely over after the "Big Epic Adventure". It may not always be told in the narrative, but it certainly exists. There's no reason why, every now and then, we can't get a story like "Bane's Eyes" wherein the aftermath is told. So - Escape-Survival-War-Life. That's my answer.

Now. SPOILER LAND.

All right, so you know I am not too keen on the depression Bane went through - or rather, the focus on it. Obviously it reads as a very real reaction, and it's definitely in character, but it did not make for terribly compelling interest to me, at least after the action of the previous books. If I had initially been more invested in Margo/Bane, then I think it would have meant a lot more to me. I'm very curious to hear the perspective of those of you who DO love Margo/Bane, and whether you feel differently. I will definitely say, as someone who has had depression and lived with people who have depression, the situation was written very, very accurately.

I loved Lucas. Gosh, he was great. That whole arc made the book worth it, even if the tension of the earlier books simply wasn't there. Sure, he didn't end up being related to Margo, which was a bit of a let-down after all the hype about their similar eyes, but I really appreciated the backstory that was revealed.

Father Mark was an interesting addition, and certainly drove up the stakes, although I wish he'd showed up sooner and gotten that whole plotline moving earlier on.

I do like it when action heroines get pregnant, so I appreciated that bit. I did suspect right away that she hadn't actually lost the baby. I kept wanting to yell at Margo to get an expert opinion, but there were good reasons for why she didn't, so that's not poor writing. Well generated reader frustration, though! ;)

LOVED Bane and Jon taking down the infiltrators in the dark. That was AWESOME. Just. Yes.

Margo being in the dark (kind of literally) during the actual vote... well that wasn't quite so satisfying. I mean, it definitely felt like real life, but from a reader perspective it was a bit of a let down after having the countdown to the vote proceed every new section.

HOWEVER she does get plenty of awesome moments in the book, and I really REALLY loved the "full English breakfast" bit.

Obviously the death at the end was really awful and hard and moving. And it really made sense. It was a shock, but also not a shock. It made sense that this was a choice Lucas would make and while it sucks for Margo to deal with the aftermath, it really works.

I'm not sure how I feel about the recovery of the eyes, however. In real life you work through something like this the way Bane did, and you don't get the reward of getting your missing part back. With my own handicap and experience with depression, it felt a bit like a cheat, and a letdown for me. Yes this technology exists in this world, and so within the story it does make sense that Bane would and could eventually get his eyes back. For me, as a reader with very personal ties to these situations, it was hard to read. It felt, to me, as though the EYES were just a device to force Bane to conversion, and once he had converted, YAY he got to see again. Real life doesn't work like that and those of us with handicaps have to deal with them forever, no matter what choices we make in God's name. ON THE OTHER HAND - well, I see medical advances happening every day and this story reminds me that hey, maybe someday, even within my lifetime, there will be enough advances that I really will be able to hear without my aids again. (And yes, to be fair, I do have aids, which is more than we have yet to accomplish for any of the blind, so I'm still in an advantageous position compared to where Bane was.)

My final feelings on the book are mixed. I liked it, but I felt certain parts could have been stronger, and my personal connection to various aspects is certainly strongly coloring this review. I think that I will read it differently the next time I go through the series and am able to leave behind my previous expectations. Now that I realize that the full point of the story is the forgiveness after the battle, I think it will be a different experience on the second read-through.

I wish to end the review by stating again how much I appreciate what Corinna Turner has done with this series and I am really looking forwards to her next story (which will be a series set in the world of "Someday.")