Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Endings and New Beginnings

Please see my blog at  for big and very sad news.  Also, please follow me on twitter or facebook to keep up with all of my happenings.

~Katherine Ernst

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Review and Giveaway of "The Insider's Guide to Book Publishing Success"

I was recently sent a review copy of The Insider's Guide to Book Publishing Success and I have to say, I was skeptical.  In the last two years I've read approximately 15-20 books on the writing, publishing, or marketing of books, so I was doubtful this one would have any new information in it.  I was wrong, however, which was exciting, but there were definitely pluses and minuses about the book.

Pros: The book has an extremely detailed, step-by-step explanation of the publishing process from the nitty-gritty of formatting the manuscript to the lingo regarding the binding of books, all the way through marketing the title.  It's information that is useful to have, even for someone hoping to go the traditional route, just to get a better idea of why it takes a year or more from the publisher's acceptance to your book on the shelf.  Obviously, the information is even more pertinent for an author wanting to go the self-publishing route, since it describes the team that needs to be assembled to produce/champion the book, and the realities of publishing.

Cons: The major con of this book is that it suffers from a split personality--it seems like the writers didn't have a very delineated audience in mind.  The description on the back of the book states:

The publishing industry is changing rapidly, and there are more options for authors than ever before.  Should you find an agent and search for a traditional publishing deal or consider self-publishing?  Should you print hardcover copies or opt for an ebook-only launch?  Should you hire a publicist?  This easy-to-read, nuts-and-bolts guide covers everything from what to look for in a contract to how many copies to print.

Therefore, I was expecting a book directed at authors.  The beginning of the book seemed to be just that, but as it went on, it seemed to veer more and more toward people who were interested in starting an independent publishing company.  (Such as on page 102 when it gave a list of "20 Financial Tips for Independent Publishers.")  This lack of clarity detracted from the book as I wasn't always sure if the advice was truly pertinent to someone interested in self-publishing or whether it was more for industry professionals.  Moreover, the back of the book seems to suggest that it will provide advice for going the traditional route as well as for those interested in self-publishing, but there is very little information for submitting to the big 6 publishers.  There's not even a discussion of the pros and cons of finding an agent, which the back of the book specifically suggests that there is.

Final Analysis:  The book is very useful if you're interested in self-publishing or you want an insider's perspective of the industry.  The book is produced by people from "Midpoint Trade Books" which is a full-service national book distribution company.  I've looked them up on Predators and Editors and they aren't flagged as "Not Recommended" which is always a good sign.  Therefore, if you're considering going in the self-pub direction, or you're still hoping to go the traditional route but want a behind-the-scenes view of the publishing process, this book is for you.

With that caveat, I give this book 4 stars.

If you'd like a copy of the book for yourself.  Go ahead an enter this rafflecopter!  We'll choose a winner in 2 weeks time.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Thursday, February 28, 2013

Close friendships should not be discouraged and, moreover, not all girls are bitches

This week is pretty hectic because, guess what?--Chelle's moving into our house!  Well, not just Chelle, her two kids too.  Soon our house will hold my husband Max, me, Michelle, her son and daughter, and Andy the Chinese exchange student.  Luckily we have three bedrooms and a finished basement, so we should all fit.

Get it?  Full House?

So this got me thinking about how important best friends are.  Chelle's my writing partner, yes, but she's also my best friend and has been for the last 16 years.  In fact, we've been best friends longer than we haven't.  [We became friends when we were 14, so feel free to do the math.]  I started googling statistics, and I was surprised to find that there are very few articles about the importance of best friends.

Instead, I found this horror of an article entitled Why Best Friends Are Really Bad For Girls. Feel free to read the monstrosity for yourself, but the thesis of the article is that all girls/women are unstable bitches ("Let's face it--girls are bitchy. They're bitchy at 4. They're bitchy at 14. And Lord knows they're bitchy at 44.") Because of this rule of nature, all women's relationships will inevitably devolve into, at best, a passive aggressive power struggle or, at worst, a Single White Female situation.  Therefore, one woman should never get too close to any other woman because close relationships between women only lead to isolation and/or dead rabbits.  

(I guess the dead rabbit was actually from Fatal Attraction, not Single White Female, but whatevs.)

Keep in mind, this article isn't the aberrant thoughts of one crazy person.  It's a response to a New York Times article about how teachers and school psychologists are now trying to dissuade students from having best friends in a misguided attempt to combat bullying.  (As if best friend pairs are the ones doing the bullying--ha!)

Bullies always seem to run in herds.

I find this way of viewing the world disturbing.  First of all, the article described above is clearly the sad product of some sort of female self-hate. If women were so terrible in pairs, lesbian relationships would never work, but lesbians are known for having great long-term relationships, so that idea is facially ridiculous.

Mostly, though, I just feel bad for anyone who would view the world this way.  I am so incredibly blessed to have my best friend Chelle.  I know very few adults who have friendships as tight as ours.  Once you get married and have kids, it's easy to put your friendships on the back burner, but that's a mistake.  My mother always had a small group of very close women friends, and they were always there for her.  Men can come and go, but friends should be a permanent component to one's life.  (And if you've found a good man, he'll appreciate your friends.)

Women give you the sort of emotional support that men often can't provide.  They understand things you're going through because they've been there themselves. Honestly, I value my friendship with Chelle as highly as my relationship with my husband. They are both people I tell every secret to, I could call at 4A.M. with no hesitation, and that I always want to have in my life.  (Thankfully they get along tremendously well.)

Sadly, people in our country are becoming more and more isolated.  On average, Americans report only having spoken to 2 people about important life events over the last 6 months.  (This is down from 3 people a couple decades ago.)  A full quarter of Americans report having absolutely no close confidants at all. I honestly can't imagine that. I feel like I wouldn't be able to survive without at least one person to talk to.

Considering this, and considering how protective friendships are against virtually all of life's stressors, why in God's name would we discourage children from forming close friendships?  Instead, I think we as a society need to put more of an emphasis on valuing friendship. Friends are the family we choose for ourselves, and, really, what could be better than that?


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Bear with us

Chelle and I are feeling very disappointed in ourselves for *both* missing our blog posts last week.

Yes, Ellen, we know.
I was laid up in bed pretty much the entire week with the worst stomach virus I've ever had...

Not to put too fine a point on it, but had I tried to blog it would've gone down like this.

 and Chelle was just insanely busy.

It always scares me when she yells at me in her pirate voice.

This week things are even crazier (more about that in an upcoming post), but we promised ourselves that we would *not* miss two weeks in a row.  

Aside from blogging, we haven't been able to get any other writing done either, which we're not happy about.  Our current plans are to (1) finish revising the VEILED manuscript with our agent so that hopefully it's ready to go out on submission to publishers by the end of March, and (2) start outlining a new novel about Irish Travelers in America.

Us soon.

Chelle and I had actually written a YA paranormal a couple of years ago that included Irish Travelers (it was the first novel we wrote together) and we both still love the characters in it, but the novel is not well positioned in the current market.  Because of that, we've decided to take the characters from that book and throw them into contemporary plot (i.e. no magic).  We're both really excited about it, and we intend on beginning the plotting of this new novel right away.  

How could you not love a culture that produces weddings that look like this?
Or that dress their daughters in this monstrosity for fist communion?
Now if only our lives would cooperate and stop getting in the way.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

My Valentine this year: myself

This Valentine's day I've decided I'm going to acknowledge the only person in the world that I have to spend the rest of my life with: myself.  (Or so said a Lifetime movie I saw once.)

That's me!

I'm now 30, and it's easy to fall into the mindset that I'm no longer young and my life will continue on in a boring fashion until my prematurely desiccated body finally perishes.  But no!  I'm still young.  My body still works mostly, and life never stops changing.  Therefore, I should never stop growing and never stop having fun.  I've always been a planner and somewhat, well, let's say, intense.  This year I'm going to focus on worrying about the future less and enjoying the present more.  To that end here are some of the things that I want to start doing, and, really, you should too.

I even plan my period of not planning...

1. Dance and sing alone with complete abandon. Have you ever been alone and done something stupid and felt embarrassed about it, just in front of yourself? If you can't feel at ease when no one's around, you'll never, ever be able to be yourself around anyone else.  Do something weird today.  Make funny faces at the mirror.  Jump up and down.  Do a somersault.  Wear a box on your head.  Do anything that seems fun.  And do it with no self-consciousness.  Try your best to not feel ridiculous and tell yourself, "I'm allowed to be weird.  Everyone is."  Love the silly side of yourself.  Soon it'll feel more and more natural and when it does, start acting silly around someone you love.  I guarantee they'll love that side of you.  Soon enough, maybe they'll start wearing their own box on their head.

Even Beyonce can look silly dancing, but who cares?

2. Act like strangers are long lost friends.  Today I went to an appointment with a new doctor, and I got into quite the conversation with the Nurse Practitioner.  We talked about Mardi Gras, and writing, and all sorts of other things.  I could tell she just loved me, and didn't want me to leave the office when the appointment was over. Normally I wouldn't have shared so much, but why not?  Since I've been working at being friendly with everyone, I've found that 95% of the time, people love it.  Of course they do.  When has someone ever been genuinely friendly with you and you hated it?  No very freaking often.  Even if people seem sort of cold at first, just pretend like they're a long lost friend who has a touch of amnesia and therefore has forgotten you.  I assure you that within 5 minutes, you'll be laughing together.  But...

3. If you're nice to someone and they're still a cold jerk, fuck 'em!  I hate to be vulgar about it, but seriously.  Who wants to be friends with someone who's a jerk to someone that was just being nice to them?  You can't worry about what pricks think about you because, really, they suffer more from self-loathing than from any sort of particular hatred directed at you.  The happier you become, the more most people will love your company, but there is that subset of people who are miserable and hate it if anyone else isn't.  Just ignore them and stay away from them as much as possible.  You don't need them.

4. Tell everyone you love that, ya know, you love them.  Sure, tell your husband or your wife, but don't stop there.  Tell your best friend, tell your girl friends, tell your guy friends. Tell everyone.  Life is so painfully short.  I had a Mardi Gras party this weekend, and in classic Katie fashion, after a few drinks I told basically every single person at the party that I loved them. Usually I would leave it at that, but that night I decided to give every person an individualized reason.  Seems weird, but everyone told me they had a great time at my party the next morning.  Not that my declarations were the reason or anything, but it's that sort of atmosphere that makes for a fun party.  The let's-have-fun-and-just-love-each-other atmosphere. Why not?  Life's too short to not have fun, which brings me to...

I love my best friend Chelle!

5. Never be too cool or mature for anything or anyone.  I'm always a bit nervous when a new group of friends meets my core group of friends that I still have from when I went to high school in Lancaster County.  I love my Lancaster County peeps so much.  I've literally never had a bad time with any of them.  But you know what?  There are often a lot of off color jokes, humorous groping between half of the men, and just plain silliness. It's amazing. I worry when new people meet them that they'll think we're not "cool" enough, which worries me not because I care about being cool, but because that would make me immediately dislike my new friends.  How can you not love fun?  All of my friends are well educated, well read, and super smart.  Sometimes we'll sit around and discuss string theory or geological formations or critical gender theory (seriously), but sometimes we just have unabandoned fun.  NEVER BE TOO GOOD FOR FUN!

Chelle & I being super silly in San Francisco

6. Hug or cuddle your girlfriends (but only if they're into it, of course).  You know how I said my guy friends do a lot of hugging?  Wait, I think I said groping, but they hug a lot too.  My girlfriends don't do all that much of that. I don't know why. When I was in high school a bunch of us would just hang out together, watch movies, all while in the "cuddle puddle".  I miss those days.  It can be inappropriate to cuddle your guy friends once you're married (sadly--I really love some platonic cuddling), but there's nothing stopping you from cuddling your girlfriends or even just giving each other hugs.  I always feel awkward hugging people other than during greetings, but I want to get over it.  Hugs are fun.

My friend Corbin & I back in our cuddlier days.

7.  Know that you are an awesome person.  I'm not talking about acting like you're better than everyone else.  That would immediately prove that you don't think too highly of yourself.  I'm talking about *really* loving yourself. See what's great about you.  Find yourself funny.  Think to yourself, "Wow that was a really cute thing I just said.  I am super cute!"  Dress in a way that makes you feel hot.  Doesn't have to be slutty--you can feel hot in a nice fitting turtleneck.  Hug yourself.  Remind yourself every day of the things you love about yourself.  Forgive yourself.  Think about the person you want to be and Just. Be. That. Person.

My husband & I being silly after the Saint's super bowl win.

Finally, you know how some days you just feel amazing?  (I'm having one of those days today, if you haven't noticed).  When you're feeling so good that you're dancing in the car or smiling non-stop, take a minute to think about that feeling.  Be with it.  Breathe it in.  You'll need that because some days you don't feel amazing.  Some days you feel downright miserable.  You don't feel hot.  You don't feel like hugging everyone or telling them you love them. Bottle that good feeling right inside your head, and then remember that moment for the next time you feel sad.  Remember that soon, you'll have that feeling again.  And if you never seem to have days where you're so happy you want to hug yourself, then come over to my house, because apparently I'm giving out hugs.

Never be sad in a party dress.

Love to everyone this Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

And the Winner Is....

Justin Harlan!!


A big congratulations to Justin for winning the Awesome Crewel Giveaway!

Thanks so much to everyone who entered!  And don't forget, even if you didn't win this time, you can still score an ebook of Gennifer Albin's amazing debut for just $2.99.  That price turns into a pumpkin tomorrow, so act fast!  It's available in every format (nook, kindle, ibook, etc.), all from one convenient place:  

so pretty...

Friday, February 8, 2013

Beyonce, Butthurt Douchebags, and the Culture of Slut-Shaming

She should be ashamed of herself! 

It seems that anyone who caught the Super Bowl halftime show last Sunday had a strong reaction to Beyonce’s performance.  Many people, including First Lady Michelle Obama, applauded the singer for her bold and empowering all-female performance.  Not being a huge football fan, it was easily the most exciting portion of the evening for me (yes, I saw the 108 yard touchdown).

But for others it was more cringe-inducing than the bizarre Go Daddy commercial (that sound! blech!). Pseudo-celebrity and occasional Elizabeth Hasslebeck stand-in Rachel Campos-Duffy (some may remember her as the uptight chick from Real World San Fransisco—you know, the one who was afraid to live with a gay guy who was HIV positive, and who also had a fling with snot-rocket enthusiast, Puck, before he was booted from the show) tweeted this:

What a doll...

This, dear readers, is what we call slut-shaming. The term has become fairly ubiquitous of late, but in case you're unfamiliar with it, Know Your Meme defines it as "the practice of criticizing a woman for engaging in certain sexual behaviors outside of traditional gender roles, whether it be actual or presumed based on her manner of dress, speech or personality." It's also a form of bullying that's been the impetus for several teen suicides in the last few years.

I'm just sayin'
Duffy's characterization of the halftime show would have you believe that Beyonce's performance consisted of the singer having her way with the defensive line of the Ravens on national television.  Unless I missed something, though, that's not what happened.  In fact, there weren't even any men on stage.

There was that lady who wailed on her guitar while sparks shot out of both ends, which I found pretty empowering. 

The only part of KYM's definition I take issue with is the "outside of gender roles" thing.  It seems very much a part of the female gender role to be a sexual object, at least in our culture.  It's really the timing of the sexiness that matters.  For instance, a few months ago Beyonce inspired another controversy when she posed in her underwear on the cover of GQ.  It was shocking! It was inappropriate! It was...totally normal given that a quick google search of “GQ Covers” will show that just about every female celebrity that’s graced the cover is mostly unclothed.  Their male counterparts are often dressed in sharp suits (the most risque cover I could find was one of Michael Phelps baring his abs), but I believe that says a lot more about what the editors of GQ think will sell a magazine in this culture than it does about the moral fortitude of anyone who appears on it.   

What do Tina Fey and the butler from Downton Abbey have in common?

Remember how on the second season of Downton Abbey there was a maid who had an affair with a convalescing Army officer?  Later, when Lady Grantham found out the housekeeper had been sneaking food to the disgraced and dismissed maid, the butler had something to say about the idea that the officer should bear some responsibility in the whole affair: “men will always be men, but for any young woman to let her judgement so desert her”.  Oh those turn-of-the-century Brits and their antiquated attitude on sex.  But wait! You might be surprised to learn that Tina Fey (who I love, please don’t mistake me) has said similar things--albeit only about women with tattoos and large breasts (the modern day "housemaid"?).   

Let me say again that I love Tina Fey.  Truly.  But this is the very definition of slut-shaming. She assumes that any woman with tattoos and big boobs is making it more difficult for all the successful, accomplished, mature woman in this world because how can men possibly be expected to resist these whores who go around flaunting their sexuality? This kind of commentary makes it seem like women must be in constant competition with each other for the attention of men (rather than putting any expectation on men to just keep it in their pants already), and if you're losing the competition, it's just because you're not a huge slut, and good for you for getting your boobs all the way inside your shirt! The fact is, regardless of what Bombshell McGee’s character might be (you can’t really defend that Nazi crap), it’s the societal view that some women are “lesser” because of how they chose to dress, where they work, or how they spell their names that’s really doing the most harm.  It hurts all women--no matter how modest or immodest they are.  

To be honest, I'm not sure women can ever really win.  If we dress modestly we’re unfeminine or prudish, but if we show a little skin we run the risk of being judged on our sexuality alone.

A whole leg full of adjectives and not one of them says "interesting to talk to".
And there’s a huge double standard.  Take NASA Systems Engineer, Bobak Ferdowsi, and former Disney Channel star, Miley Cyrus, for example (odd comparison, I realize, but bear with me).  Bobak’s unusual haircut and highly visible position in the control room during the Mars Curiosity mission earned him some notoriety as “the mohawk guy” and even garnered the attention of President Obama.  On the other hand, Miley Cyrus got a similar haircut and gets called a slut on a regular basis.

Who wore it sluttier?

Don't get me wrong--I think it's *awesome* that Ferdowsi got so much attention.  He did a really cool thing, and he should be celebrated for it. I’m also willing to admit that there are other reasons Miley has gotten a bad rap—apparently, at the tender age of 17, she did what amounted to a striptease during one of her concerts, though that seems par for the course in pop-stardom these days—but I don’t remember hearing much about her before she ditched her wholesome Mickey-approved image last year.  My point is, men can often present whatever image they like and still earn respect, whereas women are judged far more often (and more harshly) on how they present themselves to the world.

To make matters worse, anytime someone defends Cyrus, it’s at the expense of another pop princess, Taylor Swift, who’s much-publicized dating life often gets dragged through the mud as an example of why she’s actually the slut, m'kay you guys?

well, that was productive...
First, I'd like to point out that Ken Baker, the reporter who originally tweeted this, used an old picture of Miley even though it was posted after her punk-rock makeover.  I'd be willing to bet that was at least a subconscious decision to ensure she was perceived a certain way.  And, frankly, the argument he's making isn't even a good one.  I can’t speak to Baker's thought process, but it seems to me that this is more an indictment on our culture than on either of these girls.  Miley dresses a certain way, thus she gets tagged with the dreaded “s” word despite her personal conduct, whereas Taylor *looks* wholesome so no one cares what she does behind closed doors (nor should they).  It’s the old adage of “a lady on his arm but a whore in the bedroom”.  How dare a woman display her sexuality for just anyone to see?!  She should know better!

It’s an absurd attitude, but it’s pretty damn pervasive.  Slut-shaming masked by faux-puritanism.

The “mercy” sellers

In the Middle Ages it was very common for professional “pardoners” to extract payment on behalf of the catholic church for anyone seeking an indulgence (forgiveness for temporal sins).  Although Rome has since abandoned the business of pay-as-you go forgiveness, apparently there are still people out there who are a-okay with it.  That faux-puritanism I mentioned before reached a new low last October when a website was registered that allowed anonymous users to post the pictures and personal information of women they deemed as “potential prostitutes."  I refuse to link to it here because I have no desire to drive traffic to the site, but here's a lovely description of how it works:

So, the premise here is that these "offenders" need to be shamed by their communities because, safety!

The thing is, though, any woman listed on the site can have her information removed if she's willing to fork over $100. It’s terrible and detrimental for communities to have "offenders" who *might* be involved in sex work (side note: sex worker ≠ sex offender), but at the same time, those women can be forgiven of their “sins” for $100 bucks.  That'll teach 'em.

Yes! Now I can potentially be a prostitute over and over again!

The most disturbing thing, though, is that anyone can post information anonymously without fear of reprisal.  The site even claims they’re immune to legal prosecution, though legal experts have questioned that claim . I could go on and on about the ramifications of this ludicrous policy, but I couldn't possibly sum it up any better than Gizmodo contributor, Jesus Diaz, who said, "This means that any butthurt douchebag may be able to defame his ex-girlfriend or ex-wife."

The whole thing is pretty appalling. It's also extortion. But they're getting away with it because there are a lot of people out there who think it's totally cool to make potentially ruinous character judgements based on what a woman is wearing in her Facebook profile picture.

They should be ashamed.

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