What’s New at Emerald Cove in Fall 2021?

St. George and the Dragon on display in the dining room of the Hotel Ritter in Heidelberg, Germany. (Photo by Susan Ruff 1991.)

It’s been a while since I provided an update about our Emerald Cove Press projects, so this seems like a good time.

The Emerald Cove writer’s group met at our favorite Denny’s last Friday. It’s great to be back to live meetings again. We had a long discussion about the upcoming shared-world anthology. The cover art is finished and looks great. (Thank you, Sue Dawe!) We considered possible type fonts for the lettering on the cover and talked about the order of the short stories within the anthology. I distributed review copies of the new short story that John and I had written. (So far, we’ve contributed two stories for the upcoming book, both very short and humorous.) While Emerald Cove doesn’t have a specific publication date for the anthology yet, I am anticipating it will be out by the end of the year.

In other news, the second edition of the paperback version of 60th Hour is live and available on Amazon. It corrects a lot of the formatting glitches of the original paperback version and has a new cover. So far, the ebook version has not changed (though I may update it to add the new cover).

My beloved co-author and I are currently on chapter eight of our new novel, a sequel to Prophecy’s Malignant Son. We had originally anticipated publication some time next fall. However, that time table may move up because of my other news:

I think we are going to try the NaNoWriMo challenge in November this year. (National Novel Writing Month.) The idea, as I understand it, is to produce 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days, which comes out to roughly 1,667 words per day. As some of you know, in our husband-and-wife writing team, John helps with plotting and ideas, while I do the actual typing and word composition. I know I can write at least 500 words per day, and when I am really inspired, I can sometimes produce up to 2,000 words with no problem. To do that consistently, every day, for an entire month, however, is both a daunting and exciting prospect. If we succeed in reaching 50,000 words in November, it probably won’t be enough to finish the new novel, but it will definitely move up our publication date.

John and I have also started advertising our books Amazon. I took a basic class to learn about AMS (Amazon Marketing Services) a few weeks ago, and I will taking a more advanced class starting about two weeks from now. If it works out well, I’ll let you know.

That’s about all for now. Talk to you next Friday!

-Susan 10/1/2021

p.s. You may be asking why there a picture of St. George and the Dragon at the start of today’s blog post? Stay tuned for Emerald Cove’s upcoming shared-world anthology to find out!

Writing Inspiration Destination: Balboa Park

Balboa Park’s Botanical Building and surroundings. (Apologies for the photo quality — it was scanned from a photo taken in the mid-1990’s.)

Sometimes, you don’t need to go any farther than your own hometown for writing inspiration. This becomes much easier, of course, when your hometown happens to be a major tourist destination with beaches, parks, culture, museums, and other fascinating places to visit.

Balboa Park’s iconic California Tower.
The Organ Pavilion, a beautiful location for outdoor concerts.

I grew up in San Diego County, and it is still one of my favorite places in the world. Balboa Park, in particular, has inspired my writing in the past, and continues to do so. Given its beautiful Spanish-style architecture, paths winding beneath the eucalyptus trees, lovely gardens, and wonderful museums, the park’s ability to inspire the written word is not surprising.

What did surprise me is how few pictures I have taken of the park. When I sat down to write this blog post this morning, I thought my task of finding park photos would be easy. Instead, I discovered that, despite hundreds of park visits over the years, I have taken fewer pictures of Balboa Park than I have of Disneyworld in Florida.

Walking near the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages. The last time I visited the park, it appeared that they were expanding this area to add more cottages.

Balboa Park is especially relevant to my writing at the moment, because of Emerald Cove’s upcoming shared-world anthology. Until we have an official publication date, I don’t want to say too much about the book, but Balboa Park definitely makes an appearance. The writer’s group is meeting tonight, so I should know more very soon.

In the meantime, I leave you with this silhouette of the park, taken on a December evening many years ago. I will never forget that night, with its clear skies and beautiful weather, because I flew out to visit relatives a few days later, and ended up in a snowstorm. (It was quite a contrast for a Southern California girl.)

Talk to you next Friday!

Susan 8/20/2021

Book Titles by Committee

With normality finally on the horizon and a small possibility that there might actually be a live Comicon in San Diego this coming summer, the authors of Emerald Cove are once again turning attention to our shared universe anthology. As I mentioned in a much earlier blog post, the stories are set in San Diego County with a fantasy twist. Each of the Emerald Cove authors has contributed at least one short story, involving different protagonists, to the anthology. Because it is a shared universe, some of the secondary characters will appear in multiple stories. (The role-playing gamer in me tends to think of those secondary characters as NPC’s.)

We originally intended to finish the book in time to unveil it at Comicon last year, but that didn’t happen because…well… 2020. When the pandemic made a live convention (with a dealers’ room and art show) impossible, it dampened all our spirits and the shared universe anthology languished.

In light of the new hope brought by the vaccines, our intrepid band of eclectic authors is bouncing back into action. The first drafts of the stories are done and are in the rewrite phase. The cover art is progressing.

Now comes the really hard part of the project. We have to choose a title for the anthology. It is difficult enough for a solo author to invent a catchy title for a book, a title that will interest the reader but still stay true to the book’s theme and/or plot. That task becomes even more difficult when that same title must also please four other authors.

So far, we’ve been sending emails back and forth with suggestions for the title. Many suggestions. Very many suggestions. Some of them are even serious proposals (though the joke ones can be amusing). Eventually, after many more emails, we’ll settle on one that we can all live with. That’s what we did with our last two “themed” anthologies. (Kidnapped! and Stolen!)

This time around, we have established a couple of important ground rules:

  1. Don’t choose a title that was already used by Robert Louis Stevenson. (Kidnapped!) He’s really hard competition when you want people to find your book by searching for the title on Amazon.
  2. Don’t use a single word that is so common there are dozens of pages of book titles on Amazon with the same word or variations on that word. (Stolen!)
  3. Don’t assume that adding an exclamation mark to the end of the title will make it stand out from the others. (Search engines apparently ignore punctuation.)

Once we agree on a title and it gets closer to the publication date, I’ll let you know more about the anthology (and maybe even give a sneak peek for some of Sue Dawe’s amazing artwork for the book).

Talk to you next Friday!

-Susan 2/26/2021

Update on Current Book Projects

Concept sketch for a possible cover of Prophecy’s Malignant Son (planned for publication in Spring 2021)

It’s been a while since I provided an update on the current writing projects, so this seems like a good time. John and I are still hard at work on our latest fantasy novel Prophecy’s Malignant Son. We have over 50,000 words written at this point, and we are still hoping for publication some time in early 2021. The novel will probably end up longer than the 70,000 words I had originally intended, but it will be a complete story with no cliff-hanger endings. Any sequels will be separate stories (although they will probably involve some of the same characters).

So far, the comments from the Emerald Cove writing critique group on the manuscript have been favorable. The other authors have suggested a few tweaks here and there, all of which will help the final story. (We are fortunate to have such a great critique group to help us!)

A couple of weeks back, I started playing with some ideas for the cover. The rough sketch above represents one of the ideas I had. I am currently talking with an artist friend about possible cover art. For those of you who read 60th Hour, you know the cover art on that book was pretty abstract. To produce it, I played with variations on a photograph I had taken of a state capital rotunda. That was fine for the initial edition of our first published book, but this time I’d like something a little more “fantasy” looking. Depending on how things go with the cover for Prophecy’s Malignant Son, I may also commission some cover art when we put out the revised edition of 60th Hour (to correct all those little formatting oddities that I mentioned in an earlier blog post).

We held our latest Emerald Cove meeting via Zoom on Wednesday night. Things are progressing with the shared universe anthology. All the stories are now complete and have had their initial reviews by the group. We just need to make revisions and finalize them. At a prior meeting, Sue gave us a peek at her partially completed cover art, and it looks amazing. I can’t wait to see the finished product.

We are still in the process of writing the short stories for the Haunted! anthology. John and I have finished our contribution, but plan to revise one section of our story based on the comments we received from the group.

I hope you are all having a safe and healthy holiday season!

-Susan 12/4/2020

Coming in Spring 2021: Prophecy’s Malignant Son: What happens when a prophecy goes wrong . . . very wrong?

One Hundred Words to Defeat Writer’s Block

As authors, we all know that our craft is part inspiration and part discipline. Inspiration is the fun part — those wonderful ideas and words that flow into our heads when we are writing, daydreaming, walking, or doing absolutely nothing. We all love it when just the right phrasing or fragment of dialogue strikes us. (How many times have I rushed out of the shower to write down the perfectly crafted sentence before I forgot it?)

But what about those days when words are not flowing and inspiration seems distant? What happens when you don’t even want to sit down at the keyboard because you know you will stare at a blank screen without typing a word?

That’s when the discipline of writing takes over. Many authors have written about overcoming writer’s block. My favorite method is the “100 Words a Day” plan. (I think I developed it on my own, but if I subconsciously took all or part of the idea from someone else, then I sincerely apologize for not giving the author credit. Please feel free to leave a comment or send me an email and correct my ignorance! No matter who came up with the plan, it works for me.)

The plan is pretty simple. Each day, I make a commitment to sit down and write 100 words of fiction. I can write more than that, of course (and I usually do), but the important thing is to write at least 100 words. It doesn’t have to be great writing or even mediocre writing, but the 100 words must be part of an original work of fiction. If I miss a day because of circumstances beyond my control (like family emergencies), then I have to write at least 200 words the next day. (It doesn’t work the other way, in case you are wondering — I can’t write 500 words one day and then skip the next four days. The point is to discipline myself to write each day.)

It’s very easy to write 100 words — I had already written 100 words in this blog post before I finished the first two paragraphs. Word processing programs usually give a word count, so on those days when writing is particularly difficult, I know when I am nearing the finish line.

Once you have established that discipline, you can even try gradually increasing the daily word count. I currently write at least 500 words a day. However, increasing the minimum number of words is not critical. The most important part is to discipline yourself to write each day. Don’t worry about how good or bad those 100 words might be. If they are garbage, you can always rewrite them later.

That’s all for this blog today. I still have 500 words of fiction to write!

-Susan 9/25/20

What’s New at the Cove?

Somehow, despite pandemic malaise and wildfires’ haze, the authors at Emerald Cove Press are making steady progress on the next two anthologies. (And, all joking aside, I think I can speak for all of us at Emerald Cove when I say our hearts go out to those affected by the pandemic and the recent fires.)

Of the two upcoming projects, the one most likely to see publication first is the next themed anthology: Haunted! John and I have finished our contribution: The Ghost in the Mines and are eagerly awaiting feedback from the critique group. Like our short stories in the previous themed anthologies, The Ghost in the Mines is a light-hearted fantasy tale set in the Five Lands of Arbel. It takes place concurrently with the events in Lord Larrin’s Trophy, but in a different land, so there won’t be any cross-over characters. The story chronicles the adventures of a Junior Inspector of Structural Supports, Department of Walls and Columns, Division of Mine Safety, Royal Bureau of Mining (try repeating that fast three times) and what that unsuspecting inspector discovers deep below the ground.

The anthology probably won’t be ready for publication by Halloween (which is too bad, given the theme), but there’s a good possibility it will be out in time for Christmas.

The second upcoming anthology is a bit different from the themed books. For the first time, Emerald Cove is assembling a “shared universe” anthology, in which all the authors’ short stories take place in the same fantasy setting with many overlapping characters.

The fantasy setting is modern day San Diego County. While I freely admit that America’s Finest City has a magical, fantasy quality even on the most mundane days, the Emerald Cove anthology will add an interesting fantasy twist to our beloved urban setting. The book will also feature beautiful Sue Dawe artwork — I may post some of Sue’s preliminary sketches (with her permission) closer to the publication date.

As I mentioned in a prior post, I am still mulling over what to do with my twenty-five year old novel Feast of Five Crowns. I am currently reviewing the manuscript to see what can be savaged and how much will need total rewriting.

In the meantime, John and I have started work on a new fantasy novel. It is based on a premise that I have been playing with for a while, and is set in a universe unrelated to the fantasy settings of our prior stories. We’re still in “world-building” stage at the moment, so I can’t give too many details, but I’ve had fun working on it so far. We’ll see where it goes.

I hope you all have a great week!

Susan 9/18/20

99 Cents for a Filched Fish

My sixth grade teacher once asked the class what grade we thought he should give each of us for a particular assignment. I was a straight-A pupil at the time, but trying to be humble, I responded that my assignment deserved a C. When the teacher gave me my first B, my dad rushed into school to find out what went wrong. The teacher told him, “Look what she wrote. She thought she deserved a C. I gave her better than that.”

My dad then sat me down for my first lesson in self-promotion: When a teacher asks you what grade you deserve, you tell them you deserve an A. Always say that. No matter what. If the teacher asks you for reasons why you deserve an A, don’t be humble. Explain how great your work is and say you deserve an A.

So I did that for the rest of my schooling and it worked.

Many years later, I interviewed for a promotion at my government job. I had always received praise for my work, and I thought my work would speak for me.

It didn’t. I did not get the promotion, and I was devastated.

The next time that promotional examination occurred, my supervisor gave me another lesson in self-advocacy: When you go into that interview, you’ve got to tell them all the great things you’ve done for the office. Do NOT be humble.

So I did. It was extremely difficult. Judging from the interviewers’ expressions, I may have been a little too over-the-top in my enthusiasm for the greatness of my contributions to the office, but it worked. I got the promotion.

Now I am an Indy author with the daunting task of trying to self-promote my own fiction. For successful Indy authors that process comes naturally, but not for me. I would love to have my work speak for itself, but that will never happen unless people actually read it, and people will never read it unless I self-promote it. Blargh!!!!

So, here is my shameless plug…err…clever and witty attempt at self-promotion: Emerald Cove is currently running a sale on the Stolen! anthology. Between now and September 17, 2020, you can get the book for $ 0.99. Yes, for less than a dollar, you too can read Lord Larrin’s Trophy, the adventures of a hapless security chief trying to find a stolen fish to avert an international crisis. It’s funny. It’s fishy. It’s a breath of fresh air in the midst of all the bad news of the real world.

But wait! There’s more! The anthology also includes some great fiction by the other Emerald Cove authors. Here’s the link: https://www.amazon.com/Stolen-Scoundrels-Heists-Cons-Pilfered-ebook (Note: This is my first attempt at adding a link, so if it doesn’t work, please let me know. Thanks!)

(*Drawing in a deep breath*) Ok. Shameless plug over for today. Next week, we return to our regularly scheduled blogpost.

By the way, if you do read the story, please send me an email and let me know what you think: susanruff@emeraldcovepress.com I would love to hear from you!

-Susan 9/11/20

Making an Old Story New

Back in the early 1990’s, before self-publishing was common, before I even owned a cell phone, I wrote a fantasy novel called Feast of Five Crowns. I dutifully attempted to get my manuscript published in the old fashioned way. The rejection letters I received were very polite. One publisher told me that, if it was my second novel, the company might consider it, but it was not good enough for an unknown author.

After a while, I gave up and went onto other books and other pursuits (little things like getting married and buying a house). So the manuscript for Feast sat on my various computers in WordPerfect format for all those years. I think my original backup copy was on 3 & 1/2 inch floppy disks, just to show you how old it was.

Then came the 2010’s and the Emerald Cove anthologies (Kidnapped! and Stolen!). John and I used a generic fantasy setting for our tongue-in-cheek kidnapping story, Lord Larrin’s Daughter. When I decided to write a humorous sequel for the second anthology (Lord Larrin’s Trophy), the story setting fell naturally into one of the lands from Feast of Five Crowns, so I placed it there.

Like many fantasy novels, Feast involved potentially world altering events that the characters had to address. I avoided any mention of those events in Lord Larrin’s Trophy, because I was not sure if I wanted to set the story before or after the events in Feast. However, by the time Trophy was finished, I had set it (at least in my mind) shortly before the opening of Feast.

As I mentioned in a prior blogpost, when 60th Hour was published, I thought I could dust off Feast, add the characters from the two Lord Larrin stories and have a second self-published novel. However, after some of my fellow authors at Emerald Cove reamed…err…gave me constructive criticism regarding the first four chapters, I realized: 1) my writing has apparently improved since the 1990’s; and 2) it would take the ton of work to make Feast into a novel worthy of publication. Essentially, I would have to rewrite the entire novel from the ground up (with John’s help).

Thus began my dilemma: did I really want to spend that much time rewriting a story that no one wanted to publish 25 years ago? Should I put it back in storage and move on to another novel?

In the meantime, John and I have been working on a story for Emerald Cove’s upcoming anthology (Haunted!). Almost from the first moment Emerald Cove announced the theme for the third anthology, I knew which story I wanted to write. Not only is the story set in the Feast of Five Crowns universe, it contains background material from the novel. In effect, it is a prequel to the novel.

With three short stories now set in the Feast universe, I guess it’s time to take a stab at rewriting the old manuscript. At this point, I am thinking of using the main characters from the short stories as the point of view characters for the novel. I’m also thinking of giving the novel more of a light-hearted feel, perhaps not as overtly humorous as the fish story, but not as serious as the original book.

Will the help of my wonderful co-author and more than two decades of writing practice be enough to turn Feast into a book that people will want to read? Only time (and my Emerald Cove critique group) will tell.

Susan 9/4/2020

Those Little Formatting Oddities

I love books. I love libraries. I love bookstores. That beautiful paper fragrance in a second-hand bookstore is a wonderful thing. When I was a kid, in addition to visiting our local library, my family would occasionally drive to downtown San Diego to visit the huge public library. It was (and still is) an amazing place.

Emerald Cove released its first two anthologies (Kidnapped! and Stolen!) solely as ebooks. They were never intended to be paperbacks. The text size and other formatting in an ebook can change depending on the preference of the reader and the type of e-reader used. As an ebook author, you can’t stress too much about formatting, because you really don’t control it.

However, when John and I published 60th Hour, in addition to ebook format, we decided to publish a paperback version as well. (Did I mention that I love books?) The ebook came out first, and then I spent time formatting the paperback. Despite my appalling lack of technical competency, it was fun to play with the text and try different formats: “Oh look, John! You can make the first letter of the first paragraph of each chapter large and bold, like they do in real books!”

Until the print version went live and I got my author’s copy in the mail, I did not realize two things. First: all the little formatting oddities that I saw on the screen would still be there in the paperback. For example, when I added those large first letters, the paragraph text around them condensed in a weird way compared to the other paragraphs. I naively thought that issue was just a problem with the computer screen and would correct itself in the print version. Likewise, I assumed the extra spaces that appeared between some of the paragraphs for no reason I could fathom would undoubtedly be gone later. (Haha! Silly me.)

Second: I didn’t realize that all those formatting oddities looked better on a large computer screen than they did in a printed book. That sentence hanging at the end of Chapter One seemed like no big deal when I was reviewing digital pages side-by-side. When I flipped through the paperback, however, the hanging sentence made me wince.

There are even a couple of typos in the text. *cringe* Question: How many proofreaders does it take to catch a typo? Answer: At least one more than you used to review your manuscript.

At some point in the near future, there will be a second edition paperback version of 60th Hour to correct those formatting errors and typos. I’m not exactly sure when that will happen, but it will certainly be before Emerald Cove publishes Haunted!

Hah! Maybe I should use the weird formatting as a marketing tool: Hey all you book collectors, buy your first edition paperback with all those formatting oddities now, before the corrected version is released!

Or maybe not.

-Susan 8/21/20

Critiques During a Lockdown – Part 2

As I discussed in a prior blog post, writing during this current pandemic should be easy. We’ve all got so much extra time at home now. For someone of my…ahem…mature age, the “shelter-at-home” lifestyle means that I am pretty much in front of a screen all week. Loads of time for me to write.

However, instead of making optimal use of that time, I found myself in a pandemic malaise, unmotivated to write anything. When I emailed the other members of the Emerald Cove writer’s critique group, I discovered that they were in much the same motivational slump. We could no longer hold our monthly critique group meeting at Denny’s because the restaurants were closed, but we all needed the encouragement that our fellow authors provided during those meetings.

And we definitely needed the monthly writing deadline!

So we decided to try critique meetings via Zoom. We held our first Zoom meeting last month and our second one this past Wednesday. We spent a lot of the first meeting in a discussion of logistics. We used to distribute physical copies of our manuscripts during our meetings for each other to read, take them home for review, and then comment on them at the next monthly meeting. That practice worked pretty well, and we wanted to approximate it as best we could using technology.

I am happy to report that after two months of meetings, we finally have…a system. A Great System. Well, all right, maybe not great, but it has already prodded most of us back into writing again, so even if we have to tweak the system later, it is working.

In case it will benefit any other writing critique groups out there, let me pass along how our current system works.

During the Zoom meetings, we still discuss each other’s manuscripts from the prior month. We also talk about what is going on with our individual writing and how our shared projects are coming along.

In place of the written comments we used to write on the hardcopies of the manuscripts, we are now using the “review/comment” function in Word. It takes a little longer to type all our comments and corrections than it did when we could scribble in the margins, but it has the advantage of being easier to read than handwriting.

To exchange those reviewed copies, we use OneDrive. One of our members created a shared OneDrive folder for the critique group. Each month, she creates a subfolder with the meeting date on it. The manuscripts we “bring” to that meeting go into the folder with that meeting date.

During the meeting, we decide on the next meeting date. Our computer expert then creates a subfolder with that new date. Within that subfolder, she creates sub-sub folders with each of our names on them for comments. (“Comments to Susan”, “Comments to Danny”, etc.)

The reviewers “pull” the manuscripts, use the “save as” function to add their initials to the title, and make changes and comments with the review/comment function in Word. When the review is done, the new document is placed in the author’s subfolder for the next month’s meeting. So, if Danny reviews my story, he saves it with a title that includes “DA comments” and places it in the “Comments to Susan” folder for next month’s meeting.

I hope that explanation makes sense. If it sounds confusing, my apologies. To paraphrase Dr. McCoy: “I’m a novelist, not a technical writer, dammit!”

By the way, I should mention that one of our authors prefers to exchange reviewed copies by email, so we have a slight modification of the system for that individual.

-Susan 8/14/20