Author Archives: Joan Marie

About Joan Marie

An experienced writer, Joan is the author of the nonfiction books Voyager: Exploring the Outer Planets, Boldly Writing and Weight Loss Success!, as well as the novels Countdown to Action!, Action Alert!, Deadly Danger!, Situation: Critical!, Extreme Hazard!, and Danger Zone! plus numerous short stories and articles. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers. She has served on the board of directors of both the Minnesota Science Fiction Society and the Mythopoeic Society.

MY ANNUAL BIRTHDAY STORY

I’m 56 years old. I have no problem giving out my age, and that ties in to what I call “my annual birthday story.”

When I was in my mid-20s, I went to a gathering of the Minnesota Science Fiction Society. The subject of telling one’s age came up. I said I was 26 (or whatever age I was at the time) and didn’t mind telling anyone that. K.F. said that I might not mind giving my age when I was in my 20s, but I would when I was in my 30s.

On my 30th birthday, I had this overwhelming urge to call K.F. and say, “I’m 30 years old!” However, I didn’t.

I did, however, tell the story to others. In the mid-1980s, when I told that story to M., she said that while I might not hesitate to tell people my age in my 30s, I would most certainly not be telling people my age when I was in my 40s. My reply was, “I have your phone number. Do you want me to call you on my 40th birthday?” She said no, that wouldn’t be necessary.

Some days after my 50th birthday, I ran into K.F. again. I thought he would be amused at my story, so I told it to him, and, as I expected, he was entertained. His response was, “Call me when you’re 90!”
I think I shall.

P.S. Today (the day of posting) isn’t my birthday. I generally tell this story if the subject of age comes up, however.

Posted by Joan Marie Verba at 12/19/2009 6:45 PM 

AUTHORS SELLING DIRECTLY TO BOOKSTORES

When I ask for suggestions on how to sell more books, inevitably, someone will suggest that I visit local bookstores (chain and independent ones) to see if they’ll carry my books.

It isn’t as if I haven’t tried this. Both local science fiction bookstores (Uncle Hugo’s and Dreamhaven) already have purchased my books (for which I am grateful). I have also tried the Barnes and Noble Small Press Department…their response was, in essence: don’t call us, we’ll call you. Generally my experience with bookstores is similar to that of sf author and small press publisher Steve Miller, who reported driving from his home in Maine down the eastern seaboard to Florida, stopping at every sf bookstore he could find along the way. None of them purchased his books.  Most bookstores won’t purchase books from authors (or small presses). They just don’t. They prefer to purchase books from suppliers, and suppliers prefer not to handle books that don’t bring in at least a couple of thousand dollars in immediate sales.

I have also attended the midwest bookseller’s convention—twice—to promote my books, with no success (oh, they’ll take free copies, but they don’t order any). I have used a service which lists your books in their catalog, then forwards review copies of books to interested booksellers who request them. Although I have sent books to these booksellers, I’ve never received any orders from the ones I sent copies to. I’ve also sent a large number of copies to a national distributor for their “sales reps,” presumably so those sales reps can show my books to bookstore owners and get them interested in purchasing. I haven’t seen any results of that, either.

However, at the Bloomington Book Fair earlier this year, a man (let’s call him Joe Author), told me that he had success selling his self-published book locally. He specifically indicated the University of Minnesota bookstore, Garrison Keillor’s Common Good Books bookstore, and the Science Museum bookstore. So I thought I’d give them a try.

Joe was most enthusiastic about the University of Minnesota bookstore. According to him, the book buyer there was eager to purchase books from alumni, and wrote a check on the spot for Joe’s books. I brought them both Thunderbirds books and Boldly Writing. I went to the bookstore (which had moved since I was last at the campus bookstore), and asked for the manager, who indicated there were 2 buyers. One came to talk to me. I introduced myself as an alumna and went on from there.

I talked about Boldly Writing first. I told the buyer (twice) that I received comments and e-mails regularly from professors in the field of popular culture saying that this was a valued reference, that it had been cited in academic papers, and that I had been told by Ph.D.s that they had used Boldly Writing in their dissertations. Despite this, she indicated she wasn’t interested.
I then brought out the Thunderbirds books, asking if they carried science fiction. She said they did, but that they “only carry the big science fiction authors.” In parting, she said that my books weren’t the kind that their bookstore carries.

Before leaving the subject of the U of MN bookstore, I do want to say that the newsletter of the Department of Physics and Astronomy (from which I graduated), has always been eager to print news of my books in their department/alumni newsletter. (The general U of MN alumni magazine, however, has not.) Obviously, the Department of Physics and Astronomy isn’t running the U of MN bookstore.
From there, I went to the Red Balloon Bookstore in St. Paul. This wasn’t a bookstore that Joe Author recommended, but it is a bookstore that members of the MN SCBWI recommended, and I had called ahead. The manager there was very nice and took 2 copies of each Thunderbirds novel “on consignment” and asked me to check back in 3 months to see whether they sold.

After that, I went to the Common Good Books store, which was not far away. This bookstore is a basement store, and I found it well-lit and comfortable. I approached an employee at the front desk and asked her if they purchase from Minnesota authors, and if they purchase science fiction. She was very nice and replied that they do, but they only carry books that one of the staff has read and would recommend. I asked if I could leave copies of my books for her to read. She said that was fine, and I did.

Last, I went to the Science Museum and asked to talk to the bookstore manager. He was courteous and explained their purchasing policy, saying it was their experience that only books that relate to the current exhibit sell. For instance, he said, when they had the “body works” display, the only books sold were those relating to the human body, and to their frustration, none of their other books sold. He said that for that reason, they did carry science fiction when they had the Star Wars exhibit, but wouldn’t carry sf again until or unless they had another sf related exhibit, and added that they may in the future and I could contact them again.

Such is my experience with trying to sell directly to bookstores. Joe Author may have had a different experience—of bookstore managers writing him a check on the spot—but most authors who try to sell direct don’t have that kind of success.

POSTSCRIPT: Common Good Books never got back to me about my books. The Red Balloon Bookstore returned the books to me after several months–they did not sell any of them.

Posted by Joan Marie Verba at 6/30/2009 3:54 PM

STAR TREK (2009) MOVIE COMMENTS

First, a word about what I think about spoilers: I prefer never to go to a movie unprepared. I can think of only one movie I’ve seen in my entire life where I felt I was better off not knowing the ending beforehand. Otherwise, I prefer to know as much as possible. For the early Star Trek movies, I had the local science fiction bookstore call me when the novelization came in so that I could read it before seeing the movie. For this movie, I read a detailed synopsis on the Internet. I’m glad I did.
Therefore, if you don’t want to know anything about a movie before you see it, and you haven’t seen the Star Trek movie yet, this essay is not for you. Come back and read it after you’ve seen the movie.
I noted that the last Star Trek movie I saw was Star Trek: Nemesis, in 2002. I haven’t enjoyed all the Star Trek movies. I left Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, with feelings of disappointment. On the other hand, I greatly enjoyed Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek: Nemesis, which many other Star Trek fans weren’t happy with. I feel the best of the Star Trek movies were Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. The remainder of the movies I felt were satisfactory.

I always want to see the Star Trek movie on the first day, as soon as possible. Knowing that there might be showings on Thursday, May 7, I checked the newspaper for movie times. I found out, to my surprise, that the newspaper doesn’t have movie times anymore. Instead, I was directed to call the theater for show times or check the theater’s web site. In so doing, I couldn’t find anyplace showing the movie before 7 pm. I prefer to go earlier to avoid crowds (and sellouts). Also, afternoon prices are lower.

For the 7 pm showing, I arrived at 6:40 pm to avoid a sellout. Not only was there not a sellout, I was the first one there. By the time the movie started, there were maybe 20 viewers in the theater. (This was about the same number as I found when I watched Star Trek: Nemesis on the first day.) In addition, the projection was out of alignment and one of the audience members had to inform the theater staff to fix it (they did).

Now, for the movie:

J. J. Abrams did a very smart thing by establishing this as an alternate Star Trek timeline. This has the advantage for him, as a producer, of not having to keep track of all the Star Trek history for the past 40 years; and, it has the advantage for me, the viewer, of not having to be annoyed at the production staff and writers for not following the history.

With that in mind, I thought the movie was largely spectacular with occasional unnecessarily silly scenes (example: materializing Scotty in the water tank). I left the movie with a pleasant feeling, and I would want to see it again. I would definitely want to purchase the DVD.

I thought the characters were great. Chris Pine does a wonderful job with James T. Kirk. I felt the portrayal was realistic. As with Jean-Luc Picard, it seems that a defining moment for Kirk was that he was in a bar fight where his opponents won. This concept didn’t work for me for Picard; it did for Kirk. The Kobyashi Maru scenario was vintage Kirk.  I thought the idea that Kirk was a genius with an attitude also worked. (In fact, the Enterprise seems to be filled with geniuses. That’s fine with me, since the Enterprise WAS supposed to be staffed with the best and brightest.)  He ends up being, as before, the youngest captain in Starfleet, and the way the story unfolds believably tells us that he deserved it. (His premature sitting in the captain’s chair was priceless!)

I always felt Spock was the strongest character, and Zachary Quinto does a great job. (As did the actor who played the young Spock, fighting his schoolmates…which is a part of Star Trek history, though hinted at in the animated “Yesteryear.”) Leonard Nimoy also did his usual fine portrayal.
I knew from the hints that Dr. Leonard McCoy joined the academy as an older student, and I really enjoyed this being played out on the screen. I’m glad they mentioned the divorce as his reason for joining Starfleet.

Scotty, Sulu, and Uhura also came off very well. I particularly enjoyed Uhura’s conversation with Spock when she tells him that she deserves to be assigned to the Enterprise.

The Chekov character and actor were first-rate. I was not happy with Chekov from the time he was introduced in 1967 (and wasn’t happy with Walter Koenig, either). But THIS Chekov I enjoyed watching! He is not the annoying boy genius that Wesley Crusher was, either. I wish they had given Chekov this potential in the first place!

Being a long-time fan of Vulcan and Vulcans, I was grieved when Vulcan was destroyed. I presume that T’Pau was one of the rescued? Sarek, however, was well-played, though the Amanda character seemed weak.
Miscellanous comments: I noted Admiral Komack in the tribunal, though he didn’t have any lines. When Sulu and Kirk went to destroy the drill, I wondered why they didn’t have phasers with them. (Sulu, at least, brought a sword!) And this is the second movie where the bad guy is motivated by revenge for the death of his wife. I hope that this is the last time, because this is getting old!

These are my initial thoughts about the Star Trek movie. I hope there’s a sequel!

Posted by Joan Marie Verba at 5/8/2009 11:09 AM

GARAGE SALE ADVENTURES

Garage Sale Story

I completed my first garage sale last week. Of course, I observed my mother conduct garage sales when I was growing up and after I moved back home, so I was familiar with the essentials, but this is the first one I’ve run myself.

I held a four-day garage sale: Thursday through Sunday.

I knew that signs were essential, so I put out signs Wednesday night. Thursday morning, one of the signs was gone. I put out another one. In the afternoon, people coming to the garage sale reported it had fallen. I put it up again. Sunday, I found 3 more signs were gone, and replaced them in the morning. They were all still there when I brought them home late Sunday afternoon. In total, we lost 4 signs over the weekend. Why would people take garage sale signs?

Most people came Thursday. Even after putting up additional signs on Friday, not many people came. Saturday was slow as well. Sunday practically no one came.

A lot of people drove to the end of the driveway, and, without getting out of their cars, peered toward the garage, and then drove away. What’s that about?

Before the garage sale, I tried to sell my items to stores which buy and sell used items. They wouldn’t take my books…told me they were worthless. They wouldn’t take my VHS tapes…told me they were worthless. They wouldn’t take my records…told me they were worthless. They wouldn’t take my jigsaw puzzles…told me they were worthless. This was a primary reason for having a garage sale in the first place. All the VHS tapes sold. Nearly all of the books sold. A huge quantity of the jigsaw puzzles sold. All of the 45 rpm records sold (to 2 people) and about half the record albums (33-1/3 rpm) sold. So much for them being worthless. So much for the idea that no one would want any of them.
What people didn’t seem to want (i.e. I only sold a few of these items): they didn’t buy the handbags or tote bags. They didn’t buy the clothing. They didn’t buy the art prints (mostly nature prints). They didn’t buy the stuffed animals. They didn’t buy the doll clothes. I didn’t sell a single gift bag, though I had 3 bins.

Although I did sell a lot of items (Thursday, at least), I still have a lot of items remaining. I’ll probably have another garage sale later in the summer. Here’s what I think I’ll do:

1. Make sure I have plenty of extra signs, and check them every day.
2. Have a 2-day sale: Thursday and Friday.
3. Put some items out on a table on the driveway. 

Posted by Joan Marie Verba at 5/8/2009 10:13 AM

THUNDERBIRDS: COUNTDOWN TO ACTION! BY JOAN MARIE VERBA HAS RECEIVED 2 AWARDS

FTL Publications is delighted to announce that Thunderbirds: Countdown to Action! by Joan Marie Verba, is a Mom’s Choice Awards® Silver Recipient in the Young Adult: Fantasy, Myths & Legends category, and an Award-Winning Finalist in the Fiction and Literature: Young Adult Fiction category of the National Best Books 2008 Awards, sponsored by USA Book News.

The Mom’s Choice Awards® (MCA) is known for establishing the benchmark of excellence in family-friendly media, products and services. Countdown to Action! was named among the best in family-friendly media, products and services for 2009. Joan Marie Verba, author of Countdown to Action!, says, “I’m proud to have received this award. It is my goal to write family-friendly stories which can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. I’m so pleased that the Mom’s Choice Awards® committee has recognized these efforts.” A complete list of recipients can be found at: www.momschoiceawards.com/celebrate09.php.

USABookNews.com, the premiere online magazine and review website for mainstream and independent publishing houses, announced the winners and finalists of THE NATIONAL “BEST BOOKS” 2008 AWARDS (NBBA) in late 2008. Verba, says of this award, “I’m thrilled to have received this recognition for my first Thunderbirds™ novel. It’s a tribute to the Thunderbirds™ series that the novel did so well.” A complete list of the winners and finalists of the USABookNews.com National “Best Books” 2008 Awards is available online at www.USABookNews.com.

Countdown to Action! is a novel based on the Gerry Anderson production, Thunderbirds. The story tells how former astronaut Jeff Tracy, with the help of his five sons and trusted associates, put together a rescue organization to help people in danger who otherwise could not be helped by conventional rescue organizations, using their fleet of five ultra-high-tech Thunderbird air/space craft. Verba, a long-time fan of the series, says: “These stories of disaster and rescue really resonate with people.”
FTL Publications, which published Countdown to Action!, is a Minnetonka-based small press which has the only current license, and the only license in the world, from Granada Ventures in London to publish novels based on the British television series, Thunderbirds. The second novel in the series, Action Alert!, was published in November 2008. The third novel in the series is scheduled to be published in summer 2009.

Thunderbirds TM & © 1964, 1999 and 2008 ITC Entertainment Group Limited. ‘Thunderbirds’ is a Gerry Anderson Production. Licensed by Granada Ventures Ltd. All rights reserved.

Posted by Joan Marie Verba at 1/31/2009 8:59 PM

FOOD NOSTALGIA

As a formerly overweight person, I find that I have moments of what I call “food nostalgia.” I had one of those moments today when I went grocery shopping. As I entered the store, there was a table, and on the table were about a dozen round cakes, cut in half, and promoted as “half cakes.” They looked delicious! This brought back all the memories of happy times when I would see such an item in the grocery store, buy it, and spend the afternoon happily eating it and enjoying every lucious bite.

On the other hand, in the time of my life when I was doing that, I was obese.

Therefore, I don’t do that anymore. I walked past the cakes without taking one and bought the groceries I had planned to buy, nothing else. But I still have these nostalgic feelings from time to time, remembering when I would happily eat all I wanted. Fortunately, memories can be enjoyed without adding pounds.

Bottom line: been there, done that,  moved on.

Posted by Joan Marie Verba at 1/27/2009 7:33 PM

11 RANDOM ITEMS ABOUT ME

1. I have had asthma, eczema, and allergies all my life. In particular, I have had food allergies (primarily nuts, peanuts, and coconut), since infancy.
2. I hate going to the gas station. Therefore, I only drive when necessary. I will be happy when someone makes an affordable electric car that I can just plug in…at home!
3. I love St. Paul, Minnesota. I lived in Ramsey county for a while in the 1980s, and would love to buy a home there someday.
4. I have been a DC Comics fan since the 1960s. I started on Superman and Batman, and they still interest me, but my favorite DC Superheroes are the Legion of Super-Heroes (and my favorite there was Ferro Lad).
6. I never wear makeup. Can’t stand the stuff.
7. I was an overweight child and teenager. However, I lost weight in 1979 and have kept it off since then.
8. I took organ lessons when I was in high school but haven’t played since my freshman year in college. I may go back to that someday.
9. I watch TV nearly all day. The first thing I do in the morning is turn it on and the last thing I do at night is turn it off. I watched TV while doing math homework in high school and that never prevented me from getting all A’s. I have a lot of favorite TV shows, including Thunderbirds and Star Trek.
10.  I have very little interest in fashion, or clothes, or the latest trends. I wear what I think looks good, but I pay little attention to “designer labels.”
11.  I hate being cold. I feel cold at any temperature below 70 F. I love 90 F days and I hate air conditioning! Why do I live in Minnesota when I hate the cold? Because I feel that the advantages of living in Minnesota outweigh the weather disadvantages.

Posted by Joan Marie Verba at 1/24/2009 3:21 PM