Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Rest of the Story

Earlier today I shared coffee with a writer friend whose first novel is coming out in October. “I feel like I have imposter syndrome,” she said. “It’s as if I’m leading someone else’s life.” It’s a familiar feeling many of my author friends and I share: a belief that we’re all frauds. Maybe it’s the nature of creating stories that causes writers to feel like imposters. If we write fiction, we’re writing something that isn’t true. It’s all in our heads.

Except when the book goes out in the world, the story perpetuates into someone else’s consciousness. In The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, protagonist Daniel Sempere is taken to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books by his bookseller father, who tells his young son, “Every book has a soul…The soul of the person who wrote it and of  those who read it and lived and dreamed with it,” and later, he adds, “Every book you see here has been somebody’ best friend.”

Perhaps Kristen, my author friend, senses she no longer owns her story, or that she never owned it in the first place. Yes, she toiled over multiple drafts and comments from her critique partners. She bargained with her editor over its content. But the true soul of a book exists in those who read it.

Writing fiction is a vocation that doesn’t make sense. We spend months, sometimes years, listening to our imaginary friends tell their tales. We take their stories and translate them to pages for others to enjoy. It’s a daunting and impossible task. 

Once the story is released, you’re open to criticism. Even if a book is well received, there’s always that devil on your shoulder poking his fork into you, whispering, you’re a fraud.

In order to promote the book, an author needs to talk about the work with strangers. What inspired the story? How much of this is true? How much of you is in the book? Why should I read it? What’s it about? 
Sometimes we don’t know the answers to these questions. No wonder writers feel like imposters.

Yet we’re grateful to those of you who take a chance and read/fall in love with our novels and characters. 

The reasons we write are ineffable. Most of us don’t do it for the money. Writing is a compulsion, a romance with words, driven by a similar force that makes one person develop a passion for cars or math. 

 I just can’t tell you why.

The final installment in Michael and Shelly’s tale, THE LANGUAGE OF THE SON is available now in paperback, or pre-sale in eBook August 1.

I'd like to send a shout out to my awesome cover designer for this book and BLUE VALENTINES, Ashley Nicole Conway. You can find her on Facebook at Covered by Nicole. Because she's also a writer, she limits the number of cover clients she takes on, but she 's worth the wait.

Happy Reading!

Saturday, July 6, 2019

When Your Imaginary Friends Take Control

You may be wondering why I haven't posted in a couple of months. As you can see from the photo I've been busy writing the sequel to BREAKFAST WITH NERUDA. Since my publisher was not interested in this book, I'm opting to Independently publish it (and its sequel.) 

This means I'm now a "hybrid author." Two of my critique partners are also hybrids, and they coaxed me to give it a go.

After weighing the pros and cons, I reluctantly decided to journey down the self publishing path.

I choose my own cover designer and title, and have control over the book's content. I also manage the price points and decide when to put it on sale. Plus, any royalties come directly to me. In addition, I can update the book's content any time and own all the rights. No more sending out query after query to hear "not right for our list, we just published a similar title, we like the writing but didn't relate to the characters..." Yes, I could have continued to query, but I had two strikes against me:

One, while BREAKFAST WITH NERUDA is highly praised and was shortlisted for a major award, it didn't sell enough copies to set the world on fire. 'Writing is an art, publishing is a business' is a mantra we authors often hear at writer's conferences. You can craft beautiful sentences and well create developed characters in an engaging story, but if your book doesn't produce great sales figures in a short window of time, your next book is a harder sell.   

Two, the characters aged up a year. YA characters tend to max at age eighteen, but the protagonist Michael is now nineteen. Technically, they are New Adult, which is a dying (Maybe already dead) category.

Perhaps the third strike is Contemporary YA is a super crowded market. My characters aren't diverse enough to compete with filling the much needed gaps in the YA canon. So, the odds were ever not in my favor to go traditional this time.

I'm responsible for all the costs of cover design, formatting, editing, and advertising. In addition, I pay for all proofs and author copies and other marketing materials. I now have to pay attention to sales rankings, hone my subject categories, and fret over my pending obscurity.

Part of the reason BWN didn't sell is because I'm a terrible marketer. I want my clone to send out postcards and contact book bloggers to beg for reviews. There's a whole minefield of business practices indy writers must perform. By going rogue, I'm taking a huge risk because I don't have a clone, so it's all on me.

Having a big 5 publisher behind you gives you street cred in the trade. You're treated like a rock star at library and book conferences, and you make friends with other stars in the business. While it's waning somewhat, there's still a stigma against being "a self-published writer." 

So why am I doing this? 

Fans of BWN want to know what happens next with Michael and Shelly. I hadn't intended to write a series. My characters coerced me into it. I spent a lot of time with these people, and grew to love them. 

Also, I'm not prone to do the logical, practical thing. But I believe in these stories.

I'm also a fan of irony. While indy writers are relegated to a lower position on the pecking order compared to traditionally published writers, the irony is, a large percentage of indys make more money than their counterparts. The ones who make money and get great reviews go through the same careful process of creating a book. The difference is, we own all the stakes.  

The primary reason I'm indy publishing is I need these stories off my desk and out of my head so I can focus on my current (work in progress (WIP.) I'm 36,000 words into the next book (which will be a stand alone,) yet Michael and Shelly keep barking at me to get their story out there. These books are their fault.

The paperback of BLUE VALENTINES is out now, and the eBook is due out July 9, 2019.

The third and final book of the Michael/Shelly saga, THE LANGUAGE OF THE SON, will be coming in August. 

Happy Writing.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Snowflakes In a Blizzard

Unless you're named James Patterson, Stephen King, or Janet Evanovich, chances are nobody has heard of you or your books. Publishers place the majority of their eggs in high profile baskets. It's not personal; it's business. Big names means big book sales. Meanwhile, the rest of us struggle for an audience.

Bloggers such as Darrell Laurant understand the need to inform readers of great books that deserve more attention. "Each week we feature three books -- novels, non-fiction, poetry, short-story collections -- in individual posts that go out to over 3,000 blog followers, many of whom then share those posts on their own social media. Some of the authors we embrace are obviously in need of more exposure. In other cases, the inclusion of a book is simply an effort to get unique writing out to our blog followers.

"I'm doing this because I enjoy doing it, and because my own experience as a published author ("Inspiration Street," "The Kudzu Kid") has opened my eyes to the challenges facing today's writers. Beyond that, I am trying to expose potential readers to original work they might not learn about otherwise."

This week my novel, BREAKFAST WITH NERUDA, is featured on his site. I hope you enjoy reading his blog and find a few buried treasures there.

Learn more about Darrell, his books, and his page here.

Happy Reading and Writing.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

A community of Soloists

A few months ago I shared a book event with a writer I've "known" online for more than a year, but had never met in person. We met at a book event at Mother Foucault's Books in Portland, Oregon.

It turned out Sheryl Scarborough and I had more in common than just being YA writers with a ton of mutual writer friends. While my book is contemporary YA and Sheryl's is a YA mystery, the protagonists in both our recent books were searching for their missing fathers.

I love the odd confluence of  bringing our similarly themed books books together.  We writers tend to work alone, yet occasionally we convene and share our work. Within my critique group (there are four of us) we occasionally have a "mind melds" where a couple of us will use the same locations in our books. In a funny coincidence, two of my peers had characters nicknamed "Boo."

So while we are soloists, we writers are also part of a larger choir. We share similar dreams of getting our books published, making appearances, and perfecting our craft. Yet ultimately our goals are to engage readers and build an audience. So even though Sheryl and I had not met in person, we eased into a conversation as if we'd been friends for years. It reminded me of times I've heard musicians walk on stage and "jam, "producing extraordinary music without ever having met before.

In another odd coincidence Sheryl and I both had surgery on our right knees, so we're both learning how to walk again without pain..

Happy holidays.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Characters vs. Author: The Battle Ensues

When BREAKFAST WITH NERUDA came out in 2016, I thought I was finished with the book..But my imaginary friends had other plans. Shelly and Michael appeared in my dreams with more scenes, locations and plot ideas. They have tortured my imagination, so now it's my turn to torture them back with more conflict, obstacles, and antagonists.

Yet with each arrow I sling at them, they exact revenge by taking the plot wayyyyy off course, causing me to write thousands of unnecessary scenes. Why did I like these people in the first place?

Each day I face the computer I think, I have no idea what I'm doing. Yet I pound the keys anyway. I tried taking the advice of planning things out, but I'm a 'pantser,' through and through. However, I do have a log line, which acts as a beacon. So I'm not paddling a canoe in the ocean. More like a tub boat low on fuel.

Friends don't let friends write novels.

Enter to win a FREE autographed copy of Breakfast With Neruda.

Happy Writing.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Stop and Smell the Flowers

Finding a decent parking spot in Edmonds, Washington, is about as likely as winning the lottery, so finding one so sinfully close to downtown felt like a win. Instead of the usual half mile or more trek to my destination, I was a little over two blocks from the Louvre Cafe for a meeting. Not only was the parking fortuitous, I discovered a store I hadn't seen before: Pelindbaba Lavendar.

The store is dedicated to a variety of products made from lavender. Known for its calming properties, several products use lavender, such as lotion, soaps, and room spray. As soon as I walked in, I bathed in the aroma of the flower. Lavender possesses one of the most luscious scents in nature.

On a trip to France, I had come across lavender chocolate, and this store sells bars of it in milk and dark chocolate. I'm surprised by the number of other items made from lavender, such as tea. I was immediately offered a sample of lavender tea. Expecting it to be flowery and scented, the tea had a slightly spicy flavor and a mellow aroma.

Walking through the store I recalled the lavender shrubs I planted between my roses when I still owned a home. My goal was to deflect the deer. Deer still ate my rose blossoms, but they left the purple flowers alone, so my yard always smelled nice in the summer. I periodically snipped sprigs from the bushes and placed them in vases throughout the house.

Aromatherapy specialists agree that spraying one's bedroom and sheets with lavender aids in reducing stress. Note: use real lavender, not something concocted in a lab. You can smell the difference. Lavender is one of those scents that pairs well with others, such as mint or rosemary, which can boost its medicinal properties.

One of my favorite recent discoveries is goat's milk soap made with lavender. The goat's milk makes the skin soft as a baby's butt, and the aroma lasts until the bar is gone. This shop offers several varieties of bar and liquid soaps scented in lavender. The store also carries cosmetics, honey, jams and jellies, diffusers, candles, jewelry, and home and pet products, all made from locally grown lavender in the San Juans.

As I stroll through the shop, the subtle aroma feels like a calming hand on a sunny day. If you're feeling a little stressed, stop and smell the lavenderat this locally owned establishment.

Happy Spring!.

Monday, March 5, 2018

My Frankennovel Tale

You may have noticed my absence these past four months. I've been steadily working on what I believed was the final draft of my follow up novel to BREAKFAST WITH NERUDA. For nearly three years I've been accumulating words, adding scenes and chapters, moving things around, and rewriting the beginning. An earlier draft was rejected by my editor at Merit, with the comment the stakes weren't high enough. So I examined the book again, chapter by chapter, and reordered scenes and re drafted from the beginning.

At 72,000 words I thought the book was finished. Yet I accumulated more rejections. While most of the agents I sent this to complimented the writing and the well developed characters, they couldn't relate to the story.

And that was the problem. When people asked me what my book was about, the best answer I could come up with is "about 300 pages" because I had no story.

Had I wasted three years on writing a book going nowhere? Yes and no.

Yes, because I spent 3-4 hours every day, including holidays, on this set of characters and their journey. I worried about Michael, Shelly and the others. In addition, I spent many hours researching environment and oceanography to provide authenticity to one of my characters. (The result of that is I now know how precarious our future is. Dystopian novels are within inches of being reality.)

Yet no, the time was  not wasted because I know everything about my characters-- much more than the reader will know. Most of the 72,000 words are unusable. At least in this story. I may be able to use some scenes in a subsequent story.

So I set aside what I called my Frankennovel, and with the help of a few writer friends' suggestions, started over. The last chapter of my 72,000 piece became the first chapter of the novel that seemed to write itself in three months.

How was this possible? First, I stopped working on the Frankenovel for a couple of weeks. Instead, I read. STORY GENIUS, WIRED FOR STORY, THE ANATOMY OF STORY, and TAKE OFF YOUR PANTS. While reading the first three books listed I learned I had no sense of story, and my book had a theme, but no concept All of these guides include exercises to question what is at the core of my story. The fourth book helped me see how being a panster vs. a plotter is an inefficient ay to write. all these books taught me if you can't define the truth behind your tale in a sentence, there's a problem.

It took me 72,000 words to find the inciting incident. Once I isolated that final chapter from the Frankennovel, I was able to move the real story forward. Same characters and location, but only about 15,000 words of the Frankennovel survived, written in as flashbacks. Other than what is now Chapter One, the rest of the tale is new.

The new manuscript weighs in at 76,000 words. My critique group is helping point out where the book sags and where it sings. The best part is I can now sum it up in one sentence. (which I won't tell you yet...sorry.) Having that logline is a beacon to keep me on track so I don't invent great scenes (like the funny one in Costco) that have nothing to do with the plot. Like Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars film, my mantra has become "stay on target."

Stay tuned. Once this baby is ready to submit, I'll let you know more details. Meanwhile, back to revision.

Happy Writing.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Anonymous Is My Biggest Fan

I welcome comments on my blog. Anonymous is my most faithful commentator. He regularly chimes in with gems like "More and more actresses and singers are going thick like Sofia Vergara" and "it will have two of you smiling, which will have everyone wandering reason for so happy in the end of this time." It was in response to a guest post by Judith Works about finding an old reader's journal. On a piece about finding articles on the back pages of Google, Anonymous said, "just desire to say your article is as amazing."

Sometimes Anonymous responds in Spanish, such as this response to writing about my white cat. "Se alguem desejos pora ser altualiz mais recentes technologias." Granted, I had called the blog post El Gato Blanco vs. Los Humanos.

Anonymous is also concerned that I find the cheapest car insurance possible.

Sometimes my heart bleeds for her. "The other day my sister stole my iphone wile I was at work and tested it to see if it can survive a 25 foot drop, just so she can be a Youtube sensation. My ipad is now destroyed and she has 83 views. I know this is totally off topic but I had to share it with someone!

So I tip my hat to you, Anonymous. Thanks for all the accolades, advice and anecdotes.
Meanwhile, enjoy the photo of my book's fraternal twin.

 Happy Writing all you nanowrimos out there.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Little Do We Know

Yesterday I attended a memorial celebration for someone I knew when he and I were kids. We weren't exactly friends. Floyd was a year ahead of me in my brother Paul's class, but we all attended a small American school, so even if we traveled in different circles, everyone knew each other's names. Floyd was quiet and bookish and not prone to mischief like the rest of us in 7th and 8th grade. I don't recall him being bullied; he just flew under the radar.

Fast forward more than forty years. His younger sister Susanne and I have been Facebook friends for awhile and even though our families moved to various spots on the globe, we all ended up in the Pacific Northwest. It turns out Floyd has been living in Seattle for the past 30 years but he and I never got together, but now that I have met his friends and heard stories about him, I wish we had.

His two sisters hosted the memorial in Floyd's apartment, which is tastefully decorated with Asian art he collected over the years. Rather than it being a somber occasion where everyone wore black, the party was a festive dedication to Floyd's life. On a corner table Susanne had set up a continuous slide show with photos from Floyd's baby years up to his recent demise. Each guest saw moments from his life where they recalled him best.

At one point in the party Susanne and their other Kate invited friends to tell tales about Floyd. Most of these were funny, such as the man who said he met Floyd thirty years ago at a local watering hole. "This guy bumped into to me, wearing a pink shirt, and announced himself as "Pink Floyd." We've been friends ever since."

The quiet kid I barely noticed in school had developed into a well read person with a litany of interests. His walls contained framed art, carefully placed on the walls, that he bought from his many journeys. His furniture was worn, but complemented the space. The friends I met recounted having many great conversations in Floyd's living room, and it was a place, with its balcony view of woods and several glowing the lamps, that welcomed visitors.

As the party was ending Susanne asked guests to feel free to take a small remembrance of Floyd. She had set some items on the credenza to choose from.  Later, in the kitchen, she and I talked about my writing, and my being active with local writing groups. She asked if I knew children's book author and illustrator Kevan Atteberry. I said I did. She reached above the sink and pulled a small painting off the wall. "I want you to have his, then." It was an Atteberry she had bought for Floyd as a gift.

Even though I didn't know Floyd well, it's nice to see he had an interesting life, and now something he enjoyed looking at is now hanging above my own kitchen sink.

Happy Writing.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Where have I Been?

I have not vanished from the face of the earth. Figuratively perhaps, but not technically. I've been engaged in major revisions on my latest novel, writing query letters and synopses and querying to literary agents. Plus I'm still doing a weekly podcast .

But I have not forgotten about my blog. My writing partner-in-crime Christine Kohler and I are planning to guest blog on one another's blogs, so stay tuned.

If you're looking for a great book recommendation on building your novel or short story, read Lisa Cron's WIRED FOR STORY . She's also the author of STORY GENIUS.

Meanwhile, enjoy Pablo the cat as he tries to figure out how to get out of the laundry basket.

Happy Writing.