Saturday, June 25, 2016

Overcoming Writer's Block

I don't think I've ever suffered from writer's block. I mean true writer's block. Now, before you other authors start throwing things at me, let me explain. I might look at things from a slightly different perspective.

So often times I've heard or read that in order to be a writer, a real writer, one needs to write every single day. One needs to force him/herself into their chair and push a certain amount of words out no matter what. I don't agree with this philosophy. If it's not there for me creatively, I don't force it. There is always something going on in my head. I'm always mulling a story line, a section of dialogue, a plot twist, a new idea over in my mind. I don't stress out if it doesn't get into the computer or onto paper right away ... and I don't write everyday. Am I still a writer? You bet I am.

I've been writing for a long time. I wasn't serious about novel writing until about four years ago, but I've always written. I've published four novels and am working on five and six simultaneously right now. I've done it long enough to know that if it isn't there, I'm wasting my time by hitting the keys. I'll just go back to what I wrote at a later time and erase the whole damn thing. If it isn't there, what comes out is worthless, and I wind up rewriting it later. I write it spurts. Some days I produce 3,000 words or more ... and there are weeks when I don't write even near that amount. When it comes, it flows. When it's sitting in my head, not quite formed, I leave it alone. I don't stress. I allow it to build a bit. When the story is ready to be told, it will let me know. It always lets me know.

Friday, June 17, 2016

My book "movie" dream cast

As I'm writing a book, I like to have a face to go with my characters. I know what I want them to look like, but it's fun to have an actual photo. It's also fun for me to show my readers how I picture the characters I've presented to them. 

Very rarely do actual actors pop into my head when I think about characters ... but on three separate occasions they have. Here is the cast of characters I set for the Gannon Family Series:

The only character here that is a well known actor is Colin O'Donoghue, whom I had pictured in my head while writing Keene. 

Here is the cast of characters for Goddess of Tornado Alley: (This is for the first book, Dead Beat Dates & Deities.)

The only well known actor from this cast is a young Harvey Fierstein. His demeanor and his voice were absolutely perfect for the character of Curtis, and I can't imagine him being anyone else.

I am in the process of writing Brides, Beasts & Baklava right now, which is the second book in Goddess of Tornado Alley. Peri Collins is a character who was introduced in the first book, but who has a much bigger role in the second. The actress that popped into my head while writing Peri is Alicia Witt.

I intentionally look for 'characters' who aren't actors ... I'm not exactly sure why. Perhaps they feel more personal to me that way, but sometimes a famous person sneaks in there. Now, if somebody somewhere wanted to make one of my books into a movie, I'd push all that aside and jump at the chance to do some Hollywood casting. :)

Friday, June 10, 2016

My top five books - and why

Sophia Valentine really challenged me with this post. I'll be honest, I started thinking about this one a week ago because how in the world am I supposed to choose only five favorite books?!?!

This is not really a problem ... I mean, I love to read. I have a lot of favorites, and that is a wonderful thing in my opinion. So, I decided to write about my five favorite books RIGHT NOW. Admittedly, a couple of these have been my favorites for many years ... and they will most likely always appear on any favorite list I might compile in the future. There's no way I'll ever stop reading ... and there are so many remarkable, memorable books out there. So, here is my current list (in no particular order) of five favorites and why I love them so much.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Yeah, I know. Huge surprise. Me and a bazillion other people - but it's true. Since my English teacher introduced me to it in ninth grade, I have absolutely loved this book. I've read it many, many times since then, (ninth grade was an incredibly long time ago and I've had lots of opportunities). I find myself navigating toward it when things in my life go all pear shaped. This book makes me feel like things are going to be okay. It's almost like a really good therapist. Sometimes bad things happen. There isn't always a happy ending, but still, life is good. I wrote a post about this book back in 2013. If you're interested in reading it, you can find it here. My favorite line? The very end when Scout says, "Hey, Boo." It transforms me and brings a smile to my face every single time.

Swan Peak by James Lee Burke

James Lee Burke is my all time favorite author, no question. I've read about thirty of his books. (There are twenty in his Dave Robicheaux series alone.) Every time I pick up one of his novels it's a huge event in my life. Never have I read anyone who writes like Burke, (although now I've found someone who is a little similar. See below.) His prose flows like water, and he's so incredibly descriptive that I get hopelessly caught up in his literary world. I'm a big southern fiction fan. Burke's Robicheaux series takes place mainly in Iberia Parish, Louisiana. I've loved every book in this series, but I chose Swan Peak for this list because there was something a little different about the feel of this book. I was almost sure this was the last of the series, and the way Burke wrote the end of this novel had me so emotionally wrought ... well, okay, I'll admit it, it was kind of ridiculous, but my feelings were genuine. I know it has to come to an end eventually, but as soon as I finish one book, I find myself hoping for another. James Lee Burke is the only author whose books I cannot wait to buy, but then wait to read them once I have them. I anticipate them so much that I don't want the experience to be over with too soon.

Billy Purgatory: I Am the Devil Bird by Jesse James Freeman

This is a new favorite for me. Freeman's writing reminds me a little of James Lee Burke's - which was very unexpected (and exciting) for me. This book is one of the most imaginative, creative, surprising books I've ever read. There is so much here, and put into the hands of any other author, I'm fairly certain it would have become a jumble. Freeman, however, is a plotting genius, and the whole thing moves (more like flies) forward without a hitch. There are vampires, fortune tellers, Greek gods, a time zombie ... and of course, Billy Purgatory himself. Freeman's writing is absolutely lyrical and wonderfully confident, and he's got a gift for character development. The story is serious and sad at times, but also very funny and packed with action. The more I read the more I wanted to read. (Thankfully this is the first book in a series.) I can't think of a single thing about this novel that I didn't absolutely love.

I've read this book at least a dozen times. It just always appeals to me when I see it peering at me from my bookshelves. The story takes place in Louisiana, (there's that southern fiction thing again) in 1956. Sissy has been trapped in a sham marriage for years and finds herself wondering if she could end it all by pouring some aspirin into her Coke bottle. Then Parker Davidson, her high school sweetheart who left town fourteen years previous, shows up again, and Sissy's life starts to get real exciting. Sissy compiles little words of wisdom that she adds to the Southern Belle's Handbook she's writing in her head. Some gems are "Love is like cigarettes. It gives you a little pleasure while you're at it, but it leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth and a pain in your chest." and "It's okay for a woman to know her place. She just shouldn't stay there." This is just an incredible romp through Sissy's interesting and eventful life ... and Despres tells it with such a sense of humor that even thinking about this book makes me chuckle.

Predator's Game by S.L. Shelton

This series ... writer S.L. Shelton has really taken me on a crazy ride with this one. I ran across the second book, Unexpected Gaines while I was taking part in a review group with Goodreads. I have never been a fan of spy thrillers, but this series is the exception. Shelton grabbed my attention with his intriguing cast of characters and his writing style. I have enjoyed all six of the Scott Wolfe novels, but Predator's Game is my favorite ... probably because it's a little imore emotional than the others, and Scott, who is a serious badass, shows quite a bit of vulnerability in this book. S.L. Shelton's books play out like Jason Bourne movies. There is a lot of action - so much so that there is very little letdown throughout the entire story. Shelton has a talent for manipulation; one second I'm incredibly happy, the next I'm ready to throw my Kindle across the room, (only to retrieve it again because I can't not know what happens.) Shelton's books are not the fast food variety. I am always sure to be well rested before jumping into one of his tales, because I usually can't stop reading it until I've come to the end.

*I posted an author spotlight for S.L. Shelton when Predator's Game was released. If you're interested in reading it, you can find it here.

So, there you have it! Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go and find some more favorite books to read.

Friday, June 3, 2016

A Day in My LIfe

Right now, it's about nine am on a glorious, early summer morning. I'm sipping a small chai tea, (cold, because that's the way I like them) with a 50 lb chocolate lab under my desk sniffing my bare toes. The chai could be larger ... my daughter, Maya also loves the stuff, and rarely leaves me as much as I'd like. The dog? Well, it would be better if she were smaller, especially since she's always under my desk ... but both she and her sister are only eight months old, so I think they still have some growing to do.

Phoebe and Ursula
Today is perhaps not the best example of a normal day ... we are just beginning our summer break from school, and my daughter is with my husband, standing in line at the DMV where she is waiting to take a written test for her drivers permit. My son, Scott, is downstairs, most likely trying to sleep through the cavorting and playing over-sized puppies making a huge ruckus above his head, and I am thinking about what we can do as a family once everyone is back home again because my hubby has the week off work. 

A normal day in my life? Well ... that goes something more like this ...

I am a homeschooling mom. I have been for thirteen years. I remember our first day well. It was on May 4th, just one day after Maya celebrated her fourth birthday. We were living in Castle Rock, Colorado, just about an hour north of where we're at now. We sat in our red kitchen at the little round dining table and Maya learned how to read and write and tell time. Scott was six months old when we began our homeschooling journey.

Now it's a bit different. Maya turned seventeen a month ago, and Scott is halfway to his fourteenth year. I get up at around 6:30 every morning and release the hounds. (Do you have any idea just how much energy two chocolate lab puppies contain in their strong, sleek, clumsy bodies?) They have a tendency to jump the fence down in the far corner. I guess the grass is greener in our sweet, very patient neighbor's yard, so I sit on the top step of our deck and watch them like a blurry-eyed hawk while they cavort and pee and run and pee and chase one another and pee. Then it's breakfast time for the pooches, and, if I'm lucky, I get a couple of hours to sit and write.

This is Mouse. He lives here, too, but he doesn't cavort. He's a pretty good cuddler, though.
From about sevenish until about nine thirty, I try to be as creative as I can be. Of course this time period includes about a hundred trips back outside where I sit on that top step and holler at the dogs, (mostly Phoebe, who is the smaller of the two, and definitely the most cunning) and drink chai, (if Maya has left me any) or hot coffee sweetened with cinnamon vanilla creamer. When I'm lucky, these two hours produce big word counts ... sometimes, not so much. A lot depends upon how many times I have to defend my toes from hot, soft puppy tongues. It also depends on how distracted I am by Facebook and/or Pinterest. (I'm addicted to Pinterest, y'all. Addicted and not looking for ways of recovery.)

At ten, our school day begins. The kids, especially now that they're older, do a lot of their classes online. Maya has taken and received credit for several college level courses in psychology, biology and English. Scott, who should be ready to start the eight grade because of his age, is about to become a freshman in high school. That kid is much smarter than I'll ever be, so I make sure he gets his core curriculum in, and in his spare time, he writes code, watches documentaries and taps away at the keyboard doing God knows what. I know that he's writing a story, perhaps the beginnings of a book, but he won't let me read it. Since it isn't for school, I don't press the matter. He'll probably be a best selling author one day ... show me up big time.

We usually study until about noon, and that's when we have our lunch break. After lunch, it's back to class until around three. I usually just make sure both kids are following and checking assignments off of their curriculum, (if it isn't a course online, it's one I've gone through and organized for them). They've gotten older now, and are responsible kiddos. (They test like public school kids do at the end of the year with a national standardized test ... not graded by me.) Maya's studying both French and German. The French I'm helpful with ... the German ... eh, not so much. I've re-read many books with her in the last couple of years ... To Kill a Mockingbird, The Crucible, The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn ... not to mention some of the great poets such as Whitman, Dickinson and Poe (just to name a few). In January, she'll be taking a few classes at Pike's Peak Community College, and will have a good amount of college credit under her belt before she graduates high school in a year. We run around a bit during the day sometimes. We have a great library which houses a homeschooling resource center. That's where we find our science labs and other essentials for class. We don't have a set schedule ... not like we did when they were younger. Now they have a curriculum and they know when everything needs to be done. Sometimes they work on one subject for a long period of time, sometimes they work on six classes in a school day. It all depends on the day.

School ends at about the same time my husband, Steven, gets home from work. (He leaves the house at 4:30 am!) That's chill out time for a bit until it's time to start dinner. Scotty usually prepares meals with me. (I'm still a bit like Nemo ... one fin is weaker than the other.) Dinner is spread out. We are in the process of remodeling our family room downstairs, and the kids and I work at the dining room table. Sometimes we eat while watching a movie, sometimes I go downstairs and hang out with Steven. Someday soon we'll have meal time back at the table where it belongs. We just kind of go with the flow.

Because Steven gets up before the sun, he goes to bed super early. That's when I go back to work. It's in these couple of hours that I do a lot of my editing and more writing ... and, if I can, I do some reading here, as well. Then it's off to bed for me between ten and eleven ... I'm tired from all the cavorting and peeing and toe licking by then, and it's time to put the puppies to bed. We all need rest so we can start it over again the next day.

Is it glamorous? Not so much. Is it exciting? Well ... sometimes it can be, but I suppose that depends upon individual perspective. It is mine, though, and I love it. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Oh, and I just got word that Maya now has her permit. That means we'll be doing a lot of instructional driving this summer before our normal day to day kicks in again in August. :)

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A little (or not so little) about a lot

Today is June 1st. The date is significant to me, but not because it marks an anniversary, or a loved one's birthday. It's important because it brings something in my everyday world to a close ... and is the beginning of another exciting chapter in this wonderful thing called life.

I haven't written about this. I've chosen not to. I just needed a little time. I'm ready now.

In February of 2015, I got a job as an editor and proofreader with Booktrope Publishing. I came across the company quite by accident. I learned about them through another indie author whose books I had enjoyed and then later befriended. She announced the acceptance of her manuscript on her Facebook wall, and then mentioned in passing that I might want to check them out. At the time, I had published both The Color of Thunder and Alabama Skye through Xlibris Publishing, and, while my first go around was fantastic, my second experience had left a bad taste in my mouth. I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do with a third book, but I knew I wouldn't be going through Xlibris again. I thought maybe I'd like to have a go at self-publishing. I'd had a lot of conversations with other authors who had gone that route and been successful. Editing and proofreading for Booktrope, however ... now that sounded like something I wanted to give some serious thought to. 

I wasn't new to this kind of work. I've loved the written word since as far back as I can remember, and I've been reading and writing since I was a small child. I'd worked with two different publishers; one as a jack of all trades who did a little bit of everything that was needed to put together a nationally distributed magazine, and one as a writer of everything homeschooling. I'd been a photographer, a layout designer, an editor, a proofreader, a writer and all around super secretary. I'd taken a long hiatus, but had it in my mind that I might want to start my own editing and proofreading company someday. I hadn't held a paying job since December, 2000, but this, I thought, this was something I could be good at, and it might give me a little more experience before jumping into something on my own.

One of the requirements to apply for a job with Booktrope was to set up a LinkedIn account. I'd had no reason to do so before, but as I was putting my profile together, filling in all the blanks, I realized that I'd actually accomplished quite a bit, considering the fact that I'd been a stay at home/homeschooling mom for two kids for nearly fifteen years. I took a lot of time building that online resume. (It's here if you'd like to take a look.) 

When I started with Booktrope, I had no idea how to do anything. I was a little intimidated, but excited, too, and I jumped right in. The company was based on a team publishing concept. There was the author, a book manager, a project manager, cover designer, editor, proofreader and a marketing director. I went through and read the synopsis' for many books and chose a couple that I was interested in. The first author I got to work with was Allison J. Kennedy, and then I signed on to work with author Jennifer Sivec. It just kind of snowballed from there.

This past February, I celebrated my one year anniversary with Booktrope. By that time I'd jumped into the self-publishing pool with A Skye Full of Stars, the second book in The Gannon Family Series. I didn't really know what I was doing. The formatting of both print and ebook versions were a bit of a nightmare, but I got through it ... and I had decided that I probably wasn't going to try to become a Booktrope author, although I was still enjoying my role with the company as editor and proofreader. I wasn't making much money, but I was gaining a lot more than financial revenue. I had worked on more than a dozen books by then, and become close to a great number of authors and other Booktrope staff. Quitting, or not being a part of Booktrope at that time, was the farthest thing from my mind. I still thought about starting up my own business, but I was being kept busy working for my BT authors. 

The first week of April, I handed over my finished manuscript for Dead Beat Dates & Deities to my beta readers. Book number four! I'd managed to write it in about three months, (wrist injury and all) and I was really excited about it. Once it was in my readers' hands, I took on two more proofreading jobs for Booktrope; Freedom's Treasure by author A.K. Lawrence, and Boys, Dogs & Chaos by Stephanie Kepke. I'd worked with both of these remarkable authors before, and jumped into these projects with enthusiasm. I had just finished work for A.K. Lawrence, and was halfway through Stephanie's manuscript when I saw the announcement on Facebook that Booktrope was closing up shop. That bit of news came on April 30th. It was a Friday, and at the end of the business day when it was revealed.

The first thing I felt was surprise. I wasn't involved, nor did I have any knowledge about the inner workings of Booktrope. I was just happily working with my authors, reading and editing and doing what I love to do. I wasn't sure how the team concept was working, or how successful it was proving to be. I knew I wasn't making much money from it, but I had no idea how the health of the company as a whole was faring. Apparently, not so well. 

It was a really rough weekend. I read countless posts on Facebook from my fellow Tropers, and so many of them were heartbroken and devastated. I do what I always do ... I stayed positive. I was there for them as much as I could be. They were looking at the reality of having their books vanish from Amazon in another four weeks. They were looking at having to self publish, or to find another publisher who would take them and their books on. They were looking at the daunting task of trying to be marketing gurus, managers, layout designers and editors as well as authors, or trying to come up with the money to hire others to provide the services they felt uncomfortable performing on their own. They also had to figure out the legalities of everything. We all sign contracts when a team forms and the process of publishing a book gets underway. Each one of the team members receives a certain percentage ... and those contracts are good for a five year time span. Now those authors were faced with the thought of paying future royalties, buying their covers back from the designers and cutting their way through a bunch of red tape. 

My position was different than theirs. I had just celebrated the cover reveal for Dead Beat Dates & Deities six days before ... and was anticipating a big two-day book launch three weeks later. I'm sure now that I look back on it, that I wasn't really thinking about how the end of Booktrope was going to affect me. I was really thinking about all of my authors, and those other members of the company who I'd grown fond of and close to. I became a co-admin for a new FB group called The Book Lounge in an effort to support and keep morale up, and I absolved every single one of my authors any responsibility for further royalties.

That weekend was also a very productive one. That editing and proofreading business I said I wanted to start? Well, I did it. By Sunday, Wing Family Editing had been born, and it was up and running on May 1st with four jobs in the first week.


As the month of May progressed, I kept busy with homeschooling, the cover reveal, and then the huge release party my insanely wonderful PA, Samantha organized and hosted for me. It wasn't until last week, after deciding I should log onto my profile to pull any necessary files before June 1st and the total shutdown of Booktrope, did the reality of it all hit me. I looked at my grid of projects and there they were ... every one of the sixteen books that I'd worked on, listed one by one next to all of their beautiful covers. That's when I got sad. That's when I cried and mourned the end of a wonderful part of the last fourteen months of my life.

The end of Booktrope gave me the kick in the pants I needed to get Wing Family Editing up and running. (It goes to show what you can accomplish in two days when you really set your mind to it.) I'm happy about that. I'm also incredibly grateful for the experience I got while working for the company ... but most of all, I'm grateful that I got the opportunity to meet and work with and get to know an amazing group of fellow authors who became my friends. Some of them became very good friends, and I will treasure them always. I'd say I gained a whole lot more than I lost.

June 1st means I am now officially self-employed. (Deep, cleansing breath. I'm feeling pretty good about this!) It also marks the end of my self allowed writing break. The official launch date for Dead Beat Dates & Deities was May 21 & 22nd. Break time is over. It's time to jump head first into book number two. Brides, Beasts & Baklava, here I come!