Sunday, December 10, 2017

A Warm Winter Skye - The Book That Almost Wasn't

"Some of you may not know this, but I wrote Alabama Skye as a stand-alone novel. I wanted to tell the story of the relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughterone that closely resembled the one I shared with my Mimi. It wasn’t until readers began to tell me that they didn’t think the storyparticularly Noah’s was finished did I even think about making Alabama Skye the first book of a series. Come to find out, there was a lot more story to be told. You readers are pretty smart. If it hadn’t been for you, A Skye Full of Stars would never have been written, and neither would the upcoming Under a Southern Skye. Let this be proof that authors are always paying attention to those of you who are invested in our books."
This is what I wrote on the Acknowledgements page in the new Gannon book I just finished over the weekend. I hit 'publish' late Saturday night, and am waiting for Amazon to finish their review of the files. This book came as a surprise to me. Up until a few months ago, I didn't know I'd be writing it.  An author's brain, man. It's a mysterious place. Even - or especially - for the author.

Every book has a story behind it. This one isn't any different. Although it turned out completely different than I thought it would when the first idea hit me. 

I had written a lot for A Skye Full of Stars that didn't actually make it into the book. Most of what got cut was written about Noah and the relationship that was forming between her and Keene. I wrote that book differently than the others. There were two story lines - Meara/Cheney and then Noah - and after I'd combined the two, then read through the first draft, it felt much heavier on Noah's side. I didn't want that to be the case, so I did some cutting.

I'm glad I did. As I stated above, I never had any intention on writing Stars. That seems crazy to me now because it's one of my personal favorites, but it's true. I love the way Stars turned out. I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

Apparently, I still felt that way even after deciding to use what I'd cut for a short story in the series, because once I started writing, the story took on a whole different direction than I'd imagined it would. Instead of being focused on Noah and Keene, it took a bit of a turn. The more I thought about it, the more I decided it was Guthrie that I wanted to write about. Noah and Keene are still there - but they aren't the main focus. No ... Guthrie and her lovable stuffed sloth, Noodle, wound up taking center stage.

If you aren't familiar with The Gannon Family series, I don't want to give anything away. I really dislike spoilers, so I'll try to be careful here. At the beginning of Alabama Skye, the first book in the series, Greer, one of the main characters, is three months pregnant. During the course of the novel, she gives birth to a baby girl named after her grandmother, Sarah Guthrie Gannon. 

The more I thought about the story brewing in my head, the more it became about Guthrie, and what she meant to her parents, Greer and Jimmy. Of course, that made me think of my own kids, and the fact that there is nothing in this world I wouldn't do for them. A plot began to weave itself together, and I started to get excited. Something was forming, and I was liking it. I was liking it a lot.

This one was emotional - as all of the Gannon novels have been. Those of you who are fans of the series know that going in, right?

I've cried while writing every one of these novels. This one was no exception. This is a novella ... it finished up at just a tad bit under the 30K word mark. I knew it would be a shorter story from the beginning ... but I think, while it's smaller, it's also pretty big, too. 

This one is dedicated to Maya and Scott, my kids and two of the most incredible, special people I've ever known.
"Because of the two of you, I’m lucky enough to know what it is to be a mom. It’s the most wonderful thing I’ve ever experienced, and by far the one thing I’m the most grateful for in my life. Elements of both Maya and Scotty’s personalities can be found in Guthrie. Sweet, sassy, intelligent, funny, kind and brave. It was them I drew from while writing her. I know Jimmy and Greer well… I am absolutely familiar with the knowledge that a parent will do anything in the world for their child. Without question. I have some experience with the bad guy, as well. Thank goodness neither of my kids do.

For those of you who may be wondering … yes, there really is a Noodle. Okay, he isn’t a sloth, he’s a leopard, and his name isn’t Noodle, it’s Spot … but, well, you see what I did there. Just like Noodle, Spot was freed from a lifetime of sitting in a gift shop at the zoo, and he was loved … oh, how he was loved." 
Noodle the sloth
I pulled out all the stops for this novella. I had a 'be a character' contest, throwing all the names of the readers that left reviews for Alabama Skye and/or A Skye Full of Stars into a hat and drawing the winning name. I actually chose two ... it's so hard to have just one winner. Misty Nickels became one character - a spunky beautician and a good friend of Noah's - and Graham Griffiths played the part of Santa Claus. I'm also having a launch party on Facebook, hosted by the amazing Samantha Soccorso, on December 16th and 17th. We're giving away a big box of prizes to one lucky winner - just one this time, unfortunately. 

You can check out my street team on Facebook to find out how you can win this assortment of goodies. There's lots of prizes here ... and even your own Noodle!

I'm glad I wrote A Warm Winter Skye. I'm proud of this story, and I hope you all love it just as much as I do.

Monday, October 9, 2017

An essay about The Color of Thunder

At the end of last year, I sat down and I mapped out all of my writing projects for 2017. This sounded like a solid plan. I figured that if I had everything all organized, It would be easier to stick to a schedule. It didn't actually work that way. Brides, Beasts & Baklava was supposed to release in February, but it didn't launch until late July. The re-release of The Color of Thunder was scheduled for September 23rd. It's still not ready to go. That one has some legalities tied to it, though, and not completely under my control. I have a Gannon Family Series novella planned to release in December. So far I think I might hit that target, but I'm reluctant to say for sure. My point is that this schedule of mine didn't work out so well. If I can launch this Christmas book like I want to, I can boast three releases for the year. That's more than I've ever done in a twelve month time period, which is fantastic. Still, I might need to rethink my plan for 2018.
When I thought I had a solid release set up for The Color of Thunder, I jumped at the chance to appear on Tam May's Author Dream Blog when she asked. She does an Author Dream Series that I wanted to take part in, and I wanted the piece I wrote for her to coincide with the re-launch of the book. A lot of stuff happened between February and the end of September. The book isn't out yet, but I did write the post. You can see it here on Tam's blog if you'd like. I also wanted to include it on my own blog. I'm shooting for a November launch for the book. Right now, I'm thinking that looks pretty doable.

I was an only child until I was five, and even when the man who would eventually become my stepdad came into my life, bringing with him a daughter and a son, I still felt very much as though I had no siblings. Their dad was married to my mom, but the three of us had other parents in other homes. Divorce has a funny way of splitting families into complicated pieces. They were a part of my family, but I only saw them occasionally. We did many things together, but we were separated enough in our own day to day lives that my only child status always felt firmly intact.

Both of my parents worked, and because I was often alone, make believe was a place I visited a lot. I became quite talented in the art of entertaining myself, and I had a vivid imagination. I can’t remember when I began reading. I know that my mom read to me daily as a child, and I always had a wide assortment of books to choose from. She loved to read, and thankfully, she shared that love with me. Immersing myself in fictional stories has always been a favorite past time, since as far back as I can recall, and my busy brain spun some wildly creative tales when I wasn’t reading those written in books.

Two things have forever been the foundation of dreams for me. I never had the desire to be a nurse or a lawyer. Being a part of the business world, wearing dress clothes and high heels was never one of my goals. Before anything else, my dream was to become a mom. I knew by the age of seven that I was meant to have kids. After that, what I wanted to do more than anything else in the world was write books.

I began writing what became my first full-length novel in 1997. The story started as a dream itself. That’s not unusual for me, and this wasn’t the first tale I’d written that came from nocturnal mental musings. The idea started small, and the longer I thought about it, the bigger it became. It grew to be nearly a thousand pages long. When a literary agent in New York City kindly read it for me, I couldn’t help but agree with him when he stated that it was a bit too complex. He also told me it had real promise, and that I should keep working on it. When I delivered my first child in 1999, I put that novel aside, but I never forgot what that agent said.

Years passed. I had a second child. Our family moved four times; three of those moves in the state of Colorado, then to a town near Raleigh, North Carolina. I held different jobs that kept me active in the writing profession, mostly as an editor. I became a homeschooling mom and taught writing workshops for kids in our homeschooling group. I’d been writing myself, but magazine and newspaper articles weren’t the same as sitting down and telling long, complex stories. It wasn’t until my husband was sent overseas to Germany for six months for his job, and I was alone when the kids went to sleep at night, that I decided it was time to finish telling the tale I’d begun nearly fourteen years before. When I decided it was time to finally finish the project, it was that letter written by the literary agent I pulled out, and I reread it multiple times.

When I really dove back into the manuscript, I realized I was not the same writer who had sat down years before and wrote those thousand pages. I tried to edit it, but it was obvious what was old and what was new. I’d grown up. I’d had experiences in my life that changed my viewpoint as an author. My voice was different. It was a daunting task, but I decided there was nothing to do but to start over. I did change some details of the story, especially once I’d become familiar with the intricacies of each character, but the main concept, the heart of the novel never wavered. I always had several main points I wanted to get across, and they stayed steadfast.

My second dream came true in December of 2012 when The Color of Thunder was finally published. I’d started writing it in Colorado, then began rewriting it in North Carolina. When it became a published novel, I was living in Linden, a small village about thirty minutes outside of the Ramstein Air Force Base in southwest Germany. It took fifteen years, two states and two countries, but I’d finally become a published novelist.

It’s been five years since The Color of Thunder debuted. I’ve decided to put it through another edit, and in November, I’m releasing it again. I’ve learned a lot about the self-publishing process. I feel like I’ve become a stronger writer, and I believe the story deserves all I can give it. This was where it all started. This is my literary baby. I want to dress it up in the finest clothes and show it off.

I think I’m extraordinarily lucky. I realized my first dream when I became a mom, which has fulfilled me in ways that nothing else could have. When my dream of becoming a published author came true, my kids were thirteen and ten. They were old enough to understand how special, how important it was for me to publish my first novel. They saw how hard I worked for it. They understood how important that goal was for me to achieve, and they celebrated it with me. They were proud of me. I’ve gone on to publish four more novels since then, and with each and every one I’ve written, they’ve celebrated with me. They’re still proud of me. I can’t imagine anything better in all the world. Who says dreams can’t come true?