Wednesday, July 1, 2015

My Love/Hate Affair with Facebook

Last weekend I had a reunion with some of my old classmates. What a fun time! We were a small class and most of us were together for nine years (some of us less), but back in the olden days, we stuck together like family. We talked about silly things like when we all went to dance classes! I don't think that was a school-sponsored activity, and yet somehow we all ended up there. (Can you even find dance classes for middle graders these days?) After all these years, many of us had lost touch, and yet, through the magic of Facebook, we were reunited. In spite of this, I wasn't thanking Facebook for reconnecting us, but rather ties that still run deep in the old hometown and friendships that, while perhaps neglected for a number of years, waited to be rekindled. It was such a fun evening.

While still smiling from seeing the faces and enjoying the conversations, I came home the next day and found a message on Facebook from yet another friend who I have missed through the years, someone I had lost touch with during the "raising kids" years and "life gets away from you" times.

As one of my school friends and I discussed, no one ever told us that after a certain age we'd get our lives back, and that those things we might have not made time for or relationships that we didn't take care of are still waiting for us. Life's short.

And so as often as I rant about how much I hate Facebook and the way it intrudes on your privacy or various other complaints which I won't share with you today, I'm grateful that we have a vehicle that brings people back together when they've been lost.

And because I'm in such a good mood and full of happiness and joy and love (quit rolling your eyes at me), I'd like to celebrate my birthday with you (which was also this week!). For a limited time, I'm offering the Gathering Mist e-book for the low-low price of just $0.99! That's right, just $0.99. Make my day. Pick up a copy today and leave me a review to tell me how much you loved/hated it! click on the links to the right, or find it at your favorite bookseller.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Writing, or Going on Vacation

This meme comes to mind. No, I'm not sitting at my desk playing solitaire (although there are some games that have been known to distract me).

Perception: I'm going to write the next great American novel and make buckets of money.

Truth: Very few authors are able to make a living at this writing gig.

Writing is not glamorous. It requires discipline and hard work, like any other job, and the rewards are generally far less. There is no boss to slap you on the back and tell you to keep up the good work. There is an editor waiting to read your words and tell you what you did wrong, what you need to fix (and thank heavens for editors!). Along with the writing job, many of us hold down day jobs to pay the bills (and fund our writing habit). To quote my very smart son, we do what we have to so we can do what we want to.

Right now, I'm fighting for time to write. Although I am managing to get words down, my writing production is slow because I'm doing what I have to (rather than what I want to). This is the most frustrating part about being a writer, not enough time to spend, which results in summaries of ideas and thoughts to be fleshed out at a later date after I've filled the available writing space for the day. Generally, I break free from this cycle by scheduling vacation time dedicated to writing  in order to get the book done (or at least replace all those notes with actual prose). Fingers crossed that things will break loose in another week or so and I can increase the time I'm spending with my characters.

A little like being a parent, I suppose. We work to support our families, spending only a few hours each evening with them and touch down. And then we take a vacation to fully enjoy the time we spend together...

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Travelogue - North to Alaska

Well, well, well.  Here it is Wednesday again and I've only just returned from a trip. Which means I'm NOT prepared with a blog post! So I'm going to share my vacation with you while I continue to return to my regularly scheduled life.

DH and I flew into Seattle to a perfect day where we had excellent views of the skyline beside Puget Sound, and Mt. Ranier looming on the horizon. We then started out toward Juneau on a cruise ship. Friends, I've never been seasick before, but the passage was pretty rough. That first day at sea was a challenge, and although I didn't feel so very green, the waves definitely shook up my insides. Fortunately, it didn't take much to settle things down, and with only a minor interruption in the schedule, we arrived in Alaska on the second day.

For those of you who don't know, Juneau is not accessible over land. As our guide told us, you get there by air, by sea or by birth canal. They have one road with loops that bring you back if you venture off. Our tour of the day was whale watching. With the water a bit more serene, we started out from Auke Harbor, where we saw bald eagles the way we have robins or cardinals at home. How amazing to see these impressive birds just hanging around! And then there were the whales. Yeah, we saw some hump backs dipping around, and then we found a calf who was in a playful mood. That whale breached the surface 15 times in a short period of time! Breaching whales are unusual. Seeing it that many times is amazing! We continued on to a hike through the rain forest toward the Mendenhall Glacier, where we ran across "bear sighting" signs. Never did see a bear, although we did run a cross a porcupine. We went into town and rode the tram to the highest point in Juneau. Now, Juneau has what you call microclimates. When our ship docked, it was raining. When we got to the harbor to go whale watching, the sun had come out and it was a beautiful day. When we returned to the city, there was a shroud of fog. Riding up the Tram, we went through the fog, and while we were at the top of the mountain, the fog cleared, allowing us some excellent photos!

The second day, we came into Skagway. Our tour there took us on the White Pass railway, which followed the "Trail of 98," where gold rushers had climbed the mountains on their way to Canada, the Yukon, where the gold actually was. Sad stories accompanied those gold rushers, of their mania and the consequences of their actions. Today, the narrow-gauge train takes you to the top of the mountain,  past stunning scenery and breathtaking cliffsides, over trestle bridges and through tunnels.

On the third day we arrived in the Tracy Arm Fjord at the foot of the Sawyer Glacier. If you've ever seen a cruise ship, you can understand the size of those monstrosities. Imagine feeling dwarfed beside the towering mountains and thick glacier surrounding. We were fortunate to sail in close to the glacier, past ice floes where seal moms protected their seal pups. Dozens and dozens of them. Where the glacier has melted back, plant life is reclaiming the land with no soil for a foothold. Moss. Alders, Spruce. Hemlock. Mountains and waterfalls, snowcaps and sheer rock faces. Just stunning.

Our last stop was in Victoria, British Columbia. One of the things that most impressed me about our tour all through the area was the temperate climate. We were told you can grow anything in Victoria because it rarely freezes. They had palm trees! And I walked through a real-live castle! (Craigdarroch Castle.)

When we returned to Seattle, we took a trip to Mt. Ranier. More stunning vistas, mountain peaks, alpine meadows, waterfalls... I never get tired of it. So beautiful. Talk about seeing the fingerprints of God! And yet we should maintain a healthy respect for the wilderness. While we were there, a guide hiking the glacier on the other side of the mountain to the summit got separated from his party and died.

For many years, I have measured trips to the mountains against my trip to Scotland, where the scenery is also wild and untamed. I had a friend who used to tease me that certainly we had similar terrain in the U.S.A. I have admired a variety of landscapes this side of the ocean, but this trip to Alaska was the only place I've visited in the U.S. so far that compares.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

There's no such thing as writer's block!

At least that's what I've read from some very influential people, and yet some people would disagree.

Here's my take, along with my experience.

I prefer to think of them as road blocks rather than writer's block. Sometimes you hit a plot point that you aren't sure what to do with. Sometimes characters ask you questions that you don't have the answers to. And sometimes you write yourself into a corner. Where do we go from here? What's an author to do?

Keep moving. If you don't have the answers, move past it. Leave yourself a note to address it later, when you might have a clearer thought process or you can fill in the missing details. But what if it influences what comes next? I'd still advise the detour.

There are some writing programs to help organize your thoughts, and in the time management classes I've taken over the years, they go with the "spoke" approach. Write everything down and then prioritize it later. I have scenes in my book that are playing in my head but which I haven't reached yet. I have a road block in my current work in process (see last week's post). Overall, I've been able to stay fairly well on a linear path, but I did have to leave a "figure this out" note to myself after a couple of days spinning my wheels brainstorming and researching and collecting options to choose from. Oh, and don't forget the distraction of daily life that interferes!

I don't use a fancy writing program--I am proficient in my word processing software enough to bookmark spots to address, or highlight with another color so they pop out at me when I go back over things. Breadcrumbs, I call them. Directions for when I return to the highway from the detour.

Writer's block means you can't write. You're at a standstill. I disagree with that opinion. I reach road blocks in my writing, but I have other routes I can travel until that path is cleared. If, for some reason, an alternate route isn't available, that's when I stop, pull out a pad of paper and a pen and write down goals, motivation and conflict. Where are my characters. Where do they need to go. What's in the way. (Sometimes referred to as plotting ...) This process is usually enough to push the barricades aside, and I'm on my way again.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Pinky and the Brain and Blue Skies

I'll admit it. I'm a "blue skies" person. I don't like to look at the seamier side of life. It's depressing. Horrifying. Frightening. I grew up watching monster movies, but back then I didn't know about the real evils of the world. Sheltered and blind to the bad things around me, I lived oblivious to the true vampires and monsters and demons around me.

At some point in time, we grow up. We are exposed to real horror and loss and dangers. No, I don't stick my head in the ground and ignore it, but when given a choice, I choose to observe the good around me.

And that makes it hard to write villains. As an author, you get to kill people off. Explore the "dark side." I'll admit, I had someone in mind when I wrote the bad guy in Intimate Distance. Each and every story I've written, I struggle with the antagonist. I don't want to look him (or her) in the face.

I'm in the middle of Kundigerin 3 now, and it's time to face my demons. I've presented them, exposed them, and now I need to give them their raison d'etre. It's time for the characters I have so lovingly presented to face their demons - literally. I want to close my eyes. Tell me when it's over. Except I can't.

I sit here plotting, trying to figure out what the demons truly want. I get it at an superficial level, but deeper? Once they move the obstacles out of their way (which is the first motivation, but not the end game), what do they do then? What are they hoping to achieve? Well, the first thing that comes to mind is Pinky and the Brain. "What are we going to do today, Brain." "Same thing we do every day, Pinky. Try and take over the world."

Is it enough for my demons to want to remove their obstacles to world domination, figuring once they've done that, "the world's their oyster?" Or do they have an end game? One where removing the obstacles is step one in a grander plan?

I've set the framework to revisit (which seems to be the M.O. for this novel), and I'm moving past in an effort to finish. I have other scenes that want to be written, a romance to unravel (that part is coming along beautifully, by the way - at least I think so).

And so I must bravely look into the face of gloom and doom and evil and demons. Anyone want to paint a picture for me? Give my demons an end goal? If you can give me a reason for them to want the "demon police" out of the way, I'll commemorate you in the author notes and send you a complimentary paperback version of the finished product. (Does anyone else think of that silly "nuts on the bar" joke whenever you hear the word complimentary?)

Back to work!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Research - Location: Sedona

Several years ago, I visited a friend in Sedona with the intent of incorporating their famous "vortexes" into a story. At that time, I didn't have any clear ideas in mind, and I ended up writing a {ahem} piece of crap story (they can't all be winners) that will never see the light of day, and which did NOT incorporate said vortexes. Instead, I used the Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon, but again, the story failed miserably.

Lo and behold, I've found a use for those vortexes! They will be making an appearance in Kundigerin 3, Rising Mist. Going back over my photos, I thought I'd share some with you.

Bell Rock

Twisted juniper trees are said to mark the vortex

Me and the Big Guy overlooking Sedona from Airport Mesa

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Who buys Indie Author books?

The publishing industry is posed to reset itself once again. Sales for all books appear to be down across the board, including some of the best sellers.

As an indie author, it is a struggle to stay afloat, to find new readers. All authors, traditional or indie, generally like to lure new readership by offering deals. A first in series book for $0.99, or a limited time offer of $1.99 to pique your interest in another book in the series to draw you in. Traditional authors are able to command $5.99 (and more!) for an ebook, which is generally in line with the cost of the paperback as well. Indie authors aren't always able to ask that same price, so you can often find them for less - an everyday bargain price.

So my question of the day: As a reader, are you less likely to by a full price book than you are a sale priced book?

It's like shopping at Kohl's. They are offering coupons and sales so often that consumers refuse to buy clothes at full price. Indie authors offer those bargain-basement prices every day. Many indie authors now offer "permafree" copies of their books, usually a first in series, to draw you in to buy more. Even that doesn't always work.

I could complain about how some authors have hit the big time with less than stellar books, but that would just be sour grapes. It's filling a niche, striking the right chord. That's what makes a break-out novel, and there's no accounting for what works today vs. what will work tomorrow. Finding just the right marketing angle/tool and just the right time. In the end, we write because we can't "not" write. And we hope that our work resonates with someone somewhere.

My personal philosophy is to stick with the bargain basement prices for authors I'm not quite so familiar with, so I understand that mentality. I'm also a penny-pinching cheapskate (said with love, of course). BUT I have no qualms about paying full price for an author I know and love - indie or otherwise.

Are people buying less books because they have less discretionary income? Are they less willing to take a chance on an author they don't know? Are their options so overwhelming they can't decide whether or not to buy? It's likely a combination of all of the above.

From this indie author, let me reassure you that authors are NOT making much of a profit. Very few of us do better than break even (and many of us don't even do that). We can't afford to offer our books for $0.99 or even $1.99 on a regular basis, and even at $3.99, our share is fairly minimal. We hold down a day job (raising my hand) in addition to doing what we love (writing), this includes some of the best sellers and well-known authors. Case in point, at on of the writing conferences I went to, I sat beside a best-selling Harlequin author who had three books coming out in one year, this in addition to holding down a full-time HR job. I asked how she managed to squeeze it all in, and her answer: "I don't watch much television."

So what makes you pick up that book? Do you stick with names you know and trust? Do you take a chance on a new author? Does the price-point influence your decision?

On behalf of my fellow authors, I leave you with a quote from an old Bartles and Jaymes  commercial: "Thanks for your support."