Wednesday, December 6, 2017

It's that time of year

Welcome to December.

Christmas is coming early for me this year, so I've been getting into the spirit by listening to Christmas carols and watching Christmas movies. Generally, I only get the "second-rate" Hallmark channels, the also-ran movies that are less interesting and trite and poorly acted... I've been very disappointed in most of those, but Hallmark, in it's holiday spirit, unblocks their channel for a couple of weeks every year at Christmas, so I've actually been seeing their "Gold" movies, and I have to say I've enjoyed the ones I've seen.

Christmas cookie baking day isn't for another week, but I'm already thumbing through my recipes looking for which ones I want to make, and I've decided to share my favorites - my goal is one a day on Facebook and on Twitter until Christmas, so if you need ideas, check it out. Or you can check out all my favorites on Pinterest.

A | BN | iB | K
But wait. There's more! I have a release date for Epitaph 4, THE ARCHITECT - January 2. This is Kathleen's story, and I had a ton of fun writing her. It is available for pre-order, so feel free to go ahead and buy it so you don't forget, and tell all your friends! Links to your favorite outlets are beneath the cover.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

"But I don't know how to leave a review"

I saw an interesting post the other day. You've probably seen authors everywhere saying they'd really appreciate it if you leave a review after reading their book. In response to that, the post I read was a survey of reasons why people don't leave reviews, and it was very enlightening.

Why should you leave a review? Every author wants to present the best possible book, and knowing where they connect or disconnect with readers helps them either a) correct what they did wrong, b) do better next time, c) identify where they might be reaching the wrong audience.

"But I don't know what to say." It's simple, really. For example, when you buy the book at Amazon, they send out reminders asking what you thought. I've had some of those reminders ask me a series of questions, which I found very cumbersome and discouraged me from leaving a review, but here's the thing. You don't have to answer all those questions (and I'm not sure they still go that route). When you get that email saying "what did you think?" follow the link. Rate it according to their stars system (with five being "this is the most outstanding book I've ever read" and one being "I'm giving this to the skunk under my porch to read"). Except now they want you to say something! Wait. Don't get scared. All you have to do is say, "I liked this book." This isn't like those second grade book reports, you don't have to tell people the main characters and the plot and the theme and all of that. You just have to offer an opinion. If you feel really brave, you can add why you liked it. "I like this book because I could really relate to that one thing that happened that one time." or "The hero was swoon-worthy." or "The author took me on an African safari, and I could really feel like I was there." On the other side of the coin, you might not like the story. That's okay. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Maybe the author marketed it to the wrong audience. That happens sometimes. Or the heroine was unlikeable. I had an unlikeable secondary character in one of my books, and I heard about it. I knew she was unlikeable, but I underestimated just how much. So I ended up writing a story with her as the main character so readers could see why she was the way she was. Those reviews helped me take the next step - showing you what you couldn't see in the first book when she showed up.

One thing you should NOT do in a review is say "this story sucked" without telling people why.

I just read an old book - I think it was initially published 20 years ago - by a well-known author. I loved the story! When I finished, I did my review, and out of curiosity, I went to read what other people thought of it. Twenty years ago, society was in a very different place, and those people who read it today had some very strong opinions on the societal norms from back then. One in particular that stuck out to me was how one reviewer felt the main character shouldn't have let a man threaten her with his unsolicited, unappreciated sexual advances. She stayed silent and tried to avoid the guy rather than speaking out. Today, women are standing up to these predators, but back then? We've learned our lessons. That part of the story hit a nerve for that reviewer, and I'm sure the author has adapted to the changing times (but that's fodder for another post).

Authors do take reviews to heart. Some reviews fall into the "it just wasn't my cup of tea" category, and we get that. Some reviews we can act on. Like unlikeable characters. Or "I found a whole bunch of misspelled words" (those can be corrected). (By the way, Amazon won't let indie authors publish with a certain threshold of misspellings anymore.) Or "This novel had too much sexual content." Did the author market it as something other than a romance? We can fix which readers we target. Different audiences have different expectations.

To sum up, you don't have to write a book report, but it helps authors if you add a line after you've read a book. Even if it's as simple as "I'd recommend this book to my friends," or "Didn't find it worth the time I spent reading it." You never know when you'll make an author's day with a simple pat on the back, or get them working harder to make it better for next time.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Research and Legends

Happy Thanksgiving!

And yes, I've started work on Epitaph 5!

Research can be one of the most fun parts of writing a book, and its very easy to get lost along the way. I'm taking virtual tours and GoogleEarth-ing places for a "man on the street" view of some of my locales. Along with the "real" is the artistic license part. For what I'm trying to create, a real venue doesn't exist, so I get the fun part of creating a place, kind of like when I went to Scotland and wanted to visit Craigh na Dun. Guess what? It isn't there!

I have been wringing my hands over this next book, wondering how I was going to write it, how I was going to get it right. It's based on legend, and the more reading I did about the various interpretations of the legend, the more I worried it wouldn't work for what I had in mind. Until... Oh, but I can't give away all my secrets just yet! Once I started looking into things, my imagination opened up to the possibilities.

I've always loved folklore. Legends. Campfire stories. This book doesn't precisely fit with the ghost theme, but it does have supernatural flair. The excitement of a new story has taken hold. If I can stop researching long enough to put it to paper, I think we've got a fun one! What are some of your favorite folk stories and legends?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Should book covers reflect characters or theme?

As I commission the cover for Epitaph 4, I'm faced yet again with trying to decide what best to put on the cover.

Through the course of my writing career, I've been to dozens of seminars and read lots of input on what should go on the cover of a novel. The overwhelming truth is that covers don't always represent the best picture of what's inside. Often, it is more about genre. Romance novels show you something sweet (or sexy) on the cover. Cozy mysteries often show cartoonish covers. Some thrillers covers are nothing more than symbols. As an indie author, I try to stick with the genre feel, but I also feel connected to what's inside.

Another secret. I'm from the "less is more" when it comes to description family. With that being said, I outline what my characters look like, but because they are unique individuals, I rarely have a "famous actor" picture in front of me like some authors do. I've been interviewed and asked "who would best portray your characters in the movie version." Heck. I don't know. I had someone ask me that with my very first novel and, after I had time to think about it, I'll admit Antonio Banderas came to mind as a perfect Dominic, and I had visions of Geena Davis as Kira, but as time passes those actors age and no longer fit that vision. THIS book gave me two perfect actor portrayals. The problem with that is trying to meet those expectations with my cover. I don't think Rachelle Lefevre or Jesse Williams will allow me to do a photo shoot to put them on my cover (but you never know!). Instead, I have to select from other cover models who might be "close" to those descriptions. Not an easy task.

Then there's the background. This series is ghostly. The original was inspired by a cemetery. The second by a haunted house. The third is still that same haunted house, but this one goes to New Orleans to uncover its ghost, a party city. Do I show the Garden District? The French Quarter? Lafayette Cemetery? Maybe the place where the ghostly showdown takes place? So many decisions!

When you read a book, do you expect what you see to coordinate with what you read? Or is it just the eye candy that draws you in? Do you even look at the cover again once you've read the book?

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

How long does it take to write a novel?

One of the most frequently asked questions authors receive is how long does it take to write a novel. The answer isn't so cut and dried.

Some of my favorite authors can put out as many as four books a year. That's one every three months. Can it be done? Absolutely. But that also requires dedication and no outside interference. I asked one of those authors what her process was and she said she writes from an outline. She's a plotter. That doesn't mean there isn't pantsing involved (writing by the seat of one's pants), but she has a roadmap that starts at the beginning and takes her to her destination. That's good business sense, and it helps her meet publisher-imposed deadlines.

For me, my best showing was three books in one year. That's one every four months, and I should point out I can write them faster, but making them readable is a whole other process. I'm also more of a pantser, so derailing can cause unnecessary detours that extend the process, but I like the scenic route. Following the outline superhighway takes away some of the fun of discovery, uncovering hidden gems you didn't know were waiting for you. That doesn't mean I don't work with an outline at all. Like taking a road trip, I have a general idea of what direction I'm going. I just don't always take the straightest route.

Then there are authors who only put out one new book each year. But you know what? That's usually one really good book. One author I've read takes more than a year to write a book - in fact, as long as two years. I wouldn't recommend that process. For starters, you risk losing your audience, and in my humble opinion, that particular author lost interest in her characters in the continuing series and it reflected in the subsequent books. Granted, her books were VERY long, so she needed the extra time, but the stories begin to feel like guests who have overstayed their welcome.

Everybody's process is different, and another thing to consider is word count. How long is your book going to be? And then there's the muse. Sometimes my muse is sitting on my shoulder through the entire process, and sometimes I get stuck in the muddle in the middle and struggle to push forward. Let's not forget outside distractions. Like a day job. Or family responsibilities.  All of these factor in.

The most important factor, in my mind, is being passionate about what you write. You should love every story you tell. In all honesty, I have a couple of books sitting on the shelf that, after re-reading them, didn't pass muster. If I lost interest in them, certainly my readers would, too. So how long does it take to write a novel? As long as it takes to make them "good."

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

When the Legends Die

FIRST! Congratulations to Laurie, the winner of my newsletter contest. Look for an email in your inbox.

When I was in high school, we had a required reading list, which we were allowed to select from. One of the books I chose was "When the Legends Die" because I've always been captivated by legends. If you've never read it, it's about a Native American boy who is taken from his tribal land and taught to be a vicious rodeo rider. In the end, he goes back to the peace of the land where he was born. I only read it once, and yet it has stayed with me all these years.

I've been doing research into a legend for inclusion in Epitaph 5. Always a fun task, I read a novel, but it did throw me into a panic. My remaining Epitaph books are about the remaining brothers, and the legend I'm reading up on focuses more on women. EEK! So I had to look a little deeper than one author's interpretation (and knowing I could develop my own interpretation, but with a known legend, you don't want to stray TOO far from the original). It does apply to men, as well. Phew!

Developing the ghosts to provide background for each of the Epitaph novels has been an interesting experience. They are their own characters, complete with backstory, with goals, motivation and conflict. Through this process, I always knew Liam's story was going to be just a little bit different than the others, so I'm excited to bring him to the forefront in Epitaph 5. I still need a ghost for Epitaph 6, and while I have ideas, I'm not going to worry about that too much until I 1) finish Epitaph 4, and then 2) write Epitaph 5.

How long does it take to write each book? When can you expect the next installments? I can tell you Epitaph 4 is on target for a January release. I have a date with the editor and the cover artist is working on a composite. As for timing on the other two....

Tune in next week for "how long does it take to write a novel?"

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Seasons of change

First, the good news. I've finished what I consider a reasonable version of Epitaph 4! Now the fine-tuning begins, unless I find a critical break in the story. The plan for release is January. Stay tuned.

I've had a great deal of fun writing this series, and I'm winding down to the last couple of brothers. I have some good ideas for Thad and for Liam (had Liam pegged at the start of the series - he's going to take a different sort of direction), but I'm not convinced Bryan merits his own story. That means two more Epitaph books in the wings (unless I change my mind about Bryan).

With the completion of this latest book, I'm looking back over this past year, at the things that went well and the things I can still improve upon. Looking ahead, I have those two books begging to be written, along with a couple of life changes. Relocations. Weddings. Time marches on, and with it come new challenges. The more things change, the more they stay the same.