Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Feeling Pretty Proud of Myself

I've been getting back a chapter at a time of the upcoming audio book for COOKIE THERAPY. Listening to it has been like reading it all over again.

During the writing process, reading the same story every day, editing what you've written, anticipating where the story is going and then doing the final proofing and editing can be very wearing. When it's all said and done, I'll have read the same book MANY times and it stops being a story and becomes a "project" that needs to be finished. When that final proof/edit is completed and I send my baby out into the world, I rarely go back to re-read, unless I'm looking for something in particular. Upwards of ten times is plenty, thank you.

Now I'm reading along with the narrator to make sure she hasn't missed something or that she hasn't read something incorrectly (nice to know that doesn't just happen in print!), and I'm discovering that I still love the story. After every chapter, I have a moment of, "Did I write that? That's pretty good!" I suppose this falls into the category or writing a book you'd like to read. I'd definitely buy this book! 😁 I'm feeling pretty darn proud of myself.

The audio book is contracted to be completed by September, but if my narrator keeps at it the way she has been, it could be sooner. I'm pretty excited, more than I thought I would be considering how long it took me to dive into this new-to-me medium.

I hope you'll all love it as much as I do! Can't wait to share it with you.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Using "real life" in fiction

Many of the things authors write about stem from real life experiences, to varying degrees. While it's certainly true we have vivid imaginations, inspiration starts somewhere.

Sometimes its a simple event. Today I learned my nephew is engaged to be married! (Congratulations, you two!) No, that probably won't creep up in my stories, but consider all the elaborate proposals you've seen on YouTube or elsewhere. As a romance author, I'm always looking for a fun proposal, although I doubt sincerely I'd take my characters to such great lengths.

Likewise, I've used work experiences. You've likely seen memes talking about not making the author angry because they'll write you into their novel and kill you off! Yes, I've done that. Exactly once.

Real life can also backfire on you. I had a friend while I was growing up who I had a not so pleasant relationship with. I often refer to her as my best worst friend. She was always there for me, but on the flip side, she also caused me no small amount of grief. While we haven't spoken for years, I did model a character after her, and people did not warm up to that character (for good reason). As an author, it's my job to rise above petty differences and irritating people. I have to take a closer look at why they are the way they are. Even antagonists have motivation. They are people, like everyone else, with experiences that shaped their lives. A good author will develop "sympathy for the devil." Which doesn't excuse his behavior, just helps people understand it a little better.

And here's a funny tidbit. Years ago, when I wrote the "reign of terror" at work into one of my novels, I took that person who we had all designated as evil and fashioned him after a famous person (artistic license) with questionable motives, someone who, at the time, I didn't know much about other than the profile fit. Today, that famous person is even more famous and those questionable motives are even MORE questionable, which makes me feel almost clairvoyant!

So yes, real life creeps into fiction, but it is usually distorted to fit the story rather than a recounting of actual events. A random odd phrase. An unexpected response. And yes, sometimes a way to release that inner turmoil.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

When an Author Writes a Review

I was recently given several books to read/review, and was especially excited that these "random" books fell in my wheelhouse of favorite genres. I read the first book and was very excited for the opportunity, giving it high marks.

Then I read the second one. And another one. And another one. And my enthusiasm waned.

As an author, I want to get lost in the story. I don't want to get pulled out by odd phrasing or typos or "let's stop and describe everything I see before we jump into the action." Stopping to describe something does exactly that. It stops me from reading. Authors need to sneak that stuff in unobtrusively. Also, as an author, I tend to see things your average reader might not.

Hand in front of face, eyes closed, deep breath. Forget everything I know and enjoy the story. Sometimes this is easier said than done.

I recently read a period piece, something set in a foreign country where the characters use a ton of dialect, and I found it very distracting. You know who did that well? Diana Gabaldon. We heard Jaime's Scots dialect, but not everything he said was mired in Gaelic accent. I, myself, struggled with writing that very thing in my first book, Touched By The Sun, set it in Italy. As I go back to read it now, 20 years later, I roll my eyes at the goofy dialect, too (and I did try to correct some of that when I re-released it on its tenth birthday).

When asked to write a review, I try to focus on what an author does well and turn off my inner editor. I go back to check other reviews of the book to see what I missed or if I'm in the minority. As an example, I read a book several years ago about a woman's journey after she discovers her husband is cheating on her and her return to independence after being a wife and mother for twenty years. I thought the book was awful, unrealistic, overdetailed, lots of "bad" things. In short, I hated it pretty much from cover to cover. Aside from that, she used exclamation points so often you had the impression everything in the book was meant to make you gasp. I went back to read the reviews, and there were people who absolutely loved it. Lots of them. On the flip side, many readers saw the same flaws I did.

At the end of the day, reading is subjective, whether your eye is overly critical, as mine can be as an author, or if I am reading it without my inner editor. I've read some very successful novels that didn't resonate with me, and in those instances I will only review the parts I liked, or not review the book at all. Where there are clear points I can make that might help the author, I will add those, because we all grow and learn from our mistakes, but where it might just be me... I'm a minority of one. I can keep my "I didn't like this book" opinion to myself.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Why Authors Write

I've been feeling sad after finishing my last series. There I've said it. Or maybe it's fear of starting over. While I have a new story to write, a new direction, leaving old friends behind (the McCormicks and the Bensons) is sort of like going away to college. It isn't like I'll never see them again, is it?

But we all move on. Life moves on. There are new stories to be told. As an author, I begin to question if I have another story in me. The answer is always yes, and has been since I was something like five years old. The harder answer is will I write it?


Why, you may ask? Because that's what authors do. These people live inside my head and they want out. Even when I'm struggling for the story, there's something exhilarating about creating something new. For musicians, it's a new song. For artists, it's a new painting or sculpture. For authors, it's a new story. Even when the ideas start out slow, even when you're still looking over your shoulder at the characters you leave behind, something ignites the fire inside of you and you can't wait to make new friends, learn new things.

The struggle part is often what makes the story that much more interesting. Reaching outside my comfort zone. Learning new things. Discovering those hidden traits inside my characters that they didn't know they possessed. Today's discovery? Making bath salts. Silly, huh? But it's something that has my character excited. She gets to spend time building a relationship and learning a new skill, and as the author learning along with her, I'm having just as much fun. Of course not everything is fun and games. Watch out for the conflict {duh, duh, duh!} But right now, I'm having a ball with the simple stuff, and trust me when I tell you this character has had their share of conflict! She deserves a simple pleasure to ease her mind.

So why do authors write? Because we have a story to tell. A word picture to share. A world to create and invite you into. Because it's in our DNA, and not writing isn't an option, even when we sometimes think we don't have one more word left.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Writer's Angst

I've been reading articles recently on "Imposter Syndrome." Essentially, it's a psychological condition that people in all walks of life stumble into, where even if they are doing an outstanding job, they feel like it's only a matter of time before someone discovers they're only faking it. From musicians to authors to people in so-called regular jobs, the advice is to get over it. We've earned our way. Proven ourselves. Not everything we do is going to be perfect, but we've shown we have the skills.

A recent rash of unfortunate reviews have plagued me and one of my fellow authors. For my part, because I had a disproportionate number of reviews relative to the number of books sold, I reached out to some professional review sites to give me a boost. Books without reviews don't qualify for promotion. The result of those solicitations? Oddball reviews (lesson learned). People pick the book up because they get a free copy, but it might not be something they'd normally go for, and then they penalize me because of it. Regardless of whether the review is warranted or not, the effect on an author can be demoralizing.

Writer's angst rears it's ugly head. Is this book a dud? Or did it reach the wrong audience? The points I got dinged on are the same things people liked in my other books, which makes me tend to dismiss the comments. Does that make me delusional? An imposter? Reviews and critiques are by their very nature designed to help me improve my craft. Do the comments reflect the changes we are undergoing as a society? Do I need to adjust? Evolve?

While all these thoughts are going through my head, I'm forging ahead on the next book, which is something completely different. I'm enjoying the ride so far, and in the vein of evolving, I think it covers a lot of bases that had me questioning societal changes while I was writing my last couple of books. Things like don't believe everything you hear. Get your facts before you form an opinion. And the evolution around the way men and women interact.

I recently re-read an old book, one I grew up with, and the premise for the romance had me cringing. That sort of thing would never work in today's world, and yet, when I was a teenager, it didn't faze me. The author did write some groundbreaking plots, but this one was just plain bad, something I didn't have the knowledge or experience to understand then, but which rings a very loud "NO" bell today. You don't fall in love with someone who goes out of their way to make you jealous in a very hurtful way and then justify it by saying if they hadn't have made you jealous, you wouldn't have realized you were in love with them. Nope. That's manipulation at its worst, and a very poor basis for a happily ever after. The world has changed considerably since I was a teenager. But I digress.

On behalf of myself and my author friends, I'm giving you all a gentle nudge to leave a review on the books you read. They are important to the author, even if you didn't like the book. Without them, we don't qualify for promotions for our books, and if our books don't warrant a good review, let us know. Otherwise, we can't write a better book next time.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Trouble with Backstory

Inevitably, I get stuck whenever I start a new book trying to talk myself into a prologue. Why? I want to give you the character’s backstory. How did they get where they are? And inevitably, I end up trashing the prologue in favor of slipping small snippets of information throughout the story.

Info Dumping
It’s easy to want to introduce your characters right away, to tell everything you’ve learned about them, from how they grew up to who their best friend is to what made them the way they are. But readers these days do not want you to dump all that information in the first chapter. In fact, they don’t want you to dump that information at all. They prefer to be spoon fed little bites at a time. Nothing glazes over the eyes faster than wasting precious words that don’t move the story forward.
But wait? Isn’t backstory important? Absolutely! But filtered in. It’s seasoning, and you know what happens when the cook adds too much salt to the stew.

Backstory Serves a Purpose
As an author, sometimes it’s good to get that prologue written—and then moved to a different file. It helps me, as the author, get to know my character and ground myself in what makes them tick. I understand why my character acts the way she does because she has shared her life history with me. Conversely, the reader is more interested in the action, and less in the history. Save the history lesson for when it makes the most impact.

Example: “She hadn’t been through this part of Ohio since she was a kid.” END OF BACKSTORY. This gives the reader enough information to know the character has been to Ohio. But it might come into play later in the story, so the reader will tuck that tidbit of information away, so that when you go back to that and say something about Ohio, the reader can then feel smart when they connect the dots. “Oh yeah, she was there when she was a kid.” And that return to Ohio should be something that moves the story forward, and the character’s previous experience, something that colors her view.
In the prologue version of this information, I might start writing, “She grew up in Ohio,” and go on to detail the whole experience which left a mark on her. It’s good for me to know as the author, but the reader doesn’t necessarily care about her past until it makes a difference to her story TODAY, the “why is she acting that way?” response to an everyday occurrence.

Backstory is important. Everything we do impacts how we respond to different stimuli and different situations. A good story starts with the stimuli and the potentially over-the-top response. Or the conditioned response. This raises questions to the reader about why the character acts the way they do, and then a dribble of information helps them to understand until, over the course of the story, the character is able to overcome whatever makes them respond differently. To grow beyond their own backstory.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Listening to books

I have been late getting to the audiobook party, largely because I don't listen to books. I don't have the attention span. Listening often puts me to sleep, especially when trying to listen for extended periods of time.

I've tried listening to audiobooks in the past - books that I loved and have read more than once. I couldn't make it through to the end. In fact, an hour was pushing it. The eyes droop, the brain disengages, and it becomes a voice saying "something, somewhere." Recently, my son recommended a podcast to me. It generally runs 40 minutes or less, and I've made it through those fairly well without falling asleep, but they're also smaller chunks.

With all that being said, many people I've spoken to like audiobooks. They pop them in when they're traveling, or listen while they're doing something else. Multitasking. I've asked the question before - if my readers listen - and have gotten mixed replies. Am I a dinosaur for resisting? For not expanding into a market? For not serving those listener readers?

While I have this "bonus time" at home, I'm considering this option more seriously. My husband thinks I should record them myself, a massive undertaking, but something worth pursuing should I flip that switch to full-time author.

Which of my books do you wish was on audio to listen to?