Wednesday, February 13, 2019

What Genre do you prefer?

One of the challenges of writing is keeping up with societal changes. This past year has highlighted a multitude of evolution in the world, forward and backward. What was deemed socially acceptable twenty years ago is considered heresy today, at least in some aspects.

Consider the '60's. If I were to write a book today, I wouldn't include bell-bottom pants and a character with hair down to their waist (male AND female) or tie-dyed headbands... well, you get the picture. I might, but only as a throwback to that time, not as a current look. This last year has seen a multitude of changes, and I, along with many other authors, have had to take a step back and consider how what we're writing is being received. We can hope that we are writing something timeless, that can be read years from now without too much adjustment to what's going on in the world today, but that may not be the case.

In my own writing, I've found myself rethinking motivation and response to my characters. As a romance author, we've evolved from the stories of men rescuing women, to women rescuing themselves and a man appreciating her strength and trying to help where he can. These days, romances are more about how the characters can work together toward a common goal. As I was watching a movie with my husband the other night, one in a series of "research" movies we've been watching (for my latest project), he had some excellent insight for someone who doesn't read fiction. He pointed out that the characters were actually intelligent in this offering, whereas some of the other movies had unrelateable or unlikable characters. As he mentioned, in one of the movies, while the main character showed growth, she was still unlikable at the end of the movie.

With the changes in the world, I'd considered taking a leap into a new (to me) genre. Try something different. Every genre has their "rules" for what a reader will expect. I'm nearly done with my "experiment," and I've learned that I should stick with what I'm best at. I'm not going to say the experiment failed, but I'm much more comfortable in my own niche.

Which brings me to reading outside my niche. I like historical romance, was raised on Gothic romance. When I don't know what to read, that's my first go-to. It isn't my only choice however. I like contemporaries, and mysteries, and thrillers, and horror on occasion, too. At the end of the day, I like a "good story." Doesn't matter what genre. Right now, I'm reading a cozy mystery, and the rules are a little different than your standard mystery, or romantic suspense, or romance in general. That, in itself doesn't bother me, but it doesn't resonate the same way. The "rules" are different, which means I have to adjust my expectations.

What type of book do you pick up when you're looking for a book to read? Do you have a "go-to?" or do you like to mix it up? Would love to hear how you make your decision.

The Epitaph Series

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Don't Judge Me!

Actually, in this case, please do!

I've entered the premiere contest for romance writers, and in order to enter, you have to also agree to judge. As such, I've been assigned six books from authors I have never met/heard of before. The process is simple. On a scale of 1-10 (with decimal points encouraged), how did you like the book, and then three simple questions. No essays, no reviews, just straightforward, yes/no answers.

As an author, I'd love to have those essays, the feedback, but since this is first round judging, they're trying to separate wheat and chaff.

The contest allows you to designate which sub-genres you do NOT want to read. In the past when I've participated, I was sent books that were way outside my general reading scope. This is good and bad. If the book is written well, it attracts my attention and I want to read more. I've had some clunkers in the past, but I've also found some excellent authors who make me want to read more of their work. Example: I have a critique partner who writes sci-fi, not my first go-to when I select a book. When the group worked through his first book, I found his concept very interesting. Does it make me want to read more sci-fi? No, but I can recommend his book without hesitation.  High marks, were I to judge.

I'm on the my last selection, and I have to say overall I'm pleased with the books I received. A couple of these authors are good enough to pursue more from. I stop to wonder if someone is reading my book and thinking "This is awesome!" Book distribution is done "blind" so we don't know who has our books and what they think of them. I might just as easily not resonate with the judges who have my book. This process reminds me of how subjective reading can be. Sometimes we reject a book not because it isn't good, per se, but because the subject matter doesn't "click" with us.

In the everyday world, our books are always being judged by the people who read them. We, as authors, hope to reach the appropriate audience and resonate, either good or bad. If you've read a book, mine or anyone else's, this is a reminder to leave a review on the site where you found it. Let us know how we scored, and if something in particular jumped out at you, a few words to let us know makes all the difference in the world.
The Epitaph Series

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Ask the Author

Last weekend, I participated in the Elgin Literary Festival (or ELF, for short). Because the weather has been awful, my dear husband took it upon himself to escort me, which means I didn't have to park several blocks from the venue and hike across the several inches of snow that might or might not be plowed while hauling my books and other signing paraphernalia. As a result, he also sat in on the author panel I was part of - How To Write a Series.

My husband is a very thoughtful man, as you can tell by this act alone. He does not, however, know much about my writing. He doesn't read fiction, has never read any of my books. When I ask for an opinion, he offers one, when I ask him for a point of reference, he understands the context and tries to help. But read it? Not so much. That's why, after sitting in on the panel, he circled back to me later and said, "I didn't know you did that."
AJ Pine, Karla Brandenburg, EM Kaplan

The people who attended felt they'd gotten a lot from the panel, so I thought I'd recap some of the high points for folks who might be considering writing a series.

What defines a series?
1. One approach is a continuing arc that progresses to an ultimate conclusion at the end of the series.
2. Another approach is a returning character. Think Hercule Poirot or Nancy Drew.
3. Or there is a recurring venue. Lucky Harbor, or that town in Maine where Jessica Fletcher lives.
4. A family of characters, like with my Epitaph series, or my Northwest Surburbs family of friends.

Why a series?
For an author, one of the fun parts is giving secondary characters in one book a chance to step out into the world on their own in the next book. Another reason to write/read a series is that you become invested in your characters. Readers want to read more. Authors want to know more about the characters they've created. It's a comfortable place to return to.

Common Pitfalls
When an author starts writing book two, it's easy to want to recap everything that happened in book one. The last thing a reader wants is an "info dump." They want to get right into the action. When I wrote the Mist Trilogy, I found myself wanting to return to Marissa's voice, as she was the main character in Book One and an important returning character, but Book Two wasn't about her. Yes, she had a major role, but more than once I had to tell her to step back. Backstory should be introduced when and where appropriate, but not more than a sentence or, at most, a paragraph at a time. Little bites work much better than big chunks.

I'm also in the camp that a series of books should each stand on their own. If you write a cliff hanger ending, I'm less likely to stick by you than if you give me a satisfying conclusion to this "episode" of the series.

AJ Pine, Karla Brandenburg
How much of a Series do you Plan in Advance?
As much as you can! The stories will naturally morph as the writing goes on, so I don't like to get too tied in, but you need to know why it's a series and hold that thread. For Epitaph, I planned out the two families and each of the siblings. They are introduced in the first book, all of them, and then they step back to wait their turn. Some of the things I'd planned in book one changed as the characters grew. Kathleen McCormick, for instance, is flirting with a guy at the end of the first book - her potential hero, but by the time she got her own story, they'd broken up. When I went to write it, he didn't fit anymore. It seemed like a good idea in Book One, but Kathleen had changed. Grown. Her life was different. Planning gives you a solid foundation to build off. It also gives you the chance to fix something ahead of time, before you have established a number of books and can't go back to change it.

Which leads me to...

How do you keep track of all the details? Names. Places. Events. Who knows what.
You need a series bible. For me, it's an Access database that I created. Some folks use a spreadsheet. One of the rules of writing is keeping names distinct and unique. You don't want to name three guys Mike through the series. How can you expect anyone to keep them straight if they all have the same name? One of my co-panelists pointed out another pitfall, similar names. She had a hero named Cash in one of her books, and in another, she went for the name Ash. Oops! Back up. Too similar. It's also helpful to know the names of the venues you create, from towns to bars to cafes. And here is one big OOPS I made with mine. By the time I hit book 7 in EPITAPH, I misspelled the main character's name. Brian Benson had suddenly become Bryan. Not only that, in Book 1, he is the youngest of the Benson siblings. In Book 7, suddenly he was second youngest. This is where I am deeply indebted to my editor. In spite of having my database, my series bible, I still screwed up. She and I both did a made dash to ferret out the details I'd carelessly forgotten or ignored to make the corrections before the book went out into the world.

Those were some of the highlights of the panel discussion. They're also good reminders for me as I look ahead to starting a new series.

Any questions I've missed? Anything you want to know about writing a series?

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Spreading the News

Get your copy here
When a new book is released, I can't help it. I have to tell you. Because I'm excited. Not only is the new book out, it's the last one in the series. The realization of a goal. And that's not all. I'm going out into the world!

I'm going to be at the Elgin Literary Festival on Saturday, doing a panel with fellow authors EM Kaplan and AJ Pine. I'd love to meet you. Stop in and say hello. We'll also have copies of our books for sale if the spirit moves you. I hope it does, but this time of year it's nice just to get out and be among the living instead of squirreled away hiding from the cold weather and TALK TO PEOPLE.

So the new book? For those of you following the EPITAPH series, this one is Brian Benson's book. For those of you unfamiliar, the first in the series introduces one Benson and one McCormick and their respective families. Each successive book is about the siblings in each family, 4 Bensons and 4 McCormicks (five McCormicks, if you count the ghost in book 1).

So what's the new book about? Glad you asked! Gwen lives on a garden estate and Brian's the new horticulturist, but someone doesn't want Gwen to inherit her legacy. The book has a hedge maze, and interfering grandparent ghosts, and a heroine who can't get out of her own way. Want a sample? Imagine getting lost in that hedge maze, a maze you grew up in. How do you get lost in your own back yard?

   Brian raised his face to look at the tops of the hedges. “I’d offer to help you find your way—”
   “I don’t need help,” she snapped.
   “—But this isn’t my backyard,” he finished. “I might have been a bit hasty rushing in. Can you show me the way out?”
   Gwen drew a deep breath. “Of course. Follow me.”
   Every turn she took led her to a dead end. Every time she turned to backtrack, she bumped into Brian, until the situation became so absurd she started laughing. Apparently, her grandparents weren’t done playing with her.
   “I know it’s your backyard and all,” he said, “but it’s easy to see how you might get lost in the maze in the dark.”
   She wanted to tell him she wasn’t lost, that she could traverse this maze blindfolded, but that clearly wasn’t the case tonight.
   Instead of laughing, she wanted to cry. Gwen stormed down another path, and when she was met with another dead end, she did an abrupt about face and crashed into Brian’s chest once more. His arms circled her in the dark, as if trying to ground himself, to judge where she was.
   How long had it been since someone had hugged her? Okay, he wasn’t hugging her, per se, but she couldn’t seem to help herself from leaning into him, resting her head against his strong chest. Wrapping her arms around his waist. Breathing in the scent of dirt and manure and something more. Human contact. Tears welled in her eyes.
   Brian took a step back, setting her straight. “Umm, Ms. Haley?”
   Right. Inappropriate. “Gwen,” she whispered, her voice husky. “Why don’t you lead for a while. Clearly, I’m confused in the dark.” Thanks to Grandma and Grandpa.
   There. She’d asked for help. She swiped at her eyes and lifted her chin.
   “Okay,” he said, turning his back on her. He reached into his pocket, withdrew his cell phone and turned on the flashlight app. With only one wrong turn, he led them out of the maze in a matter of minutes.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The latest cooking trends

I got a Ninja Foodi for Christmas! What is that, you ask? Its one of those pressure cooker, multi-cooker thingamabobs, like an Instant Pot, except mine comes with an air fryer. Whoop-di-do! Fancy-schmancy.

So let me tell you about this machine. I have a friend who swears by hers, and where she lives, it is a lifesaver. For me, it's one more piece of equipment to accommodate. I did look into getting one on my own and decided I probably didn't need one. Besides, my husband is a little picky about meals (although he'll tell you differently). I get adventurous when I cook, trying new recipes, especially since I've adopted a healthier way of eating in the past year. (His comment: "Can't we eat normal again?") Individually, my new adventures have been things he's accustomed to eating, things he actually likes, but prepared differently. Zucchini noodles? Sacrilege! It doesn't taste the same. Cauliflower rice? Can't we just have regular rice? Or regular cauliflower?

But I digress.

Dear Husband is the one who bought me the Foodi. So now he has to suffer through new recipes along with me! So far, almost everything I've made has been wonderful! Some, not perfect, but I haven't ruined anything yet. "The machine" is intimidating, even after using it several times, but at least I know how to use it now. It's a handy tool, a new toy, but the shine is wearing off after two weeks. I have more "I want to try this!" recipes, and then it will likely get relegated to the back corner until I have a reason to take it out again. After all, there are only so many times I can hear "that's not how you're supposed to cook that" before I just don't cook it at all (or at least not for someone else!). In all fairness, I'm a picky eater, so my adventurous cooking is limited to what I'll eat, too.

Have any recipes you'd care to share? I'm saving those I've tried (or want to try) on my Pinterest Page. Leave me a comment or share your recipes with me there!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

It's Complicated

True confessions. While I was writing THE GARDEN, I asked my resources how the inheritance part of the story would play out. Because I was basing the story on several tourist places I'd visited, in my head, I was creating a big, elaborate trust document detailing every piece of the property . And then multiple trust documents for each piece (because, of course, I was basing my vision on three different locations "in real life"). And then leases and rent-back agreements. Then I sat down with the trust guy and confused the heck out of him. Thank you, Jeff, for listening to me, hearing me out, and then trying to accommodate my vision. Ultimately, as he corrected some of my misconceptions and confusion, what he actually did was show me how convoluted my ideas had become. No, he didn't say that, and kudos to him for trying to meet the vision I'd created. When I walked back to my desk, out of his office, I shook my head, sifting through all the information he'd given me, and realized I didn't need all the fuss and bother. One estate. One trust document.

Holy cow. Why was I making it so complex? And this is why it helps to talk through things with the pros. Not only can they simplify for you, they can give you ideas you hadn't thought of.

Fast forward. The devil is always in the details, doncha know? I'm working on my new project and ironing out occupations and projects, etc. I wanted to incorporate one of my protags hidden talents into her job and started down the rabbit hole once again. I don't need to incorporate her hidden talents. It will be more fun if it comes out during the discovery phase. But that's me. I've always done things the hard way. Sort of like untangling Christmas lights. Once you're done, everything shines nice and neat.

Here's hoping I've untangled my current lights into something shiny and pretty! In the meantime, I hope you like what I've already straightened out! THE GARDEN is available in paperback, and coming soon in ebook.

Buy it here

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Til the Season Comes Round Again

Sending Happy New Year wishes to all my readers. May 2019 bring you unexpected joy, unexpected because that enhances the flavor.

A new year is always a time to reflect and evaluate. This year, I'm extending the Christmas season, holding onto that holiday feeling, as I work on my next writing project. With the end of the EPITAPH series, I've been considering expanding my brand and exploring new paths.

Thank you to everyone who has walked this journey with me and supported my passion. I hope you’ll enjoy this new direction!