Why Remix?

As a writer, I was a late bloomer. Eighteen years ago, I was in my early forties when I decided to write my first book. Crazy, right?

But you know what they say: “Better late than never.”

In my case, better took a quantum leap into fabulous when Bantam bought that book and its sequel for its Loveswept series romance line. I was delighted (read: exuberant, bordering on rapturous). I learned a great deal from my experience with Bantam—thanks in particular to my editors Joy Abella and Beth De Guzman—and I owe them more than I can say.

Now let’s fast-forward a decade. Or two.

Those two books—which remain dear to my heart—are sadly, out of print. They were never available as e-books. To boot, these engaging stories, once critically acclaimed—For Love or Money won a Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award—are now hideously dated. (I mean, who knew back in 1997 we’d all carry around cell phones one fine day?) Finally, in the past eighteen years I’ve grown as a writer, giving new meaning to the ever-wistful refrain, “If I had it to do all over again ….”

Taking those factors into account, the decision to “remix” the two existing books as semi-sweet romances (a genre I personally invented for books that are sensual but not explicit)—and add a third to create the Golden State Hearts Trilogy—was a no-brainer.

Book one, the new and improved For Love or Money, will launch on April 1st. (Making me an April Fool for romance.) Book two, Hunter In Disguise, is slated for late July. And book three–featuring two middle-aged romantic leads and as yet untitled–will debut just in time for Christmas.

Meanwhile, I’m making like a Mixmaster (Mixmistress sounds sort of kinky) and having the time of my life!

Just for Fun: Introverts

Introvert-Leader

Many, if not most, writers are introverts at heart. That being the case, I thought we could all unite here–separately, in the comfort of our own homes, of course–to chat about our common foibles. Sure, I get the fact that we’re far from a new topic. Since the dawn of time–or thereabouts–introverts have been pleading for understanding and offering tips on how to get along with and make life easier for us. Cyberspace teems with blogs and articles about same, and Susan Cain wrote a bestseller about us.

Unfortunately, our cries for acceptance, heart-rending though they may be, all too often go unheard by our bee-busy-buzzy extroverted friends.  Still, on the off chance some stray, snowed-in extrovert is dying for company, scouring the Interweb for somebody, anybody, to talk to, I’m willing to oblige. Listen up.

To begin with, seeing as how introverts make up a mere 25% of the world’s population, I decided I ought to provide a checklist of key characteristics you can use to recognize us. You may even discover you’re one of us. If you do, don’t be surprised if your first reaction is denial. That was my first reaction, at least until I learned introversion ≠ shy, a fact I’m constantly explaining to those who know me and my big mouth only too well. As for retiring, you’d be amazed at the far-reaching effects a few good introverts have had on history. For example:

  • Albert Einstein (who had enough chutzpah to turn the world of physics on its head)
  • Mahatma Gandhi (who had enough chutzpah to turn the British empire on its head)
  • Dwight Eisenhower (who had enough chutzpah to turn the Third Reich on its head)
  • Stephen Spielberg (who produces groundbreaking movies like ET, Letters from Iwo Jima and Schindler’s List)
  • Michael Jordan (fearless on the basketball court, and a terrific salesman, although the less said about underwear here, the better)
  • Steve Martin (a wild and crazy guy)
  • Clint Eastwood (Dirty Harry, Gunny Hightower and the mayor of Carmel, mind you)
  • Johnny Carson (yes, the Great Carnac himself)
  • Mother Theresa (who comforted millions of suffering souls in India and around the world)

Shy?  I don’t think so.

But I digress.  We were talking about how to recognize an introvert, and I promised you a checklist. Never let it be said I didn’t have the chutzpah to follow through.

You might be an introvert, if …

  • your favorite spot at any given party is that cozy corner where you can happily, albeit safely, observe extroverts in action.
  • your first reaction to stress is a desire for space and plenty of it.
  • your last reaction to stress is a desire to talk about what’s bugging you.
  • you think a good weekend is one when nobody calls, visits, or emails.
  • you hold life’s most important bits close to the vest.
  • you like people but prefer them in small doses and need time alone to recharge after contact.
  • your mental calendar is full, your social calendar, not so much … and that’s fine and dandy by you.
  • your worst nightmare is the well-meaning friend or relative who’s decided you’re shy or lonely or depressed and just need to be “drawn out.”
  • you visit a new church and hesitate to fill out the visitor’s card, because you know it will unleash a kindly, completely overwhelming flood of invitations to a) join small groups, b) come to dinner or c) “get together and chat.”

There. Does that help? Did you recognize yourself or someone you care about? If you find yourself facing that most disquieting of epiphanies–i.e., that you have (or are) an introvert in a family of extroverts–don’t panic. I’m about to suggest a few coping strategies. Not that we introverts expect to be coddled, mind you, but remembering a few salient points will keep feathers unruffled all around.

  1. Don’t take it personally, when we go hedgehog. It’s not you; it’s us. We’re not mad, we still love you, we just need some time alone to recharge. Depending on the circumstances, recharging can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 5 months.
  2. Don’t ask, “Are you all right?” or “Is anything wrong?” or “Do you want to talk?” The answers are:  “Yes,” and “Only the fact that I’m not alone right now,” and “Absolutely not, but I’ll call you, if that changes.”
  3. If you’re getting grunts, hmmms or other monosyllabic answers, or we’re giving you that I’m-in-an-alternative-universe stare, we probably need some space.
  4. We do occasionally erupt into nonstop chatter. This usually happens after a prolonged period of “working things out in our heads.” Pretend you’re listening, smile and nod, remind yourself that this, too, shall pass–and thank God these eruptions tend to be infrequent.
  5. In times of extreme stress, we find invitations, phone calls, shooting the breeze, and Facebook posts that have to be shared to prove our compassion or social consciousness extremely taxing. Like Greta Garbo, we want to be alone. We want peace and quiet, online and off. We need to think, to process. (As opposed to extroverts, who seem to process every live-long thing out loud. I can’t tell you how many times an extrovert has told me–in excruciating detail–about his/her current problem, then concluded cheerfully, “Thanks!  Talking to you has helped me work it all out in my mind.” How that happens with all that gabbing going on is a mystery to me, but the system apparently works for them.)
  6. Finally, when we really start to get on your nerves, remember:  While we’re doing our withdrawn-uncommunicative-introversion schtick, we may be formulating the Theory of Everything or composing the Great American Novel or inventing the solution that will permanently straighten your naturally curly hair.

Did I miss anything? Feel free to comment and let me know!

introvert 3

Tools of the Trade, Part 1: Words

ster•e•o•type  /ˈsterēəˌtīp/ noun 1. a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.

I get this. If you’re an indie author, you get this, because, let’s face it, indies have a bad rep in some circles. Now we can’t do jack about folks who believe writing is easy, and/or we’re in this for the money. No changing minds that color all indies as half-witted hobbyists, geeky basement dwellers, ditzy housewives, or bored retirees.

But before I tumble off my soapbox laughing–or foaming at the mouth–let me add this:  Even Psychology Today admits some stereotypes grow like twisted pearls around a kernel of truth. Our kernel is this:  We’ve got too much half-assed writing out there. Not the sole province of indies, I’ll grant you, but we can only clean our own house.

And speaking of houses, you wouldn’t try to build one without tools–well, not unless you’re Popeye the Sailor, who used to drive nails with his fists, and even he couldn’t build a book without the right tools. For the next few weeks, I’m gonna make like Lowe’s, offering tips and tools for your building pleasure. Today’s special, laying a strong foundation.

We start by repeating our mantra for this Saturday:

Words-Have-Power

You bet they do, so don’t get sloppy with them. Would you get sloppy with a band saw–whatever that is? No way. Well, to paraphrase Edward Bulwer-Lytton, words are mightier than band saws. Think about it.

Words are wonderful. Hobgoblin, finagle, lambaste, titular, weensy, claptrap, crackerjack, fluff, knucklehead, quisling, snout, porcine … I mean, you gotta love ‘em, right? So choose the right one. If you won’t listen to me on this, listen to Mark Twain.

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

Choosing the right word is key for, oh, let me count the ways. Nail your nouns, you won’t need to swaddle them in adjectives that bloat your writing. A strong verb will free you from adverbs, which as Stephen King assures us, pave the road to Hell. So forget the bad storm and heavy rain. You’ve got your deluge, your downpour, or, if you’re in Texas, your frog-strangler. Jettison smiled wryly or widely or sweetly in favor of smirked, beamed, leered, grinned, or simpered.

Sad to say, sometimes the perfect noun or verb is nowhere to be found. In that case, you’ve got nowhere to go but adjectives or adverbs, so go for the heavy lifters. And use as few as possible. Sticking with the storm theme: sheeting rain, shrieking wind, soupy fog. Smile fleetingly or darkly or crookedly. And for God’s sake, don’t be afraid of the unusual. Check out this evocative image from J.D. Robb’s Conspiracy In Death:  “the thin and sticky hand of charity.”

See what I mean? And I may I just say, “Damn, I wish I’d written that.”

Make use of all your word tools. Onomatopoeia, for example. You probably know, but in case you don’t, onomatopoeia is “the formation or use of words such as buzz or murmur that imitate the sounds associated with the objects or actions they refer to.” (Thanks for the cut-and-paste, thefreedictionary.com!) You’ll find a nice list here. In case you’re curious, a few personal faves include plunk, jitter, plop, babble (referring to speech, not brooks), eew, grit, and gurgle. I could go on and on, so please … stop me now!

Alliteration is another handy tool, but you want to use this one with caution, unless you’re writing standup comedy, and even then, you don’t want to go all Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. Check out these powerhouse examples:

  • “I’ll kill him,” he said, “in all his greatness and glory.” ~Old Man and the Sea
  • “his appearance was something displeasing, something downright detestable” ~Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde
  • “the sibilant sermons of the snake” ~The Gargoyle (nice combo of alliteration and onomatopoeia, yes?)
  • ballbuster ~almost any mainstream mystery novel

Finally, as I’ve often said–much to the dismay of friends and family everywhere–if you’re serious about words, if you want to learn to unleash their power, you need to read poetry. (I heard that groan. Suck it up.) Poets rule when it comes to the efficient, effective use of words. Read and learn:

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

Frozen-ground-swell, spilling boulders? Oh yeah, words have power ….

Growing Up Indie Part IX: Crickets

Honesty comes hard today, but when I started this series, I committed to telling my indie publishing experience like it is—even if I wind up feeling like a dork in the process. Which I often do. Take this post, for example. Dork factor of at least 10.  Is that going to stop me?  Heck, no. Because I have a mantra:  There are no mistakes; this is a learning experience. There are no mistakes; this is a learning experience. (Breathe deeply and repeat until you get past the urge to devour massive quantities of Dove chocolate.)

book signing sceneYes, today’s topic is book signings.  As an indie author with no agent, I arrange my own. Two under my belt so far. And, as much as it pains me to fess up, I’m going to tell you about them and the lessons they taught me.

My first rodeo (this is Texas, after all) kicked off at the local library. “It’s NaNoWriMo night,” they said. “The group says they really want to talk to you,” they said. “You should get a good response,” they said. And, librarians being some of the nicest people I know, I believed them.

I arrived 15 minutes early to set up my table. Covered it with a fashionable tablecloth, made sure my book was stylishly (and prominently) displayed on an elegant stand. Heck, I even offered a door prize! Also the above-mentioned Dove chocolate. (All of which I did wind up eating, by the way, albeit not in one sitting.) Then I sat me down, smiled me sweetest author smile—a smile darned near as delectable as the Dove—and waited. In my defense, let me say I never expected droves of admiring fans. I did expect (or at least, hope for) a few.  In the end, I got one. The rest of the evening?

crickets3Yes, that’s a cricket. ‘Nuff said? God, I hope so.

Still, I told myself the evening wasn’t a total loss. For one thing, I learned librarians are optimists. I also figured out your basic, small-town library isn’t the most happening place on a Wednesday evening. I got a copy of my book onto their shelves. Finally, and possibly most important, I found out Killin’ Jim Miller really did assassinate 51 men.

Book signing #2, scheduled at a wildly popular local coffee house, looked a lot more promising. “The place will be packed,” they said. “You should get a great response,” they said. And, because the fellow I talked to sounded so enthusiastic, I believed him.

BUT, for added insurance, I came up with this absolutely brilliant marketing idea:  Purchase a book, get a free gift bag. Brightly colored tissue paper included. Could Christmas shopping get any easier? I ask you.

So last night, I lugged my traps up to the house of Java. And, brother, it was packed! Granted, my table was about the size of a deck of playing cards, but I am nothing, if not resourceful. Got set up, smiled my smile, and mentally rubbed my hands together. Avast, maties! Author’s ship off the port bow!

Unfortunately, my ship stayed off the port bow.  Waaaaay off the port bow.  Besides two pity visits—”Oh, did you write this book?  What’s it about?  Gee, that’s swell.”—nobody shopped … or even made eye contact. Well, except for that one lady, who stopped in to buy two books. Because, you know, she happens to be a friend of mine.

I sat there from 4-6 last night. Longest. Two. Hours. Of. My. Life.  (Not counting childbirth.)  But I stuck it out on principle. I will admit, though, by the time six o’clock crawled around, my smile was somewhat worse for wear.

fake-smile-229x300Again, I learned.  Librarians aren’t the only ones with rosy expectations, coffee hours guys have them, too. And college students studying for finals (in between hookups) don’t stop to buy books. I got to donate a book to the coffee house library. Finally, I now know where to get possibly the best and biggest cup of hot chocolate in the known universe.

Today, as I munch leftover Reece’s Peanut Butter Bells, I ponder the signing scheduled for next week. I remember how they promised me a big crowd and snort, “Yeah, I’ve heard that line before.” I anticipate another two hours wearing that clothespin smile. I wonder if I can come down with a convenient case of beriberi and save my hips from the blowout caused by a third leftover candy stache.

Mostly I wonder if I should be doing signings at all. Are book signings only worth it for authors with established names? Or are they a necessary, painful paying of dues on the way to establishing a name?

I love meeting readers, even if they don’t read my books. I love talking to fellow authors, especially if they, like me, are aspiring. I love introducing them to resources like World Literary Cafe that will help them on their way.

But who wants to sit at a table, feeling (and smiling) like a dork?

All I can say at this point is, the jury is still out on book signings. I’ll let you know the verdict, right after I recover from my acute beriberi.

Meanwhile …. Candy, anyone?

Growing Up Indie, Part VIII: As Time Goes By

The fundamental things apply
As time goes by

I don’t know about you, but as time goes by I forget.  Between writing (or fretting because I’m not) and marketing (what little I do) and keeping an eye on sales (it only takes one eye at this point) and the occasional obsession with reviews, I lose sight of fundamentals every author should remember.  Maybe I need to print them out and post them on the giant bulletin board above my monitor, alongside the next novel’s murder map and my train ticket to Bordeaux and the yellow button that says, “I may be over the hill, but I can still get back on top when I want to.”

Today, I thought I would post them here, because maybe you’ve forgotten, too.  That way, I can remind both of us.  So here, for our collective edification, are 5 fundamentals every writer should keep in mind.

  1. Write for Yourself First.  Don’t start out thinking about sales or gold stars or even the reader.  Stay true to your story; it’s a world only you can offer. Writing at its best is like giving birth. Your imagination is pregnant with a cast of characters and everything that happens to them.  You don’t want to deliver a clone, simply because the kid might be more marketable and people will like you better.
  2. Improve Your Art.  Call me a cockeyed idealist, but I consider writing an art, and frankly, I don’t care whether we’re talking literary coming-of-age novels, romances, or zombie apocalypses.  You’re a wordsmith, and practice should make perfect—or as nearly perfect as we can get in this crazy world.  Get feedback from fellow authors and editors and proofreaders.  Pay attention to what you like about your favorite authors.  Go back and (oh, God!) look at your earlier work and pinpoint what you could have done differently (read:  better).  Always, always be on the lookout for ways to grow as a writer.  Which brings us to our next point ….
  3. Keep It Simple, Silly.  In the past few months, I’ve come close to banging my head against the wall any number of times.  Why?  Because authors who should know better—talking best-sellers here—have suddenly decided more words trump fewer, and the more highfaluting the adjective, the better.  WRONG doesn’t quite cover this phenomenon.  Imagine your next sentence is your hand.  You want your words to deliver a slap or a punch?  Keep your writing compact.  This advice goes hand in hand with fundamental #4.
  4. Write Like You Talk.  Tattoo this Robertson Davies quote on your forehead (backwards, so you can read it in the mirror): “I think of an author as somebody who goes into the marketplace and puts down his rug and says, ‘I will tell you a story’ ….” When you write, tell the story the way you would tell it to a group of friends sitting around a campfire (S’mores optional).  This is what we call your “voice.”  This voice is as unique as your DNA,  flowing directly from who you are and setting you apart from every other author who ever has or ever will write a word.  (This is a good thing.)
  5. Leave Some Gaps.  Want to draw your reader in?  Leave room for his/her imagination.  By that I mean, give just enough detail.  No need to describe every wart, whisker, or button on the armchair.  Let your audience fill in the lesser blanks and get on with the action.  Instead of getting bored, your reader will unconsciously invest a bit of him- or herself in your story.  Plus, you let the reader do some of the work!  What’s not to like about that?

Well, there you (we) have them.  I’m sure you could name other fundamentals, and I’d be obliged if you would share.  Seriously.  Post a comment here, or on my Facebook page or just shoot me an e-mail, and I’ll share.  I’ll be waiting to hear from you ….

Waiting

Growing Up Indie, Part VII: Priorities

Writing is not about the money.  Self-publishing is not about royalties.

There.  I said it.

Now, before you file me under “get real”—or call out the guys in the white coats—let me say this:  Getting paid for what you write is not a bad thing.  I like getting paid.  Royalties make me feel more like a “real author.”  (Whatever that may be, and as sad as that may be.)  Someday, said royalties may event amount to enough to help put gluten-free bread on my table and kibble in the dog dishes.

And lest you think I’ve always taken the high road on money, I freely admit to a darned-near (artistically) fatal case of “gonna make me a bundle” early on in the game.  Yes, as much as it pains me to admit it, I believed the self-publishing-as-the-road-to-riches hype.  Put my books out there, kicked back on the dock, and waited for the Queen Mary to cruise in.

waiting_for_my_ship_to_come_in_by_heylormammy-d33gd1s

I’m still waiting.

Fortunately, the wait hasn’t been wasted.  While peering hopefully at the horizon, I learned what is probably the most important lesson self-publishing had to teach me:  It’s not about the money.  Actually, I think I knew part of this before I started, but the Gold Bug bit me and I forgot.  So, in case you’ve forgotten, too—or maybe never figured it out to begin with ….

“I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss—you can’t do it alone.”
~John Cheever

That’s the part I already knew but forgot.  Writing is about relationships—the intimate meeting of hearts and minds.  When I write, I invite the reader to join his/her imagination with mine.  (Think Vulcan Mind Meld, only a lot less creepy.)  Together, we can open portals to new worlds and fantastic adventures.  Go it alone, and I’m just talking to myself on paper.

The part of the lesson that caught me by surprise is this:  Self-publishing is also about relationships.

Say what?

Well, it’s like this:  I never connected with as many kind, helpful people in my life, as I have since going indie.  Reader/reviewers.  Marketing mentors.  Altruistic promoters.  Emotional support groups.  (I was going to say “emotional supporters,” but sounded too much like men’s underwear.)  General helper-outers and cheerleaders.  You simply would not believe how many terrific folks are out there, waiting to join hands.  I mean, hokey smokes, it’s enough to restore your faith in mankind!

So allow this junior senior citizen, this student in the continuing-education school of knocks for those hard of head, offer you a few modicums of advice:

  • If you measure social media success by the number of followers you have on Twitter, or the number of likes you have on Facebook, you lose.
  • If you live for retweets but stay a stranger to the folks who help you out—forget to banter with them, encourage them, and/or support them—you lose.
  • If you’re all about self-promotion and never about paying it forward or lending a helping hand, you lose.
  • If you’re so busy courting reviews and counting stars, you don’t have time to toss a few stars into someone else’s galaxy, you lose.
  • And if royalties, not relationships, are your yardstick for success, you definitely lose.
“Regardless of whether a relationship brings us joy or sorrow, each relationship gives us the opportunity to grow stronger, nobler, and more compassionate with ourselves and others.” ~Tamela Rich
Just my opinion, mind you, but that’s what writing and self-publishing are all about.  So, let’s keep our priorities straight, shall we?
HANDSTOUCHINGS-33

Growing Up Indie, Part VI: Hindsights

Given a few of my posts, followers of this blog probably think my attitude toward self-publishing looks something like this:

tantrum

Not true, although I wouldn’t blame you for jumping to that conclusion, given my plaints about promotion and the pressure to produce.  Be those as they may, my attitude toward self-publishing actually looks more like this:confused-face-emoticon-612

(Except my glasses are rimless, my eyes are hazel, I have gray hair, and my shoes aren’t nearly as cool.)  I don’t hate self-publishing—and have no plans to quit—I’m simply not cut out for everything DYI entails.  This I learned through experience, the best (if not always the kindest) teacher.

Today I would like to share some hard-won hindsights, which are sort of like insights, except they usually show up too late to do you any real good.  So pay attention and maybe you’ll spare yourself some grief.  Please note that the following pointers assume you’ve written a good book, had it beta read and edited, and have it properly formatted.  If you haven’t done that, stop reading right now.  (Or save this post until you catch up.)

  • Hindisght #1:  Get your author platform down.  I already wrote about this, and you can find that post here.  For the moment, suffice it to say, If you were in a footrace, your author platform would be, “On your mark!”  You can’t win, if you don’t start at the right place.
  • Hindsight #2:  There’s no such thing as a free lunch.  You need a budget.  Not talking Daddy Warbucks here, just enough to pay for some great cover art (not as expensive as you think), an editor, the occasional ad, membership in a few key professional organizations, and maybe a course to fill the knowledge gaps, something like they offer at Fostering Success.
  • Hindsight #3:  You need a plan.  How are you going to launch your book?  Think “build-up,” people, and maintaining “the big Mo.”  You need to get readers excited BEFORE you put your book out there.  Tease them with excerpts.  A cover reveal. A few advance copies.
  • Hindsight #4:  Know thyself.  If tips, helpful websites, blog tours, and social media platforms were raindrops, your ark would already be afloat. Maybe writing is your full-time job, and you can afford to write all morning and promote all afternoon.  Or maybe you’re a pink bunny with a big bass drum and energy to burn.  The point is, you need to be honest with yourself.  How much can you handle?  If the answer is, “Not all that much,” then pick your spots.  Services like Bublish (free) and Ebook Booster (not free, but the next thing to it, and well worth the expense) can take a major load off.  You’ll find links to these and a few other nifty resources on my website.
  • Hindsight #5:  Expectations are  your enemy.  (This hindsight is also known as, “Don’t fall for the hype.”)  Once you put your book out there, trust me, you’re gonna discover a whole new obsession:  numbers.  How many sales?  How many free downloads?  How many reviews?  How many good reviews?  Word to the wise:  Keep watching the numbers, and you will flat drive yourself nuts!  Remember:  Once in a blue moon, a book hits Amazon and takes off … but only suckers count on a blue moon.  This stuff takes time.

There’s probably more I could tell you, but at my age, you can only hold so many thoughts at once.  Besides, I gotta save something for future blogs ….