Saturday, August 16, 2014

Feeding the Dreamers

Responsibility often shows up in the most unlikely places.
It's one thing to be at a book signing and have readers ask you questions about how to be an author (as if I know) and quite another to be at your niece's birthday party or in the parking lot of the grocery store . At the book signing you're on. You have your writer's hat on. But when you're eyeballing birthday cake and hollering at your kids to stop snapping each other with towels, well, it's different. I was in mom mode and I couldn't quite articulate my experience as an indie author.

I try to impress upon anyone who happens (on the very off-chance) to hear that I write books that I am not a traditional author and that I have only sold (for actual cash) somewhere between a thousand and two thousand books. For all the good it's done me, I've given away nearly ten thousand.
The question they (typically being bookworm teenage girls) always ask me is, "How do I become an author?"
It's silly but my mind actually seizes up at this question. But I gave it some thought and jotted it down.

Obviously, you have to write.
And write a lot.
Really you should write something every day.
I am not good at following this advice. Typically I blame the children but there are authors out there who also have children and still manage to get some writing done every day.
In this case, do as I say and not as I do.

All the time. Read different genres. Read poetry. Read the newspapers.

Accept that you're going to write crap.
Just get it in your head that the first draft will always be a junker. With each story you write you are a beginning potter and you are only just figuring out the shape of it what it is you're creating. The first attempt will be all misshapen and kind of leaning too far one the fourth or fifth time you work that story-clay, you'll know what you're doing.

Allow a trusted friend to read your work.
By trusted I don't mean the friend who will tell you it's great even when it's lumpy and misshapen. I've had the same BFF for 20+ years. She tells me how it is and she does it out of love, for my own good. Typically she is the only person who sees my raw manuscripts. Find someone you trust like this and talk it out. Sometimes these conversations will lead you to places you never knew your story should go.

Notice things. Smell the seasons. Feel the thirsty grass crunch beneath your feet. Notice the filtered light of the late afternoon sun. Be still and drink it all in, store it away.

And the old adage: write what you know.
Of course this means you're supposed to write from your own experience. But how boring would that be for most of us!? And what a travesty for readers! There would be no time-travel, no spaceships, no vampires. View it this way instead: write from your own emotional experience. Has your heart been broken by someone who has no clue they even held such power? Have you been lost in a mall and unable to find who you were supposed to be with? Has that particularly brutish wannabe-debutante at your school ever gotten nose-to-nose with you? Did you tremble with anger? Have you watched as the life flowed out of someone you loved?
Setting can be made up, easy as pie.
Use the heartache, the loneliness, the anger and panic you have felt to create those emotions in your characters, to impart those bits of your soul into your readers. Writing is often mentally exhausting for me because I often draw up bitter memories to create scenes and I find myself weeping not just for the story but for what I have gone through in my life. ("Why aren't you working on the next von Strassenberg book?!" BECAUSE IT STRESSES ME OUT!....whew, needed to say that)

Before you send off or upload anything, set it aside, write something else, and then go back and edit your first manuscript. This is where a lot of indie authors trip themselves up. We write, write, write, write, and we do a couple edits, we take notes from our friends, do some more edits, and then we upload. I have learned that this is a huge mistake. Set it aside, give yourself some emotional distance from it, and then go back.

I can offer no more advice than that. It was never my intent to be traditionally published. It was only after I figured out what an uphill battle indie publishing is that I finally sent off letters to agents. The one response I got back was, "We like your polish and tenacity but suggest you scrap your series in progress and send us something fresh." Being loyal to my readers, I opted not to scrap my series but plow ahead on my own.

In a nutshell, to be an author:
Be well-read. Be disciplined. Be determined. You only get better if you keep writing.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Dacie Mae and the Lessons She's Teaching Me

Typically my writing is extremely plot-driven.
The characters are somewhat secondary to the plot. 
This is a weakness in my writing. 
I'm just writing the story and moving the pieces around in it. 
This is a fault I never really recognized until I got thick into writing the third installment of Dacie Mae: Midnight Under the Magnolia. 
Dacie Mae, a series of mysteries released in installments, follows a young reporter who dreams of making it out of her small town and into big-city journalism one day. Problem is, she is the only family her clinically depressed mother has left and, she wouldn't admit it, she's also attached to her town. 
Dacie looks like this, whoever she is
For the past several days I have had no one else at home with me. It's just that time of year when the boys go on an adventure with their grandparents and my husband goes off somewhere to do his National Guard duty. I took a couple days to wallow in watching whatever I wanted and playing Sims 3 while I watched it. I read a couple books. By the third day I was totally over TV and the muse had been fed by all the reading and I just wanted to write. 
For two days my TV has remained largely ignored, not being turned on until I'm ready to pass out late at night. I wrote 10,000 words the first day and the second day I re-read all of Midnight Under the Magnolia and then wrote 7,500. 
At first, my goal was to just get through 2k, just get through 2k a day, and even that seemed like a huge feat to accomplish. But in the silence of my home the characters grew to life, started saying and doing things I hadn't asked them to say or do. When I go to bed at night, completely worn out, I still can't fall asleep because US Deputy Marshal Hank McClain is lingering in my thoughts or that thing that happened with Dacie Mae and Henry Wallace keeps replaying in my mind.
Hank kinda looks like this....
The story is taking on a new dimension that wasn't in my well-laid plans. 
I was going to scrap it all, "You're veering off topic!"
But this isn't just about the murders. It's about Dacie Mae, her struggles and her strings and everything that she comes along with. So if she wants to step out of the plot into a coffee shop to get some work done, I'm going to follow her because I'm invested in her. If Hank wants to show up and be big brotherly or whatever it is he's being, I'm going to let him. 
It's not the first time I've made this claim but this will be the best thing I've written so far. Of course, every writer should say that with every new work she's putting out. But truly, this is my best. (So far.)

For those of you who haven't heard about Dacie Mae, my goal (now that summer vacation is dying), is to release a new part every Friday. Think of it like a television show. 
Right now we're working through Dacie Mae: Midnight Under The Magnolia. All of these installments follow the same string of events and will eventually be bundled into one book. How many installments in one book? It's looking like 4 or 5. Each installment is .99 If the entire "season" of Midnight Under the Magnolia is 5 installments then  the entire book will be $4.95. 

Get DACIE MAE part 1 Now!
Kindle Nook

Get Holler's Grove FREE July 23rd

Monday, June 16, 2014

Crazy Days of Summer

It has been almost two days since we returned from weeklong scout camp at S-Bar-F Scout Ranch and I still don't feel fully recovered! It was a wonderful experience but dang I'm tired now. This week my nephew is coming to stay with us. Next week Cub Scout Day Camp begins. As a den leader I am expected to be there every day. It will be hot and muggy but I love seeing the boys. It is my hope that somehow this week and next week I will have enough energy left over to finish Dacie Mae, episode 3. Maybe I'll just have to get up in the wee dark hours and write while everyone else is asleep. I can't stand being interrupted while writing, makes it difficult to slip away into my fictional world. I will keep you posted and hope that you have enjoyed the first two installments.
Most likely there will be five installments before this "season" ends.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Henry Wallace: Rock Star

Dacie Mae didn't actually begin with the idea of a small town, aspiring journalist. It began with Michael Grimm's audition on America's Got Talent. What a character. Backwoods boy with a bit of an edge and a voice to make your toes curl. He was floating around in my brain and I knew I wanted to plug him into a story, well--a version of him. 
The concept of Dacie Mae came about while I was visiting my ancestral home in Missouri. There is virtually no cell reception there. You kind of have to stand on your vehicle in just the right spot and maybe you'll get a signal. There isn't a store. There used to be a general store, but don't get me started on that. It recently burned down and it still pains me to think of it. My great-great grandfather was Post Master there and generation after generation of my family shopped there and now it's gone. We were at a family reunion there in that little village when Dacie Mae began to take form. It seemed a perfect fit for this soulful voice and unkempt black hair. But Henry Wallace is NOT Michael Grimm, just a reasonable facsimile. For instance, Henry Wallace doesn't care much about his family. Michael Grimm loves his Grandma and Grandpa and is very devoted to them. Henry Wallace is a tramp. Michael Grimm sang to his girlfriend during his final performance on America's Got Talent and then proposed to her on the Ellen Show. I hear they're married now. Henry Wallace is not the marrying type. And he might be a smidge taller than Michael Grimm. 
As you can imagine, in a small town, a young man with a voice like this could be a dangerous thing. Just think of all the hearts he broke and the trouble he caused. I love writing him. He's so sultry and just plain old naughty and Dacie Mae hates him with a passion but sometimes finds herself forgetting that.
Reminder, each installment will be .99. The entire book will be .99xHowever Many Installments There Are. Probably 3 installments of the first ....."season" I guess. If you want to think of it in terms of a television show. BUY FOR KINDLE BUY FOR NOOK

Friday, May 2, 2014

Dacie Mae, Episode 2

The second installment of Dacie Mae should be out this Sunday. Please be patient with me while I become accustomed to my hectic new work schedule.
Once all the kinks are ironed out I would like to release each new "episode" on Friday night. This week just was awful. At one point I actually started falling asleep while I was sitting up typing. Allergy season.
Aside from my sudden onset of narcolepsy, it was also a challenge to figure out what would happen in this second installment. Like a television show it must have its own subplot while still moving toward the resolution of the main conflict. And then once that issue was resolved I had to stop and ask myself, "But how well will it read when it's all in one novel?" I don't want it to read like a bunch of episodes crammed into one movie. That would just be awkward. Having hammered all that out, I could finally scrap my early attempts in the week and get to serious writing.
It's going well, much much better than I had anticipated. This, of course, was the point of the installments: to make me HAVE to write. And it's working because I don't like to tick off my readers. So, unless I give further notice.....
(forty minutes later)
As I sat here typing the sound of water cascading in my kitchen filled my ears.
So, I'm gonna go do dishes in my bathtub now....

Thursday, April 24, 2014

US Deputy Marshal Harrison McClain

US Deputy Marshal Harrison McClain is swiftly becoming one of my greatest fictional loves.
I dare say, he is even approaching Viktor-status.
Don't get me wrong, I love William III (von Strassenberg Saga) and Max Davis (Holler's Grove) and you know I have a soft spot for that bad boy Peter Strauss (also VSsaga), but Viktor....I still haven't gotten over that.
Oh Viktor.
Someone get me a tissue. I'm getting all verklempt again.
While Harrison "Hank" McClain is no Viktor he is swiftly approaching fictional crush status.
Think Raylan Givens. That delectablly flawed lawman on Justified but younger.
He may even physically resemble Timothy Olyphant a little bit....couldn't help myself.

 Harrison McClain comes from a normal family, meaning his mother was not overly attentive or neglectful but paid just the right amount of attention to make sure he stayed in school and out of jail. His family was poor but not living in abject poverty. They did have to scrape by. Harrison learned the value of hard work early on. He mowed lawns, shoveled driveways, washed cars and dogs, did any odd job he could get. He grew up in Virginia as a bit of a ruffian, played high school baseball and was even offered a scholarship to UVa but turned it down to join the United States Army. While enlisted he slowly chipped away at earning his Bachelor's of Science online, eventually earning his degree in Criminal Justice. After serving six years he left the Army and applied himself to become a US Deputy Marshal. Once he graduated from Glencoe with top marks, he threw himself into his work.
I don't know who she is but give her big ears
and black eyebrows and this is Dacie Mae.
While he craves companionship he's not the kind to settle into a steady relationship as he's very focused on his job. Recently, after a snafu in West Virginia he was transferred to Missouri's Western District. Because of his experience dealing with rural communities and their drug circles he was assigned to help with the Tri-County Narcotics Enforcement Task Force set up by Blaine, Carlson and Wallace counties.
At 30, he is 8 years older than our heroine. Everyone in town, except for Dacie Mae and Harrison, know they are sweet on each other. And while Dacie Mae will sometimes admit to herself that he gives her a case of the stomach butterflies on occasion she mostly considers him to be as irritating and essential as the older brother she never had. As for Harrison, well he doesn't discuss his romantic feelings toward Dacie Mae, not even with himself but he knows there is something in him that would snap if anyone tried to do her harm. When hometown legend and crusher of Dacie Mae's heart, Henry Wallace, strolls back into town Harrison finds himself searching for any excuse to break the rocker's nose.
And he says stuff like this:

“Don’t you believe any man who makes you feel like you were just a one-time thing.” His arms tighten around me and his words tickle my ear, “You could never be any man’s forgettable moment.” He holds me away from him and I feel ridiculously like I could melt in the dark pools of his eyes. “You are a force to be remembered, Dacie Mae.” He tugs at the loose hair again and strolls away leaving me conflicted and frozen to the sidewalk. 

I love them. I love Dacie Mae and Hank. And I even love the fiery hatred Dacie Mae holds toward the cool, unflappable Henry Wallace. And at some point I know Hank is going to have to break Henry Wallace's nose because let's be honest, he has it coming.
The first "episode" of Dacie Mae is already available. Check back next week for more!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Why serial?

Before the question comes up I will answer it.
There will be complaints, I know.
I will be accused of being greedy.
The more appropriate slur would be neurotic.
Dacie Mae is being published in serialized installments because I'm completely self-conscious and neurotic about my writing.
I'm not going to get rich nickel and diming it with a mystery series. But  what I will get is work done.
My lack of confidence in my own work often leads to days or weeks wherein I cannot drag myself to my desk chair. It's  scary place.
I have five books out and I've sold three this month. Our car has been broken down for two weeks and we can't afford to take it to the shop. Meanwhile my husband keeps insisting that I stay home and write and not feel guilty. So he's killing himself...going to work every day and then coming home and working on the car and preparing for his next round of drill with the National Guard. Don't get me wrong, I work all day. I have a house and a yard to take care of, children to feed and get ready for baseball and scouts and everything else. Laundry every night and every day. But I often neglect the work that might help pay for the car repairs because it often doesn't pay for anything more than a bag of M&M's. One bag of M&M's a month.
It's a big risk to publish something in this manner. A lot of people might get angry. A lot of people might just say, "I'll just wait until they're all out and then buy the compilation."
The upside is, if I know that whether or not people buy it will be partially dependent upon me faithfully producing the next chapter each week, I'm more likely going to plant myself in my chair and spin some tales instead of staring out the window watching stray cats go by or scrubbing the toilet or mopping the kitchen again. I'm publishing Dacie Mae this way as a means of enforcing deadlines on myself. That's all. I've been doing this too long to think it will make me an overnight sensation. It's just what I need to do as a writer. Each installment, no matter how long, will be .99. I imagine there will be five or six installments for each storyline. So to be fair, the compilation of the six novellas will be $5.94 when it is published.
Think of it like a TV show, each installment is a bi-weekly episode. When the compilation comes out you can show binge.
FROM DACIE MAE, episode 1:

I have never been like the other girls. At least not like the girls of Wallace County. Maybe it’s my strange hodgepodge of disproportionate facial features that set me apart from the beginning. Thanks to my predominately Scots-Irish ancestry with just enough Cherokee thrown in to make things weird, I have a face that screams, “You will never be like them! All attempts are futile!”
So you’ve maybe heard of William Wallace, right? You know, Braveheart? Well supposedly, and this could be total hogwash, but supposedly the man who founded our town, one Robert Roy Wallace (I’m not kidding, it’s like clash of the epic Scottish warrior movies around here) was an actual, verifiable descendant of Braveheart. Blue-faced, crazy Mel–Gibson-eyes Braveheart. Which actually explains a lot about our town.
I am not the descendant of any legend. No Roys. No Wallaces. We know for certain. My daddy checked. He used to research our lineage like he was getting paid to do it. Which he wasn’t. Daddy was an out-of-work reporter. When he couldn’t find a job reporting he finally settled for a janitorial position at City Hall. He said being there made him feel as though he was still in the thick of it. When Edgar Beckett finally died of an aneurism Daddy got his job and a chance to slave away at the Wallace County Tribune but quit when he realized that employment there required the confiscation of his soul, which he said was reserved for mom and Emily and I. Being a reporter takes up a lot of hours, in the office, at home, on call. And it was too hard on my mom.
She still blames my father for my maniacal zeal to be a reporter. I tried to tell her it was readin’ Harriet the Spy that did it but she won’t believe me. “You’ve just always been so much like him, Dacie Mae. Snoopin’ and trying to find a way to justify your gossiping. One day, girl. One day.”
Mama hadn’t known what she’d gotten herself into when she’d married daddy. They’d met when he was stationed in Georgia with the United States Army. Then she’d followed him all moon-eyed back to Wallace, never knowin’ it would swallow her whole.
“Dacie Mae!”
Something soft bounces off the side of my head and sure enough, there he is. The most eligible bachelor in town, when he actually is in town. He’s not actually from Wallace but we like to think of him as though he is.
“Hank, what on earth? Why you throwin’ things at me?”
“Why are you throwing things at me, Dacie Mae. Why ARE you.”
“I know. So why are you?”
“I know you know but you gotta make it a habit.”
“Don’t you mean I have to?”
He slides onto the one clean spot on my desk. “How’d those photos from last night turn out?”
“Good. Really good. Colette about had a fit--”
Hank waggles his finger at me. I’m tempted to bite it. Hard. If I was still eight I would. Just like I did to Tommy Baker that one time I drew blood when he was teasing me.
“Why Mr. McClain, I thank you so much for asking,” I smile professionally at him, shortening the length of my syllables, coming down hard on the last sound of each word. “Colette was practically enraged when she learned I had scooped her.”
“That’s better.”
Hank is a city boy. And as much as he’s trying to help me find my syllables he’s losin’ his. It happens. It’s part of the claiming you go through when Wallace accepts you as one of its own.