Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Overlooking the Obvious

The membership of the Southern Indiana Writers Group has changed over the twenty or so years we've been together. Some of us have been there the whole time. Others have left, and new members have joined. So, when I began the rewrite on the book formerly known as Eel's Reverence (first published as Eel's Revenge), I decided I couldn't do better than to take it and read it to the group, a chapter at a time.

I knew that the chances were good that the new members would catch things we missed in our earlier days. Sure enough, one of our long-time members caught something and one of our new members caught something else.

As the title implies, what we had all overlooked (chiefly, of course, me, since it's my little world) were obvious. Things that, once pointed out, made me slap my forehead and go, "Duh!"

The main character is a woman, a priest of Micah, a holy man of legend. The main conflict is between her and the priests of a section of coastline called The Eel, who are mercenary hypocrites. Her spiritual stance and behavior are central to the action. And what did I forget?

She's hidden by a family who had prepared a secret room, certain that a "true" priest would come to them, eventually. And I forgot to have them put an altar in the room.

Although she's always saying to others or thinking to herself about what a priest of Micah would do, she never has an inner dialog with Micah, the way Christians pray to God the Father, Jesus, Mary, or a saint. I could pretend I decided priests of Micah don't do that, but that would be a lie. I just left it out. Didn't think of it. Missed the obvious.

I know why I did it: I was thinking about other parts of the story construction. But that's what rewrites are for, and that's especially what getting new eyes on something is for: reminding us of the obvious things we overlooked in writing and editing and rewriting and revising and reworking. And I still missed the obvious!

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Avoiding Burnout

An interesting phenomenon has been noticed occurred over recent months, one that has been mentioned on a number of different blogs. Bloggers have discovered that a number of familiar names in indie publishing are no longer around. Frequent posts to favorite networking sites have disappeared, there's no newly published books, and websites haven’t been updated in some time.

Some believe that the huge number of books now being published annually (I hear that it’s two million or more) has so glutted the market that many authors aren’t selling nearly as many books as they did between 2010 and 2015. Substantial royalties have therefore diminished, forcing some to return to day jobs. Still, others seem to have given up. Keep in mind that a small percentage of authors, particularly in the romance and erotica markets, are still making good incomes.

Another theory also factors in here. Burnout. On indie sites like Kindleboards, authors were touting the necessity of putting out a book every three months to stay visible and on top of Amazon’s mysterious algorithm. To me, this is akin to investing in stocks you don’t know much about, but hoping they’ll rise in your favor anyway. A number of authors have tried to do this with varying degrees of success. As those who follow my blogs know, I’ve tried to step up my pace, but it’s truly difficult.

So, I was really interested by a recent blog that discussed burnout…what it really is, and how to overcome it. Author BelleCooper identifies burnout as a combination of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy. It seems that burnout is not just a matter of overworking, but of losing enthusiasm for what you’re doing to the point where you become inefficient and unproductive. I’ve seen evidence of this in my own life, so I’ve been taking steps to avoid complete burnout.

First, I put four of the six writing projects away to focus on just two. Secondly, I’m improving my diet, getting more rest when needed, and exercising more. Third, I’m adjusting my life/work balance by spending more time with friends, planning, weekend getaways, and even a couple of vacations over the next twelve months. A rarity for me!

It’s already helping. There’s more I can do, and Cooper has other great tips. If you feel like you’re working too hard and are becoming jaded by the lack of reward for your efforts, then please read her blog. Maybe it will help.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Dead Man Floating and Other Novella Stuff

As some of you know, I began writing mystery novellas a while back, and was delighted when Imajin Books published my first Evan Dunstan mystery, Dead Man Floating, in September, 2015. To that end, my book is currently on sale for 50% off on Smashwords this week until Mar. 11). You can use the code, RAE50, and find the book at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/573302

I had hoped to finish the second installment last year, but real life responsibilities got in the way. I’m now working on the final edit and will submit the manuscript to Imajin next month.

The second novella has a Christmas theme, and Evan’s feisty, eccentric grandmother plays a key role in what is tentatively titled Crafty Killer. Since the setting takes place at a seniors’ Christmas craft fair, the title fits, but I’m never completely sure until I see it on the jacket cover.

I’m also working on the third installment, which has no title right now, but it’s a ghost story set at the post-secondary campus where Evan works as a security guard. The story’s inspired by my real life work in campus security, where rumors of hauntings in some of the older buildings circulated now and then. I never saw anything, but I didn't work graveyard shifts, and that’s when the real ghost action happened, or so I was told.

I didn’t set out to use holiday themes for this series, but it’s worked out that way. Whether I’ll do the same for the fourth book Is anyone’s guess. Stay tuned!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

After a Nine-Year Absence, I’m Self-Publishing Again

It’s hard to believe that nine years have passed since I released my second Alex Bellamy mystery, Fatal Encryption in 2008. The book first appeared in paperback, then a couple of years later in ebook format.

After that, I landed a contract with traditional publisher, TouchWood Editions, who released four of my Casey Holland mysteries. Working with TouchWood was an interesting, eye-opening experience and, although they helped me in many ways, we’ve now parted amicably. I’m now ready to publish the fifth Casey mystery, Knock Knock, myself.

It’s really interesting to compare how my self-publishing experience has changed from 2008 to 2017. First, what’s stayed the same? Hiring a good editor and jacket designer, for one thing. In my last post, I discussed my dilemma about choosing an image for the jacket cover. I’ve now found an experienced jacket designer, whose work and price I like, and who was recommended to me by a colleague. At the moment, I’m in the process of completing a detailed questionnaire about the book to give their designers a clear idea of what’s been done, and what should be done.

I’ll plan some sort of launch as I did with Fatal Encryption. I have a venue in mind for a possible fall release, but details needs to be ironed out. I’ll tell you what else stays the same…preparing a detailed, to-do list that includes acquiring an ISBN, preparing front and back matter, and the crucially important back cover blurb.

So, what’s changed? Again, based on the recommendation of several colleagues, I’ll be publishing through CreateSpace this time instead of a local printing service, and ordering far fewer copies at a time than I did with Fatal Encryption.

Although, I’ll be seeking review requests, as I did last time, back in 2008, I spent a small fortune mailing copies of what was a fairly large book to interested reviewers. This time, I’ll send PDFs; reviewers seem to prefer them anyway.

My marketing plan will also be different, but we’ll get to that in later posts. Meanwhile, I need to finish the final edit before handing it over to my editor next month. Production is underway! It’s an exciting time.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

When Characters Won't Behave

Some writers feel that their characters are autonomous; they speak and act on their own, and the author just follows them around and writes things down.

I'm not one of them.

Yes, your characters have to seem to be autonomous. Your characters have to seem to speak and act spontaneously, out of their own inner realities. But I see myself as more of a director than a biographer.

If I need for a character to say something or do something and the character -- in my imagination, now, they don't actually speak to me; I may be odd, but I'm not a practitioner of alternate sanity .... I lost my place. Oh, yeah: If I need for a character to say something or do something and the character is all like, "I just don't feel that. What's my motivation?" then I'm all like, "Fair enough. Let's talk about that."

See, I don't like pushy characters (with the obvious exception of Bud Blossom), but I don't like sock puppets, either: characters who obviously speak and act at the writer's will. You know the kind where you go, "I can see why the author wanted her to steal the secret code and plans, but I don't understand why she wanted to."

So, when characters don't want to say or do what you want them to, you have choices:
  • Give 'em their heads and see where they take you
  • Get out the cattle prod and herd 'em back in line
  • Sit down with 'em and yak around until you come up with reasons that make sense in their contexts
  • Get all evil wit' it and plant false memories so they believe they have motive.
By which I actually mean, tweak their backstory. That's one reason I like to leave backstory a bit vague, so I can fill it in as I need it. Also lazy.

CHARACTER: "But I'm not afraid of dogs! I love dogs!"

ME: "You don't love ... um ... red dogs. Yeah, see this dog is red. 'Member when that red dog knocked you down and bit you on the chin when you were two?"

CHARACTER: "...No, I don't."

ME: "Blocked it out. That's how traumatic it was."

CHARACTER: "Oh, yeah. Big red dogs. I always cried when the teacher read a CLIFFORD book."

ME: "Right. Right. So sad. Poor baby. Ready for the scene, now?"

Some writers work out the backstory, characters, and plotlines ahead of time, so they don't run into this sort of thing. Me, that much planning doesn't work for. Neither does just going with the flow. Not a plotter, not a pantser, I call myself a panther. I outline enough to get me through the story, but leave things loosey-goosey enough that, if something more interesting than what I have planned comes along, I can pounce on it like a hungry panther.

Oh, and Bud? It's the cattle prod and the cow dogs for Bud. YES, I'M TALKING ABOUT YOU AGAIN. YOU ALWAYS MANAGE, DON'T YOU?

~sigh~ It isn't easy being me.

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, February 12, 2017

My Book Cover Dilemma

I was in the mall this week, looking at all the winter clearance sale racks. It’s something I don’t do often, mainly because the many choices in department stores make my head spin. I’m better suited to the smaller boutiques, where there are maybe 40 racks instead of 90.

I’m discovering that the same is true when it comes to choosing a suitable book jacket image for my fifth Casey Holland mystery, and this is causing me a great dilemma. Even by using key words, there are thousands upon thousands of images to go through.

I remember doing this when I chose the cover for Fatal Encryption back in 2008, and it took a long time. But I was very clear about the image I wanted, a decision I don’t regret to this day. The cover for this book is a little more complicated, which adds to my dilemma.

Knock Knock is a story about a group of vicious home invasions that have been targeting seniors, many of whom also ride a particular Vancouver bus. Since my protagonist is a transit security officer for a bus company called Mainland, Public Transport, each cover has a bus related theme on the cover. They were designed by the in-house designer of my former publisher.

This time, a large part of the story takes place in residences. Thus, the second dilemma. Searching under the categories of mystery, home invasion, homes, and buses has presented some interesting images, and the choices are beginning to make my head spin.

To save costs and time, I was hoping to choose an image before I hire a jacket designer, but I’m now wondering if I should simply leave it to the expert.

Incidentally, I’m also intending to produce a Casey novella this year, the title of which is Man in a Gold Satin Thong. Really, the cover’s a no-brainer for that one, don’t you think?

If anyone has any suggestions to assist me in my search, please let me know! Thanks!