Where Do I Get My Ideas From? (Plus a few book recommendations)

Photo by Pimthida https://www.flickr.com/photos/pimthida/

When people ask where I get my story ideas from, my response is usually: “From my childhood.”

This might be considered fairly disturbing since I mostly write dark fiction. After a moment or two, I explain that my mother was a diehard mystery novel fan, my brother loves horror movies, and my sister is a thriller aficionado. I guess you could say it’s a family thing.

It’s been a long time since my brother and I sat in a dark room with flashlights under our chins and told each other eerie tales of murder, ghosts, and monsters. Yet after all these years, my love of creating and reading such stories has never been stronger. From teens in a notoriously haunted house in The Haunting Season, to a young 22-year-old actress who discovers that gargoyles are real in Of Shadow and Stone, I like to throw characters into worlds or situations they don’t see coming.

But writers are readers, too. In my opinion, there’s no greater bang for the entertainment buck than a book. Movies take away too much of my own imagination. With movies, I’m part of the audience. With books, I’m actually there, in the story.

Here are some books for the older teen and new adult crowd that satisfy my craving for the dark, the paranormal, or just good old-fashioned creep factor:

Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater. For fans of her trilogy Shiver. Stiefvater’s portrayal of werewolves speaks to me in this often poetic novel. It’s a love story at heart, both moving and touching. It’s also a tale of isolation and second chances.

Asylum by Madeleine Roux. It’s like Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, only darker. The photos of asylums alone are creepy enough but Roux piles on the suspense. I love a good horror story!

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica. Nothing supernatural terrifies me more than the human monster. This is a page-turning thriller with twists to spare. Let’s face it: stalkers are creepy and young Mia has no idea of the consequences when she leaves a bar with a stranger after her boyfriend doesn’t show up.

Saint Odd by Dean Koontz. The character, Odd Thomas, is a standout even among Koontz’s characters. In fact, he’s one of my all-time favorites. The dead come to Odd for help. Never one to turn his back on those in need, he helps right their wrongs—often at great personal cost. You can’t go wrong with the Odd Thomas series. It’s a personal favorite.

Of course, while you’re stocking up on creepy books, check out The Haunting Season.    Amazon    B&N    iTunes    Audible    Kobo    Books A Million

Photo credit: Pimthida https://www.flickr.com/photos/pimthida/

Tools of the Trade: Software for Geeky Writers

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A lot goes into writing: the time, effort, sleepless nights, editing, copyediting, proofreading, artwork. Some tasks I hire others for: copyedits, proofreading, cover art, and some marketing. All told, it’s an expensive endeavor. All this and we haven’t discussed the tools that are part of the process.

So what ARE the tools of the trade? For me, this list could be MUCH longer than it already is, so I’ll stick to software. What software gets the job done? I can’t speak for other writers, but here’s my list:

Scrivener. Use: I live in Scrivener while writing. It holds all my research, separates scenes and chapters for MUCH faster writing and reviewing. I use it to outline, to create character profiles, places  and settings profiles, blurbs, ideas, notes. One scrivener file holds everything I need during a project. I don’t have to keep multiple apps open. I also use it to export my manuscripts. In the novel template I’ve created, I can export my manuscript to various formats with a few clicks: a double-spaced manuscript for my agent and editor with contact information, a simple double-spaced version for crit partners and beta readers, a single-spaced pre-formated Word file for used with my paperback template, epub files for Apple, Amazon, Kobo, Draft2Digital, and B&N’s Nook. I don’t know what I’d do without Scrivener.

A 2008 version of MS Office. Use: exchange manuscripts (Word) with my critique partners, agent, editor, copyeditor, proofreader. Since I’m a former tech nerd, I format all my indie books. I use Word in conjunction with other apps to create the paperback version of my books. I never use Powerpoint since learning Keynote, and rarely use Excel.

A 2009 version of Pages. Use: to speed up the creation of the paperback versions of my book. To upload the PDF version for the print version. To create flyers and other document/art centric marketing items. I also have the new version since it’s free from Apple. But there are enough features missing that I find I don’t use the new version much.

Numbers. I use the new version of numbers because it does what little I need it to do: keep simple spreadsheets for books sales and expenses.

Keynote. Although rarely used, either the new or old version of Keynote does a great job of adding text over photos for marketing purposes.

TextExpander. Like Scrivener, this is another must-have for me. A lot of this job is repetitive typing. TextExpander is a tool that expands text into words, phrases, and longer passages of text and graphics. From a super powerful on the fly spellchecker to expanding entire book descriptions, tweets, links, contact information, letters, and more —TextExpander saves the day. Example: typing HSsyn expands out to The Haunting Season’s  entire book description. Typing !hs expands out to the book’s title in italics (I have another for uppercase). Typing HSlinks expands out into all the vendor links. I use TE in conjunction with Scrivener to update the Also By page, the About the Author page, and so forth. There’s a lot more, but that would be a post all on its own.

WordPress. You’re here and reading this. Enough said.

Rafflecopter. It’s a great tool for contests.

1Password. With all the websites I visit and have accounts for (plus other information), 1Password keeps a different and secure login for all my stuff. I don’t have to look anything up and no two passwords are ever the same. With the exception of the password to 1Password and one other, I don’t have a clue what my passwords are. With two keystrokes, it’s all taken care of for me.

Omnifocus. It’s a task management system. While any number of much simpler and easier to use systems are out there, I chose Omnifocus Pro version to manage everything in my life. From home to work, to relationships to repeating tasks, it handles more complicated projects and keeps them out of my way until I need to see them. I send emails to it, clip web pages for later review, remind myself of what blog posts I want/need to write, and what tasks are left in any production schedule. There’s a corresponding iPad and iPhone app and everything just syncs like magic between them. No matter where I am, I can complete tasks or create new ones. It even has location reminders (although I haven’t used this feature yet). Like Scrivener, this app comes with a bit of a learning curve. If you think you’re in the market for an app like OF, take a look at their videos first. There’s also a lot of good ones on YouTube, and although I’ve yet to grab my own copy, my favorite Mac Geek, David Sparks, always does an incredible job with his field guide books. I highly recommend David’s field guides and he just happens to have one on Omnifocus. OF is probably his favorite app, so I’m confident his field guide is one of the best and fastest ways to learn and be up and running, ninja style, in no time. Also check out these sites: Simplicity Bliss and Asian Efficiency.

BusyCal. The best Mac calendar system, IMO. More features and flexibility than the baked-in calendar.

Fantastical. I know. TWO calendar apps? Well, no. Not really. Fantastical for the Mac works in conjunction with BusyCal. It exists in my menulet bar and easily allows me to enter calendar dates like: Booksigning Tues 7PM. The app instantly knows that I mean this Tuesday. The real power comes when I’m away from home. I simply tell the app to schedule a book signing Tues 7PM and it does the rest. Yes, I know. Siri can do it, too. But I’ve had Fantasical long before Siri got it right. I like the interface Fantastical brings to my iPhone far better than the basic calendar app, too. I can see forecasts and more.

Contacts. While I don’t like this app and would LOVE to have BusyContacts instead. The $49.95 price tag just not in my budget for now. Hey – I’m a starving artist, remember? BusyContacts is on my wish list. Anyway, Contacts is Apple’s baked-in app and it does a fair job.

Dropbox. I use Dropbox to share files with bloggers, street team members, and for my manuscripts while writing and traveling away from home. There are some caveats to using Dropbox with Scrivener – just make sure that you’ve closed down the app and project on your primary machine before moving it to Dropbox and vice versa. Only open your manuscript on ONE computer at a time and you’ll be perfectly fine. Need Dropbox? Do us both a solid and use my link. We both get 500 MB free disk storage.

Alfred. It’s like Apple’s Spotlight on steroids. I use it to find contacts in my address book, tell me the weather, find and open files without searching, do some iTunes things without actually having to stop what I’m doing and go into the app, open applications, convert type case, open browsers and sites in multiple tabs, do calculations, and more.

Evernote. It’s a cool way to jot down ideas when away from the house or anywhere where I have my iPhone or iPad, but not near a computer and I’m also without pad and pen.

NoteBook. I used to use this one a lot more than I do now, but it’s a great journaling application. Need to keep down notes on what you did, who you talked to, and other stuff? You might want to check this app out. It has an iPad version available as well, but I’ve never liked it much, which is why I use the much easier and intuitive Evernote. An alternative is Day One, although Notebook has a lot more uses and bells and whistles. The company who makes Notebook (Circus Ponies), has a great forum and a guy who creates a fantastic Day Planner for each new year for free.

Time Machine. While not perfect, it’s my first line of backups. Yes, I said first line. I never run with just one, and I also have a disaster recover plan, too.

Time Machine Editor. Because the sound of my backup drive going off every hour gets under my skin. With Time Machine Editor, I can change the frequency of my Time Machine backups.

Carbon Copy Cloner. My most trusted backup system. I also use it to make a clone of my machine and to make backups for off-site storage in case of theft or natural disasters like fire, tornadoes, etc.

Kindle App. I use it on my Mac and iPad to read and to verify my books look okay before release day.

Total Finder. It’s a better version of Apple’s own Finder. Easier to manipulate.

Apple Mail. Yep. I use the basic app that comes with my Mac. It just works. I also can’t live without the third-party apps available for it.

GMail. I use it because I always have and it’s free. I’d love to switch to FastMail one day, but for now, GMail gets the job done and is sort of playing nicely with my mail client of choice – Apple Mail.

SpamSieve. Because there’s always spam. Lots of it. Even with GMail’s filters. This one lets me add an email or entire domain to a spam list. It also learns which emails are spam and which are not over time. I think I’ve seen only 3-4 spam messages in my inbox over the last few weeks. My Junk Mail folder on my Mac and in Gmail always have a few hundred. So yeah, I get a LOT of spam. This is one of the third-party Apple Mail apps I can’t live without.

MailTags & Mail ActOn. I can instantly tag and file emails, send them to Omnifocus, flag messages, and set tickler dates to emails for later followup. I love these third-party Apple Mail apps.

Twitter. It’s the quick kiss of social media.

Facebook. I don’t care for FB (for many geeky and business reasons) but it’s useful for staying connected to those who love it.
G+. I like it better than FB, but it’s still a virtual ghost town. The groups inside it are much better laid out than FB though. I use it to find new reads and connect with writer communities.

Hootesuite. Sometimes, it’s just easier to see all your Twitter lists across a screen and engage that way. Hootesuite works for me.

Pomodoro – Mac version. While I could easily just set an egg timer on my desk or tell Siri to set a timer, the perameters I like to work in are configurable in this app. How long do I want to set for writing/task sprints and how long or short of a break do I want in between? This app allows me to do that.

Safari, Chrome, Firefox. Because each browser has it’s quirks, weaknesses and strengths. Plus, I use Chrome for financials only, and Firefox and Safari for the daily stuff.

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How to Raise a Mockingbird

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For the past week, I’ve been kicking around a new idea. I know, I’m always kicking around ideas. This one happened to be around a thriller. I sat in my office, moving index cards around, trying to see if the new shiny idea was worth pursuing.  Ronan, my dog and sidekick, was intensely focused on the world outside my office window, which isn’t unusual. In the fictional world, Ronan is like Jeffries from Rear Window. Ronan is convinced that a murder is always about to take place on the front lawn. Squirrels, birds, delivery trucks, men with beards and hats… well, you get the picture.

But after he began pacing, trying to actively get at something on the other side of the glass, I paid more attention.  On top of the low-lying junipers sat a young mockingbird. Somehow, she’d fallen from her nest in the maple tree. Too young to fly, but old enough that the fall from the tree to the cushion of the nearby junipers below didn’t hurt her, she cried for her parents, who seemed to be in a tizzy about what to do with the escapee. Both Ronan I sat down on the floor to watch. She was bold, this little mockingbird. No fear. While her parents were fussing up a storm because they could see us, their offspring seemed curious. To give the family some space, I went back to my desk. Ronan, did not. He parked himself right in front of the window to watch.

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Soon, the parents settled down and brought insects for the little one to eat. Throughout the day, the parents fed her, clearly feeling comfortable with Ronan’s presence. By nightfall, I wondered if she’d survive until morning. The neighborhood has several cats that prowl, both day and night. We are also close to a park where coyotes have been spotted. Without Ronan sitting near the window and me at my desk to intervene should he give warning, the baby mockingbird was on her own.

But the next day, the young mockingbird was right there, chirping and examining her world. By the middle of the second day, I named her Harper, after Harper Lee. What else would a writer in the south name a young mockingbird? Again, Ronan sat in front of the window. Not a single cat ventured close, despite how much noise Harper made. She frequently perched on the branches and stretched her wings. Harper’s parents, now properly named Atticus and Scout (don’t ask me which was which), continued to feed Harper, even though she was nearly their size.

The next morning, Harper wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Or heard. After three hours, I sadly assumed the worst.

By eleven, I heard a chirp. Then more chirping. And then I spotted her. Throughout the day, Harper’s parents fed her. And each time they returned, they had to find her. Harper. It seemed little Harper  liked to explore. By the end of the afternoon, she had hopped from one branch to another, making it down to the far side of the house, stretching her wings frequently.

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Today, she flew.

Her first flight was to a set of taller bushes behind the junipers, a somewhat safer distance from predators on the ground. If she made that flight, I had no doubt she could fly to the lowest branches of the maple tree. After lunch,  Atticus (or Scout) appeared on the junipers, holding a caterpillar. And Harper called to them from the maple. Having had her fill of the junipers, she enticed her parents to fly to the tree to feed her.


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I have no idea if Ronan’s or my presence had anything to do with keeping the neighborhood cats at bay during the daytime. But we’d like to think it didn’t hurt.

Have a nice life, Harper. Now that you’re an adult, I doubt I’ll recognize you from the other mockingbirds that frequent the yard, but I’ll always remember that cute baby bird sitting outside my office window while I contemplated a storyline for a thriller novel. I still have no idea if the idea is viable, nut maybe Harper was a sign of things to come.

So You Want to Write A Novel

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Every now and then when I tell people I’m an author, they ask for advice on writing their own novel. It usually starts out something like this:

Oh! You write books? I have this really great idea for one! I’ve always wanted to write. Do you have any advice?”

I always answer the same. “Write. Write and read as much as you can, every day. Read all sorts of genres. Read books on writing. Find critique partners that are not family members. But most of all, write.”

The question everyone seems to ask right after that is, “How long did it take?”

To which I reply, “How long? To do what part?”

They blink a few times. “Write the book.”

And again, I always answer the same. “The whole time. No two books take the same length of time to write, much less go through several revisions, and then pass it along to a few critique partners.”

This is the point in the conversation when they become slightly concerned. “So, what? A month, two?”

And this is also the point that makes me chuckle. “Try six months or better. But your mileage may vary. Some books can take a year.”

“Then you send it to a publisher and they hand you money and they publish your book?”

They seem happy here. I can see visions of stardom and money in their eyes. They think that’s all there is to it–write, send a publisher a book, they’ll polish and edit it, then promote it lovingly to the world.

Until I tell them how it really goes. Publishers don’t take manuscripts like that. By the time I’ve explained it all, they realize that well over a year of their lives has been given to their book. Their once joyful expression falters when they also realize that they won’t be buying a house in the Hamptons—that they’re pretty darn lucky if they can make a few mortgage payments.

It’s true: traditional or indie, odds are that the budding writer will only make half the salary of someone working at a fast food joint. Minimum wage. No benefits. Working at least twice the hours.

The publisher will take at least 50-60% of sales, the agent another 15%. Advances are rarely more than a few thousand dollars. Most authors never earn out their first advance. And these days, the brunt of promotion falls on the author, which means they’ll be spending their own time and money promoting the book. They’ll need to do most everything themselves: bookmarks, paperwork, signings, trying to prevent sites from pirating their books, keeping a presence on social media, taking out ads, getting on blog tours.

Now, the light fades even further from their eyes. That, or they’re in disbelief. Clearly, I must be wrong! I suck! Or, I don’t have any ideas worthy of a book. They ask how much money I make. I ask the same of them. Then, I tell them that if they want instant riches, buy a lottery ticket.

All this usually leads to the next question writers are often asked. “Will you write a book for me? My idea will make millions! I’ll split it with you if you write it. No, really! It’s based off my grandfather’s memoirs. When you finish the book, you should write the screenplay, too. Send it to Hollywood!”

 

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Don’t laugh. People really have suggested this on more than one occasion, and talking to my fellow authors, I’m not the only one. We’re writers. We write fiction, but here’s the reality: The odds are miniscule that a new writer will ever become an overnight success. Most of us have to work at it every day. True, some will earn a living. The majority will not. Publishing isn’t a get rich quick scheme. It’s not a sprint to the bank. It’s more like a very long hike through the mountains. If you don’t mind the bugs, the sweat, forging new paths (sometimes through poison ivy), watching out for wildlife, and balancing on a few ledges, writing for pay can be a rewarding experience. You may not ever be able to reach the top of the mountain, but you can still enjoy the scenery. There are always people who will tell you how to get to the top—both those who’ve never been and those who have, but no one else can climb the mountain for you.

I end by telling them that if they still want to write, there’s no shortcut, no promises. You write.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes on what it takes to write a book…

 

Writers are not just people who sit down and write. They hazard themselves. Every time you compose a book your composition of yourself is at stake. ~E.L. Doctorow

Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. ~Gene Fowler

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. ~William Wordsworth

It is impossible to discourage the real writers — they don’t give a damn what you say, they’re going to write. ~Sinclair Lewis

All Work & No Play

Today, I hit SEND on the new manuscript. It’s officially with my editor at Skyscape a full TWO and a half months early!

It’s a dark fantasy/thriller/horror and is probably my most ambitious novel yet. This one has been a long time coming, guys.

I suppose you want a title? OF SHADOW AND STONE.

I’m going on record here and telling you that OF SHADOW AND STONE is my personal favorite. It also happens to be a beta reader’s and crit partner’s favorite story as well.

Did I mention that it’s dark?

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Turning in the book early and giving each character a unique voice means that I’ve been burning a LOT of hours at the keyboard lately. A LOT of hours. Like almost non-stop.

As soon as I typed THE END, I immediately started with the first page, revising. Then I did it again. And again. And again. Days, nights, weekends.

Which means I haven’t had much of a life the past couple of months. Okay, so it’s been more like no life.

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How do I feel after coming off 14-16 hour days of non-stop sitting at the computer?

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The fix? Right after I finish this post, I’m  playing with installing  our new NAS (Network Attached Storage).  Yeah, I’m a total nerd and consider that stuff ‘fun.’ No, really. I do. Okay, so I’m also going to take some time away from the computer, too. A couple weeks. Then, I’ll be rolling up my sleeves and starting the next project while waiting for revisions.

THE END. Why it’s just the beginning

Last week I wrote the best two words I’d written all week: THE END.

And now, the next phase of work begins: revisions. This is the point where I go through my book until my eyes bleed. Because I can’t look at everything I want to fix/check out all at once, I pick a few things for each round. First round? Going through the notes I wrote while writing the book, along with adding comments for fact-checking and time line check.

Next up is motivation, reaction for actions, etc. This, followed by dialog checks, spots that slow the pace and what to do about it, layering. This is all before I worry about a single misspelled word. And yeah, I still go over that part before my crit partners or editor sees the book.

If you’re a writer, how do you do it? What’s your method?

The Writing Process Blog Tour

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Welcome to the Writing Process Blog Tour. I was tagged by my awesomesauce crit partner, Steve McHugh, author of the Hellequin series. What’s the tour all about? Authors talk about their writing process, as well as briefly touch on what they’re currently working on. Then, they pass the torch to three other authors.

1. What I’m working on…

Revisions to a dark fantasy novel due to my publisher as part of my current contract. Kicking around an idea to pitch to my agent, and thinking about possible sequels to The Book of Lost Souls and/or Don’t Fear the Reaper. But first and foremost is finishing up the dark fantasy novel. I say dark fantasy, but it also has some horror/thriller elements to it as well.

2.  How does my work differ from others in the genre?
Every writer has a unique voice. I like to put new twists on old ideas, or simply buck the trend and do something unique. For example, take Don’t Fear the Reaper. I killed the MC off on page one. Yep. And by suicide, a sometimes touchy subject. The rest of the story takes place in the afterlife. In The Book of Lost Souls, I didn’t go with the usual dark and dystopian YA. While it does have some darker moments, the story is overall a fun and uplifting story of friendship, trust, and love. I’m always looking to stretch my writer legs.

3. Why do I write the things I do?

I enjoy it. I think it is as simple as that.

4. How my writing process works.
Stories always begin with, What if? I have no idea, nor any control on how, when, or where the muse hits. Just about anything can inspire a story.
Once I have an idea, I flesh it out a little. I need characters, and a main plot. From there, if I’m still intersted, I start the plotting process. This usually entails several steps: Create a three-act structure using index cards inside my favorite writing app, Scrivener. This is usually from what I call the 100,000 ft level. At this point, I need to know more about the characters and setting, so I create a setting sketch, followed by a character sketch.

From there, I go back to the index cards and add a few more for each act, bringing it down to a 25,000 ft level. I decide who’s POV to start with, along with first person vs third person point of view. I decide on the tone for the overall story.
At this point, I can’t procrastinate any longer and just place butt in chair and write.
I’m still figuring out what works best for me: write a few chapters and then tweak, write an entire act then tweak, or blaze through the entire manuscript and THEN tweak. I’m leaning toward writing until I’m through with an act, and then at least making sure the big pieces of the story are in place before moving on. I don’t worry about grammar or dialog. I don’t worry about introspection, narrative, action and reaction, etc. At least, not until I’m done with the entire manuscript.

Then, when I’m done with the first draft, I start revising. I’ll revise until I’m either sick of revising, or I feel the story is ready for my beta reader and crit partners. From there, it’s all just a matter of more revisions and line edits until I feel it’s ready to pass along to my editor.

In place of a writer’s journal, I use an application called Evernote to jot down scenes or ideas that come to me.

This is where I pass the torch. Next week, check out these authors:

J. Carson Black

J. Carson Black is the critically-acclaimed author of the Laura Cardinal series:  Darkness on the Edge of TownDark Side of the MoonThe Devil’s Hour and the novella, Cry Wolf.

Her phenomenally successful Kindle Edition of her thriller, The Shop, first published by Breakaway Media and later published in a new edition by Thomas & Mercer has sold more than 140,000 copies since its first publication date in March 2011. The Thomas & Mercer edition of The Shop rose to #1 among all books on Amazon’s Kindle bestseller list in February 2012.

Shea Macleod

Shéa (Shay-uh) MacLeod has dreamed of writing novels since before she could hold a crayon.  She totally blames her mother.

The first three books in her SUNWALKER SAGA (Kissed by DarknessKissed by Fire, andKissed by Smoke), a fast paced urban fantasy series with a kick-ass heroine, are available from Montlake Romance. The fourth installment, Kissed by Moonlight, is available now along with the first installment of the new spin-off series, Fearless (Soulshifter Book 1).

M.R. Merrick

M.R. Merrick is a Canadian writer and author of  The Protector Series, a Young Adult mash-up between Urban and Epic Fantasy. Having never traveled, he adventures to far off lands through his imagination and in between cups of coffee. As a music lover and proud breakfast enthusiast, he’s usually found at the computer between a pair of headphones and in front of a large bowl of cereal.

 

Oh, the Editing Process!

Ah! The writing process! As writers, we go through highs and lows when writing. We LOVE new ideas. We love the first days of working on something new. But after months of work, the revisions start. It’s when writers find major plot holes and issues. It’s when we start to have a love-hate relationship with the manuscript.

The past week, I’ve been rather cranky as I’ve gone over what I’ve written. I do it every time. I find something that upsets the balance of the book and am forced to go back and fix it.

While all my writer buds are happily blasting through thousands of words a day in NaNo, I’m pouring over chapters and ripping stuff apart and fixing things. This is how I felt about the current work in process last week – and probably how my characters felt about me:

That’s okay. Trust me, every writer does this. Yup. I can see the writers in the crowd nodding enthusiastically. With every novel, this love-hate relationship is part of the process.

And then, something else happens. We break through. Today is that day for me. Today, things are going well and I feel like I’m making headway. WHOO HOO!

While the book is not in any way, shape or form ready for eyes other than my own, since at this point I’ve made significant changes for the better, it’s getting there. I don’t feel like I’m slogging through a swamp anymore (But ask me again next week).

Weeding out the crud and cruft, cleaning up chapters  today feels a bit more like this:

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Yeah. Like I said. It’s not for anyone else’s eyes right now, but I’m very enthusiastic.

All this is probably more of an insight on how my caffeine-induced brain works than you wanted to know, right? Sorry for the years of therapy you’ll obviously need now.

The Future of the Printed Word

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Before we get started, I want to make it clear I’m not pro one way and con the other. I love both ebooks and print and I don’t believe the love of one means the dislike of the other. Are we good? Good. Let’s get on with it then.

Recently, I bought an iPad mini. We already had one iPad in the house, a full-sized third generation. It wasn’t a matter of me being my typical geek self, although I can’t tell you how much new shiny gadgets delight me. No, the real reason was because we use the iPad so much that there were times when one of us was out of luck if the other was using it.

 Mostly, it’s because we’re reading books on it. Now, to be fair, reading isn’t the only thing we use the iPad for, but that’s another topic. The point is, we do 95% of our reading on the iPad. 95%!

 I didn’t expect to love the iPad mini the way that I do. Which means I’ve pretty much confiscated it as my device. I bought a leather folio case for it from Oberon Design and it truly looks like an old-world Celtic journal. You know, book-like.

 Yeah, you probably see where this is going. Why not just read real books? I’m a writer! Shouldn’t I relish in holding a book in my hand? Shouldn’t I prefer to go into a book store or peruse the library shelf?

 I still buy my favorite author’s physical books. I still enjoy going to the library, although I confess to going a lot less now that I can check out books on the iPad using Overdrive. The selection isn’t quite as robust as our library, but it’s still very nice. I now reserve driving to the library to pick up books I can’t borrow from Overdrive. And buying ebooks from iTunes or Amazon is just so darn convenient! Within minutes, I’m reading the book instead of stalking the mailman or hopping in the car and battling traffic to the local B&N. I dislike traffic with a passion and the area I live in is getting more and more congested.

 As I hold this bookish cover that contains my iPad mini, the little device that holds any number of books I can markup to my heart’s content, the device where phone numbers, contacts, calendars, task management systems, Evernote, calculator, and countless other apps, videos, and music is stored, and all in something that fits in my purse, I wonder what the future holds for printed press.

 Please don’t get me wrong. I really do love printed books. In my office there is a wall-to-wall, ten foot tall, solid built-in black walnut bookshelf complete with an old-fashioned library ladder. Yeah. You could say that I love books.

 I could spin this all about publishers and contracts and how so many authors are taking control and leaving the traditional publishing world behind to become indie instead. I could say this is the reason digital will easily overtake print.

 Believe me, I’ve heard and read it far too often that indie publishing is mostly to blame for the woes of traditional publishing.

 But I don’t think that’s true. I think the real reason is that people are enjoying tablets and ebook devices and either consciously or not, are buying more digital content that physical content. We did it with music and movies. Why did we ever think it wouldn’t happen to the printed word?

I think the reason digital is growing and print is shrinking is because of the end consumer. Authors just benefit from it. Publishing houses could as well if they adapted, and I’d love for them to stick around. But again, that’s a whole separate topic.

 What are your thoughts? Do you think ebooks will overshadow print the way downloadable music and streaming video has to CDs and DVDs? And if so, what do you think is the main reason?

A New Year’s Resolution

I don’t normally make them. We all know we promise ourselves to do something and then we don’t follow through. But this year, I broke my own resolution NOT to make a resolution. It started with the stress and the insomnia over the holidays with the new book release. Nothing with The Haunting Season  has been easy. Everything that could go wrong seems to have gone wrong. I kept thinking about all those things and the numbers and ranks and marketing strategies. I ran a million pieces of advice through my head. I’ve tried to do everything right by my books — I try to achieve perfection. I stress over covers and editing and beta readers. I stress over marketing and blogs, social media, ads. I pour over books on writing and improving my craft. I have my close friend and crit partner, Leslie Tentler, on speed dial to talk me off the ledge countless times during my first drafts. Why? Because I somehow think that a first draft has to be… good. No, I think they’ve got to be pretty darn good. Better than just missing scenes and typos and chunks of text I’ll cut later.

It was 4 in the morning, January 1 when I couldn’t sleep anymore and got up. I did a little reading on the iPad. Everything raced through my head at once  – the marketing, the drafts, social media – the number of books on my brain. Then, while thinking of all these things WHILE still reading a book on writing, I stumbled across this written across the screen:

‎”Don’t get it right, get it written!” ~James Thurber

All thoughts stopped. I stared at that one sentence and sighed. I took a deep breath. And for the first time in months I felt tension slip away. The answer to everything writing related came to me then and there.

There’s no better advice for completing a first draft out there. None. And so, that’s my New Year’s resolution. In the end, it’s always the story that matters. Not the extra mile I’ve been doing with marketing. Not the extra time spent finding cute things to tweet or post on FB. To write well, a writer needs to have passion. I can’t find passion if my mind isn’t focused on one thing at a time. I need time to write horrible first drafts and the time to polish them into something amazing.

To gear up, I bought myself a present. It’s a large 15 oz mug that I’ll use every day. It’ll sit on my desk and remind me of what I’m there to do. I could have gone with several others, like these:

Screen Shot 2013-01-02 at 4.20.55 PM

Hilarious. And true. And something to make me think about FB and Twitter, which would lead to checking them both.

Or this…

    Screen Shot 2013-01-02 at 4.21.14 PMWhich is flattery, but nothing more.

Or…Screen Shot 2013-01-02 at 4.21.37 PM

It’s true, but it’s hardly inspiration for me to put black on white. Besides, no one in my house would listen. They’d barely listen to this:

Screen Shot 2013-01-02 at 4.21.50 PM

Then, there’s this one. I loved this:
Screen Shot 2013-01-02 at 4.21.27 PMI almost bought it right then and there. It’s awesome. Totally accurate.
But then, I saw this:

Screen Shot 2013-01-02 at 4.22.09 PM

And I knew it was perfect.  As writers, we learn to replace many words with one well-chosen word. One word often makes the biggest impact.

Writer

This mug puts my mind where it needs to be – back to basics. And for me, that’s

Just. Write.

Who Do You Trust?

Before we begin I think this piece needs a theme song. Why? Just because I love the beat and the attitude in the song and the title is just so close. Queue in George Thorogood’s Who Do You Love? 

Okay. Now that you’ve shared in my classic rock fix, read on.

Who should you trust? You want on the writing bandwagon. You want to put on a smoking jacket and have cheesy photos taken. You want the success of Hocking, King, Patterson, or perhaps Konrath and Locke. So, how do you get there? Do you self-publish or go the traditional route? If you do self-publish, what price do you set? How do you advertise? Who’s got the answers?

Everyone has answers. Who do you trust? Read carefully, and I’ll tell you.

I remember coming across J.A. Konrath’s blog early 2009. Back then, his posts were still about publishing in the traditional world although I found much of it far from the traditional approach. The blog intrigued me, as did the advice. Mostly, I just liked his wit. I subscribed. I read. When Joe started to talk about self-publishing, I thought he might finally have lost it. Clearly, he was committing career suicide in a very public way. It was a train wreck worthy of its own reality show.

Fast forward nearly a year and a half. I’d been querying agents right and left with a couple of books. I received requests – a lot of them – from top agents at top agencies. I thought The Call would come at any moment. What I got was varying opinions on my work: too light, too dark, change character X into Y. Change character X into B. After rewriting a manuscript three different ways for three agents, I was starting to feel like Charlie Brown and Agent Lucy was holding the football. But it was when I started getting the rejection letters that read, “You have a great voice/story (insert other compliment here), but in this economy” that I started to wonder if Joe was on to something. After all, the responding agents all said something extremely flattering about my work. Still, self-publishing? Was that the best route? Konrath and other writers said it was. Successful and traditional writers were even taking the leap into the self-publishing world – even those with future contracts.

But, it’s Joe, and he is slightly opinionated. Ha! He didn’t start out the way I was. He’d already been published and had a fan base. He and the others could be wrong. He kept pushing self-publishing  Kool-Aide but I wasn’t ready to drink it. I could shoot any future writing career I had in the foot. What to do? Trust Joe, or the nay-sayers?

Turns out, there was someone else with the answers. Someone else I took the blind leap of faith in and trusted more. But that’s jumping ahead. There’s still more to the story.

I tracked down articles and other blogs. I came across Karen McQuestion. No pretense, no attitude, just a woman who’d been in my shoes. After a few days of chewing on the idea of self-publication, I took a chance and contacted her. Karen graciously responded and pointed me to a wealth of information.

It was now or never. I was sick of hearing, In this economy. I could either self-publish and see what happened or I could cry in my soup and hope the next novel, or the one after that, or the one after that might make appease the gatekeepers. In other words, I could rely on people I didn’t know to make my dream a reality or take my future into my own hands. It’s all in who you trust.

I’ve never regretted becoming an indie author. I can’t offer you a rags to riches story here. I’m nobody’s Cinderella. If you’re writing with the hopes of driving a Ferrari, you’re probably not living in the same reality I am. Few reach that status. If you’re looking for easy street, you’ve made a wrong turn—off a cliff.

It’s all about what makes you happy, folks. You need to write because that’s what you love. Just be sure to hire pro editors and cover artists should you decide indie publishing is for you. Now, I don’t know what the future holds and I refuse to bring the Ouija board out of the attic. Those things freak me out. But, I can tell you that I believe in the reader’s ability to find great stories, no matter the format no matter where they come from. Don’t compare yourself with others who are selling better than you. Don’t compare yourself to a friend who just landed a dream agent. If you’re stressing about all that, you’re heading down the wrong path.

Who do you trust? Who has the magic answer? If you haven’t figured it out, then I’ll just beat you over the head with a ten-pound sledge hammer and two quotes from the late Steve Jobs:

“Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”

And,

“Your time is limited. Don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

Really? You still want to know? Okay. Come closer. Yes, that’s it. I’m going to tell you the secret to life and everything that’ll make you happy—that one person who you should put all your faith in and rely on to make your dreams come true.

You.

There’s really no one else. Until you trust in yourself, you’ll never find your way. Not in life, and certainly not in writing. You have to make your own decisions based on the information available to you. You have to trust your own B.S. detector.

I made my choice. Only you can make yours. Who do you trust?

*my original post appeared on The Indelibles, 6/26/12

Monday, Monday

It’s early Monday morning as I write this, which means it’s probably pre-caffeine time. I’m in super crunch mode to finish the draft of the work in progress, so not only will I be up late at night, I’ll be at the keyboard early in the mornings, too. Which mean that this is an appropriate representation of me this week:

I’m convinced that I need 5-hour energy drinks in my morning smoothies.

A crit partner has already gone over what I’ve given her so far. Her husband was out of town a night or two, and she didn’t read any of the manuscript then because as she put it, it gave her the creeps. I can’t wait until the book is ready and hear what you think. But, before any of you ask, the book isn’t a sequel to either The Book of Lost Souls or Don’t Fear the Reaper. This is a stand-alone young adult horror novel. But don’t worry, the sequel to The Book of Lost Souls has already been started and I have a TON of notes ready for Don’t Fear the Reaper.

In other news, The Book of Lost Souls has been nominated for Best YA ebook over at eFestival of Words! The voting is open until August. Words cannot describe how honored I am!  The timing couldn’t be better: The Book of Lost Souls is now available on B&N, Smashwords, Sony, and hopefully soon, on iTunes.

Both The Book of Lost Souls and Don’t Fear the Reaper are still part of Amazon’s 4 for 3 promotion on print versions. Check out the details on Amazon’s promotion on each book’s page under the Special Offers section.

Okay, back to work with me. Have a great Monday, everyone.

Why I Write – And A Little Appreciation

Why do I write?

I write because I love the way words swirl onto the screen, creating new worlds, new characters. New stories. I love the journey that the words take me on. Words are like a roller coaster. They’re part of the ups and downs and twists in my stories and when I get to the end, I want to get back in line and do it all over again.

Except when I don’t.

Like all writers, I have days and weeks where I struggle with words. They don’t come out the way I hope. The motivation isn’t there. Life gets in the way or tries to beat you down. On these days I try doing something else, like spend more time with family, do household projects. But, after a few days or a few weeks roll by, I start to feel worse. I force myself to sit down and write, and the words do come. Some of them aren’t too bad. Others are pretty good. Still, there are times I wonder why I even bother.

Except that like all dedicated writers, I have to write. It’s what I do. It’s like breathing.

Then, there are days like today when I wake up and find that people are talking about my book. Specifically, Don’t Fear the Reaper. I read a couple of tweets on Twitter this morning. One of them mentioned that there were discussions about Reaper on Goodreads. Really? To a writer, finding out there are discussions on Goodreads, the Kindle forums, Amazon, or B&N is enough to make the heart race. I clicked on the link and at first, found nothing. Then, I read a couple of 5-star reviews I hadn’t read before. People were actually commenting! And in a good way! Before I could pass out, I found more comments on more reviews – all saying the same thing: how much they loved Don’t Fear the Reaper. Now, I’m almost in tears from happiness.

But, that’s not all. The second tweet on Twitter was from Shana over at Sizzling Reads. If you’ve never been to Sizzling Reads, you should. It’s a great review site. Shana is professional in her reviews and she always adds a personal touch. The reviews never sound like a book report. Anyway, I digress. Back to the tweet. Don’t Fear the Reaper was named The Indie-Limelight Choice for December. Before you go over to read what Shana wrote, I’d like to say one more thing…

Everyone’s words invoked the reason, the joy, the very heart of why writers write. No, it’s not just about Don’t Fear the Reaper being selected for the Indie-Limelight choice, although I can’t tell you how honored I am. But because Shana and several others said that Don’t Fear the Reaper stayed with them, that they loved it, that in some cases, Reaper was one of their favorite reads of 2011, and that they’d probably never forget it.

And I’m totally blown away. Totally.

Not everyone who commented was a reviewer like Shana. For the record, I can’t say just how much I appreciate every book reviewer out there – you guys are amazing, but I’d like to add that reviewers are also readers at heart. They love books every bit as much as writers do. It’s why they take the time to post and maintain blogs and websites and spend countless hours reading. I’m also grateful for every person who has bought Reaper. While I price my books very reasonably, I don’t take any reader’s hard-earned money or valuable time for granted.

Anyway, here I was, reading how Shana, other reviewers, writers, and a few readers just wanted to share their great experience with a book – my book – with others. Let me tell you, there’s no star rating system, no sales numbers, no review that tops that in honors. Not a single one.

And that, my friends, is one of the many reasons why I write. It’s sometimes what motivates me even on the dreariest of days. Yes, yes. Not every person who reads a book will love it, much less like it. That’s perfectly fine. It’s even expected! That’s life, isn’t it? What floats my boat won’t float yours. I respect that. But, we don’t thank each other enough for the positive experiences in our lives, do we? To each and every one of you who bought and commented, read, posted, and shared their thoughts on Don’t Fear the Reaper, I am honestly humbled. From one human being to another, sincerely, thanks for making my part of the universe shine so brightly. I’ve said it in the back of my books before, but I truly mean it. Thank you, Dear Reader. Because every writer with a story to tell writes with you in mind.

Hey, it doesn’t have to be Thanksgiving to show appreciation and gratitude. What are you still doing here? Gratitude and kindness doesn’t have to come in a box or package. It doesn’t have to be served on a plate. Go make someone’s day. You’ll find it can make yours, too.
—-

Be careful how you look at the world. It is like that. ~Erich Heller

 I’d love it if you could do me a favor and take a second to check out my books at these retailers:

Amazon    B&N    iTunes    Kobo    Books A Million    Audible