Saturday, February 1, 2020

Another Kind of Hiatus

     Last month I wrote about the impossibility of writing during December with the stress of preparing for Christmas, which is why so many publishers shut down for at least half the month. Come January, I face another kind of hiatus. My hip has reached the point of causing me so much pain it must be replaced. I scheduled the first surgical date I could get, February tenth, and every day as the time draws nearer I am in a panic to get things done before I go under the knife. From past experience, I know I can expect six weeks of healing while on pain killers and taking physical therapy that will be exhausting. So, I won't be writing a word during that time.
    Meanwhile, a contract came through for The Double Dilemma, the fourth of the Longleigh Chronicles. I explained to my editor about my upcoming situation, so she hurried the edits, and I am doing them now. Contrary to some beliefs, editors are not monsters and are usually understanding if you are frank with them. I've only had one I couldn't work with, and I do think she damaged that book. We parted. I am also trying to do all the other things that are required: getting the descriptions to the cover artist, writing the blurb (which I always do in advance and then have to cut for being too wordy or giving away to much), picking a scene for a teaser page. I think I can get it done in time and send it on to the line editor. Maybe I will be able to proof the galley while recuperating. I hope I will be sharp enough to do that. It is important for a really polished book.
     All writers age.  The work gets harder to complete. Hours sitting in front of a computer take their toll on the hips and eyes. I have two long running series,the Sinners Sports Romances, which have four more books to complete the cycle and the new historicals, the Longleigh Chronicles, which still have six books to go. I keep thinking of two new plots for The Roses series, too, but don't think they will ever come into being. I pray I can keep going until the first two series are complete. All best wishes, prayers and good vibes are accepted to get me through another life hiatus from writing.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Finding Time to Write--during the Holidays

     You won't. When I first started to write in earnest fifteen years ago, I had just retired. I set a strict schedule that I would write between one and four p.m. every day until I had 1,000 words down. Sounds easy, but it isn't.  I didn't answer the phone unless one of my kids' numbers came up on the caller ID. Nor did I accept offers for afternoon coffee or invites to join afternoon clubs. I got my errands run before noon, had lunch and then I wrote. This discipline helped me to create twelve novels in five years, none sold until Goals for a Sinner, my sixth try, broke through and started me on the course of writing a long running series of sports romances, now up to twelve books. With that success, a couple of other series, Mardi Gras and the Roses, were published and five single titles.
     I soon learned why the publishing industry virtually closes down in December. There is no way anyone but a Super Woman could do all the gift shopping for nine people, address the cards, write the family letter, wrap those gifts, get a tree up and decorated, and still maintain a writing schedule. I was going to dump the Christmas letter, then a few people told me how much they looked forward to it. I considered ordering Christmas dinner from a local grocery store, but was guilted by family who looked forward to the dishes and cookies I make every year. Unfortunately, all of the family lives out of town so having them bring side dishes isn't feasible.
     It's early in the month yet I had difficulty completing the corrections on a galley for Daughter of the Rainbow. There were only twelve corrections, but I did have to read the whole book carefully to find them .Anyhow, they are in my editor's hands now, and I hope she has time to move the manuscript along before the New Year. This third installment in the Longleigh Chronicles should be out in March if all goes well. But, not one word written on the new book which is bumping along like a car on Louisiana's heavily rutted roads.
     Last year in addition to the usual decorating and cards, etc., I hosted the whole family for a week. With four people sleeping in the computer room, I completed zero words on my next book. While trying to get a big turkey dinner on the table for nine, I finally had a meltdown and said, "I can't do this anymore."  This declaration had nothing to do with writing but rather age. Those turkeys get heavier to get out of an oven every year. Anyhow, I am not hosting this year but have turned that over to my grown children.  I still won't get any writing done as we will then be out of town for a week, but I have learned to just lean back and enjoy the holidays with the family.  Let your writing go for a month and get back on the treadmill of writing come January.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Another Authors Row

     I'm back from my third Author's Row in a six week period.  Let's face it. Unless you have a big New York publisher, if you are an indie or small press writer, you will be doing all of your own publicity and these Authors Rows are part of it. So many self-published writers now assail libraries for book signings, the librarians gather them all up and have one big event as do places like Barnes and Nobel, except the libraries don't take a 40% cut of your sales. Even our local book store is reluctant to have signings now unless the author can guarantee a turnout--or at least chip in for refreshments and advertising. But, there are Authors Rows and then Author Rows.
     The one I recently returned from did everything right. We were supposed to be in tents outside, but when chilly, wet weather was predicted, they moved us indoors, and not just to a far off meeting room, but in lines down both sides of the library. They held story times in  a room on one end and had speakers and even an Elvis impersonator on the other which kept the flow of people moving back and forth. Tables and chairs were provided. A lounge area set aside for authors contained fruit and cheese platters, pastry trays, granola bars, hot coffee and tea and other beverages and a place to sit and eat something. A jambalaya lunch was provided as well, but my favorite perk by far--a cadre of teens who helped lug my heavy box of books to and fro and even went back to make sure my I'd locked my car. I'd also asked to sit by a fellow author and friend. As we were asked to stay from eleven to four, our conversation passed the time.
      I drove two hours to this event, about the longest trip I am willing to do alone, but they made it worthwhile. How many books did I sell? My usual three. I handed out a lot of book cards with my information on the back in hopes of future sales and made conversation with many who may or may not look my books up later and get the e-books on Amazon or elsewhere. I also paused to speak to other authors whom I see at all these local events on my way back and forth to the bathroom. Oh, I must mention they did have folks to sit at your table while you did so and thus, you could go more than once if necessary. They didn't sell anything, but guarded your books and change sack.
     I also noted the newbies, mostly indie authors, who had piles of their books that no one wanted, usually inspiring stories of their lives or those of their mother's or a first book of fiction that no one will buy because they never heard of you. I watched the disappointment form on their faces as no one stopped at their tables (unless they'd invited relatives) and no sales were made. They pulled out early, probably realizing they'd have stacks of these books still in their closets when they die. Hey, not making fun here. You should see my storage area. An accountant said I should write the space off on my taxes. Heaven knows what my family will do with my backlog. I did leave an hour before closing, but mostly because of the long drive and the shortening of daylight.
     Of the two others I attended, one scattered us around the library and those in the meeting room got the added perk of having some authors doing readings, though that didn't seem to draw an audience. Spaces were first come, first serve which I think caused some resentment, again among new authors who didn't get there ridiculously early to claim a good space. We also had to haul our own tables and chairs, which seemed odd in a library that does lots of programming and craft classes. We were offered snacks and beverages in the lounge, a nice touch, but if it hadn't been nearby, I might not have gone. I am no longer able to haul furniture to further my career. This being close enough, my husband came along to do the setup, then retired to watch football at home until the closing. Number of books sold--none. Mostly people stepped around us as they perused the stacks and checked out free books.
     I had the most sales at the most grueling of the events, outdoors from nine to four, must tote your own tables, chairs, etc.  Bring a lunch or buy one from the food vendors.  The temperature soared to ninety-five degrees. A bottle of water, a Coke Zero, and a large snow cone kept me from dehydrating even though we were under trees. A person handed out homemade fans of the type once given away by funeral homes. We used them. It's a big arts and crafts fair that really brings people out. I made all four of my sales before noon. The crowd thinned as the temps soared, and I bailed at three when the heat was at its worst. My parting words-I'm getting to old for this. I'll probably be there next year.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Galapagos Survivor

     If you put going to the Galapagos Islands on your bucket list, go when you are younger. Still, I signed up for this trip when a opportunity came along, and nope, my steadily dwindling royalties did not pay for it. Not that I wasn't warned by the repeated question, "Can you get on and off a boat?" Sure, I can. I was not deterred even by pictures of Zodiacs washing up on beaches and rocky shores. And so we embarked, landing first in the good-sized city of Guayaquil, Ecuador, a city with many parks and enlivened by its painted buildings, which I never knew existed. After a city tour, a visit to a cocoa plantation (very interesting), and buying some of their famous chocolate, we flew away to Baltra Island where the wind was so strong, it nearly blew me off my feet walking from the plane to the terminal, quite a trek. I should have known then this trip would be rugged. 
     A bus took us to our first experience with a panga, an inflatable boat like a Zodiac.  We received instructions on how to board,and I might add, the wind was still wild, which took us to our small but nice ship, our home for the next week. I managed the first boarding okay--step on the canvas side of the boat, step down one step, step down one immense step, and take a seat on the edge of the panga, which if you are lucky will have a handhold to grip for dear life. After a fairly long panga ride, or maybe it just seemed that way, we schooched down to the steps again, balanced on the rim, and were pulled aboard the water-washed steps into the ship by stalwart, muscular sailors. This routine would become common in days to come as it was the only way to get the various islands. There are no nice docks. A dry landing meant clambering over a pile of lava rocks while the guides held the panga more or less steady.  A wet landing consisted of sliding off the side of the boat like ill-trained Navy Seals into a foot of cold, moving water and squelching ashore in water shoes while carrying dry footwear. Actually, it was the easier of the two and I did several of these, but bowed out of the dry landings as I couldn't do the lava rock hikes anyhow.
     I won't go into all the wildlife we saw: dozens of unique birds in the process of nesting during the dry season, lots of sea life from sea lions to iguanas to turtles. I will only add one caveat: watch your step, lots of guano, and a fair amount of stink on some of those beaches. More often I chose the glass-bottomed boat experience despite having to roll from the panga onto the second small boat and then back again. I only fell once when I slid all the way down the side of the panga, but I couldn't get up--rescued again by our handsome, Hispanic guides, so there was some benefit. We observed rays, sea turtles, fish, but failed to find swimming iguanas. This was the dry season of winter. On land, the lizards just lay there in piles trying to stay warm. The sea lions liked to escort us. And we did see the little penguins and flightless cormorants on the rocky shore.
     As usual when I revealed I was a writer of romance, I took the common ribbing and answered a lot of questions. One of which I am always asked: Would they show up in my next book? Well, no. First, my current WIP uses what I learned in Australia. The Aussie Sinner should come out late next year.
Second, most of my characters are composites of many people, a trait here, a special smile there. So, they ask, how about a mystery based on our Galapagos trip where someone is killed by the fruit of the poison apple tree, about the only green bush on the islands this time of year. Most of the foliage looks dead or is cactus. My mind began working and came up with a title, Eden and the Poison Apple Tree, with an amateur sleuth named Eden. They deemed that too cheesy. Then, I thought, what are the exact symptoms of the poison apples? What is the motive to kill in such an isolated place? Not to mention that I'd need to do way more research on cruise ships. And this is why I don't write mysteries anymore. (See Mardi Gras Madness and Courir de Mardi Gras if you want to read my attempts.) So, I challenged them to write a first chapter which I would critique and not steal. Thus far, no takers.
      As the trip came to its end, I fell off lava rocks trying to put my shoes on, nearly wiped out my colleagues when the panga driver decided to pursue a whale, which we never saw, and I lost my grip and careened into the others, nearly pushing one into the sea. Pedro put his arm around me to hold me in place on the wild ride so the embarrassment might have been worth it. The sea was choppy, and I made my last and major fail trying to get back on the ship as both ship and panga bobbed wildly. I missed step number one, had to be hauled to number two where I fell again, and then was urged to make the leap to the ship's stairs as I froze trying to match both boats. I think I finally got aboard being pushed from behind and pulled from above when I finally got my feet to move. The ship's young, female doctor checked me out--bruised but not battered. Some said I was brave to go on this trip. I'd say fool hardy. Now I can imagine why someone might kill a person with poison apples--guides sick of hauling old ladies around in pangas. Heck, she was ancient anyhow. No great loss.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Four Book Year

     This year, I have four titles being released: Heart of a Sinner, Lady Flora's Rescue, Dream for a Sinner, and in November, The Perfect Daughter.  All are full length from seventy thousand to over a hundred thousand words. Wow, people say. You are so prolific. How do you do it? Purely by accident. When I first started to write I realized and was told an author needed to supply fresh material frequently, not simply write one book and be done, though I know writers who have done this when they discover that writing is a ton of work that really doesn't pay.  Anyhow, I figured on two books a year as what I could manage. I've been published for nine years and found I average three books a year, but last year had only one, Putty in her Hands.
     Putty was the last book I did with my long-term editor who retired shortly afterward. Assigned a new editor for Perfect Daughter, I found she was a terrible fit, and I admit I backed out of that contract before I finished first edits so demanding it became her book and not mine. Because most authors lack confidence, I entirely shelved my second book for 2018 and asking for a new editor, proceeded through a glacially long editorial process for Heart of a Sinner which I'd had difficulty finishing. It was at the half -written when I lost all confidence as a writer thanks to editor #2. I struggled to the end, and the book became 93,000 words, but good words. Still, it was put through three edits, line edits, and two pre-galleys, something I'd never heard of before, before getting the final galley. I swear, if there is a mistake in that book, I couldn't find it. Because this editing process ran from July to October. Heart was pushed into 2019 for publication. It came out in January to great reviews.
      In the meantime, I took out the prequel to The Perfect Daughter which had been gathering dust because no one wanted an 18th century historical, and it was too long at 106,000 words. I did a rewrite. It is still 106,000 words, but the book was accepted by another press and sigh of relief, given to an editor I enjoy working with since she edits with a light hand, not a closed fist. The edits went well and fast, but their publishing queue was long, so it appeared in February of 2019. Feeling better about Daughter, I also rewrote it, taking out some of the edits I hated and restoring it more to its original form.  The same press accepted it. I worked with the same editor. That book will finally be out in November.
     And what about the fourth book of 2019? I wrote Dream for a Sinner from scratch while still doing the lengthy editing process on Heart of a Sinner. It is short for me, 70,000 words, but okay, I was a little tired by now.  I submitted it to my regular publisher, expecting a long, slow process that would result in a 2020 release. It winged through all the hoops so quickly I was astounded and will be out on August fourteen, 2019. The Sinners series is my most popular,  and all are written from scratch. That takes time. Usually, I submit one a year. Dream was supposed to be my 2020 Sinners entry, but became my fourth book for this year.  Now, however, fans of the series will have to wait a long time for the next, The Aussie Sinner, which I've started but is going very slowly.
     So, how did I do four full-length books in one year: two rewrites of older books, two brand new books and a crazy publishing schedule. I must admit, I am no Nora Roberts and don't make her kind of money either. Please don't expect another four book year!

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Creating Small Towns

     Many of my books are set in small towns because I know them well having grown up in a tiny town, population 2,000, and now living in a vastly larger one with 37,000 people. In writing my very first book, Mardi Gras Madness, I needed to create a small town for my heroine to live in. She comes from a fictional town I've called Lost Spring, PA, based on my hometown area, and she moves to another deep in Louisiana, quite a different place in customs and history. I used the layout of a nearby town but fictionalized all the people and businesses. Some authors would make a map of the town before starting, but I dive right in and create the landmarks as I go as needed by the plot.
     Lovely Laura, the librarian, needs a place to stay in fictional Chapelle where options are very limited. She asks an old codger at the gas station (all towns need a gas station), and he directs her across the the street to a sandwich shop which has an apartment above the store. From there, she has a grand view of Main Street (most towns do have one of these) and the church on the village green. The church is vital to the story and is described in detail. Too much detail my editor said, but I convinced her that was necessary to the plot as was the feral kitten Laura finds living under the raised building for a mystery that slowly evolves.  She buys furniture at a thrift store down the street and clothes at Helen's Boutique, the only dress shop in town, and indulges in beignets and French bread from a local family run bakery. The library she has come to run is in an old house and very outdated. And so the town grows in my imagination. I had no great intention of using Chapelle again.
     My second book, Courir de Mardi Gras, took place in an even smaller town I dubbed Port Jefferson which had a stately home, a small library, one doctor's office, a not so good restaurant, a black neighborhood, and a bar where locals hang out. All figured into the plot when I still fancied myself a mystery writer. Deciding to try contemporary romance without a mystery plot, I found myself back in Chapelle which had grown since my last visit. It now had a B & B, a small paddle wheeler for tourists, some good restaurants, a real estate office, and an interior design studio. The old sandwich shop burnt down and is now a parking lot. Even I was astounded at how it had evolved just like the characters living there. Laura has managed to get a new library built in the intervening years and is now the best friend of Celine, the new heroine of A Taste of Bayou Water. Fortunately, Pommier's Bakery still makes hot beignets every morning.
     Then, a phrase from Taste about Celine'sgreat-grandmother dancing on a table at Broussard's Barn during the 1920's stuck in my imagination. It took me some time to tell Granny's Roz's story, Queen of the Mardi Gras Ball, and I had to strip Chapelle of all its modernity. The church still stands, few stores line the street, and the B & B is a boarding house. The local hospital is housed in a donated mansion, and the library is located in one room of the Methodist church hall. Broussard's Barn where Laura marries on one mad night out stands of the city limits and is now a speakeasy as well as a dance hall.  But yes, Pommier's still cranks out hot beignets.
     After I completed the Mardi Gras series, I wrote several single titles: A Trashy Affair, An Ashy Affair, and Putty in her Hands. All take place in Chapelle which eventually gains a Subway shop, a coffee house, and a Chinese restaurant. The funeral home in Madness has changed hands. Characters from previous books pop up here and there in small cameos. Broussard's Barn is still a dive but changes with the times,.and Pommier's makes fancier pastry, but still has hot beignets. Sometimes I am surprised at how the town grows between books featured there. Now, even my head Sinner, Joe Dean Billodeaux,lives on a ranch on its outskirts, spilling over from my Sinners sport romances.
     Obviously, I love building this town book by book and do have a weakness for both libraries and beignets. However, beware when you create your own. All these details must be committed to memory in order to recall when they appeared. Your readers will point out any slip as they probably know the town better than the author. Since all my books are on the same drive, I often flash back and forth to do a word search in order to make sure I've got the setting right.  Yeah, I should write all this down, but would rather be working on my next book which might just take place in Chapelle.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Roving Characters

     I believe most writers are loathe to leave their beloved characters when they finish a book. Even bad ones can be used again if you don't kill them off. Since I write mostly series, I am able to hang on to the main creations for a long time though they may fade into the background somewhat. My former editor always chastised me for wanting to bring too many old characters back to life and sometimes made me take them out despite my argument that my readers wanted to know what the former characters were doing now. Yes, like real people they continue their imaginary lives, have children, take new jobs, retire, have grandchildren.
     I have several single title books that I simply call my Chapelle novels as they all take place in that imaginary town. Trashy Affair deals with a devoted environmentalist who falls for wounded warrior, Merlin Tauzin, who owns with a big ass truck. The funnier episodes were based on my own garbage collection problems. It's one of my personal favorites, but Merlin and Jane were left behind when the book ended. Still, people kept asking about him. I wrote Ashy Affair next, which takes place in the same town, but again I put aside the hunky fireman at the end of the story. Then, along came Putty in her Hands, and I was able to update fans about both the Merlin and the fireman since they all live in the same small town and would know each other. As  Julia attempts to save an old hotel from demolition, she goes before the Parish Council, and we learn Merlin now serves as a councilman who decides to help. Jane, always the conservationist, is on her side too, and so is another escapee from another single title, A Taste of Bayou Water, Jonathan Hartz, billionaire, and his Cajun wife, Celine. At one point, the fireman, now the chief, saves the hotel from burning down.
     Sometimes, my single title characters even intrude in my series titles. Recently, Jon Hartz, has employed Trinity Billodeaux as coder in his company and acts as his mentor. That book, Dream for a Sinner, one of the Sinners series, is in line edits right now. But in the same title, a retired bull rider, Bodey Landrum, makes a break from The Roses series and shows up at a charity rodeo given by the Billodeauxs along with three other Roses characters. Well, why not? Wouldn't Bodey take off from his famous bull riding school to help out in a good cause? And he'd absolutely take the geeky Trinity out to a honky-tonk and help him out in a bar room brawl. No pub date on this one yet, but probably winter sometime.
     Often, people ask me what became of secondary series characters who aren't really suited for a book of their own. A friend recently wondered about the scheming Ilsa and the outrageous Prince Dobbs.  I was happy to tell her I gave them a paragraph in the epilogue of The Heart of a Sinner. While not there in person, others gossip about them. Yes, Ilsa is still trying to get Prince to marry her.
     If there are any characters you are curious about, let me know. I assure you they are all living full and interesting lives in my imagination. Who knows when they will show up again in my writing?