Sunday, June 26, 2016

Animal Characters

     Seems my blog gets posted later and later every month.  I have a really good excuse this time.  My at least ten-year-old computer (still running Vista) had its last and fatal crash. Of course, my husband was out of town at a conference. I waited three days for him to return as I knew he'd want to be in on the selection of a new machine. The computers at the local library allowed me to keep up with e-mail  and Facebook where I exist as Carla Lynn Shurr Hostetter if you want to friend me.  In the end, it took nine days to find a new computer, have the data transferred, install at home, and learn to cope with Windows 10.  So, a long delay in doing my blogs--I also contribute to working on Sister of a Sinner, the new Sinners book, Xochi's story. Enough excuses! On with the topic.
     I often have animal characters in my stories. They contribute warmth and humor to a tale, but should also have some relevance to the plot. I'm not fond of making them prescient or giving them other occult powers. I leave that to the fantasy writers even though I do think animals often are more aware than people, scenting oncoming storms, knowing when other people mean harm. Just be sure when you decide on an animal character that they fit the plot and help move it along. For instance in A Place Apart (unpublished), a sailor with PTSD finds a Portuguese water dog that loves to sail with him and aids in his recovery. A large standard bred poodle might do the same as they were once water dogs, but certainly not a teacup-sized one.  Stacy in Son of a Sinner owns a Bichon Frise, a powder puff of a dog but very clever if not prone to being housebroken. She teaches the dog to do tricks,and the hero wonders if she is manipulating him in the same way. Every breed of a dog has special characteristics, and these can easily be checked at the American Kennel Club website or sites devoted to that breed. Make sure you know what you are talking about.  In the upcoming Ashy Affair, a Jack Russell mix plays a part. I learned these dogs are mischievous and also territorial. Owning two can lead to chaos. In other words, research your animals just as you would any character in your book.
     I once had a disagreement with my editor over a cat character.  In Mardi Gras Madness, the heroine finds a kitten that crawls out from a hole in the base of church. She promises to give it a home if she gets a job. She does. Now, editors don't read your book through and then go back and edit it.  They just start right in and might use your synopsis for a guide, but all the details never make it into a synopsis. My editor said basically, cute scene but it doesn't move the book along, omit. I had to tell her that cat and this scene would matter very much by the end of the tale, but that would not be apparent until the end. She let me keep Snake, the coal black cat, after all.
     Horses can be great characters, too.  They have very distinct personalities like people.  In Courir de Mardi Gras, the shy hero seeks a white horse he can use to sweep the heroine off her feet literally during the Mardi Gras ride. The only white steed available pulls the local vegetable wagon and has the name of Puffy for his tendency to puff up his belly when being saddled.  He is not a glamorous animal, but certainly adds some fun to the story of a man trying very hard to be a hero. Do be careful of using horses and any other animal if you aren't familiar with them. Readers will take you to task right away if you mess up the details.
     Parrots are great characters because as you might have heard, they can testify at a trail because they can repeat what is said. They might also be very inappropriate like the African Gray Parrot I used in Ashy Affair.  His name is Mr. Gray, better known as the bordello bird.  He comes on to women he likes by saying, "Give it to me, baby".  Poor Leah, the director of the animal shelter, cannot find a home for the suggestive bird and fears she will end up with him as a retirement gift as parrots have very long life spans.  He adds humor and plays into the plot as his bordello residence was burned down.  Again, research your birds before adding them into the plot.  Canaries may sing, but they don't speak.  Crows, however, can.
     Animals are also used for cute meetings in romances.  I know I am going to short change a well-known author here, either Jennifer Crusie or Jayne Ann Krentz, who used a roving Basset hound to bring her characters together. And yes, I've forgotten the title, but did enjoy the book.  Or they might add a little twist. When a fireman saves a tiny tuxedo kitten from a burning house and offers it to the owner, the heroine says, "That's not my cat.  You keep it."  The hero of Ashy Affair has five dogs, and now, he's stuck with cat.
     I think I could go on forever on this topic, but really have to get back to work on Sister of a Sinner.  Do you have any favorite animal characters or have used them in your own books?  Let me know.  Now, back to the manuscript.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Doing What Must be Done

     Where has May gone? Five days of it went on a trip to Madison, Wisconsin, to see my son get his doctorate in physics.Yes, I'm bragging a little. Having no math skills at all, having taken advanced biology and dissected a cat to avoid taking physics in high school, I am immensely happy he got my husband's brains for this subject. The weather was terrible--windy, cold, and rainy, but we rejoiced anyhow and mostly celebrated indoors. Spent one extra day of this trip stranded in Houston when our last flight was cancelled--and then there was the week long catch up on mail, e-mail, laundry, and groceries. You would have thought we were gone a month instead of less than a week.
     Regardless, I didn't work on my new book, Sister of a Sinner, for over a week.  It is hard to get back in the groove of a writing schedule even after such a short time.  A Will of her Own came out in April, and The Courville Rose is due out first week in June, both needing some publicity efforts. An Ashy Affair went through two edits and is now off to line editors and the galley stage. I guess it will be my autumn book, appropriate since it takes place in October. While all this was going on, I worked in spurts on Sister, five-hundred words here, a thousand there, and some days nothing.  It has picked up speed now since my only other resolution is to find an agent for my Regency series. I'd rather write than face all those rejections again.
     Yes, seventeen books in print, soon to be eighteen, and I still fear rejection.  A good friend has given me the name of his agent. As soon as he wrote the name, I realized this is a revered old agency, one that rejected me many years ago more than once.  I have grown a lot in my writing skills since then, have a modest fan base (and ten followers of this blog!), yet I am still scared to approach them.
     Being fairly good at forcing myself to do what must be done which includes painful cuts and rewrites of my work, I will take this plunge, but probably not before I finish Sister. I'm over twenty-thousand words in on what will probably be a seventy-thousand word book, so I should have it done in around sixty days or two months, say by the first of August. In the more laid back field of e-publishing, I've learned to set my own goals and deadlines.  Discipline is the key to getting 'er done, whatever it is that is holding you back.  Write every day. I strive for 1,000 words each time I sit down at the computer. Some writers won't have the time to do that much, so do whatever you can. Promise yourself  you will complete that book by a self-imposed deadline, good practice should your publisher ever impose one. When edits and galleys come through, do them at once, and then get back to writing your book. No dallying!
      I revise yesterday's work before beginning today's writing. This makes for a very clean first draft needing only light revision.  Once I polish the second draft, I move on to writing the synopsis and a blurb that can be used in a query or on a back cover. With this is complete, boom, off it goes to my editor to accept or reject, and oh, yes, I still get rejections.  I've had three I thought were sure things turned down. Two were accepted that I felt were long shots as they aren't my usual type of book.  However, those long shots went through grueling, unpleasant edits that often made me wish they had been turned down.  Both became very good stories, I think, and the reader will never know what blood, sweat, and tears went into them--as it should be.
     So, discipline, self-imposed deadlines and word counts, editing as you go along, then taking the big leap to submit will get you where you want to go--eventually.  Good luck to all of us.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Dreams Deferred

     Some of you might have noticed I have only six regular followers of my blog, no surprise to me as I don't follow anyone else. Just so many blogs, and I don't have time to read them all, but I am gratified when anyone takes the time to read mine, usually about one hundred people a month. That does't make me any great shakes as a blogger, but I am complimented that anyone takes the time to do it.
     Recently, I lost one of my six followers, a person I knew, Robin Emerson. Robin was president of the Randolph Writers of Asheboro, North Carolina, when we met. My mother lived in that town, and once when I visited there, I contacted Robin about giving my Adventures in e-Publishing speech when my first book, Goals for a Sinner, came out six years ago. Her group listened attentively, asked good questions, bought a few copies, and then regaled me with a wonderful spread of Southern cooking. Robin at the time was working on an historical novel.
      We stayed in touch through Facebook and had lunch together when I visited Asheboro again. Meanwhile, her dream of getting published faded. I don't believe she ever completed her book. Instead, she started a small business making the most delightful tutus for little girls that turned them into fairy princesses. When we spoke, I assured her she'd make more money in tutus than in being published. I intended to order one of her creations when my new granddaughter was old enough to wear one. That was never to be.
      Robin went in for routine gall bladder surgery. Terrible complications ensued that brought her to death's door more than once over the next few months and finally claimed her life. I can only say she is now free of pain and suffering, but oh, how I wish she'd completed her book and self-published if she couldn't find a publisher. I know her family would have appreciated her creative effort, just as they did those lovely tutus often modeled by her beloved granddaughters.
      I suppose what I want to say is be careful of how long you defer your dream to complete your book. At a recent signing and many times before, I've had people say they have a story they want to tell but feel they are too old to get started. I often give the old Ann Landers answer. "How old will you be next year if you don't start." We can have dreams at any age. I beg you not to defer them. Get to work if you want to write a book and finish it! Leave your story for your family if no one else.
      I'm by no means young, but it does look at if I will have three titles out this year. The Courville Rose, my ghost story, found a publisher and will be out this spring. A Will of her Own is up for pre-sale now on Amazon and Barnes& and comes out on Friday. While unknowingly suffering from walking pneumonia, I completed the first edits of An Ashy Affair before dragging myself off to a doctor. With all that in the bag, I can rest and recuperate now, but I am so glad I persevered in pursuing my dream to be a published author.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Is the e-publishing Bubble Bursting?

     How did it get to be one day past the Ides of March so quickly? I admit I fudged on February since I posted twice in January, and it is a short month anyhow. But to get down to the topic at hand.
     I admit I was stunned by the announcement that Samhain, one of the older and better e-presses was closing down. Kudos to the publisher for not simply declaring bankruptcy and trying to straighten out their financial problems first while still paying their authors royalties, a soft closing you might say. About the worst thing that can happen to a book is to be declared an asset in a bankruptcy case. Often that title is tied up for years along with the rights to sell it elsewhere. I understand rights will gradually be returned to the authors who can then move on. Samhain had quite a few big e-authors and a large stable, maybe too large.
     I am now grateful that they rejected two of my romances for not being hot enough. I won't be orphaned again as I was with my beloved  L & L Dreamspell where rights were returned immediately and help given to the authors to find new placement. Wild Rose Press picked up nearly all of my titles, I think ten at the time, but it was a ton of work getting them all back in print again. Each book receives a new cover and is re-edited to suit its new publisher.  Took nearly two years to restore all of them for publication and newer projects had to be put aside for a while. My sympathies go out to all Samhain authors. They have a rocky road ahead. Several of my fellow Dreamspell authors turned to self-publishing and had the skills to do that. Sure, it is faster, and if the book has already been edited your product is fairly good, but getting the word out is difficult when you are an indie. It still carries a stigma of not good enough to find a publisher, though this shouldn't be the case, but sometimes is.
      E-books and indies have flooded the market, often being sold for ninety-nine cents. Sales are down for e-books, and no wonder with authors practically giving their work away and readers coming to expect nearly free--and then complaining that the book wasn't the quality expected.  Well, no. You got your ninety-nine cents worth.  Because we are so many, reviews are difficult to come by, and reviews sell books. New York publishers still guarantee a certain standard of publishing, and they get the reviews, the hype, and the placement they pay for. The new boom seems to be supplying non-traditional authors with reviews for a fee-not paid reviews, but guaranteeing they will send your book out to hundreds of reviewers and hope a few will take the bait. One friend tried this and was not pleased, saying mostly they sent his book to obscure blogs no one reads. I have to say my small one title investment in NetGalley pleased me with twelve reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, but I could never afford their entire fee. Thanks to Wild Rose for making this possible for their authors.
     The old boom of small e-presses and subsidy presses that printed your beloved book for say a hundred dollars and up and/or required you to buy x-number of copies (which is where they made their profit) seems to be fading.  I had two books with eWings, once a subsidy publisher, now a regular e-publisher under the new management of B.J. Haynes, the well-known creator of Whiskey Creek Press, a very successful subsidy press recently sold to Start, I believe. With a loss of leadership, eWings had become moribund, and many of us considered getting our rights back. I had no quarrel with the editing or the cover art, both very professional, or even having to buy thirty copies. I always buy at least that many to sell at signings.  But, absolutely no publicity was done to help sell books other than listing the title on their web site. Might as well have been in indie. I can certify that those two books, A Taste of Bayou Water and its sequel, Blessings and Curses, are as good as any books I've published, but they've never gotten much traction. However, I am taking a chance on the new eWings which is putting out The Courville Rose, an unusual ghost story,probably this summer, since edits are complete.  Watch for it, and we will both see how it goes.
     Meanwhile, yes, I still write for Wild Rose.  A Will of her Own is being released April 15th and is up for pre-sale now. It is women's fiction with a happy ending and the first of my books not to take place in Louisiana. I'd love your opinion on this departure and if you will, write a review.  An Ashy Affair which takes place in my Chapelle, LA universe is contracted to them also.  Wild Rose is well run as a business, and I am praying they are immune to recent pitfalls in e-publishing. Little e-presses go under regularly. I think most who start them have no idea how complicated the business can be and soon bow out, but when a giant like Samhain falls, we all shake.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Contests and Contest Answer

     Count this as my February blog because there won't be another one until March. You see, I donated an e-copy of She's a Sinner to The Romance Reviews for their month long Valentine's Day party. I seldom donate to these affairs as giving away one book probably won't make a difference one way or the other, and I am asked so often for free copies. In the e-world , your publisher does not give you boxes of paperbacks to give away for promotion.  You have to buy them at about $10 a piece, so it can get expensive. I can, however, give an e-copy for free.  The Romance Reviews (TRR) has been good to me and put up three positive reviews of my books (no, not all five stars, but good), and so I am happy to contribute to their party. Now let me cheat a little and do a cut and paste of what other goodies they are offering.
     The Mega Anniversary and Valentine's Party starts on February 1 at 12:00am EST. 
 We have more than 300 participating authors and publishers.  There are more than 300 prizes up for grabs during the whole month of February. Grand prize is $200 Amazon Gift Certificate! Plus over $300 Gift Certificates and more than 300 book giveaways!
     Caveat: You do have to join their site to win a prize.
     To win She's a Sinner, you must answer the following question: In which Sinners Sport Romance does Xochi first appear.  You see, my sports books aren't just about sex and football, love and romance, but also about family and friendship as they follow for five books from Goals for a Sinner to Love Letter for a Sinner the career of Joe Dean Billodeaux, a quarterback, from his backup days to his retirement as a legendary player. The spin off Sinner's Legacy series is following the lives of his twelve children, the first two being Son of a Sinner and She's a Sinner which will be up for grabs on February first.  Xochi appears in both books, but first makes her appearance as a child in Kicks for a Sinner.  There's your answer.  Made you read a lot, huh?  But, I also hope I've encouraged you read the whole Sinner series.  Good luck.  May you win many prizes and not only mine. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

A Writer's Resolutions

     Yes, I confess every January I make resolutions regarding my writing career. I've long given up on losing weight and going to the gym more often. Last year worked out pretty much the same as dieting and exercise.  I did not get an agent or make more money on my writing and so have consigned them to resolutions I will never keep.  I did get three books out as I promised myself: Courir de Mardi Gras, Son of a Sinner, and She's a Sinner.  Not looking so good for this year, but I will try to do the same number.  I know I've got a start on publishing three since A Will of her Own comes out in April, I think.  But, my other two projects for this year, A Place Apart and The Courville Rose, have failed to find a publisher--yet.  It could still happen, so that is my number one resolution.
     Number two is to find new publishers offering a greater range of books.  I'm not at all unhappy with my current publisher, but they only do romance.  I'm a little tired of being told I can only have two POVs, his and hers.  I'm not talking about on the same page, but in a 100,000 word book. Some of my books are more mainstream fiction or women's fiction and don't always fit the romance template.  I need more elbow room.
     Number Three: enter the Rita Contest.  In fact, I've done this already.  I don't expect to win or even final, but I figure if five judges read my book, they might like it enough to read others or maybe drop me a review. I did this with one of the entries I read--because you have to be a judge to enter.  None of the five books in my box were bad.  I'd say they were all well-written, but when the contest was over, I did write a review for my favorite.  Also, I suspect those books are passed on to friends or library book sales, or in my case for raffle baskets for my RWA chapter and so reach more readers. Wish I could chip them like lost pets and see where they go. By the way if you are a PAN member of RWA, I highly recommend being a judge even if you don't enter.  Lots of good free reads, and you might discover a new favorite author.
     Number Four:  Find a home for my Regency series of a projected ten books, eight of which are written and languishing in a closet.  I never wrote the last two because the Sinners books and other projects took off and I simply haven't had the time do shop the series or do the research for the last two though I have plot ideas.  I'll have to get used to rejection again, and this slows me down.  This is when an agent would come in handy, but that's not on my list anymore.  Might as well get rejected directly by the publisher and save some time.
     Five: Get more reviews.  Not so easy anymore with floods of indie and e-published authors entering the fray. Prestigious review sources cleave to big New York publishers and don't have the time or inclination to sort through the piles of other authors. My two attempts to attract their attention resulted in, well, nothing. Sent two books out into the void, and they never showed up in reviews. I understand ten solid reviews is the magic number to get on Amazon's radar or attract publishers.  Many of my earlier books have exceeded this number, but lately I'm lucky to get one even on a new Sinners title, my most popular books.  I'd love to see Queen of the Mardi Gras Ball reach ten.  She's at nine now.  This is one of my best books.  If you've read and enjoyed it, please give her the boost of that tenth review.  Thanks in advance.
      Meanwhile, my publisher has invested in NetGalley, a very expensive proposition that exposes books to multiple review sources. Each author chipped in $40 for one title. I think the overall price is $500, pretty steep for most of us. I can verify that I've gotten one review for She's a Sinner from this effort, and it was a good one, five stars. There might have been another, but they didn't cite NetGalley so I'm not sure. I'd say if you have $500, might be worth a try.
     Five resolutions is enough for anyone. I'd better get back to finishing An Ashy Affair, or there won't be three books out this year.  When that is done, I might take a vacation some place my 2015 writing income will pay for--but my husband will have to pay his own way.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

What Keeps Me from Writing

     What keeps me from writing isn't writer's block. I've never experienced that. The reverse problem applies: too many ideas and not knowing which to attack next. Mostly, I want to talk about issues that every writer will face sooner or later, and I had a bunch of them this year as did friends of mine.
      I experienced the full circle of life in the past twelve months. My first granddaughter came into the world in the spring. A week of writing was traded for rocking a fretting newborn and making an Easter celebration for the older child, well worth the time. In June, the death of my elderly mother, a blessed release for her, but the start of the stress and strain of getting what should have been a simple settling of a very small estate that became an enormous amount of trouble. I took another week off to scatter her ashes in Pennslyvania under the tree planted for my dad and where his ashes lie. We planted some crocus, too, but as I now live a thousand miles from PA, I don't know if they will bloom. Also got talked into going to a class reunion up there, another rite of passage and not nearly as painful as I feared, fun even.
     Illness. Two author friends are no longer writing while dealing with diseases we all fear. Two others passed away. I've been lucky so far, but can tell you that being laid up after knee surgery, doing heavy PT and taking heavier pain killers means six weeks of no writing. Last week, I inexplicably broke out in full body hives for no reason the doctor could find. I guarantee you cannot put an itchy butt in chair for hours, and Benadryl will have you dozing in your seat, face down on desk. Clearing up now and getting some writing done.
     Writing Setbacks. The first book I submitted in 2015, The Courville Rose, rejected and still homeless. The second, She's a Sinner, a light-hearted Sinners tale about the NFL's first female player, was published in September following Son of a Sinner out earlier in January. Son did well, but She has garnered no reviews at all which makes me think no one read or liked the book, so why am I doing this? Meanwhile, I sold a single title, A Will of her Own, that had editing problems up the wahzoo. I worked through them, but the changes sucked away some of my joy in writing the book. It will come out in the spring sometime, and I should be thankful to be having a 2016 release after all of the above experiences, both good and bad.
     Travel is my weakness. I love to go and went a little too much this year. Not complaining about the two weeks I took off to visit Ireland, no, not at all, but I didn't get around to starting a second book for 2016 (I usually aim for two) until I got back in late August. I'm still laboring over and having fun with An Ashy Affair, but won't finish it until maybe February because I also ran smack-dab into...
     The Holidays. Cooking, baking, shopping, putting up a tree and other decorations, Christmas cards and a family letter all take up gobs of time and distract the mind. I did get a small respite after setting my stove on fire with gravy and so wrote for a few days while awaiting the arrival of a new stove. Believe me, it is best to bow to the publishing custom of shutting down for December and just let yourself enjoy the company of family, friends, and good food.
      Most publishers would like you to put out two books a year at the very least as writers are soon forgotten if they have nothing new to offer. Three would be even better. Since I write full-length works in excess of 75,000 words, two is about my best effort, though I appear to write more as some books are held back and some leap ahead in the publishing process. Regardless, something must always be in the mill, and some years will be more productive than others because every writer will encounter all of the above sooner or later.
     Wishing you time off to enjoy the holidays and a New Year with fewer interruptions--unless they are joyous ones.