Friday, November 25, 2016

Travels

     I've said before that I write to travel.  Every penny I earn from royalties or selling at events goes into a fund for my next adventure.  If I have a good year, I go farther. If not, I stay close to home. I'm sure not getting rich as a writer, but I am feeding my soul.  I accumulated enough funds for a week long trip to Spain, reported I fear, ad nauseam, on Facebook. Although I went on and on about octopus tapas, great museums, gypsy beggars, and pickpockets, I didn't deal with what travel means to a writer--inspiration of course.
     This doesn't mean my next book will take place in Spain. Who knows? That gypsy beggar who hounded me for a block as she moaned about her children starving and needing milk might appear in another book in a totally different role. Understanding just enough Spanish to get what she said and not believing a word of it, I finally gave her a euro from my little coin purse to be rid of her. I did not flaunt my cash or its location for the very skillful pickpockets of Barcelona for whom she might have been shilling. Yes, one of our company was robbed and never felt a thing, not a single bump, another incident that could be used in any big city. That said, Barcelona is a city of great beauty, a worthy setting for any romance, from its lovely street tiles and lampposts along the Diagonal to the crooked, skinny lanes in the Old City that take one back to Medieval times, minus the stench and far worse beggars than that gypsy woman.
     Madrid was not so beautiful, another big, noisy city that doesn't shut down until three a.m. though they have preserved their neoclassical buildings along the Gran Via and have many nice squares full of, I swear, the same gypsy women beggars. It also has an extensive Old City where we ventured for a lecture on Flamenco at a club dedicated to that dance, had tapas and red wine, then a performance by three female and one male dancer (muy macho). I liked that one of the women was older and still had lots of fire. The dance is never the same twice as the dancer interprets a story being sung and accompanied by guitar. The rest of the company supplies a rhythmic clapping, the men a steady beat, the women faster and more complicated. The fellow sitting next to me whispered that a novel about a flamenco troupe would make a great book.  It would!  But, I'd have to be a lot more knowledgeable before I took that on.
      More likely, people I meet will show up in a book like the ninety-two year old WWII nurse who kept up with us just fine or the plumber who for some reason never got the meal he ordered.  They can be inserted anywhere, in any story.  I collect characters like I do plots I gather from overhearing conversations.  Yes, the threat that you might show up in one of my novels is real, but you probably won't recognize your fictionalized self.  At least, I hope not! Anyhow, I always announce at the introductions that I write romance novels, so they have been warned.
     Just a caution--you cannot write off your travels as research trips on your taxes unless you are a real travel writer who is not being reimbursed. Wouldn't it be divine if you could? On my list--Australia and Italy, Scotland and Iceland. I'd better get busy writing and rebuilding my modest travel fund. Too bad Ashy Affair got off to such a bad start with the defective e-books. I hoped it would be a nice moneymaker like its companion, Trashy Affair, which got me to Alaska. Actually, a trip to Spain costs less than Alaska as did my stay in Costa Rica. This coming year, I might have to drive somewhere.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Publishing Disasters

     I've been writing for ten years and been published for six, not all that long a time, yet I have experienced my share of publishing disasters. The worst came this week. An Ashy Affair, a companion piece to Trashy Affair, came out last Friday. Pre-sales were good. While an author doesn't always know how a book will be received, this was my sure thing, a funny, sexy book with a happy ending and a little mystery and pathos thrown in. As usual, I awaited my first review--which said the book was terrible with an awful ending. Huh? It ends with an HEA wedding. I thought the person must be a troll as she gave no details about the story and reported the abuse to Amazon.
      Next review, not as bad, good characters, etc. but made no sense, went nowhere, abrupt ending. Now, I am totally perplexed. Finally, a loyal reader contacted me personally to say she didn't understand why I ended the very short book of 122 pages so strangely during a lunch between two sisters. Ah-ha! The book has 342 pages and 29 chapters. Readers and worse, reviewers, were getting less than half of the book. I reported this immediately to my publisher, their fault, a computer glitch, but the damage has been done, I am afraid. Who is going to look at those comments and want to buy the book? Some good reviews are filtering in, but it may take months to repair this damage. Often people buy and store books on their readers and might not get to the defective copy for a long time--and then there will be more bad reviews. Of course they can trade it in for a good one, but will they bother? Worse, Ashy Affair was sent to NetGalley, a review source from which came some of the worse remarks. I did notify those reviewers that their copies had been faulty, but so far none have changed their opinions.  Yes, I shed some tears over this.  Ashy will never be the book it was intended to be.
     I've talked about being orphaned when a publisher shuts down. This happened to me about nine books into my career.  The day that small e-press shut down, six of my titles disappeared. The authors hadn't received royalties for half a year, a sure sign of upcoming trouble. In my circumstances, the publisher did everything she could to make things right for her authors. She returned rights immediately, tried to place her writers with other presses by making wonderful recommendations, and saw that we all got part of the remaining assets to make up for lost royalties. Still, though all my titles were picked up fairly rapidly (most of the Sinners series), two book, one newly under contract and one lacking only its cover were in limbo for over a year. First, I had to have all the others re-edited and re-covered by the new press. This is akin to putting out six new books in one year and was exhausting before the two new ones could come out.  So, reset my writing career back a year. Believe me, I was lucky.  Some orphans never receive the royalties owed and don't get their rights back without a struggle so that they can move on. They are left in the cold and dark searching for a new publisher.
     I might have mentioned before to always personally correct your galley copy and send in those changes. This is the last time you see a book before it goes to print. No one will do this for you. It gets published flaws and all if you don't do the work of rereading every word in a book that you might be thoroughly tired of by now after several edits. Usually, I find an average of twenty-seven errors, and my books run long. Some are tiny and probably wouldn't have been noticed by the readers, a comma here or there. Some are huge like half the book having quotation marks turned backwards as happened in Wish for a Sinner, a novel of 103,000 words. I noted every time this happened, and the corrections were done, but how stupid would the book have looked if this hadn't been caught. In both this case and above, these were computer errors, one of the chances you take with e-publishing.
      If a cover is wrong, do speak up.  Twice, my light-hearted books received creepy covers.  Once the title was misspelled. Another time, my blond, Nordic clean-shaven hero appeared swarthy with a black goatee. You aren't supposed to fuss about your covers.  No, they can't get a model who looks exactly like your hero or heroine, but they can conjure up the right mood and get the spelling correct. One author I met admitted she had a cover with woman who had three arms.  It's still out there, but she had made a conversation piece of it.
     I have experienced all these horrors, but not, thank heaven, having my pen name taken away permanently by a publisher and having to start all over with a new identity and no name recognition. Nor have I had to sue for long overdue back royalties which the publisher continued to receive but never distributed.  These things could lie ahead, but I certainly hope not.
     If you are an author who has experienced a publishing disaster, please feel free to vent here with your comments.  If you are an author who has never had a printing disaster, I envy you.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Jealousy

     I have to admit it.  I am often jealous of fellow authors, the ones who post they are number one on some list or another on Amazon or a bestseller somewhere.  The only time I've gained the top of a list was when A Trashy Affair was given away free for one week, 11,000 downloads--and barely sold a copy after that since everyone who wanted it now had the book.  Amazon did take note, however, and bought the e-rights for their Encore program with a fair advance I've yet to earn back as it is now given away for free or sold for ninety cents.  Still, many people are reading it, and I hope it leads them to An Ashy Affair which was released yesterday and is also one of my best books.  That is about my only bragging right.
     When a fellow writer announced her fantasy book sold 250 copies in the U.K. and had been chosen for a book club, yes, I felt those pangs again.  Why not me?  I have readers in Australia, Canada, France most recently, and the U.K. She on the other hand is envious of the number of books I have in print, nineteen as of today.  What to do about these feelings? Tamp them down and say congratulations. Try to be happy for those who have succeeded.  Being at the top of a list is a very brief pleasure.  Then, it is gone, and you have to get back to work and try to attain it again. Writing is often cruel business.  Don't let jealousy consume you.
     Except for being prolific, I can't imagine anyone being jealous of me, though I know it has happened.  A person once posted a very ugly review on a book that had otherwise been well received (Paradise for a Sinner).  She linked it to her web site--and I did not go there to read it in full. I noted she had the same last name as a popular writer who also does sports romances, so perhaps a relative trying to boost another author's work by tearing mine down. Believe me, it wasn't necessary. That author far excels me in sales and fans already.  I am no threat to anyone. In fact, I owe that author a thanks as Amazon often pairs my books with hers.  There is plenty of room in the genre for all of us.  We don't need to knock each other down.
     I once had an art teacher who said, "Never compare yourself to others."  Do the best work you can, enjoy learning a new technique or selling a painting,  Don't say I'll never be as good as Renoir or Van Gogh or Rembrandt or the naturally talented person working at the next easel.  The same applies to writing.  Let go of jealousy, the urge to say something snarky about the other person's book instead of congratulations, and celebrate you own small triumphs without boasting or rubbing it in someone else's face.
      I do hope An Ashy Affair will reach the top of some list or other.  It isn't likely.  But, I know I've written a good, entertaining book that will make you laugh and cry.  My best hope is that you will enjoy reading it (and post good, not snarky, reviews).
   

Friday, August 26, 2016

Between Books

     Technically, I am on hiatus.  I finished writing Sister of a Sinner, did the rewrite, synopsis, blurb, and sent it off to my editor--who sent it to readers unfamiliar with the Sinners series, and they remarked, "Who are all these people?"  Even the list of in the front of the book didn't help them nor the quick sketches of each person as they entered the story. I swear I've explained what a traiteur is a dozen times and always put it in italics as a foreign word, but one reader kept calling my heroine a traitor until she finally caught on. For those who don't know, a traiteur is a traditional healer who uses prayer, herbal cures, and other folk remedies to heal in Cajun country where many of my books take place.  The trouble with long running series is they gather characters like a snowball rolling downhill, and I keep thinking fans of the series want to know what they are doing along with the main characters.  Yes, I know this is a failing of mine. I try hard to snuff some of them out, but don't succeed.  Most likely Sister will be rejected or have agonizing edits. Not looking forward to that.  I try not to think I've wasted three or four months writing a book that will never be published.  It has happened before.
      What am I doing between books? Maintenance.  I updated my web site, www.lynnshurr.com.  I forced myself to send a query and sample chapters of one of my Regency books to a high-powered agency recommended by a dear friend.  Eight books sitting in the closet waiting to be discovered. I don't have high hopes. Query letters are not my forte, though I've read numerous articles on how to do them well and attended workshops on the same. Bracing for rejection--again.  Might end up being a two bogie month. Got to put on my alligator hide.
      But, I did design and order promotional postcards for An Ashy Affair to be released on September 28th and up for pre-sale on Amazon now.  It's a really good one with a great cover, and I do think it will sell well. There's a plus to offset the minuses.
      I caught up with some reading, my favorites, Norah Roberts, Jayne Ann Krentz, and looking forward to the new Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I read about six books a month, all I can handle and still write my own. This usually includes one for my book club, this month the tender love story, Eleanor and Park, a YA title banned, I guess, for bad language by people who really think teens don't use those words.  On my car's CD player, I am listening to the Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, a eloquent story of the abolitionist Grimke sisters and their family's slaves. Yes, I wish I wrote that well. Just finished Cavalier by Lucy Worsley, nonfiction. Who knows when I might want to write about the 17th century conflict between the Roundheads and the bewigged Cavaliers? Also worked in Sweet Tomorrows by Debbie Macomber. It is sweet.  When I was laid up with pneumonia earlier this year a person suggested if I read more, I might improve my own writing. Sorry, I don't think I could read more and still produce two or three books of my own each year.
      Then, I started research on Never a Sinner about Teddy, the Billodeaux's handicapped son. Trying to figure out wheelchair sex led me to many porn sites, but also some very useful blogs by people actually in this situation.  I was touched by their stories and advice to others. I planned to take a month's break, but once I began the research, I couldn't help but start writing the story, not pushing, going slowly because after all, I am on hiatus. Maybe I should write one called Never on Hiatus.  Two weeks away from the computer seems to be all I can mange. Of course, if Sister is not accepted, that will break the series--and then what?  A topic for another time.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Plotting, Always Plotting

     Barely managed to squeeze my July post in this month.  Among my many excuses, a four day medical procedure that turned out fine but forbid typing, and the greatest urge to get the first draft of Sister of a Sinner done--just in case that procedure went bad on me.  I completed the book yesterday, still have the long process of revising, writing a synopsis and the blurb, but that shouldn't take more than a week or so.  While I am doing all this, and indeed, before Sister was halfway done, my mind started plotting the next book which will be another Sinners story.
     I suppose I am a pantser since I don't outline, create a spread sheet, or write down my character's eye color in advance.  In my mind, I know my beginning, middle, and end.  It's just a matter of moving my cast from one point to another until I get to the finish.  I do write in a linear fashion, beginning at the beginning writing through to the finish. Others like to write all their major scenes, then patch them together, but I find this often results in rocky transitions and abrupt scene changes.  You can usually tell when a person uses this method. Sometimes, they don't always appear to get the scenes in the right order.
     I also basically know my characters well in advance of writing the story.  Still, as the tale progresses, I learn more and more about them and the secondary characters. Some of the secondaries are as expendable as security guys on Star Trek.  Others will develop into major players in the plot.  You never know in advance, at least, I don't. Of my main characters, I will visualize what they look like and research their professions before I start, but they, too, grow.  In my rewrite, I will bring some of these issues to the front of the book to make them more complete.  Same goes for the setting which will be become more fleshed out.
     Often, I've thought I should write down some of the many plots rabbiting around in my head, but no.  As I finish one book, I simply grab another by the ears and start envisioning my new story.  I haven't run up against writer's block yet and never hope to.
     Sorry this is a bit short, but I am itching to start the revision of Sister, and can get a few chapters in before I have to cook dinner for my husband.  If accepted, and not all are, this one will be out early in 2017.  Meanwhile, keep an eye out for An Ashy Affair to be released September 28th.  It's a companion piece to one of my favs, A Trashy Affair.  This one has a hunky fireman the heroine thinks is a little too good to be true: brave, handsome, kind, and he can cook both in the kitchen and the bedroom.  Has to be something wrong with him, right?  Leah Allain sets out to find what that is before she succumbs totally to his charms. It's a good one.  Enjoy!

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 www.romancingthejock.com--and 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.