Saturday, December 9, 2017

Movie Magic

Hurray for Hollywood!

My writing is often inspired by movies. I don't "rip them off." But I do "riff" on them.
Take my newest historical western romance. It is set in 1881 Arkansas and the first inkling I had of it was in recalling the superb performance of Ruby by Renee Zellweger in "Cold Mountain." While the whole film was memorable, I kept thinking about Ruby and her unfettered spirit. I loved the look of her. Her pouting, take-no-prisoners scowl and her no-nonsense approach to life. She was a survivor, born and bred. She didn't know affection or respect, but she knew how to hang on and never surrender.

I decided to create my own Ruby. I named her Gussie and caught hell for it from my best friend who despised the name. But I had plans for that name. Gussie was born Augusta and became Augusta again in the eyes and heart of Max Lonestar.

Having a heroine who is sharp-tongued and frowny-faced is a tricky feat. You have to find the right balance or a majority of readers aren't going to identify with her or feel sympathy for her. And you really must engage the readers on those counts. Even Scarlett O'Hara had her moments of vulnerability so that readers could glimpse her heart and understand her motivations. You might not approve of Scarlett's choices, but you understood how she came to do what she did.

I found a photo that also inspired me. I've included it on this blog so you can admire it, too. This gal and Renee's Ruby rolled into one to become Gussie. She can be as tough as boot leather, but with the right words and encouragement, she can also purr like a kitten.  I loved writing about her.

That's one of the fun things about writing. Creating and living inside characters. Gussie is more courageous and independent than I am, but she's a dreamer like me and she's a sucker for silly dogs and men with good hearts. She's not the most beautiful girl in the world, but she has a beauty all her own and one that transcends physical attractiveness. She's the kind of woman who will stand next her her man, but never in his shadow. She might give the impression that she doesn't need anyone to help her, but she appreciates a strong shoulder to lean on and a hand up when necessary.

Gussie is a heroine I'm glad I finally pulled out of my mind's dust bucket and brought to life in her own book. Thanks to novelist Charles Frazier and actress Renee Zellweger, I found a mote of an idea, grabbed it, and created a whole book around it.

I hope  you enjoy reading Lonestar's Lady as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Can You Hear Me Now?

Audio Book Adventure

Several years ago, Audible, my literary agent, and I worked out a deal for Audible to buy audio rights to my back list. It was a swell deal and I jumped at it. While I wasn't crazy about the covers they selected or some of the narrators, in general, I've been happy with the results.

After I'd done two books for my Mind's Eye romantic suspense series, I had my agent approach Audible about them purchasing rights to it. They declined and suggested I do it myself. That is, commission the audio books all on my lonesome. In other words, you pay for it, not us paying you this time. I could understand this. When they purchased my back list, they were growing their library. Their library is humongous now.

So, I put out the word through Audible that I was looking for a narrator and I'd do a royalty split with them. One person answered my summons and I wasn't thrilled with her "take" on Levi and Trudy. I passed. A year or so goes by and I'm still wishing I could get the first Mind's Eye book done as an audio book. This time I put out a summons for a narrator, but I will pay up front -- per hour. A LOT per hour.

That did the trick! I received a dozen or more auditions. Now, I'm picky when it comes to Levi Wolfe and Trudy Tucker (the main characters). I make a big deal about Levi having a raspy voice in the books. Therefore, I had promised myself I wouldn't go through with the audio book unless I could find someone who could do a sexy male voice and a good female voice. I listened to the auditions and marked most of them "Nope" and a few "Maybe." Then I heard marvelous Matt Haynes. (Pardon me while I swoon.) Oh, jeez. I was in author heaven! He nailed the voices. All of them. What a talent!

Therefore, I grimaced only slightly when I paid him after his wonderful work was done. Through His Eyes is now a spectacular audio book, available on Amazon, Audible, iTunes, etc. I'm so proud of it and I loved every minute working with Matt on it. It was so much fun I can hardly wait to do it again. I'm saving my pennies, putting every extra dollar aside to "produce" the next one -- Through His Touch -- with Matt, of course.

Go give it a listen. You can "sample" it free!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Writing for Yourself

Learning to Soar    

Write what you know. That's what we're told when we begin writing fiction. Usually, we're kids then and don't know a heck of a lot. So, that advice goes out the window real quick.

Write what you like to read. This is what we're told when we're taking matters seriously and trying to get published. Even then, it's kind of bogus. I recall wanting to write a vampire series and being told by my agent and several editors that vampires weren't selling. Just from looking at books in bookstores I could tell that was bunk. Vampire books never go out of fashion, right along with loner cowboys and damsels in distress. But I was discouraged enough to put aside my vampire dreams because "those in the know" had decided that what I liked to read was dead. (Forgive the pun.)

Write what you'd like to be reading. Ah. Now we're talking. This is the best directive you can give to writers and it will save them a lot of trial and error as they attempt to write what they know and then try to emulate what they're reading. 

Writing what you would like to be reading fills a void and, therefore, makes your novel different enough to stand apart from all others. Why? Because it has your unique fingerprints on it. You aren't encumbered with only relating what you've personally experienced or by trying to fit your ideas and characters into a neat, prefabricated box that other authors have constructed. You are writing a book from your head, your heart, and your own creative imagination.

You pay homage to other writers' styles by using them as scaffold while you construct your story and create your characters. No doubt, you're comfortable enough with a specific genre to use it as a blueprint. Beyond that, you're free to entertain yourself.

Ask bestselling authors and most will tell you that their "big breakthrough" novel was one that they'd wanted to write for some time, but they were either discouraged to do so or they weren't brave enough to attempt it for a few years. However, once they shook off the bindings and wrote what they really wanted to write, they made believers out of the nonbelievers.

My advice? Once you know your craft and yourself, don't worry so much about what others think you should write. Write your story the way you want it written. You won't please everyone and you might even write a book that most of your acquaintances won't read, but someone will read it -- and love it. Many someones just like you are waiting to read your next book, even if they don't know it yet.

 As Garrison Keillor says, "Be brave and do good work." Excellent advice.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Here, Take it, It's Free

Freebies. Why That Still Smarts.

Giving books away has been a no-no in my life ever since I was first published. It was drummed into me by other authors to NEVER give away your work -- except to your mother and maybe some siblings (providing they actually read books). So, now that every expert in the field of book marketing is telling me to "GIVE AWAY YOUR BOOKS," I find it very unsettling and not an easy thing to do.

But I'm doing it. (gulp)

Not all of of my books, mind you, but one and sometimes two of them. The powers-that-be call this "baiting" or "magnet books" that attract readers to your body of work. Yes, I'm used to sending out ARCS (advance reader copies) in hopes of getting a review or two out of them, but giving books to readers is a new activity for me.

I understand how it works to build your reader base and get them talking about your books. When I go onto Goodreads and see people asking if anyone knows of any good westerns or romantic suspense series, I fume. Why? Because Goodreads doesn't allow authors to jump in there and write, "Read mine! They're fabulous!" Nope. You can't do that. You must remain on author pages where you can post your new book or cover or whatever and hope that readers migrate there to see it. Fat chance.

So, I've jumped onto the freebie bandwagon and have been sending my books to people left and right, free of charge. I'm also going to begin offering a novella of mine to anyone who signs up for my elite readers group or my elite Facebook group. 

Of course, if you're a KU member (Kindle Unlimited) you can get my books for free any old time you want. However, it's alarming to discover how few reviewers are KU members. This is, of course, because they don't ever buy books, so they sure aren't going to pay for a KU membership.

It's also odd to discover people who STILL don't read ebooks, for whatever reason. Most of the time, it's because they say they can't afford an ereader. This seems preposterous to me. You can buy a Kindle Fire for $50 and get books, movies, email, etc. on it. That will SAVE you money, in the long-run. Especially, if you're one of those people who never pays for books, but gets them free on various online sites. Spend  $50 and not another dime to read thousands of books. Yes, the majority of those free books suck. But, hey. They're free, so quit whining.

If one out of five people I have sent books to actually leaves reviews of them on Amazon and/or Goodreads, I will be a freebie convert for life. If not? I'll still keep giving them to readers in hopes that some of them will enjoy them so much they will want to read more of my books. Gee. They might even want to BUY one!

Monday, February 13, 2017

I've Got You Under My Skin

Skin to Skin

A large part of being successful when writing fiction is the ability to slip into character. Ideally, we should become each viewpoint character. Sometimes writers make the mistake of being more like a camera looking at the characters. Or they pop into everyone's head and tell you things about every character (omniscient viewpoint). There are times when these tactics can work well.

However, 98 percent of the time, writers do their best work when they "become" the viewpoint character and stick with one character per scene. This means that they feel, see, taste, smell, think, and know only what that character feels, sees, tastes, smells, thinks, and knows. In this way, the reader is immersed completely in the story. Ping pong viewpoint -- switching from head to head -- can be jarring and keep the reader off balance. Sometimes the reader has to backtrack to figure out who's who and what's what. It can be that confusing.

Writing in first person helps writers stay in one viewpoint and not slip in and out of a character's head. It's a good device for that and it's a popular viewpoint for many romance novels (ala Fifty Shades of Grey). Third person viewpoint is trickier, but I like it because it seems more like a novel rather than a diary to me.

Whatever viewpoint is chosen, the objective should be to use it to make your readers live along with your characters. I like to think that I can pull them in so far that, should a doorbell chime or a phone ring or someone speaks to them, they startle. They're so deeply into that fictive world that they forget everything around them. I know that as a reader I love books that suck me right in so that I'm oblivious to time passing and what's going on around me.

The same thing happens when I'm writing. Once I get inside my character and surrounded by the scene transpiring, I have no idea of the time. Often, I come up for air, so to speak, and I'm shocked that two or three hours have gone by. That's when I know I've been on a roll.

When I was learning the profession of novel writing, viewpoint was the thing I tackled first and it wasn't without struggle. Slipping into someone's skin -- even someone you've created -- is no easy feat! But it's so worth it. 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Loss of Excellence

The Way We Were Was Better

If you ever watch Judge Judy on TV then you know that people are far less educated than they used to be, say 15 or 20 years ago.

I watch Judge Judy and I also watch some old game shows on TV. The difference in how people communicate is striking. First of all, quite a few immigrants show up in old game shows, such as "You Bet Your Life" with Groucho Marks. These contestants are impeccably dressed in suits, ties, dresses, hats. Their hair is carefully combed and the ladies are usually wearing pearls or some other nice jewelry. They are in public, so they are showing their best face to the world. They speak in whole sentences, and although English is often their second language, they speak eloquently and politely. It's truly a revelation to see how Americans used to be. I suppose that's how we gained our reputation as a civilized country where people can seek and find better lives.

Contrast this to Judge Judy where contestants often show up in clothing better suited for the beach. It's not unusual for Judge Judy to chastise someone for wearing shorts and a tank top into court or for having boobs largely on display. She has been known to send them out of the court room or ask women to borrow a sweater or shawl to cover themselves so that we won't have to stare at their breasts spilling out over their plunging necklines.

These modern day contestants mostly grew up speaking English, but it's difficult to believe because they don't speak in full sentences or use actual words. Very often people on Judge Judy say, "My car was tooken by the tow truck." Judy will admonish, "There is no such word." This is received by a look of confusion. "Oh. Okay. Anyway, it was tooken by the tow guy." Duh.

Or they will say that they "borrowed someone some money." No. You "loaned" money to someone. The other person "borrowed" it from you. Again, total confusion ensues.

Litigants will declare that they "conversated" with their friends. Judge Judy will point out that there is no such word as "conversated." She might even acknowledge that some dictionary publishers have caved and included this bastardized version of "conversed." But Judy, bless her, refuses to allow this horrid non-word to exist in her courtroom. I want to yell at them, "Just say, 'we talked, moron!'" Because I can't stand hearing "conversated." There is nothing sadder than a poorly educated person trying to sound educated by using a made-up word. Only geniuses like Shakespeare are allowed to get away with that.

Statistics show that America has slipped down, down, down in the world education scale. I think we're around #26 now with Asian countries holding top spots. I hear people talk about classrooms being too crowded and teachers being too over-worked and under-paid. The latter, I can understand. But too crowded?

I went to school with Baby Boomers. Our classrooms and graduating classes were huge. I never felt deprived of an education. In Tulsa Public Schools in the 1960s and 1970s I had the choice of taking general math, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus. I chose from French, Spanish, Latin, German, and Russian. I could elect to take band, orchestra, choral music, or speech/drama classes. I had English classes and advanced English classes along with newspaper and/or yearbook classes. I had civic classes and geography classes, classes in economics and world and American history. In gym, we even studied interpretive dance along with gymnastics. I couldn't swim when I was 16, so I was given swimming lessons in high school. (The pool at Will Rogers is closed now, but it was used every day when I was in school there. We were taught to swim and dive. Those who already could swim were taught competitive swimming and diving.)

By the time I graduated, I was well-versed in arts and sciences and ready for college, having all the credits needed for any university. I wasn't a straight A student or "gifted." I was ordinary, run-of-the-mill, average. I struggled with math, so my parents enrolled me in summer school for math classes so I could concentrate on that one subject in a smaller class with more individual teacher attention. It worked because I made As and Bs in those math classes (before I was making Cs and having a devil of a time keeping up!).

Public school options have changed and, evidently, not for the better. Students are graduating with much lower standards and spouting words like "tooken" and "conversated" with aplomb. They haven't studied any other language, which is good, I suppose, since they haven't mastered their own. They have indulged in the arts only through MTV, YouTube, and going to concerts. 

We are a nation of people who have accepted less and less and now aren't surprised by having it. The top one or two percent receive the best the country has to offer, including education, and the rest of us cater to them and pretend we still have a thriving middle class and that we're not slipping farther and farther down the "dumbing down" ladder.

I write this with a wince, knowing that I sound like an old lady shaking my finger and whining, "In my day . . . "

But, hey. In my day it was much, much better. We spoke and wrote with confidence. Reading newspapers, magazines and books was something we saw our parents doing every day and so we did it, too. Knowing who was president, vice-president, our state representatives, our governor, our mayor -- these were things that we all knew because we were expected to know them!  Not knowing showed that you were ignorant and lazy. Even people who couldn't read made it their business to know such things because they wanted to be aware and involved.

Before we point all our fingers at the education system, maybe we should look at ourselves. Children copy what they see. How often do you read the newspaper? What magazines do you read regularly? How many books do you read every year? Do you ever discuss civic matters with your children or in front of them? Do you take an active interest in their homework and how they execute it? What kind of role model are you?

Granted, we don't have to wear dresses and pearls every day or three-piece suits, but we should take pride in our outer appearance and our inner deportment and character. We should never allow "tooken" and "conversate" to be spoken without a cringe and a correction! Complacency breeds mediocrity. We're already at mediocre. You want to go lower?