Monday, August 14, 2023

Slowing Down

Plodding . . . er, Plotting Along

 Would you believe that I once wrote a book in six days? Yep. I did. A contemporary romance that was sold and published. I was much younger and much hungrier back then. I was still working as a newspaper reporter and I wrote my novels every weekday from around 8 p.m. until 1 or 2 a.m. On weekends, I was at it all day and most of the night.

Those days are long gone. For many years I wrote three or four books a year. Now? I write one or two a year and it seems like I'm getting slower and slower at it. But I'm retired, so I should be doing less work, right? I tell myself that I should retire from writing, but how does one do that? I believe the only way that will happen for me is to be physically/mentally unable to continue writing. While I'm taking my fine, old time writing these days, I still feel like I should write. When I don't, I feel guilty and lazy! My characters intrude on my thoughts and new scenes pop into my head. It's like the characters are prodding me, urging me back to the computer to flesh out those skeletal scenes.

Writing still amuses me. For example, I had a ball writing "The Chosen One." I loved the main characters and their situation. It was a joy to write that one. The book I'm writing now hasn't been a joy ride, but it's been illuminating. I get something out of every book I write. Sometimes it's discovery, sometimes it's giggles, and sometimes it's a lesson in determination. (As in, I'm determined to finish writing this book!) I'm always thinking that the next one I write will be even better than the one I'm writing. The old "the grass is always greener" trap!

I've been on a contemporary romance kick for a couple of years, but I think I will write another historical western after I've finished the contemporary I'm writing now. After watching 1883 on television, I'm inspired. Taylor Sheridan is a superb writer. Some of his narrative in that show brought tears to my eyes. It's funny how inspiration can pounce out of nowhere like that, but I'm glad it does. I've never been at a loss for what to write next. I'm always locked and loaded, ready to plot the next one and maybe even the one after that! So, I might have slowed way down, but I'm not out of gas yet.

Slow and steady wins the race and gets the book written these days.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Nasty Boy!

Remember that Janet Jackson hit?

"Oh, you nasty boys." Yeah, that one. I watched the video one lazy afternoon on YouTube and remembered how much I liked that song. Always makes me want to boogey. Then I stumbled upon James Taylor's song, "Mean Old Man" and it gave me a chuckle. Suddenly a plot for a new book bloomed in my mind. It happens like that sometimes. One thing leads go another thing and -- BAM! I'm at the computer, pounding keys, and grinning like a mad scientist as I create new characters and plotlines.

A few months later I have a new book out. "Nailing Mr. Nasty" is the second book in my contemporary romance line -- Campy Romances. "Bedding Mr. Birdsong" was the first one. I had such fun writing "Birdsong" that I wanted to pen another contemporary love story. Those two songs helped me follow through. If you watch those videos and read the lyrics of the songs, you'll see how they tie in with the plot of "Nasty."

Music has become a big thing with books, if you haven't noticed. Romance authors will include song lists for readers to check out and listen to while they read. Sort of like a soundtrack to a movie going on in their heads. Those authors probably played those songs as inspiration while they wrote particular scenes. I know that hearing certain songs can get me in the mood -- whichever mood I'm trying to achieve for the scene I'm writing. When I'm going for something bittersweet or heart wrenching, I listen to the Bergmans' "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?" That always gets to me and makes me cry. When I'm needing something sweet and happy, I listen to "Two for the Road." It takes me back to the film it was written for starring Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn. Sweeping romance? Aaah. I listen to Johnny Mathis or Barbara Streisand. In particular, I love "Summer Me, Winter Me" and "I Was Born in Love with You."

Releasing a new book is always exciting. Mr. Nasty is exciting and fun. I got a kick writing about a snarking, growling, frowning boss man who is tamed by his new temporary assistant. Well, if not tamed, tempered. Samantha Striker has a "thing" for Jack Nast. He's the type of man who has always turned her on big time. Unfortunately, Jack doesn't think that screwing the help is a good idea. Sam, however, thinks it's a swell idea! The push and pull between these two was great fun to write. Also, I was able to slip in a subplot about substance abuse and how it can slowly and insidiously wreck a family. 

If you're wondering . . . yes, I'm outlining Book 3 in Campy Romances. Did a song inspire it? Partly, yes, it did. "Heaven." All good boys go to heaven, but bad boys bring heaven to you.
Uh-huh. See how my mind works? Love those bad, nasty boys!
In the meantime, check out some of the songs mentioned here and see if you don't find them enchanting and mood producing.

Happy Reading AND Listening.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

A Bit of Fun

It's been a minute since I've released a contemporary, stand-alone romance, so it's thrilling for me to launch BEDDING MR. BIRDSONG on Amazon. This was fun to write. I created characters that made me smile and laugh and enjoy the experience of falling in love (again).

Writing romances is a great gig. I've fallen in love over and over again and I never tire of it. I mean, I create gorgeous guys, right? Who wouldn't fall in love with the likes of Levi Wolfe or Dalton Moon? Once again, I have conjured up a scrumptious hero in Matthew Birdsong. Although he has caged his heart after having it squashed by his ex-wife, he enjoys women and discovers that he especially enjoys hanging out with Zaney Miller, his neighbor. She is never without an opinion and her outlook on life makes him smile and  believe in love again. He falls under her charm, despite his intention of only having her as a friend.

Set in New York City, this book is meant to be light and flirty.

Writing humor is fun, but it's risky. Humor is totally subjective. What makes me giggle could leave you scratching her head and wondering what's so funny. I've guffawed at jokes while family members rolled their eyes and muttered, "How dumb." So, when a writer strives to make you smile, she knows that she might end up with egg on her face. However, I was in the mood to have some fun, so I decided to write what makes me smile and hope that most of you get the jokes and wit.

I'm writing another contemporary romance now, even though my plan was to write an historical western romance next. The lure of writing another fun one, though, was too much for me to resist. Maybe because we're all caught up in this virus nightmare and I need a real escape hatch! There's nothing like a flirty romance to make me forget that I'm in isolation and it's scary out there!

Stay safe, my friends, and grab a good book to enjoy. Preferably, one of mine! And smile.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Constructive Feedback

Asking for it...

Authors are used to asking readers for feedback. We send out "advance reader copies" ARCs to people who promise to read our books before they're released to the public and post reviews on Amazon or Goodreads or their own blogs. We don't tell them what to write or that the reviews must be glowing. We leave that up to them and hope for the best. We also encourage people to leave reviews after the book is released because the more reviews we receive, the more the book is noticed by Amazon, Goodreads, etc. and the more people will become curious about it or even realize that we have a new book available. With thousands of books published every month, we need all the help we can get to reach our readers.

Writing reviews is a simple task for me (and, yes, I leave a review on most of the books I read), but it is a dreaded task for some. I don't understand why, but I suspect that some readers feel inadequate when they are asked to write something that other people (gasp! even the author!) will read. Since I've developed a thick skin over the years, having been charred repeatedly over the fires of public opinion, this is not something that I avoid. As soon as I finish reading a book, I write a review. If I love the book, I usually write several sentences about it. If it's okay, I write a sentence or two. If I really think it missed the mark, I might write a paragraph about why I think it could have been better. If the book just wasn't my cup of tea, I usually say that or I don't leave a review at all because it wouldn't be fair. I mean, it's my fault if I pick up a book with certain expectations and then realize I was wrong. It would be stupid to blame the author for my error in judgement. I note here, though, that I've had readers do this to me. They've written bad reviews because they were offended by the sex scenes or because the hero said cuss words. Those reviews add to the thickness of my seared skin.

Let me give some pointers to you readers out there who don't know what authors are looking for when they ask you to write a review. We're not looking for high-minded, soul-stirring phrases (although those do make us squeal with glee and melt our tough, little hearts). Imagine that you're talking to your best friend about a book you just read. Try writing like that. It can be something simple like, "This book is typical of what this author usually writes and I enjoyed it. The hero is sexy and the heroine is kind-hearted and I really liked her. He's a sports announcer and she has just opened a bakery. They have a cute meeting at a peewee baseball game where her six-year-old son is playing on a team against his six-year-old daughter's team. He's been divorced for three years and her husband died while she was pregnant. I read it in one day, so you can tell I didn't want to put it down once I started it."

What an author will like about this is that there aren't any "spoilers" -- nothing that reveals major plot points to ruin other readers' enjoyment. Also, there are a few sentences about the story and the reader mentions that she liked both of the main characters. That's important to any author. It's imperative that readers like and/or identify with the hero and heroine.

Now here's an example of what you might write if you had some trouble with a book. "This is a new author for me and I liked most of this, but I couldn't totally understand why the heroine acted like she did. She wanted the hero to pay attention to her and kiss her, but when he did, she'd get all huffy and push him away. Way into the book, she finally tells him that she was emotionally abused in her last relationship. I wish I'd known that at the beginning of the book, then I would have had sympathy for her."

Feedback like this is golden. An author with her/his head on straight will learn a valuable lesson from this reader. Also, the review isn't mean, but honest and helpful. It is criticism with a spoon of sugar.

Other helpful reviews point out typos or words that were used incorrectly or even misspelled consistently. Ouch! These hurt and embarrass us, but hey! We need to know this stuff. I have mentioned such things in reviews, hoping to let the author know that she/he has a bad habit to correct. For example, in one book I read a few years ago, the author kept writing "he must of" instead of "he must have." Drove me nuts! I noted this in the review and even suggested that she hire a professional editor.

Think of reviews as your way of paying it forward. A writer has spent months writing a book and is eager to hear what readers think about it. Other readers will be interested in your opinion, too. Ten minutes of your time versus ten months or more of frantic typing and editing. It's not such a big ask, is it?

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Beating Back the Blues

Stars and Gripes

You have to develop a tough skin when you're a writer. If you show your work to anyone other than a considerate spouse or a loving parent, then you're bound to receive feedback that isn't necessarily lofty or flattering. In fact, it's amazing how many people are willing to tell you exactly what they find lacking in your writing and storytelling. You don't even have to ask!

If you think that getting lousy reviews gets easier the longer you're at this game, you would be wrong. I have to force myself to recall all the good things that have been written about my work, but I can recall all the really nasty, mean things instantly. Those bad reviews fester, rising to the surface of my mind any time I falter, have a bad writing day, struggle with a plot, or rewrite a scene over and over again.

Since I know how important reviews are to writers, I do review books on Amazon and Goodreads. If I don't like the book and can't give it more than two stars, I don't post a review. Three stars get a review that isn't particularly favorable, but I attempt to point out what I didn't like about the book and why and I mention that others will absolutely have no problem with it and that this is merely my biased opinion. Because that's the truth, folks. Just because you don't like a book doesn't mean it's terrible and that you should tell others NOT to purchase it.

Which brings me to a review recently posted for one of my books. The reader did not like that book at all, but went one better by stating that, although the book had received five stars and great praise, people should not purchase it because this person thought it was predictable and poorly plotted and she/he hated the characters.

Let me point out that the review I received before this one was one of the best I've had in quite awhile and it was delivered by someone who said she was a writer herself. That makes it even sweeter. I was soaring and giddy after reading that one. Then the next one sent me nosediving back to earth. Ouch.

That's how it is, though. One review makes you feel warm and fuzzy and then another review makes you wonder how you could offend someone so thoroughly.

The good thing about having written for most of my life and having my first novel published in 1979 is that I know in my heart of hearts that I can write and tell a fine story. Otherwise, I would not have made my living as a writer my entire adult life. It's the only job I've had since graduating from college. Writer/editor. So, I must be pretty good at it. I know that I can't please everyone and only a fool would try. But the slings and arrows still manage to penetrate my thick skin every so often.

I get blue and feel sorry for myself. Thank God, it's fleeting. I reread my many good reviews, suck it up, and get back to my current manuscript in progress. It's what writers do. We don't write because we choose to -- writing chose us. Along with that, we humbly ask for reviews to attract other readers. Occasionally, we get a review that is difficult to get past, but we soldier on.

Reminds me of something I read on Facebook. "This, too, shall pass. It will hurt like you're passing a bladder stone, but it will pass."


Sunday, April 7, 2019

Courage in Numbers

Teaming Up

In the stone age when I first got serious about being a published novelist, I joined a team. Is there such a thing, you ask? A team that helps you get published? Maybe like those ads on TV where some "publisher" says that "if we decide to publish your book" they will do everything for you -- edit it, choose a cover for it, make it an ebook, send it to bookstores all over the country, etc. All you do is sit back and wait for those royalty checks to rain on you.

Uh, no. Not like that. That, my friends, does not exist. That "publisher" probably will ask you for money.

I'm referring to a writers' group. In my case, the Tulsa Nightwriters. I relied on several of their members to assist me from one summit to the next in  my quest to climb to the top of the mountain. One of the best things I did was attend the Oklahoma Writers' Federation, Inc.  (OWFI) annual conference in Oklahoma City. These educated me about the writing/editing/publishing process and gave me a window on how such conferences work and how to get the most out of them. By the time I joined the brand new Romance Writers of America (RWA) and attended its first conference, I was an "old hand" at such events. I had already acquired a literary agent, thanks to OWFI's conferences, and I was prepared to submit polished, professional manuscripts. I knew the "lingo" editors used and what they wanted from writers. I still had a lot to learn, but because of the Nightwriters and OWFI, I avoided a lot of the mistakes "newbies" make early in their efforts.

For example, I knew how to prepare a manuscript properly. I knew how to write a synopsis or outline and what editors would be looking for in the first three chapters of a novel. I knew how to write a professional and intriguing query letter. I knew how much each publishing house offered in advances and royalties to new authors. Thanks to my "team," I never embarrassed myself or shot myself in the foot in the starting gate.

Today, I still depend on a team. I rely on my literary agent and her staff to assist me in charting my next career choice, marketing my work, and in educating me on the ever-changing landscape of publishing. I rely on my prep team -- my editor, proofer, copyeditor, cover designer, and beta readers. And I rely on my "street team."

My street team -- or, as I call them, my Happy Campers -- encourage me throughout the process of writing a book and then help me announce it to the public once it's released. They also consist of reviewers I can trust to read my ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) and publish reviews as soon as the book is published. Reviews are very important in independent publishing. You just can't get enough of them -- or I can't! There are so many books released every month that reviewers are swamped and have to say "no" to more than half of the requests they receive. Therefore, it's smart to create relationships with as many reviewers as possible and keep the communication going in between your books so that you aren't forgotten and relegated to the back of the line again.

I'm constantly looking for more Happy Campers, so if you like my books and would be willing to post notices about them on Facebook, Twitter, Bookbub, Goodreads, etc., let me know! Post a comment here or message me on Facebook or through my website. I'll be launching another western historical romance this summer and I'll need all the help I can muster. I'm also in the early stages of devising my next contemporary romantic suspense novel and I'm seeking suggestions from my team on what they like or don't like about those kinds of books. As you can see, writing and publishing relies more on just the writer and writing. We all need a team.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

When Fortune Smiles

Oh, Happy Day!

When I look back on my life, it's still wondrous to me how three people are responsible for me being a writer.

First, there was Joann Ragsdale, my high school English teacher. At the end of my sophomore year, she took me aside and asked me if I'd like to take her journalism class next year. I asked her (no kidding, I did!), "What's journalism?" She told me we would study newspapers, magazines, and the yearbook. She mentioned that a couple of my best friends were going to be in the class and that's what sold me. I signed up.

That nudge from my English teacher set me on a career path that has been a pleasure and infinitely interesting. I fell in love with journalism and opted to be part of the newspaper staff in my senior year. Journalism was my major in college and earned me a scholarship or two. My first jobs when I graduated were working for newspapers and I've always been extremely proud of that noble and necessary profession.

While on assignment for the Tulsa World, I covered the state women's conference that would result in the selection of delegates who would attend the historic women's conference in Houston in 1977. At the state conference, church buses packed with women and a few men marched in. During the vote for delegates and the planks of our platform, the church bus men sat at the end of rows and wore white gloves. They raised those gloved hands during the voting and the church bus women watched for those gloves and dutifully raised their hands, too. Thus, Oklahoma adopted a strictly conservative platform that was against the Equal Rights Amendment and women's reproductive rights.

I also was sent to report on the national convention where Phyllis Schlafly and other anti-feminists (along with Oklahoma's) moved the Republican Party to the right more forcibly and managed to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment. It was an eye-opening experience and I didn't know what to make of it.

Slack-jawed along with me were two women who were having trouble getting into meetings because their "press credentials" weren't legitimate. I eavesdropped and decided to help them. I told the door monitor that they were with me and they were allowed in. We struck up a friendship.

These two women -- Peggy Fielding and Mary Alexander -- had a huge impact on me and my career. They were feminists, loud, proud, and talented. They were writers, editors, educators, and speakers. They were bigger than life to me and they took me under their wings. They made me believe that I could not only finish writing the novel I'd been working on in secret, but actually sell it! And they were right.

After their generous and astute tutoring and the largess of the Tulsa Nightwriters club, the Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc., and Romance Writers of America, I did sell that book to Simon & Schuster and have since sold more than 50 others. 

In the cases of Mrs. Ragsdale, Ms. Fielding, and Ms. Alexander, I had no inkling that they would be monumental in the direction my life would take. Only in retrospect can I look at those chance meetings and marvel. When I think about those moments. I can't help but wonder what if I hadn't decided to take that journalism class? What would I be doing now if I hadn't decided to help those two women gain access to that conference meeting? My life would be so different, and I'm sure, not nearly as fulfilling.

It seems to me that when fortune smiles on us we usually don't even notice. Not until that smile has long since faded do we remember and thank all our lucky stars for those serendipitous decisions. Those three women are no longer on this earth, but their enormous contributions to my life continue to this day.