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.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Creature of Habit

The Writer's Desk

When I read about J.K. Rowling writing in longhand on a legal pad while sitting in a coffee shop, I shudder. To each his own, but this sounds like torture to me.

Every writer has his/her own way of creating. I used to write on a manual typewriter at my dining room table. Then I wrote on an electric typewriter and then a desk computer in an office in my home. Then I moved to a different house and made the whole upstairs an office and library and wrote on a new desktop computer. Then the Internet, routers, and laptops took over and I now write on a laptop in a downstairs office. I keep thinking that I'll start writing in the upstairs office again, but then I think it's dumb to heat and cool that whole floor.

The point is, I like to write in basically the same place and on the same instrument, day after day. Sometimes, if my back his aching or I'm crushing a deadline, I'll take the laptop into the living room and sit on the couch to write during the evening after writing all day in my office. 

My library upstairs is hardly ever used now and I've donated more than half of my books that used to be shelved up there to charities. The Internet has become my main source of information, along with a few books about the west and cowboys that are out of print.

I haven't written in longhand anything fictional since I was a kid and didn't know how to type yet. I know of several writers who do write in notebooks, but it seems odd to me. They will have to commit their work to type for it to be saved and/or emailed, so why not start off keying in the computer and skip a step? Or they have to hire someone to key the whole thing into a computer. Waste of money. The longhanders say this way of writing makes them more creative and allows them more time to think.

For me, I think faster than I can type -- and I type fast. When I think back to the days of the typewriter and correction fluid/tape, I break out in hives.

I also use my computer to read back what I've written. The computer guy (I like to use the male voice) reads it to me and that helps me catch mistakes, misspellings, omitted words, etc. It also makes me laugh when he reads my sex scenes in his monotone, unemotional voice.

Back when I was part of a critique group, the reading of our work aloud was a godsend. We could hear it, catch the odd phrasing, wince at the wrong wording, tsk at the poor punctuation, and question how believable a plot point was and if someone really would talk like that. After years and years of being critiqued, I still have one or two other people I respect (as in, they are astute writers and/or readers) read my final drafts and tell me where I've succeeded and where I've failed. It's part of my writing "habit."

That's the thing, you see. Writers are creatures of habit. That's the only way you can actually become a writer. You have to make sitting down in front of a computer screen (or notebook) a habit. Every damned day until it is ingrained. Until it's almost an addiction. If I miss a day or two, I have withdrawal symptoms. I feel that something is amiss. I'm antsy. I feel guilty. That's why most writers write while they're on vacation. They need their "fix."

That's also why some writers continue to write in longhand on lined paper. It's habit. It's their daily drug of choice. The "fix" is in.


Friday, July 20, 2018

All Good Things Must End

I'm winding down on my Mind's Eye series. I admit I'm dragging my feet. I've loved being in Levi Wolfe and Trudy Tucker's world. I have loved their romance and now their marriage. #5 in the series -- THROUGH HER TOUCH -- is (or will be in a few days) available on Amazon and I'm writing #6 now (THROUGH HER HEART). 

I thought I'd create a new series, but I'm not so sure now. Series take a lot of planning, thinking, character development, etc. The Mind's Eye is my first one and I originally plotted three books. But the main characters had so much to say and reveal, that I had to expand it to six books. This series had been buzzing in my head for a good ten years, so I had spun a long tale in all that time.

A new series? I have a couple of characters in mind, but I might just place them in a single title romantic suspense novel. I haven't decided. After this series is finished at the end of the year, I'll write a western historical romance. That will "cleanse my palate" for the next contemporary novel, whether it is a single title or the first book in a series.

Marketing a series is also a big task because it is never ending. I'm always trying to tempt readers to read the first one and, hopefully, get hooked and read all the others. It's strange to me how readers can rave about the first book and say they want to read the whole series, but then don't seem to follow through. Maybe there are too many books out there and attention spans are extremely short these days. I've given away at least a hundred copies of the first book in the series and I haven't received a hundred reviews, although most of those people promised to post one. Readers, for the most part, don't understand how important reviews are -- especially for "indie" writers. Even my best friends admit they don't leave reviews. Most of the time they lament that they don't know what to say. I tell them, "Write that you read the book, liked or loved the book, and want to read another book by the author." How hard is that, I ask you?

So, if you're reading this and feeling a pang of guilt. Good! Go write a dang review on Amazon. Not for an author who already has a few thousand of them, but for an author who has fewer than 100 of them! You will give that author a thrill and feel that you've earned a gold star as a reader.

Happy Reading, Everyone!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Thinking It Through

Just Staring and Plotting

When a writer stares off into space, that writer is usually working. A writer acquaintance of mine once told me about how her young daughter -- the child was about seven at the time -- piped up one day and said, "Mommy, I'm going to work like you!" And she sat down at her desk and stared out the window.

What we do takes place in our heads -- in our fertile imaginations. If you don't have an over-active imagination, you'll be hindered as a novelist. Although I had one sibling, I was, for all extents and purposes, an only child because my sister was almost 10 years older than me. Therefore, my closest playmates were in my imagination. In my bedroom or backyard, I acted out whole TV shows and films I'd seen. I was Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, and their horses.

Which brings me back to the point of this. It might look as if we're just sitting and staring, but there is more to it. We're imagining. We should wear a sign that states:Caution! Writer At Work.

I just returned from sitting out on the patio. I went out there for a minute to let the dogs do their thing and I ended up staying there for half an hour because I was working out a tangle in the plot I'm developing. Something about the story was wrong. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I knew that some element wasn't firing properly. Out there on the patio, I finally saw the trees and the forest. My antagonist was wrong. Not nearly frightening enough or disturbed enough. That pivotal character was coming off mild, and that's the kiss of death for a suspense novel. Problem solved. I blinked, realized that the dogs were dancing around me, wanting back inside, and I came back to myself and my desk and untangled the knot in my plot.

That's how it works. Half of writing a book consists of not writing. It consists of staring while your mind whirls, pulling up this plot thread, examining it, casting it off, grabbing another, until you finally find one that you can weave in and out seamlessly to tighten your story. The best outline ever still needs tweaking, revising, and bolstering. That's because as characters take shape and find their own voice in your head, plot points can change. What once made sense for a character is now out of character. Actions taken by a character now are preposterous.  Dialogue spoken by your protagonist suddenly seems forced. So, it's back to sitting and staring or jogging, doing laundry, vacuuming the rug -- it all works. Mindless activity to allow your brain to create scenes, conjure places, and pen dialogue.

As Dee Hock once put it: "Clean out a corner of your mind and creativity will instantly fill it." 

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.