Monday, June 30, 2014

Falling in Love... and Get Ready for July!

Lest the title of this blog post confuse you, this doesn't have anything to do with my and Paul's 26th wedding anniversary on July 2 (well, okay, maybe it does.)

"Falling in love" is a curious phrase. What does it mean, exactly? Literally, it means that love is something like a swimming pool or ocean or deep canyon and one is falling into it. Not exactly something one is doing intentionally, either... you could say "I jumped into love" or "I dived head-first into love". No, "falling in love" sounds like an accident; you were just walking along, minding your own, when you just fell into love (which, apparently, was also conveniently right there as well.) While it's true that some human relationships occur just like that, it's also possible to "fall in love" with other things. You might be aware of a thing or place, heard about it, maybe even seen pictures of it, but when you are suddenly confronted with it, live and in-person (so to speak) you suddenly find yourself falling in love. And that is what happened to me, this past February, when my husband and son and I visited Monterey, California. I'd heard of it, knew where it was, that it had an interesting history, and, oh yes, it was right on the coast of the Pacific Ocean.

I had never seen the Pacific Ocean. I'd been to California (1985, senior trip, Disneyland, Universal Studios, Knott's Berry Farm. THAT California), but never to the coast. And I had seen an ocean: the Atlantic, first from the East Coast when we visited Paul's family when we were still newlyweds, then in 2012 when we embarked on a Caribbean cruise and we sailed on endless stretches of ocean from Key West, Florida to Cozumel, Mexico. So large bodies of water were not exactly new to me... and they didn't particularly impress me. Then while we were in Monterey, we took a drive to Carmel-by-the-Sea. The shops, the houses, everything was charming and a delight to see. Then we went to the beach....

And I fell in love. Head over heels.
Never mind that I can't swim. Never mind that the weather was cold and overcast. It wasn't even so much that I was impressed (after all, it was just the bay; I couldn't really see vast expanses of empty ocean.) No, something about the power and beauty of the waves rolling up onto the beach, listening to the roar, watching the water roll over onto itself and dissolve on the shore, moved me in a way I'd rarely been moved before. I could have sat on the beach all day just watching the waves and been perfectly content. Even in the rain.
The last time I felt that kind of "falling in love" feeling was when I visited Rocky Mountain National Park for the first time, over 20 years ago. Standing in the midst of the Colorado Rockies, feeling so small and insignificant and yet so privileged to be there, was the same feeling I got standing on the California coast. That feeling of being perfectly content and at peace.
Is that what love really is? You think it's all passion and excitement and then--surprise--it's about being content and at peace when it seems that everything around you is bigger and stronger.
I was privileged to share these encounters--these "falling in love" moments--with the two guys I love most in the world.
Hey, I said our anniversary is Wednesday!
And our son also "fell", too!
So I hope and pray that life will give us another opportunity to visit the places I've come to love so much. And until then, well, I have memories to give me the peace and contentment I found there.
Okay, now about getting ready for July... The Back Deck Blog Blitz!
During the month of July, every Wednesday and Friday, I will be presenting a fellow author from my publishing house, Oak Tree Press. They will tell you about themselves, their books, their stories about their path to publication, and give some writing advice. You'll get to meet them and hopefully find some more wonderful authors whose books you'll enjoy!  I hope you enjoy meeting my colleagues and friends and getting to know them!


Monday, June 23, 2014

Talking About Writing

Last week, I blogged about promoting my books and how I (and many other authors, as well as many other artists) feel this is the absolute worst part of our job. We like our anonymity, but the truth is that our work will simply sit, unread and unlooked at by anyone other than ourselves, and remain unsold unless we get out there and let people know it exists. We have to talk about them.

Now when I say "talk", I don't mean the literal definition of "words coming out of one's mouth". I can talk to people about almost anything, including books. What I (and many authors) have trouble with is talking about OUR OWN books. We feel this fear that maybe we'll be seen like that goofy new parent who insists on showing everyone photos of their baby and subjecting innocent strangers to rambling monologues about their baby's first smile (because,) of course, other babies have gas, but YOUR baby smiles), and trying to convince everyone how unique and special YOUR child is.

However, the fact is that the number one question an author is going to be asked about their book, whether it be the publisher, bookstore owner, or potential buyer, is "What is your book about?" or "Tell me about your book." And that is when the author must swallow hard and speak up: "MY BOOK tells this intriguing story. MY BOOK is populated by these interesting characters. You will enjoy reading MY BOOK."

The truth is that a book must be talked about in order to generate interest. It's very true that you can't judge a book by its cover. A striking cover image might attract some initial attention, but think of all the competing book covers on a library or bookstore shelf. Some may promise more than the story can deliver and others don't even begin to hint at the treasure within. And who better to talk about a book than the one who created it?
I was privileged to be given the opportunity to have a book signing at Treasure House Books & Gifts in Old Town Albuquerque. The photo shows me talking to a potential customer (who actually DID buy the book) about the book and my series. But before I could get to the point of talking to the customer, I had to talk to the bookstore owner. I had to convince him to carry my book in his store and sponsor an event for me. And before that, I had to present myself to a publisher and convince her to publish my book. And each time, I had to talk about MY BOOK.

I don't know if it ever gets easier. I know my husband, Paul, is always eager to talk about my work to anyone, even strangers on the street (whom he directed into the store to talk to me and hopefully make a purchase--the bookstore owner loves him!) but somehow it seems self-serving and prideful to talk about oneself and one's book. An author needs to get over that if they want to keep getting published. The first thing an author has to do is write something worth publishing and selling, then they need to get over themselves to be able to talk about what they wrote and had published.

Go ahead and be proud of your "baby".  Here's a pic of me and one of mine. I hope you like it!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Write It and They MIGHT Read It

The old saying goes, "Build it and they will come" (whoever "they" are) but the unanswered question is, "How do 'they' (or anyone else) know you've built something they would like to come see?"

Writing is sometimes thought of as being the ultimately best job for an introvert. After all, the writer works in relative solitude, "just me and my story", even if sitting in crowded coffee shop with a latte (or at home with the chaos of kids and family life going on all around.)  Every writer dreams of that moment when their book sits on a bookstore shelf and that one special person is drawn to take it from the shelf and open it up....

Well, sorry to burst a bubble, but the book has to get on that shelf somehow. I won't depress anyone with the exact number of new books that are published every year, or even with how that measures up to the amount of available shelf space at your local bookstore (whether it's a five-story Barnes and Noble flagship store or a small indie book seller.) Just writing a book and getting it published does not guarantee readers.

This is where promo work comes in and it is the bane of the existence of most writers. Few of us want to leave our little cocoon of anonymity. Yes, we want our name on the cover and for it to be recognized, but we'd just as soon be the faceless silhouette that is the default Facebook profile image. However, it doesn't work that way. We can't imagine ourselves standing onstage and singing or acting or dancing, so the idea of holding up our book and saying, "Look, I wrote this and it's a great story! You should read it!" gives us near-fatal stage fright.

I was probably the worst at selling Girl Scout cookies in our troop back in the '70s and God knows that Thin Mints sell themselves. Writing my books was nowhere near as difficult as mustering the courage to knock on a publisher's door and say, "Would you like to buy a mystery novel?" And once I did get published, I was having to walk up (literally) to a bookstore owner and say, "Will you carry my book in your store?" I learned very quickly that, as difficult as it was, that was probably the most important part of the job and I had to learn to do it. And even if I didn't enjoy doing it, I wasn't going to let on!

Selling a book means selling the author as well. A book is a reflection of the author (which is why we take rejection and criticism so much to heart) but it's important to remember that the author is a reflection of the book. An author who manages to convey excitement and interest in their work is an author who will find readers who want to know WHY this book is so worthy of the excitement and interest. Just as a parent delights in telling everyone, even total strangers, about their children and their accomplishments, an author should find joy in sharing their work with everyone... especially total strangers.

Writing IS the easy part!

Monday, June 9, 2014

"My Writing Process" blog hop!

Today I'm participating in a blog hop on "My Writing Process" at the invitation of fellow Oak Tree Press author, Holli Castillo (, creator of the Crescent City Mystery series. 

Here are my answers on questions about my writing process:

1)     What am I working on?
Currently I'm working on the third book in the Black Horse Campground mystery series, “No Vacancy”, and I'm hoping to give the readers a glimpse into the backgrounds of Corrie, Rick, and J.D., which will open up story possibilities for future books. I'm also trying to work on a Catholic young adult novel and may revisit a romance novel I wrote years ago. I'm probably going to cringe, laugh, and very likely cry when I read my writing from fifteen years ago!
2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre? 

I definitely consider my work a “cozy” mystery; no gratuitous violence, gore, language, or sex. I've set my series in south-central New Mexico, a region that hasn't been spotlighted in many, if any, books, much less cozies. I want to make the normal, everyday New Mexico things, like green chile, as natural and familiar-sounding as anything else from other regions around the country (pick your favorites!) I've included a love triangle which, I hope, adds to the story line of the books without being a distraction or, worse, feel forced (since many cozies seem to have a romantic triangle). I'd like to have the budding triangle among Corrie, Rick, and J.D. be more of a complication or create conflict than be a major focus, although many readers seem to consider that to be the main mystery they want resolved!

3)     Why do I write what I do?

The best writing advice I've ever received was “write the kind of book you want to read”. I always loved reading mystery and suspense novels, starting with Agatha Christie when I was in junior high, but then I discovered other writers whose stories were driven more by character than plot. And I discovered that, for me, the kind of book I want to read, no matter the genre, is one in which I care about the characters. My characters came first and, from them, the story (which turned out to be a mystery) evolved. I find it difficult to write about characters I don't care about and I try to work up some empathy and sympathy even for my villains. I think it makes them more interesting.

4)     How does my writing process work?

In three words: Against all odds! I work full time as a cake decorator for Walmart and part time as a retail clerk for Noisy Water Winery (which is featured in my series and adds a little local flavor to the stories), not to mention the fact that I try to always put my husband and son first. I started writing when my son, niece, and nephews were younger and I homeschooled them; they did their homework and I did mine! Many people seem to be amazed by how I find time to write, but the truth is, I no more “find” time to write than they “find” time to watch their favorite TV shows, work out, have lunch with friends, and—most important—do their “real” jobs. As my friend and fellow mystery author, Mike Orenduff, told me, “The writing is the REAL job,” and I try to never “call out sick” from the REAL job.

Thanks to Holli for inviting me to participate. You can read her answers to the blog questions at her blog ( During the month of July, I'll be hosting several OTP authors on my blog. They'll be talking about themselves, their books, their writing process and you'll get to meet some great people and find out about some great books!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Characters Make the Story

In the last couple of weeks, I've been participating in several blog "rolls", hosted by some of my fellow authors.  What we do is answer a set of questions, usually about our writing process.  One question comes up almost regularly in every set and, though it may be worded differently, it has to do with characters.

Do characters drive your stories? How did you create your characters? Are your characters based on real-life people? And the all-important, what do you see as your greatest strength as an author?

The answer to that last question lies within the answers to the previous ones: characters are my greatest strength. In fact, my characters come to life long before my story line does. It may seem hard to believe, but the truth is that my characters could have been in a romance novel, a coming-of-age novel, a literary novel, just about any story you could imagine (Science fiction? Why not?) But it was as a result of my love for mysteries that Corrie, Rick, and J.D., along with the rest of the characters that populate Bonney County, happen to end up solving mysteries.

Characters drive my stories. What I mean by that is, I care about my characters and I want to know what is going to happen to them, what they are going to do, and how their actions and reactions affect their lives and the lives of those around them. When a character comes to mind, it's as if I'm meeting a new person for the first time. Will this person become a friend? Can I trust this person? Do I want to spend time with him or her?  If the answer is "yes" then, as time goes on and stories grow and develop, so do my characters.  Just as you can't know everything about a person the first time you meet them, it takes time for a character to develop fully. My characters sometimes surprise me with their backstories, their faults, their strengths, their quirks, their opinions, their actions, and sometimes I know exactly what they will do and say and sometimes they surprise me in that way as well. Just like the friends and acquaintances I have in real life, so do my characters reveal themselves and grow and develop as I spend more time with them.

Sometimes the answer to the first two questions is "no": I neither want this person for a friend nor do I trust them.  But I still want to spend time with him or her and... my antagonist is born. And though that antagonist is sometimes gone by the end of the book (it's a murder mystery, after all), I still know a lot more about that particular person or character than actually makes it to the printed page. If I can't feel something for the character, whether it's affection, admiration, irritation, or outright loathing, then that character will be flat, uninteresting, and definitely not alive on the page.

We all come in contact with various people in our daily life, many of them friends or loved ones, and many more strangers.  And just like real "live" people either stand out in your mind or are easily overlooked, characters either connect with the reader or they are forgotten. I've been fortunate that many readers have taken the time to tell me how much my characters have engaged them and I feel that I, as a writer, have succeeded. I have introduced my characters to my readers and they seem to be getting along great.

What more can an author ask for?
Characters are conceived in the mind and are born here.