Monday, June 29, 2015

Book Signings

In the grand scheme of things (at least in the book world), I haven't had many book signings, but I face every one of them with the same mixed feelings of excitement and trepidation. I think both feelings are self-explanatory. It is exciting to think that one has finally gotten their novel published and that there are people out there willing to buy the book and want the author to sign their name in it.

The trepidation comes in when you start to wonder if anyone is going to show up to buy the book.

This past weekend I had the pleasure of having a book signing at the Barnes and Noble Bookstore in Mesilla Valley Mall in Las Cruces, NM. This is my second signing at a Barnes and Noble and I have to say that there is something truly awe-inspiring about being in a store with vast amounts of books. Anyone who doubts that people still buy print books needs to spend a Saturday afternoon in a Barnes and Noble. It gives a writer hope!

My first signing in the El Paso Barnes and Noble with my high school classmates showing up in support!
My Barnes and Noble signing this past weekend in Las Cruces

I've also had signings in small, independent bookstores as well. Books, Etc. in Ruidoso and Treasure House Books and Gifts in Old Town Albuquerque have been so supportive of me and other New Mexico authors and small presses. These signings are far more intimate and, for a new author, there is the added benefit there is less competition with the big-name authors. Indie bookstores are far more receptive to hosting new authors and usually carry more regional books that the big chain stores might only carry online.

 My first signing at Books, Etc. in Ruidoso just after the release of "End of the Road"

My first signing at Treasure House in Old Town Albuquerque... a book store that specializes in only New Mexico authors and books about New Mexico!

One of my favorite places that I've had signings is at public libraries. At these events I'm also able to give a talk, which amuses me a bit. I don't consider myself an expert on writing yet. Maybe not ever. I'm always learning. The best I can do is talk about my experience as a writer and published author and, if asked, give advice based on what I learned in the process. I do enjoy talking about my characters, which is great, because I don't like to talk about myself, and I love when people ask me about my characters. It's like being the parent of an amazing kid (and aren't they all??) and being asked to talk about them. I have to discipline myself to shut up!

Talking with some "fans" after my most recent event at the Alamogordo Public Library

Of course, the very best book signings take place at launch parties. The venue can be at a bookstore or it can be in another place where you can gather a big crowd of friends and family who want to celebrate your book launch and buy the book as well. Usually a coffee house would be glad to host an event like this and might even carry the book after the event as well. In my case, I was fortunate to be employed part-time at a winery. I had featured their wine in my first novel and they were happy to host my launch party AND carry the book in store. Venues like this open up the book to a wider audience; people who might not ordinarily go to a book store have a chance to discover your books.

My latest book launch party back in February at Noisy Water Winery

I have more book signings scheduled in the coming months across a variety of venues and I hope to discover new readers in each one. And I hope they keep coming back for more!

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Reality of Being a Writer

I was out of town the last four days for my goddaughter's wedding in Missouri and decided to extend my vacation by having a "rerun" of a previous blog post. This one originally appeared on The Back Deck Blog on September 8, 2014. I'll have a new post up next Monday, but in the meantime, enjoy a blast from the past!

A few random ramblings....

A writer is always working, even when not actually putting words on a computer screen or sheet of paper. Most of the work is done in the head and usually while engaged in some other activity (like a paying job.)

No matter how disciplined we promise we're going to be, there's always something that comes up that's "more important" than the writing. Usually this something is "more important" to someone else.

The storyline and dialogue always sound better in our imagination than they do on paper.

I've yet to meet a writer that wasn't willing to help out another writer, either with a critique, a review, a publishing opportunity, or just helping to find the right way to express an idea. No matter how busy we are, we're always there for each other.

I've gotten almost 20 rave reviews on my first book, "End of the Road". But I still can think of a couple dozen more ways to make it better... and 10 years from now, I'll look at it and wonder how it ever got published!

My first "star" moment... when Paul and I went to Sears to buy a new refrigerator and I set up the account with the sales clerk, giving her all my info--including that I worked at the Walmart bakery--but NOT telling her that I was a writer. The next day she calls me at Walmart: "Oh, my gosh! YOU'RE Amy Bennett! The author! I just LOVED your book!" Yeah, it's embarrassing to admit, but it was still an unforgettable moment.

We really DON'T do it for the money.

People wonder where writers get their ideas. It seems like we never run out... until we sit down to write.

Writing isn't that hard, but writing WELL is a lot harder than it looks.

No matter how much a writer hates rewrites, edits, promo work, marketing, and deadlines, the writer must accept it all as part of the job and quit whining about it. Go back to writing in a journal or diary and forget about getting published if you don't want to deal with it (I tell myself this frequently.)

There is always room for improvement.

It's not that we mind it when strangers walk up to us and start giving us their ideas for a story or book... it's just that, most of the time, we've already thought of it ourselves and now, good or bad, we can't use it or the person who approached us with it will swear that we stole their idea.

Writers love the company of other writers; it's when we can best be ourselves and be accepted as normal.

Our characters are nobody we know... and everybody we know.

All it takes is one reader to appreciate the hard work and love that we pour into our characters, settings, dialogue--indeed, our entire story--to make us glad we had the courage to set it all down on paper. So if you love a writer's work, tell them. Nothing will ever matter as much to them.

Writers see the world through different eyes... eyes filled with curiosity, with understanding, with passion. And with their eyes, they help the readers see as well.

I love to see that look in the eyes of a young writer... I hope I still have it.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Writing Fiction: Reality Show on Paper?

If I were keeping track, I'd venture to guess that the question I'm most commonly asked at book signings is, "Are your stories true?"

The fact that I write mysteries--murder mysteries--makes me wonder what kind of life these readers think I lead.

Preparing to be asked the inevitable... but she bought the book anyway!

Anyone who has watched "reality" TV shows knows one thing: There is very little reality in the shows. Just about everything, right down to the "surprise" twists to the story line (yes, there is one!) are carefully scripted. Think about it. Does anyone's life ever turn out that perfect or, more accurately, that interesting? (let's face it--perfect ain't exactly interesting!)

That's where fiction comes in. It's been said that truth is stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense. I've watched a few episodes of Geraldo or Jerry Springer (very few... at my age, I can't spare too many brain cells!) and a few reality shows (no, not THAT one... or THAT one, either!) just to see what kind of interesting characters I might find. IF--and I do mean IF--those people's stories are true, there is very little to make me feel any kind of sympathy or real interest in them. Their drama, their situations all seem very forced. Few of them make sense. Yes, people do really dumb things and I can feel bad for someone who unintentionally does something stupid and has to pay the consequences, but I have very little sympathy for people who appear to deliberately find the dumbest thing imaginable to do and then react in shock when things go wrong. It's like driving by a car wreck and your attention being momentarily drawn to it but, without knowing the people involved or the circumstances surrounding the wreck, it's not likely to be something you'll care about intimately or even remember next week.

I try to create characters that are sympathetic and interesting, characters that the reader can care about. When bad things happen to them, I want the reader to feel sympathy, to worry about how the outcome will affect the character's life and the lives of the other characters... just like they would for a real family member or friend. But in order for the reader to feel that way, they have to believe that the situation would happen the way it did. While we love coincidences and miracles in real life, when they happen in a work of fiction, the reader simply feels that the writer "cheated" to make the story work out.

But do those characters really exist? In other words, are they based on actual people I know? And did those thing really happen in real life?

Well, that's part of the reality. At one time, I may have seen someone who gave me an idea of how a character looks or acts. I may have heard a snippet of conversation that triggered a story idea. And perhaps I read on the Internet or in the paper about an event or occurrence that planted the seed for a story line. But the rest of the story and the characters themselves grew from those little seeds, watered by my imagination. How often do we place ourselves in the midst of an interesting TV show or movie or book and think, "Now what I would do is...."?

A writer just does that with their characters and then, based on what they already know about their characters, just give them free rein to live their own "reality".

*NOTE*  I will be away most of next week attending my goddaughter's wedding, so next week's Back Deck Blog will be a "re-run" (talking about TV shows....) Hope you'll stop by anyway!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Back Story: The Backbone of the Story

I've read with interest quite a few articles regarding the use of back story in novels. Quite a few of the articles argued that back story was usually unnecessary in most stories. I wondered how that could be. To me, the back story comprises the backbone of the story.

Whenever we meet someone new, we don't instantly know everything about that person. We form an opinion of the person based on the immediate information we receive upon meeting him or her--what they do for a living, what kind of sense of humor they have, what they like or dislike, whether they have a short temper or not. We might decide, "Wow, he really was snotty to that nice police officer who stopped him for a broken tail light." Or, "Gosh, she didn't have to be so rude to that cashier." That paints our perception of that person and we decide we might not really like them as much as we originally thought.

But what if the man who was snotty to the cop was raised by a police officer father who put on a good face to the public but was abusive to him and his siblings behind closed doors? What if the woman who was rude to the cashier did so because the cashier happened to have the same name as her husband's mother-in-law with whom she's never gotten along or her manner reminded her of the person who snagged a golden job opportunity right out from under her? Now we have some understanding and some sympathy for the person. 

In the first Black Horse Campground mystery, "End of the Road", there is a great deal of back story that is hinted at. Most of it has to do with J. D.'s mysterious appearance and some of it is resolved by the end of the book but there is more that has yet to be explained (stay tuned for Book 4!) But the reader has gained some understanding of J. D. and that makes him a much richer character. In "No Vacancy", the third book in the series, readers learn more about Corrie's back story--the mystery involves events that had to do with Corrie's parents and took place long before the mystery in the story takes place. 

It is possible for the author to tell all the back story in what is commonly called an "info dump", but to do so runs the risk of boring the reader to death. Boring a reader is a capital sin and should be avoided at all costs. Think about meeting a new person and having them plop down right next to you and immediately tell you every detail about their lives which may, or may not, have anything to do with any future interactions you may have with them (note--if they bore you enough, that's almost a guarantee that future interactions with this person will NEVER happen!) And so it is with stories. 

The key is to include only the back story that actually adds to the main story and clarifies a character's actions and motivations. Used this way, back story helps to build a stronger story and helps to enrich the characters.