Monday, August 31, 2015

My Biggest Fan

I shared the following status on my Facebook page last week about what occurred at my book signing event at Barnes & Noble the previous weekend:

So yesterday, at my book event, my husband totally lost his mind. It began when he started browsing through other titles on the shelves and decided that several novels I had written in past years (LOOOONG ago) were every bit as good as what this guy had written (this guy being Nicholas Sparks) and stated that he was going to dig up the manuscripts and read them over and I was going to edit them for publication. After I finish Book 4, of course!
So instead of going to the 10:30 Mass this morning, we are now going to the 1:30 Mass because we have spent the last three hours digging through old boxes that have been gathering dust under the basement stairs and in my office closet and he has culled a total of two complete manuscripts (the reason it took so long was that the pages were not in sequential order and there were several edited versions combined) and two partial ones (which I never finished) and has set himself the task of reading them and doing preliminary edits. Should I ever find the time to work on them, there might be something worth submitting for publication... however I dread looking at my early efforts because I know they are going to stink to high heaven (one is sixteen years old... going to have to do a LOT of updating on that one!) Still, I have to say I AM excited at the thought... 

Going through those manuscripts was eye-opening (and eye-watering as well... lots of dust!) For one thing, I discovered that, back when I first wrote those stories, I was far from being a good writer. Even now, I still have a lot to learn but back then... well, it's understandable why I collected a good many rejection letters!

Still, even then, I knew I had something--maybe it was talent, maybe it was passion, maybe it was just plain stubbornness--and I continued to dream about being published. And I continued to write. Whenever I have a book event, I usually meet at least one person who has that same dream. At that last event, it was a teenage girl. She had been shy and reluctant to approach me, even though her whole family kept urging her to, and it wasn't until her ebullient younger brother came up to me and loudly announced to the entire store that his sister wanted to be a writer, too. "She writes all the time! She wants to have a book published! I think she's good, too! She wants to know how you became a writer!" When she finally came up to me, she asked the question that usually makes or breaks an aspiring writer: How long did it take?

My stock answer is twenty years. I figure it's the one closest to the truth, if we're talking about actively trying to get published. In reality it was much longer than that, if you count all the stories I wrote when my age was still in single digits, but forty years can REALLY be a discouraging number to hear! Still, every writer knows that getting published doesn't even figure into the equation until one learns to craft a story and write it well. That's what takes so long to "become a writer".

This young girl had something going for her, though, something that not every writer is privileged to have: A family that supported and believed in her dream. When even your eleven-year-old brother is marching up to total strangers and touting your talent and dreams and boldly approaching someone to get information for his sister, you've got a winning team! 

I am also fortunate--make that blessed beyond belief--to have my family and friends championing me in my writing career. Their support and encouragement means so much to me. However, many years ago when I first put words on paper, most of my family and friends had no idea what my dreams were, what my goals were, that I was taking those first tentative steps from being a writer to being a published writer. But one person did. He was the one who, despite our tight budget, encouraged me to subscribe to writing magazines; to purchase books on the art and craft of writing; who decided to buy me my first word processor, then desktop, then laptop without batting an eye about the cost; and most of all, who took the time to read my work and give me honest feedback.

So once I finish the fourth book in my Black Horse Campground series and while I work on the fifth, I plan to make time to go through those old manuscripts and work on editing and updating them and preparing to submit them for publication. Will they get published? I'm not sure. That will be entirely up to my publisher. But that's never stopped me from writing before! And my husband Paul is already on the job, reading, making notes, highlighting yellowing manuscript pages, and helping me prepare for the editing process. It could be a daunting challenge, but with Paul's encouragement and support, it's going to be an adventure. Just like everything else in our marriage!

Let's do this, babe!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Where the Words Are

I recently updated my cover photo on my Facebook page. To most people, this is about as exciting and daring as brushing their teeth, but I don't change my cover photo every day. In fact, the one I had previously had been in place for about three or four years and it showed my laptop on a table beside a cup of coffee. It was taken at what I called my "branch office" for several years... Sacred Grounds Coffee and Tea Shoppe in Ruidoso, New Mexico. I called it my branch office because, when I wasn't home, it was the place where I did most of my writing and the photo seemed a fitting representation of me and what I loved to do.

The new photo was taken a few days ago and, ironically, it brings me back full circle to my original "branch office". This photo was taken in the Eugene Manlove Rhodes Room at the Alamogordo Public Library. A little background: when Paul and I were married in 1988, we made our home in Alamogordo and lived about a block away from the library. Money being tight, as it is with most newlyweds, the library provided me with hours of free entertainment as I checked out piles of books every week. As time went on, and my interest in writing grew, it became a place where I could lose myself in my writing world. Since I didn't have a car and laptops were still in the future, I would walk to the library with a notebook and pen and sit in the Rhodes Room (also known as the Southwest Room) and lose myself in a world of my own making.

As you can see, the Rhodes Room has an almost homey feel to it. It's been remodeled since those long-ago days, but the artifacts and writings of Eugene Rhodes are on display along with the works of several New Mexico authors. It was here where I fell in love with the literature and stories of the Southwest and, in particular, my adopted home state. I came to know those writers as friends and mentors. When I sat down to write, I felt their hands on my shoulders, I heard their words of encouragement in my ears, and I thrilled to the idea of joining their ranks.

In 2001, we moved to a more rural area, a village called Bent which is about 25 miles from Alamogordo and then, for twelve years, circumstances had me commuting to Ruidoso for work, about 25 miles from Bent and nearly fifty miles from Alamogordo. It was with some regret that I had to leave the "nest", so to speak, but for this fledgling writer, it was the way to test my wings. Working in Ruidoso brought me into contact with the area that would come to life in my Black Horse Campground series as Bonney County... a place that, though fictional, embodied the spirit and flavor of New Mexico. And after I found a publisher and saw my words and my stories be published, I made my way back to the Rhodes Room for book talks and signings, with the enthusiastic support of the Alamogordo Public Library staff.

So when I have time and I want to touch those roots, I find myself back in my corner table in the Rhodes Room, putting words down and creating stories about the people and the places that I love. I take those places everywhere I go. And I feel like I am home.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Spreading the Word

When was the last time you bought something based on the advertisements alone?

I don't watch much TV or read a lot of magazines and, despite the amount of time I spend surfing the Internet, I don't pay very much attention to ads. If I give them any attention at all, it's usually a perfunctory glance if the images catch my eye, but if I'm going to spend my hard-earned money on something, it's not going to be from what I was told by an advertiser.

No matter how good an ad for an item looks, I'm going to ask people what they think. Did it work? Was it good? Was it worth the money you paid for it? Would you buy it again? Would you recommend it to people?

I've come to the conclusion that the same principle applies to books. You won't see many books being touted on television or radio. Book trailers are a relatively new way to advertise, but most books are advertised in print. The ad usually includes the cover image and short blurb telling what the book is about, and more often than not, a few words of praise from book reviews and other authors.

I don't know about anyone else, but I prefer to buy my books in a bookstore, where I can flip through a few pages and get a feel for the story and the author's voice. Since that's becoming more and more difficult due to the number of e-books being published and shrinking space on the book sellers' shelves, I have to find another way to choose to purchase a book.

Word of mouth advertising seems to be a very popular, if not the speediest, way to advertise a book. I've had many reviewers and buyers tell me that they heard about my books from someone they know or they read a review from a person who reads what they like to read. Social media has become the "back fence" that friends, family, and neighbors use to talk about the newest thing they've discovered that they like. It only seems fitting that this would include books as well.

So if you read a book you like, tell people about it. If you're in the habit of posting status updates about restaurants you tried or movies you saw, it shouldn't be hard to do the same for a book. And posting a review on Amazon or GoodReads isn't hard, either.

The important thing is that your words matter more to the potential buyer than all the ad copy on Madison Avenue. After all, advertisers are getting paid to say good things about their product. The average reviewer has to pay for the privilege (or pain!) of reading my book and is under no obligation to say something nice.

But if you really like the book, tell the world about it!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Balancing Act: When a Mystery is More Than a Mystery

I recently had a conversation with a friend who, like me, is a long-time Mary Higgins Clark fan. We've always admired the way the "Queen of Suspense" managed to weave elements of romance into her suspenseful, "women-in-peril" mystery novels.

Which begs the question, "So which genre best defines her work?"

This is a question I had to face when deciding how to market my Black Horse Campground series. I never had a doubt that it was a mystery series and, so far, decidedly a murder mystery series. All the elements are present: a crime has been committed, the perpetrator is unknown, the sleuth--either professional or amateur--must solve the crime. However, a glance at the bookshelves at your local bookstore will show that there are many sub-genres within the mystery genre.

Suspense is a genre that is sometimes hard to distinguish from a mystery or a thriller. In a regular mystery, part of the story is figuring out who committed the crime. In a suspense novel or thriller, the "perp" or criminal is known and the story revolves around the hero/ine matching wits with the villain to save the day. Nevertheless, a mystery must have an element of suspense in it

And there are other elements that can be added to a mystery. By far the most common is romance. Especially if the mystery belongs in a sub-genre known as "women in peril" (which is how Mary Higgins Clark's books used to be categorized.) There, the connection is clear: The main character is usually a woman who has witnessed a crime and is now in danger of being killed by the perp. Enter the sleuth--a man who may or may not be a member of law enforcement but takes an interest in the case and, ultimately, in the main character herself.

The Black Horse Campground series does include an element of romance, but it was never intended to BE a romance. A majority of readers, however, seem to have more interest in discovering how Corrie, the main character's, romantic life is going to play out rather than see how the most recent murder is going to be solved! However, as in life, the focus can never be on one element alone. Even in the busiest work life, there are other things taking place... and where there are young singles, romance is very likely to be one of them.

The key is to remember that the main focus of the story is the mystery. The other elements, whether humor, romance, and yes, even recipes, only serve to add a dose of reality and a little more flavor to the main story as well as the characters. One-dimensional characters and one-dimensional stories can bore a reader. It's important to make sure there is a balance of the elements and they all work to move the story forward.