Monday, August 22, 2016

Going for the Gold--Finding Your Focus as a Writer

Recently there has been a new meme circulating on Facebook showing US gold medal-winning swimmer, Michael Phelps, in the lead during a race, looking straight ahead at the finish line. In the next lane is the silver medalist with his head turned, watching Phelps. The meme reads, "Winners focus on winning. Losers focus on winners."

While calling the second place finalist a "loser" might seem a bit harsh, it illustrates perfectly what some writers feel when their books aren't selling well or a less than stellar review pops up on their amazon page. It's heartbreaking to see a book that isn't well-written showing up in the Top 100 list on amazon while your own languishes somewhere in the millions.

As writers, it's essential for us to read, not only in order to keep learning, but to give ourselves a break. The problem is, it's hard for us to keep the reader's opinion from being tainted by our experience as a writer... and vice versa. I have a hard time reading a book that is rife with grammatical errors, with typos, with cardboard characters and stilted dialogue, with poor writing. It's even harder when one downloads the book and finds out the reason why it was free.

What is easy, unfortunately, is to fall into the habit of comparing those authors' work and rankings and sales with our own. Their books are always ranked in the thousands, not millions... like mine. Their book has seventy-eight five-star reviews, not twenty total reviews... like mine. And their book is nowhere near as good as mine.

The point we have to remember is this: So what? So what if their book is full of mistakes and is poorly constructed? So what if they have ten times as many reviews as our books do? So what if their book is ranked in the Top 100? So what if their book is just another tired, done-to-death, latest fad sub-genre, complete with recycled storyline and setting? It's not our book. We have no control over the content or (brace yourself) how other people perceive it. Just like we can't control how people perceive OUR OWN work.

What we can control is how much energy we focus on OUR OWN work instead of someone else's. Is our work the very best it can be? Are we investing energy in promoting our work (that's promoting OUR work, not denigrating someone else's, no matter how badly we feel we must warn the world about it)? And most importantly, are we wasting energy that would better be put to use writing our next book?

Focus on the finish line. Focus on the gold. Focus on making your own work worthy of it. And don't waste energy on the people in the "other lane". Save that energy for your own work... and celebrating when you win!





Monday, August 15, 2016

Where Do You Get Your Story Ideas? Would You Believe... Walmart?

It sounds like a snarky response, but it's amazing the story ideas you can gain from observing people while they shop... and sneaking a peek at what's in their shopping carts.

I've said before that working in retail has many benefits for a writer. The main one, of course, is being able to meet and interact with people that wouldn't normally cross my path. But there are days when actual interaction--making eye contact and speaking to people--is not part of the plan (the plan being picking up a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread and getting out of the store at the end of my shift with killing myself or anyone else!) That's when I do most of my story idea gathering in the check out line (where, no matter the time of day, I will ALWAYS have a lot of time to spend!)

This past week, I saw the following stories in shopping carts:

A woman with a basket loaded with hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, beer, sodas, and all the fixings and extras for a big gathering. It wasn't a holiday weekend, so I bet on a family reunion or some family party. Then I see the giant bottle of Tylenol and the economy-sized bottle of antacids. They pair perfectly with the "death row" expression on her face. There's a story there. You can bet it's family drama... especially given the fact that her purchase could easily fill two carts, but she's alone so she manages to make do with one cart.

A young woman, very attractive, unloads a basket that contains--expensive nail polish (the kind that costs about $13 a bottle) and a new manicure set; an entire celebrity name-brand makeup set; expensive body wash and lotion; expensive shampoo; and a new pair of lacy thong panties and matching bra. She stops herself from biting her nails as she watches the total climb. It seems apparent that she's used to buying the most economical store brands, but she wants to impress someone. A real-life Cinderella who has to be her own fairy godmother...?

A young man with a toddler girl in the cart seat and another baby in the carrier he has strapped on stares helplessly at the assortment of baby food jars and formula and diapers in his basket. The only "grown up" food in the basket is pasta and frozen pizza. He looks shell-shocked. The little girl is wearing mismatched clothing and her ponytails are sloppy and she softly whines, "I want Mommy." Where's Mommy? The only thing certain is that her absence is new and raw... though it's unclear whether she chose to be gone or not.

Of course, not every cart has a story. Sometimes people just need stuff. At least, that's what I was hoping when I saw the lady with a giant box of cat litter, a toilet plunger, and four bottles of Crown Royal in her basket....
Shop at your own risk when there is a writer around....

Monday, August 1, 2016

Recharging the Batteries

I've often said that there is no such thing as "writer's block". Just like I can't call in to the "real jobs" and say, "I'm not coming in today because I have cake decorator's/vino slinger's block," just because I don't FEEL like doing the job, doesn't mean I can't actually DO the job.

Of course, there is a difference. While I might not feel like doing the real jobs, just showing up and doing them earns me a paycheck. Cakes get decorated (note--there really isn't a lot of room for creativity at a supermarket bakery. Just follow the design pattern and anyone with a modicum of skill in handling an icing bag can decorate a cake.) Wine gets poured and served (bartenders are required to know how to paste on a "genuine" smile and keep our true feelings in check) and sold.

After writing five books in my Black Horse Campground series, some people think I have nothing else to write. If anything, I have even MORE stories to tell... so many that it can be overwhelming at times. And tiring. And maybe just a little intimidating. It can create a bottleneck in the writer's mind and it seems that nothing can get through onto the page.

When it comes to writing, just "showing up" doesn't cut it. Just putting words down on paper, or a screen, isn't enough. The words should make sense, should tell a story, should make a point. And they should entertain or at least engage the reader. That's where a writer suddenly develops what is commonly called "writer's block"--because they can't seem to write anything worth reading, therefore they think they can't or shouldn't write.

The beauty of writing is that it doesn't have to be done right the first time. Editing and rewriting are the master tools of  writing. So when the dreaded "writer's block" creeps up, I tell myself that I can't call out from the job. Write something. Anything. It can be fixed later. Just like a vacation away from the "real jobs" helps me recharge the batteries to keep on going, so can reading (for fun and for work--since I read fiction for reviews and evaluations) and other creative endeavors recharge the batteries for writing.

I'm just now taking my writing out of the charger and starting with a fresh pack of energy to go on with my series. Let's do this!

Monday, July 18, 2016

New YA Fiction! "Unclaimed: The Memoirs of Jane E., Friendless Orphan" by Erin McCole Cupp

Today, fellow Catholic Writers Guild member and friend, Erin McCole Cupp, presents her latest release. If you're a fan of Jane Eyre and you like dystopian fiction, don't miss "Unclaimed"! Here are editorial blurbs to whet your whistle and a purchase link is included!
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"Unclaimed, the Memoirs of Jane E, Friendless Orphan, is a book set in a future world created by Erin McCole Cupp. Her imaginings may just be how our planet and its population turn out if the negative forces we see in this day and age are left unchecked. This genre of writing is something I've never read before and to be honest, I've never read the book Jane Eyre either, so for me the story line is all new. That being said, the book captivated me from the start and I was impressed by Cupp's creativity and her flair for descriptive prose. I read it in one sitting and I'm looking forward to reading the other two books in the trilogy." Amanda Lauer, A World Such as Heaven Intended

Most of us have a favorite story that we have re-read a few times. Perhaps we enjoy the plotline, the character development or the writing style. But no matter how many times we re-read a story, nothing will quite compare to the thrill, excitement and anticipation of that first read. Until now. Erin McCole Cupp has taken the classic, beloved tale of Jane Eyre and reawoken all those joys of reading a story for the first time. Jane is truly Jane, though now she can speak multiple languages, send encrypted messages, fight, and travel around the world with a perks ring instead of a credit card. It doesn't matter if you've read Jane Eyre a dozen times or have never once opened the cover. Unclaimed will speak to your soul and challenge you to see our present world with new eyes.” Kate Taliaferro, Daily Graces

In a style that's engaging and unputdownable, Erin McCole Cupp grabs readers, sucks them into her world, and makes Jane E a part of our hearts. Be warned: you'll finish this book and demand the next one.” Sarah Reinhard, Word by Word: Slowing Down with the Hail Mary

"A riveting, heart-wrenching retelling of Charlotte Bronte's classic novel, Unclaimed packs a punch that brings the timeless truth of the original Jane Eyre to Millenials, Generation Z, and beyond. Bravo! Bring on the next installment..." Antony Barone Kolenc, The Chronicles of Xan Trilogy

If you needed proof that Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is a timeless classic, Unclaimed: The Memoirs of Jane E, Friendless Orphan—Book 1 is it. Erin McCole Cupp expertly re-imagines Jane as among America’s least wanted in the near future: an unclaimed embryo brought to life but unloved then laboring anonymously half a world away from home. Interestingly, Jane’s hidden existence in a quasi-school/sweatshop extends beyond merely weaving textiles, but hidden messages as well. Her only solace is the companionship of the ill Aidann, whose backstory is also modernized, and the compassion of her instructor Bhenji Nealingson. Unclaimed takes the dear reader to Jane’s first encounter with her absentee employer Mr. Thorne in his fortress beneath the American desert. Jane Eyre has long been a favorite of mine, and I enjoyed the first part of this retelling immensely. While appealing to the modern reader’s ear, it remains faithful to the truth of the original, even retaining the charm and tone of Bronte’s voice. You do not, however, have to have read Jane Eyre to enjoy Jane E. Much like the character herself, chin lifted high, it can stand on its own.” Carolyn Astfalk, Stay With Me

"Unclaimed is gripping and creative. The futuristic topics are thought-provoking and compelling. With its well-developed characters, the reader connects to their stories with ease. The suspenseful events make it hard to put down. The pro-life issues it raises are currently heading society down a similar path. Brilliant and inspiring with a unique blend of genres. This book is for classic and sci-fi fans alike. It will leave the reader anxiously waiting for the next installment." Tanya Weitzel, Catholicsimplicites.com, Catholicmom.com Contributor

"Science fiction readers will love the creative futuristic elements in 
Unclaimed by Erin McCole Cupp. At times humorous and other times heart-wrenching, this story delves into issues worth considering as society advances. Having developed a strong connection to Jane E, I found myself incredibly moved by a climactic scene where faith plays out in a natural but powerful way. Unclaimed: The Memoirs of Jane E will leave you wanting more."  Theresa Linden, The Chasing Liberty Trilogy

"Jane Eyre does not need to be updated.  It needs to be read and re-read and treasured for its timelessness.  But too often, the people of a world obsessed with progress refuse to remember the wisdom of the past.  Sometimes, an author must dress the eighteenth century in futuristic salawar kameez to remind the present day that the human story never changes.  Whether in Georgian England or the global community of a technocratic future, there will always be orphans who can teach the rest of us how to love, if we will only take the time to learn.  This is the reason we need books like Unclaimed." Karen UlloJennifer the Damned

"This dystopian spin on Jane Eyre transports the reader into a world that, disturbingly, seems just around the corner. I was captivated by Jane E's boldness and resilience as she navigated the challenging circumstances of living with a genetic defect in a designer-gene world. Erin McCole Cupp's novel is a blend of three genres I rarely read (19th-century novel, dystopian fiction and fanfic) and it's definitely a combo that works." Barbara Szyszkiewicz, Editor, CatholicMom.com
"I really enjoyed [Unclaimed] because it was quite different from anything out there right now; the setting, the voice and the story... a good addition to any library or home."  Anna delC DyeKingdom by the Sea

"Unclaimed, a remake of Jane Eyre, has all of the sophistication of the original and an intriguing, futuristic spin that makes the book hard to put down." Dawn Witzke, The Catholic Underground 

"This is a genre I'm not very familiar with, so my expectations were a blank slate when I embarked. Before I could catch my breath, I was completely absorbed into the setting, and developing a maternal love for the endearing main character, Jane. I so desperately wanted Jane to find hope, love and acceptance, and her journey towards these things resonated deeply within me. As well, the element of faith in this novel absolutely intrigued me, and I cannot wait to read more of Jane's story!" Tiffany W., Life of a Catholic Librarian

"[Unclaimed] is a dystopian sci-fi take on Charlotte Bronte’s well-loved gothic/romantic novel. Jane Eyre, as a person and as a story, translates well into a new setting--a near-future cultural mélange that will make Browncoats smile while Bronte lovers nod along to the beat. Erin McCole Cupp has got something here. With barely a bump in a smoothly-written narrative, she combines faith and philosophy with a familiar-but-new story and delivers an ending that’s a pleasantly cruel tease of the gothic that will leave fans checking the release date of the next volume." Joseph Wetterling, The Baptized Imagination

"As deftly and intricately woven as the 'contracts' that the Naomi girls produce in the story, Unclaimed tells the powerful story of Jane E, an unclaimed embryo who has grown up in foster care without the love of a family.... This is a riveting story, set in the not-too-distant future, that raises many questions about the morality of reproductive technology and the effects of it on a society that does not value human life for itself, but for what it can provide for others." Amy M. Bennett, The Black Horse Campground Mysteries

"Unclaimed is a unique take on the classic Jane Eyre but it's much more than that. When I started it I kept trying to compare it to the Bronte version but instead I ended up getting swept up in the story and just going along for the ride. The settings and cultural details of this world immerse you in the story. It really doesn't matter if you are a Jane Eyre fan. If you like original science fiction then this is the book for you." Sherrie Palmer, Sherrie's Scriptorium

"What a great read! Jane E has Hollywood written all over it: strong, complex characters; rich settings, adversity, action and intrigue—it’s all here in this modern updating of Jane Eyre. I couldn’t put it down!"  Rhonda OrtizThe Virtuous Jane Austen

"A brave and thought-provoking story rich with vivid details and authentic, memorable characters." Therese HeckenkampAfter the Thaw
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The amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/Unclaimed-Memoirs-Jane-Friendless-Orphan-ebook/dp/B01HVKQ3NY/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1468102216&sr=1-1&keywords=erin+mccole+cupp



Monday, July 11, 2016

Working for a Living

It's inevitable when you meet someone new that one of the first questions you'll be asked is, "What do you do for a living?"

I'm willing to bet that many authors who aren't in the same league as James Patterson, Stephen King, or J. K. Rowling will not respond with, "I'm a writer." I know I don't. That's because writing is not how I make my living.

Yet.

Though I've had four books published in my Black Horse Campground mystery series, it's far from being "what I do for a living". I don't make enough money from my writing to make a living. Therefore, I have a full-time job and a part-time job. The full-time job--cake decorator at Walmart--is the job that pays the bills and buys groceries. The part-time job--"vino slinger" a.k.a. bar tender at Noisy Water Winery--goes into savings and pays for emergencies and for some fun stuff. What both jobs have in common is that they allow me to do the third job... writing.

That's the really fun job!

The other thing my "real" jobs (a.k.a. paying jobs) do is help me find material for my writing. Interacting and speaking with people, doing work other than sitting at a laptop, all that feeds my imagination and helps me create characters and stories. Then, after the work day is done and I can sit at my writing desk, those experiences come back and fuel my creativity and the fun job begins! Being able to create characters and tell their stories is how I have fun. It's the job I want to do regardless of what pay (if any) I receive. It's more than a hobby; it's how I want to live my life.

So while writing may not be how I "work for a living", it's how I "work for life"... the life I love to live!

Me and my "agent" enjoying the best of both worlds!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Celebrating Another Anniversary

Yes, I know it's Independence Day and a national holiday, but Paul and I celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary two days ago and that's what is foremost in my mind!

Anniversaries are supposed to be wildly romantic events with candlelight and roses and surprise getaways to exotic locales... at least, they are if you listen to the ads from travel agencies and read their magazine articles. Those are better pieces of fiction than I could ever write.

I'm not saying they don't occur and I'm certainly not saying that I'm opposed to celebrating an anniversary in that way. It's just that I always find myself wondering about things like... Is it going to rain? A lot? Is the restaurant's chef about to walk out because he had another fight with the head waiter? Am I going to fit into that dress I bought for the occasion two months ago? Is the car going to break down en route? You know, all those things that never happen in the pages of a romance novel.

It's said that fiction mirrors fact, but whenever I read about such stories, I seriously doubt that it's anything but an unrealistic fantasy. Maybe because my ideas about romance don't exactly mesh with that ideal. My husband and I celebrated our anniversary--indeed, just about every potentially romantic holiday or event this year--doing something we both enjoy very much. Working.

As I've mentioned before, I work part-time at Noisy Water Winery and the people in charge there know that, if Paul's available, they get a two-for-one deal whenever I work. Life, unfortunately, demands that bills be paid and that sometimes means having to work extra hours. Much as I would like to spend every waking hour with my husband in a relaxing way, I'm willing to accept that sometimes our time together involves working together.

I've discovered that when two people agree on what's important--being together vs. being someplace really cool--then every day can be a honeymoon. Oh, one of these days we'll have time and money to have our romantic getaway in some exotic locale. For now, sharing a house with three other people (who are extremely cool and fun to hang with--Amber, Fabian, and Daniel!) who are co-workers and spending two days pouring wine for hundreds of strangers in a crowded tent in 85 degree weather (with few bathroom or meal breaks!) and finishing up the day sweaty, tired, and smelling of wine wiped off on our t-shirts... yeah, I'll take that. As long as we're together.

Getting ready to sling vino at the Santa Fe Wine Festival!


Dinner at Andiamo's in Santa Fe on our actual anniversary with the wine folks!

Monday, June 27, 2016

I'm a Cover Girl!

Yes, the truth comes out... I am the person who takes the photos for my book covers.

What did you think I meant? Is that why you're laughing hysterically??

I've received a lot of compliments on my book covers which I take as high honors because I'm not really a photographer. I don't have an expensive camera, I've never taken a course in photography, and I delete many more photos than I save (there are just so many shots of the inside of my tote bag that I'm willing to keep.) I do, however, love to take photos and since my Black Horse Campground series is set in the region where I live, it only made sense to me to use photos of the area for the covers of my books.

This photo for my first book was taken on the road near my home. While the term "end of the road" may have some negative connotations, for me, this scene is what signals to me that I'm almost home. I like to think that the Black Horse Campground feels like home to a lot of my readers.

The photo for "No Lifeguard on Duty" illustrates how important it is for authors to have connections. At the time "No Lifeguard" was written, my husband worked in pool maintenance. He had to be there one morning (before sunrise) to get the pool ready for an early event. I went along to keep him company and take advantage of the eerie atmosphere of a deserted pool that would be the backdrop for the murder in the book. This is one of my favorite covers. 
When I wrote "No Vacancy", I had a really original concept for the cover: a "no vacancy" sign. In my quest to get a good photo for the cover, I discovered that the majority of "no vacancy" signs that I found were neon signs... something that the Black Horse Campground didn't have (I'm sure I could have changed that, but the Black Horse just isn't the place you'd find a neon sign. Trust me.) So I came up with the idea of taking a scene from the book and using that for the cover. The KOA in Alamogordo, NM is run by Kelly and Sandy Rodwick and they graciously allowed me to use one of their cabins for this picture.

This book cover is the one for which I took many shots that were eventually discarded. My husband, sister-in-law, and I went on a quest, visiting little towns and their church cemeteries one Sunday to try to find the perfect wooden cross hidden in the weeds and tall grass. We had a great time but when I looked at the pictures, nothing seemed just right. A few days later, I was coming home and decided to stop and check our local parish's cemetery (about a mile from our home.) After taking a few pictures in the cemetery itself, I decided to walk back to my car through the ditch that ran behind the cemetery. It was starting to rain and I slipped and almost twisted an ankle. Then I looked up and saw one of the crosses I had photographed earlier through the trees and thought, "That's it!"

Right now, I'm working on the edits for the fifth book in the series. So far, I don't have the title, but I have an idea for the cover and I'm looking forward to whatever adventure comes my way in finding the perfect photo for it!