Monday, April 24, 2017

Defining Success as a Writer

Success is a word that can be defined in many ways. Most people would believe that an author would define success in terms of New York Times best-seller list rankings. Or the amount of money made from book sales. Or winning Pulitzer or Nobel prizes.

Writers, for the most part, undertake the task of putting thoughts, ideas, and stories down on paper for the purpose of being heard and hopefully understood. I don't know many writers who purposely sit down to write for the sole purpose of making money. Even the best-selling authors whose books get turned into movies didn't start their writing career because they wanted to get rich. They wrote because they had stories to tell. 

It would be easy to quote Harvey MacKay: "Find something you love to do, and you'll never work a day in your life." However, unless you've figured how to make a living taking naps, even the things you love to do require a great deal of work. Writing is no exception. Becoming a successful writer requires even more work. It's not enough just to put words down on paper. Or even to have a book or novel published (that can be done for free these days, with minimal talent.)

I've been a published writer for almost five years now and the success I've had has little to do with finances or literary prizes. This past weekend, my husband and I traveled about 200 miles to attend a book signing in a small, independent bookstore in Albuquerque, NM. It was a slow weekend and, as the shop owners told me, business has been hurt by nearby road construction which discourages people from venturing in to the Old Town area. Any money I made on that trip didn't even cover the cost of the trip (gas, parking fees, and one meal.)

The success came in the form of having the bookstore owners happy to see me. They like my work and it sells. Customers who came in and ventured over to meet a "real" author expressed interest in my books and a few bought copies (and hopefully will purchase the rest of the series.) Others merely congratulated me and wished me well. And when I walked up to the store, there, on a poster, was my book cover and the words "Author Signing Today". Not every writer gets that privilege.

That's what I call success.

Me, at a previous signing at Treasure House. It's always worth the trip!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Announcing the Release of "A Summer to Remember"!

If you had told me twenty-five years ago that I'd be announcing the publication of my fifth novel...

I probably would have believed you.

I remember clearly the first day I sat down and tentatively began typing the first words of a novel that has yet to see the light of day (beyond my and my husband's eyes.) I had been reading books on the craft of novel writing, I had subscribed to both "The Writer" and "Writer's Digest", I had steno pads with lists of names and notes about a story idea. What I felt was a weirdly exhilarating feeling of fear and excitement. Could I really write a book? Could it be good? Would someone besides me read it? Would they like it? Would I get paid to do it?

It took twenty years to get to where I get paid for what I write. And even now, I still feel that same feeling of being scared to death and being on top of the world when I first sit down to write another book. What trumps that feeling is the feeling I get when I hold the finished, printed product in my hands.

Perhaps it sounds egotistical and presumptuous to state that, back then, when becoming an author, a novelist, seemed like a pipe dream, I always knew it would happen someday. It was probably more wishful thinking than anything else, but no matter how many times I received a rejection letter, no  matter how many times I struggled to get the words to say what I really meant, no matter how many times I felt frustrated, giving up was never an option. Because I knew--I KNEW--that someday, I would have a book published.

Those dreams never went so far as to having me win a Pulitzer... just the New York Times best-seller list. But even if that never happens, even if I never make a huge amount of money, even if I only have a small but dedicated group of readers, I've already proven that dreams can come true. It takes a lot of hard work, a lot of persistence and patience, and a thick skin. That's what took twenty-plus years to develop. But those were the tools I needed to succeed.

So on that note, let me introduce you to the fifth book in the Black Horse Campground mystery series, "A Summer to Remember"!

It's been a memorable year at the Black Horse Campground. But someone wants certain things forgotten....

After Bonney Police detective J.D. Wilder wraps up three cold-case murders, believing that the murderer was his former partner, he tries to focus on his personal life in his new hometown and his budding relationship with Corrie Black, owner of the Black Horse Campground.

When he receives information that proves his former partner wasn't the murderer, the case is reopened with the knowledge and urgency that the killer is poised to strike again. But who held a grudge against the three cold-case victims... and who is that person's next target? With the help of Bonney County Sheriff Rick Sutton, J.D. probes the memories of several Bonney residents who knew the victims and begins to make connections.

Then another death occurs and while J.D. and Rick are investigating, Corrie is attacked. The attacker and the cold-case murderer could be the same person, but Corrie's condition is critical and she's lost her memories of the entire previous year... including the identity of her attacker and even having met J.D. Will she survive long enough to remember what happened? Or will she end up as a memory and the murderer gets away once again?

Available in print from amazon:

Monday, April 10, 2017

Patience and Perfection: On Editing a Book for Publication

Anyone who's ever written just about anything that is to be seen by an audience knows one thing is true: gremlins insert typos and mistakes into the finished product.

It has to be that. It can't be carelessness or anything that would be the writer's fault. Right?

The hard truth is that, as stated perfectly in a Facebook meme, "I do my best proofreading after I hit 'send'." I know that I do my very best to find all the typos, glitches, misspelled words, missing words, and messed-up indentations and paragraph breaks BEFORE I send my work to my beta-readers, editors, and--especially--my publisher. Imagine my chagrin when my manuscript comes back to me with a list of things that need to be corrected attached. And it's not a short list, either.

So I spend the next few days going over the manuscript line by line, scrupulously fixing all the mistakes that were brought to my attention. And once done, I send it off again.

And I get it back a few days later. With a new list of new mistakes.

It's harder this time around. I've already seen the manuscript at least a dozen times already, so I have several key passages memorized. That's where the gremlins hide; in plain sight in the most often read paragraphs. Because the writer KNOWS what the paragraph is supposed to say, so the eyes and brain skip over the exact words on the page, including the word "her" masquerading as "he", the character's name being substituted for another's, and an errant comma popping up where it doesn't belong.

This is where a writer needs to be patient, not just with the extra eyes that spot all of the gremlins' shenanigans, but with him or herself. It's tempting, after two or three rounds of corrections with a deadline looming, to just say, "Okay, the corrections are done, just go with it!" I've hit that wall more than once, especially with this last book that I've been working on. But it's important to soldier on and not be discouraged. It helps to remind oneself that it's the writer who will look foolish when the reading public finds the errors.

I've learned to be patient and not rush through the editing process, no matter how badly I want to be done and move on to publication. I want to make a good impression on the readers so that they will want to read more of my work. Errors will still sneak through (those gremlins have an uncanny knack for being persistent!) but a large amount of mistakes send a message to the reader that the author doesn't care enough to deliver the best work they can. That's definitely not the message I want to send my readers.

They deserve my very best!

Getting after the gremlins... caffeine helps!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Finding Time vs. Making Time

I've often said that many times it's not a matter of "finding" time to do the things one wants to do, but simply a matter of "making" time. After all, it's a matter of priorities, isn't it? Writing or watching TV? Editing or going to a movie with friends? Blogging or... taking care of family?

It's a common joke (sort of) that writers struggle to decide between laundry and housework or working on their novel. But when a writer suddenly finds him or herself having to take care of family... it's not a laughing matter.

Whether it's taking care of a new baby in the house or an elderly person who needs assistance,that is when a writer has to develop a knack for finding time. It make be a few moments in between naps or during a favorite TV show (the family member's, not the writer's!), or getting up an hour earlier or staying up later, but one thing is certain: a writer no longer has the luxury of time.

This is when a writer must really take to heart the fact that writing IS a job. However little time one can find, it's important to take it seriously. Writing, sadly, can easily be relegated to the category of tasks considered to be frivolous or merely entertaining. A writer must treat their writing time seriously in order for others to treat it seriously as well.

Those stolen moments must be utilized to their fullest. Five minutes might not be long enough to immerse oneself in the latest work-in-progress, but it might be enough time for a character sketch or a quick blog post, maybe even a Facebook post.

Just try to fight the temptation to start browsing Facebook instead of working!

Monday, March 20, 2017

An Evening at a Book Club Meeting

This past Thursday, I was invited to attend a book club meeting in Tularosa. The meeting was hosted by a woman that is my husband's co-worker. He encouraged her to buy my first book, "End of the Road", several months ago and she chose it for her book club's discussion.

I had never attended a book club meeting before, not even as a member, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised to find all the members gathered in the kitchen with glasses of Jo Mamma's White wine from Noisy Water Winery! Terry, the hostess, explained that they always have a dinner to match the theme of the book they're reading. The menu was lifted from the pages of the first Black Horse Campground book: enchiladas with rice and beans, blueberry muffins, and pinon coffee!

We sat down and talked about what the members enjoyed most about the book and the general consensus was that their favorite element was the setting. Bonney County, though fictional, became real to them. One woman enjoyed the "red herrings" ("a la Agatha Christie", she said) and all of them had aligned themselves with one or the other of the two heroes: Team Rick or Team J.D.!

It was entertaining and informative and very humbling; these women had all been reading rather literary works. For them to say that they enjoyed my books and want to read more of them was a great compliment. I was sorry to see the evening end, but I hope that these readers will encourage others to read my books as well!

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Exciting, Glamorous Life of a Mystery Author

Laundry is chugging away in the washer, breakfast is cooked and eaten, the dishes done and put away. The floor has been Swiffer-ed (can't really call it sweeping, right?) in preparation for a mopping and I am staring at a dining room table that desperately needs to be cleaned off (because everything somehow ends up on any surface that isn't currently being used and we tend to eat in the kitchen rather than the dining room.)

Welcome to my exciting, glamorous life!

I'm not sure how NYT best-selling authors normally spend their Sundays, but that's how I spend, not just my Sundays, most of my days. There's always something that needs to be done that has little or nothing to do with books or writing. In fact, most of my author friends spend their days pretty much the same way I do.

Most authors lead very mundane lives. We do our own chores, work full-time jobs, pay our bills, and interact with friends and family on a daily basis. In short, we live the sort of lives that many of our characters lead but we would never write about.

This is not to say that we live vicariously through our characters because we have absolutely no drama or excitement in our lives. Thankfully, for those of us who write murder mysteries, the excitement is mainly limited to traveling to new places, trying new foods, learning new hobbies, and having fun with friends and family. Occasionally we have some unwanted crisis create drama--an illness, a fender bender, a dead washing machine, an overdue bill--but we rarely experience the sort of excitement and drama that feeds the plot of a thriller.

It would be easy for me to veg in front of the TV during days off and vacation times; after all, my husband and I work full time jobs and downtime is precious. But we are insatiably adventurous (in our own low-key way!) and downtime is a rare opportunity to indulge in a drive in the country, maybe a stop for lunch in a new place, or to try something we've never done before, like picking grapes in a vineyard or hiking a trail we haven't explored yet.

While we'll probably never spend a week on the Riviera or walk the Great Wall of China, we still enjoy our adventures... more so because of how rare and precious our time to enjoy them is. It's a great life!

 Wading in the surf in Cozumel... definitely not an average vacation opportunity!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Details, Details

I took some time off from my "real job" and used it to work on my "dream job" and to goof off and catch up on some reading.

Reading is one of my favorite pastimes and also one of my most distressing. Maybe it's because I'm a writer and I have a tendency to obsess over the possibility of making mistakes but reading a book that is in published form and, therefore, "set in stone" and finding mistakes gives me a low grade headache and mild nausea. Maybe it's empathy, you know, I understand how the author is probably dying of mortification somewhere in the Bahamas and all the royalties in the world can't make up for the fact that such a blatant mistake is obviously not keeping their book from selling like hotcakes and racking up rave reviews on amazon, and....

Wait, back up, I took the wrong exit somewhere back there....

Anyway, what happened was that I was in the middle of a good book, the first in a series that featured a couple of my favorite themes--primarily, a New Mexico setting--when the misspelling of the second-largest city in the state of New Mexico jumped out at me. This, from an author whose bio stated that New Mexico was her second home. It's not the first time I've noticed something like that. Another book I read--written by a person who had a Ph.D.--misspelled Otero County THREE times. In one paragraph.

There is a lot to be said for double checking facts. I understand and know that typos happen and everyone's best proofreading occurs after the book is in print. But then there are mistakes that are simply a matter of failing to check facts. I've learned this from reading factual details in several books that were plain wrong. Area 51 isn't in New Mexico. That's a big one many people might catch. But what if you're talking about a lesser known landmark or location, say, the Museum of Natural History in Albuquerque? If your character is in the Plaza in Old Town Albuquerque, how long will it take him to get to the museum? If you've done your research, maybe five minutes... even if he's walking. Same thing if you set your character in New York, Paris, San Francisco, London, etc. If you're going to have your character move and live in a real, as opposed to a fictional, location, you'd better know the details of certain popular and well-known landmarks as well as which streets run where.

Even if you're using a fictional setting, such as Bonney County, you need to keep track of details, especially if you're writing a series. If, in Book One, you mention a certain business is owned by a certain person or is in a certain location, it better still be there owned by that person and in that same location in Book Five unless you've explained why circumstances have changed in the preceding books.

Details bring a story to life, so it's important to make sure that those details are correct. Writers owe it to their readers to do their best to do that.

New Mexico is better known than you might think! Double check those details!