Sunday, July 31, 2011

Finding Balance - a non-Zen approach

Someone on Kindleboards asked the general question, "Do you feel guilty when you're not writing?" "Heck no, I worked on three books this year. I deserve a break, goddammit." As my fingers flew across the keyboard, you know what happened, right? A little guilt started to creep in. Well, maybe not. Guilt isn't the appropriate description for the conflicted emotions I have, as I sit at my computer, answering emails, tweeting, playing the Sims, and reconciling sales. It's more so a nagging moment of worry that I shouldn't be doing something more productive, like working on one of three unfinished manuscripts. Like starting the manuscript that I've just finished researching in June. Why is the prospect of the blank page or time away from writing tying my belly in knots? Why can't I find the middle ground between productivity and relaxation?

I'm a masochist by nature, so I love to put burdens on myself. The burden to be all I can be (not in the US army, of course), as a person, a daughter and sister, as an employee, as a writer, a friend, you name it. If I'm not doing these things very well, waves of stomach-clenching guilt follow. "I should work harder! I should do more! I should be a better friend! I should tweet more!" I've realized all the should’s have everything to do with other people's perception of me and very little to do with how I see myself.

Over the coming months, I’m going to try to find a little balance in my life. I’m risking burnout without it. I don’t want to hate the things I love because I put some much pressure on myself to do them well. That means leaving work at work, setting allotted times for my research and writing, and making relaxation a priority. Wish me luck, as I’m sure a little guilt and self-doubt will sneak in.

For anyone who’s been successful at finding this balance that I’m seeking, would love to hear how you’re doing it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Mammoth Summer of Reading

Now that I have some free time on my hands, guess what I'll be doing for the rest of the summer? Actually, you don't have to guess; I told you in my last post. Those are just the print copies. Highlights include:
  • Ruth Downie's Caveat Emptor & Medicus
  • The Forever Queen by Helen Hollick
  • C.C. Humphrey's Vlad: The Last Confession
  • Conn Iggulden's Khan: Empire of Silver
  • George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series (I'll wait for A Dance With Dragons when HBO's Game of Thrones season 2 is done next year)
  • The Borgia Betrayal by Sara Poole
  • A book by one of my absolute favorites, the woman who inspired my love of historical fiction, Persia Woolley in a re-release of Queen of the Summer Stars.
A summer of books
There are prime choices that I'm looking forward to on Kindle as well, including:
  • Cinders by Michelle Davidson Argyle
  • Elizabeth Chadwick's For the King's Favor
  • Mel Comley's Impending Justice
  • Blockbuster by Sven Michael Davison
  • Alison DeLuca's The Night Watchman Express
  • In Her Name: Empire, by Micheal Hicks
  • The Vampire Relationship Guide, Volume 1: Meeting and Mating by Evelyn LaFont
  • Cartier's Ring by Pearson Moore
  • Cate Rowan's Kismet's Kiss
  • The Black God's War by Moses Siregar III
  • Lindsay Townsend's To Touch the Knight & A Knight's Vow
  • Mike Wells' Wild Child
  • The House of Women by Anne Whitfield
  • Sarah Woodbury's The Last Pendragon    
That's about a tenth of what's on my Kindle right now. All of them will be read and reviewed this summer, either for the HNR blog or any place I like to mouth off about books, like Amazon. You might be wondering, is she really going to through all those books? Um, yeah. If an author really hooks me, I'll read a book a day, with a rare break to eat and pee. Since I'm a semi-insomniac, sleep is also a possibility. But why sleep, when you can read?

What are your summer reading plans? What are you looking forward to the most?  

Monday, July 25, 2011

"The End."

Are there any words more satisfying or saddening for a writer to type? My fellow writers often talk about how exciting or difficult it is to start a manuscript, or to sustain it in the middle. I'm more conflicted about the ending of my stories. It's not just about crafting a satisfying conclusion for readers and me. It's often about saying goodbye to characters, who feel like old friends.

The weekend, I made the penultimate changes to Sultana's Legacy. I wrote the words 'The End' for the novel back in 2008. The conclusion of the story hasn't changed since then, but everything up until has undergone a major revision over the past three years. I turned what was a first-person narrative into third person, cut two additional POV's and sorted out the muddle history had created of six characters named Muhammad, three Faraj's and two Ismail's. When I say writing this manuscript and its prequel Sultana has been a labor a love, there was a bit of lunacy involved too. After all, who spends more than a decade sorting through jumbled details about a largely unknown period of history, without being committed, or feeling like you really should be committed to a mental institution?

I've never given birth, but it feels like I have. It's time for a much needed break. Next week, I'm off to Barbados for some family-business, but it's also a chance to relax and not think about writing novels, at least until the edits and suggestions come back from my writing friends. I've turned the manuscript over to would-be beta readers, with the warning that this one isn't nice at all. With at least three violent deaths of major characters, and some others, the body count is higher than the prequel. When Sultana's Legacy comes out in November, it will be the third book I've released this year. I am beyond exhausted. I plan to spend the next few months until late fall catching up on my reading and reviews for HNR, and probably spending more time on Twitter than I should.

I’ve also sent off the cover image I’d like to use for the book to Lance Ganey, who I recommend to anyone looking for a cover artist. I had settled on something before, but it never really hooked as me as this new one does. As with Sultana, this one is public domain art from the Orientalist period, this time combined with a stunning, royalty-free background from FotoliaGIMP can be one of the best tools for a self-published author. When the final artwork is ready, I’ll post it here first.

Having arrived at 'The End' for this story is a bittersweet moment, a little sad but also filled with contentment. Dependent on how well the story and prequel sell over the coming year, I might consider two more books on the descendants of the characters. For now, this is truly the end of that long journey of research and writing on the period.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Truth in fiction: why do we care?

A great friend, Sophie Perinot, did an excellent blog post yesterday, Invention is the Midwife of Good Historical FictionTruth in fiction is a huge concern for me. I don't believe that the historical fiction author has a license to make it all up. Otherwise, why write or call it a historical, if you ignore the sources? But, there are times where even a good detective of history, as hist fic writers are often forced to be, must use their imagination. Check out Sophie's article too, as she shares the "experts" reasoning on the topic.

I'm struggling with truth in fiction, while wrapping up scenes between my protagonist and villain in Sultana's Legacy. My antagonist is my heroine Fatima's elder brother, Sultan Muhammad III. If some of the therapists I know could get him on their couch, he'd be diagnosed as a sociopath, seriously in need of some CBT. The historical record has some information on his murderous behavior. One day, he got pissed off at his jailer for having pity on some political prisoners (he dared throw them some dry bread, rather than let them starve). Muhammad had the jailer's head cut off and let the blood rain down on the prisoners to give them "something to drink" - that's direct from all the sources. It's the best example of his cruelty I could find, so I had to include that scene . The other references to how he tortured and killed his father's servants, or roamed the palace at odd hours screaming like a madman, are just general examples of his instability.

Sounds like the perfect sort of villain to write about, doesn't he? While I have no doubt that Muhammad was a complete nut job, I've had to guess at how others would have reacted to his behavior, in particular Fatima. By all accounts, she was her father's image, devoted to her studies and as learned as he was. How did she feel when Muhammad poisoned their father? I'll never know. 

The Spanish and even Arabic chroniclers within the Alhambra didn't write anything about how the murder of Muhammad II affected his other children. Some of the later events from Fatima's history have allowed me to form an educated guess about her feelings. I've used it as the basis for the majority of the conflict that occurs 2/3 into Sultana's Legacy. My dilemma: do I address the fact in my author's note that I truly don't know the extent of her vengeance? Why should I care?

The reason I care is because of what can be called the "Braveheart phenomena" - if you've seen the film, you know what I mean so I won't go into it here. If you haven't seen it, watch the film, then go off and read about Isabella of France, the wife of King Edward II. I'm sure you'll say because it's a movie, it's different from historical fiction. Historical events on TV or in books still leave the audience with the same conclusion: the events, as presented, must have happened. I remember seeing Braveheart with my mother and, since she knows her daughter is some history freak, she asked what I thought. My response? "Why'd he (Mel Gibson) have to do the stupid French princess thing?" She asked what I meant and was surprised that history and Mel disagreed.

In my case, does it matter that what I've written isn't 100% verifiable? When the sources don't give me any detail, I've settled for what's reasonably plausible, what could have happened. I've determined that Fatima didn't get the warm fuzzies when her elder brother killed their father, because she helped secure the throne for a younger brother. Yes, this was one screwed up family - they would all be on therapists' couches if they were alive today!

Beyond extrapolating later details, I also considered basic human nature. I don't know anyone who can take on a villain without taking some risks and doing slightly questionable things. I also think it's impossible to come out of the battle unscathed. I've enjoyed writing this sequel because I got to turn my genteel, loving heroine into a person almost as dangerous as her real-life brother. It's all reasonably possible that it happened, but part of me wishes I knew the real truth. Where's a time machine when you need one? Scholars are still investigating the Moorish period in Spain and perhaps one day, they'll get the real story.

Until now, it's never bothered me that I was putting words in the mouths of my historical figures. I understand a little better why some of my friends who write in the same genre create characters from scratch. I keep in mind that as a writer, it's my job to be creative and sustain conflict. But, what do you do when the sources are silent as to whether there was a conflict to begin with?  

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"I don't act like that! Do I?"

I've been seeing a rash of blog posts and tweets lately, all complaining about how writers (typically indies, but sometimes not) need to get over ourselves and learn some damned manners. I don't comment. I typically just close the browser, move on to another topic, or just wonder why there's so much negativity being spewed on the Internet.

Seriously, I have no idea who these posts are referring to, and I suppose, I really don't want to know these crazy folks. I often wonder about the purpose behind these posts and discussions. Are they meant to warn off other writers? A pre-emptive strike against some strange or bad behavior? Or, are they really for ourselves, to keep us in line and remind us that we really shouldn't act like a horse's ass for all the Web to see? Do we see ourselves in these idiots?  

I thank God everyday that I am blessed by the friendship of many professional writers, both traditional and self-published. People who work hard to finish their drafts and revisions, without whining and moaning about how hard it is to do this writing thing that they chose to do. Authors who don't go bat-shit crazy when they get bad reviews from strangers on Amazon. Who don't have meltdowns and curse out the bloggers they invited to review their books.

Why don't these other professional writers do any of that crap? If I had to guess, I'd say they're too busy writing to act like morons on the Internet. I like that crowd of writers. I'm going to stick with them. To all of you, and most of you know you are - thank you for showing the best of you each day.

That's not to say I'll completely ignore the looney-toons on the Web. I do need a good dose of entertainment ever so often, and boy, do I get that every day! I love the zany-ass tweets, and those crazy blogs and discussion posts. Still, I must acknowledge that I don't have much time for B.S. right now. I do have time for a book that needs to be finished by my self-imposed November publication date. So, if I happen to disappear, go underground from the slightly wacky world of social media sometimes, it's just that I have my priorities. Besides, if anyone out there chooses to act like a complete jackass, I'm sure I'll find out about it.  

Monday, July 11, 2011

Creativity: Where do you find it?

Today I was browsing through some stock photos online, when a series of them appeared that would fit the premise of a future novella perfectly. Just like that, inspiration and a little girlish squeal were born. Yes, things like that make me a little giddy.

No matter how important your writing is, do you ever find yourself struggling for the creative spark? Many books written in the same genre have similar aspects. With my first love, historical fiction, I can be assured there will be at least one epic confrontation or battle scene and a test of the main character's survival skills against terrible odds. After years of reading such stories, there are common themes that always emerge, something that feels very familiar. Sometimes, we're all drawing from the same well of inspiration. I think writer's block results - we want to be creative, but it's next to impossible without an original idea in mind.

Many authors who write historical fiction turn an original idea on its head, such as a non-virginal Queen Elizabeth I, or with stories writen from the perspective of the losers in history, rather than its victors. I prefer to write about the history that hasn't been explored as well as the Tudor, Renaissance and Regency periods. The era I choose is a framework that allows me to do a bit of world-building, but that's only half the struggle to feel inspired. To truly be creative, I let music, my environment and people influence me. When I need some rousing battle scene, I blast Carl Orff's Carmina Burana from my computer speakers. I'm sure my family thinks this is strange and annoying all at once. If my character has a rare quiet moment of deep introspection, I create a similar mood by turning off the music, TV, whatever sounds might interfere. I'm also a great people watcher. Nothing like a pair of dark shades and a park bench for catching people at the moment where powerful emotions are on display. Whether it's a couple walking hand in hand or arguing, a parent and child enjoying the warm sunshine, people and their behavior are great sources.

Where do you find creative influences? How do you use them to write?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Thank You

To Gemi, Michelle, Peter and Kristina, for your thoughtful guest posts. I enjoyed another chance to learn much more about each of you and cheer you on. Your professionalism, dedication and genuine warmth makes me feel extremely lucky to know you. I wish you every success wherever your writing and personal goals take you.

Also, thanks to all the visitors who stopped by the blog during the previous week, especially those who left  kind and encouraging comments. You helped make this a great week.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Highs and lows in this writer's life - Lisa Yarde

Just twelve months ago, a decision to self-publish my first book became reality, when On Falcon’s Wings premiered on Amazon. Since then, it’s been a year fraught with highs and lows, family illnesses, and plans for the future made and unmade. I’d be lying if I pretended I haven't re-thought the decision to self-publish once or twenty-six times. Thing is, I never learned how to quit.

Here are some highlights in my year of publication (mingled with some of the bad stuff too). All figures are as of Monday, July 4.

Number of books I’ve self-published: (3)

Genres and formats: (2) historical fiction in ebook and paperback - novels, (1)contemporary women’s fiction – novella

Official dates of publication: On Falcon’s Wings (July 2010), Sultana (February 2011), Long Way Home (July 2011)

Number of Copies Sold: On Falcon’s Wings (68 – paperback, 611 – ebook), Sultana (18 - paperback, 223 - ebook), Long Way Home (3 – ebook only)

Revenue Earned: On Falcon’s Wings ($1,017.86), Sultana ($631.72), Long Way Home ($1.43)

Expenses (copyright, cover art, review copies, other promotion): On Falcon’s Wings ($562.06), Sultana ($378.85), Long Way Home ($0)

Net Profit: On Falcon’s Wings ($455.80), Sultana($252.87), Long Way Home ($1.43)

Best Sales Month: On Falcon’s Wings (March 2011 - 67), Sultana (June 2011 - 52)

Worst Sales Month: On Falcon’s Wings (July 2010 - 6), Sultana(February 2011 - 10)

Best Amazon Paid Sales Rank: On Falcon’s Wings (#7,993 - ebook), Sultana (#16,762 – ebook)

Worst Amazon Paid Sales Rank: On Falcon’s Wings (#1,994,394- paperback), Sultana (#2,404,935 -paperback)

The first sale happened: On Falcon’s Wings (Kindle - – 11 days after publication), Sultana (Kindle - – 4 days after publication), Long Way Home (Kindle - - 1 hour after publication)

Longest period without a sale: On Falcon’s Wings (14 days from August 4, 2010), Sultana (9 days from March 6, 2011)

Number of freebies: On Falcon’s Wings (21,505), Sultana (37)

The inclusion of freebies has skewed my sales data a lot. On Falcon's Wings was offered as a freebie June 6 - July 2 through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords and Sony. It resulted in 21,497 downloads, of which 21,292 came from Amazon alone. If I counted the freebies, in addition to increasing ebook numbers:

• My top Amazon sales ranking for On Falcon's Wings would have been #1. (I even have a screenshot that proves it!)

• Amazon also gives a pittance (I do mean a pittance) on freebies, so there is an additional $127.45 in earnings on the freebies that I don't account for in the revenue above.

For some inexplicable reason, Amazon has made On Falcon's Wings free again as of July 7. So, my data will continue to be skewed, but I appreciate the increased downloads and the additional 4 reviews that have come in.

First thing I bought with my earnings: Added money to my MetroCard. Deposit came just in time for me to go work the next morning.

Last thing I bought with my earnings: A $20 promotional spot for Sultana this month on Indie eBooks blog.

How I felt when I got my first bad review from a stranger: Like shit. Cried for a bit, cursed out the reviewer in my head. Although I thanked her for the review, I really just wanted to smash her face in with my paperback. I've aged since then into a thick-skinned, 35-year old woman, rather than remaining a 5-year old with a temper tantrum.

How I felt when I got my first great review from a stranger: Shocked, cried a little and thanked the reviewer in my head. Now, I ignore all reviews, good or bad, or try to. It's a work in progress.

Biggest mistake I have made, so far: Thinking that publishing was the hardest aspect. I now know marketing is the hardest aspect –it’s not for me, I suck at it. Doesn't matter how good your book is, if people don't know it exists. Yet, I keep trying, cause I'm just not built to quit.

Best advice I ever had: From Gemi Sasson, who reminded me that there are people with axes to grind about self-publishing. Entertaining them won't change their views or my intent. I’m paraphrasing, but she’s right.

The one thing I have yet to learn / accept about self-publishing: It's a marathon, not a sprint. My books will be around for as long as books are being sold online. The goals are to keep writing, making the next book better than its predecessor and keep on publishing.

Number of times I’ve regretted self-publishing and decided I would give up: (2) – the first, when I got my first bad review, and the second, when I promoted my first two books like crazy in May 2011, yet it turned out to be one of the slower months for sales. That's always the worst - working hard with little to show for it.

Why do I continue to self-publish: It’s hard being my own editor, marketer / promoter, but I can’t imagine not doing this. It’s brought me out of my shell, taught me to persevere, even when things get really tough. Fear held me back from self-publishing – what if I never sold a copy of my books, earned no reviews, spent a ton of money and never saw a dime of revenue? Now, I'm motivated to take it to the next level and the next – there’s always better and I’m striving for it in both my work and marketing efforts.

What advice would I give to a writer thinking of self-publishing: It’s tough and there's risk involved. Is your writing worth the risk? Failure doesn't happen when you fall flat. It happens when you choose not to get up. If you're willing to risk the fall, jump right in with a good story, a great team that includes editors and beta readers. Make sure you keep a support network handy. They'll be there to help you up when you fall and cheer on your successes. Don't measure your own success by what anyone else has done.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Finding Voice and Courage - Kristina Emmons

I guess in a way writing can feel for me like a non-activity, as if it’s not actual work since so much of it is mental, unlike other art forms, where you get to see tangible progress on a canvas or with a piece of clay or wood. Writing is “only” words on a page! But getting them down in a coherent, relatable way is a lot of work, and it is art that can be magical for the reader when done well. Just like with any art form there are those who appreciate what you put out and those who might oppose it, so it can be a fearful experience to subject yourself to public opinion.

Writing novels is for me the art that completes me. I didn’t recognize that for a long time. I knew I had writing ability and a strong command of language in general, but storytelling was never something I thought I could do. My grandmother was the story teller, I was the wallflower in the corner who rarely opened her mouth, so when I first began to look at writing as a career I assumed journalism was the best fit for me. It was like book reports but for life, right? I could do that. It certainly seemed the most respectable way to go, but after an unfortunate interview at the offices of the local paper I was turned off to journalism itself. My next choice was writing articles for magazines. Articles about what, though? I was young and had little life experience. And submitting to so many different publications sounded as tedious as sanding wood for me.

This writing thing began eating at me. I was pregnant with my first child and I needed a creative outlet, something for myself. My husband suggested I write a book, and I laughed. That was for the big dawgs, for people who like, went to college for that! Thoughtfully, he enrolled me in a correspondence writing course. For various reasons I couldn’t complete it fully, but the instructor feedback I got in those few lessons gave me a great boost of confidence. I could do this, I could tell stories! Maybe I couldn’t verbalize them well, but writing was a perfect medium for me. Soon the seed of a story lodged into my mind, and with unsteady fingers I began to type.

The blank page can be daunting. After several false starts, years of research into Victoriana and writing, and doubts and revisions too numerous to count, it was nine years until I published Roeing Oaks, my first novel. To my delight, response was wonderful, with demand for a sequel! I’m nearly finished with it and can’t wait to get started on another book. I suppose my best day as a writer was deciding not to quit. The worst? About halfway through the first draft of Roeing Oaks, when I realized what a long, arduous road lay ahead.

Matter of fact, they were the same day.

Kristina's Website

Kristina on Twitter

Roeing Oaks

Thursday, July 7, 2011

An Eventful Year - Peter Johnson

It’s been a year since my last post here, and much has (and hasn’t) happened.

My first novel, Grant’s Indian, published October 2009, continues to sell steadily. After about 30 agents passed on the book, I decided to publish using my own devices, which meant (1) creating an audiobook and getting a publisher for that (Audible agreed to do that), (2) arranging for print and Kindle editions (Amazon, which owns Audible, did that), (3) getting a print distributor (IndieReader is handling that) and (4) publicity.

I spent most of 2010 publicizing the book. One thing about Grant’s Indian that makes it appropriate for indie publishing is that it is based on an actual, if little-known, historical character – Ely Parker, a Seneca Indian on General Grant’s staff who was present (and wrote out the terms of surrender) at Appomattox in 1865.

The book was appropriate for indie publishing because it has a built-in audience of Civil War buffs, for whom it fills a gap in the historical record. One thing that keeps me bemused when I talk about the book is that, while I want to talk about historical fiction, the audience always asks about historical fact – Who was Parker? How did he get to Appomattox? What were his feelings about Indian affairs? Did he suffer prejudice? I also found out that Parker has descendants. One of his great-great-nephews, Alvin Parker, shared the podium with me at the New York Civil War Forum last September, which led to a neat article in the New York Times. (“A Seneca Indian Connects with his New York Roots,” September 19, 2010.

My next novel, also set partly during the Civil War, is encountering a different set of challenges. The good news is that I got an actual, and very reputable, agent for the book – one of the last to pass on Grant’s Indian. The bad news is that, unlike Grant’s Indian, which I submitted to 30 agents with no takers, my agent has now submitted the new novel to 30 publishers . . . with no takers.

So I have to decide what to do next. I’m reluctant to publish independently, because the book doesn’t really have a built-in audience. Unlike Grant’s Indian, the new book’s central characters are entirely fictional – two young actors in 19th-century America who pretty much grow up onstage together, get caught up in the 1849 Astor Place riot in New York, the Gold Rush, John Brown’s hanging, the Civil War, and who end up onstage at Ford’s Theater the night their friend and colleague John Booth assassinates President Lincoln.

So it’s a historical novel, a coming-of-age novel, a young love novel . . . all sorts of things, but it lacks a central historical truth. My inclination at this point is to wait a bit. The 150th anniversary of the Civil War started this spring, and new interest is stirring in the War. In a couple of years the Lincoln assassination will again be in the air, and maybe the novel will find a publisher at that point. Meanwhile, I mull alternatives.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

True to who I am - Michelle Gregory

The early Hassidic sage Rabbi Zusya once said, "When I reach the next world, God will not ask me, 'Why were you not Moses?' Instead, he will ask me, 'Why were you not Zusya?'"

I don't know about you, but I have to make a conscious effort to be myself and stay true to what I know I'm supposed to do. I'm the kind of person who looks around at what everyone else is doing, and though I know better, I start to think, "Maybe I should be doing it like so and so."

I get this way with homeschooling. I'm part of an online homeschooling group and even though we're all very gracious with each other and we're not even giving into the pressure to make homeschool look like public school with mounds of homework, etc., it's easy to compare myself to them and say, "wow, I should be doing more projects, going more places, doing more things, blah, blah, blah."

Then I remember that my kids are learning what they need to learn and the way we're doing school fits our lifestyle. My kids are happy and not so overly busy that we're stressed and going crazy. I like a simple lifestyle.

Lately I've found myself doing the comparison thing with blogging and writing and promoting. "I should have more posts about writing, more contests, more blog hops, and more interviews. I should be helping more writing friends promote their books with blog tours and side buttons and links. My blog should look more professional; have more about my book and links to all the places people can buy it. I should work on my story more often and not play with other stories so much. I should have more description, less tea, etc. I should have my book on Kindle and Smashwords and kobo and wherever. Maybe I should look for an agent. I should say more and do more..."

Makes me tired just writing it.

I've learned from counseling (and my husband reminds me every once in a while) that if you substitute the word (excuse me) sh** for should, when you say you should do something, it's like piling sh** on yourself. And isn't that exactly how we feel when we start saying "I should, I should"?

So it's time to be kind to myself, stop piling crap on myself, and let myself be who I am. I will put whatever I want on my blog. I will help other writers when I can. I will promote myself as much or as little as I'm comfortable with. I will let my mind play when it needs a break. I will continue to self-publish, and not pressure myself into doing it the way my indie author friends are doing it. I will write the story I want to write and not worry about the tea.

Maybe that's my cue to go have some tea, or a cup of hot cocoa.

Now, go have a beautiful day, free of "shoulds." have some tea. Be yourself.

Michelle's Website
Michelle Blog
Michelle on Facebook


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

One year of self-publishing - N. Gemini Sasson

What a wild year this has been – full of ups and downs, tough challenges and unexpected rewards. When I leapt into indie publishing last year at about this time, it was after years of pursuing the traditional route with a reputable agent. I’d become jaded by the process and was more than ready to move on. My goals were simply to put my work in physical form, make it as professional-looking as I possibly could on a limited budget and maybe, maybe sell a few hundred. A thousand or two sales was a distant dream.

After releasing The Crown in the Heather in paperback, I quickly became aware that my best chance of reaching an audience was through e-books. So I loaded it onto Kindle, announced it on the Amazon forums and at Kindleboards and waited for people to snatch it off the virtual shelf.  Mostly, it collected dust.

Eventually, I released a second and then a third book onto Kindle (Isabeau and Worth Dying For). Sometimes I went days in between sales. The first day I reached double digits, I was ecstatic. Still, after several months I was barely averaging half a dozen a day. Resigned to the fact that I had given it a go, I went back to college to renew my teaching certificate. But a funny thing happened while I was scribbling notes in Anatomy class. Sales began to snowball: 10, then 20, then 50, and eventually 100 a day. 

Just eleven months after launching my first e-book, the tally ticked over to 10,000 Kindle books sold. In May of 2011, Isabeau, A Novel of Queen Isabella and Sir Roger Mortimer, was awarded the IPPY (Independent Publisher Book Award) Silver Medal in the Historical Fiction category. Two of my three books have also regularly been in the Top 100 Kindle Bestsellers for Historical Fiction.

Someone asked me this past year how it felt to hold my book in my hands. Truth be told, to me it was just a manuscript in a fancy wrapper – the same thing I’d been seeing on my computer screen for years. But I really knew I was a writer when I got my first fan mail, asking when the next book would be out. That is the most awesome feeling in the world. It also terrifies me, because I know I have to put my best effort into each successive book and that continued success is never a given.

Ten years ago, these opportunities wouldn’t have existed. The biases against self-publishing are eroding as readers discover fresh, new voices and the lines between traditional and indie publishing blur. With an engaging story and solid writing, you can climb the rankings, but it also takes patience, luck and hard work.

I’ve since put plans of returning to work on hold while I work on finishing two more books. It’s a great time to be a writer!

Gemi's Website
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The Crown In The Heather (The Bruce Trilogy)
Isabeau, A Novel of Queen Isabella and Sir Roger Mortimer
Worth Dying For (The Bruce Trilogy)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Fourth & Happy Independents Week

Yes, I made that whole thing about Happy Indpendents Week up, but the Fourth of July is certainly true. Wishing a happy and safe holiday to everyone who's enjoying it so far.

Another great reason to celebrate this week will be another series of guest posts from some of the authors I interviewed at this time last year. Starting tomorrow, N. Gemini Sasson, Michelle Gregory, Peter Johnson and Kristina Emmons are back at the blog, talking about their experiences as writers. The posts they shared last year still generate a lot of hits on the blog. I'm excited to feature each of them on the blog again and share what they've been up to. I'll also be sharing a year of my publication efforts and the goals that lie ahead. The schedule is as follows:

N. Gemini Sasson (historical fiction) - Tuesday, July 5
Michelle Gregory (fantasy) - Wednesday, July 6
Peter Johnson (historical fiction) - Thursday, July 7
Kristina Emmons (historical fiction) - Friday, July 8
Me (historical fiction & contemporary novellas) - Saturday, Friday 9

I hope you'll join us.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

#SampleSunday: Long Way Home - A Novella, Chap. 2

Chapter Two

July 1998

Kevin pulled the new Mercedes into the parking lot outside Los Palmas restaurant in downtown L.A. and looked in the rearview mirror. Satisfied with his reflection, he checked his watch. The digital face displayed six-thirty, perhaps an hour before sunset. His belly fluttered. He had arrived too early for dinner. Damn.

He should have hung around Ventura a little longer, but that would have meant listening to more inane chatter from Melanie. Melissa, he corrected himself. Whatever. He had met her on Friday at Karma, a new nightclub. She took him back to her apartment on Veronica Lane for a little after-party that lasted into Saturday afternoon. Now, he intended to forget the address and the girl associated with it.

He looked in the mirror again, tugging at the collar of his silk shirt. He hated when girls left hickeys on his neck, as if marking him as theirs. The collar hid most of the strawberry blotch from view, except for the very edge. He slapped the dashboard in frustration. If she noticed it tonight during dinner, would the sight bother her in any way?

He smacked his forehead. “Get a grip, Kev. Doesn’t matter what she thinks of you.”

The manila folder on the passenger seat indicated the opposite was true. He eyed it with a sigh. Why had he been keeping this thing with him for more than a month? What was he, some kind of stalker now? What would she think if she ever discovered it?

He reached for it, thinking he could just dump the thing in the trash when he got out of the car. His hand halted in midair. He was not ready for that.

Instead, he pulled out the contents, admiring the photo at the top of the pile.

“Taka.” As he breathed her name, an evening wind stirred the forms, newspaper clipping and the photo. He set the latter in his lap and placed everything else back inside the folder.

He gripped the picture in one hand and traced the left edge of it with his thumb. The photo ran in the Times the day after the crash, on the morning of the Democratic primary. A copy had appeared on the newspaper’s website also. It showed four people. He rummaged for the article containing the original image and re-read the headline.

“Oakland mogul Lei Chang hosts major fundraiser for Democratic gubernatorial candidate.” He scanned the first few lines of the article preceding the picture, words he had never bothered about reading beforehand.

“On the eve of the Democratic primary on June 2, Lei Chang, the Chief Executive Officer of Chang Industries Limited gave a generous contribution…”

Kevin shook his head, wondering how Lei Chang had felt on June 3, when he learned that his contribution of ten million dollars did not help his candidate secure the Democratic nomination. Both men had attended the same schools together, served on the same boards at overlapping times. Based on what Kevin had discovered about Mr. Chang through a paralegal at Carter-Chase, he doubted whether the man would even miss the money. Not only did Chang remain in sole control of the company he had founded in China thirty years ago, he was also a long-standing board member of two leading airlines.

Chang often appeared on lists of the richest people in America, but he kept a tight lid on most information about himself, including details of his million-dollar assets. Kevin had called on other resources among his mother’s media contacts just to determine how much Chang had donated to his friend’s campaign.

Kevin’s gaze returned to the photo he had printed. The four people in the image were all smiles, no hint of fear about the outcome of the next day. Lei Chang was on the left, in a tailored, buttoned-up gray suit. A silver Rolex flashed at his wrist. He wore his graying hair parted on the left. It fell around his ears. He and the woman next to him were short. His face was round and flat, with a button nose, which was red at the tip. The double creases etched around his sunken eyes belied the warm smile and brightness of his gaze.

Next to him, his plump wife Sachiko stood in a sleeveless, silver-blue silk gown that flared out from wide hips. A scarf of the same material draped her sloping shoulders. She wore her hair in a tidy chignon. Diamonds dangled from her earlobes and around her wrists, while a large sapphire glittered next to her gold wedding band. The former gubernatorial candidate framed the shot on her right.

Kevin’s attention diverted from him to Taka, who stood taller than the rest of them, her head and shoulders a few inches above her mother’s own. Instead of the black dress that had clung to her every curve and showed off those incredible legs during the accident, a blue jacket covered her narrow shoulders. Someone had tamed that unruly bob, as well. She wore red lipstick instead of the bare, pink kissable lips he had seen earlier that day. A mockery of a smile twitched on her lips.

The half-lidded eyes gave away her boredom. No emotion reflected from their depths, or at least none of the passion she had displayed on the highway at the accident scene. He felt certain she would have preferred to be somewhere else than in front of the camera, perhaps not even at the fundraiser. Despite her blank expression, he couldn’t help the stirrings of desire. Damn if she wasn’t beautiful.

His gaze drifted to Mrs. Chang again. Taka resembled her mother instead of the father. Why was he obsessing over her like this? It’s not as if they were on a date. He had other reasons for meeting her at Los Palmas.

The claims adjuster from Kevin’s car insurance company had contacted everyone, including the police officers and two witnesses they had detained at the scene for corroboration. Since Kevin and Taka had alleged that each person bore partial responsibility for the accident, Kevin insisted they talk about it. Her easy acquiescence at the end of the phone call still surprised him.

He read the caption below the photo in the Times aloud. “Oakland-based Lei Chang, CEO of Chang Industries Limited with his wife, internationally-renowned soprano Sachiko Nishimura, their daughter…hell, they didn’t even bother to find out the daughter’s name? What’s up with that?”

A blaring car horn followed by an exchange of curses jarred his concentration. The photo and clipping slipped from his grasp. He retrieved them and returned everything to the manila folder.

“Hurry up and pay, lady! I’m trying to park here.”

Curious about the source of the commotion, Kevin unbuckled his seatbelt, took the keys out of the ignition and turned in the driver’s seat.

At the entrance to the parking lot, the driver honked at the red cab idling in front of him. A thin woman extended a hand through the driver’s side window of the cab, with her narrow butt sticking out, as well as her middle finger, which she directed at the Jeep.

Kevin chuckled. Even after six weeks, he would have recognized her skinny ass and lean legs anywhere. He had not noticed the slight dimples at the backs of her knees until now.

Taka pulled away from the cab and glared at the Jeep’s driver. Even at a distance, her stare flickered like the tip of a burning cigarette. “Feel better now, asshole? Like, seriously, learn some patience and manners next time, fucker!”

Kevin’s belly rumbled with laughter. She dared lecture the poor Jeep driver about proper decorum while she cursed at him across a crowded parking lot. That mouth, another unmistakable trademark. How had a nondescript business executive and a demure opera star produced this little fireball? She was a total misfit.

As she picked her way around other cars, he admired the beauty of her long-legged stride. The untidy black mop atop her head made an appearance again, except this time it had a slight curl from some hair mousse or the shower. The A-line, pinstriped skirt fitted her just above her knees, paired with a white, button-down shirt with three-quarter sleeves. With a leather clutch in her hand and open-toed mules on her feet, she shuffled through the parking lot. Her cheeks glowed with vitality and a pretty blush, with a smear of pink lipstick across her mouth.

He didn’t expect this side of her. She was upbeat and vibrant, but still sexy as hell. Thin eyebrows arched like half moons. Heavy mascara made her wide stare exotic and arresting.

When her eyes alighted on him, she drew to a halt on the walkway that led to the restaurant. He shoved the manila folder beneath the seat and opened the car door. He cursed when he remembered the steering wheel lock.

She clasped the handbag in both hands and stood silent. Their gazes locked, even as he closed the collar one more time. It would have looked suspicious to anyone if he buttoned it up to the top. The temperature hovered in the upper eighties.

He locked the car, tucked his keys into his pocket and approached her. “Thank you for agreeing to meet with me, Ms. Chang.”

She looked past him at the vehicle and whistled. “Whoa! Nice car. I see Daddy came through again. Lucky you.”

“My father’s not around to buy me anything. The Senior Golf Open happened today. He’s still in Pacific Palisades, as far as I know.”

“Uh-huh.” She kept eyeing the car. “This shit’s even nicer than the BMW.”

His jaw clenched but he ignored the baited comment. “This is a nice place you suggested, my mother’s dined here before. She said the food was good, so I hope we’ll enjoy it, too.”

She eyed him with an upraised eyebrow. “I work here. My shift starts at seven thirty.”

He jerked a glance at his watch and sputtered, “It’s six forty-three! I thought we were having dinner.”

She responded with a half-hearted shrug.

He threw his hands in the air. “Why did you tell me about this place if you only intended to give me thirty minutes of your time?”

Despite the frustration roiling in his gut and his muddied thoughts, his voice dropped. What an idiot! He had blundered straight into another mess with her, but he had made this one. He couldn’t blame her, although he wanted to make the whole fiasco her fault. How had he misunderstood? How could he have just assumed they would have dinner tonight? She probably thought he was a total spaz.

He ducked his head, certain a blush crept across his cheeks. It didn’t help that she stared at him without saying a word. He shuffled on his feet, wanting to sink sandal first into the pavement or backpedal to his car without another word. He tugged at the collar again. It felt hot and oppressive around his neck.

A howling snort escaped her. She shook her head and strolled past him. “Not my flipping fault if you heard what you wanted to hear. I never said we’d have dinner, but you can eat here, if you want and wait for me until the end of my shift, guy.”

“My name is Kevin. Don’t act like you don’t know it.”

“Uh-huh.” The near whisper drifted over her shoulder.

He followed her up the three terracotta steps outside the restaurant. “What time’s your shift over?”

“We stop seating at eleven-thirty, so maybe I’ll knock off around one o’clock.”

“In the morning? What the hell?” He covered his face with his hands.

Her snigger frazzled him. He glared at her obvious enjoyment of his confusion.

She held the door ajar with a manicured hand, the nails short and trimmed. “What, I’m not worth the wait? The way you were looking at me when you got out of the car, I could have sworn you thought otherwise.”

Her eyes sparkled with teasing mischief. He stared, entranced. She had been beautiful before, but now with her pink cheeks and that delectable mouth curved in a smirk, she bewitched him.

“That remains to be seen, Ms. Chang.”

Her smirk widened into a full-blown grin. “It’s Taka. I’m sure you remember that, Kevin. You might want to close your collar again. The hickey’s like, showing. Want all of downtown L.A. to guess how your night went?”

With a wink, she entered the restaurant. He raked a hand through his hair, adjusted the shirt collar for the last time and followed her inside.

Time flies when you're having fun, or writing novels.

It's been a tremendous twelve months. A new job and health issues have impacted my writing time, but I'm still at it, trying to wrap...