I'm most recently a writer. In the six plus decades of my life, I've been a wife, mother, grandmother, Jill of all trades though mistress of but a few, and most of the time pretty content with my lot. As a much younger person, I believed I was called to write, but life and living distracted me for most of those decades. An unwilling transplant from the South, twenty years ago I unintentionally landed in the geographical center of the US. Writing came about in part due to the unwillingness, I expect. When caring for family, gardening, and renovating a century-old house failed to provide sufficient creative outlets, I turned to the one thing I always intended to do. Eight titles later, I'm grateful I found myself while Lost in the Plains!
Monday, April 29, 2013
And then I remember that only a short time ago, no one, not one single soul, had ever read a word I'd written. As recently as last October, Stani and Emily's love story had never ignited anyone's imagination and Valley Rise was unheard of. While my readers may still be a somewhat select group, their ranks are growing each month. As I've said before here, I've given away several thousand copies of Hearts Unfold to date, which is exciting in a perverse sort of way. (I mean, no writer, not even a closeted one, ever spent grueling months at the keyboard with the intention of just giving her books away!) But the fact is, Entreat Me Not, the second book in the series, is my best and most consistent seller. And there is only one reason for anyone to buy it--they finished their free copy of Hearts Unfold and wanted more! There's the thrill, the prize, the reward for my efforts and the thing that keeps my spirits up regardless of the total at the bottom of the column.
There's one more thing that's happening with increasing regularity and believe me, it's the biggest thriller of all. Every so often, when I open up my sales report page on KDP, all the numbers (except for Hearts Unfold) have increased by one. When I check the ranking of each book--that's the number that reflects it's position in the Kindle Book Store--each of them changes in the same hour. This can only mean one thing--somewhere, someone finished reading Hearts Unfold and decided to download all of the other titles! I squeal, I bounce in my desk chair, I pump the air with a "Yes!" and I tell the first person I see, which is usually my husband/editor or my son/cover designer and we do a little mental happy dance around the room.
So what if I'm not a "Bestselling Author" or making enough money to quit my day job (which I probably wouldn't do anyway, because I like my job) or even pulling in a lot of reviews? For a woman who never planned for anyone to read her "scribbles," the knowledge that someone enjoyed the story enough to come back for more is about as good as it gets. Would I like to sell more? You bet! Do I constantly look for ways to promote the books and reach more readers? Oh yes! Do I worry that the numbers will go down instead of up and one day soon dry up completely? I'm afraid so. But at the end of each month, I'm so grateful for every one of those sales, for each one of those readers and for the possibility of reaching more in the month to come, that the numbers don't really matter. What matters is that out there somewhere, for a few hours, someone traveled to a place that doesn't exist, spent time with people who never lived and found something to enjoy in the process. That's what books do, after all, and that's what those of us who try to write them dream of accomplishing.
Thursday, April 25, 2013
This is one time when Websters really disappoints me. Surviving in my opinion and experience goes far beyond this definition. We're all survivors of something; most of us, of many things. If nothing else, according to this definition, we survived childhood, high school, and first love. We survived learning to drive, college dorms, and loosing out on our first run at our dream job. Parents can lay claim to surviving years of sleepless nights, first days of school and another round of high school and first love, often in multiples. Those of us with a few decades under our belts have survived recessions, wars, political scandals and the nightly news. We've gone from transistor radios to u-tube, dime novels to ebooks, and airmail to email, and we've learned to use Facebook and write blogs, sharing our lives with complete strangers who it turns out have survived many of the same things we have.
All that said, I count my personal survival as a series of tests and blessings which now define who I am and how I try to live my life. Talk to anyone who has endured any sort of hardship or heartache, listen to those brave enough to describe their rise from the ashes of disastrous relationships, life-changing illness or devastating loss, and you know that they not only outlasted their trials by fire, they surmounted and conquered and went on to inspire others. It's not enough to say we survived. We learned, we grew and we stand as beacons, guiding lights for others who will do the same.
Survival is rarely pretty. There are scars, be they battle or surgical or invisible, which never completely fade. There are empty places at the table and in our hearts, gaping holes reminding us of our losses. There are anniversaries, dates on the calendar which attest to another year of survival, but also bring the memories briefly into painful focus. Not pretty perhaps, not quite the way we thought our lives would look by this time, but a beautiful testimony to what we've done with what came our way instead.
I invite you to share your thoughts on survival, be it your own or that of someone who has inspired you. Maybe you're currently on the road to survival, still in that one foot in front of the other mode, unsure of just where you'll end up. Tell someone about your journey and you're likely to hear an encouraging word from a fellow traveler. If you would, leave a comment here for someone who may need to see it. The one gift we all have to give is the assurance that if we have survived, they can too.
Monday, April 22, 2013
Now before you decide I'm off on some kind of ego trip and fancy my sad little signature something special, let me explain. When I first started selling books locally, I was skeptical when someone suggested I should do a book signing. First of all, I'm nobody famous. I'm not even someone who wants to be famous. Secondly, my handwriting is really awful! So what would be the benefit of having me mark up the title page of your perfectly good book? Well, after a lot of arm-twisting, I got over it. Now, if you buy a copy of one my books from the stock I carry in the trunk of my car, I'll even ask you how you want it signed. My handwriting hasn't improved, but no one's complained so far.
Not long ago, a reader emailed me asking if she could ship me her copy of one of my books so I could autograph it for her. She'd given me so much encouragement from the beginning of this venture, of course I was thrilled that she even thought to ask me. Then she promised not to sell it on ebay when I was famous, which took me from humility to hilarity. I love my readers for believing in me as a writer when I still can't really believe I am a writer. I wish I could meet all of them and tell them face to face how much their support means to me.
Unfortunately, I live in the middle of the country, far from major cities where there might be more opportunities to do signings. My family responsibilities prohibit me from traveling much, so there's little likelihood of ever making my fantasy book tour. It seems the only way I'll meet my readers is through the wonder of the Internet. So why not use that connection to do a signing? I'm so eager to hear from anyone who'd like a signed copy, I'll even reduce the price!
Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on Facebook at Author Karen Welch and we'll work out the details. I'm told signed books make unique gifts, and Mother's Day is coming up. Or just make up an occasion to give a special friend something they can't get anywhere else. Or here's an idea, treat yourself to a copy, just because you want to! I look forward to hearing from you!
Friday, April 19, 2013
What stuns me is how much back story this man keeps revealing. For a character who was nothing but a name pulled out of thin air a year ago, he brings a mother load of fascinating details to the page. No spoiler intended, he's suffered the premature death of his father, been the focus of an overly dependent mother, lost out tragically at first love, and struggled to be fully appreciated for his musical gift. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Kendall has shouldered all this with grace, accepting his fate without rebellion or bitterness. In short, he's the kind of man a woman would naturally turn to for support and comfort, because he understands what it is to be vulnerable and wounded. That, along with his drop-dead good looks and his impeccable British manners, of course.
When Kendall first meets Peg Shannon, she's only twelve years old, but even then they are drawn to each other. Fast forward six years, and when the two meet again, sparks immediately fly. Kendall, intrigued by the adolescent Peg's spirit and charm, is swept off his feet by the more mature version, and Peg--well even at twelve, Peg could appreciate how "yummy" Kendall was. She's more than ready to enjoy his undivided attention at eighteen.
But Kendall is more than just a handsome face. While the sexual tension is high, these two have more in common than desire. It's through their discovery of one another, both physical and psychological, that their stories emerge. There, if I do my job properly, you the reader will come to understand what motivates and manipulates each of them and hopefully come to care what happens to them. As I learn more and more about Kendall, I think you're going to love him as much as I do, and perhaps at times want to rescue from himself.
I'm at the point in the story when he's about to at least come into his own musically. His big break is right around the corner, but first he's going to touch Peg's heart with a piece of music which has deep and tragic significance for him. And when Peg's heart is touched, her passion is never far behind. So cue the music, I'm back to work!
Monday, April 15, 2013
The quote above is actually a translation of a line from the Tao Te Ching. You can check with Wikipedia for more details. This morning the song was on my FB and when I listened to it, this line struck me as fitting perfectly with my thoughts today.
As you know, if you've been here before, I'm neither young nor inexperienced. I sometimes feel I've lived several lives in my six decades and each of them was jam-packed with lessons I was required to learn the hard way. (No, don't go! This is not a pity-post!) The most important of those lessons has to be that for all I've seen and heard, for every type of personality I've encountered and every sort of joy and tragedy I've observed up close or from a distance, today I will be given the chance to learn more.
I've been heard to say many times "This is another of those things I now know more about than I ever thought I'd need to." I'm the kind of person who likes to filter information. Just tell me the practical bits that I can use to make a difference in this situation, and leave out the "interesting" details. I don't like to be weighed down by the stuff that "could happen" unless it actually does. That said, I'm aware that forewarned is forearmed. Don't keep anything from me. I'll decide how to sort it--easiest to handle, longer to absorb and I'll look at it later if I really have to.
I won't go into detail here now, mostly because I haven't quite decided how much of this story to share on this blog, but I will tell you that nine years ago, my then thirty-year-old daughter, Kit, underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor. The surgery went well, but subsequent swelling caused significant damage. What followed was a crash course in speech loss, short-term memory deficiency and uncontrolled seizures. Nine years later, we're still learning. While Kit now speaks normally, she often searches for words, which we've learned to automatically supply in a kind of continuous game of Password. Her short-term memory issues and seizures are ongoing challenges and most likely always will be. With all that, she and her family enjoy a busy, productive life and as her mother, I am awed by how we've all adjusted to the situation over the years.
I've learned so much through this experience. And I'm still learning. External lessons involving procedures, drugs and devices used in the attempt to control seizures. The intricacies of the brain's communication and storage systems, and their refusal to be manipulated beyond a certain point. The vagaries of memory. Internal lessons about my own patience, acceptance and limitations. Joyous lessons about support, community and the overwhelming rewards of faith. And without a doubt the most profound lesson of all, the infinite resiliency of the human spirit.
If I have a message here, it is that for all we learn, there will always be more. Even when the lessons are tough and we go unwillingly to them, we can and must keep learning. We were designed to adapt, to grow and to become the best we can be. That's both the journey and the reward.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
This photograph is of my flower garden, sadly in need of my attention at the moment, but going on with its Spring show nonetheless. I wanted to capture the little redbud in the foreground while in bloom to illustrate my point.
Twenty-three years ago I selected from among a litter of adorable Dachshund pups the tiniest and most vivacious female of the lot. Six months earlier I had lost the dearest little friend I'd ever known, and after grieving for a time, I knew I was ready to love again. The pup, whose name turned out to be Greta, was with us for seventeen years, gave us countless hours of joy and not a few priceless stories to tell. When she left us, I buried her in my flower bed, just behind a birdbath which once belonged to another treasured friend who had much the same joie de vivre and left behind his own treasure trove of memorable tales. (But he deserves a blog post all his own!) Needless to say, I felt this a fine place to lay my little dog to rest without any further marker.
The following spring, in that very spot, the heart shaped leaves of a redbud shoot appeared. My relationship with redbuds is a long one, dating back to a fine specimen in my grandmother's garden beneath which I spent many hours playing with my dolls and serving them dishes concocted from the tree's seed pods, served on heart-shaped leaf platters. So the appearance of this redbud seemed a personalized gift of nature, if only for that reason. That it had sprouted from Greta's grave lent the gift a sweetly spiritual significance as well.
The tree has grown in such a perfect shape, without any help from me. Each year when it blooms, I feel as though Greta has brought me a bouquet, wearing that funny little doggy smile she often sported and wagging her tale at full throttle. The shade from the tree in summer is now sufficient to cool the little porch nearby and has changed my "all sun" flowerbed to one of greater variety. The Greta Tree, as we all call it, is a source of beauty and comfort, a reminder of the kind of gift only a dog can be in the life of her owner. I hope the tree will bring pleasure to those who come behind me, even though they may not know its origin. I also hope this little post encourages its readers to look around and enjoy the simple gifts which bless their lives. In an increasingly complex and confusing world, we can still afford a moment to stop and savor the treasures which appear for no apparent reason other than to make us smile.
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
J.D. Haynes is a purely fictional character, although I admit he bears a resemblance to several of the truly good men I've been privileged to know. His words, however, are completely unique to him. When I first saw them on my computer screen, I thought surely they must be some quotation I'd learned way back in English Lit, but a Google search produced no such quote. I'm sure they must have been inspired by something I heard somewhere in the dim past, but until I learn otherwise, these wise words will be attributed to former University of Virginia professor J. D. Haynes of Valley Rise Farm.
We never really meet J.D. Haynes. By the time Hearts Unfold begins, he's been confined to a nursing home following a devastating stroke. But we learn about him through the eyes of those who knew and loved him. His influence is felt through his daughter Emily, and his wise words lay the foundation for many of her choices. In my head, I picture J.D. as a true Southern gentleman, a soft-spoken, scholarly man who had unexpectedly found true love in middle age and taken a bold step into a new life, one that led him to not only joy and discovery, but terrible suffering as well. That he had taught his daughter the importance of daring to risk failure and learn from the experience said a lot to me about his faith and spirit.
J.D. came from a family of adventurers, Englishmen who came to Virginia much as my ancestors did, willing to risk all for a different life in a new world. He did not hesitate to start his life over, to leave the familiar for the challenges of the unknown, when he married and moved to a rundown farm without any preparation for either marriage or farming. In that respect I can identify with J.D. because I've taken the same kind of leap, moving hundreds of miles from home (several homes, in fact) and reinventing myself to fit the opportunities in a new place. It becomes less terrifying with each move, and had I hesitated too long, I know the opportunities might have been missed.
I have to make the obvious connection to the book I'm working on now. There's real risk in taking a turn away from the familiar. What if my faithful readers don't like this one, what if it's not inspirational enough, or clean enough, or romantic enough? There are times when I feel my writing is being inhibited by these possibilities, and I have to stop and give myself a little lecture on the nature of risk. J.D was right. Failure will be in the hesitation. If I hold back, if I allow the work to be influenced by what someone might like or dislike, the book will never get written, not in the way it would if I stay true to the story it wants to tell. Risk involves letting go, having faith and being willing to accept the results while never taking the risk guarantees failure. If you don't start running, you'll certainly never finish the race.
There is always some logical motivation for risk, as least in my experience--monetary need, wanderlust, or the irresistible allure of a challenge. The payoff of success, a better life, new friends or finding a talent you never believed you had make risk worth considering. No one likes to fail, but what does not kill us makes us stronger, right?
Last night I went to bed wondering if I might be out of my element with this book. This morning, after reading over yesterday's work, I decided I may not be after all. It's worth the risk, the time and the effort to find out. I was reminded of J.D. words. I think I'll tape them to the wall by my desk, because I'm pretty sure I'll need to be reminded again, and again, and again, before Shannon's Daughter is done with me.
Sunday, April 7, 2013
We've all been there, that place that fractures our focus and foils our efforts. As surely as a goal is set or a deadline looms, the universe conspires to thwart our best-laid plans. Some of us have a gift for tuning out, others have the option of privacy, but for most of us, distractions just plain distract us.
This weekend is a perfect case in point. My husband sings with a wonderful choral group in a town about an hour south of our home. Once a week during the school year, I enjoy a little getaway for browsing or even shopping, or just sitting somewhere reading for the two hours he rehearses. For the three or four weekend concerts each year, we treat ourselves to a hotel getaway from home renovations, geriatric dogs and the general demands of our everyday lives. I always anticipate putting in some quality writing time, and this weekend should have been no exception. Should have been, she said.
First of all, I was tired, sleep deprived even, so sitting in a warm car with my laptop on Saturday morning was merely an invitation to nap. Bleary-eyed and cotton-mouthed, I stared at the steady stream of typos and weird phrasing until at last I gave up and stumbled into the mall in search of caffeine. Hours lost, failure acknowledged.
After lunch and check in, I left John watching basketball and sought the sweet solitude of the hotel's business center. I've really rocked out some pages in that cubicle in the past, and I was looking forward to more of the same. Right. The temperature was close to that of the average hospital surgical ward. My muscles contracting and my joints aching, I gave up after an hour, when the chattering of my teeth drowned out the words in my head.
I next tried the lobby, where it was at least warmer and a hot cup of coffee jolted me awake. There, however, I found another annoying element. Too much light. Do you know how distracting it can be when the screen of your computer sends back a glaring reflection of your pathetically exhausted face, resplendent with every wrinkle and sagging jowl magnified to horrifying clarity? I cannot write about beautiful young people making love with their eyes when my eyes are constantly going to a cavernous line in my upper lip I've never noticed before!
After dinner, I did finally put in a productive two hours. It felt good to at least get that much done, but the other six hours I'd hoped for are gone forever. Maybe the words weren't really there to begin with. Maybe later they'll come with the ease and speed I expected yesterday. Or maybe, as I'm beginning to accept, this book is not only different in subject but a different writing experience altogether. Either way, Shannon's Daughter has reached roughly 47,000 hard-fought words and I'll go home tonight determined to keep up the fight. Maybe after two hours of the gloriously romantic music of Lerner and Loewe, a trip to Camelot and My Fair Lady's London, I'll be inspired to new heights. And maybe, with a little bit of luck, I'll get some sleep and give myself a facial. Heaven knows I need both!
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Let me tell you a little story about the evolution of my covers. It's not pretty, but I'm probably not the first to survive this kind of journey, judging by the frequent posts on the KDP forums titled "Please take a look at my cover. Honest opinions welcome!" or my all-time favorite, "Does my cover really suck?" Indy authors have several choices, none of them ideal--design their own cover art (bad idea unless you happen to be an artist), hire a professional graphic designer (which many of us cannot afford) or purchase a stock cover which may or may not depict anything remotely resembling your characters or story but is at least eye-catching (naked male torsos and/or long-legged women seem to be considered sure bets for these relatively inexpensive covers).
Hearts Unfold --was quite honestly a learning experience and a bit of a disaster. It went through several revisions but still said nothing about the story and was frankly ugly. I liked the image of the farmhouse, however, and we decided to use it as a faded background on the back of the paperbacks, which I think is just the place for it to live out its usefulness. We were better prepared for the next cover--for the first edition of Heart of My Own Heart--and I loved what my son put together, especially the sign he drew for Valley Rise Farm. I was much happier with this cover, but not so happy that I wasn't willing to throw it under the bus when something better came along. That sign, by the way, graces the back of Christmas at Valley Rise.
Last summer, when I separated Hearts Unfold into two volumes and decided I had a series going, I knew I needed to find covers that said more about the characters and the story and most of all screamed series on sight. I could visualize exactly the sort of thing I wanted, but I had no clue how to get it. Hours and hours of eye-strain later, I found my perfect couple in a royalty-free shot online. Now bear in mind, I would recognize Stani and Emily blindfolded in the dark. They live and move in my head down to the last freckle and eyelash. So when I started searching, I was sure I'd never find them and certainly not together in one picture. Imagine my shock when late one night, bleary-eyed and disillusioned after staring at the wrong faces, wrong hair, wrong expressions and not enough clothes on hundreds of models, there they were! Triumphant, I paid my hard-earned dollars for that image of two sweet young lovers and moved on to Step Two. I needed four pictures depicting scenes at least reminiscent of the Blue Ridge. The search was not as lengthy and the results not quite as costly. Images in hand, or in a file on my computer, I turned to my son for the actual designs.
Now understand our process has developed over time, like everything in this endeavor. I've learned the best results are achieved when I hover over his shoulder while he works his magic with Photoshop. A hint here, a nudge there, and we eventually end up with something that pleases us both. Unfortunately, my OCD plays a role in this, too. I know he gets annoyed with me at times, but he knows better than to ask me to settle for less than my vision. I'll just come back asking for more of his time later.
It's gotten easier as we've gone along, thank goodness. Last summer, when I was holding three finished manuscripts with no covers, I nearly threw in the towel. No covers, no books, no hope! I suspect I couldn't see the forest for the trees, but there was a bright side to my despair. Brainstorming with my husband, we decided while we were going through so much agony over the covers, there was one more thing to consider--a title for the series other than simply Hearts Unfold. When we decided on something involving the farm--Valley Rise--and what happened there with some regularity, the word miracle kept coming up. I even did a search for the number of times the word appears in the books and in Hearts Unfold alone it shows up over thirty times. The addition of that title at the top of our covers seemed to be the perfect final touch. The Miracle at Valley Rise Series was off and running and we've never looked back.
I love my covers. Maybe they can't compete in a lineup with those naked torsos, but to my eye they say much about the story inside, reflecting the beauty and spirituality of two people deeply in love. You can check them out by going to the Books page above for a closer look. And keep checking in here for a preview of the cover for Shannon's Daughter, coming soon!
Monday, April 1, 2013
Still be my vision, O Ruler of all.--Be Thou My Vision-Ancient Irish poem
I say it's my favorite only because I thoroughly enjoyed meeting so many new characters by the time I got to this part of the story. They seemed to just walk onto the page with such clarity, I couldn't get their descriptions down fast enough! I kept going back to fill in the details, hair, eyes, size and shape, once they'd been introduced. And they were all over the place, from London to the remote backwoods of the Blue Ridge, in New York City and of course, still a gleam in their father's eye. This turned out to be a book about discovery, about growth and lessons to be learned. Much like Stani and Emily's life at this point, things moved far and fast, people came and went, and I was carried along on the ride.
The book covers less than twelve months in the first year of a marriage, during which Stani and Emily go from being newlyweds to parents while enduring the usual tests and challenges involved in adjusting to a shared life. We've all had years like that, when life came at us fast and furious enough to blur the memories and leave us grateful for those relatively uneventful years in between. Writing about such a time is exciting and the work takes on much the same pace. Introducing two very important new characters, turning my lovers into parents, and moving ahead with several secondary story lines kept me on my toes, too. Readers have called it "sweet" and described how they felt they'd become part of this family. I especially enjoyed the children, something I'd never written about. This book makes me smile, much as the thought of my grandchildren can do.
I dedicated Heart of My Own Heart to Mary Ruderhausen because if not for this amazing teacher and friend, I would not have held on to the dream of writing for so long. Mrs. Rudy encouraged me to write when I was barely a teenager, mentoring me all through high school and beyond, when what I had to show her at the time was frankly awful. But she never discouraged any of her students from reaching for the unseen, and she sowed dreams of discovery and adventure in every classroom, sending us out to places far beyond the limits of our safe little world. She said she believed that one day I would be a writer, and through the years I never forgot that, because if someone like Mrs. Rudy saw something in me, although I couldn't at the time, then it was just possible it was really there.
Heart of My Own Heart is available for Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.com. I hope you'll join Emily and Stani as "lives are touched, futures are altered and above all miracles abound."