Monday, January 27, 2014

Goals, Plans and Flying By the Seat of My Pants

If you look up Hearts Unfold on Amazon, you'll see the publication date of January 15, 2012.   You might get the impression that was the date I launched my publishing career, that I had chosen after careful and lengthy consideration to take the self-publishing route, having exhausted all  others.  You might even assume  I had a plan involving subsequent books tied to this one, a schedule with strategically scheduled release dates, even a projected budget for advertising and promotional expenses.  Looking back from here, all those things would have made sense, if I'd had the advantage of hindsight. Fact is, I had no idea what I was doing beyond setting up an account on Amazon, preparing a manuscript, putting together a frankly awful cover and hitting "Publish." My only goal was to see "what happened" next.

Never in my wildest imaginings (and trust me, those are pretty wild at times) did I foresee all that would happen in the next two years.  I certainly never set out to write a four book series and throw in a fun little holiday spin-off. The thought of writing a book like Shannon's Daughter never crossed my mind.  I really just wanted to put something I'd written out there, where someone might see it, read it, and tell me what they thought.  And I only wanted that after my husband spent months convincing me there was nothing to lose by doing so.  Up until then, I'd been writing for me, because I'd always thought I would, and because the time had come to prove I could. Write, that is.  I'd given up the dream of being published, of having a career as a writer, before I reached thirty. At nearly sixty, I just wanted to get some of the buildup of characters and plots and images out of my head and onto paper.  For fun, not for profit, to prove something to myself, not to the world. 

Looking back, this has been a really intense roller-coaster ride, the kind I always bypass in real amusement parks.  From elation to despair, from determination to frustration, from gratitude to disillusion, over and over again.  I've sometimes felt I waited too late, that only the young and strong should wade into this fray.  There are so many elements of this business I don't understand, or even want to, frankly.  And yet, when I look back over the past two years, I take satisfaction in having hung in there.  I have no regrets and actually feel a modest sense of pride when I see "what's happened" since I hit "Publish" that first time.

I never envisioned the wonderful people I'd meet without ever leaving my desk--the readers, of course, but also other writers, friends who might never read my books but whole-heartedly support my effort nonetheless.  I never expected to earn meaningful sums of money each month, or join forces with an inspiring publisher. Even this blog is something I came to late and without expectation, and was astonished to find that people were reading it! Stepping out on faith is something I've done many times, but never with such wide-reaching results. From my quiet little corner, I've connected with a community of like-minded friends just down the road and all over the world.

So here I am, in January of 2014, gazing back over the uncharted journey so far with nothing but gratitude. Would I do it this way again?  I think so.  Going forward with little beyond anticipation and hope has always worked for me. I think I'd rather be surprised by the unexpected than disappointed when things don't go according to plan.  Would I recommend that everyone try it my way?  Oh, no!  I admire anyone who can plot their course and move forward with discipline and deliberation.  I would never advise anyone to fly by the seat of their pants as I have so many times through the years.  But I would advise them to pursue their dream, by whatever route feels right to them.  I waited a long time to go after mine, but I know now that if I had not, I would have missed out on the greatest adventure of my life so far.

Check back in another year or so.  Wonder where we'll be by then?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

My mother always told me. . .

My mother was one to repeat little nuggets of wisdom with some regularity.  They were consistently gentle, positive and encouraging.  One of her favorites was "It won't stop a flying horse." This I understood to mean no matter how difficult, the problem was not insurmountable.  She proved this little morsel to be true on more than one occasion and I use it often myself. 
But the one I want to address here, briefly, because I have some surmounting to do myself this morning, is the simple adage, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."
In this day of open forums and anonymous commentary--yes, I'm talking about FB, blogging, buyer reviews and every other venue in which an individual can express their personal opinion on any given subject on any given day--it seems carefully thought out comments have given way to the more popular and sensational rant. 
I'm a writer, or on most days now I consider myself such. I value the opinions of those who chose to read my work.  I realize my books are not going to appeal to everyone equally.  I fully expect to receive my share of less than glowing (but I would hope constructively critical) reviews. And I know full well I'm just kidding myself.  Somewhere out there, someone is going to read something I've poured my heart and soul into and point out in excruciating detail just how much they did not enjoy it.  If I'm lucky, they'll be short and to the point.  If not, if they're having a particularly bad day and have a penchant for wordy prose, they're going to pour it on.  I haven't received any of these yet, but I've seen reviews where the nameless, faceless reviewer lashed out at everything from the plot and characters in the book they failed to finish, to the author's lack of sensitivity and honesty in dealing with his or her subject, to declaring that paying nothing at all for said book was still highway robbery.  Some seek to personally insult the writer, just as they might derive satisfaction from lashing out an innocent sales clerk or airline ticket agent, as if by doing so, the disagreeable experience will be made any less so.
Nasty negative reviews don't impress anyone, with the possible exception of the reviewer.  If you derive pleasure from telling off the checker at Walmart because you had to wait in line longer then you wanted to, if you enjoy complaining about the price of your burger to the person who takes your money through the drive-thru window at McDonald's, if you habitually put up denigrating political comments on FB, regardless of their basis in fact, then you probably get a chuckle from leaving a review labeled, "Not worth your money" or "Don't waste your time." And that's your privilege in our open society.  Just don't imagine you're destroying the creativity of the writer or their chance to reach other readers. 
There was another little nugget my mother used to offer that applies here.  "Consider the source."  We never know what someone is dealing with, what might have gone wrong, or what may have influenced their opinion at any given time.  Maybe that irritable customer has a painful bunion, or really wanted a steak but couldn't afford it.  Maybe they never had a sweet, gentle mother to teach them that it's always better to build up than to tear down.  Maybe they're just not very happy people.  We provide any number places for them to express their unhappiness, so we can hardly take offence when they do.  Just consider the source and try to say something nice in response.  Or just say nothing at all.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Shannon's Daughter--FREE Already!

In the past, I've held out for several months after releasing a new title before offering the Kindle version free.  Oddly enough, I'm champing at the bit to give away this particular book. I'm anxious to have you read it, and give me an idea of how you like (I hope!) it.  Everything about this book is different from the others I've written, so why not change things up here too? 
So. . .(drumroll, please) beginning Sunday, January 19, Shannon's Daughter will be FREE for Kindle.  You'll have three whole days to download your copy before it goes back to full price.  I really hope you'll take time to read it, not let it sink to the bottom of your huge list of one-click freebies.  (Hey, I'm a Kindle owner too!  I know how this works.) And I hope you'll leave a review, honest but gentle, if you're so inclined.  If you follow this blog, you already know my insecurities around this book.  I like it, but I have no clue how readers, especially those of the Miracle at Valley Rise books, will feel about it.  Maybe some of you can help me out with that?  Thanks!  I knew I could count on  you!

The last thing he expected to find in Ireland that summer was the inspiration to go on with his life, and certainly not in the form of an adolescent heiress. 

New York socialite Peg Shannon has everything—wealth, position, beauty and limitless prospects for happiness.  Or so the world believes. 
Aspiring London violinist Kendall Gregg is talented, handsome and charming.  While hardly well-to-do, he has connections and ambition which should take him far.  Or so it appears.

Thrown together briefly by a twist of fate, Kendall quickly becomes young Peg’s hero, while Peg proves to be Kendall’s unlikely salvation.  Through the decades, their deepening passion and shared secrets forge an enduring bond, destining them for a love affair that comes but once in a lifetime.

Set in the mid-twentieth century, Shannon’s Daughter chronicles the complex relationship between two people constrained by family responsibility and a tragic secret, while delving into the history of one of the most intriguing characters in the Miracle at Valley Rise series.   

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Silence is Golden

No, I haven't abandoned this blog. I just haven't had anything to say in the past almost two weeks. I'm sure it has something to do with the new project I've started,  not to mention what life has been doling out since the year began.

First, the project--another book, of course. I've debated for months about this one.  When I came to the end of Offered for Love, I wasn't sure I was done with the story.  The book was certainly long enough.  The final scenes seemed a good place to wrap up that chapter of Emily and Stani's story, and the epilogue had been written some time earlier. While I could have just gone on and on with numerous plots involving the ever-growing cast of characters, I chose to end there for one very good reason.  Going forward would lead me to a place I felt unprepared to venture.  There was more to the story, but I needed to wait, to listen and probably to heal a little more before proceeding.

So I wrote Shannon's Daughter, a book I've been wanting to take a run at for some time.  It was a challenge I enjoyed, despite periods of frustration and self-doubt. It was a growing experience, a test I needed to pass for myself. Done. Published. Verdict still out, but no matter the response to this one, I'm glad I wrote it.

Now it's time to go back, or forward, depending on your perspective, I guess.  The epilogue of Offered for Love alludes to Emily's recovery following a coma.  In my head, I knew the details of that journey.  I'd unintentionally done the research--far more in-depth research than for any other of my projects.  You see, I made a very similar journey with my daughter ten years ago.  When I asked her permission to take this route, making sure she knew this was a fictional account and not a veiled retelling of her story, she agreed that the knowledge we gained then should be put to use.  I'm finding that's easier said than done.

Every writer draws on their own experience, but the closer I get to the reality of my life or that of those I love, the more my emotions get in the way of the writing.  It's difficult to distance myself, to allow my characters to express their response without overshadowing it with mine. I know how I felt in a given situation, but that's not necessarily the way Stani, or Lil, or Peg would react.  Stepping back far enough to observe them is essential.  And hard.  Really hard.

So I'm writing quietly, trying to keep my voice out of the dialogue and listening to what they have to say.  In this case, silence is not only golden, it's essential.  My experience may inform the story, but my characters have the right to react in their own way, remaining true to themselves.  After all this time with these people, I respect and admire them as if they were real.  I owe it to them to let them tell you this story, their story, not mine.  It may take some time.  I hope it will be worth the effort, and the wait.

As to that other thing, life.  I won't elaborate here, that's probably a post or two in itself.  Suffice it to say that in the past ten days, I've learned of the passing of two people who had a tremendous influence on me at various times in my life.  I feel a bit as though I've run full tilt into not one but two stone walls, breathless and bruised.  Not particularly conducive  to creativity. A few days to adjust to the fact that our time together in this life is over, to revisit some good and not so good times, and I'll get back to the business at hand--living and writing--and loving it.