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Friday, November 21, 2014

Will we get kicked on Route 66 in our '67? -- the backstory

Our original Duchess, East Hampton, circa 1995
A little background: In California shortly after we were married, we needed a second car. Almost as a lark, we called on a Pennysaver ad for a 1967 Jaguar 420 sedan.

Jaguar built the 420 model for only two years -- 1967 and 1968 -- and of that run, only a very small percentage were built for the American (e.g., left hand drive) market. The owner had backed the car into the garage so that the first thing we saw as the garage door rolled open was the car's Rolls Royce-like grille. One look, and we were hooked. We bought the car, named her the Duchess and three years later when we relocated to the end of Long Island, we shipped her out to join us.

For the first four years, we drove the Duchess during the temperate months and garaged her all winter with Chris's employers. Then Chris switched jobs and we lost the winter storage facility. Build a garage at our East Hampton house, or sell the car? Chris's vote, of course, was to build a garage, but neither that nor paying for storage was in the budget. So with great reluctance, we sold the car, assuring each other than someday we'd be in a position to own another classic Jag. (Like when we had a garage.)

Chris has mourned the loss of that car for almost twenty years. And for at least fifteen of them, he's been plugged into search engines, watching to see when other Jag 420s came on the market and tracking sales. Twice, he's been excited enough about a listing to visit a car in person, but found they needed too much work or were mechanically unsound.

And then, in September, he found it...and I knew I would lose any argument against purchasing the car. Because while we still don't have a garage, we do have a winter retreat. And we need a car while there.
Our "new" Dutchess, before her new vanity plates

Enter the Duchess, redux.

She's painted a curious color called Alpine Green (I call it Lederhosen), her cream interior is original and in excellent shape. As is the rest of her. She has only 56,000 original miles on her.

She's about to get 3,000 miles more, because we are driving her cross country to California, where she'll never suffer road salt damage and where we have family who have garages where we can store her when we're not around.

To say Chris is nervous as a cat about driving his baby across the country would understate it.

But I think it will be an adventure, one I plan to blog about as we make our weeklong journey from East Coast to West Coast, watching the weather closely and planning our route accordingly. (This, alas, will NOT be the year we stop for Starbucks in Vail.)

Will we make it intact, without calling AAA or, worse, having to rent a UHaul and tow a flagging Duchess behind?

Watch this space for news....

Monday, October 27, 2014

Killing your darlings...or killing the editor?

From NPR Books:
Whoops, My Dear Watson: Anthony Horowitz, the man behind an upcoming James Bond novel, has a few issues to sort out with Sherlock Holmes first. Sarah Lyall reports in the New York Times that advance reading copies of Horowitz's Sherlock novel Moriarty contain some not-so-subtle clues to his writing process. Notes to his copy editor have been mistakenly left in, littering the text in all-caps — including this frank assessment: "I'M NOT CHANGING THIS."

Knowing how pusillanimously I've proofread the galley copies of each of my books en route to publication, I cringed at the idea of copyediting notes making it to the ARCs when I read NPR Books' recent bulletin. But I laughed out loud at this last line. As a writer, whether you've been published traditionally, used the services of a professional editor, sent your ms to beta readers, been a member of a writer's group or all of the above, you've run up against this declaration. I know I have.

Sure there's the adage, attributed to William Faulkner, to kill your darlings (that sentence you just love every time you reread it? Chances are it's way too precious or self-indulgent. For the greater good of your work, delete it). But sometimes, dammit, that sentence says just exactly what I mean to say and how I mean to say it. In which case, if you're going to tell me to change it, there better be a majority opinion.

This, for better or worse, is a far cry from where I started out. Before and during the writing of A Butler's Life, I was involved in a writer's group. These sage individuals took very seriously their charter to not let one badly-drafted paragraph pass their scrutiny. Each of us read weekly from our WIP, and then accepted the critiques: 

"The first sentence--too long." 
"Um...really, 'pusillanimous?' " 
"Maybe skip the description and just start with the dialogue?" 
"I dunno. I'm just not feeling it." 
And the ever-popular, "What did you say your genre was? Who are you writing for?"

Prior to my attempts to sell the book, I had a preface, an introduction, and three endlessly-picked over and rewritten chapters in hand when I polished my proposal and sent out the package to a handful of agents for comment only. (A Butler's Life is a memoir, and nonfiction is commonly sold on the strength of a proposal.) Freed from the pressure of having to actually accept and sell my book, each was forthright in telling me what wouldn't work, and what would be more readable or salable. 

Problem was, no two opinions were even remotely the same. What one agent liked, another thought superfluous. Yet each new critique I received, I trotted straight over to the computer, opened up a new copy of my manuscript and started pulling it apart. I was hopelessly lost when Chris (the book's subject, by the way) reminded me that the advice, as good as it might or might not be, was still only someone's opinion. The only way I could write and be true to myself was to finish the book as I envisaged it, and then let a professional tell me what should be changed, if anything.

I was listening to too many voices. Until I had my voice down on paper--the work completed to the best of my ability--it was too soon to enlist the help of others, however well meaning.

So I wrote the book I heard in my head, got my feedback, and learned when to say "thank you" and when to say "no." 

Don't misunderstand me; I am far from an expert. I am simply a scribbler who will only improve over time with practice, patience, and good advice. And one of the most valuable lessons I have learned over time is that when someone (especially multiple someones) questions something in your work, you haven't made it clear enough. And I strive to write for clarity, that what I mean is what my readers understand.

Which means, sometimes, having to kill your darlings. 

But occasionally, it also means saying "I AM NOT CHANGING THIS."

(True confession: I save all my dead darlings in a file to be resurrected in another work if warranted. What do you do?)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The benefit of reading "actual books"

In the ongoing debate -- paper or ebook? -- a recent article caught my eye: Science has Great News for People Who Read Actual Books.  The gist of the article is that readers of "real" books engaged more fully with the text, had increased comprehension and could focus better on longer passages, and derived more relaxation while reading. That struck a chord.

I am a multi-book-at-a-time, multi-medium reader. At any one time, I have an Audible book on my iPhone, a book on CD in the car, a tower of paper books on my bedside stand, magazines in the bathroom, and several books queued up on my Kindle for anywhere I might go that might require even five minutes of waiting (car wash, dentist, car dealership, someone else's errand).

Before the Internet, the article says, people read in a linear fashion, using sensory details in order to remember where key information was by layout. I am definitely one of these readers who subconsciously remember page layout and relative percentage of book read in order to flip back to revisit a passage or point made. And this, I admit, is a shortcoming of my experience on my Kindle, because I don't see a two-page spread to help give the location context. Nor am I (yet?) cognizant of noting the location, measured in percentages, which appears at the bottom of each ebook screen. As a big reader of mysteries, I miss not being able to flip back to about "there," to check just who it was who entered the dining car on the Orient Express at the time in question.

On the other hand, I love the little tools that allow me to bookmark a particularly well-articulated passage or sentence, or to move a little cursor over a word in the text and voila! Instant dictionary!

In a way, this study puts me in mind of another change in the way we take in information in the Technology Age, and what is lost in the process: Satellite navigation systems. The first time Chris and I rented a car with a GPS in it, we were in Raleigh/Durham, NC and traveling throughout the state. Our Garmin system's supposedly female robot seemed all too human each time we deviated from her directions (e.g.,"HEY! There's a Starbucks!"), when her sighed "RE-di-RECT-ting," was said with an increasing amount of audible eye-roll. Nevertheless, she got us to wherever we were going without a problem...but once there, I had absolutely no visual picture of just where in the state of North Carolina we now were relative to where we'd come from. As someone who has always loved maps, this was a big hole for me. Even though we were there, I felt a little lost.

What's the best way? I suppose the answer is to find the areas where technology is most useful, edifying, illuminating, and brain-engaging and enjoy them, but in some places, keep our more old-school methods and tools intact. Make new friends, but keep the is silver and the other gold.

What say you, fellow multi-media readers? Do you agree with the study? Do you find one medium easier to read or easier to remember?

Monday, September 22, 2014

What I did on my summer vacation

Remember when we went back to grade school each fall and our first assignment was to write an essay titled "What I Did on My Summer Vacation?" Today is the first day of fall, and although our vacation doesn't happen until winter, I’ve finally got time to catch my breath and share what I did over the summer: For folks who don’t have a Kindle or prefer to hold a “real” book, I’m excited to announce that all of my novels are now available in print form.

(Aren’t they pretty!)

Click (actually, Ctrl+click) on any of the titles below to read more about each book, or to read a sample of it on Amazon.

BLOOD EXPOSURE Psychological suspense
Where blood ties run deep and often intertwine, some secrets are too destructive to reveal.
When Merris Alcott begins pulling the family skeletons from the closet, she finds her search for the truth has become the catalyst that threatens to destroy her entire family.

NET STALKER  Psychological suspense
When recently-orphaned Geordan Taylor turns to the Internet to decipher the truth behind her mother’s murky past, she finds more than she bargained for: a cyber-stalker who believes he can avenge a decades-old injustice only with Geordan’s death.
Order now: NET STALKER

CHOICE  Contemporary fiction
Jody Maclain’s daughter has never known she was the product of one humiliating sexual experience that drove her father out of the closet and her mother into a lifetime of self-recrimination. When Jody’s former love Keith dies unexpectedly, Jody is forced to reevaluate the choices she made from Kendall’s conception to whether to renege on her promise to tell her daughter of her true parentage. When the latter choice is made for her, the consequences threaten to destroy all that she loves.
Order now: CHOICE

You can order from your favorite indie bookseller, or from Amazon by clicking on the links above. Or ask me when next you visit -- I have copies here at A Butler’s Manor.

And once you’ve read them, won’t you please consider adding a review to Amazon’s site? Reviews make all the difference in perpetuating sales!

Many thanks, and I look forward to your comments!

Monday, September 15, 2014

I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you

When our bed and breakfast guests discover that I am also a writer, they often ask when it is that I get any writing done. With a laugh, I tell them I rise every morning at 4 AM and write for an hour and a half, then take my hour-long walk before showering and beginning the preparations for breakfast. 

Yeah, right.

The truth is, I admit to them, that little outside of the jotting of ideas and the occasional blog happens while we're busy with A Butler's Manor. Pretty much all my writing gets done between Columbus Day and May Day. I've mentally beat myself up for this for years, until I realized something key the other day: The reason I don't write when it's like a racetrack around here isn't only because I'm too busy with my day job. It's because during our long season, I'm driving the wrong vehicle, the Extrovert SUV. And that is completely opposite the Introvert one-woman kayak I need to be in to write.

Guest relations are at the heart of our bed and breakfast business, so I spend a great deal of time interacting with people, sharing pieces of myself with guests as we trade stories and find points of commonality. This is marvelously enriching to the soul and it brings me a great deal of personal satisfaction (and lots of ideas for characters and potential stories). But writing, by contrast, requires me to go inside myself and not share, not talk...instead, to nurture the germ of an idea, listen to the developing voice of a character, find his or her story. It is the introvert side of my otherwise pretty solidly extrovert personality.

So balancing these two parts presents a conundrum when faced with the common question people ask of writers everywhere: "What are you working on? What's your new book about?"

The classic flip response (she said with a smile): "I'd tell you, but then I'd have to kill you."

See, I really can't tell you. If I try to articulate it, I will lose it. The tender shoot of the idea is so tenuous that I fear that to vocalize it will kill it. Certainly it will remove the impetus I need to get the words on paper to tell the story. If I verbalize or worse, brainstorm it, I've told the story, and I've lost the drive, the need to write it down.

People asking these innocent questions don't realize this, of course. They assume you can already encapsulate your story into that magical 25-word TV Guide blurb, the one that writers are told they must learn to develop to pitch their (completed) work. Speaking for myself, I have difficulty crafting that 25-word blurb even after I've finished writing the book, much less before I've even fully conceived one.

Not all writers feel the same. Some are energized by sharing their WIP (work in progress) and collecting early feedback. There are sites all over the web that enable them to do exactly this. And no one way is right. Kudos to those who can share their ideas and still bring enough passion into the project to complete the book. Alas, I am not of their number. With the exception of A Butler's Life, which I had sold to Frederic C. Beil Publishing and was on deadline to complete while active in a writer's group where we shared chapters of our works in progress, I learned that any project I spoke of -- or worse, offered for critique before I had a completed draft -- died the quiet death of ennui.

So for me, the adaptation of that great line should be," I'd tell you, but then I'd kill the story."

(By the way, ever wonder who first spoke those immortal words? Nope, not Jimmy Cagney or James Bond. It is found in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novel "The Hound of the Baskervilles," published in 1901, to wit:

Sherlock Holmes: I didn't really ask, Dr. Frankland, but what exactly do you do here?

Dr. Frankland: Oh, Mr. Holmes, I'd love to tell you. But then of course, I'd have to kill you.

Sherlock Holmes:  That would be tremendously ambitious of you.)

Here's to tremendously ambitious stories, nurtured in quiet places, growing and developing underground like endive or white asparagus until they reach a maturity fit for the light of day.

And here's to productive months ahead, as the days wane and light receeds early and I pull back into my more introspective writer side.

Sorry, I really can't tell you what I'm working on. But stick with me, and I will...

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Promotion? What's that?

True confession, from someone whose former career was in marketing and advertising: I am lousy at self-promotion.

I know I am hardly alone: Most writers I read or follow find it difficult to put the sales hat on when their natural bent is to retreat into the wizard hat of creation. Of course, at a certain tipping point of sales and word of mouth, your name is all the self-promotion you need. But getting to that point involves marketing yourself. In my opinion, the contemporary author most successful at self-promotion is James Patterson, who back in the early years, personally paid the big bucks to run ads for his books in the New York Times Book Review, and later, even television commercials. Truly, how often had you -- have you even today -- seen a TV ad for a book? But it works for him, and according to his (admittedly self-promotional) website, he holds the Guiness record for the most New York Times bestsellers ever. Love his books or hate them, you gotta admit the man is a master promoter.

Then there's me. Hah. A few months ago, I created a series of full-color bookmarks promoting my novels, after a particularly embarrasing experience at a local Chamber of Commerce event when my hairdresser of ten-plus years overheard my husband telling someone about the upcoming release of Choice.  She turned to me accusingly. "I never knew you wrote books!"

Epic fail.

There's modesty, and then there's being ridiculous. I now carry these bookmarks with me to hand out, sometimes brazenly, such as when spotting someone else reading her Kindle while waiting for the doctor. A few of my more indulgent friends (my hairdresser among them) have let me leave a little pile of the bookmarks in their places of business. And today, because it, I heard the nicest thing. Deb, who works for my chiropractor and moonlights here at the bed and breakfast, said one of Dr. Sue's patients spotted my bookmarks in the waiting room.

"I've read all of her books," the woman said in a conspiratorial whisper. "My favorite was Blood Exposure."

"She'll be so pleased to hear that," Deb told her.

"You mean you KNOW her? She comes in here?"

"Every week," Deb assured her. "I could introduce you."

"Really? Could you?"

Made me feel like a rock star. 

I tell you, it's the little things in life. Like being read. And appreciated. Which--who am I kidding!?--is far from a little thing. I am grateful for every reader, and doubly happy if they let me know, either directly or (even better!) via an online review, what they thought of the book.

All of which is by way of announcing that Blood Exposure has just been published in print form. My copies of it arrived this past week --woo hoo! See how nice it looks? It feels even better. (It's that tactile thing.)

Two down, one to go. I'll begin working on Net Stalker tomorrow. My goal is to have it out by Labor Day.

Then, hopefully, I'll do a little coordinated marketing of the three of them. Like--hello!--sending out an email blast announcing their availability.

And given my pathetic self-promotion skills, I'll gladly take suggestions. Anyone?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Paperback writer

On a sultry September day in 1997 (yikes, was it THAT long ago??), UPS rat-tat-tat-tatted on our front door with a square fat box addressed to me. Tears brimmed as I pulled the books from the box. Here they were, my first published book, the first hardcover copies of A Butler's Life.

For about a week, I carried a copy with me everywhere. Even if I wasn't showing it to someone (anyone! The clerks at the grocery check out! The bartender at our favorite restaurant! The pharmacist at CVS!), it sat on the passenger seat of my car while I ran errands. On my bedside stand while I slept. On the kitchen counter while I prepared meals. Had there been a Facebook back then, I would have probably annoyed all my friends with my "baby" pictures.

Because my last three books have been released first on Kindle, I've forgotten the deliciousness of opening the mailbox to find the physical copy of my book. But two days ago, Choice was released in paperback, and I received the first copy in the mail. Woo hoo! I can TOUCH my newest work. Caress the nice matte cover. Riffle the pretty ivory pages. I'd forgotten how good it felt to heft the weight of words -- my words -- in my hands.

Released by CreateSpace, Choice is POD -- print on demand -- so it doesn't go against my priciples with regards to wasteful publishing. If it doesn't become a runaway bestseller (and of COURSE it will, right?) it won't be taking up landfill space. Each copy purchased will be wanted.

You can find it here on Amazon. It can be your next beach read! (I'm a little nervous about taking my Kindle to the beach, what about you? Sand, the potential of salt water...? Not so good. Paper -- better.)

I admit it, I have been carrying my first copy of Choice around with me. Showing it off, like a new puppy. In a week, I'll have copies for sale here at the B&B. And I'll announce it on Facebook. But I'll still try to spare you the baby pictures.