Real Life Imitates Art, and Then Some

My first self-published book, Virtually Yours, is a tale of Internet relationships. The online moms’ group featured in the novel is loosely based upon an online group I’ve belonged to since the mid-90’s. We’d met each other in an AOL chat room on our way to scoring Beanie Babies for our then-babies, and somehow forged and maintained the friendship for the last almost twenty years. (Almost twenty years – holy cow!) We have weathered relationships, breakups, hook-ups, our kids growing up, Columbine, 9-11, job searches, health issues, family loss – you name the life change, and we’ve lived through and commiserated with each other over it.VIrtually Yours (300dpi 2700x1800)

I penned the second novel in the series, Virtually Yours Forever, about a year and a half ago. (Yes, there might be a third in the works. I have ideas, lots of ideas. 🙂 Once I get a spare minute to get them down…Ah, ha ha ha….) For those of you who have been waiting patiently for me to produce VY4Ever, yes, I know. I’m slow. VERY slow. I’ve been picking at a couple of other projects at the same time. I swear, I have adult onset ADD, because just when I get going on one track, a shiny bauble tempts me from the other side of the room – or my laptop.

Now comes Real Life word that might get my butt into gear with regard to finishing the sequel.

One of my Beanie Mom friends has invited all of us to her daughter’s wedding…in Las Vegas, this September! At the Bellagio! Can you say O-M-G?

Now I have met some of the moms at various points in the last decade and a half. There are a couple who I’ve missed, for whatever the reason. It’s far easier to maintain a long distance relationship with the Internet and cell phones, a helluva lot easier than it was 20 years ago when we emailed, arranged to meet in private chat rooms, or snail mailed. Although we still maintain our email ‘loop’, we now have a private Facebook group, and we send each other group texts on a regular basis. We keep in touch using Instagram and Pinterest. It’s like we’re right next door, even though we’re all over the country.

This might be the first time we’ll all be in the same place at the same time, and you can bet I’m going to do my best to be there.

What is funny is that the premise of VY4ever is a wedding gone (partially) awry. (There are some other things going sour too, but I’m not going to spoil it by revealing too much.) While I don’t wish sweet Rachel (the Real Life bride) and her mother a wedding from hell, you can bet your booties if I make it to the ceremony, I’m going to take furious notes.

Honest to God. A writer needs Real Life. Some things you just can’t make up.

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Another Kernel of Wisdom via the San Francisco Writers Conference

I know. I am pitifully behind. That’s because I’m semi-recently returned from the 2013 San Francisco Writers Conference. Thanks to this great conference, my head is *b-u-r-s-t-i-n-g* with ideas. Unfortunately, having been out of town for over a week, the other areas of my life are bursting as well.

Before I forget, I would like to relay the best advice on storytelling that I have ever received, thanks to a SFWC workshop lead by Mary Knippel and Teresa LeYung-Ryan. These are two, very smart ladies, and I don’t love them because Mary and I shared lunch and Instagrams of Mark Hopkins’ famed room service hamburgers, or that Teresa is so effusive, she dragged me into a photo after last year’s workshop.

Are you ready? Because this is the wisest sentence I’ve ever heard about writing:

Someone we care about wants something very badly and is having a difficult time achieving his/her goal.

Honestly, it was a lightbulb-over-the-head moment. (Yes, I know. I’m slow. That’s already been established.)

Wiser words have never been spoken. Okay, so you can study hard and obtain a Masters of Fine Art in literature. You can take all the classes on story arcs and layering and the intricacies of denouement the world has to offer. You can belong to the critique group made in heaven (I’d have Edgar Allen Poe, Ayn Rand, and Carly Phillips in my fantasy crit group), or to national writers organizations. You could line the basement walls with past issues of Writers Digest. You might even be able to lock yourself in a room for eight hours straight with no internet and no distractions and tap at the keyboard until your fingers atrophy. You can hang out at conferences and learn from the best.

You can do all these things and more, but if your story cannot be told in this simple sentence, you don’t have a compelling story.

I grew up eons ago, when creative writing teachers claimed a good story had to have conflict – man against man, man against nature, or man against himself. I’m also a fervent believer of having a beginning, a middle, and an end. (You wouldn’t believe some of the writing I’ve read that has none of this.)

Someone we care about [protagonist] wants something very badly [possible end result] and is having a difficult time [the journey] achieving his/her goal.

It’s so simple, I’m wondering why I’d never considered it before. Like, DUH. No wonder I had a difficult time writing the first novel. (By the second one, I’d kinda-sorta figured it out. By the third, I’d fleshed out stories for each of my characters before sitting down to write.)

My new mantra also makes for an excellent measurement for the casual elevator pitch or for the first sentence of a query letter. Breaking down your story to its most basic form (a single sentence) crystallizes the concept, making it easy for the prospective agent to see what the heck your story is about.

I spent the plane ride back to Detroit devising a simple sentence to explain each of my novels. See?

Finding Cadence:

After her husband dies, Cadence Reed tries to find a new normal, but confronted with Carter’s secret life and with finances in disarray, she battles a powerful attorney (and once friend) for control.

Virtually Yours:

A bereaved parent wants to get closer to an online moms’ group, but traverses a minefield of secrets that could blow up the friendship, until the truth finally comes out.

Virtually Yours Forever:

Janna and Ashe are (finally) getting married – that is, if she can lose ten pounds, if Ashe can get over his cold feet, and if the Virtual Moms can book flights through a Snow-maggedon Nor’easter.

Acorns and Oaks:

Amberly Cooper escapes frozen Michigan to her tony life in LA despite a few minor roadblocks: her grandma is crazy, her mom doesn’t want to leave, her Cali friends are uninspired, and oh…she’s 14.

While these aren’t perfect, completing this exercise helped focus my attention on the story, the guts of the matter.

Everything else is icing.

 

The Upside to Writing

I will divert myself from lamenting of the woes and trauma associated with writing and trying to get published. Writing is a lot like golf: too many things to think about. Swing, conditions, clubs, stance, reach, etc. Just when you get one thing right, something else falls to the wayside and you’re back to square one. Yada, yada, yada.

Let’s not forget one thing, however; there is an upside to writing.

I’m basking in mine at the moment. 🙂

My friend, Edie, wanted to read VIRTUALLY YOURS, but she’s not very Internet savvy and doesn’t have her own eReader, instead occasionally borrowing one from her friend. On a completely random note having ABSOLUTELY nothing whatsoever to do with this post, HERE is her son. (He’s a hottie.) Edie didn’t want to burden her friend by asking her to buy the book on Amazon ($3.59! Now on sale!). It’s only in ebook format, but I just so happened to have a few review copies in the back of my car, leftovers from when I had sent them to a few book bloggers, so I gave Edie one.

It’s taken her a few days to read, but 20 pages in, she texted me and said how much she loved it. Then halfway through, she called me and wanted to be friends with all of the Virtual Moms. (I’d explained to her that I based this book on a real online group I belong to.) Then came another text wanting to know what was up with Ashe. (It’s a spoiler, so I’m not going to say.)

I saw her at my jewelry class yesterday, and she finally made it through the Big Reveal. “I thought **** was ****! And she remarked how similar the Virtual Mom relationships were like her longtime girlfriends she has known for 30 years. Last night, I received a text saying she finished, she loved it, and when was the sequel coming out.

This morning, I received a short voice mail from her, thanking me for allowing her to read my review copy, and that she can’t stop thinking about the characters, they are so real and interesting. Where the story will take them, where will they be, what will happen in the future.

I’m afraid I’m going to have to bring her a blurb the next time I see her. VIRTUALLY YOURS FOREVER, covers all of that and more. Now I am wondering if I should consider writing yet another novel based on these characters. Perhaps, from the kids’ points of view? The possibilities are boundless.

Listen, I know I may never grace the New York Times Best Seller’s List. I might never win awards for my writing. But the glow a writer gets from just ONE satisfied reader provides enough motivation for me to slog on through the mundane or the bad times. The next time I feel writer’s block coming on (rarely these days, but it can happen), I’m going to refer back to this week, remembering Edie singing my praises.

Writing and Finding Your Inner Artist

If you’ve wondered where I’ve been, the editing of Finding Cadence has taken up a lion’s share of my time. Update: I’m still on the second part, although I’m very close to nailing it down, and will then go on to the third part, which will be more like a second edit since it’s so full of new plot twists and characters. The ending is also new.

In the meantime, I’ve finally figured out the RWA PRO loop. I’ve been PRO for over a year, but Yahoo! forums make me want to sell all of my modern devices and go live in a forest somewhere, a forest without electricity. For one, I can’t get into my Yahoo! mail, because my password changed (!) and my attempts to recover are futile. Even when I got into the mail, 90% of it was junk, and I’d spend an hour or so deleting the junk. Somehow, the Yahoo! loop mail now gets transferred to my regular email account. How that happens, please do not ask me. I’m woefully terrible on the computer.

The main topic for the PROs this week was sales, going indie, and more sales. Small house vs. Big House vs. indie, self-pub vs. helped self-pub, etc. The upside of this rather depressing exchange is that selling 100 books is actually not a bad thing (I mention this because that’s just about what I’ve sold). Many, many authors sell that or less. Many, many PRO authors.

I’ve said before that I just don’t get into sales. I have a product, but I’m not going to push it. My lackadaisical attitude probably stems from the fact that when I want to buy something, I despise getting “sold.” Not to decry salesmen (although the used car salesmen are rather slimy-I can say that because there are some in my family) many of whom are great people, but that’s just not me. I’m similarly that way with my jewelry. If people are interested, cool, if not, cool too. In this world, there is art for everyone. I won’t be offended if you don’t like mine.

I might mention VIRTUALLY YOURS every once in a while (currently ranked 519,148 HA!), but I don’t spam my Facebook or Twitter feed with impassioned pleas to buy. I don’t have a “real” author web site, although someday I might, when there is more than one book available. Perhaps if I begged, or invested in blog tours, or passed out freebies, or stood on my head, I could sell more than 100 books.

But…I do not use my creative side to make money (obviously). Being in the business of making money rather sucks. You have to push, sell (a little bit), cut corners, stay within budget, and worry, worry, worry. Oh, we need to make money, and I do it in my day job, but it’s not what I live to do. I’m an artist; I live to create.

Coincidentally, I’m taking another Savvy Author class, this one on The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. She looks at writing as what it is: art.

Unlike a job, though, being an artist requires a certain amount of freedom. You must free yourself from all sorts of conflicts (anger, shame) inside yourself. This makes perfect sense to me, and is how I generally look at living, as though it’s a spiritual journey. A person full of fear, loathing, angst, and doubt cannot possibly make the best art. Of course, trying and trying again, perfecting the art, as well as the artist, is the whole point.

And this week, I was also directed by Book Baby to this post by Michael Larsen of the San Francisco Writers Conference and the Larsen Pomada Literary Agency. Creating Your Literary Ecosystem-I liked it! The ten “P’s” of writing. I was so impressed, I printed it out to keep near my computer when I write.

You see, I might never be a best-selling author, but I will truly be the best artist I can be.

🙂

When You *Hate* Your Characters

It’s hard to believe (since life is throwing more hard balls at me, especially now), but I’m working on the sequel to Virtually Yours, which I’ve tentatively titled Virtually Yours Forever (or VY4ever). Sorry, no tentative covers…yet.

A week ago, when I first opened the file and poked around, a few things occurred to me. One, this is a damned good story! (Okay, I’m highly prejudiced, but…) There’s no secret in the sequel since we know all of the characters, and the Big Reveal at the end might be considered cheesy, but I’m liking the roads where I have taken my characters. It’s four years later, and plenty has happened.

(If you’d like to read the synopsis, wander over to my page “Novels” and check it out. Or I could put a link in here. I did!)

The other thought that came to me is that I really, really, really (I know, adverb overload. Danger, Will Robinson.) like these characters. I hadn’t really thought about them or their plot twists since I penned the first draft during the November 2011 NaNoWriMo — too many things going on in my Real World. But opening the file and working on their story lines is like visiting with your high school best friend after thirty years of absence. (I would know about this, since I’ve lived it. Hello, Bonnie!) Even though a lot of time has passed, you pick up right where you left off.

It’s easy for me to write about friendly people who might have character quirks that make them not so amiable. It’s very difficult to write about the truly heinous and do a good job at it. I’m struggling with my bad guy in Finding Cadence. I’ve made my attorney, John Sloane, stereotypically bad. Ruthless. A womanizer. Shrewd. Heartless. The kind of shyster that would make Gordon Gekko look like a choir boy. He’s so bad, he’s like a cartoon character lawyer. The third pass editing, and I’m trying to figure out ways to give Sloane redeeming qualities while still conveying to the reader what a rat he is.

But as we know, every good story has a bad guy. Even my fun-loving story about the Virtual Moms. Readers need to cheer for the underdog, and to *hate* whoever stands in their way in their quest for happiness. I’ve spent the last few days wondering who I could make a villain. It would have to be someone completely unexpected, and there are several characters I could choose from. Coincidentally, this article landed in my email box today, a listing of the 50 most hated characters in literary history.

It’s an interesting list, but I’m not sure I would agree. I mean, really. The Twilight girl and guy? They may annoy, but I don’t hate them. Similarly with the current novel I am struggling with, 50 Shades of Gray. Ana Steele grates on my last nerve (something like a group of giggling 14-year-old mall rats), but I don’t hate her.

The closest I came to hating a character was Ben Bailey in t. greenwood’s This Glittering World. I love t. greenwood, but I found this man’s morals to be completely lacking. I nearly threw the book down in disgust, several times. However, Ben proves himself a stellar (albeit seriously flawed) man in the end.

(Amendment: Tom Booker in The Horse Whisperer. Not the Tom Booker of the Robert Redford movie, the one in the book. I was so angry when I finished the book that I vowed to never see the movie, and I haven’t. Tom Booker is the Bill Clinton of literature in my book. Yeah. I don’t like Bubba either.)

All of the authors on the “most hated” list must have liked their characters. A little? You think? How could they not? Authors take a seed of an idea, nurture it, and eventually give birth to a full blown story. Hating your characters might make for a very tedious and grueling workout at the computer.

In the end, I’m not sure I could write about a character I hate completely. I write because I love to write. It’s my hobby, it’s my creative outlet. I have to enjoy myself or I couldn’t do it.

The trick is to find some sort of balance, a vein of redemption in your *hated* character.

The Value ($$$) of Words

I’ve been writing for a long, long time. One could say that I’ve been writing since I learned how to spell. The Internet gave me many wonderful opportunities to practice what natural ability I had, to find out where and how I could improve on my skills, and to let my inner Muse stretch out on uninhibited wings, where it could get as naughty or as serious as I wanted to go.

It wasn’t long before I found a market for my work. By “market” I mean more than an occasional high five or the promise of cyber margaritas after a long day of witty comebacks. Sure, I wasn’t making enough cash to retire to a beach on a deserted atoll, but it was nice to see the occasional deposit into my PayPal account. After a year’s worth of occasional deposits, I had nearly enough to buy myself lunch at a decent establishment.

Mostly, though, I was writing for free. Free stories, free opinion, free reviews, free editorials, free photo-essays. I didn’t mind; after all, I’m a writer and writers as artists are known to be [somewhat] narcissistic. Internet writers, especially those who use their real names like I do, are way out there, as vulnerable as if they were to step outside on Main Street sans clothing. It’s the nature of the beast. Writers write to communicate, to tell a story, and we do so because deep inside, no matter what Internet troll tells you different, we’re pretty damned good. Not Stephen King good or Carly Phillips good or Dan Brown good, but good enough to be a few rungs above the masses.

Now that I’m an e-pubbed author, I have a book for sale. Not for free, like my pithy essays, but for a mere pittance. (I have given out free copies, and my BETAs have read it, but it’s not the same.) I don’t know how many I’ve sold to date, but I do hear back from people who have read it, so I have to estimate, oh…maybe four or five? Maybe more? One author at the GDRWA, of which I’m a member, recently commented that she sold 18 e-books and is feeling pretty good about it. (I have since upped my goal to 19.) 🙂

I have to say that it was agonizing to come up with the price. In fact, I lowered the price in between proofs, just because in my years and years of writing for free, it felt weird to charge anything at all. I know that the retailer is going to take a cut, and Book Baby is going to take a cut, which will likely leave me with just enough for lunch after a year. But a price? I’ve purchased e-books by major authors for $14.95. I’ve also purchased books for $.99. I know Virtually Yours is not $14.95 material. It’s also worth more than $.99. On the other hand, I can’t just give it away. I put in major effort, major time, and major money (in hiring a professional editor) to put this baby together.

I’m acquainted with authors who have tried “free-bie” days on Amazon just to up their downloads. While offering freebies will cause a momentary bump in activity (in one case, my friend had 16K downloads. 16K!), as soon as the giveaway day is over, the activity usually (and I could be proven wrong by some author somewhere) falls back down to nothing. And I wonder if giving it away for free helps. Do those who download free books actually read them? Or are they just participating in the freebie mentality? If it’s for free, maybe I should get it, just in case, the “just in case” never happening.

Personally, I love the books that I have purchased, and I have purchased tons of books, both physical and e-format. I’m also given tons of books for free, mostly in the hope that I’ll read and review. With very few exceptions – and there are a few – I am far more likely to read and cherish a book I’ve purchased.

My take is this: There is a value of words, of art, and of hard work. To give your art or product away consistently means you do not value your work. Why should anyone else value it if you don’t? McDonald’s serves crappy hamburgers (sorry, McDonald lovers, but I’m a food snob), yet they still charge for a cheeseburger. Cash money.

I have plenty of free material out there on the web. If you want to read me for free, you can. Virtually Yours (and the novels that will follow) can’t be free. There is too much blood and sweat involved. If you want to taste that blood and sweat, you’ll have to invest a little to experience it.

Available Now, Virtually Yours – and the Anticlimax

It’s been a long and sloggish journey. First you have to have a germ of an idea (which you poached off your best Internet buds, with their consent); then you actually have to commit to time and energy to get your idea out of your head and onto paper and/or Word document (which is much harder to do than you think); after which, you have to commit to making it better (meaning surrendering your baby to a real, live editor and re-writing massive parts of the story); and after shiny and new, you enter it into several contests and query for a year (with high hopes and few positive resulting answers), before finally making the leap (because the sequel is nearly ready for the first edit and you have to get that out) to self-e-pubbing (and that alone takes a lot longer than you thought it would).

(For those Grammar Police: Yes, that was a very long sentence. Bite me. 🙂 )

With Book Baby, you don’t know exactly when your book will hit the “For Sale” shelves. (Maybe this is true of other e-book publishers as well, I don’t know.) Amazon was to take two or three days; the rest, two or three weeks.

At this point – between writing, re-writing, editing, formatting, and the dreaded Real Life sagas (which are too many to list here) – I am completely spent. I have officially entered the Virtually Yours anticlimactic black hole.

Imagine my surprise when I received a Facebook message from a friend telling me my book was out! So I investigated, and sure enough, it is!

So now the worries: I’m not sure I like the blurb. I’m not sure I like the cover design. And I’m for sure not sure I like that someone else wrote another Virtually Yours which appears several titles above mine. (Not that I’m angry she scammed my title and launched on or about the same time I did. My Virtually Yours is soooo different.)

For a brief summary, see below. For purchase on Kindle, go HERE.

Genre: Mom-Lit. Which is chick-lit, matured. Think of chick-lit as a bottle of Boone’s Farm. Think of mom-lit as a bottle of Kendall Jackson.

Characters: Six major, plus one interloper. It’s a lot, but there are stories bubbling with each of the six women. And the interloper.

Theme: Things aren’t ever what they appear to be.

Big Reveal: OH, LORDY, YES! But you won’t know until you read to nearly the end, so don’t give up too soon.

As for me and my anticlimax: After getting my employees paid, I’m going to retreat to my hole and write a few hours this afternoon. Because I should, and I must.