Saturday, February 28, 2015

Back to My Other Full Time Job

My student teacher finished her placement on Friday, which means it's back to my other full time job, the one that actually pays. That's not to say that writing doesn't pay. Just not enough yet that I can do anything with it other than plow my meager profits back into promotion.

In a way, I feel like I have three full-time jobs, or, more accurately, two full-timers and a part-timer, with writing itself, sadly, being the part-timer. Teaching is obviously the first one and the other is book promoting. It feels like all my spare time is spent doing things on various social media outlets to get my brand in front of as many people as possible. And when I'm not doing that, I'm making phone calls to set up signings and such.

The big emphasis this week has been Twitter. I realized that sales had come to a complete standstill, so I started reading blogs and websites with ideas on how to increase traffic on social media, specifically on Twitter. One suggested that I start following at least 25 people a day, which I did, beginning last Sunday. Actually on Sunday, I probably followed upwards of 100. I searched for the hashtag #booklover and followed a bunch of those folks in the hopes that they'd love my book too. I also followed fellow writers and anyone that seemed in any way about or interested in books, indie authors, or publishing. And it worked well. I started Sunday with 224 followers. As of this writing, I'm at 496 followers, so I've well more than doubled my following.

Yes, there were some glitches along the way. I started out just blindly following back anyone who followed me. That led to some rather embarrassing tweets filling my feed, such as ads for erotica and even pornographic videos. I had no idea how many sweet little old ladies are writing adult fiction and trying to sell it on Twitter. So I got a little more careful about who I followed back. There was also the issue of a constant stream of private messages advertising other authors' books. One of the first things I learned in a blog about Twitter etiquette was that you should not barrage people with PMs trying to get them to buy stuff. Apparently, not all authors read that post.

I've also done some work on Goodreads and Amazon with giveaways. There are three ways to get free copies of books. First, on Goodreads, you can go here and just register. No obligation whatever. You don't have to follow me or write a review or agree to receive a bazillion emails from me (I don't send out a bazillion emails anyway). But hurry--there's just one day left! You can also go here to enter to win one of five books from Amazon. The only requirement in this case is that you have to follow me on Twitter to be entered. Finally, and this one takes a tiny bit of work on your part, you can go here and ask me a question. I'll answer your question and one person will receive a free autographed copy of Harsh Prey or my next book, Kisses and Lies when it comes out in a couple months. But again, hurry--it ends soon.

So the good news is that I do have more people following me and retweeting my tweets. The bad news is that it's resulted in exactly zero sales so far. But I'm not losing hope. I'm banking on the idea that I'm planting seeds that will pay off in sales over time as I publish more and more books. By making people aware of my name and by putting free books in the hands of as many people as possible, the plan is to build a loyal following that will become my core audience as time go by.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Place to Write

I've been thinking a lot of writing nooks lately. Most of my time on Pinterest has been spent searching for pictures of writing spaces that people have posted. It's been a lot of fun. 

The fun is that I get to dream as I look at all the different places that folks have created. I ask myself if I want it to be light and airy or dark and cozy. Sometimes I think I want it to be tiny and secluded, but other times I feel like that would have the potential to become claustrophobic. I know for sure I want it to be full of books and places to put pictures and posters and sticky notes covered with ideas and inspiring quotations. And I also know it has to have a really comfy chair. That's where what I know ends. I don't even know whether I want a desk in the traditional sense, which would be appropriate for grading papers, but isn't necessarily a requirement for writing. I mean, I'm writing this in a recliner with a lapdesk to hold my computer. And it's quite comfy.

bookshelf, shelves, books, albums, records, lps, speakers, equipment, toys, memorabilia, wood, desk, chair, figurinesIt's a bit overwhelming. So many things to consider. But then I realized what it is that every single picture I looked at had in common. And I mean literally every one. Each picture contained no people. Not one. The only person even associated with the place was the person taking the picture, and I assume in each case that this is the nook's resident. That's the element I love most about each and it's the element I most lack. As I write this, my ears are filled with the TV in the living room, some indeterminate sound coming from my father's computer somewhere else in the house, and the rather loud conversations that take place between my parents, who are both hard of hearing. Periodically, my mother comes in and talks to me or to my dog, Baili. So I'll be amazed if this post makes sense, let alone have any actual quality to it. 

So the key is not place so much as condition. Yes, there are things I want, but there's but one thing I actually need. It matters not a bit if my place to write contains dark woods or lots of windows or a recliner or tons of shelves lined with books I love. What matters is am I alone? Do I have time to hear myself think? Can I quietly contemplate? Is it possible to read out loud a passage I've just written without someone running in to ask what I'm saying? If not, the place could look like the picture every author has in his or her head of the ultimate writing retreat and would still be useless. 

So I guess all I'm asking for is a little peace and quiet. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Life Well Lived

Today we say farewell to an amazing woman. Becky Drennon will be laid to rest in a few hours, but her legacy will not die anytime soon. My friends Jennifer and Keith and I met up to pay our respects to her family last night and were surprised, though not very, by the constantly growing line of people who were there to declare just how profoundly Becky had touched their lives. And Dave, her husband, said that the same was true in the afternoon visitation as well.

But we shouldn't have been even a little surprised. If there's one thing that no one who ever met Becky would argue, it's that she was quite possibly the most loving person they ever knew. There are people in this world who have been given an extra portion of love that simply comes pouring out of them onto every person they meet and Becky was one of those people. She was kind and gentle and respectful and supportive and--well, I could go on forever, but we all know there aren't words sufficient to describe the kind of love that Becky had, because it was a Divine Love that transcends description, but is unmistakable when experienced.

I fear I'm rambling, but I, along with everyone else who knew her, am struggling to come to grips with just why she had to go so soon and so suddenly. I think we all agree we weren't ready. And we mourn, not for her, because she is whole and happy and completely pain-free now. We mourn for ourselves, who will never again get to experience that smile, that laugh, those words of encouragement. Except through pictures and video and shared stories, which are wonderful to share, but are pale copies of the genuine article.

I try to come up with metaphors that explain why she had to be taken away from us and bring some comfort. I'm a writer--isn't that what I'm supposed to do? And yet, no analogy suffices. No explanation works, except that, for reasons we'll never know in this life, God wanted to bring her home.

And the true comfort is that she is still here among us, in the persons of her amazing family. Her husband Dave, who shares her quiet strength and loving nature. Her daughters Hannah and Jenny and son Caleb, who not only resemble her physically, but also have that unmistakable something that Becky had. That thing that simply draws people close to them like a magnet. When you meet any of the Drennons, you feel valued. You feel unjudged. You feel loved. Just like you did when you met Becky. And so, in that way, she'll never leave us.

Godspeed Becky Drennon. I can't wait to see you again.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Mid-Week Bonus: Excerpt from KISSES AND LIES

For all of you millions of folks who've read Harsh Prey, my debut novel, and are waiting impatiently for the second book in the series, Kisses and Lies, here's a little freebie for you. One of the ways in which KAL departs from the first book is that, for the first 2/3 or so of the book, alternating chapters are narrated in 3rd person from the point of view of another character. These chapters are essentially flashbacks that give background for the case on which Harry and Dee are working. What you'll be reading is an excerpt from one of those chapters. In this scene, the main character, Happy Hillman, is delivering food to an apartment in New York City and things don't go well. I hope you enjoy it!

He checked the address on the bag. It was unfamiliar to him; he’d never delivered there, but he knew the neighborhood—up five blocks and over three from the deli—to be pretty sketchy. He had barely escaped getting mugged there only the previous Friday when someone turned a corner at just the right time and scared a strung out, knife-wielding creep away. So he had his head on a swivel as he approached the building to which he was delivering. But the block was quite crowded this day with folks out enjoying their day off. He’d been so intent on the people around him that he only noticed as he was at the foot of the building’s front steps that ominous clouds had gathered. The first few drops, big and thick, crashed hard onto his head just as he was buzzed into the building. The apartment was 513. The good news was that the building had an elevator. The bad news was the door to it was covered by two strips of police tape x-ed across the opening. He tried not to think about what that meant as he mounted the first flight of stairs.
At the top of the fifth flight, he looked right, finding 501. On the left, he found 530. He figured the floor made a complete square and the math favored going right. He was right about the square part but way off on the math. After he turned left, the numbered rooms ended halfway down the hall at 510. There were lots of unmarked doors going nearly to the far back left corner of the building before they started having numbers again. As a result, he was two-thirds of the way back around to the stairwell before he found the door he sought.
The response to his knock was little more than a rustle at first. It sounded like someone had attempted to quietly shuffle to the door, but did it poorly. As he waited, he noted an acrid odor, something like nail polish remover, rubbing alcohol, and some sort of chemical all mixed together. After maybe 30 seconds, he heard someone call out through the door that he or she—he couldn't tell whichwould be just a minute. It felt more like five, but eventually the door opened just a crack, enough for him to see an almost freakishly large bloodshot eyeball staring out at him. This struck him odd since the door was equipped with a peephole, but he let it pass.
“Betelbaum’s Deli,” he said, holding up the bag.
Before he could react, the door opened an inch or two more and a long, spindly arm shot out, grabbing the bag from his hand. He didn’t even have time to yelp a protest before the bag disappeared inside the room and the door slammed shut. Stunned, he stood slack-jawed for a few seconds. Then he tried the knob. Locked. So he pounded on the door, shouting.
“Hey, you forgot to pay your bill! Hello? Anybody in there?”
He felt a little silly after saying the last thing, since, unless he’d climbed out the window and gone down the fire escape or he was Spiderman, the sandwich napper was probably inside. He waited a few seconds before raising his hand to knock again. Before he did so, though, he heard an odd click from inside the room. His eyes grew wide and the words he was going to shout caught in his throat. Was that…?
The next second, the top half of the door exploded. The bullet pounded into his left shoulder like Superman’s fist, driving him against the wall behind him so hard it knocked the air from his lungs. For a split second, he felt no pain, but that was almost instantaneously replaced by a searing heat radiating out from his wound. Half expecting to see his shoulder ablaze, he looked down; at the sight of his white Betelbaum’s Deli shirt quickly growing crimson, his eyes rolled back in his head and he slumped, unconscious, onto the grimy floor.  

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Writing Retreats

People who know me in person (and people who follow me on this blog too, for that matter) know that my personal life has changed a lot in the last couple of years. One of the big changes is that I am, at least temporarily, staying with my parents. I say at least temporarily because we've discussed the possibility of it becoming permanent, due to my parents' advancing age. I mean, they're really young for people nearing 80--no one believes they're that age when they meet them--but they're not as young as they used to be. That, however, isn't the point I was trying to make. 

I love my parents. I often joke that I was raised in a Norman Rockwell painting. Sure we had our disagreements growing up, but I never for a second questioned whether I was loved. I still don't. And I genuinely enjoy my parents' company. But I'm 51 and, for the year or so before I moved here I lived all by myself, unless you count my dog Baili and my cat Ziva, and since they never really talked to me or interrupted my train of thought, I don't. And, being brutally frank, even when I wasn't living alone for the last couple of years I might as well have been.

But that's not the case anymore. I'm one of three adults in the house. Even as I try to write this in the living room, I can hear my mom's running commentary as she struggles to get all the right pills in all the right compartments for the coming week. I'm not complaining. It's hard to see your parents grow older, but I'm honored to still have them at my age and I wouldn't trade this time for anything.

It's not, however, the most ideal situation when it comes to writing. The headline of a blog post from a couple weeks ago said that, as a teacher, I can write anywhere. That was a lie. I really have a hard time concentrating on writing here at home. I can go in my room and close the door, but all I have in there is a bed. I do it sometimes, but it's just not all that comfortable and I can't really concentrate there either.

So what do I do? I go on miniature writing retreats. Mostly to Panera Bread. I sometimes think I should give them a cut of any profits I make since a huge chunk of all three of my books (well, 2.75 books at this point) has been written while swilling gallons of their coffee. There's something about the white noise of that place that just seems to get my writing cap to fit just right. I leave my house where I'm surrounded by a couple of people to work in a place where I'm surrounded by dozens of people, but the difference is that all the people at Panera are just there. They never interact with me unless I want them to.

When I get the first draft of Shalan book 3 finished, I'm arranging with a friend with a cabin to go on a weekend-long writing retreat. It's secluded and has all the comforts of home except the interwebs, which is exactly what I need. The plan is to do nothing but heavy duty editing and revising for the whole weekend with no interruptions. I'm really looking forward to it.

When I first heard of writing retreats, I had this big romantic picture of people writing in chalets high in the mountains or houses overlooking the ocean crashing against craggy cliffs. But I realize that I can retreat practically anywhere for practically any length of time. Anywhere and and anytime that puts me in the right frame of mind to compose even a few good lines is a writing retreat.

I don't know how many fellow writers read this, but I'm curious about how you retreat or even if you do. Where do you go? How long do you go? At what point in your process are you most likely to go away? I'd love it if you would comment and let me know.