Thursday, July 31, 2014

how it comes together-- kind of

Last summer I had finally started on the fourth historical book of the Stevens women, all set in Oregon and beginning with 1852 and the Oregon Trail. For the fourth, I had the plot in mind, the general idea of a hero and heroine, a setting I was not only familiar with but loved.

So I wrote a chapter and got stalled-- that experience has been rare for me in writing.  I would not define my experience as writer's block. It was simply that 'stuff' got in this book's way. It was a combination of many things including a trip to research the historical aspects, which I wanted to know more.

Also, it was a bit more complicated than just outside activities. I couldn't get a handle on the hero. He'd been in books two and three, which generally makes a character easier to write. Not this one. I could deal with him a bit shallowly in those books because he was a secondary character. That was over as soon as he became the hero of his own story. 

Last fall, trying to understand this guy led to extensive research on the US military, you see, he was a career soldier, a West Point graduate, a cavalry officer. To help me get a handle on my hero, the controversial, iconic George Custer was an obvious choice. Reading books about him and then Custer's journal helped me get a feeling for how a military guy would be thinking in 1867 after he'd been fighting Indians for awhile and gone through the Civil War.

Sometimes having a character in a prior book show up as a hero in a new one is a benefit. I already know them, but something about Rand Phillips didn't work that way. He had been not much more than a kid straight out of West Point when the second book's hero, a scout for the Federals, took him under his wing for the Rogue Indian War. He was back in the third and by then he was an experienced warrior returning to Oregon as part of settling the Snake Conflict. He was very alpha male in the third book-- even as a secondary character.

His own book was complicated by my desire to bring the three earlier romantic couples, into this one as secondary characters. It is after all, a family-- with the third Stevens sister the heroine. So I had the general plot, was once again getting a handle on the hero and heroine, had researched the historic period with some excellent books.

Then I lost my beloved cat to a shockingly early death, which led to a dream about reincarnation that I felt deserved to be told. I didn't want to put that off. The dream was fresh. I believed it was the right length for a novella and wrote When Fates Conspire

It was while working on its rough draft that I learned of an opportunity to write a short story for an anthology involving other western, romance writers... Couldn't turn that down. One of my ideas for it sounded good. The characters had been in my Arizona historical, Tucson Moon, but quickly I realized it was a lot more story than a short story or even novella. 

I looked for another idea and wrote my first short story, Connie's Gift (also a character in Tucson Moon), which went into the anthology, Rawhide 'n Roses. Although I knew that would lead to promotional activities, they wouldn't come until March.

January had us driving down to Tucson to work on our house. I had not given up on the Oregon story but Tucson has some good museums and that was research I could only do while there. More and more the Arizona historical intrigued me for its period, setting, and two characters I hadn't originally realized would have a romance but once the idea came to me, I wasn't going to let it go. The research was making me even more excited by the story.

In late January I ePublished When Fates Conspire. In March, I began writing the Arizona historical. It went fast, had my fingers flying with more research to enrich the story. It was the kind of writing that is purely a joy to do. One lunar cycle from starting to finishing its rough draft.

Of course, editing was yet to come, which meant it was a good time to work on the second and third novellas, which would continue the fantasy about fate, reincarnation, spirit beings, and what might or might not be out there. 

Supernatural type stories take research too. This was especially so since I was incorporating Native American mythologies into the third novella. Now I had done some of this research through the years. (If you didn't know it already, Libras have an interest in the offbeat, which includes mysticism of many traditions. I'd heard a lot of intriguing stories through the years some of which worked into the writing.) Now I had The Dark of the Moon and, Storm in the Canyon, which was going to be a trilogy-- Diablo Canyon.

 Ben Kern wagon train

About that time, I came across some photos and guys who took people on reenactments of the Oregon Trail (as well as other historic trails). Their photos and information seemed beneficial for my Oregon Trail book, and heck, you don't turn down an opportunity to talk to people as interesting as these guys were. I asked for and got permission to use some of their photos for covers in case I end up putting these books out as paperbacks-- more likely than eBooks as it stands.

I know it likely sounds like a chaotic year of writing, bouncing around quite a bit, but a year later I am back to the Oregon series. Instead of starting writing on the fourth, I decided I would benefit from re-editing the first three to make sure I am staying consistent. Because it'd been awhile, I had to look around to find the notes I'd taken as well as my character timelines. There was one moment where I feared I'd lost them by typing over them with the wrong state. The possibility of doing that to one of my novels (which once I did) is why I keep everything saved onto multiple jump drives-- thank goodness in this case. 

The heroine has always been interesting to me for that fourth Oregon historical. Belle, the youngest of three sisters, is my first warrior heroine. She is spirited, opinionated and left home quite early for school and adventures with friends where many parents wanted her as a companion to their daughters. This is my first time to write a female warrior, although many of my heroines do learn to fight, but it's more to save their own lives or that of their lovers. This young woman chose to be a warrior. It does seem like a fun write to get into how it works for an alpha, warrior hero and an alpha warrior heroine will get along... well, I actually have a pretty good idea. ;)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

how it comes together-- sometimes

From what I have heard, every writer has their own way to bring a book from the first sentence to the last. Many writers say they work as either a [pantser or plotter]. Within writer communities, there are conversations about how that works or doesn't. I don't think anybody thinks one is better than the other. It's just how you work. There are famous, very successful writers in both camps. I am not totally either.

I do not write a firm outline for any of my books, which used to frustrate my engineer husband. But on the other hand, I do know where a story is heading. I have it in my head. It's what happens along the way where I run into surprises. So I am a bit pantser and plotter

I see it similarly to going on a trip. I am one of those who do not like to plan a trip down to the last T. I will know the general route but along the way might take a different highway or detour when something interesting shows up. I often don't have reservations which can make some vacations dicey. I will though end up where I expected. And so it is with my writing a book.

My current work in progress follows three earlier Oregon historical manuscripts,  ranging in span from 1852 to 1865. The fourth will start in 1867 and involve the Snake Conflict, one of Oregon's bigger Indian wars. I have no plans as it stands to publish any of them.

The first of those Oregon historicals I wrote in my early twenties. It has had a lot of rewrites since that time including an extensive period working with a professional consulting editor. That story led to the next two. These four will fit into a series but I haven't figure out a name for it-- although I have the books all titled-- including the WIP.

It might seem strange to a non-writer to think I'd put so much into books I wasn't sure I'd ever put out. Why not write in genres I would publish? In my case though, since I've been doing it all my writing life, it seems very natural to write for the joy of writing and consider marketing a separate question.

I might as well admit that the reason I haven't been sure about publishing these four is because of not having yet found a regular readership. Some indie writers have that, and they have readers eager to get their next book. I would love to be in that situation, but I am not. I haven't given up on getting there but also have to accept that it might not happen for me.

Looking at it as objectively as I can (and that's never easy for a writer who loves all the books they write), what I write doesn't 'totally' satisfy the romance reader, and non-romance readers won't give them a chance because they are so turned off on the genre. Now personally, I consider my stories to be hybrids-- between novels and romances. But it's hard to find a way to market something that doesn't fit into boxes.

That first Oregon Trail book, the one that has been part of my life for nearly 50 years, how would I feel if it met the fate of the last historical, Comes the Dawn (one sale in a month)? It's a lot easier to see a book fail to find support or readers when you have put less into it.

Now I can't say I don't put a lot of work and of me into all of them, but the Oregon Trail story goes way beyond that. It would definitely depress to me if it was similarly rejected. The Arizona historical was a good test to see if I had enough readers to even get the book seen on the Amazon lists. The test said this isn't the right time for any of my Oregon historicals-- except maybe as paperbacks with a hope that I can find local bookstores interested in their mix of romance and history.

Here's a plain truth-- if you can't take rejection of your books, it's not wise to be a published writer. You can write to your heart's content, but putting them out there, that's a whole other story. I've learned to be happy for writers who are selling well, not feel hurt if my books don't get support. I can mostly do that, but I could not with the Oregon books. They are way too much a part of me going back to when the story first came to me and I was the age of its heroine. 

Anyway that's all the marketing end, not what I was intending to write about. I guess though it's a good beginning for how a year of my writing life went with the planned and unplanned. The experiences I had are why I love being an indie writer even as I admit sometimes I get a bruised ego. Actually that might be good for a person... or so they tell me ;).

So coming next blog will be more about that year which might not seem very organized but... Okay, it wasn't very organized ;).

Sunday, July 27, 2014

And then...

Often I mention how much I enjoy writing as an independent. Being an indie writer offers many benefits to self-motivated writers. I am sure those who work on contract for their books feel it's worth it for the benefits they receive in promotion and prestige; but they do have time constraints that an independent writer does not have except what they put them on themselves. 

When I decided to go independent, I had been writing all of my life-- literally. Oh as a child it wasn't much detail, but it was still there in creating stories whether for paper dolls (which I had to make myself as nobody put out what I wanted which were hot women and handsome men-- none of those cute baby or little girl paperdolls for me), or my first ones written down with words, they all were about putting together plots and characters. My cousin and I, on family gatherings, would go for walks taking turns telling parts of an ongoing story.

My writing has involved worked with a consulting writer to develop the skills of the craft. Some of my stories were handwritten, then came the old Royal typewriter, electric typewriters, white out, carbon copies and finally the first Atari computer, which I couldn't believe would be better until I learned you could rearrange where a paragraph set and no more need for erase papers-- finally to today with the machine sitting in front of me and the internet. Yes, fiction writing was always in my life.

The decision to go indie was actually pretty easy. I had a lot of manuscripts (very few of which had I ever sent off to publishing houses for an assortment of reasons). I didn't want to make them fit what the editors had told me I would need to do. 

I also assessed the drawbacks of going indie. You must do all your promotion. You don't have the prestige that goes with publishing houses, but for the writing work itself there were only pluses. 

Being an indie writer lets me arrange my workday, set my goals, and allows me to bounce from project to project. I can edit or write. I can work on places to promote. Because I love what I do, am good at self-motivating, and am not easily distracted, it works for me.  In the morning I pretty much know what I will be doing that day but if I wish, I can reset the day. My writing work (about 8 hours a day at least 5 days a week, with less hours on week-ends but no days without some writing) are made up of a variety of activities which may involve covers, social media, researching, editing, and writing on more than one book.

It might seem crazy to a non-writer, but I had begun writing the next full-length novel when I still had one more edit due for Comes the Dawn. There were reasons for that. If you keep editing and re-editing a manuscript, pretty soon, you don't really see it. You lose focus. By having other work in between, when you come back to the original, it feels fresh.

With a good start on the Oregon historical, a deeper look at my characters, I then put it aside and did the final edit on the Arizona historical. I was really loving how it was going but I needed that last edit.  This had been the shortest time I ever had between writing a rough draft and putting a book out, and I might not do it that way again. But with its final edit, I fell in love with Comes the Dawn all over. That'd not have happened had I kept reading and re-reading it. Time between let me look at the work afresh.

That ability to change course, between editing and writing something original or to work on something I might never publish, is one of the big pluses of being an indie writer. With no contracts, the only promise I have is to myself and to the stories. It also means nobody else is forcing me fit a mold, which, to be honest, might've made the books sell better. Life is though a set of trade-offs. Stay true to your own self or fit what others want? Those choices don't just occur with creative work.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Releasing protective shields

At their heart, romances are stories of emotions. It's not just about love but the emotions that often block a full expression of love. There are several dominant emotional themes, to which I have found my books repeatedly turn. The next two cover re-dos involve one of my favorites because I see it as an issue in human life, and a book can illustrate that and offer reasons to deal with it.

I suppose admitting that your books have a theme that can actually teach something about human life might be a turnoff to some readers. I mean they get plenty of lectures other places and want their romance reading to be purely for fun. The thing is you can have an enjoyable read while still looking at some life lessons through the characters-- the whole thing at a distance from your own life and yet applicable if you so choose.

These two books have been out for quite awhile. The first has had pretty good sales off and on. The second never did. I think the first had an okay cover, one I had liked, but I have recently been interested in changing things around. The second has never had good sales and that's likely due to its painful subject matter. A cover won't change that.

Desert Inferno carries forth the O'Brian stories into contemporary times. The heroine's family ranch was established in the 1880s. By modern times it was having its own problems with economics, wise use of land, and its isolation. The ranch though was not at the core of this story. 

It is a love story involving a woman who is an artist and has grown up with beauty. She has known nothing but love.  The man she falls in love with isn't pretty, not as he sees himself and he's walked the hard and often ugly side of life. He has known nothing of love nor does he want to.

The goal of the cover is to depict someone having to let go of their protective layers, to open up their basic essence to another person. How does a cover show that?

Turned out I had the perfect image and had used it in the book's trailer and on back of the paperback. Creating this cover was easy-- just add titles.

I like writing books about people who have to let go of their protective shields-- half the time it's been her and half the time him. That emotional theme appeals to me because I see putting up protective barriers as a problem in life. We use busyness. We choose safe relationships where we won't be challenged, or we avoid them totally. We do it to protect ourselves from thinking, from being someone who will demand we peel back those layers and let them in. I think sometimes we are afraid to let ourselves see what is under them. Through my characters I try to show how this stands in the way of full living. We can let go of those masks-- and especially need to do this for our own benefit.

The next book had a similar theme. The cover wasn't actually bad in terms of revealing the problem. I knew that a new cover wasn't likely to improve its sales. It has difficult subject matter. But its existing cover began to depress me. It was a man and woman, but he was looking down with a disturbed look. She was studying him trying to figure out what was wrong. The colors were stark.

While Moon Dust is the story of a marriage on the brink of divorce and covers several big issues that our society faces, I think it has an uplifting story. There was hope, not hopelessness. 

A secret is at the heart of what has gone wrong with the marriage. The soon to be ex-wife has the hope of finding and then convincing her husband he can deal with it. This couple are very much in love even while the marriage is disintegrating. There is pain but also an answer. He must (and that part isn't easy) open himself to her. 

I wanted a cover that was warm and showed the caring. I did not one that felt hopeless. Still, it could not look as though going within was totally without some pain. I think this one does it. Love and how sharing what has been before can provide healing to both.

There is hope and that is the whole point of romance books. There is a happy ending, despite the travails that it may take to get there-- and this couple go through plenty, not all brought on by themselves. In the end it will work out.

That's what i like about romances. I get other kinds of endings from the newspaper and way too often. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

what it takes to be a movie hero today?

 picture from the link below

This is kind of an intermission between my blog posts but could not resist. Is this the new Han Solo? They never let us see Han's bare chest back then but for today's world, it is kind of a requirement. One that seems fair to me ;). 

He also explained what it takes to get a body like that. I have wondered because I do see them a lot of places..  and no complaints.
"-- ...weight training, yoga, high-intensity interval training, sprints, jogging, the Navy SEAL “grinder” workout, and P90X." 
 Since his neck looks normal, it looks like no steroids. Unless steroids don't have the same impact today... 

One neat thing is they asked him how his wife liked him like this since he had previously ballooned up to almost 300 lbs. for a movie with Vince Vaughn. He said she loved him this way but that way too. Cool :)

revamping yet another cover

Yes, I've read of the agony of the struggling writer-- how each book is wrung from them with blood and sweat. I confess. I have love and have fun writing. I enjoy creating covers. What I hate is accepting they won't be liked-- yes, it's a conundrum to do something you love and know others won't love it also. 

When my books aren't selling, it's enough to sometimes make me want to cry. I stop and remind myself this is creative work. It is the reward just to be able to do it. Don't ask for it to be appreciated by others, but in reality we all want our work to be liked. It's unrealistic not to admit that. 

Creating covers is a lovely break from thinking about the harder aspects of marketing. They are also, however, part of marketing. So with recently purchased new images, I took a hard look at my existing covers. Could any be made better?

Better means more adequately tell, in one image, the story within the book. That is the object of covers. They are meant to attract as flowers do bees. They must though depict what is within, or they are cheating the potential reader. Putting up a cover that looks wonderful, the type that has sold many books, when it has nothing to do with the book, is unfair and as a writer-- unsatisfying.

From Here to There was one of the books to which I looked. That poor book. It has had so many covers-- the most of any of mine-- a few of its rejected covers

I love its story, plot, characters. It is about human relationships, several kinds, and the world of cattle raising. But one cover after another didn't get that across. Well, there is no use crying over spilt milk--onward and upward is my motto-- both likely cliches. (One I took from a friend who used it often). 

So when I re-edited that book, I decided to once again look at its cover. What could I use instead of what I have tried? The most recent one represented the western cowboy-- a major theme of the book. I liked it but can't say it was helping sell the book.

Part of the problem possibly was-- what does this cover say in regards the romance? The guy on the cover looks like the hero in the book. That was a plus. He also illustrates the underlying theme of ranch life. But was that really enough?

Looking at the book itself and its deeper themes, what did that cover do for illustrating them? It's about the modern west, cowboys, ranch living, illusions and how sometimes what we think is not real turns out it is. It's about families, relationships, love, sexuality, animals, and how we can do what we must-- with enough motivation. Obviously I can't get all that onto a cover.

I went looking through my images, found one I had bought just because I loved it with no idea how I could use it. Next I looked for images that could represent the hero and heroine. I found one that had the right look and only took a little adjusting to look like them. 

The next step was playing around to see how I could put the two images together in a way that depicted the energy and love of the West.

Will it help attract readers? I have no idea, but it definitely does the book more justice in terms of beauty and vitality. For readers who hate the very idea of romances, it will ward them off. For someone who would enjoy a romance that offers two stories of how love can come together, one told through an old journal, well that part I could not get onto the cover or it'd be cluttered. You just cannot get it all one one cover... I don't think anyway. 

That wasn't the end of rethinking covers. At this point, I was taking an art break before my next editing job (three books I have not decided to  ePublish) before getting back to finishing writing fourth in that series (Oregon historicals). 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

cover remodels

 So if someone makes the argument that a writer should wait to publish until the book is as good as they possibly can make it, which means maybe never since they keep getting better at what they can write, then the same argument could hold true for covers, right? 

For an indie writer, one benefit with eBooks is the ability to change the book-- words, blurbs, and covers.  Paperbacks, of course, are a different ballgame. But because I can change covers, I have. Now, not every single book has had it happen. I have a couple who have only had one or maybe two covers at the most with some tweaking perhaps on titles, but overall eight of my books are more or less how they began. Of course, three of those books haven't been out very long; but I tend to think they will remain because even though they haven't sold that well, the covers fit the stories as well as I can imagine any image doing. When I can, I'd rather keep the cover as they began. It's easier.

However, in the last month or two, I've changed four covers in significant ways. In a housekeeping mood, I've even changed blogs with different backgrounds and opening photos.  It reminds me of how Farm Boss used to come home from work, and I'd be telling him where I wanted the sofa, and how it would look better. This farmhouse has made that kind of change rare as the rooms don't lend themselves well to shifting things around. Remodeling is always about thinking there is a better way.

When I get the idea of changing a cover, I often have no idea where I will go with it. In this case, I found the image of a man and woman which I had bought some time back but never used. I also grabbed one of my own sky photographs from Tucson.

Sky Daughter isn't an easy story to capture in one image. It's of a young woman who went to her grandfather's mountain to heal from a series of losses and disappointments and a man caught up in a weird plot which distorts spiritual power. There is a monster. Adding it to the cover helps to illustrate the risk this couple are under as they try to find the answer to what is going on without getting killed. It has a mix of witchcraft, nature, cultural differences, and Idaho.

Because of its complex story, Sky daughter has had, since it came out May or June of 2012, six or seven covers. I also think this one is permanent as finally it seems to depict the energy of the story in the way I want. The tough part with covers is one image has to say it all. Not easy.

Next blog will get into the other recent cover changes and why the new ones seem better.

Update: I changed Sky Daughter again which you can see alongside here. I saw this possibility at CanStock and it led to a new subscription to get it. I like it though better than anything I ever had; so maybe it will now stay this way!