Sunday, July 27, 2014

Time Off Means Things Are Back on Track

The Stanley Hotel, where stressed writers makes deals with the devil.
I haven't posted an update in a while. Life has been a little nuts, and I felt like I was floundering for a while and unable to organize my thoughts. I was in a funk, and I was trying to start a new project, but it wasn't going well. See, the last novel I wrote just flowed. I finished it in a little over a month. It was the easiest time writing I'd ever had. But this time, it was hard. I couldn't get the beginning quite right. The tone and voice were off. It was way too serious, and even though this is, at heart, a dark story, I wanted a lighter beginning. I wanted something mundane to balance out the darkness to come. And so I finally latched onto it, and I got to 20,000 words this week. Hurrah!

I've also been taking a class called Writing From the Heart. It's pushed me to delve into the things I hate, fear, love. Really, anything that makes me feel deeply. I've been wanting to take a course like this for some time. I feel like I hold back way too often when I write, and if I could just push through, I could create some really amazing stuff. This week I came up with an idea that excited me, and also scared the poop out of me. Horror story, here I come!

And as if that wasn't enough, I've begun final preparations for publishing the sequel to The Graveyard Girl. I'm looking forward to getting this story into the world. With all of this going on, is it any wonder that I had a hard time focusing? I guess not.

Run, little steer!
Sometimes the best thing to do when you're stuck is to take a break. So I went out of town with the family this weekend for Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It's a huge rodeo, or as they like to call it, "The Daddy of Them All." Being from Texas, I enjoy a good rodeo, and Frontier Days didn't let me down. I watched bull riding, bronc riding, roping. There were horses and steer, and cowboys and cowgirls everywhere. The one odd thing was, there was also a drone at the rodeo. It hovered over the field like a giant mosquito. I'm not sure what exactly it was doing, but it was creepy.

Cowboys prepare for competition
So this week I will slowly get back into the usual frantic pace. It's back to writing my latest novel, working on another to prep it for publication, and finishing up my class. It's back to work, and laundry, and errands, and preparing the kiddo for school. But I feel energized by my break and ready to tackle it all like a cowgirl bulldogging a steer.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Visit to Tinkertown

The outside was fascinating in and of itself
I've talked before about Artist's Dates, and this past week I had the chance to go to a new and quirky place with my son on what amounted to a combined Artist Date and nice afternoon with him.

We visited Tinkertown in Sandia Crest, which is located on the eastern side of the Sandia Mountains, about 20 minutes outside Albuquerque. It's a museum filled with carvings by Ross Ward, collectibles from all over the world, and even a boat that's travelled around the world. The museum is surrounded by pine trees, and when we got out of the car, I could smell horses along with the forest's scent. Sure enough, there was a small paddock nearby where a couple of horses watched over us.
A wee little burial

There is a lot to see in every single bit of space in the museum. It's made of a couple dozen rooms linked by some crazy wooden walkways that were pretty steep in some areas, with old license plates and horseshoes embedded here and there and glass bottles in the walls.

There was an Old West village in miniature, and an entire circus in miniature. In the glass case called Boot Hill, you could watch God and the devil battle it out over one man's soul while skeletons danced at the top of a hill overlooking a tiny cemetery.
The art car

One of the things that touched me most, though, was when we stumbled across an art car. Ross Ward was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and eventually he got to the point where he figured he shouldn't drive his car anymore, but he didn't know what to do with it. A friend suggested he turn it into a piece of art. And so he did. He wasn't tempted to drive it anymore since it was a piece of art and no longer just his car. I found it an interesting and insightful solution into the problem of giving up one's car when the time as appropriate.

I find it remarkable that one person's passion grew so much and became popular enough to draw in thousands of visitors every year.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Remembering Art Class

I came across something the other day that gave me quite a shock. I found an old pencil drawing I had done sometime around the age of twenty. I'd bought a sketchpad and a book on drawing and had spent some time doodling and playing, much of it at the table in the back of our house (given some of the subject matter in the sketchpad, like an aluminum Jon boat and a duck) where I could look out the window and draw whatever I spotted.
One of my many masterpieces

It's no Michelangelo, and yet the first thing I thought when I saw it for the first time after many years was, "Hunh, that's not bad." But it did bring back memories, mostly of the elective art class I took in high school, and the teacher, Ms. Tarrant.

The high school I graduated from required two art classes. I'd already taken one at my old school, and the one I took at my new school was rather bland. But, the elective was exciting. We were the kids who really dug art, and Ms. Tarrant was about the nicest teacher you could ever imagine. I still remember how she always wore her red hair in the same bouffant every day. And one time she called in a substitute teacher because she lived near the zoo, and one of the lions had escaped and was somewhere in her neighborhood and she didn't want to leave the house. I couldn't really blame her for that one.

Anyway, she let us listen to whatever music we wanted, which usually ended up being The Ramones or heavy metal. She would tolerate a rather generous portion of time listening to it before she let us know she couldn't take it any more, and then she'd put on her own tape. She always put on Neil Diamond. When I hear Neil Diamond, I always go back to that room and the smell of paint and charcoal.

We worked with all sorts of media in that class. One time I made about ten or a dozen airbrushed prints using the same star-like shape over and over, just experimenting with colors and how I laid out the pattern. I entered the best piece and a couple of other pieces in an art show and, just for the heck of it, assigned prices to them in case anybody wanted to buy one. To my surprise, I sold that airbrush piece. Apparently a little girl saw it and loved it and wanted to put it up in her bedroom because she loved stars. I imagined my piece framed and hanging up in a room somewhere, maybe surrounded by teddy bears or unicorns, or lots of books. That was the best feeling, that I had made something I liked and that somebody else liked, too.

Monday, May 26, 2014

My Experience With Indie Publishing (Post 2)

If you missed my first post on indie publishing, you can find it here. This time around, I'll be talking about picking a cover, getting reviews, marketing, and writing the next book.

Initially I had grandiose ideas about creating my own cover. There are plenty of sites out there with stock photos, and people swear by Gimp for fiddling with images, font, etc. I know some people who have designed their own covers and do a fantastic job at it, Maya Lassiter being one. So I looked at stock images and started thinking about what I wanted the cover of The Graveyard Girl to look like. And I was overwhelmed with the choices. Choice paralysis is a real thing, and it was inhibiting my going forward with the cover.
Contrary to popular belief, this is not a self portrait.

I had already signed up with Smashwords, so I went to their list of cover designers and started looking through them. I had a few questions in mind as I searched. Who had made plenty of fantasy and/or young adult covers? Who fit into my budget? Who had a professional looking site? Did they have plenty of examples of covers so I could get a feel for what they were capable of? I settled onVila Design because (1) she'd done a lot of covers, (2), they looked good, (3) many were in the genre I wrote in, and (4) she fit my budget. She gave me about eight to ten images to consider, some of which were really good but I never would have thought to include in my search. She seemed like a mind reader when it came to presenting me with the final two cover choices (or maybe she's made a billion covers so she knows what to expect), and she was fast. My choice paralysis was gone, and I had a shiny new cover.

Reviews are important. They let people know that someone has read your book, and they give readers a better idea about whether or not they might enjoy a particular book. Honest reviews help make a book more noticeable. It's a good idea to ask people for honest reviews via social media, or by asking at the book's end, or by asking for reviews from those who do a bunch of them. There are plenty of people out there who love to read and want to be among the first to get their hands on a good book. One helpful site I found is The Indie Book Reviewers List. It can take a long time to wade through all of the reviewers out there, so it's something I end up doing in bits and pieces when I have time. Word of mouth is one of the most important ways of selling a book, and if you find some good folks willing to review yours and spread the news, then that will help your book start to build momentum.

Once you've got your book out and you've spread the word, the best thing you can do to market it is to write the next book. People enjoy binge watching TV, and they enjoy binge reading their favorite author and/or series. The more books you have out, the more you'll sell, and the happier you'll make your readers. When I decided to self-publish The Graveyard Girl, I waited until I had a rough draft of the second book in the series and had the third novel roughly outlined. Right now I'm working on edits for the second book and tentatively hope to have it out by September, and I hope to have the third one out about four to six months after that.

I'm constantly learning as I go along, and I'm constantly tweaking my plans. As I cross items off my to-do list, others sneak on. But for someone who is a control freak (like me), self-publishing is a great venue. I rely on others to help, but ultimately, I get to say when the book comes out, where, and what it looks like. I was scared when I began this process, but that quickly turned into absolute happiness as I realized just how much fun the process was.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

FAE Anthology Cover Reveal!

My publisher, World Weaver Press, is putting out a beautiful anthology, Fae, on July 22nd. The cover art is stunning, and the list of contributors is filled with some great authors. The synopsis:

Meet Robin Goodfellow as you’ve never seen him before, watch damsels in distress rescue themselves, Fae is full of stories that honor that rich history while exploring new and interesting takes on the fair folk from castles to computer technologies and modern midwifing, the Old World to Indianapolis. Fae covers a vast swath of the fairy story spectrum, making the old new and exploring lush settings with beautiful prose and complex characters. Enjoy the familiar feeling of a good old-fashioned fairy tale alongside urban fantasy and horror with a fae twist.
get swept away with the selkies and enjoy tales of hobs, green men, pixies and phookas. One thing is for certain, these are not your grandmother’s fairy tales. Fairies have been both mischievous and malignant creatures throughout history. They’ve dwelt in forests, collected teeth or crafted shoes.

With an introduction by Sara Cleto and Brittany Warman, and new stories from Sidney Blaylock Jr., Amanda Block, Kari Castor, Beth Cato, Liz Colter, Rhonda Eikamp, Lor Graham, Alexis A. Hunter, L.S. Johnson, Jon Arthur Kitson, Adria Laycraft, Lauren Liebowitz, Christine Morgan, Shannon Phillips, Sara Puls, Laura VanArendonk Baugh, and Kristina Wojtaszek.

There's a giveaway on Goodreads with six copies available. Enter to win, or spread the word!

Monday, May 19, 2014

My Experience With Indie Publishing (Post 1)

I celebrated my book's appearance on Amazon in style.
Things are winding down after a frantic few weeks. On May 1st, I released the first book in a series. It was my first foray into indie publishing, and it was as exciting and terrifying as releasing a book through a publisher, perhaps even more so because ultimately, the buck stops here, so I thought I'd share my experience.

First of all, I had this idea that I would have a 'release day' in which the book went live across all electronic platforms. Excuse me while I go laugh hysterically in the corner for a second. Ahem. So. I'm sure it can be done, but I have no idea how. Amazon took a few hours to have the book ready to sell. Barnes and Noble and Kobo had it ready in about a day. The iTunes store required an act of Congress, a small blood sacrifice, and about two weeks of time to have the book ready. In the future, if I want a 'release day,' I'll simply plan on a day about a month after I start publishing the book. But since I'm fairly lazy, I'll probably just do it the same way I did it this time--one venue per day.

One of the first things I did when I decided to self publish was read a couple of books on indie publishing. I read Indie And Small Press Book Marketing by William Hertling. It includes a convenient checklist for the time leading up to publication, during, and after. I made my own checklist based off his, and it helped immensely. Instead of flailing and wondering what to do when, I could just make my way down the list, feeling self-satisfied as I checked things off. I also read Your First 1000 Copies by Tim Grahl. He focused most of his advice on making and using an email reader list, which is something I haven't gotten around to doing yet. And I read numerous blogs, trying to absorb every person's experience and decide what I wanted mine to be like, including Jeff Carlson's guest spot on SF Signal and these tips from M. Darusha Wehm.

I'm lazier than turtles sunning on a rock.
The next thing I did was make the book as polished as possible. After making changes based on reader feedback, I read it over. Then I let it rest and read it through again. Only when I was satisfied I'd done all I could on a macro and micro level did I bring in a professional freelance editor to look it over. I used E-Quality Press. Not only did they do a fantastic job, but the editor got what I was trying to do. He formatted the files for me in addition to editing (more on that in a bit), and when it came time to format the file for the print copy, he asked if I wanted the story to begin on page 13. I was amused that he had gotten to know me well enough in a short period of time (and through email, too) to even know to ask that.

A lot of authors format their files themselves. Initially I thought I'd go that direction, but when it came time, I simply had no desire to learn how to convert my Word document into the proper format (Do you see a pattern? Seriously, I'm the laziest person around. I'm worse than Garfield the cat). It was worth letting somebody else do that work while I panicked over other things, like the book's cover, which I will discuss in another post along with reviews and miscellaneous other items.

Until then, if you have any links or books or anything at all that you'd like to share when it comes to indie publishing, feel free to comment.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Everything. Everyone. Everywhere. Ends.

The tile of this blog post is the tagline used for the final season of Six Feet Under. Fair warning, spoilers for the show are about to happen, so if you haven't seen it and you want to, stop reading.

My HS economics teacher suggested I be a mortician. Seriously.
I've said it before, the finale for this series was the best finale to any show I've ever seen. Nothing has come close to topping it, not even my beloved Breaking Bad, good as that finale was. I've been trying to figure out why that last episode did so much for me, and I think I finally figured it out.

The show was about death. It was about funeral homes and how the little businesses stacked up against the big, corporate ones. It was about family. But mostly, it was about death. Every episode opened with somebody dying. There were old people dying of, well, old age, people dying in accidents, kids dying, spouses dying, parents dying. It was right there, in your face.

At some point in the last century or so, it became rather taboo to talk about death. I've seen people avoid the topic, or refuse to attend funerals. They might do the equivalent of sticking their fingers in their ears and saying, "Lalalalalala, can't hear you!" Not so long ago, people talked about death more openly. When somebody died, they were laid out in their home for the viewing. In Victorian times, people died young, and often. There was no avoiding the topic. But now we go to funeral homes to view the deceased. People live longer, and so they might put off thinking about the inevitable. It's a topic that makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

Shows like Six Feet Under are bringing death to the forefront, though, and perhaps encouraging people to think a little more about their deaths. So what is it about that show's ending that made such an impression on me? Well, almost every other series finale ends with the main characters still going about their lives in some way. But in Six Feet Under, we get to see snippets of how the rest of their lives played out, and how they died. Every single character's death is shown, all while Sia's "Breathe Me" played in the background. Incidentally, if you haven't heard this song, it's great. But there was no question about what happened to any of the characters. We saw them all die. It was such an intimate moment, and moving, and terribly sad, and completely satisfying. Holy cow, I'm sort of tearing up writing this. Yes, the ending was that good.

I'm not saying that every show needs to do this. But for this series, it was perfect. Everything. Everyone. Everywhere. Ended.