The Freedom (and Responsibility) of Self Publishing

I have a new book coming out on May 28. Did I mention that? I scheduled that release date myself. I wrote the book, too. And edited it. And proofread it. Again and again and again… (I’m actually in the last round of proofreading right now.) And hired a book cover guru (Farah Evers Designs). I did all this on my own without consulting anyone (except Farah because she has a skill set I do not). No editors, no agents, no publishers.

This is my book.

Why don’t I get an agent and sell my book to a real publisher? I guess the short answer to that is I have no patience. I used to think that was the only way to publish legitimately. But over and over I kept hearing “You’re a good writer, but it’s not what we’re looking for.” Well, I heard that when I could get any response at all. And that was usually after six months to a year of anguished waiting and checking my email and wishing and hoping and praying…

Self-publishing, though. Wow, that’s freedom. You can finish a book today and put it out tomorrow. Well, almost. It does have to pass a vetting process through Amazon or Smashwords or whatever. Still, it’s really easy comparatively. When I realized this (after my first self-published book, Weeds and Flowers), it didn’t take long or many rejections to decide my next one would be self-published.

It also didn’t take me long to realize the universal truth behind Uncle Ben’s immortal words: “With great power comes great responsibility.” I have spent the past decade perfecting my skills, not only in writing, but also book designing, editing, even a little cover design (though I still prefer Farah), and everything else that is involved in creating a beautiful book for my readers. I’ve studied and read articles, trying my best to learn to craft a perfect sentence or just to learn the difference between lie and lay (that one is my kryptonite, but don’t get me started on who and whom).

Am I there yet? Hell, no. Why do you think I’ve been reading and re-reading my book? I have not the slightest doubt there are mistakes in it, but tell me, when was the last time you read a 70,000-word book (whether it was professionally or self published) that didn’t? Most 700-word magazine articles have typos. Hell, CNN makes mistakes routinely in seven-word headlines. So, yeah, in spite of my best efforts, you may find a typo. But you’ll find fewer mistakes in Magic at Sea than you’d probably find in Secrets of the Lotus (my first novel published by Kensington Press).

(It’s worth mentioning, too, that any traditional publisher would probably have put off publishing Magic at Sea indefinitely considering the bad press that the cruise industry has received recently. Is that going to stop me? Oh no. I wrote this book based on a cruise to Alaska that my family and I took that is still one of my favorite vacations ever. I would do it again in a heartbeat.)

I often wonder what I would do if a professional publisher offered to publish my books. Purchase my whole backlist, professionally edit it, and put it out in paperback. It’s no doubt a pipe dream because, as I’ve been told often enough, I don’t write what they want to publish, but what would I do if someone made that offer after the love and care I know I’ve put into every one of my books? Sign or no?

Who am I kidding? I’d sign.

In the meantime, however, here are approximately 700 of my words that I’ve pored over (yes, pored, not poured, I looked that one up a while back) to entice you to buy Magic at Sea. Hopefully with no mistakes!

As they sat to partake of the drinks and snacks he’d arranged, Galen found himself settling into the unintentional role of Frankie’s escort. Yet it felt natural when Connor and Carole sat together with Kate and Alex next to them for Galen to hold a chair for Frankie.

“So you really get to live on this ship?” Kate looked around with appreciation, then back to Frankie. She sighed. “Just imagine the amount of writing I could get done.”

Frankie smiled. “For six months, as long as I behave myself.” She batted her eyelashes at Galen. “I wasn’t everyone’s first choice for onboard entertainment, though.”

Galen felt the full force of the little group’s curious gazes. How could he not adore Frankie? How could he not be certain she would be an asset to the cruise—not just this ship but the entire line? He shook his head inwardly. Though from what he’d gathered Frankie had only met Connor once before, she was already a part of the group. Maybe it was some sort of magicians’ code. More likely it stemmed from her association with their friends. Any friend of mine…

“You don’t approve of escape magic, then?” Connor’s good humor didn’t falter. “I’ve never tried any of it myself, mainly because it’s a whole different skill set that takes years to learn, and if you don’t know what you’re doing…” He shrugged and looked back to Frankie. “But I’m looking forward to seeing your show. Lydia and Tony speak very highly of you.”

“Thank you.” Frankie took a little sip of her champagne and glanced at Galen. Her eyes sparkled. Your turn.

He accepted the unspoken challenge. “Frankie’s show marks a bit of change in our focus as far as entertainment goes. The magic shows have always been more kid-centric.”

“I can do kid magic.” Frankie spoke up.

“Can you?” He shot back.

“Of course I can. I got my start as a kid, after all. I know the rings and the scarves and the cup and ball routine. Why don’t you let me prove it?” She leaned forward. “If you think the kids will be missing the magic show because you’ve made it the ten o’clock show, let me go to the kids’ clubs.”

“What happens when they want to come to your show that evening?” He raised his eyebrows.

She shrugged. “I’m not ashamed of my show. You’re the one who decided it needed a parental guidance rating.”

“I—” He hesitated. It sounded silly now. He hadn’t even seen the whole show, after all.

Alex looked amused. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned, you slap a parental warning on a show, the kids immediately want to get in even more. What’s wrong with the show?”

“It’s…” He couldn’t complete the sentence satisfactorily in spite of the polite silence that stretched uncomfortably.

Frankie appeared to take pity on him. “In his defense, it is a little edgy. And some of the effects might be a bit scary. Tense.”

“Has nothing to do with what you look like, then?” Connor’s voice had taken on an edge of its own now. He leaned forward, his eyes on Galen’s. “Because that wouldn’t exactly be the best standard to base a decision on, would it?”

Carole put a hand over her fiancé’s and he glanced at her, then returned to his original position. She gave Galen a curiously sympathetic look. “Not everyone judges women based on how they look.”

Feeling strangely as if he’d been given a rare compliment he didn’t really deserve, Galen cleared his throat. “At any rate, I did make the decision that Frankie’s show would do best in the ten o’clock slot. But if she’s popular enough, she’ll get an encore show as well.”

“And now I can do the kids’ shows, too.” She smiled happily.

“I didn’t agree to that.”

“I believe you did.” She looked around the table and the others nodded agreement.

He groaned. “Fine. But I need to see what you’re hoping to perform first.” His phone dinged and he realized he must have been there for more than an hour. The first day at sea had a lot of programs to run, and though they mostly ran themselves, he needed to make the rounds. He rose. “Sorry. Duty calls.”

And the beautiful cover designed by Farah Evers Designs

Finishing Something

It’s a good feeling, right? Finishing something. I recently realized my next book is finished. I mean, yeah, it was written a while back, but even the editing stages are finished. It’s as polished as it’s gonna get, I think. Well, maybe one last run through.

I’m not going to tell you anything about this book except that it’ll be book 7 of my Sleight of Hand series. If you haven’t read any of my Sleight of Hand series, never fear. All of them are stand-alone romances with occasional appearances of characters from previous books. It’s like a romance series that focuses on a family or a particular small town, but the community that these books focus on is actually a little more…magical. The characters are not related except by marriage (well, there’s one set of brothers…). As for being set in one small town, nope. Settings range from the coast of North Carolina to Hollywood, Las Vegas and New York.

It’s kind of fun to think that this all began with Close Up Magic in 2013. I’d always been fascinated by stage magic. I often tell the story of five-year-old me being chosen by a magician to be on a “flying carpet”. I was instructed to keep my eyes closed so the magic would work. My mother told me afterward it certainly appeared that I flew. Ever since, I have loved stage magic. I know there’s a trick and I sometimes try to catch the magician at it. But even if I do figure out how a trick is done, it doesn’t spoil the fun for me. Often it just increases my respect for the magician’s performance.

So why am I not announcing more about my next book in this series? I obviously am very excited about it. It’s the best one yet, I know it. I put a lot of thought into this one, which is why it took so long. The answer is simple. I’m planning to roll out the next book on The Next Chapter Books & Art’s social media first. This bookstore has become so much a part of my life, including my writing life, it just makes sense.

So if you want to be one of the first to see the cover (which is bound to be beautiful due to being designed by the fabulous Farah Evers Designs) and read all about my new book, follow The Next Chapter Books & Art on Facebook and Instagram.

In the meantime, I have a couple of other projects in the works. I’d like to put out another booklet of my poetry, rework my backlist now that I’ve discovered Vellum, and Book 8 is calling me already. Not to mention my alter-ego Shelley Gee wants to get to work on Jessica Gravely as soon as possible.

So I’m off to the bookstore. Come join me there!

Baby, it’s cold at Christmas-time these days

Have a holly, jolly holiday and be very careful to maintain your politically correct language if you want to continue to hand out your bona fide liberal card. Because there’s a very thin line liberals must walk these days. And for this blog entry, I’m going to wobble off it a bit.

Please understand, I’m a Democrat. I’m liberal. I have a woman card and I voted for Hillary Clinton, and not just because she was running against the worst human being on the planet, either. I honestly believed she would do the best job. With all that said, I’m getting really tired of the liberal war on Christmas this year.

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Photo by Meve R. on Pexels.com

You can’t watch Charlie Brown because the kids yell “Merry Christmas” and read about Jesus’s birth from the Bible. You can’t listen to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” because it’s a trigger for some people who have been date raped (I know. It’s creepy. But just don’t listen, maybe?). You can’t watch “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” because Santa (and most everyone else at the North Pole) is kind of a dick. (Please note I realized this when I was a kid but I was—and still am—more bothered by the fact that the dolly on the Island of Misfit Toys had NOTHING AT ALL wrong with her.)

It reminds me of some recent feedback I’ve received on Becoming Magic. Readers are not all happy I took on a #metoo storyline with this one. And some are not happy that (slight spoiler here) I didn’t have my character report her assault from the beginning. I’m not saying these readers are wrong…completely. Maybe I should have written this story from the POV of a strong woman who reports her assault and brings her attacker to justice.

But is that the only way to write a story from a strong woman’s POV? Isn’t it possible that you can be a strong woman who is attacked and is so shocked by the fact that you were attacked that you don’t immediately report it? Isn’t it possible that you can employ all your strength into rebuilding your life and moving on after the attack?

Isn’t it possible that every survivor has a right to their story the way they wish to live it—not just the way liberals tell us is the correct way?

And by that same token, maybe you need to stop and think about Rudolph. Rudolph is a freaking survivor if ever there was one. He is bullied by everyone from Santa to his own father, and he still battles the yeti and saves his friends and Christmas. And I got all this when I was about eight years old, so I’m thinking  there’s nothing wrong with the way the story is told.

That doll still bugs me, though. She’s too perfect. I’m thinking she’s a spy.

No apologies: I write what I write.

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Romance is a window on the reader’s soul, not the writer’s. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It’s a truth for most romance writers, I think. Our friends and family are almost afraid to read our books. As if they might find out something more about us than what they want.

Why don’t you write something else? I have this great idea for a book you could write.

It could be funny.

I could almost laugh.

Why am I amused? The reason is simple. Any good writing lays your soul bare because you do tell secrets about yourself. It’s the only real way to make your writing read true to another person’s soul. The trick is to write it so no one knows what is true and what is fiction. And I can guarantee you, even those who know me best don’t know what’s true and what’s fiction in my books.

I always say I’m never in my books. And it’s true. I’m not a character in my books. But I am in there. I’m in every word and phrase I write. When you hold my book, you are holding a part of my soul. Is it a window onto my everyday wants and desires and loves? No. Like all writing, and especially fiction, my words are filtered through the reader’s experiences and is more likely to reveal something about them than me.

I guess that’s why I say, no apologies. I write what I write. If you  have the courage to read it, that’s great. If not, please understand when I chuckle a little when you suggest I write something different. I love you, but my visceral answer to such a suggestion is an unequivocal “no.”

In other news…

I’m on Book Reviews by Jasmine today promoting Becoming Magic by talking about what I’d do on my day off if I worked in show business in Hollywood. As you might expect, it’s magical!

And on Smashwords and its affiliates, Close Up MagicBook 1 in the Sleight of Hand series, is FREE just in time for the holidays! Read it if you dare!

Paranormal Interests: Dickens and Me

7A241F6E-D057-4BE3-8D35-3CB616A54869I’ve mentioned before that I loved A Christmas Carol from an early age. I first read this copy, which belonged to my father and is one of my most treasured possessions.

Looking back, I’m not really surprised that I fell in love with that story. It starts out with a ghost, and that’s a definite interest I’ve always had—along with magicIt’s an interest I evidently shared with Charles Dickens, a famous skeptic who helped found The Ghost Club, a club dedicated to investigating the paranormal.

As for me, I rabidly consumed those little dime store pulp magazines—the ones that told of the bloody history of the countess of Bathory and explored creepy urban legends like the spiders in the wig and the vanishing hitchhiker. This obsession grew into a full-fledged love of local legends and lore. I have a jampacked shelf with ghost stories from every place I’ve ever visited.

I figure Dickens and I don’t have to be too reserved about our interest in the paranormal, though. It was, after all, shared by notables like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, among others. And while Doyle was known to be a believer, Houdini and Dickens were both skeptics. And me? I’m somewhere between. I don’t know what I don’t know, and I’m not afraid to admit it.

Have I mentioned that Dickens Magic is available today?

 

Happy birthday, Dickens Magic!

dickens-magicHappy birthday, at long last, Dickens Magic! I feel like I’ve been waiting forever! And what better way to celebrate my latest book in my magic series than by indulging in a little of the magic of the day?

I try to release my magic books on Halloween for a couple of reasons. First, it’s Samhain, the day the Celts believed the veil lifted a little between this world and that of the dead. It’s a sort of “in between” time and magic abounds. For instance:

  • Bat magic. Bats are messengers. Did you know you can send a message with a bat to the other side of the veil on Halloween? Just ask when you see one out and about tonight.
  • Spider magic. Don’t squash spiders on Halloween! If you find one inside, it’s probably a dead relative come to visit.
  • Black cat magic. If you find a stray black cat curled up on your doorstep, don’t scare it off. It’s there to guard your house against evil spirits. Or it’s a witch’s familiar sent to spy on you.
  • Jack-o-lantern magic. You probably have one guarding your front door. My favorite legend of the jack-o-lantern comes from the Southern Appalachian Mountains where I grew up. One of many “Jack Tales” I read and heard over the years. I especially like the one from Richard Chase’s timeless collection. In this version, Jack the troublemaker made the first one when, after tricking the devil into agreeing not to take his soul to hell, he was also refused entrance to heaven. The devil, taking pity on poor, homeless Jack’s soul, tossed him a coal from hell and Jack put it into a hollowed out gourd to light his way as he wandered the earth. If you haven’t read the Chase collection, it’s available here: Jack Tales.

Second, it just so happens that the master of escape magic, Harry Houdini died on Halloween. Even he couldn’t avoid the inescapable clutch of death, it seems. Or could he? Toward the end of his life, Houdini was alternately fascinated and disgusted by the “mediums” of the day. He spent a large amount of his time studying their tricks and exposing them.

And yet, he and his wife Bess promised each other that whoever passed away first would find a way to contact the other with a secret code that spelled “Believe”. So, after Houdini’s death, Bess arranged a seance on the anniversary of his death every year until her own death, after which it was taken up by other believers.

I wonder about the death of Houdini. What better way for an escape magician to cross the veil than when it is, by Celtic belief, at its thinnest? And surely, if he so desired, he could escape that veil. Yet so far, no one has heard from him. If you’re curious about this year’s seance, you can find out more here: Houdini seance.

Maybe this year he’ll tell everyone to buy Dickens MagicIt’s not totally out of the realm of possibility, you know. He and Dickens shared a real interest in the paranormal. More about that later.

What’s the Date? Writing for a Different Season

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Charles Dickens began writing A Christmas Carol in October 1843. It was published December 19, 1843 and sold 6,000 copies by Christmas.

One of the things I used to love about reading Stephen King books was the way he would put in the dates of when he started the book versus when it was published. Cujo, for instance, was September 1977 through March 1981. Three and a half years he spent on that book.

I think I must know how he felt when he got the idea. It was September and, in Maine, at least, the season is fall. (In eastern N.C., it’s hurricane season.) The dead leaves were skittering across the pavement leaving a wet smell of decay behind, and all the sounds were louder, crisper. Like the bark of a dog. A really big dog.

Of course, that’s all conjecture, and far from how I conceive my own ideas. I decided to write Dickens Magic right after I starred as “Woman 3” in our community theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol. One problem. There’s no time to write around Christmas. Seriously. National Novel Writing Month takes place in November for a reason.

So I ended up putting it off starting the book until spring. By then I’d gained some more stage experience but the Christmas spirit was worn down and put away until this year. I’m only starting to want to put that spirit back on. So how do you write about Christmas in seventy-, eighty-, and ninety-degree weather?

It’s a question every writer eventually has to answer. How do you put yourself in another time? It helps to think of the things you like about that time—sights, smells, sounds. I listened to a lot of Christmas carols, which actually helped me with the magic show at the end of the book. It also helps that snow isn’t really a thing here in eastern N.C., and especially not at Christmas. You might see some in January or February, but not December.

And of course I have to thank Charles Dickens. His story is timeless in more ways than one. It does the soul good no matter what time of year you read it. Considering he sort of self-published it (and did not make the fortune he should have), it does make sense that I would feel a sort of kinship with him about this story.

So, though I didn’t keep exact track of my writing, I think I can guess what the dates at the end of Dickens Magic would be. March 2018-October 31, 2018.

Shout it from the rooftops chimney-sweep style!

Three days to publication of Dickens Magic, book 6 in Sleight of Hand, and I’m doing all the normal stuff. Facebook, Twitter, blog… I’ve currently got a web tour going for Becoming Magic, and I won’t lie, I’ve plugged Dickens Magic several times in that tour.

But how do I get you guys as excited as I am?

Whenever I publish a new book, I think of the chimney sweeps dancing on the rooftops of London in Mary Poppins. If I could convince Dick Van Dyke to shout the news from the rooftops on Wednesday, would that get the word out? That’s what I feel like doing when a new book comes out. I want everyone to know!

It’s a strange world, the publishing world of today. It’s easier than ever to put your words out there, harder than ever to convince someone to read them. The best way to accomplish this now is word of mouth. So, if you’ve ever read any of my books or short stories or poems and liked them, consider telling someone I have a new book out. It’s called Dickens Magic. Shout it from the rooftops!

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Not London… But imagine me standing on the roof shouting about my new book and dancing the chimney sweep dance from Mary Poppins. That’s how I feel when a new book comes out!

 

Music and the Writer

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

It’s a fact of life that music affects humans in a way that very little else does. Throughout the ages, music has developed with human beings. Today, the history of music is studied along with the psychology of music, musical therapy and ethnomusicology—and many other branches of music studies. All because we like to hear pretty sounds.

I’ve never met a writer who doesn’t have a playlist for writing. It varies, and sometimes one song is more strongly featured than others, but almost all of us have music playing in the background when we write. Why is this? Music can inspire and lift the spirits. Music can remind us so strongly of where we’ve been and make us long to go somewhere completely different. Music sets the mood.

Most of the time, my playlist is pretty eclectic. For six months after David Bowie died, I remember I only listened to his music. And then other songs began to sneak in. He’s still pretty heavily featured on my playlists, but it’s not all Bowie all the time like it was. I have some country, some pop, some classic rock, even a bit of classical. Recently, Enrique Iglesias has snuck onto my radar, possibly because of my most recent work-in-progress (more about that later).

Today, I’m over at Laurie’s Thoughts and Reviews promoting Becoming Magic with ten of my favorite playlist songs. Guaranteed, I listened to all ten while writing Becoming Magic. I’m probably listening to them today, too.  Join me over there and leave a comment with your favorite song. I’d love to know what inspires you!

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#AmWriting: What it means to me

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If only there were a sign that pointed the way. Photo by Jens Johnsson on Pexels.com

You’ve probably seen the hashtag #amwriting before. On Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. I don’t use it very often because if I’m on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, I’m actually not writing. I’m putting off writing. I’m distracted. I’m looking for a way to get out of writing.

I’m procrastinating, and, as my high school chemistry teacher always said, “Procrastination is the thief of time.”

Today, for instance, I #amwriting. I’m writing guest blogs and interviews for other people as part of my ongoing blog tour for Becoming Magic with Goddess Fish. Meanwhile, my novel writing is at a bit of a crossroads. I have started and stopped several times on my new project. Nicó and Brooke (the heroes of my newest untitled project) have been left wondering what’s to become of them. And poor Galen and Frankie from Magic at Sea! I left them way back last October to finish rewriting Becoming Magic and then realized I needed to write Dickens Magic if I wanted it out before Christmas this year.

Well, Kate and Alex from Dickens Magic are all set. Now I’m torn between the two stories I’ve started, and I have to pick a direction. Or I could always go back to finish up Jack and Kaelyn’s story in Timeless. At least that one’s written. I just have to edit and rewrite and edit again.

That’s what #amwriting means. I #amwriting. I just need to pick a direction. And quit feeding the procrastination thief!