7.02.2016

Write Every Day, They Said

The seventh book in the Haunted Hearts series just released on June 25th. I was editing it right up until the moment I had to submit the final version to Kindle by the end of the day on the 14th. I uploaded the final copy and sat back to relax.

A week before its official release, my family left for a vacation to Colorado. Since we were flying, I decided to leave my computer at home, to enjoy the trip, and to give my writing a short break.

Heresy, I know. How many times have veteran writers advised someone new to writing to write something every day? Too many times to remember. I was one of those writers. When someone asked for my advice about writing, I spouted the same mantra. Write every day, even if it’s only one sentence. If you don’t use it, you lose it.

So leaving the computer at home seemed a bit…unsettling. Would I lose my writing mojo if I took a couple of weeks off? Would my muse pack her bags and move back to wherever she came from? Would the lapse cause my release schedule to fall months and months behind? Would my readers forget me and find someone else’s books to love?

I learned a solid truth about writing while my computer had a little staycation back home. No. I wasn’t going to stop being a writer because I wasn’t recording the words that form inside my head. Writing is my life. It’s part of me. It’s not leaving me because I take a break.

Writing isn’t just tapping out words on a computer keyboard (or writing them out longhand if the writer is old school). Writing is a process that involves much more than drafting a manuscript. Good writing begins with inspiration, and inspiration can be found anywhere, anytime. The process continues when inspiration morphs into imagination. And finally, the work is halfway there when imagination emerges as creativity. The longest and hardest task is shaping creativity into a product that is publishable and readable.

I should have known better than to suggest that a writer should add word count every day. Sometimes imagination hasn’t quite reached the point of creativity. Sometimes it stays stuck in my head, percolating and simmering and baking into something worth putting into words. Yeah, a lot of the writing process stays in my head until it’s fully cooked.

How many times have I stared into space only to be jolted back to the moment by someone I know? “What are you staring at?”

“I’m not staring. I’m writing.” And I am. In my head. Setting the mood. Concocting the action. Considering potential dialogue. Twisting plot points and imagining character reactions. This is all part of writing. Important steps in the process that cannot be rushed.

Writing begins somewhere else besides the computer keyboard. Truth be told, some of my best work happens in the shower, or in the car, or I must admit, at my accounting job. So is it any wonder that the core of a brand new trilogy came to me in the Denver Airport at the tail end of our trip while we were getting ready to fly back home? (P.S. Have you read about the conspiracy theories surrounding the new airport? If you’re curious, check out the murals that were painted in the main terminal. Creepy. That might be the core of a suspense novel right there.)

Setting is so important to the mood of a book. My trips around the country have often inspired the locale for a book before I even start to consider a plotline. The Haunted Hearts series began when I spotted a creepy, abandoned house on a country road in Arkansas. Now, I’m working on book number eight in the series.

But this trip, I doubted if I would find much inspiration. I’d been to that part of Colorado many times. I even have an already published three-book series set in another part of the state. I thought I had milked all the inspiration out of the state of Colorado that I could manage. I thought my brain could take a little rest from working out plots and character sketches. Just for a couple of weeks.

But no. Inspiration hit me hard. Right there, while I was waiting for my husband and my son to come back to the table with our pizza. I scratched out a description for book one of the trilogy right there on a scrap piece of paper.

After I got home and typed the blurb out on my computer, inspiration settled into what the book will become, and the premise for all three books solidified. The writing began somewhere near Shadow Mountain Lake in Colorado, but readers probably won’t see the final story for months or maybe even years.

I can’t take a break. Writing is what I live and breathe. It’s a part of me, of who I am, every single day. Even when I’m not writing, I’m writing.

5.07.2016

Success Is Personal: Reflections On a Twelve-Year Journey

Everyone in author world has his or her own definition of success. Some define it as making six figures in royalties. Many want to be published by a big 5 publisher. Others want to be number one on the New York Times bestseller list. Still others are content selling a few copies of their book to family and friends. Whether seeking recognition in publishing, longing for feedback from readers, or craving the joy that comes with creative expression, most authors have at least attempted to define success.

Writing is my passion. Someone reading what I write is my dream. Success came when I finally made more money in royalties than I earned in accounting. If I am a professional writer, I can stop being a professional accountant. That’s how I define success: having the freedom to quit the day job, indulge my passion, and pursue my dream. Royalties mean books are being sold. That means someone out there is reading. Maybe that’s not your definition, but it’s the definition that is meaningful to me.

It’s been a twelve-year journey. I started this blog years ago with the title “Journey to Publication.” I changed the title to “Suspense, She Writes” when Still Moments Publishing released my first short story in 2012. At first, I labeled myself as a romance writer because Still Moments was a romance publisher. After a few years and a few releases, I realized that the title of this blog had always been a more accurate description of what I write. I love writing suspense. 

In 2014, I released my first paranormal romantic suspense novel and found my niche. After ten years of writing and publishing, I finally knew who I was as a writer. I had found the elusive voice that writers talk about—that quality of one’s writing that defines them as a writer.

Occasionally, an aspiring writer will ask me for advice on how to succeed in publishing. I try to give the best advice I can. The truth is I have no idea why my books began to sell. I have a few theories, but I can only guess. All I know for sure is that in January 2015 the first book in the Haunted Hearts series started selling, and it’s still selling. I’m grateful. It was my dream to be a professional writer. The success of the Haunted Hearts series has fulfilled my dream.

However, I am not at that place in my writing life, at least not psychologically, where I can boast about how I did it. I don’t feel comfortable giving how-to-succeed-in-this-business advice. When I do, I subconsciously, or maybe even consciously, wonder if I’m a fraud pretending like I know what I’m talking about when I really don’t. My success feels very much like being in the right place at the right time.

There is a subgenre of writing about writing, and some writers have been successful in publishing in that genre. I read their words, and I suspect those writing gurus are just as clueless about why they succeeded as I am. All of their advice is sound, but a writer could follow their advice and still remain unknown, unpublished, and unsuccessful. I'm sorry if that is discouraging, but it's the truth.

During these twelve years, there are a few things I’ve come to understand and I can state without feeling like I don’t know what I’m talking about.

1.     Very few authors are overnight successes. Actually, there probably aren’t any overnight successes. Authors who came onto the publishing scene with a breakout novel honed their craft for years before they had a successful debut novel.

2.     Fail proof marketing strategies do not exist. It’s all trial and error. Discovering what works is a process. Stubbornly sticking to a strategy that doesn’t produce results is a waste of time, money, and emotional energy.

3.     Not all “authoritative” publishing advice is valid. It’s like parenting advice. Some of it is great. Some of it, not so much. A few basic pieces of advice are sound. The rest is opinion. It takes time and experience to be able to determine the difference between advice and opinion.

4.     There are many paths to publishing success. Success has its own plotline and its own timeline, and it's different for every author.

5.     It’s the story. That’s it. If you have a sellable story, it doesn’t matter how well it’s written. Some of the biggest bestsellers have tons of reviews posted on Amazon about poor writing. Despite all the "authoritative" advice about making your story as good as it can be no matter how long it takes to get it right so you can compete in the marketplace, if the story doesn’t interest readers it’s not going to sell, which means no one is going to read it. I'm not saying don't insist on delivering a quality book to the marketplace. I'm saying don't count on the quality giving the book an edge over other books with better plots.

6.     Not everyone is going to love the story. Every book published is vulnerable to the one-star review. If the author hasn’t received a one-star yet, it’s coming. Wait for it. The negative review will punch the writer in the gut. Hard and without warning. It is survivable, and it doesn’t mean the writer is awful. One star reviews are not a sign the writer should stop writing. They are an indication that someone is paying attention.

7.     The more I learn, the less I know. This kind of sounds backward, but I find it to be true. The more I read and understand about the art and craft of writing, the more I feel like I have so much more to learn. Every new concept I discover strengthens and enhances my writing. A good writer never stops learning how to write better.

I cringe when I think about the first full-length manuscript I finished. I know now what I didn’t know then. The book was lame and the writing was terrible. You’ll never read that book because I don’t think I can revise it enough to make it sellable. Like I wrote before, I want people to read what I write, and I'm not fond of one-star reviews.

Twelve years ago, I told my husband about an idea I had for a book. The idea turned into my book Purgatory. We were coming home from eating out for our wedding anniversary. He says he remembers the conversation, where we were at, and how excited I was about the story idea. He’s good at remembering details like that. That idea was not the first book I completed. I think maybe it was the second or third full-length manuscript I finished. I'm still writing, and I believe my writing continues to improve. Twelve years has given me a lot of practice.


I have one piece of advice for aspiring writers. Do not let rejection, an unclear or uncertain path, or negative feedback discourage you from pursuing your writing goals, no matter how complex or simple they are. No matter how personal they are. No matter how long it takes to achieve them. Being a professional writer is a process, not a destination. Looking back on it, I was a professional writer twelve years ago. I just didn't realize it.

4.22.2016

10 Favorite Inspirational Spots

These ten spots have inspired me, and one day will all find their way into my writing...if they haven't already.



Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington




Hidden Falls, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming



Pirate's Alley, French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana



San Antonio Riverwalk, Texas



Inner Harbour, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada



Meigs Falls, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Tennessee



Hot Springs, Arkansas



Ghost Town, St. Elmo, Colorado



Florida Gulf Coast, near Pensacola, Florida



Caddo Lake State Park, near Jefferson, Texas

3.18.2016

Conversations With My Muse - Writing In My Head Edition

Image in Public Domain as a faithful reproduction
of a work of art in the public domain.
It’s been awhile since I shared one of my conversations with my muse. Not that my demanding, loud-mouthed muse has been quiet. No, actually she’s been very vocal, and her ideas have kept me busy writing. In fact, sometimes she demands so much attention that it’s hard to think about anything except what she’s yelling in my ear.

As some of you may know, my alter ego is a tax accountant. January through April is tax season, a time of the year I call hell on earth. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but not much. Stress levels during this time of year can get very high.

Wait! Stay with me. I’m not going to bore you with tax stuff. I promise. I’d rather not bore me with tax stuff, but the non-writing job supports my writing habit, so I immerse myself in tax stuff. This time of year, it’s hard to get all that tax stuff out of my head when I’m trying to write, and a writer has to have priorities.

After tax season ended last year, I tried to quit my part-time accounting job to write full time. I really tried, but the accounting boss man asked me nicely if I’d considered staying. The men and women I work with have become my extended family. I’ve developed a rapport with most of the clients I work with. I mourned losing my connections with them, because no matter how hard a person tries, connections get lost after a certain amount of time. So when the boss man asked nicely, I agreed to stay. Reluctantly.

My muse was furious.

Last April, our conversation went something like this:

Muse: What are you doing? Yells in my ear while I’m completing a Form 1040 (To the left you can view one of these obnoxious creations.)


Me: Jumps out of skin (figuratively if not literally). Go away. I’m working. Muttering under my breath while I glance around cubicle world to see if anyone notices me talking to my invisible muse. My co-workers already think I’m nuts.

Muse: You should be working on something important, like your manuscript. You’ll never get it finished this way.

Me: Gritting my teeth and growling my answer. I’m working on it. Besides, what I’m doing here is important.

Muse: Uttering in an incredulous voice. You can’t work on your manuscript here.

Me: I can so work on it here. Just because I’m not typing doesn’t mean I’m not organizing my next chapter in my head.

Muse: Hogwash. You need to be in your writing environment to write. She’s so wrong. I can write anywhere. Most of my writing is done in my head before I even start typing. She knows that. What’s her problem?

Muse: I have an idea…

Me: Rolls eyes. You’ve given me enough ideas to keep me writing for ten years. I don’t need any more. Let me finish the ones I’m already working on.

Muse: Are you really sending me away? Pouting. Not a pretty sight, I guarantee.

Me: Just until I finish working on this tax return. Then, you can help me think about how I’m going to get my character out of that sticky situation I left her in.

Muse: Picking at her fingernails. It’s not nice to leave a heroine with a villain’s fingers around her neck. You should have finished that scene before you came to work. I told you what to write.

Me: Huffing. I was already late for work this morning. If I’d finished the scene… Never mind. You have no sympathy.

Muse: So when are you going to quit this job and come back to work?

Me: Oh, please. Go away.

And she did for a long, long time. The ungrateful wench left me on my own for a few months. Thankfully, she’d left me with plenty of ideas to work with. I just had to come up with the details on my own. I finished the manuscript I was working on and released it in April 2015. I was still rolling with ideas, so I wrote the follow-up book and released it in July 2015. After that, I needed her help badly. I didn’t release the next book in the series until December 2015.


She came back, loaded with ideas and snarkier than ever. Yeah, I kind of missed her.
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