Betwixt and Between

AnotherRoadSignRecently, I was given a nudge down my “how to improve” writing road journey, while thinking about my most recent book club selection discussion. I’m sure I’ve previously mentioned how much I like—and have learned from my local monthly book club. Indeed, without the diversity of selections members put on our list, there are so many books and authors I would have regretfully never read. So first off, let me say again, I love book club!

For example, our August book selection was Catalyst, written by the highly acclaimed and award winning Science Fiction/Fantasy author Anne McCaffrey, this offering written with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough[i]. Great writers, but in a genre which is not my forte—which I’ve proclaimed on several past occasions. Thank goodness for members who ignore me and push us all outside our reading cocoons. Indeed, I’ve self-indulgently proclaimed on more than one occasion about the genre, “Not what I like. Not real.” 

On my way home from our meeting, I had one of those “good-grief” moments that astound me at my own silly thinking and categorizing. I write fiction. Duh, questioningmannot Real! Mystery fiction writers ask readers to accept people, places, events, etc.—all that often aren’t real—though sometimes based on real events and situated in real places.

From there, I headed down the “how real should our fiction be?” path. Sounds silly, but what I mean is the importance of having the right “reality balance” to our commercial fiction—mysteries in particular. I’ve talked before about closing books without reading because the characters don’t grab me, or I dislike them, which sorry to say, I seem to be doing more of. But, does the reality-balance also have something to do with my lack of story engagement?

Some thoughts:

    • For sure, for me in particular, I want readers to be able to visualize a non-existent-unreal town of Shiné as a real place. Store fronts, roads, places of business, even a castle. If they actually visualize an unreal alien world they can’t go to, will they want to mentally be there, or visit again? Indeed, I want them to escape from the reality of their habitat to a neat identifiable place they’d like to visit, but different from where they are—at least for a couple hours. But not as far as a different planet or world?
    • Are the characters real? Certainly not. But real enough for a reader to visualize a real person they can piece together, and at the same time find the character different or eccentric enough to find interesting? Normal enough to be real, but not too normal as to be alien, or worse, unlikable. Another balancing act.
    • Scenery? Can they see a real place in their mind’s eye? In my writing case, the Mojave Desert does exist. But Shiné? No. But can a reader imagine a place “like” this possibly existing in the real world?
    • And here’s a hard one. Are the events real? Especially with some of the mystery writing conceits in use. Of course not, ask any policeman(and I’ve asked several–thank you my PSWA friends and San Bernardino County Sheriffs). Indeed, we’ve got the reality in our own lives of actual bad guys and victims. The balance here is of not trivializing real crime and horror, but at the same time offering escapism with characters being killed and justice of some kind happening. Hmm…
    • And here’s another tricky one, is it a realistic story? Again, of course not. The goal is larger than life adventures, with larger than life characters, with larger than life attributes—and minimal flaws. Not reality for sure.
    • Is the conclusion realistic? And on this one, not a dilemma or quandary for me at all. No. It’s what I want to happen. Reality doesn’t matter. That being said, sometimes an author has hit the mark on all the previous points, and I’ve gotten to the end and said, bah humbug!(smile)

Agatha Christie, I think, was a genius when it comes to snatching a reader into sometimes outlandish unreal situations, with larger than life characters when it comes to abilities, and posit some implausible situations and happenings—but leaving me thinking these people, places, and events actually happened. Easily suspending my disbelief while reading. Her non-reality was/still is[ii] for me very real.

Still pondering, but thinking “real” fiction writing of any kind, is a balancing act for sure. My take away from these meanderings? For me—more carefulness when it comes to reality-balancing, when developing all my characters, places, situations, and conclusions. And maybe read more Scifi(smile).

balancingAct

 

Happy Writing and Reading Trails!


[i] More about Catalyst and Anne McCaffrey here on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Catalyst-Tale-Barque-Cats-Book-ebook/dp/B002XHNOMO/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=catalyst+anne&qid=1629596367&sr=8-1

[ii] I re-watch Poirot mysteries on DVDs all the time (with David Suchet).

Things to Consider Before You Self-Publish

When Jackie H. asked me to talk about indie publishing, or self-publishing,  I wanted to write something helpful for those who are considering going the indie route. You will find plenty of people online ready to tell you the pros and cons, but once you’ve made up your mind, what’s the best way to go about it?

There are people who can help you step-by-step through the processes of self-publishing. The absolute best is Sarah Cannon at Publish and Thrive. There isn’t much you won’t learn from her.

The question is, should you go this route. It is a LOT of work. You will need to commit both time and money. Here are the top five things that anyone considering the indie author route needs to know.

1. Your writing is your business. Treat it as such.

If you are writing as a hobby, or if you simply want to publish a book of recipes or family memoirs for your own group, no worries. However, if you intend to make an income at this, then treat it like a business. That means:

  • Showing up to write when you don’t want to. You wouldn’t skip your office job if you weren’t in the mood.
  • Take continuing education, especially in those areas where you are weak. Every profession requires continuing education. You’re responsible for yours.
  • Track your expenses. And there will be expenses. Cover artists. Editors. Software. Subscriptions. Know how much you are spending on your career.
  • Have a budget. It’s easy to go overboard with advertising, etc.

2. You Will Have to Do Things You Don’t Like.

I’m not fond of social media, but that is where readers are. So, I do it. With all the emerging social sites (have you heard of TikTok?) there is a learning curve. Consider it part of your continuing education.

If blogging is something you plan to do, (or YouTube or Facebook Lives) learn it. Don’t depend on others to do it for you. If they are busy or decide they no longer want to help you out for whatever reason, you’ll be stuck. Don’t let your career be at anyone else’s mercy.

Someday, when you have enough income, you can hire a virtual assistant to do these tasks for you. 🙂

3. Know Your Limits

You can’t do everything. You aren’t good at everything. Unless you are a social media wiz, focus on one platform and do it well. You can always expand.

The same goes for volunteering. This is an excellent way to network and get your name out there, but you still must find time to write, right? Know when to say No.

You may have seven wonderful ideas for seven different series. I understand. Pick one. Once you get the first few books out, if time permits, you can branch out.

4. You Can’t Do It Alone

Although writers tend to be introverts, you can’t live in a bubble and sell books. I’m sure there are exceptions, but they are probably not you.

Join writers’ groups. Make sure they are professional and supportive. If you write mysteries, Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America are excellent groups, though not the only ones. For Romance, you can join Romance Writers of America. Every genre probably has a group.

Through these groups, you can also make connections and form smaller groups to help critique, promote, or whatever your group decides to focus on.

Subscribe to Indie Author Magazine. Join Indie Author groups on LinkedIn or Facebook or wherever you find them. Check them out first. You don’t want to waste times on groups that don’t match your needs.

I’m a member of three Sisters in Crime chapters–Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Chicago. I also belong to Novelitics, a group of writers who critique each other’s work and offer support. It’s led by author Kim Taylor Blakemore, and she keeps creativity alive through workshops, challenges, and targeted topics. You can check out a free trial here.  

5. Enjoy the Process

Overnight Success is a rare animal. As rare as unicorns and dragons. It will take time to build a career. Probably years.

We all have “those days”, but if you aren’t enjoying the writing and you break out in hives when you need to tend to the business side, indie publishing might not be a good fit for you. Because if you’re going to invest the time it takes to become successful, you certainly don’t want to dread each day.

For those who are super serious about following this path, I highly recommend bestselling author Sarra Cannon’s Publish and Thrive course.  She covers everything you might want to know step-by-step, and there are weekly Zoom sessions as well as a Facebook Group where you can ask questions. She just closed her last class for 2021, but work on your book until the next one opens and follow her YouTube videos until then. You will learn a lot from her.

Good luck!

Short & Sweet

By Gayle Bartos-Pool

This might not be my usual type of post on our Writers-in-Residence blog, but stuff has been happening in my life as it has been with everyone at the moment, but I still wanted to encourage you writers out there to keep up your writing.

As for me, since my life has changed over the last several years, I have a few new directions to travel. First, let me mention the fact that I lost my beloved husband Richard about a year and a half ago. It wasn’t something I talked about or posted because Richard and I were never ones who wanted to open up all over the Internet.

During this Covid thing and being basically alone here in California, I needed family around, so I decided to move to Ohio where my brother and his oldest daughter and her three kids live. So I bought a house after looking at photos and a video my terrific niece took. It’s a cute house with room for my miniatures and vast Santa collection and all the other holiday decorations I have accumulated over these many years. And the house is near my family.

So at the end of August the movers come. My brother is flying out here so he and I and my dog Candy will drive to Ohio.

But during all this change I thought it was time to start writing what I call My Scrapbook Life story. For over 60 years I have been making scrapbooks of my life. From my family’s travels when my dad was in the Air Force and we were stationed on the island of Okinawa, to the three years we were living in France and I got to attend a terrific boarding school, to college and then my short stint as a private detective, to my move to California and the various jobs I had here, to meeting and marrying Richard at one of those jobs, to our 34 years together and the dogs and cats we had, to Richard’s illness and his strength during that time, to losing him and finally me moving to a different life.

The scrapbooks are full of pictures and memories of this life that I am having, so I thought I would share it with people. But writing this saga isn’t just to show what an interesting life I am living, but to let people know that everybody is living an incredible life.

During the past five years it has become apparent to me that all the people I was meeting were incredible from a lady I met in a hospital cafeteria who was fascinated by the fact that I was a writer. But while we were talking she mentioned things from her wonderful life. I told her that her life was so interesting that she might want to write about it for her family and friends. She had things to share with those folks as well as other people.

Then there is Art, the young man who regularly serviced our air conditioner and heating system. He told me about his late father and brother who added all the beautiful touches to the leather saddles of famous movie stars like John Wayne. Two of their saddles are sitting in the Gene Autry Museum. Art also does leather work and wants to move someday to Tennessee or someplace where he can continue doing that beautiful craft.

And my neighbor, Shawn, has written a book, though not yet published, about his fascinating journey from Iran to America when his dad got him out of the turbulent country to avoid being drafted into the Iranian army. So at 17 he was smuggled out of the country, sent to Turkey and then Sweden and finally after several years he came to America, got a college education through hard work and now has a terrific family and living that American Dream everybody has heard about. We found him an editor and I bet that book will be published. I got to read a first and second draft and it is marvelous.

What I am saying in this blog is that everyone has a story of their own life. Each is incredible, different, and worth telling. Your story might be read only by family members and friends, but if the stories are anything like the ones these folks have told me, they are worth the telling. Who knows whose hearts and minds they will touch.

Start writing about where you came from, who your parents, grandparents and relatives are. How they influenced your life. We all learn both the good and the bad. That’s how we grow. Tell the world who you are after you uncover the real you under all the life you have lived. You might be surprised by the person you are.

I can guarantee you, we all have a story worth telling.  Write On!

Not Quite Cozy

by Jackie Houchin

(I’m early this month with my post, because I switched with the “other” Jackie – Jackie Vick  – who will be posting on Self Publishing on August 18th.)

I’ve recently read two books which are billed as “cozies” but have none of the more modern sewing, crafting, cooking, library/bookstore, tea shoppe/coffee house, or pet themes that we’ve grown accustomed to. (There’s nothing wrong with these if they are what you like to read!)

No, these were the “old fashioned” style mysteries, that are super-plotted, character-strong mysteries like Agatha Christie wrote. Clean, as far as no on-the-page sex, vulgarity, profanity, or excessive violence. Just good, captivating, complicated mysteries, sometimes in unique settings. 

Here are reviews of the two  books I read.

BLACK JADE, a Daiyu Wu Mystery by Gloria Oliver

What a fascinating book! It’s very different from the usual historical cozy mysteries out today. It has a main character who is unique and amazing in her disability, living in a disguised house with her once royal parents and a pair of staff who love and protect on her.

Black Jade, A Daiyu Wu Mystery by Gloria Oliver, is set in Texas in the early 1900’s, when the race issue is prominent against Asians, specifically Chinese, who are considered to be the “Yellow Menace.” Even more of a bias however in this story, is the rich vs commoner distinction. So when the second son of a British Earl comes to America and falls for a ‘common’ girl who is a waitress in a speakeasy, his hoity-toity relatives across the Pond rush to the first ship heading west to try and stop him marrying her. The means they use is macabra and horrific, but only the blind, Chinese Miss Wu, working in her family’s laundry is able to discover it.

The rest of the book takes us on a detailed and fascinating investigation to find and identify, first the victim, then the villain. (My guesses hopped from one to another of the book’s characters: all in vain.) But Miss Wu, accompanied by Jacques, her handsome companion and chauffeur (who also narrates the story), along with her new friends, a female forensic doctor and a millionaire playboy, moves along as surely as a bloodhound following an invisible scent (burnt garlic?) to the killer. She meets obstacles at every turn, but this gal is persistant and clever, and inspires those around her to not give up no matter what. The climax scene is a nail biter!  FIVE STARS

PS: I totally loved Miss Wu’s little dog, who goes everywhere with her. He has a strange name – Prince Razor. When you read this book, you’ll find out why.

 

GHOST DAUGHTER, An Alice MacDonald Greer mystery by Helen Currie Foster 

This is an amazing, sometimes jaw-dropping, mystery-adventure in which the heroine, Texas lawyer Alice Greer, risks life and limb to fulfill the last wishes of her friend Ellie. In Ghost Daughter, the newly widowed Ellie has discovered her long-lost daughter, conceived at age 17 and given up for adoption decades earlier. She wants to include her somehow in her estate and asks Alice to be executor if/when she dies.

Sooner than either expected, Alice finds her friend’s bloodied body in her own ranch house, along with a rearing, kicking, squealing horse! Yes, IN her house. LOCKED in. Huh? Instantly my mind tried to come up with suitable scenarios, but failed. There was nothing to do, but keep turning the pages.

And that was just the beginning of this fast-paced story with multiple complications and misdirections.

And what was so special in Ellie’s Santa Fe vacation house that could elicit murder? Alice tries to find out, but meets with “baddies” at each attempt. There are car chases through the mountains, unexplained  assination attempts, theivery of extremely valuable art right under Alice’s nose. And, if that isn’t enough, Ellie’s warring sons threaten to drive her up the wall with their arguing about who gets what. And the police can’t find the murder weapon or any evidence at all pointing to a suspect. 

There are no giveaways in the plot. To the literal last pages I couldn’t guess how, why, and by whom the murder of Alice’s friend was done. Thankfully the author ties everything together in a grand scene at the end.  FIVE STARS

I enjoyed Ghost Daughter so much, that I purchased Ghost Cave, the first of Greer’s six  books in the series!

Oh, and by the way, there is nothing “paranormal” in her Ghost books.  

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I hope that in the future more of these new/old style cozy mystery books will be published. Books that challenge the reader to get out of her rocking chair and trudge the mean streets with the protagonist. 

PS: I just noticed that both of these books were set in Texas.