Tuesday, December 1, 2015

An Introverts Guide to Surviving the Holidays

With the holidays just around the corner I am a bit inclined to write a survival guide for my fellow introverts. Being an introvert does not mean we are shy or that we hate people it just means that big family/friend functions exhaust us and we have to have alone time to recharge rather than our counterparts the extroverts that need to be around others in order to become refueled.

With Thanksgiving behind us I can reflect on how once again I was invited to more social functions than usual and I avoided any real breakdowns. Let me clarify before my friends stop inviting me to anything. It wasn't that going to these functions was horrible it is just that when I receive an invitation my natural reaction is never to accept, it is to develop a pit in my stomach and then begin thinking about what will occur at this party or dinner and what will be expected of me. I then force myself to accept because, after all that is the right thing to do and I do love my friends.

Holidays mean lots of friends at once, I prefer one on one coffees or chats but holidays don't allow that because we have people coming in from out of town who of course want to see as many of us as possible so that means "push those three tables together" lunches and "here just squeeze" in chats. As an introvert I too can see the value in that because it means I get to check in with everyone and only have to spend a few hours out of my comfort zone yet after such social overhauls I do often feel like I then need to crawl into a dark room and let my mind work everything out.

Being an introvert, I have two conversations at once; the one I'm having out loud with the other participant and the one that I am having in my mind at my pace where I dissect what was said and relate it to other things and this conversation is completed when I am alone, long after the social function has ended. This second conversation is how I come to understand my friends and the world around me. Many of my books are birthed from these conversations where I can explore the statements from differing angles and reply in a number of ways. So while extroverts have one conversation at a time we introverts have double and we spend much more time with every interaction within ourselves. We question the questions asked of us and then we question our own responses. Most of us have come to respond with a short enough latency that we are not found out when we engage others but please know that all this thinking and cerebral activity is in fact occurring.

I sat down to write a guide for making it through social interactions during the holidays for my fellow introverts but I think I ended up writing an explanation to extroverts. Please be like my friends and let us show up late or leave early but don't stop inviting us. Let us be your unconventional friend because while we may look to the world like that horrible, doesn't have it together friend because we can't arrive early and stay late know that in actuality we love you deeply and we know you better than most because our mind won't let us have it any other way.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Acknowledgments & Birthday Announcements & Writers are writers and other Universal Truths

As horrible as I am at self-promotion, the breaks continue to come.  Let me be clear in saying, that has absolutely nothing to do with me suddenly becoming more comfortable with telling people that I wrote a book and that I want them to also buy it.  Nope I'm still the same level of awful in that regard.

The reason my books are ever discussed is due to my friends and family. I swear they are more enthusiastic about the fact that I write books than I am.  Sure, as the author I love my characters, I miss my characters and I help record their stories as they dictate them to me, but once it's all on the page, my desire for people to read it is a mixed bag.

While I love when people read and actually feel something when they read my work I also feel anxiety and self-conscious about them actually reading it.

It's weird spending months, or years on something only for someone to toss it aside or hate it,  so why go through that, when I could just write it, quietly publish it, and then pretend it never happened? Afterall once it's complete my job is done right?  Well no.  And I think that' s why traditional publishing still exists.  Writers write, and then we move on to the next.  Then the editors make it readable, the publisher gets to promote and sell. The writer is not meant to be apart of that process and I think it's because us writers are mostly introverts and if we not introverts then it's enough that we are writers.  We aren't claiming to be anything else.  We aren't supposed to be good at anything else...Except that we have chosen to self-publish so we have to be good at those other things.

I suppose this is my round about awkward and clunky way of saying, Thanks Guys for all your support and for helping me to sell my books because we all know I suck at it.  And lastly Happy Birthday Alyssa Berrington who was kind enough last year to except the first few pages of the final Harlow book as an acceptable present.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Review of K.S. Marsden's The Lost Soul

You know a book is good when, even though you're starting a new job, getting your son into Kindergarten, moving to a new city, renting out your house, and writing your own book-you still find the time to read it.  That is exactly what was happening in my life when I received a copy of The Lost Soul.

First of all let me just say kuddos to the K.S. Marsden, because writing a first chapter that immediately sucks you in is no easy task.  So great job at creating likable intriguing characters that I couldn't wait to follow throughout the book.

Within the first few pages I was fascinated, surprised, scared, and begging for more all at once.  K.S. Marsden writes in such a way that you feel that you can anticipate the story, but just as you think that, another angle gets thrown in.  Without giving to much away I will say that the main character, Samantha is one that we can all relate to; the unforeseen heroine that follows her crush into a portal to another world. There's fantasy, adventure, and characters you want to see succeed, what else can you ask for?

Let me just say I can't wait for book 2.

Be sure to pick up your copy of The Lost Soul Book 1 of Enchena by K.S. Marsden NOW.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Being an Indie Author is a Business-As Artist We Sometimes Forget: A Cautionary Tale of the World of Sharks Waiting To Take Advantage of Broke Artists

As an Indie Author you are in charge of creating, publishing, writing, editing, selling, promoting really doing any and everything associated with writing a book.  So if you are like me and have a family, a job, (or two or three) you find yourself seeing your shortcomings.  Like you may be great a weaving a tale, but you may be awful at sighting grammatical errors so you think; "hey I'm trying to move my family to a new city, find my 5 year old a school, rent out our house, start a new job, finish a novel-while publishing another, I think I'll hire someone to help me edit, it's not my favorite thing to do, and I really don't have time."  So you do some research, find someone that won't break the bank and get your book edited.  After all the  first go around it went great!  You're reviews were exemplary they made you doubt that you put something out there that was so well received and then the third book happens and your editor screws you over.

They send you a fake edited manuscript, guarantee their work, and you believe them and publish it.  In case you're thinking Valerie why did you trust them?!  It's because as an indie author I have met amazing people from around the world.  All of which are not very affluent, and so dedicated to their work rather than the profit, you start to feel that you are a part of a tight-knit community that supports one another, that wants to see you thrive.  They too are also less concerned with money but completely engaged in the art that is being produced, so you trust people as if we are all intertwined in this creative community that looks out for one another and then you realize that there are still sharks.

These sharks want your money and they don't care how many years you have waited to pursue your dream.  They don't care how your only wish was to see your work in print, to have your name among authors, your heroes.  This carelessness leads to them giving you horrible work that you then publish and receive a backlash of reviews for, because the small fan base you have managed to acquire feel disappointed and betrayed that you would put something out that was so unpolished.  The readers don't realize that you made a mistake and trusted the wrong person.

This blog is an apology as well as a rant as well as a warning.  If you want to pursue your dreams be careful who you ask to aid you on your journey.  I asked fellow author Shannon Barczak if she to has experienced such woes during her journey in self-publishing and she had this to say.

(Spoiler Alert: She's been in a similar situation, which was disheartening at first to hear, but then it was also comforting because it meant I wasn't the only one who'd been duped.)

Val's view on this is written eloquently and with passion.  I felt like raising my fist in joyful solidarity when she emailed it to me.  I am not going to be as nice as Val on this subject because quite frankly, I am ticked off on her behalf, and I also have a tremendous amount of guilt weighing heavily on my shoulders.
Several months ago, I found a reasonably priced editor. I checked out her website and her references. I crossed my fingers and sent her my manuscript, as well as, half her required payment.
At first glance, I thought she did a good job, but then I noticed a few discrepancies and I was disappointed. I chalked it up to a lesson learned and moved on.
If I acquired any useful knowledge about the experience is that she used the Macro widget on Word to plug in overused words and adverbs. I, being a newbie, had no idea about this wonderful invention, so when I became aware that I could do that by myself, I was psyched.
In my disappointment and new found Word prowess I had forgotten that I had mentioned her to Val. I saw that she used her as an editor and I figured that she had better luck than me so I wasn't going to mention my experience because I didn't want to cast any doubts in her mind if she was happy with her choice of editors.
When I received Val's email describing her recent disappointing situation, I wanted to email this person myself on Val's behalf, and write a profanity laced letter.
Val touched on something that I think is extremely accurate. As an Indie Author, we do come into contact with great people that are in the same boat as us and we form an immediate kinship. We do support one another and when one of our own gets the shaft, we take up arms and batten down the literary hatches as one.
I think what is important to convey to everyone, is that as an Indie Author, we wear many hats and it is always a relief to find someone that offers us a service to help make our lives easier.
Unfortunately, no matter how careful we are or how vigilante we are in checking references and reviews, we can still be taken in by someone with no conscience.
The simple reason is greed. You can spout off different excuses, but it all comes down to money in the end.
All I have to say is, shame on you.
How dare you take a writer's manuscript and not do what you say you are going to do.
A copy of a writer's book is like an extension of themselves. In some ways, it is like our baby, our child that we nurtured from nothing but a thought and developed them into a full blown character with a history, as well as, a future.
When we give it to someone else to read or edit, we are trusting that person to help make it better. It's like when we send our kids off to school and we pray that they are kept safe, and that they receive the love and attention they deserve.
To have someone that poses as an editor not fulfill their obligation can be crushing and I have to believe in a little thing known as karma because Val did not deserve that nor did her book.
If you have read my blog posts or know me personally, you might have an idea on what I did when learning this news.
This editor received my favorite kind of greeting when I pulled up her email...my trusty middle finger.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Emily Murdoch Stopped By to Tell Us About her NEW BOOK!

Hey All,

I'm sure you remember my author friend, Emily Murdoch, if not please see her previous post and also read on because she let me ask her some Interview Q's and her responses will intrigue you.  It's been a while since we last spoke and of course Emily has a new amazing book out and is willing to tell us all about it and her and how it came to be.  Enjoy!

(My Questions will appear in purple, while Emily's responses will be in blue.

It’s been a while since we’ve talked last, what have you been up to? 

Well, apart from getting married, moving to New Zealand and back again, and starting a new job, I have written three more books: Love Letters and Captives, which finish off my Conquered Hearts trilogy that started with Conquests, and a new Christmas novella that will be released in the winter!

Sounds like you’ve been busy, how did it feel to end your trilogy?  Will you miss the characters?

It felt kind of bittersweet when I finished - I had really got to know and love my characters, and it was sad to say goodbye. I will definitely miss Avis and Catheryn, my two female leads, and I may even be tempted to revisit them in the future.

Do you think your readers will be satisfied with how it all ends?

Goodness, I hope so! The trouble - and joy - of writing historical fiction is that for some of my characters, their endings have already occurred, and I'm just following history. I had a lot more control over my original characters, but just like in life, not everyone gets their happily ever after.

How did you know that this story would need three books?

At first, I only wrote the first book Conquests as a stand alone book - but Avis' mother, Catheryn, almost demanded her own story when reader after reader contacted me, desperate to know what had happened to her! I suppose it was kind of harsh of me to leave Avis unsure whether her mother was dead or alive, and so Captives had to be written to finish off her story.Love Letters, the bridge novella, I then wrote when my editor said that it would be amazing to see how Avis' parents, Catheryn and Selwyn, met and fell in love. 

Do you have any new projects in the works?

Well, I'm still working on completing the book cover for my Christmas novella, and I am currently working on a set of twelve novellas, a set of six novels, and the first novel in a series of four! I sometimes think I've bitten off more than I can chew, but I love writing, and so whenever I get stuck with one chapter in one project, there's always another to move on to in the meantime.

Want More Emily? Here are her links:

Friday, August 21, 2015

Boohoo Breakfast

Yesterday our oldest started kindergarten.  He has never gone to preschool, daycare or any place where he is left with strangers for six hours at a time.  Needless to say the whole family was an emotional wreck.  Our two year old was saddened by the fact that he was saying goodbye to brother, his oldest confidant and forever playmate.  My kinder kid felt torn because while he enjoyed school he missed all of us.  My husband and I also had a series of mixed emotions where we were happy that we had raised a child that could cope in the world on their own but then we also felt saddened that he didn’t run up to us excitedly when we picked him up.  As though we would feel better if he had bombed and then we could pick up the pieces.  No, alas he is growing up and fighting his own battles. 

This morning however my five year old had no desire to go to school and teared up when we dropped him off and our hearts broke all over again.  As I write this, after just returning from dropping him off, I wonder if we are doing the right thing.  Is what I told him even true?  Is it better to face our fears and try new things or is putting a five year old in an institution for six hours a day, five days a week an evil and hellish thing?  I have long been an advocate of homeschool, but we recently moved and found ourselves located directly behind a school and after watching our five year old count and identify colors and learn his alphabet all at home while his social skills blossomed and his confidence soared I thought, perhaps he is now ready to join the masses.  Now however I wonder if by sending him to school will inevitably undo all the good that five years at home has done?  The teachers seem experienced and kind and the other kids appear to be just as terrified…this age old custom must have some sort of success to it, after all my husband and I are both products of public school. 

This is what parenting is right?  Questioning every choice you make?  Doubting ever decision that you have struggled to finally reach?  Endless pro and con lists and mommy forums at three in the morning?  The solace I find is when I talk with my five year and I remember that I know him better than I know anyone else, and I know that he can accomplish anything, whether it’s kindergarten at home or at school I just need to be okay with letting him go. 

Corrections:  Due to not having internet, (CenturyLink that was a direct dig at you and shoudl be read as such) this blog went up later than I would have liked L

Sunday, July 19, 2015

I LOVE When People Say My Book is Scaring Them and Other Confessions

I have sat down to start reading, Cyn Balog's Touched at least six different times since I'm picked it up from the library last week.  A perfectly good book, I assume, gripping, well written and exciting. A perfect two day distraction and yet life keeps tearing me away.  I haven't gotten to page two, even though I have every intention to.

One of the six times that I tried to start reading I got on Facebook instead where I scrolled to this gem,

And I was having a full circle moment, Oprah calls them Aha moments according to my mom, but basically, Harlow 3 was released last week, and I have been promoting it. Writing and selling books is nothing like another product.  It's a very long game. I mean just think about it, once you sell a book you still have to wait for the person to read it and then wait for them to tell someone that they did so, and then hope that they liked it and that's really the most effective way to advertise a book.  You need a fandom.  So releasing a book is always excitement meets self esteem roller coaster for me.  I go through the jubilation of selling a book, to the despair that they may hate it or worse never even read it.

But then after reading Junot Diaz's quote I understand that I will not stop writing and more importantly I don't write for fame and fandoms.  Especially when I have moments in life where I can't even start reading a book.  In short it's not personal.  This led to a few other things that I need to confess...

Even though I don't write because I hope someone will read it, it feels really good when someone does.  There are times when someone will say that my writing was scary and I am elated!  My words evoked emotions, and not just any emotion, but fear an emotion that resonates.  I didn't write Harlow to be scary, but then again there is a lot of scary stuff in there.  A young woman battling her way to answers, both internal and external. That's scary and it makes you have to ask yourself, why?  The very idea that my ramblings made someone do that makes me feel like I don't care if one more person ever reads my work.  (See what I mean about the self-esteem roller coaster?)

That's was my weekend, and I'm going to publish this and then read Touched.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

SXSW: Is Cheating on Your Work a Real Thing? Shannon Barczak & Val Day-Sanchez Hash It Out

After a brief break, Shannon and I are back with our joint articles!!!  I missed her deeply and so this week when I emailed her it was kismet, as it so often is with the two of us.  We each had a few ideas for a topic to blog about and they were very similar (seriously I think she lives in my head, weird and a tad creepy I know, if I haven't lost you yet, read on I promise it gets better/less weird).  We decided to talk about something that we're both going through, juggling multiple writing projects.

I know that both Shannon and I, like most writers perhaps, have written the majority of their lives.  However they don't get to pursue it full time, it's a hobby until it make you money right?  That's the society a lot of us grew up in?  Writing is something we love but could never dedicate the time to it that it truly deserved.  A little over 5 years ago I decided to do just that.  I was lucky to have the opportunity that was becoming a stay-at-home mom to an infant. It provided a work schedule all of its own doing but I got to write again and after I finished my manuscript I was determined to publish it.  And when I told people about it, it was described as a "once and lifetime experience." But then, I had started a trilogy, I had never planned on once.  I didn't let myself, I completely ripped the option from the table.  I was going to be a full-time writer.  And so in the beginning I could never conceive of multiple projects I was just so happy to be able to write. To make sense of my life; what it had been, what it was becoming that I was still feeling lucky.

Then Harlow was released.  Others were reading about her. The second book, when I asked for it, was hard-coming so I changed my life's course again.  And when things had worked themselves out, I wrote the second book in three months, with ease.  But it had come clamoring through me, a mind of its own, I had no time to doubt. I wrote as if no one would ever see it.

Book 3 began the same way because we were going home, me and my characters knew who they were and what they wanted so again I didn't ask for it, it appeared on the page, every line, every sentence.  Even when I edited, it finished my thoughts.

As Book three was seemingly flowing through my fingers Lucas Saavadra had showed up, said without much bossiness but full of confidence, that he was the protagonist of my first standalone novel.  How could I deny it?  I was going to write a book that I had no idea about except this singular character???  The moment I ignored it, went to back Book 3 to edit or complete it.  (An emotional wreck because it was over). I would have these conversations with Lucas and every time I tried to write it...It was garbage, nonsensical first draft ugliness.

I can't be surprised that is how the entire project went.  So when I was finally publishing Harlow 3 Threshold was coming to a close.  But there lies the question.  Is it fair?

Are you cheating on your work?  I'll let you know after I edit Threshold next week...

Because I think it's freakin awesome we both put out books this Month Both On Amazon:


Here's what Shannon had to say:

It's always difficult to brainstorm for articles with Val. We always have so many ideas and we are always on the same page that it is hard to pick just one. I have had several questions running through my mind lately and I recently asked one to a Facebook group for Indie Authors. It was fairly simple, but the answers I received were astounding.
I wanted to know what other authors thought about editing one book and writing another book at the same time. It turned into an extremely interesting forum because the more responses I got, the more insight I gained into the mind of fellow writers.
I almost had to laugh because it started to feel like a pissing contest. I had a few that answered right away and one of them them mirrored my thoughts that it almost feels like your cheating on one book if you write another.
I mentioned that I also think it's important to take time in between each project and I was almost scoffed at, but not in an unfriendly way. The conversations were cordial, supportive and helpful, but again, I couldn't help feel that everyone was trying to one up another.
One woman has four different books in various stages of production. She wrote that if you want to publish several books in a year then you have to work all the time. There were several other individuals that made similar statements.
I had an uncomfortable thought though, and it is one that I did not share because I did not want to seem rude, but if you're focused on so many different books that you're writing, can you really be churning out decent stories at such a fast pace?
Now, I have to be honest, I can't imagine writing three or four different stories at once. When I write, I become deeply involved with my characters and their situations. The thought of even trying to disassociate myself from one book to another is impossible for me.
If I do have an idea for another story then I make notes so I can reference it later, but I have never even attempted to try and start another book when I am writing.
One man mentioned that it is possible to edit one book and write another at the same time, but it requires discipline and I agree. I think it easier to do that when you are writing a series and I have done it before with The Fae Witch Series.
I also vowed not to do that again, but here I am starting on book two of The Hidden Realm Series, The Fairyland Queen, while I wait for The Fairy Door to come back from my editor.
I have to be honest at the end of the discussion thread I almost felt an amateur loser, but then I realized something. We are all in the same boat. We're all Indie authors trying to make our way in this tough world and we have to be on top of our game all the time.
We are the writer, the publisher, the promoter, and all those different hats have to be presented, as well as, articulated whenever we have that chance.
I do believe that each person that responded wanted me to know that it was possible to do several different aspects of writing at once, but I also feel that they were in a way promoting their abilities.
I was envious of the lot, I must say. There are some truly talented authors out there, but at the end of the day I need to do what's best for me.
I tip my cap off to those that can achieve so much in a short amount of time. I know that I will never be able to write three or four different books at once. When I start something I need to finish it before I can move forward.
I have no interest in creating and writing several different characters, and stories because I feel that my characters deserve my full attention. Their story is important and one I must tell with every attention to detail, as well as, with my heart.
I've accepted that I will never be the kind of writer that publishes seven or eight books a year. I'm honest with the fact that I suck at promoting, and I have no interest in a Pulitzer.
I write for me. The stories I tell are what I want to read. Writing is not about making money, it's about being able to express your creativity. I wish I could be more driven, but I can't and frankly I don't want too.
Again, I applaud you authors who are cranking books out left and right. I am amazed by the way some of you can compartmentalize different stories and characters at once.

Writing is my passion and if it ever started to feel like noose around my neck then I would probably stop publishing my stories. I know that the lure of fame and fortune can cloud your judgment as you type and edit furiously, but isn't the process of writing enough to make your soul enriched with a deep sense of creative joy?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


I promised you all a big announcement and here it is:  The covers for the Harlow Whittaker Trilogy have been redesigned by the very talented and funny Whytnie McDonald!  The old covers will always been something that is close to my heart because they were the first images that were on the first two books that I ever published so that is still quite a big deal.  The new covers are epic and tell a story all of their own so if you ask which I like more it's like asking me to choose between my two children.  I love them each but I'm very excited to introduce you to the new cover artist Whytnie, who I forced to answer interview questions.  Sidenote:  As a writer I love blogging, it allows me express myself in a more honest and freeing way without characters and plot and all that good stuff, but I realize artist get that sort of satisfaction from drawing or painting so Whytnie thank you for obliging and allowing us a little peak into your process.

My Questions will appear in black while Whyt's responses will be in green

Tell us a little about yourself.  Did you always want to be an artist?  What brought you to drawing/creating?  Born and raised in Wichita, Kansas. I moved to Southeast New Mexico about five years ago.  I am married with two ferrets and a cat. Think I was always destined to be an artist. I started drawing at age 3 and haven’t stopped yet. 

What is your favorite medium?   My favorite medium will always be pencil, but in the last few years I’ve been really getting into digital painting. I paint on the iPad using a nomad brush and art apps Artrage and Procreate.

Who/what has it influenced your art?  My biggest influence growing up was my grandma. She always pushed me to do my best and to pursue my passion for art. She passed away when I was fifteen but I will never forget everything she did to encourage my love for art.

What is your favorite piece you have created, and why?  One of my favorite pieces I have ever done is a portrait of my aunt and uncle. He passed away about a year and a half ago. I did the drawing as a tribute, which was displayed at his funeral service. Drawing that was my final way of saying goodbye and paying respects to a great uncle, whom I was close to.  

Tell us a bit about how you came to draw the covers.  Where did your idea for the covers originate?  I came up with the book cover ideas after reading the books, and learning about the main characters. The first cover is of Harlow Whittaker. I keep her appearance aloof so that my depiction of what she looks like wouldn’t be imposed on the reader. The theme is dark since she travels to different places in her sleep. Second cover is of the Archers who protect Harlow through her journey. The last book is the villains, the shadow reapers, dark creatures with snake eyes, wearing a tattered robe.

What inspires you?  What inspires me? I would have to say people and life.

Can you describe your process?  Do you just sit down and draw whatever you want or do you have a set routine? I don’t really have a set routine for drawing. Whenever I feel inspired I draw. I do draw every day. 

What is your dream for your artwork?  My dream is to turn my passion into a career. Getting my work into a gallery is defiantly a goal of mine.

To see more of Whytnie McDonald's work check her out on Instagram, @boss1688

Look for the final installment of the Trilogy Coming THIS WEEK!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

15 Minutes???

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege to speak in front of teenage writers at my public library.  I twas an even that I somehow snagged when our local library started carrying my books.  As the time approached I was a bit nervous.  As I writer I think of my books in a very intimate sort of way.  They progress in my imagination like a friendship, where I gradually get to know each of my characters and become more familiar with the details of their lives as the story progresses.  That's why when people ask me very specific questions about the process of writing, it can be a bit difficult and I make awkward pauses and respond with long rambling responses that eventually state the previous sentence that mirrors the sentiment of, It just sort of happens.

The teens were definitely forgiving of my long-windedness and asked questions that I would have been too scared to ask a local author if they had showed up at my favorite library when I was their age.  I would have never admitted to my sixteen year old self that I wanted to be a writer, like as a career.  I was too worried about financial security and a dream house and lots and lots of cars.  My priorities as a sixteen year old were much different than what they are now, as was my definition of success. And they were so different from the guys and gals that were sitting in the Craft Room of Branigan Library, pencil and papers ready, eagerly scribbling down Createspace and Smashwords as soon as they left my mouth.  They were dreaming about living their dream and not admirably not even willing to wait for it.  Their stories were locked and loaded, ready to fire out the tips of their number 2 pencils.  It was inspiring to see their eagerness, and their drive.

After I shared what I thought about publishing and my weird writing techniques my audience was asked to write. They were given about fifteen minutes to describe a character.  As in, singular. One. When we went around the room, they shared their characters, each of them actually wrote a story.  In fifteen minutes they had come up with a character that I then blossomed into a story, complete with protagonists, antagonists, multiple arcs.  In fifteen minutes.

Writer friends, artist friends...do you remember when fifteen minutes was more than enough time? When we didn't over think and second guess, or give into writer's block or let life get in the way? When a pen a paper were all that was needed?

In short I want to say thanks Branigan Teens for letting me come by, you reminded me of one of my favorite quotes;

"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."  Maya Angelou, I Know Where The Caged Bird Sings

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Writing Just Means Letting Go/Labor of Love

Readers often ask me, how did you write this, or what's your process, and they're always difficult questions for me to answer because once the story is completed it's hard to imagine/remember what it was like before it was completed. Last night while chatting with a friend, I started talking about Threshold, my alien invasion novel. It is far from complete and it has been a struggle since day one. It is by far thee most massive feat of storytelling I've have ever undertaken.  With seven points of view and a complex story that deals with love, loss, grief, societal norms and class differences it is a project that is different than any other.
Everything about this book is unique to how I do things and my biggest struggle with it has been letting go and allowing the story to write itself. 

The title of the book came to me nearly a year ago, I had no idea what it meant, or what it's significance was, only that it was the title of my next book.  Then one morning the concept of it being an alien invasion plot arose.  Only later was there the appearance of characters began to enter my mind.  At that point I sat down to write it.  It started with an outline but even though the overall message was clear it was extraordinarily difficult to stick to the outline and type anything that even slightly resembled a story. I didn't want to force it so I put it aside and focused on proofreading Harlow 3.

Little by little I typed 100 pages of Threshold and then every time I would open the file I would be greeted with anxiety and insecurity so there it sat.
A few weeks ago however I found a brand new spiral notebook and Threshold took off. In fact as I wrote in my insane handwriting that will be awful to transcribe back onto my computer, the title of the book began to make sense. Instead of focusing on my outline, (which I have sense lost) I have just been sitting, mostly with headphones, listening to music and diving into whatever character seems to come to mind.  I don't worry about pacing, or character development.   Rather I have been trying to free my characters, allowing them to lead their own way. Instead of a linear plot I have just been writing and sure enough everything has come together without any poking or prodding.

The characters exist on their own and I am simply a vessel for them to tell their story, when I try and make up their stories it becomes contrived and I feel as though I am betraying them, forcing them to say things that they wouldn't or place them in situations that they would have avoided.  We've all read stories that were dictated by deadlines rather than by the story itself.  I didn't want to do this to my labor of love, no matter how agonizing it has been.   

In short, every story asks something different from me, and sometimes the largest difficulty is deciphering what that is.  But now my characters and I have finally becoming comfortable with one another and the trust is there, they want me to tell their story, just as long as I promise not to distort it.

Enough procrastinating on my part, time to get back to listening to what the voices in my head have to say.

*When writers say there are people living in their mind that they have no control over this is what they mean. (Writers do say that right????)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Kid-Free Weekend!

My oldest friend in the world got married to his soul mate this past weekend. The date fell on my husband's birthday, the 9 year anniversary of the day my husband and I met, and the groom had a poetic reason for choosing this date as well, yet I say all of this to say, that I had a kid free weekend.

Since the wedding was out of town, we opted to leave the kiddos with the grandparents.  As I packed two nights before we were scheduled to leave, I felt a pit of sadness form in my stomach.  I was going to be leaving my children behind, for three days and two nights.  How would I bear it?  This wasn't the first time my kids have spent the weekend away form my husband and I but it was the farthest away that they had ever been from me.  I was going to be in another state!  What if something happened?  What if they couldn't fall asleep without me?  What if they had an allergic reaction? What if they acted like the pets in Homeward Bound and went searching for us? What if...

Yet as we made the drive up to my parents house and then the subsequent drive out of state, with the boys no longer in tow, I felt okay.  My anxiety had left me, and it wasn't because of anything I did, but because of my boy's reaction.  They were so mellow, and comfortable with the fact that they would get to be spoiled by their grandparents for a weekend without their parents.  Their stress-free reaction allowed me to embrace the weekend and boy what a fun weekend it was.

Vacation ended...

When you have kids, the ending of a vacation is like a crash landing; crushingly abrupt and no one can ever be truly prepared for it.  

The cacophony of sounds that constantly play in the background during every hour spent with my beautiful boys were not missed.  In fact after retrieving our children the first day back with them was a palpable reminder of how life before kids and life with kids is stark contrast.  The first morning getting ready with my little ones, showed me know when we were on vacation I was able to eat, shower, get dressed and be out the door in 20 minutes was no longer possible when I have two kids. Back home, as I tried to get ready to show a house, my two year old informed me that he had pooped, my four year old needed a granola bar, and he had just ordered Big Hero 6 on pay-per-view (in his defense DirecTV does make it too easy for someone who cannot read to order movies).  After calling DirecTV to remove the charge on our account, changing a poop diaper, and making something for all of us to eat, (because your kid's hunger will always inevitably rub off on you as the parent) I end up leaving ten minutes late with half of my hair curled-when I had triple the amount of time to get ready than I did on vacation.  

The ever present hunger that accompanies small children, the incessant mood swings (that are just their personality at this age), the messy house, endless laundry, is all part of the beautiful package of having children and while I love it, I have vowed that regular vacations are necessary. 

I don't even care where we go, just as long as we go somewhere.  I think it's best for everyone involved.  Grandparents get to see their grand kids.  The parents get to remember what the other one looks like, without exhaustion blurring their face.  The kids get to enjoy life without their parental units, ,really it's a human service.  With Spring Break coming up I hope everyone has already booked a room, even if it is just down street :)

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Worst Thing You Can Say to a Friend

Those are fightin' words... Recently I was speaking with a friend who, like all of us is going through a lot in life but for her it seems that everything has sort of come to a head. I have tried my best to listen and be supportive, whether it's helping her move or serving her a hot meal.

I've heard countless stories and tried my best to come off as a supportive friend but recently during one of our emotion-filled phone calls she cut me off, yelled at me and said some of the most hurtful words in the English language, "you don't get it." She went onto explain that I wasn't there, and how it's easy for me to see things in black and white because I don't get it.

Why did that single phrase strike like a physical blow to the gut like it so often does when exchanged between friends?  Because as friends, don't we feel like our friend's triumphs, mistakes, mishaps, and  glory-filled moments are also our own? Don't we hear about every detail millions of times over and love it? Don't we ache when something doesn't pan out for them? So when they say, "you don't get it you weren't there, it's easy for you"; you want to yell out, no it's not easy to see my friend in pain, it's not easy to sit quietly when our lives are not simple and yet we do. We put ourselves second so we can be of service to our friends in a moment of need and for them to discount that, to remind us that their lives are not our own serves as a reality check; maybe we should step back and let them figure this out on the their own and get back to our own stuff.

The phrase itself is not kind nor realistic because as friends we more than get it, but I suppose it's not up to us to provide answers or to disagree but rather to listen and offer hot meals. People often tell you what they want and if my friends tell me they want me to shut up and just listen as they rant then I will, just don't tell me I don't get it.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

SXSW Collaboration: Inspiration

This month best-selling author Shannon Barczak and I decided to write about something that all artists encounter.  Inspiration.

*With it being a new year I decided to redesign my blog, so while my responses will appear in black, Shannon's will be in pink.  
If you’re a writer or involved in any of the arts I’m sure people ask you, how did you come up with that?  I always think of what inspired me.  That is something that changes constantly.  Sometimes it is a song that I hear on my way to work.  Other times it’s an experience, not even anything profound but just a dinner with good friends, and one sentence from our conversation that evening will linger in my mind and evolve into a story.  

Inspiration is different than ideas or focus it is the driving force that makes you feel like you are going to explode unless you get something written.  It is what pushes a story forward even when you’re tired or hungry or completely consumed with other things.  It is what makes you feel that you are creating something of importance.  It is reassurance. 

More than anything inspiration is about being open, allowing your mind to wander; giving yourself permission to daydream.  Inspiration comes from anywhere and usually when you least expect it.  As a writer that’s why it is so important to always have something to write on.  For me, once I am knee deep into a story I will often get ideas or storylines out of nowhere.  But there are times when I am working on one project and something will come to my attention, sparking an idea for a whole different story.  I don’t discount whatever that new project may be, instead I write it down and save it for when I actually have time to fully flush it out and provide it the attention that it deserves. 

This may sound maddening and counter-productive and believe me it can be, there are at least three different story ideas going on in my mind on any given day, not to mention the regular grocery lists, kid’s playdates, work, puppy appointments, and all the other stuff that is also floating around in there.  But my simple mandate of writing it all down, even when it doesn't make sense seems to help.  This is why inspiration tome is a bit of sly devil.  It never seems to come when you need it.  It never appears when I have the house to myself and a blank document opened in MSword.  No instead it will rear its trixy head when I have two kids in the bath, and a stack of papers that I need to grade.  Oh the arts, no one ever said it’s easy.  

Shannon's take:

This month’s SXSW collaboration with my fabulous author in crime Valerie Day-Sanchez is about creating characters and finding inspiration before, during and after writing a novel. Let’s start with what inspires me as a writer.

 I’m going to be honest with you. I find inspiration in the craziest and sometimes most mundane things in everyday life. I recently experienced a complete lack of direction after taking a few weeks off before starting my third book in The Fae Witch Series, The Cursed Dagger.

The problem wasn’t that I didn’t know what direction my book was going to go because I always have a clear picture and general outline of what I want to convey in each story. Any author who has written a trilogy or series, can relate to the fact that you are essentially writing all the books in your head when you start the first one, but no my friends, the issue with me just a few short days ago was the dreaded first chapter.

You have to do some sort of recap because just in case there is that one reader (you know who I’m talking about) starts reading your book and has no clue there was a first or second book before that, you as the author, are obligated to go over every important piece of information to bring them up to speed, but you also don’t want your faithful readers to roll their eyes and shout, “I already know this crap, come on!”

I struggled with this, as I always do, and then one simple phrase from my teenage son had me 
scrambling to my laptop. He had to write an essay explaining the famous quote from the Charles Dickens classic, A Tale of Two Cities, and when he flung out, ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,’ I suddenly had this flash of inspiration.

The third book in my series is a bit darker and my main character goes through a lot of emotional upheaval and self-discovery. The quote inspired me to firmly see that I needed to have, even with all the recapping, a faint premonition of what was to come and that is how the inspiration of setting an effect of the calm before the storm came about in my mind.

Character development to me is more organic. I always have a pretty good idea of who my characters are but until you really started writing their thoughts and words, I don’t think you can truly connect with them. 

I have always been a big proponent of imagining and daydreaming about your story much like a mini movie before sitting down to write it out. I think it gives you a clearer vision of the path you are setting for yourself as a writer and for your potential readers. I like to write the characters names out in my outlines and give myself specific guidelines on who I want them to be, but eventually, in the end, I am always surprised at some of the quirks that seem to flow from my mind as their personalities begin to take shape the further I delve deeper into the story.

Any inspiration you have, whether it is, about your story or your characters can either be gradual or hit you like a freight train. Yes, sometimes you have to look for it, but in some cases it can just be one little phrase that you hear or a picture that you see on your Facebook news feed that can drag you out of the depressing writing doldrums and into the creative light.

So I guess my advice is to just wing it and see what happens… ;)

SXSW Collaboration: Promoting Your Book Via Social Media

This month Shannon Barczak and I decided to dish about marketing.  Being Indie Authors means that not only are we expected to write an awesome book but we also have to sell it.  Telling your friends and family about your accomplishment is just the beginning, after that marketing becomes a full time job.  Both Shannon and I have embraced social media in hopes of getting our books out there, and hopefully we have a few pointers. As always my responses will appear in black while Shannon's will be in pink. 

Shannon how do you feel about Marketing?

I’m just going to go on the record by saying that I am probably the least inefficient author when it comes to doing the whole promoting thing. I think it’s because when I first started writing my book, I really didn’t give much thought to the actual promoting and marketing that I would have to do at the end of the whole writing a book process.  I still feel like I’m a published author in training sometimes but I have learned a few tricks along the way. I know that there are thousands of people that are far more educated and informed than little ol’ me but I hope that I can give a novice like myself a few words of advice.

Yes please share:

-1.  First and foremost, you need to have a plan in place when you start writing. I know that it’s pretty much the furthest thing from your mind when you sit down to write your novel but you have to figure out how you are going to market and promote your book. Being a self-published Indie writer has some perks but it also has downfalls. One of those downfalls is that you don’t have an agent or a publisher singing your praises to everyone involved in the publishing world every second of the day. You are responsible for getting the word out by whatever means are necessary.

That is SO true.  As an Indie Author you’re in charge of it all, from writing, editing, publishing, finances, and of course the dreaded marketing.  As authors I think we tend to be more introverted and we want people to read and love our work but having to put ourselves out there is a whole other story and it makes us uncomfortable, but it is 100% necessary and part of the job.  After I wrote Harlow Whittaker & The Soothsayers, I sat down and thought who’s my target audience i.e. who the heck is going to want to read a book about a nineteen year old, samurai sword wielding, future-seer?  As authors we’d like to say, everyone can enjoy this book, it’s a story that reaches everyone, but that is just not true.  Your book is a product like any other, think of deodorant, there’s a reason there is an entire aisle dedicated to them at the supermarket, because one deodorant isn’t made for all people.  So make your job easier and figure out who your target reading demographic is and go after them, and only them, at first, and then you can venture out after you’ve built your die-hard fan base.  Shannon, Any other tips?

- 2.  The best way to promote your book is by word of mouth. You need to tell every person you have known in your entire life that you wrote a book. Don’t be ashamed to use guilt or even blackmail when you go about doing this kind of self-promoting. I’m sure you have an embarrassing picture of one of your buddies in high school that they don’t want to ever see the light of day. Tell them to buy the book or it’s being uploaded and tagged. When you’re done with the people you do know, move on to any random person that you come into contact with as you go about your day. Cashier in the grocery store? Check. Your children’s teacher? Check. Weird lady who walks her cat in the stroller in your neighborhood? Check. The annoyingly cheerful telemarketer who wants to sell you a time share? Check, check! 

Hahaha I love it.  Yes be shameless, I am constantly trying to find ways to stick my book into everyday conversation.  When they ask, “paper or plastic?” and the grocery store I say, “Oh yes I did publish an ebook version as well.”

-3. Start a website immediately. I love to read other authors blogs. I find it interesting that sometimes writers, like myself, who are just starting out have the same issues of more successful authors. Writers love to read not only books but also other writer’s ramblings (say that ten times fast). I sat down the other day and read a 600 word article all about commas which completely fascinated me. 

Great advice, when I told one of my best friends that I was going to self-publish he was like, you should start a blog.  I was like, a what?  It makes perfect sense, it’s easier than starting a website in terms of effort and it allows writers to do what they do best, write.  Blogging is excellent because it allows your readers to see you ‘behind the scenes’ and it allows you really connect with them on a more personal level as well as write every day or at least once a week which is great practice for your next novel ;)

-4. Twitter is the second best place to spread the word and the first best place to give you the
Twitter is the second best place to spread the word and the first best place to give you the support you need. I was never a big fan of Twitter but I have to say the best thing I ever did was create an account after I started my blog. Almost all my followers and those that I follow are writers. I have met some really great people through Twitter and it’s always fun to get retweeted or mentioned. 

I couldn’t agree more!  Twitter is a fun way to advertise to more people than you could reach with the more personal Facebook, and it allows you to choose who you want to reach, did you write a YA book then look up YA authors and readers. You can get free advice, find copy editors, and retweets are basically free advertising space.  

-5. Don’t worry about blowing up your friends and families newsfeed on Facebook when you start posting stuff from your website. I know that for years I have had to see pictures posted daily of other people’s children, cocktails that are being consumed and the always lovely ‘Do you think I should see the doctor’ photo of an infected limb. If they don’t like the fact that you are trying to sell a book or writing about what’s going on in your life then so be it. Unfriend!

I am always updating my Facebook status so that it hints at my book or just blatantly discuses my book, remember the more ‘likes’ you get the more people see your plugs.  What other means have you utilized in order to promote your work?

-6. Set up an author page on Facebook. I am not the best at promoting this aspect. I pretty much have my friends and family that I have bullied into liking it and a few lovely diehard fans. It’s necessary and let’s face it, people love to stalk other people, so give them an all access pass. 

I like that my author Facebook page is separate that way I can plug as many book signings, author giveaways, starting new projects, pics of me doing all of these things on one site without people getting numb to the information, also that way people that I met at book signings don’t get to see my more private photos unless I friend them.  So you’re still able to be a private person even if using social media to promote your book.

-7. Book release party. This is probably my favorite!  I have had two book releases for the first book in my trilogy.  It’s a fun way to promote your work, catch up with old friends, meet new ones, and most importantly make connections.  I can’t tell  you how many people I have met who have either, offered a free venue for another book release party, asked me to appear on their radio show, or simply said, I now someone that reads and I’m going to tell them about your book.  All of things would not have happened if I hadn’t sat at a table with a stack of my books offering to sign them after I sold them.  So it’s an easy way to drastically increase sales and just awareness of your material.  And you can have them wherever you want!  I had my first one at a Wine Tasting Room and that was super fun because people could sit back with a glass of wine, buy a cigar and one of my books and BOOM-perfect Saturday night :)  Shannon any thoughts on this?

This is actually something I haven’t done yet as of yet but I am planning on throwing one when the third book to my trilogy is finished and released. I spied a lovely little bookstore in my new town and I am going to pop in and chat with the owner when I have a minute. 

-8.  There are also other tools to help you market your book, like giving it away.  Shannon do you have any experience with this? 
I choose to publish my book with Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. I think it’s the best platform for new authors and I really like the benefits of enrolling in the KDP select. Although you do have to give them exclusive rights for 90 days, you can use a few marketing tools that are at your disposal. I have taken advantage of the 5 day free promo twice now for Isle of Skye and because of that I have had over 3000 downloads. I know that every author may have stars and money signs in their eyes when they get done writing their book. You hit publish and think ‘Wow I’m a published author, I’m going to be rich and famous’… that is a lovely but unrealistic goal. Keep in mind that with your first book the most essential part of promoting is just to get your name and work out there to the masses.

Yes I love Amazon.  There are numerous platforms that you can use but I like Amazon the best because I knew I didn’t want to just have an Ebook but also a print edition (something about seeing my name on a book’s spine and resting on my bookshelf) so I went through Amazon’s Createspace and they are awesome because of their expanded distribution channels.  (I have an entire blog post dedicated to it actually so check it out if you want more info.)  But KDP has a free book promo option as well as their Kindle Countdown Deals and yes like Shannon said it would be nice to make millions off of your book and have adapted into a screenplay but that probably won’t happen and if it does it’s because it’s already a huge success.  In order to make it a huge success people need to read it.  And even if they read if for free that is still a success because that means they can post a review or just tell someone about your book.

The most important thing to remember is that you will always be your books best cheerleader.  Think of your book like it was your newborn baby. You have to love, nurture and protect it at all times. Like any mother, you also at some point need to let your child spread its wings. If it’s a good book, it will do well on its own but you must first put in the time and effort for it to do that in the first place.  Lastly, have fun! You wrote a book for goodness sake, enjoy it and spread the word. Writing a book is a major accomplishment and you should feel proud and happy to tell every single person you come into contact with about your story. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was your book. Nothing that truly is important to you comes easy but that just makes the reward even better!

Amen to that!  Promote, Promote, Promote, in whatever way you feel comfortable, or in a way that only makes you slightly uncomfortable.  Your friends and family will grin and bear it when you talk about your book but mostly they won’t be able to hear you shameless promoting your work because they’re too busy talking about their daughter, aunt, sister, cousin, friends, that just wrote a freakin book.  Surround yourself with people that want to see you succeed and remember if you’re not uncomfortable you’re not marketing your work enough :)

Want more from Shannon?