Do Authors Have Favorite Characters?

Emily 2I’ve been asked which characters from my new murder mystery, At the River’s Edge, are my favorites.

I planned for the story to get its early energy from Emily Edwards, a young, spunky mountain woman.  She’s the granddaughter of a deceased moonshiner who reportedly buried his illegal gains on Sunset Peak Mountain, where Emily now lives with her floppy-eared coonhound, Rufus. Attractive and petite with flowing blond hair, Emily’s appearance doesn’t reflect her self-reliance and toughness.

Suspense not only builds around the unsolved murder of Sunset Peak’s mayor, Hank Richards, but also around Emily and her ongoing battle with treasure hunters, convinced she possesses a map to her grandfather’s rumored fortune.

Emily and James Wolsey, her brave, well-meaning boyfriend, continue to find themselves entangled in danger and at the center of the book’s tension.  More often than not, it is Emily who rises to the challenge.  It’s my hope readers become immersed in the threats facing the young couple, and by the end of the story, are as captivated as I am by Emily.

Click HERE to learn more about At the River’s Edge.

*Emily’s Image from Pixabay

Time for a Deep Breath: AuthorToolBox

It’s time again for my contribution to this month’s #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop where dozens of writers share their writing experiences.  I encourage you to check out their thoughts by clicking on the icon at the end of this post.  This month I consider a break from writing.

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Today I released my first murder mystery, At the River’s Edge.  Pre-orders could have been a little better, but all-in-all, it’s off to a good start.  The book took nearly a year to complete, and I’m considering taking some time away from writing novels.  I don’t imagine the break will be long, but it should be long enough for me to recharge before digging into my next major project.

I’d set a goal some time ago to produce a new novel or short story collection every year. I’ve been able to exceed this objective, publishing six novels and two short story collections since 2011.  But self-publishing eight books back-to-back is a tiring process, and I believe it’s time to take a deep breath and consider what’s next.

What does taking a deep breath mean? The business of writing never really stops.  I’ll need to dedicate time to marketing my new book on social media and at book signings.  I should also send a few more query letters to see if any agents are interested in a murder mystery set in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

I belong to two author blog hops (including this one), so that requires two blog posts each month. I also send out a monthly newsletter to my valued email subscribers.  And earlier this year, I joined a local writers’ group, Alleghany Writers.  We meet monthly to discuss various writing topics and write a 500-word short story that we critique at each meeting.  The writing projects associated with the author blog hops, my newsletter, and the writers’ group are evidence that my writing never really stops, nor should it if I’m serious about improving.

When I do dig back into writing my next novel, I haven’t decided if it will be the fourth in the Miles Stevens CIA investigative series, another murder mystery, or maybe pulling together a collection of short stories. I’ve asked my email followers what they think, and they’re leaning toward a murder mystery.

I’m not sure I want to delay the next book in the Miles Stevens series for another year, but then I did enjoy writing my first murder mystery.  Maybe I can write both in parallel.  If I do that, I’d better get started soon.  What the heck, it’s been a couple of weeks.  I think I’m ready.

typewriter - pixabay - Copy


To enjoy other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, click HERE.  Happy blog hopping!Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2

 


Check out At the River’s Edge by clicking on photo below.

Headsone in Creepy Cemetery with Bridge in background

Publishing Pitfalls: IWSG

It’s time for my August contribution to the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog.  The question my fellow writers have been asked to answer this month is: What pitfalls would you warn other writers to avoid on their publication journey?

Be sure to click on the #IWSG icon at the end of my post and check out the responses from dozens of interesting writers.

Iceberg

This month’s question specifically asks about the pitfalls faced on my publication journey, and not on my writing journey.  The two are vastly different. Writing is challenging, but it’s fun and exciting. Publishing is also challenging, but not so much fun.

I chose early on to self-publish.  I’d read horror stories about the vast amount of time spent writing query letters, chasing agents and publishers.  I understood the clear advantages of traditional publishing, but preferred to write at my own pace and select my own genres and subjects. Also, when I began writing, my focus was to spend my time writing and engaging other writers to learn from their experiences. Publishing was something far out on the horizon.  I’d worry about that later.

Here’s the pitfall.  When you elect to self-publish, you are chief cook and bottlewasher, and the toughest of the bottlewashing tasks is marketing.  I completely underestimated the time and expense required to market myself and my novels. I still fall short dedicating the necessary time and resources.

Self-publishing is equivalent to running a small business on your own. You create, package, market, and deliver the product. You can subcontract pieces of this process, but this comes at a price.  Unfortunately, there is little to no money coming in until you’re successful, and it costs time and money to be successful—a true chicken and egg dilemma.

The question is: How much money do you spend on marketing trying to be successful?  I’m still spending, both time and money, and have no answer to this question.   I’m hoping it’s all a numbers game, and when I reach a critical threshold on reviews, email subscribers, and Facebook followers, the dam will break loose and the sales will flow.  But this is probably just wishful thinking.

For my new novel, At the River’s Edge, I’m spending more time on marketing, and I’m even sending out a few query letters.  I enjoy running my small business, but I’ve reached a point where I need to be more successful selling what I spend so much time producing.  It’s a pitfall I must conquer.


Many thanks to Erika Beebe, Sandra Hoover, Susan Gourley, and Lee Lowery for hosting this month’s blog hop.  To follow nearly 200 writers participating in this week’s IWSG blog hop, click on the icon below.  You can also follow on twitter @TheIWSG  or #IWSG.

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Using Props in Fiction: AuthorToolBox

It’s time again for my contribution to this month’s #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop where dozens of writers share their writing experiences.  You can check out their thoughts by clicking on the icon at the end of my post.  This month I discuss the use of props in my soon-to-be-released murder mystery.

At the River's Edge Vehicles

What do a 1950 Ford pickup and a ragtop Jeep have to do with writing?

Just as movies and plays use props to provide dramatic interest and depth to characters and scenes, so do novels. A prop is anything movable or portable on a stage or set, distinct from the actors, scenery, and costumes. I use a Ford pickup and a Jeep as props in my upcoming murder mystery, At the River’s Edge.

James Wolsey is a 26-year-old college graduate who returns to his hometown of Sunset Peak, North Carolina to help his single mother run the family hardware business. After mysteriously killing off the historic town’s mayor in chapter one, I introduce James. Most of what you learn about the dark-haired, former high school quarterback is from dialogue and interaction with his mom, friends, and newfound love interest, Emily Edwards.

Readers discover James had planned a career in corporate America, but couldn’t turn down his mother’s request for assistance.  He’s trying to make the best of the situation when he meets Emily, the granddaughter of a moonshiner. The spirited, green-eyed blonde is haunted by rumors of moonshine money, allegedly buried by her late grandfather in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Misguided fortune hunters are obsessed with Emily and what she might know.

It’s at this point where James is revealed as the proud owner of his grandfather’s restored, jet black, 1950 Ford pickup, and I place Emily in a red ragtop Jeep. Why bother describing the vehicles James and Emily drive?

The vehicles allow readers to form their own opinions about the characters who own them. Without putting it into words, driving a vintage pickup strengthens James’ image as a rugged fisherman and outdoorsman.  It paints him as a man’s man not swayed by fancy cars.  You learn that James is proud of the craftsmanship and hard work his late grandfather put into the pickup. It’s his most prized possession, not because of its value, but because of the family history the truck represents.

Emily may be a petite, attractive blonde, but driving an open-air Jeep portrays her as unafraid to travel across rough terrain with the wind in her face. The vehicle fits her spunky, mountain girl demeanor and warns others that she can, and will, take care of herself.

Other props are used throughout the novel to help readers paint their own pictures of the characters and the scenes.  What better way to show and not tell.


To enjoy other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, click HERE.  Happy blog hopping!Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2


You can learn more about AT THE RIVER’S EDGE by going HERE:

At the River's Edge Vehicles

 

Writing Goals: They Evolve #IWSG

It’s time for my contribution to July’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog.  The question my fellow  writers have been asked to answer this month is: What are your ultimate writing goals, and how have they changed over time? Be sure to click on the #IWSG icon at the end of my post and check out the responses from dozens of interesting writers.


Goals

When I began writing nearly ten years ago, I’m not sure I even had a goal.  If I did, it was to remain sane.  I’d taken early retirement, was recently widowed, and I lived alone with my dog in a mountain home that I purchased less than a year earlier.  Writing filled my days, and often my nights.  Looking back, it’s clear.  My goal was sanity.

I met Claudia shortly thereafter. A practicing paralegal and a former editor, she immediately took interest in my projects, polishing my writing and providing valuable feedback and encouragement. My writing improved. I hadn’t published anything by that time, nor had I considered doing so, but that changed.  My new aspiration was to finish a novel and publish it.

I completed the first draft of Corrupt Connection in late 2011.  It’s a crime/suspense novel about a Central American drug cartel attempting to steal biocomputer technology from a U.S. corporation.  The cartel targets the male and female protagonists with the intent to develop futuristic, mind-altering, and deadly drugs.

My latest novel is much better written, but to this day, I think Corrupt Connection is one of my better stories.  Even so, I was nervous about putting the book out there for others to read.  With Claudia’s help, I self-published the novel in June 2012, and my new goal became finding readers.

I’d spent years in marketing, but I was uncomfortable telling people I was an author.  My nervous laugh would typically follow mentioning my writing to friends and family. I realized that finding readers would have to wait.   I first needed to become comfortable and confident as a writer.  My new objective became learning and applying what I learned to my writing.

I focused on writing contests, author forums, and writers groups, both online and in person.  My writing improved.  I won a few short story competitions.  I’ve become more at ease around other writers, and more confident discussing my writing.

I still sell fewer books than I’d like, but I’m comfortable with what I’m doing.  While I have a long way to go to reach the goals I’ve set, I’m proud of what I produce. I’ve self-published five novels and two short story collections, and my objectives are much loftier today.  I’m very excited about my new murder mystery, At the River’s Edge, which I plan to publish in August.

For the coming months, I’m turning my attention to marketing my new novel, as well as my earlier books.  I’ve been spending time learning about social media (the good, the bad, and the ugly) and the role it plays in successfully marketing books.  My goal is to  sell thousands of copies, not hundreds.

For the past few years, I’ve been donating profits from my two short story collections to North Carolina animal shelters.  It’s not much.  In fact, I supplement the contributions to not disclose how slow my book sales really are.  My current goal is to develop a marketing plan that works.   I’d like to sell enough books that my contributions become meaningful to homeless pets and the good people who care for and adopt them.

I still write to stay sane, but sanity is no longer my only objective.


Many thanks to Nicki Elson, Juneta Key, Tamara Narayan, and Patricia Lynne for hosting this month’s blog hop.  To follow more than 200 writers participating in this week’s IWSG blog hop, click on the icon below.  You can also follow on twitter @TheIWSG  or #IWSG.

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Time – Where Should Authors Spend It?: AuthorToolBoxBlogHop

It’s time for my June contribution to the #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop where dozens of authors post their thoughts on subjects of writing.  Check out the insightful posts of other writers by clicking on the toolbox icon at the bottom.  This month I discuss where I and other authors should spend their precious time.

A Self-Published Author's Time

When I was young, time stretched before me like a red carpet extending into the horizon.  I had time to plan, to experiment, to make mistakes, and there was always tomorrow.

Many decades later, the red carpet appears much shorter.  While I still anticipate tomorrow, it can never be taken for granted.   Oddly, after years of working and saving for the future, I’ve found the one thing I value most can’t be bought—time.

Knowing this, I continue to spend many hours each day, and often at night and early morning, writing novels and short stories where the odds of success are small.  Writers measure success in their own way, but most would agree book sales are a good metric. On average, self-published authors can expect to sell fewer than 250 copies of their first book.   An estimated 750,000 titles are published each year in the U.S., with a small percentage of these books reaching bestseller status.

Given my decision to continue down this narrow path of success, I often wonder where I should focus my time if my goals are to produce well-written books, maximize my sales, and still have sufficient time to enjoy my family and friends.

If I define author time as the accumulation of time required to write and sell books in a given year, I’ve found that I spend it in five main areas: writing, editing, marketing, education, and blogging.  Each of these activities can consume more time than I have to give.  So, what is the correct amount to spend in each area?

I believe an author’s focus should be on writing, and by that, I mean writing novels and short stories.  My writing time varies, but when I’m in the middle of a novel, I will write 4-6 hours a day, or 30-40 hours a week.  This gives me plenty of time to experience life and still maintain focus and continuity on my work in progress.  Writing is about 40% of my author time.

I am fortunate to be married to an experienced editor, and I outsource most of this critical activity to Claudia.  Still, I’ll take at least two passes at my manuscripts before turning them over to her, and then I’ll incorporate her corrections and modifications.  Editing manuscripts represents about 20% of my author time.  As you would expect, more than half of my time is spent writing and editing my books.

Marketing is an area where I don’t spend enough time (or money).  I engage in the following marketing activities: press releases, book signings, Facebook and Twitter ads, offering a few giveaways, advertising on my website, posting to other blogs and websites, and sending query letters.  Without an agent or publisher, all these activities fall upon me.  Marketing occupies 15% of my author time, and I plan to increase this focus with the release of my next novel, At the River’s Edge.

Under education, I include seminars, webinars, writing groups, and learning from other writers via face-to-face and online communications.  I would estimate I spend 10% of my author time in this area.  It’s an investment critical to improving my writing skills, and one I will continue to make.

This brings me to blogging. I struggle with amount of time I should spend in this area.  It can become all-consuming, taking as much time as writing novels.  I belong to two author blog hops, each requiring one post per month. I also guest post to other author blogs.

The reasons in support of blogging are: it’s a form of marketing, provides valuable interaction with other authors, and sharpens writing skills.  The main arguments against blogging are it takes time away from writing, and if done poorly or inconsistently, it distracts readers from the author’s brand.

New, aspiring writers need visibility, and a blog provides that opportunity.  It’s likely that J.K. Rowling, John Grisham, and Stephen King spend little time blogging. Whereas, I spend 15% of my author time posting to my blog.  As long as I stay true to my suspense-filled novels and don’t wander too far off course with my posts, I will continue to invest time blogging.

I’m not sure the above ratios of time are ideal for all writers, but for now, I will stay this course.   Let me know what you think.


To enjoy other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, click HERE.  Happy blogging!Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2


You can check out excerpts from my work in progress, AT THE RIVER’S EDGE, by going HERE:

Headsone in Creepy Cemetery with Bridge in background

Better at a Distance #IWSG

This post was written for the monthly #IWSG blog hop (Insecure Writer’s Support Group).  The goal of the blog hop is to support other writers by sharing experiences. At the bottom, you’ll find a link to other participating writers.  This particular post may seem that it has little to do with writing, but bear with me. I eventually get there.

I tend to overanalyze things–trivial things like passing comments, offhand gestures, overused phrases, even comic strips.  As I age, I find myself doing this more frequently. It’s annoying, even to me.

Recently distracted from my work in progress, “At the River’s Edge,” I came across a vintage Charles Schulz comic on the internet. It showed Linus, sitting with his thumb in his mouth, blanket held tight.  A bubble thought above his head read, “I love mankind…It’s people I can’t stand.” The absurdity of a toddler having a complex, diametrically-opposed thought made it funny. Here’s this child observing life, coming to the conclusion mankind is great, but only at a distance.

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As I continued to overthink the comic strip, it hit me that Linus and I have a lot in common. I admire many things from a distance. For example, I like documentaries about oceans. The vastness, the mystery, and the creatures beneath intrigue me. But get me on a boat, and I’m losing my lunch before the pier fades from sight.

When I was considering careers during my college years, I loved the thought of being a doctor.  This was based on little more than having a high school friend whose father was an MD.  It looked like a good gig.  Unfortunately, physics, chemistry, and poor study habits got in my way. I ended up earning degrees in education and mathematics. Coaching basketball and teaching high school math became my new goals, only to have unruly students, low pay, and long hours take the luster off that career.  Once again, I got too near.   I ended up in corporate America, working for a Fortune 500 company, transferred from city to city for 32 years.

I guess taking a close look at anything can remove its allure, but writers aren’t given the luxury of admiring their work from a distance.  For weeks and months at a time, we are up close and personal with our characters and stories.  While creativity and free-flowing thought play a large role in producing a novel, much of the work is a grind-it-out process where attention to detail is a necessity.

I enjoy both the creativity and the discipline of writing.  Unlike the ocean and my ill-planned goal of becoming a physician, I don’t mind getting close to my writing.  Although, I must admit, when the first box filled with copies of my new book arrives to my front door, I love to stand back and enjoy the moment.

*Image from Pixabay.com


To follow more than 200 writers participating in this month’s IWSG blog hop, click on the icon below.  You can also follow on twitter @TheIWSG  or #IWSG.

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