Tag Archives: writing

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The making of Dunham

And so begins a post (or series of them) (you know how wishy-washy I am) on Dunham, the privateer-heroine and pirate-hero Revolutionary War swashbuckler, which, for those of you not following the serial, will be available for sale July 4, 2013.

To kick it off, here’s the final cover for the official book:

dunham-fullflat-web

I struggled with the question of whether to go with a slightly modified version of the serial’s cover to deal with familiarity to those who’ve followed the story all year (yes, almost a year!). But in the end, I decided not to. Why? Several reasons.

1. At and during the RT Booklovers convention two weeks ago in Kansas City, I had a few marketing epiphanies courtesy of Tracey Reid (but most of which I can’t articulate yet, which is why I haven’t written about it).

2. My attempt at articulating this epiphany to my friend Melissa Blue brought forth an issue I hadn’t thought about: my books’ covers. ALL OF THEM. The fact that they needed a serious makeover. And that it must be done before Dunham was released to take advantage of the marketing wave.

3. So I did that. The Proviso, Stay, Magdalene, and “Twenty-dollar Rag” have new covers. In a different post, I’ll talk about the evolution of those, as I did before, long ago when I was just starting out.

bookcovers-banner

4. After I had done that, I realized that the variation of the serial cover I had made could not conform to the format I’d made for the previous titles, so I scrapped it and redid it from scratch.

I also decided to remove the series tag from Dunham and, subsequently, book 5, which is a post-apocalypse polyandry tale (as yet not officially titled). That, too, was for a reason: people see a series number and assume that the series has an overall arc and that book X is NEXT in the chronology. It makes them less inclined to pick it up because who wants to start something in the middle of a series? Even so, the four contemporary ones above, while perfectly able to be read alone, are, in fact, chronological, and so the series tag is appropriate.

Yet I needed the cover of Dunham to conform with the first four while still being separate. You will also notice that the featured couple is on the back instead of the front. Why was this? Because Dunham is as much epic adventure as it is romance, I want to capture male readers. There are ships involved and thus, naval battles.[1]

And so we have a cover that reflects the pattern of the four contemporary covers, but is also separate.

People DO judge a book by its cover because marketing has evolved so much that people can tell exactly what’s in it. Well. Maybe not exactly. But close enough to the target market to do the job.

____________

[1] I have done as well as I could regarding ship details and battles involving tall ships, which, I will have you know, is very difficult to come by for this very narrow window of time. It was a time of shipbuilding upheaval and drastic changes in naval warfare that began somewhere around 1760 and ended right around 1798, from which evolved the zenith of tall ship building and warfare, on display at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. In short, a LOT of significant things happened in shipbuilding technology and naval warfare between 1780 and 1805.

Creepy collective consciousness is creepy

It appears I’m not the only writer with her knickers in a twist over The Book That Shall Not Be Named, and not only that, but it appears the writerly collective conscious had gotten its knockers knickers in a twist somewhere between Sunday night and Monday morning. Usually when the twist in my knickers gets too tight, I simply avoid the source. In this case, I can’t. It’s everywhere, including my snail mail box after my 70-year-old aunt in Salt Lake took the time to cut an article on it from Deseret News and drop it in the mail to me. I can’t get away from it.

Between this and the incessant banging on the marketing drum, I’ve pretty much had all I can take of the business side of being a writer. (Note: Being a publisher is an entirely different thing.)

Monday morning I went whining to a couple of people, one of whom was utterly unsympathetic and the other who sent me to Cliff Burns’s latest blog post. Lo, there not only did I behold my own frustrations laid out in more articulate language than I’ve been using lately, but on the same day I was having my existential crisis.

Then a friend, who thinks something must in the water:

sent me to yet another writer writing at the same time:

I’d already decided to do the Dunham serial a couple of weeks ago, so I did feel as if I were actually taking action and could prove to be a boon. We shall see, but at least I was trying something different, doing something with the words I’d written that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day for another year. I’d also already decided to rebrand the Dunham series with new covers and new classifications and unveil them all next year with the release of Dunham.

So between the time I announced the serial and the time I got to Cliff’s post, I had spent hours revamping my websites, which I find oddly relaxing. And because I do like this thankless, background, zero-revenue activity so much, I slowly came to the realization that writing novels and the act of publishing them is a hobby. Given that I hold my hobbies sacrosanct, this wasn’t a step down, but a step up. In that respect I also decided to get out of the business of publishing other people. I needed to let go of the pressure of selling, the pressure of sales (or lack thereof, as measured against those of the snake-oil salesmen of our business), and the pressure of bookkeeping. I needed to rejuvenate my love for creating and disseminating my own work. The constant marketing of myself and publishing other people is not part of the hobby and not part of the love.

So now it’s Friday. Nothing about the situation has changed except that I feel as if I have taken some action AND changed my outlook. My frustration level is way down and I can once again stop to see what I have: a wonderful family, a good job that pays the bills, a nice house with a gorgeous porch* upon which I sit with my Tax Deductions and discuss the nature of God—and a hobby I’m mad about and am excited about sharing over the next year.

That’s far more than a lot of people have.

*I am irrationally and exuberantly proud of my porch.
UPDATE: I was roundly castigated for not actually showing you my porch. Here it is:

Journal entry: February 3, 2007

I used to be a writer.  I wrote lots of stuff.  It never got published and I gave up.  I just…stopped…one day.  Sometimes I read what I wrote and I get a charge from it, and I catch myself wondering how the author would have finished it if she had finished it.  I suppose I’ll never know.

(I started writing The Proviso in August 2007.)

How to destroy a brand in one easy (lazy) step

So most of us DIYers out here are trying to brand ourselves. We spend our time on Twitter and Facebook and message boards and whatnot trying to build an audience and a fanbase.

Then the midlist authors come along and digitize their backlists, and everybody’s happy because they already have a brand and they’re simply supplying a product that people want. Yay.

And then there are the midlist and higher-up authors who self-publish new stuff. That’s kind of an interesting experiment. I like watching it all play out even though, well, their brand trumps my brand and I have to work harder at establishing my brand.

Thus, it should make me happy when a very well-established author self-publishes something new and it’s crap. But it doesn’t make me happy. It makes me sad.

See, one big slip, and the reader suddenly suspects that you’re not a very good writer and that your editors made you who you are, and…you’re going to throw away years of investment in your brand and your work product  just because you want to cash in on a 99c romance novella heatwave or make money off your under-the-bed manuscripts?

You insult your readers. You insult your former editors. You make a mockery of your previous publishers. And you embarrass the hell out of yourself. Do you really not know how bad you look, or do you not care?

If your intent is to destroy the brand you worked for all these years because you just have to put up that novella right now because can’t wait because you’ll miss the self-publishing train if you don’t, then you are succeeding.

And you deserve it.

P.S. If you insist on going without an editor, learn how to fucking write. If you can’t do it after all these years and titles, you’re a fraud.

Writing: Ur Doin it Rong

I saw this in an author post somewhere on the ’net:

Thinking isn’t writing.
Outlining isn’t writing.
Research isn’t writing.
Rewriting isn’t writing.

Putting pen to paper is writing.

Really.

That’s odd, because I’ve been writing in my head for years, starting circa fifth grade when I couldn’t understand the concept of an outline, but could construct a well-organized essay in my head after a great deal of reading, assimilating, and thinking. When I finally put pen to paper, the work was already done.

Get that? The hard part was not done on the paper. Ever.

And here I am, thirty years, innumerable essays, a gazillion blog posts, a few short stories, a novella or two, a speech or four, two screenplays and one stage play, ten novels, three agents, and a writing degree later, still constructing fairly well organized works in my head, and sometimes after much research. Not only that, but I write out of order.

So I have to put some scenes and ideas down on paper before the story can be fully realized. So what. Let’s face it: a novel is not an essay.

I do a lot of thinking.

I don’t outline as it is understood.

I research.

Then I rewrite. A lot. In my head.

And voila! A novel.

Now, I can write on spec, but I prefer not to. I prefer to take time to assimilate information, to percolate fleshed-out characters and their motives, to ask “Why?” a lot and attempt to plug all the logical fallacies myself, but it gets done.

What I find curious about such assertions is the assumption that that person’s experience is, to him, universal, and then proceeds to instruct the world at large that his way is the only way.

So. Authors. When you get stuck wandering around the ’net gathering advice and feeling guilty because you don’t write “right,” remember this: Writing, like life, is a journey, not a destination. You have to find your own way.

Whatever allows you to produce a finished product works. And why mess with what works?

People watching

Yesterday I had surgery for the first time ever (not counting wisdom teeth). It was elective and went well, so everything’s fine.

Anyway. I very rarely go out. I’m a serious hermit. When I do go out, I avoid people like the plague. I don’t care to be touched or talked at by total strangers. I’m very conscious and protective of my personal space. But.

I watch.

Maybe out of the corner of my eye. Maybe I use my ears to see (comes from years and years of transcribing for a living—you get to know people pretty well by voice inflection). Maybe a small gesture catches my eye. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it does happen enough that I get lots of ideas for characterization. I take lots of notes in my head. I’ve even taken notes on paper.

They never know I’m watching them.

Years ago, I was eating lunch at a restaurant, reading a book (natch), and three programmers for a medical software company headquartered here were talking in not particularly low tones. They were talking about a software they were selling that controlled the machines that administer insulin doses to inpatients. They’d found a bug that multiplied the dosages many times what was prescribed and it’d killed a few people before they caught it.

I managed to keep my jaw from dropping on the floor and went for pen and paper with great stealth. (Yes, I still have that conversation written down.) I went home after work and started writing as fast as I could. Before I got the story finished, though, it popped up on Law & Order, so I didn’t bother.

They never knew I was listening.

So yesterday.

My preop nurse caught my eye. I don’t know why. She was average height, with curly red-blonde hair, average facial features, and an overweight apple-shaped torso—in short, very similar to how I envision Giselle from The Proviso to look. She wasn’t particularly bubbly; she didn’t smile; she was even a bit terse. She was relaxed but confident. She wasn’t ugly nor truly fat. Just…plain. Ordinary. Average. Whatever it was, which I don’t know, it made her very attractive. In fact, I told Dude she was very pretty.

Next up: My surgeon. He delivered TD #1. Until I went to him last month to say, “I want this procedure,” I never really knew how genuinely caring he is. I’ve very rarely had that from the doctors in my life, but this guy… I’ve never written a doctor as a character before, mostly because my relationships with them as (by turns) patient, investigator, and vendor have never really been good ones. But now I have a model from which to write one.

Last: My operative nurse is someone I’ve known for years, from church. At church, she has always been very dour and standoffish. Her husband is affable enough, and he’s our new bishop (THANK HEAVENS!!!). But I’ve never really gotten to know her because of the brick wall she wraps around herself. But yesterday… Yesterday she was all smiles and genuine warmth and caring. I’ve never seen that before, and now it makes me wonder what about being at church makes her spine stiffen and her smile to go away.

I see people watching people all the time. They sit and watch people go by… You can tell. It’s the people watchers like me—the ones who seem to not be paying attention to anything around them—who could turn you into a character one day.

And you will never know.

Reviewing too close to home

I wrote on this topic two months ago.

I still don’t know what to do, but I’m losing my patience because I discovered that writers of some of the stuff that’s really bad are giving writing advice. Oy. Stop it. You’re not qualified to give writing advice. Really*.

In light of this post and this comment,

in light of a recent romancelandia kerfuffle about writers/unpublished authors reviewing,

in light of Mormons’ cultural tendency to say nice or nothing at all,

in light of the fact that I’m a reader first and I’ve spent money on these books and I have a reader’s perspective and want to express it,

in light of the fact that writers reviewing is generally fraught with dangers, not the least of which is shitting in your own nest,

in light of the fact that my work is in no way intended for a Mormon market**…

I’m still conflicted.

Mostly I don’t relish the idea of people like OutAndAbout (and I think I know who wrote that comment) coming to bash me for MY writing. It hurts my feelings. Yes, there. I said it. It hurts my feelings. Dirty little secret: It hurts every writer’s feelings.

On the other hand, there’s a very small minority of Mormons who’d brave my stuff anyway, so the worst criticism I’m bound to get—probably anonymously—is that I’m too graphic and my characters swear and they DNF’d it after the first two pages. Okay. And?

I’ve got several Mormon novels on my TBR list (albeit heavily weighted for stuff that’s been pre-vetted by readers with whose taste I get along). One I’m reading, The Road Show by Braden Bell, is pretty good. It’s not a page-turner and it’s episodic (natch, written by a playwright/screenwriter), but that’s never bothered me unless badly done. It gets a little churchy-heavy-handed in spots, but I like it.

I read Angela Hallstrom’s book Bound on Earth and I loved it. I’m dying to write a review of that, but I have nothing to say other than “I loved it” and respond to some reviews I read on Goodreads. Oh, and that it’s a novel a short-story-writer-who’s-not-a-novelist would’ve written (which is both its weakness and its strength). I’m interested to see if she can write a long work that’s not a series of interconnecting/interdependent vignettes strung together.

So what to do. What to do.

As a compromise, I created a new alter-ego to review, but I don’t like doing that. I’m not cut out to sustain such an act.

The unnamed book I previously linked has been haunting me (not in a good way) for months, because this is what the market base for Mormon fiction, the one that wants clean and good (e.g., my mother), associate with Mormon fiction. They are the people who need to be brought back into the Mormon fiction fold, and they aren’t going to be unless Mormon fiction improves. It can’t improve unless someone just says, “This sucks. It should never have been published. Next!”

Yeah, it’s clean.

But it still sucks.

*But am I? No. It’s why I don’t give writing advice. At least not publicly. It’s hard to give writing advice to someone who feels free to harshly critique your stuff with great (if dubious) authority, but wants you to comment on theirs and the only thing you can say is, “It’s dead boring.” But instead you give advice on how to improve it, and they insist they’ve written a flawless masterpiece. And really, there’s nothing technically wrong with it except it’s dead boring. Boring sucks. First rule of writing: Don’t suck.

**Because I refuse to be held accountable for your salvation.

“Clean” does not equal good.

I want to talk about LDS fiction, the kind Deseret Book and Covenant and Cedar Fort publish.

This is not a rant. I’m not being sarcastic, nasty, snarky, hateful, bitter, or any other pejorative one might chalk up to my tone. Whatever one might read into it, what I’m feeling right now is a deep sense of disappointment.

I have several LDS novels in my bookshelf by well-known LDS niche authors. There are two I have tried to start, but while the premises are interesting, they aren’t exactly my cuppa. The prose is adequate. They aren’t boring. I put them aside for when I’m in the mindset to read them.

This past week I started a book that’s right up my alley: contemporary romance. I was really looking forward to reading this book. Imagine my dismay when I started reading prose that is amateurish at worst, and at best, suited for 12-year-old girls. It is a series of choppy sentences strung together. There is no discernible rhythm to it. There is no ebb and flow. The dialogue is stilted and too infodumpy about LDS customs and rituals, which made me wonder for whom the book was intended, if not LDS. (We already know this stuff; don’t instruct us in our own culture.) There is no nuance, no allowance for a sophisticated reader, no subtext.

At the convergence of this post on the Association for Mormon Letters blog by Annette Lyon concerning the “clean”ness of books and an inability to find any clean romances in the national marketplace* and my soul-deep disappointment in the book I was struggling with (“soul-deep” is not hyperbole), I realized that LDS fiction needs to stop worrying about a book’s “clean”ness, because that’s the default position, and start concentrating on eradicating (sub)mediocrity.

 

 

*I’m not sure why it’s important, noteworthy, or desirable to have LDS fiction without LDS characters or anything relatable to the culture. You can get “clean” non-LDS fiction in the national marketplace. You cannot get LDS fiction in the national marketplace. If you’re gonna be niche, be niche.

 

I am god

I have a lot of fun with my imaginary friends, thinking of them as if they’re real, telling my tax deductions about mommy’s imaginary friends and laughing about what they do with Dude, talking about them to other writers who like to talk about what their imaginary friends do, too.

We talk about them as if we have no control over them, as if they’re driving the train. In a review of Stay, reviewer Julie Weight said,

When you read Jovan’s books, you just know these characters are like real people to her. She knows them like she knows her own family. Actually, she knows them better than her own family, since she knows their motives and what they’re thinking. If you get her talking about them, you’ll forget that they are just the imaginary people who live in her head. She makes them real, however and wherever she presents them. And because of that, she also agonizes over their lives – to the point where sometimes it seems like she forgets that she’s the one in charge of their lives! All of this familiarity and love for these people comes out in the writing and the story. Because she believes in them, you will start to believe in them. She writes the characters and the stories so well that you, the reader, will become wrapped up in their lives and care deeply about what is going to happen to them.

Emphasis mine.

Here’s the thing: All that’s true. It’s really the subconscious doing the heavy lifting—we all know this. We let it do its thing and we talk to our imaginary friends and let them dictate their lives to us because we are their scribes, but…

Then they stop talking.

What do you do then?

I didn’t realize that this can get into scary territory until I was talking to another n00bish writer who speaks in the “Character X told me to do this” vernacular. It’s cute. I like knowing I’m not the only crazy person on the planet.

Then I realized… He wasn’t taking any responsibility for the words on the page, and it drew me up sharp. He didn’t know what to do when his characters/subconscious stopped. He didn’t have any confidence in the work of the conscious mind. Worse, he wasn’t sure it was even necessary to employ the conscious mind (i.e., himself) because he had himself convinced he couldn’t write without channeling the imaginary friends and taking their dictation.

My subconscious comes up with some amazing shit. Seriously amazing. Stuff my conscious mind would have had to work for decades to come up with. People are amazed when I say I don’t outline, but I don’t. At least, not in any recognizable fashion and certainly not the way I was taught in fifth grade. (I always had to write the paper first and backward engineer the outline; it was a pain.) Things tie together in ways I don’t know how it happens, and I seem to write by serendipity. It seems automatic.

But then the free-flow stops.

At some point, the writer has to take responsibility for who these people are, what they do, what they say, how the story winds out. It’s all fun and games while the subconscious is doing its thing and the writer can pretend these people are real and are simply giving dictation.

But the subconscious is notoriously unreliable and sporadic. What do you do when it takes a break and you can’t?

You start putting words down on paper.

Conscious words, words you choose and arrange, laboriously.

You take responsibility for those words.

And for all the ones you wrote when you were taking dictation, because it doesn’t matter that nobody knows how the subconscious works, what you wrote is still from you.

All you.

There are no imaginary friends.

Free agency

Mormon publishing is a small world, but since I only hover on the outskirts of the community as a fiction writer who is Mormon and not as a writer of Mormon fiction (albeit I have Mormon characters), I don’t have much invested in the state of the Mormon art.

Currently I’m involved in a discussion on the Association for Mormon Letters blog that led to these comments:

Author Annette Lyon said:

Angela also hit it right on the head when she said that it’s a bit tricky naming names and titles when you’re one of the LDS writers yourself. It was a different story before I was part of that group. It’s easy to praise, but this is a tiny sandbox. An offhanded remark can make an enemy, so imagine if I were to give an honest review of that other book. Yeah. Let’s just say I don’t dare.

Author Lisa Torcasso Downing said:

Like Angela, I’m hesitant to criticize other writers–and their publishers–because a) who am I to talk? and b) I need those publishers.

There was a level of pathos there that I don’t feel that deeply with unpublished writers of work aimed for the national market, and not a niche one, and such a niche one. Actually, it was the “I need those publishers” that made me hurt.

I can understand Annette’s position, as she’s established and seems to do very well within the niche. But this is what I want to say to Lisa et al: You do not need those publishers.

Look around. eBooks, podcasts, print-on-demand, serial fiction blogs. The landscape is changing drastically and at breathtaking speed.

My question is: Could you do worse on your own? Really?

Just think about it. Please.

Theme of the week

Dude DVRs all the series dramas (and a few sitcoms) he can pack into the box, and he watches them in chronological order (natch).

About two years ago, we started noticing something very odd: Across all the dramas, across all the networks, there would be a theme of the week. It’s as if The Great Producer in the Sky (aka James Cameron) said to all the writers in television, “Okay. This week’s writing prompt is underground BDSM sex parties, a murder, and collector’s wine. GO!”

Amongst a good dozen dramas, this writing prompt will show up at least three times, sometimes four, all in different permutations. Now it’s just a running joke. Dude says, “The theme of the week is…”

While it’s interesting and curious to see how each writing team interpreted the prompt to fit their characters and canon, it’s super annoying and gets very old very fast.

And it’s one reason I’ve pretty much stopped watching TV dramas. Homogeneity pretty much sucks the fun out of…well, everything.

New Year’s resolutions

1. Make a concerted effort to contact the authors of books I enjoy and tell them that, and why.

I only know how wonderful it makes me feel when someone took the time to email me and tell me that they enjoyed one or both of my books and why.  I can’t imagine any other author wouldn’t like it as much as I do.

2. Seek out and read more independently published work.

I think I have a skewed view of self-publishing, since I came to this via really good writers who decided to self-publish.  Thus, I’ve never encountered this mythical slush pile of dreck I keep hearing about. Maybe I’ll find some, and maybe I’ll let you know if I do. Or not.

Doc McGhee, literary agent

Hang with me for a series of seemingly unrelated factoids. 
doc_mcghee

  1. Y’all know who Doc McGhee is, right? He was Mötley Crüe‘s manager way back in the day and pretty much made them rich and famous. (Oh, shut up. You know I’m a Mötley Crüe fangrrrrl. But Mick Mars does look a little, um, ready for a nursing home, doesn’t he?)
  2.  

  3. In early November, Amazon “suck[ed] up to literary agents” in a bid to kill its monsterly image. Really? They need literary agents to kill its monsterly image? Who’d’a thunk it?
  4.  

  5. Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette all announced they would be holding off releasing ebooks of new (hardcover) titles by six months. The brilliance never ends.
  6.  

  7. Stephen Covey just told Simon & Schuster to fuck off.  Well. I’m pretty sure that’s not exactly what he said.
  8.  

  9. There is one thing an unknown or midlist self-published author can’t get that s/he needs most.
  10.  

  11. There is only one thing a bestselling name-brand author has but doesn’t need at all.

 

I’m not going to explain any of this stuff. The graphic should make it, well, graphically obvious. Take the above seemingly unrelated items, throw it in with this, and see what you come up with. Assume the writer has not himself arranged for the actual production of his manuscript into print and electronic:

 

literary-agent-flow-chart

 

Pop quiz: What word is nowhere to be found in the above flowchart?

I think there’s one agent out there who already knows all this and is slowly, steadily—over weeks, months, years—training his blog readers to start thinking this way.

The difference between how agents work now and how this could work is that a writer would interview agents and hire one (as s/he would an attorney or CPA), as opposed to becoming a supplicant for the agent’s approbation/validation. Agents who now work as if they’re doing writers a favor may not deal with this system well.

On the other hand, even though this is my own plan, I can see that it could land us right back where we are now if writers won’t let go of the thought that they’re powerless and/or only incidental to the book creation process.

Writers, listen up: You’re the creator. There’s power in being the originator of content. Use that power and take control of your own destiny. It’s your work. Take responsibility for its dissemination.

And another thing…

…if you didn’t have a touch (or more) of madness, of moodiness and emotional lability, of doubt and depression and fear, of uncontrollable rage and joy, things you should probably go see a therapist about… You wouldn’t be an artist. You wouldn’t be driven to write or create or paint or compose or or or or or or whatever it is that you do…

My high school physics teacher said he didn’t believe in artistic temperament and that it was a copout. I struggled under the guilt of having one of those (an “artistic temperament”) off and on ever since. But you know, the key word there is “physics.” Naw. He didn’t get it. But I still try to hide it, even though it comes out here and there. It’s a lot easier to hide online, but Dude lives with me. He knows.

I’m never more emotionally stable than when I’m doing the bookkeeping and shipping and inventorying and filing. Or the sheer repetitiveness of coding e-books, building and fiddling with websites. It’s engaging. It’s cleansing, cathartic.

There’s only so much of that I can take before I must go back to the madhouse.