and sharing thoughts
Responding to a Challenge
I’ve been challenged, and I’m afraid I don’t know how to say no to a challenge, so when Mary T. Wagner contacted me with this, I ignored a to-do list the size of a full length novel, and said yes. I mean, how unlikely is it that Mary and I should ever meet in the first place, a woman from rural Wisconsin who wears actual stilettos, and a tomboy from coastal Georgia? A look at her book, Running in Stilettos, and a glance at her bio, convinced me we had a lot in common. Mary has been described by reviewers as "the Midwest's answer to Carrie Bradshaw" and favorably compared to humorist Erma Bombeck...but "in sexier shoes. Her newest book, "When the Shoe Fits...Essays of Love, Life and Second Chances" is a "best of" complication drawn from Running with Stilettos, Heck on Heels and Fabulous in Flats.
The challenge she issued requires that I answer three questions, so here goes:
What am I working on?
I usually have two or three projects going at once. If I get stuck on one, I pick up another. My primary project is the sequel to Conjuror, my literary thriller under contract to Mercer University Press and due out in September 2015. The sequel is tentatively titled Covenant, and it’s a pleasure to work with these characters again. The second one is a supernatural mystery entitled Sabilla Sees. I have turned in the first two books in a YA mystery series under contract to Ecanus UK, and have a good start on the third. Book one is soon to be released.
How does my book differ from others of the same genre?
Everything I write seems to take a weird turn somewhere. Conjuror is a good example. It started as a reimagining of some of the old Cherokee legends I learned growing up in Robbinsville NC, with my mom’s Cherokee people and a grandfather who was a master storyteller. Remembering took me back to a different world, and that world flowed onto the screen like magic. In it, I was still a little girl, believing in enchantment and looking for little people in the woods. My parents, brothers, parents and grandparents showed up and came to life, participating in the mystic tales I believed in with my whole heart as a child. As improbable as the story is, it’s the closest I’ll come to writing an autobiography.
Why do I write what I do?
I write what I would like to read, and I have eclectic tastes. Twisted Hair came from a homesick place in my soul, where I felt the sorrow of the elders who told stories of the Cherokee people, from the time they lived in the fabled mother town, through the removal and trail of tears, and it ended before the lost mother town was found and reclaimed. I’m doing a new edition to reflect the fact that the Eastern Band now owns the site where it used to stand.
Those are the only two books from my Cherokee heritage. I wrote them to honor my mother’s people and to express the memory that resides in my DNA of days gone by, and will ever call me home to the Smoky Mountains.
Too Big Buck is my only children’s book. I ghosted it for our 35 pound Pomeranian, Buck, who was unwanted because he was much bigger than his owner anticipated. I’m passionate about kindness to animals and pet rescue, and this was a way to express to children that good dogs, like good people, come in all shapes and sizes.
I wrote my YA paranormal mystery series because writing it was more fun than I’ve ever had as a writer. Watch for it this fall, and you’ll see why.
How does my writing process work?
Sometimes, it doesn’t. I have several half-finished books that languish unfinished and probably will continue to do so. If the writing becomes forced, it shows in the finished product, so I put it aside and work on something that wants to be written. I write a short blurb, just the basic beginning, middle and end, to give me a bit of a guide line, then I start writing and give my characters their freedom to evolve. I often write in the middle of the night when everyone else is asleep, because that’s when I’m wide awake.
Now that I’ve completed the challenge, I’ll follow Mary’s instructions and pass it on to three other writers.
First, is Charlotte Henley Babb. She is a mythologist who teaches her readers to rediscover the joys of fairy tales in a fresh new way.
Second: Tina Whittle. I’m reading a proof of Deeper than the Grave, and can’t put it down.
Third, Lee Lofland. He writes fiction and nonfiction, but his poetic rendering of true stories from his law enforcement background will touch your heart. His blog, The Graveyard Shift, is a must for writers of police procedurals.
Next month, I will be presenting at the South Carolina Writers Conference in Myrtle Beach SC. I'm looking forward to spending time with writers, and with the impressive staff of publishing professionals this conference assembles.
As I prepare for my presentation, and consider panels and workshops I'm on, I think of the questions we usually hear from writers trying to break into print. The answers I would give today, are very different from the past. Here are a few examples.
How do you feel about hiring an editor.
The stock answer used to be, "Money should always flow to the writer, not away." We discouraged writers from paying an editor, because a good writer should be able to present a polished manuscript to an agent, ready to be submitted with perhaps a little tightening up.
I question that advice now. Agents are already doing twice as much work for half as much money, and they are swamped with submissions, which doesn't leave much time for polishing a manuscript. An agent can afford to pick and chose, selecting books that are ready to submit. A good editor, who knows what is expected of a manuscript, can give a new writer a better chance. It's expensive, so if you go that route, determine the cost, what you want the editor to address, and ask her to explain any changes she wants to make. Treat it like an educational expense and learn from the editor.
A writer with a publisher breathing down his neck, reminding him of an upcoming deadline, might finish writing that book and turn it over to a trusted editor. If his books are selling, his publisher will want them to keep coming, and they have to be good. That writer you envy, the one with a new book coming out every year from the publisher you would kill for, has one of the hardest jobs in the business. A free lance editor is a godsend to a busy successful author.
How do you feel about self publishing?
That might have earned the questioner a derisive stare a few years ago. A real author waited, perfecting his craft, until a real publisher, preferable one in New York, accepted her in the club and legitimized her work. Now, some successful authors are rescuing their out of print books and giving them a new life as self published books. Publishers sometimes see successful self pubs and make offers.
Sometimes when you tell a writer it might be years before they see that first proof copy of their book, They just can't wait. Once, I explained to a mature writer that even if we sold his book, it wouldn't be published for two or three years, he said, "I might be dead in two or three years. He self published, and his books are selling enough to make him happy. He has written and published two more since then. He's happy with his choice and feels like a successful author.
The bottom line, maybe it's best not to put all your eggs in one basket. Keep writing and perfecting your craft. Submit, and pay attention to any comments that come with rejections. Make a decision about a time frame. How long will you give the big houses to discover that best seller you're sending them before you chose another direction. Will you self publish, or go to a small press?
What about small presses?
Some are excellent, and some are the stuff of nightmares. Research. Look at the catalog of the publisher and ask a couple of the listed authors for comments. Find out how many books have been sold, and see if that's enough for you. If you are offered a contract, read it carefully, and ask a published author or friendly agent to take a look at it for you. Keep as many rights as you possibly can, and be prepared to work like a mule to promote your book.
Many small presses have difficulty getting books in book stores. This isn't the kiss of death it used to be. Ask authors how many of their books were sold on Amazon, or as e books. I've been surprised at the number of authors who have a good income from books that seldom see the inside of a book store. If you decide to submit to a small press, check it out and make an informed decision. If it's right for you, go for it. It can't do for your career what one of the big houses can do, but it's a start. Make the next book better, sell a few thousand copies of your small press book, and keep submitting.
Do I need an agent?
Probably, if you want a major publishing house to consider your book. Most won't accept un-agented material. But if you meet an editor, pitch your book, and get an invitation to submit it, send it, and start a serious search for an agent armed with that information.
We have complained non-stop about the changes in publishing in recent years, but some of those changes have opened doors to writers who wouldn't have stood a chance a few years ago. We all want to author the next best seller, but that's not in the cards for all of us. Some of us will make it to the heights, some will be hometown heroes, and some won't recoup the investment we sunk in self publishing. But, we can all dream while we keep improving. And look at the fun we're having. I wouldn't trade jobs with anybody. Would you?
I've been many things in my life and if I'm lucky I hope to become many more things before I leave the world. Today, I'm a priest, an author, a literary agent, and mentor among other things. This page will contain my thoughts and on any given day, it might reflect any of those identities.