Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Guest author Amy Reade: The Five Things Lucille Ball Taught Me About Writing

Amy Reade
Amy M. Reade is the author of two novels of romantic suspense: Secrets of Hallstead House (Kensington Publishing, July, 2014) and The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor (Kensington Publishing, April, 2015). She is currently working on her third novel. She watches “I Love Lucy” in her home in New Jersey. You can find her online at her website, her blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

I am sure I’m not alone in stating that I believe “I Love Lucy” to be the best television show ever produced. Without using the word “obsessed,” it’s pretty fair to say that I’d rather watch old episodes of the red-headed comedienne and her three co-stars than anything else on television. Several years ago for Christmas my husband gave me the boxed set of all the “I Love Lucy” episodes (yes, it even includes the lost pilot and the Christmas special) and I can’t count how many times I’ve watched those shows from the beginning of the series straight through to the end.

So it’s no wonder that, over the years, I have collected a fair number of books about Lucille Ball and her career. And reading through those books, I’ve come to realize that Ms. Ball wasn’t just a comic genius, but she was also a savvy businesswoman who took responsibility for her company and her reputation very seriously. She was a hard worker (to the point of being hospitalized on several occasions due to exhaustion), a perfectionist (in a good way), and a shrewd (again, in a good way) Hollywood force-to-be-reckoned-with.

It’s also no wonder that the qualities that made her so successful make her a role model for me (and, I suspect, for lots of other people), and I’ve found that much of her philosophy can be applied to my life as a writer. In her writings, interviews, and off-the-cuff remarks to the press, she shared nuggets of wisdom that only years of hard work can produce. And here are some of my favorites:

1. I would rather regret the things that I have done than the things that I have not.

After all, what can you learn from things you’ve never done? If I had never written that first book, never had the courage to send it out into the world to be judged, how could I expect to learn from it and make my future books better?

2. One of the things I learned the hard way was that it doesn't pay to get discouraged. Keeping busy and making optimism a way of life can restore your faith in yourself.

I know all about being discouraged, believe me. But it doesn’t do me a bit of good to brood. All that does is get me stuck in a miasma of feeling-sorry-for-myself, and that’s no fun for anyone. It’s a hard lesson to remember, because sometimes I want nothing more than to go somewhere and lick my wounds, but I’ve found that resolving to be better helps get me back on track, working again, and that’s the best cure for discouragement.

3. Don’t be afraid to play it straight. If you believe in the scene, the audience will, too.

This resonates with me when I think of the dialogue in a novel. It has to sound real, not like some idealized version of what a writer is supposed to sound like. A conversation won’t go anywhere when the participants are talking in stilted, archaic voices. Make it life-like. If I cry while I’m writing a scene, there’s a good chance my readers are going to cry, too.

4. The more things you do, the more you can do.

I love this quote and I repeat it to myself often. When I’m under a deadline with a manuscript coming due, blogs to write, marketing to do, and a household to run, that’s when I’m happiest. And I haven’t missed a deadline yet.

5. I’m writing about things I know. (Season 3, Episode 24)

Good to remember, but it’s okay to veer from this “rule,” too. After all, she followed her own advice and the results were disastrous!

The photo of Lucille Ball was a Mother’s Day gift. It is an original piece of artwork by Carolyn Reade. Used with permission! 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Guest author Melodie Campbell: Worst Typos EVER – Take 2!

Melodie Campbell
The Toronto Sun called her Canada’s “Queen of Comedy.” Library Journal compared her to Janet Evanovich. Melodie Campbell got her start writing standup. She has over 200 publications and nine awards for fiction. Code Name: Gypsy Moth (Imajin Books) is her eighth book. 

Buy Code Name: Gypsy Moth and get Rowena and the Dark Lord or The Artful Goddaughter free! (Melodie loves to introduce readers to her other series. Email her at mcampbell50@cogeco.ca with proof of purchase and she will gift you your choice.)

It happened again, and this time it was my fault.

You know how it happens. Spellcheck has an evil twin that changes your word by one letter, and you don’t notice it until it goes to print. Public becomes Pubic. Corporate Assets becomes Corporate Asses. The Provincial Health Minister becomes Provincial Health Monster. We’ve all been there.

Readers may recall that last year, I wasn’t too happy when the virtual blog tour company paid by my publisher changed the title Rowena and the Dark Lord to Rowena and the Dark Lard.  Sales were NOT stellar.  However, the hilarity that ensued was probably worth the typo.  Seems there were all sorts of people willing to suggest alternative plot lines for a book about Dark Lard.  Many were a mite more entertaining than the original concept (she said ruefully.)

Here’s a small sample:

Rowena moves back to Land’s End and opens up a bakery.

Rowena and Thane return to Land’s End and become pig farmers.

Rowena messes up another spell that causes all who look at her to turn into donuts.

It’s enough to make a grown writer cry.

Well, this time I did it to myself.

REALLY not cool to request a formal industry review for a book and misspell the title.

No matter how it reads, "Cod Name: Gypsy Moth" is not a tale <sic> about an undercover fish running a bar off the coast of Newfoundland...

That wasn’t enough.  People were quick to respond with suggested plot lines on Facebook.  Other authors (22 in fact) had to wade in <sic>.

he'd have to scale back his expectations - a bar like that would be underwater in no time.

and here's me waiting with 'baited' breath

Readers will dive right into that

That's a whale of a tale

that book will really "hook" a reader

Smells pretty fishy to me

definitely the wrong plaice at the wrong time.

We're really floundering here; no trout about it.

Okay!  In the interest of sane people everywhere, I’ll stop on that last one.

The real name of the book?


“Comedy and Space Opera – a blast to read” (former editor Distant Suns magazine)

“a worthy tribute to Douglas Adams”  (prepub review)

It isn't easy being a female barkeep in the final frontier...especially when you’re also a spy!

Nell Romana loves two things: the Blue Angel Bar, and Dalamar, a notorious modern-day knight for hire.  Too bad he doesn't know she is actually an undercover agent.

The bar is a magnet for all sorts of thirsty frontier types, and some of them don’t have civilized manners. That’s no problem for Dalamar, who is built like a warlord and keeps everyone in line. But when Dal is called away on a routine job, Nell uncovers a rebel plot to overthrow the Federation.  She has to act fast and alone.

Then the worst happens.  Her cover is blown …

Buy link AMAZON
Buy link KOBO 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

That ’10 Things People Say to Writers’ List Thing

You’ve likely seen it in an e-Mail chain or in your Twitter or Facebook feed: That list of “10 Things People Say to Creative Writers (but probably shouldn’t).” It’s definitely a conversation starter, at least among several of my writer friends.

Most of these are amusing in their own way. Only a couple of them are really irritating, and even then it depends on the person doing the asking. It’s easy to distinguish between someone asking an innocent question and THAT PERSON we’ve all encountered, who’s hoping to hitch his wagon to yours so you can pull them to some “Writer’s Promised Land” that people seem to think is out there over the horizon somewhere.

Looking over the list, my first thought was that there are a lot more things people say to writers that didn’t seem to make the cut here, but maybe the person who compiled the list was trying to keep things simple, and perhaps even family friendly. For example, there’s no mention of the classic, “Want to write for me? I can’t pay you, but....” I figure that one’s missing because the list is aimed more at things said by people who aren’t writers, or who have no connection to the writing or publishing realms. Fair enough. With that in mind, let’s see what we’ve got:

1. “So, you’re still writing your little book/poems/etc.?”

I’m sorry, did you say something? I was pondering the death of a character in this next scene I’m writing. Come to think of it, the character looks a lot like you, all of a sudden....

2. “Must be nice not having a real job.”

A “real job?” As in, “soul-sucking hell I tolerate in order to pay the bills and I’m miserable all the time while I’m overworked, underpaid, and constantly threatened with being laid off because the shareholders need another hundredth of a percentage point on their stock shares in order to be appeased for one more quarter?” If that’s what you mean, then no, I no longer have a “real job.” I gave it up so that I could do this all the time, and now I’m happier than I’ve been in ten years. Look at my face. This is the face of a dude who’s happy.

3. “Writing doesn’t sound too difficult.”

Neither does what you do for a living. Where do I apply?

4. “I always thought I’d write a book after I retire, once I have some time to kill.”

Actually, you don’t kill time. Time kills you. This process varies in speed and intensity from person to person, particularly for people with “real jobs.” Your mileage may vary.

5. “Wait a second: creative writing degrees are a real thing?”

To be honest, I can’t really speak to this one with any authority, as I don’t have a writing degree of any sort. However, yes, they are a real thing, and I suspect that like many if not most degrees, they offer nothing of actual value even if you manage to land a “real job.”

6. “Have you been published yet?”

Here. Let me Google that for you.

7. “Can I be a character in one of your stories?”

Absolutely. I’m always looking for a name to give to a relatively minor character who needs to suffer a horrible, agonizing death in order to advance the plot, just after my main character sleeps with your spouse or partner because your namesake is an inconsiderate and inept lover.

8. “So, I have this great idea I think you should be using in your book....”

If it involves the horrible, agonizing death of a character I name after you, I’m all ears.

9. “Aren’t writers just professional liars? They tell stories for a living, after all.”

Stories. Alibis. Let’s not get too caught up in the jargon.

10. “You’re writing a book? Tell me everything.”

Now this one I like. Most writers—at least the ones I know—actually do like talking to people. I certainly enjoy engaging a reader (or group of readers), and if you give me the opening, I might very well tell you everything about the story I’m writing. For one thing, it gives me a chance to interact with other humans, rather than just arguing with the voices in my head.

Okay, writers of every sort: What questions to you field on a regular or even frequent basis that make you cringe?

Friday, April 10, 2015

Making it stick

There has been quite a bit of discussion in recent blog posts about how to get the word out that you've written a fabulous book that the entire world should read. In the past my efforts have been fairly low budget, however, recently I have been investing a bit more into marketing my books and the books that CaribbeanReads represents by attending literary events, running workshops, and so on.

Most of the books I work with are children's books and so blogs and social media are not always the best way to reach my audience. We need to get out there and meet with the children, beat the drums through the town, and get them so excited that they insist that their parents buy the book. We also need to reach out to the parents, of course, but the truth is, if you get the children interested, it's really hard for a parent to tell their child, 'NO, I have the money but I will not buy this totally appropriate and potentially educational book for you' ... although I have seen it happen. 

The problem with this method of marketing is making it stick and making it bear fruit. Yes, you have the captive audience, the immediate sale, but how do you ensure that those who attend spread the word and that those who don't buy remember to do so after they leave and the hype dies down. I know that on many occasions I have attended an event and left with full intentions of purchasing the book or product only to forget or talk myself out of it afterwards.

Some of the ways that we have tried is:
  • sending the children away with something fun. In my latest workshop, we gave the children buttons that read "I Survived Zapped"
  • sending the parents away with paraphernalia, postcards, bookmarks
  • collecting email addresses for your mailing list although this has proven to be quite a challenge. If you promise a chance at a free book in return for the email address this discourages the immediate purchase.
When you do authors' visits or presentations, what methods do you use to ensure that participants continue to interact with you and your books after they have left the event?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

How to Not to Blog

Chuck Wendig recently wrote a wonderful post extolling the value of NOT blogging. Check it out here, I'll wait while you read his glorious words.

So, blogging. What are we really selling? Because I'll tell you what, he's right when he says it isn't books. What you are selling is yourself. What you are really aiming for is visibility. Staying present on the internet. It won't directly translate to sales. Sales are a long con. They aren't won by spam and feeding you Twitter constant book links.

A friend of mine, author Reggie Lutz does one thing a week to promote her books. Just one thing. And that one thing varies. She's appeared in the local paper, been on college radio and tweets links to her books. She has a blog where she interviews other authors and like the rest of us has a Facebook page.

But one thing she's conscious of is that the tools we use now, may not be what we're using tomorrow. Facebook is relatively dead, though it's the first thing that readers who have already bought your book will probably find. Twitter is fine, for now. as long as you don't spam. Blogs, if insanely valuable can help a little. But these are things that people (readers) often look up AFTER they've discovered your book somehow. Maybe they met you on the street, at a convention of conference. Maybe they bought the book on Amazon and decided to look you up online to see if you have an interesting Twitter.

So what do you do? Pfft. I don't know! I do stuff... my website is a Wordpress site where I write snarky and humorous recaps of genre TV shows. The worse the better! Only once in awhile do I post anything about writing or my own books. I just happen to like riffing on TV. My twitter @CheGilson is full of my interests, retweets of architecture, fashion, the occasional cute puppy, and then my random thoughts. I have been gaining followers lately because I recently joined UK Horror Scene as a reviewer. Because I like horror movies and I like being a critic.

And finally, you never know what will hit. The marketing ploys everyone is telling you worked for them and their book might have been a fluke. Even big publishers don't know what will work. And anyone telling you what to do is probably wrong.

And finally FINALLY- I'm sorry there's no comic! My scanner is down. so I'll be back with a new comic next month.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Winners never quit and quitters never win - or do they?

They say winners never quit and quitters never win. That's what I've always believed.

After reading the previous amazing post by fellow Novelnaut, Velda Brotherton. I decided to write a post on the subject of quitting as well because I think about it a lot, as many authors do.

Recently, a guest pastor at my church spoke on when it's time to quit. He said quitting makes sense, if your efforts do not bear fruit and you're exhausted, there is a right time to walk away. Well, sometimes the business of writing bears very little fruit, and it is definitely exhausting, yet we churn away at it and stay in the game. Does that mean we're riding through the rough times, staying positive about the future, and staying the course because we believe there really is a light at the end of the writing tunnel? I guess that's called faith, believing without seeing! Do we write to make a living or because it's our passion? Are we addicted to the process with hopes of one day making that list, signing that deal, the next book being the one to sell out, break records, end up optioned for a movie or TV show, etc., etc., etc.?
When do we know it's time to quit, because we understand that quitting does not mean we didn't win, but it means we can say we at least tried, and there are no regrets? But what about fueling your passion, and living out your dreams until they become reality? That can't happen if we give up? Would you be happy if you walked away from this business?
I know I've asked a lot of questions. I've done so because these are the questions I ask myself. I listened to that guest pastor and it really made me think, and honestly decide, that being exhausted without fruit was not the life I wanted to live. However, as you can imagine . . .  and still I write! Actually, I just thought of a new story angle this morning.
Hank Aaron struck out way more times that he hit the ball. Tyler Perry didn't give up when there were only a few people attending his stage plays. He kept at it. Oprah never stopped believing, and the reality of her dreams ended up being bigger than even she imagined.
As my agent says, "Yeah sure, this will be the last book. Until the next one!" And as Velda said, we should make a list of what we would do if we quit, and then tear it up, sit down, and get back to work.

Write on!