My Ongoing Self-Interview I

Doing author interviews is a great way for writers to connect with readers. I’ve done a few of them, and I’ve answered random reader questions on Goodreads and Facebook. Often, I’ll get asked a question that is just plain fun to answer, and I find myself wanting to preserve my responses to these questions. So, I decided to start this ongoing self-interview on my blog. I will periodically post great questions and my answers to them. So, here is the first one . . .

Q: At what age did you realize your fascination with books? When did you start writing?

Wild ThingsA: Without a doubt, my first fascination with a book was with Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. I guess I first encountered this book in kindergarten, so around age five. You know, there have been a few happenings in my life that left such marked impressions that I can remember sensory details about the experience—things like the taste of what I was eating, the smell in the air, the colors I saw around me. Sensory memory is a very powerful thing. Reading Where the Wild Things Are is the only experience which left a memory of playing inside of my imagination. Yeah, South Park got it right. Imagination Land does exist. I’ve been there. I remember, fairly vividly, pretending to be Max and living among the wild things. My bedroom became just like his bedroom. I remember more than just pretending to be Max; I remember what it was like to be Max (in Imagination Land, of course). That book was more than just a bunch of pages with pictures and words, it was an experience. That was my introduction to the power of books.

I started writing in high school. I think it was an expression of teen angst back then, like it is for so many teens (funny how they use the very mode of expression that many of them rebel against in English class—namely poetry). I wrote small bits of poetry in the form of song lyrics. I had them stashed all over my room as a teenager. Sadly, most of them are lost now. I never believed in myself enough to preserve them, to take my writing seriously. Then, when I went to college, I was fortunate enough to land in the writing class of Dr. Ron Colthard. In one of my typical smartass moves, I turned most every piece I wrote in that class into a humorous essay. Rather than chastise me, he took it upon himself to edit and critique those crazy things. He made me see that my self-indulgent bull could be turned into little gems of at least moderate literary merit. Before that class was over, Dr. Colthard tried numerous times to get me to submit something to the Cold Mountain Review (ASU’s creative writing publication), but I was too scared or maybe just too young and stupid. It took me two major jobs, a master’s degree, and twenty years to gain the courage to put my work out there. Now that I’ve done it, I wish I could go back to 1992 and smack my former self right across the head.

So, I got this email from Ammy . . .

Hulk HandsAfter reading this morning’s “Important Kindle Request” from Amazon (KDP), several thoughts come to mind. I’m sure I’m not the only indie author to chime in on this issue, and I’m most likely not the only one to voice the following opinions. But it’s my blog, and in the immortal words of Eric Cartman, “I do what I want.” So here they are—my thoughts on the Amazon vs. Hachette (Big 5) issue:

• Damn, that was a long email. I’ve no right to chastise anyone for being long-winded, but jeez, I think “The Amazon Books Team” may have overestimated the attention span of us authors. Just get to the freaking point already. I really don’t need to be dazzled by your knowledge of the history of printing. I had that class in college, and it was boring as hell!

• As an author, I think my own books are worth much more than $20 (don’t we all), but, as a reader, I agree with Amazon that $20 (plus) is too much to pay for ebooks. I can’t help but think about the average family (like mine). I could easily download and read at least one book per week. At $20 per book, 4 or 5 books per month turns into $80-$100 per month (for just one avid reader). That’s not a book budget; that’s a car payment (at least it is for me). No average family can afford that.

• Having made my point about pricing, it seems to me that the market itself will work this little problem out (in due time). The most I’ve ever paid for an ebook is around $12 (and that was only because I’m completely hooked on this series, and, even though it killed me to pay that, I just had to have it). Frankly, I cannot afford to pay much more than that, and I know I’m not alone. When consumers refuse to pay over $20 for an ebook, won’t the Big 5 get the message then? It will be hard for them to ignore a drop in sales. Amazon’s tendency to push cheap and discount books will not make it easier for them to charge higher prices, either. I just think, as with any other product, the market will drive the price. The Big 5 can decide to charge whatever they want to charge, but people don’t have to pay it. The market is flooded with other options.

• All of this price gouging and bickering could be a potential win for us indie authors. Reader disillusionment with the whole mess should be considered. If readers get tired of it, perhaps they will look to indie authors as their source for good books. After all, there is an abundance of good, quality indie writing out there, and most of us are not stupid enough to charge over $20 for an ebook. I’d say the indie market will follow suit if prices are raised, but, ultimately, our books will always be cheaper than books from the Big 5. We are the no-brainer alternative. I recently lowered my price to $2.99 and I’ve seen a slight increase in sales. Maybe we are already reaping the benefits of this dispute. (I know I’m not getting rich any time soon, I just want people to read my book.)

• One last thought: it will be interesting to see what this does to the print book market. If the Big 5 are successful in raising ebook prices, I will look into purchasing print books with the option to download the ebook for free (or at a reduced price). I guess I’m thinking, if I’m going to pay as much as I would for a print book, I may as well get a print book. This could be a bump for that market, who knows?

Would you like some Iggy Azalea with your shrimp?

Why blog ideas come to me at 1:00 am is beyond me. Further, anyone who reads this is probably going to think I’m nuts, but this is the kind of thing that enters my mind and rouses me from my serene place of rest in the wee hours of the morning—okay, not entirely serene with one beautiful but snoring husband and one cute as hell cover-stealing doggie diva between us. What is this profound topic, you ask? What could be of such import as to drive me from blissful sleep? Well…restaurant music is driving me crazy!

Keep Calm Eat FishNo matter where I go or what I do, I always notice the background music. This is nothing new. I can hardly help it; music is in my blood. It’s as much a part of me as the leg that bounces automatically to anything up tempo. So when a restaurant pipes in a continuous stream of the wrong type of music, it bugs me. Case in point: last week, my husband and I decided it was time for our bi-monthly dose of  greasy, deep fried goodness overload. That’s right, Long John Silver’s—great on the taste buds; hard on the arteries. Any who, we were the youngest people in the restaurant, and we’re in our early forties. So, what music do they choose to play for this geriatric grease-feast? I can only describe it as a continuous stream of dance-mix hell. Talk about missing the mark on your demographic. I don’t know about all LJSes, but I’ve never seen a long line of twenty-somethings waiting behind a velvet rope to get in. I don’t mind a little club music when I’m in the mood to party, but, last time I checked, LJS doesn’t sell martinis and DJ Davy Jones wasn’t set up in the corner. What the music did accomplish was making a bunch of already grumpy old people even more hostile. Like I said, I was the youngest customer in there, and even I was about ready to borrow the cane of the guy next to us and beat the hell out of the speakers.

Pizza Hut is another restaurant with identity issues. I had lunch there on Wednesday, and was treated to forty minutes of non-stop contemporary Christian music. Now, everybody knows Pizza Hut sells beer. This is the Bible Belt, okay. Around here, it just ain’t right to be a hypocrite. I was so confused. I mean, beer just seems to go with pizza, but maybe I’ve been misled. I wanted to get down on my knees right there and pray about it—no, not really. What I really wanted was to order a beer, but, dammit, it was only 12:30. If I had twisted a cap off that early, especially while listening to Christian music, I’m sure I would have received no less than ten invitations to church on Sunday.

All I’m saying is, I wish the restaurants around here would take some time to study their customers. I don’t know who makes the final call. I just wish something would be done about it. All the anxiety from obsessing over this issue is messing with my digestive system—or maybe it’s the deep fried cod. I guess I’ll never know.

#MyWritingProcess Response

My Writing Process is an ongoing blog hop in which writers answer four basic questions about their writing process and then pass the baton to two more authors. I was invited by multitalented author, photographer, and blogger Terri Lyndie. Thanks Terri! Check out Terri’s blog at http://www.terrilyndie.com/.

What am I working on?

openbook-paper-penRight now, I’m working on the second book in my Moondance Trilogy. In this one, my two foul-mouthed and oh so passionate lovers, Maggie and Mason, are faced with a whole new set of challenges. Now that Maggie is aware of Mason’s wealth, she must learn to adjust to a very different lifestyle than what she is used to. You can take the girl out of the cow pasture, but . . . Well, I think I’ve said enough about that. Working on this book is particularly stressful because I certainly don’t want to fall victim to the dreaded sophomore slump. I’m trying really hard, I pinky swear, to focus all my energy into this book. The few exceptions being a blog post here and there, a couple of reviews, and random photos of Chris Hemsworth (oh, and keeping up with Twitter, Facebook, my website, Goodreads, etc). With all of these demands on my time, I just don’t think it’s wise to split my attention with two major writing projects at once. I’m inclined to lean toward quality over quantity.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

This question is tough for several reasons. Fans of this genre will tell you they expect romance books to meet certain criteria which are unique to the genre. Probably more so than any other group, our readers have some idea of what they are getting when they open a romance novel. I think the artistic challenge for us romance writers is to find ways to delight with our language and surprise the reader while staying within the confines of the genre. It’s sort of like writing a sonnet—it must be fourteen lines and stick to an accepted rhyme scheme or run the risk of not being a sonnet. Further, there are only so many ways one can take the boy-meets-girl plot. Originality in plot line is nigh impossible. Heck, even Shakespeare borrowed plot lines, and that was four hundred years ago. At this point in human existence, plot is pretty much played out. However, Shakespeare knew that how one tells the story and develops characters is wherein genius lieth. So, to answer the question, I’m a huge fan of realistic language, well-developed characters, and believable situations. And I don’t have a problem with dirty words. Words are just words. If they exist in our language and are used on a daily basis, I think I should be allowed to use them. I realize this may put me in a category of being too raw, too graphic for some readers, but I think others may find my work refreshingly real. Not that I’m a no-holds-barred kind of gal. I don’t set out with intentions of offending people. I just don’t get bent out of shape over a curse word or twelve. So, fair warning, if bad language and sexual content are offensive to you, don’t read my books. (And you probably shouldn’t read the rest of this post. Just saying!)

Why do I write what I do?

Oh, that’s easy. I write romance novels because I love them. Yeah, I know, that’s not much of an answer. It happens to be true, but there is a little more to it than that. Okay, allow me to explain: love, sex, hate, pain, joy, heartbreak—all of these coexist with emotion, but not just plain emotion. These require an outpouring of passion, often a passion so intense that it can alter the course of our lives. When we experience those things, that’s when we are most human. That’s when our lives transcend the here and now and link us with all who came before and all who will come after. Romance novels take me to the place where real human passion lives. They remind me of how absolutely essential it is for us humans to experience that passion. They remind me that true joy can only come after one experiences pain. And they remind me to be thankful for those moments of passion in my own life. I know I can’t please everyone, but I hope my writing brings joy to someone (after all, I’m one of those troubled artistic types who appears nonchalant, but deep down, I just want to be loved).

How does my writing process work?

drunk chickWell, it is very simple. Some of us are blessed with an orderly muse who bestows her gifts in measured portions. She cultivates genius and looks after her protégé with the greatest care and routine visits—yeah, that muse? She ain’t mine. My muse is a drunk chick who hangs at parties until she makes a complete ass of herself, and when she’s done with that, I’m pretty sure she visits Stephen King’s muse and “sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore” me . This bitch likes to mess with me until I do stupid things like use isle instead of aisle or asses instead of assess. Sometimes she puts the spark of an idea in my head then withholds the word I’m looking for to make me forget it. But sometimes, when she sobers up, she is an utter angel. The problem is, I never know when she is going to behave. Ideas hit me at the oddest times—three o’clock in the morning, four minutes before I’m supposed to leave for a dental appointment, right smack in the middle of . . . ahem . . . relations with my husband. Needless to say, I don’t have a set routine. I feel like I’m most productive in the mornings, but that’s not always the case (sometimes that whore is hungover). But, you know what? She’s not so freaking smart. I’ve figured out a few ways to outsmart her, and, since Stephen King knows how to deal with his muse, I’m following his words of wisdom: “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” I bought a Windows tablet, so now, I can write anywhere at any time. The tablet and a small Bluetooth keyboard fit in my cavernous tote bag, so I take them everywhere I go. Also, I have earplugs strategically placed around my house. Even if my husband is watching my very favorite episode of South Park (which is the evolution episode, by the way), I can drown out the noise in the room with my handy-dandy ear plugs (at least until Mr./Mrs. Garrison begins the evolution lesson). My husband thinks I’m crazy, but it works.

Thank you for reading my post. All of us writers like to hear ourselves talk, but it’s nice to have others to listen to our self-indulgent musings. And please, feel free to leave a comment. I now pass the baton to these wonderful and talented ladies:

Sarah Winter is a self-published contemporary romance author from Wyoming whose debut novel, Snowbound, was released in January of 2014 and went on to become a quarter-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest. Born in Wisconsin and currently living in Wyoming, she has a husband, two sons, and a pair of lazy salamanders. She’s currently working on another contemporary romance, Third Wheel. Check out her blog at http://www.sarahjwinter.com/.

And to . . .

A graduate of the screenwriting program at the University of Southern California’s film school, Morgan Richter has worked in production on several TV shows, including Talk Soup and America’s Funniest Home Videos, and has contributed pop culture-themed reviews and essays to websites such as TVgasm and Forces of Geek, as well as to her own site, Preppies of the Apocalypse. She is the author of Bias Cut, Lonely Satellite, Charlotte Dent, and Wrong City. Bias Cut won a silver medal in the Mystery category at the 2013 Independent Publishers Book Awards (IPPYs) and was a 2012 semi-finalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA). Charlotte Dent was a 2008 ABNA semi-finalist; Lonely Satellite was a 2014 ABNA quarter-finalist. In 2012, Morgan founded Luft Books, an independent publishing company. Born and raised in Spokane, Washington, she currently lives in New York City. Check out her blog at http://preppiesoftheapocalypse.blogspot.com/.

Sarah and Morgan will post their responses to the My Writing Process Blog Hop next Monday, July 21st.

Who’s Afraid of a Big Bad Review Word Requirement?

A friend of a friend came up to me a couple of days ago all giddy and smiling.

“I read your book,” she said.

“Yeah?” I said. “Well, what did you think?”

“I loved it! It was so good.”

“Great! I’m really glad to hear that you liked it. Hey, if you get time, I would so appreciate a review on Amazon.”

A wide-eyed fearful expression washed over her face. “I don’t know how to do that. Don’t you have to write something?”

“Yes,” I said. “But Amazon only requires twenty words. It would mean a lot to me. Reviews really make a difference in sales.”

“Oh, okay. Well, what would I have to say.”

“Most just say things like, ‘I really enjoyed reading this book,’ or ‘This was a fun read.’ You know? That type of stuff. Just be honest about what you thought.”

“Oh, okay. Sure . . . Well, it was nice seeing you again. Tell Lisa I said hello.”

We parted ways, and I knew there was no way in hell she was writing a review of my book. She returned to her world afraid to write twenty kind words about a book in which I bled, sweated, and cried over eighty-six thousand words for her enjoyment. Ironic, isn’t it? Even if I were to discount all the curse words I used and dirty language, I’ve still got her by eighty-five thousand or so. What a mean, cruel world it is that a few of the words which were most likely used in my book must be rearranged by others and fed to Amazon in twenty-word segments in order for me to sell those words in one large eighty-six thousand word (give or take) lump sum. I feel fortunate to have received ten reviews of my debut novel during its first month of sales. Let’s hope month number two does as well. I know one thing. I’m going to make sure I’ve done reviews for all the books I like. For me, twenty words is small homage to pay for authors who have provided me with hours of enjoyment. By the way, this post contains three hundred and sixty words.

July 4th in a Small Coal Town

Kilgores
Our RZRs parked in front of Kilgore’s.

My husband and I just spent 4th of July week in a little town called Evarts in Harlan County, Kentucky. Whenever we visit, and that’s fairly often, I’m struck by the resilience of the people in that little coal town. Evarts, like many dried up coal towns, is just a shell of what it once was. Kilgore’s, the general store right smack dab in the center of town is standing proof of that. Walking into the upstairs room of that store is like walking into the costume department of the Brady Bunch. The inventory seems to have frozen in 1976—nothing sold since, nothing new since. Of course, there are some newer items downstairs, and a lot of trinkets peddled to tourists. The fact that the store still opens daily is a small wonder, but what’s more than that, it’s a statement. A statement which screams, “We may be down, but we’re not giving up!”

The nationwide decrease in coal use and production has left little towns like Evarts in a dire situation. The town is nowhere near any major industry or urban areas. Hell, just getting there is an adventure, so commuting for work is not exactly feasible. Needless to say, without coal mining, they just don’t have a whole lot going for them.

View of Evarts in the valley from the Cliffhanger Trail.
View of Evarts in the valley from the Cliffhanger Trail.

Some residents have moved away, but a surprising number decided to stick it out. Those who stayed have gotten creative with ways to survive. Somehow, the residents of Evarts convinced the county to lease 6,000 acres of old strip mine land and turn it into an off road vehicle trail system. Consequently, people from all over the country come to ride the trails and bring money with them.

It’s the trail system which brought us to Evarts to begin with. My husband and I were some of the first, and we’ve watched things progress in the town. The first night we showed up in Evarts, we found a bunch of men standing around a trashcan fire. My husband yelled out the window of our motorhome, “Excuse me, guys. I hate to bother you, but we’re looking for the camping area for the riding park.” One of the men responded, “Hey, buddy, you’ve found it. Pull on in.” And now, nine years later, sitting around the campfire with the core group responsible for bringing the trails, the Harlan County Ridge Runners, I’m was warmed by not just the fire, but the human spirit of these people. As Dallas started another story with, “Buddy, I’ll tell you what . . .,” Henry laughed and smoked his cigarette like it was the best he’s ever had. The metal plate in his head from the mining accident invariably comes up in conversation, but Henry wears it like a badge of honor, not an impediment. He tells the story with a nonchalance similar to a story of a broken toe or a few stitches on a cut finger. I’m in awe of him. As I scanned the group, Tom winked at me just like he did the day we rode the zip-line with him two years ago (the zip-line is another great idea they put into play). I remember he said, “Hey, lady, I bet I’m the only 70-year-old man you’ll ever see on a zip-line.” And, you know what? He is.

On the 4th, the town put on its usual huge fireworks display after a sweet little parade that wound its way through the half dilapidated, half restored buildings of a once booming town. I overheard a first-timer say, “For a small town, their fireworks were pretty impressive.” Of course they were. In Evarts, people aren’t afraid to dream big. Taking chances is only natural for a town that has nothing to lose. I can’t think of a better place on this earth to be reminded of the American spirit of perseverance during a celebration of our nation’s independence.