Saturday, December 24, 2011

Profound thinking about great gifts

This is a tough TED talk to watch because the woman's story is heart wrenching. I chose to share it partly because this woman is a walking miracle. I chose to share it despite the story being a 5-tissue-worthy tale. I chose to share it because in this season of gift giving it reminded me that the greatest gift we often give each other is personal support in times of need.

The gifts this woman received also came from sources often overlooked in our society. Love and kindness really are the most powerful energies on our planet.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Kallypso Masters talks about alternative romances (Guest Author)

Today's author interview is with Kallypso Masters. Kally and I met in a local writer's group. I asked her for an interview as a writer/representative of an alternative-lifestyle sub-genre because her debut novel this year just happened to be one.

A word of caution here to readers of this post, Kally's work is definitely meant for the 18 and over age crowd and her blog site requires that you attest to your age in order to gain access. 

In my blog post The Naked Truth or why I write romances, I mentioned that the romance genre has expanded over the many years I've been a reader to include stories that focus on "alternative lifestyle" relationships. While I don't write these stories myself, many authors of traditional romance novels also write in some of these edgier sub-genres. In Kally's case, she chose to debut her full-time authoring career writing a series about friends in the BDSM alternative-lifestyle. For those who don't recognize the acronym, "BDSM" stands for bondage-discipline-domination-submission-sadism-masochism and possibly other things. While these words can have negative connotation to some readers, if you check sales of these books, it is obvious that they are sought by many readers. I think I have mentioned before, but will iterate again--some readers of my books also read Kally's books and many others. Minimally, every romance author should be aware of all the books that sell alongside their own.

Though she is going to talk about her romances, Kally says Master at Arms is not "classically" a romance. She instead describes her first book as an introduction to her series. Interestingly, Masters at Arms (with it's great cover) has been on Amazon's best-seller "war" genre fiction list almost since it debuted in August. It provides prequels to romances for three Marines (including a Navy Corpsman), two of whom actually have their "first-meet" scenes with their future heroines in this book. There are no HEAs in Masters at Arms which is why it's not strictly a romance. Kally says the first four books in the series are not stand-alone stories, so she recommends readers wanting to read the series start with the first one.

For a free copy through Dec. 31, go to Smashwords and use coupon code LN28Q at checkout.

Donna:   So, let's get started. Hi Kally. Welcome to my blog. Will you describe yourself (in 1 or 2 sentences) for my readers?

Kally:  Hi, Donna! Thanks for having me! I'm 53, live in Kentucky, and have been writing romances on and off (mostly off) since high school more than 35 years ago, but only ventured into getting one published this year. I've been married for 28 years and have two grown children.

Donna:  Will you describe your writing for the benefit of readers who don't know you?

Kally:  Cherise Sinclair is my favorite author (and a good friend and mentor) I used to love the "bodice-rippers" back in the 1970s and 1980s--Kathleen Woodiwiss, Rosemary Rogers, and Johanna Lindsey among my favorites—who also wrote about dominant men and submissive women (and sometimes the women were chained to the beds—long before there was a BDSM subgenre).

I fell in love with erotic BDSM romances after reading Cherise Sinclair's Club Shadowlands two years ago. Before that, my opinion was that BDSM was about violence, rape, and humiliation. I was a women's studies minor in college—so that didn't sit well with me. But with Sinclair's books, I saw the healthy, loving side of the lifestyle—strong women and equally strong alpha men who provided for their women's needs to be dominated sexually, but in a safe, sane, consensual, and very erotic way.

I write extremely emotional stories about broken people who find rescue, redemption, healing, and love while exploring their sexual interests in some aspect of the BDSM "spectrum" lifestyle. (My characters will be all over the BDSM spectrum, from bondage/discipline with domination/submission in the bedroom or club scene only to safe, sane, and consensual sado-masochism.) People often ask me how I know so much about activity in the BDSM lifestyle and I tell them I'm not a Marine either, but the military folks who have read Masters often compliment me on getting that correct. It's research, plain and simple. I correspond with many people in the lifestyle and they share their stories, feelings, and emotions with me.

Donna: What do you think is the difference between "erotica" and "erotic romances"? You and I have had this discussion, but I thought it would be interesting and informative for my blog readers.

Kally: It's really quite simple (in my mind)—so why can't publishers and readers figure it out? I'm being sarcastic. It's like the word "obscene". Ask 100 people to define it and you'll get 100 different answers.

To me, "erotica" focuses more on the sexual relationship and "erotic romances" focus more on the romantic relationship, but with sexually explicit love scenes that use earthy language, rather than euphemisms to describe the act and body parts involved. There also are some edgier types of sex scenes—not just "vanilla," as those in the lifestyle describe non-BDSM relationships/sex.

I tried writing erotica (hey, sex sells and I needed to make a living, too), but discovered that I am much more interested in exploring the psychological and emotional connections in the relationships than focusing mainly on sex. Some of my characters can go for many chapters without being involved in a sex scene while I take them through a more realistic journey toward their "Happily Ever After" ending, or at least a "Happy For Now" with a commitment to each other.

But I love to read in all genres, as long as the books are long-ish (short stories frustrate me—give me at least 50,000 words). They also need to be well-written, have compelling characters I can sympathize with, and tell a good story. Like people who read "sweet" stories who can't read erotic romances, I'm just the opposite. Close the door before a sex scene and I may close the book, or at the very least scream in frustration.

Donna:  How many more books are you planning in your series? I noticed your third book in the series is releasing soon.

Kally:  Yes, Nobody's Hero will be releasing in about a month. At this point, my series is limitless, like Gabaldon's Outlander (and just as much of a saga, with two main characters—Adam and Karla—who will continue to be prominent throughout the series). I love having cliffhangers in an epilogue at the end of each novel that sets up the next novel in the series. I also like to bring couples from earlier romances back into later books to show how they are progressing toward or maintaining their HEA endings. Let's face is, HEAs take work in real life, as in my books.

Some of my novels take place over a short span of time, too, (like six days) so an HEA ending isn't as believable to me in just one book. But I do make sure the main couple in each romance will be at least "Happy for Now" at the end of their romance. To date, I have seven books planned through the beginning of 2013 (about three per year). But I am sure there are many other secondary characters who will want me to tell their stories, as well. (I just haven't met them or their significant others yet.)

My books are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, BookStrand, and All Romance eBooks.

Donna:  Last question--how can readers contact you? I will also remind my readers that your blog requires an age 18 or over verification to gain access.

Kally:  Thanks for having me here, Donna, and for encouraging the discussion of the various romance genres and the labels used for each. The saying "don't judge a book by its cover" is as true now as ever. There are some pretty racy covers out there with some heart-wrenching, beautiful romances. So, if your blog readers have an adventurous streak, they should give some alternative romances a try!

My blog, Ahh, Kallypso…the stories you tell, is where I publish excerpts of current and upcoming novels, share guest blogs, and have other content on at least a weekly basis. I'm also available by e-mail at and love to hear from readers. I always respond, so if you don't hear back, rattle my cage again because it might have gotten lost in ether.

Those preferring snail mail can write to me at Kallypso Masters, PO Box 206122, Louisville, KY 40250.

But the best way to reach me is via Facebook ( where I hang out many times a day (I'm an extrovert—and they feed me the energy to keep writing), and on Twitter (@kallypsomasters), which I check every few days.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Erotica, Porn, and Other Labels

This post turned into a college paper. There is so much to say on this subject. I recently joined a new networking group comprised of readers looking for romance books involving older characters. They invited me to post the link to Dating A Cougar which I promptly did. Based on concerned comments to the DAC post, I felt the need to warn worried group members about the somewhat explicit language and lovemaking scenes in the book. With my revelation, comments started including words like erotica and porn. Those words were not being used in connection to my book to pass judgement, but rather to ask questions. Those labels are the only terms many know.

Let me first say that I completely understood their concerns. They wanted to know up front what to expect from the book, and several had experiences of unpleasant surprises from books other than mine. I followed my posting discussion for days trying to get all the comments answered. The ones that liked the book have mostly joined me on Facebook.

That experience got me thinking about the purpose genre labels serve.

If you read my previous post titled "How much sex does your romance story need?" you already know my philosophy on lovemaking among my characters and how I let each book determine that sort of thing. I tend to see my work as mid-range sexually explicit, but I put the "over 17" warning in the edition notes. While trying to get traditionally published, I got feedback in a rejection from one small press with a romance line for older characters that the scenes in Dating A Cougar were too hot. The advice was to make the lovemaking slower, not happen so quickly in the storyline, and dial down the desire to the level of hand-holding. And no, it wasn't a Christian romance line nor a "sweet" line with closed door sex. They were fine with my verbs. It was the level of desire between the characters they disagreed with in my prose.

Ten books and many happy older readers later, I am so thankful I laughed at that rejection and kept on writing.

But I think the members of the new group I joined have a perfect right to ask me or any author to disclose what is really in story content. Readers have a right to be able to trust author assigned labels to help them choose what to read. As a reader, I certainly want this. As an author, I feel like I should at least attempt to describe content to the best of my ability.

There are several ebook retailers where my books get the "erotica" or "erotic romance" tag. My reviews at those sites say things like "not a lot of detail, but the scenes were hot enough" which is low praise for a label that promises a lot of focus on sexual interactions. Even though "hot enough" wasn't exactly a goal for Dating A Cougar, I am not going to be offended or become apologetic about pleasing readers in the erotica loving audience. I appreciate all readers.

Also, there is a tremendous amount of variety out there in the romance genre now. Going forward we will probably see even more labels being applied as readers start demanding more help in selecting books for their particular reading tastes. It's getting harder and harder to know what you are buying when you choose a romance. Important note to authors here: there are good surprises (great characters, fun romance, emotional connection) and bad surprises (I didn't know this was a menage story!!!! Why didn't it say so? OR This wasn't even a whole story. It was just a couple scenes.).

Next week, my guest author is a writer of romances that consistently get the erotica tag. Kallypso Masters, author of Masters At Arms, is a member of a writing group I belong to and is one of the hardest working writers I've ever met. Perplexed by the stigma of terms and their effect, I asked Kally to blog with me about definitions and labels assigned to her work.

Frankly, the only labeling that bothers me is hearing my stories referred to as "soft porn" or "porn for women". Words have power and the "porn" one has some power over me. Most romance writing gets that label attached to it at some point, so it's not like I'm the first or anything. But it's still the only one that offends me.

The dictionary on my Mac had a definition of porn as "printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings". The romances I choose to read have to contain the emotional connection component between characters to hold my interest. However, really good romances strive to "stimulate erotic AND emotional feelings".

The origin of the word pornography comes from the Greek word "pornographos" which means "writing about prostitutes". Okay. Ancient Greece had unmarried priestesses (holy women) who had sacred sex with men who made donations to their temples and it also had women who earned a living from selling sex for money (prostitutes). The actions were the same, but one sexuality was okay and one sexuality was not okay.  Now we've circled around to the age-old debate of a society (any society) attempting to regulate a female's sexuality by establishing a system of rules around her bed partners.

Fast forward to women today who read romances. Whether they live what they like to read or not in real life, they are certainly refusing to have their fantasy sex life regulated. Research shows the largest audience of M/M (male/male) romances is women. And you can probably extend the statistical logic out to every other mega-selling erotica or erotic romance label.

So now it's really confusing, but is it porn? 

Once I considered most men's magazines as porn. I sold a gazillon of them on the Army base where I worked at 19 (to be fair, I sold both Playgirl and Playboy). Everyone knows what's in those. Then I went to college in my 30's and had to read Burrough's Naked Lunch and Pynchon Gravity's Rainbow. Both of these literary works graphically describe all manner of sexual acts--many painfully perverse to me, some were downright disgusting--all were told with far less kind words than anything I've ever come across in any commercial fiction book of any sort, especially in the romance genre. When I tell people I'm a romance writer, it's hard to convince them later--if/when the subject comes up--that my broad sexual knowledge was mostly acquired in my Postmodern Literature class in college.

Somewhere in my 30's, I stopped resenting magazines and books dubbed as "male pornography". I stopped being offended when a woman chose to bend over while naked, grab her ankles, and talk to a Playboy article writer through her legs about how she liked going to movies, taking long walks on the beach, and was wanting world peace. If you are female and such things still bother you, hum the Beatles "Let It Be" song and it might help. True liberation really only exists in the absence of judgement.

Modern day romance writing is just as murky as the priestess/prostitute debate of ancient Greece, but I'm starting to connect the dots in my career. One person's porn is definitely another person's literature.

In a recent discussion with fellow romance writer friend, Dave Thome, Author of Fast Lane, we talked about the large appeal that many female readers seem to have these days for romances featuring what I think of as alternative sexual lifestyles such as BDSM, M/M, M/M/F, F/F, and others. We had our age 50+ theories about it which included the whole Women's Liberation movement, but came to no conclusions.

Personally, I cannot read BDSM at all and I have my reasons, but I have read pieces of Kally's erotic stories because I respect and like her. She has a full storyline in her books that takes you inside the lives of her characters. She shows you the damage, the healing, and the whole story. This has not been the case for some erotica labeled books that I have tried to read and failed to be able to.

As a romance reader, I would like to see more descriptive labeling of some sort used within our industry. As a reader, I want the author to tell me honestly what is in the content. Don't label a single scene with no HEA other than orgasm as a full romance novel. Tell me what the piece of writing really is.  If I want what you have written, I will still buy it, but give me the option. Carina Press (a Harlequin company) lost me recently as reader because a story I downloaded was calling itself a spicy romance. The story was a single sex scene of less than 10k words which did not develop the characters at all. I felt tricked. What they sold me was not a full, real romance. Now I don't trust them anymore. For less than $3 they lost me as a reader.

As an author, I'm going to work to not do that to my readers and lose their trust. If you ever have any questions about one of my books, and it's not clear what is in it or how big it is, write and ask me. You can also read my free book, Dating A Cougar. It is representative of all my work so far.

It's bad enough to struggle with labels among author peers of similar work and those outside the industry passing judgement. Inside the industry where they can be useful, genre and sub-genre labels and book descriptions should help readers, not just be exploited as marketing tools. Write what you want to write by all means, but don't wimp out at the selling stage and pretend your book is something it is not. If it is just a long sex scene, sell it as that. Just tell me the truth and let me as a reader of your work make an honest decision. This is the only way an author will get repeat business.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sondra Allan Carr talks about story themes (Guest Author)

My guest author today is Sondra Allan Carr. I read mostly contemporary and paranormal romances, but now and again a historical book comes along that catches my eye. Sondra's book A Bed of Thorns and Roses is one of those. Just FYI in case you're into reading reviews, out of the 11 reviews the book has at Amazon, there are 9 five star and 2 four star.

Donna: Why did you use a Beatuy and the Beast theme for your books?

Available at Amazon
Sondra: I’ve always been intrigued by the tale of Beauty and the Beast. On the surface, the story is a simple one: Beauty sees past the Beast’s hideous exterior and comes to love him for the quality of his character. Her love breaks the curse and turns the Beast back into a man. But when you dig a little deeper, the story isn’t so simple at all. It raises all sorts of profound questions about the very nature of love. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder—a phrase coined by a romance novelist, by the way—then what does one person see in another that encourages this feeling we call love? Does Beauty fall in love with the Beast because she sees a certain quality in him that is appealing? Does the Beast fall in love with her because she sees him as he hopes to be, not as he is?

I think we all want to be appreciated for our best selves, yet loved even when our worst selves are apparent. Perhaps love is not just how we feel about the other person, but how that person makes us feel about ourselves. In A Bed of Thorns and Roses, I explore the disconnect between an individual’s self-perception and the way he or she is perceived by others. The hero, Jonathan Nashe, has been horribly disfigured in a tragic fire. He considers himself a monster and hides from the world rather than suffer the disgust of others. The heroine, Isabelle Tate, is outwardly a beauty, but she, too, has something to hide, a terrible secret from her past that makes her feel every bit as much an outcast from society as Jonathan's.

A Bed of Thorns and Roses clocks in at more than 140,000 words, but I barely scratched the surface of the Beauty and the Beast theme. The tale is a veritable gold mine for romance writers. Isolation, shame, transformation, to name just a few—there’s an inexhaustible wealth of subject matter here. What’s not to like?

Donna: Why do you like to explore the darkness in your characters? This is something very obvious in your book.

Sondra: What was it Tolstoy said about happy families? They all resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. While I certainly don’t want to write a book that resembles anybody else’s, maybe a more honest answer would be that darkness is easier to write. It’s so much more difficult to make goodness entertaining!

But seriously, when I write it’s all about the characters’ psychology. It’s all about emotions, the more deeply felt, the better. That’s not to say all my stories are doom and gloom and gnashing of teeth. I do have my lighter moments (said with a grin). First and foremost, my stories are romances, which means they end with a happily ever after—no matter how much I torture my characters before they get there. One of the things I love about the romance genre is its bedrock of optimism. 

Donna: What’s next for you creatively?

Sondra: Something that may surprise my readers who are expecting another historical romance. I’m working on a series that I’ve been describing as an alternate pre-history. It’s called The World of Pangaea and is based on the premise of a world where the continents never separated. Different cultures have developed similar to those in our own history, some more advanced than others. One of the recurring themes of the series is prejudice and how ignorance leads to wrong assumptions, mistrust, and even hatred.

Book One in the series is called The Beast (yes, as in Beauty and). The hero is a young king whose father literally went over to the dark side, courting demons to gain power and going mad in the process. Book Two, The Savage, in the series picks up the story nearly twenty years later.

During the first part of 2012, I plan to publish a prequel to the series. It is a short story titled The King’s Witch which will be an introduction to The World of Pangaea series. I’ll offer it free on (Amazon will probably make me charge 99 cents for it, but if enough people complain that they can get it for free elsewhere, Amazon may come around to free as well.) In the meantime, you can read the prologue to Book One, The Beast, on my web site. You can look for The Savage to be published as an e-book by early summer. 

The King’s Witch, as well as the entire Pangaea series, is darker than A Bed of Thorns and Roses, and though I wouldn’t categorize it or any of the books in the series as erotica, the sex scenes are more graphic. Certain scenes touch on what some people might consider edgy subject matter, though I don’t dwell on such topics. The central focus in all my novels is the romance between the hero and heroine.

Sondra: Can I add just a little more? I know this is a long post.
Donna: Sure
Sondra: Thanks for inviting me to share a little bit about my work and upcoming projects. With all the changes going on in the publishing industry, it’s an exciting time to be a writer. I have to say before I go that your openness about your own experience as an indie writer has been a great help to me. In fact, you are truly an inspiration to all of us who, like yourself, have decided to go for the dream. In my case, beginning my writing adventure just a few years shy of retirement from my day job, I often think of the title of your first series and remind myself that it’s Never Too Late.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Profound thinking about reCAPTCHAs

Most of my work these days involves hours and hours being online. Many websites I interact with leave me feeling frustrated and resigned, or at the least feeling reduced to being a trained animal learning to jump through hoops for what I want from them. Even though you know the security measures are for necessary and good, it's still difficult not to get jaded and cynical about logins, passwords, verifications, and every other sort of prove-your-identity harassment.

I honestly never thought anything could so completely change my view of these annoying mundane activities until I watched this TED talk.

I've watched this more than once and have decided that Luis von Ahn's Duolingo project is possibly a path to peace in our global world. His wonderfully out-of-the-box creative programmer's mind shows how large quantities of normal thinking people doing simple everyday online things can make a tremendous difference.

What a wonderful, yet simple gift his work is to us. I smile now when I answer the CAPTCHA questions.

He is also a very entertaining man. The presentation makes me wish I could take some of his classes at Carnegie Mellon University.

Duolingo website

Thursday, December 8, 2011

JM Madden talks about writing across genres (Guest Author)

Donna:  Welcome to my blog JM! Why don't you start by telling readers how you got started writing romances.

JM:   Hi Donna! Thanks so much for having me here today. It's a real privilege, because I think you've done a fantastic job with your writing career so far, and I'm anxious to see what new hurdles you're going to overcome.
Available at Amazon
I went a different direction from what you did. I joined Kentucky Romance Writers back in 2008, because I wanted to explore what I considered to be a hobby at the time, my writing. I received a lot of helpful guidance, and in 2010 finally got up the nerve to start submitting to some publishing houses. I loved that e-books were on the rise, and a brand new company had caught my eye- Decadent Publishing. They had fantastic covers and appealed to me as a contemporary writer. Within 3 days, I had an acceptance email (which made me bawl like a baby).  I released Second Time Around at the end of December 2010.

Second Time Around is a contemporary romance, and the heroine is a cop. The biggest piece of advice I was ever given as a writer was to write about what you know. I was a deputy sheriff for nine years, so it seemed natural to me to go in that direction. And living in Kentucky, the horse industry is predominant in everyday life. Add in a broken romance, a secret child and a naughty horse and you have a romance.

So, it released, and my fingers were flying with new enthusiasm. I didn't even care if I sold one book. I was now a published author.

Available at Amazon
Donna: In 2011, you have become a published author across multiple romance genres. Is there one genre you identify with most? For example, you and I both tend to classify ourselves as "contemporary romance" writers at times, but your work has gone way beyond that now.

JM:  When the chance came around to write an Urban Fantasy for a second publisher I knew, I jumped on it. It was fascinating to me to build my own little world in my mind and on paper. I can't imagine ever writing historical romances, because your details and research have to be spot on, but with genres like fantasy/urban fantasy/sci-fi, you can make the details your own. You can shape the world how ever you want. It was very freeing to stretch my writing legs, so to speak. Burning Moonlight, featured in the Urban Moon Anthology, was written within about two weeks, and it was a blast to write. I really feel like I learned a lot from the experience.

Available at Amazon.
Contemporary romance is my niche though, and when Decadent created the 1NightStand series, I was immediately interested. Wet Dream was created in about two weeks. It was definitely spicier than anything I had written before, but it flowed so easily. The heroine is a strong woman (mandatory for all my romances!) and the hero is a wounded veteran trying to rescue her from an embarrassing situation. Ginger, the woman, just happens to be Cameron's version of a walking wet dream, so when she propositions him, how can he possibly say no? I've gotten a lot of feedback on Wet Dream, and I'm thinking about a follow-up, where the two meet again for their happy ever after.

 Turquoise Morning Press
I like variety in my writing, and I like erotica, so I've recently released a fourth book under another pen name, Jade Morgan. Texas Iron is a male/ male romance, and another chance to stretch my writing legs. I've personally never seen two men together, so it was kind of like writing the urban fantasy, you create your own details.

Donna: What's next for you creatively?

JM:  I think I'm going to jump into the self-publishing pool. I'm working hard on a returning veteran series, tentatively titled 'Coming Home'. It's about a detective bureau staffed entirely by disabled veterans. It will definitely be romance, but it will (hopefully) be suspenseful as well. I'd like to have the first of the series out January/February, with the second out a couple months after that. With all the veterans returning home, I hope it does well and reaches an audience.

I can't seem to limit myself to one genre though, so I'm also working on a post-apocolyptic dragon series that has me fascinated. Serious world building. It, too, will be self-published. In fact, I'm booked well into 2012 with self-pubbing, but if a new sumbission call tickles my fancy, I may squeeze something else in. It's all about reaching a wider audience with your work.

Donna: This is not another question, but rather a note to my blog readers.  I'm not just a fellow author, I'm also a fan of your contemporary work. I've read both Second Time Around and Wet Dream. Both were good, but I loved, loved, loved the couple in Wet Dream. And I'd love to read more of their story. It was a pleasure to host you today.

JM: Donna, thank you so much for having me here! It's been a blast recapping the past year, and I'm amazed at what I've done. And super excited about what's coming! Happy Holidays to everybody!

See all JM books on the web:
Follow her on Twitter:  @authorjmmadden

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

What Is The Color Of Love?

I am the least political, least activist person among most of my friends, so this kind of post is hard for me to write. First let me get the rant over with which is to say just once I'd like to see something amazing and positive about Kentucky hit the news. I rant this because recently my state made it into an article for the Huffington Post and I'm still reeling from what I read because I am naive enough to hope it was some sort of mistake.

Having grown up during the Civil Rights Movement and Women's Liberation, I am unable to read articles like this and remain unaffected. But as a romance author, it's also hitting my heart. I refuse to think that love is bound by color, by ethnicity, or any other man-made label used to catalog differences between people. Differences should enrich our lives with each other, not be used to try to legalistically bind our souls.

This is why I think so many romance authors are drawn to writing and creating paranormal worlds where characters are committing eternally to a werewolf or a vampire or some other immortal creature with bizarre differences from the human character who opts to love them. Committing for centuries certainly ranks above the human "until death do you part" on the fidelity scale. Then there are the cases where committing to an immortal ties your life to theirs which means if they die, you do too. That's a bit more connected than most of us ever want to be to a spouse.

The timing of me seeing this article is ironic, especially since I hadn't even opened my Huffington Post email in a week or more. Yet in Captured In Ink which released over the weekend, I start to delve into what are still referred to as "interracial relationships". I don't think of them that way, or at least I rebel strongly at thinking of them that way, but certainly there are still many people who do think of them as outside the norm judging from the Huff opinion poll at the bottom of the article.

In my fifty years of observation, a person moves along through life until romantic love steps into their path, and the human container for that love is always a bit of surprise for most of us. Odds are the person we connect to will likely be someone closely matching us in appearance or beliefs, but that is about math facts, population distribution, and the landscape of current society. Sociologists can explain this much more succinctly, but my point is that is certainly NOT the only option.

I joke about my family being it's own United Nations group. My sister-in-law is Japanese. My step-brother met and married her while he was serving in the Navy and stationed on a ship near Tokoyo. She is fiesty and fun and speaks English with a Kentucky accent because of my mother.
My son with his Scots-Irish-Cherokee heritage is in love with a woman from Kawait who is truly one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen, both inside and out. If they marry, their children will be incredibly attractive. In both these cases, it just seems normal in my family that these unique couples work out their cultural differences to be as inclusive as possible, for their sakes and ours. Love provides a bridge for that. Lots of famous writers before me have pointed out that love is the only bridge that ever works. It is not a new idea to love everyone like you love yourself.

Bruce is from Indiana, of Scots-German origins, but very worldly because of his military travels. I'm from Eastern Kentucky and won't even go into the background I hale from except to say I'm from a nationally famous feudal family of Scots-Irish-Cherokee descent. But I didn't start dating Bruce for or despite his physical characteristics or even his novelty as a younger man. He was raised Catholic and Lutheran while I am Protestant in ways I typically refuse to acknowledge ever having been. He's Republican and I'm--well, not Republican. Believe me when I say I would not have had to look hard to find reasons to exclude the man I loved above all others from my life. I just chose not to.

Where do you draw the line at what differences matter to the heart?

Love is meant to be inclusive, not exclusive. That's it's natural motivation within us and that's the love I will always write about in my books. I just hope with everything in me that my grandchildren living in the connected global world of the future have the wisdom to accept the love they find for themselves without stopping to question things like the alleged acceptability of the color of the package it comes in.

Beauty is subjective and that's as it should be. We want to draw to ourselves the kind of connections that help us become more than what we are alone.

To grant permission to yourself and others to admire beauty outside the norm is soul expanding. That permission is true progress. I just get sad when articles like the one I read come along because they make me realize that I probably won't live to see that permission become the typical thinking of the future. But then neither did Dr. King.

I guess I'll have to be content with knowing I did what I could by creating a better world in my books.
Addendum Note:  In double-checking the link in this article, I discovered there was a second article. Apparently, the initial decision is being "reconsidered" due to flood of angry protesting from the national church group and local attendees. Turns out the vote was 9 people out of 35-40.  Now I'm admittedly not great at math, but seems like the others could have axed the idea before it got that far by voting against it. Coming from a small town myself, I suspect small-town-people politics were involved. So the end result isn't great, but it's at least better. Perhaps there is some hope for this world after all.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Profound Thinking About Poetry

This is an amazing TED Talk by performance poet, Sarah Kay. The first poem she recites is "If I had a daughter". It is powerful alone, but the entire talk is worth a listen. Poetry is not my first love, but I connect with the souls of other writers who are here in this world emptying themselves on a regular basis to share something of value with the rest of us. These are the artists of the present and the future.

Seth Godin has decided to publish Kay's poetry. I'm going to buy it. Ms. Kay has a new fan in me.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Learning The Love Code

Recently, I managed to finally find a bike helmet that was my size, on sale, and with a Snell safety rating high enough to satisfy Bruce. Then I climbed on the back of his bike and we took off. It was my first bike ride in twenty or more years and was both scary and exhilarating. I felt like Jessica in Carved In Stone going for her first ride with Will.

For those of who have never ridden, a unique thing about riding a motorcycle is that you can't talk to each other in most normal bike helmets. At first I thought not being able to talk was going to be a problem since I was the one on the back and completely out of the driving control loop, but then something very interesting happened in the first few minutes of the ride.

We developed a physical code, or in other words, a way to talk without talking.

Sitting behind Bruce, I learned to squeeze my knees on his hips to indicate my readiness for him to accelerate. My thumbs were hooked in handles on his jacket made for hanging on and I could squeeze his sides as well with my fingertips. Thirty minutes into the ride, we were having whole conversations with him pointing out scenes of interest and me squeezing to show him I understood. Then when we stopped at crossroads, he would reach back and pat my knee to indicate when we would be taking off again.

I could literally have ridden all day, not speaking in words. (I also quickly realized I could also easily retire my "thigh master" if I rode often enough as well, but that's another story.)

Anyway, our physical only communication made me realize that people in love who are truly intimate also use codes. They seem to be as unique as the couple is, though there are some generalities. People who have been married over ten years, and who really get along, talk more with their gazes than they do with mouths. Sometimes in fact the gazes say one thing, while the mouth is saying another. If you are paying attention, you can practically see the sarcasm floating in the air above their heads. They can have arguments, show amusement, or indicate a willingness for other more interesting physical activities with nothing more than the right "look" in their eyes.

I think I do that in my books, especially with the older couples. There is a scene in Created In Fire where Michael and Carrie are fighting about frozen yogurt bars and Shane is demanding to know what's up in the debate. Will and Jessica look at each other, have immediate and full comprehension, and have to turn their backs on the younger people in the room so their physical expressions don't give away their understanding. Well, that and Will was embarrassed a bit, as usual. The older couple is quiet for a long time during the fight until Jessica breaks the silent communication between them by teasing Will.

So in a way, talking in words can actually interfere with the code. Maybe that's what goes wrong in some relationships. Maybe it's just better at times to enjoy not talking, skip the sarcasm, and squeeze your knees when you're ready to accelerate.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Edin Road Radio Interview

In this interview I read Chapter 2 of Captured In Ink (Book Three of the Art of Love series) and talk with Jesse Coffey about the rest of my work. Warning: Southern Accent.

Listen to internet radio with EdinRoad on Blog Talk Radio

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Never Too Late Series Now In Print (update w/photo)

It has taken me several months, but finally the Never Too Late Series is available in print. I can't adequately describe the feeling of holding a physical copy of a book in my hands. Seeing the books in print was another one of those moments of my author journey that literally stopped my heart momentarily just before making it take off racing again.

I made the print as large as I could and tried to use a font that is rounded and easy to read. Basically, I wanted my older readers to not have to pull out their strongest reading glasses just to see the content. I chose a standard size of 5.5" x 8.5" which was the size of most of the trade paperbacks in my own collection of tomes. It also seemed to me to be the most common size of trade paperbacks at my local independent bookseller, Joseph-Beth.

It was important to me to keep the ebook covers, so I waited a bit for the print cover artist to have time in her queue for me. I have to brag because it was such a good call on my part and yet another decision I feel lucky about having made as an Indie author. So kudos to Amanda Kelsey at Razzle Dazzle Design for helping me extend Dara England's wonderful work on the ebook covers into print versions.

But if you are a reader, you're probably not really interested in the details of my choices or how happy I am at holding my work in my hand with my name on it. No, you just want to know where the books are being sold and how to order them. I sincerely thank all my readers for asking about print copies for month and months, and for being patient.

The books will be on sale at sometime in next 5-7 days. They are available for sale now at the Create Space ebook store at the following links.  The cost per book is $13.99.  I think you will be pleased with how the books turned out in print. They are literally the ebooks brought to 3D life.

Buy Dating A Cougar

Buy Dating Dr. Notorious

Buy Dating A Saint

Buy Dating A Metro Man

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Reluctant Baby Boomer's Last Stand

Did you ever peel the labels off cans of food for a practical joke? No? Maybe my mind works differently than most people's. Labels are useful as a way to identify and classify things, but they can certainly cause limitations when you apply them to yourself, others, or your characters in a story. Even the good ones can draw a box around a person's definition that is very hard to escape.

"Baby Boomer" is a label I picked up and started using to define myself when I turned fifty. Up to that point I was just grumpily dealing with being "over 45". Someone gave me the book Boomer Babes: A Woman's Guide to the New Middle Ages. After reading it, I started to think of myself as someone who could simply choose not to be old, or at least not to be old in the same typical way as other women I knew. I decided that being labelled a "Boomer Babe" might be a pretty good thing.

Then I did research.

I am a huge fan of the Urban Dictionary for many reasons. One is that I sometimes teach Intro to Linguistics and find the idea of average people defining new words and terms to be fascinating. Though I do believe that the very proper Samuel Johnson, who is typically credited with creating the first dictionary, is looking down on English speakers now and shuddering over the corruption of his life's work. I know I shudder over what I learn sometimes, including the fact that there really is such a thing as "too much information".

This happened when I looked up "Baby Boomers" in the Urban Dictionary. Submissions from people I'm old enough to have given birth to are full of blame for what they feel my generation has not done well. The vitriol in the contributions made me start thinking hard about that "Baby Boomer" label, because I'd gone from my perception of it as the "free-spirited older woman" contextual meaning to the "generation that caused all the problems in the world" one .

Writers well know that words have power and that a great deal of that resides in the images created in a reader's mind about the word's meaning. "Meanings" hit the brain as instanteously as the words are read.

For example, can a "rape survivor" ever have great sex again? I tackled that subject in Carved In Stone in a slightly different way. My 47 year old heroine lectures the 53 year old hero and tells him that after thirty years of therapy, she is doing just fine. She tells him that he is the one with the problem because my hero turns down intimacy with the heroine because of the label in his head, not anything genuinely true about her. It is about Jessica's struggle to shed a label in this case and I can tell you after thirty years the frustration level is high.

Many writers use labels with contextual definitions to set up a character precisely for the purpose of putting them through the change later. If the character is labelled and described as a "nice guy" or a "good woman", a reader typically picks up the book knowing full well that the label is going to be ripped away at some point in the story.

Maybe the labels we choose in real life function the same for us. At some point in the story of our lives, they'll be ripped away. Then we're like those cans of food in my practical joke, uniform on the outside, but quite different on the inside. If all the cans in the pantry look the same, there's really only one method of discovery.

My mother was mad at me for a very, very long time.


If you haven't read it yet and are interested, Carved In Stone is on sale during the month of November for .99 cents.

Here are several links to where it can be purchased and downloaded (Kobo hasn't adjusted the price yet, but it should happen soon):

Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Apple (via iBooks), Sony, Kobo

Friday, October 28, 2011

How much sex does your romance story need?

I don't participate often, but I read a lot of forums in the Amazon Kindle romance group. Reading them is like watching reality TV crossed with a documentary. The latest one that nabbed my attention was a forum asking if readers prefer one sex scene vs multiple sex scenes per book. Discussions ranged from closed door to graphic to multiple scenes potentially making it erotica. Once again I was struck by the variety in reader preferences.  And once again, I was confronted by the inability of any one author to please all readers in a single book, perhaps not even in multiple books.

Honestly, when I write a romance I never stop to think about how much sex is in it. If asked, I would have to work at counting the scenes in any specific book I wrote (though I have a friend who does this for entertainment). I don't keep track because what would be the point? One book might require one scene. Another book might require seven or eight. To me, my characters indulge the urge when it seems right for them to do so. If I have created a situation where they desperately need each other and believe that, then they are not likely going to delay gratification for 300 pages.

I am not that kind of writer.

I am also not the kind of person who would enjoy books where delays are artificial and done to draw out the tension beyond what real humans would be able to stand and remain sane. My characters are mature adults. The older a person gets, the less they tend to play waiting games. So my older heroes and heroines tend to do what they want more frequently and more quickly than maybe younger characters might. However, character age is not the indicator for me either. Instead it is whatever seems most natural for that person's nature and situation.

In Dating A Metro Man, Jenna's and Seth's relationship is based on sex. Seth uses their sexual relationship to keep Jenna close to him while trying to convince her to love him back the way he loves her. Initially, the physical seems to be all they have. Seth hates the situation and spends most of the book trying to change it. If I had to make a guess without counting, I would say there are probably more sex scenes in that book than any other I have written, but if it's true, it's because sex was the basis of the main character's initial and tentative connection.

In Dating A Saint, Lauren and Jim go through a lot of turmoil before consummating their physical relationship. They have complicated lives and a lot of decisions to make before the connection between them could be safely expressed in a physical way. I did not shoot to achieve first time "romance book perfect" sex either. Lauren and Jim have to emotionally overcome a lot to be able to be in each other's lives that way.

In The Right Thing, the heroine has not had sex in a decade. She is over 50. When they finally get to the sexual relationship point, the scene is pages and pages long and took pages and pages to happen. It is paced slowly because the heroine needs to go slowly and the hero knows that. I would guess this is the longest sex scene I have written to date, not that "longest scene" was a goal either.

Just for a counter-balance, Dating Dr. Notorious has the shortest scene, but could possibly tie for the most scenes. In that book, Ben and Regina are both just those kind of people who make no excuses for their needs.

One theme that emerged from those commenting in the Kindle forum was that sex between the characters had to "further the story" to be of interest to most readers. Viewpoints on what that meant varied greatly, but the gist was that if the sex scenes didn't show the developing emotional relationship between the two characters, the reader felt cheated. Some readers commented that if a book had several scenes (like 7 or 8), it should be labelled "erotica" so readers would know it was mostly just sex. I don't agree with the labeling, but maybe it explains the variety of readers my work draws if that is a predominant thought in reader's minds.

I would like to think I use the sexual relationship between my characters to show they are getting emotionally closer--more intimate--in every way. In my writing, a sexual relationship shows the growing intimacy and is not just a reward at the end for my characters finally getting things emotionally right. Instead, it is laughter and experimentation and comfort and thrills and a metaphor for living life. Initial sex can be awkward or the most amazing moment. Repeat lovemaking can be amazing or fall off into awkward fast. That's just the nature of "sex".  Personally, I don't know how to pull off showing a real relationship between mature adults with one single scene on which their entire physical connection hangs. That might work for 16 year olds, but not for characters over 50.

Good romance is about emotion and making a loving connection. Good sex scenes reveal the depth of each character and hopefully a believable emotional connection between them.

And above all, at least in a romance, good sex scenes should show love.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Profound Thinking About Solar Energy

AM/FM radios became "boomboxes" which now are tiny MP3 players. Communicators from Star Trek are becoming real (look up the SIRI app for the iPhone 4S). It's getting really exciting to realize I've lived long enough to see the science fiction of my childhood become a potential reality.

I find energy self-sufficiency very appealing, so even the idea of detaching from the grid gets me excited.  So Justin Hall-Tipping's presentation is hopeful and very interesting. Now the big question is if I will see it happen in my lifetime.

Another question I have is WHY isn't some company in the US investing in this and making sure it becomes a reality? I hope there is and that I just haven't heard about it. Certainly there isn't as much cash in replacement solar panels and house wiring as there is in creating and selling electricity all over, but isn't energy conservation just worth doing because it's right to do for our world and planet?

I know the economics. I understand the reasons research for super amazing cell phones has outdistanced the technology for creating more energy efficient cars. I just want some altruistic company to rise above the economics and do it anyway.

Justin Hall-Tipping: Freeing energy from the grid | Video on

While it was very interesting to think about using solar energy for my own needs, it was amazing to hear it was already happening elsewhere in the world, but it was more humbling to hear HOW it was happening.  The first half of the "barefoot movement" presentation is about a unique take on the value of education, but do hang in there to learn about grandmothers being trained as solar engineers.

Bunker Roy: Learning from a barefoot movement | Video on

I am a writer because I am interested in the world and how we all interact with it. These positive discussions and ideas put forward by kind and caring individuals make me hopeful for the world.

If I'd been better at math, I might have been a scientist. <thinking...thinking>  Okay, probably not, but I could so, so easily be a cheerleader for what these two presentations offer.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Promoting your books and yourself

Wow, have I learned a lot about marketing and promotion in the last six months! Unfortunately, in the grand scheme of promoting books and myself, what I know fits metaphorically on the top of stick pin compared to what is possible. When I make time to research, like I did today, I come across unique approaches that hadn't even crossed the edges of my imagination. Today I discovered fantasy author Alexander M. Zoltai who focuses promotion efforts through his Second Life site, virtually ignoring (pun intended) other social media.

Collecting friends on Facebook and learning to interact in a valuable way with them has been the pinnacle for me so far. I generally just post a book release notice everywhere I am online (Twitter, Facebook, Website, Blog) and cross my fingers. I hear other Indie authors laughing as they read this. I think I even hear them whispering "lame, very lame". That's why I'm looking into what else I can do.

Lately, a few readers have sent email asking if I was thinking about doing Facebook contests or contests on any of my personal sites. I'm a Goodreads author and they encourage that as well. I'm not opposed to doing contests. I'm just not very clever in that area. At the risk of my womanhood, I will confess that I never host baby showers or wedding showers except under duress. I don't throw a lot of parties. My real life socializing consists of quiet, spontaneous dinners of under six people which are usually reciprocal to someone who has already invited us so I don't seem rude.

So this week I thought I would look at Facebook contests and see what they were about. I posted a notice asking my FB friends about them and got a few replies. I've been asked by author friends to help them with their contests, but I couldn't even figure out how to do that well.

Deciding experience was going to be the best teacher (as is usually the case), I entered a Facebook contest. It was a Reader's Digest challenge to "write your life story in 150 words". Twitter and blogging have made me a word count ninja (soft of), so I thought I would give it a shot. Publication was promised to the winner, so I immediately envisioned tons of Reader's Digest readers downloading my free book and discovering me. (Hey, if I didn't have fantasies, how the heck would I write?)

There are money prizes as well, but that's like a hoping for a winning lottery ticket. I prefer the promise of publication because it will increase my online presence and maybe find readers. Call me crazy. Any online publishing is important because all online mention of you moves your name higher in Google searches. Here's a link to my Reader's Digest entry if you're interested in checking it out. At the risk of sounding like a politician, "your vote is appreciated".

So using Second Life for book announcements and promotion was interesting and unique, but I also discovered today that you can list your blog on Kindle. It costs a Kindle user who wants it about .99 cents a month to subscribe to your blog, but the blog gets delivered directly to their Kindle device. Not being a Kindle owner yet, I am not sure of why this is advantageous over a free subscription to the RSS feed on the site or electing to have it delivered to email like I usually do. Maybe once I get my Kindle Fire next month I will understand.

I signed up as an author willing to do Kindlegraphs and wondered if anyone would want those for my books. I have been quite surprised at the requests.

It doesn't pay to be skeptical. Here's my mini-lecture to myself: "You published your book. Now you have publish yourself."

To do that, you have to find people interested in you. For best results, you have to keep an open mind.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Profound Thinking About Your Stuff

I updated the title of this post because I decided I wanted to do more of them. I am calling these "Profound Thinking" because they encourage exactly that in people.

My brain requires regular feeding to feel alive. This feeding requires me to travel a bit outside my homey box and get inspired. Inspiration comes from many places, and this comes from my significant other who stumbles up one these gems and shares. "You have to watch this," he will say.

Now I pass it on. This is worth five minutes and forty-nine seconds or however long it takes. Just something to think about:

Graham Hill: Less stuff, more happiness | Video on

Friday, October 14, 2011

Book Release: Created In Fire

There is nothing better for me than ending a week by announcing a new book.

Created In Fire is now available at Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

It will be available at Apple, Sony, Kobo, Diesel, and Scrollmotion in approximately two weeks, probably during the last week of October. I will update these links as soon as it is available.

As an FYI to those who don't want to wait two more weeks on Apple or Sony to get the books (I love you all, more than I can say), Smashwords provides formats that work on almost every reader. You can read the Smashwords .epub file on iPhones and iPads. Here is a link to the Smashwords FAQ about how to load the files on your devices. Scroll down the list and look for the "How do I download to my XXX device?" information.

There is a Chapter 1 excerpt in Facebook Notes if you want to read that in advance, plus my books allow for at least 20% sampling at all retailers that support sampling.

I also decided to include one more tiny teaser scene with this announcement. Since these books deal with family, I thought you might enjoy this tiny discussion between a father and son. Thanks for reading!

Michael smiled and studied the satisfied expression on his father’s face. “I hope you get to look like that for the rest of your life.”

“Look like what?” Will asked. “What do you mean?”

“Contented,” Michael told him. “It’s an emotion I long for but have never felt—well except once, but it didn’t last long. If Carrie would just believe I love her, I think I could find it again.” 

“Contentment is one of the harder emotions to hang onto,” Will said, rising to refill his mug. “It helps if you’re the type of person who regularly counts blessings. Sometimes it’s hard for me, but I keep working at it.” 

“Like being grateful Carrie is here for me to help, instead of her living alone and dealing with being sick by herself?” Michael asked. 

Will nodded. “Yes. That’s a good start.” 

“How long until I get to the contented part?” Michael asked, raising an eyebrow. 

Will shrugged and laughed. 

“Shane was right. You and Mom are not getting any wiser as you age,” Michael said bitterly. 

“You learn wisdom by surviving trials and it looks like you’ll be developing your own soon with all the challenges you’ve attracted to yourself,” Will said, choosing not to be offended by the opinions of the two men he raised. “Michael, you’re thirty-four. It’s time to stop being mad that your mother and I don’t have solutions for you anymore.” 

Michael thought about his father’s statement, ignoring him as he sipped his coffee. “Well, growing up sucks too then,” he said, laughing despite the ache in his chest. 

“I’m sorry you’re having a tough morning, son,” Will offered, fighting the grin that kept twitching the corners of his mouth. 

He shouldn’t laugh, but it was hard not to. He knew his stubborn eldest was going to push, shove, and do God only knew what else to the woman sleeping down the hall. Michael honestly thought he would win the stubborn contest between Carrie and him. 

Will figured it was extremely wise not to point out the futility of that to an already frustrated Michael. He was just glad Jessica was letting him live with her until they found a house to buy.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

When You Hate The Hero

What is a writer supposed to do about a review blasting a character's--well, character? It is certainly a dilemma at times to figure it out if you are looking to reviews as a indicator of reader contentment with your work.

First, the writer should probably ask if the comment is fair about the character. So in the case of Dating A Cougar, I had to ask questions like "Is Casey sexist?" The answer is "Yes", or at least he has sexist moments. Is he controlling? Yes, he could be seen that way. Many military men are prone to wanting to control everything and everyone in their environment. It's part of their training and a trait that seems to carry over into the rest of their life. Most get a handle on it, but some of it always remains in their character I think.

Also, I think a writer should look at other more positive reviews of the same character. Compare them and consider that it might just have been that one person or those two people who felt the way they did.

My writer dilemma in dealing with negative reviews about Casey in Dating A Cougar is that I intentionally wrote him to be exactly who he was in that book. As a writer, I couldn't have made a Marine less a Marine for the sake of making Casey less offensive to some female readers. What would be the point of downplaying his personality or the eighteen year military career I gave him? The whole point of matching a less-than-perfect, but extremely strong alpha hero with an equally  strong alpha heroine who thinks she doesn't need to change is to enjoy the two of them wrestling for compromise.

So how can I respond with any writer action to satisfy a reviewer who comments about not liking my hero? Well, I can't, or I guess I should say in the instance of my hero Casey at least--I won't. My characters are vetted by beta readers before I publish which helps me achieve a modest amount of assurance they are likeable. However, you can't please everybody and that means your characters won't be able to do it either.

Before I published my writing, one of the lessons parenting three children taught me is that sometimes you have to refuse something to a person you deeply care about for a higher purpose. During a particularly fierce argument about why she was not being allowed to do something, my oldest daughter as a teenager yelled "I hate you" to me. I was caught off-guard by the directness and sincerity of her comment at the time, but knew as her parent I was right to set that particular limitation for the greater good of both of us and our family. Having been trained at the Bill Cosby Show school of parenting, I pushed the blubbering mother emotions aside and yelled back "Good! That means I'm doing my job."

I think that's how I feel about the negative reviews of Casey in Dating A Cougar. A reader can be disappointed, and I have to accept that it's okay for that person to just not like the hero if they say they don't. Really in response, the only thing I can reasonably say is thanks to authors of the negative reviews commenting on Casey being the kind of man I meant him to be in the story. I can only say thanks for letting me know I did my job.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

An Irishwoman Wrestles Death and Wins

October is cancer awareness month. My first sincerest hope is that this disease has not touched your life and never does. It is my second sincerest hope that one day the world is going to figure out how to beat it--all of it. Having seen the process up close, I don't think the answer is surgery, chemo, or radiation. Those are very elaborate band-aids, and at times they help, but they are not cures. My daughter became a science experiment before the end of her life. No offense to the medical community or doctors of any sort, but there just has to be a better way.

An article I wrote about my daughter dying of cancer last year was released on Wednesday. I wrote it for a support site serving mostly women looking for help and encouragement. Seeing the truth in black and white was a bit tough for me, tougher than I expected, but I needed to start to talk about it. It is not something I talk about constantly, but it also doesn't need to be something hidden in a dark part of my life. I want everyone who has watched a loved one die of that horrible disease know that what people say during it is true. It really does get better. It just takes some time, and more time for some than others. And while you are passing through that time, you have to allow yourself the things you need in the process. Some of us heal best by lighting a candle for others trying to find their way out of the dark. My way out was to create my stories.  Here is a link to the article if you haven't seen it and are interested.

Then Steve Job died this week. He was a business person I admired, but also he was a human who seemed to try his best to give back to the world when he could. His cancer changed him. Do I know this personally? I know this by knowing that no one I have ever met that had cancer or was any way intimate with someone with cancer could have remained unaffected. From my perspective, his life was filled with many examples of working to find the value in what he was doing. He wanted to make each moment count for as much as he could. This has been my mantra since I turned 50 and started seeing younger co-workers in my stressful job dying all around me. My daughter's death was the brick to my head that finally got me going in the right direction. A year or so later Steve Jobs' death is a reminder. He was 56, just three years older than I am. He had a full, wonderful, adventurous life from my perspective looking from the outside in, but as I write this post I find myself sincerely hoping he thought the same thing about his life. I also wonder if he felt finished with what he came here to do when he died. Had he wrung every drop of everything he could from it?

Well, I'm not done yet. I have tons of stories left to tell and I hope I have time. I'm of Irish heritage so I'm going to go have a drink now and lift a glass to his memory and my daughter's . I'm also a Philosopher so while I'm drinking I will ponder the meaning of life as well. I doubt I will get very far. More and more I'm starting to see that life is more about the journey than the destination. I wish I had known that when I was 30, but am thankful to at least know it now.

If you haven't listened to Jobs 2005 commencement speech, it's worth fourteen minutes of your life if you liked the man at all. He's telling his stories in it. I can respect that. This link is compliments of the The Passive Voice blog. Thanks PG.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Eitd, Etd, darn it I mean Edit

Knee-deep in revisions for Created In Fire, I am uber conscious of wanting the book to be as good as it possibly can be. Though there are no truly perfect books these days, the biggest cross I bear as an Indie writer is trying to do an acceptable level of editing on the books before publishing them. Unfortunately, the total responsibility for that rests on me and I have become a terrible editor of my own work. I seem to have traded the perfectionist tendencies I had as a technical writer for creative ones.

While I'm not unhappy with the trade, it's hard to work out the perfect editing process when you control all aspects of it which may be something in traditional publishing's favor with editors serving as gatekeepers for book perfection. Still I have no longings to go that route, so I just want to find a process that keeps me from getting negative comments in reviews about the books needing more editing. I am very grateful to every reader who has bought my books and loved them despite their mechanical flaws. Because of that gratitude, I am taking more and more steps to fix the first published version of every book because all readers deserve the best content a writer can produce. I also have no problem fixing content after release and publishing a revision if one is needed.

My book The Right Thing is probably one of the cleanest books I've published so far because my editor saw it twice. Created In Fire is being seen twice by the editor as well, plus it will also see a proofreader.

Six books into my publishing career, I have learned some things about myself as a writer. One issue I struggle with is to actually stop writing (aka creatively altering the story) when I start editing, but this is not an easy thing to do. My tendency is to keep on writing new content which I discovered introduced new errors faster than my editor could find them. So now I'm adding a proofreader at the end of my process and letting that person look at it after I have finally stopped "fixing" things. Though  he lives in another state, I can still hear my editor sighing with relief.

In self-publishing, it takes a while until you have money enough to hire the amount of help needed. Not many of us can get by with letting a spouse or a friend edit. I'm not 100% there yet, but I am getting closer. I normally put a revision up within a month of initial release because by then I have the time to go back through the book more slowly and without pressure. Time and distance help with the objectivity that is critical to seeing the errors.

Recently, I had the first series books reviewed again for print versions and found yet more tiny errors that needed correcting. So I will be shortly be releasing revised ebook versions of the Never Too Late Series.  Don't ask how many times Dating A Cougar has been revised. I'm too embarrassed to put the number in this post.

Now it's my turn to sigh. I do that a lot when I'm editing.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Any book can be a star (or four or five)

At the time I am writing this blog post, Dating A Cougar has 37 reviews on Amazon US, 44 reviews on Amazon UK, and 30 reviews on Apple just to give you an idea. The number of 3, 4 and 5 star reviews mostly outnumber the 1 and 2 star ones, but I would lying if I didn't admit those low ones are painful. My author friends (bless them all) pointed out to me that the reviews swing the full pendulum of either loving the book or completely not liking it which undoubtedly comes from the book being read by someone not in my target audience (bless John Locke for pointing this out).

Still, I often hit a low point reading the wide mixture of comments and wondering what it all means. Recently the wondering sent me to investigate some of the biggest selling authors of romances or romantic comedy that I personally like to read, such as Nora Roberts, Janet Evanovich, and Jennifer Cruise. Guess what I discovered? Their work garners hundreds of reviews and they all have their share of 1 and 2 star ones. They would probably change places with me over some of the reviews. Theirs are usually from long-time disappointed readers which undoubtedly sets the writer in them cringing.

Oddly enough, I wish I could have at least a hundred more reviews on each of my Amazon sites, in Apple land, on my Goodreads site, and any other site where readers review my books. Why? Because if the reviews equaled the same number of my Facebook or Twitter followers who comprise what I consider to be my "real" audience, and each contained what I've heard from those readers personally, I believe it would create a much different public picture.

After reading the negative reviews, I usually have to bounce back over to Facebook or the guestbook on my website to convince myself I'm good enough to still be writing. It may surprise some who are reading this blog post to learn that writers are not armadillos. Even the well-meant, good criticism that is a natural and necessary part of this work hurts because it's like getting a lecture from a parent or teacher or boss telling the writer they did a bad job.  However, the unhelpful, mean-spirited kind of review is damaging without benefit.

Here's a tip I've learned that I happily pass along to my fellow Indie writing friends. If you find reading the reviews stop you from writing (and they sometimes do), consider asking author friends to help vet reviews. The more unbiased they are about your work, the better the help will be.

Many best selling Indie and Traditional authors have sworn that rankings don't mean sales and negative reviews don't mean lack of sales, and I can certainly attest to that being true from the perspective of my few months of selling experience. Sales follow interest and only a "real" audience will buy all your books. If a reader liked Dating A Cougar, in the majority of cases the person bought all the other three in that series. I know because I watched it happening in some channels, and beyond the sales reports, readers have also written to tell me.

So what do I think all the reviews mean and what should a writer do about them as the author of the books? I honestly have no great ideas. For me, they remain something to just read occasionally and try to see if I can improve anything further.

Originally, I wanted to use the negative reviews to help me determine areas of my work I could improve. That's been the case for only a small fraction of them. The biggest change I made was to add more editing and now a proofreader on the end of the process. Mostly, I think reviews provide a guideline for future purchasers who do not know my work. I will not be a hypocrite about the importance of reviews pretending I don't use them myself as a reader because I certainly do. I've bought two books lately from favorite authors, but I haven't made time to read them because I fear being disappointed in the storyline which I determined might happen because of reviews.

I know reviews are important. I just don't know how important. I care, but I also can't let the negative ones stop me from further productivity. So I tell myself that my "real" audience will find me if I keep standing out in the open and trying to find them. When I finish my second series in late November, I plan to go to the site of every book author I have loved and write a review. I figure it will take me at least two weeks to do this, but I have definitely learned the value of it to the writer. If I loved their book, I want to go down in history as one of their fans who gave them credit for what they did.

If you haven't reviewed a book for an author whose work you love, consider making time for it someday.  It is a gift to them--a huge, huge gift.