Friday, April 29, 2011

Coming Soon: CARVED IN STONE (Book One of the Art of Love Series)

It has taken me most of my life to find my creativity and use it in my work, so it is really alarming to hear about funding for art programs being scaled back or cut in both public and private education sectors. Those cutbacks affect, not only artists, but those who teach it and support it. For a long time I could not even see my writing as anything more than a hobby and one not as deserving of my time and attention. I applaud those who pursue their art in the face of such discouragement. Think about it. What would this world be like without art? My mind goes blank trying to envision no museums, no paintings, no sculptors. I also wonder, who is going to inspire the next generation? It took me fifty years to see creative pursuits as equally important as money making ventures. Being a fiction writer, and not a media artist, I decided that I wanted to write about them and walk in their shoes a little while.

The Art of Love series is me creating my stories around a much respected and larger creative process. As well as helping them find a woman who understands them, I also hope to show how these men shape their lives in such a way to make room for the art. I hope you enjoy reading about these artists as much I am enjoying writing their stories. I also hope you are inspired to keep making your own art.


Carved In Stone (Book One) is the story of 53 year old William Everett Larson who is both a retired middle school principal and a stone sculptor of nudes modeled after great works such as Michelangelo's David. Because of Will's work in the school system, he uses the artistic nom de plume of Everett Williams to keep his artistic work semi-hidden from his day job. Will is a complicated man. He is sensitive and passionate, but stubborn and arrogant when he thinks he's right. As a middle school principal, he is used to being--well--obeyed. As a teacher herself, so is Jesse (Jessica) Coleman. Because his ex-wife (a retired math teacher) did not like his art, Will decides to not tell Jesse anything other than he is an artist since he wants to be liked for the right reasons this time around. That's not so bad a deception, right? Besides, Jesse's not being completely straight with Will either. She's holding back a few things herself, like the fact she's still in love with her husband who died thirty years ago. Of course you know, they will eventually have to share all their secrets whether they like it or not. Oh, did I mention Will's ex wants him back and tries to seduce him? More than once?

Let me tell you two of my favorite things about Will Larson. The first is that he rides a big, black Harley touring bike and loves to take my heroine for a ride (cough, cough). The second thing I really like is that he lets his sons talk him into shaving his partially bald head and getting an earring to update his old guy look to something better. Now I love bikes, but it's the second thing I relate to most. I almost fainted from fear when I got my ears pierced when I was twenty-one. When my middle daughter was sixteen, she talked me into getting a second set of holes above the first ones because she assured me NO ONE has just one set anymore. While I didn't pass out the second time around, I did walk away on rubbery legs wondering how I let my multi-pierced, purple-haired daughter talk me into more holes in my head. I concluded it had to be parental love because I normally have no trouble saying no to self-mutilation under most circumstances. Trust me.

Here is a short blurb about the storyline of the first book which I am hoping to release in late May.

Even though his sons had teased him about not dating, and his ex-wife thought he was still hung on her, 53 yr old Will Larson was glad he had waited until he’d found 47 yr old high school art teacher Jessica Coleman. Jesse had ruthlessly used her art to recover from a brutal sexual assault when she was younger. As far as Will could tell, the only part of her that remained damaged years later was her heart. Jesse assures Will she is incapable of lasting love, but Will refuses to believe it, even though baggage from her past makes her see dating as merely recreational and men as interchangeable. When Jesse promises him temporary fidelity, Will settles for it until he can find a way to convince her she is still capable of love.

Excerpt on Facebook (Friend me if you can't get access)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Being loved versus being "in love" in romances

Okay. Blog writing seems a bit like making a confession to me most of the time, but I can see by the hits I am getting that blogs about the romance genre hold interest for the most people. So here's another one about writing romances.

As a romance writer, I admit that I am enamored of being in love. It is a good part of the reason I write romances. However, every time I say this verbally to a mixed group, laughter ensues along with a lot of teasing about my sex scenes. Don't misunderstand me, I absolutely believe it is nice to be loved by someone, but it is often even nicer if you can also be "in love" with that someone. I happen to believe that the appeal of my books is that many people value being "in love" as much as I do.

So what's the difference? When a one partner loves the other, he/she will take out the trash, get the oil changed in the car, help run the kids to band practice, cook an impromptu dinner for a sporting event, and brag about the raise their spouse got at work. Each partner will take over when the other is sick and be the best friend he/she can be in times of sorrow and pain. The business of living requires that we each have a relationship with a partner who loves us like that if we can possibly manage it. Such a relationship is a very, very valuable asset of life and should be treated like it was on the top of a person's wealth list.

But when a partner is "in love" with the other partner, then the person diligently seeks to learn the source of their partner's joy including the emotional and spiritual, as well as the physical. The payback is the pleasure it brings to both. You can call it a brain chemical win-win if you want to, but that doesn't lessen the appeal of it. Being "in love" inspires a partner to go that extra distance to find out what is needed and desired the most. Now I hear all the time, and I'm sure you have too, that being "in love" doesn't last. Well, nothing much does in this world if you withdraw your time and attention from it. Sorry, I just don't buy being "in love" as a mere chemical reaction, though I concede the science behind it might explain the start-up firing sequence for most of us. What explains the people who manage to stay "in love" for years and years?

Let me show an example of how romance handles it. One of my favorite authors, Jennifer Cruise, has a very fun and funny romance called Bet Me where the hero--who used to sing but hasn't sang in a decade--sings in a restaurant to prove to the heroine that she is special to him. Compared to the over arching story line, this moment between them is a tiny scene, but it hits the core of both of them. As the hero falls "in love" with the heroine, he is pressed into behavior past his comfort zone just to be able to relate to her in a meaningful way. The gain, you ask? The heroine dashes out of the restaurant in tears when she hears him singing to her because she realizes that fact that he sang was more important than how lousy he was at it. While it sounds minor in some regards, think of your own stories. Every couple I know has one. Just start people talking about how they met, what each said, etc. Those moments are a couple's own romance story. And the real life past-the-edge-of-believable-I'm-in-love behaviors are usually more riveting than fiction.

Now here's my theory and it shows up in my stories. Maybe with the left sides of our brains we buy the scientific explanation of being "in love" as a temporary, fleeting condition caused by a surge of brain chemicals that wear off over time. However, I think the right sides of our brains seek out the romantic stories that speak to us because we know being in love is a habit that can be maintained by choice if we are reminded of its value. It requires an open mind, an open heart, a receptive willing partner, and personal risk--sometimes the kind that makes us sing badly. But is it worth it? Well it is to me, but then I'm choosing to write these novels for a living.  I have a feeling though that it's worth it to my readers as well because they are buying my books and talking to me about the characters and how they are relating to each other.

Personally, I really hope my partner considers me worth staying "in love" with for the rest of our lives together.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Connecting to people about my work

In my day job a couple weeks ago, I met a woman whose appearance in my life has this week reminded me once of again of the need to pay attention to what the universe sends my way.

I have been helping her overcome an obstacle to her education. Something about her pulled me into that kind of compelling need to serve a person that you get now and then. I have been helping her mostly because the universe was speaking so loudly in my gut about it being necessary. She said she had been praying for help. I guess I was her answer. Wednesday my support came back to me as I made an even deeper connection to her and to a friend she brought along to our last work sesssion.

There was just something so completely real and genuine about the two women. They were both older, though not quite as old as me. After we had done the academics, I found myself telling them about my writing, all the while every bit as fearful of being judged over it as the woman had been about her writing when I first met her.  Then in the way that women connect and leapfrog over getting to know each other, I found myself telling them about the year that preceded my books and why I had finaly stopped putting off getting my books out there.

They left me with hugs and a righteous feeling of having for a few moments stepped up and did the right thing by a fellow human.  Being women, they laughed at my humor and cried over my sad stories. I was simply uplifted to have spent some time them.

I feel that same way as an author about every comment, review, or email I receive from any reader telling me what they got from one of my books. The men who are reading them and giving them to their wives are astounding me. I have heard from adult daughters in their thirties who are passing my stories back to their mothers who are my age.  I have friends my age also passing them to their mothers who are in their eighties and nineties. The youngest reader I have heard from has been twenty-six. The oldest one so far has been sixty. 

I never expected to make the kind of connection where a reader would say "So glad you are creating older characters" or "So glad your characters are funny, they made me laugh". And don't get me wrong--I get plenty of commentaries that say "Great book! Thanks!" or even "Editing was so bad I couldn't finish".  I appreciate those, too. Every ding about editing helped me decide a copy editor was not a luxury, but going to be a necessity. The last thing I want is a reader struggling to read one of my books just because I could not see them during the revision process. It is just a truth in this business that no author is a perfect editor of their own work, not even those who may do it in day jobs. It's the price of creativity for most of us. We get humbled by our poor editing flaws quickly.

So in case you ever wondered if what you wrote in a review was important, most writers appreciate book reviews and the time a reader takes to write them. It helps writers to know what readers like and don't like. It also helps new readers take a chance on the book. I've gone back now, especially to the Indie authors I follow, and started writing reviews because now I know how important those connections are to the writer.

I work in my reviews to say something "real" to the author.  For example, I follow HP Mallory. I am hooked on her Dulcie O'Neill Series because I like walking in the shoes of her character. In a recent review of Book 2 in my favorite series, I told her what I liked about the book, then I sent her an email explaining in greater detail that I personally related to her character's physicality because it is how I like to imagine that I am as a woman of limited height with more energy than her body can constrain at times.

At least once a week, I go to every retailer of my ebooks and look for feedback. I also have solicited feedback from some pretty hardcore sites that do nothing but review books.  Dating A Cougar Book 1 probably has 200+ reviews. I've read them all, even the ouch ones. I did what I could to improve Dating Dr. Notorious Book 2 and published a copy edited revision. With Dating A Saint Book 3, which was already more clean than the other two, I did a partial copy edit and elected to publish in the time frame I had promised readers. I am getting ready to complete the full copy edit this week and put a revision out soon, even though it is mostly in good shape. 

Reader reviews are shaping my approach to writing. For the next series, starting in late May, I am scheduling the releases to allow time for a full copy edit before publishing. It might not prevent all errors because even traditional publishing doesn't accomplish that perfectly. However, it is how I have modified my process based on initial reviews. If I'm lucky enough to get 200+ reviews on the new books, I would like them to be about the stories and characters more than about editing. I'm hoping for five stars instead of three or four because of needing more editing.

It is a writer goal for me, based on connections I have made. I sincerely appreciate them all.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The naked truth or why I write romances

One of the most interesting aspects of being an Indie published author is that my work is reaching a much broader audience than I ever could have anticipated. I'm even seeing reviews commenting on the reader's surprise to find out Dating A Cougar was a story about a "relationship", which is absolutely the truth.

The very nature of romances as a story form is that they explore all the aspects of "relationship", including the physical, emotional, mental, and even spiritual at times. As a genre of writing, romances encompass physical expressions ranging from sweet behind-closed-doors-only-monogamy to the no-holds-barred erotic. Socially, they cover heterosexal to homosexual to every kind of group relationship a reader can imagine ("menages" of one woman and two men being a rapidly growing area). Romances can be historical or futuristic. They can be like mine which are mostly contemporary--I do have others, but that's a different blog. Anyway, the point is that the genre is HUGE and ENCOMPASSING in what it allows writers to explore in terms of "relationship". There are lots of writers, including me, who are utterly, completely fascinated with writing about people finding each other and connecting.

At this point, if you are reading my blog, you have likely read at least one of my "romances", so you know already where my work falls in the mix.  My books have some strong language and are explicit, though my sexual "heat" level is average for the genre.  I didn't choose the heat level because of wanting to be average.  My characters choose it when they come to life and start interacting.  I think that level does say things about me, and readers will form opinions about both me and my work based on it.  Still as a writer, I have to honor what comes, regardless of what I think of as my "squirm factor". If you knew how totally exposed I feel letting previous co-workers and managers read my work, you would laugh your ass off.  Seriously. You would. It's funnier than anything I can manage to write.

Still, I finish one romance and another story comes with more characters waiting for me to help them work out the sticky details of their lives so they can be with that person who makes life more worth living for them. And I know, of course I know, that sex and love are not everything, but they are for most of us a relief from the tragedies that come from being human.

The books I write are not meant to be great works of high literary value.  Read Shakespeare or Chaucer or Milton or any of the poets if you want to feel self-righteous about what you read.  My books are meant to relieve you. They are meant to make you laugh, make you sigh, maybe even make you a little bit turned on so you go that person you sleep next to every night and look at them once more with love and lust.  Because I can tell you what I know from a half a century of living, love and lust the night before make cooking breakfast the next morning and whatever else you have to do in your life a hell of lot easier.  Love and lust--even the temporary kind--are great gifts of being human.  And we forget that all too often.  I hope my books remind you. I appreciate the reader emails that have shared this with me.

One more note for this topic and long blog. It is another surprise I would like to share.  When I was writing romances before in the mid-90's, all I knew was that women craved these stories as much as they did chocolate once a month.  I'm confessing this was absolutely true about myself as well. Along with mysteries, science fiction, and other commercial work, I've literally been reading romances most of my life. I did this in and around my Master's Degree, thank you very much. NOW--and this is a shocker--now that I am publishing in 2011, it is the men that are reading my stories as much as the women.  It is the men who are writing to thank me and tell me they are sharing them with wives (lucky, lucky wives).  Half the reviewers I'm seeing comments from are men.  For me, that's like receiving a Pulitzer about my work. 

Soon I'm getting business cards made. I bet you can guess what I intend to put on them, but let me say it anyway.  Maybe I need to write it to believe it myself.  So here goes.

I'm a romance writer and it's the best job I've ever had in my life.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Discount on Dating Dr. Notorious (Book 2)

I am offering 25% off Dating Dr. Notorious at for anyone interested. Use RV28V during checkout. Expires April 30, 2011.

It's a quiet celebration of getting out a more edited version.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Will the next story please pull past the drive-thru window and stop?

I put a comment up on Twitter that I realized was even more absolutely true after I saw it published in  black and white. Writing has now officially become an addiction for me. I finished Dating A Saint and now have a whole new set of characters in my head demanding a story fix out of me.

Writing is truly all I want to do these days, but I have to go tend the rest of my life this week.  It is a truth. I do. Hastily jotted down notes on paper napkins, ideas written in the notepads by my grading work, these are all I have to give to the new work for a while. But I find myself wondering when this happened. When did I suddenly become the writer I've been trying to become for--oh, I don't know--twenty or thirty years? I have no answer.

So I say to the story and the characters now rumbling around in my head, the one demanding I get up in the middle of the night and write it if necessary, please pull forward past the drive-thru window of my creative mind and stop. I'll be out there with all time and effort for you I can just as soon as I am able to get everything else done.  I swear.  Just please stop honking the horn for a little while. I made commitments to other things before I knew about you.

I keep seeing a man chiseling marble statues, another one bending metal with a blow torch, and sinister graphic novel heroes in my head. How am I am supposed to get any sleep with all that racket going on? 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Excerpt from Dating A Saint posted on my FB page

Here is the address if you want to check it out.  It is a short excerpt, but I had a couple people asking.  Keep in mind it hasn't been to visit the editor yet. LOL  Enjoy.!/donnajanemcdonald

Saturday, April 2, 2011

My experience with ePublishing at Smashwords

I'm seeing many people who are investigating the guidelines for self-publishing at distributor sites like Smashwords.  Some blog posts seem to contain nothing but complaints about how hard it is.  I can only tell you that this is absolutely true.  Publishing and putting out a truly readable book for readers is really hard.  I decided in this blog post to talk my experience in light  of some of the complaints I have read. 

Complaint: Sales on the Smashwords site are low.

This might be true from a certain point of view, but it could also be that the Smashwords readers are discerning--very, very discerning because they have access to thousands of selections there. If you are selling anything to the Smashwords readers, I would put that in a plus column because they have a lot of fresh choices all the time.

From March 11 to March 31, I sold 7 copies of Dating Dr. Notrorious (Book 2) at Smashwords. In that same time period over at Amazon, I sold 53 copies of both books (Amazon made me price Book 1 at .99, Book 2 is $2.99 everywhere). I haven't seen any numbers yet for what happened at Sony and Barnes and Noble and my books were available there for about 5-6 days before March ended.  I'll see those numbers at the end of April I think. I know about several Sony sales because readers told me they bought Book 2 there. I put myself up at Amazon and am letting Smashwords handle all the other channels, including Barnes and Noble, another site I could have done myself, chose not to. I can't do it all. I like letting them do some of it. Like all other writers there, I wish I could get faster numbers from channel sales and I wouldn't mind being paid more frequently, but I appreciate the business will grow with me.  I am new.  They are new.  I view them as a business partner.

Complaint: Preparing a file for ebook publishing is hard

Yes it is.  Here's a big thing about working with Smashwords--I did not know how to do anything in the self-publishing world until I read and followed Mark Coker's guide for formatting a pub. Yes, it was hard and I had to learn MS Word better.  I have a technical background and have sent files to traditional publishers before. It was still hard. I had to upload my file and fix errors to get into the Premium Catalog, but when I saw my work done--it looked good. I owe them some respect for making me fix things and make it right for my readers. I have learned the importance of my obligation in the three weeks I have acquired readers who will tell me if I am not doing what I should.

It is hard, simply hard work to produce a viable product. The creative work is excruciating I know. I just finished Dating A Saint (Book 3) of my series. I am mentally exhausted from the creative part of it, from finally, finally resolving the story.  However, next week I will begin the tougher business part which includes the editing (to the best of my ability), the revisions (always needs it), and making sure the book file follows all the other parameters of making it the cleanest, best work I can produce. 

Value not mentioned much that I get from Smashwords: Reader support

Readers who have access to literally thousands of titles at Smashwords (with daily fresh additional titles) have downloaded 1500+ copies so far of Dating a Cougar (Book 1) and multiple readers there have given me 5 star reviews on that particular piece of work. They could have done this for any number of other writers (many reviewers have not published there).  You can even look the reviewers up and see who they have read and reviewed, see what they written, see what they read and enjoy.  When I look at those reviewing my work, and see they have only reviewed a handful of books, it makes me even more grateful to think my work is worth reading and reviewing to them. 

Additionally, a reader/reviewer of my Book 1 who also read Book 2 gave a 4 star review to the second book partly because the book needed more editing. I worked on the second book about a third less than the time I spent on Book 1.  I haven't been able to afford a professional editor yet, but hope to settle into a working relationship with one soon. The reader has given me incentive to do so. I do view what I am doing as a business and appreciate the need to produce the best product I can for my readers. I appreciate the readers at Smashwords, those who again I will say--can read thousands of other books, are going to tell me what they really think if/when they bother to read my work.

I like my readers at Smashwords. They give me feedback. I like being a writer there and am staying. As a newly published writer, the benefit of reader contact at Smashwords is as important to me as future dollar amounts. I think the future dollar amounts will be directly related to my ability to produce a good product.