Writing in the Time of COVID

On the Big Table

I don’t get extra time to write in. I save maybe 20 minutes of commute per day, but I’m desperate to get up and stretch after a 9 hour shift telecommuting. I work for local government, and the work I do keeps the money for vital services flowing. I’m glad I can do this– it feels like I’m helping the community get through this and having something to do keeps my anxiety under control.

But I am anxious. I have severe asthma, as does my husband. Some other conditions that bump our risk, too, but since inability to breathe is the main killer with this disease, that’s where my mind goes. This isn’t the first time my health has forced me to be bound up indoors for over a month, but it is the first time I felt so endangered. A bad asthma run usually just leaves me feeling half-dead… which is part of how write the inside view of a vampire’s physical existence as being uncomfortable.

Beyond time management and distraction, editing my most recent manuscript, Forever in Deep, pushed me to reveal something sooner than I’d planned about Nicola Durante’s family. The 1918 flu pandemic and aftermath had not been something I expected to be so relevant to today when I was working on his background.

Allan’s been unable to work from home, but he is working hard. Currently, he’s working on the cover for Forever in Deep. (The painting above wasn’t done by him, but me. I thought it just seemed seasonal, and it has a book in it.) And he’s recording Forever Haunted. 

I hope you are all staying well and safe. This is one strange virus and we still don’t know the long term effects on the survivors. Flattening the curve is buying society time to deal with it.

Happy Easter if you celebrate it. Try and enjoy the spring whatever what you can, even if it’s just opening some windows and hearing the birds sing.

Watch this (approximate) space

I’m looking into ways to make it possible to buy directly from this website, especially with our development of an audio version of the first book. More will follow, but right now, my voice artist has a very bad cold so he can’t record right now. (By the way, if you want that quasi-antique phonograph, I found it a Kohl’s ad)

I know a lot of people would rather buy directly from a creator than a large corporation, and I’ve found out Audible is a pretty expensive resource for audiobook listeners, so we want to make options available. We will also have CD sets available and I’d like for people to be able to buy signed books without having to take the initiative and hit Contact Me (but totally contact me if you want a signed copy). Maybe a pdf download purchase option, too. After all, the easier it is for readers to get their books instead of having to open extra tabs, the better, right?

writer pillow

One of the common questions a writer gets is: why do you write?

It’s not just a valid question– it’s one every writer has to work out. The fact is, writing is time consuming. If you write short, nonfiction pieces, you can probably make a decent living off of doing that. “For the money” is definitely a good answer for someone doing that.

But a novelist? Unless you are famous already, your chances of making good money from it is very low. It doesn’t matter if you’re good at writing. What really matters is being good at marketing. In fact, if you’re doing it for money, people will tell you to research the markets before you even start writing, because you have to decide not what story to tell but what story will sell. Fame is at least as long a shot as money. If you want fame, you might do better creating a YouTube show because it asks people to invest less time to consume your product.

Other people will tell you it’s a compulsion. They need to put down the words to get it out of their system. It sounds good. It suggests the story is semi-autobiographical, something that has deep meaning to them and may reveal their soul. But a lot of people say it. I don’t know how common a real sense of compulsion is, and it sounds pretty awful to experience. While I am regularly drawn to write, I can easily opt to keep my ideas to myself, and, in fact, it takes discipline for me to keep up the daily effort. I can daydream in my head without anything like the time cost  of putting it into words.

So what motivates me? I want to make readers happy. Yes, they may experience some fear or have their heartstrings pulled, but overall, my novels will make you laugh, have a vicarious experience of friendship, the satisfaction of resolutions… I want people to feel good and have a chance to recover from a world that is plenty stressful.

That’s all. I’m donating books to libraries. I’m willing to give free copies to get reviews. But it’s frustrating because it is very, very hard to reach a larger audience. What would you recommend for getting the word out about my books?

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Amazon Link: Forever Haunted Amazon

Ultimate Final Cover Forevers Too Long GIMP

Amazon Link: Forevers Too Long Amazon

Natural History…

I’ve always loved reading about the sciences. For the most part, that’s influenced my participation in the Para-Earth series, where paranormal and science fiction (in the form of parallel Earth evolution) come together. However, I’m finding my interest in animal life is even useful in the Forever Detective series. Many folklore entities are closely connected to the natural realm. Even unnatural creatures like vampires are able to shape shift and control animals to do their bidding– so it helps to know about those animals.

For instance, there are many types of bats, and vampire bats are a tiny minority. Insectivores are far more common, and the flying fox type– the largest bats– are not only cute, but they live on things like pollen, nectar, and fruit. If a vampire turns into a flying fox, it tells you he doesn’t think like other vampires.

For Forever Haunted, I had to do some research on moths, which was rather fun and unusual. I’ve learned about jaguars, too, as I will be using that information later.

I need to know about horses for book 3, Forever in Deep. I also need horse racing information. Anyone want to recommend good sources?

Everyone loves free samples

Whether it’s a pull quote, the preview feature on Amazon, or sites where you can read up to 20% of the book for free (I enabled the highest setting, because I have confidence people will want to find out what happens next), sharing is caring and I was delighted to see a reader share a bit of dialogue that caught her fancy via a Kindle feature. Go ahead and look.  Maybe share something you liked, too.

I also will be sharing samples now and then that don’t spoil the stories. Humor  in my books is one of the thing I really pride myself on and I as shocked to notice my posts so far haven’t been very specific about that. The characters both are deliberately witty, with sparkling banter or biting wit when it fits, and sometimes… well, there may be moments where Raf seems more like Buster Keaton than David Niven. Frankly, I think it makes him easy to relate to.

Buster

Hello, world…

No, I’m not coming out as a computer simulation of a writer. I just want to directly and specifically welcome people to comment or email me, with their questions, comments, etc.

I know I was very shy about writing to writers I liked. Many writers have day jobs. The ones that write for a living have deadlines, contracts, pitches to make, queries to send, and so on. I worried that asking them to take time to respond to one person was impertinent and intrusive.

Now, I’m on the other end of the pen, as it were, and I can tell you– it can feel kind of lonely! When you’re on stage before an audience, you get continuous real time feedback from multitudes. When you paint, you do art shows and get to peek at people’s reactions as they look at your work. Sometimes they come over and tell you what spoke to them, or what well-known artist’s style you’re reminding them of. But there’s a time delay with writing, almost always. I have Allan read my stuff in front of me, often, because I want to gauge his reactions. When I sent out my main draft to my beta readers, I was lucky enough to have a couple who were moved to write to me in the middle of reading it. That was quite helpful– sure, I loved my book, but it needed to be good to other people.

I’ve fixed a typo a reader spotted that slipped by proofreading, and I suspect my Spanish and Russian dialogue has flaws. If you want to give me a correction, I am likely to find it helpful.

All this is a long way of saying, I really do value my readers and welcome feedback. I’d even be glad to know who is reading my blog, even if you haven’t gone for the book. Some people just like to see how writers think and plan. Where are you from, and how is life treating you?

What you write, vs. what you mean to write…

I didn’t write a horror book. At least, I didn’t think I did. I wrote a detective novel… with elements of supernatural danger.

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07RSGKTDF/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0

But… while there was some scary scenes, the overall tone, I felt, was too optimistic to be horror. It was an adventure tale. A friend said she couldn’t read scary tales when I was writing it. At first I told her she’d need to skip a chapter and I’d give her a synopsis. Maybe two. Then she said Harry Dresden books were too scary for her. I told her to forget it. And I didn’t hold back when it came to the creep factor if I had a good idea to build the tension somewhere.

But it was not a horror story. I’d written horror before, short stories. Those were grim. Forever’s Too Long wasn’t grim. It was full of friendship and love, music and kindness. Levity was sprinkled throughout.

A coworker refused to read it on the grounds of she didn’t read scary stuff.

I rethought how I’d been looking at it. It was an adventure, yes, and a tale of friendship and love, but couldn’t you say the same about Dracula, which authentically was about Johnathan struggling to get to Mina, Mina resisting the call of the vampires, and friends coming together to fight the undead monster who had killed an innocent among them. You couldn’t call one of the classics of horror not horror just because it had a happy ending. And the creepy stuff was creepy enough I couldn’t push it on someone who couldn’t stand anything mildly scary.

So, I sent a copy to a friend who reviews horror. I’ll see whether she thinks it’s horror or not.

***

When Allan got the idea for The Vampyre Blogs: Coming Home, he wanted to write the story of a man who was changed by an encounter with a creature from a parallel Earth. In the Para-Earth series, infinite, or nearly so,  timelines exist and in some Earth exists, but evolution happened differently. In this case a kind of intelligent slime-mold formed a symbiotic relationship with the man blown into it’s universe. And although he gets home, he finds that as a result of the bonding he is to all intent a living vampire, with a very prolonged life. Yet over a century later, he must deal with a monster from that same universe which found its way into his world. I’m a co-author on that series, because, although Allan does the majority of the actual writing, I’ve done such extensive work with him on the science aspects, creature development, and character interactions, he sees me as co-creator.

Allan wanted to introduce him to the audience through the eyes of two teen girls, one who had known him since her earliest days, and another meeting him for the first time. A lot of the story revolves around them.

Over a year after it was released, a friend pointed out to him that he’d written a young adult novel. He re-read it and yes… the teens were really the ones with the most important story arcs, as they underwent more personal growth in that frame.

Okay, so he’d written a young adult novel and it was obvious once someone else said it.

How can I support authors I like, you ask?

Well, maybe you don’t ask. But now you want to know, because once you fall in love with a book, you want more like it.

Review it! Many online stores and book sites allow readers to post reviews. A person is more likely to take a chance on a book that 50 people say they loved than 5 people say they do.

Recommend it! Readers have friends who read, and you likely have an idea of their tastes. A recommendation makes a person more likely to find out more about an unknown book. Some authors, such as J.K. Rowling, got further by word of mouth recommendations and kids buying it for their friends, than by traditional marketing methods.

Gift it! I’ve been running a special– the book retails at $12 each, but I’ve been running a 2 for $20 special via direct sales. It encourages people to either buy an extra as a present for a friend or talk them into buying one too and splitting the savings. And I’d never ask this, but two of my buyers spontaneously paid extra, so that someone who wanted it but couldn’t afford it could have a copy.

Speaking of buying direct– when I purchase a crate of books and sell them directly to people at list price, I get more of a share than the royalties if you buy from retailers. I imagine it works the same way for other authors. So don’t think you’re shorting us if you want a signed copy.

You’re also not wasting our time if you contact us with questions or wanting to share your thoughts. Art is about communication, and as FUN as it is for me to write Rafael Jones, I’m not just doing it for myself. Hearing from readers is very motivational. There’s a button to send me an email, or just use the comment area. I love you so much just for being interested enough in my work to come here.

Countdown to release: Character development

The wise-cracking, action detective is a bit of an archetype. What makes mine special,? Well, I thought it would be interesting if he was serious about music. Jazz helped define the era 1920-1940s, symbolizing moving away from formal traditions, opportunities for minorities and women to have their talents recognized, and a celebration of individuality. Raf’s love of jazz shapes who he is, lively and open-minded. As the years go on, he’ll be interacting with the music of different times, too, helping describe his relationship with the period. Another thing about Raf is that he mostly likes people. He’s no loner. His friends are an important part of his stories.

As for his friends, Eugene Marshall fits another archetype, the millionaire playboy. Except he’s both self-made *and* has autism symptoms. I didn’t want him to be obnoxious, so I looked for a way to make him a little vulnerable. The autism traits are taken from me. When Allan asked me, “Which of your characters are you most like: Rafael or Clara?” I had to say, “Honestly? Eugene.”

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Analytical and smart, but naive and not great at filtering what should be said and what shouldn’t in the speed of a conversation.

World War Two brought out the strength in a lot of women. Agent Carter is a large part of the inspiration for Clara Thomas, but so are the real women of Bletchley Park, the WAVES, WACs and WASPS, and so on. But too often a strong woman is considered enough ‘development’. I thought it would be great if her strength came out of her weakness– she’d been an abused woman and had help getting herself together. Going on missions rebuilt her confidence in herself. Her strength isn’t an innate gift, but the result of fighting back and finding her power. I think that’s not just a good example, but a way to push back against the stereotype that abuse victims choose victimhood.

Countdown to release: These are a Few of my Favorite Things.

I mention in the acknowledgments that I’m standing on the shoulders of giants. But the names I list might not be familiar to everyone.

Marlowe

Raymond Chandler was the creator of Phillip Marlowe. He didn’t create the hard-boiled detective genre, but he saw untapped potential in it. He started writing his own, bringing in a more sophisticated style of writing. He believed that people could enjoy exciting plot twists and still get literary touches.

Dan Curtis was a television producer, but not just a producer. He came up with and developed ideas for shows. His first foray into fiction was based on a dream that a friend told him sounded like gothic horror. He’d never heard of that genre before, plunged into it, and came out with a successful gothic soap opera that saved a television network. One of his followup projects, Kolchak, the Nightstalker, features a classically abrasive investigative reporter who keeps finding paranormal dangers at the heart of strange events in Chicago. It was brilliant and funny, and I was delighted to be compared to it.

Marv Wolfman might seem like the most obscure name I gave, but he’s been a tremendous influence on comic books and has wrtiten television shows. One of his specialties is re-imagining classic monsters into contemporary stories. He’s also remarkable for working out how to fix inconsistencies in an ongoing story line..

I’d also like to say Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden books helped me see there is a market for this kind of old-fashioned character and cross-genre writing. Unlike the Dresden books, this is actually set back in the heyday of the private eye’s he emulates. And my detective, rather than starting out as an expert on the occult, begins blissfully unaware.

Less directly, I’m sure Terry Pratchett has been an influence, if only because he’s my favorite writer and I’ve read the Watch books over and over.

And… Star Wars. No, really. Watching The Force Awakens, I thought, “This guy doing Poe Dameron would be good as one of those smart-alec detectives.” And the idea of doing a Latino detective in period was intriguing. I’ll get into that in my next post.