Equal Rights for Positives

A funny thing happens when you read your own reviews – you start thinking about them.

I’m about a month away from completing the manuscript for Glossed Cause, the fourth book in the Carrie Mae Mystery Series, and I made the mistake of checking out a few of the reviews on High-Caliber Concealer (CM #3).  I knew it was a bad idea.  It’s always a bad idea.  What happens when I get to a bad one, hmmm?  It’s not like I can look the reviewer up, knock on their door and explain how monumentally wrong they are.  But you think, “I’ll just look at the good ones.  Just one.  I can stop there.”

You know this a total lie, right? Reviews are like Pringles for the eyes.  Like I can stop with just one.  I open up Amazon, I’m looking and… then I read this: “If you enjoy reading about Stephanie Plum, you’ll love Nicki! Maines is getting better with each book.”

And I thought, “Hell, yeah!” <insert fist pump here>

Just one?  But I have popped – I cannot stop. I should read more!

Eventually, of course, I got to one with a complaint. I’d spent too much time on Nikki’s personal life. Gah! But, but, but… Glossed Cause is about her FATHER (among other things).  What do I dooooooo????

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Now I’m stuck staring at the screen, half way through the book, trying to figure out if I should turn the ship or stay the course.  “Stay the course!” my internal editor yells.  But it’s hard to hear over the crashing waves of doubt.

I was complaining a negative comment on another project to my husband he said, “Well, I think it was awesome and my vote counts more.”  <insert lightbulb going on here>

Why do the negatives get more votes?  Shouldn’t the positives get equal rights?  Here’s what I and anyone else who is stuck in this trap are going to do:  We’re going to go back, we’re going to read the first positive review, and we’re going to believe that one.  Because Maines really is getting better with every book.

There’s a Double Meaning in That

In Much Ado About Nothing Beatrice and Benedick, the worst of rivals, are set up by their friends to fall in love.  So that by Act 2, Scene 3, when Beatrice says, “Against my will I am sent to bid you come into dinner,”  Benedick believes that Beatrice is madly in love with him, while Beatrice believes him to be an ass.  After she exits, he says in all smugness, “Ha! Against my will I am sent to bid you come in to dinner. There’s a double meaning in that.”

Someone I know once asked an English teacher how he knew the author intended the symbolism the teacher was accusing him of.  The teacher replied, “It doesn’t matter.”  As an author this makes me want to poke him in the eye just a little bit.  But in the end he’s right; stories mean something to a reader independent of the writer’s intentions.  Each reader brings their own experiences to a book and a writer can’t predict them.  So how can an author prevent his readers from pulling a Benedick and seeing double meanings where none are intended?

It’s a very secret and advanced technique called (wait for it): educated guessing.  And good beta readers.  As an author I try to learn about other points of view, so that I can write stronger more realistic characters and then I rely on my writers group to read through a piece and throw up flags around text that might unintentionally carry a subtext that’s either offensive or poorly thought out.  It’s hard to think that something I’ve written could be construed as offensive, because after all, I am I and I’m awesome and I have only the best of intentions.  But we all have prejudices or periodically spout unexamined notions that have been fed to us by society.

An easy example is “pink is only for girls”.  This statement is both observationally false (been to the mall lately?), and historically inaccurate (pink used to be a boys color). Color is a product of light bouncing off a surface or being absorbed (we see the portion of the spectrum bounced back); any deeper meaning has been assigned to a color by humanity. So unless my character is a sexist and I need him or her to say total nonsense about gender roles, I probably shouldn’t write that and a good beta reader should flag it as a problem.  With any luck I can keep the unintentional double meanings to a minimum.  I don’t want to be a Benedick.

Everybody Rotate

It’s almost time to change the art in my office.  I’ve had the same art since I moved in five years ago and it’s now covered in layers of other art.   It’s time to relocate, re-shuffle and change up.  Maybe you are not one of the people who feels that deep need to redecorate periodically, but I happen to have it in my genes.  Returning home to find my mother peeling wallpaper was cause for eyerolling, but not surprise.  It works both ways though.  On more than one occasion in my teen years I decided to re-arrange my bedroom after midnight.  My mother never once questioned these decisions.  Because she fully understands that sometimes life would just be better if the furniture were NOT where it is right now.

These are also good occasions for spring cleaning and decluttering.  Someone once said that clutter items are just decisions you didn’t make.  If you had decided where that item needed to go, it wouldn’t be lingering there on the desk or kitchen table.  Although, I suspect that the person who originated that idea never had children.  Because the garbage can is not lingering on top my desk; it’s hiding from my toddler.

The problem with decluttering art, is that I’m either removing my own work or the work of an artist I admire.  It’s unfortunate, but apparently, I cannot have ALL the art, ALL the time.  I’m not a Getty.  I don’t get to have my own museum.  This makes me infinitely sad.  My perfect house would probably look like a library mated with the Guggenheim and married the Orsay.  Unfortunately my current house looks more like the product of a library and a 1910 bungalow who married a carpenter in the 1950’s. Which means we have books in piles and art in piles and we had to remove the weird scalloped molding over the sink when we moved in.

So some art will have to go back in the closet and some new pieces will have to get matted for display.  And then, maybe, I can get back to writing.

Holiday Strategy

It’s that time of year again. The holidays.  Starbucks is apparently hating Jesus because they continued their paired back design aesthetic and put out simple red cups.  (Yes, because from Hell’s heart they stab at Christians with a red cup filled with the artfully foamed blood of the saints – muwahhahahahah!!) Black Friday ads are starting to pop up everywhere (stampede!!) and relatives are booking flights and scrambling to arrange schedules so that everyone can see everyone and be annoyed by everyone all in a very short amount of time.

As yet, I have made no moves on the great holiday game board. I’m still trying to determine strategy. Do I try and ride the “I have a baby” thing for another year and do practically nothing? Or do I pull out all the stops and try to get the best gifts EVER for everyone?  Should I shoot for every holiday party I’m invited to, or do I try and find out everyone’s dates in advance and RSVP according to the level of food awesomeness at each?  Generally, I try and do a really fun Christmas card, but that takes energy, forethought, and great idea for some artwork.  Maybe I’ll just skip that one and move straight to the Christmas letter stage where I make friends and relatives barf with the saccharine sweetness and absolute perfection of my life. BECAUSE YOUR ENVY FEEDS MY SOUL. That’s definitely what the holidays are all about, right?

Below are the following factors I’m using for determining my holiday event strategy:

  1.  Pie. 
  • Is there pie?   If the answer is yes, move to the top of the list.
  • Is it home made?  If the answer is no, then I don’t go.

 

  1.  Sleep.
  • Will it cause my baby to be awake far longer than a tiny human should be?  If the answer is yes, your event will not be considered.  Unless there is enormous amounts of pie.

 

  1.  Husband.
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how badly is he going to complain about this event?  If the answer is ballet, then he will not be attending.
  • Can I bribe him with pie?

 

What are your strategies for coping with the oncoming storm?  Hunker down or go fly a kite?  What is your favorite way to do the holidays?

Chart Watching

He looked at the chart but he look in vain

Heavy cloud but no rain

Sting, Heavy Cloud No Rain, Ten Summoners Tales

Originally, this was a post about publishing.  I’ve been singing this song for the better part of a month feeling that it related to my efforts in self-publishing. Having the ability to have live updated sales results is not really as fun as it sounds. Or at least it’s not good for ongoing peace of mind. The world of publishing has changed. Now every author must do the work that previously was performed by publishing houses – namely, marketing. And the secret thing about marketing that every marketing professional would prefer you not know, is that you can never quite tell what’s going to work. So with every fresh effort, I flip back to the chart to see if there’s rain or not. Some sprinkles, some gushers, some droughts – and that is the way of the writing life now.  But there’s more to that song, and the rest of the lyrics are more applicable to the real world right now than they are to any personal concerns I have about my writing and sales.

Turned on the weather man just after the news

I needed sweet rain to wash away my blues

He looked at the chart but he look in vain

Heavy cloud but no rain

Much of the state of Washington, my state, is on fire. This song isn’t much of a metaphor; it’s what we’re all doing. We’re literally out of firefighters and the ones that are on the line are working days in a row with little to no sleep. Firefighters from Australian and New Zealand arrived on Monday to help and we couldn’t be happier to see them. We literally need all the help we can get.

There is a line of mountains between the fires and my house and still the sky is frequently a hazy yellow from smoke. Yesterday, I could look at the sun directly because there was so much smog that it was only a burning circle of orange in the sky.

Sometimes my state feels culturally divided by that chain of mountains, but this fire has turned us all into obsessed weather forecast watchers. My facebook feed is filled with pictures of rain – a virtual rain dance for our home and our friends. Weather forecasting has taken a giant step forward due to computing speeds and modeling, but Washington is still one of the toughest places to forecast. All the data in the world can’t entirely predict if rain is going to fall. We all watch the chart, but so far, heavy cloud, no rain.

So, if you’re a praying person, pray for some rain. If you’re a donating person, you can view this article from local reporter Jesse Jones, for where to send donations. Washington thanks you.

Dear Brain…

Originally published on The Stiletto Gang 07.22.15

Dear Brain,

While I appreciate your many efforts and strong creative solutions, I would very much appreciate it if you could focus on the problems at hand. Thanks so much.

Sincerely,

Self

 

I have a writing calendar that tells me what I’m supposed to be working on. Outlining, editing, actually writing, it’s all scheduled out. Since the release of High-Caliber Concealer, third book in the Carrie Mae Mystery series is right around the corner (November 17!), that means I should be busy working on draft one of book 4 – Glossed Cause. That also means that last month I should have finished an outline of said fourth book. Do you know what I have not completed? Yes, that’s right – the outline. I had completed  about 75% it and stopped because… Well, I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it either. And then last week I realized what was wrong with it. Not that I know how to fix it, but at least I know why I’m not excited about it. So I’ve been twiddling my thumbs, enjoying the summer, pretending that I have all the time in the world, and hoping that inspiration would hit.

Then last night it did hit. I woke up with a fantastic idea.

For a different book.

I came up with a great idea for the sequel to my recent release – An Unseen Current. I even have a great name for it, which practically never happens. It’s really, really exciting and not at all what I need. But if I’ve learned anything about creativity it’s that if you fight it sometimes it stops all together. What do you think? Should I work on this new idea for a bit and see if inspiration strikes for Glossed Cause or should I set the new idea aside and focus, focus, focus

That Editing… So Hot Right now

It’s that time again. The editing time.  The time when I get back all the stupidy stupidy line edits and have to go through and approve them. That’s the worst part.  I have to approve them.  OK, I don’t absolutely HAVE to, but the truth is about 8 out of every 10 line edits are the correct decision. Of the other two, one is probably a matter of preference and the other is absolutely right the way it was the first time. Why don’t you understand my genius you piddling moron who is merely paid to sift through the words and divine my sheer awesomeness?

It’s possible that the last sentence there was a bit of an overstatement.

But my secret internal Mugatu doesn’t think it was.

Mugatu, for those who haven’t watched the hilariously improbable Zoolander, is the fashion designerKungFuNuns / evil genius, played by Will Ferrell, who is attempting kill the prime minister of Malaysia by brainwashing male model Derek Zoolander. Many writers, myself included, seem to yo-yo between the states of modesty (I write pretty well), ego (I’m a genius!!), and self-hatred (why would anyone read the crap I produce?). I picture modesty as the quiet saintly type – a Buddhist nun (who secretly knows Peter Lorre2kung fu) and self-hatred as the goggly-eyed guy from the Maltese Falcon who says the worst things in the sweetest voice.

And nowhere are those states of being more quickly cycled through than the editing rounds. Each tweak of the text from the editor is like some sort of judgement from on high that can send me off into a Mugatu-esque rage or goggly-eyed shame spiral.  It’s up the the Kung Fu nun to bring balance and harmony. Although, admittedly sometimes the nun needs a little help from a glass of wine and a jog around the block.

Mystery Novel Seeks New Home

Originally published at The Stiletto Gang on 04.22.15

As the release date for my newest mystery (An UnseenCurrent) approaches (April 28th– ahhhhhhh!!!) I find myself once again pondering the cruel irony of nature that crafts writers to be introspective sorts and then pits them against a task to which they are monumentally unsuited.  That is to say: marketing. The woman hours spent lovingly crafting characters, settings, and events leaves the writer more than a little in love with their own book. To then have it heartlessly thrust into the public where some reviewer will crassly thumb through it and declare it to be passable is like being gently stabbed with needles by someone who doesn’t really care about your problems.  We all want to be bestselling authors.  I mean, who doesn’t want to be RichardCastle? (I really am ruggedly handsome!)  But in all honesty, I think most writers would rather have their books treasured and loved than consumed like soda and disposed of.

I remember the first time I saw one of my aunt’s books at Half-Price Books. My aunt,Linda Nichols, writes beautiful Christian fiction with snappy plots and characters you want to hug. I had not yet, published any books and I personally thought that seeing her books on the shelf of a used bookstore was cool.  But Linda did not think it was cool – there was wincing and the sad look of “ohh, I wish I didn’t know that.”  Someone sold her book down the river – the heathens, the Philistines! The bastards with not enough shelf space!  After I had been published I realized her pain.  How could someone not love my book?! Why would anyone give my book away?  My books are awesome.  All right, yes, I recognize the shelf space issue is a real thing – even libraries don’t have ALL the books.  But as each baby book flies out into the world, forgive me if I hope that it will find at least one home where it will be treasured.

And on that note – who wants a free digital copy of An Unseen Current?  It’s looking for an awesome home (and someone who will leave a review).  Leave a comment here or on Facebook to be entered to win.  I’ll draw names on Friday morning.

 

The Story Starts Here

Originally published at The Stiletto Gang on 03.25.15

One of the most common question a writer gets asked is “Where do your ideas come from?”

Once my brother made me lay on his floor so he could tape outlines of me all over his bedroom carpet as though his room had been the site of a mass murder; we found it was surprisingly difficult to get just the right pose so that all the limbs were showing and you didn’t just have weird potato shaped outlines. (Yes, I know that was an odd transition, but I’ll circle back I promise.) When was 12, I told my Dad I had a stove box to make a Halloween costume out of he got out the black and white spray paint and turned my best friend and I into Two Fools in Pair-o-Dice; our heads came out the one dots – naturally. My mom’s friend once had eye surgery and had a rather large bandage, so my mom painted on an eye over the bandage and added a great set of false lashes. Why did we do these things? Honestly, the question never occurred to us. Had you asked at the time we probably would have said, “Why not?” My family has a culture of creativity and odd projects from passing thoughts are the norm not the exception. And as is often the case with cultures, I didn’t think to question it until someone from a different culture asked, “So why don’t you put mayo on fries?”  Or in the case of my writing, “How do you come up with your ideas?”

The people asking don’t mean anything by the question, they are genuinely interested. The problem is that at any given time I’m vacillating between two of my personalities, Helpful Instructor Bethany and Diva Artiste Bethany. Helpful Instructor is usually nice, but Diva Artiste is kind of… well, I won’t use the B-word as we are in a family friendly forum, but you get the idea, and sometimes it’s a struggle to rein Diva Wench back in. Helpful Instructor realizes that the questioner was not raised in a culture of creativity and they are asking for help understanding the creative process. Diva Artiste imperiously demands how anyone cannot have ideas. Ideas are literally littered on the sidewalk, in the newspaper, on the radio, sleeting through the universe like a tiny meteorite looking for a receptive brain (Terry Pratchett, you are missed) and all you really have to do to have an idea is make your brain receptive. It’s easy to do – read blogs by creative people (thanks), buy creative people presents (ok, maybe not really on that one, but I like books, you know, just in case), try new things. But the number one tip that Helpful Instructor or Diva Artiste both agree on, is to ask “What if?”

Any topic can work. Earlier this week there was a news story about a man who ran from the police and got stuck in mud.  What if you had been that man – up to your knees in river mud, unable to move, sinking slowly? What would you do?

What if I… What if you… What if they… The story starts there and you can decide the ending – just answer the question.

Genre Bending

Originally posted on The Stiletto Gang Blog 03.11.15.

I read Marjorie Brody’s post yesterday “Passion Knows NoGenre” with interest. Marjorie was discussing that she hates being tied to one particular genre, but that the general industry wisdom is to do exactly that – stick to one thing! I love Marjorie’s rebellious flare, but the topic also tied into something I’ve been pondering for awhile: pen names and branding.

As a graphic designer with over a decade of industry experience I have referred to myself periodically as a “branding expert”. Branding is about capturing the concrete and implied qualities of a company or person in their visual, advertising, and on-line representations. Branding seems trivial to some, but as human beings we do it ALL the time. Only most sociologists call it “stereotyping”. Humans seem to prefer to have a short little label to stick on people. We don’t really like being forced to confront the broad spectrum of human reality – it takes too long and we’ve got better things to do with our time. What I do as a graphic designer is try to lodge the preferred stereotype in a consumers mind before they apply their (usually not as complementary) own.

Which is why I don’t usually tell my graphic design clients that I’m a writer.  It confuses my brand.  I can see the thought bubble form: If she writes, then she can’t really be a graphic designer; everyone knows you can’t have TWO talents.  Fortunately, the writer brand is equivalent with “poor” so when I tell writer friends that I also do graphic design they just nod.  But industry wisdom has the same “does not compute” problem with genre.  “But she writes Mystery, she can’t also write (fill in the blank).”

And up until now the only way to write something different was to use a pen name. But with the online world being what it is and with lawyers being blabbermouths, keeping a pen name identity a secret is hard to do.  The other problem is that as writers have become more and more responsible for their own publicity they realize that it’s hard enough getting recognition for one name, let alone building buzz for an entirely new, second name.
Which is why I find the development of the new style of pen name so interesting.  “Wrting as” has become the marketers new favorite phrase. Such as: Laura Spinella writing as L.J. Wilson pens Ruby Ink! (I’m half way through my advance copy and it’s a fantastic, saucy romp of a book – pick it up on March 31!)  “Writing as” is now code for “I’m not writing in the same genre, so be prepared for something different.”  And I couldn’t be happier about it. At last writers have found a way to break out of the genre trap! Perhaps in a few years Pen Names will be the new industry wisdom. We’ll just have to see which pen name Marjorie chooses.