Archive for May, 2012

There is no home stretch on a treadmill

It’s crunch time. I am officially 4/5ths (yes, I am going to be that specific) through the third book. That also includes the excerpt for the fourth book. You’d think there’d be a sigh of relief. Alas, that is not the case.

I have five volunteer editors for the third book, and if you actually read my un-proofed blog, you know I need every blessed on of them. That means I have to print and deliver five different manuscripts. After that my editors get 1 month, give or take, to make their recommendations.

In the meantime, I have to get two covers ready for publishing. As with everything else, I am a control freak when it comes to the covers. It helps that I used to be a graphic designer. Anyhow, I need a simple one-sided cover for my ebook and a complicated two-sided cover for my actual printed paperback.

I love the writing for its own challenges. I don’t love the publishing. I find the technical details frustrating. If you haven’t figured it out already, I self publish my books, mostly through Love them or hate them, they are the largest book house in the world, and they provide a useful service to aspiring writers who are looking for a more independent way to reach their audience.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a learning curve. For my ebook, I create an HTML file. I’ve never been a big fan of code, but an ebook should be clean and easy to navigate. That means the source code I give to amazon should be clean too. So I go through all of the trouble of copying my book into my HTML editing software, and I clean…and clean…and clean.

Once the ebook is downloaded, I move on to the printed book. I have a lot more control over the look of the printed book, but that’s almost more of a curse than a blessing. There are just so many choices.

Lets start with just the pages.  There need to be a certain amount of blank pages, front and back, to make sure the book starts and ends in the right place. The number of pages has to be taken into account because the cost of the book is affected by the number of pages. This, in turn, affects the size of the actual type. It also effects the size of the cover. The binding along the back of the book is determined by the number of pages too, so you can’t even start the cover without finishing the page count.

I use all my own artwork on the covers. Now that the design of Dairyland Murders is pretty much branded with the first two books, layout and typeface are givens. Everything else, however, is up for grabs. There’s the color, which photos to use, how to use them, etc.

The funny thing is, it can take almost as long to edit and publish a book as it takes to write it. No wonder so many authors are willing to just hand over a manuscript to some publishing house. Then, all they have to do is write. That must be very liberating. Too bad I’m so stubborn.

Oh, and I also have to write the fourth book, and the fifth, and the sixth…


Happy Mother’s Day?

In the thick of the third book in the Dairyland Murders series,  I find myself once again tangled up in parent-child relationships (this also happened in book 2). This is completely unintentional. Being I have no children of my own, I find it odd that my brain chooses to wander in that territory, but it does.

Whatever political agenda everyone seems to want to attach to motherhood, next to maybe mortal combat in defense of your country, I believe it is one of the hardest jobs in the world, at least if you’re doing it right. If you are a screwed up, neglectful parent, it might seem like a piece of cake to pop out a kid and let him or her eventually become someone else’s responsibility. And don’t be attaching completely unrelated adjectives, like “poor” to that description either. Child neglect and abuse doesn’t discriminate against any socioeconomic status.

On the other end of that coin, no parent is perfect. All the over-compensating in the world cannot change the fact that moms are human beings too. They make mistakes, but sometimes, the mistakes are what make them interesting. The mothers in my stories are very flawed. Most of the time, they have had very tough choices to make, and the consequences of those choices can sometimes never be mended or forgiven. Often those choices cause underlying feelings of bitterness and regret to fester. Some moms are redeemed. Some moms never recover. Relationships with children and parents are tricky, but predictable. You learn a lot about a person by meeting their parents.

It’s a prickly path to say the least, but it makes for good back-story. By the way, my awesome mom is one of my editors and biggest fans. Shout out to you, Mom! Happy Mother’s day.


Trials, Tribulations, and Triumph

Yes, I have an addiction to alliteration. Se La Vi. Anyway, I’m at a point in the Third Book in the Dairyland Murders series, Cop Incognito, where plot points are really starting to collide.  In my head, it’s kind of like drawing a tree backwards. The reader gets to see the tips of the branches first, and slowly those branches get thicker and extend downward until they come to the trunk. There everything seems to come together until you go underground and follow the roots, which just branch out all over again. A series needs roots, hidden tendrils from which to draw upon for sustenance and future material. Tired of tree metaphors yet? OK, then. Let’s move on.

Generally speaking, works of literary fiction should take the reader on an emotional journey. During this journey, important things need to take place. The first is that the reader needs to make a connection to the main characters. They need to feel something, be it affinity, empathy, repulsion, what have you. Making those connections is crucial in maintaining the reader’s interest in what will happen to those characters further into the story.

The second step in the journey is the validity of the story itself. Being that I am referring to fiction, some might question how relevant that really is, but it is extremely important. No matter how far from actual reality a story is, even if it takes place on another planet or an alternate time line, the reader has to believe the characters are really experiencing their world on their terms. Any disconnect between the two requires a re-write one way or the other.

After those two points are established, the fun begins. The characters need to overcome some sort of change in their lives. Perhaps they have goals that have unforeseen obstacles in the way. Maybe their way of life is drastically changing beyond their control. These are the Trials.

A catalyst of discomfort needs to be injected into the story to force reactions and consequences. I call it, “making them squirm.” How will the characters react to their catalysts? Is the outcome predictable? Is it surprising? To what lengths will a certain character go to achieve their goal? Will they succeed, or even survive? How have past indiscretions or decisions effected what is going on with the characters in their present? These are the Tribulations.

When characters are first presented to a reader, they are not always what they seem, nor must they necessarily remain constant in their role throughout the story. It’s fine  for characters to switch roles from antagonist to protagonist and vise-versa, so long as it makes sense to the story. That’s what’s critical. Have fun with your characters, but don’t toss them into completely ridiculous scenarios that have no bearing to their reality. Authors are bound by the restrictions of the environments they have created in order to maintain that level of believability. No matter what the author does, the reader has to buy what they are selling.

And no matter what, a reader needs something that resembles a close. Even if not everything is revealed at the end, certain factors have to be resolved. That’s the Triumph, but I use that word very liberally. Who triumphs may not be whom the reader is hoping for, at least not right away. Don’t break the reader’s heart, especially in a series, and give them nothing to look forward to. There’s nothing wrong with ending on a cliff-hanger, but it’s important to tie some Trials up. Some sort of sense of stability has to be established, even if it’s just for a little while. You can end a book with the calm before the storm, just make it a storm you’re reader feels compelled to ride through with your characters. Save pointless endeavors with no happy ending for real life. I like to keep my guilty pleasures guilty and pleasurable.