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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Update and Blog Hop!

It is crazy to me to reflect on how important blogging was for me a few years ago. I spent hours reading blogs and writing my own every week. Now, I never get here. In a sense it's unfortunate, it was a great way to get into the thoughts of people who took the time to write about their lives. On the other hand, life ebbs and flows and things are always changing.

BUT, now and then a situation comes up that is worth blogging about. My readers have been due for an update and I've been quiet about what I'm doing after Sadie because it was new and different and I 1) Didn't want to take away from the excitement of my final Culinary Mystery 2) Didn't have a contract on my new project. But I have the contract now, signed and filed. And so this was a perfect opportunity for me to kill a few birds with one stone.

As stated in the title, this post is brought to you from a blog hop. Anna Elliott tagged me in her blog and I really enjoyed hearing about her projects and routines. Take a minute to check it out at www.annaelliotbooks.com. And thanks for tagging me Anna.

What are you working on?
I am getting my ducks in a row to have the final book in my Sadie Hoffmiller Culinary Mystery novel released this December. The series has been several years worth of work and as it came to an end I was ready to do something new. I had an idea for another clean mystery series, but when I tried to write it my main character sounded too much like Sadie. I decided, instead, to cleanse my palette and write something totally new. I submitted a few ideas to my publisher and the one they liked the most was a Regency Romance. If you go back in time with me to the very first story I ever wrote back in 1995, it was a Regency. It's terrible. But it was the first story I laid out on paper. I have long loved the genre and been really thrilled to see it revive these last couple of years. It was so fun to write something fresh, but in a genre and timeperiod I was already in love with. The title is "A Heart Revealed" and it will come out in May of 2015. I'm also working on a Regency Novella for one of the Timeless Romance Anthologies, as well as making progress on another full length Regency romance that will follow this first one through Shadow Mountain.

How does your work differ from others' work in the same genre?
In regard to my culinary mysteries, I think the biggest difference is the age of my protagonist--late 50's--and my focus on home cookin'. I'm not a gourmet, but I love having the "best" corn bread and the "tried and true" cookie recipe. I think both elements created a broader readership for the books and more relatability to kitchen-cooks like myself.
In regard to my Regency, I think my novel is different in that it is issue driven. Prior to my mysteries, my books were women's fiction or romance, but they were always driven by a modern issue. I guess when you're an author with lots of issues, you naturally put other issues into your stories. I can't give away the issue without giving away the book, but it's set in early 19th century London and Yorkshire and was so so so much fun to write. It is still first and foremost a romance, that's our main story, but I'm hoping that the women's fiction type of spin will be something my readers will both recognize and enjoy.

Why do you write what you do?
There are a bunch of answers to that, so I'm going to put them all down. I write what I write because: I love it (always important :-), the story builds as I think on it (many ideas fizzle out before I get to paper), I think readers will like it (both my mysteries and romances are clean), I think it will make money (I have a mortgage), it "feels" right, it appealed to me as a reader, and I think I can do it. Some days one of those reasons is bigger than the others--some days I'm writing for a check, other days I'm writing because it's fun, other days I'm writing because the story is getting so big in my head I have to let out some pressure.

How does your writing process work?
I am a work in progress when it comes to what kind of process works for me. Until recent years, I never outlined, but the last few mysteries required I make a plan to say on track with the series. I started the regency with just a synopsis, and then was able to stick to it pretty well--I've never done a synopsis before writing the book. I wish I knew what would work for me every time, but maybe that's what works for me--trying new processes and going back on old processes that work. My current process is a very basic outlining before I start and brainstorming sessions before each writing session. I'm writing about 3 days a week for 5-6 hours at a time. It sounds a lot more organized that it really is, but it's working so I'm going with it.

As for the author I'm choosing to tag, I hope you will hop over to the blog of my dear friend Nancy Campbell Allen. She is best known for her civil war stories and historical fiction series written under the name N.C. Allen, but is a multi-talented writer with some exciting things on tap. Please check her out at www.ncallen.blogspot.com

Friday, May 30, 2014

How Do You Overcome Lack of Confidence?

I received this question via Facebook and as I started to answer I realized it was a little more than a Facebook message, so I decided to blow the dust off my blog and post it here.

The actual question was "How did you get over (if you ever had it) the lack of confidence as you were writing?

First, LACK OF CONFIDENCE DOES NOT MEAN YOU CAN'T DO THIS.

I have lacked confidence throughout all fifteen of the years I've been writing. Over and over and over again I struggle to believe I can do what I've set out to be. I doubt my writing ability, I doubt my ability to find time, I doubt that people will be happy with the result. I read reviews that paralyze me, I face discouragements that make me wish I'd never started, I continually fear that my best ideas are already used up and whatever I do next will be lousy. Every writer I know faces it, so, yes, I have certainly faced with lack of confidence--I am right now battling a fear of being able to do something new and getting over a rather stinging rejection that took me away from my computer for weeks.


Second, THE ONLY WAY TO OVERCOME LACK OF CONFIDENCE IS TO SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS.

Start with very small goals you know without a doubt you can accomplish that is not tied to anyone else's efforts but your own. Some examples of the easiest goals would be "Write for 15 minutes" or "Read a chapter in that how-to-write book"or "Look up submission guidelines for one agent." It will feel silly, because you know that you can do it, but that's the point. Most of us (especially women) live in a world of not only "I'm not enough" but "I shouldn't be enough." We compare and criticize ourselves to ridiculous levels about most things in our life. In the process, we train our brain to feel successful only when we are failing. It's neurotic, but we do it. Someone compliments our dinner and we point out that we didn't put enough carrots in the soup. Someone tells us we look nice and we point out that our pants are too tight. My best guess as to why we do this is that we are afraid of appearing arrogant and so we put ourselves down and create an atmosphere where we are more comfortable with our missing pieces than our wholeness. When we then take on something big, like writing, our brain is stuck in old patterns. We've trained our brain to be more attentive to our shortcomings and that's going to be a problem because we need to do well at this if we're to reach our goal. If you stay in that place of comfortable regret, you will never make this writing thing work. You have to allow yourself to be successful, it is the only way to build confidence and without that inner confidence, the outer pressure will crush this dream before it gets off the ground. This applies to much more than writing--in every part of our life it's through the accomplishment of objectives that we grow in our belief that we can do well at things. Set yourself up for success by setting small attainable goals.


Third, CELEBRATE ACCOMPLISHMENT.

When we accomplish those small and attainable goals, we need to celebrate them. In this case it's not a party (though it could be cake) it's simply being conscious that you did what you said you would do. You can say it out loud "I just wrote for 15 minutes!" you can write it down, you can tell a friend. Don't simply set another goal, take a moment to celebrate the one you just accomplished. This conscious practice of celebrating success floods your brain with happy chemicals that help teach your brain what to derive pleasure from. It is pleasurable to succeed at things, but since we're used to "I shouldn't be enough" it takes some training to get your brain on board with this. Find people who will celebrate with you--not everyone will--and share your success with them while inviting them to share their success with you. Many times we surround ourselves with people who are far more comfortable with our whining than our winning. Find people who will allow you to share your excitement and let them celebrate with you.

Four, TAKE FAILURE IN STRIDE.

Failure is both powerful and inevitable. You will face it and it will hurt. There will be some people who will try to spin it into "That wasn't fair" or "They don't know what they're talking about" and while it's nice to have that kind of support, if we don't "listen" to our failures and find out what they can teach us, we won't be better for them. On the other hand, if we let our failures stop us, we are giving them too much power. For me, I have tried to find a balance of feeling the hurt and embarrassment and disappointment for a period of time, and then forcing myself to be objective about it. Look for the truth in the failures and rejections, but don't live there. Remind yourself over and over again that this is a journey. You are not taking it only to accomplish something, you are here to learn. It's been said that you can learn more from your failures than your successes, I think this is true but it's up to you whether or not you approach them that way.

Best of luck. Happy Writing.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Altered Perceptions

I have often said one of the best parts of my writing career has been the people I've met through my writing. One of the people I've met is Robison Wells. I knew him before he began publishing nationally, before he moved to my neck of the woods, and before he was diagnosed with his first mental illness (Panic Disorder), which led to--or revealed--some others (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Self Harm and some others.) In the years since his diagnosis his life has changed dramatically. Unable to use his education (MBA) because he is unable to function in the workplace, he has turned his efforts to full-time writing. It's gone well for him, he's been able to create schedules and networks that have made it work within the limitations of his circumstances, but writing  doesn't give the same kind of security as a day-job that comes with. We are subcontractors, not employees, so we can't get health insurance or 401Ks or have our taxes paid through our publishers. The pay is sporadic and dependent on making the right connections with publishers and readers. Our contracts are for limited projects or timelines and the success of our books are dependent on a lot of people other than ourselves. Adding mental illness to the balance of things and it becomes tricky to the extreme.

In hopes of helping Rob support his family and pay off rising medical debts related to the struggles he's had, several of his writer friends have come together on an anthology project kind of like the "Bonus Features" you find on DVDs. Here are some examples of the contributions: Ally Condie is writing the forward, Dan Wells wrote the Introduction. Brandon Sanderson is different 5 "altered" chapters from Way of Kings and Jessica Day George is offering a deleted scene from Princess of Glass. There are well over a dozen other contributions, each of them unique and never been seen before.

For my part, I submitted the original opening chapters of Tres Leches Cupcake (Book 8 in my culinary mystery series). I wrote the chapters a few years ago and loved the intensity until i realized that nothing else in the book matched it; it was like writing the climax for the opening, which is never a good idea. But now those chapters, which have been patiently waiting on my hard drive, get life and, in the process, get to help someone else's real life.

This project is called "Altered Perception" and it was launched on Kickstarter today (April 21) There are ebook and hardback versions of the anthology available for pre-order as well as "Perks" donated by the authors for additional fundraising. There is some impressive stuff being made available and it's for a great cause; helping Rob and helping raise awareness for people struggling like he is.

You can read more about the project here as well as buy copies and perks. I hope you'll take a minute to check it out, share it on your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and whatever other networks you belong to. We've all seen people come together and make a small contribution to a huge undertaking. This is the chance to do exactly that. I hope you will.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Last Five Books I've Read

Per a blog topic request I did a bit ago, one suggestion was my five favorite books this year. I'm not sure I've read enough books to choose my top five, so instead I'll put the last seven books I've read:

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

I'm not quite finished with this one yet, and I don't even know how to evaluate it exactly because of that fact. It is more literary than I usually read, and it's discussing books I've never read, but I am rather captured by it. I'm listening to the audio, which has a great reader, and I probably have another week or so before I finish. I have determined that I will never read Lolita, and I've learned some very intellectual evaluations of some other classics, and I am more grateful than ever to be an American. Reading Lolita in Tehran is a memoir from a former English Literature professor in Tehran before/during the revolution that turned a relatively progressive country into the Islamic Republic of Iran. Fascinating look at a culture different than my own, but also very interesting in light of different groups I see in our own country trying to control the actions of everyone else. I have heard that the end is intense, and I have a feeling I know what happens so we'll see how I feel when I finish it. Right now I would rate it a PG 13 but that might change by the end.

Mommy Tracked by Whitney Gaskell

This is a book about four different moms--different types of moms--and the struggles each of them are facing within their roles. The chapters switch between the four characters and I liked the way it showed such differing women and different problems. I liked that it wasn't a 'man hater' book nor was it a 'super mom' book. It was more like 4 women's fiction novels put into one, showing each woman and what she was up against. The stories were good, though most of these women live a more cosmopolitan life than I do and so there were some portions that I did not relate to well. And, at the end of the book I found that while I liked each woman a bit better than I had in the beginning, there wasn't a single one that I felt I really related to; that I felt approached the role like I did. Not that I do it right or they do it wrong, but I think because my lifestyle is different and my motivations are different, I didn't 'fit' within the relationships of this story. The writing was good although the author had a tendency to use adverbs in dialogue tags like "she said sarcastically" "He said loquaciously" "she said energetically" "He said darkly" "she said humorously" "He said charmingly" and I did tire of all those adverbs. This was a rate R book.

Come to Zion Volume 1 & 2 by Dean Hughes

This is a story about English converts to the Mormon church at the time of mass immigration to Nauvoo. The first book follows the individual characters through their processes of converstion and then their crossing of the ocean to come to Zion. The second volume shows the life in Nauvoo as the church is still trying to figure itself out and then loses its first prophet. I love Dean Hughs and I have the other LDS fiction series he's written and have enjoyed this one just as much. One of the things I love about Hughs is how much I learn through the stories he writes. He does a fabulous job of showing the details of times and places. I feel that I better learn the facts through seeing people live through these times. One of the things I loved, loved, loved about this story is the imperfections he allows us to see in the early saints. We so often put early saints on pedestals and believe that they were these amazingly perfect people of faith and character. I have never believed this was the norm. Yes, they had great faith. Yes, they made great sacrifice. Yes, they paved the way for so many of their posterity to benefit from both of those things. But they could not have been perfect. They had to have had doubts. And they had to have been taking their journeys for their own growth--not ours. That meant it was hard for them, it means they struggled, it means that some of them were jerks. I like that Hugh shows this. I'm a bit nervous about the next book because it will involve polygamy which is still a difficult thing for me to deal with, but I trust Hughs and am therefore willing to take this journey with him. These books are rated PG.


Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter

This is a memoir about a girl who got lost in the Florida foster care system in (I believe) the late 80's--before many reforms were implements. The book covers her story from being a toddler taken from her dysfunction mother, to a child living in a variety of homes that were not equipped to truly care for her, to young woman finally in an adoptive family. It did not sugar coat anything but neither did it feel gratuitous. It was shocking to see how many times the system failed her, frustrating to see how ungracious she was when she got an adoptive family, and humbling to see those people who gave Ashley a chance to really change her course. My husband and I have recently become Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and this book was required reading in our training. Since then, our appointments have become official and we are working together with a child whose family is involved in a DCFS case. It is our job to report to the Guardian ad Litem about how they are doing, what's working and what's not. I've reflected on Ashley's story many times, looking toward those things that made a difference for her story. I listened to the audio version which was read by Ashley herself. For me, this was a paradigm shifting book and I highly recommend it. I would rate this PG 13.
 

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

I am not a Sci-fi reader, and I'm not a big YA reader. But the movie is coming out, I have heard about this book for years, and I decided to listen to it during a long road trip. I was reminded why I don't like science fiction, and yet I do agree that this book is more than that and it crosses that genre line. It's a story about a boy being trained to be a military commander in an intergalactic war. There were parts that were hard to listen to because of the fact that it was a little boy in the story, there were also parts that I would have liked more clarification on, but all in all I liked the story. My favorite part was toward the end, after the climax and many changes have taken place. Ender reflects on the fact that in order to know people well enough to beat them with his military tactics, he has to know them so well that he loves them. Which then leaves him torn between the feelings of empathy for his enemies and loyalty to his side of the war. I found that absolutely fascinating and for me it made the story both complete and important. The writing is fabulous, the story was easy to follow, and I am glad I read it. I listened to this on audio and liked that as well. If I were sitting and reading I'm not sure I could have stayed with it simply due to the genre not being one that I like. I listened to the first chapter of the next book, Speaker for the Dead, and determined that I will likely not read any other books in this series. Not that it's bad, but it's just not my thing. I would rate this book PG 13.

Farenhieit 451 by Ray Bradbury

I read this book many moons ago in high school and remembered liking it. I have talked about and heard about it many times since then. Recently, after mentioning a part of it in a presentation, I realized that I had heard about that part I quoted from someone else--I didn't remember it on my own. I decided to read the book again and I am so glad I did. I've heard people say that Bradbury is overrated--I disagree. I love his use of words. I loved the depth of this story, the reflections it made to our time right now, and the connection it gave me to the time when I had read this book the first time. I listened to it on audio and the reader was excellent but I want to get a new copy of the book and highlight some of the ways Bradbury used words. For me this is a beautiful story and made me want to seek out more Bradbury in the future. It also reminded me that while there are only so many words out there, the way they are put together can make them feel brand new. Included at the end of this audio were some thoughts from Bradbury about the book and some very interesting cases of censorship that had taken place with this book in the preceding decades. What irony. I loved hearing Bradbury's comments and learning how this story came together for him. I would rate this book a soft PG 13, more from ability to understand content than from anything of a sexual or violent nature.

As you can see, I am moving more and more toward audio books as the time to sit and read seems to be a more and more fleeting experience for me. It has allowed me, also, to 'read' books I likely would never have read if I had to sit down to do it. Sitting to read, for me, is an experience of intimacy and visualization--I will continue to reserve it for those books who are best enjoyed in that situation.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Questions From Dina, Answers From Josi

I put out a request on Facebook a couple of weeks ago regarding blog topics. I've just finished a book and that gets my fingers itching to blog, but sometimes I don't know what to talk about. I had several fun responses and I'll be covering them for the next little bit. Today, I'm going to answer several questions that Dina asked--I fully expect everyone to be wowed by my answers! :-)



How to keep three teen boys fed and full on a tight budget?

I do not have three teen boys--but I do have one and just keeping him fed and full can be a challenge. I had four brothers growing up (Those are my brothers in the photo) and I was amazed at how much food they could pack away. AND, I am one of nine kids raised on a school teachers salary--so home economy is in my nature and my nurture. So here are my suggestions and though I like to sound like an expert, I may very well have this wrong but I'm trying :-)

-Growing up my mom always made a lot of food for dinner so that we could have leftovers. She then somehow trained us to like leftovers for snacks. This kept her from having to prepare food over and over again and there was always something yummy in the fridge. It was usually something more healthy than traditional snack food, too.
-Years ago I bought this book, The Tightwad Gazette, which was published by a woman who was on Oprah as the biggest tightwad on the planet. I am amazed at the penny-pinching methods she used, but more than that I was really impressed with how dang happy she and her family were. They had made it into a family goal and they had fun with it. I haven't employed all of the tips, but several of them have worked their way into my lifestyle and the toffee recipe she makes at Christmas, is awesome! (and cheap)
-Fat and protein make people feel fuller longer. Not the kind of fat in a twinkie, but the kind of fat in meats, dairy, fish, coconut oil and olive oil. Try buying meats in bulk and freezing it, teach kids how to make a hamburger on their own, keep lots of canned tunna and chicken around which can easily be made into a casserole, sandwich, salad, or wrap. One chicken salad sandwich can do the job of six pieces of toast with jam. I've been working on helping my son recognize the need for protein with every meal--string cheese, hard boiled eggs, meat of some kind or another. He's gotten a lot better at it and admits that he is fuller longer--for instance I used to do Oatmeal for breakfast but he gets to 10:00 and is "starving his face off" so now I make sure I make some eggs too. Luckily, I really like cooking breakfast. When he starts with good protein, he doesn't seem to be hungry all day long. I also buy protein shakes and bars in bulk at Costco so there are quick grab things for him to take.

There you go--that is the gammut of my expertise on feeding teen boys :-)

 Things to do with exchange students for free?

We had an exchange student last year (pictured left), it was a lot of fun. I realized that while I had assumed he'd want to go to movies and bowling and that type of thing, he was as interested in just our 'community' as he was anything else. So, my suggestions would be go to different playgrounds--teenage boys always seem to be able to enterain themselves at those. How about Frisbee golf courses, hikes, and national monuments in your area. Going to state capitols, historic buildings, museums, and churchs can be interesting. Often we are so used to the things in our area that we forget how interesting they can be to someone else. I would never plan long trips because it might be 1) boring for them 2) overwhelming for them.

From the comments you made it sounds like you're already doing a lot of expos and things--those are awesome. You could also look into car shows, community theater, and local libraries that have events. Do you have friends that would give you guys a tour of where they work? Maybe call the news stations, sports arenas, and animal shelters for tours there too. And the more excited you are about something, the more excited they will be. And take lots of pictures!

Do you have Grandchildren? If so, what do you like and what don't you like about it? If not, what do you think about that time in your life?

I kind of have grandchildren (pictured left.) My husband and I raised his niece for several years and she has two boys. They are our grandchildren in the way that my husband and I are parent figures in my niece's life, but I don't think it's like a real grandchildren relationship in other ways because several family members helped to raise our niece and when she and her family married, his parents took that central role as grandparents for the boys and are quite close to them. She and her husband have divorced and he has primary custody now. She lives several hours away, so we don't get to see them very often. I have loved watching them grow up and it's always a treat to see them, but because of circumstances we aren't in their lives very often. 

I anticipate that things will be different with actual grandchildren, that I'll be more involved with their parent's lives and therefore more involved in theirs. I don't want to be the grandma who is constantly babysitting--I don't' know how I ever did it with my own now that they are past that point--but I'm looking forward to that time and plan to enjoy them very much. I'm getting closer to that point of life every year so it is something I ought to ponder on a bit more. :-)

What's your favorite color? Has it always been your favorite color? if not, what other colors have been your favorites and why?

My favorite color is black. It has been my favorite color since junior high. It's probably my favorite because I look good when I'm wearing it and it matches everything. I am a bit color-disabled. I'm not good at visual arts, which makes clothing and home design not a natural fit for me. For many years 90% of my wardrobe was black or white, then I added some gray (I know, craaaaaazy) and then some red. In the last few years I've gotten all colorful and have one item of almost every color, but I still love black best of all. I go back to it over and over. If I were to boil it down, it would be because black is an easy color. I have plenty of other things about me that are complicated, so it's nice that this one thing is not. I do remember being in elementary school and my favorite color changing all the time--usually because I wanted a favorite color that no one else had. Black might have served that purpose too.

Thanks Dina, I hope the answers were satisfying :-)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

How Great Is my Editor

I asked for blog ideas and one came in from an undisclosed source, asking about how great my editor is. Might have been tongue in cheek, but if so she should know better. :)

Because I had published prior to having a book accepted by Deseret Book back in 2006, I thought I understood what an editor's job was. I thought they managed the production of the book and asked a couple of clarifying questions. At Deseret Book, however, it was very different. First off, I was assigned a Production Manager, this is the person who coordinates all the different aspects of my book--editing, cover, production schedule, marketing, etc. The remarkable Jana Erickson was the Production Manger assigned to me. Under her, I was assigned an editor whose job it was to make my book more awesome.

With my first book, the editor gave me a list of things I needed to fix. (I think my first editor was Emily Watts. I'll check when I get home or if someone has a copy of Unsung Lullaby hanging around, maybe you can check for me.) It was highly stressful and made me think my book must not have been that great. But they had accepted it, and I so wanted them to love me, and so I made most of the changes. I had one point I didn't agree with and I wrote a very long and involved explanation of why I couldn't change this one thing. They responded with "Good point. Leave it." Not too bad.

With my second book, I had a new editor, Jay Parry I think, and fully expected not to have any revisions. Surely the feedback I had with that first book was a fluke, right? And this book was perfect. In reality, I had three times the revisions for Sheep's Clothing to the point where I cried when I got the feedback, sure there was no way I could make it work. The things they wanted changed would change too much. I talked to Jana, she gave me some suggestions, I boo-hooed to my husband and friends and then I went in to make the changes. They didn't end up being as intense as I thought, I had to fix some motivations, add a few scenes and clarify some details. It did make some big changes to the book, but the book was much better for it.

My third book with Deseret Book (Her Good Name) was the first one I did with Lisa Mangum. I knew Lisa before this, she is a huge supporter of the Utah writing community and had been at several conferences I'd attended. She was the "face" of Deseret Book and Shadow Mountain that I knew when I was first accepted by them. Our paths had crossed, but she made me nervous. First, she's very tall--I am short--and tall people have always intimidated me. Second, she's very confident and while I second guess myself a lot, she never seemed to. Third, she's a smarty-pants--anyone who has a college degree directly tied to writing in some way, is a smarty-pants in my mind, it's not a derogatory term--and I am not. I am a "street" writer, you could say, and she is an educated, confident, tall woman. I had listened to her talk to other writers, listened to her presentations and though I liked her a lot and admired much about her, she still made me nervous. All that said, I was so excited to have her as my editor. Because I knew her and I knew she knew her stuff (edit that sentance, Lisa--3 knews!) I also knew (4!) that she would be good for me. And she was.

Intimidation aside, I had something different with Lisa than I'd had with my other editors. We were industy-friends and I trusted her expertise. Trust, within a publishing relationship is huge. Yes, there are contracts and legal assignments that it's good to have trust with, but the process of taking your brain child and building a body around that soul is big stuff, and trusting the people who are helping you make this creation is important. Not that I didn't trust my previous editors, but because I knew Lisa it was different. I know without a doubt that she is making my books, and in the process, me, better.

Over the last twelve books we've done together, our relationship has changed. I would dare say she is now a good friend of mine, even outside of our working together. We have traveled together, roomed together, met each others' husbands, and we both love our cats. I know a lot about her life and she knows a lot about mine which is why I have to keep being super nice to her  :-) Because of the relationship we have built, I know that when she makes a suggestion about my book, she's probably right and even if I don't agree at first, as I look into it, she almost always is (I say almost because while I can't think of a time she was wrong off the top of my head, for my own self-esteem I have to believe that I was right at least one time). On more than one occasion I have called her and brainstormed out plot issues--she is brilliant, truly. She can insert a new character or suggest a twist or lay out a new arrangement of information and it's as though the sun shines through the clouds. She has saved more than one book with her suggestions and because of her I have learned what an editor should be. Here's the basic job description:

Be a cheerleader with a deep well of information and an iron hand. Be confident and trustworthy, keeping the author's best interest at heart even if they don't believe it. Don't be afraid to point out weaknesses and suggest correction and if they balk, remember that, like a good parent, you are there to make them better. A good author will respect you for it and acknowledge your role.

Within my culinary series, she's been especially helpful because she knows Sadie and she knows my style. She can make changes that still sound like me, she can suggest things based on who my characters are because she knows them and knows how they will react. We talk about Sadie as though she's a real person--how many people can a writer do that with? It's amazing. And yet she gives me the hard truth. My last round of revisions had the line "I think Rocky Road is a solid B+ and with a little effort we can make it a solid A+ book." And I think we did--but only because she was willing to point out the confusing, missing, and understated elements of the book. AND I think she was kind in giving it a B+, once the changes were made I'm pretty sure it was more like a B- when I first sent it in.

People ask me all the time if I'm going to get into Indie publishing with my books, many previously-published authors are publishing in both industries and having a lot of success. I'm not ruling it out--who knows where the book industry is going--but for now, I can't imagine my books being the best they can be without an editorial process that helps me fix the book but also grow as an author. I have learned so much through the editing I've done per the revisions my editors give me. I can't imagine having the confidence in my product without it and though there's freelance editing and I have talented friends who give great feedback as well, there is something about the personal connection Lisa has to my books that makes a difference. An important difference.

I'm sure there are bad editors out there--I know a few people who have had really bad editors. I think most editors, however, are like Lisa. They love books, they love authors, they want to be a part of the process of making both of them great. I am very grateful to have had good ones and, because of that, expect that I will continue to have good editor relationships in the future. I think they are an essential part of my success and, Lisa, specifically, has made an impact on my career that I can't put a price on.

Beyond the editing, Lisa is a talented writer. You can read up about her books HERE.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Why I'm not Having a Launch

In 2005 I had my first launch party and it was an event! I had gotten the idea from the book "Guerrilla Marketing"which talked about artists, authors, singers, etc, having these parties to kick off a new book or tour or album. I had never seen it done in Utah. So I started from scratch and went about planning an event. I had doorprizes, drawings, a grand prize drawing, food, perks, etc. The event cost me about $400 and I spent at least 75 hours coordinating prizes, working out details, putting up posters, printing fliers, etc. It was a lot of work, but it was so much fun!

I had family, friends, readers, and just curious bystanders stop in and see what was going on at the independent bookstore where I hosted it. People had a great time, I had a great time, and while it was a ton of work, it was a very positive experience. I realized that it was easier to promote an event than it was to say "buy my book please" and I found it much more comfortable than a regular book signing.

I have had 13 additional launch parties for the 13 books I have published since then. Over time I did away with the drawings and the doorprizes, mostly because it was so much work but also because people get funny about donating every six months :-) Other authors were doing the same things, organizing events, contests, etc to announce their books. We were all on the launch-party train together. When I started publishing the culinary mysteries, it was a no brainer to use the signature recipe as the treat at the launch party. I stand behind the fact that it was a GREAT idea, but here are some behind the scenes things that made it highly stressful:

*For "English Trifle" I drove to Salt Lake and bought 16 oz plastic cups with lids so I could premake 100 trifles. I spent two days preparing all the different parts I realized that the lids I'd bought were the wrong size. I spent four hours driving all over Ogden, trying to find lids (Yes, it would have been faster to go to Salt Lake) and I finally found them--McDonalds McCafe drinks use the same lid. I begged a manager to sell me a sleeve of lids, she called her district manager and they, blessedly, agreed to the sale. Cost me $20 but, still. No way could I transport 100 cups of trifle without lids.

*For "Devil's Food Cake" I had to make chocolate curls for the 10 cakes I made. I'd never made chocolate curls and ended up doing three attempts before one worked--each one was a jelly roll size of melted chocolate. We had 'chocolate chunk' cookies for months at my house trying to use up the mistakes. I had three left over cakes that I ended up giving away at the end of the night.

*My sister and I juiced--by hand--about 60 key limes for "Key Lime Pie" our fingers were numb by the time we finished.

*A good friend kept "Blackberry Crumble" warm in her oven a mile or so from the bookstore and drove back and forth with pans for me in order to make that one work.

AND then, the kicker that was the beginning of the end of launch parties for me.

For "Banana Split" I made actual banana splits. I bought a case of 500 'banana boat' plastic dishes and we covered the floor in plastic. Mid-point through the evening a couple approached me and asked me about my license. They went on to explain that in order to serve home made food I had to have a special license that could be obtained through the health department. I'd never heard of that and they graciously didn't write me up, but they coyly said they'd come to the next launch and check things out. I was not thrilled by this, but I understand it's their job.

Between books I looked into the license. It wasn't expensive, but I had to get a food handlers certificate and I had to file a document and go through all the hoops to get it. I talked to my publisher and they graciously offered to not only take care of the licensing issues but to make all the cupcakes for "Tres Leches Cupcakes." Without them doing this, I'm not sure I would have done that launch at all. The night went well, the cupcakes were delicious. The health department guys did not show up, thank goodness. And I was off the hook for a few more months. But then I published "Baked Alaska"

Have you ever made baked Alaska? I only have because I wrote a book with that title. The recipe isn't overly difficult, but it's persnickety and the ability to make enough baked Alaska for 100 people and keep it cold but not frozen for the event was not possible. So, I rearranged my expectations and did a five bookstore stop event in one day. I had some chocolates to hand out and got to see a lot of people. It was a good day, but exhausting. The prep was better, but still intensive.

Now I have two books coming out.

On the one hand, in regard to Rocky Road, you can't get a much better dessert for a crowd than fudge. I could make it in advance, some with nuts and some without, and do my traditional launch. BUT, what about the food licensing? And what about Shannon's Hope which came out at the same time? Beyond that, did I have time?

The last question is the one that really mattered. The fact is that my life is full of lots of great things but that makes every day intense. Every amount of time I spend marketing, writing a presentation, traveling to an event, answering emails, etc, is time that takes away from my writing. Every amount of time I spend on my writing takes me away from my home and family. As my kids are growing up and leaving home, I am feeling the panic of not having them there any more. It's been hard for me and made me that much more aware of all the time I'm away. I get anxious about the time I spend that isn't writing and isn't family. I have begun charging for events I'm invited to, I've limited the number of things I'll do in a month, and say no a lot. Part of me just hates this. For so many years I was scratching out opportunities. I needed the exposure, the experience, the chance to talk to people and meet readers. It was essential. Now that my series is doing well and I'm not having to work so hard to put myself out there, it feels ungracious to turn down opportunities. But I have to accept that things have changed for me--for the better--and I need to be willing to adapt my life to that. If I said yes, I could do well over a dozen events a month. I can't do that so I have had to draw limits.

And so, I sat down with myself and we had a chat about what to do regarding the launch parties I'd done in the past. We formulated the time that would go into the launch parties for both "Shannon's Hope" and "Rocky Road." We calculated the pros and cons, we admitted that attendance has been decreasing at the events, that many bookstores are limiting events, and we asked ourselves if this was how we wanted to spend our time in the first place. Keep in mind, I have another book due in two weeks. Keep in mind, that I have two daughters in college this year and last year I missed several weekends my oldest came home because I was committed to events. Keep in mind that at some point in the next few months I need to develop whatever idea will become my next book when I finish with Sadie. And so we suggested that we skip the launch. We thought about it, and then we decided that's what we would do.

I will miss seeing those true-blue fans who never miss a launch. I will miss hearing how much people have loved the series. I will miss having a party to celebrate the release. I will even miss the cooking which, overwhelming as it is to bake for 100 people, is something I love. But I feel like I've chosen the better part this time. AND I am doing a handful of signings over the next few months--I'm hoping my readers will come see me there. You can find details about those events HERE

I was also influenced by this blog written by Shannon Hale. When I finished reading her post I was able to take a deep breath and just be okay with putting some limitations in place. It was validating to hear her say the same thing. I do not want to live in the spaces left over from my career--I want my career and my family life to work together to create a good experience for me and my family. And so, this is what I've chosen this time around. Perhaps things will change in the future, but perhaps not. I have stopped imagining that life gets less busy as time goes on.

I appreciate everyone's support and I hope to see you at an event this fall. Happy reading!