I Blame Tommy Lee Jones

After I wrote Baby Grand, I decided to write a stand-alone novel, In the Red, before I tackled the sequel. I tend to do that, even if I’m reading (and not writing) a series — I concentrate on a work that’s completely unrelated, and then return to the next book in the series. I find that the distance creates a little perspective and pushes me more to think about the characters and plot lines and what they mean before I plunge back in.

G3stickmenI finished In the Red after a looong four years, and, unfortunately, realized that it wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. It needed some major revisions, and I decided that, rather than doing that, which would take quite some time, I would instead start writing Baby Bailino, the sequel to Baby Grand. This was in late 2014.

In spring of this year, I finished Baby Bailino. So now — as I prepared Baby Bailino for publication — it was time to move onto my next book, which, based on history, would be something completely different from the series I was working on. Right? However, In the Red had so many issues, which freaked me out, and had taken so long to write. I didn’t want to wait four years to start the final Baby Grand book!

I decided (isn’t it fun making these arbitrary decisions?) that it would be best to start writing the last book in the Baby Grand series immediately instead of doing something unrelated. Perfect. Sounds like a plan. I would start writing the next Baby Grand book right away.

And then I watched an old Tommy Lee Jones movie.

I have a certain affinity for suspense movies made in the 1990s. I don’t know why. I turn them on whenever I catch them on TV. The Fugitive. The Firm. Primal Fear. Anything with Ashley Judd. I tend to find my greatest inspirations there. (Baby Grand, in fact, was inspired by Robert De Niro’s character in Heat.)

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Meet Author Kimberly Brock

A warm welcome to today’s featured debut author, Kimberly Brock, whose novel, The River Witch, has garnered a whopping 21 five-star reviews since its publication in April. Way to go, Kimberly!

Name: Kimberly Brock

Name of book: The River Witch

Book genre: Women’s fiction/Southern lit

Date published: April 15, 2012

Publisher: Bell Bridge Books

What is your day job? I’m a full-time mom to three kids, and I teach occasional Pilates sessions.

What is your book about? The River Witch is a Southern tale set against the backdrop of the Sea Islands. When ballerina Roslyn Bryne loses her career and suffers a tragic miscarriage, her grief sends her into a desperate exile to the mystical Manny’s Island where she rents a lonely house that once belonged to a conjure woman. But instead of solitude, Roslyn is confronted with the audacious, motherless Damascus Trezevant. What follows is an unforgettable summer and a look at the profound choices we all make in the name of love.

Why did you want to write this book? I wrote this novel over a period of five years, so my reasons for writing it changed along the way. At first, it was a story about marginalized women and children, but it also became a look at how family and heritage influence our choices for good and bad. How they define us. And what we stand to lose of ourselves if we don’t cherish and find peace with all that means about ourselves.

What would you say is the most challenging part of writing a book? Getting lost along the way and tangled in your attempts so that the book is never finished.

Did you conduct any kind of research in order to write this book (visit certain locales, etc.)? I had at least limited experience in most aspects of the novel, but I did read a lot of books and do a lot of searching online to fill in any gaps where my own experience in dance or the Sea Island and southern Appalachia culture and environment fell short. I listened to tapes of alligators roaring and also watched documentaries on Sacred Harp music.

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Meet Juliette Sobanet

Today’s featured debut author is Juliette Sobanet, a French professor who writes fun, sassy women’s fiction with (you guessed it!) a French twist. Thanks, Juliette, for a terrific chat — and, by the way, I just LOVE the book cover!

Name: Juliette Sobanet

Name of book: Sleeping with Paris

Book genre: Chick lit/Humorous women’s fiction

Date published: October 8, 2011

Publisher: Self-published (though Amazon and Barnes & Noble)

What is your day job?  French professor

What is your book about? Charlotte Summers is a sassy, young French teacher who is two days away from moving to Paris with the love of her life and from fulfilling her dream of studying at the prestigious Sorbonne University in France. But when she discovers her fiancé’s online dating profile and has a little chat with the busty redhead he’s been sleeping with on the side, she gives up on committed relationships altogether and decides to navigate Paris on her own.

Determined to stop other women from finding themselves in her shoes, Charlotte creates an anonymous blog on how to date like a man in the City of Love—that is, how to jump from bed to bed without ever falling in love. But, with a slew of Parisian men beating down her door, a hot new neighbor who feeds her chocolate in bed, and an appearance by her sleazy ex-fiancé, she isn’t so sure she can keep her promise to remain commitment-free.

Why did you want to write this book? I spent a year in Paris completing my Master’s degree and accumulating all sorts of fun, exciting, and sometimes bizarre experiences that I knew I’d want to write about one day. I’ve also been an avid reader and writer since I was young, and after I completed my Master’s in France and returned back to the States, I knew it was time to write the story that had been swimming around in my head and was dying to come to life on the page.

So, using some of my own life experiences and my time in France as inspiration (and then exaggerating it all, of course!), I came up with the concept for Sleeping with Paris. My goal in sending this story out into the world is that readers will find a book that they can relax with at the end of a long day, laugh out loud, fall in love with a sexy French hero, romp around France, crave a little chocolate, and fall asleep with nothing too heavy on their minds.

What would you say is the most challenging part of writing a book? Editing and rewriting. It is so difficult to swipe whole scenes, whole sections of your draft and start over again. But to have a solid final product, it simply must be done. Still though, acknowledging what isn’t working in your story and being willing to scrap it is no easy task.

Did you conduct any kind of research in order to write Sleeping with Paris? I studied abroad in Lyon for six months during undergrad and then completed my Master’s in Paris. My time in France helped me to create an authentic view of the setting and the characters from the viewpoint of a young, newly single, sassy heroine. Also, in this novel, I explore issues that all women have dealt with from time to time: love, broken hearts, infidelity, the importance of friendships, family relationships, and career aspirations. Drawing from some of my own personal experiences and from those of my friends as “research,” I hope that women (or men) who read this novel will be able to identify with some of the characters and their problems, while still having a ball romping through Paris!

What motivates you to write? I guess it goes without saying, but I love writing. It’s something I’ve always felt drawn to, ever since I was a little girl. I have stacks of journals saved up underneath the bed, and I’ve been creating stories whether on the page or in my head since as long as I can remember. I love that each writer has a unique story to tell, and with Sleeping with Paris, I was able to tell mine. Well, the first of mine, that is. There are many, many more stories in me. This is only the beginning! So, to properly answer your question, I’m motivated to write because with the exception of drinking wine on a cobblestone street in France, there’s nothing I’d rather be doing!

Did you experience writer’s block? I don’t think I’ve ever experienced full-on writer’s block. Of course, I’ve had those moments where I’ve stared at the screen and wondered, “What next?” But thankfully, for me, that is only temporary. I figure it’s better to at least get some words down on the page (even if they’re not the greatest) than to write nothing at all. That’s what editing is for!

How long did it take you to write this book? I began the first few chapters in December of 2006, but I really got down to business and wrote the whole first draft in spring of 2008. Two years of editing, revising and rewriting later, in the summer of 2010, I had a finished product. And just before publication, I went in for another round of edits. You see? The editing never ends until publication!

Why did you decide to self-publish? Last year, after Sleeping with Paris won first place in the Washington, D.C. Romance Writer’s Marlene Awards, I signed with my agent, polished up the manuscript and got it ready to send to New York. We went on submission with this novel last fall, but because of the trend away from this type of light women’s fiction/chick-lit, the book didn’t sell. Thankfully, even though we didn’t find a place for this story going the traditional route, I did receive positive editorial feedback, so I didn’t give up hope in finding a home for my first book. I recently began paying attention to the massive rise in self-publishing and saw it as a fantastic opportunity to get my work out there and gain a readership. And so I took the plunge and am so happy that I did! It took a lot of courage to get to this point, but I wouldn’t do it any differently.

Was the self-publishing process easier or more difficult than you thought it would be? Some aspects were easy breezy, while others definitely had me reaching for the wine bottle… J  Overall, though, it was quicker and more fun than I could’ve anticipated. The positive reader feedback I’ve been getting since publication has made it all worth it.

What is the biggest misconception about writing a book? That after you finish your first draft, you are almost finished. Writing the words “The End” is really just a sign that now the real work must begin. That’s when you find out that everything you wrote (or at least some of it) isn’t as fabulous as you thought . . . and then it’s time to revise and rewrite!

What was your favorite aspect of the writing process for this book? I loved the very beginning, before I had a clue what I was doing! Transferring those raw ideas to the page in any way I wanted, without worrying about “the rules.” Letting the creative juices flow, so to speak. There’s nothing more fun than that!

What tools/methods have you employed to promote your book? What advice would you give to writers regarding promotion? I’ve been blogging and using Twitter and Facebook on a regular basis as a means of promotion. I’ve also been doing interviews (like this one), have created an author profile on Goodreads, and have posted a bit on the Kindle Boards Forum. There is an endless amount of things that can be done for promotion, so the trick is to prioritize and not allow all of the promotion to steal too much time away from your writing!

How has life changed for you since the publication of your book? At first, I was so excited, busy and tired that I thought my head was going to spin off! Things are calming down a bit now, but the best and most rewarding change has been having new readers come across my book, read it, and tell me that they enjoyed it. I can’t even describe how happy that has made me.

Do you find yourself obsessively checking sales stats? Guilty as charged. Amazon updates them almost hourly, which is both helpful and a time-sucker!

You mentioned you have lots of books in you. When do you plan on writing the next? I’ve already completed a second book, called Kissed in Paris, and I am currently at work on edits for my third novel, a magical women’s fiction with a hint of mystery, called Dancing with Paris. And when this one is finished, I plan to keep on writing!

My favorite last question: Oprah once famously said that there is no such thing as luck, without preparation and a moment of opportunity. Would you agree or disagree with regard to your own success as a writer? I completely agree. We all have dreams and aspirations, but I do believe that we must do our best to work toward them, to prepare in any way that we can. With writing, that means spending a ton of time . . . writing! Then rewriting. Then asking others to read and critique our work. Then editing and revising again! The process never ends. It can be long, exhausting and time-consuming, but you won’t become a solid writer without putting in the time and effort. And then, like Oprah said, there will come a moment of opportunity, and if you’ve been working hard, hopefully you’ll be ready to jump in and take it.

 

Meet Robyn Bradley

“True deep desire breeds motivation.” That’s what Robyn Bradley said when I asked her what motivates her to write. I don’t think a truer statement was ever uttered. “True deep desire,” I believe as well, is the thing that separates the people who start writing novels from the ones who finish writing them. You’ve gotta want it. REALLY want it. ‘Nuff said.

Name: Robyn Bradley

Name of book: Forgotten April

Book genre: Women’s fiction

Date Published: April 2011

Publisher: Self-published

What is your day job? I’m a copy bitch by day (otherwise known as a freelance marketing copywriter).

What is your book about? Can two long-lost half sisters let go of the secrets from their pasts and learn what it means to be family?

What would you say is the most challenging part of writing a book? Letting it go out into the world. You give birth to this book, you “raise it,” you stay with it through the good and bad, but at some point, you gotta let your baby go forth into the world and stand on its own. That’s hard. And sometimes you question if it’s ready. I haven’t given birth to an actual human, but from the women I know who have, the analogy is apt.

What motivates you to write? I’ve wanted to be a writer since Mrs. Shea’s fourth grade class when she gave us a short story assignment. I slaved over it—drafting it in pencil first and then in pen. I had a moment where I felt the story “clicking” as I wrote it, like it all made sense, like I was doing exactly what I was put on this earth to do. I read it out loud to the class. They loved it. Mrs. Shea loved it. I was hooked after that and decided I wanted to write. Now, that’s the desire part. Your question, however, is about motivation. I think we all have things we desire, but I think when certain desires take hold and you can’t think about anything else, well… that’s when motivation kicks in. True deep desire breeds motivation. Some writers say it’s almost as if they don’t have a choice: they have to write. I think I agree with that.

Did you experience writer’s block? I actually don’t believe in writer’s block. I believe that there are times when the words don’t come as easily as other times, and that’s usually a sign from my soul, mind, and heart that I need to walk away. It took me forever to figure that one out, but sometimes the best thing I can do for my writing is to stop writing: I’ll take a shower, work out, read, go to the movies (that always works). When I come back to the page, the words start flowing again. They weren’t blocked… they just needed a few hours off.

How long did it take you to write this book? I worked on this book on and off for almost ten years. I went through five top-to-bottom, start-from-scratch rewrites. I buried it twice. The beginning always dogged me, but I had a breakthrough last fall, tackled it, and felt it was finally ready. Of course, by the time I had this breakthrough, I’d already queried the heck out of it.

Why did you decide to self-publish? I used to be the biggest self-publishing snob and felt it was a last resort for writer wannabes. Only someone who had been recognized by an agent and then a publisher was a “real” writer. (I mentioned the snob part, right?)

Fast forward to the summer of 2010 when I was re-reading one of my favorite books on writing – Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. In the section on publication, Lamott reminds us that validation won’t—and can’t—come from landing an agent or a book deal with one of the Big 6. She quotes from the movie Cool Runnings about an Olympic bobsled team and how the coach reminds the team members that if they’re not “enough” before the gold medal, they certainly won’t be enough with it. I’d probably read that section ten times before, but I didn’t really get it until that summer. Validation had to start with me. I had to believe.

I had this epiphany around the same time I was reading about the explosion of eBooks and the popularity of Nooks and Kindles. I had a backlog of short stories (some of which had been published in small journals) as well as the novel and figured “Why not give it a go and self-publish to Amazon and B&N.com?” I thought I’d be one of the first writers to do so (this was before I’d heard the names Amanda Hocking or Joe Konrath). I quickly learned that I was far from the first, and that many of those who had gone on before me were making a living doing it. So I jumped in and never looked back.

Was the self-publishing process easier or more difficult than you thought it would be? Believe it or not, I think it was easier than I expected. That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a lot of work involved; there was, and there still is every day. But the process of getting a book on Amazon and B&N is extremely turnkey.

What is the biggest misconception about writing a book? We all have stories inside us. But rendering those “head stories” onto the page isn’t a one-step process (nor should it be). You don’t just sit down and bang out the words and you’re done. It’s easy to think that’s all it takes going into it (and God knows I was guilty of this magical thinking way back when). But it’s more involved than that.

What was your favorite aspect of the writing process for this book? This book got me past my fears of pitching 80,000 words out a window and starting over on page one from a completely different point of view. I’m much more willing to take risks now, and I’m much more open to radical revisions.

What tools/methods have you employed to promote your book? My day job as a marketing copywriter has served me well: all the stuff I’d preach to my clients I practiced myself. I’m not only active on Facebook and Twitter, but I also do my best to leverage both (more so with Facebook, just because I prefer the medium). I run FB ads, I work at engaging my fan base, and I try different things. I hang out where readers hang out, like Goodreads, Shelfari, and LibraryThing. I have a blog and YouTube Channel. And I’m willing to spend money and experiment (the adage is true: you need to spend money to make money).

I think the best advice I can give is this: You WILL need to spend money. Publishing houses spend lots of moolah to bring a book to life. You can’t expect to go from lots of moohlah to zilch and expect your book to take off. Bringing a book to market the right way (with professional editing, cover art, and promotion) will cost some bucks. It doesn’t need to be millions or even thousands, but you do need some sort of budget going in. If you don’t have it, get creative in how to get it: take on a part-time job, tutor, ask friends and family for money instead of presents for your b-day, get on KickStarter, see where you can save on monthly expenses (e.g. give up Starbucks or NetFlix or whatever just for a little while and put the savings towards your business). Remember, art is what you’re making behind closed doors when it’s just you and your story. But once the door is open and you’re putting the book “out there,” it’s a business. And businesses need money to operate. The same is true with your book.

How has life changed for you since the publication of your book? Aside from the call I got from George Clooney? ;) It hasn’t changed all that much; I continue to write regularly, which I’d been doing before.

Do you plan on writing another novel? My second novel, What Happened in Granite Creek, came out October 15. I know, I know. It’s always suspicious when an author puts out a book a year, let alone TWO. Here’s the thing: Forgotten April was pretty much done in late 2009. I had the breakthrough regarding the beginning in the fall of 2010. In the spring of 2010, I completed the draft of my second novel. I spent 2011 revising it. So I got lucky in the sense that I had two books to bring to market pretty much at the same time, even though I’d been working on one for close to ten years and the second for two.

I’m working on my third book right now as well as two novellas, which are companion pieces to What Happened in Granite Creek. I’m hoping to release those in 2012. I also have several short stories in various stages of “doneness” that I need to revisit.

My favorite last question: Oprah once famously said that there is no such thing as luck, without preparation and a moment of opportunity. Would you agree or disagree with regard to your own success as a writer? Joe Konrath says you need luck. But he agrees that you can help Lady Luck along and woo her. I think I agree with that.

That said, true “luck” in the terms of an “overnight success” is a lottery winner. You go to bed broke, and you wake up a millionaire. That’s luck, but, of course, that luck needed the opportunity: the gal had to BUY the ticket to begin with.

I believe there’s a market for my books. Readers have been responding favorably to Forgotten April, reviews have been good, and I keep picking up more fans on FB, Twitter, etc. I write and study and market and write and study and write and write some more. That’s my preparation. The opportunity is taking advantage of this exciting time to be a writer (because, really, it is – it’s a writer’s market for the first time ever). So I’m poised and ready and hopeful that Ms. Luck sees all this, looks kindly on her fellow sister, and sprinkles some of her fairy dust over me and my keyboard. Actually, I feel she already has in many ways. I’m grateful that I get to do what I love every day.

Shapiro: Debut Book Should Not Be Cross-Genre

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I attended a cool free seminar, “Secrets of Publishing,” moderated by Susan Shapiro on Wednesday night at the NYU Bookstore in Greenwich Village. Yesterday, I posted 8 Quick Query Letter Tips offered by the impressive and varied mix of agents, authors and editors in attendance, but today I wanted to mention something interesting that Shapiro said that I really hadn’t heard before:

“If you go to a bookstore and don’t see a book exactly like yours, that’s probably not going to be your first book.”

(Although, it should be noted, Shapiro’s favorite rule in writing and life is: “You can do anything as long as it works.”)

In other words, if your first book is sort of a horror-meets-romance-meets-steampunk-meets-paranormal thriller, and you can’t find a comparable book on the shelves at Barnes & Noble, it’s going to be pretty tough to sell an agent on it. Her advice is to put that book aside and do another one instead. Once you’re published, agents will be more receptive to a cross-genre (or hybrid genre) manuscript. (Note: Shapiro is talking about the big publishing houses here.)

What’s funny is that this logic totally flew in the face of what I had thought. My perception had been that a trendsetting novel, something wild and woolly, something that had never been done before, would be most receptive by agents. What Shapiro is saying is that all that is well and good, but if the agent and, in turn, the publisher can’t quite characterize your novel, find an easy slot for it on their list, and you don’t a track record, then you will probably not have success selling it.

Of course, I sat there thinking of my own books. Baby Grand is a straight-up thriller (although whether it’s a crime thriller or suspense thriller still leaves me confused). But my second book, In the Red, the one I’m currently writing, I’ve been describing as a thriller/love story (more women’s fiction than romance) — a cross-genre.

Somehow I’ve managed to follow Shapiro’s advice without even knowing it.

Meet Author Jesi Lea Ryan

Today’s featured writer in my Debut Author Q&A series is Jesi Lea Ryan whose new romance novel, Four Thousand Miles, was published as an ebook in October. After spending 28 days working around the clock on novel revisions, I can probably use a good love story to snuggle up with.

Name: Jesi Lea Ryan

Name of book: Four Thousand Miles

Book genre: Women’s Fiction/Romance

Date Published: October 7, 2010

Publisher: DCL Publications

What is your book about? When Natalie Spencer loses both her career and marriage in the same morning, the emotional shock sends her on a spontaneous journey to England. There, she is nearly mugged in a Tube station, but an introverted songwriter named Gavin Ashby scares off her attackers. Recognizing Natalie’s fragile state, Gavin offers help and invites her to recuperate from her trauma at his country home. As she adjusts to her new role and surroundings, Natalie finds healing by helping others. Gavin and his family begin to accept Natalie into their hearts, leading her to a choice: abandon her old life in the States and trust in a new chance at love, or flee once again.

What was the most challenging part of the writing process? The hardest part for me is coming up with titles. I don’t think there was anything in this book that I agonized over more that what to call it. In the end, I was thinking about how this was really the story of a journey—both geographically and emotionally. The actual distance between Natalie’s hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Pluckley, Kent, where she ended up, is almost exactly four thousand miles. I figured the title could be a symbol for the lengths we have to go to in order to find healing.

What motivates you to write? I’ve always written in some form or another, usually just for myself. I never thought I dreamed anyone would pay to read something I wrote though. When I was laid off from my job in 2009, I decided to write a novel in order to stay productive. I like being busy. About halfway through the first draft I started to get an idea that it might be good enough to publish.

Did you experience writer’s block? Yes, although never for too long. I spend a lot of time writing in my head. I daydream about my characters and the situations they are in. I replay conversations of dialogue over and over until I’m happy with it. (I rarely ever take notes. I have a good memory.) I don’t sit down to the computer until I’m satisfied with the scene in my head. It just flows out of me naturally. If I get blocked, I walk away from the keyboard and do something else. I think to obsess over a block is the worst thing a writer can do.

How long did it take you to write this book? About four months. Again, that wasn’t writing every day. I would go up to a week at a time without writing a word, but it was never far from my mind.

What was your favorite aspect of the writing process for this book? I love writing beginnings! Once I conceive an idea, envision the characters and work out the details of the setting, it all comes out of me in a rush. That’s when writing is fun!

How difficult was it to find a publisher? Finding a publisher was easy; it was getting an agent’s attention that I found impossible. In fact, after forty agent queries and not even a nibble, I decided to approach a publisher. I pitched to Jean Watkins, an editor for DCL Publications, at the RT conference in May 2010. She requested I send her the first three chapters of my manuscript. I did, and she offered me a contract before she even read the full manuscript. I can’t say enough how great it was working with DCL.

The book is published as an ebook. DCL Publications primarily publishes in ebook. Only if a book sells well in electronic form will they take it to print. It makes a lot of sense to me, because ebooks require a much smaller investment and therefore less risk to the publisher. My goal is to generate enough sales so that they will want to release it in print form.

What is the biggest misconception about writing a book? That writing the book is the hard part. Trust me, writing it is easy compared to the process of finding an agent or publisher. The agents I have spoken to are all very busy, overworked people. Some get a couple thousand queries from writers in a year. A manuscript has to rise above the rest of the pack to get noticed. Many writers give up because they can’t take the rejection.

Do you plan to do this again? Definitely! I am working on a YA paranormal romance right now. It is shaping up pretty well. I also have a couple of other ideas that I’m holding on the back burner. Now that I have my foot in the publishing door, I intend to make the most of it!

Oprah has famously said that there is no such thing as luck, without preparation and a moment of opportunity. Would you agree or disagree with regard to your own success as a writer? I completely agree! I can’t stress enough that if a writer wants to get published and sell books, they need to network. I use Facebook and Twitter extensively for this purpose. There is nothing accidental about it. If they don’t know how to utilize these tools, they could benefit from seeking out courses or someone who is social network savvy to teach them. A couple of business classes in marketing and basic money management would also be beneficial. I am currently in grad school working on my Masters of Business Administration. It surprises me all of the time how often I draw on my business knowledge in my writing career.