Wednesday, February 12, 2020

It's Okay to be Single

When I first started writing, my books were written from one character’s viewpoint. It never even occurred to me that I could or should write from multiple character viewpoints. I was writing from the perspective of the character I most identified with, which was why she was the protagonist in the first place.

Most of the books I read as a kid were this way. My favorite authors were Judy Blume and Lurlene McDaniel and S.E. Hinton. Until I read Blume’s book Summer Sisters, which came out in 1998, I don’t recall any of these authors having books with more than one character narrating the story.

As authors, we tend to write the same genres we read. Authors also stick to the formula and follow the trends. Let me be clear. That’s not true for every author 100% of the time, but a majority of us stick to the formula: characters meet, they fall in love, they face obstacles, they overcome obstacles and they live happily ever after. Since the early days of my reading were single character viewpoint books that followed the traditionally accepted formula, I fashioned my writing to be the same. That’s what people were reading.

It wasn’t until ten years ago, that I branched out and began telling stories from the viewpoint of the two main characters. And to be honest, it wasn’t my idea. I’d shared a completed story with an online readers’ group and several people asked why I hadn’t shared the viewpoint of the other character. Readers felt the story would benefit from being told from both sides. Taking their suggestion to heart, I revised the story, making many readers happy.

Since then, I haven’t looked back. All of my stories are told from the alternating viewpoints of the two main characters. Likewise, most of the stories I read are written in the same way. I think it’s safe to say it’s an industry standard at this point.

That’s why I was surprised to run into a book last week told from only one character’s viewpoint. Having written and read the opposite for more than ten years, my first instinct was to say the story was lacking. When I took a step back, I realized this was a me problem. Just because I was used to things being a certain way didn’t mean the story fell short if it wasn’t. Taking it a step further, I applaud the author for writing the story her way, just as I write my stories in the manner I want.

Writing is subjective as is reading. There are some best-selling books that still get bad reviews. There is no way any one book will ever be met with a unanimous reaction, good or bad. Writers don’t have to write what others expect. Instead, they should write what makes them happy. I guarantee it will make the story better than forcing themselves to do something they may not be comfortable with.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Happy New Year

Now that we’re a week into the new year, it seemed like a good time to talk about my plans for 2020. My writing plans, that is.

January is off to a good start with the release of Moved By You, my third Nice Ink book, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Like so many people, I made some resolutions in connection with my writing. First, I want to be better about my blog. It’s been going for a while, and in the last couple of years, I haven’t posted as often as I’ve wanted to. My goal is at least two posts a month or one every other week. I figure leaving myself some flexibility might ensure I stick to the plan. Second, I need to post on Twitter more often. For a while, I was a faithful daily poster. For some reason, I slacked off last year, and I want to stop doing that. No point in having social media if I’m not going to use it.

Don’t worry, I have plans for my books too.

Let’s start with the New Beginnings series. So far, there are 4 of 6 books under my belt and I’m about to start working on the fifth. I plan to release the last two books in this series this year. First up would be Out of Hiding, which is Luke’s story and the only one of the six books in the series that features a m/m couple. The final book will be one that I know many of you have been waiting for; Stone’s story which is titled No One Really Knows.

I’m also planning to release at least one more book in the Nice Ink series this year. Ideally, I’d like to release two, but it may not happen. Because I’ve committed to alternating the releases in the New Beginnings and Nice Ink series, I’m likely going to end up with the last two New Beginnings books and one more Nice Ink book coming out this year. I started the year off by releasing the Moved By You, the third Nice Ink book. There are two more books in the series. The next up is X’s story and it’s called Games We Play. The final book will be Damian’s and it’s not titled yet. Well, actually it is, but I may change that title as I’ve done with the last two in the series.

I’d like to attend at least one author signing event this year, but I’m not sure about that one. Might have to file that away under: start planning now for next year. There are a lot of things that go into attending these events. Since I’ve never done one before, it’s especially daunting. Maybe I’ll get lucky and there will be something close to home for me. We’ll have to see.

I’ll be mapping out the next series I have planned and looking into doing some story and character outlines so I’m ready to dive right in when the time comes. I don’t want to give anything away yet, so we’ll just stop there.

Above all, I’m going to write, write and write some more.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

A Time for Thanks

With Thanksgiving next week, I thought it was a good time to tell you what I was grateful for. So, here we go.

First, I'm thankful for my family, my husband in particular. There are often long days or late nights spent at the computer while I'm in the zone. I don't always want to go out because I have a self-imposed deadline looming over me. My husband is also the computer guy, the graphic designer and is responsible for my website design and maintenance. That's a lot  of support for one person.

I'm thankful that I can be a writer. When I was a child reading books by authors like Judy Blume and Lurlene McDaniel and S.E. Hinton, I dreamed of being a writer. I never thought it would actually happen, never thought I was good enough, but here I am; a best-selling author. That's an amazing feeling.

I'm thankful to my peers. People like Erin Nicholas, Lucy Lennox, JM Dabney and Sloane Kennedy have given me a leg up with their generosity. They've allowed me to promote my work on their social media and have shared my book with their fans. Thanks to their support, I've reached more readers than I ever expected to. I can say with certainty that I wouldn't be a best selling author without their support.

I'm thankful for e-readers, blog tours and social media. Without these things, I would still be toiling away, trying to find a way to get my books in the hands of readers. Thanks to the evolution of publishing, independent authors are thriving. When I first started out, I thought I needed an agent to succeed. That was true, but it's not the case anymore. Indie authors can do as well, if not better, than traditionally published authors. And even better for me is that I get to retain full artistic control. From the words inside to the cover outside, I have the final say.

Most of all, I'm thankful for you, the readers. If it wasn't for all of you taking a chance on an unknown author, I wouldn't be where I am. You gave me a chance and you accepted me. Your support and love of my books showed me that I do deserve to be here. For every book you buy, every review you write, every social media post you write or share, every email you send telling me how much you liked my book, for all of that and so much more, I'm thankful. I can never adequately express how much.

To those of you celebrating next week, Happy Thanksgiving, but even if you're not celebrating, I'm still thankful. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Is It Trash or Treasure?

In two different reader’s groups I belong to on Facebook, I recently saw a question posted asking what fellow group members didn’t like to see in a story. Several group members chimed in with their answers. Naturally, I had my own answer as well.

As I watched the comments wrack up, I reacted as an author and not a reader. My first inclination was to take all these comments and make a spreadsheet along the lines of what not to do. Something I could refer back to when editing to make sure I wasn’t doing anything to cause readers to turn away.

There were several comments and the thread got pretty long before one best-selling author chimed in with her opinion and it wasn’t what you would expect. Instead of telling group members what her deal breakers were, she pointed out that likes and dislikes within books are as varied as the books themselves and that’s okay. The author expressed her dismay that readers would be disparaging these things instead of celebrating differences. From there, several people felt put in their place and apologized. Others pointed out it was meant to be fun while a few people took exception to being chastised for exercising their rights to free speech.

Here’s the thing. Everyone was right and that’s okay.

There are a lot of topics brought up in online groups that are meant to spark discussion. I read every comment for this particular one, and no one came across as hurtful. Most of it was straightforward. ‘I hate it when characters fall in love instantly’ or ‘I don’t like to read books where main characters cheat on each other’ and even ‘I don’t like books about males getting pregnant.’ These are just a small sample of the comments, but most were along these lines. Some even had people commenting on their comments to voice their agreement.

The lone author, who waved her metaphorical mom finger, was also right. You will never find a book that everyone loves, and that includes some of the most popular and best-selling books out there. If you’ve ever written a book review, you know that’s true. You go to write your five-star review and a one-star review catches your eye. You read it and are surprised and maybe a little incensed to find everything the other reader hated about the book was what you loved.

The author’s basic point was that you read what you want and do it without putting others down. While I didn’t think anyone was putting authors down, her comment did get me thinking about how right she was. Something I knew firsthand. When I started out in this business, my goal was to get an agent and then let the agent get a book deal. No two agents ever had the same feedback on my book. 
One would say the characters were well developed but the plot was weak while the other would say the plot was strong, but the characters could be better fleshed out. And they were talking about the same book!

So, I have a few takeaways from this experience. One, I am not going to keep a spreadsheet of readers’ dislikes. Not only are there too many, but readers’ tastes aren’t universal. I could omit something that someone likes and end up losing readers that way as well. Two, I’m going to write what I want. I have a loyal reader base who have demonstrated how much they like what I’ve done so far. I’m not going to compromise the integrity of my storytelling for fear of alienating a few readers who might not even be reading my work in the first place. Three, and most important of all, that old cliché is true, even when it comes to books. One person’s trash really is another person’s treasure.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Killing Characters

I recently read a book in which one of the main characters had what doctors suspected was an inoperable brain tumor. Treatment methods were failing, and the character was physically and mentally deteriorating. Death seemed near.

I don’t normally read books where a main character is going to die. At least not knowingly. I also don’t read books where a main character commits adultery, but that’s a story for another day.
The only reason I kept reading this book despite knowing the hero would likely die is that I’d become invested in the character. This book was one in a long series I was reading, and the character had been in each of the other books. Throughout the course of the other books, he was aloof and secretive while also taking dangerous risks, and we never knew why. When he gets his own book, his diagnosis is revealed and now we understand him better. We’ve also become invested in him and have to see this through to the end.

Since I’m not going to reveal the name of the book or the series or even the author, I feel safe in telling you our hero doesn’t die. A groundbreaking treatment abroad becomes available and our hero spends six grueling months participating in a clinical trial that ultimately saves his life.

I know it probably sounds cheesy or like the author took the easy way out. In her defense, the trial wasn’t easy for him and even after it ended, it took even longer for him to regain his physical and mental capacities. He wasn’t back to his old self immediately after the trial ended. We saw the aftermath of his recovery, which I was able to appreciate more since he didn’t die.

As for the author taking the easy way out by letting him live, I’m all for that. There are some deal breakers for me as a reader. Killing a main character is number one for me. It used to bother me when I would read warnings in the blurb in which the author mentioned triggers as well as story themes like death and adultery. It seemed like such a spoiler. Guess what? I’d rather be spoiled so I’m not shocked later on. Reading about the death of a main character is too emotional for me. I actually end up depressed, despite the story being fiction.

Here’s where I have to make a confession. I have actually killed a main character in my novels. My Reader View’s literary award-winning book, Extraordinary Will, is all about the declining health and ultimate death of young adult Will Cooke which happens in the midst of him experiencing his first love. It was such a hard story to write that I contemplated pulling a miracle out of my ass and letting him live. I couldn’t compromise the integrity of the story. In the end, he died, and I cried my eyes out the day I wrote that scene. In other books I’ve written, I’ve also killed off secondary characters and implied the death of one. Since his body was never found, readers always believed he would come back one day. Who knows? Maybe he will.

In the meantime, I am going on record right now as saying I will never kill another main character again. And if I can help it, I’m not going to read any books in which this happens. Let’s just hope the authors are kind enough to give fair warning before killing a main character.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Too Much of a Good Thing

When I first started writing, all of my novels were standalone. It didn’t occur to me to write in a series until readers started reaching out to me asking if certain characters were going to get their own book. That input changed the way I approach writing. Now, when I write a story, I do it with a series in mind.

My shortest series is two books; The Lincoln Bothers. My longest is my six book new adult series, New Beginnings. To date, I’ve released four books in that series with two more on the way. I have a few that are four books and one that’s five.

Recently, I fell down the rabbit hole of reading a series that had sixteen books. Not only that, but it has a spinoff series that currently stands at three books. When I realized there were sixteen books in the series, I was a little overwhelmed. My first thought was that it was a lot of books and that would cost me a lot of money when all was said and done.

I ended up reading all sixteen of those books and am now on the first book in the spinoff series. While each book was a standalone, there were overlapping story arcs and, of course, appearances from characters in prior books. I could have chosen to read only a few of the books, but there would have been some confusing gaps for me.

Reading all of these books got me thinking. Is sixteen books in a single series reasonable? Is there such a thing as a reasonable number of books in a series? Can you have too much of a good thing?

There is no industry standard that dictates how long or short a series should be. Obviously, readers are buying these books. Each one had several reviews and most were positive. I did notice the newer books in the series had fewer reviews, making me wonder if readers had jumped ship. Maybe they got tired of the characters or the story line and decided they’d had enough. Or maybe the readers are still there but they just didn’t dedicate themselves to doing reviews as they did when the earlier books were released. Whatever the reason for the lack of reviews, it’s clear the series has a loyal fan base.

Some authors, me being one of them, know exactly how many books will be in a series before they even write the first book. Often, that is shared with fans in advance in order to increase the buzz for the series. That’s not to say authors are driven by demands of the fans. If the fans want more of a certain series, authors might be likely to deliver because it keeps readers happy.

As an author, I’m not just writing for the happiness of my readers. I’m doing it for my happiness as well. That being said, whether or not sixteen or more books in a series is too much isn’t for me to say. The author is going to write what she wants. The reader has a choice. Either read all the books and get lost in the wonderful world the author has created or pick and choose which booksto read. 

For this series, I’m sticking with it until the end. In this case, that sounds to me like the answer is no. This isn’t too much of a good thing.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Someone Else's Trash

Last week, I read a m/m romance. In this book, a hair stylist falls for one of his customers, a wheelchair user in his first relationship since his accident ten years ago. I love stories like this. I not only read them, but I write them. A few of the books in my New Beginnings series have disabled characters so I’m always excited to read about them.

Only a few chapters into the book I was reading, I found myself rolling my eyes, but I kept going. The premise was strong and the potential to be great was there so I didn’t want to give up. The more I read the book, the less I liked it. Finishing the book became about seeing my investment of time through to the end as opposed to not being able to put it down.

So what was the problem?

The biggest issue for me was that everywhere this couple went, the wheelchair user was met with a form of discrimination. I am not kidding when I say every time they went out in public, some asshole was insulting or attacking the wheelchair user. And every time it happened, his able bodied boyfriend was there to save the day with a sharp word or threat to anyone who wronged his man. Let me tell you, it got grating. Instead of this book exploring the relationship between these two, it was more about the able bodied guy having to fight for his disabled boyfriend. 

Guess what? I wasn’t the only one who found this off-putting. Another reviewer gave the book the same rating I was going to, and her review was so lengthy, there was no way I couldn’t read it. In reading this review, I learned something about my own writing of disabled characters that I hadn’t even realized I was doing.

Like me, this reviewer was disgusted by the number of times the able bodied man has to swoop in and save the day for his disabled boyfriend, but our reasons were different. I felt like it happened far too often to be realistic. The other reviewer pointed out how ableist it was. Our able bodied character is determined to stand by his man, which is fine, but he’s always the first to speak up when the discrimination occurs. He doesn’t ask if his man needs or wants the help. He just jumps up to defend his man and then magnanimously points out that the discrimination isn’t happening on his watch. Not being disabled, I hadn’t considered this, but it makes sense that it would be annoying to assume someone wants or needs that type of defense.

I’ve written books with amputees and one with a wheelchair user. I’m currently working on one with a blind character. Reading that review made me wonder if I was guilty of what this writer had done. Going back through my current work in progress, I was dismayed to find two scenes exactly like this reviewer described. I did the insensitive waiter and the ignorant department store clerk shtick. In both scenes, my sighted character takes it upon herself to speak up before the blind man even has a chance to react.

As the reviewer of the other book pointed out, this isn’t intentional. When you’re not disabled, you don’t always have the right perspective to understand how insensitive and annoying that can be; how it has the opposite effect of what you were going for.

Thanks to a bad review on someone else’s book, I learned a few things to make me a better writer, including strategies to avoid being unintentionally ablest. One woman’s bad review turned out to be a treasure for me.