Friday, December 12, 2014

Superhero in Training: There's a Funeral...But Nobody Died!

I had something else planned for this week--Collin and I went to the Cans Film Festival last Saturday and saw Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, and I was going to post my review, but I still haven't written it!  I did, however, do a post over at my Beishir Books Word Press blog, so I'll repost it here....

I'm a huge fan of superhero movies and TV shows--The Avengers, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Arrow, The Flash and Agents of SHIELD. I love them all. I grew up with them in the comic books--my mother collected them. I'll never forget the day we were packing to move and Dad threw out what he thought was "just a bunch of old comic books." What he had discarded was actually some very valuable first editions. I don't know who was more likely to kill him for that--Mom or Dad himself!

Around that same time, they owned a small grocery store in a neighborhood full of quirky characters--including a dog who liked beer just a little too much. One day, when I was telling a friend about the "old neighborhood," I came up with an idea that became the plot for Superhero in Training. There would be three protagonists: Charlie (Charlotte), a girl from an abusive home who escaped through the superhero comic books sold in her grandfather's store; Will, a graduate student with a secret identity of sorts; and Tuffy, a boozing pitbull who sees his human killed by a mugger and is out for blood. Strange trio, aren't they?

Now to see if it works....





For my photoblogger friend Grace in Australia, who couldn't get into Wattpad, here's what I posted there:



Chapter One: There's a Funeral...But Nobody Died!

Charlie



I'm surrounded by superheroes. I like it that way. They make me feel safe. The Avengers...the Fantastic Four...the Justice League...the X-Men...they're all old friends to me. Does that sound odd, coming from a girl? I guess that's about as odd as a girl named Charlotte wanting to be called Charlie, right? For as long as I can remember, they've all been there for me. They've made me feel safe. When my stepfather was beating my mom to a bloody pulp, I'd be here, protected by my friends...and by my number one hero, my grandpa. He'd tell me about my dad, who died in Desert Storm when I was a baby. I was too young to remember him, but my dad was a hero like Captain America. I wish he'd been a supersoldier, too...then he'd still be alive and Mom would never have married Jerry the Jackass.



But she did marry him, and when he started beating her, I'd run. I tried to fight him, once—he backhanded me across the room and broke my arm. I was seven at the time. I never stood up to him again. I was always ashamed of that, of my inability to fight back. I was ashamed of him for being a bully and of her for being too weak to leave him. The Black Widow would have stood up to him. She would have beat the crap out of him, maybe even killed him. When I was twelve, I got a black catsuit and a red wig and tried to learn to fight. The Stepmonster made fun of me.



I discouraged friendships when I was growing up, because when you had friends, you had sleepovers. Sleepovers were reciprocal. If I stayed at a friend's house, much as I would have liked to, it meant I would have had to invite them to my house, too. They might have seen the Stepmonster on a bad night, which was just about every night. Then everyone would know my secret. I didn't want that, so I spent my nights with the only friends with whom I could dare share my shameful secrets...my heroes.



Then one night when I was fourteen, the Stepmonster went too far and Mom didn't survive the beating. Jerry went off to prison and I went to live with Grandpa. I missed my mom, but eventually life changed for the better. By that time, the comic book store Grandpa owned had already become my second home, and those superheroes who'd protected me from my psycho Stepmonster were my family in a sense I could never explain to anyone...so I kept on keeping to myself.



I never dated. Sure, I would have loved to meet a man like Steve Rogers, but men like him only existed in comic books. I was afraid I'd only end up meeting guys like Jerry the Jackass. Better to be alone than be a punching bag, and so I was. Alone, I mean. Just me and Grandpa, and my secret friends. I spent hours reading the comics or drawing my favorite superheroes. Sometimes I drew them doing battle with—and defeating—the evil Stepmonster. I was actually pretty good at it, but I never showed those sketches to anybody. I did other stuff for my art classes in school, and it was there that I was encouraged, that I was told how good I was—how good I could be.



Grandpa insisted I go to college in spite of my protests. I graduated two weeks before he died with a degree in graphic arts that I'll probably never use, but I'll never forget the look on Grandpa's face at my graduation. He looked so proud, it made everything worthwhile for me. Now the comic book store is mine. He didn't want me to keep it, but it means too much to me to ever sell it. This place was my lifeline, my sanctuary, for most of my life. It was my safehouse through the darkest times of my childhood. The comic book superheroes were my heroes, my best friends. I could never abandon them.



"I expect better of you, Charlie," Grandpa told me after graduation.



It doesn't get any better than this, Grandpa. The true measure of success is making a

living doing what you love. I'm doing it.



***

         

The funeral procession had begun.The funny part was that nobody had died. 

Brenda Walker, who lived down the street, had just found out she was pregnant. Okay, in 2013 that's not exactly the big deal it was in 1953, but Brenda's ultra-conservative Southern Baptist Republican parents would have disowned her seven ways to Sunday if she'd publicly embarrassed them with an out-of-wedlock baby—so Brenda's hero of a hubby, who married her in a quickie ceremony the day before he got shipped off to Afghanistan, was conveniently killed in action. Now, she was mourning the death of her hero, who had given his life to save his fellow soldiers.  She looked good in black. She'd probably wear it until the baby was born. She'd play the grieving widow to the hilt.



"Who died?"



"Nobody," I said without thinking. Then I turned around. The guy standing behind me wasn't too bad looking. Not the geeky sort I was used to seeing in the store. Too good-looking. No thick-glasses, no pocket-protector, none of the usual awkwardness. He was tall, smiling, wearing a leather jacket and a baseball cap. He had a backpack that looked to be filled to capacity. Nobody filled their backpacks anymore, I observed. Everybody used tablets or e-readers. I silently hoped he wasn't a mad bomber or something. I didn't know what to do if he was. Tony Stark would know what to do. Bruce Wayne would know what to do. Me? I'd just panic and open the cash register. And then he'd probably kill me for not having much in the way of cash.



"Are you lost?" I asked without thinking.



He looked puzzled by the question. "I don't think so," he said slowly. "But maybe they

are...if nobody actually died...."



"It's a long story. A long, boring story." I decided to spare him.



"I see."



I could tell by the expression on his face that he really didn't,  but he changed the

subject then. "I'm looking for the new Marvel editions—Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America, whatever you've got." He was still looking past me, through the window toward the faux funeral procession in the street.



“The widow there—she's the one in black—her parents are very strict, very religious,” I attempted to explain. “She, on the other hand, is, well, a tramp.”



He looked at me and tried not to grin. Tried. But failed.



“She got sort of...knocked up.”



He gave me an odd glance. “How does one get 'sort of' knocked up?” he wanted to know.



He could tell I was embarrassed. I could tell he was enjoying it. I wanted to kick his ass, but I had a feeling he could become a regular customer. I was hoping, anyway. I could use all the business I could get. Bite your tongue, Charlie, I told myself.  “She was playing Vatican Roulette with the local boys.”



“Boys? Plural?”



“Oh, great. An English major?” I asked.



He shook his head.  “Psychology.”



I rolled my eyes. “It figures.”



“So...Trudy the Tramp is pregnant,” he said, guiding the conversation back to the mock funeral. “Her parents think she was married?”



“No. They just want everyone else to think she was,” I said, searching for the comic books he'd requested. “They'd be content at this point if she could just tell them who the father is.”



He shook his head and chuckled softly. “This looks to be an interesting neighborhood, at the very least,” he decided.



“The girls are all in mourning,” I attempted to explain. “Her dead husband gave his life for our country, you know. He was a hero.”



“Was he rich?”



I looked at him. “I don't think so. Why do you ask?”



He shrugged. “If she's going to fabricate a husband, she might as well go all the way,” he suggested.



“Nah,” I disagreed. “Easy to fake a dead husband, but if he's a rich dead husband and her car gets repossessed, that's going to be hard to explain.”



He laughed. “You have a point.”



I handed him the comic books. He looked them over and nodded with satisfaction, then reached into his pocket for his wallet. He gave me his credit card. I looked at it. William T. Harwood. “New to the neighborhood, Mr. Harwood?” I asked, trying to keep my tone casual. I ran the card through the reader and received a quick approval.



He smiled and nodded. “Call me Will.”



“I'm Charlie.”



He grinned. “You don't look like a Charlie.”



“Charlotte.”



“You don't look like a Charlotte, either.”



I hesitated. “What do I look like, then?” I wanted to know.



He studied me for a moment. “An Annie, maybe. A Dorothy, possibly.”



“A Toto?” I asked.



He shook his head, grinning. “Your ears aren't long enough.”



“Thank Heaven for that,” I said. “Let me guess. You just blew in from Kansas.”



“I had that coming, didn't I?” he asked. “No, actually, I'm from Vermont.”



“Ah, I should have realized—the New England accent.”



“I just moved here last week. I'm postgrad at the university. I'm just getting acclimated before classes start,” he said. “One of the first things on my list was to find a good comic book store.”



“You're a fan,” I guessed. Lame, Charlie, I thought.



“For most of my life.” He took the credit card I returned to him and put it back in his wallet.



“Me too,” I said. “I inherited this place from my grandfather. I grew up here—literally.”



He looked back toward the window again as the funeral procession returned. “Does this sort of thing happen around here often?” he wanted to know.



I laughed. “Better get used to it,” I advised. “It's a community of oddballs.”



He grinned. “The perfect place for a writer.”



“You're a writer?”



“Aspiring,” he said.



“Have you published anything?”



“I haven't finished anything yet.” He was looking toward the bar across the street. “What the—” he started.



I looked, too. One of the regulars was attempting to enter. Tuffy, a pit bull belonging to one of the neighbors, was, as usual, blocking his path. “Tuffy won't let Fred in until Fred buys him a beer,” I explained.



“The dog drinks beer?” Will asked, surprised.



“He's got a bit of a drinking problem,” I confided. “He hits all the guys up for a beer.”



“And they buy them for him?”



“If they want to get into the bar, they do.”



“And if they don't?”



“Depends on how much beer he's already had,” I said. “Tuffy's a mean drunk.”



Will looked at me. “Does he...bite?”



“Oh, yeah,” I said. "Tuffy knows where to bite to inflict the most pain."



He winced. "Ouch."



"I've been thinking of hiring him as my night watchdog," I said then.



"Good call. He'd work cheap. Get him a six pack and he's happy."



I gave him my business card. "Hope your introduction to our more--interesting--residents hasn't scared you off coming back here," I told him.



He grinned. "Quite the contrary, Charlotte. I think I'm going to like it here."



Charlotte? He was going to call me Charlotte?



"Come back soon, Sir Will," I told him.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

First, Second and Third Signs of the Apocalypse?

Something major happened yesterday, though most of you aren't aware of it: a manuscript was completed and two new covers began to take form.

Not a big deal, you say? Happens every day? Sure...but not for me. I can admit it now--I hadn't finished a book since 2009, and wasn't sure I ever would again. Though I don't have grand mal seizures, what I do have has been enough of a headache (literally) to make me wonder if I'd ever publish another book. I could get started, sure--but nothing ever got finished. My brain just wouldn't cooperate for very long. On the good days, I could write a grocery list if it wasn't a long one. I might be able to churn out a short letter or write a blog post or do Facebook posts...but nothing that required any serious degree of thought. It just wasn't there. My muse, like Elvis, had left the building.

I've been praying a lot. I knew God could fix me, and if He didn't, it would be because this wasn't the route He wanted me to take. I struggled. Then, yesterday, a miracle happened (at least it was a miracle to me). I realized I was really, really close to completing Sam's Story and at least halfway through Riding Out the Storm. I had outlined three books in the Unicorn's Daughter series and had a good grip on Superhero in Training. How had this happened without me realizing it?

I was so close, no way was I going to stop now. I put everything else aside and kept writing until I made it to that last page of Sam's Story. Okay, there was a little bit of cheating involved there--the last scene was written months ago. I write like I'm assembling a patchwork quilt. I do it in pieces, and not always in order. Anyway, I was finished! Sure, there's a good degree of fine-tuning to be done, but I finished an entire manuscript!

Then I realized I needed covers and I needed them pronto. I want to post the first few chapters of the second Unicorn's Daughter book and Superhero in Training at Wattpad to (hopefully) generate reader interest. Getting Collin to do that was going to take some major nagging. He once wanted to start a business in creating covers and advertising materials for authors, and he got off to a great start. He was even a semi-finalist in a cover design contest. The problem is that most indie authors can't afford a professional cover artist, and he couldn't do it for free. He'd spent a lot of money on the programs and tools he uses to create those covers, and it's also time consuming. He still does my covers, of course, but his heart's not in it anymore. He has to be pushed.

I pushed. And the result? They, like my manuscript, still need some tweaking, but here they are!



Back Cover Blurb:

She is her father's daughter.

Living up to a legend isn't easy. Sometimes, it's impossible. Jaime Lynde rejected all attempts to recruit her to fill her late father's spy shoes--until 9/11. Realizing the world was now at war with an enemy who fought not on the battlefield, but in our own backyards, on our own streets, she joined the fight--even though the personal cost would be the one thing that mattered most to her. Finally, she understands the sacrifice her father had made so many years ago....

As a rookie intelligence operative, she makes a startling discovery in a chance conversation with a longtime colleague. Is it possible someone within our own government is plotting to kill the President of the United States?




Back Cover Blurb:



Charlie's a talented artist running a comic book store--and running away from her troubled past....


Will is about to get his PhD in psychology but secretly wants to be a comic book writer--if he can find an artist....


And then there's Tuffy.... 


Tuffy's a pitbull with a drinking problem. Most weekends, he ends up sleeping it off at the local pound--but when his human is killed by a mugger, he becomes the unlikely sidekick of a mysterious vigilante who's come to watch over the quirky residents of the small Midwestern college town....


If only AA would accept him, maybe Tuffy could clean up his act....

And then there's Sam's Story--the finished manuscript. The book could be available as early as Christmas. We'll see. That would be nice, but I'm not rushing it. Better to do it right than to do it fast....



Back Cover Blurb:

Hi--my name is Sam. This is my story. Not that the title doesn't make that obvious.

Actually, there are two of us. The first Sam came to my rescue when, alone and frightened in a pet shop, I didn't know where I was going or if I'd be happy and cared for when I got there. He's been my spirit guide through good times and bad in my twenty-one years in this world, after leading me to my human family. Well, some of them are human. One is a potbellied pig with an attitude. Two are dogs, one a bit of a curmudgeon, the other good-hearted but not always the sharpest tool in the shed. There are rabbits--four in all.

I'm telling my story in the hope that it will help you humans out there understand how we--birds, dogs, cats, pigs, and other critters--think feel and love. Mostly, I want to make those of you who think we're disposable to think twice before abandoning us or leaving us at shelters where we will almost certainly die alone and sad. We feel, we love, just like you do. We want to be part of your family....

So...what do y'all think?





Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Dysfunctional Family War Zone Day!

I'm guessing not many of you will be hanging around online today, but for those who do, Happy Thanksgiving!









Friday, November 21, 2014

Okay, Maybe This is a Good Idea After All....

When I started this blog (first over at MySpace and later moving it here to Blogger) some years ago, I wasn't looking for a following. I was just keeping an online journal for myself and for Collin. I'd never been good at that sort of thing, but after watching my mother slip away from us, the result of multiple strokes, watching her memory deteriorate until she no longer recognized either of us, I suddenly wanted to record my memories in case I ended up the same way--unable to remember important things from my life, from my parents' lives. I wanted Collin to be able to come here and share those memories, if he chose.

I do have an author blog over at Wordpress--I didn't want a website, just something simple I could do myself to post information about upcoming books and other author-related stuff. Check out Beishir Books sometime, if you haven't already.

When I started having memory issues, I was convinced I was headed down the road to dementia...or Alzheimers. It was a relief when my neurologist, after ordering an EEG and an MRI, assured me that I'm not even close to that.



My brain--please, no jokes about that wide, vacant space inside my skull. I'm told that's "normal."




My EEG--William (Kendall) says it looks like a seismograph of the San Andreas faultline!

Nor did I intend to do a "writer blog." Yes, I have almost thirty years of experience as a published author, but I'm not quick to give advice to other writers these days for three reasons: 1. There's no one size fits all formula for writing and marketing a book, no guaranteed formula for success. 2. I don't believe writing can be taught. At least not fiction writing. Either you're a storyteller or you're not, and you can learn more by reading your favorite authors than you'll ever get from any class. 3. Patience isn't my strong suit. I've encountered aspiring writers who think they already know all there is to know about writing an publishing a book because they read a lot of how to books on writing or they've taken an online course. If they're not willing to take advice, I'm not going to waste my time giving it...though I am more than willing to issue the "I-told-you-sos" when they screw up. (Yep, I'm bad.)

However, in the past couple of weeks, I've done two posts that were writing-related, and the responses have been overwhelming. So I'm thinking, maybe I do have something to say that might matter to someone. Maybe a weekly writing-related post here and at Beishir Books might prove informative (or at the very least, give you all a good laugh!). If it's helpful to even one person, I'm good with that. Because of my brain issues, I've had to make some adjustments in the way I work. It takes longer. I have to use an outline now. I can't set deadlines for myself. There are good days and bad days. But I'm still in the game, and if anyone else has these issues, maybe I can help there as well. 

But I don't want to just impart my own advice and experiences. I'll be spotlighting my fellow authors and bloggers as well--in profiles, interviews or guest posts. I'm sure it will surprise no one that my first spotlight writer/blogger will be my partner in crime for the past five years, William Kendall....


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Unwritten Rules of the Game (Seriously. There Are Rules!)

I love writers.

Seriously. Nobody understands a writer like other writers. Creative people don't think like normal people. (Stop snickering!) Our brains are wired differently. Don't believe me? It's been researched by psychologists, neurologists, and probably a lot of other disciplines I'm currently unaware of. But that's another topic for another time. Maybe.


Writers support each other. We listen to each other whine and complain when things aren't going well. We celebrate each others' successes. We promote each others' books. We follow each others' blogs and like each others' Facebook pages. We retweet each others' Tweets. Sure, there are always a few rotten apples, even in the literary barrel--those who give nothing but expect everything--but for the most part, we're there for each other. Years ago, when I was starting out, a group of us got together once a month for dinner, during which we'd share publishing info and bounce ideas off each other. We traveled to writers conferences together. 

One of the best bits of advice my agent gave me shortly after the sale of my first novel was to join a local writers group. She stressed the importance of networking, of getting to know other writers. She was so right. No one, not even a writer, is an island. The more writers I got to know, the more I realized how much I didn't know about "the business."



I've been fortunate to have had good friends in the writers community throughout the almost thirty years I've been in the business, first in traditional publishing, then as a self-published author. And I've learned a great deal from each of them....

1. Read each others' books--and review them! If you expect other authors to review your book, you'd better be reviewing theirs, too. (And if you're reviewing books in your genre, readers will see those reviews and be more likely to buy yours, so think about that. When I post a review, my name is always followed  by "author, The Unicorn's Daughter" since that book is now the first in an upcoming series.)


2. Same goes for blogs. If you're not reading and commenting on others' blogs, yours is going to be a pretty lonely place. Again, when you're seen making clever comments on other bloggers' blogs, their followers are likely to check out yours. That's how I found some of my favorite bloggers.

3. Promote each others' books. Invite other authors to guest post on your blog--or interview them. For my Amazon author page, I used an interview my partner in crime, William Kendall, did with me. It was a lot more interesting than the standard author bio!


4. Invite other authors to join you in promotions.  Example: Hilary Grossman, author of Dangled Carat (which, by the way, is now on sale at Amazon!). Hilary is an inspiration. She was working on her book when a rather nasty hurricane named Sandy hit the east coast. I remember Hilary's struggles in the aftermath of Sandy's devastation--but she finished her book, published it, and went on to arrange a couple of successful book giveaways--not only to promote her own book, but those of her friends as well. I was honored to be asked to participate--and pleased with the boost in sales I got each time.


A few years back, William Kendall, Mike Saxton, Beth Muscat, Krisztina Williams, Eve Gaal, Shelly Arkon, Mark Richard Hunter, April Morone, Lena Winfrey Seder and I formed Writers of Mass Distraction in the Writers Digest online community, a group where we could laugh, bitch and moan, whatever was needed, and have friendly ears listening and providing sympathy, advice and a few cyberhugs as needed. When the WD community went extinct, we moved the group to Facebook, adding a second group, Writers Mayhem, which we opened to a larger membership than the original group. We've had to boot a few bad apples from that group, but overall, it's been a success.


Get a bunch of writers together and we'll put a Shriners convention to shame. After being alone with our own thoughts and a cast of uncooperative characters for days on end, we need the release. Be patient with us. Sanity doesn't come easily to writers!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Magic Formula to Becoming a Bestselling Author--There Isn't One!

Recently, I commented on a Facebook post, a link to a Buzzfeed story: 14 Books Every English Major Has Definitely, Totally Finished. Okay, first off, the title sounds like it was concocted by a teenager--"definitely, totally?" Talk about overkill! Not something one would expect of an English major, right?


To be fair, I wasn't an English major. I started out an English major--but I switched to communications early on. I'm one of those authors who believes we don't learn to be writers in a classroom--we learn by reading authors whose works we love, authors writing in the genres we want to write. By the time I went to college, I'd already been told by an editor at a major publishing house that I had talent, I just wasn't ready for the commercial market. And at the time I wrote it, I'd dropped out of high school. I only ended up in college because of an accident (long story).

To this day, I wonder how much of that editorial assessment had to do with the embarrassing fact that I'd stupidly submitted a handwritten manuscript!

In my defense, I was only sixteen at the time. Brains haven't completely formed at that age. But I'm getting off track here. Back to the claim that every English major has read the fourteen books on that list. I've read five of them. Maybe if I'd stuck with that English major, I would have read all of them--but probably not by choice.

The article made me think about how many of today's bestselling authors were English majors and what they did before they were authors. Here's some of what I found....


Not all of the biggest names in fiction even went to college. Nora Roberts didn't. Neither did Janet Dailey, Jackie Collins or Jacqueline Susann (who had an IQ of 140). Roberts was a legal secretary; Dailey worked as a secretary at her husband's construction business. Collins and Susann tried their hands at acting, with mediocre results. 

 
Stephen King and Dan Brown were English majors, and both were teachers before publishing their first novels. Stephenie Meyer also has a degree in English from Brigham Young University--but ended up working as a receptionist. Laurell K. Hamilton has degrees in both English and biology. Tom Clancy majored in English literature at Loyola University, but was working at an insurance agency owned by his then-wife's grandfather when he wrote The Hunt for Red October.






John Grisham and Scott Turow are lawyers--though Turow was also an Edith Mirrelees Fellow at the Creative Writing Center at Stanford and taught creative writing at Stanford as an E. H. Jones Lecturer before attending Harvard Law School. Danielle Steel studied fashion design and worked in public relations. Janet Evanovich was an art major at Douglass College at Rutgers, but ended up working as a temp until she launched her writing career. J. K. Rowling has a degree in French and Classics and worked as a researcher and bilingual secretary for Amnesty International--but was on welfare at the time she created Harry Potter. Meg Cabot has a Bachelor of Fine Arts and once worked as a residence hall director. Daniel Silva has a Masters in International Relations and worked as a correspondent for United Press International before he became a bestselling author. George R. R. Martin majored in journalism at Northwestern and was a story editor /story consultant/producer for TV shows including The Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast in his pre-Game of Thrones career. The late Sidney Sheldon also attended Northwestern and, like Martin, had a career in Hollywood before writing his first novel because he had an idea he felt wouldn't work as a screenplay.



Novelists come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. It doesn't require a degree in English, Literature or Creative Writing to have a successful career as a novelist. When I sold my first novel, nobody asked me to submit a resume or academic credits. They only cared about the manuscript--and that one was typed!