Saturday, August 20, 2011

Press Pause Moments Anthology Receives Awards

Press Pause Moments (published last September) is a collection of tales written by women that reflect upon change, adversity and celebration. My contribution, "The Great Motorcycle Spirit," is a sometimes funny, sometimes wistful look at the transitions in my life, as seen from the vantage point of riding a motorcycle.

Now Press Pause has been awarded the 2011 Clarion Award from the Association for Women in Communications in the category of best books & CD-ROMs/DVDs.

The Clarion awards is a renowned competition named for the medieval trumpet known for its clarity, and symbolizes excellence in clear, concise communications. This year's competition drew entries from 30 states, three countries, and 90 Clarion awards have been awarded. We hear the competition was tough!

Congrats to the other 34 contributors and to Anne Witkavitch, publisher and driving force behind the book!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Pair of Biker Novels

Since many of my readers know I am a biker chick, I am often asked if I'm going to write about motorcycling. (And, in fact, I have published two essays about life lessons learned from riding a motorcycle.)

I have to admit, it seems a bit daunting. I mean, how can you write 50,000 words about motorcycling - and have it be interesting and compelling? What kind of plot and characters would I need to work it around (since my novels tend to be about how a character changes over the course of some major event in his/her life)?

In recent weeks, I've picked up a couple of "Biker Novels" to see what other writers have done with the idea of motorcycling + fiction.

I have to say, both books were disappointing. Both books were geared toward African Americans and featured black (or mixed racial) characters. I have no problem with that, except that I don't get all the lingo, and it makes it harder for me to follow the story.

Both were liberal with the sex and vulgarity. Not that I'm against that in fiction, either, but when it gets in the way of the story ... well, what's the point then? I can read that stuff anywhere. I don't need to read swear words on every page, nor do I buy that every chick in the story is a ho and hey, they enjoy it!

The first book was published by a small press that caters to African-Americans (from what I can tell; their About Us page is blank). The main character in the book had a believable 'voice' and personality (some fire and some weakness) that I liked – at first. I expected the point of the story to be how she changed based on what she went through; but I couldn't really see much change in the end. I felt a little cheated that I'd spent all that time with a character I thought would learn something and become a better person.

The second novel was an example of why self-published authors get a bad reputation.

The book was full of typos, misspellings, and jumping from one character's point to view to another (often from one paragraph to another). There were places the wrong character name was used, characters with more than one name (confusing!) and even a character with different last names (I assume that was an error). I couldn't tell who was speaking half the time. A simple read-through by someone with a little editorial sense would have caught much of it. I don’t think that's too much to ask.

The plot should have been compelling, but there was so much confusion over who was doing what, and so much bragging about how "fine" he or she was (or certain parts of the body, or rough or flat-out violent sexual acts), that I almost quit reading.

And then there was the ending. It was building up, the mystery was unraveling, and then the climax (a character getting killed) and ... THE END. There was no resolution; everything was left in the air. It felt like the author got tired of the book and just decided to stop at page 307.

This book was published in 2008, and I see the author has a sequel out now. Even if you knew you were going to write a sequel, you need to wrap up some of the aspects of the story, or leave off at a logical point. There was just no reader satisfaction whatsoever (and no, I don't plan to read the sequel).

So, was I looking in the wrong places? Is there intelligent fiction that just happens to have a motorcycle-riding character at its center? Do I have to write it? (And I'm back to the daunting thing again…)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Book Review: Pearl Maker

I can't remember how I heard about Pearl Maker by C.C. Wharton. But somehow I came to own a copy, which has been on my nightstand for several months.

I spent this past weekend on vacation at my dad's lake place, and took the book with me. I finished it in three days. Here are some of my thoughts.

The premise of Pearl Maker is excellent: a high-school English teacher is kidnapped (along with two of her students) and raped by the low-life assigned to guard them. During an escape attempt, the teacher is forced to make a split-second decision: it's her or her captor. The aftermath of her decision throws her into a quest for moral clarity whilst going through a murder trial.

There is a strong Christian overtone to the book (which I happened to like), and I got to root for the heroine as she struggled with herself. I love that in a book (especially when it ends on a positive note).

Now for the problems. The first is one I see beginning writers make all the time, which is to have too many points of view. At times, the point of view changed paragraph by paragraph. I would have to re-read to find out whose head I was in now.

Closely related to that: to much telling. Don't tell me what the character's feeling: SHOW me with the character's actions.

I felt there were too many "extemporaneous" characters - ones that don't really impact the direction of the story or the character's development (the teacher's Senator uncle comes to mind). They clutter up the pages and make the 'real' story harder to follow. And (again closely related): it makes it harder to really flesh out the main characters. Consequently, I felt the characters were somewhat stilted and a bit too stereotypical. (The teacher's minister friend comes to mind - he seemed to have NO bad habits or weaknesses - too good to be true.)

Would I read another book by this author? Yes. Because I think she'll get better!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What's in a Title?

I recently sent my proposed book title to my writer's group, and asked them to chime in with any thoughts or mental images the title inferred to them.

I purposely did not provide them any visual images (that is, the proposed cover of the book).

Responses were pretty much across the 'romance' related spectrum, from historical to erotic to inspirational. (Of course, they may also have been influenced by the fact that they know me and in some cases, have read my work.)

What was NOT mentioned was any sort of military theme. So what should I glean from that?

Everyone knows a book's cover is VERY important. It may have more of an impact on compelling a reader to buy the book than the title. So my cover art really needs to impart that 'side' of the story - that the main character is a military officer. (And if possible, to communicate the multiple meanings behind the word 'surrender' in the title.)

To that end, I took a fresh look at the proposed cover (done back in January) and am pleased with what I see. It does not have as much color as I tend to prefer, but the more I look at it, the more I like it. It says what I need it to say.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Virtual Assistant?

Whether a publisher picks up True Surrender, or I self-publish, marketing is largely up to me. For almost two years now I've thought I would find more time, but our family business has continued to grow (and in fact, experienced some growing pains, requiring my time and energy).

And so have my kids! :-)

I wasn't able to be consistent in markting Last Chance Rescue, and I'm sure that hurt sales. But perhaps more to the point, the entire book-buying experience is different than it was three years ago. Back then there was no Kindle, no SmashWords, no iPhone Apps ... and Barnes & Noble didn't "consider" self-published books (huh).

And though it's not like I have any sort of budget for this, I'm seriously considering hiring a "virtual assistant" to help me market my books. That is probably the only way I'd ever be able to market AND continue to write...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Music MP3 "Samples" Are Live

It was fun to work on Mark's new album (Built to Bust), but it's even more fun to hear it complete!

The official "release date" is July 1, but since I've got the inside track, I've got them already. You can hear "samples" of four songs on my web site!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Developing as a Writer

Lately I've found myself somewhat uninspired. True Surrender is still at the publisher (which means it's "done" unless they say they want it and ask for changes). And nothing has really jumped out at me in recent weeks saying "work on me, work on me!"

So today I opened a rather OLD writing file - some of my very early writing from 2002-2003. I was curious if any of it was decent.

The verdict is still out on that ... this piece has a lot of bouncing from one head to another (one of the big issues I had to work on when I got serious about writing) that would need to be re-flowed. Some of the scenes have merit but the plot would need a whole lot of revision (which may render the scenes moot), and in fact, might not be as plausible as I'd prefer. (It IS fiction, but I do like a certain level of believeability - it's why I've done things like air medical ride-alongs and interviewing search-and-rescue personnel.)

What I did like: the characters (although a bit stereotypical and stilted at times). And that might just be what resurrects this piece some day. Or, I may "borrow" a a character (or two) and place them in another story. Or "break it up" and use parts of it differently.

At any rate, it was an interesting exercise!