Monday, July 23, 2018

Book Review: The Baggage Carousel

Sometimes when you re-read a favorite novel from years ago, it doesn't hold up. That was not the case with David Olner's The Baggage Carousel, a novel I first read on a writing site before it was published. I believe the gist of my critique was: "Get this published!" I'm glad he decided to take my stellar advice. ;)

In this novel, the super-flawed main character falls in love on a back-packing trip to Africa. When the object of his affection makes promises and then proceeds to ignore his emails, Dan's heartbreak turns obsessive. In alternating narrative, the reader also gets to know Amber, who is on the edge of vapid, but still manages to be sympathetic. The two narrate different timelines so that the story unfolds as a puzzle and the missing piece isn't delivered until the very end.

Throughout, the quality of the writing stands out. Dan is darkly witty, his tangents from the main plot not only illuminate his character, but are fun to read. The way it's organized is especially clever and the ending comes together like a lightning bolt. Of course, you think as if you saw the twist coming, though you didn't. The ending is terribly satisfying, with just enough pain and the requisite growth from each character.

I highly recommend this book.

Friday, May 4, 2018

This Is How I Write

It was during my last semester of college that I was introduced to "creative nonfiction" and that was the bridge that led me to write fiction (after years of writing angsty, introspective poetry). People who know me well can find the sections in my novels that have been "stolen" from real life. The danger in writing autobiographical fiction is that people begin to make assumptions about the rest of the novel. All of my characters are created from fragments of actual people, but none of my characters are based on a single person. So if someone recognizes themselves in my fiction, the risk is that they will think everything about that character is based on how I think of them.

In my second novel, A Long Thaw, there's a section where Abby is creating a collage. It's an apt metaphor for the way I write:
This is her hobby. She pretends that it’s soothing to create collages on the covers of photo albums or journals. The truth is that she stresses over them, fitting the pieces together like a schizophrenic puzzle. A long triangle of a navy blue satin gown, the sun setting on a horizon, a pair of eyes clotted with mascara, a phrase usually from an advertisement for cosmetic surgery, something like be your best, disempowerment repackaged, out of context. She gives them as gifts, personalized.
It's funny; I didn't recognize the symmetry when I wrote this. It was not intentional. But this is the way I write, taking something true and repackaging it, changing the context so that it means something different in the story than it meant in my life.  

The other part of the metaphor is the way that I often present my writing as a pleasurable hobby -- and there is a significant element of pleasure that I get from it -- but the truth is more complicated. My writing is something I stress over, fitting the pieces together, peeling them apart, resetting the glue. The pleasure comes in fits and starts, sometimes only with the relief of having it done.

Right now, my current work in progress is eating at me. I think about these made up people all day. I decorate their kitchens and imagine their first heartbreaks and research their path through dental school. They're with me, always, nagging at me to finish their stories.

And on that note, I need to go write about a kitchen. While I'm working on that, join my newsletter for updates and giveaways!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Making an Audiobook

The first thing to figure out when making an audiobook is whether you have (or can get) the rights. Since my publisher, Kindle Press, owns the rights, I had to ask for a "rights reversion". Check your contract. Many publishers retain the audiobook rights for a shorter period of time than the other book rights. I sent an email and had them back within a week.

There are currently a lot of different options for audiobook platforms, as far as production and distribution. Every author needs to consider the pros and cons of each and decide what works best for them. Everyone is different. I can't tell you which option to choose, but here's a helpful guide that compares the most common platforms.

The publisher of my first novel, Monsoon Season, made an audio version in 2012, but this is my first foray into audiobook creation. Since I have several books, I might try a few different methods and compare the results, but for my first attempt, I chose the option with the least risk.

I didn't want to spend any money up front so I did a royalty split with the narrator. The website allows you to search for narrators based on various criteria: gender, accent, payment options considered, etc. You can listen to sample auditions, then email select narrators to ask them to audition for a section of your book, which you upload to the site. I chose a section that included several characters so I could hear the variation.

The narrator I chose, Kaitlin Chin, is fantastic. The process of making this book was so much fun and she made it a fresh experience for someone who has read the book a thousand times. Kaitlin embodies the two main characters so well and her performance is captivating.

I hope you'll check out the audio book for Finding Charlie.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Kindle Scout Sale

In 2015, I won the crowd-sourcing competition at Kindle Scout with my novel Finding Charlie. Since then, it has sold over 10,000 copies. Unfortunately, the program is coming to a close, which is a real loss to the writing community. Publishing is always changing and it seems like here are fewer and fewer opportunities for unagented writers to get discovered. I guess it makes those of us who made it quite an elite group.

This week, Kindle Press is having a 99 cent sale for Scout books. Here are a few.

It isn't like Charlie to stay out all night without calling, but maybe Olivia doesn't know her little sister as well as she thought. 
When Charlie vanishes without warning, the people who love her are worried sick. Even if the law considers her an adult at nineteen, Charlie's still the baby of her already broken family. Older sister Olivia is determined to figure out what's happened. She finds a lost cell phone, an abandoned car and a shady boyfriend she's never met before. And he's not the only secret Charlie's been keeping.
This disappearance feels uncomfortably familiar, reminding Olivia and her father of another loss years before. But this will be different, Olivia swears. Charlie's coming back.

John Ballard is a PI with a condition. One in a million born with a sensitivity. He absorbs the memories of whatever or whoever he touches, whether he wants to or not.  He's an outcast - one that's useful to the cops - but it makes for an isolated life.
Called in to consult on a gruesome and inexplicably artistic murder, it's clear that only someone with his gift can hope to solve it... But absorbing the memories of the body is going to send John's life spiralling out of control.
He'll cross every line. He'll betray everyone who trusts him. Because he doesn't just want to find the killer - he needs to find her - as the only thing that's clear about the woman behind the crime is that she's a sensitive too. 
And the more he learns about this mysterious woman that shares his gift,the more he's convinced he's in love with her, and will do whatever it takes to keep the police off her scent...

Welcome to Bettendorf. At first glance, it seems like a typical Midwestern town, but take a closer look and you might be surprised.
High schooler Jack Davies sees the darkness coming; he lives with it. Cold voices call out from the closet door; dead hands reach up from under his bed. Although he doesn't know it, Jack wields a great power.
Now, a smooth-talking preacher has come to town promising freedom and redemption for all who follow his words. But like Jack, this preacher has a secret. Those who heed his call find themselves pawns in his plan to awaken an ancient evil, long ago imprisoned in the dank caves of Devils Glen Park.
With the help of a widowed police officer, a babysitter, and a mysterious spirit called Ava, Jack must find the truth about his hidden power in time to battle the dark forces that have descended upon his town. If he fails, our world will be cast into darkness forever.

After surviving life as a POW for 6 months in Afghanistan, the thirty-three-year-old Highlander forsook his medical and military career in favor of running his family’s internationally renowned art gallery in London, The Blue Dot. When he meets Laetitia Galen, a powerful and sizzling attraction ignites between them. 
Laetitia fled hell on earth when she was sixteen. Now she works as a well-paid housekeeper in a remote country manor in Warwickshire and sells her paintings in an obscure gallery. To preserve her new life and hard-earned peace, she resists Tavish and The Blue Dot's offer of an exclusive contract. 
Laetitia becomes Tavish’s obsession—Tavish is Laetitia’s unattainable dream. Meanwhile, a man with a burning grudge plots his long-awaited revenge. He could destroy them all over again.

Macey's first day in the college employee relations department ends with a knife at her throat. 
Macey is certain things can't get any worse. She's wrong. An angry employee vows to put her on an online hit list. When he turns up dead, she's a suspect--and on the hit list. 
To keep her secrets and her life, Macey partners with two unexpected allies who cause her pulse to race with steamy attraction--and exasperating annoyance. Vince, a handsome, driven lawman, digs up more than just clues to the brutal murder. Brett, a fun-loving pathologist with a deadly sense of humor, drives everyone crazy with his fart machine-will travel. Macey's supersized black cat Wikket, possessing courage, curiosity, and crankiness in equal portions, assists in his own grumpy, feline fashion, golden eyes open and claws extended.   

Psychological thriller
Everyone agreed Evelyn Marsh wouldn't hurt a fly, but they didn't count on a mother's ferocity, nor the fury of a woman scorned. Written in  the spirit of Patricia Highsmith (Strangers  on a Train; The Talented Mr. Ripley), Evelyn Marsh begins with the provocative statement that "Evelyn's first murder was an accident." The rest of the book exists to explain the implication embedded in that first line. A psychological character study, it's a why-done-it and how-done-it, instead of a who-done-it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Book Review: Little Fires Everywhere

Celeste Ng's first novel, Everything I Never Told You, blew me away. It would have been hard for Little Fires Everywhere to top it, and it didn't, but it was still enjoyable and thoughtful and impressive in so many ways.

On the Amazon site, the book has been reviewed nearly 2000 times, and the vast majority are four and five stars. Even three star reviews are respectable, in my opinion. What's shocking to me is the 4% of reviewers who felt this book deserved one star. Have they ever read a one star quality book? I have and this isn't it. The one star review should be reserved for books that never should have been published in the first place, not a book you just didn't connect with. Celeste Ng is an amazing writer who couldn't write a one star book if she tried.

Rant over.

I saw Ng at the Tucson Festival of Books this past weekend where she discussed this novel, which is being made into a TV show starring Reese Witherspoon. Having loved her HBO adaptation of Big Little Lies, I'm really looking forward to it.

Little Fires Everywhere is set in the nineties in Shaker Heights - an affluent, planned community that prides itself on its liberalism. The major conflict centers around the abandonment of a Chinese baby and her subsequent adoption by a wealthy, white couple. Ng explores issues of class and race and motherhood in a way that challenges the reader to ask questions without supplying answers.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Tucson Festival of Books: Julia Glass

So, I'm pushing forty and this is the first time I've gotten someone's autograph. Julia Glass is in my top five all-time favorite authors. I've read all her books once, The Whole World Over three times.

In each of my own novels, I make reference to one of the writers I most admire. In Finding Charlie, it's this scene of Olivia reading in her back yard:
"I was reading the latest novel by Julia Glass. She was delving deeper into the lives of characters who had been on the edges of her earlier work. I liked this idea: we are all peripheral characters in someone else’s story and every peripheral character is the lead in their own."
This is the way I write too - standalone stories with overlapping characters. No one does it better than Julia Glass, who was one of several inspiring authors at this year's Festival of Books. (But again, the only one whose autograph I just had to have!)

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

LitChat. Part Two: publishing

Yesterday's post was getting too long so I split the interview into two chunks. What follows is more about publishing.

(These chats used to be archived. Mary Vensel White asked such good questions, I couldn't just let it get lost in the void!)

MVW: You’re what we call these days a “hybrid author,” meaning, you’ve published books in a variety of ways. Your first novel, Monsoon Season, was published by Canvas then you self-published A Long Thaw. Your third, Finding Charlie was published by Amazon as a Kindle Scout winner and with B&W, you decided to self-publish again. 

KO: actually, A Long Thaw was initially published by canvas. it was part of my original 3 book deal. when i got out of my contract with them, i rereleased it on my own. but since it had already been through the traditional editing process, all i had to do was get a new cover and put it on amazon. it helped me get a sense of what self-publishing is about, but I feel like Blood & Water is my first real experience launching a book on my own.

MVW: Do you think the publishing landscape has changed in recent years to allow authors more diversity and autonomy in the ways they put forward their work?

KO: i do. i still worry that the ease of self-publishing has flooded the market with unpolished work, making it harder for some writers to get noticed and make a living. but it has also made the process democratic, allowing consumers to decide what they're going to read instead of being told by publishing houses that might not be willing to take a chance on something not easily categorized. now writers are free to find their audience regardless of whether a publisher thinks they can. 

MVW: What was your experience like with the traditional publisher, Canvas, with your first novel? What were some benefits of being supported by an established publishing house? Were there any downsides?

KO: i was unhappy with my first publisher. i had very little control over the cover or how my work was promoted. there were long stretches of time when no one returned my emails and i assumed the book had tanked and the others might never be published- only to find out 6 months later, via an accounting letter, that Monsoon Season had sold 10000 copies. i was new to the publishing world and a lot of people thought i was crazy for getting out of that contract, but the lack of personal connection to people i’d trusted with my ‘babies’ felt wrong.  

i think the benefits can be more power behind you in sales, though it isn’t guaranteed and i didn’t get that with the 2nd book. the other benefit is some degree of respect. in a sea of self-published books, it can give you some credibility that you made it past the gate keepers.

MVW: How does an author take advantage of Amazon’s Kindle Scout program and what does publication with them look like? Do they assist with marketing and sales? Did you have any control over the final product?

KO: i think Kindle Scout is the best of both worlds. i got to design the cover and write the book my way; they provide editing, an advance and marketing. they even got me a Bookbub ad this summer. 2 years after publication, they’re still promoting the book and it’s done really well.  

MVW: You’ve returned to self-publishing twice. What do you enjoy about the process? What advice would you give to authors considering publishing their own work?

KO: i’ve found i like the marketing part better than i thought i would. it didn’t come naturally, but i’ve been figuring it out over the past 5-6 years. publishing is always changing and there’s new stuff to learn. i like the challenge but it’s time consuming. if you’re serious about doing the work to find your audience, it’s like taking on a 2nd job on top of writing.  

MVW: What are you working on now and when can we look forward to reading it? Will you continue writing books with these characters?

KO: i often go through a phase when i’ve just finished a book that i think i might never write again, but i just started working on something last week. i think it’s too new to articulate what it might be. if any of my characters decide they have more to say, i’ll be writing it down. the thing i’ve learned is that no story’s ever really over.

Please check out the first post in this series, on writing.