Friday, January 30, 2015

IT STARTED WITH TEARS



My guest is, historical romance author, Gwyn Cready. She has a fabulous Scottish tale of love, laughter, and tears--that's just the book. How she began writing seriously is yet another tale of tears, but I'll let her tell you about that.

Sia says to share the laughter and the tears, so I’m going to share the story about how I became a writer. It’s something I get asked whenever I do a talk, and I understand why. I’m always fascinated about how people ended up in whatever profession they’re in. 

I have a friend who went into advertising because he wanted to be like Cary Grant in North by Northwest. When I went to graduate school in business, I wasn’t sure what I’d concentrate in until I went to a talk given by a brand manager from Frito-Lay. The brand manager was talking about the launch of a new ridged potato chip called O’Grady’s, and the company has launched with a plain version and a Cheddar version. One of the students in the audience raised their hand and asked why the first flavor after plain was Cheddar. The brand manager looked around, a bit surprised anyone would even have to ask this, I guess. “Oh, honey,” she said, “the cheese-flavored segment is the fastest growing segment in the salty snack market.” And that’s the moment I knew I had to become a brand manager.

So I did. And life was good until, my younger sister, Claire, died without warning. She was 31, and my only sister. I was devastated.

I wanted to do something to honor her memory. My sister was a photographer and a poet—a hippie punk rocker with floppy hats, gypsy skirts, and patchouli perfume. We couldn’t have been more different. In a perfect world, or perhaps a different world, I would have named a child after her. And if my husband and I had had no children or even just one child at the time of Claire’s death, that’s what we would have done. But we’d already had our two and didn’t want a third, even to honor my sister. So I thought about what the next best thing to do to honor her memory might be, and the answer was obvious. The next best thing would be to try to create a piece of art and dedicate it to her. And since the only talent I had that even approached something like art was writing. I couldn’t paint, draw, sculpt, dance, act, design or build. But I thought I could maybe try to write a book.

 I had recently read a book given to me by a friend, a book that affected me more than any other book I’d ever read. It was a sweeping love story with the bravest, most honorable man I’d ever encountered in a story. And he fell in love with a woman named Claire. The book was Outlander. I’d never read a romance before, and I didn’t even know I was reading one until I had to hunt down the sequel in the bookstore and couldn’t find it under “Fiction.” In one of the last conversations I had with my sister, I joked with her about Outlander because the man in the story was named Jamie, and my sister had dated a Jamie for many years. Jamie and Claire. Claire and Jamie. I told my sister I’d lend her my copy. I never got a chance.

Within a month of my sister’s death, I started to write a romance novel, and if I was ever lucky enough to get it published, I would dedicate it to my sister.

That was 1997. For six years, I wrote when I could in the evenings and on the weekends. My kids and my job required a lot of my time. When I finished the book in 2003, I sent it out and found an agent. She tried to sell it for a year and a half to no avail. She encouraged me to write a second one.

The first book had been a historical romance requiring a lot of research. I decided I could leverage the research I’d done but still write faster if I tried my hand at time travel romance instead. I also found that a heroine from the present day allowed me to write in my own voice, which turned out to be a rather funny one. I finished the second book in “only” two years. My agent loved it, and it sold it in a two-book deal. That was 2006. In January, 2008, Tumbling Through Time came out, ten and a half years from the time I started writing. The dedication read, “For Claire, who would have laughed.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

From RITA winner Gwyn Cready comes a Scottish borderlands time travel romance perfect for fans of Outlander

For Duncan MacHarg, things just got real…


Battle reenactor and financier Duncan MacHarg thinks he has it made—until he lands in the middle of a real Clan Kerr battle and comes face to face with their beautiful, spirited leader. Out of time and out of place, Duncan must use every skill he can muster to earn his position among the clansmen and in the heart of the devastatingly intriguing woman to whom he must pledge his oath.

Abby needs a hero and she needs him now


When Abigail Ailich Kerr sees a handsome, mysterious stranger materialize in the midst of her clan’s skirmish with the English, she’s stunned to discover he’s the strong arm she’s been praying for. Instead of a tested fighter, the fierce young chieftess has been given a man with no measurable battle skills and a damnably distracting smile. And the only way to get rid of him is to turn him into a Scots warrior herself—one demanding and intimate lesson at a time.


 
Rafflecoptor: Sign up to win a copy

                                                                                                                                                                


Gwyn Cready is the RITA-winning author of sexy, funny romance novels. Her newest book, Just in Time for a Highlander, is the first in the Sirens of the Scottish Borderlands series. In the book, a young but determined clan chieftess seeks a strong arm to help her command her clan, but when a fortune teller's spell goes awry, she finds herself with a dashing man from the twenty-first century instead. Find out more at cready.com
 







Wednesday, January 28, 2015

STICKY NOTES FROM THE PUBLISHER'S DESK





It is said that you never really understand a situation until you’ve been on both sides. For example, you’ll never fully grasp the complex dynamics between parent and child until you’ve been both a snotty teenager and a harried parental unit. In that spirit, here are some random thoughts about the relationship between authors and publishers. To a large extent, being a writer
is a tough, thankless job. If the point of writing is making money, then, for us mere mortals, our time would be better spent working in a fast food restaurant or pushing a purloined shopping cart while gathering hub caps beside the highway.

Stairway Press will sell book number 20,000 in the next couple of weeks and sales are growing nicely. Is that a lot or a little? No one with a Manhattan zip code will be impressed, but we’re learning and getting more in tune with the business each year.

Like any other commercial venture, it is the tough-minded that succeed. As publisher, it gives us no pleasure to reject a project and it’s even harder when the writing is excellent. However, we’d die if we printed everything that came in. We have to match our limited resources with the capacity of the production pipeline and the end markets we know we can reach.

It’s interesting how often we’re not in the business we thought we were. You might think the true job of a successful writer is sitting at a desk netting words floating in space, but the real job is marketing. Your skills in promotion, outreach and closing sales is more important than creativity, grammar, spelling and syntax. Ouch, that hurts, particularly since writing skills can be learned—whereas marketing is more a matter of nature. Are you glib, outgoing, fearless and charismatic? To some extent, you can fake these characteristics, but people are sensitive to the insincere. You can learn useful tactics and make the most of what you have, but generally, these facets of your personality are baked into your DNA and upbringing.


From our point of view, what optimizes your chances of getting our attention and landing an offer?



First of all, the writing should be clean. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but we will reject a project that requires a lot of editing work. The closer the book is to being print-ready, the better. In addition, it’s a cliché, but bad writing can be fixed while boring writing is hopeless.

Secondly, there has to be a market we can reach. We don’t know anything about erotica, romance, Westerns or children’s books. Beyond that, generally speaking, poetry, memoirs and thinly veiled autobiographies are hopeless. Do a little research and make sure the publisher works in your genre, otherwise, you’re wasting your time and theirs. We’re sensitized to things that molest our precious time.

Project an attitude of competence and good cheer. Do you enjoy working with grumpy, never-satisfied people who are eternally angry? We don’t either. In addition, one thing we watch for is people who have strong ideas about how other people should act. We want you to do your job as writer and let us do our jobs as editors, cover designers and publishers. Our customers are the readers and it’s them to whom we cater. Can you imagine having twenty or a hundred authors bombarding you with commands and requests? In service of our own mental health, we’ll simply not allow that to happen.

Make your pitch as personal as possible. Don’t pretend to know us if you don’t, but if you met us somewhere or came across some of our work somewhere, let us know. It’s easier to dispense with a query from someone we don’t know. It’s surprising how often a query comes in and the author or agent has zero idea about what we do. How long does it take to get a sense of us? Spend two minutes looking at our website. That would put you ahead of many queries. That said, we don’t like false familiarity. No phony sucking up, please.

This is sad to say, but marketing hooks are more important than the writing quality. We’re impressed when an author knows their audience and has intelligent thoughts about how to engage with a sales strategy we believe can work.

We get so many submissions that our main goal is to dispense with them as quickly as possible. We’re on high-alert for reasons to reject a query or manuscript because it’s efficient and makes us feel less guilt. Project yourself into the role of the publisher. We’re panning for gold and itching to get on with productive tasks like working on the projects in the pipeline or watching cat videos on YouTube.  Make sure your sales pitch has no red flags—things justifying a quick, guilt-free decision not to engage.
Writing is a service industry. Our customers are people who buy books to learn things and to pass time. Competition is brutal: not only do we have to compete with hundreds of thousands of new books each year, but we also have to compete with every other book ever published in history. This is not a business for the weak-of-heart.

Do you want to be a guaranteed success as an author? It’s simple enough; just scale your expectations to the things you can control. Take pleasure in the written word and your work and don’t take yourself too seriously. For everything beyond that? Take nothing for granted and savor every external marker of success, no matter how small. Don’t let your feeling of entitlement and hunger for success ruin your appetite for small victories. Suppose you work your whole life and only sell one book? What’s wrong with that? If you can’t be happy with what you got, you ain’t going to be happy with what you’re gonna get.

                                                                                                                                                                
 
Ken Coffman is the publisher at Stairway Press. The Sandcastles of Irakkistan is his latest novel. The publishing portfolio can be studied at StairwayPress.com. He can often be found pushing a shopping cart filled with scrap metal along the Monterrey Highway in San Jose, California.

Monday, January 26, 2015

MONDAYS MUSING—ODDS AND ENDS





I’m late in getting this up and my apologies. Mondays are usually my day off but this morning wasn’t one of those Mondays. I had to work this morning and have two meetings a little later. Sigh


Nothing really exciting going on around beyond the back forty. We’ve been enjoying the unseasonably warm weather last week and this week.  Most of days have been sunny and in the upper 40’s and lower 50’s. As you can imagine, I’ve spent a lot of time outside doing some fixing of this and that and just enjoying the sunshine after weeks of little or no sunshine. Weather has been a seesaw with the beginning of this month in the teens and below and now we’re on the up side of that. I have to keep reminding myself that while it feels like March, it's not, and we are still in the middle of what are our biggest snow months and what goes up—sunny and warmish—must come down. No doubt with with a big snow storm and more icy cold. Ah, well.
  


This month is traditionally a new beginnings month. For those who write, it’s the month to get back to work after the holidays and for some it’s getting serious about writing or publishing that book of theirs.  I’ve shared several articles about gearing up for writing—pacing yourself so as not to be stressed out, goal setting, how to create back cover copy and this coming Wednesday, I have a small publisher weighing in on optimizing your chances of getting a contract. 

Next month I plan on having an editor visit and explain the difference and importance of editing. This will be more than merely making sure the words are correctly spelled or formatted. It will also cover the importance of using a content editor and what they do. I’m also working on getting input from an agent and cover artist. There is so much that goes into creating book besides clean writing. It has to look professional and able to compete with books in the same genre. This is especially so if you are indie published. As Kat Sheridan mentioned in her two part series on writing back cover blurbs, right or wrong, if the appearance of a book is sloppy or has errors, I tend to skip over looking beyond thatespecially with indie pubbed books. That’s a sale lost when it didn’t need to be.


I’ve also had the privilege of reading two advance copies of stories from two of my favorite male authors. I read both when they débuted and have seen their growth as writers. Their stories are so much richer and joy to read—Matt (ML Buckman) and Alex Cavenaugh.  They write two different genres but both are worthwhile reading if you like stories that put you in the action and different worlds. I like the blend of romance, adventure, and danger. Both have created engaging stories and well developed characters. I’ll be sharing the reviews on their current stories soon.


Anything new happening in your world?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Snapshot: Bringing 'Big' Back to Science Fiction



My guest is alternative fiction author, Dale Cozort. He discusses how Sci-fi seems to have it's original premise of big ideas and adventure.


Snapshot is my ambitious attempt to open up a new universe for science fiction, full of intriguing ideas and open for adventure, for escape.

Science fiction started out as the fiction of big ideas, of adventures and of escape from the mundane world. In the early days, cardboard characters and iffy plots often accompanied those big ideas, but stories gained substantial audiences based on the power of the ideas, the adventure and the escape.

Science fiction changed over the years. We realized that the old dreams of inhabited Mars and Venus weren't viable. Nothing in the solar system offered much in the way of adventures or escape. Inhabitable planets meant going to the stars and interstellar travel may never become feasible. Much of the escape and adventure function of science fiction has moved to fantasy.

The cardboard characters and iffy plots of early science fiction are mostly gone and not lamented, but the balance swung so far in the other direction that much of science fiction now is essentially literary fiction with spaceship decals. Characters spend stories embracing their dysfunctions rather than dealing with big ideas or having adventures.

Science fiction with big ideas and adventure has become far too rare for my tastes. I wrote Snapshot not just as a novel but also as a universe to explore big ideas and have adventures, a new space to replace the old inhabitable Mars and Venus.

How did I do that? Snapshot is set in a universe where for at least eighty million years extraterrestrials with godlike powers have made exact replicas of Earth's continents--including plants, animals and humans. They put the replicas (nicknamed Snapshots) in snow globe shaped artificial universes, connected like strings of pearls by vents high over their oceans. Life on the Snapshots goes on, getting more and more different than life back on Dirtball Earth. And anyone in the Snapshot universe with a plane that reach the vents can fly to universes where dinosaurs still roam, where Nazis or Soviets rule Europe or where Indians still rule North America.

The setup lets me write big ideas and adventure. Snapshot  the novel is set on one of the Snapshots. Greg Dunne, a Middle East analyst, is kidnapped from the brand new US-2014 Snapshot and ends up in the middle of a feud between German ranchers and ranchers from a Korean war era US Snapshot over ranchland in an ancient, thinly-inhabited continent-sized Madagascar Snapshot. The setting is a mix of the Wild West, the US of the 1950s or early 1960s, the Cold War and pre-World War II Europe, but with electric cars, nuclear power plants, windmills and some totally unique elements.

Lurking in Snapshot is a question: If we met the United States of the late 1950s or early 1960s, how would we get along with them? US-1953 Snapshot is not exactly the US of the 1950s, but its close. It hasn't had a personal computer revolution or an Internet revolution or a cell phone revolution, and it's not sure it wants any of those things.

Here is a snippet between a German major and am African-American US diplomat that illustrates the issue: 


"Don't figure US-53 are the good guys because they have US in front of their name. You won't like each other."
"I'm sure you would enjoy watching two versions of the US feud. Tell me why we won't like them."
"You in particular because your skin color isn't loved there. Your Snapshot in general, because you're both used to being the alpha dog. Power matters. None of the rest does, not cultural similarities or the fact that US-53 people are sort of your brothers and cousins. You may be brothers, but both of you expect to be the older brother, the one the other tries to be like. That won't end well."
"Maybe not. Then again, we're where US-53 would have been if it hadn't been cut off. They may look at what we've accomplished and want to catch up."
The major laughed. "And that's exactly why you won't get along. You'll be lucky if you don't lob a-bombs through the vents at each other."

                                                                                                                                                     


BUY: AMAZON
Alternate realities you can fly to. 
 
The Tourists have taken Snapshots of Earth for eighty million years, living replicas of continents. Life in Snapshots quickly diverges from the real world, creating a universe where humans and animals from Earth’s history fly between Snapshots through vents high above their oceans, exploring, fighting, and sometimes meeting themselves.
 
In 2014, the Tourists’ new North America Snapshot cuts a copy of the modern US off from the real world [and] catches Middle East Analyst Greg Dunne rushing toward Hawaii to join his wife, who just went into labor. The new Snapshot doesn’t include Hawaii, cutting Greg off from everyone he loves and thrusting him into the aftermath of a hidden, decades-old massacre.The prize: a wild, ancient Madagascar Snapshot that controls communications between dozens of Snapshots.




DALE COZORT lives in a college town near Chicago with his wife, daughter, three cats and a lot of books. He is a computer guy and teacher as well as a long-time science fiction fan and writer. He has a diverse range of interests, from computers and history to martial arts. He loves animals and did a stint as a foster home for orphan Samoyeds. He also loves alternate history and does a 5 times per year online newsletter of alternate history scenarios and stories. Snapshot is his fourth published novel.