Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Animals in Books -- an emotional hook

I really like animals in books. No, that's wrong. I love animals in books. I love the ordinariness of cats and dogs that act just exactly like cats and dogs. I also love it when I must suspend disbelief and accept behavior that simply would never happen in real life. Even made-up, fanciful animals are fun. In fact, it's not just in books where animals delight me. Movies, TV, plays, you name it. The animals can steel the show and seal the deal for me.

Writing "Blackie" in Death By A Dark Horse was a joy. I dipped into emotions, feel, and smell that were right at the surface. No digging around in unpleasant, buried memories. Even those scenes where Thea has dressage training problems were easily accessible. Difficulties in riding are usually learning experiences -- events you want to keep available so you can remember how to solve the problem when it occurs again.

Best of all -- from a novel-writing standpoint -- the relationship between my protagonist and her horse add a dimension to her that would be otherwise difficult to show, and wouldn't be nearly as much fun to read. Any time a writer includes an animal in the story and shows a character interacting with it they are accessing the reader on an emotional level. When your aim is to hook the reader you can't beat emotions to get the job done.

In a book I read recently, one of the main characters began acting in a rather dangerous manner. His behavior had me worried. I'd wanted him to be a good guy. In fact, the author had built the story up to make his good-guy-dependability essential to the plot -- to the survival of the other characters. I was worried, really worried. But when the guy fell asleep (worn out as he was from his bad behavior) and three dogs and two cats cuddled up and refused to leave him, I knew (even if the other characters were still doubting) that at heart he was good and the author would be using internal as well as external conflict to challenge this character. The author didn't need to say anything else, the character didn't need to do anything different. I was hooked on an emotional level I had no control over. My initial prediction of the demise of this character was replaced by the foreshadowing of a plot twist. I wanted to find out how this character was going to solve his problem and what was going to happen next. I was rooting for him because of the animals.

Those of us who love any animal feel the connection in our hearts, and have felt it since we were small children with big imaginations. As writers, it's an opportunity to make use of, no matter how brief, that will impact the reader on a visceral level.

I love animals in books. It's a relationship that's worth a thousand unwritten words.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Adventures in Uploading

Uploading your manuscript to Smashwords and Amazon is easy -- thankfully. I've done it a dozen times with Death By A Dark Horse. No need to feel hesitant, or fearful about mistakes. The world isn't going to see what you put out there until you hit the "publish" button, and even then it will take a little time -- a couple of days for Amazon -- for your book to hit the catalogs.

You already know I recommend scouring your manuscript using the Smashwords Style Guide. My totally arbitrary choice was to upload to Amazon first. You don't have to do it that way.

Once at the dtp.com site I signed in (I already have an Amazon account, if you don't then create one) and followed the super simple steps to create my author account and upload. Don't worry if you mess up. There's very clear prompts that direct you back to the area you need to fix.

First, I uploaded the manuscript, then the cover (they're separate uploads), waited briefly and, when prompted, clicked on the "Review" option.


Yes. Review Every Last Page in the Kindle mock-up window.

"But," you say, "I've already done multiple read-throughs, had a content editor, copy editor, and beta readers go through it. Why am I doing this AGAIN?"

Because Odd Things Can Happen in the conversion process.

I feel somewhat compelled to repeat that -- how about you just read it again. I'll wait.

So, lets talk about what happened to me that caused the multiple uploads to Amazon I mentioned in the first paragraph. I might be able to save you some frustration.

The first couple of pages looked great, then…whoops. A small section had odd margins -- like a chunk of text had the left margin moved a number of spaces to the right…and…oh dear, there was no paragraph break for the second character's dialog.


And the further I got into the manuscript, the more frequently the peculiar margin problem and paragraphing problem happened.

Holy cow.

What a mess.

No way could I release this gobble-d-gook to the world.

I checked the Word Doc for anything that might have snuck in. Nothing.

I paced, ate chocolate, and stared at the screen. About then I noticed Amazon's instructions about downloading the HTML document created when I uploaded my manuscript. The instructions were to examine the HTML doc, fix the problem, and resubmit the HTML doc. How hard could that be, right?

Holy cow.

I must have stared at the screen for two solid hours trying to make some sense out of the pointy brackets, slashes, and plentiful-but-terse (and incomprehensible) coding. Never mind there were multiple colors. At long last I began to see a pattern. The same lines of code appeared before each of the oddly formatted sections and nowhere else. I tried an experiment -- how much worse could it get, right? I took out the errant lines of code and replaced them with the code that appeared regularly where there wasn't a problem. Just to be safe -- like a controlled scientific experiment -- I changed only one section. Then I resubmitted the HTML file and…


Non-techie me fixed the problem! All I had to do was replace each occurrence of bad code with good code and I was golden!

Five hours later (seriously, FIVE hours) with dinner hastily prepared and bolted, I was at my computer still exercising the search and replace function.

"What are you doing?" my husband asked.

I didn't take my eyes off the screen or my fingers off the keys as I answered. "I'm fixing this freaking HTML file of my freaking book so the freaking margins won't look like some freaking cat half digested my freaking book and freaking threw it up. I'm only one sixth of the way done, I have a freaking headache that starts in my freaking lower back and to be honest I just really don't feel like freaking chatting right now."

"Why don't you just make a new HTML file?"

"I'd have the same freaking problem."

"Use a different HTML generator," he said.

"A different one? That would fix this?"


I didn't believe him. He booted me out of my chair and ran the clean Word doc file through a different HTML generator…one on my computer. I didn't know I had it. I thought I had to use what Amazon created.

In less than five minutes we were uploading a new HTML file to Amazon. The peculiar lines of code (which I learned were obsolete HTML) were not there. To be honest I didn't think the problem would be solved. But…it was!

I don't know how the antiquated code got there, except that it obviously wasn't in my Word doc file and had to have been injected by the conversion process. I've heard that the conversion process has not been perfected yet. Guess it's true.

The moral of the story is: Check your uploaded book carefully. If you have problems like I did it may just take creating your own HTML file and using that to upload to Amazon. I hope they have the problem fixed soon. This kind of thing could get real discouraging.

Sorry about the long post. I was going to divide this in half, but I figured you'd want to know right away how I fixed the problem -- especially if you are experiencing the same thing yourself.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Death By A Dark Horse -- it's Launch Day!

It's here! Death By A Dark Horse is now available from Amazon and Smashwords in e-book format for $2.99!

This is a dream-come-true for me. The amount of work and love that went into this project is something every writer can appreciate. A million "thank yous" to every last person who has helped and encouraged me along the way. There will be a smile on my face for the rest of the week -- hey, the whole month!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

After the Editing - Cleaning up the manuscript

I'm pretty sure I mentioned at some point in the not-too-distant past that my plan for getting my manuscript ready for e-publishing was to begin with Smashword's Style Guide. The "word on the street" is that it's easy to follow and did a good job of getting you ready for a clean upload.

This is true.

I'll tell you right off the bat that if you're capable of following directions, you can pull this off. No degree in computer engineering required.

I opted to start by following the instructions for stripping out all the formatting, since I was afraid with all the messing around I'd done with my Word document that I'd left some stuff in that shouldn't be there. It was no big deal to go back and make the few additions I needed -- chapter headings and a few instances of italics.

Once I was done with that -- took only a short while -- I went in and did all the little "tweaky" things, like making sure the paragraph returns didn't have a space in front of them, only 4 blank lines existed between chapters (2 before and 2 after the page break), all the quotes (both single and double) were straight and not "curly" "smart" ones, and the other recommendations. Using the search and replace function was a life/time saver. I was done with the formatting so fast I went back and checked it all over two more times.

Then I added the title and copyright page, the author page, acknowledgements, and dedication. The cover is a separate upload for both Amazon and Smashwords.

Because Smashwords requires specific wording for the copyright page I made a copy of the document for them and a separate one for uploading onto Amazon.

Now I was ready to run a test. I highly recommend you do this step. You'll save yourself some grief. I'll tell you why next week!

Friday, November 5, 2010

10 More Days!

Death By A Dark Horse 
will be available in 
10 days!

The first 2 chapters are available on my website. Stop by and have a read!

Death By A Dark Horse will be available from Amazon.com and Smashwords.com
after November 15, 2010 

No e-reader? No Problem! 
Most e-reader software is available to downloand onto your computer for Free from the manufacturer!
Check the website of your choice for details and instructions.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Jargon: Instant Authority or "Geek to Me"?

This week I am thrilled to have fellow horse-woman and writer Rhonda Lane as my guest. Rhonda mostly rides a desk chair these days where she works on her mystery novels and The Horsey Set , her horses-and-culture blog. She lives in the Hartford, CT, area on a hillside with her husband and their three cats who allow the humans to share their domicile.

A matter of understanding

What does this next sentence mean to you?

“A chestnut wearing green leg wraps stood in the cross ties.”

If you know little or nothing about horses, it’s gibberish. You don’t know a “cross tie” from a “bow tie.”

If you have some familiarity with horses, a picture formed in your mind, except you may have wondered as to what shade of chestnut? And others who know horses may be focused on the cross ties because your barn doesn’t use them or you don’t approve of them.

So, you may not realize that “chestnut” in the earlier sentence refers to the horse’s color, a shade of orangish-brown.

And, if those details are important to the action of the story – even beyond helping you or imagine the scene – then you’re lost. You may even give up on a book you might otherwise enjoy, if you stumble too often on unfamiliar words.

One of the issues with writing “insider” books is making jargon from the world of the story accessible for a wide audience.

How I revise for non-horsey readers

Remember the sentence in question. “A chestnut wearing green leg wraps stood in the cross ties.”

Let’s look at the sentence with the following questions in mind.
The horse has a different question
(photo courtesy of Smitty, Walking Horse Trivia)
Who’s telling the story?

The story is told in first-person by a woman journalist with some knowledge of horses. She’s liable to use the wording of that sentence in question, but my goal is to make the scene vivid for any reader. I want a reader who’s new to anything about horses to see what the protagonist sees, but through the filter of the way my sleuth expresses herself.

Is the detail important?

That the horse is chestnut will be important later in the book. The cross ties? Some equestrian disciplines don’t use them, but this one does. That the leg wraps are green is part of an image system I’ve set up between two rival stables.

Does the detail slow down the plot?

A single short sentence? No. But I’m going to have to break it up into more sentences to help readers orient themselves. That in itself is risky. Unless …

Can I fold the detail into action?

My reporter protagonist is looking for people to interview after a horse show while people are preparing horses for travel. She comes upon a man wrapping the horse’s legs in protective bandages. The cross ties are important because this is a discipline that uses them and I want to show some of the culture and practices of this particular discipline.

What does the thing in question look like/sound like/feel like that everyone knows about?

I can serve two kinds of audiences by stating that the creature in question is “a chestnut horse the color of a caramel apple.” Equestrians now have a shade in mind, and those new to horses can imagine the golden festival treat. That people think happy thoughts when they think of caramel apples serves my purposes, too, because this is a “good guy” horse. (Oops. Spoiler)

Jargon can be good

From the film APOLLO 13 to TV’s ER and CSI shows, jargon usage conveys authority and an insider vibe. Yet, film and TV have the advantage of accompanying visuals to set the unfamiliar words into context.

Readers of novels don’t have visuals to help. Writers have to help readers imagine a scene and the action.

Have you ever had a book spoiled by too much jargon you didn’t understand? If you’re also a writer, how do you simplify your world’s jargon? Can you think of other ways to deal with jargon?

Monday, November 1, 2010

It's Almost Here!

The countdown has begun!
Death By A Dark Horse
will be available on November 15 from Amazon and Smashwords.

Thea Campbell goes out for revenge when the one person who is simultaneously the most likely and least likely candidate for thief steals her horse. But Olympic hopeful Valerie Parsons is past caring about being arrested. She’s dead. At first Thea’s horse is assumed to have killed the woman, but when the coroner determines it was a human hand and not a horse’s hoof that ended Valerie’s life Thea becomes a person of interest. Now intimidating people with little regard for due process are showing up on her doorstep looking to even the score. Toss in her wrecked love life, a sexy geology professor who stirs up more than dust, and an alleged psychic horse, and it soon becomes apparent that Thea’s predictable life is now out of control. As she takes charge of clearing herself of the murder she discovers the victim had a knack for making enemies—one of whom is Thea’s ditsy sister. She pursues her investigation with more at stake than ever, and in a seedy biker bar comes face-to-tattoo with information that will lead the police to the real killer. She dutifully reports to the detective in charge. But Thea is wrong. As close to dead wrong as she ever wishes to get.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Creating the Cover

Covers are important--even for e-books. It's worth knowing the kind of cover you want for your book because it tells the reader quite a lot about what they can expect. Different genres have different "looks." A book that is light and comedic will not have a cover that looks like it belongs on something dark and sinister. Often times there will be clues to the story incorporated into the artwork. It may even be metaphorical.

I know all this--have known all this and yet…I had no idea what the cover for Death By A Dark Horse should look like. I scoured the website that have downloadable photography. Beautiful photographs and art work, but nothing that looked like my book. I asked my friends and the only thing people could agree on was the presence of a horse.

Well, yeah. I got that part.

Then I remembered an email conversation I'd had months earlier with fellow Sisters in Crime Guppy Chapter member Tracy Hayes. She is not only a writer, but an artist and a horse person. I dropped her a note to see if she'd be interested in working on a cover for me and within minutes I was sending her a copy of my manuscript. She finished the book quickly and in no time we were burning up cyberspace with discussions and ideas. She sent me her initial sketch, I took a look and was amazed. 

She absolutely nailed the character of Thea, all the way down to the determined jaw line. Blackie was just right, too. In fact, he looked a lot like a cross between my Eddie, and one of my student's horses.

Then we played with color. Believe me, I made some really icky suggestions, as it turned out. But Tracy was game, and we had some good laughs over some of the combinations. What we ended up with was eye-catching, portrayed Thea and Blackie well, and is metaphorical. The cover encompasses a great deal of meaning--much of which will be understood when the reader finishes the story.  As an added touch she included a logo--the dressage horse and rider in the circle at the bottom of the cover. It will appear on every book in the series and will be easily recognizable as part of the brand.

A lot went right when I made the decision to contact Tracy. There's no way I could have done this on my own.

Death By A Dark Horse will launch on November 15, 2010 on Amazon as an e-book. It will be available shortly afterwards on Smashwords and those retailers using their catalog. "Buy" buttons will be on both my blogs and website. I loved writing it. If you have half that fun reading it, you'll have a ball!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Polishing the Manuscript -- attempt II

Last week I started talking about editing my manuscript and never got to finish what I had to say because Jonathan Woods stopped by. So, this week I'm heading back there. The process needs discussing, because there's a lot that can go wrong in the writing and rewriting of a manuscript, and fresh eyes can make the difference between a story that grips the reader and one that, well, doesn't.

By the time you get through the countless rewrites to the "final" version of your manuscript, chances are you've fixed the major gaffs like a character starting out with one name only to have another by the end, logic anomalies, and whatnot, and are left with stuff you don't notice. At this point your content editor will come in handy catching issues like information that should have made it onto the page, but never did.

You can't do it yourself--you're too close.

Your line editor is important, too. They'll catch the embarrassing stuff everyone whose concentration is elsewhere will miss. Misplaced commas can change the entire meaning of a sentence (remember "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves"?), not to mention one letter can change a word completely. I had one character referring to another not as a "good guy" but as a "good buy." Tell me you wouldn't have been rolling on the floor when you read that.

Would that have been Jonathan?

Thea! I wasn't expecting you--and it might have been.

Did Jonathan stop by here and complain to you about Juliet?

Yeah, he did.

I don't know what I'm going to do about him.

He and Juliet don't seem to get along at all.

They don't. And he's sending so many mixed signals to me I don't know what to make of him.

Can I ask you something personal? What got you two together to begin with? He doesn't seem like your type.

My friend Andrea introduced us, and he just pursued me. It was flattering. Besides, he's handsome, works out, likes to go to the theater and concerts. He always knows great places to go, and he really seems to care about me. You know; attentive, polite, relentless--oh, that sounds bad. But it's not like I've ever thought he was "the one." It's nice to have a social life. Why do you ask?

A couple of people asked me. No biggie.

Oh. Well, he really is a nice guy. Really. Just a little overbearing at times. But hey, aren't all men?

You don't have to defend him to me.

I'm not! I mean, I don't need to. It's just that Juliet and he don't get along. Honestly, I don't know what he's so worried about. She's so busy with her own social life she's hardly got time to concern herself with mine. Maybe I'd better go talk to him.

Wouldn't hurt. Then maybe I could continue on with what I started and don't seem to be able to finish because of all the interruptions--just saying. Pass that word around, would you please?

So, where was I…editors. You need them. Don't be tempted to shortcut this step, if you want readers to take you seriously.

Next week: Cover art.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Polishing the Manuscript

Is one ever done tweaking their manuscript? Probably not. But at some point one has to back away from the minutiae and let someone else have a run at it.

That was the first step to be addressed as I geared up for e-pubbing—except I let two someones have a run at it. I needed someone who hadn't seen the story before take a hard look at the content. Since I've taken classes from Mary Buckham, believe her to be genius, and know she has an editing service I contacted her. Luckily for me, she was able to fit my manuscript into her schedule.

When Mary was done with it, I passed it along to a woman I know who has spent many years as a copy editor, and—

What I want to know is if you were able to do something about Juliet.

Uh, hi, Jonathan. Folks, this is Jonathan Woods—Thea's boyfriend. I didn't know you were going to stop by.

I had some time in my schedule and need to talk to you.

I'm kind of busy right now explaining the self-publishing process to these nice people.

This is important. Juliet is creating potential problems for Thea. I need you to write her out of the story.

Sorry, no can do. She's important, and she's Thea's sister. Besides, the manuscript has already been to the editors. What's the problem, anyway?

I'm certain Juliet has been trying to get Thea to break up with me. Thea's been arguing, uncharacteristically, with my decisions lately.  I have plans, Susan, and Juliet is getting in the way.

I'm not so sure Juliet has that much influence—

She does. She fabricates stories, she's disrespectful, and she interferes. There's something going on, and as I stated, I have plans.

What plans?

I won't divulge them. Suffice it to say Thea will be delighted. I have a certain influence, shall we say?

You sound awfully sure of yourself.

Just make sure Juliet is out of the way.

Now, Jonath—dang. The guy pops in, issues orders and pops out. Characters do tend to do what they want, and generally I don't worry, but he seems a bit like he's on a mission and I can't help but think there's going to be trouble. Phooey. I'm going to need to find out what he's up to. We'll continue the self-pub thing next week. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Step By Step, Inch By Inch--Putting the plan together

As promised, I'm back to chronicling my journey into self-publishing. The decision was in place in August—ahead of my self imposed drop-dead-date. Now what? Obviously, I was going to need to let people know when my book would be out, set up a list of tasks necessary to turn out the best product I could, and set the marketing and promotion machinery into motion.

I decided to approach the process like other (traditionally published) authors approach the release of their books—with an eye to what tasks would fall on my shoulders.

First task: Polish the manuscript…again.

I'd already worked with critique partners, an editor, taken classes to address the areas of my craft that needed work, received input from industry professionals, and rewritten countless times. I was well aware of my weakest points and I needed fresh eyes with proven expertise. I contacted two editors—one for content and the other for mechanics. Yes, I agreed to pay them. After all, this is a business.

Second task: Cover art.

Covers are important. They attract attention and they give clues as to the type of book one can expect to find beneath it. I have a background in art and I made numerous attempts to produce something I was happy with, but nothing was right. I had no vision, and the learning curve for the technical aspects of the job was more than I was willing to take on. After looking around I found fellow Sisters in Crime member Tracy Hayes. She is a graphic artist as well as a writer and her website for her Pastiche Studio showed off her range of talent. I contacted her about doing the cover art and she agreed to read my manuscript and see if she could come up with something appropriate. Yes, I'm paying her, too. After all, this is a business.

Third task: The launch date.

Because I had no idea how long this process would take, I decided to give myself 5 months from announcement to launch. This was totally me playing head games with myself. Too little time, and I'd drive myself and everyone around me crazy, too much time and I'd lose that feel of upcoming excitement. I also promised myself I could be flexible in case something went horribly wrong—or right! This is a business. I have to be adaptable.

Fourth task: The announcement.

I needed a vehicle to announce my forthcoming book. Single announcements on the social networking sites and groups I belong to were just that: single announcements. Too much me me me, and I'd become a pariah. I needed a blog where I could talk about all the things I wanted in regards to my book and people could come and visit when they wanted without feeling like I was shoving myself and my book down their throats. "Things I Learned From My Horse" was doing well, but I'd dedicated it to my horse-oriented audience to whom I'd made an implicit promise. On that blog they would read about the animals they love and how they insinuate themselves into our daily lives, not about my life as a writer. The only thing that made sense, then, was to create another blog. You're reading it now.

Announcing the publication of my book would be the start of the next step: Marketing and promotion. We all know that one announcement simply isn't going to do the job—it's simply the kick-off to a more complex game. After all, this is a business.

Fifth Task: Marketing and promotion.

This is where the learning curve would be steep. I've had some experience in real-world business marketing—enough to know I don't know enough. To give myself credit, however, I have been paying attention to other authors and the things they've been saying about their own processes of dealing with the marketing and promotion burden the publishing industry has pushed off onto them in these tough economic times.

My plan was to immerse myself in marketing and promotion strategies. Yes, I know my audience and had already created a blog, but that wasn't going to be enough. I gave myself permission to take a break from writing to do research. I would read everything I could, listen to what people had to say, ask questions, and seek out experts. In essence, I'd let it wash over me until things started to stick and a plan began to form. At some point I would need to get back to writing so without a marketing plan there was too much of a risk that I'd fritter away the 24 hours in each day, duplicating my own efforts and chasing down non-productive avenues. Essentially, I needed to learn how to be efficient. After all, this is a business.

How it plays out.

In the coming weeks, in between the fun of character interviews and guests, I'll be posting more information about how each of these steps is playing out in real life. After all, this is a business, not a mandate handed down from above. There's bound to be some mistakes, unexpected successes and a few ah-ha moments. Join me!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Interview with Juliet Campbell

Today I'm interviewing Juliet Campbell. Although she's not the main character, Juliet plays an important part in Death By A Dark Horse. I'm pleased she can join us to give us some insight into who she is and maybe a little more information about some of the other characters.

Susan Schreyer: Hi Juliet, and thanks for being here. You're Thea's younger sister—

Juliet Campbell: Hi! Yes, I'm six years younger than Thea, and five inches taller, when I'm not wearing heels, which I do most of the time—wear heels. I work at Copper Creek Equestrian Center in the office. I'm the office manager—I knew you were going to ask. Thea does all the accounting for us, and the payroll, so I don't have to, but I do everything else.

SS: Okay, thank—

JC: Oh, and Delores is the owner, which makes her my boss. That's Delores Salatini. She and her husband Frank—who died about five years ago—started the place a long time ago. Frank was a big-time jumper trainer, and Delores did a lot of competing, too, but now she just runs the place. She's really nice, even though she comes across kind of crabby sometimes, and she's good friends with Aunt Vi and Uncle Henry—

SS: Whoa! Hang on a sec, Juliet! Thanks for volunteering all the information, but can we stick to the interview format?

JC: Oh, sure. Sorry.

SS: Do you live in Snohomish, too?

JC: Yes, but not with Thea. I have my own apartment kind of north of where she lives. Living with her would make me nuts. She's not exactly Miss Spontaneity, in case you hadn't noticed. And we have way different taste. You should come see my apartment, the colors will blind you—but in a good way. I've done all the art work and decorating myself. It's not big enough to have parties, which is the only problem.

SS: You have an active social life?

JC: Yeah, absolutely. I go out with friends a lot. I'm over at Thea's quite a bit, too, as well as Aunt Vi and Uncle Henry's. Aunt Vi is a great cook—

SS: Anyone special in your life? A boyfriend?

JC: I've dated lots of guys.

SS: Anybody special right now?

JC: Kind of. I don't know, we'll see.

SS: Who?

JC: You wouldn't know him. Can you believe Thea's still going out with Jonathan? Wow. I mean, what a tool! You know, for as smart as Thea is, you'd think she'd ditch his ass for somebody who'd add a little excitement to her life. How much dull can one person stand?

SS: "Dull" is a bad thing?

JC: It is when there's other options. Shoot, the only thing she's passionate about is riding.

SS: I was under the impression she's happy with her life—except for some problems with Jonathan right now, and of course Valerie. Now there's a touchy subject.

JC: No joke. That girl is such a bi—um, brat. I really hate her.

SS: No confusion on your feelings about her I see. What'd she do that makes you dislike her so much?

JC: She's spoiled--thinks she's so much better than everyone else, and so hot. She's always after the guys. You ought to see her try to play Miguel, our assistant barn manager. It's pretty funny. He's like twice her age and isn't impressed. He's one of the only ones who can handle her vicious-as-hell horse. She thinks she has to flirt with Miguel to get him to do favors for her. It's his job, for crying out loud. He just does what she asks and Delores adds it to her bill. Funny! Poor Eric, though. He has to be polite to her 'cuz he's the barn manager—and well, he's really nice anyway—but she's after him all the time 'cuz he's so hot, and he's…she just makes me angry. Eric shouldn't have to put up with her. I may have to kick her butt.

SS: Eric can't take care of himself?

JC: He can take care of himself just fine, but I don't think he's capable of being rude and if you don't get in Valerie's face she just keeps pushing. I hate her.

SS: I see—

JC: So, listen, I gotta go. You should come try out my motorcycle sometime. It's a yellow Kawasaki Ninja, and it is beyond awesome. It flies!

SS: Oh, thanks, but I'll pass. Don't you---okay, bye! That was Juliet, Thea's younger sister, who seems to be very good at controlling the direction of an interview.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Interview with Thea Campbell

Today at Writing Horses I'm interviewing Thea Campbell, the twenty-nine year old protagonist in Death By A Dark Horse. Thea lives in Snohomish, Washington where she was born and raised. She is a self employed accountant and runs her business out of her home (her house is really cute, by the way. I drove by the other day!).

Susan Schreyer: Hi, Thea, thanks for being here! Shall we get started? I understand you quit your job with that big accounting firm in downtown Seattle and started an accounting business that you're running out of your home. Why did you quit your other job? I'd have thought the pay would have been hard to give up.

Thea Campbell: Thank you for asking me here, Susan! To answer your question, there's a lot more to life than making money, and that's all I was doing. I hardly saw my family and friends and it was difficult to keep to a riding schedule—all due to the long commute and long work hours. And let me point out that this wasn't a hasty decision. I don't make hasty decisions.

SS: So with all that extra time, what are you doing? Do you have a social life now?

TC: My business does take up time—it has to be a priority if I'm going to continue to pay the mortgage, but I've been able to ride more and yes, I do have a boyfriend—Jonathan Woods.

SS: So…?

TC: I'm not that serious about him. Not that he isn't husband material, but not for me…. Oh, okay, I can see you're not going to let this drop. I'll be honest with you, since I really doubt he'll read this. We were pretty serious for a while, but lately it seems he's not happy with me. Shoot, I can't even breathe properly some days. And critical? Holy cats. He bought me an "ensemble" the other day to wear to dinner with his parents next weekend. I have clothes, and a purse and jewelry—and certainly nice enough to wear out to dinner with his parents—but it's like he doesn't think I'm capable of choosing appropriate attire. He's making me nuts.

SS: Wow. Why don't you break up with him?

TC: I've tried, but he seems to have a knack for turning things around. I shouldn't be surprised—he's an attorney. He knows how to work an argument to his favor. That shouldn't stop me though. I'm going to have to do it—one of these days. I can't believe I let it go on, but…well, maybe I do really feel something for him….

SS: Uh huh. Maybe we should talk about something pleasant. You're getting more riding in, you said. Tell me about your horse.

TC: That's Blackie. He's a seven-year-old, dark bay Hanoverian gelding and he's wonderful! Riding him and being around him keeps me sane. I was there when he was born. My great uncle raised him. Uncle Henry used to ride competitively. In fact he rode for Great Britain in the Olympics back in the 60s, in dressage. He's retired from that and horse breeding, but he still teaches. In fact he coaches me and Blackie.

SS: Do you compete?

TC: No, I don't really want to and Uncle Henry doesn't mind that I don't, even though Blackie is so talented. Some of my friends would like to see Blackie and me in the show ring, though.

SS: So why don't you do it?

TC: I'm really not interested, and don't tell me I should sell Blackie to someone who would show off his potential, because that's not going to happen.

SS: I wasn't going to. That seems like kind of a sensitive subject.

TC: I just get really tired of defending my choice. Especially to people like Valerie Parsons—freaking bully. Just because she was long listed for the last Olympic team and has enough money to spend the winter training and competing in Florida doesn't mean I should sell Blackie to her.

SS: She offered to buy him?

TC: Repeatedly. I'm not good enough for him, she says. I'll ruin him—she badgers me with that constantly. I'm sick of her already and she hasn't even been back in town a month. I can't go out to Copper Creek Equestrian Center without running into her, and it sure doesn't help that Uncle Henry coaches her. I was working on flying changes yesterday and she marches into the arena and tells me to get off my horse so she could show me how it was done. Can you believe it?

SS: Did you let her ride Blackie?

TC: Are you kidding? I'd sooner run her over. No way is she touching my horse!

SS: Wow, um, I was kind of hoping to get into some other stuff in our interview, but we've kind of run out of time. How about we go have some lunch at Bernard's Restaurant and plan on finishing this another time?

TC: Oh, sure. That sounds good, I like Bernard's. I can tell you about my trip to Victoria with Jonathan.

SS: Works for me.

Next week I'll be interviewing Thea's sister Juliet!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Decisions, decisions, decisions - Part 2

Last week's post ended with the questions I'd posed to myself that would determine the route to travel toward publication, knowing full well whatever the answers were, I'd be giving up something.

The answers didn't come easily. My old goals had become wound up with everyone else's, and I'd adopted the old "acceptable" methods as my personal bench-mark without asking myself why.

The truth was, I didn't know what I wanted for myself. I was incapable of making a decision, and any decision seemed rash. Not a comforting place to be. I did the only thing I could, my goal became to watch, as carefully as possible, and find out as much as I could. Just so I wouldn't dither, I set a time limit of five months. On September first I would take what I'd learned and make a decision based on the information I would discover along the way.

In the meantime, Sister in Crime sent an investigating team to Amazon, Google, Apple, Smashwords and others. More changes surfaced in the industry, more people voiced their opinions, and J.A. Konrath started looking more and more sensible.

Needing something to do (inactivity makes me crazy), I continued to work on my third novel and proceeded with the steps I would need to take to connect with my audience once I was published--none of which committed me to any particular path. The steps would have to be done, regardless of what I chose, and could be abandoned easily if I decided to ditch the whole writer thing and become a lounge singer (kidding, here. I can't sing).

By the time the Sisters in Crime summit report was available in mid August, I'd formed some solid opinions. The report confirmed that I wasn't imagining the changing state of the traditional publishing industry or the importance of e-publishing. E-publishing was here to stay, and it was not just something that was "going on," it was (and continues to be) a revolution—simultaneously rallying enthusiastic support from some while scaring the living daylights out of others.

Something else became very clear: I wanted to be part of the revolution.

Despite the warnings from experienced authors that this was not a wise path for the yet-unpublished, I yearned to embrace it. I was told, as a fiction writer, I didn't know my audience, and probably only seasoned publishing professionals could figure it out.

Well, that statement had been proven wrong on so many occasions it was hardly worth the energy to argue the obvious (note: JK Rowling being told her book would never sell, Tony Hillerman being told he shouldn't write about Indians, etc. etc. leap to mind). Besides, I found out I have a very clear notion of my audience. I'd been reaching them—all over the world—through my blog, Things I Learned From My Horse.

The empowerment of career control lost none of it's appeal on me, either, despite being told I was going to have to work hard at self-promoting. Hey, I'd have to do that anyway, even as a lounge singer or an author for a traditional publishing company.

The decision made itself. I would self publish my work as e-books. I would become an Independent Author. Success or failure would rest in my hands. I could deal with that.

My goal, clear at last, was to get my books into the hands of readers and to make a living wage.

The path is equally clear. Make my books the very best they can be by seeking and obtaining the help I need from people I have confidence in. Market and promote my books to my audience in smart ways. Self-publish.

Essentially, there are three steps—with sub-steps that can be tweaked as necessary.

Will I achieve my goals? I know I'll achieve at least one: I will get my books into the hands of readers. That is the one item being an Independent Author can guarantee me over the traditional route that may never be opened to me. I'm thinking the fate of my other goals is more securely in my hands as well, but that remains to be seen. I know I'll work at it. That's a given.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Decisions, decisions, decisions - Part 1

What are the steps are to becoming an Independent author? Plenty of people have asked me that, and about the reasons behind my decision to self publish my mystery novel. They've been curious, too, why I chose to go the e-book route. If I have a good book, one people will want to read, why not suck it up and pursue the traditional route to becoming a published author?

The fact is, I DID begin on the traditional path. I wrote my book, lucked out connecting with a wonderful critique partner, then rewrote it, and took the first steps to acquiring an agent. I had no idea what I was doing, but hey, lots of people had trampled down that path and (I soon discovered) were willing to impart the knowledge they'd gained to people like me. I joined a writing group, Sisters in Crime, the Puget Sound Chapter, and then the Guppies Chapter. I immersed myself in learning my craft and the process of getting published.

This was a smart move. And if I had to do it over again, I'd do exactly the same thing. The knowledge and skills I've gained surpass any value I could ever put on them. The support and friendships I've made continue to be my rocks. Also, along the way I stirred the interest of agents and publishers, some of whom generously shared their wisdom.

The thing I didn't get was offers of representation. I did get offers of publication from some small publishers, but they usually came with a caveat I was uncomfortable with; change the point of view to third person, change the story to be a suspense novel instead of a cozy mystery—that sort of thing.

At about the same time there were rumblings of change in the industry. Friends who had agents weren't getting sales to publishers, other friends who were mid-list authors were dropped by their publishers, other friends who captured the attention of editors at publishing houses ended up being rejected because the marketing departments didn't know how to promote their work. Still others who were continuing to be published were finding they were suddenly dividing their time between promotion, marketing and writing—and having no clue how to do it or if they were being successful. Many of them worried constantly about their publisher not renewing their contracts.

As much as I wanted to get my book into the hands of readers, life after publishing didn't seem all that great. Was the thrill of holding a copy of one's book in one's own hands really worth it?

Then, with the economy forcing the issue of money (or lack of it) close to home I was forced to take a very practical look at what I was trying to do. Despite the rising price of books, it seemed to me authors' work was not being fairly compensated—particularly since most of them had to hold down another job or depend on the financial support of family members just to sell their books.

I started taking note of rebel J.A. Konrath. I was intrigued in the same way one is intrigued by watching someone pursuing and activity that might end in tragedy. However, he seemed to be doing pretty well. Surely he was an anomaly. But once my curiosity was stirred, I couldn't help looking around. Other authors were putting their own work out on their own.

They were self publishing. A major no-no. Instant disrespect. The mark of someone who didn't have a clue and didn't have the guts to go through the cleansing fires of the traditional route. And yet, a good number of these people had been published through traditional channels and were now publishing their out of print books, or early efforts that hadn't found a home, as e-books.

I watched, I read, I listened. Opinions weren't hard to come by. By spring 2010 you couldn't turn on your computer without reading something about it.

At the same time the publishing industry was groaning at a decibel level I usually associate with a wounded animal. It was impossible to ignore. Major changes were taking place. The routes I had at first chosen to take to get my work published were getting narrower and narrower. Those who were getting through seemed to be dropping into a hole, and I started hearing about how "lucky" we unpublished authors were to still have creative control over our work and joy in our lives. Now, I've never had any illusions of becoming a millionaire author. Mid-list was my target. It seemed comfortable. But now what had seemed a happy place appeared sinister. I wasn't so sure anymore that I wanted to go where my fate could be ripped so completely out of my hands.

It was time for some very serious soul and goal searching. No matter what route I chose, I was going to lose something. Now the questions became; what was it that I wanted, and what was I willing to give up to get it?

Next week: Part 2

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Writing Horses?

Confusion intended, but not meant to linger. My new blog is mostly about writing, and will often have something to do with horses. My mystery series features amateur dressage rider Thea Campbell and her horse The Black Queen’s Bishop. Expect to see Thea, her friends and family (sorry, not Blackie) showing up from time to time for interviews. Look for guest appearances by other authors, too—many of whom have horses in their books!

Hey, Susan…?

And, now on a subject very near and dear to my heart, (I’m almost beside myself with excitement!) DEATH BY A DARK HORSE, the first book in my mystery series, will be coming out in February 2011 in e-format. Right in time for downloading onto that brand new e-reader you got for Christmas, or right onto your computer. It will be available not only from Amazon, but Smashwords, too, which most other e-readers like the Nook, the Sony e-reader, iPad, and many others have access to.


The first chapters of Death By A Dark Horse will be available here and on my website (free!) in a couple of months. I’ll keep you posted!

Hey, page-goddess!

Okay, I’ll admit that is a little hard to ignore. Hello, Juliet.

You’ve got a new blog! Cool!

Thanks. Everyone, this is Juliet Campbell—

Do you want to interview me? Now? I can tell all these people I’m Thea’s younger, taller, and prettier sister. Oh! Oh! I almost forgot! Thea’s got a big date with Jonathan next weekend. She actually went shopping—for a dress! They’re going to some fancy-schmancy restaurant with his parents in downtown Seattle.

None of your business, Juliet. And yes, I do want to interview you, but not right now. What are you doing here, anyway? Not to tell me about Thea.

Well, yeah, partly. She so needs to dump Jonathan’s ass. He is so not right for her. Can you—

No. Forget it. What else is on your mind?

Huh. Fine. I also wanted to find out who knew about…um…you know…the “thing.”

What “thing”?

 You know…that “thing” Aunt Vi and Delores know about.

Oh. Why do I get the feeling you’ve told someone you shouldn’t? And do you realize you’ve just slipped some information out that maybe people would like to find out for themselves?

Sorry, I only told Eric—uh.

Eric? When did this happen?

A couple of days ago. Eric won’t tell.

Enough, okay? We’ll do an interview later and you can tell people all about yourself, but I need to close this up right now. Say “bye” to everyone.

(sighs) All right. “Bye to everyone.” And, people, there’s nothing at all going on any of you need to know about. Nothing.

Thank you so much for that.