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Sunday, March 30, 2014

My Writing Process - Blog Tour

My friend V.L. Dreyer invited me to contribute to the Writing Process Blog Tour. This is my first blog tour. I hope I am doing it right! I am using it as a means of procrastinating on working on my next projects. I'm sure that is not at all how this is meant to be used, but what can I say...?  

The purpose of this blog tour is to tell readers about our writing process by answering four questions.
Click here to read V.L.'s post about her writing process. My answers follow.

Question One: What Am I Working On?
I have two projects in the works right now. One is a sequel to Blinding Justice called Last Second Chance, in which an ex-con struggles for a fresh start in a small Kansas town. Here is the blurb: 

Tim Reardon made a real mess of his life, and he spent the last seven years paying for it in a Federal Penitentiary. Now he is out and trying to put his life together. Thanks to his sister Mitzi, he has a chance at working in small town Syracuse, Kansas, where no one knows his past and he can start fresh. Except that his past is hell bent on finding him.

All Janie Thomas ever wanted was to live a simple life as a veterinarian, taking care of her daughter and the pets and livestock in Syracuse. She had enough drama bringing Kylie into the world after getting pregnant at 17. Kylie's father, the town's rich heartthrob, Cody Buford, couldn't be bothered to raise a child and ran off to the big city.

Seventeen years later, Cody is back, trying to insinuate himself back into Janie's life, and she can't for the life of her reason why. On top of that, the new ranch hand out at the Lazy J is bringing up emotions she thought she had put to bed long ago.

This is different from Blinding Justice in that it takes place over a couple months, instead of the mere 36 hours of Blinding Justice. Tim is a man with a history, and that history is trying to catch up with him, even while he thinks he is making a clean break. Janie has her own history as the fallen woman who bore a child out of wedlock in a small conservative town. When Tim’s past shows up in the form of the woman he went to prison for, he finds there are very few places for him to hide and he must make a stand out in the sand hills of Kansas. Will he be able to survive denying his past?

The other project is a murder mystery set in the future, against the backdrop of the trucking industry in the year 2025. It is more a suspense than a mystery, but has elements of the cozy mystery with two truck drivers as the amateur sleuths trying to find out who killed their friend and fellow trucker, and why. I’m challenged to get this done before the future gets here. Some of the elements I have touted as futuristic in the trucking industry are already starting to come to pass. My husband and I are working on this together. While my suspenseful romances have elements of a mystery to them, this is my first attempt at a more traditional mystery, and I am working hard to get it right.

Question Two: How Does My Work Differ From Others Of My Genre?
My stories tend to be very character driven, and the conflict stems from outside sources. A lot of romance stories have conflicts based in misunderstandings and a failure to communicate. Not so much in my stories. If Mitzi and Blue are attracted to each other (Blinding Justice), it is gunfire keeping them from exploring that attraction. Conversely, while the danger is keeping them apart, it is also teaching them more about each other, stripping away the everyday trappings that get in the way of a ‘normal’ courtship, so they can see the meat of what the other is made of. Or, if Cassie doesn’t know if she can trust Nick (Knight Before Dawn), it isn’t until he gets knifed while trying to chase down one of her abductors that she realizes he really is on her side.

Last Second Chance is a bit more introspective. Tim doesn’t want to pursue his interest in Janie because he doesn’t believe she could want his kind of trouble in her life. If he tells her he is an ex-con, how can he expect her to love him in return? If he tells her, how can he protect her from the stigma that comes with the label of ‘ex-con?’ Janie doesn’t want to see Tim judge her for having a child out of wedlock, like nearly everyone in Syracuse has done, so she avoids saying it point blank.

The common thread in all my stories is that the conflict grows each character, pushes them to discover just how far they will go to protect the ones they love. But there is always a line my characters will not cross. I believe a hero is a hero as much for the things they won’t do as for the lengths they will go to.

Another difference is that my characters are a bit older than a lot of the romances I have read. In their late twenties and early thirties, they have already lived quite a bit of real life. They have already loved and lost, made mistakes, learned from them, and have confidence in the things they know they can do. They are more apt to speak the truth in their hearts in good part because they know life is finite, and they don’t have time to fuck around. They are (in general) blue collar workers, who earn every dime they spend; they live ordinary lives—except for the danger, of course—and hopefully my readers can easily relate to the way my characters live.

Question Three: Why do I Write What I Write? 
I’m something of a hopeless romantic with a lightning rod. I’m pretty happy with my life the way it is, with the possible exception that there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do. But I like to explore what makes people do the things they do, how far someone will go when pushed. If someone snatched me and set me down in the middle of an intense situation, what would I do? How would I handle it? Lord knows I don’t really want to get in a firefight with drug dealers or corrupt cops, but I can imagine it, and I can write myself into a situation I would be terrified to experience in real life. It is similar to reading a good book that transports me to the world I’m reading, except I get to direct the outcome. I get to throw the curve balls, jam the monkey wrench in the works, and let my characters work their way out of it.

It drives me crazy when characters I read repeatedly fail to communicate with each other, and the conflict comes solely from their inability to share their feelings with each other. So, as I mentioned above, I deliberately create characters who are brave enough to speak their minds and their hearts. Maybe not right off the bat, especially if the level of trust hasn’t had time to build. Knee-jerk reactions aren’t unheard of in my stories: Cassie runs off into the Alaskan wilderness because she discovers a frightening truth; Nick flies off to a confrontation before he thinks everything through. But they do have the courage to admit when they are wrong, and move ever forward without rehashing the same argument or fear again and again and again.

Question Four: How Does My Writing Process Work? 
Ideas come to me from all kinds of places. Often a vignette of some scene I witness in life. Sometimes even a dream will inspire a story idea. I see something that results in me asking: "What would happen if...."

Sometimes—like with the mystery—I have to do some plotting to make sure I get the pacing right, but for the most part, I let the characters tell me their story. That may sound a little crazy, but often I will sit down with the keyboard in my lap without a clue what I am going to write, and the words just start flowing. Like I’m channeling the characters and they are dictating the story to me.

If I have a scene I’m not sure is working, or one that is complex, I will share it with one or two people to get feedback. Last Second Chance is set on a ranch, and Janie is a veterinarian. I have a scene where she is treating a horse with laminitis. I consulted with a man who is a horse handler, and two friends who own horses have read the scene to make sure I have it right—and who make sure I haven’t just written an info-dump scene (also known as an ‘As you know, Bob’ scene.)

As I write, I continually go back through and tweak what I have written. Adding clarity if something is murky, cleaning up grammar and spelling, inserting or deleting scenes.... Once I have a complete draft, I go through it multiple times, cutting, adding, cleaning, analyzing, making sure I have the best, most complete story I can write. Then I have one or two people read it, to get a baseline reaction. Of course at this point, I’m pretty confident I have a story worth telling, but these people help confirm that. For Blinding Justice, I had a friend who worked in law enforcement read it to make sure I had the police mindset accurate. For Last Second Chance, I will likely have one of my horse friends read through it.

After that, I send it off to my editor and wait breathlessly until she sends it back. This step is so important. Even though I proofread for others, and I am very good at spotting problems in someone else’s work, I am too close to my own work to see the problems. And there are always problems. My editor helps spot holes in the story, catches my grammar errors, cleans up punctuation, etc. She puts a polish on the story that I simply can’t produce myself.

After that, I have beta readers go through it. By this time, I am getting twitchy to publish, but beta readers are also an important step. Fresh eyes to catch mistakes that have managed to slip through until that point. Or errors I created when I fixed the problems my editor pointed out. I had five beta readers for Blinding Justice, and each one found different problems. Just a few by each, but enough that I would have been embarrassed to find after publication.

And I can’t help but read through one more time (okay, two or three more times) before I start uploading for publication. As you can see, for me, writing the story is the easy part. The polishing, editing, polishing, and proofing process is exacting. I don’t hate it—I actually enjoy it, which is good since I do it professionally, too. The worst part about the post-production work is that is does take time, time that I would rather spend selling the book, or more importantly writing the next book. But because I want to put out the best work I can, I pull the reins in on my impatience, and go through every step even when I want to start sharing my story with the world. I learn more and more about crafting a great story with everything I do, and patience is the greatest lesson of them all.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

On Welcoming My Hubby Home

My husband is a truck driver -- so am I in the summer -- but he runs solo in the winter so I can (theoretically) stay home and write. This winter I did more proofing for customers than I did writing.

Anyway, after 3 months away, he came home Friday morning, the day after our 9th anniversary, and I went from basically living a single woman's life to living married overnight. It's an adjustment to have him home again.

I love my husband, and I often say our current arrangement is the best of all worlds for a introvert like myself. For 8 months of the year, we are together 24/7, crossing the country, spending time and seeing the sights, and making money. The other 4 months he gets to run solo and be a free spirit, and I get to be a homebody and recharge so I'm ready to go again in the spring.

But the initial time spent when he comes home is always an adjustment. I go from staying up into the wee hours of the morning, working in silence in the front room, and getting up at my leisure, to having the TV on every waking moment, running errands with him, getting called upon to rub his neck, back or feet, and basically not having any time to get into work mode for proofing, much less writing.

I don't want to make it sound like I'm spending all of my time slaving for him -- he will often make dinner and serve me, and we do things together like shopping, etc. We went to the beach to celebrate our anniversary, and stopped in at the casino on the way. But it is an adjustment to now spend time doing things someone else wants to do.

My hubby doesn't understand about my writing process. He thinks I should be able to just sit down and type immediately, and set it down at any suggestion and pick it right back up. He doesn't understand that I have to work into it, get the words flowing, and that any interruption is a setback. Even now, he wants to put his foot in my lap so I can rub it. (He apparently got bit by something when we were doing yard work yesterday, and he thinks a massage will help.) Of course, I had just started getting into the groove of writing this post.

I didn't set out to moan about my hubby with this post. My intention was to speak to how much of an adjustment it is to have him home.

Another week and we'll be back on the road, and I will settle in to being a truck driver first, and author/proofreader second. And it will be fine. Really.

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Mom's dog Ada

Since Ada has been featured in a few posts I thought I'd show her to you. She is a sweet dog and a faithful companion to Mom.

Monday, March 17, 2014

On Walking Someone Else's Dog

I mentioned earlier that my mom was going to have knee replacement surgery, and I was going to be her caregiver. The surgery was two weeks ago today, and Mom is doing great. Not up and running marathons, like she seems to think she ought to be able to do by now, but for a 78-year-old, she is a rock star.

One of my easiest duties as caregiver is to take Mom’s dog for a walk, twice a day. We’re not sure what breed she is—she looks like a Golden Retriever, but in miniature—but she has a sweet disposition and has been a great companion for Mom. She is peculiar in one respect: she won’t do her business in the yard, and so she must be walked. This has been great for making sure Mom gets her exercise, and giving her reasons to socialize with the neighbors. The downside is that Ada (the dog) must go twice a day, every day, rain or shine. At ungodly hours for a night owl like me.

I tend to stay up well past midnight writing or proofreading, and left to my own devices, I get up around 8:30 or so. But Ada wants to be fed at 7 and walked by 8 at the latest. Mom has been able to feed her, but I’ve barely been able to drag my butt out of bed to get out the door by 8. I walk her as late as possible in the evenings, but this time of year it has still been over 12 hours since she’s been out, so I do feel for her, and I try.

One interesting thing about walking someone else’s dog is the people I meet.

Now, Ada is not always friendly with every dog she meets, so I never assume the pug or yorkie or hound coming up on us is a friend. Most times they pass without incident. But whether or not the dogs are friendly, almost everyone we come across knows my mom. And they ask me how she is, where she is, and how the surgery went. It is gratifying that so many people know and care about Mom, and tell me to tell her that “Winsow’s mom says hello,” or “Dakota and I are praying for her.” (We all seem to remember the dog’s name before the people’s names.)

Since I am not a morning person, I also look for the blessings in getting up so early, and I find it very peaceful to walk in the quiet of the morning. Mom lives near a sweet little park that features lovely magnolia trees, which are in bloom right now. Everything changes so much this time of year. I can walk by a bare tree in the morning and by the afternoon the leaf buds will be pushing, and the next morning it will be leafed out. A magnolia will be full of fuzzy pods one trip, then 11 hours later they will be open and displaying beautiful blooms. Dewdrops and birdsong in the morning, sunset colors in the evening. Clouds as a backdrop, blue sky, green green grass. It is all splendid, all glorious, and seemingly all mine. It is a blessed escape from the cares of the world, a timeless bubble impervious to the tragedy, anger, politics, and madness that seem to be crashing against the rocks of reality, driving me to distraction when I let it.

We anticipate the doctor will tell us tomorrow that Mom doesn’t need live-in care any longer, and I will be able to go home, just stopping in every couple days to help her do the things she can’t do herself. The dog walks will pass on to helpful neighbors, and I will get to sleep in again. At least until I get back on the truck next month.

I have to confess, part of me will miss the daily walks with Ada. But I do miss my own bed, and my lazy mornings.

Monday, March 10, 2014

When Did ‘We’ Get So Touchy? (In Defense of the Personal Opinion)

Or: (Not Every Negative Review is Bullying)

First of all, this post is not meant to suggest that there is ‘no such thing’ as literary cyber-bullying (as a distinction from other forms of cyber-bullying that I have no experience with), or that literary cyber-bullying is not a very real problem. It is. I have seen it happen. But I have also seen a trend of "instant touchiness" in the literary bullying events I have watched unfold.

Personally, I have no problem with someone posting a low star rating with no review, or a review that tears my work to shreds, or even attacks me in a direct or indirect way. I can't say it doesn't hurt, but I suck it up and move on. I have my tricks to help myself get over it (like looking for something that will help me improve my work, or noticing, 'hey, that person gave Mark Twain a 2 star review, too!) but these things are not the reviewer's responsibility to provide.

To me, someone leaving an honest review--even if it says 'I have not and will never read this book because...'--is just a fact of being a writer and a risk of putting my work out there for the world to see.

I try to remember that with the written word, tone is very easy to misread and project my own judgment upon. So I try my best to assume the person writing is coming from a position of neutrality. And if there is no question about their feelings, I do my best not to take their words personally, because it is more about the reviewer than it is about me, as long as I don’t add myself into their words by replying.

Any published author is (dare I say) becoming a celebrity in at least a small degree, and as such, needs to develop a tough skin or they really have no business publishing their work. Not everyone is going to love their book, and that is a fact. Even Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and Shakespeare have negative reviews.

The reviewer, in posting a review, is also offering their words up to public opinion, just by virtue of being on the internet. Not everyone is going to love what they have to say about the book they are reviewing. They would surely benefit from a thick skin, too, or maybe they should think twice about posting their review for everyone to see.

But offering a simple opinion often turns sour when someone takes another person’s opinion personally. I shake my head when ANYONE, including and especially the AUTHOR, jumps in and puts the reviewer down for expressing their opinion. It is an opinion, and everyone has the right to have and express one. Some people choose to be more blunt and/or harsh about it, but that reveals more about them than it does about the work they are reviewing.

So often what could be an interesting discussion on differences of opinion becomes a slugfest, resulting in some horrible things being said under the flag of anonymity that the internet provides. This anonymity allows people to write things that they would never say in person--which is both the beauty and the terror of the internet.

What confounds and astounds and disheartens and amazes me is when what could be an enlightening discussion turns into a crapfest of people slinging insults at each other, and it goes on for days, and hundreds of posts, with everyone so defensive and trying to prove their point until no one can be heard in the cacophony of words.... That, to me, is literary bullying at its worst, and often there are authors who join in the fray, hurling mean-spirited words with wild abandon, or sometimes even making a misguided attempt to bring rationality to an irrational situation.

The other disappointing aspect of the simple review that turns into an orgy of hate and apoplexy is when not only the initial reviewer (if they hadn’t already done so) and all the people who ‘side with’ them in the brawl, go out and hit any author who disagrees with them with a rash of one star ratings and/or shelve their books on virtual shelves with truly eye-popping names meant to express their disgust and/or fury at being disagreed with. Shelf names are basically another a form of expressing an opinion, buried in several more layers of anonymity. I can’t take those personally, either.

What I find most distressing about the shelves is that they are there forever, unless removed by site moderators. Even if the person who shelved it changes their mind and takes the author off their ‘shitlist’, the shelf remains, as “-1 user shelved this book as....”

Once upon a time, people could disagree without having the end result be a bullying session gone wild. Once upon a time, disagreements could unfold and be worked out, and then disappear down the ages, the vitriol having only gone so far. (Not all, of course. Hatfields and McCoys, anyone?) And maybe the great debate about literary bullying will, too. As the world gets smaller and more and more people can be involved in other people’s lives on a rather microscopic level, the more people will either need to grow a thicker skin, or be miserable living in, and taking personally, the judgment of others.

Again, I’m not condoning literary (or any) bullying, but I do think the line between personal opinion and bullying is a little farther out than a lot of victims think, and taking up arms to defend against a negative review or rating really just makes the situation escalate that much faster. Let’s face it, we live in a time when people are tired of feeling compelled to be “P.C.” when posting their opinions. And some people even feed off the drama created when they fail to act with “correct” manners. The fastest way to shut people up is to not give them anything to feed on. Like the fisherman who goes fishing at the wrong time, and the fish refuse to bite. Like the toddler whining for attention; ignore them and they will go off and find someone else who will listen, or they’ll get bored and move on to something else.

I love that America is still the “Land of the Free” and I would hate to see censorship become a reality. That being said, I wish people could learn to moderate themselves, because having the right to your opinion is closely tied to the ability to hurt with your words. It may not be the reviewer’s ‘problem’ if the author gets hurt, but the atmosphere it creates affects everyone, and wouldn’t the world be a happier place if fewer people were hurting?

In summary, I call on us all to remember the immortal words of Rodney King: “Can’t we all just get along?”

Monday, March 3, 2014

On Being Dragged Forward by Cloud Technology, Kicking and Screaming

I consider myself fairly tech-savvy. When I worked in an office, I was the unofficial go-to gal for folks when the IT department was too busy (or too full of jargon) to help. I know a lot about MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and various industry specialized software. I can usually help someone figure out what is going on with their file and get it fixed (with the exception of some really complicated formulae in Excel.)

I have apps enough that I can run my trucking company without ever having to print documents while I’m on the road. There’s “Sign my Pad”, a fax to email service, Polaris Office, to name a few. Receipts go into Quickbooks, Payroll is done on Medlin software....

I have self-published 4 titles, including one of Poetry, complete with pictures. I successfully uploaded them to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and AllRomanceeBooks. I’m in the process of formatting for Smashwords.

I say all this to show that I’m kind of a computer power-user. I don’t know much code—just a few html tags to make things bold or italic. But when it comes to using stuff, I’m not afraid to jump in there and try it out. Help desks love me because I already know where a lot of their tools are located.

The exception has been ‘Cloud’ technology. I have been reluctant to use “the Cloud” for fear of exposing my data to unscrupulous hackers and data thieves. But I recently took the plunge and downloaded the DropBox app to my phone. I was looking for an easy way to transfer a picture I had taken with my phone so I could tweet it. I know, I could simply use the Twitter app, but I have resisted adding it to my phone because I don’t want the temptation/distraction available on my phone. (I have Twitter on my laptop and tablet; I don’t need it on my phone, too.)

I figured it couldn’t hurt to put a photo of my roommate’s cat out in ‘the Cloud.’ After all, I was about to Tweet it to my followers, right? So I downloaded the app to my phone, then to my laptop and my tablet. Bam. I was able to tweet the photo without having to add Twitter to my phone, which has the best quality camera. (See the tweet at https://twitter.com/KacyAuthor/status... )

Since then, I have learned I can use DropBox to transfer books I have downloaded on my laptop to my tablet without having to hook the tablet up by cable, simply by exporting the file from DropBox to my Kindle app. I am officially a fan. I have been struggling to find an easy way to do this since I started selling my books on my website!

There are lots of Cloud-type apps out there, now. I just happened to land on DropBox and have been pleasantly surprised at how simple it is to use.

As with most things I have to get dragged kicking and screaming into, I am a (conditional) convert. I still will not store any sensitive data ‘out there’. I don’t believe there is any place off-site that is secure against those who want to access it without my knowledge or permission. But I am thinking of many other ways I can utilize this app.

What’s next for me? Should I try to learn code? Create an app of my own that facebook will buy for billions of dollars? Sure. Why not? ;-)