This whole pandemic thing has really squashed the mojo out of a lot of creative people I know. Though supportive of others, I believed myself immune to this effect, since the third volume of the Woodley, USA saga was already written and in Beta by the time the seriousness of our situation became undeniable. All I had left to do (I told myself) was edit and format – technical, left-brained tasks I would have no trouble performing under the stress I wasn’t admitting I felt anyway.
But I guess I was also subject to the creative brain-fog, after all, because I really have been procrastinating things I need to be doing to get this book out the door on time. For one thing, I’ve been completely neglecting this blog! And I was avoiding getting to work on my back-cover blurb the way I avoid doing my taxes.
What helped me break this block was deciding to work on cover art instead. Unable to summon my favorite model for a new photo-shoot, I went through all the old photos of green-screen Cally, and suddenly my mind was filled with possibilities! I arbitrarily selected a Cally and color-corrected her outfit, setting her against a background and adding the proper atmospheric elements. To my surprise and joy, the whole while, my back cover description played through and through my head. By the time I was done, my blurb was nearly ready for prime time.
But I continued to struggle with the title. And you can’t make a cover without a title!
For the first two volumes in the Woodley, USA series, I had employed working titles that eventually felt so right, I ended up keeping them as actual titles. This experience did not repeat itself for me, this time. My original working title, “Rivers and Roads,” just did not seem to fit the story anymore, once it became full-blown. I tried everything! Brainstorming with Beta readers and CPs, free-association drawing, scribbling random words on slips of paper and pulling them out of a zipper bag. Nothing worked.
So for a few days, I tried to clear my brain while watching YouTube video tributes to Neil Peart. It would be hard for me to proclaim any one Rush song as my favorite, but “Ghost of a Chance” has always been one of my top fifty or so. Now that Neil is gone, his beautiful lyrics feel all the more poignant. I’m not sure why I did, but for some reason I held the title of this song up against my manuscript. It literally gave me chills.
A quick online search showed me there are already hundreds of books out there with this title. Well, that was a bummer. I talked it over with my CPs and readers. They all said. “Yeah, but if it gives you chills…and by the way, it gives me chills, too.”
My Biggest Fangirl said “Always go with your chills!”
So. There you go. I believe there’s a Ghost of a Chance.
No, seriously. I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t find any comps for my own work, and that is a Big Problem. So I would be delighted if you could prove me wrong.
I am trying to find a way to say all this without being negative, but I’m having a hard time not going into rant-mode. Thank you for bearing with me as I try again.
Conventional advice, for authors who want to be traditionally published, states that I need to read, read, read so that I can demonstrate my knowledge of the market and so that I will know, when the time comes, what books and authors to use for comps. And! That’s not good enough: said books need to have been written within the past five years; said authors need to have debuted in the past five years. It’s the latter part of this I’m having tremendous trouble with.
I have tried! I have tried and tried and tried, over the past five – OK, more like ten or even more – years, to find a new author, new books to love. I have, for the most part, failed. I even joined a book club that specifically reads and discusses fantasy books. They have introduced me to award-winning books by modern, traditionally published authors once a month. I have paid good money for these books, and forced myself to try to read them. I confess, I have finished few of them. My unedited gut-response would have been, “I enjoyed cleaning my toilets this week more than I enjoyed reading this book” if I weren’t trying to be nice at book club meetings.
Part of it is that I have reached an age where I realize life is too short to spend what little free time I can find, forcing myself to read or watch “entertainment” I am not enjoying. But, since I have started writing books, myself, much of my difficulty is that I utterly fail to understand why I should “just give it a chance. It finally stops being dreadful and begins to pick up and get good around page 100 or so…” when I know that I, as an author querying my own work, could never, ever, ever get away with that sort of thing! (I’m sorry, Meg La Torre, but I hated Nevernight. I really, really tried, but I haven’t been able to pick it back up since I put it down somewhere in the middle of chapter four.) It makes me want to tear my hair and yell “WTF!” Only, not the acronym.
I have, of course, also heard people in the publishing industry saying “OMG you should never let anyone in The Industry hear you saying you think everything coming out today is crap! That’s an insult to them and to all their clients and readers. How can you expect them to support you when you just got done insulting them?” And this is a legit point! But I’m not saying the books coming out in recent years are crap. They’re just not for me. I’m saying I really don’t think I could, or should, force myself to read, and then write, stuff I have never enjoyed and almost certainly never will, in order to obtain representation by claiming my own work is comparable to said other work. And I don’t think there’s an industry professional out there who would advise me to try to do that, anyway!
But it’s not like I’m not a reader and therefore don’t understand good storytelling. I used to read voraciously! From the time I was a pre-teen (um, that was in the 60s) until recently, I would literally read two or three books per week. Even when I was a parent of young children, living paycheck to paycheck and had to get up and go to work at 5 a.m., I would stay up late to finish that book, because I was enjoying it so much I couldn’t put it down.
These days, though, it feels like I’ve already read everything I might ever have enjoyed, and nobody is writing anything new for me. I swear I am not speaking in hyperbole when I say I would literally rather re-read a book I already own, over and over (and have done so) than read most of the stuff that is coming out nowadays. Did I say “most of?” I would actually settle for just a handful of new books I could enjoy, once in a while. Would, say, three or four a year be too much to ask?
Unfortunately I have, in the past five years, read two – count them: two! – traditionally published books I actually enjoyed. They were really good, too! I recommend them to everyone I talk to about books. One was Glimmerglass by Marly Youmans, and the other was John Dies at the End by David Wong. But I can’t use these as comps because neither of them is 1) in the genre I write in or 2) published in the last 5 years. (I have also enjoyed several self-published books, to which I have been exposed through networking with other writers. But I can’t use those as comps. Or can I?)
So, is it that there literally aren’t any good books coming out these days, or is it just that I’ve grown old and am unable to adapt anymore to “all that stuff kids today seem to think is so keen – get off my lawn!!!”
And, even if I, personally, don’t like the kind of stuff the
kids on my lawn like, surely there are other readers out there my age? I’m a
fekking Boomer, FGS! You would think there should be lots of readers like me out
there, and other writers writing for their huge market-share. What are my contemporaries
reading? Are they reading stuff they don’t enjoy, either, just to have
something to read?
I am quite serious when I say what finally pushed me over the edge, after decades of intending to write a book “someday,” was the fiftieth or so time I left the bookstore disappointed and empty-handed because I could not, even with the help of the knowledgeable staff at my lovely indy bookstore, find anything I wanted to even take a chance on reading. That was when I realized I had to write it myself. Surely I can’t be the only person in the reading world who is looking for the kinds of things I’m looking for? In fact I know I’m not, because people (of all genders, but also of different ages) have told me they really enjoyed my work and hope there is more of it coming. (Only a couple of these were relatives, so you can stop right there with that line of response!)
What, exactly, am I looking for (and writing) then, that is in such dearth out there in the world that I not only have to write it myself, but also can’t find any comps in order to traditionally publish what I write? Because you know what happens when an author dares to say “But I can’t find anything like it.” The response is always:
“Oh, don’t be so precious. You are not that unique! Everyone thinks they’re writing ground-breaking stuff that nobody else has ever thought of before!”
But no. Seriously. I literally, honestly, absolutely am not kidding or even exaggerating when I say I Can Not Find anything like 1) what I want to read or 2) what I write.
So FYI, if you’ve made it this far and think you can help
prove me wrong (and believe me, I want to be wrong about this!) here is
what I want to read / am writing:
First and foremost, it is written for adults, with adult protagonists. There’s a reason, dammit, why 70% of readers who purchase Young Adult fiction are actually Adult Adults. It’s because there are so many adult readers who want magic and wonder in their lives. They are forced to resort to the children’s section of the book store because Everyone Knows magic and enchantment cannot happen to grownups. At least, if it does, said magic can only be dark, miserable, painful, and end in dismay, making you regret for the rest of your life ever having wished for magic in the first place. To expect real enchantment without having to pay a dire price for it is childish, right? Once you grow up, you need to accept the fact that life is only about horrible things winning in the end. I think this is a terrible message the modern world is trying to ram down our throats, and the statistic above bears out my belief that I am not the only one who refuses to accept it.
The magic (within the context of the book) must be real. Not some kind of Scooby-Doo trope where it was all just someone tricking the protagonist all along or, I don’t know, the fact that the protagonist was nucking futz the whole time.
The female lead has to have a brain. Usually when I beg people to please, please, please direct me to a book or author who writes according to the first two criteria above, they inevitably say “Oh, sure! There’s this author who writes this whole Wacky Witch series!” and I go to Amazon and “Look Inside!” and realize it’s chick-lit. The entire plot revolves around the female lead being unable to stop making ditzy mistakes. Kind of an anti-Mary Sue sort of thing, I guess. If she had a brain, there’d be no story – it’s a laugh a minute. I honestly have no problem with chick-lit and a little mindless entertainment once in a while. I’ve even read a few of these stories, while floating in the pool with a margarita in my hand. The trouble is: it’s not what I write, so I can’t use it as a comp. Maybe I could do one of those cross-comp statements like: “My work is Kim Harrison meets an MC who is smarter than a hairbrush.” Might that work?
Gore for the sake of gore, gratuitous violence, rape, incest, and (especially) suffering or endangered children are RIGHT OUT. Also I am completely over vampires and werewolves and other shifters, serial killers, and demons who have OCDs about not letting people’s guts stay inside them. I want (and write about) paranormal magic and entities, yes, but it is not automatically necessarily evil. Regardless of what Ed and Lorraine Warren tried to teach us, ghosts and demons are not the same thing. Get a dictionary! Anyway, a ghost does not have to want to rip your lungs out for you to be afraid of it, when you first meet it. The supernatural naturally frightens humans, just because we are not comfortable with The Unknown. It is this sense of “there is more to the world than we can possibly know” that I am after – not just the fear, for its own sake, which this realization initially causes. Besides, when a story becomes all about lovely people dying in grisly ways, for me, it is no longer scary – it is now tragic. I feel more pain than fear when forced to read or watch this stuff. If I wanted to pique my jaded modern emotions with profound sorrow, pain, and tragedy, all I’d have to do is turn on the news.
Now we are getting into “preference” territory. That is to say, what follows are things I would love, love, love to see in books I might potentially buy, but am unable to find, no matter how hard I look. So I write them instead, which is why there really, literally, actually are no comps available, in modern literature for me to use. (Please prove me wrong! I would be so happy if you did!) These things are:
The stories take place in the modern age. Not in ancient Ireland or in some dystopian future. (I was over dystopia almost before it ever hit the scene, anyway.)
The stories take place in an ordinary setting wherein any one of us might find ourselves through no extraordinary means.
This ordinary setting is even, oh my god, is it even possible? In the good ol’ US of A! Rather than in some inaccessible, magical place such as Through A Portal or in the Cotswolds or some other place like that which doesn’t really exist. (No, I don’t believe the Cotswolds actually exist. After all, MS Word doesn’t believe they exist!)
The stories happen, as I’ve said, not only to actual grownups (with brains, remember) but to ones who are over twenty nine years old, who have some life experience. Maybe even have grown children of their own!
I could get away with using a story as a comp if the protag
is only 27, or if it takes place in, say, modern-day Madrid, or ancient Ireland,
or on another planet. One difference like this could work – two or more would
be stretching it too far. With just one difference like this, I could do a
combination-comp, along the lines of: “My work is like Amazing Positive
Adult Fantasy That Takes Place In Ancient Ireland meets Contemporary Small
Town USA. All I have to do is somehow find and read Amazing Positive Adult Fantasy
That Takes Place In Ancient Ireland, published within the last five years. And
I am legit having real trouble doing that.
The point I am trying to make, with my work, the sense I am trying to create, is that you, yes even you, a grown-ass adult who is successfully slogging through a standard adult life, could accidentally stumble at any moment into a world of magic and wonder. You can find out that dragons exist. Right here, right now, in your podunk little boring town. When you do, you will be able to bring your life experience to bear to not only survive this strange, new life, but also defeat the dragon, or maybe even make it your ally.
If you can point me to a book like that, I might be able to use it as a comp. Even if it wouldn’t work for me as a comp, I would be grateful because I would finally be able to read a new book all the way through!
If the kind of book I’m trying to buy/read/write is not edgy enough for you, fine. You do you. I am not writing for you. If you think the only people who like this sort of thing are laughable, weak-minded children, get off my lawn.
It’s official! Moonlight and Moss will be released on May 31, 2019. The launch party will be on Saturday, June 1, at 3:PM at Page 158 Books in Wake Forest, NC.
I can’t say enough good things about Page 158! Not only are they the coziest independent bookstore I’ve ever been inside of, but the staff are all friendly, fun, and knowledgeable, and the proprietors are active participants in the community. They really love supporting local and independent authors. If you live anywhere near Raleigh, you need to visit this store!
But especially visit it on June 1, 2019. Not only will I be debuting Moonlight and Moss, but There Will Be Cake! Just sayin’. 🙂
If you can’t make it to the party, we’ll be live-streaming it on my Facebook author page: facebook.com/kimbeallauthor and I hope to see you there!
It’s official! The release date for Moonlight and Moss is May 31, 2019. But you can pre-order it right now (see links below)!
Now, I’ve never understood authors who make their pre-order price higher than the regular price. It’s like you’re punishing your biggest fans for their enthusiasm. I think my Biggest Fans should be rewarded! Honestly, I’d make the Kindle version like 1 cent for pre-order but Amazon doesn’t allow anything lower than $2.99, so I did my best! The pre-order price is $2.99 – after June 1, the price will be going up to $4.99. Barnes & Noble has made the paperback available for $11.99; after release it will go up to the full price of $15.99.
My journey to deciding to self-publish was fraught with self-doubt and anxiety, but I’m glad now that I did it. The interior design stuff (especially getting the pagination to match up with my table of contents) was kind of a nightmare! But I really had a lot of fun being an active participant in the cover design. I’m really proud of the final product, and I hope you’ll like it, too!
Let me state unequivocally, here, for any other authors
considering whether to self or traditionally publish:
Fear of “loss of creative control” should never be a factor
in deciding whether or not to publish traditionally because, frankly, it’s a
complete and utter myth.
Even with traditional publishers, the author retains authority (that’s where the word “author” comes from, peeps!) and has final say over any and all suggested changes. Fear of “loss of creative control” was not why I decided to self-publish Moonlight and Moss. I chose this route because it became evident to me early in the querying process that it was highly unlikely any traditional publisher would ever be willing to pick up the second book in a series. Once I finish Cally’s story arc in the Woodley, USA universe (this will happen when Rivers and Roads is released in 2020) I will begin a new series. It will probably also take place in Woodley, but since it will be a whole new series with a whole new main character, I will be ready to begin pursuing traditional publishing again.
Because I have other things to do besides going crosseyed formatting text for PDFs and .epubs. I have many books to write before I sleep!
Oh, and that reminds me: Who would you like the main
character of the next series to be? Is there anyone you’ve already met whose
story you’d like me to explore from their own point of view? Or would you like
a new main character all together? Let me (as the YouTubers say) know in the
Do you NaNo? If you’ve ever had even a hankering to try your hand at contributing something to the worldwide body of fiction, National Novel Writing Month is a good place to start. For one thing, you’ll get lots of support and encouragement, and afterward the whole idea of “writing a book” will seem far less daunting. It’s amazing, it’s true: you actually can do this. I am not kidding.
In addition, you’ll discover a community of writers you never knew existed all around you, and you’ll find out another thing I was amazed to discover: Writers, as a body, are really amazingly nice people! Most nerds are. (Oh, yah, if you’re a nerd, you’ll also find, among writers, a much higher percentage of nerds than you’ll find anywhere else. What’s your nerddom? Doctor Who? Night Vale? Local indy bands nobody else has heard of? Chances are, everyone in your local NaNo group will also have at least one of these interests – and some of them might share all of them with you. It’s mind-boggling!)
I started Moonlight and Moss as my 2017 NaNo project, though I knew it was going to run well over the requisite 50,000 words required to “Win” NaNoWriMo. This year, I am going to work on a short (well, short for me!) novella revolving around what it must be like to experience the Christmas season in Woodley, USA. I can well imagine that, at Vale House, Santa Claus really does slide down the chimney on Christmas Eve. He probably hangs around eating hors d’oeuvres (I wonder if Katarina will finally make tacos?) and drinking the special Christmas brandy.
This won’t really be part of the current “trilogy” featuring Cally, Ben, and Emerald, though they will be present for Christmas this year. Maybe someday I’ll include a bound copy of the story as bonus content with the boxed set.
Best of all, NaNoWriMo is for a good cause, whether your participate as a writer or by supporting an aspiring writer you know. Proceeds from donations to National Novel Writing Month provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds—on and off the page. Their Young Writers Program promotes writing fluency, creative education, and the sheer joy of writing in K-12 classrooms by providing free classroom kits, writing workbooks, Common Core-aligned curricula, and virtual class management tools to more than 2,000 educators from Dubai to Boston. For more information please visit their web site: NaNoWriMo.org
Yesterday a lady said to me: “I think writing must be the hardest form of art. With painting or sculpture, at least you can see what you’re making but with writing you have to imagine it all in addition to writing it.”
My first thought was that writing is certainly easier for me than, say, basic arithmetic. Seriously, I get anxiety symptoms just thinking about adding two two-digit numbers! But I also found myself thinking that readers, also, have to imagine everything they’re reading. Reading is not just a passive form of entertainment that is merely presented to you wholly formed: you are required, also, to imagine everything the written words are telling you.
I wonder why we do this? It sounds like work! Yet we eagerly take it on. It really doesn’t feel like work at all, to me, and I’m sure it doesn’t to you, either. We may be nuts, but we are happy nuts!
Storytelling, whether written or oral, is a collaboration between a storyteller and a listener. I don’t know about other forms of art, but this one, at least, requires input and the capacity to imagine from both ends, in order to happen at all. I find that very humbling. I recognize my responsibility to my readers – and I have complete faith they will not let me down on their end, either.
So I want to tell you flat out: Readers, I appreciate you! Without you, the art of writing would be incomplete. Your imagination, in addition to mine, is not just appreciated but necessary in order to make the story happen. Without you, your mind and your imagination, everything I write would be nothing more than a bunch of letters on a page.
When I first created Luke, near the beginning of Seven Turns, I really didn’t mean for him to be anything more than a one-time walk-on character who would say a few lines, serve his purpose and exit stage left. Apparently he wasn’t satisfied with a bit part, though. By Chapter 24 he had decided to stick around, and had developed a personality of his own. I discovered he was into computer repair, gourmet pizza toppings, bad jokes and winding up the town elders. Who knew? Certainly not I.
As I began work on Moonlight and Moss I learned that he also plays keyboards and that he, well, he understands a lot of things about Woodley that most of its denizens just turn their heads and avoid talking about. When I ran into a few plot conundrums, I decided to interview him to get his perspective on the story. (I had done this with Seven Turns, at this point in crafting that story, as well. That time, I had asked Foster to tell the story from his point of view and, let me tell you, I was constantly worried I would end up in jail if I ever got pulled over and the cops found that notebook on me!)
Turns out, young Luke had quite a lot to say. He’s really a remarkable young man, and Woodley is more fortunate than it realizes to have him around. He took the ball and ran with it, and he not only helped me find the answers to the plot holes that had been plaguing me, he gave me a lot of other insights, as well, into what makes Woodley tick.
The fact is, all characters will do this sort of thing if you let them.
I found Luke’s voice so delightful, though, that I decided to write it up as a short story to give as a gift to my beta readers and my initial fans. This was my first foray into Self Publishing and, I have to say, it was kind of a rush! I can totally see why everyone is so enthusiastic about it. I don’t have any intention of making a profit from it at all, of course, so I have priced it at the absolute minimum Amazon allows. Of course, if you have Kindle Unlimited, it’s free with your monthly subscription anyway. Oh, and if you were one of my beta readers, I’ve already ordered you a copy – look for it soon in a mailbox near you!
I also put a map of Woodley and a floor plan of Vale House inside the front and back covers, because I thought fans of the series would appreciate being able to see those. I hope you enjoy it as much as Luke enjoys wild mushroom and artichoke heart pizza with cave-aged gorgonzola!
On Wednesday I penned the last lines of the sequel to “Seven Turns” (working title: “Moonlight and Moss“.) Looking at my Twitter feed in retrospect, I found it a bit remarkable that this happened at about the same time as the Launch Party for Seven Turns, and I wonder, now: is it just me, or if there really is some kind of synergistic synchronicity that happens when we write, whether or not we are aware of it?
Probably it’s just me noticing things that happen to be coincidental if you look at them in a specific light. (You may recall my blue funk, about this time last year, over the passing of the mighty Gregg Allman at about the same time I was penning the dénouement to Seven Turns.)
The fact is, I am making a deliberate effort to have this arc of stories about Woodley, USA come out approximately one year apart. I still lave loads of editing and adjusting to do, and then the beta reader phase to go through, and then the very special hell of appealing to agents and publishers to please, please, please take on Moonlight and Moss as a project but, considering how crazy my life has become since the publication of Seven Turns, I’m really only a couple of months behind the curve here. As any writer will tell you: a novel takes exactly as long as it needs to take to be completed: no more, no less. I think this little coincidence is a definite sign that I am at least almost sort of meeting that goal!
And, after all, this is part of why I started keeping a blog and a Twitter feed and a Facebook in the first place: to document the history of this contribution of mine to the world of literature, so that I and perhaps others might look back someday and say, “Oh, hey, did you realize…?”
As the equally (perhaps, someday) mighty Johnny Sinatra has lyricized: “I’ve seen it a thousand times before – it’s what they call timing.”
I thought I didn’t like “Marketing,” and maybe I don’t, but seriously, the marketing and networking stuff I’ve been doing lately doesn’t feel like work at all. I’ve been meeting so many wonderful people, and through them, other people. I’ll tell you what: Writers are Nice! I never really knew any, before, and I had no idea they were such great people. Maybe I have finally found my Tribe?
First off, on Saturday, I went to the Zebulon NC Farm Fresh Market, where a lady from my local writers’ coffee-clatch (via the Franklin County Arts Council) was hosting a booth for Literacy Day. I got to meet more fellow authors, some newspaper folks, and librarians … AND! I got a free cantaloupe! How can a day get any better?
Well, there was still more in store. Saturday evening, the long-anticipated Launch Party for Seven Turns went off at the Wake Forest Coffee Company, where most of Seven Turns was written (and where the first draft of Moonlight and Moss is about to be completed. I’ll blog separately about that later!) I had been sweating this for so long: I was so sure I’d forget something, or that nobody would show up, or that I would drop the cake…
Oh, yes, the cake! That came out great! I showed the fine folks at Sweet Traditions the cover of my book and asked: “Can you make a cake to look like this?” and they said “Challenge accepted!” I think it came out fabulous! (It tasted pretty good, too!)
I really could not have pulled it off without all the help I got, though. I am so grateful for the support I have received all along from the Wake Forest Coffee Company, where most of my writing gets done due to both the peaceful atmosphere there and (or, perhaps, especially due to) the great coffee. My wonderful husband, who speaks for a living, emceed the event so I could concentrate on signing books and sucking up to potential fans. My wonderful daughter operated the camera for the Facebook Livestream of the entire event. An amazing local band, Clairvoyance, provided background ambiance (to tell you the truth, they have provided much calm and inspiration all along for my writing at the coffee shop, where they play almost every Sunday morning.) Even my grandson took care of making sure everyone had a program and a door-prize ticket.
I was so nervous before this event, but now that I have safely got over this hump, I am hoping upcoming book signings (next up: Book Signing at Page 158 Books) will start to feel more like just going to work every day. Or, wait… maybe I actually hope I never start to feel like any of this is “just going to work!”
Well, it has happened at last! I thought the day was still a long time coming, but yesterday, quietly and without fanfaire, Seven Turns appeared on Amazon.
It was surreal to see it there, really, and after all the Hurry Up And Wait, now I am back to hurrying: I need to order copies to take with me to book signings. Oh, yah, I need to schedule those book signings! I need to create my author page on Amazon! I need to create a media kit! I need to update my blog!
Great time for Windows to do an update that completely took out my keyboard, right? *sigh!* Thank goodness I still have my tablet, and thank goodness WordPress is mobile-friendly.
So there you are, everyone. I hope you enjoy it. I mean that, really. The main thing I really want people to feel when reading about my fictional world is enjoyment. I mean, you’ll feel a lot of other things as you’re reading, but mostly I hope that when you close the book at the end, you’ll find yourself thinking, “I enjoyed that!”