Saturday, April 25, 2015

more warnings

After writing about romance reader preferences, there is no way not to mention sex and violence. Actually, I might have avoided it here, even though it had arisen in a reader/writer group, but then these two reviews brought it back to my attention.
"Beginning in 1851 Independence, Missouri the reader travels the Oregon Trail & experiences the grueling journey early pioneers must have faced in their never ending desire for a new life. I particularly liked the wagon master, St. Louis Jones. He was such a lovable character & his friendship to Matthew Kane defined him as a memorable part of this story. I can't imagine taking 300 people on that kind of a trip & having to be responsible for the safety of all of them.
"As children growing up Amy Stevens & Matthew Kane were destined to find their childhood friendship turn to a deep abiding love. Amy, ever the romantic, learns that excitement in many instances means danger & danger means possible injury or death. In this revelation she finds that the word adventure will take on a whole different reality. It takes awhile but she finally gets her head out of the clouds & her jealousy under control.
"Matthew, on the other hand, has much more to overcome. His father & brother are down right evil & it's hard to see how he could be so forgiving of their past treatment towards him.
"A good book for the historical western fan with romance woven in. The sex & violence made me inclined to drop a star on this one."
First, in my opinion, this is a nice review but it does represent a not totally satisfied reader based just on sex and violence. I liked though how she personalized why she didn't like this, and still was able to mention other good qualities in the book. 

Regarding sex, warning off such readers is why I call my books adult and use a rating system. My books are pretty much all ♥♥♥♥ except for the novellas that are ♥♥♥ based on their shorter lengths (when working with less words, something has to go). My own scale defining heat is at the top of all my book blogs:
♥ -------holding hands, perhaps a gentle kiss
♥♥ ----- more kisses but no tongue -- no foreplay
♥♥♥ ----kissing, tongue, caressing, foreplay & pillow talk
♥♥♥♥ ---all of above, full sexual experience, including climax
♥♥♥♥♥ --all of above with coarser language/sex more frequent
Round the Bend did have heat, I believe it was in a believable context, not gratuitous. These are two young people in love. Not likely there'd be no heat, but they were on a wagon train with her parents and a lot of travelers; not a great deal of opportunity to acquire even ♥♥♥♥. I did put out the warning for those who want none. 

Sadly for the next reviewer, I think it might have been that same one, who reviewed Arizona Star
"Didn't really care too much for this book but it was my own fault for buying it without reading the reviews. Too much explicit sex that the story of Abby & Sam could have been put forth without. I did like the characters & was glad that Abigail didn't let her father push her into a relationship that would have crushed her spirit. The actual story was good but I won't be reading the rest of the series."
She downgraded that one to 3 stars but still, I consider it a fair review in the sense that she explained why. I like it when reviewers do that. Can't please all readers but nice to know when you didn't what the reason was. Too bad she can't just skip over those scenes she doesn't like; but it is her privilege, of course. There is a reason they are there.

Arizona Sunset is a passionate book. It is not, however, erotica. In my opinion, there wasn't enough sex for me to give it ♥♥♥♥♥. I write scenes that I feel the book needs. No scenes anywhere are just added. They are there to take the development of the characters further. The actual working title for Arizona Sunset was Outlaw Pleasures. I gave it up because I felt it would then sound like erotica. The working title had been chosen because the book is about all those things we are told we should not do by an authority of one sort or another. Reading a hot sexual scene, of course, is one of them for some people. 

In the story though, this heroine had to let go, to not let someone else dictate her life, and to trust in her female nature. Sure, a writer could gloss over that and hint it happened. In my books, I prefer to write about healthy sex between a man and woman. I like writing about a whole, even lusty relationship that is healthy- in all aspects, one of which is that sex can be fun.

Naturally, like all writers, I do want to please readers, but first and foremost are what my characters need in their story. It is good for this reader and me that she won't read more of my books as they pretty much are similar in their heat level. Luckily for her there are a LOT of romance writers who write sweet. 

What I try to do is provide sufficient warnings so a reader is not blindsided. Earlier I mentioned how I also have warnings on all the books regarding language. I write dialogue as seems apropos for the characters. That doesn't mean I won't get a review finding fault with it.  

What has me stumped is how do I warn off the reader who wants no violence or will down rate the book if it's included? Not just this reviewer, but that reader/writer group brought up this problem for some readers. They want no violence in their stories. A lot of times my books, which do have suspense as part of their story, do have violence. With Round the Bend, there was no way to tell a realistic story of the westward movement of these pioneers without including the dangers that did often accompany them.
"This is the ninth case of death by violence on the route, three of whom were executed, the others were murdered. This route is the greatest one for wrangling, discord and abuse of any other place in the world I am certain."    Abigail Scott Duniway
That was far from the only memoir that described such incidents. What I describe in the book belongs there. My issue is not whether to leave violence out. What I am trying to figure out is a meaningful way to warn readers who would find any disturbing. 

If I say the book contains some violence, it might make readers think it has more than it has. If I list off its violent events, it gives away plot elements that should be discovered as they unfold. For me, a violence rating is complicated by the fact that the descriptions in my books are about what would have routinely been in old western movies, the unrated kind, like John Wayne, and old TV shows like Gunsmoke or Cheyenne. If that was disturbing, you couldn't have such actions at all without upsetting that reader.

What I suspect is that when any reviewer takes away stars in a review based on sexuality, they are really hoping to influence the writer in this area. Otherwise, they'd simply not review the book or email the writer to express their displaesure. That though, would not have a punishment attached. In the case of these two books, it's not as though the reviewer needed to warn other readers. My blurbs do that-- well, except for the violence. To me, that is an issue I haven't resolved. I just don't know how to warn sensitive readers, and I do sympathize with them, as I personally try to avoid violence on movies and TV shows. We all have those areas that disturb us. So for rating the violence in my stories, I'd say they are PG13. Does that though work for a book?

Currently, I am very involved in writing my fifth Arizona historical with an enjoyable (for me) hero and heroine. Sam and Abby are in it too as secondary characters. They have been in the background of a lot of my books. Yes, the new one has violence-- a gunfight almost right off the bat with more to come. Its heat is ♥♥♥♥ :). It's what I write.

All photos from Old Tucson, staged stunt fights.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

going to the sweaty place in creativity

When I bring out a new book, it's an edgy time. In the midst of writing one also can be, as it's when the inner critic is most active. When I see a review that slams my work, when a book is returned with no explanation, I feel the mix of pain and joy at stepping into the arena as Brown discusses in the video below. 

She had a quote that she said changed her life. It's a powerful one for all of those taking the risk of being out there in whatever way.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”   Theodore Roosevelt  
In changing the purposes for my blogs, here is going be the place to deal with the whole experience of creativity-- as it is for me. There are plenty of places readers can find words only of encouragement and blogs that speak of things that readers want to hear-- pretty pictures and words. While I am not much on whining as a positive thing, I am going to make this a place for the dark and light side of creativity. For me, there are wonderful times of light but equally there are times where nothing is going right.

Currently I am deeply into the fifth Arizona historical (over half way to where I want it to go). Oh no, it isn't working. It doesn't have value. It won't fit the other stories. I lost my place. Equally there are times, where the words are flowing and hitting the sweet spot. I think euphoria and doubt both belong to creating anything that goes beyond following a formula.

Serendipity is a word I like (happenstance leading to convenient occurrences). I would call another writer recently sharing the video below to be serendipitous. The things Brené Brown discusses, I have felt over and over and not just with writing. If you are a creative person, and stepping into the arena where you are vulnerable, or on the other hand, if you haven't let your creative side free, because you don't believe you can handle criticism and rejection, either way, give yourself that twenty minutes. You won't regret it.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

decisions, decisions, decisions

Most writers begin with, or eventually develop, a set of ethics on which they base their work. There are things they won't do, places they won't go. Some of this may be impacted by the reason they write, i.e.: to tell their story, for the money, or some combination.  

Bannack, Montana

A writer has the freedom to write their own story but not to guarantee it will please anybody else. Basically, all of life is action and reaction. We can control our action, not someone else's reaction. It sounds lofty to say I will stay true to my story-- not everyone has that option.

I am thinking about this because of reading comments in a private writing group. This group has both readers and writers-- a huge plus as often writers only talk to writers or readers to readers. Bringing the two together can be educational, rewarding, but also present frustrations. Readers, who are willing to speak out, have many must haves-- often not the same and sometimes diametrically opposed. Here are a few issues that arose and had me scratching my head:

1) This one is mostly aimed at historicals but is true of all books to some degree. The details must be believable and feel real-- even though the story is fiction (fantasy is excepted from this). In an historical, the language, food, transportation, etc. all must be correct (as they have been taught) or some claim they will discard the book before they finish it. 

The reader is always right. Except they are not. Some are completely wrong with their assumptions. They don't always know what was true for say 1880 because they did not spend the hours the writer did listening to stories from those with older relatives, reading historical analysis, pouring over old newspapers and memoirs (some of the latter only available in libraries. 

The most demanding readers often only know what they feel should be true, sometimes based on other fiction. When they write a scathing review of details being wrong, the writer is not supposed to address their complaints nor try to have a conversation about it. Writers are never to address reviewers directly-- not to say thank you or to argue.

So what option does that leave the writer? Well, for me it's spending those hours on the research, editing and quadruple editing for what someone ate-- and then trust I got it right. I own a lot of history books, some that tell me when this or that first appeared (which may or may not be right either). I bookmark websites where I can go for when a phrase or word showed up in print (which does not mean the first time it was used verbally).

An example is having a character say okay. It sounds wrong for historicals. Often I avoid it for that reason. But it first was used in The United States in the 1840s. It would be quite appropriate in a western set in 1880, but there might be purist readers who would be turned off by it. Safer to not use it as really how important is it to the story?

That is my criteria: Does it matter enough to stick to my guns (speaking of guns, you really have to research those for when they were first sold). When something is important to me, and I am confident it was true; then I will use it whether a reader later objects. There are readers who will appreciate that-- maybe just less of them ;)

2) Next issue is specific to ethnicity. It can take considerable research to find what word was used for this or that racial group, and sometimes the word that was most common is offensive today. 

Big time, this is where ethics come in. In our country, racial divides have been revealed to still be there and hurtful. Does a writer want to make that worse? For myself, I will err on the side of sensitivity-- but I don't avoid characters from various ethnic backgrounds. I won't use words I know might've been correct at one time. There are things that matter more to me. Hurting a racial group, who have already experienced persecution, isn't something I am willing to do to satisfy the purist-- who might not be correct either. It's not like we have tape recordings from back then.

3) This last example surprised me. Until I had read it, I had no idea how intensely some felt about it-- profanity in a book. The phrase most objected to was whenever the reader believed the character was taking the Lord's name in vain. There were those who said they would quit reading right there. They apparently don't realize that when someone says G-- D---, they are not damning God at all. They are just using an expression indicating strong emotion, frustration, or anger against a situation. It's in itself meaningless.

In addition, their interpretation of the Commandment is not only Old Testament but refers today to words that didn't even exist when the books of the Bible were written. The Third Commandment says-- you shall not take your Lord's name in vain. The easy take on that is in profanity. But I don't think it means that. 

Using something with less heated emotions, think about this. If you took my name in vain, I'd say you had used me to excuse what you were doing or to give your position more power, and it wasn't true what you said. I think what was meant and is far more powerful than avoiding reading a swear word. 

What I believe it is saying is-- don't go around claiming God wants you or someone else to do this or that because He said it... when He did not. I have heard this coming from some of the religious pundits where they claim God brought a hurricane to punish someone somewhere else for being gay or having an abortion. That to me is taking God's name in vain. 

To top this off, I had a pastor once who took the whole issue a step farther and said even saying gosh, golly, gee, or guldurn, all were the same as taking His name as it was from where it came. My goodness didn't even pass the test.

Once I tried using little g to indicate it's a god in general, not the reader's THE god; but that upset some who emailed me. It made them uncomfortable even though the word god is generic.

What I believe is that those, who say they quit reading at one G-- D--- (I am using dashes in case one of them comes here and would stop reading if they got to the actual words as I'd like them to read the rest), they really want the writer to stop using the words. It does not suit their religion to use/read them, and so it should not be in my book or anybody else's; and if it is, the threats follow. 

For me, ethics decide this. I create characters that feel real to me. They will use words I believe they would say-- with some exceptions. There are some obscenities that I don't like writing (I do read books with them in it); so for me, I get around it with expressions like: "he said some words she'd never heard" "he cursed explosively," etc. (It is most generally men swearing in my books. Women are a little milder in their use of profanity.)

I will not have a tough hero saying-- gee whiz or my goodness in a critical moment. Not gonna happen-- ever. I try to keep my characters true to their character. In my most recently released book, I did have my two younger male leads use that objectionable phrase (each, under extremely heated situations); it wasn't ever said by the wagon master. I can't imagine him saying G-- D--- and he doesn't.

Interestingly, some of the very reviewers in the first two issues demand authenticity right up until they come to #3. So what does the writer do? Well, if they have to make a living, they probably take out the words, and then the next ones that offend another reader and pretty soon they have a watered down story that suits certain people and maybe sells. If they don't have to make a living at their writing, they stay true to their own code to reveal the story and characters with all their depth and sometimes their grittiness. 

To satisfy my ethics, to tell my story, and stay true to it, I came up with a solution to warn away sensitive readers where it comes to the profane. I went back to all my blurbs and inserted a warning that the book contains strong language and mild profanity. Not all of them actually used the words they most disliked, but they all have some swearing in them. I do not want to blindside any reader for their sake and mine.

One more thought on this business of extreme purity, coincidentally we recently rewatched The Bulletproof Monk, which has a lot of good lines and philosophy. This quote fits the issue:

Water which is too pure has no fish.

Works for me :)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

separating a cult from a religion... or not

We know the rules for polite conversation-- not supposed to discuss religion or politics.
What about writing a book about religions?
Risky business—never know who you might offend.
What a pity, as religions are where an attempt is made to offer reason and rules for life.
 Except, religions don’t teach the same things for what those would be.

This issue of religions and cults came to my mind because of watching Scientology-- Going Clear on HBO. The program did a good job on getting into not only for what members are looking but also who begins such groups. Scientology used coercive methods to get themselves declared a religion-- a benefit for tax and profit purposes. The documentary is well worth the time not just for understanding it but the appeal such 'religions' offer.

It was the 1980s when Oregon had a cult experience. I guess you can call it an experience although for most of us, it was just through the newspapers. The Rajneesh, who was respected by many as a spiritual leader, arrived in Eastern Oregon after his 'group' purchased the Big Muddy Ranch. This was an area with which I was familiar due to camping and fishing trips. Rugged hills, interesting rock formations, juniper, sage and cattle country pretty well explains the appeal of high desert. For this commune, Rajneeshpuram, there was probably one more appeal-- fairly isolated from large populations but not too far for followers to fly into Portland and easily drive out.

Rajneeshpuram built buildings to house large meetings, held retreats with some moving to be there all the time. The information we were told was that followers were mostly professional people. Most did not live there although some did and began a commune.

The nearby ranching community of Antelope was purchased enough to be renamed Rajneesh. Businesses were turned to new purposes to suit the population at the commune. Some locals sold their property due to fear, some to make money, but the remaining residents became fearful as to what was going on. The publicity for the cult made it to newspapers the other side of the Cascades. The Rajneesh was different for his beliefs as it included buying a lot of limos and being driven around in them. 

photo of the faithful and his limo attributed "Osho Drive By" by Samvado Gunnar Kossatz. Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons

The whole thing grew more fraught with enemies and friends until the ones in charge of the cult went too far. Ma Anand Sheela used criminal methods to change the political atmosphere. She faced criminal charges and the days of that cult, in Oregon, were over.

Shortly after the Rajneesh left, the ranch was purchased by a Montana rancher for a youth retreat but that didn't work out. From what I know, the buildings are still  a problem as to what to do with them

Chandra Mohan Jain, also known as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh went back to India and formed another group, which is still functioning there after his death. After Sheela was freed from prison, she went to Switzerland, remarried and and established new work.

This month, what interested me, about the cult world enough to watch the program on Scientology, was that I had written a romance based on a fictional cult. I wanted to explore two questions-- what leads people to become fervent followers of such groups-- and who are those who lead them? Why are some, like the followers of Jim Jones, willing to die for those reasons?

The book had the title Hidden Pearl because of the scripture where Jesus said how a hidden pearl is what a man will give up his life to possess. My book is not a religious look at cults. It explores one fictional one, its members, and what is the danger when such a group goes too far.

S.T. Taggert receives a call from his Navajo mother asking him to find his missing sister. S.T. has been estranged from his family, but he can’t refuse the request even from a mother, who had left her white husband and two children to return to the land that was so critical to who she was-- her beloved redrock country of Arizona. 

Besides the trail to his missing sister leading to this cult, S.T.'s mixed heritage gave me a chance to explore something else of interest to me-- how important, to who we are, might be our ancestors and our ethnic history? This is something S.T. has to work out for his own peace of mind.

My heroine, who becomes entwined in this, is a photojournalist whose assignment had been to photograph up and coming young leaders, which included the cult leader as well as S.T. (a successful architect builder in Portland). Her taking of photographs, her friendships in the Portland area added to my enjoyment in writing the story. My own love of photography helped me understand this woman.

Some ask what separates a cult from a religion? Religions can take on cult like qualities if they use ostracism, threats, imprisonment, and violence to maintain their power. In a religion, members can question or even leave. Cults attempt to limit such freedoms. Cults are willing to poison others to maintain their power. Religions might believe someone else is wrong, but they don't resort to murder to enforce it-- when they do, they crossed a line.

For the writer, the cult is where a story can get interesting—but where there is also the risk of offending those who have a religion they value and may think the story is a threat against it. But can a writer please everyone and still tell their story? My experience is I have not found that I can-- but it's why writing is so rewarding where I can explore the human need for answers and security-- while I also tell the story of two people falling in love-- with its own perils.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

dreams that encourage

If only I could have taken real photos in my dream this week.  It was such a mix of images and events. The interesting part, for me, is it came after a decision I had made. I didn't need the dream to tell me I had done the right thing; however, it served as an encouragement to stay the course. 

The decision involved an email from someone who seemed very nice, very real, and was complimenting my last book. She said it had the potential to be a bestseller. She promised she could get me 50 reviews that would be good and real reviews and were what it would take to get the book to the top. She included the site where I could get them-- of course, for a fee. 

Who does not want their book to be a best seller? But I already knew writers can buy reviews. I had decided earlier that I would not go that route. If I couldn't find readers who wanted to do reviews, I'd stay with the few I had, who have offered them honestly and had actually read the books. It makes each review a treasure for me and fair for future possible readers.

I didn't write this lady back because she probably meant well (and maybe wasn't trolling). Heck, she might even be right, as to what it takes; however, for me, it would feel dishonest and even spoil the value of the reviews I already have. 

Then came the dream that night.

On vacation somewhere on the edge of a lake, maybe Tahoe, I was with a group of people, made up of family and friends, who they were was vague. What wasn't vague was Viggo Mortensen was there. As a group, we were going through this fantastic home that had been created only for its art and for the joy of photographers. It was like a maze. You would follow narrow, crooked corridors. Some would go on, others led to dead-end rooms, where we had to backtrack. They were all filled with marvelous opportunities to take photographs. Very little furniture, white walls, amazing angles, huge abstract paintings, and furniture sparsely placed only for the beauty-- a photographer's delight. Whoever had created this structure, which seemed to have been a home at one time, had created it to be experienced.

But, I was frustrated as my camera was using the 55-250mm, and it was not working right. I would see this marvelous opportunity for a photo, look through the lens, try to frame it, and it wouldn't shoot or it would zoom beyond my desire and ruin the image. Only a photographer can understand the frustration. Finally I gave up and decided I had to walk back to the place my camera equipment had been left, a rental house. I asked the lady who was a docent if there was a shorter way back. She said no, but then I saw an outside sidewalk. There was.

I realized Viggo had followed me to be sure I was all right. Now in this dream, I wasn't the me I am today as I was younger and I definitely had aspirations where it came to him. I didn't appear to have a husband around; however, his ex-wife or ex-girlfriend or whatever followed us to spoil my hopes.
So I got my proper lens, started out again, and he was still with me. Then I realized-- he was trying to make her jealous, and it wasn't about me. I smiled and told him why not make her really jealous. I pulled his head down for a kiss which he kindly reciprocated. The dream ended after a few of those. My dreams are always amazingly innocent for a romance author.
Dreaming about him is not too surprising since he is one of the few celebs that I have chosen to follow on Facebook-- the others are all writers. I like his mix of photography, paintings, poetry (some of which is his work, as well as photos of himself), and sometimes an interview.  If you are interested in any of that, his site is full of creative inspiration.

A recent interview that he, or whoever puts together his site, shared was a good example. He said after Lord of the Rings, he's only done indie work. The movie he is currently promoting is by a Danish filmmaker who had never before worked with an actual actor but has achieved award winning results. The story is about a Danish man who comes to South America with his daughter, she wanders off, and he has to find her. The film sounds like it's about nature, beauty, relationships, and, of course, Viggo, who at 56 or so is still pretty much a work of art himself. 

Oops, I got distracted from my blog purpose here. What I felt was important about the dream was how in all the feelings in it, plus including him, it encouraged me in my own path of staying independent in what I write, not trying to fit a mold of anyone else, and taking the slower but honorable path to getting reviews. 

What a wonderful experience in the dream to go through this gorgeous structure where one great photograph potentially followed another, only to be frustrated with a tool that would not work, to make the decision to go back for the one that would, and then the reward-- Viggo Mortensen and a kiss. :)  

I did not need the beautiful dream to know I was right not to buy reviews but it made for an enjoyable night. Sometimes when I have had a particularly vibrant dream, full of images, I do a digital painting to express it... this time, I will just have to settle for the word pictures.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

having a tribe... or not

a group of mostly similar people committed to each other and a common cause-- which might be survival but could be political, cultural or creative. I believe tribes can be for a lifetime or a set period.

It is possible that from childhood, I have never really had a tribe of my own. I've been on the edge of one, but in one, not so much. This isn't all because I might not have wanted one. The lack, however, is probably part of my introvert nature. Tribes take maintenance, with members working to keep the tribe healthy and active. Someone like me, who needs a lot of alone time, gets sidetracked, changes direction, and won't wholehearted commit, doesn't help. 

  in Chaco Canyon ruins 1999

Interestingly enough (for anyone interested in reincarnation anyway), when in 1998, I did a summer of meditative regressions, the past life stories I got were almost all of women, who challenged the tribe, and were punished for not following its rules. Those lifetimes were in a mix of Native American, Iberian and Colonial cultures. Now I can't say such regressions mean real reincarnated lives, but it might depict some of my conflict in this one.

Of course, part of my problem in fitting into a tribe might be my personality makeup. In the past, when I took tests, which are supposed to indicate where you fit in the human spectrum, I came up like in only 2% or less of the population. Not easy to come up with a tribe-- even in the Internet age. Currently I have over 900 twitter followers, which might sound like aha, a tribe; but that word follower is a bit deceptive there. I think twitterers, or whatever people there might be called, mostly add people to get them to add them back. No tribe-- at least not that I've seen so far.

The subject is coming to my mind right now because of blogging. Some blogs effectively form tribes. They have loyal followers and leaders where they come together regularly and are committed to the community even when the members are geographically far apart. Me, not so much. I have had limited commitment to other people's blogs (tribe) and hence understand why they'd not have it to mine. I have never been a joiner and maybe my history with blogs is a good example of why today I feel tribeless (which does not mean friendless if you get the difference).

This particular blog has been going since 2005; but since I had a blog like it for a year or so ahead of it (which I deleted), I don't celebrate anniversaries or even remember the exact date I began. I know what I liked about it-- I could write what I pleased. For awhile I posted several times a week or more. Then came my decision in 2011 to publish my books (through for my whole lifetime I have also regularly written books but not to publish). With bringing them out, I wanted a place to write about the fiction writing and felt it should be a new blog.

At that time, I had a belief that those who can do and those who can't talk/write about it; so I wasn't sure how it would work out. Previously, I had rarely talked about my books even with friends. Some knew I wrote, but I didn't share the projects or process. When I began the writing blog, I learned that I actually enjoy writing about writing, process, and even the dread marketing. 

For 3½ years, I more or less felt it was working to have blogs with different purposes. Maybe it did for awhile, but no longer. I am even more involved in the books and dividing myself is leading to neither blog as I'd like. I find myself midway through the week with no idea what to write here because everything I am doing relates to my writing.

pictograph in Chaco Canyon Ruins
So while I try to work out which blog continues (deciding by May 1st), I hope readers understand that when I write about writing, I am not trying to sell books (not that I obviously mind when that happens). I simply want to write about them (sometimes the character development, how a plot comes together, research, or glitches). When I leave out writing, it leaves out a lot of me. When a few commented here and said they didn't mind when I wrote about my writing, it left me trying to figure out which blog to keep.

Regarding the most recent book, after all my angst over bringing out Round the Bend, March 30th, I went to look at reports and got the shock of my life. It was selling and far more than any book I'd ever had. At first I wondered if Amazon had goofed, but the sales continued. It even got into helpful rankings (I copied this one from Monday afternoon, because it was not going to last; and I wanted to remember-- once there was a moment ;).
I'll be honest. I felt teary that it had gotten such a good start. I'd like to explain how I feel about its doing this well, but it's hard to get it across. When one of my books goes out, from then on, it's about the book not me. I believe in my writing. I like what I do, but a book takes on its own identity when it is published. It's no longer about me but about its characters and that plot. If it is rejected, it hurts; but like it hurt when my kids would come home from school and someone had picked on them. This is why writers compare putting out a book to having babies (which irks some critics when they hear the comparison). It's not as though I think with a book that it knows it got rejected or accepted-- but I know for it.

Once it's out, the book now belongs to whoever reads it. The characters of Amy and Matt are no longer just mine. For a long time, they were mine (well, and maybe my muse's).
It is the same as all the books on my shelf, by so many other authors, belong to me now. Those stories are part of my life. It's why I say we should think long and hard about what we take into ourselves. It will be part of us.

Anyway I have a bit of a break before I start the new book and during that time, I am researching Southwest archaeology, turn of the century Arizona, and Cibecue country. Researching is one of those things I enjoy. I've been buying books on the prehistoric cultures, the ruins, archaeologists, and of course, putting together the maps that will help me take these characters where they need to go.

In the meantime, I am on the lookout for a tribe... know one for offbeat, sometimes outspoken, a little weird, sometimes reclusive, creative types?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

do a review!

Have you ever thought how important customer reviews are to other customers? Most of us have been used to the kind of reviews that a business will post where they are all glowing recommendations. The internet has changed that. Now there can be sites  devoted to putting down a product; so when a potential buyer goes looking, they find the pluses and the minuses. 

Reviews recently helped me understand why the last pair of tennis shoes I purchased in a store feel tighter than I expected based on my hurriedly trying them on. Reviews have helped me realize a dress should be purchased a size larger than I normally buy based on it being cut small. Reviews let me decide which food dryer was too expensive for what it was worth.  Reviews of our Tucson vacation home let other renters decide if it's for them-- and I always read reviews before I stay in a hotel or rent a house somewhere. I try to read them all, as one person's negative experience doesn't mean something is wrong for me; but when they go into why it was bad, that helps my decision.

These kind of reviews are ordinary people taking the time to write about something they purchased for the benefit of the next person. I am not talking about people paid to do reviews, but people who take time out of their busy lives. I've both bought products and decided against them based on reading a number of reviews for what other buyers experienced. 

Where it comes to indie writers, reviews of their books are very important. Having a lot of reviews can convince someone else this book is worth buying. This is why writers set up street teams where they give out books before their release in return for reviews. Now, honorable writers do not ask for positive reviews-- in return for a copy-- they just ask for a review. Doing this, is like salting a mine (except not dishonest) as reviews attract reviews.

There are those who buy all their books based on a New York Times or New Yorker book review. Others buy books that are never going to make those elite lists, but the benefit of a quality review from a past reader for a future reader is great.

When Round the Bend came out last Saturday, I had mentioned my trepidation regarding how it would be received. It is an historical romance about the Oregon Trail, but it's a long book (130,000 words puts it in the epic category). It deals with not only the hardships of the Trail, a love story, but also a very difficult family relationship.

The sales came in very well, better than I had expected even. I don't know if they will continue but that depends on how Amazon gets it into its rankings. I was fortunate to have been in a writer/reader group that likes pioneer romances, and I think that helped with early sales. Word of mouth and networking really is critical to getting books seen for any chance of being purchased. Yes, it takes a tribe.

Are writers like ranchers and farmers? It's always a case of-- but what about... And that was what I felt when the sales were good but what about reviews. There weren't any for days. I began to worry that people had bought it but not liked it. Maybe its length turned them off, and on my concerns went.

Then it got a review. Nervously, I looked to see what it said, and I can tell you reading it made my day. Not only did the reviewer like the book, but she got what I had hoped readers would.
"This is my first experience in reading one of Ms. Trueax's books and I wasn't disappointed. The story was exciting and never got boring. Amy and her family were traveling to Oregon along with Matt, his brother Morey, and father. It was a large wagon train so the storyline had many characters. I just loved St. Louis the Wagonmaster. He was the salt of the earth with so much experience in leading and understanding people. St. Louis had healing experience which was invaluable to those who traveled with him. I've never read a book like this with so many avenues that kept me fascinated. Amy and Matt were lifelong friends but he started feeling more than mere friendship. Amy actually began being courted by Adam, the Wagontrain Scout, but found out "the feeling" just wasn't there and soon realized her love for Matt was more than being a friend. Matt's brother, Morey, was disturbing in this book and led to the violence in Matt's life. The father was also part of the lies and deception that led Morey to hate his brother, Matt. I don't want to spoil this story for you so I won't go on. However, if you want an exciting, adventuresome and mysterious book, this historical western genre is for you. There is some violence and sexual content but the author did a great job in making all actions part of the story itself. I loved it!" 
I have had books that literally never got a single review even with sales.  And then this one got a second that made me also feel very good.
 Rain Trueax is at her best from the first sentence. Each phase of the plot and characters are richly developed.
The Oregon Trail experience, physically and mentally grueling, either built character in the hero Matt or caused dangerous psychopathic mental breakdown in Matt's brother Morey. The wagon master St. Louis Jones' experience went beyond previous trips on the Oregon Trail. He had lived with Indians and trappers. He had a depth of understanding of humanity. He was a believable mentor for Matt's amazing growth. Through him Trueax revealed insights to the Indian and emigrants' points of view and their conflicting interests. Obviously Trueax's writing reveals extensive research with exact details of folk and Indian medicine, cooking, weapons, and geography. On fly fishing I thought didn't exist until after the civil war but I was wrong and Trueax was correct to have dry flies and a bamboo rod. I am eager to read more of the series to find out if Loraine finds her true love and the destiny of Scout Adam Stone. Will they eventually get together?
I am not sure what accounts for a reader taking their own precious time to review a book, but I can only say that it means a lot to the writer when they do. Even if the book you read had a New York Times review, taking the time to do one yourself is a gift to other readers-- and yes, the writer. 

They say that reviews are only meant for the reader, but I know from other writers that writers cherish getting them. Even an indie writer, with hundreds of reviews, and I know some who have had that many, each new one is important and valued. Sure, when a review is negative, it's not so much fun, but it can be educational and help a writer to see an aspect they may have missed.

So whatever product you buy, give a thought to adding a review. Amazon lets people review products they did not purchase there. They won't say verified purchase, but the reviewer can tell from where they did make the purchase. A review might not seem like a big deal to you, but the time you take is a big deal to both future purchasers and the person/company behind the product.

When I bought my last pair of tennis shoes from a store, I got almost no info from the sales person. I came home, read Amazon reviews and found out not only what my problem had been (these tennis shoes were cut narrower in the toe than usual) but also that my favorite style of tennis shoe was still out there-- something the store never told me. I ordered them; and when they come, you can bet, if they are as they were last time, I will add my review.

I make a lot more effort now to do reviews, but admit I used to do none. It's not just when we are irked at a product that it's good to take some time but also when we love our experience. It contributes to the pool of knowledge and helps the community. Viva la internet :).