Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Celebrating My Journey as a Writer!

As I approach the seventh anniversary of changing my professional title from Landscape Architect to Author, I cannot help but reflect upon everything that has had to go into the pot to make this happen.

With a whole lot of gumption I opened my laptop, after watching Clint Eastwood on Inside the Actor’s Studio, and decided to write a book based upon the thought that it would be a lot of fun to meet him… but how would one go about meeting a celebrity? Casually?

From that one idea, Charlotte’s Restrained, The Accidental Stalker was born. And from it, the whole Accidental Series. There is a tongue-in-cheek component to the title of the series, because while I had gumption enough to write one book, I didn’t know I would write a series. That was an accident.

What happens along the way? From deciding to write your first page, to deciding to make it your career? If you are smart, you read blogs, books, listen to webinars, go to workshops, develop a community of readers/reviewers, and begin to forge your way into the world of social media.

Early November 2013, I attended PubCamp, hosted by a local Seattle business called Honest to Betsy, I don’t even know how I came to know of them, but it was the best thing that happened. At the time, Charlotte’s Restrained had NOT seen a proper Development Editor, a Copy Editor, or Illustrator! I sat in a room at the Center for Urban Horticulture (where I had taken classes to become a Landscape Architect), and listened to people who were fifteen to twenty years YOUNGER than me using acronyms and jargon that made my head spin.

So, I did what any late 40-something person does. I raised my hand, and admitted to the lovely young techno wizard that I didn’t have the slightest clue what she was talking about. She politely surveyed the group of wannabe authors attending her lecture and asked who else was clueless. I think about half the people raised their hands. Phew! We set the restart button and the ball got rolling on a much more basic level.

As I drove home that night, many things registered within me. First and foremost, I had the realization that I had not used my brain that intently in years!! I also had purchased the skills of a Development Editor, committed myself to understanding all the jargon thrown at me, and to finding a toe-hold in the local writing community.

About a third of that happened. I received the input from the editor and found out that I had a lot of work to do. So, off I went to write, rewrite, edit, synthesize, revamp. My budget is tiny… so tiny you can’t see it, so I used the services of once again and got a great bid from a Copy Editor to clean-up my book. Let’s see, by now this is January or February of 2014. Having used up my budget, I created new cover art and prayed that it would be decent enough… which turned out NOT to be the case and I hired a professional to redo them this past summer.

Keep in mind that while all this was happening, I had already written Venus Rising. For every part of me that is a comedian in Charlotte’s Restrained, my broken self is in Venus Rising. I felt trepidatious at sending this book out into the world, but once again went through the process of Development Editor and Copy Editor. I decided that if I could handle the blows of the editors, who can be brutal, I could withstand the pressure of the personal exposure I'd feel putting Venus Rising out there.

Was everything solved? No!! In February 2014 I went to a birthday party to celebrate with several friends. Over a glass of wine, or two, perhaps three, I whined incessantly about how nothing was happening with my supposed writing career. I will freely admit that a handful got fed up enough they wandered to the bright side (the kitchen where the food and wine was). A few hung out in the dreary, ‘What am I going to do?’ environs. I received an incredible pep talk from those that remained, and what followed changed my life.

The next day I signed up with two read/review groups on Facebook. I created a website, an author’s page on Facebook, and created a Twitter account. Twitter blew my mind. So, I took baby steps, and read every ‘How to Use Twitter’ blog I could lay my eyes on. No, I do not have millions of followers. I have about 2500 and I follow about the same. The great things is these aren’t people who spam me endlessly. They are writers, readers, bloggers, artists, social media experts, all people who have the same enthusiasm for reading and writing that I do. A part of my soul gets fed by these people on a daily basis. (There is the potential side benefit that my local friendships have improved since I whine less.)

So, where do things sit? I write about five hours a day, I spend two hours on social media, I read and review an average of four books per weeks. Occasionally I get really lucky and am invited to book clubs to speak about my books. Life as a writer keeps me very busy.

 I was recently asked what I would tell high school students who are considering writing as a career what they ought to do. My first answer: develop your business skills while you are building your communication skills, while you are creating your brand. There’s more to it, but if you can get this triumvirate happening, you just might stand a chance… if you can actually write.

Thrilled to bits, I can say that in the time it takes to birth a human I have taken my books images and content to the best level that I can. I have finished a third, have started two others, and have a novella in mind for my next project. Am I millionaire? No. Not even a hundredaire. Many things make this okay, one of them is reality. Very few authors are overnight sensations, even fewer make it big, even less will do so with only a handful of books under their name.

Days pass where I type and wonder if I am doing the right thing. Fortunately I have the luxury of following this path without distraction (meaning, no other job). While I am appreciative of the absolute freedom to write, some days it can take all my strength to pep myself up to sit down and write. I know that the day swiftly approaches that I will compromise and find a part-time job doing who knows what and write part-time, but that is okay. For at long last I believe that I am finally connecting with readers. Not in the, “make a lot of money,” way, but in a much better way.

I recently received this email from a male reader, the husband of a dear friend, who turns out to be a great friend:

I don't generally read romance novels, and i don't think I'm your target demographic, but I read Charlotte's Restrained and it was funny. So, now it's Venus Rising, and I'll get to the middle one too.
As for why....that's complicated. The truth is, I almost certainly wouldn't read them if I didn't know you. But, I wouldn't read them just because I know you either, though I would probably buy them.
To me, writing is a very personal act, and to publish is to put a bit of yourself on public display. Even if your characters bear no resemblance to you, your portrayal of them reflects your views on them to some degree.
Writing a sex scene, for example, I imagine must be a bit of a negotiation with yourself about just what, exactly, you're willing to put your name to on the subject, even for a work of fiction.  Indeed, the choice to include sex scenes at all I expect was the subject of some thought. And areas where you might be less guarded perhaps reflect more of your real self (or not).
So, an author reveals herself through writing, including through the choices topics. And the question for me then becomes, is this person even remotely interesting enough for me to care, and can they write well enough to keep my attention.
Usually the answer is no. It’s hard enough to be interesting, let alone a good writer.
So, I cracked the first book strictly because I know you. I kept reading because I can hear you say "Des Bannerman" (and I imagine you mockingly frame his name in the air with your hands when you say it), and I keep reading because you can write.
I don't feel obligated to read it in the slightest, I'm not that nice. :)
And now you know your audience consists of at least one elitist snob.  :)

That is why I write! Thanks for reading!