Here it is…the cover!

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Here it is, folks, the cover of my first book with Cedar Fort Publishing! I love the tenderness it shows between my main characters, which reflects their relationship in the story. Benjamin Marlowe, a former Civil War captain, is inspired by Walt Whitman (yes the poet shows up in the story) to travel the country while avoiding anything that will hold him down. Yet when he meets Annabelle, an orphaned pioneer girl who has grown up in a hidden valley in the Cascade Mountains, his plans unexpectedly change.

The publication date of “Chance’s Bluff” has just been moved up to December, which means I’ll be busy the next few weeks working on getting reviews and publicity … my least favorite part of being an author. I don’t mind appearances–those are actually pretty fun. It’s organizing my calendar, planning, sending out emails, and all the practical stuff that make me want to procrastinate. Ugh! I need a secretary to do all that for me.

In the meantime, I’m also busy putting final edits on a Christmas novella, “Abby Rose’s Christmas.” The story will be featured December 18 on “Singing Librarian Books” blog’s ‘ “12 Days of Christmas Countdown” Blog, with five free giveaways. I’m excited not only because this is my first Christmas story, but because it features one of my favorite characters, whose story connects those of two of my other novels.

Who is that character, you ask? Why, Abby Rose herself. She’s the high-spirited, red-headed daughter of Tom and Abigail Westerly from The Gardener’s Tale, and the grandmother of Chance McInnes from Chance’s Bluff. Although I barely mention her in those books, she’s a very important character in the lives of those around her. Her fun-loving personality frequently gets Abby Rose into trouble, and that is the case in this romantic and adventurous Christmas tale, where she meets her future husband.

I’ll post more on “Abby Rose’s Christmas” later. For now, it’s back to writing and trying to whip my promotional calendar for “Chance’s Bluff” into shape … a month earlier than expected. Yikes! I feel myself procrastinating already.

 

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Book Signing Today in Walnut Grove, CA

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If you’re in the Walnut Grove area today and looking for something book-related to do, drop by the library at 14177 Market Street, where I’ll be signing books from 1-5 p.m. with fellow Northern California authors.

You’ll find everything from crime, children’s books and nonfiction to, of course, historicals and clean romances.

More good news: my books will be discounted since I am clearing out my inventory before they are republished by Cedar Fort Publishing (with new covers) starting in January.

Hope to see you there!

How I Finished those Novels I’ve Been Working On Forever

With two novels coming out early next year (one in January, one in March), friends and acquaintances have been asking me, “Wow, how do you write so fast?”

The truth is I started those novels (along with several others) many more years ago than I like to admit, some stemming clear back to college days. Recently I learned how to finish those partially written stories, which is why they now seem to be coming out one after another.

Although there are many methods that work for different authors, this system works for me. (By the way, I can’t take credit for any of these ideas, since they all came from workshops, books, and classes. If  you’re a writer, you’ve surely run across some or all of them.)

First: The Idea

This is the easy part! The spark for an story can come from a news event, a friend’s experience, a dream, or just imagination. Far from a developed plot, it’s merely an image, a character, a conversation, a setting, or a fragment of a scene that pops into my head.

However I used to think that, armed with only this tiny idea, I could sit down at the keyboard and create a beautifully composed masterpiece with intricate layers and fascinating characters. Disappointingly what actually happened was, after about three chapters of pointless twaddle, I’d realize the story was going nowhere and give up.

That was because I had not yet learned “Plot Structure,” which I’ll return to in a minute. However, every one of my stories did start with that spark of an idea.

Second: The Story Goal

In retrospect, I’m embarrassed how long it took to realize that a story must have a plot. In a screen-writing class I took at UCLA, the instructor taught us that a hero must have a worthy goal that means everything to him, and during the story he must overcome powerful obstacles that try to prevent him from obtaining that goal. (This is not necessarily true for depressing literary fiction, of course, but then I don’t write depressing literary fiction).

The next step in my writing process is to fill in the blanks of the following sentence: (Name of character) wants (story goal), but (antagonist / conflict), so (what he/she does to overcome the antagonist). This simple rubric has provided an effective basic road map to the stories I want to tell.

Third: Outline

Much has been written on plot structure, beginning with Aristotle’s observation that everything should be a beginning, a middle, and an end. I never had trouble coming up with beginnings and endings, but what to do in the middle? That’s the source of the famous Hollywood executive’s complaint: “This has no second act!”

I don’t have time to write in detail about plot structure, and others have done it far better than I could anyway. However, without an outline I would bog down hopelessly, with no idea how to find my way to the end. On the other hand, too detailed an outline can take the fun out of actually sitting down and writing a story, which entails imagination, discovery, and freedom.

To solve this problem, I usually start with a very simple structure (“the skeleton” of my story) to help me know where I’m heading. No more tearing up pages and pages of writing that doesn’t work. Who has time for that? Certainly not me!

As more ideas come to me, I write them down as scenes and plug them into my rough draft, which I’ve usually already started, because I just couldn’t wait. (Yes, I’m an impatient sort.) The outline helps me know where these new scenes should go.

Act 1 – The Beginning

I introduce the main character and her world, which is about to change drastically. Then something happens that forces the main character out of her old life. She must make a difficult decision that propels her into a new world (often leaving home). I jot down what that that decision is, and what forces her to make it.

Act 2 (First Half)

She encounters more obstacles to her goal, and tries to overcome them. She meets allies and the antagonist.

Mid-point:  A twist happens, or the heroine reaches a turning point where she is tempted to quit. Instead, she recommits and throws herself whole-heartedly into overcoming the antagonist (or whatever is preventing her from achieving her goal.)

Act 2 (Second Half)

Difficulties worsen.  (Sometimes I’ll take time to make a list of all the worst things that could happen to the heroine, so I won’t run out of ideas. I hate doing that to the poor girl, but without problems there’s no story!)

Black Moment: Some terrible crisis happens, making it appear that the heroine cannot possibly succeed. She experiences grief and despair, and nearly gives up before rallying.

Climax: With the aid of her allies and/or something the heroine has learned during the course of the story, she confronts the antagonist directly and wins. (In my stories, the heroine always wins. For me, reading is an escape from reality. If you want the bad guys to win, go read a newspaper instead.)

Resolution: Now the heroine experiences the new, better world that she has helped to bring about, with a warm embrace from the love interest and the promise of a bright future. Ahhh! How satisfying a happy ending is.

Fourth: Rough Draft

Now I take the bare-bones ideas in the outline and cobble them into something resembling a real story, dressing them up with dialogue and scene descriptions.

My most important trick is to forge ahead rather than going back to endlessly polish and re-write. I used to spend far too long on paragraphs, trying to get them “just right” before moving on, which kept me from ever finishing the darn book! It is hard to let go of imperfect prose and keep writing, but I’ve learned the hard way that if I don’t, a book that should only take a few months to write can take years.

Being the kind of person who occasionally likes to eat dessert first, I often write the “fun” scenes first, and then go back and link them together in order. That is just one reason why the outline is so important: it helps me make sure each scene is actually needed and works for the story as a whole, instead of wasting time on extraneous stuff.

Fifth: Critique Group

Now I’ll go back and fix my rough draft of the most obvious errors, then submit it to my critique partners. This is a humbling and painful process. No matter how wonderful I think my writing is, critiquers ALWAYS find something wrong with it. A lot of things, in fact. Sigh.

The good news is, feedback from a skilled critique group (and thank goodness, I have one), always makes the story better. As a matter of fact, many famous authors of the past submitted their mansucripts to peers for feedback, including Ernest Hemmingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I was interested to learn that To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the great American novels, was vastly improved by the feedback of an editor before it was published. That kind of company makes me feel a little better!

Sixth: Beta Readers

After making changes and edits based on my critiquers’ feedback, I set the book aside for a couple of weeks and re-read it with fresh eyes. Next, I make final changes and give it to a few non-writer friends called “Beta Readers,” who generously provide unvarnished feedback. If the novel passes muster, I make any further small corrections and consider the book finished. It never will be “perfect,” because I always find things that could be phrased better or typos that somehow made it through the process, but at least…it’s done!

Well, that’s it. That’s my process. I’ve left out some other steps, such as research and picking characters’ names and book titles, which is harder than it sounds. I’ll write about those another time, but hopefully this gives you an idea of how my novels grow from a wisp of an idea to approximately 300 pages of (hopefully) thrilling and entertaining story. At least, that’s MY goal!

 

 

 

 

 

Sad to See Summer End

With the temperature at 109 degrees, it’s hard to believe that it’s nearing the end of summer. However, the beginning of school and appearance of Halloween paraphernalia in the stores say otherwise. At least my summer vacation ended with a bang: a wonderful trip to Oregon and the eclipse!

Well…actually, we returned from Oregon a few days BEFORE the eclipse. But we saw plenty of preparations while we were there, including lots of stores stocking those special sunglasses everyone was talking about. My husband and I missed all the traffic, and got to enjoy the gorgeous Oregon coastline virtually by ourselves, and still got to view the partial eclipse from home.

We kicked off our road trip by viewing a fabulous staging of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar at the famous festival in Ashland, a production which showed just how timeless that classic is, and how endlessly creative talented theater folk are. It has been a couple of decades since I’d been to Ashland, which happens to be one of a handful of charming small towns that inspired the village of “River’s Bend” in my first novel, “The Jewelry Case,” and part of the plot as well. If you read it, you’ll know what I’m referring to! 🙂

We were hoping for cool weather as we wound our way up toward Washington and the Olympic peninsula but unfortunately, the heat wave followed us. Counter to my expectations, we encountered exactly zero rain. Still, it was refreshing to see all those green trees and the unbelievable ocean views as we drove up from Coos Bay to Astoria … and then, crossing into Washington, the beautiful scenery continuing all the way to Gig Harbor, Port Angeles, and Bellingham.

Here’s a few photos of our trip.

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I hiked down to this waterfall near the adorable town of Sliverton. You can walk behind it, too. This might make a good setting for a chase scene in one of my future books.

Ashland, OR

Me in front of the theater where we saw Julius Caesar. If you haven’t been to Ashland yet, you should definitely put it on your bucket list. Unforgettable experience.

Oh,

I hope your summer was equally memorable!

 

 

 

The Big Secret is Out!

Full confession: I’m not very good at keeping a secret, so some of my closest friends already know this, but here goes: I have signed a contract and am officially working with Cedar Fort Publications. When I got the call from Cedar Fort’s wonderful acquisitions editor, I had an out-of-body experience while desperately trying to sound calm and professional and as if I wasn’t about to faint.

As an independently published author, over the past few years I had pretty much figured I would continue self-publishing my own books, following the example of some of my favorite authors who have left traditional publishing to do so. But I will not lie. It has always been my dream to be picked up by a “real” publishing company.

As they say, making the cut definitely gives a sense of validation. My husband humorously referenced Sally Fields accepting her Oscar after he heard the news: “They like you! They really like you!”

A huge thank you to those readers who have left reviews on Goodreads and Amazon Books. I am positive your support helped make this dream come true. And another huge thank you and big hugs to my amazing critique group partners and beta readers, for your invaluable feedback and encouragement. I love you guys!

The only down side is that I have taken my books off Amazon pending their re-release by Cedar Fort. The first book or two should be available this spring. Please keep posted for updates on this exciting journey, including the cover reveals, sample chapters, and snippets about the characters and conflicts, hopefully whetting your appetite.

Now excuse me while I go dance around the kitchen again.

Good Times

Wow! What an exciting month! This July has been a great one for me. First, it’s vacation time, so I’ve had lots of time to write for long stretches of time and still catch up on all those little things that pile up around the house during the school year. Second, I’ve been having a blast meeting the public at the California State Fair. This is my first time there, and it’s heartening to see how many readers are out there.

By the way, today’s my last day: 12-8 p.m., building A. If you happen to be in the Sacramento area, please come and visit! There are books for every taste, and lots of wonderful authors to meet.

My only regret about the booth–and it’s a big one–is when a visitor chatting with me at the Authors Booth said if he wrote a book about his life, no one would believe it…I failed to ask him “why.” I think I had some idea about respecting his privacy, and that if he wanted to tell me, he would. Ever since, I’ve been wondering,  was he a member of the mob? Kidnapped by Central American terrorists? The first to climb Mount Everest with one hand tied behind his back? Marilyn Monroe’s love child?

On top of all that, I have some VERY EXCITING NEWS which I will announce next week. All it can tell you right now is that it is a dream come true, one I have waited for for many years. I am so very happy and excited! 🙂

 

 

Oh My Gosh, Is That What’s His Name?

Okay, I’ll confess right up front: I can’t remember names. I must have inherited this disability from my mom, who called me by my sister’s name almost as often as she called me by my own. Still does, by the way. (Hi there, Mom! Love Ya!)

My own kids, bless their hearts, had to grow up hearing me run through everyone else in the family’s name before I got to theirs. It was there in my head somewhere, but I just couldn’t pull it out immediately. I’ve even called my husband by my brothers’ names (and vice versa), my daughter by her aunt’s name…well, you get the gist.

When I have to introduce people, even people I know extremely well, my brain freezes. I grin, and say, “Hi, this is__________” (hopefully remembering at least one of the names). Then there is a long awkward pause while I wait for the the other person to step forward and introduce himself to the other person, which after a moment, they usually do.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one to suffer from this disease. I’d just like to know how other people deal with it!

 

 

 

Happy Independence Day!

For much of the 1970s, when a lot of national bitterness lingered on about the Vietnam War and it seemed like American patriotism was at a low (equaled only in recent years), I was living in Rabat, Morocco, next door to the American Ambassador’s residence, and my father worked at the American Embassy a few blocks away, literally a little piece of our homeland, where Old Glory flew overhead and the Marines stood on guard, and everything seemed homelike and familiar.

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As beautiful as that North African country was, with its Mediterranean climate, Roman ruins, and intricately tiled mosques, its delicious fruit, sandy beaches and fascinating history, I remember being amazed at how unappreciative my compatriots were of our own country. Or so it seemed to me. When I returned for visits, I was amazed at stores that were clean, with endless aisles of products to choose from, how big everything was, and especially the fact that everyone spoke English with an American accent.

Times have changed. So has America in some ways, for better or worse. People may debate the reasons and meaning of those changes, but whatever we may wish were different, we are still fortunate enough to have the oldest functioning democratic republic in the world, the highest rate of charitable giving in the world, the biggest economy, the most global influence, and the strongest military–whose members sacrifice all to protect Americans and others, often for no reason except that it is the right thing to do.

On the Fourth of July, I believe it is appropriate to spend some time appreciating the good about the United States, the country that did away with the concept of inherited Monarchy (sorry, England!), and brought the ideal of democracy to the modern world.

Today I am proud to be American, and at the same time I wish the best to all our wonderful friends in other countries around the world.

Happy Independence Day!

Book Bub Rocks!

If you’ve read any of my posts, you know I don’t chat much about my pet (although my beloved Storm is the best cat ever), or my vicissitudes in life (way too embarrassing, you really don’t want to hear about that stuff. Or if you do, I don’t want to tell.) But today I’m going to talk about something very exciting that just happened.

Here it is….

Being a rather private, even shy person, I have found it super hard to do what it takes to market my books. Oh, I know what I’m SUPPOSED to do (blog tours, book launch parties, Instagram, etc.) but when it comes to actually doing it… well, I always find something else I’d rather do instead. Like snack on chocolate moosetracks ice cream, or clean out the garage.

Well, I finally got around to doing something I’ve been planning to do for a couple of years now. I got an account on Book Bub. Just so you know, this is not a paid advertisement for that website, but the next weekend when two of my books went on promotion…WOW! People finally knew that my books existed! How exciting!!!

So, dear reader, if you happen to pick up or download one of my novels and enjoy it, please take a minute and post a brief review, or just give it a few stars. It would be so nice for more readers to know my stories are out there. Hopefully the books will entertain or even inspire them. THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH!!!

And oh yes, here is my sweet cat, Storm. 🙂

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Magical Meal

IMG_5236I’m lucky to live in a town with lots of entertaining things to do. Recently, my husband and I went to a new venue that recently opened, called Mystique Dining. It is basically a dinner theater with close-up magic, which, if you haven’t seen it before, consists of a magician doing card tricks and other magic, not up on a stage but a few inches from your eyes. No matter how closely you watch, it is impossible to tell how they do it!
At least that was our experience. We were lucky enough to attend the Magic Castle in Los Angeles years ago, and were just as amazed. My husband went home and immediately went online to find out the secrets. I prefer not to know! The food (prime rib) and hilarious patter from the magician were just as good as the magic. It was a splurge, but well worth it. If you’re looking for something different to do, try a fabulous magic show!
I’m currently working on a Young Adult fantasy story about a young man who is learning to be a REAL magician, because, of course, magic is even better when it’s the real thing. Haven’t come out with a title yet, but this book has been in my mind since I was a teenager, long before Harry Potter. A lesson in not procrastinating: from the beginning, my main character’s name has been Torb, but I just learned that there is a videogame that has come out with a character using that name. Grrr!