Saturday, December 27, 2014

Sigh.

The last few weeks have been pretty crazy for me, with lots of little things happening, none of which left me with an awful lot to say. Therefore, the five biggest bullet updates from my last few weeks:

  • I've been writing, though not as regularly as I have wanted to - but this second version of Michael Kingsley's story feels so much more authentic. It flows more smoothly, and I think my muse is with me again, though the going is still very slow. I was hoping to have this story finished and in print by February, when I'll be at a meet and greet at the Maynardville Public Library, but it isn't looking very likely. It is coming along nicely though, and I am loving watching this story unfold.
  • My family had a pretty decent Christmas, even though several of us got the flu (there are still two sick and one extra paranoid, thanks for asking), including me. It was so awful. But on the plus side? I got a snuggie this year ... Finally! And I love it!
  • I read a book that is so amazing, it almost makes me forget the many times that I had an author crush collapse in 2014 after reading the author's well marketed but terribly executed books. This books outshines every book I've read this year, and I seriously loved it so much that I'm still not sure how to review it. Let's just say that particular author reserved her place pretty much forever on my author heroes list. I'll tell you more about that soon though, when I review the book.
  • I thought up and wrote down an AMAZING plot for a story series, but that's all I can tell you about that just yet. I have the outline of the series already started, the first book and all of its chapters already titled, and suffice it to say I am wildly excited -- even though that particular project is pretty far down my list. What's the list, you ask? First up, I'm putting all of my energy toward finishing More Than Friends, which is the fourth book in the Kingsley Series. This one follows Michael Kingsley as he learns to let go of past love so that he can try again with a well loved character from an earlier book. Next, I'll be working on the second book in my fantasy Selkie Trilogy, which will be simply titled, Selkie II. After that, I'll be throwing myself into the sequel to Fighting For Freedom, which will be called Still Fighting For Freedom and will follow the second part of Christine Matthews' journey of escape from domestic violence.
  • This one's for writers: I've been joking for years that I need to go on a writer's retreat, just lock myself away somewhere, shut out the world, and write. But then I thought, how much more fun and productive could that time be if there were other author's along to learn from and talk to and stay accountable with? I spent some time thinking on that, and ended up with an AWESOME idea to plan a writer's retreat! So I'm moving forward with plans for something of that kind, and I couldn't be more excited. Interested authors please fill out this form.
Oh, and my PA/cousin/editor/bestie/right hand? She got engaged and will be getting married in 2015! So if you're reading this, leave a comment to congratulate her and send her your best wishes. I'll make sure she sees it!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Back To Basics

In recent posts I've talked a lot about some of my less than encouraging experiences in the writing world, and I've talked about how social media burnout has pretty much killed my ability to write in recent months.

But there are good and savory parts to the writing world too, and I love how blessed I am to be an author. It's humbling to even have readers, and I wouldn't trade that for anything - so in the last few weeks I've been trying to think of ways to downplay the bad points while still keeping the good points good. I've also hinted at some plans I'm making for 2015, plans that will hopefully get my writing back on track and get me moving again in the direction that I (and my readers) want to go. And that's what I'll be talking about in this post.

I wish I could find it again, but a few weeks ago I saw this awesome photo someone had uploaded to Facebook with their goals for 2015 written on it, and I loved it. I was sure I had saved it, but it seems to be gone. Anyway, this whole thought process really began with that photo, because one of the goals mentioned on the graphic was to back up and take more time to just be. Another one said something about getting back to the basics of writing, and that one really got me thinking.

What are the basics, really? Writing, in its simplest form, really is basic. You just sit down, and you have a blank space, and you fill it with words. And then, if you're an author, you'll read them, rearrange them, throw them out, write different words, and repeat three or four hundred times until you like the arrangement of the words you've finally settled on. After that, you swallow your pride and you pretend you aren't afraid, and you show those words to someone you trust, asking them to "check it out" and let you know "if it's good." Once you get some feedback, you read and proofread some more, edit some things, add and remove some other things, and then you think you might be ready to show the world. So you find or design a cover, you read and polish the writing yet another time (or twenty), and then you send your precious words out into the world, hoping that someone else will love them the way you do.

It's a process, one that opens up your heart and soul so that other people can look inside.

For me, that's almost the whole of my "writing goals" for 2015. I want 2015 to be about writing, and I want it to be about the readers who love my writing - and all of my "little" goals add up in some way to that one major focus. I really do want to get back to what I think of as the basics, the things that make writing a way of life for me - the things that make writing a part of my life that I simply can't live without.

And we'll see how that goes.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Review: 'A Girl Called Malice' by Aurelia B Rowl

*About The Book*
It's not easy being the Queen Bee. Alice Taylor should know.

You know that girl. The one that the whole school's social life seems to revolve around. Alice used to be that girl until she decided to quit sixth form college. Suddenly her 'friends' aren't so interested in following her around and her attention-grabbing behaviour is about to get her kicked out of home. With nowhere to go and no one to turn to, her world starts spiralling seriously out of control.

Only new friend Zac Newton seems to believe in her. Lifeguard and poolside hottie, Zac is quite literally her lifesaver. But then, he's never met 'Malice', her mean-girl alter ego, and Alice wants to keep it that way. She knows this is her last chance for a fresh start until her sordid past catches up with her at the worst possible moment.

As everything Alice has worked towards comes crashing down around her, she realises that the hardest thing of all is being yourself ...

(British spellings are used in this blurb, as the author is British.)

*My Review*
In August of this year, I reviewed 'Popping The Cherry', the first book in what is currently called the Popping the Cherry series, and I loved the story. So when an opportunity came up to read and review this second book, I jumped at it (although it did take me some time to actually get around to typing this up).

While I loved Lena in Popping the Cherry, and I especially loved the friends-turned-lovers aspect of that story, I have to say that I really, really loved A Girl Called Malice. I think I was supposed to fully hate Alice after having read her antics in Popping the Cherry, but I didn't - other than a mild dislike, I simply didn't care all that much about her.

But in A Girl Called Malice, I got to know the girl behind the bully. I got to know, and relate to, and fall wildly in love with Alice, the heartbroken young woman hiding her vulnerabilities behind an unshakably bitchy exterior. I cried with her, I laughed at her. I suffered beside her. And so many times, I was so disappointed in her ... because she kept not living up to my hopes for her recovery!

But in the end ... oh, in the end ... well, I can't very well spoil the ending, now can I?

So I'll leave you with this: you *want* to read this book. You *want* to experience the torn and tangle heartstrings. You *want* to experience the ultimate understanding and the best aspects of true and honest friendship with Zac Newton. And you really really *want* to watch Alice learn to stand on her own.

I promise, you'll love her as much as I did. It's a five star read, but only because it couldn't be six.
Give this book a shot - you won't be sorry. You can even one-click it easily on Amazon.

*More About Aurelia B Rowl*
Facebook / Amazon / Twitter / Blog

Thursday, December 11, 2014

One Bad Apple Ruins The Bunch?

In my last post, I mentioned that I've recently been pulling back from the writing community. I have no intention of pulling back from my readers -- I love hearing from people who have read my books, and I love meeting people and interacting with fans of my stories. I even love the pleasant surprise that comes from realizing I've made a legit new friend through my work. But I don't love the dingy background behind the happy facade of the writing community.

The first blogger I met had me completely smitten. She was a doll, funny and sweet and helpful. Until I expressed some uncertainty about a book cover (one of my early ones) and she let me in on a little secret -- that she had a little mean-girl squad where she and about four other well-known indies would sit around and just make fun of people's books and book covers. Considering the timing of this confession, I instantly had a loss of confidence and trust, not in myself, but in this blogger that I had previously respected. Apparently they had nothing better to do with their time. A good number of other bloggers I have met and interacted with since then have either faded into the woodwork or come out with books of their own. A few have even confessed to me that the whole point of their starting book blogs was to build a following that would launch their own books. I find it dishonest, and it really hurts my ability to trust people's motives.

This bleeds into the authors themselves, too -- there are whole groups out there devoted to discussing the bad manners and foul personalities of certain authors. These little "back rooms" in the author community are where you find out that so-and-so used to be known as such-and-such, and he or she runs a fake company but never pays the authors they sign or some other related type of drama. These are the places where you get the down and dirty truth behind the frills of good marketing. These are the places where you find out who to avoid, which ones are the "wrong crowd."

And that leads into events. My first signing event was the Tennessee Valley Author Event (TNVAE); it was an amazing first experience and I learned so much. I met lots of new people, I sold some books, I got some cool stuff, and I had a great time. But it was really busy, and more than a little overwhelming; there were over 100 authors there, and it was a pretty rowdy crowd. There are people I met at that event that I will never forget, because they reached out to me or in some way proved that they were exactly as awesome as I had thought they were. Others, I will remember because they sit around after the event and talk about how ugly or stupid or unworthy their own fans are. This was the beginning of my disillusionment with authors themselves.

Now look, I get it, authors are people too. I myself have said that no matter how hard I'm trying to build a public persona as an author, I am still, first and foremost, a person, a human with feelings and emotions, with problems and things that come up. I have good days and bad days too. But it doesn't matter how bad any day gets, I'm still never going to be the kind of person who sits at a table surrounded by fans who have followed me across the country, just to meet me and buy a book signed by me, and then sit around later and talk about how those people who just paid my bills with their book purchases are not pretty enough to have met me or good enough to have spoken to my cover model. That moment will follow me for the rest of my life, because I had previously idolized that particular person ... she was a success story that I looked up to, until I realized that she was a horrible person. I mean, it's not like I happened to overhear her gossip in an empty parking lot or bathroom while she talked with a friend after the event was over. No, I heard it in a room full of authors AND fans, at the after party. And that's not the only experience of its kind.

So understandably, I was a little nervous going into my second signing, the little one that was held in the Maynardville Library in Maynardville, TN in November. I knew some of the names, and I had chatted a bit with the sweetheart who was in charge of coordinating everything. I was really pleasantly surprised that it went so well, and it went a long way toward encouraging me to sign on to another big event.

Next up? The Sweet Southern Charm Indie Explosion, which was to be held in Peachtree City, Georgia in July 2015. This event has since been cancelled and there is a lot of speculation as to why. Wild accusations about the author coordinating the event are flying, and it looks like anyone who had put much money into this event are now posting a financial loss without much chance of recovery. And I've heard about this so many times!

It angers me, because I've been lied to. It disappoints me, because the sense of community that I felt is now shattered. It hardens me, because I am now unsure if I will be able to reach out in trust again within the writing community.

Fortunately for me, I'm not in this for the writing community. I'm in it for the readers, and that's why in 2015, I'm going "back to basics."

But that's yet another post.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Wrapping Up 2014 ... It's Been A Mixed Year

December 18, 2012, I clicked "publish" on Amazon's KDP service, and I sent my first full length novel out into the world. People loved my characters and they got lost in the story -- and this was a beautiful thing until they got to the tragic ending and ended up FURIOUS. Not just angry, not just a little upset, but outright FURIOUS. I still cringe over the reviews.

Lucky for those people, I just wasn't ready to see the end of Annie and Malik yet, so at the end of summer 2013, I read through and republished their story after doubling it in length, with plans for two more books to follow in the future. The Selkie Trilogy is what I like to call a contemporary romantic fantasy, and I'm still just as in love with that story today as I was when I first wrote it.

During that same year (2013), I also published the first three books in the Kingsley Series, 'Fat Chance,' 'Prescription For Love,' and 'Wrestling Harmony,' and the first book in what will probably be called The Freedom Series at some point in the future.

But you know what else happened in 2013?

I got caught up.

I got caught up in learning how to network. I got caught up in trying to connect with book bloggers. I got caught up in the different social media websites everyone I knew kept telling me that I "had" to use. I got caught up in seeking reviews and marketing mayhem and constant giveaways. I got caught up in watching the sales rankings and what all the "success stories" were doing.

And I got burned out.

I lost my love for the writing -- and the more I got away from the basic joy of telling a good story well, the more blocked I was. My characters stopped "talking" to me. Scenes and bits of dialogue stopped randomly popping up in my mind. And I got really, really disillusioned with the dark side of the writing community -- the bullying that does go on, the people pity-crying about bullying that isn't really bullying, the way people sacrifice each other and spread rumors and lies and gossip. Bloggers that aren't what they seem, other authors that are shady and dishonest. Grown men and women acting like middle school mean girls.

By the beginning of 2014, I was in a full panic. I couldn't write, and I was letting people down. People were emailing me and messaging me about my books, telling me what they loved about my characters and their stories, asking for more. And I gave honest answers:

"It's coming soon."
"I'm working on __________ right now."
"I'm about this far along, so it should be published by __________."

And then it became:

"I'm a little behind, but __________ should finally be published by __________."
"Well, up next on my schedule is __________, and then __________."

And those were all truths. At that time, I was still at least attempting to write daily, even if all I could do was a paragraph that I ended up deleting because it was awful. But I was freaking out. Why?

Because my first signing was just around the corner -- July 2014. And I had nothing new to offer!! And the more time passed, the more likely it became that I wouldn't have anything new to offer at that signing. So I let it go; I gave myself the freedom to take a break. A break from the pressure, from the anxiety, from the fear of failure.

And you know what?

I needed it, because for most of the first half of 2014, my personal life was in shambles.

So as my personal life dissolved and fell apart around me, I stopped writing and I went into prep mode. I made swag for the signing, I ordered books for the signing, I networked with authors who were coming to the signing. I tweeted and facebooked and newslettered and blogged about the signing.

By the time the summer of 2014 was over and fall was moving in, I couldn't remember the last time I'd really sat down and written. I couldn't even remember the storyline I'd been following, and as I read it back, I hated it. So, as I solidified new plans for my second signing (November 2014 in Maryville, TN), I trashed the story that had taken me over eight months just to get halfway written.

And I began again.

In the meantime, I backed away from bloggers and stopped courting them. I stopped posting as much in marketing groups, and I unfollowed or unsubscribed to pages that I found discouraging. I gave myself permission to not like certain things or certain people, and then I backed away from those things and those people, pursuing instead the things that I find fulfilling and encouraging.

And, I got my personal life back into some semblance of order. So as I approach my second anniversary as an independent author, I acknowledge that it was a slow year on the surface, and I apologize to anyone who felt disappointed by my changes. But I also am proud of what I've learned this year, and I've set some serious goals for 2015.

But that's another post.