Monday, May 30, 2016

Maybe It IS The Plague After All.

l had plans for this post. I did. I was going to make an order form and tell you all about the online signing I plan to run sometime this summer. I was going to remind you all that this giveaway is almost over but you still have time to try to win a $20 gift card. I was going to tell you about the end of the school year and what that means for my summer writing schedule, my upcoming events, etc. I was going to update you on my first annual reader meet-up, which looks like it will be next summer in Maine (according to the votes so far).

I was going to tell you a lot of things.

But it's been almost a month and I'm still sick. I'm exhausted. And I feel awful.

So I'm going to bed.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Just So You Know: Your Reviews Are Everything

Recently, I saw an article link on Facebook, talking about how we need to adjust the way we review books. The article writer talked about the way we review, and what the rankings we choose from typically mean ... and she also addressed the way our current review standard is seriously damaging our publication standard. She talked about how sometimes as authors, we feel obligated to rate books higher than we otherwise might, out of some sense of professional courtesy. (Which essentially means something like, "I'm an author too, so I know from personal experience that you worked hard and put your heart into this. Therefore, even though it's substandard and perhaps not professionally done / well edited / any good, I'm going to give you the proverbial 'A' for effort.") She talked about the way we as readers sometimes rate books higher than we otherwise might, out of an increased sense of compassion and kindness. Pity stars, if you will.

The article writer talked a little about the value of a truly honest opinion, but here's where it all fell far short for me: there simply wasn't anything in the article that gave me the feeling of the author actually encouraging people to rate and review books as they deserve - for quality and content, rather than for pity and kindness.

And if you know me at all, you'll know that I have some things to say about that.

For those of you who have been following me for a long time, you'll know that for me to talk about book reviews is nothing new. You'll remember a while back when everyone in the book world was freaking out about fake reviews and "bully" reviews and reviews you can pay for (etc., etc.), and I weighed in on those topics often because back then, I still wasn't very good at keeping my mouth shut. Not that I'm much better about it now, but still, I'm learning. Thus, this post will hopefully be a bit less caustic than the others, though no less honest, to be sure.

In the years since my first publication, I've learned a lot more about the behind-the-scenes parts of the book world (and about how much easier things are when you ignore the inevitable virtual-office drama that can crop up in the book world). Sometimes, maybe I think I've learned more than I wanted to, and I've talked about that here too - the way the "should-haves" and the "have-tos" can get in the way of the love of this art form, the way the business can stifle and strangle and drown out the simple freedom of the love of creativity.

Even with all that new knowledge slowly combining with a growing sense of professionalism, I still have strong opinions about reviews and what they mean to authors like me. Not so long ago, I wrote this list of my Top 10 Most Favorite and Not-So-Favorite Things About Reviews.

You know what though? I still have something to say about reviews; I still desperately want you to know what they mean to authors and businesses like me. I even created this page on my website, so that you can get a sneak peek at why reviews are special, along with some tips (and reassurance) on how to write one.

We authors talk among ourselves quite a lot about technical terms like SEO and algorithms, but readers don't often know what these terms are, or what they mean. Truthfully, you don't really need to ... all you're looking for is a good book, right? You aren't into publishing, maybe you don't care about the work that goes on behind the scenes, and you don't want to know about it. So I'm not going to tell you all of it, but I'll tell you this: your review makes the difference between discovery and invisibility. Yes, yours. Your voice matters, even when it's only two sentences on one review, just to say you loved the book, or you hated the book, or the book left you feeling utterly cold and impassive. It matters. Right now, Fat Chance is free; it currently has forty-one reviews, with an average ranking of about 4.5 stars. People like it. But not enough people see it. Why?

Because speculation says Amazon's algorithms don't start really showing books until they take off on their own. Until they have over 50 reviews, regardless of the star ratings. Please understand that you don't have to have liked a book in order to review it. At least, not with mine, and not with any other authors who care about their readers, either. We want your opinions. We want your feedback. And yes, while there are a great number of thin-skinned authors out there who really just want a thousand pats on the back and a thousand "yes-man" reviews, there is a far greater number of us who want your honesty. So today, I thought I'd give you this short list of reasons your review means everything to me, in hopes that you'll go out and write one today. Who knows, maybe you'll even write it for me - and I'll be one step closer to getting my books really noticed.

01)  Reviews help authors (who read them - I do) to know what they are doing right, and what they are doing wrong. Obviously, this applies to both the negative and the positive reviews, which I believe are of equal value. For instance:
  • If lots of reviewers leave comments saying that the main characters are weak or unrelatable, etc., then that author knows they have to learn to work on character development. This applies to any aspect of writing, whether it's to say the cover didn't move you but you're glad you read the book anyway, the formatting was disturbing or distracting in some way, or even that there were a lot of errors in the book.
  • On the other hand, if lots of reviewers say that one particular thing was their favorite thing more than once, a writer begins to get an idea of what they're doing well, so far as the current trends in the market go. If people comment on the cover, the author knows that they got what they paid for with cover design. This, too, applies to all aspects of the book, from the initial writing and the talent of the author, to the skill and value of the author's production team.

02.)  Reviews help readers decide what they want to read next. Sure, there's the (hopefully) pretty cover and the (hopefully) eye-catching book blurb, but what really shows a reader to a good book is a review. It doesn't even have to be a long one, because ... well, I'll let you in on a not-so-well-kept secret: Not a lot of people actually read the reviews. And if they do, they generally don't read many. Still, each review, whether it be a positive one or a negative one, is important. Here's why:
  • As a reader: The number of reviews x the average star rating = the general percentage of people who both saw and liked this book. For me, I don't always read reviews on books I'm shopping for. But I always look at these two main factors. Why? Because I feel that I can assume if one hundred/thousand/million people reviewed this book, and it's rated an average above four stars, then the general consensus is that it's good. Below three stars? Then I can assume, based on the ratings of most of the people who reviewed it, the book is not good, or poorly produced. Either way, this usually means I'm not interested. Except for when it means I'm intrigued, and then I'm compelled to read the reviews. What do people like - or dislike - and more importantly, how does this apply to what I like - and don't like? If people are complaining that the sex scenes are too clean and not raunchy enough, or that there isn't enough sex, I might assume that even though those are generally bad reviews, they mean I'll like the book, because maybe they mean that there's a lot more story substance to be had, which is what I want when I read. If they say there's not enough action or drama, even though those are generally bad review too, I'll assume that although the book might have a slower pace, maybe that allows for more of the beautiful prose I love to soak my spirit in. Here's the very solid core of why I believe even the negative reviews are equally valuable. Ever heard the phrase, "One man's trash is another man's treasure?" Well, that phrase has way more than just a kernel of truth hidden in it, and sometimes a review someone wrote about what they didn't like tells me exactly what I will like. Other times, those bad reviews speak into real issues that are alive and thriving in the publishing world right now, such as a lower standard of production, lower standard of grammatical mastery in both writing and editing, etc. Would you write a one star review if you bought a shirt, received it, put it on, and the sleeves fell off? You should. And you should do it with books, too. And on the other side of that, would you write a five star review if you bought a skirt, received it, put it on, and felt smashing in it because it was well made and beautiful, up to your standard of what works for you? You should. And you should do it with books, too. This goes the same for all points in between; the two-star, three-star, and four-star rating should be utilized and valued as a standard of communicating the quality of any product. If something is average, be it a book, a movie, a song, a pair of shoes ... then say so, and do it freely, with knowledge and confidence that someone with appreciate your input.
  • As an author: The number of reviews x the average star rating = what's popular right now in the general literary market. This doesn't mean an author should always strive to write what's popular, because I believe writing is a passion thing, it's a need nurtured deep in the soul, it's an art form that, if it is to be real and touching and solid, must bleed directly from the heart of its creator. You don't write werewolf romances just because they're popular if your passion lies in police thrillers. You write what you feel, and you find your market. But within your market, you can use reviews to learn that this type of character is well-loved, or this type of villain is exactly as despised as you want yours to be. You can learn that your market likes sex scenes with lots of "dirty" talking in them, that your market like sex scenes where you know what's happening but don't get to "watch." And this doesn't speak only to your own reviews: look at the reviews of popular authors that influence you, that you admire and want to emulate. What's working for them? What isn't?

03.)  Reviews drive the publishing business directly into the future of literature - and as such, they mean an awful lot to the importance of basic human literacy, which is in recent years falling by the wayside as we are convinced (and sometimes directly badgered) to accept lower and lower standards. At this point, we look upon the illiterate with such deep pity that we're too sorry to do anything about it. It has become to norm for high school graduates to not know the difference between various homonyms (or even that means, sadly), and it has become taboo to correct this ignorance, even if it is done in love. Needless to say, this lower standard of acceptable mastery of language has bled into our literature in the worst possible way, and if we don't change it, stop it, then it will continue to erode the hard-won literacy of the human race. And seriously, it's bad when my six year old stickler for the rules can bring me books published by the big five, books that are on bestseller lists, books that are well loved and well reviewed ... and accurately point out grammatical errors and awkward wording that countless professionals involved in production didn't even care enough to notice.

Please guys, go out there and review what you read. Pick a star rating, leave a sentence or two. I promise you, it matters.

Side note: This might also be a good time to remind you that if you review one of my books, you can send the permalink url for your review to, with your name and mailing information, and I'll send you a small swag pack just to thank you for your time. Understand that this is no way meant to compensate the review and is in no way connected to the star rating attached; it's just my way of saying "thank you" for taking the time to point your review out to me personally.

And in the meantime, as always,
Happy Reading.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Maybe I Spoke Too Soon

Maybe it is the plague.

Eden is still sick. Still coughing constantly, still not able to rest well. Still feeling terrible.

So is her mommy. 

Eden was a little better Friday and she was happy to go back to school, but I think she overdid it a bit, and that set her back some. She's spent the weekend coughing and slightly fevered, despite antibiotics, inhalers, and a slew of other medications. I'm going to call her doctor again tomorrow.

The thing is, maybe this wouldn't be such a thing if not for the fact that she's supposed to have surgery in eight days. I'm thinking now that it will likely have to be rescheduled.

In the meantime, I was feeling a little better Saturday -- which allowed me to attend my local writer's group meeting, attend the usual after-meeting luncheon, socialize a bit with one of my favorite members, and birthday shop for Eden, who will be seven on Thursday.

Omg, guys. She'll be seven!

Today I'm taking over a blog page on Facebook called "Taking Life by the Books." I've been posting there all day about myself, my life, and my books. If you have a minute come on over and check it out, and hopefully in my next post we'll be back to our usual weekly chats.

In the meantime,
Happy Reading,

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Plague

Just dropping in to let you guys know there's no blogletter this week. My little one is pretty sick, and has generously shared her lovely germs with me - and while it isn't actually the plague, it does sort of feel like it.

I'm still writing a bit when I'm up to it, working on getting Selkie II ready for your eyes, and I hope those of you who haven't yet will go get Selkie and give it a read while you wait. Just a little progress report - Selkie II will be divided into three parts, one of which is only about 1000 words from being finished. I've also already got two awesome teasers made ... AND I have a cover! And a blurb. I've been loving writing the next part of Annie and Malik's story, and I'm just about dying to release it!!

I'm not kidding; I've debated reformatting all of it, including the first book, into a serial - JUST to be able to share with you sooner. But I won't. I can't. You guys deserve the best I can offer you, and I'm not going to cheat you out of that.

Did you know I have a giveaway going on? Fat Chance is now free to download on all major e-book markets, and I'm hosting a trivia giveaway for a $20 gift card. I think the most fun part of this is that YOU get to choose the retailer, and all you have to do is download and read Fat Chance, then correctly answer the trivia question asked in the giveaway.

Alright, I think that's about all I've got for now. I'm headed back to bed, and we'll be (hopefully) back on track for the next blogletter. In the meantime, you can find me lurking on social media, where I'm always happy to interact with my readers at time.

As always, Happy Reading.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Fighting For Freedom

Last month I talked quite a bit about Depression and mental illness, with a focus on the Kingsley Series and why the thread of mental health runs so deeply through those books. Last week, I moved into the subject of Hope, and what it can mean for people going through the various stages of human life, what it can change for us all - but only when it brings us together. Only when we share it among ourselves. Only when it spreads from one person to another like the quiet, steady flicker of a flame passed from one candle to another.

You know, it's easy sometimes, to think of Hope as a general concept. A pretty name for little girls, a pretty word to throw around when we need to paint a "silver lining" on something. We tell each other things like, "Never give up hope!" and "There's always hope!" but do we really believe it? Do we believe in its power enough to nurture it honestly?

Sometimes, maybe. Other times, not so much. Fighting For Freedom illustrates the difference between the two, in a way that's unimaginably personal to me.

When I was little, my parents divorced. I think I was maybe four, maybe five. I don't remember much about it, which is probably for the best. Knowing my parents, I doubt it was friendly.

My mom dated around a little bit after, and I remember a man she dated. He was sweet and funny, fun to be around, and he loved my older brother and I with all his heart. He loved my mom too, wanted to marry her, but she turned him down because he was younger than she was and she didn't want to tie him down with two kids. She didn't want him to ever feel burdened by her baggage. They broke up.

Eventually, she did remarry, and her second husband nearly wiped out my family. He threatened my father countless times, left my older brother permanently disfigured, and gave me memories so horrible that I can't actually pull them up. I don't remember most of the beatings, but I do remember feeling humiliated as I stood naked in the guidance counselor's office at school. I was in third grade, and the police were there with social workers for Children's services, taking photos of the bruises on my body. I guess it's fortunate for me that I was young enough to be able to repress those memories ... but I look at my daughters sometimes and weep for the little girl I once was. My oldest is finishing sixth grade this year, and my youngest is finishing first. They're generally healthy, generally well-rounded, and secure in the knowledge that they are safe, that they are loved. They're beautiful, smart, and compassionate - and I'm not biased. Outside of our home, they're so perfectly angelic that I can't imagine better children. Sometimes people even stop us to comment on how well behaved they are. At home though, they bicker constantly, smart off, backtalk, and misbehave. They shout, and they get rowdy.

I get frustrated. They get grounded, or spanked, or lectured, as their behavior warrants.

And then they do it again.

Why? Because they aren't afraid to. My children won't repress memories so horrible that they can't be called to the forefront. They won't wonder what must have happened, they won't question blanks in their memories.

But I do, and even as I question those empty spaces of time that my own mind has blessedly chosen to hide from me, I'm thankful for them.

My mom was one of those moms that made dinner and actually served it all up at the table, with serving bowls and spoons and stuff. She didn't just make the plates at the stove. And we were poor, so we had a lot of basic cheap dinners; you know, macaroni and cheese with french fries and hot dogs. She had this big glass bowl, a blue one. It was a beautiful color, deep and rich and vibrant. If I close my eyes, I can see it again, sitting in the middle of the table, lined with paper towels, filled with crinkle cut fries that must have taken her forever to fry up in a little skillet, one batch at a time. If I keep my eyes closed long enough and keep looking back, I see him, my stepfather. I can see his face, that black goatee, fierce brown eyes, the widow's peak of his receding hairline. The tattoos on his hand when he reached out, picked up the bowl, and threw it. I can feel myself ducking (I have always wondered if he was aiming at me, and if it would have hit me, had I not been watching), can see the bowl coming toward me, feel it whiz past my head. Hear it shatter in the hallway behind me. I'm thankful that I can't remember whatever came next.

He wasn't shy about it, either. There are other memories, and not all of them are locked in the quiet privacy of whatever passed as a "home" back then. In another one, I'm standing outside. The sun is warm and I'm in the yard; there's a car beside me. Maybe we were about to go somewhere? Or maybe I was just outside playing, I don't know. I can't remember. All I have is a vision, like a snapshot, a mental Polaroid. She's on the porch, my mother. She made him a sandwich, bologna and cheese. I'm sure it was on white Merita bread, sure that it was Oscar Meyer, sure that it was a Kraft yellow American slice. Sure that it was Miracle Whip. What I'm not sure of is this: was there too much Miracle Whip? Or not enough? To most people, that might not matter. It's just a sandwich. But to him it was something much more. Worth the trouble. Worth the anger. Worth the rage. Worth leaving a small girl-child with a permanent mental image of her mother, narrow, bony feet barely touching the wood of the porch deck, her body dangling helplessly, the whites of her eyes showing all around the blue irises. Worth the permanent mental image of a muscular corded forearm, tanned, tattoo'd fingers clenched around the pale white vulnerability of my mother's throat as he slapped her with that sandwich, threw it to the ground, and slapped her again. That's all there is though, a snapshot. I don't remember what happened next. I'm sure it's for the best.

Someone asked me once, about the scene in Fighting For Freedom where Malachi beats Christine because she opened the door of the house during the day, because she talked to the mailman. She said, "It's a good story, I guess, but aren't you exaggerating a little?"

No, I'm not. It's real. As much as we want to pretend it isn't, that it doesn't happen right in our own backyards, it does.

But there's hope. And there's help. Not enough, no. Not yet. But with awareness, with each person stepping out to say, "No, this isn't okay with me," then the hope will grow. Help will become easier to find, less shameful to reach out for.

I have to believe that. And I had to write that book, to help others believe it too. I wrote it for the woman who messaged me a month after it went live, to tell me that it helped her see the reality of her own life, that it helped encourage her to change things before they got too bad. For the man who messaged my author page last year to remind me that it happens to men, too (I know), and ask if I planned to write that (I might). It's for children like me that grow up with terrible memories, for women like my mother who have to live with the trauma for the rest of their lives - for children like mine, little girls who will someday choose men that I hope are kind and gentle not only with their hearts, but with their bodies.

It's for the dream that rests in the deepest part of my soul, the need to reach out and pluck victims from the pit, the fervent wish to instill a belief in something better. The desire to renew hope on a larger scale.

But until then, reach out today. Protect and encourage the people around you. Ask someone how they're doing, and don't let them lie. Reach into the darkness today, and light someone else's flame. Spread hope. Help others who are imprisoned by abuse, by violence, by addiction, by fear ... help them to Fight for their Freedom.

Until next week,
Happy Reading.

In other news, I'd like to take a second to say thank you to Jodie Pierce and Sheri Meece, who recently joined my street team, the B.K. Bookies. You two are awesome, and I'm thrilled to be getting to know you both better through the Bookies team! Thank you!