Friday, October 17, 2014

Two Magic Words (on creativity)

A friend recently asked how I come up with so many different ideas for novels. To tell the truth, I'm an ADD kid who became an ADD adult. My mind constantly challenges me to explore new ideas and variations on old ideas. I have never given much thought on finding things to write about...until my friend asked.

Since then, I have been thinking about her question. I finally figured out the basic question underlying most creativity, and it's really simple.

"What if?"

Those are magic words. They allow you to challenge reality, to throw out the expected and explore the absurd. Consider these examples:

What if this old wooden garden spot was built on an ancient Indian burial ground? And, what if it was hit by lightning during a violent storm?

Would it just burn down? Maybe, maybe not. What if it brought an unwilling Indian spirit to Indian who was murdered by three US cavalrymen? How would this angry spirit settle the score? What if the ghost was able to enter the living body of a young man who sat with his fiancĂ© in the love arch for pictures?

Wow! There may be a story in that old arch. Let's try another.

What if a gardener tries to trim this red tree...but it fights back?

When her trimming shears cut into a small limb, a root suddenly springs from the ground, wraps around the woman's ankle and slowly pulls her into the soft soil. Screams are unheard, and fingers leave deep ruts in surrounding no avail. What if, after her body vanishes, a new red tree sapling springs up from her grave? Who is next?

Or, what if the dog in this remote park has been abandoned by its owner?

How does it survive the rigors of the coming winter? Does it eventually find a new home? What if she finds a hunter who fell off a cliff, breaking his leg, and cannot get help? Does the dog bring rescuers? Will the dog protect him from a large predator? Maybe they cuddle together to survive a snow storm until rescuers find them. This story could be a tragedy, an action-adventure...even a love story, but it all starts with those magic words of creativity.

Every genre of fiction begins with someone asking "What if."

Any answer is good, no matter how outlandish it may sound. In fact, the more strange and absurd, the better. Readers are willing to suspend reality to enjoy a good fiction. A writer's skill will determine if the original story idea becomes a compelling story, but it all starts with those special words, "What if."

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Single Moms are Gods

What a weekend. Started on Friday when I babysat my little 3-month-old granddaughter, Georgie, for a couple hours. She fell into a deep sleep stretched across my chest. I loved watching her slow breathing and occasional twitches as she reacted to dreams. That was the high point of my weekend.

Jessie, my Great Dane puppy, had surgery on Saturday morning, and I was a ball of nerves about it. I'd rather get a root canal than have her go under general anesthesia. While she was in the vet's office, I figured I would keep busy by pricing granite for new kitchen countertops, measuring and pricing new hardwood floors, and cleaning the pool for the start of summer. That's when the wheels came off. My brand new pool pump had stopped working.

Spent all morning scouring pool supply companies for information and prices for the repair. After getting quotes up to $1000 for “probable” pool repairs (based on symptoms I relayed), I decided to see if I could fix it myself (I'm pretty handy with tools.) I found the problem—broken PVC pipe coming from the pool into the pump. I fixed it for 99 cents thanks to one nice/honest pool sales clerk who told me the pipe didn't require a permanent repair, only a special tape designed for this problem. The roll of tape cost just under a buck and worked perfectly.

That done, I went shopping for the granite, wood flooring, and food for the week before picking up Jessie. None of these things by themselves were a big deal (except for Jessie's health), but the stress left me exhausted. Today, I cleaned house, mowed lawns, did the laundry, cooked food for later this week and took Jessie to her obedience school lessons.

All of this leads to one inescapable conclusion:  single mothers are super-women. I ran my butt off for three days and ended up falling asleep on the couch at 6PM with Jessie's head in my lap. I don't know how single moms (or dads) run like this day after day, week after week, for years on end. My hat is off to all of you.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Role of Luck in Selling Books

I was walking my puppy, Miss Jessie, last week when a neighbor, one whom I had never met, asked to pet her. It was a fun. During the conversation, we talked about our work, and I mentioned writing. Less than a week later, I got a phone call from her (I had given her a business card), and she raved about my book, Maker of Angels. Turns out, she went to Amazon and bought both my western romance stories the day we met. She liked the first one so much, it is her selection for her readers club when it's her turn to host the meeting. Even her best friend in Florida got a call recommending the book.

This morning, during my daily Jessie walk, I stopped by her house with a couple autographed copies she requested. It's amazing how a simple walk with my puppy resulted in multiple books sales, even across the country. I'm trying to figure out how far I need to walk Jessie to sell 100,000 more books!

What is "luck?" It's defined as...“That which happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Let’s face it, I was lucky. Meeting this woman/avid reader was purely happenstance. Having author cards in my pocket was preparation. Was I brilliant or actively marketing? No on both counts. Actually, my close friend and fellow author, Sass Cadeaux, encouraged me to always carry cards and hand them out at every chance. I was more than a little reluctant. It seemed arrogant and pushy. Nevertheless, I took her advice and, since then, have made numerous sales simply from casual meetings.

Thanks for the suggestion, Sass. This new reader received one of my cards, and it looks like a dozen or more sales will ultimately result. Great advice! Now, I’m going to go buy some new tennis shoes, so I can walk longer distances. Let’s see…Sacramento to New York is about 2800 miles. Hey Jessie, get your puppy shoes ready! LOL

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Stacey Donaghy--What do Literary agents Do?

Stacey Donaghy, of the Donaghy Literary Group, recently signed me as one of her represented authors. My manuscript, Faces of Hatred, is now on submission, and major publishers have already requested the full story for consideration.

Why is this such a big deal?

Stacey has an amazing track record in getting significant publishing houses to look at her client’s work. Ultimately, my manuscript has to earn a contract offer on its own merit, but, as my literary agent, she is opening doors to make that opportunity possible. I don’t mind admitting I am thrilled, intimidated and hopeful.

What happens if no major publisher wants the story? Did she fail?

Agents are tasked with opening doors. As the ugly gargoyles blocking entrances to the bastions of traditional publishers, they earn a position of trust from editors by submitting exactly what they know acquisition folks are looking for. (Apologies to the many good looking agents for my gargoyle metaphor.) That position of trust results from closely matching aspiring authors to specific needs of editors. If agents waste peoples' time with marginal submissions, they quickly lose influence and doors no longer open.

Stacey Donaghy has earned the respect and trust of editors in many major houses. Her standards are impeccable and her knowledge among the best in the industry. But, there’s more she does to generate sales. She admits she is not trained as an editor, yet she provides critical suggestions to tailor manuscripts to the target acquisition editors. For example, in my manuscript, she found one minor theme that might turn off a lot of editors. I took her suggestion and modified the story accordingly. There’s no doubt about it—the finished product is better for her feedback.

Plus, it feels good to be among notable authors in Stacey's stable of clients.

Now, it’s a waiting game. Please keep your fingers crossed. I can use all the good luck I can get. Stacey has done her magic, and I am thrilled.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Miss Jessie, Life-changing Great Dane

A lot has happened during my absence in the past few months. Let me first apologize for my blog going inactive. During that time, my marriage of forty-one years ended. My business went into a crisis caused by National Healthcare demands. I slipped into a deep depression, one compounded by poor health. My former business partner had died unexpectedly, and I had to scramble to assist some of his clients. For me, it was a time of stress, chaos, anxiety and diminishing energy. I became overwhelmed, and some things suffered. One sacrifice was the time demand of my blog.

How did I break out of the slump and depression?

Meet Miss Jessie.

Four-months-old, Miss Jessie

In addition to the other issues, I was lonely, desperately alone, and things looked hopeless. One of my friends has a wonderful Great Dane named Jet. She told me some puppies from the same sweet lineage were available, so I went to look at them. It was love at first sight. Jessie, a ten-week old pup, picked me. She approached me and pawed my leg. It was like she’d been waiting for me. The other pups didn’t even notice the hairy-faced, big guy watching them.

My decision was instantaneous as was the lifting of my depression. It’s amazing how a playful little fur-ball can fill a big hole in your heart. On the hour-long drive home, she whimpered for a few minutes, but finally rested her head on my forearm and fell sound asleep. She trusted me. It felt good. It felt right.

It’s been two months, since Jessie exploded into my life. Demands of a ten-week-old puppy disrupted everything. My work, my writing, my minimal social life…even taking a daily shower...required accommodations for this demanding puppy. She started as a chubby, twenty-pound ball of needle-sharp teeth and constantly chewed on everything from electrical cords to furniture to clothes and, yes, even my laptop. My forearm was covered in scratches and looked like I had escaped from a leper colony.

Monitoring Jessie cut my writing time to two-minute quickies tucked between potty trips, moving baby gates, and exchanging guitar cords for Kong chew toys. I admit, I wondered a few times if I had made a mistake introducing this time-consuming, fur-covered black hole into my life at the worst possible time.

Then, it happened. Jessie climbed up her puppy stairs onto her end of the couch. She crossed to me. Her left leg lifted over my shoulders behind my neck, and her right leg wrapped across my chest. Paws crossed and she pulled me against her to “kiss” my beard and ear. She fell asleep with head tucked against my shoulder. Love . . . in its purest form. Jessie appreciated me, needed me, and loved me. I knew then and there, we’d overcome any hardships. I would eventually get caught up with my work and my writing, but I needed her, and she needed me.
Super sweet!

Today, I can’t imagine life without Jessie. She tests my patience on occasion, but we are learning each other’s personalities and needs. There have been three emergency trips to the vet for 1) X-rays to see if the missing battery cover for the TV remote (she destroyed it) was in her gut, 2) she broke off a baby canine tooth, and 3) a local wasp gave her a bad sting on the muzzle that swelled into a large knot. She’s also a clown as she trips over her too-large feet while running, “eats” the stream of water from the hose, and crouches on the ground trying to make herself small to not intimidate little dogs.

I have kept family and friends up to date about Jessie’s antics on my personal Facebook page. There are lots of pictures and a few videos. Feel free to browse them if you are interested.

How does Jessie’s addition to my life relate to writing?

Emotion is the essence of fiction writing. Authors can convert intensity from their lives into conflict in a story. Lord knows, I have plenty of grist in my angst-account, but the new hope and vigor I got from Jessie’s arrival has freed me emotionally to get back to writing. My last six tumultuous months have come to a close. Yes, there are still loose ends to be tied down, but I’m on the cusp of something great . . . something that could put an exclamation mark on the beginning of the rest of my life. I’ll tell you about it in my next blog (titled Who’s Stacey?) in a few days.

Keep an eye out for Jessie updates...she's coming at us like a freight train!

"Look out! I can't stop!"
Thank you to all my friends for your patience while I went through those trying times.