As a thank-you to current readers and a taste of my work for potential readers, I have released a short story (less than 10,000 words) titled "By Water Reborn."
Those who enjoy my paranormal and fantasy fiction will like this. Those who aren't sure about paranormal and/or fantasy romance should give it a whirl. There's no cost to download and read the story. Just in case you're wondering, yes, my editor liked it, too: "I SO enjoy your writing... You create these wonderful worlds that beg to be expanded upon and explored. I know your other readers feel this way, as well."
Of course, since Kindle Direct Publishing won't allow me to upload a "permafree" story, I had to set a price for this book. The free book promotion begins on June 27 and runs for five days. After that, I'll remove it from Amazon. The story will, however, remain linked via this website as well as made available on Project Gutenberg. However, if someone knows how to make a book "permafree" in KDP, then please pass on the information. I'd really like to find out how to do that.
If you haven't heard of Project Gutenberg, let me introduce you. Started in 1971, this nonprofit organization has worked to make available the world's literature to everyone. Since then, the World Library Foundation has eclipsed Project Gutenberg and supports the initiative. These wonderful resources put primary, secondary, and tertiary literature at your digital fingertips. If you have an e-reader, mobile device, or desktop computer with a link to the internet, then you have a worldwide library ready-to-hand.
That said, I'm busy. Swamped with work. So, yes, Russian Pride is still in the hopper and I still hope to make my September 30th release date. Also in the hopper are a sequel to Pure Iron and The Dragon Wore a Kilt. I doubt I'll have the time (or brain power) to write the sequel to Daughter of the Twin Moons this year. No doubt another idea or six will hit me and demand that I write the stories for those before year's end, too.
Yes, we've all heard the advice to never judge a book by its cover. But, really, don't we all do just that? Of course. Therefore, there's a lot of thought that goes into cover design on books.
With the hundreds of thousands of books available at our fingertips, cover design has shifted into some standard tropes according to genre. For instance, a half-naked couple in a sexy clinch or the bare, muscular torso of a man usually indicates a steamy romance. I get a lot of amusement from these covers, because of the poses models affect.
There's the hunk with his hands clasped on his head. Got a headache, buddy? Hey, I've read that author and her heroines give me headaches, too. <snicker>
There's the hunk looking down his pants with an expression that goes one of two ways: 1) What the hell is that? 2) There's something weird going on down there. <snicker>
And there's the handsome dude with the smirk and sexy glint in his eye who's quite obviously laughing at all of us women drooling over his picture. Yeah, you know you're pretty, don't you?
Other covers make me scratch my head. When Nora Roberts' Cousins O'Dwyer trilogy came out with Dark Witch, people enthused over the cover. My reaction: Why is there a horse running loose in the front yard? Did someone forget to shut the gate?
Then, of course, there's the guilty pleasure of ogling a man who's young enough to be my son. That always makes me feel just a little creepy. That, of course, is followed by the thought that one of my own sons might make a good cover model. But then I'd have to endure the idea that women like me were ogling my little boy and... nope... can't do it.
That's not to say that any or all of the aforementioned cover types were poorly designed; they just didn't elicit the desired reaction from this particular viewer that the cover designers obviously wanted. Hey, I can't help it that I've got a warped perspective.
Some cover designs--especially for romance novels--get very racy, but they're all designed to capture attention. We all know sex sells: the sexier the cover, the better the book should sell, right? Who knows?
I have learned that an intriguing cover design has no bearing upon the quality of the content behind the cover. I've read--and failed to finish--many books that had delicious cover art and stories so poorly written my family could hear my molars grinding from the next room. Too many authors put more effort and resources into their books' covers than they do the content they publish. I'm convinced that's a mistake.
Granted, I probably go the opposite route in dedicating too little of my resources to cover design. However, when dealing with (very) limited resources, I prefer to dedicate them to the content, because readers will remember the content long after they forget the book's cover art. I do make an effort to create--or have designed for me--cover art that can be viewed by impressionable children and stiff-necked prudes without offense. Since most of my work comes with a mature content warning, I'll let the story sizzle, not the cover.
I could be going about this all wrong, of course. However, my best selling book happens to have a closeup picture of a rose, with the title and author. That's it. No beefcake. No cheesecake. No bodice ripping.
So, maybe I'm not so wrong after all. (Hey, I just love justifying my decisions.)
And speaking of covers and content, stay tuned. I will shortly have a gift for all my subscribers and readers: a new story. Free. It's a gift, so that means it's free. Stay tuned. I hope y'all will like it.
I recently delivered a 15,000-word manuscript on the topic of diversity and inclusion as used in business. I used approximately 50 resource documents in researching the topic so that the author could speak with authority on the topic. (Since this was a ghostwriting project, I'm not recorded as the author of this short book.) Anyway, I had a couple of revelations while researching and writing on diversity and inclusion:
Even so, diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs apparently want to cater only to quantifiable characteristics. I came across a meme on managing extroverts and introverts. That's a pretty distinct difference in basic personality, yet nothing in the documents I read addressed even that obvious difference between people. (I'm a confirmed introvert, as if you hadn't guessed.)
A few of the documents actually did address the Golden Rule: treat people as you wish to be treated. The Golden Rule pretty much boils down to good manners. Oscar Wilde is quoted as saying, "A gentleman never insults anyone unintentionally." And that's what good manners means: the automatic delivery of respect and dignity to other unless there is good cause to give offense.
Since the late 20th century with its focus on high self-esteem to today's snowflakes who need trigger warnings and cry rooms if something should offend their delicate sensibilities, American society has polarized into two factions: the overly sensitive and the bluntly offensive. My husband likes to say that no one has any right to not be offended. He's correct. However, just as one has no right to proceed through life without taking offense, one has a social obligation to avoid giving offense. And that would be called... you guess it... good manners.
Good manners goes beyond the "please" and "thank you" that parents painstakingly attempt to teach their young children. It also involves etiquette, social discernment, and an ability to know when to keep one's mouth shut. It means being sensitive to another's needs and accommodating those needs. Needs, not wants. It could be as simple as retrieving something from the top shelf for a petite woman or bringing a glass of cold water to the man sweating underneath your engine as he tries to fix what broke. It involves being observant.
In the 1980s during my late teens and early twenties, I heard a lot of discussion from my classmates about whether traditional good manners pertaining to a gentleman's treatment of a lady were offensive. While I can open a door by myself, it's nice to have someone take three seconds to open the door and hold it for me. Should I be the first to arrive at the door, I'll do the same and hold the door open for the person behind me. It's called courtesy. Good manners avoids giving offense. Courtesy shows care.
Neither does the whole concept of civility and courtesy demand an absence of criticism. It's possible to deliver a bad review without insult. It's possible to express dissatisfaction without brutality or crude language. The internet's disassociation from the people with whom we interact allows rudeness and brutality to proliferate. It caters to those who make the claim of brutal honesty, the same people who enjoy the brutality more than the honesty.
Personally, I think D&I programs wouldn't be necessary--which would put quite a few D&I officers out of their jobs--if people simply observed the gentle customs of good manners, courtesy, and civility. The dictates of good manners and courtesy don't mean an end to competitiveness or a return to a sociopolitical system that considers women chattel. It simply calls for the starting assumption that any human being is deserving of respect, dignity, and care and then acting in accordance with that assumption.
What a concept.
Advertisers know this: to sell a product, the advertisement must engage the senses. The truism hearkens back to "Sell the sizzle, not the steak."
One of the most common flaws in writing is a lack of sensory detail. I'm guilty, too, so don't think that this little essay compares my assumed superiority against the alleged dross others write. As an editor, this flaw most often manifests in violation of the ubiquitous "show, don't tell" rule. The author tells what something looks like, tells what something tastes, mentions a sound. However, the characters show little or no reaction to the sensation.
Say the protagonists sit down to a simple meal of roast chicken, steamed vegetables, and seasoned rice. Simple enough, right? However, what the meat's texture feel like on the tongue? Is the chicken moist or dry? What about the vegetables? Have they been steamed to an unpalatable, mushy consistency? Are they tender with just a bit of crispness to tempt the bite? What about the rice? Is it sticky, soupy, or swimming in an acidic tomato or gooey cheese sauce?
Not every item or every action in a scene requires such thorough description; however, enough does to immerse the reader into the virtual experience of the story. Many authors concentrate too much on the visual aspects of the experience, compounded with an over-reliance on dwelling within a character's inner monologue. Sometimes the senses simply benefit from being engaged without a bias. Let the reader decide whether the experience is something he or she would like to repeat. Or not.
As I work with a marketing consultant, I learn more about the necessity of engagement. From 140-character tweets to short, descriptive sentences, the effort must induce emotion or "feels." From the fresh lemon scent of furniture polish to the buxom beauty draped across the hood of a sports car, nothing about any product promotion goes unplanned. Like a restaurant or manufacturer, an author wants to ensure that his or her readers form an emotional connection with not only the story, but--as I'm learning--also with the author.
I admit this is strange to me. An avid for almost 50 years, I never really concerned myself with the personal lives of my favorite authors or musicians. As long as they produced stories and music I enjoyed, I would continued to read and listen. However, times have changed, even if this Luddite hasn't. People now want to form personal connections with the authors of the stories they read. Therein lies the question as to how much does the author share?
You'll get no answer here. I'm still trying to determine that myself and it's going to be a struggle. I resisted jumping on the e-book bandwagon for several years until my husband gave me a Kindle one year for Christmas and I found myself downloading books and not overloading our shelf space. What convenience! I carried the Kindle to work, took it with me on business trips, and didn't have to weigh down my purse or overnight bag with extra paper. But... I still like the feel of a book in my hands. I like the physical act of turning the pages. I like the idea that to read a real book, all I need is light and time. I don't worry about the battery dying. I don't worry about light glaring off the screen. I don't worry about someone peering over my shoulder and reading the illuminated content that I purchased for my own private entertainment or education.
How much is too much to share? The marketing consultant explained that my author persona of Holly Bargo is a public figure. Funny, I never thought of that. The pseudonym was employed as a way to create distance--and because what I write embarrasses my family. If I understand correctly, I must give Holly Bargo a personality that is somewhat distinct from my own, yet similar enough that I don't suffer from some sort of psychotic, split personality breakdown. Who is Holly Bargo?
Join me as the marketing effort gains momentum and I learn to engage the senses beyond the stories. We'll learn together.
When Julia Child first met the man who would become her husband, they didn't particularly like each other. Paul Child wrote of her faults, noting she was a "sloppy thinker." Use the search engine of your choice and you'll find myriad quotations that equate writing to thinking. These usually pithy words of wisdom have been attributed to William Knowlton Zinsser, David McCullough, Bill Wheeler, Mason Cooley, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Isaac Asimov, George Orwell, and others. Most agree that good writing requires clear thinking:
You get the idea.
The imperative for clear thinking guides the process for developing nonfiction, especially instructional guides, construction specifications, technical writing, and scholarly papers. The application of clear thinking to fiction muddies the process.
Methodical writers who plot their stories chapter by chapter, create outlines, and develop character descriptions do so to clarify their thinking. Such preparation does not mitigate the creativity of their work, but can limit impromptu inspiration which may take a story into an entirely new and unanticipated direction. "Plotters" organize their thoughts and write with an emphasis on logical progression.
At the other end of the spectrum are "pantsers" like me. This type of story creation begins with an idea. The idea's source doesn't matter. The idea for The Falcon of Imenotash came from a movie; the idea for Ulfbehrt's Legacy combined a picture of a handsome Norwegian naval officer and a PBS special on the legendary Ulfbehrt forge; the idea for Pure Iron came from my having read one too many angst-ridden, poorly composed "New Adult" books that featured characters who disgusted me, which spawned the boast, "I can do better than that crap." Sometimes the idea is the opening scene, sometimes not. I adhere to the advice within Robin McKinley's 1978 book Beauty: "Begin the middle and work outwards. Don't be stuffy." Pantsers have a process, although it may not be readily apparent and it is subject to changing at whim. Regardless of the chaos of their processes, pantsers must also think clearly so that they write their stories clearly.
The final product--the story--should not show the thinking process. Formulaic work may implement logical thinking, but it often reads like an outline filled in by the author adhering to a tried and true formula for story production. The mysteries of Hercule Poirot or the adventures of Jack Reacher follow predictable formulae. The reader knows that Poirot will solve the mystery and that Reacher will beat the bad guys into bloody pulps. I think romance most often, and perhaps most unfairly, suffers from accusations of formulaic writing. Formula-driven stories can be and often are enjoyable: they're about the journey, not the destination.
The journey itself requires good writing, which relies upon clear thinking. Clear thinking requires asking why something happens and then determining its importance to the story. Does the answer to that "why" advance the story or is it background information dumped upon the reader?
Good storytelling needs more than logical progression of thought. It needs the divine spark of creativity to immerse the reader within the imaginary journey. If a story makes the reader oblivious to the world beyond the book and engages the reader's emotions, then the writer has succeeded, regardless of whether the story itself follows a formula or outline.
Hard boiled, scrambled, over easy, and sunny side up: eggs are the musings of Holly Bargo, the pseudonym for the author.
Looking for a place to swap blogs? Holly Bargo at Hen House Publishing is happy to reciprocate Blog Swaps in 2019.
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