Writing? Publishing?

Awhile back I wrote about some problems I was having with Lulu, my long-time, go-to print-on-demand platform. While many of those problems have been resolved, some linger, despite some helpful intervention by a particularly attentive customer service rep.

It was so frustrating my very supportive husband found himself asking why I persisted. “If it causes you so much stress, why do you keep at it?” he asked.

Good question.

Of course I never started writing so I could publish what I wrote — at six years old, when I wrote my first short story, I didn’t even know about publishing. All I needed was a piece of paper and a yellow Number 2 pencil, and I was scribbling away. Kings and princes, girl detectives, favorite TV stars filled my pages.

As I got older, I frustrated my mother no end by swiping ten or more sheets of paper, stapling them together, and starting a new story on page one. Sometimes I got four or five pages in, but I honestly don’t think I ever got to the last stapled page.

I tended to finish the stories that didn’t start with stapled pages. Twenty, thirty, fifty, a hundred hand-written pages or more poured out of me. I wrote stories for friends, painstakingly re-writing each page so I could give them their own copy.

Eventually I learned how to type up my stories, send them in envelopes with an SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope so the editor could reply, for those of you who only know about digital submissions), and wait impatiently to find out whether the magazine would publish the story.

It was a long process. It required patience. Only the best manuscripts would make the cut, and I was thrilled when a story hit its mark. I was so thrilled, I celebrated three times: when I received the acceptance, when the story got published, and when the check arrived. Of course, by then, I’d spent the money already (twice over — thence the term “struggling writer”).

At some point I added nonfiction articles to my portfolio, a few essays and reviews, and before long someone said I should take my writing seriously (it never occured to me I was already doing that) and get a Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) in creative writing.

So I did. And somewhere in here things changed. Maybe it was the academic atmosphere, all those fellow writers competing for professorships, trying to publish to keep from perishing. The allure of following their path was tremendous: teach in a college is getting paid to do what you love, to pass on to others what you’ve learned doing what you love.

But the bar kept getting higher: publish one book, you need two. Publish two and you need to have garnered at least one major prize. I taught on the side, landed a terrific spot with the Ohio Arts Council as a writer in the schools (giving me memories I still treasure twenty-five years later), and took administrative jobs in factories.

I published my first book, a literary novel that got some solid reviews. “The New York Times Book Review gave me a good review,” I told friends. “Now I can die happy.”

Of course family members and my writer friends all wondered what I’d write next. If only I knew! I worried I’d be a one-book flame-out. I drafted another book. An agent took an interest; a university press wanted a nonfiction version of the novel I’d set in a factory. I declined both.

Something wasn’t feeling right.

I started a career, a few fulfilling jobs focused on corporate training, and a nonfiction book grew out of that. It was wildly popular in the very narrow field it dealt with (online learning… which is, ironically, wildly popular now; I guess I was ahead of the game those twelve years ago).

When my husband retired and I quit (too young to retire), when we sold our home and moved into an RV to travel the country, I started seeing stories again.

You know what I mean. Those little flashes of inspiration that hit when you least expect them: a flyer of a missing hiker, an off-hand remark in the grocery story. Seems like nothing to most people, but to a fiction writer it’s like jumpstarting your imagination. “Why would someone say that? Do that? Want that?” you ask yourself. And you’re off and running.

That’s what happened to me. I drafted a short story. Then another. And another. Soon I had enough for a collection, so I self-published them. Then the novels featuring full-time RVers Walt and Betty Rollin followed: characters loosely based on me and my husband, traveling the country, solving mysteries along the way.

The joy had come back. I took my time but have three Rollin RV Mysteries in print and ideas for a half-dozen more.

Then it was like hitting a wall. Maybe it was the problems I ran into with Lulu. Or maybe Covid-19. The blahs in general had gotten to me, or was it that simple?

I don’t think so. Instead, I think the same thing that bit me in the butt before snapped at me again: the desire to get published was overtaking my love of writing.

And whenever we focus on the endgame instead of on the process — especially when it comes to writing — we’re likely to fail. I’ve seen it in many of the self-published books I’ve read over the past year. Writers so eager to see their books available for sale they’ve neglected to write a book someone really wants to read. A book riddled with mistakes and problems. A book someone regrets paying money for.

Ikes.

I’m not free of that particular demon, but at least for the last several months I’ve managed to keep myself from giving in to it, focusing instead on reading widely, writing careful reviews (more to help me analyze what I’ve just experienced than for any other reason), and letting go of that need to get something new out there.

Once I recognized my frustration with Lulu (which is still causing me fits if I let it) is the result of wanting more to publish than to write, it was easier to let it all go.

I gave myself permission to not write. To be a reader. To be a reviewer. To retreat to my original love of books, without getting swept up in the noise of publish, market, track sales, appeal to your fanbase and all that.

When I let go of that need to publish a dark heaviness inside me lifted. I’m free again to do what I want, when I want to do it. Because we just don’t know how much time we have left to enjoy that hike up the hillside while the flowers are blooming with the one we love more than anything.

Today is waiting.

Words Matter

Image courtesy of Pexels/Kaboombics.com

If you’ve ever wondered whether what you write matters, if words actually count, you have all the evidence you need in the events of Wednesday this week, the most prominent of many examples we’ve all witnessed.

The insurgents who swarmed our nation’s Capitol have been listening to spoken words, reading written words. They believed those words, words that have been proven false. Nevertheless, they were moved by those words. They fashioned their ideology because of what they read and heard. They acted on those words this week, to the detriment of our country.

Words matter. Words really matter.

Your words matter more than you know.

The Book Saga Continues…

…but the good news, they’re back! Last I checked, all of my ebooks have reappeared on Amazon, though they’ve gone missing at some of the other online booksellers 😦

It’s great to know that RVers who want to gift their fellow RVing friends with an ebook by sharing the fun of a Rollin RV Mystery or the quirky insight of the RVing Alphabet can now get them again.

What’s too bad is that somehow in the shuffle all of my reviews (all four and five stars, I have to say) have vanished. I’ve been in touch with my publisher and Amazon about this, but it’s uncertain whether those reviews will ever be viewable on Amazon again.

So I’m hoping if you or your friends have read any of my books that maybe you’ll take a few minutes and type a review to let others know about these books. It takes years to build readership and reviews make a difference, including yours.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for other RVing authors and books, please take a look at the interviews to discover more RVing reading pleasure!

Meet More RVing Novelists

The Case of the Disappearing Books

Sometimes real-life hands us our own mysteries. After writing them for awhile, you’d think I’d be thrilled to have a real life mystery drop in my lap.

Not exactly.

I’ve been quiet here but active in other places online, promoting my latest Rollin RV Mystery, Superstition Victim.

The other day I was on Amazon (where I’ve been buying and downloading hundreds of books since the pandemic hit) and checked my author’s page.

Low and behold, my Rollin RV Mysteries were gone.

Vanished.

As if they had never been published and uploaded to Amazon.

My heart nearly stopped. For a woman who never had children (or pets) of her own, my books are my creations, my children. I had that same panicky feeling I got once when my niece went seemed to disappear in a large department store. When I found her hiding under a clothing rack I didn’t know whether to scold her or hug her.

Where had my books gone?

I found the direct link for the book, and plugged that into the browser. Nope. Just a “Nothing here” page.

My heart kicked into gear. Then up a notch or two. Pounding, pounding.

Over the next few days I tried everything I could think of: e-mailing Amazon, e-mailing and filing a fix-it ticket with Lulu, the publisher I use to get my book files distributed around the Web.

I thought to check Kobo and Barnes and Noble — my books are still there.

Whew. My heartbeat steadied, at least a little.

Maybe all was not lost.

But what was going on?

I tried re-formatting the files and uploading them again. Waited a day or so. “Superstition Victim” reappeared, minus the one review a blogger had posted for it.

Since then it’s all been quiet on Amazon. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t lost some sleep, fretted to Bob about it.

“I wish there was something I could do about it,” he said. Well, there was. We went for ice cream, which always helps.

Yesterday I learned Lulu had decided to switch distribution services. Putting on my Betty Rollin/Sherlock Holmes hat, I deduced this was likely the culprit, but had no proof.

Today I found a forum where fellow Lulu users were suffering the same fate: their books had suddenly vanished from Amazon. And someone posted that Lulu had responded to their fix-it ticket saying the “one- to two-hour” job had turned into something a lot bigger than that. (Obviously.)

So… to those of you who’ve been clicking links to check out my books only to wonder where they are, I apologize. I don’t know where they are.

But they’re supposed to come back.

The mystery might be solved and the perpetrator identified, but we’re still waiting for justice.

And trying to stay patient, something we have all learned a little bit more about in these crazy pandemic times.

Price Cuts!

Decided to reduce prices on many of my books, both print and e-version.

With so many books to feature here, I’ll instead point you to my Books page on the top menu.

I’d add a link, but WordPress has shifted us to this block-system of making posts, which of course offers a bajillion more options, but puts me back a mile and a half because it’s like learning the site all over again.

If a picture shows below, we’ll call it a success, at least for that!

Off-Blog…

…a lot is going on!

As a mystery writer, I’ve learned readers want a story told honestly, but they love to be surprised. Sounds ironic, right? How can you be honest yet spring something that’s unexpected? Well, a fair balance of revealing clues (including the clues that lead to solving the case) while distracting the reader with too many (or too few) suspects, subplots that don’t seem to relate but maybe tie in somehow… There are a lot of ways we mystery writers can reveal all yet catch them off guard.

And that’s sort of what’s been going on with this blog.

Sort of.

While it’s seemed really quiet, as if I’ve just vanished into some void somewhere, I’ve really been pretty busy “off-blog.” (Is that a term? Can I make it own? Can I be famous for that if not for my books?!?)

And I have some people to thank for giving my books some attention.

Sherry Fundin at fundinmental.com gave generously of her time to read and review Superstition Victim. She’s been a loyal reader of the Rollin RV Mysteries since the first (Pea Body) and I appreciate her support and all the stars she gives them!
You can read her review here.

 

Denise Fleischer interviewed me for her GottaWrite Network–interviews are always fun because they give me a chance to think about what I’ve written in ways I hadn’t before (how cool is that?). Denise had some great questions about Walt and Betty Rollin, the main characters of Superstition Victim in her interview, which you can read here.

I’d never heard of Book Reader Magazine before, but it’s a nifty spot for discovering new authors and books. Like everybody else, I’ve loading more ebooks onto my Kindle than I thought it could hold (I’ve long since stuffed the last crevice in our RV). And when I saw the chance to do an interview here, I jumped on it. What did we cover? Find out here.

What did I tell ya? Busy, busy, busy… behind the blog.

Hope you all are staying safe and clear of COVID-19!

Distractions…

As I mentioned last time, I try to limit my TV viewing time… but I have to confess it’s been fascinating to see how some shows have been adapting to the stay-at-home orders. Which women are letting their hair coloring fade back to a natural color? Which men are able to tame longer locks?

Those sorts of thoughts can really distract me from the news they’re imparting (which is about all we watch on TV these days).

But what’s even more distracting are those bookshelves in the background.

You’ve seen them. Newscasters or experts reporting from home, sitting in their home offices or libraries or living rooms, a bookcase behind them to set the stage.

I love seeing all the books, no doubt about it.

I’ve been known to peruse shelves in the houses of people I’ve visited. When I found myself some years ago at a gathering of fellow high school graduates (a group I’d never hung around with back then), I found myself pulling books from a shelf, commenting to a fellow snoop, “Well, he didn’t like this one, the bookmark is toward the beginning.” That started a full review of the collection: which books seemed to have been finished, which looked untouched, and which ones were dog-eared with pages falling out–the beloved re-reads.

But when these folks on TV angle their cameras to show their own bookshelves, I’m completely distracted. Instead of hearing what they’re saying, I’m squinting at the screen (our reception isn’t always good in these RV parks), trying to read the titles on the spines.

So while the PBS Newshour airs, I’m working on this post, listening rather that watching so I won’t be tempted to translated titles on my screen. It’s enough to know Judy Woodruff has a copy of “Grant” behind her every night.

COVID Coping!

Oh, it’s been too long since I’ve posted here. Much has been going on behind the screen of this blog — including my finishing and publishing the third Rollin RV Mystery, “Superstition Victim.”

Good thing I finished the book a few months ago. I don’t think I’d be able to focus on it these days.

COVID-19 has affected all of us. To any of you who are personally struggling with an infection or caring for or worrying about a loved one who is, my heart goes out to you. My husband and I have — so far — managed to escape it by scrubbing our hands, wiping surfaces, staying “home” (our 200-foot RV has been in the sunny southwest, so we’ve been able to spend time outside) and jumping six feet away from people who careen too close to us with their shopping carts or in the park.

Some time ago I started making beaded bracelets, and because we’re staying in a spot where I can spread out my supplies, I’ve spent hours and hours every day making bracelets…

…and making a beaded band for this watch:

Of course I’m reading a lot — though I’m trying to measure the amount of news I’m taking in.

And I’m eating well. Too well. My husband is a great cook, and he’s been spoiling us both with awesome meals, like these bacon-wrapped shrimp…

…and this meal with lobster tails, veggies, and bean soup…

…among many others!

How have you been spending your time? What have you been writing? Reading? Doing?

From our little RV to your home: stay safe!

Cheating?

One thing that happens when you’re sick for awhile is you get a chance to read. A lot.

Recently, reading a mystery novel, mostly absorbed in the story (the writer was a bit self-conscious, so I wasn’t totally able to lose myself, my suspension of disbelief only partially lifted), I was dropped completely out of it when a character, driving a rental car, wondered what time it was. Hmmm. When was the last time you rented a car that didn’t have a clock on the dashboard?

Was the author cheating a bit? Ignoring the fact that most cars these days have clocks so the character wouldn’t know how much time was passing? So we wouldn’t know?

I felt manipulated. Then I realized… I’ve cheated readers too! Sometimes it’s just too easy to conveniently shift reality a bit to make something in the plot work a little better.

I use mostly real places in my novels. In my most recent Rollin RV Mystery, the main character goes into the ladies’ room at a rest stop about seven miles inside the California border along Interstate 8. There really is a rest stop there. I’ve stopped at it.

It’s got the same wide, sandy parking area I described in the book, but the real bathrooms are more like single vault toilets than the common room with individual stalls I invented for the book.

I thought a long time about changing that scene to reflect the actual rest area, but no matter how I tried to re-envision it, the scene had to happen the way it does in the book, and the only way that was possible was to change how the bathroom was laid out.

Cheating.

[Did you catch the “cheater”image in this post? The stuffed animal pic might look like the one on the cover of “Yuma Baby,” but it’s a different toy. See how easy it is to twist things even a little?]