Tuesday, July 26, 2011

An Interview with Dana Marton

This week I was given the amazing opportunity to interview romantic suspense author Dana Marton. An amazing writer, Dana has published 25 novels with under Harlequin Intrigue. Read her interview below to learn how she began writing, her thoughts on epublishing, and so much more!

1. When did you first realize your love for writing?
I started to write poetry as soon as I learned my letters. Haven't learned about punctuation yet, so it was somewhat of a rambling mess about the starry sky. I wrote it on the way home from school. Showed it to my mom. She thought I copied it and when I insisted that I wrote it myself, she grounded me for lying. That didn't put me off writing, though!!! LOL I can be stubborn, I suppose. Finally, my first poem was published when I was in fifth grade, in the largest regional paper--and I got paid for it. I just couldn't believe when the money came in the mail! :-)

2. Which books gave you the inspiration to write your own works early on?
I'm not sure if it was any one book, but definitely romance novels. I love the adventure, the amazing heroes who had principles and true character, the feisty heroines who could more than hold up their own end. I read these books one after the other, and soon new stories were springing to life in my head, which I had to write down. Not that anyone got too excited about it! Selling my first book took 13 years and many, many rejections from editors and agents.

3. Can you describe your first experience getting published?
Getting the call from the editor is not something a writer ever forgets. I picked up the kitchen phone and nearly fainted when an editor from New York introduced herself and told me she wanted to buy my book. My knees were shaking. She was giving me a ton of information about dates and contracts. I had no pen or paper handy, but was too scared to ask her to hold. I was standing by the kitchen counter, dying to sit down, but the chairs were across the kitchen. I was trying to hyperventilate as quietly as I possibly could. After I hung up, I realized that I was on the cordless phone, so I could have gotten a chair and pen and paper. LOL. But I was so frazzled, my brain just stopped working. Then I
danced around the house and called my husband and screamed unintelligibly into the phone. I'm sure he thought the house was on fire.

4. What are some hobbies you enjoy outside of writing amazing romantic suspense novels?
I love painting. I have some of my art work up on my web site. I'm a complete amateur, I know I'll never make a penny off this, and I'm not sure I want to. I love how relaxing painting is. It's the perfect antidote to a day of writing about an armed confrontation with terrorists. :-)

5. What are your thoughts on traditional publishing versus self-publishing through ebooks?
I love both. The more books out there, the better. I've been very happy with my publisher, Harlequin Intrigue, and have published 25 books with them. I can honestly say that my editor's guidance made every one of those books better. They have great distribution that helped me reach readers I might never have reached on my own. I also love the new opportunities that are opening up to authors in self-publishing. My last romantic suspense release, GUARDIAN AGENT, was a direct release, in fact. It has done amazingly well and is climbing the Amazon romantic suspense bestseller list every day. I'm grateful to my wonderful readers beyond words.

6. What methods of self-publicizing have you used (ie. social networking, blogs, etc)?
I post on Facebook and Twitter regularly. I update my web site with new contests and new releases. I recently organized a Kindle giveaway with a few author friends, and created www.prizesforreaders.com. If you already have an e-reader, you can choose a $100 e-book gift certificate. I try to give back to my readers as much as I possibly can. Have I mentioned yet how amazing they are? :-)

7. What advice can you give to aspiring authors in your genre?
#1: Romantic suspense must be fast-paced. Start with action. Start with bullets flying.

#2: The hero must be larger than life. A romantic suspense hero does not only have to be able to win the heroine's heart, but he also has to be able to disarm a nuclear bomb and save the world!

#3: Do your research. Romantic suspense readers are super intelligent and know their stuff. I frequently get letters from military personnel who would definitely take me to task if I fudged any details on weapons or commando tactics.

Dana’s books can be found in book stores and online. Her latest book, GUARDIAN AGENT, is available online with the following sellers:

Amazon (Kindle version)
Barnes & Noble (Nook version)
Smashwords (Ebook)

You can find most of her novels on her Amazon author page by clicking here.

Thank you so much to Dana for contributing to my blog. We all look very forward to seeing what you’ll have for readers next!

End of the Month Update - July

My apologies for not posting in the last week or so. Things have been a bit busy between work, writing and of course my main priority, family. I will be posting an interview shortly with a fabulous romantic suspense author, which I am very excited about. I'm always thrilled when fellow writers are willing to take the time to help those of us still working to get themselves out there.

I am working on a special project that I hope to announce within the next week or so. It will be an online endeavour available for anyone to read. It will allow readers to get to know one of the main characters in my novel Night Light before the novel is available later this year. I don't want to give too much away until I have a few storyline kinks worked out though.

This past week hasn't been as productive as I would have liked and unfortunately this week will be another rough one since I'm working late hours all week for a special event at work. But August should be a good month for Night Light and I will be working hard to perfect my characters and scenes. It's funny how the first few weeks of writing/editing seem to go smoothly, and then life gets in the way.

I will keep everyone up to date on what's happening! Happy summer to you all!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Author Interview - Lori Pollard-Johnson

This week I had the privilege of interviewing Lori Pollard-Johnson author of both children’s and mystery novels. She has published her works in two methods: the traditional publishing house route as well as the newly popular epublishing. In her interview she discusses how she got started writing, her experiences in publishing her works, and the advice she’d give to aspiring authors.

Can you tell me what got you starting writing fiction?I got started in writing fiction after several years of nonfiction (freelancing). I had characters I'd met through my food and wine industry freelancing that needed expansion and their own story. Interestingly, the book I started during that time, TOXIC TORTE, has been my best seller, as well as most profitable.

What was your first published project and what was the process you took to get published?
My first published project was a freelancing article entitled "Is It White or Red With Wild Boar?" It was a look at wine pairings with rare meats, featuring such odd fare as rattlesnake, wild boar, zebra (only legal usages, of course), and even squirrel. For fiction, my first published fiction was THE TRUTH TEST. I sold it in a very round-about way. I'd sent multiple and simultaneous submissions on two stories: WORRYWART and MY WINTER IN AMERICA (both unpublished at present), and one publisher called and said she liked my style, and could I adapt one or both to a twelve-year-old boy level. I told her I had a book in me that fit that perfectly. I wrote the first three chapters the next week, submitted them to her, and that cinched the deal.

You’ve published some work independently as an ebook, can you take a moment to tell me how you decided to take this route instead of the traditional route of finding a publishing house?
I decided to epublish TOXIC TORTE last year after my local writing convention (PNWA). I heard the word "kindle" so many times, it truly lit a fire (ha!) under me. I decided to experiment. I wasn't even sure I was going to use my own name, and there were several times I considered pulling the plug on the whole project. But now, I'm very glad I did. It is so wonderful to have people from other countries "liking" your book on facebook. It's also been wonderful to turn an extensive project into a profitable project. Kindle, as well as Nook and Smashwords, has been very, very good to me, and I plan to upload my new YA, THE LIE, within the next month.

How would you rate your experiences in independent publishing?
My experiences have been excellent--I'm both excited about the prospect of selling my work in new venues, as well as having a new smorgasboard of others' writing to choose from. Up until now, there hasn't been a lot of availability of unique voices--I would criticize publishers, but the truth is, they have to think of the bottom line. That process precludes a lot of distinct and interesting writers.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers who are considering the route of independent publishing?
My advice: First, get an excellent cover. It's worth it. Second, make really good use of your search words. Identify your topic and anything remotely or interestingly or tangentially related to it. Third, ask family and friends to read and review your book. Fourth, be patient; esales grow in a very different arc than traditional sales. We peak at six months, rather than right away like an Evanovich novel. Fifth, consider having your book produced in paperback form, too. Many of your friends and family members don't have a Kindle or are reluctant to read on a computer. These paperbacks also make good marketing opportunities when "accidentally" left in hotels, busses, et al. I call this guerilla marketing.

Can you tell me about the project you’re currently working on?
Right now I have two projects that I'm working on directly. The first is a new cozy mystery tentatively entitled CORPSE IN THE COTTAGE CUTIE." It's about two recently divorced best friends who decide flipping houses is the best way to make money, even in this economy. On the first day of demolition, however, they discover a long-ago entombed body floating in a homemade aquarium, just behind the faux cedar closet paneling. Of course there's a love interest, and there's also a real solid look at friendship between women. The other project is the epublishing of THE LIE. THE LIE features a seventeen-year-old young man who lies about his age and joins the army in an attempt to avoid problems at home and provide for his pregnant girlfriend and their future baby. I'll let you know when it's uploaded to Kindle!

Is there any advice you can give to aspiring writers who may be struggling to finish their novels?
The best advice I have comes from two sources. The first is from Michael Arnzen, Instructor Extraordinaire at Seton Hill University's Writing Popular Fiction program. He said, "You can't fix a blank page." What that means to me is it's okay to write poorly, you can fix it later. It's very freeing. The other advice I especially like, and repeat often to my English 101ers is "The cure to writer's block is BIC--Butt In Chair time." Truly, that's what it's all about. Once there, see Arnzen's quote.
I would like to extend a thank you to Lori for participating so willingly in my first blog interview. Lori’s recent novel, TOXIC TORTE, is available in the following locations:

When Lori's next novels are available, I will post them for all to enjoy!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Punctuation Rule Changes – Oh the Horror!

A co-worker approached last week asking if I’d heard about changes the University of Oxford is making to its rule about serial comma usage. The old rule was, when writing a list within a sentence, to use a comma after each item in the list (ex: a, b, and c). But now they are advising the removal of that final comma (ex: a, b and c).

My co-worker sent me a link to the article she’d seen and I headed online to check it out. Don’t Kill the Oxford Comma written by Mary Elizabeth Williams, on the site Salon.com, made the event of the serial comma change rule seem a bit more dramatic than planned. But in general I found the article very interesting as not only an aspiring writer, but as a Copy Editor.

The dramatization of this change felt more like people in amazement to see a change in a grammar rule. The question of why change what’s not broken came to my mind. In my opinion, changing grammatical rules that have been in place for years upon years seems more like someone was bored and felt like saying, “Hey, let’s stop using that comma! Who needs it anyway?”

In general, this rule really doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone. It depends on what style guide you use, if any. Apparently the Chicago Manual of Style has not announced any change in serial comma usage. And, in fact, some publishers have created their own style guide to be used, sometimes a mixture of different rules.

So, why am I writing about this article that I honestly found strange to come upon anyway? First, because I find it fascinating that some people would be so up in arms enough to write a serious article discussing the use of serial commas. And second, because there are some people who do follow certain manuals of style and who should know when these changes happen, if they are so strictly following what should and should not be done.

As a fiction writer I’ve felt that rules like this should be decided by you, and you alone, for your writing. (Unless of course you’re under contract with a publisher, then you follow whatever styles they’ve chosen.) You can follow one set of grammar rules, or you can do what you feel is correct using different guides, as long as it remains the rule throughout your entire book. To follow one rule in the first chapter, and then change it up in the next, could get slightly annoying for those of us who read word for word.

In the end, is this grammar change by Oxford going to change the way we write. No, in fact they didn’t expect to get so many people up in arms about the whole thing. It was actually stated, since the release of this article, that the rule was changed years ago and had appeared online for quite some time. (Which would explain why I had seen the serial comma used both the old and new way for quite some time now.) They even posted a new blog to discuss the usage of the serial comma to avoid any more confusion.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

In the News

On July 1, 2011 the Huffington Post published an article titled Cherish the Book Publishers - You'll Miss Them When They're Gone. The article, written by Eric Felton, discusses the new wave of self publishing via websites like amazon.com (for the Kindle) and barnesandnoble.com (for the Nook). He does discuss some writers who have become well known authors after self publishing like John Locke and Amanda Hocking, but Felton goes on more of a tangent on how self publishing will hurt the publishing industry.

Felton discusses how those who work in the publishing industry make it easy for readers to choose a book that they will enjoy. They've done their jobs by sifting through thousands of submissions from novelist hopefuls in order to bring readers only the good. Self publishers of e-books are able to get their writing out on their own, without anyone telling them whether it is good or bad, so who knows what readers are buying.

This article hit me pretty hard. Yes, I'm sure there are plenty of hopeful writers out there who've published their e-books with hopes of making it big. I'm sure there are some that don't make it because they haven't put in the time and effort it takes to really polish a novel until it's just right for readers. Let's face it, we do pose a risk of allowing errors to pass by since we do not have the proofreaders and editors of a large publishing house. But, I can not forget the number of times I've found a noticeable error in a book I've read, published and read over by some of the largest publishing houses in the country.

Felton's comments concerning the "sifting" of submissions by publishing houses leaves me understanding that he's never had the chance to read some truly good works that had been rejected by numerous publishers. Many reasons for rejection aren't because of bad writing skills or bad stories, but instead because a book just doesn't fit the niche that the house has created for itself. So good, even fantastic, novels get rejected because the publishing house refuses to go beyond it's normal clique.

I praise all the authors who have come out with their novels via e-publishing, and I hope to do it myself very soon. It takes a lot of guts to take something you've worked probably hundreds, if not thousands, of hours on between you're normal full-time job, taking care of your family, etc. Will they all make it? There's a chance we, as writers, won't make it big no matter what we do. But we write because we love to tell stories that people will enjoy reading because it takes them out of their normal routine if even just for a few minutes each day. Maybe by more writers self-publishing, readers will notice that there are amazing books available to them that may not have a publishing house logo on it or money behind it, but that instead is filled with the heart and soul of the writer who took the time to produce an incredible story. Maybe they will discover what the publishing houses have kept from them just because it didn't fit with their genre guidelines or just because one single copy editor just didn't like it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Why I Write...

There is something to be said for a book that can take you out of your world, if even just for an hour every day, and place you into the life of someone else. Displacing your own problems with someone fictional.

I started reading at a young age. The first real novels I came to love were from the Nancy Drew series. I must've read them all from the local library. And as I got older my tastes matured and darkened slightly. Stephen King was at the top of my list and the authors that followed were Dean Koontz, Poppy Z. Brite, Michael Connelly, and James Patterson. I couldn't get enough! Each novel or short story transported me to the trials and tribulations of someone that, through words, I had grown to care about.

In grade school I began writing. Silly things like cutesy poems and short stories about being a kid. Once in high school I gained some of the darkness that my favorite authors used so well. I wrote an array of short stories in hopes of possibly being published in the literary magazine I worked on at school. From alien abductions to high school parties crashed by serial killers. Even stories that ended happily began fatally.

I didn't start off college with the idea of becoming a writer. Computers seemed like the route for me. I loved being on the computer, communicating with people around the world, and thinking about programs I could create that might make the lives of others even easier someday. But that quickly ended when I realized just how many horrible math classes I'd have to take to earn my degree. Luckily, in my first semester I had also taken a creative writing course in order to fulfill one of my electives. And, of course, I fell in love. Writing was no longer a hobby in my mind. Working with words is what I wanted to do forever!

From there I eventually earned my B.A. in English and then went on to complete my M.A. in Writing Popular Fiction. I work now as a Copy Editor for a local government agency, but my creative spirit always awaits a moment to work on something of my own. Not a day goes by that I don't think about writing, though I will say that a few years went by that I barely wrote a thing creatively. And in the past few months, something suddenly changed.

I am married now with a 2 year old amazing daughter. And for the past few years I haven't written. My completed novel has awaited my fine tuning, and nothing new has landed on paper. But in the past 2 months I've made a pact with myself that it's time to jump start things. Why? My reasons for wanting to pursue my dreams of writing fiction again lie within my daughter. I want her to grow up to not only know that she can be whatever she wants to be as long as she works hard for it, but also to grow up knowing that her parents worked hard to achieve something they had a passion for. I don't necessarily plan to make it rich and be as successful as some of the writers I adore so much. But I want someone to read my stories and truly like them, and maybe even have them inspire dreams of their own. I don't want to be an aspiring author anymore, I want to be an author who can tell people she meets where you can buy her book. I worked very hard to get where I am today, what's a little more work to fulfill all of my dreams?