Thursday, July 30, 2015

Easier Done Than Said: Dreams and Hurdles

I’m not sure I’ll post this. If you’re reading it, obviously a) I didn't chicken out, and b) wow, someone’s actually reading it. Thing is, I’m not sure what I want to say, only that I want to say something. 

I, the ultimate plotter, am going to pants a blog post.

Saying something is no longer anything I take for granted, you see.

About ten years ago, while driving down Broadway Street in New Orleans on my way home from the day job, I was singing with my radio. Although it wasn’t the “day job” at the time because writing novels had never even entered my mind and wouldn’t for several more years.

Nothing was unusual about that day. I still didn’t know the city was going to go to hell around me in three or four months at the whims of a hurricane named Katrina. I was just driving along and singing with a James Blunt song called “Tears and Rain.”

And I couldn’t hold a note without my voice breaking.  

Now, I should say here that I can’t sing worth a crap. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket—or a car. I sing only in places where I can’t inflict my caterwauling on anyone else. But I love music. And on that day, I couldn’t hold a note in the middle range of my voice.

Fast-forward to last year, when I realized that I was holding a coffee cup with two hands because one hand was shaking so badly. Then to last month, when I found myself sitting in a neurologist’s office in Montgomery, beginning a frustrating six weeks of indifferent medical care and scary reactions to medications with less than a 30 percent chance of working.

The good news? It wasn’t Parkinson’s Disease, which was the fear. The bad news? It’s PD’s benign cousin, Essential Tremors with Dystonia. It’s progressive but not fatal. It’s annoying as hell. It can’t be cured. It often can’t be treated. The voice that has gotten so bad that I avoid talking? It might—maybe—be helped by getting Botox injections into my larynx every 3-6 months for the rest of my life. Which can only be done a three-hour drive from where I live. I haven’t made a decision about that yet.

I’ve gotten past the whining, honestly, and if this sounds whiny, my apologies. I’ve also gotten past the anger. Well, most of the time.

I think all I’m trying to say is that I need to speak more than I ever would’ve thought. I'm a writer, after all, not a speaker. But I worry what people will think of my shaky voice and shaky hands. I dread meeting new people, ones who don’t know that I’m not nervous, shy, frightened, or upset. I just sound and look that way. I worry about meeting people and doing panels at a writing convention next month. I worry about a four-hour meeting I have to lead at the day job in September.

But we can’t let crap like this define us, can we? A whole lot of people have things a whole lot worse. I will eventually learn to adapt. And by God, I can still type like a demon to write books and I’m still learning to improve my French using my broken voice. I still try to sing, but it’s worse than ever. Don’t worry; I won’t subject you to it.

I guess here is where this post is leading: We all have dreams and we all have hurdles, whether it’s the dream of writing a best-seller or the hurdle of facing an unexpected medical condition with no cure.

We all have hurdles. It’s how we confront them that matters. We might reach our dreams and we might not. But if we lie down in front of the hurdles that look too daunting or frustrating or embarrassing to go over, we will surely get nowhere.

Next time I see you, if I sound shaky or upset? Just ignore me and shake my hand…if you can catch the damned shaky thing J. And that, I think, is what I wanted to say.

Monday, July 27, 2015

College Days

I’m turning a new page in the chapter of my life. My daughter will start her freshman year at college in a week, and I wonder how I’ll deal with the change. In helping her pack items she’s taking with her, I found a letter she wrote to give to her brother the day she leaves and knew I had to share it.

To My Brother,
   I’m sorry for giving you your first concussion on Thanksgiving. I’m sorry for pushing you in dog poop on Mother’s Day. I’m sorry for pepper spraying you. I’m sorry for yelling at you to leave me alone and for slamming the door in your face. I’m sorry for all the times that you asked me to play with you and I said, “Not Today.” I’m sorry for every time I saw you walking in the subdivision and drove past you. I’m sorry for hiding air fresheners in your room. I’m sorry for using your toothbrush to clean the toilet. I’m sorry for embarrassing you on purpose. I’m sorry for all of my broken promises.
   I cannot even apologize for it; I am always going to act like your second mom. I am always going to keep yelling at you to stop smacking and to clean up the mess you made in the kitchen. It doesn’t matter to me how often you insult me because you’re my little brother and I’m always going to be the boss.
   I forgive all of the little brother insults you have used. I forgive you for hitting me with a wire coat hanger. I forgive you for putting a mechanical fish in my fish tank. I forgive you for spying on me at the beach. I forgive you for embarrassing me in front of every guy I ever brought home. I forgive you for tattling to mom when I drove her car. I even forgive you for being mean to me every morning.
   I am so proud of you. It is not nearly enough, but I am so proud of you, little brother. You are smart and have the ability to be handsome, but to me, we are both halves of one idiot.

Your Sister

Well, as you can imagine, I was laughing so hard after reading this that I had tears in my eyes. Oh my, I remember all the drama as it occurred on a daily basis and am surprised that either of them have lived long enough to mature to this point - without me having killed them. Looking forward, I know she’ll be just fine because she’s grown into a fabulous woman.

In reflection, life experiences are the inspiration behind stories. Memories like this help build a heroine and make them come alive. Don’t be surprised if you read parts of this in a novel one day as I craft a female character. Building in the hidden motives or personality traits that define the character go far deeper than physical appearance.

Who are your favorite heroines, and what was it that caused you to cheer them on as you read a story?

Philisha Byrd Stephens

Friday, July 24, 2015


I first wrote this post under my pen name, Elaine Hussey, and it appeared on my website at So many people have asked for it again that I’m sharing it with you at Southern Magic.  

Some time ago I watched an old Clint Eastwood movie with my family -  Every Which Way But Loose.   Eastwood is such a gifted artist that watching his movies is always a pleasure.  He was good as the complex Philo, a guy who hangs out with a baboon.

But it was Ruth Gordon who stole the show. Feisty, salty, and funny, she commanded the screen.  She called herself a “helpless old lady” and proved herself to be anything but.  During the scene where Gordon uses her shotgun to deliver some comeuppance to a rowdy group of bikers, my son said, “She’s just like Mama Hussey.” 

Mama Hussey was my mother. And though she has been dead for more than seven years, everybody in the family still tells “Mama Hussey” stories. And, yes, she kept a shotgun under her bed. She knew how to use it, too.  Mama was the picture of a perfect Southern lady, always dressed to the nines, the more jewelry the better.  She loved good books, good movies and a good laugh. But let a stranger show up on her front porch after dark, and he’d find himself looking down the barrel of Mama’s shotgun.
Mama was larger than life. And so was Ruth Gordon’s character in Every Which Way But Loose.  But they had something else in common, too: they both reminded you of someone you know.  They were ordinary, approachable, and likeable, somebody to root for.  Full of spirit and big of heart.  Much like my Billie and Miss Queen (The Sweetest Hallelujah, July 30,2012)).   Billie and Miss Queen are perhaps the most memorable in a long list of characters I’ve created over a career that spans more than twenty-five years.

What about memorable bad guys, you ask? Of course, we remember Hannibal as the personification of evil. But it’s not the evil that makes him memorable: it’s his complexity - his relationship with Clarice, his longing for a window, his uncanny ability to get into the minds of the other characters and plant seeds of doubt and discontent.

There is much more to say about memorable characters, but I’ll leave that for another day. Meanwhile, I invite you to tell me about characters you remember, the ones you love to love and the ones you love to hate.

I also invite you to browse to learn more about the characters in The Sweetest Hallelujah. You’ll find quotes from them throughout. The excerpt will give you a first glimpse of Billie, who will simply catch hold of your heart and not let go.

Peggy Webb is the USA Today Bestselling author of 75 books. She writes romance, women's fiction and mystery under this name and literary fiction as Elaine Hussey. Her latest novel is Stars to Lead Me Home. For more info, visit her website at 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Fact or Fiction or Fictional Fact? When to make it up...

As writers we have a certain responsibility to maintain authenticity for readers. If readers can't relate to or believe something, then they likely won't be readers long.

When we craft stories, we make so many things up: people, plots, places.  It's fiction, after all!

But are there things we should NOT make up?  And where do you draw the line? How does genre play a part in this, especially as relates to reader expectation?

Historical romance authors research extensively to provide the most accurate portrayal of the time period in their books. I'm in awe of the details they weave into a story (without me even realizing it) and their ability to transport me through their creativity. Romance Writers of America (RWA) even has the Beau Monde chapter, which is primarily for the Regency period. Hearts through History is another chapter, and they will welcome you with open arms. These writers are learners, as I like to say, with an impressive dedication to historical accuracy.

All of the genres have RWA chapters to help encourage great fiction, just another sign that romance authors are trying to "get it right" for our readers.

Paranormal romance is on the other end of the fact versus fiction spectrum, as it should be. Writers create entire worlds and behaviors for our favorite supernaturals, sometimes creating a new type of supernatural to boot. Facts are still relevant in paranormal romance, but not necessarily in the same way. A writer will create a world of facts and then must stay true to that world.

Erotic romance authors pride themselves on portraying the facts of safety, mutual consent, and sex positive experiences. In these stories the characters and plots may be fiction, but a sex positive experience, for example, is the consistent fact.

Romantic suspense may be the most difficult balance of fact versus fiction due to well known settings or organizations. If the story is set in Washington D.C. and involves police, government, or official agencies, then a writer will need a good understanding of all of those things. A reader who loves military suspense wants the writer to honor the military hero's service with accuracy. Along the same lines, a romance writer probably shouldn't destroy a national monument in a book...although the threat could be used to move the story forward.

Inspirational romance maintains the facts of the belief system it incorporates. It is critical to these readers that facts stay true to their expectations.

Contemporary romance authors have to maintain the facts of daily life, the jobs people have and the way we live our lives in the current time period. However, there is plenty of wiggle room for creating places and scenarios. Is it likely that the new guy in the apartment next door is an MMA fighting champ? Probably not. But, I'll take that fiction any day!

So, what do all of these books have in common? The human experience. Whether it's an unwilling Duke in Regency England or a muscled cyborg on a distant planet or a military suspense set on Capitol Hill or two small town friends getting a second chance at love - we understand them through our shared emotional experiences in this crazy life we live.

We all love a man's reaction to a woman he's attracted to.  Right? That first spark between them when they recognize this could be MORE. We travel with them on their journey, falling for them as they fall for each other (sometimes even before!). Then, the moment when things couldn't be worse for them arrives, and we break with them. We root for them to work things out and get satisfaction from their happily ever after. We think about them weeks later if the author has done a great job, imagining the life they are living because the writer has made them real to us in our hearts.

Whether it's an emotion we've had before or have yet to experience, we understand. Emotion is at the heart of the human experience. A good writer can blend the facts we need with the fiction we want, giving readers a story that's fresh yet recognizable where it counts.

And that's a fact!

Where do you draw the line between fact and fiction in what you read or what you write?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Going to RWA Nationals for the First Time? 10 Things I Learned

I won't be going to the RWA national conference this year, and I am sad! But I am so happy for those of you who are going--especially those who are going for the first time!!

I attended my first RWA conference in Atlanta a few years ago, and it was a wonderful experience. I had attended smaller conferences before, but I was a little overwhelmed when I headed to Atlanta (driving in Atlanta was enough to give me a heart attack) and saw how big of an event the RWA national conference really is! So, I thought I would give you guys a list of some things I learned from my experience...

1. If this is your first RWA conference, wear your "First Timer" ribbon with pride. Seriously. I assume they still hand these out when you pick up your registration packet (do that ASAP). The ribbon was orange the year I went to nationals, and it was great because so many people saw it first thing and offered to talk and help me out. That ribbon is your key to the kingdom as a new attendee!

2. Go to the orientation. You learn so much, and it is a great experience and a good opportunity to meet people. Everyone is excited and ready to chat. It really gets you excited about what is coming your way, too!...which leads me to my next bit of advice...

3. Don't overload your schedule. Yes, RWA nationals is an expensive event and you want to get as much out of it as possible, but if you try to attend too many sessions and don't give yourself any down time, you are not going to learn as much as you should. I tried to go to everything the first day or two, and once I eased off, it was a much more rewarding experience.

4. Be flexible. Popular sessions can be really crowded (standing room only, sometimes). After the first day, I made a list of sessions I absolutely had to attend. I made sure to be there super early so that I could get a seat. If I unexpectedly found myself faced with a really crowded session, and if I didn't want to stand or sit on the floor, I had a back-up list of sessions to attend.  Just be flexible. My best advice: Find out if the session you want to attend (along with a million other people) is being recorded for download later. If so, and if you are willing to listen to the audio only later on, then go to something else. I love my audio downloads of sessions, and I find it really helpful to be able to listen to them in a clam environment. Sitting in a crowded room full of people doesn't do much for my concentration.

5. Bring comfortable shoes. You do need to dress professionally, so plan ahead and bring comfy shoes because you will be walking...a lot.

6. Turn off your cell phone. Please do this. It is really rude to have it ring in the middle of a session, and I witnessed this more than once. I also saw a woman who actually sat there and had a conversation on her phone while a session was going on. This is not cool. Remember: You are paying a lot of money to attend--and so is everyone else.

7. Take advantage of morning breakfast gatherings and other places to make connections. Talk to people. If you are shy and don't know what to say, you can always ask someone, "What do you write?" or "Who are some of your favorite authors?" You will find common ground in no time!

8. Attend book signings! These are so much fun, and you can meet so many authors!

9. Attend the RWA business meeting. I went because I didn't have anything else to do, and it actually turned out to be one of the most interesting parts of the conference for me!

10. The most important thing: HAVE FUN. Don't put so much pressure on yourself. If you are pitching, don't freak out. If you are shy, break out of your shell a little bit more each day. Do this for yourself: You deserve it. Take it all in. Attend the luncheons and the awards dinner. The speeches you hear will make you so proud to call yourself a romance writer.

And that is the key here. RWA is about professionalization and opportunities to pitch and taking time to learn about craft/marketing/etc. But it is also about community. You will come away with a new sense of pride about what you do. You will come away knowing that you must call yourself a writer--and not just any writer....a PROUD ROMANCE WRITER!

Enjoy, everyone! And post lots of tweets and Facebook updates!! I will live vicariously through you!

Susan Sierra is a historical and contemporary romance writer. She loves books and old letters, adores her dog and family, and has a deep and committed love affair with coffee. She spent time as an undergraduate studying (having fun) in Mexico, went on to work for a large regional magazine as a copyeditor, and then decided that she hadn’t tortured herself enough in she went to graduate school. After many years, she walked away with a PhD and an unhealthy relationship with Charles Dickens. She hopes to complete her first full-length novel in 2015. FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER!

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Story In The Details

In my latest book, HIDDEN HEAT, I had my heroine ride around on the back of a motorcycle, run through the woods, get shot and, of course, make out with the hero. And during all of that I realized she needed a purse. Really. How many women leave the house without some type of purse, backpack or wallet?

So I gave her a small backpack. That way she could hold onto the hero without worrying about losing her grip on her purse.

I don't remember including a purse for any of my other heroines. The idea came to me after having lunch with a bunch of nice ladies who are part of a book club called The Alabama Book Maniacs. They were talking about why don't you read about people going to the bathroom, doing laundry, having cramps, and taking the garbage out. I included putting on makeup. Would you say that 60% of women with jobs wear makeup every day? I do. (I said jobs because when I'm not working and not leaving the house, no make up for me. I give my skin a break.)

My explanation about the bathroom was that we mention them in books. We don't always see behind the closed door. In two of my books (CIRCLE OF DESIRE and CIRCLE OF DANGER), the heroine or hero go in alone and close the door. I rather not read about the gross stuff, but if they share a shower, I want details (CIRCLE OF DECEPTION). The laundry and garbage is boring unless there is sex on the washer or someone finds a body in the trash bin.

Back to the purse. So my heroine has the old, raggedly backpack, and it's mentioned mainly for her to carry a little cash and makeup. She wants to clean up at one point and look her best.

It stood to reason that I would include a purse anyway. I love them as much as I love shoes. So I though this would be the perfect time to share a few pictures of my favorites.

The first three pictures are of the same purse.  It's an emerald green and, yes, it's a carpet purse. I've had it for 42 years and it's nearly as pretty as the day I bought it. When hubby and I were newly married I use to sneak beer into concerts and other places using that purse.  Then when the girls were growing up, sodas and candy bars were taken into the movies.

Last year, I bought the poppy one for my trip to Alaska. I wanted something that could be slung over a shoulder, have several zippered compartments, and I didn't have to worry about getting it dirty. It's great for vacation trips. It even has a place for a water bottle on the side.

The next one (right) is my winter purse. I have a thing for animal print purses. The only drawback to this one is there are no outside pockets for easy access for keys or my mobile phone.

I'm going on a trip to New York City next week (hubby staying home and guarding the place). The one on the left will be my walking around, sightseeing purse. I don't want anything big and open that a hand can reach inside and steal my wallet. Plus it should be easy and hopefully not too dorky to wear the strap across my body.

Then there is my summer purse. I love the white changing to pink or the pink fading to white. Whichever way you see it, it's big and cumbersome at times, but it's great to carry loads of stuff to work (iPads, laptop, lunch, breakfast, etc.) and still look pretty. Pretty in pink. HA! Even the interior is pink. Plus it only needs a washcloth to wipe it off.

So tell us about your favorite purse AND what detail do you try to add to your books or like to see in books to make it more real?

Carla Swafford loves romance novels, action/adventure movies and men, and her books reflect that. She has three romantic suspense novels with Avon Red and recently sold two hot motorcycle club novels to Loveswept. She’s married to her high school sweetheart and lives in Alabama. 

Look for me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, & Google+
February 2016, HIDDEN HEAT, A Brothers of Mayhem novel
Time Magazine, [Circle of Danger] ". . . involves deadly assassins, drug lords and doing it."

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

The Trojan Horse

There are any number of reasons to watch the movie Troy - the one starring Brad Pitt, Sean Bean, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom and the absolutely amazing Peter O'Toole. You'll notice I didn't name any of the female stars. They were all great in their roles as well, but frankly, very little compares to all that masculine beauty. Brad Pitt's butt. Eric Bana's butt. Sean Bean's chest. Orlando Bloom's butt. Peter O' Toole's voice and those incredible eyes. Oh yes, and there's a story in there. A really great story. An ancient story or heroes, honor, perseverance and cunning.

Writing is a great deal like the Trojan Wars. Some guy - usually your hero - talks you into packing up your ego and all of the weapons in your writing arsenal to go after some girl - your heroine. Some days it's smooth sailing. Some days you get your ass kicked. Some days you wade to shore under a barrage of arrows hoping one doesn't catch you between the eyes.

The difference is, many times you are the one kicking your own ass. And you are the one shooting all of the arrows at you. I'm not saying reviewers, readers, agents, editors, your own computer and any number of other enemies don't take their best shots at you. And God knows the world is running over with people, places and things doing their damnedest to keep you from writing. Some distractions work a lot like those pretty sirens sitting on the rocks luring you to your doom. Okay, so maybe those sirens look like Channing Tatum or Shemar Moore or a nekkid Gerard Butler, but that is entirely beside the point. And looking as those photos is research. Yeah. Right. Research. Hmmmmmmm. Oh yes, where was I?

Kicking your own ass. There is a great deal of that in writing. Ad each of us has our own Achille's heel. Hell, some of us have an entire CLOSET of Achille's heels. And when they are out there in front of us, we have the option to go around them, ignore them or beat the crap out of them.

It's the ones we can't see, however, that do the most damage. The one's we keep hidden from ourselves. The ones we choose to ignore. Those are the dangerous ones. Those are the ones you drag into your city and allow to sit there until you go to sleep. Sometimes you even worship them as some sort of writer's deity.

It's part of being a writer. 

I'm suffering for my art.

It's out of my control.

Suffering makes my work better.

Did I hear an AMEN ! Sorry, my "bullshit monitor" was going off so loudly I couldn't hear you. Sun Tzu said "It is impossible to defeat an enemy with outposts in your head." Smart guy. Ulysses was a smart guy too. He got into the Trojans' heads, figured out what would make them let their guards down, and then he got into their city.

There is so much information out there about the publishing industry these days. And there are so many stories of people who write one book, self publish it, and make a fortune with it or sign with a huge traditional publisher because of it. It's just information, you say? Nope. Sorry, you just lost your entire city to a big ole Trojan Horse! If you let all of this "information" set up housekeeping in your mind - even in the back corner storage shed of your mind - eventually everything in that Trojan Horse is going to creep out into your thoughts and whisper in your ear like Channing Tatum until it is too late and you realize you are up to your butt in Greeks with swords and you are standing there wearing a loincloth and a smile.

It's perfectly fine to read these stories. It is even fine to ponder how they did it. It is not okay to wonder why you haven't done it. It is not okay to think you will never do it. NOT. O. KAY.

If all of the weapons in your writing arsenal the most powerful and most vulnerable weapon you have is the one between your ears. That is your impregnable fortress. That is your shining city. Be very careful what you allow yourself to drag behind those walls. Those Trojan Horses are sneaky little bastards and once they get behind the walls nothing short of a scorched earth campaign will get them out. Brad Pitt might be busy, and you don't want to fight them alone.

I'm going to close by quoting a post by my RWA Roomie and dear friend, Andrea Stein. You might want to print these words out and keep them handy. I happen to think they kick Trojan Horse Ass!

Andrea Stein

When you are a totally self-published author without the benefit of a "hybrid" career (a traditional and self-pub mix), there are a few realities that sink in over a period of time.

1 - This is a long game, not for the faint of heart or impatient.

2 - This is a labor of love. I could make a best-seller list and still not recoup much more than minimum wage for the hundreds of hours I pour into each of my books. The get-rich-quick circuit has very few seats, and a mob of people are already there who will hip-check you off the platform.

3 - I've had many jobs over the years, some of them in respectable publishing circles. But none of them is as satisfying as self-publishing.

4 - If you believe in "Writer's Block," you will not make it. You have to just sit down and write. You need to produce at least 3-4 titles per year to beat the above-mentioned odds. I do have a small edge there after 30 years as a newspaper writer and editor.

5 - Social media will not get you where you want to go. It can give you followers who will recognize you once you get there, but only great writing will get you there. Write. Read. Repeat.

What are the Trojan Horses that show up in your writing day? What do you do to keep them from getting into your head? What do you do to kick them to the curb when they do get in?

Friday, July 03, 2015

Some Things I learned from Debra Dixon's Workshop: GMC and Hero's Journey

Jillian here. Last weekend the Southern Magic chapter of RWA hosted the awesome Debra Dixon from Belle Bridge Books/Bell Books.  She talked about Goal, Motivation and Conflict (she wrote the book!) as well as The Hero's Journey - both of these are intertwined in every good story. Deb showed us many examples of what she was teaching us and a lot of those were through movies. She also said she keeps a movie journal and after watching a film for fun, she then watches again and breaks them down. I love, love that idea and have already stolen it and started doing it. It's an awesome tool to learn to do these things in our own work.

The Hero's Journey is a 12 step process. Im not going to cover it all but it begins with the ordinary life, goes to the call to adventure and then to accepting the challenge and crossing the threshold to the new world. The other elements follow and the point of all 12 steps is the change your character must go through on his journey to the end of the book. 

I watched Back to the Future Wednesday night and was picking out all the things I learned from this amazing workshop. When the story opens, we see Marty's ordinary life with parents who have issues- mom with alcohol and dad with being a wimp. His siblings are lazy and unmotivated.   He's the only cool person in the family. Marty hangs out with an older man, Doc Brown and goes to meet him at the mall for an experiment that Doc wants him to record. When that goes wrong, Marty has to make a decision to get away. The big call to adventure is when he jumps in the DeLorean where he guns it and getting up to 88 mph, crosses the threshold into 1955 which is totally not his ordinary world even though he can see signs of it around him as he gets out of the car. Another cool thing I noticed about the film is the use thats made of all the science fiction that was a craze in the 1950s. A neat homage, I think. 

Martys first goal is to find a way home. His motivation is to get back to his life. Once he finds Doc Brown, his goal changes. It becomes a much more important goal vital, even. He must now get his parents together or he and his siblings will cease to exist. His first goal takes a backseat to the more urgent one for a while. His motivation changes to needing to save the very lives of his brother, sister and himself. The conflict (thing stopping him) is that his dad is a wimp and won't ask his mom out, and, as well, his dad allows Biff to intimidate him. Mom is also attracted to Marty, not George since the inciting incident Marty had heard all his life on how his parents met didn't happen to George but to him. The rest of the middle of the movie is Marty dealing with these basic conflicts/tests.

At the end of the movie, we see the transformation of Marty's family. When his dad found the courage to stand up to Biff, that changed everything. The mom looks younger, sexier, and happy. Dad has followed his dream of writing a book. Biff is the one who bows to Marty's dad and even the brother and sister are changed. Marty seems to be the same but he's learned a lot and matured on his journey back from the future. He tries to stop his mom from drinking and basically acts as the adult with both his parents. Marty also tries to get back sooner in time than he left so he can save Doc Brown from the Libyans.

See how fun that was? Let's quickly start breaking down another movie and then I want you guys in the comments to share the GMC or Heros Journey, or both in one of your favorite films. Or share at least part of one.

The movie Spy that just came out with Melissa McCarthy is one I recently saw at the theater. Her ordinary life was being the eyes and ears of a spy played by Jude Law- she didnt go into the field; rather, she directed the action for him from the safety of her desk. Her call to adventure was when he was killed in the line of duty, she volunteered to step in as she was the only agent whose ID hadn't been compromised. Her crossing the threshold of the new world was when she was dressed in the undercover wardrobe and landed in Europe. She endures various tests which challenge her.

Goal: take down the bad guys who have all the IDs of the CIA agents.
Motivation: save lives of agents; get a sort of justice for the death of Jude Law's character
Conflict:  all the obstacles placed before her by the ones who have the info and are killing agents.
Without giving away spoilers, we see Melissa's character grow and change during this movie. She is totally not the same person we met at the beginning as she is at the end. Her journey and change was much less subtle and way more overt than Marty's in Back to the Future. But both were great movies full of conflict, motivation and goals. Just different ways of delivering the journey. How cool is that? 

Try it yourself. Break us down a movie. You know you want to. :)

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Discoverability--The Author's Biggest Challenge

I had a novel due to my publisher today, so yeah, this post is late. I have a serious case of fried brain, too, so I hope this makes some sense.

I was asked in a recent interview what I considered the biggest challenge facing authors today and, in my mind, there's only one possible answer.

A long time ago--you know, like three years--my answer would have been "getting published." Authors were rabid to find the right agent, the one who'd recognize the potential of their precious novels and have the contacts and drive to find a home for them. If the publisher had hopes for the book or series, they'd pay decent advances.

Two, or even one, year ago, since I'd found the world's most awesome agent and had been blessed to be published, my answer would have changed to "staying published." Because getting published is great and all kinds of awesome sauce but, face it, most of us aren't going to hit the NYT Bestseller List right off the bat, if at all. With the big publishers retrenching, they want bestsellers. They don't want to buy books from authors with moderate sales unless that author has a damned good (i.e., proven to be commercially viable) idea. Advances are dwindling and royalty rates aren't rising.

Today, my answer is a resounding one word: DISCOVERABILITY. If you've published and haven't already built a following (or if your following is small), you either already curse when you hear that word, or you will as soon as you do publish. Take my word for it.

Here's the deal. Never have there been more opportunities for authors to publish their work. If you want to continue chasing the dream of the Big Five or Six or Four or whatever it is this week, you can do that. If you want to go with a small digital publisher and earn higher royalties, you can do that too. And if you want to venture forth on a journey of self-publishing and claim an even higher royalty rate, you can do that too. The stigma that used to accompany self-publishing has been eradicated as more and more established authors choose that route in order to maximize their earnings and actually earn a living wage from their writing. Regardless of which path you choose--or a combination of the three--the bulk of marketing, which has to do with discoverability, falls to you. Yep, you.

What those publishing changes mean is that, every month, a LOT of books come out, in a bunch of formats and from a bunch of different sources. I do a monthly column for called "Fiction Affliction," where I spotlight the books in all the speculative fiction genres each month. The number of books continues to grow and grow and grow and grow and...well, you get the idea. I find myself editing back the lists, much as a reader has to do when faced with a barrage of new offerings each month.

How do I pare? I ask some questions and I look at a couple of things. Is the cover professionally done? If not, it gets hacked from the list. Is the book's blurb professionally written, or does it have typos or grammatical/punctuation errors? If so, it gets hacked--I mean, if you can't get your blurb right, what are the chances the book will be right?

Sadly, that eliminates about 50 percent of my list each month. When I read the blurbs and decide some of them are too smexy or experimental or downright weird, that eliminates another ten percent. So the 150 or so books featured in Fiction Affliction each month represent only about 40 percent of the books out there. There are probably some absolutely brilliant gems in the hacked 60 percent but I have to choose.

How does a reader slog through the 100-150 new romance titles each month? After all, as a reader, I can't afford to read even 40 percent of the books released this month. I might read three or four.

And there you have the problem of discoverability. The book I turned in today will come out next spring in a month with approximately 500 other novels--because it's not just our own genres competing for readers' time, but all genres.

How does my novel rise above the herd?

How do readers discover it when there are hundreds of other books--some on their auto-buy list--competing for their attention?

I don't have any answers. I've blogged until I'm exhausted from hearing myself blither on. I've hired PR firms, held Facebook events, held giveaways, searched for magical swag, and tried to figure out a way to do all of the above, plus social media, while holding down a 60-hour-a-week day job and maintaining a household that includes a housebound 90-year-old.

And, at the end of the day, it comes down to a magical confluence of word-of-mouth, timing, and dumb luck. If your book is really well-written, it helps but, unfortunately, it isn't a requirement.

At the end of the day, all we can do about today's biggest issue--discoverability--is keep plugging away. Keep our names out there and hope familiarity breeds curiosity, and curiosity can lead to word-of-mouth and dumb luck and all the rest.

In the meantime, keep on writing!