I was thinking this weekend about the emotions of reading and writing. I love when I read a book that brings me to tears. It means that the author has pulled me in to his/her world and I’ve become invested in the characters. Isn’t it disappointing when you’re reading a book and it’s almost a chore to turn the page? You want so much to care about the characters but you just don’t. I know that it must be the intent of almost all authors to make you care about their characters, but where does it go wrong? Is it the failure of the author by keeping the characters too one-dimensional or is the failure of the reader to not find anything worth connecting to? I had a literary analysis teacher many years ago that told us that we connect, in movies and books, to what we are going through in our lives at that moment. While visiting my aging parents who are currently going through a health crisis, I saw an older man in the grocery store, his red-tipped cane announcing his lack of eyesight. His cart held only one item….a sleeping bag. By eavesdropping on the cashier and bagger, I found out that he is a homeless man who comes in to the store often to have a place to sit and relax. The man had gotten turned around in the store on this particular day and had to be directed to the bench. My heart was in pain, a cloud had come over the day. Was it because I’m overly sensitive because of what my parents are going through? Did I make a connection to the poor man’s plight because of my own situation? No matter the reason, my way of dealing with my pain is to put him in one of my books; give him a voice and provide him a happier ending than his reality.
I hope you check out my newest book, The Gift. This is the first novel I’ve written while not working full time at another job. I was shocked, and pleased, at how the book seemed to almost write itself. Whether it’s the 9+ hours a sleep at night, the smell of the Gulf of Mexico in the air, or the empty house while everyone else goes off to work and school, writing this book was fun! This story focuses on a six year old child, Angelina Landon, who has a special gift. She can see into the future. Her mother, Keri, is an overwhelmed single parent who just wants her daughter to be normal. Angelina’s psychiatrist, Dr. Nick Armstrong, is dealing with issues of his own. A sick wife and a burgeoning drinking problem interferes with his ability to remain professional in his relationship with Angelina and Keri both. Tragedy and a breach of Nick’s ethics lead to the removal of Angelina from the home and is the catalyst for Keri to take control over her own life. I love the character of Keri. She starts off as passive and easily manipulated but matures into an independent woman who knows she can survive on her own. She wants love, she wants intimacy, but she’s not afraid of being alone any longer. She’s driving her own success. I would like to be Keri’s friend. This book also marks the first time that I’m considering writing a sequel of sorts. The last chapters of the book introduce a character, ex-priest Brendan McLaren. I truly did write him for one purpose only, but he grabbed my attention during his short stay in my book. I think he may have his own story to tell. I still have another month before I return to work, so I’m going to lounge on the beach and see what Brendan McLaren has to say. In the meantime, enjoy Angelina, Keri, and Nick’s story in The Gift.
About a month ago, Amazon announced that they would be paying indie authors by the number of pages read instead of just splitting the pot evenly among all authors as they had always done. For example, an author who had written a 20 page erotic novella was getting paid the same as an author who had written a 300 page novel. As somebody who tends to be a little wordy, I was pleased with the change. Many are not. I’ve been reading the Kindle community forum pages as entertainment. There is so much anger, frustration, and drama—-one indie author even brought up the words “class action lawsuit.” I drink my iced coffee and page through the forum posts like I’m reading a soap opera. People are pretty serious about their paychecks. Honestly, I would be upset, too, if I had just found out that my income was about to be cut significantly. However…..here’s my unsolicited advice. If you’re an indie author who is writing for a paycheck, you’re going to spend a lot of time pissed off. Amazon opened up an amazing world for authors who had never been able to break into the traditional world of publishing. I feel incredibly lucky that I found an outlet to share my work. The paycheck is gravy, pure and simple. I wrote long before Amazon started an indie author division and I’ll write until they pry the pen from my cold, dead hands. I hope when I pass through those pearly gates, St. Peter points me towards the cloud that’s named “For Writers Only.” Dibs on the seat next to Charlotte Bronte. If you’re writing for the money, you’re writing for the wrong reason. Write because you have to. Write because you would lose your mind if you didn’t. Write because you breathe.
I’ve been thinking a lot about life and death this week. A very dear friend of mine is saying good-bye to her mother after a devastating stroke. The pain in my friend’s face as she is hugging her non-responsive mother for what may be the last time is exquisitely beautiful in a raw and primitive way. Anyway who reads my books knows that I write about death a lot. Wait For Me focused on reincarnation, Because of Dylan explored the death of an old friend, Lost and Found in Laurel Ridge zeroed in on the guilt and eventual acceptance of the death of a loved one. I’ve always found death and the way we deal with it a compelling topic. I suppose working around it for so many years has made me somewhat pragmatic, understanding that it is inevitable; it’s also incredibly unifying. We all will die despite our economic standing, how many books we’ve sold, or the credentials behind our names. Most of my patients who have been facing death are quite accepting towards the end. Whether it is because they are tired of being in pain or looking forward to the possibility of seeing those who have gone on before them, I’m not sure. I just know that the majority of my patients have expressed to me that they are ready to see what waits for them beyond this world. Where the difference comes is in the way those left behind handle the loss. Each time one of my friends loses a parent (I’m unfortunately at that age now) or even worse, a spouse or child, I’m riveted by their responses. It’s so unique and beautiful and awful….why are some people made stronger while others never recover? Why are some people angry while others are accepting? Why do some people want to talk about it while others are supremely uncomfortable with the topic? I don’t know the answer to any of my questions. I have no jewels of wisdom to pass along. Maybe that’s why I write so much about death. I doubt that I’ll ever figure it all out but there is comfort in the exploration.
“The 3 types of terror: The Gross-out: the sight of a severed head tumbling down a flight of stairs, it’s when the lights go out and something green and slimy splatters against your arm. The Horror: the unnatural, spiders the size of bears, the dead waking up and walking around, it’s when the lights go out and something with claws grabs you by the arm. And the last and worse one: Terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute. It’s when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear, but when you turn around, there’s nothing there…”–Stephen King
I was going through some children’s books yesterday, picking out some old favorites (The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the gold standard of children’s books) and discarding others. I have a real bias against children’s books that are too wordy. So much can be said in so few words. Of course, this is coming from the person whose first novel was over 400 pages. Anyway, I found this book that I had never read before. It was about a woman who finds a bone in a graveyard and takes it home. A ghost keeps demanding that she return it. Remember, this is a children’s book. My co-worker was hoping that the book ended with the lady and the ghost becoming friends, but alas, no such luck. The old woman returns the bone finally and the very angry ghost leaves. I LOVED IT!!! I would have been so ticked off if the ghost had wanted to befriend the lady. I do not know what perversion exists in me, but I love being scared. I love scary things. I love jumps in the night and, even more, I love teasing people just to scare them. For example, try conversing with someone and then slowly shift your eyes to right over their shoulder. Widen your eyes slightly, as if you’re not quite sure what you’re seeing. Inevitably, the person will say, “What? What is it?” Shake your head, frown worriedly, and say, “Nothing.” I get so much pleasure out of doing that. I couldn’t have been more than seven or eight when I placed my life-size doll outside of my brother’s room, raised her arm in greeting, knocked on the door, and ran. Hearing my brother’s screams was awesome. Tonight, I’m going to see a scary movie that I have had marked on my calendar for months. When I saw the trailer back in the winter, a lady in the movie theater jumped so violently that she spilled her 64 ounce drink. That is my kind of movie. Even though most of my books contain a bit (or a lot!) of the paranormal, I’ve never tried a scary book, until now. My newest work contains a very scary child. I’m having fun with it, but no promises on the scary-meter. I may be a perpetrator of scary pranks, I may run to every scary movie there is, but I don’t know how well I can write it. I will have fun trying, though. By the way, if any of you other indie writers sell a book in India (just sold my first) do not get overly excited when you see the commission total. The rupees to dollar exchange rate is less than impressive. However, welcome India!
Since January, I’ve been on a necessary writing break. Illness in the family, a new job, and a long-distance move definitely took precedence over my love affair with my laptop. I hope to never see another cardboard packing box in my life. My keyboard was idle, but my mind never was. I made the thousand mile trip to my new home by myself–my family having arrived earlier–and there was a lot of time for deep thinking and some planning of my next book. I also re-visited some of my earlier books, just to say ‘hi’ to some old friends. I still really like them. Now, my boxes are unpacked (well, most of them), the dog is almost through with his emotional collapse, and my job is winding down for the summer. That’s right, I found a job that gives me the summers off. I’m getting smarter with old age. It is time to say good-bye to the real world and delve back into the corners of my mind where new characters and new plot twists have been waiting, not so patiently. One of the nicest things about being in a new locale is the new inspirations. I’m in a place where the sun never stops shining so there are plenty of chances for people watching. Writers never stop making up stories about people they see out and about. I’ve spent a lot of nights on the beach recently just studying people and trying to figure out their story. I also found out that I live just a few miles from a world-famous author. Not that I would stalk him exactly but if I happen to see him walking along the beach…who knows what may happen next? How are we to know how a copy of one of my books just happened to end up on his front porch? Life is a mystery, right?
I met a young girl yesterday and she told me that her favorite thing to do was read. I told her that the best job in the world would be one in which I got to sit in a big chair and read all day. She responded, “I know, right?” Forty years separated us but in that moment, we were the same person: a book lover. We exchanged knowing smiles before I returned her to her fourth-grade classroom. When I was her age, I read everything I could. I used every earned penny to buy the next book in the Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden series. I lived in those books; they meant everything to me. Once, my parents heard me talking in my sleep. I was apparently dreaming about searching for a book. They decided that I was reading too much—-my God, is there such a thing?—-and told me that I needed to take a break from reading. I still remember my absolute melt-down. With wide eyes, my parents rescinded their suggestion. They probably assumed that I was too far gone and there was no getting their daughter back. Even into adulthood, my favorite place to be is anywhere, as long as there is a book in my hand. One of my fantasies has always been getting stuck in a library during a ferocious storm and being told that I have to stay put all night. I love books. I love reading books, I love writing books. I love talking about books. I love going to movies based on books and then saying, ‘It’s not as good as the book.” That little girl and I know where all the cool kids hang out…in the pages of books.