Posted in Other Stuff, Publishing, Reading, trends, Writing

What Readers Want

I can’t say it better than Stephen King does, but I also can’t find the quote. So I’ll have to tell you the story the way I remember it. He confesses that people often ask him… less frequently, perhaps, than they did when he was starting out… “Why do you write that stuff?” And the question stymies him. Mostly because (he says) “They seem to think I have a choice.”

In other words, Stephen King writes what the muse sends him.

Oh, anxious young writer, desperate to produce something that sells, I see you. I see you at writers’ conferences, studying the latest publishing trends with a seriousness and a concentration that should be reserved for prayer. I see you in bookstores, frowning at the shelves with a mixture of contempt, jealousy, and longing rarely experienced outside of high school. And I promise you from my heart: writers who chase trends are like those guys who wander through haunted houses with video cameras, forever disappointed. Trust me. You, too, are chasing a ghost.

Whatever is on the shelves in that bookstore, publishers purchased at least a year ago. By the time it hits the store, it is only an example of what publishers used to like. Mimic it at your peril; they are buying something else today, and by the time you complete and submit your masterpiece based on the trend you see before you, it will be next year (if you’re lucky), and the wave you hoped to catch will have long ago spent itself upon the sand.

So write what the muse sends you. Listen to no one else. Write what you love. Write the story that resonates with you, and trust where it leads you. And it will lead you–outline bedamned; you’ll know you are doing it right when the story slips off its dockline and heads for the rapids, dragging you in its wake.

I worry about you, fledgling writer taking copious notes at the conference. I mislike the intensity of your expression. Do not trust your notes if they send you north while your muse whispers “east.” Nod and smile and thank anyone who gives you an “industry tip,” but take every tip with a gigantic grain of salt. Many of the tidbits are good to know, and some will come in handy. But none of them will matter if you ignore your muse while following the advice of People Who Know.

The thing is, nobody knows. Or at least nobody knows what will sell. If publishers really knew what readers would buy, there would be no bins of deeply discounted remainders at the front of your local Borders. Each book in the bin represents some editor’s roll of the dice, his or her best–and demonstrably wrong–guess at what readers want.

You can’t write a sure-fire bestseller, so you may as well write what you love. Your muse knows as much about what readers want as anyone else does. Probably more. It knows what you want, and aren’t you a reader?

No matter what you love to write, if you love it enough to do it well, there are like-minded readers out there. Ten years ago, you had to get past an editor at a publishing house before your work could reach anyone else. No more. So it is the best of times to stop chasing trends and write what the muse sends you.

And yes, I just gave you advice after telling you to listen to no one but your muse. The irony does not escape me! Oh well …

Posted in book promotion, Books, Other Stuff, Publishing, Reading, Writing

Don’t Miss to Read this Fiction Book

I am not a believer in book promotion. The only time I buy a book based on an author’s tweet is when I am already a fan of said author and have been eagerly awaiting his/her next release. I tune out the constant background noise on social media urging me to try this author or that, trumpeting the release of books that don’t interest me written by people I’ve never heard of. This is why I limit my own promotion (if you can even call it that) to family, friends, and those dear souls who already follow me. I post and tweet messages along the lines of, “Hey, guess what, Epic Cool is finally out. I bet you thought I’d never finish it.”

Except once.

A little over a year ago, I was approached by someone who was starting up an author/book promotion business. This person was so kind, and so persistent, and so cheap … one dollar! For a year’s worth of regular tweets! … that I finally relented and gave her a dollar.

I did not anticipate that I would find tweets promoting my own books just as annoying as all the other book promotions flooding my Twitter feed. Nor that the tweets would be composed by people who were not fluent in English. A tweet recommending The Fortune Hunter by someone who clearly lacks the language proficiency to have read it is not a convincing endorsement. For over a year now, my Twitter feed has been filled with images of my covers accompanied by messages like, “Don’t miss to read this #fiction book”  and “Read author @DianeFarr amazing Book.” :sigh: Bless their little well-meaning hearts.

I haven’t noticed a huge spike in sales, in case you are wondering.

 

Posted in #RWA16, Books, Other Stuff, Publishing, rwa, Writing

Inspiration Overload at #RWA16

My brain can only handle about two days of RWA before it fries. I wouldn’t miss a minute of it—I wouldn’t dare, for fear I’d miss the best minute ever—but as I sit here in the San Diego airport, waiting for my flight back to the real world, I am feeling so inspired, so energized, so filled with information, gossip, tips, data, and carbohydrates, that I can barely think, let alone write. I am fit only for Candy Crush at this point, but the airport charges for wifi. So forget it.

The conference hashtag (#RWA16) will fade into history, the awards will find their permanent resting place on mantelpieces and bookshelves across the English-speaking world, and all the excitement fizzing in the air at the Marriott Marquis will scatter with the attendees and disperse. But as the old lyric says, the melody lingers on. The word “amazing” is used so indiscriminately today that its original meaning is diluted through overuse, but I’ll risk it. RWA is an amazing organization, and I mean that in the original, jaw-dropping way.

Are women truly wired differently than men are? Why are other creative organizations so cutthroat, and Romance Writers of America so nurturing? I don’t have an answer for it that doesn’t sound sexist, so I’ll simply thank them …us … for consistently amazing me. Every conference is uplifting as well as informative. Members who have progressed in their careers are cheered on, and members who have not progressed are supported, surrounded, encouraged, and counseled. It’s like a sisterhood—a sisterhood that includes men. I saw far more men, and a more interesting variety of skin tones, than I did even a few years ago at RWA12. White women, move over. A lot of new voices are offering tales of human pair bonding in all its myriad forms! This afternoon, for the first time, I read a romance featuring “black folk.” It was fantastic. Multicultural romances are going mainstream, and it’s way past time.

Posted in Books, Other Stuff, Publishing, rwa, Writing

Is It Next Week Yet?

Like everyone else in America, I am so done with this week. One of the pleasures of traveling to San Diego to attend the Romance Writers of America conference will be the utter absence of news. For heaven’s sake, people, behave yourselves while I’m gone. When I come back to the real world, I’d like to find you all sitting around a campfire, roasting marshmallows and telling  jokes.

Someone please make arrangements and send out the evites. I’d do it myself, but I have to pack …

Posted in Other Stuff

Sentimental by Proxy

It’s fun to take a “sentimental journey,” revisiting former haunts to see how they have fared. Sometimes the places you love are unchanged, plunging you into a sea of pleasurable nostalgia and bringing a smile to your face. Sometimes they have vanished — a less pleasurable experience, since the disappearance of buildings and streets once familiar, places that seemed permanent at the time, is an uncomfortable reminder of one’s own mortality. Usually what you find falls somewhere in the middle: The once-familiar place is still there, but time has altered it. And you.

They say you can never go home again. I once believed this sad old adage. Then I moved, bracing myself for disappointment, back to a town I had left years before. And found that I fit right back in. I loved it, if anything, more than I did when I first called it “home.” I’ve had this experience twice now, so I’m happy to report that you can, in fact, go home again. Sentimental journeys, however, remain a mixed bag.

Which brings me to my latest interest: Revisiting scenes of lives other than my own. I have an uncomfortable suspicion that there is something unhealthy about family history research. Like the old joke about codependency (“How do you know you’re codependent? You get hit by a bus, and someone else’s life flashes before your eyes”), I now find it fascinating to visit places where I have never lived, and research other people’s lives.

I’m not alone in this obsession–far from it. Even perfectly normal people feel some degree of interest in visiting, say, Ireland. Or wherever one’s family is from. But when you really stop and look at this impulse, it’s a bit odd. The more I study genealogy, the more aware I am that we are all connected. We all come from everywhere. Go back far enough, and it is clear that “the family of Man” is more than a turn of phrase. It’s a description of reality.

So why be more interested in your direct ancestors than you are in their contemporaries? Is there actually some sort of mystical bond … a connection to the land that survives somehow in the blood? Or is it all vanity?

I vote for the mystical bond. I’m a bona fide history buff and actually am interested in people from the past to whom I am not related. All lives are interesting. But there is an extra edge of excitement in learning about an interesting life whose genes you share. You hear their stories in your own voice, and ghosts crowd up behind you to peer over your shoulder as you pore over the microfiche or eagerly scan a ship manifest for long-sought names.

So I take sentimental journeys by proxy, driving past farms long gone and buildings remodeled beyond recognition, strolling from a train station to a house I’ve never lived in, retracing steps taken a century ago by a man who died when I was three. It’s strangely satisfying. I feel their approval, these ghosts who travel beside me, looking through my eyes at places they inhabited once upon a time. They seem to be as interested as I am to see what’s become of their old stomping grounds.

Too bad they can’t return the favor. I can’t look through their eyes and see what used to be there. But hunting down scraps of history is great fun, and I’ve always had a good imagination.

Just wish I could lose the nagging suspicion that it’s seriously weird to be so interested in dead people.

20150929_143343 (3)
Me, beastin’ on history at the Santa Cruz museum archives

 

 

 

 

Posted in Other Stuff

The First Week of the Rest of my Life

I’m loving it. Was there ever any doubt? Last night was unusually balmy for April. I was lulled to sleep by the song of frogs and the scent of jasmine, blissfully unaware of what time it was and knowing that it didn’t matter; I would wake with a gentle glide to consciousness whenever I was ready. Even on vacation, one must usually wake at a time certain in order to “get going” — sites to see, places to go, things to do. Retirement bestows a freedom I haven’t experienced since childhood summers. July, say, when school is a distant memory and returning to school seems so far in the future that it’s not worth bothering about.

Okay, today I’m going to start work on the final chapter of Epic Cool. But that hardly counts as working, because I get to do it when I darn well feel like it.

Some people, I hear, have a rough transition when they leave their jobs. These must be the kids who moped around the house during summer vacation, whining that they were bored, that there was “nothing to do.” Good grief. Now as then, I’ve got so many delicious things to do I can scarcely choose between them. So…catch you later; I’m off to paddle happily in my pool of projects!

Posted in Other Stuff

My Last Weekend

It occurred to me, as I pulled into the garage Friday evening, that this would be my last weekend. My last real weekend, a Saturday and Sunday spent catching up on chores and trying to snatch some “down time” with the threat of Monday morning circling overhead like a buzzard.

Next weekend, as Alice Cooper is wont to remark, school’s out forever. I am leaving my much-loved job at the California Arts Council and returning to my interrupted writing life.

Writing full-time has its own set of frustrations, of course. The income is unreliable, the work itself can be mentally agonizing, and it’s impossible to really do it full-time. At least for me. I can write for about four hours before my brain fries. This is why I went to work for the state of California in the first place; I couldn’t write more than twenty hours a week anyway, so why not get a part-time job for the other twenty hours? This worked fairly well until the Arts Council lured me into a full-time position. I enjoyed the job, and it took eight hours to fry my brain instead of four, but at the end of the day I was fried all the same. And with no words on the page. Needless to say, my books suffered. I have had no new product out since 2012, and the only reason I was able to finish that one (Scary Cool) was that I began it in 2006! One book every six years is insufficient to keep one’s momentum. Trust me.

I hope to do better now, but if you happen to be one of my long-suffering readers, I warn you: I have never been a fast writer, and am unlikely to suddenly flood the market with books.  On the other hand, they will almost certainly appear more frequently than every six years.

Meanwhile, it’s Sunday afternoon and I’m about to start my last real work week. I can hardly wait to throw out my alarm clock.

Posted in Other Stuff

Back in the Saddle

I hated to leave my blog showing, for such a long time, that I was considering taking up the “How Not to Write” mantle. For the record, I’m writing! I’m also doing other writerly things, like recording my work for Audible and iTunes, being interviewed for Muse Camp (more on that after it happens — unless, of course, my interview sucks), and writing an essay about self-publishing for publication in a free e-book filled with similar essays. 

So I’m back in the saddle. Several saddles. Which sounds more painful than it actually is.

Posted in Other Stuff

Life is Full of Stuff

My family is experiencing a strange juxtaposition of momentous events. One Saturday, we celebrated the wedding of one of my great-nieces. The next Saturday, another of my great-nieces was killed in a car crash.

One event was a long-anticipated day filled with joy, beauty and laughter. Then, exactly one week later, an utterly-unanticipated day of shock, horror and grief. As has often been said, by people much wiser than I, “life is full of stuff.”

Happiness and pain are equally inescapable — a truth that is wonderful or terrible, depending which side of the line you happen to be walking at the moment. We will experience both, as surely as the sun rises and the rain falls. Perhaps it’s best not to know which we will experience more often, or how deeply.

While we are here, we think of young death as tragic. Most of us hope to live a long life. But in the grand scheme of things, whether we live a single day or a hundred years, it’s a flash of time so tiny that the difference between the two is hardly worth noting. All death is tragic. Or no death is tragic. All we can do is live the span we are given, and ride the waves of love and loss as they roll by.

From the instant sperm meets egg, we are hurtling toward death. Nothing is as certain to kill you as life. So if you’d rather not die, please refrain from being born. In fact, C.S. Lewis has theorized that death, not life, may be the Big Thing. Perhaps life’s true importance is that it is a prerequisite for death. You can’t get there through any other door; you have to live in order to die.

I suppose we shall see, one way or the other. Meanwhile, if there’s joy in Ojai and grief in Temecula, it’s best to remember that the distance between the two isn’t really very far.