When Fiction Imitated Life

I think this post is about writing.  Maybe not.  You be the judge….

I find that, unbidden, animals creep into my work.  Recently they have become psychic because it works for the story but also because psychic animals are fun.  Wolf Legend has a psychic wolf.   Wanted Sharpshooter has a rogue psycho cougar.  But I never thought of psychic animals as being anything other than clever additions to fictional stories.

Until now.  What follows was my life last week:

First I should mention that we have a cat named Smoke.  He’s our first cat ever and we have him because our daughter got him as a kitten to become another barn cat to keep their barn free of mice.   Smoke, however, didn’t want to be a barn cat.  He kept coming to the house and meowing very politely to let her know that he’s a house cat, not a barn cat.

Since our daughter already had three house cats and didn’t need any more, she decided her parents needed a cat.  So we got Smoke.  As soon as he came to our house he knew this was where he wanted to be.  He walked around and inspected his new kingdom and informed us that it was acceptable and climbed onto my lap and started purring and has pretty much been there ever since.  Even though we aren’t cat people.  Or, to be honest, we weren’t cat people until Smoke came into our lives.

Anyway, to get back to what happened in the last few days:

My DH Dick started feeling sick Thursday night. So did Smoke. Didn’t come to get us for bed as usual and was quiet.

Dick got worse Thursday night. So did Smoke. Stayed in one spot on the bed all night. Didn’t move. Didn’t do anything.

Dick was really sick Friday morning. So was Smoke. Managed to crawl onto a shirt that Dick had dropped onto the floor and he stayed on that shirt.  Didn’t move, didn’t do anything.  Was really sick and puking and refused to get off that shirt even though Smoke generally prefers me to Dick.  But that day when I offered him one of my shirts, he refused it and went back to Dick’s shirt, where he stayed.  So I left him there while I took Dick to the ER.

It was acute appendicitis.  Dick had surgery and, as happens after surgery, he felt generally awful for the rest of Friday and all day Saturday.  He came home Saturday evening. Smoke also felt awful during that time, couldn’t even climb onto the bed and, when I lifted him there and touched his stomach, he cried out in pain. So I put him back on Dick’s shirt on the floor, which was where he wanted to be. He lay there without moving.

Sunday both Dick and Smoke felt awful. Both lay around and did nothing, Dick in bed, Smoke on the shirt that he refused to give up.

Monday, Dick felt awful until afternoon, when he began feeling better. Same with Smoke. Didn’t move, stayed on Dick’s shirt and felt awful Monday morning, but Monday afternoon he, too, started feeling better.

Tuesday morning, Smoke felt better still.  He came into the kitchen and let me know that he wanted his morning treat and, when I only gave him half a treat because he’d been sick, he meowed until he got the whole treat. Same with Dick. He wanted a full breakfast and is now feeling pretty good.

Oh yes, when I went into the bedroom later that day to put that shirt in the hamper, Smoke watched me pick it up, accompanied me to the laundry, and watched me drop it in the hamper without interest.  Because whatever had happened during those last few days was over.  Both cat and man were okay.

Coincidence?  Probably.  But maybe not.

Anyway, in the future if I can’t get those psychic or empathetic animals out of my work, instead of mentally excusing their existence because it’s only fiction, I’ll accept the reality that art imitates life more than I’d ever realized until we got a cat named Smoke.

Guns and 99 Cent Reads

I’ve decided that Americans like their guns and I have the data to back up that claim.  My data, as inconclusive as it may be, is that my novel Wanted Sharpshooter is selling better than any of my other books, even Spirit Legend, the book that was prominent last week in a book blast that sent it to be featured in a dozen blogs.  I admit this is a surprise to me.

Why has it  happened?  I have a thought.  Just a thought.  If you check out Wanted Sharpshooter, you’ll see that the cover features a guy with a rifle and he’s ready to fire it.  Both the guy and the rifle are prominent and can’t possibly be missed.  Both man and gun are dangerous.  The book sells for 99 cents.

Conclusion?  We Americans like our guns and I suspect we aren’t the only people who do. And I know that people everywhere also like a good, inexpensive story to read.  So perhaps Wanted Sharpshooter fulfills both desires?

As far as guns go, I can’t hit the broad side of a barn.  But when my dad died, our inheritance was guns.  Growing up, he repeatedly reminded us that guns are capable of killing people and you must remember that every single time you so much as touch one.

Books can be equally dangerous, though in a different way.  Words have the potential to change the world.  Not the books I write, they are for enjoyment and relaxation.  But both words and bullets are extremely potent weapons.

And a good, affordable story is a well-deserved treat.

Why Loglines?

There’s a spot on the wall above my computer where the paint has worn off.  Because there have been so many loglines stuck there over the years.  I pulled the paper with the logline off the wall when the manuscript was finished and often some of the paint came off too.

For those of you who don’t know what loglines are, they are those one-sentence descriptions of your story that are used to pitch your book or that become the beginning of the blurb on the back cover.

But there’s another reason for writing down a logline.  A reason that has to do with the process of writing.  You seldom see this reason listed but it should be.

Because …  a one-sentence description of your story taped to the wall above your computer reminds you what you’re supposed to be writing.  It keeps you from getting lost in the details.  It tells you how to slant a scene if you don’t quite know how to write it because it keeps you focused on the bare essentials.  In short, it tells you where you’re going and how to get there.

Most importantly to you as a writer, the process of writing the logline makes sure that you know what you’re writing.  Because if you don’t know … and know well enough to put it into one sentence … no one else will either.  And if your readers don’t know what you’re saying, they won’t bother finishing your book.

Maybe one of these days I’ll paint that wall.  Or maybe not.  I’m kind of fond of that bare plaster.  It reminds me that I’m doing my job.

Minor Characters

Minor characters are sneaky.  They are necessary to the story but they aren’t supposed to take over.  The problem comes when one or more of them do exactly that.  So what to do?

Depends.  There are two kinds of minor characters.  You need to know which category your minor character belongs to before you can decide what to do about it.

The first category is that in which the minor characters flesh out the story, make it deeper, stronger and better. But if that character could be written out of the story without changing the story itself, then that particular character isn’t essential.  Rein them in, keep them under control.  Do it!

The second category is that in which the minor character is essential but isn’t the character that the story is about.  Same question applies.  Could you write that character out without changing the story?  If the answer is ‘no’ then you should think long and hard before you rein in that character.

Because your story just might be better for enlarging that character’s place and letting him or her take over a larger chunk of the action.

I’m thinking about this because, in my book Spirit Legend that’s going to be featured in a Book Blast starting the 8th of April (drum roll, please) a minor character took over and became a major player.  I didn’t know it was happening until after the book was finished.  It was the reviews that made it very clear that the character of the spirit in the lake was pivotal and important.  Reviewers used words like  ‘charming.’  ‘interesting.’  and ‘endearing.’  And the spirit only came into existence as a device to hang a story on.  Until it took over and I let it run riot because I couldn’t figure out how to rein it in.

Now that I’m deep into Wolf Legend, the same thing is happening to the character of the psychic wolf pup Snowball.  She was supposed to be an afterthought.  She now has a starring role and I’m glad to say that this time around I’m smart enough to recognize what’s happening and run with it.

So expect to see a lot of Snowball in Wolf Legend.  And I’m looking forward to seeing whichever of your minor characters take over and run with your story when you publish your next piece.

Self Promotion

Self-promotion is on my mind a lot these days because the very first professional promotion of any kind starts April 8th for Spirit Legend, my third book, my fourth e-published anything. I never had to self-promote before because I sold my works to publishers and they took care of the rest.

My first foray into promotion uses the simplest promotional package I could find. I figured I’d start easy and gradually work my way up to complicated.  My experience with this simple package makes me realize what’s behind something I’ve noticed that puzzled me greatly.  Why many not-so-great books get wonderful reviews and sell well while other, possibly better books, don’t get reviewed and don’t sell at all.

The reason is simple.  There’s nothing easy about promoting books.  Nothing!

This first foray of mine into publicity doesn’t require me to do anything except spread the word about a Book Blast that starts April 8th and continues for a week.  I’m to name the book blogs that will feature Spirit Legend but that’s not hard, I have a list.  Then all I have to do is check the blogs on the days they are featuring my book and comment and reply to comments if there are any questions.  Which, by the way, the promoter said may not happen because it often doesn’t.

Sounds easy, right?  Wrong!  I’ve already learned that spreading the word isn’t simple.  I do know many places where I can post information of this kind, but each place has rules.  Different rules for different places and I’d better not break any of them!

So that’s where I am now.  Slogging through the muddy waters of mentioning my Book Blast.  That’s all I’m doing and I’m already lost.  I’m sure that when the Book Blast begins, I’ll find myself equally lost as I pick my way through the maze of book blog etiquette. And It’s possible that none of it will be worth the effort and expense.  Sales may not increase.  Name recognition may not be helped.

But no matter the result, I’ve learned something.  Authors who figure out how to work the system sell books while those who don’t know how to do it right sink like stones.  Now I know why a book I read by an author who can’t even write a sentence in decent English is not only selling very, very well, I know why her novel is being chosen as ‘best of’ in several categories. And it’s happening even though many reviews of her novel commented on the fact that her English is very bad.  Some reviewers were shocked and turned off by her poor grammar.

Yes, the story line of her novel is good. Excellent.  Still, with so many other books out there that also have excellent story lines and, in addition, are easy to read, I suspect that the reason she’s selling so well while others aren’t is that she knows how to self-promote.  She knows how to work the system.

I wish her luck.  I just wish every writer out there could learn those same deceptively simple skills.

Anyone out there know the secret?  If so, please let all writers know. Most of all, let me know in time to get things going for my Book Blast!