Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Reflections: One Year Later

Today marks the one year anniversary of the publication of my debut novel, Trefury: Mendi's Curse the first book in the Trefury trilogy.

No big hoopla, no big internet splash planned. I'm a rather simple person at heart. I'm marking the occasion with the release of the book in trade paperback format. You can find out the details by clicking on the Trefury button at the top of the page or clicking on the sidebar cover to enter the giveaway.

It's hard to believe it's been a year. I remember how stressed I was, how much time was consumed in the production of the book. All the details that go into a publication ... just wow. And I'm by no means an expert on the subject. Donning editor-mode for so long nearly killed my love of writing anything new. To make the switch from demanding perfection of yourself to freely spilling word vomit in a rough draft is hard. It took me months to let go of the iron fist.

I want to thank again those who contributed time, expertise, and a sympathetic shoulder to my endeavor. Sometimes writing is a very solitary process and it's easy to feel alone, abandoned, or forgotten. You're constantly mixing reality with the fantasy scenario and world going on in your head. People ask what is preoccupying you and then have a ho-hum attitude when you enthusiastically or shyly admit you're writing a novel. Everyone's a critic. Some people love the story concept. Others just don't get it. The world continues to move on with their day-to-day lives whether you meet your deadline or not. So it's the wonderful few who support and encourage you that make all the difference.

I've been asking other people for years why they write what they write and what inspired them. Lately I've turned the interrogation on myself. Why? Why did I write this book? Why do I intend to finish the other books piling up on my desk? And why in the world did I decide to publish? There is a difference, you know, between writing a story and publishing one.

I literally dreamed up Trefury a little over twenty years ago. I was a teenager, already engrossed in writing novels, sometimes with friends. I wrote a very short, very summarized rough draft as soon as I woke up. The first official draft came soon after. I wanted to share this cool idea of an invisible girl and the living whip she worked with to protect a country and the young man destined to lead it, with my circle of friends and family. I remember sitting on my bed with my sisters at the other end listening as I read it out loud to them. I always end up reading out loud to someone. Seeing and hearing how excited they'd get with each development in the story made my day. Trefury was the first story that got enthusiastic approval from my cousin, who was my harshest critic and first teacher in the art of good storytelling. That felt wonderful. To have her care and even demand more of the story meant more than any review, rating, or high-acclaim I might receive now. I had reached my audience and touched them.

Trefury went into a 3-ring binder and took up space on a shelf while I pounded out several other novels in the years that followed. Then I took a ten year hiatus from writing. I jotted down a descriptive sketch or brief scene or two, but for the most part I was too involved with living life and learning from it. It wasn't until soon after my third child was born and I was cooped up at home, because he was under quarantine for six months since he was a preemie, that I pulled out some of my old novels to read. I wanted to see if they were as entertaining then as they had been when I was younger. I'd like to say I'd been a brilliant writer in my youth, but I'll be frank, some of those manuscripts were awful. The stories were pretty sound but the execution *shudder*.

I didn't have a circle of writing friends at the time. They'd all grown up and moved far away. Every once in awhile one of my sisters would ask me about her two favorite stories. I read through the critiques I'd been given for Trefury and decided that if I were to jump back into writing, I'd pursue doing it professionally, not as a hobby. This manuscript had received the highest praise. It was a good place to start.

Many drafts ensued. Many revisions. Many heartaches and sublime moments where the inspiration was so good I surprised myself. I developed an online community of writing friends. And I'll admit I'm terrified of most of them because of their talent, ability, and the way they can socially navigate the online world a million times better than I can. I had moments where I felt like a total fake, a fraud, like dross among so many stars. Always in the back of my mind I felt grateful for the kindness of these other people, all the while worrying they knew how inept I was and were too polite to say so. Well, some did come out and say so in critiques, but that's good. You want to know where you are inept so you can fix your writing.

I had a lot to learn, but I'm a pretty motivated person once I set my mind to something. I dived into the pool of learning with both feet. I read blogs, books, followed authorities, experimented with so many different techniques. Sometimes I think Trefury ended up being a patchwork of these things. I hesitated to let people read it. I was a small fish. I knew I could always make my writing better. I didn't want anyone to read it until I deemed it palatable. Eventually I did let others read. How my heart skipped a beat when the first two critiques came in after reading my first three chapters! While there were things to fix, my two beta readers were mostly impressed. I climbed to the sky then.

Of course that didn't last long. My opening chapters weren't as well received by the next couple of beta readers. I went back and made cuts and changes. The feedback was better. New people read. Everyone had suggestions. It got to the point where I didn't recognize chapter one anymore at all. It was no longer fun to read or work on it. I was a hack who apparently wrote in alien gibberish because no one understood what was going on. I put it aside and finished up the rest of the book. The next beta readers were as enthusiastic and excited as the first two. They loved the opening. They loved the rest. I was ready to pull my hair out.

Back and forth, back and forth. I didn't know who to believe and came to the conclusion that clearly this book wasn't a mass appeal book. Either you're going to love it or it's not going to be your thing. I had to come to terms with that. I revisited the beginning and put the love and fun back in. I had reached the point where I knew the story was what it was and that was enough. Like dealing with me in person, you're either going to want to love it or keep your distance.

I was Thssk. I was Cortnee. I split my personality and then let them develop in their own directions, becoming less like actual me. Anyone who communicates with me will find traces of both their vernaculars in my writing and speech. That was fun. They had to have very different and distinct voices. How I agonized over Ientadur! He's a necessary and huge part of the story, yet my first chapters with him were wooden and lackluster. I remember writing on a sticky note: Make myself care about Ien. And I did. I drew deeply from the people around me composing the other characters, especially Damon. Without realizing it at first, I copied many of my father's mannerisms into him. It became especially poignant as I neared publication and my dad died of cancer. He'd helped me often with research and making sure I wasn't too far fetched with the science-y things I included in the book.

I went for hardcover first, which is the opposite of what writers are advised. You have to understand, I wanted the best version of this book for my own bookshelf and for the bookshelves of my core, original audience. I knew it would mean very limited sales because of the cost. My marketing budget was ... well $0.00 and still is. I wanted to give free copies to those closest to me, I just couldn't afford to do more than a couple of giveaways. The paperback version's cost allows me to do a bit more this time around and when the ebook comes out, there will be a lot more giveaway options.

I got lucky with editing help. I also took a crash course, building upon what editing skills I already had. I had to do extra jobs to earn the money to pay my cover artist, although she gave me a fantastic first-timer deal.

Basically, publication represented a mountain with sheer vertical sides and very few handholds. But I climbed it and I have the scars to prove it. I proved to myself that I could finish a writing project completely. The view on top of that mountain has brought me enormous peace, even though I know my view is not as breathtaking as it is for others, yet I'm content.

I learned a lot about myself and what my priorities are. For so many years I was convinced I had to get an agent and a traditional publisher, especially to get vindication that I wasn't a fraud and a hack. I did the research, I went through the query trenches. And then I discovered I was miserable and not because of the inevitable rejections everyone gets. I wasn't connecting to any of the people I queried. The ones I thought would match up with best, I found that the other books they were putting out I didn't like at all and they certainly weren't like my story, or the agent's personality and goals clashed with mine. We didn't fit. I couldn't find an agent who did so I stopped querying. I didn't like the dating feel of the whole process. The trending, the favoritism for certain elements and styles, and all the suck-up courting going on from writers. The thought of actually signing with someone and dealing with publication negotiations made me physically ill. I realized I didn't want the traditional route, vindication or not. I dreaded the thought of possible book signings, public appearances, all that extra marketing, the short deadlines that would stifle my creativity and clash with the pressing schedule of my actual life ... I absolutely don't want it and I'm no longer envious of anyone who has chosen to go that route. If that's what my friends wanted and got, I was happy for them. But I don't feel one bit jealous.

So where am I now? I'm a writer who has learned to enjoy the ride again. If I never make it onto anyone's list, that's okay. If my stories resonate with you, they will. I don't seek for online reviews and ratings, I got my five stars long ago. I intend to keep on learning and improving my craft, to strive to put out high quality projects but not at the cost of my self-respect, my integrity, or my sanity. Writing should be a joy. Sharing what we write should also be. The world is large enough for many more stories and more types than the trends and bigwigs of the business allow. Perfection and what is deemed professional quality - the standards are always changing. Give me a story to read that I can connect with and I can forgive a number of things on the technical side.

Once upon a time ...

It's still magic.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Trefury: Mendi's Curse Book Birthday Giveaway!

Sept. 30th marks the one year anniversary of the publication of my first book, Trefury: Mendi's Curse. To celebrate, I'll be launching the book in paperback the same day. For the best prices offered on either the hardback or paperback, be sure to click the Trefury tab at the top of this blog or click the cover of the book in the sidebar. It will save you time and money.

Is this story right for you?

Cover art © 2014 by Nicolle R. Murray
An ancient legend is about to be remade.

The land of Callorin is dying, cast off from divine aid and adrift in cold seas, with dark powers swooping in for the kill. As they have for thousands of years, Callorin turns to Thssk to fix the problem, but Thssk wants to avoid everyone. He failed last time, and his human handler put a curse on him as he abandoned her on a battlefield. She would be avenged through the next girl Thssk forced to become his handler.

Thssk is sent on a mission to another world to rescue the long-lost heir of Origiba, in the hope of developing outside support for Callorin. While there, he tries to thwart the curse by taking Cortnee, a tech savvy, arts major as his new handler, it is only when Thssk has gained the upper and over his enemies and everything seems to be working out for a change that he discovers he is not the game changer any moreCortnee is.

On a world where starships are born, homes grow, and flowers can flatten entire cities, millions of lives are at stake. More importantly, Thssk's notorious past comes back to bite him. The girl who has become a catalyst politically and astralgically won't communicate with him, and she has some crazy ideas about how to get their job done. With her, Thssk may fail for a second time, without her, he may never attain the great future he was promised.

“Trefury is a mental feast for those who crave science fiction with well-crafted world-building, intriguing characters, and an unusual partnership which defies the odds.” —Angie Sandro, author of the Dark Paradise series.

Recommended age: 15 and up
Genres: science-fantasy, adventure
Profanity: none
Sex: none
Violence: yes, non-graphic
Tags: bio-engineering, alien worlds, magic, weapons, mind manipulation, ghosts, invisibility, cultures, home schooling, geology, war, kidnapping, natural disasters, political struggles

Want to read before you buy? No problem.
Read a sample.
Or enter the giveaway (Please note that giveaway copies are ARC proof copies and there may be some minor differences in the cover than shown above):

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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Update for September

This month has been less productive writing-wise. I've had a lot of family come up to visit as well as a death in the family. Most evenings I've been too exhausted to think straight let alone write. I haven't let myself get too frustrated though. I used to get so uptight when I'd gone a handful of days without writing. There was an invisible taskmaster hovering in the back of my mind shouting at me that if I didn't take the time to write nearly every day that I'd fall under condemnation. Condemnation for what? Well, that's the thing; I don't have a set date to have book 2 out. I know when I'd like it to be, but I'm not going to put myself in a bad mood (and consequently make life miserable for my family) by trying to force the words.

I use to. Force the words, I mean. Then I found that I wrote a lot of drivel and in return had to spend three times as much time editing it. I'm taking a different approach, one that requires more thought and planning so I'll have less to edit when I'm through. The other thing I'm trying to do is relax and have fun. A story tends to be blah when you don't enjoy what you are writing. One of the major storylines has been singing to me. Ironically, it was the storyline I struggled with most in the first book. Enthusiasm for the storylines have flipped and now I'm analyzing why and coming up with strategies to learn to love my main storyline again.

Of course, all that is practically gibberish to you. Sorry. Unless of course you've read the first book and have a better grasp of what my storylines are.

Getting a copy of Trefury: Mendi's Curse is about to become more affordable. Check back in next week to find out why and how. I've at least been able to spend some time and effort on that.

Have you ever had to struggle to like a storyline or a character? Do you give up on the project at that point or have a strategy to persevere through? If you could summarize in one word what you look for in a story to make it enjoyable to you, what would that word be?

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Extended Deadline to Submit your Book Spotlight!

The Speculative Fiction Book Spotlight Blog Swap is coming up fast. I'm extending the deadline to get your book spotlights submitted, if you are an author. You now have until Sept. 26th to get them in. Please help spread the word. It's free publicity. You don't have to write categorized "Christian fiction", or even be an advocate of squeaky clean books. Any book (in the speculative genres) that is considered clean, ie. free of swearing, sex, and graphic violence, is eligible for the book spotlight. This isn't about censorship. We're targeting a large demographic of readers that usually don't get considered. Take advantage of this marketing opportunity.

Bloggers: You don't have to be a book reviewer, a writer, or anyone associated with the book industry in order to participate. You just have to have a blog.

Contact me by email:
Bloggers: to get on the participation list
Authors: to get a copy of the spotlight worksheet you'll need to fill out

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

An Interview with Compass Book Ratings

I'm excited to present today's interview. As I've said in a previous blogpost, there has been a growing number of people who struggle to make reading choices based on the content of books. It's frustrating to get a book many people have recommended or raved about, only to find that what they are desensitized to, you are not, and you end up tossing the book. I remember abandoning all books of a certain genre for a number of years because every book I looked at had things in it I didn't want to experience or read about. I wished there were rating systems for books, or some kind of guide to let me know in advance what I was borrowing or buying. A little prevention at the get go saves lots of bad reviews later on. So I was recently delighted to find that I wasn't the only one who felt that way. In fact there were entire groups and websites springing up of like-minded people. Their reasons may vary, but this growing community is not something that can be lightly brushed off.

Personally, I'm not out to censor books or burn any author or genre at the stake. Everyone has different tastes and the cool thing is you can usually find books to match. But with rating and review services specifically geared towards informing readers of book content, it makes the finding easier.

So today I'd like to present:

Let's get right into the interview:

1. How did Compass Book Ratings get started?

In 2009, two sisters, Melissa and Shelley, started, a book website providing detailed content reviews in the areas of violence, profanity, sexual content, and mature themes.  The hope was that those reviews could help people choose books that were appropriate for them and their family. went through several transformations as site users provided feedback.  At the end of 2011, it became clear that it was time for to go through another transformation.  Cindy, a reviewer, assumed management and ownership of the website and Compass Book Ratings was born.  The website went through a major re-design in early 2012 and a searchable database was created.  We have gone from 228 book reviews on March 19, 2012 (the launch date of Compass Book Ratings) to over 2,000 book reviews today.To learn more about us visit our ABOUT US Page and our MEET THE REVIEWERS Page

2. How has Compass Book Ratings been received? Has there been a lot of positive feedback?

From site users we have had positive comments.  Our website is often referred to in articles that are against the rating of books, so that could be interpreted as somewhat negative.  The literary community seems very set against any kind of rating system for books.The rating of books seems to be a polarizing issue with many parties on both sides of the issue.

3. What is Compass Book Ratings’ criteria when selecting books to review?

We review books for middle grade, young adult, and adult readers.  We found that adults concerned about content levels in books for their children also were interested in finding low-content reading material for themselves.We review all the main genres.  Obviously, we don’t pick up titles like 50 Shades of Gray that are widely known to be high in content.We accept website user requests for title reviews.  We are also sent titles from publishers for review.  Our reviewers pick up many titles on their own that they are interested in or that are popular for their review demographic.

4. What has been the most rewarding thing/experience to come from establishing Compass Book Ratings?

Fan mail!  It is a big web out there and sometimes you wonder if anyone cares or even finds your website.  When a site user takes a moment to thank us for our service (which everyone at Compass Book Ratings is doing out of the generosity of their heart and which is currently free), it is very encouraging.

5. What goals for the future do the people behind Compass Book Ratings’ have, in regards to their services and website?

We have over 1,900 reviews in our database and we look forward to adding to that number substantially in the next couple of years.  We don’t have a number goal because we see no reason to stop. We would especially like to make technological improvements to our site to improve speed and provide other functions, but that will have to wait until site traffic is high enough to generate advertising revenue sufficient to cover those pricey programmers.

6. How can others get involved in promoting clean books?

The first thing you can do is talk about it; let your children, teachers, and friends know how you feel.  Next, support the websites that provide information about content with your Tweets, Facebook Likes, etc. and by purchasing through the links on their website to give them financial support.  Tell your friends about the websites you like. An increase in traffic to websites usually leads to an increase in revenue for that website which provides more resources for content review. We have noticed that a lot of sites start, but then are short-lived.  Finally, if you are passionate, there are occasionally petitions floating around requesting book ratings and you can always join those campaigns.

You can find, support, and follow Compass Book Ratings on:
Their website

I'd like to publicly thank Cindy for responding to my request for an interview. And I'd like to say thank you to her and the others at Compass Book Ratings and other like sites and groups for the volunteer work they do. It's a lot of work, organization, and time.

It should be noted that Compass Book Ratings are not accepting requests to review self-published books at this time. You can find their submission guidelines here.

I love how they've organized the site to search based on title or author, or you can weed things out based on your criteria. They also sponsor book giveaways and post reading lists. Take a few moments to check them out.

For authors and bloggers who'd like to participate in the Speculative Fiction Book Spotlight Blog Swap, this is the week to make your decision and submit your information. Take advantage of the free publicity and opportunity to get your book(s) spotlighted, or to support authors who have written clean speculative fiction. You can find out more about it here. Your information won't be added to any mailing lists or given out to anyone. What do I get out of it? Nothing but the satisfaction of helping some of my fellow authors, and that's a reward in and of itself.

Other groups and sites that help make book content known:
There are a number of groups on Goodreads
Clean Indie Reads on Facebook