I Dream of Weenie

photo of I Dream of Weenie food truck in East NashvilleThe most difficult thing in the world for me is naming things. I blame this on my father – after all, he was going to name me Walter if I’d been a boy. Now, that’s not a bad name, per se, until you combine it with my last name. Walter Mellon – I’d have been the laughing stock of the playground! So, you see, I think I inherited the inability to be creative with naming things – people, places, pets – basically anything that needs a title.

As a reader, I always notice naming trends in books. You know what I mean – matching characters “Adam and Amanda” or “Chris and Christa” – even when siblings have the same letter to start their names (19 Kids and Counting, anyone?). I have to admit that I’m guilty of this as a writer. Sadly, I know real families who have done this to their kids. I guess that means that even if it sounds corny, people do this in real life.

My new series has a family of eight – yes, eight! – siblings, and they are all named for nature. It makes sense when you know more about the history of the story, so just hang tight and you’ll be able to read about it soon!

 In the mean time, have a laugh at one of the most creative names I’ve run across in a while. This is a hotdog stand in East Nashville – I Dream of Weenie…a romance author’s sense of humor can be a little warped.

Don’t Stifle the Creative Genius!

There are a lot of debates about writing styles. Are you a plotter or a pantser? This is one of those I hear most often. I think I’m a combination, depending on the book I’m writing. I come up with ideas from several places and my creative mind takes over. I can’t fully be a pantser, or my books would have no purpose or cohesiveness. They would wander from scene to scene without ever accomplishing a plot.

As I found out this week, I can’t fully be a plotter either. I generally start off by outlining a book – especially my mysteries. I need to have an idea of where the story is going. The evidence and innuendo needs to be set up so that it comes together at the end. I generally have an idea of who committed the crime before I start writing, though sometimes the characters talk back and let me know it wasn’t them.

Well, I’ve been writing book 4 in the Tip of the Spear series and I started with an idea for the occupation of one of the characters. I was determined that this character had to have this occupation. I researched what that would entail, how much money he would make, the restrictions he would face, etc. I’ve been working on this book for a few weeks, but over the last week, I’ve been stuck. No matter how I tried to tie the events together, it just didn’t work. I rewrote sections, I tried to mentally rearrange events to make them fit. I wore myself out trying to defend my decision that this character had to have this occupation. Finally, I put the book aside for a few days and let the ideas swirl – and came to the decision that he just couldn’t be what I wanted him to be. And you know what? The story started flowing furiously!

My conclusion: don’t stifle the Creative Genius!

Difficult Season in Life

This has been a really difficult summer for me. I wrote earlier about the death of my grandmother at the end of June. She was a fantastic woman who was loved by all who knew her. Her smile could light up a room and she always topped to talk to people – even those she didn’t know. I still miss her and probably always will. I was making a dessert for Labor Day weekend and it was the first time it hit me that I can no longer just pick up the phone and call her to ask what I’m missing or how much of something is supposed to go into the recipe. Our family truly lost a gem.

My second loss came at the beginning of August when my dog, Holly, died. She was 22 years old and still had so much spirit in a body that was failing. She was my companion through so much. We lived in several apartments and houses, and two different states. She saw me through heartache when relationships failed. She had such a unique personality that one of my friends affectionately nicknamed her Freek – spelled wrong, because she was too weird to spell it right. Holly even answered to Freek when I would call her in from the yard. She had such a large personality for a little body. Her death impacted my other dogs as well. How do you explain to a dog that her sister has died? I watched Ginny look around the house for her for a week. We would go to bed and Luna would look at me like I was forgetting someone.

Now, I am writing my next book – the first one that will be written without my foot warmer – a white, furry body that lay across my feet as I typed. Her snores will no longer echo through the room. I’ve already written a dog into this story in her memory. It’s small consolation for missing her, but maybe letting her live on in print will help with the healing.

Swag

swagHave you seen the posts from my social media? I’ve recently been enraptured by the amount of swag that can be personalized. I went online simply to purchase new business cards, and the merchandise they offered me at a discount for being a new customer sucked me in. I didn’t go totally crazy, but I started to dream. I mean all of this started by dreaming, why not think bigger?

I am now the proud owner of several mugs, pens, stickers, magnets, and tote bags with my logo on them! My social media coordinator, Michelle, is finally happy. We can start doing giveaways and prized and contests. She’s never had a problem thinking big, but I’ve taken a little urging to come along. Okay, a lot of urging. But as I told her, I can be taught!

Stay tuned for more exciting things to come!

Writing Erotica

JM & MFIf you have followed my blog at all, you’ve probably heard me mention Marie Force a time or two. I started as a HUGE fan of her work – I even went to her first Reader Weekend in Rhode Island where I got to meet her. I was a total fan girl! I had just started my journey on becoming an author. My goals at that time were to write and publish one book in that year…you’ve heard me talk about how that went…

Fast forward to today. Marie recently gave an interview on what it’s like to write erotic novels for a living and in addition to being a fan girl and reading it, I also related as an author. Now, I’m far from an erotic author – in fact, by most standards, I’m really tame. But I could definitely understand the reactions she encountered from people who knew her when she published her first erotic novel (Virtuous – in the Quantum Series – an excellent book/series). I was born and bred in the Bible Belt – we simply don’t talk about such things. And we definitely don’t admit to reading them! Imagine the surprise from the people who know me when they picked up the first Tip of the Spear book!

I published my first romantic suspense novel, In the Shadows, in March of 2015. This was the first of what will be six (possibly seven) books in the Tip of the Spear series. I will admit that I had to be totally alone to write the first sex scene of my career. I’ve yet to progress to being able to dictate one… When it was finished, I re-read it and thought it was not too bad. There wasn’t anything too graphic. I avoided all the weird words for body parts that drive me nuts as a reader. Overall, I thought it walked the line between too much and leaving you wanting more.

Then my family read it…

My aunt was the first to call me. Thankfully this conversation took place over the phone. All she said was she had gotten to “that part” in the book. She was surprised that something like that came from me – the good girl of the family. I think I turned five shades of red. Really, I don’t know why I was embarrassed. I mean everybody has sex, don’t they?

Then my mother called. Thankfully I live in a different state. She said, “Julie Louise (in the south, pulling out the middle name is dangerous…), I cannot believe chapter sixteen!” We now use “chapter sixteen” as a euphemism to warn about upcoming questionable content. I’m just thankful that she hasn’t read the Devil Mountain Shifter series!

I’m still not sure why they found it so shocking. But I do know that if I ever venture into anything more steamy, I’ll be using a pen name!

Top 5 Things I need to Write

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Every writer is different. We all have our own system in place to be productive. For me, I start with a time limit on social media! Most days, I come home from work, eat dinner, and then start writing. My Saturday mornings consist of grocery shopping – followed by writing. Sunday mornings consist of laundry – while writing. Working full-time means I have fewer hours in the day to write. I sacrifice a lot to be able to give my characters a voice. For this system to work, here are five things I can’t do without.

1. My note pad. I’m old fashioned. I love to hand-write notes. This actually comes in handy when I’m at my day job. I can keep a notebook on the desk and when an idea strikes, I can write it down before I forget it. I also carry pen and paper with me to various appointments – like the doctor, or getting my oil changed. I use it to map out characters or plot lines. I’ve got a great new series being plotted right now. Of course, I’m keeping that on the back burner until I have all of the Tip of the Spear novels finished! I don’t think I can handle more than two series at a time! It’s very rare that you will find me without a means of writing something down.

2. Mac Book. I generally write on my Mac Book Air, though I also have an iMac in my home office. The screen on it is bigger, so I generally use it for edits and the more tedious aspects of writing. But usually you’ll find me in my recliner with my laptop propped up on a blanket, usually surrounded by at least two of my three dogs. Maybe I should have added the recliner and dog cuddles to this list….

3. Scrivener. I discovered this software on an author forum that I subscribe to. It has a unique layout that authors either love or hate. It’s not without its idiosyncrasies, but what it lacks in user-friendliness, it makes up for in formatting. This program has saved my life (or rather, the life of my computer) when formatting frustrations threaten to get the best of me. I don’t do well with electronics that don’t cooperate – just ask the last poor DVD player that malfunctioned on me!

4. Dragon Dictate. I heard so many complaints about dictating software that I was hesitant to purchase any. Then I flipped out of my hammock in the back yard and injured my wrist. For an author, not being able to type is a death sentence. My solution? Dragon Dictate. It took me a while to admit that I liked it. In fact, it wasn’t until I started using the transcription functions on it, instead of dictating, that I found it was worth the cost. The “How to Train Your Dragon” facebook group has also been a lifesaver. I doubt I would have come so far without the support and encouragement.

5. Books. Yes, you read that right. Books play an important part in an author’s life. To be a good author, you have to love to read. For me, reading is a way to escape, to live another life – even if only for a few hours. I usually take a week to binge read the books that I’m saving up during my deadlines. It serves as a reset button on my brain to enjoy someone else’s words instead of my own.

So, there you have it – just a small peek into my world. I’m sure if I put my mind to it, I would have no problems coming up with another 20 items I could list here…

Five Inspirational Women

2016 has been a rough year for celebrities. We’ve lost so many. Additionally, I recently lost my beloved grandmother. It got me thinking about women who have shaped me into the person I am today. First, let me say I love women who are the first in their field – those who break out of the mold that they are forced into. Women who dare to go where no woman has gone before are truly inspirational. That’s where I chose to start my list of women that I find inspirational. I originally called this the “Top 5,” but I’m not sure that I can truly quantify a top 5. So, here are my thoughts on women I look up to.

Hurston-Zora-Neale-LOC 2Zora Neale Hurston. Who is that, you might ask? Ms. Hurston was an African-American woman who came to prominence during the Harlem Renaissance. I first discovered her work while taking an African-American Literature class in college. We had to read her book Their Eyes were Watching God, and I thought it was amazing. I read the book in several other courses after that first time, and it had no less of an impact with each re-read. Ms. Hurston detailed the struggle of a black woman in the south who overcame several obstacles, but it was so much more than that. She wrote at a time when there wasn’t a platform for African-American women, or their works of art. In fact, she is said to have died penniless. I’d like to think that she knows of her impact on the world of literature once her books were rediscovered.

earhart 2Amelia Earhart. Have you ever wondered how many times she was told that a woman couldn’t fly? Think about it. She flew across the Atlantic Ocean in 1928 – just 8 short years after women were given the right to vote! I’ve spent a lot of time imagining her conversations with people who doubted her or tried to convince her that she couldn’t achieve her dreams. I’m glad she proved them wrong!

 

Summitt 2Pat Summitt. Her death at the end of June is really what started me thinking about this blog post. I wrote a paper on her for my Master’s program and discovered how inspiring she was. The winningest coach in basketball history – men OR women! Think about that!! I’m a HUGE basketball fan – as any of you who followed me on Twitter during March Madness know. I was born and bred on UK Basketball – it’s practically a religion down here. Though I was never a UT fan, Pat Summitt stood out. She represented grace, strength, power, humility, eloquence, and so much more. Her attitude was inspiring, both on and off the court. Google her – some of her more popular quotes will bring tears to your eyes.

 

Force 2Marie Force. Of course I couldn’t go without listing the one person who has made self-publishing into an art form. This woman went from a working mom and wife to an author who has published 50 books! She has established her own business, helped other authors begin to achieve their dreams, and still manages to keep in touch with her fans. I am exactly 10 years behind her in this adventure, and I hope when I reach the mark she is at now, I have a quarter of her success, and 100% of her character.

 

C Mellon 2Connie Mellon – my mother. I know, I know…she isn’t famous… But what she has in common with all of the women above is her support. I am sure that there was one person who supported each and every one of the women I listed in #1-4. I’ve read that Earhart’s husband published a book lavishing praise on his wife after her death. Pat Summitt had a family, both related by blood and by sport, that stood beside her during her final years. Marie Force has often talked about the support she receives from her family – namely her husband and father. For me, that support has come from my mother. She never fails to encourage my dream or to believe that it’s possible (p.s. I should say that if this was a list that included men, my father would be on it, too!).

My lesson to you by including my mother is that word do mean something. Look around at the people you love – support their dreams. What would have happened if Amelia had never taken off the first time? Or if Pat had never accepted a job as head coach? Women are making strides to accomplish their dreams. There aren’t many fields that haven’t felt the impact women bring to the table. Now, it’s time to build higher – go further –dream bigger.

Argh! Pirates!

pirate-47705_640Ahoy, Mateys! I am using humor right now because I am so angry! Warning: this post will be full of exclamation points!!!! I just found out that a few of my books have appeared on illegal sites – they’ve been hijacked! Wow, do I feel violated!

I’ve been reading about this happening to authors ever since I decided to self-publish and joined a few author groups. But I didn’t think I had to worry about it yet. I mean, I’m just little old me…a newbie, an unknown. Why would someone target me? I have now learned a hard lesson – you’re never too lowly to be ripped off…

The music industry has been fighting this for years. I remember thinking “they’re just $0.99 songs, what’s the harm?” Now I know the harm first hand! I’m still trying to build a fan base and attract new reader. But that doesn’t mean I should be turning a blind eye to this. My books are not my primary source of income (thank goodness, or I’d be homeless…), but they are still valuable to me. Every penny I earn on these books ensures that the next one can be published. I literally live book-to-book in the publishing world!

So I ask you – PLEASE, PLEASE do not give these sites your business. If you run across pirated work, don’t download it. Email the author the link you’ve found. Most of us self-published authors would be so grateful to know we are being ripped off! This is uncalled for, illegal, immoral, and just down right dirty.

Cover Art

Who knew the process of publishing a book was so involved?  When I started this dream, I thought, “Hmmm, I’ll just write and put it out there.” Wow, was that ever wrong! There’s writing, revising, editing, sending it to beta readers and an editor…and that’s just the book. Then there’s the website, social media, and book covers. Whew, it can be exhausting.

Now, there are several sites out there that offer pre-made book covers, and some of them are pretty good. But I happened to have a friend who is a really talented photographer and graphic artist. I can describe to him exactly what I have in mind and he makes it 100% better than I could have imagined. And then there are the times he just creates a masterpiece from his own thoughts.

church

FtoK thumbnailFree to Kill in the Katie Freeman series was the first book I completed and published. It was also the first time I had to actually think of what to do for a cover. Michelle (my social media guru), Ryan and I sat down to begin brainstorming. I gave them a pretty in depth description of the book and what I had in mind. Ryan asked what the church I envisioned looked like, so I started searching online. I found a church in a small town in Kentucky that was PERFECT! But who had the time or money to go to Kentucky? So I started looking for similar architecture in Tennessee. I found the church on the cover of Free to Kill in downtown Nashville – and BONUS! it even had the red door!! The only problem was that it was on a weird street corner with traffic all around and electrical wires obscuring every view. But Ryan took his camera and somehow made the church look like it was in the rural setting from the story. It was the first time I realized what a master he was behind the lens.

From that time on, we have worked to build a theme between the books in a series. This was something I didn’t really think about in the beginning. Take a second to go look at the covers of your favorite book series. Do you see a similarity? That’s called Branding – and it’s vitally important. Who knew!?

With this information, Katie Freeman covers had a color scheme and a main attraction – that was always red. In Free to Kill, it was the door. In Free to Deceive, it was the fountain. In Free to Live, it was the front door of the house (Ryan actually had this cover designed before I published book 2, but it was so perfect for book 3, that we held off on using it). I can’t wait to see what it is in Free to Believe – book four (no release date yet, but shooting for June…).

The same theory applied to the Devil Mountain Shifters books that I released in October. They all had the same mountains in the background and the same physical look.

The Tip of the Spear series was a little trickier. I said from the beginning that I wanted the large spear on the cover with the main image in the center. Ryan still argues with me to change that, and one day I might let him win. But changing that now would mean redoing all the covers so that they are consistent. I think both he and I struggle more with the Tip covers than any other. He sends me beautiful first drafts that would be sufficient if I used them. But there’s just something that doesn’t hit right. He’s become a mind reader when I say “there’s just something not right about it.” One thing I’ve learned is to actually tell him when something doesn’t sit right. That’s a difficult thing to do for a person who hates to make waves. I’m one of those people who will never send food back in a restaurant, just because I don’t want to upset anyone. I’ve had to adjust that mentality for my books. After all, these are my babies. If I don’t speak up for them, who will?

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Goofing around during the photo shoot for the In The Wind cover.

Ryan Bukowski

Ryan Bukowski, my cover artist and photographer

 

Comments: the good, the bad, the ugly

review

Thanks Nancy!

One thing I continually hear from other beginner authors is the difficulty in getting reader reviews. There isn’t a good or proven strategy in getting readers to leave feedback – good, bad or ugly. I’m finding myself in the same boat. Comments do so much for an author. They get the word out on what readers really think of a story. They boost an author’s visibility. They allow an author access to certain publicity sites – like Bookbub. Without feedback from you, an author doesn’t stand a chance at getting his/her name out there. Ratings and comments from readers can make or break an author.

Personally, I read every comment made every one of my books. So far that hasn’t been many… I look forward to the day when there are too many to keep up with. With that being said, thank you to all of you who have left a comment or rating. Please spread the word and encourage others to do the same. If you have read one of my books and haven’t left feedback, please do so – even if you didn’t like it. I love hearing from you and would love to know what you think!