Thursday, February 23, 2012

Out on a Limb

In an attempt to procrastinate some much-needed grading (hey, I'm only 9 papers behind), I shall reveal to you all how S and I are now safe from dying in our bed after a tree crashes down on us.

We moved in here about 5 years ago, just before our 1-year (dating) anniversary. Our house is surrounded by huge, towering, sway-in-the-wind-like-they're-about-to-snap-in-half pine trees. And oaks and some cypress trees. But, mostly the pine trees that glare down on us from the canopy for taking up their land.

Anyway, we have this gigantor pine tree just outside the bedroom. Like, you could step outside the door and almost touch it, close. The deck was built around it during the initial construction phase, and later (way before we moved in), this metal thing was attached to catch the sap that dripped down off this knobby thing. By the time we moved in, that metal thing was so heavy it was bent, and sap covered the deck. Not exactly fun to get pine sap stuck to your feet. Do you know how hard it is to get that stuff off?

We dealt with it until a few months ago, when all of a sudden the deck STARTED BREAKING in a wind storm. Okay, not actually breaking, but creaking and moaning like it was about to snap because Mr. Too Big for His Britches Pine Tree has grown into the deck. And, the pond makes the ground soft, which isn't exactly good for holding down roots. The solution? Cut that mother effer down (by the way, thank god we rent because I made a serious holy shit that is expensive face when I learned the price).

Anyway. Because I know you're all just on the edge of your seats, pictures!

Now You See It:

(see the knobby thing? Also, the tree leans over the bedroom although you can't really tell in this pic)

(tree dude climbed all the way to the top of this sucker)

Now You Don't!

S wants to carve an owl or something into what's left of the trunk, and use the top as a planter. We think that will look cool.

It was super windy today. At least we don't have to worry about that tree, just the 597 others that surround us.

And, just for fun, some pics of the trees that came down during the last hurricane (Faye, I think?)

Looking left down the street at the end of our driveway:

Looking right down the street from the end of the driveway (it's like a super awesome wall o'jungle):

And that concludes today's completely useless post.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Successful Saturday at Amelia Island

The 2012 Amelia Island Book Festival was a smashing success, if I do say so myself. It looked a bit iffy in the morning, but people started pouring in around 11 or so, especially when the big-name authors were in doing signings. I sold more than I thought I would, considering the circumstances, and more than covered what it cost to be a vendor, so overall, I'm happy.

S and I got there around 8 and unloaded. The event leader wasn't kidding when she said we would only have room for 1 chair, about 30" of table space (if even). Many authors were unhappy with the setup, and I have to admit, it wasn't very conducive to selling books. We were packed in like a jar of pickles (Ellen, anyone?), off to the side away from the "featured authors" and cramped together with writers of all sorts of books. To my right was a pretty cool older woman named Janet Crisp, who wrote The Heat of the Island about a 50-something woman who changes her life while living in the Cayman Islands. My mom and grandma bought her book, and I'm hoping to read it soon. To my left was a woman who taught me a valuable lesson on what NOT to do at a big author event. Well, I knew this already, but allow me to present this lesson to you.

Aspiring writers, or authors hoping to be a vendor, be kind and courteous to other authors. If the author next to you (and I mean literally right next to you, elbow to elbow) is speaking to a potential reader about their book, answering questions and trying to sell, DO NOT think you are so wonderful that you have the right to interrupt every time that author is speaking. DO NOT cut into the middle of the conversation and say "Well, let me tell you about my book!....Oh, well my book is about something different! It's for ages...." Nothing will make you a hated author more than completely shoving aside another writer to talk yourself up when no one was speaking to you in the first place. Also, don't keep track of how many books the person next to you sold compared to your own sales, and then frequently remind them. It's obnoxious. This is not a competition.

But I digress. I spoke to many readers throughout the day, sold lots of books, and learned a lot about how to set up future booths. I also got a book signed by David Morell (First Blood) for S, and met a potential publisher. I did research this morning and ultimately decided I'm better off publishing myself, but it was still a good contact. I also chatted with some more popular authors, one of whom is buying my book for her "giveaways" on her blog. More details to follow on that.

After the event, I headed over to Books Plus on Centre Street and talked to the owner. We'll be setting up a signing soon, hopefully sometime in April. Then we headed over to see a friend, and made the long drive home after that. S and I were in bed by 8:30 because apparently we are old people who get exhausted after a day of selling books. OH! And I also spoke to the woman in charge of the event about possibly being a presenter/workshop leader next year, and she said to give her a call and we'll talk.

Now I'm going to focus on preparing for my March event, the powwow down in Fort Pierce. To prepare, I have to:
Buy a tent and sleeping bag
Make bookmarks and post cards
Make a big-ass poster of one of my books
Write up an author bio and laminate it
Buy more books

Here are some more pics from yesterday's event:

The room (I'm off to the left. the tables toward the back of the pic with the orange and green cloths are the featured authors.)-

More of the room-

My table setup-

The author to my right-

David Morrell-

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Day with David Morrell (and Others)

Today was pretty much a mind-blowing day. I’m still trying to let all the information sink in and process, so I can use it to my advantage. I learned so much, and had a great time listening to other authors talk about writing, their successes and failures, and tips on how to make it as a writer.

Perhaps best of all, my dad had a great time as well and said it was a fascinating look into my life and my world. It’s more than just putting words to paper, folks! So, it’s nice that someone else gets it. It was also rather amusing to see Dad get all flabbergasted when an author made him (and everyone) say what he is best at in writing, and her blank stare in response (he said "content").

But first, let me show you my goodies:

Education by Experts

My day started with learning how to convert books into e-books, with the workshop led by D.B. Barton. I already knew a lot of the information, but did get valuable tips on formatting. And I learned a new word (pilcrow).

Then we were off to a talk on using place as a catalyst in fiction by Tatjana Soli (who wrote The Lotus Eaters). I really loved hearing her talk, as her writing process sounds a lot like mine (slow writer, doesn’t outline, loves descriptive language, etc). I’ve never really thought of place as its own character before, so that was an interesting insight. I enjoyed her point on “faking a lived experience” when writing historical fiction, as that’s something all authors most do – make the reader believe this person existed.

Discover the Hidden Opportunities

Holy Hera, the entire day was worth it for this one hour-long workshop alone (by Pamela Bauer Mueller). I have all the tools I need to become my own marketing master (I know, I know, Melissa, you’ve been telling me this stuff for how long?). My biggest and most important task is to create my own brand. To an extent, I know this already, so it’s just a matter of actually doing it. We all know that I’m not the world’s best marketer and I suck at bragging, so these tips and tricks will definitely help me make a bigger name for myself. My first task is to create postcards and bookmarks, like these:

Other Ways to Market Myself:
Special markets (i.e. the powwow I’m attending next month)
Sign up for school reading programs (like Renaissance Accelerated)
Ask to be a speaker or exhibitor at conferences
Try to get local and national book awards
Do talks at local book clubs
Display booths with pizzazz
Get in with Jacksonville’s “Christmas Made in the South”
Get a smartphone so I can accept credit cards
And a crapton of other ways

David Morrell, AKA “Rambo’s Father”
(The above was written on the book he signed for my stepsister, gave me a chuckle)

So, as it turns out, David Morrell is my kind of writer. I found myself incredibly inspired by his words. But before I share some of his finer points, a story:

David’s keynote speech was a focus on the changes in the publishing industry, and how today’s technologies affect the marketplace. He touched on how downloading (legal and illegal) changes publishing as well, and how authors suffer from illegal downloads (I’m looking at you, illegal downloaders). To make his point, he uses music as an example and points to me, asking if I buy CDs or download online. To which I respond, “I buy CDs” (this is true, I have never downloaded a song, or movie or book, either legally or illegally). David says, “Oh. Really? I wasn’t expecting that” then turns to the only other young person in the audience and asks the same thing. She says, “A little of both” and David again wasn’t expecting the answer, so he kind of had to backtrack to make his point about the younger generation and pirating.

After, I buy his book and as he’s signing it, he jokingly apologizes for putting me on the spot, saying he figured he’d get the answer he wanted/expected from a teenager. Ha! I told him I was 26 and we had a laugh. So, David Morrell, I apologize for foiling your plans to slide right into a talk about illegal downloads. That’s what you get for assuming I’m a teenager!

Anyway, back to his finer points:

“If you chase the market, then you’re already two years behind.” – I love this quote because it touches on my own work. Too many people try to write about what’s popular in order to get sold. Me, I like to write what I want and not worry about what’s popular, especially since this can change overnight. David talked about authors who just want to “get rich and famous” and how these are the ones who don’t write for themselves. It’s not about fame and fortune to me, and it was nice to hear that a guy who has it all actually lambasts those who are simply seeking fame. Along this note, this is why I don’t keep track of how much money I’ve made or how many books I’ve sold (frequently, that as, as I have to for tax purposes), and I absolutely despite being asked. So, don’t ever ask me how much money I’ve made. It pisses me off and makes it sound like I’m just in it for the paycheck.

The “Love Me” vs. “Love What I Do” Model – This goes hand-in-hand with the above. What hit home with me is that David talked about his first book tours and signings, and how humiliating it was when no one showed up. He’s been there, everyone’s been there, but if you love what you do then you just keep going. It’s not about writing to make people love you but about enjoying the process. Don’t write just to identify with the model, with the trend.

“You can’t chase the dream. You have the power, so make it happen.” – Ain’t that the truth. Make. It. Happen.

“Never Be Afraid of a Blank Page” - the Query Letter That Sells

So, if you know me, then you know I’m wordy. That’s why condensing a 188-288-page novel into a 3-line pitch is downright impossible for me. As a result, my query letters are long, and likely worthless to an agent. Author Marita Golden talked about writing a sound letter, as well as what to look for in an author.

There was plenty more discussed, but the main point is that I managed to condense my super long synopsis for The Sour Orange Derby into a 3-sentence pitch:

The Rough Draft:

The Final Version:

“One lone tree is all that remains of the cherished Standridge family orange groves, and for young Colly Standridge, that solitary tree is at the center of a magical world. Inspired by real people, The Sour Orange Derby follows the lives of Colly, who dreams of becoming a professional baseball player, and K.B. Standridge, an imaginative old man who spends his days searching for a new family tradition – and finds it in his last beloved orange tree.

A story about love and healing steeped in southern traditions, The Sour Orange Derby is a tale of how one family comes together to celebrate life and history, and how one orange tree holds them all together when the young boy’s fight with cancer threatens to tear them apart.”

You’d want to read that, right?

Anyway, I believe I came away from the conference a much better writer, and a more confident marketer. Tomorrow is the Authors Marketplace and I’m going to test out my newfound confidence. After that, I’m going to take the e-book world by storm and embrace the changes in the publishing world.

If David Morrell is up for the adventure, then you can bet I am too.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Amelia Island, Here I Come

The big event is only a few days away, and I think I'm ready. I've never participated in a big author marketplace event before, so this will definitely be a learning experience. Going from solo signings and booths to joining 50 other authors all trying to sell their books sounds a bit overwhelming, but hey, I'm good at faking confidence.

So tonight I got all my stuff together, and because I'm bored, I'm going to share it all with you. What does preparing for the 2012 11th Annual Amelia Island Book Festival entail? Well, I shall show you:

Books! I'm selling both Beyond the Western Sun and Walk the Red Road. Not focusing on The Helping Hands series this time, since I mostly want to promote The Whisper Legacy.

My handy-dandy sign. I need to re-glue the 0 but that's a quick fix. This is the same one I used at Port Orange Family days, both because it's still in good condition and because I was too lazy to make a new one.

What is all this wonderfulness below? Let's see:
1) Candy in a candy bowl to draw in my sweet-tooth readers. My booth shall rule them all!
2) Pens to sign hopefully hundreds of books (I don't actually have hundreds, but when I tell this story later, that's how many I'll have).
3) The leftover flyers from Family Days telling everyone how awesome I am.
4) Mom, I packed tape this time! This is to hold down the sign to the table.
5) Business cards to spread the word on my amazing books. Because they are amazing, and I don't care if that sounds arrogant.
6) Why yes, that is a balloon weight. It's to hold down my flyers. I'm not sure if I'm inside or out. Hopefully inside because I think it's supposed to rain all day Saturday.

All together now! I have 4 boxes of books, my sign, and all my goodies in a birthday bag. Ignore the shoes. I don't know why they are there. The notebook and pen is for Friday, when my dad and I are going to the writer's workshop. I'm hoping to network with all the authors there, since they are all best-sellers. For some reason I feel the need to tell everyone that the dude who came up with Rambo will be there. Maybe because it's awesome. I want to create a character people love and remember. Maybe Whisper will be that character some day, or Melanie O'Conner.

I feel like I had something else to say, but I've forgotten already. So, off to go work on The Sour Orange Derby. If you happen to be in the Amelia Island/Fernandina Beach area on Saturday, come see me and buy a book or 2!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Introducing "The Sour Orange Derby"

                                                            The Sour Orange Derby
                                                                  (copyright 2009)

As you can tell by the copyright, The Sour Orange Derby is a long time in the making. I wrote this book years ago and spent awhile working on it, then it kind of fell by the wayside when I began focusing on The Whisper Legacy. But now I'm ready to get it finished and published, and it will be published this year before the release of Book 3 in the Whisper Legacy.

The Derby is mostly finished. It just needs some fine-tuning, and my awesome friend Red is doing the cover, as she did for Walk the Red Road. The book is based on bits of my family, primarily my grandfather and the many ways in which he helped make our childhoods magical. I took a few (major) liberties with the story, so not all that happens in the book actually took place (primarily the specific event that the book centers around, my brother is perfectly healthy and not at all happy about what I do to his character). Regardless, it tells the tale of one little boy's relationship with his Papa, and how a family comes together to celebrate one another, and the legacy that they leave behind.

It is a book close to my heart, as I grew up with these stories and have done my best to tell them in a way that gives readers a piece of who I am, in my own way. Below is the synopsis:

                       One lone tree is all that remains of the Standridge family orange groves. Once a cherished treasure rich in family tradition, the groves were destroyed by the 1963 frost that turned all the fruit sour and ended the legacy that began as far back as the Civil War.
But for young Colly Standridge, that solitary tree is at the center of a magical world.
Inspired by real people and events, The Sour Orange Derby follows the lives of Colly, a child who dreams of becoming a professional baseball player, and K.B. Standridge, an imaginative old man who spends his days creating stories and magic tricks for his grandkids to enjoy. Told through the eyes and memories of Colly’s older sister, Kariss Standridge, at the annual celebration of The Sour Orange Derby, this novel encompasses the beauty of family and wonder of childhood as K.B. searches for a new Standridge family tradition – and finds the answer in his own last beloved orange tree.
The Annual Sour Orange Derby brings together his grandson’s passion for baseball and his personal pride in his family’s tradition, a game that encourages imagination and youth. More importantly, it is a game that holds the Standridge family together when the tragic consequences of the young boy’s fight with cancer threatens to tear them apart.
A story about love and healing steeped in southern traditions, The Sour Orange Derby is a tale of how one family comes together to celebrate life and history in a game that transcends all others.

(Photo by Robert Byron available for purchase here)

Also, allow me to share what's coming up in my marketing calendar:

February 17th-18th: 2012 Amelia Island Book Festival
This is my first time at the festival, and I am taking part in the marketplace on Saturday selling my novels, and the workshop on Friday featuring several best-selling authors. S is going with me and hopefully together we'll sell lots of books and schmooze with the bigwigs to learn the secrets of being just like them. I've never done a workshop before, so it will definitely be a learning experience.

March 23rd-25th: 47th Annual FIHA Powwow
I am beyond excited about this. I managed to score a booth selling books at an annual pow wow down in Fort Pierce, Florida (much thanks to my friend Melissa for finding the info for me). I've been in contact with the event leader and apparently nothing like this (fiction novels) has been sold before so hopefully I bring something new and exciting to the table. S and I are going to camp there probably Friday night and get to selling some books on Saturday. I can't wait to check out the food and dances.

May 12th: Volusia County Literacy Fair
I did this last year, so this will be my second time participating. I love getting to talk to students about writing, and talk about my novels. Hopefully this year will be as big a success as last!

What's New in Writer World

I feel like it's been forever since I've been on here. And, I guess it has been. I was banished from the computer for a few weeks, save for the few things I really needed to do (like, work, since apparently that counts as "need to do"), due to an ungodly amount of hand pain. Normally I'm off in my own happy little world writing and pretending that my stories are coming true, kind of like this:

But lately, I've pretty much just been sitting around doing this:

By the way, don't ever google "hand injuries" because the images are disgusting. I gave you the nice one. You're welcome.

Essentially, I'm suffering from the life of a writer. Overuse, carpal tunnel issues, and possible rheumatoid arthritis. I decided not to get checked out for RA just yet even though the doc recommended it because after taking a break (or as much as one I could), the pain subsided a bit. Now it's just the regular pains rather than the hugely swollen pinky finger and ice pick stabbing sensation throughout my thumb.

So now we're back in business. I haven't been able to really sit down and write in like 3 weeks and it sucks. I'm slowly going insane (if I'm not there already), and not being able to write makes me feel pretty miserable. I live in my head moreso than usual. Today I sat down and worked on 2 different books and it felt amazing.

Those of you eagerly awaiting Book 3 in The Whisper Legacy, you'll be happy to know that I got another 3 pages further. Those of you looking forward to the release of The Sour Orange Derby, I'm working on that too.

Stay tuned for another post about the Derby, and about upcoming marketing events featuring yours truly.