Tough times

I’ve been getting quite a few messages from readers over the last couple of weeks, but I haven’t had much time or energy to respond.  Please know I am reading them.  There has just been a lot going on in my life.  Last week my grandfather fell off the back porch and broke his shoulder.  This was unusual for him because despite being 90 yrs old, he was rather steady on his feet.  Still, we wrote it off as his age catching up to him.  I helped get him to the hospital and assisted my father with taking care of him after we got him home.  Looking back now, we should have known it was a precursor to something much worse.

Last Friday, I came over for our usual Friday night dinner we always had together.  I found him collapsed on the ground with my father kneeling next to him and on the phone with 911.  The way my grandfather looked…I knew it was bad.  He was breathing erratically and not responding when we tried talking to him.  When the paramedics arrived, he did manage to mumble a few words.  That gave me a little hope, but it was completely dashed once he arrived at the hospital.  He was comatose by that point. A nurse asked me if he normally looked that way.  I understood why she asked, considering his age, but his mind was as clear as could be until then.  Just the night before I’d sat by his bed, keeping him company since his broken shoulder had taken a lot out of him.  We talked about all sorts of things–life, politics, the weather.  I’m glad I had that time with him because I’d had no idea it would be our last conversation.

At the hospital, they ran a ct scan on him and discovered he’d had a massive stroke.  They showed the scan to us and said there was almost no chance he could come back from it.  I stared at the screen.  You didn’t have to be an expert to see it looked bad.  We had to make the tough decision everyone with loved ones fears and tell the doctors not to put him on life support.  He’d specifically told us he didn’t want that and he’d signed a DNR.  All we could do was make him comfortable and sit by him.

I knew he’d lived a long and good life, but seeing him like that was tough.  He was such a strong man and he’d always been a part of my life.  Staring at him lying in that bed, struggling for every breath, I cried.  Then I tried to pull myself together because other relatives were there.  Someone suggested we should talk to him.  I leaned over next to him and whispered that it was okay.  That I loved him.  He didn’t have to stay and he could go whenever he was ready.  Not that I wanted him to go, but I didn’t want him to suffer, either.  Everyone stood around in a sort of death watch.  The doctors said it would likely be hours, a few days at most.  My family played that game of trying to stay strong and not cry so as to not set anyone else off.  I gave up and went to the corner of the room and slumped against the wall.  I couldn’t help it.  I broke down and let myself cry for a few minutes before pulling myself back together.  He was there on that bed and his body was still fighting to live, but I knew I’d already lost him.

I can’t decide whether it was the longest or shortest night of my life, but somewhere near one in the morning he took his last breath and passed away peacefully.  The nurses came and checked his pulse and called his time of death.  They were so quiet and professional about it.  God bless them both.  They gave us time after that.  I asked everyone to leave the room so I could say my goodbyes.  It was hard.  What do you say to a man who has been such a huge part of your life?  He’d always been there for me.  I’d always shared everything with my grandfather.  Even when I was far away in the military I’d called him at least once a week to check in with him.  For the past few years, I’d been over at his place for dinner every Friday night and for brunch every Sunday afternoon, in addition to other random times I stopped by.  I’d spent as much time with him as I could and he’d always been happy to see me.  His degree had been in journalism (though he never worked in that career) and he’d been so pleased with my decision to become a writer.

And I’d lost him.  His body lay there in the hospital bed, cold and unmoving, but I had to talk to him one last time.  I told him I loved him, hoping his spirit was lingering somewhere nearby and that he could hear me.  There was more, but I can’t remember everything I said.  Part of the time, I just cried.  Then I let me father have the room so he could say his goodbyes.

Since then, we’ve been working on putting a memorial together for this weekend.  I’ve gone through hundreds of pictures, sorting certain ones to use for a video I’m putting together.  Something to commemorate his life.  Once in a while, I have to stop and take a breath.  I’m happy he lived his life so fully, but it’s hard to think about how he’s gone now.  How can someone who seemed larger than life just disappear so quickly?  I’ve gone in his bedroom a few times, sat in his chair, and just took in the last rays of his presence.  His cat continues to lie on his bed.  He doted on her so much and I have no idea if she realizes he’s gone.  I give her as much attention as I can.  She looks so sad, as if she is waiting for him to come back.

I have to put a program together for the memorial.  I found a template and got special paper, but filling it in is harder than I imagined.  There’s a part where you can put details about the person and their accomplishments.  It shouldn’t be that difficult, but despite being a writer I have no idea what to say.  It took me this long just to put together this blog post.  I’m only doing this much so you all know what is going on with me and why I may not respond to your messages right away.  I must get this program finished by tonight so it can be printed tomorrow.  My father and I have managed to get almost everything else arranged.  There are just a few final details left.  I don’t know what else to say other than I’m feeling numb at the moment.  Hopefully, things will get back on track with me and my writing soon.  I know my grandfather wouldn’t want me to put off working on my books because of him.  He often bothered me more than anyone about how I was going with them.  I do think I’ll dedicate Darkness Wanes to him.  He would like that.

Self-publishing and expectations…

Recently I had a visitor to the website who asked several questions about my self-publishing experience. There wasn’t a good way to keep my responses short, though I tried at first. Instead I’m putting my answers in a regular post so that anyone else who is curious can read them as well. Here goes:

“Could you please talk about your experience?”

Publishing is a lot like riding a rollercoaster. Some days I’m on top of the world writing good stuff and hearing back from readers who enjoy my work. Thanks to all those awesome people who commented on my last post! Other days I might have trouble moving forward while working on a scene and/or catch some criticism of one of my books that makes me think I’m the most horrible writer in the world.

There are days I can’t imagine having any other job and that it’s the absolute best. Then I have days where I question why I released my stories for anyone else to read because, obviously, I completely suck. What was I thinking letting anyone see the crazy ideas that come into my head?

Writers have to be deeply in touch with their feelings in order to produce quality work. This is important, but can also make the whole experience more difficult from an emotional standpoint. If a reader is disappointed with your latest book you feel like you let them down though you honestly wrote it the way you believed it had to be written. I thank God for all my encouraging fans. They’re what has kept me releasing the next ones, though I’d probably never stop writing regardless.

“How you went about it. What was the process like? What pit falls did you encounter?”

For how I went about it, you must keep in mind I was writing for a few years before I published and that Darkness Haunts was not my first book. It was simply the first I thought worth sharing with the world. So when I made the big decision to publish I waited nearly a year from the time the first draft was completed before self-publishing it. I queried agents, entered it into ABNA (Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards), and also learned everything about publishing I could.

I researched cover artists, editors, ebook formatting, paperbacks, and a lot on marketing. Though I refused to change to a genre that might be more salable (people were saying urban fantasy was a dying genre), I did study my market so as to gauge my expectations. I also followed other authors and read about their experiences, soaking up every bit of information I could.  At the end, I even changed the title to something more fitting and catchy than the original.  It wasn’t Darkness Haunts until two months before I released it.

Continue reading

Kindle Unlimited?

The author community is buzzing with the latest news about Kindle Unlimited (KU).  A $9.99 a month program Amazon released a few days ago where readers can borrow an unlimited number of ebooks (though they can only keep ten at a time).

From a reader’s standpoint it’s not a bad deal.  It gives them the opportunity to try out books they might not have otherwise and if they don’t like them?  They can return them, never to see those works muddy their Kindle again.  If they do like them, they may even go on to pick up more from the author.  Amazon has managed to include some well-known titles in an effort to expand the selection (currently at 600,000) and tempt readers into giving the program a chance.  Having said that, you’ll still find more than a few favorites not available.

For independent authors, there is a good reason their books may not be there.  Most self-published novels (with a few exceptions) are required to be exclusive to Amazon if they want their book in KU.  What exactly does that mean?  An author must pull their participating ebooks from all other retailers so that the only place they can be found is Amazon.  For some writers this isn’t a big deal, but for others it is asking a lot.

There is also the question of how much an author can earn within the program.  As it stands now, a short story will earn the same as a full-length novel for each borrow.  No one is quite sure how much that will be, but estimates are as low as 30 cents a download (after the reader passes the first ten percent of the book).  This gives less incentive for authors to put their longer works into the pool.  In fact, it may give rise to a greater number of serial books where it would require more downloads to get the entire story, thereby earning the author more money.

I know some of you may choose to sign up for KU and I do think that’s great.  Heck, I’ve considered it myself as a reader and may give it a shot.  For now, though, I won’t be putting any of my own books into the program.  There seems to be a lot of kinks that still need to be worked out and I’m not interested in limiting my work to just one retailer.  I do have fans who prefer Nook, Kobo, or iTunes and I don’t want to force them to make a decision as to how to obtain my books…or not.

How things play out in the future I cannot say.  I might write a stand-alone novel that I feel is a good fit for KU or I might experiment on something with other urban fantasy authors for a different kind of work.  But for the Sensor Series (and any of the shorter spin-offs), it’s going to be staying out unless some of my concerns are alleviated.  Particularly the exclusivity factor.

I hope that this doesn’t inconvenience any Amazon readers who decide to try KU and that they will continue to pick up the Sensor books as they release.  If you’ve got your own thoughts on the new program, feel free to leave a comment below.  I am curious to hear what others think.

 

Indie urban fantasy series I recommend…

I know many of you are waiting patiently for Darkness Divides to come out on April 20th.  As an update, it’s coming along well and I’ll be posting the first two chapters this weekend.  So be on the lookout!

In the meantime, I thought I’d give you all a list of other urban fantasy authors who I follow.  Most of you are probably already aware of the big traditionally published names in the genre such as Jeaniene Frost, Ilona Andrews, Karen Marie Moning, Chloe Neill, Patricia Briggs, plus many more.  This is to highlight the indies who I’ve found to be just as enjoyable.

Keep in mind that your mileage may vary as no two people have exactly the same tastes, but these are ones I’ve found to be good and think you might too if you haven’t discovered them already.  All covers are linked to the book’s Amazon purchase page.  I’ve also included some brief thoughts on my impression of each author’s books.

 

 

Blood Wager coverConnie Suttle– If you haven’t read the book that begins her Blood Destiny series and sets up the ones that follow it, check out Blood Wager first.  The key thing to know with her work is that it has a lot of emotional twists, action, and expands to include sci-fi elements as the series progresses.  The romance in her work isn’t of the traditional variety, but I love the uniqueness of her writing.  Her “voice” is very different from other writers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Demon Bound book coverDebra Dunbar– For those who enjoy a wicked sense of humor, this is a great series to try.  The main character is a demon imp who gets into a lot of trouble, but as you get to know her you’ll find she’s surprisingly relatable.  There are light romantic elements and a rather hunky love interest or two, but nothing too hot and steamy for those who prefer those elements toned down.  Do expect some naughtiness, though.  This series has five books out so far and Debra recently released two spin-off novels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sleight of Hand book coverMark Henwick– His series is strong on action and suspense, while being lighter on the romantic elements (though you should expect some explicit content).  The thing I think readers love the most about his writing is how fast-paced it is  and that he includes investigative elements as well as a female character who has a military background.  This series has three books out so far, plus a prequel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dark Dates coverTracey Sinclair– I stumbled upon this author after seeing a review of one of her books from a blogger who also follows my series.  The cover is a bit different from most UF, but I promise this series is great!  The setting is in London, so with this one you get out of the United States so you can enjoy something a little different.  There is some nice humor and the romance will keep you intrigued.  If you like heroines who are always trying to do the right thing despite not being all that powerful, you should enjoy this one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elemental Magic coverAngela Wallace– She has a nice UF series that features elementals (users of earth, air, water, fire).  Her novels are lighter than the ones I mentioned above, making them a great change of pace from the standard darker fare.  There’s more mystery to her books too and they have sweet romantic elements (nothing hot and heavy).  The main character stays the same for the first two books before switching to a different one with the third.  She should be releasing the fourth novel soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

shadowpath_coverP.L. Blair– She has a UF series featuring two main characters.  A human female and an elf male.  They are detectives who have been partnered together to investigate supernatural cases.  The criminals in this series are rather unique and the lore this author uses keeps me fascinated.  The romance doesn’t pick up until much later in the series and the author keeps things fairly clean, but I must admit I was ready for it when it came!  Expect the books to focus on the plot and have some nice action sequences.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feel free to make your own suggestions in the comments section.  I know there are a lot of other good ones out there and that I didn’t name them all.  If you can tell us a little about why you like any particular author/series, that would be helpful too!

Update on the New Year’s anthology and some end of the year thoughts

For those who don’t know, The Stroke of Midnight anthology is now available on Smashwords for free in all formats (here’s the link).  Hope you all enjoy the story I included in it, Tempting The Moon.

I would also like to thank all the fans who have been so enthusiastic and supportive.  My first year in publishing has been amazing.  I released Darkness Haunts in January not knowing how things would go, but believing in myself and my novel enough to give it a chance.  Those early months were not easy.  I promoted it in every way I could think of, but after less than three months my husband was looking at me like maybe I should give up.  At the end of March, it had only sold 219 copies total.  He was trying to be supportive, do not get me wrong, but he felt maybe I needed to concentrate my efforts doing something more reliable.

The thing is, I’m stubborn and I don’t give up easily.  I also knew that a very tiny fraction of authors succeed with their first book soon after it publishes.  There are millions of books out there and it takes time to get discovered by readers.  So I buckled down on the next book, Darkness Taunts, and gave up promoting the first novel.  Now that’s where things got weird.

I was doing absolutely no promoting whatsoever and had not for over a month when I noticed sales were starting to climb.  Little by little, but a small spark of hope began to light inside me.  Darkness Haunts had 348 sales in April–more than I’d had in the previous three months combined.  In May, they were more than double that.  You couldn’t call it a bestseller, but I was finally reaching readers even if I had no clue how I’d done it.  People would ask and I couldn’t tell them.  My only guess is that those early readers had started to pass the word around and it had begun to spread.

By the time Darkness Taunts released in July, I had sold 2,000 copies of the first book.  I hit number 1 in dark fantasy with the new one and its daily sales were far more than I’d ever seen before.  It was crazy.  People were emailing me and telling me how much they enjoyed the series.  I had no idea until then.  Honestly, just about no one wrote until I was close to releasing the second book (and had to delay it for a week due to some personal setbacks).  Finally, my husband stopped nagging me and stopped questioning my writing goals.  In fact, now he tells me I need to write faster, lol.

It’s almost the end of the year and only a couple of weeks away until the anniversary of the Darkness Haunts release.  It’s now sold over nine-thousand copies.  If the sales trend doesn’t take a huge plunge it should hit 10k by the end of January.  I would have never believed it when starting out, but I have all my readers to thank for helping spread the word.

I also have one other person to thank who has never been included in my acknowledgments.  My mother.  Okay, I’m going to get teary-eyed while trying to write this, but stick with me.

When I was very young, she read to me a lot.  Later, when I started learning to read she would sit on my bed and help me read books every night.  We had a contest in my first grade class for who could read the most books that year.  At least one parent had to sign off, verifying that we had actually read all the books we listed.  My mother stayed by my side as I read 271 books that year.  She always encouraged me and never made me feel like I was an inconvenience.   In fact, she didn’t even shoo me away when I’d try to read along with her romance novels (that were clearly above my reading level).

In January of 1989 when I was eight years old she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.  The tumor in her head was growing and it was inoperable.  All they could do was treat her with chemotherapy to slow it down.  I watched my strong, beautiful mother slowly weaken before my eyes.  She lost her hair and eventually had to use a walker just to get around.  Her skin became sallow and she spent a lot of time in the bathroom hugging the toilet thanks to all the medical treatments.

It didn’t stop her from being a mom, though.  She checked my homework regularly and quizzed me every Thursday night before my weekly spelling tests.  Every day she put a personalized note in my lunch bag and ordered me not to read it until lunch break.  Some days, I admit I didn’t wait that long and snuck a peek early.  As she got worse, we had other relatives come stay with us, such as my granma who I lost earlier this year.

Did a debilitating illness stop my mom from checking my school work or making special breakfasts in the morning?  No, it didn’t.  She made every moment count.  It’s not to say she didn’t have bad days where the chemotherapy wore her down too much to do more than rest in bed, but she honestly tried to be there for her children.

Then one Friday I came home from school and my brother and I were told that we were going on a trip to see my father’s parents who lived two hours away.  We didn’t question it.  I gave my mother a hug and kiss goodbye.  I told her I loved her and would see her Sunday.  She was in a wheel chair by this time and wearing a scarf to cover her mostly bald head, but even now I can still remember that moment.  She smiled and waved goodbye as we left.

Sunday morning I woke up to discover my father sleeping on my grandparents’ couch.  They wouldn’t explain why, but told us to wait for my dad in the bedroom.  I still remember seeing his face when he walked in.  There is a look in a man’s eyes when he has lost the love of his life and it’s not one that can be mistaken for anything else.  I began crying as soon as I saw it.  He took my brother and I in his arms and we mourned together, huddling close and crying.

She’d died during the night and he’d come straight to us, needing to be near his children.  I was told later that she’d fallen into a coma shortly after we left on Friday.  Despite that, she’d been calling my name and my brother’s.  The hospice nurses said they’d never seen someone fight so much to live.  She’d tried so hard not to leave us.  My other relatives had thought it best to spare my brother and I the grief of watching her last hours.  To this day, I disagree, but there’s nothing I can do to change that now.  At least I did get my goodbye, even if I hadn’t realized it was my last one.

At her funeral, I insisted they let me see her body.  I think part of me never would have accepted her death without seeing it for myself.  She was so still in her coffin, but she was peaceful.  The pain she had endured for most of that year was gone.

I honestly believe she is with the angels now and has probably taught them a thing or two.  Over the years, I’ve done some crazy things in my life.  She had to have been watching over me because I’ve survived some things I probably shouldn’t have.  But the point I want to make after telling my story is that she gave me my foundation for reading.  She encouraged me and she inspired me.

Maybe her time in my life was short, but it had a huge impact.  I can never thank my mother enough for all the things she did for me.  For any success I’ve had as a writer, it’s because she planted those early seeds.  For those of you with children, read to them.  Don’t miss your chance to give them that same encouragement my mother gave me.  It’s worth every minute and will give them memories to last a lifetime.

December 10th was the anniversary of her death.  It’s been twenty-four years now since I lost her, but I want this to be the time where I thank her.  She deserves my gratitude more than I can possibly put into words.  Thanks mom.  You will never be forgotten.