Year Five

It’s hard to believe that 2017 marks my fifth year as a published author. All my major life events, from house moves to jobs, have been based around 5- and 10-year plans, so this year I have some thinking to do on where I go from here. At the moment, I’m in a new job that’s using up a lot of brain power and struggling to stay creative. It’s the first time in five years that I’m wrapping up editing on a project, and I don’t have the next one lined up ready to go. More and more I find myself wondering if writing is worth it.

I never went into this adventure looking to get rich. I knew my limitations from the start; I’m terrible at self-promotion, I have a full time job, I’m slow, and I don’t write what sells. I had no illusions. I can’t compete with an author who pumps out four or more books a year. Money is not what’s bringing me down. It’s the other stuff I find soul-sucking, like:

  • the expanding threat of plagiarism and “pop-up” authors out to scam the system
  • genre drama that brings legitimate writers down
  • the instability of indie publishers and etailers and questionable professionalism
  • piracy and a general lack of value for other people’s work
  • proliferation of readers who will read anything as long as it only costs 99 cents

Do Not Disturb"" sign on hotel room's door2016 was a brutal year in my genre with respect to the above, and I’m not sure 2017 will be better. I’ll explore these areas more throughout the year, as well as my attempts to get my groove back.

In the meantime, looking at 2017, I started out the year releasing a self-published short story collection of erotic (steamy) romances. Do Not Disturb is available at Amazon and Kobo.

backtoyou_200x300And in June, my second novel with Riptide will be released. It’s called Back to You, and is a romantic suspense I’m pretty proud of. It marks a move toward more mainstream fiction for me. More on that to come.

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Telling Tales

For as long as I can remember, I have always “lived in my head”, accompanied by an ever revolving host of characters who keep me company. When I was younger, I thought everyone did this; it wasn’t until I was out in the world at university that I realized how untrue this assumption was. My roommates got bored—they always needed to be with someone, or doing something—whereas I enjoyed simply laying on my bed daydreaming. I still do! Bored? How could you possibly be bored when your imagination is right there?

I credit my unique gift to summers spent at the family cottage on Georgian Bay where on a good day, we got one television channel, and there was nothing to do but play board games, read and sun ourselves on the dock. My parents were teachers, so we’d pack up at the end of June and not come back until Labour Day. In fact, my earliest memories are of me and my sister spending the 2.5 hour drive pretending to be fashionable nineteenth century ladies in our coach. How many seven-year-olds do that these days?

A black and white photograph of a man in front of a car circa 1920s

My grandfather, the original story teller.

On rainy days when we were stuck inside, we’d go through Grandma’s Sears catalogue, pretending to be models whose houses had burned down, and now we needed to buy everything we needed, from clothes to home furnishings. We even had a budget and everything.

I’ve been privileged to have two pivotal story tellers in my life. The first is my grandfather who regaled us on quiet evenings with tales of his boyhood in turn of the century Toronto; from delivering milk by horse and carriage, to stealing cookies from the kitchen, he was a troublemaker and had so many entertaining stories to tell. To learn years after his passing that he and my grandmother had no marriage certificate (he was a thirty year old man who talked an eighteen year old woman into eloping to Buffalo, but there are no official records) and that my aunt was an “early baby” was no real surprise. In fact it seemed fitting. From him I also got my love of history.

The book my cousin wrote for us.

The book my cousin wrote and illustrated for us almost thirty years ago.

My cousin must have inherited some of his talent. She was, and still is, one of those people you can listen to for hours. Back then, we would go on long walks in the woods and she would entertain us with often scary stories of three cousins who got into trouble exploring and had to rely on each other to save themselves. I don’t know how many hours she must have spent over the course of a dozen or more summers building up stories for us. She would parse out a bit each day and we would pester her mercilessly for more. At the time it seemed like magic, the way she could rattle something off the top of her head. Of course now, I realize how much work must have gone into it. She even wrote a book for us one Christmas. She was the one who taught me that you could create characters in your head, and now thirty-some-odd years later, I can’t imagine living without them.

I’m not a story teller—I’m no good verbally and that is an art I will never possess—but I like to think I’m carrying on that family legacy of spinning tales in my own fashion.

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Coincidences and crowded genres

As a genre writer it’s inevitable that at some point you will encounter a book that sounds like yours. Even if you stay away from the major trends (cowboy, shifter, vampires) like I do, there are only so many tropes and story lines to go around. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

You see, recently I’ve come across several new releases (including one from my own publisher) that, based on blurbs, seem awfully similar to the novel I just completed: disgraced/ down-on-his-luck man returns to the town he grew up in and has to deal with issues from his childhood while embroiled in a mystery and rekindling a relationship with his boyhood love/crush.

I know this is a well-used trope across multiple genres and movies of the week, but still, there is nothing like that lurch in your stomach when you stumble across a work that reads like yours.

keep_calm_writeMy initial reaction was to panic. Followed swiftly by a sense of defeat. Was I going to have to throw away ten months of work? I began to worry about unfavorable comparisons, or worse, that readers would think I somehow copied the idea. And then there was the whole timing issue. Why now? My book has just entered the editing stage; it’s too late to make major changes. And would readers be tired of this trope by the time it drops in June?

I’m not the first writer to go through this, and I won’t be the last. In a crowded genre this must happen all the time. Knowing that hasn’t stopped me from taking a look at the available excerpts and samples for those books for reassurance. It does seem that there are enough differences to avoid side by side comparisons. Much of my worry is no doubt compounded by my standard pre-release anxiety. In the end, I tell myself, it’s out of my hands. I have to be confident that my characters and style will distinguish my novel from others out there. That’s really all any of us can do.

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