My new writing goal (challenge)

There’s more books coming out each day than ever before, in all of history, which can be daunting to an author who doesn’t want to get lost in the tsunami of reading material available. Every year I set goals to improve as a writer, and then I read novels, read books on writing, and write. This year I went to a week long writing workshop. For the last couple of years, my goals included writing longer, deeper, more meaningful books.

Then, while writing It’s All In My Head, something clicked for me: an obvious epiphany, I guess, but I realized each new book I write has to have something completely new and different about it, something unique to offer above an awesome story that moves readers. I’ve known on some level for a while that a book needs to have a twist on common themes and story lines to catch readers’ attention, but I really feel it and understand it now. I’ve tried to offer that in previous books, giving reader a new perspective and kind of story. My married romances are a bit different, and I like to stretch normal romance genre rules, too. I like to think I write love stories that readers outside of the romance genre can enjoy. This new goal is beyond even that.

Here’s what I’m thinking: If the story isn’t new and different, why write it?

Maybe you just thought, “Duh!” But it’s a scary thing to put out there as an author. Think about it – are most new books really that different from what’s been written?

I could be wrong. Readers might want the same thing over and over. You know, you go to a certain author due to their brand, and you know what to expect. On the other hand, I want each new book to be special, even while having my voice and signature characters. So I’m challenging myself to offer something new and special in each new book.

Celebrate the Art

A lot of authors write about what success means to them in this ever changing world of publishing. I’ve thought and written about different levels of success, and something really struck me lately.

When my son finishes a drawing, that’s the end of the process. He accesses how he did, shares it and maybe saves it if it’s a really good one. He gets to feel successful and proud of himself right then and there—because he did a good job and put his best effort into it. Do you remember that feeling? You showed your picture to your mom, who proclaimed it beautiful, and you went away feeling great because you created something.

I did have a moment like that with my very first one. I wrote it on an electrical typewriter somewhere around the 6th or 7th grade. I remember shaking from excitement as I called my best friend and read her the last page. I finished a book! I did it!

In writing, at least as an adult, finishing a book is just a step in a much bigger process. Sometimes it’s easy to forget to celebrate that moment of the journey. Why? Because nothing happens. As adults, we’re waiting for the results. It’s not always about external results. In fact, relying on those external rewards can leave you feeling empty.

There’s a moment during the writing process where the novel really comes together for me. It happens when the idea is down and developed along with the plot and characters. There’s a moment, even before the draft is done, when I realize I have something good. It’s better than my previous books. The idea is different. I love spending my day with my characters. I feel proud of what I’m making, even if it’s not all of the way done yet. This moment is for me, when I can celebrate adding a new book to my body of work. It’s my success moment.

I recently took a two hour painting class with my son. The instructor walked us through painting a parrot. Mine turned out looking like a gorilla bird with very wide shoulders and a strong face. My son’s turned out like a happy Toucan. We have our paintings hanging together on the wall now and plan to take more classes. He’s a dedicated artist, putting in hours and hours, much like I did with writing when I was ten. It’s a huge joy to share his journey with him, and it reminds me that creative endeavors are about the art, whether it’s painting, drawing or stories. It reminded me to celebrate finishing a book, even if it’s not out there yet for people to read. I finished this book! I did it!

Where in the world is Kristen?

My title sounds like this will be a travel blog, but actually, I thought people might be wondering why I haven’t blogged in a while. I’m buried under words, thousands and thousands of words…

Two weeks ago, I went to the Breakout Novel Intensive Workshop taught by Donald Maass. It’s organized through Free Expressions Literary with Lorin Oberweger, who is one of the one-on-one instructors. I got to meet with five writing instructors who had read the beginning of my novel, and each meeting changed the book! I had heard this was a life changing experience for many authors, and I have to agree. Even after studying Donald Maass’ books and online articles, I learned so much about the craft of writing. The week long workshop shows writers how to take all of that advice and apply it directly to the work in progress. We had class in the morning with Don, and then writing time and meetings in the afternoons, for a week. I should clarify that “class” means interactive learning, where we dug into different students’ works to see how the methods actually worked. I changed my title, doubled my plot line, worked on upping the conflict and tension throughout the book, and worked on different ways to show emotion on the page. I learned SO MUCH and yet the best part of the experience was spending a week with industry professionals and almost 40 other authors.

I think my novels have delivered emotional impact, but I wasn’t sure how my current storyline would do that. So I learned how to expand my current work in progresss with deeper emotions, much more plot and more character development. That’s a lot of writer talk that means this story will be HUGE! And by HUGE, I mean emotionally. And I’m so excited about the storyline too.

If you’ve missed my updates, I’m working on It’s All In My Head, which I was calling Star Struck for a while. Avery wakes up after a concussion with a male voice in her head. That’s just the starting point. (The ending point is how Avery and Marcus have taken over my head!)   So back to writing I go…

Costa Rica – sneak peek

Costa Rica (preview the first chapter on Amazon.) 

You can read the first 10% of any book on Amazon so I like to share from other parts of the book. This is near the beginning, before they leave Oregon:

Costa Rica by Kristen James

She barely registered when the front door swung open. Drew walked into the hallway and dropped his keys in the dish. The hallway light flicked on.

“Holy mother!”

His squeal spooked her into sitting straight up, and remembering why she’d been waiting for him. “Drew?”

“Annalisa? You scared the bejesus out of me. What are you doing sitting in the dark?”

She didn’t immediately answer. That must have clued him into her mood and he stepped closer, leaning on the door frame to wait. They’d always been straight with each other (ironic, isn’t it?) and skipped the lead ups.

“Vincent’s cancer came back. There’s another tiny tumor. It’s not treatable anymore.”

The air swooshed out of him. “Oh.”

He stood for a minute and then walked into the living room and slumped down in the recliner across from her. This was a painful moment, but he didn’t rush to her. He didn’t even sit with her. They sat in silence except for his occasional exhale. Drew didn’t really cry–this was as close as he ever came.

The light was just a soft one from the hallway, but it seemed too bright for this conversation. She waited a long time before speaking again. “They asked us to come over Friday night for a barbeque. I said we’d bring a salad. Vincent would have called you, but he said it’s been hard to get a hold of you.”

That last little line had a wealth of ill will. She’d been shell-shocked till that moment, but then she realized Drew had let his best friend down. Didn’t Drew understand that? Vincent was fighting for his life, and Drew was busy chasing skirt. And what if she had needed him? He hadn’t been there for her either. He had slowly and quietly packed up his emotional ties to her and left a shell. Her guilt, for that moment, evaporated.

Drew said not a word in response. Once upon a time this handsome man had been her rock, her friend and her guiding light. Now she wanted to slap him.

He finally realized she was glaring at him and glanced at his wristwatch. “It’s way too late to call him.”

“Yeah, it’s almost midnight.”

“You were out way past midnight just yesterday.”

“But I don’t do that all the time…” Her thought lost steam. “I’m not the one…”

Drew looked at her, really gazed into her eyes. His expression showed alarm and then dread. There it was, out in the open. Maybe they weren’t going to say it, but he had to know she was suspicious.

She had not once ever, ever doubted him. Even as they drifted apart, she didn’t question him, check up on him or wonder what he was doing. She envisioned a crack racing across that large stone bridge of trust, and it fell in a loud, painful crash.

She got up and went upstairs to bed. Drew never followed.

 

COSTA RICA

Annalisa and Drew have always dreamed of going to Play Flamingo, Costa Rica, with their best friends, Vincent and Melinda. But now they’re out of time.

Annalisa feels their marriage is just a shell for others to see–there’s nothing left inside. She wonders if they can rekindle their love in paradise, but there’s so little left. They gave up on their marriage along with their dream of having children.

Time is literally slipping away from Vince and Mel. Vincent’s cancer is back–his tumor is inoperable and he won’t do chemo again. This trip is now or never.

Costa Rica – the trip that inspired my novel

I realized I went to Costa Rica before I began blogging so I’m not sure if I’ve ever shared any photos. I did write about getting the idea while on the trip, actually while walking on the beach. I wrote a summary in my journal then and even started the story after we returned, but it would be three years later when I finished the project. There were all kinds of little details that I incorporated into the book–I’m finding more and more that I love to use a real setting so I can find little things to make the story come to life.

We stayed by Playa Flamingo, just like my characters, and walked or rode bikes around the area for ten days, through warm rainstorms and sunshine. We went in July, the wet season, and I set the book around the same time so I could describe the area as I experienced it. My characters went to the same restaurants and beaches we did, although I made up the resort at the end to make the plot work. Annalisa and Drew even rented bicycles from Claudia as we did. We were riding along on a muddy road in our swim suits, barefoot, when a Tico waved and called “hello,” and I used that in the book too.

While the book is filled with tension and conflict, along with high moments and the beauty of Costa Rica, our trip was all fun. My husband has an uncle living in Costa Rica, and we ate a few authentic meals with his tios and got advice on navigating the area and culture. We also went fishing off the beach for rooster fish…and I ended up catching  sting ray. We took turns fighting what we thought was a fish for forty minutes while a crowd gathered, but when we got it in closer we realized what it was. Luckily for us, the line snapped and we didn’t have it free it by hand.

We spent our time walking or riding all over the place, to different beaches and places to eat. Getting away from our normal lives gave us space and time to think, and that sparked my creativity and my new story idea.

When it was time to return home, we rode the local bus back to Liberia and the airport, which was a fun experience in itself. A man stood up during the ride to play a guitar and sing. Then we stayed in an ancient motel–the building was 200 years old. We just don’t see that in Oregon. I think we spent something like fifteen bucks for the room.

Here’s a few of my pictures:

 

honeymoon 004 honeymoon 006  honeymoon 010 honeymoon 019  honeymoon 040 honeymoon 041 honeymoon 042

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

honeymoon 037

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few fun little things. Whenever we were out walking, we would hear or see big iguanas fall out of the palm trees. It didn’t seem to hurt them. There were also little geckos everywhere that chirped at night. We spotted glowing fish in the waves. While walking through the jungle to the beach, we saw hundreds of tiny bright orange crabs. There was color everywhere and new things to see. Of course I’m dying to go back!

Because I live close to the Oregon coast, it was hard not to contrast the two places. I hinted at that in the book, too. The rugged and wild Oregon coast, where the book begins, captures how the characters feel. Then, in peaceful and tropical Costa Rica, they begin to work through their problems and discover what’s important to them.

I want to share a sneak peak from the book too, but I’ll make a separate post for that.

My 100th Blog Post!

It was almost three years ago (and 100 posts!) when I started this blog/website. That was right after I had launched my author page on Facebook. It’s been an amazing three years with my professional life centered around what I love to do. And oddly enough, I’m most thankful that I can see lots of ways to grow as an author. It really is about the journey and not the destination! I like to think I’m still in the beginning of a fulfilling and exciting adventure, one with lots of twists and turns and milestones to celebrate, and more importantly, people to share it with. :)

I’ve shared about quite a few hikes over the last couple of years, but I have so many more places to go. Of course I want to revisit all my favorite places in Oregon. That’s one thing I love about where I live: all the hiking and wild areas to explore in the mountains and on the coast. I’ve started visiting Eastern Oregon more and finding a different kind of beauty there. I recently learned there’s a small number of moose living in the North Eastern corner of Oregon, and I’ve been dreaming about exploring there in the summer and seeing if we can spot them. They’re some of the smallest moose and have little antlers. So here’s to new horizons and more writing!

I thought I’d celebrate my 100th blog by adding another freebie to my list – this one is free today and tomorrow. If you haven’t read The Cowboy Kiss, now’s the time! It’s short, fun and flirty. This joins my two perma free books, Embers of Hope and The Fairy and Her Giant.

Here’s a view back at my house (somewhere out there) from a hike to a mountain top.

20140101_154918 - Copy

 

 

 

A Change of Pace, new work in progress, and a few updates

There’s reasons to love every season, but it seems most people like the feeling of change that comes with autumn and spring. Changing things up is exciting. I was looking back to last year, and remembered writing Point Hope in January and February. That story was a change from romance to married romance and family drama. It kicked off a phase, I guess, because Costa Rica also features a married couple, and then In a Field of Oranges is an emotional romance but with heavy undertones.

So far this year, I’ve been busy publishing Costa Rica and In a Field of Oranges, and starting a new project. It’s a very different kind of story for me, but it’s one of those that began with a sudden spark. I’m writing in first person, with a new genre of New Adult, and with a somewhat unique format with two main characters sharing thoughts. While I’m a bit nervous about how my readers will react to something so different from my previous books, I’m always happiest with these ideas that come on in a flash. Point Hope started that way: a big figurative boom went off and a story exploded into existence, then I raced to write it.

I’ll share the blurb and a sneak peek below. First, some news on More Than Memories – the audiobook is in the final stages of production, so I hope it’ll go live in March. I also recently sold the German rights to AmazonCrossing, and they’re producing that version for release later this year. I’m excited about my first book in German! I still get excited about Trent and Molly’s story; they were such great characters to work with.

So, here’s more info on my work in progress.

Star Struck – working title.

Avery Waldorf wakes up from a concussion to find a voice inside her head. An oversexed male voice belonging to Marcus, who doesn’t know where he came from, but has an opinion on everything about her life. She just wants quiet so she can read, go to her English classes and flirt with the guy of her dreams, Nash, who is finally noticing her that way. Marcus wants to get up at dawn, run, snowboard, hike and basically take over her life. She can’t tell anyone without sounding like she’s lost it. Meanwhile Marcus doesn’t know where he’ll go if he leaves her mind. Maybe she is losing it…

A Tiny Teaser:  (This is close to the opening, when she first finds this strange man in her head.)

“Morning.” The voice belonged to a fifty-or-so doctor in a white coat, salt and pepper hair, and a kind smile, and he was sitting on a stool or something right next to my bed. His square jaw and warm brown eyes projected safety and serenity. Encouraged, I tried to take in my settings. The room around him was painted cream but the light was too bright.

“Hi…” My voice came out like everything was okay. Maybe it was.

“You took quite the tumble yesterday.” He gave me a fatherly smile. “So I’m very happy to see you’re awake and alert. I’m Dr. Hartley. Can you tell me your name?”

Marcus.

What? I glanced around but didn’t see anyone else.

The doctor’s head shifted to the side, just slightly, and one eyebrow moved. My hesitation worried him. But I knew my name. Duh. “Avery Waldorf.”

Marcus. My name is Marcus.

Dr. Hartley relaxed. “Oh, good, Avery. Do you know what day it is?”

“It was Saturday when I crashed down the mountain. February second.” Why, oh, why did I go with them? I could have stayed home, read my book, drank cocoa and pretended it was snowing outside.

“Ah, yes. Now it’s Sunday morning. It sounds like you’re doing great. We ran a scan yesterday, and everything looked good to go.”

I tried to smile, and even that sent a whiplash of pain through my head.

He stood and went to the bag up on a pole, checking the level I guess. After making a note on the chart in his hand, he smiled at me again. “I’ll send a nurse for your morphine. The pain should clear up shortly. We’ll probably keep you for the day, just as a precaution. Your scans were fine. You’re alert. It’s just a good idea to keep you here.”

I managed to keep a straight face until he walked out the door. I would have been best to tell him, a doctor after all, that I was hearing some weird guy. I glanced around, something I had been afraid to do in front of the doctor, and confirmed the room was empty. None of my friends were standing behind the hospital bed, suppressing a laugh at their joking around. Where were they? They left me at the hospital?

What the hell is this?

The voice was definitely in my head. I must have hit it hard…so why didn’t something show up in my scans?

Hello? I hit my head?

No, I hit my head trying to freaking snowboard.

I looked around again, even knowing I wouldn’t see anyone there. How could a concussion make me hear voices?

You’re not hearing voices. What the heck is wrong with you? Why am I in the hospital?

He didn’t sound worried. I could hear, by my heartbeat, that I was. The day before was clear in my head, from driving up to the sky resort, playing around on the flats for a while, and then letting Kristina talk me into going up the hill with her. There wasn’t anything that unusual, not anything that should cause something like this. I closed my eyes, trying to relax my body, and breathed in and out. Just in and out. In and out.

Still here, babe. And still not sure what’s going on.

Who was this guy? Okay… so I can hear you talk but can’t see you…but you don’t know what’s going on?

~  ~  ~

Updates to come!

New books and free books oh my

I love sending new books out into the world. It’s such a privilege to create something and share it with others. Of course, I get a little nervous too, but mostly excited.

Costa Rica has been out a few weeks and In a Field of Oranges will be going out very soon too. Yea! It seems like I’ve been writing and writing, so it’s thrilling to see these two stories come to completion and ready to share. Then I’ll actually be caught up on my works in progress and ready to start a brand new story. It’s one that’s been swirling around in my head for months and months, but I forced myself to hold off on writing it so I could finish my current project list. It’s in the early, can’t-share-or-I’ll-jinx-it stage, but I’ll say the story revolves around two sisters.

And just an update: I’ve added a new “Free Ebooks” tab to my site! Currently, Embers of Hope is free on Smashwords and Kobo, and will probably be free in Kindle too. I still get excited over each and every one of my novels, and I just adore Savanna’s story. It’s about being a mom, a friend and falling in love.

The Fairy and Her Giant is free on Kindle, Smashwords, Kobo and other places. I really can’t say where I got the idea for that story, but it was a blast to write–it has a fairy and pirates!

Well, back to writing I go. Take care!

The Need to Start Anew – Happy New Year!

“Don’t look down! Don’t do it!”   Have you ever felt that way when climbing a steep hill? But if you don’t look down, you won’t know how far you’ve gone. That’s why we look down, even if we’re afraid to.

Life seems to be the opposite. Everywhere I look, I’m encouraged to measure, compare, evaluate and redirect, especially this time of year. We have a drive to track how we’re doing, evaluate the results and plan bigger goals. We want to start fresh. Do better. Do more. It can be invigorating, actually.   A new start!  A new chance!

The beginning of a new year isn’t a magical point in time that changes everything, but we use it that way. We treasure that yearly gift of hope and renewal. We look at any hardships in the old year and say, “So long suckers!”

I’m looking at the new year as a new chance to enjoy life, learn new things and look for beauty. And of course I’m planning to write more stories.  :)

I wanted to say Happy New Year to all of you and wish you the best on your goals. I’d also like to wish you peace in this coming year–in this busy, interconnected world, remember to take some time for yourself. We don’t have to be the best at everything. It’s okay to relax sometimes! It’s okay to “Don’t Worry, be Happy!”   Go ahead, click the link, listen to the song and watch the video. :) It’s fun.  Cheers!

jumping dolphin

2.5 Years, 20 books, and 100k sales later–What I’ve learned

I had some thoughts this month stemming from my writing journey and what is happening in publishing, and I thought it might interest other writers. I often read the advice to stop checking sales, ranks, reviews, web hits, and focus on writing. It’s some of the best advice out there, and advice I try to follow. On the other hand, sometimes it’s  healthy to pause and evaluate how you’re doing. (Seems to be a trend at the end of the year!) It can also show you that you really have built something.

I have 10 novels, 7 novellas and 3 nonfiction books, and reached 1,000 reviews on Amazon this month. I don’t think it’s bad to check in on sales and reviews, if you keep it under control. I used to read reviews and see if I could learn anything from them–and reviews used to be longer and more detailed. I often get short reviews these days, especially for my novellas. Still, I like to glance through once in a while to see what readers are saying. Amazon Central puts them all in one place so it’s easy. It’s fine to have good and bad reviews; it shows that your book is selling.

On ranking: I used to check my book ranks, but now I mainly check the rank for my most recent book, or a book that I’m running a promotion on. I look at my author rank in Author Central to see the overall trend. (But in general, I’m trying to check less and write more.)

On predicting: I’ve had some awesome months when I had a new release or a promotion went really well, but I’ve learned that I can’t take that and make a monthly prediction of steady growth. Sales go up and down. I put my sales into Excell and then create a month by month chart showing book sales and income. I have another chart that shows yearly book sales and income, so I can see the upward progress every year. It’s the big picture that matters.

On Changing Amazon: In 2011 and 12, it seemed most of my books would sell and have different seasons and spikes. Since this summer, however, it seems Amazon promotes new books, giving them a chance to succeed at first, but sales for my older books have slowed down. (That follows a more traditional model than what I’ve seen on Amazon since 2011, and it might change again in a few months.)

On crazy ebook growth in 2012–there were some blockbuster books the last couple of years that really drove sales. That can happen again. A book or series will come out that will be different, and it’ll see sales like 50 Shades, Twilight, Hunger Games, Wimpy Kid and Wool. There’s been huge bestsellers from both traditional and author published books.

That naturally leads into my next observation: things change constantly. In the last two years, we’ve had all kinds of storms. The huge ebook growth, then people crying that the sky was falling, then people saying Indie stores are making a comeback, and even times when people said books are on the way out. I know better than that one. But things do change, and they don’t follow our predictions. The steady reality is that we keep getting surprised. I just have to focus on improving my writing. (I’ve been working on bigger story lines and deeper themes.)

Another change: I had a sales curve every year that dipped in the summer, but this last summer was more like my typical Decembers. I released a book that I really believed in, but I was surprised at how well it did. Of course, releasing new books has always been the best promotion, and I regret that I didn’t have another one ready to release this fall or winter. Montlake Romance re-released Point Hope in late October, and I relied on that as my ‘new book.’ My next book is coming out in January, and I plan to write and publish 3-5 books this coming year.

With all the changes on Amazon, the US book market, and publishing in general, I’m going to expand into other retailers with some of my books. I’m very pro Amazon and feel extremely thankful to the company for opening the door to so many authors. I’ve built an audience and got a traditional publishing deal for one of my books that I published through Kindle. Because it’s about my readers and reaching more readers, so I’m going to experiment with other retailers.

My biggest lesson: many of the promotional activities we’re encouraged to do don’t get the results we want. I used to advise people to build their “snowball,” and I still believe in this idea, but there is also an 20/80 rule. 20% of what we do will get 80% of the results. In terms that I understand better, focus on the things that make big results. I experiment, and learn from other authors, and I focus on writing.  Maybe I’m stating the same lesson over and over! It’s about the writing. When I launch a book now, I basically publish it and post it here, on my FB page and Twitter. I also did a Goodreads giveaway with Point Hope and plan to do more of those.

Preview on Kindle (also available in print)

Newly updated for 2014 – insight and advice for all the phases of Indie Publishing

 

The big things I’ve learned pertain to writing and storytelling, which of course is the whole point of all of this. I write, read novels, read books on writing, learn from podcasts and videos, write some more, repeat… and it’s thrilling, challenging and fulfilling. I’m putting together a workbook on novel writing for a class I’m going to teach this coming year. I’m really excited about it. I keep files on everything I learn about writing, and now I get to put it all together with diagrams. :)  I had some huge breakthroughs in structure this year, especially about how to up the tension and drama in a novel’s middle, and I’m eager to share that. I’m going to publish the book so people who aren’t local to take the class can also buy it.

One thing I keep in mind is that learning is a continuous, life long process. I have a thick journal where I record notes on useful writing books, videos, etc, and new things I learn. I write life posts and encouraging quotes too. It’s a fantastic way to keep all my writing notes in one place, and I can look through it to refresh what I’ve learned. It’s been one of the best things I’ve done for my writing career. Well, time to wrap up this monster post. I hope you enjoyed it and found something useful. :)

~Best wishes to all the authors out there, and thank you for blogging, sharing and encouraging other writers!

P.S. I’m a member of The Alliance of Independent Authors, which runs a series called “How I Did It,” featuring posts from many successful Indie authors. Here’s my interview:  How I Do It: Kristen James Shares The Secrets of Her Self-Publishing Success.    This group is a great resource!