January 20, 2015

Only in the movies...

Movies have always been a big part of my life. I’m the youngest of five, with my siblings ranging between five and ten years my senior. That feels like half a generation when you’re six or so. But somehow, when we would gather around that huge (the console itself, not the screen, which was actually only about 15 inches), old television set in my youngest brother’s room (where it was relegated after my parents purchased a smaller, more contemporary Zenith for the living room), the years separating us melted away.

We watched youth-oriented programming, cartoons and those silly situation comedies. Believe it or not, in the early 1960s three of the five of us were not allowed to stay up late enough to watch the #1 rated program, The Beverly Hillbillies, which came on at 9PM.

My fondest memories involved the movies we watched, those sword-and-sandal Steve Reeves epics depicting ancient Rome, Abbott and Costello comedies, and fantasy monster movies. I was enraptured by King Kong’s wild rampages, and to this day I adore Mighty Joe Young, in spite of the transparently crude special effects in the original low-budget B-picture version, and consider it to be one of the few films with an excellent remake.

Today, over 50 years later, I love to spend the early morning and afternoon hours as I work on my latest novel in front of the television screen, watching Turner Classic Movies. Over the years, I’ve noticed things that happen regularly in old movies that are highly unlikely to occur in real life, then or now. Maybe you’ll recognize a few (or share some I might have left out in the Comments):

  • People dressed in their best to go rob a bank.
  • People leave town carrying all their clothes in a single, not-very-big suitcase are then seen wearing wardrobes that can only be described as extensive.
  • Poor widows often dress in Chanel suits (most famously Lana Turner in Imitation of Life), and their one cocktail dress looks like it came straight out of that month’s Vogue.
  • The clothes that the escaped convict pulls off some stranger's clothesline are always his exact size.
  • The casts of Westerns are always remarkably clean, considering the scarcity of bathtubs at that time, and so are their clothes. And everyone’s teeth are pearly white, even if they’re always seen chewing tobacco.
  • Speaking of Westerns, funny how someone usually gets knocked through a glass window but never seems to get cut.
  • No matter what type of fall the hero takes in the fight scene, he always jumps up and keeps fighting…even if it’s six feet down landing flat on his back onto a glacier...yes, a glacier. I saw this once in a Victor Mature movie set in Montana's Glacier Park, and I howled with laughter. Anyone else would have broken their damn back.
  • When the good guy who is being wrongfully pursued has to beat it quickly the car always stalls once, twice, starting up the third time, just as they’re about to be captured.
  • A woman being chased always falls and sprain her ankle, then will have to be carried.
  • People ride with convertible tops down in the dead of winter, with neither hats blowing off nor hair moving more than a cursory half-inch.
  • Drivers look at their passenger for long stretches while talking (usually while driving said convertible), not watching the road for long stretches but never crashing.
  • Gas tanks always explode in a crash.
  • People in midtown Manhattan always find a parking spot right in front of their destination.
  • No one in midtown Manhattan ever has a hard time getting a cab.
  • People entering packed nightclubs always manage to get a choice table right up front.
  • Pretty gals in their 20s and 30s always fall for men in their 50s or 60s. (C’mon, if you looked like Audrey Hepburn, would you want Humphrey Bogart?)
  • Women always awaken with perfectly coiffed hair and in full makeup, with no blemishes.
  • Men's chests are just about always hairless.
  • The orphanage or other building is on fire with people trapped inside, and the fire department is nowhere to be found.
  • The solder in a war movie who talks about his postwar plans to marry his sweetheart, go to work at the town's mill and have a houseful of kids, etc., dies in the very next scene.
  • Anyone who coughs on film is dead two scenes later (I saw this plot device used as recently as 2007, in the movie Daddy’s Little Girls).
  • No one is ever buried on a sunny day; it’s always storming outside.
  • Golfers always have caddies, but who supplied Robin Hood with that endless supply of arrows?
See you at the movies!
October 31, 2014

Gone Blogging

I know I've been MIA...I'm feverishly working on a Christmas release that I hope will come to fruition (or else I'll hve to wait until next Christmas...not an appealing prospect). 

In the meantime, I did an interview on Cheryl Holloway's blog, talking about my writing career and my new release, Love Will Grow...hope you'll stop by! Comments are always welcome...

Back to write some more!
September 10, 2014

For Keeps by Deatri King-Bey

Got the midweek blues? Dump the doldrums and get engrossed in Deatri King-Beys latest, For Keeps!

Here’s Deatri to tell you about it. Take it away, Deatri!
In my upcoming romantic suspense, For Keeps, Gina Guy’s daughter has witnessed a murder and the murderer is after the little girl. Child Protective Services is manipulated into the picture, and Jarvis Martin, a manager within the agency, steps in to protect the Guy’s rights. From the moment Gina meets Jarvis, she feels she can depend on him, but life has proven to her that the only person she can count on is Gina. Will they be able to stop the murderer? Can Jarvis earn her trust and love?

Heavy topic for a romance, huh? I’m known for taking non-conventional characters and topics and spinning them into a romance. I like to create dialogue. The moment I released the For Keeps blurb, people started asking me where the idea came from. I’ve often said that I have voices in my head that tell me their stories, then I relay those stories to you though my books. Basically, I put my psychosis to work.

Events usually wake those voices in my head and cause them to start speaking to me. The voices from For Keeps came about as the result of two incidents. A few years back, I noticed more reports of children being murdered down here (Arizona) by abusive parents on the news. This was a very noticeable increase. There was actually an event that correlated to the increase in deaths and abuse. I can’t remember the number, but there were like 2,500 reported cases of abuse that were never investigated during that time period. Big time scandal. Lots of people fired over that.

In incident two, I know someone who was reported to CPS by the hospital she delivered her baby in because there were narcotics in the baby’s system. Actually, hospitals must report when babies are born with drugs in their system. That sounds like a good thing, right?

Well, the hospital neglected to inform CPS that the mother had been a patient in the hospital and administered the narcotic by the nurses. The mother didn’t even realize what they were giving her was a narcotic until after CPS contacted her and told them they’d be taking her child from her for him testing positive for narcotics.  This mother went into a panic. She did everything her CPS case manager asked for, but CPS didn’t do their part. Then the case manager’s boss came into the picture and took steps to take this child away from the mother. It got really ugly.

To make a long story short, the original case manager came back into the picture and stopped the insanity. Had it not been for that case manager, this woman’s child would have been taken from her even though the hospital had supplied the paperwork requested by CPS. Sounds crazy, huh? Yeah, I couldn’t believe what was happening as it unfolded.

These incidents breathed life into Gina and Jarvis. There are good parents caught up in the system every day. There are bad parents that children need to be protected from. There are bad case managers and there are good case managers.

I don’t know, this seemed like the perfect backdrop for a romantic suspense. Next thing you know, Gina and Jarvis were telling me their story. I hope you enjoy For Keeps. This title is now available in Print, Kindle, Nook and ePub (via Barnes & Noble) formats. You can read the first chapter here.

Bettye, thank you for giving me the opportunity to share For Keeps. I appreciate it and you.

Youre so welcome, Deatri! Sounds like my kinda book. I love stories where characters fall in love under unusual circumstances. Readers, youre in for a treat!

September 5, 2014

Cover Reveal and Excerpt

At long last, Love Will Grow is finally complete. It's being edited right now. I haven't assigned a release date yet, but it will probably be around the end of this month or perhaps early in October. If there's one thing I've learned since being an indie writer, it's not to be so quick to hit the Publish button; take your time and do it right.

First, the cover:

If this looks familiar, it's because this is part of my Love Will series. This is the final book; the earlier titles are Lost That Lovin' Feeling (a short prequel) and the novel Love Will Follow. For the convenience of those who might have missed any of these prior studies, I'll be offering a bundle with all three titles at a savings. For those of you who've read the other books, I'll be offering Love Will Grow on pre-order on Amazon for $2.99...the price will go up to $3.99 on the release date, so you'll save by pre-ordering. If you need a PDF or an EPUB, those will be available at my eStore at an even sweeter deal!

In the meantime, here's an excerpt for you. Enjoy!

Nylah got out of the car, slammed the door shut, then hurried inside the small post office branch on her route home. A small, one-person post office, it closed at 5:30. It was now 5:24, but she still had time to buy stamps, get the envelope containing her rebate date stamped, and get to Dillon’s daycare by six.

She held the door of the post office open for a slow-moving elderly gentleman, who thanked her profusely in a voice creaking with age. When she went to pull the envelope out of her purse, she realized she’d left it sitting on the passenger seat of the car. She cursed under her breath as she rushed back outside to retrieve it. As she did, she noticed an old Ford Taurus pull into the parking lot.

It only took a few seconds to get the envelope. She rushed back toward the post office entrance.

“Hello, Ms. Taylor.”

Turning sharply at the sound of her name, Nylah found herself looking dead into the eyes of Detective Marc Samuels. She felt her jaws tighten, then forced herself to relax her expression. She’d been contacted by his partner, Detective Sayegh, last week. They planned to charge the already imprisoned woman with identity theft upon her release. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, she had claimed innocence, and they were unable to get her to confess having known anything at all about Dillon’s personal information, much less giving or selling it to anyone. Detective Sayegh told Nylah that they would try again when she was released from prison, offering to reduce the charges against her in exchange for names of her clients and/or partners. He told her that people’s memories often improved once they were arrested.

At least she knew who was responsible for what happened, even if nothing ever became of it. That part of the nightmare was over, and the detectives on the case, John Sayegh and Marc Samuels, had been the ones to solve it. So what if Marc had been inconsiderate with his questions about Dillon and had stepped into matters that shouldn’t concern him when suggesting that she tell Dillon about his birth parents. His apology in the hospital cafeteria had felt genuine. The least she could do was be civil to him.

“Detective,” she said with a curt nod. “You’ll have to excuse me. They’re going to be closing at any moment.” Once more she rushed toward the entrance.

He was behind her in an instant, reaching forward to open the door for her. “Thank you,” she tossed over her shoulder.

“You’re welcome.” Marc inadvertently licked his lips. Nylah Taylor was, in the words of a sexy jazz tune by Harry Connick Jr., one fine thing. It still distressed him to have clashed with her, not once, but twice. He’d like nothing more than to get another chance with her, especially now that the perpetrator of Dillon’s identity theft was now in the hands of the justice system, delayed as it would be. He didn’t often meet a woman who piqued his interest in the way Nylah had. As he watched her make a purchase, then step aside with her change in hand, he decided to go for it. He moved up to the counter, barely a foot away from her as she put her change away. The clerk gestured to him that he’d be with him in just a moment. That was even better. He’d prefer not to have an audience, and the only other person present was an elderly man who was handling some sort of paperwork at a rear counter. “Ms. Taylor, do you think I could speak with you for just a moment?”

He was pleased when she actually smiled at him. “I’m terribly sorry, but I have to pick up Dillon at his daycare by six o’clock at the latest. I’m already in trouble with the management. They’re threatening to terminate his enrollment because I’ve been late several times recently. So I’m afraid I have to run.” She gathered her change purse and wallet and returned them to her handbag, which she slid onto her shoulder. “Take care.”

Marc knew better than to ask if he could call her. He wasn’t sure whether or not she was brushing him off, but he wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. She seemed sincere enough, and she’d even given him one of her beautiful smiles. He imagined the two of them sitting over a candlelit dinner in a romantic restaurant, a smile on her lips and a sparkle in her eyes.

“A book of stamps, please,” he said to the clerk, who had returned.

Nylah’s voice rang out, sounding more than a little distressed. “Excuse me. Can you let me out, please? This door is locked.”

“That’s because it’s past five-thirty,” the clerk replied. “Because I’m the only one here, I have to take care of the remaining customers, and you’ll all have to leave at the same time.” He handed Marc his change and receipt. “Thank you, sir.”

“But I have to be somewhere in a few minutes!”

One look at Nylah’s agitated expression, and Marc knew she hadn’t been kidding about needing to pick up Dillon on time. Apparently when the clerk excused himself, he’d gone to lock the door. He’d been so busy talking to Nylah he hadn’t noticed.

Damn, he must really be taken with her. Rarely did he find himself unaware of what was going on around him. In his profession such inattentiveness could be dangerous.

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” the clerk said apologetically. “If I let out each customer one at a time, I’d never get out of here. But there’s only one customer left.”

Marc’s eyes immediately went to the elderly man who was shuffling forward. Instinctively he knew the clerk’s final transaction of the day would be no quick matter, as his and Nylah’s business had been.

He approached Nylah, who appeared to be hyperventilating as she watched the old man pull out a list. “Oh, my God,” she whispered, though not necessarily to him—he wasn’t sure she even saw him. “He’s getting money orders. More than one, if those envelopes are all bills.” She looked as if she was about to cry. “I’ll never get to Merrillville in time.”

Standing beside her, Marc decided to make his presence known. “It looks like we’re stuck for the duration…like being in a traffic jam.”

She looked at him as if noticing him for the first time. The despair in her eyes turned into hope as she asked, “Can’t you do something?”

“Me? What could I possibly do?”

“You’re a law enforcement officer. Flash your badge and demand he let us out of here.”

He shook his head. “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Ms. Taylor. I work for the city of Gary. The post office is a federal jurisdiction. I’m not authorized to interfere in their business.”

“But you’d have to if it was an emergency.”

“Wrong again. I’m officially off-duty. That could easily be proven, and I’d be in a heap of trouble.” Watching her shoulders slump in defeat, it was all Marc could do not to pull her in his arms and comfort her. “I’m sorry, Nylah,” he said, unconsciously addressing her by her first name. “I hope you know I would help you if I could.”

She let out a vexed-sounding breath. “I guess the only way you can help me now is to recommend the second-best daycare center in Merrillville, since Dillon is about to be thrown out of the best one.”

“I’m afraid I can’t help you with that, either. I live in Merrillville, too, but I don’t have any children.” He hoped she would find those two points of personal information he’d purposely dropped about himself interesting, even as he told himself she was much too preoccupied with her current dilemma to take much notice.

Marc knew that if he could somehow get her to the daycare before they closed, not only would he score big points with her, but she’d look at him through new eyes…He’d actually be her hero, having saved the day. Using his detective’s logic, an idea began to form. He’d make the most of this golden opportunity. The police brass wouldn’t care for it much, but the more he thought about it, the more he liked it.

“I don’t think it’s a lost cause,” he remarked. “At least not yet.”

Once more Nylah’s eyes widened with hope. “What do you mean?”

“I’m off-duty, but I usually bring my vehicle home with me. It does have a siren.” He gave her a meaningful look.

Her eyes grew even wider. “You mean…”

Marc casually glanced at his watch. “If you’re willing to ride with me, I’ll turn on the siren. That’ll get us there on time, and of course after you get Dillon I’ll bring the two of you back here to get your car.”

She relaxed visibly. “That’s awfully generous of you, Detective. I accept.”

“I’ll do it on one condition.”

Her eyes narrowed in suspicion. “And what’s that?”
With a smile as bright as the rays from the fading sun, he said, “That you call me Marc.”
Love Will Grow, Coming soon!
August 25, 2014

So that's it!

I always felt uncomfortable calling payments from online retailers a royalty (I usually say "my cut" vs. "Amazon's cut," "Barnes & Noble's cut," etc.  When it came to explaining why, I couldn't explain it, but something told me that the term "royalty" didn't fit.

While reading Hugh Howey's blog yesterday, I saw that he addressed this, and suddenly I knew why that term never felt right to me.  This is what Hugh said:

"When they’re called royalties, the 70% seems exceedingly generous. Because publishers pay a lot less. But publishers provide other services, like editing and cover art. We are handing you a finished product. As a distribution fee, you taking 30% (plus more for delivery fees) sounds less crazy-generous. It seems downright reasonable, in fact."

For the rest of his blog entry, in which he makes some suggestions to Amazon, you can read it here.

Thanks, Hugh.
August 15, 2014

Who's Got the Button?
Amazon Does...at Last

I have been writing to Amazon for over a year, asking them to allow indie authors to offer pre-orders on their books. I pointed out to them that requiring a manuscript upload ahead of time will eliminate the possibility of overeager authors promising and then not delivering...and I'm sure I wasn't the only one making that request. I'm delighted that Amazon announced yesterday that this feature is now available to everyone, not just a select few with very high to spectacularly high sales (including my friend, bestselling author Angie Daniels).

Surprisingly, there is no requirement to enroll the pre-ordered book in KDP Select (although I wouldn't be surprised if this changed later down the road...nothing to back this up; it's just a hunch).

There's quite a discussion going on over at the Kboards about this. Some authors who had the ability to do this in the past expressed unhappiness that their rankings on release day weren't as high as they would have been had they not had pre-order buttons. Apparently, Amazon doesn't count pre-orders when determining release day rank, only pre-release rank, something that I can't say concerns me...low rankings definitely look better than high ones, but at this point in my life as I look toward retirement, my biggest concern is what goes in my pocket, not appearances. For this reason I've always tried to steer readers toward my eStore since its inception (because I make more money from those sales).

At this point, I'm unsure how my eStore and its customers will fit into this, but I'm thrilled about being able to have an official sale date, which I feel is more professional than uploading when the book is ready (kind of a now-you-see-it approach) and then announcing its availability, or announcing a pub date ahead of time and having to upload 2 or 3 days earlier to make sure it's available...if the actual date of publication doesn't match the one announced, what's the point? (Yes, I know that bookstores often put books on sale prior to the official pub date, but eBooks are not downloadable until the sell date). Coming as I do from the traditional publishing world, I like the idea of setting a pub date for an eBook ahead of time and having it become available for download on that date, not earlier.

Amazon had my jaws tight when they would always backdate my requested publication date when uploading a new book. They could never give me a clear answer when I asked them why they persisted in doing this. At one point they did tell me that if I downloaded after midnight Pacific Time (where they're located) the dates would match. I tried this, and they still backdated it. Granted, this isn't really a big to-do in the grand scheme of things, but it irked me just the same. I felt as though this was their way of sticking it to indie authors. In the end, I simply went in after publication and fixed the pub date to what it was supposed to be, and I announced to my readers that guaranteed availability would be at my eStore, with Amazon coming "shortly." 

(Barnes & Noble is a different story; I've found it usually takes 3 to 4 days of back-and-forth emails with them complaining about this or that--and many times this and that--to publish a single eBook with them. As a result, very few of my books are available at that retailer anymore...when I switched to an LLC business model at the beginning of this year they required me to take my books down and re-load them under the new account, and I haven't been able to carve out time to spend 3 to 4 days per book for 14 indie titles. I uploaded one book and was exhausted by the process. I don't neglect Nook owners or anyone else needing an EPUB format, though; they can get these at my eStore.) 

The possibilities for fast writers who release books or novellas in rapid succession are especially bright. Writers like my friend Angelia Vernon Menchan, who writes serial fiction, have the option of timing their pub dates to allow pre-order buttons for the next book or segment. I'm neither fast nor write serials, but I've had success with releasing prequels, the strength of which has made many readers want to know what comes next, so they bought the main story. Being able to include a pre-order link should be very good for business. Pre-orders can be placed as far out as 90 days (since the final version must be uploaded 10 days before the chosen pub date, that would likely be the minimum). I'm leaning toward a 3- to 4-week window for my own prequel-to-full-book releases, with a longer timeframe for a full-length book following a related or series full-length book.

Since this option isn't handcuffed to being in Select, it's also handy for coordination purposes, since some authors already do pre-orders on Barnes & Noble and Apple via Smashwords and now can schedule release dates for the same day, depending on the vendor.

Some authors don't like the idea of waiting, not even 10 days, to make a book available if it's ready to be uploaded. I've long since thought of my books like movies, which are in the can long before they're released, certainly more than a few weeks. Trailers get shown in theaters a few months prior to the opening, and as opening day approaches, television commercials start to air.  By the time the film opens, the actors, producers, director, and other personnel have moved on to their next movie...just as a writer can have their next book partially or completely written. Again, this is probably the traditional author in me, since books are submitted for the production process (editing, cover design, etc.) well before the publication date, by which I have often submitted the manuscript for my next book. There's not a right or wrong way to roll out a book, as long as the book isn't published before it's ready.

There are still some unanswered questions...like, is it possible to offer a lower price for pre-orders and then jump to the regular price on release day? I've long felt it made sense to initially offer a new book at a lower price, so if I choose to put it on sale a few months later I can do so without feeling my core readers--the ones who buy upon publication and get me on Top 100 lists--are being cheated.

Like anything else, it will be up to every individual writer to decide whether this will be beneficial for them. I would, however, encourage writers not to use this option unless their book is 75% ready for publication. While it is possible to change the pub date after enrolling in pre-order, this won't exactly endear you to readers. Neither will having the pre-order canceled (which is what Amazon will do to authors who are unable to deliver a final manuscript 10 days before the pub date). 

It's all rather exciting, waiting to see how this will pan out. Happy Sales to You! 
July 23, 2014

Edit hell

When I wrote for traditional publishers, I had deadlines in order to comply with their production schedules. As an indie author, I try to do the same thing, although I do relax it a little...let's face it, the sky isn't going to fall if I don't have it done by X date when I'm my own publisher, but trying to adhere with a schedule helps keep me on track.

After I finish the basics of the story, I print it out and the "fun" starts (yes, I'm being sarcastic). By "fun," I mean doing pre-editor self-edits, which is more than just searching for typos. It's revising and polishing the story, which includes:

  • Eliminating any conflicting information, you know, when the heroine first has short hair and then long or when the hero first drives an SUV and later has a motorcycle.
  • Adding in physical characteristics of the major characters so the readers can visualize them as they read.
  • Making sure the story flows smoothly.
  • Looking for any unexplained or out-of-character actions on the part of my characters. Readers should have a good understanding of what the characters' motivations are.
  • Inserting a sense of setting.  For sections beginning with a conversation, readers have to know where it's taking place...on the phone, at someone's house, at a restaurant, in a car, etc.
  • Making sure character movements are smooth and natural. Ever read a book where the character is in one room and then mysteriously changes location to another room, in the same scene?  I find myself still thinking about a scene I just edited, which was particularly tricky. The heroine wasn't fond of the hero, whom she regarded as insensitive because of the way they butted heads at their first two encounters (other than an annoying, continuous observation of how handsome he is) and then he does her a huge favor, at which time she started looking at him through new eyes. To thank him, she invites him to join her and her son for dinner at their home (because the hero is a police detective, she feels confident he's not a serial killer). It occurred to me that I didn't include enough about his appearance. As a detective, he would be wearing a suit and tie. I had him removing his coat while the heroine excuses herself to change clothes, but what about his suit jacket? What about the holster he undoubtedly carries? I'll be going back and showing him removing both when he offers to assist the heroine with food preparation, and while I'm at it I'll have him loosen his tie and unbutton his collar, because those are both natural actions for a man to take.
  • Inserting all five senses. There's more to telling a story than visualizing it. Sounds, smells, textures, and tastes make the story come alive and should be mentioned.
  • Eliminate the nonsensical. I usually do this when I'm outlining the story (you can't have a secret baby story set in a small town where no one suspects, even the baby daddy's own mother), but sometimes thing slip through that need complete rewriting.
  • Timelines. I feel cheated whenever I read a book in which a timeline error renders the entire story impossible, or leads me down the wrong path if it's a mystery or suspense. I recently finished a novel in which friends of the heroine who are a few years her senior were in eighth grade in 2004. There's no way she, two or three years younger, could possibly be 29 years old in 2014, or that her friends could be in their early 30s in 2014. Remarkably, I seem to be the only one out of hundreds of reviewers who noticed this. 
  • Filling in the information I glossed over with a note to myself (which usually requires research I didn't want to stop writing to do).
  • Word repetition. It's amazing how many times I can use a single word within the same sentence.
  • Making sure loose ends are tied. All questions should be answered by the end of the book.

I call these "ruthless red pen edits," because I use a red pen to mark the manuscript and also add extra pages when necessary (I'm cheap, so I print on both sides of the paper, and since I format for eBook rather than traditional manuscript style, there's not a lot of extra space on the page). When I do all this, I guarantee that I'm submitting my best work to my editor, which in turn makes her job easier (and her fee less, since many editors charge based on the amount of work a manuscript needs)...but it's tedious work and often slow going. Nor will the manuscript be in perfect shape; my editor will still find plenty of things that need fixing (albeit small items like using the wrong character name--a particular weakness of mine that I can never seem to catch every time--or the wrong word or repairing my punctuation, not major plot holes). This is not being obsessive; these are the necessary steps to produce a book. Writing isn't always fun.

What do you do when you finish a manuscript? Do you do self-edits, do a quick read-through, or just submit it directly to your editor?