Archive for April 2015 | Monthly archive page
In:authors, blog post, contemporary romance, From the Editor's Desk, Lachesis Blog, paranormal, paranormal romance, Promoting Your Book, promoting your books, reader appreciation, romance fiction, So You want to be a bestselling ?, So you want to be a bestselling author?, Street Teams
So how do you get a bunch of readers to help you promote and sell your books? By starting your own Street Team! Street Teams have become a dynamic and important way for authors to connect with fans and build readership. Street Teams are able to reach out to potential readers to help boost sales of new releases and help generate sales for older releases as well. And they are lots of fun! Bestselling authors Ashlyn Chase, Michelle Pillow and Zoe York all have their own Street Teams. They join us today for a special Q and A:
How did you start your Street Team?
Ashlyn Chase: I put out a call on my facebook fan page as well as my yahoo fan group. My original intention was to have 50 members, one in each state. Well, I have 50 members and about 45 states represented. A few states have 2 members. I just couldn’t find a fan in the Dakotas, Montana, Minnesota, or New Mexico.
Michelle Pillow: I think of it more as a reader group rather than a street team because first and foremost they are my readers. I started it because I wanted a place where my readers could gather and ask/answer questions, as well as get access to my latest news and coverart, and help spread the word on social media.
Zoe York: I’m a big believer in the maxim, “build it and they will come”, so I started a so-called “street team” on Facebook soon after I published my first book, long before I had any fans. It’s grown passively from there. One of my favourite things to tell new authors is that for six months, my FB reader group only had six people in it: me, my critique partner, my sister, two early fans from Goodreads, and my Uncle Matt.
What is your Street Team called?
Ashlyn Chase: Ashlyn Chase Champions
Michelle Pillow: The Pillow Fighters
Zoe York: The Wardham Ambassadors, after my first series.
What do you do for your Street Team?
Ashlyn Chase: I send them physical promos to hand out and books to review (if they’re willing.) I hold a contest during promo heavy months on the 15th of that month for a $15 gift card. I also send each member a holiday card and gift each year.
Michelle Pillow: I host exclusive contests. Sometimes they get access to the ARC of a book that has yet to release.
Zoe York: I give them sneak peeks into upcoming books, often sharing excerpts as I write and exclusive inspiration pictures. I also give them first dibs on Advance Review Copies (ARCs) of my upcoming releases.
What does your Street Team do for you?
Ashlyn Chase: I ask for tweets, facebook and other social media shares when I have something new to promote. Some members review my books and post those reviews on their blogs or review sites. They all hand out my promos and talk up my books.
Michelle Pillow: They spread the word about my books on social media. They can answer questions for other readers regarding series orders, or about something I posted that another reader might have missed. They also like to give me feedback about which stories they want me working on. But, most of all, their enthusiasm and support is what makes my job awesome.
Zoe York: The ones who get review copies are great about leaving honest reviews on release day, and the whole group is an amazing cheerleading support as I write.
What are the pros of having a Street Team?
Ashlyn Chase: Besides the (hopefully) increased sales, I like knowing my die-hard fans. I give them a little more personal glimpse into my life and career and let them know me a little better too. Some of us have become dear friends.
Michelle Pillow: Exposure to your author brand.
Zoe York: Direct access to my best readers – I can poll them for future book ideas, run giveaways, and share review copies, all in one place.
What are the cons to having a Street Team?
Ashlyn Chase: Other than the cost of postage, I can’t think of much. I guess there are risks, although I haven’t experienced any (that I know of.) There’s always the chance of piracy with any advanced review copy, or being taken advantage of in other ways. But I can’t imagine why anyone would join a street team if they didn’t want to help the author.
Michelle Pillow: The time involved. If you have an active group, it’s a lot of catching up on posts if you are gone for a day.
Zoe York: I worry about over-eager marketing pushes, but so far that’s a hypothetical con. It seems like all of my Wardham Ambassadors get the chill vibe I project and keep the action at the review level.
What was your most successful Street Team event or promotion?
Ashlyn Chase: It’s hard to say. One of my street teamers has a regular booth at a swap meet and her local Comicon and offers my promos to thousands of attendees.
Michelle Pillow: Driving reviews to vendor sites.
Zoe York: I did a giveaway within the group in November that was a big hit—they got an entry for every review they left. I gave away paperbacks and mini swag packs, which they loved, and I got a bunch of new reviews from the people who’d fallen behind on their review posting. I’ll definitely do that again in the spring.
How much time out of your day does it take to manage your Street Team?
Ashlyn Chase: Very little “management” happens in my life. LOL During release months I post to our secret facebook group, asking for social media shares. I have the whole 50 in a group email list and send out news of a galley for them to review or new promos just in. I don’t assume everyone has time to do everything, so the biggest part of my ‘management’ is keeping track of who wants to do what at any given time.
Michelle Pillow: An active group is a good thing. It also is a time consuming thing. I peek in all day long if I can. I also have a couple of moderators in there to help and who can give me a heads up if I miss anything.
Zoe York: Not much at all, because it’s more of a reader group, so it’s no different than responding to emails or liking posts on my FB page. It’s part of my Facebook routine. I don’t have to create any content for the group, either – I share bits when it occurs to me, not at a regular interval.
How has your Street Team impacted your sales?
Ashlyn Chase: It’s really hard to say. I wish I knew.
Michelle Pillow: Any time you have people out there talking positively about your books and spreading the word, it’s a good thing. Mine is still new, but so far the reader group has been great for exposure
Zoe York: Hard to say . . . their biggest impact has really been the moral support they give me when I’m writing. They cheer me on and motivate me to put in a full day’s work to get the book to them faster.
For an author, just getting started – what advice can you give her/him about starting a Street Team?
Ashlyn Chase: I’d say decide on the number of members you can handle and start small. At some point you may lose one or two who become too busy, but you’ll gain ten times more every time you put out the call for new members. Say you have ‘openings’. I keep a waiting list when I put out the call and get more volunteers than I have openings.
Michelle Pillow: Know going in that there can be a lot of administrative work. Facebook groups can be very active, and that’s a good thing. However, when you’re on deadline it can also be a very hard thing to keep up with. Think about asking a few dedicated readers that you trust to act like moderators. Or hire a Virtual Assistant.
Zoe York: Create the placeholder group right away. Your very first reader might be a superfan. Or you might be like me and wait six months until it starts to grow. But no one is going to judge you for having a quiet group! No one will even notice. So set it up, and be ready for that first superfan. They’ll probably bring a few friends.
Ashlyn Chase is a best selling author who writes funny and sexy, light paranormal romances and erotic romances.
Michelle Pillow is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of futuristic shape shifter romances and dark paranormal romances
Zoe York is a New York Times and USA Today best selling author who writes sexy, small town, contemporary romances
Everybody has a different picture of what a kick ass fight scene should entail in a story. Some writers prefer the battle-of-wits with dialogue and action, others prefer the quick fights where the characters just get down to business, some dig the tension more than the result of the fight itself and other writers love the brutal knockdown, drag out brawls (my personal favorite) where the fighters speak with their fists. These can all be kickass in their own way. How a character reacts when they bleed is at least as important as how they react in a conversation.
Here are a few tips that I follow when writing my own fight scenes:
Know Your Character – In my opinion, this is the most important thing to have a good handle on before you put a character into a fight scene. Know who your character is and what they have in their internal arsenal. Is your character formally trained? Is he or she a boxer or martial artist or are they an untrained file clerk? Are they a pacifist? What fears do they have? Certain people will have limitations (if you’re wanting a believable reaction). If your character has a fear of drowning, fighting in the water is going to bring about a whole new tier of challenges for them to overcome. A file clerk with no formal fight training isn’t going to know how to execute a flying arm bar or how to perform a proper inside crescent kick, they’re going to grab for any weapon in reach and swing it until they win or lose. Your character’s personality is something to really pay attention to because it will dictate HOW they fight. In my urban fantasy novel, Ghosts of Glory, my main character, Jersey Romero, is someone who has a grim outlook on the human condition and people in general. He’s killed and has almost been killed. That changes you. He’s seen the worst humanity has to offer and is ready to meet it with the worst he has to offer. He grew up on the streets and in prison and that colored his no mercy fighting style. Know who your character is beneath the skin.
Environment – Where the fight is taking place is just as important as why the fight is taking place. The place in which these characters are battling may have major significance to the story or maybe it’s just a dynamic location for two people to kick the tar out of one another. Either one is okay! Setting can be its own character. Also, two people duking it out in an empty room is all well and good, they have their bodies as weapons—but what if said room was a kitchen? There are lots of potential weapons to grab in a kitchen. There is something poetic about using a George Foreman grill to pummel your enemy, don’t you think? Better yet, what if your characters are fighting in an office supply warehouse or a weight room? Again, LOTS of fun and deadly items to be utilized as weapons. Two people pummeling each other with fists is one thing, but when one picks up an aluminum book end and the other grabs a croquet mallet, now you’ve got yourself a kickass donnybrook.
Musical Mayhem – For me, this is a must when I’m writing a fight scene. Put on something that caters to the violence that is about to ensue. My go to music is heavy metal or hard rock (but I suppose there could be something entertaining about people brawling to the harmonious sounds of Enya). As we all know, music feeds emotion. There are rampant emotions circling your characters before, during and after a fight. Decide what those emotions are. Does your character have pure hatred for their enemy or are they overwhelmed by melancholy at having to battle said opponent? I find that choosing songs that mirror what you’re trying to convey will help the writing flow. Mood music for the mayhem! You want something that is going to reinforce the emotions in the scene. Basically, if the music kicks ass, it should help translate to the fight scene.
Dialogue – Don’t skip the dialogue. You can add a whole other level of sinister and kickass to a fight with a few simple words from your protagonist or antagonist’s mouth. Friends talk.
Enemies trash-talk. Especially friends and enemies who have a history. Even if it’s just to call each other names or to mock one another, don’t skip the banter. Now I’m not saying throw curse words out randomly, but pick your insults. If your main character’s sister was murdered by the person he/she are about to fight, the ‘bad guy’ is probably going to quip about it to throw the hero/heroine off balance. The important thing to remember is that unless your main character is just beating up goons, they’re probably fighting someone they have a connection with in the story. Whether it is a mortal enemy, a former friend, an evil sibling, or God forbid, a maniacal robot lizard, they’re going to say something to one another—unless one of your characters is a mime, which in that case, I can’t help you. They’re probably silent, but deadly.
Morgan Chalfant is a native of Hill City, Kansas. He received his Bachelor’s degree in writing and his Master’s degree in literature from Fort Hays State University, where he now teaches writing.
I always loved writing stories, but in junior high I told my English teacher (Hi, Mrs. Pratt!) that I was going to write a book and get it published. She would let me use the computer if I got my homework done in class where I wrote a 58 page sequel to Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six (it was a little shorter than the original).
Describe your favourite place to write.
Lately, it’s been sitting in the cab of my pickup out at the old baseball field on the edge of town. Hardly anyone is out there anymore. It’s just me and the trees and the wind and my imagination—so I sit with the windows rolled down, my music playing and scribble long hand in my notebook.
What would I find on your desk at this very moment?
At the moment I’m writing this, there is a tin of Cthulhu Mints (I think Lovecraft would approve), a Magic 8 Ball that perpetually gives me bad advice, an Eric Hosmer Bobblehead I got at a Kansas City Royals baseball game, and a quote from writer Terry Goodkind taped to my computer that reads: “Be not afraid of greatness.”
What is your tea/coffee beverage of choice when you’re writing?
I’ve never drank coffee (I even worked in a coffee shop once). My go to beverage is probably an energy drink or water.
I love Robert E. Howard’s Conan series and his poetry. I’ve been a fan of his writing since a professor of mine introduced me to his work freshman year of college (Thanks, Dr. Will). Richard Kadrey, author of the Sandman Slim series currently has me hooked. I fully maintain Stephen King’s The Long Walk is one of the best horror/suspense novels of all time. Clive Barker is a go-to author for me. Barker’s The Thief of Always is something I find myself constantly coming back to. I’m big into graphic novels like James O’Barr’s The Crow and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, as well as the comic book world too. I’m all over the place in regards to genres.
What is some good advice you can give to an unpublished writer?
WRITE. Write your story, then go looking for the right place to publish it. Don’t do it the other way around. If it’s a good story, someone will listen. It might take a while, but someone will eventually listen.
What do you do after you finish a book? Do you celebrate or take a nap?
Honestly, I don’t know that I have a set routine after finishing a book other than one big sigh of satisfaction. It’s my soul saying, “Even if this is terrible, at least it is finished.”
I think it’s the concept that really nothing is off limits if you can figure out an effective way to do it. Mythology, demonology and supernatural lore have always been hobbies of mine so it seemed like the urban fantasy genre and I were destined to clash eventually. Jersey “The Brawler” Romero, one of my favorite characters I’ve written, seemed like the perfect candidate to be thrust into a world where creatures of imagination aren’t so imaginary—because he has a better than average chance of surviving. My city, Glory, is a dark and twisted place, which is exciting to explore in and of itself, but even more so when you add a fantasy element—you begin to realize dark and twisted doesn’t repel some people, it attracts them.
Your debut book with Lachesis Publishing is Ghosts of Glory. Tell us about it?
It’s about a man seeking redemption in a city that he is intimately linked with, a city that begins to become decidedly unfamiliar when he starts seeing all of the ugly-nasties lurking just behind the veil of human perception.
What are you working on next?
I’m working on a sequel to Ghosts of Glory and I have another side project I’m working on as well that is a little more post-apocalyptic. I’ve also come back to writing more poetry after a bit of a break.
Morgan Chalfant is a native of Hill City, Kansas. He received his Bachelor’s degree in writing and his Master’s degree in literature from Fort Hays State University, where he now teaches writing.
What It’s About:
Jersey “The Brawler” Romero is dying. Slowly. Tediously. Not the way he thought he would go out on the savage streets of Glory, the Twilight City. But all of that is about to change when Jersey is granted his youth again by a messenger of the Twilight Goddess, the Spirit of Glory. He’s also given a mission: save Glory from the dark forces that are bent on destroying her.
Jersey’s been a fighter his whole life, whether it was on the streets where he struggled to survive, or in prison where he fought to stay alive. Glory never gave him anything without a battle, and that’s what he’s always loved about his beloved city. But nothing has prepared him for the war that’s coming. Monster-like creatures masked as humans are bent on exterminating him. Their leader is a mysterious man named Templar. He’s been amassing an underground army called The Black Crux. Templar wants to make Glory his, by laying waste to everyone who stands in his way. Possessing an almost otherworldly vision, Templar knows everything about Jersey, including an explosive secret that will blast away everything Jersey has ever believed.
But Jersey isn’t called “The Brawler” for nothing. He’s determined to fight Templar with everything he’s got. Because he’s not just fighting for his life, he’s fighting for Glory’s very soul.
READ AN EXCERPT:
We’re standing on the roof of Skript and Abigail hasn’t said a word in five minutes. She dragged me up here with such urgency, I figured the show would have started by now.
Sitting down in a damp lawn chair, I wait. Patience and I have nothing to say to each other, but Abigail has me intrigued so I let her have all the time she needs. It’s not easy opening up doors that have been locked for so long, especially to strangers. If that’s what we still were. Maybe strange acquaintance is a better term.
The view from the rooftop is actually quite beautiful. Rarely can the word beauty describe Glory. What little good happens to someone here, happens at the expense of someone else’s pain. Surprisingly, the night is peaceful. It’s never peaceful in Glory, so there’s obviously something off, but I don’t have the time nor the inclination to worry about it at the moment. It’s just the cone of silence. The calm before the storm. Strangely, I’m the calm. Abigail is the surging storm.
My eyes fall from the billions of firefly buildings to a sight more pleasing. Abigail stands looking up at the moon. It’s a waxing half-moon, but there’s still enough light for decent visibility. I watch her take off her leather jacket and pull off the gloves and drop them at her feet. Before my eyes, strange symbols begin to appear on her forearms and hands. The spaghetti strap top she’s wearing leaves much of her neck visible where more symbols begin to shimmer. Spiral patterns. They resemble some sort of tribal ink, but they begin to glow like lanterns in the dark. It’s an eerie, beautiful blue light. Cerulean, turquoise, and sapphire.
I stand up and move closer as Abigail turns around. I can see her face now. The incandescent markings have spiraled up her cheeks, climbing like staircases up to her eyes. Both her eyes shimmer inhumanly, one golden amber, the other a pool of twinkling emerald. Her breathing is erratic, she shakes, like she’s frightened I’m going to run away or grimace at the sight of her.
“Th-this . . . is me.” She stutters. “What . . . what I was talking about.”
Before I know it, she’s reaching for her jacket to cover herself. I spring forward and stop her, grasping her firmly by the shoulders. She looks up at me like she’s a monster that should be cowering in darkness. She won’t look at me. I can’t help but wonder who ever looked at her and cringed. Who made her feel so malformed? It’s perfectly clear to me she’s not the abomination she considers herself to be. She’s the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen. It’s not every day a street devil like me gets to behold a shimmering angel.
I move my hands to her cheeks, rubbing my thumbs over the glittering markings. There’s no textural difference. Her skin is as soft as cashmere. Her radiance is overwhelming. Her glow envelops me.
“My God,” I whisper. “You’re beautiful.”
J.D. Spikes. JD is a paranormal romance author and a YA paranormal author. J.D. has two titles with Lachesis: A paranormal romance story in the Sisters of Spirit anthology and the YA paranormal The Possession. JD is also a paranormal investigator. This is her story . . .
The creak of wood, a door not squarely hung that swings open – or closed – if left at the right angle, the bang of a pipe when the oil burner starts. These are sounds we generally recognize in the house where we live. Even if we wake in the night and it gives us pause, our brain searches its files and quickly matches the sound to the familiar, allowing us to drift back off to sleep.
Then there is a step on the stair, a latch that clicks open, the slow swing of a door into the room. Phenomena occurring in broad daylight when you’re wide awake. The familiar on its ear, no way to explain.
This happened to me, now almost twenty-five years ago but as fresh and real in my mind as the day it occurred. Let me tell you a ghost story.
Summer Sundays, particularly back then, were cookout days. We would gather at my mom’s house, my aunt and uncle who lived next door would come outside and join us. The kids were little and full of energy. We would prep everything, light the grill, and have a wonderful afternoon. My dad had passed away unexpectedly the previous December, and we were still raw with grief. Sundays were a time to be with each other and with my mom for mutual support.
This particular Sunday we had finished eating but were still around the table, picking at leftovers, my aunt and I laughing about how we’d still be ready for dessert when the time came. Right about then I noticed the kids’ juice was gone so I excused myself and headed into the house.
Once in my mother’s kitchen, in the very same house we had moved to when I was two years old, the house I had lived in for most of my life, I stood at the counter and let my smile slide away. While these family gatherings were a healing salve, they were also a sharp reminder that my dad was gone. I looked around the large kitchen and tears sprang to my eyes. “I miss you, Dad. So, so much,” I whispered into the empty room.
Crossing to the sink, I looked out the picture window at the family picnic scene and knew I needed to return to the cookout, to the sunshine and the laughter. I needed to shake this melancholy that had settled over me and rejoin my family, my children.
I grabbed some juice and turned to go. That’s when I heard it: the creak of footsteps climbing the cellar stairs. The distinctive sound of my dad coming up from his workspace. The sound, the impression of weight on the stairs, was so real I turned in anticipation, ready to greet him.
But my dad was dead. Heart galloping, I stared at the closed door and wondered wildly what would happen if I raced over there and yanked it open? My feet weren’t inclined to follow my brain’s lead but it didn’t matter.
Click. The latch released as though the doorknob had been turned. The cellar door swung open.
No one was there.
Swallowing the dryness from my mouth, I forced myself across the kitchen to the top of the stairs. Hand on the doorknob, I called softly, “Dad?”
The silence held. The moment passed, though the dark of the basement at the base of the stairs chased a shiver up my spine and I shoved the door closed. As quickly as I could, I snatched up the juice and bolted from the house. It took days to speak about it to my husband, longer before I was comfortable telling anyone else. And some never ever speak of such experiences at all.
Almost every person I’ve ever met who is involved in one way or another with paranormal investigation has had, or knows someone close to them who has had, an ‘experience’. An event for which there seems no rational explanation, but that is so real to the person who experiences it that it leaves a profound and lasting impression, like my dad on the stairs.
Today’s Q and A is with Lachesis author J.D. Spikes. JD is a paranormal romance author and a YA paranormal author. J.D. has two titles with Lachesis: A paranormal romance story in the Sisters of Spirit anthology and the YA paranormal The Possession.
If you couldn’t be a writer, what other kind of artistic medium would you like to attempt and why?
I originally set out to be an artist. I got accepted at a number of art schools and looked at how I could manage to afford it. And I got a lot of advice – telling me it’s impossible to make it as an artist as a living, and how I should think about a different path. I intended to take art as a major and writing as a minor, since I’d always written . . . poems, short stories, lyrics. I ended up going to work to think about it and leave options for my younger siblings. Yup, LOL, once you leave that path it’s hard to get back on it. But my original wish was to illustrate children’s books and supplement with ad jingles and song lyrics. Ah, the young. How they dream. Don’t let go of it.
Having the book written from the POV of the young victim? And after her death, looking back? Wow. You could put so much more in that for the reader than you can any other POV in that book, from the most important person to the most important scene, to what would seem the least.
For your own writing? Whether or not you write horror, it challenges you to find the most important POV (Point of View) for your story, to discover WHAT IS IMPORTANT to that character that will ring true and connect with your reader, and CONNECT with that, in your POV character, and deliver it to your reader.
If you could change anything about your writing career – what would it be?
That I started sooner to be serious about it, and had more faith that you don’t have to live in New York to achieve your goal.
If you could meet any character from a book – who would it be and why?
Caleb Braeburn from my second (upcoming) YA book SECRET JOURNALS: The Haunting, He’s an art student who’s family situation allowed him to attend RISD. But his grandfather’s death drove him from there to make peace with his choices. Art over music, actually, I realize as I write this. Fiddle Set by JP Cormier spoke to me about this story, and Caleb is a fiddler.
My good friend, fellow author and awesome editor’s daughter does Irish step dancing and helped me with this story. Those are the moments that make things real for you, the writer, and the reader. Authentic. That’s what you want.
Happy endings or cliff-hangers? Why?
Both? LOL. I love romance and adventure. But it’s all about the story, isn’t t? Sometimes it wraps up nicely, sometimes, not so much. Sometimes you need to be left hanging to regroup and get a handle on what might come next.
Writing is not the most physically active of professions – what do you do to stay healthy and balanced?
Walk. A lot. Park far away at work. Walk in the park after work. What I can.
Annette Blair’s mystery books, obviously. They are smart, sophisticated, and just what translates well to screen, especially for Hallmark, I’d think.
How do you try to boost sales of your books?
FB, and word of mouth, and in person sales. Whatever I can.
At that point I really don’t think about eating, I’m thinking about surviving. Getting the work done. But of course if I must eat something, I think I’d go with Totinos pizza snacks!
What do you love to sing in the shower?
LOL! Actually I’ll sing anything, anywhere if it strikes me. And woe to whoever happens to be in my presence. Seriously, I love to sing, and with an ancestor who could have gone to Julliard for it, I get cocky. 😉
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Daphne Wentworth is almost seventeen, definitely a red head, and most likely the tallest girl in her class, which is awkward to say the least when it comes to dating boys in her school. But she doesn’t have to worry about school for the next two months since she’s spending the summer at her aunt Dwill’s lighthouse in Maine. What she does have to worry about is seeing ghosts in the lighthouse cemetery, having strange dreams, and hearing the voices of star-crossed lovers who lived two-hundred years ago. And then there’s a local boy named Zach Philbrook who works for her aunt. He’s too gorgeous for his own good. He’s also very tall, with midnight black hair, and the most beautiful indigo blue eyes Daphne has ever seen. Zach is treated like an outcast by the local teens in town. He’s Micmac and therefore not “one of the gang”. Daphne can’t help being drawn to his strength, especially considering that he’s had to live his entire life dealing with ignorance. But the local teens aren’t the only trouble-makers in town. As Zach and Daphne get closer, the lighthouse ghost lovers begin haunting them. When Daphne and Zach try to figure out how to fight them, the spirits get bolder and more dangerous.
EXCERPT: The cemetery wasn’t far and wasn’t scary. Not to me. Just a scattering of old stones with ancient memories written on them. People long gone to another life and no one here who remembers them. I dropped my canvas shoulder bag of goods on the ground near the gate. Wrought iron and rusted, it leaned into the cemetery boundaries at a precarious angle. Thank God I didn’t have to push it open . . . I’d have probably landed on the ground with a rusted spiral in my gut. This place was unfamiliar to me, except in passing. Though I’d known of the cemetery’s existence, I’d never gone in. I had too much to do in the land of the living for my short time here. No one ever came out here, so what difference did the overgrowth make? Aunt begged to differ and insisted I clean the place up. The lighthouse was two hundred years old this summer, she reminded me, and the cemetery belonged to the lighthouse. So, on a bright June day, I found myself alone in a somewhat decrepit cemetery in a clearing in the woods. I made my way around the ancient stones in an attempt to put off the start of my project. Most were upright and clear enough of the tangle of brush that a portion of the inscription could be read. One small stone, nearly buried in the overgrown grass at the north corner, caught my eye. I flattened enough of the green to reveal the single word Sarah, and beneath it Age 3 Months. Sadness flashed through me, unexpectedly. There were babies buried here? I slipped the hand pruners from my back pocket where I’d stuck them and carefully snipped the grass down in front of the headstone. I pulled viney growth from the top corner of the stone, revealing a W. and a P. Sarah W.P. My hand cramped as I diligently snipped away at the grass, clearing the plot. The screech of the gate would have warned me . . . had the gate been in better repair. With its useless tilt, however, I never heard him coming. The bag dropping next to me on the mixed pile of living and dead debris announced his presence. I flipped to the side, tripping myself with my legs, but managed to keep the pruners in front of me. I pointed them into the air in front of my face. Blue-black eyes studied me, one hand hooked into his pants pocket by the thumb, the other paused in front of him, fingers splayed where it had dropped the bag. In books you always read about these moments. Crickets clicked, or birds called, or someone’s watch ticked, marking time. Maybe all three. In real life, the only thing you really hear until you recognize that person is your own heavy breathing, that being indicative of the fact that you are in the middle of nowhere with no possible help nearby. So how do you protect yourself from something that isn’t really there?
Our special guest today at the Lachesis Publishing Daily Blog – is Barbara Vey. For seven years, Barbara wrote a regular column for Publisher’s Weekly about women’s fiction. It was called BEYOND HER BOOK and it was required reading if you wanted to know what was what in romance fiction and other women’s fiction. Last year, Barbara moved BEYOND HER BOOK to her website where she carries on writing about women’s fiction and sharing her love of books. She continues to speak at conferences and other publishing events. Her achievements include being honoured with the 2012 Romance Writers of America’s Vivian Stephen’s Industry Award and the 2013 RT Magazine Melinda Helfer Award. Barbara also organizes a wonderful annual event called the Barbara Vey Reader Appreciation Luncheon which will take place on April 25.
What was the first book that hooked you as a fan/reader of women’s fiction and what do you remember about that book that really stood out?
I know most readers remember the name of the first book, but, for me, it was an author, Victoria Holt. Her books were dark, mysterious and oh, so romantic to a young girl.
Tell us how you came to write the Beyond Her Book column for Publisher’s Weekly?
I saw a reader/author cruise advertised in a paperback I was reading. Before I left, I read a book by every author attending and emailed them to thank them for writing their book and I’d be seeing them on the cruise. I attended almost every event and won nearly all the trivia contests I entered, so by the end I knew all the authors quite well. One morning I was eating on deck and a young woman walked by and I asked her if she’d like to join us (I was with author, Marjorie Liu). She was Karen Holt, deputy director of Publishers Weekly. Being a reader, I thought that was a publisher, so I told her to sit down and I would tell her everything wrong with publishing from a reader’s point of view. She wrote an article about me and about 3 months later offered me a job writing a blog for their new online magazine. I turned her down (several times) telling her I was a reader, not a writer, but she talked me into trying. The rest, as they say, is history.
What changed in the industry over the seven years you wrote your column for PW.com?
The biggest change has been the rise of ebooks and self-publishing. When I saw my first klunky Sony reader, I thought it was cool, but wouldn’t catch on because I would want it back-lit and it didn’t come that way. I did meet a number of authors who used a vanity press to print their own books and even reviewed a few. None were very good. I didn’t know about Amazon and have been horrified seeing all the book stores closing. It’s like a stake in my heart every time I hear about another one.
It’s been a year since you moved your Beyond Her Book column from the Publisher’s Weekly site to your own website BarbaraVey.com. Why did you decide to make that transition and how has it turned out for you?
Publishers Weekly has always been great to me. I learned so much, met amazing people and got to travel. I’ve won awards from RWA and RT Magazine and was even asked to speak at Oxford. But, time changes things. A new owner brought new ideas and I think because when I started all women were in charge and when I left it was all men, they never really got the idea of how popular and important the romance industry is. Besides, I wanted to try new things and say what I wanted. What better way than with your own platform?
What do you offer on your site for authors in terms of promotion?
Every Tuesday I publish a list of new releases. Anyone can send them in. I write about the books I read and occasionally have readers send me some. I love promoting books that are used for charity. Many times authors will write anthologies with the proceeds for different charities. I work with publishers to let authors know when special events are going on to get their books published. I offer the authors the opportunity to write about conferences I don’t/can’t attend by letting them be my Cub Reporters. They tell readers about the event and I add their bio and book cover to the story. When I’m at conferences I’ll do interviews, both written and video. My YouTube channel has over 130 interviews. I allow ads on my page, but I don’t do blog hops or book tours. My readers love to hear about things from the authors no one else knows about, not just rambling about their new books. I was doing 365 days of free books and I may go back to that next year where a different author gives one of their books away a day. I love trying new things.
You’ve co-authored a book (with Sheila Clover English of Circle of Seven) about marketing – called In A Nutshell – Book Marketing, Book Trailers and Author Etiquette. What are some key points that you address in the book that you believe that authors really need to “get”?
Because my part of the book was from the reader’s point of view, I really wanted to get across how the authors are perceived in public. Whether it was at conferences, conventions, booksignings, library events or even on social media. Many don’t use much common sense that I’ve noticed. Simple things like smiling, thanking readers, paying attention when with readers and not distracted by their author friends around them. I tried to put out helpful hints on how to answer awkward questions I’ve heard from readers that seem to stop authors dead in their tracks. It’s really a book for newbies who have no clue how to act at conferences or what is and isn’t considered proper behavior. When one wants to become a public figure, they must be prepared to be “on” all the time. I think it’s a fan’s expectation and if an author is rude to a reader, the reader has lost all respect for them and will not only stop buying their books, but also tell everyone they know about the experience. That’s for both public and online interactions.
Do you think the best authors are also smart business people and why?
I’m not sure what you mean by best. Best selling or best writing, because they can be two different things. I think, on the whole, the smart ones come out ahead. They make a plan. They sit down and write the best book they can, follow the people they’d most like to be like, talk to the best in the industry and listen to them. Pay attention to what’s going on around you. Smart writers know their audiences and will write for them and market to them. You don’t want to do a blog tour stop on a paranormal blog if you write inspirational.
My favorite go-to authors that I read more than once are Jennifer Crusie (Bet Me) for her humor and great characters, Linda Howard for her Mackenzie series and suspense, Amanda Quick, Shana Galen, Elizabeth Hoyt, Joanna Bourne for their historicals, Suzanne Brockmann for her Navy Seals, Sherrilyn Kenyon for her Dark Hunters, Christine Feehan for her Ghost Walkers, J.D. Robb’s In Death series, Josie Brown’s Housewife Assassin series, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One and obviously a million more that would take up pages. Let’s just say I read almost everything. I’ve learned that each author has their own unique characteristics that draw me in and to pick favorites is comparing apples to oranges. Depending on my mood lots of times steers my reading.
What would I find on your desk at this very moment?
Here’s the thing, my lap is my desk. I sit in a recliner with an afghan over my legs (it is Wisconsin) and a cup of coffee. Pen’s, paper, stickies are all a thing of the past. I keep all my notes on a note app, I have a stickies app and I communicate through my computer through emails, social media, messaging and Skype. And yes, I am one of those people who take my laptop to bed with me. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and work.
You have a special Reader Appreciation luncheon coming up on April 25th. Tell us about that.
I always was dismayed that authors never seemed to come to Milwaukee. My mom was an avid reader and we shared the love of books. After she passed away, I wanted to do something to honor her memory, so I invited some of my closest author friends to come up for a luncheon. We ended up with 240 readers at a community center and my sister baked 300 cupcakes for dessert. Four years later, we are hosting the event in a hotel and it sold out last July in 12 hours (500 readers and 61 authors). We now offer a Friday night Q&A open to the public with a meet and greet after, Saturday Luncheon and booksigning. This year we added a Saturday night Pizza Party and authors, Cherry Adair and Tina DeSalvo, are doing a Reader Party later. Our hotel sold out and we have an overflow hotel. Readers come from all over the US and Canada and we’ve even seen some from England and Australia. Readers are already asking about tickets for the 2016 event, but they won’t go on sale until August 1st. Anyone can sign up for the reminder newsletter at my website.
My first introduction to formal writing was in a college creative writing class. I’d crafted many short tales in my earlier years and I confess to taking this open elective as what we in the College of Finance called “A GPA Enhancement,” i.e. a fluff course to make an easy “A”. The course was far from easy but I became hooked on the written word and found myself spending hours on end refining and rewriting each assignment over and over again until it was a polished jewel (Or as best as I could make it on my limited skill set.)
The writing professor was friendly with a local Boston author and she came to speak to our class. The professor gave her several pieces to read and critique. Her criticisms were given bereft of tact or subtlety. I shuddered as she read my work out loud and began describing my characters as “Sorely lacking in reality and possessing the livelihood of the dead tree.” The other students laughed at the comments, no one taking any offense since we were all in this course for the same reason. I didn’t and she took note of it. At the end of the 90 minutes I gathered my books and walked out doing my best not to look in her direction. “Mr. Ballan, make your characters resemble people you know, adopt the traits and qualities from the real world into your fictional creations and you’ll be surprised how lifelike your characters will become.” I’m paraphrasing here but that was the overall gist of the message she gave me.
Jump ahead almost a quarter century and her advice has served me well. In my first novel, Hybrid, I created a character named Martin Denton, an elder lawyer and covert CIA operative. I knew as I sketched out the personality of Denton that he had to be a man of principal and morals, a compass that always pointed ‘Right’ and championed rationale and reason over my hero’s tendency to react on impulses rather than reason. Denton was the seasoned veteran to Erik Knight’s raw yet untested talent.
Martin Denton needed a voice of seasoned wisdom to go along with his elder physical persona. The traits and mannerisms for the sixty plus year old veteran CIA Operative needed the ‘Voice’ of wisdom, guile and compassion. I borrowed from my past and chose my personal hero; my dad, James Ballan. I went back and forth about using my father’s essence in the “Hybrid” series. If I was going to do this I wanted Denton to be a tribute to the man that raised me and patiently taught me that might didn’t make right, and knowledge and brain power were more often the better solution than brawn and fisticuffs. Martin Denton was a hidden tribute to the best friend and mentor any son could be blessed to have. I went for it.
It was easy for me to write Erik Knight, for I admit freely Detective Knight is me in my early twenties. A brash, emotional person seasoned in hand-to-hand combat, sometimes reacting on feeling rather than logic and plagued by that constant sense of insecure inadequacy especially when dealing with the opposite sex. I was able to graft many of my own personal, emotional handicaps and shortcomings into Detective Knight making him human and flawed despite his superhuman capabilities. My youthful character flaws made Erik Knight believable. No human being is perfect and to make Erik Knight, or any other hero, completely flawless makes that character unrealistic and unbelievable to a reader. No one can identify with a perfect person, but a flawed character developing and overcoming plot issues while growing/developing as a character holds a reader’s attention and makes the reader root for the hero as he/she overcomes and grows emotionally. Writing dialogue for the brash sometimes insecure detective was easy since I channeled the memories of how I would react/respond both physically and verbally to the situations in the novel.
The initial banter between both men was, at the outset, strictly based on business, my father was a dedicated worker, giving everything he had while on the job. I worked with my father for several years at the same company and I grew to respect him more as I saw firsthand how he conducted himself and the level of respect he had earned from his peers. My dad’s moral compass never wavered and at times his unwillingness to cut corners caused some friction with his colleagues, his iron sense of right and wrong was never, ever questioned by anybody that knew him. I gave Martin Denton that same quality. Whenever Martin was advising Erik, his counsel was morally based on a sense of right and wrong. I crafted the scenes where Martin would advise Erik using the same ‘voice’ my father adopted when I was on the receiving end of advice – wanted or unwanted. The relationship between these characters grew in Hybrid from a simple contract PI for hire to Erik becoming A CIA Cooler under the direct supervision of Martin.
In ‘Hybrid: Forced Vengeance’, I was able to build upon the fledgling relationship and further develop the character of Martin Denton and add more of my father’s personality to the fictional Senior CIA Operative. Throughout ‘Forced Vengeance’ Erik Knight realizes he’s been betrayed by the very government he’s been serving. As the enraged CIA Cooler unleashes his own brand of justice, it’s the calming, rational wisdom of Denton that keeps the enraged detective from taking the law into his own hands and simply unleashing holy hell upon his enemies. In one particular scene Erik decides to violate protocol by keeping classified data he recovered. The two argue and Denton, rather than continue to fight, simply implies that he’s disappointed with his friend. At that point the dynamic between both characters becomes clear. Denton is the father figure Erik lacked growing up and the reader gets their first sense of how deep the relationship between both men really goes. My father often used that term when he disapproved of my actions or intentions and I freely confess that it was his ace in the hole to diffuse my stubbornness. When I was growing up, as much as I was stubborn and pig headed, I never wanted to disappoint my father. To me, as a son, that was a cardinal sin. Martin Denton uses the same ploy on his younger friend. Erik, as I did in my youth, responds to it. The relationship between Martin Denton and Erik Knight is based very much on the relationship I had with my father. As different as the two characters are they complement each other and respect each other. Erik rarely addresses Martin by his name, rather calling him ‘Counselor’. I rarely addressed my father as ‘Dad” when I was in my late teens but I called him ‘Chief’ because he had the annoying habit of always being proven right when we disagreed on an issue. My mother hated it but my dad knew I was using it as a term of respect and he’d tell my mother to just let it go.
The relationship between both men continues to grow in my third book, Hybrid: Armageddon’s Son, as Martin and Erik become embroiled in another world altering calamity. This is my current WIP and it takes the relationship of these two characters to another higher level. I was proud to be Jim Ballan’s son and being able to use his sense of ethics and morality in a character so closely involved with my main protagonist that I based on my imperfect youth makes crafting this relationship a special tribute to an amazing man that God took from me far too early in my life. Through Martin Denton and through the Hybrid Series, my father’s essence lives on. It’s a small tribute to a man I loved dearly.
To read some of Greg Ballans’s musings visit his writing page on facebook, for several short stories and pithy takes on yard work and homelife.
What it’s about:
Erik Knight, a small time private investigator, always knew he was different from everybody else. Keener senses, heightened awareness and an enhanced physical strength that could be called upon by his sheer will.
Erik becomes involved with a team of high profile investigators and local police trying to locate a girl who was kidnapped in the middle of a playground amongst dozens of adults and children. None of the adults saw anything and what the children claim to have seen is too far fetched to be believed. The search evolves into a full-scale manhunt into the dark and desolate woodlands of the Hopedale Mountain.
After a lethal encounter and a fatality, Erik, the investigators and police realize that what they’re dealing with isn’t a man and possibly isn’t of this world. What they’re dealing with is a sentient evil that has an appetite for young children.
“Erik!” Shanda whispered in alarm. “Something’s here, stalking the girls. I can’t see it, but I can sense it.”
Erik looked throughout the park grounds, focusing his vision, but he couldn’t see anything. Fifty yards away, the children played unaware of anything but their innocent fun. Erik walked quickly over to where the party was, Shanda following close behind him. As he closed the distance he noticed that his daughter was staring at something and pointing. Erik looked in the direction she was pointing and saw a patch of darkness. His mind shrieked with panic and he ran toward his daughter, screaming for the other girls to leave the park area. The girls looked at the direction Brianna was pointing at and froze. They were terrified, frozen into inaction.
After a quick sprint, Erik was beside his daughter. Several of the other mothers had gone to their children as they all pointed out the closing patch of darkness.
“Get your children back!” Erik commanded. “It wants your children.”
Mothers and children were panicking. Children were crying with fright as the afternoon sun seemed to dim and the temperature in the park suddenly dropped twenty degrees. Brianna hadn’t moved since Erik came by her side.
“What do you see, honey?” he whispered.
Brianna’s eyes were transfixed on the corner of the park. Her finger still pointed in that direction. “It’s a tall man, I think. I can tell that it wants me. It’s calling to me, Daddy. I’m scared. Please don’t let it take me. I can tell it wants to take me.” She screamed in mindless terror.
Erik reached behind his back and pulled his Ruger from its place of concealment. He wrapped both arms protectively around his daughter, his gun pointing in the direction of her finger.
“Bri, point me in the right direction. I won’t let it hurt you. No one is taking you anywhere.”
She gently guided his hands so that the pistol was aiming at the heart of the dark anomaly.
“Daddy,” she whispered, “it’s coming right for us.”
“Go back with Shanda and the others, now!” he told her.
“Daddy, I don’t want to leave you.”
“Go, honey! Please,” he whispered. “Shanda!” Erik shouted, breaking the eerie silence. “Take Brianna.”
Shanda came up quickly and took Brianna. “I can just barely see it, Erik; it’s just like you described. It stopped when you pulled the gun. All the children can see it, but the parents can’t. All they can see is the darkness, and they can feel the cold.”
From behind them, the ponies were shrieking in panic.
“All right, you two, get back!” Erik stood up. He holstered his weapon and began walking toward the darkness.
“I know you’re there!” Erik called out to the inky darkness. “Maybe you can hide from them, but you can’t hide from me!” Erik focused his eyes; concentrating his extra senses on the darkness as he continued forward. Slowly he saw the man-like figure materialize. The figure had stopped its approach and assumed an aggressive stance. Erik paused a scant twenty feet from it and assumed a basic combat stance he used in Kung Fu.
“You can’t have the children!” he shouted, his voice booming above the silence, challenging the being of darkness. “You can’t have my daughter or any other child here.”
The thing responded with silence. Erik finally saw the blood-red eyes looking right through him. He could feel the hatred, the sheer malevolence; yet, now he also felt desperation, a hunger that was beyond his ability to define. The hostility threatened to overwhelm him. Erik fought his own emotions, fought down his own fear and doubt. He knew he couldn’t defeat this thing physically, but he would not let it have his daughter or any other child there, not while he drew breath.
To read some of Greg’s musings visit his writing page on facebook, for several short stories and pithy takes on yard work and homelife.
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