Staycation2016: Days 5, 6, 7: “Women’s” Fiction Edition

Well, I wrapping up the “stay home and write” part of my vacation, and looking forward to some modest traveling next week. Friday and Saturday were actually chock full of exciting events, all of which have me ruminating a bit on the state of women in writing (more on that after the round-up).

Friday I moderated a panel at One More Page Books & More for the DC stop of She Writes Press 2016 tour, and we had a lively discussion with two novelists (Melissa Rea, Conjuring Casanova, and Jill McCroskey Coupe, True Stories at the Smoky View) and two memoirists (Dorit Sason, Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israeli Defense Forces, and Donna Cardillo, Falling Together). She Writes Press is another independent press that has discarded the notion of simply doing a miniaturized version of what the “Big 5” are doing, and much like my own press, Pandamoon Publishing, they are aggressively pursuing a very author-centered/cohort support model.

While at the event I had a chance to chat with Jenny Drummey, author of the novel, Unrequited, as well as this amazing post from last month called In Praise of Failure. Among the things we talked about was the struggle that a new, unknown author has in developing her platform, and the ways smaller, independent presses are having to adapt to get their books noticed.

Friday was also the “reveal” day for The Wigleaf Top 50 and the legendary Longlist both of which –if my crude, sexist estimate via naming conventions is an indicator–feature more than 50% women authors. As you may be aware, I’ve been helping out as a reader (on a large team of readers headed up very ably this year by Marcelle Heath as Series Editor and Matthew Salesses as the Selecting Editor) for the Wigleaf Top 50 for a few years now, but I’m taking 2016 off, seeing as the first book of The New Royal Mysteries will come out soon, and I need to get a draft of the second one done this summer while I’m not teaching. –As an aside, my head is so into my own books that I had forgotten I was a reader for the Wigleaf T50, and I was on the verge of correcting everyone who was thanking me  for my help when I started to recognize my picks on the lists. That’s right, I read the entire contents of about a dozen online journals, and selected several outstanding stories in January–and I forgot the entire experience. In my defense, that was at the same time that I was revising The Juliet per the 10 page, single spaced letter I received from my editor, Rachel Schoenbauer (SuperGenius), a process that I recall in excruciating detail.

And finally, Saturday night saw the Santa Fe Writers Project Launch Party and Reading, featuring four authors including Daniel Ford (Ordination), Elizabeth Hazen (Chaos Theories), Brandon Wicks (American Fallout), and my dear friend Tara Laskowski (Bystanders), whom I was privileged to introduce. It was a huge, catered party at the Waverley Street Gallery, but it was casual and fun, if a little cold and damp-the bar and buffet were outside. My favorite part was where the 4 year old son of two writers was explaining to a fussy toddler friend that it was going to be okay because there were “only four readers, and after that you can come to my house to play.” He had the routine down, except that he offered this explanation quite loudly during his mother’s reading.

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In which I am suggesting my husband commit an art heist.

All of this writing & publishing action, plus the return of the rain, has made me contemplative about the ways we, especially women, categorize our work to reach audiences. Which brings me, albeit awkwardly, to the category called “Women’s Fiction.” Most of the official definitions refer the subject preferences of women readers, such as domestic dramas and emotional journeys, but I feel like this is one of those categories that achieves different goals for different constituencies. I have no idea if it was always a market term, but today it’s a very informative one, fully embraced by publishers, including my own, and the writers of Women’s Fiction at Pandamoon are producing highly literary work. However, that tag allows some critics to carve a lot of the work by women writers into a category that is adjacent to, but not fully, literary–leaving that term just as elusive/exclusive as it has always been, unless you’re comfortable being rude about it. If I’m being honest, one of my worries is that the term “Women’s Fiction” was coined as a pejorative (like “MFA Fiction”) that was rapidly transformed into a sales friendly keyword.

Certainly the authors of She Writes Press produce tremendously varied books, but the brand, quite clearly and proudly, is writing women and women’s writing. That’s a very successful selling point. It’s something I was thinking about, as I was introducing Tara and acknowledging the struggle in talking about a book with many identities. Though dark, suspense-filled, and full of characters who make very bad decisions, Bystanders is, at it’s heart, literary fiction, and that’s not very descriptive is it? As yet, I’m not aware of a market category for “bad decisions” or “poor impulse control” fiction. those might work as categories on America’s Funniest Home Videos, though.

I have not yet been identified as a writer of “Women’s Fiction,” but it could happen with my next book, The Mean Bone in Her Body, which is a mystery that begins with the tragic death of a young mother and her two small daughters.The majority of the characters are women, and the heart of the story is about mental illness, which may well be one of those “domestic” subjects that sends a woman author to a different line at the literary DMV. My only anxiety about that is limiting the appeal of my work, so I am hoping that the Mystery/Crime label is the stronger marketing term.  That said, a colleague of mine released a novel that was about generations of a European family fleeing war and communism to come to America, but because the main character unpacking the history is female, the publisher put a photograph of a woman swimming in flowers on the cover–not even the whole woman, either. Just her very shapely legs. And of course, the book is being marketed as Women’s Fiction. The era of the gendered cover is far from over, and gendered marketing is a double edged sword.

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Staycation2016: Day Four (Top Secret Stuff plus Free Book Giveaway)

Well I did some writing today, but the big event was that today was the second giveaway event for the Kindle version of The Juliet. There are still a couple of hours to go, and we’re at the #10 spot in Historical Fiction>Mystery, Thriller, Suspense.  We started the day strong too, owing to the tireless efforts of Pandamoon Publishing’s publicist/authors, Elgon Williams and Christine Gabriel.

Elgon and I had a hoot of a conversation on Twitter about pinball, no less, and we came up with two TOP secrets about our writing–

one–I write pinball games that masquerade as novels.

two–Elgon thinks fantasy works best if there are no coincidences.

This stuff is gold, people.

In other news, I may be going stir crazy. I spent a lot of time on google street view today, clicking my way down Beach Access Road. Soon, Chincoteague, soon.

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Staycation 2016: Day Three

Good day, good day. My work email seems to have slowed to a stop, thanks to the “artisanal advising” provided by my BRILLIANT assistant Michael, who is covering for me while I’m on vacation. go check out his movie review site Bad Shakespeare.  It’s in development, evolving from his original blog, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be BIG. Michael Bennett Hock is a renaissance man who does it all. His latest project is story work on freaking OPERA called “Do Not Disturb,” which will have a DC run in July.

I did write today, I swear. And it was fun.

Tomorrow will be another free day for the Kindle version of The Juliet. The May 10 free day was a delightful success, so I feel like anything that happens tomorrow is gravy. I did get a couple of family and friend types who wrote me to say, “No way, I’m BUYING my copy.” Which is hugely sweet, but I don’t need money from my loved ones, I need money from STRANGERS.  When you DL a free copy you boost the profile of the book, especially in terms of the amazon algorithm, and that’s very valuable down the line. In short, GET YOUR DAMN FREE BOOK AUNT DIANA.

Love y’all–LES

 

 

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Staycation 2016: Day Two

The subject is outlines. I love the idea of a novel outline,and I swear I try–I really try–to develop a long range plan for my novels, but what happened to me is what always happens. I put four or five scene ideas down, and then I get too excited. Right now I’m in the weeds with an opening scene that should be simple but refuses to obey. Plus I did a little work on my guy-in-the-refrigerator story and started a weird little flash about a woman who finds a pumpkin in the street that she likes wayyy too much.

The rain has returned, so that works in the writing’s favor, though it depresses the dogs and the husband. I’ll need to make it up to them somehow.

Other items on my to-do list this week:

Write a blurb for Jesse Bradley’s stunner, The Adventures of Jesus Christ, Boy Detective Seriously, this is a really unexpected and exciting piece of literature–very sharp, very surprising, very rewarding.

Moderate a panel of She Writes authors on their Spring Book Tour at One More Page Books & More. That should be fascinating, as She writes is being very creative in how they develop writers and their books.

Introduce Tara Laskowski at the Santa Fe Writers Project Book Launch Party where she will be reading from Bystanders. I’m really looking forward to this launch–it will be a catered event at a gallery, where they are expecting possibly 100 attendees. Andrew Gifford said I could plop some copies of The Juliet on the sales table, too. I wonder if there’s any way I can sneak some of the Laskowski/Taylor stuff from the novel into my intro, lol. Those are the names of two Hollywood cops from the 50s who turn into cat burglars under the influence of The Juliet’s curse.

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Staycation 2016: Day One

Sorry, that pic is a complete misrepresentation–it’s a chilly day in NoVa, and the forecast is gloomy for next week when we finally do get to the beach. That said, I’m having a great start to Staycation 2016. This morning I went to Panera, and our usual counterperson whipped out a copy of The Juliet for me to sign! She tried to impress the other workers with my “celebrity,” but they weren’t buying it, lol. Nevermind, it was a great boost as I get going for real on the second book in the New Royal series, working title: The Orphans Court. My research has already given me one of my timelines; while Orphans Courts are common in Pennsylvania and Delaware, Ohio only had these for a very short period, meaning my “Clerk” will be writing his log circa 1800. Not to give too much away, but the discovery of this log will send shockwaves through contemporary New Royal, Ohio.

Hello Whiteboard, my old friend . . .

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I’m writing in “Statcation” mode again because last year’s Staycation was so successful for me in drafting The Mean Bone in Her Body, Book 1 of the New Royal Mysteries. Now all I need is energy and creativity!

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Pet Grief

It’s been a rocky couple of weeks for my friends who have pets. My publishers just lost their beloved pup in an accident, my friend’s 16 year old JRT finally let go after years of non-stop action, and my 8 year-old gosh-daughter’s hamster went “missing” in a house full of cats. After many hours of searching, the hamster was found, alive and exhausted in the back of a closet, thereby staving off an agonizing choice for her parents. The hamster passion/obsession is nearly all consuming for the girl (as is Minecraft), and even though the whole family is moving to Tajikistan in August, a hamster-less summer is almost unthinkable.

Which brings me to a tough subject. When you lose a pet, how soon do you take on a new one? I know a few people who lost a pet and decided that was it for them, that life with a companion animal was too heartbreaking. I know that when our first cats were gone, we cleared all the cat stuff out—event the tower—and went cat-free for more than a year. But as the years go by, the interval shrinks for my husband and me. Perhaps we are more efficient at grief than we used to be, or perhaps we are just more selfish. Either way, as soon as one of our slots open, (we have 2 dogs and 2 cats), we tend to fill it. I still cry when Facebook tosses up a picture of my beloved Newton—a mutant Chihuahua who soaked our house in urine for years but was our #1 Party Boy—but then I grab up Penelope, the cranky terrier who smells like a turtle and generally runs things these days, and I feel that pain of loss drain away.

Right now Penelope is harassing me to go on a walk, and her breath smells like cat poop. She hates it when I blog. Charli cat loves it when I blog because I light the candles and she’s into fire. I give it one minute before Penny and Charli start beating the crap out of each other, so I have to wrap this up. My friend who lost the elderly JRT is already looking at rescue sites and manipulating her family to agree to a quick re-up of dog energy in the house. She can’t imagine living without it, and that makes a ton of sense to me. Jackie Brown cannot be duplicated—she was a crafty dame who played hard, slept hard, and sometimes snuck into other people’s houses to sleep in their beds—but she leaves a void that yearns to be filled by another Big Personality. And if you are the sort of person who has committed some portion of your life to making the lives of animals a little better, then why delay? I feel like there should be no shame in “replacing” a pet, and that we can grieve and love at the same time. In fact, those emotions go damned well together.

RIP Jackie. You were all heart. I have more pictures of you than I do of my own dogs, dammit.

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Wild Ride! Yesterday’s Giveaway, Ghost Town Fun, and a SWEET Review

Not sure there’s a better word for it, but Yeehaw. Yesterday was the Kindle giveaway for The Juliet, and it was a huge success, especially as the book grabbed the #1 spot in Historical Fiction >Mystery, Thriller & Suspense and did not let go for quite a while. It hit #240 in overall ebooks, and today it’s climbing steady at $5.99. As I write this, paying customers have sent The Juliet to #150 in Historical Fiction >Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, and we cracked the 20k barrier in overall ranking, which my publisher says puts the book in the top .6% of all ebooks. Full disclosure: I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO DO WITH THAT INFORMATION, LOL.

So obviously, the free day was effective, but only because of the support of Pandamoon’s Promotion Team and my lovely friends, who social-mediaed the hell out the book. Special Thank You to Panda Sister, Penni Jones, who posted a terrific review of The Juliet that gives a great sense of the book’s twists and turns.  Also thanks to the Rude Pundit, who in comparing me to a “Stoner Dickens,” may have introduced me to a whole new audience of potty-mouthed ranters of the highest quality.

Finally, this neat little article showed up in my FB feed today. It’s about Rhyolite, Nevada, the ghost town that was the inspiration for The Juliet’s fictional ghost town of Centenary.

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Download The Juliet for FREE Tuesday May 10

No sooner have I sent off the Goodreads giveaway copies of The Juliet, does my publisher decide to offer a free day for the kindle version! Get yours here and enjoy!

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The Juliet takes the Page 69 Test at The Next Best Book Club

Very excited to have been offered the chance to take the Page 69 test over at the blog for TNBBC. The funny part is, my bookmark was already at page 69 in the copy of the book I use when I give readings, so it felt very natural to talk about it.

The Next Best Book Club champions indie lit, and has been doing so since 2009. Go poke around the site and join the club group on Goodreads, while you’re at it.

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Goodreads Giveaway Winners, The Juliet is Coming to Your Town!

Psyched that the Giveaway winners have been selected, and I’m eager to hit the books with my MAGIC GREEN PEN, and then hit to PO office to send those beauties out into the world. Where to? Well, 1143 people entered for the chance to win 1 of 10 signed copies, and there were 2 winners from Pennsylvania, and one each from Maryland, Colorado, California, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Michigan, Canada, and Northern England.

Congratulations to all the winners. I hope you enjoy the book!

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