Necessary distractions


Two big deadlines are looming for the Persistent Writer: December the first, which is when the digital version of Wives of the Saints hits the market (Amazon only; the print version will take another week or so); and December the second, which is when we leave for our big across-the-South road trip to Nashville and Pensacola. Oh yes, and a full slate of English students for that first day online. I planned it this way, and yes, I’m crazy. But for me, the first two weeks a book is out is the worst time, full of doubts and worry and utter dismay when I check the sales stats. And even though the common wisdom in self-publishing-land is that the first month is crucial in picking up sales and ‘buzz’, it has never worked that way for me. My first month is usually utterly dismal, with sales slowly rising as reviews come in. But I won’t have to worry about all that, as I’m sure my road trip will provide blessed distraction. If I’m worried at all, it’s about the wildfires in eastern Tennessee that we will be driving past no doubt. But I’m looking forward to exploring the middle part of the state with my baby daughter, and then down to the Gulf to check in on my mom, who is having worrisome surgery soon, which I hope to temporarily distract her from. This trip is all about distraction.  At some point I will have to release the print version, probably out of that condo overlooking Pensacola Bay next week.

So what I’m saying is, I don’t expect WOTS to be a big hit coming out of the gate.  Especially not in December, when the holidays provide the ultimate distraction. But it doesn’t matter to me, as long as it follows the old pattern of slow build-up, which I prefer to the initial sales spike followed by crash and burn. I plan to do most of my promoting in January; and WOTS is a natural for Mother’s Day, so I will push it hard then. However, the (new) cover has red flowers and candy on it, so it’s very appropriate for Xmas gift giving…

The plan is to gather up reviews and stars, not necessarily sales in the beginning. I feel like I’m still trying to build my readership up,  and that takes time. I’m sending lots of review copies out, but I’m NOT doing the freebie thing and discounts for the general public right away—and maybe not ever.  I work hard on making my books as good as they can be, and feel they are worth every cent a reader pays for them. And they’re reasonably priced as it is. This one will be $3.99, well below most big publishers’ prices for their e-books; the paperback will be $14.99 as usual.

Meanwhile, here’s the new cover: And if you’re wondering who ate the candy at the bottom…well of course, I did! And I ate the rest after the photo shoot…


My publishing goal…

…is to totally own this Amazon book category:  Kindle books>Literature and Fiction> Religious & Inspirational Fiction>Women’s Fiction. I’m setting off the warning shots now; I intend to claim the top spot on that list for my very own Wives of the Saints.

Now, my book is not really religious, all those Catholic references notwithstanding. And I wouldn’t call it inspirational, although it could be… But neither is the current #1 book in that category, which is basically a piece of erotica, what I’d call priest-porn.  I took a lot of flak for my erotic scenes in Secret Vow and The Novice Master, but I had some real spirituality and serious subjects mixed in there, too. This book, which I’m not even going to name, (because I don’t want you running out and buying it, you craven hussies) is simply Fifty Shades of Gray with a Roman collar, and frankly, even as a sinful Catholic myself, I’m offended by it. It uses Catholic culture  only to shock and titillate; for example, using the altar as a physical trysting place. Not only that, but it verges on anachronistic fantasy, since we all know there really aren’t many hardcore heterosexuals left in the priesthood these days. Which makes the Church’s condemnation of homosexuality really amusing, I have to say…

But I digress…I don’t want to see this book be a bestseller anymore. I’d rather see MY book be a bestseller! And to ensure this, I may just drive over to St. Anthony’s in Paterson and push a few dozen buttons in that nifty electronic-candle-lighting shrine they have there.

All of this just proves how weird and messed up Amazon’s categories are. Remember that blog piece I did last year, when Novice Master ended up in Erotica? And look what turns up in Religion and Inspirational Fiction!! Now most of the other books in R&I are nice clean Christian books, and I have no objection to those. I think those authors would appreciate seeing something a little more edifying on the top of their list. I would think if you turned to this list as a reader, you’d be looking for something with at least some redeeming value.

Why am I going on and on about this? Because unfortunately, after the cover and blurb, the category you choose for your book is one of the most important marketing decisions you can make. And for a while there I was at a loss with WOTS: I didn’t want it to get lost in that huge amorphous pile known as Contemporary Women’s Fiction. I wanted a nice little category where I might have a chance at being a big fish, at least for a few minutes. But as I was describing the book on one of the writer’s forums, it struck me that it might just belong in one of the religious fiction categories. I’d been fighting that, not wanting it to be pigeonholed. I also worried how all the sex talk (no explicit scenes in this one) and occasional profanity would go over. But then I saw the top of the list: My book is like the actual LIVES of the Saints compared to that one!

And so, onward Christian soldiers, to the very top of Amazon’s defiled Religious and Inspirational Women’s Fiction List. Of course, realistically, I don’t expect to get anywhere near the #1 spot, but I will try like hell (sorry) to get there.

Wives of the Saints hits NetGalley this week, in the form of an ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy), which is a little laughable since I’m publishing it next week. Unless you have a NetGalley account, the rest of you will just have to wait until December…

Guest blogger: Lisa Wood

Happy Thanksgiving all! I’m taking a break for the rest of the week and letting fellow writer Lisa Wood step in with a little pre-holiday gift, one of her own short stories. Relax and enjoy!

About Lisa: “I am a theatre teacher from Southeast Georgia.  I enjoy writing in my spare time.  I have self-published a novelette and two short stories.  I am working on a novel that I would like to publish traditionally.  The titles for the pieces are Burnt Offering (novelette – a Cinderella tale set in the deserts of Gallia, a space colony, after the destruction of Earth), ‘Til Death… Well Maybe (Flash Fiction – a scary story about knowing when it is time to let go), and External Combustion (Short Story – about just how wrong burning a witch can go).”

A Tale Before Time   A Short Story By Lisa Wood

An ancient woman banged her staff on the hard red clay of the earth.  A cloud of dirt rose around the staff creating a fine mist of sand that landed on the woman’s feet darkening the skin to an even ruddier brown.

“Mama Connai, will you tell us a story before we are sent to our bedrolls?”  The sweet face that stared up at the old woman was dirtier than her feet but was equal measures of adorable so she could not find it within her withered old heart to tell the child no.

“Yes, little one.  This cold autumn weather chills me to the bones, though, so sit a piece with me here by the fire and I will tell you all the story of how our world was born.”

Some of the older children moaned and lamented that they’d heard this story hundreds of times, but Mama Connai simply said, “and if you sit and listen, you will hear it once more.  But if you listen close, perhaps you will hear something that you’ve never heard before.”  They grumbled, but a bedtime story was a bedtime story and anything that kept them out of bed just a little while longer was fine by them.

They sat in ragtag groups, leaning into each other for extra warmth in the chilly autumn air, and Mama Connai began her tale in the common manner of her people.

There was a time.  To mortals, it would have seemed long ago, but to the immortal beings who maintain the balance of the world’s natural elements, the time has been only a few generations; it was a few epochs, as it were.

This was the time of the Earth’s nativity, its infancy.  During this post-natal time, there was only one elemental, the Omni – the all mother; one mother rearing up the Earth as best she could. 

She succored the Earth as long as she was able, but soon it had outgrown her gentle care.  It had progressed to its toddlerhood, throwing tantrums its poor mother could not begin to control.

There was a tinkling laugh that broke the peaceful hush that had fallen over the children, and Mama Connai shot a look at one of the older girls who withered under the stony gaze, “and what exactly is funny about this story.”

The child was immediately contrite, “Oh, no.  Mama Connai, I was just thinking that the Earth probably looked a lot like little Seth when Moot eats the last strawberry of the season.”  Laughter erupted from the group and Mama Connai could not repress her smile as a small brown boy turned a forbidding shade of cherry: one not unlike his favorite fruit.

“Pipe down then,” she interrupted with good-natured humor, “so we can finish this story before your mother’s haul you off to bed.”  She cleared her throat and continued her story where she’d left it off.

The Earth was in chaos, and the Omni realized that she would need assistance if she were to return her beloved Earth to a state of contentment and joy.

The Omni meditated.  She watched her progeny squirming in the throes of a longed for maturity.  She knew that she could no more control her creation than she could bear the thought of destroying it to start anew.  She would need help, but there was no one to help her.  For, she was the only one of her kind.  She had only the Earth for a companion, born of a burgeoning love and a sheer determination.

Then, she knew.  It was her love that had birthed her dearest joy, and it was her love that would save it now.  She considered all the facets of the Earth there were to love: the great and glorious sea, that gave the Earth its deepest depths and most ferocious storms; the great green grassy fields, that fed the Earth; the mountains rolling in the distance, which built the earth up with unparalleled strength; the breeze blowing clear across it all, cleansing  as it went; and also there was fire which burned bright with all the passion and love that the Earth contained.  She considered each of these things, and she loved them until they each manifested a physical being.  She called these beings the elementals.  They were not simply born of, but also controlled their respective elements.  They were linked, and while one prospered, they both did, but if one was harmed, they both felt the blow.

The Omni grew to love her elementals as much as she did the Earth, and eventually, the first humans came to be, born of her love for the physical manifestations of her progeny.  This was the dawn of man, a time of discovery unlike any other in human history.

Originally, the elementals did not reproduce. 

Mama Connai felt a tugging on her sleeve as gentle as a leaf falling in a spring puddle.  It was one of the smallest children staring at her with a most bemused expression.  “How do you reproduce?”  Mama Connai nearly choked on her own tongue.  The innocence in the child’s eye was her only saving grace.

“Well, now little one, ” the old woman sputtered as she attempted to bring together the words that would answer the child’s question and offer the least chance of blundering into territory the child needed to be talking to her parents about.  Then as she looked around their humble home, she realized that for the most part, these children knew the basics of childbirth and conception – cloth was not the best barrier to keep out the noises of lovemaking coming from within.  “Reproduction is when grown people make new little people.  Now, hush up sweet one so we can hear what happens next?”  She struggled to remember where she’d stopped, then she remembered: reproduction, and nearly groaned.  As I was saying:

The elementals did not reproduce at first.  They lived on this way for many centuries, and while they thrived, the natural elements of the world existed in balance.  But after a time, these ancient beings became tired.  They had never felt this way before and did not know what could have caused this feeling.  One by one, the elementals found a quiet corner of the world and drifted off into hibernation.  Some slept for many years, others for decades, and occasionally for a century or two.  While the elementals rested, the natural elements of the world fell into discord: once, the world erupted in fire; another time, there was a great flood; but, the worst was when the Earth froze: fire and water both falling out of balance at the same time.

While the natural elements of the world were in balance, the humans of the world worshiped them, but when the balance was thrown, the humans wanted retribution for their hardships.  The elementals came together.  They were afraid.  They had no strength; they had no idea how to appease the world in their current state.  Some said that the humans were ungrateful, and deserved to be punished.  Others argued that they had done their part, and now they had earned their rest.  Finally, it was decided that they would meet with a delegation of humans to try and find an amicable solution. 

There were seven elementals of mixed gender, four girls and three boys, so it was decided that the humans could send an equal and opposite number.  When the humans arrived, the ancient elementals felt a stirring within themselves that they had never imagined possible, each assuming they were the only one feeling such things, kept their feelings secret from the other members of the delegation.  They did not, however, keep their feelings from the objects of their confusion.

This time the interruption came in the form of giggling coming from the gaggle of little girls perched closest to the fire.  It was an ear piercing sound.  Mama Connai looked, and she knew they were up to something.  “What now?  Would you rather go to bed or hear the end of this story?”

“No Mama.  Gurt has simply been consulting teacher about some words we never knew before.”

“Pray child, tell me.  What exactly about your education do you find possessing of such hilarity?”

“It’s just we know what comes next in the story Mama.”  The girl cowed unexpectedly, and finished somberly, “we will be quiet now.  Thank you, Mama.”  And they did quiet, but they weren’t quite sure why.

“I’m glad you girls know what comes next because you’ve made me forget my place?  Let’s see the delegates came from the human villages, and they were feeling things they’d never felt before.  Yes.  That’s right.”

They each found time, in secret, to be with their inexplicable paramour.  After a single tryst, the attraction vanished instantly.  It made no sense, but they found themselves sated, and so they did not bother with the whys of their newly found lack of feelings. 

Mama Connai cut her eyes at the girls in a warning fashion, daring them to interrupt again before she continued with her tale.

The council met for three months, never able to determine a solution that would suit both parties: the elementals needed their rest, but the humans could not weather another natural disaster.  After a time, it became obvious that their secret time, stolen away from the council meetings, had not been in innocence.  The women, all but one, were pregnant.  It was soon clear that one of the sisters, a twin the which of one it is still debated to this day, was infertile.  The fertile twin it was later learned had conceived twins herself.

The elementals were in shock.  They had not considered this to be a possibility for them.  The shock soon turned to fear.  From the moment this second, half-breed, generation breathed the earthly air, the first generation felt their bodies change.  Their powers were sapped to almost nonexistence.  By the time the first five decades passed, there would be a marked change in the physical form of the original elementals.  They would have begun to age for the first time since their seventeenth year.

The babies grew and aged for exactly seventeen of those years.  On the eve of their seventeenth year on the Earth, the second generation of elementals came into their full power, and the Earth fell, once again, into a peaceful balance.  Humans existed that way for many more centuries until one by one the second generation became exhausted. 

In time, each found themselves drawn irresistibly toward their perfect mate.  Just as it had been for their parents, the draw was unlike anything they’d ever felt before.  It was so strong, it seemed unnatural, but in truth, it was entirely natural.  It was nature’s way of propagating the balance of all of the natural elements of the Earth.

“Prop – Proppa – , Mama what’s that mean?”

A withered smile crossed the woman’s face, “dearest, it is the assurance that all of the natural parts of our world can continue to live on in harmony.”

“What about us Mama Connai?  How do people fit in?  How do we stay in balance?”

Her smile grew wider.  It never failed that they wanted to find a way to work themselves into the bedtime story, no matter what the tale being told was about.  She’d half a mind to come up with a story about small children who were actually consumed by Curiosity just to see if they’d want to be a part of that one.  She had a small laugh considering the indigestion Curiosity would develop after such a meal.

“People, my dearest children are kept in balance by the Omni, the all-knowing mother who created and loves each and every one of you.”

“So, she knows more than you Mama Connai?”

A wrinkled wink was the old woman’s answer to the impertinent question.  “No one knows more than Mama Connai, child.  Now, let us continue our tale.  Shall we?”  She was answered by awed silence, rapt attention, and not a few sleeping faces, so she continued her story where she’d left off.

A paramour of the human race would come along and woo each elemental when they’d done their fair share of work in this world, thus conceiving a child that would take on the burden and carry it for another generation.  In this way, the world stayed safe: a covenant made between the ancient gods of the very nature that can save or consume this race of people who reside within it and the humans the covenant was wrought to protect. 

Each generation of elementals confiscated their parent’s power, leaving only the barest trace within them that kept them young much longer than any human could hope to live, but once they’d lost the command of their element, they were no longer immortal.  They’d just aged more slowly.  Over time, a few elementals have had the idea to band together to stop each other from succumbing to the propagation when it comes to them so as to retain their power.  Such hoardings never go well for the hoarder.  They’d trap themselves within a cave – causing destruction without as they denied nature the vital connection required to maintain the covenant.

Thus far, no elemental has been entirely successful at resisting the pull.  Some have fought the good fight, but even when they outlived their prospective suitor, there is always another not far behind and living in a cave is only fun for so long.  It seems to me, in these modern times, as though the suitors come faster upon the passing of their predecessor, but perhaps in my old age, time is passing faster than it did in my youth.

Mama Connai finished the story as she always did and looked around to appraise the sleeping faces of the children of her village.  They were more precious than any jewel that could be dug from the mountain cave.  Their faces were dirty, and there was drool dripping from many of their tiny mouths, but not from one.  One child looked at her with eyes as wide as the full moon, and Mama Connai winked at her and said with a cackle and a hammer of her staff on the hard packed earth, “off to bed with the lot of you now, or your mothers will have my hide.”

Thank you for your time, and more importantly: thank you for reading A Tale Before Time. If you enjoyed it, and want to encourage others to read it, please take a moment to leave a review of this story in the comments. Your honest feedback is all I ask, negative or positive!  Also, feel free to share with friends you think may also enjoy this story, or any of my work.


Kindle Scout post-mortem

I didn’t want to write this post, because I’m already so over it all, but I have to follow through: I promised my fellow writers I would, especially those who are considering Kindle Scout themselves. I was the guinea pig, and okay, I did it. I’m not sorry, even though they kicked my ass to the curb. If you want to try it, I’d say go ahead, but don’t take it too seriously. It’s just a contest, and chances are very small you’ll be offered a contract. And if you are offered a contract, it only means they think they can make money off you. But not all of their authors sell very well…

But I’m glad I did it, because I had a lot of fun commiserating with other nominees at the Kindleboards Writer’s Café, where I became a regular poster. We even started a lively new thread about life after Kindle Scout rejection. I also got a lot of support from my readers, friends and family that I didn’t expect. And as I’ve said before, it was a nice little pre-publication push. It did give me an opportunity to ‘rehearse’ my launch, making me realize I had to re-do the cover and the blurb. Maybe that’s what tripped me up, though secretly I think it was an ageist thing—I’m sure the editors there are all under thirty and the idea of a novel about two women over fifty must have seemed icky to them.  Hey, you’ll be fifty too one day, guys! If you’re lucky…

So really, it was all good, even with the tiny sting of that rejection. I won’t do it again, because once is enough. But I would urge other authors to try it—particularly if you are a genre writer—and I’ll nominate those books when they come online.

As for me, it’s on to self-publishing. Time to dust off the “Diamond Spring Press” logo, and move on. Right now, I’m looking at a December launch date—for both print and digital. Haven’t decided yet whether to stick exclusively with big daddy Amazon, or to “go wide” with other vendors, which limits my options on Amazon.  So many decisions to make…But before I do all that, I’m going to get some travel in. Up to my native Connecticut for Thanksgiving (I’ll be having a guest blogger in later this week), and then the week after we’re heading South, to Nashville and from there to the Gulf of Mexico! I’m excited about seeing those white sands and turquoise waters again—as well as my mom and dad, of course. Hoping to return fresh and ready to tackling Wives of the Saints’ debut into the world…

Teaching nuance

Amidst all the election and Kindle Scout angst, I had been wrestling with a problem at work, which you’ll recall, is teaching business English to very intelligent adults. Vocabulary building is a big part of the lesson, but sometimes my students resist this, because the exercises we use are very elementary, bordering on childish. “I know what those words mean,” they tell me, in exasperation. And yet they don’t: they can’t seem to come up with the precise word they need in a conversation or meeting, and so, use too many ordinary words to explain themselves. And what I realized they’re missing are the slight shades of differences in many words, the hidden nuances.

Think for a moment of that word which is the curse of novelists and creative writers everywhere: said. Do you want to read pages of dialogue full of “he said,” then “she said”? Teachers are fond of handouts listing alternative words to ‘said’: told, mentioned, cried, whispered, uttered…Synonyms for said, it’s true, but do they mean precisely the same thing? Of course not. Some synonyms can be used interchangeably, but some are very specific to the situation. But how do you know? These nuances are things we pick up from speaking English for many years, they have to be sensed almost, rather than learned. In direct conversation, body language and facial expressions help out a great deal, but not in emails and telephone conversations. But how do you teach these shades of meaning to non-English speakers?

So it’s back to vocabulary. But instead of relying simply on the rather vague exercises that the textbook offers, I  thought about it for a while. I decided to simply have a very direct conversation about words in general. I brought with me my old thesaurus—if the dictionary is a writer’s best friend, the thesaurus is an old reliable sidekick as well. I then gave my student a single word, the first one being—you guessed it, said. I then asked the student to come up with as many synonyms for that word as possible. I pulled out a notebook and began writing then down, indicating that I wanted to fill the entire page with words!  We only turned to the thesaurus when we were stumped and couldn’t think of anymore. And then we went through the list, examining each synonym for said, pulling it apart, trying it in different sentences, trying to find out how it differed, if at all, from the original word. We found we could clump two or three of the words together, as subsets of the original word having almost exactly the same meaning; we noted that there were different ways of indicating speech, whether you were actually directing the speech at someone, or at a large group of someones, or simply making sounds with your mouth to no one in particular.

This would be a great exercise for writers. Get rid of all those ‘saids,’ and come up with more enlightening words. I realized now how teaching English is so valuable to my own writing. Even at my age, I still have a thing or two to learn.

Not who you think he is

So the election is over, and I had promised myself to stay off political topics. But I just have to get this last thing out of my system, though, because I feel sorry for 50% of America today. And not the half I consider myself part of.

Red-state voters, you will not be happy with what happens next. You’re not going to get what you expected from this guy. I’m not trying to start an argument, I’m just telling the truth. Eventually you will realize that you were used, duped, betrayed.  So go ahead and gloat now, because pretty soon, you’re going to be unpleasantly blindsided on how totally wrong you were about this man.

How do I know this? From sheer experience and having lived the past thirty years of history. And most of all, because Mr. Trump is a New Yorker. And so, essentially, am I. The man’s a fake. Most of us here in the metropolitan New York City area have known him forever, or since the early 1980s, when he was something of a, gasp, liberal elitist, who was born into his wealth; yeah, this populist conservative phase of his is rather new. I remember the Ivanya days, when they were the perfect couple back in the over-the-top eighties, the perfect New York family; poor Ivanya supported him and yet suddenly there she is  consulting with the late Cardinal John O’Connor when Trump wanted to dump and divorce her; I remember the hoo-ha over the Trump Tower and all the other nonsense that got him into the Post and the Daily News on a regular basis; he was the Guy You Loved to Hate.  Simply, he’s just a narcissist, an egotistical celebrity, all talk. I doubt he can actually achieve anything, and he’s more likely to do all of us more harm than good, if the stock market and economy ends up tanking.   But he is all-American in a sense, representing that good old 20th century American political trope, like Hugh E. Long and the others, the populist trickster. History won’t be kind to him.

I understand why you voted for him. Things are tough for a lot of us. But voting should not be an emotional ‘gut’ decision, but something reasoned and thought out. He is not the guy.

But enough, no more politics from me. Just relieved not to be writing about Kindle Scout for a change…

Blessed bling

(A note of explanation: I had actually scheduled this post for several days from now but WordPress screwed up and ran it today. I think it implies that I am totally oblivious to the stunning, and what I consider disastrous, results of the presidential election. I’m not, and I’m still trying to grapple with all the implications. As for the Kindle Scout thing…they may as well reject me now, because at this point, it would have no emotional effect on me at all. Plus I’m ready to publish myself now. Well, onward Americans. Now is not the time to give up the good fight.)

Now I may be a writer with a spiritual bent, but I sure do love my bling. I don’t have a jewelry box, it’s a whole drawer of my dresser. I’m not really a wanton and greedy collector of shiny things—I don’t even wear it much, though I do have a fetish for bracelets–but my jewelry drawer functions as a very pretty time capsule. I have a little costume-sapphire ring that Santa Claus put in my stocking decades ago; I can’t wear it, but I treasure it. I have still a gold bracelet given to me by the first man to steal my heart—alas, a man not my husband. But lots of tokens over the years from said husband, as he gradually learned the art of Appropriate Wife Gifts (i.e., not household appliances). And lovely little things from my sweet daughter, who always seems to know exactly what Mama loves.

I was rummaging through my jewels, looking for my wedding band, which I don’t wear because somehow, during my long-ago pregnancy, I outgrew it (I only gained 15 pounds carrying Frannie, but for some reason my hands and feet got bigger and stayed that way.) My husband had since replaced it with a golden Claddagh ring (with only minimal prompting from yours truly), but I needed the old band to photograph for the new revised cover of Wives of the Saints. I had the notion that I could replace the text ‘o’ in Of with an actual wedding band. But I had to go through every partition and corner of the drawer before I could find it, and looking at all that bling made me realize: Oh my God, I’m old!

But loved. There’s too much stuff I bought for myself, but lots of pieces from people I love and have loved—close family, good friends, and even not-so-close people who wandered into my life at one time or another, no longer with us. Love: That motivation gets slammed into our heads every February in the weeks leading up to Valentines Day, but truly, it should be the only real function of jewelry. It doesn’t necessarily make you prettier or more beautiful when you put it on. It shouldn’t really be an indicator of how well off you are. But it should be a symbol of connectedness, of loving and being loved in returned. What’s more beautiful than that?

So bring on the bling! My drawer is pretty full, but there’s always room for one more piece!