Don’t Shoot! Oh Wait, I Need Photos

Some cultures are said to believe that when a photographer takes your picture, he is stealing your soul. I think my dog might believe that, too.

It was time for new author photos. I had been using the same ones for years. My hair is grayer now. I have a new book, Seal Rock Sound, to sell, and I didn’t want people looking at my photo and saying, “Is that you? You look different.” I hired local photographer Chris Graamans because he does terrific work. We did the deed last week.

For me, getting author photos taken is on a par with getting my teeth cleaned. I’m going to have to live with these pictures for years. They’ll show up online, on the back of my books, in articles about me. They have to be good, and I’m all too aware of my imperfections. When I asked Chris if he could shave off 20 years and 30 pounds, I wasn’t kidding. He just smiled.

As Chris brought in his light stands and umbrellas, backdrop and camera and commenced to take pictures, Annie acted very strangely. She usually says hello to visitors then lies down, but she kept walking around him and brushing against me. I don’t know if she was trying to protect me or begging for attention, but it was strange.

I wonder. Humans (and some monkeys and apes) are the only animals who bare their teeth when they’re happy. For most critters, it’s a sign of aggression when they’re getting ready to attack. Again and again, even though it felt strange, I forced that smile, showed off my massive choppers. I have seen myself not smiling and don’t like the way I look.

We all want to show up with perfect skin, perfect hair, a slim figure, a perky nose and maybe some dimples. I’m going for “friendly.” Or maybe “interesting.”

We don’t see ourselves the way other people see us. I know that. Other people may not even notice things that look terrible to me. Sometimes when I look in the mirror, I’m horrified. Do other people see that? How can I show my face in public? Of course, it could be the other way around, too. Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.

You can’t photograph a soul, a spirit, the essence of who you are, and no, the camera does not kidnap one’s spirit. It only captures the outside shell that holds it.

But if you’re going to be a writer, you have to have photos.

As a reader, I always look for the author’s photo. I want to know what the person who wrote this thing looks like. Frankly, if they’re too attractive, I don’t trust them. So maybe this will work out all right for me.

People are drawn or repelled by pictures. Sitting at my table Saturday at the Florence Festival of Books, I saw very clearly that the front and back covers are the most important things when people are strolling around with a few dollars to spend on books. If the front cover doesn’t grab their attention and the description on the back cover doesn’t make them want to read more, they’re moving on. They’ve got 40 more booths to visit.

If they pause long enough to talk to you, you need to be able to tell them what kind of books you write and what they’re about in just a few words. Do not make people stand and listen to the whole story when they didn’t even ask for it. The man at the next table was great at this. He writes “Humorous murder mysteries” about a professional wrestler turned private detective who runs into Big Foot in the woods while on a case. Who wouldn’t want to read that?

One author said her books are like Clan of the Cave Bear but rated PG. Another said he writes “biker poetry.” Another offers “inspirational nature photo books”.

With my many different kinds of books, I’m still working on how to sum it all up in a few words: true and fictional stories and poetry about childless women living alone on the Oregon coast? No, that’s still too long. Suggestions?

Have you had your picture taken lately? How did it go? Feel free to share your stories in the comments.

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Let’s Sing Some Songs About Hair

What songs would PD play? That’s the question I kept coming up against in my novels Up Beaver Creek and Seal Rock Sound, featuring piano player-singer PD Soares. Recently widowed, she has left her home in Montana and headed west, determined to be more than a church choir singer.

Although she does have a day job, PD’s music career is moving along. She’s singing and playing with a band called Seal Rock Sound that includes her roommate Janie and several other friends. Their repertoire includes everything from Chuck Berry to Bob Dylan to Willie Nelson, with a little Grateful Dead thrown in. At a rehearsal in Chapter 5, they go from “Ripple” to “Blue Skies” to “Peaceful Easy Feelin.’ ” Plus some songs that I had to find online because I am not PD. I am considerably older and tend toward country, bluegrass, gospel, and some new age piano stuff. That’s not going to work for PD and her band. She likes jazz, blues and rock. Her audiences are not going to go for “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”

When a friend throwing herself a pre-chemo party demands “hair” songs, PD and Janie come up with a list. Who knew there were so many songs about hair?

“I Dream of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair”

“Hair” (from the musical)

“Hair” (Lady Gaga)

“I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” (South Pacific)

“That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine”

“I am Not My Hair”

“Farrah Fawcett Hair”

“Hairspray” (the musical)

Do you know any others? Let’s add to the list.  

I had a blast writing the hair party chapter. If you want to know what happened, pick up a copy of Seal Rock Sound at Amazon.com or order it from your favorite bookseller.  

Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

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New Novel, Seal Rock Sound, is Here!

Book cover for Seal Rock Sound shows a rocky shoreline, dark clouds reflecting on blue water at sunset.

Seal Rock Sound, the sequel to Up Beaver Creek, has officially been published. PD is back.

PD Soares survived the death of her husband, relocation to Oregon, and the disasters that occurred shortly after her arrival at her new home up Beaver Creek Road. Now she can relax and pursue her music career and maybe even a little romance, right?

Wrong. New challenges are coming like sneaker waves. Can you love a man who doesn’t love himself? What is wrong with her mother? And how do you recover when the town that calls itself “the friendliest” proves not so friendly after all? Our red-haired, piano-playing heroine is tough, but is she tough enough?

Book cover for Up Beaver Creek shows a creek running through dense bushes and trees, all very green and blue.

Of course she is, but it won’t be easy.

I’m already making notes for the third book in the series because I just can’t let these people go.

This is my 12th book. Does it get easier to produce a book?

No.

That’s probably not what you want to hear. “Oh, sure I just pop them out like pancakes.” Maybe not pancakes. My pancakes are always burnt or half raw. Let’s say muffins. I’m good with muffins.

Here’s the thing. With each book, I am more aware of the mistakes I need to avoid, more conscious of the pitfalls of careless editing or shallow research. With a sequel, it’s even trickier because every detail has to be consistent with what I said in the previous book. Were Donovan’s eyes blue or green? Which one of Janey’s boyfriends helped her move? Did the house PD and Janey shared have a fireplace, wood stove or radiator? Conflicting details can destroy a good story.

My years of newspaper writing make me a faster writer than many. I don’t agonize over every word or spend an hour writing and rewriting one sentence. I spent too many years knowing I just had to get the story finished by deadline. There was no time for angst or perfection. Now I’m learning to break that habit.

I used Allison K. Williams’ book Seven Drafts this time, and I think I will use it with every prose project from now on. Because I did the seven drafts, this may be the best writing I have ever turned out.

Each draft asks the writer to look at ONE aspect in depth. For example, one draft is devoted to making sure the story makes sense in the order it is written. Does every chapter serve a purpose? Is something missing? Is this chapter too short or two long? Does this scene belong in this chapter or another one or do you need it at all? Do the beginnings and endings of each chapter grab the reader’s attention and make her read on?

Another draft is devoted to characters. Are they all necessary? Who are they? What do they want? What conflicts are they dealing with?

We move on to setting. Can a reader who has never been there see it clearly? Does the time and place play a role in the story? Oregon coast winters are wet and windy. How does that affect what happens to PD and her friends?

After dealing with the larger issues, the drafts get down to unnecessary words, vague language, and words we tend to overuse. This is where we make the writing sing.

All these drafts take a long time, but they pay off.

Once the writing and rewriting are done, production begins: formatting, layout, cover design, drafts, proofreading. It is amazing how the human eye works. Several people proofread this book, and we all found different typos.

Finally the moment comes when you click “publish” and order author copies. You pray this book baby has all its fingers and toes, that the pages aren’t upside down and the cover looks as good in person as it looks on the screen, that the page numbers are where they’re supposed to be, and you don’t see any big ugly mistakes. When your first copies arrive and you see that your book is all right, you hold it to your bosom and weep.

You’re done now, right? Wrong. Now you have to sell it. And that’s a whole other chapter.

Next time you pick up a book, whether it’s in a bookstore, at the library, or in a bin at the thrift shop, consider what it took to turn an idea into this product you hold in your hand. If you’re a writer, don’t let that stop you. Just take it one step at a time.

You can order both Up Beaver Creek and Seal Rock Sound in paperback at your favorite bookstore through Ingram, the distributor used by most booksellers, or in paperback or ebook formats at Amazon.com. I am available for readings and talks live or online. Tell your friends.

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The Joy and Madness of Writing a Sequel to Your Novel

What happens to the characters in a novel after the writer types The End? Usually nothing. The author is finished, happy to leave things where they landed and move on to another project.

Unless it’s part of a series. Then you have to figure out what follows happily—or unhappily—ever after. Does the marriage last? Does the adorable child turn into a troubled teen? Who cleans up the mess after the big party? How do they rebuild after the bomb explodes?

Write a series, the marketing gurus advise. You’ll get more readers and have built-in job security. But make sure each new book stands on its own. Okay, but how?

The bookstores are filled with beloved series from Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot series and  Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes to Sue Grafton’s alphabet series and Lilian Jackson Braun’s “The Cat Who …” series. We collect the volumes of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Dune, or Jan Karon’s delightful Mitford stories about an Episcopal priest in a small town. We love revisiting our old friends in one book after another, but writing them is not as easy as you might think.

When I promised readers of Up Beaver Creek, published in 2018, that there would be a sequel, I had no idea how challenging it would be. I put it off for a couple years, then started writing the second book, working title Back to Beaver Creek, for National Novel Writing Month in 2019. I cranked out my 50,000 words, but I got lost along the way because I hadn’t taken time to think through the whole story before I started typing. Then life happened, and I didn’t finish it. I am determined to get it done this time, but sometimes I get very frustrated with the author I was when I wrote the first book.

Why did I say the initials P.D. stood for THAT? Why did I give her such a stupid car? Why did Rick behave the way he did? And what am I going to do with this other guy? Readers wanted romance, so now I have to find some. If you hear groans from my office, you’ll know what’s going on.

I am developing a great admiration for authors of book and TV series. The challenge is to remain consistent with what came before and find something for all of the characters to do or a way to get rid of them. I can’t change any of the names or identifying details. I can’t change PD’s job or the house she lives in without making it part of the new story. If her house didn’t have a fence before, it can’t have a fence now unless she builds one. I can’t change the voice, so I have to write this book in first person, present tense even though a big part of me wants to write in past tense this time. It’s a big jigsaw puzzle where you create the pieces and have to make them fit together. You can’t start sawing off the edges to force them into place. Readers who enjoyed the first book(s) will call you on it.

You should see my pile of notes, file cards, and clips, not to mention the bits and pieces on three different computers. But I love puzzles, and I love PD and her friends. After much stewing about it over the last few days, I think I’ve got the story figured out, and I think you’ll like it. But next time, instead of a musician, maybe PD ought to become a detective.

Check out these series by writer friends of mine: Susan Clayton-Goldner’s Detective Radhauser series and C. Hope Clark’s Edisto Island mysteries. So good.

Here’s some great advice on writing sequels:

https://www.writersdigest.com/write-better-fiction/7-rules-writing-sequels

http://jennybravobooks.com/blog/writing-a-sequel

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I Thought I was Making This Stuff Up–Tsunami Novel Predicts COVID

It’s November, known to some of us as NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. Hordes of writers commit to writing 50,000 or more words of fiction between November 1 and Nov. 30. That’s 1,667 words or the equivalent of about seven double-spaced pages every day, including weekends. I have started several times and pooped out, but in 2019, I spewed out more than 50,000 words for a sequel to my previous novel Up Beaver Creek. I didn’t finish the book. I had a bunch of pieces that didn’t quite go together. Then came COVID and a lot of other complications, including a nonfiction book that I did finish, so the sequel sat in a pile. Until now. This November I’m determined to pull it all together into a real novel. I’m not counting words. I find that doesn’t work for me. Sometimes an hour of thinking is more important than an hour of spewing random typing. But I am putting in the time.

I bring this up because one of the early chapters, written before any of us had heard the word COVID or had any inkling we’d find grocery store shelves empty of things like toilet paper and flour, turned out to be eerily prescient. In Up Beaver Creek, the long-predicted tsunami hit the Oregon coast, causing heavy damage and many deaths. Now we’re in the aftermath. Electricity is spotty, and supplies are low. When our heroine PD goes to the grocery store, this is what she finds. (No insult to J.C. Market, where I have been shopping for years. All is well there as far as I know, except they are missing a few items . . . )

The roar of a generator greets me as I get out of my car at the J.C. Market at 101 and Olive Street. Keeping the refrigerators and freezers going, I suppose. Since the Thanksgiving earthquake and tsunami, we have not had electricity, at least not that we could count on.

I open the door to dim lights and silence. No music coming through the speakers. Half the shelves are empty. Getting supplies is chancy these days. When something is in stock, we all want to grab a lot of it. But then somebody else would have to do without. We’re all learning to share. PD does not like sharing.

I pull out a cart, wincing at the noise as it separates from the others, and start down the vegetable aisle. Geez, not much there, hard to stay on my healthy-PD diet. Shriveled grapefruit, bruised apples, some artichokes I am sure have been there for a month. Pineapples, lumpy cantaloupes, potatoes, red onions, mushrooms someone probably gathered in the local forests—well, I could make something out of that. Meat? Brown-looking hamburger, questionable chicken, and a few whole salmon at $25 a pound. That’s the other thing. Prices are high. Supply and demand. When you really want an apple and you’re not sure you’ll see another one anytime soon, you’ll pay $4 for it.

Some enterprising folks have started braving the trip to less-damaged places in the Willamette Valley to pick up merchandise and sell it out of their trucks and car trunks. People line up to buy their wares. I’ve done it a time or two.

I toss a pound of ground beef and a sack of beans into the cart and hold my breath as I turn toward the paper aisle. Oh, thank God. TP. Not my favorite brand, just little four-packs of single ply, but hallelujah. $10? Whatever. At least I have a job to pay for it. Lots of people’s jobs got washed away with the tide.

It’s like that with everything. You can get something but not your favorite brand or flavor. Except for batteries. They haven’t had any of those in months.

And then she runs into a man who invites her to watch the sunrise with him . . .

Again, I had no idea a pandemic would hit us. I was just imagining what it would be like after a disaster. Who knew a whole different kind of tsunami was coming?

What do you think? Have you seen shortages where you shop? Do you expect things to get better or worse?

Have you read Up Beaver Creek? Books make good Christmas presents.

P.S. I’m getting my booster shot tomorrow. I tend to react badly. Wish me luck.

Sue’s News of Podcasts, Posts, and Puzzled Pups

Dear friends,
I’m deep into revisions on a book, so I offer you a look at the newsletter I sent out over the weekend.

ONLINE:

I’ll be reading from my chapbook The Widow at the Piano Saturday, June 12, 4 p.m. PDT at The Poetry Box’s monthly event. Click here for info and zoom link.

I’ll be discussing childlessness and other topics with other childless authors over 50 at “Fireside Wisdom for Childless Elderwomen,” Sunday, June 20, noon PDT. Click here to register to listen live or receive the recording to listen to you at our convenience.  

I’m co-leading Willamette Writers’ Coast/Corvallis chapters’ open mic Monday, June 28, 6:30 p.m. PDT. Five minutes per reader. All genres welcome. You don’t have to be a member or live in Oregon to participate. And you don’t have to read if you don’t want to. Click here to register.New at the blogs:

Unleashed in Oregon.com: “Driveway Camping” and “A Memorial Day Memory”

Childless by Marriage: “10 Challenging Thoughts About Childlessness” and “The Choices That Lead Us to Childlessness”

MUST READ:

The Memoir Project: A thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing and Life by Marion Roach Smith. Even if you’re not writing a memoir, the stories in this slender book are fantastic!

When Stars Rain Down by Angela Jackson-Brown. Best novel I have read in years. Have Kleenex handy.

LOOK!

A month ago, this area in South Beach, Oregon was wilderness, for 25 years part of our daily walk. Things are changing. Annie the dog says, “Hey! What happened?” 

 All the best,
Sue

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Rocking the Book Table in Newport

Did you write all this? Which book is your newest? What are you working on now? Behind the book table again at yesterday’s  Celebration of Women in Newport, I felt like the old veteran as I watched people pick up my books, study the covers, and put them back dofbbc5-dscn2584wn—or sometimes even buy them. I have been doing this since Stories Grandma Never Told came out in 1998.

I have sat at book tables all over Oregon and California, including many stints at the annual Dia de Portugal in San Jose, bookstore signings, book fairs in the rain in Lincoln City, and street fairs in Stockton where the only person who bought a book was the fellow author sitting next to me. All too often, sales are sparse, the only purchasers being the other authors.  The truth is, if the event is not specifically about books or about the subject of your books, most of the people attending are not looking to buy books. They’re going to spend their money on food, carnival rides, and souvenirs. The writers are just a roadblock on the way to the fun.

Because I have published three books about Portuguese Americans, my books sold like linguica sandwiches—hundreds—at the Portuguese festival. At the Lincoln County Fair, not so much. Yesterday? Two.

So why go? Exposure. People see you and your book, maybe they’ll take a flyer or postcard, and maybe later they’ll think, hey, I should buy that book by what’s her name. Maybe you get a little free publicity in the newspaper. Plus it’s fun to hang out with other authors, people who understand what you do and can exchange information on how to do it.

Yesterday, I sat between Lee Lynch, author of more than a dozen novels and longtime booktable partner, and Lori Tobias, whose first book, Wander, just came out. Lee and I traded war stories while Lori gathered information and advice and vented about how this was not as much fun as she expected. No, but it could have been worse. We were warm, dry, and the wind wasn’t blowing. At the fair in Medford where the photo above was taken, it was 35 degrees inside and snowing outside. Nobody came.

You learn things over the years. Don’t bring every copy of every book. You only need a few. Have something for people to take: cards, bookmarks, candy, or trinkets related to your topic. Get a cart or a strong person to help you carry the books because they are heavy. Get there early so you don’t get the table least likely to be seen. Bring sunscreen and a hat if it’s outside. Don’t hog your space. Bring dollar bills and coins for change. Keep your book money separate from your personal money. Acknowledge every person who approaches with a greeting and a smile. Resist the urge to read or stare at your cell phone, even if nothing seems to be happening. Wear comfortable clothes; nobody cares what you’re wearing. Etc.

Lori kept saying she’d rather be writing. I was content at the table. It was Sunday afternoon. I had played three Masses at Sacred Heart Saturday night and Sunday morning, so I was too tired to do anything useful anyway. I was among friends.  There was music, wine and chocolate. You learn to ride the writer waves of private time and public time.

Besides, I had new editions of two of my books on their virgin outing. Stories Grandma Never Told, that book about Portuguese women that launched my book table career, has been updated, with a new cover and, for the first time, an e-book version. Azorean Dreams, my Portuguese American romance novel, also has a new look. What’s next? Another novel, a memoir, and perhaps a poetry book. Got to keep adding new merchandise to the table. Also, I’m going to move into the 21st century and start taking credit cards at in-person events for those customers who wind up emptying their purses and pockets to come up with enough nickels and wrinkled dollar bills for a book because they don’t carry cash.

Next time you see somebody sitting at a table with books, walk up and say hello. We’ll be glad for the company and delirious if you buy a book.

Portuguese grandma book lives on and on

Stories_Grandma_Neve_Cover_for_KindleStories Grandma Never Told was conceived one day more than 25 years ago when I was hiding out in my parents’ vacation trailer making random notes in the wake of publishing my first book, The Iberian Americans. That book was an overview of the experiences of immigrants from Portugal, Spain and the Basque Country. My roots lead back to all of those places.

What about the Portuguese women, I asked myself. What has been passed down from my great grandmother to my grandmother to my mother to me that makes me who I am? The eyes, the nose, the body, yes, but what else? Who were these women? The few books about Portuguese immigrants that I had found focused on the men, as if the women didn’t come at all. There were stories to be shared.

The result was my next published book, Stories Grandma Never Told: Portuguese Women in California. The title is slightly misleading because the book does not include my grandmother’s stories. I never heard them. Instead, I looked up “Portuguese” in the phone book (pre-Google) and started interviewing women: family, friends, people who were active in the Portuguese community and the people they insisted I speak to. I had never been exposed to much of the Portuguese culture. A few words, a few foods, but not much more. My parents’ generation insisted on being as American as possible. Forget the old country. But I got involved, I learned, and I wrote.

It took almost a decade to get this book published. We had already moved to Oregon when I finally got the letter (pre-email!) from Malcolm Margolin of Heyday Books offering to publish Stories Grandma Never Told. It was released at The Dia de Portugal celebration in San Jose in June 1998. That was one of the best days of my life. My family was there, and the books sold like crazy.

Eighteen years later, the book is still selling, but not in the same way. After nine years doing a fantastic job with my book through three printings, the people at Heyday decided it wasn’t selling enough to be worth doing another printing. But it was still selling, and I wasn’t ready to let it go, so I started my own publishing company, Blue Hydrangea Productions, hooked up with a local printshop, Lazerquick in Newport, and produced my own edition with a gorgeous new cover photo of my grandmother, Anne Avina, on her wedding day.Stories Grandma Never Told_justified text.pmd

That first Blue Hydrangea edition kept selling. I went through three printings, and I’m still getting orders. I’m out of envelopes and almost out of books, but Stories Grandma Never Told lives on. I am releasing a new edition this month through Amazon’s CreateSpace print-on-demand program. You can order it online right now. Again, we have a new cover. This one features my great grandmother, Anna Souza. Why go through Amazon this time? Cost and efficiency. It costs me nothing, saving me a big printing bill and allowing me to charge less for the book. I can also offer it as a Kindle ebook for the first time ever. Plus, since most of my orders come from Amazon, they won’t have to get the books from me, meaning readers can get copies more quickly. I will still get paid and should make more money than before.

Why self-publish? These days, it’s a big question in publishing. It’s so hard to get accepted by traditional publishers, although I have done it several times and expect to do it again. Some self-published books are poorly written and badly edited, but many respected authors are taking control of their own careers by publishing their own books. We have the technology now sitting on our desks. Why depend on someone else?

“Grandma” was originally edited and formatted by the best at Heyday Books. I’m just keeping their work going. Why? Because the readers still want the book, and they don’t care how it came to be. I marvel at this, that I wrote something people want to buy and share with their mothers, daughters and friends. How could I let it die?

Grandma Souza, who died in 1954, would be shocked to find her face on the front of a book. She never learned to read in either Portuguese or English. But here she is, digitized in 2016 and being written about in a “blog.” As she might have said, “Ay, Jesus.”

 

 

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