Stormy Night

I’m a bit groggy today because we had some excitement last night. A nasty storm blew through, and just after it passed me, it spawned a tornado that tore through a major part of Dallas. I was listening to the radio when they broke in, telling people in the area east of me to take cover. I turned on the TV to see the weather coverage. The damage seems to have been pretty extensive. Then not long after I finally got to bed after figuring the danger had passed, my phone’s weather app alerted me of a severe thunderstorm warning as a front came through. That kept me up for about an hour. The wind was howling, there was thunder and lightning, and the rain was pretty hard — at least, it sounded loud on my tile roof. As soon as I got back to sleep after that, the app sounded again with an extended thunderstorm warning, as yet another wave hit. Where I am, the line seemed to have been wider but less intense, so it took longer to go through but didn’t do as much damage.

Some of my patio plants got knocked over by one of the storms, but that seems to be the worst of the damage around me. I was very fortunate, though, because if that tornado had formed just a few miles earlier, it would have been nearby.

Up to the storms, the weekend had been pretty good. I even went out Friday night. A group from choir went to a chamber music concert in a park in a nearby town. It was one of those perfect October evenings, just a touch cool, so it really felt like fall. I brought a flask of hot spiced tea, and it was just about perfect, sitting outside with friends and listening to good music.

And I just realized that it might have saved me. There was another concert I’d been thinking of going to on Sunday evening that I didn’t go to because I’d gone to this one, and it was near the path of the tornado. I’d have been on my way home probably about the time the tornado went through that neighborhood, and I’d have had to cross the path of the tornado to get home. Though I probably wouldn’t have gone when I looked at the radar. The weather forecast was a factor in my decision about what to do for the weekend.

I had been thinking about visiting a nearby botanical garden today, since it really is a lovely day, but there’s a chance that they’ll be cleaning up after the high winds. So maybe I’ll try to get some writing done, which might be a challenge, as groggy as I am after all the sleep disruptions last night. When you’ve been watching tornado damage, you don’t rest easily during the next storm.

Changing Habits

I didn’t realize how ingrained the TV habit was until I got rid of cable. It was just what I did in the evening, ever since I was a kid. I generally picked a show to watch in each evening time slot. Cable made it possible to fill the whole evening, with all the channel options and then OnDemand. Even when I’d backed down from following many shows, I’d find some documentary or movie to watch.

Streaming allows me to do pretty much the same thing, but still, cutting the cable made me start thinking about what I was watching and realize that I didn’t have to watch anything. I started reading more and listening to the classical radio station. They broadcast concerts from major symphonies on weeknights, and I enjoy listening to those while I read, surf the Internet, or even write.

But then this week I had an odd epiphany (odd in that it hadn’t occurred to me sooner): I could do other things in the evening. I’d taken out the sewing machine last weekend to do some mending, and I’d started a project to rework something I’d already made. I found myself thinking that I’d finish that this weekend, but then I realized I could do it in the evening. I didn’t have to spend the evening consuming entertainment. I can also use that time to sew, paint, or even work on my own music. That would be a good time to play the harp, since it’s not loud enough to disturb the neighbors (soprano singing or the flute might be a bit much for nighttime).

I do need a little TV time most evenings because that’s when I do the physical therapy exercises for my knees. I’ve started shifting some of that to during the news.

It’s not that TV is necessarily bad. It’s more about looking at the ruts I’ve fallen into and figuring out ways to do things differently. There are so many things I want to do that I say I don’t have time for, but I do actually have time. I just need to use my time wisely.

Investigating Mysteries

After looking into who my readers are and what else they’re into, I’ve taken my first big step toward maybe moving some of my writing into a new direction. I’ve registered for Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention. It’s in Dallas this year, so I don’t have to travel or get a hotel. I just have to take the train downtown. The idea I’ve had for a mystery series is growing stronger in my head, so I figure I need to learn some more about how to actually write a mystery.

I’ve been a mystery reader since I was in elementary school and discovered Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden and Cherry Ames. I graduated from there to Agatha Christie, Dick Francis, and Ellis Peters. Actually writing one would seem to be a logical next step and might be fun.

I’ve never been to a mystery convention before, and I’m not sure I’ll know anyone there. But there will be authors there I’m fans of, including Felix Francis, the son of Dick Francis, who has continued his father’s work. It’ll be interesting just attending a convention as an attendee, without any obligations about speaking or being “on.” I won’t even have to worry about what to wear, though I may dress up a bit just because I leave the house so rarely that it’s fun to occasionally wear my nice clothes.

Is anyone planning to be at this event?

I have my setting and characters figured out and what their character arcs will be. I’ve even figured out the paranormal element. I’m just at a loss for what the actual crimes should be. Maybe I’ll learn something about that at the convention.


Mixed-up Ideas

I found myself at an odd standstill yesterday. I knew what I wanted to write, but I couldn’t seem to get started. Part of the problem was that I couldn’t decide on a starting point for the story. Every opening I came up with was either too early, with too much happening before the action really got started, or too late, with not enough setup to explain the situation. I couldn’t think of anything that was a happy medium.

My other problem was that this story got tangled up with another story idea that’s been living in my head. I had a lot of that idea developed but was missing some critical elements. This one story idea that I was supposed to be working on gave me the idea for one of those missing pieces. But then that story started writing itself in my head. I’m not ready to work on it because one of the critical missing pieces is an actual plot, but I was seeing scenes and characters, and they were overlapping the story I needed to be working on.

I think I got it all worked out last night. I found a good starting point and I have a better grasp of that character, so I think I can start writing today. The other thing has also made progress and I think I know where I need to go with coming up with a main plot, but it’s content to sit aside for now.

Meanwhile, I’m enjoying another short burst of fall weather. This is one of my two favorite kinds of fall days, cool and crisp. I took a walk before breakfast, and it was lovely to come in and make a pot of tea to warm up again. Then it was just right for sitting on the patio with a cup of tea after breakfast. My flowers are all still blooming, and the sun had come out, leaving a bright blue sky. I may find excuses to sit outside the rest of the day before I have to go to choir.


Shrinking the TBR Pile

Earlier this year, there was a huge outcry from book people about a misquote/misinterpretation from organizing expert Marie Kondo. It seems like someone heard about something she said on her Netflix show, made a meme, and that got spread without questioning. They claimed she said people should only have about 30 books. I don’t know what she said on the show, but in her book she said that was the number she settled on for herself, but that number will vary for each person and will probably be a lot higher for writers. The key point for her is only keeping the things that spark joy. She’s not a big fan of the to-be-read pile because she figures that if you really were interested in that book, you’d have read it when you got it rather than letting it sit around.

To some extent, she has a point, but she may not realize that writers also get given free books. I don’t have many books I’ve bought in the to-be-read pile (unless I was buying books to support writer friends rather than buying things I really wanted to read right then). My pile was almost entirely books I was given at conferences.

I did a big bookcase purge starting last year, really trying to follow Marie Kondo’s principles and keeping only the books I love and know I’ll want to re-read someday. That cleared a lot of bookcase space, as I realized I was just keeping everything I’d read, even books I didn’t like.

Meanwhile, I tackled the to-be-read pile. I sorted out the books I’m pretty sure I’ll never read because they aren’t the kind of books I like. I don’t have time to read all the books I want to read, so why feel obligated to read something I’d never have chosen for myself? I got rid of a lot of the books I got at romance conferences. I’m not a big fan of historical romances, so unless there was some particular reason a book intrigued me, it went to the Friends of the Library for their book sale. Ditto with anything about vampires or werewolves.

The TBR bookcase, full of books I need to read.

The next thing I did was make it more likely that I’d actually read these books. I’d been stashing them on a bookcase in my office, where they were mostly out of sight, out of mind. Instead, I cleared out the small bookcase in my bedroom, where I usually am when I’m looking for something to read. That bookcase is actually an old stereo cabinet that had been left in the basement storeroom associated with one of the apartments we had in Germany, and I’ve had it ever since. It’s deeper than the usual bookcase, so the books are about two deep in there. I’ve filled it with as many of the TBR books as I could fit, so now when I need something to read, I grab something from this bookcase. If I can’t get into it or don’t really like it, I allow myself to put it in the donation bag. As I empty spots, I add more books from the boxes I have stashed upstairs. I’m down to three book-size boxes, plus the bookcase. That’s a lot, but it’s so much better than it was. I’ve read so many more books from my own collection this year than I have in decades. So far, I must confess that I haven’t moved anything from the TBR bookcase to the keeper bookcase. I haven’t necessarily disliked anything, but I haven’t loved it enough that I know I’ll want to re-read it.


The point of Marie Kondo’s method is that if you get rid of the stuff you don’t love, you have more room in your life for what you do love. I think purging the TBR stack made it possible for me to actually read from it instead of feeling overwhelmed by it. I’m not sure I’ll ever entirely finish this exercise because new books keep coming in, but if I decrease the backlog, I’ll be more likely to read them on a more timely basis. It’s a pity to read an advance copy of a book five or more years after it was published.


Spooky Stories

The neighborhood association had to postpone the movie night in the park because it got awfully chilly and there were high winds that would have been bad with a movie screen, so I stayed in and watched a BBC adaptation of “The Turn of the Screw.” I’d read the story when I was researching Rebel Mechanics, since it was about a governess and in my very early preparation I was thinking of doing something more gothic (that didn’t last long because Lord Henry refused to be a brooding gothic hero type).

I don’t like horror, but I do love a good ghost story, especially an ambiguous ghost story — is it a ghost or is she nuts, or is something else going on? I guess you could say I like gothic, not horror. I’m all about the atmosphere. Give me windswept moors, old houses with secrets, creaking staircases, dense fog, mysterious men you’re not sure you can trust. I’m a sucker for those old books with women in floaty nightgowns fleeing spooky castles. In fact, my favorite nightgown is made from a pattern for a Halloween costume for a gothic heroine. When I wear it, I feel like I need to be running from a castle on a foggy night.

This version of “The Turn of the Screw” was interesting in part because it was essentially a Downton Abbey prequel. It was made a couple of years before Downton Abbey, and the main character — the governess — was played by Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary). There was a framing story in which the governess is in an asylum and telling her story, and the curious psychiatrist who was trying to get the story out of her was played by Dan Stevens (Matthew). They had a really nice chemistry in their scenes, so I wonder if this film had anything to do with the Downton Abbey casting.

The story is about a governess who comes to work at a spooky old house, where she’s in charge of a couple of really creepy kids. Are the kids in danger from some outside force, or are the kids just evil?

Another good “creepy house” movie is The Others, about a woman and her children in an old manor on the Channel Islands just after the Nazi occupation. I can’t say much about it without giving away the twist, but the atmosphere is really spooky. I have to admit that I still enjoy the Disney cartoon version of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Or there’s the ghostly romantic comedy The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

In a way, spooky ghost stories are more appropriate to Halloween than all the monsters and mayhem, since Halloween is “All Hallows Eve,” which is a time when supposedly the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead becomes thin. In the church, All Hallows (or All Saints) is the day to honor the members who came before us and who have died in the past year. It’s a time for metaphorical hauntings, even if you’re not into the literal kind.

And I think I’ve just added an item to my literary bucket list. I need to write a spooky house story.


Fall Holiday

I have a policy (it’s even in writing, so it’s official) that the first cool, rainy day of fall is a holiday. Today is that day. A front came through last night, so this morning was rainy and cool. I celebrated with a leisurely breakfast of cinnamon rolls (the refrigerated kind) and tea. Now I have a lentil soup simmering on the stove for lunch. I’ll bake some cookies this afternoon, and I think it will be a movie night tonight. There’s a neighborhood movie night in the park, but I’ll have to see how cool it still is by then, and I’ll have to decide if I want to watch The Addams Family in the park or stay home (and warm) and watch something else. I’m also getting to wear my new cozy at-home outfit. Last spring, at the end-of-season clearance sale, I bought this soft, fuzzy tunic/dress from the loungewear department (so I guess it’s kind of pajamas, or just something comfortable for wearing around the house). It was already too warm for that sort of thing, so I put it away with my winter clothes. Today is the perfect weather for it, worn with fleece leggings (though by later in the afternoon the fleece may be overkill and I may switch to regular leggings). There may also be some reading, possibly even some writing, but I’m not making myself write. Today is all about enjoying the change of seasons and doing all the things I haven’t been able to do for months, like light candles. I can’t really have candles when I’m running the ceiling fans, but I can enjoy them today.

And then next week it’s warming up again. Ugh. We don’t get seasons. We get days, randomly scattered around. But I’m going to enjoy this while it lasts.

The weather and the fact that it’s Texas vs. Oklahoma weekend reminds me that it’s around the time of one of my life milestones. It was around this time of year back in the late 90s when I unexpectedly got a chance to sample the kind of life I’m living now. I was working for a public relations agency, and I got recruited by a former client, who’d gone to work for a competing agency. She was running the account for a company that was also a client I’d worked with in the past, and they wanted me for their account. The last time I’d changed jobs, I left one job on a Friday and started the new one on Monday, without a break, so this time around I wisely gave myself a week of down time after my two weeks notice when setting my start date. But then when I submitted my resignation at my job, they walked me to the door rather than letting me work out my notice, so I suddenly had three weeks off, in October, my favorite time of year to enjoy. I treated it as a chance to live the freelance writing life I’d dreamed of. I took long walks, did some writing, got my house in order (I’d moved into this house during the summer but hadn’t completely unpacked or organized everything), and even did a little traveling. I hated to go back to work, but it was a good incentive to keep up the writing so that one day that would be my regular life. And now it is! I have to remind myself of that every so often when I get discouraged or frustrated by the publishing business. I’m living the life I always hoped to have, and while I’m not wealthy, I do have enough to live on. I get to do silly things like declare the first cool, rainy day of fall a holiday, something I doubt most employers would be all that open to.


Supporting Books You Love

I’ve been asked what my Dumbledore’s Army of Hufflepuffs/Ravenpuffs who like Disney can do to help support me. For the most part, it’s the same things you’d do to help support any author you love, though now that my target reader is clear, you’ll know exactly who to talk to or what selling points you might be able to use (if you like this, you may enjoy this).

The big thing is to tell others about the books you love, in whatever venues you use to talk about books, whether in person or online. Recommend books to your friends. If someone asks for book recommendations that these books would fit, bring them up. Tweet/blog/post about them on Facebook. If you’re a Booktuber, do a video. Put pictures of them on Instagram or Pin pictures. For my books in particular, you could mention that the Enchanted, Inc. books are like Harry Potter for grownups. If you’re active in any kind of related fan groups online, you can bring them up in relevant discussions.

Post reviews of books you love at places like Amazon or Goodreads. In your reviews, mention these connections — “fans of Harry Potter might enjoy these books about a magical corporation.” Also mention the other things you like about them. The most helpful reviews are the ones that can help others decide if these books are for them, so the more non-spoilery specifics about what you like, the better.

You can also amplify things an author you enjoy does — like or repost/retweet/share their posts, post links to blog posts you think a broader audience might find interesting.

If you know of someone who talks a lot about books — Bookstagrammers, book bloggers, Booktubers, etc. — who you think would enjoy the books you enjoy, you can suggest these books to them.

Request that your local library carry the books you like. There may be a form available in the library to fill out, or your library system may have a form on their web site. Mine calls it “add item to collection.” Libraries are great because there are so many of them that an author can make a lot of money just by libraries buying books, plus they’re a great way for readers to discover authors. I know that I found most of my favorite authors through trying their books in the library, but then I ended up buying copies to keep for myself and bought their new books when they came out rather than wait for the library to get them. My library’s form has a spot for explaining why you think the library should add this book, and that’s where you can put stuff like “adult fans of Harry Potter might enjoy this series.” If the librarian is intrigued by your description, she may try the books herself and then recommend them to patrons.

For recent releases that are in bookstores (which mine aren’t right now), talking to booksellers about them might bring the books to their attention so they recommend them to customers. When a new book by a favorite author comes out, I like to go to the store during release week, do the happy dance when I find the book, and gush about the series/author to the person who rings me up. The bookseller may be intrigued enough to take a look at that book. If they don’t have the book in stock, you can ask them to look it up for you in the system. That also brings the book to the bookseller’s attention (and sometimes they may order a couple of copies for the store while they’re at it).

Those are probably the best things a fan can do to support an author or book. Word of mouth is the most effective way to market a book, and it’s one thing that an author or publisher can’t do a lot about. That’s up to readers.

My Books

More About the “Ideal Reader”

Thanks for all the responses about my “ideal reader.” It’s good to hear that I pretty much have it nailed. I guess my instincts were right. And it seems that I have a lot of Hufflepuffs among my readership. I’m more of a Ravenclaw, I’m afraid, possibly a Ravenpuff. Or else I’m the Ravenclaw who hangs out with Hufflepuffs because the other Ravenclaws are a bit too intense and competitive for me. But I digress.

I was asked where the Rebel Mechanics books fit into this. When I was writing that first book, I was aiming squarely at the steampunk community. I figured it would be right up their alley. There were characters who actually were “steampunks.” It was a subculture within that world. There was fun costume potential. I even came up with a plot reason to put gears on things as a decorative element. I had all kinds of fantasies about the steampunk crowd at conventions wearing gears on red ribbons and it becoming a thing.

But the adult fantasy publishers all rejected it, saying it was “too romancey” and suggesting I submit it to romance publishers. Instead, since the characters were all pretty young, I did another edit on it to tighten it up, added a bit more romance and emotion (yes, the version rejected as being “too romancey” had even less romance than the version that got published) and submitted it to YA houses, where it sold. That publisher marketed it to the YA segment (schools and libraries) but didn’t market it as fantasy or as steampunk, so the steampunk crowd didn’t really find it. A few people in that community found it and have loved the series, but it never seems to have spread or caught on there. I never see it mentioned when people ask for steampunk book recommendations.

In spite of what I had in mind when I wrote it, I suspect that the core of my “ideal reader” is probably the same there. Possibly less Harry Potter (though the Fantastic Beasts movies are getting closer) and more of the Jane Austen/Jane Eyre interest, but still a very similar-looking Venn diagram intersection. There would probably be more outliers who don’t fit in that central overlap, like the few steampunks who found it, and there’s the big circle of the actual pre-teens and teens. Some of them might fit a number of those key characteristics (they’re the younger versions of the “ideal reader”), but I think the big factor there was that the kids found the books through teachers and librarians, and most of the teachers and librarians I’ve heard from fall right in the target zone for my “ideal reader” demographic. For YA books, I might spread my promo to hit a younger audience, but I think my core “ideal readers” would still be my main target.

The trick will be finding a way to communicate with a broader audience of this readership to reach more people who might like my books. A lot of the things I’ve been doing or have been thinking about doing probably won’t do a lot of good. Since these aren’t hard-core fantasy readers, I doubt they’d be reading the SF&F magazines, so trying to sell short stories might not bring me new readers. They might read anthologies, though, so that may be something to focus more on. There are a lot of aspiring writers in that group, so writing tips might be good. I might need to be more active on Goodreads and get back to posting reviews. That seems like a place my ideal reader may be likely to hang out. Pinterest seems to fall right into that area, so I might want to explore it. Science fiction conventions might be a waste of time unless one of the other guests is someone who’s a really big name that would lure people who might also like me, but speaking to library associations or teachers groups would probably really pay off for me. I should probably talk more about books on my blog (alas, I’ve been in a reading slump and haven’t read anything I’d strongly recommend lately), possibly discuss some of the other things my core readership is into.

Having this hypothetical reader in mind actually makes me feel better about a lot of things. I’ve hated going to science fiction conventions and feeling invisible, but knowing that my readers aren’t likely to be there makes that make sense. I’m also less likely to be someone considered as a special guest at these cons because that’s not where my core readership is. I likely won’t get nominated for the big genre awards because my readers aren’t likely to be members of the relevant groups. A lot of the things I’ve considered career yardsticks are probably not realistic. Not getting them doesn’t mean I’m failing. It just means my readers are elsewhere. Now I just have to find where they are.

My Books

Finding my Ideal Reader

I spent a lot of yesterday reading various things about publishing, marketing books, etc., and I had a big “Aha!” moment that led to a hypothesis that I now need to test.

One of the books talked about having an “ideal reader,” the hypothetical person you write your books for. There will obviously be outliers who don’t fit the profile, but this is the core readership you’re targeting. This is the person you have in mind when you write, so that you’re writing books that appeal to this person, and this is the person you target in your marketing efforts. One way of testing whether you’re doing this the right way is by looking at the “also boughts” for your books on Amazon. Are these books that you think your ideal reader would also be interested in? If not, you may have problems because the people who bought those books are going to be the ones Amazon will promote your books to.

My “also boughts” are kind of weird. Aside from my own books, there’s a bit of contemporary fantasy, then there are the cozy paranormal mysteries with cartoony covers, and then there are a lot of vampire and shifter romances. I can see there being some crossover, but generally, people who are into sexy vampire and shifter romances probably aren’t going to find what they’re looking for from my books. But then I remembered that my publisher keeps promoting Enchanted, Inc. as paranormal romance. Whenever they do a BookBub, that’s the category they put it in (no matter how many times I beg them not to). The number of people who buy the book during a BookBub has probably totally skewed things. The cozy paranormal mystery thing may be more organic. There’s likely some crossover with the paranormal romance market, but I think that readership is also drawn to my books because there’s a “case” in each book while the relationships develop over the course of the series, and like a cozy mystery, there’s no graphic sex or violence.

But this doesn’t really fit my “ideal reader.” When I started writing Enchanted, Inc., it was essentially for people like me, adults who enjoyed the Harry Potter books but wanted something like that for and about grown-ups, applying the magical whimsy of the Harry Potter universe to the adult world of work, with bad bosses, office politics, and office romances.

Digging deeper into that, and considering the readers I’ve met or talked to, I would say that my target ideal reader is probably a woman (95 percent of my author Facebook page followers are women) who’s a big reader, but not necessarily a hard-core fantasy fan. She really loves the Harry Potter universe (either read the books as an adult or was a teen fan who’s now grown up) and wants more stuff like that, but has a hard time finding it. She’s probably also a Disney fan, both of the animated movies and the live-action remakes. She may like romance in books, but her tastes tend more toward Jane Austen than the kind of thing generally sold as “romance.” She’s possibly more likely to read YA fantasy than adult fantasy because she’s not so into the heavy, grim stuff. Normal life is stressful enough! She’s more concerned with a world she enjoys visiting than in the intricacies of worldbuilding, and the characters are the most important part.

That doesn’t mean that other readers aren’t welcome, just that this is the center of the Venn diagram of all the various types of readers, and it’s who I tend to write for. Now I just need to find a way to reach this reader. When we were launching the first Enchanted, Inc. book, I tried to convince my publisher to go after the adult fans of Harry Potter, especially since one of those books was coming out a month or so after my book. They told me, “We want people writing about you, not writing about Harry Potter,” and I told them no one was going to be writing about me, but they would be writing about Harry Potter, and if I got included in that, it would give me a boost. I did go a little rogue and sent a review copy to a local reporter who was writing about Harry Potter, and I did end up getting an article about “What moms can read while waiting for their kids to finish the new Harry Potter book,” so it might have worked on a broader scale. I also sent a review copy to one of the big Harry Potter fan sites that also did reviews of books their fans might like. But I’m not sure my “ideal reader” is someone who’s that kind of fan. She probably doesn’t have a lot of time for “fandom.” She just reads things she enjoys. She may buy some merchandise, but probably isn’t spending time on fan sites.

So, how close does my “ideal reader” come to hitting the mark? Does this sound anything like you or someone you know? Of course, the fact that you’re reading my blog probably puts you deeper into “fandom” than the majority of people who read my books, so that’s going to skew any feedback.