In Case You Missed It…

For those who missed my LIVE Q&A on Tuesday, here ya go:




Ego Check

I was honored to have a book club in Maryland choose my first solo book, The Bastille Family Chronicles: Camille, as its September selection. Unfortunately,  I was unable to participate via Skype, but the coordinator (a fellow Hoya who was a year behind me in undergrad) gave me comments from the club.

Me: “So, how did your book club like the book?”

Hoya: “There were mixed reviews.”

Me: :/

As Erykah Badu once said, “Now keep in mind that I’m an artist, and I’m sensitive about my sh**.” 😀

It’s been a long time since I participated in a book club, so I had forgotten that if a book club is truly worth its salt, it will take a book apart.  It’s just about liking or disliking the book so members can move on to the potluck meal. They will get into a book’s character development , plot pacing, editing and grammar, and plot weaknesses. Anything that is the least bit tight about a book, will become exposed. Book clubs are better than reviews by singular people because you get a larger sample group, the book feedback is in real time (reviewers often get copies of books way ahead of a publication date, and review accordingly), and you get a reader’s perspective instead of a professional one. But don’t sleep: the opinion of a book club can be twice as brutal. If an author can survive his or her book being a book club’s monthly selection, then you’re doing something right.

The feedback from the book club was immeasurable, although my mental reactions ranged from  “Hmm…I thought that was pretty good” to “Yeah…I probably shouldn’t have done that” to “I see your point, but I wrote XYZ this way for a reason.”  Only one other person has done this so far, but he was an old writing partner, so I expected his critiques to be harsher and more detailed. Ain’t no critiques like fellow writer critiques. 😀

But yeah…the ego was a bit black and blue after hearing what the book club had to say. They also had some questions that would better be addressed during my upcoming Twitter chat about the book on October 7 (save the date! #TheCamilleChronicles #BFC)

No author wants to hear that their book wasn’t great, especially when receiving positive feedback overall, as I have so far (and since my sales are steadily increasing, readers are telling other readers about the book, for which I am appreciative and grateful).  Still, it’s a bit of a gut punch to hear that there was room for improvement–even though, as a writer, I know that there is ALWAYS room for improvement, and that the first book is usually the worst, comparatively speaking.  The constructive criticism validated that little voice that kept second-guessing some of my writing choices for the published version. (“See? I KNEW I should have kept X scene in!”). Still, I wouldn’t have known any of this had I kept the book in its unpublished form, constantly rewriting, putting off publication because I needed to change one more thing–and I was afraid of what people would say about my writing.

The lesson here? You usually aren’t as good as you think you are. 😀 The best way to get better at writing is to keep writing, keep putting your stuff out there, keep getting feedback, listening to it, and applying it for future reference.

An author’s book will never be good enough in his or her eyes. The best we can do is to keep trying, and put out the best product we can…but we must put it out there for public consumption. The only way we can grow as writers is to take the good, bad, and indifferent criticisms–all of which should be legitimate. Comments about editing, plot, grammar, etc are one thing to listen to; but for someone to say “it sucks” or “I didn’t like it” for no good reason, well…I wouldn’t suggest paying attention to those unless concrete reasons are given. Some people won’t like your work just because you did it.  And that’s okay.

The book club’s comments have helped me, and I thank them (and asked that my thanks be passed on). At least they expressed interest in when the next book in the series is being released, so I didn’t do too badly. 😀  I will apply their critiques as I work on the next books. The author who ignores constructive criticism on some “they don’t understand me/I’m an ar-TEEST” ish is a stagnant writer, and one who won’t succeed very much in this writing game. And if you can’t take criticism, then you’re in the wrong business.

Now, excuse me while I nurse my bruised ego and work on my next book. Thanks for stopping by.




Where I’ve Been…

I have been MIA for a few days. Part of it is re-starting a fitness regiment (I’ve been walking 5.5 miles every other day…and at the age of 41, it takes me longer to recover. :D). Part of it is taking my grandmother to her doctor’s appointments (when you’re of a certain age, medical appointments can take up a significant part of your day). Most of it, though, is finishing the draft of a book that I decided to publish in November.

This was an impromptu decision, borne of the opinion of an old writing partner. He was giving me his critique of The Bastille Family Chronicles: Camille (informally known as The Camille Chronicles), which is on a very different level when coming from another writer. I addressed one of his critiques and suggested he would like one of the books I wrote years ago, which was a thriller/suspense novel and was edgier (he likes edge LOL).  I sent him the file, he read it in a few days and provided commentary, and ended with the suggestion that I should publish this.

It surprised me; this was one of the books that had made the rounds of the major publishing houses almost ten years ago, and which was subsequently rejected. I’dd gone over it since then, making some tweaks here and there, but the main character, Sebastian (formally introduced in The Camille Chronicles), wasn’t resonating on a level that let me know I was on the right track. So I saved it along with other finished and half-finished works, and kept it moving. Validation from a writing cohort, however (and all creatives crave validation :D), is different–especially one with whom I’ve recently reconnected after fifteen years or so, and whose opinion I trust.

So I  got to work on the rewrite (which I talked about in a previous post), made some major changes (sidebar: I can see why it was rejected back then), and finished the draft. It is now in front of the Eyeballs, those trusted few who read the drafts of my manuscripts and give honest critiques. And, I can rest my mind for a few days before I get back to writing–although I have been writing part of an upcoming Bastille book in my head, so so much for resting my mind. 😀

I have to get ready for the Second Book Curse (more on that in a future post) in November, so I need to get cracking. Thanks for stopping by.

Organic Flow: Rewriting vs. Revising

An old writing buddy graciously read a thriller/suspense manuscript I’d first written in 2005, and had only minimally updated since then (the last time was maybe a few years ago–I have so many drafts of it, I can’t tell). He actually liked this one better than my most recent release, The Bastille Family Chronicles: Camille (informally referred to as The Camille Chronicles), so methinks I will clean it up and release it in November. The book focuses on a secondary character in The Camille Chronicles, so it won’t be that much of a stretch. In fact, this character is the focus of one of my very first manuscripts, which was shopped around major houses back in 2000 or so (and got rejected).

While going through the  manuscript and noting my friend’s comments, I found that I didn’t feel that connection with the work. I tried, but the more I read through it, the more it didn’t work for me. I had no idea what it was that I was missing, or what was missing, but I knew that I couldn’t put a book out if I didn’t feel that visceral connection to the work.

Then I started rewriting it from scratch.

Seriously: I had the older version, with comments, open in one window and a blank document in another. And I wrote the story, but in the style that I write now. And it worked. I felt that connection, that vibe, that resonation in my middle section that always tells me “YES. This is it. This is the way to go.”

Perhaps I couldn’t connect to the old version of the story because I am no longer that writer. My world view, writing style, character perception, etc has changed within the past five, seven, ten years or so. I liken it to trying to fit into a pair of jeans I once wore in high school; cute jeans, but they no longer fit and to force myself into them would lead to ruin (of the jeans LOL). So it is with trying to fit my current writing self into an old writing style.

Now I’m happy when I work on this book, and that’s a good thing.

Thanks for stopping by.

What It Look Like? Seeing Ourselves (?) in Literature

I’ve gotten comments from those who have read The Bastille Family Chronicles: Camille (informally known as The Camille Chronicles) about how they like the fact that I’ve written my characters in a way that their race wasn’t obvious; in fact, one can insert any race, ethnicity, or combination thereof, and it wouldn’t detract from the story.

That’s exactly what I wanted to accomplish, and it’s good that I’ve accomplished that goal.

I’ve always said that I consider myself an author who happens to be black, rather than a black author (oh, wait…you didn’t know I was black? LOL I personally don’t use the term African American, but that’s another post for another day, and on a different forum. But I digress.). When I was jonesing for a contract with a major publishing house, over a decade ago, one of the more discouraging comments I heard during my rejection process was that “the  numbers show that black people didn’t read” the thriller/suspense novel my then-literary agent was shopping around. I resented the fact that my book would only marketed to black people, when my story was beyond that. No disrespect to my people, but my goal as a writer was not to limit my writing based on race and/or ethnicity. This is further compacted by the assumption that every black author writes a “black” book (whatever that means, although it’s usually code for either an urban/street fiction novel, a church-based book, or a sistagirl novel a la Terry McMillan–which is what “the numbers” *rolling eyes* allegedly show that these are the books that black people only read). I was hesitant to put my picture on the cover because I didn’t want potential readers to see it and think, “Oh, this is a black book, and I’m not black, so I probably shouldn’t read it as I wouldn’t understand it, or I probably wouldn’t see  myself in the story–literally and figuratively.” But I also didn’t want someone else showing up and passing themselves off as me, so…the pic stayed. 😀

That sentiment had a large part in the cover design as well. I’d originally thought of something along the lines of what is normally seen on a romance book cover–namely, two people who may or may not be in the throes of passion, significant looks, etc.  The wonderful graphic artist who ended up doing my cover, John of AdLib Design, mentioned that as a reader, he liked to form his own opinion on how a character looked (or not) based on how s/he was described in the context of the story. To that end, we agreed on using symbolism instead of people on the cover. The feedback on the cover has been very positive, so I’m going to continue the symbolism going forward in the rest of the series. Which is cool, because I have to make sure that each book has a symbol-friendly hook to it, usually in the guise of a significant hobby or activity.

A good story is a good story. I like Maeve Binchy novels, but I am not white, and I have never set foot in Ireland. Her stories, though, are touching and I relate to them. I hope that other readers are willing to give me the same benefit of the doubt and at least try what I’m offering. I’m not saying my writing will transcend race (which is a phrase that irritates me, BTW), but will at least form a common ground for my readers.

Thanks for stopping by.

It’s HERE! And new directions

It’s here! It’s here! Or, to be more grammatically correct, they’re here: the hard copies ordered during the pre-release offer of The Bastille Family Chronicles: Camille (informally known as The Camille Chronicles).


The Camille Chronicles shipped box 080614

I have been basking in the wonder that occurs when your published book is held in your hand. This is a culmination of a lifelong dream, and of over fourteen years of active and not-so-active work on my craft. And it’s here, in my hand.

Of course, part of my joy is dulled by the anxiety of hoping that the book is well received, but that was already covered in a previous post.  So I’ll move on. 🙂

I have more books on the way (the pre-release did REALLY well), so my weekend will be spent autographing books and packing them for shipment. The autographs will be personalized, of course, and will be emotional because I will try to convey to each person who ordered a pre-released copy how grateful and appreciative I am for their support and love. Most of the people who ordered have known me for at least ten years, and most have known me for over twenty. That’s a lot of sentiment to squish into relatively few words. But gratitude is good for the soul. 🙂

In other news, one of my character’s story started gelling in my head, and I had to get it down. And then a plot twist came to mind, so I abandoned the draft of what I’d initially planned to be the next release, to work on this one. A writer’s work is never done, and we cannot control when The Muse decides to visit. It’s when S/he doesn’t visit, that there’s a problem. 😀


Thanks for stopping by.

“That” Author

Here we are, two days past the official release of my first solo novel, The Bastille Family Chronicles: Camille (informally known as The Camille Chronicles), and I’m trying not to be “THAT” author.  You know, the author who scours the internet for any mention of his or her name, book title, Facebook posts, Tweets, blog posts, Pinterest pins, Instagram pictures…anything.

Nope, not trying to go there. Even though I took a peek at my royalty statements to see what kind of activity my book is doing. And Googled myself (there are a LOT of people with my name…including a woman in San Francisco, where I used to live, who is also a cook, as I used to be. At least we look nothing alike !). All of which I’d told myself not to do, for the sake of my sanity.

I had to breathe, stop, and write this blog before I lost myself in tater tots and back episodes of NCIS, before Graceland comes on .

It’s not the writing that will drive you insane, though it is a close second. What drives a writer insane is the afterbirth, if you will, of the book being published. The postpartum depression, for most of us, that sets in when our books aren’t flying off the shelves like those of our favorite bestselling authors…most of whom have been writing books for many, many moons and are at the point in their careers where they can phone it in, if they choose (and some have done it. *Sigh*).  The realization that you can get the word out there via every social media venue known to man, but that’s about all you can do. You can spread the word to every warehouse, outhouse, doghouse, foxhouse and henhouse (to paraphrase US Marshall Gerard in the movie The Fugitive), but short of forcing people to click the “Buy Now” button, you can’t make people buy your work. Even if you think it’s the best thing since sliced bread, your opinion no longer matters. What mattes now is the court of public opinion, which is fickle on a good day.

Not to mention any reviews given. The positive ones are always great to get,but what about the not-so-positive ones? The ones that pretty much feed that voice in your soul that you managed to still, the one that whispered, “see, I told you this wasn’t going to work.” The internet makes it easy for people to spew invective behind aliases; e-gangsterism is the new black. It doesn’t matter if it’s a reader who just couldn’t connect with your work, or someone you slighted who sees this as a means of revenge, or someone who just wants to see you fail, for whatever reason.

Trying to keep up with all of this, AND continue writing, will make you lose it. So try not to do it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, time for tater tots. Thanks for stopping by.


Now The Real Fun Begins…

I’ve had a (successful) pre-release of The Bastille Family Chronicles: Camille (informally known as The Camille Chronicles). My official release was today (yay!). I’ve gotten overall positive initial feedback.

Now the real work begins: waiting.

Pre-release offers that were purchased will be winging their ways to their purchasers within the next week. The word about my book is making its way through the general public on a larger scale now. It takes a few days for purchases to show up on my royalty statements, so I’m not sure how many books have been sold yet in the world. And, of course, no one has posted reviews of my book, so I don’t know how people have received it.

And so I wait.

Waiting is the hardest part. There is an old saying that, “An idle mind is the devil’s playground.” I’m not cooking up assassination plots or anything, but my mind thinks of more insidious things. Like never selling a book. Or that no one will like it. Or that I am a legend in my own mind. Or I will end up in the bargain bin, or Better Book World, or one of the free e-books available on Kindle or Nook.

greater artist greater doubt

Self-doubt is part of being a writer. Indeed, it’s part of any creative person. Our work is so subjective, and is so much more likely to be chewed up and spit out by the mouth of public opinion. As a writer, our egos are paradoxically sensitive and tough; sensitive to criticism, yet tough enough to keep taking it, rejection after rejection. Like throwing spaghetti against the wall and hoping it will stick.

I sit here and wait, and hope that my strand of spaghetti sticks against the “read this book” wall. And try not to freak out while working on the next book (which entails pushing back the thoughts of, “Are you sure that people will want to read another book by you?”).

Thanks for stopping by.

The Business of Writing and Publishing

I have been caught up in the pre-release, and now official release, of my book The Bastille Family Chronicles: Camille (informally known as The Camille Chronicles). As part of that pre-release, I’ve had to step out of the writer zone and into the business zone.

As creative folks, we don’t really sweat the details of the business side. Indeed, that’s what makes signing a publishing contract so attractive: someone else deals with all that other stuff (marketing, accounting, etc) while you create. If we as artists (as a writer, I’m definitely addressing other writers but the same applies to other artistic media) are to really gain control over our work and reap the monetary benefits accordingly, we have got to get into the business of things.

From calculating shipping costs, to the amount of discount I could give without going broke,  to how could I compete with Amazon…all this required a stretching of skills I didn’t know I had;  there was a reason I wasn’t a business major in college!  Even the cost of publishing: purchasing ISBNs (even if you do it through Amazon), the cost of graphic design, the cost of editing, the cost of website design…these things add up, and since writing is my primary livelihood right how, I have to figure out how to make it pay the most to cover my basic needs, and then some.

God forbid if I need an attorney, for whatever reason. Attorneys need to eat too and while I probably won’t hire anyone who bills $500 and hour and up, even $100/hour can be daunting, especially when you tack on the price of a retainer.

Then there’s the question of hiring an accountant. I am a writer, but I am also a small business, publishing under my own imprint. I need to be aware of various tax breaks, the benefits of forming a corporation (or not), and things like that. Business accounting is  a lot different than personal accounting, especially when it comes to tax time in April. And I am not trying to end up on the wrong side of an IRS audit.

I don’t yet know how successful my fledgling business acumen will prove to be; I am just focused on getting the book out there and hoping that people like it enough to 1) recommend it to others and 2) want to buy the next one. But this is definitely an education, and I am understanding now why publishing services, etc charge what they do.


Thanks for stopping by.