Crossing Genres: Finding my Thread

Recently I attended a writer’s conference and one session addressed crossing genres and how to market yourself. What I took most from this informative talk was that we as authors can find a common thread when we cross genres…or stay in the same genre.

Then a friend asked questions about my writing and it got me thinking.

What is my common thread?

A thread is hard to define. It’s your “brand”: what readers expect when they pick up one of your books. It’s not just your voice or your style, but it’s what makes your books uniquely yours. Your footprint. Elements, revolving themes, character types, etc. And once you have a handle on it, you can grip that brand/footprint/thread and take it through each book. My threads came about organically, subconsciously. Does this mean we are boxed in by predictability? No! It’s just our signature…our footprint. Each story is unique.

My writing is spiritual, emotional, as well as a form of therapy and healing, all tied up nicely with bow blooming with hopes and dreams. I take difficult aspects of my life (grief, loss/death, experiences) and weave them into my books. I love hope.

I write romance (historical and contemporary) and women's' fiction. Toss in travel magazine articles.

With my wheels turning, I dug for my threads. What did I find?

Love (parental, partner, or sibling),

spirituality, hope, journeys & nature.

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My Threads

Love

Spirituality

Nature

Hope

Journeys

(Life experiences)

Note: A few spoilers below but I won’t give away plot twists!

Love, Spirituality, Loss of a mother, Hope, Journey:

In A Hundred Kisses I delve into different religions (medieval Christianity and a "pagan" one of the isles). The heroine's mother is deceased and Deirdre misses that maternal connection with her kin. She wants a mother and to find her roots, get answers, figure out why she has this special ability. My mother passed away when I was 25 and I never had that adult-maternal connection a daughter yearns for. Furthermore, in the book, the hero and heroine learn that even though they have different beliefs, they are still on the human experience and can appreciate the other's journey.

Spirituality/Religion, Love, Hope/Healing, Nature:

The prequel (release date TBD, early 2019), A Hundred Breaths, tells the story of the mother of the heroine in A Hundred Kisses. I took a big leap into her family's religion, one that relies on nature and the gifts they’re bestowed by their deities. Her family uses the power they get from the earth and natural elements for good. The hero is a firm Christian, so enter a collision of beliefs…but they also begin to see how their beliefs and spirituality can overlap. Throw in some ruthless, exploiting Vikings/Nordmen and their gods (and a villain with a complicated, wounded past—oh how I enjoyed writing him!), and there is a boatload of spiritual exploration in this book. It's also a story of healing for the hero, as he has guilt over something that happened to his mother. The heroine also seeks protection for her brother. This is a big story of redemption, healing, and acceptance (of others).

Spirituality, Love, Hope/Healing, Nature, Journey:

My contemporary women's fiction (also early 2019 publication date) is a journey of a grieving widow raising an autistic son, on a road trip across the country to find her other missing son, in the wake of a natural disaster. She also struggles with anxiety. I took care to include the point of view of the autistic son. She meets a man along the way struggling with his own inner demons. I don't want to give away the twists, but her journey brings her to a point of learning to forgive, heal, and accept/embrace. It's an emotional book. It delves into philosophical questions about why things happen, too. Why autism? Why the natural disasters? Why pain or suffering? Why do we make the decisions we do? Why death/fate? It’s laced with spirituality, love, and hope.

Spirituality, Love, Hope/Healing, Loss of sibling, Nature:

The final book in my examples (I’ve been a busy writer this year!) is set to publish early next year. It’s a contemporary romance novella. The woman, divorced from an abusing ex, has extreme guilt over her sister's death while hiking (my sister died in an accident different than the type of accident in this book). The heroine meets a man who feels like an outsider in his world and misses home. For her, it's a story of healing and moving past her past (guilt and trust), and for him, it’s journey of self-acceptance. There are also overlaps of spirituality and the hero opens the heroine’s mind to exploring answers to life’s big questions.

I really love the emotional (and physical) journey and the spiritual elements in all my work. We all have emotional wounds and are on our own journeys of healing, growth/hope, and spirituality. So those are my threads.

Even if you write consistently in ONE sub-genre, you have a few threads in your writing, too. We all have unique footprints.

I’d love to hear from you. What are your threads?

The Road to Publication: A bit about Small Press

On the heels of the 2018 Writer's Digest conference in New York City, I returned home rejuvenated, riding that post-conference high. I had networked, conversed with talented writers (shout out to #5amwritersclub on Twitter!), participated in informative and motivational sessions, and listened to inspiring keynote speakers. Writer's Digest offered a commendable conference and it was 100% worth going [plus a few days in NYC with no kids, yup!]. At this stage in my publishing career I chose to attend mostly business and motivational sessions rather than craft  (though we could always hone craft and I swapped notes with other writers).

I left also feeling a bit meh. Why meh? Because not one session in the dozens offered addressed small press publishing. There was plenty of information on the agent to big publisher route (the dream of many an author) and the indie/self-pub route. But the hybrid in between the two? Nope. Shaking off my self-doubt and negative self-talk (hey, there was a session on that!), I decided why not share a bit more about the small press experience. I've had a wonderful journey with The Wild Rose Press and I've learned in life to turn struggles into opportunities. If I was feeling a bit down, I guarantee there may be others who felt the same way OR don't know that small press is an amazing route for publication.  So here's my take on it! (Keep reading, it's good)

 A rainy, gray day in the lowlands of Scotland. A sheep and its buddy. Eventually we'll find our herd if we keep walking.   Fun fact that makes me smile: My first books are historical romances, and my editor at The Wild Rose Press hails from Scotland...and her surname is the descendent of my heroine's name. Ponder that interesting coincidence for a moment!

A rainy, gray day in the lowlands of Scotland. A sheep and its buddy. Eventually we'll find our herd if we keep walking. 

Fun fact that makes me smile: My first books are historical romances, and my editor at The Wild Rose Press hails from Scotland...and her surname is the descendent of my heroine's name. Ponder that interesting coincidence for a moment!

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...oh, wait. Not that. Leave that to Chuck Wendig, one of our keynote speakers. Okay, a long time ago, in years far, far away (circa when I was ahem, 20, uh like twenty years ago)...

I had just written my first two manuscripts. Not knowing much on the biz, I researched and jumped into the querying trenches. Back then, it was mostly by snail mail with a SASE (anyone remember those?). I dabbled in querying agents and directly to editors at publishers (at a time when that was a more common method). Got some rejections, feedback, and a few requests. Ultimately, it went nowhere. Enter my blooming science career, parenting, and on and off writing for a decade. I finished a third manuscript. Did the same, but this time, email was the way to go. I even met with agents at conferences. I honed my craft, took in feedback from agents/critique partners, and filed away more research on the biz. Despite more queries and more requests, that book was still not "there" yet.

On to manuscript #4. Rinse and repeat the above, but at a more intense level. I was wearing my game hat by now. I had skills, was refining my craft, learning, growing. I got so close I could taste the offer! Still after close to 40 rejections (a small number, I know), I grew frustrated. The traditional route of agent to big publisher was not in my stars (yet...there is always a yet, for we don't know our future). I'd gleaned knowledge through the rejections/feedback but was still not capturing the eyes of agents. Yet, in the words of my always-first-to-read beta, "this manuscript was IT!" Yes, she texted that after reading my polished, revised version number 100 (or it felt like it). 

I took a leap and queried two small press publishers. The Wild Rose Press, a publisher with a very good reputation and who has been around for over a decade, said yes! That book, A Hundred Kisses, is now out in print, e-book, and audible/audio book.

What is a small press and what do you get working with one?

I will tell you because I did a lot of web-searching on indie vs. self vs. small press. Even Google searches lead to conflicting definitions.

Small Press highlights:

  1. Direct queries to editors, deleting the middle person (versus finding an agent).

  2. No agent fees/percentages (you get your full percentage of royalties).

  3. You earn royalties on sales, but with some you may receive advances, too. Royalties vary, and as a new author, don't expect a bestseller. Publication and developing readership is a marathon, not a sprint.

  4. Quicker turn-around time on all aspects of publication from query to release date. The Wild Rose Press prides itself on publication within a year from contract date.

  5. Niche markets -- many small presses specialize in and cater to one or a few genres. Those romance readers are dedicated and loyal (and I read a stat somewhere that romance is nearly 35% of the fiction market). The Wild Rose Press started as an e-book/print book publisher for romance, but has now branched out to other fiction genres, and audio book formats.

  6. You build a network of like-minded and cheerleader authors (I've established great relationships with many of the authors at The Wild Rose Press).

  7. Personalized support from the editors ( = TLC!). The Wild Rose Press has writer/promotion forums, weekly author chats (open to public), and makes efforts to meet with the authors at conferences or meetings. No question is too big or too small to your editor.

  8. Cover design, copy-edits, assistance with promotion.

  9. A team of editors and staff that are quick to respond and support you in your publication needs. Okay, this is like #7, but I just had to say it again.

  10. No-up front out of pocket expenses.

  11. Though supportive, be prepared to do a lot of your own marketing and promotion (this is even expected from big publishers, as I've been told). But also be prepared to have a team ready to support you in those efforts.

  12. Numbers of books published per year vary by publisher. The Wild Rose Press has published thousands of books by hundreds of authors in its 12-year span.

Enter manuscript #5. I had spent a year writing a contemporary Women's Fiction book, different from my usual historical romance. I queried the heck out of it with agents. By now, I knew my stuff (disclaimer: we are always learning and improving). I attended conferences and workshops, delved into the Twitter world, read books. I had my A-game. But over 70 rejections later, still nothing. And for the agents that did request it, the feedback was surprisingly vague. As painful as rejection is, getting specific, detailed agent feedback on a full request is gold in your hand! Though it's subjective, I find it to be the best information on what to do with my book: edit it more, change up the plot/characters, or follow my gut and leave it be? After another year of revision and input from countless beta readers and critique partners, I honed that baby the best I could. Feeling a bit defeated and hesitant, I sent it off to my editor at The Wild Rose Press. Though started as a romance publisher, they also publish other fiction genres, including Women's Fiction. I thought, "Why not?"

Guess what? My editor LOVED it. In fact, I need to go work on my first round of edits right now...

They are also publishing the prequel to A Hundred Kisses. So now I have one book published, and two more in contract. I have another manuscript pending decision. And you can guarantee that this fall, I am going to get working on the sequel to A Hundred Kisses, turning that series into a trilogy. My momentum is on...and it happened with a small press. Where do I go from here? I'm not sure. Can any author say where they will be in a few years? Just a few years ago I was in the query trenches. Now, I'm overwhelming satisfied and happy with the support and care I've gotten from my editor and fellow "rose" authors! Right now, I've found my publishing home.

I'd love to hear about your publishing experience.

Best,

Jean

Author Self-Care: taking the time for ourselves

Self-care. We all need it. We hear it all the time. We ALL need to take some time to recharge our batteries. For myself, summer is especially difficult to take some R&R. I am fried. Even though I bask in the sunshiny weather (a welcome break from our loooong winters), I still have a packed schedule while the kids are out of school. There are activities, vacations, travel, appointments/errands/house erupting in Lego bricks and paper, camps/sports, teaching and volunteer work...

...oh, and yes, less time to write. When you work at home, there is quite a bit of juggling in summer! Did I happen to mention that I just signed TWO new book contracts and I'm working on edits, and my audio book to A Hundred Kisses just released? 

 Yes, one of my gardens...again. If you read my blog regularly you'll see I am a wee bit obsessed with my flower gardens. I have many. And I purchased this sign at an apple festival/craft event last year. :)

Yes, one of my gardens...again. If you read my blog regularly you'll see I am a wee bit obsessed with my flower gardens. I have many. And I purchased this sign at an apple festival/craft event last year. :)

That plate is full! And I need to take some me time. I bounced the question off fellow The Wild Rose Press Authors. What do they do for self-care? Here's what they had to say:

My number one way to TRY to stay healthy is to stay hydrated and to get off my butt regularly. One inevitably leads to the other since drinking a glass of water every hour pretty much guarantees a trip to the bathroom in the next hour. Just that short walk down the hall loosens my limbs. -- Luanna Stewart

Mary Morgan's helpful bullet-point list:

  • Shut down all electronic devices (phone, laptops) by 7 p.m. It's too tempting to check social media and/or emails. Making this a firm rule has helped me tremendously. 
  • Exercise 5-6 days per week: Walking, Biking, or Yoga. It helps to stir the imagination, clear the cobwebs, and keep me limber. 
  • Make a 1-2 day retreat day each month to escape the work environment. When you work from home, there is no closing the door on your career. Mine surrounds me and I need a fresh perspective.
  • Working in my garden. Tending to my plants, herbs, and vegetables eases the tensions and helps to center me.
  • Sunday is a day of rest after one hour of line-edits from my current WIP. And I'm firm with the one hour. After I'm done, I'm lazy for the rest of the day.
  • Meditate every morning. It doesn't matter if it's five or twenty minutes, I honor each morning with a positive approach.

I heartily agree with all of those. Gardens are my zen place.

From Jennifer Wilck: Being an author is lonely and isolating. Make sure you have people to talk to and see, both writer and non-writer! Don’t sit all day. Go for a walk, switch rooms, take breaks. It’s good for your mind and your body. No one is perfect and everyone has to revise. Don’t judge yourself on your writing. Put the words down, pat yourself on the back for writing them in the first place, and THEN go back and edit. Set yourself small goals—like word count per day for example—instead of huge ones. That way you have an easier time of attaining your goal and the task isn’t as daunting.

Kerry Blaisdell says, "Like others, I take a physical break. But in my case, I also make sure it's a "tactile" one. Writing is so cerebral, and I'm a tactile person. So in the summer, I get out in my garden -- anything hands on. It's incredibly restorative, and nurturing for the plants as well as for me. I also cook what I've picked, which is another way to be creative while taking a brain break, moving around, and using all my senses. In winter, I also cook or bake, or even do "mindless" chores, like laundry. It's surprisingly satisfying for me, to handle all those clean clothes, organize them, and put them away. It can give me a sense of accomplishment, when I'm stuck on something in my story (or even at work, or in my personal life)."

Kathryn Knight teaches fitness classes: Step aerobics, Zumba, weight lifting, Pilates, and she finds it serves so many purposes: gets her away from the computer, keeps her active, and keeps her mind 100% off anything but instructing the class for an hour, which usually helps dislodge writer's block. She also gardens and listens to audio books. 

Claire Marti also teaches yoga and meditation classes. She states (and I concur!) that they are two invaluable tools to staying sane and healthy! She even has a FREE Yoga Break for Writer's Block class on YogaDownload.com that's only 13 minutes long and doesn't require a mat or stretchy pants or any experience. She also has a free meditation on the YogaDownload.com called Manifesting Seeds for Spring, but it's a great visualization for creativity any time of year.

I agree. We all need a break from the computer. I run. Just finished 12.5 miles. I have run with friends every Saturday morning for the last 30 years. And when I run alone, I dream up stories. It's whatever works for you. The yoga really sounds inviting! -- Cyndie Zahner

Mary Gillgannon recently went to a workshop on dealing with life stress and creative burnout at the PAN retreat of the RWA. She said it was a fascinating experience.

When I am up to my neck and feeling like I'm about to go under, I grab a water bottle, lace up my shoes and head to the mountains. Alone. My favorite summer spot is a ski resort with a lift that ferries me to the top and it's a beautiful, scenic, soul-soothing hike down. By the time I've descended, I'm ready to reengage with the world and my writing. -- Julie Howard

I see a trend here with getting OUTSIDE...sometimes it's a simple as getting outside with the dog:

C. Becker: I walk my dog; the time away lets me clear my head and refocus.

When looking at my computer screen makes me want to scream, I lace up my shoes and take 'Bitsy' my dog for a walk. There is a nature trail near here and being out in the 'green' really helps. Sometimes, depending on how hot it is, I turn on the TV and watch British TV shows... -- Kathy Scarborough

What about being social when we are home (many of us, alone with our computers and our thoughts)?

As an introvert, I have fairly modest needs in that area. Being around groups of people can be exhausting, in fact, even if I'm enjoying it. 
One thing I did like about working in an office was daily chatting with co-workers. Now that I'm retired, though, I'm quite content being at home...church on Sundays, casual chats with clerks at the supermarket and
when I take the dog for her multiple short walks every day, I often have the chance to casually greet other people and dogs out walking. So I have the sense of being surrounded by people without the draining experience of having to interact in-depth more than an introvert enjoys. Also, several times per year, we go downtown to listen to our favorite Irish singer, who performs in the upstairs lounge of a local restaurant almost every month. That's a pleasant evening among a small group of like-minded people. In addition, I go to at least two conventions every year. -- Margaret Carter

Here's what Margaret Ann Spence does to keep herself sane on the writing journey: 

* Buy flowers or pick them from the garden so I have something good to smell and look at while writing. A little luxury but it could be as simple as a vase of blossoms from your tree in spring or a glass of basil in summer.  
* Get up and stretch every hour. 
* Make a date for exercise. Take a walk with a friend or go to a class. Writing is one of the most sedentary jobs and your body will not thank you for your choice of career unless you take care of it over time. 
* Limit time on social media. Schedule it like everything else. 
* Find a supportive writers' group. 
 

Well, there you have it! Advice from a plethora of other Wild Rose Press authors on how to care for yourself while in the throes of writing. I see many trends in those responses.

I'd love to hear from you. What do you do for self-care?

Happy writing...and happy R&R,

Jean

--And by the way, my flower gardens are PEAK this month (ahhhhhh!)--

The Perks of Research: Mad River Valley, Vermont

Ah, I love research and travel. Among my suggested list of ways to research (books, library/online research, in-person resources/interviews, museums, etc.), my favorite is to actually go to the source...to touch, smell, and breathe it. Living only 3 hours away from my next book's locale (central Vermont, in the quiet, rustic, gorgeous Mad River Valley), means one thing...road trip! The hubs and I planned a getaway with the kids north for Memorial Day weekend so I could do some hands-on research. And take time off from our busy schedules.

 Getting ready to hike a 3.5-mile part of the 273-mile Long Trail (that runs North to South in Vermont) up to a warming hut in the Mad River Glen ski area with views of the valley and nearby mountains.

Getting ready to hike a 3.5-mile part of the 273-mile Long Trail (that runs North to South in Vermont) up to a warming hut in the Mad River Glen ski area with views of the valley and nearby mountains.

More familiar with the White Mountains in New Hampshire and the coastal towns and mountains of Maine, I now know why the Green Mountains are called such. Not only is Vermont a very "green" and environmentally-conscious state, it is in fact, quite green in late spring through summer. Granted, I'd visited Vermont once before to tackle a climb up Mt. Mansfield, but this time my goal was different: research. We planned a relaxing, low-expectations itinerary with plenty of down time. 

Our explorations included visits to the historical, small towns of Waitsfield, Warren, and Iraville, and a few others along the way. No visit to Vermont would have been complete without a tour of Ben and Jerry's and cheese tasting at Cabot Creamery (yum!). Rounding out our trip: a 20-ft cliff jump into a water hole (brrr...I took the pictures and kept my shoes dry!), long country drives, waterfalls, and a climb up Mt. Stark. Note the mud in the fourth picture below...Vermont is known for it's 5th season in early spring, "Mud Season," and we got to experience the tail end of it.

Our days were filled with overcast skies, some sun, and rain, but that's to be expected over Memorial Day weekend in New England. The Warren Lodge was a splendid find! The courteous staff provided us with s'mores fixings and we enjoyed nightly fires by the Mad River while our kids went for a dunk (with clothes fully on -- why not? -- and also with bathing suits later once they realized they had them). It was a lovely respite from the daily grind of school projects, chores, and work assignments (okay, okay, I did do some writing over the weekend!).

Vermont Signatures:

  1. Cows

  2. Covered bridges

  3. Green Mountains

  4. Farms, meadows, long drives

  5. Cheese, ice cream, chocolate

  6. Rivers and waterfalls

  7. Hikes or skiing

  8. Rustic small towns

How do you actually do the research?

Well...

1. No matter what you do, make sure you have fun. Take in the moments and cherish them.

2. Take lots of photos!

3. Chat it up with locals - ask questions about anything! There are always stories to be heard, or some interesting facts only locals know.

4. Get trail maps, brochures, road/park maps, etc.

5. Visit places off the beaten path.

6. Observe people in their everyday routines (parks, restaurants, etc).

7. Eat the local cuisine.

Well, that's all from here! Hope you enjoy the photos, and always remember to follow your heart and have fun while on this ride called life. And when researching, take it all in...and write detailed notes.

Finding Your Muse

Authors are creatives, artists, daydreamers, ponderers, wanderers, observers. We muse over our ideas and stories. And we have muses that inspire us. But where do those inspirations come from? Every writer is different, and I find I have no shortage of ideas (knock on wood; perhaps that time will come? Better get 'em down now!). Rather, I tend to have a shortage of time to get them all written down. Regardless, what are my primary muses?

  1. Travel - Be it a local trail or new country, mountain or meadow or lake, the beauty of the world inspires me most!

  2. Personal Life - The old adage is write what you know. Be it subconsciously or purposely, my life experiences inspire my stories. (I lost my mother to cancer 15 years ago when I was 25, so the lost/ill/deceased mother element seeps into a lot of my characters in one way or another because I know how it can affect a person). 

  3. Personal Triumphs or Tribulations - That struggle I had when I was 25 and in graduate school might come in handy sometime. Same goes for that successful endeavor I took on, or a feat accomplished, or heartache experienced. Using some of our ups and downs can lead to inspiration...or character backbones.

  4. Areas of interest - by this I mean passions, hobbies, interests. I LOVE flowers. And coffee. And gardening, hiking, baking, science and nature. And my sons and husband. Well guess what? Hmm, my characters may have similar interests. But not only that, perhaps a hike up a mountain or a visit to the local post office while mailing a care package to a loved one might just stir up a story idea (ahem, both have; stories in work).

So many things can serve as muses:

Current events, music, art, history, biographies, friends, famous people, everyday people, travel, scenery, personal life experiences, heartaches, triumphs, passions, hobbies, objects, family...

Struggling with finding a fresh idea? Where can we go? Well... 

Many gather inspiration in public places: at the gym, on the street, in airport/bus terminals, on the subway, at the mall or grocery store or library or coffee shop (or [insert any building that houses people or things], in the country or city, with family or without family, mountains, meadows, beach, or desert...the list goes on and on. Don't forget your own backyard, too.

It comes down to the fact that not one tangible thing inspires writers...

The world around us and the people within it are our muses.

I asked the Twitter world (most of my followers are in the writing/outdoors biz in one way or another) and this is what they had to say. As more people responded, and at the time of posting this blog article, the answers are spread, but Everyday life experiences is just inching out Travel/places:

Getting specific, what inspired some of my stories?

For A Hundred Kisses, Scotland and the love of happy ever afters were my inspiration. I have always loved Scotland even before I visited. My first visit was in Diana Gabaldon's books. I was "in Scotland" for over 15 years...that is, I was perfecting my Scotland-based stories (and after three "practice" novels, the fourth, A Hundred Kisses, was the one to land a publisher). I also have a thing for historical romances, especially medieval ones, so that served as guiding muse. And to my surprise, I threw in some supernatural elements. So, to wrap up, my muses for this one: Scotland, love of romance, other books, history.

For its prequel (in the editing process), history, specifically the Vikings, was my muse. Of course Scotland, too. I also embed, without trying, some of my own personal hurdles into books, as I mentioned above. Death, loss, upbringing, personal hardships: they all sneak into my work, including this one.

For the sequel, similar muses arose. I'm currently writing that one now.

For another project, a women's fiction, I jumped out of my historical romance comfort zone and wrote what I knew: parenting, autism, loss, death, science.

In a different vein, my magazine article-writing was spearheaded by the idea that I wanted to write not only about traveling, but traveling with kids, and with my autistic son who adores nature almost as much as his mom and dad (maybe more?). Since that article, I've been fortunate to write several more, and I keep filling my portfolio, as I enjoy writing about the outdoors and my kids. Look out for one soon on our most recent family adventure!

Not to give away all my future/in work projects, but other muses for my current projects include: more travels to some amazing locales (New Zealand, the mountains of New England, Guatemala, Yellowstone National Park, to name a few) personal life experiences, parenting ups and downs and special moments, my son's fascinations with volcanoes and weather, a sweet (true?) story my aunt told me about my grandmother, and more amazing locales (see the trend here?), just to name a few.

So there you have it. What's your muse? I'd love to hear from you!

Best, always, and keep writing wherever your muse takes you,

Jean