Writing as Adria Townsend and J. S. Laurenz

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Bella Andre Uncensored

Here are some quotes I swept up off the cutting room floor here at the Dime Store from the interview with Nyree Belleville, aka Bella Andre, Bella Riley and Lucy Kevin: 

The interview ran in the Albany Times Union on August 14, 2011:

“I’m happiest when I’m writing.  When I sink into a story those are my best hours.  My friends joke I’m the most bounce-back person.  I might be down one day but the next, I’m like—‘I’ve got plans!’  I think I’ve got a good sense of when to quit.  I used to be a singer/song-writer, I played with Crosby, Stills & Nash, I toured the world, and at some point, I said, ‘I think I’m sort of done with this.’  I was definitely bummed when my contract with Random House was not picked up again, but it was the best thing that ever happened, because I got into self-publishing.  It’s ridiculously rewarding.  I don’t say when a door closed a window opened—it’s like the whole wall flew off!”

“I have a copy editor who also does content when I need it and a proofer.  And my critique partners!  Last night I was on the phone for a couple hours with one of my critique partners and as a result of that I’m going to throw out my ending."

“It helps that I had 11 books out through publishers.  I know the reader set and the process.  The upside to self-publishing?  It’s fun, I can say, ‘I’m going to do whatever I want!’ But there are nice things about having a publisher, and an editor, someone at the end who gives you the final rubber stamp that means you’re done.  That’s the toughest part of self-publishing, looking at your book before it goes up and asking, ‘is this good enough?’”

“I’ve always felt if I give up I’m not there with my lottery ticket.  You have to keep plugging away.  Keep putting stuff out there.” 

“I check Kindle boards a couple times a day.  It’s my news source.  Amanda Brice was on there well before her book came out, being involved, taking note.  I can see why she’s taking off.  She was out there picking up the knowledge.  She came out already breaking into the upper 2,000.”

For more info on this fun and clever writer, visit her website: 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bella Andre, Bella Riley and Lucy Kevin at the Dime Store

Here's the interview with Bella Andre, Bella Riley and Lucy Kevin that I promised to post a while back.  Three pen names--one prolific author!  She was so much fun to talk to.  I'll be sweeping up the cutting-room floor here at the dime store soon to post some of the Q&A that didn't make it into the article. 

From the Albany Times Union, published August 14, 2011

Every summer, California girl Nyree Belleville trades the west coast for Piseco Lake in the Adirondacks. The romantic setting is the perfect getaway for a prolific romance writer who has published 18 books so far. It also proves the perfect backdrop for a new series. The first of her Adirondack trilogy, Home Sweet Home (Hatchette/Forever, 386 pages, $5.99) will be released September 27th under the name Bella Riley as both a mass market paperback and ebook. Bella Riley is just one of her pennames. The Times Union caught up with Nyree Belleville, aka, Bella Andre, Bella Riley and Lucy Kevin by phone.

Q: You were born and raised in California and live in Sonoma. How did you discover the Adirondacks?

A: My husband’s grandparents were from Linden, New Jersey and they built their Adirondack camp on Piseco in 1940, a few minutes outside of Speculator. He’d been going there every year of his life. Fifteen years ago, I started going with him. Five years ago we bought an hundred-year-old cabin across the lake.

Q: Do you plan to take a break at the lake?

A: I don’t take breaks, not recently. I work full, full time in California. I’m trying to look at my schedule though and load up more now; it would be nice if I could actually spend some time on the beach there.

Q: Can you tell us about your trilogy?

A: The Bella Riley books about the Adirondacks are set with the seasons on a lake I made up called Emerald Lake. The first has the fall festival on the lake. The next centers around maple tapping in the spring, and the third is about Christmas. In my mind I’ve created a perfect Adirondack town. I want to make readers feel how beautiful it is there, the blue water and the mountains. I don’t mention the bugs. I don’t want to ruin the fantasy. I always think, I’d better get my tan before we go. The bugs think I’m so delicious. I’m always wearing long sleeves, long pants and a hat. 

Q: You’re interested in not just the local landscape but local history as well. You say you get inspiration from the Adirondack book section in the Lake Pleasant library in Speculator, and from letters a lakeside neighbor has shared with you dating back to the 1920s. Does history make it into your novels?

A: The Shelburne Museum in Vermont has an old carousel that came from Speculator. When I saw it, I said, ‘that is going in my book.’ The plot in Home Sweet Home revolves around that carousel and land development.

Q: You’ve written very popular erotica under the name Bella Andre. Are your Bella Riley books different?

A: They are heart-warming, small-town romances. There are still love scenes in them, but I’ve revised them to tone them down and not use explicit language.

Q: Will there be any crossover of your audience who reads your Bella Andre books?

A: It helps I’m using the same first name. Bella is still Bella. Grand Central [a division of Hatchette Book Group] is designing the cover flaps to make it clear that Bella Riley writes as Bella Andre. As a rule people who read sexy stuff read everything.

Q: What was your first book?

A: I started in 2003, and wrote Ecstasy (published by Ellora’s Cave). It was a ridiculous amount of fun.

Q: You were a singer, a songwriter, you played with Crosby, Stills and Nash, you’ve been published with Simon & Schuster, Random House, and Hatchette Books, but you’re having your greatest success now as an independent author.

A: I was definitely bummed when my contract with Random House was not picked up again, but it was the best thing that ever happened, because I got into self-publishing. It’s ridiculously rewarding. I don’t say when a door closed, a window opened—it’s like the whole wall flew off!

Q: You have a total of 10 ebooks available online. How many have you sold so far?

A: 170,000 copies.

Q: You’ve cultivated your audience over the years and have a close relationship with your fans. 

A: We understand each other pretty well. They know the kind of book I like to write and I write the kind they want to read.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m about to launch the first of my 8-book Sullivan family series totally on my own. I’ve gained the skill set I need in the last year. Traditionally getting an 8-book deal would be difficult, the publishers would want to see how the first few do, etc. At the end of the day, the ebook revolution is fantastic and has created a lot of opportunity. But it all comes down to the story. It’s wonderful to make a good living. It’s really exciting to tell and share these stories.

Q: You’re extremely prolific and plan to have three more books out by the end of the year. What are your writing habits?

A: I do a lot of revision. My style of writing is not something I recommend. It’s fairly painful. The first draft comes very quickly [about a week sometimes]. I see a book take shape and see what it’s about. Unfortunately when I realize what it’s about I have to throw out a lot. Like the ending to the book I’m working on now. That’s 30 or 40 pages. It takes a long time to do those two or three final passes. I probably change every sentence four or five times.

Q: What’s it like having such a busy writing career and being the mother of two small children? 

A: My kids get who Mommy is. Mommy works a lot. My desk is in the playroom. I don’t write when they’re around. It’s impossible. But there are so many peripheral things that go on and I can do that kind of stuff once they’re back from school. My husband has picked up the slack and gone above and beyond. I have a really awesome husband.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Keep it Movin'

I've been doing a lot of packing here at the dime store to move my family from Virginia to New England. I haven't been doing any writing, but I've been doing a lot of thinking about writing. It's the biggest challenge (well, besides lugging boxes down four flights of stairs...) to get all your stuff to run out at the same time, like shampoo, brown sugar, pickles, laundry detergent, etc. Sounds like the fixings for a pretty repulsive casserole. But it reminds me of writing a book and the need to finish off different plot lines at the same time and have it appear natural. Packing stuff in boxes reminds me of character traits and themes. As soon as you put something in, you can't always remember where you put it. It helps to group things together in places that make sense.

Because I had two lonely lasagna noodles left in the cupboard I made lasagna shortly before our move. It was heavy on the Ricotta with a thin dusting of mozzarella. My husband liked it; I didn’t. So I could take a few lessons from this. Use what you’ve got because there are a lot of different tastes out there. On the other hand having the right ingredients, but the wrong proportions makes for a disappointing experience. And just because you have something on hand (like an idea or a nice turn of phrase) doesn’t mean it belongs in the dish.

Right now my belongings are scattered in three different places (kind of like my thoughts). When we were putting things in storage, there were things I wanted to throw out, but couldn’t bring myself to because they have value. In writing, it’s so hard to throw things out in the revision stage too. It takes courage.

A plot has to move forward--and so do we…

Monday, June 6, 2011

How many times do you do it?

How often should you update a blog?  Three different sources I came across this week had three different answers.  Every day.  Once a week.  At least twice a month.  A friend of mine follows over 100 blogs and finds it hard to keep up if they’re the Centrum types (one-a-day).  Another friend won’t read a blog that’s not kept daily.  We may disagree on numbers, but the constant here is the pressure to produce.  Pressure is what turned prehistoric ferns to coal and the occasional diamond.  So it’s a good thing right?  It also, in a lot of cases, just hardened layers of sediment into plain old rock.  But rock also has its uses.  I guess we just have to ask ourselves once in a while are we creating a blog or a clog? 

I keep thinking about Professor Robert Thompson’s comments about universities becoming deputies of twitter and facebook.  Since everybody is on these social networks, the rest of everybody feels the need to get on them.  With Indie publishing, it’s the same concept.  Got a book?  Get a blog as part of establishing a platform.  So we’ve got lots of platforms to dive off of, but not enough pools.  For Konrath and Hocking, blogs are a big part of their success, but does that mean that any success automatically depends on a blog?  It would be interesting to see some studies, some hard numbers about correlations. 

It’s all about finding a balance.  Writing a book and keeping a blog use different muscles, and require different habits.  I find it invigorating and a little scary to switch between the two.  The one is about writing and writing and revising, revising, and revising then subjecting it all to review by other writing professionals.  Blogging is more spontaneous, performing without a net.  To mix metaphors here, novels are round tumbled gems with the edges worn off.  Blogs aren’t as polished, but you just might find a diamond or two in the rough.  

Monday, May 16, 2011

Authors have always been vacuum-cleaner salesmen (according to the NY Times)

I'm taking the day off and letting the NY Times work for me.  I've been interviewing best-selling romance novelist Bella Andre for an upcoming piece in the Albany Times Union.  Pop back into the dime store next time for excerpts from our conversation! 
Below is a link to an entertaining essay:
How Writers Build the Brand By TONY PERROTTET
Published: April 29, 2011

Like I always say, the more things change...the more authors self-promote.
Speaking of which, To Conquer the Heart of a King is now available on smashwords.com for all e-readers, not just the Kindle. 

To Conquer the Heart of a King
under the name J. S. Laurenz
or for the Nook at www.smashwords.com/books/search?query=to+conquer+the+heart+of+a+king

Thanks, Scott Fogel, for emailing me the link to the essay!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Read Horror to Write Romance?

In honor of the royal wedding today, I’m giving away two copies of To Conquer the Heart of a King at the Jump Seat Book Club.  http://www.facebook.com/#!/JumpSeatBookClub

And here's the answer to the last teaser:  "Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book" is attributed to Marcus Tullius Cicero. 
The more things change, the more they stay the same...

And here's an essay I wrote that could be called:  Everything I know about writing love scenes, I learned from a horror writer. (Warning, if you haven't read The Dead Zone, there are spoilers here!!)

A bad sex scene can turn a romance novel into a horror.  Conversely horror novels can offer great sex.  Stephen King is famous for fright, but his real specialty is finely-crafted stories that cover the range of human experience and emotion. Whatever he writes about, he does it with honesty, clarity, tension and passion.  It works for horror and it works especially for romance.  The author of The Dead Zone can teach writers of any genre something about erogenous zones and how to portray them on the page, without scaring readers.


In The Dead Zone, the hero is a regular guy.  John Smith—an everyman.  He loves an ordinary woman, a schoolteacher, Sarah Bracknell.  Before they can consummate the relationship, he has an accident and goes into a coma.  For four years, or roughly 200 pages.  For romance novels that’s too long, but there’s nothing wrong with creating tension and a good reason to keep lovers apart. 

Appearances aren’t everything--strong vs. weak words

In The Dead Zone, when John comes out of his coma, he’s emaciated, a shell of his former self.  Weak.  But he just looks weak, he has an inner strength that doesn’t need to rely on physical appearance.   Just because a person is flashy or good-looking, doesn’t mean he or she is good in bed, and just because a word is flashy, doesn’t mean it works in a sex scene. 

Writing experts advise us to avoid weak verbs, and scorn “to be.”  Never write:  there is a house on a hill.  Write:  A house straddles the hill.  In sex scenes that concept can come across as forced.  In setting up the love scene between John and Sarah, King often uses “to be”:    “There was the sweet smell of the hay.  Time spun out.  There was the rough feel of the army blanket, the smooth feel of her flesh, the naked reality of her.”  Here it works as anything but weak.  It’s immediate, and most importantly unpretentious.  Honesty and good intentions, rather than acrobatics.  That’s what lovers (of words) appreciate.

Talking dirty and foreplay. 

It’s surprising how many female writers of romance make the same mistake men do in real life.  To grab readers by the throat, they go straight for the sex organs, completely ignoring the neck and a myriad of other places humans love to be touched.  Unless the scene calls for a quickie, don’t skip the warm-up, or ignore less excitable body parts in an attempt to create excitement.

Here are the only body parts King mentions in his scene:  stomach, face, legs, knee, back, shoulder blades, hips, hair, chest (his not hers), shoulder, fingers, bare toes, belly.  It’s possible and maybe even preferable to bring a scene to climax without mentioning unmentionables.

Here are some of the ways King describes the scene: 
“Her hand touched him like silk.”
“Sinking into her was like sinking into an old dream that had never been quite forgotten.” 
“Her voice is rising excitement.  Her hips moving in a quickening tempo.  The touch of her hair was like fire on his shoulder and chest.  He plunged his face deeply into it, losing himself in that dark-blonde darkness.” 

He does not use euphemisms.  He uses verbs like sinking, rising, plunged, not always to describe the sex act itself, but to describe the feelings that go with it.  The words convey a sense of losing control, as the lovers give themselves over to each other physically and emotionally.


Setting.  Where sex takes place is just as important as how.  “The sound of the barn creaking gently, like a ship, in the October wind.  Mild white light coming in through the roof chinks, catching motes of chaff in half a hundred pencil-thin sunbeams.  Motes of chaff dancing and revolving.”  In describing the setting, comparing it to the motion of a ship, or describing how the motes dance and revolve, he mirrors or intimates the motion of the two lovers without being explicit. 

Be spontaneous

When writing a love scene, don’t stop to organize thoughts or smooth out word choice.  How unromantic is it when your lover takes the time to fold his clothes neatly and place them over a chair instead of letting them drop to the floor.  Or worse, takes a few minutes to straighten out his sock drawer while he’s at it. 

In King’s essay, “Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully  - in Ten Minutes” (reprinted in Sylvia K. Burack, ed.  The Writer’s Handbook.  Boston, MA:  Writer, Inc., 1988:  3-9) he writes: 
“Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word.  There are no exceptions to this rule.  You think you might have misspelled a word?  O.K., so here is your choice:  either look it up in the dictionary, thereby making sure you have it right – and breaking your train of thought and the writer’s trance in the bargain -  or just spell it phonetically and correct it later.  Why not?  Did you think it was going to go somewhere? . . .  You can check it…but later.  When you sit down to write, write.  Don’t do anything else except go to the bathroom, and only do that if it absolutely cannot be put off.” 

Don’t stop the action or interrupt the rhythm of a love scene for anything.  Let it flow.  If thinking too much during the actual act of sex is a problem, it’s an even bigger problem in writing about it.  

No sex without love.

Or at least not without emotional investment.  King’s characters have depth.  The kind of people you know well enough to marry vs. the kind you’ll have a one-night stand with.  Sarah and Johnny don’t make love until page 204.  They’ve suffered.  They’ve made choices that have kept them apart, and life has made choices for them.  The reader has invested in them, because King has invested in the characters.  Romance novels can sometimes come across as prostitution.  The author forces two characters together to make a buck.  There’s not much in the way of connection beyond a physical coming together.  To make a scene more emotionally authentic, consider yourself more a matchmaker than a pimp.


The language that is.  King throws out all the unessentials in the climax to the scene.  Sentence fragments mimic the breathlessness of lovers.   Short and long sentences dictate the rhythm and speed.  There is a sense of order being fractured, of thought being scattered.   
“Time spinning out in the sweet smell of hay.  The rough-textured blanket. . . She cried out.  At some point she cried out his name, again and again and again, like a chant.  Her fingers dug into him like spurs.  Rider and ridden.” 
That last metaphor is presented without a verb, but it works perfectly to convey the action and their interaction with an image, being explicit without being graphic, or pornographic. 

It’s not fear that keeps King’s readers up all night long.  It’s his craftsmanship, and his honest way of working with words to create tension, suspense and a sense of deep emotion. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011


The cover for To Conquer the Heart of a King is featured at the Cover Art Review today (April 21).  They put a different cover up each day and readers are encouraged to comment on them and guess the genre.
It will remain up for awhile.  Scroll down to April 21st. 

Amy Lynch designed my cover.  She was great to work with.  Her info is: 


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Indie Jones and Raiders of the Lost Art

Last week I brought up Bufo Calvin’s estimate of 20,000 electronic Indie titles appearing per month.  Should we be surprised that everyone’s writing a book?  Not at all.  Since that first prehistoric campfire, we missing links have loved to listen to stories and loved to tell them.  It’s what made us human.  Cave paintings aren’t hunting diagrams, they are mystery suspense thrillers about the one that got away (be it the cave girl or the saber-toothed cat).  I’m all for going back to our spontaneous stone-age campfire days…as long as we can still have marshmallows. 

Story-telling is a lost art, not because people stopped telling stories, but because we’ve fallen into the belief that they can only be funneled through certain channels like tradpubs to be legitimate stories.  The elusive traditional publishing contract has long been seen as the Holy Grail.  Now readers are finding the landscape littered with other valuable artifacts, if they’re willing to do a little digging, by downloading sample chapters and reading blurbs. 

Speaking of stories, I met Al Hyslop ten years ago in upstate New York when he was directing citizen theater.  He has been an actor, a journalist, and most famously the Executive Producer for Captain Kangaroo and later a producer for shows like Sesame Street and 3,2,1 Contact.  I had the great pleasure of interviewing him.  His deft and clever answers which I collected for the locally-owned Chronicle of Glens Falls have shaped my view of the entertainment business.  Given his varied background, I posed this question:  Are you an actor that directs, or a director that acts?

He gave me this answer:  “I describe myself as a storyteller. I don’t mean I’m a liar, I mean I’m engaged in the business of telling stories.  Whether one does it as an actor, director, makeup person, stage manager, producer, or writer, it’s still trying to do the same thing.”

Whether I’m writing a travel article, recording an interview, digging into creative nonfiction, or making stuff up in a romance novel, I concentrate on that mantra from Al Hyslop:  good stories, well told. 

It’s that simple, because it’s what we are.  Our lives are stories.  There’s a beginning, a middle, and a most definite end.  (I think fiction is our way of trying to change that ending.)  It’s not rocket science (unless you’re writing the history of rocket science…).  Woody Guthrie once said, when playing guitar you only need to know two chords.  Three if you’re trying to impress a girl.  In writing romance, I’m out to impress women (and men, if they’re interested) who are looking for a story filled with tension, love, longing and a happy ending that doesn’t insult their intelligence.  I’m looking to entertain. 

The reason I keep dropping names is to prove how connected we are.  It’s obvious now, more than ever, with our social networks and virtual communities, but those are just mirrors held up to the nurturing communities we’re born into or move into, or create. 

Thanks for dropping into the dime store neighborhood. 

Next up on the cowgrrl blog, I’ll tell you who the following quote is attributed to.  You could, of course, just google it in the meantime, but before you do that, try to guess who it’s from, and more importantly when it’s from!!

“Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.”
I’ll leave you with some more of my favorite quotes from Al Hyslop about his Captain Kangaroo and Sesame Street days, excerpted from The Chronicle of Glens Falls:  

Q: When the camera was off, did the puppets, like Mr. Moose or Rabbit go right back in their boxes?
A: The puppets were ever-protected at Kangaroo.  No one was ever allowed in the studio, no one ever saw a puppet off somebody’s hand, nobody ever saw the Captain out of costume.  Indeed he got very upset if people recognized him on the street. 

Q: Why? 
A: For the age group of children involved, he was concerned not to shatter their illusions. We were very protective when he was in costume.  He was referred to as Captain, you never said Bob to him.

Q: What was it like working with Jim Henson and Henson Associates? 
A: They were terrific, they were extremely talented and at the same time, and these often go together, extremely hard-working and conscientious. What makes it fun is that it is serious business. 

Q: Any guest stars stand out in your mind? 
A: At one time or another, everybody appeared on Sesame Street, and/or wanted to.  You could be a major star, but the only way you were going to get respect from your children was if you appeared on Sesame Street

Q: What’s the difference between working with a professional actor and working with the citizens of Chestertown? 
A: If people take it seriously, whether they’re professionals or not, it doesn’t make any difference. What’s appealing is that it’s a human activity, and what one tries to do is exploit the rich variety of human experience. 

Q: What advice do you have for someone in this profession?
A: The chances of having a career as a performer are tiny.  It has a certain amount to do with talent and appearance and a vast amount to do with luck.  If you find the business appealing, then the opportunities are much broader.  Find a theater or a television crew and volunteer for any production opportunity.  They need runners, they need crowd control, they need somebody who can handle a screwdriver, somebody who can get coffee.  One must be willing to get coffee! The more experience you get, the more valuable and ultimately invaluable you become.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Two of Us! Or is it?

Bufo Calvin tracks trends in his well-established blog I Love My Kindle.  http://ilmk.wordpress.com/ 

He recently ran some numbers for me for the month of February regarding Indie Publishing.  Here are his results:  “The total number of books added to the Kindle store was 36,494.  I think you are safe in estimating over 20,000 independent books a month.”

When I first heard about the Indie revolution, I thought I was getting in on the ground floor.  But from what I’ve experienced so far, and according to Mr. Calvin’s statistics, the ground floor is already hundreds of thousands of stories up.  Pun intended.  This is huge in so many ways.  But is it really new? 

Here’s what Mr. Calvin had to say:  “When Penguin and Pocket brought paperbacks to the masses, that was a huge sea change, because it brought major books to cheap, mass distribution.  I think what we are seeing now is similar to that.  Initially where you saw the successes were with genre titles...and classics.  Why is that?  Since you don't start out experimenting with your major authors, partially because neither side knows what is a fair compensation, you need something like a genre work that can immediately reach an audience, even with an unknown author.  With classics, compensation is not an issue, of course.  Once the market proves itself, then the majors can get into it.  That's happened now with e-books.”

Mr. Calvin was a manager of an honest to goodness brick and mortar bookstore.  He knows his books, but other industries as well and had this comparison to make:  “I think the best parallel with the tradpubs (traditional publishers) is the movie studio system.  For decades, that was the way movies were made and distributed.  It was court action that dismantled that...and then there was no going back.   I think tradpubs continue to be around, but there is similarly no going back...independents are also going to be part of e-book publishing.” 

So where does that leave us?  Is this town big enough for the two of us—Indies and Tradpubs?  He consoled me with this:  “The other important point, though, is that I think the total market for books is growing.  I think the rise of e-books means that people will read more.  That increases the size of the market, which means there is more room for both tradpub books and indies.”

Here at the Dime Store, I like to compare the publishing landscape right now to that of the late 1800s when dime novels were exploding onto the scene printed on inexpensive pulp paper.  Here's to pulp fiction in any form!!

And here’s what’s up next on the Cowgrrl Blog:  I’ll share a conversation I had with Al Hyslop, the Executive Producer of Captain Kangaroo.  And I’ll tell you why I keep dropping these names…besides the obvious answer which is to keep you reading. 
Thanks for stopping by. 

And here’s the answer to last week’s teaser:  What did Clint Eastwood’s agent tell me?  First of all why was I talking to his agent?  A few years back when the Clint Eastwood/Richard Burton movie Where Eagles Dare turned 40, I wrote a travel article about the Austrian castle of Hohenwerfen that was the setting for that classic.  I had scored a quote from the movie’s producer, and thought a quote from Mr. Eastwood would add even more color.  So I picked up the phone and called his agent, Leonard Hirshan.  How’d I get his number?  I googled him and called him at home.  His home number was out there on the internet?  It sure was!  Believe me, I was surprised too when he, and not an assistant, answered the call.  

“Listen, sweetheart,” he said, and his voice was as gruff as gravel yet he still managed to sound sympathetic to my query.  “Clint is filming with Angelina Jolie right now, and he wouldn’t really be interested in talking about a movie he did so long ago.” 

It might sound like I didn’t get anywhere; I disagree.  Sure, answers are important, preferably affirmative ones, but developing a skill for asking is even more important. 

So, if you’re headed for Austria and want to avoid the throngs of Sound of Music and Mozart fans in Salzburg, I'll send you a link to the travel article I wrote called How Hollywood Lost a Castle.  When I get that Eastwood quote, I’ll edit it in.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Good, The Bad and the Same Old Same Old

Howdy!  Welcome back to the Dime Store.

In case you missed it, here’s a link to my radio interview on NHPR's Word of Mouth about my book, and the Wild West landscape of electronic publishing:  http://www.nhpr.org/kindling-flame-eromance

Last time I asked if the Indie revolution was headed for democracy or anarchy.  Maybe we’re headed for more of the same.  This week Barry Eisler, traditionally published best-selling author, turned down a $500,000 deal to go Indie.  At the same time news broke that Amanda Hocking, breakout Indie, is about to sign a million dollar deal with a tradpub.  In romance, Avon Books has just launched an e-line called Avon Impulse.  Right now it’s every man for himself.  [Though I have to say women’s fiction is extremely supportive and we’re all in it together.]

I don’t mind seeing the tradpubs get in on the action.  In the Indie revolution they’ve earned a bad reputation having formerly been the only sheriff in town.  Could it be, however, that they’re one of the good guys? 

Publishing is a risky business, especially for the publisher.  I talked to my former boss, Skip Fischer, who was the Chief Financial Officer of Henry Holt & Company, and then became the Chief Operating Officer for Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings.  I wanted to get a breakdown of costs behind a book.  The general argument is that tradpubbed books are expensive because they go through an extensive editorial process.  Was this really true, I wondered?  I asked Skip for an estimate.  He told me editorial expenses were probably less than 10%.  Here’s what shocked me though.  What is the greatest expense??  Author advances and royalties!  If a publisher is lucky, Skip told me, they’ll end up with 10% for themselves.  Sometimes, if the book doesn’t sell, they end up with nothing.  It’s the 80/20 model; the 20% top-grossing authors are supporting the other 80% who aren’t bringing much in.  The bestsellers are crucial to support the growth of less-known writers whose first books might not do well, but their second might be a bestseller.  It almost sounds like socialism to me. 

Sure, tradpubs aren’t charities, they’re in the business of entertaining.  But their business model doesn’t sound so bad. 

Speaking of entertainment, I’ll tell you next time what Clint Eastwood’s agent once said to me. 

And as promised here’s the answer to last blog’s teaser.  Chuck Palahniuk’s Aunt used to bring leftovers home from her job as a waitress in a seafood restaurant.  What did he find on a plate she once served him?  “The first prawns I ever ate had second-hand lipstick on them.”

See you next time. 

Curious as to how I know Chuck?  Read on: 

The author of Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk, is my pen pal.  Or at least he was.  He promised to respond to every piece of fan mail he received for the month of November a few years back, and he kept that promise. 

Critics say his work is dark.  I’ve read Choke and Fight Club, and yeah, his writing is dark.  Like a chocolate truffle.  In a delicious, decadent way.  And like a chocolate truffle, Chuck Palahniuk has a very rich heart.  He responded to my initial letter with a package.  Like his books, it was unique and strange and surprising.  Enclosed literally were hearts and flowers (a plastic heart on a chain that lights up, and packets of Forget-me-nots seeds, money plant seed with the inscription:  “Nothing worthwhile is ever achieved without a collective spark of enthusiasm.” and a “Spice up Your Life” herb garden mix).  Here is a list of the rest of the contents: 

Two bloody dismembered fingers (made of rubber)
A pocket knife
Birthday candles
A journal
A signed picture of Chuck and Brad Pitt
A temporary tattoo with a Chinese symbol
CDs of his tour stories
Whitman’s chocolate sampler
A power raccoon
A folding pocket comb
A postcard of Clowngirl, a novel by Monica Drake for which he wrote the intro
Sugarfree mints (cinnamon)
A nametag that says “Hello my name is:” on which he signed his name. 
A card with a bear that says, “You make life bearable”
Body jewelry
An harmonica
Poprocks, sour berry blast
A tube of neon green liquid on a string (glow in the dark?)
Bubble gum cigar (Mad Bull)
A tear-drop diamond crystally thing (plastic)
Plastic gold coins with imprint of Caesar’s bust and the words Veni, Vedi Vici

Opening the box was like peeking into Mary Poppins’ bottomless bag, or a pirate’s chest, or taking off the top of a genius’s skull and sticking my hands into the squishy gray matter.  I do believe this man is a genius.  On top of that he’s a great writer and a good person.  Why else would he do this?  To increase his fan base?  To sell books?  It would cost him money.  The postage on the package alone was $6.66.  Even if he gets the dismembered digits at bulk rate that still adds up.  I know from his website he sends packages to other fans. 

What struck me most about this was not what it cost him in dollars, but what it cost this best-selling author in time to respond to his fans.  The only thing he asked of us was to tell him of something we’d accomplished in the past year.   I told him about winning a prize (from NCPR) for a story about my father working as a dishwasher at a big resort and bringing home leftovers to feed the neighborhood and his family.  Chuck responded with an anecdote about his Aunt who brought seafood home from the restaurant in which she worked--from patrons’ plates.  “The first prawns I ever ate,” he wrote,” had second-hand lipstick on them.  So I love the idea of life with your father.”  He goes on to give advice on writing, responding to my questions.  How did he find his voice?  “I simply stole the voice of a better writer:  Amy Hempel.” 

He knows what a tough road it is to publication.  He’s been there and now that he’s made it, he can look back without looking down.  He wants to give a hand up to the rest of us.  Keep us on the writing path.  Point us in the right direction. . . with  a bloody dismembered finger.  To prove it doesn’t have to be a traditional direction. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Deputized by Kindle

In preparation for my radio appearance today (Tuesday at 12:30 ) on NHPR’s Word of Mouth show, I talked with Professor Robert Thompson at Syracuse University.  He is the go-to guy for all things popular culture and he said this: “I am ashamed at the way universities have become deputies to the promotional departments of organizations like Facebook and Twitter.”  He does not exclude his own Syracuse U from this. 

I, too, have volunteered to wear the badge especially for Kindle, but also for Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.  There is nothing I won’t do for them.  Publicity, advertising, customer outreach and end-user training.  I shoot down misconceptions left and right:  You don’t have to be online the whole time you read an e-book, you can download free software from Amazon to read ebooks on computers, iPhones, etc.  If I had a dime for every time I mentioned Kindle…  Actually the potential is there to earn money by adding advertisements to my blog.  Don’t worry, I’m not going there.  But the big question is:  where is publishing going? 

Are traditional publishers (tradpubs) on their last legs?  I’ve been talking to publishing insiders and the tradpubs may be down, like so many industries today, but they are certainly not out.  They stand to gain by shoring up their considerable bulk with a bionic leg in the ebook market.  I worked for Holtzbrinck Publishing for a few years just after they acquired St. Martin’s Press.  Tradpubs aren’t just companies.  They are holding companies.  There’s money behind them.  Maybe not as much in front of them in their future, but they are still giants.  They have strength.  They’re also not as light on their feet as an indie author. 

I enjoy this challenge of going up against the big guys, and to do that I’ve aligned myself with the big guns like Amazon and FaceBook.  But I don’t enjoy seeing the older giants stumble as they make the sometimes drastic cuts necessary to stay nimble enough to compete in the electronic age.  Some writers who get rejected think publishers and—in particular—editors are the enemy.  They’re not.  98% of the folks I worked with were extremely professional, friendly and (especially editors) overworked.  And they have families to support. 

But change is the only constant.  In economic turmoil there is plenty of misfortune, I know that firsthand.  But there are also opportunities, and I plan to try my hand at them.  Back in 1976, due to a mix of corruption and consolidation, the trucking company my father worked for in New York City went under taking his hopes of a pension with it.  We went west to Pennsylvania where he spent the next 25 years working as a dishwasher in a resort.  In his new “career,” he saw not a dead-end job, but an opportunity.  Not for economic gain, but for good.  He became a one-man food pantry, distributing quality resort leftovers to our rural neighborhood.  He saw value where others saw waste.  As an indie author, I am not about to waste an opportunity.  Thanks, Dad, for the business model!   
Here’s a link to The King of Crumbs, a piece I recorded about my Dad for public radio: http://www.northcountrypublicradio.org/news/story/11570/20080613/commentary-the-king-of-crumbs    

Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club author) once told me my Dad’s story reminded him of his Aunt, a waitress in a seafood restaurant, who also used to bring home leftovers.  I’ll tell you next time what he found on a plate she served him…

Also, next up on the cowgrrl blog:  How the West was Undone.  Indie authors are calling for a revolution in publishing.  Are we headed for democracy or anarchy?  And hear why the traditional publishing model is so much more like socialism than I ever realized. 

Here's the link for today's radio interview: 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Borrowing from Yogi: A dime ain't worth a dollar anymore

On CBS Sunday Morning this week one of the commentators quoted Yogi Berra:  “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”  I just had to add that to my dime-store blog, and comment about the piece they did on business card designers.  They showcased one company that designed a fancy two-piece card for a lighting business.  The cost?  8 bucks a pop!  Meanwhile the CBS reporter had a card with CBS in large letters and his contact info underneath.  I prefer that!  I don’t want to (over)pay somebody to be creative; I want to use my own creativity.  And since I earn 35 cents from every book I sell, I better be creative as hell. 

I’m scheduled to appear on New Hampshire Public Radio’s Word of Mouth show on March 15th to talk about my experiences going digital.   http://www.nhpr.org/wordofmouth
I'll keep you posted as things develop. 

To Conquer the Heart of a King will be one of the giveaways again today (Friday) at Barbara Vey’s Anniversary Bash on her Publisher’s Weekly blog.  http://www.BeyondHerBook.com
Her virtual party has been a huge success.

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Publisher's Weekly Bash

I’m excited to be part of Barbara Vey’s Anniversary Bash on her Publisher’s Weekly blog.  http://www.BeyondHerBook.com
Visitors to her blog will be eligible for prizes including e-readers.  My book, To Conquer the Heart of a King, will be one of the giveaways on March 9th and 11th.

Here’s the schedule for the big bash:   

Barbara Vey is a contributing editor at Publishers Weekly and the voice behind the blog: Beyond Her Book, where she chats about industry happenings, posts tips for budding authors, and reports on fiction.

Monday, March 7th - Paranormal, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror, Urban Fantasy (Takes place in haunted house)
Tuesday March 8thThriller, Mystery, Suspense, Adventure (Takes place at a murder scene)
Wednesday March 9thPublishers, Editors, Bloggers, Librarians (takes place on an island)
Thursday March 10thInspirational, YA, Nonfiction (takes place at a shopping mall)
Friday March 11thContemporary/Historical/Erotica/E-Books/Audio (takes place at a castle)
Saturday March 12thRomance Blowout (takes place at Niagara Falls)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Dime Store Cowgrrl

Dime Store Cowgrrl

The rush is on!  Publishing is like a Wild West town right now and I’m saddling up to enter the fray.  I picked Dime Store Cowgrrl to be my blog name because I like how it sounds like Drug Store Cowboy, but makes a historical reference to the inexpensive novels printed on pulp paper in the 1800s and sold at Five and Dime stores.  I’ve always wanted to be the next dime store novelist, and now, adjusting for inflation, I can be!  My historical romance novel, To Conquer the Heart of a King, is priced at 99 cents. 

“Dime Store Cowgirl” was already taken by an artist who has a western theme.  Succeeding in this market takes flexibility and so I changed the spelling to Cowgrrl.  Although my romance contains passion and sensitivity, I realize that to market it I’m going to need that grr factor.  True grrit to make it in this free-for-all that is the publishing industry where everybody wants to be sheriff. 

I’ll be blogging about my motivations, my inspirations and my progress.  Saddle up with me and come along for the ride!  You can ride shotgun. 

Here’s a link to information about dime novels:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dime_novel