Preparing for the polar plunge: book promotion

While I still don’t have a firm release date for my debut mystery novel, A DEAD MAN’S EYES, things are happening behind the scenes at Black Opal Books that indicate it will be on bookshelves by late spring. And that means it’s time for me to get to work.

I need to start seriously promoting my novel.

I feel a bit like I did as a kid, preparing to dive into the tea-colored waters of an Adirondack lake for the first time after a long winter. Adirondack lakes never really warm up, so a late-spring swim can feel like a polar plunge. That first moment of contact is a shock to the system and the anticipation of it can be enough to make a weaker soul run for the heated pool inside the Best Western.

But the rewards … oh, the rewards.

Those who brave the first plunge find the gates open to a whole summer of freedom — swimming across Ampersand Bay, leaping off cliffs at The Gulch, skipping-dipping under the post-midnight stars in Lake Flower (Who? Me?). The body quickly adjusts to the temperature and the initial shock gives way to exhilaration. Winter is gone and summer, full of new possibilities, arrives.

This is my spring. Winter — a time of first drafts, first query letters, first rejections and first acceptances — was lovely and full of its own adventures, but it lasted almost 20 years and I am ready for this new season. I am excited, thrilled even, but I have to steel myself for that first plunge, for the initial shock of promotions.

It’s a huge and intimidating shift from the private life of a writer to the more public life of an author/business person. I know I can write books, but can I sell them? The thought of promoting and marketing my books is enough to make me run to the nearest public relations firm. But I know that it will be worth it, that I just need to take that first plunge and let my mind adjust to the temperature of it all.

I still have some time, so I am preparing with a book that came highly recommended, Before and After the Book Deal by Courtney Maum. I have only just begun reading, but I’m finding it inspiring so far. I would love to hear from other writers. How was your transition? How did you prepare for your debut novel? Feel free to link to any blog posts or books in the comments.

Dread be gone

New years are a thrill, aren’t they? They are full of promises and possibilities. Peace, joy, happiness — all that stuff. This year should be especially exciting for me with three novels due for release, beginning this spring.

So why this lingering sense of dread?

I made it through the holidays, thanks to the kids. It was easy to stuff this intense uneasiness deep down in my gut with the older children home from college and the younger two on break from junior high.

So much to do!

But they are all getting ready to return now and that means I will be home alone with no one and nothing to distract me. No obstacles to prevent that feeling from rising to surface. I have to face it. I have to admit that I am afraid.

Terrified, really.

I started writing my first novel almost 20 years ago. That’s a long time. My imagination was free to go wild during those two decades, not only with plots and subplots, but also with dreams of becoming a published author, with plans for book events and more novels and more book events. And more books events.

Did I mention book events?

I love to talk about writing. I love to work with other writers. I love to encourage new writers, to help them see the world from new and interesting perspectives. I even enjoy the social media stuff — connecting, sharing, commiserating.

But now I have these products and I have to sell them and all that self-doubt is creeping back in. Should people buy my novels? Are they good enough? Am I going to put myself out there just to be made a fool?

I have to remind myself daily and nightly that two different agents felt my work was worth their time, that the editors at Black Opal Books had confidence enough to offer me a three-book contract, that this is real and this is happening, and that my husband and kids believe in me.

I am cool with being nervous. Nervousness can be a good thing, productive even. But I need to banish the dread. I need to fly with my imagination again, to go wild and have fun. Hence, my New Year’s resolution: to nourish confidence in the face of dread and to defeat it once and for all.

Happy New Year!

The Overpass

I had a dream early this morning, long before dawn.

I was standing on a highway overpass, overlooking a city’s downtown on a gray and still day. Somehow, I knew this city was in Central New York, where I had spent my journalism years, but something was different. I was confused.

I had planned to walk into town, but I was overwhelmed with apprehension, a sense that I should remain on that overpass. So I did, and in that moment, the first building began to fall. It had been leaning slightly already, but the pressure was too great. It crumbled and crashed into the next building, which also collapsed.

The weight of the rubble broke a nearby dam and the highway below me became an instant river, turbulent and wide. I saw no one — no people fighting the current, no vehicles floating downstream, no bodies anywhere. I heard nothing — no crash of concrete and steel, no rushing water, no screams.

My decision had isolated and insulated me.

I was alone on the overpass, safe and alive and terrified.

Confessions of a Former Crime Reporter

Twenty-seven years ago, I created a bit of a stir among a few Central New York police agencies when the newspaper I worked for ran my interview with a murder suspect I wasn’t supposed to know about.

Sources told me state police accused sheriff’s deputies of leaking me the information, and that sheriff’s deputies threw the accusations right back. Everybody was mad at everybody.

The funny thing is that no one asked me how I got his name, not even when the suspect sued state police for defamation, or when the real killer was caught years later.

I have whispered my story to only a few, select people over the years, but I am ready to relieve myself of this burden — to confess to you. First, however, let me tell you a little about this case.

This particular murder troubled people more than most.

The victim and his family were well-respected, and the boy was killed in community that took pride in its reputation as a quaint, safe and desirable place to live. There was no way to blame the victim, no way for parents to tell themselves this couldn’t happen to their children.

Police were under pressure.

I was under pressure.

Residents wanted to feel safe again.

The suspect invited me in when I knocked on his door, pointed to the unmarked police car in a neighboring lot that neither of us was supposed to know about, and told me why, he believed, he was a target.

First, he lived on the lake close to where the body was submerged. Second, he was a motorcycle-riding stranger in a well-off village that didn’t like motorcycles or strangers. He theorized that police didn’t tell me about him because they had no evidence and too many doubts. It was the community that wanted to convict him.

He wanted to clear his name, so I listened.

Then I talked to state police.

Then I wrote the story.

How did I find him?

Here it goes.

About three days ( I think) after the body was found, I stopped by the building police had been using as a local command post while they investigated the murder. It was empty. They had packed up and left, which usually meant one of two things: They had no leads, or they had a really good one. Police weren’t saying much about the case, which fueled my belief that they had a suspect.

Well, I say the room was empty, but one thing remained.

There, on the bare conference table was a blank, yellow legal pad. It was void of ink, but full of deep indentations from a pen or pencil. It beckoned me. Memories of a childhood game gave me an idea and I grabbed the pad before I could think about it any further.

At a table in a local Burger King, I gently rubbed the page with the long edge of a sharpened pencil, the same way I decoded “secret messages” as a child. Words began to appear and there it was: the name and address of the suspect.

That was it.

The secret has been revealed.

Nobody leaked me anything, at least not intentionally.

The kid me is to blame.

Rest in Peace , Kitty

Many years ago, I interviewed twenty-two women for a proposed book: Who Am I Now? Honest Conversations with Stay-at-Home Moms. Though agents loved the proposal and the sample chapters, the book was never published. The nonfiction industry prefers celebrities, people whose names alone sell books. I was not a celebrity and self-publishing was an expensive option at the time.

Still, I have no regrets.

The project gave me the unique opportunity to dive into the lives of some amazing, strong and insightful women, a privilege I will always cherish. Kitty, an anthropologist and teacher, who had put her career on hold to stay home with her then-toddler son, was among them.

I connected with Kitty immediately. We were both older moms who were well-established in our careers before we had children. We both had spouses who traveled often, though she usually had no idea where her husband was, when he might return or whether he would come back alive. She had a sense of humor I appreciated and a take on life I found refreshing.

After we spoke, we became friends on social media. Though I never met her in person, she has been a strong influence in my life, an ally in the struggle to redefine ourselves as our identities shifted from childless career women to stay-at-home moms to something else, something much more complicated, but all the more valuable because of those struggles and our experiences.

Sadly, Kitty died unexpectedly this week, a victim of a blood clot. Her son is still young, not even a teenager yet. My heart aches for her husband, her son and the rest of her family and friends. Her loss is a loss to all. In memory of Kitty, I would like to, once again, offer her story, which I posted on a blog four years ago.

Rest in peace, Kitty:

She gave up her career for her son and our country. Meet Kitty, former teacher and stay-at-home Navy mom.

 

 

Embracing ignorance

I entered my first marathon as a favor for a friend. He wanted to surprise his girlfriend by running one with her, but he needed a training partner.

I was fueled by ignorance.

I didn’t train enough. I wore shoes made for running 5Ks. I knew nothing of protecting myself from chaffing and other long-distance injuries. My legs were leaden pegs when I crossed the finish. My toes bled through my sneakers (I eventually lost nine toenails.). I was so sore in the days after that even driving was difficult.

Still, I finished the 26.2-mile route in less than four hours, pretty respectable for a first-timer.

I wrote my first novel the same way. I knew nothing of novel writing. I had too many primary characters in the first draft. The pace in the first half differed from the pace of the second half. I edited as I wrote, which slowed me down. It took me six years to write my first novel, and I spent another two years revising it.

Still, it was a semi-finalist in the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, respectable for a first novel. It remains my favorite and it has been the favorite of two literary agents. I have shelved it for another look at a better time in my career.

I credit ignorance for my success in completing that first novel, the same kind of ignorance that carried me through my first marathon. I believed all through the writing process that novel would sell, and I became more firm in that belief when I signed with my first agent. I even told the kids we would celebrate its sale by buying a Wii.

A year later, my husband and I caved and bought them a Wii anyway.

For first-timers, the novel-writing process can seem daunting and the goal, unachievable. The greatest obstacle is self-doubt and the greatest feat is pushing through that doubt to cross the finish line. So why not allow them that ignorance? Why clue newbies in on the perceived impossibilities?

Let them write. Let them make mistakes without knowing they are mistakes. Let them cross the finish line just once with pure joy, unaware of the bleeding toes, chaffed skin and torn muscles they acquired along the way.

I had started my next novel before I knew the first one wasn’t going to sell immediately, and that was a good thing. I had learned from my mistakes and inefficiencies. The next novel took two years to finish and that is a pace I feel comfortable with at this stage in my life, with young children to raise and elderly parents who need me.

I recently signed a contract with Black Opal Books for that second novel, a thriller entitled No Stranger Here, and for the two novels I wrote next, which are part of a mystery/suspense series. I am happy with my work and thrilled by the contract, but I’m not sure I would have made it to this point without the gift of ignorance that first time around.

I ran five more marathons after the first one. I trained smarter and ran faster for the second two. For the last two, I focused only on finishing injury-free, relying on my previous experiences as a guide. I ran a few minutes slower than my first marathon, but I finished without lasting pain and was able to hit the roads and the track again two days later.

I loved it.

I stopped running marathons when I started my first novel. The two decisions were unrelated, influenced by other factors in my life, but I am not sure I would have succeeded in one without the experience of the other. Marathon training prepared me for novel writing, but it was ignorance that got me hooked on both.

 

 

 

Happiness is a book contract

I have waited a long time to say this, and here it goes:

I have signed a contract with a publisher, a three-book contract with Black Opal Books.

I am beyond thrilled.

I am beyond giddy.

I am sore from jumping up and down, but I still hop whenever I think about it

I have no release dates yet. The editing process takes a while — anywhere from six to eighteen months — but my thriller, No Stranger Here, and the first two books of my mystery/suspense series, Dead Man’s Eyes and Never Broken, will finally make their ways into readers’ hands.

I have Pennwriters to thank.

I first heard about Black Opal Books in May during a Pennwriters conference, where I met a couple of authors who had signed with the Oregon-based company. It is important to be cautious with small publishers. I’ve heard stories about contracts and rights lost when small publishers folded, but Black Opal Books has been around for a while. They are also approved by Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers, two high-profile groups that advocate for crime writers.

Even more important though was that the authors I met were happy. Black Opal Books was founded by people in the publishing industry who wanted to do more for authors. They wanted to publish high-quality, well-edited works while offering a percentage of royalties that surpasses the big publishing houses.

I looked into submitting when I returned, but the publisher was closed to submissions until June.

The summer got busy with a family reunion and the high school graduation of our oldest. In the midst of it all, I forgot about submitting to Black Opal Books, focusing instead on writing a new novel. Then I got an email from Pennwriters. I had won first and second places in the organization’s 2017 Novel Beginnings Contest. Pennwriters wanted updates from past contest winners for its newsletter. I remember my conversations about Black Opal Books.

This was in November. Black Opal Books was open for submissions until Dec. 31.

So I did it, and I am glad that I did.

I will post more about the release dates when I know more.

And now, if see me hopping, you’ll know why.