The Green-Eyed Author (or, Is It Okay To Say I Hated Your Book?)

Let’s talk about jealousy for a minute.

I’m not talking about jealousy over a man or woman.  Not the kind of jealousy that makes people do crazy and stupid things when they think their special someone might have another special someone on the side.

I’m talking about professional jealousy. Namely, Fifty Shades of Grey.  Oh, my God, I hate that book.  I hate it with the kind of stomach-churning distaste that makes my lip curl into a sneer every time it is mentioned. I’ll admit that I even find myself wanting the movie to flop.  Big time.  We’re talking Heaven’s Gate flop.  Waterworld flop. When Justin Met Kelly flop.

But to be fair, I have to look inside myself to understand why the Fifty Shades phenomenon provokes such a strong reaction in me, especially after a young co-worker made a rather pointed comment to me yesterday.

“You’re just jealous that those books are so successful and yours aren’t,” she said.

Ouch.

Let me just say right here that I truly value this young lady’s opinion.  She was one of the few people in my circle who was honest enough to point out some glaring errors in my first book, and I find her honesty to be worth more than gold.  To put it into non-writing terms, she’s the kind of person every woman wants to take on shopping trips because she’ll give an honest answer to that age old question: “Does this make my butt look big?”

So yes, my butt looks big and I am jealous of E.L. James. Of course I want my books to be read by millions of fans.  I want a movie deal. I want my name to be known by millions, my books to be the center of discussion and controversy, my bank accounts to be overflowing . . .

Um . . . where was I going with this? Sorry, got a little distracted by the fantasies of money, fame and adulation.

But I guess I have to look a little deeper and question whether my negative opinion of Fifty Shades would be the same if it wasn’t so successful. I have to ask myself if I might like the books better if they weren’t such a huge success. As a writer, can I ever separate myself from that envy to form an honest, unbiased opinion of another author’s work? Are any of us able to do that?

I believe so. I didn’t like Fifty Shades.  There, I said it. I just don’t think it’s a very good book. If she had only sold a dozen copies, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it. That’s not jealousy; that’s the honest opinion of someone who started reading at age four and hasn’t stopped since.

I know I should be cheering for my fellow self-published author, but I just don’t understand what the fuss is all about.  I did not think the book was very good.

So, is my opinion invalid, simply because the book I dislike is doing so well? Is it fair to dismiss my opinion as petty jealousy on my part?

I like to think that I know the difference between a good book and a bad one.  That I can form an honest opinion regardless of my feelings about the author, regardless of my envying the success of others.  I like to think that I can be fair and impartial.

Then again, I also like to think that I look good in jeggings, and we all know that’s not true.

So let’s get to the point here.  When I say that I think another book is bad, am I saying that I think mine is better?  No, not necessarily.  When I wonder how a book that I dislike can possibly do so well, am I whining that its success is unfair or undeserved?  Again, no.  I am not.  Nor am I saying that the authors of these books don’t deserve their fame and fortune.

I’m simply saying that I don’t like certain books.

The fact that I am an author doesn’t take away my right to have an opinion. The fact that I wish I had E.L. James’ success and money doesn’t negate my opinions of her work.

Authors are allowed to have opinions of other books. We can say that we didn’t like Fifty Shades or Angela’s Ashes or even Catcher in The Rye if we really didn’t like those books.  It’s okay to question the popularity of something that we didn’t like.  And yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to feel a tiny bit of jealousy or envy once in a while.  Go ahead; own it.

What’s not okay is letting that jealousy take over.  It’s not all right to use it as an excuse to shred someone else’s work unfairly.  And it’s definitely not okay to continue to disparage another author or his/her work because of that jealousy.  Express your opinion in the fairest way possible, own your envy, and move on.  Go write your next book and make it better than the ones you dislike.

Because I can guarantee that there are people out there who won’t like what you write, and some of those people are going to be your fellow authors.  And guess what?

They have a right to their opinions, too.

Sneak Peek: His Heart Aflame

When published my first book ten months ago, I had very little idea what I was doing.  It was definitely an impulsive decision to self-publish through Amazon rather than submit it to a traditional publisher.  And let’s be honest; I was aiming for Harlequin but sort of got in a huff after participating in their So You Think You Can Write contest.  I wasn’t sure whether to be mad at them or disappointed in myself, so instead I self-published with absolutely no plans for marketing or promotion.

I’ve learned an awful lot during those ten months, but the next few days are going to show whether I’ve learned enough to make a difference or not.  My newest effort is scheduled for release in five days, and I am so keyed up about it that I may not sleep between now and then.

I’m pretty much guaranteed to eat mass quantities of chocolate.

There will probably be wine involved as well.

Aw, hell, forget the “probably.”  We all know there’s going to be wine involved.

At any rate, His Heart Aflame will be available on Saturday, December 20 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, CreateSpace, and iBooks.  It’s available for pre-order right now, and Her House Divided, Book #1 in my Beach Haven series, is now available at all of those same outlets.

Just to tempt you all just a little bit (and maybe to pat myself on the back just a tad), I’d like to share Chapter One right here in my blog.  Please enjoy!

Chapter One

Sean Jackson knew better than to drive in this condition. He was an experienced First Responder who had worked more than his fair share of accident scenes created by idiots who didn’t think they were too tired to drive. He knew first-hand that driving tired could be just as dangerous as driving drunk, but here he was, tired beyond all belief, driving his exhausted self home down a dark stretch of road and calling himself every name in the book.

He opened the window to let in the fresh air and a few drops of rain, and turned up the volume of the vintage Lynyrd Skynyrd he always played when he was exhausted after a fire call. Just a few more miles, and he’d be home safely. A few more miles, and he’d be able to take a long, hot shower and fall into his nice soft bed for at least a few hours.

Until it was time to go to work, or until some idiot started another grass fire.

He groaned out loud. Normally, he could handle the pressure of a full-time job and his work as a volunteer firefighter. But there had been a rash of grass fires over the past few weeks that had pushed him to the point where he just wasn’t sure how much longer he could continue doing both. He couldn’t remember the last time he had slept more than two or three hours at a stretch.

Sean wished he had a cup of coffee in the truck with him. He was beyond the point where caffeine was going to do him any good, but at least the warmth and steam would help keep his eyes open. He blinked rapidly and cleared his throat, ready to start singing along with Gimme Three Steps until he realized that he was too tired to remember the words.

He was just going to have to pull over on the shoulder and sleep it off right there in the front seat. That was all there was to it. He was just too damned exhausted to drive those last few miles. All he had to do was round the curve on County Road 388, where the shoulder widened out and gave a nice smooth spot to park and—

The woman came out of nowhere.

He had a split second to take in the fact that she wore something white that seemed to glow in his headlights. He caught a glimpse of a pale face and wide terrified eyes, and then he was spinning out of control on the wet pavement as he jerked the wheel to the left. He pumped the brakes and swore, not sure if he was angrier at himself for driving when his reflexes were this slow, or at that stupid woman for running down a dark country road at four o’clock in the morning.

He wasn’t sleepy any more.

He finally fought the truck to a stop on the wrong side of the road, facing the opposite direction. He sat there for a moment, breathing deeply.

There had been no thud. He hadn’t hit the woman. At least, he didn’t think he had. Sean jumped out and ran around front to examine the front of his truck. No new dents, no blood, no sign of any kind of impact. He hadn’t hurt anyone.

But where was she? He reached under the seat for his flashlight and Detroit Tigers baseball cap. Pulling the hat brim down low to keep the rain out of his eyes, he ventured into the darkness and aimed the light towards the woods.

“Miss?” he called. “Are you hurt? Do you need help?”

Silence.

“I can help you. I’m with the Beach Haven Fire Department. Miss?”

He thought he heard something behind him, but it was just the metallic clang of raindrops hitting his truck. Really could have used this rain an hour ago to help put out the grass fire, he thought. Not doing me much good now.

He crossed the road and peered intently into the trees. He did not want to go in there. It wasn’t exactly a jungle wilderness full of dangerous beasts, but he didn’t care to come up against beasts of the non-dangerous sort in the wee hours of the morning on a lonely country road. Still, it was his responsibility to look for the woman, damn it.

The very stupid woman who enjoyed running out in front of moving vehicles on dark rainy nights. He had a few choice words for her when he found her.

If he found her. “Come on, help a guy out here,” he shouted. “It’s wet and I’m tired and I just want to go home. I’m not in the mood for Hide and Seek.” The smell of smoke and sweat arose from his clothes as the rain soaked through to his skin, and the tap-tap-tap of his headache was quickly becoming more of a bang-bang-bang against the inside of his skull.

He skidded down the slight incline from the shoulder of the road into the trees. Damn, it was dark. No moon, no stars, just heavy clouds and too many trees bursting with an abundance of late-spring leaves. The flashlight beam seemed pitifully insignificant, swallowed up by the night.

Ahead of him, a pair of tiny yellow eyes glittered his light. He swallowed and forced himself to take another step, nearly jumping out of his skin when his shirt caught on a tree branch.

Sean took a deep breath and told himself to calm down. You’ve been in the woods in the dark before, he scolded himself. Camping, hunting — hell, the whole department was out here just a couple months ago looking for body parts after that train/pedestrian accident. This is nothing compared to that. Man up.

Determined, he pushed aside a pine branch, only to have it slip out of his grasp and give him a wet slap in the face.

Okay, time to re-think this. He was basically getting his butt handed to him by the wet, dark woods, and he was armed with a flashlight and a lifelong familiarity with the area. Was it really possible that a woman in a big, bulky dress was slipping around silently in these same woods without a light? He shined the light around again, looking for flashes of white or pieces of fabric caught on the same kind of branches that had torn his t-shirt, but saw nothing. He then stood perfectly still and listened.

Nothing but rain hitting the leaves with increasing intensity.

There is no one else out here, he realized.

Which meant one of two things: Either the mystery woman had vanished into thin air, or he had imagined her. Neither answer really appealed to him, but he decided that he’d rather solve the mystery from somewhere safe and warm. And preferably dry. He turned and slogged his way back through the trees and scrambled back up the incline to the road.

He was surprised to see the tailgate of his truck hanging open. That was strange; he remembered shoving his gear bag in there under the tonneau cover when they’d cleared the scene, but he could have sworn he’d latched it. He shined the light inside to satisfy himself that his things were still there, nodding when he saw the vague outlines of his belongings, and slammed it shut before climbing back into the seat.

Damn, he was tired. So tired that he’d driven all this way with his tailgate hanging open, which could have cost him his all of the gear and tools he kept stowed in the back of his truck. So tired that he had imagined seeing a strange woman in white running down a lonely country road in the middle of the night.

I wouldn’t be this tired if I did this full-time, he thought. Sure, the pros worked several days in a row, but they got to go off-duty afterward. They didn’t have to work two jobs, either. And full-time professional firefighters seemed to earn a certain degree of respect that volunteers just didn’t get. Sean thought about the interview he’d gone to earlier in the week in a Grand Rapids suburb and wondered for the hundredth time what he would do if they actually offered him the job.

One thing he knew for sure: no full-time fire department was going to hire him if they knew he was seeing imaginary women on rainy country roads.

He had to have imagined her. He so wiped out that he was hallucinating. That was the only possible explanation. It certainly made more sense than some crazy lady running around in a white dress in the middle of the night and then disappearing without a trace. It made more sense, but it wasn’t comforting to realize that he had almost wrecked his truck over a fatigue-induced hallucination.

Get a grip, Jackson. Go home, get some rest, and don’t ever mention this to anyone.

Right. He put the truck in gear, turned it around, and cranked up the volume just as Sweet Home Alabama started. It was enough to get him home, where he pulled into his attached garage and stumbled toward the door to his home. He knew he should hang his wet gear and make a few phone calls to let people know he was going to be late for work, but he just didn’t care.

He stepped out of his boots on his way through the door and started shucking wet clothes on his way to the bedroom. All thoughts of taking a shower were gone, replaced by visions of a soft pillow and a comfortable bed. Somewhere in the back of his mind, a little voice was trying to remind him that he stunk, and that his bedding was going to stink, too; he firmly told the annoying little voice to shut the hell up and collapsed face-down on top of the quilted comforter.

Sure was a pretty hallucination, he thought, and then he was out.

Milestones

I’ve passed an awful lot of milestones in the past few weeks.  My two-hundredth post.  My second anniversary on WordPress.  The anniversary of the day my marriage ended.

Oh, and I published my second book.

Sort of.

First things first.  I started blogging because I wanted to get into the habit of writing on a regular basis.  I wanted to stretch my writing muscles, so to speak.  Treat myself as a professional so that others would do the same.  I promised myself it wouldn’t become a Writing Blog, because only other writers read Writing Blogs, and other writers aren’t my target audience.

That went out the window pretty quickly.  Although this still isn’t truly a writing blog, and I write about a variety of subjects other than writing, I have to say that I like other writers.  They encourage me.  They build me up.  They push me when I need a push and offer words of sympathy when I’ve been pushed too hard.   In short, they know what I’m going through.  Either that, or they know they will someday go through what I’m going through, and that scares the hell out of them.

I’ve gotten a little cocky about my blog.  I’ll admit it; sometimes I can get pretty full of myself.  Sorry about that.  There’s something intoxicating about gaining followers and getting “likes” or even comments from people I don’t know.  The first time I saw one of my blog posts shared on the Facebook page of someone I’d never met, I very nearly peed myself out of sheer excitement.

Well, that’s not saying much, actually.  I’m a middle-aged woman who gave birth to three 10-pound children. I pee myself over just about anything at this point.

At any rate, I can’t believe I have stuck with this for two whole years or that I’ve managed to write two hundred posts.  And even more than that, I can’t believe people have actually read those two hundred posts!

If I’m going to be perfectly honest with myself, I know that about 20% of my blog’s followers are spammers.  Either that or my blog is really popular in Indonesia.

My friends, neighbors, and family make comments about my blog, wondering if they are going to show up in it.  When I recently mentioned my daughter’s boyfriend, I overheard her telling him that he would soon have a nickname on the blog as well (I’m thinking about Prince Charming, but still working on it).  When the local librarian asks me to speak at an author’s night, or the grocery store clerk calls out across the store that she loved my book, I start to think of myself as a celebrity.  I start strutting.

Believe me, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen a short, fat woman with a crooked neck strut.  It is truly a sight to behold.

Then it becomes a sight one tries desperately to forget.

Then there’s the whole divorce thing.  He’s a good man, I don’t hate him, and we are both different people than we were one year ago.  It’s been an awful year and a great year, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Of course, now I have to think about dating.  Then I have to think about the whole short, fat, crooked neck strutting business again, and I get so nervous and excited that I have to pee, so I don’t think I’m ready to worry about dating just yet.  Honestly, I’m not sure my bladder is up to the challenge.

And I wrote another book.

That’s huge.  I’m so damned excited I think I could just – oh, never mind.

Two years ago, I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to finish my first book.  I didn’t know then that I was going to take a shot at self-publishing or turn my little book into a series.    I had no idea I was going to learn as much as I have learned.

Now for the “sort of” part.

I put His Heart Aflame up as a pre-order through Amazon and Draft2Digital.  What that means is that I am very happy with it just as it is BUT . . . .I want to give myself a little wiggle room for proofreading and editing before I actually publish it.  I have until midnight on December 9 to upload any last-minute changes.  After that, it is out of my hands until December 20, when it will be released for Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBooks, and more.

As I go back over it, I keep finding little things to fix.  Like the fact that I kept writing “four-poster be” instead of “four-poster bed.”  Every single time.  I don’t know why, but at least I’m consistent.

Or the fact that I decided that Ethan, from Her House Divided, needs to be more involved with this book.  And I can’t believe I never mentioned the nosy, busybody Hyde sisters!  Oh, no, no – characters that are that much fun simply must make an appearance, no matter how brief.

And when I’m done, really really done with it, it will be time to start Book #3 in my Beach Haven series.

Right after I take a pee break.

Or two.

Counting Down the Days

I thought it would get easier.

I always believed that all I had to do was write that first book.  Get the first one done, and the next one would be easier.  Less fear each time, less details to worry about, more fun once I knew what to expect. Sort of like losing my virginity, only without any cheesy Michael Bolton ballads playing in the background.

That’s not how it’s working out for me.  His Heart Aflame has been a bit of a bear to write.  I feel like a kid throwing homework excuses at the teacher, but here’s why I’ve struggled with my second book:

  • I’ve learned so much from self-publishing my first book. I can see things that I did wrong with Her House Divided, and I don’t want to make those same mistakes this time.
  • Along those same lines, I realize that my first book was pretty simple. I want this one to be more complex, with a couple of subplots and more well-defined characters.  Threw in a couple of burning buildings and an extremely energetic sex scene on the beach, just to spice things up a tad.  I’m scared I’m not up to challenge.
  • My first book was drawn from my own experiences, created out of a bunch of “what ifs” as I recovered from a broken neck. It was a work of fiction, but it was also a huge part of my healing process.   My second book is drawn completely from my imagination.  Made from scratch, you could say.
  • I designed my own cover the first time around, and it sucked. The amazing and incredibly talented Jessica Richardson took pity on me and provided a much better cover.  I hired her this time (and will for every book I write in the future as well), which meant I had to take the time to select a cover, work with her, and stress about whether I could afford her or not.  This time around, the e-book and paperback will have the same cover, thanks to Jessica.
  • For a long time, I just didn’t like my heroine, Maggie. I wanted her to be sort of clumsy and hapless and unlucky, but I felt like I wasn’t getting to “know” her well enough to write about her.  Then my sister suggested the name “Maeve” for Maggie’s alter-ego in the subplot, and everything fell into place.
  • I wrote my first romance novel as a married woman. Sure, I knew my marriage was going through a rough patch; I just didn’t realize it was ending.  I’ve written this second romance novel as a middle-aged divorcee who has lost her faith in Happily Ever After.  I keep wanting to re-write the ending to send Sean and Maggie off in separate ways with a handshake and an agreement to behave like adults.
  • I didn’t tell anyone I was going to self-publish my first book. I just sort of threw it at the world and ran the other direction.  If I failed, I failed.  I’ve got to be honest – I never really thought anyone outside of my friends and family would buy it.  Now, people are waiting for the sequel.  Asking about it.  Looking forward to it.  Good Lord, I’m an author now, not just an unemployed hairdresser tapping away at the keyboard.   That’s scary as hell.
  • I’m at a different place in my life from a religious standpoint. This one is a biggie.  God has always been so important to me, but I have really felt His hand guiding me in recent months.  I find myself questioning whether or not I’m okay including sex scenes in my books, or if I need to take a shot at writing something more “squeaky clean.”  Maybe it’s time to write something more spiritual.  I’m so confused.

Despite the excuses difficulties, I have finally finished His Heart Aflame.  Three days after I reached this point with my first book, my husband and I decided to get a divorce.  After that, I couldn’t stand to look at the book again, and I rushed into self-publishing without any further edits.  And it showed.

I won’t make that mistake this time.  My second book is going out later this week to two trusted friends – trusted friends who are both smart and brutally honest.   My final round of edits will take place after I get their feedback, so I’m hoping to release His Heart Aflame some time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.  I wish I could narrow down the exact date, but I just don’t want to promise anything that I may not deliver.

In the meantime, I plan on sharing the first chapter here in my blog, just to build some excitement.    I’ve temporarily dropped my price on Her House Divided to get it out into more hands.  And now, just because I can, I’m also going to do a little cover reveal.

His Heart Aflame 1
Well? Hot enough for ya?

Kindling

content-4527207-DIGITAL_BOOK_THUMBNAIL

I may have just done something really stupid and impulsive.  Or something courageous and bold.  I’m not certain just yet.

Blame it on my ADHD and the poor impulse control that goes along with it.  Or blame it on my impatience or over-inflated writer’s ego.  Perhaps I just thought I needed one more thing to stress about in my already stressed-to-the-max life.

I just self-published my book through Amazon.

Let me explain.  You see, I always believed that self-publishing was a last resort for writers who weren’t good enough to publish through traditional channels.  And let’s be honest:  there are a lot of really bad self-published e-books out there that support this theory.  Books with poor plotting, clichéd characters, bad grammar and zero proofreading.  Books that make me want to weep for the literary future of our world.

But after a few glasses of wine and way too much time alone with the internet on a Saturday night, I started rationalizing.  After all, John Grisham started out by self-publishing.  So did Beatrix Potter.  No one can deny their talent, right?

Some of today’s most successful writers are self-published, I reasoned.  And while I’m no fan of E.L. James or Cassandra Clare, I have to agree that it obviously worked out very well for them.

So I poured another glass of Piesporter and read a bit more about how to publish through Kindle Direct Publishing.

I thought about one of the first bloggers I followed when I started here on WordPress.  He is undeniably talented; his books have really taken off through Amazon.   But he posted multiple updates on his blog every day, telling us about reviews and sales ranking and free promotional deals and so on until I finally stopped following him.  I was getting totally stressed out about his books.

As I moved on from Piesporter to my $4.00 bottle of Arbor Mist last Saturday night, I wondered if it would be possible to publish through Amazon and talk about it here in my blog without chasing away of any of my followers.  After all, I started blogging because I wanted to reach the point where I can make a steady living as a writer.  Isn’t my blog supposed to be part of my “platform”?

So, long story short, I played around with my computer and managed to overcome my considerable computer-ese shortcomings, and uploaded Her House Divided as a self-published Romance novel available on Kindle.  I’ve done no marketing yet, so I don’t expect huge sales.  I don’t know anything about reviews or Goodreads or any of those avenues for publicity, but I will soon.  At this point, I am still doing this as a learning experience.

Over the next few weeks, I will be working out a marketing strategy to boost sales of my book.  For right now, however, I am still trying to figure out a few formatting issues while I learn the ropes of self-publishing.

Whether I succeed or not, I have to say that it’s been a lot of fun so far.  Pretty cool seeing my name on the cover of a book.

Pretty cool, indeed.

A Wilder Thought

I am having a major problem completing my novel.

I blame blogging and Jasinda Wilder.

Let’s tackle blogging first.  Some days, I really struggle to write anything worth posting.  It’s hard work.  It’s not fun.  And when it’s finished, I usually don’t like it.  On those days, it’s not that there’s a problem with the actual writing itself; grammatically speaking, it’s fine.

It’s just . .  . cold.  Flat.  Lifeless.  A well-written Wikipedia entry.

But then I have the days when everything flows.   I sit at the computer and zap! I’m just along for the ride.  It doesn’t feel like work at all.  It feels like play.  It’s fun.  My stories and essays write themselves, just borrowing my fingers on the keyboard to give them life.

I can feel my face flush with the exhilaration of knowing that I am creating something good.  I am writing things that I will later look at with awe and ask, “Did I really write that?”

Blogging has taught me that, while writing is a business that requires hard work and planning, it’s also something I don’t ever want to give up again.  And that some of my very best work is the stuff that comes out when I’m enjoying myself, not when I’m trying so hard.   And that lesson has made me doubt the work I have done so far on my own novel.

My novel isn’t fun.  I’ve spent two years fighting with it, and it’s still not finished. I’ve started to hate my main characters.  Part of me wants to put the whole damn thing away for a few months and take a break so I can write something fun, but the logical part of me knows I will never come back to it if I do.  I know that follow-through is not my strong suit, and that I tend to quit projects because of self-doubt and fear.

Besides, an agent wants to see it.  I can’t blow this opportunity!

Then there’s Jasinda Wilder.  She and her husband were facing foreclosure when they decided to write an erotic romance novel a la Fifty Shades of Grey. In less than thirty days, she did her market research, churned out and self-published Big Girls Do it Better, and sold more than 500 copies in the first day.   Since then, she has published several more, and according to CBS News, she now averages over $100,000 in sales per month.

I want to hate her.  I want to dismiss her as a talentless hack.   But I’ve read her books, and they’re pretty good.  Not always to my taste; I’m really not a fan of erotica, and my favorite romances tend to be the more chaste ones.  But she writes very well, and I have to say that she deserves the success she has found.

She also seems to be a very nice, down-to Earth person.

But.

If she can knock out book after book after book faster than the speed of light while I do everything but pour my blood on the page, then maybe I’m not meant to be a writer.  Should it really be this hard?

If it’s this hard, maybe it’s just not meant to be.

So I am asking my fellow writers for advice.  What do you do when self-doubt and frustration attack?  How do you keep from being jealous of writers like Jasinda Wilder, for whom it all seems to be so easy?

How do you know when it’s time to give up on a project or just keep pushing to break through the tough spots on your current one?

How do you convince yourself to finish something when it has stopped being fun?