Monday, December 13, 2010

How the Anthologies Began...

Our editor asked how we started writing anthologies, so I decided to let everyone know the sequence of events:

This all started as one of those two-o'clock-in-the morning ideas right after Christmas in 2006. It just wouldn't let me go back to sleep! The idea was to write an anthology (my favorite genre) about four sisters, with different writers doing each of them. The title would be Snowflake Secrets.

I'd met Sherry Derr-Wille at EPICon (the conference for EPIC-the Electronically Published Internet Coalition) in March of 2006 when my first book, 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park, written with my husband Larry, was a finalist for the 2006 EPPIE award for nonfiction. Sherry and I both felt we were meant to meet and talked about it at the conference. I bought one of her books and enjoyed her writing style.

So, when the idea came to me, she was the first collaborator I thought of, even thought she lives in Wisconsin and I'm in California. I wrote her with the idea, and she said she was in. By EPICon in March of 2007, I had the prologue and the poem tying the story together finished and gave them to her to read. She had first choice of the sisters and picked Carole because she was spunky!

Her friend, Debbie, also from Wisconsin, was supposed to take another of the girls. The intent was to have two Wisconsinites and two Californians.

Christie Shary is a member of our writing group, Lagunita Writers, in California. She had just completed a book, and I thought her style would work well with the overall concept. She picked Sonata.

I decided I wanted Allegra, so that left Melody for Debbie.

Unfortunately, Debbie had emergency surgery shortly after EPICon and was many months in recovery. (Fortunately, she is fine today.)

I asked another writing group friend, Julie Christiansen-Dull, if she'd like to write Melody. I thought she might enjoy it as she has a granddaughter named Melody. She agreed, but about two weeks later had to bow out due to other family obligations. (Julie is one of those writers who has a drawerful of wonderful unpublished manuscripts.)

Luanna Rugh overheard the conversation with Julie at our writers' group meeting and asked what we were talking about. At that time, we were just finishing up a two-year once-a-week Wednesday night get-together with Lu and her husband, Len, to cut the manuscript of their book, Promises Kept: How One Couple's Love Survived Vietnam (2010 EPIC eBook Award winner for nonfiction) from its original 1300+ pages down to just over 400. That week, I let her read the Prologue for Snowflake Secrets, and before they left, she had the first three chapters of Melody outlined in her head! For a self-described non-writer, Lu created my favorite of all the four sisters. (Melody's the one I'd most like to just hang out with.)

Sherry finished first. (She's the jackrabbit of us all. She also writes a minimum of 1000 words every day. An Aspen Grove Christmas, our latest anthology, is book number sixty for her!) I finished second with Allegra, the Prologue and the Epilogue. But Lu, who got into the mix last, finished ahead of Christie.

During the process, I created a complete family tree and timeline for all the events we wrote about. I also created a running description of our fictional town of Aspen Grove including all the buildings and people. (Several readers have said they want to visit there. So do I!) While writing this one, because all the stories intertwined, we were in constant communication with each other. When each of us finished a chapter, we shared it with the others. Sherry even gave Christie some plot ideas for Sonata that worked extremely well.

My biggest challenge was playing 'Continuity Queen' to make sure the entire story flowed seamlessly. That took some suggestions and a lot of gentle persuasion and compromise. Then our top-secret best-weapon and proofreader, Darcy Bowen, volunteered to read the whole thing. She found a couple of inconsistencies I had missed and several other mechanical errors. (Darcy gets a signed copy of each book in return. It's a good deal for us, and she loves our books!)

Shortly after we began the project, I emailed Sherry. Since she is published by several different publishers, I asked which one she thought would be the best match for the book. Unbeknownst to me, she talked to Debi Womac of Whiskey Creek Press about it to see if they'd be interested. She knew Debi's favorite genre is also anthology. Debi immediately responded that they wanted it! We had a publisher, and the book wasn't even finished!

We set a September 1 deadline for submission. The book was published in Valentines' Day 2008, and a tradition had begun.

We all loved doing the first one so much, we decided on another. We chose to each take a seasonal theme, and Seasons of Love was born. This is the only one written in third person with four separate novellas without direct connection. Mine, Winter Song, is based on a true story, so it was a lot of fun to write. Seasons of Love was published on Valentines' Day 2009.

After that one, we all wanted to continue, but decided to go back to the format of the first one: four novellas embedded in an overall story with each novella told in first-person. Directions of Love, about four friends, was published on Valentines' Day 2010 and is currently a finalist for the 2011 EPIC eBook Award for anthology.

Next, I decided I wanted to write a Christmas book, and the others agreed. (All of my novellas, except Finding Love in Paradise for Directions of Love, are holiday themed.) So An Aspen Grove Christmas became our next project. We didn't have an overall story for this one at first, but that evolved as the stories did.

Sherry, again, led the way. Her novella, Cory's Christmas, gave us characters for some of the others. We also recycled characters and locations from previous books.

Christie was in the midst of a very traumatic year, and we weren't sure she wanted to or would be able to write her story. At the same time, Cheryl Gardarian, another member of our writing group, had heard some of Lu's and mine. One meeting she said, "You know, I have a story that would work perfectly for this book." I gave her Sherry's story to read since it was finished. Cheryl had previously bought a couple of the earlier books and knew a lot about the town. Like Lu before her, she finished in record time with a terrific story and perhaps the most memorable character in the book, Rose Marie Carmichael. Christmas Treasure, really is! But for us, the real treasure is Cheryl herself. She's a terrific writer, and her story fit perfectly.

But Christie surprised all of us, perhaps including herself, by completing The Gathering in time for submission in September.

In order to get the book published during the holiday season, everyone worked at an unbelievable pace, but I think the result, An Aspen Grove Christmas, was worth it!

The other night, Len and Lu came for dinner. After we ate, Len picked up a copy of the book that was lying on the coffee table and started to read while Lu and I took care of the things we needed to get done, and Larry helped. When they began to leave, it was obvious that Len didn't want to stop reading, so I offered to give him that copy which Lu could replace when she got her shipment.

Suddenly Larry bellowed, "You can't give my copy away!" I hadn't realized he'd started reading it and was about halfway through! (I gave Len his own copy.) Even both the guys would deny they read 'romance novels,' they're especially enjoying this one. Maybe it's the cowboys...

Sunday, October 31, 2010

What Color Am I?

For years it's bugged me when I’m required to choose the color of my ethnicity. I usually end up checking “White,” but it’s never a happy – or accurate – answer.

Few people have paler, more tan-resistant skin than I. And it's true that I’m descended from European stock – Scottish (my grandmother would have said, “Scotch”), Irish, English, and Danish. Although a cousin, who has done more research than I, says we are direct descendants of the Emperor Hadrian. She’s seen the proof; I haven’t. But my mother may be a throwback with her olive skin and dark, dark eyes. There’s nothing at all Scottish about her appearance! And she always told me, “You must have some Italian in you, since you wouldn’t be able to talk if you couldn’t use your hands.” Ends up, I might, and it’s from her dad’s side of the family!

Still, I'm all European, as far as we know.

I understand the government uses this information for statistical purposes and it’s probably necessary, but I still resent that we continue to ask this question which puts people in categories.

Why, for instance, isn’t there a “Mixed” category? I know lots of people who don’t fall neatly into any group.

What about my friend’s beautiful son and daughter? Their dad would be classified as “White” and their mother as “Asian.” What does that make them?

Or what about another friend who is herself 100% Japanese, and whose husband is mostly Japanese except for the Portuguese trader ancestor several generations back? His last name is Latin, but he's predominantly of Japanese heritage. What category does he fall into? How about his children?

What about the children of other friends whose mother is Vietnamese and whose father is European? And what about those whose ancestors came from South Africa? Does that make them “African” or “Black”?

What about some Americans, like Oprah Winfrey, Colin Powell, or the president? Why must they classify themselves as “Black,” when they are clearly of mixed racial heritage? Very few Americans with ancestors from Africa have inherited DNA exclusively from that source.

Besides, I have known few “Black” people whose skin could accurately be described as that color. My friends, who have ancestors originally from Africa, range in color from light beige to deep coffee.

While I am pale, my skin is light pinkish beige, not white.

My friend, Pat, actually came up with the perfect solution. Instead of the usual classifications, she suggested we could all use “Blue”. It’s the color of the blood that runs through everyone's veins. That’s a commonality which better defines who we really are.

Despite some very small differences, all human beings share about 99% of our DNA. We are more alike than different. I stopped pigeonholing people, particularly my friends, (if I ever did) a long, long time ago.

People are people, are people. Not black, or white, or brown, or yellow, or any other color we might want to use to separate them.

So the next time I’m asked to choose a label, I just might check “Other” and write in “Blue”. What do you think?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Why I Love Facebook

Okay, I admit it. I’m an addict. I got onto Facebook several years ago when a marketing pro said that, as authors, we had to have a visible web presence including a website, Twitter, My Space, Facebook, etc. I’ve since all but abandoned My Space and only occasionally tweet, but I’m very active on Facebook. Why?

1. I’ve reconnected with family members I haven’t seen for many years, including one cousin I’d never met. We’ve formed new bonds, which would have been impossible without this resource. In comparing notes, all of us have learned a great deal about our shared history.
2. I’ve found old friends. I’m now in touch with grammar school and high school pals, most of whom I haven’t seen since graduation. I had lunch with two of them a week ago, and we had the best time! I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.
3. It’s a great way of spreading important news. Recently the daughter of our friends died unexpectedly and much too young. She was my friend on Facebook. So as soon as I got the word, I posted the news to her page. What a great forum for sharing our collective shock and grief. Many of her friends and family left notes and remembrances. I was able to publish the time and date of her service, and the turnout was overwhelming. Her folks were able to post their thanks there as well as the information about a memorial fund created for her sons. All of this contact would have been impossible using normal methods.
4. We can share common experiences – positive and negative. When my friends experience a special event, I know about it and can celebrate with them. When there is difficulty, I can experience that as well. Many calls for prayer have been shared as well as births, deaths, and everything in between.
5. I can remain in touch with former coworkers. Most of the companies I’ve worked for no longer exist, but many colleagues from those firms are my friends on Facebook. Several of those organizations were like extended families. We grieved the loss of the companies, but even more, we grieved the loss of those treasured daily relationships. By seeing the posts from each other, we can maintain a sense of connectedness. Sharing recent photos and events makes it seem as though we’ve never been separated.
6. We can share history. A couple of the sites I enjoy are those established for those of us who attended the same high school and grew up in the same town. The shared memories and photos really bring back wonderful memories. Photos and information are posted about friends, neighbors, and classmates who are lost, and we can share our special memories of them.
7. Keeping our fans aware of our current writing projects. We send announcements of the publication of our books to our mailing list, but we are able to let our friends know about our progress on our current work through Facebook. It is a long time between new books, but we can keep interest active by reminding our readers of what they can look forward to in the near future.

Social networks have revolutionized how we interact with each other by providing immediate connection never before possible. I, for one am delighted to have this means of connecting with friends.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Facing Deadlines

I work best when I have lots of time to plan, craft, and listen to my characters. I can work under pressure when necessary, but I am so picky, it’s difficult.
Right now I have two books to finish, and the date for one is swiftly approaching. This is our new anthology "An Aspen Grove Christmas," written again with Sherry Derr-Wille, Luanna Rugh, and Christie Shary. This time we’re introducing a new author to everyone: Cheryl Gardarian. Cheryl has been part of the Lagunita Writers Group for the past year and is emerging as a real force to be reckoned with! She is working on the final edit of her novella, “Christmas Treasure.”

Sherry has already finished “Cory’s Christmas.” Lu completed “Christmas Day” last year and has done the final edit—cutting 5,000 words from the original manuscript! Believe it or not, the revised version is much better than the original! (Often less truly is more!)

I’ve been working on two urgent manuscripts, my romance/fantasy "Ghost Writer," and my contribution to "An Aspen Grove Christmas" called “Mistletoe Magic.” The characters from both books are in a shouting match to get my attention.
Max, the title character in "Ghost Writer," is the loudest. Of course, he has an ego the size of Jupiter, and he’s persistent.

But the current priority is “Mistletoe Magic.” Noelle and Matt, the young couple in this one have been waiting patiently for their turn. And the time has come to allow them to tell their story. And a sweet story it is!

I finished another chapter today, and they are quite clear about how they want their story told. Having their clear input always makes writing easier. It’s just a matter of crafting the words in such a way as to clearly convey their ideas and emotions.

Both Sherry and Lu can quickly crank out the words, do a quick edit, and they’re done. Turns out, Cheryl can, too! Only Christie and I feel the need to really listen and record our characters’ ideas as they want them conveyed.
I have about four more chapters to finish—in the next week. Christie is on vacation, so I don’t know where she is with hers. And I don’t even have her title yet. But she is a yeoman, experienced writer, and she’ll come through.
So, instead of tackling the next chapter, I’m sharing the process with you. Sometimes I have to get away from the story, take a deep breath, and then plunge in again.

Wish me luck! Matt and Noelle are anxious to get to the wedding, and I’m pressed to get them there!