Wednesday, April 29, 2015

One of my favorite authors is, and always will be, Louis L'amour.  His good guys always behaved like good guys, the women always behaved like ladies and there was always the chance of redemption for the bad guys. When Louis L'amour passed away I didn't think that there would be anyone to compare with him. At least, until I picked up Faith Blum's A Mighty Fortress.  Her stories are about strong people facing difficulties unique to the West but with a strong Christian faith.  A faith that is the foundation of our nation.

The third in the Hymns of the West series is called Amazing Grace.  Below is an excerpt from that book.

Caleb hurried to the post office. He had to get in and out before his sister finished at the general store. “Any mail for the Stuarts?” he asked the postmaster.
  The postmaster took a lazy look at him over the top of his eyeglasses and gave a heaving sigh as he turned around to check. “Yep. Somethin’ from Ohio and somethin’ from Montana.”
  Tapping his foot, Caleb waited until the large man put the letters in his hand. As he left he wondered why Anna had written someone in Montana and who she knew in Montana. It was really none of his business, but he was still curious. He folded the Ohio letter in half and stashed it in his back pocket. It would get wrinkled, but at least Anna wouldn’t know about it.
  He tapped his toes as the time crept along. Why did women always take so long to shop? He thought about pulling the letter out and starting to read it, but he knew as soon as he did, Anna would come out and catch him.
  “Sorry I took so long, Caleb,” Anna looked at her brother with chagrin as she came out of the store fifteen minutes later than she had said she would. “I got caught up talking to Wilma and Hester.”
  Caleb shrugged. “’S’okay.” He helped Anna climb up onto the wagon seat and waited for her to scoot over before he climbed up beside her. As he gathered the reins, he remembered Anna’s letter.
Oh, there was a letter for you. It’s from Montana.” He looked at her with a question on his face as he held the letter toward her.
  Anna snatched it from him with a grin. “That was fast. I just wrote them a few weeks ago.”
  “Who’d ya write to?”
  “Joshua Brookings and his family.”
  Caleb licked his lips and tried not to act surprised. “The sheriff who hanged Jed?”
  Anna sighed. “Sheriff Brookings didn’t hang Jed, he led Jed to Christ. Well, with help.”
  Caleb nodded. “What’d you write them about?”
  “I wanted to thank them for helping my little brother out.”
  Caleb couldn’t think of anything to say after that, especially when Anna started to sniffle. She wasn’t usually emotional, but she’d been through a lot in the last twenty years of her life and Jed’s death had added to it. Caleb sighed inwardly. They’d all been through a lot the last twenty years. Especially during the War.
  As the horses trotted past the church, a similar, but vastly different scene flashed into his mind.

  He led the troops to a church where they claimed the enemy had encamped. Without scouting to see if anyone was there, the general ordered the artillery to open fire.
  Caleb had never been much of a church-loving person, but he had some respect for the buildings and those who worshiped there. He clamped his mouth shut, knowing that one word of dissension from him could get him killed and then where would Da, Anna, and Jed be?

  Caleb blinked rapidly as the fields came into view. He glanced over at Anna to make sure she hadn’t noticed anything. She was engrossed in her letter. He sighed quietly in relief before pulling back on the reins and setting the brake as the wagon came to a halt between the house and the barn.
  “I’ll get the packages,” Anna said, looking up from the letters. “You should take care of the horses and get back out to help Da.”
  Caleb gave a mock salute. “Yes, Ma’am.”
  Anna rolled her eyes. “Sorry.”
  “It’s all right,” Caleb drawled. “I kin take it once in a while. Just not too often, y’hear?” He wagged his finger at her and she chuckled.

  “Yes, Sir, I’ll try not to.”

Below is my interview with the author:

1. You say that your started writing when a friend told you about a competition.  Did you have any interest in writing prior to that? If so when did that start and can you point to a particular event/book/reason that got you interested?

I wrote all the time. When my friend told me about the contest, I just had a more distinct reason to write. I started sometime around the age of ten, I believe. I don’t really remember for sure. I just loved to write, so I wrote for my own enjoyment with the goal of possibly, eventually getting published. When I learned about independent publishing, I asked a lot of questions and took the bull by the horns and haven’t looked back since.

2. Where did the idea of using Hymns for the title of your books come from?

I got the idea after one of the first read-throughs of A Mighty Fortress. After realizing that I had the song mentioned, or quoted, a lot, I decided to name the book after the hymn. When I decided to make it into a series, the Hymns of the West series was born.

3. Does the research for your books take up the most time?

Confession time. No, it doesn’t. Most of my historical facts are taken from memory with a quick search online to make sure I remembered it accurately. Book five is going to probably be different though since it’s a mystery and my idea would require some research.

4. Are you an architect type writer or do you just sit down and write?

Yes!! I do a little bit of both. For example, right now I am working on book four. When I first started writing the book, I didn’t have more than just a general idea what I wanted to happen in the book. As I neared the end, I decided to plan the last six chapters out a little, but even that just has a very basic outline (i.e. chapter 28, Ruth helps Mark read and her friendship with Grace solidifies. Micah talks to Mr. Larson). Other than that, I don’t really do very much planning.

5. Your books have a very strong Christian theme with a lot of the Scriptures being quoted, do you spend a lot of time in prayer before you write?

Honestly, not as much as I should. I know I should do more, but I haven’t. Thanks for having me on your blog today, Jess! I enjoyed your questions.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Reviewing the Review System

Tax season is nearly over!  For some reason, this tax season has seemed longer than previous years which makes no sense. But the 15th can't get here soon enough for me.

The first few months of this year have also been interesting ones for me as a writer.  I am, as you will have guessed, a numbers person.  I am the bean counter, number cruncher, boring horn-rimmed glasses person, which you only think about when you hear the words 'tax man'.  So, marketing is not something that comes naturally to me.  It is the one aspect of indie publishing that I am completely ambivalent about because I have (or should say had) no idea where to start.  When I first published my books I, like anyone, googled how to market my indie-published a book.  I got taken to a list of books to read on marketing.  None of them were terribly helpful.  I am not sure when all of the promo sites came into being but about six months ago I joined a group that finally turned on the lights about promoting my books.

One thing that became very clear very quickly is that reviews were imperative as all the promotion sites rely on them quite heavily.  That was when I started reading the reviews not as a potential buyer but as a potential marketer.  Over the last three months, I have come to the conclusion that there is a way to manipulate the review system.  How can a book that is an indie book get nearly 10,000 reviews, and the majority of them are five star reviews and Stephen King's books receive less.  I checked today and the most reviews one of his books has is 8,203.

Once I saw the disparity in the numbers, I started to read the reviews.  The indie book five star reviews are not very long, and many of them are one line reviews such as "this book is awesome". The negative reviews were another matter, and that got me hooked on reading reviews. Yes, I do mean hooked.  I am sure that the writer would not have found them funny, but the amount of time and energy that some people put into their reviews is astonishing and entertaining. What is also astonishing is that a large percentage of these reviewers have studied something about writing.

Then my promotion happened, and I received a number of emails asking if they (the reader) could be in touch with me about my book.  It would appear that a number of people liked my story.  That is always nice to hear, but then it was followed up with the words 'but I did find some errors'. Breaking into a cold sweat I immediately wrote back and asked what page and what paragraph.  Their response was a little slow, they hadn't actually meant a typo error but more a tweaking error.  I found out that there is such a thing as a 'squinting modifier'.  As I grew up on the other side of the pond, I am sure our teachers called it something else. But I have to tell you that those words made me 'squint' and say, "Really?"

I always try to remain open minded, so I asked each of these potential editors to send me a section of what they thought needed 'tweaking'.  The three that wrote me back all had different ideas.  So I decided to do a little research on the people who wanted to help in my literary endeavours.  All of them have been in the writing/publishing world, and all of them are looking for new clients.  I will be the first to admit I do need an editor and have always used an editor for my books.  They don't get published without one, but I want to remain me.  Does that mean my books will sound like me? Yes. Will it be to everyone's liking? No.

And that cured me of needing to read reviews.  I wish many of those reviewers would remember that we read first and foremost because we enjoy it. We read to be entertained, to be enlightened, to be encouraged. We shouldn't read just to write a review.