The Ride

hitchhiker-691581_1280Hi, everyone! I’m sharing one of the pieces I wrote for this week’s 2MinutesGo flash fiction luau and quilting bee on JD Mader’s blog, Unemployed Imagination. Maybe you’d like to drop by and see what we get up to. It’s fun, and free, and there’s some great writing.

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The Ride

“Been out there long?”

It was the first thing he’d said to her since the car pulled away from the shoulder. She stared at his unshaven profile, the pointed chin, the glasses sliding down his nose. Was he dim or just trying to make conversation? Of course she’d been out there long. She was soaked clean through and her backpack was a dripping mess in the trunk of his ancient Gran Torino. Then she sighed. As if the damp, overheated closeness inside the car needed any more twice-breathed air. He didn’t have to stop. He could have just left her there in the pouring rain and made an anonymous phone call from the road.

“A while.” She drummed her fingers atop her wet jeans.

He nodded, keeping his eyes on the slick road ahead. His skinny arms, tense from gripping the wheel, reassured her. If he were a big hulking guy, she might not have gotten in. Her mother’s warnings about taking rides from strangers had only partially penetrated her brain. She was certainly old enough to discern whether a driver represented a threat, and although the weather might have flavored her judgment, he seemed kindly. Like an uncle. Like the kind of guy who might have teenage daughters at home that he would want picked up by a law-abiding, decent man if they’d been stuck out in the rain.

“Where are you headed?” he said finally.

She shrugged. “As far as you’re going would be fine.”

His laugh came out like a tiny squeak. “Well, you might not want to be going that far. I’m aiming for Canada.”

“Funny,” she said. “That’s exactly where I’m going.” She liked the sound of Canada. Of starting over somewhere no one knew her, where no one looked at her sideways because of what her father had done.

He didn’t answer. Cold rainwater dripped down her back and she shivered. What if he started asking questions? Like how old she was, and why she was leaving the country, and if there was someone he ought to be calling? But he said nothing. The tires sluiced through the flooded roads; passing eighteen-wheelers drenched them and he flipped the wipers on high.

As they approached the next exit, he cleared his throat. “Okay, then,” he said, as if making some decision on the spot. “But I need to, um, pull off here and take care of an errand, first. Maybe you can help.”

Considering that he was driving her a couple hundred miles, hadn’t asked her any questions, and there wasn’t that much money in her mother’s purse, she’d be willing to give him a hand. Within reason.

“What will I be doing?”

He smiled at the tollbooth collector and handed over a few singles. As he rolled through an intersection and took a left into the parking lot of a small strip mall, he said, “There’s a gun in the glove compartment.” He brought the sleek, giant car to a stop but left the engine on. “If anyone comes after us, start shooting.”

(New: audio version on SoundCloud!)

Becoming a Better Salesperson

How_To_Handle_Rejection_400x265February is staring me in the face like Punxsutawney Phil, the angry Pennsylvania groundhog about to be jettisoned out of his hole to predict the weather. A whole month of 2016 has flown by, and I still haven’t made much progress toward setting up my book-selling goals for the year. I have some, I do. Nebulous, dreamy-eyed plans to get more eyeballs on my work. It’s what every indie author wants. If I were a beauty pageant contestant, I might be rhapsodizing about world peace right now. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

One thing I have learned about goal setting and goal keeping is that those aspirations need to be specific and achievable. And I’m usually pretty good about that. I make plans, I fill in spreadsheets, and I even look at them once in a while. But so far this year, I’ve stayed so far in denial I might as well hunker down with Phil.

I think part of my avoidance is that the market for books is changing and I haven’t gotten my “sea legs” yet. You might have seen this by the flood of book-bargain emails in your inbox. There’s more competition than ever—for your attention, for advertising slots, for pretty much everything. Having a good sales plan is more important than ever, and deep in my little introverted heart, the word “sales” makes me want to barricade myself into my writing room and watch kitten videos until my pulse returns to normal.

But I am a grownup (mostly) and I have chosen this business, so I made a commitment to learn how to become a better salesperson.

To that end, I asked Mama Google for assistance. She gave me an article about the biggest ways salespeople fail. What’s the most common reason for going away empty-handed? Failing to actually ASK for the sale.

Seems like a no-brainer, right? Get acquainted; offer a pitch; transaction made. So why the disconnect on the transaction part? I know, as an author, many factors in the promotion arena are out of my control. Book bloggers are busy people, marvelous people who write about books for the love of them, but they have lives that don’t stop because I want them to pay attention to my work. Also, no matter how much advertising spaghetti I toss at the wall, for any number of reasons my books won’t always connect with readers exposed to them. And of those wonderful, wonderful readers who do choose to take a chance on me, only a small percentage will write a review or tell their friends. But I like to think I’ve been paying attention to all the advice I’ve heard over the years about spiffing up my book descriptions, writing more engaging newsletter posts, and generally doing a better job of connecting with potential readers everywhere I happen to find them. And, you know, finding them.

Then it hit me: I could be a better salesperson if I actually started ASKING for what I want!

Yes, sometimes it’s tough for me to get bold and ask for help. I want to be able to handle everything myself, otherwise I’m afraid I’ll look needy, and who wants to play with someone like that? Then I had one of those facepalm moments: I actually AM a salesperson! In the past, I’ve sold my own skill set: I’ve convinced various employers to hire me, even when they didn’t have specific jobs advertised, and they were happy with my results. I’ve asked for things and gotten them.

So, if I could ask total strangers to hand me actual cash money for my labor, what was my problem with asking for a little help to get the word out? Granted, there are nice, polite, professional ways of doing these things. But it can be done. I’m doing it. Not everyone says yes, but most do. And all I had to do was ask.

Now it’s your turn: What are you not asking for?

Why Writing Isn’t Enough

Happy Monday! I’m sharing a guest post from Britt Skrabanek that was published on Kristen Lamb’s blog today. Britt is a savvy author and marketer who has some good points to make about our publishing expectations. As much as I wish I could click my ruby slippers together, press the “easy” button, and be an Amazon bestseller (how’s that for mixing some metaphors?) it ain’t gonna happen without work, patience, and sometimes, a little bit of luck.

The Chapel

repentInspired by recent events in my community, I wrote this story for Friday’s 2-Minutes-Go. Please stop by JD Mader’s blog, Unemployed Imagination, if you’d like to see what we were up to this week. Maybe one Friday, you’ll come by and write with us. Or visit and read some amazing work.

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In better days, she’d walked the twisting roads of the monastery campus, up and down the rolling hills between the highway and the river, and she’d never really noticed the small chapel before. Of course it was there, all this time, standing sentry over the water and the federalist mansions lining the opposite bank, but maybe it was like cars or babies—suddenly, when you’re in the market, they’re everywhere. Lately she’d seen crosses in the rock cliffs, haloes around streetlamps, beatific smiles on the people she passed in the supermarket. The secrets pulsed behind her eyes, in her chest, stomping their way up her throat and whining for release, and each kindly vision or reminder of potential forgiveness that magicked itself before her threatened to yank the words from her body.

I shouldn’t be here, she thought, even as she was pulling the door open. She’d never been inside a church before, didn’t feel herself worthy, didn’t feel she belonged. She almost expected alarms to go off. Intruder alert, intruder alert, unbeliever, unbeliever…

Nothing. The door echoed as it seated itself back into the frame. Her footsteps made no noise as she padded up the aisle, row upon row of wooden benches, avoiding eye contact with the series of carvings on the walls, an increasingly tortured Jesus Christ, culminating in a full-on crucifixion scene over the plain, square pulpit. Making herself as small as possible as if still anticipating a scolding nun swooping down to put her in her place, she scuttled into the third pew from the front, right side, and buried her face in her hands.

And then it occurred to her that something bigger than her own squirrel-like thoughts had driven her here, something that wanted her to speak with the man of the house, although she didn’t know what to say. How to start. Prayer was something she read about in books, saw on television—to her, in the past, they were empty words people threw at each other when awful things happened. Sending prayers. Praying for you. But she didn’t know how to pray for herself.

It could have been minutes. It could have been hours. But there she sat, curved in on herself, testing the words in her mind, but they only crackled like so much static. Then she heard a click, the groan of the door swinging open, felt the shaft of light through her eyelids.

“Oh, excuse me,” an old man’s voice said. “I didn’t realize…”

She blinked, and blinked again. He was bent, and worn, and held a cap clutched in his oak-tree hands. But his smile was kind, and it matched his eyes. Her lower lip quivered and fingers shook as she reached into her pocket and held out the syringe she’d filled and loaded into a plastic baggie, held it out to him.

“Get this away from me,” she said. “Please.”

Roman Numerals Get the X in Super Bowl

Screen shot 2016-01-14 at 6.09.12 PMI don’t blog much about football, unless it’s haiku about Troy Polamalu’s hair. But when my husband told me about this story, I couldn’t help but mess with it. The story, that is. Not so much Polamalu’s hair. I’m afraid that if I stick my hand in there, I might never see it again.

Anyway. February 7 will mark the fiftieth Super Bowl. The NFL has been using Roman numerals after “Super Bowl” for…let’s just say for almost as long as I’ve been alive. On the surface, the convention doesn’t appear to make sense. It’s 2016, so why not call the sports-a-palooza “Super Bowl 2016” in the very sensible way that hockey and baseball handle their championships? But the NFL season splits the calendar year, so to be absolutely accurate, you’d have to call it “Super Bowl 2015-2016,” and nobody wants to put all those characters on a T-shirt. Or a beer cozy, a cap, a foam finger, or all those Doritos posters.

So I can see why they opted for the Roman numerals in the first place. And for a while, all those Xs looked kinda fun and powerful. It gives an impression of gladiators duking it out, except with better padding and a halftime show.

But I can just imagine what went on at the marketing meeting as the NFL got ready for publicizing the golden anniversary of the Big Game.

“So, hey, what are we gonna call this thing?”

“Uh, it’s fifty, so we just change the numbers, right? Toss another X or I on there, right?”

“Dude. Fifty in Roman numerals is L.”

“Super Bowl L? What the hell is that? Nobody knows what that means. X and I, they get. Maybe V, if they’re smart. But L? Most people are gonna think Superman’s playing football on Krypton or something.”

And…meeting adjourned. Cue the promotion department to break out the Maalox and trash seventeen boxes of merchandise.

Super Bowl 50 it is. But don’t worry, traditionalists. The Roman numerals are returning next year with Super Bowl LI.

The official story of the temporary suspension is that the designers couldn’t come up with an aesthetically pleasing way to render the “L.”

I call bull on that one. I’ve been a designer; I know designers; we specialize in finding solutions. And how would the “L” be less challenging than next year’s “LI,” which will probably end up looking like a “U”? The more likely story is that the change in convention was a marketing call, because I’m also a marketing person and I’ve spent a lot of time in meetings. I know what goes on there. I’m willing to bet my Super Bowl 50 commemorative chip-and-dip bowl that it was the Krypton thing.

A Vist From Erin McGowan

12459586_10153904282158278_717576313_nToday we have a special visitor. My friend Erin McGowan is here to talk about her new YA fantasy novel, The Mage: Awakening, which is participating in Amazon’s Kindle Scout program.

Kindle Scout is a fairly new program launched by Amazon where YOU get a hand in deciding what books get published. If, at the end of Erin’s run, she gets enough votes and Amazon decides to publish her book, everyone who nominated her will receive a free copy of the e-book version.

I had the opportunity to beta-read The Mage: Awakening, and I really enjoyed it. Right from the first scene, I was rooting for Katrina, the main character. But you can check it out for yourself here and read an excerpt. Then, if you decide Amazon should publish it, drop a nomination to keep Erin’s novel in the running.

A bit about Erin…

Erin McGowan lives in Galveston, Texas, where she spends as much time as possible writing or walking in the surf. She also travels with her roommate and partner-in-crime, L.B. Clark, whenever she can.

While pursuing her master’s degree in accounting from Stephen F. Austin, Erin discovered that writing during and after class was a great way to relieve stress and focus. Changing jobs and moving all over Texas fueled her desire to write and gave her some great story ideas, and deciding to partner with her roommate in a publishing company gave her every reason to share said stories with the world.

Erin finds that story ideas come from everywhere. Watching the ocean, picking figs in the morning, even walking down the street to get coffee can lead to an idea for a book or a short story. She also finds that her natural empathy and love of music lends itself to writing about musicians and the music industry.

For Erin, writing is like laughing; you can get through life without it, but what would be the point?

And because I was nosy, I asked a few questions…

1. Do you have a favorite character in this story?

I have a favorite character, but it keeps changing. I think the character I relate most to is Ginger, the Oracle. She is human, therefore she is fallible, but she’s trying desperately to be perfect. Her position of power overwhelms her.

2. I love those fallible characters. What sparked the idea for this story? What’s the first scene you thought about? Or did it come to you in some other way?

This story came to me in a weird way. I hadn’t written anything but short stories for over a year. I finished my first novel and couldn’t get anything to come together for more than a few scenes. One day I had a dream about a girl who could transfer feelings from one person to another, and I talked to Laura about it. She’d had a dream about a girl who was a succubus and didn’t know it, and we joked about creating our own universe. A few weeks later Laura talked me into going to MOD, the coffee shop where we write, and I started writing a short story about a girl at her grandmother’s funeral. I’d just watched an episode of The O.C. where a surfer died and the main characters attended his funeral…as did sixty other people. Now this kid had a few friends that he was seen with when he was alive, but when he died, we find out that he knew everybody. I realized that most funerals on television went the same way. There was never a sparsely attended funeral. It bugged me, because I know that a lot of people have half a dozen people at their funerals if they are lucky. So, I set out to write about a typical funeral. Then, the girl revealed that she was an empath. That night, after we left MOD, we took a walk on the beach, and I told Laura that my story had taken on a mind of its own. I asked her if we could talk about that shared universe we’d discussed the possibility of, and a few hours later we had a rough idea of what that universe looked like. I wrote two chapters that night, and then went on to write sixty eight more. This was the short story that never ended.

3. The book is fantasy, but did you draw on any real-life experience for any of the characters or the situations?

I think everyone draws on parts of real life when they write. I didn’t base characters on people, but I drew names and experiences from my life and stories that I’ve heard. The main plot came to me one night right before bed. I’d been rereading the Harry Potter series, and the idea came to me that night, that it would be interesting if a character went to school with Voldemort and observed him going down the road he went down. I ran with it, and told a story that I was interested in.

4. What are you writing now? Can you give us a hint?

I’m writing the sequel to The Mage: Awakening right now. Katrina’s story is not over. The great thing about the Unification Council Universe is that there are so many places you can go with these people. I might follow Katrina through all of her school years. I might follow her even longer. I love this girl, and I want to see her grow up. She’s got a lot of gray in her. Everyone has the potential to do bad things or make decisions that are less than stellar, but there are some people who gravitate towards the dark. Those people are more interesting to me than the people who have everything handed to them.

5. They make the most fascinating characters. So, when you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

I love to read, eat, and listen to music. I love living by the ocean, and try to take advantage of the beach near my house whenever I can. Occasionally I edit for Laura or other friends, and I bake on a fairly regular basis, too.

6. If you had a time machine and unlimited funds, where would you go and why?

If I had a time machine and unlimited funds I would go back to the late 60s and early 70s and go to all of the great concerts that I’ve read about. I’d go see Iggy and The Ramones at CBGBs. I’d find a way to go to the Factory and catch Velvet Underground. I’d see AC/DC with Bon Scott. I’d see Bowie in England in a pub back in the day. I don’t think I’d be able to do the groupie thing, but I would go to the shows. Hell, I’d probably hit some shows in the 80s as well. There are some good musicians around today, but we don’t have movements like we did back in the day. I was lucky enough to be alive during part of the metal movement, but that was the last great musical uprising that interested me. After I was done with all of the great concerts I wanted to see I would just start visiting awesome people who I haven’t gotten to meet in person yet.

7. Anything else you’d like to share?

I’m pretty new to the independent publishing/writing world. I just want to thank all of the independent authors out there, for paving the way for the rest of us. It takes a lot of courage to put a piece of your soul out there for the world to see. It take even more courage to go out and say, “This is mine. I did this, and it is worth reading.” I admit, it scares me to put my stories out there. If I had to do the promotional part without a support, if I had to do any of it without support, I don’t know that I would try. It takes a village.

Thank you, Erin, and thanks for reading! If you’d like to check out her Kindle Scout novel, hop over here.

A Year of Reading Indie

IU-reading-challenge-ksb-300x205Happy New Year!

If one of your goals for 2016 is to get out of your reading comfort zone, Indies Unlimited has cooked up a little challenge for you. And I’m really looking forward to this. Twelve months, twelve books, twelve indie authors.

Ready to make your first choice? IU minion, author, and super-reader Candace Williams explains the challenge here.