The Juice

Last week, there was a bad storm here, as in so many other places. Our variant was an ice storm, combined high winds. Trees and tree branches came down and took power lines down with them. We were without power for just over 24 hours, which made me both realize and appreciate a few things.

The hydro guys and electricians were working really hard (around the clock) to get everyone’s juice back, and I appreciate their efforts. They were on top of things.

It’s a very good thing to have a gas fireplace that doesn’t have an electrical ignition. Ours was just wonderful and kept one corner of the house cozy. Because we live in an old house, there are several fireplaces that were built for burning coal. They’re too shallow for wood fires and sit unused, but (as usual after a power failure) I’m wondering if another one should have a gas insert put into it so we can have another source of heat when the juice is out. Hmm. I also thought about what it would have been like to live in our house when it was new. (Here’s a hint – much more chilly!)

It’s amazing how quiet the house is when there isn’t any power. There are so many little motors and pumps running at any given time. I don’t notice the sound of them, until they’re silent. My friend actually said she knew the power was out in the middle of the night because the silence of her house woke her up!

I’m getting really good at freezer triage. I made a list of what I knew was in the small freezer, and put it in order-of-eating. We ate well that day, thanks to the barbeque, and our wastage was minimal overall. The larger freezer in the basement stayed shut and remained cold, so everything is fine there. Plus we learned that frozen spring rolls can be successfully barbequed. Live and learn!

I discovered that the new cell phone (which isn’t that new) doesn’t know everything it needs to know. I’ll have to teach it more email addresses.

Of course, we got nothing done that day other than talking to electricians and moving tree chunks to the boulevard for the city to pick up, so it’s great to have everything more or less back to normal. There’s no better way to start the day than with a hot cup of coffee and a hot shower!

But you know, I’ve never written a scene in a book with a power failure. Hmm…

Resonance

Stories that are complete and coherent have a resonance, at least to me. There is something wonderful about a book that leaves no loose ends, a story in which every detail adds up. Every character acts in character in these books, yet their actions aren’t entirely predictable. The plot makes sense, but twists in surprising directions. The style of storytelling is elegant, with the flourishes of a master storyteller. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

This is what I mean by resonance. These carefully crafted stories don’t strike any false notes. In fact, they seem to chime in a perfect tone that indicates everything within them is exactly as it should be. They are the best possible recounting of their particular story.

Over the years, I’ve developed an inner ear for story resonance. Of course, I’d like every single book I write to have this kind of coherence. The problem is that the last perfect idea, the one that pulls everything together and creates resonance, doesn’t always pop into my head on time. Ideas can’t be scheduled. They turn up when they want to – or not. And the ideas that create resonance are particularly evasive. Creative thinking and problem solving dislikes stress – like that created by deadlines – or interference – like that caused by real life. The creative part of the brain likes to play, and find solutions sideways.

This is why the strategies in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way are so helpful. She not only understands sideways thinking, but knows how to encourage it. You need lots of sideways thinking to create books with resonance, so I’m always looking to improve my strategies.

In the past year, I’ve realized that I came up with an adaptive strategy – a compromise, really – to deal with the evasiveness of the ideas that create resonance and the realities of print publishing schedules. When working with a traditional publisher, delivering to deadline is a very important measure of the author’s reliability. Authors who don’t deliver on time might not be offered new contracts. They might have their books rescheduled, or they might be assigned to a more junior editor (who has more time to juggle the author’s perceived unreliability). Because publishers work with so many books and need to keep their production costs down across the board, keeping the schedule in Production is more important than most (if not all) other concerns. There’s a big potential downside to being late, so I’ve always been  very driven to meet deadline.

But what about those evasive ideas? The good thing about traditional publishing schedules is that the delivery for the book is usually twelve months or so before its publication date. The editorial process can easily take six months, albeit at 45 to 60 day intervals. At my most recent publishing house, there was always a revision requested to the ms. That was new to me – at other publishers, revisions were only requested if the delivered book had a serious issue. This house revised everything. So, previously, I had been late once in a while or worked very intensely to deliver a resonant book on time. For this house, once I recognized that this pattern was the rule not the exception, it was easier to deliver on time. I knew there would be the expectation that I’d do a major revision in 45 – 60 days. I would keep thinking about the story and making notes on it while it was on my editor’s desk. In the revision phase, I could make the changes required by all the ideas that had come to me in that waiting period. This was all good.

One of the joys of indie-publishing for me is that I can hold off on publishing a book if it isn’t resonant enough to make me happy. One of the challenges is that I’d forgotten about that compromise solution. I was thinking that I still always delivered a resonant book on time, and that the idea fairies were more biddable than they are.

This calls for a different kind of revision, one to my work schedule!

It’s quite common for a work to be technically complete, but not quite resonant. This happened with KISS OF DARKNESS in March. It was done, but I knew it was missing something. It wasn’t quite right. Because everything in our life was at sixes and sevens, the idea fairies made themselves scarce. I couldn’t focus on the story enough to figure out what it needed, not when my husband was commuting to the hospital to visit his dad. My spring fever binge late last week made a tremendous difference in coaxing the fairies back to work. While I focused on flowers and colour and plants, the creative part of my brain was thinking sideways. Now *ping* Damien’s story has the resonance it needed.

Kiss of Darkness by Deborah Cooke, #9B in her Dragonfire series of paranormal romances

The second Dragon Legion Novella is at the formatter today. Damien’s story will be published very very soon, maybe even later today. :-)

The revision is to my announcement schedule. I’m needing to leave a little more buffer in my plans to allow the idea fairies to play and resonance to develop. In future, I’m going to give you publication dates when works are much much closer to publication. I’ll still set out a schedule, but that will give me a little wiggle room and keep you from being disappointed that I’m late.

Spring Fever

It’s been looking like spring, finally, around here. (Ironically, this morning, it looks like winter – we had a dusting of fresh snow last night, but I’ve decided it WILL melt. Soon.) It’s been a very dark winter and has felt particularly long to me. There’s also been a lot going on in our lives that has been stressful, so spring is very welcome this year.

The snowdrops are up in the garden and I can see the tips of the hyacinth leaves. The hellebores are sending up flower heads – they’re dark purple when they first come up. They had hellebores on sale at the nursery this past weekend and I bought two new beauties, only to get home and realize that the ground where I want to put them is still frozen. They’ll living on the porch for the moment and don’t seem to mind. The lilacs and the magnolia are in bud, too, and the birds are very chatty.

The poppies have appeared, just small leaves now but enough to relieve me that they’re coming back. We have a zone of self-seeding annual poppies that have bright orange flowers. They don’t look real, actually, but more like those crepe paper poppies people used to make. Each year, they come up, bloom, and die. Each year, I break up the mature seed heads and cast seeds all over the bed. The bed is usually as dry as dust by this point – that’s what they like about it – but each year, I worry that there won’t be any poppies the next year. This is, of course, ridiculous. There are thousands of them out there, and they expand their territory each year. They’re back again, even growing in the paths, so this is very exciting to me.

Because it’s been such a long dark winter, writing has been difficult. All creative endeavors have been difficult. So, spring this year really does offer a burst of energy and opportunity, and I’ve been making the most of it. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron talks about tempting your inner artist with visual and sensory treats. This is a technique which I find very effective. For me, colour is inspiring, so I’ve taken the opportunity to fill the house with colour. There is a bouquet of pink tulips and pink lilies on the kitchen table (they smell heavenly!) and those pink hellebores are sitting patiently on the porch. While at the nursery, I also bought some pansies and primroses. It’s still a bit chilly for them outside, so they’re sitting on a tray on the counter, blooming away. The pansies are all shades of purple and white, while the primroses are yellow, deep blue or cherry red. Mr. Math brought the planter back to the patio and I planted it with some of the pansies and primroses, as well as two orange ranunculus. It’s had to be covered each night, but by the weekend, I’m hoping it will be fine. I’m also knitting a very bright vest. It’s in bulky yarn, so I might be able to show it to you by the end of this week. Next winter, it’ll be my burst of colour and warmth. And because of all of these things, the writing is now flowing along beautifully. I’ll talk more about that tomorrow.

For now, here’s a self-seeding annual poppy to celebrate spring.

poppy2

Late, Late, Late

Some of you have emailed me about the availability of KISS OF DARKNESS, and you’re right, it’s not published yet. You’re also right that I’m late. We had an unpleasant surprise this month when my father-in-law suddenly became very ill, and subsequently passed away. I wasn’t getting any writing done then, which isn’t a surprise at all, but now am getting back into my rhythm.

Kiss of Darkness by Deborah Cooke, #9B in her Dragonfire series of paranormal romances

Damien’s story needs two more scenes and good read-through. The beta-reader, the editor and I will read all simultaneously to pick up some time, and the formatter is ready to jump on the file as soon as she has it in hand.

Which means I’m still hoping to publish it before the end of the month. Thanks for your patience, and my apologies. :-)

Visit from Mark LeFebvre

Yesterday, I told you about the Stratford Authors blog that I established last fall with a local librarian, Melanie Kindrachuk, to focus on local authors. I mentioned that we’d started to co-host some events with the local library. At the beginning of March, our monthly event featured Mark LeFebvre, the Director of Author Relations at Kobo Writing Life and a published author himself, talking about digitally publishing a book. Here’s the interview Mark did for the SA blog in advance of his appearance.

I met Mark last fall at the World Fantasy Conference in Toronto, after I’d seen him participate in a panel discussion on digital publishing for indie authors there. We subsequently emailed back and forth over some questions I had about the books I’d published directly on KOBO and I invited him to come down here to speak to our group. I halfway expected him to decline (it’s a bit of a drive from Toronto) but he enthusiastically agreed and we booked a date.

Mark’s initial comments were about preparing to digitally publish a book. He made some cautionary remarks about people diving in to digital publishing too soon. He reminded us all that a book needs to be ready to be published, no matter how it’s published: it needs to be professionally edited; it needs to have good cover art; it needs to have strong copy; it needs to be formatted correctly. All of these things help books to be taken seriously, and to succeed.

He also mentioned that most successful digital book authors know their audience really well. He suggested that authors should know their audience and their audience demographics, to better prepare packaging that appeals to the target audience and set prices that make sense to that audience.

Because the topic of digital publishing is so huge, Mark then took questions from the floor to focus his comments.

• He was asked whether KOBO intends to add author pages to the site – he said they had been in the works since KWL launched last July and are still in the works.

• He told us that the search utilities would be vastly improved on KOBO shortly, and that there would be more categories for books.

• He was not so encouraging in response to a question about allowing readers to post reviews directly on the KOBO site. He talked about Kobo’s partnership with Goodreads, expressed great admiration for Goodreads, and essentially didn’t seem to see any reason to duplicate or overlap what they already do so well.

Mark also talked about formatting of digital books, giving a brief overview to attendees. He was quite passionate on the topic of digital book prices increasing, and certain that free books and 99 cent books will become less effective as marketing tools. (Such pricing strategies are already markedly less effective than even six months ago.) We had some questions from people who wanted to embed video in their books and also a graphic novelist in attendance, so he talked about those technical requirements and possibilities for those sorts of works. (I didn’t understand it all!)

Again, I was struck by how generous the exchange of information is between authors and digital publishing portals like Kobo. He was quite direct about the merchandising of books on their site and how books are chosen from all the many titles presented each week for special attention. It was a lively and informative evening.

Mark even brought his skeletons – he writes horror in his life as an author – so maybe it was inevitable that we have a lot of fun. In fact, Mark will be coming back to our monthly event in June to walk our local authors through the process of digitally publishing a book on Kobo.