You heard right! The infamous Helen of Straight From Hel chats with L.J. Sellers, the infamous author of The Sex Club.
This is a Q&A you don’t want to miss! So click straight over:
Being a new author often feels like being the new kid in school. The cliques are already established and everybody else seems to belong. The fact that my book is from a micropublisher makes me feel like a party crasher too. I’m not on the list. I came in through the back door. People are being polite, but I suspect that they know I shouldn’t be there.
I know this sounds a little paranoid and it’s not typical of me. But recently I was unfriended on Facebook by another popular author (meaning well-liked by other authors), and that’s what started this whole introspection. I’m normally very self-confident, and I used to be unconcerned with the opinions of strangers. But as a novelist, you have to care about the opinions of strangers. In fact, you have to seek out the opinions of hundreds or, if you’re lucky, thousands of strangers.
I’m planning a trip to Bouchercon this October, and on the list of attendees, there’s an “A” by my name. So it’s official, I’m an author. But I can’t join Thriller Writers or Mystery Writers of America because Spellbinder Press is not on their list. (Thanks, Sisters in Crime for not being elitist! And thanks Mystery Scene magazine and all the reviewers who read and loved THE SEX CLUB.) A little part of me is afraid that before I get to B-con, someone will decide I’m not a real author and take away my badge.
The upside is that readers don’t care who published the book. They either like it or they don’t. And so far, readers like me. They really like me.
Today, I veer completely off the subject of writing to indulge in my second favorite pastime, raving. And today’s rave is about Career Misfits—people who seem to be particularly unqualified, at least on the surface, for the job they do.
For example, a women I met recently proudly claimed to be a hairdresser. I glanced at her “coiffure” (a white-blond crewcut with black roots) and thought to myself, never in a million years would I let this woman touch my hair. I could achieve more sympathetic results with chemotherapy. The poor woman might be surprisingly good with a pair of scissors, but who in their right mind would take the chance?
Then there’s the woman I encounter socially, very sweet, but substantially overweight. One evening I asked what she did for a living. (Are you cringing?) Of course, she owns a weight-loss clinic. I stood there nodding, completely speechless for the first time in my life. What should I have said? “New in the business?”
Seriously, how can you sell a product when you’re visible proof of its failure? It would be like Jason Alexander (aka, George Castanza) trying to pitch Rogaine. Don’t they know better? Doesn’t it hurt? Or is it possible they simply lack a sense of irony? If there were only a few of these characters, I’d call it a karmic snafu and let it go. But they are everywhere!
There’s the guy behind the counter at the health food store who raves about the benefits of nutritional supplements yet looks like he hasn’t eaten or slept well in weeks. And the brother-in-law who struggles to make a living as a remodeler, while his own home is such a cosmetic nightmare I’d love to torch it and make him start from scratch. (As a writer, I’m lucky there’s no way to judge my competence by looking at me or the books on my shelf.)
I once knew cook who loved to grow exotic plants. When he told me he was studying psychology at the U of O, I impulsively blurted out, “Why? If you love plants, study botany. The key to happiness in life is finding something you love to do, then doing it until you’re good enough to make a living.”
I stand by my words. If these mismatched folks love what they do and are happy doing it, then more power to them. I will continue to bite my tongue—and ask for references.
I finished the first draft of my new novel, Secrets to Die For, yesterday. It’s nowhere near ready to go out to anyone, but it’s such a great feeling to have the whole story down on paper. To have a new product to sell. It’s impossible to get the attention of agents or editors without a finished manuscript. And at the moment, I have no freelance work in house. So I have a free day. And it will be a promopalooza! Here’s what I hope to accomplish:
Update my website (create a page for Secrets to Die For, add more links, etc.)
Update my blog (add links to guest blogs, add a sitemeter, upload book trailer)
Post on all four list serves
Write/send query letters to agents
Send out free copies of The Sex Club to weekly winners and others
Query various blogs about appearing as a guest author or blogger
Update my books on GoodReads (add friends too)
Write and post a book discussion guide to website (this has been on list forever!)
Write and post a note on FB about blogging every day in August
Check out the 50 websites I’ve bookmarked and never got back to
Query people about reading my newly finished manuscript/ask for blurbs
Find a roommate for Bouchercon
Finish reading discussion novel and create list of questions
There’s more, of course, and I won’t get it all done today. But the list never goes away, and eventually, I’ll get to it all. Meanwhile, I’d better get busy.
I mentioned yesterday that now as a novelist I read differently than I did before I starting writing fiction. I am aware of POV changes (subtle and not), plot devices, foreshadowing, pacing, and more. Noticing these things often makes me stop and think, “Why did the author do that?” I am also extremely busy and have to make time to read, so if a book doesn’t grab me—or makes me stop too often to think about the author—I put it in the giveaway pile and move on. Consequently, I only finish one out of every three or four novels I start. (Which is why I almost never buy hardback books, but that’s another subject.) I don’t mean to imply that all these books are bad or unreadable, they just weren’t right for me.
Also as a novelist, I’m trying to get to know and network with other writers. I’ve made many friends online, and I look forward to meeting all these nice/funny/interesting people in person at conferences. But here’s the sticky part: What do I say if they ask me if I liked their novel and it was one of those I put down? Social training tells me to tell a little white lie and quickly change the subject: “Great writing. What are you working on now?” Let me point out that this causes me great anxiety. I want to like the work of everyone I know. (And I have taken a vow to never ask anyone that question about my own work.)
Here’s the trickier part. I’m a member of several mystery discussion groups, the point of which is to discuss books we’ve read. Other novelists are also members of these groups. How do I discuss a novel I didn’t really care for without offending or alienating the author who may be reading my posts? And what if I signed up to be the moderator for the discussion (before I read the book)? Which means I can’t just sit back and be quiet. I face this dilemma today. I’m supposed to discuss a book I haven’t finished. Technically, there’s nothing wrong with it. The writing is good and many people would find the character compelling. I just don’t care for gun-toting, hard-drinking, wise-ass men. Or stories about the mob. Being the kind of person who can be counted on to follow through, I’ll finish the book, post intelligent questions, and try to be as diplomatic as possible with my own opinions.
But I won’t volunteer to moderate any more discussions unless I’ve already read the book and loved it. Or the author is no longer living.
SEO has been on my list of things to do for months. I get so little traffic to my novel’s website, I can’t even give away books there. So I read everything I can about search engine optimization and work at it when I have time. Some of the terms and technology were intimidating me. I’m so over that now. The latest buzz words in SEO are ping and twitter. When I first heard them, I groaned, thinking I’d have to learn new HTML or dig around in my website set up.
Nope. They are websites. And so easy to use. Ping-O-matic is a simple form. You fill in the name and url of your blog, check where you want to send the update, and then click “send pings.” The idea is to do this every time you post a new entry on your blog and let blogworld know there’s new content. SEO for Dummies.
Twitter is new social networking site, similar to MySpace and Facebook. If you have the time for yet another networking site, Twitter is a little different. It is all about the personal update: What are you doing now? If you want to keep your friends updated all day—I’m clipping my toenails, I just ate a bowl of bran flakes, I’m thinking mean thoughts about my husband again—then this is the site. It offers a little Twitter box that you can paste on your other sites to make your update available everywhere you are. I’m not sure yet how this will increase traffic to my website, but I’m game.
The other SEO term I’d been hearing and finally checked out is “Technorati.” It too is a website. But its name and tagline—what’s percolating in blogs now—are misleading. There’s no information about the technical things you need to know to be a successful blogger. It’s just breaking news through the eyes of bloggers.
So take heart, writers. SEO is not complicated. But like everything else you do online to market yourself and your books—it takes time.
At the end of last year, I decided that 2008 would be different. I had several goals:
1) start a new novel
2) write my own stuff first thing every day, even if I had to get up at 5 a.m. to do it
3) find or create work that I enjoyed more than what I was currently doing
4) sell my detective series to another publisher
By March 1, I had accomplished the three things I had control over. January first, I began to outline my new Detective Wade novel, working title, SECRETS TO DIE FOR. I began getting up at 5 a.m. to write for an hour or so before I went to work. At the time, I worked as an editor for an educational publisher, a demanding job that left me too mentally exhausted at the end of the day to feel creative enough to fill blank page after blank page (which is how a novel comes into existence).
Next, I started sending out letters to agents, publishers, and writers, announcing my services as a fiction editor. And I contacted some corporate clients and magazines about nonfiction editing as well. Then I took the biggest step: I asked my employer to let me cut back on my hours at work, thinking it would be long slow transition to self-employment. They promptly laid me off.
Thank you very much.
Terrified, but joyously liberated, I plunged into a new routine: Write for three hours exclusively on my novel first thing every morning, break for an hour of cardio, then freelance edit for others. After dinner I switch to networking and marketing my novel that’s currently in print, THE SEX CLUB. Most days I work from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
I love my new life! My bathroom is perpetually untidy, dinner is often an unimaginative freezer-to-oven meal, and there’s laundry backed up everywhere. But I passed page 100 yesterday on my novel, so who cares? My husband says he’s never seen me so happy. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve put my personal writing first. Making a living, raising kids, taking care of extended family, and keeping the house clean were always a priority. These things are still important, they are just not most important. (Don’t call child services; my kids are adults now.)
My goal now is make it all work for as long as possible. My husband was laid off one week after I was—an unexpected event—so we’re sweating the health insurance a little. But he doesn’t want me to change anything about my new life. I had already quit spending money (except on books) and guess what? I don’t miss any of the things I don’t buy. It’s amazing how simple life can be.
Now if I could just land a publisher . . .
Oh, where to start with this issue? Georgia outlaws sodomy, which it defines as any oral or anal sex — with no exception even for married people! Its own superior court ruled that part of the law was unconstitutional, yet it remains on the books. Why, oh why, does the state care? And the state government is made up of human beings. Have these poor repressed people never had good oral sex?
But Georgia’s worst offense is its laws for teen sex and its prosecution of teenagers. Genarlow Wilson (age 17) served almost three years in prison for having consenting oral sex with a teenage girl (age 15). He was originally sentenced to 10 years! But a court ruled that his punishment was cruel and unusual. No shit! What happened to this young man is tragic!
I can’t believe we allow young people to be treated this way. Especially when you consider that in many states, people can marry at the age of 15 or 16 (with parental consent). In Georgia, if a 16-year-old girl is pregnant, she can marry without parental consent. So in Georgia, if you’re a teenager who has already had unprotected sex and created a life (that you may not be able to take of), it’s okay to marry and have more sex and more babies. Yet as a teenager, if you have oral sex, which can’t result in a pregnancy, you can be sent to prison. As I said, what the hell is wrong with Georgia?
As a country, and a culture, we need to let go of the idea that sex is for married people only and/or procreation only. We need to stop focusing on the “morality” of teenage sex (ie, abstinence-only sex education) and spend more time and money educating teenagers about the potential consequences and how to protect themselves.
Two recent policy reversals on the issue of abortion give me hope that the pendulum is starting to swing back— from Bush/fundamentalist extremism to a more rational approach for making decisions about other people’s bodies.
First, the Catholic church agreed to let Catholic hospitals give emergency contraception to rape victims. Such compassion! Before, the church’s position was that rape victims should be tested (while in the hospital being subjected to a rape examine) to see if they were ovulating. If they were, then they would not be given Plan B because that would prevent a pregnancy. Rape victims who were not ovulating could be given the contraception because they were not likely to get pregnant. Only in the bizarro world of the Catholic church did that ever make any sense. Oh, and by the way, the bishops’ reversal came two days before state law would have required compliance anyway. You thought they had developed some heart? Hah!
And in other strange news, Verizon had turned down a request from NARAL for a code that would allow the organization to send pro-choice information to people who had requested the text message. Whatever the company was thinking, apparently Verizon quickly came to realize that most of its customers are young, liberal, and not used to being told no. So Verizon changed its position. I guess we’re still a free country after all.
Bush has recently requested $242 million for abstinence-only sex education in his proposed 2008 budget. If Congress approves this budget, the total amount of tax dollars spent on abstinence-only programs during the Bush administration will exceed $1.45 billion. Why are we spending a billion and a half dollars on programs that don’t work?
Why should government spend any money at all telling people not to have sex? Whether you’re 15 or 75, the choice to have sex, or not, is personal.
That’s not the worst of it. Abstinence-only programs don’t limit themselves to telling teenagers to just say no. They also misinform people in an attempt to manipulate their behavior. A government investigation recently found that millions of teens in abstinence-only programs were taught:
1. That abortion can lead to sterility and suicide
2. That condoms fail to prevent pregnancy 31% of the time (real failure rate: 1-3%)
3. That touching a person’s genitals “can result in pregnancy”
4. That a 43-day old fetus is a “thinking person”
Lying to teenagers is always a bad idea. How can they learn to trust adults, or the government, if we don’t tell them the truth?
Write your congressional representative. Tell him or her to stop supporting this irresponsible waste of money.