When I sat down to write the third Palladia book, I looked at a blank screen and a well-worn keyboard. The Word document had nothing on it. It was a white, fat letter-size rectangle that was bigger than the print-formatted files of already published books that I’d been looking at recently. Since 2016 I hadn’t actually drafted a new story, although I had published Bellevere House and done a lot of platform-building. All of my life, I had written stories. Every day—every other day—every month. I had never gone so long without writing a new story until the last five years. Last year I wrote 3 brief outlines--just broad sketches, without details, for books I planned for the future. But thinking about a story and writing it are absolutely dissimilar experiences. As I started letting the new characters of Palladia 3 take shape on that Word document, I felt so stiff. I had almost forgotten how to let words just flow out of me in a first draft for fiction. I wanted to edit every few paragraphs. Looking at that screen, I realized that though I had written and written for so much of my existence, I was actually RUSTY! Previously, I’d never been out of commission long enough to be rusty.
But once the story started, from the first page it developed a strong voice that quickly took charge of the narrative. For some of my other books, I drifted through the first drafts as I tried to find how they should be plotted. Palladia #3 burst out with a hefty dose of young adult angst and a protagonist with a pretty specific personality. Many details demanded a style of writing I wasn’t even used to doing—quite physical, visceral angst and fear, a lot of small details like shoes, raindrops on eyelashes, and italicized personal thoughts. The heroine starts out with her home being attacked and it grows into a personal journey for her from there. She's often panicking or angry or she makes poor decisions. Ordinarily, I want to emphasize dialogue and have the characters talk to each other as I hear their voices in my head. I’m an auditory learner. But this MC, Arielle, doesn’t listen to other’s voices very well. She notices physical details and physical things that happen to her. Which is probably fine, since Palladia is a YA series. This third one just took it in the angsty young adult voice direction right from the get-go.
I'd forgotten also how good characters and stories are when they act more like people with minds of their own than like cardboard dolls for an author to prop up, costume, and move around. In the transfer from my head to my keyboard, this book just got a lot more fun.
And there will be more updates.
This month Ryan and Essie is available for free as part of a giveaway of children’s and young adult books. You'll find lots of books about young people of all ages from preschool to high school. This is the first time in years that I’ve made Ryan and Essie free except for review copies—and it will be the last time for the foreseeable future. So now is your chance to get a rare free copy of this book. Follow this link to see it in addition to books by many other authors.
I have given away some books over the last few months because I have a specific goal in mind—to get readers who came because they were interested in these books that I made free. That sounds obvious, but it’s really important. I spoke once before about some of my books receiving disproportionate attention. You might think “well, weren’t those more popular, isn’t that good?” But actually, I felt the situation was a little trickier than that. I have only so much I plan to spend on marketing, so I need to know which books are likely to be smart investments. I didn't know for certain that the books receiving more attention were really the viable ones. Perhaps some of the smaller books had a quiet audience I wasn't hearing about. So while I of course wanted to sell my books, I also felt it was crucial to learn how big a draw each book would actually be if it was easily available (free, for instance) and presented to readers in a way that would draw attention (as free always does.)
I've gone through the majority of the books now using this method. There were no winners and losers, just truthfulness. I didn’t find a book to be inferior or less valid just because it drew smaller initial downloads, if it attracted more active subscribers and fewer freeloaders who never opened even one email. Some books with seemingly successful giveaway campaigns actually gave me a lot of unengaged readers who opened and then quickly stopped reading my messages, which left me with a guess as to how they were doing with the book they downloaded. Then there were promotions in the middle, with some of both. The numbers game wasn’t about aiming for lots of downloads. It was about trying to find a trajectory for both the more talked-about and the less-noticed books on my publication list. And I learned a lot of fantastic things.
Using various books as entry points helped my newsletter to become more balanced. I felt as if I had “voices” for most of my books now whereas that had been lacking before. And yes, some of the ones that had always received more attention continued to get it. But I certainly haven’t committed to free as a promotion strategy instead of sales. In fact, as I also ran paid promotions throughout last year, the books started to develop some interesting demographics based on both free and paid events that helped give me concepts like “people would download this for free, but not buy it,” “this has a small, but sincerely dedicated audience,” “this book is JUST small,” “this one is surprisingly popular,” and so on. I put Ryan and Essie through a sale last year, but haven’t cross-matched it with a free event, which is why I’m doing one now. It needs full representation on my list.
And there will be more updates.
Well, snow is a part of winter for many of you, depending on where you live. But for me in central Texas, it’s rarely a factor. The last snow that covered the ground enough to make snowballs or a bit of a snowman was 16 years ago. Many winters go by with essentially no snow at all—perhaps a little ice or freezing rain. But this month we got a little miracle. Snow all day on a Sunday, white blanketing the ground and dusting trees with silver. Snowflakes fell on our faces as we made the biggest snowman we’ve ever had (okay, so it was small because we’re not used to making them) and made snow angels. Carved our dog’s name in huge snow letters on the front yard that actually lasted into the next day— P. U. F. F. Snow remained on people’s roofs and snowmen lingered in their yards for a couple of days even though temps were above freezing. It’s been almost 40 years (1982) since we had that much snow!
You should know that This Merry Summertime has review copies on BookSprout. They will be available over the next two weeks. Reviews can be put up anytime once you have downloaded the book, but new download copies will no longer be available after two weeks. I plan to start building a street team this year so I have reviewers lined up for when the third Palladia book releases. I'll give you a head's-up when I have a signup form, as this will give you a chance to advance read and give feedback on my first entirely new, never-before-seen work of fiction in 4 years. But prior to getting a street team together I've got MerrySummer on BookSprout because I can painlessly keep it there whenever convenient and I wouldn't mind getting a few reviews on this book. Feel free to be one of those reviewers--just follow the link to get started.
The Palladia Trilogy is gaining more detail since I want to fit the third Palladia book into the others in a way that develops a solid vision. I don’t want to use ideas that are very similar to the first books, so with #3 on the way I’m going down pretty deep into the subtleties of this future world to draw out a new protagonist who will synchronize well with ones from the earlier books and interact with them. But I have to give her something to do that makes Palladia 3 not only a unique story in itself but also a link that unifies the first two Palladia books together and determines what the overall purpose of the series is. At first, it never seemed that this book would be necessary, but when stories evolve and grow to meet an audience, good things start to happen and now it is beyond essential. I’m excited for it.
Description focus this week: The Test of Devotion. I used to think of this as a rugged story with an American western setting. I thought it was all action. And it also easily came across as dry as dust and mildly unfocused when I described it. From High Noon to The Magnificent Seven to childhood favorites like Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and today’s space spinoff The Mandalorian, there’s a western for everyone. But while there are many kinds of western stories, they are not all alike, and turns out mine isn't really a simple action-adventure, although it looked that way when the description was so flat. After I upped the emotion and initial pull of the way the book is presented just a bit, what emerged instead was a focus on compassion and trust. It's a two-way conversation about respect that the characters gain through both their own effort and the changed feelings of those they know. The development of the story changed a while back to make Viajero more of a caring person than he’d been shown initially and since he carries a lot of the book's POV that really paid off in strengthening the overall theme into something about human integrity and reparation of divisive relationships.
And there will be more updates.
Pleasant Fiction in an Age of Noise
I write stories about human emotions--about the journey of life. Every step of it can be meaningfully great or simply terrible and you can only reach the end after experiencing many kinds of things that make you grow. Emotional travels are the travels of life and the road of living is not one planned out in notebooks or organized in Scrivener. It is felt in love, hope, and fear and developed through an understanding of why humans go through these. And, on top of that, my stories are adventure stories. History, fantasy, and daily modern situations are all adventures as long as you don't know for sure what's going to happen when you wake up each day. Because that would be like repeating the same day over and over again and who wants to do that?
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Bellevere House has been featured on Ezvid Wiki video "10 Wonderfully Inventive Retellings That Interpret Classic Stories in a New Way." Click to see the video.