When in Doubt, Hire a Cartoonist

Occasionally* I stall on a writing project. Let’s face it: novels are big projects. So are humor books. They take up a lot of time, a lot of brain space, and a lot of caffeine. Juggling all three for months on end gets tiring. So, when I slow down, crawling toward a finish line I can no longer see, I need something to jump-start the project.

That’s usually when I email Mike.

Mike (a.k.a. Mike Ferrin, for the uninitiated) is my cartoonist. Some people feel they need an attorney on retainer. Or an accountant. I need a cartoonist. And let me just say right now that I love being able to say I have a cartoonist.

Once I’ve emailed Mike (typically this happens around 3 a.m. in a coffee-driven, adrenaline-based panic brought on by another plot hole I’ve fallen into), I wait for him to get on board with whatever harebrained idea I’ve conjured for the book’s cover. (This takes anywhere from two minutes to two-and-a-half minutes.) Then we get started on the artwork proper. By this time I’m so wrapped up in the ideas for the cover that I’ve completely forgotten that there’s supposed to be a bunch of pages with words on them inside.

And also by this time, there is a directly inverse correlation between how much time I’m spending on the cover for the book and how much time I’m spending on the text for the book. As the time spent in Scrivener writing the book withers, the time spent in InDesign fiddling with the eyedropper tool skyrockets.

Now, I know not all of my books have cartoon covers—and therefore didn’t need Mike’s services—but I’m at a point in my career where most of my books have utilized Mike’s services. Part of that’s because he’s so much fun to procrastinate with… I mean, to work with. Yeah, that’s what I meant. Um, yeah. But part of it is that I hear people talking about branding. It sounded painful at first, till I realized what they actually meant. Turns out it doesn’t involve cattle at all. Huh.

Anyway, Mike’s cartoon artwork for six of my book covers has become part of my brand. And I wasn’t even trying to have a brand. I just wanted an artistically talented goofball to talk me down off the creative ledge. Again.

So, this is my long, drawn-out way of saying that, although I have a completed first draft for each of the next two books in the Red Ink Mysteries series, I’m plodding through editing them and not really enjoying it.

But I love working on covers, so… Mike got that late-night email a while ago and is finishing up the artwork for Charlotte’s Website. And, along the way, he entertained me, made me laugh, and got me excited about the project again.

I predict both The Tell-Tale Heart Attack and Charlotte’s Website will be available by summer 2018. And that’s due in no small part to an amazing cartoonist named Mike Ferrin. Thanks, Mike!

Charlotte-Cover-Test-HiR-FINALFRONT     TTHA-CoverTest-Feb2018-HiRes-FRONT

______

*By “occasionally,” I mean nearly every week.

 

Soon . . .

It’s almost here again. Not just Halloween—with its promise of fun-sized candy bars for weeks because I always conveniently over-purchase for our trick-or-treaters (#sorrynotsorry)—but also what I like to call NaNo Eve.
For the past 13 years, I’ve spent Halloween night watching bad horror movies (usually AMC’s Fear Fest) and prepping for the start of National Novel Writing Month in November. This will be Year 14. And, as usual, I’m so excited I can barely think of anything else. This one event, paired with my discovery of Alphasmarts back in 2004, has made November my favorite month each year.

 

So, just as I’ve done for the past 13 Halloweens, I’ll spend Tuesday night gobbling tiny Kit Kat bars and cute little Hershey miniatures, sipping coffee into the wee hours, waiting for midnight so I can start on this year’s 50,000 new words of fiction.
But, unlike the past 13 years, this time I won’t be starting a brand new project. NaNoWriMo now allows participants to work on a previous fiction project, as long as all the words written in November are new to the project. And since I have a few previous NaNo novels that aren’t quite done, this seems like the year to tie up some loose ends rather than unravel new ones.
In fact, I’m modifying even that new take on the old rules a little bit further. The past two NaNo novels have been upcoming books in my Red Ink cozy mystery series. Each one needs about 25,000 words to finish the story.
You can see where I’m going with this.
So, I’m hoping to finally see complete first drafts of both The Tell-Tale Heart Attack and Charlotte’s Website in about a month. It’s making me feel so grown-up and responsible. Pretty much new feelings for me.
And because I can’t just wing it from scratch this time, I’ll spend the next two days rereading what I have so far on both novels, so I can hit the ground running at midnight on Tuesday night. I’m nervous about doing NaNoWriMo this way, but then again, I get nervous trying out a new flavor of coffee creamer. Your mileage may vary.
Let me be clear that I’m not nervous about doing NaNoWriMo yet again on a typewriter. I’ve found it’s the best way to churn out new fiction. Been practicing on both the Selectric I and the Selectric II this past few weeks. I even bought a few new “golf balls” for each of them.
The fingers are getting itchy. I’m ready.

So Let It Be Written . . .

…so let it be done.
 
And done it is. Train of Thought: Travel Essays from a One-Track Mind is being printed even as I type this. The first copies will be ready in time for Beaver County BookFest on Sept. 8–9. That’s right around when I’ll also make them available on Amazon.
 
The last week is a complete blur. Most of what I was doing the past few weeks involved getting the book ready. Because I have a long history in prepress work, I do my own interior typesetting for my books. I love it, but it takes a lot of time to build a book from scratch. Every font. Every image. Every header, every subhead. On every page. I’m getting tired just thinking about it.
 
Anyway, this past week or so is a flurry of activity where I worked at my desk, ate at my desk, and got hyped up on caffeine at my desk.
 
And let’s just say my house is full of evidence that I’ve been living at my desk. Every room. Every dirty dish. Every undusted surface. Every uncleaned bathroom. I’m getting tired just thinking about it.
 
So now, in the two weeks till BookFest, I’ll climb away from the desk and wade through the debris field known as my house, so I can tidy up a little bit. But as I look around at the state of every room in this house—plus the overgrown yard outside—all I can say is this:
 
Please, Lord, don’t let anyone visit me till sometime in 2019.

Train of Thought … right on track

Deadlines are often my mortal enemies. They hate me, and rightly so. I taunt them. I brush up against them in annoyingly familiar ways. I tell them their father was a hamster and their mother smelled of elderberries.
 
This behavior doesn’t make them go away. In fact, they seem to loom larger the more I harass them. They are angry, bitter little beasts that don’t appreciate my behavior in their presence. You see, I’m a procrastinator. Always have been. Was late for my own birth, and I’ve perfected the skill in the ensuing years. I had to run for the bus an unprecedented number of times during my school years. I had to stay up late in college the night before a paper was due. I left for work thirty seconds later than it would take the average person to get there. It’s almost like I don’t hear the clock ticking until the deadline is breathing down my neck.
 
Deadlines love this behavior. They start taking bets on me, that I’ll falter and miss the deadline this time. Sometimes they’ve thrown my self-imposed, internal deadlines at me as signs that I’ll likely miss a real deadline currently before me. But they don’t understand that I know the difference between a random, self-imposed deadline and a real, can’t-change-the-date deadline. I know because I routinely conquer the latter while allowing myself way too much slack on the former.
 
The proposed September release for my upcoming cross-country train trip book, Train of Thought, was a target date for my Indiegogo backers. I chose that month based on what seemed reasonable once I got home from my trip in mid-May. Setting the date with a month—but no specific date—gave me more than four weeks of leeway to keep that rather flexible, self-imposed deadline.
 
Meanwhile, the deadline demons know how crazy my summers are and were giggling with glee that this time they would win. What they failed to factor in was Beaver County BookFest on September 9. There was no way I was going to sit at a third BookFest table in a row with the same four books for sale. I needed a new book this year.
 
Add a real deadline I cannot change onto my self-imposed deadline and you’ve got one determined writer. Once I am up against a wall I cannot tear down, I always scale it just in time. Always. I procrastinate until the adrenaline kicks in, and then I dash ahead. The deadline demons keep forgetting that I have more than a half century of practice at this. Don’t try this at home, kids. I’m a professional.
 
They will never win.
 
I have approximately ten days to finish this book (including layout, which is already in place) in order to have physical copies here before September 9. That’s plenty of time, as long as I don’t clean the house or have a social life or get heroic with dinner prep for the next week and a half. Which is standard operating procedure around here even when I’m not on a deadline.
 
So, if you see me on social media sites at all over the next ten days, it’s only because I need to remind myself that the real world is still out there and hasn’t been nuked into oblivion by some little nutjob halfway around the world. Because that’s about the only thing that’s going to stop me from meeting this deadline.
 
Take that, deadline demons.
 
 

And the Beat Goes On . . .

This past week I released both the print and Kindle editions of my cozy mystery, The Scarlet Letter Opener. Not the first novel I’ve written, but the first novel I’ve put out there in the big, wide world.
And it feels a lot like watching your firstborn grow up, move out, get married … all those overused empty-nest clichés. It feels like all of them, but a lot more personal because, if your novel flops, you can’t blame it on anyone else but yourself. Nature, nurture, whatever. It’s all crap when you release a novel. Well, you can try to blame it on the cover designer or your beta readers, but that’s just a passive-aggressive device to avoid blame, and it’s not fooling anybody.
Anyway, a few of my trusted friends  [read: I’m pretty sure they’re not going to kill me in my sleep] finally convinced me that it was time to step up to the plate and shoulder the blame.
Wait… this isn’t coming out the way I had expected. Not really enticing anyone to read the book, am I?
Let me skip all the boring crap about how a writer’s creative yet blocked mind works and get right to the important stuff. The pertinent facts and rules:
1. The Scarlet Letter Opener, a cozy mystery, is now available on Amazon.com.
2. Please buy it and/or borrow it from Amazon.com.
3. If you buy and/or borrow it and enjoy it, please leave a favorable review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. Authors rely heavily on those reader reviews (especially the good ones).
4. If you buy and/or borrow it and don’t enjoy it, keep it to yourself, all right? Nobody wants to hear your negativity.
* * * * *
In other, semi-related news, another novel should be showing up within the next few weeks. This one’s a lot more serious. The cover reveal should happen later this week. Rules 2–4 above will still apply. You’re officially on notice.

The Writing Process

Well, how exciting is this? (That was a rhetorical question, so don’t even bother answering it.)
I was tagged by thriller author Catherine Lea to write about my writing process. I eagerly jumped at the chance … only to realize when it was too late that I really don’t have a process.
But let’s walk through my “process” anyway — if only as a negative example to the rest of you who might want to actually be successful someday…
I’ve got the bits and pieces (very large pieces, in most cases) of ten novels now. About half of those are actually written all the way through (in first draft form, at least). The rest are in a state of confusion or frustration, percolating in a [figurative] drawer somewhere until I can work through a sticky plot point or add a few more interesting characters to bolster the boring ones I currently see on the [figurative] page.
But, all but one of those novels has started at midnight on November 1 of any given year between 2004 and now. You see, I am at heart a terrible procrastinator. And, the only thing that has nudged me out of that slump has been National Novel Writing Month, which starts each year precisely at midnight on November 1 and ends with a whimper at midnight at the end of November 30.
At the end of every November, I have at least 50,000 words written on that year’s new novel project. Half the time I keep writing and finish the novel. The other half of the time — well, that’s where the [figurative] drawer comes in.
The two novels that are on the verge of seeing daylight (Secret Agent Manny and also The Scarlet Letter Opener) were both in the best shape at the end of their respective Novembers. So, those will be the first ones published.
A few other projects have special places in my heart but need a little more work — in particular, Do-It-Yourself Widow (which placed as a runner-up in Jerry Jenkins’s Operation First Novel contest a few years ago), and also Gray Area (the only non-NaNoWriMo novel in the bunch, which placed as a semifinalist in that same Jenkins contest a few years before that). We’ll see how quickly I can tidy those up.
Right now, as I work on Secret Agent Manny, my writing process looks like this:
  • Get up to feed hubby breakfast at 6 a.m.
  • Wave to hubby as he leaves at 6:45 a.m.
  • Head back to bed at 6:46 a.m.
  • Sleep until it adds up to something close to 7–8 hours of sleep.
  • Get up again, this time to feed myself breakfast and coffee.
  • Catch up on DVRed TV shows from previous night, if needed.
  • Head up to home office and go through bajillion emails from companies I have unsubscribed from thirteen times already.
  • Answer the 2–3 valid work emails.
  • Go back downstairs to grab veggies for guinea pigs, Bob and Frid, who have been wheeking at me from across the office ever since I got upstairs. Realize that I have just reinforced the wrong habit of coming upstairs without the veggies by doing it yet again today.
  • Look at clock. Panic that it is nearly noon already.
  • Shower. Dress.
  • Sit back at desk. Go through the half-bajillion new emails from other companies from whom I was sure I had unsubscribed back in 2010.
  • Continue with paid freelance work for other writers: typesetting, proofreading, copy editing . . .
  • Tell self I should take time to do my own writing once in a while.
  • Stare longingly across the office at the writing desk I set up two years ago — you know, the one I dust faithfully every week.
  • Sit at writing desk boldly. Feel invigorated and empowered.
  • Open diary program and tell it all about my day, which sounds suspiciously like the last entry in the diary program, from 2011.
  • Give myself a self-imposed deadline for finishing first draft of novel.
  • Talk myself out of self-imposed deadline because it’s not like I’m going to fire myself or anything.
  • From the office window near the writing desk, glimpse mail carrier coming up the sidewalk.
  • Squeal in delight that the mail is here, scaring Bob and Frid, and run downstairs to get the mail.
  • While I’m down here, do a load of laundry, start dinner, and mow the grass.
  • Weep uncontrollably at my own mortality.
****
And this is precisely why Secret Agent Manny isn’t done yet.

50 Self-Published Books Worth Reading Contest! Go Vote!

Okay, friends! Please vote for my second book, Fork in the Road … and other pointless discussions, in this contest, where it’s been nominated in the Comedy category.

And, please feel free to share this link (and the instructions to vote for Fork in the Road in that Comedy category) on your own timelines! Voting ends in mid-May, but vote early so you don’t forget.

Apparently you may vote up to five times in each category, so feel free to vote early and vote often!

 

Vote for FORK IN THE ROAD HERE!