As the kiddos are starting to get more independent, I’ve decided to start blogging more consistently. I’ve invited a few fellow Canadian authors for the first few author interviews. These author interviews used to be called “#AuthorSpotlight”, but this time round (and in keeping with my slow relaunching) I’m calling it “Tempt Me”. They’ll be hosted on Tuesdays and Thursdays (not every single Tuesday and Thursday).
Today I invited Leigh Macfarlane to join me. Recently she donated a book to a prize basket I’m putting together for a local event.
How do you process and deal with negative reviews?
To be honest, if I’ve had negative reviews, I haven’t found them (yet). That said, just the potential is overwhelming, so the first time I got a review, I called my mom and made her stay on the line with me while I read it – just in case. Kind of a virtual hand holding. Now I call her after every new review. I read them to her, she tells me I am brilliant, and my confidence is fortified just enough for me to continue believing I really can do this writing thing I love so much. I think confidence is essential for anyone working in any of the arts. That doesn’t mean being a raging egomaniac, but if you don’t on some level believe you have something to say/the ability to entertain, you’d never type the first word. I also think that kind of confidence needs to be constantly recharged. That is true regardless of what the reviewers say. As a writer, I’m emptying at least part of myself into the manuscript. This leaves me both vulnerable and a bit drained. I need to charge back up. If my mom’s unconditional, biased love is what it takes, I’m gonna keep going back to that well.
I do have to also say, sometimes I will go back and re-read a novel I’ve written a year or so earlier, and after that time separation, I can actually participate in the story as a reader rather than as the author. So far, I can honestly report that when I’ve done that, I have liked the stories. If I can satisfy and entertain myself, then critics can think what they like. You’ll never please everyone. If you truly please yourself, that’s a win.
What is the most difficult part of your writing process?
To be honest, for me right now the hardest part of writing is committing to one project at a time – and staying with it to completion no matter how distracting a new idea might become. I tend to be an idea person – I have new ideas all the time – so for me sticking with a work or series to the finish is a discipline. I mean, it’s a satisfying discipline, but it does still require a commitment. Right now, I have ideas taking me through 2025. New ideas are shiny, bright, always brilliant. I’m excited about them all; I haven’t wrecked any of them yet! So, whenever I get even a bit stuck on whichever novel I’m currently writing, I automatically start thinking, hmm, what if I wrote this other one for awhile and let my subconscious puzzle this out? Sometimes that is a legit decision and my subconscious really is working. Other times – and this is more often than not lately — it is just an excuse. Beginnings of a story tend to flow and invigorate me. Middles get muddy and cause me to sweat, and endings make me sad, because I never want to say goodbye to my characters.
What advice would you give to an aspiring author writing their first book?
Learn to shut off that inner sensor – that voice which tells you everything you’ve written is crap and worse. I guarantee you, that voice will be screaming at some point in the first draft. As an editor, that little voice is essential, but when writing the first draft, that voice can shut you down and block you up so quickly you won’t even know what hit you. So, just write. Power through. Some days you will be surprised to see a word count in the thousands, other days you’ll find barely a hundred and every single one will have been torn from your being in blood, sweat, and tears. It is what it is. Welcome to the gig!
As well, don’t forget to enjoy what you are doing. I mean, hey, why do we want to write, anyway? Because in some fashion it is fun. It is a better option that serving tables, or slopping hogs, or coming up with a defense for a guilty client, or performing that millionth oil change, or dealing with a disrespectful teenager who couldn’t care less how to conjugate a verb and lets you know it. This is the good stuff. Remember that. ‘Cuz, it’s not necessarily the easy stuff.
Plus, give yourself permission to write what you like to read. That’s what I did, and it has worked for me. I have a Master’s in creative writing, and there was a time when I kind of felt like that obligated me to write literary fiction – the great American novel. Except, if I’m reading for leisure, it’s going to be Nora Roberts or Lee Child, not Fitzgerald or Faulkner. Once I let go of the idea that it wasn’t ‘good enough’ to write simply to entertain others like myself, writing has been non-stop fun and games.
What would you say to an author who wanted to design their own cover?
If you are an indie author, there is no reason you shouldn’t go for it. A friend of mine, author Jonas Saul, gave me good advice and recommended studying other covers in my genre to know what looks professional for that genre. I’d also add to his thought and say watch for trends. My observation is that what’s ‘in’ with covers does change and evolve somewhat over time. I’d also say, watch your fonts. There are certain fonts which just scream “self-published” to me. I couldn’t name them for you (sorry!), but I know them when I see them. You will, too.
Personally, when I design my covers, I try to create two different options and then give them to a few select people to see which gets top vote. There was one cover where I did a this-one-or-that-one kind of question on social media. The results were almost 50/50, so I don’t do that anymore. I felt like, if I pick one over the other at this point, half my readers will feel ripped off. (I ultimately designed a third option and used that one). For me, it goes back a bit to my idea of writing what I like to read. To an extent, that makes me the perfect test reader. If I like the cover, chances are good my demographic reader will, too. (This is my own unproven theory, but I think I’m right here – lol).
I also tend to publish my covers on social media. There was one cover where a friend of mine told me he didn’t think it ‘popped.’ Then he recommended some cover design artists he thought I could work with. When I looked them up, both suggestions were people who created fantasy covers. (I write romance or romantic suspense). I had to think objectively about the source of the criticism. A friend, yes, and I was thankful for the feedback and told him so, but not a romance reader in any shape or form. I knew that about him, and his recommended artists only confirmed as much. I decided I had to consider the source. I kept the same cover, although I did change the background cover, which was an improvement.
In truth, I do think this particular cover could be stronger. It was one of my earlier novels and first cover attempts. At some point, I may release a second edition with a different cover.
Anyway, I tell that story to say first, like anything else, cover design has a learning process. You will need to accept that if you chose to go this self-designing direction. Some covers you create will be better than others. Also, critique is a great tool, but in the final analysis, one negative reaction is not necessarily something to panic over if you really believe in what you have produced. Just remember that everything to do with self-publishing is a learning process, so kind feedback is invaluable. When many sources are saying the same thing, they are probably right. If one person isn’t into your stuff, well, consider it, think it through, and go with your gut. Just remember to thank them for their feedback – especially when it comes from a friend.
If you were to write a spin-off about a secondary character who would you pick and why?
Wow! How to answer this without spoilers? It’s funny you ask, though, because I absolutely know the answer. I’ve even considered writing the book. (It would be a book, not a spin off.) I have a romantic suspense series called The Lakeland Series. In book one, my heroine is pulled between two men. She picks the right one, because later in the series, it is revealed the other option has another woman on his mind. That woman is married at the time, so he is trying to stay away from her. Before the Lakeland Series ends, that woman finds herself divorced. Which, if I’m not mistaken, makes room for new romance. Does it not? I’ve often thought I may go back and write their story someday.
Does writing exhaust or energize you?
ENERGIZE! 😊I get cranky if I can’t get to my computer and get the words out of my head and onto the screen. If you don’t believe me, just ask my family.
What future writing project(s) are you most excited about?
How much time have we got??? I want to write them all, and I want to write them RIGHT NOW!
I have a new series coming out in July 2021, set in this real-life town that I love, and it has seven books to it. I’ve written two. So, I’m committed there. I love the characters that are coming to life in my small Okanagan town, so I’m excited to be in the middle of that. But I also have ideas for a pair of novels about sisters who own a landscaping company. Sister one is built for labour, but she gets hurt and has to take over in the office while the more petite sister has to take over out in the field. Two fish out of water. Insert evil author laughter here. Then, I have a trilogy to write called Platinum People. It’s about a group of feisty seniors getting in trouble, making friendships, falling in love – all while supposedly old enough to know how to do thing in a mature way. (Not my cast of characters. Maturity is overrated.) I spent a lot of years working in restaurants. One night I served a family group who had sprung grandma from the nursing home for her ninetieth birthday celebration. She ordered liver and made the Hannibal Lector hissing sounds when she did so. Loved her! You could tell she was a character, and her family thought she was hilarious. That woman would be ringleader of my Platinum People. I was doing a book signing for a different novel pre-covid, and I met a group of senior-aged friends who were out at the bookstore. She referred to them as the platinum ladies, and I was like, oooh, book idea!!
The Heart of Things
When a loose dog interrupts her daughter’s soccer match, small town dog groomer, Colleen Lewis, catches the dog and returns it to its home. There she discovers the murdered bodies of the dog’s owners. Overnight, she is misrepresented in the press as a witness to the crime, and Colleen and her daughter, Abbie, find themselves in the sights of a killer. Unable to sleep or to focus at work, Colleen starts looking for some sort of closure, and her attempts only put Abbie and herself in further jeopardy. At the same time, two very different men pursue Colleen — soccer coach, Diego Fuentes, and local cop, Drew Hayes. Diego is uber-sexy and Abbie thinks the world of him, but years ago, Drew was Colleen’s first kiss. Both men are appealing, and Colleen must wade through her feelings while trying to keep herself and her daughter alive until the killer is caught. The Heart of Things is Book One in the Lakeland Series, where simple small town living and heartless crimes sometimes meet. “Stephanie Plum meets The Gilmore Girls.”
Drew had seen the dust cloud from three corners back. When he turned the corner and saw what was left of Colleen’s car, his stomach flipped. There were cars parked on both sides of the street, and he recognized Cameron Wright’s Chevy truck as he parked behind it. He was out of his car and striding towards Colleen’s SUV before the dust finished settling on the scene.
Colleen’s car was a mess. She’d driven it off the road and into a fence post, and the sudden impact had crumpled her hood, giving the front end a ruined accordion vibe. Steam was still venting from the sides of the ruined metal, suggesting to Drew that there was damage under the hood to match the exterior. He looked behind him and saw her wildly careening skid marks on the pavement, then glanced back at what was left of her car.
Colleen was out of the vehicle. Cam had her sitting on a jacket on a patch of grass out of the way. Drew caught the man’s eye, gave him a nod before focusing again on Colleen’s vehicle. The air bags had deployed, Drew noticed as he got closer, and blood was smeared on the driver’s side of the vehicle. He exhaled, reached inside for the clinical impartiality of the investigator, pushed down the protective instincts of a friend.
The passenger side door of the car was ajar. No doubt Colleen had gotten out that way, hopefully under her own strength. Given the state of the driver’s door, Drew didn’t think anyone was ever getting in or out that way again.
“What nationality is Gustloff, anyway,” he asked as Trevor walked over to stand beside him.
“Dunno. German, maybe?”
“Maybe,” he flicked the card again. “Didn’t sound German, did he?”
“Uh,” said Trevor, “I couldn’t tell you. But, I do know you are needed over at the ambulance. Colleen’s giving them some trouble.”
Drew grunted. “Big surprise there.”
Trevor grinned. “She’s kicking up a stink about not going to the hospital. Keeps saying something about Abbie expecting her and something about her dogs.”
“Yeah,” Drew said, absently, “That’s where she was headed.”
Trevor’s eyebrows arched. “Oh?”
Drew glanced over, noting the curiosity on Trevor’s face. He shook his head, then scowled when his friend’s grin deepened.
“Sean’s been gone, what, ten years now?” Trevor said. “You’d think she’d be ready to move on, wouldn’t you?”
“We aren’t having this conversation,” Drew said, flatly. He turned towards the parked ambulance.
“Drew,” Trevor said, stopping him with the serious tone of his voice, “She could do a hell of a lot worse, buddy.”
This time when Drew shook his head, he wore an exasperated half-grin.
“Not having this conversation,” he repeated. “And,” he shrugged, “Thanks.”
Turning again, he headed towards the ambulance and the woman in question. He could hear her arguing with the paramedics before he even got near.
“Colleen, stop giving Talia and Sam a hard time,” he said when he reached her. She was shoving at the blood pressure cuff Talia had strapped around her arm. “Let them do their jobs.”
“I have to go,” Colleen said. “Abbie…”
“She needs to go to the hospital, Drew,” Talia said. “She has a concussion for sure, possibly some broken ribs. She’s going to need x-rays, at the very least.” She raised her voice a notch and turned back to Colleen with a scolding look, “And she is not being at all co-operative.”
“Abbie,” Colleen said again, but she lifted a hand to her forehead, and Drew saw her squint in pain.
“I’ll take care of Abbie,” Drew said to her, “And your dogs,” he added, cutting off her next protest. “I swear, you are going to the hospital even if I have to strap you down and take you there myself, Colleen.”
Colleen tried to glare at him, but the effort just hurt too much. Her brain felt fuzzy, and her body ached all over. Still, what gave Drew the right…
“What gives you the right,” she began, “Just because I let you kiss me one time…” her voice trailed off, and she lay back on the stretcher suddenly, oblivious to the looks Drew was getting from Talia and Sam.
“We were ten,” he said, making Talia smile widely, and Sam hold up his hands defensively.
“I wasn’t asking, man,” the paramedic said, biting back a laugh.
Lying prone on the stretcher, Colleen’s eyes closed. She suddenly looked very small and fragile to Drew. “She okay to be doing that?” he asked Talia.
“She shouldn’t be sleeping,” Talia answered, and Drew placed his hand on Colleen’s shin, shaking it gently.
“Hey, Colleen,” he said, “Wake up. No sleeping ‘till the doctor says so.”
Colleen’s eyes popped open. “You still here?” she said. “Go. Take care of Abbie.” She struggled to sit up, hissing and falling back on the stretcher when the pain from her ribs protested. “Or, I will.”
“Okay, okay,” Drew said, and he reached over and gently brushed her hair behind her ear. “I’m going.”
He watched Talia and Jim load the stretcher into the ambulance. And froze, when Colleen’s groggy, out-of-it voice drifted out from the interior of the bus. He couldn’t quite make out what she had said. Probably, the muffled words had been, Thank you, Drew.
Possibly, though – and he really wasn’t sure — she’d said something else.
Love you, Drew.
He stood still, watching the ambulance drive off, and wondered if he’d heard what he thought he heard. And, if he had, what her words might mean.
First things first. He had an accident scene to process, a murder to solve, and a teenager to rescue. After he’d accomplished all that, then maybe he’d figure out what – if anything — he wanted to do about that teenager’s mother.