Something new is always a good idea

I’ve been enjoying learning the ropes from a cool bunch of writers on Facebook who are dedicated to writing LOTS of books. They say the more books you have out, the easier it is for readers to find you and thus, the better your revenue stream will be. That means money, to the writer. Crass and commercial as that may seem to some writers and readers, it’s impossible to not think about money. It gives the writer space to be creative, time to dream, and a reason to write another book.

Frenchman announcementAs my fifth book in my Bennett Sisters Mysteries launches I feel this effect. When I run some cheap ads on Facebook for the new book, people discover the whole series. Now at five, there is some heft, some reason for people to think about connecting long-term to these characters.

I’ve also been doing a blog tour for The Frenchman, the new one, and wrote this guest post about how the characters have changed, and I’ve changed in my understanding of them over the years. (See Beth’s post on Shelf Rider.)

As I launch the fifth installment in the Bennett Sisters Mystery series it occurs to me that one of the joys of writing a long series is the chance to really dig deep into the personalities of the characters. Although I originally conceived of the series as linked stand-alones about each of the five sisters, the first book, Blackbird Fly, centered on the middle sister, Merle. When I eventually continued the series, I continued Merle’s journey of self-discovery after the sudden death of her husband. It just made sense that one summer sojourn in France wouldn’t cure all her problems, lovely as France might be.

discoverFranceagainSo Merle has a Frenchman. Initially, like Merle, I didn’t see how a long-distance relationship with a man who lived across an ocean would work. How could she work in New York City and Pascal work all over France’s wine country and they continue a romance? Because, although I didn’t write the series as a romance, women have love affairs— have you noticed? And they like to read about them. Merle’s affair with Pascal might have just been a fling, a curative, that first summer. But as the series goes along it’s obvious that Pascal thinks of it as something more. Although Merle isn’t sure what he thinks— he’s a Frenchman and you know how they are— her feelings mature, especially in this fifth book.

Their relationship is an underpinning in the novels to intrigue, sisterhood, and the joys and trials of mid-life. The sisters range in age from 40 to 55, or so, and I try to find aspects of women’s lives that are interesting and challenging. Life can be hard but reading about how other women make choices and navigate the pitfalls is helpful and revealing to me, and I hope to readers.

As a writer you never know how readers will react to your characters. Will they think them weak and stupid for their choices? (Yes, I’ve had that review.) Or will they identify with them, cheer for them, hope for them? That’s what I live for, that identification from the reader. I am not an Everywoman myself. I am opinionated and cranky and sometimes not that nice. Also, funny, a good friend, a loving parent— I hope. We all have so many aspects. I see some of myself in each of the five Bennett Sisters. I am a middle sister myself though, that’s why Merle appeals to me.

I recently had a review of Blackbird Fly that made all the writing worthwhile. (I love that readers are still discovering the series.) A reader said “The main character, Merle Bennett, could have been me, though I’m not a lawyer, have never inherited a house in France, and never had her problems. The writing puts you in the book.”

Right there, that’s why I write.

Then, if you love France like I do, the reviewer says that for her, at least, I got something right: “I’ve spent enough time in France to know that Albert, Mme Suchet, and the others in the village who snubbed, helped, or sabotaged Merle are just so … French. The story unfolds just as it should along with Merle’s self-discovery and personal regrets.”

And so Merle’s journey continues in The Frenchman. Who is the Frenchman, you ask? There is of course Pascal, Merle’s Frenchman. But there are many more in this book, policemen and old villagers, young punks and charming neighbors. And in Merle’s novel, chapters of which are included in the novel, there are Frenchmen from the Revolutionary period: farmers and rebels, nobles and royals, villagers and strangers. I had such fun writing Merle’s novel— which will be fleshed out and published separately as well— about a goat-herder who flees the terror in Paris for a farm in the Dordogne. Merle calls it ‘Odette and the Great Fear,’ and it will be available soon as an e-book.

I hope your writing and reading goes well as we ease into chilly weather– the best time to read and write! Happy autumn.

Lise

Advertisements

When Modesty is NOT a Virtue . . .

  There is a strong belief in New England   that you don’t “put yourself forward.” Especially, in a small town, the way I grew up, especially if you are a woman. Being proud is a sin. Being modest is a virtue. Talking about your accomplishments is simply not done.

This idea that praise goes to one’s head, that tooting your own horn is unseemly, makes it extremely difficult to perform those tasks that every writer these days must perform. Our publishers, our publicists, our colleagues, and everything in the blogosphere, the twittersphere, and the Facebook universe tells us that we must amass friends, followers, and fans, and constantly work those people so they’re primed to buy our books when those books appear.

Modestly, though. Subtly. While speaking softly. Join the conversation, we’re told. Comment on other people’s blogs. Twitter with the other birds gathered on an interesting branch, and many will flock to your branch as well. Because of my upbringing, because the strictures about not calling attention to myself are so deeply imbedded, I feel sometimes as though I am trying to make the leap into the current world of book promotion with a 500 pound weight attached. I try to jump and the weight snaps me back down.

I used to joke that I created my fan base one reader at a time, through conversations, through library talks and bookstore talks, through the students that I teach, the aspiring writers I try to encourage. Through good works and being a good citizen of the writing community. How old New England is that? The rest of the joke, of course, was that at this pace, I’d have to live for about 500 years to build a big enough base, and so would they.

Now, writers know, that isn’t enough. Those of us lucky enough to have traditional publishers, so that we can see our row of hardcover books growing on the shelf, so we can see people on the plane, subway or train actually holding our books, so that we know they are in libraries and will be available for years to come, no longer a short shelf-life commodity like a loaf of bread, also know that there are tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of talented writers snapping at our heels, wanting our places in the publisher’s “list” and willing to do anything to get that spot. It’s no longer enough to write a good book. Now I have to work very hard to get YOU to want to read it. No. To get you, or your library, to BUY it.

So I wrestle my qualms to the mat. I silence those critical voices in my head. And I keep trying new things. Last summer, believing that there is power in sharing the podium with other talented writers I respect, I founded a blog group, MaineCrimeWriters.com, to talk about living and writing in Maine. The conversation has been fascinating. I’m sending e-mails to libraries. I’m setting up book events. Because I also write true crime, I’m arranging to speak in schools. Yesterday, I announced the “on sale” day of my newest Joe Burgess mystery to all my Facebook friends. I will learn twitter.

Last fall, I joined this group and I find myself in awe of the quality of the posts that my fellow Thalians are writing. I’m also grateful for all the sharing of ideas, opportunities, new things to try, new ways to learn. It’s awfully nice to know that Lise McClendon and Katy Munger have got my back. After I posted on Facebook, Lise sent me a quick note: include a link so they can buy the book. Marketing 101. I don’t know if I got a D or an F. But we’re all students of this brave new world. And if I look at it as an adventure, and not a chore, I may still have two left feet, but my “Buy My Book” dance will get better.

Just so you won’t feel left out, here’s the cover of Redemption, and a lovely review from Booklist. Follow this link, or ask your Indie to order it. Ask for it at your local library. Become my Facebook friend.

Redemption.  Flora, Kate (Author)   Mar 2012. 366 p.  Five Star, hardcover, $25.95. (9781594153792).

When Detective Sergeant Joe Burgess of the Portland (Maine) Police Department finds his friend Reggie Libby drowned in the harbor, he is determined to bring the killer to justice. Reggie, a Vietnam vet who was mentally ill and had fallen on hard times, had apparently started a new job recently. Joe and his colleagues work to determine his place of employment and his movements before his death by interviewing Reggie’s fellow streetpeople and his relatives, including his vindictive former wife and indifferent son. On the home front, Joe’s live-in girlfriend wants to adopt two foster children, and Joe doesn’t feel ready to be a parent. As always, Joe immerses himself in his case, causing problems in his personal life. Framed by the challenges streetpeople face in large cities, this compelling, fast-paced police procedural offers a complex plot, rich with details of conducting a murder investigation and insight into the rigors of the cop’s life. — Sue O’Brien