Writing advice, because that’s what we writers like to do

So my latest novel, Small Town Sonata, was contracted for publication by Dreamspinner Press, and I’m very happy. Hopefully, it signals the revving up of my writing career again.

So, in the spirit of that, and because someone asked about it in a Facebook group, I’ve decided to offer some Writing Advice (capitalized, to show how pompous… I mean “important” it is). Seriously, this is just some stuff I learned over the years. Take it or leave it, as you like. It’s less about writing than about some practical concerns.

I started writing in Middle School, reading articles in The Writer (which was a much better magazine then) and locking myself in my room after school to type. My mother bought me my first typewriter (personal computers were like $5,000 then), but with the door closed, the heat from the wood stove couldn’t reach me, so I had to bundle up in a blanket. Abe Lincoln would have been proud.

I still have all of that writing in a briefcase. Most of it is pretty bad. Writers often tend to start out thinking their prose needs to be Serious and Important (translation: flowery). That’s actually the worst thing for modern writers, unless you’re doing historical or literary fiction. (And even then, it’s probably not great.) So there are some story ideas I like in that pile, but I’d have to rewrite them all from scratch. But, hey, that period taught me a lot about how to write.

I wrote on and off over the years after that, but had difficulty finishing things. Eventually, I tried NaNoWriMo, and that allowed me to finish my first novel (Seidman), then another, and so on. Everything I wrote through NaNo was eventually published. (Finish what you write. An unfinished story is no good to anybody, and even one that isn’t 100% perfect has a better chance of being published than an brilliant, unfinished one.)

I write in Word and use Scrivener to keep my notes. (Tip: You can relocate the Scrivener directory to a folder in your Dropbox folder, so they’ll be backed up.) I tried writing in Scrivener a few times, but so far I’ve found it difficult. The problem I’ve had with Word is that it wants me to buy it on iPad, even though I own (=lease) it on my laptop. This has made it nearly impossible to use my iPad for writing, as I used to do.

In college, I composed electronic music, using a program called Personal Composer, which had a problem with frequent crashes (at that time). One night, after working on a piece for something like 5 or 6 hours (it was around 3am), I saved and it crashed. Because I’d only used ONE file the entire time, it got corrupted, and all my work was lost. I learned to create a NEW save, every time I work on something. My novels tend to have over a hundred save files, by the time I’m done.

For a while, I was working a corporate job, and using thumb drives to take my current working files back and forth between home and work (I didn’t have a laptop). I discovered two things about thumb drives:

 

  • They’re easy to lose. I had to completely rewrite an entire chapter once.

  • They’re unreliable. On several occasions, I saved files to a thumb drive, ejected, and discovered the files were not there. They weren’t anywhere – not on the drive, not on the computer, not even in temp files. This is when I started using Dropbox, and yes, they’ve had some problems with security, but they also keep backups of files, so when a file of mine was destroyed somehow (Virus? I don’t recall.), I was able to go to the Dropbox site and download it again.

Lastly, if you can’t get a publisher or agent to buy your novel, consider self-publishing it. I’ve read a bunch of articles which insist self-publishing is what Losers do, when their work isn’t good enough to be published by real publishers. They’re the equivalent of cavemen banging on rocks, angry that “cheaters” have discovered a box of matches.

Look, the fact is, self-publishing is relatively easy, and that’s led to the market being flooded with a lot of stuff I would have to call “poor-quality”… if I’m being kind. This, in turn, has led a lot of readers to assume our self-published work isn’t worth very much. Combined with Kindle Unlimited, authors are now forced to sell months of hard labor for pennies, if we want anyone at all to notice its existence. (Thank you, Amazon, for pulling the floor out from under aspiring authors.) This has led to more and more indie publishers throwing in the towel, so those that are left have been forced to close or severely restrict submissions.

Throw in the fact that, with so many people out of work, everyone seems to think writing might be a way to earn some income, and the end result is that traditional routes to being published, which were already difficult, are now extremely difficult. Good books, bad books, books written by the next Great American (or whatever country you’re from) Author… they’re all being rejected. It is not a sign of failure to self-publish.

Some books make the rounds between publishers for years — even decades. Do you have that kind of time? I’ve published over 30 novels and novellas between December 2010 and now — just over eight years. (Of course, I know authors with two or three times that output.) I may not be a brilliant author, but my work is being read. And that’s what needs to happen, if you want to earn anything writing.

What a lot of authors are doing, if they can, is publishing through publishers at the same time they self-publish. This is called hybrid publishing, and it has the advantage of getting your name out by association with the publisher, as well as convincing readers your stories, including the self-published stories, are professional quality. Going through a publisher can also help you make contacts with editors, cover artists, and others who can help you, when you self-publish.

And that’s a key thing: if you self-publish, you must hire a professional editor and a professional cover artist, and probably a formatter, as well. This shouldn’t break the bank, but it will likely cost a few hundred dollars. It will be worth it. Nothing screams “Crap!” like a homemade Photoshopped cover with free images everyone and his brother has used before. And if a reader skims the preview and sees typos and spelling errors on the first two pages, you’ve lost that reader forever.

But self-publishing has a much quicker turnaround than publishing houses. When I published my last Christmas novel, I finished it, had it edited, got a wonderful cover for it, and published it — all in the space of about a month and a half. I didn’t have a choice about going through a publisher, if I wanted it out by Christmas. Self-publishing also means a smaller chunk comes out of my royalties. This isn’t because publishers are swindlers, but simply because they have overhead costs.

Anyway, all this pontificating has worn me out. I’m gonna go take a nap.

I mean “write.” I’m gonna go write.

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Filed under James Erich, Jamie Fessenden, Life, NaNoWriMo, New Release, publishing, Romance, Writing, Young Adult

“Small Town Sonata” is finally finished and submitted!


I posted about my Dreamspun Desire (I hope) novel Small Town Sonata quite a while ago, but life intervened and I was unable to finish it for a very long time. The novel ended up sitting on my computer with the final chapter staring me in the face, half written, for almost a year. But I’ve finally finished it and submitted it to Dreamspinner Press!

Dreamspinner is under no obligation to publish it, of course, but they liked what I showed them a while back, so I’m hopeful. If it’s rejected, I have enough faith in the novel to self-publish it. This is the blurb (so far):

At thirty, Aiden Scott was a star. As a pianist, he performed all over the world with prestigious orchestras, and thought he had everything he’d ever wanted. Two years later, a freak accident ended his career. He retreats to the small New Hampshire town he grew up in to lick his wounds and reevaluate his life. To his surprise, he finds the boy he loved as a teenager has grown into a handsome man, and even after seventeen years, the attraction between them hasn’t dwindled.

Dean Cooper’s life is far removed from the glamorous life Aiden was leading. He’s a handyman and general errand boy for the people of Springhaven, but he’s well-liked and happy. When Aiden drifts back into town, Dean is surprised to find the bond between them as strong as ever, but soon realizes how unhappy Aiden is over the loss of his career. He sacrificed his own needs when they were teenagers to let Aiden go where he needed to be. Now, just as it seems the romance between them is rekindling, he may have to sacrifice once more to help Aiden recover his career—and again leave their small town behind.

And it’s killing him.

I’ll update my blog, once I hear back from DSP. But it feels terrific to finally get this off my plate, so I can tackle other projects. Currently, I’m working on a horror novel with F.E. Feeley, Jr. — not a romance, but a classic ghost story. That’s getting near the final chapters. And I’ve been mulling over a pirate novel…

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Christmas doesn’t have to be white

So the Christmas season is here, and all those wonderful (if formulaic) Hallmark movies are hitting Netflix and Amazon. I don’t want to bash the movies, because I love them. But there’s something that might not be immediately apparent to white viewers (like myself) that I feel I should point out: Hallmark was originally a Christian programming channel. And unfortunately, that means they still cater to a primarily white, straight audience.

I’m not entirely sure why this is. There are a lot of Christians in the country who are black, Latinx, Asian-American, and so on. Yet we rarely see them in movies and TV shows. And while it’s true this problem is endemic to our culture, it seems to be particularly slow to change in Hallmark programming. I watched an entire season of The Good Witch (which I love), unable to spot anyone – even in the background – who wasn’t white. In season two, they had one or two black characters sitting in restaurants or wandering by on the street. In season three, some unnamed black people had lines! To be fair, the lead actress, Catherine Bell, is half Iranian, as mentioned in the article below, but I’m not convinced audiences are aware of that fact.

Don’t even get me started on the complete erasure of LGBTQ people.

Why Are Hallmark Movie Casts So White? We Asked The CEO

I really don’t mean to be picking on just Hallmark. The company doesn’t generally have strong religious themes in their programming, these days, and it’s made some attempts in recent years to be more racially diverse. Black coworkers and bosses are becoming the norm, and there are some, if not many, films with black or Latina leads (I can’t recall ever seeing one with a male lead – they follow the romance novel formula). Other companies that produce Christmas programming have the same issues. Though as the article mentions, Lifetime is doing a bit better.

Though, again, if you find a prominent LGBTQ character in a Christmas film… it ain’t Hallmark. They have made some LGBTQ commercials for their greeting card line, which is progress, but we don’t even get supporting roles in their films.

This isn’t a scholarly article. I’m not going to quote sources, and you are free to think my opinion is full of crap. But in an attempt to be more productive than simply whining about the lack of diversity, I’d like to point out some favorite Christmas movies (from Hallmark and other companies) with diverse casts.

The Holiday Calendar (Netflix)

A young woman is given an antique advent calendar, and although she can’t open the doors, every morning she finds one open with a small toy inside that somehow predicts what will happen that day. This is a magical film with a wonderful cast. I fell in love with both of the leads. The plot gets a bit muddy, and there were some cliches concerning “the other man” I could easily do without, but I adored it. Currently, you can find it on Netflix.

Miss Me This Christmas & You Can’t Fight Christmas (Pokeprod)

I’m listing these two together, because they were filmed at the same time and released simultaneously. They take place in roughly the same time frame, so if you watch them back to back, you’ll see two or three scenes repeated from different viewpoints, as the characters bump into each other. The acting isn’t spectacular, though the male lead (Redaric Williams) from Miss Me This Christmas has got to be one of the sexiest men I’ve ever seen on film, and the female lead (Brely Evans) from You Can’t Fight Christmas is funny and energetic, and I love the fact that she’s portrayed as sexy, even though she has a few extra pounds. We also have a side character who, if I recall, is openly gay.

In Miss Me This Christmas, Regina (Erica Ash) and Franklin (Redaric Williams) are having trouble with their marriage, and end up separating. A year later, they’re supposed to finalize the divorce on Christmas Eve (as one does), but they keep being reminded of how much they love each other. The plot in this one is weak. Very weak. I loathe the Big Misunderstanding trope, in which a couple’s problems could all be solved if they’d communicate and sort out the ridiculous coincidence that caused the fight to begin with. But it’s otherwise sweet, and the best friend, Trish (Eva Marcille), is highly entertaining.

In You Can’t Fight Christmas, Edmund (Andra Fuller) falls for the decorator, Leslie (Brely Evans), his grandfather hired to spruce up his hotel for the holidays, but he and his business partner have plans to take over the hotel and make it upscale and unavailable to the people in the neighborhood who made it great. Another very weak plot full of cliches, but still entertaining and sweet.

The Preacher’s Wife (Mundy Lane Entertainment)

I’m going to end this short list with a film that isn’t really in the same category as a Hallmark movie. This one is reaching way back in time to the 1990s, and it starred two big box office draws, at the time: Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston. It’s a little unfair to compare the low-budget productions above with a $40 million dollar film. But still, it’s good. Both this and the original Cary Grant/Loretta Young film it was based upon (The Bishop’s Wife) can get a little uncomfortable, since the angel sent to save a marriage falls in love with the wife, in both cases, and she starts to fall in love with him. Not cool. But I still enjoy them both.

There are others I’ve seen recently, and in the past, so I’ll probably add to this list. I need to dig them up. But I’ll stop there for now. If you have favorites I haven’t mentioned, please feel free to drop them in the comments!

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Tomte is now available on Amazon!

My newest Christmas story Tomte is now available on Amazon!

RYAN ANDERSON has known something was wrong since he was a teenager. He’s been tormented by a sense of emptiness and loss—but what did he lose? He has no idea. Then a mysterious man appears, calling himself Tomte, a Swedish word Ryan remembers hearing from his grandmother in his childhood.

It means “Christmas elf.”

With the help of his older brother and his nine-year-old niece, Ryan begins a journey to discover what happened fifteen years ago, when he disappeared during a winter storm and didn’t reappear until spring. Not only has he forgotten those months, he’s forgotten the faithful dog who failed to come back with him. 

As memories surface and impossible things happen all around him, Ryan senses Tomte, that beautiful man he’s inexplicably drawn to, is the key to everything—his past, his future, and his happiness. 

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07KWLZ4YT/

Excerpt:

Ryan came to an intersection where the tracks went in two different directions, and he swore under his breath, struggling to sort it out while snowflakes flitted across his vision. A frantic bark to his left sent him in that direction, and after a few more twists and turns, he burst into an open circular area. There were no lights, but the overcast sky had the bluish-gray pall it often had on stormy nights and the snow on the ground reflected it back. Ryan could see, though barely. The music was louder here, and mixed with laughter and exuberant conversation—the sounds of a joyful gathering.

A mound rose from the earth in the center, about the height of a grown man and twice as wide—the same mound he’d dreamt of nearly every night since leaving the hospital, though in the dream it had been surrounded by forest, not a labyrinth of corn.

Tracks led to a sort of cave in the side of the mound—dog prints and what seemed less like deer hooves than human boot prints, though they were rapidly fading under a blanket of white. Ryan followed them. The opening in the mound was barely large enough for someone his size to crawl through. He stood at the entrance and peered inside. The ground inside sloped downward and then took a sharp turn to the right. Light flickered in the depths, as if a campfire burned just out of sight. He’d never seen this cave before, but a memory kept dancing away from him, maddeningly out of reach.

The sound of footsteps crunching on snow made him spin around. A large white shape emerged from a dark gap in the wall of corn. The stag. It walked purposefully toward him, and the nearer it came, the larger it loomed in his vision. Ryan had never seen a stag that size. He’d read about a seventeen-pointer called the “Emperor of Exmoor,” which stood seven feet tall, and this magnificent beast had to rival him.

Unlike in the dream, the stag didn’t run past Ryan. It drew near and was suddenly engulfed in a swirl of snow. When the snowflakes spun off into the night, Tomte was standing in its place, stark naked, his skin shimmering as if it were sprinkled with stardust. He walked barefoot through the snow as calmly as if it were a warm, summer evening. Without clothes, Tomte’s slim form was surprisingly muscular, though the beauty of his nude body was overshadowed by the antlers that sprang from his head, forming a magnificent crown of silver wider than his shoulders.

When he was near enough to touch Ryan, he asked, “Do you remember?”

Ryan’s head was full of a confused jumble of images, wonderful and awe-inspiring but also a bit frightening. “I… I’m not sure.” His gaze traveled down Tomte’s trim torso, unable to escape a strange sense of familiarity, as if he’d once rubbed a thumb over Tomte’s nipples and caressed the ripples of his abdomen. The thick, uncut flesh between Tomte’s thighs… yes, that was familiar too.

Self-conscious now, he forced himself to look into the man’s face. There were sparks in Tomte’s eyes. They were clearly visible in the darkness that surrounded them—tiny flickers in the depths of his pupils. Ryan could gaze into those eyes forever.

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Filed under Christmas, Contemporary, Cover, Excerpt, Fantasy, gay, Historical, Jamie Fessenden, LGBT, New Release, Occult/Paranormal, Romance, Victorian

Coming Soon: Tomte

I did it!

I finished my Christmas novella, after a very long dry spell.

Tomte is a holiday story about Ryan, a man who’s been suffering from depression ever since his teenage years, but he has no idea why. Then a handsome man begins appearing in his life at odd moments, only to disappear again without a trace. Eventually, his older brother tells him about the time he got lost in the forest, during a winter storm, and didn’t return for six months. Ryan has no recollection of this or the faithful dog he’d always had by his side, up until that night.

 

Then things get really bizarre. 

Don’t worry, that’s not actually the blurb. I’m working on that. I’m also working on formatting, and intend to have everything polished and professional in a few days, aiming for a release date of Friday, November 3oth.

I already have a gorgeous cover from Reese Dante, but I’m holding off on posting that until I have the Pre-Order link on Amazon.

NOTE: A tomte is a Swedish gnome who watches over a family or farm. Some people believe he’s the spirit of the first farmer to clear the land, and he’s usually depicted as a small man with a long white beard, wearing the typical clothes of a medieval farmer: breeches, stockings, a tunic, and a pointed cap. (The tomte in my story is human-sized and sexy. I claim poetic license.) As long as he’s treated well by the people living on the homestead, who leave him offerings of milk and porridge with butter, he’ll make sure they’re prosperous and well cared for, often leaving small gifts for them. This folk legend greatly contributed to the Santa Claus mythos.

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Writing again – and, boy, does it feel good!

It’s been a scary time for me. I haven’ been able to write since my cat, Koji, passed away last Christmas. It wasn’t just losing my favorite cat, after living with (and adoring) his crankiness and hijinks for twenty years, but that was a big part of it. It was combined with the shocking revelation that Kumar, the “puppy” Erich and I rescued the same year we married and bought a house together, was now too old and arthritic to enjoy playing with the new pup (Nelson) we rescued to keep him company, while we were busy working. Kumar is now on meds that help with his arthritis, but he simply can’t play as hard as he could have just one year ago.

Nobody likes aging and losing beloved pets, of course, but I took it very hard. So hard, I had to go on antidepressants for the first time in my life. I’ve always had bouts of depression, but in the past I could “shake it off.” Not this time. Not without help. And the reason I’m so open about that right now is, I want to encourage anyone struggling with depression to seek help, if things gets overwhelming. It helped me get functional again. Even when you feel like nothing can help, it’s worth trying.

I want to thank my friend Fred Feeley, Jr. for pushing me to work on a ghost story we’ve been writing together. That helped take the pressure off to write in my usual genre of MM Romance. I didn’t have to think about romance beats or whether the characters were likable enough or the emotional level of scenes — I could just be creepy. And it was fun. Initially, I wrote in fits and starts – a bit here, a bit there, interspersed with days in which I wrote nothing at all. But gradually the writing bug took hold again, and ended up contributing a few chapters. (This novel has been taking us a while, but it’s getting near completion!)

Alas, once my writing began to flow again, I was bitten by the Christmas bug. So I set aside the ghost story (for now) and dove into a novella about a man who visited the kingdom of the fairies as a boy, but has no memory of it. Now, fifteen years later, the fairies want him to come “home” again. It’s steeped in Scandinavian folklore, and of course it takes place at Christmas.

It’s far too late in the season for me to submit it to a publisher, if I want it out by Christmas, so it will be another self-published book, like the last few I’ve put out. (I do have one almost finished for Dreamspinner, and I hope to finish that before the end of the year.) I have a wonderful editor and a fantastic cover artist already lined up, so it should be released in late November or early December.

I’m writing every day now, and it’s wonderful. It still feels a bit fragile, as if it wouldn’t take much to shut me down again, but my hope is that, once I’ve established the writing habit again in my psyche, I’ll keep going. Being a working author has been my dream since childhood. It’s been a rough year, but it’s time to reclaim the dream.

 

 

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Filed under Christmas, Jamie Fessenden, Life, Romance, Work in Progress, Writing

No, I did not post about Instagram whatsa-whosits…

At least, I didn’t write the post. Someone hacked my account. I’ve changed my password, so hopefully there won’t be more of those. I apologize for spamming everyone’s inbox.

Jamie Fessenden (the real one)

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