Thursday, July 22, 2010

And now...a star is born!


Today, we're thrilled to hear from our buddy Donna Alice Patton, whose first novel, The Search for the Madonna, can be ordered from either Amazon.com or http://www.eccehomopress.com. She will be glad to send a signed bookplate if you write to her at searchformadonna@yahoo.com. Or, if you would like an autographed book, you can also order from her at the yahoo email. Watch for information about Donna's upcoming website and book trailers at mailto:www.layers-of-life@blogspot.com.

1. What was the first thing you ever wrote? Not seriously, for publication...I mean the thing you started on maybe when you were just a kid, a story you thought up "just because." Do you see any influence of that kind of writing in your publishing life now?

The first thing I ever wrote? Hm, that's a hard one. I loved to make up stories even before I began to read. Once I discovered the library and books, my imagination soared! The first actual 'story' I remember writing down was in 3rd grade. My wonderful teacher, Mrs. Ann Springer, passed out magazine pictures to every student. I happened to get a picture of a collie dog. We were told to write a story about what we saw in the picture. It was the first time my brain made the connection that, 'hey, I can write down all these cool ideas in my head.' My story ended up being very lame - something like, "This is a dog. Her name is Lassie. Etc." (I actually still have the paper somewhere in my school box.) And even though I wasn't able to write down all my great ideas as a third grader, I spun this very elaborate, involved story in my mind the rest of the day. It really was the first time my mind was open to the possiblities in writing.
By the time I was in 7th grade, I'd begun to write little 'books' just for myself and my friend's amusement. In fact, I wish I still had the mystery that I wrote which made the rounds of my class that year. I can even remember my 'stunning' opening hook. The swing swang idly. Obviously, my writing career was all uphill from there.
I guess those early attempts have influenced what I write now. I still write for children, and I'm still writing mysteries. On another level, I still write mostly to please myself, and I'm happy when someone else enjoys what I write too. It also helps when I get bogged down in 'getting it right' to remember something that I rediscovered last year through the eyes of a child. I believe it's a 'lesson' we all learn as children, something we knew when we first began to write. It's so simplistic we often forget in our push to be Writers with a capital w. The 'lesson' is to first, have fun. When I get too harried at seeing myself as a Writer, I try to remember the joy of looking at that picture of the collie dog and thinking about all the exciting possibilities of a story.

2. Other than some obvious moral considerations, how has your faith impacted what and how you write? Do you choose subjects about which you're intrigued, or do you sometimes feel that subjects "choose you"?

Don't you ask any easy questions? LOL! Am not sure how my faith has impacted what I write other than the fact that I try to write 'moral' fiction. Not that everything has to have a happy ending or my characters are all perfect and never do anything wrong. Most of my characters - even the children in my books - dare I admit it? They commit sins and they - gasp - learn from their mistakes!

I've had many people read some of my children's books and make comments about how their children could never relate to such a 'naughty' character. My thoughts are that we are all 'sinners saved by grace'. If a book character is not perfect but shows improvement in their behavior - well, isn't that realistic fiction? Might that not have more of an impact on a child than having a character who does everything right?

I like to write about real people. The might not be the best Catholic or Christian on the block. They might do everything wrong while having an interior dialogue with God on how they HAVE to do it their way. But, I like to think in the end I bring my character full circle and they've learned something about God and themselves that they didn't know at the beginning of the book.

Another thing my faith has done for my writing is given me hope. Writing is a long, hard road sometimes but I've always believed it to be my 'calling' in life. As long as I kept hope alive, getting a book published had to happen and it did! And for some reason, many of my books deal in some way with the theme of trust - trust in God, trust in other people, or learning to trust oneself.
Most of my books have happened to be subjects that intrigued me - or they start out that way - but then the story chooses me! LOL. I can't write about something that doesn't have something in it for me - learning about a new time period, or exploring what it would be like to live a certain person's life.

3. Why Ecce Homo Press? What impressed you about them? Has your experience so far been good?

I found Ecce Homo Press because I was familiar with their books via our church's Little Flower's Club. My mystery, The Search for the Madonna, had been written and made the round of a couple of contests and publishers. It had some Catholic content but not the level it has now. When no one else seemed to want it, due to the Catholic content, I looked around to find a Catholic publisher who might be interested. Ecce Homo Press was starting a new series of historical mysteries - An American Saint in Progress. I submitted the manuscript and thankfully, they loved it!
My experience so far has been wonderful. Joan, my editor, actually improved the book so much by suggesting that I add even more Catholic content. In fact, it was at her suggestion that I highlighted the sections about the Memorare and learning to trust in Mary, the Mother of God. It is a much better book now that the first manuscript I wrote.
I'm very impressed by their books and their goal to create books that appeal to Catholic girls. I was also very impressed by the illustrations by Julia Fahy in my book. The cover is wonderful and it's exactly how I pictured the twins, the statue of the Madonna and even Aunt Sophie's farm. I'm looking forward to working with them on the sequel, The Mystery in the Maze.
Julie and Donna Celebrating!


4. What are your new books going to be about--or don't you know yet? (See latter part of question 2, I guess. )
Yes, I do know what my new books are going to be about! The sequel to The Search for the Madonna is tentatively titled, The Mystery in the Maze. In this book, Maggie and Em come up against a new girl named Lily and a mystery in a garden maze.
I actually have a second book contracted by another publisher (just since July 12th) that is titled Snipped in the Bud. It's the first book in a series of gardening mysteries that will be part of  "A Tale from the Garden of Mysteries." Here's the back cover blurb:

Who’s the mysterious rose-napper on the loose in Becky McGuffey’s neighborhood? Can she stop the rose snipping thief? Or is her plan to win the Flower Show at the County Fair doomed to wither and wilt? Becky is sure she knows the identity of the flower snatching menace. Amanda Quint. Digging in to find the answers, Becky discovers that working together - even with someone you don’t like - can lead to a surprising harvest. Such as solving a mystery and making a friend.

The sequel to that book is set at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair and features the world of giant pumpkin growing. I've always been fascinated with the fair and growing giant pumpkins. A man named William Warnock grew a 403-lb. pumpkin for that fair and it was a world record that lasted for 76 years. My main character, Lucy, goes to the fair with a giant pumpkin of her own and uncovers a mystery. It's a fun book and I've just started working on it.
At the same time, I'm finishing up an adult mystery (which will hopefully be accepted by the Wild Rose Press) titled, Roses are Red, Diamonds are Blue.

5. You do a lot of writing aimed at young readers. Was this a deliberate choice? Do you simply enjoy writing for children more than writing for adults? What children's book author would you most like to emulate?

Writing for children is harder than writing for adults, and I never actually made the choice to write mostly for young readers. Most of my earliest books were written for adults -none published. It wasn't until about ten years ago that I started a book for children and discovered I really enjoyed writing it. These days I find myself switching around from projects for adults to projects for children. Most days though, I'm a kid at heart and I'd rather be writing for anyone under twelve.
I love to read children's books, so finding just one author to emulate would be hard. I do admire an author not many people would probably remember - Lenora Mattingly Weber. She wrote a wonderful series of YA books with Catholic characters - one of the main characters even becomes a priest! Her books are realistic and portray teens from WWII to the '70's. I love her characters because they have problems, do the wrong thing - sometimes more often than the right thing - but they always learn a valuable lesson without being preachy. If I could be any Catholic author, it would probably be her. If I could emulate any children's author, it would have to be Laura Ingalls Wilder. I love her books and the world they portray.

6. And finally, how long has it taken you to become an "overnight success"? What advice do you wish you'd listened to more closely earlier in your writing career, and what advice have you learned to disregard because it doesn't work for you?

There is no such thing as an "overnight success!" Hm, let's do the math here - not my favorite subject. I actually began writing 'seriously' at 18 - don't ask me how long ago that was! I had a few things published, wrote some scathing letters to the editor that actually drew fan mail and calls, and began writing a long forgotten (and rightly so) Gothic novel. Think I discovered Writer's Market about then and sent out scads of very bad non-fiction and short stories to everyone under the moon. I have drawers of rejection slips from the best in the business.
Real life entered and I got busy working and living. Every so often, I'd get an idea for a story or an article, dash it off and send it out. Along the way, I made some writing friends, went to a few local conferences and took some creative writing classes in college. I worked for the college magazine, Expressions, and finally got some great advice about my work. It was just the boost I needed to keep writing despite my lack of acceptances. Somewhere in those years, I discovered craft writing and actually made my first sales of "How To" articles. I also decided to get some experience by applying to become a PR writer for the Greater Cincinnati Autistic Society. I didn't know anyone autistic but I wrote reams of PR material for them and made some great friends. It also gave me some terrific experience in writing copy on very short notice. I began to write my first children's book which took 10 years to finish in between working and life.
I probably wrote for 25 years - yup, years - before I actually began to make money at it. For awhile in between doing PR and a book sale, I actually gave up writing for good. That lasted about two months. :) Then, about five years ago, I decided if I was ever going to do anything with my writing I should get serious. I began to go back to my writing 'roots' and started with Writer's Market. I sent out articles and began to get some acceptances. I wrote recipes, helpful hints, anecdotes, poems, etc. and sent them out. At the same time, I began to get serious about writing books. Re-read dozens of books on writing craft, went to a few more conferences and tried out a lot of contests!
Almost by chance, I applied for a writing job at an educational website and began to write curriculum. It only lasted about a year but it was a wonderful opportunity and it paid well. That also gave me credibility to apply for another job - which I still have - with an educational provider. I was actually writing for pay! It's a heady feeling. :) Things seem to happen rapidly after that. I met two other writers at a local writing group and we approached our local paper about doing a page for children. Four years later, Cookies and Milk is syndicated in four Ohio counties.
From there, it gave me confidence to start sending out more non-fiction articles for children and to work harder at my fiction. In 2008, I placed Second in the Mystery/Suspense category of the Genesis contest and one of my children's books, The Cattle Rustling Catastrophe won an honorable mention in the Smartwriters' W.I.N. contest. In May of this year, Ecce Homo Press, published my first book, The Search for the Madonna. Then in June, I met with a new publisher, Philothea Press. My book is only their fourth book and the only book for children. Snipped in the Bud (working title) will be in print sometime this fall. It almost seems like a dream some days.
Best advice I ever received - and discarded too many times - is to try out a lot of things and never think you are only a writer if you write books. Books are only a small part of the written word. If I'd have tried to keep writing just books, I'd have never discovered that I am perfectly capable of writing - and getting paid - for children's non-fiction. If I'd have thought only adult books mattered, I'd never have discovered my greatest joy - writing for children. It's advice I wish I'd listened to early on. Another piece of advice I wish I'd taken to heart is that no piece of writing has to be perfect the first time. I'm still trying to learn this!
Through the years and a lot of trial and error, I've probably tried every method or idea on how to write 'the' best way. I think I've finally discovered that there is no one and only best way. Everyone works in different ways and what works for someone like Angela Hunt would probably not work for me. Just because you can't write according to the latest book that has THE BEST WAY TO WRITE doesn't mean you are not a writer. In writing, as in life, it's always best just to be yourself and do it your way. :)
 
Thanks, Donna, for this great insight into your creative processes! And remember...
The Search for the Madonna can be ordered from either Amazon.com or http://www.eccehomopress.com. She will be glad to send a signed bookplate if you write to her at searchformadonna@yahoo.com. Or, if you would like an autographed book, you can also order from her at the yahoo email. Watch for information about Donna's upcoming website and book trailers at mailto:www.layers-of-life@blogspot.com.
 
Check it out!!!
 
Janny

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Publisher "Approval"--The Bad Idea that Needs to Go Away

The first time I encountered the idea of a writers' organization having a list of "approved" or "non-approved" publishers was several years ago, in RWA. The idea, on its face, was presented as an honest effort by a major national organization at some author advocacy.

Unfortunately, that's not how it turned out. And it's an idea whose time was never good in the first place...one that needs to go away.

For those of you unfamiliar with how "approval" works, it breaks down this way: certain publishers are "good" for authors, while others are "not so good." In a well-intentioned effort to differentiate the two, RWA came up with criteria by which it would judge a publisher as "good for authors," or "approved."

Those publishers would then be the only houses from which authors could consider their books "recognized" in RWA as "real books." If your publisher was "approved," you could send your "new sales" information into the RWR, and it would be printed; if your publisher was not, it wouldn't. If your publisher was "approved," you could enter your book in RWA contests, including the national RITA awards. If your publisher was not--for the first time--you were ineligible for all of it.

Period.

Overnight, the complexion of many writers' careers changed. No grandfathering, no provisions for previous achievements, no retroactive crediting...nothing was going to crack that "approval" wall except publishers who could document that they met certain criteria.

Those critera included longevity/stability (the publisher had to have been in existence at least a year); sales (the publisher had to have sold X number of copies of X kind of book--specifically, romance fiction); and adherence to conventional "publishing norms" (the publisher had to pay royalties). Those don't sound so bad, do they? On the surface, no, of course not.

These rules were also--once again, to be fair--put forth in an effort to counter much of what was increasingly emerging as "publishing" but wasn't legitimate in one way or the other: scam "publishing," in which authors would underwrite anything from a portion of book production costs to the whole bill--and then might be left holding nothing at all, including the rights to their own work, when the companies went under. Added to this the number of non-subsidy "presses" that came and went, either from vast undercapitalization or sheer larceny on the part of the "owners" (or both!)...and the time might have seemed right for something like this, especially to protect newbies from the Web predators out there.

What was unfairly discriminatory about this policy, however, was something discovered only after many e-publishers had dutifully requested the paperwork, filled out the apps, provided the numbers, and jumped through hoops to "prove" themselves just as good as the big traditional guys: the "copies of books sold" had to be print copies.

You can see where this is heading.

E-book publishers, of course, raised a stink--as they had every right to do. This came about in the era before Kindle, Nook, and iPad...but that didn't mean that e-publishing was nonexistent, or that its books shouldn't have been considered "real books" if they were produced by royalty-paying publishers who could prove both longevity and the ability to market the books to readers to download in sufficient quantities that the author was paid for X sales of X number of books.

So, after having their collective heads slammed into a few walls enough times (executive boards don't do subtle), the powers that were at RWA at last decided to make a magnanimous, outside-the-box offer: they decided that the word "print" could be removed from the regulation of "approval." But, at the same time they took away the word "print" from the regulation for e-books, they added another new twist to the formula; by the time they got done, e-publishers would have to sell more copies of an e-book than a publisher would have to sell of a print book to get the same recognition.

Unfair? Yep, you bet it was. Deliberately targeted to eliminate e-book competition? RWA claimed not. The big monoliths--who, of course, cleared "approval" almost instantaneously--claimed not. But at least one e-publisher--who also put out print books--went through hoops not once, but twice, and still failed to qualify. As they put it, "Every time we filled out the paperwork and gave them figures, they raised the numbers." So they stopped. They warned their authors that this was how things were going down. They thanked their authors for being willing to be part of their adventure...but they would also understand if their authors decided not to submit any more to their house--since those books were no longer going to be considered "real" books by RWA anymore.

If this sounds crooked to you, it ought to. People who knew about what had happened to this reputable e-press began lobbying, and lobbying, and lobbying...only to be stonewalled. And when the dust settled, what was appallingly clear was that this kind of "approval," in the hands a few multipublished authors who all had firm footings in the "big guns" on the block, could be doled out as they saw fit--with rules changing as they saw fit--and with no accountability whatsoever to the membership. Why? Because this whole idea had never been put to the membership for a vote in the first place.

Now, since I've been out of the RWA circle for a couple of years, I don't know if anything has changed substantially in the interim. But the basic idea behind this "protection" was never a good one; was always biased against new voices, and smaller or newer firms, in the publishing world--no matter how successful they were proving to be, or maybe because of how successful they were proving to be; and, since it was never put to the membership as a question but imposed from above, it at best appears arbitrary and at worst verges on restraint of trade.

No, no one's saying you can't sell to a "non-approved" publisher...just don't expect your professional writers' organization to give you credit for having a real book, a real sale, or any standing in possible award or contest eligibility, no matter if you've written the next Gone With the Wind.

Fast forward to the ACFW decision to also have "approval" for publishers...and many of the same things are possible. That's scary.

No, I don't assume that because ACFW is a Christian organization, that that means this process will be above reproach. We're all sinners. We're all human. If we get a chance to seize power and apportion out "approval," some of us, eventually, are going to abuse it. But even if that never happens--even if by some miracle the ACFW use of "approved" publishers is always evenhanded, fair, and non-discriminatory--the point remains that this is a stupid provision. It divides authors into "real authors" and "those who aren't quite real yet." It divides books into "real books" and "those that aren't quite real yet."

And it sets up a "pecking order" that puts yet another burden on already understaffed and overextended publishers, to "prove" that their authors "deserve" to be recognized for selling "real books"--on the basis of a writers' organization's say-so, rather than where the recognition, the sales credits, and the kudos ought to come from...which is the marketplace.

Yeah. Readers and book buyers. Remember them? They're pretty smart people, yanno? They buy books, they like books, they write about books they like on their blogs...they tell other people...and those people buy books. "Real" books deserving of real honors come out of that kind of "sorting" process...not out of some artificial designation of "real" versus "not real" arrived at by a foolishly self-important organization of writers.

Writers don't determine what succeeds in the marketplace, except as readers and buyers. They shouldn't determine who can consider themselves a "real" publisher or a "real" author, either. That's not their decision. It never has been. It never will be. And the notion that a writers' organization's board should be able to "mother hen" the process like this is only borrowing trouble from one organization and putting it into a place where, if anything, the discrimination could be based on even more nebulous criteria than mere sales or print versus e-books...

This "approval" mechanism was never a good idea in a secular organization. It's far worse an idea in a religious one. It's a disaster waiting to happen...it's pandering to big guys while reducing a great many members to "nonentities" despite sales contracts...and it needs to go away.
NOW.

Thoughts?
Janny

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Yanno, It's Nice to Have All the Answers

I think what I like the best about it is the music....

More in a bit,

Janny