Work in Progress

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Four months ago I took a photo in Central Park of a heavy, stone bridge with a gloomy passage underneath. The bridge, and the image residing on my phone, sparked my brain in the direction of a dark, new story with lots of character, haunting backstories, and lots of fast, crashing tension. It was a far more sinister tone than anything I’d written. It even included a murder!

Then I let it simmer.

I have written three full novels and a novella. Each time I sat down at the blank screen and thought, ‘OK, where to start?’ I leaned in and started typing. I pushed forward, building the story and punching through mental walls when I got stuck. I didn’t slow down much.

But this time I wanted to make sure I could spend time with such a heavy narrative. Could I give it the voice it deserved? For four weeks I didn’t write a single word. The hiatus should have been enjoyable, almost a vacation. But it was a period of uneasy, pent-up anxiety.

Finally, on a Sunday night I made the commitment. I was going to give this story a chance.

The following day, I woke up at 4 am, well before the 5 am alarm bell. I brewed an extra strong coffee, sat down at the keyboard, and thought ‘ok, bitch, let’s do this.’ I went to work with big globs, brushing color into dialogue and action and description.  It was exhilarating.

This morning, after a record three months, I finished the first draft. I pulled my hands off the keyboard and immediately took Pig for a walk through the icy, morning streets of NYC. Despite all the misgivings every writer feels, the more I breathed in the sharp winter air, the more convinced I was this story was solid.

Soon, I’ll dive back in with rewrites.  But I might let it simmer just a bit more.  Seemed to work the last time.

Solo captaining. Not Really.

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I started down this road 2+ years ago. I had something to say and I wanted to say it in an entertaining way. That was it. That was what started all this.

I let the tickle of a story outweigh my insecurities. That was an amazing feat for me.

I learned to get up early and write no matter what. Even if it felt like what was streaming on the screen was total word salad.

And get up the next morning and do it again. No editing, no rewriting yesterday’s junk, just moving forward.

I dove into building out a gritty, gutsy female hero. It was slow work.

I got my head around plotting. Or rather, I learned how to move paragraphs and chapters to make some semblance of a plot, then move on to the next paragraph and the next chapter.

I remember the day when I looked at the screen and realized I had enough of a story–a beginning, a middle, and an end–to be a goddamned novel. Staring, I was mute. The exhilaration of that realization was like no other I’ve ever experienced. It had miles to go before it could rest, but a novel was staring back at me.

As of this week, I’m three novels and a short story later. For many aspiring writers, that’s an incredible benchmark. For me, that’s a mind-boggling achievement. Three. Novels. Holy Crap! Who knew I had so much to say? (Joe, for one. Grin.)

I haven’t done this alone. I have a virtual team of inspirational, loving, smart people that keep me on track. They read drafts. They send emails of support. I’ve also got a tough-as-nails editor who doesn’t let me hide. This team write reviews. They talk about me on Goodreads. They bloody retweet or share my shit on social media–hello, follow me on Facebook or Twitter. And to anyone who thinks that last sentence is a throw away, step into a solo captain’s shoes and we’ll tell you–that stuff weighs HUGE in our efforts to build an audience.

This has been an amazing journey of discovery. For every 5 star review, for every fan who likes my voice, I have read the critical ones too: I’m too light on character, I’m too simplistic with my writing, or I’m too complex in my plotting. Get it. Hear that. Feedback is an incredible alchemic mix of support and criticism. All things to be considered. All choices a writer has to make. Many times, there is no right or wrong answer. You close your eyes and jump.

I’ve learned to be ok with my choices.

Huh. Hadn’t expected that.

Signed Edition (6)

Indie authors wear a lot of hats.  We are the CEOs of our own business, the captains of our own ship, the generals of our lone armies.  (How many metaphors can I mix??)  As such, we have to dabble in things we may be unfamiliar with.  Like marketing.

Currently, I am on a mission to understand Facebook advertising.  I am enrolled in two – not one, but two – Facebook advertising courses.  This is not for the faint hearted.

Sidebar: Apologies to those family and friends who keep getting hit with my ads.  I promise it is Facebook targeting you – not me!

As a result, and in an effort to expand my VIP readers group, I’ve set up an ad for a monthly giveaway where people can sign up to win a chance for the full Mac Ambrose starter library and get a FREE (you see my marketing skills there?) copy of Ghosts in Macau.  Sign up if you haven’t already!  (You can unsubscribe at any time.  Seriously, that easy.  Yes, that’s me marketing again.  Mad skills, I tell you.)

Facebook advertising allows you to target your ad to specific demographics and interests.  You simply go into your dashboard and identify which interests to target.

Easy, right?

Well, no.  This is where it gets fascinating.  My key target demographic should be those Facebook users who have expressed an interest in political/spy thriller authors.  Right?  So, let’s see…Richard North Paterson, Brad Meltzer, Vince Flynn, David Baldacci, Daniel Silva.  In fact, to help us indefatigable Indies, there is even a literature mapping site–you plug in a famous author’s name and it shows you similar genre writers.  So cool.

So I’m testing out various famous authors, and I’m thinking, yeah, but my books have a female point of view to them.  How can I tap into that audience?  So, I start searching the wider web (Goodreads, Amazon, etc.) for bestselling female political thriller writers.

You know what?

I came up with zero.

I expected fewer than the men.  I mean, sure, that would make sense.

But ZERO?

There are plenty of crime, mystery and suspense female authors.  Plenty.  And let’s give a whoop whoop for their success!  The world needs all of us creative types killing it.  Seriously gals, kill it!

But no female political thriller writers who have hit bestselling status?

Seriously?

Shit.

Not sure if I should be shocked, dismayed or somehow elated that the field is so wide open.

If you know of a bestselling political/spy thriller writer that I have missed, please do me a huge favor and drop me a note: hnwake@hnwake.com – because I would love to read them and support them!!

In the meantime, as I told my best friend the other night, I’ll just keep doing my thang despite this very skewed reality.  Because surely someday, the publishing world will see the gap.  Or even better, readers will start to search us out.  Even better.

 

 

A ‘lil bump in spirit

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I’m in the throes of editing Mac Ambrose novel #3.  It’s uplifting and exciting but can at times be hard.  The book’s plot is set, the twists lined up, and the ending pretty kick ass.  Now for filling in on description and character.  The later of which is my weak link, but we all have strengths and weaknesses.

So my head is down.  Weeds for the forest. 

When I’m in editing mode, my mind tends to focus on word choice even when I’m not in front of the computer.  During the editing phase I am mildly distracted on a continual basis.  I’ll be on the subway and I’ll see something that triggers a word that fits exactly in a particular scene and I’ll have to send myself a note.

I also have deadlines to my editor and my beta readers that I’m trying desperately to hit.  But I’m down with that.  This is all an amazing, inspiring ride.  At a dinner party on Sunday the host told me he gave up a literary tome because he wanted ‘a Mac Ambrose read.’  Uh, hello, best compliment evah.  This means 5 am coffee + computer dates for at least the next four weeks.  Let’s be clear: when the alarm goes off I feel my fingertips tingling for the keyboard.  No lie.

So during this ‘nose to the grindstone’ phase I try to stay off social media.  It ain’t easy.  As I’m sure you all know.

Today I peeked over at Amazon and saw a new (great) review on Deceits of Borneo.  The reviewer praised the fact that Mac was a ‘woman CIA operative.’  This gave me pause.  I realized I loved the fact that the reviewer made that a point.

I never intentionally decided to write from a woman’s point of view, it just seemed the right thing to do as a budding, wanna-be writer who had been cautioned to write ‘what you know.’  And, well, it came naturally.  But as I put word to screen over the last two years, I realized I wanted a broader audience.

I made the decision not to write for women, but to write of women.

In the spy genre there just aren’t that many authentic, smart, gritty women protagonists.  I suspect that’s probably a truism across many genres.

Here’s to today’s reviewer that recognized it and commented on it.  I’ll take that ‘lil boost to my spirit any day.

 

 

Indies Rock

 

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Being an indie has a lot of benefits these days.

First and foremost is the freedom. There is very little pressure when I am writing, working with my awesome beta readers, being schooled by my editor, tinkering with my covers, or hitting publish. Real freedom. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of pressures that crop up. But these challenges sit squarely on my stoop. That’s complete control and it’s pretty awesome.

Another top thing about being an Indie is the collaboration with other authors. We chat on forums like Kboards, we catch up on the news at various blogs, we like and follow each others’ Facebook pages, and we share intel.

We share lots of intel. Market intel. Intel on Amazon. Intel on the traditional publishing scene. (Which–from where we sit–appears to be in the messy throes of catching up to the tech revolution.)  Before I dove in to self-pubbing, I would have suspected the indie world to be cut-throat. But it ain’t.

I believe there are two reasons this space is so collaborative.

One. Competition is good. There is a huge demand for quality writing and story telling. If you’re a good writer who can deliver great stories, then you can write, edit, package and publish without being hamstrung by an antiquated system of arbitrary gatekeepers. These days, more than just the 1% are getting their stories into the hands of discerning readers. More great stories=more great reading.

Two. Finding ‘great’ stories is a personal endeavor. As a reader, I am efficient and effective at skimming those first few pages on Amazon to find the stories and voices I want to sink into for hours. The traditional publishing gatekeepers promise they are curating for me…but are they really? Not nearly as well as I am for myself.

Can I prove this collaborative spirit? You bet I can. For the next two days, there are over 60 books on a flash sale of $.99. Dig in while they’re hot!

Finding Time

There are only so many hours in the day. The large portion of that–for most of us—is taken up by our day job. I know, I know…you don’t want to hear that publishing writers have day jobs. We’d all like to think that the demand for good stories means the writers you read are making a living wage writing novels.

Sad truth: not these days.

But don’t get bummed. Let me tell you why.

Not being a working writer means I write what I want, in the way my brain tells me, in the way my fingers find a keyboard. I don’t worry about marketing, or demand, or frankly, publishers. Don’t get me wrong, I follow the threads for Indie writers. Which means I know what sells. Let me just say, if I wrote about zombies or paranormal romance I’d probably be bringing in a few more shillings than I am currently. But you know what? Without the pressure of the market, I write what I want. That’s called freedom.

Currently I write political thrillers that involve a spy who is smart and gritty. I dig her and want to color her in. The stories I tell also sway toward a liberal bent. You know what? I’m not sure that’s what the market would dictate for me and I’m glad I don’t follow the market.

Maybe someday you’ll follow the market, you admonish? My response: Maybe.

I’ll tell you why I’m luke warm on being famous.  Having the freedom to write what my brain spins out, in the way my fingers fly across the keyboard, well, that’s a pleasure. A tangible, real pleasure. I can’t imagine it–the alarm pinging at 5 am, getting up, putting on the coffee, turning on the monitor, clearing my eyes, peering out into the dark outside the window–for what the market demands. No.  I can’t imagine doing that for the money.  That kind of early morning commitment comes from the heart, from a mind that doesn’t rest and that has finally found it’s release.

 

 

 

Obscurity

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There are a lot of things I do in obscurity. I sing very loudly and very badly when no can hear, particularly in the car. I attempt new dance moves when no one can see, especially as I get dressed in the morning. I tend a garden in the spring and the summer that practically no one visits. I intentionally expand my collection of new facial products on secret visits to TJ Maxx. All of these activities bring me joy. Lots of joy.

I also write in relative obscurity. Don’t get me wrong. I have a fabulous, engaged, and growing group of loyal readers. This does not include my family and friends who also tend to be fabulous. But compared to a lot of authors, my awesome readers group is relatively small. I’m good with that.

So far I’m really enjoying the freedom I get from writing just to these folks. It helps with the plotting, the character development, and the pace of my stories. I know what they like—similar to my own tastes as a reader—so I write for them.

Lately, I have been ramping up my social media marketing. I’m running Facebook ads and giveaways and doing cool promotional stuff like podcasts. It’s fun because it’s a whole new skill set I’m developing in obscurity. This slug line didn’t work? No problem. Try this one. This photo didn’t get any clicks? No worries I’ll just replace it with this one. It’s a lot like figuring out a puzzle. And I love me some puzzles.

I wonder what will happen if I ever begin to reach a broader audience. Will it change the act of writing for me? Probably. How, I don’t know.

As an author, do I want a gazillion folks to read my novels? Sure. Of course. (OK, maybe not a gazillion.) I’d be lying if I said I don’t.

But am I yearning for the day when I have a much larger audience? Funny enough, nope. I’m really loving the moment I’m in: I’m falling down, getting up, dusting myself off, and learning lessons on a daily basis in relative obscurity. There’s something really enchanting about that.

This will never, ever get old. What a day!

What a day!

I made the coffee and cleared out the dishwasher slowly this morning at 6 am.  I wanted to delay getting online as long as possible.  Because this is the day my second novel is published.  Gulp.

I know there will be no reviews yet.  I know there will be no sales yet.  I know this.  But I’m still nervous.

Coffee bravado in hand, I click open the computer and mosey on over to Amazon–as I know I will do every 30 minutes today in some rabid OCD trance–to refresh and check out the cover of Deceits of Borneo live in all its computer enhanced color.  Because…well…because it’s live.  L.I.V.E.

And then checking my emails, I see I’ve gotten a note from the interviewer for the Crime Fiction Lover website that my interview is live.  One rapid click later and–KABLAM–there’s my photo in all its scary, huge glory and the headline “HN Wake Interviewed.”  Of course, I track down to see my two novel covers.  Wow, they look so cool and vivid on this website.  Love.  Then I speed read through the interview, terribly afraid I’ll find some random mistakes.  Because, it’s on the freaking internet and it’s live and I’m nervous as all get out and it’s the freaking internet.  No mistakes.  Exhales.

Yeah, today is a pretty awesome.  I know, deep in my heart, this will never ever get old.

I hope you like the new one.

(And a very special thanks to the team who helped make this possible. xo)

Being a Writer

I hired a professional developmental editor.  I knew it was something I wanted to do the first time around, but I wasn’t sure  if novel #1 was a hunk of junk or not.  This second time, I knew what I had in my hands was solid.  I wanted a professional set of eyes on it to point out weaknesses.

She just sent me her reworks.  And yes, there are significant areas for improvement in my writing.  (Right??)

I’m letting her words settle naturally around me this weekend.  On Monday I will dig into rewrites.

An invaluable and uplifting lesson has dawned in my world: writing will always be about striving to be better.  I will never turn out a perfect manuscript, let alone a perfect novel.  I will always be just slightly behind where I think I am.  There will always be better ways to tell a story–just there, beyond my fingertips.  I will always want to explore and expand my limits.

But that’s what keeps this process fresh.  I’m excited to push myself–to try new things, to try new approaches, to lay down words in a way I haven’t in the past.  It’s daunting, for sure.  But the thrilling things in life are usually daunting.  Right?

I have a whole new respect for writers everywhere.

Evolution & a 5,000 word day (!!)

Before my internet hiatus, I read a post on a writers forum about increasing your pace of writing.  A lot of other indie authors piled on with great advice and tips.  A number of them recommended a book by a prolific hybrid author Libbie Hawker that described a very simple (yet smart) way of outlining.

I had considered myself a fairly strong outliner.  Boy, was I not right.  If you’re a writer, I strongly recommend Libbie’s book: it’s a quick read.

Suffice to say, I downloaded it right away and finished it within a few hours.  Now, I’ve read my fair share of writer advice books.  I tend to skim them.  One size definitely does not fit all.  But Libbie’s advice hit home and the next day I sat down and outlined novel #3.  It took me a few hours based on some brain muddling that had been churning away in the background for the last few weeks.

Then I sat back and looked at it.  And much to my total surprise, instead of being daunted I thought, ‘I can totally do that.’  Keyboard banging commenced.

I am here to report that it’s been three weeks (+ one dislocated shoulder and loads of cover designing because that’s doable one handed) and I just hit my all time most productive day.  Today I crunched in 5,000 words.  Not fluff, either.  These are solid, meaty words in well structured paragraphs within crucial chapters building a clean and tidy story.

Don’t get me wrong–I love my first novel.  It will always be the HN Wake magnum opus.  That book has sweat, tears and some blood in its hard fought bones.  (I feel the sacrifice every time I look at its cover.)

But boy if novel #3 doesn’t feel like I’m hitting it out of the park.  Zing.

Writing is learning.  That fact amazes me every day.  Today more than most.