Will Audiobooks Replace the Written Word?

Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

Let me start this post by saying I’m not against audiobooks. I’m listening to an audiobook right now, as it was started on a long car drive and I hadn’t finished it by the time I returned home. A well-done audiobook is a delight, and some of my favorites include the Poirot books read by David Suchet, the actor who has played Poirot in some of the Agatha Christie screen adaptations.

My husband has a two hour commute to work each day, and has become a big fan of podcasts as a result. My current commute is much shorter, so I tend to listen to music instead. I get frustrated when I can’t listen to something in large blocks of time. I also tend to use walking the dogs and riding horses as a writing brainstorming time, and as such, would prefer music or simply appreciating nature to listening to an audiobook anyway. Ditto the rare times I clean house. 🙂 Since I tend to listen to an audibook when I’m doing something else, I’m usually not able to devote my full attention to it, and as such, I don’t feel as though I’m getting the maximum amount of enjoyment out of the story as I would if I were reading it instead.

But I don’t begrudge people the right or ability to access their reading material via audio over the printed word. For many, audio represents the only way they can easily access books, especially for the visually impaired. Many more simply prefer audio to print. Perhaps like everyone else, they’re so busy it’s the only way they can fit “reading” into their schedule. Or maybe reading presents challenges for them that listening does not. I’m all for people accessing fiction any way they can get it, and it is one reason I’d like to create audio versions of all my works.

As a reader, however, I can rarely afford to buy audiobooks. Death on the Nile as read by David Suchet is almost $30 US dollars. Newer cars are no longer including CD players, so checking out books on CD from the local library won’t work for me either. Sure, I can subscribe to a service like Audible.com but we’re back to another subscription service. Do I really want to pay for cable, Netflix, Hulu, CBS All-Access, Kindle Unlimited, Scribd, and Audible, too?

The answer is no.

Yes, I have a smartphone, but it’s an Android, not Apple. I don’t have a tablet. I have an elderly iPod Nano that is on its last legs and I don’t want to lose it because they aren’t freaking making them anymore and that’s how I listen to music in the car. *weeps*

But that’s okay, right? I don’t have to listen to audiobooks if I don’t want to.

Only the buzz I keep hearing is that in the not-too-distant future, everything is going to go the way of audiobooks and podcasts. I haven’t been able to pin down the source of this information, but I keep hearing it repeated over and over. Certainly articles such as as in Forbes, calling Audiobooks Officially 2018’s Publishing Trend would seem to support this notion. Sales of audiobooks were up 43% in 2018. I keep getting advice to make podcasts, or short video presentations on Youtube. Every time I open a news article, it pops up with video. Whenever I click on a link for marketing information these days, it is only available in a video format.

I have to say, as a consumer, this pisses me off a bit. I can read an article–and retain the information in it–faster and more efficiently than it takes for me to watch a 45 minute video. I can read articles on my lunch break–or when I have five minutes between appointments. Presenting everything in video format also assumes the viewer has perfect hearing, which isn’t necessarily the case. Moreover, I can’t watch videos until I’ve finished my 10-12 hour workday and am at home with the headphones on so as not to interrupt anyone else’s activity, and let me tell you, I have more pressing needs to take care of by then. Am I going to take 45 minutes to watch another video or spend that block of time writing a scene? Writing is going to take precedence every time.

As a writer, this notion that everything will go to audio format in the future disturbs me greatly. For starters, creating quality audiobooks is expensive. I experimented with creating an audiobook for one of my older stories, and I found that while I could lower production costs by sharing royalties with the narrator, the top-notch narrators wanted payment up front. Also, for the costs involved, the payout is skewed. Despite the high costs of production, only a sliver of money earned gets paid in royalties. I have as yet to recoup my ROI for my one attempt at producing an audiobook. I may never earn back the investment at this rate.

But it’s possible I’m just doing things wrong. Perhaps my tech is out of date. Maybe I’m uninformed because I’m behind the times. So I’m curious: how do you consume your fictions these days? Ebook? Print? Audiobook? Do you pay for a subscription service? Are you finding limitations on the books you’d like to check out because it doesn’t come in your preferred format? If you preferentially consume audiobooks, does this dictate what other books you may or may not read?

If you’re an author, what cost-effective methods are you using to invest in audiobook production? Are you seeing a ROI? What service are you using? How are you finding your narrators?

Drop a comment here and let me know what you’re doing. I’ll select someone at random from the comments to win their choice of one of my stories (though sadly, they will only be available as ebooks).

I Dream of Strong Heroines

Let me start off this post by saying you know what I mean when I say “strong heroines”. I realize it’s not the best term: a heroine, by definition, is someone we look up to and seek to emulate. “Strong” as a descriptor seems both redundant and lazy somehow. When I say I’ve always been attracted to strong heroines–I mean the female characters that star in their own stories, who pull me into their adventures and make me long for their strength, their no-nonsense attitudes, their ability to Get The Job Done. 

They are smart, tough, and competent. They are all beautiful in their own way, as varied as their own backgrounds. They kick-ass. They make me want to be better than I am, to reach my full potential and more.

Growing up, it wasn’t always easy to find heroines in my preferred books and stories. Women frequently played a secondary–sometimes even tertiary–role in murder mysteries or sci-fiction. They were often love interests at best, and victims at worst. Television programs frequently featured a Heroine of the Week, a guest actress to play the part of the woman who is placed in jeopardy (all too-often by refusing the advice and help of the male hero) so that she can be conveniently rescued by said hero. I confess, I ate up these shows in the eighties. Not because I identified with the female characters in them, but because I identified with the men. Many of the shows I adored back then, I find uncomfortable to re-watch today. Men had the best roles, the best lines, got to do the fun things. I accepted that it was men who went on adventures and the women largely stayed home. Eowyn aside, the Fellowship of the Ring was a boys club.

But when I found a heroine I could admire, I grabbed on with both hands, even if the source material was a little problematic. Lessa from Dragonflight. Princess Leia. Harriet Vane from the Lord Peter Wimsey books. I wanted to be Laura Holt from Remington Steele. I devoured the Honor Harrington books by David Weber. Sam Carter in Stargate might have been ‘one of the boys’ but she was the scientist that was smarter than everyone else on team SG-1.

I cheered when Drew Barrymore’s Cinderella outsmarted the gypsies in this scene from Ever After.

 

It was simply brilliant–as was the scene at the end when the Prince rushes up as she’s leaving the castle. When she asks him why he’s there, he confesses he’s come to rescue her–only she’s already rescued herself.

This trend of loving powerful heroines continues today. I fell hard for Elsa in Frozen. I am a HUGE Peggy Carter fan (hence the T-shirt above). I love Phryne Fisher so much that I supported the crowdfunding for Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears. I love these ladies for their strength, their beauty, their abilities. I wish I had their confidence, their competence, their resilience. 

I am sadly aware I fall far short of their standards.

Recently, I’ve had a bit of a health scare. It’s rattled me hard, and while my condition is imminently treatable, I’m still in adjusting to both the medication and the notion that I need medication. More than anything, there is a disconnect between accepting that this is my new normal when it doesn’t fit with my mental image of who I am. It’s not part of a kick-ass heroine’s backstory.

Or is it?

Perhaps my definition of what makes a kick-ass heroine needs to evolve. Maybe she isn’t the woman who takes out the bad guys with a single punch, or patches a Stargate on the fly, or delivers a snappy one-liner while saving the world.

Maybe she’s the woman who works ten to twelve hour shifts, only to come home and take care of her family. Maybe she’s the cornerstone in a multi-generational household, the one that everyone looks to in order to make things right. Perhaps the very fact she’s still here, still trying, and still alive is a major achievement in itself.

Maybe she’s the one who speaks up even though her voice is shaking. The one who says, “No, that isn’t right.”

Being a kick-ass heroine isn’t just looking good in a catsuit, or solving multi-dimensional math equations while piloting a starship, or discussing with wit and erudition the dead body in the library. It’s both harder and easier than that.

It’s standing up for what you believe in, even when the rest of the world thinks you’re stupid for doing so.

There are more of us out there than you think. You’re more kick-ass than you think. Be your own hero.

Marvel Bows to Troll Pressure, Fires Chuck Wendig

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Last week at the New York ComicCon, author Chuck Wendig announced he’d be working on a new Marvel comic book project. Today, Marvel fired him, citing his online presence as being “too vulgar, too political, and too negative.”

I’ve been following Wendig’s blog for years now–you want pithy insights and masterful writing tips? His is the blog for you. I highly recommend his book on writing, Damn Fine Story.

At no point has Wendig ever hidden his thoughts or viewpoints. Marvel knew who they were hiring when they made the original decision to do so.

So why the big back pedal? Why would Marvel suddenly decide Wendig is too hot to handle after the big ComicCon announcement last week?

The linked articles explain a lot, but here’s the Reader’s Digest version: when Wendig wrote his bestselling Star Wars trilogy, he included GLBTQ characters. This set off a certain small but vocal group of trolls in the sci-fi community that howled over the fact Wendig had ‘ruined’ SW for them, and they began a targeted harassment campaign to trash the ratings. Lucasfilms was behind Wendig 100%, stating the franchise has always been about diversity. (I suggest you read up on the Rabid/Sad Puppies and their attempts to manipulate the Hugo Awards, as well as Gamergate to give you an idea of the organization and object of these trolls, if you are somehow unfamiliar with them). This harassment has been incredibly vicious and ongoing, in part (according to the Screen Rant article linked above) “because Wendig wears his politics on his sleeve.”

Since the ComicCon announcement, Wendig has been the subject of increased harassment, leading to the temporary suspension of his Twitter account recently. Today’s news is frankly gobsmacking, as well as disheartening and disturbing. Marvel has also recently fired feminist Chelsea Cain and dropped the planned Vision comic two months before its release. And, I might point out, it was Marvel Comics who recently decided to go with the horrendous (and utterly insulting) story line that Captain America was actually a HYDRA agent all along. (Spoiler: Not.)

Apparently the furor (and subsequent response from Wendig) was too much for one editor, who pulled the plug on the projects. Wendig believes this decision was made independently from Lucasfilms.

So what is the takeaway from this? We as creators are frequently told we should not be openly political on social media, that we should avoid controversial positions and attitudes. I believe this is a bit of a cop-out. I don’t think it’s possible to create anything in a political vacuum. The very act of not allowing any sort of political slant on something created, be it artwork, music, movies, or stories, is a statement in and of itself–and usually comes from a place of privilege that ignores the reality we live in.

I have to tell you, if you’re reading one of my stories, you’re going to find all kinds of political commentary in them. Oh, perhaps not directly. I write paranormal romance, after all. But one of the reasons I enjoy paranormal romance is the genre allows much scope for observing and commenting on the politics of the day. MUCH LIKE COMIC BOOKS DO. 

I also think in our current environment, we have to speak our beliefs. We must stand up for what’s right and resist what is morally, ethically, and criminally wrong. To stay silent is to be complicit.

Another take home lesson is this: Wendig points out that the arbitrary and capricious manner in which Twitter chooses to silence someone while letting someone else far more abusive and threatening get a free pass is a harsh reminder that social media platforms are not your friend. Hell, they aren’t even your tools. At best, they should be the means to direct people to a platform you control. Don’t give up on your websites and blogs, people.

I was asked while writing this how what happened to Wendig differs from mounting a campaign to boycott sponsors of a FOX television program. Pressure is pressure, correct? The difference is that the trolls went after Wendig directly, dog-piling him with truly hateful attacks. The calls for boycotting sponsors asks a company directly to alter their hiring decisions based on their wallets. And I think that’s what we should be doing now with Marvel Comics.

Another bit of advice from Wendig in his post today was to vote in November as though your life depended on it. Because it does.

I have to say, I admire Wendig’s integrity in remaining true to who he is, and not caving in to the company line–but I also respect his decision to share his experience rather than sit tight on it in the hopes Marvel will change their minds or to limit further damage to future projects. That’s real courage. And we need more of that in this country right now. 

And you should go buy some of Wendig’s books. Seriously.

Madison Michael’s Beguiling Bachelor Series now on Sale!

 

 
The Beguiling Bachelor Series
By Madison Michael
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Bedazzled  (Book 1)
A Chance Encounter Can Change Everything…
Keeli Larsen is second-guessing her decision to support herself as an independent jewelry designer. She has no money, no friends, but she knows she has talent. Leaving her job, she rides the elevator one last time with the sexy man from the penthouse office. That ride and a well placed hand are about to change her life.
Millionaire and hot hunk Wyatt Lyons Howe IV is trapped by generations of family loyalty and tradition until a moment in an elevator rocks his staid world. Wyatt is captivated by Keeli’s beauty and fiery spirit, choosing to pursue her and his dreams. He just needs to rid himself of a scheming fiancé, defy his family, conquer his doubts, extricate himself from his traditional life and, of course, find the elusive Keeli again.
Is she Wyatt’s ticket to freedom or is Keeli an opportunist looking for a bankroll? Unsure of her motives, but unable to stay away, Wyatt is bedazzled.
Fans of steamy romances will fall in love with this contemporary retelling of Cinderella, a smart, sexy story, set within the splendor of Chicago’s elite society.
 
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This is no docile heroine. Meet Sloane, assertive and tough, desperate for love. Meet Randall, drowning his troubles until Sloane provides a reason to sober up. Beholden is a sexy, romantic romp set in the glamour of Chicago’s elite society.
 
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Join Alex and Charlotte, along with characters you’ve met and loved in “Bedazzled” and “Beholden”, as they tackle the maze of half-truths and cover-ups threatening the lovers.

How can they build a bond with deceit on both sides? With malevolent forces advancing, is their love Bedeviled? 
 
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Join Tyler and Regan as they seek their happily ever after in the conclusion of the steamy, contemporary Beguiling Bachelor romance series.

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About Madison:
 
Madison Michael traded 28 years in Fortune 500 tech and management positions for a chance to spend her days with sassy heroines, sexy, rich heroes and nothing but happy endings. Growing up the daughter of a librarian, she learned to love books, especially classics and romances, and spent winters cuddled under blankets losing herself in books.

Madison is the author of three novels in the Beguiling Bachelor series, as well as several short stories. She is a member of Romance Writers of America.

After living in the northeast, southeast and the west, Maddy returned to her Midwest roots. She lives in Evanston, IL with two feline editorial assistants and great views of Chicago’s famous skyline.

Social Links:
Website: madisonmichael.net
Madison’s Blog: madisonmichael.net/category/maddys-blog
Maddy’s Romance Madness: madisonmichael.net/category/mrm/
Maddy’s Tours and Treats: madisonmichael.net/category/tours-and-treats/
Facebook: facebook.com/madisonmichaelromance
Twitter: twitter.com/madisonmichael_
Amazon Author Page: amazon.com/Madison-Michael/e/B01EVUGG6G/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1


 

Too Much of a Good Thing

Those of you who follow me on Instagram know I have a thing for mushrooms. Not to eat (I think I read too many murder mysteries where the victims were taken out with the local mushrooms) but to photograph. There is something magical about them–not only their variety and color, but also how rapidly they can grow–seemingly overnight!

My mushroom photo collection is extensive, and I delight in spying some delicate fungal growth hiding beneath fallen leaves or nestled in pine needles during my morning dog walks.

Just the other day, I took these side by side images–both probably Aminita species, which contain some of the most toxic mushrooms known. My fingers are in the frame for scale. The first image is of a typical mushroom growing in my yard right now. The second is one I found growing beneath the horse trailer. I’ve never seen one so large before! And I swear, it wasn’t there a few days ago…

I can’t do justice to the second mushroom, as it was hidden up under the horse trailer. But trust me when I say it was bigger than a NERF football!

 

 

 

But while I admire mushrooms in the wild, I confess I am less enthralled with them when they are continually popping up in my fenced yard. It goes back to reading all those British murder mysteries as an impressionable teenager and the likelihood these particular shrumes are Aminita species. Mushrooms in that family account for 50% of all mushroom-related deaths in people and most of them in dogs.

With all the heavy rains we’ve had here, the mushrooms are literally growing overnight. For the last couple of days, I’ve been pulling up mushrooms as I find them in the area where the dogs play, and I’ve been getting at least five pounds a day, I kid you not.

I’ve also had to induce vomiting in one of my dogs, after catching him gnoshing on a mushroom before I could stop him. So under the principle of better safe than sorry, I pull them up.

But their prolific nature has me paranoid now. Every afternoon I head out to the yard with a garbage bag and a set of plastic gloves to pull up mushrooms. They hide under leaf litter. They prefer shade and wet mulchy dirt. They love rotten logs and deep grass. And so I scan the area, digging them up as I go, trying to get as much of the root as possible. Just when I’m convinced I’ve located all the ones there are to find that day, I spy another one: sometimes a bright button of color mimicking the fallen leaves, sometimes a dull brown nearly impossible to distinguish from the surrounding soil.

I love autumn. October is my absolute favorite time of year. I love how the light changes in spectrum from white to gold as it slants through the trees on an autumn afternoon. I love how it lights up the grass from within, making it glow. I love the first hint of frost in the morning air, and that whiff of wood smoke, too. I love the sound of dead leaves scurrying across a sidewalk or crunching underfoot. Nothing makes me happier than pulling out my chunky sweaters in maroon and gold, or pulling on my favorite pair of boots. Give me a book, a blanket, and a cup of hot cocoa, and I’m a happy camper. Autumn is a gallop across fields of drying grass while the mountains all around burst into color. It’s watching the dogs frisk with glee on the morning walk because of the nip in the air. It’s smiling as you hear the honk of migrating geese, and look up to see them fly in V formation overhead.

But darn it, it’s also when the mushrooms proliferate like mad. And until we get a hard frost, I’m going to be removing them from the yard.

(T-Rex for scale…)

Celebrate ALL the Wins–Especially the Little Ones

Last year I planted a crepe myrtle tree in my yard. For those unfamiliar with them, this is what they look like in bloom, coming in a wide assortment of colors. I thought it would make a nice splash of color in the the spring.

It died.

Now, I’m not all that surprised. Not because my gardening skills are on par with my cooking skills, which is to say the smoke detector gets a workout in our house. Not because trees and bushes have a high mortality rate in the first year. Not because it was a hot,dry summer.

No. I wasn’t surprised because there was so much death in my life in 2017, I began to feel like a trainee for the Grim Reaper. I lost a lot: three human family members, three furry family members, and my very first horse–the one I bought as a teenager and hid his existence from my parents until I could prove I was capable of paying for him. The one I’d had for thirty years.

Most of these deaths were not unexpected. Old age and cancer both tend to give you lots of warning. It was just bad luck that the timing made all of them come together in the same year.

It was more than just the deaths, though that was bad enough. I also lost my belief that we as Americans were, for the most part, decent, honest people who stood up for the little guy and did the right thing. A belief fostered in part by such comics as this one, where Superman encourages students to embrace diversity. (There’s another, more modern image somewhere of Captain America supporting the same–only the crowd he’s depicted with is actually diverse–sadly, I can’t find it right now. I suspect it was fan art) I lost my faith in our government as an agent for the commonwealth. I lost hope that we’d ever have fair elections again, or that we’d be able to stop a breathtakingly corrupt administration from converting our democracy to an autocracy. Sure, corruption existed in politics before now. But the sheer scale of what’s happening now worldwide is all too reminiscent of the rise of fascism in the 1930s. And we all know how that turned out.

Somewhere along the way, I lost myself to depression. I found it challenging to go on social media. I didn’t have the mental energy to comment on people’s posts. Every day, the news continues to be terrifying and disheartening, which didn’t help. I developed unhealthy coping mechanisms. I gained weight. I was still functional, but just barely. So no, losing one crepe myrtle among all of this wasn’t even a blip on the radar. The only reason I share any of this for background to the point of this post.

Recently, a thing has been going around my Twitter timeline in which someone posted something to the effect of “we’re nine months in to 2018–what have you accomplished?” People RT the original tweet, adding what they’ve achieved as part of the sharing.

I have very mixed feelings about this sort of thing. I am not trying to disparage the person who posted it–I just can’t help but feel on some level, subconsciously or not, by the very nature of social media, this kind of thing turns into a brag/competition thread. There is nothing wrong with bragging, mind you. Hell, I think far too often most of us diminish rather than celebrate our victories. But this kind of post falls into the the same category of year-end retrospective posts for me: a means of comparing yourself to others and finding, once again, you’ve fallen short.

In part because if you haven’t lost 50 pounds, gotten married, won the lottery, run a marathon, taken a dream vacation, landed an agent, had a NYT bestseller, won a major literary award, etc. etc. then you haven’t accomplished enough. And I have to tell you, when I look back over the past nine months and look at what I’ve achieved, compared to everyone else out there, I DO come up short.

But I came across one comment on the Twitter thread, which said, “I’m still alive.” And you know what? That is a mighty accomplishment indeed. It made me think about the things I’ve done in the last nine months a little differently.

So here’s my list of achievements for 2018:

  1. I’m still alive.
  2. I learned to make and like green smoothies, the thought of which used to make me gag.
  3. I’ve come to appreciate my body as is, with all its flaws, and know I need to take better care of it.
  4. I’m starting to reconnect with the things I love, things I’d shut out during my depression. I’d lost so much I was afraid to love anything else–and the scary thing is this wasn’t a conscious decision–I just withdrew my engagement. Even when I needed it the most.
  5. I recognize I probably need professional help to manage my depression. 
  6. I’ve started meditating.
  7. I’ve started playing brain games on Luminosity.
  8. I wrote and published a book. People are leaving enthusiastic reviews, which is nice.
  9. I’m playing around with fanfiction again because it makes me happy and life is too damn short not to take your happiness where you can find it.
  10. I’m still alive.

Some of these may not seem like very big accomplishments, but they are bigger than you know, especially the self-acceptance part. And I repeated “I’m still alive” twice because we don’t often give ourselves enough credit for toughing it out through bad times.

This past week, while preparing for some major renovations at the house, I discovered a small determined leafing of what I thought was a dead tree.

What do you know? That crepe myrtle is still alive.

I’m moving to a safer, better place so it can grow. Where I can keep a eye on it, and shelter it from bugs, storms, and the relentless heat. Where it can thrive. Perhaps that’s my biggest accomplishment for 2018 so far.

Friday Feature: His Midnight Sun by Viviana MacKade

 

 

Hey, it’s Feature Friday, so that means we have a guest poster today. Please welcome Viviana MacKade as she shares with us a little about her upcoming release, His Midnight Sun!

 

 

 

 

 

His Midnight Sun

by Viviana MacKade

 

Tormented, fierce, and broken, sculptor Aidan Murphy has judged himself guilty. He yearns for love but pushes everyone away. He longs for acceptance but has lost the key to open his heart. Until he meets Summer Williams. Beautiful and smart, Dr. Williams promises haven for a man who believes he deserves none. All he has to do is let her in and risk his heart and soul.

Summer’s managed to keep her inner light alive, even through tragedy. She’s created a new life for herself and her daughter in Crescent Creek with loving, caring and fun friends–well, except brooding, breathtaking Aidan. She’s used to keeping away from his type, though. All she has to do is ignore the pull of a man who’s turning up to be much more than snarls and storms. Will her compassion and medical instincts let her?

Love can heal a broken soul and shake up a timid heart. Or it can unleash devastation and revenge.

Will Aidan and Summer survive the hurricane?

 

Release September 15, available for pre-sale

$ 0.99 FREE with KU

On Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

I didn’t realize His Midnight Sun had a theme until well after I finished it. Honestly, I don’t write to teach, preach or any other significant and profound reason. I write to entertain. To give people a break. I like to think my stories are fairy tales for adults, where the characters go through changes and problems and tragedies, but will get to the happily ever after. The great Susan Elizabeth Phillips said that life is too short to waste with depressing books, and that sums perfectly the way I want my books to be.

An escape. Heaven knows if we all need it one sometimes.

So I didn’t have anything in mind other than telling Aidan’s story when I started.

And what do you know, I found myself with a phoenix’s story. A man who learns how to leave the past where it’s supposed to stay, who learns how to forgive himself and how to accept love. And through him, I discovered the same things. In many ways, Aidan’s story is my story, his demons are my demons, and because of him, I saw a way to boot them out.

Summer showed him the power of love–not just romantic love, but for the other people. For friends and strangers alike. Which turned out to be the theme of the book.

The healing power of love.

 

 

Excerpt

Chapter 1

 

Crescent Creek, early July.

With no fight left in him, Aidan Murphy sank down on the wooden floor of his home studio.

Done.

Aidan filled his burning sight with the finished, almost 7 feet tall piece of art. Hell to work on, pure and simple, but it couldn’t be helped, not when it had called to him with such powerful voice.

Two weeks earlier, he’d been wandering around the stone-site when his skin began humming, and his heart beating faster. Years of sculpting had taught him how to hear the calling, the silent scream of whatever form lay trapped inside the rocks begging him to free it.

He’d followed his guts like so many times before and laying a palm on the cold, white alabaster, had known something waited in there. He’d bought the squared monstrosity, never stopped working on it since the day it had been delivered to his address. At every bite of the masonry blade, at every kiss of the chisel and caress of the rasp, its voice had been easier to hear, pushing him, constantly pushing him to keep going, keep working.

A couple had emerged from the stone and if beauty could hurt, by God, this one would in so many ways. Those two people were set to break any viewer’s heart. Nothing happy or gleeful about them, nothing about being lost in the fallacy of love; the pair stood in a tight embrace made of disillusion and reality. Rightfully so, because wasn’t love just that? Another form of pain? A delusion?

Aidan shook his head. Whatever love was for the average person, these two people he’d given life to scratched at the thick walls of his reticent heart. He didn’t care for such shit.

Much smarter to focus on his very real, very tired body.

Too bad the small motherfucker rock poked at the edge of his consciousness, staring from the opposite side of the room.

Not the colossal couple he’d just freed from alabaster. Oh, no, the one giving him attitude was a stupid overgrown pebble slightly smaller than his fist. Why was it even in the house? He’d cut outside, it made no sense for it to be there. “Shut the fuck up,” he grumbled, rubbing exhausted eyes with scarred, dirty hands.

Never a stone’s call had been left unanswered, but… fuck it, it was too much, too soon. He needed time to return human before starting a new project and besides, what could possibly be inside that little piece of shit? A fucking bug? “Fuck off.”

Of course, the nagging didn’t stop.

Ignoring the silent pull to the useless stone, he got up, walked to the other side of the room, picked it up and all but crashed it on his desk. “Better leave it alone, matey. Next time you bug me, I’ll turn you into sable. Ugly fucker.”

Aches pulsed and hissed everywhere; a thin layer of dust, crumble of wax, and sweat covered him, made his skin prickle. For all the good clothes had done to him, he might as well work buck naked next time.

Back in front of the new statue he stood, hands on hips, looking at it–tall and strong, fiercely beautiful in its message of pain. Perfect.

A sudden ray of light stabbed his eyes, made him jerk his head in protection. Fucking morning sun. Or afternoon sun. He had no clue. It was hard to tell the passing of time when he got lost in the wild, strenuous journey into the heart of a rock.

How many days had gone since it had been delivered and he’d started working on it, four? Probably more as not bruising the stone had slowed everything down. He’d heard fireworks in the distance, so Independence Day had come and gone. Hard to say how long had passed after it.

For days he’d eaten bread straight from the plastic bag or some other easy crap when hunger punched his stomach; had drank lukewarm water from bottles scattered everywhere; slept on the couch when he made it so far from the sculpture, although most of the times he’d pass out on the hard floor until discomfort woke him up, and he’d go back at the rock again.

Ah, but what an adventure, he thought with awe as he ran a hand over the side of the sculpted woman.

Now he was done, meaning he didn’t want to have anything to do with stones for the near future.

He took a sharp intake of air when the little rock on his desk poked at his mind again. No clue as to when but at some point, the cleaning crew would come, let’s see how the rock would like it. “If I throw you back on the floor, they will get rid of you. That’s right, they’ll throw you away,” he croaked, his damned throat hurting from not having talked in days.

Aidan sat down, stretched his aching legs in front of him, and tried to lean back on his arms; his muscles screamed in protest. 

Shit, he was in pieces, worse than usual.

Giving up, he laid on the dirty floor and closed his eyes–they scratched like sandpaper.

Bed. He craved a bed more than the next breath. Decent food. A shower. After that, the little stone would stop being a bitch and leave him alone. It was only a fucking pebble, a leftover from the couple and too small to have anything special in it, anyway.

He’d wait five minutes, no more, and he’d get up, order food, hit the shower and, finally, pass out on a real bed. Satisfied with the carved couple, clean, and with a full belly.

Just five more minutes.

 

THE AUTHOR

Beach bum and country music addicted, Viviana lives in a small Floridian town with her husband and her son, her die-hard fans and personal cheer squad. She spends her days between typing on her beloved keyboard, playing in the pool with her boy, and eating whatever her husband puts on her plate (the guy is that good, and she really loves eating). Besides beaching, she enjoys long walks, horse-riding, hiking, and pretty much whatever she can do outside with her family.

 

Find me:

On my website http://www.viviana-mackade.blog/

On FB

On Twitter

Amazon Author page

 

August WIP Wednesday

Hey guys! We missed WIP Wednesday in July because the first Wed of the month was July 4th. And then the first Wed of this month, I was on a rare vacation, so that let out that day, too. It made me realize that the first Wed of the month might not be the best day for WIP Wed here–I know a lot of other blogs doing things on the Wed of the month. So I decided to move it to the last Wed of the month.

The rules are simple: please keep your snippet to 500-600 words (I know sometimes that’s not a good stopping point–a little fudging is allowed) and no graphic sex–let’s keep the tone PG-13 for the general reading population.

I’ll go first–I’m currently working on the origin story for my Redclaw universe. In it, my heroine, Henrietta (“Rhett”) Bishop is interviewing for a job at the mysterious Redclaw Security firm–and it is not going exactly as she’d hoped…

 

He settled a pair of pince nez on his nose and glanced down at the open file. “It says here you can type forty words per minute.”

The Dragon Lady must have given the agency more than just my name. I forced my lips into a pleasant smile. “Yes sir, that’s correct.”

“You realize that is somewhat below average, yes?” His expression was kindly, even a little rueful.

“Yes sir.”

He picked up the top sheet and peered at it. “You seem to have interviewed with several organizations.”

“And was hired by all of them, sir.”

He lowered the page. “But you didn’t stay at any of these jobs. Why is that, may I ask?”

I gave him my stock answer. “Some of the assignments were only temporary ones. In some cases, I felt my skills could be better utilized elsewhere.”

He lifted a somewhat disbelieving eyebrow. “Mr. Billingsly of Haversham’s Insurance claims you broke his hand.”

“Mr. Billingsly’s hand was unfortunately where it shouldn’t have been at the time.”

His lips twitched at that. “And Mr. Steinbreinner’s foot?”

The instep is a very sensitive part of the body. A well-placed high heel can temporarily cripple a man if necessary. And if you open your eyes very wide and apologize profusely, it is possible to make it look as though your actions are merely very clumsy instead of intentional. Even if your intent was self-protection. “That was an accident, sir.”

He placed the paper back in the file and closed it. “Miss Bishop, I’ll be frank. Your shorthand is described as passable, though not always accurate. Nearly every company that hired you states you have excellent organizational abilities, and that you are both efficient and thorough when it comes to assignments. But your reasons for leaving some places of employment aside, most of your previous employers spoke of an unseemly forwardness and a general inability to know your place.”

My face burned.

He continued without seeming to notice. “We’re at an interesting juncture here at Redclaw Security. Our business is growing rapidly, in excess of expectations. It’s more than one person can do to answer the phone, collate information, type up reports, and so on. And yet, at the moment, there isn’t really enough work for two people. We’re looking for someone we can delegate the less sensitive assignments to, thus freeing up Miss Climpson to handle the more critical information.”

“Yes, sir.”

“However, I’ve argued against taking on someone without, shall we say, the particular criteria I think necessary to work at such an organization such as Redclaw. Ryker disagrees.”

“Sir?” I cocked my head inquiringly.

“Mr. Ryker. Head of the agency.” Mr. Jordan removed his pince-nez glasses and polished them with a handkerchief. “Anyway, Ryker feels there are advantages in hiring ‘outside blood’, so to speak. I disagree, but then I am not the boss. I do have the power to hire and fire, though. And frankly, Miss Bishop, though I wish you well, I suspect you would not be a good fit for Redclaw. We need someone who can demonstrate discretion and, above all, a circumspect attitude at all times.”

I thought of the time Em had stayed out past curfew, and then had the nerve to sneak Tigh Brannaugh into our rooms overnight, or when Professor Helmsley hit on me in the chemistry labs and to speak out about it might result in a failing grade, or the most embarrassing moment of them all: Tommy’s drunken proposal. I knew when to keep my mouth shut and when to speak up. “I am very discreet. Ask Mr. Steinbreinner.”

 

 

So there you have it! Let me know what you think, and please drop a snippet from your WIP in the comments below! Everyone knows it’s just a rough draft–no one will hold that against you!

The Mature Writer: Accepting What You Don’t Want to Hear

There’s an adage for lawyers that goes something like this: Don’t ask a question in court you don’t already know the answer to.

The idea being that if you don’t know how the witness is likely to respond, you may have just opened up a whole can of worms you now have to deal with.

The same holds true for getting an opinion on your WIP. If you’re not prepared to deal with worms, perhaps you should refrain from seeking that opinion.

Last year I began a WIP (actually the origin story for the Redclaw series) and was writing gangbusters on it until a series of family tragedies derailed my writing for most of the last fifteen months. Before I’d abandoned the story, my critique group had loved it–they thought it was the best thing I’d written so far. I kind of liked it myself, and yet when I tried to go back to working on it again, I seemed to be stuck. Part of the problem was that my vision of the story had changed significantly from when I first began working on it–and the new beginning no longer fit well with older material. Part of the problem was that having just finished writing another story that had been difficult for me to complete for the same reasons as I mentioned before, I was having a hard time getting back into this older story. But I suspected I wasn’t being objective, so I asked my editor to read over what I had from a developmental standpoint.

Now mind you, I almost never let anyone read an unfinished draft. It took me a long time to get comfortable with the idea of having my critique group read drafts as they were being written. So it was a great act of trust to turn over this fledgling story to my new editor, but she’d done such a great job helping me get the last book to market that I decided her input was worth potentially hurting my feelings.

Here’s the feedback I got–and my reaction–more or less… (Go to the link if you want to see the crying GIF).

Developmental Editor: I love your WIP! The characters, the dialogue, the pacing–all fantastic! There’s just one thing… a small plot point that will require you to rewrite the first third of the story to fix. No biggie.

Me: Okay. I think I’ll go clean litterboxes now. Thanks.

Generally speaking, I’m usually my own harshest critic. I’m the one who thinks the story sucks, that I’ll never be as good a writer as I want to be. It’s not that I don’t want to hear that something is wrong with a story in progress–it’s just that I’ve probably already realized it and am beating myself up about fixing it. It’s one of the reasons I rarely share WIPs with anyone–I have to make sure the story has a strong enough foundation before I begin tearing it down.

That said, I’m usually an adult about criticism. If the recommended changes are something I vehemently disagree with (on the lines of “Oh, hell no!”), I’m comfortable saying so and ignoring the advice. More often than not, the critique suggests altering something relatively minor–playing up one plot point over another, or doing away with an unnecessary subplot. I’m not so precious about my work that I dig my heels in when advised to cut out two pages of pretty-but-useless exposition because it is slowing down the story, and I have a pretty darn good grasp of who my characters are and what they want in that first draft. Most of my failings as a writer are more from lack of quality to the execution than a misunderstanding of what the story needs.

But I’ll admit a little shock of dismay when I got back my editor’s critique. 

Unfortunately, she was right. The things she pointed out as flaws definitely need to be addressed–and I can’t move forward with the story until I do. She was also wrong–in that to her, this would be a relatively simple thing to fix. I don’t think so. I think it will require rewriting nearly every line from the beginning to where I am now. The changes she’s suggested can’t just be slapped on top of the existing story. Threads must be pulled, traced back to the source, and rewoven along the way. The recommended changes will alter the very fabric of the story by fundamentally altering the heroine herself.

And I really regretted opening that can of worms.

I resisted her recommendations. I made excuses as to why it couldn’t be done. I was on a deadline–granted, self-imposed, but on one just the same. This was the third time I’d started this story–did I really want to re-write it again from the beginning? Could I do it without irrevocably changing the tone of the story? Did I have enough room to tell the new and improved story within the scope of one book? 

Ultimately, my decision to capitulate was based on the irrefutable fact that she was right–and also on a scene between Lord Peter and Harriet Vane in Have His Carcase. I’m going to have to paraphrase, as all my books are packed for the upcoming renovations, but the gist of it is this: Harriet, struggling with the current mystery she’s writing, complains to Peter about the motives of her murderer. Peter tosses out a couple of suggestions, making Harriet realize that while he is right, changing the murderer’s motivations will be a painful process for her, both personally and as a writer, and she says so.

Peter’s reaction is somewhat brutal. “What difference does that make, if it makes for a better story?”

Ultimately, Lord Peter is right. And so is my editor. And whether it takes me another six months or a year to make things right with my current story, I need to do so. Because bottom line, what matters most to me is telling the best story I possibly can.

Some Things are Worth Saving…

I got back from a fabulous, once-in-a-lifetime vacation at the beginning of the month, only to fall into the excitement and busyness of promoting a new book release. Somehow, the days have flown by and August is halfway over.

Normally this would fill me with cheer because I loathe summer, August is one of the hottest and muggiest months around here, and September usually contains at least a hint of autumn in the air. But the rapidity with which August is passing serves only to remind me that our major house renovations are due to start soon–and that means putting most of the house in storage and living out of boxes for the months the house is torn apart.

I’m both looking forward to it and dreading it as well.

I thought I was ready, but was caught off guard when the tree guys called to say they were coming two weeks early. That meant I had to catch the feral cats and put them in their cat condos right away, no easy task. I can pet these guys, and medicate them if they’ll eat it in food, but that’s about it. There’s no picking them up. My vet comes to the house and jabs them with rabies while they’re eating tuna. So I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to catch them. It took about an hour with me tempting them with tuna and tossing it into open cat carriers. I finally stuffed them in and got them safely installed in their cat condos–four by six foot enclosures that we built complete with hiding boxes. There’s a little door I can open to put food and water inside, and scoop litter boxes. It’s going to be their home for the next four months or longer–you know how renovations go.

Two of the cats have settled in very nicely. They are eating, drinking, napping on their little beds, and using the litterboxes. The third is totally freaked out. Barely eating, peeing in the floor instead of the litter box, hiding all the time. I feel terrible, and yet I  know that if I hadn’t caught him, as soon as we began cutting the trees down around the house (where the cats hang out and sleep all day in the summer), he’d have taken off into the woods and started crossing the road again. I only hope he’ll settle in soon.

All of which made me realize I had to get cracking on the house–sorting what clothes we’d need for the rest of the summer, fall, and well into winter–as well as packing up as much as possible to go into storage.

I’ve written about my plans to ‘clean up my act’ before, and it’s always easy to announce plans–the follow-through is harder. Especially when most of us work ridiculous hours and come home practically weeping with exhaustion to another whole list of Things That Must Get Done. I fully intended to do the Marie Kondo method of tidying up, of sorting my belongings into what I love and what I don’t–and being ruthless about ridding myself of what I don’t love–but I’ve run out of time. I started out dumping clothing, DVDS, and books that I’m never going to use at again wholesale into boxes to take to Goodwill–but somehow, no matter how much I threw out, there was always more left. More and more when I asked myself, “Do I really love this?” the answer was no. And yet my will to rid myself of it grew weaker. Was it because of the extra step of taking it to Goodwill? Or because I wasn’t 100% sure if I loved it enough to keep it or not. I’m not sure. I think it’s mostly that I ran out of time to be so precise.

We keep a lot of things out of inertia. It’s just too much effort to get rid of them. And sometimes we keep things out of guilt at the notion of throwing them out. I have boxes of old photographs of people I don’t know that I inherited from my mother, who inherited them from my grandmother. No one alive is left to tell me who these people are and what their stories were. If I had the time, I might digitize them and throw out the originals. But I don’t even have time to digitize my own photos. I find myself quite capable of dumping them all in a trash bag with scarcely a wince.

Clothing has been a little easier. Once I was late for work and out of clean clothes, and I grabbed a pair of black slacks out of the drawer. They went up as far as my knees and no further–and then I couldn’t get them off. I flopped around on the floor like a fish, cursing and wrenching fabric in an attempt to shed myself of the Saran Wrap clinging to my legs. Ripping the pants off, I huffed angrily as I peered at the label. It read size four. “Who the hell put size four pants in my drawer?” The answer, of course, was me. Sometime in my impossibly slim youth. So yeah, it’s easier to look at clothing and know I’ll never get into that item again, or that it’s so ugly, I have no qualms dropping it into the Goodwill stack. But there are graphic T shirts, with frayed collars and fading print, that I can’t bear to part with. Bleach stained, chewed on by the puppy, barely legible–and yet I still hang onto them because of the memories associated with them. The Fab Five Guys from Queer Eye would not be happy.

Same thing when I start to examine the pictures I have hanging on my walls. Some are family images–easy call to keep those. Others are paintings and drawings I’ve collected over the years, moving them with me from one house to another for decades. I find myself questioning do I really want to put the water color of the Shetland sheepdog (found in an antique store in Maine many moons ago) back up in the newly remodeled house? But if I dump it at a thrift store, will it just end up in the trash? It’s hard looking at things that had meaning for you at one time, and wondering if they still hold meaning for you today. Perhaps it’s time for new things to hang on my walls. I suspect there will be some purging, but there will be some retention out of sheer sentimentality as well.

At first, I was pretty good when it came to the books. We have over a thousand print books in the house (I stopped counting at that point, and we easily have double that amount). Spilling out of the available book cases, they’re stacked on nearly every available surface. Clearly there are some we’ll never read again. And the joy of giving away books is not only that someone else will have the pleasure of reading them, but you will have room for MORE BOOKS. It’s a win-win all around!

But after stripping out the majority of the ‘I’ll never read this again’ stuff, I found myself struggling to purge beyond that. While I might never read The Complete Works of Saki again, I probably will want to read the one about the person being reincarnated as an otter, and I share The Brogue with all my horse-loving friends. Ditto Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, and those nature books by my heroine, Jane Goodall. Photography books that I seldom open, but might want to some day. And honestly, am I ever going to read beloved favorites from my childhood again?

The answer is probably not. But there was never any question of keeping or purging these books. They definitely fall into the category of things I love. And that’s the interesting thing about Marie Kondo’s tidying up method. It doesn’t matter if you use the things you keep–you just have to love them.

Easy-peasy. They are keepers.