So, How was Your Weekend?

A common question usually asked on a Monday morning, and the perfunctory answer is usually something along the lines of, “Great,” “Good,” “Fine,” or “didn’t do much; stayed in the house and chilled.”

I remember running this gauntlet Monday mornings at work. Truth be told, I live a reasonably uneventful life, and now that I work for myself at home, the weekend is like any other day. Why, I’ve been known to take a weekend in the middle of the standard work week.

This past weekend, however, was pretty darn special.

A Marketing I Go

For the past year, I’ve been stepping up my marketing of my written work using the guidance of The Write Services, LLC. I have a social media plan for each month with a specific, themed post for each day. (Mine go to Instagram, my Facebook Author Page, and Twitter. I’ll have links for each of my accounts, in case you want to follow, at the end of the post.)

This past Saturday (July 15) was National Give Something Away Day. I, and a lot of other authors, decided to give away a book. For the 15th and 16th (National Ice Cream Day), A War of Deception was free for Kindle.

Whenever you give anything away for free, there’s always a lot of interest. I was hoping for a modest boost into the top 100 of Free Kindle Books on the Espionage list. Actually, the top 100 would have been more than a modest boost. It would have been a moon launch.

Don’t Look!

I’m not one of those authors who checks on sales by the hour. If I did, I’d likely give up writing. In fact, I’ve avoided looking at the sales rank of any of my books. Midday on Saturday, however, I decided to take a look at how the giveaway of A War of Deception was doing.

Seventh in Espionage; 51st in thrillers; 125th in YA Thrillers. The latter, frankly, was a big surprise. There are no YA characters in my novel, unless you count the twenty-year-old college student.

To me, 7th was that moon launch. To see my book up there on the list with the Harlan Cobens, the Clive Cusslers, etc., was pretty exciting. Readers in search of a bargain downloaded 300 copies of my novel. I was content and pleased.

Excitement in Starbucks

On Sunday morning, I went to have breakfast at Starbucks and do a little #coffeeshopwriting. At about ten in the morning, I thought, “What the heck. I’ll go have a look and see if I’m still in the top 50.”

My gasp brought attention from a guy at a nearby table.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“Would you do me a favor and look at something?” I asked, showing him my computer screen.

“Sure,” he said. “What?”

“The book at number two, would you read the title?”

He gave me that, okay-I’m-talking-to-a-nut expression, but he looked and said, “A War of Deception by P. A. Duncan.”

“That’s me. That’s my book,” I said.

“Wow. Cool. I’m sitting next to a best-selling author,” he said, and went back to his phone.

In My Wildest Dreams

When you decide to be a writer, when you have work published, that phrase “best-seller” or “best-selling author” nags at you. It’s what you want to be, but you know the state of publishing; it’s never likely to be your book or you.

Of course, I imagined this for myself, but I’m a realist. I don’t call it pessimism. Rather, it’s a lifetime of things not going the way I anticipated or wanted. It’s not a pity party; it’s life. I suppose that’s why I’m not a big fan of romance novels or rom-com movies: It doesn’t always happen that way in reality. So, I’m a realist. I have stories to tell, I tell them, they get published, and that’s enough for me.

But, always, in the recesses of my brain are the two words that drive every writer: What if?

I got a great answer to that question this past weekend. For forty-eight hours, my book was a best-seller (Yes, technically, it was free; I’m using dramatic license.), and I was a best-selling author.

I’ll take those forty-eight hours, much as I did the screen shot of my book at Number Two, and keep on writing.

Which all means, when you’re the one who has to do your marketing, do it.

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Social Media Links:

Instagram: @paduncan1
Twitter: @unspywriter
Facebook Author Page: Phyllis A. Duncan, Author

An Interview with Moi!

Fellow author and Shenandoah Valley resident Allison K. Garcia interviewed me about A War of Deception and writing stuff on her blog. You can read it by clicking HERE.

Allison is also a debut novelist with her recently released Vivir El Dream. She’ll be featured in an upcoming issues of my newsletter “Secret Briefings.” Go to Contact the Author above to sign up.

Music Heals

“Musick hath charms to soothe a savage breast.”
The Mourning Bride, Act 1, Scene 1
William Congreve

For the past five weeks, as I’ve recovered from surgery and a nasty case of bronchitis (which hasn’t entirely faded), I’ve been the oft-misquoted being of the above quote–a savage beast. I’ve engaged in numerous online arguments, something I normally don’t do. I’ve snapped at baristas, strangers, family, and friends. I hate being sick, and I hate what being sick does to my mood. I’ve hated every word I’ve managed to write during this time. I’ve decided I’m a hack author who’ll never get more than three reviews.

Yeah, good thing I live alone, because living with me the past month would be a ginormous self-pity party.

Music

My social engagements have been limited in the past month as well. As an extrovert I do better when surrounded by people, but one of my early excursions after feeling halfway human again to a Starbucks for some #coffeeshopwriting resulted in people leaving the tables near me to sit somewhere else because of the coughing.

(No need to suggest home remedies or a visit to the doctor. The former don’t work, and I did the latter. This is a result of my usually well-controlled asthma, and there’s not much to be done but endure until it runs its course in five or six weeks.)

So, I hibernated. I didn’t even join my regular Google Hangout sessions because coughing. But one series of events I’ve always looked forward to since I moved to the Shenandoah Valley is the annual Heifetz Institute Summer Concert Series. (For more information on this incredible series, click here. If you ever needed a reason to visit the Valley, this should be at the top of your list.) How could I go, knowing the urge to cough comes on suddenly and lasts until I’ve coughed a lung up? (That’s called hyperbole used for dramatic effect.)

Music has always been important to me. I sing. I listen to many genres of music, depending on my mood: classical to soft rock to acid rock to opera to rap to… You get it. Music inspires me, calms me, excites me, thrills me, heals me. Music is always at my fingertips when I want it.

I skipped the opening Heifetz events but bought a ticket for “Stars of Tomorrow: PianoPalooza!” Piano performances are one of my favorite concerts. I looked forward to this, but my trepidation was there. Heifetz records all the performances. What if a coughing jag came on in the middle of the performance?

I picked a seat on the aisle so if it did, I could make a conspicuous escape.

Hath Charms

The first performance was a contemporary piece by Petr Wajsar for harpsichord, Harpsycho. The harpsichord is a beautiful instrument which produces amazing sounds, but this piece consisted of a lot of slamming of the keyboard, beating on the sides and bottom of the instrument.

I’m not a fan of contemporary classical aka “experimental” music. Sorry.

Next was a Brahms piece, Romance in F major, Opus 118 No. 5, a piano solo played with technical precision but with little passion.

“Musick” wasn’t soothing anything in me it seemed, and I kept expecting the tickle in my throat to manifest.

And then there was Stravinsky. Three movements from Petrushka: Danse russe (Russian Dance), Chez Petrouchka (Petrushka’s Room), and La semaine grasse (The Shrovetide Fair). Played by a Russian without the sheet music. When he closed his eyes and played with the controlled passion that’s very Russian, my spirit and my mood lifted with every chord.

As if that weren’t enough, next came Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C-sharp minor by Liszt, played by four hands and with some wonderfully timed and performed comic mugging by the pianists.

I felt better than I had in weeks.

Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, M. 60 followed by his La Valse, M. 72 had me floating on air.

I had to clear my throat a couple of times, but no coughing.

To Soothe A Savage Breast

I was so uplifted after this concert, I had trouble getting to sleep, the chords still running through my head. I slept through the night. No coughing, and I’ve yet to cough today.

Music heals.

As I said to a friend at the end of the concert, “I so needed this.”

This morning, my writing looks and feels better to me. I’m not a hack. I’m an author. I’m a novelist working on the next novel. I’m writing, and it’s good because “musick hath charms to soothe a savage breast” of its coughing.

Must be endorphins or something. 🎼😎

Best-Laid Plans

“The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,/Gang aft angly*.” –Robert Burns, from “To a Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough”

*awry

As you know, I look forward every year to Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia. The week-long workshop is the highlight of my writing year. This year, however, was special; the faculty asked if I’d be an alumnae reader. I was thrilled and honored, and because my first novel, A War of Deception, had just come out, it was also serendipitous.

“Class” Reunion

On Sunday evening after everyone’s arrival, we go to dinner, meet with our workshop instructor, meet our fellow work-shoppers, and go over the plan for the week. Because this was my sixth year at Tinker, this has become like a yearly class reunion. A lot of attendees are repeat “offenders.”

I was excited about my workshop, “A Writer’s Retreat,” led by Dan Mueller from the MFA program at the University of New Mexico. Mueller called this a “generative” workshop, meaning we’d read a short story the night before, receive a prompt, and come back the next with something we’d just written to share. It’s certainly a break from the typical workshop where you submit 20-40 pages ahead of time and come prepared to comment in depth on the work of every other person in the workshop.

I left the after-dinner faculty readings with anticipation.

Day One

Monday turned out to be a typical Monday. Nothing went right. I’d discovered the night before that I’d neglected to bring enough of a post-operation medication. Annoying and totally my fault for not double-checking or bringing the whole bottle with me instead of filling a pillbox for each day of the week.

A quick call to the doctor’s office, and he called in a prescription to a nearby CVS. After the afternoon craft lecture by Fred Leebron (on using and creating writing prompts; fascinating and erudite as usual), I walked back to the dorm parking lot to get my car and go pick up the medication.

On the drive there, I felt extreme fatigue, in that I wanted to take a serious nap. I attributed it to the fact I’d walked three and a quarter miles that day and I was 10 days post-op for heart surgery.

I got the meds and headed back to Hollins.

Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop used to be the only June event at Hollins. Then, they added a similar workshop for potters. In subsequent years they added a youth music camp and a youth dance camp. The quiet cafeteria became full and boisterous. The parking lots for the main dormitory became overflowing.

As I discovered when I returned from CVS. There was no place to park near the dorm, and by now my fatigue had become acute. After driving around a bit and waiting to see if someone freed up a space, I flagged down a campus security guard, explained my fatigue and its likely cause, and asked for some suggestions. The best he could offer was to park in the fitness center parking lot, close to the dorm but an extra distance to walk. It was all I had.

I took a nap but felt no better. I was still so fatigued, I asked someone to drive me to dinner. Again, I figured I’d pushed myself too hard, post-op. I decided a good night’s rest and driving myself to breakfast the next morning would mean less walking and less of a chance of repeating the fatigue.

Day Two

A good night’s sleep, and I was ready to go. As the day went on my energy level stayed steady. The workshop was great. I read a piece of flash fiction I’d written the afternoon before and got good feedback. Pinckney Benedict’s craft lecture on “Logos vs Pathos” was intriguing and thought-provoking, again as usual.

I spent the afternoon doing homework in the cafeteria, rather than doing too much walking, had my one-on-one with Dan, and was looking forward to dinner.

As I ate dinner, I felt the fatigue come on again, not as intense as before, but I decided to forego the student readings that evening to make sure I got plenty of sleep.

This time when I got back to the dorm parking lot, there was a parking spot, but by the time I reached the front door of the dorm, I felt as if I’d run a marathon.

In my room, I drank plenty of water and felt better, and I sat down to do a little novel revising. Around eight-thirty, a tickle began at the back of my throat. More water. The tickle became a runny nose, followed by constant coughing, followed by a sore throat and an earache, and sinus pain.

I’ve had hundreds, maybe thousands, of sinus infections in my life, and I knew what this was. Despite that knowledge, I was awake every couple of hours throughout the night coughing.

Day Three

By morning I knew it was time for Urgent Care, but I also knew I couldn’t drive. One of my writer friends offered to take me. A couple hours later, I was back in my dorm room with new meds and orders to rest.

Rest I was going to do because nothing was going to stop me from that Alumnae Reading on Thursday or so I thought.

And I rested, barely stirring from bed, and thank goodness for Hulu because it’s a dorm room. No television. Friends brought me lunch and dinner, but I only grew worse throughout the day and evening.

Tomorrow I’d be better. I had to be.

Day Four

I wasn’t better. If anything I was worse, and I should have expected that. I know how my sinus infections go. By now my asthma had become aggravated, and I made the decision to come home.

No Alumnae Reading, and I was pissed. At myself for getting sick; at my body for letting me down.

I’ve several, well, many decades of life under my belt, but in the last several years my usually reliable body has sabotaged me: a foot injury that took months to heal; episodic irregular heart rhythms that left me weak and frightened; a bout with shingles.

This past April in the midst of prepping for A War of Deception‘s release, I had a serious episode of irregular heart rhythm, so much so I had to go to hospital and get shocked back into sinus rhythm, followed a month later by the surgery designed to eliminate the problem.

Then, as I was beginning to feel like the old me again, a sinus infection and bronchitis took from me something I stood to gain validation from.

Aftermath

Now, don’t say I should have prayed harder or been a better person or that it’s God’s plan, because I’m a rationalist. Believe me, if prayer worked, I’d have been healed in a day. And I’m not a bad person; that threat of punishment over trivial matters is what pushed me away from religion.

No, I can’t and won’t accept my age, but I understand my anxiety about the surgery, which kept me from sleeping well for a month, depressed my immune system and helped bring this.

And, no, 20/20 hindsight is not useful nor appreciated.

I’m four and a half days into recovering from bronchitis, but since I have asthma, it takes me weeks rather than days to fully recover. Then, I expect the old me to make a command performance.

Oh, and they asked me to read again at next year’s Alumnae Reading. I’ll be there–one way or another.

 

#TMWW17

If it’s June it must be time for Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop.

I got a memory on Facebook the other day about my first time here in 2012 and how I was terrified of what was going to happen during the critique. I had plotted how I could pack up and move out in the middle of the night.

Turns out it was the best writing experience I had in my life. And the best critique experience. That’s good and bad. Good because I’ve grown so much as a writer because of it; bad because I now expect them all to be that way.

I’ve been every year since 2012, and each time I’ve been validated as a writer, I’ve established a wonderful circle of writer friends, and, frankly, my novel wouldn’t have been published without TMWW.

Trying Something New

This year isn’t the typical submit 40 pages for review and critique. I’m with Dan Mueller, who last year taught a flash fiction workshop in the traditional manner. This year, he’s going to make this a true writing workshop. We’ll get prompts and other inspiration, and we’ll write on the spot.

A daunting task to be sure, but I’m looking forward to it.

They Really Like Me

For the past two years a group of TMWW alumna and I have contributed money for an Alumni Scholarship. This experience has been so meaningful to me, I can’t help but provide part of the means for someone else to be able to get the benefits.

That, along with the publication of my first novel, inspired the faculty to invite me to do an Alumni Reading this Thursday. I was surprised and shocked then honored and humbled. It’s my Sally Field second Oscar moment: “You like me! You really like me!”

I’ve settled into my 1950’s style dorm room and am greeting friends as they check in, listening to Leonard Cohen, and writing this.

It’s going to be a great week.

Countdown to Book Launch – Three, Two, One, Liftoff!

As Dr. Frankenstein cried when lightning brought his creation to life, “It’s alive! It’s alive!”

On the stroke of midnight, May 26, 2017, A War of Deception began downloading to those who had pre-ordered it for their Kindles. And I’m giddy with excitement. And nerves because the launch day has only just begun.

First, a lunch with several of my writer peeps, then pick up the cake for the book launch. Get home, change, go to Black Swan Books in Staunton to set-up, and hope that people, you know, show up.

The Journey

A War of Deception began as a 2010 NaNoWriMo project. I had been retired from federal service for a year but hadn’t done much writing, the whole reason for my retirement. I was determined to have a viable rough draft of a manuscript, one worth rewriting and prepping for an agent search, at the end of that thirty days. The result was The Game, a story about a Russian mole in the FBI.

I put it aside for several months, as I do all my NaNoWriMo projects, and picked it back up in 2011. Boy, did it need work. That was rewrite number one.

Next, I sent it to some beta readers, who had comments, lots of comments. Rewrite number two.

Third, it went to a critique group, who also had comments and suggestions. Rewrite number three.

I queried a couple of agents and small presses and got feedback like, “You entitled a chapter, ‘Threshold. It should have been The Threshold.'”

I hired a professional editor, who found the holes I knew were there but couldn’t see, and along came the fourth and final rewrite.

At this point I decided to forego the agent/small press thing. I’d followed all the steps a traditional publisher would do, and so decided I would publish the novel, now entitled A War of Deception (based on a line of dialogue), under my own imprint.

Still, there was having it professionally proof-read, proving once and for all I’m the world’s worst typist, sending Author Review Copies (ARC) out for blurbs, and beginning the formatting process.

In between all these steps was purchasing a professionally designed cover, deciding on fonts, writing the back cover copy, creating a full cover (front, back, spine).

The formatting process was as easy as it could be using a Word template. (I’m likely too old to learn InDesign.) However, my OCD tendencies raged because I didn’t want widows or orphans at the end of lines and paragraphs, and on facing left and right pages, I wanted the last line on each page to be as closely aligned as possible. Try doing that on 407 pages of copy. And making sure every chapter started on an odd page, sometimes requiring inserting a page break, which often threw the entire file’s alignment off.

The formatting experience was good, in that I now have experience at doing this sort of thing, and that will enable to me to communicate well with the professional formatter I hire for my next book. It’s a been-there, done-that thing that I don’t want to repeat for the sake of my sanity.

Then, there was selecting a launch date, finding a venue for the book launch, and marketing. Lots and lots of marketing, something I have no experience with whatsoever. So, I did what I’m good at: I hired a professional to show me how it’s done.

In the midst of all this activity of the past six months, I had a serious health issue. Nothing life-threatening but certainly life-altering and fixable with surgery. I explained to my doctor that the book was going to come first, that this was something I had worked for almost my entire life, and I was going to experience it and enjoy it before surgery. He agreed that though the procedure was necessary, it wasn’t urgent. Still it cast a pall over what is undeniably one of the happiest times of my life.

And here we are.

The Result

Look for yourself.

A War of Deception M

For me, a momentous day. My first novel, dedicated to my father, who told me I could do whatever I aspired to do and to not let anyone stop me, and who I miss every day of my life.

Here it is, Dad. Thanks.

If you want one…

Kindle version: http://bit.ly/AWoDKindle

Paperback: http://bit.ly/AWoDPaperback

 

 

 

Countdown to Book Launch II – The Book Trailer

The Book Trailer became almost a must a few years ago, a brief infomercial for your published work. I looked at several of my writer friends’ productions–some made by them, some by their publicists–and thought, well, that’s something I need to do when my first novel comes out.

But, how do I do it?

As an independent author, I don’t have a publicist or a marketing department, and a writer friend said, “You’re a Mac user. Try iMovie.”

Okay. iMovie does provide a number of templates you can use for any type of short video. I looked them over, and none seemed to fit the theme of A War of Deception, i.e., Mai and Alexei are not twenty-somethings riding off into the sunset on a motorcycle. And there was the matter of not knowing how to use iMovie. Yeah, I’m pretty much a techie, but at this stage of my life a program has to be “plug and play” (Dated myself there, right?) because I don’t have the patience to trial and error it.

Then, a couple of weeks ago in a Facebook group for independent authors, I saw a post from a company called yourbooktrailers.com. Someone commented on the post, the tone a bit snarky, and said, “Nice, but you can do your own for free on iMovie.” Well, pre-supposing you know how to use it, smarta$$.

I looked at the page, examined the samples provided there, and decided to buy a short book teaser to see if I liked the product. I posted the book teaser here the other day, and I was thrilled with the 10-second teaser.

So, I went back and purchased a 55-second book trailer. The turnaround was quick–fewer than two days. There was a small error, and when I pointed it out, it got fixed right away. Again, I had to supply a graphic of the book cover (this time the front, back, and spine) and text for the description and testimonials, as well as links where to buy the book.

And here’s the result:

What do you think?

#fullmoonsocial

Manly Hearts and Banshee’s Croons*

Moon rising, full
Flashing pikes, a thousand
Singing river, a mass of men
Mud-walled cabins, eyes watching
Every foe and traitor, death
For freedom, hoorah
Moon rising, full

*based upon the Irish song of rebellion, “The Rising of the Moon”