I’d Say

As I sat at my table stacked with books at the Artisans Fall Roundup in Parkfield, California, a man approached and asked me some questions about my writing. He was very nice and genuinely interested and curious about my poetry books. We talked about them for a few minutes before he decided to buy my chapbook which contains several poems and a few (very) short stories. He said his wife was a bit of a cowgirl at heart, and he wanted to get it for her. He said maybe they would read it over lunch.

Later in the day, when it was almost time to close up shop, the man and his wife came by my table again. He said, “’I’d Say…’ is the one.”

Not quite understanding, I must have looked blank as I was trying to think of a response. He said, “Our daughter has died of breast cancer. We both thought ‘I’d Say…’ had a meaning for us.”

His wife’s eyes filled with tears. She seemed too emotional to speak. Compassion hit my heart like a hammer as we made eye contact. I said simply, “I am so sorry.” She tried to share a weak smile as they turned and left.

I didn’t really understand how they came to the conclusion they did about my little story, so I picked up my own book and reread “I’d Say…” Other than it being about a new day dawning, I do not know how it was that it touched them so, but I am happy to know it brought them a bit of comfort.

Here’s the story.

I’d Say…

I’d say … the work day begins in the soft light of morning. Maybe even before the stars fade away on the eastern horizon. The horses need to be fed … and the cowboys, too. For a lot of folks, it is the best time of day. Somehow even bad things don’t seem so bad and sadness can be soothed a bit by the early morning dark. And it is a new day … another chance at getting things right.

A little hot-coffee-sippin’ and maybe a smoke is good for easing even the orneriest old soul into a new day. That and maybe a plate of biscuits and milk gravy.

For me … well, I’d say … the best part of the morning might be the sounds. When you get out there closer to the horse corrals and hear them milling around, a little sneezin’ and snufflin’ going on … some hoof stompin’ when someone gets reprimanded for the audacity of space invasion. Good horse sounds. And after they’re fed and chewing up those big mouths-full of sweet smelling hay, I’d say … that’s the best time of day for those guys. You bet. Breakfast and a long drink of water …

And there is nothing like the sounds and smells of a good tack room … boot heels on a plank floor … the ring of buckles and bridle chains … The slap of leather or the soft sound of latigo being let down. The smell of good, oiled leather and horse sweat on yesterday’s saddle blankets can surely flare one’s nostrils. Not much better to look at in the mornings than a row of good using saddles. Even in the mid-light they can shine smooth and slick as summer horsehide where the wear spots are.

I’d say … it’s not a big time for a lot of conversation. Still too early … the cowboys all got their minds on the job at hand, and are maybe thinking about what’s in store for the day. Or maybe some are thinking about last night.

Once they get the last bit of business taken care of, they’ll lead their horses out a ways and and then set that cinch just right and step on. I’d say … there’s not a single one of them boys wouldn’t get a kick out of seeing somebody’s horse humpin’ up some going out the gate. A couple of “whoops” and a good-natured laugh gets the juices flowin’.

Somebody will probably whistle up the dogs, but those wily critters wouldn’t miss the ride out for the world anyway. I don’t believe any man looks forward to his job as much as those cowdogs do. Well, I’d say … except maybe a good cowboy.

My First Book Signing

My book signing is coming up in less than two weeks! I have over-used the word “excited” until even I am sick of it.  “Thrilled” is good. Thrilled makes me think of spine tingles and bursting fireworks and rollercoaster rides. So, yes, I am thrilled about the big event. I have received so much support and enthusiasm from friends and the kind people at Sol Treasures Art Center.

Book-signing-2-sm

My first shipment of books is due to arrive here tomorrow. Today it occurred to me that soon, a story that I wrote will be in other peoples’ households, on bedside tables perhaps, or next to comfy reading spots. I visualized when and where my words may be read: bedtime, coffee breaks, car rides, waiting for appointments. I wondered if other authors think about these things with as much wonder as I am.

I do worry about some aspects of the book signing event. Like, what if no one comes? It could happen. In fact, my awake time in the night (I always have plenty of that) is filled with mind-pictures of me sitting (NO, I forgot. NO sitting), of me standing by my table in an empty room feeling foolish. That is a totally useless and stupid thought because I know some people will be there. So I tell myself to think positive, and I visualize that same room full of people, happy people, laughing and talking and having a wonderful time listening to the great music (did I mention the music?). They ALL have a book in their hand! And there I am, chatting and signing and having the time of my life!

Waiting in the Chute

I think I know what those roughstock riders feel like. There they are, sitting down close and tight, hand gripping just right, maybe visualizing the ride and remembering to breathe. Can you imagine the adrenalin pumping through those pulsing veins? One slight dip of the hat brim, the gate swings wide and there they go, out for the ride!

I am ready to give the nod; ready for my gate to swing wide. My debut novel, Summer of ’58 is in the chute.

WP-Summer-of-58-Rodeo-Novel

In a matter of weeks, I will have my first novel in my hands. Getting to this point has taken an unbelievable amount of work and learning. The phrase “hang tough” comes to mind.

Before my story became what it is now, before I knew what I was doing or what I needed to do, I began querying agents and publishers. I received enough rejection notes to start all our winter fires in the wood stove. That is when the learning process began.

I knew I had a good story, a good novel, but something was wrong. After several breaks from writing and rewriting Summer of ’58, I decided to grab the bull … I learned what I needed to do.

I listened to people who I trusted to give me good information and fair criticism. I held tight to my characters, but rearranged their lives. I made some of their roles more important and some less so. I took them different places at different times. But I kept my story. I doubt that anyone, doing anything, is happy about receiving criticism. Disapproval stirs up the defenses, hurt feelings and causes anger and resentment, all of which make for a closed mind. Granted, some people handle critical comments better than others, but delivering constructive criticism tactfully is apt to be more helpful.

And so, I listened and learned and worked my creative juices to a pulp. I met Duke Pennell of Pen-L Publishing at the Western Writers of America Conference last summer, having been introduced by Rod Miller, fine poet and author and friend. Duke agreed to look at my manuscript. Soon after, Pen-L sent me a contract. Duke and Kimberley Pennell’s publishing company has made me comfortable with each step of this journey. Duke is direct and fair. Kimberly is good at (among many things) calming me down when I think I see a crisis coming. They both possess a great big sense of humor.

Now I’m learning about marketing, planning book signings and looking forward to knowing my book is in the hands of readers everywhere. Please join me here on my blog and on my author’s Facebook page, Janice Gilbertson Author, as I announce what’s next in this exciting ride.

Just In Time

They have done it again. Those wonderful people at Writer’s Digest magazine have come to my rescue. It is uncanny how they seem to know exactly where I am in my writing and what it is I need to be able to forge ahead.

I can see it now. Editor Jessica Strawser (after putting away her crystal ball) calls an impromptu meeting, gathering the workforce, and says, “Listen up wonderful people! Janice Gilbertson needs to know everything we know about book marketing so let’s get her some help going in the next issue.”

The staff rises, clapping their hands with enthusiasm (they know I am a big fan) and then hurry from the room to compile helpful articles. Well, maybe it doesn’t go exactly that way, but sometimes it sure feels like it. I have spent a lot of time thinking about book marketing since my first novel was picked up by Duke and Kimberly Pennell at Pen-L Publishing. This is a happy, exciting and nerve wracking time for me. I want to do this marketing business right. I want to make Pen-L and myself as proud as any publisher and author can be.  Lo and behold, when I opened my February Issue of Writer’s Digest I knew that help had arrived.

“Success Stories in Self-Promotion” is the best article I have read about marketing. In its beginning the article points out the importance of self-promotion no matter whether you have a print book or an e-book and no matter if it is traditionally published or self-published; marketing is the success of your book. The juicy parts of this article are the responses from seven authors who shared their strategies for success. They listed what they did to promote book sales and wrote about what worked for them and what didn’t.

The list is long. They covered social media, word-of-mouth, book clubs, independent book stores and connecting with their readers (audience); blogging, tweeting and so on. They told it straight and simple. What worked for one author didn’t necessarily work for another. Social media is the thing and though I knew that, I discovered new ways to reach potential readers. I felt calmer about my job after realizing that I can do as many of the idea listed as I choose, but that I don’t have to do all of them. Some won’t be for me. For instance, I don’t live in an area near small independent book stores and even though some travel isn’t out of the question, my rural lifestyle might hamper long trips. Other promoting that can be done electronically and also community book clubs appeal to me.

Most of the seven authors in the article were very–if not extremely– successful with their book sales. Their enthusiasm was contagious. I have spoken of my book on Facebook and of course here, where I have excerpts from it, but it is time to get the show on the road!

The Summer of ’58 is the story of a bright girl growing up in a small, middle-of-nowhere town in the innocent era of the 1950s. But Angela’s parents are divorced and her father has more than ignored his relationship with her. When she gets the chance to travel the rodeo circuit with him, watch him ride saddle broncs and experience a summer-long trip, she has no idea of the life-changing events she will encounter along the way. The summer becomes a journey of good and evil and honesty.

So my spring must become a journey of hard work to get my novel to my readers.

The End

Are you a writer? Do your big ideas vanish when you see that first glaring, blank page the size of a billboard on your screen? Does it flaunt its obnoxious emptiness in your face? I hear writers say that the beginning, the first sentence, or the first words are the hardest to compose. They start and stop. They delete or erase. They change the wording of the first sentence more than a few times. It is a struggle for them to get the feel and the rhythm of the story. It can feel like a warm up exercise, the stretching before the run.

Some writers love the plotting. They have an ability to take their readers to the brink of the twists and turns right away. They set the reader up for the roller coaster, the surprises they never could have suspected and those word masters waste no time (or chit chat) doing it. Good crime writers, for instance, can have me on edge by the second chapter! And mystery … who doesn’t love the suspense that escalates in a mindboggling mystery novel? Our hearts beat faster. We read faster, don’t we? We think we know what’s next, we read, we think, we read, we are … wrong! We are dumbstruck by the ending. That fabulous finish so expertly calculated; we NEVER would have guessed who done it.

Oh yes, the ending! That place in the story where everything begins to make sense. The doubts begin to lift like the morning fog. It becomes clear why characters made the choices, did the deeds, dropped the ball, did harm or did good, lived or died. Or fell in love. Aha, NOW we know. But wait, we don’t want to just know the pat answers. Nope, we want more. The story has been such a great ride. We don’t want to be let down with a namby-pamby, happily-ever-after ending. We want an ending with some meat to it. Those characters’ lives might go on after we close the book. What happens to the guy who went to prison? What about the couple who fell in love? The cop? The victim’s spouse? What would they want to happen next, if there was a next? As readers don’t we want to be left reflecting? We like the narrative to be powerful enough to stay in our thoughts for a while.

Endings are my nemesis.

I admit it. Endings are hard for me to write. Maybe it is because in life I want everybody (almost) to live happily ever after. I like that first blank page that others dread. For me it is exciting to begin a new story. I love building characters, getting to know them, letting them develop into people who live within my story. As I get to know them and understand why I need them, I write their descriptions in a notebook. (More about that another time.) Of course, because I rule, I can change them, or fire them, if there is a need to. For me, the plot develops itself in a way. I need to have an idea, of course, but then the characters and their individual personalities dig in and away we go.

But darn that ending. When the story is over everyone wants to drift off into the sunset, dusting their hands together, saying “See you later.” I have to learn to snag some of them by the collar. Say, “Wait a minute, you aren’t finished yet. Tell us what you will do when the book is closed, when you get out of jail, when you get married, when you lose another job or have kids. LIFE ISN’T OVER YOU GUYS!”

If I am able to revise the ending to my second novel to the satisfaction of my first novel’s publisher, then it may also have found its place. I worked on it for days and days. I thought about it, dreamed about it and wrote parts of it in the nighttime. I am not complaining. In fact, I enjoyed the challenge and felt like I was learning to be a better writer. I even clicked “send” with a smidgen of confidence. Here’s to endings.