Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Figuratively "Into the Storm"

Been awhile, hasn’t it?

I’ve been working, and in trying to stay focused instead of working on three or four different projects at a time like I used to do, I’m focusing on this latest manuscript. Hence, I’m neglecting the blog.

But I’m excited about my latest work in progress. For some reason, when people hear “Canadian historical”, most groan, expecting the usual angst driven books that Canadians hail to the skies. I have always been a great fan of commercially popular books instead of the esoteric literature so much heralded in Canada.

I’m editing this one for about the third or fourth time. When I first wrote it, I intended it as a romance novel. However, when I read it over and did some additional research on the outbreak of WW1 and the impact it had on Alberta ranches and farmers, I found exciting and unexpected facts. It’s true what they say, that truth is stranger than fiction.

I’m now re-working it completely as historical literature, because this story is far too rich to be hindered by the romance formula. Yes, there may be a romantic interest (though that is not completely set yet and may change), but the unexpected turn in fortunes for the people of Western Canada take precedence over marketability, (sorry, future potential publishers). This is just a case of a story that needs to be told, since there is very little in the historical books and virtually nothing in fiction for this era.
Image that became, and continues to be, my inspiration for this novel.

Working title is “Into the Storm”, a tale based on fact a few months after the declaration and recruiting started for the army. A young woman is fighting to regain the farm her father almost lost through gambling and plain laziness, with the help of an elderly couple, refugee slaves from the Civil War via the Underground Railway fifty years previously. The newly married black couple were taken in by the young woman’s grandfather when they travelled west, after reaching Ontario, with a dream of having their own land, but instead stayed on at Spruce Haven farms. Now, fifty years later, they were old and unable to help young Cally Haven bring the failing horse breeding back to life. Cally is forced to seek help from a stranger who escaped the aggressive recruitment techniques of the local women, more patriotic than the soldiers themselves, how insisted all able bodied men join up, whether they wanted to or not.

Tom Booker is newly arrived from the south, formerly Calgary but spending the last few years working on a casual basis on various Montana cattle farms. Soft spoken, easy going, but always restless, he decided to take the non-paying job on Cally’s farm to escape being kidnapped into the army. Very soon, he realizes why Cally is failing; horses are quickly becoming a thing of the past, becoming more for recreation than work, and farming is being taken over by machines, replacing horse power. He tries to convince her than cattle farming is the ticket to prosperity, the army already putting out the call for more grains and meat stock to feed the fledging Canadian forces overseas and domestically.

Reluctantly, Cally agrees though inexperienced in cattle husbandry. Tom agrees to stick around long enough to help her set it up, and uses his former connections to get a start-up herd from his former, wealthy and powerful employer in the Calgary area. But now lies of the problem of getting them north with no capital advance to use the railway or other transportation. There is also the issue of no men of army recruiting age being left to help drive the cattle north back to Cally’s farm.

I won’t give any more away, but the solution is true to history as relayed to me by an old-timer I met, as well as quite unorthodox, and begins the epic adventure of one of the last historical, overland, large cattle drives during a harsh Alberta winter. It is exciting and thrilling, and I felt it even as I did the research for this. My problem lies in that there is a love story involved here, but I really don’t to do this as a romance. I don’t want the exciting and unusual aspects of this story edited out to follow the romance formula. So, I think I have made the decision to write this with a view towards literature with a romance element included.

**Note: I realize this write up is probably sloppy, but I wanted to muse aloud on this, since writing it down usually works to clear up confused thought, but I didn't bother to edit carefully, so forgive me. This entry is strictly self-indulgent.**


Now, on to the editing and re-writes, and excited to see how this goes.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Nothing Makes the Best Memories


Christmas has always been a time of great celebration in our house. The whole family went all out to decorate and help with the baking and cooking.

However, there was one Christmas when things were not so bright and shiny. When my son was two years old, we moved to Alberta from northern Ontario and stayed with my brother and sister in law, with their daughter who was six months older than my son. I was newly divorced and had no job prospects in Ontario, and at that time, Alberta was the place to be.

My mother had moved to Alberta six months previously, after a painful separation from my father. She was also living with my brother, and was an enthusiastic grandmother to my niece. When my son and I arrived two weeks before Christmas, finances were tight for everyone. My mother was subsisting on her alimony from my Dad, and I had only arrived and had not secured at job as yet. My brother, just starting in the welding profession, suffered long periods of lay-offs and was still studying towards his journeyman ticket, and my sister in law was a stay at home Mom.

As we sat about with our morning coffee two days before Christmas, we pooled our money, disappointed to find there wasn’t enough to get the children any gifts. All we gathered had to go to food. It was especially heartbreaking because the two kids bustled about the house excited about the coming of Santa. They were barely able to keep still enough to help string freshly popped popcorn, all we had for decorations. We had found a small tree in the bush and stuck it in a bucket filled with sand, borrowed from my brother’s sand bags piled in the truck for weight.
Popcorn and cranberry garland

After some thought, my mother suddenly perked up. “What do kids pay most attention to at this age?” she asked us, her eyes bright.

We looked at her, puzzled. “What do you mean, Mom?” asked my sister in law.

“Boxes,” she proclaimed triumphantly. “They always end up playing with the ribbons and boxes. If there’s a box, especially big ones, they always end up crawling around in them.”

All three of us smiled in sudden inspiration. “A box fort!” my sister whispered, so the kids wouldn’t hear. “Mom, that’s brilliant!”

My mother smiled, gratified. She hated being a burden on the family, and coming up with a solution to our problem made her feel like she had contributed.

With my brother gone for the day, taking his exams for his next welding ticket, it was up to us women to bring this unorthodox Christmas to life.  

We called a neighbor in the subdivision, and she agreed to take the two kids for the afternoon. She had three kids close to their age, and her house was normally chaotic, so two more would hardly be noticed. With three acres, on this nice warm winter’s day, she would simply throw them outside and let them run wild. This was perfect; it meant they would sleep that night.

We dropped the kids off, and in my brother’s rickety pickup truck, we headed to town. Carefully scouring the back alleys behind department stores, we quickly found refrigerator and stove boxes that were broken down and piled there after the stores had set up floor models. Like thieves, we raided the dumpsters and quickly threw the boxes in the back, driving away giggling.  

The hour long drive back home from the city was spent frequently stopping and fetching a box that had flown out the back of the truck. Stupidly, we had forgotten to bring tie-downs. Finally my sister in law slowed down and drove on the shoulder while Mom and I kept a close eye out the back. We couldn’t afford to lose our precious, albeit free cargo.


We went straight to the acreage and unloaded the truck before picking up the kids. We didn’t want them to see the start of their Christmas present. Piled safely in the garage, we congratulated ourselves with tea before heading out and picking up the kids just before supper.

After the kids were in bed, we concentrated on making homemade candy and baking for stocking stuffers. It was two o’clock in the morning by the time everything had cooled, ready for wrapping in saran wrap and used ribbons we had found from last year. Then they were hidden in the garage along with the boxes.

The next day was Christmas Eve. The kids were extremely excited. My brother went out and gathered spruce boughs from the bush surrounding their house. He had the kids help tie them together and drape them all round the house, to keep them busy. They hunted for frozen rose hips and strung thread through them, tying those to the boughs to give shots of bright colour. To our dismay, they insisted on having some indoors. My sister in law sighed, resigning herself to having spruce needles all over the floor by Boxing Day.
Frozen rose hips and spruce cones.

We prepared Christmas dinner, ready for cooking the next day. We also made tourtiere, a savory traditional Xmas Eve meat pie originating from Quebec. The kids loved it, and to this day it’s one of my favorite meals.

After bedtime stories and setting out cookies and milk for Santa including a carrot for Rudolf, the children remarkably went right to sleep. We could only account it to the day spent outside with my brother, gathering the materials for decorating the house.

Peeking in to make sure they were fast asleep, my sister in law smiled as she returned to the living room. “It’s time!” she announced. We all rushed out to the garage to fetch the boxes and stocking stuffer goodies.

My brother found a box cutter and we got to work, taping the boxes back to their original shape. Then we cut out windows and a door. My Mom found paint in the utility room, and she got to work painting colourful frames about the openings and shingles on the roof. She even took the time and effort to paint dots on the house, representing lights strung in bright colours.
By the time we had finished attaching three huge boxes together to make a large house structure, the painting done and the positioning complete in the middle of the living room, it was three o’clock in the morning.

We gazed at our creation with satisfaction. Stockings hung and stuffed the homemade treats on the outside of the makeshift house with the help of wire coat hangers, we went to bed to snatch some sleep before the kids woke us up early.

The next morning, we were awakened by excited squeals echoing through the house. We got up, knowing that two kids alone, two years old, could get into trouble before you could blink, so we hurried out to the living room.

We didn’t have to worry. They were crawling around their new gift, my niece already taking control over the game, babbling instructions to my son on his role.

Their makeshift gift was a huge hit. For days, we never had to wonder where they were. They both had naps inside the boxes, clutching their blankets, my son’s thumb stuck in his mouth. Their only disappointment was when we refused allowing them to take it outside and invite all the kids in the neighbourhood to play in it. We knew the snow would quickly render it useless and soggy. So, inside it stayed. We did, however, suffer about ten more kids from the surrounding acreages in the house for an afternoon.

Within a week, the poor cardboard fort was looking bedraggled and rough. We attempted to gain more life from it by taping tears and bends. By New Years Day, we were forced to admit defeat.

We shoveled the snow away from the fire pit in the back yard, put the poor old fort, all the spruce bough decorations and the bare tree that had dropped all its needles on our living room floor. After supper, we lit the pile. The kids were excited to have a bonfire, dancing a path all around it, laughing and singing like tiny pagans.

For years afterwards, no matter how expensive and elaborate the gifts got, they always mentioned that one Christmas when they got the coolest gift and had the most fun ever! We were reminded how simple and accepting children were. We tried to incorporate some aspect of that Christmas, my favorite being the spruce boughs, with its greenery and the scent that pervades the whole house, bringing back the memories.

Perhaps, we should just leave celebration ideas to children, for innately they understand the true meaning of Christmas far more than us cynical adults ever could.


Do you have any aspect of Christmas that was brought about by necessity, but endured because of the memories they invoked? 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Blog Tours: Do They Work?

Blog Tours: Do They Work?
My co-author and I are currently involved in an extensive blog tour to market our newly released debut novel. I should mention that it is under our pen names, not the name under this blog.
I was curious about whether they work or not. It is certainly taking precious time away from our next book in the series. We had to put it on hold while preparing for this month-long tour.

What is a Blog Tour?
Basically, it’s when an author arranges to go from blog to blog, the online equivalent to going from book store to book store, sit at a lonely table with copies of the book displayed, the author hoping someone will notice them sitting with an insipid smile on their face, hoping to sell a copy or two. 

The benefit of the blog tour is that no one can see the moronic look on your face as you attend, hoping for a favourable comment.

A blog promoting your title (and your name brand) can range from an interview, a review, or an essay type guest blog entry with links to your book and where to buy it. Often, a reward to your readers is involved, from prizes of some material item to gift certificates that hopefully the blog attendee will use to purchase your book. These tours will involve a number of stops ranging anywhere from 10, 20, or even 30 blogs spreading out from a few days to a month. If an author hired a promotional blog tour company, it can also cost a few dollars to over a hundred bucks.
On talking to a few writers and readers that I trusted would not be offended by my questions about blog tours, I have found a range of responses that go from fervent approval to equally fervent disapproval of the process, as well as all variations of colour in between.

The results were interesting, to say the least. I can’t pronounce an expert, since I’m a debut author myself and have little experience save for the current one we are participating in. However, the writers and readers who responded to this rather casual survey are old hands at it, so I had some data to come to my conclusions.

The Pros:
If done right, there is a definite gain in brand and name recognition, which after all is what most new authors aspire towards. This is vital to any new author who needs that recognition to increase interest and sales. The more “hits” you get on a search, the more places your name and title are exposed, the more curious readers become about your book. Name recognition is the bread and butter of writers, so this is a definite plus.

What do I mean by “doing it right”? Well, first of all, pick the right blogs. What good does it do to blog on a writer’s space if the only followers they have are other writers? Yes, writer’s and authors also read (if they’re any good), but it’s also a limited audience and not your main client. Find a blog that specifically targets readers as opposed to other writers. If there’s a lot of “how to” articles pertaining to writing, chances are their followers are there to avail themselves of the information. And who wants that information? Other writers.

But if the blog has information that book readers would be interested in, chances are they will have followers who are looking for books to read. If they have a large following and a long history, chances are that blog is gold for a guest blog opportunity. Readers want books to read, and writers want readers to buy their book. It’s an ideal relationship for everyone. It could also result in more reviews on your book, which research reveals, and most authors acknowledge, is the real tool that results in sales.

If a blog host gets an increase in traffic to their site because of hosting you, chances are very good they will want to host you again when you finish your next book.

And yes, it’s essential you finish another book. On an off-side, if you only have one book, I doubt very much if you’ll gain much name recognition, no matter how many blogs you are on. There may be a flurry of activity that reflects lots of sales at first (and only if you have the success of J.K. Rowling, which is extremely rare, I’m sad to say), but sales will soon taper off, and with no other material on offer, you will soon fade away to obscurity. (Again, see J.K. Rowling, who had a series of books in the same theme, which resulted in her being the spotlight for such an extended period of time. Can you imagine what would have happened if she only had that one book?) The release of a new book also sparks sales of any previous books by the same author that may have languished in the book stores or on Amazon. The more books, the more your name is more and more recognizable. So get writing!

The other pro is the chance to engage with your readers, or any new people who are looking for new and exciting books. If you can converse with these new people in a way that inspires curiosity, you may garner a new fan or two.

The Cons:

And there are many, unfortunately.

Unlike the old style of book tours in person, where the reader can connect with you one on one in conversation, or get their book signed (not at all like the computer generated signing they offer…it’s just not the same), online tours are removed, detached in many ways, and hard to make that connection.

There is also the expenditure of time and money; it takes hours out of a writer’s day to attend these blogs and reply to comments, sometimes arranged by professional tour companies that you paid big bucks for, and some comments from attendees of which are brief and of no real value. Many people come in to comment simply to get their names into the entries for the offered prizes and have little to no interest in your book, and doubtful they would even read it. In other words, Time + Expenditure =  Minimal Results, in most cases.

As I mentioned, if your promotional company does not have the right blogs, these problems are exaggerated. It’s critical that if you’re going to extend the time and effort, the readers have to be attracted. Aside from networking, other writers attending and commenting doesn’t do you a whole lot of good.

If you expect blog tours to increase sales, you’re going to be bitterly disappointed. It’s been proven, even by those greatly in favour of blog tours, that it doesn’t sell books. Yes, one or two in a large blog with lots of response may be intrigued enough to make a purchase (though it hardly ever happens), but that miniscule amount of sales hardly justifies the time and effort it takes. It’s been proven, by both writers and readers, that reviews are what sways a potential customer to buy your book, and certainly not on blogs.

Conclusions:

The benefits of blog tours are mostly for name and brand recognition, and perhaps conversing with your potential fans and readers. It’s also a great way to interact with your readers, and even get a hint of what they’re looking for from you as an author, and you become more “human” to them, especially if you can find that rare blog that has that rare combination of interesting topics, tons of followers and readership who are not just other writers, and engaging hosts who get involved with their guest bloggers to draw people in.

The drawbacks of blog tours are numerous. Time, expenditure, and disappointing futility are the basic reasons to perhaps either cut down on the amount of blogs you sign up for, or to cut them out entirely. A much better way to garner readership is to compose interesting blogs on your own and post them for your fans, or guest post on blogs that encompass your area of interest or work. Engaging articles pertaining to your area of literary expertise, information on how you researched or imagined your world you write about, and any other topic sure to grab the attention of others who share your curiosity and love of that particular subject. I have been fortunate of late of finding that particular ilk of blog, and only by months of careful research and refining my searches, and relying on myself instead of blog tour promotional companies.

I am an e-book published author, and unfortunately book signings are impossible for our kind. It drastically cuts down on the old fashioned but tried and true method of connecting with a reader. 

Also unfortunately, blog tours aren’t much more effective either. I can only speak, on reflection, as a reader, since my first novel was only published a few months ago. As a reader, I browsed for my books, got to know the author somewhat briefly through the odd article that inspired me to look up their own blogs/author sites, but mostly through good writing and interesting stories.

All I can say is, if you want to sell books, it’s more important to write them, and to keep on writing. The more a good book holds my attention and wants me to read more of that author’s work, the more I will be sure to buy their next book. So write…and keep on writing. And do not become so involved in blog tours that you forget to write that next book!

But if you decide to give a blog tour a go-round, here are some hints on how to make it a relative success:

1.  Thank your hosts. They took time out of their busy lives to promote you and your titles. They deserve your gratitude.

2.  Be there. Don’t book a blog tour and then not show up. That just shows you don’t find the reader important, which is arrogant and the biggest mistake you can make. The reader is the one putting bread on your table; don’t take them for granted.

3.  Get involved in the conversations. Readers are far more sophisticated than they ever were, and they demand more from the stories and their authors. Besides, it’s the best way to connect with these wonderful, creative people, and yes…readers ARE creative.

4.  Choose blogs that have a variety of styles built into it, with interesting topics to draw readers in. The same old format with the same old things being said soon becomes boring. That also refers to you as the guest blogger or person being interviewed; make sure you have some new and interesting tidbits to add to the conversation.

5.  Instead of blogs, research and join various sites to promote, with huge readership followings like The Romance Review, World Lit CafĂ©, Goodreads, BookBub, E-Reader News Today, and various others you can find by minimal searching.


Do you agree or disagree? What are your thoughts, based on whether you’re a writer or a book addicted reader? I’d love to hear what you think.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A blog to visit for mundane but important historical facts

A note to anyone who is looking for hard to find facts about Colonial life, or everyday activities in the 1700's in general. Sometimes these parts of life can be very hard to find, such as did they make their own jewelry or did they have them imported? How did they manage it when the blockades took effect, the English ships being denied port when the siege was on? What did they eat then? Did they even have sugar, or baked goods? Did they make their own shampoo or soap, and what was it like? Did they even bathe, or were they as dirty as they want us to believe?

Go here, and find out.
Lynette Willows, Author

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Release of the long anticipated "No Gentleman Is He"


★`*´¨`*´•.¸♥¸¸.´ !! AVAILABLE NOW !! `.¸¸♥¸.•`*´¨`*´★
NO GENTLEMAN IS HE
by Carley Bauer and Lynette Willows



★ Available from Smashwords and Kindle for just $4.99! ★

But wait!!! No Gentleman Is He can be yours for just 99c on our Kindle sale through this Sunday, the 10th!

Young, adventurous and widowed in a new land, Cassandra Courtney Brooks finds her dream of raising a superior breed of saddle horse slipping away with the death of her husband. Left with four horses, living in a tavern attic, and her scant savings depleting, she resolves to see her vision through to fruition by accepting the scandalous position of steward at Varina Farms.

Born in the image of his native ancestry, Colton Rolfe’s savage blood runs through his veins. Scorned by his father, Colt grew into a man of ill temperament whose only interest is the wild equine beasts on his plantation. His desire to breed his horses with the superior Thoroughbreds of the newly widowed Cassandra Brooks leads him to abandon societal rules. Colt’s growing resentment toward the Crown and his assistance to Sons of Liberty missions is complicated by the discovery that Cassandra’s father is a titled English nobleman.

Cassandra is soon forced to question the wisdom of her decision when she finds herself enamored with her employer. As fiery passion grows between them, Cassandra realizes her own spirit of independence, love of the land, and the savage man who is so much a part of it.

As the threat of war comes ever closer, wills are tested through gunfire, treachery, danger, and kidnapping. Does Colt dare trust Casandra with Sons of Liberty secrets? More importantly, can he trust her with his heart? And will Colt ever trust Cassandra enough to love her as she longs to be loved?

★`*´¨`*´•.¸♥¸¸.´ !! AVAILABLE NOW !! `.¸¸♥¸.•`*´¨`*´★



*Lynette Willows is my pen name in Romance*