The Long Haul

I'm sure you've heard the trucking term “long haul,” or the phrase “I’m in it for the long haul.” Maybe “It’s been a long haul.” For anyone who writes, “the long haul” perfectly fits your chosen profession – or even as a hobby, if you see it that way. You’d better be in it for “the long haul,” because that’s what it will be if your goal is a long-term career in writing.

When I look back over my 35 years of writing, I can hardly believe how or when I managed to write so many books. Writing has to be a true passion if you want it to be your career, because sitting down to write that first line to a new book – a big book of 400 – 600 pages – over and over again (in my case almost 70 times) can be daunting if you look at the figures. Sixty-one books published – almost 31,000 pages, 9,150,000 words – and that’s just first drafts. Every single book gets heavy editing and a re-write – more editing before sending it in – and even more editing at the publishing house. And that doesn’t include the 8 other books I wrote that never sold, tons of poetry and many, many magazine articles, blogs and speeches. All of that would probably come closer to 35,000 pages and almost 12,000,000 words.

It’s been a “long haul.” I can’t even explain why the love for my genre is so intense, or when I found the time to do all that writing, let alone the thousands of hours of reading for research. I have file drawers filled with hand-written notes and hundreds of magazine articles torn from western/history magazines that I saved for future ideas. I’ve reached the point where I don’t even need to dream up ideas any more, or search through my resources. Stories and ideas just come to me, and sometimes I swear I am being visited by real characters from the past who want me to tell their story, which perhaps is why my readers’ most used comment about my writing is that “the characters are so real.” I never experience sagging middles or writers block any more. I never worry about coming up with yet another new book. What I worry about is living long enough to write all the books I want to write.

I remember wondering, when Louis L’Amour died, and more recently Janet Daily, how many stories died with them – books they might have written if they’d lived longer. I find that very sad.

Some of my own years of writing are a complete blank. I went through so much working full time, raising two active little boys, having two major surgeries (including brain surgery), two broken wrists (at the same time), all the daily chores of any woman working and keeping a home and trying to be a good wife – and somewhere amid all of that I wrote books – sometimes 2-4 books a year! And they were big, historical novels filled with real history, real events and locations. History was told through the lives of my fictitious characters. I read some of these books now and I am astounded at how much history and research is involved. I scratch my head and wonder when I did all of that. My only memory of managing to work and write so many books is that I seldom slept more than 3-5 hours a night. I remember falling asleep at the typewriter (yes, I started out with a typewriter, which makes writing all those books even more mind-boggling). The boys would be asleep. My husband would be snoring away – the house quiet – and even the dog would be sleeping. I was the only one awake and working.

I used to “sneak-write” at my secretarial job – and when most others got together or went out to lunch, I stayed at my desk and read my research books or proofed something I had already written. I even used to make carbon copies of my earlier books because I didn’t own a copy machine, and there was no such thing as hooking a printer up to a typewriter. I would take my typed chapters to work and sneak copies there on the company copy machine.

I still work outside my writing life. We are heavily invested in a family business and I do most of the bookkeeping, so I put in three to eight hours a day there, where I have a wonderful, huge office upstairs. The office is my pay. I don’t get a paycheck. My income is my writing. Be that as it may, I am still working another job while I write books, so my days are still long even though I am well beyond the normal retirement age. I will never retire because I would hate sitting around with nothing to do but pursue hobbies (of which I have none – writing is both my hobby and my primary profession) – or traveling all the time (that gets old and I would miss my grandsons). I have to work - and I have to write - the same as I have to breathe.

I have said this before and I’ll say it again – if you want a career in writing, you had better love the art and love your genre and never look at writing as work or even as a way to make money. For one thing, there isn’t a lot of money in it unless and until you have been in it for years and have several books on the market. I didn’t start making decent money until I had about 25 books on the market. Even then, there will be good years and bad years and even some years when you sell nothing. Now, with the help of reaching the world through my web site and through Facebook and blogs and Goodreads and any number of other internet access points, my writing has taken a very successful turn – and what is most fulfilling is that many of the books I wrote over 30 years ago are being reissued and becoming best-sellers!

If you are in this for the long haul, writing should be the driving force in your life. You should never have a problem finding time to write but rather, finding time to do everything else. You will lose sleep, sometimes miss parties or a night out. House work will often fall by the wayside, and you’d better have an understanding and supportive husband, because he will spend a lot of time alone watching TV while you are at the computer back in your office or your bedroom.

Writing can save you when you’re down. It can be a catharsis for your troubles. It can help you get well after surgery, and it can even energize your sex life with your husband. After all, you have to take out those love scenes on someone! I write gritty westerns with pretty hot sex, so when my husband walks in on me while I’m writing, he teasingly asks if I want to shoot him, or if he should get out the Viagra!

Do you want a career in writing? You’d better be in it for the long haul. I could probably write a book with all the details of my writing career. There are so many things I haven’t mentioned here – some events in my life that could have stalled or ended my writing career – but it was writing that actually got me through those trying times.

The stories keep coming. Since I can’t shut off my brain there is nothing I can do to stop the flow. And as long as the stories and ideas keep coming, I will keep writing and pray I stay healthy enough to continue. I am definitely in this for the “long haul.”

When Fiction Becomes Our Reality

In the Shadow of the Mountains
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBook | Kobo Books
Genre: Historical Western Romance
Release January 19, 2016
Published by: Diversion Books
Length: 673 Pages

Bold, headstrong, and passionate, the indomitable Kirklands struggled to survive in a treacherous, hostile land. From penniless settlers to wealthy mine owners to Denver's regal first family, together—and separately—they pursued their dazzling dreams of love and glory. From the era of the covered wagon to the rise of the western railroad, from the gold rush years through the golden age of the American West, IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOUNTAINS is the breathtaking saga of a remarkable family who endured tragedy and hardship to build a glorious mountain empire.
In my book IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOUNTAINS, about the birth and first 25 years or so of the growth of Denver, Colorado, I had my heroine build a monument to her father toward the end of the story. Her father was one of the (fictitious) founding fathers of Denver, and the monument was (in my story) in the foothills of the Rockies. After reading the book, one fan wrote me wanting to know where they could find that monument because she wanted to go see it. I had to explain to her that it doesn’t really exist. It was just part of the ending of my fictitious story. But that letter showed me just how real my characters become to my readers, and nothing warms my heart more.

Absolutely the most comments I get from readers are about how real my characters seem – so real that I have often been asked if my story was true or if this or that character really lived. Well, some of them did – when I throw in actual people from American history just to make the story more realistic and alive. But I never allow real historical figures to become an integral, active part of the story. After all, they really did live, so I can’t make up something about them because of that. However, by bringing these people into the story I make the readers wonder if my own (fictitious) characters were also real.

The other comment I often receive is how much real history my readers learn from my books, more than they ever learned in school. I am very proud of that. I try especially hard when writing about Native Americans, because so little of their true history is told, and young people think they just happily trotted off to reservations and were perfectly content to stay there. But think about it – how would you feel if ISIS came to your door and ordered you out of your own house because they were taking over. Wouldn’t you fight back? That’s all our Native Americans did. They fought back, but our government and the media at the time led people to believe all Indians were bad and vicious rapists and murders. That was so far from the truth, but people wanted to believe the worst, so we tamed down our original natives through disease, attacks, displacement and starvation, to the point that they didn’t have the strength or resources to make any more trouble for anyone.

I am glad my readers feel as though my characters really lived, because as far as I’m concerned they DID live. They are all alive in my mind and heart almost constantly. I wouldn’t be able to write these characters into realistic circumstances and feelings and situations if I couldn’t picture them truly alive myself. And when they come alive for me, I could write books and books about each one of them. That’s why I’ve written several trilogies and series-type stories – because the characters were so real that I didn’t want to leave them. When I finish a book I miss them.

I recently posted a message on Facebook that I was in “Jake” mode. I’ve been working on the edits to my third “Outlaw” book – LOVE’S SWEET REVENGE (Sourcebooks/September 2016). When I write these stories about Jake Harkner I tend to take on his personality – his – not his wife Miranda’s. I don’t know why, but I identify with the hero more than the heroine when I write. I can’t explain that because in real life I’m a glitzy girly-girl and most definitely a woman who loves her husband and loves being the “heroine” when it comes to love scenes in my stories. But when I write my very alpha heroes, I find myself feeling a bit empowered and wanting to strut around wearing six guns and daring people to cross me. I state my opinion about things whether others like that opinion or not. I don’t care if they like me or not or if they agree with me. I love carrying my own .38. And when Jake and Randy make love, I want to make love with my husband. We have a running joke between us – “Honey, get ready, because I’ll be working on a love scene.”

Yes, I’m weird. Most writers are a little bit crazy, I suppose, and our imaginations run rampant. But if you don’t have a wild imagination, and if you can’t “walk in the shoes” of your characters and feel their personalities, their thoughts, their emotions, and if you don’t fully understand their background and why they are the way they are, you can’t bring them to life in the pages of a book. I am so convinced that some of my characters really lived that I expect to see them waiting for me when I die and (hopefully) go to heaven. Zeke and Abbie Monroe from SAVAGE DESTINY will be there, as well as Wolf’s Blood and Swift Arrow – Caleb Sax from my Blue Hawk books will be there – all the characters from my Wilderness trilogy will be there – the Native American hero and heroine from my Mystic Indian trilogy will be there – and Jake and Randy Harkner will definitely be there!

I decided in LOVE’S SWEET REVENGE to start mingling characters from totally different books of mine into some of my new stories – i.e. – if a major character from one of my other books lived in the same area and same time period as the book I am currently working on, then why can’t he or she make a cameo appearance in my new book? I decided it was a great idea, and I incorporated it into LOVE’S SWEET REVENGE. I’m not telling how, or who this person is, but I felt I just had to mention this person because if they were vibrant and well-known and crucial to another book I wrote, it just seems to me they really lived and should logically be a part of my new book, just to make those older characters completely alive again and even more realistic – something to again make readers wonder if that person really lived. My editor liked the idea, and my readers can’t wait to find out who the “mystery character” is in LOVE’S SWEET REVENGE. I will try to do this more and more as things unfold. And, of course, bringing in a character from another book only urges readers to look for that book (if they haven’t already read it) and read that one also.

In the meantime – yes, we crazy writers tend to become so attached to our characters (especially when writing a series of books) that it seems they really lived. When I finish a book I am usually depressed for a while because I hate leaving these people who have become so real to me. And my advice to new writers is to find that “key” to bringing your characters so alive that they not only live in your heart forever, but also in the hearts of your readers! It will only make readers go and look for more of your books!

Are Our Books Ever Good Enough?

I just finished the edits to my September book LOVE’S SWEET REVENGE. One thing I advise other writers is that before sending a book in to your publisher, if there is anything about it that bothers you, fix it first. Ninety-nine per cent of the time it’s that very part of the book that bothers you that will come back to you with editor comments and/or requests for changes. It’s usually nothing major, but you still want to kick yourself in the butt for not addressing your concern before letting your editor read the book. Well, I didn’t follow my own rule, and a couple of places in the book that nudged at me as not quite right are exactly the places where my editor made comments and requests for a few changes.

The main reason I say you should address these things first is because if you get the book back with requests for changes, it’s hard on the writer’s ego. We writers are very delicate when it comes to our feelings getting hurt, because having your book criticized is like someone telling you your baby is ugly. “She’s so bald!” “Maybe you should have that little mole removed.” “Will his eyes always look crossed like that?” “She’s certainly a fat baby.” By not addressing the problems with your book beforehand, you’re asking for hurt feelings and worry and loss of sleep.

Don’t get me wrong. My editor loved the story and said it was very strong. That word “strong” is very important. “A page-turner” is also music to a writer’s ears. In this case, my editor thought the writing was terrific; but as sometimes happens with my writing, my biggest problem was being almost too realistic. I’ve been called “gritty,” and in this case I guess I was a bit too gritty. I had to tone down a few scenes. We are, after all, talking about Jake Harkner, and Jake Harkner can be quite ruthless when it comes to defending those he loves. He tends to “shoot first” and ask questions later, only sometimes it’s worse than shooting someone.

Also, the ending of my story bothered me because my heroine, Jake’s wife Miranda, came off just a little too weak. This woman has been brave and strong through this entire series and has faced so many life challenges by living with a wanted man who then became a U.S. Marshal in a lawless Oklahoma – a very dangerous job. She even rode with Jake once on the Outlaw Trail when they hunted for their wayward son who was in a lot of trouble. Jake Harkner is definitely not an easy man to live with, so after all she’s been through, I couldn’t turn around and make Miranda look suddenly too weak. When my editor commented on that very issue, I completely changed the outcome of the scene involving all of this. As expected, my editor LOVED the change – so what does that tell me? It tells me I should have written the heroine stronger in the first place. I wouldn’t have had to do all that re-writing.

One piece of advice I can give is that you can always call and talk to your editor if you’re really indecisive about something. Sometimes she can help you work it out. I didn’t call mine in this case because I was so “into” this ending event (and so mad at the “bad guys”) that all I could think of was to let Jake “do his thing” in handling these guys. When Jake is mad, I’m mad, and even I act before I think! I thought I handled everything just fine. But once I sent in the book and calmed down, that’s when I started thinking maybe I should change a few things.

It all boils down to most writers never being sure their book is good enough. LOVE’S SWEET REVENGE is my 61st book after 35 years of writing, and I still worry about each and every new book. Do I still have what it takes? Was I too repetitive? Did I work out all the events in a way that makes sense? Were my characters strong enough? Too weak? Too ruthless? Too needy? Were they likeable? Will readers understand and empathize with them? Was there too much sex? Not enough? Any gratuitous sex? (I hate gratuitous sex)! Did I describe the characters in a way that readers can “see” them? Was I too dramatic? Not dramatic enough? Did I stick to the time period as far as clothing and weapons and utensils? Did I repeat myself too much? (That’s my biggest weakness, but my editor is great at catching that.) Did I keep everyone’s hair color and eye color the same? Did I accidentally change someone’s name or inadvertently give two characters the same name?

There is a long list of things that need to be checked over before sending in a book. Overall I have to feel really good about it, and I feel really good about LOVE’S SWEET REVENGE. My readers are all in love with Jake and Miranda and their beautiful devotion to each other. They are caught up in the entire Harkner family, and this book continues their exciting story as they settle onto a ranch in Colorado. But Jake’s past refuses to leave him alone, and there are a couple of vengeful men from DO NOT FORSAKE ME who are not through with Jake yet.

Overall I was happy with this book when I sent it in, but we writers are our own worst critics, so once it was on its way to my editor I started thinking all the worst things, especially when it took my editor longer than usual to get back to me. That was due to her own schedule and because I write very big books – a good 600 pages – so the editing takes time. But the longer it takes, the more various scenarios start haunting me – She hates it! She thinks the writing sucks! She thinks it’s too much like the second book! She thinks the characters haven’t grown enough! She’s trying to figure out how to tell me the book is awful and I have to re-write the whole thing!

Well, when I got it back, it took me only few days to address every one of her comments. Editing is not an easy job. There is a lot of cutting and pasting and crossing out and replacing and even completely re-writing some scenes and sometimes deleting whole chapters. But I got it done, and as usual, my very thorough and talented editor was right in every single comment and suggestion. She has a way of helping make my books as strong as they can be and as well-written as my readers expect. I am one of those “seat-of-the-pants” writers. I use no outline – no synopsis. I just sit down and start the story and away we go. I write very fast and when I’m done I have to go back and make sure I didn’t leave anything out or commit some of the mistakes I mention above. Even at that, when you first finish a book you can’t see the forest for the trees, so it takes a good editor to “see” all the places that could stand improvement or maybe just clarification or “tweaking.” I am very grateful that I have one of the best editors at Sourcebooks. Her name is Mary Altman, and she loves my writing, which is a huge plus when working with an editor.

I can’t wait till my readers get to delve into LOVE’S SWEET REVENGE in September! I already have a fourth book planned about the Harkner clan!

Outlaw Hearts, Do Not Forsake Me, Thunder on the Plains & Wildest Dreams Goodreads Giveaways!

I'm offering signed copies of OUTLAW HEARTS, DO NOT FORSAKE ME, WILDEST DREAMS and THUNDER ON THE PLAINS as a Goodreads Giveaway!

Outlaw Hearts
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBook | Kobo Books | All Romance
Genre: Historical Western Romance
Release June 2, 2015
Published by: Sourcebooks
Length: 576 Pages 

A decades long love story of two people, united by chance, that proves love's lasting power and its ability to overcome all odds.

Miranda Hayes has lost everything-her family, her husband, her home. Orphaned and then widowed, desperate to find a safe haven, she sets out to cross a savage land alone...until chance brings her face-to-face with notorious gunslinger Jake Harkner.

Best of the Best Facebook Party!

I'm participating in the "Best of the Best" Facebook Party as part of the Get Lost in a Story 5th Anniversary Celebration on December 2nd starting at 9:00 am. It's a readers' party for every genre!!! Come celebrate 5 years of Getting Lost in a Story and with guest authors!! Giveaways and lots of fun.

The Writing Curse

I have discovered something about writing that I should have known for all these 30(+) years of sitting at the computer for thousands of hours and getting arthritis in my lower back and suffering shoulder and wrist inflammation and having carpal tunnel surgery and going through the incredible highs and lows of writing for a living … having the talent to write can be a curse!

The Vicarious Life of a Writer

I have decided that most of us writers have one thing in common – the desire to “be” like the characters we write … or perhaps we are only writing about ourselves. When you consider that we write in genres that we love, then we must be wishing we could actually live in another realm, or perhaps in old England, or in the WWII era, or maybe experience being a pioneer, or a gunslinger, or an Indian, or a doctor or nurse, a lawyer, an FBI agent, in the Secret Service, a King or Queen, a Duke or Duchess, an astronaut, a werewolf, a reporter, an actress, a vampire, a policeman, a fireman, maybe even someone who is single and wildly sexual, a model, a rock star, a football player. The list is endless.

Religion In Secular Fiction vs. The Inspirational Romance

Several years ago, after writing at least 50 secular historical romances, I decided I wanted to try writing (historical) inspirational romance. I have always had a desire to write faith-based books and I hinted at faith and Christianity in many of my books up to that point but never wrote straight inspiration. I sold FOLLOW YOUR HEART, WALK BY FAITH and WHERE HEAVEN BEGINS to Harlequin’s Love Inspired line, and they all sold well. WHERE HEAVEN BEGINS even won second place for the prestigious WILLA Award from Women Writing the West … but I was wrong to think I could stick with a genre that didn’t (in my opinion) involve “real life.” In a lawless land where people have to struggle to survive, sometimes what’s right and wrong gets all mixed up in the name of life and death. And in the Old West, which is almost all I write about, there was not much law, and there were few churches, and in many places none at all.

The Lost Summer

(or) How Writing And Our Characters Can Take Over Our Lives …

It’s been a while since I blogged about anything other than contests I ran for the publication of my 60th book, DO NOT FORSAKE ME; and for the reissue of all seven of my SAVAGE DESTINY books by Amazon. I just finished the third book about gunfighter Jake Harkner, LOVE’S SWEET REVENGE, and the manuscript is over 600 pages!

What’s In A Hero?

I have recently needed to re-read several of my older titles for conversion to e-books. After 60 titles and 32 years of writing, I can’t always remember exactly what happened in every book I wrote or who the hero and heroine were. So far I have been pleasantly surprised at how good the stories are and how “hot” the heroes and the love scenes are. Somehow I had the idea that “way back then” I was hesitant to get too racy with my love scenes, but gosh, they ain’t bad!