Wonder Boi Writes

And now I can tell you…

It’s 1 a.m. on January 20th.

In a few hours Donald Trump will become President of the United States. There are lots of people with far more reason than I to be afraid, but I am afraid for all the same reasons as everyone else. I’m also afraid for completely separate reasons right now. The two threads are unrelated but they are feeding off each other as helplessness and uncertainly abound in multiple areas of my life. The combination finally drove me from my bed at 1 a.m., so I’m going to put my troubles on the page in the hopes that they will then release me.

My tenth book was released earlier this week. It went up for sale way ahead of schedule. I don’t even have my author copies yet. I have never held this book in my hands, but it’s now available worldwide. That should be cause for celebration. Ten books in nine years is something worth being proud of. Normally I’d greet the occasion by popping the top on a $10 bottle of bubbly I’d had chilling for the occasion, the same way I had for the other nine releases.

But this time around, that happy moment was taken from me. This time I found out my book had gone live not from my publisher, and not because I’d been counting down the hours on my own. This time I received word that the story I’d worked for a year on was in the hands of my readers, because one of them wrote to tell me someone had trashed it on Amazon. Or rather, someone trashed me, because the “reviewer” hadn’t actually read the book. They’d merely seen the price, the price I had no control over, and decided it was too high, and therefore the book itself deserved a one-star review, followed by a series of nasty comments.

Reading the comments there in that moment made my heart feel like someone had jammed it into a shoe two sizes too small. Not only were people saying the book was overpriced, they dragged my character into the mix for “condoning” this perceived greed. I was shocked, and, I’ll admit, hurt. At no point in my career have I had one ounce of input  on the price of my books. If you’d asked me a week ago what my ebooks sold for, I would’ve had to look it up. Contracts vary widely in this business, but I have yet to see one that designates pricing to the author, and because of this, I honestly didn’t know how prices are set, other than the publisher has to somehow come to terms with distributers, warehouses, and retail outlets in a delicate and balanced web.

What I did know was that this was a conversation I shouldn’t have had to even think about for two more weeks, because the book wasn’t supposed to be available for two more weeks! Close to Home was supposed to be on presale exclusively on the Bywater website January 1st and then go to wide release on January 31.

I immediately contacted my publisher, saying, “Is my book supposed to be out yet?”

The honest-to-God, directly quoted response I got was, “#$@&%*! Amazon is now saying 1/31, but they are selling them.” Then there was lots of talk about warehouse dates, release dates (when books are supposed to ship to retailers only), and publication dates, (the date books are supposed to be shipped to readers). This was the first I’d head any of this, and even knowing it all now, we’re still not sure why Amazon would ignore the dates posted on their own sites.

What followed was three days of meetings and phone calls and emails and frantic pleading. But pleading was all I could do. I have no control over any part of the listing once the book goes to our distributors. And this entire listing for Close To Home was a mess. The shipping date was wrong, the blurb was wrong, the price was wrong. By yesterday, the amazing team at Bywater had spent countless hours working and worrying and reworking the listing to make up for a mistake we had nothing to do with. I didn’t understand this until now, but apparently a publisher sets wholesale prices and pre-sale prices, then from there retail prices get calculated and then large retailers use those figures to calculate their discount prices. If anything goes wrong in the process the whole chain must reset and restarted. My publishing team stepped up like champs and put in tons of hours, doing massive amounts of work most of my readers will never know about.

And then we waited. Because despite the fact that when big companies want something, they demand it immediately, people like me have to wait up to ten days for our work to be fully recognized by their system, and during that time we are bound by legal contract not to offer or even advertise a lower price than the one listed publically on their website. In short, we were trapped for up to ten days.

Ten days of worry.

Ten days of not being able to answer questions about a price I had zero control over.

Ten days of watching the nasty comments pile up under the name of a book I was so proud to have written, from people who hadn’t even taken the time to read it.

Ten days of silent helplessness and fear as I watched my sales ranks hover in the nether-regions of the lesfic charts.

Ten, long, sleepless nights.

As I slipped out of bed a few moments ago, I pulled on the sweatshirt my wife had left out and sneaked into my son’s room. I leaned close enough to breathe in the scent of his ninja turtle shampoo and place a kiss on his soft cheek. I watched his dark lashes flutter, and I tucked the covers a little closer to his chin. Then I stood back and wondered what I would tell him six months from now.

Summer. That’s when I’ll start to see my first royalties from Close to Home. Do people know that? Authors with mainstream distributers generally wait at least six months before they see a penny of their royalties. After Amazon takes their hefty cut (look it up) and distributors are paid and the typesetters are paid and the ebook formatters are paid and the copy editors are paid and the substantive editors are paid and the cover designers and marketers and taxes are paid, I will get my percentage.

When that time comes, what will I tell my little boy about why the check is so much smaller than usual? Thankfully his other mother makes a steady enough income, so we won’t be faced with the choices too many Americans will have to make under a new President. We are blessed. My son will have a roof over his head. He will have food on the table and medicine if he needs it. My wife will make sure of that, but my book sales, small as they may be, pay for things like Little League and trips to the ice cream parlor. My piddly royalties pay for trips to the movies when the summer days get long and hot. That small portion of what’s left after everyone gets paid is what allows my son to buy the new pair of summer shoes he’ll need, because instead of using the brakes on his bike, he drags his heels and wears out the rubber.

What will I tell him then? How can I possibly explain that someone I don’t know made a mistake, and a company I don’t work for decided to sell my books ahead of the presale for a price $1.20 above what some people deem my books are worth? Can he even comprehend that because my books got sent out before we had the chance to shave $1.20 off the price a multinational distributer considers fitting for a genre romance, people who didn’t even read the book decided to write bad things about me online, and for ten days no one bought any of my work?

Look, I don’t mean to be overly dramatic. My kid’s not going to starve. This isn’t a sob story. There are people in the world way worse off than we are, people who would feel blessed to know their biggest problem would be extra spending money six months from now. I’m not asking anyone to host a fundraiser for my family’s Little League expenses. I’m not asking for anything. I’m just rambling because if I don’t get the absurdity of that chain of events out of my head, I’ll never get back to sleep.

This is not my most thoughtful, professional moment. This is my most human moment.

What’s done is done. I’ll never be in charge of the pricing on my books, and even if I were, I couldn’t have those ten days back. I can’t have a do-over on the release of my tenth book. I can’t regain the hours of sleep I lost or the tears that fell as I looked at my sleeping kid, knowing the months I spent writing something we could all be proud of weren’t enough to overcome a $1.20 price discrepancy. That’s not an easy thing to swallow and keep down for ten days … or eight now … or whenever I can legally tell anyone this story.

When that time comes, I will post this blog. I’ll fall on the mercy of this community I’ve been so proud to be a part of. I’ll pray for calm heads and open hearts. I’ll swallow my pride and ask readers to go onto websites like Amazon and Goodreads and Facebook and give Close To Home an honest review. I’ll hope the good ones outweigh the bad, but mostly I hope people will review the book on its merits. I’ll try to believe the work I did on this book and the work I’ve done as part of this community over the last nine years is enough to overcome things I have no control over.

And yes, if I’m being honest and human right now, part of me hopes the Internet trolls will be drowned out completely, but I also hope this doesn’t become about them (After note: I’m serious. Please don’t feed the trolls. Ignore them). I want more than anything for Close to Home to start different conversations, ones about love and regret and missed chances and second chances. I want this book to start conversations about redemption and courage and the resilience it takes to be queer in places were conformity rules. I want to talk about the transformative power of love even under dire circumstances. I want to give that to our beautiful community right now, and I do have faith in their ability to give that back to me as well, eventually.

But for the next ten days, I wait and I worry, my sense of helplessness about global events compounded by the helpless I feel about my own ability to provide for my family. As I pace the floor in the wee hours of the morning, I think about new ways to save a few dollars every week. I kiss my kid and I watch the clock. I pray and I check Amazon three times a day. I wrack my brain trying to think of ways to make things better, to drum up sales, to personally refund people the $1.20 they are so upset about. And I try to tell myself everything will be okay.

Or maybe it won’t be okay this time around, in which case I’ll go back to the drawing board and start over again with book number eleven. That’s my job. It’s a job I’m blessed to be able to do. I love giving voice to our community. I love telling our stories. I love empowering queer women to believe in their right to a happy ending. I just hope Close to Home gets one, too.

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January 31, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Close To Home Wide Release

Hey Friends,

Just a quick blog to let you all know that Close To Home is now widely available in both print and ebook. And once again, it’s early!  How early?  I don’t even have my author copies yet!  You all have the rare chance to hold a book in your hands before the author does.  How lucky are you?

So, for those of you purists who were waiting for the feel of pages between your fingers or longing snuggle up with a smooth cover against your palms, the time is now!

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And just look at that amazing, Ann McMan cover?  Doesn’t it just scream to be read under a blanket on a cold winter weekend?

What are you waiting for?  Go ahead and buy it now so you’ll have it in time to spend the weekend in Darlington!

 

 

January 17, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

What’s in a Darlington Romance

Hi Friends,

So my new book, Close To Home, has been available at www.bywaterbooks.com a little over a week, but since it was released ahead of schedule (first time that’s ever happened) I’m still playing catch up a little bit. I had intended to do a series of blogs leading up to the release to build anticipation, but I figure that you’d rather just have the book first and get the blogs to fill in as we go, so that’s what I’m doing now.

The first thing I want to talk too you about is the first thing most people notice about the book, the cover.

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The amazing and talented Ann McMan gets all the credit for this one.  Isn’t she fantastic? She is better than anyone in the business at capturing so much  more than 1,000 words in a single image. Go ahead stare at it for a minute or two. I certainly have.

And while you’re at it, take note of those three words between the title and my name.

A Darlington romance.

For those of you who have followed my work for a long time, that’s a new subtitle, but it’s not a new concept. If you’ve read either The Long Way Home or Timeless (or both), you will recognize the name “Darlington” as belonging to the fictional Midwestern town where those books take place. Close to Home is set in the same world.

I’ve struggled a little bit to figure out what that means, but first of all, let me be clear about what it doesn’t mean.

  1. It doesn’t mean this book is a sequel to either of those books.
  2. It doesn’t mean they were written as series, hence having to label them retroactively.
  3. It doesn’t mean you need to read these books in any sort of order.
  4. It doesn’t mean you need to have read the other books at all.

Close to Home is a stand-alone romance, as is The Long Way Home and as is Timeless (They, too, have been labeled as Darlington romances retroactively).  That isn’t to say that people who have read the others won’t recognize some character crossover.  Characters from all three books appear in the others, as do some landmarks that readers have come to recognize as synonymous with Darlington; however, those are the things that most significantly tie these books together.

Honestly, that connection is hard to define. So hard to define, in fact, that we almost didn’t use the Darlington romance moniker. The commonalities of these books goes so much deeper than setting or character connections. The Darlington romances ultimately share a sensibility much like the Midwest itself, complex layers, homey and hostile all at once.  It’s the longing for front porches and lightning bugs, laced with a silent vigilance carried by all those who cannot conform.  It’s a love of a place that can’t love you back.  It’s a quiet kind of defiance that allows only the most stubborn to stick.

These are romances about ordinary women living ordinary lives in the most ordinary of places who still find the strength to fight for extraordinary love stories.

If that sounds like your kind of book, pick up some Darlington romances today and read them in any order you like.

January 11, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Close to Home Early Release!

Hi Friends,

2016 has been kind of terrible for so many of us that when I have the chance to share good news, I want to shout it from the rooftops or cling to it like a life preserver. This week I got some news like that.

My newest novel, Close To Home, came back from the ebook formatters way early.  It wasn’t slated to be released until February, but since it was ready anyway, and since we can all use some good news right now, Bywater decided to get it up on their website a whole six weeks early!

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You can get it and read it right now!

But wait, there’s more. Because of the early release date, it now falls under our holiday sale!  So if you download it now (through January 4, 2017) and use the code yulesave25, we’ll take 25% off your entire purchase!

So yeah, you get an ebook more than a month earlier than expected and for cheaper than expected.

Honestly, I don’t know why you’re still reading this blog, because you should be in the Bywater web store by now, but if you really need more information.  Here’s the blurb:

Kelly Rolen is a CPA—she’s smart, she’s focused, and she’s worked hard to build an orderly career and a respectable life in her hometown of Darlington, Illinois. Everything is precisely as it should be. Well, it is until her father suffers a debilitating stroke during the busiest time of her year—tax season. Suddenly, Kelly finds herself overworked, exhausted, behind schedule, and forced to hire an intern to meet her deadlines.

Elliot Garza is young and brash, but she’s also a talented accounting student who is charismatic, driven, and solely focused on completing her internship so she can escape from the bleak Midwestern town to Washington, DC and her dream job. She knows she has the professional skills necessary to do the job well, but she is less certain about her ability to handle her beautiful, prickly, demanding, and compelling new boss.

In this fresh new romance from one of the genre’s top young authors, will Kelly’s past and Elliot’s future add up to something greater than the sum of their escalating attraction, or will the answer to their equation end up hitting too close to home?

So there will be many more blogs about the story and the characters and the setting and the ways in which they all connect to my larger body of work, but by then the sale will be over, so really, go buy it now, and then make sure you sign up to follow this blog in the weeks ahead!

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December 31, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

25 Songs of Christmas Day 25 – Silent Night

The gifts have all been opened, the food all eaten, the clamor of celebration has begun to fade.  All that’s left to do is reflect.  Reflect on this Christmas as well as the things of that first Christmas that still calls to us all through the ages.

Luke Chapter 2
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. 
This was the first enrollment, when Quirin′i-us was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; 11 for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”[a]


15 
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 
16 And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; 18 and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Merry Christmas to each and every one of you, and may the God of all creation, Emmanuel, be with you all, come what may.

December 25, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

25 Songs of Christmas – Day 24 – O Holy Night

Tonight is Christmas Eve. We will spend it with my in-laws.  There will be food and there will be presents.  We will avoid talking politics.  It will be fun and hectic.  Then we will wrestle the kid into a shirt and tie and hustle off to church.  Church will be packed, and we’ll get there early because we take up a whole pew, and then we will keep my son, my godson, and his sister as calm as possible until the service starts.

And then the first strains of music will ring through the sanctuary, and I will lay it all down.

For 24 hours I will let it go.  I will approach the manger tonight in trembling awe and coursing wondering.  I will see the Christ child in the stable and in the faces of people around me.  I take the burdens of my life off my back for a little while and lay them at His feet.  I will bow my head and lift my voice and say, “Emmanuel, thank you for being with us.  Thanks for loving us enough to stand by us, then, now and always.”

I hope each of you can find a similar sort of peace on this Holy Night.

December 24, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Christmas Song Blog Day 23 – Belleau Wood

Today’s song blog is yet another reminder of a time when the world seemed on the brink of destruction.

I don’t feel the need to elaborate much. The lyrics tell the story, but I will say that I chose it as a reminder to myself that “Heaven’s not beyond the clouds. It’s just beyond the fear.  No, Heaven’s not beyond the clouds. It’s for us to find it here.”

That’s a Christmas message I’d like to carry with me, both as support and as a challenge, all year long.

December 23, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Christmas Song Blog Day 22 – Almost There

Today we travel.

If all goes well, 11 hours of driving will carry us over roughly 600 miles of middle America to our family home. Despite the modern conveniences, at times it still feels like a journey of Biblical proportions. And when we arrive there will be room at the inn, but not necessarily peace. We will feel relief and joy, but our relationship with our destination, the town and the people who fill it, is complex (see my Darlington Romances for more on this). There will be more stress than usual this year due to the current political climate. And yet there will also be Christmas, with family and love and church filled with golden light. Today’s song blog is a reminder that we are heading toward something worth celebrating, and we are almost there. It will help me keep moving forward amid all the reasons I have not to.

But more than that, it reminds me that beyond this trip, beyond my own life and my own limited view, the angels can still see redemption’s plan still unfolding.

Lonely road, a willing heart, I pray for strength to do my part.

I want so badly to be a part of the solution, of the healing, of the redemption. I am trying to trust the Father to provide bread of heaven, prophesied, but it doesn’t feel like we’re almost there. It feels like there’s so much to be done and miles to go before we sleep.  I feel helpless and frail and afraid of what comes next. I don’t know what that is. I don’t know where we go from there, but Christmas is a reminder that no matter what we are to encounter, we do not have to do it alone. Christmas is the answered prayer, Emmanuel.  The plan is still unfolding. The prayer is still being answered.

Emmanuel. God with us.

God with us, as we travel this holiday and as we travel the long, winding road as a nation, as a world. And in that sense, the sense that Christmas has the power to bring hope and peace and renewed strength to face the journey ahead. We are almost there.

December 22, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Christmas Song Blog Day 21 – I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day

Today’s song is one of my modern favorites. Not for its joy (It almost always leaves me in tears.), but for its power. It’s based on a Longfellow poem written during the Civil War. His son had joined the Union army against his will and was severely wounded at the Battle for New Hope Church in Virginia.  Longfellow spent that Christmas not knowing if Charles would heal or even live.  He wrote of hearing Christmas bells and feeling disconnected.

And in dispair I bowed my head. “There is no peace on Earth,” I said. For hate is a strong and mocks the song of peace on Earth, goodwill to men.

This poem that was later turned into a song fits for me right now in so many ways. I do not feel the traditional Christmas joy.  I do not identify with the angel’s message of peace on earth, goodwill to men. Our country is more divided than I have ever seen it.  The wounds from the Civil War have been ripped open again, and added to them is a resurgence of hate and bigotry that culminated in the election of man representing all of those horrible ideals to the highest office. The darkness covers us now.

Today is the winter solstice. Light is in short supply, and in its absence the darkness overtakes me. I feel it in my bones. It seeps through my skin and settles over my heart.  Tonight I will sit in the cold silence and pray for this night to end.  It’s a prayer I have become all too familiar with, but I know that others before me have prayed it as well. Throughout our history, we have begged God to return us to the light.

Till ringing, singing on its way, the world revolved from night to day, A voice, a chime, a chant sublime.

The light returned for Longfellow. The light returned to America. The light will return for us, slowly, painfully, incrementally, sixty seconds a day. That’s the way the world works.  It revolves from night to day. One minute of light at a time amid an ocean of darkness.  So small it won’t be detectable at first. But like one candle that lights another, the next day it will double. Then bit-by-bit ,those minutes will become hours. One voice will become a choir.  One protest will become a movement.

Then ring the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead nor does He sleep. The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth goodwill to men.

December 21, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Christmas Song Blog Day 20 – Sweet Little Jesus Boy

I used to hate today’s song.  It didn’t fit with my understanding of Christmas.  I use to think the manger was cute, with all those animals, and the shepherds, and the idyllic golden light.  When I was a child I thought like a child, and this song is not childish.

Then I became an adult.  I came out.  I studied history and politics.  The Bush administration lasted eight years.  I saw how unfair the world could be. Christmas came to mean something less perfect and more radical. I saw the dirt and fear and oppression.  Then I gave birth myself.  It was scary and bloody and painful, and even with all the comforts of modern medicine, it was still dangerous.  I think that’s when I really understood the horrors of the manger.

And still, I didn’t fully fall in love with this song until recently, because I didn’t see any real plus side in pointing out how awful giving birth in a manger really is until I let it sink in that this wasn’t just any sweet little baby who we made be born in a manger.  This was God.  The savior of the whole human race.  The person born to bear the sins of the world. This was the long-awaited Christ child, and we didn’t know who He was.

Jesus came into the world of circumstances and still showed us how to love God and love neighbor. He taught us that the greatest among us must serve.  He taught us that whatever we do to those least among us we do to God.  He lived his life to show us how to be our best amid the worst the world has to offer. Two thousand years later we are singing prayers that say, “Please forgive us, Lord. We didn’t know it was You.”

That’s not for nothing.  That’s a reminder, every day, no matter what else is going on in our own lives, to look into the depths of human despair, at the grimy, at the dirty, at the bloody, at the foreign and the frightening, and to say, “Is that You, Lord?”

Because the answer to the question is alway “yes.”

December 20, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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