Friday, June 10, 2011

What Would Nancy Drew Do?

As a writer, my passion lies in the telling of a story, in being able to take a single moment within the story and describe it with such vivid detail that the readers can experience that one moment as if they were living through it right along with the characters. I want them to taste the sea salt as they feel the cool ocean breeze on their faces, to envision the vibrant shades of red and orange filling the sky during a sunset, and to imagine the water sizzling as the sun dips below the horizon to take its nightly rest at the bottom of the ocean. I strive to create a story that captivates my readers as if they were inside the fictional world I have created, and if I am able to create the desire to visit the places in my stories, if it were possible, then I consider myself successful.

When I was young, I enjoyed reading mystery stories, specifically the sleuthing adventures of Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon. These are really the only books I recall reading as a child because I was able to place myself inside the stories and solve the mysteries with the characters. Although I could relate to the characters only on an enviously vicarious level, I truly felt like part of their lives. After finishing one book in the series, I eagerly anticipated the next. As I got older, I stopped reading for entertainment mainly because other things always managed to take precedence over spending some quality time alone with a good book. After I finally started writing again later in life, I purposely avoided reading the works of other authors, fearing that I might accidentally “borrow” someone else’s ideas. In fact, it seemed that every time someone discovered that I had written a book, the first question that person would invariably ask me was, “Have you read such-and-such by so-and-so?” Embarrassed by my answer, I finally decided that it was time to start reading for fun again.
The first book I read, or rather the first series, was ironically a children’s story called The Spiderwick Chronicles. When I learned that it was being made into a film, I went to see it with great anticipation. However, much to my surprise, I was utterly disappointed. At last, I could finally identify with all those people who swore that the books were always better than the movies. Of course, I realize that in order to fit the story into a ninety-minute feature film, certain things would have to be deleted. Then I wondered what would callously be edited out of my stories in order to adhere to the time constraints of a film. Alas, I came to the harsh realization that a great deal of my story would probably never make it to the silver screen . . . unless, of course, it became an epic motion picture event under the tender care of someone extraordinary like director Peter Jackson. Even then, much of it would still remain within the pages of the books, only to be discovered by someone who truly had the desire to know more about the characters.
When I began writing The Traveler’s Saga in 2005, my son had just moved out and I had plenty of free time to devote to writing. He moved back home after only a few months of being on his own, but his return didn’t intrude upon my writing time. By that point, writing had become an integral part of my life and I always made time for it. Three years later, I moved from the city to the small town of Port Orchard. I spent three hours each weekday commuting to and from work. Determined not to let that keep me from writing, I spent the forty-minute ferry ride on the way home working on my books. Still, I yearned for more time to write. Waking up at 3:30am to catch the first ferry of the day had started to wear thin, so it was probably a blessing to lose my job a few months after moving to the country . . . although I didn’t see it that way at the time.
In retrospect, I would have done many things differently regarding my move to Port Orchard, but if I had, I might not have gone down the road that has led me to this point. I found myself unemployed during the worst possible time to secure a job within corporate America, or with any other employer, for that matter. The country was in a recession and jobs were scarce. Tax incentives for big companies took many of the jobs overseas, leaving the rest of us to compete for lower-paying, part-time work with no medical benefits. For every job I applied, there were literally hundreds, if not thousands of people applying for the same job. To say that the competition was tough would be a gross understatement.

Just when I thought I would never be employed again, I landed a full-time job with a small, locally-owned company. I lost it three months later. This time I truly saw the loss as a blessing, however, because that job surely would have driven me crazy if I had stayed. I quickly learned that the job market was very much like the state of the current real estate market . . . buyers definitely had the advantage over sellers, and for every person who didn’t work out for whatever reason, there were hundreds more in the pool from whom to choose.
During my ninety-nine weeks of collecting unemployment compensation, I came to the conclusion that I no longer had any desire to work in corporate America ever again. I felt like a rebel who had a grudge against the man, but I wasn’t going to let that bitterness defeat me. I decided that if no one would hire me, I would start my own business. I finally liked what I was doing, could make my own schedule, and thoroughly enjoyed complete autonomy. If not for the fact that I wasn’t actually generating an income, it would have been perfect. The one major drawback to self-employment, besides being responsible for all the tax-related issues and the lack of a regular paycheck, was that I found myself staring at the blank computer screen with writer’s block more often than not. I knew my story and what direction it was going to take, but I had lost my drive to write. I was so consumed with ideas for my business and turning them into a lucrative reality, that I couldn’t do what I finally had all the time in the world to do . . . write.

Then an amazing thing happened. A friend told me that I wasn’t really using social networking to my fullest advantage. She had helped me set up a blog months earlier, but it remained empty. I already had accounts with Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace, but I wasn’t really using any of them. What my friend told me made sense, so I decided to dive right in and I started posting more frequently on Facebook. I started following people on Twitter, specifically publishers, editors, agents, and avid readers. Then I expanded my list to include celebrities, people of influence like Oprah Winfrey.

Before I knew it, I was following just about everyone who would follow me. It was exciting to watch those numbers grow, to see who was following me on Twitter – people from all over the world. I knew 98 percent of my “friends” on Facebook. It amazed me that I actually knew so many people. However, I was personally acquainted with only a few people on Twitter, so I was absolutely thrilled that these complete strangers were interested in what I had to say . . . well, I knew they weren’t really interested, but it was nice to think that they might be. I harbored no delusions about that. I did, however, figure out a few secrets about social networking along the way.

First lesson: Don’t load all of my photos into my business page at the same time; instead add just a few photos of my work on a more regular basis. If I just dumped them all in at once, people would look at my work once and forget about it. Naturally, I learned that lesson after I did exactly what I realized that I shouldn’t do.

Second lesson: The more people I follow on Twitter, the more who will follow me. That seemed pretty obvious because that medium is designed to work exponentially; however, I discovered that traffic on my website also spiked after each tweet. Now I had a working formula: make major additions to my list of people I’m following, tweet something about my books, reap the benefits. That seemed simple enough. However, I soon discovered that I didn’t really have anything to say except, “Buy my books.” That’s where my blog came into play; I could post that I had a new blog entry. Authors should definitely not over-market their books.

When I couldn’t find the time or the creative energy to work on my book, my blog became the perfect solution. I could write a little bit about short topics and have the satisfaction of completing something. I could remain connected to my books by writing about working on them, sharing some insights about the characters and even a few quotes from the stories. That’s when I learned my third lesson: If you’re going to have a blog, you need to be consistent and write on a regular basis. I’m still working on that, but at least I now have something else to post on Twitter and Facebook. There’s certainly a lot more to this social networking business, but I don’t want to spend any more time away from my real writing projects than I already have with all the tweeting and posting distractions.

As for Nancy Drew, her adventures helped to inspire me. She never let anything get in her way of solving a good mystery. If my own words and my stories can inspire someone else, I would be happy and honored by it. However, that’s not my ultimate goal. I just want to share with others the joy I found as a child immersed in the pages of a well-loved book. For what it’s worth, my advice for the day is to not let the business of life distract you. Don’t get so bogged down in the day-to-day problems and chores that you forget to follow your dream or do what you’re most passionate about doing.

Now to heed my own advice . . .

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