Always cool

ambitionMan, it just never gets old. The box arrives. Your heart clacks like a freight train with a gazillion cars. You cut the box open, take out the stuffing and there. You get that first glimpse and have to pause for a second…is that really it? Is it really here?

You pick it up, run your hand over the cover, turn it over and read the back. Then you flip through the pages thinking about the hours it took, the characters you created.

Then you smile to yourself.

Broccoli and Books

Broccoli and Books – April 26, 2014Evil broccoli

Sometimes I feel as if I need to grab people by the shoulders and shake them while screaming, “but you HAVE to read
this book!” This form of persuasion usually overtakes me after hearing someone say, “I don’t read (insert some genre).”

If you don’t read a particular genre (romance, fantasy, mystery, military, sci fi), how could you possibly know if you’d like it or not? Isn’t refusing to try something from a different genre a bit like a child who refuses to taste broccoli before deciding he doesn’t like it?

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I changed my mind

change mindSometime ago I asked the question, To agent or not to agent?

At the time, (was it that long ago?) my agent and I had been relatively successful. We’d made a bit of money and I was still hopeful that some smart editor would read my mysteries and fall in love with my characters, my premise and my prose. I even wrote a series of adult romance novellas that I was sure would finally get me back into a traditional publishing house. The novellas were smart and good, I thought, and in the serial format that so many people want these days. Surely, someone would snatch them up.

After a long list of rejections, multiple rewrites and more rejections we did find a publisher willing to give my mysteries a try. I felt excited about being accepted finally, by a publishing house even though they were a small startup. The editor was experienced and professional, the previous projects they’d launched looked classy and interesting, and it felt good to know that this publisher was willing to take a chance on me.

In the end, I guess I just wasn’t willing to take a chance on them. I’d worked too hard, and waited too long and had nursed my projects so diligently that the thought of my books languishing away somewhere, unnoticed and unappreciated kept me up at night. It had happened to my first book ever published. I didn’t want to see it happen again.

I was left with a tough decision. Do I tell this person, my agent, the one that had been by my side this entire journey that I was ready to go it alone? After knowing that she’d worked so hard to find a home for my stories and encouraged me every step of the way that it was time to part ways?

I’d been saying for months, to myself mostly and to others when I had the courage, that if something didn’t happen by some date in the future, I would indie publish.  I kept changing that date in the future, moving the goalpost, still hanging onto hope, still thinking something different would happen.

Well it never did.

So, like thousands of people before me, I’m finally doing it. The good news is, I have so much material ready for print that I’ll spend the next few months simply preparing things for publication while trying to fit writing in when there’s time. By August, two of my mysteries, The Peacekeeper’s Photograph and The Sapper’s Tomb, will be published.  Sometime after that, the adult romance series of four novellas called Genuine Date, will also reach the market. And shortly after that, the third book in the Master Sergeant Lauren Harper series will be ready for publication.

Am I sorry that I started this journey by writing query letters and finding an agent? Absolutely not. As I said, we’ve had some early success with ghost writing memoirs and I would never have had those opportunities if I hadn’t been represented by one of the most patient, knowledgeable and professional women in the business. I still LOVE my agent. But I had to finally realize that a traditional publisher wasn’t going to get my stories. They weren’t ever going to agree that people who love mysteries might be intrigued by a smart, tough and yet feminine professional soldier who gets herself into and out of all kinds of interesting scrapes. My agent got it. The publishers didn’t.

So, off I go on my own. So far, it’s been an interesting, challenging and fulfilling ride. I can hardly wait to see how it will end.

Q: How long do I wait before changing agents?

After being with my agent for four years — has it really been that long? — I have asked myself this question. Through her efforts, I was able to secure a ghost writing job that ended up as a hardcover and paperback printing with a major publisher, a great paycheck, some good press, a few awards and another paid memoir writing job.  But even after all that, my fiction still didn’t have a home.  I wondered, was it my book?  Or was it my agent?

After a lot of soul searching, one particularly nasty rejection and some feedback from a great writing group; many of whom are contributors here, I can honestly say, it was NOT my agent. 

My agent has always believed in my work and while I’m going through major rewrites now, she waits patiently for the results. In fact, I’m almost happy she never found a publisher. The book that will find a home with a good publisher will be much better than the thing she’s been trying to sell for four years. They say things happen for a reason. In this case, I believe that to be true. 

Still, it’s hard not to ask the question when the rejections keep coming.  The process is slow. The news of a yes or no seems to take an eternity.  When that eternity ends with a negative, giving up or moving on to someone else seems like the answer. Read the link below to get Ally Peltier’s take on the question.  

Q: How long do I wait before changing agents?.

In Time, a poem by contributor Gale Deitch


The face is much like mine

in this photo, yellowed and cracked,

her lines soft, breast ample.

At sixteen, she gazes dreamily at the camera,

her eyes radiate innocence and expectations,

her life in Poland uncertain.

America is her future.

She folds her hands demurely over the skirt

of her printed cotton dress with lace collar.

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The last rejection letter

Yet another story about how the ebook and self-publishing are allowing so many authors to make their own decisions about what to do with their books.  Read how Canadian authors are jumping into the fray: 

The ebook is undoubtedly a game changer. Seems most, including the large publishing houses that would like everything to stay the same, are still trying to figure out exactly what the new game is.

After seeing my latest royalty statement from Touchstone, a statement that is nine pages long, reports numbers ending last September (why is it always six months old?) and filled with column after column of numbers, illustrates only one thing.  The number — fifteen percent, drives me a bit crazy.  In what universe does that percentage equal the hours and hours I spent at my keyboard?

Last I heard my agent has my latest manuscript with yet another publisher. If I get another rejection letter, I’m fairly certain it will be my last.

I’m a LOSER with a capitol ‘L’

I was thrilled to learn that the book I co-authored with Shoshana Johnson, “I’m Still Standing: From Captive U.S. Soldier to Free Citizen, My Journey Home,” was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. The book was one of five in a literary category for best bio/autobiography.

While I had little faith we would actually win since the competition in our category seemed insurmountable (Condoleezza Rice, Nelson Mandela, Jay-Z, Ray Charles Robinson Jr. … I mean, really?), I knew I couldn’t miss going to the star-studded, classic-Hollywood, red-carpet event.

It was an easy decision to take my brother, retired Col. Larry Doyle, as my escort, largely because the book is about Shoshana’s experience as a POW in Iraq. I credit the vividness of the Iraq sections to the convoy that Larry and I took from Kuwait to Baghdad together in 2003. Because of that trip and my own years in uniform, I was able to paint a clear picture of the sights, smells and feel of the place. Plus, Larry looks darn good in his dress blues.

We were headed for a place filled with celebrities. My brother and I were unknown nobodies from nowhere. Hollywood people would be snooty and rude. We would stand in a corner, ignored and feeling stupid.

Sometimes, it’s good to be wrong.

A woman from the NAACP Image Award committee came up to us early during the gala reception and encouraged us to just walk up to folks and say “hello.”

“Chances are, they’re nominees too,” she said, “and probably just as nervous as you are.”

We took her advice. Every person who I recognized, I approached and said I loved whatever show or movie featuring them I had seen. They were always gracious, friendly, and wanted a photo with us just as much as we wanted photos with them.

I’ve always thought the red carpet was a strange American phenomenon. Walking it, or rather posing on it, doesn’t make it any more understandable.

“Here, over here! Look here!”

One photographer actually shouted at me, “Own it girlfriend!”

The things I will remember the most: hearing actor Joe Morton tell my brother, “Thank you for your service”; seeing my homeboy, Prince, serve as a presenter; and when Lou Gossett Jr. saw my brother, he snapped to attention and saluted.

An unforgettable moment was when retired four-star Gen. Colin Powell walked down the aisle near our seats. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to shake his hand.

“General!” I shouted.

He stopped, took one look at Larry, then came back and shook our hands, smiling, obviously pleased to see a man in uniform.

Halle Berry (so skinny I thought she would break), Cicely Tyson, Vanessa Williams, Clarke Peters (from HBO’s “The Wire” and “Treme”), Samuel L. Jackson, Benjamin Bratt, Ruben Studdard … there seemed no end to the stars.

If there was anything disappointing about the experience, aside from not hearing my name called (Ray Charles’s son took the honor), was realizing the complete lack of understanding most people have for the Army uniform. After almost 30 years in the Army Reserve, Larry wears a respectable rack of awards including a Bronze Star. The silver eagles on his shoulders, one would think, are easily recognizable.

But no. One woman asked if he was in the Navy. Another asked if he was a private. Even worse, a man walked up to Larry and attempted to give my brother his parking-valet claim ticket.

But even the ignorance of the guests couldn’t dampen our fun. The show was great, we had fantastic seats, the food and drinks at both the gals the night before and the after-party were unbelievably good — and best of all — free.

My brother and I left the events exhausted, happy and filled with memories that will linger — long after that trophy would be collecting dust on a shelf somewhere.

Despite coming up a little short as an NAACP Image Award recipient, in my mind Larry and I walked away as big winners.

That’s winner with a capital “W.”

A proud moment

Two years ago, my agent asked me if I’d be interested in ghost writing a memoir. I’d never considered doing such a thing but the project seemed like a good match, so I agreed to try it.  I wrote a couple of sample chapters. The client and her editor liked them. They hired me.

The entire time I worked on the project, I worried. Could I tell the story well enough that people would want to read it? What if I do a bad job? What if the book is ignored? What if I don’t have the writing skill to do justice to the story? Every day I worked on the memoir I worried. 

Shoshana Johnson, a member of the 507th Maintenance Company, was taken prisoner in an ambush in the early days of the Iraq War.  Shana was the first black female U.S. Solder to ever be held as a P.O.W. and her harrowing experience had been largely ignored by the press.  What if I couldn’t do her story justice? What if I failed? I feared my failure would only contribute to her place in history being forever forgotten. People wouldn’t know how brave she had been. They wouldn’t know how harrowing the ambush was, how frightening each day of her captivity had been, what it took for her to get through the experience. I took the responsibility seriously. For nine months, every weekend, most evenings, every spare moment, I worked on telling her story.

Finally, in February 2010, “I’M STILL STANDING, FROM CAPTURED SOLDIER TO FREE CITIZEN — MY JOURNEY HOME,” was published by Touchstone. Still I worried. What would people think?

The first reviews were good. The reviews readers posted on Amazon were also very good. Still, I wondered if I had done everything I could.

When I heard the book had been nominated for an NAACP Image Award, I was able finally to relax. It felt like a nod, acknowledgement that I had done her justice. It makes me smile. I couldn’t be more proud.

The first stop for new writers

Agent I find myself repeating this website address to people all the time. For almost every question writing related I give this address. How do you find an agent?  How do you write a query letter?  How do you format a novel for submission? If you are breaking into the writing world either as a fiction or non-fiction writer, this website offers a wealth of information. You can also connect with other writers.