Thursday, September 13, 2018

Part 2: Tana Lovett Talks About Writing

Today, Tana Lovett continues talking with us about what she’s learned as an indie writer and from writing As Long as There Is Chocolate. She concludes her visit with us by giving advice for writers. Again, welcome, Tana!

When you develop characters, do you already know who they are before you begin writing? I would love to be the writer who has the whole story mapped out ahead of time. I've tried so many methods of plotting, but it all comes down to not knowing what will happen until the characters start talking. My style is very dialogue-heavy. When the characters speak, they surprise even me, and I begin to know who they are, why they are who they are, and what would motivate them to do the next thing.

Why do you write and what do you write? I write because putting my thoughts on paper keeps me sane, or some facsimile thereof. I write funny mainstream fiction with strong romantic elements and, apparently, a few friendly ghosts. I thought As Long as There Is Chocolate was a romance novel. It was a publisher I queried who told me it was "Women's Fiction." As I learned what that meant, I realized why my story felt like a square peg in the romance world's round hole. I write the kind of story I enjoy reading. My kind of story doesn't usually have sexy couples on the cover. It's longer than most romances. It has more segues to the story, a larger cast of characters, more backstory. The focus is on the growth of the main character(s) rather than the relationship itself, although Kate & Gio's romance is fun to watch develop.

How did you come up with the idea for As Long as There is Chocolate? I entered an assigned-title short story contest. What a great title! I wish I could take credit for it. For me, the title meant a funny, romantic story. I won first place in the contest and decided to expand it into a novel. I love Kate's snarky sense of humor and kind soul. I love that Gio can be pretty near perfect and still be relatable. I love what Kate loves about Castle Springs and the Castaldi clan. Strong bonds. Permanence. Stability.

Did you come across any specific challenges in writing As Long as There is Chocolate?
  • Feeling like I didn't know what I was doing. I'm not sure I'll ever get over the imposter syndrome, but I did learn to trust my gut more throughout the process.
  • Perfectionism. It's the enemy of being done. So many writer friends kept nudging me to let my little bird fly, but I couldn't stand the thought of someone judging my lack of skill. It had to be better. As perfect as I knew how to make it. I'm trying to change that with my current projects. Keep moving forward, warts and all, and let an editor help figure it out later. That's so hard.
  • Believing that there's a RIGHT way to write a book. Everyone's creative process is different. I thought that if I bought all the books, went to all the classes and conferences, got all the software and equipment, I'd become a writer. I learned that you become a writer by writing, and your way is likely to be different than the writing book writers and conference presenters. They're only sharing what works for them. Each one of those books says something different, because every writer is different.
What strategies do you use to interact with your fans? Attract new readers? I'm active on Facebook. I do have a newsletter, but I am anything but regular about sending it out. I was an avid blogger before I began writing books. I deactivated that blog because I felt it was unfair to talk so much about my family if I was going to try to become a public figure. My blog is severely neglected. Don't be Tana, writers. Don't be Tana.

How did you become an indie author? I made a goal of getting a minimum of 50 rejections before allowing myself to be discouraged. I think I sent out 27 queries, and got a lot of kind and encouraging rejections, before I got a contract offer. That company changed my title, created a cover, put the book up for preorder, pushed my publication date back twice, then dropped me before publishing the book. 

At that point, I was done with traditional publishing – for now. I hired a professional editor, redid the cover (I was a graphic designer in a former life), took back my awesome title, and RAN to the finish line on January 15, 2018.

What marketing strategies do you find most helpful? How do you reach your readers? What advice do you have for other writers? I have found some marketing success for limited periods by doing a free day on Amazon and setting up promotions to go along with it on sites like Freebooksy, RobinReads, and EReaderNewsToday. I've been told that doing 3 of the smaller sites at once is easier and about as effective as getting that coveted BookBub ad--and less expensive. (I certainly had results the first time I tried it.) I also do AMS ads, targeting the most popular books that are similar to mine in the keywords. I know the ads are effective because, when I decided to turn them all off, my sales disappeared like evil magic. All marketing gives a better return on investment if you have multiple books out. I'm working on that.

And, what’s next? I’m working on a romance novel, first in a series, called Bambi & The Billionaire. Three romance writers from Idaho--who have no love and adventure of their own--go on a European holiday of a lifetime.

What advice do you have for others who dream of writing? My advice to someone who has a book in them waiting to be written? Believe in yourself.

My grown daughter, mother-of-many, once congratulated me on getting my first book contract, saying, “Mom, I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t know you wanted to be a writer.” And it hit me. That’s a lot of years to want to be something. I hadn’t realized I wanted it so much, for so long, that my children were aware of it. I know I hadn’t been doing what I should to make it happen.

It made me think about others who might face the same situation. If I had one thing to tell them, it would be this:  Do not wait until you are the mother-of-a-mother-of-many to go after your dream. Trust your gut. Believe in yourself. Put your seat in the chair and write.

About Tana Lovett. Tana spent a nomadic childhood, routinely relocating with her mother and two brothers. When she was eleven, they spent the school year in a rural Colorado town, homesteaded, in part, by Italian immigrants. This was potent fuel for her vivid, pre-teen imagination, and the memory grew over time into her first novel. 

Tana now lives in the inland Pacific Northwest with her husband, Captain Awesome Man, surrounded by their great big family.

NOTE: If you missed Part 1 of Tana Lovett’s guest post, here’s the link

If you are in the Spokane area, Tana will be a featured reader  at Stephen Pitter’s Poetry Rising on September 19 at Barnes & Noble, Northtown.


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Part 1: As Long as There is Chocolate by Tana Lovett

I first met Tana Lovett at a local meeting of the Idaho Writers' League. I was charmed by her humor, her love of chocolate, her storytelling, and her hard work for writers at all levels. 

Her first novel, As Long as There Is Chocolate, tells the story of a young woman who starts her own business (a gourmet chocolate shop). Despite herself, Kate falls in love with the ‘deli man’ across the street. Along the way, we readers sympathize with Kate’s hard work to start her business, and hope, with the help of a few family ghosts, that all will end ‘happily ever after.’  Today, Tana tells us how she became a writer. Welcome, Tana.

What inspires you to write? People and their personal stories. One of the oft-repeated responses I remember receiving from my parents was, "nunya." (Short for "none of your business.") I learned to not ask too many personal questions, but I always kept my ears wide open. I remember interesting bits and pieces about people, and I'm sure I embellish them liberally in my brain. (Those parents, by the way, had some pretty fascinating details in their own lives.) I think I was born to tell stories. Another word I often heard from my parents was, "hush." Rather than speaking my stories continually, I learned to write them down.

Do you remember the first story you wrote? I do remember being told in early grade school that I had a gift for it. I didn't believe becoming a writer was something I could achieve. Only special people became writers.

One thing that stands out is an experience in my high school freshman English class. We were assigned To Kill A Mockingbird, and I fell in love with Atticus Finch as a father. We were assigned to write our own two-page test, and the teacher would compile a test from the best questions turned in. My test went something like this (mind you, the test was supposed to be two pages).

Page 1: Write a page about Atticus Finch and his relationship with Scout. What do you think about his parenting style? How is it different from that of your own parents?

Page 2: Write a page from the viewpoint of Mayella Ewell [the white accuser in a rape trial against Tom Robinson, an African American male in the Depression-era South]. What was her life like? Why might she falsely accuse Tom Robinson?

My reasons for my version of the test? I knew everyone else would be working on multiple choice questions or something, and I, as always, had to be different. I was done with the assignment in about 5 minutes. I thought I'd pulled off the most brilliant underachiever sleight of hand EVER. I knew that in the unlikely event my test was chosen, I'd slay it!

As it turned out, my test was chosen, and my anonymity preserved. The teacher only required that students respond to one of the writing assignments. The moans and groans from the other students were deafening when they realized they'd have to write a whole page. I chose the Mayella question for my response because I knew everyone else was more likely to choose the other.

Before the graded tests were returned, the teacher read my response (again anonymous) to the class. Several students commented that it sounded like it came from a professional writer.

Unfortunately, it took many, many . . . many years before I began to believe that praise was sincere and that constructive criticism did not mean my writing was bad. When I enrolled in a community college in my mid-thirties, a bulb lit in my head! Not everyone found writing enjoyable -- or easy. There is something special about that. I began to believe I could be a writer.

Thank you, Tana! Come back tomorrow, September 13, for Part 2: Tana Lovett Talks About Writing. 

A Little About Tana Lovett. Tana spent a nomadic childhood, routinely relocating with her mother and two brothers. When she was eleven, they spent the school year in a rural Colorado town, homesteaded, in part, by Italian immigrants. This was potent fuel for her vivid, pre-teen imagination, and the memory grew over time into her first novel. Tana lives in the inland Pacific Northwest with her husband, Captain Awesome Man, surrounded by their great big family.

Learn more about Tana at
Audible link:
Amazon Author Page

If you are in the Spokane area, Tana will be a featured reader September 19 at Stephen Pitter’s Poetry Rising on September 19 at Northtown's Barnes & Noble.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

IWSG: What does cheesecake have to do with writing?

Tuesday night, I had a lovely visit with a local book club. Just 16 women and me, nattering away about writing and Standing Stones. Plus, we enjoyed a very good cheesecake.

These lovers of historical fiction wanted to know how I wrote and why I wrote this particular story. I tried to explain that we writers mine our experiences. A glimmer of an idea from what we experience from a trip, or a book we've read, and we're writing scenes.

For example, while doing research for Standing Stones, I read that during the Industrial Revolution, many suffered from starvation. At times, some thrown out of their homes were reduced to eating grass. An awful realization that historically and today, sweeping economic times can bring shifts in population and great privation. I wasn't sure how this could be used in my story, but the next morning, I awoke with a scene playing out like a movie: Moira discovers two women, dead on a path, grass stains on their lips.

Which brings me to IWSG's question for September: What publishing path did you take, and why?

Two incidents shaped why I'm a frugal and happy indie writer.

As an older than average writer (OTA), I began truly writing just after retiring. I went the traditional route with my first book. One top agent I still respect replied immediately with very specific reasons as to why my book was not marketable. I groaned but persevered. Responses from the next 50 or so potential agents ranged from form letters to no response at all.

Then an independent publishing company (forever nameless) asked me to submit a 10-page, single-spaced proposal and marketing plan. I dutifully completed all their questions and submitted the document. The response? A form e-mail that said I should hear within 2-3 months IF they were interested. Otherwise, I would hear nothing at all.

I popped that novel in the drawer and decided I could learn what I needed and do it myself. In the last decade, I've written 3 historical novels set in the 1840's in Scotland, Australia, and Canada, following the adventures of the McDonnell family. My writing since retirement has shaped travel and research, and I've had a blast writing for my readers.

Along the way, I've connected with (and learned much from) online writing challenges (NaNoWriMo and OctPoWriMo) and writing groups -- The Internet Writing Workshop, A Round of Words in 80 Days, and the weekly challenge to post a snippet from a work in progress, WIPpet Wednesday.

What's next? I'm playing around with a new genre: Contemporary romantic suspense. The story begins in Paris and is inspired by a lost medieval tapestry. I'm learning about art crime, museums, James V of Scotland, and story arcs for this new genre.

Calgary Zoo, Canada (Camp, August 2018)
For the coming month, cherish each day, and may your own writing go well! 

Thank you, Alex Cavannagh and co-hosts Toi Thomas, T. Powell Coltrin, M.J. Fifield, and Tara Tyler for IWSG's September 5 post. Click on over to the Insecure Writer's Support Group to read what others have written.