Annette's blog

Tonight, on the Stephen Colbert show…

My last two blog entries have been way too too serious. I thought I’d have a little fun. Here, then, is my appearance on the Stephen Colbert show. Please enjoy!

Stephen: “My guest tonight is Annette Drake, author of Celebration House, Bone Girl and A Year with Geno. She’ll tell us exactly what kind of bone Geno is celebrating.”

(Twenty minutes into the broadcast, Stephen Colbert jogs over to the small circular table and sits down. We shake hands. I smile broadly at him. Inside, I’m quivering. I just hope I don’t vomit.)

Stephen: “Okay, everybody, settle down. Settle down. Let’s get started. Annette, you’re the author of Celebration House, Bone Girl and A Year with Geno. All three have been optioned by Peter Jackson for development into motion pictures. What’s the deal, Annette? Can’t you write a book that doesn’t need to be made into a movie?”

Me: Laughter. “I don’t know. I wish I could. My problem is,” and here I take out Stephen’s book, America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t, “my books don’t come with 3-D glasses like yours do.”

Stephen: “Well, you’re no Stephen Colbert.”

Me: I lower my head in shame and mumble, “I know. I know.”

Stephen: “But seriously, I’ve got a beef with you. In Bone Girl, you make unflattering comments about Wal-Mart. How dare you. They’re an American institution.”

Me: “I don’t say those things, Stephen. The character, May Ellen Jones, says those things.”

Stephen: “Oh, c’mon. Are you saying your characters say and do things you don’t tell them to do?”

Me: “As hard as it is to believe, yes. Characters do and say things the author doesn’t intend. May Ellen has some caustic opinions about Wal-Mart. I would never say anything bad about Wal-Mart, like how they built a store in my hometown of Brookfield, Missouri, and killed off all of the small businesses, including my father’s lumberyard. I would never say anything like that.”

Stephen: “Do you shop at Wal-Mart?”

Me: “I spend as much time there as you do, Stephen.”

Stephen: “Another bone to pick: your books are so sad. Frankly, they’re downers. Why can’t you write a happy book? For example, in Bone Girl, the main character’s father is laid off and he can’t afford groceries. Now. C’mon. Why do you need to be so melodramatic? Do you work for the pharmaceutical companies, marketing anti-depressants?”

Me:  Laughter. “I don’t, although I think that would be a great-paying gig. I suspect there are many Americans who have been laid off from their jobs and struggle to afford groceries. That’s why the food pantries are so vocal in asking for donations. I don’t think being unable to afford groceries is melodramatic. It’s a reality.”

Stephen: “Now, what’s next for you? What are you going to celebrate next?”

Me: “My hope is for the sequels to Celebration House to premier in 2015. These two books will finish the trilogy. Then, I’d like to write a cozy mystery novel, and I love time-travel fiction. Who knows?”

Stephen: “Not bad for a high-school dropout.”

Me: “It’s amazing what we high school drop-outs can achieve.”

Stephen: “But in fact, you’re not just a drop-out. You were terminated from your nursing job at a hospital in Spokane, Washington. After that, you finished your debut novel, Celebration House, which was published by Tirgearr Publishing in 2013. You blogged that if you hadn’t lost your job, you may have never finished your first book.”

Annette: “That’s all true. I owe that nursing manager a great debt. Thank you, Kim.”

Stephen: “Well, Annette, thank you for coming on. I wish you every success. Annette Drake, everybody. Oh, and one more thing, Annette, enjoy the Colbert bump.” He reaches over and we bump fists.

The episode ends with Colbert reading a printed version of Celebration House and crying, dabbing at his eyes with Kleenex.

Hey, I can dream. Hands and arms inside the cart. Next:  I disappear…

Annette's blog

Breathe…breathe…breathe…

Pardon me while I have my anxiety attack.

I just opened the returned manuscript for Bone Girl from one of my beta readers. I’m overwhelmed with all of the notes he made on it, written in red type, and all in CAPITAL LETTERS. My heart is racing. My fingers are shaking. Holy buckets! I’m totally freaking out.

Here’s what happened: after I finished the first draft of Bone Girl, which by the way, was originally titled Phat Girl, I sent it off to my beta readers. These are friends and acquaintances who critique the first draft of a manuscript and provide feedback, which is used by an author to revise the work.

I had about five beta readers for Bone Girl. Let me tell you about them.

To begin with, there’s Maudeen Wachsmith. Maudeen is a professional editor who worked on Celebration House. She gave birth to the idea that the book should be a trilogy. When Maudeen first approached me with the idea of not one but two sequels, I said “Nooooo.” Then, after applying tincture of time, and hearing from other readers, I realized the answer was, well, maybe. Now, I can’t stop thinking about these next two books, especially Melanie’s.

For those of you who have bought and read Celebration House, well, first, THANK YOU! Secondly, you know who Melanie is and how unlikeable her character is. But, you’ve got to admit, she’s a tough cookie. Man! You should try living with her in your head all the time. I mean, really. C’mon! Stop already.

My second beta reader is Edith Poole. Edith, stand up and wave to the audience. Oh, you are standing. My bad. Edith is my petite mother-in-law and an experienced horsewoman. She’s five feet of red-headed fury. Say that fast three times.

I gave her Bone Girl last summer, and she called me and told me to come to her house. Alone. She wanted to talk to me. Eeek! Boy, that was a long one-mile drive. But I listened, and she was right. The book wasn’t finished. I hope it’s more finished now. I say that because I agree with George Lucas: no creative work is ever finished, just abandoned.

Aarene Storms was my third reader. She’s a published author herself. She wrote Endurance 101: A Gentle Guide to the Sport of Long-distance Riding, which I used when I wrote the manuscript. Aarene pointed out some of my more glaring mistakes, i.e. any horse expected to trot fifty miles would likely be shod. Also, the main character in Bone Girl, an 11-year-old girl named Josey, wouldn’t be wandering alone in an endurance camp. There’s too many mama bears amongst horse people.

Because of Aarene’s comments, I created two new characters: Earl Keck, the farrier, and Opal Meyers, an older woman who watches over Josey on the day of the endurance ride. I grew fond of Opal quickly because I’ve known women like her who have shown me amazing kindness. I only wish Opal would invite me into her 1968 Oasis travel trailer for breakfast.

I also sent the manuscript to Dennis and Sue Summers. I know I’ve blogged this before but it bears repeating. The Summers are the real deal: experienced endurance riders who’ve taken horses to competitions around the world, including the Middle East. Dennis penned a book for advanced endurance riders: 4th Gear – Power Up Your Endurance Horse.

The Summers too agreed Chief should be shod. Alas, they didn’t like one of my plot points: PETA protests the endurance ride Josey’s father competes in. My apologies, Sue and Dennis, but I needed to get a television crew to the ride and that’s how I did it. I’m sorry. If it’s any consolation, when Bone Girl is made into a film, I intend to send the producers your way so my mistakes won’t be replicated in the film.

Last night, I received the manuscript back from my final beta reader, Les Dunseith. He was a journalism professor at my alma mater, Truman State University, and, I like to brag, a former editor at The Los Angeles Time. I met Les in 1985 in my first journalism class, and I’ve been annoying him ever since. Les read Celebration House before I finished it, and I asked him to read Bone Girl. If this continues, I’ll probably have to start paying him.

Les gave me my first inkling that maybe I had something special with Carrie, the main character in Celebration House. A few days after he returned the printed manuscript back in the mail, Les emailed me to tell me he was still thinking about Carrie. She lingered with him. She was not easily forgotten.  

Last night, Les returned Bone Girl to me, and he must know me and my neuroses well enough because in his email he wrote, “I think you’ve seen enough of my editing suggestions by now not to be surprised when you open the document and see lots of red type (much of which is positive by the way).”

Yeah, but you didn’t tell me it was going to be in ALL CAPS!

Relax, I tell myself as I scan the first page and see as much red ink on it as my original text. Relax. Deep breath. This is all part of the novelist’s experience. It’s like a practice test. Les has given me the answers before I actually step into the classroom, i.e. publish Bone Girl. I can use his feedback to make the book better. To make you, the reader, my boss, fall in love with Bone Girl the way I did. Okay. Let’s get started.

Hands and arms inside the cart: Next, I’m interviewed by Stephen Colbert. (Please note: this interview takes place in my imagination)  

Annette's blog

These authors a…

These authors are bypassing the gatekeepers – agents and publishers – who tell them “the prose isn’t drawing me in quite strongly enough” or “we don’t feel that your work is right for us at this time” or you make up your own bullshit. The gatekeepers say no. So, the independent authors go around them. They quit traditional publishing. And that’s what I’m going to do.

Annette's blog

Time to quit

It was May, 1984. I was 15 years old, sitting in a sophomore history class at Brookfield High School in Brookfield, Missouri. My history teacher read the daily bulletin. First up in the school announcements were the names of my fellow classmates who would be inducted into the National Honor Society. I held my breath, knowing I would hear my name. My teacher finished the list and then went onto other bits of news. I couldn’t believe it. My name was not read.  

After the class ended, I approached him and asked, “Are you sure my name wasn’t on the list?” He assured me it was not. 

I couldn’t believe it. The only thing I believed I was good at – academics – and my teachers told me I wasn’t. Only students nominated by the faculty would be inducted into NHS. I was not one of them. And then it hit me: the understanding that I would never, ever be accepted in this school.

I was the nerdy kid who always did her homework. The note taker. The one who actually thought there was something of merit to be learned in high school. I loved learning. I remember one of my classmates teasing me, “Are you going to be a teacher when you grow up?” It surely was the worst insult for one 15-year-old to fling at another.

I ran home at lunch and cried. I couldn’t believe it. I finally saw the truth: there would be no scholarships for me. No money from the local rotary club for college. My teachers had sent a clear message: you are not among the honored.  

I don’t know what inspired me to do it, but I approached my high school counselor, whose name I cannot remember, and I told him how discouraged I felt. He listened and then reached into his drawer and pulled out a paper application – yes, they were paper in 1984 – to Northeast Missouri State University in Kirkville. Fill this out, he told me. Mail it in. Let’s see what happens. I did.

Take the ACT test. You’ll need that to get in, my counselor told me. I did this. My brother, Paul, and his then-girlfriend-now-wife, Michelle, drove me to Kirksville. I took the four-hour test, feeling like an imposter among the other high school seniors. After the test, Michelle and Paul bought me lunch at a local Chinese restaurant. It was the first time I’d ever eaten Chinese food.

Meanwhile, I waited and applied at a local community college. Their answer: you’re not old enough and you don’t have a high school diploma. No, thanks.

Then it came: the yes. Northeast Missouri State University not only accepted me, they gave me a $500 scholarship. Today, that sounds like nothing. But in 1984, tuition was $20 a credit hour. This paid for my first semester. I started college in August of 1984. I graduated with my bachelors in December, 1987.

The high school attendance staff called my parents a few days after the new school year started. Uh, is Annette coming back to high school? I wasn’t there when my mother answered that phone call, and I never knew exactly what she said, but I hope she shared in my accomplishment.

Now it’s happened again. It’s time to quit.

Last year, I finished writing my middle-grade novel, Bone Girl. I shopped it around at literary agencies and publishers, and all came back with this answer: no. I got a rejection email from an agent with a term I had never heard before. My husband had to google it and tell me what it meant. Last December, I queried a publisher with my contemporary romance, A Year with Geno, and again, rejection.

And then I started reading all of the blog posts and newsletters from authors who have found amazing success as independents. They publish their own books. They pay professional editors to hone their prose. They hire cover artists, and upload their creations to e-book distributors, mainly Smashwords and Amazon’s Kindle. If these authors want a print version, they hire printers like CreateSpace.

These authors are bypassing the gatekeepers – agents and publishers – who tell them “the prose isn’t drawing me in quite strongly enough” or “we don’t feel that your work is right for us at this time” or you make up your own bullshit. The gatekeepers say no. So, the independent authors go around them. They quit traditional publishing. And that’s what I’m going to do.

In early March, I’m publishing Bone Girl. On June 21st, I’m publishing A Year with Geno. I have a new boss. A new sheriff in town, if you will. The only person I want to please is the person who spends $3.99 and buys my book. That’s it. If they love it, I’ve done my job. If they don’t, I’ll keep working to do better. But they are my boss. You are my boss.

P.S. If you’ve read my bio and see where I mention that I dropped out of high school, there’s a reason for this. I want any reader who sees that and didn’t graduate or has someone close to them who didn’t finish high school to know this: You.Are.A.Success.

Hands and arms inside the cart. Next: Listening to my beta readers.

Annette's blog

Just finish the book. Again.

For years, this quote hung above my desk:

  • 95% of people talk about writing a book,
  • 30% of people start writing a book,
  • 3% finish it.

It will be one year ago next month that I started this blog. While many things have changed, one thing has not: I struggle with the habit of completion.

My second novel, Bone Girl, will be published in less than two months. It’s with my beta readers now, then it will go to my editor, Maudeen Wachsmith.

A month later, I intend to self-publish my third novel, A Year with Geno. There’s only one small problem with this grand plan: the book isn’t finished.

Here’s why. I’ve come to the parts of the book that aren’t any fun to write. Like a picky eater, I now stare down at my literary plate, and all I see are lima beans, beets and fried liver. Yech…

I drafted a calendar-style spreadsheet with all of the scenes on it. According to the spreadsheet, I have five (I just counted them) scenes left to write. That’s all. Five! Figuring they are each 1,000 words, I only have 5,000 words left to draft and then I can begin revisions. Please note: I started writing this book in 2007. I originally dreamed up the idea for A Year with Geno in 2002.

But in order to finish the book, I have to write these five scenes. And rewrite them. And polish them. I just don’t want to.

I think I know why I’m so reluctant to write these remaining sections. Too much depends on them. I want A Year with Geno to give the readers a taste, a whiff of life in Alaska, and I don’t know that I’ve done that in the preceding 63,000 words. Yep. 63K. This is the longest book I’ve written.

Also, I have so many doubts: is the romance between the two main characters plausible? Did I create enough sexual tension to keep readers turning pages? Did I show how important the main character’s friends are to her? Ugh! So many questions and so few certainties.

Except this one: if I want the life I dream about – writing full-time – I need to finish this book. No excuses. No buts, maybes or should-ofs. Finish the book. It’s just that simple. And that difficult.

Hands and arms inside the cart, please. Next: why I am choosing to self-publish.

Annette's blog

Shhh! Can you keep a secret? Yeah. Me neither.

Everyone who knows me knows this about me: I can’t keep a secret to save my life.

On New Year’s Eve, I received an amazing gift, but it came with one caveat: don’t tell anybody. Eeek! I could feel the tug of war begin inside me: how can I not tell everyone?

Here’s what happened. During the last days of December, I was reading a blog post by Hugh Howey. He’s a self-published author whose book, Wool, has broken records. New York Times bestseller. All that jazz. Hugh has done well for himself, and one of the results of his success, is reaching out to help other self-publishing authors. Indie authors, we’re called.

On this blog post, he talked about the sequel to Wool, a book called Sand. He also mentioned how thrilled he was with the cover art. Cover art is an author’s first and sometimes best means to convince readers to buy the book. It’s the way we first grab a reader’s attention.

I looked at the cover art for Sand, and it was perfect. I saw the author’s name, Jason Gurley, and I thought, wow. What I wouldn’t give to have a cover that nice. And I thought, heck, I’m going to write to the guy. Sending an email is free. I’ll ask him what he would charge and if he would work on a book like Bone Girl, which isn’t his usual science-fiction genre.

I did this. I sent an email to this stranger, thinking I would probably not hear back. I’m a new author with only one title, Celebration House, which isn’t really selling. But, the next day, there was a response. He said he wouId consider it. So we corresponded some more, and he agreed to do my cover at a price I could afford. I couldn’t believe this news. But it gets better.

On New Year’s Eve, I filled out the form he requests of all authors, talking about the characters in the book, the setting, what I thought were the most visually important elements. And I thought, maybe I’ll hear back in a month or so. Meanwhile, I got busy and drafted the blurb, the short paragraph on the back of the book readers scan to see if they want to buy it.

Excuse me. Could you hand me a Kleenex? I get teary-eyed when I relate this next part.

I woke on New Year’s Day and at 8:25 a.m., there in my email inbox was the first draft of cover art for Bone Girl. Not just one version, but three I could choose from. Holy. Buckets!

For the first time, it felt like someone besides me and my family believed in Bone Girl. Someone saw my vision and added to it. I felt empowered. I felt like I’d grown wings and could fly. After hearing so many no’s, I heard a loud yes.

And I know the marketing department – if I had one – would say, let’s keep this under wraps for now. Show no one. Tell no one. We’ll plan a cover-release event.

But as I’ve already explained, I can’t keep a secret.

So then, here, dear reader, is my cover art for Bone Girl. All credit to Jason Gurley. Stand back. This. Is. Huge!

Huge!

Image