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…

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.

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.

Discovering the villain within

Work continues on my third novel, A Year with Geno.

But it has been slow going because I’m writing about unpleasant things happening to Geno’s two teenage boys, Anthony and Chris. They visit Las Vegas (dare I say Lost Vegas) to spend Christmas with their mother, Cheryl-Anne. Sounds like fun, right? Not so much.

You see, Cheryl-Anne’s priority is to keep her boyfriend, Kevin, happy. She hopes that by bringing her two sons down from Alaska, she can convince him to be impulsive and marry her.

There is a big obstacle to this: Kevin sees no reason to marry Cheryl-Anne. Perhaps you know his favorite saying: why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free. I really hate that saying. Women aren’t cows and milk isn’t sex.

I worked on this same scene for more than a month, and I struggled to understand why it was so hard for me to write. Finally, it came to me, and this wasn’t easy to admit: I am Cheryl-Anne. Yep. I am my own villain. Over the course of 22+ years of being a mom, I’ve made mistakes. Lots of them. I’ve put other people in my life before my own children, as Cheryl-Anne did. This isn’t fun to admit, and it sure isn’t fun to write about.

The other challenge with this scene is I don’t know Las Vegas. I searched online and discovered some fun websites about the city. My favorite was a site that listed all of the hotels infested with bed bugs. That list led me to a news story that one of the most famous hotels, the Sahara, closed a few years back. So of course, I checked my fictional characters into this Vegas landmark. Spoiler alert: Kevin is arrested near the end of the scene. I doubt the reader will feel sorry for him. I laughed out loud when the words appeared on my computer monitor. Honestly, I didn’t know I had it in me to deliver such justice.

Hands and arms inside the cart: Next: meet fellow Tirgearr author, Kate Robbins.

Music that moves me

The first step for me when I sit down to write is to click on Pandora and choose which station I’ll listen to as I create. The music I choose varies with which book I’m writing.

For Bone Girl, I prefer bluegrass, from the joyful fiddle playing of Mark O’Connor to the fast pace of the Barn Owl Band. Throw in a dash of Adele and top with the soulful duets of the Judds. All mixed together, these are the themes of my middle-grade novel, Bone Girl. . Here’s a few tunes that fit this novel best:

  •  “Make You Feel My Love” by Adele,
  • “Emily’s Reel” by Mark O’Connor,
  • “Road to Spencer” by The Three Pickers,
  • “Johnson Boys” by The Barn Owl Band,
  • “Love will Build a Bridge” by The Judds,
  • “Home” by Phillip Phillips,
  • “Squirrel Hunter” by The Wilders,

If I’m working on A Year with Geno, a contemporary romance that takes place in Anchorage, I leave my bluegrass stations and head straight to the music of Ella Fitzgerald and crooners like her. Lately, I’ve spent most of my writing time sculpting the rough draft of this novel, so I have quite a few songs bookmarked:

  • “I’ll Be Seeing You” by Billie Holiday,
  • “All Right Okay You Win” by Joe Williams,
  • “Almost Lover” by A Fine Frenzy,
  • “Smile” by Nat King Cole,
  • “The Very Thought of You” by Harry Connick, Jr.
  • “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” by Arethra Franklin,
  • “Many the Miles” by Sara Bareilles,

For my paranormal romance, Celebration House, it’s pure Norah Jones. I wrote the rough draft of the book when I first fell in love with this blues singer. Even my hunky hero, Maj. Thomas Stewart, remarks on Norah’s voice: “She sings as though she’s courting me.”

Hands and arms inside the cart: Next, I post my book, Bone Girl, on Authonomy. Quick! Go to www.Authonomy.com and read the first few chapters of my book. Tell me what you think.