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…

Saying goodbye to 2013 and welcoming 2014

Happy New Year’s Eve!

When I was a child, tonight was a big deal. I’d listen to Casey Kasem count down the top 100 hits of the year, and I’d sort through my closet, cleaning out old clothes and making room for new. It was a chance to shed off the person I was and make big plans to be the person I wanted to be.

2013 has been an exciting year, but I will be glad to see it end.

Here are the high points:

  • I published my first novel, Celebration House. Thank you, Tirgearr Publishing.
  • I started a blog, a professional Facebook page and a Twitter account.
  • I made the journey home to the Midwest and spent time with family dear to me.

But there were a few low points too.

  • I learned there’s no such creature as job security. It’s a false promise. Forgive me if this sounds dark, but I now question if the road to financial security is paved by an employer with an hourly wage. Perhaps there’s another way.
  • Those closest to me were not always supportive of me. This begs the question, why make room for them in my life? Perhaps it’s time to stop.

 The best-learned lesson:

 I’m the creator of my own universe. I’m the fulfiller of my own daydreams. I didn’t know this until 2013. Now, I do.


Welcoming 2014

I will nurture the writer within. I will make time and a place for her.

I will self-publish my first book.

I will clean out my emotions closest of all naysayers, skeptics, pouters. I will neatly package up these people and send them away from me with no return address on the brown box. Goodbye, I will tell them. Good luck.

One thing’s for sure, it’s going to be a hell of a year.

Hands and arms inside the cart, please. Next: Finishing the book. Again.   

E L James, I am not

A few weeks ago, feeling bolder than I should, I began writing a novella for a project called City Nights for my publisher, Tirgearr. Here’s the pitch: a contemporary romance, which takes place over 24 hours and is set in a major city around the world. The books would be entitled A Night in _____. How cool is that? And only 20,000-25,000 words? Sweet. I told myself I’d have it finished in two days. Ha!

The novella takes place in a city. Well, the books I write take place in locales where I’ve lived. Otherwise, I’d have to make stuff up. Sheesh. So, I chose Anchorage, Alaska, because I’ve lived there and for folks who haven’t, it sounds exotic. If icy…

I contacted the editor for the project, Troy Lambert, and his response was classic: Anchorage, Alaska? Sure. Just a city where romance can take place. Side note: Troy is the subject of a new feature on my website called “Author Spotlight.” A brief interview with him will be posted there on Jan. 1st.

Anyway, I put my characters on a plane leaving Anchorage when bam! Mount Redoubt erupted and their flight was cancelled. Now, what to do? Why, head to the Captain Cook Hotel, of course, the swankiest hotel in Anchorage. It’s where everybody goes when their flight is cancelled, and they can drop $700 on a hotel room. In truth, it got my characters downtown where a lot of fun touristy things happen.

Now, the problem: the heat level of the book. Romance books are divided into different heat levels, depending on how much sex is in the book. My first novel, Celebration House, is considered a “sweet” romance, in that I only show the characters kissing. Here’s the criteria for determining the sex rating:

  1. Nothing but kisses,
  2. Passionate kissing,
  3. Sex but the door is closed
  4. Slightly steamy sex with some description
  5. Steamy sex with somewhat graphic description

City Nights is meant to be a genre called erotic romance. Lots and lots of sex. I had never written this type of material, so I accepted Troy’s generous offer to send me a book called, Awakening, book 1: The A-B-Cs of Sex by Scarlett Valentine. Holy buckets! This book is definitely a 5. I don’t read a lot of erotic romance, but I believe Awakening is well written. Lots of active verbs. Lots and lots of description of sexual intercourse, including, how to put this delicately? anal sex. Perhaps there was a little too much description?

Reading this novella, I realized I could never write this type of book. To begin with, I don’t think I know the subject matter well enough. I’m too tame. Awakening is a hot mole sauce. I’m more of a whipped cream.

Perhaps I could research it. A good friend of mine in Alaska gave me a book entitled, “The Guide to Getting It On.” She told me, don’t return it with sticky pages, so I didn’t return it at all. I looked up some of the activity in Awakening in my guide book and sure enough, it was there. Yikes!

But in the end – oops, an unintended reference to Awakening – sorry. My bad. Reading the novella made me realize I don’t want to write erotic romance. Someone close to me called it “literature to masturbate by.”  It’s not what I want to read and thus, not what I should be writing.

The kicker is, I really did like the two characters in my Anchorage novella. They’re funny, and although I’ve only gotten them off the plane, checked into the Captain Cook and having breakfast at Snow City Café, I really enjoyed the time I spent creating them. It made me happy. That’s probably the kind of book I should be writing.

Hands and arms inside the cart, please: Tomorrow, saying goodbye to 2013 and welcoming 2014.

Meet romance author, Kate Robbins

Her debut novel, Bound to the Highlander, was published Oct. 8 by Tirgearr Publishing.

Her debut novel, Bound to the Highlander, was published Oct. 8 by Tirgearr Publishing.

Kate Robbins writes historical romance novels out of pure escapism and a love for all things Scottish, not to mention a life-long enjoyment of reading romance.

Her journey into storytelling began with a short screenplay she wrote, directed, and produced which was screened at the 2003 Nickel Film Festival in St. John’s, Newfoundland. She has also written and directed several stage plays for youth.

Kate loves the research process and delving into secondary sources in order to give readers the most authentic historical romance possible. She has travelled to Scotland and has visited the sites described in her Highland Chiefs series.

Bound to the Highlander is the first of three books set during the early fifteenth century during the reign of James Stewart, first of his name.

Kate is the pen name of Debbie Robbins who lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada with her hubby, the man-beast, and her two awesome boys, the man-cubs.

Here’s more about her debut novel, Bound to the Highlander.

Kate's novel is on the Top 100 Paid Novels on Kindle.

Kate’s novel is among the Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store.

Aileana Chattan suffers a devastating loss, then discovers she is to wed neighbouring chief and baron, James MacIntosh—a man she despises and whose loyalty deprived her of the father she loved. Despite him and his traitorous clan, Aileana will do her duty, but she doesn’t have to like it or him. But when the
MacIntosh awakens something inside her so absolute and consuming, she is forced to question everything.

James MacIntosh is a nobleman torn between tradition and progress. He must make a sacrifice if he is to help Scotland move forward as a unified country. Forced to sign a marriage contract years earlier binding Lady Aileana to him, James must find a way to break it, or risk losing all—including his heart.

From the wild and rugged Highlands near Inverness to the dungeons of Edinburgh Castle, James and Aileana’s preconceptions of honor, duty and love are challenged at every adventurous turn.

And now, a short excerpt…

The early morning mist was refreshing as she walked along the well-beaten road leading north toward Inverness. The fog lifted just enough to expose the stunning landscape. Out here, with the rolling green hills and explosions of color, she could spread her arms wide and feel free from the pain gripping her. The tightness in her chest eased. In the distance, the sharp mountain peaks protruded from the crawling mist towards the blue sky. The day would be lovely when the fog burned off.

Aileana reached the crossroads and turned right, following a smaller path leading east. Thick brush and oak trees framed the path, often giving way to vast farmlands that lay beyond. Littered here and there were bluebells, lady fingers, and cowslip. She knelt to collect some, pausing to inhale their sweet scent.

The flowers brought back memories of the many times her uncle had brought them to her. Widowed and with no children of his own, he took guardianship of Aileana after her father’s death and came to love and treat her as if she were his own. All these years, they had only each other and she was lost without him.

Her hair prickled at her nape. She stepped onto the road and looked both ways, her arms full of flowers. The thunder of hooves reached her ears at about the same time her peripheral vision caught a flash of something white and very large coming around the bend just ahead. She leapt out of the way to avoid being trampled, landing on her backside. She strained her neck and viewed the largest horse she’d ever seen. The dense fog had prevented her from seeing the horse or its rider approaching at top speed. She was lucky to have avoided serious injury.

Aileana’s heart raced. She should have known better than to walk alone, considering all the recent raids. Was the rider friend or foe? She recognized a small path across the road. If she could get around the giant beast before the rider saw her, she could slip through the trees undetected.

Within a split second, however, the rider dismounted and held out his large hand. His deep chuckle made her cheeks burn.

“I’m sorry, lass. I didn’t expect to see anyone out at this hour, nor this far from any dwelling.”

The tall man took in her appearance, his sweeping glance resting on the embroidered stitching of her low neckline. His gaze lingered there before travelling up her throat. She held her breath as his eyes trailed over her body.

“You can ride with me if you like.” His husky voice conjured images of silk sweeping across her flesh.

She was entranced by the sight of him. Thick muscles flexed beneath a dark leather jerkin which ended just above his knee and was secured at his waist with a broad belt. In his current position, she could see his thigh muscle tense and her face grew hotter. His plaid covered one shoulder and ran underneath his sword arm secured by a large silver brooch offset with rubies and centered with a wildcat.

MacIntosh. They supported the king. It wasn’t well known, but Uncle had speculated to those he trusted. Anyone who supported a man who pawned his people like cattle for his personal gain was no friend of hers.

It was clear from his inappropriate suggestion, she was better off not knowing him. He was no gentleman, despite his expensive accessory and giant horse. No decent man would speak that way to a lady. Couldn’t he tell by the way she was dressed that she was no common wench? Then again, it would not matter to this base sort of man. Either way, without a chaperone, she was not about to remain in his company for one more second. His hand hung in mid-air, but she ignored it, hoisting herself instead off the cold ground.

She mustered the most authoritative voice she could. “No thank you.” Aileana lifted her chin and walked away.

“Wait lass. I’m sorry to have startled you. What are you called?”

Aileana turned on her heel intent to put this rogue in his place and ran into his chest. She gasped. The thick, rich scent of leather enveloped her, sending an unexpected shiver down her spine. She stumbled, but he was quick enough to catch her by the arms before she fell. Her hands splayed flat against his chest. Bulging muscles underneath his jerkin begged her fingers to stroke their curve.

His bright green eyes bore into hers. While his long brown hair was tied at his nape, a few strands had broken free and fell loose across his face. She fought the irresistible urge to reach up and tuck them behind his ear.

“Who are you?”

His deep voice was warm honey on her flesh. He smelled of sweet ale and she was transfixed by his mouth which curved in all the right ways.

“Perhaps you’re a faerie come to steal me away.”

His raspy voice made her skin tingle.

“Good sir—”

“I bet you taste as delicious as you smell.”

Aileana pushed against his chest. He pushed back. The stranger pulled her forward, his mouth now no more than an inch from hers. His hard body pressed against hers, spreading heat to her very core.

His fingers brushed the side of her mouth and his lips parted. Her knees trembled. His intent was clear and their proximity was inappropriate.

Panic hit her hard.

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.

Hello…My name is Annette Drake

After driving more than 1700 miles, I stood in front of an audience of four and said those words. This was my first presentation about Celebration House and marketing genius that I am, I decided there was no better place to do this than Lexington, Missouri, where the book takes place. Thus the oh-so-long drive.

I hoped to have an audience of 10 people. The Lexington newspaper printed a small article about Celebration House. Sure, it was nearly word-for-word from the press release that the library gave them and it was on page 4. But, hey! I was in the Lexington News.

As the day approached, I tried to decrease my anxiety by telling myself that no one would come, but I was wrong. Tucked downstairs in the basement of the Lexington branch of the Trails Library, I had an audience of four. Two of those were my husband and our son.

Mary, the first audience member to arrive, was a print journalist who just helped publish a pictorial history of Lexington. I bought a copy of this amazing book, and Chris and I poured over its pages the rest of the trip. We history nerds loved it!

The other attendee, Larry, was writing a genealogy of his family. He and I talked about the pros and cons of self-publishing, and he told me that Lexington actually had two Civil War battles, though the second one wasn’t of much consequence.

Larry made me laugh. When he saw my cover and the ghostly soldier outfitted in blue, he said, “You know Lexington was pro-south, don’t you?” I did indeed, but I quickly explained the hero of my book served under Col. James Mulligan from St. Louis. Larry nodded a curt approval.

Both of these attendees were a delight. My 30-minute presentation stretched into an hour and a half. The woman was determined to buy my book, and we spent the last 10 minutes of the session trying to navigate the Tirgearr website so I would receive the most money. I gave up when the Amazon page she’d been directed to asked for payment in English pounds. In all of my interest in these two attendees, I forgot to actually read the first chapter from the book. Oops.

A huge shout-out to my amazing husband, who drove nearly all of those 1,700 miles and stayed up until midnight the night before the presentation to change a flat tire. Thanks to my mother-in-law who bought us an AAA membership for the road. And of course, thanks to the staff – Carol, Donna and Mardeana – at Trails Library for hosting me.    

But even after the library presentation, my book tour wasn’t done. At the Obermeier family reunion the next day, I saw my Aunt Mary Rose. This, truthfully, was one of the purposes of the trip – to see and talk with this amazing woman who played such an important role in my childhood. I was also delighted to see my Uncle Jack, Aunt Joann, cousins Debbie, Bill and David.  

At the reunion, I showed my power point again and a cousin’s wife, Connie, told me she would buy the book. At the end of the reunion, I was approached by an older relative, Bill. He wanted to buy my book because, like me, he suffers from insomnia and reading books on Kindle helps him through some long nights. I was delighted to show him Celebration House.

The next day, I met my father’s new significant other, Margaret. She saw my book and bought a copy, then posted it to Facebook and told me her friends were buying it.

We spent a few days invading, I mean visiting, my sister, Barb. On our last day at her house, Wilda, the clerk at the Prengers grocery store, told me she’d gone looking for me on Facebook and had stumbled onto my book. Why hadn’t I told her I wrote books? I explained that self-promotion sometimes felt awkward to me. She told me she had already bought and downloaded Celebration House.

Perhaps the event at the library in Lexington with my audience of two wasn’t worth driving 1,700 miles. But reconnecting with my family and meeting these new readers was.

Hands and arms inside the cart, please. Next: More treasure from the long road trip.

Rethinking my relationship with e-readers

I remember when Barnes & Noble first started hawking their e-reader, the Nook. They removed all the books from the front 10 feet of the store and installed a huge white desk with a handful of the devices and a salesperson. I’ll be honest: I’m not always the first to embrace change. So, I figured as I long as I kept my head down and didn’t make eye contact, I’d be safe and the salesperson would leave me alone. It worked.

My own daughters weren’t so reluctant to embrace change. My oldest showed up with her i-pad one weekend visit and told me how she loved to read books on it. My younger daughter was given a Kindle by her boyfriend’s mother. Both love this technology.

But I’m cautious, leery of anything that might somehow change my relationship with the printed word. When I started in earnest to work on my novel, Bone Girl, I needed information about the sport of equestrian endurance riding. The book, Endurance 101, by Aarene Storms was exactly what I needed. The trouble was getting it. I went to both the city and the public library in my community, but was told they couldn’t help me. I still don’t understand this.

So, I visited the Amazon site and saw Endurance 101 there. For only $9.95, I could move forward with my novel. But I don’t own an e-reader. No problem, the Amazon website assured me. I could download it to my home computer. What? Sure enough, five minutes later, the little blue Kindle signal appeared on my laptop screen. I had done it! I had stepped past the muscle-bound man at the velvet rope and into the e-book world. Cool! Later that day, I downloaded the Kindle app to my smart phone. That evening, my husband downloaded the Kindle app to his laptop. It was contagious, but hopefully not like a disease.

When I sold my novel, Celebration House, to Tirgearr Publishing, I learned how important a working knowledge of e-books is. Because for the first six months at least, my novel will only be available in e-book format. My publisher, Kemberlee, tells me that for each print version of my book, Tirgearr sells five (5!) e-books.

Another of Tirgearr’s books, No Gentleman is He, by Carley Bauer and Lynette Willows is doing great. It’s gotten good reviews, and it’s tied for first place for Hot Summer Reads on GoodReads. I wanted to read it, so I asked my publisher where I should buy it so that the authors receive the most reimbursement. She said as an author with Tirgearr, she would send the book to me at no cost. Thank you. Sure enough, she sent it to me via email, and I downloaded it to the Kindle app on my laptop within a few minutes. Easy.

I plan to buy an e-book reader this month. To that end, I searched for information on which is the right e-reader for me. Here’s the best website I found: Check it out!

Hands and arms inside the cart. Next: how e-readers are changing the business of publishing.

You want me to do what with my words? Smash ’em!

Since I’ve started this journey, I’ve had a lot of technology catching-up to do. I started this blog. I started two professional Facebook pages. I set up a Twitter account. I downloaded and learned to use IrfanView. I opened a Linkedin Account. (Note: my daughters deserve nearly all of the credit for these successes).

But apparently, I have a long, long way to go. More is expected. As Tirgearr Publishing and I walk our way to the debut date of my first novel, Celebration House, on August 1st, I need to know more.

This email from my publisher:

“The (promotional) postcards would be a good place to offer a small discount for people who buy the book through Smashwords. We can set it up where anyone using a code can get 10% off the price of the book when they buy the book on Smashwords. SW has all the e-reader formats so it’s one stop shopping. The code is limited time only, so they’d want to get home and download ASAP.”

What in the world is Smashwords?

Turns out, Smashwords is the world’s leading e-book publishing platform for indie authors and independent presses. According to their website, “…we make it fast, free and easy for any author or publisher, anywhere in the world, to publish and distribute e-books to the major retailers.”

Okay. That sounds good. How does it work?

The author, or in my case, Tirgearr Publishing, uploads my book to Smashwords, who then makes my book available to Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony, Baker & Taylor, and the Diesel eBook store.

The company was started in 2008 by a husband and wife team, Mark and Lesleyann Coker. The couple wrote Boob Tube, a satirical novel about the soap-opera industry. Despite representation by a highly respected literary agent, they were unable to find a publisher willing to gamble on first-time authors. Too busy publishing the words of Kim Kardashian, I guess. Anyway, Mark and Lesleyann Coker started Smashwords. In 2008, they offered 140 books; in 2010, they published more than 20,000.

The company prides itself on being good to authors. They return 85% of the net proceeds to the books’ creators. According to their website, they will pay authors millions this year.

Wow! Okay. Let’s smash some words.

Hands and arms inside the cart, please. Next: creating sexual tension. Huh?