Tag: Amazon

Word architects

After a long hiatus, I finally started working on a novel again this month. With apologies to all the very patient Lindsay Harding fans, I haven’t started working on the next chaplain mystery. Instead, I’ve begun revising the manuscript for the middle-grade adventure novel I wrote a few years back in the hopes that I can submit it to agents in the fall. It feels good to be back in the saddle!

During this fallow period in which the sum total of my finished writing projects consisted of a single 1,500 word short story, something surprising happened. I’ve been offered two really cool opportunities to put on my Author Hat© and do Cool Author Things©. In my experience, that doesn’t usually happen. I’ve found that if I don’t promote the heck out of my books, attend conferences, and crank out new material, my sales dwindle to a trickle and my Author Hat© gathers dust in its metaphorical closet. Luck was on my side the past few months, though!

jeriandmindy
Celebrating with Jeri Rogers, Literary Editor of Artemis Journal at LitFest Pasadena.

Cool thing No. 1: I got to go to LA and be fancy in a room full of extraordinarily talented people. That 1,500 word short story I mentioned above won the Artemis-Lightbringer “Women hold up half the sky” competition for science fiction with feminist themes and a strong female protagonist. My story received dual publication in Artemis Journal and on the Hollywood NOW website in addition to a cash prize from Hollywood NOW. You can check out my story in the 2018 edition of Artemis or hear it performed by actor and filmmaker Kamala Lopez, recorded live at LitFest Pasadena a few weeks ago. My story starts around minute 57. There’s also a little awards ceremony at the end where I give an impromptu, margarita-fueled speech.

Cool thing No. 2: I’ve been invited to go to one of my favorite places in the world, the Outer Banks, and give a book talk on Saturday, September 29th. Here’s how that whole thing came about. My friend Pam is an innkeeper. Kind of an 18th-century throwback job, huh? She keeps inn (inn-keeps?) at the White Doe Inn in Manteo on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. She recently started up a series of evening arts events and, knowing that A Death in Duck is set near there, she invited me to come give a book talk as part of the series. I said yes before she even finished inviting me.

Both of these unexpected wonderful opportunities reminded me of something. When you publish something or otherwise put your writing out into the world, you lose control of where that writing goes or how it will impact people. Being a writer is kind of like building a house. You may build that house for a specific client or with a clear vision for who will inhabit it. But years, decades, or, if you’re incredibly lucky, centuries later, that house could be roughly the same. Or maybe it will have undergone a complete renovation or maybe it’ll be a crack den. Once you hand it over to the world, you can’t control who lives there or what they do.

The same is true of writing. People’s reactions can be scary or disappointing, like when a series of negative reviews from homophobes blights your book’s Amazon page (the literary equivalent of a crack house?). But they can also be thrilling and encouraging, like when you get to travel to both coasts within the space of a few months to share your work. Not bad for an unproductive year.

False Advertising, Indeed.

Over the past few years, I’ve occasionally asked friends and acquaintances to describe a typical chaplain. If people have any notions at all, they reference Father Mulcahy from M*A*S*H—a Christian, middle-aged, celibate dude with a kindly twinkle in his blue eyes. I suspect that even in the era of the Korean War, that stereotype bore little resemblance to reality, and there can be no doubt that the Father Mulcahys of the world don’t make up the majority of the ranks of today’s chaplaincy. But the myth of the typical chaplain endures.

Being a chaplain isn’t a typical job, though. While there are federal non-discrimination laws that would bar a corporation from hiring or firing someone based on their race, gender, or sexual orientation, religious denominations are still free to ordain only those whom they deem worthy to provide pastoral care. So, depending on a person’s religious background, they may never have seen a faith professional who doesn’t conform to the mold that their denomination lays out. When these folks meet a chaplain, they may come to that interaction with a very narrowly proscribed vision of the right “man” for the job.

So what do you do when you’re not one of the Father Mulcahys of the world? At times, it’s hard to hide the fact that you don’t meet someone’s expectation of what a chaplain should be. When a female chaplain walks into a hospital room, it’s pretty obvious that she’s not, for example, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, or, say, the Pope. But what about those attributes that we can hold inside ourselves—our deeply held spiritual or political beliefs or our sexual orientations?

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the dilemmas that humanist/agnostic/non-conformist and LGBTQ chaplains confront. At what point should they “out” the part of themselves that may not jive with someone’s expectations of what a chaplain should be? Here’s what got me thinking. I write murder mysteries about a fictional hospital chaplain in small-town North Carolina. Mostly, the books’ reception has been positive. But a reader recently posted this flaming one-star review to Amazon.com:

This review is from: A Murder in Mount Moriah (Reverend Lindsay Harding Mystery, Book No. 1) (Kindle Edition)

The cover says “A REVEREND Lindsay Harding Mystery.” Now I have no problems with women who are called into the ministry…and…I fully recognize that ministers are fallen human beings with good and bad moments, too. But a woman of the cloth who…enthusiastically supports the gay lifestyle of her boss, who is also an ordained minister…? No. Just no. False advertising indeed.

This review was titled “False advertising!,” and I suspect this reader felt tricked because no mention is made of a gay character’s sexuality until you meet his partner (well into the book).

Should I include cautionary labels for those who don’t like the idea of a gay chaplain?!

The experience made me wonder: am I under an obligation to warn readers about the liberal/progressive content of my books, even though there is no sex whatsoever and only one brief (heterosexual) kiss? And if I am, how would I do it, short of putting a Tipper Gore-style cautionary label on my covers like “Contains a chaplain who wrestles with the nature and existence of God,” or perhaps titling the next volume, “The Liberal Murder Mystery with the Gay Chaplain in It”? And in real life, should chaplains let people see their “content,” or should they simply remain closed books?

Theoretically, this wouldn’t come up as an issue very often. Pastoral care doesn’t provide a stage for chaplains to shimmy across, displaying their personal theologies and ideologies like Vegas showgirls. And there’s a reason that chaplains don’t carry ramrods; chaplaincy isn’t an evangelical mission. However, in order to build rapport, especially in longer-term pastoral relationships, it is sometimes natural and even necessary to engage in personal conversations. Some of those in spiritual care need that sort of quid pro quo sharing in order to establish trust. The Reverend Laura Arnold, a former hospital chaplain who now serves as a United Church of Christ minister in Iowa, vividly described this dilemma in her 2012 article “Life as a Queer Chaplain” on Kim Knight’s wonderful Patheos blog. Rev. Arnold talks about that knife-edge moment that many queer chaplains experience when deciding whether to play the pronoun game when asked about their romantic relationships. Is it worth the risk of potentially rupturing a relationship with a patient? Is it worth the sometimes soul-diminishing pain of ignoring a patient’s homophobic rant or disparaging comments about non-believers, when these things go right to the heart of one’s identity?

I’m not sure there is a right answer, and in some ways all of us deal with versions of what I call The Thanksgiving Dilemma. That is, do you call Great Aunt Pearlene out for making crude, racist comments about your sister’s new Filipino boyfriend, or do you just bite your tongue, keep the peace, and pass the gravy? Rev. Laura was able to reconcile her own position by embodying, “a living alternative to the hate filled rhetoric spewed from some pulpits that has scarred and convinced queer people that they are despised by God, abominations, excluded from heaven.” She said she feels privileged to be able to convey God’s love by fully inhabiting her identity.

For myself, all I can do is keep writing about my little by little my bunch of diverse, quirky, and fully human chaplains, hoping that they can crack open a tiny space in the hearts of readers. And that in that space, acceptance can take root and kindness can come into full flower.

Do you have a solution to the Thanksgiving Dilemma? Share it in the comments section!

Excerpt of the Patheos blog used with permission. Read the full text of Reverend Laura Arnold’s article on “Life as a Queer Chaplain.” 

Originally published in PlainViews September 3, 2014, Volume 11 No. 16. Reprinted with permission. 

What does it take to make it as an indie author? Interview with Kindle bestselling author Nicole Loughan, Part 1

Do you have what it takes to make it as an indie author? Kindle best-selling author of the Saints Mystery series, Nicole Loughan, shares details about her journey to indie author success.

Image of Nicole LoughanAuthor Interview, Part 1: The Road to Indie Authordom

Nicole Loughan has written two murder mysteries she swears are magic. Not that they have any mystical properties written within the pages, but the success has been close to supernatural. Her first mystery, To Murder a Saint became the #70 best-selling book on Amazon in January, topping the best-selling Mystery and Women’s Sleuth charts. The book has sold thousands of copies since publication in May of last year. She realized what an astronomical feat that was when she learned that most self-published books only ever sell 100 copies. Nicole has not left her day job. Instead she continues to write as the humor columnist “The Starter Mom” and food and features for two Philadelphia daily newspapers. 

Minty Fresh Mysteries (MFM): I know you write a syndicated humor column, “The Starter Mom.” How did you make the transition from breezy humor to the darker themes you explore in your Amazon best-selling Saints’ Mysteries?

Nicole Loughan (NL): The humor column is harder for me than writing mysteries. I started as a “real” journalist 15 years ago. I covered community, politics and crime. Occasionally, in those early days I would write features and fun stuff like the column. I evolved overtime and became strictly a features writer, but I still had to follow the rules of journalism: a catchy lead, using inverted pyramid style, heavy on facts and telling the story with quotes. I was looking for a challenge when the opportunity to become “The Starter Mom” came along and boy did I get it. I did not realize I was so used to journalism that I would have a hard time putting myself into the story and adding opinion. It was hard to not follow the structure of a news story. I think the first starter mom was 700 words and took me about six days to write it.

MFM: How did you get started in indie publishing?

NL: I am not against the traditional publishing establishment. In fact I am represented as a newspaper and magazine writer. I like having representation. They take care of the cash, tax forms and technical problems. When I wrote “To Murder a Saint” I did not know where to start. It was a novella and I could not find any agents who were looking for novellas. After exhaustive searching I found three publishers taking novella submissions. One was Random House. I got a personal and very encouraging rejection from their Alibi division. The two other places I sent the story to took more than four months to give me a response. I am not very patient so I was constantly googling things like, “how long do queries take” and “is it a good or bad sign that my query has been out for half a year?” Eventually this googling led me to the site of J.A. Konrath and I learned about the new way to self-publish, digitally. Konrath talked about the importance of a good story, a good editor and a good graphic designer. I had a good editor I had been working with on other projects, Erin McNelis and a fabulous graphic designer friend, Geneveive LaVO. These were people that already had good industry reputations and were hired by large organizations for their skills. I pulled my queries from the other two publishing houses and hired my friends. I feel fortunate in a way. I have only ever queried three places and had one query rejection. I can say my manuscript was only rejected once prior to publication.

Read part 2 of MFM’s interview with Nicole Loughan
Read part 3 of MFM’s interview with Nicole Loughan

A Negative Amazon Review Didn’t Kill Me; It Made Me Stronger

Remember how I said that I was girding my loins for my first negative Amazon review? Well, it happened. An Amazon reviewer gave AMiMM 2 stars. Weirdly, the negative review was followed by a bounce in sales, two totally awesome reviews on Amazon, and several 4 and 5-star ratings on Goodreads. The Goodreads giveaway closed out with 800 entries, which was pretty great. I’ve resolved to do less marketing for awhile, and less obsessive checking of my sales figures. I probably like that side of things more than most writers, but I need to focus more on writing the next Lindsay Harding book, A Death in Duck, which I hope to publish in Summer 2014.

Also, for those who don’t regularly watch the Blacksburg-Christiansburg public access channel (which, I think I can safely assume, is all of you!), you can now view the 2013 Valley Voices competition winners on YouTube. My story comes on around minute 21.