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Wednesday
Jul202016

The Problem Child

After a rough delivery, my fourteenth baby has finally made its entrance into the world.

Fourteenth??? Do I know where these things come from? Yes, I do. A seemingly limitless source of meet-cute ideas in my brain that develop from idea embryos into fiction fetuses and must eventually be born to wreak havoc on the world. Exactly like children. It's a popular cliche for a reason. And I'm too sleep-deprived to think of anything fresher. So mleh.

To continue the tiresome analogy, I think my babies are more beautiful than anyone else's, despite their imperfections. The Family Plot is no different. I love this book. Even when I started not to like it very much, because it was really getting on my nerves, and we had spent much too much together time, I loved it unconditionally. But boy am I glad it's finally out there in the world! Now it's your problem. Whew.

So next time you have a few free hours, consider babysitting my story about Whitney Faelhaber, reluctant new print shop owner, and Eric Mulligan, delightfully awkward small-town undertaker, and their common links to a remarkable woman whose death initiated a host of new beginnings. If nothing else, you'll close the book thinking, "I'm so glad that's not my kid." But I hope you say, "What a lovely child! I must tell the world what a great breeder Brea Brown is." Or something like that.

If anyone needs me, I'll be on maternity leave.

Head on over to the book's page for sales links and a preview! Sales channel links are being updated as they become available.

 

Thursday
Jul072016

Sneak Peek of THE FAMILY PLOT

I feel a tap on my shoulder and whirl, expecting to come face-to-face with one of my uncles or cousins. Instead, I find myself looking up (up, up) into the pleasant features of a stranger.

“Hi,” he says, licking his lips. “Um… I’m Eric. Mulligan.”

Considering his last name matches the one on the sign in front of the funeral home, it’s not as awkward to be approached by him as the four thousand other inhabitants of this town who have all felt the need to introduce themselves today. I smile back. “Oh, hey. I’m Whitney.”

He shakes my hand gently and murmurs his condolences in a way they must learn at undertakers’ school. Is there such a place? I picture an ornate Victorian house with a basement full of cadavers and students wandering the dim, plushly carpeted rooms, speaking in hushed tones. “Whitney. I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you. I—”

Shelly elbows her way in front of me. “Hello, there. I’m Shelly. Vel’s niece.”

Eric shakes her proffered hand. “Hello, Shelly.” He repeats his condolences to her and Mom and glances at the urn in my arms. “Anyway. I, uh, was a… friend… of your aunt. Well, everyone was. And I wanted to pay my respects.”

Mom flutters her eyelashes at him. “Well, aren’t you sweet? And you said you’re a Mulligan? So you’re…”

He nods. “Yeah. This is my family’s business.”

“And you… took care of Aunt Vel?” Shelly asks, nudging her head toward the ashes.

He blushes. “Uh, no. I mean, normally, I would. That’s, uh, part of what I do, yes, but I… Well, it’s complicated. There was a rush on deaths, so I, personally, was not the one who— I was already taking care of someone else who happened to pass away around the same time.”

“Fascinating!”

“What an interesting job!”

I roll my eyes at my two fawning kinswomen. “Thanks for everything,” I say, taking control. “Your… father…?”

“Probably. Tall guy? Looks and sounds like James Garner? Charisma up to his eyeballs, none of which I inherited?”

“Uh, yes. I suppose. That’s the one. He did a great job on the eulogy. Very personal.”

“Yeah, well…” He mutters something toward his shoes. I lean closer to catch what he’s saying, but he abruptly trails off, takes a deep breath and returns his attention to my face, as if he’s waiting for me to finish a thought.

To avoid an awkward silence, which, in my expert opinion is worse than any form of spoken word (although this guy is working hard to prove that hypothesis wrong), I rush forward to fulfill his expectation. “I talked to your sister or cousin or someone on the phone and then again in person yesterday.”

“My cousin, Hortense. She does the service planning.”

“Yes. And a woman named… Lorna?”

“Lena. My aunt. Hortense’s mother and my dad’s sister. It’s all super-incestuous. Not that we practice incest. I didn’t mean incest. I meant nepotism. We’re all about nepotism.”

“Well, it is a family business, right?” I check.

He clears his throat. “Yes. It is. All in the family. Except for Jake, in maintenance. He’s not related to us. Yet. Horty’ll take care of that eventually, though. OhmygoshI’manidiot.”

Shelly giggles. “You’re hilarious.”

“That’s why they usually keep me in the basement with the bodies.”

I’d like to avert my eyes, but I can’t. This guy’s like a case study in social bankruptcy. For a few seconds, I forget I’m not behind a one-way mirror, observing as an objective researcher. Then, remembering I have to participate in this conversation and try to keep it on track, I clear my throat and assume my chirpiest voice, the one I reserve for mean people, large social gatherings, and awkward situations. Shelly claims I use my “Legally Blonde persona” to disarm people and trick them into underestimating my intelligence. In truth, it has nothing to do with my IQ and everything to do with hiding my true feelings. In this case, I’m mortified for this poor guy and want to put him out of his misery.

“I think we’re almost done here. Lena said I could settle up with her tomorrow, after dealing with the lawyer and the bank.”

He blushes. “I’m not here to talk about money, and I don’t mean to rush you out. I just wanted to introduce myself, express my condolences, and uh… embarrass the heck out of myself, apparently. Which is what I’m best at. I can embalm a body in no time flat, but my true talent is humiliating myself. Sorry for your loss. Again. Bye.”

He turns and speed-walks away, giving us a view of his black suit-covered broad back, neatly-trimmed dark hair, and—yeah, I looked—an impressive derriere. He rubs his neck and turns his head, so I can see him muttering to himself as he retreats. When he rounds the corner that leads to the offices down the hall, Mom says, “What an odd person.”

Shelly sighs. “All the cute ones have issues… or baggage.”

 

The Family Plot releases July 20, 2016. Order links coming soon. Follow Brea Brown, Author, on Facebook, or @BreaBrown3 on Twitter for updates.

Monday
May232016

I Know Nothing

I don't know anything. Maybe if you've read a few of the posts on this blog, you would suspect I felt the exact opposite, but that's the thing about writing blogs... you have to pretend you know what the hell you're talking about. But I don't. Not at all. I know nothing. About anything. And the more I learn, the more I realize I don't know.

But when you think you know something (before you're proven so, so wrong about that), there's this glorious time when you don't know what you don't know. As long as you're ignorant of the depth of your ignorance, you can blissfully go along, thinking you have a clue. This generally immediately precedes a humbling event that sets you straight again. And the cycle continues.

Recently, an acquaintance of mine reached out to me and asked if I'd be willing to meet up with her and talk to her about one of my favorite topics: writing and publishing. After my initial excitement at a) having someone local to gab with about writing and b) catching up with an old friend, the reality of the situation sank in. Uh... this person was going to expect me to know what the heck I'm talking about.

And shouldn't I? After all, I've published thirteen books, and I have two more coming out this year (that's the plan, anyway). Only an idiot wouldn't have the hang of it by now, right? It's a process. You go step-by-step through it until you reach the end. Then you start over again. What could be hard about describing that and sharing what I know?

Well.............................

It went fine, of course. Better than fine. It's always wonderful to talk to someone who "gets" the crazy things you say, like, "When I'm stuck on a scene, I just let the characters do whatever they want to do and see how that works out." It was also nice for a night to act like I've got this whole writing career thing under control. By the end of the evening, I almost believed it! Ha!

I did make sure she realized, though, that everything I was saying was specific to me. Most days. And even then, some days, all bets are off. This prevaricating drove home the fact that like one of my favorite literary characters, I really know nothing.

And I'm beginning to be okay with that.

At first, it was crippling. How am I supposed to do the thing that I want to do if I know nothing about how to do it? I must learn all the things! Remember cramming for high school or college exams? My first couple of years of self-publishing felt like that. Every day. And it was exhausting and overwhelming. So now that I'm a grizzled veteran (ha!), I've accepted that I'll never know it all, nor do I want to. Some of it doesn't apply to me, for one thing. And even the things that I should know and be doing that I don't currently do...? I'm not there yet. And that's okay.

My friend had that wild-eyed, panicked, "How am I ever going to remember all of this?" look about her. She took notes. As fun as it was to talk about everything, I started to get the urge to say condescending things like, "Don't worry about that so much now," or "All in due time..." Ugh. Then, when it was clear she was entering the "information overload" stage, I was tempted to gloss over or omit things to spare her further distress. I didn't want to be the one to make her experience that hopelessness you feel when facing what seems like an impossible task. "Just focus on the writing. Focus on the writing."

But sometimes we go through phases when the writing isn't there. There's nothing to focus on, because the muse has abandoned us. That's when it comes in handy to focus on the other parts of the process. But I'm not good at that part. I'm certainly not qualified to tell someone else what to do in those instances other than, "Keep showing up."

On the surface, it sounds pretty lame, but the only thing I do know is that nothing can happen if you're not even there to make it happen. So you show up and hope for the best. And sometimes... sometimes... amazing things happen.

I guess I know something, after all.

Thanks for reading! To return to the FICTION WRITERS BLOG HOP on Julie Valerie’s website, click here: http://www.julievalerie.com/fiction-writers-blog-hop-may-2016

Thursday
Mar312016

The Addiction List

Hello, my name is Brea, and I have an addictive personality. No, I'm not talking about drugs or alcohol. I'm talking about... more shameful things than that. Things like... well, you'll see in a minute, and I'm sure you'll be horrified by a few.

Quitting any of these things wouldn't render me non-functional. If I had to quit them today, I could. (I totally could. I mean... nobody's going to make me, right? But I could.) I just hope to bring awareness to these issues and help someone else suffering with similar problems feel like they're not alone. So... here goes. We'll start small.

  1. Jelly beans. Around Easter, when the jelly beans have been so recently harvested, I eat handfuls for "breakfast" with my first cup of coffee. It's not as disgusting as it should be. And I'm not talking about the gourmet, tiny, delicious kind of jelly beans. I'm talking about the cheap, huge bags of Brach's classic flavors. Those honkin' jelly beans that taste like no fruit in nature and actually leave a waxy coating in your mouth. Those. I keep reminding myself that addiction knows no logic.
  2. British murder mystery shows on Netflix. I'm addicted to Netflix, in general, but who isn't? That obsession is so common nowadays that it wouldn't even make this list by itself. My twist on it may be a tad more unusual. But c'mon! Netflix is baiting me! You should see how many they have on offer! And who knows how long they're going to stay up there, so I have to watch. all. the. shows. now. I'm talking gritty stuff like Ripper Street, but I'm more embarrassingly obsessed with cozier shows like Rosemary & Thyme, Midsomer Murders, Lost in Paradise, and Foyle's War. In fact, I've watched so many of these shows that Netflix is begging me to expand my viewership to American murder mysteries, like Murder She Wrote. But the joke's on them, because I've already seen all of those episodes (and Diagnosis Murder and Father Dowling's Mysteries) when I was a kid and would watch them with my granny. That's right. With my granny. I'm well aware I'm becoming her, and I'm okay with that. Now let's move on; I need to finish this post, so I can watch my stories.
  3. Coffee. Der. Anyone who follows me on Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest (please follow me!) knows this. Most days include some mention of the dark, beautiful beverage. I have an entire Pinterest board devoted to it. And people have taken to sending me pins or tagging me in posts about the hot, caffeinated drink. That's cool, though. I don't mind being that person. It doesn't make me unique--lot of people worship the java--so I'm under no illusions that I'm a special bean. I just like making people smile and laugh... at me, mostly.
  4. Football. (American football) Okay, here's another one that's not particularly original, but I'd feel bad if it didn't make the list. Because I love it so much. Specifically, I love my home-state team, the Kansas City Chiefs. Now, you may think this addiction is seasonal, but you'd be wrong. I devour any news I can find of my team in the off-season, too. I'm still not a huge fan of the Draft (boring!), but I'm so starved for football-related news by that time of the year that I do pay a little bit of attention and pretend like I care. Heck, you know you love something when you fake caring about its most boring aspects. Anyway, in addition to the obvious Pinterest board that pays homage to my love for the sport and my team, I am in the middle of writing a series of books about it. Out of My League, the first book in my Underdog Trilogy, released last fall, and I plan to release another one this year, around the same time (October-ish). And....... that's my plug.
  5. Coloring. Please stop rolling your eyes. It's fun. If you'd stop being so disdainful of anything trendy and would actually try it, you might see how relaxing it is. I particularly like to color at the end of a long day while watching British murder mysteries. Yes, my life is as thrilling as your un-wildest dreams.

    Don't look too closely. Sometimes I color outside of the lines. I'm a rebel that way.
    [Warning: if you're squeamish, skip this next one.]
  6. Gross videos of pimple-popping. Okay, I know this is disgusting, but it's not as unusual as you might think. Most people just aren't as willing as I am to admit it. And no, I don't go seeking out these videos, but because I've watched a few, they do tend to pop (hahahaha) up in my newsfeed on Facebook. Facebook understands me. Also, this is one of those sick fascinations (duh), like gawking as you drive by a car accident. I don't want to want to click that link, but... I do want to click it, so I almost always do. And I almost always regret it. There's something satisfying, though, about it. I'm not going to go into any more detail than I already have, because I get that not everyone will understand, but since there's an entire YouTube channel devoted to this, I know I'm not alone in being morbidly enthralled with this. I just thought you should know what a sick person you're dealing with here. Don't mess with me. (Also, please don't send me a bunch of links to videos like this. I won't be able to resist watching them, and I'll become that weird pimple-popping-watching lady who doesn't have time for anything else. I might lose a lot of weight, though.)
  7. Creepy, abandoned places. Another morbid fascination of mine, shared by many. I'm particularly interested in shopping malls, amusement parks, schools, ghost towns, and athletic venues. You know, places that were once so teeming with humanity now just utterly... vacant. When I look at pictures of places like this, I get this strange, hollow yearning, a wistfulness for a place and time I've never been. The Germans have a word for that (of course): Fernweh (n.)  “farsickness”; being homesick for a place you’ve never been. If you've never experienced it, you're probably thinking it doesn't sound very pleasant, and you might not understand why I would subject myself to such an emotion, but it's not altogether unpleasant. It stirs in me a curiosity, akin to when I people-watch and wonder what their lives are like. It's edifying.
  8. Hummus. It's so darn good. And it's relatively good for you, especially if you eat it with raw veggies, like I tend to do. My faves are broccoli, baby carrots, and celery. Not recommended snacking, however, while watching the videos described above in #6. Just sayin'.
  9. TED Talks. I love to learn. And I love to think. If you feel the same way, TED Talks are for you. Heck, you probably already know about them. I particularly like the ones about psychology (duh) and human motivation. Fascinating stuff!
  10. Illustrations about everyday life/adulthood. I've shared a few of these on Facebook, and I even linked to one in a previous blog. I guess these take me back to a time when one of the best parts of the weekend was reading the comics, even though I was too young to understand half of the things in Doonesbury or Cathy... or even Garfield. Now, talented folks are sharing their illustrations daily, depicting aspects of relationships, parenthood, and general life that are charmingly relatable. My favorite is Hedger Humor, by Adrienne Hedger, but I also love anything by Sarah Andersen, Allie Brosh, and Korean illustrator, Puuung. Makes me wish I could draw, not just color.

After seeing all of this in writing, it's no longer a mystery why my six-year-old can't stop watching videos of Frozen's Elsa singing "Let It Go" or how he can eat the same thing for dinner every single night (if we'd let him) or talk about tsunamis and other natrual disasters (acid rain is a new, delightful favorite). He may not have the same obsessions as me (thank goodness), but he definitely has that obsessive personality. Great. I wish him a lot of luck with that.

Now it's your turn to confess. What are some of your favorite interests/obsessions/addictions? Comment below (and have fun)!

 

Wednesday
Mar302016

To Err is Human

Typos. Gosh, how I hate them! Don't you? They plague us in emails, on social media, in text messages, in blog posts... and in novels. Inevitably, something you write that someone else can see and judge will fall victim to the rogue punctuation mark, homophone, transposed pair of letters, etc. What's the old adage? "I do my best proofreading after I hit 'send'"? Yep. That's about right.

Some people can shrug off their mistakes as a product of human nature and life. Others of us internalize every error as if each boo-boo serves to prove we're mud-sucking, incompetent hacks. (Or is that just me?) Maybe because I'm so self-critical, I've also been known to be critical of typos in others' writing. Heck, catch me on a bad day, and I'll go off on a poorly-edited social medial post. Let's face it: pointing out typos makes us feel superior. "Ah-ha! I saw something the professionals didn't! Ergo, that means I'm a better writer than this person." But does it really work that way? Of course not. And it definitely doesn't mean that person was too cheap, lazy, smug, and/or apathetic (or all of the above) to have someone else look at her book before she published it. You know, like some kind of no-talent INDIE.

What does it mean to be an Indie? To me, it's simply someone who publishes her books independently of an agent or publishing company. The book still goes through all of the quality assurance steps (which I'm not going to go into here, because BORING!) before launching to the public, but I am in control of that process (i.e., I have to make sure it gets done). To the elitist establishment, it means an unvetted writer pens a book (or article or whatever), sort of edits it, sort of proofreads it, sloppily formats it, slaps a homemade cover on it, and publishes it. Nobody else reads the work before it goes public (except, maybe, the author's mom). Nobody examines it to make sure it's "good enough." The Indie author doesn't consult anyone else about what she's written, because FREE SPEECH! Or whatever.

[Excuse me for a second while I go into the other room and scream into a pillow.]

Okay, I'm back. 

Time for a list of home truths, y'all!

  1. I've found errors in every one of my books after they've been published (embarrassing, but true).
  2. I've found errors in every single published book I've ever read. Ever. Regardless of author or publishing method.
  3. Just because something was independently published doesn't mean it wasn't painstakingly edited and proofread.
  4. People edit and proofread books, and people are fallible.

I read an award-winning book recently that I absolutely adored and will be gushing about until my dying day, probably (I'm sorry if you know me personally). It was published by a mid-sized publisher. It contained typos and grammatical errors. Not a lot, but a few. A couple of weeks before that, I read a book by no less than one of the godmothers of chick lit, published by a HUGE house. It had typos and grammatical errors in it. Again, not a lot, but a few. In neither case did I look at the copyright page of the books, tut and say, "That's a [insert name of publishing company here] author for ya!" Nor did I count the boo-boos, because I have a life, and I was too busy enjoying the stories to be a pedantic poophead about it. But they were there. They jumped right out at me, too, because it was my first time reading the books. I hadn't pored over them seventy bazillion times, like the authors surely had. I wasn't on a deadline to get it to publication, like the editors surely were. And if I were to write a formal review of either of those books, I wouldn't even mention the mistakes in the review. Why? Because they didn't matter (although the use of "I" in what should have been the phrase "...between you and me..." did kill a little part of the ridiculous grammar troll inside of me). It was still an excellent book by a talented writer with a voice and a story that deserve to be heard. Period. End of. I only mention them here to prove a point: that no one is perfect, regardless of how he or she publishes her books.

I'm sick of the Indie[endently Published Author] vs. Trad[itionally Published Author] Debate. Almost as sick as I am of American politics at the moment. Yes, I'm that sick of it. But here we are again, talking about it. Not because readers care how a book gets to them (they don't; when was the last time a reader said, "I only read books from Random House"?), but because some consumers of books (readers and writers and publishers alike) immediately assume the worst of an author or book when they find a mistake in an Indie offering. This never-ending, inane argument of Indie vs. Trad fosters the idea that not only are certain types of authors (Indies) the only ones guilty of publishing books that contain errors, but those errors are the hallmark of independently-published books, because big (and small and medium-sized) publishers release only error-free books. Not only is that misconception ludicrous, but it's easily disproved.

You want to call an author a hack because the story's cliché or the characters are flat or the plot is predictable? Fine. But don't presume that any and all failings in a piece can be chalked up to that person being an Indie. Don't insult an entire group of talented writers because their books contain what every single book out there contains... a few rogue errors. Don't judge one book based on another book you read by someone who independently published something and didn't perform his or her due diligence. How a book arrived in front of its audience shouldn't matter at all! Why cut Author McBigshot, with her team of editors, more slack than little old Indie? Conversely, why cut the Indie more slack, with her shoestring budget, than Author McBigshot? How about we all remember #4 in the list above and cut everyone the same amount of slack?

Do the errors distract from the story? If so, bitch away. You're a paying customer; you have a right to quality. But are you just pointing out things as a way of saying, "You don't belong here, and your voice doesn't deserve to be heard, because someone in a suit behind a desk didn't put their stamp of approval on you as a person"? Then you're a jerk.

I make no bones about being an Indie. I don't try to hide it. And I don't want to lead anyone to believe otherwise. Regardless of certain snobbish beliefs held by a few threatened, small people, I don't believe there's any shame in being Indie when you're good at what you do and work hard to serve your readers and produce quality work on a consistent basis. It's simply a choice I've made for myself. Does it work for everyone? Of course not. Some would argue it doesn't even work for me, but I'm not here to defend my choices or debate the pros and cons of every possible publishing method. That's exhausting, not to mention dull as arse. Plus, I would never presume to tell someone else what's right for them. Only self-important a-holes do that. Their blog posts go viral, but... at what cost?

Mistakes in manuscripts have nothing to do with Indie- versus Traditionally-published. I own the few mistakes in my books (go ahead... count them... they're there) because I'm imperfect. And the people on my team are imperfect. We screw up. We miss things.

Don't pin that on being "Indie," though. Pin that on being human.

And please... for the love of Jane Austen... stop using the word "Indie" like some kind of NSFW literary slur.

 

Thanks for reading! This post is part of the FICTION WRITERS BLOG HOP on Julie Valerie’s website. To return there, click here: http://www.julievalerie.com/fiction-writers-blog-hop-mar-2016