Harmon Drake

Let me tell you a little bit about Harmon Drake. You’ll meet him in a few weeks, I hope, but you’ll always see him through Etta Capstone’s eyes. Now, I think Etta’s got a good understanding of Harmon, but you need to remember that she sees everything through the distorting lens of emotion & memory. Sees even Harmon that way. I see him more clearly than Etta but I love him less than she does, so maybe in the end it all evens out into some kind of truth. Harmon Drake is faithful in his duties and steady in his affections. He’s not handsome or refined or smooth-talking. Even Etta admits that his only attractive feature is his eyes. He has no imagination to speak of & he’s not especially witty, though if you pay attention, he’ll make you laugh.

Harmon is that man you see pushing his invalid wife in a wheelchair at the craft show. Goodness knows he’d never go to a craft show on his own, but she wanted to go and she needed him to take her. So he did. Made interested comments about the amateur paintings & rested his hand ever so briefly on her shoulder when they hit a bump in the gravel path. He’s been there to steady her all their life together.

Harmon Drake is that man who doesn’t stop loving his wife, though she’s long vanished into the fog of Alzheimer’s. He goes to the nursing home every day & sits with her & holds her hand & talks to her like she’s still there. Which she isn’t, of course, though to him that frail woman who stares at him in bewilderment & asks the same question over & over & over is still the slim girl with the dancing eyes he met and loved all those years ago. Wife. Lover. Companion. Mother of his children. Center of his universe.

That’s Harmon Drake. Faithful in his duties. Steady in his affections.

Maybe I don’t love him that much less than Etta, after all.

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Characters You Like (~or not~)

When I look back with an objective eye (as objective as possible, anyway) at my 5 fictional female leads ~ Louisa, Hope, Katherine, Johanna, Dinah ~ the one constant I find in them is a strong element of belief in herself. Belief that she can make a difference in her own future, in her community, & in her world. In some respects they’re as different as night & day – Hope with one change of clothing to her name; Johanna with a fortune in the bank – but they have a sort of universal optimism that reflects the times in which they live. Since I didn’t consciously give these women that streak of bright & hopeful confidence, it probably means it’s a trait I admire.
Which is why I view setting Etta Capstone loose on the world with some trepidation. In her own way, Etta has a similar streak of hopefulness, though it’s much harder to find anything bright or optimistic in her. She’s had a terrible past, my Etta, & her thinking’s skewed because of it. When you meet her, you’ll need to give her time to grow on you (& ignore her language, please.) Etta is a patchwork of memory and emotion & it takes her longer to see things clearly. So it may take you longer to see Etta clearly, as well. Give her time. And I hope when you turn the last page & close the book you’ll be able to say, “O, Etta” ~ say it with affection for a woman who endured the unendurable and in her own way triumphed and with satisfaction for a story well told. Etta Capstone. Coming soon.

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First & last blog of 2012

I’m awful at this whole blogging thing. Really. (not that you need me to tell you that) And I just signed up for Twitter & I know I’ll be awful at that, too. I’m advised to market with all kinds of technical tricks & social media, but I can’t fit it all in my life; that’s the problem. Apologies to anyone who took the time to read my first blogs. I have more starts & stops in me than the old 1949 Dodge my mother used to drive. I’ll try to do better in 2013.

So my last blog entry was October, 2011!!!!! How is that possible? What have I been doing the last 14 months??? Well, to my defense I finished my 6th book, which will be out early in 2013 ~ the true reason for this blog entry. Book 6 is NOT part of the Laramie Series. It’s a stand-alone story, darker & rougher & a harder read: love & faithfulness, death & vengeance, brutality & tenderness, unbearable loss & hope & risk, the best and worst of human nature ~ all mixed up together. More will follow – including title & publication date – so follow me on FB (on Twitter, too, if I can figure it out) for further details in the new year. And I’ll try to do a better job of keeping my fans (you know who you are) updated.

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The Thrill of a New Word

Steve Jobs’ resignation from Apple 40 days ago was the first time I had ever heard, seen, or known of the word pescatarian. Pescatarian. What a lovely, utilitarian kind of word. And who would guess that I would have anything in common with the creative genius behind Apple computers? Whatever parts of Mr. Jobs’ brain light up in technological intelligence only blink – intermittently and with hesitation – in mine. Still, in the wonderfully unifying power of language, we are both pescatarians. Which has nothing to do with signs of the zodiac or political preferences. Steve Jobs is a vegetarian that will on occasion eat fish. I am, too. So the king of iPads and iPhones and a man that can tilt the Dow with only a brief announcement and I, possessor of neither iPad nor iPhone and a woman whose only connection with the Dow is a rapidly-dwindling 401(k) account, are both pescatarians. How very encouraging that there is a word – the combination of the Italian word for fish (pesce) and the word vegetarian – that crosses economic, social, and gender lines to describe basic eating practices. And how validating to find that sometime in the last 2 decades the language hatched a word for my own personal food habits. A good reminder that language is fluid and reflects its environment. Thank you, Mr. Jobs, for adding to my vocabulary, however unintentional on your part. I wish you good health and happy eating. (I have a great recipe for herbed Salmon. Just shoot me an email [sorry, I don’t text] and I’d be happy to share.)

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Too, too bad that we will lose the Borders stores! Bookstores have such allure! Like libraries, the mystique of all those books – those characters, those adventures, all that information still to be discovered – is intoxicating. Don’t ya just love tables of discount books & the thrill of digging through them looking for a hidden gem? And then there are all those cookbooks and all those recipes waiting to be tried!

Well, for whatever reason – whether the rise of the ebook or the decline of reading in general or the bad economy or poor corporate planning on Borders’ part or the vast disconnect with the reading public by conglomerate publishers and literary agencies located on the periphery of the U.S. that remain totally, happily ignorant of the literary likes & dislikes of 85% of Americans – whatever the reason, I hate to see Borders go. It’s our loss. For all the refills at Panera’s, you just can’t beat the pleasure of sitting in the Borders cafe sipping a cup of Seattle’s Best surrounded by all those books!

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I wonder how, or if, a person can look at her writing in a completely objective way. Possible? Maybe not. I don’t know. I’d like to think I’m a good writer that tells an interesting story with competent technique. But if that were the case, would I have enough rejection letters to paper the walls of a ballroom in Buckingham Palace? I just finished a book that was supposed to be a mystery, but which was (for me) nonsense start to finish. Illogically plotted, unnecessarily gross, peopled with unsympathetic characters, & sometimes just plain goofy with zombies & animal sacrifices & all kinds of silliness. (Yes, I’m being stalked by a murderous zombie so I think I’ll just take my flashlight & leave the safety of my office to see what made that peculiar shuffling noise at the end of that dark hallway. Really?? What rational woman wouldn’t barricade the door with her desk & call security??? I can’t stand it.) Yet the book is one of a series published by a mainstream publisher – a series likely to go on forever. If people didn’t buy the book, the publisher wouldn’t publish the book & the series wouldn’t have continued through multiple volumes.

Well, I see where that line of thought leads me: straight to a story about a turn-of-the-century werewolf suffragette (do werewolves always have to be male? I think not!) that falls in love with a playboy vampire. O wait. I already wrote that book – but without the werewolf and the vampire. If only I’d known then what I know now I would have titled it “Suck the Blood from my Circled Heart” & I’d be on my way to significant book sales. Well, rats! (Ooooo – another idea! – a story about giant rats living in the wilds of Wyoming that prey on single women homesteaders…)

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In a Perfect World (Part 2)

So for argument’s sake, let’s say you followed all the steps I suggested in Part 1 of “In a Perfect World” to get your book published. You correctly identified and properly approached several literary agents. And let’s say – also for argument’s sake, because a few writers will strike paydirt from at least 1 of their initial queries & why shouldn’t you be 1 of those writers? – that all the agents responded that they were not interested in your book.

(Some will do so kindly, will use your name in the response & say things like, “Don’t get discouraged” or “All agents are different” or “This may be the perfect project for another agent.” And some won’t bother with a greeting at all or use your name (unless your name really is Author, as in “Dear Author”) and will say something inconsequential and vague like, “I just can’t get excited about this project.” A few agents – like the young woman who recently requested the 1st 3 chapters of my Gold Mountain – may give a reason for their rejection, and believe it or not, those are the BEST rejections [oxymoron?] because at least you know the person read some part of what you wrote. Agree or disagree with the critique, always consider criticism from someone in the business of books to be helpful.)

Anyway, you stare at that final incoming rejection (you know it’s the last 1 because you’ve faithfully tracked all your queries & responses) & you ask yourself, “Now what?” Well, first give yourself time to get over the shock that agents are not lined up outside your front door with contracts in hand begging to represent you. (Come on, admit it. We’re all friends here. You KNOW not getting at least 1 little nibble would be a shock.) Once the incredulity passes, have a large glass of merlot (good for your heart and your spirits), and read on. The world only seems dark for the moment. Here are some practical options:

1. Do everything all over again; approach a new group of researched agents.

2. Skip the agent part & research & approach publishers appropriate for your book. Follow the same process you used for agents…
(…but be warned that many – most, even – reputable, top-line publishers will say unequivocally on their websites that they will not accept un-agented materials. IMO, they mean it, but I tend to play by the rules. If you choose to ignore their stern words & send them something anyway, I’d be very interested in what does or doesn’t subsequently happen.)

3.Go back to whatever writing project currently holds your attention & forget about getting your book into print (until the “I-want-to-published” bug bites you again.)

4. Start networking: research & – based on your budget – attend some literary conferences or join a writers’ association of some kind or join a local writing group. Volunteer to help on their committees. Get involved. Talk to published authors about what worked for them. Google writing events in your geographical areas & attend those that are practical for your personal situation.

5. Decide to bypass the traditional process in its entirety & read everything you can get your hands on about “Print-on-Demand” publishing.

You don’t have to pick only 1 of the above options & permanently eliminate all the others. You don’t even have to do them consecutively because it’s possible to take all of the actions simultaneously. But if – like me – you’re still working outside & inside the home & you have have limited time and/or money, juggling more than 1 alternative at a time might deplete you both physically & financially.

Anyway, for 3 years I worked my way up & down the above list – 1, 2 ,3, 4, & 5 with several repeats along the way – until my 1st novel, Lily’s Sister, came out in 2006. Clearly, with a book published (4 books, really) I must have made some kind of decision about the choices shown. And it’s true. I did. It wasn’t a decision without risk or regret, but my take on how to proceed if the standard approach to gettting published, the approach you’ll read in all the “How To” articles & publishing guides doesn’t work for you is a post for another day.

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For all of you that ask or wonder…

…”when is the next book coming out?” here’s what’s up. I don’t want to be presumptuous, but my internal generalization (false though it may be) says if you’re reading this post then you may have asked me that title question or you may have read something I’ve written & maybe you care what’s in the Karen J. Hasley pipeline. My last published book was Circled Heart out in January of 2010, but I haven’t been sitting around eating bon-bons (do you know the Ray Bradbury short story about the last 2 people left on earth? Sitting around eating bon-bons always makes me think of it 🙂 ) and pondering the mysteries of life. No indeed. In no particular order, here’s what keeps me (more than) busy:

1) Researching & approaching literary agents. (see my post just prior to this one for the details of doing so. It’s a time-consuming process.) I haven’t been especially happy with the small off-off Broadway Print-on-Demand publisher I’ve used for all 4 of my books (To be fair, I think it’s the POD industry, not the publisher, but their accounting is not transparent & they’re always $$-motivated instead of service-motivated; just try talking to a live person once the book is out! Impossible!) So I made the decision – for the umpteenth time – to try to convince a reputable literary agent to represent me to major, mainstream publishers (Most of both agents & publishers are located in NYC.) I queried 10 agents, received 8 immediate rejections, had 2 initial nibbles – sent additional info – & was ultimately rejected by both. I haven’t given up & continue to add to my list of agents to approach.

2) The agent rejections, however, moved me along to contact those few publishers that will deal directly with the author without an agent. I sent The Dangerous Thaw of Etta Capstone (o, a lovely story!- not part of my Laramie Series but a wonderful female protagonist, set in the Piney Woods of east Texas in 1877, & supplemented with old TX recipes) to major NYC Avon Publishing in April so should know yea or nay by the end of July. Sent Claire, After All & Listening to Abby to e-publisher Wild Rose Press in May & June so I hope to hear back by the end of summer. (Those 2 books are lightweight; 2 of a series of 3 I wrote set in Victorian England & just meant to be a quick, fun read)

3) I am polishing (that is, rereading in detail & editing as I go) Gold Mountain, book 5 of the Laramie series. GM brings into the storyline several characters from the 1st 4 Laramie books: the dysfunctional Gallagher parents from San Francisco (find them at the beginning of Waiting for Hope, in Where Home Is, & Circled Heart, too,) Johanna Swan as a young girl (the female protagonist of Circled Heart,) & Hope Birdwell’s mother Bea from Waiting for Hope) seen at the very end of her unfortunate life. The 2 literary agents that looked at the 1st 50 pages of GM said it did not “grab” them. I’m not sure what that means, but I’ll pay attention & see if I can make the novel “grabbier.” (but without compromising style or content or storyline, which may be tricky)

4) I am rereading my 1st 25,000 words of the last book of the Laramie series – tentatively titled Magnificent Farewell from a Wilfred Owen poem (Owen was perhaps the most famous WW1 poet; he died in the war.) The book is set in the WWI timeframe. Gus – Lou & John’s youngest child from Lily’s Sister – fights in the first world war & it’s his story, really, tho told through another’s eyes. This is my 4th try at starting the book, which has never happened to me before – all my other books wrote themselves; all I did was punch the keys – & that makes me think it will end up being really wonderful, best-of-the-best or really awful. (Let’s hope for the former.) Although if I don’t find an agent or improved publisher, it’s unlikely it will ever be judged by anyone but me.

5) Blogging. This isn’t done by a ghost-writer, you know. Thought & time & editing all go into what you’re reading at this very moment. (& I haven’t found the spellcheck button yet so my hint of ocd kicks in before I ever hit the ‘publish’ button – you’d be shocked at how many times I read this post before it goes live!)

Of course, there’s day to day life, too – making the house payment & weeding the garden & keeping up with my part-time job & reading my Father’s Word – but it’s absolutely true that when I’m not writing physically fingertip to keyboard I’m writing mentally, always thinking about stories & characters & settings & dialogue. I have a blessed life, for sure! (A crowded brain being a happy brain, apparently) Part of that blessed life, the internal part if you will, sometimes overflows with ideas & words. The grace upon grace with which I’ve been showered still holds the power to surprise me. I don’t know how or when that literary faucet turned on – or even who’s at the spigot – but I consider it a gift & I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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In a Perfect World (part 1)

If you’ve ever considered (dreamed of – fantasized – talked about) being a published author, or you know someone who has, here’s how the process would work in a perfect world, a perfect internet & email world:

1. Write the great American novel. (You will likely discover that this is the easiest step of the entire process. Seriously.)

2. Write a 1-2 page synopsis of your entire book. 1st, google book synopsis & get all the details of a good synopsis. Then try your hand at conveying the full sweep of your novel in no more than 2 double-spaced pages. Keep at it. Write it 1 day & go back to it the next & cut more words. Repeat. Repeat. A great exercise in concise writing!

3. Use the web to find literary agents that specialize in the genre of your book (genre=mystery, romance, fantasy, women’s, western etc.) & make a list of the names & web addresses. It’s a simple search (“literary agents for romance novels,” for example.) Cross check each agent on your list to be sure s/he’s reputable by going to aaronline.org (Association of Authors’ Representatives) & be sure each name on your list is a member. Do not approach anyone that’s not a member of that org. It’s not a perfect guarantee but it will keep you away from the more carnivorous sharks.

(why an agent? you ask: 2 reasons -1) reputable agents offer entree to the best publishing houses because they have contacts there, often because they used to work in that arena, and 2) those same publishers will usually welcome only manuscripts that are ‘agented,’ meaning they will not accept anything directly from the author)

4. Go to each agent’s website & click on the Submissions link. Follow their Submissions directions EXACTLY; jump through every hoop. Use the font & font size they want; measure your margins; make sure your email has the greeting & word count they want. Be careful. Be very careful. IMO, it’s all a “screening out” process so don’t give even a superficial excuse to rule you out of consideration.

(In the old days [old=2002-03] agents still accepted USPS requests & I recall 1 agent that would consider your manuscript only if you included a self-addressed, stamped envelope for him to mail you his decision about representing your book -not unusual then, except the only envelope he’d accept was a self-stick, safety strip envelope – apparently, glue on the flap of your envelope made your entire manuscript unacceptable!)

5. Write what’s known as a Query letter. ‘Pitch’ your book. See #4 above. Jump through more hoops. See #2 above, but google “Writing a Query Letter.” Read about them & read examples of both good & bad queries.

6. Once you have your list of agents, send them EXACTLY what they ask for – which will almost certainly include your (perfectly edited) synopsis & query letter – in the manner they ask for it. (usually items are NOT accepted as an attachment in this spam-prone world but are included in the body of your email.) Use some kind of calendar to record when you sent the email & how long of a wait there will be before you get a response. *

*My opinion about #6? (I know you’ve never asked for my opinion but that hasn’t stopped me so far) Do not apply to a literary agent that says s/he will respond only if s/he’s interested in your book. You end up going into a great black literary hole & are never sure anyone even looked at your email. Besides all that, such a response is discourteous & disrespectful to you as an author. If you take the time to follow their directions, at the very least they can send a reply, even if it’s a ‘thanks-but-no-thanks’ form response. You deserve that much respect. Don’t buy into that “We’re so busy we can’t be bothered with a response unless we’re interested” stuff. Everybody’s busy. You know it. I know it. It’s a way to try to legitimize bad manners so straighten your author’s spine & take a stand~!

(Part 2 to follow another day)

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So I’ve been trying to recall…

when writing for my own (solitary) pleasure stopped behind enough, and I’m working on the answer with a kind of “stream-of-consciousness” technique that works best written down in black & white. I still write for myself, but it’s become much more important to me that others read what I write. Why that’s so, why my attitude changed and when, are (surprisingly) hard queries. I don’t want a bazillion reader-fans in order to become rich & famous (I have nothing against being rich & famous, mind you) because I know that won’t happen. The cosmos has room for just so many Rowlings & Kings. I think that for me the core seduction comes from wanting others to meet my characters. The people in my books aren’t really “made up” to me, they’re real (well, some of them – Jane Addams & Alice Hamilton & the like – are real, but you know what I mean) and I think it’s on the same emotional level as having a good friend & wanting another friend to meet her because I care so much about both of them. Now we all know it’s not true that if A loves B and A loves C then B & C will be crazy about each other, too, but once I gave life to Louisa Caldecott & John Rock Davis I wanted others to know them, the way a person hopes that her good friends will like each other as much as she likes them. For a lot of years I wrote & stashed & shredded & wrote & stashed & shredded some more, but there was something about Lily’s Sister, the characters & the emotions, that planted a seed of longing for others to read the book, too, to love Lou & John, & to care about what happened to them. I never suspected that would happen. I figured writing would always be a private hobby for me & it wouldn’t matter that I had a stack of manuscripts on the floor next to my desk that no one but me would ever read. But it does matter. Really matters. Which is why I started this blog & updated my website, why I’d like to be technologically savvy enough to put a Facebook Like button on my website home page (I spent all afternoon trying to figure that out yesterday & am no closer to success now than I was when I started; my conclusion is that technical directions are NEVER intended for NON-techies but how much sense does THAT make…??), why I continue to send manuscripts to agents & publishers & swallow the rejection & do it all over again. (I understand how addicted gamblers feel – maybe this time I’ll hit the jackpot – but that’s a post for another day.) So I suppose the moment I created characters that I enjoyed being around, that I truly cared about, was the moment I became a public writer & left my “hobby writing” behind. And once that happened, there was no going back. Even if I’d wanted to go back. Which I didn’t. And still don’t.

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