Memorial Day Giveaway

The Burnouts, Geeks & Jesus Freaks want you to have the perfect beach bag this summer.  It’s cute, big and lets the world know you love a good love story.  

You can enter to win starting at Midnight, Central time on Monday, May 26, 2014.  The contest ends at Midnight on May 27th.  It is open to U.S. residents only (sorry international readers, I love you, but shipping charges, eeek).  One bag will be given away in this promotion.

The winner will be chosen at random by Rafflecopter and notified via social media.  The winner will need to provide a mailing address to me (Karen Gordon) via I will not share your personal email address or use it for any other promotional purposes (’cause I hate that stuff!)

Spread the words so your friends can enter to win too and thank you for all your support.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Working from Your Gut

I’ve written a few blog posts about working alone, at home.  I have three jobs (Mom, Writer and Instructor) and none require I actually go to an office.  There are drawbacks, loneliness being the biggest one, but that is eclipsed by the benefits.  I love my flexible schedule and non-existent work uniform, the quiet work area and fully stocked lunch room.

Having so much flexibility can be great, but it really puts all the weight on my shoulders to get results and define what kind of results I want.  It’s an exciting challenge but I’m starting to get a better feel of the daily choices necessary to be a CEO.  I’m having to filter out more than I let in or I’ll just keep spinning my wheels in place.

I have fallen into the wide sea of book marketing sources.  Once you put it out there that you are a self-published author, idea and programs start pouring in to help you market your book.  Some of it is great, some of it is crap, and I could spend (waste?) days sorting through it all.  At some point I have to stop researching, make some decision and move forward.  Of course, the minute I do I receive a new article telling me that the option I just chose was the worst one another author ever used.  (frowney face)

I have definitely made some mistakes while self-publishing and most have been due to a lack of information. It gets tempting to over-read and over-research my next move when I run into one of these errors.  I could easily get into a mobius-strip cycle where I might think I was getting somewhere, only to find I’m actually just running in circles.  

But I’ve learned another thing along the way (this just recently). I have to listen to my gut, to the way something feels, and base my decisions on that.  What was a bad move for one author, might not be for me.  Books are like fingerprints, each unique, so they need a fingerprint marketing plan.  I created my book so I am the only one who can get a “feel” if I am on the right track.  

By self-publishing I moved myself from worker bee to CEO.  No one can give me a list of tasks that need to be completed.  There is something so satisfying about crossing tasks off a to-do list and patting yourself on the back that you are on track.  But it is so much more satisfying to study, research, plan, implement, analyze then start over again, learning from my mistakes along the way.  I’m developing my CEO gut instincts with each move I make and it’s a thrill ride. 

MG Ulrich – Pot stirrer, boat rocker, purveyor of fun

There has to be one in every group (or at least any group worth belonging to).  She’s the one who looks for trouble (otherwise known as fun) then grabs a few friends and brings them along for the ride.  In “Burnouts, Geeks & Jesus Freaks: a love story” that girl is MG Ulrich.  

Although not based on any one specific person, I knew MG in high school.  These were girls who were pied pipers, leading willing followers astray. They either knew where the great parties were, or they created one.  They were unpredictable, creative and usually lucky in life.  All MG traits.  

The fact that MG has never used her given name gives some insight into her personality.  She is her own person and creates the world the way she wants it to be. Her style changes with her whims. She lives in the present and doesn’t let things like not knowing her father or other negatives in her past effect her. She also gives little thought to her future. With no specific plans she is happy to tag along on her mom’s dreams and just see where life takes her.  

Her friends are her family, and that includes her mom. Only seventeen years apart, they are more friends than parent and child.  This gives her too much freedom, but it also develops her sense of self-sufficiency. She may not do it in a traditional (or safe) way, but MG can take care of herself and others.  She is a cheerleader (sometimes literally) for her friends. 

People are drawn to her good looks and energetic personality and she gets a lot of perks in life. She is aware of her windfall and loves to share it with her friends. 

She may not know where she wants to go in her future, but she knows what she doesn’t want. Like her mother she loves luxury and a very comfortable life. Anything that might keep her from that life is ruled out, including love. At seventeen she sees obvious and attainable benefits in material gratification and love as a dangerous distraction. 

Although her fate is hinted at in “Burnouts, Geeks & Jesus Freaks”, the details of her story and that of her friend/boyfriend/lover Steve won’t be known ’til book two, “Popstars, Friends & Lovers” – October 2014.  

 #  ♪ ☺ ♥

Carrie is Complex (but don’t tell her you know)

Actress Sarah Bolger would make a great Carrie* 

Like so much in “Burnouts, Geeks & Jesus Freaks: a love story” Carrie Gould is average and plain on the surface.  She is average looking, has average grades and comes from an typical suburban family.  That’s the way the world sees her and she likes it that way.  But only because she has to work to keep up the appearance of average, typical and normal.

Carrie was one of the most complex characters that I created and I was tempted to tell the story in first person from her point of view because she keeps so much of who she really is under wraps.  In the end it was more challenging and a better story to let her conflicted, complex self come through in her actions (and sometimes her thoughts).  

Her struggles mainly come from her home life.  Her mother has strong narcissistic tendencies and her father is emotionally disconnected.  That combination of personalities plus her parent’s odd, but lasting marriage creates a world for Carrie that is internally dysfunctional yet easily appears unblemished to outsiders.  Her scars are all internal, invisible to everyone.

The conflict between her outward appearance and internal struggles are played out in her social life.  Only those who know her well understand why she feels more connected to the burnout kids.  Although her family is physically intact, it is emotionally just as broken as the kids who are missing parents and their support.

Her conflict is further complicated (and hidden) by the fact that she is generally a happy person and spends a lot of time laughing with her friends.  As is often the case with kids from broken or damaged homes, Carrie’s friends replace what is missing in her life.  They give her the pep talks and support she doesn’t get at home.  

Carrie’s personality was also created as the perfect contrast to Ben’s.  She’s as impulsive as he is regimented.  She pushes him to lighten up and he gives her stability.  He is the Yin to her Yang; together making each a better person. 

The final elements I added to her character was the internal strength that emerges when life puts her to the test through her marriage.  The silver lining to having grown up in an unstable home is her ability to handle chaos and keep working when everything is falling apart around her.  

I get more compliments on Carrie than any other character.  She is the most relatable and readers tell me they feel like they knew her in high school.  Which is a huge compliment to me.  It feels great to have created such a complex, yet real, character.

*Note* I did an interview that will appear on the Pretty Little Pages blog.  I was asked to choose actors who could play each character.  See all my choices on June 2nd. 

In the Middle of a Dream

Last night I had one of those moments where I realized I was in the middle of a dream.  The best thing was, I wasn’t asleep.  I was working.  

I did my first interview as a writer last night.  The lovely Kristen from the Pretty Little Pages blog sent me a list of questions about me and my book and I got to spend a few hours crafting my answers.  It was a blast.  I had to consult with two of my best friends on a dream cast if (when?) my book is made into a movie.  I can’t imagine any “job” where you could have more fun at work than that.  **The interview will be on the blog on June 2nd – but I’ll put notices all over FB and Twitter.

I also created a rafflecopter for another blog review that will happen on June 1st on the Bookish Babe website.  The reviewer, Andrea, is one of the incredible people I have met on my chaotic journey into self-publishing.  I follow her on Twitter and enjoy not only her reviews, but her tweets about her life in general. 

The last thing I did before bed was reply to an email from Alex Stargazer.  He’s also a new self-published author and we met through our mutual cover designer, Deranged Doctor Designs. Alex and I have formed our own indie writers gang (we’re working on a gang sign) where we help each other through the maze of marketing, publicity, and now piracy. (He let me know his e-book was pirated – boo hiss. Torrenting is stealing!) But with each other our offices of one have expanded and we will recruit other authors into our gang in the future. (With some kind of bad ass initiation, I’m sure).

Somewhere in the middle of all this I realized that I was living a life that I had only dreamed about at one point in time.  I’m in my dream … and it rocks!  I’m doing work that is so incredibly fun, it doesn’t feel like work. I’m connecting with people through my writing and that is a high that I can’t even begin to describe.  For me, that’s what keeps me writing, pushing past stuck spots and working to create the best story and characters I can.  

I’m not writing today, but not because I’ve given up.  I actually had a great day of writing yesterday.  I’ve got a lot of errands to run on a BEAUTIFUL Friday, but one is getting an hour and 1/2 massage, a birthday gift from my husband.  

At one point in time I dreamed of this; being a writer, getting good reviews, connecting with readers.  I’m sure I was sitting in a cubicle somewhere thinking that it was a nice dream, but unlikely to come true. But now that I’m in it, I can say it feels even better than I imagined.  

Geek Love

Ben may be the easiest character to give you background on because he hits closest to home. I live in the house of geek, myself included.  How do you know if you have a geek house?  
If your 8 year old asks for a periodic table poster for his birthday – you live in a geek house.
If you watch The Big Bang Theory because it’s so much like your family – you live in a geek house.
If they know you by name at the local library and all local museums – you live in a geek house.  
In another post on another day I want to write more about geek life.  Today, I want to take a closer look at Ben Gorman, geek hero.  

Burnouts, Geeks and Jesus Freaks: a love story really started with Ben.  While I love a good bad-boy hero in a romance novel, I want some variety too.  After “Beautiful Disaster” and “50 Shades” I was ready for a different kind of hero and had a really hard time finding him (in a book).  So I created him.  I’ve seriously got a thing for smart men, so it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to create Ben and wrap a story around him.  

I used some of the great characteristics of smart men and some of the seriously annoying ones because I wanted him to be real.  In the first chapter his strong personality comes through in his actions.  Geeks love consistency and pattern, so Ben has to bounce a basketball exactly three times before he will shoot it.  He follows rules, including manners (because they bring order), and wants others to follow them too.  He tries to train the neighbor kid in manners and gets irritated with Carrie uses bad table manners.  He also has a tendency to say things that are true, but might not be socially acceptable.  A trait he knows he has, but can’t seem to stop.  

His geeky traits are also what make him a great romance hero (at least in my eyes).  He is aware of his status as a social outsider and generally fine with it.  He never does or says things to increase his social standing and he is honest to a fault.  These traits allow the heroine, Carrie, to trust him in a way she won’t trust other guys. As I say in the blurb, their love begins with trust.  

Physically, I made him a late bloomer.  By not getting his growth spurt till high school he experiences some of the big social years in junior high school and early high school as the little geeky kid.  When he does grow up (literally) he’s mature enough to not want to use his new-found stature for revenge on those who bullied him in the past.  His focus, like most of my character’s, is not on the social buzz of high school.  His goals go way beyond winning a football game, so he isn’t concerned with winning popularity once it’s in his grasp.

The question I get asked most often is if Ben is based on a real person. Yes and no.  He is actually a combination of four men.  I found a pic online of a young, blonde soldier.  He was the perfect combination of innocence and steely focus.  That’s who I pictured in my mind as I wrote.  I didn’t have to look farther than my living room for geek traits, both good and bad.  And I was allowed to borrow high school memories from someone else for his romantic words and gestures.  

He’s different; imperfect, not wealthy, a little socially off key, but that’s why I created him.  I (and hopefully you) want some variety in my romance heroes.  

May I Present Joelle Welker

When I create a character for a novel I actually create so much more than ends up in the book.  In order to keep their thoughts and actions consistent I need to know a lot about them; what motivates them, their past and dreams for the future, how they feel about they way they look and their place in this world.  

Joelle Welker, my self-proclaimed Jesus Freak, is one of the most controversial characters in the book.  She is a character not often seen outside of Christian literature.  In this book she’s not a main character, not the heroine, but also not the villain.  I created her (and absolutely love her) for a myriad of reasons.  

Cute tee that Joelle would wear (avialable on Zazzle)

Her name is sweet and very feminine (and French) and speaks of a soft, sweet, docile girl.  However, I created her as a great match for Ben because they are a lot alike in character.  Both are focused, committed, loyal and leaders within their social groups.  I could easily see where they would be attracted to each other and make a great couple in high school.  Their issues start to arise as they get older and one of the things that drew them together, dedication, starts to break them apart.  A relationship where neither party wants to bend is often doomed.  She matches Ben in corresponding negative traits too. She is as inflexible and controlling he is and as strong leaders often are.

Part of what makes her controversial is her treatment of Carrie, which is not exactly the Christian ideal.  What it is (at least in my eyes) is real and typical of any sixteen-year-old girl in love.  She is socially smarter than Ben and correctly reads his unspoken feelings.  I like that she isn’t some shrinking violet who sits in the corner and cries over this fact.  She puts up a fight with whatever she has in her arsenal.  Again, the traits that make her a great match for Ben, intelligence and drive, are the same ones that drive them apart.  In the end she is angry (and I don’t blame her) and she vents it in a way she probably regrets later.  Most of us did a few crazy or stupid things in the name of love in high school.  

*spoiler alert* By keeping her character consistent, I was able to give her her own HEA (happily ever after) which I think turned out to be even better than what she would have had with Ben.  Their relationship never would have survived their strong matching character traits whether Carrie was around or not.  

As I work on the sequel I am delving deeper into MG and Steve; their motivations, traits, dreams and desires.  It’s made me realize how much I leave out and that my readers might like to see more about the background I create for each character.  Over the next few weeks I’ll present Ben and Carrie, MG and Steve and even introduce a few important minor characters from “Popstars, Friends and Lovers.”  

One final note: I’ve created a hash tag for the second book. Almost all social media is now recognizing hash tags as a way to categorize information to make it easier to find.  With my long titles, I would use up most of my Twitter characters with #BurnoutsGeeksJesusFreaks.  So, in a fit of cleverness (at least in my mind) I created #♪☺♥ for the second book.  Now you can search it on any social media if you want to follow along.  

Finally, a Date

I thought I would switch gears a little this morning and pimp another book besides mine.  I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, but the “Outlander” series by Diana Gabeldon is being made into a TV series by Starz.

In case I haven’t badgered you already about the books, I’ll do that now.  “Outlander” is the best romance of the 20th century.  But it is so much more than a romance novel.  There is time travel, and detailed history, and druids and fairies and a boat load of interesting characters that are woven into a complex story that spans seven (very soon to be eight) books.  This author will blow your mind with her ability to manage so many complex story lines simultaneously.  

And now, we will have a TV series based on these books.  Yesterday Starz finally announced that the series will premier on August 9th.  I will be unavailable most of that day and part of the next (planned Outlander hangover).  We cray-cray fans have been given lots of pre-release press and I can report that the cinematography is stunning, the series is sticking very closely to the books and the two lead actors are yummy (and they have a fantastic chemistry together).

A hot couple with loads of chemistry – squeee!

 For those who are not fans (yet), you might think I’m bringing this up too far in advance.  We have an entire summer of vacations and keeping kids out of trouble between now and then.  I’m telling you now so you can read the book(s) before the series.  

Although it looks like director Ronald Moore is doing an amazing job, there is no way to capture all the details of the book in the series.  There will always be so much going on in the minds of characters that cannot be translated to film (at least not without the cheezy voice-over).  

A few warnings about the first book:  1) it’s huge.  Don’t let that deter you. It will suck you in and when you finish it you will be jonesing for more. 2) You will be jonesing for more.  I can attest that once you start, things like feeding your family will become a nuisance that keeps you from reading. 3) for some, it starts slow.  If you aren’t a history buff, the “Frank” part in the beginning will drag.  Hang on ’til there is a wedding.  Once you get there you will either be completely hooked or you should bail because it just isn’t for you.  

Once you are hooked you can join a world of other fanatic fans – like me!  For those who jump on the bandwagon today, you’re welcome. I’m happy to pass along my insider tip.

Suburban Soul

There are times when I don’t want to admit that I grew up in, and currently live in, suburbia.  Almost anyplace sounds more interesting. It’s the land of houses and lawns and neighborhoods and strip malls that all look the same and exist in the same pattern around almost every major U.S. city.  And by default, we suburban dwellers are often seen as all the same.  We are the families with 2.5 kids, swing sets in the back yard, and baloney sandwiches for lunch. It’s seen as the middle of the road where middle-income families drive mid-sized cars to their mid-level management jobs wearing their mid-priced mall wear. 

We are mocked in movies and scorned by hipsters who insist that creativity and passion can only exist in places with independent coffee shops, non-standard house paint colors and high crime.  The consensus is that exciting stories and interesting people can’t be found in the aisles of Target and Lowes or on soccer field sidelines.  But I live here, I know better.

My Suburbia

I’ll admit there is a Stepford-like element to living here.  Conformity is encouraged and rewarded both in housing and personal demeanor.  Crazy is generally not welcomed and should be concealed.  But that’s where the fun starts.  Crazy set out in the front yard or brazenly displayed on the porch is so obvious.  If you wave your nut-ball flag all the time there’s no rumor, intrigue or speculation when the cops show up. 

There is passion and angst in suburbia along with pain and hope.  It’s just hidden behind tan and beige exteriors and banal discussions about potty training and tree rot.  There’s an art to reading between the lines and looking for clues, finding raw humanity in a place designed to hide it.  

I set both books in my Burnouts series in suburbia, because that’s what I know, and because it’s so much more challenging to both present the veiled outside and the spirit beneath in a character.  I love the scene in chapter 5 where Ben’s parents separate.  It’s real pain played out on the driveway (where everyone can see, *gasp*) by players schooled in the art of keeping it cool.  

I’m not sure if I’ll use suburbia again as a setting for a novel.  It’s a hard sell.  Like any stereotype, it creates a set of expectations in readers.  Fictional suburbia is supposed to be cheer leading practice, Friday night football and the occasional heated discussion over fence height regulations.  But I prefer the reality I saw growing up: the kids who didn’t fit in, the families who struggled to fit the mold, the imperfect and awkward love stories in a seemingly perfect world.  

A One Out of Five Review

It happened this weekend.  I got my first one out of five review.  When I published my book I knew it was bound to happen and I played the scenario out in my mind; mentally preparing myself for the blow. Ya know, the reality isn’t as bad as my worst fears.

Don’t get me wrong, it stung.  Since my book is like one of my babies, I want everyone in the world to love it, but that’s not realistic. 

So I shed a few tears, swept the porch, then decided to share yet another aspect of being a self-published writer with anyone who might be interested.  My office of one feels particularly lonely today (although to be fair, it is also located on my clean back porch with sunshine, birds singing and a cool spring breeze).

If you would like to read it, the review is on the blog The Reading Kitten and was written by a very sweet woman who was kind enough to read my book and give a first-time author a chance.  Whether she liked it or not, I am truly grateful to her for doing that.  I have read some horribly unkind, hurtful reviews for other books on Amazon and Goodreads.  This review was fair and honest and definitely not cruel in any way.  Maybe that’s what makes this so much easier.  

Reviews are there to help readers decide if a book is for them and one star reviews do that just as much as five star.  I actually read the one and two star reviews more than I do the fives.  If the issues the reviewer had with the story are not things that would bother me, then I am encouraged to buy the book.  My two-star Amazon review points out that my book has teenage drinking, cussing and sex.  That’s true and that review saves romance readers who are offended by those things from buying a book they would not enjoy.

Reviews also help me to be a better writer.  The good ones let me know what resonated with my readers, which elements worked.  The negative (or more accurately, low star) reviews give me more insight into who my audience is or isn’t.  They help me see elements that might be confusing or places in my storyline that need clarification.  

I read an article recently by an indie author who hit it out of the ballpark on her first try.  Her debut novel went to number three in her category on Amazon.  Jealously reared it’s ugly head that day.  Then I put myself in her shoes.  The slow ride may be frustrating, but instant success can be scary, very scary.  I checked out her book on Goodreads and I am sorry to say that she had some of those truly mean-girl reviews.  She has thousands of five star reviews, but something tells me it is the hurtful, biting ones that stick with her most (although I hope not).  There will always be those who feel the need to take pot-shots at whoever is at the top.  She might be ready for that, but I can honestly say that I’m not.  

I’m posting this today as a way to face another fear; pull it out into the light and examine it; see that reality isn’t as bad as what I created in my mind.  I got a one out of five review.  I cried, cleaned (a little), analyzed, shared and survived.