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I love getting to know other writers, particularly those who work in a literary area other than mine. (That sounds really bad, doesn’t it? This is my area. That over there is yours. Stay out of here.) I love hearing about their work habits, the way they cultivate ideas, how they sharpen their stories. In general, I find more similarities than differences, although the differences can be stark.

Take today’s guest, Jamie DeBree. Like me, she’s an author who lives in Billings, Montana. Like me, she’s holding down a day job and pursuing her novel-writing dreams in her off-hours. Like me, she doesn’t sleep (very much). Unlike me, she writes sexually charged romances. In, uh, doing research for this interview, I read her novel Tempest and was impressed with how well she developed her characters (and, yes, she certainly brought the heat, too). Romance is not my preferred area of reading, but I enjoyed Jamie’s book very much. More than that, I had to find out what led her down this particular path, as a romance writer and the proprietor of her own publishing house, Brazen Snake Books.

Here’s her story:

What lit your fuse for writing? Do you recall an a-ha moment where you thought, “OK, this is what I want to do”?

I think I’ve always “felt” like a writer — it was back in high school that I first voiced my desire to write books. To which my parents very logically responded, “You’re gonna need a real job first.” Turns out, they were right. It was only a few years ago that I really decided to get serious and try to make some money with my writing, but I don’t remember any specific moment, because writing has always just been there, a constant in my life, even during the years I wasn’t writing anything.

You came into the business as a committed independent, even though your genre is certainly well-covered by traditional publishing houses. What was behind that decision?

When I was young and dreaming of being a writer, I always thought I’d self-publish my writing. I’ve always tended toward the control-freak side of things, and I’m kind of an outsider anyways, so doing it myself fits my personality. When I finally decided to actively work at publishing my books and joined the online writing community, I was hit on all sides by the “self-publishing is bad and self-publishers suck” stigma, and bought into it for a while. But the whole process of trying to write for a specific line, the hoops (that had nothing to do with writing) required to even get a manuscript on an editor’s desk and the fact that as a new author I wouldn’t be making much money anyways was just so overwhelmingly against the idea of building a successful career that I nearly quit writing altogether. It wasn’t what I wanted from my writing experience. That’s when I hit that question I think all writers eventually have to come to terms with: “Why am I doing this?”

I decided that the reason I wanted to write was simply to entertain people. And to do that, I didn’t need a publishing contract with a house, I just needed a venue. I started posting a draft on my blog, I got some nice comments, and at the same time, self-publishing was starting to be a more acceptable option (the stigma is still there, but it’s far easier to deal with these days). Excited that finally I could do it myself, I jumped into the self-pub pool and haven’t looked back since I made my first sale.

You and I have talked a fair amount about characterization. Why is it so important to your sexually charged stories?

Characters are the heart of any story, in my opinion. My characters drive the plot, and what they’re thinking and feeling at any given time is what keeps that all-important sexual tension high, and determines what happens next both in the story and in their growing relationship. To that end, I do my best to get deep into my character’s heads and pay attention to what they would logically be thinking and feeling from moment to moment and write from that, even if it doesn’t fit the plot I originally envisioned. I think this makes the entire relationship more realistic than if I try to make it fit a certain “box,” though it does get pretty messy sometimes as far as fears, insecurities and stubbornness go. Unlike real life though, the relationships in my books always work out in the end — usually without any extra help from me.

What’s your personal aesthetic for a sex scene?

Hot, but not crass, if that makes any sense. A sex scene without emotion is porn, and that’s not what I write. I like frank language and I want to feel what each character is feeling throughout. I think a lot can be learned about characters in the heat of a very sexually charged moment. I try to invoke a physical response in the reader, to bring them right into the story with the characters so they’re just as invested in the relationship. Emotions are often invoked or magnified by the senses — touch, taste, sight, smell, sound. I try to use all of those to make the scene very real, and show the reader the emotions that my characters are going through at that point in time. If it makes things more complicated when it’s over, all the better.

You and Carol Buchanan — two writers who are working entirely different parts of the literary universe — have teamed up to write a series of blog posts on sex scenes. How in the world did that partnership come about?

Actually, it was Carol’s idea. She e-mailed me last fall, having read one of the draft sex scenes on my blog, and asked if I’d like to collaborate with her on a comparison in styles for writing sex scenes. Naturally I couldn’t turn down an offer like that. It’s been a lot of fun to study the angle from our very different genres and perspectives. I think we’re both learning a lot from each other, and clarifying our own processes as we explore the subject in blog articles.

You’re a transparent writer, in that you post weekly your progress on a story. Why do that, as opposed to rolling it out when you’re done?

Motivation, mostly. I’m a writer who needs an audience — while many writers claim to write for themselves first, I write predominantly to entertain others. While I do occasionally work on drafts that aren’t serialized, I’m happiest when I know someone’s waiting for the next installment.

There are a lot of other benefits I get from it — my drafts, while still rough, have improved immensely because I’m very conscious that people read them as I go. I tend to plot on the fly (i.e., I don’t really outline), and serializing forces me to maintain a linear plot and pay very close attention to continuity while I’m drafting — which means less work for me on the revision side. I also have to re-orient readers quickly at the beginning of each scene, and entice them to come back for the next one at the end, so it’s helped me learn how to keep readers turning the page (or so I’ve been told, anyways). It’s basically my practice arena, and I invite readers to watch just exactly how a story is “born” in my world. I see no reason for it to be some mystical, secret thing we writers hide away. Nearly all creative endeavors are messy in the beginning, and I don’t think we should be afraid or ashamed of that.

Like many (most?) other writers, you have a day job. How do you balance your time among that, the writing, your husband and home life, etc.?

I like quiet when I’m writing, which means my normal writing hours are between around 11 pm and 1 am (2 am if the scene of the day is particularly frustrating), after the dogs and my husband are settled for the night. I can’t edit that late (the analytical portion of my brain tends to fade out earlier), so a lot of revisions/editing take place while I’m watching TV in the evenings and on the weekends. I’ve been known to load my draft on my Kindle and head to the break room at 10 am and 3 pm for 15-minute editing sessions at the day job too. Writing is basically a second job for me — in the evenings after dinner I’m writing blog posts, updating my web sites, socializing on various online platforms (ie, marketing), and watching TV with my husband. Luckily, I’m a very good multitasker and also very disciplined (I love routines and keep fairly strict schedules), so somehow it all gets done. Although I’ve been trying to remember to order more business cards for three weeks now … and please don’t stop by without calling, so I have time to vacuum and pick up the dog toys.

What do you read for pleasure?

Whatever I can get my hands on, really — I generally have 2-3 books going at any given time. My parents always encouraged reading widely across genres for a well-rounded experience when I was young and I’ve kept that habit. So while romance (all sub-genres), erotica and thrillers are the genres I read in most, I also read mysteries, sci-fi, fantasy, urban fantasy, westerns and literary novels as they come my way. The only genre I really don’t read much of is young adult — I have nothing against the genre, it just doesn’t hold my interest (and didn’t really even when I was young).

What’s next from you?

I’m nearly finished with the serial draft of The Biker’s Wench, the first book in my Fantasy Ranch series scheduled for release this coming July. Monica Burns is running from a forced marriage and ends up at a ranch outside Reno, Nevada, that specializes in making adult fantasies come true. Her father finds her there, but before she can run again she gets an unexpected offer of help from Harley Majors, the owner of the ranch. She reluctantly accepts, but her father turns the tables on them and dangerous chaos ensues as they work to outwit her father and win her freedom once and for all.

I’m also working on revisions to Her Private Chef, a novel I wrote a couple years ago about a split-personality food critic and a popular TV chef with the power to ruin her career. I plan to finish that up and release it sometime next fall. It’s a fun story, and I’m excited to finally be working on it again.

*****

LINKS

Jamie DeBree’s website: http://jamiedebree.com

Purchase links for Jamie’s books: http://brazensnakebooks.com

Jamie’s blog: http://varietypages.jamiedebree.com

Jamie’s page on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/NovelistJamieDeBree

Jamie’s Twitter feed: http://www.twitter.com/JamieDeBree

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UPDATE: I’ve taken the price lower. See below for details …

UPDATE NO. 2: It’s now available for the Nook. Go here!

Something new for you e-book devotees:

Available now at the Kindle store and in a variety of formats at Smashwords is a three-short-story bundle called This Is Butte. You Have Ten Minutes. Cost: $2.99 99 cents.

(The bundle will eventually work its way to B&N Online and the Apple store, but that rests with factors beyond my control. When it’s up in those places, I’ll post an update.)

Here’s the lineup:

This Is Butte. You Have Ten Minutes.

A traveling salesman, stranded by a broken-down car, hops a late-night bus home and learns hard truths about himself and his life as he rides along with a motley group of fellow passengers, among them a woman with a mysterious past.

Alyssa Alights

A teenage runaway lands in an unforgiving city far from home and finds an unlikely friend in a homeless, self-styled vigilante.

Star of the North

Ray Bingham subjugated his own dreams when he beat a man to death. Imprisoned for twenty-three years, he imparts hard-won lessons of living with regret to a young fellow inmate, until his act revisits him in a most unexpected way.

These stories are part of a larger collection that I hope to release in the next year or so. I wouldn’t go so far as to call them linked; a better description is that they have relationships — some casual, some direct — with each other. All try to dig at the central notion that we’re not alone. Even if we deserve to be. Even if we want to be.

I hope you’ll take the opportunity to check them out.

Thanks for your consideration.

The prolonged absence from this here blog was due to one thing, and one thing only:

I took a vacation. I went to the Seattle area for a week, mixed in a couple of bookstore appearances, but mostly I lounged around in book-induced bliss. Hung out with friends. Ate breakfast at a bowling alley every morning. Rode ferries. Met new folks. It was as good a use of a week as I’ve had in a long, long time.

Meanwhile, The Summer Son continues to chug along. In fact, if you’re a proud Kindle owner, you can now get it for just 99 cents. That’s a hell of a deal, I don’t care who you are.

And now you’re saying, “Great, Lancaster, but what’s in it for me? I mean, besides a 99-cent e-book.”

This could be yours.

I’ll tell you what’s in it for you: I attended the Jonathan Evison launch party in Seattle and absconded with a signed hardcover copy of his new novel, the much-celebrated West of Here. And I’m giving it away, right here. That’s right: Signed hardcover. Giving it away.

You want it? Just leave a comment below and you’ll be entered. To really gin up the competition for this one, I’m going to leave the contest open for a week. Next Wednesday (Feb. 23), I’ll choose a winner by random drawing.

For the sake of my finances, let’s confine this one to people in the U.S. and Canada.

UPDATE: Just drew the winning name: It’s Brett Kruger. Congratulations!

My friend Ann Charles has more energy than anyone I know, and she’s expending a great deal of it drumming up interest in her new book, Nearly Departed in Deadwood.

You want to read this. Ann’s book won the Daphne du Maurier Award before it was published, and she’s riding that wave of momentum to new heights now that it’s out in e-book format and soon to arrive in paperback.

You can read more about the book here.

So here’s what we’re gonna do: Leave a comment here, and in a day or so I’ll close things up and pick a winner. This is an e-book giveaway only; fortunately, the coupon code I’ll give you is at Smashwords, so you can have it in any format you want, including a PDF file for the computer if you’re not among the cool kids with a snazzy new e-reader. (And if you’re not, you and I should form a club.)

It’s just that simple. Dive in, people.

It’s release week for The Summer Son, so I’m expecting to see some editorial reviews rolling in over the next several days.

First up is a beautiful review from The Billings Gazette (where I work, I should add for the record). Reviewer Chris Rubich writes:

Mitch’s journey to his father and back through the past couldn’t be in better hands than those of Billings author Craig Lancaster in The Summer Son.

In his debut novel, 600 Hours of Edward, Lancaster showed his mastery in exploring the pain and love in such relationships. That skill earned him the High Plains Book Award for first book and the book’s selection as a 2009 Montana Honor Book, as well as praise from disabilities groups for his sensitive look at a man struggling with Asperger’s syndrome.

Both books are set in Billings, and both blend piercing pain with humor and realism.

While 600 hours define Edward and offer a chance to change his life, a single summer leaves a heavy imprint that marks Mitch across the decades.

The book comes out Tuesday. If you’re in the Billings area, there are several events coming up where you can get a copy:

  • This coming Friday, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Travel Cafe (313 N. Broadway), there will be a launch party with a couple of readings, signed books for sale, snacks, a cash bar and music by special guest Dan Page.
  • The next day, I’ll be at the Billings Barnes & Noble (530 S. 24th St. West) from 2 to 4 p.m. for a reading and to sign copies.
  • Saturday, Feb. 5, I’ll be at the Billings Hastings (1603 Grand Ave.) from 1 to 3 p.m. for a signing.
  • And if you’re in Bozeman, catch me on Monday, Jan. 31, at the Country Bookshelf (28 W. Main Street) at 7 p.m. for a reading and signing.

For everyone else: The book will be available in paperback and Kindle starting Tuesday. Order if from your favorite bookseller or at Amazon.com. Please!

*****

Finally, one last note about launch week: Monday starts a two-week stretch where I’ll be popping up on various book- and publishing-related blogs with guest posts, interviews and all kinds of other fabulous stuff. At each stop, a signed copy of The Summer Son is being given away, so follow along and throw your name into the mix.

For a rundown on the sites and dates, go here.

My holiday-themed short story, which I’m selling for $1 with all proceeds going to Feeding America, has just about finished its migration to a multitude of e-book platforms.

If you’d like it in a book-style PDF: Visit my website and follow the links to pay through PayPal.

If you’d like it for your Kindle: One-click purchasing is available here.

If you’d like it in rich text, PDF, html, epub, etc.: Get it at Smashwords.

In the next day or so, it should start showing up on other online retailers, such as Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Diesel, iTunes and others.

I hope you’ll consider throwing in a buck and picking up a holiday read.

New to the blogroll today (and only because I was lazy about 10 days ago, when it launched):

Jim Thomsen, gentleman and blogger.

Reading Kitsap, by my good friend Jim Thomsen.

While the blog does play to a Kitsap County, Wash., core audience, Jim has some ambitious plans for it. As he said in the introductory post: “It’s my hope that this becomes the one stop for all news about our writing, publishing, bookselling and book-sharing communities.”

So far, he’s been true to his words. He’s had items on writers (including the awesome Jonathan Evison, who has come in for some praise here), provocative posts about how technology is changing our reading habits, riffs on book design and all kinds of other fabulous stuff. One of the best parts of my day is when a new post hits my e-mail box.

And if you think I might be trying to figure out some way to connect myself to Kitsap County so I can wedge my way into this blog … you’re right!

(The NFL is upon us again, and so I am a happy boy. Thus, the football-referencing post title. You’re welcome.)

In lieu of any pressing news, let’s do this baby roundup-style:

I’m throwing in with the gang of bloggers over at The Blood-Red Pencil, a wonderful site for writers and editors. My first post as a new member is scheduled to appear Aug. 19 (topic: promotion), and you can be sure I’ll link to it here. If you’re wrestling with a manuscript, wandering into the wild world of independent publishing, flogging your own work or minding your hyphens, The Blood-Red Pencil is an excellent daily stop. And I would have said that even before I wore the pledge pin.

Richard S. Wheeler’s blog has quickly become must-read stuff for me. Here’s his take on Dorchester Publishing’s decision to abandon mass-market books, particularly as it pertains to the Western genre.

A snippet:

It is tempting to suppose that one less publisher in the mass-market western field will strengthen the rest, but it doesn’t work that way. It means less rack space will be devoted to westerns, and they will be harder to find and the genre will be even farther from sight and mind.

People who traffic in the things-ain’t-what-they-once-were trade are simultaneously dead-on and off the mark. The problem: They’re dead-on in a no-shit kind of way (things are never what they once were) and off the mark in the sense that change is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. So it is that a writer at the New York Observer sees no Mailers or Updikes and thus concludes that fiction is culturally irrelevant.

I’m sorry about Theodore Dreiser being dead and all, but he had his time. Let’s allow Carlton Mellick III to have his. I’m not saying The Baby Jesus Butt Plug is a work of comparable merit to An American Tragedy (I’m also not saying it’s not). I’m saying it doesn’t have to be. When we have so many books that speak to so many constituencies — and so many ways to enjoy them — that’s precisely the opposite of cultural irrelevance.

Finally, this is about as entertaining as Glenn Beck gets. I cannot believe I just wrote that sentence.

Here’s what the production side of books has come to for this independent publisher:

After months of toil by Carol Buchanan on her new novel, Gold Under Ice, and weeks of toil by both of us in getting it just so for print, we’ve been celebrating its arrival as a real, honest-to-goodness book that anyone can buy.

The champagne (well, virtual champagne — she’s in Kalispell, I’m in Billings) had scarcely been consumed when the work began anew. We have e-book editions to get out there!

I’m proud to say that the work is nearly done. I uploaded the Kindle version to Amazon this morning, and it should start showing up live on the site in the next couple of days. We’re also queued up with a Smashwords version, which is available as a standalone at the site and will eventually make its way to other e-retailers and reading devices, among them Barnes & Noble’s Nook and the iPad.

I say it a lot, but it’s worth repeating: It’s a fascinating time to be involved with publishing, as an author and as a publisher. Scary and intense and all-consuming, yes, but fascinating and fun, too.

Just in the past few hours, 600 Hours of Edward has become available in a variety of e-book formats. Through Smashwords, the publisher is offering 50 percent of the book as a free sample, with a price of $5 for the whole thing. Check out the list of formats and see if one fits that snazzy new e-reader you got for Christmas.

Eventually, the e-book version will migrate to Amazon.com (for Kindle readers) and BN.com (for Nook readers), so if you’d rather buy there, be on the lookout. I’ll put up links when they go live.

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