Monday, January 30, 2012

Reflections on David Garrett and Mixed Genres

Benedum Center ©LKHunsaker

After writing, music is my biggest passion. Or maybe they hold equal positions as my top passions. I pull music into my books often. If I see a novel title relating to music, I look at it to see if it’s something I have to read. I’ll read most genres of books. And I love most genres of music. I have exceptions. I don’t do horror or crime novels and I don’t do rap. I’m iffy about sci fi and I’m not big on R&B. However, a good sci fi with the right subject matter, I’ll try, and I do like some R&B when it’s mixed with another genre or done by the right singer.

My favorite music genres: pop/rock and classical. My favorite novel genres: literary and historical with strong romantic elements.

My son and I went to see David Garrett live last night. I found him on Dancing With The Stars last season and was immediately pulled in. On my next outing, I went out and found the two CDs available in the music store: David Garrett and Rock Symphonies. Even sitting here in my den playing the CDs, the music is so … overwhelmingly beautiful and magnificent that it can make my eyes water. I often can’t work through it. I close my eyes and listen.

So when I heard he was coming close enough and saw that the weather was going to cooperate, I grabbed tickets.

This concert was right up there with Paul McCartney and Elton John. Except for their names, being who they are, it would highly surpass either. It had my eyes moist much of the evening. It was that beautiful. I’ve listened to plenty of classical music. I’ve listened to plenty of pop/rock. There are some amazing artists that capture my attention. But I’m rather a smooth sailor. I’m not overly emotional. Few things can stir me that deeply.

It wasn’t only the music. It was the soul of the artist as connected to his instrument as connected to his audience. It was his original twist of mixing classical music with rock. It was his saying: Hey, classical doesn’t have to mean stuffy. Open your eyes. Look at it again. Look how it relates to music today. LOOK at it, FEEL it. Find the beauty of the classical elegance and let it make your heart pound as rock does. (Not an actual quote, only my interpretation.)

I’ve been a big believer that mixing is almost always better than rigid separation. It’s true with dog breeds, with religions, with cultures; and it’s true with music. It’s also true with novels.

It hit me last night as I was reading the program about why he decided to mix classical and rock that, yes, I agree totally! Mix the old with the new and create … better! Well, not to say that the rock version of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is better than the original. It stands quite well enough on its own, but it does draw younger attention. It pulls in an audience it wouldn’t have without the rock element. I loved the 80s rock hit Amadeus for that reason. Maybe I shouldn’t say better. Maybe I should say unique, fresh, exciting. Getting young people into rock music to start looking at classical music is a wonderful thing.

In the program notes, David Garrett does say that playing music isn’t complete until you learn music theory. You can’t make it take off on your own until you do. You have to study your predecessors, know what they did and where the roots of what you’re doing came from. Yes, you can play music without it, but it doesn’t get inside you the same without it.

I feel the same about literature. I’m a big believer in reading the classics, in reading literary fiction along with your favorite genre(s). Literary fiction is to books what classical is to music. It’s the fuller, richer, more detailed, more involved and intricate art. But it doesn’t have to be stuffy. It doesn’t have to be hard to read. Mark Twain isn’t hard to read. Even Anna Karenina isn’t hard to read. Personally, I found A Tale of Two Cities a little hard to read only because 1/3 of the way in and it was still more rambling and description than story. Others adore it. Still… I think writers should study literary fiction for the same reason musicians should know classical music. It’s the theory of it that matters. (Some of us truly like the lengthy complex beauty of it, as well.)

Literary doesn’t have to be stuffy. It doesn’t. Especially when it’s mixed with another genre.

You can have both that full deep richness of intricate story lines and author thoughts and input, and the fun intense romantic scary plot driven genre fiction all wrapped in one. Just stretch the boundaries a bit.

Yes, mixing literary fiction and romance can work (and I have a Goodreads review that says it shouldn’t, but it does!), even if they do seem to be on opposite ends of the novel spectrum. It can work just like mixing classical music and rock, with a violin.

It’s funny: I started using the term literary romance a few years back and recently I’ve seen the terms literary thriller and literary … oops, I forget, but it was another commercial genre mixed with literary. I haven’t read them, so I can’t say how accurate the description is, but I did find it amusing. And heartening.

Maybe it is an uphill battle coloring outside the lines, but hey, it’s working for David Garrett! From the (nearly) packed house last night to the incredible audiences I’ve seen in videos, it’s working quite well.

Check it out for yourself. Here’s David Garrett doing Aerosmith’s Walk This Way or Beethoven’s Fifth:

If this works to your liking and you’d like to see how well literary mixes with romance, give one of my books a try. Maybe start with the now free ebook Finishing Touches and think of it as a Youtube video sample. (It will be free at, Kobo, Diesel, Sony, and Apple very soon!) 

Oh, music and fiction work well mixed, also. Smile 

What do you think? Like the mix? Have you read any novel genre mixes you think worked well? How about any music genre mixes?


Saturday, January 28, 2012

What Does Free Cost (pt.2)

I’ve been studying the publishing and marketing world for roughly ten years now, since before I put my first book out. One fairly recent phenomenon I’ve been watching closely is the number of authors giving their books away free. I don’t mean a few promo copies. I mean by the thousands from retail websites.

A few years ago, I read of an author who became well known to readers by offering one of his books free in ebook format. He said the result was that his print copies of the same book soared. It established him as a writer worth reading. (I don’t remember his name. Sorry.) Of course, he didn’t just make it free and leave it at that. He promoted it well as free. He was also already a successful blogger with a ton of readers already reading his words free, so it was a natural transition to offer a full book free.

I can easily see how this would work. Readers want to know what they’re getting when they spend money. It used to be they trusted that if it was in print, it had gone through a heavy selection process, was professionally edited, and instantly had value. (That was more or less true. In earlier times.) These days anyone can put a book into print. If they’re savvy, they can make it look like it came from a “real” publishing company instead of one an author started to make it look like it did. I find no fault in authors who do so. Hey, I did it, too.

With small press and indie publishing getting so big, though, it’s getting harder to convince a reader a book is worth a try. (Unless it’s on a “bestseller” list and don’t get me started on that one!)

I fully understand small name and midlist authors trying to push into the market however they can. Still, I worry about the prevalent surge of free books.

In the first place, how many business people give part of their products away free? You don’t see furniture stores doing so, in hopes customers will come back for their paid pieces, as well. You don’t see plumbers offering their first call free in hopes of return calls (I don’t mean estimates. I mean actual work.) So I’m unsure why artists should be expected to do the same before readers will check them out. Heck, a plumber spends an hour or two fixing a problem, right? Why not give that first hour or two away? An author spends months on a book (with any hope), and like the plumber first spent years learning and perfecting her craft (again, with any hope).

Maybe that’s it: a plumber must be certified. And too many authors can just throw a book out there these days without worrying about craft, or even grammar, heaven forbid.

Still, many of us do spend months or years learning first. Many of us do spends months, or even years, on one book. If we aren’t willing to give it away free, we’re fighting an uphill battle against those who are willing.

I asked on my Facebook page yesterday what readers thought about free books. I wanted to know if they expected a quality difference. I wanted to know if authors had seen any actual sales resulting from their giveaway books.

By and large, readers weren’t concerned about quality difference in free and paid books. They did tend to say they would buy another work from that author if they liked the free one well enough. So, a positive result on the side of free.

On the other hand, I didn’t get any feedback from authors saying their sales improved after the giveaways. One was hoping the free ebook would translate to print sales. My best guess is it won’t. Most who buy ebooks tend to want to read them that way. Even if it’s a picture book, kids are using iPads and color Nooks to read. Once they have it that way, why buy it in print? I’m sure it can happen. I imagine it won’t often.

I have a free preview of the full copy of my children’s book, Stanley: A Raindrop’s Story posted on my publishing site. As far as I know, it hasn’t resulted in print sales online. I do much better hand selling the book.

Still, I’ve been watching as writing friends post their books for free and end up with a huge amount of downloads, resulting in a few sales of their other non-free books. I can’t yet decide whether it’s worth giving away a book I spent months writing, editing, marketing, and money on promo, etc. After all, most ebooks cost less than one fast food meal. Do readers feel it’s not worth the chance for that? Some of my ebooks, the shorter ones, cost less than a coffee shop cappucino.

Competition is the name of the game, however, and the surge of authors giving away free books and selling for $0.99 makes it hard for me to compete. The more authors who do this, the harder it gets on all of us. I’m torn. Do I jump in and offer one for free to be competitive, or refuse and make it harder on myself while I’m trying not to make it harder on other authors who don’t want to give their work free?

A conundrum. But maybe I’m overthinking (I tend to do that). I’m already shooting myself in the foot by refusing to put my ebooks on that A store I won’t use. No point in hitting the leg, too. And I’m worth reading (forgive the pat on the back, but those who have given my work a try have agreed).

So, a trial. I’m offering my first book  FREE. At least for a short time.

cover-2ndedition-5in100As of now, you can download Finishing Touches from  FREE. Within a few days, every other retail site should also change the price to free.

I do ask, in return, that you consider leaving a review for it from wherever you download it! After all, I spent four years on this book in between raising kids and military moves. (How’s that for begging? LOL)

You can also find it at for your Nook or Nook app, Kobo, Diesel, iTunes, and very soon on Apple and Sony.

A note: I have a sequel in progress for this book and when finished, I plan to put the two of them together in one print book. It won’t be this year. Three other book projects are nagging at me for this year.

So, what does free cost authors? That remains to be seen. I hope it turns out better than what free usually costs.

If you’re an author with free books, I’d love to hear from you. How is it going? How are sales for your non-free books? Are you getting reviews from your free books?

Readers, chime in! What are your thoughts on free ebooks? How likely are you to buy other books from authors if you enjoy them?


Monday, January 23, 2012

What Does Free Cost? (pt.1)

I used to work for a major tax preparation company. Around this time, my viewpoint began to shift rapidly. Why? I saw more than I had before. I saw the basics of the money hierarchy and I heard (far too often) how people felt about it.

For two of those tax seasons, I worked 6 days a week to average 70 hours (some days my shift was 8 am to 11pm), after I woke my young children and got them off to school and drove 30 miles to the office on a narrow boonies road that was rather scary (this was when I got my first cell phone, for safety). When I got home, I ate whatever the family had earlier, cleaned my dish up, checked the laundry to move from washer to dryer or so on, kissed the kids on their foreheads and crashed. On Sunday, I folded all of the clothes from the week and spent time with my family. My husband was full time active Army and on one of the few times he had a normal schedule enough to pick them up at 5 or so when he got off. Thank goodness for after school care right there at the school!

While I was working this schedule, I was dealing with many clients who came in and told me they’d worked for 3 months and then quit. As I’m trying to pick my chin up off the desk, they proceeded to say they had to make so much to get their earned income credit.

At this point, I swear I would have strangled them if my ethics and lack of interest in being in jail didn’t prevent it. Did they know WHERE that “free” money came from? I do. It came from me. From my husband. From all of us working so hard every day just to keep a decent roof over our heads and enough clothes and food. I constantly saw Help Wanted signs at the same time I helped give these people money they didn’t deserve. Yes, my viewpoint switched fast.

I also saw a young family of two doctors with two young children who together made just over $100,000 for the year denied being able to claim the interest they paid on their huge school loans in order to get through med school to become doctors. Even with their income, it was going to take quite some time to pay off those loans, to include the interest. They also couldn’t claim many other deductions to reduce their roughly 30% tax rate. And then I heard plenty about the “rich” (referring to couples such as these) having it so good and that they should pay more. The biggest complainers generally were paying about 4% in taxes, if that, after their “free” money from the government, meaning from other taxpayers.

At what cost are they getting that free money? At other people’s cost: people who sacrificed and risked their own funds in the form of loans with interest, or in risking it to start a business where they could then hire other people who needed the work. It’s risky to own a business. It’s a lot of hard work to own a business. And then the people they employ after taking that risk and doing the hours it takes to make a business thrive enough to hire others bite the hand that’s feeding them.

Everything that comes to someone for free is being paid for by someone else.

We need to stop and remember that. We need to realize that if we want to risk our own funds and our hour upon hour of work (more like 70-80 a week when you own a business as opposed to when you work for one) to start our own business, we deserve the payoff from it if and when it comes. Without payoff or a chance of payoff, there’s no point in the risk and then who will bother?

Wait, you say.. I was working those hours when I didn’t own that company, right? Yes. But I was working on commission, so more hours meant more profit, as it does for a business owners. No way would I have done it for the regular weekly salary alone. There would have been nothing in it for me to go to the extra time and effort if I wasn’t getting something for those hours. That’s how it works. People don’t care about a job that they don’t get rewarded for doing. And people won’t own businesses and hire others if they have no reward for doing so.

Human nature. We work on a reward system. It’s innate. Take that away and you take away drive. Want achievement? Reward it. Want innovation and creativity and independent spirit? Reward it. Don’t bite the hand trying to offer it.

(part two of What Does Free Cost will deal with artists)


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Give Me The Beat, Boys

Over the past several years, I’ve done a ton of song research for my Rehearsal series. It starts in 1974 so I have to be careful not to use a song before its time, but also to make sure what I use fits the mood of the particular scene. I’ve been fortunate to have received a few great suggestions from loved ones.

One of those was a song my aunt suggested that Susie, my young heroine, would love. I had to look it up since I recognized the title, but barely. She was right. Susie would love it. So do I.

It’s funny. Since that suggestion came to me and I put it in Rehearsal, it seems to have come alive in my own life. I’ve always been music obsessed. Music does indeed help me drift away into a better place, either calmer or more energetic or whatever place it is I need at whatever moment.

When I moved here four + years ago, I found an incredible radio station that played all the oldies I love. They played Drift Away often. Sometimes a little too often, perhaps. But when I hear it I think of the suggestion and the love with which the suggestion was sent, as well as my character and her story, and my own. Rehearsal has been an escape, an energizer, a calming influence just as music itself.

Dobie Gray singing his hit, Drift Away, in 1974:

That beloved radio station faded into oblivion and I’ve yet to find another I love as much, but I found something even better (or as good, since I can’t call it up on demand!).

Drift Away done live by a local band. I love live music, especially incredibly well done live music. The one in my area I most enjoy [shout out to Mandolin Whiskey] does this song at every show and I’m grateful.

I’ve lost much interest in most concerts these days, and I mean the big ones that cost an incredible amount of money, plus the drive and the rude/drunk/loud audience and the lines and… so on. Now and then I think a big act is worth it, and I very much look forward to seeing David Garrett soon! Overall, though, I’m much happier to find a good local band where I can drive down the road in a few minutes or so, grab a cup of coffee or glass of wine in a small local venue, and kick back and unwind as I listen.

I know there tends to be a prevalent attitude that local means second rate, at best. After all, these people are just folks from your town. How big a deal can they be? How good can they be? That attitude needs to be demolished the same way the prevailing thought about indie authors being all second rate wannabes who can’t get a contract needs to be demolished. Look closer. Sift through all of the struggling artists of all kinds in your area to find those who truly deserve your attention. They are there.

After all, every big name started somewhere local. There’s even a big time rock star who is from my adopted home town. Second guess your attitudes and biases. I’d rather drive thirty miles to go see my local faves than five miles to see many of the big names that come with a ton of hassle. And how do you beat a personal “thanks so much for coming to see us” with a handshake?

Buy Local isn’t only for produce. Try it with the arts. And get lost in the unexpected pleasure of it.

Do you have a fave local artist who could use a shout out? Post it in my comments. Links welcome (no R rated links, please).


Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Lazy Reading Curse?

Is anyone else a fan of those long flowing narrative passages from the classics, back when authors were allowed to love words for what they were, for the momentum they provided, for the images they conjured, before editors came along and said, “HALT!”

I am. I like words. I often go to the dictionary, and I mean my print dictionary that sits beside my keyboard and strains my eyes with tiny print to fit as much as possible in as small a space as possible, to double check a spelling or a meaning and find myself perusing through other words. I like words. I like flowing sentences. I like to escape into someone else’s thoughts, and I mean their full-blown filling and free-flowing thoughts. Too many thoughts are fallow these days. Too many stories are like gardens, prepared and set up and possibly seeded to some extent, but otherwise rather flat and bare. The author’s voice, her inner deep thinking feeling sensing curious wonder-filled voice, is too stifled. Too many words, editors said. Don’t use more than you need.

Hm. Why? Do we have a shortage of those, also? Should we be given ration cards? No, you can’t talk anymore today; you’ve used your word count already.

Some things don’t decrease when you use them. Some things grow and bloom the more you use them. Words are included. Thoughts are most definitely included.

I shared a photo on my personal Facebook page the other day of a text comment sent where someone asks for a book recommendation. At least it looked like that’s what he was trying to say. The image underneath was a book recommendation: The Oxford English Dictionary.

Our word curtailing has gone to an extreme recently. We seem to have so much to say that we can’t write full sentences – it takes too long. Heaven forbid we ask our message receiver to spend more than a second reading what we took the time (or didn’t) to write.

Question: if it’s not worth the time to take to read it, why bother to take the time to write it at all?

I know, readers are in a hurry these days. Publishers want short and to the point, with no extra words. Readers won’t take the time.

Won’t they? Is this true? Or are readers not taking the time as much anymore because they’ve been so conditioned to expect short and to the point that they think they have to want that? Reading is supposed to be pleasurable, right? If they enjoy it, why do they need to rush through it? Do they put such time constraints on, say, watching television? With as much time as people spend in front of the TVs doing nothing but that (which takes less mental power than sleeping, by the way), I have a hard time believing they aren’t willing to spend the time being entertained by a good book.

Granted, it takes more brain power to read than to sleep, but the brain is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it is. The more widely you use it, just as with going from weight lifting to aerobics to Pilates to yoga instead of doing only one of those things, the more able it is to perform a wider range of tasks better.

I’ve been editing recently, to include formatting for print. One thing that came to me is the possibility that those who format books prefer shorter words. Why? It makes the print fit better on the page without big gaps when you justify the text. Long words are hard to work around. I had to wonder: is this what started the call for simple word use? Did it start with lazy formatters? I understand it, as I often rearrange sentences in the book I’m editing to make it look better on the page without losing meaning or flow. It’s not easy. And of course editors can’t just change an author’s words without conversing with that author. Sure, it could be a lot of hassle. But who loses?

The readers.

And society in general.

They say the average American adult reads at about a fifth grade level. That’s truly sad.

I say we stop pandering to short and to the point and start filling our stories with glorious luscious full free-flowing words and sentences of all lengths and in long thoughts and start re-stretching the minds of our beloved readers.

Time to fill the fallow fields and strengthen our crops.


Sunday, January 08, 2012

Walking Through Graceland

January 8, 1953: Elvis Aaron Presley is born


“Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine.”

This summer we went to Graceland. The part of Memphis you drive through to get there is rather unimpressive at best. It’s busy dirty rundown city. And then you come to Graceland in the midst of that, with its stone gate, guitar fence, and large stone house with white columns. You park across the street in a very touristy place shops with restaurants and a shuttle that runs you across the road after you’ve purchased your tickets and stood in line. Of course you have to get your photo taken in front of a painting of Graceland for the opportunity to buy it at an exorbitant rate on your way out. And of course we did buy it, although it wasn’t our best by any means since we were travel weary and in our comfy travel clothes and all. Hm.

I think I’ll let a few photos talk, along with a few Elvis quotes…


“I never expected to be anybody important.”

"I’m trying to keep a level head. You have to be careful out in the world. It’s easy to get turned.”

Living Room

“I’d like to just be treated like a regular customer.”

”I’m not trying to be sexy. It’s just my way of expressing myself when I move around.”

Jungle Room

“I sure lost my musical direction in Hollywood. My songs were the same conveyer belt mass production, just like most of my movies were.”

"I like to sing ballads the way Eddie Fisher does and the way Perry Como does. But the way I'm singing now is what makes the money.”

Army uniform

"After a hard day of basic training, you could eat a rattlesnake."

"The army teaches boys to think like men."

Music room

“Man, that record came out and was real big in Memphis. They started playing it, and it got real big. Don't know why - the lyrics had no meaning.”

”Those people in New York are not going to change me none.”

Elvis Lives

"The Lord can give and the Lord can take away. I might be herding sheep next year." 

"Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t goin’ away."

What more is there to say? It’s not his talent that made him great. His talent only caught attention. What made him great was his strength of character, his humility, his duty to others, and his love for people.

A few little facts that aren’t little things:

Elvis got a C in eighth grade music only because his teacher didn’t like his style.

He paid to record his first few songs, with his own funds.
See an invoice here.

He gave a lot of money to charities, particularly to children’s charities. He didn’t make a big show of it. He just did it.

Happy Birthday, Elvis! May your true spirit continue to live.

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Sunday, January 01, 2012

White Hot and Passionate

“I begin to realise how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. He taught me that if you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good. Hot is no good, either. White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.”
Roald Dahl, My Uncle Oswald

found on the I Love Libraries Facebook page

I no longer make New Year’s Resolutions. Everyone knows resolutions are made to be broken. I do make goals. But I do that throughout the year, so I can’t even call them New Year’s goals. I have. I’ve set yearly goals. But then I don’t go back and remind myself if I’ve met them or not, so why bother? I know I try throughout the year; I try to work toward the things I want. I work hard. I don’t give up even when I feel like it, when it feels like it makes more sense to give up. I don’t. My goals aren’t just resolutions to begin the year to say I have them. They’re deeper than that.

I try hard. I keep getting up when I fail, and I keep going. What more can you truly ask of yourself?

I think the point of a goal, anyway, is in the journey it takes to get there, or to try to get there. It’s the journey that matters. What you learn on the journey is more important than the end result. Or it should be.

So, no resolutions here. No list of goals. I’ll keep trying, keep working on what I truly want with that white hot passion, and I’ll revel in those glorious moments where it feels like it’s not worth giving up. I’ll acknowledge the low times. They will be there. They need to be there. The high times can’t matter much without the low.

I ended the year, the last work day of 2011, with a high. It was a small high: a scene that came out beautiful and important and satisfying. Most days a writer can at the best, expect decent prose, a decent amount of work per day, and some nice scenes that are at least satisfactory. But when a writer has a scene truly live and breath with the knowledge it will be a highlight of a book, that is a real high. I love those days. If I can get one of those scenes, even if it’s only 2-3 paragraphs long, I feel I’ve accomplished so much more even than when I get ten or more pages done in a day.

It’s not the reminder of “hey, I can do this” as much as it is the knowledge of what it takes to occasionally get those scenes. They aren’t spontaneous out of nowhere. They come only after months and months of continual work, of focusing on the craft, of trying to improve it, of the “doing” the work. It’s a bonus. No check amount at the end of the year could compare to that feeling: the feeling of knowing you’re striving for quality and now and then – just often enough – you actually hit that elusive quality you wish for. It’s the knowledge that it will come again, if the hard work, the pushing, the striving continue. It will come. More often.

That’s what I wish for all of you this coming year: that feeling. And the work it takes to get there, in whatever field you’re in. Every field has it. Anything you do, anything you decide to put your white hot passion into, can lead to that feeling.

Go for it. Grab onto it. Whatever it is you most need, go after it. It will come.