Monday, February 24, 2020

Dickens Fest Success

Poe and Twain preparing to toast . . . Queen Victoria . . .
or maybe each other . . . or maybe just have a drink!

It was a fantastic weekend at the Riverside Dickens Festival. This was the first time that I sat a vendor booth at a festival, and it really couldn’t have gone better. Well, it could have gone better, but given how everything played out, it went much better than it had any right to.

The first shout-out has to go to the Dickens Festival itself. They were very kind allowing me to join as a vendor, even though they didn’t have any real idea where to put me. Eventually, they categorized me as an artist, similar to someone selling their own blown-glass or oil canvases. I was neatly sandwiched between the educational folk, in their period-correct outfits, and the festival’s own bookstore which had Barnes & Noble versions of all the notable author-characters present at the festival like Dickens himself, Mary Shelley, Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, Phyllis Wheatley, and Charlotte Bronte.

My humble home for the past two days.
The first day, Saturday, went about how I would have expected. I had six copies of each of my four books for 24 books total. This would end up being a mistake, but we’ll get to that. I’d ordered some very lovely, very inexpensive pocketwatch pendants to give away with every purchase of a book. Those never arrived. I’d made the purchase over a month previous with the vendor’s assurance that they would arrive in time. They still haven’t come. We made do with the bookmarks I’d printed up that had my website and contact information, and it was fine.

A few character-actors stopped by the book, notably Charles Dickens himself and Mary Shelley. Harriet Beecher Stowe convinced me to sign and abstinence pledge, and Jane Austen perused through my books. Everyone was wonderful. My mother happened to be visiting when both Dickens and Shelley were there, so she engaged with the characters, and we had a lot of fun asking them questions and getting their “opinions”.

The rain came around 3:30. It had spattered a bit most of the afternoon, but it really picked up and did what it could toward the end of the festival’s run for Saturday. Our pop-up canopy—intended to provide us with shade—couldn’t quite keep up with the rain. It eventually started to leak at the seams and I had to take down all the books and store them. The festival bookstore allowed us to move all our boxes, chairs and table under their much more robust tent, so we didn’t have to take down in the rain.

We sold five books total.

Which was great! I figured we'd have a lot of people thumb through the books, pick up the bookmarks and I'd be out the effort of two days with one or two sales to show for it. Five and I was ecstatic!

Even Vincent Van Gogh signed!
Sunday is where I made my miscalculations. The weather was slightly warmer, though still overcast, but with no rain. This was still perfect for all of us in period costumes or steampunk versions of the same. I thought we might sell another five books, and so my stock was looking incredibly healthy. The actor for Samuel Clemens was taking his coffee with his wife when another woman asked for a picture with him, and Edgar Allen Poe stopped by the booth on his way to a reading, and that’s when an idea struck me. I decided to start asking them for their autographs on my personal proof-copy of THE CLOCKWORK DETECTIVE. Anyone who stopped in at the booth or passed close enough by that I could see their name tags, we brought in and got their autographs. They were all wonderful and eagerly played along, signing in their character’s name.

Because I knew the pendant pocketwatches were not going to make it, I’d found some pendant skeleton keys shipped same day (they arrived the next day, thanks Amazon) and we had those out on display to give away with any book purchases. There were so many more people at the festival on Sunday. Whether it was because I started inviting people to pick up the books and read them, or the pendants, or because I was looking sad and desperate, we started making a lot more sales. Around noon we sold out of the last copy of THE CLOCKWORK DETECTIVE. By 1:30pm we were out of all copies of TEARS OF HEAVEN, and down to the last copies of HELL BECOMES HER and COMPANY OFTHE DAMNED.

Twenty-two books in two days, and 17 of those in just four hours!

No one was going to buy the second or third book in a series, although many people still stopped by and checked them out, and they were happy enough to take a bookmark and a pendant. We decided to stay until all the bookmarks were gone. By 2:30 we gave away the last of those items. I had collected most of the autographs that I wanted, but had missed Charles Dickens for the rest of the day. We packed up our booth and loaded them out, then strolled through the festival looking for Dickens and any other notable characters to get their autographs. We caught up with him as he was speaking to an audience alongside Samuel Clemens, Louisa May Alcott and Charlotte Bronte. I already had the other three autographs, so we waited patiently for Dickens and he signed the first chapter of my book.

Even though I was tied to my booth most of the time, the Dickens Festival was so much fun. This will definitely go into the rotation as one of the events I’ll try to participate in again!

Friday, February 21, 2020

Book Angel Review

I remember this book!

Oh, nice! TEARS OF HEAVEN received a sweet little review from BookAngel:

This is an excellent take on this kind of story of Angels and Demons and their effect on the world. As the lead, Del is an interesting character and the twin threads of past and present helping to provide some insight in who she is and as a result comes across as far more nuanced than several others I have seen in the genre.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Time Out for Race

I'm told her lipstick is to die for!

Race, in the United States, is tricky.

Anyone who thinks otherwise is probably selling something.

As a reasonably affluent, white, male author writing female characters and characters of color there are always potential pitfalls and landmines. That’s not ALL I write, but I certainly write those things. Me being who I am, and my characters being who I write, certainly opens the door to criticism whether deserved or not. About a year ago, I was informed (well lectured/ranted at) that one of my novels was “racist”. It doesn’t matter which one.

I have blind spots.

I’m the first to admit it.

When criticism is legitimate, I learn from it.

Racism is real, and many authors who haven’t lived it, or dug into it, stumble and bloody their nose when attempting to write characters of color. I’ve started and rejected sharing the story above many, many times. Ultimately, it’s not worth addressing, but since race and racial politics are very much a thing, and since I’m not going to back down from writing the characters I want to write, it’s very much worth sharing a more recent discussion that came up.

For one of my works-in-progress, RELICS OF PURGATORY, I’m introducing a new character. She’s a black character. Not the first that I’ve written, but that doesn’t matter. As I do with all my characters, I needed to describe her hair. Calling black hair a very touchy, very political, very divisive issue, is pretty much the understatement of the last four-hundred years. I had very specific ideas about what her hair should look like, and I wasn’t willing to compromise those just to make my life easier. There’s no great detail there. It’s a line or two at most. But hair—or lack thereof—is very much a thing we use to describe and define ourselves so it’s on my checklist of fundamental character descriptions.

Daveed Diggs is SO talented!
Hair is about 8,000% more important for black Americans. While I’m certainly not an expert, I’m well aware of American history. As always with a subject I’m not fully comfortable, I started to do my research. When I approached a writing group for some assistance, I was overwhelmed with all the helpful suggestions by other authors. It’s so great that, at least this group, is very aware of the issues and pitfalls.

A few fell into the classic traps-and-tropes, which others were quick to educate.

What I was shocked by the—thankfully few—angry responses. I was accused of “self-censorship” by one and “virtue signaling” by another. It was even suggested that I wouldn’t “survive being a writer” if I was being “uber-sensitive” about this particular issue.

Laughable, but there it is.

WWADD—What would Alexander Dumas do?
The answers, in this case, are pretty simple.

It’s not self-censorship to use correct descriptive terminology. A writer dealing with firearms doesn’t call it a “clip” when really it’s a “magazine” and knows the difference between a semi-automatic and automatic weapons. Doing research on a touchy subject is hardly the overtly conspicuous humble-brag of virtue signaling, especially for a single descriptive line in a book of 80,000-plus words. Finally, being aware of history, including one of the great evils of the world and the centuries of fallout that have lingered like a cancerous growth, isn’t debilitating so much as it’s being a smart, inclusive writer.

I’m wholly unwilling to back down from the character that I’ve envisioned. I’m also wholly unwilling to turn a blind eye. As the late, great Maya Angelou said, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” That’s not only being a decent writer, that’s being a decent human. It’s literally the least that I can do, and since I know better, I’m not just happy to do more, I’m obligated.

Here’s a wonder site, Writing With Color, if you’re interested in the avoiding some of the landmines and pitfalls.