Monday, October 28, 2013

The Truth about Backstory

Good Morning. Now that things have settled down in my real world life (which they haven't, I'm just sparing you from the gory details of the melodrama that has plagued/is still plaguing me) I've gone back to working on THE CAPTAIN'S LADY. (Which is quite interesting as I went to label this post, I noticed I did not have anything about him so I guess I've never told you about him before. Hmmmm...)

Anyway, Captain Richard Gaines is my latest hero and Russell Crowe is my inspiration if you will. Richard was the Captain of a 74 gun Ship of the Line for the Royal Navy. After the Battle of Trafalgar, he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress and resigned his commission. I could go on and on about him but I won't. It's all backstory.

Here's the kicker. I have three chapters written. New chapters. I couldn't use anything from the first version of the book I wrote about 7 years ago. Way too much purple prose. Lots of naval gazing (pun intended) and far too much backstory. Far too much.

Now, one of the ladies at the school is a voracious reader and when she found out I was an author bought four of my books before I could say jack rabbit. Now because of that, I decided to send her all the others that she hadn't read. (The least I could do for such a fan. Money is nice, but it's not all about that for me.)

Once she finished all of them (in about a week -- I told you she was voracious) she begged me for something else. I told her I was working on Richard's story, but that it wouldn't be ready until around Thanksgiving (HA!) She told me to hurry up and write it.

Last Friday I decided to ask her if she would read the first three chapters for me. She said she'd be honored. (Make me blush.) And then she asked why. Why did I want her to read them? And I said, "To see if there's too much backstory up front. I need to know if the story is working, and if it compels you to move forward." And she said, "Backstory? What's that?"

So I explained to her what backstory was and she said, "Oh, that. I never knew what it was called. I just thought that's how writer's write. How they explain who the person is and why they do the things they do." Then she cocked her head and gave me a funny expression. "Why do you think there would be too much? Aren't we supposed to know what motivates the characters?"

Barring a long and boring conversation about the mechanics of writing, I just said, "Well, the writing rules imply that too much backstory in the beginning is no good for a book. It doesn't keep the reader interested."

And she said (are you ready for this) "Who gave you those rules? I read all the time, and I like to know who the character is and what he's going to do right from the get-go. If I get to chapter 10 and find some little thing that I should have known from the beginning, it throws me off. I like to know why the character is the way he is right from the start. That way I know if he's going to be able to handle what gets thrown at him in the middle and if he'll actually make it to the end."

Having read craft books for all these years, and listened to agents and editors, publishers and other writers alike, they all say the same thing -- Never start your novel with backstory, always seed it in. But here, in the school lobby in the middle of a Friday afternoon, I hear that a reader likes to know what's happened to the character right from the beginning. How hearing about the character's past leads her further into the story than finding out about it in the middle.

So what's a poor writer to do? Ignore the rules and info dump? Seed in the backstory? Yeah, I know, these questions can lead a writer to go absolutely nuts. Tear a novel apart seven ways to Sunday for one editor and then put it all back together for another. Keep us up at night, talk to ourselves in the grocery store, and have random conversations with strangers on a bus.

What I think, and what I've always done, is just to write the book the way I want to write it. I want to write what I want to read and if that means loading up page one with backstory, that's what I'm going to do. Those old writing rules don't apply that much anymore in this new publishing world. I'm self-published and don't have to listen to anyone but the readers. If they like my stories, then they're better judges of what I write than any agent or editor. If my books continue to sell then I guess I'm doing something right? Right?

(And yes, I do maintain most of the writing rules. At least I know them and when I break them, I know why.)

Tell me -- What's your position on backstory? Do you seed it in? Do you info dump at the beginning? Do you even care about the "writing rules" anymore?

Anne Gallagher (c) 2013

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Book Signing... With Pictures

Good Morning. Okay, the only thing I can say about the book signing is I'm glad it's over. And not because it wasn't great, but because I'm exhausted.

As you all know, this book has been with me since April. The weird thing is, I never thought of it as MY book. It's always been about the teachers and the school. More or less. So doing the book signing was more for them than it was about me. That being said, I naturally wanted it to go well. The more I sold the more would get donated back to the school.

the books
So, let's rewind to two Thursday's ago when I ordered the books and I wasn't sure if they would get in on time. Well, they did. Yay! Talk about stress. However, that only gave the teacher (who wasn't going to be at the Festival) one day to get them signed. Which she did. Yay! And as we have a school newsletter, the book was given a chance for pre-orders, which 13 people did. Yay! So all was well in my little world.

Because I've been wicked busy doing other things, I only "thought" about what I was going to wear for the singing. I had an outfit picked out, but hadn't tried it on. Until Friday afternoon at 4 o'clock. (I was supposed to be there at 4:30 to set up my table.) The outfit didn't fit. I opened my closet and then my bedroom exploded. Dress after skirt after top after sweater after slacks and finally just standing naked in front of my ironing board with my go-to jean skirt and black top. Grabbing my black boots, I was ready to begin make-up.

There's a reason I haven't worn make-up in almost 5 years. I wear glasses. Bi-focals to be specific. Can I tell you how many times I stabbed myself in the eyeball with the mascara wand? And then cried it all down my face, which meant get the picture.

homemade sign by yours truly
By the time I left the house, it was 5 o'clock and I had to fight rush hour traffic through the city. What was normally a 25 minute ride, took 45 minutes so needless to say, I was very late. After slugging the box of books up to the gym, (as well as another box of accoutremants) several people admonished me for being late. (Hey, nothing wrong with a "grand" entrance right?)

Now, as this was first ever book signing, I thought a lot about what I envisioned a book signing to be. A nice quiet evening with a small but interested group in attendance, perhaps a short reading, and then I would sign some books. Well, as this was part of the Fall Festival, there were screaming children having fun, a boom-box blasting dance songs, inflatable bounce houses, a master of ceremonies on a microphone, and just about 300 hundred people all talking at once. Needless to say, "quiet" did not enter into any part of the evening.

my Thanksgiving tablecloth
I set up my table with a nice fallish cloth, had a few pumpkins, my other books, my header picture in a nice frame, and the absent teacher's picture in a nice frame. I also made a sign. I thought it was nice. The other teacher whom I wrote the story about sat with me, and thankfully, (I might add) she pimped the book. No one knew who I was. (I'm still new to the school and even though I'm there all the time, people don't necessarily put faces to names. Also, because I used my pen name, people really had no clue. They thought I was Anne Gallagher, and not me. Which was truly funny. "OMG, You're Anne Gallagher!"

Mrs. Heaton in the frame
Anyway, we were given the table right in front of the double doors leading into the gym so we were the first table you saw. Frightening, but pretty nice of them if I do say so myself. (Remind me to thank Tracy, the Festival coordinator.) However, because at the Festival they do everything with "tickets" people thought you could buy the book with tickets. Uh, no. And because someone told me to have a nice dish of candy on the signing table, I had Hershey kisses and mini Reese's peanut butter cups. Every single kid who saw that candy thought they could have one. (Luckily, Dianne -- the teacher -- beat them off.)

Okay, so you might wonder how it all went. I can't tell you because I have nothing to base it on. So you be the judge. I ordered 50 books. I sold 13 through pre-order and another 13 at the book signing. I also gave away 7 copies (3 each to the teachers and 1 to a special friend - no not that kind of friend - alas I wish he was.) My friend Laura thinks it will be nothing to sell the rest of the books through the school office.

And here we are

So, I guess I did okay. I'd like to say I did really well, but I'm not sure. I had hoped to get rid of the whole 50 and then some, but I guess that was overly ambitious. (I thought as it was about the teachers and not something I wrote -- if that makes any sense -- it would sell 150 copies.)

I do know one thing however, I will never do another book signing at a venue other than a nice quiet bookstore.

Tell me -- Have you ever had a book signing? How did it go? Did you sell as many copies as you thought you might? Were your expectations of the signing itself better or worse than you imagined? Have you ever stabbed yourself with your mascara?

Anne Gallagher (c) 2013

Monday, October 14, 2013

My First Book Signing...Or Not

Good Morning. Well, for those of you who have been following the saga of the bully and me, let me just say, I have triumphed over adversity. The Parent Volunteer room is now officially, the "Gift Card Corner Office", I will be getting a brand new file cabinet with sturdy lock, have been allowed to implement the new "ledger" as well as single page reconciling sheet (no more 28 pages of useless paperwork every week) and I will now be filing any and all reports that need to come out of that office. (I have since learned that Tina* only filed the reports to help me out -- she knew I was inundated as the new coordinator. At least that was her story. Ahem.)

Anyway, this Friday is my first book signing for the school project I have been working on since last April. It's a cozy novella about two teachers in 1809. Well, technically the two teachers who won the prize I had in the auction "Be a Character in a Story".

Now I've known for about 6 weeks I'm going to be signing books this Friday night the 18th at the Fall Festival. I put the final final final touches on it about 3 weeks ago. I formatted it for paperback and have had my proof since then. I made the necessary changes and put it on sale last Sunday.

With all the aforementioned drama sucking the life out of me, I completely lost track of time. I thought I still had another week to order the books and get them shipped to me. I ordered them Thursday night.

So when I ordered my proof copy, as I ordered all my other proof copies, they get to me in about 4 days because the plant where they make them is in South Carolina. I didn't think any differently about ordering 50 books. I mean hey, they're made in South Carolina right? It's only a spit away as the crow flies.

When I hit the shipping and handling button, and my receipt came up on the screen, it said they would be shipped to me BEFORE October 24. I looked at the date and didn't really think about it because I knew I had another week before the Fall Festival. (The mind plays mysterious tricks on you when you least expect it.)

Uh, guess what, the Fall Festival is on the 18th. Which I knew. That's THIS Friday. Which somehow, I didn't know. Well, I did, but I didn't. You know. And BEFORE could mean on the 23rd, or the 19th. I think it's going to take a big fat miracle to get them to me BEFORE the 18th. ( Like on the 16th so the teacher who is also supposed to sign them can actually sign them before she leaves for her son's engagement party on the morning of the 18th.)

And you may wonder why I didn't just click "expedited shipping". Well because 50 books is $23 standard. Then $45 for 5 days, then for two days $129.99. I don't know about you, but my checkbook balance isn't all that. (And no the school isn't paying for any of this. And when I figured out my profit after all is said and done, it's 50 cents a book. Which is why I'm not doing this again next year for the auction.)

Needless to say, I have no idea whether or not I'll be having a book signing at the Fall Festival this Friday night. *face palm* *face palm* and just for good measure *head desk*

I told the school secretary what I did, and she said, "Don't worry about it." I told her what I could do is make copies of the cover (on nice card stock) and hand those out instead. Take names and payment and when the books come in, sign them and send them home with the kids. She thought that was a reasonable idea.

But man, *face palm* *head desk* how inept can a person be? Okay, how inept can I be that I didn't get the books like two weeks ago so even if they do come in before Friday, I won't be running around like a chicken with my head cut off.

And generally something like this really wouldn't bother me, but we've been talking it up at school and everyone is excited to read it. Total Fail.

Tell me -- Have you ever lost track of time -- which I'm sure you have -- but has it completely rendered you brain dead? And just in case the books do come in, what do I do? How do I sign them? With just my name? Some kind of simple salutation? What do you suggest? Happy Reading? Thanks for reading? Hope you like it? None of the above? What do I have on the table? Candy? (I have no swag. Again, brain dead.)

Anne Gallagher (c) 2013

Monday, October 7, 2013

Adult Bullies in the Real World

Good Morning. I wasn't going to post this, but after reading Anne R. Allen's blog post on Sunday about cyber bullies, I thought I would share my real life drama because bullying in any form needs to stop.

Remember a few weeks ago I told you I was the new Gift Card Coordinator at my daughter's school... I took the job because nobody else wanted to do it. It involves a lot of paperwork, a lot of hours you don't get paid for and a lot of paperwork. I went in blind, but took it stride. I got together with Tina*, the outgoing coordinator, and Karen, my new right-hand assistant, and we plowed through the process for two weeks. (Actually 4 days total, which in my opinion was NOT enough for me to know what the hay-zoo I was doing.) Tina, I guess, thought that was enough. She claims she left me alone so I would find my own way. (With an $80 thousand dollar budget, you'd think she'd make damn sure I knew what I was doing.) But she (I see now in hindsight) wanted me to fall flat on my face. (I also heard this from another parent.)

Anyway, Karen and I bungled through the first ordering week alone because Tina deliberately left out a step in the processing of the orders. When we hit the glitch and because we were alone, I asked Laura, (the Director of Advancement for the school) to lend me a quick hand. Not a big deal. She didn't mind, she had actually set up the computer program so she knew how it all worked.

The next day Tina called me LIVID I had asked Laura for help. She claimed that I was not allowed to ask for help from any of the paid staff, spouting Diocesan policy about rules and protocol for parent volunteers. Huh? I beg your pardon, but I'll ask for help from whomever I damn well please. Tina claimed I had to call HER and she would help me over the phone. I tried to explain to her that if I didn't know what the hell I was doing, I couldn't explain it to her over the phone, so what was the point. Laura was there, it took two minutes to find the problem and fix it and it was done. Tina was not happy.

We then had our first Executive Board meeting for the PTO, but we also had a vote for the By-Laws over email. I read the by-laws and asked for clarification on just one word in a sentence. Being a writer, the sentence made no sense so the one word I asked to be inserted would make it make sense. Tina, (the former gift card coordinator who is now the treasurer for the PTO) decided if I was going to ask for clarification, then she wanted to insert a few words of her own to that same sentence. However, I felt that those words were ambiguous and totally screwed up the meaning of the sentence so I wrote that they were ambiguous, Laura agreed and made a motion to scrub the vote because of the ambiguity and totally rewrite that section of by-laws. The motion passed. Tina was not happy.

 As Karen and I were now officially on our own, we came up with a new plan to sell the gift cards. We were going to grab some new volunteers and start selling in the mornings during morning drop off. Not a big deal. I asked the principal if we could sit in the lobby during that time and she said "sure, sounds like a great idea." So we did.

Tina asked me one day how it was going with morning sales.  I said, (because I was so proud of how it was going) "Fantastic! We're making so much money, I have to make several deposits a week." She told me I couldn't do that because it would mess up the paperwork. Huh? I'm going to sit on $3000.00 for a week? Sometimes more? I think not. First of all that's a lot of money just sitting around in a desk drawer. Second, why should I keep checks for a week when some people are anal and need to know where there money is at all times (like me). I pretty much blew Tina off and kept making my deposits whenever I damn well felt like it. And besides, if the books come out right, who cares about paperwork. Tina was not happy.

Well, then, I had a special order come in on a Friday. A lady ordered $2000.00 worth of gift cards for a certain specialty food store. I made the special order. Not a big deal. When Tina found out she had a cow. "If you do that for one person, you'll be expected to do it for everyone. You can't do that without the proper paperwork and purchase orders." Okay, how stupid does she think I am that I wouldn't make out a purchase order?

Having run my own business for a few decades, if someone asks me for a special order, my first thought is to keep the customer happy, but more importantly returning to my business. Right? Simple customer service. I'm running this gift card thing like a business. If people are going to drop two grand on gift cards, you bet I'm going to make a special order. So I did. And then, lo and behold, it happened again. So I did it again. Tina was not happy.

Laura then told me quarterly reports were coming up and I had to do them. She gave me the template and said, "Just fill in the numbers." Easy peasy. Not a big deal. So I ran up the paperwork, filled in the numbers, and sent it off to Tina. Well. She decided she needed more reports and asked me for the passwords to the gift card program in the computer. (Laura had told me previously to change them.)

I gave them to her. Laura was a little upset, and told me to change them again. Tina was furious. However, as I began to think about what was going on, I realized, Tina had not asked to get into any one else's computer programs for their numbers, so why was she doing it to me? I told her no. She flipped out. I flipped back. However, I gave them to her just to shut her up because I was So.Sick.Of.The.Drama. I just want to do my job, do it well, make money, come home and write my stories. Tina was starting to suck the life out of me. Not to mention giving me a fine fat headache indeed.

I thought the situation was finally taken care of. Laura, the principal, the director of finance, the pastor, and the president of the PTO had agreed that from now on, I would be in charge of the reports, it would be written into the PTO bylaws, and that I would now be responsible or all quarterly reports. Tina was not happy.

But then, the finance director asked me for the bank statements. She needed copies. One of the other girls who volunteers for us, Diane, decided to help me clean the gift card office and purge some of the useless paperwork that had been hanging around for so many years. She had put all the old bank statements and deposit slips in manila envelopes and marked them by school year. It was totally great to get the file cabinet cleaned up. Yay. However, Tina was not happy, claiming we were purging important documents. (Sales sheets from 2003, 2006, 2009? I think not. They're a fire hazard.)

So when the finance director asked me for the bank statements, I knew exactly where they were. Right by the lock box in the bottom of the file cabinet because that's where I wanted them. Only when I went to look for them, they weren't there. I checked, I looked, I searched. No where. I informed the principal, the director of finance, and the secretary of the school. I was frantic. These were important documents and were needed, not only for me, but for the program itself. We get audited every two years by the Diocese, so if I'm missing bank statements, I'm screwed.

Now, during this frantic search, I had told the principal so she knew what was going on. Tina happened to be at school during this time (we had church service and our kids were doing the mass.) The principal asked if Tina knew where the missing bank statements were. Tina said no. Let me repeat, Tina denied knowing where they were in front of the school secretary and two other witnesses.

Well, I finally found them, in the 2011-2012 school year stuck in between March and September. However, they were also with reconciling sheets that I had no idea where those had come from. I could only speculate they were done by Tina and when she returned them to the gift card office decided to put them where I couldn't find them. I guess she assumed I wasn't going to notice they were missing until it was too late. (However, how stupid was she to leave evidence that she had moved them?)

 Suffice it to say, I was not happy. This was now the umpteenth time Tina had tried to get my goat. Her jealousy over my success with the program had turned her into a hideous monster. I had had conversations with Laura, the pastor, the principal, the finance director, the President of the PTO about Tina's bullying behavior SEVERAL times. However, they were all stymied as to how to handle the situation. Nothing like this had ever happened before. I mean really...there were rules to deal with bullies in the lower grades, but with adults?

However, I guess Tina thought that by bullying me, I would quit and that she would run to the rescue to save the Gift Card Program. Be the hero. You know. Guess what. She doesn't realize I'm not a quitter. She also doesn't realize that I'm not stupid and I know all about filing a formal complaint which is exactly what I did -- to the school board. I also inferred in my letter that if her behavior continues, I will send a copy of the letter along with all the other complaints I have against her to the PTO board and ask that she be removed as treasurer.

I had a conversation with the President of the PTO and showed her the missing bank statements and the questionable reconciling sheets. SHE was livid this time. I was informed there's going to be a big meeting this Weds with Tina to see what she has to say about the bank statements. I wonder how she'll squirm out of it.

In my formal complaint, I respectfully requested to either be given a new office with my own key, or have Tina banned from that room, the computer, and from my personal space within 20 feet. What else was I going to do? We're all sick and tired of the game she's playing. For whatever reason, she's out to get me. And no, I'm not being paranoid, it's just been me she's picking on. Nobody else. I guess she figured I'll do what she wants. I'll play by her "rules" and take it like all the other people she's bullied in the past. Guess what...I don't play that way.

When I spoke with the pastor, let me tell you, HE is NOT happy. When I told him about her demanding the passwords to the computer I was so upset I used my fancy Italian curse words. He lived in Italy for 8 years so he knew what I said. (I generally don't swear in front of clergy. You can go to hell for stuff like that. lol) He forgave me because he knew how upset I was as this was just another in her long line of ridiculous demands. He knows she's out to get me, because I'm proving I'm better at the position than she was. She's just insanely jealous. And it's too bad, because at one time I thought of her as a friend.

So let this be a lesson for you all -- don't let the bullies get you down. Fight back, but take the high road and do it in writing. Make a formal complaint. If you know you're in the right, the truth will win out. Don't take bullying in any form. Also, evidence helps. Pictures, documents, whatever you have, keep a record of the bullying, and formalize it. Get witnesses, statements. Someone WILL listen to you. They have to.

And if you're thinking of volunteering for the PTO, don't do it. I really wish I hadn't.

Tell me -- Have you ever been in a bullying situation as an adult? What did you do about it? Fight back, quit, use the rules to your advantage?

 * All names have been changed in this blog post.

Anne Gallagher (c) 2013