Monthly Archives: May 2016

Family Stories and Colliding Memories

Collision imageI’m fascinated by the patchwork we as family members create with our family memories. An incident occurs in our shared past. An important even traumatic incident. The details sear our consciousness. Yet when we compare notes we discover those details differ from one of us to the other. From one family member to the other.

Sometimes the discrepancy is good natured like it could be with my brother and me. We’d debate and tease each other. Maybe even accuse each other of fabrication in the same teasing manner. But that was only with the not-so-touchy bits. Nostalgia rather than gut wrenching. The dreadful stories were just that – worthy of dread – so we mostly didn’t mention them.

We tiptoed around those narratives because they were quicksand. One wrong step and we could be sucked down with no hope of rescue. Rescue from what? Rescue from the collision of my version of reality and his and from the powerful confrontation that might erupt. We had mutually and silently agreed to avoid such battles and generally we did.

Consequently my brother left this earth with all but a few of our most potent shared experiences unspoken. Otherwise the relationship might not have survived as long as it did. Would I have preferred an open field of exchange? Yes of course. Nonetheless I chose silence and dissembling over openness and its fearsome revelatory glare.

Maybe my regret of that sin of omission is the reason colliding stories flow like a brackish river through so much of my Riverton Road Romantic Suspense series. In the first story A Wrong Way Home Hailey and Julia spend their early years as close friends before being separated for a long and painful time. Their stories of that separation and its origin vary dramatically.

Julia’s mother Virginia’s memories diverge even further as do those of Hailey’s mother Annemarie. What these recollections have in common is their mine field potential to blast both families – their past as well as their present – to kingdom come. And they do. A Wrong Way Home begins with a murder after all and wades through a quagmire of secrets afterwards.

Book 4 – A Villain for Vanessa is rife with the raw material for more combustible collisions. Between Vanessa and her mother Amelia. Between Amelia and her sister Angela Kalli. Among just about everyone involved with the Westerlo side of Vanessa’s family. The explosive tonnage is terrifying. Nobody would want to be in the midst of this family when it implodes.

This is fertile ground for storytelling. But it’s toxic territory in real life. Think about it. Who in your family do you tiptoe around for fear of a collision of your differing truths? What conflagrations have you barely survived when one of those toes slipped into the memory mine field? My advice. When you tell those stories – swear to heaven they are fiction.

Alice Orrhttp://www.aliceorrbooks.com http://www.facebook.com/aliceorrwriter http://www.twitter.com/AliceOrrBooks 

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A Wrong Way HomeRiverton Road Romantic Suspense Book 1 – is a FREE eBook at Amazon and other online retailers. A Villain for Vanessa and my other books are available at my Amazon Author Page http://www.amazon.com/Alice-Orr/e/B000APC22E/.

 

Character is Everything in Storytelling – My Greatest Heroine

Grandma & Me at Two and a HalfWe create many heroines in many stories. I believe our most powerful heroines re-create pieces of powerful women we have known. The quintessential powerful woman in my life was my maternal grandmother. Whenever I write a strong woman – as I do every time I write a woman as hero – Grandma is part of her in one aspect or another.

In the novel I am about to publish – A Villain for Vanessa – the heroine travels a long way into the unknown to find what she hopes will be a better life. Grandma did that in the late 1890’s. The exact year differs in different research sources. As with many family stories there is disagreement on the details. Debate runs rampant regarding the why or how or what.

What isn’t disputed in the case of Grandma’s migration is that she traveled alone. She was a small town girl of eighteen or nineteen or maybe twenty depending on which source I credit. She sailed from England in what I imagine was the lowest class of passage and entered this very new world for her by way of Canada.

My best guess from the bits and pieces of fact I’ve found is that her expenses were paid by a family with several children. They were bringing her to what would one day be my hometown in the remote northern region of New York State. The same region where my newest novel and the three before it are set in a fictitious town named Riverton.

The family that bought Grandma’s steamship ticket was previously unknown to her. So was the climate where she would live. I imagine her caring for the children of strangers through the shock of her first frigid North Country winter. I remember her incredible garden when I was a girl and wonder if she was recreating the warm springtime English gardens of her own girlhood.

I’ve studied the customs and fashions of the specific time period when she migrated. I picture her in a white shirtwaist and dark skirt and of course a hat being greeted by people she’d never laid eyes on before. No relatives or friends had preceded her to America. She was on her own. That took courage. It was a wonderfully brave act – the behavior of a heroine.

My Uncle John had a picture on his wall of Grandma at that young age. Her hair was pulled up in a kind of Gibson Girl poof with a bow in back. But it was her eyes that captured me. They were young and most likely blue. Her skin was pale and most likely blushing. Grandma was beautiful. I wish I’d inherited that picture. I carry it in my head and heart instead.

Above all I carry in my head and heart the gentle smile in that picture. The same smile I would bask in decades later when she taught me which flowers to harvest from her amazing garden and exactly where to cut each stem. Nowadays I bask in her more aged smile gazing down at me from another picture on my wall in this room where I write.

She did her best to instill in me the courage it took to put her button-shoed foot on that lonely ship from Plymouth. The example of her courage carries me through challenge and heartbreak and triumph too. I in turn instill that courage in the strong women I write. There is something of Grandma in each of them. Not only her bravery but her loving heart too.

That’s why my heroines are so dear to me. I believe character is everything when it comes to storytelling. Everything good in my life began with Grandma – including the strong women who grace my stories. Her name was Alice Jane Rowland Boudiette. The photo here is of Alice Jane and me Alice Elizabeth at two and a half already modeling my model heroine.

 

Alice Orrhttp://www.aliceorrbooks.com https://www.facebook.com/aliceorrwriter https://www.twitter.com/AliceOrrBooks

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A Villain for VanessaRiverton Road Romantic Suspense Book 4. Official launch June 17 – will be available here. A Wrong Way Home – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Book 1 is a FREE eBook at the same site and most other online book retailers.

Managing Indie Author Expectations

Baby typing imageDaredevil folks say “Danger is my middle name.” My motto is more like “Worry is my middle name. My most recent worry obsession has been what I perceive as my lack of Indie Pub progress.

I work hard at writing my novels and publishing them from my Alice Orr Books company. I have an excellent productivity ethic. My self-discipline standards are high. So why am I not speeding along toward the top of the heap the way I did in previous professional endeavors?

In my past incarnation as a literary agent I employed the same principles I follow now. I figured out exactly what needed to be done and did those things as absolutely right as I possibly could. Which worked like gangbusters on that other work life road. Now – as an independent publisher of my own books – not so much.

I whined about this to another indie author recently. She’s on the gangbusters track for sure. It is true she has a strong background in professional marketing. But I have a strong background in business. Shouldn’t that even us out? Apparently not. “How long have you been doing this?” was her first question.

“I published my first indie novel a year and three months ago.” I’d begun to detect her drift as I said that. I didn’t ask the length of her indie history. I knew she’d been at it for years.

“You’re a baby at this game.” I heard the truth of those words at once and all of a sudden my perspective shifted.

I’m well aware there was a golden opportunity window during which many indie authors were able to grab the brass ring and be pulled to mega sales territory. That was several years ago within about the same timeframe when my wise friend launched her indie career.

I’m also well aware of the deniers who speak out against what they label as negative thinking. “It’s still a wonderful time to indie pub.” They declare this repeatedly and they are right. But they leave out the caveat. That it is not and most likely will never again be those olden golden nearly instant mega sales days.

Here’s the rest of that caveat. It is still a great time to publish our books independently. BUT it will take longer to see positive sales results than in the golden years. AND we will have to work like hell to get there. In other words we’ll have to #1. Figure out exactly what needs to be done. #2. Do those things as absolutely right as we possibly can.

May I add #3? We must perform those essential activities not only as correctly as we can but also for as long as is needed to get us where we want to go. This is the aspect of realistic expectations we have to contemplate thoroughly before deciding whether or not the indie path is for us. Do we possess the wherewithal to keep on jogging for a long run?

I’m hoping I do. I intend to try anyway. I will also take a chew toy along for the tough teething times on this steep learning curve ascent. Meanwhile worrying is premature because I’m just a baby in this indie basket. How about you?

Alice Orrhttp://www.aliceorrbooks.com http://www.facebook.com/aliceorrwriter http://www.twitter.com/AliceOrrBooks 

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A Villain for VanessaRiverton Road Romantic Suspense Book 4. Official launch June 17 – is already available here. A Wrong Way Home – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Book 1 is a FREE eBook at the same site and most other online book retailers.

 

Setting a Book Launch Date

Boldt CastleBeginnings are crucial or they at least seem to be. We get only one chance to make a first impression and we mustn’t squander that chance. How many times have you heard that? How many times did it make your throat clench in response? And when we refer to the beginning as a Launch the ante is definitely higher still.

Battleships Launch with the crack of a champagne bottle across the bow. We need to come up with something equally Dramatic for a book launch. I must do that now. A Dramatic Opening just like in my stories which I often jumpstart with a murder scene. But I don’t want to bump somebody off to kick off of my new book. I’d prefer to be more subtle than that.

My chosen date must be dramatic nonetheless. And memorable. And related to the story – a Romantic Suspense novel. So I’m looking for a Launch Date that is romantic somehow and suspenseful somehow. I feel the throat clench coming on and some head spinning too. My anxiety level soars as the ante does the same.

Then inspiration strikes. A date commemorating something dramatic for me. Life changing even. Romantic and suspenseful too. Plus it was literally A Date. My first date with the man who has been my romantic hero and best friend ever since. Sweet Jonathan as I’ve come to call him. Forty-four years backward in time from this coming June which is almost here.

The Ask was suspenseful for sure. I could feel he was on the verge of it but I wasn’t certain he’d actually get there. The anticipation was intense. Would he ever do anything besides gaze at me all moony eyed when he didn’t think I was looking? My girlfriend Marsha urged me to make The Ask myself but I couldn’t. This was too important to me. He had to take the first step.

Then it was Saturday June 17th. Jonathan and I worked at the same facility and we were running an event together that day. A field trip to – of all places – Heart Island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River. The island is shaped like a heart because the legendary owner had it re-engineered that way in honor of his devotion to his wife. He built a castle there for her too.

What a romantic story. Except she died and romance turned to tragedy. A romantic story remained unfinished. The castle remained unfinished also. I was starting to suspect Sweet Jonathan and I were destined to be unfinished as well. Then – when the suspense had my heart pounding at an excruciating pace – the climactic scene finally occurred. HE ASKED.

Dramatic. Life changing. Suspenseful. Romantic. Few days have been more of all of those things for me than that sunny June afternoon on the river I’d loved since I was a child. The river which just happens to appear prominently in my new book. In fact this exact same river comes close to drowning my heroine and my hero along with her.

The life I now live was launched that day on my river. The romantic love chapter of my life began and has since deepened into a complex and compelling story. I didn’t know our future story yet but I did know I was falling in love and found out soon afterward that Jonathan felt the same. Meanwhile I was quite terrified but he wasn’t and that saved the day.

I save the day again now for the launch of A Villain for Vanessa – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Book 4. Bobby and Vanessa’s story but Jonathan and Alice’s story even more so. Because without a special afternoon of spectacular sunshine on Heart Island forty-four years ago I might never have lived my own up close and very personal Romantic Suspense.

Alice Orrhttp://www.aliceorrbooks.com http://www.facebook.com/aliceorrwriter http://www.twitter.com/AliceOrrBooks 

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A Villain for VanessaRiverton Road Romantic Suspense Book 4. Official launch June 17. A Villain for Vanessa will be available here. A Wrong Way Home – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Book 1 is a FREE eBook at the same site and most other online book retailers.

 

 

 

Why I Write Stories about Big Mysterious Houses

Mansion image“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Joan Fontiane voice-overs that at the beginning of the Hitchcock film Rebecca. The first time we see Manderley we understand why it won’t leave her. Why it won’t even let her sleep without revisiting there.

I come from a place with many big mysterious houses. Manderley wasn’t just a large house. It was an estate. My personal history houses weren’t that grand but they were grand enough. At least the seemed so to me.

My family lived in an ordinary house. A Craftsman style bungalow with a wide porch and a peaked roof and dormers. I loved that house but I was fascinated by the big mysterious ones.

They lined the streets of certain neighborhoods of the town where I grew up in a remote area of New York State we called the North Country. But those weren’t the only big old houses in town. Sizable domestic structures could be found just about anywhere. Though not on our one-block street which had been built on a more human scale.

Maybe that contrast was part of what drew me to these oversized piles. I’d walk slowly past them after school even though they were out of the way from my shortest route home. I’d gaze between the broad trees across their deep lawns. Then upward floor after floor until my neck bent back at a right angle.

Who could possibly need all of that space? What went on inside that required so many rooms to happen? When I was young most of these places were still owned by single families. They hadn’t yet been split up into apartments as many of them someday would be. I imagined them occupied by eccentric elderly ladies. One of the most famous actually was.

This particular mansion was on the corner of Clinton and Washington Streets. My elementary school was walking distance from there. Every spring we would parade to that corner – one classroom’s worth of kids at a time. The teacher was always in the lead. Her most trusted pupil was assigned to travel up and down the rest of the line herding strays and stragglers back on route. I was never assigned that responsibility.

I was more likely to be a stray or straggler along the blocks between Academy Street School and the mansion. But as soon as we arrived a hush would settle over me despite my reputation for never being hushed by anything. The purpose of our expedition was to look at the gardens but I barely noticed the flowers – profuse as I’m sure they must have been.

My entire attention was captured by the house. As if each of its many windows was a magnet pulling me out of myself to be sucked into one opening after another. I longed to be carried inside but I was a little terrified too. Especially the day I saw a white lace curtain move aside for a moment beyond a bed of tall blue delphiniums – as a pale face appeared at a window pane.

Was this the heiress I’d been told lived here? Was it anyone at all or had I conjured her from my hunger for a glimpse inside? If she was an heiress with wealth and a mansion why would she steal a single peek then drop the lace curtain and retreat as if spooked by a gaggle of eight year olds gawking at her nasturtiums?

Meanwhile I was intoxicated myself by the spooky possibilities. I understood that big old houses have secrets. They are built from secrets and each secret is a story. I would probably never know those stories. They belonged to people rich enough to own such places. People powerful enough to hold onto their hidden tales and keep them hidden.

My only recourse was to recreate those stories myself out of the whole cloth of my imagination and populate them with the stuff and characters of dreams and sometimes of nightmares. I’m still doing that. Each of the books of my Riverton Road Romantic Suspense series so far has a big mysterious house at its center and a murder in the darkness of its heart.

I delight as much in unlocking the rooms as I do in unlocking the mystery. You’re welcome to accompany me – back to my version of Manderley again.

 Alice Orrhttp://www.aliceorrbooks.com http://www.facebook.com/aliceorrwriter http://www.twitter.com/AliceOrrBooks

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A Wrong Way Home is a FREE eBook at http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B000APC22E and most other online book retailers. All of Alice’s books are available at her Amazon Author Page http://www.amazon.com/Alice-Orr/e/B000APC22E/.  A Villain for Vanessacoming soonwill be Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Book 4.