In gratitude of the short story

short stories pic

If it weren’t for short stories, I doubt that Pam and I would be novelists today.  Although some people might transition through journalism, advertising careers, or even just launch themselves at the computer with a brilliant light-bulb idea – oh, how we envy those inspired geniuses – it was having success with shorter fiction that let two cowardly creatives dare to tackle our first novel. Together.  Trembling and encouraging each other every step of our path through publishing.

typewriter, short storyI was 23, newly-promoted as assistant to an encouraging literary agent, when my boss hired a new secretary who also aspired to be a writer.  I quickly saw that if I didn’t rally the nerve to produce my first piece of work, I’d be choking in her dust. Luckily my disastrous love life gave me plenty of material for ‘chick-lit’ type stories – i.e. a mostly cynical, humorous look on modern London romance or rather lack of it.  I became a regular contributor to women’s magazines using the modest proceeds to fund holidays and later backpacking adventures.   More importantly, I started thinking of myself as a writer.  Sort of.

While I was faffing about South America Pam got into the scene. She had three young kids and her much needed escape became a creative writing class.  Her stories were more of the twist-in-the-tail variety.  And isn’t that the beauty of short stories – that you can experiment with all the different forms – mystery, romance, science fiction – to discover your voice while building confidence and skills?  You don’t have to spend a year or more of your life writing an entire book, only to throw away the whole rambling mess in disgust.  Tossing aside a few scrambled pages hurts a lot less!

Meanwhile we learned valuable lessons.  When your clever tale has to be tied up in 1,000 to 3,000 words, that first sentence had better throw the reader smack into the dramatic tension from the get-go. Your main character had better be instantly likeable, distinctive, and facing a clear conflict or crisis with no rambling detours to dilute the reader’s interest.  You’d better find a good resolution or punchline to end on.  You learn to aim for dialogue that’s witty and original and advances the story.  The same with description, finding the details that matter. We envy poets or songwriters like Bob Dylan and Van Morrison who can evoke whole worlds in just a few lines.  Now there’s something to aspire to…

Even now, writing full-length novels, it’s easy to get lulled by the fact that there are seemingly endless pages to fill.  It’s noticeable that our first two novels are much longer than the subsequent ones, partly because we jumped right in with not one but four main characters – hard to write about the dynamics of sisters, we felt, without offering the different points of view.  But more and more we’re coming back to our roots, rediscovering the value of editing out those fascinating, heartfelt or humorous paragraphs or diversions that amuse us greatly but add nothing to the plot.  We’ve just slashed 20,000 words out of a manuscript and discovered that much as it made us ache at the time, not only was the book not hurt, it was greatly improved.

And if you’re interested in seeing more of our writing roots, we’re offering a free short story in our next newsletter. Sign up here or through our blogsite at www.chicklitsisters.com.

onceupon a time the end

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Adventures in Audible

I love audiobooks. With all that’s going on in our busy lives, sometimes it’s hard to take the time out to sit down to read. So, mucking out horse corrals, cleaning the kitchen, driving the car, I’m usually found, with earphones attached, listening to novels.

Often Amabloody jackzon’s Audible reviewers or an exceptional narrator send me on an unexpected journey, far beyond the obvious bestsellers such as Girl On A Train, Girl With A Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl. I’ve found myself gallivanting about the high seas with the YA bestselling series, Bloody Jack, about a young orphan lass who joins the British Royal Navy disguised as a cabin boy. I’ve schemed and battled my way through Game of Thrones, sweated through the tumultuous backstreets of Bombay with Shantaram, corralled wild brumbies and fallen in love in the Australian Outback with our own Janet Gwild oneover’s The Wild One. I find the narration – often award-worthy performances – lends colour to characters or adds to the emotion in a way that is different from reading the print edition. Honestly, that can be great or awful. Nothing is worse than a bad narrator. And conversely, it can be almost unbearable to listen to some tense moments of horror, longing to fast forward but afraid of missing a crucial point.

‘Ellie Campbell’ has had her own adventures with Audible’s ACX service. ACX is a program designed to pair authors with narrators/producers on either a pay or profit-sharing basis (with, for some lucky books, an ACX stipend awarded to further entice the narrator). So far we’ve launched two audiobooks, How To Survive Your Sisters, our first novel, and Looking For La La.

It was fascinating listening to the different audition samples of our chosen segments. Some were too cultured to our mongrel ears, more suitable for A Room With A View or an elocution lesson. Others didn’t get the humour. But Elizabeth Klett, an experienced Audible narrator, and Stevie Zimmerman, an amazing character actor, hit the exact tone we envisaged for both novels. We eagerly awaited each chapter and marveled. We were much too inexperienced and intimidated to give notes but luckily our narrators didn’t need them. We laughed as they brought comic scenes to life and sometimes cringed at our own bitchiness. Those sister squabbles, for example. Yes, we are two of four sisters; yes, we do – occasionally – indulge in digs, spats and snarky comments at each other’s expense, but, like hearing your own voice played back on a recording, we positively winced when hearing our fictional sisters’ exchanges vocalised by another and questioned if our standards of normal family interactions were somehow morally warped. I’m sure actors feel the same watching their own performance.

Anyway, those audiobooks were so much fun we’re all gung-ho to produce the rest. What’s less obvious, from an author point of view, is the marketing. Audible do offer some credits to authors and producers to entice would-be reviewers but beyond the usual outlets of Twitter and Facebook, we’ve discovered few bloggers or websites who focus on audio as opposed to the written word. It’s still in many ways a developing market and one we’re thrilled to be part of. A real adventure, in fact.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested in hearing two of our favorite novels come to life, we recommend joining Audible. For a small subscription you get a monthly book credit which can save a fortune if you have a habit like mine, given that audiobooks can be expensive.

CompetitLooking For La La audioion:How To Survive Your Sisters audio

We’re offering a free audio book to four readers who sign up for our newsletter at https://chicklitsisters.com then tweet using the hashtag #TakeFiveAuthors.

We’ll choose the winners on 18th July. Good luck!

So you want to have an author photo, huh?

Living thousands of miles apart, Lorraine in Colorado and Pam in Surrey, England, it’s not always easy to get an author photo of “Ellie Campbell”. Worse, we hate almost all photos of ourselves, not to mention the whole experience of posing, so the photographer has quite a challenge on their hands.  There’s good reason authors often keep the same photo for years. Time may improve fine wine and maybe even our writing skills but, alas, we can’t say the same for the waistlines and wrinkles.  And with two subjects under the lens there’s always one who pulled a funny face or closed their eyes at exactly the wrong time.

A few years back we bravely endured a professional photo session but the immaculate blow-dried hairstyles and carefully slapped-on make-up just didn’t feel like “us”, despite the poor guy’s valiant attempt to airbrush us back to our teenage years!

Still on April 9th this year we were about to publish our sixth novel,  Meddling With Murder.  A marketing pack needed to be sent off to various sites for our upcoming blog tour, and we wanted more than one photo or it could all be a bit samey. And since Pam and the rest of our family were flying over to Boulder for the launch party (which cunningly coincided with Lorraine’s birthday bash) we couldn’t miss the opportunity.

We had an inkling of how hard it would be. Luckily our sister Jo is an ace photographer and has the patience of a saint.

We decided not to dress up, although we did bring along our cowboy hats – after all we were staying at Lorraine’s horse ranch and were off to a Western party later that day.

First problem wPam clambering on fencee had was Pam clambering on the fence.  Her knees were shot after all the punishing long-distance cycling that her husband had been forcing her to do over the past year.

Pam pokey finger

 

 

 

Actually we decided the hats might work in our favour. Cast enough shadows and nobody would notice the bags under our eyes.

Pam Burn upright

 

Hmm. Perhaps we need more of a backdrop? Ah, a barn, that’ll do.

 

 

Pam started  yabbering on about comedian Harry Worth thinking we could Harry worthdo something like this…

 

 

 

 

But Lorraine assured her that, even if we could manage Ian getting in on the actionthat trick, no-one under the age of forty would know who we were emulating – and especially not in America. Besides, it wasn’t long before Pam’s husband, who was doing some manly stuff with a drill, tried to enter the picture and steal our thunder.

 

 

 

 

Pam and Lorraine trying hard to stay upright

Pam’s daughter thought a glass of wine might help us relax and soften the rigor mortis grins. We had one glass each, then had trouble standing on the door ledge so we were tall enough to peer over.

 

Pam and Lorraine slightly squiffy

Plus the wine made us slightly squiffy

 

 

Remy licking Lorraine

 

It was time to call in the big guns – Lorraine’s faithful mutt, Remy. We both got a lot of love going on from him but we needed something more…

 

 

Time to call in the bigger guns. Luna just happened to be having a peaceful nap in the pasture.

Lorraine and Luna smaller

OK but the point was to have both of us in it, Lorraine

pam and luna Lorraine hidden

And Pam.  Luna looks great though

Pam on her knees

‘Move closer to the horse, Pam!’ Jo yelled out. But Pam had trouble getting off her knees, (again blame all that cycling).

 

 

 

 

All right, we decided, we’ll just get the whole family to share the experience. (We could always crop them out later.) Which was when Luna’s mum, Sugar decided to photobomb us…

photobomb

Finally after about 300 photos and a few more glasses of wine, we came up with a couple we could tolerate. Not perfect, but hey, that’s cool.  Neither are we!

IMG_1187 - Smaller - Pam and Lorraine on fence best

 

So you have the ebook, the paperback, the audio, what next – how about a book trailer?

For the launch of our sixth novel, Meddling with Murder we decided we wanted to make more of an impact rather than our standard “cover reveal” and the “Lo, behold, our new book launching today”. We wanted to go video. Many authors have been using video for a while now, so we were relatively late to the game. Something that had been on our “to do” list for ages – time for action.

First thing we were considering was a type of a video link aka Sophie Kinsella talking about Shopaholic and Baby…

But then we thought again. Even though our talented nephew Anthony is a budding film-maker with all the know-how and camera equipment, we realized: A) we’d never scrub up that well or look that dignified and well-dressed. Lorraine would probably have straw in her hair and Pam mud on the knees of her jeans.  B) Apart from being camera shy, we could never maintain a straight face for that long. Even having our photo taken usually ends up in ridiculous girly giggling.  C) Every time we’ve had to talk about our books, we’ve gone blank and have no idea what they’re about.  And D) most important of all – we live thousands of miles apart. When could we do this? Pam was flying out to Colorado for the launch / Lorraine’s birthday party but we needed it beforehand.

So having ruled out “us” we concentrated on the more important thing “the book”. We’d do a trailer instead. We thought about commandeering our nephew again – he’s a computer whizz as well as a film-maker. We wanted something a bit like this we said…

but selfishly he read our begging email and hot-footed it to San Francisco on a “hugely busy” schedule.

Anthony headAnthony

Next thing we considered was just doing it ourselves. Pam’s pretty good at PowerPoint, Lorraine has an Apple Mac and can do Apple-ly things on it. Surely it wasn’t too hard. We’d just have to be creative.

We scoured the internet. First we found someone that had made a pretty good one herself through https://Animoto.com. Pam made a quick impromptu attempt but Lorraine’s reply was “bleurgh!”11 Just for grins we’ll show you anyway.  Ignore the spelling mistakes – Pam says she was just playing really…

The photos weren’t up to scratch either. We had the book jacket but Pam’s kids would probably have lumped her if she’d put them up on display to the world. Also we were finding it hard to condense the whole book into a few lines. First, how many slides? How many words on a slide? How much was too much? What would look good? Which music? What about copyright? etc.

Our last option, which turned out to be the best, was to hire a professional. We googled book trailers and scoured through ones we liked. Checked to see who’d produced them and Rachel Bostwick’s name kept coming up. We contacted her and followed her instructions. She would have written the script and selected all the photos, but we thought our own photos might work.  They didn’t.  Example below.  For a start there are no cowboys in Meddling With Murder.

IMG_0635_1 (4)

She was right to ignore them and choose ones from her own collection.

Then we waited. Not our strongest point. A week at most.

And this is the result

After one tiny edit, we were really happy with it. She found the music, played around with the wording and just did the magic with what we had given her.  It’s like having our own little movie!

We’re already planning our next one…