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The Ability to Learn Something New

I really like telling stories. You may have noticed from the books I’ve written that I’m a fan of telling stories with zombies in them. They aren’t the only stories I enjoy telling, I also like writing about demons.

My goal isn’t to scare but to entertain. I’m a huge horror fan, and I enjoy that zombies force survivors to act and react in their new world, so that is why I often choose them as my catalyst to spur my characters into action. I’m endlessly fascinated with the question of what makes us human, and I think zombies and most other horror do a nice job of attempting to answer that question. The best part is that they often blur the lines of whether the human or the monster is worse.

When it comes to telling my stories, my comfort zone and expertise lies in writing. I know how to structure a story on paper; I know how to navigate from the beginning of the story to the end—even if that journey isn’t in a straight line. But that doesn’t mean I want to limit myself to telling stories on the page.

I’m a huge movie fan. There’s something magical about watching a story unfold on the screen, whether it’s in TV format or film format. There are things that can be done in movies that can’t be done in books (and vice versa). Movies can reach different audiences than a book can (and vice versa).

I’ve always dreamed of having one of my books turned into a movie, which is kind of weird if you think about it. I mean, most movies don’t do the books justice, and most people will say, “The book was so much better than the movie”—I’ve uttered these words myself. I’m totally aware that if I was ever lucky enough to get one of my books made into a movie, it might not live up to my expectations and vision.

Still, that hasn’t stopped me from wanting to break into the film medium. And a lot of the reason for this is because I want my story to reach a larger and different audience. I want people who don’t read to still experience my worlds and my characters. I want them to be entertained by something I created.

I also want to challenge myself.

I want to see if I can take the idea that I put onto the page and adapt it to be shown on the screen and still have it be fun and meaningful. I have the opportunity to take on that challenge.

I’m an indie author who doesn’t have a huge amount of sales. I’m not a household name, I don’t have the backing of a major publisher, and I don’t have a book on the New York Times bestseller list, but that doesn’t mean I can’t get my book made into a movie. It means I have to find a different way to accomplish that goal, but it could potentially get accomplished.

There are so many different ways and places for people to watch movies and shows right now, and those places need content. It opens up avenues for people outside of Hollywood to pitch their ideas and potentially see their work on screen.

For a while now, I’ve been on the mailing list and read the newsletter for Voyage Media. I’ve always been slightly skeptical about what they do, believing that they are out to scam people out of their hard-earned money. I did my research and found others were just as skeptical, but there seems to be good things about the company too.

Unfortunately, for a long time, their price tag to talk to a producer was out of my range. And then, one day it wasn’t. Every so often, the company runs a special so that authors can talk to a producer and Nat Mundel (the founder of the company) at a reduced price. I could justify and was more than willing to spend $149 on the package—even if nothing came of it.

I won’t lie, even after signing up, I was still skeptical about what would happen. I’ve contacted producers and production companies on my own in the past, and the conversations were less than encouraging. I’ve done my research about what it takes and how hard it is to break into the film industry, so I had no delusions that this route was going to get me any closer to my dream. There was hope it would, but I’m a pretty rational and realistic minded person.

But, hey, $149 to talk to a producer, what did I have to lose? The answer is always “no” if you don’t ask, and even if it was no after I asked, at least I could say I tried.

After I paid my fee, I was given access to their site and had to pick a producer and schedule a meeting. There were quite a few producers to pick from. I did a preliminary examination and read their quick blurbs, finding a few that looked promising and were looking for the type of project I was pitching, then I clicked on their links and read their full information.

After that, I picked one I thought would be a good fit and went to their calendar to schedule the phone call—only to discover that there was a glitch and I wasn’t able to view their calendar. I was trying to accomplish this task on a weekend outside of business hours, so I sent a message and figured I’d come back on Monday to see if the issue had been fixed.

On Monday, the issue still wasn’t fixed, so I used the handy dandy live chat feature they have on their site. I was instantly connected with someone, and they asked me about my project and what I hoped to accomplish, then recommended another producer whom they thought would be a better fit. I checked out their profile and figured, “What the hell.” I scheduled my phone call with them, then went on with my life.

The producer I was set up with was Michael Chamoy. When the day of our phone call came, I was only slightly nervous—and it wasn’t about talking to Michael, I was more nervous that the phone call wouldn’t go through and it would become obvious that this whole thing was indeed a scam and I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. But that didn’t happen. My call went through, and I spoke with someone who called themselves Michael who seemed to know what was going on within the movie industry.

I did not go into the phone call with high hopes. In all honesty, I was sure he would tell me that I was wasting my time trying to pitch a zombie story (I’ve been told this by producers before), especially since the market is so saturated with the undead. And while he did say it can be challenging to get my story noticed because of the amount of zombie stories out there, he didn’t say it was impossible. He didn’t say I should give up and find something else to do. He offered advice on how I could accomplish my goal.

The phone call lasted an hour, and it was both encouraging and disheartening. Michael gave me a lot of things to think about and consider, and I mulled things over in my brain for several weeks. I still had a follow-up call with Nat.

For this phone call, I was convinced it was going to be a let-me-sell-you-some-services pitch—and part of it was. After all, Nat owns Voyage, which is a business, and he stays in business by selling his product. I won’t lie, I was probably a little defensive going into the phone call. I wasn’t going to be swindled out of my money.

As a good salesman, Nat was ready for this. He knew exactly how to work through my objections and get to the heart of what I wanted to accomplish. He had read Michael’s report about our phone call and knew exactly what he had to work with. I told him that I was sure my chances were slim to none for getting my story optioned, but he encouraged me to look deeper into my issues and figure out exactly why I felt that way and if there was a way around them.

He pointed out that yes, zombies were an incredibly popular topic at the moment and yes, there were lots of stories and people trying to get their work noticed. However, all it would take would be a focus on something new and intriguing to get noticed. Zombies are popular, which means that’s where the money is because that’s what people will pay for. I could find a story to pitch in an unpopular topic, but there’s no money there. It was an eye-opening argument.

This phone call was only supposed to last 20 minutes, but it went well over. At the end, Nat totally convinced me to consider buying one of their programs, which is expensive ($2,000), but much cheaper than the $15,000 program he first offered.

Side note: Yes, I’m fully aware of the technique he used to get me to consider the cheaper program (I live with a spouse who has dedicated his life to sales, I get to hear about all the tricks of the trade day in and day out). Lead with an expensive option, one that very few people would be able to afford, then follow-up with a more affordable one that still offers high value and the opportunity to pitch my story to producers. He still wins. But you know what, I might win too.

I totally opted for the cheaper program. Have I been swindled? Hard to say. It’s still incredibly early in the process, but I do feel confident in the fact that the entire process was laid out for me in writing (I received a formal proposal and had to sign a contract). I have been given access to Basecamp, a program that lays out all of the steps that need to be followed and has contact information for everyone who is involved. While I’m fully aware this could still be a scam, it seems ridiculously elaborate at this point.

At the end of the day, nothing could come of this process. I might spend thousands of dollars and hours out of my day trying to get my story in front of producers, and they could say no. But they could also say yes. There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to take a chance.

I mulled this decision over in my brain and looked at it from every angle. I talked to my spouse about what his thoughts were, and in the end, we decided to take a risk. If nothing else, I have the opportunity to learn from the process. I can see what it takes to try to get a book turned into a film. I will get information and guidance from a producer. I will get experience—whether good or bad.

I can’t tell you how this journey will end, but I will let you go along for the ride. If you’re so inclined, you can even contribute to my education and opportunity. It doesn’t have to be much, but it will go a long way. Hopefully, I will too.

Movie Review Monday

Ash vs Evil Dead: Season 1

I love the Evil Dead trilogy. When I was pregnant with my first child and told I should take a movie with me to the hospital, I took Army of Darkness with me. When I heard that Starz was going to make a series based on Ash’s adventures, I was excited and bummed—mainly because we didn’t have the Starz channel.

I did, however, have the opportunity to watch a few episodes when Starz had a free preview weekend, and I wasn’t disappointed—until later, when I couldn’t finish watching the series because I still didn’t have Starz.

And then Netflix stepped in and made everything all right.

I’m pretty sure I squealed when I discovered that Ash vs Evil Dead was available for streaming. I instantly started watching, thrilled that I was able to see it from the beginning in all of it’s glory (and gory!). Once again, I wasn’t disappointed.

The story takes place 30 years after the original films were made, and they continue the narrative of how Ash finds himself plagued by demons and having to save the world from evil. They introduce some new characters, Kelly and Pablo, who help him in his mission. To hinder him in his mission is Ruby, played by Lucy Lawless, who turns out to be a complicated character.

As expected, there is action, demons, some scares, and a lot of gore—and I mean a lot of gore. I don’t think there was one episode where one character didn’t get completely covered in red goo. I couldn’t help but wonder if they knew they would get covered before they started filming or if it was a surprise. There’s also humor, which makes the movies and the TV show so enjoyable.

Ash vs Evil Dead, like the Evil Dead films, doesn’t take itself too seriously. It knows it’s over the top and ridiculous, and it will point that out—just in case you miss it—but that only adds to its charm. Adding humor to horror isn’t anything new, and it helps balance out the audiences’ emotions. Everyone needs a moment to relax and breathe before the next big scare finds its way onto the screen.

I was not disappointed by the Ash vs Evil Dead rehashing of the Evil Dead trilogy. I think each episode added to the story and fleshes out the characters in a variety of ways. Season 1 was fun, funny, full of gore, and had some scares. There are currently two seasons on Netflix (season 2 review coming next week), with a third in the making, which probably won’t be available on Netflix for a while.

If you haven’t seen the Evil Dead trilogy, I highly recommend watching those movies first before watching the series. It references them a lot, so you might be a little lost if you don’t have the background. Plus, they’re great movies. Then, sit back and enjoy the Ash vs Evil Dead series.

Are Zombies Being Done to Death?

I love writing zombie stories, especially young adult zombie stories. Zombies are such an amazing catalyst to spur survivors to act and react in a new world. Teens make great main characters because of their lack of experience with the world and their need to learn how to function in the world. Telling their stories and showing how they fail, learn, and grow is a lot of fun.

I’m not the only one who thinks this. There are a lot of dystopian stories in the world, and several young adult zombie stories. I would argue that the virus-infected people in The Maze Runner books are zombies, even if the majority of the story doesn’t focus on them—but it kind of does since it focuses on immunity and curing the world.

During my movie review on Monday, I mentioned that watching The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials got me thinking a lot about zombies in stories—particularly mine. The first thing that came to mind was the amount of films and shows that use zombies. This wasn’t surprising to me; it’s been going on for about the last 10 years. Zombies have seen their popularity surge, and perhaps wane slightly.

Having characters that are immune to the zombie plague isn’t a new idea. It might not have been done a lot recently, but it’s been done. I explore that idea in my book Humanity’s Hope. There has to be some hope that humans will survive and take back there world. But with that hope comes people who want to exploit the immunity and use it for their own gains. Again, not a new idea; exploitation is actually a trope quite common in the zombie genre. The world falls and there are those who do what they can to rule it. I also explore that idea in my book Life After the Undead.

What really hit me while watching The Scorch Trials was how incredibly common these ideas are. Yes, they are tropes of the genre, which means they are expected to be there, but how often are they done differently? This, of course, isn’t a necessity. I would argue that most audiences and production companies are looking for the familiar—ideas that have been done before and appeal to lots of people—so that they can make money. There’s comfort in that, on both the producers’ part and the audiences’ part.

In my own work, I point back to the classics and those who brought the zombie genre to the mainstream, especially George Romero. I would never say that my stories are new and groundbreaking or that they have elements that will shock and surprise you because they don’t, but they are unique to my voice. I would also argue that The Maze Runner stories have a unique voice, as do the majority of other zombie stories out there.

But within all of these stories, there is the familiar, the known, the unsurprising. I think that might have been what depressed me the most when thinking about zombie stories and my own writing. I want to create this totally new and unique world with zombies running amok, but I’m not sure it’s possible. I’m not sure there’s a new story out there with the undead in it. I think there are just variations on a theme.

Does that mean we should stop writing zombie stories? Absolutely not. Again, every writer has a unique voice to add to the lexicon. And if that is the story that makes you happy to write, then write it.

Monsters go through phases and popularity, and when one creature is in vogue, everyone will try to jump on the train to get their piece of the pie. Your story will just be one of many existing in the world, but tell it with pride, tell it with enthusiasm, tell it genuinely, and audiences will enjoy it. Above all, do what makes you happy, even if everyone else is doing it too.

Movie Review Monday

The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015)

We watched the first movie in the series and weren’t completely disappointed, so we decided to give the second one a try.

It continues where the first one left off and gives the audience deeper insight into the teens’ desire to survive and thrive and how far the WCKD corporation will go to get what they want. We get to meet some rebels in this one who are fighting the authorian power and trying to save the world/kids.

There were a lot of expected tropes in this film, including the heroes falling to the villains and needing to pick themselves up from the ashes to fight and be victorious. There was a betrayal, but neither my oldest nor I were surprised by who it was. I was kind of bummed about that. I wanted there to be shock and surprise.

The audience is able to see more of the destroyed world and get a better sense of how it devolved into chaos. The people who get infected with a virus are incredibly zombie-like, but they are like 28 Days Later zombies because they are fast and persistent. My spouse was surprised that it turned into a zombie film, but I wasn’t. I knew from the first film when it explained that people were infected and acted unpredictably and violently that there would be zombies.

As I watched the film, I couldn’t help but think of my own writing and how the undead are used in stories. I’ll probably do another blog post about my thoughts, but I’ll hint that my initial reaction was one of depression. More on that another time.

There were several questions left unanswered by these two movies, including: if the kids are supposed to be immune, how can they become infected by both the zombies and the Grievers? Even the characters ask this question, so I’m hoping at some point it gets answered.

At a little over 2 hours, this movie felt too long. There was so much running, which I get if you’re running for your life, but I wanted more insight into the world and the people living in it—and we were introduced to some new characters, but they seemed pretty flat and predictable. They didn’t get a lot of development, so it was hard to be attached to them. Thus, when one of them gets infected, it was like “Meh. That was expected.”

Again, my kids really enjoyed this film and there was action and fights to keep them entertained. I thought it was too long and dragged in places, but it wasn’t a complete waste of an evening. I don’t doubt that when the third one becomes available to rent, we’ll watch it so we can see how the story progresses. Apparently, there are four books in the series, so there’s probably at least one more movie in the works to finish the story.

Who else has seen this film? Thoughts?

Making Business Decisions About Your Books

There are a lot of different reasons to publish a book, and making money doesn’t have to be the top priority on the list. If all you want to do is have people read your story, there are ways to let them have access to it for free—and there’s nothing wrong with that decision.

However, if your goal is to have people read your work and to make money from it, then you’re going to have to start thinking about your writing as a business.

Ugh! Doesn’t the phrase “think about your writing as a business” sound super boring and slightly complicated? Where’s the romance? Where’s the fun and intrigue? Well, it should be in your writing, but when it comes to making and spending money for your books, that should be totally boring and straightforward.

Whether you want to keep track of your spending and earnings or whether you want someone else to do it for you, that’s totally up to you, but tracking the success of your business is something that has to be done. I don’t make mine complicated; I use Excel to record my spending and income. I can see at a glance how much I’ve made and how much I’ve spent.

It is important to keep track of your spending and earnings so you know if your writing is successful. It helps you keep track of how much you are investing in promotion/marketing and how much you are making from sales. The numbers can be skewed, and you might be spending more than you’re making, and that’s okay—as long as you’re okay with it. If not, having the numbers in front of you is a great way to change your marketing technique and develop new strategies that will hopefully lead to more sales.

I like to use my earnings and reinvest them into my marketing schemes, but I have to know how much I have to make it work. I don’t have a ton of extra money to spend on marketing for my books, so I use my numbers to create a budget and stretch my dollars as far as they’ll go.

Because I use this technique for marketing, if I don’t have money coming in, I can’t spend it on promotion. Then, I have to make business decisions about what is best for the funds I have and how I will get the most return on the money I can spend. I’ve had to give some things up with this process, but if the money isn’t there, I can’t make it magically appear.

It’s not easy deciding what to trim and what to keep. After all, just because one marketing idea didn’t work in the past doesn’t meant it won’t work in the future. Plus, what if making a business decision means getting rid of something you’re suppose to have, say, your newsletter.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any easy answers to these questions, and they are decisions you have to make based on your preferences and budget. You have to sit back and decide if said newsletter is bringing you any sales to justify paying the monthly fee. If it is, then you probably don’t want to cut it. If it’s not, there’s probably a better, cheaper way to connect with readers.

None of your decisions have to be forever decisions. If you discover down the road that yeah, the newsletter was totally bringing in sales, then add it back in to your marketing plan. If you find that Facebook ads actually make a huge impact on sales, then maybe it’s worth your time and money to invest in more of those. If they don’t, then you can probably cut them out. It’s trial and error when it comes to marketing, and only you can decide what is best for you, your books, and your budget.

It’s not a whole lot of fun to think about writing as a business, but it’s necessary if you want your marketing/promotion and your writing career to be successful—especially if you have a limited budget. The process doesn’t have to be complicated, and it’ll help you track your success.

Movie Review Monday

The Maze Runner (2014)

I never had a burning desire to see this film. I saw the previews and knew they were based on a series of books, but that was where my knowledge ended—and where I was happy to let it end. My oldest mentioned a few times he was interested in watching it, but we always found other movies to watch instead.

One night, we went to a banquet with my spouse’s coworkers, and one of them mentioned that he absolutely loved The Maze Runner movie series. He went on about how amazing it was, so we decided to give it a watch.

The movie isn’t terrible. It has the expected elements of a young adult dystopian film: lack of adult figures, with the ones present being untrustworthy; teens who have to rely on themselves and each other to get out of dangerous situations; discontent within the ranks of the teens; creatures that have to be defeated; and an evil entity controlling everything.

I write dystopian stories, so I totally expected all of these elements to be there. I wasn’t surprised, but I wanted to be surprised. I wanted something new to happen that would completely blow me away, but it didn’t. In fact, I thought the film was a bit slow. I didn’t understand why it needed to be almost 2 hours long—and it felt every minute of being almost 2 hours long. Perhaps the goal was to build up the characters and make the audience connect with them, but I didn’t feel connected to them at all.

My kids enjoyed the film. They totally got caught up in the action, and there were moments where they covered their eyes to protect themselves from the scariness that was the Grievers. I’m a huge fan of creatures, but I wouldn’t say these would be in my list of top 10.

The film did make me slightly curious to know what happens in the books. After all, we all know that books and movies are completely different, so what happens in the books that they weren’t able to show on screen? How does the narrative in the story build up the characters and the tension that wasn’t accomplished in the film? I have a long list of books that I want to read, and if I ever get around to reading this series, I’ll let you know.

The Maze Runner was a good movie to entertain us for a night, and I didn’t feel like I completely wasted my time watching it. It was at least intriguing enough to watch the second film (review coming next week), so it had that going for it.

Has anyone else watched this movie? What were your thoughts?

Is Developing a Marketing Plan Easy?

For all my friends out there who run their own business or do a hobby on the side that requires letting people know about your product, raise your hand if you enjoy marketing.

C’mon. Don’t be shy. We’re all friends here. Raise them high.

Yeah, marketing isn’t exactly the most fun thing to do in the world. In fact, it can be incredibly exhausting and frustrating. Marketing takes a lot of time and more often than not, you don’t see a return on your investment. That sucks.

Marketing is a necessary evil. It’s really the only way to get knowledge about your product to the buying public. There are a variety of ways to accomplish that goal, and you can spend no money or lots of money on the process. Either way, we should be doing something to market ourselves and our products.

One of the most important things to do before jumping into marketing is deciding what you want to accomplish. Form a plan. How many times have you heard this? How many of you know what it means? For me, it’s confusing. My “plan” basically boils down to wanting to sell books. So, to do that, I’ve followed all the guidelines, including having a blog, being on social media, sending out newsletters, and developing audiobooks. So why aren’t my sales drowning me in profits?

You can Google ways to develop a marketing plan, but the answers might not be as helpful as you want them to be. They weren’t for me. I’ve sat down before and looked at my goals, when I wanted to accomplish them by, and the different avenues I could venture down to accomplish my tasks, but it quickly became apparent I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was just as lost as I had been before and even less inclined to attempt to market myself but not able to afford a PR company.

My goal for the next year is to become better at marketing and to take baby steps to get there. It’s not as easy as it sounds to develop a marketing plan, and it’s even more difficult to stick to it or follow through to the next stage. It’s also incredibly important to track your progress (if possible) during marketing campaigns. Analytics are so important, but they can be cumbersome to read. Still, I’m going to find a way to figure this all out.

Any of you out there have any good strategies or marketing hacks that have worked really well? How do you stay motivated and focused on your goal? Have you created a plan?

It’s Easy to Take Feeling Calm for Granted

Wow. January was an incredibly tough month. It’s been a long time since my anxiety has gotten that bad, and it wasn’t fun at all.

I was sick for most of January, so I wasn’t sleeping well. I also have anxiety when it comes to taking medication, and I had to take antibiotics to knock out the cough I had. Normally, I’m fine with taking antibiotics, but for whatever reason, this time it freaked me out. Maybe it was because it was a heavy-duty antibiotic and had some really weird side effects. I don’t know. I got through it, but it left me emotionally and physically exhausted, but it did get rid of my cough!

Side note: the side effects included tendinitis and the potential for my tendons to rupture unexpectedly. There was also the possibility of joint issues and nerve damage. Am I the only one who thinks that’s weird?

My doctor also wanted me to start taking low doses of Buspirone so I don’t burn myself out on anxiety. I was nervous about doing so, but also optimistic. If it was going to help so I didn’t feel out of control, it was worth a try. I took my first dose on a Friday night.

On Saturday, I felt like I was underwater. I could barely move, barely think, and barely form a coherent sentence. I was also incredibly grumpy. I’m well aware that it takes 1 to 2 weeks for this medication to have its full effect, but I felt terrible—whether from the medication or my own mind, it was real to me. I couldn’t bring myself to take another dose, which didn’t help my anxiety.

I also have anxiety when it comes to traveling. Both of my boys are in basketball at the moment, and they travel to different towns for tournaments. They aren’t far, an hour and a half at the most, but that distance is enough to get my mind working overtime. My youngest also had his birthday one weekend, and he wanted to go to Omaha to The Amazing Pizza Machine. Thankfully, I have Xanax to help for those short trips.

By the end of the month, I felt like I was at wit’s end. I had three panic attacks in the course of 2 days. On a Monday, I was freaking out so bad I couldn’t drive my kids to school—a task I’ve accomplished countless times in the past. I was able to ride that panic attack out, but on Tuesday morning, I couldn’t. I had to have Xanax intervention. Same with Wednesday and Thursday, but I was able to take my kids to school.

I don’t know exactly what triggered the panic attacks at the end of the month. It could have been because I was exhausted and no longer had the energy to sustain my emotions. Perhaps it was the super special full moon. It’s hard to say. Whatever the reason, it was horrible feeling like I had no control and being afraid to do normal, everyday tasks.

Feeling calm is one of those things that most people probably don’t think about. They don’t go through their day thinking, “Huh. I’m feeling pretty calm right now,” they just go through their day. I’m constantly looking for and acknowledging those moments when I’m calm so that I can replicate that feeling during moments of anxiety. During one panic attack, I was convinced my brain was broken and I would never feel calm again. That’s an incredibly difficult thought to deal with. It’s scary and depressing. Thankfully, it wasn’t true.

Because I’ve been in a heightened state of anxiety, I’ve been taking my Xanax more often than normal. I only take half a pill, but it doesn’t sit well with me. Remember, I have anxiety about taking medications. I was convinced that I was going to become dependent and wouldn’t be able to function without it. Once again, another scary, depressing thought. And I would feel that way right up until the Xanax kicked in.

It became apparent to me that something had to change. I had to fix my life so that I could feel better and deal with the anxiety. No matter what thoughts run through my head during an attack, there’s an underlying issue that is pushing me to feel that way, and the best way to figure out what that is is with professional help.

I got an appointment with a local counselor. I talked to my doctor’s office daily for half of a week. I researched online to find ways to combat this affliction naturally, and I found some things that are definitely helping. I can’t say if this trick will work for everyone, but it’s helping me. I’ve been able to once again take my kids to school in the morning without having to take a Xanax first.

My goal is to be able to get my anxiety and panic attacks under control without having to take medication. While it helps for my extreme, immediate needs, it’s not a viable long-term solution. Hence, I will continue to see a mental health provider, talk to my doctor, and learn natural techniques to keep me calm. It’s an awesome feeling to know that I can take back control over my body and brain. It’ll take a while, but the baby steps give me hope and encouragement.

Meet An Author Friday: Karen Cotton


I am an award-winning journalist and photographer. I worked for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle newspaper in Cheyenne, Wyoming for 12 years as an entertainment/features reporter. My collection of audio interviews is at my alumni school, the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center. Here is the link to the collection: https://rmoa.unm.edu/docviewer.php?docId=wyu-ah12640.xml

I’m an National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship recipient. I’ve received three Individual Professional Development grants from the Wyoming Arts Council. I have self-published two non-fiction children’s picture books that were published using those grant funds. Both of my books are available at Barnes and Noble in stores and online, as well as on Amazon. They’re also in independent bookstores.

The first book, “Vedauwoo: Hidden Faces in Mysterious Places,” was published in 2014. Sierra Trading Post, now owned by TJX Inc., bought 300 copies of my Vedauwoo book and sold out of those copies. “Vedauwoo: Hidden Faces in Mysterious Places,” is about Vedauwoo, Wyoming, the animals, history, geology and recreation there.

My second book is “K-9 and Deputy Heroes of the Laramie County Sheriff’s Department.” It’s about the heroic acts that the dogs and deputies have done in Laramie County Wyoming.

I also am the editor and owner of an online entertainment magazine www.Sweetascottoncandy.com. I’ve appeared on KGWN TV, Wyoming Public Radio, and KGAB radio and in newspapers.

My third manuscript, a children’s chapter book fiction story, Carol and Santa, was completed in October 2017.

What works/authors have had an impact on you professionally or personally? How? 
This is so difficult to answer. It’s going to be long and I’m apologizing now. I have been reading all my life. I say that because even as a baby my family read to me. As a mom I started that same tradition in with my daughter when she was in the NICU. We got her first book at Colorado Children’s Hospital from the March of Dimes and Raising Readers.

I worked for a newspaper for 12 years as an entertainment reporter. I was fortunate to be able to interview a lot of authors that I admired. I’d say Linda Lael Miller writes incredible romances. She has hundreds of books under her belt. She has an element of mystery in her books. Not only is she a mentor, but she’s also been an incredible friend ever since I met her over the phone and later in person. She’s gotten me out of dark times with writer’s block. She has given me hope in the difficult world of publishing.

I’d also say C.J. Box has had quite an impact on me. He has incredible characters, especially Joe Pickett, that he has created in his mysteries. He was once a journalist, like me, and he has given me some good advice over the years. He became a family friend. He goes hunting and fishing with grandpa Don Johnson. He got grandpa to delve into reading. Something that has helped fill the void of grandma’s loss. He’s even dedicated one of his books to him.

Craig Johnson of Ucross, Wyoming is a great friend, too. I’ve been reading his Walt Longmire books ever since he started writing them. My first interview that I did with him was about Cold Dish. I try to go to his signings when he is in town to say hello. He’s a busy guy. He has given me a lot of advice about writing over e-mail back and forth and in person.

I interviewed Nicholas Sparks, and Nicholas writes about loss. He is known for his tear jerker novels and movies that are based on his books. I was inspired to interview him for the newspaper because I watched “Nights of Rodanthe” in the theater. I just cried my eyes out. I hate feeling sad. So, I asked him, why? Why do your books have to have to be so damn sad? He told me he has lost a lot of loved ones and it’s something that resonates with him. He writes what he knows. His books are based in towns where he lives by, or has lived in. But, I don’t read his books anymore because like I said, I don’t like feeling sad.

Michael Connelly is an acquaintance of mine. I’ve met him several times in person and every time he had a new book come out I got an advance reading copy of it. I soaked it up. He writes clean and crisp. He wrote a book called Crime Beat that details the stories that he covered on the crime beat at the newspapers he once worked at. Many of those stories wound up into the plots of his books. That fascinated me. Now I’m excited because he has a female detective lead character, Renee Ballard. He debuted her in “The Late Show.” I couldn’t see him when he had a signing in Colorado recently. I kick myself often for missing that one. I first met him when he came to Cheyenne, where I live. He signed my book, “Thanks for making me a star in Cheyenne.” He’s a quiet guy and he told me he likes writing more than doing book tours and traveling. I listened to Trunk Music on a car ride from Wyoming to Georgia and it’s almost more fun to hear someone read his books than to read them yourself. But, he throws some romance into his plots and I like that, too. I also like tweeting him and that’s how I keep in touch with him now.

I’m not going to lie that I have all those authors’ books. I honestly only “collect” and buy books of authors that I know, mainly. Weird I know. But, I like supporting their careers.

Now, I’ve also gotten into some newer authors. I’ve purchased their books for Christmas at a Barnes and Noble Black Friday sale. They were all signed books and I couldn’t turn them down.

I like a lot of non-fiction books, too. My favorites are about writing, cooking, memoirs, and how to do things like draw, paint and garden.

My favorite children’s book authors are Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary. I’ve read all their books growing up. I also loved “Blueberries for Sal” by Robert McCloskey, all of Shel Silverstein’s poetry books, and “A Pocket for Corduroy,” by Don Freeman. I checked them out every chance I could get at my school library. I also recited Silverstein’s poetry for talent shows because I was a geek to the core.

I was always good at reading, writing and spelling. I was even in spelling bees. Math I hated.

I need to add that I first knew I wanted to be an author when I went to a Scholastic Book Fair in Kindergarten at Harrison Elementary School. My parents let me choose three books on the flyers they handed out. Now that I have my own daughter, who is in kindergarten, I can admit that I easily drop about $100 at Scholastic book fairs each time they roll around because I’m a sucker for good books and so is she. We can’t choose just one. We also try to go to the library more often than a book store for the same reason. It’s bad when the book sellers at Barnes and Noble have your phone number memorized for your membership card. To both of us, my daughter and I, books are like candy and we’re addicted to books and reading.

I will say that I read so many children’s books, too, because of my daughter, that authors and books run together. I belong to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and I’ve met some very talented authors, illustrators and author/illustrators and I’ve read a lot of their books, too. The two that stand out are Luke Flowers and Matt de la Pena. I admire J. K. Rowling. I mean who doesn’t want to be as successful as her? I have watched the Harry Potter movies. I haven’t read her books because I want to have my own voice when I write my books. I own her books, so someday my daughter can read them with me once I have my career established.

Now that my daughter is in kindergarten I miss our mornings when she was in preschool and we’d just sit in my bed and read about ten books before she went to school at noon. We had breakfast in between that time.

I like writing and illustrating children’s books because I like educating kids with my non-fiction books. I also like sparking imagination with the fiction books that I write. I haven’t released a fiction book, yet, but my first fiction book is in the submission process right now. I don’t want to jinx it, but it’s got some excitement building around it and that’s all that I want to say. Fingers, toes and everything is crossed. I am one big bundle of nerves.

Last, but not least, if you want to get into the classics; Alexandre Dumas is one of my favorite authors. My favorite book of his is, “The Count of Monte Cristo.” The next fave is “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,’ By Washington Irving. (I’ve been in his home/museum in Sleepy Hollow, New York and that’s fascinating. His library of his books was just nothing I’ll ever forget). Of course, I love Charles Dickens. My favorite book is “A Christmas Carol,” and in second place, Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”

If you could be a famous person (living or dead) for a day, who would you be and why?
I’d be Oprah Winfrey. Why? Because she is goal oriented, she is very successful, she seems to be down to earth and honest, and she started out as a journalist and even though I’m not a minority, I have a disability, and that has always caused me some self-confidence issues. She overcame so much and is so successful, yet humble.

She is about empowerment, especially of women. She is very generous with her wealth and she’d be amazing to meet. I remember in high school we had to draw this map of things we wanted for our future. I went to college, I got a degree in journalism (back then it was going to be English, or journalism), I wanted to be just like Oprah. So, when I got my dream job at the newspaper in Cheyenne, I was an entertainment/features reporter. I was able to meet celebrities like she did and people from all walks of life. I learned about so many topics. I loved doing research. I watched her TV show and I’ve read her O magazine. It’s very difficult being a female journalist. There’s a lot of adversity that you deal with, competition and backstabbing. I always told the truth in my articles just like she did on TV and in her magazine. She’s just an inspiring person. Even though I voted for Hillary for president. I really wished Oprah was running instead and I honestly think she’d make an amazing president.

What is the oldest thing in your fridge and how old is it?
It’s a box of baking soda. It’s from 2000. Definitely nothing exciting. However, I do have a hot dog that’s been cooked. It’s in a Tupperware container and has mold on it, so yeah, I will toss that in the morning. EW!

Dessert or no dessert? Why? If dessert, what is your fave?
Dessert of course. Anything chocolate. Probably why I have Type II diabetes now, but there’s such a thing as sugar-free chocolate. It’s awful that Lent is on Valentine’s Day this year because I always give up chocolate. So, no chocolate dipped strawberries for me. Bummer.

But, yes chocolate everything. Plus, didn’t you know that desserts are stressed spelled backwards? LOL.

What is your favorite motivational quote?
I have two and can’t choose between either:

“The pen is mightier than the sword,” coined by Edward Bulwer-Lytton for his play Richelieu, Or the Conspiracy 1839. And “Many friends will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints on your heart.” Eleanor Roosevelt