Conversations with authors and writers from the self-publishing world.
Meet Jackie Weger
Best Known for: Eye of the Beholder
I’d like to introduce Jackie Weger, author of Eye of the Beholder and long-time writer. Jackie has some excellent thoughts to share for both readers and authors alike.
How long have you been writing and how did you get started?
I’ve been writing fiction on and off for about 35 years. Early on I wrote non-fiction for trade magazines, and joined a small writer’s group in a tiny hamlet in Texas. A member mentioned the University of Houston was holding its annual writer’s conference. There was a call for short fiction, prizes to be awarded. I wrote a small piece and won honourable mention. There was some discussion about romance novels at the conference—and a whole lot of sneering from academics. I was challenged to write a romance novel. I did and sold it. Surprised the heck out of me, I’ll tell you. I was mute for a week.
Your book Eye of the Beholder is doing well, was this your first book? If not, what was your first published book and did it do well?
My first book, A Strong and Tender Thread was a black character romance—the first Harlequin ever bought, perhaps the only one. It was a fluke of fate that I submitted the manuscript to the newly hired American editor for Harlequin who was a woman of color—she loved it. It was a surprise to white romance readers and did not do well in the genre, but it became a cult book among college students on black campuses and opened the doors for romance characters of color. I think it sold about forty or fifty thousand copies—but it did not move into the international market. The book has lain dormant for thirty years. Liquid Silver Books just published it in their new digital retro line, Liquid Gold Classics. It’s a nice traditional romance, but not at all racy or erotic as recent books having black characters.
Tell us a little bit about Eye of the Beholder…
Oh, gosh. I was rebelling against the cookie cutter heroines and heroes when I wrote Eye of the Beholder. At the time cloned heroines sprang to life on page utterly gorgeous and shapely and usually orphaned or estranged from family. Heroes were wealthy, wore Armani and Aramis. If the hero was rugged and wore jeans, he owned a truck and a thousand acre cattle ranch. I’ve brushed up against extraordinary people, but they are not in my daily life. I wanted to write a story about ordinary people falling in love. The kind of people you stand behind in line at the cash register of a grocery store, Walmart or your local library. There are two components to love—the magical and the practical. I tried to weave those elements into Eye of the Beholder.
How does this book differ from other Romance novels?
Phoebe Hawley isn’t gorgeous or shapely nor does she pretend to be something she isn’t. She’s straightforward, knows what she needs and what she wants. She speaks and thinks in dialect which is a rhythmical derivative of Old English with a Southern slant. The plot is Phoebe’s quest to find a home for her family. That girl never let me down and she is so honest she never stepped out of character. Phoebe Hawley is an unlikely heroine in the same way little Cockney Charlie Allnut is an unlikely and reluctant hero in the African Queen. The book by C.S. Forester is labelled an epic adventure. Had it been written by a Cynthia Forester, it would be tagged as a romance and perhaps never have found the audience it has to this day.
I’m from the South. The theme for Eye of the Beholder came about because it was a time when cotton mills were closing across Alabama and Georgia putting good people out of work and church and home. I conceived Phoebe Hawley as a mill girl on a mission to find her family a home. She wouldn’t do for the Armani and Aramis man, but by golly—she recognizes a hard-working man when she sees him. G.G. Morgan is just that. He owns a junk yard and rebuilds trawler propellers in a tiny Alabama Gulf Coast community. Most readers don’t catch it, but that kind of machine work pays nicely. And junk yards are a cash business. Lots of cash. I have an acquaintance whose husband owns a forty-acre junk yard. She wears Vera Wang to Bingo on Friday nights and drives a Porsche. He drives an old, rusted out truck and owns two suits-- one for church on Sunday and one for weddings and funerals. Both of their sons graduated from good Texas universities. G.G. Morgan is closed mouth about his resources, but Phoebe will figure it out eventually. She’s country smart and Alabama tough.
You have achieved what many indie authors dream of- how did your success come about?
Actually, I had a head’s up. When I stopped writing for Harlequin I recovered the rights to all of my books. Some are timeless love stories. Phoebe’s is one of them. Others have good bones, but need tweaking for todays’ digital market and readers. Category romance books have a shelf life between yogurt and ice cream. Books sell within the first ten days of hitting book shelves or not at all and those unsold are stripped to make room for next month’s titles. While I was taking care of elderly family and trekking thither and yon, my books languished in a nether world of dusty shelves.
Christmas of 2011, I was gifted with a Kindle . I’d never heard of an ereader. It was utter magic and opened an entire alien world for me. I did not have a clue how to be an indie author, but I wanted my books on that machine the instant I discovered the shelf life of an ebook is forever! I contracted seven of my backlist to a digital publisher. They get the books for 730 days which gives me time to learn about the universe of ePublishing.
Eye of the Beholder is my first indie effort. In early August I published The House on Persimmon Road, another of my favourites with a cast of characters I adore. Once the seven books under contract come back to me, I’ll know enough to tweak and edit for smoother eReading and dress them with fresh covers or perhaps tighten to novella length or even serialize one on my blog. Choices only an indie author can make. I love it.
Success? Not quite yet. Here is a funny thing. Back in the day romance novels were not deemed worthy of a review. Authors got attention, but not so much our books, which moved by word of mouth. Until blogging came into being not a single one of my books had been reviewed. I am everlastingly thankful and a lot stunned that today my books are receiving such nice comments. Still, I’m playing catch-up with the electronic world. While the Internet was exploding with Amazon, Nook, Kobo, iTunes, You Tube, Twitter and Facebook, I was living in a tiny jungle village in a Dry Pacific Rainforest in Panama, cooking with wood, bathing in the Camito River, dispatching snakes with a machete and reading books by candle light in my minuscule recama. I have had a Webpage and blog for a year and a month; a Facebook author page for about six weeks, a Twitter account for less. I have yet to learn how to use those effectively to enjoy a relationship with fans and readers.
Do you have any special tips that you’d like to share with other authors, regarding writing, marketing or publishing?
Actually, the only things I know how to do well are write and cook. I am so thankful there are indie authors who are willing to share their expertise with late comers to the digital market like me, otherwise I’d be dead in the water. I have noticed that many indie authors in their enthusiasm to be published forgo professional editing and formatting. I hire both. Even so, before hitting that PUBLISH button on Amazon, Nook or Kobo, I preview my book. Both times I’ve found editing errors. I stopped the process and sent the book back to the editor/formatter for corrections. It’s hard to curb one’s excitement, but it’s unfair to ask a reader to pay in time or money for a flawed product.
One or two errors may be forgiven. We often have errors in print books, too. However, badly formatted eBooks distract and annoy the reader. That doesn’t bode well for establishing a fan base. One unedited and ill-formatted book and those readers move on to support other authors. Even worse—those readers are vocal! I lurked in a reader’s forum a couple of weeks ago and here’s almost an exact quote by a reader: “I’m sick to death of being used as a beta reader for indie authors. When I buy a book I want to be entertained!” (I cleaned up the language a little bit.)
Is there anything you’d like to say to your readers?
Oh, my gosh. I love my readers! I began getting hellos and greetings from fans and readers within twenty-four hours of building my Facebook author page, and not just stateside but fans in Finland and Lebanon and the U.K., too. I need my readers. It is so wonderful to have the means to connect with them instantly—and visit their FB pages to see their pictures and what is going on in their lives, meet their families, sharing stories and recipes. It’s better than going to book signings where fans are rushed through a line. Meeting fans is the best part of my day—and my writing career.
I was in the right place at the right time, specifically, the SW Writer’s Conference in Houston when publishers such as Harlequin, Love Swept and Silhouette began sending out feelers for writers. Harlequin especially had only one American author—writing for Mills and Boon with Silhouette as the distributor. I never had the urge to write that grand American novel because I had neither the skill nor the craft. What I did have was an old, IBM Selectric typewriter, and until I began college at age sixty-two, a tenth grade education. Moreover, I enjoyed reading women’s fiction and love stories with adventure. Then there were those sneering academics and the challenge. That got my dander up. Talk about an about face! I notice some academics and lawyers and retired teachers are writing erotica. Holy Smokes.
Do you also read? What sort of books?
I’m an eclectic reader of fiction and non-fiction. I have about two-hundred novels and short stories on my Kindle which include works by Fannie Flagg, John Sandford, Emelle Gamble, Donna Fasano, Stephanie Bond, Sara Guren (Water for Elephants), Kathryn Stockett’s The Help and at least a dozen works by Billie Sue Mosiman (horror). On the corner of my desk right this minute: Stephen Hawking, Cry Wolf by Wilber Smith along with a Harlan Coben, Larry McMurtry, Louisa May Alcott, Bill Fitzhugh, MacDonald’s All Souls, The African Queen, She Went to the Field, Women Soldiers of the Civil War and George Carlin’s When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops. Oh, and a book I’m going to bury myself in tonight: The crème de la crème of the WPA American Guide Series: New Orleans City Guide 1938. There’s another stack of books against the wall, but I can’t see the titles. Listen, I’m old. I’ve been reading everything I could buy, rent or borrow for sixty-five years. I haven’t missed much.
How did you learn to write?
Ooooo, I hate to tell on myself, but I did not have a clue how to fashion a fiction book. I took a book off my shelf, tore out pages, rolled some newsprint in that old typewriter and started typing. I typed the first two and last two pages of every chapter. That taught me how to indent, how to punctuate, how to switch viewpoints, the use of declarative sentences, quotation marks, ellipses, dashes, and dialogue tags. I actually counted how many times the author used a character’s name on a page. I learned how to insert flashbacks, and when to use italics for emphasis. I learned to use a viewpoint character to introduce others, as opposed to omniscience.
But, hey! Teaching myself craft did not make me a great story teller. Frankly—telling a story can be hit or miss. I learned one technique I wish I’d never learned because it is not acceptable today; That was a writer could sandwich a character’s thoughts between two bit of dialogue then shift to the next character and do the same thing. Now—editors prefer a writer stay in one view point and do a space break or chapter break before switching viewpoints. I’m fighting that tooth and nail.
Back in the day were told: Write what you know. That is still good advice today—even with the ability to research on the Web—though many writers discount it. I read a thriller by one of my favourite authors. In the dénouement the hero threw the villain over a hotel balustrade onto the deck a ship passing out of the Panama Canal below the balustrade. Impossible. There is no hotel that overhangs the Canal or a lock. Not one—ever. The locks are protected by security fences. Writers are allowed literary license—but not grievous license.
I recently downloaded a book and settled in to read a romantic adventure and in the first paragraph the author writes the characters had stolen the Mona Lisa the month before. Surely that author had never stood in front of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre as millions of others have (including me) and noticed all of the security, the glass, lasers, the ropes, the guards with guns! Forgive me for being a cynic—but how did they get in and out of the museum with the loot? And where did the thieves sell the darn thing? Why are the characters planning another theft? They ought to have sold the painting for enough $$$ to retire to Cabo San Lucas. Goodness. We do ask our readers to suspend belief—but we must anchor that suspension with a character or event or action readers can relate to. Otherwise the plot or story won’t work.
What are your thoughts on self-publishing vs. traditional publishing?
I think they are both great, but I adore being an indie author. The lovely part about traditional—if one’s book is accepted, is the advance against royalties upon signing a contract. That advance is an investment in the manuscript, thus one can usually expect a trained, professional editor. This is not necessarily so with ebook publishers even when they offer a token advance. Every single person I work with at my publisher is also a writer. Which means my books must compete with theirs in time, effort, editorial process and marketing. Count me contrary, but I don’t like that. I have been an indie author only since June of 2013. Both Eye of the Beholder and The House on Persimmon Road are selling at a faster clip than the titles distributed by my eBook publisher. This bears some study, but I hope it means I’m doing something right.
Do you have any more books being released soon?
Yes, I do. Liquid Gold Classic is publishing Count the Roses September second. And I’ve finished edits on A Wing and a Prayer, my third indie work. I haven’t yet approved a cover, but I hope to publish in October.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself or your books?
Other than thanking Masquerade Crew for choosing to spotlight me, Heck no! I talk too much. I’m done.
Thank you, Jackie!