Friday, June 8, 2018

Have You Ever Wondered… by Alice Duncan

I have the privilege of welcoming Alice Duncan to Author Expressions again. Alice is both a mystery writer and romance author as well as an editor. In fact, she edited seven of my novels for Five Star/Cengage and remains my favorite editor.

Have you ever wondered how nice it would be to make a living by writing books?

Me, too. All the time. I’ve been in the book-writing and being-published business since 1994, and I still can’t make a living at it. It makes me sad sometimes. Often, in fact.

On the other hand, I kind of am making a living thanks to my many published books (I think there have been 64 of them so far). That’s because, since so many books of mine have been published, people think I know what I’m doing. Therefore, I’ve been hired by Cengage/Five Star as a freelance editor. So, in effect, my writing has paid off; just not in the way I’d hoped it would.

Since I’m too stubborn (or too stupid) to give up, I keep writing books anyway. The last few years, writing hasn’t been fun for me. When I first began writing books, I had high hopes that I’d become, if not rich and famous, at least self-supporting via writing. That hasn’t happened, although there have been a few high points along the way. My very first book, One Bright Morning, won the HOLT Medallion for the best first book published in 1994. That made me happy. I stopped entering contests shortly after that, however, because it was too expensive. Also, although many people are likely to dispute this, I honestly don’t think you can judge one book as being better than another book, unless you’re talking about English usage, etc. Not everyone likes the same things. If you loathe historical romances, chances are pretty good you won’t like One Bright Morning. If you prefer a tearjerker to a funny book, you definitely won’t like my books. Speaking of that, I was very nearly dismayed to discover I’m funny whether I mean to be or not.

In fact, when my first book (the above-mentioned One Bright Morning) was published, a former teacher of mine was so thrilled, she asked me to read some of it in front of an audience at the South Pasadena Public Library. I gladly agreed, feeling pleased with myself and my book. So I read the very first sentence in OBM, and everyone laughed. I was shocked! It wasn’t supposed to be funny! That book was a heart-wrenching emotional saga of a lonely widow-woman with a little daughter who inadvertently got mixed up in a range war and ultimately found true love.


Not on your life! However, since that time, I’ve come to accept my writer’s “voice,” as it’s called, as my own. Can’t do much else, since evidently I write the way I talk. Many people have told me that, so I guess it’s true.

After my initial exuberance had dwindled (which took 15 or 20 years) I began to find writing books more of a chore than a joy. For me, editing somebody else’s book is much easier than thinking up a bunch of characters, developing a plot, and painstakingly putting it all down on paper for 80,000-100,000 words. That’s a lot of words. It takes a long time to write that many words if you want them to be placed in coherent English sentences and in a logical order. Yet people can read all those words in a day or even in a few hours. Hardly seems worth the effort. Even if you can then get those words published as a novel, you won’t make much money for it unless you’re Stephen King, Nora Roberts, James Patterson or someone who twinkles in the same galaxy as they. Mind you, I don’t begrudge Stephen King or Nora Roberts their fame and wealth. Not so sure about James Patterson, but that’s only my opinion. Clearly not many other people agree with me.

However, my writing life has taken an upturn of late. Not that I’m making any more money, mind you. But a man whose books I edit for Five Star’s Frontier Fiction Line has lent me one of his characters! Peter Brandvold, who writes excellent westerns full of adventure, sex and violence, gave me Lou Prophet, an old-west bounty hunter to play with in my next book. The book in question is Shaken Spirits, an historical cozy mystery, and it’s set in the solidly respectable city of Pasadena, California, in 1925. Poor old Lou is past his prime, being in his seventies, and has managed to lose a leg, so he walks on one leg and a stump. He lost his leg when the motorcar in which he rode (along with two women of the night and a crate of bootleg liquor) took a dive off a cliff in Santa Monica. Lou was the sole survivor, although he did lose a leg, and he’s now confined to the Odd Fellows House of Christian Charity in Pasadena.

Things get interesting from then on. My main character, Daisy Gumm Majesty, finds the crusty old Lou Prophet quite an interesting fellow. Her fiancĂ©, Detective Sam Rotondo of the Pasadena Police Department finds him interesting too, but he’s not as enchanted with the old reprobate as is Daisy. Anyway, thanks to Peter Brandvold and Lou Prophet, I’m actually having fun writing again! I didn’t think that would ever happen, but I’m so glad it has. Mean Pete (he calls himself that; I’m not casting aspersions) has gifted me not merely with Lou Prophet, but also a ton of fun old-west sayings Lou uses, thereby confounding poor Daisy, who eventually decides to create a dictionary of old-west terms.

I don’t expect to begin making tons of money through my books any time soon, but at least the joy of putting words on paper (virtually speaking, since I write books on my trusty computer) has returned, and it’s all thanks to Peter Brandvold.

In case you’re interested in the book in which Lou Prophet appears, you can pre-order it on Amazon. Just click on link underneath the book cover:

If you want to read Daisy’s latest adventure, in which her dachshund, Spike, finds a shoe with a foot in it at the Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena, California, you may do that, too:

If you’re interested in visiting my web site, here’s the link:

If you’re interested in visiting Mean Pete’s Amazon page, here’s the link for that:

Thank you!


Maris said...

Here's wishing you fame and fortune with the new book, Alice. (I think we all dream of that.) You are so right. Sometimes it simply takes a new character or a new concept to reignite the excitement of writing. May that literary fire continue to burn for years and years.

Alice Duncan said...

Thanks for having me, Jacquie! And you're so right, Maris. This old bounty hunter, Lou Prophet, is SO incongruous in 1925 Pasadena that he's make writing fun again.

catslady said...

People who enjoy your books do so I think because we enjoy your voice. You do have a wonderful sense of humor but more than that, you just make everything interesting and we can't help wanting to keep reading. May you always enjoy what you do.

Lisa Ciarfella said...

Good musings here!
Thanks for the thought s!

Alice Duncan said...

Thank you very much, Lisa and Jeanne. Appreciate the appreciation. If it weren't for humor, I have a feeling there would be a whole lot more Kate Spades and Anthony Bourdains in the world. Their suicides touched me and made me sad. Unfortunately, I'd bet most of us know how they felt. Good Lord, how did I get on the subject of suicide???? But that's what I mean. People need to be able to laugh, or what's the point?

Earl Staggs said...

Hi, Alice. (And hi, Jacqueline.) This was an interesting interview. I write some serious stories, which seem like work, and some containing humor, which are fun to write. Even the serious ones, after they're finished, bring a sense of having accomplished something. I suppose that's why I continue to write both. I'm sure I'll continue writing both, each for it's own reason. As for getting rich, I'll buy a lottery ticket once in a while.

Susan Coryell said...

What an interesting writing history you have! I agree that some books I write are torture and my new release was just plain fun. Fortunately, most of my reviewers have seen the humor in my murder mystery! Keep writing; that's what we authors do.

Susan Oleksiw said...

It's interesting to me that writers sometimes have to be told what their strength is. For you, it's humor. I do enjoy your posts and Daisy, and I love the idea of sharing a character with a writer you admire. We all need to be renewed once in a while, and I'm glad you've found a way to do that. Keep writing, and we'll keep reading.

Alice Duncan said...

Thanks, Earl. I thought I was writing heart-wrenching historical romances, until someone pointed out my books were funny. Disillusioned sort of describes my reaction :-) Oh, and Billy the Kid is buried in Fort Sumner, doggone it! :-)

The odd thing to me, Susan, is that books that are torture to write turn out to be pretty much as good as the ones that aren't. I don't understand it, but I'm glad.

You're so right, Susan. Although, I have to admit, that a couple of my early efforts were rejected because they were so dark. That hasn't happened for 20-some years. And, boy, I can't sufficiently thank Peter Brandvold for lending me Lou Prophet. He's perked Daisy, Sam, Harold, and me up tremendously! What a nice thing for an author to do, you know? And I'll still be persnickety when I edit his books :-)

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

What a great, interesting and yes, funny post!
So much accomplished, Alice.

We all wish to make a living writing and editing is part of that so be proud and happy!

Good luck and God's blessings

Alice Duncan said...

Thanks, Pamela! I think Earl is right in that if you want to get rich, your chances are better if you try the lottery than write for a living :-)

Carole Price said...

Alice, I love Daisy and expect to read more of her and meeting Lou Prophet. Your humor is brilliant and natural. You were my first and best editor.

Alice Duncan said...

Thanks, Carole! I appreciate you appreciating my editorial efforts. I really do try to do a good job. I'm hoping I can keep using Lou Prophet in my Daisy books, because he's SUCH an out-of-place character in stuffy old Pasadena of 1925 :-)

Brenda Hill said...

You should be making BIG money writing, Alice. I never understood why you're not, especially with your Daisy books, which I dearly love. I've been hooked on those books ever since I read the first one and I can't wait for the next one to be published.

Good luck and I'm glad you're finally having fun!


Alice Duncan said...

Thanks, Brenda! Yeah, I don't understand why I'm not rich and famous, dang it :-) I'm SO HAPPY Peter Brandvold gave me Lou Prophet. Lou's just what I needed to renew my interest in writing books that make no money. At least writing is fun again!

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Alice, I understand your frustration with monetizing your writing. Many of us in the industry feel the same way. Some books seem to write themselves, others are an arduous labor of love, and there seems to be no rhyme or reason why one takes off and another does not. The way I rationalize the disparity in my mind is that people like us are niche writers. If you remember the word niche from ecology class, it's a shallow recess of a specialized segment. We have die-hard fans, but they are considerably smaller in number than those bellowing to bestseller list authors. Being an editor must be a sweet deal. Maybe someday I'll grow up to be an editor. Maggie

Alice Duncan said...

Oh, boy, I think you hit the nail on the head, Maggie. I'm definitely a niche writer. And editing IS a sweet deal, providing the folks you edit for remember to pay you :-)

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