Not the Road to Riches

We are excited to announce that the digital form of our book is now available on Kindle. Search for “Maddi Davidson” on amazon.com to find and purchase our near masterpiece. Now that the baby is walking – at least digitally – it’s a good time to reflect on how we got here. (No, not the birds and bees part of “got here”- the writing stuff!) We began to write a book together for enjoyment – principally because we have the same twisted sense of humor. Also because both of us have had “you cannot make this stuff up” experiences with information technology – the kind that makes for good comedy and more than a little tragedy. Along the way, as happens with many authors, we wondered if, per chance, we might become rich through our writing. Just how much do authors make, anyway? For the answer, we turned to the Internet, fount of all wisdom and plenty of foolishness. Here is what we learned.

Typically, authors earn between 6% and 8% on paperbacks and 10% on hardbacks. (Does anyone buy hardbacks anymore, besides libraries, that is?) Assuming we sold 100,000 copies – note that fewer than 500 titles do that each year – we’d make less than $40,000 each, before taxes. Thump! That sound you just heard (or read) was the hard blow of reality. Unless we become bestselling authors, writing will not fund our retirements, second homes, new cars, or even a used bike that we’d share. (Hey, I should get more than fifty percent; my writing is twice as good as yours.) (It is not. But this factoid does mean I may need a different retirement strategy, like finding a rich old coot who doesn’t believe in pre-nups.)

We would expect that many authors, faced with the poor return, abandon their writing efforts in favor of starting a maid service (“gross grout out!”) or being a pet concierge to the rich and famous (“we wow Chihuahuas!”). Clearly, a better financial decision. But a nagging question remains: if authors earn less than 10% on their work, where is all that money going? We’ve seen the demise of big chain bookstores (B. Dalton, Borders) so they can’t be the ones raking in the dough. Maybe there is a heretofore-undiscovered black hole that not only planets and asteroids but also writers’ profits vanish into.

Barring a new discovery by Stephen Hawking, we decided that it must be the publishers who suck all the profits into their maws. Yes, that makes sense, and would explain the trend towards self-publishing, where authors get to keep a larger portion of their sales. Obviously, publishing houses are greedy conglomerates. Let’s just cut them out of the equation and make big bucks! (We’d start Occupy Publishing Houses but we are too busy getting the book out to be bothered camping in a major city. Besides, we can always vent our scribal spleens in other ways, like having a publisher get offed in a future murder mystery. Hehehe.)

So off we went into the self-publishing route. Okay, there were other reasons we chose self-publishing such as unappreciative agents who didn’t buy our argument that “Harry Potter was so last year – Emma Jones is the new thing.” (One of us is exceptionally good at supplying extreme hubris when called for.) The time to publish was, perhaps, the major factor in our decision. The traditional publishing route involves finding an agent who will represent your work, sell it to a publisher, negotiate the contract and manage your business relationships. Finding an agent involves endless query letters, waiting for rejections or expressions of interest, submissions of materials and waiting for more rejections. (It’s worse than dating, as one of us knows from a truly and unpleasantly alarming years’ of experience waiting by the phone for the call that never comes, sniff.) We queried about a dozen agents and although we got some interest in our work, there were no takers. To find an agent could take another forty or fifty queries. Even after securing an agent, we’d have to hope the agent was successful in getting the interest of a publisher. And even if all that worked, we wouldn’t be published for another TWO YEARS! That’s how far out publishers schedule releases. So to heck with all that, we’d do it ourselves.

Three months and uncountable hours later, we now have a better understanding of the trials and tribulations of trying to publish a quality product. And that greediness we attributed to publishers? Forget that. Okay, not all of it. They might still be greedy, but the effort to bring a book to market is considerable. We won’t bore you with ALL the details, which bear numerous unpleasant parallels to visiting a proctologist, but here are a few.

Editing. Should be easy, right? Just go with the software spelling and grammar check. It has everything you need, except … Hawaiian words. Emma and her boyfriend, Keoni, use Hawaiian phrases, complete with kahakōs (macrons) and ‘okinas (glottal stops). These all show up as errors during spell check. Slanguage also is missing: “ohmyGod,” “eew,” “icky” and “multislacking” to name a few. Grammar checks light up the document with green lines at dialog patterns where speakers are not using complete sentences. Yup. Really, truly. Whatever. And then there are extraneous words that creep in whilst one is cutting, moving and pasting sections that, for some a reason, don’t the show up. It’s not just a Microsoft Word problem; even our professional editing service didn’t catch some of those.

Formatting. At least one of us didn’t care about Times New Roman, Myriad Pro, Garamond, Arial and so forth, before we decided to publish. Now, we both do. And we’re cognizant of the differences between a 5X8 book versus 5.25X8.25 (does my text look fat in this format? Tell me the truth!). Planning a wedding involves fewer decisions and less attention to detail than formatting a printed book. Font type and size for headers, chapter titles and manuscript take far too much effort. Let’s not forget leading – the space between lines. Do we want 10 on 12, 10 or 13, or 10.5 on 13? (I don’t look a day over 10 on 12.) What about the cover? What fonts do we use? How big is the author’s name versus book title? (Why isn’t my name in bigger font than my sister’s?) What kind of artwork will attract readers? We can make all these choices after some research, but we’re not done yet. Widows, orphans and justification are next.

Using left and right justification can create lines with few words and large white spaces. This can be dealt with by a line-by-line review of the text, increasing or decreasing spacing between letters and the judicious use of hyphens to break words. Ah, but how to do that? Look up tortilla using several online dictionaries. The syllables provided are not the same. Some will give you tor-ti-lla and some tor-til-la (does it matter whether it’s corn or flour?). It’s not because “tortilla” is a Spanish word. Try ac-count-ant, or is it ac-coun-tant? Any while you are struggling with where to put the hyphen, remember to manage widows (a paragraph-ending line that starts a new page) and orphans (a paragraph-starting line that ends a page). Now you know why we hired a professional to do this for us. Still, we had to go through several proofs.

In short, just getting the manuscript in shape to publish is a monumental task and we have a new-found respect for publishers. As a side note, we are no longer going to be quite so smug when we encounter misspelled words or other mistakes in published books.

Writing – even really good writing – will not make many people rich. Bookstores and publishing houses struggle to be profitable and the earnings of most literary agents and writers are modest, indeed. We know that writing books, by and large, will not make us rich, though we have had rich experiences in creating the characters, crafting the story, and bringing the manuscript to publication. We’ve learned more than we expected and are wiser for it. Most especially, we’ve had rich laughs as we write together, because you have to enjoy your own writing or why bother? “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” (Proverbs 17:22)

Aloha Hawai’i

Greetings future Emma-addicts

(We hope once the book is out and you read it, we will have Emma-addicts who are clamoring for more adventures of Emma Elizabeth Jones, a request that we are happy to oblige.)

A recurring theme in Outsourcing Murder and the other mysteries in the series is the aura of Hawai’i. Emma, our protagonist, is a born and bred Midwesterner (like us), who spent her teen years in the Bay Area and is a University of Hawai’i graduate. Her off-again-on-again ‘ipo (sweetheart), Keoni, who is almost full-blooded Hawaiian, still lives in Hawai’i. Emma surfs regularly, listens to Hawaiian music, and even speaks Hawaiian, which she deemed an easier language to learn than the Greek and Latin her father, the Classics professor, tried to teach her. One of us has direct and painful experience with the dreaded Greek aorist infinitive and agrees that Emma made “a wise linguistic choice.” Besides, there is more cool Hawaiian music than cool Homeric Greek music. (Although it might be interesting to hear the Iliad done as rap music. Yo, Achilles!)

Emma’s interest in nā mea Hawai’i – Hawaiian things – mirrors our own and encompasses the native Hawaiian culture through its evolution as cultures of immigrants to the islands blended into the beautiful rainbow culture that is present-day Hawai’i. We are almost genetically programmed to be Hawai’i-philes. One of us was conceived there (courtesy of the Air Force posting of our reservist father) and we grew up listening to Hawaiian music including some of the old timers like the Kalima Brothers (“1000 pounds of melody”) and Alfred Apaka. (We also heard a lot of opera, provoking images of a grass-skirt clad tenor singing “La Boheme.”) The Davidson kids’ all-time favorite song was the “Hawaiian War Chant,” which we – or rather, our brother, who is convenient to blame for bad stuff since it was his fault most of the time – used to play at an unspeakable hour of the morning while we raced around the house whooping like nā mea pupule (crazy people). (Our mom and dad really don’t like the “Hawaiian War Chant.” They like it even less at five in the morning. Or six.)

Hawaiian music has evolved from classic Hawaiian and hapa-haole (English language with a smattering of Hawaiian) music through the Hawaiian Renaissance of the 1970s (Brothers Cazimero, Sunday Manoa, Keola Beamer) into contemporary Hawaiian music, all of which we enjoy. (Okay, we’re lying. ”Jawaiian” – Jamaican and Hawaiian music fusion – is the auditory equivalent of feasting on ganga (“weed”) flavored haupia (coconut pudding). Eew.) One of us has gone so far as to learn Hawaiian so she can a) understand Hawaiian music and b) make insightful comments regarding the daily commute like, “he pua’a pupuka nui e kalaiwa ana mai i kela ka’a” (“a big ugly pig is driving that car”). We both note that this is a highly useful phrase on California Highway 101 and the DC beltway, we have, unfortunately, had occasion to know. I’ll bet some of you have, too.

We’ve infused Emma with our taste in music. She has met and has the CDs of Maunalua, and ‘Ike Pono, and also enjoys Hapa and Mānoa DNA. Boyfriend Keoni plays Hawaiian music in a group (Hopena), well enough for some music gigs at the Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Hawaiian, where we’ve spent many evenings enjoying drinks with lots of dark rum and a umbrella garnish. In our next book, Keoni substitutes for one of the members of ‘Ike Pono. (Stan, we are sorry, but we are sending you to the mainland for a reason we haven’t thought of yet – you’ll have a great time, we promise. Keoni doesn’t play ‘ukulele nearly as well as you do, just well enough to “sub” for Dramatic Purposes.)

Not only Hawaiian language and music but also other aspects of Hawaiian culture (food!) are an important part of our writing, and our onsite research, such as eating malasadas. These Portuguese fried donuts with ‘ono (delicious) fillings are the absolute best empty calories either of us can name. (If there is a Hawaiian word for “Mecca” it would be “Leonard’s Malasadas.”) Besides, if the filling is lilikoi (passion fruit), it‘s a fruit, right? Another important contribution to Hawaiian food culture, in our humble opinion, is the manapua (the name of which is a contraction of mea ‘ono a nā pua’a – “delicious pig thing”). This steamed dumpling filled with sweet barbecued pork is reminiscent of a Chinese char siu bao. An unfortunate side effect of enjoying manapua and malasada is an an ‘opu nui (big belly). (Despite our surname, we never considered writing Emma as a Norge-phile. Lutefisk, anyone?)

Needless to say, there is much more to Hawaiian culture than tiki bar umbrella drinks (part of Hawaiian tourist culture) and fat pills. As often as we’ve been to Hawai’i, we are always learning something new, which means The Next Trip is always market research that we hope will benefit and expand our writing. For example, did you know that there is a type of Hawaiian combat known as lua? And the Hawaiians had really cool weapons, like our favorite, lei o mano, which you can think of as a big ol’ club studded with shark teeth. (Guaranteed to scare off the next Jehovah’s Witness or Girl Scout Cookie Pusher who darkens your door. Oh, and it might work on the pua’a pupuka nui’s tire, too. Hmmm, one of us might try that on an annoying neighbor who keeps parking right across from her driveway even though it’s a no parking area. Strictly in the interests of “market research on the effect of sharks’ teeth on tires,” you understand.)

It’s not too early to wish our readers – no, not “happy holidays,” as we don’t do generic greetings – “Mele Kalikimaka a Hau’oli Makahiki Hou” which is, literally, “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.” And, “hau’oli heluhelu ‘ana” – happy reading!

Mahalo, e ke Akua

Happy Thanksgiving to all our friends who are not turkeys! Scratch that, how about, “Happy Thanksgiving! May the only turkey present at your table be Tom Gobbler — and not Great Aunt Gertrude who every year insists on rehashing your top ten most embarrassing childhood moments.” Book news first: current ETA is around 15 December for Outsourcing Murder to be orderable on Amazon (Nook, Kindle, and “Tree-Killer” versions). More on which below.

One of us had occasion to reflect on the meaning of Thanksgiving more closely during dinner with a college friend recently. This friend has a kind and loyal heart but she has a “glass half empty” approach to life. And be careful with the glass because you could drop it, cut yourself and bleed to death.  Her outlook on life is a lot like Eeyore’s. She insisted on discussing classmates who had died or were facing a life-threatening illness (self, family member, or pet) or had been unemployed for a long period of time. (Side note: the one of us on the receiving end of all this cheerful news refilled her wine glass a couple times as it approached half empty.)

Over the course of dinner, the aforementioned friend said, of another classmate, “Dear Karen is someone who always looks on the bright side of things no matter how bad they are,” as if that was a problem. Think about that statement for a moment. In a backhanded kind of way, this woman had encapsulated the meaning of Thanksgiving: giving thanks for the good things no matter that there are also bad things. That isn’t to say that everything is good, only that you should not let the bad things drown out your thanks to God for all the good in your life. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the church at Thessalonica, said “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances,” which is not the same as giving thanks for everything. For instance, you’re not really thankful when some jerk is tailgating you on the interstate. But, you could thank God for the honking big ticket Mr. Jerkface is going to get one of these days (remember that faith is belief in things unseen).

Back to our book. The delay in the ETA was not due to George Bush, the earthquake in Japan, the floods in Thailand, or even one sister’s screw-up. Okay, maybe a little of the latter. A contributing factor was that the talented artist doing our cover art was about 70% through the painting — which includes surfing and San Francisco motifs — when she encountered a problem. Her art supply dealer was out of her favorite brand and the substitute brand she was using had a cheap coating to make the surface feel higher quality than it really is. ‘Auwē (alas), when she went to add layers of paint to the work, the old layers had pilled, causing streaks and generally marring her work. She tried to salvage it, but the salvaged work was not up to her standards, so she is starting over.

Now, we could throw a fit over the delay, and moan and groan about our self-imposed schedule slipping, (and one of us did do that for thirty seconds), or be grateful that we have a wonderful artist creating a cover that captures the spirit of our work and who has high standards. Thank you, Sarah. The finished art will be worth the wait.

Everything takes practice to do well and that includes giving thanks. Not only is an “attitude of gratitude” a useful thing to contemplate on more than just Thanksgiving, it really does make you happier and, well, appreciative. To quote Pollyanna (or, more correctly, Hayley Mills playing Pollyanna quoting her father), “when you look for the bad in life expecting to find it, you surely will.”

Last year, one of us got hosed re: planned travel the day before Thanksgiving. Flight canceled, travel rebooked for mid-day on Thanksgiving. This was the best the airlines could do – everybody knows that this is one of the busiest times to travel and, short of Delta adding a new “roof rack” section, nobody was getting rebooked anywhere quickly. (Oh wait, haven’t I flown roof rack?) So, Thanksgiving didn’t actually start until 3:30, when the plane arrived. A friend picked her up at the airport, she got a few last minute things at the local grocery, began cooking at five (a glass of champagne made dinner prep more cheery) and dinner was served just before eight. This included a turkey breast stuffed with herbs under the skin, sweet potato soufflé with sherry and black walnuts, praline pumpkin pie, salad and biscuits (thank you, Pillsbury). It was one of the best Thanksgiving meals ever. The only thing missing was watching the Macy’s Parade while cooking and really, it’s the same floats and marginal Broadway show tunes every year so who cares? So dinner was delayed a bit – no worries.

Both of us who comprise Maddi are grateful to have family and to be family. Nobody (OK, except God) knows the dirty details about the other like we do, and nobody (OK, except God) loves you anyway and is there for you like a sister. Oh, and we each thank God that our sister is not perfect; we have a balance of blackmail power, as it were.

Our Thanksgiving this year will be for friends, family, food, nice home, doggy kisses (hmm, that may be number one on the list), and the steadfastness of God.

Shall We Dance? Writing With a Partner

Greetings devoted readers!

Maybe I should make that “devoted reader” since it’s not clear we have more than one groupie – yet. Anyway, much of writing is discipline so here is the second installment in our blog. We intend to be semi-regular bloggers in order to entertain our readers on topics as diverse as cultural influences on our writing (or, where to find the best Mai Tai on Waikīkī), our favorite Hawaiian music groups and why we are writing them into our books, the canine and feline inspirations for our four-legged characters and true stories behind some of the inanities our character encounters in the corporate and technology worlds.

One of the questions friends often ask is how do we manage to write together, particularly when we are three time zones removed from one another. Surprisingly, it hasn’t been a challenge for us, not that it has been all beer and skittles (for the record, one of us likes Skittles, the other prefers Coconut M&Ms). Perhaps we did all our squabbling growing up. (Mom liked ME best, I just want to say for the record.) (Believe what makes you feel good, even if it’s wrong.)

One of the things that makes writing together easy for us is that we do not have the same strengths as writers but, as the Apostle Paul would say, we are all part of the body. Meaning, one person is a hand and the other is a foot in terms of getting the body of work up and running. (I know which one of us is the ‘okole, and it isn’t I, hee hee.) That is, one of us is “the organizer” in terms of plotting, outline, structure, and the up and down lifting of writing. The other one is the “tarter-upper.” That’s “tart” as in “adorn or decorate,” NOT as in “promiscuous.” The TU adds a turn of phrase, pads out the scene (What does so and so look like? What are his or her quirks? What does the scene look like?). It’s not quite that black and white, but you get the idea. We write well together because we acknowledge and use each other’s strengths.

A challenge for writing partners is ensuring that the writing hangs together and there is no obvious change of voice (i.e., when one of us takes over the writing). We are lucky that, as sisters, we share the same demented sense of humor, to the point where neither of us can, in many cases, remember who wrote what. That’s the idea, really, because “Maddi” is THE writer and nobody reading our work should be able to tell when The Other Sister started writing. Even more telling, in some cases when one of us is reviewing/editing/adding to a section, we find that the other one had the same idea. You end up deleting things you added because the other sister already put the same ideas in there. They say that old married couples can finish one another’s sentences. We do that a lot – only in our case, we start one another’s sentences – the one the other one was about to say. (For the record, I thought of spanikopita in the Greek restaurant scene first).

Writing with a partner has many advantages. For example, someone else is always editing your writing. That someone won’t hesitate to tell you when something isn’t working or needs to be changed (or she might just go ahead and change it). Or the reverse: when one of us needs reassurance that our writing is witty, the other is there to provide it (lying when necessary). (Except my stuff is always funny.) When you are having trouble writing a scene or a chapter, you can turn to the other writer to finish it up. Perhaps the best thing about writing together is it’s great fun. We email one another wacky articles (reality is more hilarious and odder than anything you can imagine as fiction) and bounce ideas off one another. We delight in writing particularly entertaining sections and sharing immediately.

We aren’t expecting that Maddi Davidson will be added to the pantheon of great American writers (Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, Hawthorne, note the absence of Hemingway because one of us things he is the most overrated writer on the planet…). (The other one of us thinks Dr. Seuss should be on the list.) We write because we like to laugh, and we like escapism, and it is a sad world in many respects, especially now. The nicest compliment – and validation of our writing – we received was when someone in a writing workshop said that she’d so much “awful stuff” in her life that she hadn’t been able to read more than a page or two for several years, until she started reading our writing submission. She was drawn in, found herself laughing, and read the entire chapter. That’s validation enough for what we do. Jesus put it more grandly: “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer! I have overcome the world.” We are not going to overcome the world, but we hope we can deliver some good cheer to our readers that might help them overcome at least some tribulation in their lives. “A merry heart doeth good like medicine.” We hope so.

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Hi, dear reader! Welcome to the first blog entry of Maddi Davidson, aspiring murder mystery author(s). Before anybody thinks the plural means I have an incipient case of multiple personality disorder, I should mention that “Maddi” is comprised of two sisters who write together. (One of us is Mom’s favorite. The other isn’t.) As this is my/our first blog entry, my/our first big decision is whether to say “we” or “I.” “We” seems too self-important, if not downright imperial. On the other hand, it’s kind of hard to talk about how to write with another person if I – or we – or should that be ‘one?’- does not acknowledge that there is another writing partner. We are sisters, not conjoined (Siamese) twins, so “we” seems apropos. Also, while we have similar mindsets – to the point where, when we are reviewing our work, we can’t always recall who wrote which section – we are not always of one mind, so we can’t really go with “I.” Bother. After fro-ing and to-ing, I’m going with “we.” Maybe. Anyway, this is the first of what we hope will be many blog entries about the delights of writing as Maddi Davidson.

As it happens, we are currently delighted since our first mystery is about to be published (OK, self-published): Outsourcing Murder, a Miss-Information Technology (IT) mystery. Part chick lit, part IT geek scene, we think the IT industry is an untapped genre for murder mysteries. Especially since, as both of us have worked in IT for years, we can think of plenty of occasions on which one or the other of us felt slightly homicidal and we know that the poor, long-suffering consumers of technology feel homicidal pretty much every time there’s a system upgrade. We state at the outset for readers who claim to recognize a character or incident in our book: we can neither confirm nor deny that we are getting even for corporate weirdness that one or the other of us has experienced by recasting it as fiction. Writing well is the best revenge, heeheehee.

One of the admonitions all writers hear is, “write what you know.” In our case, writing what we know includes writing about things that are interesting to us. Emma Jones, our protagonist, escapes the weird and wacky world of her job as an information technology consultant by going surfing, a passion that we share with Emma. An added plus to sharing a hobby with Emma is that we consider surf-aris to Hawai’i to be “market research.” So is sampling Mai Tais at different venues (a personal favorite: the one at the Halekulani on Waikīkī. No self respecting Mai Tai should ever have pineapple juice in it, ick).

Surfing is magical in that, more than any other activity we know (except illicit substances we wouldn’t consider inhaling, snorting, or popping), it helps you forget what ails you. (At least until you develop new surf-related ailments from overusing muscles that don’t get taxed very much in the day-to-day show. Pass the Mineral Ice, thanks a bunch.) After an hour or so in the water and some tasty waves, you forget what was really bugging you before you paddled out. Surfing has other fringe benefits, too like natural hair highlights – courtesy of sun and saltwater – nicely toned muscles (particularly after a trip to Hawai’i where it’s warm enough you can stay out for hours), and nice wildlife sightings like honu (green sea turtles), dolphins, occasional whales, seals, including (on one occasion on Kaua’i, a Hawaiian monk seal that flippered through the surf lineup). Sharks are – auwē (alas) – part of the seascape but not a part you usually aspire to getting up close and personal with. Neither of us has ever seen one out in the water but (cue theme music from Jaws), you know they are out there. Ick.

Surfing is magical in that, unlike most other sports, you can remember all your really good moments – the hurricane swell where one of us caught her best wave evah, brah, the day when four dolphins caught the set wave of the day and one leaped over the surf lineup, the beautiful atmospherics, even in cold and sharky Northern California on days where the sky and sea are almost exactly the same color. As the saying goes, “there’s no problem a good day of surfing won’t cure,” and it’s pretty nearly the truth. Surfing provides a background for our story and an underpinning for Emma’s life and romance with her off-again, on-again ‘ipo (sweetheart) Keoni – and that’s also true for one of us whose ‘ipo taught her to surf, for which she is eternally grateful.

Like Emma, we’ve had our share of encounters with wave hogs who want to M&T – monopolize waves and terrorize other surfers – and, while nobody has ever gotten into a physical fight, one of us drove a goshdarn bully off who was being Mr. Nasty Pants to all the newbie surfers out in the lineup. (And wherever you are, GB, “get over yourself: it was a two-foot wave!”) It’s another thing we share as writers and sisters: we really like getting out there and getting wet, and neither of us is going to put up with jerks. No, indeedy. Surfing together gives us more food for thought, and fodder for our book(s), since we are currently working on the second and third books in our Miss-Information Technology series, one of which takes place in Hawai’i.

Stay tuned for more information on where to order Outsourcing Murder – coming soon to an online bookstore near you – and more on how we write, edit, and create together. The miracle of the Internet – 3,000 and some miles is nothing if you have the right writing partner. Even if one of us is The Good Child and the other isn’t.

Seeya out in the lineup – Maddi