Monday, September 23, 2013

The Challenges in Writing Secret Sister

     There were two big challenges in writing Secret Sister.
     The first was to use a supernatural/paranormal event, which of course is not ‘real’, as a structural plot element and not scare off readers who want a traditional love story that also examines faith, trust and how much anyone really knows about those they love.
     Women’s fiction, particularly stories about a central romance, tend to be very reality based; many stories revolve around every day domestic and work situations, relationships with family, lovers and husbands, and generally have two feet firmly planted in realistic happenings. So when I decided to write a ‘trading places’ story, where one character’s ‘being’ or ‘soul’ is transferred by an extraordinary event into another character’s physical body, I wanted to be sure not to undercut the emotional impact and feel of the story by using something too weird.
     I think it worked based on the feedback I’ve had from readers and the seventy plus reviews on Amazon.
     The second challenge was dealing with the sexuality and ‘moral character’ of Nick and Cathy and Roxanne, my three main subjects.
     I believe the mind is a free roaming beast, and despite our good natures and moral beliefs, it can sometimes (often times) imagine or project a fantasy thought that surprises the person having it. I think it’s normal and average for a woman to have a ‘what if?’ thought about her best friend’s husband as a sexual partner, and I don’t think having that thought brands a person, in any way, as bad or shameful. I’ve been surprised by the reaction of a few readers who felt that this honest depiction of these ‘untamed thoughts’ characters in Secret Sister have, but don’t act on, made the character unlikeable.
     Some readers didn’t think it was okay for a woman to silently consider the sexual prowess of a friend’s boyfriend, or that it’s traitorous for a man to wonder what sex would be like with his wife’s dearest friend. I think real people do this all the time, with no intention of acting on any of their thoughts. They’re mature and in control of their actions, but who can control their own thoughts?
     But that’s one of the things about writing and putting your stories out there…you will often get feedback about something you weren’t aware you were revealing about your characters, or yourself. HA!
     Who knew that what I thought was normal wasn’t a good fit for others? This was naïve of me, and when you add into this mix the fact that many readers want ‘ideal’ characters in their romance, it could have been a fatal mistake.
     That said, I took on the challenge of realistically examining the situations this extraordinary event of  
Cathy Chance being trapped in another woman’s body would have on an ordinary woman. I thought it was fun and intriguing way to look at the big issue in Secret Sister, which was, how well do we really know our true love, or our self?
     So far most readers I’ve heard from enjoyed the depiction of these struggles in Secret Sister.
     Which is what writers probably always hope for when they choose an unusual structural or thematic element in a story. Fifty shades of Grey? You think S/M will sell millions? Twilight? Teen Vampires, really? A Wizard School for kids? No way will that sell, I’m sure more than a few people said.
     But as a dear friend, Alice Seaman, once wrote in a card to me when I first got published… ‘No guts, no glory’. So bring on the challenges and Emelle Gamble will give them a try!

(Originally published on Read Your Writes blog, September 2013. Thank you Kim!)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Books Belong to Readers

“How do you think Secret Sister ended?”
My dear friend Kathleen R. asked me this question when we were discussing my new book and the reviewer’s response to it. I was surprised at her question, and my first thought was, ‘what do you mean, how do I think it ended? I know how it ended. I wrote it.’
But of course her question was brilliant, as are most things Kathleen R. says are. And it got me thinking.
My opinion on how Secret Sister ends is just that, my opinion. I weaved hints, clues, and statements of fact throughout the 90,000 word novel.  I  ‘showed’, like all we authors try to do, what the various characters were thinking, mulling, and concluding about the very strange situation Cathy and Nick Chance found themselves in. And my opinion is solidly based on my reading (and writing) of this contemporary ‘trading places’ romance.
But that doesn’t make me the final word, or ‘right’. About any of it.
Authors tell their story, and if we do it well, the ending themes and situations are clear and factually grounded in the incidents that make up the story.  Yet, I knew this but may have forgotten it, readers bring themselves to every story. The novels we immerse ourselves in reflect back into us, illuminating each of our unique life experiences.  They let us confirm, and question, our positions on life and love, and innocence and guilt, and on all the wonderful complexity of the human soul.
How many wonderful arguments have each of us had over the years about a particular character’s true motives or emotional make-up? I’ve had several heated ones in my critique group about New Yorker magazine short stories, books and numerous films…some of the most heated about characters in each of our books! “What do you mean he’s a sniveling weakling, I think this shows he’s empathetic,” I believe is an exact comment I uttered. Possibly more than once. (My male characters are very in touch with their feminine side. HA!)
The reviews about Secret Sister have certainly proven this to me…I have been shocked at readers judging the book as ‘intense’ or ‘painful’.  I’ve loved that most find the plot really hooks them and they can’t figure out how it’s going to end. But I’ve also been unhappy that some have pretty much hated my characters ‘at one time or another’ when reading. How could they hate these folks, I wondered? Yes, they are flawed and make mistakes, and are a bit self-involved, but… Okay, I just read that and realize, yeah, readers could hate them. Some of the time (the author wrote hopefully).
But why did some readers love these guys, and others not? But of course, Kathleen R.’s comment is the answer. The words of the story touched something in each of the readers, something unique and wonderful in their memory or heart, something I may not have intended, but something real for that reader. And real for the reader is real. Reading is a collaborative sport, and the author doesn’t get to complain about what a reader concludes. No matter what.  
So, as for the ending of Secret Sister? Cupcake’s review on Goodreads and Amazon said, “The ending  is not as neat as it appears, and you will find yourself asking "what if ..."
This, in my somewhat shocked opinion as a writer, is a valid take away.  It wasn’t consciously designed to be an ending open to interpretation. But I realize that, if I tell the honest truth, a case can be made for Secret Sister’s final scene to prove almost the opposite of what I intended.   
Ahhh…the subconscious mind. All those experiences in my life, rising up and ambushing my good narrative intentions. Or, fulfilling them?   
The bottom line is ‘Yay readers’. They get the final say what your book ‘means’. It is what the reading experience is really all about. Thank you, Kathleen R., for reminding me of this.  

Saturday, July 13, 2013

New Again...courtesy of the Rockville 8

This week the Rockville 8 ( welcomes Emelle Gamble! She's been an invaluable resource for me, personally, and I am thrilled about her new book, Secret Sister, hitting the virtual shelves. You can find her at and on Facebook at

On Wednesday, July 10, 2013, Secret Sister by Emelle Gamble went on sale at Amazon.

It's  my first new book for sale in over a decade. I won’t bore you with the details of why this is (but it is spelled L-I-F-E), but let me say that, while it's just as exciting now being a ‘new author’ as it was the first time,  it’s also a lot more nerve-wracking and challenging the second time around.

In my past life as Harlequin Intrigue writer M.L. Gamble, when I got a new  idea for a book (always the ending first, then the title), I’d get a thrilling, chilling little ‘pop’ of excitement inside my head. Sharp inhale. I knew the creative process had begun.

Very soon after that I’d begin plotting, outlining, and note card noting…The evenings saw the first pages blooming on my computer screen, the next weeks would find me bundling those exciting ‘first three’ chapters off (surely they were perfect) to my critique group. This would be followed by hearing from my honest, supportive and encouraging critique group that the chapters were, in fact, not perfect. So I wrote and rewrote, suffered middle book malaise, last chapter loathing, and re-evaluation jitters, but completed the first draft. And the second draft. And the fifth draft.

A few days before the contract deadline (most of the time) I printed the whole thing out on paper. Addressed a big-ass envelope. Drove to the United States Post Office. Bought postage and insurance (“It’s a manuscript, I’m a writer.” This sentence was always worked into conversation with the postal worker). Watched the now impressed (surely) postal employee throw  the package in a bin, giddy with the knowledge it was going to end up on my New York Editor’s desk in 48 hours.

Over the next few months, after a couple of exchanges of edits, and proofed copy checks, art approval (which meant saying, “Yes, I like it” even though my concept of a hot guy on a motorcycle turned into a psycho bowler - see If Looks Could Kill cover), the creative work was done.

Then four to six months later there would be a knock on the door and you’d get a box of books. Beautiful books. Your books. This was the reason for the long hours and hard work.  (The reason you lived!)

Exhale. Delirium. My book will be read, my story will be shared. I’m a new author.

Now, ten years later, the creative process hasn’t much changed, except for the fact it’s done electronically instead of on paper. But everything else, and I mean EVERYTHING else has changed.

Though I am still contracted with a publisher, albeit a smaller one, in this new publishing environment I immediately discovered that there was much, much more I had to do to give my new book a chance of success. For many publishing houses now no longer support authors as they did in the Wizard of Oz olden days when I was at Harlequin. Publishers expect you, as an author, especially a new author, to not only write a great book, but hunt down your prospective readers and introduce yourself..

On behalf of Secret Sister, I’ve personally contacted hundreds of blogs, review sites and readers with email pitches for review consideration. I’ve asked friends, family members, and fellow authors to read an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) and consider posting a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads, and have offered to spend the time required to read others’ books and return the favor.

I’ve spent many, many hours working with a pro to set up a website, without a pro to set up a Facebook Author page, a twitter account, a Goodreads Author account. And a blog. (Worth the ten hours it took figuring that out just to see the look on hubby’s face when I explained what a blog was. HA!)

I’ve designed storyboards to help create a book trailer and put it up on YouTube. I’ve talked to half a dozen local book sellers, three librarians, and two newspaper columnists about Secret Sister. I’ve spent money on a website, book covers, copy editors, and a top notch review/ARC giveaway site, Netgalley. I’ve spent money on a Facebook ad campaign and a Goodreads ad campaign and a publicity Blog tour campaign with a highly recommended company named Goddess Fish Promotions. (And I have the surreal Paypal receipt for the IRS to prove it!)  I spent money on an ‘expert’ social media consultant who advised me to do everything I’d already done. And frankly, I have no idea if any of this effort is going to result in my finding an audience for Secret Sister.

Which brings me back to Wednesday, July 10, 2013.

Exhale. Delirium. My book is being read, my story is being shared. I’m a new author. AGAIN.

Secret Sister by Emelle Gamble is a romantic novel with a paranormal twist. It came to me (with that thrilling, chilling little pop of excitement) when I thought of a single question… “  What if everything about you changed, would your true love recognize you?

It’s a contemporary story set in Southern California about Nick and Cathy, happily married. And Cathy and Roxanne, best friends forever. It’s about faith and friendship and true love, secrets and lies and the ties that bind. And an extraordinary twist of fate.

It’s a brand new book from a brand new author in this brand new world. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

RWA in Atlanta July 17-21, 2013! See you there!


What not to do at RWA in Atlanta?
Do NOT spill 10 pounds of shrimp on your shoes at Nora Robert’s party.

I’m sure you are nodding as you read the above, and thinking, “Well, what kind of dolt would do that?”
This dolt.
It was a few years ago, and Ms. Roberts had graciously invited her home chapter of RWA to join her and her many other guests for cocktail hour in her suite.
It was perfect…view out the windows glorious, delicious and varied spread of cheeses and dips and seafood, waiters with drinks on gleaming trays, fabulous clothes and sparkling party jewelry. The room was packed with well-known and much loved writers, very important editors, publicists and fans and fellow WRW members like me who were thrilled to mingle and have a couple of munchies and a fortifying drink before the Awards Ceremony.
I was nervous, as always, like most of us there, hoping to make an impression on those we wanted to do business with. I had my elevator pitch ready and my new high heels on and was keeping my eyes peeled for an editor I was dying to chat up. I decided I’d grab a drink, but realized sensibly it would be much smarter to first take a lovely little cocktail plate and grab a few bites. The line was forming, shoulder to shoulder hungry writers were starting to queue up, and I somehow, with a graceful step or three, managed to plant myself right in front of an amazing display of shrimp.
 A gorgeous silver bowl of the plumpest, freshest, yummy little creatures sat on a table covered with  crushed ice, the enormous bowl tilted just so one could poke a toothpick in and spear one without any effort at all. Plate in one hand, toothpick in the other, I first spooned on a tablespoon of lovely red cocktail sauce, then speared a shrimp.
I plopped it on the plate and frowned, not sure but wondering, did the  silver bowl gently, oh so freaking gently, begin to turn on its bed of ice? I thought it might have, no more than a degree clockwise, if I remember right. The room was warm, the ice was melting just a bit, but no problem. Surely.
I speared a second shrimp. When I picked the thing up from the mountain where it perched with a thousand of it’s lovely pink  buddies, disaster.
Like card 101 in a design that could only ever balance 100, the silver bowl of shrimp moved again. Wildly. The thing took a full, dizzying ninety-degree spin, and one second later tipped forward and spilled at least half its content onto the table, onto the table cloth, onto the floor of Ms. Nora Robert’s suite.
And onto my totally shocked and humiliated feet.
It made quite a noise. A crash, actually.  Ice, silver, shrimp, glass. I don’t know what broke, but something did.
One hundred people fell silent. And then an anonymous voice from across the room asked gently, “Is everyone thinking, Thank god I didn’t do that?”
Which was hilarious at the time to everyone but the woman with seafood stuck between her toes.
In an instant a waiter in a black coat appeared at my elbow. He smiled at me and then spoke into a walkie-talkie, which appeared in his hand as if by magic.
“We have a shrimp emergency,” he said. Clicking sounds. Static sounds. Then a disembodied voice asked, “Is there sauce involved?” The waiter met my eyes. He looked relieved. “No, no sauce.”
Many more people in black coats appeared. The shrimp was cleaned up. Replacement bowls of the jumbo little devils arrived. The hostess was gracious and kind and did not have me thrown out of her penthouse window. She waved me to come over to where she stood, sympathetic and smiling, and had me sit down while people brought me drinks. 
Later that evening, after all the fun, I had an excellent discussion with the editor I was chasing, but it centered on faux pas in public, not my book. I believe she said me vs the shrimp was the worst she had ever witnessed. Ha.Ha.Ha.
Yay! I made an impression!
Okay, so lesson learned and duly passed onto fellow Conference goers.  “Step away from the shrimp”, as my dear critique partner, Elaine Fox, now whispers in my ear whenever we’re in a buffet line anywhere.

Especially if the sneaky devils are in a bowl on an ice display, intent on proving Al Gore is totally right about Global Warming.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Just a little encouragement

I just got a royalty check for $2.29. 
Break out the champagne! I’m not kidding…

I got my first royalty check in the early 1990s. It was for about $4,000. Celebration all around. Bills paid. A vacation with the kids. Feelings of euphoria…I had done it. I really was a professional writer, earning money for stories I’d made up!

All told, I sold about 800,000 books over ten years writing for Harlequin Intrigue, books made of paper. Books translated into French, German, Japanese, Icelandic (a surprise) and Turkish. The Turkish version was about 120 pages while the English language original was about 300, so I always wondered about how they’d so effectively edited…but I digress (not, alas, unusual for me).

My last royalty check from my life as M.L. Gamble was in early 2002. It was for less than the first, and was for the residuals on the seven novels I wrote for Harlequin Intrigue. Still a nice little amount, in my opinion. But as I’d taken a sabbatical from trying to publish new books and was concentrating on family demands and a new career, I knew it would probably be the last. For awhile, I told myself. I knew I had more books in me, because I was a writer. A professional writer. And, like the cliché says, writers write.

Now it’s 2013 and I am indeed writing for money, a professional writer once again. And money is part of why I write. Not the biggest part. I’ve gotten over the starry-eyed hope for huge money. But a part. My main focus is to do good books, develop a new following of readers who like my ordinary heroines who are confronted by extraordinary situations. But money is certainly an affirming, ‘professional writer’ component.

So, when I opened an envelope from the wonderful agency that represented my work as M.L. Gamble and found a check for $2.29, money earned for two e-versions of those seven paper books I’d written so long ago, my heart lifted. I smiled. I waved the check at the always-supportive-happy-with-any-success-at-all man I love and said, “Look, money!” 

We laughed and hugged and did a fist tap. Told the beautiful daughter in London via g-chat, who woot-wooted across an ocean. Told the son in person, who grinned.
“You’re back,” he said. I am.

And that’s why we broke out the champagne.

Because after a decade out of the game, after a couple of years of researching and grappling with all this new, fabulously challenging and terrifying reality of publishing books NOT made of paper, I had earned $2.70. And I’d paid my old agent their cut, $.41. Happily. The new reality of what it takes to publish, and what form a book exists in when it is published, had changed completely. But that dear little check reminded me that I hadn’t changed.

I’m still a professional writer.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Kindle v Book…I’ve seen the future and it's kind of scary

Not liking it so much, that new lightweight high-tech pal of mine. Kindle.

'Kind' plus 'le'? Kindly? Is that what they were going for?

Let's Google it.

"Amazon Kindle is a software and hardware platform for reading electronic books (e-books), developed by subsidiary Lab126, first launched in the United States on November 19, 2007. Two hardware devices, known as "Kindle" and "Kindle 2," support this platform, as does an iPhone application called "Kindle for iPhone."

The Kindle hardware devices use an electronic paper display and download content over Amazon Whispernet using the Sprint EVDO network. Kindle hardware devices can be used without a computer, and Whispernet is accessible without any fee. These devices also provide free internet access to Wikipedia."

Lab126. Really?

Okay, gut reaction.

I do like the way this kindly little thing fits in my hand…and my purse. Love the instantaneous “I’d like to read that book” gratification button. It’s truly great I can change the size of the font in two seconds (make it bigger for night eyes!)

And yeah, neat that it carries a bookshelf worth of texts around and doesn’t weigh a nano ounce more. But it makes my heart pound.

So what don’t I like?

As a reader, I do not like that, with my Kind-le gadget I no longer have…

A) Page numbers. How many times have you told someone, check out the scene on Page 77! Or helped ward off Alzheimer’s by remembering to start on Page 143 the next day? I know it's available on some e books, but not on most. And I want it!

B) The name of the book on every other page. Repetition creates memory creates chatter creates sales. “Have you read The Girl with the Dragoon Tattoo?” I asked a hundred people (at least) after I read the name of that book on six hundred plus pages.

C) The author’s name on every other page. Repetition creates memory creates chatter creates sales. “Have you read Steig Larsson?” I asked a hundred people (at least) after I read the name of the author on six hundred plus pages.

D) The cover…in gorgeous color…to stare at whenever. How many books have you bought because of the cover. The cover you noticed in the bookstore, or in someone’s hands on a train or plane or (a really boring) at a dinner table?

E) Most importantly, I can no longer lend or give a book to my friend with an urgent ‘read this now!’

How many friendships were founded, and lost, over loaned books? That’s over?

As a writer, I do not like all of the above, plus something a little more insidious.

Sameness. All our little kindly readers look the same. Nice and flat and light and grey and rectangular. Does that sameness imply a subliminal message about…the sameness of content?

Does the homogeneous, streaming 2%, 13%, 72% rush of words and story in the most anonymous, all the same style text and format plant the seed in the human animal that you’re reading ‘story content’ versus a book by a real live (or dead) writer?

Does Kindle make books more of a commodity? The new Kleenex. Or Xerox. Or Coke. Not Scott tissue, or 3M, or Pepsi or RC Cola. Are we doing away with distinctiveness, and pushing the human mind to accept words, stories, IDEAS as single commodity?

Okay. I’m paranoid. Impractical. A worry wart. Prone to flights of fancy. (I told you upfront I was a fiction writer.) But still

I’m picturing a world where, as you subscribe to ‘cable’ and get film of stuff, you subscribe to ‘Kind-ly Books’ and get steaming words called books. Sorted maybe by comedy, drama, sci-fi, but not by Author.

Just a nice, easy (flavor) stream of words that make you laugh, cry or worry?

In that world, would Harlequin Enterprises let you buy a yearly subscription for ‘romance’ and then send you a stream based on content? Romance Content. 0 to 100%. Content based not on who wrote it, or a cover to die for you saw five people reading on a plane, or a recommendation and loaned copy from your best friend…but on subject matter. Kind-le subject matter you are known to like, and can buy and carry around with you, all you want, instantly.

Since I’ve had my little gadget, I also still buy books.

Lots of books. Hardbound when I just can't wait, and when I must (Sue Grafton. Walter Mosley. Because I love seeing the hunk of reconstituted tree and fabulous art design and smooth pages and writer’s photo on the back page), and paperback (John Green. Deanna Raybourn.) when I know I’ll devour and pass along to a friend with an opinionated , “I love this!” or “Not as good as his last” or a simple “You must read this.”

But it’s not so simple, what I mean when I say this to a friend.

What I mean is hold this in your hand, look at those smooth paper pages, all those beautiful pages of words that someone (a writer like me!) made up; look at that typeface, those page numbers, the photo and blurb ‘he lives in Maine and plays in a rock band’. Hold this real thing, made of real material, not air, in your hand and open it and learn something wonderful or horrible.

And then pass it on!I’ve often bought a dozen copies of novels I’ve loved and wanted to share with friends as a sincere gift of love. I don’t see doing this with an Amazon Kindle Gift Card. No way to bully my mates into buying the title I'm pushing, for one thing.

See...the thing about electronic publishing in general is that I don’t trust outside people with my work. Don’t trust the ones in power (accountants who run publishers, accountants who run distributors, bottom line folks looking to modernize and make more bottom line). I worry that all this e-book phenomenon is going to be one of those examples, three hundred years from now, of ‘unintended consequences’.

Because what’s to prevent, sometime in the future (and tomorrow is the future) someone, anyone, some crazy techie or some person in power with an agenda of ‘their truth is best’ who doesn’t like Willa Cather or F. Scott Fitzgerald or Faulkner or J.K. Rowlings decides to, poof, stop one of those wonderful writer’s stream of words (i.e. novel) from being shared?

You can burn a book. But you have to find a match and start a fire. It has consequences. And, chances are, you won’t be able to burn them all as there will be a lot of other copies of that book under beds and in closets and stores and at the bottom of my purse.

But with a Kindle, full of streams of ‘information, data, words’, what happens if some gatekeeper at the source just deletes a file, or 10, or all of certain authors work? Someone with a “I know what you should read” bend, or a grudge, or by mistake even. All those nice, flat, whisper weight rectangular grey boxes won’t know , or miss, what they can’t ‘download’.

It won’t be there.

A book, like Lady Chatterly’s Lover. Or Lolita. Or All The President’s Men? What then?

Should we chance this?

I’m thinking maybe I should give my Kindle away. The person I might give it to can read what’s there, then good luck transferring it to their identity and credit account. (Don’t even get me started on kindly Big Brother types now knowing every freaking title you download. Remember this if you are having any thought of downloading an Ann 'I-am-hate' Coulter or Rush 'Oxy-Moron' Limberger title to chortle at during the next 'let's read only evil books aloud' book club novelty night. Those ‘streams’ could ruin your reputation as a thinking person forever!)

But of course I'm not really going to give my Kindle away. Despite my children's fears about my capacity to accept technology, I get it. Like it or fear it,  I do love my instant books. And now that I'm about to have two new novels 'e-published' ...Secret Sister in July, 2013 and Dating Cary Grant in the winter of 2013...I realize that in this churning blender of techno marketplaces that a writer needs to be flexible and modern.

But I have decided that if I could only choose one book delivery vehicle, it's nolo contendere.

Kindle v. Book?

Book. Forever. They’ll have to pry them out of my cold, dead hand.