Books by Melissa Bowersock

Friday, January 13, 2017

Author Interview: Brendon Marks

Today I’m sitting down with my buddy Brendon Marks to talk about his new book, On Your Marks, Get Set, Laugh, a collection of one hundred columns originally written for newspapers. The articles have in common that they were all written by the same man, yet they vary widely in subject matter and scope, and there’s a liberal sprinkling of humor throughout. I found them to be fun and fascinating at the same time.

MJB: So, Brendon, tell us a bit more about the book. Over what period were these columns written? And for what newspapers?

Brendon: These columns were the first 100 that I had published and were written from mid-1997 to late 1999. I was writing for The Villager Journal, a weekly in Salem, Arkansas, The Sedona Excentric, a monthly in Sedona, Arizona, and the Arizona Roadracer, a bi-monthly runner’s newspaper in Phoenix, Arizona. I also did some freelance work for Inside Texas Running. These columns were published in soft and hard-cover in December 1999.

MJB: How did you start writing for newspapers? If any of our readers out there wanted to follow in your footsteps, how would they go about doing that?

Brendon: I credit my wife Hwa-Ja for the initial success. We had purchased some property near Salem, Arkansas with the idea of retiring there and when we went for a visit she thought I should start writing for one or more of the local papers so I would be a celebrity when we finally moved there. We hand-delivered some of my samples to every little newspaper within a fifty mile radius and David Cox, editor of The Villager Journal, liked what he read. I was very fortunate; if I were starting out now, I honestly don’t know if I could make it. So many newspapers are going under due to the instantaneous aspect of the internet that it is very difficult. You must find a paper that matches your style and don’t expect to get paid much, if anything.

MJB: I noticed a distinct similarity to Dave Barry and Bill Bryson with your very dry wit. Did you model your style after anyone, or is it all your own?

Brendon: I did not, I started writing casually. I would be at work and send out an email to several of my coworkers relating a story about something that had happened to me on the way home from work, or over the weekend, or while shopping with my wife. I received so many positive responses and “You should write book” urgings that I figured “What the heck.”

MJB: What the heck, indeed. Why not give it a try, and look at it now. 

You’ve taken some very mundane, everyday occurrences and transformed them into humorous and informative articles. I get the feeling that your brain simply works that way, taking in the events of the day and turning them on their head. Do you find yourself narrating everything that happens during the day? Does everything inspire you to see the humor of it?

Brendon: It does, at first I was surprised when the things I wrote were found funny by others, then I realized that some other members of my family were similar. Mom would say something 100% serious, we would explode in laughter and she would have this puzzled look on her face that made it even funnier. When I set out to write a column I don’t ask “What should I write about?” I ask “What can I say that’s funny about…..?” I always have a subject in mind when I start, even though the direction may change before I finish.

MJB: Sounds like a formula that's worked out for you. And of course there's never a lack of inspiration in the happenings around us.

Paul Harvey and Jack Canfield (Chicken Soup for the Soul) perfected the art of short essays that are both funny and uplifting. Yours is the kind of book that can be picked up and put down on a moment’s notice, available anytime a reader has a few minutes but doesn’t require total immersion like a novel might. Do you find it easy to write short bits like this, or do you ever struggle with wanting to write more? When you write, do you just write until the episode is done, or do you have to do quite a bit of cutting after the fact? (I only ask this because I’m a novelist, and suffer from diarrhea of the pen!)

Brendon: It’s easy for me to write the short articles. I try to have my articles read in five minutes or less for a couple reasons. One, I dread that if I drag it on my reader will lose interest, give up, and never get to the important part. And two, humor is very subjective. I can get comments on the same column ranging from “It’s the best you’ve ever written” to ”it’s the worst you’ve ever written.” If a first-time reader is reading an “it’s the worst” article I don’t want them to be permanently turned off, I want them to try another, because the next one might be one they’ll relate to. I do write until I’ve said what I want, but I’m always mindful of the reader’s time and attention span. Another factor when writing for a newspaper or magazine is space limitations. With a book you can always add four more pages, but with periodicals you have a finite space. The Villager Journal wanted 600 words. Also, I find it is more often easier for me to add than it is to cut. It’s like fluffing a pillow, you don’t add anything, just put more space between the good bits. Bob Early, the long-time editor of Arizona Highways told me (along with 15 other writers) that if a sentence was not informative, interesting, inspirational, or insightful,…cut it. With that in mind my columns are quite lean to begin with. I have many columns sitting in the bull-pen waiting for more fluffing.

MJB: Sounds like the newspaper gig was excellent training for you. The Flash Fiction contests on Indies Unlimited is like that, too, and helps writers hone their words into only what's necessary. 

Can you tell us what your favorite column was, and why?

Brendon: That’s very difficult. I looked back over these 100 columns attempting to pick my favorite of just those and couldn’t do it, expanding that to all that I have written would be impossible. However, I can narrow it down to a theme. My favorite articles are those that involve my wife. She has always been my greatest supporter and the opportunity to poke fun without having to hire a food taster has given me a freedom not enjoyed by all husbands. Furthermore, the husbands and wives alike relate, albeit for different reasons. However, my shining moment (so far) was when I had an article published in the August 2005 edition of Arizona Highways.

MJB: Congratulations! That's quite a milestone. 

Do any of your observations ever lead you to think about spinning out further stories, writing fiction, writing a novel?

Brendon: I have always been impressed by fiction writers. I can barely do justice to things that have happened to me or that I have observed. I can embellish a little or change the outcome, but to just make stuff up while developing characters and a plot seems like a whole lot of work.

MJB: LOL, I think you'd be surprised. For us fiction writers, the hard part is deciding what NOT to write. I have way too many characters and plot lines clamoring for attention all the time.

What’s next for you? More books? More columns?

Brendon: This is only the first 100 columns. I already have over 200 more that will probably generate two more ebooks, and I will continue to write more columns as long as I can stave off dementia. Although some may think I have already lost that battle.

MJB: I'm sure that's not true. And if it is, well, you'll have your books to remind you of things.

If people want to know more about you and your unique take on the world, where can they find you?

Brendon: To say I don’t have much of a social media footprint is a gross understatement; however I am working on it. I can be reached by email at

Monday, January 2, 2017

When Traditional Publishing Comes Knocking

Over at Indies Unlimited, we often engage in discussions about the advantages and disadvantages of being an indie versus being published by a traditional house. Just recently I talked about one major aspect, having control over the look and feel of a book. We’ve also discussed getting better royalties and having the flexibility to be instantly responsive to prices, trends, and sales.
But what happens when a traditional publisher wants your book?
I’ve done some thinking about this. I was lucky enough to have been inside the ropes of the traditional publishing process for the first few years of my writing career. I’ve also had some *ahem* experience with scammers and vanity presses. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot of lessons. If a traditional publisher approached me now, my response would be very different than it was the first time.
First of all, I would pore over the contract with a magnifying glass. If I had any questions about the meaning of a clause, or the validity of it or how it might affect me, I would get legal help. Next, I would concentrate on a few crucial areas, and if the details were not spelled out sufficiently (or not to my liking), I would begin negotiations to change that.
Input/influence with the title – Back in the day when I signed my first traditional contract, the publisher retained all control over the title of the book and I signed away any rights I might have had. Today, I would ask for the right of final approval.
Input/influence with the cover design – Like the title, it used to be that the publisher had total control over the cover design of the book. Likewise here, I would ask for the right of final approval. In addition, if a trad publisher wanted to pick up one of my already-published books, I would fight like crazy to keep the exact title and cover I already have.
Financial issues: royalties and pricing – We all know traditional publishers pay paltry royalties. I would certainly negotiate for a higher rate, especially knowing what I can get for myself by publishing independently. Another financial issue is the retail price of the book. I’ve seen a book of mine priced clear out of the stratosphere, and there was not a thing I could do about it. No more. I’d want to be included in the pricing process and would want final approval.
Timeframe – Traditional publishers are famous for being agonizingly slow. Why I can put out a book in weeks or, at the very most, months and they can’t do it in less than two years is beyond me. I would certainly ask about this, and about any recourse I might have if they didn’t meet their end of the deal.
Editing – Traditional publishers love to blather on about how much expertise they bring to the table, but my experience has been otherwise. My first two books were published by a NY house absolutely verbatim as I sent them in—including typos. If a traditional publisher promised editing, I would ask what that process was, how many eyes looked at it, and I would want final approval of any changes made.
Point of contact – When I signed with that NY house, I got very little communication from them. The few letters I did get (remember, this is before e-mail) never came from the same person. If I wrote back to ask questions of “my” editor, I was informed that that person was no longer there and I had a new editor. These days I would definitely ask about a single point of contact, someone I could call or e-mail whenever I had a question.
Length of contract – I no longer have my original contract, and I don’t remember what the length of the agreement was. Probably 2-5 years or thereabouts. Normally there’s a clause about renewing for an additional two years if all is going well. However, some publishers are now issuing contracts that stretch for seven and even ten years. When asked about it, they insist they require that much time to make back all the money they are pouring into the book. I would certainly think long and hard about tying up my book for that length of time. If by chance the relationship doesn’t work out as planned, that’s a lot of years to be tied to a company you really don’t want to do business with.
Rights – It used to be that all rights were pretty much lumped together, and all went to the publisher. Nowadays, though, with hybrid publishing, we might assign the print rights to a publisher but retain the digital rights. Don’t forget the movie rights and the audiobook rights. I’d be very selective about what I signed up for.
Promotion – I have contracts that say that all promotion is at the discretion of the publisher, but it gives no detail about what that promotion might look like. More often than not, it was putting my book up on their web page and store front and the rest was up to me. If a contract presented today were that vague, I would certainly ask for more details about what this process might look like.
Copies – Publishers tend to offer very few free copies these days. The first time I asked for more than was offered, I thought they might balk, but they agreed immediately. If you want more, ask. Believe me, they can afford to send you a few more.
Discounts – Most contracts will detail the author’s discount if we want to buy directly from them. If not, ask about it; if it’s there, see if you can negotiate a better deal. Remember, if you don’t ask, the answer is always no.
Those are the main issues that jump out at me. Having been an indie for many years now and having total control, just looking at this list gives me the heebie-jeebies. Signing a contract now would feel like slipping into a strait jacket. But that’s just me. If you ever do get approached by a traditional publisher for your book, I hope you will consider all the issues and make a very careful and informed choice. I’d also be interested to hear your own experiences and what other issues might be sticking points for you.

Friday, December 23, 2016

After Christmas Sale!

How many of you are getting new tablets for Christmas? How many of you are anxious to fill up that new tablet (or the old one) with oodles of good books? I'm here to help! Just as a way to say thank you to all my fans and start the new year off right, I've put all of my books on sale for just 99 cents. You heard me correctly--ALL of my books. All seventeen of them. You like fantasy? Romance? Paranormal? Western? Action/Adventure? Satire? Biography? I've got something for everyone. Take a gander at the books below and see what 99 cents will get you. Where 99 cents will take you. Sale is good through January 1, 2017.

(Western Adventure)
When Ross Garvey's prized Appaloosa is stolen from his Colorado ranch, he fully intends to hunt down the thieves in their New Mexico hideout and regain his best broodmare. What he doesn't count on is bull-headed, fifteen year old Jaimie Callahan, whose horse was also stolen by the same thieves. And he certainly does not anticipate the beautiful Mexican girl who's dealing with the thieves, nor the fact that an entire company of Mexican troops is in on the deal!

TheBlue Crystal (Fantasy)
In the realm of Zor, the tyrant Mal-Zor is maniacal in his quest for the mythical Blue Crystal of power sends generations of innocents to their deaths in the crystal mines. Jared, a young farmer from a small isolated village, has paid scant attention to the distant troubles until his younger siblings are taken as slaves. Jared vows to free them and his quest soon becomes enmeshed in the most magical power struggle imaginable. Accompanied by a recalcitrant halfling, mounted on a huge black lion and supported by an aging wizard and his daughter, Jared prepares to challenge the king and claim his hidden destiny. 

(Paranormal Suspense/Romance)
When Jennifer and Robert Stinson buy a beautifully restored Victorian house, the last thing they expect is to share their home with a ghost―especially one with a penchant for setting fires. Unfortunately the ghostly arson only creates more tension in their already strained marriage. Jen launches her own investigation into the history of her house and discovers a surprising ally in a sympathetic fire captain. But can she unravel the mystery of the fires before they consume her home, her marriage … and her life?

Travis Merrill’s life isn’t going according to plan. He’s quit several career paths, his wife has left him, and his only solace is volunteering to portray a cavalry surgeon at historic Fort Verde in Arizona, a place where time seems to stand still. When a weird trick of time actually sends him back to the year 1877, he’s boxed into impersonating the post surgeon for real. Unfortunately, he finds his medical knowledge is no match for the primitive practices of the day, and he’s forced to make life or death decisions, not always successfully. He wonders if he will ever be able to return to his own time, or if he might find a life—and a love—140 years in the past.

Two years ago, a weird trick of time sent Travis Merrill spiraling from 2016 to the year 1877. Committed now to his life in frontier Arizona, Travis is married with a child on the way and is homesteading a ranch. His knowledge of the future, however, keeps him at odds with his neighbors, his friends… and his wife. He finds it more and more difficult to protect his home without alienating his family, yet he can’t ignore what he knows is – and will be – true.

(Paranormal Suspense/Romance)
Julia Martin, newly-divorced but still reeling from her husband’s infidelity, takes a much needed vacation to visit old college friends in Germany. While touring a little-known concentration camp and museum, she spontaneously experiences a violent past life memory of being murdered in this very camp during the Holocaust. Efforts to understand her memories only lead to more questions, the largest being: is her killer still alive? Supported by her friends and comforted in the arms of a handsome doctor, Julia strives to uncover the mysteries of her past life and find justice for the person she used to be.

GoddessRising (Spiritual Fantasy)
It is the future, and a global geologic holocaust has destroyed civilization, leaving only a tiny fraction of people to rebuild scattered colonies. Reduced to a primitive state, they live close to the earth and cultivate a Goddess worship, and chosen ones dream a prophecy that Greer, a female savior, will return them to greatness. An epic and magical story of one woman’s exceptional destiny during exceptional times, Goddess Rising follows Greer’s journey from simple obscurity to prophesied reign. Acknowledged as the face of the Goddess on earth, Greer discovers the rewards of power—and its price—as she struggles through her own labyrinth of fear and desire, sexuality and sacrifice, love and death.

LightningStrikes (Contemporary Romance)
Jessie Evans is a free-lance journalist, emphasis on the "free," with no plans to tie herself down. While researching a story in Flagstaff about Indian influences in Arizona, however, she encounters Lucas Shay, a smoldering paradox who is part Indian, part architect and all man. Whether igniting her temper with his arrogance or challenging her beliefs with his laser-like insight, Jessie can't deny that Lucas sets fire to her soul as well.

Love’sSavage Armpit by Amber Flame (Satire) (Originally published as The Pits of Passion)
Sealed to the man in an arranged marriage, Elizabeth rides the surging tide of shock and denial, lust and love, as she is swept from the manicured gardens of England to the savage shores of Africa and the wilds of the New World, never quite sure which Captain Elliott is the man she loves. Warning! This satiric romp is NOT your mother's romance novel!

Clay Bauer, at the age of 38, is a second-rate actor in Hollywood. He’s too mean-looking to get leading man roles in movies, so he’s resigned himself to playing only villains. While filming a low-budget Western in the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona, he hears about the vortices there — places of power where people claim to have strange experiences, even traveling to other dimensions. He doesn't believe any of it — until he accidentally passes through a vortex and is transported more than 100 years into the past. Suddenly he’s faced with playing the most important role of his life. Only this time, it’s for real.

Marcia L. Gates was an Army nurse and prisoner of war during WWII. As an “Angel of Bataan,” she spent three years in a Japanese internment camp in the Philippines. This is her award-winning story, told through her letters and the newspaper clippings, photos and letters collected by her mother. The book was awarded a medal for biography by both the Military Writers Society of America and Stars and and won honorable mentions at the Hollywood Book Festival and the Great Midwest Book Festival. It was featured in the documentary Our Wisconsin: The Military History of America's Dairyland produced by WKOW-TV in Madison.

Queen’s Gold(Action/Adventure)
Hal Thompson is a pretty ordinary guy. A widower who owns his own small business, he's doing his best to raise his two nearly adult children alone. When they convince him to undergo a hypnotic past-life regression, he is unimpressed that his "memories" reveal the hiding place of ancient Aztec gold. Other people, however, take it very seriously and when his family is threatened, he is forced to plunge into the jungles of Mexico, battling treacherous terrain, lethal wildlife and the haunting feeling of a love that spans centuries. Can he find the gold before it claims more lives? Or will he lose the love of his life ... again?  

The Rare Breed(Historical Romance)
The daughter of a white woman and an Indian brave, Catherine Boudry had spent the first thirteen years of her life among the Cheyenne. Restored at last to her mother’s wealthy parents, Cathy blossomed into womanhood surrounded by all the “civilized” comforts of the white man’s world. But at the age of twenty, the lure of her Indian heritage drew her back to the western plains. It was a journey that would awaken her to the joy and agony of passion in the arms of two very different men—Jory, the virile young trapper, and Barred Owl, the Cheyenne brave to whom she had been pledged in marriage long ago.

RememberMe (Contemporary Romance)
Elly Cole wakes up bruised and battered in a hospital-and has no idea who she is or how she got there. Her brooding giant of a husband informs her that she had been fleeing with her lover who was killed in the car accident that left her injured, that she is pregnant with that lover's child and that she has nowhere else to go but home-with him. Struggling against the threat of her husband's dangerous rage and jealousy, Elly strives to regain her memory and reconstruct the life she left behind, wondering how she could ever have loved this man who hates her.

(Contemporary Women’s Fiction)
Trish Munroe never planned to be a caregiver, but circumstances have conspired to make her responsible for her elderly Aunt Heidi. Trish does her best to balance the demands of her job, her love life and Heidi’s advancing Alzheimer’s, but the pressure is taking its toll. When Heidi passes away, there’s a bittersweet reprieve until Trish uncovers a family secret of forbidden love that takes her on a tragic yet triumphant journey of the heart.

Stone’sGhost (Paranormal)
Matthew Stone doesn't believe in ghosts … until he meets one. He owns a successful business in Lake Havasu, Arizona, home to the famed London Bridge that was brought over stone by stone and rebuilt over the Colorado River. He has a gorgeous girlfriend, a doting mother, and more money than he needs, but no time for stories about the ghosts who were transplanted from England with the famed bridge. When a chance encounter with a female ghost leads to unexpected friendship, Matt and the ghost are forced to rely on each other as they confront the pasts that haunt them.

SuperstitionGold (Historical Romance)
Married and widowed within a 24-hour period, beautiful Leigh Banning watches as her storybook New Orleans life crumbles away piece by piece. In a heartbroken attempt to start over, she travels to the wilds of frontier Arizona in an effort to understand the father she never knew and is rewarded with gold from the legendary Lost Dutchman gold mine in the Superstition Mountains. The gold comes with a price tag, however—the murder of innocent people. Leigh’s quest for justice leads her to a remote Apache camp in the company of a proud Pima Indian and a handsome cavalry officer. Torn between the fiery kisses of the Major and the respectful love of the Pima, Leigh joins forces with the Apaches to battle gold-hungry killers and in the process discovers her true self and her one true love.