PENINSULA WOMAN: Writers’ group has its ways with words

PORT ANGELES — Books, as different from one another as children, are born here.

At a dining room table, the writers and their pages gather: At one end, the Port Angeles author of Funhouse Chronicles, a novel of life in a nursing home; across from her sits the Sequim woman behind The Gunns of Grizzly Falls, a romantic suspense trilogy; and beside them are a Bainbridge Island woman penning a political, historical tale set in the Ukraine right after World War I and a Port Townsend novelist whose latest young adult romp is How to Get a Warlock Boyfriend.

Last and you’d better believe not least is a young writer of a memoir titled Boob Job: The Unexpected Adventures of a Department Store Bra Fitter.

Every Wednesday morning, these five women meet to mix honesty and kindness, critique and camaraderie. Their writing group isn’t about discussion for discussion’s sake. The meetings are designed to propel these writers’ books into print — traditional, electronic or both ­— and they’re working on more than one level.

The latest tome to be published is Funhouse Chronicles, Linda Myers’ story of a woman coping with life in a nursing home. The book, to go on the market this month for e-book readers such as the Kindle and Nook, is the second novel by Myers, 64.

She knows whereof she writes. Myers’ late husband Roger spent about four years in nursing homes in Port Angeles and Sequim.

The experience, for the Myers family, was for the most part positive.

“People are devoting enormous amounts of heart,” she says, “to taking care of people they don’t even know,” at first.

“You can find goodness in nursing homes,” Myers adds, “if you look for it.”

Myers also has a keen interest in mental health care. So her first published e-book, released May 1, is Lessons of Evil, a psychological suspense novel about a woman who chooses to work in a community mental health clinic.

The story is set during the 1980s in a town like Bend, Ore., “before the tourist explosion,” says the author.

In her research for the book, she delved into Oregon’s past as well as into the history of mental health care provided by community clinics.

Lessons is a thriller — the kind of book Myers likes to read — with humor mixed in. And in the first four weeks following publication, the new novelist sold 70 copies of her e-book. That figure had swelled to 173 by this week. Myers, who has a background in marketing and advertising, uses her website and blog at www.LindaBMyers.com, plus old-fashioned things like promotional tote bags printed with her books’ cover images.

She’s exploring the frontier of e-publishing meets self-publishing, a virtual place she calls the “wild West” of the book world.

And though Myers’ pair of novels are downloaded onto ultramodern electronic reading devices, each came together over the past two years thanks to a low-tech tradition: that of sharing and shaping a printed manuscript with a small group of writers.

And that Wednesday meeting “makes you hit deadlines,” she says.

These dining room table talks can last three hours, but they are far from dull. The women bring a mix of backgrounds and specialties: Lee Undsderfer of Sequim has published 17 books — the traditional, hard-copy type — under her nom de plume Adrianne Lee. She’s working on the Gunns of Grizzly Falls romantic intrigue trilogy, set in a fictional Montana town, for Harlequin now.

Orysia Earhart comes all the way from Bainbridge Island to the group meetings.

“I’m nuts,” she says.

Seriously, “I’m so dedicated to my writing,” and the drive across the Peninsula allows her time to think about how to solve sticky problems that arise in her book’s plot.

Earhart, a veteran writer who had her play, “Two Solitudes,” produced on the London stage in 2000, is the one now working on the historical novel about a woman living in the Ukraine in 1918.

Nancy Thompson, meanwhile, is the novelist at work on a young adult adventure story shot through with magic and witchcraft. How to Get a Warlock Boyfriend: Ten Easy Steps is just her working title. Thompson also is co-owner, with her husband Jeff, of Port Townsend Art & Frame.

Rounding out the quintet is Natalee Woods, also of Port Townsend. She’s a schoolteacher taking time off from that profession to write her book. The Unexpected Adventures is the true tale of her tenure in the lingerie department of a famous retailer.

Each Wednesday, the women bring copies of their latest pages, so everyone has a set to read. They approach the work with “tough love,” as Earhart puts it.

“Our whole focus,” she says, “is to help each other get better,” so the women point out the flaws as well as the frissons in one another’s prose.

“We often disagree,” adds Thompson. But “there is respect . . . that’s very, very important.”

But this writer, who has published three romance novels with traditional publishers, doesn’t come only for the critiques.

“I love these women,” says Thompson. “What I get out of the group is the camaraderie. Being part of the group just feels good to me.”

Publishing, adds Myers, is “a rough industry with a lot of rejection . . .We do try to cheer each other and let each other feel ‘you are not alone.’”

E-books, however, field a new ball game with space for fresh players. Both the books and the devices known as e-readers are proliferating, says Myers. She used her blog to conduct a survey of people who acquired Kindles, Nooks and such, and found many who were hooked. They hadn’t wanted an e-reader at first.

Then, “they got them as gifts and instantly adopted,” she says.

The reasons include the convenience of carrying lots of books while traveling; the devices’ capacity to enlarge the type size for easier reading; and the low price of e-books. Her Lessons and Funhouse, for example, sell for $3.99.

Nobody saw e-readers as replacements for actual books, Myers adds. She heard from several people that they consider the device an addition to their hard-copy libraries.

But how to publish an e-book of one’s own?

“If you are clever with computers, you can do your own conversions and if you can design, you can do your own cover. Then you can do it for no cost,” Myers says.

But an Internet search for e-publishing will yield companies that convert a word-processing document into Kindle-, Nook- or iPad-ready format for a few hundred dollars.

Then it’s up to the author to invest time in promoting the book, Myers notes. This can include a website like hers, which beckons with sizable excerpts from her novels.

Myers added that the percentage she receives from purchases of her book is much higher than it would be with a traditional publication. She keeps about 70 percent — $2.77 — from the sale of each download. On an actual paperback book, Myers estimates she’d reap a mere 33 cents per copy. She also saves by being her own marketer. If she hired a literary agent, she would pay him or her a 15 percent commission.

At the same time, Myers values the fellowship of her Wednesday group. Since writing is a mostly solitary pursuit, these women allay the loneliness that can shadow it. And Myers, riding the wave of e-book technology, has begun work on her third novel. She’s grateful for the support — and the critiques — received every week from her four fellow writers.

“At this point,” Myers says, “I feel very lucky.”

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