Three-time black-belt Lia London is the author of contemporary novels. She also is the founder of Clean Indie Reads, an organization of over 3700 authors, illustrators, and marketing specialists who work in the independent publishing industry. She will chat about what she learned from stage-writing, how she got into martial arts, and what she’s observed as one of the pioneers in clean indie publishing.
Q. Thanks for chatting with me Lia. Yesterday you said you were teaching an online course? Or today? What is it on?
A. I’m an assistant instructor at a martial arts studio. Since Covid19 shut us down in the actual dojo, we’ve been running classes on Zoom.
Q. Whoa! I did not see that coming. I thought it was writing related. Cool!! Before we proceed, I have to say I have always liked your name. Lia London. Sounds like a stage name. Is it your real name and if so, how did your parents name you?
A. Hahaha! You are not the first person to suspect it was a stage name, and I did do a lot of theatrical and musical performing for a couple of decades, so it served me well. But yes, it’s my real name. I was supposed to be born Clifford Stuart London, and then I wasn’t. They’d picked another first name IF I was a girl, but didn’t like it as much, so they quickly came up with Lia because they’d been in Hawaii recently, it sounded Polynesian, and it went with London so nicely.
I’m very grateful!!
Q. Ha ha ha. Lia does go better with you than Clifford! LOL How long have you been a martial arts instructor and how did you get into doing that? (I promise we will go back to writing questions.)
A. No worries, it’s part of who I am, too!
The whole story of how I got into martial arts is too long tell now, but part way through my journey, I realized how it empowered kids who were often overlooked elsewhere. I wanted to be out on the mat to help them and cheer them on. To do that, I needed the black belt, so I went all the way. Next year, I’ll be testing for my 3rd degree. I started at age 40!
Now I’m 51! It was my version of a midlife crisis, perhaps!
Q. What happened when you were age 40? As in, how did you get that motivation to do something like that? (or is that the long backstory LOL…)
A. I stopped caring as much if people thought I was awkward and just tried something new. Again, long story, but I had a trainer whose real name was Jack Chan (not THE) who taught me a kata once. I loved it, and he convinced me to find a martial art studio. It’s great for strength, balance, and cardio, and because it is so diverse in its aspects, I can adjust it to my needs as a middle-aged, solidly-constructed woman. I’m no cage fighter. I’m more like Kung Fu Panda.
Q. Jack Chan! You can’t make this up. Ha ha. That is awesome. Before I ask you about Clean Indie Reads, let’s segue to your publishing journey. What got you into publishing and how many books do you have out now?
A. I’ll go count those in a minute, but it’s about 25?
Q. A guesstimate is great!
A. I had been writing scripts on-demand for schools, churches, pageants, etc. for decades. I even wrote a musical that was produced by a summer children’s theater company. I’d never been able to get a story in prose, though. I think in terms of dialogue. Then, one morning, I woke up with an idea, a vision, if you will. I sat down to write about it, and the beginning of my first novel came to life. About a year later, I found a publisher, who shall remain nameless, who did nothing to promote my book, charged too much for it, and never bothered to pay me the royalties for the copies I sold. By that time, I’d met other authors, both indie and traditionally published. I decided to test the indie waters using a collaborative fiction project on my blog. Once I figured out how to format and make my own covers, I raced ahead from there. I got the rights to my first story back and plan on turning it into a series next year.
That was all in 2011 to about 2013-ish.
Q. Huh. Fascinating. Scripts on demand. How exactly did that work?? Is that still a thing nowadays? I have never heard that before. I mean, I can see how that would be a need….
A. It started with a grade school teacher asking us to write a sketch for the class. It evolved through that sort of thing to sketches for school assemblies. Later, I wrote sketches for girls’ camps. Word got out. Basically, they’d give me a context, a time limit, an approximate number of cast members/genders, etc. and any limitations they’d have, and I’d go for it. One of my rom com series started as a play written for a high school that had a low budget for royalties.
Who Needs Reality? That’s book one of the Northwest Romantic Comedy series. It was originally a two-act play.
Q. That is exciting about your first book. You really are a pioneer in many ways, having gone indie so early. So let’s talk dialogue for a minute. My question boils down to, how does an author avoid lame dialogue in a novel / prose?
A. HAHAHA! As I said, I think in dialogue. Much of that comes from years on stage in dramatic performances. One way to learn about writing dialogue is to listen to well-written dialogue in movies. Grab one in your genre and turn off the screen. Just listen to how people talk. When does it sound real or fake? What things are left out so the scene can clip along at a good pace without the blah blah blah?
There are a few no-nos, like too many name tags, too many interjections and vocalized pauses, including too many mundane details or retelling plot points already known to the reader, etc. Otherwise, it’s about how it sounds in the ear.
VERY few monologues. If a person yaps for more than three lines of print, I scrutinize what s/he’s saying and streamline.
Q. Yaps, LOL. Was it hard for you to not just write an entire novel in dialogue at first? (That sounds like a fun experiment…) How did you add the other layers–setting, etc–in? Was it a gradual process for you or did you get it right off the bat?
A. Nobody gets it right the first time. Or the second. Or the fifteenth.
But as a script writer, I always had to include descriptions of stage directions and the scenery, so that just became part of the prose.
And I read voraciously. Writers must read. Read in a variety of genres, even if you only write in one. You can learn from all styles about how they put words and ideas together. How they use timing.
You have to understand, I was also an English teacher, so I’ve been in love with words and literature all my life. I get all excited about a good turn of phrase. I don’t read purely for leisure, even when I want to. I’m always learning and thinking how I’ll incorporate what I learn in my next project.
Q. I have a soft spot in my heart for English teachers. They had a hand in molding me as a PERSON. Ah, some great advice there. Do you know Jennie the screenwriter? Oh my. I cannot remember her last name…
A. I don’t. Sorry.
Q. Ha ha, no worries. I think you two should meet. Anyway…
A. I would love to get into screen writing. My dream job would have been to write scripts for Phineas & Ferb.
Q. Ohmigosh, you should. If you can get a black belt…
A. Exactly! My “affirmation” (embroidered on my first of three black belts) was “I can do hard things!” Any time I have an attainable but difficult goal like that, I think… Hmmm… I’ve done stuff before.
Q. Oh, I remember her name now. Jennie James. That sounds like a stage name too! You stage-type people.
A. It’s the alliterative names.
Q. So tell me about Clean Indie Reads. How it got started, and where it is at now.
A. So… when I published that first book, I was told I was supposed to get on social media. I got onto Facebook and Twitter and fumbled around for a bit. Early on, I met a few indie authors whose books I read. I was super impressed with some and aghast at the terrible quality of others. Since I was musing going indie, I wanted to boost the public opinion of indie authors. I created a blog intended to be a simple book blog where I’d brag about great indie-authored books I’d found. I knew my most likely audience would be church-lady type friends, so I stuck to books that didn’t have explicit content and named the blog Clean Indie Reads.
From there, one of the authors I featured, Elise Stokes, author of the Cassidy Jones Adventure series (awesome!!!) suggested we create a FB group that could help with cross-marketing. That’s how CIR started on Facebook in 2013. It evolved over time to take on more of a mentoring role and less of a selling role.
As we grew, our needs changed. We acquired some heavy-hitters, and our knowledge-base grew exponentially. Now, I think of it as the most amazing author network ever–the people are so helpful and giving of their talents. I’m proud of our members and love what they do for each other.
I think what we get in the way of online learning about the whole indie publishing journey is worth way more than any exposure we might get in a spam-and-run type group.
Q. Nice!! What a great thing to do. Yes, I agree, it’s a fantastic network. How have you seen indie publishing change from those early days? I mean, overall. Maybe some main points. Because obviously technology has changed so much.
A. I’ve seen the respect for it grow. Indie everything is growing, and the whole notion of publishers having to man the gates of quality has withered. Look at YouTubers who are famous. There’s no TV network clearing their quality. If they’re good, the go viral. If they stink, nothing happens. Same with indie musicians on iTunes and other platforms. The idea of going indie and cutting out the middle man has made indie publishing much more palatable and respected. It becomes about quality and your willingness to work hard on marketing.
That said, I do know some extremely talented indie authors who are yet largely undiscovered. I wish there was a way to get samples of their books in more hands. They’re so good!
Q. Great points. I love that analogy with Youtubers. What a phenomenon now. And so agile, considering everything that shut down with COVID. What kinds of books have you published and why?
A. [Insert long pause while I try to figure out the answer to WHY……]
So….. My first book was a fantasy–purely because that was the image from the dream. After that, I wrote a comic mystery and a YA urban fantasy also based on dream ideas. I get a lot of dream ideas. A lot.
A couple of years ago, I challenged myself to write a romance, just to see if I could. It’s not my favorite genre to read, so it was a steep learning curve. But since then, I pushed myself to write two series. They remain my best sellers.
I’ve also written several inspirational books which are always based on either spiritual thoughts I’d shared with friends and decided to expand, or seminars/classes I’ve given in church settings that I decided to expand into a short read nonfiction book.
Q. That is great. You should write non-fiction about dialogue. You recently launched a YA. Remind me the name again…Copernica…
A. The Slumpy Life of Copernica Fletcher.
Q. What inspired that one? Love the title btw.
A. The title came to me in a dream, and I had to write a book to go with it because it was so cute sounding.
Q. It is!
A. I’m telling you, dreams are my source. Chow down on melatonin and let your brain do the work while you rest.
Q. Going back to romance, what did you learn during your learning curve? What do romance readers want?
A. Actually, let me fill in a little more on the Slumpy Life…. I saw teens had very few options to read anything that wasn’t either romance or dystopian, and I thought…. These kids need to LAUGH. So I wrote an anecdotal comedy a la “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” (which I used to read with my son), so girls would have something funny to read.
Q. Yes, I hear you. So true about their reading choices!
A. On the romance thing…. I’ll need to tread lightly here, so as not to offend…. I learned that it’s highly formulaic. There are expected beats, and once you know what they are, you see them in every rom com ever to make bank. I struggled with that.
Q. I want to make bank! Spill the secrets. LOL What would you say are those crucial parts of the formula? Are you thinking of a particular method to refer our readers to?
A. My good friend, Cynthia Port, urged me to keep trying. She basically said, “You know how to do the snappy dialogue. Just set it into the formula.” My characters often didn’t want to have quite the number of push/pull, yes/no, stupid arguments that romance readers expect, but I mostly tried to give them what they want. Not all the way. I don’t make bank, but I make enough to get a new patio set or take a simple vacation, etc.
I would recommend the book Romancing the Beats.
Q. I think I’ve read that.
A. It was the simplest guide that allowed for the most flexibility. Super clear, kind of snarky. Easy to refer back to. Beyond that, I just beg my romance writer experts (those who specialize in romance) to be my beta readers.
Q. Good idea! Here’s an important question. Can an English teacher really get away with making up an imaginary husband?
A. Okay, so a BUNCH of that story was based on autobiographical incidents from my life. The imaginary husband bit was only so far as wearing a ring at work (deli at the supermarket) so guys would stop hitting on me. It worked about 90% of the time. I was cute then.
Like my character, I went from the deli to the classroom. There were no hunky campus cops available, though. Darn it.
Q. What do you think is the secret to longevity in the indie business?
A. Not giving up. Isn’t that the same for any business? Stick it out. All the cliches about marathons vs. sprints. Pack extra water and cushion-soled odor eaters for the run.
KEEP THE DAY JOB!
Q. I hadn’t thought of odor eaters!! We have time for one last question, I think…What is still on your bucket list and why?
A. You mean in writing?
Q. Mmm, if you have one for writing and one for non-writing, go for it!
A. In writing, I want to go back to that debut novel and expand it into an entire series of epic fantasy. It has so many layers, and I think it’s a great start to a meaningful world, but I’ll need no distractions (still home schooling for one more year) to focus on the craft. I want it to shine with my very best writing, my very best world-creating, my very best dialogue to inspire hope and change in the hearts of my readers.
In other bucket list things…. Travel. I did a lot when I was younger, living in Europe and Central America for a time. I’d like to explore the ancient ruins of Greece, countries in Asia and the Pacific, maybe some ruins in the Amazon. Any very old, very lush locations without a zillion gift shops and tourists clogging up the view.
Q. Greece for me too! Lia! That was truly inspiring. I am so glad you said yes to this chat. I really appreciate your taking the time from your busy schedule. And thanks for all you do for indie authors.
A. Thank you very much for this opportunity. It’s always good to stop and think about what you’re doing, and questions from another person force that. You do such a great job with this.
Q. Thank you! ❤