Carmel Valley writer gaining international readership as e-Author of ‘chick lit’ novels
By Arthur Lightbourn
Dee DeTarsio, a former TV producer/writer, is convinced that life (i.e. “the universe”) gives us “clues” every once in awhile on how to proceed. “Sometimes things happen that direct you to a certain path.”
Take the time, about eight months ago, when, after laboring for 10 years writing women’s “chick lit” fiction novels that never found a publisher, suddenly her agent, actually her third agent, became a recession casualty and lost her job.
DeTarsio, mother of two college-age children, had written some seven novels, had lots of encouragement along the way, but no sales — and now, no agent.
How’s that for a “clue!”
“I was devastated,” she recalls, “and went into a real funk.”
That’s when her husband, a television director of photography and practical guy, suggested, “Get it on Amazon.”
He had bought DeTarsio a Kindle, the portable e-book reader, for Christmas a few years back, but she knew virtually nothing about the intricacies of e-publishing, and then there was this “stigma” she felt about self-publishing.
She thought about it and finally, like one of those damsels in distress in her novels, she “took matters into my own hands and joined the digital revolution.”
“There still is kind of a stigma about e-publishing and self-publishing,” she admits, “but I decided, ‘I’m gonna do it.’ And I’m so glad I did.
“No one read my books before and now I have 10,000 people who have read my books — two novels and a novella published already and three more novels on deck and ready to go.”
Her first Amazon Kindle novel, “The Scent of Jade,” priced at $2.99, published last October, is a quirky action-adventure that follows a woman lost in the Costa Rican rainforest with an ancient idol that may hold secrets to global warming — a sort of a combination of “Romancing the Stone” meets “Survivor.”
The idea of writing an action-adventure chick-lit was triggered, she said, by an observation made by her husband. “He’s a really great editor,” she said. She reads her manuscripts to him at night when they are in bed.
One night, he said, “Boy, women sure do think a lot. Can’t you blow something up or kill somebody.”
Good idea, she thought, for her, a departure from traditional chick lit. “Women are good multi-taskers. We can have deep thoughts even while we’re on the run with a jade monkey in the jungle. That novel was so much fun to write.”
She is currently working on a screenplay adaptation of “The Scent of Jade.”
To spur on the marketing, she added a novella, at the almost give-away price of 99 cents, “Til Somebody Loves You,” a chick lit set in Chicago which portrays a “damsel in distress” copywriter’s search for her one true love.
And, she just published her third work, another women’s fiction novel, “The Kitchen Sink,” which she still has to promote, but it is already finding a readership.
In three months, DeTarsio’s works attracted more than 3,000 downloads, and, depending on the day, was #60 in the Amazon Kindle humor category, #70 in romantic suspense, and reached #6 on Amazon.com romantic fiction in Great Britain.
We interviewed DeTarsio in her home in Carmel Valley/Torrey Highlands.
She’s a super-energy mother of two college-age children. Before she became a stay-at-home mom, she used to make her living as a television producer/writer, freelancer and marketing director.
DeTarsio was born Dee Frampton in Fremont, Ohio, the “classic” middle child and in a family of five sisters. Her dad is a retired plumbing and heating contractor and former gas station owner. Her mom was an insurance sales rep.
Although her father was never famous, she likes to say, and her mother never beat her (that hard), she suspects that one of her sisters is a vampire.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis in mass media from Ohio State University in 1982, she left the cold of Ohio for a job as a TV news producer at a TV station in Tucson, Ariz., ironically with the call letters KOLD-TV, where she worked for three years and met her future husband, John DeTarsio, who was a cameraman.
The couple subsequently moved to San Diego; he, working in television and she, initially joining SeaWorld’s entertainment department as a producer/writer, and then signing on with the NBC affiliate 7/39 as a public affairs producer/writer and associate producer of the Larry Himmel live comedy show.
“Then I got pregnant with Tyler (her first-born) and I was an at-home mom, but also did freelance producing and writing for television and then went to the print side as a writer in the marketing department of Children’s Hospital and later as marketing director of a cosmetic dermatology group, where I got free Botox.”
And through all that, she filled hundreds of “sticky notes” with story ideas for her favorite genre, women’s fiction, and even wrote a novel, “which will never see the light of day, but it was fun.”
“I write what I like to read, women’s fiction and chick lit, and I’m a ‘happily-ever-after’ kind of girl. It’s really hard for me to read sad endings. I feel ripped off.”
Two of her favorite authors are Susan Isaacs, one of the early women’s fiction writers, whose characters tend to be funny, smart and mouthy, but can be a damsel in distress and can also save their own day; and Irish writer Marian Keyes, a skillful story-teller with wit and marvelously funny characters.
Although her first attempt at a novel was never published, it did result in her getting her first of eventually three agents, which encouraged her to keep on writing, and motivated her to take a writing class at UCSD called ‘Unmuddling the Middle’ taught by author Janice Steinberg.
“That was my first exposure of letting people, who were unrelated to me, read my stuff and tell me what they liked and what they didn’t, and it was mortifying,” she said. “You’re so vulnerable.”
But, she conceded, it was an invaluable way for her to learn and grow as a writer.
That writing class then led to her being invited to join a book-writing group that she has been with now for four years and that has helped her in editing her manuscripts.
She hired a friend who is a graphic artist and photographer to create covers for her books. (“A dog cover can sink your ship,” she warns.) And she commissioned professionals online in India to format her books so they could be uploaded correctly to Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook.
To get her books on Apple’s iPad, she also had to go through one of eight aggregate suppliers. “One of them is called Smashwords, an online book source, and that’s who I used. By publishing myself, through Smashwords, I was able to get on the Apple iBookstore for the iPad, as well as the Sony e-reader, Diesel, Kobo and the Nook.
And, of course, you have to pay to have your Website designed.
“You want to be as professional and serious-looking to compete with authors with publishing contracts. That’s the goal.”
What she loves most about her life as an e-writer is writing.
What she likes least is having to self-promote. “It stinks,” she insists, but as an eAuthor, it is absolutely essential, she believes. “Since we don’t have a physical ‘tree book’ to sell, eAuthors have to work extra hard to find a spot on readers’ bookshelves.”
No easy job, she said, because “there are millions of me out there,” e-Authors trying to sell their books. “You just have to hope you have a good story to tell and that people find you.”
Drawing on her marketing savvy, she has offered giveaways as incentives, free Kindle egift books from Amazon and gift certificates on the Nook, as well as PDF files for people without eReaders.
Her e-books are priced between 99 cents and $2.99 per book. She receives a royalty of 35 percent on her 99-cent books and 70 percent on her higher priced books.
She is beginning to see some profit. “I’ve made my costs back,” she says happily, “but the villa in Italy still remains a fantasy.”
Name: Dee DeTarsio
Distinction: Former local TV producer/writer Dee DeTarsio, who joined the digital revolution, is gaining international readership as an eAuthor of chick lit novels after 10 years of trying to publish through traditional literary print publishers.
Resident of: Carmel Valley/Torrey Highlands
Born: Fremont, Ohio
Education: B.A. in communications with emphasis in mass media, Ohio State University, 1982
Family: Married to television director of photography John DeTarsio. They have two children: Tyler, 21, and Gianna, 19, both communications students at Cal State San Marcos.
Favorite TV: “The Soup” on E! Entertainment Television and HG (Home and Gardens) TV
Recent reading: “Daughters of Rome,” by Kate Quinn; and “Heads, You Lose,” by Lisa Lutz
Physical regimen: Daily workouts at the Pacific Athletic Club
Philosophy: “Life gives us clues along the way.”
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