Friday, March 30, 2012
Yep, that’s an actual quote from an in-person review of my new book, Back in the Habit. A co-worker started the morning with, “I finished your book. I liked it, but…” That’s never a good sign. She then asked what the Swedish nun and the facial moles were all about.
I explained that I’d come across folklore in which the location of a facial mole indicated personality type: Greedy, loyal, treacherous, loving, etc. It fascinated me, and I knew I had to use it in a book one day. The title of this post is the response I received. (I’m evil enough to tease you by not revealing what the Swedish nun and the facial moles have to do in Back in the Habit.)
I was innocent enough once to think that when I had a book on bookstore shelves that these slap-in-the-face incidents would be a thing of the past. (I’ll pause while the choking laughter from all published Inkspot readers subsides.) Reality hit soon, in the shape of… reviews.
I learned right away that unless my publicist sends a review along, I don’t read it. I have rhino hide, but a snarky review will always find the cracks in it. Reviews aren’t for authors anyway—they’re for readers.
Besides, I have something infinitely better than any review. I have fans.
Fans are awesome. Total strangers email me to tell me they love my books. Total strangers come to my book signings and ask me to sign their copy. This is as good as standing on stage basking in audience applause (been there too). My books on bookstore shelves are the result of years of work. Fans show me that it was all worth it. They more than make up for people who somehow feel compelled to tell me that I’m weird and my ideas are stupid. (I smiled and shrugged at my co-worker when she said that. There was really nothing else to do.)
Without readers, my books would be gathering dust in a desk drawer.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
|seen on the NY subway: stranger reading Lois Winston's ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN|
from Underground New York Public Library
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
By Deborah Sharp
It’s March, and Florida's full of baseball fans. Excuse me while I tilt back my head and let out a big yawn. I'm a Florida native. I’ve seen more baseball spring training seasons come and go than I care to mention. It’s time to come clean: Baseball bores me cross-eyed.
I get that fans love the springtime package: The sunshine; the smaller stadiums; the players who seem somehow more approachable in Florida. It plays into the sepia-toned nostalgia that afflicts baseball lovers. It reinforces their yearning for the long-gone days of yesteryear, for how the sport used to be.
But I don’t care how baseball is now. Why would I care how it was before?
This attitude doesn't sit well with one of my best friends, a baseball writer I met a million years ago (in the 80s) when we were both starting out as reporters at USA Today. The only good thing about spring training is it brings my pal, Mel Antonen, south to write some stories about America's Pastime.
We've stayed buddies for more than 25 years, despite my lack of interest in his driving passion. My baseball aversion survives intact, despite Mel's near-heroic efforts. Once, he invited me to a spring training game. I brought a book. When I had a chance to see a World Series game in Miami, Mel urged me to go. "Watching the game played at that level will change your life,'' he promised. "You'll finally catch baseball fever.''
But my immune system must be strong, because I didn't catch the fever. The fans were delirious. The noise in the stadium was thunderous. I fell asleep on the bench of a picnic table by the concession stand.
To me, March in Florida doesn't mean spring training. It means I may spot a manatee swimming by in the river behind my house. It means one more month or so of postcard-worthy weather. It’s the last chance for south Floridians to feel smug about living here before summer swelter, bugs, and the threat of hurricanes set in.
Baseball barely comes to mind.
Yet I don't want my friend to think I don't care about what he does. I have a whole list of questions I can pose, with an interested tone in my voice:
So, has the World Series started yet?
Is there really any difference between the American and National leagues?
What's up with that Oriole Orange? Does anybody look good in that color?
Just the other day, I asked Mel how slugger Mark McGwire is hitting. Turns out, the guy’s retired! Who knew?
It is important, though, to fake an interest in your friends’ interests. I mean, c'mon ... you know everyone does it to authors: Hey, how's the next book coming?
I suspect they don't really care to hear you're blocked in Chapter 20, or the motive of the person you thought would be the murderer now seems extremely lame.
How about you? Is there something everyone else loves that bores you silly? Have you ever pretended to find something fascinating to humor friends or family? Do you think authors are more likely to indulge in little white lies, since they make up things for a living?
*Note: If this post seems familiar, it's adapted from a radio essay I did for the NPR station in Tampa, Fla. Not much has changed since then about the way I feel about baseball.
by Jennifer Harlow
One of the most common questions as an author I'm asked, like every darn time, is what advice I would give to aspiring writers. There's the old standbys, "Read A LOT", "Write, write, write," and "Don't wear white shoes after Labor Day." They work! Especially that last one. But one thing that I don't often hear from other authors that really helped me, was take an acting class. Or six years of them like I did.
What? you may be asking. You, the gal who learned to sneeze silently so people wouldn't look at her for a split second, who goes out of her way to blend in so people leave her alone was an actor? Yep-a-roonie. From seventh grade through senior year I was always in drama club or class. I acted in two school plays, a friend's music video, a local PSA, and was even the VP of the club. I was no Meryl Streep (though I can do a Southern, Long Island, Valley Girl, Minnesota “Fargo”, and English accent on cue, not that I'm bragging) (Okay, I so am), but people told me I was pretty darn good. It was just fun. I got to put on a persona and pretend I was someone other than me for awhile. When high school ended, and I moved from SoCal to NoVa, my acting career ended as well. In an official capacity anyway.
What I especially loved about acting was getting lost in being another person. Thinking new thoughts, safely experiencing danger or love without the consequences. The skills I learned on stage translated to when I was writing. When I sit down with pen and paper I have to transform into the person whose story I'm telling, feel what they're feeling at the time so I can put into words that sensation. I have to be that person as if their soul were taking over my body, using my own emotions and memories just like I did onstage. Method acting without the performing, at least sometimes. Once or twice I have been looked at sideways in the library as I was mimicking facial expressions my characters would have. In those instances I'm so lost in my own world this one and Jennifer Harlow have vanished.
Besides the Method, Improv also helped hone my writing skills. I was never the best at it, I always felt like an idiot up there with no props or sets pretending to make a cake or whatever silly exercise my teachers had us do. But in the end me acting a fool helped me write, especially dialogue. When you're across from another actor with my script and minimal props and have to think on your feet while being someone else. You have to speak as them with no rehearsal and what you say has to be both entertaining and topical. While I'm writing I'm like a one woman improv troupe playing out all the other characters. Those sessions in class helped strengthen my wit sword so by senior year I had a witty comeback the moment the other person stopped talking. My sharp tongue is my greatest weapon, and from the letters I've received my greatest writing asset.
So to all you aspiring writers out there, I recommend you take an acting class or two. Not only are they a barrel of monkeys but they'll help you with dialogue and characterization. Acting!
P.S.-I just signed another deal with Midnight Ink! I've been wanting to tell y'all for months, but had to wait for contract negotiations to finish. The books will be stand alone spin-offs of the FREAKS, who will make a cameo in each, and the characters in those will make cameos in each others and the FREAKS books. They're sort of friends of the FREAKS, supplemental to the original series. The first, What's A Witch to Do? will be out 3/13.
Monday, March 26, 2012
What’s in a name?
Plenty, if that name is the title of a book. A book’s title is one of the things that attracts a potential reader’s attention (in addition to the cover, the author name, the blurbs, the reviews, and a crisp twenty-dollar bill sticking out from between the pages).
In other words, you want your titles to POP!
You want your titles to be evocative. Memorable. Dazzling. Mysterious. Inspiring. Enticing. Anything but ho-ho-hum.
Sometimes, authors try too hard or get too cute trying to come up with a good title. I understand Margaret Mitchell wanted to call her book GONE WITH THE ZEPHYR until some sane editor stepped in and gave it a tweak.
I seem to be hit-and-miss with the titles I choose, but it’s not for lack of effort. With each manuscript, I’ll come up with a very long list of possible titles. Then I show that list to my wife and agent, and suddenly that list shrinks to “try again.”
HIDDEN FACETS was the title I used to pitch the book that became DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD. My title makes sense after you’ve read the book, but Midnight Ink came up a title that is catchy, evocative, memorable—you know, all the things a good title should be (thanks, MI!).
Usually, about halfway through a first draft I change the title of my work-in-progress to STEAMING PILE O’ PROSE. While this might not be a good title for a book, this kind of thing seems to work surprisingly well as the title of a blog post.
My working title for the first book of the comedy club series was THE LAST LAFF, until MI decided to ramp it up to KILLER ROUTINE, A LAST LAFF MYSTERY (thanks again, MI!). And while I worked on the sequel, I called it simply KR2, knowing that MI would come through again with a good title. DEADLY CAMPAIGN qualifies in that regard.
Writing as Zak Allen, I’ve e-pubbed two books. And, without a publishing house, I had to title the books myself. The first one, a horror novel, is called THE TASTE, and I have to say, it’s a perfect title (I won’t go into any details here—some people might be eating their breakfast while reading this). The second book, a suspense novel about a radio talk show, is called FIRST TIME KILLER, which is from a line in the book, “long time listener, first time killer.”
I like both titles, but judging from the sales of the e-books, I might be the only one in the English-speaking world who does. I’m seriously considering change their titles to ANOTHER BOOK BY JAMES PATTERSON and STILL ANOTHER BOOK BY JAMES PATTERSON.
Coming up with a good title has always been difficult for me. The very first (and very awful) manuscript I wrote, which I titled FATHERS & SONS until I realized some old Russian had already used that name, now sits in a lead-lined box underneath my bed where it poses no threat to society. In fact, I’ve changed the title of it to NO THREAT TO SOCIETY.
And come to think of it, I’m sure Dave Barry would agree with me when I say that NO THREAT TO SOCIETY would make a great name for a rock band.
Friday, March 23, 2012
By Joe Moore
When I first started attempting to write fiction many years ago, I subscribed to and devoured all the writer’s magazines out there. Writers Digest, Writer, and many more. I read every article, sometimes multiple times, and I would use a yellow highlighter to mark those pearls of wisdom from the experienced authors on how to be a better writer. Over the years, I accumulated large piles of magazines containing many yellow highlights. When the day came to clean out my closet and give the copies away to some of my writer friends, I first sat down and went through every edition, copying those jewels of advice into one complete list. Today, I will share them with you. Maybe you might not agree with them all, but there’s a wealth of advice from countless bestsellers that can help improve anyone’s efforts at being a better author.
And if you’re wondering why this blog post is called Blind Baby Raised by Worms, check writing tip number 35. It’s the only one I personally contributed. Enjoy.
1. Easy writing makes hard reading, but hard writing makes easy reading.
2. Surprise creates suspense.
3. Vulnerability humanizes a character.
4. Anything that does not advance the plot or build character should be deleted.
5. Their reaction to a situation shows a great deal about your characters.
6. What your characters say and do under stress reveals their true feelings.
7. Coincidence is used effectively when it sets up a plot complication instead of a resolution.
8. Use all the senses to build your setting.
9. You are not accountable for the absolute accuracy or completeness of your factual information as long as it’s plausible. Write so it sounds right.
10. You can build characterization by seeing your character from another’s viewpoint.
11. The reader doesn’t know how a story will resolve, but they should have no doubt what must be resolved.
12. As a story grows, so should the obstacles.
13. Any word that can be substituted by a simpler word should be.
14. Suspense is created by having something extraordinary happen in an ordinary situation.
15. The simile includes the quality that is being compared as well as the comparison. The metaphor’s comparative frame of reference is only alluded to in the image used.
16. There must always be conflict in some form to keep the story interesting.
17. Deleting “very” usually strengthens a sentence or phrase.
18. Your story must interest you. If it does, there’s a good chance it will interest someone else.
19. Credible prose is not self-indulgent; it exists to illuminate the story, not to show off how clever the writer can be.
20. If you cannot describe your story in one or two sentences, you’re in trouble.
21. Rather than describing your characters, come up with actions that show what they’re like.
22. One way to decide if sex in a scene is necessary is simply to delete it.
23. If it comes easy, it’s a cliché.
24. Don’t give your characters names that are similar, start with the same letter, or are hard to pronounce.
25. A cliché is a sign of a mind at rest.
26. Think of your settings as a character.
27. The reader must feel that your characters were alive before the story began and will live on after it ends.
28. Begin the story where the reader will anticipate what happens next but is compelled to guess wrong.
29. A commercial novel is one that a lot of people buy, finish reading and tell others to read it.
30. The average reader must be considered a genius with the attention span of a two-year-old.
31. To get an editor’s attention, you have about three paragraphs in a short story and three pages in a novel.
32. Conflict, the basis of all good writing, arises because something is not going as planned.
33. Villains never think of themselves as “bad guys”.
34. Always start with the character, not the plot. The needs of the character will drive the plot.
35. Always use a cheap tabloid-style blog title to grab attention.
Are you a “student” of writing magazines and books? Have they been helpful? If so, which ones?
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Shannon Baker’s wonderful Inkspot entry on Monday, including the insert by Ira Glass, got me thinking about the whole business of wanting to do things and sticking with them long enough to really improve. In the context of Inkspot, the pre-eminent "thing" is writing, but the concepts that Mr. Glass discusses and Ms. Baker underlines really apply to most pursuits.
"I want to write a [novel, memoir, poem, book about...]...." When I teach workshops or participate in mixed-level writers' groups, I hear this all the time. The impulse to do something, and especially to create something, is widespread. I’d even argue that it’s a fundamental human drive, because it’s hard to find a child who isn’t eager to learn and make and do things. I would definitely argue that the creative urge plays out in more than the fields we typically think of as "creative" – writing, visual arts, dance, music, and so on. Take dog training.
My new "Animals in Focus Mystery" series focuses in each book on a different animal activity, with dog obedience in the spotlight in book one, Drop Dead on Recall. In fact, the title is a play on the name for one of the exercises in open- (mid-) level obedience competition. For more than a decade I taught obedience classes, mostly to pet owners who wanted gain some control of their dogs. Many did fine, and emerged at the end of the class with slightly improved skills for communicating with their dogs. Some were inspired to continue training, and a few of those eventually went on to compete. At each step up that ladder from "my dog is dragging me down the street" to "my dog just earned an obedience title!" there were dropouts, because I’m here to tell you that as easy as it looks when you see a well-oiled dog-and-owner team perform (like my friend Gayle Watkins and her lovely Corey, below), it took them a lot of hard work to get there.
So it goes with writing. Many people begin with an urge to write. Some have a specific project in mind – often a memoir – but some just feel they’d like to try writing and find their subject as they go. They take a class or two, or join a writers’ group, or go to a conference. It’s fun at first. Then the fun becomes more complicated. And painful. Not all criticism is "constructive," and even when it is, it’s hard to hear. Don’t even think about rejection – except if you’re serious about publishing, you’d better get used to the idea! (Ah, another topic for another day.) So like the doggy-school dropouts who don’t want to spend time teaching the things their dogs don’t learn (or obey) quickly, a lot of beginning and intermediate writers dropout when the pleasures of writing begin to bump up against disappointments and plain old hard work.
And it takes a lot of hard work to be good, much less great (at writing, at anything). Many people quit when this becomes evident. I'd say that's sad, but I'm not sure it is. I think we should try something new every so often. I encourage everyone to do so, especially anyone who teaches – take a class in an art form or a sport or a subject completely new to you. It will expand your own frame of reference, and it may lead you to a new passion. It will also remind you how hard learning is so that you’ll see what you teach from a newcomer’s perspective.
As for the quitting, I think that’s okay too. Because quitting doesn’t mean failure. It means we have successfully identified our lack of interest or skill in a particular activity. It means we can move on to try something else, or we can go back to what we already know and love. Poet Jack Gilbert wrote, "Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew....I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell, but just coming to the end of his triumph."
Thanks to Gayle Watkins and Corey (U-CD LornaDoone Encore! Encore! CDX SH MX MXJ NF WCX OD VCX CCA TT) for permission to use the video. All other photos except book cover from iStockphoto.
Sheila W. Boneham, Ph.D., is the author of the forthcoming "Animals in Focus" mystery Drop Dead on Recall (now available for pre-order) as well as award-winning books about pets including Rescue Matters! How to Find, Foster, and Rehome Companion Animals (Alpine, 2009), The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting and Owning a Cat (Alpha, 2005), and fifteen others. Sheila's books are available from your local bookseller and on line. Learn more at www.sheilaboneham.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sheilawrites.
Monday, March 19, 2012
I was still on the phone when Terri, who happened to be in town for the conference as a guest editor, walked into my house with an outrageous grin. She'd read my manuscript, pushed it through acquisitions and gotten an offer pulled together so I could not only announce my first book deal at the conference amongst my friends, but so she could be there when it all went down!
l spend my days describing scenes and scenarios, but I'm not sure I have the words for what it's like to have your editor standing in your house when your agent calls to tell you you're about to get your first publishing deal.
Suffice it to say, it was one of the best, most incredible, days of my life.
Terri bought my series, in part, because she'd read and liked my stand alone mainstream suburban satire called THE BIG BANG.
Which leads me to today.
Don't believe it when you hear the old cliche that lightning doesn't strike twice.
I'm here to tell you, it can and does.
Not sure what time this will hit Publisher's Marketplace today but check this out:
Former Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers President Linda Joffe Hull's The Big Bang, pitched as Desperate Housewives with Fertility Issues, to Ben LeRoy at Tyrus Books, for publication in Fall 2012, by Josh Getzler at Hannigan Salky Getzler (NA).
When I used to whine to my husband that everyone else was getting publishing deals and I was just sitting there day after day banging my head on the computer, he'd always say, "Someday you'll have your own crazy, amazing story to tell."
I read something recently and just had to share it. It is a quote from Ira Glass. He’s the interesting and wildly successful guy who does “This American Life” on NPR. If you’ve ever listened to his show, you know he's got a unique voice, sort of high pitched and thoughtful, with a bit of staccato rhythm. I can hear him say these words:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative
work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you
make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has
potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you
into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work
disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they
quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work
went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have
this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through
this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this
phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing
you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so
that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going
through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and
your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone
I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way
Did I mention he’s wildly successful? And yet, he admits that he, like the rest of us, was riddled with doubts. He didn’t start off being great. He worked at it. Worked really hard.
I find this encouraging and inspirational and disappointing all at the same time. It means I can’t quit. I’m not as good as my hero-writers and suspect I’ll never rise to their level. I’d like to settle for “good enough.”
Mr. Glass’s quote tells me I can never stop trying to be a better writer. That’s daunting. But he also tells me that hard work will pay off. I will improve over time. And so, thank you, Mr. Glass for giving me the proverbial homework for the rest of my life.
How about you? Does Ira Glass’s quote inspire or exhaust you?
Friday, March 16, 2012
Create Something Magical conference for readers and writers. A book fair, open to the public, will take place from 5:30pm - 7pm at the Renaissance Woodbridge Hotel, 515 Route 1 South and Gill Lane, Iselin, NJ
Something happened to me this year that I still can't believe. I'll tell you at the end, but it involves Agatha Christie and an organization called Malice Domestic. I'd like to tell you a bit about both of these first.
Agatha Christie. Her books were written in a time, some might say, of less exposure to violence, although I think the two World Wars exposed everyone in her generation to quite a bit of it. She wrote two series that are read and re-read today, those starring Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. Her Tommy and Tuppence books and some stories with other sleuths aren't widely read, but I'll bet you'll find a Miss Marple and a Hercule Poirot, at least one of each, checked out of your local library every time you go. You'll also find them on bookshelves everywhere--36 years after her death in 1976. (For writers today, take heart, it took even Agatha several years to get her first novel published.)
The Awards, given annually at the Malice Domestic conference, are given to mystery and crime writers who write via the same method as Agatha Christie. Ideally, that means there is a closed setting, no sex or violence, and an amateur detective. Global thriller and psychological suspense writers need to seek awards elsewhere.
Malice Domestic Ltd. has been around since 1989 when Best Novel, Best First Novel, and Best Short Story Awards were given. Other categories were added over the years, and a new one appeared this year. Awards are now given for Best Novel, Best First Mystery, Best Short Story, Best Non-Fiction, Best Children's/Young Adult Mystery, Best Historical Mystery (the new one this year).
Everyone who is registered for the April-May conference by December 31st of the preceding year receives a ballot and is invited to nominate five books or stories in each category. A panel of judges chooses the five in each category to put on the ballot. The attendees vote for one of each and the award, a teapot, is given at the banquet on Saturday night.
This conference is so well-organized and fun. And it's run by a volunteer board of people who give up their outside lives (I'm sure) for a few months to run it.
A picture of a teapot is here. This is Avery Aames winning last year! Coincidentally, the two gigglers in the background are me and Janet Bolin.
It's a coincidence, because here's the list for Best First Novel for this year:
Choke by Kaye George (Mainly Murder Press)
Learning to Swim by Sara J. Henry (Crown)
Who Do, Voodoo? by Rochelle Staab (Berkley)
Tempest in the Tea Leaves by Kari Lee Townsend (Berkley)
I am still hyperventilating when I see that list! You can read this year's complete list of nominees in all categories here.
Kaye George is the Agatha-nominated author of Choke.
Some of the information for this post was taken from the Agatha Christie website and Wikipedia.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Three is a magic number,
Yes it is, it's a magic number.
Somewhere in the ancient, mystic trinity
You get three as a magic number.
The past and the present and the future.
Faith and Hope and Charity,
The heart and the brain and the body
Give you three as a magic number.
(Lyrics by Bob Dorough)
I’ve always loved the number three.
It’s what I count to before losing my cool, how many square meals I’ll down in a day, and the amount of tasks I can juggle and still keep smiling. It’s the number of acts in a classic story structure, and the number of elements in a joke. It’s how many kids I always wanted, as well as how many I’m blessed to have. And now, it’s even more magical because of the arrival of my third mystery, Deadly Offer.
There are several reasons why this new novel thrills me. First, I particularly love Deadly Offer’s cover, with its gorgeous depiction of a creepy vineyard. I like the back cover’s heading, “A Twisted Vine of Secrets,” and the prologue’s succinct, scary, opening line: “I will kill you.”
I love the fact that I have a growing stack of Darby Farr Mysteries on my writing desk. Three! Count ‘em, three! One could have been a fluke; two, a lucky break, but three has the power of intention. My career as a mystery writer feels real.
The ancient Romans believed '”omne trium perfectum,” or, everything that comes in threes is perfect. I like that idea, and consequently I’m commemorating Deadly Offer’s publication with a party in a picture-perfect setting: Cellardoor Winery, located right here in coastal Maine.
If you’re in the area, please join me on April 5th and help me celebrate a magic number and my magical day. I f you can’t make it, raise a glass (or three) to Deadly Offer’s launch. Thanks!
Top producing Realtor Vicki Doudera uses high-stakes, luxury real estate as the setting for a suspenseful mystery series starring crime-solving, deal-making agent Darby Farr. A broker with a busy coastal firm since 2003 and former Realtor of the Year, Vicki’s latest mystery, DEADLY OFFER, takes Darby to a winery where murder, mayhem, and Merlot all mingle. As in the popular KILLER LISTING and A HOUSE TO DIE FOR, Darby discovers a dangerous truth: real estate means real trouble. Read more about the Darby Farr Mystery Series and Vicki at her website, www.vickidoudera.com.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
By Beth Groundwater
I'm sure many of my fellow Midnight Ink authors are going to relate to this post, because most of us are writing a series and many of us are writing more than one series. What that means is that at any given moment in time, like the juggler above, we have multiple balls (book projects) in the air, that all demand a piece of our attention.
Right now, I am frantically editing the third manuscript for my RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series, that I am calling Cataract Canyon. It is due in April, and I have multiple critiques to respond to. My critique group has been giving me feedback a couple of chapters at a time, and has four chapters to go. Also, my agent and a trusted fellow mystery author are reading the full manuscript. My agent has already sent me some suggestions, and I'm expecting more from her and those from my author friend soon. Then, I'll somehow have to merge all of the fixes from all of those critiques into one coherent manuscript in less than a month. Eek!
At the same time, I have another ball in the air, the release in May of the second book in the RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series, Wicked Eddies. For that, I need to design and print bookmarks, prepare blog posts for blogs that I'll visit to promote that release, schedule booksignings at bookstores and whitewater festivals and get those appearances listed on my website, plan travel to mystery conferences and writing workshops and prepare panel presentations and speeches, and much more.
How do I manage? Every morning, I look at my long, long to-do list, find the long-pole items that need to be completed first for other things to happen, or tasks that take a long time and should be chipped away at, or tasks that are due very soon, and put those on my daily to-do list. For instance, here's what I did yesterday and the day before.
I need to get an email newsletter out soon to my subscribers. But for that to happen, I need to list my appearances on my website because I'll be referring to those in the newsletter, which means I need to finalize them. So, phone calls to bookstore owners went on the list, as did finalizing travel plans to the Malice Domestic conference and the Festival of Mystery. And, I emailed the latest winner of my email newsletter subscriber contest, because the announcement of her win will go in the newsletter. Also, I edited the first two chapters of Cataract Canyon (again) based on my agent's feedback, and I will edit the next two today. Lastly, I had to write this post, because it was due today. Then there's the daily email and social networking to get through. And there's the rest of my life--laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, and a couple of hours of skiing for exercise.
Every day I have decisions to make, too, about promotion opportunities, requests from fellow writers for advice, blurbs, blog visits, etc., and other demands for my time. I've learned to never say yes right away. Instead, I let the request lie in my inbox or in my voice mail for awhile. Then, when I get a breather between my scheduled tasks, I go back to my to-do list and calendar and make a realistic assessment about how important the request is and whether I can cram the new task into my schedule.
You may think that after May, I get a breather. But no. Hovering in the air are two more book project balls. I need to do a final edit of the third book in my Claire Hanover Gift Basket Designer mystery series, that I'm calling Basketful of Troubles, by its due date in August. Then, there's promotion to be planned for the re-release of the second book in that series, To Hell in a Handbasket, in November. Then the cycle begins again for the RM Outdoor Adventures series!
Many of my non-author friends think that because I can schedule my own time, I have a lot of free time. That's not the case by a long-shot. My writing career is a full-time job, and I work at least forty hours a week at it. That means that if I go skiing in the morning, I'm writing a blog post at 9 PM, like I'm doing now.
So, what about you? How do you keep those balls in the air in your life?
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
I cut my teeth on Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer and Barbara Ueland’s If You Want to Write as basics. Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, Vein of Gold, and The Sound of Paper are a lot about finding yourself as an artist, and still provide inspiration when I’m wondering why the heck I do this again? But if I had to choose just ten books to keep on my office shelf (not counting things like a Webster’s Dictionary, Roget’s Thesaurus and Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and Elements of Grammar), these are the volumes I’d choose.
On Writing by Stephen King. Well, duh. Not exactly like I’m alone in this one. Full of practical advice, inspiration, and autobiographical detail.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Sorry – another duh, but still one of my favorite books for keeping sane in the middle of a project, reminding me that I only have to fill a space the size of a picture frame right now, not write the whole book at once, and that shitty first drafts can be fixed up later.
Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. A collection of essays that are not only examples of writing I want to emulate, but full of joy and passion for the craft. He wants you to love it, to do it every day, and to be true to your voice.
Starting from Scratch by Rita Mae Brown. I love her mysteries, I love her mainstream literary fiction, and I love her writing book. She includes practical writing advice (with an emphasis on the classics) but also practical living-as-a-writer advice. Things like writing with a day job, dealing with critics, editors, agents, and others in the industry, as well as emphasizing that you have to persist no matter what.
Anything by Eric Maisel. Yes, this is totally cheating because now there are more than ten books. But Maisel wears a lot of useful hats, because he’s a doctor of psychology with an MFA, as well as a professional, hands on, writer of fiction and nonfiction with a degree in philosophy. He’s a creativity coach, and understands some of the craziness writers and other artists are prone to. Of course, I’m not talking about anyone here, right? The following are a sampling of his titles:
- Fearless Creating: A Step-by-Step Guide to Starting and Completing Your Work of Art
- Brainstorm: Harnessing the Power of Productive Obsessions
- Mastering Creative Anxiety
- The Van Gogh’s Blues: The Creative Person’s Path Through Depression
- Deep Writing: 7 Principles That Bring Ideas to Life
- Ten Zen Seconds
The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler. I’ve heard this modern classic called a book on formula, but I think it’s more about the universal elements of storytelling that have appealed, well, forever. He breaks things down in terms of structure, archetypes, and the psychology of myth.
Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee. Yeah, okay, I love the movie Adaptation and how Charlie Kaufman pokes fun at McKee, but I learned a lot about storytelling from this book – including why my instincts told me to go certain directions with plot or character. It’s a heavy tome, though, and if you want a short work with many of the same concepts, try The Poetics by Aristotle.
How to Write: Advice and Reflections by Richard Rhodes. From the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb, this is another book with practical advice woven into personal essay. It’s part memoir and part psychological treatise on the emotional aspects of writing well. However, the best writing advice in it might be, “Apply ass to chair.”
No More Rejections: 50 Secrets to Writing a Manuscript that Sells by Alice Orr. Though the subtitle on this book is small enough that I’m afraid people in the coffee shop will think I’m having relationship problems (like they give a hoot what I read, right?) this book is chock full of good, practical stuff that, to my great chagrin, I sometimes forget: How to deepen characters, how to write a good, useful sex scene, what you need to know before you start to write even if you end up leaving it out, etc. It’s geared for novel writers, especially genre writers.
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard. Yep, another Pulitzer Prize winner (for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek). Rather than a pep talk, she delves into how hard writing can be – she really hates it sometimes – and how utterly frightening, while at the same time it can be an almost spiritual experience. Her writing is real and human and accessible while being inspirational and raw as well. Of course, I love everything she’s written, even the rather obscure The Living.
What are your favorite writing books? As a reader, do you like reading about how writers like these think?
Monday, March 12, 2012
by Kathleen Ernst
Two good writerly things happened in the past couple of weeks. First, I got to see the final cover art for the third Chloe Ellefson mystery, The Light Keeper’s Legacy, which will be out in October. I love the cover, and suspect that readers will too.
Second, I got to announce a big project in the children’s arena. For the past three years I’ve been working on a six-book series for American Girl, but it’s all been under wraps. Although most of it is still under wraps, I was able to announce that it’s going to be published in the fall. That was fun.
Writers seize opportunities when they come. I’ve been blessed with a lot of opportunity lately. That’s wonderful, but it also meant that the past year in particular was…shall we say…intense.
Early on, my husband and I talked about keeping on a book-a-year schedule for Chloe, and we both felt that was important. The Light Keeper’s Legacy turned out to be the most complicated book yet. (I didn’t plan it that way, but that’s the way the story evolved.) It includes multiple timelines and required a lot of research. I ju-u-ust barely made my deadline. At more than one point I truly wondered if I could pull it off. I was so head-down on the thing that it all felt very abstract.
Then I got to see the cover. Suddenly, it started looking and feeling like a real book.
Even better, it’s the third Chloe Ellefson mystery. To me, that makes it official: I’m writing a series. The dictionary I checked defined a series as “a set of successive volumes published in like form with similarity of subject or purpose.” I’d like to think I’m building some momentum.
Midnight Ink recently released their list of titles for the fall 2012 list. It’s an impressive list. I’m proud to be part of it.
Friday, March 9, 2012
On Saturday, March 17th, Lois Winston will be taking part in the Liberty States Fiction Writers
Create Something Magical conference for readers and writers. A book fair, open to the public, will take place from 5:30pm - 7pm at the Renaissance Woodbridge Hotel, 515 Route 1 South and Gill Lane, Iselin, NJ
My name is Robert K. Lewis, and I'm one of the new kids on the Inkspot block. I got the call about my Midnight Ink sale back in January, and since then have been up to my elbows in rewrites until just about five days ago. So now I have a little room to breathe, which is nice, and which also means I can start contributing to this great blog on a regular rotation. I'm very excited to be able to do so, too. :-)
Before I do anything else, I want to first give a huge thank you to all the other Inkers who have welcomed me so warmly and graciously. What an amazing group of writers I find myself involved with! Truly awesome!
For my first blog post, I thought I would just tell you a little bit about myself, so without further ado...
I started writing novels about seven years ago, those first couple years overlapping with the decade I spent writing screenplays. As a screenwriter, I sold one script to an indie producer, and though it got made into a film, the film never could land a distribution deal. I had a few screenplay managers over that decade, and a few options. The novel that landed me my wonderful agent, Barbara Poelle, was the fourth novel I'd written, and was an earlier incarnation of the book that eventually sold to Midnight Ink. The tentative title is Unknown Damage, and features the debut of my series detective, the ex-narco cop Mark Mallen. If Mallen and I are lucky, I'll be writing him for a long time.
My influences would not only be the noirish and gritty detectives of authors like Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane, but also Frank and Henry Kane, Donald Westlake and his alter ego, Richard Stark.
Beyond that, however is the influence of movies shot in New York between 1968 through about 1981. New York in those days wasn't just a location, it was practically another character. Movies such as Midnight Cowboy, Panic in Needle Park, Serpico, Death Wish, Fort Apache the Bronx, The French Connection, and The Seven Ups went far in influencing my writing style and the characters that inhabit my book worlds.
I also play blues guitar, with some rock tossed into the mix. Stevie Ray Vaughn, Albert, B.B., and Freddie King, Buddy Guy, Hendrix, Jimmy Page... these are the guys that have heavily influenced my playing. I'm a total guitar junkie, if truth be told.
Oh, and there's the red wine. Old vine Zin, please, thank you!
Anyway, I would just like to say again how happy I am to be a part of this group of writers, and this publisher. I'm very many times blessed, and that's a fact.
Best, and see you again soon!
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
By Deborah Sharp
I wonder if Charlaine Harris (she's pictured, left) has to chase ducks out of her writing spot? Or is she so rich and famous from her Sookie Stackhouse books she has someone to do it for her? A duck wrangler, if you will?
I'm thinking about that this morning as I've gotten up for the third time from my Florida porch and run shouting and waving my notebook at a particularly bold Muscovy drake. He prefers my backyard pool -- and its formerly white deck -- to the river only a few waddling duck steps away.
So far today, it's Duck 2; Deborah 0. Not only has he managed to distract me from writing, I also slipped in a smear of duck poo. Splat. Even though Charlaine is a known duck-lover, I bet even she would have conjured up a vampire by now to dispatch this particular duck.
What do my duck issues and Charlaine Harris have in common, you might ask? (I know I am.) She was a a guest of honor at Sleuthfest over the weekend in Orlando. I'm on the board of Mystery Writers of America/Fla. Chapter, which sponsors the annual event. It was one of our best ever. I'm so proud of the many volunteers and board members who do waaaaay more work than I do to make Sleuthfest one of the top mystery conferences in the nation.
Charlaine was incredibly kind and gracious, even sitting in the audience at panels when she wasn't scheduled to speak. As far as I know, she didn't kill a single duck while in Florida.
The point is, all writers have irritations and distractions, even Charlaine Harris. Of course, hers include things like her publisher demanding she do day-long visits to book warehouses, where she must autograph her work over and over (and over and over and over and over and over ...) This is so stores across the globe can be shipped signed copies to sell. So far, I haven't been irritated or distracted in such a way.
What about you? What distracts you from doing your job? What's most irritating about your work? If you're a writer, and not yet as successful as Charlaine Harris, here's a multiple choice answer to get you started:
A) Chasing critters (or family members) from your writing space.
B) Royalty statements that make your tax guy laugh.
C) Spending more at conferences than you make all year.
D) Stretching to make a blog post point by taking the name of Charlaine in vain.
E) All of the above.
Really, because it's really f%$#@^g fun.
Though I grew up with three brothers and a revolving door of brothers friends living with us, I always ended up being the one to do guy things with my dad. I was the one who tossed the ball around with him in the backyard. I was the one who went fishing with him. And I was the one who he invited to go shooting with him. I had a little experience with shooting as when I was a child of five I fired my first rifle. I just remember a huge bang, pain in my shoulder, and my father, who was behind me, comforting me afterwards. It would be thirteen years before I'd pick up a gun again.
I grew up around guns. Though we lived in the suburbs my dad loved collecting them. Pistols, rifles, even an AK before they became illegal. They were always under lock and key but on occasion he'd pull one out to clean it. They scared me. They could kill people. But as I got older and started to read mystery novels I became more and more fascinated with them. Could I hit the target? What did it feel like to hold a death machine in my hand? When my dad bought my brother a BB gun he quickly got bored with it, but I'd spend hours in the backyard hitting cans on the fence. At eighteen I felt I was ready to graduate to the real thing.
I was nervous when I walked into the shooting range. I was afraid I'd shatter my ear drum. I was afraid it'd hurt my arms. Mostly I was afraid I'd make an ass of myself. And I did. Because no matter how many guns my dad had, he had never shot a one of them since that time I was a kid. But I didn't know that at the time. (More on that later.) I shot a Glock 9mm at first. It was heavy in my hands, heavier than I thought it would be. And when it came time to pull the trigger I was in for a shock. The force was hard, like someone shoving me back. Even with the mufflers the sound made me wince. But...I could feel the power in my hands. And I hit the target seven out of ten times! I left that range feeling like hot shit. Dad and I went twice more, and I went once with my brother, but it was an expensive hobby and I got really busy. I didn't pick up a gun for seven years. Then I moved to California.
My family was worried about me living alone across the country, though I had two roommates, so they insisted I get a gun. A month before I moved Dad and I walked into a gun store, and about two hours later I walked out with a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver (Virginia has very lax gun regulations, not sure that's a good thing.) I put it away and mostly forgot about it until things got nuts in CA. It was a tough time, and working out and screaming into my pillow three times a day just wasn't cutting it anymore. Though I was nervous to walk into a shooting range alone I did it anyway. There I was, firing away, when an elderly man saddled up beside me. At first I thought he was a freak, but then he told me I was doing everything wrong. My stance, my breathing, how I pulled the trigger was totally wrong. (Thanks, Dad.) Here is the wisdom he imparted:
1. Feet shoulder length apart and flat.
2. Use tea cup grip-one hand on base of handle and other around it
3. Lock your elbows
4. Don't put your finger on the trigger until the last moment
5. Keep both your eyes open
6. As you're about to fire take a deep breath, letting it out as you squeeze, not pull the trigger
7. Rinse and repeat
By doing this, I hit the target 10 out of 10 times. So thank you anonymous gun enthusiast. I now know how to kill someone more effectively.
Guns should be considered a tool. Like a chainsaw you need to read the instructions and practice before you use it. It's a good skill to have. And it does make you feel like a badass. I just pray none of us ever really need to know how to use this particular tool.