V for Vested

V is for Vested 2015 A to Z Challenge -- April J. MooreThis is my grandmother holding her first grandchild—my sister. Even before Amy was born, Grandma had a vested interest in her. No monies, just love. Of course the gains on that investment repaid ten fold. 

We often hear writers reference their books as their babies. There’s a lot of truth to this: we labor over it for months, or years and it can be painful and joyous. Just as squeezing something the size of a football out of something the size of pea, is one helluva accomplishment, so is writing a book—usually. (Not to minimize childbirth, but go with me on this.)

In addition to time, writers put a lot of blood, sweat, and plenty of tears, into their work, so to say they have a vested interest in their book, is an understatement. Being emotionally vested is no joke. The idea, would be that in return for the emotional turmoil of writing a fantastic book, the writer gets paid (yes, please) and that the book receives high praise. Right? We all want to experience some level of success, that of which, is different for everyone.

Do you feel this way about your work? Do you feel devastated if your work isn’t received as well as you hoped? Do you think that the amount of work you put forth into your writing is worth every writing hour; every rip-you-hair-out moment; every agonizing editing session? Or is it easier for you to cut your losses and move on if a writing investment doesn’t go as planned? 

Where do you draw the line between love and business?

 

U is for Uncertainty

U is for Uncertainty 2015 A to Z Challenge -- April J. MooreUh, there’s some uncertainty going on here . . .

But not us writers, right? I mean come on, whoever heard of such a ridiculous thing? I mean, if there was ever a group of people more certain about what they do, it’s wri—

Ahem.

*Covers mic*

*Frantic whispering*

What?!

*Embarrassed look + nervous laugh*

Uh, well, apparently I might be wrong about that . . .

Yeah. Covered, wrapped, coated, slathered and dipped in uncertainty and self-doubt; that’s how we writers roll—at least once in a while. Will people like it? Will readers “get it?” Am I making a fool of myself? Uncertainty can get us into trouble. It can stop us in our tracks and derail our progress. It can make us over-think everything, thus, hinder ourselves. It can cause great works from ever getting read at all.

When you feel this way, here’s what I suggest:

  • Try to establish why you’re uncertain. Is the work offensive? Poorly written or executed? So personal you’re afraid of how it’ll be received? Pinpoint the WHY.
  • Let someone whom you trust for an honest opinion, read it. 
  • Decide what to do with their advice, then move the f*!@ on. 
  • If you can’t shake the uncertainty, give yourself some distance and write something new, then come back to the work in question, with some clarity. 

A lot of uncertainty comes from our insecurities. Banish those right now, otherwise, they’ll always get the best of you—and your work.

How do you deal with uncertainty as a writer?

T is for Trends

T is for Trends 2015 A to Z Challenge -- April J. Moore

As you can see back in 1985, my sister and I were rocking a few trends: Banana-seat bikes, leg warmers, and those heated curlers called Benders.
BendersThey were all the rage, let me tell you. Okay, trendsetters, we were not. 

When it comes to writing, do you think it’s important to follow trends?

I don’t know about you, but by the time I’ve identified a trend in writing, it’s already too late to cash in. In fact, I’ve heard agents say to never follow trends; just write a great book. Andy Ward, Nonfiction Editorial Director at Random House says, “Most of the books I work on take two to four years from acquisition to publication, so I feel in some ways that trying to predict trends is a recipe for frustration or even failure. I look for books that have the potential to survive any given moment, that either present ideas or writing that will be as interesting two years from now as they are today. So I guess the trend I try to follow is quality, whenever possible.”

Usually, what dictates a trend, is an uber-popular book. Agents saw a flurry of wizard books after the first Harry Potter. After Fifty Shades of Grey, agents were inundated with BDSM. In 2008, Writer’s Digest reported that in the Romance genre, vampires and paranormal subjects were hot. For thrillers, “terrorism” was on the top of the list, and “sexy, tongue-and-cheek urban fantasy” was taking over the sci-fi/fantasy market.

Jump to 2015 . . . here’s a list of what agents and editors are hoping for. They may not become trends, but it’s good to know what they want.

  • Less dark and gritty dystopian YA, and “back into interesting worlds with strong characters and intriguing plot setups.”
  • No more heroines who think they’re weak and lack confidence (thank you!)
  • YA that features more diversified characters, particularly those with disabilities. 
  • In Science Fiction, “LGBT characters are becoming more prevalent—less a major plot point and more just a character trait.” 
  • Science Fiction with thriller/suspense elements.
  • One editor expects to “see a lot of bighearted, outlandish eccentricity in the next year or so. . .look for a lot of color and spice this year. Imagination is paramount.” (The Last Illusion, 2. a.m. at the Cat’s Pajama’s, and Preparing the Ghost.)
  • Sophisticated voices with contemporary themes that can crossover from YA to adult.
  • YA mysteries and thrillers are in high demand.
  • Less angst and more fun: “it should be time soon for lighter, frothier material to come back.”
  • Historicals set in unconventional settings and time periods.

(source)

So there you have it; now go write.

What trends are you hoping will die off? And what do you see making it’s way to bookstores?

S is for Subjective

S for Subjective 2015 A to Z Challenge -- April J. MooreNot everyone will like your book. Some will love it, while others might say, “meh.” Like art, books are subjective. Readers come from all walks of life, carrying with them, different perspectives and life experiences. These play a huge role in whether or not they like a particular book. Even Book-zillas like The Help, The DaVinci Code, and Pulitzer Prize winner, The Gold Finch, were not liked by some. It happens.

If you’re lucky enough to get any feedback from an agent regarding your query, sometimes their response includes a line about the book industry being subjective. Hence, don’t give up. It’s true. Yesterday, I talked about how my mom and I share books and more often than not, we have differing opinions on them. She and I are a lot alike, so it’s interesting to see that we don’t always like the same books. But that’s how it is sometimes. 

This is so important to keep in mind when getting a not-so-good review on Amazon, or receiving a rejection from an agent; it’s subjective. (However, when they all start pointing out the same things, you might want to investigate whether or not these things should be fixed.) Otherwise, ignore them and move on.

Subjectivity is something we just have to deal with; you can’t please everyone. 

Any advice for dealing with an agent’s rejection, and/or those who leave a less-than-positive review? 

 

R is for Reading

R is for Reading 2015 A to Z Challenge -- April J. MooreBy now, we’re all probably aware of the quote from Stephen King about the importance of reading if you want to write: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” I think he knows a thing or two about writing, so I take serious heed of this particular piece of advice.

My mom has always been an avid reader and passed this habit onto me early in life. We enjoy sharing books with one another and discussing what we both think of them.

So read, dammit. It’s all part of learning the craft of writing. Don’t limit yourself to writing magazines and books on the craft, but novels, nonfiction . . . you name it. I’m in a book club and because we all have different tastes, I end up reading books I wouldn’t ordinarily pick up. I’ve come across some wonderful books and authors this way. 

Reading great books inspires and teaches. As with most other professions, you wouldn’t dive in without seeing how others do it, right? Books allow you to discover the many different ways of plotting, character development, storytelling, and writing beautiful prose. 

Even if you only have ten minutes a day to read, that’s all right, because I have a feeling that those ten minutes will eventually turn into twenty, thirty, sixty minutes . . .

What are you reading these days?

Q is for Quirky

Q is for Quirky 2015 A to Z Challenge -- April J. MooreMy dad’s not necessarily being quirky here; acting silly, really. But you get the idea. Readers like characters who have peculiar behavioral habits, or quirks. It’s what makes them interesting, endearing, engaging . . . and human. When you think about it, we all have these idiosyncrasies to some extent, (which we may not recognize in ourselves) so we may forget to give our characters these reader-loving traits. Chances are, some of your favorite movie, television, and literary characters have quirks—they’re part of why they’re your favorite.

Maybe your character . . .

  • Laughs at inappropriate times.
  • Rocks back and forth while waiting in line, or standing in a crowd at a party.
  • Has an adverse physical reaction to those who misuse grammar while speaking.
  • Straightens up unfolded towels in other people’s bathroom, or messy clothing in a department store.

Check out this list of character traits and quirks that you’re welcome to steal.

Do you make it a point to incorporate quirky habits in character development? 

P is for Portrayal

P is for Portrayal 2015 A to Z Challenge -- April J. MooreI admit, this is fairly broad, so let’s stick to characters here. Readers want to fall in love with characters; they just do. We crave connections with other humans, even if those humans are fictional. Usually, when we swoon over a book, it’s because characters left an impression.

Readers don’t have to “fall in love” with characters though to enjoy them. Make them memorable. How you realistically portray your characters can make or break a reader’s overall enjoyment of the book.

How do you do this? Here’s a few suggestions.

1. Dialog. Readers should have a clue into the character’s personality by their first few lines of dialog. Do they ramble on when they’re excited? Get discombobulated when they’re angry? Using punctuation–without going overboard–is a way to also show their emotions when speaking. Try to reveal a piece of your character with every line they speak. How they talk to a bank teller or a TSA agent, is very telling about a person, so think about the little things. A great example of this is The Rosie Project by Greame Simsion and Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places

2. Use of the five senses. Author Ken Harmon, in my critique group, is always reminding us of this, which is good, because we tend to forget how important this is. Incorporating your character’s reactions to their surroundings gives the reader a deeper POV and insight into the character. How would they react to going into a the house of a cat-hoarding agoraphobic? By using the five senses, you’re not only creating a richer scene, you’re developing the character’s personality, which readers love. This is where all that showing (instead of telling) comes in handy. For help, envision yourself in the scene, then try it with different people in your life: your spouse, your mother, or your sister. 

3. Body language and gestures. As I’ve mentioned before, 55% of communication is nonverbal. Even if we don’t realize it (which is probably most of the time), we express ourselves, whether it’s our likes, dislikes, fears, and other emotions through gestures. In writing, these say a lot about characters and the trick is to keep them consistent throughout the book. If your character can be self-conscious, she might, periodically throughout the book, glance in mirrors wherever there is one; straighten her clothes, put her hand to her mouth to check for bad breath, etc. Tie one or two of their emotions to body language and gestures. Sometimes, a gesture is much more effective than words; actions can speak louder than words.

4. Observation. When they walk into a room full of people, what’s their first thought? Do they look for certain people? And why? How do they react to what others are doing and saying? When they watch someone pick their teeth, or their nose, do they judge? Do they stare with interest? Do they look away? What a character sees going on and how they portray it to the reader is an important tool to developing them as a memorable character. 

What are your tips for portraying memorable characters—likable or not?

O is for Originality

O is for Originality 2015 A to Z Challenge -- April J. Moore

Original is defined as present or existing from the beginning; first or earliest. It’s also said to be an eccentric or unusual person. Well, that’s clear as mud. 

It can be difficult to be original. Some even say that there aren’t any original ideas or thoughts left. Mark Twain famously stated, “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

Do you agree? Perhaps on a quantum level, so to speak, that’s true; we take all these tiny pieces that are established ideas and feelings, and put them together to form a bigger picture. Maybe it’s the bigger picture that needs to be as original as possible. Then again, readers also like age-old themes and concepts because they tend to be relate-able. 

Either way, I believe striving for originality in our writing is critical. We all have writers we admire and wish to emulate, but to what degree? For me, I won’t even bother trying to be like my favorite authors, because I know that ‘s as likely as me staging underwater Civil War reenactments. If you have a story (boy meets girl; boy loses girl, etc) the key to originality may be with the characters. How interesting and unique you make them, can sell the story. Make them memorable people and you may just have yourself a winner. But just your everyday folks? Boring. So then your setting has to be rock solid. 

How about when it comes to trends? At the NCW conference this year, a publisher said that editors don’t want to see anymore dystopian  stuff . . . unless, it’s unique and original.  How do you know when you’ve done that? I suppose it’s when you sell the manuscript. 

Do you agree with Twain? And how difficult do you think it is to be original? And do you feel it’s essential as a writer to be original? 

 

N is for Notice

N is for Notice 2015 A to Z Challenge -- April J. MooreAs you notice here, I am doing my best to get noticed, but the camera is pointed at my sister. Someone noticed, however, and took my picture, but did I notice? I doubt it. I was to busy trying to get noticed elsewhere.

How often do we do this as writers? When you stare at your Facebook page, or list of Twitter followers, do you ever feel like you’re jumping up and down, waving your arms and saying, “Look at my book! Look at my book!”? It always feels like everyone’s looking the other direction. 

Chances are, the more you parade around with your book, the least likely people will take notice. Just this week, I’ve come across a few authors who have some stern advice on author self-promotion. Delilah S. Dawson, tells us why we need to just shut up; and Jody Hedlund gives us her 5 reasons for unfriending authors on Facebook. And as always. Chuck Wendig offers his sage advice on the subject.

Bottom line, it sounds like we’re going about this all the wrong way. Dawson points out, social media does not sell books (which I’m tending to agree with), so maybe it’s time to stop trying to get noticed by those means, and start looking at the other avenues that are actually there to help get your work some attention.

Goodreads. It’s where the readers are. GR offers affordable advertising for authors, as well as opportunities to discuss your book and answer questions from readers. 
Talk to local libraries. If you have a group of fellow authors willing to spend an afternoon doing readings, approach libraries with the idea. They want to draw readers, too, so it could be a win-win. They usually have author programs and events, so it doesn’t hurt to reach out to them.
Bookstores. Yes, this is usually a no-brainer, but these days—at least where I live—a lot of the bookstores are charging authors $50-$200 to have a solo signing. Usually, promotion (print and online) is included in that, but if you ask me, that’s still a lot of money. With that said, they’re still worth looking into; you never know. Plus, if you rope in a few other authors, you could make it worth the smaller fee. 
Gift shops, coffee shops, etc. What if your main character runs a cafe? See about having a signing at your favorite local coffeehouse. If you mention a certain store or city in your book, you might have luck contacting that store, or bookstores in that city willing to host a signing. Local commerce usually loves it when their fine city is mentioned in a book.
Radio shows and podcasts. I talked about this yesterday, so I won’t get into here, but it’s certainly an often-overlooked venue for writers. 
Contact websites, eZines, and magazines that fit into your book’s genre/subject matter to review the book. Have a PDF version of your book ready to go so that you can shoot it off to someone who is interested. They may be willing to trade; they’ll review it if you write an article for them. Also be willing to send off hard copy freebies to some well-known reviewers. And think big, because you never know. If you’ve written an amazing book, why wouldn’t Leonardo DeCaprio want to make it into a movie?
Offer your services. Present at conferences, or teach a workshop with the local writing organization. These are great ways to showcase your talents and pass your words of wisdom onto others. Offer readers the the chance to read the first chapter or two of your book; or if you’ve written a short story, offer it for free for a limited time. Cross promote by offering a guest post to a fellow author. Like I mentioned in a previous post, it’s not about you; it’s about readers and what you can impart on their lives.

So if you feel as though you’re not getting noticed with the usual outlets, maybe it’s time to look in other directions.

What have you found to be the best way to get noticed as a writer?

M is for Media

M is for Media 2015 A to Z Challenge -- April J. MooreSpecifically, radio. A lot has changed since the reel-to-reel days of yore. This is from the early ’80s when my dad was Program Director and deejay at a radio station. Radio has come a long way and with the advent of the podcast, hitting the airwaves has never been easier for a writer. I’m hooked on listening to podcasts like Criminal, Serial, This American Life and Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. Check out my post at The Writing Bug where I list several free writing podcasts. Lots of radio programming makes room for authors, so here are a few to check out.

BlogTalkRadio
The Author’s Show
Writer’s Voice
Authors On Air
NPR Books

It doesn’t hurt to add radio and podcasts to your list of promotion to-dos. 

I’ve done a few radio interviews to promote Folsom’s 93, and earlier this year, I got to chat on Justice For All, a radio show in Virginia.  

My first taste of being behind the mic was probably about the time this picture was taken. My sister and I would record songs and jokes in the station studio and send them to my grandparents. For your listening pleasure, I’ve got the recording Amy and I made for my grandfather’s birthday thirty-some years ago. The first 50 seconds are echo-y, but then it goes to normal. Around the 1:37 mark, you’ll hear my sister punch me in the arm. We sing songs, tell jokes, then start to bicker. You’ll also hear my parents with some background commentary here and there. Classic stuff.

 

 

Amy and April reel -- April J. Moore

 

L is for Language

L is for Language 2015 A to Z Challenge -- April J. MooreI love this picture of my mom. It’s 1975 and she’s holding my older sister, who is only a few days old. Mom’s at the old Denver airport and her father took this picture. She’s showing him what she thinks about having her picture taken.

It’s pretty easy to express language through gestures in everyday life, but what about writing? 

Sometimes, it’s not so easy.

While in conversation, we roll our eyes, talk with our hands, or show certain expressions that are easily translated into how we feel (and sometimes, all in the same conversation)! I love that about language. Experts say that 55% of communication is nonverbal. Just drive in traffic at rush hour and you’ll see what I mean.

With books, however, readers expect most of the communication to come through the dialog exchanges between characters. Reading about a gesture is much different than the actual act of the gesture. If we have our characters roll their eyes, well, first your critique group will point out that your eyes are not dice, so they shouldn’t be rolling; and they’ll also tag all the other instances of eye-rolling in your book and tell you to cut most of them—it’s too many; it’s redundant. But isn’t that how people communicate? Like, all the time?!  

I find it can be so difficult to succinctly describe gestures and body language in my writing, and I suspect a lot of authors do; so much so, they choose to avoid it when they can. When we grudgingly  give into an argument, don’t we throw up our arms? Toss them in the air? Well, if you’re writing about zombies, then that could literally be the case, but readers might stop and ponder it too long. It’s probably not a huge blunder, but I’m guessing an editor would flag it. 

Most of what I’m talking about, are everyday gestures that we often do without even thinking: shrugging; guffawing (what does that even look like?); scrunching our nose when we smell something foul; or showing our dislike for someone or something. 

Even though these are common nonverbal cues, we are usually told to keeping them to a minimum in our writing. I think the key is to stay away from cliche descriptions of them, but can we still get our point across? Bottom line, gestures are visual cues and so as writers, it’s our job to convey these gestures in a succinct, clear, yet unique way.

How do you handle describing common gestures in your writing? 

K is for Keeping Secrets

K is for Keeping Secrets 2015 A to Z Challenge -- April J. MooreDoesn’t it look like my sister knows something you don’t? A little unnerving, isn’t it?

It can be easy for writers to keep secrets from their readers, but it generally doesn’t go over well. You want to surprise the reader, or build suspense, so you withhold a few things, but you can end up pissing off the reader. It can also feel insulting, as if the author thinks you’re too dumb to catch on. It’s not fun to be reading a book, when suddenly the author drops a bombshell that he clearly knew about from the beginning, but didn’t let you in on it.

Seriously, how does it not come up sooner that her father is half-alien?!

This is particularly annoying when it’s the protagonist whose coming clean in the last chapter. There is a fine line between deceiving the reader and devising a suspenseful plot. 

There’s also a difference between building suspense and building tension. It might be more beneficial to be honest with your readers by letting them in on it and then build tension by keeping the secret(s) from other characters, for example. You want to shock and surprise the reader, but your main character can’t be deceiving. You got yourself an unreliable narrator—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it has to be done right. 

The Murder of Rodger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie, was one of the first books featuring an unreliable narrator. We read this one in my book club last year, and we seemed to be mixed on our feeling toward it. I hate to give anything away, but basically, it isn’t until the end, that we discover our first person narrator isn’t who he says he is. Yet, somehow, Christie pulled it off. The narrator didn’t actually lie about anything; he was truthful when asked questions—it was that the other characters didn’t ask the right questions. That, and Christie created a character with a trustworthy background. 

Other authors who did this well: Palahniuk (Fight Club); Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho); and Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights).

Be careful about keeping secrets from the reader because you can end up deceiving them. If you’re concerned about doing that, have someone who knows nothing about your story or book, read it. They’ll likely pick up on that stuff right away. 

How do you feel about unreliable narrators?  

J is for Juxtaposition

J is for Juxtaposition 2015 A to Z Challenge -- April J, MooreLook at how well my sister and I are juxtaposed. Despite our matching attire, we had very different personalities. Not opposite; just different. Growing up, comparisons were often made by teachers; not only with looks, but with behavior. (She was way more behaved than me.)

Juxtaposition is a literary device that clues the reader into the contrasts between characters, concepts, and places. By drawing comparisons between two dissimilar things/concepts/people/places, writers can create a vivid picture in the mind of the reader. When I looked up some concrete examples of this, the same darn ones kept coming up. I didn’t want to regurgitate them, but they really are great examples.

Characters: John Milton’s narrative poem, “Paradise Lost.” In it, Milton places good and evil (God and Satan) side-by-side, in order to showcase the contrast, thus, making Satan’s inevitable exodus below ground, a reasonable conclusion. 

Concepts: Shakespeare was a juxtaposition genius and there were several examples of this in his work. This part, from Romeo Juliet, Will wanted to show the contrast between “light” and “dark.” He is wanting to show that despite the darkness of night, Juliet ‘s face radiates against the skin of an African: 

“O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear;” 

Place: Charles Dickens does this in A Tale of Two Cities:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

(source)

I did come up with a few examples on my own, that are more modern. In the Harry Potter books, readers are aware of the good vs. evil concept, and Rowling does a great job of doing that, by subtly placing Harry and Volemort side-by-side. Harry has a nightmare where he faces several doors, but then the scar on his forehead burns. The reader surmises/is reminded that it is the work of Voldemort. 

Stephen King is also a master of juxtaposition. In Cujo, we see the marked contrast with this vicious, killer canine and the everyday suburban life. In Secret Window, King places us in a quiet, idyllic setting with the tortured, chaotic soul of a writer. (Which is another thing he got right.) 

You follow me?

Common proverbs in the English language make use of juxtaposition:
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
All’s fair in love and war.
Make a mountain out of a molehill.
When the cat’s away, the mice will play.

Other ways things to compare:
Young and old
Funny and sad
Warm and cold (as in emotions or personalities)
Pious and atheism
Clean and dirty (such in The Odd Couple, or prude vs. not-so prude )

You don’t have to beat the reader over the head with these differences; being subtle and consistent can be enough to show what you’re trying to get across to the reader.

Do you use juxtaposition in your own writing? If so, how?

I is for Impression

I is for Impression 2015 A to Z Challenge -- April J. Moore

I dedicate this post to Ivan Doig, a great American author, whose work left a lasting impression; a literary legacy worthy of admiration. 

Oh geez. 

I’m not sure what impression I was trying to make here, but if Facebook had been around in 1982, you bet your ass I would have posted this gem. 

I’m not always known for making a great impression, or even an appropriate one, and I often tell myself I should stick to leaving an impression with my books, essays, and stories.

Writers leave impressions because they want their name and/or their work to be remembered. Author Kristen Lamb made a hilarious impression by promoting her books using feminine hygiene products. (Seriously, it’s hilarious.) When it comes to book promotion and signings, I tend to lack the creativity to come up an impression-leaving gimmick, so I try to leave an impression with my work. 

We hear so often about having a strong beginning to snag readers, which is still important, but what about an ending? Isn’t that your final opportunity to leave a lasting impression? It could be what’ll make a reader hug the book to her chest and sigh, or close the book and say, “Hmph. I was kind of hoping for . . .” Even if she enjoyed the rest of the book, the impression you leave her with, particularly at the end, can change how she feels about the entire book. That can also be a good thing. What if the reader found the book just okay, but the ending brought it all together? It happens. Obviously, our goal as writers is to wow from start to finish. 

Every book and story is different and it doesn’t have to  be a happy ending or a cliffhanger, as long as it leaves the impression that you hope it will. Take a step  back and decide what your overall message is and bring your story around to that; hint at it, at least. Maybe you’re trying to bring awareness to a particular issue. Or that you hope readers will be more open-minded about something. Or maybe you just want them to close the book, smile, and write a raving Amazon review. 

Endings can be hard to write; they’re not usually my favorite part to come up with, but they are very important to the reader, so devote a good deal of attention to them. You only have one opportunity to leave a last impression.

How do you like to leave an impression as a writer?

Ivan Doig

Ivan DoigThis is Ivan Doig, my favorite author. I just read that he passed away today, and it breaks my heart. He wrote 15 books, his first one, This House of Sky, was his beautiful memoir. His 16th, Last Bus to Wisdom is scheduled for an August release. From the first page of the first Doig book I read, I fell in love with his writing style and his characters. Doig was a master of witty, one-of-a-kind descriptions that always made me stop and re-read, out of sheer awe. He had a way of developing characters, who within a page or two, became people you wish you could meet in real life. What a loss. I encourage you to check out Doig’s work. My recommendation is to start with The Whistling Season or English Creek.

Rest in peace, my friend, and thank you for your contribution to the literary world. You’ll be missed.

H is for Harmony

2015 A to Z Challenge, H is for Harmony -- April J. MooreIsn’t it great when things work in harmony? As you can see, my sister and I are enjoying our harmonious photo session. There are lots of ways authors can have projects that work in conjunction with other projects of theirs. 

For example, I recently learned at the NCW conference, that children’s book authors should look into creating an app based on their book(s) so that they can not only offer more to their readers, but broaden their audience as well.  

Kelly Baugh, author of Miss You Once Again, which takes place in Mississippi, will be releasing a companion cookbook filled with her Southern grandmother’s recipes. 

I’m contemplating writing a novella based on the alter ego that the main character of my novel has. Maybe you have a secondary character who’s worthy of his/her own story? It could make for a great companion book. 

What about creating a Facebook or Twitter account for one of your characters? Or create accounts for two characters and entertain tweeps with their banter? Pair up with another author and have a battle of tweets and promote each other at the same time. Perhaps you build a website with a bunch of “extras” for readers to enjoy. 

Branding. Come up with an idea, a book for example, and then create products that work in harmony with your book. J.K. Rowling, Rick Riordan, and Veronica Roth also have companion materials to go along with their books. (They’re huge, so of course they do.)

With some creativity (c’mon, you’re writers!) you can create some great ideas that can work in perfect harmony with your current book(s). 

How have you extended the life of your book? What ways can you think of that can expand your audience?

G is for Grace

Grace 2015 A to Z Challenge, G is for Grace -- April J. MooreHave you ever met an arrogant author whose book you’d like to shove down their throat? 

I don’t think I have. I’m lucky to be surrounded by talented and humbled writers who never make others feel inferior, but rather, who offer support and guidance. And I mean that.

But let’s be honest, I’m sure we have all, at one time, experienced a little jealousy toward peers who are enjoying some writing success. Even if you don’t like the book, or you think the author is a self-serving windbag, it’s always good to exhibit grace and congratulate them. Same goes for when you hit the big time: be gracious about your successes. People won’t forget how you acted toward others and their accomplishments, and will remember those times when you’re experiencing your fifteen minutes of fame.

Nothing’s worse than someone who whines, wallows, and whimpers about not being as successful as so-and-so. And no one likes an arrogant s.o.b. either. There have been some very well known authors who have publicly insulted other authors (who may struggle with character development or rules of grammar, but can suck readers in with a compelling story). It really bugs me when people try to bring down others and their successes. I may agree with them; that the writing stinks in these books, or that the characters are lifeless boobs, but I’d never join in on the bullying. 

(I should point out that I’m talking about books that don’t promote hatred, racism, bigotry, intolerance, etc. Those who do write that crap deserved to be skewered, so fire away.)

Anyhow, if you’re a pretty well known author, then chances are, you’re a pretty good writer, so then you shouldn’t feel threatened, right? Just do your thing and shut up. And when you come across these high-horse writers, you don’t have to say congrats—choose to smile and nod. Be an example of grace and class, otherwise, it can come back and bite you in the ass. 

F is for Feelings

2015 A to Z Challenge, F is for Feelings -- April J. MooreMy sister hated surprises; still isn’t a big fan of them. Her feelings toward them, came out loud and clear. (Love ya, sis!) Remember that scene from The Princess Bride, when Count Tyrone asked Wesley how he was feeling after getting a year of his life sucked away? He genuinely wanted to know—for research purposes. (Yes, I’ve referenced this scene before.)

Maybe we should spend more time asking our characters how they feel about things, then let them ramble on, as if on a therapist’s couch, while we jot everything down. Take the time to really listen to them and figure out what makes them tick. How do they feel about climate change? About Broadway shows? About the demise of the Twinkie? Ask them all  kinds of questions—tough ones, where they really have to dig deep to come up with an answer. (Why does it make one cry when others sing “Happy Birthday” to them?)

Oh, and do this without injecting your own opinion. Be an unbiased listener—that’s your job, right? Besides, wouldn’t it be fun to create characters who are nothing like us? Who do things we’d never do? Readers want to connect with characters, so how you portray their feelings is important. Remember, if you don’t give your characters unique and authentic feelings, you won’t evoke feelings in your reader. Spend some quality time with your characters and ask lots of questions. For some help, check out these questionnaires:

Gotham Writers
1000 Character Development Questions
The Script Lab

E is for Exposure

2015 A to Z Challenge, E is for Exposure -- April J. MooreTo sell books, exposure is crucial. But what’s the right exposure? And where do you find it? How do you avoid over-exposure? Hell if I know; I’m still trying to figure it out. For what it’s worth, here’s my two cents:

Attend writer’s conferences. These are great places to network and get noticed. If you’re an expert in your field, or have a great workshop idea, many conferences offer opportunities to submit a proposal for teaching a workshop or doing a presentation.

Blog. I know, some of you hate blogging and I get it. You don’t have to do it, but it is a good way to showcase your writing chops. I love this post by Chuck Wendig who takes a hysterical look at whether or not you should blog. I do it because I enjoy it. I might say stupid things every now and again, but I really do try to be helpful and maybe even entertain here and there.

Offer free stuff. Many authors will tell you to never write for free, and I agree, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with offering a free chapter or two to entice readers. There’s no obligation to the reader, and if your work is the on par, it will get readers to buy. (You can read the first 4 chapters of my novel, Bobbing for Watermelons HERE. I didn’t plan this. I promise.) I talk about a Lead Magnet in a previous post about marketing that might help. 

Be active on social media. Choose your poison: Facebook, Twitter, Google +, whatever . . . focus on one and submit quality content. I don’t have a big Twitter following, but I enjoy using it and meeting others and tweeting helpful links. 

Join a local writing organization. This is another opportunity to network and talk shop with like-minded folks who want to help you on your writing journey. The more writers you connect with, the more writing/book events you’ll attend, which will lead to getting your name out there.

A couple of don’ts:

Don’t over-tweet or over Facebook your book. That’s over-exposure and people will soon ignore you because they’ll think you’re a narcissistic ass-clown.

Don’t post pictures of your bare ass.

That is all.

What do you do for maximum exposure? 

D is for Determined

2015 A to Z Challenge D is for Determination -- April J. MooreThis is probably the face I gave when I was told to do something, like to come inside when it got dark. I probably also shot this look at those who said I couldn’t do something. Either way, I likely used it often; and according to The Husband, I still do. I like to think it’s my determined look. It’s the I’ve-Got-Stuff-To-Do face. . . so watch out. 

I think we should all take a picture of ourselves with our best determined look and post it where we’d see it everyday. Mine is on my bulletin board in my office. It’ll serve as a reminder that not only do you have the ability, but you have the drive to accomplish what you set out to do, so get out of the way and do it!

I was determined to get my novel published, and after much personal growth and determination, my book came out two weeks ago. If only I had the motivation to apply the same principles to cleaning out my laundry room. 

Do you find it’s easy to stay determined? Any tips?

C is for Collaboration

2015 A to Z Challenge: C for Collaboration -- April J. Moore

If you ask my mom, she’d probably tell you that collaboration wasn’t mine and my sister’s forte. We had our moments, though. My bedroom closet had this giant step in it; a carpeted platform on one side, on which we could climb. It had a shelf along one wall and a little desk on the far end. It’s where I conjured up all kinds of trouble. And It. Was. Awesome. My sister and I made up this game called “Connie & Connie” . . . two quirky office gals who apparently did . . . office work. Using my tape recorder, we’d record ourselves pretend-typing and once, recorded me falling out of the closet. Funniest thing ever. Wish I still had that tape.

Anyway, Amy and I didn’t always collaborate well, and we differed more than just with appearances. (I’m on the left.) But we still made a go of it and had a helluva good time. Usually.

Sometimes, it’s peoples’ differences that can make a project exciting; what we bring to the table as individuals, can also make it a successful project.

I’ve collaborated with other authors on books and it’s been great fun. I’m also hoping to have a children’s book out later this year, that I’m working on with the amazing Kerrie Flanagan. I urge you to connect with other writers and artists and come together for a common goal. You don’t have to be alike; in fact, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and take a risk by working with someone you may otherwise shy away from—it could be the start of a beautiful collaboration.

How have you collaborated with others on  projects? Any advice/tips?

B is for Bad Habits

B is for Bad Habits A to Z Challenge -- April J. Moore

This picture was taken by my grandfather. In fact, many of the pictures you’ll see this month from me, were taken by him. He was an amateur photographer and myself, along with my sister and all of our cousins, were the subjects of hundreds and hundreds of pictures taken by him over many years—same with our kids. He was also (and still is) a smoker. The glasses in the picture belonged to my grandmother. Despite not being a fan of cigarettes and smoking, I like this picture. It’s a slice of life within a slice of time that holds a lot of great memories for me. (It makes for a great writing prompt, too.)

Bad habits can be hard to break. We know this as writers. These habits can pertain to writing itself, such as improper comma usage, passive voice, or run-on sentences. Other bad habits can sabotage our efforts to write in the first place. Fortunately, unlike smoking, I think these habits are a little easier to break.

Playing it safe. We don’t always take risks as writers and push ourselves, or our characters, to new limits. If we don’t, we’ll never see what we’re capable of. Try writing in a different genre, or in a different style; write characters who scare you, or write about a subject matter that makes you uncomfortable. You can take risks in lots of different ways to beef up your writing and show readers what you’re capable of.

Not setting a writing schedule. I’m certainly guilty of this. Sometimes, I only write when I’m feeling it. Such a lame excuse. Just the act of sitting down and free writing can make you feel it. It’s the same when I’m not “inspired” to hit the gym, but when I force myself to, it doesn’t take long for those endorphins to kick in and I end up being happy I dragged myself out of bed. If we all waited until inspiration struck, we’d rarely produce any work. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron urges us to keep “morning pages,” in which we free write at the same time every morning, typically after we wake up. Writing is the fuel for our creativity.

Quitting when the going gets tough. It’s so easy to say, “Screw it!” when things don’t turn out the way we want, or we come upon a difficult scene to write. We oftentimes want to throw in the towel when we start accumulating the rejections, but that’s when it’s time to either trudge through that difficult scene, or to take another look at the query letter. Something may not be working, so look into another way of doing it. 

Comparing yourself and your work to others. We all have authors we admire and even emulate, and that’s okay; we can learn a lot from them. The problem is that we can fall into the trap of thinking we need to be them in order to be respected as writers. Other times, it’s easy to get wrapped up in jealousy of fellow writers who are enjoying success. It’s natural to get sucked into all of this, but we need to embrace the reasons we’re different from those authors and start channeling that envious energy toward mastering the craft, as well as your own unique style.

Being negative. Stop beating yourself up! Many writers, whether they say it to themselves, or to others, the constant, “I’m never going  be good enough,” or “I suck,” does nothing but create this dark cloud hovering over your head. Plus, it annoys the hell out of those around you. If you think you’re so terrible, try to pinpoint what areas you think you need help in and focus on that area: go to the library and check out reference books, enlist a friend to help read over a troublesome chapter, take a class through the local writing organization. Even getting away from your WIP and trying something new can rejuvenate your writing mojo and cast that black cloud away.

These are just a few of the bad habits we as writers can easily fall victim to. What are some others and how do you just say no to them?

A is for Androgynous

A is for Androgynous A to Z Challenge, April J. Moore

Oh, goodness. 1989, aged 12. Around this time, I had been in California visiting family and spent a day playing with a kid named Ray, a friend of my cousin’s. Apparently, the whole afternoon, he thought I was a boy. He obviously hadn’t caught my name, so when it came time to leave, something came up about names. “April? But that’s a girl’s name,” he said. Androgyny happens . . . especially when sporting a pre-pubescent short haircut. But I think I could go either way in this picture.

In 1832, poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge said, “The truth is, a great mind must be androgynous.”

In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf interpreted Coleridge’s quote by saying, “And I went on amateurishly to sketch a plan of the soul so that in each of us two powers preside, one male, one female . . . The normal and comfortable state of being is that when the two live in harmony together, spiritually co-operating . . . Coleridge perhaps meant this when he said that a great mind is androgynous. It is when this fusion takes place that the mind is fully fertilized and uses all its faculties. Perhaps a mind that is purely masculine cannot create, any more than a mind that is purely feminine . . .”

Woolf asserted that “an androgynous mind is present when one is working at the absence of sex-consciousness, thus producing output at its highest capacity, without impediment and free from gender-biasness.” (source) Woolf believed that “to write without consciousness of sex is to see the piece of work for itself not as its author.” Much of this theory stems from the sexist treatment she and other women writers had endured. 

Woolf received a great deal of criticism for this view, resulting in a ping-ponging of arguments, but the whole idea of having an androgynous mind is fascinating to me. Recently, author, Andrew Smith got speared for some comments he made when asked why his books lack female characters:

“I was raised in a family with four boys, and I absolutely did not know anything about girls at all. I have a daughter now; she’s 17. When she was born, that was the first girl I ever had in my life. I consider myself completely ignorant to all things woman and female. I’m trying to be better though. 

A lot of The Alex Crow is really about the failure of male societies. In all of the story threads, there are examples of male-dominated societies that make critical errors, whether it’s the army that Ariel falls in with at the beginning, or the refugee camp, or Camp Merrie-Seymour for boys, or the doomed arctic expedition, they’re all examples of male societies that think that they’re doing some kind of noble mission, and they’re failing miserably.”

Some authors accused him of calling women “less than human,” while others said Smith was only being honest; that the underpinning issue is that as a culture, a book’s default is to feature white males.

So where am I going with all of this?

I’m not entirely sure, but I found Woolf’s theory intriguing. Can “a single person of either sex  [embody] the full range of human character traits, despite cultural attempts to render some exclusively feminine and some exclusively masculine?” And thus, create authentic emotions and insights of characters of both genders? Is it even possible? Or are we merely guessing when we write the viewpoints of the opposite sex? 

I wasn’t offended by Smith’s comments. I think he unintentionally kicked a beehive. I’d be interested to hear what Woolf would say, however. Are authors (particularly male authors) obligated to include female characters in their books? (And of course, they can’t be gun-toting, bikini-wearing blondes, right?) 

I realize this is a much deeper issue than what I’m making it out to be, but in order to scratch the surface, I’d like to know, 1.) Is it possible to write with androgyny? and 2.) Are we being sexist if we don’t?

Blogging A to Z Challenge

A to Z ChallengeI will be participating in my first A to Z Challenge beginning tomorrow, April 1st. I’ll be posting old family photos and writing about how these old memories (some, painfully embarrassing) pertain to writing—which I hope will be of help to all of you. I’m looking forward to checking out the many other bloggers who are participating in this alphabetical challenge. If you’re also a blogger taking part in the challenge, let me know so I can be sure to include you on my blog travels.

Old pictures--April J. MooreBest of luck to everyone who signed  up for the challenge!

2015 Conference Creative Team Video

Here it is. Yes, it’s low-budget. Yes, it’s cheezy. Yet somehow, it’s still a crowd-pleaser.

If you thought that was corny, wait until you see the others:

2014 NCW Writer’s Conference: 2014: A Writing Odyssey
2013 NCW Writer’s Conference: The Artist and the Writer
2012 NCW Writer’s Conference: Writer vs. Wild
2011 NCW Writer’s Conference: Safety Briefing

Enjoy!

A Few Things I Learned from the NCW Conference

Another amazing NCW Conference. What a weekend of fantastic presentations and workshops. Here’s a sampling of what I learned:

Publishing Industry changes/trends

  • Consumers are the new publishing gatekeepers. Websites like WattPad, which allow writers to post their work online for readers to critique, is getting the attention of agents of editors, who want to know what readers want. Those in the book industry peruse sites like these to find out what readers are reading and will approach writers with contracts.
  • E-books are having little to no impact on print book sales.
  • Dystopian books (particularly in YA) need to be extremely unique and must stand out from similar books to be considered by an agent.
  • New Adult fiction, aimed at 18-25 year-olds, is gaining lots of momentum.

Children’s book Publishing

  • According to Laura Backes of Children’s Book Insider, children’s book sales (both e-versions and print) are way up; board books are especially hot right now.
  • Editors are seeking middle grade books right now, particularly those geared toward boys.
  • Word counts are changing in kids’ books. Picture books (ages 3-5) are at 500 or less, and for ages 4-8, the word count is 800 or less.
  • Illustrations are doing more of the storytelling these days (thus, the decrease in word count)
  • Turn illustrations into an app; broaden the story’s capabilities.

Creating Compelling Characters from Todd Mitchell

  • Weaknesses in a character are what make them interesting and bring your character into focus.
  • Characters should have both conscious and unconscious desires that may or may not conflict with one another, and plot drives a character’s unconscious desires to the surface.
  • Make your characters do something that you would never do; have them make big mistakes.
  • Be interested by your character, but if you know them too well, they won’t surprise you. If you don’t allow your characters to surprise you, they won’t surprise your readers either.
  • Mitchell offered a great way to get started on developing a character by filling in the blank: He/She is the kind of person who ______________________. For example, my answers were: She’s the kind of person who turns the toilet paper roll around in other people’s bathrooms. He’s the kind of person who makes restaurant servers cry. These are great ways to “find a window into your character.”

Plot from Todd Mitchell

  • Plot must escalate and accelerate. Each scene should increase in tension, making things worse for the main character and show what’s at stake.
  • Focus on internal rather than external problems by challenging your characters in emotional ways. The action in a story works best when it’s the external representation of an internal conflict. 
  • Killing off the main character is often a cheap way to avoid change. Life is more challenging than death.
  • Keep turning up the heat on your characters. Find ways to constantly challenge your characters until they’re exhausted; then see what they do.

Marketing with Jon Bard 

  • Create a “tribe” made up of people with a common passion, concern or viewpoint, and when the time is right, market your book to the “tribe.”
  • The author/reader relationship is a connection, not a transaction.
  • Instead of having links on your blog that direct readers to where they can buy your book (which never really sells books) offer readers something else based on your common interests and passions. Once you’ve established a relationship, then offer links to your book.
  • Do this by creating a Lead Magnet. Offer something, such as an informative video or a free ebook, or top ten list, etc., that is only available to those who offer their email address. 
  • Participate in groups where your “tribe” members reside, then use social media to point people to your Lead Magnet. Reach out to bloggers, podcasters, e-zines, etc. 
  • Stop pushing your books on readers and start pulling them to you. It’s not about you; it’s about your readers and what you can impart on their lives.

Queries & Synopses with literary agent, Kimiko Nakamura

  • Queries: Agents like when it shows you’ve cyber stalked them; just don’t send flowers
  • Queries: Don’t bury the lead, such as title, genre, and word count.
  • Queries: Cliche beginnings can pigeonhole your work; originality counts so stand out.
  • Synopsis: must have clarity of plot and pacing.
  • Synopsis: Knowledge of industry-standard formatting is extremely important. It shows you’re in the know.
  • Synopsis: Agents/editors expect to know the ending; don’t hide anything.

There were several presentations I wish I could have attended, but it’s tough to be in two places at once. Overall, the conference was a huge success. As soon as our conference Creative Team Video is available on YouTube, I’ll post it.

I’m also thrilled to announce that Edward Hamlin‘s fiction submission (Grace), for the Top of the Mountain Book Award took first place and Jerry Eckert‘s memoir (Weeping Kings and Wild Boars: Moments of Magic and Sorrow from Forty Years of Trying to Save the World) took home the top prize for nonfiction. I’m very excited to see both of these books in print, which I suspect will be within the next year or so. 

Happy writing!

 

Good, Clean Fun

This Clean Reader debacle has become quite humorous. So the app only works on books you purchase through Clean Reader’s store and can be turned off if you so wish. Set to “Squeaky Clean” mode, the app thoroughly searches for words Clean Reader deems offensive and replaces them with words they’ve chosen for the offending word. They change the word “breasts” to “chest,” but are unable to distinguish between “chicken breasts” and women’s breasts. 

Hilarious. 

Let’s cook up some chicken chests tonight.

“Vagina” is changed to “bottom,” and “penis” has been relegated to a “groin.” “Christ” is changed to “gosh,” but Passion of the Gosh just doesn’t have the same ring to it. And praise Jesus, doesn’t feel the same as “praise Gee.” 

So bottom-line (that’s vagina-line to us UnClean Readers) is that readers can do whatever they want with books they purchase, and perhaps readers want someone to bleep out their books for them—and that’s fine. What really bugs me, is that Clean Reader is making their own determinations, or judgments, on what is profane and what words they choose to replace the profanity with. It’s not just curse words, but words describing body parts. A penis is a penis; a vagina is a vagina; they’re real words for real parts of the body, so why can’t they be called what they are? If you’re over a certain age, perhaps it’s time to acknowledge the names of body parts. You’re not having to say them aloud; you’re reading them. It’s a stupid app. If you can’t handle profanity, then don’t read romance, erotica, or other books you know will likely be riddled with “offensive” words. In many cases, changing the wording fucks with freaks with the context, rendering the text confusing and oftentimes, comical. 

Again, it’s a reader’s choice to do what they want with a book they’ve purchased and we have the choice to think it’s stupid. I do think this is something to keep a watchful eye on, as I can see this easily turning into a issue where sanitized books will be resold without author consent. Just saying. 

If anything, the app brings MORE attention to the profanity by replacing these words with hilariously ill-suited words. Beware, if your characters order “beans and wieners” at their favorite hot dog joint, I hope they don’t mind getting beans and groins.

 

Washing A Book’s Mouth Out with Soap; There’s an App for That

profanityMy, my, sometimes nothing sums up a situation, emotion, or feeling, like a good old fashioned f-word. I’m no stranger to throwing in some profanity into blog posts and stories; these wicked little words are part of our language and culture and they serve a purpose. 

It appears that an app called Clean Reader allows readers to replace/hide all profanity in books. And they’re not calling it what it is: censorship and copyright infringement. Text is changed/edited without the author’s consent. 

I first heard about this over at Chuck Wendig’s site, who wrote a fantastic commentary about this growing issue and I urge you to check it out. I also encourage you to read an email that author Joanne Harris received from Clean Reader and her stellar response

Regardless of how you feel about profanity, is it right for anyone to alter someone’s book? Fuck no.

UPDATE: I should note that Clean Reader only allows readers to change words/text after they’ve purchased the book and are reading it on their own private devices. Sure, anyone can do anything to a book after it’s purchased, and according to Clean Readers, they’ve consulted with a gaggle of attorneys to ensure copyrights are not infringed upon, but something about this still irks me. There’s also a rumor floating around that the developers of Clean Reader are reselling “scrubbed up” versions of books . . . it’s worth investigating.

Here’s another take on the issue I recommend checking out.

NCW Podcast: Conference Creative Team

April Jenny Kelly--NCW Podcast

For your listening pleasure, here I am with my fellow NCW Conference Creative Team members (and authors) Jenny Sundstedt and Kelly Baugh, talking about the behind-the-scenes magic of the conference. We had a fun time getting cheeky with our host, NCW Assistant Director, Rich Keller. Have a listen!

Bobbing Hits Bookshelves March 22

Bobbing for Watermelons by April J. MooreGreetings from Vancouver. I’m on a bit of a break before the exciting cluster eff of the release of my book and the NCW Conference. This is the the kind of cluster eff I like. Bobbing for Watermelons will be available this Sunday, March 22, but you lucky folks can get a sneak peek at Hot Chocolate Press and read the first four chapters now. Both print and e-versions will be available. I also wanted to let you know that I’m Patricia Stoltey’s guest blogger today, so mosey on over if you have a moment and enter to win a copy of my book. 

I also stumbled upon a nice surprise at Chapters’ bookstore in Vancouver . . .
Folsom's 93 by April MooreFinding your book in a bookstore never gets old, eh?

Writing Prompt Wednesday

Writing Prompt WednesdayIt’s that time again. Hopefully one of these prompts will give your writing mojo a kickstart. As always, feel free to share your flash fiction, poetry, or story here, or link it. Looking forward to what you’ve got for us, Dean.

  • It happened in front of me.
  • Everyone has secrets; mine can get me killed.
  • I had no choice but to write the letter.
  • Shane picked a bad time to confront me.
  • I never meant to hit . . .
  • The aroma of [fill in the blank] lured me into the [fill in the blank].
  • I brushed away the leaves from the grave marker.
  • I immediately regretted opening the [fill in the blank].

Happy writing!

This is Happening

Bobbing for Watermelons by April J. MooreEarlier this week, my publisher and I celebrated my almost-here book, Bobbing for Watermelons, with the Korbel TwinsIt will be available in a couple of weeks, just in time for the NCW Conference.  I made a few notes in the proof copy . . .
IMG_0036(At least you know it’s thoroughly edited.) I’m a big proponent of reading your book from start to finish in one or two sittings because you’re bound to catch things you wouldn’t have if you’re doing a piecemeal edit. I’m picky, too. I went after extraneous words like just and even, and replaced many exclamation points with periods. I tend to overuse them!! When I came across a part where I mention my characters had been married for 18 years, it immediately caught my attention because several chapters back, I had it at 20 years. I likely would have forgotten the first reference if I hadn’t of read it an hour earlier. I’ll also point out that 39 of those mini Post-Its are because an early chapter number was missing, so of course, I had to make sure each subsequent chapter got marked. So don’t ever underestimate the power of a proof copy and reading it straight through!!! You might get hungry, but that’s why restaurants deliver.
Happy Friday!!!!

Are Misspellings in Social Media Now Socially Acceptable in Books?

I’ve talked before about  how rules of grammar go out the window when it comes to social media. Let’s talk spelling. When you only get 140 characters to tweet something profound, proper spelling is not a priority. I get it. But what if the number of characters has nothing to do with it? Lately, I’ve been noticing the spelling of certain words are getting tweaked and it makes me wonder if people really think that’s how they’re spelled, or if they’re merely wanting to be different; to emphasize the word, or to stand out. So what happens when it comes time to use these words in your manuscript? Will you know which is correct? I’m sure editors don’t let these imitators get through, but I have seen them, particularly in small press and self published books. I’m not sure I like this. Two in particular make me a little crazy:

Yay. When did yay replace yea? It appears YayLife is to blame, who incidentally has trademarked “Yay,” so technically, we shouldn’t even be using it. As you can see, I did get The Husband this “Yay Geeks” because he couldn’t care less about spelling and grammar, but he did say, “Yea!” when he got it. And while we’re on it, yea and yeah are not interchangeable. 
Yay! Geeks!Woah. Who started spelling whoa this way and why? Please stop. 
Woah = wrongI like to believe that most of the time, people can distinguish between deliberately misspelled words and the real McCoy, but I’m seeing these impersonators more often, and in places they shouldn’t be in. Just like with common grammatical errors that social media has perpetuated, I wonder if these new spellings will continue to infect the masses.

What’s your take on it? Do you even care?

 

 

NCW Conference Magic is Happening, plus Contest Finalists Announced

Another Northern Colorado Writers Conference is only a few weeks away! This is the fifth conference I’ve been in the Conference Creative Team, and this is the conference’s 10th anniversary, so we’re pulling out all the stops for this one. I get to work with authors Kelly Baugh and Jenny Sundsteadt on the conference’s theme, decorations, and activities. This year, we’ve gotten a little rebellious with the decor (the theme is the Roaring Twenty’s—“The Lawless Decade,” after all) by using . . . glitter, deemed the syphilis of the craft world (thanks, Kelly for informing us of this).
GlitterThat’s all I can show you right now. The Fort Collins Hilton has always been so accommodating when it comes to our grand ideas of previous conference themes, but using glitter is typically frowned upon. We figured if it’s glued down, we’re not disregarding rules completely. It will be worth it, I promise.

We are also working hard on finalizing our annual video that the three of us write and perform in, to be shown opening night. For a sneak peek, you can check out our cheesy trailer:

I’m also thrilled to announce that our 2015 Top of the Mountain Finalists have been announced! So check them out HERE.
There’s still time to register for the conference, but don’t wait too long; attendance is capped at 130 participants. Hope to see you there.

Happy Writing!

Writing Prompt Wednesday

Writing Prompt Wednesday

In honor of National Grammar Day, here’s a list of prompts that . . . ah . . . have nothing to do with grammar. Just celebrate this day by picking a prompt (or two!) and write something. Honor this momentous occasion with a short story, poem or flash fiction. You’re welcome to post it in the comments section, on your own blog (link it, baby) or among the pages of your journal. 

  • Evan couldn’t believe his luck, when the elevator doors opened and . . .
  • At first, the lake appeared flawlessly iced-over, then Amy saw . . .
  • Dave knew he’d never be allowed back . . . 
  • It wasn’t supposed to get out of hand.
  • The memory of her walking . . .
  • The man stood behind the glass and waited . . .
  • Layla took one last swig of beer and  . . . 
  • I hated that he knew about . . .

Happy writing!

5 Reasons Why Your Manuscript Gets Rejected

Being a writing contest coordinator and having been a judge myself for several writing contests, I’ve seen why many manuscripts don’t win. They’re the same reasons agents and editors pass as well. These 5 manuscript killers are what usually separate a winning manuscript from those that fail to make the cut.

Rejected

1.) No beginning hook. It also needs to be sustaining. Some authors try to open with a bang on the first page because they know it’ll grab the agent’s attention, but then it fizzles, and they dive into backstory. It seems as though they’re toying with the reader, saying, here’s my fabulous hook, then yanks it away and goes into backstory. Nice try, Sparky. A brief opening hook will wear thin if the subsequent narrative slows down. The reader may resent the maneuver, and thus, put the book down . . . for good. A strong opening with great pacing is what will keep the book in your readers’ hands.

2.) Too much backstory. We’re writers: we have a story to tell and characters to introduce—who have history. Sadly, most aspiring authors drop it all on the reader at once—in long narratives. Get to the action and weave in the backstory through dialog, inner thoughts, and character mannerisms. You have a whole book, so spread the information out and only use what’s important to the story and to the character. The last thing you want is for the reader to start skimming and miss that one crucial tidbit you threw in. Good novelists will space out these details, periodically feeding you just enough breadcrumbs to keep you reading.

3.) Passive voice. This is usually a big killer. Do a word search for “to be” verbs, especially “was” and “were” and replace them with active verbs. Check out my post for The Writing Bug yesterday where I discuss how to eliminate passive voice. Passive writing is one of those things that can out you as an amateur pretty quickly, so be discriminatory when it comes to “to be” verbs.  

4.) Bland characters. I get that it’s a challenge to create fleshed out characters without diving into backstory, but it can easily be done through dialog; character gestures and mannerisms; their inner thoughts; and how they react to their surroundings, as well as others. Don’t tell the reader every detail about their childhood in order to tell us why the character has this one particular habit. You can show that through other more concise ways, rather than going into his/her past right off the bat. Dialog is a fantastic way to accomplish two things: it reveals character traits, quirks, and history, while at the same time, it moves the story along.

5.) Poor Dialog: Dialog should always have a purpose, so leave out conversations that won’t lead anywhere, or don’t have a point. It’s there to move the story along and to create tension. It’s okay to have your characters say hello to each other, or to have a line or two of formalities once in a great while, but keep it to a bare minimum. Dialog must serve a purpose, by moving the story along, and ideally, creating tension and conflict. While we’re at it, mainly use “said,” and “asked” as tags, and remember, “smiled,” “laughed,” “grimaced,” and “smirked,” are not tags. Another big mistake is that punctuation often gets overlooked. Don’t forget that a comma goes before a name. For example: “I don’t know what you see in her, Bob. She’s can’t conjugate her verbs.” Same with: “Hi, Phil, you look dashing in that track suit.”

Bonus: Overusing certain words. I think just is the most overused word. Ever. Even manuscripts that are otherwise well written, have a plethora of justs. Stop it. Most of the time, the word adds nothing to the sentence, so take it out. Also look for really and very.

Bonus Bonus: (sorry, I can’t help it) Poor formatting. Lots of entries show up with poor indentation, two spaces between sentences (the standard is 1) or it’s done inconsistently, improper punctuation, and typos. These should be freebies! So many authors get marked down for these mistakes and unfortunately, can ruin an otherwise strong submission. There’s no excuse for poor mechanics—there’s typically one way to do these things. Learn them, so your story doesn’t get rejected. It’s like losing the game because of a missed free throw.

There you have it. 

Happy writing!

Making the Most of Book Launches & Signings

A recent post by Jody Hedlund about creating a book launch team, got me jazzed up about getting the wheels in motion for my upcoming release of my book. Last night, I joined several other NCW authors for a night of readings at Bas Bleu Theatre. I read an excerpt from my new book, which is not only great practice for reading aloud, but it generated buzz for my book. My publisher also made up this awfully cute bookmarks to help promote it.
NCW Reading, Bobbing for Watermelons by April J. Moore

When Folsom’s 93 released, the launch took place at the prison itself. The museum that sits outside the prison walls, provided the perfect venue. For all of the events, I had many of the book’s mug shots printed into foam board, which guests of my local launch had a great time with. It was a great way to get people involved in your book launch/signing.
Folsom's 93 book launch April J. MooreI also have album with all the mug shot in it so people can flip through them—which is a great icebreaker when you’re at a book signing and people are afraid to come over to the table.
Folsom's 93 mug shotsJust recently, I had these cool business card magnets made up with some of my favorite Folsom guys:
Business card magnets, book promotion, Folsom's 93These are inexpensive ways to get readers interested in your book, and more importantly, remember your book. Making your presentation and signing memorable is going to draw readers in and chances are, impress their socks off. 

Patricia Stoltey went all out for her last signing by providing refreshments and big baskets of giveaways.
Patricia Stoltey signingAnother way to generate an audience, especially before the book launches, is create ads with your book and tweet them. Author Kenneth Harmon used this technique and gained over 10K Twitter followers in a few months time. You can read about how he did it HERE.
Kenneth Harmon
Have a launch/signing at a location mentioned in the book
It doesn’t have to be the exact place, especially if it’s not possible to travel there, but think about similar venues in your own city. Consider what your character does for a living; play up that. Think about the various  places and things in your book that you can incorporate. Not all signings and launches have to take place in a bookstore.
Incorporate props
I got to have the actual gallows trap door for my book launch, which was pretty spectacular, but there may be other (smaller) items that are portable enough to bring with you. One author, who writes about zombies, decorates his table with zombie props and dolls. (I’d think writers of erotica might really garner some attention with props!)
Create ads with book info and include any author blurbs you scored
Like what Ken Harmon did, he added text to pictures he took himself. If he acquired a blurb from another author, he added that. It’s a great way to generate buzz, especially on Twitter.
Bookmarks and postcards
This is another great way to get interest, especially if you do a reading before the book is released. Your audience needs something to remind them of your upcoming book. 
Have items such as magnetic business cards, mousepads, pens, and mugs made up using the book’s cover to other pictures that may be in the book
.
These are great for including in a giveaway basket or placed on the table. Check out places like Snapfish, Overnight Prints, and Vista Print.
Partner with an organization that your book can be associated with
If your book has an underlying message or theme, or brings awareness to a certain issue, contact organizations that might be interested in partnering up. An author friend is pairing up with her local cat rescue since her book is about a shelter cat.

I realize I’m just scratching the surface when it comes to creative book launches and signings, but I hope it launches some ideas for you. Your branding and how you promote your books is an important part in creating an audience. This may be a daunting thing for a lot of writers who’d much rather spend their time writing than promoting their books and actually talking to people, but that’s why some promotional items can be an icebreaker—both for the author and for the potential buyer. Above all, make it a fun experience.
Book Promotion April J. MooreWhat are some of your ideas for making the most of your book launches & signings?

 

 

My Early Work . . .

Clearly, writing drew me in at an early age . . . specifically, first or second grade. 
Oh, geez, what can I say?!I find it difficult to believe I came up with this myself (even though there was a lovely pussy willow tree in the backyard of the house I grew up in), but I also have a hard time envisioning a teacher picking out this poem for the class to write. In either case, it must have triggered a lively discussion in the teachers’ lounge. 

Happy Monday.

Write What You Don’t Know . . . Sort of

internet research photoWe’ve heard it so many times: Write what you know. It’s good advice. But don’t we usually interpret it as, write what you already know? Of course, that’s a good start for any writer—sit down and write something you’re familiar with. But what if you have this great idea for a novel that involves mutant sea life and a brave oceanographer who has the brains and courage to stop the rogue whales from attacking kayakers? (I’m almost certain this nearly happened to me while kayaking off Victoria Island two years ago. True story.) Anyhow, you’ll probably need to brush up on your marine biology, not to mention deep sea diving, in case that’s not your forte either. In this day and age, with information at our fingertips, it’d be hard not to find what you need to write that future bestseller. 

A few years ago at the Jackson Hole Writer’s Conference, I got a chance to hear bestselling author, Margaret Coel, whose novels take place on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. She said that twenty-some years ago, she didn’t know a lick about Arapahoes, but with a desire to know, she hit the books (pre-internet! *GASP*). She is now considered an expert on Arapaho culture. With this, comes a word of caution from author, Anita Diamant, who incidentally, spoke at the same writer’s conference. She said that it’s easy to get caught up in incorporating everything you learned into your manuscript. She writes historical fiction, and when she got a little heavy handed with the details, her editor said, “Your research is showing,” as in, “Psst . . . your slip is showing!” Your job as a writer isn’t to tell your readers everything you learned; it’s to give them a vivid picture and general understanding of the details in your story. At the same time, leaving them with unanswered questions and fuzzy math isn’t good either. You don’t want anything to distract your audience from the story you’re trying to tell.

When writing the book, you don’t have use everything you learned, but you should know it. You may not describe in detail the impact mutant whales may have on mankind, but you should at least have a damn good idea, so that you understand which details you can leave out and which ones are crucial for the reader. 

A few days ago, I came up with a novel idea that involves a teeny-tiny thing called physics, specifically, quantum physics. Since childhood, I’ve had a fascination with physics, but the right side of my brain won out and I took a much different path. The interest, however, never went away. But interest in a subject, doesn’t equate to knowledge of said subject. Plus, understanding quantum physics isn’t enough; I need a grasp of the fundamentals of physics. Via a Nova special on YouTube, I came across Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Cosmos and it’s been off to the races since. 
ResearchI also found the online courses that Greene teaches (for free!) at World Science U. Because it’s something that has always fascinated me, I’m enjoying it (although I don’t exactly comprehend it very well at this point). But even if I decide to not write this particular novel, hopefully, I’ll retain a few things about quantum physics that I toss around at my next dinner party.

How have you used research in your writing?

Writing Prompt Wednesday

Writing Prompt Wednesday

 

You know what to do. (But in case you don’t . . . these prompts are a way to help you get the writing juices flowing. Post a story in the comments section, journal it, post it on your blog, or get a jump on a short story; whatever. They’re here for the taking.)

  • Knowing his name meant little to her.
  • Fallen ash from his cigarette collected in a pile below his hand.
  • I stood at the edge of woods and listened to . . .
  • Paul knew he shouldn’t have looked . . .
  • I should have told my wife the truth that first day when I . . .
  • “I wouldn’t drink that; it has [fill in the blank] in it.”
  • In the beams of the dying headlights, stood . . .
  • The morning sun peaked through the trees. He told me I’d be dead by sunrise.

Happy writing!

An Emotional Laxative: Cathartic Writing

FallingWriting is cathartic; we’ve all heard that, if not experienced its cleansing powers ourselves. I’ve written essays about my late father that will probably never leave my computer, but they had to be written.

I’m once again in need of purgative writing; an emotional laxative, if you will. I think if I “get it out,” I’ll be able to move forward, past a humiliating incident.

About three weeks ago, I fell out of a parked car. That’s right, smacked right down onto the pavement from the height of at least three feet, specifically, from the seat of a Toyota 4-Runner. It was before my son started driving himself to school. He and I would hit the gym before school so that he could practice his indoor climbing skills and I could practice my stair climber skills. (If you knew how uncoordinated I am, you’d understand why I call this a “skill.” Oh, as it turns out, you are about to find out.) Still practicing his driving, my son would then drive us from the gym to school and I’d get out and jump into the driver’s seat. This was our routine. I had on my new workout pants that I thought were pretty snazzy and per my modus operandi, my “gym bag,” an old Eddie Bauer pack with a long strap, sat at my feet. 

This particular morning, we ran a few minutes behind schedule, so the outside of the school was abuzz with kids, parents, and teachers. As he stopped, I swung open the door to jump out. It all happened so quickly; I never stood a chance. Just as another car pulled up behind us in line, I exited the car—knees first. Like an anvil being dropped by Wile E. Coyote, I plummeted to the asphalt, landing on both knees and my left elbow. My chin nearly made contact as well. A baseball bat to the joints, swung by Babe Ruth, would have produced similar results. 

Despite my shock, I stood up quickly, aware of not only the many stunned faces turned toward me, but that the car had begun to roll backward. I yelled to my son to pull the brake, which he promptly did. The girl being dropped off from the car behind us, looked downright confused—Did that lady just fall out of a car?! 

My son came around from the other side, genuine concern on his face. “Are you all right?” I waved him off, wincing. Every movement hurt. I turned to the car and saw the culprit: my gym bag. It hung from the seat lever, threatening to dump its contents: my wallet, phone, and water bottle. I grab the bag and threw it back in the car before walking around to the driver’s side, desperate to not limp. I didn’t make eye contact with anyone, except my son, who gave me a sympathetic look and a wave goodbye. 

Shaking, with two aching knees and a throbbing elbow, I pulled away from the school. My ego also slowly formed a black and blue splotch. It wasn’t until I got home and yanked the delinquent, mischievous bag, that I realized how it had happened. The strap of the bag had gotten wrapped around my foot (or feet—unsure how many appendages were involved) and as I exited the vehicle, I brought the bag with me. It wouldn’t have been so bad to drag the pack with me, but the damn thing, apparently having second thoughts about following me, encircled its strap around the lever underneath the seat, stopping its progression—and mine.

It was like getting clotheslined, but with my feet. Yes, it was that bad.

When I explained to The Husband what had happened, he felt terrible. Later in the day, in an attempt to comfort me with, “You know, in time, you’ll be able to look back—” he chuckled—“and laugh—” I cut him off with a fiery glare. There would be no laughing about this. Ever.

Until now, I had only told one other person about it . . . a friend . . . over text. My knees and elbow still show remnants of bruises, as does my ego, but they’re going away. They also still ache, but that, too, is lessening.

I don’t know if writing about it has been cathartic, but I did manage a chuckle as I wrote about the experience. I guess that means I can laugh about it now—and that’s a good start.

So don’t leave me hanging; has writing about a humiliating experience ever help you move forward? 

Literary Contest Tips & Etiquette

first placeAbout five years ago, I approached Kerrie Flanagan, director of the Northern Colorado Writers, with the idea of incorporating a book contest into the association’s annual conference. Other conferences around the country have similar contests, so why not have our own? As a writing organization, the NCW loves recognizing high quality fiction and nonfiction, and thus, the Top of the Mountain Book Award was born. I’ve been the contest’s coordinator since and am blown away by how much it has grown in these last four years. During that time, I’ve learned a lot. I’d like to share my tips and suggestions on submitting to fiction and/or nonfiction contests.

Follow Contest Guidelines to the Letter. It sounds simple, but you’d be amazed at how often people don’t do this. (I have a better appreciation for what agents and editors gripe about.) Most contest rules, especially with formatting, mirror what agents and editors ask for, so it shouldn’t be difficult to tailor your submission to a contest. Some of the rules may not make sense to you, such as how they want the document saved as, but trust that there’s a method to their madness, and go with it. They have specific requirements for a reason, so if they ask for a 3-page synopsis; it’s a 3-page synopsis—not a 2 or 2-1/2 page synopsis. Agents and editors expect the same guideline considerations. And if you’re not sure about something, email the contest coordinator and ask. It’s much better than submitting and finding out later your overall score suffered because you didn’t ask about something first. 

Don’t Ask for Exceptions or Special Treatment. Rules are rules, man, what can I say? If we let everyone submit an extra page because “that’s where the action starts,” then first of all, maybe you should rewrite your opening, and two, we’d have a bunch of submissions of varying length and it wouldn’t be a level playing field. Most rules are going to be pretty general, so unless they’re asking you to send a vial of your first born’s blood with your submission, there shouldn’t be any rule you can’t adhere to.

Only Send Your Most Polished Work. Again, probably a no-brainer, but also a reminder that if you want to win, or even be a finalist, your work better be the best it can be. Even if you’ve had your entire critique group look it over, I suggest having one other person—who has never read it before—have a gander at it. You’ll be surprised the typos or plot issues a fresh pair of eyes can catch; it can make or break your submission.

Be Open to Criticism. It can be difficult to send your work out to be judged. Some contests will offer written critiques, and some will not. If they do, be open to hearing what they have to say, but at the same time, remember that it’s all subjective; it’s one reader’s opinion. Judges for the Top of the Mountain are instructed to leave constructive feedback and to offer practical advice, but not all contests are like that, so be prepared . . . or don’t send anything out until you’re confident your work is the best it can be.

Do Not Pitch a Fit. You’d think I wouldn’t have to mention this to adults, but sadly, it happens. Last year, we had a very disgruntled author who didn’t make the cut and after several threats, the police had to get involved. Yeah, not fun. Do not pull a Kanye West. Not only would you likely be asked to never submit to another contest of theirs, word may get around that you don’t like to lose, or have your work critiqued, and you don’t want that following you around. A contest is a contest and if your ego can’t take rejection, well, you’re in the wrong business. So be nice. Be gracious. Keep learning the craft. And keep submitting.

Other things to consider:

  • It’s perfectly fine to send a follow up email to confirm your submission was received. If a contest coordinator has a problem with that, then it’s not a  contest I’d want to be associated with. If you’re paying a fee, you should be able to find out if your entry arrived safely.
  • Don’t end your submission with an unfinished sentence. Tie it up for the judge, otherwise, it shows you didn’t take the time to polish your submission, and that you just saved the required number of pages and sent it off.
  • Judges are often donating their time and efforts. Entry fees typically go toward the cash prizes, PayPal fees, and other admin costs. 

That’s about it. Literary contests are a great way to get your work recognized and grab the attention of an agent or editor. So follow the rules, submit your best work, and wait for the prize money to roll in.

Announcement: Upcoming Readings Feb. 24th

Reading by Writers feb 24 2015If you’re in the area, stop by Bas Bleu Theatre in Fort Collins at 7:00 p.m. on February 24th, for an evening of readings. I’ll be joining my fellow Northern Colorado writers who are presenting their poetry, novel excerpts, or essays. I’ll be reading from my upcoming novel, Bobbing for Watermelons that’s due out next month. Tickets are $5 and you’ll also have an opportunity to purchase books, if you feel so inclined. Hope to see you there!

Bobbing for Watermelons by April J. Moore

 

Artists Behaving Badly

Just yesterday, I was talking about toddlers and temper tantrums, so I’ll continue with that thread and talk about Kanye West. On Sunday, during the Grammy award show, he nearly repeated his infamous onstage rant of 2009, when he hopped on stage after Beck won for album of the year. He didn’t follow through with his tirade, but later pouted and cried, telling US Weekly Magazine:

The Grammys, if they want real artists to come back, they need to stop playing with us. We ain’t gonna play with them no more. Flawless, Beyoncé video, and Beck needs to respect artistry and he should have given his award to Beyoncé. And at this point, we tired of it because what happens is, when you keep on diminishing art, and not respecting the craft, and smacking people in the face after they deliver monumental feats of music, you’re disrespectful to inspiration.” 

Wow. Talk about arrogance on an epic level. Chrissy Teigen, wife of musician John Legend, defended West, laughing about it on The Today Show, saying she thought it was a joke. Legend called the incident “funny.” Even jokes can be low-class and tasteless and shouldn’t be defended with giggles and eye rolls at those who find it distasteful. This isn’t about free speech either. It’s about being a sore loser, whether it’s he himself who lost, or someone he was rooting for, in this case, Beyonce. 

I’ve always liked Beck’s music, and his response makes me respect the guy even more (although I thought it was almost too nice). Aside from West’s immature and disrespectful behavior, the sad conclusion, I see, is that he’s in it for the accolades. He wants his music and the music of his friends to be recognized. Apparently, that’s how he measures his self worth, which is unfortunate, because an award shouldn’t validate you. The guy’s a talented musician, no doubt about it, but is that license to take away another musician’s incredible moment? 

This sense of entitlement translates to all professions, including writing. Late last year, author Ayelet Waldman threw a fit for not making the NYT’s “100 Notable Books of 2014.” Is that what’s she’s in it for? Is that why anyone does what they do? To be recognized in front of millions? Sure, that would be nice, but if that’s what you’re in it for, excuse me for not supporting your quest for stardom. Isn’t selling millions of copies or even having thousands of 4 or 5-star reviews enough? 

Perhaps when you reach a certain level in your career, you feel you’ve earned that award, or that coveted spot on some list, but to me, the second you step away from your humility and grace, is the second you start losing the respect you’ve spent so much time garnering. I doubt I’ll ever be that in position anyway, but at least I write because I love to, not because I want to fill a space on my shelf with an award.

That’s my rant for the day. I’m going to go download Beck’s album now.

Got Your (Writing) Hands Full?

When my son was around two or three-years-old, we figured it was a good age to teach him simple card games like Old Maid and Go Fish. At that time, the only cards we could find were these jumbo playing cards . . . made specifically for children 3 and up. The package even said, “Jumbo Cards for Little Hands.” 
Jumbo Cards for Little Hands

It was no wonder someone later came up with a card holder. Have you ever seen a toddler try to hold these giant cards in their hands? It may be comical (to parents) for a few minutes, but eventually, the cards end up spread out on the floor, or jammed back in the box. I also didn’t understand the jumbo Crayons and markers thing, either. Jumbo blocks and puzzle pieces, yes. I’m sure there’s a bunch of science behind overwhelming three-year-olds with these ill-proportioned toys, but now that my son’s sixteen, I don’t care. 

There are days I feel like my hands are so full of tasks, that I want to stomp my feet and throw a temper tantrum—even at the grocery store. These days, I’ve got a lot on my plate, so I have to be organized and stick to a plan. Here’s a few tips if you’re feeling like your hands are full of “jumbo cards.”

Get Organized. It sounds simple, and essentially, it is. I have a big white board in my office that lists everything I need to do. Buy several markers and color code projects  by importance. If possible, have it on a wall facing you, staring you down, so you have no excuse to ignore it. This is a great place to list top priority items and their deadlines. Identify the tasks that might have flexibility, or ones you might be able to get an extended deadline for. Also, keep a filing system that separates documents and other papers that pertain to the tasks.

Estimate time needed. If you have a general idea of how much time each project will take, plan your day or week accordingly. I suggest overestimating a skosh to allow for unexpected interruptions. This is a good opportunity to really see how much time you spend on social media and checking email, etc. Is it all necessary? Chances are, you could streamline those activities and carve out extra time for these tasks. To avoid burnout on one project, you might want to switch between tasks. I find that I can approach certain projects with a clearer mind if I step away from it for a while, even if it’s just an hour or two. 

Say Uncle! if you need to. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, especially if what you’re working on is a group effort; it’s better than producing rushed, poorly-executed work. Plus, talking through the project with someone, might put it in a new perspective that’s easier to work with. And don’t be afraid to say no in the first place. It’s hard for me to turn down writing and/or creative opportunities, but sometimes that’s the way it goes. Otherwise, I’d irritate myself and make my family crazy with my meltdowns. 

What are your tips for keeping your sanity when your hands are full?

Wearing Stories on My Sleeve

Inked LadyPen and ink; needle and ink. They both tell stories. I love art and writing, so it’s no wonder I love tattoos. JC Lynne wrote a great post at The Writing Bug last week about the author persona, and if writers need one in order to sell books. Lynne, who’s also an inked lady, was encouraged by her husband to take on the “badass tattooed writer” persona. She argued that her persona should be that she “wrote a good book.” I agree.

I can’t say that I’m a badass because of tattoos; I just like them. Each one I have has special meaning and tells a story, and frankly, doesn’t have anything to do with persona—at least, I don’t think so. Does an author’s tattoos tell readers the type and even quality of what they write? In addition to lots of other topics, I’ve written about executions, prisons, and women’s fiction, but hell, whatever gets a reader’s attention, I’m all right with that. (Although I’d rather it be from my writing.)

After I got my sleeve, a family member told me that she didn’t like it when women got tattoos of—and I quote—“skulls and dead things,” on their arms. I’m pretty sure the only place she’s seen such tattoos on women was maybe once on an episode of “Law & Order.” She was relieved I didn’t, as if that meant I’d start skinning rabbits in my backyard and displaying their skulls on sticks.   

Anyway, that’s really beside the point . . . I think. Whatever I have inked on my skin, whether it’s an owl or dead things, I don’t want to be judged by my cover. Who does? But I like telling stories on paper and on my skin, where I can truly wear my heart (and stories) on my sleeve. 

“I’ve just sucked one year of your life away.”

You know that scene from The Princess Bride, when Wesley is in the Pit of Despair? And then Prince Humperdink sucks a year of his life away?
Pit of DespairThat’s exactly what switching host providers for this site did to me. And that’s the second time I’ve done this process; I switched another site over last year, and lost a year of my life then, so I am officially . . . two years older. You’d think, after the first time, I would have learned, but I must have repressed it, or somehow forgot the pain. It must be like childbirth; you forget the pain and then go and do it all over again.

Anyway, what’s done is done. Right now, my “baby” is a little ugly and needs some tlc. I should be able to manage the rest without too many labor pains. Thanks for sticking with me.

Writing Prompt Wednesday {Dialog Edition}

Writing Prompt WednesdayIt’s that time again. It not uncommon for a story or novel to open with dialog, and it can  be very effective for dropping the reader into the middle of the action. Even if you chose to not open with one of these dialog pieces, one might at least inspire a conversation between two characters. Have at it!

  • “You think that’ll stop me?”
  • “I know I’m late, but here I am.”
  • “Well, aren’t you a pretty little thing.”
  • “Seriously, I’m not above begging.”
  • “My doctor told me I couldn’t do that.”
  • “Please tell me you read the instructions.”
  • “I wish you’d shut up.”
  • “I’ll tell you what really happened.”

Happy writing!

Which Came First: The Character or the Plot?

Oh, the age-old question . . . or something like that.

When you started your fiction work-in-progress, did you begin with your character? Or your plot? Maybe both? My forthcoming novel, Bobbing for Watermelons, began with a quirky housewife and I left the rest up to her. “Do your thing, you crazy lady. Make a story.” From there, I wrote the book chapter by chapter, with no road map or compass. I was having fun putting her in sticky situations, but where was it going? If I wasn’t careful, her antics would wear thin with the reader. I quickly learned that characters need direction—a place to “do their thing.” Fortunately, I got it together and gave my character a path to follow in a fun world I created just for her. 

Conversely, if you’ve come up with a unique plot with twists, turns, and an ending that kicks ass, do you have enough left in you to create a memorable character who’s thrown into your well-thought out story? For another novel I started working on last year, I came up with the plot first and my characters last, who frankly, are as boring as watching golf. (Yes, I said that, and yes, I meant it.)

Based on my own experiences, I’m theorizing that the first born tends to be stronger. It used to be we heard the terms, “character-driven,” and “plot-driven,” when it came to books. Perhaps we still do, but it seems to me, readers want both, and why should’t they? Some believe plot is more important in an action-packed thriller (who cares if the guy in the midst of the action hasn’t an emotional marble in his head, he sure looks good in a suit). He’s only there to carry out the action, right? 

Well, I’m no expert, but I’m getting the feeling that readers want it all: character and plot, packaged together and wrapped with pretty paper. Quality writing notwithstanding. (That’s another blog post.) So,what’s the point of all this? I’m not entirely sure, but I’d like to know which came first for you: the character or the plot and is it stronger than the other? 

 

Friday News: Flash Fiction Anthology Update

baby shoes

I’m thrilled to announce that Baby Shoes: Celebrating Flash Fiction has made its e-book funding goal! Woot-woot! There are ten days left and we hope to  make it to $2200 so that we can do a print run as well. Thank you to everyone who has contributed thus far. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to check out this amazing project that will be featuring 100 authors and 100 flash fiction stories. You’ll find some familiar names among the author list such as Linda Needham, Joe Lansdale, Danika Dinsmore, and Walter J. Williams. Yours truly will have a piece in the book called “An Affair to Forget.” I’m also honored to be among some of my favorite local authors, Katherine ValdezShelley Widhalm, and he who shall not be named . . . because he’s using a pen name. 😉 Thanks again for the support.