Category Archives: Blog

New Book? Don’t Poop on The Party!

By Aaron Ritchey

So I have a friend who didn’t do an initial book signing for his first book.  He didn’t do any sort of book launch party, nothing like that.  He just threw his book up on Amazon, did some online stuff, but didn’t really celebrate the fact that he had done something that very few people will ever do.

Very few people will ever write a book.

Very few people will ever spend the time to edit that book.

Very few people will ever publish that spit-polished book.

Just the facts of life.  So if you get nothing else from this little blog post, take away the idea that we have to celebrate every little victory, every little hurray, and what better way to celebrate the hurray than to have a party?

Yes, this is a party in your honor, about your book, and yes, it’s all going to be about you.  For many people, this can be hard.  Even though I’m an attention whore, I found it difficult.  Before my first book launch, I drove around and around the restaurant, afraid to park, afraid of the potential criticism, frustration, and disappointment.

What if no one comes?  What if they do come, but are resentful at me for putting on the party in the first place?  What if no one actually buys the book?  What if no one likes me or the book?

All of those thoughts are in the end selfish and self-centered.  I’m afraid that people aren’t going to like me or people will think I’m trying to guilt them into buying a book.  And the mother of all fears, what if I alienate all my friends?

On the one hand, book launch parties are all about the author and their book, but how about we look at this another way?  Book launch parties are a way to celebrate an accomplishment and bring together the people who love you and want to support you.  Yes, some people do NOT want you to succeed and will feel threatened by your success.  Sad but true.  I’ve lost friends since I’ve become published.  However, most of the people in my life are thrilled that I’m pursuing this dream,  that I’m writing books, and they WANT to be a part of it.  They WANT to support me.  If I don’t include them, I’m being selfish.

A book launch party is a way to include everyone in the victory.  It’s like the final scene in Star Wars: A New Hope, without the medals and droids.  I’ve done them across the country and yes, at first, it was hard for all the reasons I’ve listed.  But at some stage of the game, I realized I liked doing them, not so I could sell books, but so I could see people and talk to people and include them in the grand drama of the publishing game.

Where did I have my parties?  Book stores can be hard to get into, especially if you aren’t running with the big dogs, but I’ve used restaurants, coffee shops, and even an art gallery in Santa Clara, California.  Best venue ever.

I bring a box of books, I bring cash for change, and I have a Square account so I can accept credit cards using my smart phone.

The Facebook Event function and eVite.com are great tools to invite everyone you know .  And I encourage my friends and family to invite everyone they know.  I do so fearlessly because again, if I focus on the self-centered fear, I’ll worry that people will think I’m trying to dupe them into buying a book.  But if I focus on the love and support I feel from those people who want to celebrate with me, I get excited and this all becomes easier.

How long should the book launch party be?  Two hours is the perfect amount of time.  People arrive and I greet them.  Forty-five minutes into it, I give a little talk, read a few pages, and chat and sign books.  Thank God for Costco ‘cause they have catered most of my book parties.  What’s a party without a little food?

Yes, people are expected to buy books—some will, some won’t.  That doesn’t matter.  What matters is that rather than hiding my books and myself away in a basement, I am opening myself up to the world and I am saying, “My books are good, I believe in them, and I want you to be a part of this adventure with me.”

So plan book parties, celebrate your books and your career, and be sure to invite me.  I love me a good party.

Emotional Barrier in Fiction: After You Cross It, What’s Next? (Part Two)

Today Tiffany Lawson Inman is continuing the discussion of the emotional barrier in fiction. If you missed Part One from last month, click here. 

Tiffany Lawson Inman, headshotby Tiffany Lawson Inman

Hello again!

We learned in Part One of this post, that the emotional barrier is VERY IMPORTANT, and very hard to break down without completely collapsing in on ourselves. We are all afraid of icky gooey stuff that seeps out when we are alone, and it takes skill to use the memories and gut-wrench that is on the other side, right?

Right.

And comedians like Louis C.K. have the ability to rip truths out of the air and make them tangible, right?

Right.

And you all are going to do whatever you can to:

  • allow yourselves emotional release.
  • learn how to cross your emotional barrier.
  • learn how to use the emotions you can reach.
  • be fearless and vulnerable when using your own emotions.
  • realize that emotions are one of the most important factors in fiction.
  • unplug from technology every so often to reconnect with yourself, people, and life.
  • write truthful human emotions and create a strong connection between your readers and characters.

RIGHT!

If you need a reminder, or didn’t get to read Part One, head on back to Wednesday’s post, Part One: Emotional Barrier in Fiction. Why is it so important for you to learn how to cross it? and we will see you back here in a sec.

Moving on to the meat.

Let’s assume that you have all either gone to a psychotherapist, been on stage, or have taken my class, From MADNESS to Method: Using acting techniques to invigorate your story and make each moment Oscar worthy! and can cross the emotional barrier with ease. *wink wink* And what you have found on the other side is absolutely amazing and totally usable for your fiction and you are raring to jump to the BIG emotional scenes in your novel and write write write!

No. I won’t let you. Not yet.

muppetAwww…come on!

First, we have to make sure your characters have a solid emotional base to jump off of, emotions to fly by, emotional places to visit, and an emotional crash pad. Donald Maass calls this an emotional landscape in Chapter Three of Writing 21st Century Fiction:

“To foster reader involvement it is first critical to map an emotional landscape which readers will travel. Readers must feel that they are on a journey, one with felt significance and a destination that we can sum up as change.”

Yes, your character has to start somewhere emotionally in order to have a journey. You can’t just plop them on the page and start writing events, plot points, outer conflict, and black moments without having an inner conflict jumping off point.  Starting with action is fun. Starting with dialogue, also fun.  But watch out, if the reader doesn’t know where your character is emotionally in the first few pages, their need to read on wanes. And if you, the writer doesn’t start out by mapping this emotional landscape, then you might end up writing the wrong level and wrong angle of emotion in those BIG scenes.

Let’s see how Lisa Unger starts her emotional landscape in Darkness, My Old Friend:

Darkness-My-Old-Friend-Mass-Market-ThumbPrologue

Failure wasn’t a feeling; it was a taste in his mouth, an ache at the base of his neck. It was a frantic hum in his head. The reflection of failure resided in his wife’s tight, fake smile when he came home at the end of the day. He felt the creeping grip of it in her cold embrace. She didn’t even know the worst of it. No one did. But they could all smell it, couldn’t they? It was like booze on his breath.

****

Wow, this guy is in a really good place in his life right now…. Sorry, couldn’t resist the sarcasm because it is painfully obvious he is on the wrong side of the happy-go-round.

Lisa Unger gives us one heck of an emotional base for this character:

  • Failure that leaves a taste in your mouth. That’s not a little failure, this, is a lot.
  • He can physically feel this emotion in his neck and head.
  • His wife fakes a smile at him.
  • Cold embrace means there is a lack of love and affection between them.
  • He tells us that all of this isn’t the worst of it, which means, this man has a BIG BAD secret.

All of this in the very first paragraph of the novel.

Unger used emotive words like:

  • Failure
  • Ache
  • Frantic
  • Tight
  • Fake
  • Creeping
  • Grip
  • Cold
  • Worst
  • Smell
  • Booze

We don’t have to hear the sirens to know the lights are flashing in this character’s future meltdown.  We know this character is bad news and we want to see how bad it gets. How many other characters can he take down with him? Or, will there be a surprise? Reader interest is definitely sparked and it’s because she started with emotion.

What if she had written:

Kevin felt like a failure. It made his neck tense and his head hurt. When he went home to his wife, she pretended she was happy he was home. They didn’t have much sex anymore. Probably for the best because he had a secret he hadn’t told anyone and it would probably affect their relationship.

Blah blah blah! My version opened the door for an emotional base, but it didn’t really let the reader in. Not a good way to start a book.

Okay okay, some of you think I cheated by showing the prologue, am I right? Because the prologue is supposed to be thick with emotion?  I agree. But I couldn’t not show you that, because I just think it’s a tasty start to a story.

Unger brings the emotional jack-hammer in Chapter One as well. Here you go:

Chapter One

Jones Cooper feared death. The dread of it woke him at night, sat him bolt upright and drew all the breath from his lungs, narrowed his esophagus, had him rasping in the dark. It turned all the normal shadows of the bedroom that he shared with his wife into a legion of ghouls and intruders waiting with silent and malicious intent. When? How? Heart attack. Cancer. Freak accident. Would it come for him quickly? Would it slowly waste and dehumanize him?  What, if anything, would await him?

****

See! Told you. Lisa Unger rocks at setting up the emotional landscape.  I have NO doubt that she is a frequent traveler across her own emotional barrier.

Part of Cooper’s inner conflict that we can see right away:

  • Will he live the rest of his life being afraid, allowing it to affect every day until a coffin surrounds his body?
  • Will he surpass his fear and surprise us at every turn?

What if she had written:

Jones Cooper woke up most nights with an extreme fear of death.

My version doesn’t have the same rhythm, cadence, intensity, or emotional resonance does it?

LOL, nope.

*Ah, before I go on, if you didn’t know already, if you have a Kindle, or a Kindle app, you can download a sample of most books on Amazon. It’s usually the first two chapters. This is a great way to see (and afford to see) all of your favorite authors and how they emotionally hook you in those two chapters. Unfortunately when a writer is as good as Lisa Unger, there is really no point in just reading the first two chapters, you simply must read the whole book. So head on over and read the rest (after you are finished reading this blog, of course). The prologue alone is worth its weight in gold.

Up next, Markus Sakey and the first few paragraphs of The Two Deaths Of Daniel Hayes:

Marcus cover                  He was naked and cold, stiff with it, his veins ice and frost. Muscles carved hard, skin rippled with goose bumps, tendons drawn tight, body scraped and shivering. Something rolled over his legs, velvet soft and shocking. He gasped and pulled seawater in to his lungs, the salt scouring his throat. Gagging, he pushed forward, scrabbling at dark stones. The ocean tugged, but he fought the last ragged feat crawling like a child.

                  As the wave receded it drew pebbles rattling across one another like bones, like dice, like static. A seagull shrieked its loneliness.

                  His lungs burned, and he leaned on his elbows and retched, liquid pouring in ropes from his open mouth, salt water and stomach acid. A lot, and then less, and finally he could spit the last drops, suck in quick shallow lungfuls of air that smelled of rotting fish.

                  In. Cough it out. There. There.

                  His hands weren’t his. Paler than milk and trembling with panicky violence. He couldn’t make them stop. He’d never been so cold.

                  What was he doing here?

****

From a quick first glance it seems as though these are all physical issues Sakey is giving his character. But if you take your pulse before you started reading this and after, you would most definitely have a difference in tempo.  This character is half dead and struggling to survive. He gives us some great images and metaphors to show emotion here.

  • Crawling like a child.
  • Pebbles rattling like bones.
  • Seagull shrieking its loneliness.
  • Trembling with panicky violence
  • “Cough it out. There. There.” As if he’s consoling a child, or his mother is there consoling him.

Not to mention ALL of the power words he uses. I’m pretty sure you can point them out. Too many to list!

Part of this character’s initial inner conflict:

  • Will he struggle to crawl out of the ocean to face whatever put him there in the first place?
  • Will he give up and die?

Hmmm… . I keep talking about inner conflict, Donald Maass defines it as follows:

“…don’t confuse inner conflict with inner turmoil, a messy indecision, waffling, and weakness  that turns readers off. Inner conflict is dilemma. A debate that can’t be won, an unavoidable fork in a road that leads to two equally feared or desired destinations. It’s a predicament that’s powerfully human.”

I love that. “…powerfully human.” Lisa Unger and Markus Sakey have done a brilliant job of showing a well defined inner conflict, and they have both done it on the first page!

Do you have to show a defined inner conflict on the first page?

No.

But if you are starting with deep POV, the emotion had better be there and inner conflict better be right around the corner (like on one of the next three pages.) If you are starting off with action and dialogue, then we should have a sense of your character’s beginning emotional state. Here’s a good example. I am currently reading Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.

Asher coverChapter One

                  “Sir?” she repeats. “How soon do you want it to get there?”

                  I rub two fingers, hard, over my left eyebrow. The throbbing has become intense. “It doesn’t matter,” I say.

                  The clerk takes the package. The same shoebox that sat on my porch less than twenty-four hours ago; rewrapped in a brown paper bag, sealed with clear packing tape, exactly as I had received it. But now addressed with a new name. The next name on Hannah Baker’s list.

                   “Baker’s dozen,” I mumble. Then I feel disgusted for even noticing it.

                  “Excuse me?”

                   I shake my head. “How much is it?”

                  She places the box on a rubber pad, then punches a sequence on her keypad.

                  I set my cup of gas-station coffee on the counter and glance at the screen. I pull a few bills from my wallet, dig some coins out of pocket, and place my money on the counter.

                  “I don’t think the coffee’s kicked in yet,” she says. “You’re missing a dollar.”

                  I hand over the extra dollar, then rub the sleep from my eyes. The coffee’s lukewarm when I take a sip, making it harder to gulp down. But I need to wake up somehow.

                  Or maybe not. Maybe it’s best to get through the day half-asleep. Maybe that’s the only way to get through today.

****

While we don’t know exactly what his inner conflict is yet, we have a ton of emotional hits and can get a pretty clear idea of what his emotional state is on the first page.

  • Asher starts the character in the middle of…something, and the character isn’t even paying attention. His mind is obviously elsewhere.
  • He’s rubbing his brow. Hard. A sign of emotion when coupled with the fact that he is having a hard time paying attention.
  • Throbbing in the brain is never a sign of something good.
  • Character says he doesn’t care.
  • Character mumbling to self, disgusted at self.
  • Not paying attention again when he shortchanges her.
  • Rubbing sleep from eyes. Normal action when you are getting out of bed, but this guy is already at the store with coffee in hand. Sign that sleep didn’t come easy if at all the night before.
  • Thinking that the only way to get through this day is to do it half asleep. Another clue that something crappy is going on in his life and it occupying his thoughts.

Have you noticed that even though these aren’t the BIG emotional scenes (that I won’t let you write yet without supervision) they are still stuffed with emotion?  ALL of that work that you did to cross the emotional barrier and everything you brought back with you WILL BE USED. Some of it in slivers here and there to help guide the reader on the emotional journey, and some of it in the BIG scenes.

But you can’t afford to save the whole bundle for that one BIG turning point, it won’t matter to the reader how much is in that scene, if they don’t know where the emotional journey started.

In the online course I teach, I work with writers to infuse emotion into their little moments as well as the big ones. Because so much can be shown in a “simple” scene between husband and wife over breakfast,  getting dressed for the day,  a phone conversation with your best friend, getting into a taxi, giving someone a gift, etc. These little emotional hops, skips, and dips might seem tedious to the emotional beginner, or be viewed as mushy gushy bits of language that could slow pace or veer your scene into a ditch, but as you can see from the above examples, pacing is not dropped and there aren’t any ditches.

Their writing is active.

And their writing is good!

****************

Thank you so much for reading today!  Stay tuned for Part Three!  Let me know if you have any questions. I won’t be teaching again until next summer, so I apologize, I can’t give any classes away today.

There are many MANY authors out there with the  ability to beat down emotional barriers with ease and skill.  Got a favorite?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tiffany Lawson Inman claimed a higher education at Columbia College Chicago. There, she learned to use body and mind together for action scenes, character emotion, and dramatic story development. Tiffany’s background in theatre provides her with a unique approach to the craft of writing, and her clients and students greatly benefit.

She teaches Action and Fighting, Choreography, Active Setting, Emotional Impact, Scene Writing, and Dialogue for Lawson Writer’s Academy online.

As an editor, she provides deep story analysis, content editing, line by line, and dramatic fiction editing services. Stay tuned to Twitter @NakedEditor for Tiffany’s upcoming guest blogs around the internet, classes, contests, and lecture packets.

Check out her previous blogs on WITS.

5 Ways to Pick a Mystery Writer Out in a Crowd

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

In honor of mystery writer friend, Shannon Baker’s winning Writer of the Year for RMFW I’ve decided to offer some helpful tips to those needing a little help picking out a mystery writer when in a crowded room. This will be helpful in September during the Colorado Gold Conference, so take note!

5)  See that woman with the grey hair? Yep. She’s a mystery writer. In fact, most mystery writers I know are older women same as mystery readers. The bloodier the better for this blood-thirsty lot. That’s why we love them (and yes, I am one of them, I just use a lot of hair dye and lye to get rid of the bodies).

4)  See that guy twirling the end of his mustache? Nope, not a writer, just a serial killer, but if you look directly behind him to the woman unabashedly taking notes on his every move, yep, mystery writer.

3)  Ink and often blood stained hands.

2)  Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just glad to see me? A mystery writer will answer gun 98 out of 100 times. The other two times the answer is rope and penis.

1)  Any guy driving a Magnum PI car and wearing Hawaiian shirts outside Hawaii (Mario Acevedo and Tim Dorsey come to mind).

You’re welcome.

Any other ways you know of to determine if you have a mystery writer in your midst?

All Those Potential Stories

One of the most frequent questions writers hear is “where do you get your story ideas?”

Well, to be honest, where don’t we?

A couple nights ago, we were clicking through channels and landed on a PBS program about nineteenth century unsolved crimes. The episode was about a string of murders in Austin, Texas in 1885. I was immediately hooked, scribbling notes with vital information so I could later look up the crimes and explore the details again. My head kept telling me there was a story there. Well, it was actually a bit like alarm bells.

I’m not sure what it was…the historical period, the unsolved nature of the crimes or that they likely the work of a single person (an early serial killer), the fact that law enforcement never connected them, or perhaps the potential to create my own plot around them…something reached out and grabbed me.

It isn’t the first time that’s happened watching TV.

The same thing occurs when reading travel or history magazines—a lot. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve torn out pages and filed them away because I see the spark of a plot or core of a character within them.

Special news sections in papers are just as hard to resist. When I lived in Cheyenne, Wyoming, I used to look forward to Frontier Days and the multi-page spread with stories of life and events of the early community.

I’ve bought more books than I can count for the same reason. Book stores with large regional history sections are tempt me. Book sections within historic site visitor centers or museum gift shops seem to have tentacles that grab me and suck me in. I leave with a bag and an empty purse, story ideas shouting at me all the way home.

Historic hotels or bed and breakfast inns that have unique histories hook me, too. Next thing you know, I’m chatting with the manager about the past and where I might find more information.

Maybe it’s the penchant for research that lives within me. Maybe it’s the writer. Put them both together and I’m pretty much doomed.

So, all you writers out there…where do you get YOUR ideas?

Reading Your Own Work, Process, And Being Kind To Yourself

By Robin Owens

My very first audio book just came out, Ghost Seer, narrated by Coleen Marlo. I listened to the sample. I used a download code (worth $19.95) to buy it and I listened to the beginning. I like the narrator. But I’m having problems with hearing my words.

This isn’t really anything new. I have problems reading my own work, too.

I’ll point out that we all have a story to tell and our own unique way of telling it. That we should love writing it. This story will, most probably, reflect ourselves and our world views. This story should be something we would love to read.

This doesn’t happen to me, nor to many of my friends, published or unpublished. We don’t read our books, and for several reasons.

One reason can be that the work is old. Yes my first published book, HeartMate, won a major award (it was my fourth manuscript). People are still discovering it, and enjoying it. But I can’t read it. I could write it so much better now, I think (I definitely made the world building in the first pages too steep…).

Another reason is I look at a book and just cringe at all the work I put into it, and it’s still Not Perfect. I don’t want to read/listen to my flaws.

Most often, though, is the simple fact of my process of writing (this is my process, and I don’t expect anyone else to write as I do, yours is probably different and works best for you):

1) Write scenes/chapters
2) Take to critique group
3) Rewrite
4) Write more scenes and chapters, revising as I go (I write out of sequence)
5) Put out of sequence scenes in chapters
6) Read and revise
7) Finish draft
8) Revise draft
9) Send draft to beta readers
10) Revise
11) Send draft to editor! (usually late)

I PRAY I don’t get a Hideous Revision Letter that starts “I have concerns. I think you’ll have to revise quite a bit of this.” Cringe.

Like anyone, I would prefer, “I loved it! You did a fantastic job!” (I have heard this twice. Of twenty-four books).

Copy edits come. Page proofs (galleys) come. Somewhere along this timeline I am so sick of the story that I can’t stand it anymore. Am I changing a sentence and it’s better? Or just different?

So by the time the published book is out there, I deeply know the plot, the characters, the sentence structure in the third paragraph of chapter twenty-two. And when I read the story I don’t see the story, I see the technicalities. (Let me insert here that I LOVE rereading my favorite authors. I usually am rereading a book as well as reading something new).

I wasted $19.95 on that download of Ghost Seer, and I should have known better.

This is where I, and you-who-can’t-read-your-work-one-more-time, must depend on others, on the reader half of the writer-reader equation, to tell you whether you did your job, and how well you did your job. Believe them when they say you did great.

Oh, by the way, don’t read bad reviews.

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Forget the Money: Show Me the Contract

By Susan Spann

This September, I’m co-teaching a workshop at Colorado Gold with Midnight Ink editor Terri Bischoff. The workshop, titled “Contract Law: Where You Can Make a Difference,” is intended to offer advanced-level instruction on which publishing contract clauses are (and are not) negotiable.

In preparation for that, my guest posts between now and Colorado Gold will offer some entry and mid-level information about the contracts process, to help authors get up to speed for the information Terri and I will present at Colorado Gold.

***

For many authors, obtaining a publishing contract is a lifelong dream-come-true.

It doesn’t matter whether you publish traditionally, through a self-publishing service like Amazon or CreateSpace, or with a hybrid publisher who gives the author significant control over things like cover art and pricing.

Getting your novels into print is both the fulfillment of a dream … and also the start of a business endeavor.

Smart authors remember to treat it as both.

No matter which publishing route you use, you must have a written contract. Copyright law requires one when rights are licensed on an exclusive basis (which is the case with most publishing contracts), and no smart author would ever publish a book without some writing governing the terms of the publishing deal.

In the case of self-publishing venues like Amazon, CreateSpace, and others, that writing is often the online Terms of Use.  Authors should treat those terms of use like a contract–albeit a nonnegotiable one, since website publishers generally will not change any terms of those contracts on an individual basis. Even so, online terms of use have been held just as binding as written contracts–so beware.

Many authors make serious contract mistakes because they allow emotion to get in the way of business sense. Don’t be that person.

When presented with a publishing contract (or preparing to self-publish your work), remember:

1. The financial terms (royalties and advances) are important, but NOT AS IMPORTANT as the sum of all of the legal terms in the contract. Don’t let royalties or advances blind you to the other legal terms.

2. Read the entire contract carefully, and get experienced legal help with anything you don’t understand. This help might come from an agent or an attorney — but it should always come from someone not affiliated with the publisher. The publisher may or may not be honest–but publishers have a conflict of interest when it comes to explaining your legal rights. It’s always more expensive to try and break a contract after the fact than it is to find out what the contract says up front.

3. Remember that contracts are legally binding documents — and that ONLY the actual words in the contract govern your legal relationship with the publisher. Emails, telephone calls, and other promises don’t mean anything if they’re not included in the contract. In some cases, a court may even prevent you from introducing evidence that “outside promises” even existed. Treat the contract as if it’s the only document that matters, and the only thing controlling your relationship with the publisher–and then make sure that everything is included.

4. Be wary of ANY contract which doesn’t comply with industry standards. In particular, beware: nondisclosure clauses (which prevent the author from talking about the publisher in public or on social media), non-competition clauses preventing the author from publishing ANY other works of any length without the publisher’s permission, a total lack of termination options for the author, and “out of print” clauses tied to inventory or “on sale status” rather than sales figures. These aren’t the only warning flags, but a contract which contains one or more of these must be approached with caution (and a lawyer in your corner).

These aren’t the only things to beware in your publishing contract, but they’re a decent start. Next month, we’ll take a look at some more contract pitfalls to avoid.

In the meantime – keep treating your writing as a business and remembering that, regardless of your publishing path, YOU are the one in charge of your publishing career.

***

Susan SpannSusan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. She also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. The second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, releases on July 15, 2014. When not writing or practicing law, Susan raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann).

Curing a Case of the Shoulds

By Kerry Schafer

Yesterday I relapsed with a bad case of The Shoulds.

For those of you who are not familiar with this disorder, it is pervasive, dangerous, and can be lethal to the creative process. Unfortunately, medical science has yet to come up with a vaccination and there is no known permanent cure. It’s one of those diseases you have to live with and manage – like diabetes.

I know I’m not alone with my affliction, because I see signs and symptoms that the rest of you have also caught this disease. My evidence? Posts on Facebook and Twitter that look a lot like this:

“I should be writing.”
“Oops, yeah you caught me. I should be working on that synopsis.”

See the word “should” in all of these examples? Yep. That’s a dead giveaway, one of the more blatant forms of a case of The Shoulds. Note the following more sneaky manifestations, again of the type often seen in social media:

“Ugh. I’m supposed to be working on my word count.”
“I’m meant to be writing. But you know. Talking cats. Hahaha.”

Note the clever use of “supposed to” and “meant to be,” which really mean the same thing as should.

I pulled a definition from Google, just for fun:

“Should: verb, used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions.”

Criticizing is such a nifty word, isn’t it? And criticism of self or others is one of the debilitating effects of the Shoulds.

Still, the above examples are relatively harmless cases. Probably you won’t die from the disease in this form, although it is still likely to affect your creativity and productivity.

The Shoulds are much more dangerous when evidenced by the following types of statements:

I should be published by now.
I should have finished this book months ago.
I should be writing in a different genre.
I should write faster, better, bigger. I should be a best seller. I should be able to quit my day job. I should be a perfect parent, lover, house keeper and writer and manage a day job all simultaneously while smiling and having a good time and always being nice to everybody.

Let me ask you this – what good does this sort of talk do you? It smacks of guilt, self disparagement, hopelessness and helplessness.

Should is not an action word.

Now, take a statement like this, which was probably written in the recent past by me:

“I should be writing, but I’m hanging out here instead.”

Words carry a great deal of power. Should implies that I believe I’m doing something wrong, but am too weak willed to walk way from this social media screen that has somehow magically opened in front of me. That I’m too morally bankrupt to be able to go write the words that I say I want to write. It also carries an underlying message that there are others out there – my mother, society at large, maybe even God – looking over my shoulder and making sniffy noises at my lack of discipline.

But if I switch out the should construction with an action verb, something like choose, everything changes:

“I choose to write now,” is a statement of an entirely different flavor. Or, alternately, “I choose not to write now. I’m going to hang out on FB with my friends.”

This is a significant thought shift. Either I have just set myself up to go get some word count in, or I’ve made an active decision to keep doing what I’m doing – guilt free, and by choice.

One version is vaguely self critical, helpless, with a victim-of-fate sort of feel to it. The other is strong and leads to either a change of action, or an acknowledgement that the action you are already engaged in is undertaken by choice, not because somehow you drifted into it. This allows you to assume the responsibility for your own behavior.

The same sort of shift works for the more complicated should constructions as well, they just require a little more finesse with the reframe.

“I should have an agent by now” becomes, “I choose to start looking for an agent,” or “I choose to wait.” Maybe it gets refined into something like, “I will send out ten queries this week, and a replacement query for every rejection.”

“I should have finished that book by now,” becomes, “I will write 500 words a day, five days a week.” Or even the much simpler, “I’m going to spend the next hour working on my book.”

Speaking of which, I have frittered a lot of time this morning so far. It’s time to get some writing done. Not because I should, but because I choose to.

An Interview with Literary Associate Elizabeth Copps

Interview by Janet Fogg (We’re simul-publishing Janet’s interview with Chiseled in Rock blog)

Elizabeth CoppsToday, I have the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth Copps, Literary Associate with the Maria Carvainis Agency, Inc.

Elizabeth began her publishing career in 2010 as an MCA intern after graduating from Florida State University with a BA in English Literature. She was thrilled to join the agency full-time in 2011 as the new literary assistant. Two years later, she was offered the position of literary associate and is incredibly excited to build her own list of authors.

Elizabeth considers herself an eclectic reader, but she is particularly interested in literary, multicultural and contemporary fiction, women’s fiction, young adult and young adult crossover, gritty thrillers and mysteries, memoir and romantic suspense. She appreciates rich and believable characters who immediately draw readers into their world, and she is always captivated by a startling plot twist. Her favorite authors include, John Boyne, Chris Cleave, Gillian Flynn, John Green, Joanne Harris, Jhumpa Lahiri, Dennis Lehane, Stephen King, Daphne du Maurier, David Sedaris, Jeanette Walls, and Carlos Ruiz Zafón.

MCA’s clients include Mary Balogh, Sandra Brown, Candace Camp, Cindy Gerard, Kristan Higgins, Will Thomas, and Laura Wright among others.

Thank you for joining us, Elizabeth!

JF: Please tell us about your typical work day (and how many manuscripts you usually have waiting in your inbox).

EC: Our solicited manuscript log is ongoing, so I have a lot to sift through every day. I usually read between 5 and 10 manuscripts a week depending on whether I am reading partial or full projects. Regarding query letters—the agency usually receives between 20 and 25 letters a day. We try our best to respond to every query within 10 business days of receipt.

JF: What gets you excited in a query letter? Do you have any pet peeves when it comes to submissions?

EC: Queries that read similarly to a blurb on the back of a book always make me sit up and take notice. I love tight, witty language. Additionally, I want to be hooked by a story’s concept from the first sentence or two of the pitch—but fascinating and unusual characters appeal to me as equally as an intriguing plot.

As far as pet peeves are concerned, I have three biggies:
1. Failing to research our agency’s submission guidelines. It’s clear to me when authors have not done their due diligence. Query letters that are not personalized, or queries with 30 other agents copied on the same email are giveaways.

2. Providing biographical information before describing the writing project. I’m very interested in hearing about a writer’s credentials or reading a short biography, but a writer’s first job is to sell me on their book.

3. Starting with an excerpt of the novel instead of a formal pitch. I appreciate receiving 10-15 sample pages in a separate attachment so I can get a sense of the writing, but it is disorienting to begin reading a sample without any context.

JF: Certain agents edit a manuscript prior to shopping it to editors. Others don’t. How would you describe your process?

EC: Providing our authors strong editorial feedback is a service we pride ourselves on at MCA. We want the best, most polished version of our client’s work to land on an editor’s desk.

JF: What do you enjoy most about representing authors to the publishing industry? Least?

EC: In publishing, I really do feel like I get to have my cake and eat it too. I have the privilege of working with highly creative minds as well as impressively business-savvy men and women. I love that I’m in a position where the two sides of the industry merge.

The most unenjoyable aspect of the business has to be sending rejection letters. It’s a necessity, but it can be really difficult. Agents receive rejection letters too, so I know that it is never a good feeling to see one pop up in your inbox.

JF: Which social media venues do you consider most important for authors: a website, a blog, Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads? Are there others you recommend?

EC: Knowing their way around all types of social media platforms can only benefit authors, especially those who are hybrid or self-published writers. I will say that I believe having a strong website is a necessary foundation for any writer. A website should contain links to an author’s Facebook, Twitter, blog etc. as well as the option to sign up for a weekly or monthly newsletter. Play to your strengths. For example, if you know you can keep up a Twitter account, do so. If you know you hate Facebook and will rarely post, you won’t do yourself or your readers any favors by starting up an account.

JF: What one piece of advice would you offer to authors who plan to pitch their novel to you at Colorado Gold?

EC: Have fun with it! Tell me why you’re passionate about the book you wrote. If I can see how enthusiastic you are about the characters and the plot, chances are I’ll be excited to read your work too.

JF: What do you do for fun when you’re not working?

EC: I’m a big foodie, and I should probably make my motto something along the lines of, “no cookie left behind.” I also have a serious travel bug. This year I am lucky enough to be doing quite a bit of domestic travel for business. Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee and of course Colorado are on the docket thus far for 2014.

JF: Now I would like to ask an off-track question. What did you dream of doing when you were twelve years old?

EC: I was convinced that I was going to be a famous painter. The best afterschool class my mom ever enrolled me in was called “Art Safari.” The classroom was in a converted warehouse, and the teacher filled it floor to ceiling with every art supply imaginable. The first day I walked in she looked at me and said, “Create!” It was pretty magical.

Thank you, Elizabeth!

You can visit http://mariacarvainisagency.com/ for submission guidelines, or meet with Elizabeth in Denver when she joins us at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Colorado Gold Conference, September 5-7, 2014.

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Janet Fogg by Aspen copyJanet Fogg’s focus on novel-length fiction began when she was CFO and Managing Principal of OZ Architecture, one of Colorado’s largest (and coolest!) architectural firms. Fifteen writing awards later Janet resigned from OZ to follow the yellow brick road, and Soliloquy, a HOLT Medallion Award of Merit winner, was released by The Wild Rose Press in 2009. Fogg in the Cockpit, co-authored by Janet and her husband Richard, was released worldwide in 2011 by Casemate Publishing. This Military Book Club best seller received a 2013 Air Force Historical Foundation nomination for best WWII book reviewed in Air Power History. Janet served on RMFW’s 2010 Board of Directors as PAL Liaison. You can visit Janet at her website.

How Being an Aspiring Writer is Like Looking for A Media Job

by Trai Cartwright

What could being a filmmaker have in common with being a novelist? Lots! I’ve got a foot in both worlds, so I’m always seeing where they cross streams—including some great advice about how to frame your writing as a job.

With all the news about how Colorado Film is growing, it feels almost the inverse of the publishing world. Whenever I get discouraged about the State of the Novel, I jump across the medium-verse. What I learn there invariably informs how I look at working in fiction.

Take, for example, a recent event I attended from the Colorado Film Commission. The Production heads of the most successful media companies in Denver came to speak about their hiring practices.

My first thought was that the things they had to say was exactly the sort of information aspiring writers needed to hear, too.

Here’s the advice these media pros gave:

1. Everyone wants to live in Colorado. The competition for work is only getting stiffer.

Translation for writers: Doesn’t it seem like everyone you know is writing a book, or just published one? Doesn’t it sometimes feel like the competition has tripled in the past ten years? Where will we all fit? Are there enough readers? What if even 10% of those new writers are better than me? What are my chances?

Whenever I hear an agent or editor asked, “What do you look for in a property?” they all say this: “Something awesome.”

So make it your business to be awesome and you will have no competition. How to be awesome? Read on.

2. Plan on coming in as an intern and if you impress them, they will cultivate and promote.

Translation for writers: Getting one book published is just the beginning, and by no means are you on the road to riches and Amazon #1’s. Many writers never get their second book picked up, and while the reasons for that are myriad, it often comes down to not being up to the effort.

Here are some ways to impress and be cultivated:

Seek out every marketing, book touring, vlogging, residency, interview, and guest blog opportunity. The more you hustle, the more three things happen:

1. Your publishing house will appreciate you and will be all the more willing to find ways to work with you in the future. They know a pro when they see one.
2. The more your fans and soon-to-be-fans can find you, bond with you, and promote you to their friends. (Oh, and sell books!)
3. The more you will feel like a writer. Now all this becomes more than just “making copies and getting coffee” – this is your Job, and as you’ll see in #3, your job is your life.

3. If you aren’t passionate (like, 16 hours a day passionate), you are in the wrong business.

Translation for writers: If this isn’t The Dream, The Thing You Wake Up For, then are you sure this is the right road? It’s a damn hard road, and there are thousands of people for whom this is The Dream, and they are all packed on the road with you.

Every successful writer I know or have read about has the same habits:

1. They treat their writing as a top priority. Which means even those with day jobs write every day. Even on holiday. As one writer said, “If I don’t write every day, I feel like I’m stealing oxygen.”
2. They read. A lot.
3. They attend classes or teach them (both are great ways to learn more about writing).
4. They support other writers because they know that when it’s their turn, their community will support them.
5. Oh, and all that marketing stuff in #2.

4. Consider TV news and corporate videos, as that’s the big game in Denver, and it is absolutely storytelling.

Translation for writers: There’s lots and lots of ways to be a writer besides scoring the big contract with Random House. The concept of the hybrid writer has finally broken through: be every writer you want to be. Short stories, non-fiction, blogs, books in seven different genres, fan fic, poetry, all of it. Do whatever speaks to you, because it is absolutely storytelling, and you are a writer.

5. Once you get a job, don’t plan on ever leaving it cuz media work in Denver is hard to find.

Translation for writers: Hey, how much hard work have you already put in? Hasn’t this always been your dream? Then there is no Plan B. You are in this for the long haul, with all the highs and lows. Hunker down, and get back to work.

Speaking of, off I go. My 2,000 words are calling…

Trai’s teaching a FREE writing class at the Poudre River Library in Fort Collins on August 3rd. Register and come play. Click on “Straight Talk About Dialogue” and sign up.

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Trai-Cartwright-HeadshotTrai Cartwright, MFA, is a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, she was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. A new Denver arrival, Trai currently teaches creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, MFA residencies, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor for fiction and screenplays. Learn more about Trai and her work at her website.

Adventures in Genre Writing- Part I

Thanks for visiting this RMFW blog. My name is Jeanne Stein. I currently write two series: The Anna Strong Vampire novels and a new series, The Fallen Siren Series with co-author Samantha Sommersby, under the name S.J. Harper (I’m the ‘J’.) I also have stories in over a dozen anthologies, two of which made the New York Times Bestseller list. I write Urban Fantasy. I’ll be contributing each month on the second Thursday of the month. And I’ll be talking about the craft of genre writing.

What we’ll be covering in these topics applies to all genres. While some are specific to UF/Paranormal/ SciFi, world building, for instance, most pertain to crafting a good a story. I’ll also talk about the business of writing, something often neglected but very important. The publishing world is changing daily. You need to be aware of how those changes affect you.

. I’ve organized the topics as follows:

1. What is genre? Descriptions, Author Lists, Examples

2. Where do you start, especially in the Scifi/Paranormal/UF world? POV, Setting and World Building

3. How do you write for a genre audience? Some “rules”

4. Character development

5. Story Structure – Plotting, Inciting Incident

6. Dialogue – Putting words in Your Characters’ Mouths

7. Conflict – What is it? Why is it important?

8. How to keep a reader engaged — Creating and Maintaining Suspense

9. How much Sex? How much romance?

10. Common Mistakes

11. The Market – Big Press, Small Press, Self-pub

Following the end of most lessons, I’ll include a brief interview with a popular genre author. Among them are Mario Acevedo, Charlaine Harris, Jackie Kessler, Richelle Mead, Lynda Hilburn, Mark Henry, Anton Strout, and Devon Monk. Each will each make an appearance and share some of their thoughts about being characterized as an Urban Fantasy author. A few have sent pictures of their writing spaces. Since if you’re like me and curious about where these successful authors work their magic, I hope you enjoy these glimpses into their working worlds.

I’d like this to be an exchange of ideas. I’ve been writing a long time and published since 2002, but I’m learning new things everyday about writing and the publishing world. I’m happy to share. Writing is a complex, surprising, often frustrating business.

It’s also the best job I’ve ever had.

We’ll only be meeting once a month—but if you have any questions you’d like to see addressed, send them on. I’ll check in here often.

See you in August and we’ll get started!