It’s Full of Stars

In many ways, a writer's journey has much in common with Arthur C. Clarke’s novel-turned-classic-film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The hapless author boards his-or-her craft (a manuscript instead of a rocket), launches into a hostile space, and spends many months (or, sometimes, years) in what seems like suspended animation. Time passes, the author alternately waiting for something to happen and struggling with the perpetual fears that NO ONE WILL EVER OPEN THE POD BAY DOORS no matter how much (s)he begs.

(HAL’s got nothing on a writer’s subconscious. Trust me here.)

During those weeks, and months, and years, the author keeps busy, studying craft and working on as many manuscripts as it takes to reach the destination. Agents get queried, tearstained rejections get filed, and life moves on. Eventually, the writer finds an agent and a publisher, or decides the self-publishing path is the right one.

Then, just like the astronaut in 2001, the author's journey reaches its endpoint–the book release. At which point, the author stares in awe at the real, live book in her hands and whispers softly...

It’s full of stars.”

… fade to black. Journey over. Story ended.

WHAT????

Now, wait a minute.

If you're like me, you saw that ending and said. "That can't be all there is."

WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL US WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

But there's a reason 2001 ended where it did, and why it didn't tell us any more. It parallels the writer's path here, too.

When you get there, you realize the ending--whether we're talking 2001 or an author's debut release--isn't actually the ending at all.

The ending is just the start of another journey.

Publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. (There’s a reason we call it “the writing life.”) The author's initial trip to publication is wonderful, scary, and filled with firsts, and yet it's merely the opening bars of a longer (and even more beautiful) symphony.

Surprise. When it's over? It isn’t over.

And now, another story.

In late December 1973 I was two and a half years old.

A neighbor gave me a pair of lovely presents wrapped in shiny paper and tied with ribbons. I opened the first, unwinding the bow and setting it gently aside before I peeled back the tape that bound the paper. Minutes passed, but I took my time. I savored every moment until at last I removed the wrapping and revealed a brand-new book beneath.

A hardback book.

I don't remember the title but I'll never forget the cool, slick feel of that cover beneath my hands. Immediately, I opened it up and began to "read" the pictures.

My mother gave me a gentle reminder: “Susan, don't forget you have another present. Why don't you open it? What do you think's inside?”

I paused, one hand on the page to hold my place, and looked at the second package. After a moment I answered, "Probably … another book.”

And then, I went back to reading.

That story has more to do with this post than you might initially suspect.

I love my debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CATI enjoyed every part of the detailed process that went into its writing, editing, layout, and publication. The book's release came after ten years of struggle, craft, and rejection, and I savored the feel of that book in my hands as I savored the beautiful Christmas book my neighbor gave me many years ago.

But by the time I held my published book in my hands, I had already boarded another craft--the second book in the series. When that one was finished...I started on the next.

Consider this post your gentle reminder to stop gazing lovingly at the book in your lap--regardless of whether or not it's published--and to continue moving forward, one the next phase of your journey.

Because the writer's journey, the writer's life, is not about a destination. Finish a project and start on the next one.

Never let your fears or insecurities stop you, no matter how impossible the journey seems right now. Don't wait on someone to open the pod bay doors and let you enter this realm--success as a writer is something you have to work for, and accomplish, through hard work, determination, and effort. And you can do it, if you try.

But on the way, take time to enjoy the process, no matter where you are.

Today is the dream.

Today is the journey.

Savor this moment.

Trust me.

It’s full of stars.

I Have a Strong Opinion – Now What?

Politics.

The Viking happened to be looking over my shoulder when I wrote that word, and immediately told me, "Don't go there."

He's wise, of course. If, as a writer, you venture to spout your political beliefs on the internet, you're going to get yourself in trouble. You'll alienate readers. You'll invite trolls. You might get into arguments with other writers. Most agents and marketing and PR people advise their writer clients to button up and stay out of the fray.

So far in my writing career I haven't had much trouble keeping my mouth shut. I'm busy. I hate conflict. And since I'm Canadian and living in the United States, I can't vote and don't really feel I have a say in anything that happens here. As for Canada, I've been gone long enough to feel detached and like I don't really understand the issues. So I keep my mouth shut and write my books and let the world fall as it may.

But I've been having thoughts about this of late. Not little, fleeting thoughts, but big, cumbersome, slow moving THOUGHTS that are insisting I pay some attention.

There is so much ugly out there. Thanks to social media, even if I don't watch the news (which I avoid like the plague) all of that ugly is brought regularly to my attention. Rape. Police brutality. Racial injustice. Suffering refugees. Sexual inequality. War and rumors of war. A constant, overwhelming, deluge of hate.

I have opinions on all of these things. Sometimes I have vehement opinions. Still, knowing that anything I put out there on Twitter or Facebook or even a blog post will be out there FOREVER, I mostly just bite my tongue, sit on my hands, and keep my thoughts to myself.

Over the last year I've been pushed to the point where I question my own silence. Things are happening out there that move beyond politics. They are moral and ethical issues involving people. Other living, breathing, human souls who are being hurt.

If a Syrian refugee child showed up starving and homeless on my doorstep would I feed and shelter her? Of course I would.

If a woman knocked at my door late at night looking for refuge from some horror of a human being who has raped her, would I take her in, get her to safety, do everything in my power to help her bring the assaulter to justice? You bet I would.

If I see racial injustice happen in front of me, will I speak up? Yes. I have. I do.

But there's this thing that happens, I think, when we're inundated by horrific images from all over the globe. Before the age of technology, people only needed to focus on what happened in their own corner of the world. Now, everywhere you look, there's somebody suffering. Every minute of every hour of every day. And, as human beings, we have a limited capacity to absorb horror and trauma and fear before we begin to suffer our own traumatic response. When we reach a certain threshold our defense mechanisms kick in, numbing our response, making it easier to see some things as "far away" and therefore not a danger or grief we need to attend to. At some point, even those things close to home can seem less relevant.

Defense mechanisms are healthy, to a point. Just as keeping our mouths shut in public is healthy to a point.

But it's also important to act, to make a difference, to be an instrument of change. As writers, we are adept at using words to share ideas and provoke emotions. I think it's important to develop an awareness of how we are using, or not using, our influence. Action, even in small ways, makes a difference, even if we are never able to see it.

Social Media isn't the only place we can express our opinions, our outrage, and our grief. I've always admired Dickens for his ability to tell a good story while condemning social injustices. Pratchett did this brilliantly, as well, so a writer doesn't have to be focused on literary fiction in order to write stories that make a difference.

To be clear, I'm not advocating that any of us get preachy. Tales told from a moral high horse seldom make for good reading. And I don't have answers for the question of how much we should share our beliefs in the public arena. But I do think some serious soul searching is in order. Knowing what we believe, having a moral compass, and allowing that to find its way into our work is an important step.

I'll be working on that. What about you? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

Romance – my addiction of choice … by Desiree Holt

DesireeHolt200x263Okay, okay, so I’m a sucker for a happy ending. But here’s how I look at it. Every day there is so much pain and misery in the world, not to mention the problems we face dealing with everyday life. When I curl up with a book, I want to know that the ending will be happy and satisfying and the hero and heroine will end up together. Oh, their road to happiness will certainly be filled with rocks and thorns. Where’s the fun in having them meet, fall in love and just trot off into the sunset? And who’d believe it , anyway?

Because romance, for all that it’s fantasy, also has to be grounded in reality. The readers I know who love romance want to change places with the heroine. They want to meet the hero, flawed though he may be, and be the woman he falls in love with. They want to be tall, short, thin, curvy, blonde, brunette, redhead—something they are not in real life. Because even in the happiest and most fulfilling relationships, there is always the desire to dream and fantasize. Romance gives women that opportunity.

I didn’t come to the romance genre at once, though. I thought I would write mysteries, because that’s what I read growing up. But when I finally sat down to write that first book, I could not get past chapter three. Then I read my first romantic suspense and I thought, This is what I am going to write. I wrote that first book in an effort to create my own hero like the one I’d fallen in love with—dark, dangerous, self-controlled except in bed. A bad boy who did good. And so sexy I wanted to find a way to bring him to life.

It certainly wasn’t all skittles and beer after that, though. There were far fewer opportunities to “break the barrier,” so to speak, then there are now. Self publishing wasn’t even on anyone’s horizon. But I plugged away at it (totally necessary) and eventually got my first break. Others followed. And as my backlist grew along with my readership,. I discovered I could spread my wings and test other subgenres.

Maybe it was my age. I was seventy years old when my first book was published, arriving at a time in life where I didn’t feel constrained to be bound by strict rules. I read two romances about wolf shifters and fell in love with the genre. Five series have been born of that. I love the wolf. I think he is a magnificent, romantic animal so writing about wolf shifters was easy for me.

2015_Holt_DH_RawEdgeofDanger_KindleI enjoy action adventure movies and television, and read thrillers by several authors, so it was natural for me to say, okay, let’s try that subgenre. And what fun that turned out to be. No one told me I couldn’t do it, because by then the marketplace had changed drastically. I loved creating those darkly adventurous men who jumped out of helicopters, fought terrorists and took down the bad guys. And of course, were incredible lovers. As a writer I was free to let my imagination run wild and I did, drawing with words the kind of heroes I wanted to drag into my house and lock the doors!

Then I got a little more adventurous, and created heroines I wanted to be myself. They practiced at gun ranges, were crack shots, could take down criminals without blinking an eye. And were rewarded with a romance that sizzled their toes.

It has been and continues to be such fun letting my imagination run wild. As I said before, you reach an age where you ignore restrictions and create in the pages of your stories the kind of life experiences you’d like for yourself. And romance is really the only genre where you can do this unfettered.

I’ve met a lot of people on my journey. I should probably dig out my tee shirt that says, Careful or you’ll end up in my next book. Because that happens so often. I meet interesting or good looking people and immediately start creating a story line for them.

But let’s complete the circle and get back to romance. In a romance story you can push the boundaries, give your imagination free rein, write scenes that your readers can live vicariously. As you get older, it becomes so much easier to do that. To “cast off the bonds of restriction.” To write yourself into a story, playing out your fantasy.

Do you have a story in your head? A character you’d love to create? Or meet? Then sit down and put your fingers on your keyboard. Let your imagination flow and go wild. I promise the end result will be worth it.

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

Known as the oldest living author of erotic romance, Desiree Holt has produced more than two hundred titles in nearly every subgenre of romance fiction. Her stories are enriched by her personal experiences, her characters by the people she meets. After fifteen years in the great state of Texas, she relocated back to Florida to be closer to members of her family and a large collection of friends. Her favorite pastimes are watching football, reading, and researching her stories.

Learn more about Desiree and her novels at her website and blog. She can also be found on Facebook and her Facebook author page, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn, and Goodreads.

Note from Desiree: I will pick one commenter at random (using random.org) to receive a $25.00 Amazon.com gift card. This giveaway is open to anyone anywhere, but please post your comment by midnight U.S. Mountain Time on Thursday, December 17th.

What Makes a Winning Conference Proposal?

Conference Prep Chalkboard

During preparations for Colorado Gold last year, I had the opportunity to sit on the committee that selected which workshop and discussion panel proposals would be chosen for conference.

This was my first time taking part in the selection process, and I came away with several tidbits that I thought would be useful for would-be presenters who are thinking about submitting a proposal for future conferences.

First off, a tiny bit of conference workshop trivia from 2015:

  • We had nearly 200 proposals submitted for workshops and panels.
  • 79 workshops and panels were ultimately scheduled, with a handful of these being reserved for Agent and Editor Workshops, Special Guest Classes, and Classes by our Keynote Speakers.

A lot of consideration and planning goes into the selection process on the part of the committee and then by the conference chair(s). Our goal is to ensure we are providing the widest range of classes to suit writers at every level of their career from beginning writers to published authors. As publishing continues to evolve, so will the types of workshops and panels at conference.

During the proposal selection process, the committee focused on the proposed topic as well as the proposal itself. Knowing that your proposal will be one among many, it's worth your time to make sure it showcases your workshop in the best possible way. When putting your proposal together for submission, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is your topic specific, fresh, and unique? Conference will always seek proposals on writing craft basics, best practices, how to, and industry standards, but if your proposal comes off as run-of-the-mill during the proposal process, what does that say about your class? There are many ways to talk about outlining, character development, queries, marketing, and publishing as a whole, but if your topic feels stale, it simply won't stand out.
  • Is your topic relevant to the industry's current climate? Publishing is changing at a rapid pace, and authors are savvy to what's going on. If you've presented on this topic before, how have you updated your class to keep it fresh?
  • Is your topic positive in nature? One of the goals of Colorado Gold is to pump up our attendees and fill them with the knowledge and information they need to face their writing with a fresh attitude and renewed excitement. A workshop or class that is geared toward the negative or focuses solely on what not-to-do will have the opposite effect.
  • Have you taught before? It's perfectly fine if this is your first proposal and your first time teaching. We welcome fresh talent! But make sure you share your credentials so the committee can see that you're the perfect person to teach a class on your proposed topic. Also, be sure to include enough content in your description and outline so it's clear you know your subject and are prepared to teach the material. This goes for experienced presenters who are teaching a new course for the first time.
  • Are you submitting a proposal for a discussion panel? How do you plan to engage the audience? How do you plan to moderate the discussion? Have you listed all of the speakers? What topics will you discuss that will provide insights to attendees they can use? Is your topic so broad it lacks clarity? So narrow as to limit its appeal? Is your panel audience-focused? A panel heavy with self-promotion won't appeal to attendees who are looking for usable knowledge to apply to their own writing careers.
  • Does your proposal indicate concrete knowledge or skills?  What do you plan to share with your audience that they can take away and apply to their writing? Be detailed so that the committee can understand what attendees will learn in your workshop or panel.
  • Does your proposal clearly state your audience?  Is it for Beginner, Intermediate, Professional level writers? For everyone? Is it for published or pre-published writers? If it's geared toward already-published writers, does the content pertain to traditionally published, indie, or both? Does the content of your outline match the expected track level?
  • Is your outline detailed enough without being too detailed? If you submit an outline for your two-hour workshop that contains a handful of five bullet points and no supporting detail, it will seem as though you don't have enough content to fill your time slot. Conversely, if your outline for your one-hour workshop is fifteen pages single-spaced, it will seem as though you might not have a firm grasp on your subject matter or enough time to present all the material. Find a balance that allows you to show what you'll cover, how it will flow, how long it will take, and what attendees will take away.
  • Is your outline well organized?  A well-planned outline is easy to spot. It shows the main topic, the sub-topics in the order you plan to present them, and shares a bit of the direction your class will take. An organized outline indicates a solid grasp of subject knowledge and information flow, which results in a class attendees will be glad they attended.
  • Have you proofread your proposal and provided all the information requested? This might seem like a no-brainer, but think about it. Just like a resume, your proposal represents you during this process. Typos and errors reflect poorly on your proposal. You want to give the selection committee every reason to choose yours over another proposal. Do yourself a favor and submit your best possible proposal.

What are we looking for? If you have something that you think will be of interest to the attendees at RMFW Colorado Gold, we invite you to submit your proposals regardless of topic. Based on feedback from our conference attendee surveys, attendees have requested workshops and panels on the following subjects:

Writing Craft

  • Character Development, Character Arcs
  • How to Write a Beginning
  • Plotting Stories and Series
  • Genre-specific Tropes: Dos and Don'ts
  • Pacing
  • Writing Diversity: Other Cultures, Other Abilities, LGBTQ

Author Business & Professional Level

  • Marketing & PR
  • Networking: How-to, Strategies, New Avenues, What's Coming
  • Managing Financials, Taxes, Accounting, Best Practices
  • Contracts for Traditional and Indie Published Authors, Dos and Don'ts
  • Author Events, Public Speaking, Book Signings, Best Practices
  • Industry Insights for Traditional and Indie Publishing
  • Indie Publishing, What it Entails, How to Manage, DIY versus Hiring a Team
  • Social Media Management for Authors
  • Book Formatting
  • Book Reviews, How to Get Them
  • Audiobook Production, Options, How To
  • Cover Design
  • Discoverability
  • Author Platform, Building an Audience, How Tos, Options
  • Author Websites, DIY, How To, Options
  • Readers: Where to Find Them
  • Writing as a Career

This list is by no means complete, but hopefully it triggers ideas and provides some insights about the kinds of things we're hearing from our conference goers about what they want to see. 2016 Proposal Submissions will open January 1, 2016 and close at midnight on April 1, 2016. Keep an eye on the conference page, your email, and the RMFW home page for details.

We look forward to receiving your proposals and building another fabulous conference for 2016!

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

A picture really is worth a thousand words, sometimes more. Humans are visual creatures and as writers, we rely on our sense of sight above all the others. As storytellers, we use written visuals to tell a story by creating pictures with words instead of paint. The earliest known stories before recorded language were written with pictures. Prehistoric man told stories through paintings on cave walls. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics are a combination of logographics and alphabetic elements. The first historical civilizations of the Near East, Africa, China, and Central America used some form of logographic writing. It's how written language began.

So it's no surprise that stories can be told through art and photographs. Comic books and graphic novels are designed to do just that, but some artwork can tell a tale without words to go with them. As a prime example, I offer Norman Rockwell's phenomenal storytelling via his paintbrush. Growing up, I idolized Rockwell's work and would study his paintings for hours, noting every tiny detail he included that told a story about his subjects. He's quoted as saying: "No man with a conscience can just bat out illustrations. He's got to put all his talent and feeling into them!" And Rockwell did exactly that.

Rockwell painted life as he wished it really was: happy children, engaged parents and grandparents, good clean fun.

Then there's the darker side of art; the very detailed religious art by 15th century Dutch painter Heironymus Bosch. The longer you look at his paintings, the more you see. But unlike Rockwell, Bosch mined the depths of his subconscious to create what's never been seen, but only imagined, and only by him. Don't look at his paintings late at night or they may invade your dreams.

If you prefer realism to fantasy, photojournalism is an incredible true-story telling medium. A picture being worth a thousand words is the motto of the photojournalist whose goal is to capture a moment in time for eternity. Each photo tells a story that is felt as much as it is seen.

In this digital age, some artists have discovered innovative ways of telling stories through pictures. One of my favorite digital artists is Amelie Fravoisse. She reminds me of Norman Rockwell in how she stages her scenes to convey heart-warming messages of family, seasons and holidays, except that she uses three-dimensional graphic tools and objects with a computer. The details in her work are amazing, and the more I look, the more I see. Every picture makes me smile.

I'm an artist who relies on the pictures in my mind to tell my stories. I'm nowhere near as talented as Amelie, but like her, I use 3D computer graphic tools to create art and each image tells its own story. Here are a few of my own story pictures I can share:

weeping

Midnight Dance

Snapshot_003

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

Karen Duvall

Karen Duvall is an award-winning author with 5 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. Writing under the pen name Cory Dale, she released the first book in a new urban fantasy series, Demon Fare, in December 2014.

Karen is represented by the McIntosh & Otis Literary Agency out of New York city. She’s currently at work on a new women’s fiction novel with elements of magic realism.

http://www.karenduvallauthor.com/
http://www.karenduvall.blogspot.com
https://twitter.com/KarenDuvall
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/405199.Karen_Duvall
http://www.facebook.com/Karen.Duvall.Author

 

Yes, Virginia….

Okay, I'm doing something totally out of character for me. It's Wednesday and my post is due up tomorrow. Have I prepared one? No. Hence this impromptu entry which may or may not succeed. If it does, I thank the spirit of Christmas. If it doesn't, well, our intrepid editor, Patricia, will surely let me know.

What's on my mind? I imagine the same things that are on the mind of every RMFW member this time of year. First, the holidays. I think I've finished my shopping, but I always think that two weeks before Christmas and something (or someone) springs to mind and I'm off again. I've shopped online more than I ever have this year. AND I've had packages sent directly to the recipients instead of repacking and shipping them myself. Maybe not so personal, but a time and money saver for sure!

Which brings me to the second topic. Do you spend too much money at Christmas? I'm sure I do. But I wouldn't change it. I love finding the perfect gift for a friend or relative. I shop by item and not price tag. I'm also adding a special touch this year. Since I'm trying to downsize and no longer put up a big tree, I'm giving away ornaments that I've accumulated through the years. My daughter already has our heirloom ornaments, but these are "special moment" ornaments collected on vacations, etc. The recipients won't recognize the significance, I'm sure, but I'm happy to pass them on to good homes.

Next, writing. I have--count'em--four projects going at once. I didn't think I could do more than one book at a time. But let's face it, the publishing world has changed. Readers don't want to wait a year for a book anymore. While the traditional houses seem to think that's still the norm, we who are morphing into "hybrid" authors, know it's not. It's tough, for sure. But I firmly believe to succeed nowadays, AT LEAST two books or novellas or anthologies a year are  not only desirable but necessary. That means settling that butt in the chair for more hours than ever before.

Whatever holiday you celebrate, Hanukkah or Christmas or Kwanzaa or the winter solstice, this is the time to reflect on the good things in your life. I love Thanksgiving because it's an excuse to overindulge, but this time of year, friends and family are even more in the forefront of my thoughts. I'm happy that my daughter is happy and settled in her life, that she's found a life partner. I'm happy to have critique and writing partners that I count as friends. I'm happy to have achieved a measure of success, however small, in what is my passion as well as my work. I'm happy to have a family who loves and supports me.

And I'm grateful to RMFW. I know many people say it, but I can testify it's true. I never would have gotten published had it not been for this organization. You who are aspiring writers, took an important first step when you joined. Pat yourself on the back for that, and take advantage of all the gifts RMFW has to offer you.

It's as close to a writing Santa Claus as you're ever going to find!

Happy Holidays!

 

Yes Virginia, There is a Query Clause

Santa hatMany of us have freshly NaNoWriMo novels burning a hole in our computer. THIS will be THE NOVEL. The ONE that makes all your publishing dreams come true.

So why not share our precious with the publishing world?

What’s the worst thing that could happen?

Embarrassment. Ridicule. A sudden onset of turrets (Yes, you will suddenly have a strong desire to put steeples on your house like on the opening of Scooby Doo.).

And then the other possibility.

You ruin your budding career.

Blacklisted.

Hey, it happens. Ask any agent/editor. They likely have a list of authors who will never get a book deal from them. Maybe the author is an asshole (I tried to find a more appropriate word, but really, asshole, is the only one that truly fits). Maybe the author plagiarized. Or worst of all, maybe the author drunkenly groped the agent/editor at a conference. Whatever the reason, authors do get blacklisted. And sometimes that happens at the query stage.

Not that this is any author in RMFW, but sometimes authors get desperate to publish. DESPERATE. I’m talking stalking agents online to find out their favorite chocolate and sending a box full to their home address. Or authors who send bad-very bad-queries. I don’t mean grammar and structure. I mean, queries that border on crazy.

Let’s quickly review the query don’ts:

  • Don’t requery the same agent/editor with the same project again and again. It makes you look crazy.
  • Don’t EVER respond to a rejection, even if it’s a thank you (unless the agent/editor gave you significant feedback).
  • Don’t be a pain in the butt. It’s hard to wait for a response. It’s even harder to wait for a rejection. You want to rage against the unfairness of the gatekeeper and their form email rejection. You want answers as to why your query was rejected. You want a book deal, damn it.

Think about what the agent/editor wants. They want to publish good great books. They want great authors to work with. People who make their deadlines and don’t argue too much during the editorial process. They want nice people. Better yet, they want author who sell millions of copies. So if you are a pain in the ass, you better have a book so good the world falls in love with it.

I sort of got off topic of my original intent, which was to advise you not to send queries on your NaNoWriMo projects or really any project during the holidays. Sure, publishing houses and agencies are still open, but people are often out of the office.

Then comes January, when everyone who’s ever made a resolution to publish a book sends a query out…

Then there is February….and Valentine’s Day…what if the agent just got dumped….

April showers can’t be a great sign for April….

June is wedding season….

August is just too damn hot and no one in publishing is in during the summer….

I hope you get my point. The right time to query is when you feel your book is ready, and when the agent/editor you want is accepting queries.

Do you have query parameters you follow? And what are they?

 

 

The RMFW Spotlight is on Sheri Duff-Merz, Programs Chair

2015_Sheri Duff-Merz1. Welcome, Sheri! Tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I’m the Programs Chair for RMFW. I have been a member since 2011 and last year I felt it was time to give back to the organization. I answered an email when Mark Stevens was looking for someone to take over Programs so that he could run Podcasts. He made it easy by making sure most of the programs were scheduled for the year. I love attending the free monthly sessions and it has been fun setting them up. It gives me a chance to meet more of my peeps. I’m always open to new ideas so if you have one, drop me an email (denverprograms@rmfw.org). I want to make sure that the free programs are a benefit to our members and that we are representing many different aspects of writing in various fiction genres.

2. What is your current WIP or most recent publication, and where can we buy a book, if available?

In March I self-published my YA novel, Rule #9. It is a story about a girl in high school who struggles with her new blended family. It is available on Amazon.

My current work in progress is about a girl who is trying to cope with the loss of her mother who ran off and joined a religious cult.

3. We've all heard of bucket lists -- you know, those life-wish lists of experiences, dreams or goals we want to accomplish -- what's one of yours?

I don’t really have a bucket list. I want to go to New Orleans and I would love to go to England but I would also be content staying in the state of Colorado for the rest of my life. My dream is that one day I will spot a teenager reading one of my stories.

4. Most writers have an Achilles heel with their writing. Confess, what's yours?

I love words like, “just “and all of the boring verbs. I use them all in my first draft. I keep a list to go back and take these out during the editing process. I know it would “just” be easier to keep them out to begin with but for me it is “just” easier to write and then fix later.

5. What do you love most about the writing life?

I’m a daydreamer. Writing gives me a way to dream on paper. It gives me a way to make my characters real and I can converse with them. And I love hanging out with other writers because they know I’m crazy and they still accept me.

6. Now that you have a little writing experience, what advice would you go back and give yourself as a beginning writer?

Don’t send crazy stupid letters to agents. Instead, “Just write” and go to conferences and don’t wait so long to join a critique group. And read, read, and read more. Read in your genre and outside of your genre. And don’t be afraid to talk to other writers. People are either nice or they are not. Make friends with nice people and ignore the rest. Then remember that writers are also shy just like the part of you that hides. Make sure to talk to them before you pass judgment.

2015_Duff-Merz_workspace7. What does your desk look like? What item must be on your desk? Do you have any personal, fun items you keep on it?

My desk is an old oak kitchen table that I bought at Goodwill and painted turquoise and black. I love it. It’s big and has no drawers. When I look into the room the people who I love the most surround me in frames along with my favorite paintings hanging on the wall. When I sit in my chair behind my desk, my focus is the computer unless one of the three dogs starts clawing at me, wanting my attention. My favorite item on my desk is a poem my grandpa cut out of who knows what and put in a frame.

Never say “Die.” Say “Damn!”- It isn’t classic, It may be profane. But we mortals have need of it, Time and again; And you’ll find you’ll recover from Fate’s hardest slam, you never say “Die”—say “Damn!”

8. What book are you currently reading (or what was the last one you read)?

I am currently listening to The Future of Us by Jay Asher on CD during my commute to my paying job, and I’m reading The Girl On the Train by Paula Hawkins.

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Sheri Duff lives in Parker Colorado with her ultra amazing supportive husband and too many dogs. She also has two adult children who are her world. Learn more about Sheri and her work at her website. She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

A Character By Any Other Name…

Usually, the names of my characters simply come to me, along with their physical characteristics. I always know how they look, because long before I have any idea of the plot, I visualize at least one scene with the main characters. It may be the first scene, or it may one that happens later in the book, but that initial image is what sets up the whole story. I know if my characters are tall or petite, or if it’s the hero, if he is very muscular and tall or merely average for a studly hero. I know their eye and hair color, and if their hair is wavy or straight. They appear in my mind as clear as a photograph.

Based on their physical characteristics and the character’s general personality, which I usually have a glimpse of from that initial scene, the character’s name will generally pop into head. When that doesn’t happen, it’s more of a challenge. Since I'm an impatient writer, who wants to immediately jump in and start writing, I don’t wait until I find the perfect name. I come up with a temporary name and use that until I find something better. As a result, the heroine in my current WIP has had three different names. Thank heavens for the “search and replace” feature!

To find potential names, a lot of authors use baby-name books or online sites. But for historical novels, that only works up to a point. When you need a name that fits a specific time and place, you have to do more intensive research. I often use The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook. When that fails me, I start delving into historical records. But finding a name that is historically accurate can involve other issues. A lot of traditional names from the more archaic eras are odd-sounding. Eneuawg and Goleuddydd are historical Welsh names, but I would probably never use them for a character. The same with the Saxon names Ulfcetel and Aelfgyth. Readers want to have some sense of how to pronounce the characters’ names. If you use too many unusual names, readers will get confused and become overwhelmed with keeping track of who is who. They might even stop reading altogether.

For my books set in contemporary times, it’s easier, although sometimes there are too many choices. Because of the time travel sub-plot, my modern heroine needed to have a name beginning with “M”. Obviously, there are dozens, if not hundreds of names that fit that criterion. It you narrow it down to names that are popular currently, it gets a bit easier. Then it’s a matter of finding one that sounds right, that intuitively fits that character.

I've written a couple of fantasy novels, and in them I used mostly made-up names. I combined real words from real languages for some names and for others, altered real but obscure names to create new ones. It's interesting how some sounds we associate with females and others with males. And how some names sound right for a hero and others are a better fit for a villain.

The process really can't be explained. We all tend to associate specific characteristics with certain names. Often our feelings about a name are based on someone we knew with that name. Or it may be the way the name sounds or some other connection. I remember when my son was trying to figure out a name for his new kitten. She is an unusual-looking cat, what I call a pastel tortoiseshell, with gray, gold and cream all swirled together. I wanted to name her Paisley, but my son immediately rejected the name. It seems he knew a girl in preschool named Paisley and he didn’t like her. For the record, he ended up naming the cat Trainwreck. A tough-sounding name that appealed to him, a guy in his late teens, and which the cat lived up to, becoming the terror of the local mouse, rabbit and, alas, bird population when she came to live with us when my son went off to college. (Trainwreck now lives happily with my son and his wife, who was his girlfriend when they first got the kitten, in their tiny house in San Diego.)

How you feel about a character’s name is hugely important. In the cases where I’ve struggled with a character’s name and/or used several different ones, I also tended to struggle with their personality and their role in the book. It’s almost as if the character doesn’t become clear to me and truly come alive until I find the right name for them. A character who has the “right” name from the beginning is usually easy to write. Their personality, motivation and conflicts are immediately clear to me.

But what if you find the perfect name for your character and then realize another character’s name starts with the same letter? In that case, I usually change the name of the character who is less important to the story. With two names starting with the same letter, it’s too easy for the reader to get confused. But finding a new name can be agonizing. Some characters, even secondary ones, are simply that name, and creatively, it’s difficult to find an alternative that feels right.

Maybe I’m the only author to whom character names matter so much. But I don’t think so. I was recently talking to a writer friend who was struggling, and part of the reason was because she kept getting the heroine’s name in her current WIP mixed up with the heroine’s name in the book she was editing. Until she got the right name clear in her mind, she had difficulty moving forward in the book.

The only thing harder than naming your characters is finding a pseudonym. But that’s an issue for another blog post!

 

GET YOUR HEAD RIGHT

I struggle most with writing when my head isn't in the right place. What is the right place? For each person it's different. For me, it's when I feel good physically and when I feel good about myself, emotionally. Physically, it's just hard to write when you're not feeling well, when you're coughing or blowing your nose every five minutes, or making frequent trips to the bathroom...nuff said.

Stair MazeBut emotionally is where I'm most fragile. It's very easy for me to get down on myself. A very negative and mentally abusive father, though long dead now, still "lives rent free in my head," as they say. He's in there moving furniture around, leaving fingerprints on the glasses, changing all the presets on the remote. He knows where all my buttons are hidden, where all the worst things I can think about myself are stashed.

In truth, as is always the case, it's really not him, it's me. When alive he convinced me I'm not good enough, and even if I were, I don't deserve any success, because I am only bound to f--k it up eventually anyway. In what I'm told is a common psychological twist I still don't quite understand, after I moved out, instead of leaving all that behind, I've taken up his mantel and now do all those things to myself. That guy in my head is just an avatar of him - it's really me.

I've gotten to the point where I've managed to lock him in a basement room and, for the most part, ignore him. There are even times when I've had the pleasure of going down there and gloating over some success or triumph. Those are the good days. But it also doesn't take much for him to pick the lock and get out, running around up there wreaking havoc yet again.

A careless or off-hand hurtful word from a loved one or even a stranger; a moment of carelessness on my part, hurting someone else and making me ashamed of myself; even putting effort into a project and failing. All of these are the skeleton keys, not only to letting him out of his cell, but giving him access to all the past things I've tried to forget, dragging them out and parading them in front of me, making me feel even lower.

How do I write on days when outside events have shaken my confidence? I have to be honest with you, I haven't found a sure way yet. For me, the only thing that works is just to force myself to write. Sure, the first few paragraphs I put on the page at a moment like this are, in the vernacular of my ancestors, pure shite! But if I can stick with it, sooner or later it smooths out and suddenly I'm in my other world, the world of my making, where I control all outcomes, where the good guys eventually win and the bad guys get paid back for all their evil. I can always go back later, after I'm feeling good again, and fix the bad parts.

Meanwhile, this doesn't just make me feel better while I'm writing. When I come up for air it's with a fresher perspective on all my problems, a realization that no problem is so great it can't me handled, somehow, and compared to some, my life hardly sucks. My writing isn't just a job for me, or even a hobby.

My writing is essential therapy!