A Study in Clues: The Layered Story

As a mystery writer, I’m intrigued by the notion of clues.  The old “list of stuff in a scene” or, “what the butler saw” are clue-types I still enjoy. But to be honest, I often miss clues in mysteries, relying on my “gut feeling” to decide who the culprit of the crime is. To me, under the clues, deductive reasoning, observances and other detecting tools of the trade, is the story. And the story is what brings the reader along, even if I know that the person who seems the nicest is likely to be the killer.

M.C. Escher's Three Worlds from WikiArt.org
M.C. Escher's Three Worlds
from WikiArt.org

So, last week I dove into the classic mystery by Wilkie Collins, “The Woman in White.” I hadn’t read it before, and wasn’t expecting much.  After all, it was written in 1859 in the midst of the Victorian era. The sentences are long, the characters seldom get right to the point, and the niceties of the times could make the pace of the story seem beyond quaint, to nerve-wracking slow.  I thought I’d have no problem discovering “who done it” by chapter two. Was I in for an education.

Collins’ language, though typical of the time, engaged me completely.  He breaks all sorts of story rules by today’s standards, yet in doing so, enriches the reading experience completely.

The table of contents gives us seldom used concepts, like Epoch (a period in a person’s life marked by notable events), and a story started by one character and continued by another, based on the events. No mish-mash of multiple witnesses to the same event as we write today, but a continuous story told from the perspective of the best witness for that event. But every witness has a mystery of his or her own to resolve. Each was written in first person, but the personalities and their personal worries were so varied it was easy to keep them straight.

In the first paragraph of the tale, we are engaged with a question put forth in the form of a melodramatic statement: “This is the story of what a Woman’s patience can endure, and what a Man’s resolution can achieve.”  Okay, I’ll bite.

There is no dead body in the first chapter. Or the second. In fact, no one dies for quite a while in this tale. Yet time and again, I was caught up in the tension of what might happen. And when, at last, we get to the death, it seems almost inconsequential to the tale.  This isn’t much for detecting writers of today to pull from.

In fact, it wasn’t until the very end of the tale, that I understood a seldom used, but completely effective form of clue-setting—layering.  With multiple perspectives, we have multiple stories pulled along not just by a theme, but by subplots, each with mysteries of their own.  Why did Sir Percival insist on marrying Laura when she made it plain her heart rested elsewhere?  Who is this enormous Fosco, and how does he maintain that Svengali hold over so many people? Who is this woman in white, and why does she look so much like Laura?

Every page seemed to introduce a new mystery, even as it revealed new evidence of evil intent.  I’m reminded of the old Heinz ketchup commercial: anticipation. Layering.

And, I was truly grateful that not every mystery in the story was closed in the final pages of the book.  Some mysteries were solved early and others late.  The more you read the more you were rewarded in the puzzles and solutions before you.

In a way, The Woman in White reminds me of M.C. Escher’s lithograph of The Three Worlds. When you look at this picture of a pond with a fish in it, you’re tempted to walk by and say “so what?” But then Escher invites you in with the title of his work and you can see so much more because of the subtlety of laying he’s done with the fish in one world, the leaves in another, and the trees in a third world. Woman in White gives us at least that many layers.

So what’s the clue here? How do you plant it in your next story?  Learning to layer here.

The Value of a Compliment

So. Here we are, six months into the “New Year.” How are your writing resolutions going?  Are you getting 2,000, or 10,000, or whatever daily word counts you aspired to complete? Me either.

Have you finished that first novel and started in on your second? I’m right with you on missing that one too.

In fact, like 92% of the people who make resolutions, I have failed to meet my 2016 reading and writing goals.

And the start of my year hasn’t been all that much to celebrate either.  I entered two writing contests only to fail making it past the first round of judging.  I had one of those decade birthdays, and sometimes I feel every minute of how ancient my bones have become. Just lock me up in the museum and throw away the key. And while I started and love a new job, guess what that does to my writing time. Anybody have cheese to go with my wine-ing? Hearts bleeding peanut butter yet?

To me, there are always clouds for the silver linings in a writer’s life. We work alone, and are sometimes lonely. We’re introverted in an extrovert world. We’re creative in a nuts and bolts kind of society. If I focus hard enough, there are always things that give me the excuses for feeling bad, procrastinating too much, and generally leave me asking why I want to be a writer. Hint: if you’re in it for the big bucks, there are a whole lot of other ways to get that goal accomplished.

Then, for me, this past month happened and I have to push those gloomy clouds back. The silver linings refuse to stay closeted.

Someone told me that they liked my work.  Liked. My. Work. Really?

In fact, this generous person said, “I just wanted to tell you how much I loved your book! I couldn’t put it down and finished it in two days.”  This from a total stranger to me. Well shut my mouth and give me a keyboard. I think I can try this writing thing again.

And then a friend said to me, “My mom adores your books and wants to know when the next one is coming out.” For the first time in months, the question, “how’s the writing?” hasn’t left me feeling guilty and defeated. My friend’s face shone with being able to share this great review, and we’re talking about writing a short story just for mom for Christmas.

And this past Tuesday, Lindsay Woods of KRFC Radio in Fort Collins, replayed an interview she did with me a year ago on her Tuesday Talk Show.  What an ego boost! One full hour with no commercials (KRFC is a nonprofit organization), talking about a favorite subject—books and writing.  Lindsay read out loud some of the reviews both writer friends and professional reviewers gave my latest book.  I had forgotten them long ago.

I have a clipping file of reviews, and when I take the time to look through them, I always feel energized for writing projects.  I also like Aaron Ritchey’s advice from yesterday’s column, “write every day, as much as you can.” I like how there isn’t a specific number of words. Just write.

I also like Mary Gillgannon’s notion that writing takes energy.  She’s right.  Exercise is important. So is filling the spiritual well as she talks about.

So here’s my tip of the day – keep your compliments.  Whether or not you’re published, or a contest winner, you receive writing compliments from time to time.  Save that critique group note that says you’ve mastered the use of ellipses.  Hold onto the thank you note that says it’s no wonder you’re a writer; your last letter home was terrific. Cherish the rejection that’s accompanied with a personal note from an agent or editor.

I have a bright blue binder where I keep print out of reviews – on friends’ blogs, from the press, notes from loved ones.  Now I know where I need to look to build the kind of positive energy that makes writing what it was always meant to be – a joy.

Hey! I just realized the New Year is only 6 months old – I can get some writing done.  Hope you do too.

Wishing you a positively creative day.

The Freedom to Write

Happy Memorial Weekend!  So many things to celebrate—the beginning of summer, the joy of family, our gratitude to veterans and those who lost their lives in war.

Like most of us, I hate the idea of war.  I know what it’s like to lose a loved one suddenly, and to have my child killed in action in a place far away under conditions I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy would be a trauma I don’t think I could endure.  It all seems so senseless. But wars have been fought since humankind first began to gather in tribes across our world. We are a violent species, and our children of 18, 19, 20 years pay the price for this.

Photo for the freedom to write.
Thank you to all our service personnel who protect our right to write.

What soldiers do, though, is bring you and I as writers a solemn and precious gift—the gift of a free press. The gift of being able to say and write what we feel is important.  The US Constitution in the first amendment recorded under our Bill of Rights guarantees our freedom of expression.  Our military personnel protect that freedom in a very real way.

I don’t know if my uncle worried about the specifics of a free press when he went to war in the 1940s, or when he had to shoot or be shot in the South Pacific.  He was just a kid who did what he was told. In all the years I “knew” him, Uncle Jack only talked of his military service once. That was just a year or two before he died, but the stories he told were frighteningly vivid even after almost 70 years had passed.  Uncle Jack’s service and the service of his buddies in WWII guaranteed that a book like Arthur Miller’s The Crucible would be published and not burned as so many books were by the Nazis. Thank you, Uncle Jack.

And even when journalists and soldiers come in principled conflict as happened in the 1960’s, our freedom to write, to challenge our mores and common thinking are protected.  While young men and women sailed across to Vietnam to, as the posters said at the time, “meet new people – and then shoot them,” our journalists at home and in the rice paddies far away were protected and even encouraged to write, to discover, to unearth the important stories.  That’s how we ended up with such classic writing as the Watergate investigations by Woodward and Bernstein, published in the Washington Post, Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin, and the television show, M.A.S.H. that criticized American involvement in foreign wars.

Today, journalists travel with armies, report in countries about political and human rights violations, cover our world with information.  According to the website cpj.org (Committee to Protect Journalists), there were 73 journalists killed in 2015, and so far in 2016 there have been 10 killed as they did their jobs of writing.  Today, people still sacrifice their lives so that crucial truths have the chance to thrive.

This leaves you and me with an important role in the story of human history.  If we have the freedom to write whatever we want, we have the obligation to write and reflect our world passionately in our stories.  Whether we write romance, or crime, fantasy or creative non-fiction, let our writing be from our hearts, and be as honest as possible.

This Memorial weekend, as we acknowledge our fallen soldiers who protect our freedom of expression, perhaps we can also spare a moment for the journalists who exercise that protected freedom. And in the process of remembrance and gratitude we can encourage our own growth as humans and writers.

5 Ideas to Boost Your Writing Confidence

The blank page is to many authors what a large audience is to a shy and introverted soul asked to give a speech. Terrifying.  And it doesn’t help when writing friends are completing that next chapter, submitting another short story to an anthology, or simply garnering another 50 readers to their blog.

Before succumbing to the terror of the blank page, know that there are things you can do to bolster your writing confidence and hopefully increase your productivity at the same time.  Here are some ideas you might try and some thoughts for your own writing journey:

  1. WRITE BADLY - Yep, go out and enjoy using redundant phrases, sloppy attributions in dialog, or poetic and superfluous adjectives to your heart’s content.  Make a game of it. Try starting a story with one of these clichés and see if a spirit of fun doesn’t just take over your creative time:
    1. “It was a dark and stormy night. . .” (check out the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest if you get something good going here)
    2. “She looked into the mirror admiring her glossy brown tresses . . .”
    3. “He wore his disappointment like a badge of honor. . .”

Remember: not every piece of writing you do has to be publishable or profitable.

  1. MAKE A MESS – I used to try to buy pretty notebooks with kittens and puppies and happy sayings on them, but I found I never wanted to write in them. I feared writing the “wrong thing,” and messing up the perfect bound books. Now I buy cheap-o notebooks and often intentionally slop up a page or two. Kind of like breaking in a new pair of sneakers—what’s a little mud-slinging among friends? If you only write on a computer, try hand writing sometime--very freeing, and confidence building.
  2. WRITE NEW – Stuck in a rut with your romance writing? Try taking some of your favorite characters and putting them into a horror story. Or try writing a poem (I once wrote one about my Jeep—still have and enjoy it). Or a blog post for the RMFW blog. Or a real love letter. Sometimes taking a "vacation" from what we normally do, increases our ability to focus and be productive when we return to our work.
  3. WRITE SHORT – Think in terms of filler articles for your favorite magazines or e-zines, or maybe enter a flash fiction contest. You probably know a lot more than you think you do. The competition is fierce for these articles today, as the filler is a disappearing form of writing (a filler is a tiny article, joke, anecdote, or other copy that used to "fill" print space in the old days of typeset layouts), but more and more companies' websites need short blog posts, Twitter tweets, and other "content" for their social media. It's opportunity for the flexible writer, may give you some ego-boosting clips and maybe even put a few bucks in your pocket.
  4. WRITE DAILY – Okay, no guilt here. I don’t count words completed in a day.  Tried that. Led to increased guilt over the time I wasted counting and tracking words “completed” instead of writing something I could call commercial fiction. Instead, I try to keep that cheap spiral notebook with me for when an idea jumps to mind. There’s a notebook on my nightstand and one at my desk. I have notecards in my purse for emergency moments of brilliance, and there’s always my dictation function on my phone if all else fails. Jot down fun stuff like character names, titles of books you’ll write, a run-in with a nasty total stranger (did I ever tell you about the guy at the dog park I almost punched?) and, of course, a plot twist that will go into your next novel nicely.

And here’s a bonus tip—most of us write because we simply cannot go without writing. But when we get caught up in the “business” of writing, we lose both our fresh voice, and the thing that brings us to the writing table—our creativity. Deep breath. Relax. Write.

If you have ideas to share, please do!  I’m always on the lookout for a great motivational tip.

ON ANOTHER NOTE:

Tomorrow, Saturday April 23, RMFW will host its quarterly board meeting.  If you’re interested in how our all-volunteer organization gets things done, or want to get more involved yourself, please join us at the Sam Gary Branch Library, 2961 Roslyn St, Denver, CO 80238. The meeting starts at 1:00.

Playing with Rhetoric

In this year of politics we are likely to hear the common complaint, “Oh, that’s just the candidate’s rhetoric. Wait until they’re in office and we’ll see what really happens.”

picture of jfk inauguration
Kennedy used antimetabole to inspire a generation.

Rhetoric definitely has a bad reputation. The first definition in the dictionary implies that rhetoric allows people to use language for influence and persuasion, but without honesty.

I had a class once in rhetoric. Took it because someone said it was practically an automatic A, and heck, who wouldn’t go for that? Unfortunately, a new teacher took over, and I never worked harder. We had to read Aristotle and discuss the importance and forms of arguments and logic.  Guess what? Aristotle didn't use rhetoric to lie. I barely survived the course.

Today, as a writer, I wish I’d paid more attention. Rhetoric was a good class, and the influence of an articulate speaker (or author) has maintained an important part of my writing aspirations since. If I could come up with phrases like, “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country,” I think I would be a happy writer indeed. President Kennedy apparently borrowed the structure of that comment from a school headmaster, but you have to admit, he used it well. That phrase inspired a generation to launch the Peace Corps, go to the moon, and march for peace and equal rights. Rhetoric. Good words.

So, how can we use rhetoric, or more precisely, rhetorical devices to enhance our writing experience? There are whole lists of devices on the Internet that can add emotion, lyrical rhythms, and resonance to our writing. Here are a few:

Alliteration

Alliteration is the recurrence of initial consonant sounds. These sounds can be easy or harsh on the ear, and will draw attention to themselves by their repetition. What if you were writing a story was set in a florist shop? You could name the store, “Moe’s Flowers,” and be done with the job, or you could play with the beginning F sound and create something like “Flo’s Fantastic Flowers,” giving your readers a sense of Flo and her pride in her business without expending a lot of page real estate on that thought.

Epizeuxis

Wow. What an interesting word that simply means to repeat for emphasis. Can you imagine a child who wants the sucker in your hand? What does she say? “May I have that please?” or “Gimme, gimme, gimme!” Can you use that epizeuxis rhetorical tool to enrich some of your characters’ dialog?

Amplification

Similar to epizeuxis, is amplification. This is repeating a word within a phrase to emphasize its importance. In Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, he used “of the people, by the people, for the people,” to emphasize the importance of those who died on the battlefield, who mourned the lost souls, and who had to rebuild our nation after the great Civil War. When used in a conscious effort, amplification can truly hammer home a point. Maybe you could use it to underscore the theme of your story, as in, “Love is gentle, love is kind,” she said, and kissed the soldier good-bye.

Rhetorical devices are worth studying as you work on your next story. As you engage in rewriting a chapter, maybe play consciously to make a thought stand out using a rhetorical device. Or hide a thought by making it as mundane as possible, sandwiched between phrases that sparkle with their rhetoric.

Do you have a favorite rhetorical device? Please share. Beyond our annual Simile Contest at Colorado Gold, do you indulge in a regular rhetorical device?

Wishing you a creative word day.

Become a Content Connoisseur in 2016

My friend, Laurence MacNaughton, shared an interesting article with me not long ago called 30 Fresh and Fun Ideas For Your Newsletter. As marketing people, Laurence and I are all over anything that helps generate valuable content for our readers, and we thought that some of the principles in the article would work for authors too. With this in mind, here are 12 blog post ideas for authors interested in strengthening their platforms in 2016. If you post monthly, your year is set. Weekly writer? Generate four articles from each base idea and you’ll never run out of great content.

1. Create and use top 10 lists

This one is so fun and easy that I’m using a form of it for this article. Commit to a number and fill in the points. If you write mysteries, how about naming 10 of Agatha Christie’s best works? Romance Writer? Ten best (or worst) bodice rippers you’ve read. Take informative, silly, or thoughtful approaches and you’ll have your readers clamoring for more.

2. Advertise reader & writer conferences & workshops

This idea is great because you can use it to keep up with industry events to satisfy your own needs, and advertise where you’ll be for book signings, etc. Your readers will know where the next best events are and will be there to learn as well. This is community service at its finest. Just remember to add links and acknowledgements as appropriate.

3. Produce an “Author’s Studio” video tour

Even though our main focus as authors is on the written word, our world revolves around the visual. And with so many phones equipped with video cameras this can be a fun project. Tour your studio, or go to the inspiration place you’ve selected for building a new world in your next novel. Photos make great illustrations for your writing work, and readers love them.

4. Getting social? ASK for followers!

Yes, a lot of authors claim to be introverts. And when you’re working on a new story it’s understandable that you need your alone time, but when you’re blogging, tweeting, and otherwise community or readership building, get social. ASKING for followers is one of the best ways to get them. We are in business after all. And the subject will help you write in a new style--persuasion as opposed to entertainment.

5. Connect your work with unusual holidays

Love this idea! Did you know that January is National Blood Donor Month? Are you writing the next great vampire story? Connect and enjoy. Holiday Insights is a website with many bizarre and unique holidays. Combine them with your writing themes and you’ll have valuable content each year for many years to come.

6. Where in the world is my book?

We’ve all played the “where’s Waldo?” and “Flat Stanley” games. Why not do the same with your book? Visit libraries and bookstores that carry your work and snap a picture. Only one copy on the shelf? Turn it into a puzzle to find. If readers and friends send snaps of your book? Post it online. This is great fun, and a subtle way to self-promote.

7. How-To articles with a twist

Go ahead. Right now, before the New Year hits, think of a list of writing skills you have or want to acquire in the year ahead, and turn your research into valuable web content. Think outside the box. Everyone’s written an article on creating big characters. What about writing a how-to on the walk-on or cameo character? Have you come up with a great acronym for warding off writer’s block? Go further. How To sharpen six pencils in 30 seconds or less. Play with this and have fun. Whether or not it turns into a blog post, you almost always benefit from explaining how something works.

8. Tell the story of writing your stories

If your career was focused on a brick-and-mortar business you owned and not a book you wrote, writing a corporate history would be important and valuable. As an author your own writing biography is equally important. You can write current articles on your travels, personal experiences, and most of all, lessons you’re learning on the road to publishing that next great book.

9. Refer-A-Friend promotions

Like asking for followers, it’s important to grow your readership continually by getting others to talk about you. Incent your current fans to invite a friend by offering a piece of SWAG (stuff we all get) to anyone who refers a friend and that friend signs up to get your newsletter or to follow your blog. Do a profile on your biggest fans to keep the excitement going (and produce more valuable content for your blog).

10. Advice columns work for you

According to the New Yorker, the first advice column was published in 1691. As you can imagine, this kind of writing has gone under many changes since then, but remains a popular form of writing. Start by making up readers with questions and before long, your advice column may become as popular as Conan the Grammarian.

11. Reader Research & Results

There are a few ways to create surveys and polls on line.  Why not satisfy your curiosity about your readers as well as giving away some fun information?  We all participate when someone asks a question like, "If you could eat dinner with 10 dead people, who would they be?" Find out popular names for heroes and villains, places people always wanted to go, favorite character flaws, and soon you'll have a treasure trove of information to inspire your next story. Meanwhile, your blog readers have fun participating in the world of creative writing.

12. Talk about the weather

Really! Believe it or not, when all else fails, weather remains a popular subject just about anywhere.  In England, apparently three quarters of the population talk about it more than anything else.  According to the PinPoint article referenced earlier, "At some point, the crazy weather will impact your area. Consider writing about it."

Wishing you every content success in 2016.

The RMFW Spotlight is on Liesa Malik

2015_Liesa Malik_Author1. Welcome, Liesa! Tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I love being involved with RMFW! In 2003, I never imagined being so engaged, but each time I volunteer for something, new rewards come right along with the responsibilities. Currently, I am critique group moderator for the Littleton Writers critique group that meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Aspen Groves’ Tattered Cover. Actually, Mike Hope does a great job taking care of Tuesdays, so I’m more often at the Thursday meetings. I also write a monthly post for the RMFW blog, and am the PAL chair, which means I welcome new traditionally published authors into the group, help with the Writer of the Year, and have the pleasure of moderating the First Sale Panel at Colorado Gold.

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

Thanks so much for asking! My second book, Sliced Vegetarian, was recently released through Five Star Publishing. You can purchase the book through the major venues of B&N.com and Amazon.com, but if you’re in Littleton, please check out the Barnes and Noble at Chanson Crossing (Wadsworth & Bowles) or Natural Surroundings gift shop in old town Littleton. Ron and Nina Else of the Broadway Book Mall also carry my books. And if you haven’t read my work and aren’t sure you’re ready to invest in this new author, please ask for either Faith on the Rocks or Sliced Vegetarian at your local library. Both are cozy mysteries set in Littleton, CO with a widow and retired special education teacher as the protagonist. Next up? I’m working on a story called Pot Shots—heh, heh, heh.

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?

To make a living writing. Seriously, I’m about as old as the Rockies and have learned that enjoying today is the real goal in life. I enjoy writing, of course, ballroom dance, sketching and watercolor painting, and my family. What else could I ask for but to win the lottery, run for president of the United States, or help make Denver the literary capital of the West?

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

In a word, Pat? Productivity. It is amazing to me how long it takes to get an idea into a readable format--all part of the downside of a plotter personality. Until I know where I’m going with a work, writing doesn’t really happen.

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

Spiral notebooks, index cards, introducing myself to potential interview subjects by saying I’m a novelist, flowing pen strokes and clacking keyboards. It’s all great, and I love every bit of it—even revisions and edits!

2015_Liesa Malik_Sliced Vegetarian6. Now that you have a little writing experience, what advice would you go back and give yourself as a beginning writer?

Stop playing solitaire and use your time better. Learn to read, and read voraciously. Even if you’re never published, your mind will grow and you’ll have a better chance of developing your creativity. Reading can take all sorts of forms these days, and to understand that you don’t have to read from page one to “the end” to consider yourself as having read a work is important. Learn to skim, to search for facts in the written word, to keep a quotation log, to enjoy words everywhere and in all sorts of combinations. Then go for what you want in writing. Develop that vision and make it so.

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

I’m somewhat spoiled here, Pat. I have a desk with my computer and a couple of monitors on it. Very cool. But sometimes that computer can run my life more than the other way around, so I also have a table that’s clear except for my spiral notebook. That’s where I brainstorm a lot.

As for the little things on my desktop, I have a timer that motivates and helps me structure any project I’m working on. I also have a slinky because I need to be moving a lot, and my husband isn’t too fond of my bad habit of gum chewing while thinking.

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

Yea! Books! This summer I had the chance to read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, and The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco by Laura DiSilvario. I also got to read some pre-published samples for the CO Gold writing contest. THANKS to everyone who entered, I had some super reading there. Lastly, I’m reading a couple of non-fiction books: Create Your Writer Platform by Chuck Sambuchino and The Frugal Book Promoter by Carolyn Howard-Johnson. And yes, I keep those great writer safety nets—The Chicago Manual of Style and Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style close at hand always. Sorry, Goodreads, I’m really far behind on updating you.

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

Liesa Malik is a freelance writer and marketing consultant originally from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, but currently living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband and two pets. She has always enjoyed reading mysteries, from The Happy Hollister series, through Trixie Belden and into Reader’s Digest’s Great True Stories of Crime, Mystery and Detection.

A graduate of the University of South Florida with a degree in Mass Communications, Liesa has built on her writing interest with long-standing membership in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and recently joined the board of Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America. Most days you can find Liesa either at her desk, at a local ballroom dance studio, or on the web. Visit her website or blog. Liesa’s most recent book release is Sliced Vegetarian, a Daisy Arthur mystery.

Chris Goff–Author on the Rise

By Liesa Malik

The Published Authors Liaison (PAL) is a sub-organization within RMFW that exists to provide networking and promotional opportunities for traditionally published authors. This begins a series of profiles on some of our PAL members in the hopes that you will make an opportunity to read their books and meet them either at Colorado Gold or in other venues throughout the country and the year. . .

Photo of Christine Goff
Christine Goff -- Photo courtesy of Mark Stevens.

INTRODUCING CHRIS GOFF

Kevin slid a paperback across the table and said, “Try this author. She’s really good, and I think she is, or was, a member of RMFW.”

The book, A Rant of Ravens, by Christine Goff truly was a good read, and a fun start to the great Birdwatcher Mystery series of five books with regional bestseller status and nominations for several awards. The sixth in the series, A Parliament of Owls, is set for release this fall from Astor+Blue Editions.

Christine Goff (Chris to friends), has been writing fiction since 1984, joined RMFW in 1988, and has played several key roles our group. She is the 2002 RMFW Writer of the Year, and has a number of other successes in the Rocky Mountain writing communities. Like many PAL members, Chris continues to support our community with behind-the-scenes efforts.

WORKING WITH RMFW

“I’ve often judged 30 or more entries a year in the Colorado Gold contest,” said Chris. “We all have a responsibility to give back. I got a tremendous amount out of RMFW in my formative years, and enjoy celebrating the new success stories.”

Chris’s multiple roles in RMFW have been a tremendous boost to our community, but the three she enjoyed most are Newsletter Chair, PAL Chair, and President.

“I have a graphic production/editor background, so Newsletter Chair was right up my alley,” said Chris. “And then PAL members offer so much in the way of support and credibility to the (RMFW) organization, and often behind the scenes--judging manuscripts, mentoring, critiquing, teaching and championing those who are working so hard to make it in the business—that as PAL Chair, I was pleased to get some things happening in support of our published writers. Lastly, as President, I was proud to be able to steer us through a controversial year and help RMFW weather a public relations storm.”

You’d think that a writer with such an illustrious resume might be tempted to sit back and relax. But not Chris. She’s on to new writing adventures and continues to support our writing community with fresh projects.

OTHER PROJECTS

Last spring, Chris gathered several organizations together to help bring about Genrefest, a one-day workshop that highlighted national best selling author, David Morrell. Mr. Morrell, a friend of Chris, was one of the famous authors to endorse her newest offering, Dark Waters, a thriller set in the Middle East (Crooked Lane Books).

“Dark Waters is Chris Goff’s breakout book,” said David. “A relentless international thriller with a terrifying topic and an impressive heroine, Raisa Jordan. It’s been a while since I had such fun reading the work of a fellow writer. Well done!”

DARK WATERS  Cover ArtANNOUNCING DARK WATERS

“Dark Waters is a book that came into my head years ago,” said Chris. “The idea sparked in 1999, when I was in Israel with my then 11 year-old daughter, who was there for some medical treatments. But, with my first Birdwatcher’s Mystery coming out in 2000, and three-books under contract, I put the idea aside. Then in 2008, finding myself out of contract, I decided to pick up Dark Waters again.

“Seven years later, I just got my hardcover copy in the mail and the book will be coming out to the world in September. Writing a thriller is very different than writing a cozy. It was a big change for me. There’s a difference in pacing, a difference in character development, a difference in stakes. And then there was the international setting and the political aspects of the book...just a lot of things that made it much more challenging. I have my fingers crossed readers are going to like it.”

Knowing the quality of work Chris generally produces in every aspect of her writing life, the book is bound to be a success. You can find it on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and IndieBound.

MEETING UP WITH CHRIS

Chris will be at Colorado Gold, September 11- 13. She’ll be on a panel with Jeffery Deaver, and presenting a workshop on Elements of Mystery.

“I’m easy to approach,” said Chris. “I hope people feel free to just come up and introduce themselves. I figure unless someone is clearly having a private meeting with an editor or agent or another author, anyone should feel free to step up and listen in on the conversations, and join in when there’s an opening. I love to meet people at conference.”

Chris will also be one of three Guiding Members of RMFW to receive recognition for their long-term support of our organization at the conference this year.

Asked for her one piece of advice for aspiring writers, she said, “If you want to be successful, treat it like a job. It’s so easy when you’re working on your first book to treat writing like a hobby. So many of us put in our three or four hours, then go off and do other things. But the truly successful authors treat it differently. They’re putting in eight to ten hours a day, sometimes six days a week. They spend their most creative hours writing and their less creative hours editing, social networking, making phone calls, promoting. As soon as you have a multiple-book contract, you have to start looking at it like work. Fun work, but work nonetheless.”

The Basics of List Building

By Liesa Malik

Lists are everywhere—the to-do list, the project task list, and most of all, the illusion of the golden contact list.

Screech! Breaks! Illusion?

That’s right. Many people believe that you can purchase, rent, or find on-line great contact lists for the asking. Unfortunately, in the years I’ve been in marketing, I’ve only found one absolute truth where the golden contact list is concerned—it doesn’t exist. But don’t let that stop you from trying. Even the largest companies continue to search for the golden list.

To me, the best list you can have is the one you develop yourself. Here’s how I’d suggest you get started:

BE COMMITTED TO COMMUNICATION

Photo of Contact List
However you build it, they need to be contacted.

I don’t mean the blast out to the universe kind. I mean reaching into your community (list) and regularly touching people one-on-one. A few weeks back, someone from The Ladders employment agency contacted me and asked for my advice on writing careers. He said he considered me a “thought leader.” Not only did that puff up my ego, but it also gave me a blog post on my personal blog, which the representative asked to use in his work with writers. Very cool. AND he earned a follower to The Ladders.

BUY OR RENT

What’s that you say? Why waste money on a list you know isn’t going to be great? You buy lists or rent them because it gives you a place to start. Just as a detective knows that all clues in a mystery aren’t going to lead straight to a killer, all lists aren’t going to lead you to multiple thousands of sales. But you may find a handful of contacts that eventually become associates and friends.

BUILD ONE OR TWO CONTACTS AT A TIME

Yes, this sounds very inefficient. But the real contacts you make often end up being supporters for years to come, whereas blast recipients remain strangers, and your name can easily become synonymous with the word, “annoying.”

COMMIT TO CONSISTENTLY BUILDING YOUR LIST

Ouch! First there were Facebook and LinkedIn. Shortly thereafter followed Twitter and Pinterest. Today there is Goodreads and a host of other social media. With all this posting and messaging, where’s the time for list building?

My advice is to relax. Social media posts are the same as blasting to a huge mailing list. I suspect more posts are written than read. There are no real connections when someone has 1,000 “friends” or more. Create an editorial budget and schedule, or invest in a multi-media service like Hootsuite, and get back to enjoying your life of writing. But connect, really connect with a handful of true friends a month. Here are some ways to make new friends (i.e. contacts) and keep building your lists:

  • Go to meetings and let people know you’re an author or aspiring novelist. Meetup.com has a bunch of interests listed and ways to get involved with your community.
  • Volunteer—you kill two birds with one stone here—you give back to your community and you build friendships.
  • Speak—Does your church need a witness? Does the cub or brownie troupe down the road need to earn a communication badge? Ask your local librarian if they have a speaker’s program. I’m excited to say I just joined my local chapter of Toastmasters. I have visions of opportunities to come.
  • Never forget family and friends! Haven’t written the Christmas newsletter in a while? Try again. Or better yet, pick up the phone and spend 10 minutes with great aunt Sarah, who is part of that romance book club.

Lastly, while we do sincerely want and need contacts in publishing, we also have to be good contacts back. Know an agent looking for westerns? Promote your friend who writes westerns. Your publisher having a hard time getting writers to do self promo work? Send along ideas that have worked for you.

I’ll be talking more about lists and contacts in my talk “Author Platform 101,” at Colorado Gold. If you liked this post, I hope you’ll join me there.

Keep writing and keep sharing. Book sales are all about the lists and contacts we make.

Finding Your Words Through Passion

By Liesa Malik

My_Workspace-300x2251This is so embarrassing that I hate to see the word in print--BLOCKED. I’ve been blocked. I know that professionals do not allow themselves to succumb to such a silly and amateur problem, but I’ve been stuck in the quagmire of “my writing sucks--I have no ideas--why did I ever want to be an author?” kind of whine and cheesy party for far too long. With little to no income from writing, I’ve been on the verge of giving up and going to find a day-job.

Yesterday, I even spent half the day submitting a resume on-line for a position I’m pretty sure I don’t want. And the process was excruciating. The site kept crashing 20 minutes into my application and required much more than a resume. Forget blood. I practically had to donate my total genetic map, and still find references before the process was through. Now I have to wait—don’t call them, they’ll call me. Right.

With a hopeful heart, I tell you I hit bottom when hitting that submit button.

And then it happened. I had an unexpected conversation that changed things around.

Over dinner, my good guy made a heroic attempt at talking with me beyond the usual discussion about when I was going to pick up the laundry or what’s for dinner tomorrow. I usually refer to adventures in new topics as pressure cooker conversations, because he pressures and I get hot under the collar. My friend started peppering me with “business” questions about my work. Things like:

  • If you’re not making a living with your current publisher, why don’t you find a new one? (Can you tell he’s unfamiliar with the publishing world?)
  • In most of the detective books I read, the hero has a super-power. What super power does your Daisy character have?
  • If I were to write a book, I’d like to knock off my old business partner. How do you make victims and bad guys?

BINGO! That was it. I agreed with my guy about how satisfying it is to kill off or make someone you know the villain in your book. I’ll never admit to murdering anyone I know, nor will I say that a killer in a Daisy story is really some neighbor or ex-colleague. But real people often inspire my stories. It’s those real people who generate the kind of true feelings your writing work needs.

With my latest novel, for several months I’ve been “researching” a general topic about which I know little and have no strong feelings for. Can you say “directionless?” I’ve dabbled with a few character sketches and even “tried on” some murder suspects as the one who really did it. Nothing ignited any excitement in me. There were no aha moments.

But in recalling and talking about my first two stories with my good guy, I remembered those whom I had strong feelings about being the frame on which I built other characters. Suddenly, there was a clear reason my work on book three had stalled.

Stories are about people not topics. Stories and characters can be built, but they need the skeleton of genuine people and their life stories underneath. You can change your friend’s gender, looks, occupation, and more, but to create an interesting and believable character, you need to have memories from one to five others to refer to.

After dinner, I charged up to my room and hit my ideas journal. I started writing down the names of people I feel passionately about. I grouped them in terms of “I really respect this person,” “I truly despise this person” “I think this person is funny” kind of thing. In the privacy of a personal journal, you can get away with such judgementalism. The only rule was to have passion about whatever name I put down.

Now I have something to channel my characters with. And hopefully, this small tip will help if you’re feeling stuck. Experience your passion to write passionately and avoid getting stuck. Good luck to you . . . I am off and running to play with a little murder--passionately.