Linger & Mingle

Last Thursday Night at the Edgar Awards in New York City.
Last Thursday Night at the Edgar Awards in New York City.

How did I get here?

That was my question last Thursday night as I sat at the banquet at The Edgar Awards in New York City.
Technically, I got to the banquet because I’m president of Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America (RMMWA).

That slot puts you on the national board for Mystery Writers of America and that means you get to attend a quite swanky event and watch mystery writers pick up the top award in my favorite genre.

But the RMMWA gig only came about because I also previously had the chance to do lots of things with RMFW.

But how did that come about?

Years ago, I’d started going to the monthly workshops on a regular basis. I started asking more questions. I started hanging out. I lingered. And, well, mingled. I started getting to know a few people. And then someone asked if I would like to serve as monthly workshop coordinator. Maybe? Would I?

I won’t belabor every step but suddenly I found myself in the flow of the organization. After a few board meetings, I started to see how the organization functions. Who wouldn’t be impressed by watching so many give so much?

(Don’t worry—this isn’t a ‘please volunteer’ pitch.)

(Of course, it would be fine if you did. RMFW is always in need of new voices. It would give you a chance to linger and mingle.)

By chipping in a little time and effort, showing a bit of care for how RMFW did its thing as an organization, I found it felt good to chip in and help. And then the next thing you know, I’m helping out with the mystery writers group and there you go.

So hold that thought for a second and now see if you agree with me on this (or not).

Writers are friendly people.

True? Yes?

As the Edgar Awards banquet was winding down, I hung around. Yes, lingered.

A guy who is, in my world, a pretty darn big name in the mystery writing field came up to say hello. He has won a “best novel of the year” Edgar. His new book (comes out in a few weeks) has already been optioned for film. He’s heading out soon on a national tour.

I’d met him once before at mystery conference, but I mean that “meeting” was 3.5 seconds and done.

Last week the chat was five minutes. Um, maybe ten. He said he knew my name. What? Seriously?

The banquet hall.
The banquet hall.

I handed him my business card, which has the cover for Lake of Fire on it and he was surprised. It turns out that was going to be the title for one of his books, a few books ago.

(So glad I beat him to it.)

Well, after chatting for a few minutes he said something along these lines: “If there is anything I can ever do to help you, please let me know.”

So pitching in to help run a few workshops about 10 years ago led me to this conversation with this very well-known writer who is offering me help.

???

I was telling a non-writer friend about this exchange the morning after the banquet.

She said: “Well, it makes sense, you know, it seems to me that writers have to like people. I mean, if they are going to write about people they have to like them first, be interested in what makes them tick.”

Boom. There it was.

Yeah, writers are generally good people.

We are, generally, interested in people.

Don’t we have to be?

The RMFW Spotlight is Shining on Volunteer Julie Kazimer

JAKazimer1. Welcome to the RMFW Spotlight series, Julie. Tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I don’t do nearly as much as others do, nor do I feel like I do enough, so thank you, Pat, for asking me to answer these very intrusive questions about myself. I do a couple of things, semi-regular. I co-edit this here blog with the awesomeness that is Pat Stoltey, as well as blog twice a month (the hardest part of my volunteering, for sure). I also was lucky enough to review workshop proposals for the upcoming conference. I have to say, damn, we have a brilliant group of faculty. Even those proposals not picked were above and beyond. I wish we had more time slots. Let’s see, I also have judged the CO Gold contest, and taught a handful of times, both at conference and for the Western Slope (a great group headed by the fabulous Terri Benson, also one of our bloggers). As to why I’m involved, that’s easy; I owe my current career to RMFW. No other way to say it. My first book deal came directly from a workshop at the conference in 2010. For better or worse, RMFW is to blame for my writing. Yep, full blame to RMFW!

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

My current WIP is a romance series about service dogs. Completely different from anything I’ve written before. As in it plays on emotions, where my other books are more suspense or humor focused. Yeah, I wake up in a cold sweat even thinking about it. As for my most recent publications, I have the 2nd book in my Assassin’s Series, The Assassin’s Kiss and a prequel novella, The Assassins’ First Date, coming out in August and July. You can buy any of my stuff or stalk me on amazon. You can also purchase most of my stuff at any other online retailer or sometimes a bookstore (for those youngins: a bookstore is a physical place you can by books. Yes, books actually come in paper. Weird, I know).

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?

Damn great question. I’d love to be a keynote for RMFW when I become rich and famous. Come back, and thank all the little people. And since I stand barely over 5 feet, little is hard to find.

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

I think I did above, but I say it again, I have a terrible time with ‘real’ emotion. I don’t do deep. In-depth gives me hives. I would rather kill a million characters than write an emotional scene. Ick.

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

The power and fame. People bow and scrape for me. Set down rose petals at my feet as I walk. Yeah, right. My favorite thing about writing is the magic that runs from fingers to keyboard. It’s not a conscious thing for me. I just type and it flows. I don’t think (which you probably guessed already).

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

Great question. I am actually teaching a workshop at the conference (No, I didn’t select my own. That would be cheating) about 25 things I learned going from pre-published to multi-published. Most of all, I’d tell myself, it’s going to be a roller coaster, one that I won’t want off of, but to keep in mind the greatest climb has a subsequent fall. Ride it for the sheer joy.

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 don’t have a desk. I mean, I do at work, but that’s a boring 9-5 desk. I write on my lap, often with a cat, and two dogs vying for the space. FYI, the cat almost always wins, much to the sausage-like pup’s dismay.

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

I am reading so many at once, and yet, not one currently as I don’t read while I’m writing so I don’t mimic voice. What I last read is, When Good Angels Go Bad by Audrey Brice, which is the pen name of our very own, Stephanie Connolly Reisner. She’s a hell of a writer.

Thanks for having me, Pat. It’s been fun!

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

J.A. (Julie) Kazimer kills and kisses people for a living, be it a bad guy who deserved it or an arrogant frog prince who didn’t. Find her online at her website (jakazimer.com) or on Facebook, much, much too often. She can also be found on Twitter. If you go here, you can sign up for her Readers’ Group (Newsletter) and get a free book or two.

Julie's best friend shot this photo.2016_Spotlight_Julie Kazimer

 

Why, you ask? It’s a picture of the Denver Post, found as is, with her first ever review in the Post, for Froggy Style. A great review, BTW, by the incredible Tom Schantz.

The Truest Voice of All … by William Kent Krueger

2016_William Kent Krueger (2)Isn’t it amazing how everyone seems to know, even better than we do ourselves, what’s best for us as writers? We get advice from everybody on how we ought to be using our time and energy. From our agent (if we have one). From our publisher. From our readers. From other writers. From the pundits in the publishing world. Write what’s hot, they say. Leap on that passing bandwagon. Create the next Gone Girl. Emulate Stephen King. Put vampires in your work. It’s hard not to listen, especially if you’re still struggling to figure out who you are as a writer.

My own belief is that there’s only one voice you should be listening to: the one that speaks to you from your heart. And here’s why I believe this.

For most of my career, I’ve been known as the author of the Cork O’Connor mystery series. My books have been on a number of bestseller lists, including The New York Times. Several years ago, I sat down with my editor and was told essentially that my publisher was only interested in seeing Cork O’Connor novels from me. This was because the book I’d just published, my first stand-alone thriller, had sold poorly. Not because it wasn’t a good book—it got great reviews—but Cork O’Connor wasn’t in it, and readers were incredibly reluctant to follow me to a place that didn’t include Cork.

A few years later, a very different kind of story idea came to me. I knew it wasn’t a good vehicle for Cork O’Connor, and because of that, spending the time and energy writing it would be a risky proposition. Clearly my publisher wasn’t interested, and I had no idea if anyone else would be. But it was a story that spoke to me so deeply and in such a compelling way that I knew I had to write it. I cleared the decks, and over the course of the next three years, I composed the manuscript for a novel called Ordinary Grace, the story of a Methodist minister’s family in a small town in southern Minnesota in the summer of 1961.

2016_Krueger_ordinary graceI had a new editor at that point, and although I knew that Ordinary Grace wasn’t at all what my publisher wanted from me, I went ahead and sent the manuscript anyway. My editor fell in love with it. Against all the prevalent thinking in the publishing industry about what was hot, she chose to accept it and threw herself behind the championing of it one hundred percent.

Ordinary Grace went on to sweep the major awards in the mystery field. It took the Edgar, the Anthony, the Barry, the Macavity, the Silver Falchion. It found a place on many Best Books of the Year lists. It continues to sell incredibly well, and daily I receive notes from readers who tell how much the story has meant to them.

The writing of that novel remains one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. I absolutely loved every moment I bent to the work. Because I had no expectation of success and because the story spoke so deeply to me personally, it didn’t matter to me whether anyone, in the end, wanted to read it. One of the things I’ve come to believe about writing, after all these years, is that it’s a little bit like sex: If you’re not enjoying yourself, you’re probably not doing it right. With Ordinary Grace, I had the time of my life.

For those of us who are writers, there will always be the loud clamor of others who believe they know what’s best for us and our careers. They’re not always easy to ignore, especially when we’re doubting ourselves. My advice, based on my own experience, is to do your best to shut out all that noise so that you can hear your heart speaking to you. It’s the truest voice of all.

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

William Kent Krueger is the author of the New York Times bestselling Cork O’Connor mystery series, set in the great Northwoods of Minnesota. His work has received a number of awards, including the Edgar. He lives in St. Paul, a city he dearly loves. He does all his creative writing in local, funky coffee shops, and attributes his success as a writer to all those wonderful stories he read as a child.

You can learn more about Kent and his books at his website. He can also be found on Facebook and Goodreads.

 

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.

Do I have to be sad? … by Nicole Disney

2016_Nicole Disney_Author PhotoI used to think that the best writing sprouted from suffering. Whether being depressed makes you a good writer or being a writer eventually makes you depressed, I did not know, but I knew there seemed to be a link. We've all been told that if we don't have to be writers, don't, right?

The words I heard alongside “writer” were words like struggling, complicated, haunted, damaged, and poor. I didn't think that was all bad, necessarily. I thought it suggested a more authentic connection to life, required more soul searching, and that it yielded deeper truths, friendships, and experiences.

For a long time, my writing seemed to be proving this idea true. All my best work was the stuff of heartache. It was stronger, more vivid, insightful, and emotional, while the things I wrote during smoother parts of life felt flat and routine. Creating stories that shared pain, betrayal, and rage with the reader felt more intimate. Everyone is willing to share a happy moment with the world. It's much more meaningful to share the failures.

I thought I had it all figured out. The theory was put to the test when my life started to change. I came out, rather uneventfully, as a lesbian to my family. I married the love of my life. I got a job that paid more than enough. The only thing that wasn't going right was that I was having a hard time producing writing I liked. Again, I thought the theory of the tortured writer was proving true. I was too happy, surely that was it! I simply didn't have so much to say anymore. When I tried, it sounded watered down.

I attempted to pull myself out of it. I tried to read all the great authors, journaled, outlined, started new stories, abandoned them, read my older work, listened to music, discussed religion and philosophy, roamed the streets of downtown, anything and everything I thought might inspire me. It still felt flat. But surely you don't have to be the alcoholic writer stereotype to have something meaningful to say, right?

I tried to pinpoint a time that I was both happy and writing well. It brought me instantly to falling in love. Sure, during that time I mostly produced mushy poems, lyrics, and love letters, not novels, but they did have that quality I felt I had lost. They had strength.

Misery and falling in love. What about the two put me in a better state to produce quality writing? They do have something in common. They are consuming. When you feel them, you feel them with everything. The sensations are so powerful that the details are etched into our bones and a writer need only whisper of them to share the experience.

Maybe good writing has nothing to do with being happy or sad, but is more about being fully engaged in the moment, being engulfed by the beauty of whatever is happening now. It's about noticing the things that slip by when we forget the value of every second. It's about the intensity life can hold when the mind isn't shuffling through the past or organizing the future.

Often when I am reading and have to pause to admire the craftsmanship of a particularly beautiful passage, it is about something ordinary or even mundane. Many times it is that fact alone that stops me. I find it magical when a writer captures something so perfectly that he or she reveals to me something about it I would never have thought to note, but instantly recognize.

This is what happens when a writer is present. Engaged. Mindful. It is more than considering each of the five senses and jotting something down just because that is a habit we've developed. It's about breaking the illusion that anything is routine, normal, or dull. It is about not going into autopilot. Everything about experience, positive or negative, is a wonder.

Sometimes struggle and depression keep you in the moment. Sometimes love and joy do. But so can everything in between with a little, or maybe a lot of effort. A writer's life doesn't have to be great or terrible, it just has to be lived.

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

Nicole Disney is a literary and contemporary fiction writer with a love for exploring the dark and controversial corners of life. Her debut novel, Dissonance in A Minor, was published in 2013. Nicole lives in Denver, Colorado and is also a 911 call taker and police dispatcher, a career which provides her with many quirky characters and situations.

Random Thoughts

A Little Bit Every Day
DSC01502I started writing the fifth book in the Allison Coil Mystery Series on Jan. 1, 2014. (Yeah, New Year’s Day. Just Because.) I finished the draft on Monday, March 28. I wrote 500 words a day. That’s 453 days, which would have been 165,433 words if I made forward progress every day. But I needed to back up a few times, re-work a few things. I took a break to write a short story. And another. I finished Draft 1 with 112,000 words, still too many. Lots of cutting to come. What’s my point? 500 words a day isn’t much. It adds up. Do the math.

 

 

++

There’s A Feeling I Get
April2015StairwayThis excellent column by Bob Lefsetz is all about rock and roll. But I thought about writing the whole time. Led Zeppelin went their own way with “Stairway to Heaven.” Their previous album was a dud.

Here’s Lefsetz: “What Led Zeppelin said back in ’71 is that you’re best doing it your way, by yourself, with your peeps, than hiring outside hands to meddle with your vision … That we react to and love most that which is personal and human.”

 

 

 

 

 

++

Lessons Learned
April2016WeirdI’ve had some excellent podcast guests lately, but check out the one with Eleanor Brown. She had a huge hit with The Weird Sisters. Huge! She was on the road doing promotion for 18 months! And then she wrote three more books that all went pffffft before finding the groove for the one that comes later this year, The Light in Paris.

Much like Led Zeppelin, she listened to her heart. (I guess Tom Petty sang that, too.) Humility, folks. It’s a tough business. Listen.

Her workshop is Saturday, April 30 at Columbine Library in Littleton.

 

 

 

 

++

Legends of the Fall
Harrison & ReillyEverything they’re saying about Jim Harrison, who died recently, is true.

Read his stuff if you don’t know his work—gritty, singular, raw, honest. I looked up an old review I wrote of his three-novella collection, The Woman Lit By Fireflies.

Anyway, at the bottom of the review I came across a funny exchange with my late pal Gary Reilly and I shook my head (yet again) at Gary’s dry humor. I miss that guy. (Click on the picture to read the exchange.)

 

 

 

++

The Detachment
The Detachment Cover - FINALSpeaking of Gary, Running Meter Press is launching The Detachment at The Tattered Cover on Friday, April 15 (Colfax Store) at 7 p.m.

I managed to get advance blurbs from some amazing writers—Stewart O’Nan, Ron Carlson, John Mort, Fred Haefele.

Carlson compared The Detachment to Catch 22 and that’s a guy who teaches fiction in an elite program out in California. O’Nan (pals with Stephen King and one prolific writer himself) called it a ‘classic.’

Speaking of length, The Detachment is 534 pages. It’s a powerful, heavy book based on Gary’s experiences in Vietnam as a military policeman.

 

 

 

++

Honors for Gary
Pick Up at Union Station - Final JPGSpeaking of Gary, Pick Up At Union Station (his seventh novel in The Asphalt Warrior series) was named a finalist in literary fiction for the 2016 Colorado Book Award.

That’s three finalist nominations out of that seven-book series.

The other two were Ticket to Hollywood in 2013 and Doctor Lovebeads in 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

++

Productive

My pal Gary Reilly.
My pal Gary Reilly.

The Detachment is the ninth title we’ve published of Gary’s—after seven books in The Asphalt Warrior series and The Enlisted Men’s Club, the first book in his series about Vietnam following Private Palmer.

And Running Meter Press still has about 15 books to go.

Fifteen.

Gary wrote more than 500 words a day.

 

 

 

 

++

Tethered by Letters

April2015FrictionIs Metro Denver and the Colorado Front Range chock full of writer groups?

Right?

There’s bound to be one out there to suit your needs.

Here’s a new one I came across last year. Tethered by Letters.

Yes, based here but with connections all over the world, really. One reason I mention them is because they do a great job—web site, online interactions, classes and a literary magazine called F(r)iction.

The other reason to mention them is because they offer pretty good money for flash fiction, short stories, poetry and more. Check ‘em out!

 

++

 

The RMFW Spotlight is on Wendy Terrien, Secretary

2016_Wendy Terrien1. Welcome to the blog, Wendy. Tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

First and foremost, I am the bag lady!  I don’t push a shopping cart around town, but I do coordinate the swag bags for Colorado Gold. I also serve on the workshop committee (which is a tough job—we get so many great workshop proposals!), and I recently became the new Secretary for RMFW.

Being involved with RMFW beyond membership is an excellent way to give back to an organization that has given me so much, not least of which is the strong network of writing mentors and friends. The support system is genuine and solid, and it’s made a huge difference in my writing journey. I’m happy to do what I can for the organization, and for fellow writing friends, old and new.

2016_Terrien_Rampart Guards2. What is your current WIP or most recent publication, and where can we buy a book, if available?

My debut novel, The Rampart Guards, launched on February 26, 2016. I’m thrilled with how it’s done so far. The novel received a starred review from Kirkus (AAAHHH!) and the editors at Kirkus Reviews chose it to be an Indie Book of the Month in April. It’s been an amazing ride.

The Rampart Guards is available at Amazon, as well as Tattered Cover and BookBar. And it can be ordered through any bookstore.

I’m also part of Wicked Ink Books, which consists of me and fellow RMFW members Becky Taylor, Corinne O’Flynn, Sue Duff aka Sue Loeffler, Aimee Henley, Shawn McGuire, and Kristi Helvig. We just published our first anthology, Tick Tock: Seven Tales of Time. It’s available at Amazon, and we just signed a contract to have it published in Turkey—very exciting!

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?

Publishing The Rampart Guards was one of those and I’m proud of that achievement. Now I’d love to see it, and the rest of the series, build on the initial success and take it to the next level. I envision seeing it made into a movie—wouldn’t that be fun? And I’d of course invite all RMFW members to the premiere.

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

Procrastination. Am I the only writer in RMFW who suffers from that? I read about all these diligent writers we have, who do things like get up at 4AM every day and write for several hours without fail. That’s so not me. I find chunks of time when I can write (not a set schedule), but then I’ll pay bills or do laundry first, telling myself I won’t be able to focus if those other things aren’t finished. There may be some truth to that, but it drives me crazy sometimes because I do want to be writing. I guess that’s my tortured artist bit—LOL.

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

The magic. I love how the characters come to life and direct the story themselves, so much so that it feels like I’m merely the typist. And I love how a scene I’ve written can still get to me like I’m reading it for the first time. And it all makes my mind function and think in a different, exhilarating way. It’s fantastic.

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

Stay focused and know you’re on the right track. There is much to learn, and much work to be done, but keep going, keep learning, believe you can do this. We all suffer from that inner voice that tries to pull us down--don’t give into the negative thoughts. Embrace and leverage the excellent resources around you.

2016_Terrien_Office7. 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 have a sit-stand desk that I love, and I always have at least one pup nearby (we have three dogs—all rescues), which I also love.

I have the word Dream on my desk, followed by a quote from Walt Disney: All dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them. I remember when I first put that on my desk, the idea of writing a novel was so far away I could barely imagine it. But here I am.

I also have a trophy I won in 8th grade for first place in an essay-writing contest. It makes me smile, and it reminds me that I can be successful if I work hard (and I did work hard on that essay, with much thanks to my English teacher at the time, Mr. Williams). It also reminds me how important it is to ask for and accept feedback on your writing.

And I always have a glass of water—I drink plenty-o-water, and I hope everyone else out there does as well.

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

I’m reading The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert and I’m really enjoying it, though I wish I had more time to spend with it. I need to put reading at the top of my list when the procrastination-bug strikes. That’d be way more fun that paying bills.

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

You can learn more about Wendy and her work at her website. She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

The Muddle

One of my favorite writing quotes is, “Every book has a beginning, an end and a muddle.” It’s been true of every one of my books. The first few chapters flow. My characters are vivid and alive. There’s conflict and motivation galore. I can see all the plot points lining up. Everything is moving along nicely. And then I descend into quicksand and my story starts to flounder and flail and slowly sink.

My plot derails. My characters’ motivation stops making sense or feeling right. I can’t figure out the next scene. Or the one after that. My characters refuse to say their lines. Seemingly because they don’t know what to say. It doesn’t matter if I know how the book is going to end. Or even if I'm clear on what will happen in the last third of the book. I’m stranded in the no-man’s land of the middle.

I thought it would be different this time. After all, I’m not writing this book from scratch. I’m rewriting a story for which I have two complete manuscripts and a detailed synopsis for a third version. In theory, I’ve already made it through the “muddle” of this story—twice. But it doesn’t seem to matter. I get stuck. Horribly, wretchedly stuck. I write paragraphs and delete them. I start in a different spot and write some more. And delete that, too. I get discouraged. Maybe I should shelve this project for now. Write on something else for awhile. But superstitious dread won’t let me. The fear that if I quit now, I’ll never get unstuck and figure out the story. I’ll never get past the middle and finish the book.

So, I do what I’ve always done. I think about the story. At night, before I go to bed. In the morning when I wake up. During the day when I’m doing things that don’t require much focus. I contemplate jumping ahead and writing a scene later on. But I’m not sure that will work. If I don’t know where the story goes next, how will I tie everything together and have it make sense?

This time it is a “snowday” from work that rescues me. I finally have a chunk of hours when a dozen other tasks aren’t insisting on my attention. I do what a lot of experts advise: put my butt in the chair and stay there, working at it until the immovable plot starts to move. Once it does, it is like a logjam getting unfree. Everything flows. Clear river ahead.

I think that taking the time to work through the tangle in one sitting is part of the secret. And thinking about the story and letting it foam and fester in your sub-conscious for a few days also helps. But I still don’t understand the actual process that brought about the breakthrough. I can’t remember any of the details. It’s like giving birth; your mind blocks it out. Not because the process is so painful (Not quite !), but because when it’s happening, you’re so focused that there are no circuits in your brain available to imprint the memory.

Which is a darn shame. I’d really like to remember my thought process at the time, the exact steps I took to free my story from the dreaded muddle. Because I know I’m going to have to do it again…and again.

Finding Time to Write … by Danica Favorite

2016_Danica FavoriteWhen people outside the writing world find out that I’m a writer, they’re always shocked because they have no idea how I find time to write. I work what amounts to a full-time job, and though I work from home and have a semi-flexible schedule, I still have to put those hours in. With two children at home who are involved in multiple activities, I spend most of my evenings and weekends driving them back and forth. Some days, I feel like I live in my car. I am on the go from the time I get out of bed until I fall back into bed, exhausted.

Right now, I’m in the middle of a crazy deadline crunch. I just turned in my line edits for a book I have coming out in September, my January book is due May 1st, and I have a book releasing April 1st. Which means I don’t have the luxury of writing when I feel like it or hoping my life is going to slow down so I can catch up.

So, how, then, do I get the writing done?

The key is in finding ways to make the schedule work for you. When my kids are at their activities, I have my laptop with me. An hour of dance practice becomes an hour of writing time. The kids have to be at the riding arena all day? Have laptop, will travel. And, for those unexpected wait times, I have my book files saved on Dropbox, which I can access from my phone or tablet. Writing on my phone is not fun, but I can do it. I was just at my daughter’s robotics competition, and all of my electronics had dead batteries, so I pulled out a notebook and wrote by hand. It wasn’t pretty, but it did the job.

2016_Favorite_ShotgunOne of the most important things I do, though, is communicate with my family. They know when I’m coming up on a deadline, and what kind of time I need. Part of that is knowing how much time it takes me to write a book, then looking at our schedule to see where I can find that time. And when those times don’t add up, it means figuring out what I need to do to make it work. Sometimes, when I’m in a crunch, I’ll spend the weekend at a hotel, locked in a room, writing.

The other crucial piece to balancing my busy life with my writing time is making time for self care. If I don’t have enough fuel in the tank, I’m not going anywhere, especially when it comes to the energy I put into both my family and my writing. I have a standing massage appointment every other week.. I have a regular journaling habit, and I also do a lot of art journaling. That all seems to add up, time-wise, but what I’ve found is that when I am doing all the things that support me emotionally and creatively, I’m a better wife, better mother, better writer, and I don’t feel as pressed for time, even though I still have exactly the same hours in the day.

How do you get that balance?

Take a look your writing habits and needs. Track how long it takes you to write. If you can write an average of 1K in 1 hour, how many hours do you need to write your book? Then look at your schedule. Where in your schedule can you fit those hours? Does that mean cutting something out? I’m amazed at all the ways we all waste time when we take the time to analyze how we’re spending it. Also be aware of hidden times you can use to write. I can usually get about 6 hours of writing time just sitting and waiting for my kids at their various practices. When you’re making your schedule, be intentional about also scheduling down time and self-care time. It’s tempting to pack every minute full of stuff, especially when you’re feeling pressed for time, but in those circumstances, the best thing you can do is to give yourself a break.

How do you balance your writing life with everything else you need to get done?

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

A self-professed crazy chicken lady, Danica Favorite loves the adventure of living a creative life. She and her family recently moved in to their dream home in the mountains above Denver, Colorado. Danica loves to explore the depths of human nature and follow people on the journey to happily ever after. Though the journey is often bumpy, those bumps are what refine imperfect characters as they live the life God created them for. Oops, that just spoiled the ending of all of Danica’s stories. Then again, getting there is all the fun.

Learn more about Danica and her writing at her website. She can also be found on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

We sing because we have a song

This week I wrote, “The End.” It’s a rare treat--for me, that is. Some prolific writers (Marie Force comes to mind, and Nora Roberts) can write a full-length novel in 60 days or less. My speed is more like one book a year.

Please indulge me as I savor it. The book: Crimson Secret. Book Four in the Coin Forest series, set during England’s War of the Roses. I even developed a positioning TM tag line for the series: History  made passionate in medieval England.

I love these characters. I lived through their adventures, and they were exotic and breath-taking. I agonized over their life-and-death decisions, and enjoyed their triumphs. I love this story.

Now comes the revision process, during which we reach inside, grab our toes and pull, turning ourselves inside out as each paragraph, page and chapter is reviewed, revised, enhanced, deleted and polished to make it the best story it can be.

After that, my heroic beta readers will read it from cover to cover, and the gem will be polished again.

bird-287109_1920 singing 2.5 in
Because I so love the music, I must join the chorus. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Then, because I’m an independently published author I will work with my book cover designer (my talented daughter, Jalena) to design an eye-catching cover that will provide clear proof of the genre and convince readers to buy it.

To add to that marketing effort, I will solicit reader book reviews, format my novel for Kindle, Nook, iBooks and Kobo and write an intriguing book description. I will send ARCs to procure testimonials. I will blog and tweet and Facebook my way through those pre- and post-release weeks. I will go on blog tours, make community appearances and may produce a video trailer and appear on radio and podcast interviews. I will enter contests, because winning them provides more prestige for the novel.

I used to be a traditionally published author, and I did much of the same work for those novels.

Few people know the work involved for both traditionally published and indie published authors. But we do it, for one book, two books, ten. Thirty. Each novel is a cherished story, one that we hope will bring readers the same joy as it did us.

Why? Why do we do it?

A dear friend of mine, Joya Wonderlight, is a gifted piano teacher with high enthusiasm for children, music, and life.  A plaque on her wall reads, “Use the talents you possess – for the woods would be silent if only the best birds sang.” …many variations exist of this quote, credited to Henry Van Dyke.

An unattributed Chinese proverb says, “A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.”

These concepts are why I write. Writing enriches our lives. Good writing entertains, but it also stimulates the imagination. It validates our human existence, with all its trials and emotions and joys. It enlightens and invites thoughtful reflection. It can improve a reader's afternoon--or change his or her life.

It changes writers' lives, too. To bring a story from beginning to end is a tremendous workout for the mind. We become more aware of universal needs, and the bond we share with all of humanity. And we become better writers, because with each book we write, we become better and better at our craft, and the quality of our message.

Which birds sing the best? That’s a subjective question. Each person’s voice is unique and who among us would want to silence the forest?  Because I so love the music, I must join the chorus.

I love reading my work to my critique partners. We share a unique friendship, and I have come to love them as a special family in my life. We share a passion. I love it when they are pleased with my pages. I love it when I am pleased with their pages. We see and celebrate our progress. These friendships are gifts.

I also love my readers, and reading their reviews of my novels. When a reader writes that they loved my story so much they're going to read it again--when they intuit the theme of my books, love my characters, are eager to read my next release--that I've made the 15th century come alive for them.--it's a heady brew of emotions. Relief. Pleasure. Excitement. Connection. Before I was published, I used to fear reviews. I have discovered that they are another gift.

The other reason I write is because, in addition to the challenge of creating and delivering a story intact from my heart to the page, writing is a form of self-discovery.  I have learned much about my hopes and dreams by creating and following my characters’ desires. And just in case I get so  confident that I think I've conquered the hero's journey with its many satisfying goalposts, life often surprises me.

Which is good. This keeps life interesting, and our pens moving across the page. We sing because we have a song.

Why do you write?