Tag Archives: the writing life

Getting in Bed with Your Co-Writer: The Art of Collaborative Writing

By Kym O’Connell-Todd and Mark Todd

Kym and Mark ToddFor us, successful collaborative writing is like good sex.

First comes foreplay: we begin to brainstorm, teasing out seductive story lines to see if there’s something that we both want to spend time developing. And we’ve been doing this long enough that we already have a pretty good idea of what turns on our partner. As the passion for our story builds, we become excited as character and plot flesh out. We then get into the rhythm of storytelling, thrusting ideas from our sweaty little brains deep into the body of our tale. The heat finally culminates in an orgasmic release when we write the words “The End.”

But before you rush out to find a co-writer, remember that not everyone is going to be a willing (or a satisfactory) partner. The chemistry has to work. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to find someone who’s good in bed, but rather someone who possesses similar mental, emotional, and professional writing compatibilities. One of the greatest advantages to co-writing is that two minds are always better than one when it comes to solving problems and bouncing ideas off one another. One person can temper the other. A plot point may not sound as workable when it’s verbalized to a co-author.

Of course, everyone engages in some level of co-writing to get that story into print. Even adamant solitary writers. Agents, editors, and publishers are all going to give their two cents’ worth, and you’re going to want to listen to at least some of it. Once your work reaches the hands of readers, and you develop an audience, you’ll want to consider what works for them so they continue to support your habit. That doesn’t mean that you sacrifice the integrity of your writing, but you’ll want to tailor your books to sell. A good friend of ours had a collection of short stories accepted by a university press, but after they insisted on drastic changes, he withdrew the collection. In this case, the two failed to strike a satisfactory partnership. When he finally found the right press for his words, did they suggest changes? Sure, but they were ones he thought improved the overall work.

In yet another situation, a publisher paired a different friend of ours, a well-published science fiction author, with an aeronautics specialist. The specialist focused meticulously on the science while our friend just wanted to tell a good tale. Inflated egos weighed heavily on the whole project, and we listened to our friend complain for a year as the book trudged toward publication.

As in all forms of co-writing, ego has to go out the window. No drama queens or kings allowed. If you’re going to partner up with another author for that next book, you both must feel free to offer ideas the other can shoot down or spin in a different direction. Ideally, neither party takes offense. Both authors must possess similar work ethics, demonstrate a willingness to meet deadlines, and stay on task. Think of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, the writing duo who created The Relic, The Cabinet of Curiosities, and multiple other page-turning thrillers. And they live half a continent apart.

How do they do it? You’ll have to ask them. But we suspect they use an electronic version of “transom writing.” Transoms are those windows over doors that open for ventilation. You’ve seen them; they’re in virtually every schoolhouse across the nation. In transom writing, each author writes a passage and then passes it on to the co-writer, who then takes responsibility for writing the next section. They exchange drafts back and forth like circulating air through a transom. It’s a kind of turn writing. Preston and Child co-author some books and individually author others. And they do it all well. Still, in their collaborative projects, we can spot now and then a subtle change of voices among chapters – a shift in favorite vocabulary and rhythms of syntax. That’s what tells us they’re turn writing.

We don’t do that.

We’re a lot more intimate in our approach.

Our readers tell us they can’t detect any shift in voice in our writing. That’s because there isn’t any:

FADE IN:
Kym and Mark sit on the bed, crouched over a laptop. Mark types as they talk.

KYM
(dictating)
Pleasance stood atop the Pyramid of Kukulcán, hoping to –

MARK
(interrupting)
– escape the sticky mid-summer –

KYM
(interrupting)
– swelter.

MARK
Yeah, I like that. And then how ‘bout, Trying to ignore the sweat that pooled at her bosom.

KYM
No, change that to between her breasts.

Mark deletes and retypes.

KYM (CONT’D)
And we need to describe the jungle before we get to the sweaty breasts.

Mark moves the cursor to the end of the first sentence.

MARK
(typing)
The Yucatán jungle stretched in all directions, islands of –

KYM
– stone ruins occasionally interrupting the monotonous green –

MARK
– of dwarfed cedar and chakah trees.

They give each other a high five.
FADE OUT

Okay, that may not have been exactly the way we wrote that particular passage from our novel, All Plucked Up, but it’s how we co-author – one of us starts a sentence and the other finishes it. Plus, Mark is dyslexic and Kym catches misspellings as we go along. (We’re doing it right now as we type this article.) In our case, Mark is the typist because Kym can’t use the touch pad on the laptop. It’s all pretty efficient except when one of our six house cats jumps on the keyboard. There’s nothing transom-like in the way we compose at the sentence level. And this technique allows us to test out loud as we go along just how naturally the words flow on the page.

We’d be the first to admit that this is probably not the fastest way to write for most people. But it works for us because we like to write together, and we decide up front on a project that we both feel passionate about. The biggest challenge, of course, is to find or block out regular periods of time when we’re both available. Kym is an early-morning person (she’s up before the sun) while Mark isn’t even coherent until 11 a.m. Our best compromise falls mid day, and we plan accordingly.

Todd_finalgreedIt also helps that we both have equally twisted senses of humor. In our first novel for the same Silverville Saga Series, Little Greed Men, we have a scene where the sheriffs of two counties meet to decide jurisdiction over unidentified human remains found more or less straddling the line:

“It’s not Silver County’s problem,” Carl said at last.

“Wait a minute!” the other sheriff objected. “You guys found as many bones on your side as we did.”

“C’mon, Andy, you’ve got the skull,” Carl said. “That officially gives you more bone mass than we have.”

“Yeah, but you guys have the teeth.”

“We don’t know for sure those dentures are that fellow’s teeth. Maybe somebody was out here hiking and dropped them.” Carl looked pretty satisfied with his deduction.

“Oh man, that ain’t right. We had to bury one earlier this spring. You haven’t had one in a couple of years.”

They argued back and forth for several minutes . . .

To us, this scene was a howl to write, and we were having too much fun to worry much about whether or not readers would agree. We enjoy this type of book, and we hoped the same kind of readers would discover our novel. More important to us was writing true to what we thought was funny.

The best writers say to write what you know. That’s exactly what we did with the Silverville Saga Series. We drew upon real personalities and real situations that we’ve experienced or heard about living in the mountainous West. The scene above – or something close – actually took place between Gunnison and an adjoining county. To be truthful, nearly all of the situations in our book happened somewhere in at least one of our pasts.

For instance, we inserted an anecdote where townsfolk flee from an apparently rabid dog with a frothing mouth. That dog, in reality, was Kym’s childhood pet. “Roscoe” had helped himself to a meringue pie cooling on someone’s front steps. The dog scared the wits out of the neighborhood until the cook discovered her empty pie plate.

Another scene in the book has a real sense of authenticity since Mark’s family owned a mortuary business:

Buford gawked at the open shelves neatly stacked with rows of embalming fluid bottles, instruments, and linens. He’d never been in the room long enough before to get a close look at the mysterious equipment kept there. Picking up a cardboard box, he plucked out a small pink disc that was shaped like half a hollow marble.

“What are these?”

Howard dropped his towel into a hamper. “They’re eye cups. We stick them under the eyelids after someone dies.” Then he added, “So the eyes won’t sink.”

Buford took two of the little cups and raised them to his own eyes, squinting to hold them in place like two plastic monocles. “Like this?”

He heard the door open behind him and turned, blindly, in that direction.

“Buford, what are you doing in here?”

Opening his eyes, Buford felt the cups slide down his cheeks toward the floor. Denton stood with his hands on his hips, and he didn’t look pleased.

Of course, Mark never played with eye caps. (At least he never got caught.)

The advantage should be obvious – two heads mean two sets of experiences. It also means two sets of critical eyes because we each bring to the “Writing Bed” individual strengths that mitigate the individual weaknesses. Kym’s journalism background makes her succinct to a fault. Mark, on the other hand, comes from the halls of academia and doesn’t know when to quit. Somewhere between these two extremes is the point we shoot for using each other’s complementary strengths.

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

Todd_outhouse_final_cover(sm)Co-authors Kym O’Connell-Todd & Mark Todd are co-authors of the Silverville Saga Series, paranormal adventure comedies that take place in an “ordinary” community sitting on intersecting ley lines – punching holes in everyday reality, causing extraordinary coincidences and the random UFO, an occasional curse, a ghost or two, and even a bit of time-travel now and then.

You can learn more about Kym and Mark and their books at the website and blog. They can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Find Your Weirdness

By Julie Luek

Julie Luek1I’m almost fifty. There it is in black and white, a milestone in my life. My kids, 23 and 18, are flying the coop this year, out into the world to pursue their passions. My daughter, bless her heart, has inherited my creative passions and will pursue her love of music. She’s not choosing an easy road, nor one that will automatically lead to a steady job and income. I won’t discourage her though. I remember being her age, wanting to pursue English as a major, and my engineer father strongly suggesting (with his financial support) I pursue something more “sensible”. It turns out there’s nothing practical in studying a subject you have no love for.

Life ended up all right though. I got the MA that helped me land a satisfying job in higher education. I found it challenging and fulfilling for over 20 years until the day, three years ago, when I didn’t. At some point you realize you can’t fight your passion and no longer want to. Time is short. Three years ago I did the unpractical and walked away from a good career to pursue this writing gig.

I’m glad to say I haven’t looked back. It hasn’t been easy, and although I’ve had small successes, it’s not like the world of publishing has opened its arms to me in a warm and grateful embrace. Publishing is a fickle lover. Like most of you, I have to work hard and snuggle up to a lot of rejection to get my writing out there.

Luek_pathposteraAlong the way, I’ve also had to define who I am as a writer and what I want to write. It’s been a journey of self-discovery. I began by trying to write short stories. Baby steps, like little stories to prompts on Writer’s Digest. I entered a few contests and, eventually, even wrote a full-length, fiction manuscript. (It was pretty awful, by the way.) I also read a lot… a lot… of books, on story development, plot development, saving cats, the writing life, and how to put fire in my fiction. The more I read, the more I wrote (some really bad stuff), the more I realized I didn’t want to write fiction. But writers write novels. We all know that.

It took me three years to get it through in my thick head and probably thicker ego, that my first love is reading nonfiction and it follows, my true passion is writing nonfiction. It’s satisfying for me to see my articles in magazines, my essays on international writing sites like She Writes, and even an essay in Chicken Soup for The Soul. It’s like coming home.

The other day I read this quote by Annie Dillard:

Read for pleasure. If you like Tolstoy, read Tolstoy; if you like Dostoevsky, read Dostoevsky. Push it a little, but don’t read something totally alien to your nature and then say, “I’ll never be able to write like that.” Of course you won’t. Read books you’d like to write. If you want to write literature, read literature. Write books you’d like to read. Follow your own weirdness.

This is why I made the decision to try other supportive organizations for nonfiction, outside of RMFW. (Although thank goodness the friends I made here haven’t abandoned me!) It’s why I play around with writing styles and topics on my blog Julie Luek, and it’s why I keep sending pithy little ditties off to the Chicken Soup folks. I’ve even finally worked up the courage to test the waters on a book idea again; this time, of course, a nonfiction manuscript.

Like Ms. Dillard says, I have to follow my own weirdness. What’s yours?

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

Julie Luek is a writer, living in the mountains of Colorado, published in numerous regional and national magazines, Chicken Soup For The Soul, and a regular contributor to the sites She Writes and Joyful Home and Life. She authors two blogs, Julie Luek and A Thought Grows. As an observer and participator in her own life, she continually rediscovers her purpose, learns to let go and not take herself too seriously. Julie believes if we generously share our stories and hearts we can all learn, laugh, and grow together.

Writing and Juggling

By Kristi Helvig

Kristi HelvigIn light of the upcoming launch for my sci-fi debut, BURN OUT, someone asked me in an interview about how I managed to balance my work as a psychologist, my writing obligations, and parenting two young children. I laughed because ‘balanced’ is the last word I’d use to describe myself right now. Coinciding with my book launch is the due date for edits on Book 2. In the midst of said edits and book launch is my youngest child’s birthday. To give you an idea of how crazed I’ve been, when I asked what she wanted for her birthday, she said, “For you to stay off your computer the whole day.” (Cue massive maternal guilt).

Under these two deadlines, I’ve turned from the super-involved parent who takes their kids to parks and musuems to the one who mutters “yeah, sure” when they call out from the other room asking if they can take a knife, scissors, and crazy-glue upstairs for ‘a project.’ After several days spent editing on the couch in sweatpants last week, my husband almost burst into song when I announced I was going to shower. Okay, he actually did burst into song, and that song was “Hallelujah.” I wish I was kidding.

As writers, we’re always juggling. Whether it’s time spent promoting vs. writing, day job vs. writing, laundry vs. writing, etc., it’s hard to hit that sweet spot where we feel balanced. Though I have no magic answers for this, the following things have helped me along the way.

Helvig_BURN OUT Cover1)  Prioritize the tasks at hand. My motto: deadlines and family first, everything else where it fits. I still make time to walk the dog, volunteer in the kids’ classrooms, and do yoga because those things matter to me—plus yoga helps to offset the vast quantities of chocolate I eat while editing. Sadly, laundry hasn’t seemed to fit anywhere lately. I was going to include a picture of the current state of our laundry basket, or rather the mountain of clothes that ate our basket, but it’s just too embarrassing. Even with writing related tasks, I’m a firm believer in old-school ‘to-do’ lists and arrange things by dates of importance. There is something satisfying about crossing things off of lists.

2)  Enlist help. My family has fair warning when I’m entering the Deadline Zone—just like the Twilight Zone but without the cool background music. My awesomely supportive hubby will take the kids out for outings so I can have quiet writing time, and make dinners, etc. Then we’ll switch when he’s under a time crunch. My oldest is slowly taking on some household chores, though even he doesn’t see the appeal of laundry. Even when it’s not a matter of deadlines, there is always some sort of chaos in the schedule, so it’s important to have a plan in place to manage it. Juggling is easiest when there are more hands to handle the balls.

3) Schedule non-juggling time. Even if it’s just an afternoon at the movies with a friend or a weekend away in the mountains with family, it’s so important to take time away from the insanity. It makes all the times when you are juggling more bearable.

In the end, I think it’s impossible to be perfectly balanced all of the time. If you know otherwise, please tell me your secret! I’ve come to accept that there will be times, like now, where I’m barely hanging on, and that’s okay. Things seem to go in cycles and there’s comfort in the knowledge that in a few weeks time, I’m going to be a showering and laundry machine. Unless someone wants to come do my laundry—I’m totally open to that.

What are your tips for maintaining balance in your life? Anyone else’s laundry basket qualify as a Colorado Fourteener?

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

Kristi Helvig is a Ph.D. clinical psychologist turned sci-fi/fantasy author. She muses about Star Trek, space monkeys, and other assorted topics at her website. Kristi resides in sunny Colorado with her hubby, two kiddos, and behaviorally-challenged dogs. Follow her on Twitter or find her on Facebook. Her publisher, Egmont USA, is giving away 5 finished copies of BURN OUT on Goodreads through April 17th.

The Importance of a Good Beta Reader

by Katriena Knights

If you’ve seriously pursued writing for any amount of time, you know you can’t be trusted to judge your own work. Scenes that seem wonderfully constructed in our heads are completely incomprehensible to other people. Glorious flights of poetic prose are actually pools of verbal quicksand from which no reader will ever safely return. It’s a sad truth, but a truth nonetheless.

This is why we need Beta readers.

A good Beta reader will help you find those holes in your manuscript where your brain fills in the details but a reader gets confused or completely lost. She’ll find continuity errors, wobbles in character development, and help you figure out where you’ve indulged yourself too much and could really stand to cut things down a bit.

A really good Beta reader will call you on the phone and say, “Hey, mostly I liked the story, but there’s this one thing I HATE with the BURNING PASSION of a THOUSAND MILLION SUNS. Change it.”

True story.

Yes, we’re still speaking.

My Beta reader iBloodontheIce-ART-Smallers also my best friend. She doesn’t just read my manuscripts, she also feeds me story ideas. For example, my upcoming novel from Samhain, Blood on the Ice, is entirely and completely her fault. And yes, she betaed it for me. A couple of times.

Early in the writing process, she read through some chapters and said, “Wait. Your game schedule is a complete mess.” And then she sent me a link and said, “Use this.”

The link was the entire Chicago Blackhawks schedule from the 1955-1956 season, when the NHL only had six teams. “Just plug your six vampire teams into this schedule. That way it’ll make more sense.”

I think I banged my head against a wall for fifteen minutes. It worked, though. Using the actual schedule—even though I did tweak it a little—added a background continuity that made the Vampire Hockey League more realistic. And if there’s anything that needs added realism, it’s a hockey league populated entirely by vampires.

When my final draft was ready, she told me we could get together over Instant Message on Memorial Day and go through the manuscript. I figured we’d chat for a little while, I’d make a few notes, and then I’d be off to finish my submission-ready draft.

Eight hours later (you read that right—EIGHT. HOURS. LATER.), I had about 25 pages of notes copied and pasted out of IM into a document. I was also really freaking hungry. Over the next few days, I reordered several scenes, added some exposition, and took out an entire character. (You know how they say to kill your babies? This was an ACTUAL BABY. Her whole subplot got removed. Poor thing. Maybe she’ll fit into the next book.)

That right there is what every writer needs in a good Beta reader.

I’m always grateful that my BFF happens to have a ridiculously good story sense and isn’t afraid to tell me when stuff just plain sucks. It’s the kind of objective eye every writer needs. I can’t tell you how to find your own—all I know is you can’t have mine.

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

Katriena Knights wrote her first poem with she was three years old and had to dictate it to her mother under the bathroom door (her timing has never been very good). Now she’s the author of several paranormal and contemporary romances. She grew up in a miniscule town in Illinois, and now lives in a miniscule town in Colorado with her two children and a variety of pets. For more about Katriena, visit her website and blog

I Could Have Lost Everything

A couple of weeks ago, I woke up and started my usual routine of preparing for work. I work at home so I have a short commute to my office: down the hall, take a left at the entryway, and an immediate right through a set of double doors. It was a gray morning, typical in Oregon for this time of year, and like any typical morning, I pressed the little silver power button on the tower of my Mac Pro. I was rewarded with the Mac “bong” of greeting, but what followed was anything but typical.

Sick MacMy computer, my livelihood, my career-in-a-box, showed me an odd image on my monitor with scrolling words in several different languages. Something was wrong. The operating system refused to load.

Panic ensued. I called my local computer shop the moment they opened, we tried a few things over the phone, but the conclusion was indisputable. I think I heard Taps playing through my computer’s speakers.

Had I backed everything up? Most everything. The important stuff, at least. But I was going to be without my home business until whatever was wrong with my computer was fixed. They also needed my back-up drive in case the files on my hard drive couldn’t be restored.

I started imagining all kinds of worst-case scenarios. My back-up drive had been acting up recently after my dog dropped her ball on the USB cable plugged into the back of the computer and disconnected the drive. I’d had an error message that it might have been damaged. I’d checked it and it appeared all my files were there, but when I tested it on my laptop, the drive didn’t show up. Lovely.

Deep breaths. Okay, so at least I had the laptop I shared with my husband and I could access email, the Internet, Microsoft Office… But all my graphics software, the lifeblood of my business, was on the sick Mac Pro in the shop. I had design deadlines and various unfinished projects needing my attention. What was I going to do? There wasn’t anything I could do but wait.

After 3 days and 2 sleepless nights, I called the shop to ask for a diagnosis. They’d just started to run a diagnostic test and would call me later that day to give me the result. They didn’t call. It felt as if I were waiting at the back of a very long line that wasn’t moving.

I had to do something while I was waiting. It’s not in my nature to be unproductive. Since my husband and I were sharing the laptop I had to use my time wisely. This is how I learned the value of my Kindle Fire for things other than reading.

I’d recently finished revisions to the first book in a new series I was writing and had sent it off to my agent a couple of weeks before all this happened. It was time to start on the next book and the unexpected down time was a sign for me to get a jump on it. Though I’d been entertaining some ideas for the second book, I hadn’t planned anything yet. Two notebooks, a pencil, and a few Kindle web searches later and I was on my way. Not writing it but preparing to write it, which is not my usual process. The pantser inside me would normally hop directly to page one and get busy, but not this time. I had an opportunity to plot and develop my cast of characters, to fill up however many days I’d have to wait for my career-in-a-box to be in working condition again.

The nights were hard as my imaginative brain kept churning out horrible outcomes and expensive repairs, thinking of all the “what ifs” writers are conditioned to think. What if someone dropped my computer and it exploded into a thousand pieces? What if the tech working on my machine spilled his coffee all over the inside while he was working on it? What if the shop burned down? What’s the worst that could happen? I practically what-iffed myself into a nervous breakdown.

Seven days after I dropped off my poor old Mac at the computer hospital I got the call that it was ready to pick up. It had passed all their tests, but some internal workings within the drive were mysteriously preventing the system to load. All the data was still there and they were able to manually load it onto a new drive. I had them install a second drive inside the tower that houses the main drive so it could back itself up an hourly basis. That gives me a little peace of mind knowing my data is protected, but I can still imagine possibilities for disaster. I’m a writer. It’s what I do. Damn it.

In the end I survived. My computer survived. My work survived. What lesson did I learn? That if I’m not careful I can worry myself into an early grave? That there’s no such thing as idle time? That I have to make every moment count? Yep. All of the above.

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

Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 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. She is currently working on a new contemporary fantasy romance series.

http://www.karenduvallauthor.com

10 Myths about Being an Author

By J.A. Kazimer

My name is Julie and I’m an author.

You know I’m telling the truth, because it says so right there on that book —>

Anyway, people are always asking questions. The big one is “Would you like fries with that?” but sometimes the questions relate to being an author. I’m not sure how they know that I write books for a living. Perhaps it’s my author-like scent. I’ve heard all authors emit this special sort of scent- Ode to Words, but I never believed it. Not till my first book was released and I noticed this stench clinging to me. Sure you could blame the whiskey, but I prefer to think that the smelly author myth is actually true. By now you’re probably asking yourself, is there a point to this rambling?

And the answer is…”Can I supersize my drink?”

Okay, now that my order’s complete, let’s talk myths, especially those 10 little ones that cling to authors:

10.  Books are easy to write.

I hate to burst this particular bubble since most people I know say stuff like, “I should write a book.” (And they should. Everyone should try at least once, and then I would never, ever hear that statement again). But book writing (at least good, publishable book writing) is damn hard and it takes months, sometimes years to finish.

9.  Authors are all rich.

Sigh. I wish.  Like me, most authors I know have a day job or a very nice spouse who supports the author’s dream. Even semi-famous authors aren’t making the big bucks. For every six-figure book deal you hear about, there are twenty four figure ones. Worse, if you get an advance, you have to sell enough books to pay that advance (called earning out) before you make a dime on any book you sell.

The recent survey by Digital Book World hubbub showed us all, basically saying, most authors (60% Traditionally-published and 80% Indie-published) make less than $1,000 a year. Ouch. Not that I’m bragging (because I am so not, by a long shot), but I made slightly more than that last year. Mind you, I had 10 books for sale. By the time I have 1,000 for sale I might be able to afford a Venti at Starbucks….But I doubt it.

8.  Authors sell thousands and thousands of books.

To who? Please tell me where can I sell that many books? An average mid-list author with a new release will sell anywhere from 500 to a couple thousand book a year. Most books don’t even sell that many copies.

7.   Once an author sells a book to a publisher, the author can just step back and reap in the royalties.

Ha! How I wish this myth was true.  I sold my first book thinking this same thing. Boy did I learn a lesson over the next year. I had to arrange every book signing, send out all newsletters and press releases for media attention, and buy all my own book swag.  A publisher does their part with editing, printing, and distributing my book, as well as helping to promote it but most of the work falls on the author.

This isn’t Castle. No fancy, black-tie booksignings for me. I’m lucky when a bookshop will let me beg outside the doors for change. That being said, Broadway Bookstore/Who Else Books is the exception to this. Nina and Ron Else are huge supporters of the community. And it’s a great place for a signing!

6.  All books are somewhat autobiographical.

Let me answer this as quick and easily as I can: NO. No. No. No. I am not a fairy tale villain. I’ve never been a fairy tale villain. I don’t shoot people, though sometimes I want to. Nothing in my novel is me or about me.

5.  The narrator in the book is the author.

See the answer above. Whatever point of view a book is told in is a decision made by the author as a means to tell a story. I, the author, am not the narrator. I am merely the chick who types the words.

4.  The day a book is released it will be front and center of the bookstore.

Not true. Here’s another painful lesson I learned. The books you see in the front of the bookstore, well, those are there because someone, likely the publisher, paid the store to place them there. Sadly, bookstores have less and less space for books. Many are now selling e-readers in space that used to house books. So the odds of finding your book on a store’s shelves are about 30/70, even less if you aren’t published by the Big 5.

3.   Authors love attention and talking about their book.

Some do. Others, like me, would rather not be the center of attention. But it’s the nature of our business. If I want to succeed I have to tell people about my book. I’m getting better at this, but the idea of trying to sell my book to a stranger is still hard.

2.  If a book has vampires, ball-gags, or a kid named Harry in it, you’ll make millions.

False. Please, for the love of all words, stop writing to what you think the market is or wants. If J.K. Rowlings or Stephenie Myers jumped off a bridge would you? Be fresh. Be unique. Be yourself.

10.  All authors are young, sexy and hip.

That one is obviously true.

Any myths you would like to add? What are the questions non-writers ask you and how do you respond?

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J.A. (Julie) Kazimer lives in Denver, CO. Novels include CURSES! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, Dope Sick: A Love Story, FROGGY STYLE and The Assassin’s Heart, as well as the forthcoming mystery series, Deadly Ever After from Kensington Books. J.A. spent years spilling drinks as a bartender and then stalked people while working as a private investigator.

Learn more at www.jakazimer.com or on her writerly talk blog More Than a Little F***ed Up. She can also be found (way too much of the time) on Twitter as @jakazimer and on Facebook as Julie Kazimer.

Keep Your Eyes Open

By Yvonne Montgomery

Yvonne MontgomeryAs I draw near the end of my current project, A Signal Shown, Book Two of the Wisdom Court series, I’ve reached one of my favorite phases of writing a novel, what I call the Gifts from the Universe stage.

All writers are scavengers, gratefully and greedily snatching what we can find to flesh out the narrative. We eavesdrop on conversations and watch interactions among strangers, squirreling away precious bits and pieces to adorn our stories. Everything is grist for the mill, and someday that episode will find its place in a story, said Louis L’Amour. The man knew writing—and writers.

What I’m talking about is a little different. When you’ve been eating and breathing your work in progress, you come to a state of hyper-awareness. Perhaps it’s an inevitable tip into creative madness, maybe just a turn of the kaleidoscope making everything you encounter take on the characteristics of your particular focus. I prefer the idea of a generous, creative force presenting me with extra elements of completion for my manuscript.

One pre-dawn morning this week I was lying in bed and I saw a small triangle of light overhead. As I watched, the light skimmed across the ceiling and disappeared. Undoubtedly it was a stray shaft of light from a car driving through the alley.

But my novel is about a haunted place where strange happenings are eroding the comfort of its residents. The light floating along the surface of the ceiling set off my imagining another room where the moving glow was a sign of an eerie presence. The scene I wrote later in the day informed the chapter I was working on, and it had a little extra chill to it because of what I’d seen and felt that morning.

As I’ve mentioned my work lately, some people have generously related shivery anecdotes of otherworldly events I’ve found both evocative and worth stealing. (Of course I always ask their permission.) I’ve stumbled across reminders of ideas I’d forgotten, resurfacing now when I need them the most. A few weeks ago my grandchildren badgered me into watching a kid-TV show with them, and an element of its story let me see how a point-of-view shift in my narrative would enrich one major character. Pure gift.

We RMFW members are well aware of the creative community resulting from interaction with fellow writers, from attending critique groups, from combining our energies in conferences and educational programs. With each novel I’ve written, be it mystery, saga, or metaphysical thriller, I’ve had the additional, lovely experience of being a part of a realm in which those inspiring energies surround me. Whether generated in my fevered mind, lobbed my way by benign writing partners in the ether, or as a result of the overwhelming desire to be done with this book, I take great pleasure in these Gifts from the Universe. Their appearance truly means I’m nearly at the end of telling myself this tale. Before long the fervor of its creation will subside and I’ll be looking for another story to write.

Keep your eyes (and ears and minds and hearts) open to the creative gifts available to us as writers. They’re all grist for the mill.

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Montgomery_Scavanger Hunt Yvonne Montgomery lives in an old three-story house in Denver’s historic Capitol Hill. Its nooks and crannies and odd noises in the middle of the night have inspired her latest works, Edge of the Shadow and A Signal Shown, Books One and Two of the Wisdom Court series, to be e-published in early 2014. Her e-books are widely available, including at Amazon, B&N Nook, iBooks, Kobo.

Yvonne is the author of two mysteries, Scavenger Hunt (aka Scavengers) and Obstacle Course, and co-author of Bridey’s Mountain, a Colorado saga awarded the Colorado Authors League Top Hand Award for Best Book Length Fiction of 1993.

For more information, please visit Yvonne’s website, Writer in the Garret. She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Action Plans for the Scattered and Unmotivated

by Kerry Schafer

Last month I shared some of my thoughts about intentions, suggesting that it’s a good idea to have some and see where they take you. And then I tacked a little afterthought on the end, saying how next time we’d talk about Action Plans.

I still maintain that intentions are lovely and wonderful things, even though well meaning people say the road to hell is paved with them. I suspect that the road to paradise is probably paved with them too, although nobody ever seems to mention that.

Back to my point, which is that we want to give those intentions a little boost so that they are more likely to take us to the good place, and not lead us astray into darkness and possibly fire and brimstone.

Warning: If you’re looking for one of those super organized, highly structured, do-all-of-the-things-on-this-list-and-you-will-surely-conquer-the-world posts, you’re in the wrong spot. This isn’t even Action Plans 101. I’m offering up a few random ideas for those of us who organize by sticky notes on the kitchen table, or in our heads while resting our eyes on the couch.

1. Publicly announce whatever it is you said you were going to do.

Case in point – at the end of my last blog post here, I said I would write this time about action plans. If I hadn’t done this, I might easily have opted for something involving fluffy cats and maybe a random penguin or two, because I’m tired and feeling unfocused and the last thing I want to do right now is remind myself that I need a new Action Plan. But I do, and here we are. This is one of the things that makes Nanowrimo so successful, I think. After you’ve announced to everybody who knows and loves you, along with a bunch of strangers who don’t care at all and even a few people who hate you, that you’re going to do something – write a book, query an agent, self publish, whatever – there is a motivating force to keeping your word.

2. Write it on a calendar.

Don’t have a calendar? Get one. Or use the calendar on your smart phone or your computer. Get the kids to make you one. This, for the scattered and unmotivated, is one of the simplest and best motivational and organizational tools out there. Of course, simply scrawling “write a novel”  or “get published” on the first available date may not be of much use, although I think even that would be of some use. There is something about actually scheduling writing time, or query time, or a word count goal, that bumps it up the ranks of your to do list. It’s like magic. Write it down – Monday – 9 am buy groceries, 10:30 am dentist appointment, 3 pm write 1000 words – and all of a sudden your writing time jumps from something you’d like to do if you have time, to something that you plan to do.

3. Take a small step now that will commit you to further action later.

I’m talking about one of those moments where you open your mouth (or put your fingers on the keys) and commit yourself to something. Usually the commitment part only takes a few minutes, but has far reaching consequences, sort of like getting married in Vegas, only in a good way. Or that minute at a school meeting where you raise your hand and volunteer to organize the potluck. If you’re having trouble getting your butt in the chair to write words, buddy up with a friend. Agree to meet up for writing sprints, at 5 am, or 10 pm, or whatever fits in your schedule. That way, when the alarm goes off and you reach out to push snooze, you’ll be struck by the guilt of knowing that someone you care about is climbing out of a nice warm bed somewhere else so she can meet up with you. Guilt is a wonderful nap ruiner. Join a writing group that expects pages to critique. Create a contest with a friend to see who gets the most (well researched and solidly crafted) queries out into the world by a particular time frame.

As Action Plans go, this is the minimalist version. Search the net and you’ll find all sorts of involved and in depth road maps to success. These make my head hurt, and I suspect I’m not the only one. So this is the extent of my contribution to the subject. Hey, every little bit helps, right?

Now – it’s time for you to step up to the plate. What action plan step are you prepared to commit to today?

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Kerry Schafer’s first novel, Between, was published in February 2012 and the sequel, Wakeworld, is slated to hit shelves and e-readers on February 14, 2013. Kerry is both a licensed mental health counselor and an RN, and loves to incorporate psychological and medical disorders into her fantasy books. You can find out more on her website, www.kerryschafer.com, or find her on Twitter as @kerryschafer or on her Facebook page Kerry Schafer Books.

Old Writer, New Tricks

By Mary Gillgannon

I’m what I call an intuitive or “into the mist” writer.  I have a general idea of what the story is about, but I don’t really plot. I’m also a linear writer. I start from the beginning and keep going on the rough draft until I reach the end. Between “non-plotting” and writing straight through, I usually end up with a complete mess and then have to go back and rewrite extensively to get a coherent and compelling story. It was pretty typical that for a 120,000 word novel, I’d write about 30,000 extra words. For my 160,000-word historical novel, I probably wrote 300,000!

About five years ago, I decided I wasn’t up to all that floundering and struggle and wasted words. I was going to learn to plot. I attended workshops, read books and talked to other writers about their plotting process. It all sounded good to me… until I sat down and tried to do it. Nothing happened. No story ideas came. My mind went blank and my muse refused to speak to me.

So, I went back to “writing into the mist” and writing linearly. I seemed to be getting better at it with my romances. But when I tried to write a fantasy series, I ended up with a 200,000 word book that needs to be about half that. Not to mention, I can’t market the series yet because I don’t know what happens in the second book, let alone the third and fourth. (I know. George R.R. Martin probably doesn’t really know where his series is going either. But he’s clearly better at this stuff than me.)

The feeling that there has to be a better way keeps gnawing at me. And maybe, just maybe, I’ve found it with my latest project. It’s a fantasy romance that I first started years ago. Because I was trying to sell on proposal back then, I actually wrote a very rough synopsis for this book. I started writing based on the synopsis, and after a few chapters, inevitably, the plot began to change. But then I did something different. I didn’t keep writing. I went back and started revising the synopsis to fit the story. As I did that, I realized there were lots of story questions I hadn’t addressed. So I went back and rewrote parts of the first few chapters. In the process, the whole story became clearer to me. For once, I wasn’t writing “into the mist”. I could actually see where I was going.

I’ve decided I would keep up with this new technique with this book. I’m beginning to think that maybe the problem isn’t that I don’t plot, but that I keep writing forward even when I don’t know what I’m doing. Maybe if I try to plot as I write the book and fix things as I go along, I won’t end up with such a disaster at the end.

I’ve been writing novels for over twenty years. It would be really exciting if I finally figured out a better way to do it!

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Mary GillgannonMary Gillgannon writes romance novels set in the dark ages, medieval and English Regency time periods and fantasy and historical novels with Celtic influences. Her books have been published in Russia, China, the Netherlands and Germany. Raised in the Midwest, she now lives in Wyoming and works at public library, where she she has the enviable task of purchasing adult fiction. She is married and has two grown children. When not working or writing she enjoys gardening, traveling and reading, of course! For more about Mary, visit her website and blog. She can also be found on Facebook.

RMFW Spotlight — Bonnie Ramthun PAL Liaison

The RMFW Spotlight feature will introduce a few of our RMFW officers and volunteers. We started out with the board of directors, sat them in the hot seat, shined the bright light on them, and channeling our best inner Oprah, plugged them with a few questions. This month, we’ve interrogated our PAL Liaison, Bonnie Ramthun.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA1. Bonnie, tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I’m the PAL for RMFW, which means the Published Author Liaison. I volunteered for this position because I wanted to give back to the RMFW community. When I started attending the Colorado Gold conference I was already a published author but I knew nothing about… well, let’s just stop there. I knew nothing! RMFW has taught me so much. The amazing workshops, the excellent publishing advice, and the support of what Mario Acevedo calls “the writing tribe” means the world to me. I found my terrific agent, Becca Stumpf of Prospect Agency, at the conference. I found new publishing contracts. I’ve discovered amazing authors whose novels take me away for hours of happy reading.

What can I possibly do to give back to such a wonderful organization? I do what I can. I volunteer at every conference, and as the PAL I manage the Friday Night Networking Tables. Each January I form a committee to select the Writer of the Year, and I present new RMFW authors with a PEN award and showcase them at the First Sale Panel at the conference. I make a poster every year of the WOTY winners and present the WOTY with a special pin commemorating their award. This past year I formed the committee to create the new Independent Published Author group, the IPAL, and I put our conference director, Suzie Brooks, in contact with Smashword’s Mark Croker to see if he would come to Colorado Gold and talk about independent publishing. (He will!) I try to think of new ways to improve our organization all the time because that means greater success for all of us.

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

I have an eclectic set of stories and novels available for readers on Amazon. If you like romance, there’s a sweet short story called Love out of Time, with a cover design by RMFW’s own Karen Duvall. My horror story The Little Hitchhiker was selected for Horror Novel Review’s anthology and RMFW author Yvonne Montgomery called it “a deftly written, fast-paced tale that veers into nightmare territory.” (Thanks, Yvonne!) If mystery is more your style, try the Detective Eileen Reed trilogy of Ground Zero, Earthquake Games, and The Thirteenth Skull. And finally I have a historical-supernatural-thriller-romance that didn’t find a niche in traditional publishing (wonder why?) called The Night Queen. Finally, if you have a youngster in your family who doesn’t like to read, I have it on good authority that The White Gates will help them change their mind!

If you’d care to write a few words in review on any of my works that you enjoyed I would really appreciate it. Reviews really help a novel and I try to write reviews of every book I read, particularly those of our terrific RMFW authors. Here are a few of my favorite covers:

Ramthun_Thirteenth SkullFrame with Christmas tree branches and vintage decorationsRamthun_night queen

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?

When you ask someone what they would do if they won the Powerball, and they say: “I wouldn’t do anything differently,” you know you’ve met a happy person. I love being a mom and a wife and a writer. I wouldn’t turn down millions of dollars, of course, but that wouldn’t change my life. Okay, except travel. I would travel more. I’d go to Ireland and Nepal and India and Australia and I’d attend every writer’s conference I could find, and I’d buy books every day, piles of them. Maybe I will buy that Powerball ticket after all.

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

I have a terrible case of writus-interruptus. If I’m in the zone and typing away and the phone rings or the dog starts barking, I’m not only thrown out of my story but I can’t get back into it for hours. I know I have this Achilles heel so when it’s writing time I cocoon myself in my room, turn the phone off, and put earplugs in my ears. Whatever works, right?

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

Writing is hard work for me. I love to write the same way I love to work in my garden: I know the backbreaking labor will bear fruit. One of the true joys of writing is receiving notes from readers who loved my books. One mom wrote to me that her son who didn’t read at all liked my book The White Gates so much that she found him under the covers with a flashlight. Another reader told me that when she finished The Thirteenth Skull she was so swept away by the adventure that she felt like she’d been on vacation. Those notes make me smile for days, and give me the strength to get back to the keyboard and keep writing.

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

I would recommend (and I do recommend, all the time) for beginning writers to join an organization like RMFW, and to scrape together all their spare cash to attend a writer’s conference like The Colorado Gold. I learn every year about my craft and about the industry, and beginning writers who have those tools are ahead of the pack and are bound to be more successful. I wish I’d known about RMFW back when I was a newbie writer.

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?

Here’s a photo of my desk, and a picture of my inspiration stones. I collect them and I like looking at them and holding them in my hands. I bought my IMac with the advance money from The White Gates, and my computer is my window to the world, my research companion, and my writing platform. My sister calls this color scheme: Cowboy archeologist librarian. Works for me!

Ramthun_desktopRamthun_inspiration

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

I just finished reading Innocence, by Dean Koontz. I’m a big fan and this latest novel chilled me to the bone. Maybe because the ultimate plot twist was so plausible? Koontz is truly a wonderful writer. Next up is Missing, by Christine Jorgensen.

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Thanks so much for answering our questions, Bonnie. We all appreciate your hard work with PAL and with RMFW.