Tag Archives: the writing life

The Curse of the Critique Button?

I’m cursed. I can no longer watch a movie, attend a play, read a book, or (now) enjoy television without the writer in my head critiquing. And while that means I’ve finally internalized many craft lessons, it also means entertainment is much more complex. Last week, when I started griping about the slipping plotline on The Following, my man just rolled his eyes and nodded.

This was something I first noticed several years ago and, because I used to direct community theatre, I thought it was a result of directing experience. I found that I paid more attention to what other directors did in terms of lighting, costuming, and set construction. That was bad enough. When I became hyper-aware of choreography, line delivery, and how actors developed their characters, I realized writing was the culprit. I’d translated craft lessons first into my directing, then into how I watched a play.

Then, it was books. It became nearly impossible to shut off the critique in my head when I read. That aggravates me because I love to read. I focus on favorite authors but run out of books. That puts me on a search for new authors which sometimes means I grumble for a while—until I find the joy of a new discovery. I’ve learned, over time, to overlook small things but it still gets to me when I come across unmotivated characters. Especially because that makes me look closer at my own characters and necessitates editing. That’s a good thing, in the end, but it does make me complain. Ken just smiles.

Recently, though, I find it’s bleeding over into movies and television. I used to always notice costuming. Now, I see lack of motivation, manipulated plots, and lack of character arc. I leave movies knowing that I once would have been entertained but now see flaws. Television shows I enjoyed before now prompt negative comments. I can’t seem to turn off the darn critique button! I suspect it drives my family as batty as it does me but I have to give them credit for not laughing.

All that said, I’ve also developed a wonderful appreciation for things done right. I adore a well-written novel and will praise the authors who write them to no end. A well-scripted, well-directed play leaves me smiling for days. Great movies stay with me, becoming those I purchase to watch again and again.

This past month, I began to notice timing, motivation, conflict, character development, and surprise hooks as well as flaws in series TV. My list of favorites has narrowed, but I’m seeing a lot more “things done right.” This season, I’ve praised The Good Wife, True Detective, The Big Bang Theory, Mom, and Game of Thrones—an eclectic collection, each doing something different but all of them discussed in the living room as well-done.

So, yes, I’m cursed…or am I simply seeing things differently?

I suspect we all are, those of us who write.

What about you? What does your critique button have you noticing?

Going to the Garden to Eat Worms

By Kerry Schafer

 

“I’m a failure.”

“I suck.”

“I wish I were a better writer.”

“If only I were smarter/had more talent/had a different brain…”

Sound familiar?

Most of us humans are really good at beating ourselves up.  As writers, I think we are even more adept at this fun and dangerous pastime than the average denizen of the human race. We say things to ourselves that would be considered abusive if we directed them at our partners or our children or our friends. And yet we say them to ourselves, over and over and over again.

Conjure up some of the things you routinely say to yourself when you haven’t lived up to your own (or somebody else’s) expectations. Even better, actually jot them down. I know time is precious and it takes a minute, but it’s worth the time to gain the awareness of the soundtrack playing out in your head.

Here’s one of mine. Every single time I check my email and there isn’t any (or there is only spam), or if nobody is talking to me on Facebook or Twitter at a given time, I catch these words running through my head and heart:

“Nobody loves me.”

If there’s no publishing news, this turns into, “My agent doesn’t love me. My editor hates the book.” Now, this is untrue and I know it. A lot of people care about me and have shown this over and over again. My agent is awesome and my editor is a dedicated professional who has done wonderful things for my novels. The truth is that the people in my world—family, friends, and publishing people–are busy doing many and varied things. They have lives.

The lack of activity on social media or in my Inbox has no direct association to the number of people in my world who care about me and my career. I know this. And when I catch those words running through my head I’ve learned to take immediate corrective action.

When I tell you I say this to myself, though, it’s sort of acceptable, right? A little human quirk. Yep, writers are like that. No big deal. We tend to sort of shrug and smile and acknowledge that yeah, we’re not as nice to ourselves as we could be. And then we keep right on with the self abuse.

Make no question about this: it is abuse.

Picture this. You and I are out for a  drink or a cup of coffee, and I look at you across the table and say, “Nobody loves you.” As soon as I say these words out loud and direct them at another human being I’ve stopped being quirky and turned into a bitch. Especially if I follow up with some other gems like, “You’ve got no talent. I don’t know why you’re trying to write this novel because it’s totally beyond your grasp. Why don’t you just give up? You’re never going to succeed in publishing…”

At this point you’d be justified in throwing your drink in my face and never talking to me again.

Abuse is destructive. It does nothing toward inspiring creativity, motivating us toward goals, or becoming better human beings. And yet we go on, day after day, indulging ourselves in this litany of hateful commentary towards our selves. It’s time to stop it, people. We’ve gone on long enough. We need to be kind to ourselves, encourage ourselves, motivate ourselves to be the best writers we can be.

For some of us that’s a very difficult thing and some time talking to a good counselor might be in order. Since I actually am a counselor and have spent a lot of time working with clients on this issue, I’m offering five tips to get you started on changing the way you talk to yourself.

Try this:

1. If you skipped the opportunity to write down your negative self talk, take a few minutes to do it now and then come back here.  Done? Good job.

2. Now imagine that you are talking to somebody you love and value. Choose somebody who matters to you. A writer friend. Your child. Your lover. Image their face as clearly as you can, and now picture yourself saying these things to them.

3. Shift the self talk into something positive that you would actually say to somebody you were trying to encourage. (I suggest that you do write this down. There is something in the physical act of putting those words on paper that helps us rewire our brains.)

Example: “If only I had more talent…” might change to “I am working every day on mastering my craft and learning new skills.”

“I’m never going to succeed in publishing” might shift to, “I’m going to write the best book I can. And then I’m going to write another one. The more I write and the more I hone my skills, the more likely it is that I will succeed.”

Take the time to shift every one of the abusive self statements you wrote down earlier.

4. Monitor your thoughts. These patterns of self talk are engrained and don’t just magically go away. Watch for them. When you have a sinking feeling of doom and gloom, check what’s playing in your head and change the station.

5. Adopt a zero tolerance policy for self abusive thinking. Just don’t allow it. When you catch yourself doing it, make yourself stop. Make the shift to something positive. Have some compassion for yourself, as you do for others.

Remember: you are stronger and braver than you believe yourself to be.

 

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

Kerry Schafer loves to hang out where the weird things are—in the space where reality and fantasy meet. She is the author of The Books of the Between, published by Berkley Press. Her bestselling debut, Between, is available in mass market paperback, Kindle, and Nook. The second book in the trilogy, Wakeworld, releases in April 2014. For more about Kerry, visit her website.

Authors Behaving Badly … by Kris Neri

By Kris Neri

???????????????????????????????As Charles Manson once said, “Are people strange, or am I just crazy?” Call me naïve, but as a published author myself, I assumed other authors must interact with booksellers as courteously as I do. I’ve always believed intelligence and sensitivity to be typical traits among those who write. For the most part I’ve found that to be true. But I’m also a bookseller— my husband and I own The Well Red Coyote bookstore in Sedona, Arizona. During my nine-year tenure as a bookseller, I’ve discovered that, for a substantial minority, common sense among authors is not as common as you might think.

So here are a few of the things I’ve observed that the authors among you, and those who hope to be, might want to avoid:

* Don’t threaten the bookseller. Even before we opened our doors, someone wrote to say, “I have many friends in that area, and I’m going to send them all to your store to buy my books. But if you don’t carry them, they’ll never shop there again.” Now I like threats as much the next person, but that one got my back up. I decided they would sell snow cones in hell before we’d carry those books. To date, nobody has asked for one.

* Don’t expect the bookseller to take a loss for you. This advice is directed to those published by presses that don’t offer traditional terms. Someone emailed us to say she was published by a small press and asked if we could host an appearance for her. I told her to send a copy of the book, and I mentioned if wasn’t available through traditional outlets, she would have to provide it on consignment at a 40% discount. For a store to take less means they must sell that book at a loss.

The “small press” turned out to be iUniverse, a subsidy press that only offers a 20% discount and doesn’t allow for book returns — two conditions that make it impossible for most stores to carry their books. Yet the book was well written. But when I offered to give her an appearance, she thought it was time for negotiations. “I just bought a $32,000 truck,” she wrote in an email, “I can’t give you 40%. I need to make money from this book.”

Okay, let me take a moment here to laugh my butt off at that idea. I wish I could say this was an isolated case, but it’s happened too many times. Every spot on a bookstore shelf is a space that could just as easily go to someone else. When it’s a book of marginal interest, that’s a gift. If they have any issue with anyone, it should be with publishers who aren’t professional enough to understand how other books are sold, and price and sell their books accordingly.

* If you don’t read, keep your mouth shut. I assumed that, like me, everyone who writes is also a reader. Man, was I wrong! Incredibly strong numbers of published authors display no interest in any book without their own names on the cover. Okay, that’s their business, and in my opinion, their loss. But why would anyone who hopes to sell copies of their books share that fact with the members of their audience. Yet they brag about it, displaying superior contempt for those who are so uncool as to still read. Then they’re surprised when those uncool people don’t choose to buy their book.

* Don’t tell them where they can buy books cheaper. Some authors who do read will note for their audience all the covers of books in our bestseller section that they have read. But they don’t stop there. Oh, no. They share how much less they paid for those books in Costco, the supermarket or used on Amazon. Then they’re surprised when someone asks how little their book is going for used online.

* Don’t treat a bookstore like a free swap meet. Some authors have discovered that they can make more money selling their own copies of their books direct to the store’s customers. We learned that the hard way, when an author seized a moment alone with a customer to sell her own copy of her book for cash, rather than the ones we had stocked. Do you think there’s a chance we would ever have that author back?

Well…you get the idea. Authors should display the same level of courtesy to booksellers that they show in every other area of their lives. And if they aren’t polite and considerate — they should learn how to do be.

Now, most of the authors who visit our store are great! They’re considerate, fun, and they see booksellers as their partners in the book-selling process. But the numbers of rude, thoughtless authors are higher than I would have imagined. Wouldn’t you think that, if they aren’t naturally courteous, they’d be more practical? Selling books is hard. Why sabotage the efforts of the people trying to help you? Some days I think it would just be easier to sell “Authors Behaving Badly” DVDs on late night TV.

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

Neri_Revenge cover artKris Neri writes the humorous Tracy Eaton mystery series, featuring the daughter of eccentric Hollywood stars, the latest of which is REVENGE ON ROUTE 66, a madcap romp along the Southwestern Mother Road.

She also writes a humorous paranormal series, featuring a questionable psychic who teams up with a modern goddess/FBI agent. Her latest magical novel, MAGICAL ALIENATION, was a 2012 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award winner for fantasy. Kris teaches writing online for the prestigious Writers’ Program of the UCLA Extension School and other organizations, including the Sisters in Crime Guppies. And with her husband, owns The Well Red Coyote bookstore in Sedona, AZ.

Authors Who Overcame Hardships and Still Kicked Butt … by Lori DeBoer

By Lori DeBoer

The road to publishing can take years to travel, and it comes with a steep learning curve. Sometimes, the obstacles to success seem insurmountable. Life gets hard.

Everyone has off periods, when your writing time gets waylaid by other responsibilities. And it’s a real kick in the teeth if, when you do finally find yourself in your writing chair, the work itself turns out to be hard going. Like hauling rocks.

When I feel like I am hauling rocks, it helps to pull out my list of authors who had to overcome problems, the kind of problems that would make me roll up in a ball and never get out of bed. These are not the kind of first-world problems I currently have, such as, coffee hurts my gut and I can’t drink milk in it anymore. I whine about it a lot, but it’s not a genuine problem.

The authors I am talking about had great Dickensonian personal tragedies to overcome. (You’ll see how ironic my use of the term “Dickensonian” in a moment.) Some of them are modern, of course, but the fact that they were born into a time with electricity and flush toilets does not make their problems trivial.

Example one:

Lauren Hillenbrand was just nineteen years old when she became bed-bound with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. In an interview with Beliefnet.com (“What Price Glory?”), she says that her biggest challenge has been exhaustion. “I’ve spent about six of the last 14 years completely bedridden,” she said. “At times, I have been unable to bathe myself. I have gotten so bad I couldn’t really feed myself and a couple of times I needed someone to spoon feed me. I have had trouble rolling over in bed.”

Nevertheless, in 1988, after watching the Kentucky Derby, she was inspired to submit a piece to a racing magazine, Turf and Sport Digest, who asked her to keep writing. In 1996, while doing research, she gravitated to the story of Seabiscuit, one of the greatest racehorses in history, and his trainer and owner, who all overcome extraordinary odds. The book became a New York Times bestseller and was made into a movie. Hillenbrand said that writing the book was difficult, on the physical level, but that it fed her emotionally and spiritually.

Example two:

Jean-Dominique Bauby dictated his bestselling book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by blinking his left eye. It’s a beautiful little book that was made into a motion picture and is well worth picking up for anyone who loves transformative storytelling. Bauby, a former Elle editor, wrote it after a stroke that left him with locked-in syndrome. The dictation process took around ten months. His assistant recited the French alphabet in order of its most frequent letters and Bauby blinked to chose letters. Each word took approximately two minutes to formulate. Three days after the book was published, Bauby died of pneumonia.

This list goes on: Barbara Kingsolver wrote her first book while suffering from insomnia while she was pregnant; she had to hide in the closet while writing so she didn’t disturb her ex husband. Victor Frankl wrote one of the most influential books of this century, Man’s Search for Meaning, despite having spent time imprisoned in concentration camps and having his wife and family killed by Nazis. We all know that J.K. Rowling was a struggling single mom when she created the Harry Potter series, although she really downplays that story these days. John Milton wrote “Paradise Lost” after he went blind at the age of 43. He was also poverty-stricken.

You probably don’t know that, two days after his twelfth birthday, Charles Dickens was sent to work for a little over a year at the Warren’s Blacking Factory in a desperate attempt to keep his father out of prison for his failure to repay a debt. It failed, and the entire family, except Charles and his sister Fanny, moved into his father’s cell at Marshalsea Prison. His books capture the straits in which the lower classes found themselves at that time, because he lived it.

I’d like to add to my list of tragedy-surmounting, butt-kicking authors. Who inspires you?

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

Lori DeBoerLori DeBoer is an author, freelance journalist and writing coach. She has contributed essays on writing to Mamaphonic: Balancing Motherhood and Other Creative Acts, Keep It Real: Everything You’ve Wanted to Know About Research and Writing Creative Nonfiction and A Million Little Choices: The ABCs of CNF. She is a contributing editor for Short Story Writer and director of the Boulder Writers’ Workshop. Her stories have been a Top-25 Finalist for the Glimmer Train Fiction Open as well as being shortlisted for the Bellevue Literary Prize. She’s been published in Arizona Highways, The Bellevue Literary Review, Gloom Cupboard, The New York Times, Iowa Woman, Pithead Chapel and America West Airlines Magazine. One of her clients was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and four of her clients have been finalists for the Colorado Gold Award. For more information, visit her website and blog.

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?

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

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.