Deep Work

This topic was suggested by Patricia Stolty, who recently stepped down as our blog administrator after years of hard work and dedication. She will be missed, but is moving on to focus on her own writing, so good luck Pat!

One of the challenges writers face, especially those just starting to focus on their writing over other professional pursuits, is sitting at the computer for such extended periods of time as it takes to churn out the roughly 60k-100k words to make a novel. They find themselves eager to answer the phone when it rings or leaping to read emails whenever the alert pops up at the bottom of their screen, or simply playing solitaire instead of writing. It's true, writing requires the ability to settle in a focus for considerable amounts of time. That is if you want to write more than a book every five years or so. For many, sitting still and typing for that long is an excruciating challenge.

Beep Work by Dr. Cal Newport"Deep work" is a term coined by Cal Newport, PhD., writer and professor, and the topic of his book of the same name. It refers to, in his words, "the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task." In his book, he talks about the ever shortening of the American attention span, all of the demands on our attention, and even the tendency of people to simply not attempt or to give up on activities that aren't almost immediately rewarding.

Dr. Newport explodes the myth of multitasking and offers studies and interviews showing how the most successful among us are able to focus and persevere in tasks before them in ways the rest of us rarely do. He shows how deep work can actually render more thorough and solid results, and in less time than splitting your attention between several activities at once.

Finally, he offers tools and techniques to exercise and develop your own ability to do deep work, to quit flitting around from one thing to the next without ever actually completing any one of them, to churn out deeper, more complete and satisfying work product than you've been able to before. Even if you are one of those able to focus for long periods, I think there is much to learn from Dr. Newport's book.

Look, I'm no fan of self-help books. I think many of them simply restate the obvious or that which is obvious to me, anyway, in creative ways so you feel like you're learning something new. Self-improvement, to me, falls into the category of diets - if you can't stick to it, it does you no good.

But this book, I think, offers some compelling arguments for learning and putting into practice the precepts it sets forth. At the very least it's worth a look.

Perspective Lost and Found

Sometimes, if you take a break from your current WIP for an extended period of time, you lose focus on it. The next time you sit down it becomes hard to recapture the tone, the pace, the perspective on the work that you had when you started it. This can sometimes be especially true for those who write series, between books. This is what I'm struggling with now.

The first book in the series was so much fun to write, and I had all the time in the world to play with it, make it fun and exciting and frankly just wing it. That one was a phenomenal success. Now, faced with the daunting task of writing the second, having taken a few months off to write two other books (one a part of another series, the other a stand alone) I find myself struggling to make this one meet and, to some degree, exceed the first.

The problem is tone and perspective. There is a particular mix of chaos and complexity to the first thriller that made it so popular, the sense of not knowing what was going to happen next. But also a sort of Romancing The Stone pseudorealism to the action, things a little too fantastical or whimsical to ever happen in real life, but still fun to read. That's what I want to recapture in the sequel, while upping the stakes.

Here is how I got past the block.

First, I reread the first book, taking notes on things that I might revisit in the second book. Not just big things but little things that might make the reader chuckle to see reprised. Then I outlined the second book. While I've sometimes done this in the past, I usually just wing it. In this case it was absolutely essential that I outline the book, to help me with pacing. Lastly I watched several of my favorite pseudorealist action movies; the aforementioned Romancing The Stone, The Man With One Red Shoe, Knight and Day, the Indiana Jones flicks, etc.

When it's time to write, I set my Pandora to music conducive to the mood I want to cultivate, certainly not brooding or mellow, but not hard and driving rock either. Something strong, but also quick and exciting. For me, often, soundtracks to other movies help.

Lastly, I sit and before I touch the keyboard, I take a brief moment of meditation, wiping my mind of any ancillary concerns or stresses, concentrate on the feelings I want to put on paper. Then I write. I don't stop, I don't take breaks, I don't go back and edit myself. I write. I push away any other thoughts that may stray in, and I keep writing, building a momentum that will hopefully stay with me when I do walk away from it for a meal or whatever.

I know I'm doing it right if I find it hard to walk away, if even when eating or running errands or watching TV, I keep thinking about my book and feeling excited about what I'm writing, eager to get back to it.

So that's what works for me. Let me know if this helps you, too.

Go to it! (Pursue what makes you come alive!)

I read the most touching article last week. Written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, a well known children’s author and filmmaker. It was titled, “You May Want to Marry My Husband.” It was written along the lines of a match.com profile, and it described the charms, kindnesses, and deep expressions of love her husband had shown her over their 26-year marriage.

Eight days later, Amy, 51, would pass away from ovarian cancer.

Tragic, yes, but what I discovered about Amy after reading the article made me think of my RMFW friends, and the joys and challenges inherent with the creative path we’ve all chosen.

One of Amy’s tenets was included in her obituary. “I tend to believe whatever you decide to look for you will find, whatever you beckon will eventually beckon you," she said during a 2012 TED talk.

I watched that TED talk and her message inspired me, so I am sharing it with you.

Amy begins by talking about coincidences such as the proliferation of “7” in our lives—seven days in the week, seven colors in the rainbow, seven wonders of the world. Seven music notes. Her TED talk is called “Seven Notes on Life.”

She mentioned walking the beach with her mother-in-law, when she discovered a heart-shaped pebble. Once she had seen that first one, she looked for another, and found many heart-shaped pebbles. Her mother-in-law was astonished, but Amy was not. She had observed many times that we find that which we seek out. “When our eyes are open, there is a subtle shifting of awareness.”

To demonstrate, she told the TED audience that she would imagine that she was speaking to a totally red audience, and once she focused on that, she would see instantly all the red clothing there.

She went through the seven musical notes. “F” stood for, “Figure it out as you go.” We don’t have to have it all mapped out before we embark on something new. Get a good idea, invest in it, and learn and adjust as we go.

These thoughts and others inspired me, but what left the lasting impression—the one that made me feel connected to you, my RMFW friends, was this: All the cell phones, iPads, laptops, and other technical devices create a huge amount of technical “noise” in our lives. All that modern noise demands something from us—a reaction.  Once we turn off the cell phones and all the technical “noise” in our lives, we become disconnected from the chatter, and are left with empty space. And what do we find in that newly empty space?

It is no coincidence, she pointed out, that with the individual letters rearranged, another important word emerges from “reaction.”

REACTION {changes to} ….. CREATION.

She ended the talk with a quote from Howard Thurman:

            Ask not what the world needs.

            Ask what makes you come alive.

            And go to it.

What we need is people who have come alive. What, Amy asked, makes you come alive?

Go to it. Move toward what makes you come alive.

------------------------

A Chicago native and longtime resident, Rosenthal completed more than 30 books, including journals, memoirs and the best-selling picture stories "Uni the Unicorn" and "Duck! Rabbit!" She made short films and YouTube videos, gave TED talks and provided radio commentary for NPR, among others. Her loving optimism will be missed.

Read more: http://www.haaretz.com/us-news/1.777097

The TED talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxWgIccldh4

What Is This Blog Post About?

Into The DistanceSometimes an idea for my next post on this blog comes to me in a flash, all at once, all written in my head. Other times I struggle. Sometimes the struggle is to come up with an idea, sometimes the struggle is to pick from way-too-many ideas teeming around in my head. Today the struggle is that I have all kinds of disjointed thoughts about writing flitting around back and forth like an unruly flight of starlings, some near misses but never a collision, and no single thought amounts to a full and complete blog post. I'm trying to decide if any combination of thoughts might amount to one. Let's explore together, shall we?

One thought came to me as I binged on several movies and TV shows in rapid succession during a recent convalescence, interspersed with news coverage of the recent "peaceful" transition of power in Washington DC. No, this isn't a political post, as such. However, I saw vast numbers of people who desperately clung to their own paradigm of the world, so consumed with insecurity in their own beliefs that they simply - and quite publicly - flat-out refused to accept any reality that clashed with what they so desperately wished to be true, in the face of facts quite to the contrary. Often making up things out of whole-cloth in a shocking attempt to negate reality, and convincing themselves fully that their made-up things were true.

This got me to thinking about those who read what I, as a novelist, write. They are not reading my stories in a vacuum. They bring their own paradigm to the experience, as had I when I wrote it. To the degree that their paradigm clashes with mine, there is a sliding scale to which they are willing to continue reading. Some might accept my paradigm and still enjoy the story, perhaps even altering their own to some degree because of what they read. Some perhaps not, but still appreciating my vision of reality. Then again some, if the shift between my paradigm and theirs is too right-angle, might reject my story out of hand, some not even finishing it. Some who, I submit, are insecure in their own strata of beliefs, might feel threatened by my outlook, to the degree that they feel compelled to pen a particularly acid-laced rant in a review of my book.

I, myself, have only been unable to finish two or three fiction books because I couldn't tolerate the premise, but there was at least one book that I literally threw across the room in rage before I even knew what I was doing. Others I have put down it disgust, only that one gave me such a visceral reaction.

The point is, each reader who comes to peruse our work is diverse from any other at the margin, and in a spectrum those differences become vast. Can we predict what any one person is going to think of our writing? In some extreme cases perhaps, but at the margin I suggest it's impossible. There are just too many variables.

I often make the point that market chasing is a fool's games. Trying to read market trends and writing to what's currently selling is the quickest way to insanity, especially given how fast our market shifts. It's why the term "sell-out" is spoken with such disdain - people who attempt to do so fail more often than they succeed and often in the process lose sight of their own original motives for writing.

Just ask any published writer who sold the first book of a series that they wrote after years of market chasing. It's exciting at first...until they realize they have to write a sequel, and another, and yet more, all based on a premise they shopped for, not one for which they felt any real passion or love. Suddenly they're locked into a vortex of having to churn out book after book on a story line they feel no real connection to and invariably grow to hate. This also consumes all of their writing energy and time and leaves little or none for them to pursue the writing they always wanted to do from the beginning.

I have always encouraged other writers to write what they like to read, write what they love to write, write for themselves. The readers will come. The right readers. The ones who will love what you write because they can sense the love, the integrity, the heart with which you write. You will be much happier writing what you enjoy, and that will come through as well. You will write better because it's what you love. And you'll save yourself a lot of tail-chasing, teeth-gnashing, and head-to-brick-wall contact.

Women In Horror Month Getting To Know You: Meet The Sweet Ladies With Terrifying Minds

February is Women in Horror Month. In fact, this is the 8th year the event has been recognizing women in the horror genre. So we thought this is the perfect opportunity for the Getting to Know You Project to introduce some of the ladies of RMFW who write horror. We also have one gentleman sharing how he was influenced by a woman horror writer. We hope you will take the time to follow links to their websites, social sites, and author pages to get to know them better. Also check out a few of the authors' drawings and giveaways.

Audrey Brice (Stephanie Reisner)

Audrey Brice writes paranormal thrillers, mysteries, and horror stories where spirits, demons, and occult practitioners are both heroes and villains. She lives along the front range of the Rocky Mountains with her husband and three spoiled rescue cats. She has recently contributed short horror fiction in the anthologies Man Behind the Mask, Crossroads in the Dark, and Into the Abyss.

What influenced you to write horror? The supernatural, and why it terrifies people, has always been a fascination of mine. Add to that my own supernatural experiences and that became the reason I fell in love with horror as a genre. My own supernatural experiences led to me exploring the occult as a young pre-teen, and that turned into a lifelong obsession of mine. So there were many contributing factors, but having experienced ghostly phenomena first hand was probably one of the strongest influences.

When you tell people you write horror, how do they react? They’re usually not surprised. Apparently I look as though I might write horror. Or they know enough about my non-horror novels and non-fiction books that they expected as much. I get more surprise and dismay when I tell people I listen to opera than I do when I tell them I write horror.

What written works have greatly influence your own writing? Anything by Dana Reed. She was the first occult horror author I ever read (back in the 80’s) and I’ve always loved her work. Her novels are some of the few I’ll re-read over and over again. I had the benefit of meeting her back in 2004 and she helped to launch my first professional sale (not horror). But she was very supportive. I’ve found the horror writer community to be supportive overall, regardless of gender.

DRAWING: Subscribe to my Audrey Brice newsletter at http://www.sjreisner.com/newsletter in the next two weeks, and be entered in a drawing to win a free ebook (your choice from my OTS or Thirteen Covens series’).

Horror Subgenre(s): Occult/Paranormal
Website: http://www.sjreisner.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/audreybricewriter
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheLovelyCrab
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Audrey-Brice/e/B003ZFW3DE


Betsy Dornbusch

Betsy Dornbusch is the author of over a dozen short stories, three novellas, and four novels. She lives in Colorado with her family. Enemy, the third of the Books of the Seven Eyes Trilogy, release February 21. She is also working on the standalone post-apocalyptic thriller, The Silver Scar, that will release next year.

Were there any gender obstacles you had to overcome after releasing your first novel? I tend to write pretty violent fiction, and I think because I have this cutesy, girly name, readers don't assume that--despite the rather large, intimidating, angry looking man on my covers. I feel I'm constantly having to prove myself to readers that I write violence and dark themes, and that I pride myself on doing it as well as any writer. I do have male editors, which helps my confidence.

Other than that, really, marketing our writing is hard for everyone. I'm fortunate to have a wonderful publishing company behind me who puts a lot of time and effort into marketing my work. That is worth more than anything I could tweet or my own website.

What advice would you give to aspiring women horror writers? I think women writers have choices to make: if they want to change de-gender their penname, how outspoken they want to be publicly, what themes feel right for their fiction and careers. Of course every writer has these decisions to make, but for women these decisions, and being in the public eye, can hold different consequences than they do for men.

Keeping yourself safe to create and live is not "selling out." Whether that's maintaining silence on certain issues or in certain forums, or just withdrawing from the public eye to give yourself headspace to create, it's okay and often necessary. I say this as an outspoken, passionate commentator on feminism and inclusivity. You have the opportunity to speak to issues through your creative work and platform, but not the obligation.

So the best advice I can give any woman writer is to be true to herself and her own stories, and to trust her instincts.

Horror Subgenre(s): Dark Epic Fantasy, Vampires
Website: http://betsydornbusch.com
Facebook: http://facebook.com/betsydornbusch
Twitter: http://twitter.com/betsydornbusch
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Betsy-Dornbusch/e/B0071AJE0E


W. J. Howard

W. J. Howard writes dark stories mixed with comedy for all ages. Her main focus is creating fast-paced, action-packed stories that read like video games. Wendy appreciates unconventional methods of publishing and released an entire novel by tweeting it on Twitter. Warrant for Damnation, the second in The Courier series, is currently releasing weekly on Wattpad. She's also releasing a short prequel to the series on Valentine's Day.

What influenced you to write horror? I was introduced to horror at the age of four, when I watched the movie, The Crawling Hand. I've been addicted to the genre ever since. While I like being scared, I also get a kick out of scaring people. As a child, I was a bully and once landed a large rock on a neighbor boy's head just for the fun of it. As bad as it sounds, I find other people's pain funny. Then again, the endless number of YouTube accident videos wouldn't be so popular if I were alone. Anyway, my love of slapstick and sick sense of humor have led me to primarily write a mix of horror and comedy. It was that or risk ending up in jail. The thing is we all have it in us or the Stanford Prison Experiment wouldn't have turned out so disturbing.

How have male horror writers encouraged you in your career? I have a great love for my many male horror writer friends. They have been nothing but encouraging. After all, a good horror story is a good horror story, and gender has nothing to do with it. According to the documentary Why Horror?, 60% of horror fans are now women. Men need the ladys' input in this changing horror demographic.

What written works have greatly influence your own writing? Not so much fiction, surprisingly. I'm mostly influenced by world religions and philosophy, although I'm not a fan of organized religion. I'm fascinated by good vs evil and man's inhumanity to man. Other influences include Dante's Inferno and Camus' The Plague. As of late, I'm obsessed with Hannah Arendt who wrote The Origins of Totalitarianism and Eichmann in Jerusalem and am feeling very influenced by history repeating itself.

DRAWING: I have a number of events for Valentine's Day and WiHM, and have set up a few drawings. Drop by my Facebook page and Like it to enter to win a $10 Amazon gift card. You can also drop by my website and comment on any of my blog posts during the month of February to enter to win.

Horror Subgenre(s): Paranormal, Good vs. Evil, Comedy
Website: http://wjhoward.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/storiesbywjhoward
Twitter: http://twitter.com/by_wjhoward
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/W.-J.-Howard/e/B008UZMZ50


Claire L. Fishback

Claire L. Fishback lives in Morrison, Colorado with her loving husband, Tim, and their pit bull mix, Belle. Writing has been her passion since age six. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys mountain biking, hiking, running, baking, and adding to her bone collection, though she would rather be stretched out on the couch with a good book (or poking dead things with sticks). Claire's short story, Remembra, is in the RMFW 2016 anthology, Found. The Blood of Seven is currently out with a few agents and a small press for consideration. She's also working on a story about a photographer who is afraid of the dark and discovers she can manipulate the shadows.

Why do you write horror? When I was six or so, I started writing stories about animals, my pets, fun little things like that. Then I discovered Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, compiled and retold by Alvin Schwarts. Those are the scary story books in which the illustrations are actually scarier than the stories. I devoured the stories in that book, and the three that followed. In the sixth grade, I didn’t like my teacher very much, so in my “reflections” notebook I started writing scary stories to scare her. Unfortunately, she thought they were great.

I write horror because I love to be scared. There’s something about that adrenaline rush, that prickly electric chill that shoots through your body when you get a startle, or when that shadow over there in the corner of the living room doesn’t look like it usually does… and then it moves.

When you tell people you write horror, how do they react? When I tell people I write horror, they usually respond with some form of, “You? You sweet cute little thing with the innocent smile?” Little do they know how dark and twisty I am on the inside.

How have male horror writers encouraged you in your career? I love Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. When I was a pre-teen I read probably all of R.L. Stein’s and Christopher Pike’s novels. Sometimes, as a kid, while reading Stein and Pike, I would nod and say to myself, I could write something like this. And in my high-and-mightier times, I would tell myself I could write something even better. I think they inspired me to try to write something better, or at least on par with their works.

Horror Subgenre(s): Supernatural suspense, horror mystery
Website: http://www.clairelfishback.weebly.com
Facebook: http://facebook.com/clairelfishback
Twitter: http://twitter.com/clairelfishback


C.R. Richards

A huge lover of horror and dark fantasy stories, C. R. Richards enjoys telling tales of intrigue and adventure. The youngest of five army brats, Richards was born on a military base in Utah. She spent much of her childhood in the back of her family’s sky blue station wagon on trips to see her grandmother, who would show her how to spot faeries in the backyard. Having begun writing as a part-time columnist for a small entertainment newspaper, Richards has worn several hats: food critic, entertainment reviewer and cranky editor. Her latest release is a dark epic fantasy entitled, The Lords of Valdeon. She's currently working on Book Two of the series, due for release in the Summer of 2017.

When you tell people you write horror, how do they react? I always get the “But you look like such a nice lady! When you said you were a writer, I thought you meant children’s books.” It cracks me up every time.

How have male horror writers encouraged you in your career? I’m a member of HWA. This group is extremely generous with their support (male and female alike). Two male horror writers stand out – William F. Nolan (Logan’s Run) and Jack Ketchum (The Woman). Each of them have taken the time to answer newbie questions, chat with conference attendees and share their stories of coming up in the Horror ranks.

Horror Subgenre(s): Dark Fantasy
Website: http://crrichards.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorcrrichards
Twitter: http://twitter.com/CR_Richards
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/C.R.-Richards/e/B00BA159W2


Yvonne Montgomery

Yvonne Montgomery grew up in Boulder, Colorado, in the shadows cast by the Rocky Mountains. She now lives in Denver's Capitol Hill in an old house filled with family, dogs, cats, and shadows. Yvonne found her voice writing two amateur detective novels in the eighties, and began to drift to the darker side as more ghostly elements came into her life. The result was the Wisdom Court trilogy (and maybe more): Edge of the Shadow, A Signal Shown, and All in Bad Time.

Why do you write horror? I'm obsessed with hauntings. As we age, so many memories become ghosts of our pasts. They become more real than the things that actually happened.

What influenced you to write horror? A morbid world view and the desire to untangle stories forming the past. Oh, yeah, and Stephen King.

In a male dominated genre, do you feel it’s difficult to market and sell your work? The one true thing I've learned in my writing career is that, no matter what you write and market and sell, it will always be difficult.

What written works have greatly influence your own writing? Barbara Michaels books, such as Ammie, Come Home and The Crying Child. It and The Stand, by Stephen King.

Horror Subgenre(s): Hauntings
Website: http://yvonnemontgomery.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ayvonnemontgomery
Twitter: https://twitter.com/authorYvonneM
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B001KIXKIU


Travis Heermann

Freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poker player, poet, biker, roustabout, Travis Heermann is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of The Ronin Trilogy, The Wild Boys, Rogues of the Black Fury, and co-author of Death Wind, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Apex Magazine, Alembical, the Fiction River anthology series, Historical Lovecraft, and Cemetery Dance’s Shivers VII. He enjoys cycling, martial arts, torturing young minds with otherworldly ideas, and zombies. He has three long-cherished dreams: a produced screenplay, a NYT best-seller, and a seat in the World Series of Poker.

We Dwell in the Gothic Castle – The Brilliance of Shirley Jackson

I was attending an author event at the Tattered Cover bookstore a couple of months ago. Not even really browsing, I had in hand the book I had come for, but nevertheless my gaze wandered across one of the bookseller recommendation shelves. For no discernible reason, one cover caught my eye. It was a pen and ink drawing of an elder sister embracing the younger, and the book was We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson.

I had not read Shirley Jackson since encountering her story "The Lottery" many years ago in high school English class. This much anthologized story is probably the work through which most people encounter her. And of course The Haunting of Hill House is an icon of the genre. But I had never heard of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, her last work, published three years before her death.

I took it home and devoured this short, not-so-sweet, miraculous wonder of a novel. It is the story of two disturbed, house-bound sisters, their strange relationship, the gothic mansion in which they live, and terrible family secrets. This book is, without question, a masterpiece of voice, mood, characterization, and a kind of simmering slow boil. It's one I'm still thinking about as a perfect example of craft. Told in first person from the perspective of the younger sister, her magical thinking brings it to the verge of, but not crossing into, a supernatural story. The monsters in his book, as in "The Lottery," are all human. In a genre filled with buckets of gore and lurid plots, this understated little book will get under your skin like spilled viscera will not.

If you're a horror writer, study Shirley Jackson. After reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle, I'll be thinking "how did she do that?" and trying to deconstruct it for a long time. There's a reason one of horror's highest awards has her name on it.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Death Wind by Travis Heermann

Death Wind

by Travis Heermann

Giveaway ends February 28, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Horror Subgenre(s): Horror western, ghost stories, erotic horror
Website: http://www.travisheermann.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/travis.heermann
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TravisHeermann
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Travis-Heermann/e/B002E453X4


If you are an RMFW member and horror writer, contact Wendy at whoward65@outlook.com to learn more about our group blog posts, board in the members only rmfw.net forum, and other events.

If you would like to participate in this project for future months, please email blog@rmfw.org.

Advertise or Die

I recently had a brief email exchange with Janet Lane on a blog entry she was writing on the topic of book marketing, a topic that I hate. On later reflection I decided to add my own thoughts to hers, which you've no doubt read, precisely because I hate the topic so much.

(Janet: Forgive me if I step on your topic here, I walk only in your shadow.)

Much has been written about how writers are introverts and not easily given to socializing, networking, and schmoozing, all of it true. Marketing is my least favorite part of writing, and I strongly suspect I'm not alone. Marketing is hard for me, and while it comes easily to some, there are even those out there who claim they enjoy it but who are, empirically by observation, not very good at it. Marketing is an art, a skill, one not easily acquired and impossible to fake your way through.

First, when you advertise, remember that you are not marketing this one book. You are not even marketing your entire collection of publications. You are marketing yourself. You want to build an audience not just for your most recent release, but for future releases as well. Marketing yourself is entirely different than trying to sell a product. You have to give others a reason to read what you write, make them intrigued enough to do so, which means bragging on yourself. And yet, to stay likable, you can't come off as bragging about yourself. Doing something while not seeming to do it at all is like trying to pick up a pencil without actually picking it up.

We also live in a climate of very savvy consumers these days - people are very acutely aware of when you are trying to sell them something. Everyone has had the experience of being set upon by a salesman the moment we enter a store or used car lot - we cringe and recoil and are uncomfortable, even resentful, of this kind of hard-sell tactic. It leaves a bad taste in our mouth, and these days we are more likely to walk away having bought nothing than giving in to the pressure.

The term channel-hopping refers to the act of changing the channel on a television every time a commercial comes on. On-demand television must disable the fast-forward feature of their programs because they know, if given the freedom, viewers would much rather skip a commercial than watch it. Commercial-free streaming services have become ever more popular. Web browser ad-blockers sell quite well. I myself am a charter member of the national do-not-call list, and I faithfully report every unsolicited sales call I get. Hell, I never even answer the door unless I'm expecting someone. In short, consumers want to buy, but by and large hate to be sold something.

So now we have to market ourselves while NOT bragging on ourselves, and sell books without seeming to sell books. A more impossible task was never set before mankind.

What's left to us? Mostly indirect sales techniques. In personal appearances you'll notice people will avoid your table. I like to engage them on something entirely unrelated to the books so obviously stacked around me. I comment on the weather, or something they are wearing, or on anything else. I do not address the books I am selling until they ask. I answer their questions succinctly, never going on-and-on or offering any information they did not ask about. And the minute they pick up a book and start to leaf through it I shut up and walk away. From that point on they will buy or not, you have no further control over it.

If you don't keep a blog, start one. But don't write about your books and how good they are and how everyone should buy one. Instead, interview other writers or industry professionals, or write about topics peripherally related to the themes covered in your books. If your books are mysteries, write about other unsolved crimes in current media. If you write romances, then blog about prominent figures who have recently gotten married or divorced. You get the idea.

Keep your books, with buy links, prominently visible on your blog pages, just don't try to sell them directly. The hope is that people who happen upon your blog and like what you have to say on other topics will be spurred enough to check out your books and maybe - hopefully - buy them.

(NOTE: For god's sake, don't get political in your blog. In our current hotly charged, cavernously divided political climate it takes very little to alienate half of your consumer base with an off-hand reference to topics about which very few agree. Steer clear.)

Participate in events, such as book fairs, book giveaways, library drives, etc. Volunteer for things such as public speaking engagements, guest blogs, organizations that dovetail with the topics you write about. Send letters to editors, comment on others' blogs, leave thoughtful reviews for books by other writers on places like Amazon and GoodReads.

The point is, marketing is never going to be easy, and it gets harder as our industry changes. Your best bet at selling more books is to keep your name as prominent and visible as possible while never hard-selling your books or alienating possible buyers. Finding that marketing sweet-spot is as elusive as that cat hair tickling your nose that you can't quite seem to find. And frankly just as annoying. But keep at it - you're only certain to fail at the things you don't try.

Enthusiasm Refill

The festive holiday season fills us with excitement, hope, cheer, enthusiasm, optimism. For several months we have something to look forward to. For many of us it is the excitement to see family and friends we haven't seen is a long time, for others it's seeing what Père Noël left for us under the Christmas tree, and for still others, like me, it's the anticipation of watching loved ones open presents we chose and wrapped just for them.

Inevitably after the holiday season there is a period of blahs, the unavoidable doldrums as we look ahead to what can't help to be mundane pursuits after the bright tinsel and blinking lights of such a heart-warming and lighthearted time. The lingering hangover from New Years Eve doesn't help.

Santa WritesHere's a perfect way to reignite your enthusiasm: write. Whenever I write, even when I have to force myself to sit down and put fingertips to keys, whenever I allow myself to be transported into the world I'm creating in my own stories, my spirits are always lifted, my heart lightened, my mind liberated.

It's safe to say the time-constraints of the season have necessitated that many (most?) of us have had to neglect our writing, even if only for a couple of weeks or so. This is the perfect time to get back to it. It's therapeutic, it's fun, and it's productive.

And it will keep at bay the post-holiday blahs.

“The Silver Moment”

It's a term I made up to describe a twist in fiction that can make the "black moment" more shocking to a reader. The black moment is a part of the basic structure of fiction that has been knocking around for centuries.

  • The inciting incident.
  • The mounting tension.
  • Complications.
  • Climax.
  • The black moment.
  • Denouement.

There are as many variations on this structure as there are writers who write about writing, but roughly this is the basic formula for your plot in fiction. Everything else is a refinement on this.

The black moment is the part of the story just before everything is resolved when things seem to be as bad as they can get for our protagonist, when all seems lost and the antagonist is about to win.

The silver moment, as I call it, is infrequent in fiction but you should recognize it when you see it. It comes just before the black moment. It is the part of our story when, in contrast to the black moment, everything seems to have worked out for our protagonist, when all seems to have been resolved as it should have been and the good guys have won. The silver lining of the cloud that has been hanging over our protagonist throughout the book has, in effect, been found.

In this case, the black moment comes when the antagonist, thought defeated, reappears out of the blue with one last card to play, one last-ditch effort at accomplishing his goal, or at the very least, at destroying those who prevented him from achieving those goals in the silver moment.

Rogue Agenda by Kevin Paul TracyFor example, in Rogue Agenda the terrorists have all been rounded up by the Feds, the Al-Serhemni family have successfully escaped to Canada, and while Lainie still has an arson/manslaughter rap hanging over her head the reader knows she is innocent and, if there is justice, will be exonerated. But wait...what about the hit man who started this whole mess by trying to kill the CIA agent and has been stalking Lainie ever since? For god's sake, check the closet before you go to sleep!

Presence of Malice by Kevin Paul TracyIn th conclusion of my book Presence of Malice the villain, Dr. Gerald Gannery, is wanted by several Federal agencies and our heroes - Jet, Gregory, Patricia, and Paul - are enjoying their victory and have let their guards down. Unaware - but about to find out - that Gannery has found the brownstone where Jet has hidden his paraplegic brother and is aware of the money that his henchman tried to bribe the fixer with...and is now driven by a murderous thirst for vengeance.

The silver moment can definitely be overused. If the reader comes to expect it, it loses its impact to make the black moment come as a greater surprise and seem even blacker. But if used judiciously, it can be an effective tool in bringing a shocking and satisfying story to your readers.

RUMINATIONS ON THE WRITER-READER RELATIONSHIP

As I write this I am still days away from the most traumatic experience of my life - surgery. But by the time you read this, not only will it all be over, I will be well on my way to recovery, if not fully recovered. I will know whether or not the mass they found in a CT scan one fateful day while looking for something else entirely, was cancer or not. The worst, whatever it turns out to be, will have passed.

This bifurcation of time is extremely odd to me. It is backwards from what a writer usually experiences. Whether writing fiction or non-fiction, whether writing in present tense or past, the events the writer retells have already passed for him/her by the time the reader reads their words.

It almost feels as if you, the reader, have the advantage on me. For the first time the reader has the benefit of foreknowledge of events the writer has yet to experience. Does that make any sense to you? Would that you could tell me how it all turned (turns?) out.

Honestly I'm not entirely sure what bearing this has on writing or why RMFW members should read this blog entry. There is some insight here about our responsibility to our readers, as the ones conveying to them events they have yet to experience. Something about teasing their eagerness to know what happened, and why, while at the same time respecting momentary lack of knowledge until you eventually enlighten them through prose. Something like that.

All I know is this momentary reversal of roles, me the ignorant writer, you the all-knowing reader, is delightfully disorienting, and that fascinates me.

Take the First Step

14311444_1050223608424117_3014868071978910328_oTwo weekends ago, I was honored to be a presenter and panelist at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference. If you are new to writing, or unfamiliar with the conference arm of this organization, I would highly encourage you learn more, consider attending, or even offer up your time as a volunteer. It is a fantastic opportunity to meet other writers, learn craft, and pitch your books to a variety of agents and editors.

I first learned of RMFW in 2005. I had just relocated back to Colorado with my husband, our two babies, Beth and Matthew, and a few dozen pages of a novel I had started writing while pregnant with Beth. Back then, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was looking for, but I remember the Internet search in Excite (the old Google for those that either don’t know or remember):

Colorado Writing Clubs.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers was one of the first results to pop up.

I didn’t know what this organization was, but I scoured every word on that old site and discovered they hosted writer critique groups and that there was one in my area, the North side of Denver. They met at the now closed Borders Bookstore on 104th avenue.

I was terrified, but I reached out anyway. Certain that I would be told no, I wasn’t welcome, good enough, or experienced enough to join their ranks. But that didn’t happen. For a small yearly fee, I joined RMFW and was accepted into my first ever critique group. I had been an avid reader my whole life, absorbing and learning story without ever knowing it. But it was that day, the day I took that first step toward RMFW that my formal education in writing and publishing began.

csdp0hcuiaaianbWriting can be a solitary and lonely business. Most writers I know, myself included, prefer those hours alone in our heads with story. But because we are not entirely nonhuman, we also need to connect with others of our kind. Since that day in 2005, I have slowly built up a truly fantastic network of fellow writers who I am proud to also call friends. Most of those connections started and continue to flourish because of RMFW.

I was a presenter and panelist at this years conference, but I clearly remember eleven years ago being an outsider looking in. Take that step, connect with other writers. I can practically guarantee you won’t be sorry you did.