Thursday, December 31, 2009

A new year

It's the end of 2009 and a time for revisiting the year, evaluating your accomplishments and devising new resolutions to start 2010.

When it comes to writing, completing a novel can overwhelming you. You've come up with a wonderful, great idea, but sitting down to the computer and putting the words on a page is difficult. The best approach I have found is to break your novel into sections. Make things easier for yourself. Set reasonable, obtainable goals, so that the novel does not feel like a burden or work, but a joy.

I believe everyone has a novel in them. The trick is to learn how to express yourself and put those thoughts and emotions into words on a page. Don't let life, friends and even your family keep you from reaching this goal. For me, the best time for plotting is during the drive to work. I keep a tape recorder close in the car and put all of my ideas on it. During my lunch break or twenty minute break, I transcribe my notes and figure out where they belong in my manuscript.

Each morning between 4 and 5 am, while my husband is sleeping I go to my desk and write. Before I leave for work, I print the pages and somewhere doing my work day I edit them. This works for me. Find the approach that works for you. It's out there, you just have to figure it out.

A new year is coming, bringing with it a new opportunity to get that novel completed. Don't let it pass you by.

What do you think? I'd love to hear from you. Email me at

Remember, don't be a stranger.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Dynamic nature of language

It’s not uncommon to hear the phrase, “I speak the queen’s English”. It’s often used when one is correcting another for some egregious misuse of the English language; or when someone is being defensive about their unconventional use of the language. Though the expression is more commonly heard in the UK and its former colonies, it is sometimes used in the US. Sometimes it’s said with such emphasis you’d think the queen invented the language. The thing is, sticklers for “The queen’s English” treat the language as if it is static and often forget its dynamic nature. The English language changes as cultures, customs and technologies change.

A recent article on CNN reminded me of the dynamic nature language. It was the unveiling of Oxford dictionary’s new word for 2009: UNFRIEND. It means to remove someone as a 'friend' on a social networking site such as Facebook. I could only imagine my junior high school English teacher’s reaction had I dared use such a word. She was a stickler for the “Queen’s English” and would probably mark a huge red X through the word with a little note beneath in her neat handwriting, “no such word exists”. Webster’s dictionary came out with quite a few others: hashtag, sexting, netbook, … This is a clear indication that the English language is changing. It is after all, a spoken language.

Even the meanings of words change. I recall when the word gay meant happy. The connotations have since changed. In fact, at University of Virginia football games, whenever a touchdown is scored the spectators would join hands and sing “The good old song”. A line in the song says, “We come from old Virginia where all is bright and gay”. That came from a time where the word meant happy. Students however, when they sing that line would shout immediately after “Not gay”. While I was a grad student there, an advocacy group took offense to the shouting “not gay’, labeling it as homophobic. The students were admonished and the practice was abolished, at least for one season.

In a social context, words that were once acceptable or even legal jargon, can change and become “bad words” or at least socially uncomfortable words. The acronym “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, a legal term of a past century is now an expletive. When I was growing up, we were comfortable referring to a male fowl as a cock and a pussycat as a pussy. Now people are more comfortable saying rooster and kitty or cat for obvious reasons.

My six year recently reminded me of how easy it is for language to change. She is afraid of tornadoes, even though they are relatively rare where we live. A few weeks ago we were watching “The Wizard of Oz” and we were discussing the tornado. She said to me, “Mommy, let’s make tornado a bad word, that way we can’t say it.” The next time I said the word tornado she said, “Mommy you said a bad word.” Of course my husband not privy to our new bad word later mentioned it as we discussed the movie and she accused him of saying a bad word. You can imagine how perplexed he was. So now tornado is the “T-word.” Imagine if she was an influential figure.

So the next time someone adamantly insists that they speak “The queen’s English,” ask them “which version?" Because, like computer programs, the language is forever changing.

Since we're so close to the New Year, I'd like to wish everyone a bright and prosperous 2010. May all your writing dreams (and other dreams) come true.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Guest author Katrina Spencer: Get Happy

Katrina Spencer is the author of Six O’Clock and her next novel, Unbeweaveable, will hit stores summer of 2010. To learn more about this former hairdresser who started writing on a dare, visit her website at

Imagine the scene. You’re in the mall. Your child is throwing the worst temper tantrum.

“What is the problem?” you ask them.

“I’m sad,” they cry.

“For what? I just bought you the new (video game, Barbie, Tonka truck—insert appropriate toy here), and you’re in here acting a fool. If you don’t stop crying I’m going to take back that toy.”

This makes them cry harder.

“Don’t take my toy away! I want it!”

“You better fix your attitude then. Get happy.”

They sniffle and wipe their face. They look up at you and smile.

“See? I’m happy now.”

I shake my head at how easy it is for children to get happy. Their happiness can be commanded at will—one minute they're crying, the next, they're laughing.

For the last month I’ve been in a real funk over my writing career. My first book got published—the first book I’ve ever written—got published. The reviews were few, but good, so it really challenged me to keep going, to keep reaching for other stories to tell. I worked two years on another novel—what I deemed my break-out noveland the only thing it broke was my heart. No one wanted it. My rejection letters had handwritten notes scribbled on the bottom saying, “Good characters, emotional story, but inappropriate topic, too sad. No one wants to read sad books anymore.”

Getting a stack of rejections like this was devastating. With no contract on the horizon, I did what I do best—I complained.

“This was supposed to be the book where I get my agent! This was supposed to be my break-out novel!”

“It happens when it happens,” my husband said. “Write another book.”

And I did. I wrote another book and sold it with just a synopsis.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about the novel that wouldn’t sell. I kept sending it to people and it kept getting rejected. My husband rubbed my back and listened as I tearfully told him how important that book was to me, and how it would never see the light of day.

“And if it doesn’t? What then?”

“I’ll be sad!”

“You have a book coming out this summer. You’re working on yet another novel. You have a beautiful family. You have so many blessings, Katrina. Just get happy.”

It didn’t happen overnight.

I had to write a list down of everything I had.

When I wrote the list of everything I didn’t have (writing-related) I was surprised by how short the list was.

I’m an author. I’M AN AUTHOR!

My dream had come true. But did I focus on that? No, I was too busy looking at the never was, the never had, and the almost.

But, hot dog, I’M AN AUTHOR!

I sniffled and wiped my face.

I smiled.

And I got happy.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Happy New Year!

Well not quite, but this is my last post at Novel Spaces for 2009, so I thought I'd better get in that greeting before I continue.

I hope all of you are enjoying the holiday season. Christmas seems to get better every year here in Johor. It's not the capital, or even the state where the country's capital is located, but there's no doubting the effort behind the locals in trying to get into the spirit of things. Last year, all we could find were various bedraggled artificial trees at Tesco, Carrefour and a few at Jusco (three of the four big supermarket chains).

This year, the range at smaller shops has significantly increased but, as is usual in this country, the biggest changes are those reserved for food. Frozen turkeys? Not a problem. Have a hankering for some yuletide pastries? The local supermarket bakery has been carrying stollen, panetone, cranberry muffins, and a light sponge-based fruit cake. The sushi section (sushi is BIG here) has been producing an "Xmas series" in various sizes, all on festive Christmas-themed trays. And there have been specials on still and sparkling wines. (This last point is of particular interest to me as I consider alcohol to be one of the major food groups.)

I have some issues with the various Fatwa Councils and the way Islam is sometimes interpreted in Malaysia (banning yoga??? sentencing a (Muslim) woman to whipping for drinking a beer??? legitimising divorce by SMS??????????), but everyone seems to get right into the swing of things when there's a festival on, regardless of how much public censure may emerge from the mouths of the hardline muftis. Hmmmmm. Maybe there's hope for the country yet.

In any case, greetings from the Equator to all of you. Have a safe and happy New Year and I'll be back in January. Who knows, maybe I'll even discuss writing! Take care.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Precious gifts

I've been reminiscing about some of the best gifts I've ever received. I remember gifts of gold and precious stones, gifts large and small, thoughtful and baffling, touching and hilarious, beautiful and hideous. (Actually, the only one I think of as 'hideous' is a set of putrid pink drinking glasses from a guest at my wedding - a woman who had not been invited! Note to wedding crashers: at least bring an attractive gift. :D )

These are some of my favorite gifts of all time:

My first ever visit to Barnes & Noble. (You knew the first would have something to do with books, didn't you?) The cousin with whom I was staying in Miami in 2000, probably sick of hearing me mention how much I was looking forward to visiting that particular bookstore, dropped me off at the nearest one early a Saturday afternoon, slipped $50 into my hand and said he'd be back to pick me up in four hours.

A drawing of a swan, all curving lines and big eyes, that I carry in my wallet at all times. The artist is my son, who was four when he drew it.

— The news that the lump in my sister's breast was not cancer.

— A hike to a waterfall with my son two Mother's Days ago.

— A sweet letter from my favorite ex one Christmas after a horrible breakup saying, among other things, that I had a good soul.

Hm. Just noticed most of my favorite gifts cost little or nothing. What are some of your most precious gifts?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Meeting Deadlines

I'm usually good about meeting deadlines. As long as I see the end of the trail on the calendar, I can manage to pace myself to be ready by then. That may still mean I am up all night until the last minute meeting the deadline, but by the time the sun rises, or sets, determined by how I perceive the actual time and day due ("Is that beginning or end of day?"). The closest I ever got was in high school, when I once finished a paper due after lunchon a portable typewriter at lunch in the schoolyard.

A friend gave me a paperweight that says "The ultimate inspiration is the deadline". I keep it on my writing desk to remind me that writing is work, not magic, and that there will be times when you have to finish, inspired or not. That's when the reflexes kick in, the muscles built up over years that know what you need to write and think it out, fill in the space enough for inspiration to strike. It comes in funny ways sometimes -- take this piece. I was supposed to be visiting my sisters today until they rescheduled me for tomorrow. It was only then that I looked at the calendar and realized that I let the holidays distract me from my deadline reminder for today's blog.

As I struggled to think of what I could say to fill in a page or two at the last minute it hit me. A piece on meeting deadlines. How appropriate! So the little I have to say comes to this:

- Use a calendar! Put the day your project is due on it, and a reminder a week or days before to give you a nudge. I actually like to make my own deadline a day or two before the client's deadline.

- Pay attention to your calendar! Don't just write things down, look at them every day and assess how much progress you've made.

- Pace yourself! Do a little every day. Don't put it off thinking you can cram through it like a midterm final. Give your work the time it takes to be its best. It's better to have it done and a day or two to correct and rethink.

- Give yourself enough time. If you are given a task and have the ppwer to set the deadline, make it one that REALLY gives you the time to do the work well. I tend to undercut the time I give myself, in an unconscious attempt to make the client happy, but have started to add days to weeks (depending on the overall time available) more than my first impulse. I'd rather turn it in early than late.

You can't always control how work is received, but you can always determine when. Being a good writer should include being a professional, not an artiste or a dilettante. As my obligations increase, I am still working on making sure I can meet them. It is a continuing struggle, but one worth the effort.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Conference Networking for Introverts

We writers sit alone at a desk for hours at a time, day after day, writing. It’s no surprise that writers tend to be introverts; most extroverts would run screaming from such a regimen.

As a result, professional conferences can be daunting for many writers, particularly those who, like me, are at the extreme end of the introversion scale.

Two recent blog posts give some excellent advice on “working” a writers’ conference:

advice from Ami Spencer, nonfiction writer

advice from Mary Robinette Kowal, speculative fiction writer and puppeteer

I’ll add some points of my own.

Business cards don’t have to be expensive. Vistaprint has low-priced cards you can buy in small quantities, and cards are often on sale. (Note: Order from Vistaprint well before your conference because Vistaprint takes a long time for standard shipping and charges a lot for upgrades—I suspect that’s how they can offer their products so cheaply.) Vistaprint has a broad selection of templates for you to customize—great if your design skills are shaky or if you’d also like matching stationery, envelopes, return address labels, sweatshirts, etc. For a more professional card, you can upgrade to heavier stock without the tiny Vistaprint ad on the back.

Another option is to design your own card. You may have shied away from this option before because of the shaggy edges of homemade cards. But today’s stock for printing business cards breaks apart cleanly. Homemade cards have big advantages. You get exactly the mood, typeface, and art you want—no compromising. You can change your card on a whim. If you rarely need cards, you don't have to pay for a printer's minimum of 250 or 500 cards. You can customize your card for each event—adding a blurb on the back for your newest story or book, temporarily removing your phone number or address for privacy, or changing the art or color scheme to jibe with the genre of the conference.

I try to exchange cards with everyone I meet. Afterward I note on the card where I met the person and any interesting facts and file it. I may not meet the person again for a year or two or three, but when I do, there’s a good chance I’ll remember them if I’ve gotten their card. Exchanging cards also helps other people remember me.

A trick I learned when I used to man booths at trade shows is to go armed with a set of memorized sentences that fit most situations. If my mind goes blank when I met a new person, as it usually does, I fall back on my sentences. Some of the ones I use for writers’ conferences are:
•Are you enjoying the conference?
•What’s the most interesting panel you’ve been to?
•I had a great time at [name of panel, party, or event]. Did you get to go?
•This is my first time at this conference. How about you?
•Are you going to [name of panel, party, or event]?
•Have you found any interesting places nearby to eat?
•Have you met anyone famous yet? (not to be used when talking to someone famous)

I make a point of looking at the name tag of the person I’m talking to and try to work the name into conversation. Doing so helps me remember the name and links their name and face (and book) together.

One of my pet peeves is people who don't wear name tags or put only their first name on the tag. Does the person think they are so famous that I should recognize them on sight? Does the person not want me to remember them or buy their book? If you go a conference where you know I'll be, please wear your name tag, place your full correct name on it, and hang it face out. Thank you.

Do you have any hints for meeting people at conferences and making professional connections? I’d love to hear them.

Thanks for visiting. I’ll be blogging again on January 7, on a topic I have not yet chosen. (If you want to suggest one, go ahead!) Until then, I wish you happy holidays and a great 2010!

—Shauna Roberts

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Thankful for the Passion

Sometimes the life of a writer can be challenging. Most of our time is spent in isolation, birthing characters that drive stories that we'll share with the world. And once the work is birthed, then the job of distribution, and promotion, and touring, and marketing, and exposure takes place. Those books might sit in a garage or on a shelf (the goal is #1, to get those books moving) - but the whole point is for the book to sell, to be read, and experienced. It's easy to complain and weigh the downsides. The industry is going through a lot - book stores are closing, pre-publication book reviewers are shutting down, book deals are few, debates about how books are shelved continue, racism in the business is exposed, decisions to write in certain genres are criticized, readers are spending less money due to the recession, to e-book or not to e-book, and on and on.

As this year comes to an end, I'm thankful for another year of enjoying the world of writing and publishing as a whole. I'm thankful for my family, publishers, editors, publicists, fellow authors, readers, book clubs, book sellers, and all of the people involved as a team who have taken on the work that I spent countless hours crafting in total isolation. The many open arms along the way have overshadowed the negative, and one of the biggest gifts is the amazing camaraderie with fellow authors. Chatting with a person who speaks your author language shows us we're not alone - all writers experience the joys, as well as the many letdowns of the business. But through it all, the bottom line is that we are blessed to be gifted with a passion. The passion that drives our love of words.

As Christmas Day and the New Year approach, we must take time to count our blessings for our families and friends, our health, and for our work, and show gratitude. We're showing up, creating, staying involved, communicating with one another, and making our "spaces." These days shall pass and brighter days lie ahead. Seeing the bright side pays off in ways that cannot be measured. The journey is actually in complete divine order anyway.

I thank God for all of you and for my career as an author over the past ten years and beyond. In spite of it all, I write. I'm thankful. And most of all, I'm here. Bring it on 2010.

Much love to you and yours. Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Writing Must-Haves

The Writer Prize Patrol just knocked on your door. Congratulations! You won a trip to write in the luxurious destination of your choice.

The only hitch is (there’s always a hitch), you have to leave IMMEDIATELY. Thank goodness, your suitcase and laptop were already packed.

Now you have exactly one minute to grab your favorite writing must-haves before the prize patrol whisks you off to the airport and onto two weeks in writing paradise.

If had had been fortunate enough to win, I would have selected my timer and beat up dictionary.

The timer bell lets me know when I can get up from my office chair. The dictionary is more of a comfort thing. Nowadays, I mostly use an online one.

Soooo, what would you take? What are your favorite writing must haves?


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Conventions, workshops, courses, and groups, oh my.

With the new year comes resolutions. Promises we make to ourselves to finally get around to doing whatever it is we've been thinking about doing. Inevitably, this involves weight loss (50 pounds by June 1) and fitness goals (had been get in shape to run the Battleship half marathon, but my doctor has advised me to invest in a recumbent bike instead.)

The beginning of the year also finds writers, both published and unpublished, setting goals for words written or hours spent writing or projects completed. For many writers, these goals include attending writers' conventions, taking part in writers' retreats or workshops, enrolling in a writing class, or joining a writers' group.

There are national writing conventions and regional writing conventions and writing conventions at universities. I'm cheap, so my advice is if you've never been, start close and free and work your way up. In this age of internetting you can pretty thoroughly scope out likely cons before deciding where to start. Read all the official con information and track down any reviews/accounts of last year's con. (Just because a writer you love will be there doesn't mean the two of you will meet and become creative soul mates.)
Expect to waste your time at your first writing convention. It's inevitable. You won't know which speakers to seek out or what panel discussion will be most useful. The two things you want most to do will be scheduled at the same time a mile apart. Mixing with other attendees you may latch on to the wrong person and end up following her to all the things she wanted to see. Take notes. Write down names and contact information of editors and agents even remotely related to what you write. (Do the same with fellow writers who interest/impress you; see writers' groups below.) Grab any handouts -- particularly instructional materials from workshops you didn't know to register for or don't have time to attend -- and be friendly.
Be prepared to describe the best project you've completed or are about to complete in one sentence in case an editor or agent asks. And have answers to likely follow up questions ready, but don't use them unless an editor or agent asks. (Do the same for a second project in case you're asked about what else you're working on, but do not try to impress with a laundry list of things you're trying to accomplish.)

Participating in a writing retreat or workshop will not change your life. Neither will taking a creative writing course. Well, it will; but not to the extent you may imagine before going to your first. I learned more useful information about my craft and the business of writing per time invested at the Oregon Coast Wrtiers' Workshops, which features concentrated, targeted lessons on writing as a craft and a career. They assume you've already discovered yourself as a writer and intend to earn your living telling lies. Expect to write a 3k short story a day. Many talented writers I know swear by the Clarion workshop, a much more immersive experience.
Of course there are formal writing curriculums at universities, many available over the internet. Though I don't know of a bachelor's program for creative writing, there are several excellent low-residency Master of Arts and Master of Fine Arts programs available. (Plan on weeks of research and correspondence to find your best fit, I'm not covering it all here.) But workshops and courses of this type require a serious commitment of time, money, and resources; a greater commitment than many writers are able to make.
If you're interested in writing, not a degree in writing, there are stand-alone writing courses and workshops offered by universities and community colleges -- many of them part of the free or low-cost continuing education curriculum. Of course these vary widely in quality of instruction and usefulness.

The only way to know for certain if a university program, community college course, or writing workshop is right for you is to take it. But there are things you can look for in advance when deciding whether or not to give it a shot; two which I think are universally important.
First: Is the instructor a working, professionally published writer? (Or a professional, working editor of books that have been published?) If so, check out her titles. Even if she writes in genre you can't stand, you'll see what she has to offer as a craftsman. If the instructor is not published, chances are she's an English major who knows more about deconstructing a novel than writing one. (There are exceptions, but they are rare.) If the instructor's "published" works were produced by a vanity press, run. If the instructor is a reviewer who's never published a novel, run faster.
Second: What have graduates of the course published? In other words, how well does the instructor convey her skills and knowledge to her students? Teaching is harder than writing and great writers do not always make great teachers.

One benefit of writing courses and writing conventions is meeting other writers. Writing is a solitary profession, and for many writers networking with others who "get it" can be a godsend. Look for a group made up of writers in your general stratum -- neither too far ahead of you nor too far behind: you don't want to be intimidated and you don't want to be impatient. In-person groups are essential for some people, but if writers you want to meet with didn't have the foresight to live near you, there's the internet. Be willing to give any group a try, you may be surprised where you fit in. (For years I was a member of a group made up almost entirely of British women who write romances.) But also be willing to walk away at the first sign the group is not right for you. If there are politics, walk away. No support -- or support without substance? Walk away. Mean critiques of you rather than your work? Rants about how publishing is fixed? Walk away.
If you find yourself writing to please the group, run away.

How about you? What experiences have you had with writing groups, writing workshops, writing courses, or writing conventions?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Your Top Book of 2009

I'm not here here today. I'm actually pulling into port after sailing around the Eastern Carribean on a huge Carnival Cruise ship. So, since I'm undoubtedly still having a fabulous time (unless there's some godforsaken ship-wide virus that ruins everything), I decided to have a little fun with today's post.

The end of the year is drawing near and "Top Ten This or That of 2009" lists are surely popping up everywhere. I won't make you list your top ten books of the year, but I'm sure everyone has had at least one that really wowed them in 2009.

You can go about this one of two ways, either your favorite book that was published in 2009 or a favorite book you read during the year, regardless of the copyright date. I'll do both.

If you're like me, it's hard to narrow things down to just one. My favorite "book" that was published this year is actually three installments of an ongoing series by romance writer Robyn Carr (yeah, so this is probably cheating a little, but like I said, it's hard for me to narrow it down to just one). A couple of friends introduced my to her Virgin River series last year, and the three installments published in 2009--Second Chance Pass, Temptation Ridge, and Paradise Valley--were just amazing. Ms. Carr has done something really special with this series in that it's more about the place--her small fiction town of Virgin River--than any of the characters. It's that setting that makes the books magical. This series can go on forever and I'll be happier for it.

As for books published in another year but that I happened to read in 2009, Jodi Picoult's Nineteen Minutes wins, hands down. I cannot remember the last time a book consumed me the way this one did. I couldn't sleep for several days after reading it. Anytime an author can make your heart break for a mass murderer, you know that author is good. Not just good, but amazing. If you have not read this book. Read it. Read it now.

So, those are mine. How about you? What was your Top Book of 2009. Or, for the more adventurous, how about your top book of the decade? I can't even begin to think about that. Way too many great ones to choose from.

I look forward to reading your answers when I get back!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Making Magic

Even if I didn’t write paranormal stories, I’d still get plenty of practice suspending disbelief by playing Santa Claus every Christmas. I’ve been at this for the better part of 20 years because my children are spaced just so: right as one child was about to stop believing, along came another to carry on the tradition.

This holiday season, for the first time, I can honestly say I’m ready to end the ruse. Unfortunately, my youngest is totally unaware that there might not be a Santa. He is an absolute reality that she sees no reason to question.

That’s the level of suspended disbelief I aspire to in my fiction.

Granted, it helps that Santa speaks to the youngest members of our society. Their unjaded senses are predisposed to possibility, which includes Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy right along with Narnia, Hogwartz and Eragon. But similarly, when most of us write, we aim for an audience as well: readers with open minds, willing to absorb plotlines that seasoned minds might resist. Finding them isn’t as easy as drawing a line around the “age of wisdom.”

For example, my oldest son stopped believing in Santa at six. Yes, six. He simply asked why Santa’s writing looked like mine and washed his hands of the whole notion. I was crushed. Yet, this wisened little soul grew up to love reading fantasy. Harry Potter landed on our bookshelves at his bidding. Likewise, he devoured the Goosebumps and Animorphs series and was my faithful companion during the Twilight Zone marathons on the SciFi (now SyFy) Channel. If I judged him by his early Santa humbug-ness, I might have missed out on sharing my favorite genre with him.

My second son held on to the Santa mystique several years longer. He didn’t want to run the risk of missing out on his Wish List by saying he didn’t believe. His tactic was to mail the letter – just in case. He, the pragmatic child, is also an avid fantasy reader.

Then, yes, there’s the youngest, who is utterly immersed in pretense. Whether its dolls, her journal, movies, books, or Christmas, imagination rules in her life. And while I’m tiring after two decades of the Santa charade, her reaction to half-eaten cookies and a Wish List fulfilled is priceless.

My “perfect” reader could be found in each of my kids. Whether it’s someone unshakeably logical looking for escape, or a person who thrives on Outer Limits, or the reader persuaded by a review who timidly approaches Stephen King’s latest, there’s room in my genre for all.

The trick to not tiring myself or my readers, I think, is crafting believable characters, and well-placed plot twists that keep us equally engaged. Do I have a 20-book series in me? That I don’t know. But I suppose I can put my experience at the Santa gig to good use in the quest to suspend disbelief, retain readers and create that magic sparkle in my little girl’s eyes.

Do you have a magical childhood memory? Santa, Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny or creatures under the bed? I’d love to hear them!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Love of writing at any age

Recently I took a road trip with my family to attend a wedding in North Carolina. My six-year old cousin Simone accompanied her mother, Michelle on the trip. I've always joked that Simone frightens me because she seems much older than her six years and she practically rules her mother's house.

As we traveled through Ohio toward West Virginia, Simone did the kid thing asking, "Are we out of Ohio yet? How much longer are we going to ride? I have to go to the bathroom and finally I want McDonald's." Hot air swirled around us and no one was able to figure out the van's heating system.

While on the road, the heating system fro the van became the center of Simone's world. Her demands punctuated the van. When no one listened, Simone furiously wrote out a message to her mother, passed it from the back seat to the front of the van and asked us to read it out loud. It stated, "I am suffocating. Please turn down the heat." Everyone laughed, surprised by the candid note. Later, I spoke with her mother and learned that not only had Simone written the note, but she'd spelled each word correctly. I was impressed. As we shared a meal, Michelle revealed that Simone wanted to be a writer and always loved to jot things down in her journal and had written all types of stories. Michelle told me that she loved to watch her daughter hunt for notebooks or journals whenever they visited a dollar store. Simone preferred a notebook over a doll or toy.

It made me reminisces about my love of books and the written word. How I enjoyed reading and couldn't wait for my favorite authors to release new titles. My love of books led me to a career as an adult reference librarian and a second career as a romance writer.

Like Simone I began making up stories as a child and it continued into my adult life. Here I am years later entertaining people with my novels and stories. It's a great feeling.

At events and presentation I'm constantly asked the same question, "Did you always want to be a writer?" My answer is always the same, "No. I wanted to rule the world. Be the president of a major company like General Motors." As you already learned, my life is nothing like the one I envisioned. I'm not the CEO of General Motors, but I write about companies similar to the auto industry and I run my companies efficiently with annual profits.

All of my rambling really did have a reason. I say to you, don't forget your love of writing. Simone made me realize how wonderful it is to write what makes you happy or what you believe is important and entertain others. Always enjoy what you do and don't let the negative energy that sometimes surrounds us interfere with your writing.

So now its my turn to ask questions. When did you start writing? What are your thoughts on the topic? Email me at I'd love to hear from you.

Remember, don't be a stranger.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas in Malaysia

You may (or may not) know that we live almost in the boondocks of Malaysia. All the excitement and happening things occur around the capital, Kuala Lumpur (KL). And perhaps Penang. The rest of the country (we live in Johor state, about a 10 minute drive from Singapore, but still....) snoozes on. Around this time of year, however, some people start to perk up. You see, it is December. Not Chinese New Year (for the Chinese). Or Hari Raya (for the Malays). Or Deepavali (for the Hindus). Around this time, Malaysians start to peer around to see who are their Christian friends. Cos it´s Christmas, folks, and it´s time to par-tay!

We are not Christians. I, as you probably gathered, am an atheist, and J is more Buddhist-leaning but, at the same time, we hate to disappoint our friends and, as all of them have been so accommodating in inviting us to various of their festivals, it seems churlish not to invite them to kinda sorta ours. Plus, I´m Portuguese Eurasian (and Roman Catholic by tradition), so there´s a whole mystique involved in the culinary process and Christmas traditions, and so on.

For those of you who don´t know, Portuguese Eurasians don´t write down any of their recipes. Instead, they´re passed down at the stovetop from mother to daughter. This seemed to work well from the sixteenth century onwards, but hit a snag with the advent of World War Two. With the Japanese out to eradicate anybody not of ¨pure blood¨, that meant that they went through the Eurasian population like a bloody scythe through grass, and lots and lots of recipes got lost in the ensuing genocide. This is why it´s a stupid idea to keep things so secretive ... you can lose a treasure.

As a result, I think I´m one of the very few Eurasians who will actually share traditional recipes with anyone who wants one. Roast chicken, devil curry, vindaloo curry, roast beef. Whatever I discover of my heritage that tastes nice, I´m all for sharing. In this way, I figure I spread the cheer and, should another event like WWII come along, I can gain some reassurance that all has not been lost. Its all about the food, stupid!, to paraphrase a Clinton election campaign slogan.

However, just to complicate matters, I married a Pole. He´s not religious either so the hybrid Christmas we host is a bit of a ¨bitza¨ from bits we liked from our childhood, bits we´ve picked up from the places we´ve lived, and bits we think the kids would like. Our big dinner is on Christmas Eve and, at the moment, it looks like we´re reaching about 30 people for the evening party. Because I love cooking, I´m looking forward to it. And, I´ll be honest, I´m looking forward to showcasing the kind of cooking J and I have been doing together for the past decade. (Yes, he cooks for each party as well. A true joint effort.) But, at the same time, I won´t be hoarding any secrets. If anyone asks for a recipe, they get it. I figure it´s a fair enough trade for their appreciation. And presence.

So, rather than talking about what you´re actually doing for Christmas, I´d like to form another question. What traditions or information are you sharing with people outside your cultural/ethnic circle? And how appreciative do you think they are/will be?

Have a great Christmas everyone. I´ll catch up with you just before the New Year. Stay safe.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

'Tis the season - to run away

When the first songs of the season make their way into the advertising jingles some time in October I get a sinking feeling because I know the craziness is about to begin. Every year as Christmas approaches I want to run away to a dark corner and hide until sometime in January.

My problem is I can't stand the fuss: the turning of the house upside down, the pressure to buy-buy-buy and spend-spend-spend, the awful office parties, the tasteless decorating, the crowds at the mall and in the bank, the traffic, the mountains of food that can't even fit in the refrigerator, the cooking, the overeating, and did I mention the cooking?

The notion of running away for Christmas has grown ever more appealing as the years have passed and my son has grown up. I have a great excuse now: it's not that I'm weird and antisocial and more than a little contemptuous of the performances which we're obligated to pull off like marionettes to placate society, family and church. It's that I need to run away because I have writing to do. That, my dear reader, is the trump card I've been hiding up my sleeve, just waiting for the right moment to slap it on the table and annihilate the opposition.

I'm a writer. Maybe a weird, antisocial, contemptuous one, but a writer nonetheless, so when I say I'm missing Christmas because I have writing to do, deadlines to meet and scripts to edit, people understand. Not only do they understand - they're even a little impressed.

A writer buddy and I have found a quiet place on the north coast of the island that's perfect for bypassing at least some of the Christmas craziness. I've applied for time off the day job, and I'm stocking up on those anti-Christmas movies I listed last year in my post For Those Who Hate Christmas for those odd times when I'm not, y'know, writing. See y'all in January.

Liane Spicer

Thursday, December 10, 2009


I went to the annual Science Fiction Writers Association party this year, for the first time. I’d only found out about it a few weeks before. As I moved toward publication in the last two years I was also running across mentions in my research of regular readings at various locations around town, the Fantastic Fiction nights at KGB bar, and the New York Review of Science Fiction series at the South Street Seaport, both monthly.

I‘d been introduced to the NYRSF series when I was one of three readers in 2006, in an evening guest-curated by the delightful Sheree Thomas. It was a great night, great fun and one of my first experiences reading in public, if not my first, and for some reason, I didn’t realize it was a regular monthly event for years. I can be slow in social areas. I often overlook the obvious while obsessing over the pointless, but was also immersed in finishing my first novel, and was oblivious to much of the outside world that year.

I’ve been attending both regularly for the last two years, meeting members of what I now know to be a real and literal “science fiction community”. It’s been an education, both in the history of science fiction and fantasy writers and writing in New York and nationally, and in the social life of creative people and the editors and publishers who work with them.

I am a loud and often overblown personality in public, largely built up as the defense of a shy recluse who knows it’s not good to spend too much time alone, and makes himself go out and spend time with other people so I remember what real ones are like when I'm writing. My social skills run from clumsy to charismatic, and everything between. Spending time in rooms of writers who share not only the same proclivities, but eccentricities, has been freeing in many ways, and encouraged me to be more social as I move into a new place with my writing that requires spending a LOT of time talking to people I don’t know. My least favorite thing in the world. The thing that scares the horror writer.

So I went to the annual SFWA party as a new member, dressed up, wore my fedora and embraced my new reality as a published novelist with one book out and another on the way. It was held at Planet Hollywood this year, evidently less austere than usual. I made my way through Times Square, which I usually avoid; too media heavy even for my stimulation hungry ADHD mind.

I met many familiar faces there, had drinks and ate food, made jokes with everyone else about how loud it was, compared outfits, gossiped, gabbed, and had an overall good time. I felt more comfortable than I usually do at large events, and stayed late, as stragglers swayed with free drinks. It was only later that I figured out what it was about my new world that I had never been able to put my finger on.

Everyone there, including me and all the people who’d befriended me, had dual identities -- one their daytime personas, the jobs we all have to pay our bills, and enjoy nights out -- the other as beings of godlike power over life and death, creators of lives, wielders of worlds, peddlers of philosophies and physics undreamed of by mere mortals. We all lived like super heroes, our every day lives only covers for the superheroes we are in our off hours -- except those lucky enough to be making a living at their work, like the Fantastic Four, publicly ensconced in the Baxter Building.

It was a realization that made the night that much more fun as I saw that my work is filled with the paranormal, but my world is as well. I've found a new place to play, and now I see that the playground is far bigger than I ever dreamed, my playmates even more magical.

And I am one of them. Excuse me, while I go warp reality with the power of my mind...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Clarion Workshop Opens for Applications

The Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Workshop is accepting applications for its 2010 class from 1 December 2009 through 1 March 2010.

For those unfamiliar with the Clarion workshop, it is an intensive six-week-long workshop in which you write short stories and critique the stories of your seventeen classmates. Ideally, you write six stories during those six weeks, but the number is up to you.

Although the instructors come from the world of speculative fiction and the workshop teaching focuses on spec fic, people who write in any genre are welcome to apply.

The lineup of teachers for 2010 is especially wonderful:
The online application process is easy. You submit contact information, a brief summary of your educational background, a few details about your writing habits and goals, and two short stories.

As you may know, I attended Clarion in 2009 and found it worth every penny. My writing improved, my critiquing ability improved, and I made seventeen friends-for-life, most or all of whom will be famous writers one day. I blogged about the experience here and here.

To learn about Clarion 2010 and the application process, check out the Website and the links there.

If you want to know more about my six weeks at Clarion, please feel free to ask questions in the comments or to email me privately at ShaunaRoberts [at]

Thanks for visiting. I'll be blogging at Novel Spaces again on December 24, when I'll talk about networking at writers'conferences.

—Shauna Roberts

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Relationship between Writers & Readers

Shelia M. Goss gained success writing women’s fiction but decided to take a plunge into the young adult market earlier this year with the popular Urban series - The Lip Gloss Chronicles. Shelia welcomes the challenge of writing in multiple genres.

She knows that winning readers is hard no matter what genre. Her guest blog post today talks about the relationship between writers and readers.

The relationship between a writer and a reader can equate to a love affair. First it’s the courting period. Before the first date, the writer must introduce themselves and their book title. The title should be catchy; something easy for the reader to remember. Don’t be shy. Tease the reader with a short synopsis about your book.

If you’re feeling risqué, now would be the time to flirt a little by allowing the reader a sneak peek of the book by offering a chapter excerpt on your website.

Once you get the reader’s attention, put your best foot forward and make sure on one of your dates you show them an eye-appealing book cover for your new book. If you don’t have a book cover yet; don’t fret; the reader is not going to turn you down just because you don’t have the cover yet. In fact, with a catchy title and unique premise, readers will be salivating at the mouth to see you unveil your cover.

While building up a solid relationship with the reader, make sure you keep communication open. Communicate your release dates and where your books will be sold.

Readers, just like lovers, like gifts. Don’t hesitate to offer prizes for purchasing your book. Don’t forget about your faithful mailing list subscribers either. I know it may be hard when you have so many potential lovers, but you must treat each one as if they are special.

Also remember just like you, readers love others; so there’s no need to hate. There’s enough love to go around. Cross-promote with other writers and reach more book lovers. When the “release” date finally arrives, don’t be shy.

After courting the reader, the reader decides if they will take you up on an exclusive relationship for X amount of hours by purchasing and reading your book. When the reader picks up your book, they are expecting to be taken on a journey. Let the journey be enticing and enthralling so that your book lover won’t hesitate to tell their friends about the great love they’ve found in your book. In the book love fest, the more the merrier and the pleasure you’ll get from hearing about a book club selecting your book is immeasurable.

If you build a solid relationship with your readers, they will look forward to your next release. Continue to learn ways to improve your techniques and hopefully with each book release, you will gain more book lovers.

Shelia M Goss is the national best-selling author of six multi-cultural romance books: His Invisible Wife (2009), My Invisible Husband, Roses are thorns, Paige’s Web, Double Platinum and Hollywood Deception (2010) and three young adult books: The Lip Gloss Chronicles series: The Ultimate Test, Splitsville, and Paper Thin (2010). For more information, visit her website: or

Monday, December 7, 2009

Just Say No to Married Men

Well, I can't get into my blog post today without admitting that all of this Tiger talk got me fired up. I'm a firm believer that Tiger Wood's business is Tiger Wood's business. He shouldn't have had to share his personal life with the world simply because he was involved in a solo traffic accident outside of his own home that resulted in a citation for careless driving.

Whether Tiger fooled around on his wife or not, there's been a ton of talk lately about infidelity. It is my belief that women need to Just Say No to Married Men. I've created a T-shirt and maybe the next step is to write a book, I'm not sure, but I do think this Just Say No mindset is needed. So many men are crucified for cheating on their wives, and yes, wives cheat as well, but the negative concept of men who cheat is much greater. I have been hit on by married men, I have friends who date married men, I know women who are wives whose husbands have a mistress, or two. And what I believe is that we women can only help ourselves by raising our standards and refusing to date men who are knowingly taken, and especially men who are married, if for no other reason than we must respect ourselves. And also because of the fact that the unsuspecting wife at home whose husband is in a hotel room with his chick on the side, could be you.

Luckily, I've never experienced the issue of being cheated on by a husband, but I do hear from lots of women who complain about their cheating spouses. We blame men time after time, but as Steve Harvey said during an interview on Good Morning America a while back, men wouldn't cheat if there was no one to cheat with. At first I thought that statement was a cop-out - a way of blaming it all on the other woman. Men need to control themselves and think with their upper head, not the lower one. But then I thought about it some more, and in my opinion, he was absolutely correct. We women must learn to Just Say No to Married Men - whether he's buying us a two-piece meal, or a diamond tennis bracelet, or paying our rent - we need to value ourselves more and demand that men value us as well. I know it's tempting, all of you ladies who give in, but how much is our self respect worth? Can you put a dollar value on it? Let's leave that to the hookers on the street.

And so, I guess you could say I'm on this crusade to encourage women to think twice the next time "someone's husband" calls and wants to come by and spend stolen hours, or the next time you meet up with him on vacation knowing that at 6:00 a.m., he'll need to call his wife while you lay next to him in silence like a good little secret. We women, and I include myself, must start respecting the wife/girlfriend/main squeeze. If we contribute to the problem, we can only point the finger back at ourselves. This is no cure for cancer, but being mindful can make a difference by curbing this cheating epidemic, one NO at a time.

I've created a blog that launches on December 15, 2009 - I've gotten dozens of orders for T-shirts, and I'll continue to talk about it as long as others wish you share their stories. We'll have guest bloggers - faithful married men - cheating men - cheating women - deceived wives - the other woman, etc., and we'll chat about what we can do to encourage monogamy. And who knows, maybe I'll create a Just Say No to Married Women T-shirt, too. But for now, I'll start right here by saying simply - what goes around, comes around. Karma is a bitch! And karma's name just might be Bambi!

Your thoughts are welcomed! :-)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Research: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

From A Fistful of Dollars to High Plains Drifter, there’s nothing I love more than a Clint Eastwood western. So I’m playing on the name of my favorite to talk about researching my work-in-progress.

The Good: After successfully completing both Parisian Patisserie and chocolate baking classes, I can now whip up puff pastry, éclairs and spiked chocolate truffles. All from scratch.

The Bad: Sometimes a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. All I want to do is make and EAT my delectable creations. And let’s not forget about those 14 pounds I put on writing my last book. Arrgh!!!!

The Ugly: Now when I say a book is kicking my tail, I’ll really mean it! Boot Camp workout classes also started this week. Yowza! The only person that hates a ::really tough:: 6 am workout more than me is my poor heroine.

So tell me some things you’ve done good, bad or ugly in the name of research????


Friday, December 4, 2009

Building a reality-based writing career

Many, if not all, writers -- published or not -- are looking forward to the day they can cut the chains of their "day job" and write full time. The cold reality is, probably never.

Of all the writers I know, only one is full time -- and that's stretching it a bit. Kevin (no relation) is a newspaper man; his day job is writing nonfiction, his writing writing is science fiction. Keith, one of the most prolific writers I know, would not make ends meet without his editing gigs. Scratch any writer and you'll find (just running through a list of my writerly friends) a psychiatrist, a software designer, a college instructor, two teachers, a graphic designer, a retail store manager, a retail store clerk, an IT guy for a large corporation, and a salesman. I'm a case manager for a family preservation services agency.

The reality of writing is that the income is not steady enough. Loan agencies can not include money from writing when figuring your debt-to-income ratio because past sales are not an indicator of future income. Which may annoy a writer fresh off his first novel sale, but is wise. In 2009 my earnings as a writer were about 1/3 of what they were in 2007; which is to say more than any year up to 2003, about the same as 2004, but less than 2005, 2006, or 2008. There's no pattern to my earnings, and without my day job there would be months with no income at all.

In her invaluable Freelancer's Survival Guide award-winning author and editor Kristine Kathryn Rusch does not recommend going completely solo until you have the resources to cover living expenses, medical insurance, potential emergencies, et al., for at least a year set aside. By that standard, I see no way I will ever be in a position to write full time, unencumbered by a day job.

Does that mean don't even try? Of course not. The year of my first sale, 1999, I was in mental health, working with at-risk youth from 8AM-4PM five days a week, had a paper route from 3-6AM seven days a week, and taught English as a second language at the community college from 6-9PM three nights a week. I wrote on weekends and during the evenings I was not teaching. I mark the beginning of my professional writing career from 2005. That was the first year my income from writing was such I could afford to give up the paper route and the teaching.

A few rules, a work ethic, enabled me to reach that point.
The first rule, of course, is to write. I used a label maker to put a strip across the bottom edge of my laptop's screen: "Write. Do not read about writing. Do not chat about writing. Do not post about writing. Write."
The second rule is to treat writing like a job you need. As a paperboy (excuse me, media distribution specialist) I had to get up at the crack of you've-got-to-be-kidding-me and despite cold or storm or not feeling well, get 300+ news papers rolled, bagged and on the right porches before sane people were out of bed. There were no excuses for running late and calling in sick required a doctor's documentation in 12 hours or termination. Applying those standards to your writing schedule (i.e.: If you have a pulse, you are typing) can do more for your writing career than any other single factor.
The third rule is to have a plan. Set realistic objectives and have a clear-eyed understanding of the steps you are going to need to take to reach them. Here I was greatly helped by my wife Valerie's budgeting skills and the fact she will tell me what's what without hesitation or blink. If I had followed my instincts -- quit the paper route after my first few sales -- I would have been back in the part-time-job market, using up my writing time trying to find work, in weeks. (And stressed about bills we could not pay.)

I currently have a plan in place with a two to four year timeline (that flexibility reflects several factors over which I have little or no control). Somewhere (somewhen?) around 2014 you will find me teaching classes on creative writing (hopefully at a university, but a community college is fine) and spending the bulk of my time on writing original fiction.
I'll let you know how that goes.

In the meantime:
Treat writing as a job you need to have.
Set realistic objectives, and develop a practical plan for attaining them.
Take each step one at a time, and you will become a professional writer.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

National Buy a Book By A Black Author and Give It To Someone Not Black!

I had another blog post in mind until I realized that here at Novel Spaces I had yet another platform I could use to help promote author Carleen Brice's fabulous campaign to bring awareness to books by people of color. I celebrated the kickoff of National Buy a Book By A Black Author and Give It to Someone Not Black month on my blog earlier this week. Last year, Carleen, who is a huge believer in buying books as gifts for the holidays, took the idea one step further and encouraged readers to buy a book by a black author and give it to someone not black.

Here's the deal. As naive as it sounds, I truly had no idea that black authors faced such a tough road in the publishing industry until I became published a few years ago. I knew the books were sheveled differently, and that black books didn't get mentioned as much on review sites, but it didn't hit home until I expereinced these obstacles first-hand. Talk about an ugly, eye-opening experience.

National Buy a Book By a Black Author and Give It to Someone Not Black helps to spotlight books by black authors, and personally, I hope it encourages others to be open to exploring the shelves of the African American section of the bookstore.

This holiday season, as you're making your list and checking it twice, think about broadening your reading horizons and give a black author a chance. You just may discover that we're not so different. Who knows, you may even find yourself a new favorite author.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Fairy Godmother Effect

Okay. I confess. My life is littered with crud these days. There’s a lot of good stuff in there, too, but it seems that for months all I’ve been able to see was this mounting stack of impossibility. And, unfortunately, it began to affect my writing, zapping my creative juices and, subsequently, pilfering away at my productivity.

So this went on longer than it should have. (I believe it’s called a rut.) And then, dedgummit, I read Terence’s blog. I didn’t mention it to my Novel Spaces colleague then, but, um, thanks for the kick in the hindparts. It seems I’d unconsciously set my stick-to-it-ness aside and posted a sign in my brain like the ones limo drivers carry at airports, except mine blared FAIRY GODMOTHER.

Really, I was slumped in my writing chair wondering how long her flight was delayed and when she’d arrive to rescue me. In most uncharacteristic fashion I’d shut down and locked myself into a box I’m so good at thinking outside of. Then in a moment of melancholy I bop on over to Novel Spaces for my ritualistic read and “Bam!” Terence wrote:

What I need to do is stop waiting for some magic moment to come along that makes it all okay. So, no more waiting for enough money in the bank to relax. No more waiting for enough time to dedicate my entire day to writing. Wherever it is I am going, I m there, and just have to live up to the moment.
I hate being called on the carpet – and I’m sure he wasn’t thinking about my self-imposed life-exile when he penned his blog – but those words snapped me out of my funk. Sure, sure, there have been well-meaning friends and relatives offerings words of wisdom. One camp advocates taking a break, while another urges me to just dive in. Read a book, watch a movie, or use parts of something you’ve already written, have all been suggested. And ignored. I guess this time it took unintentional tough love from someone who knows what it’s like to make blank pages come to life that set me straight.

But, that was just part of it. The other hurdle was figuring out how to re-tool my brain to conquer my encroaching deadline. It seems I’ve taken to thinking way faster than I write, which has made capturing my thoughts much like corralling cats. Solution? Digital recorder. I’ve been walking around the house with a headset microphone and the recorder in my pocket, talking to myself as if I’m reading the story in my head aloud.

So, far, I like the method. I no longer feel like my plot is always a few steps out of reach of my keyboard. I guess I’ve found my way out of that box I’d slithered into and put away my little poster board driver-in-waiting sign. Now that I’m back on the road to productivity, I’ll still keep an eye out for the Fairy Godmother. If she shows, I can send her your way if you’d like.