Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Cover Art Woes

There’s no doubt about it: nailing the cover is as important as writing the book!  I’d love for that not to be the case, but it is.  

I’ve been working for the last few months on the final touches of my soon-to-be-released e-book The Mummies of Blogspace9.  It’s about undead conquistadors who... well, that’s a story for another day.  But geez, the cover is killing me.  

I’ve browsed a number of prefab cover art sites.  I’ve seen some great covers and some lousy covers.  But oddly enough, nothing that really captured the essence of my story.  I wanted something that screamed “read this chilling tale of conquistador mummies who blog about stolen Inca gold.”  Maybe that’s too much to ask for.

In the end, I decided to go it alone.  I needed some cool graphics and some chilling text.   And I also realized I had to narrow down some of the thematics.  You can’t fit everything into a tiny image that someone is going to see on Amazon.  So minimally, I decided I wanted an image of a mummy, something scary, and if possible, some computer elements.  Not too much to ask for, right?

So I hunted through, then I fired up InDesign, and here’s what came down the chute:

Cover #1 meets my first criterion.  It does indeed have a mummy on it.  But it’s not scary.  And it’s a really bad cover.  OK, now for my second try:

Cover #2 meets the second and third criteria.  It’s very scary, and has computer stuff, but that’s technically a zombie, not a mummy.  And it is also a really bad cover.  Third try:

I know, right!  Cover #3 is adorable - a kitten on an internet logo!  Yeah, that has to go.  Fourth try:

I think this is it!  Cover #4 is hauntingly scary, has a mummy, and has some computer stuff.  Plus the text is nice.  I think this is the one I’m going with.

I’ll let you know when the book is ready, but for now, I’m happy with the cover.

Also, how’s this for a teaser:  Horror has a new URL.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Write with passion

In Eugenia’s post, “The Business of Writing” she mentioned two authors who recommended writing 1000 words per hour. I thought about it for a while before I commented that sometimes speed sacrifices quality. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t crazy enough to try it. I succeeded in achieving 654 words within one and a half hours. I guess I could have written more if I didn’t edit as I wrote. But that is not my style. What I noticed though is trying to write for speed wore me out and pretty soon I was dispassionate about the words I wrote, and needed some space away from my manuscript. In short, sometimes speed not only sacrifices quality, but it sacrifices passion.

A few years ago I read a novella written by an author with whom I was acquainted, where everything sounded contrived. The plot, the characters, they were all words on a page that were written without passion and I as a reader could tell that the author’s heart was not in the writing. In communicating with that author I discovered that the author who had a demanding day job was given about a month to write the novella while trying to meet a deadline for a full length novel. The result: a contrived novella without passion.

So how can you write with passion? Well like any other art, a writer has to love writing. I know many people are wondering how authors can dislike writing. Well I’ve met many aspiring authors who misguidedly believe that there is bucket loads of money in writing and that is their inspiration. But just like acting, not everyone who puts pen to paper makes the big bucks. When the inspiration is to be rich or famous, the passion for the art can take a back stand. So in a nutshell, you have to love writing.

Another way to write with passion is to write in the genres that you love. I know it sounds cliché, but when deciding what genre to write, let the genre choose you. If you love a genre, you will be passionate about telling a story in that genre. I know some authors who make a business decision to write in a specific genre because that is selling. But if those authors do not have a passion for those types of books, it will ultimately affect their storytelling. So like a famous author once said, “Write a book that you would like to read.”

Finally, choose a writing style and a writing regimen that works for you. Some writers write by the seat of their pants. Others plan everything to a T. Some authors write the stories in their heads before ever sitting near a computer, others do rough drafts using pen a paper. Some edit as they write, others write free style and edit later. Some authors have to lock themselves in a windowless room to write. Others go to a lovely beach in Hawaii or a scenic mountain location to write. Still others write at coffee shops, in offices, on their beds or even while performing certain bodily functions on the commode. If you have a writing regimen and style that you enjoy, you will be more passionate about your writing.

Last of all, be flexible. Because one writing style, genre, or regimen works for you, doesn’t mean you can’t easily adapt to another. As developing authors we should explore ways to improve our writing. I say developing authors because no matter how seasoned, writers are always seeking ways to write better, write more efficient, write with more passion. The more open we are to new ideas, the better our writing becomes.

So whatever your style, whatever your motivation, whatever your aspirations, write on but write with passion.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

In Pursuit of Reviews

I've just finished my first revision of Storm Warning, my collection of short crime stories set on the fictional Caribbean island of St. Crescens, and I'm busy sending out queries to reviewers who might be interested.  I find this part as excruciatingly difficult as submitting queries to agents and publishers.  So far, I've sent out about thirty requests to various bloggers and have gotten interest from about five.  That's a bit disheartening but, of course, I'll keep on trying. 

I came up with my list by Googling blogs of mystery reviewers.  Once you've done that and found a few likely candidates make sure to see if the blog carries a list of links to other reviewers.  Quite often, bloggers will have a list of blogs similar to theirs on their sites or they'll participate in certain memes and you can pick up a lot of other names and addresses that way.

One thing that's really important is that you check the reviewers review policy  - they might not review in your genre or they might not be accepting any new books for review at the moment.  I can imagine that it would be annoying to receive a lot of requests to review romantic comedies when you only read horror.  In addition, some bloggers won't accept from self-published writers or don't want ebooks so do check the policy out carefully.

Also, keep a list handy of everyone you submit to so you don't end up submitting twice, as the more absent-minded among us might.

Oh, and, if you can, make sure to post the cover and blurb up on Goodreads or Shelfari as some bloggers will check you out there first.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


My son, who loves everything tech, nevertheless has had a standard response to my lamentations about computer disasters over the years: "Well, Mom, it's a computer," he says, his voice laced with resignation. Great tool, he seems to imply, but it will crash, die, melt, go up in flames when you least expect it. That's par for the course.

Anyone who has known me for awhile knows that computer blues are just a part of my life. I've had a monitor die, another (brand new) develop red and green vertical lines, a power supply on a reliable dinosaur conk out and the unit was too ancient for a replacement to be found. Then burglars relieved me of the first brand new laptop I owned, a gift from my bro. I fell in love with the little 13" brushed chrome beauty I purchased on Amazon, then it died after two years of stellar performance.

I'm now using on my son's old Dell Studio laptop. He upgraded to Mac a year ago and was happy to help me out with his old workhorse. The horse is heavy, though. I can't lug it to school or to the office unless I want to court a sprained back. It is slow; my son has oodles of stuff on there, including fancy bells and whistles and those games that take up so much memory.

The upshot is that I'm in the market for a new device. I've looked at tablets and eschewed the idea as they don't seem very practical for writers, unless you can afford to buy a laptop and a tablet. I do envy all those students who keep flashing these small, lightweight, clever devices in class, though. I've looked at the Chromebook, tempted by the idea of effortless backing up to a cloud, but it doesn't run Word; I can't envisage a world without Word, somehow. I've looked at the Microsoft Surface, but it's too expensive and the reviews are iffy. The Samsung Ultrabook looks very attractive right now, but I'm not paying almost $900 plus shipping and handling plus courier fees to the Caribbean for anything Microsoft right now. The Macbook Air has been an ongoing temptation since it appeared, and I can't help wondering whether it might actually be cost effective if Microsoft laptops are going to die on me every other year.

If you know of a device, small, lightweight but powerful, runs Windows, looks good and is perfect for a cash-strapped writer, let me know.

There is also the issue of backups. I've added backups to the Amazon Cloud to my old system of backing up to flash drives since my brushed-chrome beauty died months ago, but I've been hearing that Dropbox is the thing. Advice on cloud backups from the pros out there also welcome!

Liane Spicer

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Finding the Happy Medium With Social Media

Ah, social media. So much fun. So much danger.

Last year, I wrote about the potential traps and other hazards which await you when you decide to wade into the social media pool. However, that piece focused on the more obvious pitfalls: privacy, how not to let time spent in these venues eat up your writing schedule, how to acquit yourself when in the midst of self-promotion, reacting to reviews from readers and/or critics, and so on. One thing I didn’t touch on the first time around but which I think deserves its own bit of attention is the tightrope we walk when advertising ourselves and our wares. It can be hard to find the right balance between “hanging out” on social media sites and using these venues as promotional tools.

Everybody’s always going on and on about how we as writers need to be “out there,” building a “platform” and all that. Websites, blogs, podcasts, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, Pinterest, YouTube...all these are viewed as prime territory for attracting readers and attention to our work. X number of Twitter followers, Y number of Facebook “friends” or “likes,” Z number of subscribers to our blogs, all of these—supposedly—have weight when a publisher is considering an author’s book. Some of the “advice” I’ve read almost makes it seem as though we need to be beating our drum with every Tweet and Facebook status update, or else we’re just not working hard enough to promote ourselves.

Of course, the people who are the targets of these marketing efforts may just end up thinking we’re a bunch of annoying prats. So, my attitude with this stuff is to tread carefully.

I’ve spent...let’s inordinate amount of time in the trenches of social media over the past several years, and I’ve seen what happens when that balance isn’t achieved. You know what? It ain’t pretty folks. In fact, I’ve unfollowed writers and other creative types who do nothing but promote themselves and their latest book, or who only post links to their books for sale or articles they’ve written for web sites or crowd-sourcing efforts they’re championing. The constant barrage devolves into an irritating drone after a while, which can really harsh my net-surfing mellow when all I really want is to see a picture of a cat who can’t spell, or a video of a guy skateboarding into a fence.

The point of social media is to socialize; to communicate with other denizens of these virtual realms, whether you’re chatting about shared interests or commenting on issues of the day or simply commiserating because Life chose an inopportune moment to kick you in the gut. When readers follow authors in these venues, they’re not interested in seeing the “sales pitch” 24/7; they want to interact with the people who write those books they love so much. They want to get to know the person, not the brand.

Now, me? I blog throughout the week, and I try to keep my choice of topics varied and (hopefully) entertaining. I tend to have more fun on Facebook and Twitter than normal people might consider healthy. Most of the followers I’ve attracted have found me after reading my books and checking out my website or blog. Others follow me because we have mutual friends, and we’ve found that we have common interests. I engage in the usual sorts of behavior you see everyday on Facebook and Twitter, such as sharing funny pictures or links to news articles, or commenting on other people’s links and updates.

Do I promote myself and my work to this audience? Of course, but as with all things, I believe moderation in this context is the key to success. Sure, I alert people that a new book is coming or has been published, but I also tell them when I take on a new gig. I give teases about the chapter I’m writing that day. Sometimes I solicit input, like what to name a character or if I need help researching some bit of trivia. Chatter usually results from these sorts of postings, and we have fun with it. Once, I even had a contest calling for readers to post photos of them holding one of my books while on their summer vacations. I got responses from Disney World, beaches, cruise ships, and other locales around the world. I turned it into a contest and readers voted for their favorite pictures and the winners received signed books. Sure, I’m promoting myself, but my goal is to seamlessly weave it in and around the rest of my online blatherings.

How do you approach social media? Do you love it or loathe it? Is it fun or frustrating? What tricks do you have for integrating promotion into the mix?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Guest author Scott Fitzgerald Gray: Writers & Collectors

Scott Fitzgerald Gray
Scott Fitzgerald Gray has been flogging his imagination professionally since deciding he wanted to be a writer and abandoning any hope of a real career in about the fourth grade. That was the year speculative fiction and fantasy kindled an appetite for literary escapism that still drives Scott’s questionable creativity. In addition to the books published under his own Insane Angel Studios imprint, Scott has written for film and television, works as a designer and editor of roleplaying games, and spends a lot of time helping other writers do their best work.

I think that all of us as writers maintain a strange and wonderful umbilicus of memory that connects us to the people we used to be. Sometimes those lines are strong. We remember the things that hurt us, the things that scarred us, and we tell of those things as a means of healing. Sometimes those lines are subtle and tenuous. A thought comes to mind when sketching out a story. An image works its way into a bit of description and seems familiar somehow. We find ourselves writing character story effortlessly, only to realize that the reason it comes so quickly, so easily, is because we already know these characters. We’ve collected them, along with the trinkets and shards and tokens of every moment that’s ever passed through us.

We Can Be Heroes, my most recent novel, is a book that’s been a long time in the writing for me. Not in the sense that I labored over it for years and years, knocking off draft after failed draft, but in the sense that the story and I go back a long, long way. The book was written as a kind of homage to my experience of high school, and being a particular kind of fantasy/sci-fi geek and gamer, and developing the core friendships that let me figure out what my life was supposed to look like. It’s a book whose first-person narrator is a kind of Through-the-Looking-Glass version of me as I was in high school, and whose events are detailed as having actually happened — even though they pretty obviously didn’t. But the Inside the Writers’ Studio secret behind the book is that every bit of its fiction is an actual touchstone to my own life. With the exception of some bits of backstory, there’s not a single thing in the book that actually happened as written — but at the same time, the feel of that particular part of my life and the way that feeling layers itself into memory infects every part of the story’s dramatic DNA.

The setting of the book is a kind of impressionist triptych of the rural countryside, the small town, and the high school that defined my adolescence. The characters in the book are gestalt versions of the friends who helped shape my life during the last years of that adolescence. The humor in the book is our humor, and the way that humor inflects the characters’ view of the world is exactly how it shaped our viewpoint a lot of years ago. The brief passages of gaming culture in the book will look real to anyone who’s ever been a gamer, because they are real. The unrequited romance between Scott and almost-girlfriend Molly that underpins the novel’s emotional throughline should feel real to anyone who’s ever suffered through the relationship meatgrinder that high school can be, because that throughline is built on the painfully reconstructed angst of my own inability to ever… actually, never mind about that.

The larger point is that as writers, we tend to collect things without realizing it. Most of us are aware of the conscious ideas, whether simply filed away in our heads or jotted down as rough notes in some form. Books we want to write ourselves. Books we wish other people would write for us. Things we want to know more about but never seem to have the time to study. But above and below that level of conscious creative possibility, all writers collect bits of information and ephemera. Things we know, things we wonder about. Stray thoughts that never manage to percolate up into consciousness, but which embed themselves into the strata foundations of our creativity like layers in the fossil record.

Whether we know it or not, I think that everything we write begins and ends with our own experience. And although much of the time this remains a subconscious process, it’s good to remind ourselves of it once in a while. It’s good to be able to say and acknowledge that the stories at the heart of our own life are worth telling.

GIVEAWAY! Scott is giving away a copy of We Can Be Heroes to one lucky reader. Just leave a comment on this post and your name goes in the hat!

~Scott Fitzgerald Gray

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Tale of Two Queries

Ah, the dreaded query letter!

So much is made of this all-important, life-changing, career-determining page pleading to have work read and considered for publication. Blogs are devoted to the “right” way to write one. I've known authors to spend six months or more just to get a first draft. Seriously? Do you really think acquisition editors are really monsters sitting behind a desk ready to jump on one typo so they can gleefully send out a rejection letter?

Maybe I'm too laid back, but all I'm looking for is a pleasant salutation, the title of the novel, word count and genre. I'd like to know a bit about your writing background, although I'm going to google you anyway. Let me know what the plot is about, but don't try and tease my curiosity.

For the most part, the query letters that come across my desk are pretty good. Some make me grin because a sense of humor comes through; some make me smile because I can sense the author quaking behind the earnest words.

But, every now and then, I get one that just makes me scratch my head. Like this one. Please, if somebody can interpret it, let me know because I'm clueless.

“My graciousness by upon you.
Please, lavish me with your interpretation. I am inspired by the eternal void. I am listening for the Grate Abyss.
Thank you for your consideration.”

Alrighty, then. If your query letter is WORSE than this one, yes, you have something to worry about!

The next one simply demonstrated to me that the writer was a victim of bad advice. But, perhaps without realizing it, he also managed to insult me. Those of you who know me know that I'm not going to give a letter like this a pass without striving to educate the author.

“Dear folks at Oak Tree Press,

This book has the potential to be as successful as Blow or Ballad of the Whisky Robber. It is not difficult to imagine it being made into a movie.  The books has a myriad of adventures in it, at times it can be humorous, at other times it is absolutely devastating.

I was invited to submit a "treatment" to an executive producer in California. They suggested I finish it as a full length novel to gauge public interest. This is why I write to you.

I am also seeking an agent and other publishers for their feedback and/or interest. I am including a brief introduction to the story for your review. I have also put a brief biographical about myself at the end. While I have set the stage for the story, the ending must remain proprietary for now. Enjoy and let me know if interested and to what extent.”

Just for fun, can you pick out the 5 really irritating parts to this query? Let me help you. I'm suppose to be impressed because it's movie material. With the quality of most movies these days, I'd put a hold on that thought. Oh, and I'm asked to give my opinion to reassure the Hollywood types that they are right.

If Oak Tree publishes the novel, then surely an agent will snap it up for a more important house. We're just suppose to be a stepping stone to bigger things. Let me inform Billie Johnson, the publisher. And, because the book is THAT GOOD, I won't be told the ending.

Finally, I'm now downgraded to his private critique group. And, I'm suppose to let the author know how much I enjoyed it.

In my response, I “gently” pointed out all the errors in this author's thinking. He came back humbled and ready to learn. The Hollywood stuff was bunk. He admits he's got a long way to go. Maybe I'll take the time and put him in the Posse. Somebody has to.

Still worried about writing a query letter? Trust me, there are many out there who never worry. I've just given you two examples. You know you can do better.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Jewel discussed this quite some time ago, but as I find myself faced with the same dilemma, I thought I would air it again. The issue is whether an author should use a pen name when crossing genres.

I have written seven children's books to date and I hope to write more. However, I am working on a book which ... let's just say it's intended for a much more mature audience. When I published my first book I banked on people recognizing my name on the cover. This time around, I'm not so sure.

There is more to this than market segmentation. There are no holds barred in this book and as I write I wonder if anyone will see me reflected in these fictitious characters and assume that their experiences are mine. Of course it's impossible to market a book and remain anonymous but a pen name may bring some imagined freedom as I write.

What are your thoughts on the issue?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Obscure Gems of Yesterday

I began this year searching for mysteries that should have been classics but somehow faded into the background.  I was interested in solid detective fiction - grade A, Dashiell Hammett-quality gumshoe yarns.  And that isn’t easy to come by.

Fortunately, I have friends in high places, and by high places, I mean bookstores.  My friend Bill Rozell, owner of Scrooge & Marley Booksellers, pointed me in the right direction.

And by the way, bookstore owners know a hell of a lot about books, which is something we don’t often think about when we hit that “Add to Cart” button.  An algorithm can’t always be trusted to provide a good recommendation.

And so I began reading the novels of Arthur Upfield, an Australian writer of detective fiction featuring the half-Aborigine Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte of the Queensland Police Force.

Writing his novels in the 1930s through the 1950s, Upfield is a man of his times, using the cadences and norms of his time.  I can’t help but cringe when 'Bony,' as the protagonist calls himself, pronounces himself unique, “standing midway between the white and black races, having all the virtues of the white race and very few vices of the black race.”  Sure, he's deliberately disarming his audience, but it comes at a high price.

Reluctant as I am to let something like that slide, I read on, and I’m glad I did because Bony is a wonderful protagonist, greatly loved by his author.  And it became clear, the more I read, that Upfield was drawing the reader to understand that it was Bony’s aboriginal culture and mindset that made him effective, made him brilliant.

“I am naturally impatient of red tape and regulations which are apt to bring on gastric trouble,” Bony tells his audience in The Bachelors of Broken Hill.  “I never hurry in my hunt for a murderer, but I never delay my approach.”

As he moves throughout the Australian outback, Boney routinely encounters resistance from police and civilians alike who are taken aback by this anomaly, this “half-caste” in the the language of the books and the time.  But it’s this distance, this otherness, that makes Bony effective.  He approaches phenomena from a slightly different viewpoint than everyone else, including the killers he tracks and inevitably finds.

At the end of each book, the reader is both impressed and charmed.  And that is Upfield’s gift - you can’t help but like Bony.  Writing at a time and place when race was a difficult concept (and when and where has it ever not been?) Upfield broke some barriers with a powerful gentle narrative that resonates even today.

I’d recommend starting with The Bone is Pointed and The Bachelors of Broken Hill.

So what nearly-forgotten gems can you reintroduce to polite society?

And if you’re looking for obscure books, check out the good folks at Scrooge & Marley Booksellers -

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Culture and settings... repost

A few weeks ago I posted this blog.  However due to a rather finicky, it affected the settings on the Novelspaces blog.  Consequently we had to remove it, reverting it to draft.  I had all intentions of fixing the kinks and reposting it, but with four of the five members of my family coming down with the flu that left me playing nursemaid for a few weeks, I never got around to it.  So now I'm reposting it, and trying to get the kinks out.  I hope it works.  Here goes.....

Have you ever read a novel set in your hometown and wonder what town they are describing? Or have you ever seen an expert on television, after some breaking news, discuss the culture or customs of your home country or the psychology of your people all from a foreign perspective?

That is one of my pet peeves. I simply detest hearing authors, experts or whatever labels they give themselves talking about or setting stories in places that bear no resemblance to the actual place (fantasy is the exception). It’s especially irksome to read a story set in the Caribbean and either hear the culture referred to in near clinical terms, or hear the locals speak, think and react with a mindset that is typical of the country of the writer, but does not resound with me as a native. Or even worst, to have the story riddled with stereotypes.

So then, am I saying that a non-native of a place should not write about that place? Definitely not! I’m just saying if you want to write about a place or culture, do the research. And I’m not talking about a Wikipedia search. I recently met an author who writes multicultural romance. She has set her novels in Greece, and Italy and many exotic countries. But there is one caveat to her writing: she’d never been to any of the places she writes about. I asked her how she does research. She gave me a very short answer: “Google Earth.”

“Google Earth?” I wondered. How does Google Earth capture the ambiance of the place? The sounds, the smells, the feeling… How does Google Earth compensate for the micro-culture of that place? It is worst than someone taking a 3-day cruise to the Caribbean and being instantly transformed into an expert on Nevis. Or to be more dramatic, sitting in transit on the airport in Benin and claiming to know the place intimately.

Why is all this important to me as a writer? Well first and foremost, I am a reader, and authenticity of setting transports me to that place and time and makes for a wonderful reading experience. Secondly, despite being labeled as a contemporary romance author on this website, I actually write multicultural romance. In my two published novels the hero of one is Ghanaian and the other Kittitian. In my latest manuscript, the heroine is indigenous Caribbean and most of the novel is set in Dominica. How do I make my characters believable and my settings work? I follow a few rules (make that guidelines) that I will list below:

1. I don’t set the story in a place that I have never visited for an extended period.

Why? Because being in a place around the people gives you the feel of the place. It transports you and that makes things authentic. There is more to an area than the buildings, the streets, the flora and the fauna. Places are living, breathing entities and they have auras and personalities that must be captured in the story to have a profound effect on the reader.

2. Know the culture. Yes we can read about the culture, customs and traditions, but we have to be mindful that while traditions may be static, culture is dynamic and changes with time. The best way to learn of the culture if you can’t travel to the place is to be around its natives. In addition to learning the history, read the local newspapers (many are online) and blogs, especially the comment threads. It helps you understand the prevailing mindset. Eat the food (even if it’s the Americanized version). Follow the politics. View You Tube videos made by locals of that place (if available).

3. Avoid stereotypes. I let people I meet be inspiration for the characters I write. There are few individuals that conform to common stereotypes.

4. Give your characters a lot of wriggle room. What do I mean by that? When I made a Kittitian a main character in my novella, it was easy; I was born and raised in St. Kitts. I know the culture, the customs and the mindset. But my Ghanaian hero was different. I have never been to Ghana. I know of the culture and customs by immersing myself in the history and culture of the country through reading and by befriending Ghanaians, all of whom live and are educated in America. So I made the character a Ghanaian who was living in America for quite some time. To compensate for any aspect of the culture that I may have obviously overlooked, I made him the son of an Ambassador whose work forced them to live in many different countries.

In my most recent story, the setting was easy: my husband is from Dominica and I spend lots of time there. However, the heroine is native Carib (Kalinago), the indigenous people of the Caribbean. There is not a lot of information you can get about their current culture, even by living on the island. After much effort and agonizing, I decided to take her from the territories and place her in the mainstream Dominican culture.

5. And if you really want to set your story in a place you have never visited: create a fictitious village, enclave, or street or town in or around that location. And then of course there is Google Earth :).

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Business of Writing

So about that New Year's know, the one to write more and write better.  It's now February and I can't say I've noticed much change - at least not in the former (one lives in hope for the latter).  Every year, I make a writing plan which, as I said to Lynn, is really more of a wishlist.  But I really hope that's all about to change.  You see, I've discovered a few things.

1.)  If I unplug my phone, I get a lot done.

2.)  If I forget about FB except for early morning or late evening, I get a lot done.

3.)  If I can group my errands instead of haring out of the house every day, I get even more done.

More than all of that, however, I've decided to get more disciplined about the whole thing.  You see, I read a couple of blog posts by different authors, both of whom recommended writing 1,000 wds an hour.  When I first read that I thought, oh, that's okay then, I'm already doing that and then the rest of my brain caught up and I realized it was per hour, not per DAY.  That's impossible I wanted to scream but instead I investigated more and came across this post by science fiction and fantasy author, Rachel Aaron.  It really hit home.  Of course!  I need to become more business-like.  Track my writing hours for a couple months so I can really see when I am at my most productive and what the factors are.  Do some pre-writing before each writing session, particularly when I'm having difficulty with a scene.

I've made up a table and the first thing I've discovered is that answering the phone is a big problem.  On days when I've taken calls that lasted twenty or thirty minutes, I get so pulled away from wherever I am in the plot that another thirty minutes of puttering goes by before I can settle back down to write.  So I'm making little changes. 

Today I had a business meeting which took two hours and then  after that it was time to begin homeschooling sessions so I only got in 683 wds.  Abysmal!  But there's always tomorrow!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Life of Writing

So. It's Friday. (Yes, I know it'll be Sunday when I post this, but it's Friday as I type. ) Agenda for today is edit/revise and original story I'm working on, write this column, complete an assignment for one of my MFA classes, and read some of the reference materials I've been gathering for an upcoming project. Also walk the dog. Not burdensome.

Mondays and Fridays my wife Valerie works from home. She's in pharmacovigilance, which means she spends hours comparing data from clinical trials on multiple monitors – something that would drive me crazy. We sit diagonally across from each other at the library table in our home office (my home office Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays). Working at her computer, Valerie's facing – over my shoulder – a TV in the closet. She likes the noise of nonsense TV while she's working ("You are the father!"). Typing at my laptop I face a wall of bookcases; whenever I Skype I sit on Valerie's side of the table so there are bookshelves – not a TV & boxes of office supplies – behind me on camera. My headphones are on and my mellow-with-energy shuffle is cranked just loud enough to block the voices on the TV. (Mw/E shuffle = 66% Angelique Kidjo, Dobet Gnahoré, Manou Gallo & 34% Ruthie Foster, Carole King, Lizz Wright, Phoebe Snow, KT Tunstall.) Except for the dearth of Edgar, Hugo, Shamus, and Nebula awards on my bookcases, my writing environment is pretty much all I'd ever hoped it would be.

How about my writing career? Well, I'm published. I date my life as a published writer from my first pro sale (as in not a literary quarterly or chapbook that paid in copies) thirteen years ago. From then until now my sold-and-published portfolio includes three novels (2 paperbacks set in the MechWarrior game universe, 1 set in the BattleTech universe released as two online serials due to licensing concerns); seven novellas (1 Doctor Who, 2 Star Trek, 4 BattleTech); and twenty-seven short stories (Star Trek, BattleTech, and Shadowrun, another role-playing game). I've been on the writing teams of a baker's dozen roleplaying game rule books, players' resource books, and scenario/adventure guides as well as three interactive websites – one linked to a movie, two linked to games. I've edited a half dozen volumes of reference/scenarios/guides/short fiction for role playing gamers. Most of the writing sales were before I went full time as a freelancer sixteen months ago; all of the editing has been since.

As I've said at least once a year, media tie-in writing, what I do, is analogous to playing an instrument in an orchestra – everything you do must be your best, but it must blend seamlessly with what everyone around you is doing and be done at the direction of someone else. While most would agree the oboist with the philharmonic is a musician, she's a different sort of musician than the solo artist. That perception of difference is not common among working writers, though those in the publishing industry who do see a difference usually have pretty strong opinions about it. (I probably don't need to mention academia does not regard tie-in writing as 'literature' – though I imagine we rate a mention in pop-culture sociology texts.) Being a media tie-in writer is to be pretty much a blue collar writer (though some, like Kevin J. Anderson, and out own Dayton Ward, have very nice blue collars). I don't intend to ever give up tie-in writing, but I do want to expand my solo career (hence the original stories I keep sending out). And, having been a public school teacher for many years, I want to teach creative writing at the college level (hence my pursuit of a Master of Fine Arts degree at National University).

I love my life as a writer. But, and this is something I'll convey to my students if-and-when, it is work. And much as I love writing, there are days I hate every keystroke. The completely random income isn't as much fun as you might think, either. I've had days when I felt, and I don't know a working writer who has not, that what I'm writing is dreck, that there's no way I can beat life into the dead words I'm typing. (I've been told by more than one writer that there's always a point when they absolutely hate their work in progress. I've never hated a work in progress, but there have been times when I hated the effort my work in progress demanded.)
What I had to learn (and relearn and own) before I was able to become a real writer and not a writer wannabe, is the relationship between the dream of what being a writer and the reality of being a writer is similar to the relationship between playing with dolls and raising children. It's astronomically, exponentially, unbelievably more difficult, time consuming, and frustrating than you ever imagined. But it is equally more satisfying, enthralling, and worthwhile than you can understand. I started submitting short stories when I was in my twenties, made my first sale when I was in my forties, and transitioned to full-time freelance writing when I was fifty-seven. I have good friends who've never done anything but write and others who have no intention of giving up full-time careers while pushing out a novel every year or so.

The truly great thing about becoming a writer is there's no one right way to do it. There's no schedule, no time that's too late; no absolutely essential milestones. And here's something I know for a fact: Even if you declare you've quit, even if you throw out every floppy disk, legal pad, notebook, journal, and box of typed pages you ever owned and swear to the world you're done with writing forever, never think you failed. Because when you're ready you can unquit. You can start again. And the words will be waiting.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Planning or Something Close To It


“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” Woody Allen

For a very long time I didn’t have plans, not for my books or my writing career.
I didn’t outline for a long time. Chapter by chapter detailed outlines just didn’t work for me. I figured if I’m going to do all that work, I would rather just start the book.  I soon learned it killed my muse after a few hours of misery.
I didn’t have plans for my career because…hmmm, I was clueless. I was first traditionally published. So except for doing book signings, handing out bookmarks, and doing speaking engagements I didn’t worry about much else except meeting deadlines. .
I started indie publishing in 2010. Again, no plan at first. Then I thought up a few steps to take:
  1. Write two original titles
  2. Send letters to publishers requesting publishing rights be reverted
  3. Re-design my author website
I didn’t see this as a formal plan, and it wasn’t written down. Still this was way more planning than I’d ever done before. I also had a few marketing ideas. Not all that sophisticated, but I had them. In my head.
Slowly I learned more as I networked via Novelists, Inc. and a Yahoo group for authors jumping into indie publishing their backlist. Soon the authors turned to indie publishing original titles. I kept hearing about setting goals, crafting a marketing plan, a production plan,  etc. There was that word again- “Plan”.
I’m almost allergic to plans. I don’t know why, but it could be because very little in my life has gone according to my plans. I realize I’m not in control, and my plans either go awry or get changed completely in a snap by something unexpected. And it’s not always a bad thing.
I imagine my past “plans” were like God’s favorite sitcom. I can see him clearing his schedule so he could listen for entertainment. He’d say to the angels, “Okay, now I don’t want to be disturbed. My show is about to come on. Lynn has a new plan!” Smile
So I gave up on “plans”. I went to a writers conference with no plan but ended up meeting the editor who bought my first book. I didn’t plan to have back to back contracts for the next ten years. I didn’t plan to have one of my books made into a movie.
Okay, fast forward to 2011. I decided on being more grown-up and professional and… create plans. Here’s what I’ve done:
  1. I have two series started. (I’ve never done connected books before, on-going characters)
  2. I added doing an audiobook to my plan. A Darker Shade of Midnight is now on sale at! Yaaay!!
  3. I’ve re-branded my website and built an author Facebook page
  4. I now have a marketing plan for 2013 (better late than never!).
  5. I’m reaching out to the global community via Facebook. Not sure it will increase sales, but I had this idea to try way back in 2010.
I’m proud just because I’m planning. Right, it would be more exciting if I could add, “And I’m rich, famous and own a vacation home in Costa Rico!!!!.” Hmmm, no. But my sales have increased, and my Facebook author page went from just over 900 page likes to over 1,500 and counting.
I’ve reached objectives and completed steps. I’m being more methodical, though I still tend to spontaneously change. Yes, I turn on a dime! Therefore I can endorse planning and flying by the seat of your pants- at the same time!

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