Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Made up words

Made up words.  Every family has them—or so I believe.  They are words commonly used among family members that are believed to be legitimate English words but are not found in any dictionary.  Some of them may be bona fide English words but may be used in a different context to common uses.  Others may be common items but called by a specific brand name rather than the common name.  Sometimes these pesky words sneak into our writing unwittingly.

My family is fraught with them.  My father was a carpenter who always referred to formica by its brand name, Arborite.  One day he sent me to the store to purchase some Arborite.  As soon as I asked the shopkeeper for Arborite, he said, “You’re Lloyd’s daughter aren’t you?  He’s the only person on the island that calls formica Arborite.”  That was the first time I realized my family had its own unique diction.

The second time took me a little longer.  We grew up referring to movie trailers as “draphic.”  I had no idea that it was not a legitimate word until I went to graduate school.  I was talking to a lab tech about the draphic to a movie and she had no idea what I meant.  When I explained the meaning to her she said there is no such word.  I challenged her. We looked it up using many resources at our disposal, and I lost.  There is no such word as draphic.  Of course I had to be conceited, so I defended my position by saying it is a Kittitian word.  I’ve since then spoken to a lot of Kittitians about the word.  The only people who know what it means besides my family are friends of my family who frequented our home.

  I started looking up a lot of the words that we commonly used in my family vernacular and yes, many of them were not real English words, but still, they sometimes creep into my writing unwittingly.

Take for example the word spall.  According to Merriam dictionary, as a noun it means a small fragment or chip and as a verb it means to break off or chip.  In my family, and maybe on a broader level, my island, it had a very specific definition that was restricted to eroded enamel utensils.  If an enamel cup or plate had an eroded spot where the paint was chipped and we could see the rusting metal beneath, we said it was spalled or spalded or spall up.  And if you dropped a perfectly good enamel utensil you could “spall it up’.  In writing my latest romance, “Hurricane of the Heart” to be released this summer, I described an enamel plate as being spalled.  My publisher/editor asked what it meant.  I found it perplexing that she was from the Caribbean, from the same country as me and had never heard of a spalled or spalded or spallup cup.  So we looked it up.  Eventually I realized though the word spall is used to mean chip, there is not “spalled” or “spalded”.  We eventually changed the word to tarnished.

I’m sure it’s not only my family that mangles English words with so much reiteration that the members accept them and their usage as standard English.  What are some of the unique words in your family or cultural vernacular that you thought were Standard English?  Do they ever creep into your writing and if so does it enhance or adversely affect your writing?

 I want to wish Novel Spaces a happy 6th anniversary today. 
Write on, novelnaughts, write on!

My Name’s Not Madonna

By Velda Brotherton

Each time I write something about the wild and crazy things that I became involved in while working for a weekly rural newspaper, people ask me why I don’t write my memoirs.

Over the years I’ve met a lot of ordinary people just like me, their names unknown to anyone outside their circle of friends and family, who are working diligently on what they refer to as their life stories. Some even published or had them printed themselves and now have a garage filled with a thousand copies they can’t sell.

Of course in today’s publishing world, we can publish our work for next to nothing without having to order thousands of copies like back in the day. Still, I hesitate. It’s hard enough in today’s market to sell novels and well-researched local nonfiction, let alone trying to talk strangers into caring what happened to me when I was a reporter in an unknown county in the Arkansas Ozarks.

Granted I met some well-known people, a couple even famous. I well remember that young governor I met in the middle of a pasture on our way to attend a pioneer festival. He shook my hand, introduced himself and we talked for quite a while. I did not know that day, nor for several years to come, that I was talking to a future President of the United States, Bill Clinton. Didn’t even get my picture taken with him because…who knew? We were just visiting, and a lot of people in Arkansas spent time with Governor Clinton cause he was a hands-on fella. Absolutely no pun intended. He was gracious, outgoing and pleasant.

Nor did I guess when the editor sent me to interview an Apache who had started translating and making audio tapes of endangered American Indian tribal languages, that the man who opened the door to me would be Al Houser, not only the first baby born to Geronimo’s Fort Sill Apaches after they were set free from bondage in Florida, but a man who flew a B24 bomber on secret night raids into Nazi Germany and they were so secret that he said it was still difficult to locate records of The Lone Wolf Raider attacks. An honest to God hero who fought for the country that had imprisoned his parents and grandparents.

Thinking back on some of my adventures now, they seem dreamlike, for who could ever believe they could be paid for some of the stories I covered.

Here are some reasons not to write your memoirs:

·        You want to be famous

·        You want to be rich

·        Your mother has always said you’re a great writer

·        You only know twenty people who will buy and you’re never going to promote or market your work

Here are some reasons to write your memoirs:

·        You wish to share your life story with all family members

·        You have a huge mailing list of followers begging for your story

·        You’ve done something for which you are well known

·        Your story is humorous, educational and adventuresome

You can see why I’m weighing the advisability of spending six months to a year dragging out all my old stories, formulating a slant for my story, writing, rewriting, editing, and getting published. Especially when I can continue to write stories I make up in my head for a couple of publishers who are eager for my work.

For one of the best examples of memoirs by a person virtually unknown but with an amazing story to tell are My Life With a Wounded Warrior and Clueless Gringos in Paradise by Pamela Foster. Here’s a link to her page. http://www.amazon.com/Pamela-Foster/e/B006NAX5MG/ If you seriously want to write your memoirs, then you owe it to yourself to read these two books. I was not paid for this recommendation.

If you are now writing your memoirs or seriously contemplating doing so, why not comment. I’d be interested in hearing your plans.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Happy anniversary, Novel Spaces!

July 1 will mark the 6th anniversary of the Novel Spaces blog, and the beginning of our 7th year.

We're a different kind of writing group. Whereas most author blogs focus on a particular genre, Novel Spaces authors come in every stripe, from romance to historical, sci-fi to horror, literary to erotica, mainstream to fantasy graphic books, young adult to paranormal, crime fiction to poetry, media tie-in games to mystery. Yikes! That pretty much covers every major genre out there. Our writers are as diverse as their output, coming from backgrounds that range from biomedical research to information technology, the military to education, archaeology to law enforcement, health administration to broadcast media, graphic art and more. They are dotted around the planet, from Asia to the Caribbean and the US. So what on earth do we all have in common?

We love books. We love to read good stories, and to write them. We love the creative impulse, the idea that comes screaming through the ether begging: "Write me! Write me!" We love the research, the actual act of writing, of fingers flashing over keyboard or picking hesitantly at keys, of the swash and backwash of words forming into images. We really love words--all those sounds, shapes, and shades of meaning. We agonize over them, chuckle at them, cry over them. And perhaps most importantly, we love interacting with people who understand all of this and who feel the way we do about stories, about books, about writing.

To the 22 wonderful authors, past and present, who have stepped aboard the Novel Spaces ship, we thank you all. We appreciate the unique perspectives you have brought to the group, as well as your discipline and commitment over the years. To the new members waiting in the wings to join us July 1, welcome! We look forward to the new flavors you will bring to Novel Spaces as we embark upon our newest odyssey. And to our guest authors, readers and followers over the years, a heartfelt 'Thank you!' You're a lovely bunch. Never once have we had to deal with unpleasantness on our threads. That is something rare and beautiful.

Happy anniversary to the Novelnaut community! Off we go again.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Write Space?

In the past, I’ve babbled a bit about the challenges that come with writing at home when you’re already a work-at-home/telecommuter type, and your “regular job” can encroach not only on your writing time but even where you do that writing. For a time, my home office and main devoted writing space had been taken over by my need for a dedicated workspace when my employer pushed us all out of the cubicle farm at our office building and made us all full-time telecommuters.

By the time I was able to put aside those responsibilities and focus on my writing, I was pretty sick of looking at the walls of my home office. That’s when I started seeking out alternatives: the library, a bookstore cafe, fast food restaurants, and any place else I could set up shop for an hour or two and try to put some words on the page.

Now that I’m no longer working a “real job” and instead am writing full-time, I’ve rediscovered the joys of my home office/sanctuary/man cave/writing refuge. It’s not even a contest so far as this realm being my most productive. The house we bought last year affords me a sizable area not just for the actual writing but also my personal library and other reference materials, and it’s far enough from the house’s main areas and rooms that I can close the door and be completely isolated from everyone and everything when I need to concentrate.

That said, I still have the occasional need to break with the formula now and again, and head off to one of my “emergency writing locations.” As one might imagine, my productivity fluctuates depending on my destination du jour. The library is probably still my best bet, though that can change depending on which day I go. During the week when kids are in school? It definitely works. On weekends or during the school summer break? Yeah, not so much.

Cafes at bookstores or other smaller venues are a crapshoot, because you never know when you’re going to run into a crowd of those “Look at us drinking our coffees and writing our books and stuff!” types. There’s a tavern not too far from my house where I’ve experimented writing in conjunction with lunch that seems to work out, for the most part, because it’s never really that busy in the mid-afternoon. Of course, this option’s not really viable if the kids are out of school.

Interestingly, one place where I didn’t expect to be productive because of the kids is their Taekwondo school. Two nights a week, I take them to their class, which can run from forty-five minutes to an hour. Lately, I've been able to sit on the bleachers, laptop humming along, and I can tap out several hundred words in that space without blinking. It’s the weirdest thing.

Oh, and let’s not forget planes. I can really go to town on a two or three-hour flight. I’ve done some of my best work during plane trips to and from conventions. I’m actually kind of banking on a bit of that success here in about a week or so.

So, what’s your favorite place to write? Where are you most productive with your writing? Are they the same place? Does it have to be the cozy, familiar confines of home, do you have an “auxiliary writing spot,” or are you able to tap a bit into the “guerilla writing” mindset and just go for it anywhere and everywhere?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

When Is It Time To Give Back?

I recently lunched with a Young Eager Author (YEA) who'd just published her first novel and should have been riding high on the excitement of her achievement. Instead, she bemoaned the fact that sales were disappointing, less than she expected after all her hard work.

Being a Weathered Older Writer (WOW), I was sorry she didn't have a clearer grasp beforehand of the profession she was entering. She certainly studied up on grammar and spelling, sentence structure and punctuation, she had a story to tell and told it well. Shouldn't that have been enough? Where were those readers with outstretched hands rewarding her work with $$$$?

I responded by asking about her marketing efforts. She assured me she had everything in place: a website, Face Book page, newsletter, Twitter account and blog. Not that anyone was commenting on her blogs or replying to her posts. I discovered that she didn't attend to anyone else's FB page, respond to the blogs of others, tweet back or read newsletters. She “didn't have the time.”

This is the point where I should have smiled, backed off and ordered dessert. Instead, I said, “How much interest do you have in the people you want to become your fans? You're asking them to pay attention to you and buy your books, but you're telling me you don't have time for them.”

I shouldn't have to explain Social Media to her. It's been around for over a decade, long enough for us to unravel the mysteries. I call it a two-lane highway but too many authors continue to see it as a one-way road. They are so busy shoveling promotion out that they don't realize they've come to a dead-end street.

Mixing metaphors, let's pretend this author “friended” a stranger and invited the person to dinner. Over appetizers she extolled the excellent prose of her novel, even read a few passages to her captive listener. Throughout the meal, the author gave out her opinions on a wide range of subjects, never allowing her guest a chance to contribute to the conversation. She showed photos on her IPhone of herself at her recent booksigning and gave her new BFF a list of places she would be appearing next. Then she stuck her companion with the bill and ran off saying she had more important things to do.

This is what I see authors do on Face Book.

I don't know, maybe it's me being a WOW. I've learned to be realistic about my status in the marketplace. I make more sales than I expect, less than I want but enough to be grateful to every person who spent money for a book. They had choices and they chose mine.

And maybe because I live in a small town and my world has become even smaller due to medical problems tethering me close to home, I have time to learn all about those new friends on Face Book who communicate with me. I click on their pages and look at photos of their pets, pictures of weddings, grandkids, funny jokes. Rob's recovering nicely from surgery, Kathy K. seems taken with rhubarb (250 recipes? Really?), Linda S. has a thing for owls. Every time we post back and forth, I learn a bit more. I've also learned I'm not the most interesting person in the room and the only one worth listening to. We all have incredible stories; only some of us get to write them.

I hope the YEA realizes how scarce and valuable fans are and begins to cherish them. Right now she's focused on the upward trajectory of her career and has little time. I can't guarantee investing in others will result in sales but she could make a difference in their lives. And, if she allows it, they could make a difference in hers.                     

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Guest Author: Reggie Lutz: Everything you wanted to know about writers and should be afraid to ask

As writers, we all know this scenario. A well-meaning non-arts friend or acquaintance approaches and wants to know how the writing life is going. While on some level you know that deep down you should be pleased this person asked, that they are interested in what you do because a) they care and b) they might invest real dollars in your work, there are times when the most innocuous of queries can feel ... wrong.

Friends, just know that if you ask a writer questions about how it is going, you might get long convoluted answers that make you worry for the writer's sanity, or the opposite, a brief and unsatisfying, "Fine." Although I will also mention here that sometimes the answer is, "Fine," because we have seen your eyes glaze over with boredom in the past. We're writers. We notice these things. Consider the brief answer a conversational mercy to all parties. Also know that while we love to complain about things like this, we really do want you to ask.

I was thinking about common questions that writers get and why they might be irritating. Me, I'm self-published which means that sometimes I have actual solid answers to things like the dreaded, "When will your book be out?" so that one doesn't bother me, now. It stressed me out a little before I knew I was going to self-publish, or if that question was asked about an unfinished project. Then the answer might be, "Well, I really don't have a firm date set and hey did you see that crazy news story about the guy carrying a crossbow around downtown Wilkes-Barre?"

I'm gonna unpack why that question might be a bit of a stress bomb. For traditionally published authors, there is no control over the publication date of a particular work, or the terms have not been set yet, which makes it sort of a thorny thing to talk about. For agented writers without a publishing contract it's a painful reminder that the work has not been picked up yet and it adds a layer of pressure to the waiting game, which is already stressful enough. For writers who are just starting out, who maybe haven't finished a first draft of a novel yet, it's a bit like asking the person in the bottom of a ravine what the view is like from the summit of a mountain. Everything is unknown.
The dilemma here for the asker of the question is that you have no way of knowing where in the spectrum the writer actually is in any of this. Unless you ask.

It seems to me that this is a communications situation wherein nobody wins.
Maybe it's better if you loudly shout, "Writing!" at the writer accompanied by a thumbs-up gesture and a maniacal grin. Yes, we'll think you're weird, but we'll love you for it.

One thing that writers talk about a lot is numbers. Sales. Royalties. Marketing Analytics. You know, the boring business stuff. We talk with each other about these things, sometimes we'll offer up info in blogs or articles to help inform other writers, just to share what we have learned. But here's the thing... unless we are offering up our numbers for public view, DO NOT ASK A WRITER ABOUT THE NUMBERS.

It gives us hives. And anxiety. Hivexiety, if you will.

Questions about numbers come in these forms, "How many books did you sell?" or "How are sales? When are you going to see some money from this?"

I already feel my throat swelling shut.

The problem with numbers is that numbers determine everything, but of course those numbers are constantly moving. And there are a lot of folks holding up the machinery of publishing who get a cut when it comes to money. While it is no secret that not a lot of us make big money, asking us to show you how much feels a bit like getting pantsed. We stand there with our numbers exposed, waiting for everyone to laugh. In the opposite direction, we worry if we tell you that we sound like we're bragging, or that next you'll ask to borrow money. For traditionally published authors, there is an advance and then after the advance has earned out, there are royalty checks, so depending on when this question is asked, we can't give you an accurate answer, because we don't know.

"How many books did you sell?" is just as fraught as the money question. If someone else published the work, the author does not have access to those numbers, or at least not all of those numbers. If you ask a self-published author, it is an accomplishment to crack the 150 copy mark, but next to traditional publishing's best seller numbers 151 copies sounds a bit... anemic. In either case this brings the writer back to anxiety about the health of their career. Unless they are on a best-seller list. In which case, the question is probably welcome because that person then has an excuse to share their hard-earned excitement.

Money and writers are like a partially seen binary star system ejecting strange materials into the night sky. Sometimes, this relationship is a mystery unto us. So when you ask a writer, "So, how do you pay the bills?" we might be tempted to answer with a shrug and a nonchalant "No idea."

We pay the bills just like everyone else. It's just that a lot of us are juggling multiple jobs. Most writers have day jobs. We say that writers who do not have to have day jobs are lucky, but my bet is those writers have worked really hard to get to that point. So how do I pay the bills? I work all the time. I suspect that's how most of us do it.
(Speaking of work, you can find out more about mine at reggielutz.com )

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Guest Author: Author Alexis J. talks about Teenage Fan Fiction

As I spent the day today with my granddaughter, Alexis J., she started telling me a little bit about how fan fiction works, and so I decided to interview her about it and share it with everyone at Novel Spaces. Enjoy! (signed: Marissa Monteilh)

Q: I understand that you write fan fiction. Can you tell us what that is, and what type of stories you've written?
A: Fan fiction is where you, the fan, take a group of characters, one or more, from a particular band, play, movie, book or TV show, and you put them in your own story and create your own little world for them to live in by your means. I wrote Poison Love, a Vampire Diaries fan fiction title. Vampire Diaries is a TV show that airs on The CW. And I'm also writing about the band called One Direction. I take the members, Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, Louis Tomlinson, Niall Horan, and Liam Payne, on a journey in a story called Adopted by One Direction. I'm writing it in 2nd person, so you, the reader, are actually featured in the story, and you get adopted by One Direction; it tells about what happens when you get separated from your brother, Adrian, and how you cope with being without him, but with a group of five men instead. In the story, the guys are not famous, they're just regular guys. So far I have over 240 pages written.
Q: Why is it that we don't hear a lot about fan fiction?
A: Fan fiction isn't as popular because you can't really publish it; you post on your blog pages or other sites, but I think someone should find a way to get approval from the authors/writers to publish fan fiction so that followers can enjoy it in print, and other formats.
Q: Why do you write fan fiction?
A: One reason, but not the only reason I write fan fiction, is because it's actually easier. You already have popular, established characters that readers and viewers have bonded to. Plus it's a lot more fun for that reason because people can already relate to the characters. Like in my story Poison Love, I can take them through situations that the creator of the series hasn't done yet. I can throw in some awesome cliffhangers and my followers seem to beg for more. Like when Damon compels the main character, Echo, to remember all that she'd been compelled to forget. The readers were like, "Oh my gosh? Now she remembers everything!"
Q: Where can someone read stories, or post their own fan fiction stories? And what age group?
A: The main sites are Fan Fiction, Watt Pad, Movellas, and Quotev. The age group for what I write is usually teenagers. I write under a pen name.
Q: Do you see yourself starting more fan fiction stories, and if so, based on which already established shows/characters?
A: Yes I do. I love Beverly Hills 90210, so that would be cool, and maybe stories about some of my favorite singers, like Lorde, Ed Sheeran, and Hozier, who's from Ireland. He's so amazing! He sings Take Me to Church. That would be fun.
Q. Can we expect any follow up titles to Bailey and the Bully?
A: I'm still writing so many titles, but I'm not sure which ones will be published yet. I mainly write for fun. Bottom line is that I write every day, and that is what I enjoy.  

Bio: Alexis J. is a young storyteller who's always had a way with words. Writing is her favorite subject in school. She enjoys creating characters who go against what people in their lives would expect, and who even surprise her. Alexis' hobbies are singing and playing soccer. Bailey and the Bully is her first book.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Don't judge a book...

I don’t think there is a person on earth who has not heard the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”  While that may be a great metaphor for many other things, I don’t think anyone in their right mind would pick up a book with a half naked man and a woman on the cover locked in a sensual embrace and purchase it for a child.

Yes we definitely have to judge a book by its cover at least to gather basic information.  If you see a man wantonly staring into a woman’s eyes on the cover of a book, chances are it is romance.  And if you see a smoking gun, chances are its suspense or mystery.  Does that mean the book is well written?  That’s where the cliché comes in to play.  But the cover is exactly what we use to determine if we’re going to look at the book, much less purchase it.  You’ve all done it.  You look at the front cover then if it looks interesting you read the back and then the first chapter to determine if you’re going to purchase it.
A catching cover is extremely important to grab a reader’s attention in the ocean of books all vying for the same audience.  It is one of the greatest marketing tools an author has at his or her disposal.  Well known authors typically have their names in large lettering and the title of the book a little smaller.  If it’s part of a series, that information is prominently displayed.  If the author previously wrote a bestseller, the front cover typically announces, “Bestselling author of…”

That is why we have to be very careful when we choose a cover for our books.  It has to be attractive.  The font not only has to be legible but to evoke a certain feeling.  The picture on the cover should give an idea of the genre and generalization of what the book is about because if we don’t capture readers with the front cover, they won’t proceed to read the synopsis and hence purchase the book.

With that in mind, my publisher and I have been working on the cover design for my upcoming novel “Hurricane of the Heart”.  Choosing a cover is no small feat.  We had to make it eye catching; make sure the models are a loose representation of the lead characters, and that the cover tells something of what the story is about.

I’m  giving my Novel Spaces family a first peek at the cover.  If you can guess what the story is about by looking at the cover, please use the comment section to tell us.  If this is a cover that would make you want to purchase the book, please tell us.  And if it sucks, is too busy or is a turn off, tell us too.
Those who can guess the storyline accurately will be entered into a drawing and one lucky winner will receive a copy of Hurricane of the Heart when it is released later this summer.   I’m looking forward to your comments.

The great reveal: Jewel's new novel to be released this summer.  Guess the storyline from this cover for a chance to a receive  free copy of Hurricane of the Heart