Monday, January 30, 2017

Guest author J.D. Lakey: White Space

Eventually, no matter what kind of writer you are or how experienced you become, every writer gets the dreaded WRITER'S BLOCK. Oh, I am not talking about the little sputters, like when you are writing away, full steam ahead, damn the torpedoes, the juices flowing, amazing words are streaming out of your keyboard filling your empty screen with magic, and then all of a sudden, the fire dies, the juices dry up, the song inside your head goes silent and you stare at your fingers and wonder why they have forgotten how to type. All that white space on your screen glares back at you reproachfully.

Experience says that you need to turn off your computer and walk away for a moment. Usually you realize instantly that you have made your character do or say something that is out of character or you have broken the cardinal rule of fiction – show, don't tell, or worse, you have been editorializing - inserting your own personal opinions into a characters thoughts or dialogue, weighing the story down like a two-ton load of bricks.

So you go for a walk or turn on something mindless on the TV or clean your house, all the while clearing your mind so your subconscious can work out the problem. Sleeping on it always helps. The next day, you start fresh by deleting the offending words. Or paragraphs. Or chapters. In this new world of publishing, you have to wear many hats. So you put on your editor's hat and cut. It was good, that stuff you are now deleting. Maybe you save the old stuff. Shove it down to the bottom of the screen, thinking you will use it somewhere else, a couple chapters on. Trust me. You won't. Out of context, it has no meaning and if it was a dead weight now, it will be doubly so somewhere else. Get rid of it. If it needs to be in your story, you will write it again, only better.

True writers block, the kind where no matter what you write just sorta sputters and dies a pitiful death on screen can stop you cold for weeks on end. I got 50,000 words into book five of the Black Bead Chronicles when this happened. I wrote other things. I binge-watched Netflix. I read. I edited.

A couple short stories later - short stories are how I work out dialogue, or relationships, or plot ideas - I figured it out.

Other authors have written about characters taking on a life of their own. I wanted book five to be the last of the series. I wanted a happy ending – well, not happy, exactly, but an ending that put closure to all the threads of all the lives of all my characters. Apparently my characters did not want closure. They wanted a gods-honest, happily-ever-after-ending.

Well, crap.

I had just lit a figurative bomb and dropped it in the middle of the main character's life at the end of book four, Trade Fair. How the hell was this going to end well? I wrote a final scene for book five and then stopped. Here was the puzzle. How was I going to take the prologue and make a story that flowed like a river to that end?

A half dozen short stories later, I started writing Black Bead Chronicles again. I still didn't know how it was all going to work out, but I had forgotten that it did not matter. I don't so much write as tell stories, stories with twists and turns that always surprise me. I, more than any of my readers, want to know how the story ends. There will be a happily-ever-after ending. I promise, but it will be later, after all the adventures are done.

Can I say anymore than that? Nope. Which is why I keep writing.

J.D. Lakey is the author of The Black Bead Chronicles. Find her on Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads and YouTube.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Fiction-the Original "Alternate Facts"

Happy New Year and best wishes for 2017.

We have been off to an interesting start and without introducing any partisan politics at all I feel obliged to ask a question. In a world where we have incessant access to news (real and 'alternate'), do authors still have a job? Why should we as a society read fiction?

Kindergarten classes everywhere

We all learnt the definition of fiction and non-fiction. Fiction is not real. Yes, I know that you spent hours researching the history, geographic location, scientific details, etc for your book but it's just not real...or is it? Good fiction peals back the layers of our humanity and reveals the scars that we are afraid to expose in reality. One only has to look at the practice of banning books to understand the power of fiction in exposing dangerous ideology, dragging it into the light, and giving people a framework in which to express their own feelings about events in their societies. Studies have shown that when we read books covering topics that may be at odds with our own views, we read fiction with our guard down, open to new ideas; whereas we read non-fiction almost in a combative mode with our own beliefs in the forefront of our minds. As a result it is easier to influence someone's views on a matter through fiction than non-fiction.

This influence applies to all genres of fiction. A romance may open your mind the the idea of love among people from different backgrounds, races, or nationalities. A good murder mystery looks at the worst of humanity in the bad guy but gives us hope in the best as the hero/heroine risks their life to save the world. We as authors have a bigger role today not a smaller one and we must not shirk. We have to keep telling the truth through our stories and remind people of who they are.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Multiple Stories in the Works: How Can We Prevent the Multitasking Woes?

    For the past few months I’ve had at least three, and sometimes four or more, projects going at the same time. I’m doing research for and writing two novels and a five-thousand word short story. In between, I fit in blog posts, author interviews, reviews, and posts for social media. All that must make me happy. Right? I’m a writer, and a writer enjoys thinking, creating, writing.
   The truth is I do appreciate this new phase of my writing career. The ideas are there, people are asking me to write, and I love the variety. The main problem I have is finding time. I keep telling myself that each project is important. If I drop one for a week because I’m on a roll with another—hey, it’ll be fine.
   For instance, because I wanted to finish my short story that has a submission deadline in March in time to run it by my writing group in February, I gave up novel writing for a week or so in order to research, write, and revise the story. Now, I’m back gathering research for my barely-begun novel and writing the fourth book in my Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteryseries. Down side—I needed to think through my mystery from the beginning before I could continue writing.

Rethinking the story wasn’t all bad. It helped me resolve aspects of the plot, which is energizing. Too, I feel a freedom at having completed one project and have another waiting to delve into. Even writing this blog post about my multitasking woes has helped pacify the irrational tension I experience when I dwell on lack of time and focus. In fact, to make life easier, I’ve concocted a list of what I or any author might do when in this situation:
1. Prioritize a list of your projects and their deadlines, if any.
(Don’t give yourself unreasonable deadlines where they don’t exist—having nervous breakdowns isn’t good for authors.)

2. Each morning, compose a list of the writing you want to accomplish each day—goals.
(It can be just one thing—a chapter or a number of words. Trying to write three chapters when your day includes cooking and cleaning house for company might lead to writing in a straight jacket.)
3. Be flexible—carry over unfinished goals to another day.
(You might run into a snag that takes you back to the Internet, the library, or a field trip for more research—or to watching those funny cat videos on Facebook.)

4. Have patience—don’t let interruptions by family or friends drive you up the wall.
(Spiders and flies don’t write well.)
5. Remember, you read more than one book, watch more than one television series, and have conversations with more than one friend and manage to keep them all straight. Writing projects are no different.
Now, to follow my own advice. Patience may be the hardest for me. Do you have more than one writing project going at once? Do you have any advice about how to manage them? May all of us learn the

and be inspired.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Adult Coloring

            One of my favorite Christmas gifts in 2016 was an adult coloring book my sixteen-year-old bought for me, along with a gorgeous set of gel pens.

            You may have heard of adult coloring books; in fact, I would be surprised if you haven’t heard of them and the splash they’ve made in the last few years among adults all over the world.

            Lest you become confused, I can assure you that adult coloring books are not akin to adult bookstores or adult toys. They are simply coloring books much like the ones you used as a child; the difference is that they’re generally printed on higher-quality paper with much more intricate designs and complex patterns.

            If you’ve never tried it, now might be a good time to give it a whirl. I’ve been doing some research on the benefits of adult coloring and it turns out the activity is good for people in lots of ways.

1.      Coloring in adult coloring books increases mindfulness in the artist. The activity is sometimes even prescribed by mental health professionals in lieu of meditation, as a way for clients to calm down and decrease anxiety.

2.      Because adult coloring takes concentration, it diverts focus away from negative thoughts. It’s for this reason that adult coloring is sometimes used as part of the therapy regimen for people suffering from emotional and mental health issues. And because it allows the brain to rest, thereby calming the fight-or-flight response in the brain, it can also be helpful in treating PTSD.

3.      Adult coloring uses both the right and left sides of the brain. Not only is the artist using the creative and problem-solving part of the mind, but he or she is also using the part of the brain that controls focus, concentration, and organization.

4.      Adult coloring takes us back to childhood, when times were simpler and responsibilities were far fewer.

5.      It forces us to unplug!

6.      Though I keep referring to the person coloring as the “artist,” you don’t have to be an artist to create something beautiful. Anyone can do it, anytime, anywhere.

7.      The use of adult coloring books may aid eyesight, because of the intricate patterns and designs that are employed.

8.      As hobbies go, it’s not too expensive. A total of about $25 should buy you a nice coloring book and a good set of colored pencils or gel pens. When compared with hobbies such as surfing, needlepoint, cooking, and a million other activities, it’s a bargain!

9.      It can be social! As writers we’re often isolated, spending our days alone with the exception of the characters peopling our imaginations; adult coloring is a healthy hobby that we can do with other people. Host a coloring party: have people bring pens, pencils, crayons, and coloring books—you supply the snacks and drinks. That’s all you need. I’ve been to an adult coloring night at my church and it was one of the most relaxing evenings I’ve had in a long time.

So if you haven’t had a chance to partake in the coloring craze sweeping the globe, do it now! I bought my first coloring book at a local independent bookstore, and that’s still one of the best places I can think of to pick up a coloring book of your own. But you can find them in lots of other stores, too, and online. I know you’re dying to see examples of my own coloring, so here are a few photos:

A completed picture

A Work-in-Progress

Another work-in-progress

If you’re interested in reading more about adult coloring, take a look at these articles:



Thursday, January 19, 2017

Do You Write in the Bathtub?

In the past year I’ve seen two movies with scenes of writers pecking away at manual typewriters and conducting business by phone all while soaking in the tub. The first was Clifton Webb in Laura and the most recent was Bryan Cranston as Trumbo (both great movies). Apparently Dalton Trumbo actually did prefer the tub for cranking out his screenplays.  

The blog AnOther featured a post, “Where Writers Write,” stating that poet Rod McKuen and the queen of mystery, Agatha Christie, also found themselves at their most creative in the tub. Christie munched on apples while immersed.

Benjamin Franklin is credited with bringing the first bathtub to America from France. It is said that he read and wrote in the tub. See “Benjamin Franklin and the Bathtub” in The Daily Tubber.

According to the blog Postcripts, French playwright Edmond Rostand, creator of Cyrano de Bergerac, also wrote in his bathtub. Ditto for Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita. See the post, “The Work Habits of Highly Successful Writerson Postcripts.

Each to his or her own. Me? I’d rather work in my comfortable, and dry, bed.   

Writers, where do you like to practice your craft?

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Stressed to the Point that Writing Seems Impossible


  by Linda Thorne

Okay, I told some people I wouldn’t post about my time constraints with writing and promotion anymore, but here I am with nothing else to talk about except what feels like zero time to write, read, and promote. I am still meeting my deadlines for scheduled posts like this one and it's not easy.

Che Gilson’s last post on Novel Spaces was perfectly timed for me with her suggestions of a timer and calendars. My problem is I don’t think any recommendations would work given my current circumstances. I'm unusually busy at work. Actually, that is a huge understatement.

I’ve seen just about everything over my long human resources career. I went through a hostile takeover of a company in Denver. A former company I worked for lost its lease, built a new site and quickly doubled in size. The company I worked for on the Mississippi Gulf Coast went through a brutal restructuring. A move to the Central Valley of California took me to a manufacturing plant in business for 98 years, but after working there a year, we were given a year's notice that the plant would close. Chaos ensued as people bailed when we had to maintain full production up to the date of closure. 

In an effort to seek help, I put my current problem into the Google search engine and came up with a blog post called, 6 Habits to Help You Write When You Don’t Have the Time. The blog is Jeff Goins’, but it was written by a guest he invited, Tyler Braun. Brawn starts off with a quote from Katerina Stoykova Klemer, which says, “If you don’t write when you don’t have time for it, you won’t write when you do have time for it.”
Okay, I get it, but I think there's a caveat. Sometimes there may not be enough hours in the day to write, which does not mean you wouldn't write if you had the time.

In his post, Tyler Braun went on to list the 6 habits that he thought would help.

1. Figure out how many words per day
2. Leave yourself reminders to keep fighting
3. Get enough sleep
4. Always be ready to capture ideas and quotes
5. Never surrender
6. It takes discipline

I think his recommendations are great. I just think that sometimes if you are in an unusually crazy situation, none of the recommendations are going to work. Sometimes those recommendations to pace yourself, write a minimum amount of words, think positive, etc. aren’t going to get you there. I agree the most with number 5, “never surrender,” but my qualification of that phrase here is sometimes you have no choice but to retreat (not the same as surrender) until you find a way out of the situation that is blocking you, or wait until the turmoil is over.

Have any of you experienced life getting so in your face that any type of organized writing plan might not work?  

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Greased Pig contest

Many years ago, I was teaching in a private school. One year I was sponsor of what many of the faculty labeled as the most difficult of the senior classes-4D. Actually, I found them to be a very energetic and imaginative group, perhaps less concerned with the rules than most, and certainly less studious. But they were interesting, fun and goodhearted.

So it was no great surprise when they proposed holding a greased pig chase as a fund
raiser. I raised a number of objections, but they countered each with a reasonable answer. After seeking approval from administration, a date was set.

One boy in the class had an uncle who raised pigs, so that was taken care of. Posters were made. In fact, those in charge of publicity were very innovative . One day they were more animated than usual. The greased pig chase was being publicized on the local radio station most popular with high school kids. However, only students from our school could participate in the chase.

Entries began immediately ,with an amazing number coming from the freshman class. Briefly, I wondered if there was any coercion, but dismissed that thought. In fact, the whole school was buzzing about the upcoming porker party.

The day before the event, I received a call from an animal rights group. They were concerned about the safety of the pig. I thought to dismiss that thought also. The pig was soon to be shipped off to the packing house which would be a much worse experience than being chased by screaming teenagers. But the animal advocate was very serious. I explained that the pig would not be harmed. Once caught and secured by one or more students, he would be quickly returned to his home on the range. The contestants were allowed no tools, no aids at all. They must catch the pig using only their hands, and maybe their feet. Instantly, the pig's protector worried that someone might kick the pig. I assured her no kicking was allowed.

What were we going to put on the pig? Well, it was a "greased" pig contest. I guaranteed her it would be only natural products, quite possibly coming from the pig's ancestors.

"This might be too tiring for the pig," she continued. "I must insist you allow a rest period every five minutes." I suggested every fifteen minutes and we ultimately compromised on ten minutes. I wondered how effective this would be. Would the pig understand a rest period?

The day finally arrived and Joe drove his truck in with a very sturdy cage in the back with ... The Pig. To many, it looked like a wild boar. It snorted and banged against the cage, and several of the small freshmen began to have doubts about chasing this wild animal. Some worried the razorback might chase them.

The class committee decided to use vegetable oil to grease the swine, assuring the pig would be very hard to hold. Ten minutes before start time, students lined up behind a rope marking the starting line, and Joe and two classmates poured corn oil on the shoat, who didn't care for the attention. Hands would pop in and spread the oil and jerk back before the pig could bite.

Though close to eighty students had signed up, there were probably only fifty on the starting line. On the count of three, the rope was dropped and the door to the cage thrown opened.

Porky just stood there.

After railing against the cage, it didn't want to leave. Joe grabbed a pencil out of his shirt pocket, reached in the cage, and jabbed the pig in its hindquarters. The boar took off. And as the contestants started running and screaming, the pig kept running.

Two or three students got a hand on the porker, but the slippery oil let the swine escape. However, twin brothers had devised a plan and simultaneously dove at the pig from opposite sides. As the greasy bovine slipped out of one twin's hands, it put him in the brother's arms.

In three minutes, the contest was over. The twins held the oil covered pig down for the required thirty seconds and were declared the winners.

This special class, 4D, had once again deviated from the norm. During the week leading up to the event anticipation saturated the school and grabbed the attention of the entire student body and most of the faculty.

And though the contest was very short, everyone in attendance seemed to have a great time.

Except, perhaps, the pig.

James R. Callan, 2017

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Organized organization

Well, it's a NEW YEAR all caps for effect. And this year I have goals. One of my goals is getting my shit together. Like many other authors I tend to not be very organized. Unlike other, more productive authors, I haven't made many steps in the right direction.

But this year I have learned THINGS. I went to quite a few self publishing panels at Orycon in November and I learned many things, despite not being in a mood to learn things. But I took notes and they have been percolating and now it's time to turn them into action.

Action #1- get a wall calendar, and not some month by month jobber either- get the full year in one glance. It's laminated and you can write on it with white board markers (and erase them. But I've started adding on what I need to write, dates to start, and deadlines. This is important because one of the things I learned at the self-publishing panel is that it's important to reassess goals often. Look at what is working and what isn't. Do this every three months or so.

I hung it up behind my desk so I can look at it frequently and shuffle the dates around.

Action #2- get an hourglass. One of the authors got a tip from another author (Mary Robinette Kowal) to use a sandtimer to time their writing. The point is to have a silent timer- which unlike kitchen timers, doesn't go off and scare the crap out of you. So I also bought myself a half hour hourglass. Turns out you can get them in various intervals. I picked half an hour because it gives me enough time to get some writing done, but it is less intimidating than an hour. Another tip I got was to time your writing and build up your tolerance to writing in order to increase the length of time you can write. Hopefully I'll be doing 2-3 half hour sessions per day (though it hasn't happened yet)

So these are the tools I'm starting off the new year with! Here's hoping this year will be more productive than the last!

Do you have any tips for increasing productivity you'd like to  share?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Chapters - the Long and Short of it

Happy New Year!

Years ago I attended a book conference in New York, and one of the editors at a major publishing house suggested that authors keep their chapters short, anywhere from three to seven final version pages, because readers prefer moving along quickly in their zest for the story, and that readers can feel bogged down by long chapters. They said that some readers, before reading a chapter, will check to see how long it is before the next chapter so they can judge how much time they have if they're on their lunch break, or in bed, about to fall asleep. It also creates the sense of a rapid paced story with lots of movement. Short and sweet.

A lot of authors took heed and did just that, making a point of shortening their chapters. Some did not. I will say that I tried, but my style of writing works best when I go for what the characters need to show, say, and do, without having to remember to keep it short. I think it's all about writing style, and what we as authors are willing to try. Some of my chapters are under seven pages, and some are over ten, depending upon the scene.

As an author, do you purposefully concentrate on the length of your chapters - on word count - on the number of chapters, or do you go for it and serve it up as it's cooked, LOL?

Inquiring author-minds wanna know!

Write on!

Monday, January 2, 2017

...and may your dreams come true

Image result for Happy new year 2017It’s 2017, can you believe it? New Year, new beginnings, new everything, but same old problem: what should I blog about? New year’s resolutions? Definitely not. Been there, done that, over blown topic this time of year. And really does anybody keep the resolutions past February? I have made and kept resolutions in the past and I have broken so many that I had given up making resolutions for many years. However blogging on the 1st of the month especially in January, I have all but killed that topic, so I’m not gonna blog about resolutions.

Last month I intended to write about character development. I had a great article in my head about how the characters in novels should never be the same after they have lived the through all the twists and turns of the novel. I intended to bemoan the fact that many serial novels have leading characters that remain unchanged from book to book even though they may have lived through major life altering plots. But then, they say that the road to hell if filled with good intentions. I guess I’m on that road because in the business of life, the post never made it from my head to the computer, much less Novelspaces blog site. I’m not going to bore you with that blog anyway.

I guess I could write a reflection of 2016, how many great stars we’ve lost, or how little writing I got done and how much I could improve. But I’m sure there are too many blogs about that. I could write about the weight I’ve gained from Thanksgiving to New Years and how I intend to get it off, but based on the television, radio and internet commercials, there is too much of that topic circulating the blogosphere.

So in the absence of things to write about, I will just wish everybody, readers, writers, all who visit this blog site a bright and Prosperous New Year. And to the writers: May your writing dreams come true for 2017.  May you have bestsellers this year. May your publishing dreams come true. May your marketing strategies work for visibility and translate into sales. May your creative genius shine through that readers may read and enjoy your books.

Have a happy New Year, and may 2017 be filled with joy and fulfillment...

...and may your dreams come true.