Wednesday, February 29, 2012

!@#$%^&*!!!!!

Current Project: Sadie and William
Status: drafting

Because I knew this was going to be an exceedingly busy and stressful week, two days ago I spent and hour writing a lovely post about Edwardian clothing, which I am researching for my book.

I was wrong about how demanding this week would be--its worse!--and in my stress and exhaustion I apparently pushed the "discard" button instead of the one that saves the post as a draft.

SO! Here's what my post is about this week: when life happens, let go of any anger or criticisms you might heap upon yourself about not getting your goals met or your writing accomplished. Instead, cuss a little and move on.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Weekly Progress Check-In

Welcome!  This is the Mid-Willamette Valley RWA chapter's weekly progress check-in.

Did you meet your writing goals last week?  What do you plan to accomplish this week?

(The best prize is achieving your writing goals, but as an extra incentive, we will award gift cards from Powell's bookstore to the chapter member and the non-member who check in for the most weeks in 2012.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Eeek! No post!

Sorry, all.  No post today.  Dog had surgery today, and I totally forgot about everything else!  (She came through it okay, but it was scary. :-)

I'll write up something for my topic of pricing in self-publishing and will post it at my next blog time.

Have a good night, everyone!


Barb

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Today's Moment of Zen

Milford Sound, New Zealand, 2009 (click image for larger version)

I was going to write a post about the struggles I'm having with my current book, but I decided to share a picture of one of the most beautiful places on earth I've ever had the privilege to visit instead. The photo was taken in February of 2009 very early in the morning.

As for the book...I have the characters and the conflict, but the world just won't come together in the way it needs to in order to be believable. The decision I think I've come to is to give it another week and then put it on the back burner and move on. I know there's a book here, but perhaps I'm not ready to write it yet. Very frustrating.

Have you wrestled with a story, only to set it aside for another time? If so, did you ever go back and write it? Please share!

Deborah Wright
Twitter: @DeborahBWright

Monday, February 20, 2012

Weekly Progress Check-In

Welcome!  This is the Mid-Willamette Valley RWA chapter's weekly progress check-in.

Did you meet your writing goals last week?  What do you plan to accomplish this week?

(The best prize is achieving your writing goals, but as an extra incentive, we will award gift cards from Powell's bookstore to the chapter member and the non-member who check in for the most weeks in 2012.)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Animals in Books

Current Project: Will begin work on May Day Anthology
Status: Beginning to take shape in my head.




Source: google.com via Chris on Pinterest



Looking for an inspirational picture. I saw this one a while ago and remembered when I was a child. We had a parakeet. I was deathly afraid of it. I know there were several times it landed on my head or whirred by. I think I felt a little bit like this young lady. 


Although some might see this as an laugh out loud moment. Hmm....


Give me a dog any day. I don't want as many as Genene has, one is fine, thank you but dogs don't do weird things. 


So back to inspiration. I can see a short scene with something like this picture in any novel. I have dogs in my novels mostly. Emma in Dakota's Bride had a kitty which she left in a cave. One of my friends, a cat lover, pointed that out to me.  I had to think quickly "ah, lots of mice in caves, the kitty will do just fine." 


What kind of animals do you put in books?
What kind do you like to read about?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

IN LOVE WITH LIFE

Current Project: LEGACY series
Status: Editing and promotion!
Posted by: Genie Gabriel


I maintain the Web site for the NW Book Fest <http://www.nwbookfestival.com/>, so receive info on a wide variety of books written by Northwest authors. I love doing this! In addition to the many romance authors I know, I've met writers of children's books, political farces, spiritual weight loss, and poetry, just to name a few.

Today I received information from a man who makes books who signed his e-mail as "Bookmaker Jake." Curious, I checked out his Web site <http://www.storybankexchange.net/index.html>.

Turns out his books aren't covered and bound with traditional materials, but with gas cans and beer boxes and old sleeping bags and whatever he has on hand, bound with fishing line and, again, whatever he has on hand. 

His "office" might be on a mountain while helping a friend mine for crystals. Or on the banks of a swirling river. Or in a campsite. 

This 33-year-old man has a number of jobs from "human pack mule"--his words--to mental health case manager and about a half dozen others. 

However, what struck me the most wasn't his unusual book covers or his wide variety of work experiences. It was the thought "this man is in love with life."

I have to admit I was envious. Make no mistake that I love what I'm doing at this time in my life: writing, graphics, sharing space with a herd of doggies. But for the most part, I'm a serious ultra-responsible kind of person. 

Spontaneous, laugh-out-loud crazy behavior disappeared from my life somewhere. And I want it back. Well, in small doses when I can fit it into my schedule. :)

When was the last time had serious fun--without guilt--and what did you do? I'm looking for ideas.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Henry Miller's Writing Commandments

Current Project: Sadie and William
Status: Plotting

Some of the following is quoted.
This is Henry Miller. In the early-1930s, as he wrote what would become his first published novel — the hugely influential Tropic of Cancer --he also wrote a list of 11 commandments, to be followed by himself.


(Source: Henry Miller on Writing Image: Henry Miller, c.1950, courtesy of Answers.)

The list read as follows.

COMMANDMENTS
  1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to "Black Spring."
  3. Don't be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
  5. When you can't create you can work.
  6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
  7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  8. Don't be a drought-horse! Work with pleasure only.
  9. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
  10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
  11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.
Do you have a list of commandments that you follow when writing? I think most writers have more trouble with loneliness than I do, as I am rarely in the house alone and am constantly being interrupted. But I can certainly identify with the desire to structure a writing life as evidenced by this list.

Creativity is a wild thing, never wanting to be tamed. I, too, find myself struggling to narrow my focus, to stay on task until a thing is done. But I'm also a perfectionist, and "done " is something I find must be defined externally.

I think, were I to make a list of writing commandments for myself, it would go something like this.
  1. Write what makes you happy. Write for yourself. Strive exclusively for internal approval. If you like it, keep it. If its enough for you, don't embellish it.
  2. Even if it's crap, just get it on the page. You can always improve it later.
  3. Finish each writing session in the middle of a paragraph, page, or idea, so you have something to go on with in the next writing session.
  4. Beware off-topic meanderings. They're costly.
  5. Perfection can't be. Strive for imperfect beauty, as nature does.
  6. Outline the saggy middle.
  7. Write regularly.
  8. Trust yourself.
Making this list was good, pleasant, enlightening, useful. If you haven't done such a thing, I recommend it. Share if you wish; I, for one, would love to read it.

Happy Writing

Monday, February 13, 2012

Weekly Progress Check-In

Welcome!  This is the Mid-Willamette Valley RWA chapter's weekly progress check-in.

Did you meet your writing goals last week?  What do you plan to accomplish this week?

(The best prize is achieving your writing goals, but as an extra incentive, we will award gift cards from Powell's bookstore to the chapter member and the non-member who check in for the most weeks in 2012.)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

So...It Seems I have missed a post

Current Project: I'm not sure
Status: Haven't started


Sorry all, I thought my post was next Friday and I just happened to check the blog when I discovered Genene's post. Now I know my post is after hers. So to all of you who wait in suspense for my blog (LOL) I apologize. I don't remember seeing my reminder. I guess I am getting old.


So, I will post a great mind boggling picture. Maybe a picture that will inspire a scene in a story.



 

Thursday, February 09, 2012

It's About Character

Today I'm going to talk about two of my very favorite female characters. Though they come from books in wildly disparate genres, both characters are fully realized as individuals. They're both characters I'd love to meet in person—for the snark, if nothing else. Who these characters are is shown through the skillful use of thought and action, without the respective authors resorting to superfluous description.



Tremaine Valiarde is the heroine of Martha Wells' The Fall of Ile-Rien fantasy trilogy (books: The Wizard Hunters, The Ships of Air, The Gate of Gods). Tremaine is witty, exasperating, sarcastic, snarky and ruthless, and she has a slightly morbid sense of humor. We're introduced to her in the very first sentence of The Wizard Hunters:

It was nine o'clock at night and Tremaine was trying to find a way to kill herself that would bring in a verdict of natural causes in court when someone banged on the door.


Confession time—that sentence is my favorite first sentence of any book I've read to date. Within the next paragraph it's made clear Tremaine's family history is rather...unconventional. Consider the following:

The library at Coldcourt was ideal for this, being large, eclectic, and packed with every book, treatise and monograph on murder and mayhem available to the civilized world.


Coldcourt is the name of her family home—and doesn't it convey just the right amount of gothic shivers all on its own without any further description? There's a war of magic going on in Tremaine's homeland of Ile-Rien and, indeed, across much of her world, and her people are losing. The sorcerer at her front door is an old friend of Tremaine's deceased father. He's looking for a magical sphere left in Tremaine's care and he requests Tremaine's aid with it, telling her he knows what he's asking is dangerous. The first chapter ends with:

Dangerous. Tremaine stared at him. That's perfect. She nodded. "Give me a few minutes to get dressed."


I love this. Tremaine isn't the sort of character who jumps at the chance to be a hero (or heroine, if you prefer), nor is she even a reluctant hero—she couldn't care less about any of that. No, she's only willing to dive in feet first because she sees it as the answer to her problem. Surely she won't survive anything so dangerous.

The rest of The Wizard Hunters sees Tremaine and her friends dislocated into an alternate universe where they're captured and escape (several times, actually), and where they make new alliances. Tremaine throws herself (recklessly and snarkily) into danger again and again and again. By the time it finally dawns on her that she doesn't actually want to kill herself she finds she can't stop leading by example. She's become used to facing danger head on and she's learned she's a lot more brave and resourceful than she ever imagined.

My second favorite female character is Minerva Dobbs from Jennifer Crusie's Bet Me, a contemporary romance. Consider our introduction to Min in the very first paragraph:

Once upon a time, Minerva Dobbs thought as she stood in the middle of a loud yuppie bar, the world was full of good men. She looked into the handsome face of the man she'd planned on taking to her sister's wedding and thought, Those days are gone.


All through this first scene, Min's thoughts are a hilarious counterpoint to her boyfriend's seriousness while he dumps her:

"This relationship is not working for me," David said.

I could shove this swizzle stick through his heart, Min thought. She wouldn't do it, of course. The stick was plastic and not nearly pointed enough on the end. Also, people didn't do that in southern Ohio. A sawed-off shotgun, that was the ticket.


In a less talented author's hands, Min could have come across as either a ditz or a complete cynic, but Jennifer Crusie strikes just the right balance. Min is intelligent, confidant, and her journey to love is full of laughter and, of course, snark.

My fondest hope is that one day I will create characters half so memorable as Tremaine and Minerva.

Now it's your turn. Tell me about a favorite character and why she/he stands out to you. I'm always on the lookout for a new character to meet.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Adventures in Self-Publishing: Getting the Details Right

Today's post on the mysteries of self-publishing is on "Getting the Details Right."

One of the most exhausting parts of this process is being in charge of everything--not just writing, but editing, proofreading, design, publishing, publicity. It's easy to slip up in one way or another, and it can cost sales... and hurt your brand in the long run.

I've seen a couple of mistakes made by very successfully self-published authors during my research that I want to pass on today.

First, I saw an author whose work I enjoy was self-publishing some older books after the rights reverted to her. I was thinking of buying an anthology of these stories... until I started reading reader reviews. Over and over I saw low ratings and complaints, and I was surprised. This is, like I said, an author I personally enjoy reading. So I did some digging into the negative reviews and saw a pattern: people weren't complaining about the stories themselves, they were annoyed by little things that ruined their enjoyment of the stories. The two most-mentioned problems were 1) spelling and grammar errors, and 2) technical problems with reading the text on the Kindle. I'm guessing that this author simply took the raw text she had originally turned in to her publisher and uploaded it to the Kindle. The problem was, this copy had not been copyedited and was full of typos and grammar mistakes. Oops. The second problem was that the text had no markers, page breaks or bookmarks, which made it impossible for readers to find an individual story in the anthology. The complaints had gotten so numerous that other readers were saying things like "I won't buy it because of your negative review. Thanks."

The second author is one of my personal favorites. She's doing very well with publishing her backlist, but one of her books I noticed had many negative reviews. When I looked I saw that the one-star reviews were by readers who said things like "this was supposed to be a thriller/mystery/suspense story, but it was some mushy romance. I hate romances," and "there weren't enough twists and turns in the mystery and the characters spent too much time talking to each other." The problem? The cover design had a suspenseful feel to it, and the book description described the mystery part of the plot, and said nothing about the fact that it was actually a romance with a suspense subplot.

What's the lesson from this? Both of these authors have large fanbases, so I'm sure a few negative comments aren't going to do them much harm. But those of us who don't have the large built-in audience count on that word of mouth to bring us new readers. We can't afford to make easily correctable errors.

In the first case, it brought home to me the importance of editing and proofreading, and getting that darned Microsoft Word to Kindle formatting conversion figured out (my current bugaboo). The little things, like having clean, easy to read text and good navigation within the book can profoundly affect the readers' enjoyment, or lack thereof. Check, double-check, and check again before uploading the book. That's my lesson.

The second case is a different lesson. This shows that writing a good book, formatting it well and providing compelling description and an interesting cover design isn't enough. Look hard at what message you're sending to potential readers. If your book is sexy, make sure your cover and description and keywords emphasize that; if it's funny, let 'em know. Don't assume that anyone will know what your book is about just based on your name, or what category your book is listed in. A few sales roped in by misleading promotion will cost you in the long run, when those readers tell all their friends to avoid your work because it's not what they expected.

Whew. Who knew this was going to be so complicated? But it's a fascinating process, and I look forward to posting next time, Wednesday, February 22, when the subject will be the mysteries of pricing.

Barb

Monday, February 06, 2012

Weekly Progress Check-In

Welcome!  This is the Mid-Willamette Valley RWA chapter's weekly progress check-in.

Did you meet your writing goals last week?  What do you plan to accomplish this week?

(The best prize is achieving your writing goals, but as an extra incentive, we will award gift cards from Powell's bookstore to the chapter member and the non-member who check in for the most weeks in 2012.)

Friday, February 03, 2012

Aurora

Current Project: May Day novella (I think)
Status: just starting research



Source: tumblr.com via Chris on Pinterest



Aurora


This is one of the most gorgeous pictures I have seen. Photograph is so beautiful and it is something I would like to hone my skills on. The last four days my husband and I were on a mini vacation. We went to Discovery Bay in Washington. Not too far away, secluded and there was no one there. We had thought to take the ferry from Port Angelas to Victoria but the ferry wasn't running. It is always shut down this time of year for maintenance.  


But the time was wonderful. I find that being somewhere where there are no demands on housecleaning or time or anything else usually results in some productive hours. These are free hours--hours to be spent anyway I want to spend them. If I choose to do nothing, I don't feel the least twinge of guilt. If I'm reading a book, I don't think about the dusting or the vacuuming. LOL, not that I do that much cleaning. It's just that the work is always in the back of my mind.


I love the posts this week. They were all so insightful. 

Thursday, February 02, 2012

LOVE YOURSELF FIRST!



Current Project: LEGACY series
Status: Preparing for launch of first book on March 1!
Posted by: Genie Gabriel






I had decided to base my February blogs on the topic of "love." A bit trite perhaps with Valentine's Day this month, but let's approach love from a different angle: self-love.

I've been receiving e-mails from the self-professed Queen of Self Love, Christine Arylo. A very funny lady and a bit over-the-top for me sometimes, but she makes some good points. The main one is you have to love yourself before you can truly love someone else. 

Perhaps that's why character arcs in my stories are so important. Usually my heroes and heroines have suffered some pretty serious trauma. It may have been physical, but has definitely left its emotional mark. These characters must overcome their own emotional trauma before they can fully love their perfect hero or heroine.

Here's one of the ways Christine Arylo suggests loving yourself: 
"Take a Self-Love Soak. Candles. Bath. Bath Salts. Music. Lip Liner. Beautiful Bar of Soap. Undress. Write words and sonnets of love all over your body with the lip liner. Get into the bath. Gently rub the soap over the love words and feel them soaking into your cells."

As writers, we often squeeze writing into an already full life. So taking care of ourselves is pushed even farther down on our priority list. However, during February--and every month--I invite you to do something special for yourself. Take that self-love soak. Or prepare a meal of your favorite foods. Or go for a walk and look for beautiful things in nature. I'm noticing daffodils and other spring flowers coming up strongly already!

I'd love to know how your pamper yourself, so please share.

Self-hugs to you all!


Wednesday, February 01, 2012

How Much Sex is Too Much?

Current Project: "Hims" has a new name: Beyond a Heart
Status: First twenty pages have entered a contest :)

Have you ever read Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy? If you haven’t, you’re seriously missing out. If you like spunky female protagonists and romances, and have even a passing tolerance for historicals, you should enjoy it. Ms. Heyer’s writing is wonderful.

Last summer when my fourteen year-old daughter was bored she asked me for a book. Hmm, what to give her? She had been reading Anne McCaffrey’s Pern and James Patterson’s Max, online manga and Graceling, by Kristin Cashore, while she waited for the 4th Eragon book. Seeing a pattern here? If it had a dragon in it, at least one that wasn’t the villain or the victim, she was all over it. No dragon? Hmm, then throw in some magic or adventure and she’d try it.

I hesitated to give her any romances both because of her age and her reading preferences. But The Grand Sophy, that’s a story out of the ordinary; she would probably like it, right?

Right. She devoured it and asked for more Georgette Heyer. I gave her These Old Shades. Watching anime with subtitles hadn’t prepared her for all the French, of course, but she liked it anyway, and ever since she has been more open in her reading preferences. Last week, after another request for something new to read, I gave her Gail Carriger’s Souless, the first in the author’s steampunk series (I love this series title), The Parasol Protectorate. My daughter really liked it and quickly picked up the next one off my shelf, Clueless.

But last night she came in and said she might not finish Clueless; there’s too much technology in it. She wants something from an older time. I had just finished Mary Balogh’s A Summer to Remember, set in the late regency period in England, and thought it might fit her requirements. It has a few sex scenes, but they’re not too bad, and she’s fifteen now, I thought, it should be okay. She started on it right away and about five pages in came and told me she was already in love with the hero.

Then this morning one of those sex scenes popped into my head. Uh, er, that was quite a bit more, uh, detailed, than I remembered it being last night when I gave her the book. I tried to self-talk my way back into the parental comfort zone. It’s only a few pages out of hundreds, it’s not Lora Leigh or Emma Holly, for goodness sake, just a mild scene of consensual premarital sex between loving adults who will end up married. Probably. I still haven’t managed to completely quiet the internal fit I’m having. I will most likely talk with her about it, see what she thinks. She’s a pretty level-headed kid.

But this whole thing brought up another issue that I’ve been dealing with in my writing: how much sex is the right amount?

I write light. Funny. Cheerful. I sometimes read dark but I don’t have any interest in writing it; I’m not even sure I could.

I write so light that several times, after a first reader has looked at a dozen or so pages for me, I’ve been asked if I’m writing Young Adult. At first I just said, no, keep reading, you’ll get to the sex scenes, but after a while I got tired of hearing it. I actually went back and increased the sexual tension in the very first scene, even though I hadn’t wanted to, hadn’t felt the story needed it, felt, in fact, that the initial nature of the heroine was innocent enough that it was wrong to do so. I don’t get asked that at all anymore about that story, but that first change had a cascade effect, and the whole voice and flavor are different now. The manuscript actually went off track because of this. I’ve put it to simmer on the back burner of my brain for a while and started writing something else.

So, what is the right amount of sex? The Mary Balogh book I gave my daughter has nearly 400 pages and only about 9 of them include sex. The rest of the book is eminently suitable for a reader my daughter’s age, perhaps even younger. If Ms. Balogh had left out some of the details, written, in fact, a little more in the way that Ms. Heyer did, I wouldn’t even be thinking about this. But would I have enjoyed it as much myself?

Part of this question is about readership, which ultimately leads, if you’re lucky, to income. If I publish a particular work as a Young Adult romance, women might buy it for their older children and then read it themselves. They might then recommend it to their friends and their friends’ daughters.

On the other hand, some women might only be interested if it were marketed strictly for adults. There are, after all, many more adults than teenagers with the money to buy books. And, I think, a lot of teenagers would be embarrassed to be caught reading much of what is currently called romance (as opposed to works from the romantic period of art and literature, 1770 to 1870, such as Poe, Shelley, Tolkien, Austin, Dickinson, Doyle, and Dumas).

Another consideration is length. No, not that length (geesh!), the length of the story. A young adult novel typically comes in at 40-50k words, whereas an adult work of that word count would be considered a novella and would have an entirely different marketing strategy. Getting a few sex scenes worked into a shorter story also requires a different writing strategy. The pace is different, too. And there are subject matter considerations as well.

Everything about writing for any particular market seems to come down to balance. Sacrifices must be made. And if one doesn’t write with a particular market in mind, which can be risky because of the timing, then when the manuscript is finished it may be less likely to be picked up, due, ironically enough, to marketing concerns. I have heard many stories about books-of-the-heart never finding a publisher, not because its poorly written, but because it’s a genre crossover.

I have read, and I agree, that a great sex scene is more about the emotions of the characters than the technicalities of Tab A and Slot B. So why must a lighthearted, funny story loaded with double entendre and rich emotion instead of porn-style graphics be any less appealing to an adult than to a young adult? I am baffled by this, and yet it is an issue that I have had to face repeatedly.

I haven’t resolved this issue to my own satisfaction, no pun intended—no, really!—and I fear that my writing may continue to stall out until I do so. I waffle back and forth between my desire to write what I want—to me it feels a lot like Heyer-inspired sci-fi it but has recently been compared to Jane Austin(wow!)—and my desire to publish something so exciting that its popularity will rage across the planet like wildfire…like Harry Potter or Twilight. Wait, which pages were those sex scenes on again? I can’t seem to find them…Oh well, back to writing Fun with Muffy and Dick.