Monday, October 5, 2015

On the Road With My Mom and My Manuscript

Post by Jenny

Last weekend, I drove my mom to Wichita, Kansas so she could join some high school classmates for a birthday party. I love road trips—when my husband is driving. When I’m the one behind the wheel for hours on end, I alternate between fidgety boredom and sweaty anxiousness, with no comfortable middle ground. But I’m proud to say that I stepped up as a daughter and volunteered to drive—without so much as a single Google search for Greyhound bus schedules.

At some point during the planning process, my mom suggested that I bring one of my manuscripts. At first I wasn’t sure I wanted a critique session as we sped along I-70 in the close confines of my automobile. My mother is a great champion of my writing, but she doesn’t read fiction, and I have occasionally found her feedback to be the tiniest bit confusing and frustrating. Then I thought, what the heck, it might be fun, and I tossed the hard copy in my bag on the way out the door.

With a few hours of our return trip remaining, my mom started reading. At first, I heard the occasional chuckle or thoughtful “hmm.” Then things got quiet. Very quiet. I hoped it meant she was enthralled, but when I glanced over, I saw that she was sound asleep, her head tilted forward, the pages loose in her hand.

She woke when I hit a small bump.

“Mom,” I said. “Maybe you shouldn’t try to read now.”

“No, it’s fine. I’m able to pick up right where I left off.”

Two seconds later, she was asleep again.

Honestly, I didn’t blame her. She’d had a busy weekend, and it was warm and sunny in the car. But I also couldn’t help thinking, egads, is it really that bad? I don’t think it is, I’ve had other people tell me it’s not, but I won’t soon forget the image of my mother chin-to-chest with my manuscript in her lap.

As writers, we can only control what the readers read, not how they read it. We can’t tell them not to read when they’re overly tired, or half-drunk, or distracted. We can’t tell them not to skip chapters or to never, ever read the last page first. All we can do is write the stories we have in us to the best of our ability and hope that we haven’t also accidentally created a cure for insomnia.

Though there’s probably good money in that. I'll let you know.

Friday, October 2, 2015

She said it way better than me...

by Kelly Baugh

The kids have been back in school for nearly a month and that means coherent thought has slowly been returning to me in flashes of beauty and insight.

An idea for better character development in a manuscript I'm revising.

A plot twist that will make for a much more dramatic conflict in a new rough draft.

A clever way to hide organize all my husband's climbing ropes in our new house that minimizes questions from guests as to why we have thousands of ropes clutter.

I've also started to read and listen to interviews from a wide range of authors. It's fascinating to see how all of us come at our craft from such different places. However, the best one I've read in the past few weeks is the one I found on Elizabeth Gilbert on Brain Pickings.

You should most definitely read and listen to the interview in its entirety (I've included the link below), but here's one quote to mull over on this beautiful fall morning:

"You know, [trying to force your writing/muse] is the same thing as the question of free will and destiny, the question of creativity — you, the artist, you’re not the puppet of the piano, you’re not the puppet of the muse, but you’re not its master, either. It’s a relationship, it’s a conversation, and all it wants is to be treated with respect and dignity — and it will return ten thousand times over."

For the rest of the interview, click here. And here's to not forcing our creativity, but instead allowing it the freedom found in any healthy relationship.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The DMV: A Writer's Smörgåsbord

By J.C. Lynne

I’m the first person to say that the Department of Motor Vehicles, the place where you go to update, replace, or get your driver’s license, is the portal to Hell. 
The Reaper's Gladys, the DMV Demon

I’m serious. It’s the actual gateway to the underworld. Okay, I’m speaking of our local DMV offices, but I think most people would agree. 

Let’s face it, you’re not getting out of there in less than three hours and it’s three hours of grumpy, disgruntled humanity.

I attribute this to the lack of windows at our branch. Fluorescent lights and interminable waiting times are enough to tax even the most cheerful spirits. 

I see the clerks trying and I see the moment they concede defeat.

With three children all over driving age and the passing fleet of cars associated with having three driving children, a motorcycle and two driving adults, I've spent my fair share of time at both the County Clerk and the driver's license office.

Son 2 thinks the driver's license queue should involve putt putt golf. No one can arrive at the counter unhappy after putt putt.

The county clerk and recorder is a different universe. Sure, if you get out of there in less than two hours it’s a miracle, but it’s a happier place. Folks chat with each other. The clerks are patient and smiling. There’s cheering when they’re able to skip through more than three numbers. 

They have windows. That’s my theory. Windows and plants creates a more cheerful environment. 

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned the Beard and I purchased a Mini Cooper. It’s as fun as THEY say. Of course, it needed new plates. Due to a miscommunication, we thought the Beard was the only one of us who could go get plates. 

If you don’t know, you need copious amounts of paperwork to get new plates and it can’t be just any paperwork. If you’re name isn’t on that paperwork, you cannot get plates. 

Monday morning saw the Beard heading to the county clerk office. Now, the clerk’s office opens at seven-thirty, but the Beard can barely rouse before eight so he hit the nine a.m. rush. 

Even if the place is fully staffed, you’re not getting out in under two hours. Waiting for bureaucracy isn’t the Beard’s strongest trait. Sure, he’s patient with the circus because we’re entertaining and he drinks. 

In any case, he cried uncle at an hour, out of coffee, and grumpy. 

He meant for me to rearrange my Monday plans to return to the clerk’s office, but homie wasn’t playing that. 

I shifted my Tuesday plans around and arrived at the office at seven-thirty. Don’t get me wrong, it took two and half hours for my number to be called. I took my coffee and a book. And my writer's frame of mind.

I eavesdropped on three different conversations between my fellow number holders. As before, folks chatted. Folks cheered when a clerk shot through three numbers. Small children gathered in groups to spin circles and crawl under chairs. 

There are few places where you can observe such a wide swath of humanity. It’s a circus in its own right and as the ringmaster of our particular big top I’m quite comfortable there. 

I've filed a couple of characters away for future use. I've jotted down a few sentence gems. And I walked out of there with plates.

It’s a writer’s treasure trove. 

Next time, I'll bring popcorn.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Failure and Success are Inseparable

By Jennifer Goble

J. Watson, Sr., the chairman and CEO of IBM from 1914 until 1956, is attributed with saying, “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.”

Writers know, all too well, the agony of rejection and subsequent self-degradation.

Examples of authors ( who modeled tenacity in the grueling world of publishing:

  • Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind was rejected by 25 publishers.
  •  The Dr. Seuss book, And to Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street, was rejected for being "too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant selling.”
  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull was rejected 40 times.
  • C.S. Lewis received over 800 rejections before he sold a single piece of writing.
  • The manuscript for The Diary of Anne Frank received the editorial comment, "This girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the curiosity level.”
  • Louis L’Amour was rejected over 200 times before he sold any of his writing. 
  • The San Francisco Examiner turned down Rudyard Kipling’s submission in 1889 with the note, "I am sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just do not know how to use the English language." 
An agent told me, “Who would ever read this? Why did you even write about Terri, her story is so pointless!” I was crushed. It took me several weeks to pickup my manuscript, reread it, and determine, again, my client’s stories, discouraging as some were, had the potential to help many people.

The process of proudly holding a book we author involves years of practice and circles of success and failure. If we expect immediate contracts and financial independence, we are truly unrealistic. That was me. My learning curve was vertical.

My granddaughter golfing reminds me of the years of practice, frustration, criticism, discouragement and glimmers of hope that precede success. Writing is not golf, but it is similar. Golfers swing at a tiny target, for years, before feeling consistent competence. Writers do the same with letters and words; practice, control, improve.

If we truly want to achieve, we must remember  we learn with every failure, every lesson increases our odds of success, and practice reaps improvement. 

We all started writing as young children, and if we allow failure to guide us through success, our words will eventually influence, entertain, or educate others. 

What helps you maximize failure? 

Until the next time: Live while you live!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Parenting Your Novel

By Sarah Reichert

If you haven’t heard me squawking about it yet, my second book, Finding Destiny, is now available through The follow up to Fixing Destiny has got me thinking about the process and realizing that second books are like second kids.

The first one you wrap in bubble wrap. You carry hand sanitizer around and spray it at any cooing onlooker within twenty feet before they can get too close. You swear off anything non-organic, banish sugar, and keep the noise level in the house to below “pin-drop” during nap times. This is your amazing creation after all, and that’s what it deserves.

Then along comes the second child. 

Second children tumble down the stairs (more than once…maybe even three times, relax she only lost a couple of base memories) They eat dirt-speckled suckers from off of the ground (I did the ‘germ-killing’ blow on it maneuver, it's probably fine), and fall asleep on the sidelines of motocross races (ah, the sweet soothing sound of 200 decibels).

As a result, first children tend to be more cautious. They are more likely perfectionists and pleasers. Consequent children tend to build themselves off of your inattention and the necessary ‘giving-up’ of certain regulations. With the second you are more relaxed, you know that you probably won’t kill it. You know that it will survive without a nap, though you may not, and will still grow even if some meals are comprised solely of tater tots and grape jelly.

My second book was more fun to edit and polish, because I’d let go of so many pretenses I had with the first. I lowered my expectations; not in the quality of the work, but in the outcome of its release. Though the same amount of soul-clenching love was devoted to both, I’m more relaxed when talking about it, and much more willing to take suggestions, make changes, and let go of it’s imperfections.

Raising that little darling to adulthood is over, and I’ve sent it out into the world with all of my love. Now I’ve got its little sister, my third and final book in the series in front of me. I’m not going to cry at its first haircut, (i.e. sending it off to the editor for the first time.) I’m not going to faint when its red-marked ‘knees’ come back.

I finally feel like a writer. Which is something I’ve been waiting to feel for a good while now.

If you have some extra cash laying around and want to help a starving artist (and don't mind a little romance), here's where you can find my books. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Leave a Lasting Impression

By April Moore

Oh geez. 

I’m not sure what impression I tried to make here, but if Facebook had been around in 1982, you bet I would have posted this gem. 
I’m not known for making a great impression, or even an appropriate one, and I often tell myself I should stick to leaving an impression with my books, essays, and stories. (Even then, that's hit or miss.)

Writers leave impressions because they want their name and/or their work to be remembered. Author Kristen Lamb made a hilarious impression by promoting her books using feminine hygiene products. (Seriously, it’s hilarious.) When it comes to book promotion and signings, I tend to lack the creativity to come up an impression-leaving gimmick, so I try to leave an impression with my work. 

We often hear about having a strong beginning to snag readers, which is important, but what about an ending? Isn’t that your final opportunity to leave a lasting impression? It could be what’ll make a reader hug the book to her chest and sigh, or close the book and say, “Hmph. I was kind of hoping for . . .” Even if she enjoyed the rest of the book, the impression you leave at the end, can change how she feels about the entire book. That can also be a good thing. What if the reader found the book just okay, but the ending brought it all together? It happens. Obviously, our goal as writers is to wow from start to finish. 

Every book and story is different and it doesn’t have to  be a happy ending or a cliffhanger, as long as it leaves the impression you hope it will. Take a step back and decide what your overall message is and bring your story around to that; hint at it, at least. Maybe you’re trying to bring awareness to a particular issue. Or you hope readers will be more open-minded about something. Or perhaps you just want them to close the book, smile, and write a raving Amazon review. 

Endings can be difficult to write; they’re not usually my favorite part to come up with, but they are very important to the reader, so devote a good deal of attention to them. You only have one opportunity to leave a last impression.

 How do you leave an impression as an author?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Fail Bigger

Post by Jenny

Last month, I confessed to watching a few too many episodes of American Ninja Warrior this summer. Well, full disclosure here: I didn’t see the error of my ways after that post. I just kept right on tuning in until the end of the season, which is thankfully pretty short. For those of you who have never seen the show, there are no actual ninjas (I know, bummer, right?), just a series of increasingly diabolical obstacle courses which require ninja-like speed, strength, and skill. The final challenge is a climb up Mt. Midoriyama—doubly disappointing in that a) it is not a real mountain but a rope climb, and b) it has nothing to do with that bright green melon liqueur.

Both men and women compete, but the men typically have more success, probably due to their different weight distribution, greater average muscle mass, and overall longer reach. One very notable exception is former NCAA Division 1 gymnast Kacy Catanzaro, a 4’11” dynamo with a 100-watt smile and legion of loyal fans.

To cut to the chase: at the Stage 1 Vegas Finals, the Mighty Kacy failed on the second obstacle. And it was a pretty epic fail, one that left the crowd open-mouthed in stunned silence. You’ve heard the saying “shoot for the moon, and even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”? Well, sometimes you land in a cold pool of Ninja Fail Water. After I watched it, and Kacy’s tearful interview, I thought, well, I’ve failed at my share of things, but at least I’ve never failed that big in front of that many people.

That’s good, right?

Not necessarily.

Sure, YouTube has taught us that epic fails often happen to common-sense-challenged people with too much time (and beer) on their hands. But they also happen to really talented, hard-working people who set ambitious goals and then do their darndest to reach those goals. The bottom line, Ninja writer friends, is that if you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough. Have you ever written something you really loved but couldn’t muster the courage to submit it because you didn’t want to face that “no thanks” email? And how is that working out for you? (I can tell you from personal experience that it doesn’t work at all.)

Failure can be scary and depressing, but it is flat-out one of the best teachers around. Start small if you have to, but make room for failure in your writing life. Once you do, it becomes easier to fail bigger and fail better, and pretty soon, you might not be failing at all.

How has failure helped you as a writer?

Share a Post