Friday, July 31, 2015

A Space of My Own

By Sarah Reichert

I’m constantly making deals with myself. "Two extra miles and hot coffee is waiting for you at home" or "Clean the bathroom and then you can read". I live in the balance of give and take. It inspires me to do the things I may not necessarily want to in the moment. Very basic psychology/reward system but I've had a change in my thinking.

For a long time now, I’ve had a deal that when one of my novels got published, an actual contract with actual pay, I would let myself revamp the upstairs loft for an office of my own.  It’s been one of the driving forces that has gotten me through almost three full length novels. But I’ve started to stall.  See, I write at the kitchen table, and it works…sort of. I love being in the midst of the chaos and the blaring pony voices from morning cartoons, shifting from scene building and emotional confessions to getting more cereal or wiping up spilled milk. Its how I’ve done it for a long time. 

My youngest will be going to kindergarten this year for half day (because I’m one of those moms who isn't quite ready to let go yet) and I’ll be thrown into a strange position of having three hours of uninterrupted time every morning to do whatever I want. I could stay at that kitchen table and plug away, probably for years, at that publishing deal and it would be fine. 

But given that I’ve already proven I can stick with a book to the very end, it is not my drive that’s in question. The question becomes instead: What have I given to myself in return for those long hours at the kitchen table? 

It’s easy for parents, moms in particular, to become martyrs. We don’t need much and tell ourselves we don’t deserve to overtake a room with our notes, books, pens, journals, and inspirational click-clack. 
Enjoy, because in a few months, this office will NOT look this organized.

But we do deserve to put ourselves in the best possible place to succeed.  

I want a space, a grown up one, without cheerios stuck to the table next to me and the evidence of all the cleaning I should be doing nagging me from all sides. 

Also, once those merry little voices are off in someone else’s classroom, away from the safety of my arms, that table will seem a lonely place.  Having a space of my own, one not tied to my other obligations, might just help me switch from a missing-my-sticky-fingered-fairies-to-the-point-of-tears-mom to a writer who’s investing in herself and the art she loves.

With the help of my wonderful husband I carved out a space.  I’ve filled it with pretty things and functional furniture. I’ve filed my notes in places I can easily reach and stocked up on supplies like any good Office Depot junkie would.

Its still part of the chaos, but not in the center of it. A perfect balance.

Do you have a special space you like to work in?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Get Me Off This Ride

By April Moore
I've found that the older I get, the less tolerant my body is of amusement park rides. I've tackled some serious roller coasters in my life in places from Knott's Berry Farm, to Elitch Gardens to Disney World, but things have changed. I can’t even swing without getting nauseated. I think my body’s done all the jarring and shaking it’s going to do and is now adamantly opposed to such shenanigans. 

Starting last May, I felt as though I was stuck in a bumper car, or on an evil merry-go-round that wouldn’t slow down to let me off. I was either stalled or going a mile-a-minute, and it overwhelmed me. So I did what I had to do. (No, I didn’t hurl and gross everyone out, thus forcing the carny to stop the ride.) I merely jumped off. 

I’m talking about writing. 

I had to step away for a bit. At the time, I didn’t know for how long, but I knew I needed to get my feet on the ground and make the spinning stop. I talked to my writer’s group and said that I would be taking the summer off and that I would reassess things come August. That alone relieved me of a great deal of pressure (most of which, self-imposed). When I gave myself permission to take a break, I felt better; my stomach settled and my brain focused. I spent time with out-of-state family visitors, read a ton of books (staying away from too many ones on writing ), and caught up on some movies and television shows. However, I didn’t stray too far from writing as I started my own freelance editing business, so I also worked on my oxford comma and passive voice lectures. It was just enough to keep me from getting too woozy. And it eventually paid off. As if struck with a flying caramel apple, I got my next book idea and have written several pages of a young adult novel that I’m very excited about.

So what’s the point? If you’re feeling like you need to get off the Tilt-a-Writer, there’s nothing wrong with making a leap onto stable ground. Take a break. Sometimes getting away from something is the best remedy so that you can return with a clear head. And when you’re ready to join the carnival again, go for it—even if it’s just the kiddie rides. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Scar Quality

Post by Jenny

Considering my fair complexion and a lifetime spent in Colorado (unofficial motto: We’re the closest state to the sun!*), it’s no wonder that the suspicious skin spot on my temple turned out to be a basal cell carcinoma. I was relieved to learn that basal cell is the least worrisome of the skin cancers, but it still needed to be dealt with. The procedure to remove it left me with fourteen stitches and a black eye that is finally almost gone, more than two weeks later.

I expected a lot of “what happened to you?” type questions, but, to my surprise, strangers and acquaintances didn’t say a word, just carried on as if my cheekbone wasn’t a lovely avocado green. It was kind of surreal and left me wondering what stories they made up about me in their heads. Car accident? Cage match? Slip, trip, and fall? (That one’s for you, Brian Regan fans.) Sadly, life being what it is, I must assume that more than one person suspected my husband had busted me upside my head.

This whole experience got me thinking about scars. Scars always have stories. They can be funny or amazing or tragic or just one of the many commonplace incidents that manage to leave a permanent mark. I can look at the back of my left hand and remember when the double bass player accidentally slammed the orchestra locker on it in junior high school. My husband will always have the smooth circle on his shoulder from the time he was hit by a car in Holland on his eighth birthday. Scars can be emotional, too, of course—with or without a physical analogue—and those can be the most devastating of all.

I have to believe that not very many people make it through life without at least a few scars, both visible and not. Scars make us more interesting, and the same holds true for our characters. Without the scar on his forehead, Harry Potter still would have been The Boy Who Lived, but that lightning bolt added another wonderful dimension to his character—especially when it tingled and burned to warn him of trouble.

So please don’t be afraid to rough up your characters a little—or a lot, depending on the story. Cut them and burn them and break their bones and give them indifferent parents and abusive bosses and drug addiction. By doing so, you will also give your readers reasons to root for them…or help explain how they became characters we root against.

What are some of the ways you have scarred your characters? 

*Colorado has the highest mean elevation and highest low point of any state. Insert marijuana joke here.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Book Marketing Ideas That Work

Post by Kerrie
Filling in for Kelly

The very first book, Cornelius Comma Saves the Day, was published way back in 1998. I went the self-publishing route with that title and had mild success with it. Since then, with the explosion of the Internet, print on deman and social media, the world of publishing has been flipped upside down. With all of this churning about, marketing a book can cause many authors to want to crawl into a corner and curl up in a fetal position and block it all out.

With my first book, there were only so many options when it came to marketing. The Internet was a toddler at the time, socia media didn't exist and Amazon was in its grass roots phase.  I sent out press releases, found education and home schooling conferences to have a booth at, did some school talks and reached out to my main market (teachers) through mailings. It was calculated and a pretty standard way to market books.

Fast forward to now---things are shifting and changing so fast, what worked a year ago for marketing a book, doesn't work any more. I've heard Twitter isn't as effective any more, some say Facebook is the way to go,  Google + popped on the scene to confuse us, some swear by GoodReads, others tout Instagram, some see results with LinkedIn and blogging gets mixed reviews.

With all these marketing options on the scene now, what is an author to do? I wish I had an answer or a list of sure things for you to do, but I don't. I'm hoping we can actually help each other out here.

So, all you authors out there hawking your wares, let's talk. What is one marketing thing that has worked for you in the past 6 months? Something that actually showed an increase in your sales. Please share what it was in the comments so we create a helpful resource list for each other and maybe make all our lives easier.

I have my own publishing company now and am trying many different marketing approaches. One thing that worked for me recently was doing a promotion on Kobo. I offered a couple of my Hot Chocolate Press books at a discounted rate for a weekend and I let the Kobo Writing Life team know I was running the promo. It worked. One of the books appealed more to the Kobo reader and sold about 30 books. I felt it was a success considering how easy it was to implement and it helped raise awareness of the newly released title.

So, What has worked for you? Let's help each other in this crazy, constantly changing world of book marketing and provide some much needed support. :-)

Happy Writing and Marketing!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Give Harper Lee A Break

By J.C. Lynne 

[Warning: This is a post from my blog page. Ya know, family vacation.]

It's no secret Harper Lee's first novel, Go Set A Watchman is out in a couple of days. The buzz started the minute people heard it had been dusted off and sent to the publisher. The initial scuttlebutt hummed about who made the choice and questioned the motivation behind its release.

Lee wrote the quintessential and possibly most beloved character in literature. I don't know a person who doesn't wish Atticus Finch was their father.

Mockingbird captured the world's imagination both in novel and in film. For me, knowing that Watchman was the first version crystallizes her reluctance to write another novel. It explains her withdrawal from the public eye and her desire to keep Watchman on her shelve rather than share it.

The reviews are out. In his later years, Atticus Finch's cultural racism is portrayed. Folks are in an uproar. 

Here's the deal, those people haven't dealt with an aging parent. In some cases, old folks, even the kindest and most beloved, can get mean. My great-grandmother did. My mother, already mean, is getting more vicious. Also, older people grow afraid. My parents, who I thought were more progressive, are terrified of the change in the world. They desperately cling to radically conservative views and binge on Fox News.

I'm sure Donald Trump is my parents' preferred presidential candidate and my mother is Mexican. It isn't rational.

Watchman is a young woman's realization that her parent isn't the man she believed him to be. I get it.

You gotta give an author a break. Atticus Finch grew bigger than her book. He became the de facto father to millions and millions of readers. Gregory Peck personified the character with a sense of dignity unparalleled in any role I've seen since.  I'd have been terrified to publish that second novel too.

Over the course of her lifetime, she watched the love and devotion swell out of her control. Think. If J.K. Rowlings suddenly wrote an expose about Harry Potter as a crappy, cranky old man, the world would shudder.

I've taught Mockingbird to high school students. Of course, like everyone it's on my all time favorite list and I return to it when I don't have anything else to read. I adore Atticus.

I also understand that Atticus in defending Tom Robinson wasn't declaring to be an equal rights defender. He was defending the law. Defending an innocent man and supporting desegregation in the south are two different animals.

Nothing in Mockingbird tells us Atticus was politically progressive. He employed Calpurnia, not without kindness, but there's no mention of his concern for her family when he asks Cal to stay the night at the last minute. He takes her presence for granted. Sure, he has empathy for Mr. Cunningham's poverty, but the farmer is white.

I can see how, through a child's eyes, the Atticus in Mockingbird is idealized. I can also understand how the aged Atticus can be crotchety, bigoted and politically conservative. 

It's the contradiction of growing up. We become disillusioned with the people our parents actually are compared to who we believe them to be. It's a right of passage.

It's no wonder to me that Lee became trapped by her own character. Much like the writer in Stephen King's Misery, she was shanghaied by America's infatuation with Atticus Finch. 

Now it's time for the rest of us to grow up. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Monday Flashback: Dear Kerrie

by Rich

As the summer lumbers on for some and flashes by for others, I thought I'd take the time to highlight some of the past posts of The Writing Bug. We've been around for seven years and have over one thousand published columns. Some of them are still relevant today while others not so much. This time we go back to July 20, 2009 and the Ask Kerrie column. This is where folks sent emails to Kerrie about their writing dilemmas. Point of reference -- Bancroft Press and  Shaw Guides still exists while Kitsune Books does not.

Kerrie Flanagan, 2009
Every Monday I will answer your writing questions. So send me them by Friday each week. No question is too small or too big and I will do my best to get to all of them

Dear Kerrie,

I am on my 16th draft of my query letter for a YA Fantasy novel , have submitted to 114 agents, had 4 partial readings . . . and still no agent! What am I doing wrong? Or should I ask, "What am I not doing right?"

Darth Writer

Dear Darth Writer,

A literary agent does not get paid until a book deal is made and that is typically 15% of what the author gets. Agents put a lot of time and energy into getting an authors manuscript ready, so they want to take on projects they believe one of the big publishing houses will publish. There is a bigger return for them and their author.

So, it may not be that you are doing anything wrong, you might need to take a different approach. Instead of going through a literary agent for your first manuscript, try approaching some smaller presses. They don't publish as many books and they don't pay as well, but they usually take queries/manuscripts from unagented writers. Also, they are able to give their authors more attention because the don't take on as many projects.

Here are two small presses you might want to try:

Bancroft Press

Kitsune Books


Dear Kerrie,

I have over thirty short stories published in various journals in the United States and other countries. I am currently working on novels and struggling with it. Everything I learned in writing, I learned on my own. Despite the published stories, I still find myself struggling with writing and confidence.

Do you think someone like myself, that has already been published in journal would benefit from a writing class? There is some excellent online ones. I never had any formal training and I never have been part of a writer's group.Would a writing fiction class help me gain confidence and improve my skills? Or do you think because I already have been published in journals that it would be too familiar.

Also, I am trying to switch from short story writing to novels but am having some trouble doing it. I constantly want to cut most description and details. I want to rush to a conclusion like a short story but my heart and dreams are with novels. Any advise? Should I stop writing shorts for good to change my writing skill?


Dear Bill,

Confidence comes the more we do something. So in order to build up your confidence with novel writing, you have to forge ahead and not give up. You clearly have the writing skills since you already have short stories published.

In terms of writing classes, I don't think they can hurt. I believe we can always learn something new. If I were you though, I would see about finding one that is in person rather than online. The online classes are good, but if you are struggling with confidence, it might help to be in a room with other writers to help make connections and to get "in-person" feedback.

If you heart is into writing a novel, and you are not relying on income from the short stories, I would focus solely on the novel. You should set aside time each day to write and just write. Don't over analyse, don't worry about your skills, don't worry about submitting it...just get that first draft written. Then you can go back and rework it, find a critique group to help you and begin figuring out where you want to submit your novel.

Henry Ford said, "You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do." If you want to be a novelist, then you are going to have to sit down and write.


Dear Kerrie,

I have a question about query letters for TRULY first-time authors. Every example of a good query letter that I find online or in a book mentions some kind of credentials. I do not have any publishing credits. I also have not been to any writing conferences and therefore can't lead my query with "you asked me to send you this."

What is a truly first-time author to do? I've written two great novels, I have my degree in English, and I've been trying for years to get published. Is it possible for someone in my position to break in? Or must I write for newspapers and magazines first? I really have no desire to do that. I write fiction and have no desire to write non-fiction.

Are there examples of good query letters out there that were accepted on nothing other than the writing itself? I've ready many books and blogs on the art of writing a good query letter, so I understand how it's done. I do my research on each agent ahead of time, and I taylor my letter to their likes, needs, and desires.

I feel like if I could just get an agent to read my sample pages, they'd see it's good work. But I fear my queries are hardly read do to my lack of publishing history or networking ability. I am constantly writing and improving, and have been for 10 years. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks in advance. ~Jay

Dear Jay,

It sounds like you are on the right track. With fiction, agents are not looking for credentials as much as they are looking for a good story. So there is no need to spend your time trying to get published in a magazine. There are many examples of authors getting agents attention because of their query letters. You can read my interview with Jeramy Fine where she talks about how she found her agent.

Read my answer to Darth Writer above. Maybe you also need to think about approaching smaller publishing houses directly and not put all your time into finding an agent.

I have heard it said many times that writing is a craft, but publishing is a business. Now that your novels are done it is time to turn to the business side of things. Here are some ideas for you to get you going in that direction.
  • Find and join a good critique group. Other writers can provide invaluable insight into what might be missing in your novels or query letters. Try to find an established group that gives good constructive criticism. I have been with a group for 10 years now, and I don't know how I would have gotten published without them.
  • Attend writers conferences. This is a great way to meet agents, editors and other writers. A conference allows you to gain insight into the publishing world and allows you to find out how other writers are finding success. Visit the Shaw Guides to find conferences near you.
  • Go to the bookstore and figure out where your book would be shelved. Look through the other books in that section to get a feel for what is selling. You can also read the acknowledgments. Most authors thank their agents in this section. Then you can query these agents as well.
Above all, keep trying. Many best-selling authors were rejected many, many times before finally getting published. So know that you are in good company.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Complexity of Clyde

By Sarah Reichert

Do you talk to your animals? I mean, really talk to them; engaging conversations where you answer for them in thoughtful responses. No? Just me?

I have two dogs. But one of them, by far, is more talkative. That is to say, Clyde has a very specific voice and character. We discuss the finer points of squirrel chasing, how he lost (and continues to lose on a daily basis) his alpha position to his sister, Bailey. We talk about why the cat’s such a jerk, how angry it makes him when Bailey watches him eat, and the ever-present question…what happened to his nuts? 

It’s insane and probably committable. But it also helps create real, flowing dialogue, and allows me insight to character traits that are both endearing and trying.

A typical conversation might go something like this:

“What’s up Clyde-boo?”

“Nothin’, mom…just layin here,” (raises his leg) “Wanna scratch my belly?”

“Sure, buddy.”

“Mom, remember when I had nuts?”

“Yeah, sorry about that…had to happen. Adoption rules.”

“Can I bite the cat?”

“Um…can you catch the cat?”

“I could…if you’d stop yelling at me when I chase him.”

“I do it for your own good.”

“Yeah, he’s pointy on all ends but the tail…I really want to grab the tail.”

‘You’re a good boy.”

“Wanna scratch my belly again?”

“Yep. Want to go for a walk?”

“Oh God Yes! Yes! Yes! Oh God a walk!!! I haven’t been on a walk in centuries!” (Does an impressive Down Dog stretch in preparation.) 

“We went yesterday.”

“Yesterday is centuries ago!” (Continues to bay in his baritone basset voice) “Ah, man, the leash? Can I go without the leash?” 

“No, buddy, when have I ever let you walk without it? Same as yesterday.”

“Yesterday is centuries ago.” (Dogs don’t understand tense any more than they understand that 24 hours isn’t the same as 100 years)

“You know the rules.” (He dodges away)

“But mom…I can’t catch the bunnies with the leash on.”

“Clyde, you couldn’t catch the bunnies with a jet pack on.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right. Can I have cat food for breakfast?”

“Sure buddy.”

“Good, but make sure he watches me eat it.” (licks lips)

“Okay, Clyde.”

“And give me my share first because Bailey’s a pig.”

“Don’t say that too loud.”

“You won’t tell her I said that will you?”

And on it goes. 

Clyde, with his graying muzzle and expressive brown eyes that stare intently into mine, is a good conversationalist; a loving soundboard who always has an answer, to every question (usually yes to food and walks, no to vets and ear cleaning). He is a character and not just of my own making, who enriches my life and my sense of empathy.

Who are some of your favorite real-life characters?

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