June 13, 2014

Grateful for a momentary balance in writing

My writing routine is a bridge to personal balance.

My writing routine is a bridge to personal balance.

One week ago today, my eldest walked across a stage and received her high school diploma.

Since then, I’ve been pleasantly busy with such fun things as backyard barbecues, shopping trips with in-laws and quiet moments pulling weeds in my back yard.

I’ve been surprised to discover I still have time to write. I started and complete a 1,000 word article and finished a content edit for a friend this week. Today, I start on a copy edit for this same friend–one step closer to seeing her work in print!

It seems like my writing really picked up steam earlier this year. During the last week of May, I finally finished the first draft of a second novel. Now I’m in a routine–and it feels good to be in a writing routine. Even moving slowly, if I stick to this routine I think I can get two more book-length rough drafts finished this year and possibly get one of the three ready for publication.

Most of my days involve some personal writing and personal editing. I’m still editing for other authors (we trade work) and I’ve picked up some fun nonfiction articles again–I can never set them aside for longer than a few months at a time. Journaling my successes is just a part of my life now.

Although I’ve terribly neglected this blog, it seems like everything else in my life is in a quiet balance, rotating silently around each other, giving me the space and time I need to focus on one thing at a time for short bursts every day.

I can’t say how much I enjoy that.

I feel like I’ve finally reached a graduation moment of my own, a moment when I’ve achieved something momentous. I’ve sought balance all my life.

Who’s to say this peaceful lull will continue? My daughter’s life is already changing. She’s preparing for college, and I know my life will change along with hers.

I’m just really grateful to have things the way they are today.

 

April 24, 2014

A social story for writers

He's just so much fun. :)

He’s just so much fun. :)

Nearly six months ago I contacted an early intervention team, concerned that my toddler son showed too many signs of Asperger’s Syndrome. Turns out he’s fine, but the experience held great value for me. As I visited with professionals about how to help him better understand social situations,  I learned a little bit about social stories.

According to The Gray Center for Social Learning and Understanding:

A Social Story™ describes a situation, skill, or concept in terms of relevant social cues, perspectives, and common responses in a specifically defined style and format…

…Although the goal of a Story™ should never be to change the individual’s behavior, that individual’s improved understanding of events and expectations may lead to more effective responses.

I was  already a believer in brain retraining. I’ve enjoyed learning about and using several different techniques to retrain my own brain in the quest to create a better Gwen. The idea of using social stories to help my son understand social situations better made sense to me.

Social stories work best with my little guy when we read them aloud together at least three times each week. Reading them together every day is even better, and it dovetails nicely with ordinary story time. He’s always enjoyed being read to.

Although I’m still learning about social stories and the proper way to write and use them, I thought they slightly resembled the techniques described by Ford Robbins Blair in his Instant Self Hypnosis (which I already use and have a lot of fun with).

I wondered: could writers benefit from writing and reading their own social stories?

I haven’t had a chance to experiment with this myself yet, but just for the fun of it, here’s a very short social story for writers trying to develop the habit of writing every day, written with my limited understanding and ability. Enjoy!

I love to write, and I’m good at writing. I smile when I write. I feel happy and proud of myself when I write something every day.

Because I love writing so much, I try to write something every day. It is important for me to write every day if I want to be a good writer.

Writing something every day is a great habit to develop. I am very happy when I write something every day, and being happy is good.  

 

 

April 18, 2014

Intimidation is nine-tenths of the writer’s law

Gwen Bristol:

So very true.

Originally posted on readful things blog:

What do I mean by this? I don’t mean that writers are the intimidating type–actually just the opposite. What I mean to say, is that writers tend to be their own worst enemies.

This is something I have been thinking about for a while. It used to be that when I started a writing project, the first thoughts in my head were always about the project itself: title, chapter length, beginning, middle and end. In recent years my initial thoughts (after the story idea itself) become more about audience, marketing, price, platform, etc. So what happened?

I became obsessed with the ideas of successes and failures. I had an epiphany yesterday, whilst buried up to my elbows in topsoil:

If you write–you are a writer.

Well, duh.

When we become authors we spend a lot of time worrying over how our work will be received. Will people like it? Will…

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April 14, 2014

An interview with author Krista Wayment

 

I met author Krista Wayment just about a year ago, but until recently I never had a chance to read any of her work. I finally read her first book, Trusted, this past weekend and loved it. (Who doesn’t love dragons? And adventure?) She hopes to release the second book next fall.

When Krista threw a virtual launch party, I knew I wanted to interview her for this blog. It’s been a while since I’ve done any guest author interviews or book reviews. I forgot how enjoyable this can be.

Here are the fun things I learned about this great new author:

When did you first learn that you loved dragons?

I can’t remember clearly. I think from a very young age I loved dragons. I remember watching this movie about a man who was transported to a fantasy world and changed into a dragon. He used science to defeat an evil wizard. Perhaps that planted the seed in me. I’ve always loved stories about princess, and knights, and magic. I watch The Last Unicorn movie probably a hundred times as a kid. The Never Ending Story as well.
What inspires you to write?
I get inspiration from pretty much everywhere. But the main thing that drives me to write is that telling stories is part of who I am. I feel incomplete and empty when I am not writing. Reading is probably the biggest source of inspiration for me. I read great stories and then must go out and craft my own.
How do you balance family and friends with writing? Other hobbies? Other jobs? etc.
I’m not sure yet. I’m still working on that. The biggest thing is that I have to make writing a priority. I also work part time and am a stay at home mom. With all my responsibilities I often have to sacrifice one or another in order that the others get done. I just try and make sure that my writing does not get sacrificed too often.
I also try to find ways that I can multitask. If I’m up late with a toddler that is having trouble sleeping I open my laptop and start writing. It’s not always my best work and often needs a lot of revision–but getting something on the page is the place to start.
Best coping mechanism for writer’s block?
Reading. Since reading opens up my imagination and inspires me it is really good at banishing writers block. Reworking my outline helps too. Usually when I am stuck it is because I’m not sure where I am going. So I make a more detailed outline or rework the one I have.
Taking showers, doing the dishes and going for a walk or drive helps too. Doing something that allows my subconscious mind wander and work through the issues I’m facing is a really good thing. Often the inspiration will strike while I am doing something ordinary and then I am off writing again.
Are you a planner? Or a discovery writer? Or a little bit of both? How does writing work for you?
As far as plot goes–I’m a planner. I do a chapter by chapter outline before I write a single word. This helps me keep focused on where I am going. Also, if I know what is coming next I can be thinking and planning the scene while attending to my other responsibilities.
I do discover little details about my characters and my world along the way. But on the whole I plan things out.
If you were a flower…what would you be, and why?
I actually took a quiz once and it told me I am a Snapdragon. I thought it was a very appropriate choice :)
Do you listen to music as you write? If so, what kind?
I don’t. Music distracts me. I usually have silence or disorganized noise, like people talking or a toddler playing. 
However, sometimes when I free write I do listen to music, it’s always instrumental and often movie soundtracks. John Williams is one of my favorite composers.
What do you see for yourself when you look ten years down the road
I hope to have ten more books written and published :) I know I’ll still be writing and still be enjoying my family. Beyond that I have learned that you can plan and hope all you want–but life has a way of throwing you curve balls so you have to learn to roll with it.
Who do you write for?
I write for myself because it is part of who I am. It is my release, my creative outlet. I hope too, that one day my books will inspire someone to love reading or writing.
I hated reading as a child. My mother, bless her heart, stuck with it and taught me how. It wasn’t until I picked up The Boxcar Children that I fell in love with reading. I have devoured books ever since. There are several books and authors that have inspired me and I hope one day to inspire others.
What has been the most rewarding part of writing so far? Why?
Finishing. Finishing a book, not just a draft but being really done. Self publishing was a lot of work, and will continue to be work. But being able to say that I wrote a book and that it is out there feels very rewarding to me.
April 14, 2014

Thoughts on ‘Trusted,’ by author Krista Wayment

Trusted, by author Krista Wayment, is lots of fun!

Trusted, by author Krista Wayment, is lots of fun!

On March 27, I attended the virtual launch for the book Trusted, by local fellow author Krista Wayment.  I have to say this immediately: the launch party was a lot of fun. I’ll be attending more of those.

The book was even better. My busy life put my reading time on hold, but one of my daughters started reading it that very weekend.  She even opted out of a family trip in order to keep reading, then called before we reached our destination to ask whether Krista Wayment had any more books out.

If only I could have captured the sound in her voice.

This weekend, I finally sat down and read the book myself. It was a quick and enchanting read. Without giving too much away, here are some of my favorite parts:

  • I really loved how humans normally travel in this world. You get a peek at this just a few pages into the book. Extraordinary! I wish I could try it sometime.
  • I loved Krista Wayment’s descriptions of the dragons in Trusted. It was easy to get a feel for both their personalities and their beauty.
  • The main human characters were intriguing, too. I expect the next books will reveal more about them. For now, I kind of wish I could meet the character Renick and study how he communicates. Krista Wayment did a terrific job with him.
  • The dragon names…oh, I loved how the humans got their dragon names! That was one of my favorite chapters in the entire book.
  • My very, very favorite part of this book was one sentence given during dialogue between a dragon and a human. And here it is: “Sometimes our success is not measured by the outcome, but by our efforts.”

I’ve already recommended this book to family and friends, and I’ll keep recommending it whenever the opportunity arises. Trusted is just that delightful.

 

 

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March 6, 2014

Why all authors should join a book club

"Epic," by Conor Kostick, in a nice shiny library protective page. :) Take a closer look at the book  on Amazon.com.

“Epic,” by Conor Kostick, in a nice shiny library protective page. :) Take a closer look at the book on Amazon.com.

In November, a neighborhood friend invited me to a book club. I went, although I felt a bit nervous…I had never been to a book club before.

The winter holidays and planning for 2014 meant no real book club meetings again until the second week of February. I attended again, and solidified my opinion on book clubs: All authors should join one.

Here’s why:

  1. Book clubs are a great way to get a feel for what readers love to read. This doesn’t apply just to the books that the club chooses, but also to the way a book is written–the prose, the structure, the characters. It’s just a good way to learn about the elements of a well-written book (and, in some cases, it’s a good way to learn what not to do).
  2. Book clubs are a great way to get your name out in the local community. I’m an open book online (pardon the pun), but in real-life situations I’m generally shy when it comes to talking about writing. I usually won’t even mention it unless someone else brings it up, but in January I took a risk and let the book club members know I love writing. They’ve become a great new support group for me.
  3. Even better, five die-hard fantasy fans from this book club have agreed to beta-read for me. Finding solid beta readers who will follow through in a timely manner can be difficult, so I’m excited to give them a try! (If all goes well, they’ll be reading for me sometime early this spring.)

This month, we’re reading and discussing Epic, by Conor Kostick. I’m about three quarters of the way through and I love it so far. It’s one that’s going to make it onto my Great Worlds list.

If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear what you think about it.

March 6, 2014

A Look at a Successful Fiction Marketer

Gwen Bristol:

After about three months…I finally saw this post! It’s definitely worth a read, and both Christ McMullen and Charles Yallowitz deserve lots of happy comments about the advice given here.

Originally posted on chrismcmullen:

Charles Yallowitz

In this post, we will learn valuable marketing and marketability tips by looking at a successful fiction author. In addition to writing a highly marketable book, today’s author is also active with a variety of effective marketing strategies.

Sword and sorcery author Charles Yallowitz has a popular fantasy series called The Legends of Windemere. If you’re a WordPress blogger, you may know Charles, as he is an active and highly supportive blogger in our community. Even if you’re familiar with Charles and his series, hopefully you will still find some helpful tips about marketability and marketing in this post.

Beginning of a Hero

Prodigy of Rainbow Tower

Allure of the Gypsies

Let’s begin by taking a close look at the book covers for The Legends of Windemere:

  • The covers look like they are part of the same series. This is an important part of series branding…

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February 24, 2014

What magic looks like: Nine imagery questions for fantasy writers

What does magic look like?

What does magic look like?

My little sister and I used to play I Dream of Jeannie. I have fond memories of her lifting her folded arms, nodding her head and blinking and then explaining whatever magic she had just performed.

It was beyond fun. It was a practice in imagination for us both, an exercise in feeling powerful.

Which, I think, is one of the reasons writing fantasy appeals to me. Writing about using magic brings the same powerful feeling that playing magic did when I was a child. I still love to think about what magic looks like.

Writers are faced with a different type of challenge, though. They can’t just tell their playmates about their pretend magic and expect them to accept it. They have to explain it, describe it, use imagery to plant the picture of what magic looks like into their reader’s brains.

Is imagery what convinces readers that the magic is real, at least in the setting of a book? If so, maybe it’s what helps the magic feel real enough to keep fantasy readers turning pages. And buying books.

My advice to myself, and to other fantasy authors: Know what your magic looks like. Know the rules for its use, know how often it’s used and what the consequences for using it are, but most importantly, know how to describe it to your readers.

When I write, I often make lists to follow that help me cover all my bases. Here’s a list of the type of questions I use when I’m trying to create the imagery of a particular piece of magic:

  1. Does the magic have a color? If so, what is it? Bright blue? Mud green? Are there different kinds of colors for different kinds of magic?
  2. How luminescent is it? Does it glow? Or hide in the shadows, barely noticeable to an untrained mind?
  3. How quickly does it move, and what verbs can I use to address that? Does it zing across space, or slither along the edges of a wall, or meander, or cozy up to something?
  4. How loud is it? Is it a breath, a whisper, a choke? A shout, a clash, a thunder? How do the ears of my characters feel when magic is going on around them?
  5. Does magic have a tangible feeling? If a character touched it, would they burn? Or freeze? Would the magic grate against their skin, or slide, or bounce, or caress? And again, are there different feelings for different types of magic?
  6. What types of scents does the magic carry? Something acrid? Smoky or fresh? Bitter or sour or sweet?
  7. As a character detects a scent of magic, do they taste it as well? And if so, what expressions will cross that character’s face?
  8. How does the magic interact with the world around it?
  9. How do characters feel emotionally during a magic episode? And how do they show how they feel? Does the magic cause fear, and if so, do the characters run or fight or try to shield themselves? How fast do their hearts beat?

I’m sure there are a host of other questions fantasy writers can ask themselves as they write magic scenes. These are just a few, and realistically, they apply to all sorts of action sequences.

In my mind, they apply to magic in particular, because who really sees and hears and smells magic in the real world? No matter how many video games we play, or how many television shows we watch, some things still take a little brain power.

Imagining and writing about magic requires a level of creative thinking that can evoke the strong emotions (the kind that sells books).

That’s what really makes writing about magic powerful.

February 15, 2014

We write because we love to write

Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

There’s an interesting post over at Author’s Promoter about why writers write, including a pie chart showing the writing reasons of a hundred different published authors.

Among the top purposes writers listed for writing was they had to…they felt they couldn’t survive without it (that answer was second only to writing to express themselves), and I wondered how many authors I know feel the same way.

It also gave me cause for reflection. Over the years, the reasons why I write have changed.

  • Twenty years ago, I wrote to entertain myself.
  • Fifteen years ago, I wrote with the hope I would someday entertain others, and someday maybe even make some money off my writing…not a bad dream. :) 
  • Ten years ago, I wrote to educate myself, to educate others and to share with others the delight I felt in the world around me. This came mostly in the form of freelance articles rather than book-authoring, though.
  • Five years ago, I wrote because it was my profession. (Freelance journalism, again, but I had found some success.)
  • During the past three years, I’ve written primarily because writing relaxed me and supported me across some rough waters.  Words flocked around me like friends, drawing me out of myself and into the wider world.

The reasons I write  now are kind of a combination of everything. I still write to entertain myself. I still write to educate myself (though not as much as I once did), and I again write to share my joy in daily life. I still write books, and I still occasionally write articles.

I write because the ideas in my head won’t leave me alone until I’ve at least scribbled them down in a notebook somewhere. And I write because my family enjoys me better when I’ve written something.

Interestingly, only three percent of the authors interviewed said they wrote as their profession. Only two percent wrote to entertain, and only two percent wrote for exposure and fame.

Which leads me to believe that most writers are like me.

We write because we love to write.

Is this true? Please let me know why you write.

 

 

 

February 14, 2014

Great fantasy worlds, and what makes them great

A world I grew up loving...Oz!

A world I grew up loving…Oz!

I fell in love with fantasy worlds in fifth grade. That year, one very influential teacher held a reading contest, and I won by immersing myself in Frank L. Baum’s Oz books, the chronicles of Narnia, Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, all of the Mary Poppins books, and just about everything else I could get my hands on from the tiny elementary school library.

My prize: a boxed set of Tolkien’s works–The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings–which, I am sure, stamped, sealed and certified my enduring love of fantasy.

Decades later, I still think it’s all about the worlds. Even then, I knew the revitalizing power of escaping. I understood there was a real chance of finding my lost self when I delved into a good book.

Who doesn’t love immersing themselves in someplace new? Taking a break from reality? Isn’t that why people take vacations?

I could contend that reading is even better than a vacation, often allowing readers to work out day-by-day problems in a setting that allows for adventure and excitement, and almost always, a difficult but realized success.

Even then, much of the magic is provided by the world the story takes place in. Good plots take into account the setting. So does good character development. Perhaps that’s why fantasy author David Farland, in his book Million Dollar Outlines, counsels other authors to lock down their settings before they even finish the outlines for their books.

So what is it, exactly, that makes new worlds worth reading?

Description:

I like worlds best when descriptions aren’t just listed, line by line, in a series of paragraphs long before the action starts. Very occasionally, this kind of description can hold my attention, but most often, my imagination catches on descriptions that are integrated into the plot. 

In my mind, the best descriptions wind their way through stories. Good settings wrap themselves around characters, making them take notice and even react to what they see and feel. The best descriptions are ones that characters see, feel, hear and react to. They NOTICE their world, and because they notice it, readers notice it, too.

(Incidentally, it seems I feel the most emotion as a reader when I know a character is feeling something about the environment he or she is in. Emotion sells books. Does it follow that good settings sell books, too?)

Believe-ability:

I always like my worlds to have rules. These are not necessarily the rules our planet and solar system and universe abides by (otherwise, where do fantasy and science fiction stories fit in?), but rules that form a decent framework for the plot and characters. (Mythic Scribes has a great piece on keeping worlds real.)

 

Mostly this relates to my ability to answer questions in my mind as they arise–whether or not something could happen, in that particular universe, and why. When I come across a book where worlds feel unstable, which seem to often using Deus Ex Machina for an easy ending, I become an uncomfortable reader. Usually this means I lose interest and move on to something else. 

As enjoyable as reading great worlds is, writing real worlds is hard work. I’m still studying it. I probably will be for a long, long time. 

Ease:

This relates only to how hard I want to have to work to read or understand a book. I still really love fantasy, and I love science fiction and a host of other genres. Sometimes I like stories that are really far-fetched, and but most often I like ones that hit closer to home. 

These kinds of worlds are strangely comforting as well as refreshing. When I’m looking for a world to escape into, I look for something that has familiar elements that wind through the magic. Then I’m in my happy place. I can put up my feet and disappear into that world for a long time…or at least until the story is finished.

I’m sure there are other things that make worlds great. These are my top three tests for worlds I really love, worlds I mull over in my mind long after I’ve read the book.

What do you think makes a great world? 

 

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