Monday, December 31, 2007
In light of the New Year, I’m taking Editor Sue Donckels’ suggestion and recapping my favorite blog posts from 2007. Some of these posts I’d completely forgotten about, and when rereading them, I remember where I was (of course, sitting in the same chair I’m sitting in now), but more importantly, what was going on around me at the time. Staff members have come and gone—leaving the nest to spread their wings and fly to their own ventures—and reading their posts make me smile. I feel truly blessed.
Then there are those moments where gremlins attacked our emails, our server crashed (for a whole month!), and we had to switch to a bigger server eventually. Most of those posts stayed around, but all the lovely pictures disappeared. What a bummer! As a perfectionist to some degree, I feel like I should go back in and re-upload all those pictures...some posts don’t make sense without them. For instance, one post started out by saying, “Look at the picture of Cherie Rohn’s name in lights on the marquee of Mandalay Bay.” That was a great picture and when I have some time I’ll go back and try to fix all those.
But that’s the thing about growing pains—you lose some characteristics along the way—the teenage acne, your favorite jacket that’s now three sizes too small, and some of your old friends—but you also gain some new and wonderful things along the way. One being our fabulous new staff of talented writers. The Muffin has never been so lively! Each of you has a unique voice to bring to the table, a fresh outlook, and keen perspective. It’s what gives our blog a great community feel. After all, we are “women on writing,” which means we all have our own voices, but it’s our common goal of writing that brings us together and helps to support one another.
So, ready? Let’s recap! My favorite posts (by Category):
By Tracy Horan
Tracy researches her first romance novel by going into her local bookstore and gets a little hot under the collar in the Romance/Erotic Fiction section for the first time. She tries to hide her purchases by plopping a Barbara Kingsolver novel on top of her “smut,” but as she exits the store the security alarm goes off... Very funny stuff!
As Per Your Request: A “NOT TO DO” List
By Chynna Laird
Once again, I love funny posts. They just lighten my day, and this one had me laughing out loud! Chynna shares an excerpt from Writer’s Relief, “How to be an Annoying Author.” If you’re an editor, or publisher, this is a must-read.
Writing is Like Mud Wrestling?
By Sue Donckels
Sue finds an old box of lesson plans etc. and shares some of the writing assignments that her non-writing-enthusiasts students wrote. Most of them had zero interest in writing, period. The assignment was to describe writing using similes... very funny stuff!
Burn the House Down
By Susan Eberling
Susan’s motivational note, which she posted to herself on her computer, caused some worry with her hubby and some humorous laughter.
Mailbox Letter! From Carrie Hulce
This letter from Carrie Hulce was sent back in January of 2007, and it’s timely since she was talking about her New Year’s Resolutions. Her resolution was to ignore her drawer filled with rejection letters, get back on her feet, and pick up the pen again (after her knee surgery). And guess what? Carrie has conquered her resolution on many levels and is continuing to do so. She placed in the top 10 in WOW!’s Winter ’06-’07 Flash Fiction Contest. That’s quite an achievement when you see how many entries are involved! She also published a piece in our March issue’s Inspiration Column: http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/7-inspiration.php as well as several pieces on our blog, and is now an intern for WOW! and the Premium-Green Markets’ Research Specialist. Carrie has come a long way on all levels. Her level of enthusiasm and drive is impressive, and I can guarantee she has the right stuff to take her very far. Love you, Carrie!
A Beautiful Mind
By Chynna Laird
I loved this impromptu post by Chynna because she was so fresh from her first book signing. That day, we’d had a miscommunication of who was going to post etc. and she ended up posting right when she came back from her signing. Lucky us! I love when Chynna posts on the fly—that’s the time I truly see her shine.
Criticism = Love
By Angela Mackintosh
This isn’t really about anything I wrote... it’s more about Randy Pausch’s inspirational video, which brought me to tears. Click on the link and watch!
By Sharon Mortz
Sharon shares some out of the box ideas for writing inspiration... plus, she touches our hearts with her experiences. This post moves me.
By Kesha Grant
Kesha shares a very real, and often un-talked about obstacle that affects many people in all professions—constant back pain. As a sufferer of this, I know exactly what she’s going through. Kesha’s spirit and belief in herself is amazing, and an inspiration to us all.
Dare I Say It? Time to Exercise!!!
By Jean Lauzier
In this post Jean thinks outside the box and urges writers to try something different—step out of your genre and get into something completely foreign to exercise your creativity!
The Power of Words
By Jean Lauzier
I love this post because it’s so true. Words are larger than life. The simplest phrases can move mountains and people. 11 Comments!
By Sue Donckels
Sue gives us a ton of incredible topics to blog on! Just reading these blopics feeds my blogging fire and makes my backside burn! What a great motivation. After reading this list, you’ll have no more excuses.
A Change of Perspective
By Annette Fix
It’s never too late to achieve your dreams and goals. Annette reaffirms this with an anecdote, and a funny as all heck motivational picture!
By Marcia Peterson
Marcia reminds us about the New Year and encourages us to jot down the things that get in the way of our creativity and prevent us from writing. In other words, write about, “the big but.”
A Thousand Words About Nothing?
By Carrie Hulce
Carrie reminds and inspires us that writing about simple objects can evoke so many profound memories.
By LuAnn Womach
This is such an inspirational and motivational post. LuAnn’s spirit is unrivaled, and all the points she gives are true. I just read this post today, so I’ll be emailing you personally LuAnn!
Ants in my Kitchen, Traffic to Your Blog
By Angela Mackintosh
This post inspired a couple of unique takes on the posting angle. I started off with an anecdote about ants invading my kitchen (as a tasty hook), and then pulled it around to how your first paragraph or sentence of your blog post is the most important and sweet!
Find Your Striker
By Sue Donckels
This is a super post and a great and a great analogy about the situations/plays in soccer and in querying. I adore this post! As a long time soccer player, four-year varsity jockette, and state player, gee—this post was so apropos for me and spot-on!
Writing and the Purple Cow
By Angela Mackintosh
Seth Godin inspires a fresh outlook to how people all think about the same thing and write about George Clooney, lol.
Tag You’re it!
By Chynna Laird
Chynna starts this article explaining a commercial and how one random act of kindness inspires another person, and so on, and so on, until you create this viral effect. It’s so true online and in real life. I loved the format and creative angle of Chynna’s post!
Do You See What I See?
By Chynna Laird
Chynna tells us how her daughter, Jaimie, processes the senses, and then she applies those lessons to fiction writing. This is a wonderful post full of flavor and opens your eyes to a new way of seeing.
How to Make Self-Promotion Wings
By Sue Donckels
Sue thinks out of the box and inspires us by sharing a way to make the most out of our rejection slips. This is not only a fun craft exercise, but also a symbolic journey, and a way to make a positive record out of your learning experience.
Preheat the Oven to 375F and Write!
By Debbie Delgado Hand
Writer’s snacks—yum! Get your trusty baking apron on and learn how to make the perfect treat while writing. Debbie shares her recipe of Vegan Banana Berry Muffins on World Vegan Day!
Part 1: An Introduction to Optimizing Your Writing Website/Blog – for Women Writers
By Angela Mackintosh
I know this is a tad cheesy to list one of my own blog posts, but this is the one that started the ball rolling on SEO Sundays. I had a ton of fun writing this because I love when readers ask us questions. This particular post was prompted by Dannette Haworth, so it was more about her than me, and I truly enjoy helping other writers and giving them information that I can ramble on about. ;-)
The Right Start
By Jean Lauzier
Jean talks about hooks in fiction writing or for editors. The example she gives is spot-on and impressive! I love craft of fiction-writing articles!
Hung up on MS Word’s Tools? You’re Not Alone!
By Angela Mackintosh
Learn how to use MS Word’s Readability Statistics, Flesch Kincaid Reading Level, and how to eliminate passive sentences in your blog posts and article writing.
Insight into Self-Publishers
By Chynna Laird
Chynna tells us all about her publishing experience with Outskirts Press! Both Chynna’s post and the comments lend insight into the industry.
SEO Sundays: How to Write with Key Words for Webmasters and Freelance Writers
By Angela Mackintosh
I put this one here because it got a lot of comments from new readers who liked the format.
To Swear or Not to Swear
By Chynna Laird
Do we say, “Golly Gee,” or swear like a truck driver? Chynna’s post and excerpt from Morgan Hunt’s article is a great one for fiction writers.
The Usefulness of Writers’ Guides
By Del Sandeen
Writers’ guides can be great and all if you don’t take every single piece of advice to heart. Del has a great practical outlook on how we can use the guides to our advantage without becoming overloaded.
My Not So Secret Formula for Winning Writing Contests
By Janet Paszkowski
Janet is passionate about flash fiction, and she has gotten results! This post is written in an easy-to-read style and has great information—and a super reference!
Making Manly Men
By Valerie Fentress
What characteristics should we apply to our male protagonist? Valerie gives us some great starters to consider, and makes us all chuckle along the way with her lively post!
Ahead of Time
By Marcia Peterson
Preparing for life’s foibles can help you organize your writing life and your family time. Marcia provides mom-writers with fabulous tips to prepare for the unexpected downtimes.
THE WRITER’S LIFE:
By Sue Donckels
Distractions—we all have them. This fun article counts down Sue’s distractions in an easy-to-read “David Letterman” type top 10 countdown. I loved her format and creativity on this post! And I’m sure all you readers can relate.
By Sally Franklin Christie
Sally’s stove catches on fire and she keeps writing!
Blog Entry for the 21st of Nano
By Sally Franklin Christie
Sally gets sidetracked from her writing by a hefty cell phone bill! And journeys on an excursion to solve the problem immediately.
Confessions of a Saving Queen
By Margo L. Dill
What do you do when your computer crashes and all your writing files are completely erased? Yikes! This is a writer’s worst nightmare! Find out what practical solutions Margo employed to make the most out of her sitch.
Breaking All The Rules: Confessions of a NaNoWriMo Cheater
By AnnMarie Kolakowski
This post is close to my cheater’s heart. Cutting corners for me is what it’s all about sometimes, and I freely admit it. I admire AnnMarie for bringing her honesty to the table! I would’ve probably done the same thing.
By Susan Eberling
LOL. This post is soooo true and something I always worry about. Thank goodness, I don’t have family to worry about, but I do worry about what my friends will think once I publish my “novel.” Even in fiction, we have certain bridges to cross, and people we know who’ll ‘kindly’ offer their opinions. What a tough balance! I love the way Sue records the dialogue... I felt in the moment.
Deck the Halls
By Cher’ley Grogg
This is a wonderful reminder to take time and appreciate the small things and loved ones in our life. And it reminds us how objects, or ornaments, can spring forth memories for our writing toolbox.
EVENT RECAPS & CELEBRITY GOSSIP:
This American Life at Royce Hall – I went!
By Angela Mackintosh
As you know, or don’t, I’m a HUGE fan of This American Life, the spoken word show on KCRW, public broadcasting. Ira Glass rocks my socks! And now he has a cable and forthcoming TV show. Seeing the performance at Royce Hall in Santa Monica, CA was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Seriously. This was the only one they’ve ever done, and I had to be there. The readers were more than amazing, and the visuals that went on the huge stage behind the speakers were an artistic addition on all levels—like a Kate Bush performance art piece. Read this post for highlights of brushing up with Jack Black, Catherine Keener, and a funny anecdote from John Hodgman, “The PC Guy.”
LOL. I just reviewed this blog post, and if you get a chance, after you watch the OK GO treadmill video (second video), and the Youtube banner of related videos pops up, treat yourself to a much needed laugh, and watch #2, “Evolution of Dance.” Too funny...
How Media Inspires Our Stories
By Angela Mackintosh
Okay, once again, I’m feeling extremely cheesy writing about my own posts... but this one sparked 16 comments! The story about Owen Wilson’s suicide attempt sparked a memory of a time when I met him at the Chinese Man in Hollywood, how my hubby says he hit on me, and thoughts about my past experiences with suicide.
Notes From the Baltimore Writers’ Conference
By Jill Earl
This is an excellent recap of an event and a good example of how we should write them. It’s personal, fun, and gives the reader first-hand experience on what it was like to attend the conference.
I hope you enjoy these posts and read through the ones that you’re interested in. If you find one that creates a spark, don’t be afraid to bookmark it with all those little tags underneath each post! This is what spreads the love.
Happy New Year Ladies!! Let’s make it a banner one!
Together, we can achieve all of our dreams and make things happen.
Friday, December 28, 2007
FundsforWriters is offering a special on its paid subscription newsletter TOTAL FundsforWriters through the end of December. For $6 receive 80+ contests, grants, markets and other calls for submissions - all paying opportunities. TOTAL usually sells for $12. See more about TOTAL at www.fundsforwriters.com/total.htm . Ask for a sample copy.
Hope Clark has also just released her second edition of THE SHY WRITER: An Introvert's Guide to Writing Success. The first edition was published in 2004, but readers continue to request it to help them in their struggles to self-promote in a world where writing means reclusivity. An excellent present for the writer on your shopping list. www.fundsforwriters.com/shywriter.htm or through Booklocker Press at http://www.booklocker.com/books/1746.html
ISBN 1-59113-583-4, $14.95 paperback, 180 pages
"Sell Your Words, Not Your Soul"
"You write because it meshes well with your character. You do not have to sacrifice yourself to fit someone else’s mold of a writer. Challenge is good for growth, but agony is unhealthy. The comfort level is yours to find. Here you receive pointers on how to maneuver in the writing arena without the social weight around your neck. And you will learn how to manage during times when you absolutely have to make appearances you cannot dodge. What you won’t receive is a message telling you to “get over it.” While Toastmasters is educational and worthwhile, it is not the cure-all. If you are shy and don’t want to “get over it,” this is the book for you." ~Hope Clark
No matter how the idea comes to you, you can never underestimate the power of a title. Think of the book "Gone wIth the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell. Would the title have been as epic and metaphorical and perfectly suited to the book if it were "Those Damn Yankees," "Plantation Blues," "That Man is Making Me Nuts," "Georgia Lost," or any other conceivable title? Of course not. The title and the tone of the content should be in harmony.
Titling a book is not a science. Unfortunately, there is no exact formula that will result in the perfect title for your book. For me, it's visceral, driven completely by a feeling. My titles are born in the exact moment the book idea is formed. For other writers I know, the book can be completed, revised, edited, and ready for publication, and still no title has made itself known.
When that happens, there are a few tips to help the process along. Start by brainstorming any and every idea that seems to fit your story. Consider the characters in your story. Is your book about "The Godfather," "The Time Traveler's Wife," "The Joy Luck Club"? Think of the metaphor in your story. Is your book about taking life "Bird by Bird," or the path not taken in "A Thousand Country Roads"? Examine your plot. Is your story about "The Hot Zone," "The Caine Mutiny"? Is there a particular line of dialogue or narrative that stands out in the story? "Catch-22" anyone?
If you belong to a critique group or an online discussion board, run your list of book title ideas by the members and ask for additional suggestions. Narrow your list down to the top five and then approach your local librarians and book store employees for their opinions. This process may not cure your book title indecision, but it may help bring you closer to the perfect title.
In the end, it is still like naming a child. And you should choose the name wisely for that is how your book will be known.
Now, just for fun, I've added a list that was forwarded to me in an email of "Children's Book Titles That Never Made The Cut":
2. The Boy Who Died From Eating All His Vegetables
3. Dad's New Wife Robert
4. Fun four-letter Words to Know and Share
5. Hammers, Screwdrivers and Scissors: An I-Can-Do-It Book
6. The Kids' Guide to Hitchhiking
7. Kathy Was So Bad Her Mom Stopped Loving Her
8. Curious George and the High-Voltage Fence
9. All Cats Go to Hell
10. The Little Sissy Who Snitched
11. Some Kittens Can Fly
12. That's it, I'm Putting You Up for Adoption
14. The Magic World Inside the Abandoned Refrigerator
15. Garfield Gets Feline Leukemia
16. The Pop-Up Book of Human Anatomy
17. Strangers Have the Best Candy
18. Whining, Kicking and Crying to Get Your Way
19. You Were an Accident
20. Things Rich Kids Have, But You Never Will
21. Pop! Goes The Hamster...And Other Great Microwave Games
22. The Man in the Moon Is Actually Satan
23. Your Nightmares Are Real
25. Eggs, Toilet Paper, and Your School
26. Why Can't Mr. Fork and Ms. Electrical Outlet Be Friends?
27. Places Where Mommy and Daddy Hide Neat Things
28. Daddy Drinks Because You Cry
Of course, those silly titles are all intended to be tongue-in-cheek, but any of them could actually be a good title for a humor book.
So, tell me, how do you choose your titles? Is it easy or difficult?
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Now, I'm hooked! I've enjoyed listening to interviews with authors, experts speaking on every conceivable topic of interest, authors reading excerpts of their books, and even took a slight detour to listen to the Average Joe American talk about his day.
And that's when it dawned on me: "Hey, what am I waiting for? I need to try podcasting!"
Well, being the resident WOW! technotard, I'm always giddy when I find information about some *new* cool way to help me market online--especially when the information is tied up in a neat package and explained so I can understand it.
And I figured there might be a few of you out there who, like me, are doggie paddling like crazy in the deep end of the Web 2.0 pool. So, I thought I'd share a little podcasting life raft...
If you're looking for a shortcut to get your consumers to buy, it might be through their ears. Auditory response is one of the strongest senses we possess. Have you ever wondered why you can remember the tune of a song ("It's a small world") but can't remember an article you read in the paper just this morning? That's the power of audio. Sound is invasive, intrusive and irresistible. That's one reason why I'm always telling authors about the power of speaking engagements: sound sells. Many of us incorporate sound into our marketing plans through radio, but there's something even more powerful for you to consider and it's called podcasting.
If you've always dreamed of having your own radio show, your dream is about to become a reality. It seems only yesterday we were telling you about the power of blogging, but today we're looking at something equally, if not more, powerful. In its simplest term, podcasting is an audio blog and it's another exceptionally powerful way to spread the word about your book and message. Several years ago when Internet Radio came on the scene authors were vying for airwaves on the 'Net. But while Internet radio is still going strong, it's also very expensive. Most shows cost upwards of $800 a month, plus show hosts need to obtain their own program sponsors. Podcasting, on the other hand, is a fraction of the cost. Here's how it works.
Podcasting, just like blogs, sits on the Internet but instead of sitting in a written file, it's saved in an MP3 format that can be transferred to any mobile music device like an iPod. A podcast can also be subscribed to through RSS or syndication feeds. If this seems complicated, it's not, the entire process will take you about an hour to set up, if that, and once you do, you're off and running.
Most podcasts require an external mic on your computer, but I've started using a system through Audio Acrobat http://bookmkr.audioacrobat.com/ that will allow you to call into a pre-assigned number and record your podcast from anywhere: your office, your car or while on a trip! Then the audio file is saved into the system and sent via their publication tools out to a variety of "feeds," which in essence sends the audio blog out onto the Internet. Now you might wonder how someone will find you and your podcast. Well, you might be surprised. While your first recording might go unnoticed, your second and third will not. Here are some tips for getting the right podcast for you and then getting the world to beat a path to your audio blog door!
Topic: First, you want to find a niche and ideally one that ties into your book or message. While topics on religion and gambling are two of the hottest podcasts right now, if your topic doesn't tie into these it's best to stay away from them. Go online to iTunes or Podcast.net and see who's talking about your topic and what they're saying, then plan to be different!
Structure: So how will your podcast be structured and how much time should you plan to spend on a podcast? Truthfully, I'd recommend only 10 to 15 minutes. Unless your podcast is truly compelling or in an interview type format, listeners don't usually have the attention span to listen longer. Don't force people to listen to long-winded audios, cut right to the chase, share your information in tip-like, informative nuggets and you'll find listeners subscribing to your podcast like crazy!
Make a plan: If you decide to do this, try mapping out a few podcasts in advance and plan to offer your information on a daily or, at the very least, a weekly basis.
Setting up your podcast page: When you utilize Audio Acrobat for your podcast, you'll be able to include a link to your website. Remember the idea behind the podcast is promotion, so the URL you send them to should reflect this. Ideally you won't want to send them to your home page but rather a page just for your podcasts. You can include a listing of prior "shows" as well as a way for them to sign up for future updates, your newsletter or perhaps a link to your book or store.
Chicklets and other geek terms: So what's a "chicklet?" Well, it's that little orange square that has the letters XML on it. You will click on that to subscribe to a feed. If you obtained your podcast through Audio Acrobat, these chicklets are created for you and you can just cut and paste the HTML into your website or have your web designer do it for you. I copied the HTML language into my blog and let visitors subscribe that way. If you use another podcasting service, they should supply you with the language to create this on your own.
Syndicating your podcast: So if you're going to do a radio show you'll want listeners, right? Now I mentioned that if you use a service like Audio Acrobat the system will send the feeds for you to about 16 services, which is great, but there's still more work you can do. First, you should consider getting a syndication link on Feedburner.com. This way people can copy your link into their feed reader (we'll cover this in a bit) and get updated every time you add a new podcast. You can access this feed service at: Feedblitz www.feedblitz.com
Feed readers: If you've spent *any* time on the 'Net you've no doubt seen those little XML chicklets we mentioned earlier. When you click on them it takes you to a page of confusing text, but it's the link that you want to copy and paste into your feedreader. When we talk about syndicating a blog, this is what we mean. The reader you have really doesn't matter and there are quite a few to choose from. If you Google "Feed Readers," you'll pull a bunch of them up for you to try. I use SharpReader www.sharpreader.com and love it.
Podcasting, besides being a great promotional tool, is a terrific way for you to verbalize the passion you have for your topic. Go an inch wide and a mile deep with your message, offer helpful advice or spout your opinion. Be creative or controversial or a little of both. The bottom line is this: podcasting is not only fun but it's a great way to spread the message about you and your book. Use it correctly and you'll see even more readers beating a path to your door.
Need a podcast recommendation?
Powerful Book Promotion Made Easy: You can either subscribe to it on our website (see below) or check us out on iTunes: Powerful Book Promotion Made Easy.
Wishing you Podcasting and Publishing success!
Reprinted from "The Book Marketing Expert newsletter," a free ezine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques. http://www.amarketingexpert.com
Monday, December 24, 2007
Like all little kids, I loved Santa Claus when I was a child. I loved his rosy cheeks, his jolly ho-ho-ho, and his philanthropic spirit. But most of all, I just loved that he brought me toys every year. Somehow, he always knew exactly what I wanted.
On Christmas Eve when I was six years old, I woke up from that inexplicably thick slumber of a child, my young bladder calling to me. Instead of going back to bed, I tiptoed down the dark hall toward the living room. I wanted to make sure that my parents had remembered to pour Santa a glass of milk to go with his cookies. I could see that there was still a light on, so I knew that Santa had not yet come. After all, didn’t he only visit when not a creature was stirring?
I blinked hard to let my eyes adjust to the light as I stepped quietly into the living room. I opened them and found myself staring at two boxes of Breyer model horses – exactly what I wanted for Christmas - under the lamp table at my mother’s feet. I quickly looked away from them, as if they were Eve’s forbidden fruit, or a scene from a rated R movie. I quickly padded back down the hall, knowing I had seen something I shouldn’t have. I contemplated going back into my bedroom and slipping into bed, pretending that nothing had happened, but thirst and curiosity got the better of me, so I walked back down the hall.
“Mama, I’m thirsty,” I said, just before I stepped back over the threshold where the hallway met the living room.
“You want a drink of water?” my mother asked me. There were no model horses boxes at her feet. I nodded and followed her into the kitchen, checking on Santa’s cookies as I made quick work of a small tumbler of water.
“Don’t forget his milk, okay?” I said before I went back to bed. She assured me that she wouldn’t.
I slept fitfully, trying to figure out what had happened. Maybe I only thought I had seen those model horses. After all, I was sleepy. But I knew deep down that I had seen them. I acted surprised the next morning, and the joy I felt in receiving my gifts was genuine. But still, I couldn’t stop thinking about my forbidden discovery. Finally, I told my mother that I had seen the boxes at her feet.
I’m sure it was a difficult for my mother to decide how to answer me. Should she tell me the truth now, and rob me of that innocent childhood fantasy? Was it fair to me if she continued lying, after I had seen the truth with my own eyes?
“Santa came a little early this year. He didn’t know that I was still up, and he dropped off your toys a little too soon. He made them disappear when he saw that you were awake, too. He had to come back and start over so he could leave them under the tree and have milk and cookies,” she told me.
“Can Santa make himself disappear, too?” I asked her.
She told me that he could.
I didn’t ask any more questions about it. My mother’s answer suited me just fine. But even at six years old, I knew it was more likely that there was no Santa Claus, that my parents had bought my model horses, as they had my gifts every year before. But I chose to continue believing.
I chose to hold fast to an ideal, even in the face of that which would have normally crushed it. I wanted to believe that there was a jolly man who cared for all the little children in the world, even the ones who were poor and whose parents couldn’t afford to buy them presents. I chose to believe in magic and in kindness that I could feel, rather than let my joy be killed by some silly thing I could see.
A box of model horses was not the only gift I received that morning. I know some would say that I am too trusting, too forgiving, and maybe even naïve. But I believe that people are inherently good, and I believe that the world is full of wonder and beauty. To be able to see tragedy unfold daily on the evening news, and to still believe in goodness is a gift. To see the messy collection of flaws that is a human being, whether in the eyes of a stranger or my own face in the mirror, and to still have hope is a gift. To be able to forgive readily is a gift, not to he or she who is being forgiven, but to myself.
They say it is difficult to have faith in that which you cannot see. But when I think about those boxes of model horses, I realize that it can be just as hard to have faith in the things we do see. We are all afforded the opportunity to believe, to have hope and faith. Belief is a choice. One that I’m glad I made that night, so long ago.
Marci Mangham has enjoyed writing fiction since penning her first tome at age eleven. She wrote an unpublished novel in 1994 and is currently working on two novels, one of which is based on a story in this collection.
She enjoys entering (and especially winning) short fiction contests and volunteering for animal welfare causes.
Marci lives in Dallas, Texas with her dog Charlie, and has recently gone back to school
after many years away from the classroom.
WOW! interviewed Marci shortly after she placed Third in the Spring '07 Flash Fiction Contest
WOW! also highlighted Marci Mangham's latest book, Both Ends Burning, A Short Story Collection
Find out more about Marci by visiting her website: http://www.marcimangham.com/
Sunday, December 23, 2007
It is a Sunday morning, over thirteen years into a marriage. Oh, if only I could make those young people who come to me for a custom wedding ceremony understand that thirteen years from now, if they followed the rules, they will be oh, so different.
My mom came to visit early in our marriage and gave us an Eclectus Parrot. These are not the blue and golden birds with the long tails, nor are they the cuddly white umbrella cockatoos. No, Molly is a Red and Blue medium sized parrot who does not like to cuddle, but will become amorous on a regular basis and offer to lay an egg for the most available human. She plucks herself if we try to leave her in boarding on vacation. She eats too much, tends to fling food and destroys woodwork. Sometimes she lets herself out and rummages through the house for junk food.
Like any marriage, I mean pet, the first months were filled with exploration, learning about each other and lots of talking. Thirteen years later, I sit at the keyboard, deep in thought when REEEEK! Out of nowhere, she makes a head drilling, ear-ringing shriek. How am I going to complete a thought, never mind a whole revision project with this horrid noise going on?
I don’t need writers block, I have a husband with a cell phone. Yes? You want to buy what? Well, isn’t it your money? You thought I said what? Oh, no, we were arguing about your inability to make a decision, wondering how you got through work all week without me. No, it isn’t that you need permission. I’m sorry, the bird was squawking, the phone is doing funny things, yes, I love you, too.
My couples, about to embark on a lifetime together, is there a way I can relate to them the patience and craziness involved in growing together and maintaining a civilized relationship? I don’t think they’d believe me. I just hope to write just the right vows for them that include a wedding gift that might possibly out live them both! Should I share that I will never, ever, have a day of peace as long as this bird shall live?
Oh, sharing, that was the other issue. I did not want to share my headphones with the noise cancelling ability. What a stupid thing that turned out to be, after all, I shared enough to make a beautiful thirteen year old boy. What’s a little ear oil on my headphones, after all? Did I mention, they only cancel background noises, the Shrieking comes through loud and clear.
Be well e ….. yikes, what thought was I following, I sure wish that bird would …… where was I?
Before I pull out my revision project I want to encourage everyone to look back on the days of getting to know each other, days when you shared more than headphones and didn’t say ick, and write through the frustrating moments.
Be well everyone.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
At the church I attend, a little girl has caught my
eye. She has a sweet demeanor, unless her brothers get
out of hand and she has to straighten them out a bit.
She eagerly looks forward to school each day, and will
be part of a special program for gifted students next
year. She observes the world quietly, huge eyes
missing nothing. And guess what else?
Keyona is a writer. She proudly showed me a poem she
wrote after service one Sunday and it was good.
Extremely good. And when I told her that I wanted a
copy of my own, she hugged me with a delighted giggle.
Keyona shared with me that she wants to be a writer
and have her mother illustrate her books. Her eyes lit
when I told her about journaling, writing
her thoughts and experiences in her own private book,
for her eyes only. She dreams about owning one in
light blue, her favorite color.
Keyona’s mother told me that the nine-year old writes
constantly, about anything and everything, and how
she’s started buying notebooks and writing pads for
her. Her excitement and pride are barely contained and
Reminds me of another nine-year old who wanted to be a
writer too, but she planned to illustrate her own
books. Her mother kept her liberally supplied with
writing materials, doing whatever she could to help
her child develop her craft, including enrolling her
in a summer writing program. It took a number of
years, but Mom’s investment worked and I’ve begun to
walk in my writing call.
As you invest in your writing, keep an eye out for the
younger writers you may encounter. Spend some time
sharing your experiences with poetry or songwriting.
Point them to the growing numbers of websites
specifically for teen and child writers. Maybe there’s
a short story waiting to be co-written by you and a
young daughter or niece. Books, magazine
subscriptions, courses and conferences related to
writing make great gifts for these young authors.
I look forward to spending more time with Keyona,
passing on the craft.
And hunting for a light blue journal ready to share
secrets with a delightful nine-year old.
Friday, December 21, 2007
These kinds of situations are never fun and you just have to get through them. It was a tremendous help, though, that many household tasks and holiday projects had already been started. Time spent organizing turned out to be a blessing.
Here are some ideas of things you can take care of now, in order to get through unexpected downtime that may come later:
1. Have the makings of one to two back-up meals in case you can't get to the store for a couple of days. We were fortunate to have yummy leftovers for the non-sick family members because I had made extra the evening before. You can also keep some frozen meals (made by you or bought at the grocery store), and even extra loaf of bread or in the freezer. In the pantry, cans of soup, pasta, and hot or cold cereal can provide Plan B meals.
2. If you're out shopping and you see something that would make a good gift for someone, get it right then--even if you think you could just pick it up "next time." This has been tremendously helpful for kid birthday party presents, as well as the kinds of token gifts you might give as a hostess or as a small thank you gift. If you buy greeting cards for people, you can also buy them in one outing so that you have them on hand when you’re busy.
3. If you have a regular writing assignment, such as a column or professional blog, try to have one piece that's done and ready to go for tough times. It should be an evergreen topic that could be used at any time of year. You will be so pleased that you don’t have to produce copy while nursing a fever.
4. In general, do things a little early if you can. At least, don't feel weird about it like I sometimes do. When you’re in the mood to get some of your part of a project or errand done far in advance, seize the moment. Even having detailed notes or lists that you made in advance can be a big help if you need to get back on track after unexpected downtime. A brief illness may keep you off task, but a written plan can point the way as you muddle back into the real world.
5. Get gas for your car if it's below half full and you're near a good gas station. You'll never be caught off guard with a surprise trip and less than you need in the tank. Plus a full tank is very satisfying, like a new tube of toothpaste or a fresh manicure.
6. Throw in a load of laundry practically every day if you're handling this chore for your family. This keeps you on top of things, with some clean things available even when you're unexpectedly sick or busy. We have a spare set of sheets for each bed too, which I recommend. If you take sheets off to wash them you don't necessarily have to get them done right away because there's a second set.
7. For favorite food, health and beauty products, buy or order a backup so there's always one at the ready (online shopping can help with this). Make your next appointment with your hair dresser, doctor or dentist while you're there for your current session. For writers, think about supplies and tasks you can do in advance (prepare SASE's, buy extra computer ink cartridges, request library materials, etc.)
This is not to say that you should spend your life in a constant state of preparation, to the detriment of enjoying the present. But anything you can do ahead of time, when you have the time and inclination, is worth it. One week of family illness makes that point all too clear.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Most people would say “Of course, call your parents!” But let’s just say that my family is – er— complicated. Whether or not to call them and let them read the story deserved at least a bit of consideration. My story was about a tender moment between a daughter and her dad, and there is almost no mention of a mom. Little did I know that this fact would become a pertinent issue to my mom.
Since I was high off the news of my award, I went ahead and called my parents. They were excited, in their own way (I think I interrupted their British soap operas on PBS). I told them I would e-mail the story to them that night.
Lo and behold, the next day my mom called. I had a sixth sense that we were going to talk about my writing. And we did. The conversation went something like this:
Mom: Hi. Well, I read your story.
Me: Great, what did you think?
Mom: Oh, it was good. You always have had good relationship with your dad . . .
Me: (I knew where this conversation was going.) Well, it wasn’t actually something that happened between dad and I. I made it up.
Mom: Oh, I know, I write sometimes, too. But we always pull from our experiences when we write. . .
Me: When I was writing it, I was actually using other peoples’ parents as my muse. It’s called fiction, mom, it’s not real.
Mom: Well, maybe next time you can write something nice about me and enter it in a contest.
Me: (Sigh) Yes, maybe next time. . .
(Thinking to myself: Yeah, just wait for my memoir, ma, you’ll definitely make it in to that piece of work.)
Obviously, there are tons and tons of issues behind this little conversation between my mom and I. (What mother/daughter relationship is simple?) But has anyone else handed over their writing to someone else, just to be completely misunderstood?
Two big questions loomed up in my mind as I sat considering this conversation with my mother. First, is it normal for the people in writers’ lives to be a little bit nervous? Are there writers out there who have started family feuds because of something written in a piece of fiction that struck too close to home? Second, how do we write about the nitty-gritty in our lives while protecting, or at least not angering, those closest to us?
I think I will be nervous if my daughter (now two-years-old) becomes a writer, especially a reflective, introspective writer like me. My writing does draw from my life, but the fun part is putting a new spin on a person or situation to make it portray the same theme in a new light. I think this is also a good way to protect real people from resembling my characters. Let’s pretend I have a stuffy old aunt from San Francisco who calls me to gossip about her the people at her bingo club. If I need this aunt’s character as part of my story, I could turn her into a young, interior decorator who gossips about her neighbors. The essence of the character is the same, but her identity is disguised.
I decided I am not going to censor myself as I write to alleviate these concerns. The interactions I have with people in my life will add vigor and believability to the characters I create in my stories. So much good material, no matter how much I need to disguise it, cannot go to waste.
-Susan L. Eberling
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
I try to be realistic, however. Like many of you, I have obligations that keep me from the writing I want to do most. So I don't get to sit down each day and work on a Masterpiece of Fiction. Instead, I write articles, essays, blog posts :0) ...all the while with ideas running through my mind, desperately waiting for their chance.
But writing down my goals reminds me of what I want to accomplish, even if it takes all year. Like Sue noted in Strikethrough Momentum, I love crossing tasks off my list, noting "goal met" by some responsibility I placed on myself.
So why don't we try this: write a list of goals you want to meet in 2008. Look them over and then add something to make each one more difficult, even if by a small amount. Say you want to "Query one print market per week." Now make it two. Want to earn a set amount from your writing next year? Up it by five percent. I'm not saying to shoot for something outrageous, like "Be the next bestselling author of chick lit," but then again, who's to say you shouldn't aspire to something like that? Whether you make your goals simple and easily attainable or whether you try for more lofty pursuits, make that list. Put it where you'll see it every day. And as you meet each goal, cross it off, note it "Goal Met" with the date or however you want to celebrate each milestone and consider yourself one step closer to being the writer you want to be.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Online Book Publicity Workshop Feb. 4-29, 2008: Helps Authors Build Buzz
Got a book coming out you want to hype? Has your publisher’s publicist moved on to other projects? Do you have a book in stores that you know deserves more media attention than it’s getting? Are you working on a proposal that would benefit from a better understanding of what you can do to promote your book? You need “Book Publicity 101: How to Build Book Buzz,” a dynamic online course taught by a veteran publicist and author.
Offered February 4-29, 2008, the class is taught in a forum format, with lessons and homework assignments posted online in a private, password-protected forum. The highly-interactive course covers:
• How to create a book publicity blueprint you’ll be excited aboutStudents receive instructional materials and resources and complete weekly assignments that help them discover how easy it is to create book buzz. Student interaction on the forum enhances the learning experience by offering fresh perspectives and new ideas for all participants while instructor guidance and input takes your work to the next level. A free-for-all Q&A corner lets students get answers to questions not covered in the course materials, making this a highly-personalized learning experience for nonfiction and fiction authors.
• The single secret most authors don’t know about generating ongoing media exposure
• The most effective and cost-efficient publicity tactics
• How to generate buzz online using virtual book tours and other techniques
• Radio and TV producer hot buttons
• How to bring an energizing new level of creativity to your publicity efforts
Registration is $179 and is limited to 20 students; deadline for registration is February 1, 2008. To register for the original course, go to http://www.buildbookbuzz.com/workshops/book-publicity-WOW.htm. To register for the course tailored to the needs of self-published authors, go to http://www.buildbookbuzz.com/workshops/self-published-WOW.htm.
The class is taught by Sandra Beckwith, a recovering award-winning publicist; publisher of the free e-zine Build Book Buzz; and author of three books, including two on publicity topics.
Send course inquiries to Beckwith at email@example.com.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Then came the rejection. "The clips don't do it." What exactly does that mean?
At first I was upset. I believe I'm a good writer, a strong writer, and I know I'm capable of writing a quality feature for the magazine. I talked with another editor I write for and was reassured that I have the talent.
But the more the situation weighed on my mind, the more questions popped into my head, leaving unanswered questions. Did I send the wrong kind of clips? Do I not possess the voice or tone the magazine desires? No, I didn't send the wrong kind of clips. Clips show what you have accomplished and fit the style of the publication you were writing for. And yes, I do possess the voice, the narrative look of the landscape that can tell a vivid story. Yet, I was still disappointed that I hadn't landed the assignment.
The next day I was reading the August issue of Writer's Digest. And there was the pep talk I needed to hear - an article entitled "Try, Try, Try Again" by Jodi Picoult. Jodi explains her journey through the publishing world and how she experienced rejection early in her career. Two points in the article spoke directly to me:
- The writers who succeed are the ones who refuse to buckle under the failures that are heaped upon them; who reject the notion that they aren't as mediocre as industry professionals say they are.
- After landing a book on The New York Times bestseller list, an influential agent from NYC wanted to talk to Jodi. She declined, explaining that she was happy with her current agent and did not plan to switch. Picoult says, "I'm quite sure that this New York City bigwig doesn't remember that she was the very first agent to reject me, but I never forgot."
I refuse to buckle under the failure heaped upon me. I know I am not a mediocre writer. And although this wasn't the first piece I've had rejected, it hurt the most. Why? Because the publication is one I respect and enjoy reading. I know I would be a good fit.
So now what? There are literally thousands of other article ideas and publications I'm ready to tackle. In fact, I have several in the works. And like Picoult says, "That's the loveliest thing about failure. Without it, you'd never know how delicious success tastes."
The voice of my creative censor is quite persistent; yet, sometimes I think I'm not the only one listening... On more than one occasion, serendipity has smiled and dropped exactly what I need (when I need it most) right into my lap. This time, it came in the form of a tips article in a great marketing newsletter I subscribe to. It helped put me at ease and I liked it so much, I wanted to share it with our WOW readers:
Be There or Be Talked About: Managing Your Reputation Online
A few weeks ago, I had an author call me in a blind panic--someone had reviewed her book online and it wasn't good, in fact, it was downright nasty. She was horrified, and the worst part, there was very little she could do. It wasn't someone we, the publisher, or the author had ever worked with before, nor had anyone ever contacted her, how she got the book is anyone's guess, but she did, and she hated it.
The price for online exposure can sometimes be high, but this story brings back the clear truth: regardless of whether or not you market yourself on the 'Net, somewhere, somehow, you'll wind up on there. Whether it's through a review or some other posting, you'll end up on the Internet and as a vigilant marketer you'll want to know who's saying what about you. Whether it's good or bad, you can still manage it. Also, you want to keep an eye on what people are saying about your topic.
So how do you win the online reputation game? Here are some tips you might want to consider. Keep in mind that in all the years I've been online, I've not known a lot of folks to go through a negative posting, in fact, it's generally the opposite. Most of the time those who choose to review a book or comment on a service do so positively, but even positive postings need to be monitored. Why? Well, there's a lot you can do with them, and these tips will show you how.
1) First, monitoring your reputation online doesn't have to cost you anything. You can do this very simply with tools that are already available to you for free. Google and Yahoo both have monitoring tools. They're super simple to use, all you do is go to the links, sign up for them and plug in the keywords you want to monitor. Keep in mind that you're not only doing this just to monitor who's talking or writing about you, but to keep track of what's being said about your topic, so you can both keep track of new developments and engage in conversations with other bloggers. Here are the links: www.alerts.yahoo.com and
2) Use RSS feeds to help keep track of conversations on the Internet that involve you, your topic, or your book. You can go to any of these sites to create these custom RSS feeds: www.Technorati.com www.blogpulse.com , www.news.google.com , www.spaces.live.com , www.feedster.com , www.icerocket.com , www.google.com/blogsearch.
3) Using www.MonitorThis.com you can keep track of your keywords across 22 different search engines. Keep in mind that you'll need an RSS Feedreader to monitor the feeds that come in.
4) Online groups might be another place to look. If you haven't signed up for any groups related to your topic, now might be a good time. Check out www.groups.yahoo.com , www.groups.aol.com , www.groups.msn.com and www.groups.google.com.
5) It's probably not a wise move to spend your days chasing down every blogger that posts on your topic, so before you decide to connect with a blogger, head on over to www.alexa.com to get some site stats first. That way you can make sure that before you go the effort of contacting the blogger, he or she has a wider audience than just mom and Aunt Viola.
Now that you have your monitors in place, what's next? Let's look at how you can constructively use this information. First you'll want to have a blog. Why? You'll want to use this as a forum to address news on your topic or on you. And don't wait until you need to post something to start a blog, start one as soon as possible so you're up and running.
A blog will humanize your site and help you create a relationship with your readers, then whenever your monitors alert you to a new topic, a new review, or a new mention of you, you can respond by offering your own twist, insight or feedback. In the case of the negative review, the author decided to address the thing we all fear most: what if someone hates your book? She posted a blog and got so many positive responses they virtually canceled out whatever the reviewer said.
Next, if you find someone has commented on you, your book or your topic, I recommend connecting with them, offering your insight, or thanking him or her for any positive reviews or mentions you received.
Aside from monitoring, blogging, and online networking, another sure-fire way to protect your reputation online is to have a lot of positive feedback, reviews, features, or mentions. Why? Just like the author who blogged on her review, the good cancels out the bad. The Internet is very self-correcting that way, so get out there and get yourself some great "press," it'll pay off not just in the case of a reputation, but also when someone is searching for information on your topic.
And finally, if you're sitting on a controversial topic, it might not make sense to spend your days policing the Internet. People will say what they say and the 'Net has given many a voice even as they remain in obscurity. That said, remember the golden rule of PR: there's no such thing as bad publicity.
Reprinted from "The Book Marketing Expert newsletter," a free ezine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques. http://www.amarketingexpert.com
So, there you have it! I can sleep peacefully knowing that even if I get a bad review somewhere, at least I'm getting some PR!
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Actually, since I have moved around a lot in the past seven years, I have been lucky to find a good critique group wherever I lived. But since I am currently living in East Central Illinois, working with this children's writers' critique group, and they are currently helping me with my young adult novel, I will focus on them. Plus if I blog about these generous writers, perhaps they'll even "love" my story instead of liking it. (Just a little cyber space brown nosing there.)
I want to share with you why my critique group rocks for two reasons. If you aren't in one, then maybe this will encourage you to find one or start your own. My second reason is there are a lot of critique groups out there, and they aren't so great. Maybe you feel this in the back of your mind, just like when you know there is something wrong with your main character, but you just can't figure it out.
The first thing I love about my group, which consists of seven writers, is we all write consistently, and we all care about writing. We meet every three weeks at a local Borders store, and each time, we have at least four stories or chapters to critique. Some groups have a dominant member, who brings hundreds of pages of their writing and monopolizes the entire meeting with their work. We don't have that, and we are very thankful!
We have a good mix--being children's writers, we are also lucky enough to have a male in our group. We have all ages, all life experiences, all different professions--as I said we are a good mix. We write picture books, short stories, articles, novels, poetry--you name it, we've wrote it, read it, and critiqued it.
We don't have a lot of silly rules. We established a few guidelines since our writing is so precious and close to each of our hearts. One is to make sure and say what you LIKE or even LOVE (which is much better than like) about the story before you rip it to shreds. Also, we try to ask questions about the writing or state things that we feel need to be changed in a delicate way such as, "If I was writing this story, I might have had Thelma and Louise drive off into the sunset instead of over the cliff, and here's why." In a non-constructive critique group, you might hear, "What were you thinking when they drove off the cliff? That was HORRIBLE. I would have never done that." And just for you non-believers out there, I am not exaggerating my previous comment. There really are writers who talk to each other like that. REALLY!
The best part about my critique group is we care about each other getting published. We want to make each piece of work the best it can be, and we even offer market suggestions to each other. We listen to the other person's desires. We bring in articles about writing. We go to writing conferences together or bring in information about a great conference we discovered.
Are you tired of me gushing yet? I just want every writer to have such a wonderful experience, and so I am trying to describe everything I can think of that we do.
So, although Thanksgiving is over, and everyone is probably tired of listening to each other go on about what we are thankful for, I have to say that one thing I am very thankful for and very lucky to have is. . .my critique group. If you have any questions about how we run things or how we got started, please contact me! (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Friday, December 14, 2007
One of my sanity saving strategies involves using strikethroughs for each new To Do List I organize. This strategy enables a stressed person to start a day's tasks knowing some of them have already been accomplished.
Not so long ago, I used long hand for my various lists, from home remodeling projects to career-related duties to writing projects and assignments. As I completed each one, I crossed them off, either by check marks, cross-out lines, or bold scribbles when I needed extra satisfaction on something particularly frustrating.
Today, I type my lists in Word, since the strikethrough option appears on the toolbar atop the screen and saves time. Any extra momentum helps. Typing up and striking through tasks already completed creates a mental advantage. The lines provide a simple but influential momentum for a person to continue working down long lists, even if they’re two pages, single-spaced.
Recently, I applied this technique to a few of my writing projects on which I couldn't maintain the right focus. Lately, I chug through small pieces like blog posts. Usually, I handwrite a blog post when an idea strikes, and I do mean I handwrite, depending upon where an idea hits at the time. I still enjoy the sound, smell, and feel of ink on paper as I create, on occasion. Later, I type these in Word and paste my blog into the Blogger window on my scheduled day.
But for one of my recent blogs, I chose to free write the whole post from first word to last. Rather than deleting or editing it in the midst of writing it, thereby suspending my thought streams, I used the strikethroughs afterward to cross out passive words, extra fluff, and fillers that didn't relate.
Of course, this isn't any different from copy-editing someone’s articles, and leaving the changes in to verify them later. It's simply a new method to apply to my own smaller pieces of writing when I’m preoccupied. Luckily, I don’t do this with every piece of writing I create. That, in itself, would have the opposite effect. But when needed, I can look back at the strikethroughs later to make sure they were placed well. The process blinds my internal editor until she’s needed.
I’m sure this idea sparked from all the writers I know who challenged themselves through NaNo. Whatever the reason, it’s a great way to get rolling on a writing project, especially one that seems troublesome or tedious. As I sat down to write today, I didn't know where to begin. The holidays provide major distractions, among other events in life.
Right now as I type this blog post, I can’t see the Sandia Mountains. They’re wrapped in a blanket of clouds, and it’s snowing outside. With each drifting snowflake, my thoughts wants to float along.
My kids left for school hoping for the same snow days they had last year. At the end of next week, they get eleven days off from school, plus the three weekends and a Monday in that winter vacation. Pretty nice for them! Last year, they'd received three extra days on top of that due to excessive snow fall. Since we live in the high desert region of New Mexico, the amount of snowfall we have been receiving isn't our norm.
Forget the strikethroughs, where’s the cocoa?
~Sue Donckels, Strikethrough Diva.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
By the end of summer, I'd finally found my rhythm. Each morning, I put my oldest child on the school bus, grabbed a steaming cup of hot cocoa, pressed pen to paper, and wrote until my two year old woke from his dreams. I learned to set my own deadlines and hold myself accountable for reaching them. I even mastered my remote control by turning the television off so that I could maximize my writing time. As a matter of fact, by September, I'd carved out three "writing sessions" a day and was juggling multiple manuscripts. And to top it all off, I sent off three manuscripts by the end of October.
So what happened, you ask?
Yeah that's right--well, sort of. You see it wasn't just one sneeze that took my highly disciplined and well run writing routine away. It was a series of violent, malicious sneezes that conspired together to wreak havoc on a bulging disc in my back. That bulging disc sent sharp pains into both my legs. Within a week after they began their violent attacks, I was laying flat on my bed on pain killers and Ibuprofen, surrounded by ice packs.
Two weeks and one MRI later, I tried to return to my writing but could not because of the constant pain in my lower back. Writing became a painful chore that I started to avoid. Of all the things I thought would get in the way of my writing (such as my nice warm bed, watching Law and Order reruns, or mopping the kitchen floor), I had never imagined that my own body would betray me. It robbed me of my energy, my patience, and most painfully, my creativity.
Now, one month and one heck-of-a good chiropractor later, I sit here, typing this blog, pain-free and extremely grateful. My injury taught me that the privilege of being able to do what we love the most--in my case, writing--should not be taken for granted. Though I'm finding it difficult to fall into my old routine again, I'm determined to take it all in stride. No longer am I focused on how many manuscripts I can complete per month. Instead, I'm committed to enjoying the journey of becoming a better writer and reigniting my urge to be creative.
By Kesha L. Grant
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
And that's when the trouble begins.
"LuAnn, can you run to town for tractor parts?"
"LuAnn, the heifers are out. Yup, all 200 of them. I need your help rounding them up."
"Hon, can you whip up some pancakes and coffee? I'm starved."
Or if it isn't farm and family associated interruptions, it's the ringing phone, the "you've got mail" sound effect, or a restless mind bouncing what seems like a million ideas off each other.
After encountering these interferences, I've learned to restructure my 'to-do' list. Actually, my list is written inside a green journal with wild flowers on the cover. The pages are a crisp honeydew green, and within its pages is tangible proof of my writing career. I learned this technique in Advanced Comp and Creative Writing in college some 20 (or more) years ago. And this simple daily goal listing has helped my productivity and attention span.
I make five entries for each day. First, I write the date and time. By looking at previous entries, I can determine if my schedule is consistent. For the most part - except the days I substitute teach - I begin by 7:30 A.M.
Next, I organize my day and structure my writing time. I read email at specific times: 7:30, 1:30, and 6:30. If the phone rings, I check caller ID to see if answering it is a necessity. This strategy also lets me check voice mail when I need a break or when I check email.
Living on a dairy farm means that there are farm-life parameters I need to follow. Having lunch on the table at noon makes my farmer happy. So I know I need at least 45 minutes to prepare a meal.
What does that leave? It leaves from approximately 8:00 - 11:15 for researching, interviewing, blogging, querying, and editing.
I resume office hours around 1:30 and write for three hours, at a minimum. I spend time editing and re-writing, if necessary.
Then I pen specific goals for the day. Generic statements like "work on character development" don't cut it for me. Instead, my list looks something like this: research how cinnamon improves health, query AARP re: cinnamon research, edit article for The Denver Post, write effective lead for the turkey industry article.
I try to stick to my list of goals, but sometimes my writing genius kicks into overdrive and I realize I have a good idea for the structure of an article, so I follow my instincts and fine tune that area.
The key: be flexible while accomplishing a goal.
After that, I reflect on the day, although a writer's day never ends, does it? I note what I've completed or started or stalled on throughout the day. If I don't get everything done, I list reasons that held me back. Maybe I'm battling a cold and cough and I just couldn't focus on the computer screen. Or maybe there were 15 calls from the dairy barn, and after call number three, I knew I needed to answer the phone. Every time. Or maybe today turned into an idea-only day after I started researching, and now those ideas for possible articles or stories are scattered across my desk.
But no matter what I do or don't complete, this journal forces me to be accountable for my writing.
Finally, I take note of tomorrow's schedule and list when I plan to begin writing and a general notation of what I will work on. It's a daily date with my planner; a reminder that yes, I have to write tomorrow.
Twenty years ago, an old college prof told me that writers lead a double life: they possess a creative side and they run a business. You need to handle both to experience success. That's when he taught us this technique, hoping we would realize that writing isn't always a glamorous life.
I've found that I have more of a sense of responsibility to my writing and my career. There's more of a structure to this business, which can change with a phone call, an email, or a husband who is hungry and wants some homemade cookies for a mid-afternoon snack.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
We could post numerous testimonials, but here are a few words from one of our former contest winners that says it all:
Dear Wow Women,
I just got back from vacation, so I am only now getting to thank you for the wonderful prize package you sent. You didn't only send 'things'--you sent joy as well. From pink wrapping paper to the sparklers to the hand-lettered card, you demonstrated your abounding care for us women who are struggling to express ourselves.
And I did love the things too. My husband is jealous of the books, the book-mark kit, the mints, and yes, even the pink mug. However, I don't think he's jealous of the eye-lash curler. Not his thing.
So once again, THANKS! I find myself thanking you often because you are so generous so often.
These adoring letters always go to the WOW Women, but it’s high time to give praise where it’s due. Yes, many of us are involved with the contests, overall. But Angela Mackintosh has been the gracious shopping and packaging elf for all seasons, not just during the holidays. So, send your kudos to Angela, and thank her for all the time and energy she doles out into her TLC!
As familiar readers know, our Fall Contest has just ended, and our contestants are eagerly awaiting the news. Of course, everyone must wait until the January issue. (Sorry, our lips are sealed!)
In the mean time, we’re back to Flash Fiction--250-500 words--from now through February 29th, 2008. If you haven’t checked it out, please do. It’s Open Prompt Season. Plus, WOW! Women On Writing is proud to partner with W.W. NORTON & COMPANY to bring you this Winter 2008 Flash Fiction Contest. Don't wait too long.
Please don’t wait until the last minute, ladies. That’s not the best strategy. Take your time and apply some other TLC to your next entry.
Best wishes for all your writing.
Monday, December 10, 2007
I’ve always known that I should write but didn’t start in earnest until my daughter’s death. Without that impetus I’m not sure I’d ever have started. But with a compelling reason--grief--I began pouring my feelings out on paper. But six years later, I face the challenges that every writer faces--composing, editing, publishing and marketing. One of the major challenges is new subject matter--inspiration. Inspiration is everywhere. But I’ve recently had an epiphany and discovered a couple of new sources.
Conversation and mundane matters: This is not new or unique but it’s ubiquitous so I mention it. Every conversation (including those overheard), billboards, advertisements, signs, or well you get my drift, is a potential kernel that could burgeon into a story. I’ve become better at listening and storing tidbits but to be safe, I carry a small notebook and my scandisk so I can record the scraps. These bits make starting the writing process easier and sometimes I find something new and fresh buried in the drivel I produce. No matter what, I keep producing, drivel or not.
Dreams: During a period of self-discovery, I began recording my dreams. Life has curdled my dreams, and though I may require a shrink, in the meantime, I have stories in the Steven King genre--questionable sanity but inspired.
Cartoons: Another bolt of lightening--I’ve never appreciated cartoons until recently under the tutelage of my grandson. I discovered that cartoons have a layer of adult humor. I find it freeing.
Walk: When I get stuck on a project, I let my project simmer like soup and go for a walk and voila new ideas surface from the cauldron. When I return to writing and stir, it is clear what is needed to spice it up.
But it is the Holiday season and my inspiration this month is Christmas--the “real” meaning of Christmas not just Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Though I have to confess that I was out at 6:00 am the Friday after Thanksgiving, shopping even before my turkey had digested. I give thanks for malls and credit cards.
My hope and prayer for the season is peace--if not world peace then peace in our cities and homes. I hope for fewer guns and clenched fists and more eggnog and ho ho hos!
In the alternative, there’s always shopping.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
I don’t know if you ever did this when you were younger, or last week at your sister’s wedding, when your aunt bugged your cousin about when she could be mother of the bride, but we women make a list of what our Mr. Right will look like. Often having features of Brad Pitt, Antonio Banderas, or Johnny Depp, while also being sensitive, enjoying the arts, and would describe the perfect date as a picnic under the stars telling you how your beauty out shines every star in the sky. Okay, maybe this is a little too mushy, but you get my point. We as women sometimes want certain characteristics in the men in our lives. But if you’re writing for a male and female audience, sometimes these ‘Mr. Rights’ qualities can seem a bit flamboyant or stereotypical.
So how do we as women make it sound like our men are really men?
Well we have to ask, what makes a man a man? Dangerous question I know, but worth asking if you’re going to spend a lot of time talking with or through a male character. When I set out to write my current work in progress (WIP), I made the decision to make the protagonist male, a risky task without a Y chromosome. So the first person I went to was my husband, and I asked him what makes a man a man? Well his first answer was a bit below the belt, but once I got him on characteristics this was his list:
• take charge
• act first ask questions later
• rarely emotional
Whew…that last one got me. I think I need a Kleenex. Okay, so this is a general list, but most men at least have more than one of these qualities. So how do we turn this into a realistic character in our novels?
For starters, I think reading books by men writing in your genre is a good place to start. Watching how they write their dialogue, expositions, and the actions of their men is a great tool to use. I try to make notes on sentence structure, commonly used words, and how that is different than their female characters. But once again we run into the problem of men writing as men. So what general trends can we apply to our male characters?
First, think about the most recent conversation you had with a male of our species. Did you notice anything? If you listened in you probably picked up on the fact that they didn’t say much, and what they said was without fluff. Few adjective or adverbs, just too the point, here ya go, no beating around the bush. How does that compare to the male characters in your WIP? Does he have a plethora of expressive words, or just down to basics, noun + verb = sentence. Of course your male character’s vocabulary does depend on many other factors when developing your character, but in general a guy is going to use few descriptors and keep to the action.
Also, as a general rule, men use more contractions in everyday conversations than women. If they don’t have to speak it out they won’t. Once again hitting on the action based, don’t beat around the bush attitude. Sometimes I think if women didn’t have the need to express themselves verbally, men would still be grunting in caves. (Sorry boys)
Now that we’ve gone over what comes out of manly mouths, we need to look at what goes on inside their heads. Make sure the safety rope is tied tight, and we’ll pull twice is if gets to hairy in there. In comparison, women are emotional creatures, not to say that we all cry at the drop of a hat, but our emotions drive our feelings, actions, and thoughts. Silly old boys are less likely to wade through their emotions or think about how and why they are feeling a certain way. They are more likely to speak and act first, and run out their ‘emotions’ on the treadmill, or in the business of work.
The greatest literary example in my mind is Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. For chapters upon chapters, he talks down the Bennett family and then out of nowhere suggests that it is logical for him and Lizzy to get married. He gives very little thought to the emotional implications, just a straight up, direct thought to mouth. This same manly quality can be seen in the movie, Father of the Bride, when Brian gets Annie a blender for their anniversary. ‘Annie likes shakes, so I’ll get her something to make shakes.’ Just simple 2+2=4, when we women know it more like, 2+7-3+12/3+4-6 is greater than or equal to 4, if not more complicated than that.
The great thing about male characters is they are able to balance out the female characters in your story, able to act, fix, and empower. That is why you rarely find a novel without a hint of female or male influence in the plot or back story. That is how women and men were made, to compliment and support one another. So when writing thoughts and words for our male characters, it’s important to keep the above things in mind. Writing manly men into our novels can be complicated, men are not simple creatures, they are just, as John Gray put it, men are from Mars, and that’s what makes them men.