Tag Archives: literary

Writer Gives Birth to Author: News at 11

Anyone reading this ever given birth? For you guys out there, let me give you the scoop. The third trimester, that last rocky road to the delivery room is like walking through fire, jumping from a plane and having the swine flu all at the same time. What’s your biggest fear? Snakes? They’re there too. Public Speaking (in the nude)? Yup, it’s happening. Combine that with a chorus of voices inside and outside your head, all shouting instructions (often conflicting) and you pretty much have it. Giving birth sucks. Yes, at the end you have a sweet little baby to hold but hey … everything comes at a cost. 

We writers all want that beautiful end product. We’re learning everything we possibly can about the current publishing market. We’re carefully targeting our queries and meticulously editing everything from the elevator pitch to the full manuscript. We’re actively seeking critique groups and readers to give input, and lighting candles or saying novenas on a regular basis. If we’re smart, we’re looking for the right mentor and somehow, some way we know … really and truly know … that there’s just one tiny piece missing, one slipping cog in the whole machine. As soon as it all falls into place we will go from being writers to being authors and we’ll finally have that baby (in the form of our first published novel) in our arms. Hee ha! The visions are magnificent. 

But what really goes into the final trimester of that transformation? Does every person we listen to get representation in the final product? Can we possibly ever thank them all enough? And did we choose to listen to the correct voices, careful to retain our own voice in the process? Have we used everything we know to put the flame to the rocket and shoot off that amazing fireworks display in our imagination? Are we manifesting a reality or spinning our wheels in a bog? 

Being in this place is harder than being at the beginning when we were so private couldent summon the courage to show our writing to a living soul. Being in this place is more terrifying than venturing into the first critique group or posting the first short story on the internet. Being here is like that moment right before you KNOW you are in labor. Scary as hell. 

Am I close or is it yet another false alarm? Because I see this as a process very much like giving birth, I can’t just quit and decide to no longer be pregnant. See, I simply have to give life to this thing. Period. I have no choice. The only questions are … how much longer will I have to wait and what more can I do? 

Maybe if I move some furniture? Back when my son was due, they told me that a little physical strain just might bring on labor. It’s either move furniture or have sex.

Sex might distract me too much so I think I’ll move the love seats. Maybe there’s a publishing contract under one of them. Never leave a rock unturned, I always say. 

That and never, ever give up a dream.

Characters That Develop Writers

I know I’ve read a hundred articles, blogs and comments about how writers create characters for their books, but it’s Friday and my mind has been rolled over gravel this week. I simply don’t see things like normal people. Granted, it might have nothing to do with a challenging seven days, it might be the norm for me, but for this particular experiment, let’s just pretend it’s unusual. 

Let me start with a few questions. First, have you ever really created a character? I mean seriously? From head to toe, heart to flesh? Or, have you gotten so far and the character goes into rebellion and insists he or she is something else. I envisioned Michael Becker, the main character in Blind in the Light, to be a smallish man with thinning hair. He said no. Later, in the second book, Carrying Heaven (unfinished), I wrote that he lost his right leg. Michael said oh hell no, it was his left leg and no matter how many times I read through it and correct it, I keep typing “left”. 

What does this tell me about Michael Becker? And more importantly, (for those of you in the psychiatric biz) what does this tell me about me? 

At any given time I, like every other writer I know, have more than fifteen unique and different characters inside my head. They come from various eras and various genres. Some are human, some are superhuman, some are supernatural. Many are affected by paranormal activities and/or awareness. Alicia (The Magnolia Men’s Club) is an unenthusiastic time traveler who started today and ended up in a 1905 erotic, Victorian male dominated world. Crudo Cushman (Cold in California) is a dead troll earning his pass through the pearly gates by managing a West Hollywood holding tank for other dead supernatural creatures. Luc and Gabe (Sympathy for the Devil) are slipping the bonds of time and dimension and exploring their influence on the history of American through our national pastime, Baseball. And by the way, Gabe is the Angel Gabriel and Luc is … yes … Lucifer himself. 

There are more. Characters, characters shouting and jostling each other inside my brain. Miribella Patients see auras. Don Carson is a soul eater. Angela Menendez is a spiritual healer. More and more of them keep coming too, shouting for my attention and telling me what they are, what they can do and what they look like. As the author, the only control I have is deciding which story they’ll be part of, and even with that, they all have their own idea as to how to react to the stimuli around them. It’s like running a nursery sometimes, I swear! 

Now for the big question … and you have to tell me truthfully. We all have a plot plan, we all know where we want our story to go. Cross your heart and hope to slip on a crack that breaks your protagonist’s back … tell the truth. Do you really control the plan? The outline? The strategic plot? Or, like me, do you start with a sound plan and discover that your characters have another idea all together? Ideas that strangely … always … improve the scene, plot or novel as a whole? Are we really the conductor of the symphony in our head? Are we the storytellers, or the typists?

Write-by-Numbers: The Literary Masterpiece

Does anyone remember the paint-by-numbers kits? I’m not sure they even make them anymore but how cool was that? A person with little to no artistic talent could suddenly recreate the Mona Lisa; all you had to do was pay attention to the numbers and stay in the lines. I admit I preferred to smear the lines. Things that look too crisp and neat always bugged me. 

Numbers are my personal nemesis. Clean columns of numbers in a checkbook, figures in an employment contract, commission percentages … enough to make this brain explode. Now that my entire life is focused on writing and doing promotional projects, damn if it isn’t numbers again at the crux of everything. 

Admittedly, it all started in the 70’s and 80’s when I was in the PR and advertising biz. Numbers reared their ugly heads but I told myself not to be afraid, after all, they weren’t big numbers. For example, a 30 second radio or television commercial is 75 words. A 60 second spot, 150 words. No smearing across the lines allowed. Within those tight parameters, the copy has to mention the advertiser’s name no less than three times and the location or phone number at least twice. Oh, and if you’re partial to alliteration, you’re sure to make enemies among the local talent producing the ads. 

Press releases are also very restricted. They not only MUST be news, but they too require word limits. If you’re lucky, a sound bite could be created from your press release; so it behooves the publicist to obey the same rules that format radio and television ads in the word count department. News print also likes clean, concise, newsworthy press releases and often will publish a release verbatim. What a coup! And if you really wrote the thing well, you get a call for a full interview. You’re off to the races and giving good PR. 

One day in the early 90’s I burned out and headed into the culinary world. Numbers, numbers, numbers! Weights, measures and metric conversions gave me nightmares. But like everything else, I let my soul override the terror and did just dandy, although this chef would never survive in a pastry shop. Baking is chemistry and you really can’t smear across any lines there or your bread won’t rise, your cookies won’t hold together and your crème brule will break. (It’s okay; there are enough pastry chefs in my family that I’ll never have to bake as long as I live.) After culinary school came the practical requirements of the industry; food cost evaluation has less to do with food than you think, planning and purchasing for large parties and effective menu design … yup, it’s all hinged on numbers. 

Thankfully, blessedly, now I’m a writer and only a writer. Yes I write press releases and articles but mostly I write my own work. So what do you think comes back to haunt me? Numbers. 

Lucky for us all, technology comes into play. If I had to multiply 250 words per double-spaced page I’d be a mess. Just click on “tools” and let Microsoft Word do the work. But there is more. Correct word count is defined by your product and your genre. Short story – up to 7,500 words. Novella – 17,000 to 40,000 words. Novel – 40,000 words and up. But oh no, it doesn’t stop there. Is your novel a romance or a historical fiction? A non-fiction or a memoir? Is your audience adult, young adult or children? A fiction query must be no more than one page and be sent out after the book is written … a non-fiction proposal must be 90 pages and presented before the book is written. 

Everything requires deeper research and attention to detail on our part as writers. Getting things right is super important. You researched your subject, researched your location and researched your character motivation. Be sure to research the appropriate word count for your manuscript. Being rejected because your romance comes in at a 198,000 words can really hurt, especially since the rejector seldom tells the rejectee that’s the reason. 

Writers and numbers will always face off. Some writers join crazy clubs and groups to challenge the number of words they’ll write within a given time period, others fall into the twitter universe and make profound statements with 140 characters. Whatever we do, word count is part and parcel of our final product. 

It’s all about paying our dues … learning the lay of the land … being aware. Writers are the last bastion of pure creativity thriving within the limitations of math. How well we do ultimately determines our success. After all, there’s a big difference between the real Mona Lisa and that one I did with my handy-dandy paint-by-number kit so long ago.

What Marketing Taught Me: The playground is getting rougher

When you come to a certain point in your life, whether it’s a chronological age, reaching a financial/marital/parental goal or you just plain hit a wall, I suppose it’s normal to take a sentimental journey backward to discover the important pivotal moments that brought you there. 

At my golden age, I’m never sure if I should be proud of all the accomplishments or embarrassed at the wealth of experiences. I’ve been a musician, a graphic designer and business owner; a public relations specialist, print, radio and television advertising writer and a creative problem solver. Then I got burned out so I jumped into the fire … the kitchen … and became a chef at forty-four. Since then I’ve cooked and created and sold everything from Idaho potatoes to imported Italian meats to giandujas. I’ve traversed spirituality from the pews of the Catholic Church to the humble Lakota sweat lodge. Through it all I wrote and wrote and wrote. 

What have I learned? Lots. 

And oddly, it all connects. 

For nearly 27 years I worked in the advertising, marketing and public relations industry. I developed my career in a town known for steel mills and Permanti Bros. sandwiches. Trust me, we weren’t selling the sizzle. Nothing had glitz or glamour but to be successful in that market you had to somehow make the very mundane seem sexy. Amazing the skills a person can acquire under such circumstances. 

It all served me well, but when I dragged my aging behind into culinary school I thought the past was past, never to return again. Nope. Nada. Wrong. To get into the school, I had to sell myself. To get through the courses, I had to test ideas and stretch creativity. I had to compete for burner space, chef educator attention and medals. I had to study not only knife cuts and the ingredients of the classic mother sauces; I had to constantly invent ways to make those sauces unique. 

Now, I’m a retired chef spending all her time writing and guess what. The mother sauce dilemma continues. It was always there, it just vacillates according to the direction you’re looking and the goal you’re reaching for. 

Marketing prevails. Every moment of our lives requires this skill. Convincing the bus driver to stop as you run for it or talking the bank into dropping a bounced check fee, yup, that’s marketing. It’s positioning. It’s promoting and the product is YOU. 

As a writer, every marketing skill I used over all those years, honed through variations in two careers and perfected as a way of life is even more important. Here’s what I know, guys and gals. 

1)      Don’t think for a single moment that you are the one author who will not need to market and promote yourself. It’s an illusion based on fear. Toss the scary promotional demons aside and just do what you did when you wrote your book. Tell your story … everywhere.

2)      If you are painfully shy and terrified of facing the world outside your safe writing space, get online. Twitter. Facebook. Writing Communities. Join yahoo writer groups or better yet, create one. I totally understand your fears. I’m a bit of a recluse these days myself.

3)      Use social networking effectively. Take Twitter. It’s easy to fall into the ‘social’ part of social networking. Don’t follow movie stars or rock stars or professional athletes – unless they’re also writers. Carefully choose who you follow; other writers, authors, editors, publishers and agents. Follow their tweets and remember to offer something in return. Dan Brown really doesn’t care that you washed your walls today or had a chicken sandwich for lunch. Time is valuable, get the most value out of yours and remember to ‘network’.

4)      If you can get yourself dressed and into a pair of shoes, go to a writing club meeting. Every state, province and country has them. Google is your friend. These groups are all bursting with marketing speakers and tips. It is the buzz in the industry.

5)      If everything you learn and discover still seems too difficult, either hire a publicity consultant to help build your platform or make friends with someone who knows how to do it. We’re all on this rocking, rolling, suddenly reinventing-itself-publishing ocean. Problem solving (like creativity) is plagiarism with a flare.

6)      Take a deep breath, don’t be afraid. Launch your product … you. Without it your book may also be sitting at the computer, barefoot and feeling unpopular. 

Since I began focusing on these self-promotion requirements for writers, I’ve taken up my armor and started the charge. I’ve created specializes pages on my site featuring each book. I’ve created excitement about the characters in the book on those pages. I’ve begun this blog. I’ve created a platform to support my efforts by mixing my chef persona with my writer persona and developing a cookbook series to pair with my urban fantasy series. I’ve started doing cooking demo’s with my local writing groups to test the recipes and chat up my Cold in California series while I’m at it. I’ve continued to query like crazy, continue to ship out additional chapters to agents who ask. And I’m having a blast. 

Marketing has always been a flashy, tingly sort of splash at the world and the playground is getting rougher. It’s not easy but there’s no need to feel bullied. All we really need to do is tell our story, tell it with flare, and tell it EVERYWHERE.

Alter Egos Arise!

Inspiration comes from a thousand places. Before I moved to Los Angeles, I absolutely never watched television. I had no clue what “Lost” was about or why anyone would want to “Dance with the Stars”, but now that those Stars are my real-life neighbors, television has become my preferred evening entertainment choice. 

Back in lovely Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, sitting on my porch and watching the occasionally visible sunset was enough inspiration to write Blind in the Light, a spiritual novel about an empathic priest. Now, my inspirations come more often from the television screen than the readily available daily west coast setting sun. These days I’m inspired by shows I never used to watch. And those shows are often of the reality variety. 

I confess. I love The Biggest Loser, Project Runway and of course, Top Chef. I adore Make Me a Super Model, What Not to Wear and The Millionaire Match Maker. But the inspiration I want to talk about today came to me from my newest Monday evening entertainment; Oxygen’s Dance Your Ass Off.   

Last night unhealthy, overweight and committed-to-change contestants were charged with performing a pole dance of all things; sexy, sultry, suggestive pole dancing and for the most part, every one of them pulled it off. One guy did a strip tease with tear-away slacks to drive his point across. I’m always inspired by people pushing past their limits to improve, but last night it wasn’t simply the fact that each one stood on that stage and courageously made love to a pole … it was the mental tools they used to accomplish their goal that impressed me most. 

Pinky, a lovely Hispanic street dancer with a few pounds to lose, was in a position to fail should she not break free of her tough-gal image and become feminine and sexy. Pinky is my hero for the week because not only did she do the difficult dance beautifully … she did it by starting inside her mind. Pinky developed an alter ego, a hot mama who had none of Pinky’s issues with emoting the depth of come-get-it required at the pole. I cheered, one of the judges almost cried and Pinky managed to stay another week with her great performance and nice weight loss. 

That’s when I decided … I want an alter ego. I need an alter ego. I DEMAND an alter ego! 

We all know the power of suggestion, the strength of visualization and manifestation to reach our goals. Time to add imagination to that list and invent the perfect alter ego to set the standards. 

My alter ego will be miles ahead of me. She’ll have all the success already under her belt, she’ll already know what I’m learning and she’ll be living the dream I’m climbing toward. She’ll be savvy with that cool existence; unlike me who still finds the simple stuff baffling … like Los Angeles traffic and why a city with no weather needs television weathermen. Oh yes, my alter ego is cool! She lives in a house on Malibu beach (not far from the one I imagine Alexander Scarsgard owns), she’s finishing her next best seller and still riding the wave of media coverage from her last best seller. I really like her. She’s an alter ego I want to be friends with and she has no problem letting me into her circle to feel the energy of being her. 

Yes. Every struggling writer needs this kind of alter ego. What fun, like a built in, made to order role model! 

What’s your alter ego like?

My Tastes as a Writer

As you can see from my sites (both the Author Site and Whispers of the Muse), I write … a lot. My tastes are eclectic and I work in several genres. Literary, urban fantasy, fantasy, mainstream fiction, erotica … and yes, I’m even writing a cookbook. 

Pulitzer Prize Winning biographer, Carl Van Doren once said, “It’s hard to write, but it’s harder not to.”  I can completely identify. My twitterdeck often pops up with a writer questioning: Where do you start? The chicken or the egg? The plot or the character? 

My answer to that is simple. Respect the muse, first and foremost. What’s she telling me? What’s she showing me? Is it a fantasy world or the Los Angeles Union Station? Is the place peopled or not? From there I usually start with a simple ‘what if?’ and the ball really starts rolling. But, for me at least, that’s never quite enough.

See, there are critics living inside my head, under my pillow, and snuggled between the sliced of whole wheat bread in the fridge. They slither out and mock me constantly. So I’ve adopted a suit of armor against them specifically for this stage of the creative process. I just shout out my weapon, loud and clear so that even the neighbors can hear (of course they already know I’m strange). My armor has only two words accompanied by stomping feet. “Why not?” 

I’m not sure of the strength or strain of other writer’s inner critics, but mine seem to simply shut the hell up when I bellow that question. They know I’ll win. Creativity requires more than great imagination. It must also have wonderful rebuttals and mine are golden. 

I hate a story that is solely plot and/or character driven. Those, to me are the luscious, all important icing on the cake. If I don’t have a severe twist to my basic concept, I lose interest quickly. As a reader I’m the same. Wow me, or warn me I won’t need a sleep aid tonight. Knock my socks off and make me wonder why no one ever thought of it quite that way before. 

Huh … is there a support group for this sort of thing?

Welcome to my Blog

Finally! I’m probably the most un-computer-savvy person I know. It seems to have taken forever to get a blog set up but with the help of Natalie Preston, computer whisperer extraordinaire, I now have bloggage! 

It’s nearly impossible to describe the painful process of getting here, all the time knowing that having a blog is the yellow brick road to connecting – next to Twitter and Facebook and all the other amazing social networking resources. Part of my need to blog has to do with the fact that I almost never leave my house. Yes, I confess. I’m a recluse who adores my keyboard. In some cultures, we’d be married, Tap-a-long and me. 

So now, let’s blog! There’s so much to talk about. I’m a writer, so let’s talk books, characters, movies. I’m a retired chef, so let’s share recipes. I’m a baseball fan, so how about those Dodgers? (Yes, I said Dodgers, this native Pittsburgher has switched colors, but not for the Steelers or the Penguins, my dear family back east. I just think Dodger blue has a shot this season.) 

Let’s talk literature, let’s talk urban fantasy. Let’s compare authors and let’s explore the world through slightly skewed blog-glazed eyes. 

Welcome to my blog. Explore my Author’s Site (link to the right) and let’s talk!