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Cheri’s Note: This was an uplifting and inspirational way to end another great WD conference!

The Drive to Write–Chris Baty, Founder of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo); author of No Plot, No Novel and Ready, Set, Novel

NaNoWriMo: Writers sign up to write a 50K word novel, from scratch, during the month of November each year. Baty and a few friends first experimented with the idea in 1999 (a total of 6 people). By 2000, 130 writers participated. In 2011, there were 300,000 participants in 33 countries. Six years ago, NaNoWriMo became a non-profit in Berkeley, CA, with a staff of seven. On Friday, January 20, Chris left the organization. On Monday the 22nd, he began his new job as a full time writer.  He explained his decision to make this change with this quote: “A ship in harbor is safe–but that is not what ships are built for.” –John A. Shedd, Salt from My Attic, 1928.

Baty said that a common trait in others who’ve left the shore is the drive to write. Something else they share in common–they’ve all packed the same four things:

  1. An established deadline.  Set a deadline and then share that date with someone (even a newly met stranger). Ask that person to hold you accountable for that deadline commitment. And don’t ask just one person. Invite several people to hold you accountable.
  2. Momentum. “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” –Thomas Mann, German writer. “Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest.” –Isaac Newton. Even if you don’t start out writing every day, commit to opening the document every day. That single motion of opening the document will automatically begin to expand and lead to writing.
  3. An appreciation for messes. Writers need to make as many messes as possible in both the writing and the business levels of this endeavor. Fumbling in the dark, on and off the page, is part of the process. The only way we can better ourselves is to make mistakes–trying and failing first.
  4. Faith. Faith that “our books don’t suck.” That we’re getting better as writers. That our work will eventually mean something. The world holds a lot of surprises–and success is often closer than we know.

If we give ourselves permission to take this crazy path, we have the power to accomplish unimaginable things. Baty says he’s watched hundreds of thousands of people write a book in one month that they didn’t even know they had in them when they started. That’s quite impressive and unimaginable. And we each have the power to do such things.

He offered to have faith for us, on our behalf, believing in our possibilities, because he’s seen them firsthand.

Cheri’s Note: As I said earlier, this was quite a moving and inspirational presentation, and the perfect closing for this conference!

And this concludes my series of summaries on the sessions I attended. But this exercise in sharing has accomplished something unexpected. One of my goals for 2012, as I complete and rebound from the chemo, is to get back to a more frequent and predictable blogging rhythm. Very much in tune with Chris Baty’s “objects in motion tend to stay in motion” point, my need to get these summaries out to you has put me on a daily blogging cycle that I’m hoping to sustain–unexpectedly meeting one goal by accomplishing another. And that, after all, seems to be the story of a writer’s life.

Wishing you all a happy, productive day!

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Writer’s Note: This morning I did get up at 6:00 to write my post on yesterday’s conference sessions. But I didn’t finish writing/editing before I had to get ready for the first of today’s sessions, which started at 9:00. Then the day turned out to be nonstop, without a single break except for the half hour we had to eat our box lunches. I stepped outside for a quick moment to take the promised pictures of the snow, but the snow had already stopped falling, and all of the streets had been salted. So there wasn’t anything pretty to capture. And this afternoon I decided to pitch my nonfiction book after all in the three-hour Pitch Slam. I’ll give you the details when I post about today’s stuff. Needless to say, I was really exhausted when I returned to my room shortly before 5:00. But I want to finish yesterday for you. Then I’ll grab a little dinner. Once I’m ready for bed, I’ll work on the post about today, which I can hopefully publish before tomorrow starts. 🙂

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Early Saturday, January 21, 2012

Good morning! Weather update: Although the sun isn’t up yet (6:00 a.m. as I start writing here), the view from my 27th floor window at the midtown Sheraton is magical. The snow is falling, and the streets below are definitely white. TV weather-casters are all acting like kids. For the past several years, by January 21 in this part of the world, people have been grumbling about the snow, and local towns have typically been running low (or out) of their snow plowing funds. But this year, we’re having our first storm, other than the Halloween weird show. So almost everyone who speaks is excited. This being Saturday helps with the light-hearted reaction! I’m anxious to talk with a lot of people at the conference. There are 600-700 of us in attendance (lower than last year), and we learned from one of the organizers last night that the world is represented–several places in Europe, South America, and 40-some of the United States, including Hawaii and Alaska. (I feel fortunate that I only had to drive across the river, which took a mere 20 minutes yesterday!) I’ll take pictures of the snow outside during our breaks this morning and will upload them for you later.

Well … enough of the weather report. Here are my notes from the sessions yesterday afternoon. I’ll be abbreviating and using incomplete sentences in the interest of time, and I’m not going to focus on putting things in bold. So please forgive the imperfections.

My Choice of the Options in Session #1. Writing About Yourself in the Digital Age–A.J. Jacobs, Author (and contestant on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?)

Jacobs has written three books that I’d never heard of but that I will now bring into my Kindle–The Year of Living Biblically, a NY Times bestselling humorous memoir about what happens when someone tries to follow every rule in the bible, and The Know-It-All, one man’s quest to learn everything in the world by reading the encyclopedia from A-Z. Jacobs referenced both books at the beginning of his talk as a basis for how to write about yourself if no one knows who you are and/or if you think no one cares who you are.

Lessons he learned about how to make people care about who you are and what you have to say:

  • Be expansive. Write about the world, your surroundings, “the setting and the characters” you encounter, in addition to yourself. Create vivid pictures for the reader and give them added value rather than just the rudiments of what you originally outlined.
  • Be compassionate and mindful of others when you’re writing about them in the context of your own story. Remember that once something is up on the Internet, it’s there forever. Maintain a “generosity of spirit,” and don’t use real names. He gave an example of his using a college classmate’s real name in one of his early books while telling a story that painted her as elite and self-indulgent. When he recently ran into that classmate at a reunion, she cornered him and said that his comments are the first thing that comes up when her name is Googled. So, be honest with your story, but be sensitive enough to use fictitious names.
  • Don’t tell every single detail. Memoirs can get bogged down (and thus make readers not care) when the level of detail and the number of story layers is excessive. The importance of omission is as critical as that of inclusion, and what you leave out can be as significant as what you tell.
  • Be totally honest. Readers appreciate (and thus fully engage) when writers have the courage to fully open the kimono. Letting the reader in on sensitive issues/events adds to your authenticity as a writer and is a risk worth taking.
  • Recognize and accept the fact that our job as writers no longer just includes writing. Whether we like it or not, being a writer has become an entrepreneurial business. We need to establish a brand/presence for ourselves, and we need to embrace the marketing elements as part of the creative process. For example, when his book about the bible came out, he wrote several articles for publication that drew from the bible as part of his promotion. One article for Glamour magazine was on sex and love, and another was for an MTV publication on music and dancing, both articles citing biblical passages. Whenever possible, he makes his promotional responsibilities part of his creative endeavors.
  • He views Twitter as a “creativity booster.” He didn’t tell us how he approached this, and the Q&A session didn’t afford enough time for me to ask him. He did reference a book, however–The Future of the Book, by Sam Harris. If I see him walking around this weekend, I’ll get more detail because I’m also trying to improve my Twitter activities. If I don’t see him, I’ll send him an email.

Suggestions for “getting noticed”:

  • When querying, make the first line of your letter/email the hook/lead.
  • Meet the people you’re targeting in person whenever possible. Don’t become a stalker, but be persistent. Tenacity can actually work (over time). And use compliments liberally (but authentically). Being a “KA” can also be very effective.
  • When writing a memoir, anyone can make him or herself fascinating and vulnerable with vivid language and great storytelling. You don’t have to be “famous or important” in order to make readers care about you and your book.

Creatively, Jacobs believes that this is the most exciting time to be a writer. Financially, not so much. Writers need to keep their fingers in every medium possible–blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and anything else you can manage. Self-promotion is a necessity. We just need to learn how to put ourselves “out there” in a manner that makes readers care about us.

My Choice for Session #2. Writing the 21st Century Novel–Donald Maass, Literary Agent & Author. (If I’m not mistaken, one of my blogging buddies–Jacqui Murray, www.worddreams.wordpress.com — had the amazing experience of reviewing one of Donald Maass’ books, Writing the Breakout Novel. For the record, I find him absolutely amazing. Pitched to him at a couple of conferences about five years ago, before Separation of Faith came together. And as I said last night’s post, his mission in life appears to involve an authentic passion about helping new writers create great novel. In person, the stuff just sort of oozes out of him. If you ever have a chance to see him in action or to pitch to him, don’t let the opportunity pass!)

Maass began his presentation by explaining the inspiration behind his 21st Century Novel book, which will be published by Writer’s Digest Books later this year. He said that over the past several years, he’s been noticing that a number of literary novels and unspecific genre books have not only been hitting the NY Times Bestseller list but staying there for as long as one or two years. The Art of Racing in the Rain was one example he cited, and that book just happens to be one of the best novels I’ve read in decades, or perhaps ever! Totally turned me into blubbering mush. Maass shared the emotion, which is created by other novels that had been catching his attention. So, he decided to begin doing research on the specific reasons why books like Racing in the Rain hugged the bestseller list for such unbelievable lengths of time when other genre-specific novels far more acclaimed and being developed into movies did not have the same bestseller list staying power. The result of his research turned into Writing the 21st Century Novel, and books like Racing in the Rain became what Maass now calls “high impact fiction.”

Summary of Maass Conclusions:

  • There’s a rise in cross-genre fiction.
  • Straight genre fiction is declining and is being replaced by “high impact fiction,” which is a hybrid–telling a great story that reaches readers in powerful ways while also using old-fashioned, classically beautiful writing.

He then walked us through several plot and character development exercises, asking us to use/visualize elements of the novels we’re currently writing. He said that his 21st Century Novel book will contain close to 400 of these exercises, and he gave us a good taste of what those would be like. Even though I’m focusing on my nonfiction book right now instead of my third novel, I found his exercises very effective and invigorating. Made me want to get to work on that novel sooner than later. Can’t wait to see what else will be in his book.

Summary of Maass comments as he was putting us through the exercises:

  • “High impact fiction” writers are writing from a place of personal experience, revealing things that are “hard and difficult” through the characters.
  • Author authenticity reaches through to readers’ hearts.
  • Make character emotions big.
  • Excite reader imagination and emotion with something different, something not only unexpected but big. If you think the climax of your novel is aready big, jolt the reader by creating something even bigger.
  • Create an inner-journey story where true change [in characters] takes many steps. Deepen the character. Think “flawed,” “human,” “brave.”
  • Things need to happen in a novel!
  • Recommended reading: The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard. Author intentionally put the biggest event she could think of in the middle of the novel so she could outdo herself at the end of the book.
  • What fiction lovers are willing to pay for in this tough economy is the combination of great stories powerfully told with incredibly beautiful writing.
  • The focus on the craft of writing is back! (Yay!)
  • Authors are what make a novel great, not any promotion or marketing. (Yay again!)

My Choice for Session #3. Pitch Perfect–Chuck Sambuchino, Agent, and Editor of Guide to Literary Agents (This was a basic/beginner session, especially useful for those who’ve never pitched before. But there weren’t any other choices during this time slot yesterday afternoon. The choices started today, which you’ll be receiving later … 🙂 )

A “pitch” is basically a spoken query letter (or what you find on the back of a book jacket/movie DVD box. (So, this summary can work for you/perhaps help you, if you’re dropping into this blog and just happen to be focusing on querying right now.)

Basic beats of a pitch:

  • 3-10 sentences in length
  • For fiction (which includes memoir in terms of pitching), do not reveal the ending. Peak the agent’s interest.
  • Do everything possible to cut down on confusion. Whether fiction or non, open with a) genre, b) book title, c) word count, d) whether or not the book is complete.
  • State your “log line”–Your story described in one single sentence.

Next:

  • Intro main character(s).
  • Intro something interesting/unique about protagonist, or what that character wants.
  • What is the inciting incident (the event/issue that propels the story into motion)?
  • What happens next?
  • Present the stakes (what happens if the character fails).
  • What other “wacky” things happen?
  • Describe the character arc.
  • Present a non-specific wrapup (not revealing the ending, but creating a sense of intrigue).
  • Remember that the entire pitch should only be 3-10 sentences in length.

For nonfiction:

  • Start with the same “basic beats of the pitch.”
  • What is the book about?
  • What are the author credentials?
  • Present the author platform. Visibility as an author, including blog, Web site, speaking engagements …  What concrete abilities exist right now to sell the book?

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Okay, that completes my notes from yesterday’s three main tent sessions. My promise to you is that, before the weekend is over, you’ll also have my notes on the three sessions this morning, the Keynote Address right after lunch, my details about the Pitch Slam this afternoon, and then the three sessions tomorrow morning as well as the Closing Address. The stuff is really interesting and, I believe, of great value to us as we each pursue our literary journeys. So, my notes are extensive, and I don’t want to shortcut the transcription for you.

Since I don’t have any pictures of the snow, I’m closing with a shot of me in my room after I came up from today’s sessions. Have a great night!

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In a Nutshell, Three Elements to Launch 2012’s Writing Year:

1. The third annual Writer’s Digest Conference begins tomorrow (January 20) at the Sheraton in Manhattan, and I am extremely excited, as usual! Those of you who are familiar with this blog understand my affinity for this particular conference and the impact that the first conference in September 2009 had upon my publishing decisions relative to my second novel (Separation of Faith). That first conference also marked the motivating moment for the launch of this blog, among other social media outreach activities.

Throughout the multiplying years in which I’ve been pursuing this literary dream, I have no idea how many sizes and shapes of conferences I’ve attended. A bunch, for certain! And a number of those were actually produced every year by Writer’s Digest in conjunction with Book Expo America (BEA), the publishing industry’s annual convention event. But Writer’s Digest broke away from BEA in 2009 and began holding their own conference. And that’s when everything changed for me. You can read about the reason’s for the metamorphosis in this blog’s Launch posting (https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2009/11/04/hello-world/).

Since then, the WD conference has become the best one out there, in my opinion. For writers in search of the truth about the publishing world and practical information/tools that help us navigate through that world, this conference is “the” place to be. If you’d like to explore the conference agenda and sessions, here’s a quick link: http://www.writersdigestconference.com/ehome/27962/52254/?&. And for those of you with a sustained interest, I’ll be blogging throughout the three days, giving you the inside scoop from the sessions I attend and from other attendees and presenters with whom I have the opportunity to chat.

Regarding the Pitch Slam session on Saturday afternoon, I’m not sure yet if I’ll be pitching. Part of that decision will depend on how I’m feeling (see point #3 below). If I do pitch, I’ll be focusing on my nonfiction project, which isn’t finished (nonfiction books don’t need to be finished before pitching, but I’d prefer that mine were). Still, if I’m feeling empowered by Saturday afternoon, I might run the project by a few of those agents just for the practice. At this writing, I’m fairly certain that I want to move forward with that project on my own, publishing an e-book first followed by print options. I’ll know more about that direction once the conference is over, since I’m attending several sessions on how writers can navigate the wild and ever-changing publishing world on their own. Stay tuned for my blog posts on the subject as the conference unfolds. If you happen to be at the conference yourself, please let me know so we can connect somewhere!

The opening address will begin at 4:00 p.m. EST. You’ll be on my mind! 🙂

2. New Year’s Inspiration can be found almost everywhere we look as writers. People in my life are constantly telling me about someone they know who’s in some sort of jam that could be tweaked and woven into a novel’s plot or subplot. And I recently sat at the pharmacy for 90 minutes where I observed no less than a half dozen interpersonal scenarios that could be spun into fun stories. If we’re alert, there will never be a shortage of material. But as 2012 gets underway and we are all still focusing on our resolutions, I’d like to share a few links I’ve been collecting that I hope will offer you a nudge, an idea, or a little inspiration, if you’re in search of such things.

Please let me know if you find anything helpful in these lists. Since creating consistency in my writing routine is one of my 2012 resolutions, I have the “Reboot” list posted on the wall close by.

3. Where Am I in the Treatment Part of My Life? Currently, I’m in the middle of Round #5 (of 6). The effects became noticeably cumulative, beginning with Round #4, so I’ve been struggling a bit, especially through the holidays. But the good news is that #6 will happen on January 30, followed by the standard three weeks of not-so-hot, which will then be followed by … nothing else! Yay! When this process began with Round #1 on October 13, today’s point on the calendar looked like a millennium away. And yet, here we are, about a month away from being completely finished with the process. And I’m going to the Writer’s Digest Conference, which I wasn’t sure I could make even a few days ago. Lots of blessings to start the New Year!

Two more photos are attached, both of which were taken a week before Christmas. These images seem to be a good way to mark the progress of this journey within a journey.

All the best to each of you as the New Year becomes fully launched. Wishing for each of you that your dreams come true in 2012! Talk to you soon from the conference!

Holiday Thoughts & New Year’s Wishes

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This past Monday, November 28, turned out to be an extraordinarily long day.

And yet much progress was made on the new book!

Although the arrival time for my chemo appointment on Monday was a couple of hours earlier than normal–which would have led one to believe that the day might end an equivalent number of hours earlier–alas, that was not to be. Because last week was Thanksgiving, lots of people like me opted not to have treatment on that Monday or on Thanksgiving Thursday (the only two days of the week that chemo is administered). Instead, a whole gaggle of us shifted our appointments to this week. That, as you might imagine, led to a backup of gargantuan proportions. I arrived shortly before 10:00 a.m. and left the chemo suite that night at 7:30.

Adding to the unusual nature of the day was the fact that this was the first time I’ve gone through the process alone. Normally, my daughter is with me. But she had an unmanageable conflict at work, so I went solo. Admittedly, that is not my favorite way to experience the experience, and yet I was able to make good use of the quiet time by writing a substantial portion of the chapter on the “hair thing” associated with chemo. Of course, the part I wrote during the 90 minutes following the IV bag of Benadryl wasn’t completely intelligible … or even exactly legible … since I had been making notes earlier in a spiral binder and decided, for some unknown reason to keep writing instead of plugging in my mini. But those pen strokes (and, believe me, I use the words lightly) marking up and down (and across and sideways) on the page did make me laugh. And then I got serious when the Benadryl began to wear off and the chemo drugs started infusing. In fact, I wrote for the entire four and a half hours of the infusion process.

Given my previous blog comments on the subject, there won’t be any surprise to learn that this “hair thing” is a huge component of chemo–at least for me. And the more women I meet at Sloan-Kettering, the “huge-er” the subject becomes. Each person handles the trauma differently. And some, amazingly enough, don’t even use the word trauma. Yet all are deeply affected by this particular side effect, which hits every part of the body, not just the head. Eyebrows, eyelashes, everything–nothing is sacred. Consequently, the manner in which women come to grips with the situation has become increasingly fascinating. And this chapter is extraordinarily important to me, because I’m hoping to offer a small measure of help to women who might be feeling alone or isolated in the midst of the decisions they have to make and those things over which they have no control.

My goal of having this book available on Kindle, etc., by the end of December seems attainable at the moment. And I’m especially motivated now that I’ve enrolled in the January Writer’s Digest Conference (https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2011/11/25/happy-thanksgiving-wishes-for-peace-updates/) where I’m hoping to practice pitching this new work to agents, just for the heck of it.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of photos of me and my new hair taken with my Webcam in my office tonight. Thank goodness for the blessing of this thing on my head, because without it I look like a bald man! Seriously!  🙂  (Behind me is the glass wall separating my office from my living/dining room, in case you’re wondering about the reflection.) Hope you’re all having a great week!

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Priorities

All too often, with the legions of tasks and issues filling up the minutes of our lives every day, the truly important stuff can be momentarily overlooked or even forgotten altogether for embarrassingly extended periods of time. In the crush of 2011, I know this has been true for me. So, on this Thanksgiving–and not just yesterday on the actual holiday, but at frequent intervals throughout the entire four-day weekend–I’m making a point of reminding myself of how extraordinarily grateful I am for the following:

  • Despite a somewhat challenging list of health issues with some of us, key members of my beloved family are all still here.
  • And I am still here.
  • So are my cherished friends–some going back 20, 30, 40 years or more, and others who’ve come into my life in the last decade.
  • Memories of family members and friends who’ve gone ahead remain strong and empowering.
  • In these times of heavy financial stress, all of those I love have a roof over their heads and food on their tables.
  • So do I. And given the millions of people across our country who are missing one or more of those life essentials, I am unbelievably grateful but also feel the need to do something to help those who are suffering. Each of our communities offers a range of options for any of us looking for a way to “give back.” I’m grateful for those individuals who devote their own lives to keeping such options available.
  • Personal medical challenges are being met with the awesome skills of my physician team coupled with amazing advances in science. (And I pray that the time will come soon when every single person will have equal access to the same skills and advances. No one should suffer needlessly, die prematurely, or go broke because they get sick!)
  • My writing continues to unfold, and I still have great hope for happy surprises in 2012! To all writers out there: No one is going to live our dreams for us, so we can never stop or give up. Whatever we can see in our imaginations, we can make happen. But if we stop because we’re discouraged and/or tired of the drill, the dream stops too. So, the first thing we need to say to ourselves each day is, “Write today! Write something today!
  • There’s a little voice inside my head–which can be incredibly annoying–that is never silent and keeps saying, “Get up! Keep going!” And, in those moments when I feel like saying, “Why don’t you get up, if you think it’s so easy,” I somehow discover that my feet are on the floor and I’m moving forward. Such strength comes from a different source or place for each of us, depending upon our individual beliefs. Acknowledging that strength and power will not only keep us going as writers but as participants in life as well. I’m very grateful for that realization and immeasurably humbled as well!

Happy Thanksgiving once again to each of you and to those close to you as we now move officially into the holiday season!

NEWS FLASH! 2012 Writer’s Digest Conference Scheduled in New York City January 20-22!

Those of you who’ve been following this blog for awhile know that the first Writer’s Digest Conference held independently from Book Expo America took place in New York City in September 2009 and was the source of my original epiphany. The entire direction for publishing my second novel changed as a result of that conference, and this blog was launched on November 4, 2009 as a direct consequence of what I learned there.

If you’d like more detail on that epiphany, please check out the Blog Launch Posting at https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2009/11/04/hello-world/.

During last year’s conference (WD‘s second), I blogged while I was there. If you’re interested in my bird’s eye view and perspective, you can find those details beginning at https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2011/01/21/writers-digest-conference-day-1/ and then in the eight consecutive posts thereafter.

Is your interest peaked? I honestly believe that this is one of the best, if not the best, conferences for all writers, but especially for writers in search of both the truth about the publishing business as well as guidance. Here are some links for you to explore about the highlights of the 2012 conference coming up this January:

Despite the fact that I will still have one chemo round left to go and might not be feeling at the top of my game, I wouldn’t miss this event! And I’m already registered! So, if you decide to attend, please let me know. I’d love to meet you while we’re there!

Progress on My Write-a-Thon to Complete My Next Book’s Draft in 26 Days

Well … I cannot tell a lie. (This is for my nonfiction project centering around my breast cancer.) I was supposed to begin the actual writing part of the process on November 1 (see initial details on my 26-day project in my post at https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/publishing-cancer-journeys-merge-in-earnest/). However, I actually began the writing-the-book portion on November 13. And I haven’t been following the “script” line for line each day.

Before I began this project/method/experiment, I had already written four chapters of this new book, and I had outlined my vision of how the chapters would flow. But the excercises in the first half of Write-a-Thon by Rochelle Melander helped me look at the work I’d already done from a different perspective. Consequently, when I began focusing on the book, I realized that a lot of organizational changes needed to be made. Some of the chapters I’d envisioned were no longer relevant (or, more importantly, interesting), while other topics emerged as significant.

For example, I had not planned to spend any time at all on treatment options, because every woman’s situation will be different and, more importantly, I’m not a doctor. (The primary target audience for this book will be woman who’ve just been diagnosed with breast cancer.) However, I am now going to spend a chapter on chemo–not on the chemo itself but on the impact that the process of going through chemo can have on the woman’s life and on the lives of those around her.

Making this even more complicated is the fact that I did not have chemo for my breast cancer. Instead, I’m on a drug called Arimidex for five years (three and a half more since I’ve already been on it for almost 18 months). But I am going through chemo now for this newest cancer (see info on my weird situation in my post at https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/publishing-cancer-journeys-merge-in-earnest/ )–and I’ve discovered that what women go through as a result of chemo is fairly universal, regardless of the type of cancer she’s fighting.

On that note, one entire chapter of this new book will be about hair! 🙂 Without giving anything away, just let me say OMG! This entire “hair thing” has, without question, been the worst part of the whole experience for me to-date. My own hair is now completely gone, and although you’ll never see a picture of me bald, I am including at the end of this post a few photo angles of me with my “new hair.” You can compare this “updated me” with the last photo I posted of me with my real hair at  https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2011/10/25/new-take-on-where-do-you-see-yourself-in-five-years/ (scroll to end of that post). And, in summary, the minute I was able to look at myself in the mirror and see “me,” my emotional equilibrium returned, and I felt immeasurably better. The many steps along that journey will be in the book. Just let me say at this point, though, that I had no idea how unprepared I was for that aspect of chemo–and I’m hopeful that what I’m writing will help at least one other woman navigate those steps with substantially less trauma than I put myself through over almost two months.

Another Interesting WSJ Article on Self-Publishing

On October 31, one of those cherished family members I mentioned at the beginning of this post sent me a link to “Secret of Self-Publishing: Success” by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg in the Wall Street Journal. Any writer considering/exploring self-publishing as an option will find this of interest, whether you’re a new writer trying to decide which way to go for your first book or whether you’re an established writer who’s curious (and brave).

This is just the one more perspective now that self-publishing has become a legitimate path for authors of all genres to get their work into the hands of readers. I’ll be interested to hear what you think: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203554104577002230413747366.html.

Okay–Here Are My “New Hair” Pictures

Keep in mind that none of this is growing out of my head!

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend! I’ll be watching “It’s A Wonderful Life” and putting up my tree! 🙂

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Topics in This Post:

  • Separation of Faith Places Again!
  • Book Club Update
  • Book Club Promotion to Come Soon!
  • Long-Awaited Promotional Trip to Kettle Falls Just Three Weeks Away!
  • Fascinating and Helpful Tips from Bestselling Author Harlan Coben
  • Photo Gallery of Happy Bookers Book Club Meeting in Atlanta on April 19, 2011

Separation of Faith Places Again!

Yesterday I learned that Separation of Faith has placed in yet another contest! Yay! This time the award is an Honorable Mention in the San Francisco Book Festival competition! Last month the novel was runner up to the grand prize winner in the Los Angeles DIY Book Festival and, shortly before that, the novel made the first cut in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award.

There are definitely elements of Separation of Faith that make the book/story contest-worthy (one of those elements being the extraordinary editorial quality, thanks to the amazing professional editors who worked so hard with me toward that important objective). Still, a first place contest award continues to elude the novel. Nonetheless, I remain both grateful for the wonderful things that are happening and unendingly hopeful about what I believe awaits on the path ahead. There are ten (I think) contests still in process, and I will, of course, post updates as soon as they come in.

Meanwhile, I’m giving myself permission to celebrate for a minute or two. 🙂

Book Club Update

At the end of this post is a complete photo album that captures the incredible visit I had with the Happy Bookers Book Club in Atlanta three weeks ago. The memories of that trip remain tantalizing for me as they linger. In addition to viewing the photo album, you are invited to read the comments posted by those amazing women following our meeting and my subsequent post on April 19 (https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2011/04/19/atlanta-book-club-event-was-today/.

In preparation for that book club event, I shipped to Atlanta a box full of material collected and developed during my research for Separation of Faith. The items included photos taken while I was in Kettle Falls, Washington (a primary location in the novel), as well as my notes, outlines, sketches of period fashions in the 1940s, and so forth. These are the sorts of things that have become interesting to readers who have finished the book, because I don’t have to worry about giving away any of the story’s secrets and surprises.

The photos that show all of us gathered around the table looking at “stuff” are capturing the moments after our wonderful lunch. Book club members were seeing the research material for the first time. Many thanks to Lynn Henderson, her great camera and photography skills, and other book club members who picked up the camera to make sure Lynn was in some of the pictures!

Book Club Promotion to Come Soon!

As we speak, I’m in the process of moving (house and office). Although I’ve said this many times before, I’m fully committed to never relocating again … ever! The move will be competed by this time next week. In fact, one week from today, I will wake up in my new place. Hurray!

One of the top priorities when I start working in my new home office on May 21 will be the announcement of my book club promotion! Details are still being finalized, but in short, the promotion will offer the opportunity for book club members and me to actually meet one another, as we did in Atlanta. So, if you belong to a book club, I will have news for you very soon!

In advance, I encourage you to read the Happy Bookers’ comments following our April 19 meeting and my blog post that night (https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2011/04/19/atlanta-book-club-event-was-today/). I will be happy to arrange a connection between your book club and theirs, if you’re interested in learning more about their reactions to Separation of Faith. You’re welcome to email me directly at claser58@gmail.com.

Long-Awaited Promotional Trip to Kettle Falls Just Three Weeks Away!

As mentioned previously in this and earlier blog posts, Kettle Falls, Washington is a primary setting in Separation of Faith. (How that came to be, since I live in New Jersey, is a great book club story!) 🙂 In addition, the novel has been endorsed by a former Miss America (Carolyn Sapp, Miss America 1992), an amazing and incredibly impressive woman who grew up in Kettle Falls.

Each year (for the past 75 years), Kettle Falls hosts a huge festival during the first weekend in June called “Town & Country Days.” The event draws people from the widespread Spokane area and is a great source of pride for the residents of Kettle Falls. Sothis year the festival will feature a book for the very first time (to the best of local historians’ recollections)–and that book is Separation of Faith!

My dearest friend Elaine (since my 41-year-old daughter was a 2-year-old toddler) will fly up from San Francisco on June 1 and meet me in Spokane (after I fly in from New Jersey). We will rent a car and make the 90-minute drive to Kettle Falls. June 2 will be a touring-around day that will include visits to independent booksellers, and then the festival will run from June 3-5.

Elaine and I–and 200 copies of Separation of Faith, along with T-shirts, book bags, etc.–will be in a booth that is already being featured in the Kettle Falls local area press coverage. And on Saturday afternoon (the 4th), Separation of Faith (and I) will be on the entertainment program that follows the parade.

All of the festival’s committee members, as well as the local reporters, with whom I’ve had the pleasure of speaking, sound as excited as I am that this too-fun-for-words event is actually coming together. I will be blogging live from the day Elaine and I arrive in Kettle Falls (on June 1) until the festival is over on June 5. Photos, and hopefully video, will be part of the posts.

So … stay tuned for a little slice of the dream to be realized!

Fascinating and Helpful Tips from Bestselling Author Harlan Coben

On April 26, Jessica Strawser, of Writer’s Digest, published an article about, and an interview with, bestselling author Harlan Coben. Mr. Coben has become a contemporary master of the hook-and-twist novel, and his latest work–Live Wire–became available yesterday (May 12).

Since my novels always contain a plot twist that no one sees coming, I was immediately drawn to Strawser’s article and interview (http://www.writersdigest.com/article/harlan-coben-shares-novel-twist-tips/), especially since I’m currently trying to figure out what that twist will be in my third novel. After reading Coben’s answers, this moved to the top of the pile of things I want to share with you.

Highlight points that really hit home for me (as I struggle along with each of you to travel the path to the Dream) include:

Coben: ” … Writing is one of the few activities where quantity will inevitably make quality. The more you write, the better you’re going to get at it.” (Me: This sort of dovetails into a quote I saw recently from thriller writer Barry Eisler–“The highest profit margin activity an author can engage in is writing.” If you’re someone like me who’s trying to promote a book, or books, while also writing another one, both the Coben and Eisler comments certainly help with priorities. Every time I find myself asking “what’s more important today?” I now fall back on these answers.)

Coben: “… it’s much more important that the character’s real than likable. Likable is not really as important as real.” (Me: This was a point made repeatedly by members of the Happy Bookers Book Club. They told me that the characters all became real to them, and they expressed very strong emotions about each “person” in the story, even those who were despicable because their “despicableness” came through as being highly believable.)

Coben: “… So there is usually a theme, and you do need that character that people care about … Otherwise, I could give you the greatest [plot] twist in the world, but if you don’t care about the characters, you’re not going to follow it.”

Coben: “… There are a lot of writers who would love to take my place. And I know that the only way that good things continue to happen for me is to write, to get your butt in the chair and to write.”

Coben: “… You can skip the TV show you’re watching, you can wake up an hour earlier, you can write during lunch–you always have time to write. If your life is so full of other things that you don’t have time to write, then writing isn’t a priority and you’re not a writer. There’s nothing wrong with that, but face that fact. Don’t tell me you don’t have time to write.”

Me: Got it! Guess I’d better get busy! 🙂

Please check out Jessica Strawser’s entire article for more of Coben’s fascinating perspective: (http://www.writersdigest.com/article/harlan-coben-shares-novel-twist-tips/)

Hope you’ve found something helpful and/or of interest in this post! And please take a moment to look at the Happy Bookers Book Club photos! Also, have an absolutely wonderful weekend! See you soon!

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Hi! Lately I’ve been giving myself permission to cut back on my posts (to cut back on lots of stuff, actually) because the recovery from my most recent surgery was far more extensive than we’d anticipated. Things are beginning to normalize now, however. My energy has returned to near normal–and I have a fabulous pair of new glasses! 🙂 They are rimless, nearly disappear on my face, and give me huge relief from the neck and shoulder hunching I’d been experiencing. I hadn’t realized how much I’d been needing to lift my head in order to see the computer through the correct section of my previous pair of progressive lenses.

All is well now, and I’m already noticing a major difference. (If you’re at your computer for hours on end as well, and if your neck and shoulders are always stiff/sore, the source of the problem might be your glasses/eyes/vision. Just a thought/suggestion for you to consider …)

My next (and hope-to-God last) surgery won’t be until August 2, and I’m told that the recovery from that one won’t be anything like this last one. So, we’ll be keeping our fingers crossed regarding that proclamation.

Meanwhile …

Good thing I’m getting back to my old self because the pace of this Journey is about to quicken several fold. As I believe I mentioned in a previous post, Separation of Faith is starting to get picked up by book clubs, which is absolutely one of the most delightful elements of this entire writing/publishing/promotion thing! The first big book club event will be taking place in Atlanta on April 19.

Since I used to live in Atlanta and still have family/friends there, I’ll be taking the train down there from New Jersey on April 13. I always take the train instead of flying when I visit there because there’s still something so “Agatha Christie” for me about traveling by train as a writer. I’ll have a sleeper room, which is really a hoot, and the inspiration typically begins to flow the moment we pull out of the Newark, New Jersey station.

Several chapters of both novels were originally “core dumped” out of my head while riding Amtrak–and the draft of the third novel’s Chapter One came out during my trip to Atlanta last December. The focus this time, however, will be on the nonfiction work that will address my breast cancer story. (Last Friday, April 1, marked one year since I received the call with the news. For those of you who’ve been kind enough to continue following this blog, you may find the quick passage of that year as amazing as I do!)

This new book will not be intended as a memoir but rather as a comfort and guide to women who are just receiving the news about the onset of their own breast cancer journeys. (One in eight women in the U.S.–12% of us–will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer.) And believe it or not, plenty of humor is infused throughout each phase of the last year for me, since there really is a funny side to everything we go through–even our traumas–if we remain open to the possibility and if we’re listening. But right at the beginning, there’s a lot of fear and worry about all sorts of unknowns. My new book will hopefully make that early part of the life-changing event a little bit easier to handle.

My goal for completing this book (which will be relatively short compared to even my second novel) will be my birthday (October 14). And this time I’m going to try publishing the work exclusively as an ebook–to start with, at least. Everything I’m reading (and sharing through this blog) regarding ebook publishing has me completely intrigued, and I want to learn firsthand about the whole process.

Even though both Separation of Faith and The Truth about Cinnamon are available via all ebook formats, I didn’t actually put them there. The publisher (iUniverse) did. So, there are lots of elements I want to experience on my own, not the least of which is the pricing and the potential return on investment to the author. Once I dive in, you will, of course, become part of the fun, right along with me, as we learn together.

While I’m working on that new venture (which will move up to the top priority on my task list as soon as I finish my taxes and those of my 90-year-old dad–yet another form of torture), my massive Separation of Faith promotional efforts to date will begin to bear some of the most fun fruit!

The first morsel will be the Atlanta book club! This group meets monthly like clockwork–at one of their homes, with some sort of food and beverage included. But they’ve never before had the author of their featured book in attendance, and I’ve been hearing from several of them about how excited they are. So I’m thoroughly enjoying the anticipation and the thrill of being a mini-celebrity, even if only for a few relative minutes. In preparation for the meeting, I’m shipping to Atlanta a box of stuff I assembled during the research, writing, and editing stages of Separation of Faith, which I thought might add another level to the book club experience.

Needless to say, lots of pictures and video will be taken on April 19, which I will share with you through a blog post upon my return. I will also check in here while traveling, confessing to you whether or not I’m being as productive with the new book as I’m promising myself I’ll be. 🙂

After returning to New Jersey from Atlanta …  

My writing will be woven into the move I’m making. About a year and a half ago, my daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter (who’s now three and a half), moved into a big house together, leasing with an option to buy. Well … we’re definitely not going to buy this place, so we’re all moving in May. They are going to buy their own house, and I’ll be moving back into the same high rise building where I was before–only this time I’ll be on the top floor, with a view of Manhattan extending into the room that will become my new office. (I’m already inspired just thinking about going into that space to write!) Needless to say, we’re very excited, but we sort of wish we could be like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, able to click our heels together and already be in June, with the move behind us.

The move out here in November 2009 turned out to be very providential, placing all of us under the same roof during the unforeseen breast cancer year. Every time we turn around we’re reminded that there is such a thing as “destiny” and that things do happen for a reason.

As soon as the move is over …

The next major Separation of Faith fruit will be plucked from the promotional tree in June. The novel is largely set in Kettle Falls, Washington–and if you’ll search this blog site using the term “Miss America,” you’ll come across several posts that touch upon an associated story that is both exciting as well as unbelievable (for me, at least). The continuation of that story picks up again on June 1.

That’s the day I’ll fly to Spokane, Washington. My oldest and dearest friend in the world (Elaine) will fly from her home in northern California to meet me in Spokane. We’ll rent a car and then make the 90-mile drive to Kettle Falls. That weekend a three-day event will unfold called Town & Country Days, which has been taking place in Kettle Falls on the first weekend in June for about seventy-five years and draws attendance from the entire Spokane area. But this time the festival will be featuring a book–a novel–called Separation of Faith! 🙂

As far as anyone out there can determine, there has never been a book featured before at the Town & Country Days. In fact, no one can remember a novel being written that centered around the town at all. Separation of Faith will have a dedicated booth, and the book and I have also been invited to be a part of the entertainment on that Saturday afternoon. I’m being given a 30-minute slot on stage, where I’ll talk about how I chose Kettle Falls, how and when I visited the town for my research, the Miss America connection, and so forth.

Everyone in Kettle Falls tells me how excited they are about this entire situation–but they could never imagine how excited I am to be there with them all! And you can be sure that the pictures and videos of that grand occasion will be shared with all of you!

The Contests

Separation of Faith has been entered in about fifteen separate competitions. As mentioned in an earlier post, the novel made the first cut in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition but did not make the quarter finals. However, the book did place as runner up to the grand prize winner in the 2011 DIY Book Festival in Los Angeles! And we still have more than a dozen contests yet to conclude!

If you’ve already published a book and are wondering whether or not to start entering contests, my answer would be yes! Even if the book doesn’t win but does place or make a cut, that gives you something to write about and promote. Even more importantly, every positive thing that happens, no matter how small, provides you and your work with increased validation. So, enter every competition you can afford to enter (and you can find a great list of legitimate, prestigious contests–compiled by Writer’s Digest–at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/images/B004I0IE1K/ref=dp_image_z_0?ie=UTF8&n=283155&s=books). Just like the lottery, you can’t win if you don’t play. And the worst thing that can happen is that you’ll learn at least one new important thing that you didn’t know before with every contest you enter!

Whatever Happened to the Agents? 

All three of the agents who requested more information about Separation of Faith at the January Writer’s Digest Conference ended up telling me that the novel was great but wasn’t what they were looking for. Moving on

Promotional Lessons (Thus Far …)

  1. We, the authors, need to prime the pump every day, in order for events/sales to start happening and to keep happening.
  2. Some stuff works/sticks, and some stuff doesn’t/slips right off the wall. But even if more is slipping off than sticking, we can’t stop or give up–ever!
  3. The payoffs–even the small ones–bring unspeakable pleasure, and return immeasurable value, to every single minute of this insane endeavor we, as writers, call our passion.

Hoping that 2011 is moving forward in the best of ways for all you, I’ll sign off here, promising to regain my former diligence and regularity with respect to these posts. Take care!

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