Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘novel writing’

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!

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

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. 🙂

———————————————————————————-

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?

——————————————————————————————————–

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!

Read Full Post »

Write-A-Thon Presents Fresh Approach to the Familiar

As mentioned in earlier posts, I’m proceeding with Write-A-Thon–Write Your Book in 26 Days (and Live to Tell About It) by Rochelle Melander. I’m trying out this method to jump-start my nonfiction project on the subjects of mastectomy and reconstruction. The first part of the book involves “training” and includes lots of reading (underlining and highlighting), writing exercises (consolidated in the recommended dedicated journal), and preliminary organization (I’m not there yet). The second half of the book launches the 26-day write-a-thon and guides the writer through the entire process. My goal is to be at that launch point by November 1.

So far, the training portion has been more compelling than I expected. For example, one of the early writing exercises sounds familiar, on the surface, to all of us: “Write down where you envision yourself being in five years?” How many times have we heard this technique throughout high school, college, technical training classes, job interviews, etc., almost to the point of being a cliche? So, at first, I wasn’t too impressed, nor was I eager to answer the question yet again (especially given the fact that I’m currently going through chemo and am focused, at the moment, at much earlier target dates, such as losing my hair this week and my final chemo treatment next February). As I read further, however, my attitude began to change, largely due to the imaginative twist Melander applied to the question, making the exercise specifically relative to writers:

“Imagine yourself five years from now. Everything has gone as well as it possibly could. You have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing all of your writing goals. Write about your accomplishments–what degrees you have earned, what articles and books you have written, what talk shows you have appeared on, the awards you have won. Write about your daily writing practice. What does it look like? Where and when do you write? How much are you able to accomplish each day? Envision your writing community–who do you connect with, who buys your books, who reviews them, who is interested in the ideas you are sharing and the stories you are telling? Write about anything else that is relevant: where you live, what other work you do, or how your day unfolds in addition to the writing. Use as much sensory detail as possible.”

WellI really liked the part about everything going “as well as it possibly could” over the five-year period. 🙂 Sort of started me off in an exceptionally happy mood. But the big surprise showed up when I started answering all of the individual sub-questions. Apparently, my subconscious must have been working on some of this stuff during the years I’ve spent writing and publishing two novels because I had no problem identifying immediately where I would be in five years, complete with all of the surrounding details. According to me, by then I will have written three additional novels plus three nonfiction books. Some of them will have been self-published and some will have been picked up by mainstream houses. My talk show appearances, which I was totally making up in my imagination, were of particular interest to me. Surprisingly, I did not have myself on Oprah but instead logged appearances on all of the national morning shows, in addition to local affiliates. And, with five novels and four nonfiction books under my belt at that point, I wrote that my very first novel–The Truth about Cinnamon–was “the one garnering the most attention” five years out. Interesting

Keep in mind that my writing in the prescribed journal just poured out of me, without the slightest hesitation or pause to think things over. And, as I wrote, I didn’t feel as if I were projecting into the future. Instead, the words felt more like reality being captured, making the exercise fascinating on one hand and hysterically funny on the other.

The instructions recommend repeating the journal entries a total of four times over a week’s period of time, with each round focusing on a slightly different visual of the situation in five years. Three examples of the variances include:

  • Write book jacket copy about yourself.
  • Write an acceptance speech for a major literary award.
  • Write an introduction for yourself and tell what sort of an event it is for.

I haven’t completed all four entries yet. But one thing I have learned is that my speaking engagements will have become a really big deal and a major source of revenue for me by then. That will certainly be something to look forward to! 🙂

Even if you’re not interested in trying to write a book in 26 days, I highly recommend going through this exercise for every aspiring author (or even authors who’ve already experienced some level of publishing success). All of the details–and I mean down to the tiniest morsel–of what I want to do, where I want to be, and what I want my life to look like in five years are now being captured in this unique journal. And since I believe in the maxim that “luck is where preparation meets opportunity,” I’ll be all set in the preparation category, if I accomplish even half of what I’ve written down! So, when the opportunity shows up, the journal will be transformed into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yay!

Meanwhile … back to reality … the launch of my 26-day write-a-thon (for the third of nine books I’m supposed to have written in five years) is now only seven days away. Guess I’d been get my head out of that journal and the future, and back to work instead! Will definitely keep you posted on my progress.

Chemo/Hair Update

Last Saturday, I managed to attend a wedding with all of my own hair. There wasn’t even a large of amount of thinning evident at that point, and I was beginning to imagine that I would be the lone exception out of millions who would get through this process without becoming bald. However … I was told that the hair loss would happen during the first cycle–and now that I’m on day 13 (of 21) in that cycle, the thinning is increasing on a dramatic scale each day. My suspicion is that I will be calling my hair salon for the buzz cut appointment before this week is over.

Although I realize that I’m at the front end of this chemotherapy process–with plenty of side effect surprises undoubtedly ahead of me between now and February 2012–I’m doing remarkably well to-date. There was a sunburn-like flush on my chest, neck, and face from days 2-4, and I experienced a lot of dizziness (no blonde jokes, please) and fatigue for about a week. But other than that, I’ve been surprised by the absence of issues. The one exception to that has been the unrelenting trauma associated with the prospect of losing my hair. And I’m honestly beginning to believe that, once the hair is gone (and I’m able to open my eyes when looking in a mirror), I will be over the biggest hump of this whole eighteen-week thing. Anticipating the “event” is consuming an unbelievable amount of energy and focus, an irritating distraction that may very well accelerate my decision about when to finally face the music.

As I told you in an earlier post, I had originally scheduled myself to have my hair buzzed off on Saturday, October 15. But I chickened out and opted instead to just have my two new wigs cut and styled. Now I’m really glad that I was such a wimp, and I’m hoping this confession will be helpful to any women who might be a little earlier in the process than I am when they stumble upon this blog. Lots of people will suggest that you take a proactive approach and have your hair taken off before the follicles starting withering away and the strands start coming out in your hands as you brush or in the shower. Others will suggest that you wait, letting the process unfold gradually. One way or another–if you’re on a drug protocol that results in hair loss–your hair will be gone within three weeks of your first treatment anyway. So, how you decide to handle the difficult situation will depend on lots of personal variables.

For me, waiting has proven to be the right decision. So was the decision to get those wigs in advance and have them cut and styled to match me. As I brushed my hair this morning (I have a lot of long and thick but fine hair), watching my scalp become increasingly visible, I was comforted as I looked at those wigs on my vanity. I realize now that I’m going to look a lot better once I start wearing them than I’m going to by tomorrow (probably), as my disappearing hair makes me look older and less vibrant each day. With a wig on–one that’s been chosen to make me look like myself–I will, in fact, look just like myself. What a concept! So … to other women in the same situation … decide on whichever approach feels most comfortable to you (recognizing that no approach will really feel comfortable as you anticipate your first view of yourself with a bald head)–but do have other hair options ready to go right at the beginning of your chemo. I have the two wigs, and I have also ordered two items called “halos,” which are hair pieces on sort of headbands that stick out when you wear hats, softening your face and the unmistakable look of no hair, regardless of what kind of hat you’re wearing. Knowing that those hair options are there for me is going to make the trip to my salon this week a lot easier–although I’m guessing that won’t be the best day of my life, no matter what I do to prepare.

Attached is a photo I took of myself yesterday. You won’t notice the thinning, but that was the day the loss first became really obvious to me. So, I decided to capture the moment. You probably won’t ever see my bald head (although maybe I’ll become more courageous as time goes on). But I will definitely post a picture of me in my new hair on whichever upcoming day turns out to be Buzz-Day for me.

In the interim, as I said earlier in this post, I need to get back to work! Hope you’re all having a great week!

Cheri's Lingering Hair on October 24, 2011

Read Full Post »

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!

Read Full Post »

First, I’m Late …

Hi! My apologies for not being around very much over the past few weeks. This blog’s first anniversary was on November 4, and I had planned to publish this post on that day. However, another unexpected medical situation arose in late September and then accelerated through October. Long story short, I was in surgery again on November 3 and wasn’t able to work for the next several days. During that time, things piled up … and, well, here we are. This new medical “thing” is unrelated to the breast cancer, which is going to be fine. But there will be some sort of further “something” required to totally flatten this new one, and I’m supposed to know what that “something” is by the 19th.

Meanwhile, I’m celebrating the first anniversary of this blog in a number of ways. Right off the top, I’ve added a blog roll to the site where I’ve listed the blog/Web site addresses for all of the wonderful acquaintances I’ve made over the last year. Everyone on that list is going after the same dream in one way or another, and re-reading the comments from everyone has been fascinating and heartwarming at the same time. I can’t believe how many lives have intersected with mine over twelve months through this medium, and I’m unbelievably grateful for each one!

Another way that I’m celebrating the blog’s first anniversary is by reflecting on the original mission (established in the November 4, 2009 Blog Launch Posting). There were several goals:

  1. Complete and publish my second novel, Separation of Faith, and that objective was gloriously met in mid September (a little behind the original schedule, but met nonetheless).
  2. Completely re-edit my first novel, The Truth About Cinnamon, and then publish the shiny new Second Edition. We’re about two weeks away from the fulfillment of that objective. All of the edits and reviews are complete, so we’re just waiting for the book to go live everywhere. I’ll let you know the moment that happens.
  3. Share through the blog all of the steps involved to accomplish the first two objectives, including the things that went wrong as well as the things that went smoothly. (And some of those steps where things went wrong turned into full-blown stories themselves, if you have time to check out the posts sequentially.) Throughout the process, the subject of editing and the critical importance of that element emerged as a fourth goal.
  4. Ensure the highest quality possible in terms of both editing and writing, especially for Separation of Faith. After a huge amount of effort and about five additional months that I hadn’t calculated in the plan, that second novel earned the Editor’s Choice designation from my publisher (iUniverse), a level achieved by fewer than 10% of books they publish. The Second Edition of The Truth About Cinnamon wasn’t submitted to as much rigor, but I cut out 20,000 words and tightened things up substantially without changing any of the original story.
  5. Share tips, articles, other bloggers’ posts, and any relevant/interesting information I might come acoss to help fellow writers on the same path. Toward the end of this anniversary post, there will be another list of things to share that I’ve been collecting.

Highlights

As I was reviewing the November 4, 2009 post, several points and passages stood out as being major reasons behind my starting this whole thing in the first place:

  1. I was close to finishing my second novel, but I had no idea which publishing direction I wanted to pursue. Then I attended the first annual Writer’s Digest Conference in September 2009 where the realities of the publishing world today were painted very graphically for us. (All of that is covered in detail in the November 4, 2009 lauch posting.)
  2. In the opening address of the conference, the speaker (Mike Shatzkin) told us that, in today’s publishing environment, our books, no matter how fabulous, are completely irrelevant if we don’t already have a clearly defined platform and a foundational readership/following in place before we ever submit a query letter. In the same address, Shatzkin also let us in on a little secret: The first thing that happens now in the agent’s/editor’s office is that someone (a staffer, most likely) Googles the name of the writer sending the query letter. If nothing shows up that demonstrates some sort of following or platform already in place–one that’s relevant to the author and the book being queried–a rejection letter/postcard is generally sent out immediately, with no further exploration of the writer’s actual writing. WELL … since I was one of those writers who’d been resisting the all-time-consuming entry in the land of social media, the fact that I had a problem was rather obvious–thus the launch of this blog and everything else that’s happened over the last year, all chronicled herein for the perusal of interested parties.

As an aside–and as I mentioned in a posting a couple of weeks ago–the second Writer’s Digest convention is happening in January (21st-23rd). If you’re only going to attend one conference in your life (or if you haven’t been to one in awhile), this is the one. Check out the details at: http://www.writersdigest.com/conferences-events/. If you decide to attend, let me know. I’d love to connect with you while we’re there!

How’s Separation of Faith Doing?

Great, I think (especially since I’ve had two major surgeries in the seven weeks since the novel was released). Amazon rankings go up and down. (I can follow them hourly on my Amazon author site, but that can really drive a person nuts, so I don’t do that anymore.) I won’t know the exact number of books sold for awhile, since all I get at the moment are rankings, and I won’t receive my first royalty statement until the end of this quarter. But the reviews coming in, from both individuals and review sites, are all wonderful. If you haven’t been there yet, I invite you to check those reviews out at http://www.amazon.com/Separation-Faith-Novel-Cheri-Laser/dp/1450232183/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1289665738&sr=1-1.

At first, the hard cover was outselling the paperback, and then that reversed. So far, the best ranking has been 60,963 for the paperback at 2:00 pm on October 31. And to show you how fast the numbers can change, the hard cover had crept up to 1,707,759 on the morning of November 9. But at 3:30 that afternoon when I checked again, the hard cover was at 152,959. I don’t know yet how many books that represented, but the change was stunning (and very exciting).

One of the things I’ve learned in the last seven weeks of promotion is that if I don’t prime the pump every single day through some combination of activities–blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, tag surfing, etc.–absolutely nothing–zip, zero, nada–happens. And since we’re all responsible these days for the promotion of our books, regardless of whether we publish traditionally or otherwise, building that sales record is a huge challenge.

There is supposedly a point–if we’re putting a great story out there that’s meticulously edited, and if we’re promoting that book in some fashion seven days a week–where the momentum will become somewhat self-propelling, at least for awhile. But everything I’ve read and heard from the experts says that a minimum of six to eight months of concerted effort (and probably longer) is required before any sort of buzz can become self-sustaining for any period of time.

So, we march forward! Things like this posting by Glenda Bixler (a reviewer) on Facebook today can be incredibly uplifting when you start thinking that you’re never going to get “there”: http://gabixlerreviews-bookreadersheaven.blogspot.com/2010/11/cheri-lases-latest-is-separation-of.html.

When I look back through all the postings on this blog over the last year, though, I realize that an enormous amount has been accomplished, and I’m very grateful to be where I am (which is a millenium further than I was when I walked into that 2009 Writer’s Digest conference).

Some Information to Share with You

I’ve been accumulating these links for a few months now. Because, in addition to promoting Separation of Faith, bringing out a new edition of The Truth About Cinnamon, and being stuck in a surgical revolving door, I’m also trying to get started on my third novel, I’m drawn more to articles about writing now than I am to those about publishing and promoting, for the moment anyway. And I realized that I’d unknowingly been collecting lists, which I’m putting in numerical order for you, just for fun. Hopefully, one, some, or all of these links will prove useful to you as well:

  1. Five questions to ask yourself before you start revising: http://elanajohnson.blogspot.com/2010/08/questions-to-ask-yourself-before-you.html.
  2. Six personality types who will succeed as writers: http://victoriamixon.com/2010/07/13/6-personality-types-who-will-succeed-as-writers/.
  3. The ten commandments of fiction writing: http://www.writersdigest.com/article/The_10_Commandments_of_Fiction_Writing/.
  4. Janet Fitch’s 10 rules for writers: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2010/07/janet-fitchs-10-rules-for-writers.html.
  5. 11 plot pitfalls and how to rescue your story from them: http://www.writersdigest.com/article/rescue-your-story-from-plot-pitfalls/.
  6. 12 dos and don’ts for making the first page of your novel more compelling: http://bloodredpencil.blogspot.com/2010/08/act-first-explain-later.html.
  7. Secret emotional triggers for your writing: http://blog.writersdigest.com/norules/2010/07/18/SecretEmotionalTriggersForYourWritingCapitolCityWritersRecap.aspx.
  8. You can learn as much from writing friends as writing experts: http://blog.writersdigest.com/norules/2010/08/24/YouCanLearnAsMuchFromWritingFriendsAsWritingExperts.aspx.
  9. How to write the ending of your novel: http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2010/08/09/how-to-write-the-ending/.

Then, because the editing of our books is so unbelievably important (poor or inadequate editing will eliminate a book from contests and consideration by agents/editors, and will cause readers to put the book down, just to name a few things that will happen), I’m including a couple of links to articles about editing:

  1. The myth of the evil editor: http://accrispin.blogspot.com/2010/07/myth-of-evil-editor.html.
  2. A 4th of July lesson in the value of editors: http://writingfordigital.com/2010/07/04/a-fourth-of-july-lesson-in-the-value-of-editors/.

And lastly, for those of us intent on pursuing the traditional publishing path through agents and editors, here are two enlightening links:

  1. What writers wish they’d known before pitching: http://blog.writersdigest.com/norules/2010/07/29/WhatWritersWishTheydKnownBeforePitching.aspx.
  2. How to ensure 75% of agents will request your material:  http://blog.writersdigest.com/norules/2010/08/16/HowToEnsure75OfAgentsWillRequestYourMaterial.aspx.

Hopefully, you’ll find these tips as interesting and useful as I did/do/will.

In Closing

As I wrap up this first anniversary blog posting, I want to thank everyone I’ve encountered over the last year for the wealth of information and the generosity of spirit I’ve come to know in the writing community. As significant as this year has been, I have great hope that the next year will be even better for each of us. And I’d like to close with the last passage from my November 4, 2009 blog launch posting:

“I believe very strongly that there’s enough room in this dream for all of us, but we need to get our arms around the realities of the publishing world and then take control of our own destinies. Here’s to the journey!”

Have a great weekend. I’ll look forward to talking with you soon.

Read Full Post »

Novel #3, Where Art Thou?

In a post I published a week or two ago, I mentioned that as soon as the promotional efforts for Separation of Faith were fully underway, the need to start writing another book began swelling within me. And, athough my days have been packed with marketing and promotion to-dos ever since, the time I’m spending in thoughts about the next story is increasing exponentially each day.

Then this morning I ran across a folder I’ve been keeping for years entitled very simply “Ideas.” So, I gave myself some time to enter the folder and subsequently found all sorts of inspiration in my notes that date back as far as several decades. My eye was particularly drawn to a couple of pages written in longhand that I kept while serving on my one-and-only jury duty. I think that was in about 1989, athough I didn’t write the date in my notes.

Because my most consistent idea for novel #3 incorporates a crime (which I think I’m ready to try now that two novels are under my belt), the discovery of the jury duty notes was pretty exciting. Apparently, I must have been thinking “novel” way back then because I wrote descriptions of the eleven other jurors plus the single alternate. I also started a description of the judge but didn’t finish him, for some reason.

That experience was so long ago that I have no idea how much of these descriptions was based on what I was actually observing versus the role my imagination and plans for a story might have played in what I wrote. But here’s a sample, highlighting seven of us:

“Martha–white, age 67, wears glasses, widow, 4 daughters, 11 grandchildren, husband was a Prof. of Engl. Lit at local college. Skinny. White hair. Attractive.”

“Leticia–age 21, black, beautiful, short hair, slightly overweight, great makeup, faded jeans outfit, unmarried (never was), mother of 5-year-old son, handles doctor’s office work (OB/GYN), concerned about time commitment. Never learned how to drive. Neutral about jury duty.”

“Mimi–age 36, black, married, 2 children, legal secretary, gold streaks in her hair, doesn’t ‘see color,’ wears glasses.”

“Kevin–age 23, white, handsome, athletic, long hair, very bright, laborer, h.s. grad., parents divorced, father actor, married, 3-yr-old son. Vision problem. Wants to serve on jury but worried about family/child care scheduling. Wife works. Waits patiently.”

“Donato–age 26, white (Italian), handsome, thick black hair, married, 3 children (1, 2, 3), BA in Poli Sci, working for U.S. congressman, studying for MA. Very nervous. Hands shake when speaking. Dry mouth. VERY INTELLIGENT–very upset that legal education could produce incompetent attorneys that represent poor people who truly have a case.”

“Michael–42 years old, white, Georgia State ‘perpetual student,’ gray hair, not unattractive, very personable, gay.”

“Alternate–Albert–age 20, black, student, unmarried, ‘freaking out’ over missing class. Wrote a note to the judge. Bailiff jumped all over him for not mentioning the problem earlier.”

Well, I have no idea if any of this will serve as a foundation for anything at all. But the descriptions did take me back to what I remember as a wonderful, eclectic group of folks who were thrown together for three days and miraculously managed to come up with what we unanimously believed was the right verdict. They all knew I was a writer and joked about showing up in a book some day. Funny. The images grow clearer as I work to retrieve the memories from so far away. Frankly, I’m very proud of myself for saving the notes and excited about the discovery.

That same file included random thoughts about good opening lines and potential story threads. So, this is sort of an interesting study about how novels can take root–borne of something real that happens to us and then taking on a life of their own from there.

Also, if you’ve been a writer all of your life, you might want to go exploring through your files and drawers. Very possibly you might have written something down on a napkin a long time ago that you then stuck away somewhere. Inspiration is often like the watched pot that never boils. The thoughts start flowing into our heads as soon as we stop trying to force them to materialize.

Speaking of Stuff Found in Drawers

In the same folder as the jury descriptions, I found an essay written about the same time (1990) that I was seriously trying to get published because the “Barbara Bush controversy” referenced in the essay was actually ongoing at the time. The rejections (also saved in the folder) are all quite encouraging–but they’re still rejections in the end. 🙂

The essay’s subject matter deals with women’s roles in the workplace (remember, that was in 1990!). As I mentioned in my Scribd description when I published the essay a few minutes ago, I’m amazed at how relevant a lot of the words still are today, twenty years later.

If you’re interested in taking a gander at some of the stuff writers stick away, you can find the essay on Scribd at: http://www.scribd.com/doc/38697919/Where-Is-Everybody.

Making a Novel “Unforgettable”

If you’re working on a novel, here’s an article that really popped out of the reading pile at me: “5 Ways to Make Your Novel Unforgettable.” It’s actually five different elements of a single, very critical point. Hope you find the information of use: http://victoriamixon.com/2010/09/13/5-ways-to-make-your-novel-unforgettable/.

A Final Thought Combining Both Writing & Promotion

In several articles I read yesterday, various authors spoke to the reality of needing a minimum of six months to even get a novel off the ground. Separation of Faith has been officially launched now for about three weeks. So I’m going to stop running around like an idiot, trying to make everything happen this afternoon.

There’s an endless list of things to pursue on the promotional road, with new angles appearing every day. Over the next month, I’m going to readjust my activities so there’s some promotion and some new writing going on every day. The plan is unfolding, and the Journey is on track. No need to make myself any crazier than I already was.

Perhaps that’s a good thought for all of us to consider while we’re going after this dream …?

Have a good week!

 

Read Full Post »

The Editing, Opening-the-Kimono Thing Again

Following yesterday’s post, I was having a conversation with someone about the importance of having our work edited and the various reasons why writers remain hesitant to seek input. For me, that hesitation existed in spades years ago, before I grew my sea legs as a writer. That’s when I was still trying to make myself believe that I had somehow been miraculously born with everything I needed to know about writing novels already embedded in the creative side of my brain.

I remember one editor I’d queried directly (at a major New York publishing house, something you could still do in those days), who actually asked to see the entire manuscript of my first novel, The Truth About Cinnamon. I believe there was a dust cloud behind my car as I raced directly to the closest Federal Express office. After spending all that money to overnight the manuscript, I waited a couple of months to hear back from her. Then she called me (!), giving me a valuable few minutes of her time over the phone, a gesture I absolutely did not appreciate as I should have. (I’d be groveling all over the floor if something like that happened today!)

At any rate, during that call, she said something like, “Your first draft of The Truth About Cinnamon isn’t a bad outline for starters.” And then she proceeded to give me a list of things that she thought needed to be changed/added/deleted/thrown into oblivion, if I wanted her to consider taking on the book. She was truly offering me a gift of immeasurable proportions. But, of course, I thought the manuscript was completely finished and ready for a multi-million dollar distribution–and, of course, I thought the editor was nuts, out of touch, off base, and you know the rest of the litany. Ah, the lament! If I had only listened to her, I would have certainly saved myself years of wasted time and effort. And hers is only one example of advice I foolishly turned away in those early days.

Instead of having the effect she’d intended, however, that editor’s input only caused me to pull inward for a long time, avoiding any further possibilities of having someone else tell me that what I’d written wasn’t very good. (Never mind the fact that she never said my work wasn’t good. On the contrary, she was trying to tell me that I might have a shot. But I wasn’t paying attention or hearing her at all.)

Hey! What if I’d let a professional editor into my writing world before I’d even begun queryingespecially before I’d begun querying? Who knows what would have happened, because here’s one unavoidable truth we all need to keep in mind: No matter what we attempt to do in life, we learn how to inprove ourselves and our craft/sport/art/business by playing with people who are better and more accomplished than we are. And no matter how good we become, there will always be people who are better than we are. For aspiring authors, those “people” are editors.

Believe me when I say that I remain fearful to this day of hearing anyone tell me that something I’ve labored to write needs a lot of work. But now the years have instilled in me the confidence that I can actually fix problems, once I’ve given people permission to point issues out to me. That entire process is intended to make the writing/story better, not to make me (or any writer) feel bad.

The person with whom I was speaking yesterday after my post was published said that, in addition to the editing thing, a lot of writers are also fearful of sharing their work because they think their idea(s) might be stolen. That particular reason hadn’t occurred to me, but my conversation with him was freshly on my mind this morning when Jane Friedman of Writer’s Digest posted this link in her “Best Of Tweets for Writers” list from last week: http://jasonlbaptiste.com/startups/they-will-steal-your-idea-they-cannot-steal-what-really-matters/. The article centers more on techical writing and development than on fiction, although the concept is still totally applicable. Aside from the fact that legitimate editors are not in the business of stealing writers’ work, even if they did decide to co-opt an idea for a novel, there’s no way anyone could steal the author’s planned implementation for that novel, the essence of all the characters, the plot twists that exist only in the author’s head, and so forth.

Basically, in the end, there isn’t any legitimate reason for avoiding a professional edit of our workor for releasing our work into the hands of beta readers–and there are plenty of reasons for submitting our work to such scrutiny. Removing all the excuses for not having our work placed under a microscope is the goalmy goal–and hopefully the link and the additional thoughts shared in this post will be further steps in that direction.

We need to believe in ourselves, but not exclusively in ourselves! So let “the people” in. 🙂

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: