Tag: writing group

NaNo’s over – now what?

This year I got involved in the local NaNoWriMo group, which we’ve decided to keep going throughout the year. While I didn’t come close to finishing, many people hit the 50k mark and were wondering what the next step is. I recently presented the following information; hopefully you’ll find it useful too.

NaNo’s Over – Now What?

 Before you even think about publishing…

  1. Self-edit your manuscript.
    • Length – is it long enough according to industry standards?
    • Show vs. tell – if your book were a movie, would you rely on the actors or voiceovers to convey emotions and plot points? (BUT you don’t need every detail)
    • Plot, subplots, and themes – identify these and make sure that everything in your story relates to them. Take out or rewrite scenes and characters that don’t fit
  1. Beta readers
    • Find someone who will give you constructive feedback on what works and what doesn’t in regard to theme, characters, plot, etc.
    • NOTE: your mom/significant other/best friend will generally not be objective or specific.
  1. Revise.
  2. Repeat steps #1-3, as many times as necessary.
  3. Line edits (no point until you have a well-written manuscript)
    • Grammar, I-bombs, filter words, repetition, etc.
    • Consider hiring an editor because spell check is not enough!
  1. Publish!


  • Generally selling exclusive first rights
    • Not published elsewhere – non-password protected sites Google/anyone can access (your website)
    • Generally less than 10% public is okay – snippets, 1st chapter
  • No matter what option, you’ll be doing the majority of the marketing
  • Options
  1. Self-publishing
    • You do all the work (or hire someone) but maintain all control.
    • $ = as much as you want to spend
    • Smashwords, Book Baby, Kindle, Createspace, Lulu, etc
  1. Vanity
    • You pay someone to publish your book on their terms
    • $ = generally thousands of dollars, plus you pay inflated rates for your own books
    • Tate, Publish America, generally any company that solicits you
  1. Traditional
    • Someone does all the work and pays you (flat rate or royalties; advance)
    • $ = generally nothing but depends on contract
    • Two types:
      1. Big Five – generally 15% royalties, need an agent
      2. Indie/small press – higher royalties (30-50%), don’t need an agent
    • Querying process:
      1. Find an agent who does your genre or a small press. Pay attention to books/authors you like to see who they use. Follow industry people’s blogs and on Twitter.
      2. Send a query exactly as instructed – 200-word blurb, first x pages or chapters.
      3. Repeat ad nauseum – expect dozens of rejections/nonresponses.
  1. Hybrid
    • Mix of self-publishing and traditional
    • Whatever works for you – varies from writer to writer, story to story

Author Platform

  • Essential no matter how you publish
  • Relationships, not advertising – do NOT spam!
  • Polite to follow back but don’t feel obligated to become king/queen of [platform] – better to have engaged, interested followers than high numbers.
  • Best engagement – ask questions people can answer, then respond
  • Social media
  1. Twitter
    1. Follow people you find interesting – agents, writers, celebs, etc
    2. Try to tweet at least once a day – something interesting, not necessarily always about writing
    3. All about engagement – retweets, favorites, responding
    4. 140 characters
    5. Hashtags to get noticed: #amwriting, #amediting, #amreading; be creative
  2. Facebook
    1. Author page – people can like it, can’t see their info; easy to separate from personal
    2. Author account – friends with fans, can see their info and they see yours; technically not allowed to have 2 accounts
    3. Easier to have conversations
    4. FB limits who sees your page posts unless you pay; 10x more views for FBTwitter than TwitterFacebook, so try to use 140 character posts
  3. Not as popular (yet?)
    1. Google +
    2. Pinterest
    3. Goodreads
  • Website
    • Essential central spot to send people who may not be on FB, Twitter, etc.
    • Consider buying your own domain – looks more professional
    • Layout
      • Main page
      • Bio – same for everywhere (long and short versions) + 1 pic for everywhere
      • Novel/stories – titles, novel summaries, covers, publication dates, links to full text or place to buy
      • Contact info – form/email address, mailing list, social media links
      • Blog
        • If you have one, update regularly: daily, weekly, monthly, whatever works for you
        • Blogger, Weebly, Wix, WordPress.com (free but limited customization), WordPress.org (on your own host; more flexibility)

If you’ve published, is there anything you’d like to add to this? If you’re an aspiring author, is there anything you need clarification on? Let me know in the comments!

Us, Together: A Short Story Collection

While looking through a folder of finished stories, I realized I had a handful or so I’d written about teenagers and adolescents. A writing group to which I belong has been reiterating the importance of getting more works out there, so I decided to put six of the stories together on Amazon.

Us, Together: A Short Story Collection

Six stories about the problems teenagers face, from relationships and unplanned pregnancy to absent parents and poverty, loosely based on stories and students I encountered while teaching at-risk kids.

It’s just 1 cheeseburger ($.99) on Amazon.

The Next Big Thing — Blog Hop

Author George Wells has tagged me to answer some questions about my Next Big Thing, which is a collection of short stories I’m releasing at the end of May.

1. What is the working title of your story?

The collection is called The Futility of Loving a Soldier, with eleven stories in it.

2. Where did the idea for the story come from?

Like most stories I write, I look at the people around me, at their experiences, and try to guess their thoughts and motivation. One of these stories came from a conversation I had with a homeless veteran; 5 of the stories are connected and are roughly based on the military history of five generations in my family.

3. What genre does your story come under?

I aim for literary fiction, as I focus more on character development than fast-paced plot, but probably just general fiction.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Since they’re all short stories, I haven’t thought about it. It would be wonderful though if someone made them into short films.

5. What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

The physical and psychological effects of war on both those who serve and those back home who love them.

6. Will your story be self-published, published by an independent publisher or represented by an agency?

A couple of the stories have already been published in various webzines and sites. The book will be self-published, but if my novel gets picked up by a publisher I might look into having them reissue this as well.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’ve been working on these stories for a couple years, with each one taking anywhere from a day to several months to write.

8. What other books would you compare your story to within your genre?

Probably Stephen King’s Hearts in Atlantis, which is a collection of shorts and novellas with connected characters and themes. In addition to the military theme of my stories, two are about the same characters at different places in their life, and five show the effects of the military on five generations in a family. So, lots of connections.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this story?

As a writer with a psychology background, I’m fascinated with people’s stories and motivation for how they live their lives. And it seems like everywhere you turn, you run into people who are connected to the military, each with a story to tell: a fellow teacher whose son was killed in Afghanistan; a classmate who was a nurse at Landstuhl, the US military hospital in Germany; as well as coworkers, friends, and relatives who’ve served.

So many veterans come back and say they’re ignored. I wanted to try to tell their stories because so often I think civilians take for granted the sacrifices service men and women and their families have made, sacrifices that affect them for the rest of their lives.

10. What else about your story might pique the reader’s interest?

Even if you’ve never been in the military or been close to someone who’s served, chances are you’re connected somehow. These are stories everyone can relate to.

11. What has been the hardest part about writing this story?

Getting the details right. I have no military experience, so all my knowledge comes from books I’ve read, movies and documentaries I’ve seen, and people I’ve talked to. Fortunately I have quite a few people I’ve been able to go to for questions and they’ve been more than happy to explain everything to me, as well as add their own insights. To that end, however, I’ve decided not to write about actual combat because I don’t want to mess anything up.

12. What has been the most fun?

Hearing from readers that I perfectly captured an experience they had or could relate to, especially veterans.

13. Has writing this story illuminated any of your own strengths or weaknesses for you?

Yes, that if I pay attention to details, to what someone isn’t saying when they talk about their experiences as well as what they do say, I can pick up on their motivation well enough to tell their story accurately.

And that I procrastinate way too much; I’ve been working on finishing these stories right up until the deadline, rather than making myself work on them sooner.

14. What misconceptions do people have about your genre, and do you think your story addresses them?

My mom once asked me what kind of stories I wrote: horror, sci-fi, etc. I told her contemporary fiction, about everyday people and events, and she responded, “Who’d want to read that?”  A lot of people read for the escapism value, and that’s missing in stories about ordinary life.

However, I think that reading contemporary stories is extremely important because they give insight into the lives and experiences of the people around us, people who often aren’t willing or able to share with us, but whose stories are no less valid.

People don’t exist in a vacuum; at more than one point in your life you’re going to have to deal with people who aren’t like you. And you’re going to have a much better outcome if you can get inside their head, which is something I think contemporary fiction can help with.

15. What is your favorite scene you’ve written for this story?

Scenes don’t really apply, so I’ll comment on the stories instead. Two of them are about a pair of friends, Abby and Eli; the first, “Burger Run,” is set during the summer after they graduate high school, and the second, “A Wedding,” is ten years later, when they’ve come back to their hometown.  They’ve been best friends since they were babies, so they have this powerful bond between them that they’re not really consciously aware of.  I love how it gradually dawns on them when they need each other most.

So that’s my Next Big Thing. There are so many authors that read my blog, rather than tag anyone in particular, I tag whoever’s reading this. So you. Yes, you! What’s your Next Big Thing?

Z is for Zero-Sum #atozchallenge

Day Z of the 2013 Blogging from A to Z April challenge. Today’s topic: zero-sum.

When I was a teacher, I tried to hammer into my kids’ minds that my classroom, and life in general, was not a zero-sum game.  If you’re not familiar with that concept, it means that for every winner there must be a loser. For every A there must be an F. For every millionaire there must be a homeless person.

Unfortunately, that attitude seems to be prevalent with writing. If you buy my book, you can’t buy someone else’s. And while there may be some truth in that – your disposable income probably isn’t unlimited – you can at least read my book as well as someone else’s. Being a fan of one person doesn’t preclude being a fan of another.

I’m fortunate in that I know a lot of writers who are super supportive of me, and of most writers they come across. While we’re all working towards that end goal of an agent, or a publisher, or sales of our self-published book, we can help other writers at the same time: sharing resources. Writing critiques and beta reading. Talking about what’s worked for us, and what hasn’t, and why.

Writers are all in this together. My classroom wasn’t a zero-sum game, and neither is gaining readers.

W is for Writing Resources #atozchallenge

Day W of the 2013 Blogging from A to Z April challenge. Today’s topic: writing resources.


  • Duotrope: subscription-based listing of 4000+ places to submit short stories and poems; gives stats on each publication such as time until response, pay rate, acceptance rate, etc. Definitely worth the price.

General Writing Tips

  • Daily Writing Tips: exactly what it says; a mini lesson on grammar, vocab, punctuation, style, voice, etc, delivered to your inbox six days a week.
  • BubbleCow: tutorials and advice on self-publishing and marketing



  • Scribophile: karma-based critique site where points earned by critting others are spent on posting your own work for crits. Plus a vibrant community of forums and focused writing groups.

If you’re a writer, what resources do you find helpful?

Author interview: Samyann

This week’s interview is with historical romance author Samyann, who’s just released Yesterday: A Novel of Reincarnation.

In Yesterday, Amanda is afraid that everyone she loves will leave her.  But then she meets police officer Mark and is hit by a sense of familiarity.  Guided by her elderly godmother Mary, Amanda uses past life regression analysis to connect with the story of Bonnie, a girl growing up in the shadow of the Civil War and later in 1870’s Chicago.  As the novel progresses, Amanda must decide just how much influence her past will have on her future with Mark.

Samyann recently chatted with me about writing historically accurate stories, self-publishing, and reincarnation.

Me:  Your novel, Yesterday, has three settings: Chicago today, Chicago in 1871, and Charleston, SC, during the Civil War.  Obviously as a native of Chicago you know a lot about the first one.  How much research did you have to do for the other settings?

Samyann: Being a native Chicagoan, it’s not really surprising that I have, over time, picked up quite a bit of the history of the city. I think I learned about much of the Great Chicago Fire history when I was pre-teen. For example, the fact that Chicago’s streets were made of wood blocks covered with tar prior to the fire. There was more research with regard to South Carolina and the Civil War era. The fact that the internet is available to make such research pretty simple, it not only didn’t take very long, but has supplied me with a great deal of information that isn’t in the book.

Me:  Did you travel to Charleston while you were writing the book?

Samyann: Not while working on Yesterday. But, in a previous life, I traveled a great deal. Charleston, and the King Street Antique District, which is part of Yesterday, was visited. I didn’t visit St. Michael’s Church, though. I wish I had, simply because of the awesome history of the bells.

Me:  Previous life as in a hundred and fifty years ago? :D

Samyann: Pretty close!

Me:  What kind of websites were the most helpful to you in your research?

Samyann: The websites that helped the most were library, newspaper archives, and city sites. An example is The Charleston Mercury website. Bonnie’s father, one of the characters in Yesterday, reads about the battle of Shiloh in the paper. This battle was chronicled by The Charleston Mercury, and you can read about it on-line today. There are also quite a few sites devoted to the Civil War. Dates were relevant to accurately convey character ages. Chicago has it’s own valuable resources, such as the Chicago History Museum and website, Historical Society, too. These helped a great deal given the fact that Lincoln, an Illinois politician, is factored into the story, if only for the escape of the characters into Lincoln Park from the Chicago Fire.

Me:  The Chicago History Museum provided you with a picture for your cover, right?

Samyann: That’s correct. It is a terrific diorama that can be seen at the Chicago History Museum, at LaSalle Street and North Avenue.

Me:  Did you just call them up and ask to use it for your cover?

Samyann: Yes. I simply made a phone call. There is an agreement I had to sign, which allows for a certain number of copies. If I manage to sell ‘X’ number of copies of their image, the agreement will be re-written. I will be delighted to re-write the contract ;-)

Me:  Past-life regression therapy plays a huge role in your novel.  Did that require a lot of research too, or were you already familiar with it?

Samyann:  I think the concept of regression is something everyone has wondered about. I’ve the same fundamental knowledge about the topic as everybody … that and curiosity, primarily. Toss in some imagination, and voila. Seriously, I did do considerable research into the process of regression, bringing someone into an ethereal state. I wanted people who are studied in the process, and even those who are not, to sense reality. The concept of using the pendulum of the clock as opposed to the hypnotist swinging a shiny object or watch just seemed logical.

Me: I think you’re definitely right, that everyone has wondered about reincarnation at some point.  Given that, and all you probably discovered with your research, how plausible do you think your story is?  In other words, do you believe in reincarnation?

Samyann:  As indicated in Yesterday, a few billion people on earth believe in reincarnation, so I’m not sure I’d put up a very good case against the concept. I think the plausibility is there, sufficient enough for the reader to simply ask themselves, “what if … or why not?”

Me: Way to dodge the question.  :)

Samyann:  Cool, huh.

Me:  If it is possible, who do you think you might have been in a previous life?  Someone famous? Some ordinary?

Samyann:  I’m sure someone equally as ordinary as I am today.

Me:  What about the idea in the story that our paths are connected with someone else, throughout all our lives? Do you think that’s possible too?

Samyann: Why not? That’s a concept in reincarnation called “soul pods,” traveling through many lives within a group of souls. In reality, the entire concept of reincarnation is speculative, with many different thoughts. I don’t think anyone could say with a degree of surety that any one possibility is impossible. That negates the idea of speculation, which is basically what Yesterday is about.

Me:  You definitely have a soul pod going in Yesterday, with Amanda, Mark, and Mary connected both in the present and the past.  I think from a reader’s perspective, though, it makes it a lot easier to connect the two stories.  Amanda=Bonnie. Amanda’s struggles parallel Bonnie’s struggles.

Samyann:  Don’t forget Oprah and Electra :-) [my note: those are Amanda’s and Bonnie’s cats]

Me:  It goes to show that while Yesterday is a romance, it’s not just about the love story between Amanda and Mark; it’s about coming to grips with your past and letting go of it so you can move forward.  Do you think this theme is something that’ll resonate with your readers?

Samyann:  I hope so. I’d like the reader to grasp that happiness is in reach for everyone. But, your happiness today is in your future today, not your past … Yesterday.  EWWWW, how cool is that!

Me:  How similar is Amanda’s character to you?

Samyann: Well, she’s young and beautiful, so we can nix that part :-). Maybe a few decades ago we would have had more in common. Primarily I think, if anything, some of my life experiences might be in her character, a bit. But, they’re also in the other characters. Mary’s in particular.

Me: I think Mary might be my favorite character.  She’s the ideal old woman – lively and comfortable enough with herself to say and do whatever she wants.  That’s how I plan to be when I’m old.

Samyann:  She’ll tell you to have at it, and “don’t pick fly shit outta pepper.”

Me:  That’s disgusting, by the way.

Samyann: LOL

Me:  On a completely non-disgusting topic, you self-published not only a hard copy of your book, but you’ll soon have an e-book and an audio book.  What are your overall thoughts on the whole process?

Samyann:  That it takes time. Lots and lots of time. That it’s not as expensive as I thought it would be. Granted, I did spend a bit to have a custom cover design, and purchased the services of a narrator for the audiobook. But, beyond that, the entire publishing process has been free. I think given the state of affairs with the publishing business today, what an individual with average tech-savvy ability can do, there really is no option anymore. Why would I use a conventional publisher to do what I can do? The biggest marketing effort they do for you is to list your book with Amazon and a few other on-line and bricks & mortar bookstores like Barnes & Noble. Well, I can do that myself so I fail to see why I shouldn’t.

Me:  So you’d do the same thing for your next novel?

Samyann: Absolutely. Unless some big publishing outfit offers me a huge advance, which we know won’t happen.

Me: I just read a quote by author Jon Scalzi, who said, “Hey, I became a writer to get rich.”  Is that your motivation?

Samyann:  No. I write because it’s fun, I’m retired with little else to do, and I always wanted to write when I had the time. When you’re retired, everyday is Saturday.

Me: Fair enough.  :)  What tips do you have for other writers who want to get published?

Samyann:  If you have what you believe to be a good story, and others have told you it’s a good story … don’t wait for the gatekeepers (agents), do it yourself. There are many avenues. Get your book read by others, join a critique site. Yesterday-Chapter 1 had close to 100 critiques. Many people need to tell you that you have a good story, not just “mom.”

Make sure to check out Samyann’s book, Yesterday: A Novel of Reincarnation.  You can also connect with her on Twitter – @Samyann_Writer – or at her website.

Author interview: Laurie Paulsen

Today I’m lucky enough to be interviewing author Laurie Paulsen, whose book Grasping at Shadows: A Collection of Short Stories, has just come out.  She recently chatted with me about what she puts into her dark horror stories and why, as well as sharing some advice for fellow writers.

Me: Okay, first question: Why do you write such dark stories?

Laurie: It’s funny, because I’ve tried to write other types of stories, but they’ve never felt “meaty” to me. My mind wanders, I lose interest. Maybe I write dark stories because they’re the stories I like most to read. That may be a circular answer.

I also like watching how characters face the worst possible experiences. I identify with them, like I hope other people do, and it’s revealing to imagine living through (or not) traumatic events.

Me: You mention you like to read dark stories.  What are some of your favorites?

Laurie: Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge is amazing. It’s a short novel; he’s also written several short stories, all of which are great (those I’ve been able to find.) Everybody mentions Stephen King, but I do admire his ability to create memorable characters. I still think of the Petrie boy from Salem’s Lot, and I read that book in the late 70’s (I think.)  Dan Simmons writes everything, and I liked his Children of the Night very much. Also, Carrion Comfort scared the crap out of me, in a building tension sort of way. I never took Frankenstein very seriously until I read the book, and the level of disturbing accomplished in that book is impressive. A short, intense read.

Me: Speaking of tension – what is it that you find so scary in stories?  In some of your stories – for instance, “Retribution,” Night Dust,” and “Ritual Magic,” you show us the bad stuff that lurks in the dark.  But in others – like “Basement Jacks” – it could easily be portrayed as the main character’s imagination.  Which to you is scarier – identifying what’s there, or just hinting at it?

Laurie: I’ve seen way too many horror films that start strong and then peter out, once you figure out what’s really going on. So, the imagination can do a lot for the story, allowing people to picture their own version of a particular terror. Regarding the stories in which I try to be specific, I probably started out with that particular image in my head and built the story around it. That happens a lot. I find children especially frightening, when there’s something “off” about them – so, I use that often. It may appear I enjoy doing horrible things to children in my stories, but really, they’re the scary ones.

Me: I’d definitely agree with that.  “Basement Jacks,” about a little girl whose walls talk to her, is freaky.

Laurie: I remember thinking the threat in “Basement Jacks” was so clearly supernatural, but several people have read it as a story of child neglect. Layers, man. I’ve got layers.

Me: You certainly do, and I think with those layers your stories can be read over and over again, because they don’t rely on a gimmick ending.  It’s a great thing to read in short stories, where you have to cram in so much.  Do you try to write with a specific word count in mind, or do you let the story decide how long it should be?

Laurie: Thank you for that. I’m happy they work all right, and love that they’re re-readable. I don’t typically work toward a word count, but start with a specific image or nugget of an idea and just see where it goes. Sometimes it goes absolutely nowhere, and I end up in the kitchen with a sandwich. Other times, it’ll grow legs and run off with me. I’m still working on developing the skills for longer work. I’d love to write novels, eventually.

I’m very conscious as I write of not boring people. That may be why there’s so much crammed into relatively few words.

Me: I assume your novels would be just as dark as your short stories?

Laurie: Likely. I wish I could write romance, actually. Maybe I’ll pull off a dark romance.

Me: Dark as in everyone dies, or dark as in half the couple is undead?  Or a combination?

Laurie: Sooo many possibilities, right? I bet a lot of people would die and horribly, possibly one of the main characters, and the Hero of the story would emerge scarred but ready to love again. Or, something. I haven’t written often from the Creature’s POV, so zombie love would probably be out.

Me: You seem to have that theme – moving on – in a lot of your stories. You say in your book description, “To lose everything and continue makes them gods.”  But it seems to me the stories aren’t just about continuing; it’s about finding a connection between those living and those dead, and then finding closure within that connection.  Would you agree with this theme?  And was it intentional?

Laurie: That’s an amazing analysis. Yes, I think closure is a big deal for me, in general. Closure and connection are so intertwined, so it’s a natural flow from one to the other. I access my own pain when I’m trying to create an authentic moment for one of my characters, and along with that comes the unresolved longing for peace. In a way, I suppose I revisit that missing element over and over – it’s powerful, and universal. Everyone’s lost something, feels that hole left behind. I want to trigger that for people when they read, so we connect with each other in a squirmy, intimate kind of way. I see it as a particular kind of courage, that endurance in the face of loss. I admire it, I guess, and would like to embody that more often. As far as intention, I’ve only specifically aimed for closure in two stories, neither of which are in this collection.

Me: I think what makes your stories so re-readable is that the characters don’t often get that closure.  The one that sticks out the most for me is “Abandoned But Not Forgotten.”  I don’t want to give away the ending, but the last line was great.  It really left me wanting to know more.

Laurie: Thank you – I really like that story, the sweetness of it. I see the main character as working toward her ability to make peace with her loneliness, while missing a huge opportunity at the same time.

Me: You also have two stories where half the couple has died, and the remaining person reacts to the loss by trying to maintain the connection – “Killing Chickens is Easy” and “Comfort in a Time of Gray.” I think those are memorable because they’re searching to keep that connection, when they need to move on.  Do you think those are stories that are easier for people to relate to, rather than something about werewolves?

Not that I’m knocking your werewolf story.  That one was also about connecting with the dead and finding a way to move on.

Laurie: I admit I’m happier when my characters don’t find happiness. For some reason, it allows me to believe because the story isn’t finished for them, it isn’t for me, either. I think the relationship in the story being one grounded in some kind of reality, rather than a hairy beast chasing someone through the desert (scary, but not so immediately real) gives people an easier “in” to the real meat of the story. So, I can see your point about feeling more accessible. No suspension of disbelief to wade through before getting to the good stuff, so to speak.

Also, short stories sometimes require a shorthand, in order to communicate enough to set a scene or relationship in a shorter amount of time. So, monsters require specific description to really be there for people. Humans beating each other up already exists in this world. Bam, there it is.

Me: I wouldn’t say any of your characters really found much happiness in this collection.  But I’ll admit, I’m not a fan of happy endings either.

Laurie: Yeah, no train to HappyTown pulls through this station. Not this time, anyway.

Me: What are your current projects, and will you go the same route as you did with Grasping at Shadows?

Laurie: Currently, I have plans to work on a second collection – the stories are written, but need revision. I expect to e-publish that collection, too – it’s been a great experience with this one, I gotta say. I have no fewer than eight novels started. I think I might have an attention span problem, but am determined to master the form.

Me: Last question for you: What tips do you have for other authors who want to get published?

Laurie: The traditional market is extremely competitive – so many great writers out there, and a limited number of opportunities to be seen. I’d suggest accepting lower-paying publications to build an audience, doing your best to keep your best foot forward when dealing with editors, publishers, cohorts (word gets around, I understand,) and not fearing the self-publishing route.

As far as writing goes, everyone has their own practice that works best for them. There’s no one right way to write well. But I would say that cultivating a rich environment from which to grow those stories is important. That means reading all sorts of stuff, learning as much as possible about the world and how it works, and not being afraid to play with it. That’s all I’ve got, I think. Unless I left out something important.

Me: I think that’s great advice. Anything else you’d like to add?  About writing, horror stories, life in general?

Laurie: Golly. Yes. Like many writers, I can get angsty about the whole exercise. What am I doing? What’s the point? Why am I even trying, when I’ll never … et cetera. Every time I’ve convinced myself I was done, that the struggle wasn’t worth it, I found a way back in. I think my subconscious found it for me, and my friends shoved me gently back to my desk. I’d like to urge anyone who writes or who wants to write not to give up. It’s an endeavor that will drive you nuts sometimes, but the rewards are amazing. Do it. Stop thinking so much and just do it.

Me: Exactly. There are so many options now too – you can self-publish, submit to billions of publications at all levels, share it with your friends on a blog, even hide it in your desk drawer.  But if you want to write, do it.

Laurie: Yes! It’s not about selling that blockbuster, so much. It’s about the unique connection writers and readers have, across those pages. It’s a kind of magic, really.

Make sure to check out Laurie’s book, Grasping at Shadows: A Collection of Short Stories.  You can also connect with her on Twitter – @PaulsenLM – or at her blog.

Writing Retreat

Writing is a solitary activity.  Yes, we solicit feedback (and I’m fortunate to have a wonderful online writing community for that), and perhaps we have a handful of people off of which to bounce ideas.  But for most of us, we sit alone at home, or alone at a library or coffee shop, to hone our craft.

Despite this, there are times when writers crave physical contact with other writers.  Supposedly.  I’ve attended NaNoWriMo write-ins, where everyone sits in a room and pretends to write while discussing our novels.

I live in a fairly large metropolitan area with a vibrant writing community, at least according to the local writing center’s website.  I’ve considered attending their conferences, but the timing has never worked out.  So when I saw that they were hosting a day-long writing retreat for a decent price, I decided to bite the bullet and attend.  If nothing else, they were offering snacks all day.

I arrived just in time for the opening remarks by a couple local authors.  The dozen or so attendees were instructed to channel our muse, find our “sacred spot,” and create.  The goal was to have something to share for the group reading at the end of the day.  One of the local authors would be at a nearby coffee shop to offer advice and discuss the writing process, if we felt so inclined to sign up for a mini session with her.

I promptly loaded up on orange juice and bite-size cinnamon rolls, found an empty room, and did exactly what I was supposed to – I wrote.  In one hour, I’d written another of the Nik Kershaw stories I’m slowly creating.

At that point, it was time for my session with the local author, Robin Throne, who heads up her own publishing company, 918 Studio.  We had a lovely chat about the problems with writing and publishing literary fiction, especially short stories, compared to genre fiction or poetry.  We also discussed how the writing process worked for each of us, from the idea stage, to finding time to write the damn things, to feedback and publishing.  Although I frequently discuss these ideas with others online, it was nice to do it face-to-face.

At that point it was lunch time.  I had some nice conversations with other writers, about their processes and ideas, and about what they write and why.

And then it was back to writing for the afternoon.  I worked on the ending to a story I’ve been slowly writing and tweaking for almost a year; I think I almost have it figured out but not quite.  I made the mistake of finding a new spot to write, right next to the snack table, and so I was a bit distracted and couldn’t focus as well as I did in the morning.  Also, I needed to access Dropbox to get that story, and as everyone knows, productivity decreases with access to the internet.

Finally it was sharing time.  There were some good things and some not so good things.  Most made mention of God, so I decided it was best not to read my story which has some rough language in it.  Then there were closing remarks, and we were set free.

All in all, it was a good experience.  While it was nice to get some writing done, the most helpful parts of the day were the conversations with other writers, all of whom came at writing from different perspectives and backgrounds (I was probably the youngest participant by about 10 years; the average age was probably about 55).

Now that I know what’s out there, and the benefits of a local writing community, I’ve gotten a membership to the writing center and plan on attending more of their workshops and retreats.  Just not all of them; I’m still not a people person.

What’s your experience with local writing groups?  What benefits and drawbacks do you find compared to online groups?  Do you regularly attend workshops or retreats?

Stories based on songs

Ever since a Scribophile writing contest a year or two ago, which asked us to write a story based on the song “The Riddle” by Nik Kershaw, I’ve developed a bit of a crush on the guy and his music.  I’m not sure why, exactly – everything I’d heard by him was early 80’s pop, which isn’t the most remarkable music.  And let’s not even mention his hair.

As I listened to more of his songs – really listened, paying attention not just to the sound but the lyrics and themes – I decided it would be fun to write a story based on each one of them.  Maybe stick them in their own collection someday.

I mentioned it in my writing group, and the other day I received an email about the project:

I was wondering if you would be able to give me some answers re writing stories based on songs.

You said in a thread not too long that you’re currently attempting to write a story for every song Nik Kershaw has ever released. (That’s so cool, btw). That’s something I’ve been intrigued by (with?) for quite some time and I’ve also attempted something similar for NaNo 2010. So, the questions:

  1. What about those songs that don’t tell a story you can use or don’t inspire one? Do you just keep listening to the song until you think of something?
  2. Do you listen to the song while writing the story? 
  3. In your opinion, how much does the song has to affect the story? For example, a story having just the same theme/atmosphere as a song… would that qualify? 

Rather than just email him back, I thought I’d share my answers here.

  1. I planned to listen to each song multiple times, write a story, and then move onto the next song.  I started with his first album, The Riddle.  I listened to “Don Quixote,” and I wrote a story.  Then I moved onto the next song, “Know How.”  I had an idea for a story, and characters, but not enough of a plot.  So I stopped listening to that album.  Then the car adapter for my iPod died and all I had to listen to was the same songs on the radio, or the same songs on his 15 Minutes album.  A couple songs gave me ideas right away, and others after listening several times.  Some I’m still not sure about.
    As this is a project that’ll probably take forever to finish, and there are over 100 songs to listen to, I think it’s better to just write as inspiration hits, since forcing myself to write results in crap.
  2. I have a hard time writing when I don’t have complete silence, which is why I tend to do most of my writing late at night when no one’s awake.  I’ll listen to the song several times before I start writing, as well as look at the lyrics.  And it might take me several times of listening before I get a story idea.
  3. The first story I wrote, “Wise Men Fold,” was based on a song that Kershaw admits makes no sense.  So for that one, I just pulled out a few pieces.  For “Don Quixote,” the second one, I tried to stick with the theme of the song – a guy who considers himself a hero but is actually pathetic.  And I threw in details from the song.  For another I’m currently writing, “Billy,” about a guy who’s been emasculated by his wife, the story is what happens after his drinking buddies convince him he’s whipped.  Another, “God Bless,” pulls out just one line – “Praise be this coffee machine” – to become a satirical prayer to the almighty coffee god. 

    I think with over 100 songs, there’s a lot of room to change things up.  And, of course, the fact that no one I know has ever heard of Nik Kershaw, let alone his songs other than maybe “Wouldn’t It Be Good.”

Have you ever written stories based on songs?  Any tips you’d like to share?

W is for Writing Goals #atozchallenge

Day 23 of the Blogging from A to Z April challenge. Today’s topic: writing goals (topic kindly stolen from Jessica Loftus).

At the beginning of the year, I set myself some resolutional goals (making up words was not one of them).

One-third of the way through the year, and with summer break fast approaching, it’s time to reevaluate and revise.

  • Get an agent (which means stop picking at my novel and just send it out already).

I’ve sent out queries, and this weekend I’ll send out more.

Ain’t happened.  I’m on chapter 10 and got sidetracked.  But I’m focusing on this novel with a writing group on Scribophile, so hopefully that’ll be the impetus I need to get going.

  • Have at least fifteen stories out on submission at any given time – currently I’m at nine. 

I was lucky enough to have a string of publications recently, so right now I’m at five out.  I have six half-written stories I’d like to finish, as well as several that need some tweaking.  If I can get them out soon, I’ll be able to meet this goal as well.

If you’re a writer, what are your goals for the next few months?

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