Margaret Atwood, the CON, and NaNoWriMo

All good things come in November, right? Even my birthday is only two days away.

Margaret Atwood spoke at the Englert Theater in Iowa City last night, which also happened to be her 75th birthday. She’s clever, concise, and funny. I might even have an appreciation for zombies after listening to her. After she spoke, there was a Q&A, then she signed books.

The questions were decent, somewhat – I’m going to ignore the best hockey goalie question because the guy was hunting for something she didn’t want to give. Still. One (expected) question was about advice for aspiring writers. Maybe aspiring writer is a different term to everyone who labels oneself with the term. However, this woman was 53 and had not finished a manuscript. (Ms. Atwood asked.) Her advice? Finish it. Then do something with it. Then write something else. That is a writer. And she’s right, of course. She also said if the writer was an adolescent, wattpad was a good, free opportunity to get words out there. Because, sure, writing for an audience of your teacher about a summer vacation is one thing, but having a real audience to give comments and feedback, even if it is just ‘more, more!’ is something that will make that person dedicated to the craft.

When she signed my book, I said I was also an aspiring author. She asked if I’d finished a manuscript, and of course I said I had. And it has been published. And I keep writing. And she said I’m not aspiring – I’m already there. Again, she’s right. Except I might still be aspiring. I want to reach higher- to find more audiences- and to always, always do better. She has a wonderful attitude, and I’d like to be like her when I grow up: in that I want to write the stories, share them, and have a humorous outlook.

Last weekend was ICON. (I suppose in this way, I’m different than Ms. Atwood. I do mingle with the science fiction community. Whenever I can.) I was so excited to go to Paradise ICON, which was the writer’s workshop piece. I didn’t do much with the CON itself. I did see my band, Wylde Nept, and I’m glad. I caught up with old friends, made new friends, and learned a few things that are still rattling around in my head trying to makes sense of themselves.

I’m in the midst of making new goals, trying new schedules to be more productive, and getting “out there” more. I’ve told several friends my focus after November will switch to editing. I know I need to force myself to do it, and with constant prodding is the only way I know to start that. (December 1st, hear me people?! Eleven more days!) Going to Paradise ICON helped. I need to spend more time in serious critique mode, too. Luckily I may have a new friend (or more than one) who will allow me to work on that with them. 

And NaNoWriMo! I love the writer energy in the air around this time of year, and I like to take advantage of it to push out a bunch of words. Greg Frost called what I am doing something like a Zero Draft, and I think I love that term. Plus it only emphasizes the amount of work in the future to resurrect it into something usable, sharable, worthy of the original vision in my head. But you can’t fix it until you get it out. I’m not sure how to describe this project, but it’s big. So I’m going to the end, and then I’ll define it. Whether I finish or not by 1 Dec, I will use that date to start editing my lovely pile of projects.

The other thing I will do (but not as much as editing) is put together another new schedule. Self-imposed deadlines. These I will also share, so everyone can keep me on task to make them. When I dream, I dream big. And I know I won’t achieve those dreams if I allow myself to let the deadlines slide too far. Like they have been doing. So thanks in advance for gentle nudges when I stall and encouragement when I falter.

I can and do own the writer label, but there are so many other labels that must be applied before one can become a successful author. So right now I will dream, schedule, plot, and implement until I make it there.

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Reflection of the Author

Have you run into a reader who thought that because you wrote a story, it must be true? Or worse, it must be about you?

It doesn’t matter in what genre a writer chooses to write, unless it’s non-fiction, it isn’t true. I know this is going to sound weird, but that means the story was created as a flight of fantasy for the author. Some of the might be more nightmare than daydream, but it’s still something made-up.

Sometimes part of it is true, but that doesn’t mean a reader can figure out which parts are borrowed from reality by reading. At least, not by a good writer.

I had a story I wrote where the original version had three characters based on real-life people. The first draft had the main character looking through ‘my’ eyes, but I shifted the viewpoint to a different character in the next draft. It became a better story because of it. To further confound people, none of the events that happened in the story were true. I just borrowed the characters to illustrate something I wanted to show in a story. I ended up changing quite a bit about each of them as I went, too. I don’t think the other people I borrowed would recognize themselves. I didn’t recognize myself in there when I was done.

I’m not sure I’m actually done with that story, or it might not be done with me. It’s such a fine line to say who’s steering these things sometimes.

Next time you pick up a book, stop yourself from wondering what happened in the author’s life to make her write that way. A writer’s mind is rich with things that could happen, if this and that changed, or if something else had been different. Subjects may be researched and not from personal experience. It might be because a story in the newspaper seemed too good to pass up for fiction. Imagination will fill in gaps where research leaves a writer wanting for information.

The question that remains in my mind is whether to look askance about any writer who poses that question about me. It makes me think more that he can’t imagine as many things as I do, and maybe his writing is about something true about him.

Who do you look up to?

When you’re focused on a goal, keeping it in sight with daily activities and marking progress. I know a lot of would-be writers probably wish to be someone like Stephen King, but I wonder if that’s just because he’s a household name by now.

[Not that Stephen King isn’t worthy of esteem, he’s worked very hard to get to where he is and deserves it!]

However, not all of us have that inner horror muse to titillate the masses. I struggle, though I know I have my fans, and I can accept that I might never have a name that’s known in every household. It won’t stop me from trying!

I think about that sometimes. Am I content to keep on with the small presses? It’s difficult to only be available online. I’d love to walk into the brick-and-mortar bookstores and see my books there. It’d be easier to put together book signings and appearances.

Then the difficult part of being an artist- the doubt- hits. What if I’m not good enough for that? On the other hand, if I never try, I’ll never know.

Becoming a “Real” Author

I know I said a couple days ago that getting a royalty check would help me feel like a real author, but it is difficult to know what will make me stop forgetting that.

The Art of Science was accepted for publication near the time “Qui’s Contract” was, creating a major impact on me.  I’d just turned thirty. I had been focusing on my writing much more in the previous year. Those two successes made me feel like I really was good enough to call myself a writer.

But I have learned one other thing on that journey. (Truthfully, I’ve learned tons, but one relevent to the topic.) Writers write. It’s what they do. It isn’t about finding time or ideas. If you have to do it, you do. I don’t mean anyone putting a gun to your head or anything, but a major piece of yourself is missing if you don’t do it.

I’ve heard people talk about writing as if it were easy and anyone could do it. Those statements are deceptive. While anyone might be able to do it, very few have the will and ability and drive to make it the kind of priority it takes to be good. I have the will, but still learning so much.

Pen Women

National League of American Pen Women

I recently joined the Pen Women. It’s an interesting organization where (mostly) you need to have earned money from your artistic creations to join. Men can join; I forget the name they’re given.

Most of the women are advanced in years- I’m the youngest by a long shot. It was nice to show off my twins (pictures of my new daughter and copies of my new novel). We listened to a singer – songwriter talk about her journey with music and a couple of her original songs. She expressed interest in joining, and I really hope she does. She’s pretty interesting and I enjoyed her work.

At first I didn’t know there were three branches of Pen Women: Art, Letters, and Music. I qualify under letters as an author. I’m one of the few prose authors in the group qualified under letters. Most are poets and we have a few musicians and artists. They’re all distinguished women, however, and I appreciate spending time with them.

Does that make me distinguished by association? Now that’s an interesting thought.

Meet Nancy Famolari

Nancy Famolari lives with her husband, five horses, two dogs and five white cats on a farm in the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania. Her stories and poems have appeared in Long Story Short, Flash Shot, Fiction Flyer, Lyrica, Alienskin Magazine Clockwise Cat, and Matters of the Heart from the Museitup Press. She received an award from Fiction Flyer for one of her flash fiction stories. Her novel, Summer’s Story, will be available from Red Rose Press in the fall 2008. Her mystery, Murder in Montbleu, will be available from Red Rose Publishing in 2009.

What are your future writing plans?

I have a second book under contract to Red Rose Publishing. This novel is a murder mystery, Murder in Montbleu. The setting is a small town in Pennsylvania similar to the one I live in. I’ve become very friendly with the characters in this novel and have two other novels that use the same setting, Lake House and Buttermilk Falls Murder. I’m still in the process of editing them, but hope to find a home for them.

Do you write the same genres you read?

I read mysteries and romance. These are the genres I write. I find that when I’m writing something I’d like to read myself, my story is more interesting. The characters start to talk to me, and I have fun listening to them. I’ve tried to write in genres I don’t read and it comes out flat.

What draws you to the genres you write?

I’ve always loved mysteries. In fact that’s my preferred genre. My next book Murder in Montbleu due this year from Red Rose Publishing, is a cozy mystery. I had great fun with it. I decided on a romance for Summer’s Story because I think harness racing is romantic. I’d been involved in harness racing as a breeder, owner, and trainer for years. I thought it would be fun to write a book with that as background. When I read, I like to be taken to a place outside my ordinary work-a-day world. Harness racing for most people, except those who work in it, is quite foreign. I enjoy romance, particularly the Nora Roberts style of romance. I don’t do serious erotica. I also have great fun with mainstream romance, but mysteries are my first love.

What is the best tip you can give someone who wants to write?

The best tip I can think of is apply your seat to the chair and write. Courses are great, so are critique groups, but the sad fact is that you have to put in the hours developing your voice and learning to use all the things you’ve discovered in courses. Critique groups are a double edged sword. You can get valuable information, but you have to have enough self-confidence to decide what to accept and what to reject. It is, after all, your work. It has to please you.

Thanks for stopping by, Nancy. More about her book, Summer’s Story, will appear in this blog on the 21st of January!

Self-Publishing

Sometimes I wonder what exactly to say to someone who decides to self-publish. There are a hundred different reasons to choose any given publisher and there are benefits and drawbacks to each decision.

For self-publishing, the onus of the work rests solely with the author. This includes writing, editing, marketing, selling, and probably a few other things I can’t think of off the top of my head. It sometimes gets a bad rap, too, because anyone can do it.

They dont actually have to do editing, of course. A person could choose to pen fifteen pages of an endless litany of “I will not smash cars” and self-publish it. Not that anyone would buy it or be extremely happy about receiving a copy, but it could be done.

I’d like to meet someone who could market that, though. I bet I could learn a lot! In the meantime, I’m in search of a word that isn’t congratulations (from dictionary.com “an expression of joy in the success or good fortune of another”) and means more of a “good luck on your endeavor.” I’ll reserve the congratulations until it’s a successful venture.

All of us need the luck, no matter what publishing route we take. We work to achieve any published status and we earn our laurels based on factors not always under our control.

Meet Dehanna Bailee

I had the chance to interview the author of Calypso’s Revenge. This book is pretty exciting, and she’s definitely an author to watch!

Tell us about yourself, Dehanna.
I’ve been writing for over six years and my published works include True Nature (paranormal romance), The ABC’s of POD (nonfiction) as well as an assortment of other e-books, articles, anthologies, etc. I have two new fiction works coming out this month and next, a science fiction novel with romantic elements titled Calypso’s Revenge: A Traitor’s Heart and a contemporary paranormal novella For Better or Worse.

What are your writing habits?
Admittedly, my writing habits are not what I would like them to be but, even so, I do try to write, or at least do something writing-related, every day. I often find forced inspiration difficult, especially if things are chaotic, however I figure if I can’t actually create anything new I will spend some time reworking what I have written and/or trying to strengthen my skills to be a better writer.

What drew you to write Calypso’s Revenge?
Calypso’s Revenge came out of the blue. I have always enjoyed science fiction books and movies but as for writing it, this was a leap, but once I started writing it, I had to finish it. No matter how long it took—which this one took much longer than anything else I’d written not only due to the original length but the amount of work it took to get it to where the story is now.

What about Calypso’s Revenge keeps you excited and makes you want to share it?
What got me excited was that although it wasn’t picked up by a major publisher, it was looked at, which means it might not have been what they were wanting at the moment but at least it got me in the door. What makes me want to share it is that I know it breaks the rules; it’s not just like everything else out there for it’s not merely a sci-fi, nor is it even close to the present definition of a textbook romance, and as for the ending, well…that’s a whole ‘nuther story in its own.

What advice do you give to beginning authors?
Write what you want to write because in the first place, writing should be fun, and second, words that come from the heart seem to have more of an ability to make that all-so-special connection with the read than any amount of rule-following and conformity. This doesn’t mean that a writer shouldn’t know the rules, and always strive to improve, it just means that it’s okay to just let the words flow from your fingers then go back and tweak them later to fit a certain market (if you choose to do so). Remember that they’re your words, enjoy the expression of the mind and do with them what you will.

Do you have other comments?
I’d like to thank you for letting me come be a guest on your blog and to invite any readers who are interested in learning more about me or my books to visit me online at http://www.dehanna.com

Thanks for joining me, Dehanna! Best of luck for Calypso’s Revenge!

My New Blog and Trockle

I’ve been inspired to start a blog for my publishing journey, partly by the Trockle blog tour.

Trockle is a picture book out by 4RV Publishing LLC written by Holly Jahangiri and illustrated by Jordan M. Vinyard. I’ve visited each stop on the tour and I’ve learned a lot about the book from their posts and all of them have a different perspective to keep things interesting. The more I read about this book, the more I want it in my library. (And I have a library in my new home!)

Yesterday I won a Trockle tote bag. Every stop on the blog tour has a drawing for those who comment. Today’s stops include the blogs of Lea Schizas and Ian Williamson.

So, in this blog I hope you can learn more about me, my writing, and some of my writer friends on the publishing journey. My first novel is due out with 4RV Publishing LLC in early 2009 and I’ll be on my own blog tour. I’ve been told a lot of things when I said my dream was to become a published author – that getting published is difficult. No one thinks to tell you about the rest until you get there.