Tag Archives: writing

How Much of You is in the Heroine/Hero?

Every writer gets this question in some form or other unless they keep their identity a secret. People want to know if you model the main characters in your books after yourself, or if you write romance, if the love interest is like your significant other. I think readers mostly assume there must be a high correlation, especially if you’ve done a good job of making the characters feel real.

The first time I was asked a version of this question was by my hairdresser. She’d just read VEILED MIRROR. “How much of you is in Beth?”

I tried using a great answer I’d once heard another author use: “There are elements of me in every character I write.” Apparently that answer works better with an impersonal audience than it does with someone who knows you pretty well. She just gave me the eyeball that demanded a straight answer. My hair was at her mercy so I complied.

Actually, my original answer was pretty close to the truth, as it would be for most writers I know, and readers should be very glad of it. It’s much better to think that some of the great villains of literature were developed from tiny elements of an author’s psyche, rather than being an accurate depiction of a significant part of our personalities. Who wants Hannibal Lector living next door?

As for heroes and heroines, some authors have a fairly consistent type, that makes it seem they’re writing about themselves. However, most writers work hard to make each character distinct and believable. That variety gives us the chance to explore situations we’d never want to be in, and do things we’d never do in real life. Sometimes the exploration is wish fulfillment. More often it’s just the author trying to craft a compelling and entertaining story.

So what did I tell my hairdresser?  Pieces of Beth are me. As are pieces of Ellie. But mostly I created them for that story. OTOH, since DANGEROUS TALENTS started out as an experiment, Celia is probably more like me at the time the book was written than any of my other heroines are.

My heroes? Well, half of them are inspired by my husband. And the other half I just made up. 🙂

 

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What’s In the Works?

First, a couple of announcements:

I’ll be speaking this Saturday after lunch at Tucson’s Saguaro RWA chapter meeting. I’ll be talking about Paranormal Investigation, drawing upon my experience with the Western Society for Paranormal Research. The meeting begins at 10:00 at El Parador Restaurant. Check the link for more info.

I’ve made my first foray into getting my books into stores. Mysterious Galaxy and Dog Eared Pages have sold my books at special events in the past. Now The Bookworm on White Mountain Blvd. in Pinetop, AZ will be selling my books in their store. Stop by if you’re in the neighborhood!

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I thought I’d share a little bit about what I’m working on at the moment.

In mid-May I finished the first draft of Firstborn, which will be retitled BETRAYED BY TRUST when it’s released. This book takes place in 1979, and fits into the Celestial Affairs universe. If you’ve read LIGHTBRINGER, you’ve already met one of the characters: Gideon. (This isn’t his story, though. I promise I’ll be writing that soon. Gideon’s book will be titled GUARDIAN)

Right now I’m putting a final polish on FORBIDDEN TALENTS  before sending it to the editor. I already have the cover for this sequel to DANGEROUS TALENTS, and I love it! This book tells Ragni’s and Saeun’s story, but Dahleven and Celia are important actors in this book, too. If all goes as planned, FORBIDDEN TALENTS will be coming out in late August or early September.

One of the projects I’m considering after all of that is pulling some of my meatier posts on self-publishing together into a book. I’d love to hear from all of you on whether you like that idea, and if so, which topics have helped you the most. (Also if there is a topic you’d like me to expound upon.) I’ll draw randomly next week from those who comment on this post for either a free Kindle copy of DANGEROUS TALENTS or a signed copy of the paper edition. Your choice.

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Get Off Your Ass!

I have a mug that has a black and white cartoon on it of three angels screaming. The caption says, “A message from God: GET OFF YOUR ASS!”

Recently the news has been reported that spending long periods sitting is as dangerous to our health as smoking. I assumed it was because being sedentary contributed to our collective asses getting bigger, but even regular exercise is apparently not enough to compensate. I hadn’t heard any explanation of this until today, when I stumbled upon this post by Linda Stone about computer apnea.

Apparently we tend to hold our breath or breath shallowly when we read email and do other computer related tasks. This is a bad thing. It causes a complicated cascade of physiological responses that lead to the fight or flight response. Unfortunately, (or maybe fortunately–I’d rather not be facing a grizzly, thank you) we ‘re sitting at our computers. As Stone says, our bodies are all dressed up with no place to go. This leads to all sorts of health problems like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar levels, increased hunger signals, etc.

We think of breathing as automatic, but apparently there’s something about sitting in front of a computer that interrupts our natural rhythms. This is bad news for writers, and a lot of other workers in western style economies.

We can’t change our entire work culture, but we can breathe. Deeply. And sit up straight so our lungs can expand. And get off our asses once an hour so the blood gets moving. (I know one writer uses a 48/12 pattern. Forty eight minutes of writing, twelve minutes of out-of-chair time. His mind has adapted to it, so when he sits down at the computer again, he steps right back into the story.)

Two years ago (with my husband’s help) I created a workstation combined with a low speed treadmill. I used it faithfully for about a year, and then, gradually, my recliner became my preferred work location. (Bad writer. No biscuit.) It looks like I need to get off my ass. Again.

 

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Stress Less, Write More

I’ve talked and written about some of these points (like Pareto’s Law) before, but it’s always good (and necessary for me) to revisit these topics. Kristen Lamb discusses avoiding procrastination and increasing productivity with great perspicuity. Her post was just what I needed to read today.

Stress Less, Write More.

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The Great Social Media Flim-Flam

The Great Social Media Flim-Flam. I’ve been wondering about this myself. It seems self-evident that getting your book reviewed will result in more people reading your book, which will result in an increase of “word-of-mouth” recommendations (the most effective form of promotion). Readers have to know your book exists in order to find it right? That’s where social media comes in, right? Maybe not.

Read this post by Susan Kiernan-Lewis. It might change your mind.

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What’s In A Name? (Or A Title?)

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

I’m a little over a third of the way through the first draft of FIRSTBORN. As I wrote in an earlier post, I’m trying out Rachel Aaron’s suggestions to improve my productivity. Now that the holidays are past, and my tree is finally down, I’ve been working on FIRSTBORN. My output has improved, but it still wouldn’t impress anyone. My progress has been good enough though, that I’ve been thinking about what comes after I finish: publication. And I think I ought to change the title.

I surveyed Amazon, and there are a ton of books already with “Firstborn” in the title. “Scion,” too (the sequel to FIRSTBORN). I want titles that convey suspense and romance. We did some brainstorming, and the favorites of my critique group were: BETRAYED BY TRUST, and BOUND BY TRUST. The only problem: when I checked them out on Amazon, there were several similar titles. An alternate, SEDUCED BY TRUST, has no overlap, but doesn’t have the lovely alliteration.

This is a dilemma faced by every author and publisher with books sold online. It’s important to title a book so that it will be easy to find, and will entice the reader to look a little closer. You don’t want your book to be #18  on page three of twenty identically titled books. Ideally, the title will also have something to do with what the story is about. And, of course, even if you come up with an original title, there’s no guarantee that a book published next week won’t duplicate it. Titles can’t be copyrighted, after all.

Here’s a very rough blurb for the first book:

It’s 1979. To save an Elemental Spirit from slavery, Marianne seduces the scion of the powerful family he’s bound to. But the Trust she works for wants more than her loyalty. They want her son. And they won’t let Marianne, or the man who loves her, get in their way.

And for the second book:

Thirty years ago, Evan was conceived through seduction and betrayal. Now he’s inherited what was meant for another man: an Elemental Guardian. Two powerful organizations are in pursuit, and the woman he loves works for one of them.

So I invite you to make suggestions. If you come up with a title different from those above, that I decide to use, I’ll send you a free copy of the book when it comes out.

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Define Yourself

I have a button (one of those round ones, with a pin on the back, and words on the front) that says, “Among animals it’s eat or be eaten, among humans it’s define, or be defined.” Marketers and politicians have known this to be true for as long as their professions have existed. It’s time for writers to recognize this as well.

By defining the terms you control the discussion.When it comes to your career, you should be the one defining the terms. Dean Wesley Smith wrote a recent post that touched on this. His post was mostly about how indie writers should take the long view, and regard the time they spend building their career as an investment. That, like a biweekly contribution to a retirement fund, the time devoted to writing will only gradually yield growth. This is important for impatient people like me to remember. The message: just keep writing and over time, with the magic of compound interest (in your books) success will grow. He defined writing as an investment.

But Dean also defines other terms. He says:

In the last article in this series, I went on about the difference between an “Author” and a “Writer.”

And in indie publishing, the difference can really, really be seen, with the “Authors” doing nothing but promoting “their book” while the “Writers” just get out to readers what they have written and then move on to writing new stories.

And let me repeat something I said:  It is the “Authors” who are going on and on about what indie “Writers” MUST DO.

And then Dean goes on to say what he thinks writers must do. (Write. A lot.)  My point is not to say “gotcha” to Dean, my point is that he has defined what he believes works, and he is following that path. Part of that path is sharing his definitions with the world, just like the “authors” he defined are doing.

As we must all do for ourselves. We don’t have to share it with the world, but we must figure out our own way amid the clamoring voices that are trying to tell us the “right” way to get our books written and in the hands of readers. We should not accept what an author, or agent, or even a publisher says without critical thought. We must ask ourselves if what they’re asking, or telling us to do, fits with what our vision is for our future. Of course, that means we have to have a vision for our future, even if that vision changes over time.

I sympathize with the desire to find out “the secret” to success. We had that desire in a different form, when we wanted to know how to best phrase our query letters and synopses, so a publisher would buy our latest effort. Now we indies have substituted the desire to know which review blogs to submit to, whether we should use professionally designed covers, and how to manipulate Amazon to get a better ranking and more sales.

The community of writers, and the indie community in particular, is one of the most supportive I’ve ever belonged to. Everyone I’ve talked to is willing to share how they do what they’re doing and give advice. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from authors who generously shared their experience with me.

The problem is, the advice from one source often conflicts with what the next person says. And because the indie environment is so new, there isn’t much available in the way of cold, hard facts. We’re all flying by the seat of our pants, even the ones who sound very sure of themselves. And even if they’re right about something today, next year the market will have changed.

One thing I know “for sure.” It’s that it is possible to stand still waiting to be certain that a particular path is the best. And while you’re waiting, you’re not moving forward. Try something. Don’t wait for “best.” Go with “good for now.” Define your path. It doesn’t have to look like anybody else’s. You can change direction later if you want. Most mistakes aren’t fatal, and all of them can teach. (And keep records so you’ll know if what you’re doing is working.)

How is all this affecting what I’m doing? Well, I have another button. It says, “If you’re going to walk on thin ice, you might as well dance.”

Honestly, I’m just dancing as fast as I can. I’m getting my finished work out, and writing new stuff. I’m having a blast doing it, too. I don’t have much time for more than that. As I said in my last post, I may turn more of my attention to promotion when I have a number of titles for sale, but not until then. And I use the words “author” and “writer” interchangably.

 

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Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

“Where do you get your ideas?”

Every writer who has ever lived has probably been asked this question. I got it the first time before I was even published. The answers are as numerous as the stars in the sky. Sometimes there’s a temptation to be flip: “From an online catalog,” but most non-writers really don’t know, and they deserve a serious answer. To those who don’t write, creating people and worlds out of nothing is akin to magic.

Even for those of us who do write, the act of creation sometimes feels like magic. Even if we research and organize and outline first, there are details and turns of phrase and whole characters that seem to spring full grown from our heads without any volition on our part.

For me, my process to date has been that an idea comes to me, I munge on it for a while, grow some characters out of it. I think about what they want and why. I let them start trying to get it. Then (with a novel) I get to a place about 60 pages in where I write down a semi-detailed outline. For short stories the outline is in my head.

But where does that first seed of an idea come from?

  • Questions: What if the bad guys are really the good guys? LIGHTBRINGER. What if two lost civilizations wound up in the same alternate world? DANGEROUS TALENTS.  What would a playboy priest take seriously? FORBIDDEN TALENTS
  • Dreams: “With Heart to Hear”
  • Contests: Write a story that mentions Lubbock, TX: “Night Run”
  • A stray image that popped into my head: “Debts”
  • A challenge: How could something horrible be the right thing to do? “Koomb’s Tunic”
  • Catharsis: How do I get something horrible out of my head? “Falling”

There isn’t much of a pattern for me, so when people ask where I get my ideas, my answer isn’t very illuminating. I just say, “Everywhere.”

Where do you get your ideas?

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A Recurring Theme: The Best Use of Time

I read a guest post on J.A. Konrath’s blog yesterday by Stephen Leather. He’s a successful traditionally published and self-published author in the U.K.  This last year his self-pubbed books really took off. So much so that his traditional publisher is making changes to take advantage of his increased popularity. Self-publishing has worked for him, but he’s decided to step back from it. He doesn’t enjoy the extra work that takes him away from what he feels he does best, and what he enjoys: writing.

In addition, he believes that we’ve reached the limit of what he calls the self-publishing “bubble.” That’s why he’s publishing his next books with Amazon. Not quite traditional, but not self-publishing either. (Joe Konrath, of course, disagrees about the bubble. He believes there are ebbs and flows to a self-published books, sales and that generally speaking, a downturn will be followed by an up-tick.)

Leather has made a decision about how to best use his time. His self-publishing success has given him more options, and he’s made a choice to go where someone else will take on the bulk of marketing chores.

I’d like someone else to do the marketing chores too. (I keep trying to talk my husband into taking them on, but so far he’s resisting.) Traditional publishers do some of this for you. They get the average book into a bookstore where it can be seen by the readers (those who still go to bookstores instead of buying online) and they may send out review copies too. They don’t let the author off the hook entirely, though. Many publishers’ marketing departments require the author to do social media marketing as part of the overall plan. Traditional publishing does not mean all you have to do is write the next book.

If you can even sell your book to one.

So that means that no matter which path you choose, you’ll still have to allocate some of your time for promoting your work, with no guarantee that it will actually result in sales. While it makes sense that the more often your name and the titles of your books are seen by readers the more likely it is you’ll make sales, there is little hard data to support any particular effort as being more effective than another. Almost all the info out there is anecdotal. (Including what you read here.) Things are changing so fast that all we can do is read widely and go with our gut. And be patient. (Not my forte.) It can take time to build a following. And while you’re being patient waiting for that following to develop, you’ll get only hints about whether what you’re doing is effective.

Despite that uncertainty, I’d still rather work to build my sales than wait six months for an editor to get back to me on a submission.  With that goal in mind, I’m soliciting reviews for LIGHTBRINGER, and entering it into contests. (If you have an established review blog and would like to review LIGHTBRINGER, please contact me. Likewise if you know of contests for indie-published books.)

Please share how you are promoting your books, and how it has worked for you.

 

 

 

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More Productivity

I wrote last week about Nora Roberts’ amazing productivity. Now, through the Passive Voice, I’ve stumbled upon a blog post that gives me (and now you) some concrete suggestions on how to actually do it: write faster and better. I haven’t had a chance to use this yet, but I’m excited about this, so I wanted to share it.

The title of this post, “How I Went From Writing 2000 Words a Day, to 10,000 Words a Day” made me roll my eyes. Ten thousand words a day? Really? That’s forty pages if you calculate 250 words per page. A day! But I decided to read the post anyway–there might be a helpful hint or two amidst the puffery.

But there wasn’t any puffery, and Rachel Aaron’s suggestions are simple and sound easy to implement. They echo something Liz Danforth was telling me just yesterday about how she’s improved her productivity using Laura Vanderkam’s 168 HOURS. And some of Rachel’s advice seemed as though it was directed right at me and the problems I’m currently wrestling with in FIRSTBORN. Rachel says her productivity improved by:

  1. Having knowledge of what she’s going to write each day in detail, before she begins. Here’s her post on the prep work she does.
  2. Having enough uninterrupted time to write, and knowing what time of day she’s most productive.
  3. Writing scenes she has enthusiasm for. If she’s not excited to write a scene she changes it until she is. She reasons that if she’s not excited by what she’s writing, her readers won’t be either.

Don’t rely on my description which is extremely minimal. Read Rachel Aaron’s original post. And here’s her post where she expands on the subject and shares how she tracks her productivity.

Even though I’ve written four complete novels (and a couple partials), I still manage to get bogged down, usually in the middle. Then I grind to a halt while I figure out the problem–usually after a couple of weeks (or more) of exscrutiatingly slow progress and procrastination. That’s where I am with FIRSTBORN right now, even though I have a plot outline.

Rachel’s approach sounds simple and straightforward enough to work. I’m going to do what she suggests, implementing her triangle approach one side at a time. I’ll let you know in a couple of weeks how it’s working out for me. If you decide to try it too, or if you have other methods that work for you, please share!

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