Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Apologies!

Yikes!

You may have noticed that a couple of batches of very strange posts went out on my blog in the last couple of months. I'd archived some ideas for future posts, messed it all kinds of up, and boosh--empty posts with a whole lot of nothing or gobbledy-gook.

The good news is part of why this happened is I've had my nose to the grindstone writing! The bad news is, I've been neglecting my blog, and hope to come back soon with posts on those topics that actually contain, well, content.

In the meantime--I'm so sorry to have junked up your feed, and I hope you bear with me!

xxooxx,

M.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Guest Post: I am a Dreamer: Gearing up to Self-Publish

Hello everyone!

I'm doing something a little different today, sharing a post by another writer, one I know and admire: D.K. Dailey. Many are the times she's been a cheerleader in my corner, making sure I'm never tempted to give up my dreams of being a writer--so I thought I'd share a little of that cheerleading with you. :)

M. xoxoxox

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I Am a Dreamer: Gearing up to Self-Publish


Being a writer is the essence of being a dreamer. Writers have superpowers and the license, after growing up, to imagine the impossible without being called crazy. We see imaginary people and make up lives and worlds for them to live in. Our made-up stories, people, things, connections, events and worlds continue to entertain long after the book is closed, the e-reader is shut down, or the audio-file narrator speaks the last word. Readers revisit our worlds and characters time and time again. In this way, the power of words is astronomical. Writing is a power we wield, one that keeps us up at night and keeps ideas running through our heads.

When I look over all the characteristics writers need in their toolbox in order to navigate the world of writing, it starts reading like a magical potion for a person with an indestructible spirit. I imagine that if being a writer was summarized as a series of bumper stickers, they would say:

Never stop. Never give up. Passion moves mountains.
Believe in yourself first or no one else will believe in you.
Wear your armor, you're gonna need it.
Must be imaginative and a little crazy.

Now when that dreamer starts down the path to taking writing more seriously and starts striving to be a published author they are met with rejections and ups and downs. We get our feelings hurt and grow thick skin because being critiqued causes us to doubt ourselves and our work. The road is full of learning and humbling experiences. No shortcuts or secrets exist, especially if reaching an audience and being taken seriously is the goal. Although there aren't any secrets to it, there are tips and facts I wish I would've known about the industry that I've stumbled on or found out the hard way. But that's another blog post.

I have always loved writing and reading but never thought until 2009 that I could become a writer or ever call myself a published author. And then I took a class on the art of writing a dramatic play. During those months, I became engrossed in my plot and characters and although I had a career I loved in advertising, I realized I needed to write to feel fully fulfilled. Now if I could only find a career that merges my love for advertising and writing, I’d be a happy woman!

Flash forward to 2017 and thirteen books and counting later, here I am still without an agent or publisher. I assure you, it's not for lack of trying. To date, I've sent out nearly two-hundred queries to agents and publishers. I've had one revise-and-resubmit request from an agent, several partial manuscript requests and seven full manuscript requests. I've participated in at least six Twitter pitch parties which place authors in front of industry people who favorite our pitches, inviting us to send them a query. I have also won two writing contests and placed in six others. Officially, I'm a seasoned amateur writer and professional dreamer.

Since I have written many books without publishing, I have a unique vantage point on the adage “Just Keep Writing,” that a lot of writers have given as advice. And it reminds me of Dori's words, “Just Keep Swimming,” in the movie Finding Nemo. I have learned that most people don't sell or publish their first books. And if they do it's many drafts later. One very successful author I met said it was draft twenty that was published of her first book and it was only halfway through at draft ten when she felt she knew her characters and the fantasy world they inhabited. In general, it takes the process and experience of writing several books to feel grounded enough to venture out of our writer (hobbit) holes to pursue our dream.

And even when we venture out and experience the world as a writer, growing thick skins and filling our toolbox with tools of our craft, we still stumble, we fall and we fail. But hopefully we get up and learn and grow. We carry the dreamer mentality with us, but reality sets in.

From my experience in the writing world, I, the dreamer, have to face reality. As far as my advertising career is concerned, I’d love to hold a job with a mission where I can learn and grow. For my writing career, I’d like to be a hybrid author because I’d like to publish traditionally, with a small press and I’d like to self-publish. Over time, I have come to realize that I might have to switch up the order of how I’d like to be published.

With this in mind, I still querying, but am also gearing up to self-publish. Here are the steps I have taken to make this dream a reality:

1. Plan a full series of books
2. Write books
3. Find and work with beta and critique groups to improve books
4. Hire and work with editors
5. Create a marketing plan and execute it.

Although I'm still writing and editing I am now only one book away from writing the last book in the series. And now that I see the end in sight, I'm saving money to make it happen. In the end, I will not sell my books short, I will invest everything I can in them. Choosing to self-publish doesn't mean I skimp on quality.

So from one dreamer to the next, keep writing and keep pushing forward despite rejections and setbacks because everyone has their own path. This business is subjective and no path is the “right” one. Figure out what your goals are and go forth, step out of your writer hole and share your worlds.

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You can find more from D.K. Dailey on her website, and on Twitter. :)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Best books I discovered in 2015

(All purchased by me; Affiliate links)

Strange things are afoot at the Circle-K...

I’ve been a bit busy lately, and my blog has suffered—the most relevant reason is that I was contacted by an indie publisher interested in publishing one of my books, and I’ve been researching like crazy to see if we’re the right fit. Exciting, and I'll keep you posted!

Before time got away from me, I intended to put together a year-end post about a few of the books I read and enjoyed last year…So today we're gonna jump into the not-so-way-back machine and travel to the last week of 2015 to enjoy a year-end review of my favorite literary-type discoveries!


Let's start with some serious stuff...



An Unnecessary Woman, by Rabih Alameddine

Summary: Aaliya Sobhi has spent her life set to the side by circumstance and culture, unwanted, unnoticed, and for the most part, unloved. She navigates war-torn Beirut and the loss of almost everything that matters to her with stolid doggedness; her life force comes always through books: selling them, reading them, and translating them. As she approaches the nadir of her life, an unexpected tragedy threatens to take the painstaking translations she's spent her life shaping, and she has to learn a new form of acceptance to save them.     

Why I love it: Aaliya's story could easily be a depressing indictment or veer off into cheesy redemption, but Alameddine manages to make it nuanced, engaging, and relatable. She explores the complexities of Lebanese culture and the disparities of gender while eschewing stereotypes and easy explanations. Aaliya shouldn't be likeable, but she is; she touched the part of me that knows what it's like to be marginalized and is afraid of finding myself alone. The ending is powerful in an understated way, and Aaliya has stayed with me for months.     



Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides

Summary: Middlesex follows the story of Calliope Stephanides, beginning two generations before she's born. Cal is a hermaprodite, her biological reality the fluke result of her Greek grandparents' incestuous marriage; their complicated love story and the consequences of their choices interweave with Cal's discovery of her body and the development of her gender identity. 

Why I love it: As a developmental psychologist and amateur family genealogist, the story of how a family's complicated history culminates in the identity of one modern-day protagonist pulled me in from page one (not a surprise--my first novel, Hazel-Green, is a family saga with similar themes). Eugenides celebrates taboo topics rather than 'deals' with them--he explores without judgement and as a result allows the reader to engage fully with important questions of nature, nurture, and the human spirit. 


And now for something completely different...



Soulless, by Gail Carriger

Summary: Alexia Tarabotti has no soul--and that's a good thing. At least, it is when you live in a world populated by werewolves and vampires, because it means you can neutralize their powers with a touch of your hand. Of course, that ability makes Alexia dangerous to many and useful to others, and within pages she's being hunted by those who want to destroy her and those who want to employ her. Add to that her hidden (even from herself) passionate love for one of the most powerful werewolves around and you have a fun, fast-paced steampunk romp with a fair amount of suggestive situations and even some steamy sex.

Why I love it: Steampunk. Strong female protagonist. Steamy situations. Isn't that enough? Oh, fine--Carriger's writing is also witty, her dialogue engaging, and her world-building strangely believable, given the content revolves around werewolves and vampires. This book is a good time, plain and simple. Grab some tea and biscuits, cuddle up in a cozy throw on the couch, and enjoy the ride.



Etiquette & Espionage, by Gail Carriger

Summary: Sophronia Temminnick is a spirited fourteen-year-old tomboy who doesn't fit the Victorian template for what a young lady should be. When her mother reaches the end of her rope, she sends Sophronia off to a finishing school; but as it turns out, while this school is about 'finishing' young ladies for their introduction to society, it's also about teaching them to 'finish' off anyone who poses a threat to that society. They learn how to dance, and how to use weapons; how to flirt, and how to deceive; how to be beautiful, and how to be lethal.

Why I love it: Steampunk. Strong female protagonist. But-- appropriate for teen readers. Sophronia deals with the politics of young girls and young love (ish) while learning how to climb airships, care for mechanical pets, master martial arts, and faint without wrinkling her frock. I wish I'd had this book when I was a teenager, and I'm not too proud to love it now. The world Carriger builds is full of fun surprises, and Sophronia is an empowered young woman you'll want to spend lots of afternoons with. 


There you have it! Hope you saw something that intrigued you. I'd also love to hear about which books you loved last year--tell me about them in the comments. 

Happy reading!
M.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

What I Learned this NaNoWriMo: Death of a Pantser


I participated in NaNoWriMo last month, for the fourth time; as you can see from the widget in my sidebar, I ‘won’—I hit 50,000 words on November 16th. I purposefully tried to finish ahead of schedule because I had my own personal goal of 75,000 words for the month, and I knew the second half of November was going to be a bear; I made it to 75,002 words on the evening of November 30th. Huzzah!


Since then I’ve worked on it in between coughing fits and bursts of unconsciousness (I promptly got sick shortly after NaNo ended); I have two scenes left to write, and then my first draft of Accidental Revelation, the second book in my tarot mystery series, will be done. Huzzah again!


So NaNoWriMo was a success for me in terms of output, for sure. But, I’ve come to look forward to NaNoWriMo as a conduit for learning about my writing process as well. And this year I learned that I’m not quite the pantser I thought I was. Or maybe, at all.


I’ve never been 100% pantser—I’ve always had some basic structure in mind with every novel I’ve written, even if it was just knowing the premise, the conflict, and how the book would end. Last year during NaNo I took a completely new idea and self-scaffolded it as I went along; I used a blend of discovery writing mixed with pauses to reconceptualize and insert blank scenes into Scrivener where I knew I would need them (I’ve previously described this process as ‘Pl-antsing’, here). 


This year, I went into NaNoWriMo as an accidental plotter. I came up with the idea for the book back in June, and put it into my queue of goals as the manuscript I’d write during NaNo. I went on an overnight trip to the location that inspired my setting, partly as research for the first book, and partly to gather ideas for the second. As time passed, I continued to be excited about the book and so did a few brainstorming sessions to come up with ideas about how the plot would unfold; I created a Scrivener project so I could write down research information and create blank scenes for the plot points I would need. There were only a few at first, and they had only basic titles with nothing written—I’m talking stuff like ’Murder occurs’, ‘Semarra investigates clue’, and ‘Murderer comes after X’. As ideas percolated out of my brain, I added to the scenes, and by the time NaNoWriMo rolled around, I had four major divisions in the book with several important plot points in each one. 


Without realizing it, I’d created a basic outline for my novel. Before I’d ever written a word. Whaaa??


During each of my three previous NaNos, I had difficult days where I hated what I was writing, or was at a loss for what to write next. I was ready for that to happen again this time when I started on November 1st. I started at the beginning (I hear that’s a very good place to start), and it felt good to sink my teeth in. Then I switched to the end, and wrote out the scene where my protagonist explains who the murderer is and why the murder occurred; that helped me work out the remaining questions I had in my head about everything. And then I wrote the rest of the novel, jumping around where inspiration took me, adding scenes as needed. And those days where I hated what I was writing and had no idea what to write next never came.


Yes, there were days where I knew what I was writing wasn’t my best work, and would need to be heavily revised. But I knew where it was going, and I knew what section I was excited to work on next. And the next thing I knew, I had 75,000 words in the bag.


I was surprised to find that the magic of discovery writing still showed up, in spades. While writing a scene for my intended purpose, an additional possibility would rear its head, and poof, I had a deeper, richer story. I never knew what I’d stumble onto with each new writing session; every bit of the fun was still there, with the security of having an overall plan.  


So, it’s official. I’ve been pulled over to the plotting side. Who knows, for my next novel, I might even write out a full, complete outline…


*GASP*

Happy Writing,
M.  

Monday, October 19, 2015

Review: Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days by Rochelle Melander

Today I’m back with the final NaNoWriMo-related book review I’ll be doing this year; if you missed the first two you can find my review of Fast Fiction by Denise Jaden here, and Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt here. Today we’re going to look at Write-A-Thon by Rochelle Melander; this book is a better fit for the ‘pantsers’ or ‘discovery writers’ out there among you. 


If you’re new to NaNoWriMo, you may not yet have heard the terms ‘pantsers’ and ‘plotters’ yet. ‘Plotters’ is fairly intuitive—it refers to people who like to plot at least the basics out before they begin writing. ‘Pantsers’, on the other hand, are people who like to just dive in, or write by the seat of their pants. Another term for this (one I prefer) is ‘discovery writers’, because you’re discovering where your story will go as you write.


So if you’re a just-dive-in kind of person, there’s not really much prep to do, right, and what help can a book be? First of all, wrong. There’s all sorts of prep you can do, but it’s more along the lines of getting past your writing demons and making sure you schedule your life to set yourself up for success during NaNoWriMo. There are also lots of tricks and tips that can help you keep going while you’re writing your book, so you’ll successfully reach the end. These are the kinds of help you’ll find in this book. 


Write-A-Thon has three parts. The first takes you through some training: attitude training, writing training, course training (plotting your book—don’t worry, this is in a very basic, pantser-friendly way), and life training. Each of these will help you find the time, energy and head space to help you succeed when you do sit down to write your book. The writing training session will also introduce you to some basics about writing a book, with the assumption that you’re fairly new to this. 


The second part of the book is designed to be a companion during the writing process; Melander suggests you use it as a ‘writing coach’ of sorts. It’s broken up into 32 vignettes with different tips; you can read them all before you start, read one or more a day to get your mojo flowing, or she suggests you can even just flip at random when you need an extra push and see what you get. If you have an ereader this part is a bit hard, but you can always use a random number generator as a way of flipping through. There’s a lot of good wisdom in these sections, from avoiding ‘monkey mind’ to overcoming perfection, to ways to get past writer’s block. 


The final part, ‘Recovery’, focuses mostly on why you should revise what you’ve written during your write-a-thon, and gives some basic suggestions for beginning that process. It also talks a little bit about editors and queries. 


This book is particularly well-suited for people who’ve never tried to write a book before, and are thinking of getting their toes wet in the NaNoWriMo pool. It’s very user-friendly and terminology-friendly for people who haven’t really thought about doing something like this before, and for whom the thought of plotting or outlining an entire book makes them break out in a cold sweat. It’s also a good resource for people who have tried NaNoWriMo before but had a hard time seeing it through—it gets to the root of a lot of those problems that can derail you. I wish I’d had something like this my first year to use as a daily mojo-stoker. 


Another thing this book has going for it is that it's designed to help writers of all sorts. It has a dedicated section on non-fiction books, and the advice it gives applies to all. Increasing numbers of people are using NaNoWriMo to write books other than novels (even dissertations and short-story collections), and this book is a good resource for all, not just the fiction writers among us. 


So, if you’re a NaNoWriMo newbie, a pantser/discovery writer, or someone who needs a little extra something to help them win this year, go have a look at this book. It might be just the thing to help you get through those 50,000 words, and beyond. 


Happy writing!  
M.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

NaNoWriMo Review: Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt

(Purchased by me; affiliate link)


I’m back with my second NaNoWriMo-relevant book review, this time Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt. If the thought of 'pantsing' it gives you night terrors and you’re looking for something that can help you write a book with structure, direction, and developed characters all in a month, this may be the book for you. If you like order, exercises and worksheets, this book is definitely for you!


Book in a Month has a clear structure designed to guide you part by part, and even day-by-day, through the construction of your novel. There are two main parts to the book; the first section is designed to help you break through mental barriers you might have, such as problems with resistance and time management. It’s broken down like this:

Introduction
The five secrets of BiaM
Time management
Resistance
Setting and keeping goals
The Book in a Month system (an overview of the rest of the book)

 I personally have watched lots of very well-intentioned writers set out to write their book (both inside and outside of NaNo), only to be side-lined by fears they aren’t even aware they have, and time-management issues that can easily be overcome (that are probably also related to those fears!). In psychological circles, we call these issues self-sabotage and self-fulfilling prophecy, and they’re deadly. This section talks you through common pitfalls and gives you strategies & worksheets to help you deal with those pitfalls. For example, many people allow their fears to manifest in a need for perfection—they’ll go back and rewrite or rework a section over and over trying to make it perfect, and never make any actual progress on the novel. BiaM provides you with a worksheet that allows you to write down everything you need to go back and fix/research/build on later, so you don’t have to obsess about it now. This is a strategy that the successful writers I know use in one form or another to help keep their minds clear and their work moving forward. 


The second part of the book tackles the structure and content of the novel itself, in four sections: 

Week 1: The outline and Act I
Week 2: Act II, part 1
Week 3: Act II, part 2
Week 4: Act III

In each of these sections, Schmidt guides you through structuring your book with daily exercises and worksheets. You start small and build to big during week one; on day one you write a one-sentence summary, and put your raw story ideas into a ‘story idea map’ worksheet that helps you figure out the stakes, how your character and setting fit in, and what your inciting incidents and turning points are. As you progress, you will develop scenes for your ideas, and finally, an outline. You’ll then turn your attention to your characters development and backstory. By the end of week one, you’ll have fleshed-out characters and a basic outline to put them into. And yes, during this time, you write, so you aren’t falling behind on your daily word-count for NaNo. 


During weeks 2-4, you will continued to write as you buttress your story. You’ll fill out that outline with exercises that help you hone your theme, craft excellent cliffhangers and reversals, spice up your story, continue to improve your characters’ motivations and arcs, and identify plot holes.


I love the questions and worksheets in this book; the worksheets aren’t crazy complicated or overwhelming, yet they have power. In fact, I have a manuscript I’ve put on the back burner to so I can get some distance on it; when I’m finished with my current projects, I’m going to pull it out and use all the steps in this book on it. Yes, it’s already written and it doesn’t map on to the typical three-act structure, but I believe the questions this book asks will help me get to the heart of what isn’t quite working right with it. 


So if you’re looking for guidance, especially if plotting is a must for you, check this book out and let me know what you think! I’ll be back next time with another option to help with NaNoWriMo that’s a little more free-flowing. 


Happy prepping!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

My computer meets Windows 10: A tale of operating system mayhem and horror

The day I installed Windows 10 was a day just like any other. Beautiful skies, acceptable dinner, some light-hearted TV sitcoms that left me in a happy, optimistic mood. I’d heard whispered rumors in the corners of the internet about Window 10 fails, but really, what were the chances it would happen to me?  


So I clicked the button to install it, albeit with apprehension nipping at the edges of my consciousness. The installation went quickly and easily; all was well. Sure, a few little tweaks of preferences here and there, but nothing more. A remarkably smooth transition, in fact.


For two blissful days, Windows 10 and I got to know each other—long afternoons relishing the joy of discovering one another’s quirks. Easier access to system preferences? Lovely. Default photo display doesn’t show the file name? Hmm, I can figure out how to make that work, not a problem, you nutty little OS. 


But. Unbeknownst to me, a silent, insidious force contained in a Windows 10 update was patiently waiting to strike, like a diseased cyber zombie ripping at the core of my computer’s brain. And on the third day, I finished my work for the evening and compiled it, then went to put it into Dropbox. But Dropbox wouldn’t open. 


These things happen from time to time in my laptop’s world, and I have developed a series of troubleshooting steps to deal with them. I initiated the first, a system reboot—the fatal mistake that allowed the cyber-zombie herd to overrun my beloved electronic fortress.


A barrage of error messages pounded the screen: my computer’s screams of virtual terror in the form of incoherent messages about ‘bad images’ with strings of random numbers and letters. One after the other they named the programs that had fallen victim, whose byte-ridden corpses were now strewn dead over my laptop. Dropbox. Google Updater. Chrome. Skype. And so many more. 


I tried to initiate my virus scanner.
Another error message.
I tried to reinstall Dropbox. 
Another error message.
I scrambled to write down the error messages, and clicked to open Chrome so I could look them up.
Another error message. 
I tried Firefox. 
Another error message. 



Luckily, the new Microsoft browser ‘Edge’ opened up (go figure), and I was able to Google the problem—I wasn’t the only one who’d been hit by the cyber-zombie affliction. Microsoft forums had offered several suggestions to the others, and I rushed to try them out. I scrolled down the pages, tried them one by one, and read other’s feedback; other users determined the source of the problem to be a Windows update, and asked for it to be fixed, but were met with silence. And still nothing seemed to be solving the problem: Admin command prompts. Sfc scans. DSIM restore health scans. Reinstalling programs. Multiple reboots. I tried them all, to no avail.


I continued to scroll, desperate for answers, and watched the thread thin as each person succumbed to the inevitable terror when the solutions wouldn’t work. There was one final set of suggestions from the Microsoft representative that involved two pages of nightmarish instructions on booting in safe mode and troubleshooting each application/program individually; at the sight of that, the last hold-out gave up, and I was left alone, staring at an eerily quiet ghost town, surrounded only by the memories of those who had come before. 


My mind grappled for something to hold on to. I was surrounded: the problem clearly wasn’t in any single program—everything was being hit by something else, and hard. Reinstalling the programs hadn’t worked; the victims were beyond help, and the solution would have to eliminate the cyber-zombie king itself. I couldn’t see how it made sense to boot in safe mode to troubleshoot and reinstall the programs one by one; at the very least, that would take hours and hours and hours, with no assurance that there would be any point to it at all. No, it was becoming clear there was only one thing that could be done.


Nobody can ever anticipate what it’s like to be faced with it: the need to look into the eyes of something we once loved and had high hopes for, now turned foul and hopeless, and to know that the only solution is to reach down deep and find the courage to put a bullet right between the zombie’s eyes. At first it seems unthinkable, but inevitably resignation must come. 


I clicked to open my settings, navigated to the right place, took a deep breath and--then I did it. 

I clicked the ‘Return to Windows 7’ button.

That’s right, I did it. I did it. 

And dammit, I’d do it again if I had to.