Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Becoming an Author

May 21, 2018

My writing club offers a scholarship at the local community college. The president of the club and I went to the awards ceremony and met this year’s recipient. She is planning a career in teaching, and hopes to encourage her future students to write well. She said she had no plans to be a writer, but she asked about the process. When we described all the ways one could bring one’s work to readers, she changed her mind. Here are some resources for you to become an author.

Smashwords.com

This is for ebooks only, but it is free for authors and offers a boatload of tutorials and help. I convinced my co-author to publish Death By Chenille on Smashwords. We were so energized by having a book on-line that we wrote a second book, then a third, and now we’re working on a fourth.

Small Publishing Houses

Just because you don’t have an agent to shop your manuscript to the big publishing houses doesn’t mean you’re done. A small publishing house might be interested. We published our third book (shameless self-promotion, that book is now available here) through Russian Hill Press.

My books, on my bookshelf – woo hoo!

Createspace/Amazon

Createspace is the go-to place for many independent authors. My uncle, Philip Gordon McGirr, just published a book of short pieces. He is another who never thought about being an author until a friend of his started writing and inspired him.

Booktrack.com

Booktrack lets you score your work. Yup, you can put music, ambient sounds, or special effects sounds together with your written word.

Local anthologies

Not sure your work is ready for a large audience? Check around and see if there are any groups in your area that publish an anthology. Our community college publishes annually, and you don’t have to be a student to submit. Julaina Kleist-Corwin, a local writing teacher, published a book of her students’ work.

All authors struggle to find readers, so don’t be discouraged that your book might sell only enough to buy you a really good lunch. This has been my experience, but I’m okay with that. Becoming an author, even at my level, has been worth it.

Writing Down The Dates

May 14, 2018

I was a history major in college, as were most of my roommates. We threw dinner parties to commemorate important dates. The Chicago Fire, the invasion of Poland, Pearl Harbor Day, Armistice Day – anything that came close enough to a free weekend so we had time to cook.

Dates and food are still important to me. I once made Cheesehenge Fondue for a summer solstice. As a writer, however, I want to do more. My friend and fellow writer Marlene Dotterer published her wonderful alternate history The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking. I started writing a story that is set in World War I. While the 100th anniversary of the end of that war is fast approaching, the end of that story is not.

I decided part of my trouble was pulling myself out of the “what-does-this-date-mean-to-me?” role. Separating my ego from my words is job number one for getting a story written. One of these days, the right story for the right date will reveal itself. Until then, bring on the cookbooks. There’s always another anniversary to celebrate.

Writing Prompts to the Rescue

May 7, 2018

I have more than enough ideas to keep me writing, if only I would write. Thank heavens Patricia Boyle, the president of the Tri-Valley Writers Branch of the California Writers Club, opens our monthly meetings with a writing prompt. We get four minutes to write, then on to the next item on the agenda. Those four minutes sometimes rescue me from an entire month when I write nothing more momentous than the grocery list. Some of her prompts have evolved into short stories for me. I’m not sure where this snippet will go, but I like it. The prompt became the first two lines of the story.

She hadn’t seen him for six months, but there he was in the coffee shop. He sat by himself, weeping into his herbal tea.

“Rees, do you mind if I sit down?” she asked. “I don’t want to intrude.”

“Please,” he said, “join me.” He leaned over his cup again. The tears flowed off his cheeks into his drink.

“So, how’s the experiment going?” she asked.

“As you can see,” Rees said, “I’m expressing the antidote as fast as I can. Say, maybe you can help. Tell me a sad story about your divorce. Another quarter cup of tear solution, and I’ve reached my quota.”

Collaborative Writing

April 30, 2018

My co-author for the Chenille series, Ann Anastasio, moved to another state years ago. That has made collaborative writing difficult, but not impossible. Last week we got together and talked about the plot for The Captain and Chenille. Within half an hour we had ironed out some nagging issues and added layers to the main characters. That is the benefit of bouncing ideas off other people. You may not want to write an entire novel with someone else, but do yourself a favor and find a person or group that will invest in you (as you, of course, will invest in that person or group). Record the session if you can’t take notes quickly enough. The ideas that start swimming around the room may not end up in your current project, but chances are you’ll find a way to use them somewhere, sometime.

I did some recording, not of our ideas, but of Ann reading from The Chenille Ultimatum. It’s under a minute – enjoy!

 

Reality Is In The Foot Of A Cat

April 23, 2018

One day in an antique shop, I noticed a simple but elegant bookcase filled with beautiful linens. On top of the stack on the highest shelf I saw a very realistic toy cat. I had to stretch to reach it. I tugged on its foot to determine if it was stuffed with kapok or buckwheat.

The foot was warm.

The cat’s expression was not.

 

 

Donovan the cat (not the one in the antique shop)

 

I considered myself lucky that a killer stare was the only thing the cat threw my way. It settled back to resume its nap and I retreated to a curio cabinet. Since everything was behind glass, I wouldn’t have to worry about mistaking a live critter for the work of a genius artist.

I was reminded of that experience when I told a writer that her character wouldn’t have reacted the way she wrote the scene. “The good news is I think of him as a real person. So real, that I’m ready to argue with you, his creator, about what he would or would not do,” I said.

We all laughed, but it’s worth remembering that the reader brings as much to our work as we do. The reader wants to see a fully fleshed character, wants to imagine having lunch with our heroine, or going fishing with our hero. If the reader tells you we’ve made the character act in a way she would not, could not, act – listen! Like beauty, reality is in the eye of the beholder.

Just don’t tug on its foot.

 

Character traits through the generations

April 16, 2018

I told you about finding inspiration for my characters in obituaries so my friends and family can’t complain that I’m using them for my stories. Sometimes, however, you run across a character trait that spans generations and just happens to fit what you need in your writing. That happened to me in The Chenille Ultimatum.

My dad and me a long time ago

This is my father. He was a great guy, usually laughing unless some piece of equipment had the temerity to misbehave. He also sang to himself. We’d hear him puttering in his shop, and all of sudden he would sing a snippet of some song he heard years ago, or yesterday, or just made up.

My grandmother

This is my father’s mother. She sang to herself, too. I discovered that one day when she was making lunch and didn’t know I was still in the kitchen. She started humming to herself, then sang part of a verse, then went back to humming. “Aha,” I thought, “that’s where my Dad gets it.”

That’s also where I get it, because I sing to myself too. No one noticed except my children (it annoyed them, so I made sure to sing whenever they annoyed me). Then one day I was working on a scene in The Chenille Ultimatum and I remembered this multi-generational trait. “Self,” I said, “have a character sing a piece of a song she heard from her mother, who heard it from her mother, who heard it from her mother, who heard it from the aliens when they first landed on Earth.”

And so I did. The song becomes a plot point, since the aliens recognize the song and decide they can trust humans after all. The character trait comes from real people, but no one knew until I spilled the beans. Perhaps your family holds multi-generational character traits that will provide plot points too.

Confession Time

April 9, 2018

I entered college as a poetry major, switched to political science by my junior year because I thought it would be more practical, and ended up not using that degree anyway. I wrote poetry all through college, but gradually drifted into prose. Although I still compose a poem now and again, I think of myself as a novelist. Still, I was considering what I should do to celebrate April in this writing life blog, but couldn’t decide. Here’s where the confession comes in – my friend Patricia Flaherty Pagan of Spider Road Press tagged me in a Facebook post about her anthology In The Questions: Poetry by and about Strong Women. Spider Road Press is running a giveaway on Amazon for the next few days, and Patricia mentioned all of the authors included in the book in her post. Yup, I forgot that I was in the book.

I wish I could say my natural modesty got the better of me, but in truth my little gray cells just misfired. So, to celebrate Poetry Month, here is my poem.

The Matriarchal Elephant

The mirror tells me I am wise.

I have the wrinkles to fit the role,

and the silver hair.

My diaries go back to years

taught in history class.

Ask a question, I will answer,

give opinion,

advice,

admonition.

My life trajectory suited me

for counselor,

consoler,

coach and instructor.

Yet there are days

when I look for the real wise woman,

the matriarchal elephant,

for the mom to save us all.

On those days,

I cover the mirror.

 

Look for the giveaway on the Spider Road Press Facebook page, or you could buy the book immediately and enjoy the other poems now. Happy Poetry Month!

A Sci-Fi Crazy Quilt

April 4, 2018

When Ann Anastasio and I wrote our first novel, Death By Chenille, we planned to create patterns for the quilts mentioned in the book. I volunteered to make the crazy quilt we described. I thought it would be pretty, and I love to embroider. Well, our third novel, The Chenille Ultimatum, has just been published and I’m finally getting started on the blocks. I have them pieced, but not embellished.

I believe this one will have yellow chevrons

Although we have mentioned this quilt in all three books, we haven’t described it lately so I had to go back and read the description. I’m one of the authors–you would think I could remember my own words. Not so much. “Self,” I said, “this crazy quilt idea is getting crazier by the minute.”

We described one block bisected with an embroidered ribbon

The quilt plays an important role in getting the aliens to trust the humans. The embroidery stitches tell the story of the first time they visited Earth. I had worked out what each stitch meant. Unfortunately, I succumbed to the worst lie writers tell themselves: “I’ll remember this later. No need to write it down now.” Of course I don’t remember what I had in mind and now I have to come up with embroidery patterns that fit.

The cross-stitch tells the story of the first time the aliens visited Earth

Our books are cozy sci-fi, which means the science is wibbly-wobbly because humor is more important than equations (our aliens disguise themselves as bolts of beige fabric, for Pete’s sake), so I’m hoping our readers are the cozy and forgiving sort. I am counting on the kindness of quilters who will agree that a finished quilt is beautiful, even if it doesn’t entirely fit the description in the book.

Luck and wisdom!

Characters and Where to Find Them

April 2, 2018

Friends and family do the most interesting things. You want to include their exploits in your novel, but you know they won’t be flattered. I’ve heard a family story of a man who kidnapped his own son and took him to a foreign country, where he abandoned him. There’s another story of a boy who ran away from home after a war and reinvented his entire life. Both of them would make great characters, but how many generations of relatives have to be safely dead before I can write about them?

My grandfather and his sisters, who had wonderful lives and deserve their own books

The standard advice to novelists is to combine the traits and experiences of several real people to make your characters, but I found a new source. I collect obituaries.

Here are real people, described by those who loved them best, or knew them best, or were paid to research them. I can blend their odd facts and thrilling exploits with my characters. I’m not basing my character on any one person, and I’m adding enough from those outside my social network that they really won’t recognize themselves in my heroine, my sidekick, or my villain. Now I can allow my characters to do what the plot demands without hurting anyone’s feelings.

Except for the kidnapping story – that one may need a bit more time before it is ready.

Longshore Drift

March 26, 2018

One of the advantages of having an unusual name is that you pay attention when you hear it. Or read it, as happened when I ran across the term longshore drift.

Photo by my father, George Longshore

The phrase has something to do with the accumulation of sand along a beach, but I enjoy the juxtaposition of words. Like pebbles in the surf, a thousand uses for the term rolled across my brain. It could be a command – “Longshore, drift!” I could pretend that I had been forced – forced, mind you – to spend the afternoon in idle amusement. Or it could be a suggestion for free-writing – drift along on a wave of sentences, tossing them on paper like leaves along a country stream.

Which brings to mind what I miss most about the demise of card catalogs – the lack of serendipity. Searching for books became so much easier, but the minutes I gain can’t outweigh the hours of pleasure I would get from a random discovery. It’s why I love my hardbound set of Encyclopaedia Britannica, where looking up the great photographer Yousuf Karsh led me to Tamara Platonova Karsavina, who danced with Nijinksy; which is next to Kars, a much fought-over region in Turkey known for its cheese; which is next to Paul Karrer, who won a Noble Prize for investigating carotenoids, which turn me orange when I eat too many carrots.

Oh, look, longshore drift.