Happy Leap Day/ List Day

time management threeBy Ellen Leventhal

The writer’s life and time management. Unfortunately, these two don’t always go together well. At least not for me. I’m sure I’m not alone in my wish for more hours in the day. Does anyone else end their days staring at the ceiling, ticking off all the tasks you did NOT get done that day? Please tell me it’s not just me!

So how happy am I that there is a full extra day this month? VERY happy. Surely, I will use this day to check things off my list. There aren’t that many things, right? I can do this! Here we go:

  1. Send poetry to that magazine.
  2. Dig out the email that tells me the name of the magazine.
  3. Type out texts of picture books to work on pacing.
  4. Go to the library and check-out said picture books.
  5. Begin work on that new website I’ve been talking about for years.
  6. Find someone to help me do that.
  7. Walk around the block. Sitting all day is bad for you.
  8. Finish three critiques.
  9. Call Comcast so I can get online to pull up the stories to critique.
  10. Re-write that short story in picture book format.
  11. Re-write that picture book manuscript into short story format.
  12. Have lunch!
  13. Stop at the Galleria after lunch to pick up those cute clothes for grandkids.
  14. Text daughters-in-law and double check sizes.
  15. Reply to store’s request for more books. Yes, the reissue of that book will be out by summer.
  16. Nag anyone who is responsible for getting the new book out.
  17. Have dinner.
  18. Climb into bed and tick off every item I did not accomplish. Sigh….

Sometimes it’s time management issues. Sometimes it’s computer issues. And sometimes life interferes with the best laid plans. But I will take this extra day for something. Even if it means counting my blessings because, although the book deals aren’t rolling in, a lot of other great things are.

Happy Leap Day, everyone! Use it to do what makes your happy.

 

 

Imaginary friends and writing

by Mandy Broughton

friends-forever-1438818-1280x960.jpg

My daughter had an imaginary friend. My daughter treated her as a real friend. So real that it was six months before I realized she didn’t exist. Imagine my surprise when I asked the preschool teachers to point out Olivia to me and they told me, “there’s no Olivia in this class.” Turns out there wasn’t an Olivia in any classes at the school. I know, I checked.

Best friends. Olivia was quite the trouble-maker. I’d hear all about these wild parties my daughter and Olivia would throw while I slept blissfully through the night. I said more than once I was glad Olivia was good at cleaning up the house after a wild night of partying.

Olivia’s mom was quite the rebel too. I was informed one day that Olivia’s mom was thrown in jail for speeding. I found myself arguing with a three year old on whether or not her imaginary friend’s mother was thrown in jail for speeding. Sheesh!

I decided to research children and imaginary friends. I never had any. As a child, I was perfectly content to sit and read in my room all day. Friends–real or imaginary–would disturb that peace.

Imaginary friends are what we would expect from highly creative people. Active imagination. Intelligent. Creative. Verbal. What I did not expect was that many adults had imaginary friends. What?! Are these people in need of a mental health professional? Maybe, but mostly they are creative adults. And it turns out many of those creative adults are authors.

As a writer, I know I have proper characterization when I dream about my characters. I can hear what they say in certain situations. I know how they’d act when problems arise. Fictional characters should not be shooting gallery ducks forced to respond in a certain way when a crisis occurs.* Characters should be organic, growing as the story progresses. They should feel more real than some real-life celebrities we watch and follow in the news.

As a writer, have you ever needed a character to act a certain way and she just wouldn’t? She’s supposed to be angry but she’s acting all quirky and sarcastic on the page. Or two characters start flirting with each other and they’re not supposed to even like each other. Happens to me all the time. My characters have taken over the pages of my manuscripts. And many of them are completely unrepentant for derailing my plot. I guess I’ve developed imaginary friends as an adult. Maybe I’m a late bloomer.

So tell me, dear writers, how do you know when you’ve achieved proper characterization? Do you hear voices in your head? Do you dream about them? Do you mock-up a fake Facebook page and imagine what they’d post? I mostly argue with mine.

Back to work on this first work week of the New Year. I hope the New Year brings plenty of good books, lots of writing, and great friendships–real and imaginary!

Oh, and I can’t forget, as a longtime, die-hard University of Houston Cougar alumni and fan… oDPuclxr.jpgCongratulations on winning the Peach Bowl. GO COOGS!

 

*My editor once told me my characters were like shooting gallery ducks, they were cardboard and went back and forth like I was shooting at them.

 

Organize Your Writing Life in 2015 – Five Strategies for Success

by Monica Shaughnessy

a-good-time-to-start-something-270663-mIf you’re like me (and most of the world), you want to make a fresh start in the new year. In fact, as soon as I write this post, I’m going to clean my office. It’s crammed with stuff from the holidays. Starting in October, my personal writing space becomes a cornucopia of crap – glitter, spider stickers, leftover fabric, Christmas bows, pinecones, paper pilgrim hats…you get the idea.

So once the decks are cleared, I’m going to look to the following list to help me get organized this year. It’s not your usual “use Evernote more” kind of list. It goes a bit deeper. It may get you thinking, too, about your own strategies for 2015.

1. Tame the Social Media dragon – I’m going to develop a social media calendar at the beginning of each month and stick to it. And each month, I’ll use my platform to support one book and/or promotion and not get too bogged down with minutia and side stuff. I’m also going to put off social media until the end of the day after I’ve done my writing (or during lunch breaks/weekends). This is a biggie. I’ve wasted too many hours fiddling around on Twitter and Facebook when I could be moving my plot along. Books first, platform a close second (but still a second). I know a lot of writers who put platform first and writing second (and it shows). I don’t want to be one of those writers.

2. Develop a High-Yield Income Strategy – I spent time last year experimenting with different speaking gigs, side projects, books signing, etc. Realistically, I can’t write more books and do ALL of the above. So I’m going to scale back and do only the things that a) yield the highest income or b) significantly develop my platform (which leads to higher income). This may sound harsh to those who write only for the love of writing. But for me, writing is also a business. The good thing about doing all that in 2014 is that I now know what works and what doesn’t. I’m also going to develop more of those high-yeild projects.

3. Get Serious About Genre – This is a biggie for me. If you look at my backlist, I’ve got children’s projects, historicals, thrillers, and more. But unless I stay put in one spot, fans don’t know where to find me. I’m finally gaining a following with my historical mysteries, so instead of writing a sci-fi book next, I will probably follow up with a new book in this genre to capitalize on my foothold. But I can’t resist releasing a few modern-day short stories in the meantime (hey, they’re already written). Throughout 2015, I will keep my eye on one genre and try NOT to get distracted by shiny things.

4. Write Like My Pants Are On Fire – Oh, how I agonize over words! In 2015, I will stop striving for PERFECTION and strive for finishing as many projects as I can as quickly as I can (without sacrificing quality). I’ve got to write like every day is NaNoWriMo. It really helped to have this mentality when finishing The Black Cats (now on sale!), and it can help this year, too. I’m going to develop a REALISTIC publishing schedule and bet against fellow author, Mandy Broughton, that I can finish it.

5. Try New Things – I know, I know. I said in #2 that I’m only going to do stuff that yields a wheelbarrow of money (or at least a Starbucks cup worth). But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try more things. Never know, right? A few things on my hit list for 2015: sell books from my website, create an app for at least one book, ratchet up my editing business with giveaways, lectures, and digital content, make another “graphic-centric” book project, and try a new branding strategy.

Well, this little chat has been nice. But as you can see, I’ve got SO much to do. Until next time!

———————->

How about you, dear readers? Have any tips for writing success in 2015? I’d love to hear them!

Heard & Overheard During NaNoWriMo

by Mandy Broughton

Participant-2014-Web-Banner

In case you live in a cave or have been kipnapped by the Fae-Mer-folk, it’s NaNoWriMo. What is this bizarre acronym? It’s just a fancy way of saying National Novel Writing Month.

For one crazy-fun-filled month, November, writers from around the galaxy, commit to writing a 50,000-word novel in thirty days. All output, no editing. No deleting. No lamenting, “I shall write a novel one day.” That day is now. And we’re in the midst of it.

I personally believe that NaNoWriMo is better than sliced bread. For a numbers gal, who never got praised for being creative in ANYTHING, I get the chance to cast aside all responsibility and to create. It is a wonderful and exhausting experience.

As with any of casting aside of responsibilities, there have been some interesting conversations overheard in my particular NaNoWriMo quarantined household. I’d like to share just a few.

  1. “Mom lets us watch as much TV as we want but we also have to scrounge for food.”

From December to October, media time is severely limited for my kids but I do reward them with lots of home-cooked meals. But in November, they catch up on all their missed media and out-Netflix the most devoted Netflixers.

I disagree with peanut butter sandwiches being considered as scrounging for food. It’s like a fast, only with peanut for thirty days.

  1. “Would a tree spirit in human form be healed if she were planted in soil and watered?”

Yes, I asked this question. What do you think?

  1. “I can’t find the Apache name for a Dryad—a tree spirit? If I can’t find the name, then what am I supposed to call her?!”

“What about ‘tree spirit?’”

Okay, this happened in writing group. I get so caught up in my research that I forget maybe sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

  1. “Outta my way, it’s NaNoBaTi. I’ve got three minutes.”

NaNo word sprints are the greatest thing ever. Tweets from my phone set me to typing as fast as I can. I make Clark Kent look like a slacker. Only problem is that sometimes they don’t call the National Novel Bathroom Time often enough. Especially when I’ve been downing caffeine like a camel on water after a long journey through the dessert.

  1. “I sorry, I can’t come in to volunteer today.”

I really hope the organizations where I volunteer don’t read this blog.

  1. “Taking notes on the bulletin about the sermon today?”

“Uh… no.”

I do not NaNo during church. I promise. Just because I jot down a few ideas doesn’t mean I wasn’t listening to the sermon. I promise!

  1. “You killed off the horse I named?!”

Sorry, kid. Yes, I needed a name of a horse. And, yes, the werewolves got him. I’ll write another horse one day. And let him live. Maybe.

  1. “Maybe if the house were cleaner, the kids would enjoy going to school more.”

The house gets messy. The kids get cranky. And my husband gets desperate. I promise I’ll clean… December 1. But wait, I might be doing National Novel Editing Month then…

  1. “What are you doing for lunch?”

“Mining silver.”

Did you know YouTube has videos of mining silver? And smelting silver from ore? And one lady has an entire blog series on the making of silver bullets? You can’t melt silver over any old campfire.

10. “I just finished the first draft of my new novel.”

I haven’t said this one yet this year. But I will. I love NaNoWriMo. If you haven’t done it, try it. If you love it, please consider donating. It’s a wonderful cause. And we always need a little more creativity—and fun—in this part of the galaxy.

Okay, my phone is calling. The new NaNoWordSprints leader is ready to sprint. I’m off to finish my novel.

Bird by Bird

 By Ellen Leventhal

Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.

What a simple and brilliant statement. Anne Lamott (my new pretend BFF whom I have never met) tells a story of a time when her brother was overwhelmed with the enormity of a task before him. He had to write a report on birds that was due the next day, and he was far from ready to tackle that task. This young man was surrounded with books and paper, but had no idea how to get started. The task was huge, but his wise father put his arms around the boy and gave him some sage advice. “Bird by bird, buddy,” he said. “Just take it bird by bird.” So simple. So brilliant.

That statement is the basis for Anne Lamott’s bestseller, Bird by Bird; Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Ms. Lamott (Oh, since she’s my pretend BFF, I’m going to call her Anne).. Anne starts her book on writing talking about reading. She came from a family where reading was a priority and going to the library was a weekly event. Her father was both a reader and a writer. Makes sense to me. In my world, reading and writing are two sides of the same coin. I read about writing, and I write about reading. And writing.  They can’t really be split. In fact, according to Anne, “Becoming a better writer is going to help you become a better reader, and that is the real payoff.” She’s really smart, that imaginary pal of mine.

As a teacher, I encourage my kids to mark up their books. Read, think, and write. I want to see notes and highlighting and question marks all over their books. Of course, there is the question of the ownership of said books, so I hand out scads of sticky notes in the beginning of the school year. I wouldn’t want the kids to deface someone else’s property. I admit that I’ve seen my share of body parts drawn on these notes, but I have also seen lots of great notes. One of my favorite things is when a sticky note (or a margin) has a comment relating a passage to another book. One of my favorite notes was “Like when Leslie dies in Bridge to Terabithia, but this guy didn’t do something stupid.” This was a real sticky note comment. To be honest, that remark took about five sticky notes, but still, I like it. The next thing that happened almost brought tears to my eyes. Not because I was still mourning Leslie Burke (although every time I read that book I keep hoping for a different ending), but because this child then said, “Look at the poem I wrote about it.” Reading and writing intertwined again.

Bird by Bird has great advice for life in general, but I started reading it to get me through some sticky patches in my writing life. Anne’s insight has gotten me unstuck when writer’s block was my constant companion. Her small assignments helped me find focus in my manuscripts. And her tip of looking at first drafts as Polaroid pictures has validated my writing.  She says that writing a first draft is like a watching a Polaroid picture develop. You’re not really supposed to know what it will look like until it finishes developing. Since I’m not always sure where my characters will take me, this is comforting. Sometimes once the Polaroid is developed, I find a minor character lurking behind a major one and decide his life story is the one begging to be told.

Reading, writing, and life in general can be difficult at times. Anne Lamott talks about “Sh*&^y first drafts.” (Only she spells the whole word out. This is a G rated blog.) Let’s think about writing as life. Just like first drafts, we should be allowed do overs in life. And if we take life challenges one step at a time, bird by bird, maybe they won’t seem insurmountable.

Thanks, pretend BFF. Whereas some “self-help” books, tell the reader to get up off her chair and just do something, this book, filled with humor and insight has encouraged me to get back in my chair and write. And just take it bird by bird.

 

 

 

 

How to Create Your Own Anthology (without losing your mind)

by Monica Shaughnessy

FINAL Cover_no sixOn October 8th, the Space City Scribes released an anthology. In case we haven’t talked about it quite enough, here are the particulars. It’s a loose collection of stories about Houston, ranging from literary fiction to sci-fi to fantasy. The ebook sells for $2.99 at Amazon and other major etailers.

Okay? Okay.

Now on to the “how to” portion of my post…

How To Create Your Own Anthology

There are a lot of reasons to create an anthology. Chief among them is exposure. If someone already loves, say, Mandy Broughton and buys the anthology to read her story, then that same person may read my story, like it just as much, and go on to buy one of my books. It’s also a way to build excitement for local events – signings are always more fun and “busy” when you have a group of authors. Lastly, my friend Artemis Greenleaf likened the anthology to a super-deluxe business card, and she’s right. It’s a great way to get our content “sampled” by as many people possible, especially since we’re pricing it low. Visibility is an author’s greatest challenge, whether indie or trad published, and the more people who’ve heard of us, the better.

What follows below are my tips for creating a homegrown anthology with a group of friends – not the kind of anthology where you welcome submissions from strangers and pay them. Those are good, too, but outside the scope of my discussion.

Now on to the show…

1. Find Your Writers: If you’re in an author collective like me, then your circle is already formed. If not, you might be in a critique group or a professional writers’ organization. Ask around to see if anyone’s interested in putting an anthology together, but I strongly caution you to pick writers you know and trust. If you want to work with people you don’t know as well, be prepared to draft legal documents to protect yourself. Another reason to pick people you know: you can choose writers whose work you admire and whose publishing skills compliment and/or supplement your own. This becomes very important when the “easy” work of writing is done and the hard work of “book creation” begins.

2. Decide on a Cost/Payment Structure: Our anthology was a no-pay structure where individual writers submitted freely without expectation of royalty or advance. This is a little harder to pull off with “strangers.” We also decided to keep overhead low by designing the cover ourselves, formatting ourselves, etc. We are lucky enough to have two educators in our group who have a meticulous command of the English language (thanks, Ellen Leventhal and Ellen Rothberg!). They did all the proofreading for the project. As for payment, we decided to funnel any profits from group signings back to Space City Scribes. We’ll use the money to sign up for festival booths, book advertisements, etc. If, however, we buy and sell the books as individuals, then the profits are ours to keep.

3. Put Someone in Charge: Things run more smoothly when you have someone keeping the schedule, checking on work, and sending update emails. For this project, I acted as editor. I won’t lie. The anthology was a lot of work. But I’m really proud of it.

4. Decide on a Theme: Since we’re a diverse group of writers, we found a common core in our hometown: Houston. Using this as a starting point, we all wrote stories set in Space City, hence the title of the anthology. If you’ve assembled a genre-based group, then you’ve got a built in theme already, say, horror or middle grade. But go further… Do you want to do a middle-grade collection of holiday stories? A science fiction anthology of space opera? There are a lot of ways to segment your content.

5. Assign the Work Fairly: Some of our members are very tech-savvy. They took the project pieces that required certain skills, like ebook formatting and paperback creation. Some members are awesome editors and proofers, so they took these pieces. Or some, like K.C. Maguire, happened to have experience with certain kinds of blogging and promotion. That’s the beauty of working with a diverse team – we all bring something to the table. When you’re choosing writers, be thinking not just about the stories you’ll need but the skills you’ll need after the words are on paper.

6. Get ready for a ton of email. Just deciding on our cover? I think we sent and replied to around fifty or more emails. No joke. And this was just one small piece of the project.

7. Remember That Friendships Come Before Business: If things get a little crazy or if there are disagreements (think there won’t be? ha!), take a step back and remember that this is supposed to be FUN or, at the very least, a good use of your time. Not the gateway to an ulcer. With so many cooks in the kitchen, the final recipe may not turn out like the one in the cookbook – do they ever? – but you’ll end up with something new and exciting if you give in to the process.

8. Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor: When it’s all done, and your glorious new book is for sale, it will stand as a testament to your hard work and friendship. This, really, is what makes your anthology worthwhile.

You can also go a second route: assemble your friends and acquaintances, offer them exposure, do all the work yourself (ask nothing of anyone, except for a little social media at the end), and reap all the profits yourself. This would be a good choice if you have the skills you need to produce a book or if you’ve got a particular vision you want to see through (and like to be the only cook in the kitchen). But I would recommend drafting a content release form that gives you first printing rights and having your authors sign it. When money is involved, people get funny. And I don’t mean “funny ha, ha.” I mean “funny stark raving mad.”

However you decide to do it, creating an anthology is definitely time-consuming. But it’s also worthwhile. If you want to take a look at how ours turned out, visit the anthology page on this blog and read more about the book.

——————->

How about you, dear authors? Every contemplated an anthology? I’d be happy to answer questions. And readers, what’s your opinion of anthologies? Do you enjoy reading them? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Write This Way To A Successful School Year

by Ellen Rothberg

I can feel it. I can taste it. I can smell it. It’s the beginning of a new school year and it’s right around the corner! Unlike a New Year’s Resolution, we don’t have to make a promise to get fit, lose ten pounds or even find a new love interest. We  just have to put on our new shoes, pack up our freshly sharpened number twos and head out, with a sense of great expectation, to find our educational fortune. Ah, but what if you are, in fact, the teacher? Or the assistant principal? Or, like me, the guidance counselor? Then we have double-duty. We must find a way to reach our returning students, while garnering a bit of self-fulfillment, a sort of “cherry-on-the-top” of the sundae that has become the Back-to-School Restaurant Week!

So, in honor of Back-to-School, Houston Restaurant Week (which is really a month), and my never-ending search for the perfect beginning of the school year pair of shoes (both stylish and able to leap small children in a single bound), I offer my top ten positive goals to increase career satisfaction and keep my mind off the donuts that will undoubtedly be lining the workroom for the next few weeks.

10. I Will Climb Every Mountain. I hiked this summer in Colorado. I am not an outdoorsy type, but I accepted the challenge. This school year, I will hike the four city blocks between my office and second grade, five, no, six times per day, even if I am not looking for a second grader.

9. I Will Let A Smile Be My Umbrella. Rainy Day Dismissals? No problem! Can’t find the extra shoes I always keep on hand. No worries. This year I will realize that dry feet are highly overrated.

8. I Will Conquer  Pink Eye. Is there an app for that? I will wash my hands until they feel like sandpaper and buy all the hand sanitizer I can find on sale at Walmart.

7. Is That a Roach or a Longhorn? Roaches in Houston are so big, we can saddle them up and ride them around the playground. This year, I will rope and tie me a big one and show him off at the Livestock Show & Rodeo.

6. I Will Know That Elvis Has Left the Building. At the same Livestock Show & Rodeo, I will sit ringside for Blake Shelton, and not in the nosebleed section. I will politely decline when he asks me to sing a duet and then gradually give in after several minutes of coaxing.

5. I will Convince the Houston Texans that Manziel is Not  Too Little to Play in the NFL. I will turn back the hands of time to the point where the Texans forgot that they needed a quarterback and offer my opinion, which they will quickly acknowledge and agree with.

4. I Will Eat at Every Houston Eatery Offering a Special Three Course Meal During Restaurant Week and I Will Not Gain Even One Pound. It’s for a good cause – feeding the homeless. This is my crazy goal list – I get to say whatever I like.

3. I Will Remind Every Politician in America That Children are the World’s Most Important Asset. They will agree with me and act accordingly when it comes to legislation affecting those seeking to enter the U.S.

2. I Will Abolish School Paperwork.

1. I Will Make a Difference in at Least One Child’s Life.

Someone please rescue me from what has become a full on nightmare of positivity! I know, I know I am totally off topic. This year, I will probably not conquer my fear of the infamous Houston tree roach, especially the one who invariably shows up in my office and then hides out just waiting to scare me. I will not conquer the mountain of paperwork haunting me at school and home. I will not learn every name of every child in my school by Halloween. I will try, though, to make a difference in the lives of my students. And that is my goal for the new school year! What’s yours?

Unconfidential Sources

My turn to blog! I considered writing about indie publishing. But Joe Konrath, Hugh Howey, and Passive Guy have that more than covered. Maybe a piece on getting some writing done, with kids, during summer break. But there are already at least 108 million mommy blogs (go google ‘mommy blog’ if you don’t believe me). That, and I haven’t solved that puzzle, either. I asked myself, “What is something that nobody but me can write about?”

Ideas. More specifically, how I get ideas for stories.

I read the “Weird News” sections of online news sources. I’ve even gotten ideas from reading the Homeowner’s Association newsletter.

I write down my dreams. Sometimes, I get weird scenes, scenarios, or dialog. But sometimes, I get entire stories.

I listen to podcasts, like Mysterious Universe.

I read websites, like CryptoMundo, Who Forted, Coast to Coast AM (a little heavy on the conspiracy theories, but sometimes they have gems).

I watch shows like Unusual Suspects, Homicide Hunter, and Forensic Files.

I eavesdrop on strangers in public places. Shhhh. It’s a secret.

I take pictures of odd things.

I go unusual places, and love doing “off the beaten track” activities. I would recommend the sewer tour in Paris, if you get the chance.

Put all those things in the blender, then ask “What if…”