Imaginary friends and writing

by Mandy Broughton

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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.

 

Covering Your Trail

By Mandy Broughton

Cover art is a reader’s first experience with a book. Will it entice her to pick it up and give it a glance? Or will it cause her to chunk it across the room? [Full disclosure: I have ripped the cover off of two different books and shredded them because they were so bad. But the books were good.]

I love to design covers. Selecting art, placing and manipulating it, and finally the reveal. I love the satisfaction of a job well done. What could be better? [A bestseller? The love and envy of other writers? The adulation of adoring admirers? An excellent alliteration? But I digress—]

Writing is fun—ultimately a job—but still fun. But designing cover art—that’s where I get to let myself go wild. I can’t draw but I do think I have an eye for balance. And that discerning eye made me want to write a post on designing covers.

Here are a few ideas on what to look for in a cover. Tell me if you agree, disagree, or if I’ve left something out.

Organized vs Disorganized

Is the cover planned, organized chaos, or just Chaos with a capital C? A jumbled cover is fine—it can work—but there must be a method to the splattering we are looking at. Randomness is only our friend when selecting subjects for experiments, not in our covers. Think of a bomb: a placed charge can move rock so the road can be built. But throwing TNT willy-nilly on the hillside will rarely result in a benefit to the driving community.

Complexity vs Crowded

I like minimalist covers. That’s a personal preference. Simple lines, smoothness, those are soothing and invite me in. An overcrowded cover gives me a headache. It reminds me of my house and how I need to clean. I want to enjoy a book, not be reminded of housework.

Flow vs Splat

Where do my eyes want to go? To the authors name? The title? Am I looking at the woman swimming for her life and ultimately to the shark underneath her? The shark just wants a small snack before breakfast. He’s so misunderstood. [Jaws a great cover even forty years later.]

Symmetry vs Hot Mess

Balance. Even if it is a full and busy cover, there must be balance. Think of Star Wars: “In the time of greatest despair [often when I design], a child shall be born [hmm—a cover?] who will destroy the Sith [all bad covers] and bring balance to the Force [an excellent cover].

Appeal vs Avant-Garde

Avant-Garde is trendy. It can work on a cover but always remember the readers. When appealing to a large group, try to get what most people prefer. Think of ice cream flavors: more people like vanilla over Marbled Cream Cheese Brownie, Southern Peach Cobbler, or Birthday Cake. Vanilla ice cream may not be the first choice but, for many people, it is in the top three. There’s a reason the latter flavors are flavors of the month while vanilla is always available.

So tell me dear readers… what do you look for in a cover? What are some of your favorites?

Raccoons, Poltergeists, and Exits (RUN FAST!)

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Mandy Broughton has found another willing victim for her hot seat. And hot it is. We’re here with Artemis Greenleaf, Purveyor of Fine Collocations.

MB: Most of your fiction features the supernatural. Is it true that you have a ghost in the attic of your house? And that she regularly bangs on the walls and floors to tell your family, “keep it down, you’re all too loud?”

AG: Well, there is something that lives in the attic, but I suspect it’s a raccoon.

MB: A raccoon. How quaint. I’m sure that’s a newfangled codename for “poltergeist.” Exit Point is your latest release. How did you come up with the name? Is it true that you’ve published so much fiction that you’ve run out of titles? And, while at the movie theatre, you saw a kid point to an exit sign and you said, “AHA!”

AG: An “Exit Point” is a metaphysical theory that before people are born, they choose the tasks they need to accomplish while they’re on the Earthly plane, but there are planned “escape hatches,” so that if they get done early, or situations change, they can leave. It might be something obvious, like nearly drowning in a swimming pool, or it may be something they’d never notice, like making a wrong turn or unusual stop on the way to work. If they’d gone the usual route, they would have been involved in a fatal traffic accident. But since they weren’t at the point of departure, the accident never happened, and they were none the wiser. In researching this book, I read a lot of material from Helena Blavatsky, C.W. Leadbeater, and Carl Jung. I came up with the idea for the story because one summer, there were a group of neighborhood teens who were breaking into the swimming pool area and drinking, and doing some malicious mischief. My husband said, “What if one of them fell in the pool and drowned?” and I thought, “What, indeed?”

MB: “What, indeed,” turned out to be a new story in a long collection of novels you’ve written. You are published under several pen names. Is that a secret or can I ask you if [redacted]?

AG: Yes. Artemis Greenleaf is my main brand. If these books were movies, they’d probably be rated PG-PG13. Although, I do have some short stories for younger readers that I’m working on converting to picture books/illustrated stories – those would be rated G.

One of the characters, Belinda Tate, from the Marti Keller Mysteries series (The Hanged Man’s Wife and The Magician’s Children), writes romance novels under the pen name “Coda Sterling.” The first book (well, novella) in her Dragonfire trilogy is Dragon by Knight. I’m about halfway done with book 2, Dragon Killer. The love scenes in Coda Sterling books are tame by 50 Shades of Grey standards, but they are much more explicit that what I normally write. Rated R.

A.B. Richards (Rescue: A Litter of Quetzels) is darker and grittier than Artemis Greenleaf. Definitely a strong R rating.

My experimental brand, Holly Dey (Puss in Spaceboots), is for story ideas that I’m not really sure how to classify. G-PG.

MB: If I had to guess, I would say YA is your favorite genre. Young adult fiction focuses on Dystopian worlds. Do you secretly have a mermaid army (navy?) that is trying to transform the world into a Dystopian Paradise—I mean—Nightmare?

AG: Funny you should mention merfolk – they do turn up in a couple of my stories (Earthbound, Space City 6), but, while they would be perfectly happy to see humans exterminated, they aren’t big on creating a dystopian society. The only true YA book that I have is Confessions of a Troll. It is true that Mimi, the main character in Exit Point, is 17 (so her friends are also around that age), but I’m not entirely sure it classifies as YA. I would say I mostly write Urban Fantasy, but some books are for younger readers, and some are for an older crowd.

MB: Funny, Confessions of a Troll is the first book I read of yours. I suppose that’s why I think YA! You do lots of personal sales, in grocery stores, at book events, farmers markets, etc. And you’ve mentioned that you enjoy people watching. Readers want to know: do you have a transmorgifier that you point at interesting people you meet and transform them into characters for your latest novel? And once transmogrified onto the 2D page, they are forced to act our your story for the rest of their natural lives?

AG: I have tons of notes about people that I scribble down, and I often combine attributes of random strangers. I was once in Target and encountered two young ladies, whose over-loud conversation I could not help but overhear. I wrote a blog post about that, and one of them turns up as Deb in Exit Point. There was once a lady in a store that was rude to me, so I promptly wrote her into a story and ran over her with a truck.

MB: *nervously worried that I’ve accidentally been rude* What’s next on the truck driving writing agenda?

AG: I’m planning on finishing up Dragon Killer, and then I will either write a novel length A.B. Richards book featuring Quetzel Cazares (and of course, Gato, the kitten), or write The Devil’s Advocate, the 3rd book in the Marti Keller series. I’ve got another project that’s set in that same universe, but stars a (mostly) different set of characters. Also working on the illustrated kids’ books – I’d like to have Brain’s Vacation out by summer.

MB: Thanks, Artemis, Coda, A.B., and Holly! Let’s take a look at your book trailer and Exit Point is on sale for $0.99 through December.

Why Social Media Will Never Replace a Warm Puppy

by Ellen Rothberg

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I was going to write about the amazing anthology recently published by Space City Scribes when a funny thing happened. My granddaughter spent the night with us last Saturday and like many grandparents, we believe that her mere being is cause to celebrate on my Facebook page. So, at approximately 9:20 P.M. on Saturday night I posted the picture you see here to my page. My experience with posting important things to Facebook like the book signing for our anthology on November 8 from 2-4 P.M. at Katy Budget Books has been a bit underwhelming. After all, I posted the absolutely stunning cover art from the anthology about two weeks ago and sat back, contentedly to watch the “LIKE”s roll in. I waited and waited . . . and waited. After about two hours, I had six “LIKE”s. And, one didn’t even count because it was from my mom’s cousin and she “LIKE”s everything. On this particular Saturday night; however, there must have been a lack of good tv because twenty minutes after posting, my little granddaughter and I had twenty-two “LIKE”s!

Well, you can imagine my confusion. The Anthology has action, drama, tension, history and criminal activity. My granddaughter has a little under four years of daycare to boast about. By 10:55 we were looking at thirty-five “LIKE”s and six comments. Of course by that time my granddaughter had gone to sleep and most normal people had turned their clocks back and also prepared for bed. Oh no, the “LIKE”s kept pouring in. By Sunday morning we were at fifty-eight and they were circling the country. We had “LIKE”s from my childhood pals in Brooklyn and “LIKE”s from school friends and colleagues; there were “LIKE”s from relatives and from people who hadn’t given me the time of day in high school; “LIKE”s from fellow writers and “LIKE”s from friends I didn’t even know I had. It was amazing.

My granddaughter is really cute and precocious and I wouldn’t trade her for the world, but how does she rank so well when Space City scribes has written a terrific anthology of Houston based stories to entertain and entice you. Surely a good read should measure more acknowledgement than a picture of a cute kid having a sleepover with her nana. That’s why social media will never be taken seriously as a marketing tool. Now, if I could just figure out a way to write my next book about a darling little shih tzu!

And just to make my point, Space City Scribe authors are presenting a workshop on Saturday morning at 10:00 A.M. at the Maud Marks library in Katy. The scribes will talk about everything Indie Publishing, from how to format ebooks to Indie publishing illustrated children’s books; from marketing plans to best practices for Indies. Don’t miss it.

Strong Women and We’re Not Talking Body Odor

This is Mandy Broughton. [taps mic] Is this thing working? [feedback noise] Mandy Broughton here with another victim, er, guest for my hot seat.

Several weeks ago, Patricia Flaherty Pagan had asked me to read an advanced review copy of her upcoming anthology, Eve’s Requiem: Tales of Women, Mystery, and Horror. Once I finished it, I knew I needed to add Ms. Pagan to my collection of torturees interviewees.

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These thirteen short stories are about real women in extraordinary situations. Okay, it has horror so it’s not all fun and bonbons. But they are all powerful women who take an active role in their fate. And they pack quite a punch without any of the benefits of spandex costumes.

MB: The upcoming anthology, Eve’s Requiem, co-edited by you and Fern Brady, will be released in October. The collection features strong female characters, good and bad, in dangerous situations. But I noticed Ms. Brady’s name is listed first. To keep with the theme of strong females, is it true you two arm wrestled to see whose name would be on top?

PFP: Alas there was no arm wrestling or WWF (wild writing females) style smackdowns. It is the publishing industry’s custom to list the editors alphabetically, so that it how we did it. We were blessed to worth with excellent writers and fun stories, but compiling an anthology is a lot of work, so it was helpful to share the process.

MB: Doing a collection of short stories with female leads can be risky. And none of the characters, to my recollection, were six feet tall, weighed 100 pounds and could bench press 315 twenty times without breaking a sweat. Are you afraid that you might have alienated the spandex-karate-Jiu-Jitsu-superhero-big-breasted reading demographic?

PFP: The Jiu-Jitsu loving crowd shouldn’t underestimate the characters in Eve’s Requiem. The shotgun- wielding, elderly aunt in Wendy Leeds’ story “Bloodline” could take out an action movie heroine any day!
But seriously, stories celebrating characters who look more like the average reader are slowly but surely being published in America. Not that we don’t have further to go. My own mission-oriented small press has set the goal of publishing more fiction about women from diverse backgrounds. America isn’t full of tall, skinny, white chicks, so American bookshelves shouldn’t be either.

MB: I see you have several events celebrating the release of Eve’s Requiem: Tales of Women, Mystery, and Horror. My book events tend to include coercion, duct-tape, and lots of dragging of bound bodies. I’ve come to realize this might not be the most productive way to approach book signings. What do you see as the recipe for success at book events?

PFP: So far the secret ingredients seem to be:
1. Cupcakes
2. Organized friends
3. Accessibility
4. More cupcakes
At the reading and launch to celebrate the publishing of Up, Do Spider Road Press’ collection of flash fiction by women, we served gourmet cupcakes from a well-known Heights cupcake bakery. It’s amazing how much more interesting writers sound while you’re devouring just the right amount of chocolate ganache! We will therefore continue the tradition and serve gourmet cupcakes at our Eve’s Requiem launch party at Writespace Houston on Friday, October 10 at 8 pm. Stop in to hear good stories and or to eat cupcakes. Either way, it works for me.

Thankfully, I have also lucked into meeting some organized and motivated author friends since moving to Houston. Tireless author-preneur Pamela Fagan Hutchins and enthusiastic novelist Gay Yellen have graciously invited me to join in on some of the Women of Mystery readings this fall. I will not be involved in the catering, but I am honored to be invited to read with such a talented group. These group readings will feature several power-house authors, including best-selling novelist Stephanie Jaye Evans and this wacky author named Mandy Broughton. Houstonians can stop into the Barnes and Noble in River Oaks on Saturday, October 18 at 2 p.m. to investigate.

Accessibility is everyone’s problem, so I am also trying to set up events that all readers can enjoy. I am happy that we are able to hold out upcoming launch at Writespace, a great writers’ organization that also happens to be located in a handicapped accessible building. In addition, I was able to book an ASL interpreter for the event. I hope that Spider Road Press will have the resources to hire ASL interpreters for future events as well. Because all readers like fiction and cupcakes.

MB: Finally, I enjoyed your story, “Bitter Sweets,” also found in this collection. Of all the tales, I think it had the most realistic feel, as if it could have occurred. Readers demand to know, did you sneak into Doc Brown’s laboratory and borrow his DeLorean to go to 1919 Boston to do research?

PFP: I would love to see the look on people’s faces if I did roll into 1919 Boston in a DeLorean. The streetcar drivers and ice delivery men would be seriously spooked!

While I couldn’t count on Doc Brown, my AP history teacher and community college lecturer dad pointed me towards the historical facts. In fact, his joy in telling the story of the real life, surreal molasses flood in Boston’s North End in January, 1919 planted the seed for the story. For more details, I borrowed his copy of historian Stephen Puleo’s great book about the disaster, Dark Tide. Nonfiction sometimes bores me, but Puelo writes well about a truth that was just as strange as fiction. I highly recommend his book.

If readers are interested in checking out my story and the twelve other suspenseful tales of peril and survival in Eve’s Requiem, they can save money by preordering it for a discounted rate between now and 10/5/14. See Spider Road Press’ online store for more information.

Spider Road Press

MB: Thanks so much for the interview and good luck with the launch. I look forward to cupcakes buying a sighed copy.

PFP: Thanks for the chat!

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Read it! You’ll never look at flower gardens, haunted houses, dark roads, walking home from work, and 1919 Boston the same way again.

 

And, dear readers, in the great capitalistic tradition, I have a word from my sponsor.

[begin commercial] My book, The Cat’s Last Meow, is being featured on Monday September 29th 2014 at eBookSoda, a new readers’ site where they’ll send you ebook recommendations tailored to your taste. www.ebooksoda.com. I’ve found some good deals there. It’s kind of fun browsing. [end commercial]

 

Collaboration, Craziness, and Completion: Steps to an Awesome Anthology

 

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by Ellen Leventhal

Introducing Space City 6: Houston Stories from the Weird to the Wonderful

According to Merriam-Webster, to collaborate means to work together with another person or group in order to achieve or do something. People have asked me how I can stand such a solitary endeavor as writing. The answer is that writing, and more specifically the production of a book, is not always solitary. It’s often collaborative.

Collaboration in writing takes many forms. It can mean actually writing a piece with someone else, it can mean working with an illustrator, or it can even mean taking part in critique groups where members help each other hone their stories. I’ve done it all.

But wait, there’s more! (Cue announcer on late night infomercial.) My newest collaboration has been one of the most difficult, yet rewarding ones for me. As part of the Space City Scribes, I had the opportunity to work with five other women in order to achieve something of which we’d be proud. Although we wrote individually, it was still a team effort. Working towards producing the best anthology possible, we read, critiqued, and re-read each other’s pieces. We doled out advice that we felt would strengthen the stories without diluting the writer’s unique voice. We were each other’s cheerleaders, pushing towards a common goal. All summer long emails flew through cyberspace to places as varied as Texas, Vermont, and Vienna, Austria. Yes, it definitely got a little crazy. However, often the craziness of collaboration is the magic. People throwing out ideas, other people piggy backing on those ideas, and lots of discussion…that’s collaboration. After much revision, the stories were done. Whew. And then it got really hard. And crazier. It was time for us, as a writing collaborative, to decide on a cover, a title, and a way to sell the book. Every decision was made as a group. More emails, more discussion, more hard work, and ok, a little more crazy thrown in for good measure. But the good kind of crazy! The kind that makes you proud. The kind that you look back on and say, “We did it.”

So now here we are. We’ve reached the final C…COMPLETION. We are proud to announce that our collaborative effort, Space City 6: Houston Stories from the Weird to the Wonderful is now available on Amazon. We hope you check us out and let us know what you think. Feel free to do it alone or get a friend to look at it with you. After all, sometimes collaborations yield the best results.

 

 

 

To Market, To Market

by Ellen Leventhal

I am old. OK, maybe not “one foot in the grave” old, but older than many of the writers out there. What does that have to do with writing? Not a lot. But what does that have to do with marketing? A whole lot.

When we were very young, girls of my generation were subliminally taught to be modest, not to toot our own horn, and never bring attention to ourselves. I don’t ever remember anyone actually telling me that, but the message was there. As I grew into my twenties, I embraced the feminist movement and fought hard for equal rights and opportunities. I read Ms. Magazine and marched for causes important to women. But still, girls of my generation were given what could be called mixed messages. On one hand, we were told, Believe in yourself! You can do anything! But on the other hand we were reprimanded with Don’t call attention to yourself. It’s not nice.

As writers, we can quietly go along doing what we do without a lot of fanfare. But the world of marketing is different. In order to sell books and be called for presentations, people have to know who we are and what we do. Not an easy task. How do we deal with platforms and marketing plans without calling attention to ourselves? We can’t, and we shouldn’t. Sorry old messages from my past, in order to do what I do, I’ve got to call at least some attention to myself. Navigating the choppy waters of marketing, I am learning to balance. Messages from my past and the current message I want for myself have begun to merge. To market well, I don’t think you need to scream your name, post fifteen times a day on Facebook, and push people down at book fairs. Marketing well begins with being proud of what you’ve done and not being afraid to tell the world about it. Balance. That’s still hard for me, but I’m learning. I am so far from really understanding what I’m doing in this scary new world of marketing, but I do know one thing, and my mother would be proud. It can all be accomplished while still being nice.