Indie Blow-Out at the Indiepalooza Conference

by Monica Shaughnessy

chairs-1442847If you’re an indie author (or thinking about becoming one) and live in the Greater Houston Area, then you should definitely go to Houston Writers Guild’s Indiepalooza on September 26th at the Crown Plaza (Galleria area). I will be speaking during the first break-out session on “Adding Art to Your Words.” I’ll talk about spicing up your indie works with illustration and building digital picture books and bonus books (for adults) using the Kindle Kid’s Book Creator.

Here’s a summary of my talk:

Images, whether photos or sketches, take your project to a professional level. During this workshop, learn how to jazz up your novel’s interior with illustrations and graphics. You’ll also discover how to work with programs like Kindle Kids’ Book Creator to take your picture book from idea to digital reality. Then we’ll dive into graphic “bonus books” that push creative limits and package extra content for your fans. Lastly, you’ll get an overview of the tools you’ll need to make it happen. Find out why indie publishing doesn’t have to be black and white anymore.

If art isn’t your thing, there are lots of other break-out sessions to choose from. Take a look:

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For those wanting an extra networking opportunity, there’s also a kick-off cocktail party the night before with the Pulpwood Queen’s founder, Kathy L. Murphy. She’ll offer insight on the relationship between book clubs and authors.

If you’re on the fence about coming, don’t be. I went to a HWG conference last year, and it was a great opportunity to meet fellow Houston writers. And I learned a few things to boot! What are you waiting for? Sign up now!

Celebrate Local Authors!

By Ellen Leventhal

 

local business Maude Marks Library

1815 Westgreen Blvd. Katy, TX

Dec. 6 1:00- 5:00

Help Celebrate Local Authors and Help Maude Marks Library!

 

It’s crazy out there. Really crazy. It’s loud, crowded, and just a little bit scary. Now understand, this is my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Space City Scribes as a whole. After all, we are individuals, but this individual is not fond of crowds and pushing and ripping things out of other people’s hands. Let’s be a little civilized, can’t we? You do see the irony of finishing Thanksgiving and then running out on Black Friday to get more stuff, don’t you? I know some people love it, but the idea of camping out overnight to get a deal on a flat screen TV is not my idea of fun. Nor is fighting crowds and knocking over little old ladies to get that must have item for your fifth cousin once removed. But let’s be realistic. We are in the gift giving season, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I love giving gifts. It may sound hokey, but I really do enjoy giving more than receiving. So I say, let the shopping begin….just not the craziness. How about shopping local?
Nov. 29 was Small Business Saturday. Small businesses were celebrated, and everyone was encouraged to “Shop small.” My husband and I were in a locally owned restaurant where the owner talked with us about the importance of small businesses and the difficulties of trying to stay in business in the shadow of mega everythings. I certainly admit to an occasional foray to Costco, but normally I try to patronize small locally owned businesses. It’s important for our economy, and it’s important for our culture. There is something satisfying about knowing that the mom and pop store will still be around with Mom or Pop personally helping you find what you need.
This coming Saturday, Maude Marks Library in Katy, TX will be highlighting local. But instead of restaurants and boutiques, they will celebrate local authors. Maude Marks Library has been very supportive of local authors, and now it’s time to thank them by donating a percentage of their proceeds back to the library. Sounds like a win-win to me. Twenty eight authors will be presenting, discussing, and selling their books. If you’re in the Houston area, come on out and meet us. We’ll get to know you, shake your hand, and sign some books. And I am pretty sure, there will be no pushing, shoving, or knocking down old ladies.

 

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

 

MASTER Cover

 

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.

 

 

 

Story Structure 101 – FREE CLASS on 9/13

by Monica Shaughnessy

The plot thickens...no, it's just oatmeal.

The plot thickens…no, it’s just oatmeal.

Ever wonder why some stories drag or meander and some stories suck you in from page one and take you on a thrill ride? Well, dear reader, it’s all about the plot.

Since I’m preparing a presentation on structure for an upcoming series of Houston writing workshops (read to the end of the post for more details), I’ve got a bad case of the plots. No, it’s not as disgusting as it sounds. Really. Stick with me.

 

If you learn the basics of the three-act structure, you’re making good progress.

3-act

 

(courtesy of Elements of Cinema)

But no so fast! What about genre? Each brand of fiction has its own conventions.

Science fiction and fantasy are normally plot-driven. The worlds and their complications are just as important as the people who inhabit them, and the story usually revolves around a tight structure. Yes, we want Commander Xletia to succeed, but we’re are just as invested in whether or not Planet Nebulon survives the nuclear holocaust. Oh, my!

Thrillers, too, are usually plot-driven, as are one-off mysteries. But a mystery series? That’s highly character driven. Who solves the mystery is as important as the mystery being solved. We can’t hang with a detective we don’t like, not for six books. Romance and literary fiction, too, heavily rely on their characters. This doesn’t shift the structure, but it changes the way books are plotted.

Wait! I haven’t even begun to talk about picture books!  Yes, there’s a formula for that, too.

Or how about Young Adult? Don’t even think about writing one without a romantic plot or subplot or you’ll be dead in the water. And the story’s got to move, baby, move, or so says R. L. Stine in an article last year.

And if your head isn’t spinning enough, let’s talk about novels in verse. You’re not thinking of rhyming, are you? That’s so nineteenth century. But are they plotted the same way as regular novels? In a word: yes. Just because you decided to cut your word count doesn’t mean you can skimp on setting, structure, and characterization.

These are the deep waters of novel writing, not for the casual hobbyist. Even if you’re the kind of scribe who lets the plot unravel organically, either by luck or by strong character motivation, your novel must find its way into some sort of structure (beginning, middle, end) by the final draft in order to be enjoyable by the general public (and no, your Cousin Tito’s cellmate doesn’t count).

Yes, yes, now I’ll get on to the part about FREE…

My fellow Space City Scribes and I will be presenting at Maud Marks Library in Katy, TX in a couple of weekends (9/13) and we’d love for you to come out and learn more about structuring your WIP. A few of us will also be talking about traditional publishing in October and self-publishing in November. It’s going to be a great series of workshops!

See you there! 

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?

Cultivating a Writing Scene in Houston

by Monica Shaughnessy

downtown-houston-745017-mHouston’s writing scene is lacking. There, I’ve said it. And I’m not taking it back.

Sure, sure, we have local branches of national writing groups, like SCBWI (the local link was broken at publication time) or MWA or RWA. And we have inprint. And while these are great, Houston’s literary milieu feels marginal compared to Austin’s. The reason? Houston is a city of commerce, not a city of art, and it shows. That, and I’m convinced Houston’s official motto would be “So?” The apathy of my hometown is palpable, but I don’t really care. 😉

We are the fourth largest city in the U.S. and we still don’t have a proper book festival. And I mean a BOOK FESTIVAL. We have very little that compares to The Writers’ League of Texas (another Austin thing), the closest of which is the Houston Writer’s Guild. I have high hopes for the HWG. They’ve had a few leadership changes these last few years and are moving swiftly into what I hope will be a progressive season. And lastly, we have nothing half as cool as NYC’s (take that, Austin!) Gotham Writers’ Group.

Years ago, I was on a business trip in NYC and found one of their course catalogs on the street. It blew past me on the ground, and I picked it up. (I can hear you screaming: “Don’t pick it up! Don’t! People spit on the ground!”) Anyway, that course catalog changed my life. I remember reading it, thinking that I would one day take a course from them. And I did. In fact, I went on to take several, all online, and they made my writing gooder. 😛 But I secretly hoped that something like Gotham would come to H-town.

And it has.

Writespace is the brainchild of my friend and fellow writer, Elizabeth White. If she accomplishes half of what she has set out to do (workshops, retreats, write-ins, etc.), then we will have a fledgling Gotham Group on our hands. But she can’t do it without your help, Greater Houston Area writers. Right now, she has a Kickstarter campaign that is nearing its final stretch. If, like me, you’ve been pining for an expanded literary scene in the Space City, this just might be the start of something awesome.

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Prove me wrong, Houston. I’d love to hear about writing initiatives I’ve overlooked, if only to discuss them in the comments section. I’m sure others would like to know about them, too.