If You Enjoy Crossword Puzzles . . . You Should Write a Novel

I’ve been working diligently on a second novel with the goal of publication in 2018. That would be a year and a half to generate a second book. Or, half the time it took to finish my debut novel, The Intersect. It’s a relief to think I might have learned a few things along the way. So, in the spirit of being open, let me share a few insights.

The Learn

  1. In the words of Dorothy Parker, “Writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat.” In following her advice, I’ve discovered my hip flexors, sacroiliac, and glute muscles. Yow!
  2. Writing and speaking can be done in the same voice but not at the same time. Too much talking, and I can’t write. And after hours of writing, I’m unable to utter an intelligent sentence.
  3. If I don’t shed a tear when I’m working on an emotional scene, there’s something wrong. This should not be confused with the tears that I shed when I can’t get a scene right.
  4. If you respect your characters, they speak on their own. Dialogue is easy. If you try to control them, they rebel and make you the fool.
  5. You need to believe in yourself as a writer before anyone else will. Then, you need to hire a terrific editor to teach you all that you’re doing wrong.
  6. Eating is a major component of the creative process. Any food will do. But try to stay away from items purchased at Costco. Large quantities can be polished off in short order.
  7. If you love crossword puzzles, you’d love writing a novel. Words connect scenes. Themes carry through. And everything that you put down on paper can have an alternate meaning.
  8. It’s truly satisfying when someone enjoys your work and writes a note. It’s even better when they go to Amazon and provide a review.
  9. The arc of creation matches the bell curve. At the start, there’s excitement as the story unfolds. At its peak, you’re certain it’s all working. Upon publication, you’re sure you’ve screwed the whole thing up.
  10. There’s a seed of truth about the author’s life in every novel. Just a seed. If it were all true, it would be called a memoir.

Continue reading . . .    

5 Suggestions to Brighten a Writer’s Attitude

Is your writing career a Wild Goose Chase or a Treasure Hunt? Sometimes, it might seem like the two rolled into one.

As we launch into 2017, it’s a good time to take stock in the journey. For as the gurus say, it really is all about attitude. You see what you want to see … find what you’re searching for … get what you’re expecting.

So as you think about the year to come, here are some thoughts to keep in mind:

  1. If you think about any major achievement in life, there are always roadblocks along the way. That’s what makes it an achievement. If it was easy, everyone would be a writer.
  2. Writer’s experience the world differently. That sensitivity can often play havoc with our personal outlooks.  We see, hear, taste, smell, and touch our experiences. That enables us to provide others with an emotional connection to our work. Use those struggles to help fully explore character.
  3. Clearing a “no”, moves you faster to a “yes”. So don’t hesitate to go out and start knocking down the wall of “no”. Get all that out of the way as soon as you can.
  4. Wisdom may come with age but success comes with determination. You must be persistent in learning your craft. And every day we write, is a day we learn.
  5. There are good and bad days. We all have them. Take heart. You’re not alone.

Here’s wishing everyone a successful 2017.

Facebook Friendships: Really?

FacebookOkay. I admit it.

I was at a Holiday Party and excited to see two friends. As I rushed over to talk with them – it occurred to me – they were at best acquaintances. My exuberance hardly matched the level of the friendship. So how could I feel so close to people who were at best acquaintances?

One word. Facebook.

We’ve been Facebook friends for a few weeks and whether it’s the Holiday Season or just that time of year, these particular Facebook friends had been posting a lot about their history. When they met. Photos of what they looked like thirty years ago. Where they lived. I’d even become familiar with their pets, past and present.

And then came Throwback Thursdays. That’s when I learned about the serious bout with cancer years earlier.

The postings had become so personal and moving – like a good book – I’d been completely drawn in. Maybe, a bit too much.

I immediately became wary.

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Experts Everywhere – Not a Sale in Sight

There are a lot of people who say they know how to sell books. You meet them everywhere. On the Internet – in workshops – and even in person. The other day I ran into one of those so-called experts at the Chandler Art and Author Walk. An author who insisted on offering free advice – even when I didn’t ask for any.

We shared a common booth – though we were at different tables. She was an author of young adult fiction. I’d watched her set up her table with precision – even dressed like the characters on her covers. It looked amazing. I admired her work. I should have known better than to talk to her. I could immediately sense the tension.

It seems to me that the first rule in selling a book at a book fair might be kindness towards others. To get anyone to stop at a booth requires warmth and friendliness. After all, selling a book is more art than science, and yet, this particular author insisted on relaying all sorts of rules. And since actions speak louder than words – I learned an awful lot about what not to do.

  1. Torpedo the competition. Drill nearby authors on their “pitch” while repeatedly telling them “a reader would never be interested in what you’re saying”.
  2. Greet people as they step into the selling zone of your neighbor’s table – pulling them away.
  3. Engage with a customer who has turned to look at you – in an  desperate attempt to move on to the next table.
  4. Fail to refer someone who you’ve been talking with on to the next author – even if you doubt an eighty-year old man would be interested in “young adult fiction”.
  5. Engage in endless discussions with passers-by about writing – making certain they stand in front of your neighbors table.
  6. Offer snide remarks to fellow authors as a substitute for practicing friendliness. Everybody loves a smart ass.

Through the evening – which seemed much longer than it had to be – this expert author managed to alienate someone who could have been a friend. I wondered if I should recommend she try a Dale Carnegie course – but then – a 60-year old bulldozer doesn’t want advice on how to treat other people. You can’t teach some experts anything. Just be grateful when you get to close up your table and move on.

Seven Things I’ve Learned Blogging

Today is the last day of my 21-day blogging challenge. It has been an interesting experience and here’s what I’ve learned.

  1. Blogging isn’t all that difficult. Like anything else you write, it just takes self-awareness. Being fully present in the world helps to identify subjects that peek your interest.
  2. Like that pesky novel that took three years to complete, the first draft is never perfect. Like all good things, it takes time.
  3. Practice makes perfect. The more you do it, the easier it is.
  4. Think about the reader. It’s easy to scratch out something that appeals only to you, but as a writer, you’re part of the world. And though professionals might advise avoiding politics and religion, if that is what captures your imagination and resonates with your audience – write about it.
  5. Enjoy the time that you spend crafting your blog. If you approach it like a task to be accomplished, it’ll read that way.
  6. There are no rules. Prose, bullet points, short paragraphs, videos, pictures, embedded music – whatever floats your boat – that’s what you should do. And if you’re a purist – relying only on your wit, you’re not alone. Long after the bells and whistles have faded, the writing will stand the test.

Continue reading . . .    

Seven Steps to follow before a Writer Invests in a Facebook Advertisement

I admit it. I gave in the other day and bought a 7-day Facebook advertisement for my novel. It was an impulsive move. Much like buying that bag of peanut M&Ms at the checkout line. But unlike the chocolate – there was no sugar high.

It wasn’t hard to place the Facebook ad – even though I had no idea what I was doing. And like all things done in ignorance, it seems that I am now far more knowledgeable than I was at the moment that I hit “boost”.

Continue reading . . .    

The Business of Book Marketing

Since I’m new to all of this – the business of book marketing – I’ve come to notice that there are a lot of people out there earning a living providing consulting services to authors. Many of them – authors themselves. Others, marketing gurus offering free downloads to materials that for the novice are truly helpful. These “loss leaders” lull you into a daze as you provide your email address and join, what they promise to produce for you, an expanded mailing list. Finally, you think, someone who understands this crazy business. Someone who can offer a little direction.

And you reach out for that lifesaver. Hey the water is cold. You’re floating about, banging into all these apps – Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest – grabbing on for dear life and hoping they will carry you along as you find your readers in the big bad ocean. You try to put on a happy smile. If little Shirley Temple can manage to be a delight in the face of any number of catastrophes during the Great Depression, surely you can manage to swim a few laps. But you’re not little Shirley. That toddler was a triple threat. She could sing, dance and act. You can only swim – and the doggy paddle at that.

Continue reading . . .    

Spray it – Don’t Say it!

Today’s writer is being told that we live in a digital age where photos, videos, and all sorts of visual aids are critically important to get our message out there. Folks have shortened attention spans. Social media requires that we capture that attention fast before the next tweet threatens to overrun us.

I get it.

• Bulletin points so it can be easily scanned
• Facebook posts and Tweets with pics
• Cartoon characters make us smile
• Color and sparkle to catch the eye
• Videos that shock and delight

Anything that grabs the reader and heightens SEO. Content be damned – no one really reads anymore. Who has time? Life is moving at a faster pace than ever before. What did Trump just say? Hillary was spotted walking her dog where? James Patterson exploits the paradigm shift with the advent of the 150-page BookShot. Quick reads targeted to Millennials. Brilliant!

Message received.

And yet, I can’t help but wonder if there remains an audience for great writing, undeterred by a lack of snappy photos and videos. For the right words, when carefully strung together, create an emotional fireworks that can’t be duplicated by a visual element. Isn’t that why our target audience is made up of “readers” and not “lookers”.

That said, I’m now searching for a photo to go along with this blog. If I’m unsuccessful, forgive me. My heart is in the right place.

Workshop 101: Coping with Ageism, Homelessness and Undocumented Immigration

My debut novel, The Intersect, follows the lives of fictional characters living in Phoenix, all facing a difficult challenge. While some of the characters are transitioning through retirement or coping with a marriage that is falling apart, other characters are struggling with loneliness, living a solitary existence without the support of family and friends. But the most interesting characters may very well be those existing on the edge of society – sadly looking in.

For Daisy, an independent senior, a broken hip places her at the mercy of an unfriendly healthcare system and a greedy family – she fears becoming a resident of a nursing home as she faces the challenge many seniors do – an inability to care for herself. For Henry, being a gay teenager has resulted in homelessness and a twisted self-image. He’s different from those around him – and his family has made it clear that he is not welcome. For Ernie who was raised in the United States but told as a child that he is undocumented, there is a crisis of the soul. He believes himself to be an American regardless of his status. He engenders all that is good and true of America though he lacks a driver’s license and social security card.

Each of these characters share a crisis of perspective. Their view of the world is shifted by circumstances out of their immediate control. They are no longer living among us – but apart. They have become “the other”.

By nature, human beings tend to be social creatures. Remove the supports – and discover what lies just beneath the surface. Will our better spirits prevail? Do we find a way to fight back? Can we ever feel whole in a world that tells us we are disposable?

These are the issues that capture my imagination. That make me wonder about the human condition. Each time I see a disabled senior shuttered away in a nursing home, or a homeless person sleeping in the corner of a store front, or hear about an undocumented immigrant being rounded up and deported, I wonder what life might be like on the margins of life. How do they experience the world? Is there ever enough for everyone to be loved? And do we as human beings have the capacity to reach out and offer a helping hand?

I know it is easy to walk away. We do it every day. We hurry away from things that make us uncomfortable. I do it. You do it. We all do it.

But isn’t that the reason why we are all here together? Isn’t it important to try to help each other?

I’d like to think so.

Whistling in the Dark?

Ever since I opted to engage in this 21-day blog challenge, I’ve been amazed by how quickly I can knock out a blog. It’s not that I thought I’d be stumped, but, I do remember when I first started to read about blogging. I wondered – what the hell am I going to write about? What could I produce that might be truly interesting? It’s the same challenge that you have when writing a novel, except of course, blogging moves along a hell of a lot faster. Forty minutes and it’s over. The novel – not so much.

I think the secret to blogging might lie in the art of good conversation. An opinion is expressed, thoughts are clarified, and before you know it, you’re ready to wrap up. But the difference between blogging and a good conversation is that “you exclusively have the floor”. It’s your sheet of paper – or RSS feed. No one else around to bounce ideas. You’re alone, mind clicking away, hoping that you’re not being too much of a bore, since, let’s face it, having the floor is kind of intoxicating. No one may be listening, but you still get to have your say.

So now, after twelve days, I’m wondering if I’m whistling in the dark. This blog conversation, so much like keeping a diary, is absolutely happening in a vacuum. I share my blog on my Facebook Author page – but I don’t really have any fans yet. I tweet – but the people who tend to follow me on Twitter are trying to sell me something. My pocket seems to have a lot of hands in it while there are few eyes on the content of my writing.

And so now I wonder if all this effort might be amounting to nothing.

In my youth, I’d have engaged a therapist to help me sort it all out. The struggle to get my novel out there is daunting, depressing, and frequently demoralizing, and yet, the blogging has now replaced my need to talk to someone. My fingers are happily engaged, busily hunting and pecking. Blogs rolling out as if on an assembly line. Perhaps all of this is tremendously helpful. Maybe, I’m not whistling in the dark. Instead, I’m processing. Learning that being in the universe is not always about being read. Maybe it’s just about having your say – blogging away even if no one seems to be listening. Unearthing your opinions in the way we writers know best. By writing.