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My Greatest Mentor

IMG-20130917-00529The tiny five foot frame of Viola, could not contain her enthusiastic spirit for living. It spilled out in unseen waves and touched anyone she came into contact with. I was blessed to be one of those it touched.

While working together on our Church newsletter we got to know each other. I took in the articles, did the layout on my computer then Viola would edit and get it printed and distributed. During the conversations over proper grammar we also shared our past, dreams and family stories.

We had a lot in common despite the thirty year difference in our ages. Down to earth, fair minded and confident, she had an easy acceptance of her role as a woman. Fiercely independent, she easily raised children, helped her husband in his construction company and faced the inconveniences of living in rural Wyoming.

It was her innocent, fun-loving sense of adventure that drew me most. We traveled together many times to different conventions that held something of interest to us. Through all of this I shared my desire and biggest secret – my passion to write.

Viola was my greatest admirer and critic. She pulled no punches when it came to editing. When I would write an article for the newsletter, she would rave about it yet point out all its flaws.  I invited her to a writer’s convention and in her spritely way, she enthusiastically agreed to go. In her seventies, she still traveled by herself quite often and thought nothing of taking off on adventures such as flying up to Alaska to visit family.

Set in the lush grounds of the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, at first we both were impressed and overwhelmed. Surely these authors had some special talent that we lacked. But Viola wanted to learn to write memoirs and in her modest, humble way helped me to gradually become comfortable in the company of the successful.

During luncheons and dinners agents were seated at the tables so we would have access to talk to them. At one lunch we had an editor from a romance press sitting between us. Viola had outgoing social skills, while I was reserved, so it was no surprise to me when she struck up a conversation with the woman. Once the introductions were over she launched into a brag session about my skills and dreams. I blushed profusely explaining I had an idea, but had not yet put pen to paper. In the end, the agent was so impressed with Viola’s sale skills; she asked for my information and gave me her card telling me to contact her when I had a manuscript ready.

On the way home we threw ideas together and created the outline for what would become “Windswept Hearts” five years later. Every Sunday, every time we got together she encouraged me to write. Eventually, as I saw time erode away her vitality, I knew I had to write the story. I wanted her to see it in print before she went home to the Lord.

Not only did she help edit it, but she was my greatest support and encourager during the process. When I gave her the first signed copy, she beamed through a myriad of wrinkles, and ordered ten more copies for her family.

Last month, as I attended her lively, peaceful memorial, I realized what gifts she had given me. The world was less bright, my dreams of writing a little dimmer as I realized I was now on my own in my journey.

Viola’s impish spirit continues to peer over my shoulder at times when I type and I take the confidence she helped me build to go out and continue to pursue my passion for writing. That same spirit will most likely appear in a character or two, being immortalized forever. I can see her now, giggling and telling me, “Oh, that’s not like me at all and by the way, there are several missing commas!”

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How to Mentor a Writer

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Just yesterday morning I found an article I had to return to my best friend and mentor, Viola. We had met long ago when I was in charge of the church newsletter and desperately needed an editor. Being about twenty years older than me, Viola had just lost her husband and had the skill of old school grammar and punctuation.

We immediately clicked. She was the example of the feisty, pioneer type of little old lady I wanted to be. We shared histories. Mine was obviously shorter than hers, but I loved hearing about her past and the obstacles she had overcome in her life.

I invited her to go with me to the first writing conference I ever attended. She had expressed a desire to write her memoirs, I just had the avid desire to write. I was in over my head and on the long ride down there I shared with her my long kept secret desire of wanting to become a writer. Viola fast became my hero. She had always admired my style of writing for the newsletter. At the conference, when we were seated with an agent, she sang my praises to her.  The agent eagerly questioned my goals, story ideas and ended up giving me her card.

So began Viola’s mentoring job.

On the way home from that conference we brain-stormed and the plot platform for Windswept Hearts was created. Through the years she kept asking, prodding and singing my praises. When I finally handed her the manuscript for editing, despite her recent stroke, she faithfully found all my grammar and punctuation problems. When the book was published, she eagerly bought ten copies and gave them out as Christmas presents.

The way Viola lived her life was such an example to me. Despite losing her husband, she continued to live a full life. She loved to travel, visiting family all over, including family in Alaska. Her imagination and creative talents amazed me. She always had a project going such as painting, wood burning, and writing. Her natural curiosity and inquisitiveness led her to learn how to use a computer at the ripe age of eighty. She lived a Christian example of a very fulfilled woman. Even though the era she grew up in demanded she be a housewife, Viola was always a quiet rebel.  Intelligent, witty and bright she filled our time together with stories.

After the church newsletter moved on to become simply a bulletin every Sunday, Viola and I continued to stay in contact, though not as much as I would have liked. Life got in the way, but we continued to make a lunch date every now and then.

It never seems enough though, when someone passes on. Yesterday morning as I was planning on calling her for a lunch date and returning her article, she had a massive stroke. Her family rushed to be at her side and she was not alone as she went home to the husband she missed so much and the Lord she loved so dearly. Her family included me in their calls to inform of her passing, showing me her love and consideration lives on in her children.

As I work on my next novel, I find myself bereft of some of the joy. I realized today how much I depended on my one-woman-cheerleading team. I  will miss sharing plot ideas and discussing the creative process. I will miss her chiding me on my dismal misunderstanding of the use of grammar. I will miss so much listening to her own stories and encouraging her to write them. I will dearly miss my friend and mentor over all.

And if Viola were here, she would encourage me to not mourn or complain at her leaving, but to find the joy in having had the time together. To appreciate what we shared and built  and to keep on writing.

Viola would be delighted to find out my next heroine will be sharing her spirit and love of adventure, and embarrassed to find out I based the character on her!  She would shake her head, laugh and again remind me to review the proper usage of commas and punctuation!

Through my work, I will continue to keep our friendship alive, writing the best I can to honor my mentor.

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Pet Peeves of an Avid Reader

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Before I took classes, online webinars, writing conferences and other educational pursuits to become an author, I was and still remain an avid reader. The world of Indie writers has been a delightful journey of new and interesting material and with the ability to speed read; I devour daily the written word.

Of course, I would like to selfishly believe this makes me a connoisseur of fine writing. In reality, I’m just an average person who has a few pet peeves about how stories are written.

For instance, never name your primary characters with similar names, like Jack and Jace, or Miranda and Miriam, or Jonathan and John.  It is bad enough if two characters have names that start with the same letter, but when the second letter or the first three are similar, even a slow reader is going to get confused. It interrupts the flow of reading. I have to go back to figure out who is speaking or interacting in the scene, especially if both characters are in the scene together.

For example:

*** “We need to be at the pick-up point by nine,” Jace said.

Jack’s tawny hair swayed as he whipped around to face Jace. “Why did we move up the time?”

Jace shrugged his shoulder. “I don’t know.” Jack’s eyes narrowed, suspicion lurking in the blue depths.***

Confused? Try a whole chapter like that! Another pet peeve is when an author inserts a seemingly innocuous moment or item. As a mystery reader, I’ve learned to look for clues as to what will be important later on in the story. The following is an example of that.

***** Her hands shook as she continued to dig through the moldy cloth. Her fingers hit something cold, small and square. As she pulled it out the burnished gleam of gold caught her eye. The little box was plain, no ornaments or carvings to mar its smooth surface.  Her finger traced over the tiny lock keeping its secrets secure.  Impatient to find the key, she turned back to the ancient cloth covering the contents of the old wood chest. Clawing at it she discovered gold coins, a golden goblet and a few twinkling gems.******

So is it just me or would you go crazy wondering what was in the box? If this was at the very beginning of the story and yet, we never hear about that gold box again, wouldn’t you continue to wonder why it was mentioned? I would keep waiting for it to reappear and make some sense as to why it was even in the story.

It’s like settling down for a long movie. You have wrapped yourself in your favorite blanket with popcorn and soda pop  within reach. You are deeply involved in the story unfolding before you and then you have to go to the bathroom.  Do you put the movie on pause now, or wait until the intense scene is over while your bladder pleads for mercy? It interrupts your enjoyment, your interest and the storyline as you dash for the bathroom. For a second you have to come back to the real world.

It is irritating to be reading a scene you are so engrossed in, only to be jarred into the present by bad grammar, incorrect punctuation, dialogue that is off, a scene that ends too abruptly, or my most unfavorite, a cliff hanger ending with no resolution.  As if the author tired of writing and decided to let you decide how it would end.  Or how about an ending where suddenly you are in the height of action and it ends, leaving a myriad of loose ends begging to be explained or resolved.

I love stories that are like a fine dessert. Where the ingredients are blended so well together it is like heaven on my palate. This makes me eager to order that dessert again and again. Like waiting for a favorite author’s work to be released so I can enjoy another great story.. It is artwork at its best when it all comes together and I can leave this earthly plane for a while to exist in another world.

So when you dezign your word desert please think of you’re rea;ders. It well help you in your search for that aphid reeder.

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The Real Writer’s Block

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Staring out the window, you contemplate your next scene and come up blank. Frustrated, you are stumped at what comes next. . A moment lost as the story line goes cold can put a writer into panic. This is called a ‘writer’s block’. 

There are many fixes like taking a walk, a hot shower, listening to your favorite music or just taking a break for a few days. The list of cures is endless.  But the most insidious writer’s block is sometimes not even recognized by a writer.  

Recently someone asked me to read their work.  They were concerned about their grammar. I found the story to be quite different as it was written laced with prose. Unfortunately some of the words used were not in proper context. After some quick emails back and forth, it finally boiled down to the author still only being concerned with grammar. They thought their ‘prose’ style was unique and the reader would figure out what they meant by using words out of context.

I understand. I do. It takes a lot of work to create art. We are proud of our creations, but the worse block is not being able to see where the weaknesses are, even when pointed out to us. The refusal to edit is a death knell for our work.

Read any author’s autobiography and you will find again and again the editing process was the hardest part, but necessary for all writers. We are blind when it comes to our own work. The block we put up, using the excuse it is ‘our art’ and should not be changed, puts us in the dark. Readers are educated. Usually they have read oceans of words and demand a smooth flow, proper usage of the English language, a developed story plot, and understandable dialogue.

I’m not saying that you cannot be artistic, but be realistic. If you are just starting out and haven’t developed your ‘brand’ yet, it is better to be safe. Every established author will tell you that their first work is not as polished as what follows.

Listen to your friends, family and readers. If you are not selling, if more than one person has told you something needs to be changed, consider it. Get an editor. I can’t say this enough. Get an editor!

Don’t be blinded by the worst ‘writer’s block’ of all. An over-inflated sense of how great your writing is.

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Trolling Away

Every now and then I find an article that just says it all for me. As if the writer just knew so much better how to word something.  The following is written by Nick Thompson of CNN.  Below is the link to his awesome article on Internet Trolls.

http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/11/world/internet-trolling

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How to Attract Trolls

377989_602137889807226_78032928_nI had a business associate in the author world who wrote some pieces that were controversial. Thain itself was not a problem since I didn’t share his views, and in our business dealings he always treated me well. I knew nothing of him really. He complained one day he was being attacked with one star reviews on Amazon and one attacker even admitted publicly that he had not read the book. Well, I didn’t think that was fair so I made some cutesy, sarcastic remarks and suggested he do the same in return. Idiot move on my part, I suggest you don’t do this, unless you want to attract trolls.

I was then given an education on the world of cyber trolls. I wasn’t the only ‘friend’ of his they attacked. I knew where I had screwed up, but was surprised when they also went after several women he knew who wrote kid’s books for charities. That didn’t seem fair, so I strode into a forum in my shabby battle armor to demand why it was ‘fair’ to pick on people who had nothing to do with it. Five hours later, tattered and bloody, I waved the white flag and retreated.

In all fairness, Badly Behaving Authors was a group created when several authors couldn’t let one star reviews pass and they went after the customers who made them. This was troll-ish behavior on the author’s part. Of course, as authors, we all know this is uncouth. Really, it is just someone’s opinion. So BBA became the self-appointed sheriffs to root out and expose these authors. Like any group, it had an altruistic beginning, then by the pure nature of the human being, it became rigid and judgmental, and the battle of the Hatfields and McCoys began.

I found the BBA group left me alone and waited to see if I meant what I said about not wanting to be part of it. On Goodreads it was another story. I saw my books, as well as those of my friends, start being shelved under hideously named shelves and one star reviews start popping up.

Now I’m all for freedom of speech, and as an author I know I have a target on my back for the possible harsh review. Not everyone is going to like my book. Simple. A real critique is also a gift. I want to improve as a writer and though it stings at first, I know to mine it so I can better improve my writing. In all fairness, again, the first one star review I received at Goodreads was just that, a real critique. But I had seen to many other petty reviews that were just snarky and had nothing to do with the book, but simply trolls battering what to them was a badly behaving author.

I retreated again. Quit blogging. Shut down my account at Goodreads. Oh, and by the way, know too that if you put a book up at Goodreads, even though you close your account, your book is forever linked there. According to Goodreads they cannot sever that link.

Knowing how far this could go, I decided to do more damage control. I removed any links to Goodreads from my blogs or anywhere else I had linked in. I watched my Amazon account and found I was pursued no further. I watched what I said in my remarks and comments, and in essence tried to create a cloak of invisibility. If I had an opinion to share, I did it privately.

It is easy to slip and make a comment here or there, but remember, as an author, we are in the public eye. It doesn’t matter your opinion, you have an image to uphold. Trust me, there are not enough words in the English language, or any other language for that matter, to ever win the word battle with trolls. Your best defense is to not engage, under any circumstance.  If you believe their comments, then you have no self-confidence. Get out of the world of writing. Otherwise, understand, it is their perception only. We are all entitled to our opinions, but it doesn’t make them right.

I have since decided that anonymity on the web is not a good thing. It allows people to put on Halloween masks and become monsters and scamper about the internet and create terror. It would be nice to see more ‘delete, block, ignore, and report’ buttons. Sites like Goodreads should tighten their controls, moderate more. As a business owner I always was responsible for my patron’s safety. What makes these websites any less of a business model?

It is one thing to share an opinion, another to trample over another person in doing it. My mother used to say, when there was conflict, it was six of one and half a dozen of the other. In other words, both sides are at fault. It is easy to develop a ‘victim’ mindset. To holler, “Mom, they aren’t being fair.” Your best bet is to just not put a target on your back to begin with, unless you are having a bad day and need to spar to get it out of your system, or feel the need to sharpen your wits in a word battle. If so, you now know how to go about it.

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A Frustrated Reader

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It’s nice to be wanted. I know every Indie writer searches for an avid reader like me.  I speed read and can easily devour up to 80,000 words a day.  I’m always hungry for a good story. I will overlook a lot for that elusive plot that will submerse me in another time and place, leaving behind the troubles of this world.

I’m willing to take on any genre, although I’m not fond of horror. Even then it depends on the voice of the writer and the plot line.  It should be a dance between me and the author. I want to be treated with respect and given their finest product.

Yet, I’m finding more often in the Indie world it’s about the writer’s ego and less about my enjoyment. I’m left to fend for myself.  I flounder in poor grammar, sentences that make no sense, wandering plots and in some cases, no plot at all.

It’s like dancing with a partner who is clumsy, steps on your toes and is just plain bored with you. This is how I feel  when I run across a poorly written story. It is frustrating to see a gorgeous book cover, an enticing synopsis, and then to put down my money, only to eagerly open the first page and begin wading through a poorly written quagmire drenched in disappointment.

I try, I really do. I tell myself that there is a kernel of story in there somewhere. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at some of the “diamonds in the rough” I’ve discovered. Other times I speed through, picking up the gist of the plot, but not slowing to become engaged. It feels like a school assignment. Find the most important parts so I can maybe get something out of it.

Why do I do this? Because I’m not only a treasure hunting reader, I’m also an author.  I know the work that goes into writing. I want to reward the poor soul who spent all that time hammering out the story. Sometimes I can’t even do that.

Recently I have taken to writing to the authors in private, asking things like, “What Point of View are you attempting?” Answer, “I’m not sure. I don’t understand POV, I just write.”   Or saying to another author, “I believe there are some formatting issues as some of the sentences don’t have spacing between the words.” Their answer, “I just write what I feel and you have to take it or leave it.”    Huh?

My favorite was the response to a suggestion I made.  “Could I humbly suggest you find a friend who has some editing skills to help  refine and tighten up your story. It has a lot of merit.” The response was, “I’ve always been told I’m  a good righter and I edited it already. Why waste the money. I made this book to make money.” (And yes, they spelled ‘writer’ as ‘righter’, no joke)

I’m not trying to make anyone look stupid by flaunting my imaginary superior skills. I’m in the same boat as every writer. I have issues,  just ask my editor!  Really, I’m just trying to understand where the author is coming from. I wondered if the first author mentioned above was trying for an omniscient voice (I struggle myself with POV) and I wanted to warn the second author there were conversion problems in the manuscript (I hire someone to format for me because I’m computer illiterate!).

In the last week I’ve randomly picked and read over ten Indie stories. I have found only two of those that seemed edited and pulled in my interest enough that I actually slowed down to savor the words and delve into the story. At one point as I was slogging through a poorly written story, I stopped to read sentences out loud to my husband. He shook his head, as baffled as I was as to what the author was trying to say.

Unfortunately it showed me why Indies are getting a bad rap. As a frustrated reader I can understand why people would ask for a refund on a digital book. Though I think writing crude, nasty public reviews aimed at an author is rude and defeats the purpose of a review, I can understand the irritation behind one. How do we go about informing authors  they need to refine their product?

I suggest not damaging future sales for money or ego. For the sake of the readers, for the sake of the industry, for the sake of trying to sell our work, we need to do our best not only to put a pretty cover on our books, but to make the inside as nice as the outside.  Hire an editor as well as a cover artist. It is well worth the investment.

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Genius Moments Versus Idiot Moments

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Wanting to learn how to ride horses at an older age, I realized the ground was harder than my head, so I hired a trainer. Within a few months, she made a discovery. There would be times, as she said, I would have a ‘genius’ moment.  A great idea to some problem we were encountering. Then she would cringe as she knew  an ‘idiot’ moment would not be far behind.

When she brought it to my attention, we both had a good laugh. I had to agree with her assessment. It’s been like this all of my life. So it should not have been a big surprise to me when I decided to write a book, which seemed a genius idea at the time, that it would turn out to be more involved than I realized.

The idiot side of it was revealed when I found I would have to promote it. Unlike any other product, it wasn’t just about the book, I was part of the product. Suddenly my tightly guarded personal life would become a fish bowl if the book actually made it in the publishing world. In the business world I was always able to do the work, disconnect and go home to my life. Promoting the book would now become my life, totally.

If you are a beginning writer, you will hear this alot. Writing the book is easy. Editing is torture. Promoting it is life consuming. Meanwhile, I’m waiting for that next genius moment to get me out of this mess!

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Addicted to Writing?

writing2I once worked  in a psych and chemical dependency treatment center. The first thing I learned was the definition of addiction and how we can be addicted to anything. There was checklist to measure the depth of the addiction

For instance – has it interfered with personal relationships? Has it affected your finances such as lost jobs, or impulse buying, or missing payments? Have you had problems with the law? Is your health affected by it? Your spirituality? Has it affected your lifestyle? Or have you been displaced such as a loss of residency? Do you have problems concentrating or are you obsessing about attaining your next encounter with it?

The other day I went looking for a box of my high school writings. I had read a blog by Ionia Martin where she asked if we thought our first writing was any good. I was curious about mine. I found several boxes filled with notes written on every conceivable form of paper. Post-it notes, napkins, scraps of wallpaper, receipts, postcards, envelopes, kid’s school projects, even toilet paper. I promise it was clean!

Suddenly I thought about that checklist. Had my writing interfered with personal relationships? Well, my husband had complained on more than one occasion about my vacant stares and his repeated questions that fell on my deaf ears. The kids got to know that look and knew not bother me when I was scribbling frantically. Impulse buying of notebooks, notepads and bushels of pens and pencils did affect the finances I guess. I can’t look at an empty piece of paper without the urgent desire to write something on that white expanse.

I suppose the electric company may have wondered about me when I asked for the bill back that I had sent in with the check because I had written a line of poetry on it. Then there were those occasional speeding tickets on trips. This is when I get most of my books written in  my head. I love a long drive so I can busily construct. Unfortunately I’m not always paying attention to speed limit signs when I’m doing this.

Of course there is the eye-strain from copious amounts of reading and bright computer screens. I stay up late into the night researching and writing so there has been many a Sunday I’ve been to tired to get up and go to church. Concentration on daily chores is interrupted by my mad dashes to the nearest piece of paper to capture an idea. Let’s not forget about obsessing over getting that opening chapter just right or the editing rewrite done.

So, I don’t know. Do you think I may have a writing addiction?

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Raising Books

 

 

 

SWindswept Hearts Book Covero we all know, as authors, the euphoric feeling you get the first time you hold the actual printed copy of the first book you have ever written. It’s a high like no other. That awesome, overwhelming feeling that you did it and you hold in your hands proof of that.

 

It is a precious memory, but it wears off. Then the test of whether you truly are a writer occurs. You must write again because more stories beg for your attention.

 

Having children is a similar experience. You are ecstatic when you hold your first born child. You know you are going to be the best parent ever. As the daily care sets in with diaper changes and the first sleepless night, the excitement departs leaving behind exhaustion. But for some reason a few years later nostalgia sets in and you want another one. In the meantime you continue with the business of raising your darling.

 

How does one raise a book? After its birth what is the process to build and grow it into something that people want to read? Well first, like a pregnancy, it should have had good prenatal care. Without the building blocks of a fine editor, research and solid story, it will not go far. So let’s just say you’ve already done your prenatal care.

 

After the long labor of editing,  you hold in your hands your precious child. How do you introduce it to the world? Just like you prepared for a new baby, you must think ahead and get ready. You will need to spend time on social networking, promoting and advertising. You work at developing a good author website. Create and keep a current blog. Through the exhaustion you will have to find the time to Tweet, Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads, Author  Guest Blog, do book signings and find any other outlet you can push your darling to the fulfillment of its potential.

 

Of course in the meantime you need to be working on bringing its sibling into the world. You must learn to multi-task and find time to write while graciously answering blog comments and promote its older brother or sister.

 

Yes, raising a book, in my humble opinion, is like raising children. You may have to wait for years to see its full potential. Some will look back on the process with tenderness and longing, while others may be glad it’s over. Either way, in the end, you have something you will be proud of and forever love.

 

So I wonder where your book raising is taking you?