Thursday, February 15, 2018

A Series Of Series

I have been told repeatedly in order to be successful as an author I needed to choose a genre or at most two closely related ones to write in so that I could build a brand upon that platform. I have been instructed to to write series because it drives readers to you in search of what happens next. I understand both of these pieces of advice but have found that neither fit my style as a writer.

I am not opposed to series. Like any author it is my goal to keep readers coming back for more. I have four different series in the works at the moment along with a book I thought was a stand alone but has a prequel set to come out next year now. I have a set of children's books which I don't qualify as a series because they could all be stand alone and can be read in any order desired. While I have the different series, much like some of my favorite murder mystery authors will follow different detectives through different book series, mine are all in different genres.

I have one set back during the time of the Salem Witch Trials that blends historical fantasy with mild erotica. There is a series that highlights various aspects of a syndrome I know well, PTSD. My personal favorite is a series mixing suspense / thriller with just a touch of paranormal. Finally I have my own murder mystery series set in my home of Las Vegas with several ties to my own day job. What these books lack in common for genre they still carry with them in my writing style. Like many authors I read, I have a way of building the story, letting the flow reach its peaks and valleys, then using the same way to wrap up the loose ends in every book I write.

It wasn't until I began writing my thriller series that I found a way to carry the story beyond that wrap up ending. Everything I created before that was a one and done style of book. Even though my PTSD series can be considered a series, the books themselves can be read in almost any order and it is actually a novel with a series of character background novellas. The children's books are similar in the respect that they have the same theme and writing but do not require a particular order.

I have a found a love of writing these series because it allows me to delve deeper into some of my characters but I refuse to be pressured into choosing one type or genre over another. I know many thriller and mystery authors can go on for years with the same series because they can continue to introduce new and interesting situations. When I get more into my mystery series I may discover the same thing. Right now all of my series have definite ends. The PTSD series is five books, the historical series is seven, and my thriller has four total. I appreciate the advice I am given but I think as creative people is more important to find a way to take things that have worked for others and blend them into our own personal style.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Staying True

Last year I was sitting at a hotel bar with a number of aspiring authors, agents, and editors. We were all talking and laughing, enjoying our choice of beverages. I was on my third caffe mocha and one of the other authors tested me about not ordering something at the bar with a little liquor in it. I told him I got enough alcohol around me at work and sometimes it was just nice to enjoy a little sweetness without the buzz. He then asked what everyone did for a living.

The agents and editors kept quiet, watching everyone exchange information. We, of course, already knew who they were and what they did. As the writers began sharing what they currently did or had retired from for daily work I began to see a pattern. All of them had worked as teachers, freelance or professional journalists, or held a creative job such as creating pottery and other art for sale at shows. I was still sitting at the bar by one of the agents and when it was my turn I was scared to say my job.

They had all given reasons why what they did or used to do was helpful for their writing but my job is more of an escape. I have fun at my job but I do not use it as a place to meditate on ideas or sneak in a few extra words here and there. I deal cards at a casino. I high five players when a hand goes well and laugh at the same cheesy jokes day in and day out. I do my best to enhance vacations and teach people how to play different games. It has nothing to do with my writing. At least that is what I thought at the time.

A few of the writers scoffed at my profession. They were even more annoyed that I wouldn't take their advice to move into something else in order to focus more on my writing as a priority. I love what I do. I told them that but it didn't matter. They kept telling me I just wasn't serious enough to become a real author. One of the agents asked why I loved my job so much. After having told people about one of my books with s very serious subject matter I told them how being a dealer is a great mental vacation. I shared stories of things I had seen while working in order to make them laugh.

After a little while a different agent gave me his business card and told me he wanted the book I was pitching. i told him it wasn't a book, it was just some funny stories. He said he still wanted it. I never fulfilled the request for a book inspired on my job but I did have a conversation with one of the keynote speakers the next day and she also told me I should look at my job and life in Las Vegas as a form of inspiration. She told me that a job with a creative element or pertaining to writing was not a requirement to be an author. I needed passion, drive, and a few ideas I could build on.

I am still in touch with both the author and the agent I spoke with and they have helped by giving me feedback on a few series I am developing. I am excited to see where the stories take me and I will always be grateful to them for showing me it is important to remain true to yourself and not let others tell you who and what you need to be in order to achieve success.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Creative Escapes

At the beginning of the year I looked over my list of goals. One of the biggest things I am focusing on this year are my physical challenges. Of course I am a writer first and my writing / editing / publishing goals are huge priorities, but this year I want to try to improve my overall health through activities and improved diet. So far I have fallen short.

I have an injury I'm fighting in my right elbow that makes strength training painful. Without strengthening my upper body I will definitely struggle going through the Spartan Race next month. I am also supposed to be building up my stamina for running to prepare for the half marathon near the end of the year. All of these things are making my plans more difficult. I am not giving up in the least. I just need to find ways to work around the setbacks. My biggest issue seems to be that I get distracted from my physical ambitions by thinking about my writing ones.

I was talking to a friend recently who mentioned he was surprised I don't use running as a way to clear my mind and think about my writing stuff then. The truth is the only way I can clear my mind is if I am doing something that is second nature and can therefore zone out mentally to let my subconscious take over. I do that when I cycle as well as when I am stuck on long car trips. Swimming is another great example and of course, my favorite distraction, baking. We talked about the fact I listen to music when I run and he suggested instead trying to run without the music but I don't think I would even make it out the door without something blasting into my ears.

I listen to music with every activity I do. When I write I have specific playlists for every book. The melodies and themes of the songs help put me in the mood of the story. When I drive I have music going, either to keep me awake or help distract me from hours stuck behind the wheel. When I cycle I always have music going and I even had water proof bluetooth headphones for years to help when I swam. Baking is no different, though I listen almost exclusively to classical or pure instrumental music when baking. When I am lost in the moment of my activity, the music fades to a white noise and becomes a catalyst instead of an up front element to what I'm doing.

For me, running is not now and most likely will never be an escape. It is a challenge to overcome and then move on. For him running is an escape from daily life. I find that same meditative state and escape in creation. Whether I am making a mirror cake for my birthday, chocolate candies for christmas or a surprise my my boyfriend and his veteran friends in honor of a motorcycle ride, I can get lost in the moment. While I am mixing the batter I can feel the characters waking up. As the cake rises in the oven, I feel the story taking shape. While I spread the filling and frosting, I begin to understand something I didn't even know was happening. When I put the finishing touches on, I already have an outline in my head for either the scene or book that now wants to take priority. I have never experienced that with running. For me, life is all about my creative endeavors.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Never Quit

I saw a post in a writers group today asking if the writers felt deadlines were good or bad for motivation. Like any question asked there were split responses. There were a number of people who complained that deadlines put unneeded pressure and stress on their writing which causes the quality of the work to suffer. They said all they had to do was work diligently everyday and the book, poem, or short story would be completed when it was ready.

Then there were people like me who adamantly profess to live by the looming deadline. When there is a timeframe and set structure to follow I am able to focus better. I have always done my best work in the final hours of any project and my recently submitted short story was no different. I entered the NYC Midnight short story competition last year and enjoyed myself so much I couldn't wait to sign up and do it again. This year I got my assignment within an hour of when it was posted but it threw me so much I struggled to figure what I could possibly write about.

I have been trying to come up with any idea for days for my assignment. It wasn't about agonizing over details or obsessing about a character, I just didn't have any ideas at all. After I talked to a friend yesterday I I redeveloped what I was working on to include my elements of the assigned genre. I was still lost for the actual storyline though. I found myself dancing between projects, flipping through social media and reading about several writing styles all because I couldn't make myself concentrate.

Even though the story isn't due until Saturday night I had to complete and submit it today because I work almost non-stop, day shifts and night shifts until Sunday evening. There would have been zero chance of me pushing myself to stay awake after getting out of work at four in the morning to write just to get back out of bed at ten to leave for my other job. Because of that deadline and the whole all or nothing mentality it brought I was able to force my mind to focus, write and edit the piece, send to a beta reader, and ultimately submit it all today.

It is not the story I would have chosen if I had months to research and read in the genre. It is not the character I would have picked without the assignment. I went in a different direction than anyone else I can think of and hope my subject comes through for the contest judges, but the fact of the matter is, I finished. I did my best and was able to create something simply because I pushed myself to try something new and allowed the pressure of the deadline to motivate instead of overwhelm me.

Monday, January 29, 2018

NYC Midnight

In an effort to expand my writing horizons I do my best to find new opportunities. These can include book shows, conferences and conventions, even simply taking part in a contest or trying a new genre.  Last year, along with my first ever conference, I also decided to try a short story competition for the first time. It is run by the organization NYC Midnight who also puts on other writing competitions throughout the year.

It was anxiety filled for a number of reasons. For one thing, the two firsts happened to coincide schedule wise. I was either driving, attending sessions and network dinners, or practicing my book pitches while I should have been figuring out my story idea. That was the other nerve racking part, the story. The way this particular competition works is everyone that signs up is split into groups where they are given an assignment of subject, character, and genre. You then have twenty-five hundred words and eight days to write, edit, format, and finally submit you short story for judgement. The top five in each group move on to the next round with new assignments and an even shorter word count and time frame.

I did not make it to round two last year but the feedback from the judges was fantastic. Each judge gives pros and cons of your submission so you can see what you did right and things you can improve upon for next year. One of the judges didn't care for my formatting but that was the only negative they gave, everything else was positive. I held no delusions I would win or even make it past round one, I honestly just wanted the feedback. I took what I learned from them and have worked to improve the story so I could submit to other online forums and publications.

Last year I was given a character and subject I felt went together, a stay at home mom and a wrong number. The genre was thriller. It jumped off the page at me and said this will be fun. I was ecstatic. This year I was given a pediatrician, patriotism, and scifi. I do not read, watch, or write scifi. I am not backing down though. I am trying to take the main idea I have and then add scifi elements to it in order to make it work. It would never have been my first choice but expanding my horizons is what this challenge is all about.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Continuing Education - Part 3

After examining the need for visiting locations personally whenever possible to get to know the lay of the land as it were, then taking a look at classes and workshops, and finally admiring the usefulness of books on the subjects we desire to learn more about, I am ending this series with a personal touch. I mentioned this approach briefly in part two but I wanted to look further into how incredibly helpful it can be to talk to someone who has experienced what you are looking to understand.

At this time last year I was in San Diego attending my first, and to date only, writer's conference. I met award winning authors, listened to agents and publishers speak, even attended networking dinners and pitch sessions with acquisitions editors to learn more about the industry I love. There were people there who were trying out the conference for the first time much like myself. There were also people who had been coming faithfully every year for over a decade or two. Each speaker, session leader, and even lunch companion held something of value.

The agents, editors, and publishers all gave insight into what they look for when taking on a new client. Since I was there to learn about possibly becoming traditional published someday I found the information priceless. The keynote speakers, all of the bestsellers, spoke about how they reached the levels they had. They discussed their struggles and triumphs helping to let those of us listening know we were not alone. I even listened closely in the breakout sessions when other people would ask questions of the presenters. There was a woman who asked me at one time why I was not more inquisitive. She told me I shouldn't be afraid to ask a stupid question because there are no stupid questions. I explained that it wasn't that I was worried about the reaction to a question, I was simply so lost I couldn't think of any questions to ask at all. I learned just as much from previous attendees as the presenters themselves.

I took those conversations to heart. One in particular was a discussion I had with one of the keynote speakers. She discussed her process for writing murder mysteries and I found I have a similar style when beginning a book. We talked about developing a series, especially in that particular genre, and she asked if I had ever written murder mysteries before. I told her no. I read them but had never attempted writing them. After  talking about where I live and what I do she convinced me to try working on a series of four books, something that could grow later on, set in my beautiful Las Vegas and giving it a particular twist I would be familiar with. I understand the setting but I have never investigated crimes. I therefore took her advice and made a list of all the professions I would need to learn, then began contacting people in those jobs so I could use their expertise.

I am still learning and still reaching out to people to fill the list I made but it has been a tremendous help already to have their voice adding to my own. I want my readers to know I did my homework and if someone in such a profession were to one day read my book, they would feel I had at least a basic understanding of the job. It never hurts to have someone consult on a story if they may lend some details to give your characters credibility. Just make sure the voices of the experts doesn't smother the creative voice within you.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Continuing Education - Part 2

The first level of learning for me is to find books on a subject that interests me. If I find there is still more I want to learn I will then look into other areas such as classes, research opportunities, or speaking with an expert on the topic. I have never been one to sign up for traditional classes unless it is the only way to learn what I am working on at the moment but the truth is there are classes in a variety of styles covering almost every subject you could ever think of.

Local colleges or learning annexes are always offering classes to give interested students the chance to learn more about subjects that interest them. Many sports offer workshops and clinics to let participants pick up the ball, swing the bat, or sink the putt for themselves.

Many times writers will find a subject, one that comes to mind for me recently was photography, that plays an important role in their stories but the author may not be familiar with that particular subject quite yet. When the main character of my book Survivor came about she let me know her passion was photography. Not only did she enter a competition in Survivor but her pictures play an integral part in Sharing Strength. The problem is, when I try to take pictures they come out looking like a child got ahold of their parent's camera.

When it comes to lighting, composition, and of course studying one's subject through the lens, I am completely at a loss. Or at least I was. When I wrote the first draft of Survivor I used space fillers for the parts I needed to learn then when editing I went back to fill in specifics. Sharing Strength followed the same path for the first draft. I haven't begun to do the rewrites for that one. When I do, there will be some deeper research I get to do. At that point I am going to check out a fe workshops as well as talk to some friends who have a knack for photography. I do not need to become an expert for this particular series but I want to make sure the facts I include will ring true for those who know more about photography than I do.

Another book in the series involves soldiers who fought overseas. I have never travelled to the region not have I engaged in combat but I know some people who have and they are willing to share their experiences with me to make the book that much more authentic. In this situation, while I prefer to see things for myself, it is not possible nor safe for me to travel to Afghanistan, especially unescorted. Even if I did, I cannot truly live the lives the troops stationed there go through everyday. The next best thing is learning from someone who has done so instead.

Like I mentioned at the beginning, there are a number of different ways to learn about a subject. For this series I will be using several of them and am looking forward to sharing the progress as I go along.