Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Pre-Nano Day

Candy bars, popcorn balls and all the other forms of treats you can handle. Costumes in every shape and size, color and design. Yes today is Halloween. It is and always has been my favorite time of year to celebrate. I love the scary movies, the inventive costumes and of course as a kid at heart I can never get enough candy.

However over the last few years I have also come to think of today in another way as well. October 31st is not just the last day in October but also the last day before November. I know most of you are thinking "Well duh. Obviously it is the last day before November." But the writers out there, many of them anyway know that the last day before November means the last day to run around gathering research, ideas and copious amounts of fuel for our soon to begin noveling adventure. Nanowrimo is upon us once more.

Thirteen years ago one of my best friends and a fellow wordsmith told me about this thing called Nanowrimo. I listened to her talk about it but had no real interest in looking it up or becoming a part of such an absurd sounding challenge. How could anyone write fifty thousand words in a mere thirty days? Even she admitted she wasn't going to try. We both settled back into our personal attempts to create our stories as we had sone before, writing in spurts between work and classes.

However the idea of Nanowrimo never fully left me. At the same time I was ignoring its existence I had begun working on a novel that was inspired by an injury I had suffered. After coming up with a general idea and working diligently on the first chapter, for nearly a year, I gave up. I took the file, printed out what I had created so far, and deleted everything else from my computer. It was a pointless pursuit I was sure. No matter how hard I tried I was hopelessly stuck.

Flash forward to six years ago and I find myself living in Las Vegas with a desperate need to finish a challenge. I need something to focus on and feel accomplished when I get done. I remember Nanowrimo. I thought that if nothing else I would throw myself into some writing and at least make progress on something. But the question of what to write still hung in the air. I only had one idea, the one I had put away years before. I pulled it out to take another look. It was all I had so with a heavy sigh I jumped into Nanowrimo and managed to finally write that book.

I have only missed one year since then and am hoping to not only continue my winning tradition this year but also the series I began to write last year during this challenge. Yes today is Halloween and I will celebrate with candy and costumes but it is also Pre-Nano Day and I will be glue to my computer in celebration as well. Happy HalloNano Day Everyone!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Learning From The Music

Nanowrimo is less than a week away and while I had been planning to write a different book I ended up deciding on book two in the series I began last year. I had been looking for that one project that stood out the most. I wanted to hear my characters calling, asking to share their story. There were a few tentative hands raised but it wasn't until I started jotting down notes for book two, then three and realized there was actually a fourth as well that I knew I would be finishing the series within the next year.

One of the things I have noticed is that the music I put on my playlists help get me into the right frame of mind to write the books. Book one, Voices In My Head, had a very angry and aggressive playlist filled with artists like Korn, Marilyn Manson and Judas Priest. I still have the same playlist but with added songs that speak more to the current main character. Chelsea, who ran the show in book one, was more refined. She was thirty eight years old, a best-selling romance novelist and part time guest lecturer at the local college. She had an ex husband and estranged daughter as well as a younger neighbor who was a friend and protege. That neighbor, Samantha Peters, is the focus for book two.

Also a romance author and with a style similar to Chelsea, Sam was drawn into the world of characters that can sometimes take on a life of their own as she watched Chelsea battle her inner demons. As time moves on and Sam moves further into her own writing journey she begins to wonder exactly what Chelsea was dealing with. None of her characters have ever given her problems. Chelsea was diagnosed with a brain tumor and though she didn't want to believe it, Sam finally starts to think that the hallucinations were just side effects of the tumor. It isn't until Sam begins to really look at what Chelsea last wrote before her diagnosis that she awakens the same sinister character Chelsea had fought so hard against.

The music for Sam is still aggressive though she is younger and much more prepared for the battle she is facing so I have added songs to signal that strength and determination. I think the most interesting thing is that of all four books this is the one I know the least about and everyday I find a song that speaks to me as though coming from Samantha herself. Through the music I am learning about the character and from her I will get the story that will continue on the Voices In My Head series.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Excerpt from Voices In My Head

The police arrived at the butcher shop letting the terrified clerk out of the office. They assured him that no one else was there. Whoever had tried to attack him had left when he said he was calling them. He was clearly shaken and didn’t make it very far outside the door before his knees gave out. The officer standing closest caught him and helped back into the office where he could sit down.

He had only worked there for a month. The store was owned by his uncle. He was just trying to help out while he went to college. He didn’t know any of the customers and said he had never seen the woman before. The police were shocked to hear it was a woman that had gone after him. They had anticipated a man perhaps trying to rob the store. When he gave his statement one of the officers was so taken aback that he took a seat next to the boy. He tried to wrap his mind around what he was hearing.

According to the young man next to him a woman had come in, ordered several cuts of meat then left to make a call while he made ground the beef. When she came back another girl was in the store. When he told the girl he would be right with her the woman had snapped, grabbing the knife and  threatening to kill him while telling the girl to run. She had referred to the girl as Scarlett even though she didn’t seem to know her. She had then called the clerk Jonny even though he was wearing a nametag that said his name was Bruce.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Finding my Story

Plotters will plan out their books. They can be as detailed as a step by step guide or as vague as a few notes on a scrap of paper with the general overview of the book. Pantsers are basically the opposite. They might have a solid idea of characters and story direction or an abstract idea that just popped into their heads as they sat down at the computer. I like to think I am a combination of the two. I tend to have at least a few rough ideas going in but no clue where the story is going or how it is going to get there. I have a starting point, perhaps even think I know how it may end but I let my characters dictate the journey from point A to point Z.

Stephen King, yes I know I have been discussing him a lot recently, says that for him plots are overrated. He prefers to take a group of characters and throw them in a situation then watch them work their way out of it. He has no idea where it is going and so as he writes he is learning about the story the same way his readers will eventually do down the line. I write in much the same way. I do write down a few basic ideas that one could consider an outline of sorts though I have been known to travel in a different direction if my characters take me that way.

I get an idea and I run with it. In some cases the characters are very vocal. They take control of my mind and whisper about their adventures. Some are more subtle. I get a line of dialogue or just a random idea and then when I have put it on the back burner I am struck out of nowhere with the idea that will become the story. Something about that initial spark with nag me until I can get the picture clear in my head. Once that happens it is nearly impossible for me to think about anything else. I become haunted by my own ideas. I write just to free the spirits of the characters and give them life here in my world through the pages they inhabit.

With the annual writing challenge Nanowrimo just around the corner I find that I am working to find a balance. I have several projects all clamoring for attention but none is jumping up to take control so that makes it more difficult. I want something that will get me excited  with characters and a storyline I can really sink my metaphorical teeth into and while I have several books with some meat I can gnaw on none of them so far is the juicy morsel I am craving. I am still in search of that special, tantalizing treat that will grab me and take me on the ride I am dying for. Plot or Pants the story is out there. I am off to hunt it down.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Making It My Own

As I have been reading On Writing there has been a tremendous amount of advice and information flowing into my brain. The largest part has been time dedication. He mentions that he believes those that want to be writers should dedicate four to six hours per day for writing and reading. I can understand that but for some of us that is simply not feasible. I can get an extra hour in before work if I do not go to the gym though for the sake of my heart I need to go workout at least four times per week to strengthen my heart and other cardio vascular muscles. I can definitely read an hour before bed and usually do but if I extend that I am cutting into my sleep which effects my ability to function the following day.

I already read and write on my breaks but considering my job is not wha one would consider "normal" in terms of breaks and schedules I cannot take an extended break or work through lunch, it is just not set up that way. I could come home from work and head straight to the office, closing the door behind me to get a solid hour or two of writing time but those are the only times I spend with my boyfriend generally and family time is just as important as writing. So for me adding more time at this stage of my writing career isn't quite as easy as I would like.

Instead I am choosing to simply take advantage of unexpected times. This morning I was awoken far before I would normally be getting up and so decided to get out of bed and get at least five hundred words in along with some promos and this big post. It isn't the typical two thousand word goal that Mr. King has set for himself but it is five hundred more than I would have gotten if I had simply turned over and gone back to sleep. Each writer is different. We all have similar goals in that we write because we enjoy it and most of the time publication in one form or another is the end game we shoot for but the journey for each of us is varied. 

I love the time I get to spend in my fictional worlds and I do not plan to leave that ambition however I need to accept that right now my visits are vacations and not routine trips. Someday perhaps I will have a second house in my imagination land. Until I can make a more permanent home there though I am doing my best to make sure that when I go I am productive and when I am in the real world I can focus on the priorities that exist here. Balance is key for me and I can always readjust as things change later on.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Finding Time

I have been reading On Writing by Stephen King recently. In it he shares memories as well as advice on becoming a writer. Many of his insights seem like common sense such as writing and reading as much as you can. He talks about writing honestly and putting your writing time as a priority above almost everything in your life. All of this I agree is extremely important.

He mentions the support of his wife and how she always believed in him. That support can be paramount to success but at the same time what if you have someone in your life that understands and wants you to do what you love however also wants you to be involved your their passions which have little or nothing to do with writing? I work a full time job, exercise almost daily for the sake of health, and sanity if I am completely honest, and make time to spend with my family. At the moment my "family" is made up of a few close friends and my boyfriend. I do read on my breaks at work as well as when I am out running errands and most nights for awhile in bed before falling asleep.

It is only on my one or two days off from work that I am able to sit down and seriously write. I outline on breaks at work as well from time to time, I try to get posts up for my blog and write down notes to be added in for the next time I sit down to write but it comes down to six or seven solid hours of writing each week. I cannot afford to quit my job so where can I make extra time? My boyfriend comes to book shows with m, helps design promotional materials and gives me feedback but he would not take kindly to me putting my writing time in place of our time together. When I workout it is in classes so that does not allow for reading or editing time and my breaks are only twenty minutes long at work. I can alternate reading and writing time but it still isn't much in the overall scheme of things.

So how do I show my passion and dedication for something my heart is dedicated to while also maintaining balance? How do I become more productive and make forward progress in my writing goals while not losing other parts of my life that are also important to me? I watch friends that can write, converse on social media, attend book shows and are always preparing for the next reveal or release while I feel stagnant. I would appreciate suggestions on how I can find more time for writing while being able to hold on to the things I love as well.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Finding My Path

Today is October 14th and that means I have only seventeen days left until the beginning of Nanowrimo. In the past I have either had a story idea well in advance or I have absolutely no idea before November 1st and have to scramble for something to work on a week into the month. This year I am in a quandary of having several ideas that are all speaking to me simultaneously. I thought that I would try outlining them to find the ones that had more details and perhaps that would wake up the characters from one story more than the others.

I began with eight projects that needed outlining. I have managed to narrow that down slightly by only having full outlines for six of them. From there I ran into a problem. While writing the outlines I discovered information to flesh out the bare bones outlines I had originally created and doing so woke up all of the characters causing chaotic conversations in my head. I am still working to sort them out. 

My goal for 2016 was to complete the first draft of Sharing Strength, which I recently did, the first draft of Chocolate Covered Cherries that is currently in progress along with winning Nano again. With dedication I have no doubt I can complete them but I need to make sure that I pick a book to write for November and that is where I am stuck. My friends that I adore as well as admire tell me to pick the three speaking the loudest and write them all. That is not a option for me as I have a full time job, family obligations and a charity bike ride during the month as well. I will complete something I am just not sure which book it will be.

After I started reading On Writing by Stephen King I have become motivated to take on as many projects as possible. I believe in my writing though I know I am far from his or any professional author's abilities. I am learning. I read, I practice and most of all I keep writing. It is my hope that with every project I am getting better so with any luck this year's Nano novel will be my best yet. Now if I can just figure out which book it is going to be.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Motivated By The Masters

I am reading On Writing by Stephen King. I have only managed to make it through the first section which is just various recounting of his youth and how he got started in the writing business. It was within these for hundred pages or so that I found myself motivated to take the leap I have been balancing on the edge of for some time.

He talks about sending off short stories and getting rejection letters but instead of finding depression he used it to spur him on. He put up a nail in his wall to hang the letters on and when there were too many for the small nail he switched to a larger spike. He writes about his lack of knowledge about the industry as a whole, he didn't have an agent, he had no idea how to negotiate and his first advance was only 2,500. While I would personally give almost anything to have an advance like that, purely to say I had gotten an advance, it was very small but he was clueless to that fact.

He goes on to share that he had nearly given up on a story that would become one of his best known works because it was difficult. He did not feel connected to the character and found the setting so foreign he had trouble navigating his own book. It was because of the love and support of his wife that he finished the project and continued to pursue his dream. She always believed in him and has helped make a home that allows him to not only be the prolific writer he is today but also the family man he loves to be as well.

He shared that the support Tabitha showed him went beyond writing and being the mother of his children as she staged an intervention when he became addicted to drugs and alcohol. He admits his own issues and says that he believes there is no such thing as a need for artists to engage in these behaviors. It is a myth that they help or enhance anything. Those in the arts may be more prone to using such substances but they are not necessary.

As someone that has struggled with different addictions, drugs, alcohol and in my case the ever present and calling food addiction, it is powerful to see someone I look up to so much admit they have fought the battle as well. Stephen King is a dedicated writer. He pushes out several projects each year and is always elbow deep in the next one between writing, edits and rewrites and making sure to have time for his family. I struggle to find the balance especially since I want to dedicate time like a full time author but I have another full time day job. I have a fire lit within me and reading his words has stoked the flames. I am looking forward to the next level of my writing career. Thank you Mr. King.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Raising Awareness

Last October I released my book Survivor. I held a launch party in a donated ballroom at the casino where I work my day job. There were prizes donated for a raffle and a cake designed by Carlos Bakery from the owner of Cake Boss. It was not as large of an event as I had initially imagined but it got some media attention along with bringing in people to donate and learn about one of the domestic violence shelters here in Las Vegas.

The main character of Survivor, Jasmine Byers, was originally written as part of a book called Sharing Strength which after two and a half years was finally completed earlier this month. I began Sharing Strength after watching a show that said almost factually, at least from their point of view, that PTSD only effects those in the military. As someone that has been diagnosed with PTSD for over a decade but has never served a day in the military, I felt it was important to give examples and backstories of characters that suffer from the disorder with and without military experience.

My writing in mostly for me. I create stories that show my passions for dance, my love of suspense and my fondness for drama but just like my charity driven series Rescue Me, sometimes I want to help raise awareness for causes near to my heart. Survivor is one such story, demonstrating how important it is to see the signs and help those struggling through their battles with domestic violence.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Making Choices

We make choices everyday in life. What to wear, meals, if we are going to write or slack off, all choices. Sometimes the decisions are more difficult. When you have grown accustomed to a particular situation and it becomes necessary to question if you should remain then emotions become entangled in the choice.

I have always been one to talk out my feelings. I share what I am thinking whether people around me care or not because venting what is happening in my head helps me clear my thoughts. The problem is when those feelings and considerations involve other people I have to be careful who I confide in. I have recently taken to just talking out loud to the empty room in order to vent any frustrations I have. Sadly it isn;t working as well as I had hoped.

So I come to my next suggestion people have given me. When making a decision that is difficult I should make a list of pros and cons for whatever way I am leaning. This again becomes frustrating because my reasons are both logical and emotional. Which side is more important to rely on? My head may come up with some very compelling reasons for doing or not doing things but I have always been one to follow my heart.

When it comes to writing I pursue both sides. For one thing it makes for much more realistic characters, at least I hope it does. To see the inner struggle between the rational and irrational makes for a more compelling story and to me makes the characters more relatable. In my real life sometimes you just have to flip a coin and hope the end result is worth it.

My characters speak to me. They ask advice and sometimes question my decisions but there are days I wish our roles were reversed. I wish I could look ahead a few chapters to see how things work out and if needed go back and edit the choices I have made. Real life is not a book but I think as writers we have a unique ability to fix things, if only on the pages we write. My book Survivor was a strong example. Things may not have gone exactly as I wrote them, it is a fictionalized version after all, but at least after half my life I was able to give one version of me the closure I have always wanted.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Excerpt From Sharing Strength

Both men shifted in their seats looking at one another. They obviously didn’t want to tell her, which just made her more anxious to know. “Jasmine look,” Dr. Kurtsman began. “Kyle is in a very sensitive state right now. He needs time to process what has happened. I think it is best if we all just give him a little space.”

“Where is he Dr. Kurtsman? He should be surrounded by the people that care about him not left alone to feel abandoned.” She crossed her arms defiantly over her chest. “Please tell me where he is so I can go and talk to him. He was so good to stay with me and I want him to now I am here for him, that we all are.”

“Jasmine my dear I think we all need to get some sleep and we can talk about this more later one. How about that, hmm?” Before she could reply he stood and grabbed his cane. He limped from the room without looking back. Craig stayed a moment longer giving her an apologetic look before following him out into the hall. When Craig opened the door Jasmine caught a small snippet of conversation. “Yes doctor he is in room five seventeen. He is still sedated but you are welcome to go check in on him.”

Kyle was there in the hospital. The realization hit Jasmine like a punch to the stomach. Why had Craig and Dr. Kurtsman kept that from her? She was a part of the group and he was a member that was hurting, she had every right to be there to help support him. Anger rushed through her, followed swiftly by confusion. She felt like she was being pushed out. She needed them and thought they understood that but somehow it seemed they had decided to turn their backs on her. Hot tears stung her eyes as she fought the despair inside. She knew something was going on and she was determined to find out what it was before they removed her completely.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Growing With Experience

I saw a post earlier on Facebook put up by KM Weiland that said "Only a true author will realize the sheer terror of the slight pause that follows the words: 'So I just read your book...'". Just seeing those words mad emu stomach flipflop. It is true. Very little can prepare you for what may come next. That little breath between the announcement and the following opinion lasts a lifetime for person waiting to hear the verdict.

When we submit to agents or publishers we are prepared for the potential rejection, at least we should be. When we prepare for publishing and send the manuscript out to beta readers we know that there is a decent chance they will find typos or editing errors we need to correct. After all that is what they are there for, catch editing mistakes and plot holes so we may fix them before they go off to our official editor. No matter what we know they will have comments. That moment of panic comes from someone that has read the book after it is published and any control if out of our hands.

I am about to release my fourth book, second in my charity series, as well as working on the beta reading  / editing stage for a couple others but it never gets easier to hear those words. There is the elation of knowing someone was interested in your work, mixed simultaneously with the full body, heart stopping dread of the possibility that they hated it. Regardless of the decision we must respect their opinion.

That is one of the most difficult things I have ever had to learn. A review is an opinion, nothing more. Some will like what you do and some will not. A bad review is not the end of the world though it can certainly feel that way at the beginning. The burning slap to the face takes some time to heal but by taking it in, objectively looking for any constructive criticism that may help you going forward and then moving on you can thicken your skin and use the experience to more deeply appreciate the good reviews.

There will always be those moments when you hear the words, "So I just read your book..." and the world will stop until you hear what follows. That is going to happen as long as you continue to put out your work for the public to read. With each book we grow and with every day of practice we improve. Take the negative as a way to boost that growth and celebrate the accomplishments and positivity. We write because we love it, it is a part of us. Let it all in and hold on to the joy that comes with the experience.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Investing In Yourself

Many first time authors have a hopeful optimism about several aspects of the writing process as well as the next step, the world of publishing. The first is how easy it will be to write the book itself. Once that bubble has popped there comes the illusion that it will be a relatively simple task to find someone that loves your book and wants to publish it (after all your mom probably said it was great).  Sadly our mom's, or whoever your personal cheerleader is, are not the ones handing out publishing contracts. If you have stuck with the program long enough to reach the next stop in the journey, selling.

If you managed to get an agent and / or publisher, congratulations. For those that either got discouraged from rejection letters piling up or you chose to go the self publishing route from the beginning you have now decided that you will just create your book on your own. Then there comes the time for working with an editor, a cover artist and, if you are computer illiterate for the most part like me, someone to help format the book so all you have to do is upload a file. Whether you did it yourself or with a team your created book will soon be on its way to you so it can be sold to all your waiting readers. That is the real easy part, right?

If you are a celebrity of some kind or have some expertise in a particular subject that also includes your book then sales may initially be easy to achieve however it can come as a horrible surprise just how difficult it is for a no name, self published author to reach any level of success. Attending events and selling online are great but at the beginning it may seem impossible to build up a fan base or find readers to come see you at your table. You may not want to but chances are that mentally you are tracking every sale. It is exhilarating to sign your work but when someone picks up the book, scans the cover and then walks off to look at something else instead it can immediately break your heart.

When a signing ends and you count up the money you have made, assuming it is more than what you invented to be a part of that particular event, it can be tempting to turn around and go blow it on a celebration dinner, a new program for your computer or something else fun it is a better idea to set that money aside to reinvest in that editor, cover artist or some other cost involved with publishing that next project. We are always looking for that book that may put us on the map. Until such time it is important to know that we are a small business and money made by that business should be used to help further any endeavors that you may desire as that business entity.