Monday, March 31, 2014

FREEBIE!!!

Looking to score a free read? Or if you've already enjoyed A HEART DECEIVED, want to share the love and let someone else know they can score it? Today only, you can download a free ebook version of this:




Now you know. Share the love.

Prophet Appreciation

My kids don't read my books. Shouldn't that be somewhere in the fine print of the offspring contract? My husband's only read two. Is that grounds for divorce? I know a prophet is not without honor except in his own town, but sheesh...gimme something to work with here, people.

Of course, authors aren't the only ones who are under appreciated. What about the lowly barista who has to haul his heinie out of bed to open the shop and make sure the java is brewed by 6:00 a.m.? Or how about the widget maker who works third shift and doesn't remember what the sun even looks like? And let's not forget about the monkey cage cleaner at the zoo. They're small, but powerful stinky. Is a simple thank you too much to ask?

Nope, it's not. So today, make it a point to value someone in your life. This doesn't have to be a big deal or hit you hard in the pocketbook. Just a simple, "Hey, thanks for all that you do. I appreciate you."

Let's start an appreciation revolution. That is your assignment. Share the love in the comment section by telling us who you valued.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Writer's Talk with Alton Gansky. . . and Me!



Today I put on my writerly grown-up pants, which I admit do chafe a bit in the tender part of the netherland region. But even so, I persevered and finished a for-real, legit, make-sure-there's-no-broccoli-in-my-teeth kind of interview with publishing big name ALTON GANSKY.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Tidbit: Editing


For me, editing is like taking a trip to Happy Town. I love cutting redundant words. Stabbing adverbs in the eyeballs and flicking them into the gutter. Buffing up a secondary character's nails while spit-shining the opening scene. Editing isn't work at all. I could do it all day.

Which is a problem for my family.

Personally, I don't see what's wrong with eating leftovers for meals on end. Wait a minute. That might be the problem. I haven't cooked anything for the past week. Hmm. Note to self: stop editing for 15 minutes, run down to the corner store and grab some Tombstones. There. Problem solved.

**settles into big butt chair, laptop fully charged, brain in the editing zone, then spazzes when shrieky voice of Miss Nineteen hollers from the bathroom**

"Mom! There's no toilet paper in here!"

Grr. Guess I should've picked up some paper goods on my pizza run. Why is the world around me such a gaping sucky hole of neediness?

And that, my friends, is exactly how I feel when I sit down with a finished manuscript to read through it from beginning to end. Do you ever wish life had a pause button?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Secret of a Prolific Writer

In junior high, I was the nerd in the back of the school bus reading Ray Bradbury or Isaac Asimov, sans plastic-framed glasses duct-taped together. I didn't wear those until later in my teen years.

While I admire Bradbury's writing, it's Asimov's productivity that leaves me slack-jawed, with a tiny bit of drool oozing out the side. Shut up and pass me a paper towel, please.

Here's why. The man published or edited over 500 books and an estimated 90,000+ letters and postcards. What? Seriously? Did the man have no life? No socks to wash? Hedges to trim? Frozen pizza to heat up in the oven for dinner?

Apparently not. He is one of the most prolific writers. Ever. When he was asked by Writer's Digest magazine about the secret of his crazy writing skills, he said:

"I guess I'm prolific because I have a simple and straightforward style."

And therein lies the secret, friends. The man knew his voice. He didn't try to write like Bradbury. He didn't recreate his style with each new novel. He plugged away, story after story, putting down words as he heard them in his head. He didn't waste time listening to the usual I'm-not-good-enough or I-have-nothing-to-say doubts. He parked his butt in a chair and wrote.

Go, therefore, and do likewise.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Writing vs. Storytelling?

Besides the obvious syllabic difference, writing and storytelling are two completely different animals. Just because you can attract a small crowd at a party with a sweet story about the time you bellydanced at a restaurant and you weren't even drunk does not mean you're qualified to write a novel. . . though admittedly, I've done both.

On the flip side, simply because you know the difference between a modal and a gerund -- yes, I am speaking English thank-you-very-much -- doesn't mean you have the ability to pen a bestseller either.

Think of storytelling and writing as two sides of the same coin. They are not at all like fat-jiggling sumo wrestlers facing off on a gym mat fighting against one another. As an author, you need to nurture both. You need to know the art of story and the craft of communicating that story. It's not an either or.

Craft books abound, as do writing workshops and how-to seminars, or even blogs such as this one (sorry...couldn't resist that little pat on the back even if it did cramp my arm a little to reach so far). These resources are in abundance to help you with the writing part of the equation, so I won't be beating that dead horse.

Storytelling is a little trickier. You won't find stockpiles of kick-butt storytelling wisdom on every street corner. Never fear, though. I found an interesting Ted talk that imparts a fair amount of storytelling wisdom. Grab a cup of java and take a quick 18 minute lesson on The Mystery of Storytelling by agent Julian Friedmann.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Of Eggs and Baskets

You know that theory going around that it only takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything? Yeah. As I suspected, it's a big bunch of preservative-laden baloney.

The idea was popularized recently in Outliers, a book by Malcolm Gladwell, that says 10,000 hours of practice can turn anyone into an expert. Somehow, way down deep in my gastric region (oops...sorry for the visual), I just knew that if I cracked open some rocket science books and read for 10k hours, that I wouldn't become one of NASA's top dogs. It's not that simple.

This is not to say, however, that putting time and effort into a skill won't improve your aptitude. I'm just saying it takes more than reading about writing to master the craft. Things like:

  • Take workshops
  • Go to conferences
  • Interact in face-to-face critique groups
  • Branch out into different kinds of writing to broaden your range (poetry, for example)
  • Try teaching writing techniques to kids

Reading craft books is a valid way to grow as a writer, but it's not the only way.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Tidbit: Time Management

This may seem obvious, but one of the perks of being a writer is knowing other writers. Like real, legit authors. Boy, howdy, it's like being a kid in a chocolate factory...though I still feel a little bad for stalking Frank Peretti like I did just to meet him face to face, emphasis on little.

Anyway, another perk is getting to read over other author's manuscripts before they get published, before they get edited, even. It's an honor and a treat.

And that's exactly what I've been working on this week. I just finished up a historical fiction that's sure to be a big seller. Sorry buddies. It won't come out until early next year, so I'm not a liberty to fill you in on the details. Next on the docket is a science fiction space thriller.

All this reading, though, cuts into writing time. Don't get me wrong. I don't begrudge it one bit. It's just one more ball a writer needs to juggle.

How are your time management skills? Are you brave enough to take the TIME MANAGEMENT ASSESSMENT test? Go ahead. Give it a whirl. But first put down that cup of coffee and close out Facebook.

Beware the Jabberwock, My Son!

The other day I got a contract in the mail for one of my manuscripts. Whoop-de-doo right? Yeah, not so much. It's not that I've become so jaded that the sale of one of my stories doesn't send tingles down my legs. It's that they wanted me to pay them to publish the dang thing. Not kosher. Not at all. No matter how much they like my "fresh writing" and "riveting plot."

Warning Writer Wannabees: There are scammers in them there hills. Beware.

I read an article about three authors who buddied up to write the most horrific bit of prose possible. It was entitled Quoth the Cabbage, the story of a poor cabbage farmer in Russia. A group of escaped orphans hides in his cabbage patch, and lo and behold, small dolls emerge to help them. The farmer, the orphans, and the dolls begin the Russian Revolution. Of course they end up getting banished to Siberia, but there's a happy finale with the farmer, his family, and the orphans enjoying a warm bowl of sauerkraut.

The authors took only four days to compose this epic. The thing is, though, that they left out every second or third word, making it basically a fat pile of gibberish. Then to spice things up even more, they added in chunks of encyclopedia copy randomly and repeated large blocks of text.

They created a pen name--Richard Hulligan--and whipped up a goofy-butt query letter, then sent it out to five well-known agents and five unknowns. The five "real" agents kicked Mr. Hulligan to the curb. Three of the five unknown agents were less harsh, but still turned him down. But two of the agents asked to see the full, and when they did, they wrote back asking to represent Mr. Hulligan. . . for a fee, of course.

Here's the deal, all you starry-eyed writers -- just because an agent or an editor comes along saying nice things about your writing doesn't mean they're legit. It might be a money making scam, like the agents who wanted to sign Mr. Hulligan or the publishing company that sent me that recent contract. Unless you're self-publishing, you should never have to pay anyone to get your work published.

How do you know who's a Jabberwock and who's not? Ask around. Network. Check out Preditors & Editors. Read what others have to say on other blogs. What? Did I seriously just invite you to leave my blog and read others?

Yep. Information is power, baby. Be strong.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Joy of Writing

"Love what you do
and do what you love. 
Don’t listen 
to anyone else 
who tells you 
not to do it."
~ Ray Bradbury

Writers are twitchy little animals. A common genetic defect I see in most is self-comparison, always measuring their writing against that of others. I'm not pointing the finger here. I do it myself and have ever since kindergarten.

The thing is, though, that it really doesn't matter. So what if Steinbeck wrote a turn of phrase that drops you to your knees? Or Chrichton throws a curveball into a plot that makes you want to cry like a little girl? Yeah, they are undeniably great writers, BUT THEY'RE NOT YOU.

Only you can tell a story in your voice because, duh, only you have your voice...unless you were abducted by aliens and it was sucked out of you with a teensy-weensy probe. Nope. Not buying that.

Now that we've got that out of the way, you have no excuse. Put on some knee pads and wrist guards, then get out there and write. Tell your story, your blog post, your book review, a freaking letter to Great Aunt Matilda, whatever, the way you want to tell it. Don't worry about editing or critiques or reviews. Those will come later, like an unwanted toenail fungus.

In the mean time, delight in the magical flow of words tapping out of your fingertips. This is the joy of writing.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Productivity via Infographics

How To Be Productive

Infographic by annavital.

Looking for a stunning visual to get your point across,
whatever that point may be?
visual.ly is the place for you!

This site offers custom made videos, infographics, pretty much anything visual
that you may need. Of course, there is a cost for this service.
But if you're not picky, you can use the already created infographics
like the one here about productivity.

Warning: it is slightly addicting to peruse all the incredibly creative ideas
on their home page. It's like looking at Pinterest.
Oh yeah. Did I mention how easy it is to share these sweet visuals on
Pinterest / Facebook / Tweet / Blog / Linked In / Google + and more?

So put down that mug of green beer and toodle over to visual.ly for a visit.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Tidbit: Tunnels

This week I've been researching the Dover Tunnels, a huge network of tunnels dug beneath Dover Castle. With the threat of Napoleon attacking, the town of Dover became a garrison town. There was a huge need for barracks and storerooms for the men and their equipment. Where to put it all? Under the ground, of course.

A complex maze of barracks were dug below the cliff top and the first troops moved in and settled in 1803. The tunnels housed more than 2,000 men.

But even more interesting is the woman, Mary Ford. The history books don't say who she is, but she was clearly familiar with the tunnels at the time. . . and quite possibly the men. I don't think ol' Mary was a choir girl. She carved in the wall the oldest bit graffiti to be found in the tunnels. It says "Mary Ford 1807" and you can see it here.

The tunnels weren't the only thing being built at the time. The Grand Shaft was a 140 foot triple staircase linking the town to the forts. Triple. As in 3 super freaking cool spiral-type stairs that went on and on and on, winding clockwise, one above the other, down a central light and ventilation shaft. It took 3 years to build. It was supposed to get troops from the barracks down to the harbor in a quick-slap hurry in case of invasion by Napoleon.

But Napoleon never came, so guess what those naughty boys used it for? Getting to the pubs and brothels of Snargate Street.

I think there just might be a story in here somewhere.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Separating Self-Worth From Words

“When something you make doesn’t work, it didn’t work, not you. You, you work. You keep trying.” 
~ Zach Klein

I'm always entertained when a newbie writer comes along all bouncy and starry-eyed, expecting their first draft of a story to outsell Harry Potter. I was that newbie writer. Every writer was at one point in time.

Then rejection comes along like a sharp pin bursting a balloon and everything falls apart. Your self-esteem falls to the ground in little pieces. You're sure everyone hates you. Life isn't worth living anymore. You should probably go eat worms.  

There's a certain amount of failure involved in the writing game, but just because you fail doesn't mean you're a failure. A writer who doesn't land a book deal is still a writer. It simply means the methods you're employing aren't working and perhaps you ought to change them.

Authors stick with it. They write no matter what, whether their writing sells or doesn't sell. Lack of publication, fame and fortune, great reviews or awards does not stop a writer from writing because ultimately that's not what writing is about. Oh, it stings a bit when rejection or lack of success slaps you across the face, but real writers don't link their self-worth with the words they crank out on paper.

Perseverance is the hallmark of a writer.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Corpus Libris

Have you ever had the urge to hold a book in front of your body and snap a photo? Yeah. Me neither. But apparently there are humans out there that do.

CORPUS LIBRIS is a site devoted to those with such urges. Touted as "Books with Bodies," this site was created by Emily Pullen who was bored one evening in a bookstore back in 2008. Anyone can submit a photo. All you do is take a book and hold it in front of your body. That simple.

Some pix are hilarious. Others are, umm, slightly blush worthy. All are interesting. Pop on over and check it out. And if you're entertained, HERE is their previous site with even more pictures.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Doing My Part to Prevent Scurvy

Fun fact: I hate fruit. No, really. Can't stand the stuff, except for apples. I'll eat those. Nevertheless, a writer must eat healthy, so I do own a juicer to get my share of fruit-a-licious nutrients.

You may be wondering how this ties into reading, writing, or publishing. It doesn't. Today, friends, we are roaming off the leash into the neighborhood of how to choose a good piece of fruit.

WATERMELONS

Whenever I thump a melon, I listen to hear if anything taps back on the inside, a morse code that says "I'm the sweetest one here so buy me." Newsflash: this doesn't work. So I googled it. Here's what you're supposed to do. Hold the melon in one hand and tap it lightly with your other hand. If you feel a reverberation in the hand holding the melon, that's the baby for you. If not, go buy some bananas.

ORANGES

I figure if they don't have green or white fuzz on them, winner winner chicken dinner! Nope. Wrong strategy. Apparently you need to pick the one that's heavier than it looks. What does that mean? Just go for the one that's heaviest, I guess. It has something to do with the water content and juiciness.

BERRIES

Did you know that berries can continue to ripen at home? Huh. I must've been in the bathroom when the teacher was imparting that little nugget of wisdom. Still, if you like sweet berries, go for the most vivid in color.

PINEAPPLE

This is a fun trick. You simply try to pick out one of the center leaves. If it comes out easily, the pineapple is ripe. Makes me want to run to the store and give this a whirl. What I usually do is sniff the outside and see if it smells like a pineapple, which turns out is a valid way to select a tasty pineapple.

Any other sage fruit advice you readers want to share? Educate me in the comment section.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Tidbit: Bios


Sometimes when you’re in the middle of working on a story, you have to set it aside to meet a marketing request such as answering interview questions. Or maybe you need to submit a biography to an editor. You guessed it. That’s what I had to do the other day.

What’s the big deal? Well, writing a bio is harder than you think. Go ahead. Try it. I’ll wait.

Were you dazed for a moment trying to decide what information to include? How to make it more interesting than a legal disclaimer? Where in the world to begin?

Don’t worry. I’m here to help. Let’s do this thing here and now so you can avoid that deer-in-the-headlights expression in the future.

There are different types of bios that you’ll need because there will be different venues where your writing will appear. You can tweak your copy to fit any situation as long as you have the copy to begin with.

Uber Short
Can you write a bio in 20 words or less? You might be asked to. Work on it now and you’ll have it on hand. Paint with a broad brush on this one. Having it too specific, such as related to a particular genre or book, will not only limit you but will likely become outdated in the future.

Example:
Michelle Griep’s been writing since she first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas. Follow her adventures at www.michellegriep.com

Back Page
This one is your longest piece of copy. Think last page of a book with a smiley picture of your face. Give a sense of your personality without every last detail. No one wants to sit through a literary slide show of your past.

Example:
Michelle Griep’s been writing since she first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas. She seeks to glorify God in all that she writes—except for that graffiti phase she went through as a teenager.

She resides in the frozen tundra of Minnesota, where she teaches history and writing classes for a local high school co-op. An Anglophile at heart, she runs away to England every chance she gets, under the guise of research. Really, though, she’s eating excessive amounts of scones while rambling around a castle.

Michelle is a member of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) and MCWG (Minnesota Christian Writers Guild).

Keep up with her adventures at her blog WRITER OFF THE LEASH or visit michellegriep.com

Respectable
There’s no getting around the fact that sometimes you do have to shave your legs and put on a pair of panty hose. Yeah, it’s rare, especially for me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t keep a spare pair in my dresser drawer. That’s what this bio is all about. Dressed up and ready to go out to a black tie event with several credentials that show you’re a legit writer.

Example:
Michelle’s been writing since she first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas...professionally, however, for the past 15 years. She teaches history and writing classes for a local high school co-op. She is a member of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) and MCWG (Minnesota Christian Writers Guild).

Quirky
Generally a bio is written in third person. For your fun one, go ahead and break all the rules. Be silly. Be creative. But most of all, let your voice shine through.

Example:
I hear voices. Loud. Incessant. And very real. Which basically gives me two options: choke back massive amounts of Prozac or write fiction. I chose the latter. Way cheaper. I've been writing since I discovered blank wall space and Crayolas. I seek to glorify God in all that I write...except for that graffiti phase I went through as a teenager. Oops. Did I say that out loud?

Did you notice a common thread throughout? The ol’ Crayolas line? That's because I'm a freak at heart. What is it about you that makes you you? That’s the key theme to use in each bio, no matter the tone.

Again, I can’t stress enough the importance of parking your butt in a chair and getting this chore out of the way. You will have to doodle around with them now and again to keep them fresh and updated, but at least it won’t be like the teeth pulling experience of getting the first draft down.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

5 Essentials for Character Building

No matter the genre, every story has characters, otherwise you'd be writing a phone directory. Hold on. Bad analogy. I know plenty of characters in a phonebook and who the flip uses a phone book anymore anyway?

As I was saying, sans phonebooks, characters are an essential ingredient in a story recipe. There's lots of tricks to jazz up a memorable character, but EVERY character needs some basic things.

5 Essentials For Character Building

FEAR
What's makes your character scream like a little girl? Centipedes? The IRS? The threat of an alien probe shoved up their...wait a minute...I'm scaring myself. And that, my friends, is the point. Everyone is afraid of something. Identify what your character is afraid of so that you can use that fear to ramp up the tension.

STRENGTH
I'm not talking six-pack abs here, though in the case of your hero, that's never a bad idea. What sweet skills does your character possess? Is he a crazy freak with nunchucks? Can she hit a raccoon in the eyeball from fifty yards away with a slingshot? Maybe this character has x-ray vision and can see into people's souls. Whatever. Give them something to work with.

FLAWS
Perfect characters make readers want to punch them in the head. Nobody is flawless, so make sure your character isn't either, even your super stud that swoops in to save the day and the damsel in distress all in one fell swoop. This can be something as small as an inability to balance a checkbook or create a whopper of wart like a gambling habit using stolen money copped from nuns.

A SECRET
Psst. Hey buddy. Come over here and I'll whisper you some covert information because have I got something juicy to tell you. Are you leaning toward the screen? That's because you want to know what I've got hidden. Secrets are like big, juicy nightcrawlers wriggling on a hook, irresistible to the reader fish. Characters with secrets reel a character in.

MOTIVATION
Everybody wants something. A brand-spanking-new Tesla. A mutton lettuce tomato sandwich. The stupid hangnail on my thumb to go away. Your character wants something as well. What is it?

Make sure to incorporate these 5 building blocks next time you construct a character and you'll be well on your way to making him or her memorable in a reader's mind.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Bookshelf Porn

So, it's March. You know, the month with happy green leprechauns frolicking in fields of cloverleafs. The thing is, though, that when I look out my window, all I see is white. It's so cold, I didn't even go outside today. I'm tired of my nostril hairs growing little icicles. They hurt.

Until global warming hits my part of the world, I'm going to hole up with my books. But before I do, here's the low-down on a new site I discovered.

Toodle over to BOOKSHELF PORN. Don't worry. There aren't any pole dancers or nakey-nakey shots. This place is a photo-blog of books, libraries, bookstores and bookcases with pix from around the world. Some are incredibly creative. Others are just...well...weird. All of them are interesting. Check it out.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Tattoos as a Literary Device

When I was growing up, the only tattoos my peers sported were stupid little X's or poorly drawn hearts on their knuckles or the back of their hands. A needle, some ink, semi-clean hands. Yeah, this flings the door wide open for life-threatening infections, but if you're engaging in risky behavior, you're probably of the mindset that you're invincible aka an idiot.

No, I don't have one.

Nowadays, tattoos are trendy. All the cool kids have one, or two, or fifteen. The dude that pierced my tragus (I said I didn't have any tattoos, silly rabbit, not piercings) had his entire right arm tattooed black. Even in literature, tatts are trending. Tattooing is practically a non-human character in the YA dystopian DIVERGENT (coming out March 21 in theaters...I'm pumped!), which portrays tattoos as a mark of virtue.

But just because they're popular, that doesn't make marring your body the right thing to do. Many people still frown on those doggone-hippy-dippy marks, feeling sure it's a sign that you'll burn in hell for damaging what God created.

Controversial or not, there's no getting around that tattoos are relevant to today's culture. And exploring current issues (even in historicals) is a great way to connect with readers. Here are a few ways to think about using tattoos in your WIP.

Top 3 Ways to use Tattoos in Your Story

Give a character a tatt.
Generally, tattoos emit a tough connotation. The two prime characters in the running for this aura is your hero or your villain. Give your antagonist a creepy reptilian tatt. How about a symbol of honor for your antagonist? But let's not forget the heroine. That could be a surprise for both the hero and the reader.

Make a tattoo artist a character.
Think about it. Tattoo artists are interesting characters even outside of a book. Why not stick one in your story with all his/her quirks on display? Might make for an unexpected plot turn.

Birthmarks: The natural tattoo.
If you're theologically opposed to tattoos or you're writing of a culture or time period that didn't use tattoos, here's a freebie for you. Birthmarks. They come in all shapes and sizes and can be anywhere on the body, just like a tattoo.

Why should you bother with marking up the body of one of your characters? Because it can open up a whole thematic discussion about:

  • Discrimination
  • Personal body image
  • Consequences of choices
  • Outward symbol of an inward drive (either good or bad)
  • Self hatred / love

Personally, I'm not going to rush out to my nearest tattoo parlor and get "Mother" inscribed on my bicep. But, if you feel so inclined, HERE is a site that shows you the 33 perfect places on your body to get a tattoo.

And if you're interested in reading a fantastic novel that's about a man covered in tattoos, check out one of my all-time favorite Ray Bradbury books, THE ILLUSTRATED MAN. Here's a blurb. . .

The Illustrated Man is a wanderer whose entire body is a living canvas of exotic tattoos. What's even more remarkable, and increasingly disturbing, is that the illustrations are themselves magically alive, and each proceeds to unfold its own story.
 
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