Saturday, August 22, 2015

Guest author Lorie Lewis Ham: Write What You Love


Lorie Lewis Ham has been publishing her writing since the age of thirteen and singing since the age of five. She worked for her local newspaper off and on for years, and in 2010 became the editor-in-chief and publisher of Kings River Life Magazine. She has also published five mystery novels. You can learn more about her mystery writing on her blog http://mysteryratscloset.blogspot.com/.




I have been writing since the age of seven and publishing since 13, and yet sometimes I forget to do something that came naturally in the beginning. I forget that you should write what you love! When I was a kid, it never crossed my mind to write anything else.

Writing what's popular can look like the smart thing to do, and for some people it works, but if your heart and your passion aren't in it, I believe readers are going to know. I started trying to write a novel when I was 15, and I tried to write what was popular or what I thought would sell, but nothing worked for me. Then I tried writing a mystery. Mysteries were what I loved reading, and watching. That's when things started working for me. Now I'm talking mostly about fiction and poetry, but I think your passion can show through if you love what you are writing about in non-fiction as well.

I was temporarily sidetracked in my early twenties by a writing teacher who was determined I had to write romances--Christian ones no less--because they were popular and because I was a sweet, Christian girl. If only she knew...lol.! I loved killing people, on the page that is. I tried to write a romance and it was crap--I hated reading them so how could I write one? If you don't like what you are writing, even if it is well written, it will lack heart.

So I wrote a mystery and published five of them with a small publisher. Then I got sidetracked by publishing an online magazine--Kings River Life Magazine. This too has worked because it's filled with things I love--mystery book reviews, mystery short stories, mystery everything, fantasy book reviews, pets, theatre, music, food, and more!

Last year I decided it was time to get back to writing books and stupidly I started trying to come up with an idea that I thought would sell. And of course, it just wasn't working. I write because I love it, and because I want to share that love with others-the love of a story. It's no fun, and the passion is missing, if I'm just trying to write something that's commercial. So recently, I got back on track. I stopped trying to come up with a setting that would fit in with all the popular mystery cozies out there right now, and finally it's working again. I'm writing about what I love, what I'm passionate about, and I believe that will show on the page.

Don't get me wrong, there are some fun books out there written totally to formula or to a theme that's popular--some people can really put their hearts into those type of books and they do sell, and maybe you will be lucky and what you love IS what's popular. But what's popular can change so quickly. What if by the time you have it done it's not popular anymore? If that was your sole goal in writing it, where are you then?

Sure from a financial standpoint there's something to be said about writing about something because it's popular, but where's the fun in that? Why not stand out in the crowd? Those are the books that change lives, and the books that have the ability to live on forever! There's also a great satisfaction in writing something that is a part of you, instead of just what everyone else is writing. Maybe it will take you longer to find a publisher, but in the end isn't it worth it?

And again, if you are one of those people who can write to formula, or write what's commercial, and do well with it, more power to you. But if it's not working for you, you may just want to try writing what you love!



Wednesday, August 19, 2015

I was just getting to that

Our culture is such that even in the twenty-first century it's assumed that keeping a house clean and orderly is women's work. Under normal circumstances I might think this is a great idea, but I'm a writer so circumstances are not normal.

My wife Valerie works 60+ hours a week in pharmacovigilance (keeping an eye on clinical trials of potential medications to make sure they're safe, accurate, and meaningful). This is intense, detail-oriented work involving riding herd on dozens of test sites, investigating "adverse events" to determine if the trial medication played a role, and keeping four or five mutually exclusive reporting protocols up to date.
In contrast, I work 40-50 hours a week making stuff up. For me this involves research (Warning! Rabbit hole!), staring into space, mapping potential plot threads on graph paper with boxes and arrows, making notes, startling people by blurting random bits of dialog, reading, and occasionally typing.
No surprise, then, that in our household cooking and cleaning are my responsibility.

Valerie has no complaints about my cooking. (Aside from my natural tendency to leave out stand-alone vegetables. Peas in the soup? Fine. Peas sitting on the plate next to the potato and pork chop? Didn't enter my head.) I do homemade soups and stews and Italian things with sausages and American things with beef and southern things with pork and chicken and can go for a while without repeating myself.
Laundry? I do default to washing everything in cold water, normal cycle, but if items requiring special handling are put in the red hamper, I read the labels. (Note: I will not remember the item requires special handling the second or fifty-second time I see it. Put it in the red hamper.)

Where I fail miserably is housework. Remember that roommate in school ("university" for you non-USAers) who didn't notice the stack of empty pizza boxes until it reached eye level? The guy sometimes stalled trying to tell the pile of clean clothes from the pile of dirty? That was me. I have ADD – even when everything is in its place and labeled my world is cluttered and confusing. (In fact, putting things in order can sometimes mess me up.) Actual clutter has no effect on me – it's practically invisible. Think of it this way: When you have trouble remembering to close the refrigerator door while you're standing in front of the open refrigerator, a leaning pile of books and four empty coffee cups on the table don't register at all. All of which might be okay if I lived alone and didn't know any better. However, I don't live alone and I do know what's expected; I just have trouble remembering the basics. (Ex.: House rule: shoes off and in the hall closet first thing. Me: usually shoes off and left somewhere between front door and where I was going.)

What makes all this worse – especially for Valerie – is the cultural expectation I mentioned in the opening sentence. Whenever anyone comes by, the poor condition of the house reflects on her. Because, no matter how many times I tell everyone I do the housework, the assumption is it's her responsibility to make sure I do it right.

What does this have to do with writing? Not a lot.
But it has everything to do with being a writer. Or perhaps being a decent person while being a writer.

It is a perennial lament that writers are not taken seriously by the people around them. The creative process looks a lot like idleness from the outside. It's difficult to distinguish trying to fill a plot hole from frowning at the wall. Family and friends assume the writer – particularly the newish writer – has boundless free time for errand running or babysitting or chores. They have no compunction about interrupting the process; especially if the writer isn't actually typing when they do. (And, yes, friends and family usually completely derail your thought process at the very moment you almost have that damned plot issue solved.) So we writers learn early on to be very protective of our writing time.
At one level this is a good thing. If we don't establish and defend our writing time we will never have time to write.
But at another level...

What's more important, your story or your family?
(If you answered "story," you're not this column's target audience.)

We have to respect our writing time as much as we expect others to respect it. We must use our writing time to write. And of course by "write" I do not mean type; I'm referring to all aspects of the writing process. Read, research, scheme – whatever you need to do, do. But do not waste your writing time with some vague notion of making it up later at the expense of another responsibility. As in "Yeah, I wasted an hour of writing time watching snorkeling armadillo videos, but I can trim an hour off my housework time to make up for it. Better yet, order pizza instead of cooking dinner – to heck with the budget." Not acceptable. (The possible exception to this is sleep – and then only when you're up against a deadline. One caveat: You never write as well as you think you're writing when you're sleep deprived.)

Doubly unacceptable: Giving up family time. If you and your significant other and/or children eat dinner together or watch a bit of TV together as a family every night, do that. Don't isolate yourself or distance your family by making them feel they are not as important as your story. (And never, ever, miss a child's birthday or dance recital or soccer game – and seven times never turn down an invitation to a tea party or request to be read to. Children don't stay children long enough.)

Every writer knows that writing requires discipline. What many of us don't realize – or don't always realize soon enough – is that this discipline is not restricted to our time at the keyboard.
If you wasted your writing time, your writing time is gone. Don't sacrifice the rest of your life trying to get it back.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Keep Your Eyes On Your Own Prize

I saw this picture on Facebook yesterday, and it got me to thinking. Then, I decided I wanted to write a bit on what the picture was saying, and I ended up setting aside the column I was originally writing for this month's contribution to the site. So, now you know why my blog post is a day late. Sorry about that.

Anyway, let's have a look at the picture that's to blame for my tardiness:

 
Yep, it happens to the best of us.

We see, read, or hear about another writer landing a great book deal, or their book gets optioned for a movie or television project, and we can't help feeling a pang of envy. "Who the heck is that? I've never even heard of them," or "Really? They're making a movie out of that book?"

Usually, this sort of reaction is followed by thoughts of career change, such as delivering pizza or becoming a telemarketer, or replacing the poor bastard who has to give suppositories to zoo animals.

Sure, it's natural to offer up such a response when we see someone else in our chosen field gaining success we don't or perhaps even ever won't enjoy. There's really no stopping that sort of thing, even if the sensation lasts for a few fleeting seconds. Humans are fiercely competitive creatures; we can turn anything into a contest of wills or a pitched battle between the forces of good and evil, even if it's just figuring out who's getting that last chicken wing.

I mean, it's not just me, right? Hello?

Yes, it's understandable that as writers, we'll experience that moment of jealousy when another writer--particularly if it's someone we know personally or with whom we at least enjoy a familiarity thanks to social media--announces a new project or a lucrative book deal. I'll admit there have been times when someone I know mentions they've landed a deal to write a particular book or participate in a certain project, and I can't help wondering why I wasn't approached about it or perhaps even considered. I'll think, "Now, hang on. The editor/publisher knows me, and knows I'd welcome such an opportunity. Why didn't they call? What did I do to offend them? Oh, wow. Are they ever going to call me again about anything? Ever?"

Then I talk myself down after a minute or so of this, eat a Snickers bar, and move on. In truth, I suspect my subconscious plays tricks like this just because it knows I'm trying to cut down on Snickers bars, and it's mad at me.

While it's normal to cave to that fleeting bit of doubt in these sorts of situations, don't fall into the trap of dwelling on such things. Another thing to avoid is succumbing to the urge to start eyeing that other writer's accomplishments in comparison to our own. One writer enjoying a lucrative publishing deal or great reviews on Amazon has no bearing on our own efforts. It's not a competition, nor is it some form of "zero sum game." Their successes don't brand us failures.

Instead, channel those feelings toward something positive. Whenever a friend or colleague announces a project or new deal, I want to celebrate their accomplishment with them. Their good news motivates me to keep after my own goals. It challenges me to work harder, get better at what I do, finish the projects for which other people have already contracted or paid me, and get on with figuring out what I'm going to do next. Then, I just repeat that little cycle, every day.

Long story short? Don't lose sleep over what other writers are doing. Keep your eyes on your own prize.



Thursday, August 13, 2015

When Free Advice Is Worth a Million $$$

When I was doing horoscopes for free for friends and those in crisis, I would spend hours pouring over charts and my books. I cast predictions far into the future, preparing them for the best of times and worst of times. I even made a calendar for one person so she could track the planets on a daily basis.

Guess what? People treated all my hard work like a parlor game. They lost their horoscopes and asked for a repeat. I didn't keep copies and at this time computers didn't exist to save my work.

Later, when I needed money, I started charging $25 for a horoscope. Pretty cheap when you realize other astrologers charge at least $100 and give what seems to me generic readings. But people VALUED the charts I charged money for, believing them to be worth more. They didn't lose them, referred back to them and paid for updates. I realized this was human nature: the more one has to pay for something, the more valuable it is perceived to be.

Today, I give a lot of advice on marketing. I'm passionate about the subject. Marketing books, blogs, websites, other authors is, for me, a big part of the joy of being an author. I understand that many don't share my enthusiasm. They approach it with a negative mindset. It's WORK. For the shy, it's calling TOO MUCH ATTENTION to oneself. For those who aren't computer savvy, it's CONFUSING.

Call me Mary Sunshine, Pollyanna, an incurable optimist (I even find things to love about being in dialysis). ATTITUDE is everything. If you approach something expecting to hate it, you're gonna hate it. If you hear others complaining, you're going to resist. So, all the wonderful tips I gather on the Internet and even my own marketing secrets I'm willing to share often fall on deaf or plugged up ears.

Yet I find that when people pay through the nose to go to writing conferences to hear an “expert” lecture on the very same subject, suddenly it's embraced. Not that the marketing takes into account the individual. Not that people are worked with on a one-on-one basis. They aren't taught how to tailor the marketing to their specific book.

Buying a book on marketing is the same thing. Information is usually outdated by the time the book comes out. Much is info compile from sources anyone can gather on their own via the Internet. But again, when it's free, it's worthless.

I worked in detective division of the sheriff's department for 11 years. I'm trained to dig up leads. When social media took off, I scoured websites of authors and investigated sites they listed as their favorites. I put together lists of reviewers, interview sites and sites looking for guest bloggers. I wanted to share all of this and spare beginning authors from wasting time hunting it all down. I created the Posse. Again, a free service. Is it valued? I can name off many of the people who never bother to check their email anymore. You can bet if they were paying me they'd be sure they were getting their money's worth!

The worst advice I've heard comes from the “big” authors who are signed with big houses, pulling in big advances and have publicity machines backing them. They urge new authors to “forget about marketing and social media. Just concentrate on your writing.” Telling people to delay marketing until they have a book out makes about as much sense to me as ignoring your credit score until you go to buy a house. In this day and age when the competition is stiff and anyone with a computer can self-publish it all comes down to this: “He who markets best, succeeds.”

What happens when reality sets in is that some authors frantically hire a publicist to plug them into the system. Again, this is pretty generic and I, for one, delete posts that show up on my screen hawking their client's books. What unseasoned authors don't know is that they will pay more for their publicist than they will ever recoup in book sales. Someone makes money, but it isn't the writer.

In conclusion, I've concluded that people only value what they pay for. They are willing to give money to anyone ready to charge them for a speech, a book, a promotion. Humans are stubborn that way. Like the old adage says “You can lead a mule to water but you can't make it market.”

Now, pay Novel Spaces $20 for the privilege of reading this post!




Friday, August 7, 2015

How to Not Write Anything

Well- here I am and it's late! Or rather it's the day of and I'm unprepared! But, excuses I have!

I am in the midst of moving! Which people say is one of the the lost stressful things you can do in life. I have moved often and it gets a LITTLE easier, but it's also been a long time and I have accumulated a lot of stuff. But that's not why I'm here!

During this long process of selling house and packing and cleaning and fixing, I haven't been doing any writing. OK- I got one short story done and submitted to an anthology and it got accepted! However 90% of my creative energies have been utterly depleted and I'm not continuing the Carmine sequel I started writing last year and stopped because I got stuck and my other WIP was going better. And I have been feeling guilty!

On top of that I have yet to start another a Middle Grade novel (MG is an age category aimed at children age 8-12) after my MG novel "The Bird Fairies" went down like the Titanic. And yes I know the title sucks!!

What little I have been doing creatively is drawing which takes far less time and mental energy than writing (which is why I like it so much more! But art is even WORSE to try to make a living at unless you are super talented and I. my friends, am not.

SO that left me with maybe 5% creative energies (on a good day) left over for writing. So, what have I done with that (not learned to type, I'll tell you that much). I have been planning! I have been making notes on a couple of ideas for more MG novels. One is a revamp of a project that stalled, and I figured out how to salvage it. The other is a new idea that needs more research. There are a lot of holes, I'm just getting down notes and trying to plan things in my head. I think about the projects a lot. But I haven't done anything yet and I probably won't for awhile. Not until I'm  moved and settled.

There are times when outside stress is just too much and you can't write. But during those times, find a creative outlet you CAN deal with, just to keep your brain doing something other than freaking out. And I suppose if all else fails, take a nap.

P.S. I have a short story in the Luna Station Quarterly Best Of anthology!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Introducing Sylvia Sinclair, Marissa Monteilh's IR alter ego


Marissa Monteilh here, with a quick post about my 8/7/15 release, To Each Her Own, my first IR title under my pen name, Sylvia Sinclair. I am very excited about delving into the topic of interracial, as I learned a lot through my research, but also, this is my first shot at romance. This Swirl series is about love, dating, racism, liberation, friendships, family, and generational curses. Please wish me luck as I release my baby into the world. This has been a whole lot of fun, and I hope my current and new readers will enjoy it. Below you'll find a synopsis. Write on!! 

Shasta Ann Gibson is a liberated, educated, successful executive at a broadcasting company. At 39 years old, she's never been married nor has she had kids, and her biological clock is ticking. Born and raised in the south by a conservative single father, she grew up with certain rules impressed upon her about race. While she has a very long list of what she wants in a man, being with a man who is a minority is not one of them. That is until Ramon Vaz, a charming, younger coworker who runs the mailroom charms her into just one date. But her boss, her friend named Maya, and her father, cause problems that will either force her to run from, or run to this black man named Ramon, who might not fit the bill as far as her list, but she just might have more in common with him than she bargained for. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Character Interviews- an alternative to the character sketch


 











July 27th I kicked off my Bewitching Blog Tour for Hurricane of the Heart. It coincided with the release of my latest multicultural romance Hurricane of the Heart in kindle format and paperback. You can follow my tour schedule by clicking on Bewitching Blog Tour.

I began the tour with a character interview on Eclipse Reviews. For that interview I chose Alia Graneau, the indigenous native of Dominica and female lead in Hurricane of the Heart. You can follow this link to see the full interview complete with dreamcast photo. In a nutshell, the interviewer asked a wide range of questions as if she was interviewing me and I answered them as Alia would.

It was the first time doing a character interview and I had great fun getting into the mind of the character I had created. But it was more than just fun. It was getting to know Alia on an intimate level. Doing this interview I learned a lot of nuances about the character, what she would and wouldn’t do, her love, what she abhorred and her angst. I learned how her past was affecting her actions, her decisions, her outlook on life. I got intimate exposure to her personality and her thought processes.

When I completed the interview I had to ask myself why I didn’t do this before. We often read books or reviews of books where the characters are not fully developed. If authors did character interviews with the main characters, they would be so much more developed because their creators would get to know them intimately. Consequently I made the decision that in addition to or in lieu of a character sketch I would do an interview with my lead characters in my future books.

I’m not saying the character interview can replace a character sketch. I’m saying it is a great tool that allows writers to develop great three dimensional characters. It is a tool I intend to utilize to ensure well developed characters.

How do you ensure well developed, dimensional characters in your stories? If you haven’t already, read my character interview on Eclipse reviews and let me know if interviewing your characters is a tool that you may consider using in the future.