Thursday, October 30, 2014

Ten Things I’ve Learned Since The Call ... by Maia Chance

Yesterday I held the final print copy of my first mystery release, Snow White Red-Handed, in my greedy hands. As I contemplated this gorgeously packaged product, it occurred to me that none of my publication journey has transpired the way I thought it would. Here are ten things I’ve learned:

1. Finishing a book is like birthing a baby.

I wrote Snow White Red-Handed while I was pregnant with my daughter. I queried agents during my third trimester, which was probably a good thing because I was too tired from huffing and puffing even while going down stairs to cry about rejections. I got The Call from my agent offering representation on my due date.

Finishing a book really is like birthing a baby: the life-sucking emotional investment, the long months of work, the strangling fear about that book-or-baby not making its way safely into the world. The only difference is, while I probably won’t have any more kids, I intend to write dozens more books. (Yikes.)

2. But getting your book down the production line is more like creating Frankenstein’s monster.

I published two romance novels years ago, but they had very little editorial input. So I wasn’t prepared for the back-and-forth with my editor. Edits began with the heart-stopping request to add 20,000 words, followed by a request to completely re-focus those 20,000 words, followed by a few more rounds, including one with the most meticulous copy editor who ever called Earth home. I’ve seen this story dismantled and sewn back together so many times, it is grisly (insert Mad Scientist cackle here).

3. Publication can take FOREVER. And life goes on.

After I signed with my agent, I did not have a book deal for another six months. Then, the book was scheduled for release twenty months later. Kids, it has been a LONG twenty months. That baby daughter? She’s in her Terrible Twos. While the gears of the publication machine have been turning, my Real Real Life happened.

4. Social Media: People will make you do it. And it’s okay.

Like most writers, I’m not exactly a social butterfly. In the beginning, I had a bad attitude about having to set up a blog, Facebook page, Twitter account, and so forth. It didn’t seem me, and I felt exposed. So decided to do it my way (feeling defiant), which meant creating a blog that genuinely gives me pleasure. Turns out, that “defiant” decision was actually a pretty decent branding strategy.

5. I evolved from a “Pantster” into a “Plotter.”

Back in the day, planning the entire story out in advance just seemed . . . depressing. But once I signed one book deal and then another, I had to either shift my strategy or miss deadlines.

6. Spreadsheets are my New BFF.

Here’s another way I totally shifted my thinking: I used to consider spreadsheets to be from that special tier of Hades that is filled with cubicles, buzzing fluorescent lights, and people eating microwaved burritos at their desks. However. Now I have to work quickly and guess what? Spreadsheets help! (Yeah, I guess I was the very last person to get the inter-office memo on this one.)

7. Speaking of friends, lots of them (and family, too) do NOT want to hear about Book Stuff. Ever.

Here’s the thing: for us writers, it’s a job, but it’s also a tumultuous love affair. To most other people, hearing about your Book Stuff = hearing about your job. You say, “Omigosh I have this plot hole that’s keeping me up all night!!!” They hear: “Blah blah blah. . . .” and take a desperate sip of beer.

8. I’m a Craftsperson, not an Artist.

Believe me, as the author of a couple bodice-rippers and now a cozy mystery, I have NO delusions of grandeur. But since craftspeople rely on tools, not inspiration, I know I can get work done even when I don’t feel like an inspired pixie princess wafting a glittering, artistic wand.

9. Being a writer is super lonely.

Another inter-office memo that did not get delivered to my cubicle.

10. This is what I want to do every day, forever and ever.

I make myself laugh (and occasionally cry) at the keyboard. Writing is a tumultuous love affair, isn’t it? How lucky are we?

Maia is giving away one print copy of Snow White Red-Handed to a U.S. or Canada resident who leaves a comment on this post before midnight Mountain Time Sunday, November 2nd. The winner will be selected using random.org and the winner posted here Monday afternoon.

Here's a little more about the story:

Miss Ophelia Flax is a Victorian actress who knows all about making quick changes and even quicker exits. But to solve a fairy-tale crime in the haunted Black Forest, she’ll need more than a bit of charm…

1867: After being fired from her latest variety hall engagement, Ophelia acts her way into a lady’s maid position for a crass American millionaire. But when her new job whisks her off to a foreboding castle straight out of a Grimm tale, she begins to wonder if her fast-talking ways might have been too hasty. The vast grounds contain the suspected remains of Snow White’s cottage, along with a disturbing dwarf skeleton. And when her millionaire boss turns up dead—poisoned by an apple—the fantastic setting turns into a once upon a crime scene.

To keep from rising to the top of the suspect list, Ophelia fights through a bramble of elegant lies, sinister folklore, and priceless treasure, with only a dashing but mysterious scholar as her ally. And as the clock ticks towards midnight, she’ll have to break a cunning killer’s spell before her own time runs out…

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Maia Chance writes historical mystery novels that are rife with absurd predicaments and romantic adventure. She is the author of the Fairy Tale Fatal and The Discreet Retrieval Agency series, and her first mystery, Snow White Red-Handed, will be released in November 2014 by Berkley Prime Crime.

Maia is a candidate for the Ph.D. in English at the University of Washington. This means that the exploits of Fairy Tale Fatal’s heroine, variety hall actress Ophelia Flax, were dreamt up while Maia was purportedly researching 19th-century American literature and fairy tale criticism. The Discreet Retrieval Agency series was born of Maia’s fascination with vintage shoes, automobiles, and cocktails combined with an adoration of P. G. Wodehouse and chocolate.

Upcoming titles include Come Hell or Highball (St. Martin’s Press, 2015) and Cinderella Six Feet Under (Berkley Prime Crime, 2015). Maia lives in Seattle, where she shakes a killer martini, grows a mean radish, and bakes mocha bundts to die for.

To learn more about Maia and her novels, visit her website. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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READ AN EXCERPT FROM SNOW WHITE RED-HANDED:

“I simply must have you at my side this afternoon, Flax,” Mrs. Coop said. “I’ve come down with a sick headache, but I wouldn’t miss Professor Winkler’s gold test for the world. Tighter!”

“I’m doing my utmost, ma’am,” Ophelia said, straining to cinch Mrs. Coop’s corset laces.

After luncheon, Mrs. Coop had returned to her cream-and-gold jewel box of a boudoir, high in a turret of the castle, to change into her afternoon gown. She’d been breathless and disheveled, and determined to shrink her waist to a smaller compass.

Mrs. Coop’s disarray, and her sudden wish to appear pixie-like, resulted, Ophelia suspected, from the presence in the castle of either Princess Verushka or Mr. Royall Hunt. Mrs. Coop and Miss Amaryllis had made the acquaintance of these two fashionable personages at some point in the last two weeks’ frenzy of excursions into Baden-Baden.

“You must,” Mrs. Coop said, “stay by my side with my smelling salts, should I need them, and fetch me glasses of water and whatever else I may need. I am not well, Flax—even Mr. Hunt noted that I’m white as a lily—yet this is perhaps the most thrilling day of my life.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Ophelia said.

“Just think! Snow White’s cottage on my own estate. And a dwarf’s bones!”

“Mm.”

“Do I hear doubt in your tone, Flax?”

“Truth be told, ma’am, it is difficult for me to believe that that house belonged to creatures from a storybook.”

“Difficult to believe?”

“Well, ma’am, near impossible.”

Ophelia had performed with P. Q. Putnam’s Traveling Circus for two years, and she’d known a so-called dwarf. He’d been a shrimp, true, but there hadn’t been a thing magical about him. Unless you counted swearing like a sailor and smoking like a house on fire as magic.

“Of course.” Mrs. Coop sniffed. “I nearly forgot you’re a Yankee.”

Ophelia held her tongue; she was stepping out of character. It had to be the result of exhaustion. Mrs. Coop and her stepsister Amaryllis—they had, Ophelia had learned, different mothers—kept her on her feet from dawn to dusk, arranging their hair, pressing their clothing, mixing beauty concoctions, and running up and down the spiraling castle stairs fetching things.

But how could anyone past the age of pigtails think Snow White and the seven dwarves had really existed? 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Winner of "Crooked Lines" is....


is the winner of a copy of Crooked Lines





Dean is the author of And Then I Smiled: Reflections on a Life Not Yet Complete

Congratulations, Dean!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Descriptive Writing Using All of the Senses ... by Holly Michael

Good writing draws the reader into the story by engaging all senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Recently, I submitted the first chapter of my work in progress—my sequel to Crooked Lines—to my critique group. My crit partner said, “I’m not hearing anything.”

I returned to my WIP and considered what Rebecca would hear, standing near the shore of the Indian Ocean, days after the tsunami hit. Having been there, it wasn’t difficult to recall sounds.

Going back to my debut novel, Crooked Lines, I returned to a scene with Rebecca on the Lake Michigan shoreline to check how well I used senses.

The whoosh and trickle of the whispering waves beckoned me to the shoreline. (sound) Gulls screeched and circled around dead glittering minnows. (sound, sight) Chilly water rolled over my feet and lapped my ankles. (touch).

 I could have added the smell of the dead minnows to that scene.

Crooked Lines goes back and forth between America and India, so let’s pop over to India, where Sagai is returning to his native state, Tamil Nadu:

After days of bumping, jostling, and elbows jabbed into his ribs on buses and trains, Sagai arrived at the station to a buzz of traffic jammed up and pressed against a lowered train gate. Petrol and diesel fumes left an acrid taste in his mouth. Women on backs of motorcycles raised the corners of their sarees to their mouths.

Sagai walked from the station toward the heart of the village where massive old tamarind trees formed umbrellas over small assemblages. Under their branches, cart vendors—with veshtis wrapped around their waists—sold fruits and snacks.

Men sipped coffee and tea from small steel tumblers. Barefoot kids in school uniforms adjusted heavy satchels while digging coins from their pockets. Sagai passed cows and goats mingling among the folks. Large brown tamarind pods fell at the feet of old men reading newspapers under bright green feathery foliage.

The women paid no attention to any of it. Friday was an auspicious day for Hindus, and the women focused on Kolam, their folk art decorations to welcome their deities. Ladies in bright new sarees bent low, shuffling their broad behinds, as they swept swirling dust piles away from their doorways with coconut stick brooms.

Others ahead of the sweepers sprinkled cow dung water onto the streets to prepare a spot for decorations. A few women must have woken earlier than the others and were already spreading their colorful rice flour powders in front of their homes, creating intricate geometric and flower shaped patterns. Very good to be back in South India among familiar sights and sounds.

A woman cried from the side of the street, “mokku mavu, mokku mavu.” She was selling flour for the artful doodles—kolam—to adorn the doorways of homes. Another called from the other side, “malli, kadhambam.” Her sweet-smelling basket held white jasmine and orange flowers along with strands of garland—a medley of yellow mums, green tulsi and violet marikolundu.

Sagai breathed in the pleasing potpourri and the mingling of earthy smells, coffee, teas, spices and frying oil. He left the shade for the shops. Mosquitoes circled and buzzed around stagnant water in the gutter near the buildings. The Suprabatham Hindu chants blasted from All India Radio from a receiver wired onto the small tea shop’s outside wall. He stopped, mesmerized by the melodic chant and the whoosh whoosh of the tea shop owner’s skillful cooling and mixing of the steamy coffee. The man raised one cup high, held one low, then switched the other hand high, the other low. A long line of frothy coffee masterfully streamed from one tumbler to the other. The rhythm of life in Tamil Nadu.

Taking a break from drama and dialogue, I hope I painted the above scene using all of the senses. To improve, Sagai could have sipped the coffee or touched the soft petals.

In a week, I’ll be in India, careful to pay attention to my surroundings. We return to Nagapattinam, where my husband and I were nearly ten years ago, after the tsunami hit South India. I’ll be working on a short non-fiction “then and now book” and my sequel to Crooked Lines. Fiction or nonfiction, painting visual pictures is important, but smells evoke nostalgia, and sounds, taste, touch complete a scene. Don’t forget to paint your word pictures using all of the senses.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Holly Michael, published in various magazines, newspapers, and in Guideposts books has released her debut novel, Crooked Lines. She and her husband, Anglican Bishop Leo Michael, regularly travel from their home in Kansas City to India. She has a grown daughter (Betsy) and two sons who play football. (Jake in the NFL and Nick in college). She and her son, Jake, have a devotional book contracted with Harvest House and scheduled for a fall 2015 release.

To learn more about Holly and her writing, visit her website and blog. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. Crooked Lines is available at amazon, B&N, kobo, and Google Play.

Holly is giving away one copy of Crooked Lines to a U.S. or Canada reader who leaves a comment on this post before midnight Mountain Time, Tuesday, October 28th. The winner will be selected using random.org and the name announced here on Wednesday.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Winner of a copy of "Barbed Wire and Daisies" is.......


Donna blogs at Donna's Book Pub
and has an impressive list of publications with her short stories and essays (see the list in her blog's sidebar).

Congratulations, Donna!!

You have won a copy of Carol Strazer's book

Barbed Wire and Daisies


Monday, October 20, 2014

Writers Support Writers ... by Carol Strazer

Writing is like kayaking. It takes courage for a writer to shove one’s craft into the icy waters of self-doubt.

Encouraged by a writers group, one’s trust and talent grow. Fears are overcome and the challenges of both giving and receiving critical feed-back are skillfully maneuvered like a Class V rapids. A writer, like a kayaker, deserves support from like-minded adventurers. One need not go it alone.

Writers groups offer connections, structure and skill building for aspiring writers. Seven years ago, the Red Feather Lakes Writers Group in Northern Colorado was formed to encourage writers from surrounding communities to express their talents, to improve their craft and to support other writers.

Since then, various professional writers have driven the steep mountain roads to Red Feather Lakes and shared their talents with the group. In addition to sponsoring classes presented by authors and poets, the RFL Writers’ Group has offered public readings and book signings.

Generally, writers are both passionate about their work and enjoy helping other writers to navigate and succeed in the world of publishing. There is an old saying that to truly learn a skill, one must teach it.

Personally and professionally, I have learned a great deal from my membership in writers groups. In addition to organizing the RFL group, I am a member of Northern Colorado Writers and have attended most of their conferences. During our winter stay in Arizona, I developed the Sun City West Writers Group.

Many readers of this blog may already belong to a writers’ group or maybe their participation in social media already satisfies their artistic needs. If not, I recommend joining or creating a writers association. Key elements to look for in a group are: membership, rules and goals. Like-minded members who are not only committed to their own achievements but to facilitate the group’s and its participants’ successes are to be prized.

To learn more about Northern Colorado Writers, visit the website. For information about Sun City West Writers Group contact RH Johnson Library at (623) 544-6130. Call the RFL Community Library at (970) 881-2664 for more information about the Red Feather Lakes Writers Group. All groups are open to new members.

It took me seven years to publish my first novel. I doubt I would have persevered without other writers’ encouragement. To verify the amazing WWII story of a Prussian Mennonite family forced to flee from the brutal Russian army and who escaped to Denmark, I obtained an out-of-print German book. This book and another were German translations of Danish authors who were the only writers that I could find who wrote about the Danish refugee camps. Since no other information about the camps was available in English, I paid a translator who translated by phone while I typed. The broader, largely untold story was that as a result of the Allies’ Yalta and Potsdam agreements some 12 to 15 million ethnic Germans were expelled from their homes.

My story of Barbed Wire & Daisies is fiction based on fact. As the Russian army advances on war-torn Prussia, part of Germany, at the end of WWII, Marike Wiens gathers her four young children and flees. The family boards an overcrowded, disease-infested ship bound for Denmark. On arriving at the Danish refugee camp, though, Marike’s hopes for a safe haven are dashed. Behind the barbed wire, she and her family face starvation, illness, ill treatment and heart-breaking conditions. Marike struggles to keep her family alive while holding onto their Mennonite faith.

I have published numerous articles in local and regional publications and edited a local newsletter. Four of my stories were in Chicken Soup for the Soul books. My essay was a winner in the Woman’s Day and American Library Association’s contest in 2009 and was published in Woman’s Day. Barbed Wire & Daisies is available in eBook and paperback on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. My deepest thanks to Patricia Stoltey for this opportunity to share both my passion for the craft of writing (and kayaking) and for those individuals and groups who support writers.

Carol is giving away one signed paperback copy of Barbed Wire & Daisies to a U.S. or Canada reader who leaves a comment on today's post before midnight Mountain Time, Saturday, October 25th. The winner will be announced here on Sunday.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Tales in Firelight and Shadow

Getting my first short story published in a commercial anthology was just as exciting as getting my first novel contract. I'm still doing my little happy dance from the ebook release, and I'll probably dance a real Irish jig (even though I'm mostly Norwegian) if/when the anthology is released in print.

Here's the cover art for Tales in Firelight and Shadow:



Contents:

Prologue
Mary A. Turzillo - "Pigeon Drop"
Jason Parent - "Moody's Metal"
Patricia Stoltey - "Three Sisters of Ring Island"
Joseph Michael - "Nuckelavee"
Tenea D. Johnson - "Sugar Hill"
James Morrow - "Spinoza's Golem"
Christina St. Clair - "Green Cat"
Alfonso Arteaga - "La Planchada" ["The Woman in the Ironed Dress"]
T.J. Weyler - "Keepers"
Ceschino - "Tailed"
Alexandra Dairo-Brown - "Mercy and the Mermaid"
Novella Serena - "My Bogeyman" montage - "Sans Lake"
A.J. Maguire - "The Nano-Fisherman's Wife"
F. Brett Cox - "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean"
Jennifer L. Julian - "Dance"
Alexis Brooks de Vita - "The Savant"

The opening paragraph of the prologue:

In the dark night of the human soul, a fire is lit and a tale is told, stirred from a chthonic pottage of dirt, blood and terror: the folktale. The flame that simmers our earthly supper does double duty as light through black hours toward the brave sun of day. We feed the body and the faltering spirit with hearth fire, campfire, candlelight, and electricity: flames promising that we are not alone.

The anthology editor and contributor (and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers member) Alexis Brooks de Vita includes this mention of my story:

Oh, but where is that folktale world so fondly recalled from childhood? Right here in Patricia Stoltey's sun-spattered "Three Sisters of Ring Island," a familiar story scraped to its bare bones-so to speak.

You can read the rest of the prologue at the Double Dragon website.

The Tales in Firelight and Shadow ebook is also available from other online booksellers. The links are on the Double Dragon website.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

I Will Take My Heart With Me on the Journey ... by Sarah Reichert

When Pat so graciously invited me to be a guest on her blog, I was excited and nervous. After all, she is an amazing storyteller and I’m a bit of a hack. I’m a mere neophyte in the writing world. So, I began to think about what I could write that may help those fellow novices out there, who are floundering for steady shore.

Like much of what I’ve done in my life, when I started writing (or at least writing with the end-goal of being published in mind) I believed that all I needed was to study all of the books, manuals, and how-to guides I could find. Surely, filling my brain with reference material would elicit the desired result. Like other skills I’d acquired, it was just a matter of following rules and proven methods. And to some extent, that is true. There’s no limit to the varied resources that exist for writers. From writing dynamic dialogues, to outlining solid plot structure, to marketing your self to agents, it’s all out there in unending waves of information.

When I started with this “book learning,” I could see a long road stretching out before me. An overwhelmingly long road. Contradictory advice and constantly changing methods from differing ‘experts,’ and the fast pace of the current information age made my head swim.

All of the inspiration and function were tripping my brain up. I would go into a blank page with ideas of proper sentence structure, character and plot arcs, and deadly sins of first time novelists rushing into the small spaces of my creativity, damming it up like sticks in a creek.

Then one day, I made myself a promise to just write one page a day. The content didn’t matter. Whether it was a journal entry, a poem, an essay, or a first chapter, was of little consequence. It just had to be words. Not even well written ones. I dared to be bad at it. And I met that dare on several occasions. But occasionally, without the constructs and the preplanning, something beautiful would happen.

For all the form and function that is necessary, we must never forget that writing is also an art. It takes a certain amount of intuition, of daydreaming willfulness to cast a story onto the page. It takes gumption and fearlessness to create a character who is not ourselves, and live through them as they would, in a world that’s not our own. It takes the ability to walk hard miles in another’s shoes. To crawl inside the minds of the sick and confused and appreciate their point of view, without losing our own sanity.

Writing requires us to be empathetic to even the most lost of souls, and find their paths to redemption. Sometimes it calls on us to stand idly by while our characters ignore the right choices and suffer through consequences. You cannot learn from any book how to take a reader by the hand and lead them willingly down the path of your story. You can’t be taught how to make them care as deeply as you do for the outcome. That is something that springs up from experience and creating something you love with such terrible ferocity that it seeps through the pages and infects those who read it. Good writing is the unique balance of both function and feeling. It is a heart that leads a reader down paths that are devoid of distraction. This path cannot be shown by reference alone. It must be explored and felt.

I have plenty of paths to trod down still. I’ll have more than my fair share of obstacles along the way. I will always have to look up examples of query letters, and keep “The Elements of Style” handy. But I will take my heart with me on the journey and remember that the soul of a story, whether it sells or not, is the part that makes the writing itself worth the trip.

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Sarah Reichert is a free-lance writer and novelist in Fort Collins, Colorado. A Wyoming native, she’s been writing for over 22 years and recently published her first paranormal romance novel, Fixing Destiny. She is a blogger for the Northern Colorado Writers group, has been featured in The Fort Collins Coloradoan, and recently was published in the Summer 2014 edition of “From The Depths.” Sarah lives with her husband, daughters, a pretentious Siamese, and two lazy hounds in relative and unending chaos. She is currently working on a sequel to her first novel, and hopes to have it available by January 2015.

You can find out more about Sarah at her website and at The Writing Bug blog. She can also be found on Facebook. Her first novel, Fixing Destiny, is available in print and ebook atAmazon.com.