Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Five Things You Should Know About Writing

I recently wrote this as a guest post during my book blog tour and decided it might be worthwhile to re-post. I'll let readers decide. So, here goes...

Most writers will learn as they go, make mistakes and hope to do better the next time. That’s why getting advice from those who are willing to share tips on the craft is so appreciated. Anything to help avoid those pitfalls. Right? There are lots of books on writing, from mechanics to pitching to marketing to whatever you’re looking for. It’s all there. I have a whole library of them myself. Authors networking with authors through social media or in person provides a wealth of knowledge, too. For instance, I belong to the local chapter of Sisters in Crime and I frequent author expos. Writing is such a solitary endeavor. Rubbing shoulders with other authors is like therapy.

It’s difficult to narrow down the multitude of things I’ve gathered during my career in writing—almost twenty years of accumulated knowledge—and I’m still learning, but here you go!

1) Your first attempt may not be worth publishing. Okay, that sounds harsh, but it’s reality. Your writing should get better with time. Like any skill, practice can make perfect. In this instant-gratification society we live in where most of us want to see quick results, hearing someone tell you to wait, write another book or story, try again because next time it will be better is not what we like to hear. Nonetheless, it’s prudent advice.

2) Find something to write about that you love. Here’s the catch. You may love it, but perhaps no one else will. It happens. If your goal is to get something published, understand that it’s a business. No publisher is willing to put X amount of dollars into a project that nobody wants to read and thus makes zero profit. Unless you’re writing purely for your own pleasure and never plan to sell, find something to write that you love and readers love.

3) Writing one project takes so much time, so much effort, but may gain so little reward. You can write and suffer through it enough to draw blood. It can take you from months to years to write one book. Nobody out there in the writing/publishing world cares. Readers don’t think when they consider buying your book how much time you spent on it, how many hours you sweated and slaved. They want a great read at a real bargain. Bottom line? If you love writing, you’ll keep doing it no matter what the reward.

4) It only gets harder. Did I say the writing gets better? Yes, I did. Here’s the thing. You improve and you expect more of yourself. Make sense? It’s like earning all A’s in school. Now, everyone including yourself expects A’s in the future, and forever! You can’t help it. The naïve writer you once were, the one who didn’t know you should be cautious of how many times you use words like that, then, would or could, or recognize the difference between showing and telling, that person has been replaced by a wiser and craftier writer. That person won’t be satisfied with mediocre. Yeah, it only gets harder, but your writing gets better!


5) Writing can become an obsession. What do you mean? I can walk away from it at any moment. Yeah, think again. If you’re passionate about it, you’ll have a tough time giving it up. I say this from my experience, but I have heard other authors argue the same. You’ll think, sleep, eat writing, create little scenarios in your head, recognize great story ideas everywhere—the six o’clock news, the man talking on the phone next to you at the bus station, the bickering couple at the table across from you at the restaurant, the stories are everywhere and you can’t stop them from invading your imagination. They beg to be written. Yep. It’s an obsession, but you’ll probably love it. At least I do.  

Enjoy your week! 

Monday, May 30, 2016

In Memory of ... a Time to Reflect

I normally don't do this, but it's Memorial Day and I'm getting older. Time does that to a person, especially during occasions like holidays, weddings, birthdays, and sadly, funerals. We remember the past. Today I'm thinking of family who served during war -- WWII and the Korean War come to mind. 

Uncle Pete (Momchilov) was my mom's brother. I didn't get a chance to know him very well. He died when I was twelve. He flew planes during WWII, was shot down a couple of times, but survived it all. Pete loved flying. After the war he went on to pilot commercial flights, small charters and such. Sadly and ironically, he died from a heart attack during one of those flights. His co-pilot was able to land the plane safely. Pete was only in his forties. He loved his country and flying. That's what I'll remember most about him.

I have three brothers, all many years older than I. My oldest, Art Schake, served in the army during WWII. I don't know anything about the time he served. I wasn't born yet, but I've seen photos. He looked so handsome in his uniform. He came out of the Army and continued to serve his country in another way, by becoming a police officer. That remained his occupation for thirty-some years. Unfortunately, he passed away in his early sixties and didn't get a chance to enjoy more than a few years of retirement. However, he lived a full and joyful life, loved by family and friends, appreciated by citizens and country. 

My middle brother, Bob, is a quiet, dignified, and intelligent man. I can't even imagine him being in a war, but he served during the Korean conflict for several years. I was only four when he sent home gifts, including the outfit you see me wearing in the photo. I loved it and wanted to wear it all the time! I imagine it was quite a culture shock living in a foreign country for years. It must have been comforting having fellow soldiers around him, giving support and boosting morale. I'm sure he came back after he served, a wiser man, more worldly. He went on to further his education on the G.I. Bill, one of the benefits of serving the military. He found a job at Firestone Tire in Akron, worked his way to the top and ended up the VP of Purchasing for Dunlop Tire. 

My youngest brother, Jim, may have wanted to serve in the military (I don't know for sure), but a health condition prevented him from doing so. He made up for it in other ways, becoming a viable and contributing citizen, raising a family, and working for a local company, Reiter Dairy. He's retired and has lived to enjoy seeing his three daughters marry and have children of their own. 

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that we all have different stories to tell, but also we have one thing in common: being proud of our loved ones who've served and knowing the sacrifices they've made helped make this country great. 

Have a wonderful Memorial Day and honor your veterans!

*I apologize in advance for any facts I may have gotten wrong. In any case, I'm sure my brothers will let me know, if I did! LOL

Friday, May 20, 2016

Let's Count ... What's in Your Toolbox?

A writer's toolbox is special. Think about it. A doctor has her medical bag. A teacher carries her briefcase of lesson plans, papers to grade, utensils, etc. A lawyer, an accountant, a carpenter, a plumber, and the list goes on forever -- all of them need tools. Right? Tools get the job done. 

A writer is no different. What's important to us may vary, but the tools are there to help us plan, create, write, edit, until we complete the WIP. I like my tools. I keep them close by and use them frequently. What are they? Well, let's take a look...

1) Laptop -- I used to write out stories longhand, then type them. Eventually, I decided going straight to the keyboard saved me time and made the changes a cinch to read! Okay, yes. I'll admit it. I can't help but edit as I write. Some say it interrupts the flow of the story. I say the story won't take one step further if I don't correct what I see as glaring errors!

2) Outline -- I'm a planner. Used to be a pantser. Planning keeps me from writing myself into a horrible, confusing corner that would take erasing several chapters and starting over at that point to fix. So, a detailed, chapter by chapter outline it is, resting next to my laptop!

3) Sticky Notes -- This is where I will sound a bit fanatical, but I use these for brief chapter notes. I know what you're thinking. I've already outlined, so isn't this redundant? Not exactly. It's true my outline is a lengthier version of my stickies. However, the most important reason for them is to help me keep track of my story timeline. On each one, I write a few words about the chapter and include the date. Then I stick them along the edge of my bookshelf where I can give them a quick glance when I'm trying to figure out how many days have passed since such and such event happened, or which event occurred in what chapter. 

4) Character List -- I like to reference my story's characters and their descriptions, especially the minor ones, which may sound illogical but these are the ones who may not appear that often in the story. Chances are I may forget their names! It happens in my world.

5) yWriters5 -- I use this software program because it's free. Yes, I'm thrifty, frugal, oh heck, I'm cheap. Otherwise I would be using Scrivener. In any case, whatever one chooses, a program where you can enter in all the fun stuff -- outline, summary, characters and their descriptions, etc. It helps a planner like me, or a pantser who needs reforming. lol

6) The Emotional Thesaurus by Ackerman & Puglisi -- Yes, I occasionally get stuck in the muck when choosing my words and expressions. I take a look through this reference for help now and again, though I do put my creative mind through a major workout to come up with my own ideas first! Can't let that brain muscle become lazy ;-) 

7) My writer's mug -- Actually, I have three now, but my favorite is this one. They're great for inspiration or just some comical relief. 

8) Writing Utensils -- I wouldn't be complete without these. I scribble across my outline all the time, in the margins, between the lines, anywhere I find white space. It's my obsession to change words and ideas constantly! 

9) Last but absolutely not least are the abstract essentials -- imagination, perseverance, confidence, and a thick alligator skin to protect against criticism, naysayers, and all around Debbie-downers. Who needs them? 

Okay, so those are my tools, what about yours? I'd love to hear. In the meantime, I'm going to be book blogging with Reading Addiction Book Tours starting in a little over a week from now. Hope you'll stop by some or all of the blogs hosting me. I'm even going to write a couple of guest posts! Should be a fun time :-) 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Authors Inspire Authors and Where You May Find Creativity -- Book Festivals

Happy Monday! I wanted to write this post because it involves all things positive. Well, almost all. A great way to jump start the week. Right? Anyway, I attended an author expo at a local library on Saturday. Somewhere around forty authors attended. Tables were decorated with books, tons of swag, bookmarks, and candy, animated chatter of authors talking to authors echoed off the walls and down the halls from floor to floor, sharing ideas, experiences, lamenting about lagging book sales, the dismal pricing of what we put so much time, effort and creative sweat into that goes mostly unnoticed. Did I have fun? You betcha!

This is my crew, my playground, my chance to reconnect with like-minded people. The book sales are icing on what's already a very delicious seven-layered cake. (Yes, I do tend to speak in dessert metaphors. Don't judge.) So, what's the deal, you ask? Here's a rundown in list format:

1) Authors think alike. We speak the lingo and completely understand one another. If you're skeptical at why this is such a big deal, try talking about books, publishing, who's in, who's out, the challenges of waiting for the CALL, where to find readers, etc. to your significant other and see the puzzled expression on his/her face. Or the response: "So what? You write a book, sell it and make lots of money. Isn't that how it goes? And penguin is a bird species. Why are you talking about birds?" *sigh* It's really like that.

2) It's a let's-trade-ideas moment, social-networking. How great is this?! I gain a lot of knowledge and writerly tips from other authors. Make new contacts, which can lead to even more writerly tips and ideas. For instance, this Saturday I learned about another site where I can buy printed materials, and also the names of a couple of local conferences. I never leave without some valuable info.

3) A chance to socialize is therapeutic. Those who write for a living know that it's a solitary activity. You admittedly resort to carrying on conversations with yourself and staying in PJs all day. And when was the last time you showered? Five chapters ago? (I'm picturing scenes of a disheveled Johnny Depp in The Secret Window.) Socializing is a chance to reconnect with someone other than your characters, though the real ones may not always agree with you ;-)

4) Inspiration, i.e. you're energized. Okay, this will sound weird, but when I visit friends and family, see their pretty, neat houses, I go home, take a look at the clutter, and then become Suzy Homemaker ... at least for the day! I guess it's no surprise that when I hear about the books and projects belonging to other authors, it inspires me. Sure enough, when I got home Saturday ... well, maybe not Saturday because after several hours of jabbering about books, I came home and crashed! Anyway, the next day I hammered out the outline for current WIP, Don't Judge a Con by Her Cover and wrote chapter one this morning! It can work like that.

Yes, good things happen at author festivals. Give 'em a chance. 

Have a great and productive week, be creative and write! 

UPDATE: Mother-in-law is doing great with her rehab! May come home at the end of the month. Here's to staying healthy :-) 

Monday, April 25, 2016

It's a Con's Life

When digging into any new project, I make a well-intended effort to do some research. I research the general topic of the story. I research things I may want my MC to have -- skills, lifestyle, mannerisms, etc. I research setting info, historical references, plausible murder scenarios, and oh, the list goes on. Yes, I do make a well-intended effort ... at driving myself crazy! It's a writer thing, after all. 

So. Here it is, the kind of weirdness my over-stimulated, over-imaginative brain comes up with late at night when I should be getting sleep. I want to write about cons. Yes. A murder mystery/suspenseful thriller/slightly comedic/insane novel series about con artists. Don't judge me. The idea has merit. AND it just so happens to be very trendy right now. (Insert evidence: Evanovich/Goldberg -- The Heist; Ally Carter -- Heist Society; TV series -- The Catch ... just to name a few). Besides, I enjoy writing such fun stuff. Humor is my thing, which I must indulge on occasion. 

Anyway, back to research. I found lots online about con artists, con jobs, heists, famous cons, names for schemes, tips to run a con, and even how to figure out if your significant other is a con in disguise. Okay, scratch "in disguise". It's redundant because ALL con artists are in disguise. It's what they do. They lie, but they convince you they are telling you nothing but the truth. They always say the right thing, romance you, please you.They are the original Smooth Operators. (Sade song reference fits well here.) So what if they are notorious liars and thieves? They do have a code of con ethics. Yep. You heard me. Cons have ethics. Well, not in the normal sense you and I have ethics, but the rules exist. Like, never con an honest person. Or, never keep secrets from your con family. I find it hard to believe that last one. I mean, they lie. Right?

Oh, and cons have their own how-to book. For instance, when focusing on a mark (that's the victim, in case you don't know con jargon) you should look for his/her weakness. It could be greed, loneliness, insecurity, and other traits easy to manipulate. You need to know everything about your mark. Their habits, likes, dislikes, family, job, even which side of the bed they sleep on, if it helps you pull off the con. Everything. Things as simple as how you should always control the conversation, all while making your mark think HE controls the conversation. Geesh

But wait. I'm not finished. I found a long and exhaustive list of the types of cons used. Yes. They have names. Like Badger Game where the mark is put in a compromising position, then the con takes pictures and blackmails the mark. Or Salting the Mine when a con plants valuable gems in the mine to convince the mark it's worth the investment. There is Mellon Drop, and Pigeon Drop, and Three Card Monte. So many to choose from! Does your head hurt yet? Mine does. I'm sure you've all heard of Cat Phishing. It's been in the news a lot. Where someone friends you on the internet, pretending to be someone he/she is not, getting you to fall in love, and probably ready to scam you for money. "Oh yes. I want to come to America and be with you, but I don't have the money. My family is poor. All we have are the chickens and the goats to trade. Please send money so I can come and we can be together, my love." Of course, it's a con and the lonely people (refer to list of weaknesses above) will fall for it. 

This brings me to what I really wanted to write. Hmm. I do take the long way around, don't I? So, with my over-stimulated, over-imaginative brain running full throttle during this research, I began to wonder what if I've been conned? Or how easily I could be, given the right circumstance and a very cagey, shifty, perhaps gorgeously handsome con artist tempting me. It could happen. They say senior citizens are the prey of con schemes like insurance fraud, fake contests, home improvement scams, etc, and all ready to be cheated out of those meager social security and pension checks. Only takes a bit of naivete and a kind-hearted soul to fall for it. 

Well, let me say this lady is a little wiser after gathering all the con-wise info. I'll just give a twist to Tip Number 2 from the how-to-con manual: Do your research and learn everything about your ... con. I may be kind-hearted and older, but I'm not stupid. At least I hope not! Okay, back to learning about a con's life and "scheming" ways to write this story! Should be fun. :-)

Happy reading and writing, all! Enjoy your week. I'm off to Medina Library on Saturday the 30th for a super author expo. If you're a local, come visit with me. We'll talk mystery, murder, and stuff about cons. ;-)

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Problem With Planning, i.e. Life

All right. First, I'm not the type to whine or complain ... especially on social media. Oh, don't get me wrong. I DO complain and whine in private. Plenty. I mean, who doesn't? Those times when things don't go well, zigged when I should've zagged, turned right when it should've been left, took the winding, curvy path when the straight line was right there in front of me. OR life took over, events totally out of my control happened with no personal choice allowed. Yes, ah yes. This is what I mean. 

I finished watching the television mini series based on Stephen King's novel 11.22.63. And before you ask, I did read the book a couple of years ago. And before you ask the other question, yes, the book is better. The book is always better. (except for Braveheart ... how such a tiny, tiny book could be made into such an epic film still impresses me). Anyway, to the point. King writes about the obdurate past, how that stubborn ass b**ch keeps messing with the MC's agenda. I chewed on that for awhile, the obdurate past concept, and finally decided it's all true. Life is full of the obdurate, only in our present and future. Forget the past. Nobody gets to fall into the rabbit hole and partake in a rerun of days gone by. Nope. Except in fiction. I love the idea and one day may write a time travel novel ... but I'm off on a tangent, again. Sorry. 


I like structure and planning, but I also enjoy the impromptu, the impulsive moments in my life. However, when I make plans I'd sure like to see them through in a timely manner, according to ... well, the plan I went to all the bother to create. Geesh. Like my writing, for instance. It would be grand if it went smoothly like this: 1)develop synopsis and outline; 2)establish a timeline to proceed with writing; 3)write chapters according to timeline; 4)edit; 5)repeat edit; 6)final reading; 7)send my precious baby off to agent; 8)start new project while I wait on news about previous project. Yeah, something like that. 


But then life happens. And you all know what I mean. Some of us are more disciplined than others. I will admit that can be part of my problem. Best of intentions and all that stuff. I'm Nemo. I'm swimming along, intent on my path, then BAM! Oh! Would you look at that? Maybe I'll take a quick peek and ... There I go, off track, zigging when I should've been zagging, turning when I should've gone straight. *Sigh* Life. 


P.S. Despite all this diversionary rambling, I have completed a second novel in my Shades of Blue mystery series. And I have mapped out a synopsis for a new cozy series: #1 entitled ... wait for it ... Don't Judge a Con by Her Cover. (Cute, right?) So, I'm not gonna be too hard on myself. Just a little hard. Okay?


**This post is dedicated to my dear mother-in-law, Dolores. She broke her hip and is doing the rehab thing in a nice facility. She's a brave, strong lady. Go Dolores! And don't take the twisty, winding path. You've got this :-

Monday, April 4, 2016

Spring Cleaning, i.e. Dusting Off the Author Props

It's spring cleaning time! No. Not what you're thinking. I'm truly no Suzy Homemaker, so the thrill of pulling out the sweeper, duster, polish, cleaners, sponges ... Yuk. Not even a hint of excitement there. Instead, I will gather my books, bookmarks, posters, book stands, fliers, sign-up sheets, my notes, and all author swag ... oh, and my roll-away suitcase to put said items into thus making it easy to transport the whole thing to my ... drum roll please ... AUTHOR EVENTS! Yes indeedy! I'm giddy just thinking about it. 

Spring is my time, my venue, the beginning of my yearly trek. Time to roll out the carpet and send my book babies out into the world of wonderful readers. I've come out of winter hibernation, yawning, sleepy eyed, and grumpy, but now I'm fully alert! 


So, ahem, I'd humbly like to share what experience has given me with regard to those glorious opportunities when authors may present their work, share their experiences in writing, in publishing, and a whole bunch of stuff readers want to know. It's not so hard really. Frightening? Yeah, it can be. Many writers are shy creatures. We hide behind our stories, or in them *grin*. It's much easier dealing with our characters, the ones we like to think we control -- what they do, say, feel. Oh, and they don't talk back! Well, most of the time. But it's not so hard. Discouraging? Well, yeah. It can be that, too. You may end up with only a couple visitors. Still, you talk to them, even if only one shows up! It's not so hard. In fact, it can be the best experience ever. Sharing what you love, talking about it to people who are truly interested, that's like the joy of Christmas, New Years, Easter, Fourth of July and all holidays put together! 


Now is the point when I say what works for me may work for you. Or not. Everyone is different. It's my nickle, so here goes:


*Think of what you'd like to talk about, (include a brief bio; readers love to know you as a regular person). Library signings give you this opportunity more so than at retail venues like bookstores and coffee shops or at multi-author events. In preparing for this, I might practice in front of the mirror. Yeah, I know, rather silly, but it helps me. Also, I try to list some possible questions people may ask. Here are a few:


    --- What inspired you to start writing?
    --- How did you come up with the idea for this book?
    --- Do you base your characters on any people in your life?
    --- How many books have you written?
    --- How do you feel about self-publishing vs. traditional?
    --- Do you have a favorite author?
    --- What are you writing now?

*And ALWAYS set aside time for guests to ask those questions.


*IF no one asks, here's where you say, "One question I often get asked is _______." And then answer it. (Classic teaching strategy I used in the classroom. It works great to kill the silence.)


*OR turn the tables on them and ask your guests questions. Who's your favorite author? Do any of you write or plan to pursue publishing a book or story? Just a couple examples.


*Consider reading a passage from your book, if there's time. (Again, this caters to library signings.) But please keep it short -- five minutes works for me. You don't want to see the guests' eyes glaze over, right? 


*Bring dollar bills. If you plan to sell your books and if people pay cash, you may need change.


*Remember to thank everyone for coming!

*Oh, and arrive early. You want to set up your space with all the pretty books, bookmarks, posters, book stands, fliers, sign-up sheets, author swag ... Yeah, you got this! Now, rock on, wonderful authors, and dig into your spring cleaning!