Saturday, August 30, 2014
Thursday, August 28, 2014
|Lesley A. Diehl|
I’ve been writing and publishing for about ten years. Lately I’ve found that my writing has changed in ways that I don’t think readers would be aware of, but I am. I’ve said that I’m “mining my family” for my ideas and my characters, but it’s more than that. My work is coming from a place closer to my center.
The first advice I ever received when I began writing fiction was to write what I know. Since I was a retired psychologist, it seemed clear that meant I should use my career as the basis for my work. The first manuscript I wrote featured a professor of psychology as an amateur sleuth. She was, as you would imagine, me in a younger, feistier, more in-your-face persona. Not a bad character, but the manuscript was originally well over one hundred thousand words. You guessed it. I didn’t know how to write fiction. The work got no interest from agents and editors. They were wise not to want to bore their readers.
So what else did I know? Early in my career I ran a part-time private practice, so I had some clinical experience and an interest in multiple personality or dissociative identity disorder. I constructed a story about a multiple, the dominant personality written in first person, the alternates in third person. That’s not an uncommon approach now, but at that time, although some agents thought it was an enticing idea, I was a newbie with no fiction writing credentials. And I made the story humorous which horrified some agents. And that one went nowhere also.
I decided I had run out of what I knew, so I carefully researched a protagonist for the first book a small publishing house bought. The research was fun because my protagonist was a microbrewer. Now I knew nothing about craft brewing, but I learned fast by touring small breweries in New York and Florida and picked brewers’ minds and sampled their products.
I seemed to find my humorous voice in a series set in rural Florida, a story about a retired preschool teacher turned bartender who was a winter visitor to Florida. Emily Rhodes found the fields of cattle, the lakes, swamps and the honest nature of the people to her liking, and she adopted rural Florida as her home much as I had. I loved it so much that I set another series there with a protagonist who owned a consignment shop and who loved secondhand merchandise. So do I. Where did that come from? My paternal grandmother liked to reuse things even her daughter’s clothes which were sizes too big for her, but she adjusted them with scotch tape, safety pins, staples and some basting thread. She taught me at a young age about repurposing, reusing, reclaiming and rehabbing everything from clothes to furniture. Suddenly, writing my Eve Appel consignment shop owner protagonist seemed like I was coming home. At the same time I wrote several Thanksgiving short stories about a red-haired aunt of Amazonian proportions and a couple of quirky grandmothers as the major characters. They really were my family, albeit a bit exaggerated. Recently I learned that the fourth story featuring my “Aunt Nozzie” will be published in yet another Thanksgiving anthology.
The writing process felt different because it seemed to come from deep inside me where all my childhood memories of family resided. These bits and pieces of my life seemed to be aching to become a story.
Not all childhood remembrances are happy ones. In my case the joyful times find their way into funny stories. Others are percolating around in my psyche waiting for a darker vehicle for expression. Perhaps I’m finding yet another writing voice, one of dark humor and noir atmosphere. Regardless, as a writer I think I’m writing nearer to what is important to me—family. It’s always found its way into my work, but now it feels more genuinely mine.
I wonder how your writing has evolved. Is my journey similar to yours?
Monday, August 25, 2014
There are two more on the horizon.
The Blessing of Charlie Sand was written by Amanda Smyth, a Trinidadian-Irish author whose first book, Lime Tree Can't Bear Orange was picked by Oprah Winfrey as one of the 25 must read books of summer in 2009. Charlie Sand is a lovely tale of the ebbs and flows of friendship between two boys is set in Trinidad. It will move readers, both young and old. This book will be released in November 2014.
Oh Gad was recently featured on NPR's Sunday morning programme. Musical Youth placed second in the 2014 Burt Award for Caribbean Literature and will be released in November 2014. The photo on the left shows Joanne and I shaking on our agreement to have CaribbeanReads publish her manuscript.
There is more to come, but I will save a little for later.
Friday, August 22, 2014
- Romance writing is generally looked down upon by the rest of the writing establishment, and by academia. (See Romance Schromance: Do Romance Novels Have Any Literary Value?)
- And then there's this: romance is just one of the genres in which I write.
I write mystery. I've started a mystery novel that I'm very excited about. It's set on a fictitious Caribbean island and explores the other side of the tourist destination ethos of the region: no smiling 'natives' serving drinks with umbrellas but real people with real struggles, out of control violent crime, white collar corruption, and yes, a little realistic romance.
I write memoir. I've written one on raising my son and it's awaiting a final edit before I submit it anywhere.
I write literary fiction. One of my short stories has been published in a literary journal, another was shortlisted for a lit prize, and several others are cooling their heels on my hard drive. One of my WIPs is a novel which draws on my family history and may be categorized as literary, women's fiction or mainstream. Not sure yet.
I write science fiction. Just one so far. Yup, surprised me too, but I woke up with the story in my head and could not get it out. So I wrote it. Not sure yet what exactly I should do with it, and don't know if I'll be writing any more.
I write poetry. I don't consider myself a poet, but I've always written 'poemish' things. Last year I took a poetry writing class and although I got an A I still don't consider myself a poet. Not too sure what I'll do with that collection of sonnets, haikus, tankas, ballads, acrostics, villanelles, dramatic monologues, modified forms and free verse, but it sure was fun writing them.
I write flash fiction. Submitted my favorite here, and I see more FF in my future.
Seven genres, and I've probably overlooked a couple others. I was told by a well-meaning friend years ago that I should stick to one genre and develop a fan base there before moving into other genres. But I'm wayward. I write what I want, when I want. And with the growth of indie publishing, I can also publish what I want, when I want. Am I making money doing my own thing? Very little thus far. Am I happy doing things my way? You bet I am.
Do you stick to one genre? Or do you juggle multiple genres like I do?
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
If you don't follow the science fiction industry you can be excused for not knowing about the Hugo Award. The award is named for Hugo Gernsback, a man often credited as being the, or at least a, father of science fiction (which he originally called "scientifiction"). His contribution to the establishment of science fiction as a recognized genre was not creative – or at least not creative in the way H.G. Wells's or Jules Verne's contributions were creative. He was a businessman who, early in the 20th century, recognized the popularity – and profit potential – of stories we today call science fiction and began the first pulp magazine devoted to them. Actually he founded three. I've read that Gernsback's recipe for a good science fiction story was three parts story to one part science (even if the science was sometimes little more than a stand-in for magic). As an editor he had an eye for stories that inspired readers' imagination and made scientists more heroic than they had ever been before.
Gernsback did well for himself as an editor and publisher mostly by cutting every corner he could (his cheapness was the stuff of legends), paying writers and artist almost nothing (when he paid them at all), and generally living by an "all's fair" business ethic. As nearly as I can tell, no one who ever worked for or with the man had fond memories of the experience. But his popularizing of what had been a marginal type of story, motivating a generation of youngsters to want to be scientists, and giving the first great names among science fiction writers their (unpaid) start is what he's remembered for today.
This year – as with just about every award ever bestowed anywhere for any reason – the announcement of the winners was not greeted with universal approval and acclaim by the general public. There were murmurings of cronyism, or of politically motivated choices, or of votes indicating popularity of the writer rather than the merits of the works, or that only safe stories that didn't challenge the establishment were selected, or, or, or, ... and could we at least get through something without Game of Thrones winning?
I have no opinion on this year's Hugo Awards – I haven't read a single one of the nominated novels, novellas, novelettes, short stories, graphic novels, or related works. I will say that two people I like won in their categories and two other people I like didn't win in theirs and leave it at that.
The winners of the Hugo Awards are decided by vote. This year they were decided by about 2,500 votes cast exclusively by members of the World Science Fiction Society. What does it take to become part of this august body? $50. That's the annual fee for the lowest level of membership in the WSFS. But if that's all it takes, how come only 2,500 people voted? The WSFS has to have more members than that. I'm sure it does. I'm also sure that if every single member voted, they'd still be a statistically insignificant fraction of the number of people who read the books or stories or graphic novels and saw the movies and TV shows. The number of votes can't be that important; after all, the Oscars are awarded based on the votes of only six thousand people. (Note I foreshadowed this point by linking the Hugo to the Oscar in the opening sentence.) Of course this is a false comparison. With the exception of the honorary members, the people who make up the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – the folk who vote for the Academy Award of Merit, aka Oscar – are all professionals in the industry who understand the craftsmanship and effort that went into the productions on which they vote. (Of course, statistically their mostly white men over sixty, but that's an issue for another column.)
In other words, the Oscar is voted on by six thousand professional peers of the nominees and the Hugo is voted on by twenty-five hundred fans of the nominees willing to pay $50 for the ballot.
Am I saying the Hugo Award is meaningless? Of course not. The Hugo may not be all that the WSFS would want it to be – and it's certainly not on a par with the Oscar – but no award is meaningless.
Not only can winning an award be a validation of your own work, it becomes part of your public identity – your brand as a writer. Awards and award winners have an affect on people – even those who don't have a clear idea what the award is about. Even being nominated for an award elevates the writer in the eyes of the buying public – which is why you see "nominated for...." on so many ads. Being a finalist carries weight – a potential reader unsure of choosing between unknown writers will feel a little safer plunking down $9.99 for a title that made the finals. And of course, once you've won an award you are forever an award-winning author.
So go for those regional, themed, and literary competitions. Check each one out first – it's basic common sense to make sure it's legitimate and respected; there are a lot of scams out there. If an entrance fee is required, use your own judgment as to whether or how much you're willing to pay. It's gratifying to have someone else nominate one of your published works, but writing specifically for a contest helps you build the discipline for finishing what you start, meeting guidelines and expectations, and delivering a story on deadline. It's all about developing professional standards.
And boosting your award-winning brand.
Saturday, August 16, 2014
Kind of a bummer, right?
Maybe you’ve got kids, and all of the responsibilities that come with them. Yeah, they want to eat every so often, and they’re always growing out of the clothes you buy them, and there are those times when they need to demonstrate to you how the homework they’re doing is far and away beyond anything with which you might be able to offer assistance.
Pretty humbling, that.
So, in and around all of the other demands on your daily schedule, you still need to find time to write. How do you do it? Where do you strike the balance?
For me, my preferred time to write is early in the day. Reality, however, has seen fit to laugh at my personal wishes. It seemed that no matter how early I would try rolling out of bed and hitting the keyboard in the hopes of logging a few hundred words before the day got to cranking on all cylinders, one of my darling offspring would wander down the stairs and into my inner sanctum for some Daddy-Daughter Cartoon Time. Sometimes, this happened early enough that it became Daddy-Daughter Crappy Late Night Infomercial Time.
In recent years, my most productive writing time tends to come late in the evening. After everyone else in the house has gone to bed, I’ll close the door to my home office, take up position in my favorite recliner with my laptop, and pound keys until my eyes cross. On a good night I can work for three or four solid hours before heading to bed. That tends to be my weeknight schedule when I’m working on a novel, and I supplement that with a few hours on a Saturday at the local library. If I’m collaborating with my writing partner, it’s not unusual for us to retreat to his apartment on a Sunday, where he’ll work in his office and I’ll set up shop on his living room couch, and we’ll work separately with the occasional interruption for comparing notes, brainstorming an idea, eating chicken wings, or all of the above.
I’ve also gotten really adept at seizing whatever rogue writing opportunities present themselves. Lunch breaks during the week, sitting in a doctor’s waiting room or in the airport terminal or even on the airplane flight itself, or during the two hours when I’m perched on the bleachers at my daughters’ martial arts school. That last one usually ends up being a very productive session, because the school doesn’t offer access to the internet, so there are no social media distractions. Huzzah!
While I can and do engage in these guerilla writer tactics, conducting hit-and-run ambushes on my laptop while on my way to and from other activities or obligations, my bread-n-butter writing time comes during those late evening hours. It’s what works for me.
What about you? How do you balance your writing time with the other demands on your life?
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Thursday, August 7, 2014
In some ways this is the only way to start. With optimism, and the delusion that the light at the end of the tunnel is fame and fortune, not an on coming train.
Time and experience often crushes these idea. But authors who are dedicated, and who are writing because they love writing, will persevere. You may never get on the New York Times Bestseller list, but you might get published a different route, be it from a small press, self publishing, or one of The Big Five.
Monday, August 4, 2014
Lauren says that according to Cunningham research, finding someone who reads is like dating a thousand souls, and that if you date someone who reads, then you, too, will live a thousand different lives. It also mentions that readers are more intelligent. I won't argue that!
I'm sure that some of my avid readers like Orsayor Simmons, Sharon Simmons, Antionette Gates and others can relate!
Please offer any feedback if you have any thoughts on this!
LINK: Falling In Love With Readers - Elite Daily
Friday, August 1, 2014
“Zapped!” Danger in the cell” which was released by Caribbeanreads Publishing on July 17th. There is a lot of skepticism about the value of a book launch party, but I’m trying it anyway.
So why am I having a launch party for this novel when I never had it for my past titles? There are multiple reasons. My first novel debuted five years ago on my birthday. And I did have a party, it was just not a book launch or book release party… it was just an ordinary birthday party. At that time, I had no idea what a launch party was until a few days later when one of my relatives asked about a launch party.
In addition to my naiveté, I was hoping to keep my “writer’s” identity separate from my professional identity. I had no idea what impact writing fiction especially romance would have on my career as a scientist. Finally, back then my book was published by a large publishing house with built in distribution. Of course at the time my approach to writing was as a hobby. I was one of the lucky ones. I wrote a book, sent it to a-million-and-one publishers. After the hundredth rejection, I wrote another and did the same thing. This one got taken up by Dorchester Publishing and the rest is history. I was not intimately involved in the publishing. I submitted, edited, received galleys and poof! … a book was on the shelves of all major bookstores including Walmart.
For this book it is different. I’m using a small publisher without the major distribution networks of the major publishing houses. I have been intimately involved with all creative aspects from the writing to illustrations, to the cover art, to formats etc. And without the distribution of a major publishing house, I know I have to be my primary promoter. In terms of identity, well, I’m not trying to separate the identities any more. This being a science adventure novel aimed at educating kids amalgamates all aspects of my professional life as an author, a scientist, and an educator. And then there is my co-author to consider. I’m not the sole author on this one; my eleven-year-old daughter who harassed me to write and publish it and now is getting cold feet when I mention promotion, is the co-author on this novel.
Thus when my sister suggested a launch party I immediately researched it. I noticed authors had differing opinions on the utility of a launch party. For some, they consider it a money sink – a huge investment for little gains. For others, there were success stories in getting the books in the hands of readers whether or not there were major sales at the launch.
So I decided on a more intimate launch party, not at a library or book store or some extravagant venue. I’m doing it tomorrow at my sister’s home. It’s going to be a casual affair and since the book is geared at kids, there will be activities for kids. We’ve invited a targeted audience: people with kids in the target age as well as teachers and administrators of book clubs who can recommend the books for their students and club members. And of course we invited our friends and family.
Will it work? That’s left to be seen. But eliminating the expensive venue has kept cost down. Integrating it with the celebration of my birthday, means even if it is not a successful launch party, we would have one heck of a birthday party. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a win-win situation!
I’ll let you know how it went in the comment section. In the meanwhile, if any of you have had a book launch/book release/book signing party, let me know how it went and what impact it had on your book sales.