Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Blog is Dead....Long Live the Blog!

I was sitting around, pondering what to blog about today, when I got an email notice that my fantabulous Southern Magic chapter was conducting a survey about our blog. This blog. This very one.

I started answering, then paused and went back to the stats pages to study the history of this blog. Which posts had gotten lots of hits. Which ones hadn't. How much engagement there was, really, outside our own chapter members.

Back in the olden days (you know, two or three years ago), blogs were THE thing. The key to the elusive "platform," the thing every author should have in order to build that platform. In December 2009, fresh from signing my first contract and told by my publisher to "build a platform," I started a blog. However, the whole "build-a-blog-and-they-will-come" thing didn't work so well.

I struggled to find topics to write about. I wrote about my dogs. My day job. My first book, which was still two years away from actually being released (having signed with a fine but decidedly slow publisher). Then I stopped blogging, started again, stopped again. I blogged about writing. A few people read it, but I think they were stumbling past it on the way to somewhere else.

As 2012 approached, I decided to take the whole blogging thing seriously. I targeted who I wanted to reach: readers of paranormal and urban fantasy. I upped the frequency to six times a week. I gave away books and books and more books...not just my books, but books in my genre by other authors. I cross-promoted on Twitter, not having found (and still not finding) Facebook to be a great generator of blog traffic. Slowly, over three years, I built a readership. It's not huge, but it's there. Quite a few of the regular readers are people I have come to consider friends, even if we've never met in person.

But the blog is growing a little stale, and I'm again struggling to figure out what to put on it. So the chapter's examination of this blog echoes some of the questions I'm asking myself. Who's reading the blog? What I can we do to attract more readers to it? What can I do to make it fun for the folks who do read it?

For a blog such as this one, where there are many authors writing different genres, what do the blog readers want to see--more genre-specific material? Less? Writing advice? General life-of-the-author stuff? And how do we bring in more traffic and keep them engaged? Is our purpose to advance ourselves as authors? To help other authors on their own road to publication? To attract new members to Southern Magic? To reach our own chapter members?

Lots of questions to answer. Lots of thinking to do.

I don't think the blog is dead as an author platform in general, but I do think it has to evolve and--like everything we do as schedules grow busier and social media morphs and twists--it has to be evaluated for its effectiveness.

After my own self-examination, I've determined that my own blog has life left in it and I plan to keep it. It's something I enjoy, even though I don't get to spend as much time with it as I'd like. It helps me build subscribers to my newsletter. I've cut blogging back from six days a week to five (or four if the day job is misbehaving) because I discovered Fridays were a low-readership day. I'm searching for ways to broaden it to include other fiction genres since I'm writing suspense now as well as paranormal, but haven't figured that out yet.

So, hey. HEY! Is anyone out there? What are your thoughts on blogs? If you're an author, what entices you to read a blog post? If you're a reader, what do you want to see from an author blog post--and would you follow a blog with a broad variety of authors or prefer to stick with your favorite genres and individual authors?

Inquiring bloggers want to know! And because I'm a firm believer in bribery, leave a comment and enter the rafflecopter form for a chance at a $10 gift card to the online book retailer of your choice. Open internationally!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Writing in Both Category and Literary Fiction

I began my career in romance, and after writing more than fifty romantic comedies, I branched out to cozies with the Southern Cousins Mystery series. With the common denominator of comedy, the transition from character-driven love stories to plot-driven cozies was easy for me.
Typically, I can write a Southern Cousins cozy in six to eight weeks. And that includes built-in time for family emergencies. Because I’m dealing with the same set of characters in each book, I simply fall into their skins and let myself enjoy a light-hearted romp through murder and mayhem.
Writing literary fiction requires more of everything from me – time, research, complexity, intricate plotting, interweaving secondary plots, clear understanding of theme. I’m still telling a story I love. That’s true. But I’m digging much deeper into my own psyche to tell it. I’m juggling more plots and always cognizant of my craft. And I’m using a period in history that directly impacts the characters while weaving it into the story so that it appears seamless instead of intrusive.
One of my literary fiction novels took more than ten years to write (The Sweetest Hallelujah, Elaine Hussey). Most of them took at least two years of intensive writing.
Readers often ask which I enjoy more, writing cozies or literary fiction. I tell them both. And that’s true. Elvis and the gang give me a respite from the huge outpouring of emotional and mental energy required to write literary fiction. And literary fiction gives me the satisfaction of being compared with some of my own literary heroes. Reviewers have put my work as Elaine Hussey in the arena with Harper Lee, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor and Carson McCullers.  I’ll take that company.
Currently I’m working on another literary fiction novel (as Elaine) and a couple of cozy short stories (as Peggy) for Christmas.
Thank you for stopping by. Be sure to check out my latest Southern Cousins Mystery, Elvis and the Rock-A-Hula Baby Capers (Nov. 2015). There are some great soup recipes in this book! It’s available in both ebook and print. Visit my websites to learn more: and
USA Today Bestselling Author Peggy Webb is trying to finish her Christmas shopping and rehearsing with the choir at First United Methodist in Tupelo for their awesome Christmas service, which will be performed with an orchestra in the sanctuary on December 13 at 8:30 and 11:00. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

We Can Always Use Advice From Men

(Sorry, under deadline.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Trouble With Science And Magic

I love writing science fiction and fantasy. From far flung space opera to a little magical realism at the corner store, the endless possibilities of the genre call to my sense of the absurd and my boundless hope for the future.

But if you decide to write science fiction and fantasy, there are few extra things to keep in mind about the genre. It may seem like these types of fiction are so far out of the ordinary that writers can just make up any old thing and get away with it. But that's not strictly true. To make a story compelling, full of conflict, and relevant, these three things (at minimum) must be adhered to:

Speculative elements must be integral to the story. In other words, what makes your story science fiction or fantasy? Is it a type of steampunk technology? Or a space-age fuel source? Or maybe it's a kind of magic that only your protagonist can employ? Whatever it is, if you took it out of the story, you shouldn't be left with a contemporary romance. If you take out that one fantastic element, your story should fall apart. Throwing in crazy, bizarre things and people just for the heck of it doesn't make a story science fiction or makes it crazy and bizarre. But if you think about that core idea, the thing that makes your story special, that's what your plot should hinge on to be truly great in the genre. 

Think about Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. If you took out the magic ring that made Frodo invisible, the one everyone wanted, would there even be a story? What motivation would the characters have if they weren't trying to push back the forces of evil and destroy the ring?

XKCD is a funny comic.

Science and magic must be a hindrance to your characters. Like any good story, science fiction and fantasy plots revolve around conflict. And your conflict is enhanced by the fact that what we readers think of as cool or time-saving should be anything but for your characters. Just as a good sex scene makes a relationship between your characters more complicated, science and magic will never, ever be helpful when they need it to be. Technology will break or work counter to how they believe it should. Magic will be unreliable or magical creatures tricky and unpredictable. Your character will have to triumph despite having the so-called advantage of a rocket ship or a magic wand.

Take Harry Potter, for example. In their second year at Hogwarts, Ron's wand is snapped by a run in with the Whomping Willow. As a result, every time he tries a spell, it backfires spectacularly on him. When he tries to hex Draco for calling Hermione a name, instead he gets hit by the spell and spends the rest of the night coughing up slugs.

XKCD knows science fiction and fantasy.
Giving something a weird name doesn't make it magical or alien. There's an old saying:"if it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's a duck". This is doubly true in science fiction and fantasy. If it walks like a human, looks like a human, talks like a human, eats like a human, clothes itself like a human, and lives like a human, then it doesn't matter how many apostrophes you put in its name it is NOT an alien nor an orc. This is why world-building is so essential in good science fiction and fantasy. You must create not only a new character, but an entirely new society, a new world, and a new culture for that character to have grown up in and be shaped by. All their decisions, all their ideas of right and wrong, all their preconceptions about others, all their food, all their clothes, and all their modes of transportation should be colored by their life in this different place.

XKCD hits a little too close to home.
So try out some fantastical or futuristic writing. It's fun, it's freeing, and you never know where you'll end up.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Overcoming NaNoGuilt - Just Start Writing

Chances are if you are reading this blog post you either elected not to do NaNoWriMo or you have hit the point where your word count has fallen far enough behind that a declaration of defeat is on your lips. Yeah, I'm there with you. Solidarity among slackers! Huzzah! But seriously, we need to be writing. We shouldn't let the NaNoGuilt get in our way.

NaNoWriMo is a great tool, but for some of us, the stress it induces keeps us from starting our writing. I am a great planner. Lists. Outlines. Calendars. Schedules. Research.  But taking action . . . SQUIRREL!

Don't let the NaNoGuilt get you down. Just like anything that is hard, but worthwhile, starting is the hardest part. Whether it is dieting, exercise, or writing (the holy trinity of things we all say we are going to do), starting is the hardest part.

So how do you start? The easy answer is just do it.

But seriously, it is that simple. Eliminate the excuses. You have the desire. You have the will. Now, lets find the way together.  These are the things that work with me:

  • Write the fun scene that made you want to write the book.  Of course you want to have a well plotted story, but if figuring out where to start is stopping you, don't worry. You have at least one scene dancing in your head, so write that one.  Once you start typing, the inertia will take over.
  • Write, don't type. For some reason, a pen and paper make it easier for me to start. I move into typing, but if I start in freehand, there is less pressure.  Less pressure makes it easier to start. Give it a try. What is the worst thing that happens? Hand cramp? Wimp.
  • Give yourself realistic goals.  NaNoWriMo can be discouraging when you have a daily word count you feel you can never fill. That pressure will still your fingers. Start with a goal of 500 words. You can do that.  That's nothing.  Once you get those done, you will find it is easier to keep typing.  
  • Leave yourself a prompt once you start.  Each day will present new challenges. And just like time away from your gym (or cheating on your diet), the longer you go without writing, the harder it will be to get back into it. Make sitting down a little easier for yourself by leaving yourself a note on where to pick up. You'll thank yourself for it later.
 It is easy to say you want to write, but the actual writing part is hard. I would love to hear what you do to "just do it."