Thursday, April 30, 2009

Persevere While Shifting Gears

At what point do you decide to shift gears and shelve the "baby" you've been working on for the past few months? Maybe you've sent queries out on the manuscript and no one seems interested after months of trying, or you've played the contest circuit until you consider becoming a charter member of Contests Anonymous and still no one has expressed an interest in what you've written.

This would be an easy question for me to answer if I was finished with this story, because I would already be starting on a new book. But, what if you are only half-way finished and the response to what you've written is undeniably lukewarm? Have you ever just shelved the book? If so, do you ever find yourself coming back to this manuscript at a later date? Do you still feel the same way about it or were you right to scrap it earlier? I believe in perseverance but I hate thinking I am beating my head against the wall.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Two years ago, my sister decided she wanted to teach history with a concentration on the Irish culture. She was told she didn't have the money to go back to school for her Master's Degree. It would take too long to finish, why bother? Or, my personal favorite, why Irish history when you're so obviously not, Nefertari? Well, next year she will begin her student teaching and she's travelled to Ireland.

At the beginning of this year, my mother decided to enter a race. She was told she weighed too much and her knees were too bad. Last Friday, she completed her first 5k in under an hour...not to mention she's dropped over twenty pounds!

A friend of mind started writing two years ago. She was told after twenty years as a nurse she couldn't just decide to become a published author. There were people who had been writing for years and hadn't accomplished publication! Well, three weeks ago, she signed her first contract.

Three very different scenarios and women, but all share one common theme: Perseverance. They persevered in spite of the odds and the naysayers, keeping their eyes and focus on their goals. They didn't deviate even when they struggled and labored. At times the roadblocks seemed insurmountable and the circumstances overwhelming. But, they continued to press until they attained that goal.

Writers cross all age, race and economic groups. We come in different sizes, personalities and voices. But, we all persevere. Like when we tell someone we're writers and we receive that look that says, "Yeah, suuure". After the sting fades, we write. Or when our manuscript is rejected. After the haze of chocolate and ice cream clears, we settle back in front of the computer and write. Or when we receive rave reviews on our book and nerves start to kick in about whether or not we can do it again, we press through the fear and write.

We press. It's what we do. It's a choice we make. We persevere.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Defeat Is Another Name For Determination

I was in my military dress greens, traveling to the next school, sitting in an airport overnight. At twenty I had just been dealt a huge lesson in humility. I'd been kicked out of Language School in California for being "unable to learn a language fast enough", now I was being sent to another school across the country on the East Coast. I was alone, feeling like the most insignificant thing on the planet. To make matters worse, a freak spring storm had cancelled all the flights, so now I was alone, tired, miserable with no place to stay.

Writing is a lot like that, it's a lesson in humility, and frustration. If our internal editor doesn't harass us, its the results of the contest, the place in your story you don't know how to write through, work requiring over time, family that needs you, or something catastrophic like a lay off or illness that brings you to your knees-all interfering with writing. It is that time of darkness that shapes and works with you.

Personally, I wish it wasn't so darn painful.

Recently I was on a whirl-wind business trip, it was uneventful, but tiring. I flew to Dallas, only to return the next day. Still, every time I fly, especially on business I remember those moments twenty years ago as I sat in that airport, feeling so very low. I still taste the misery, and the feeling of being overwhelmed. I also remember what I chanted to myself, "I can do this. One step at a time." Just like writing, we press on even when our ego is saying we are failures, there is nothing left but to keep on going.

Like with everything, eventually it all works out. As I wandered the airport, I found the USO and slept on the floor with other stranded military. The next day I managed to get the flight to my next destination. I took a taxi to my unit, stepped in to the building to announce myself, only to look at confusion at the large guy with the green beret sitting behind the desk, who gave me an evil smile.

"Congratulations, you are the first female in the Green Beret's!"

You see, sometimes, even life has it's own sense of humor.

I know we've spoken about this before, pressing onward in spite of obstacles, but what are the words that you say to yourself when you are at your lowest to keep on going?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Time to Read

I have a major dilemma. I simply love reading and have stacks of books on my desk at home waiting for me. But between a day job, volunteering, and writing, how does one find the time? Seriously, I’d like to know. I listen to people around me, especially my writing friends, talking about this book and that, and I wonder where they find the time. It seems the only place I can get reading in is waiting for the doctor or during my lunch hour. Sometimes a book can take two weeks to two months to finish because this is the only time I can spare. Maybe I’m doing something wrong.

I’d love to hear how each of you juggle life, a day job, writing, research, and reading what you write and what you love.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

You are what you think you are

People sometimes say to me, "Wow, you seem to have known a long time ago that you were going to have a publishing career. You did so many things right."

They are usually talking about blogging, websites, or the accumulated knowledge I've gotten about how publishing works. Not that I can claim to know everything! Good gracious, no! But yes, several years ago (2004 to be precise), I did something different than what I'd done before.

I started treating myself like a professional. I acted like I was already published. To myself, of course -- because that's the most important person you have to convince. I decided that it wasn't a matter of if, but a matter of when. And I wanted to know as much as I could before I had to start learning about things on the other side of the fence. (Promo, revisions, deadlines, etc.)

I'd like to say I set myself deadlines and met them, but the truth is that without someone breathing down my neck, it's not likely I'll dedicate myself to the hours and days it takes to produce a novel in a short amount of time. Instead, I decided I wanted to learn to blog -- though of course I wrote books too, because without books I definitely wasn't getting anywhere. And I bought my domain name and built several ugly homemade websites over the years. (Thankfully, those days are over, and my professionally designed site is now available for all to see at www.lynnrayeharris.com.)

The point was that I wanted to be prepared. I didn't know what kind of story I'd sell or if I'd use my own name, but I figured the experience would significantly shorten the learning curve for me when I did sell a book.

And you know what, it did. I already understand how websites work, how to blog, and now I know how to Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace too. I'm not an expert, but I know what they are and how to use them.

Of course I don't mean you should waste valuable writing time goofing off with this stuff! But I don't think it hurts to understand how it works. When you sell, you will have so many other things to think about -- promo, revisions, proposals -- that budgeting yourself some time now to learn these things is no different than the time management you'll need to practice when you have a book to promote.

The other thing I did was get a Publisher's Marketplace subscription. I wanted to know who was selling what. I wanted to spot trends. I also frequented the sites of editors and agents and learned as much as I could about how they work and what they like to see.

I also practiced discretion. I realized that I couldn't post rants on my blog, that it wasn't prudent to say who had rejected me or which book they'd rejected, and that I shouldn't badmouth anyone. (Though, if you've been following a couple of things in the blogosphere lately, you'll see there are writers who don't get that. Some have put their foots in their mouths so badly that they have angry agents posting in their comment trail. Not good, IMO.)

Badmouthing is always bad. It's as bad as the stories that float around every year about the clueless writer who said nasty things about an editor in a crowded elevator at National -- only to have that editor be in the elevator. Yikes!

Probably the most important thing on this list, and I didn't always succeed at it I will admit, is that I tried very hard not to compare myself to other writers or to mope around because Susie Author sold a trilogy of stories about the very same thing I was working on.

Never, ever compare. And never assume that because there are already stories out there about vampires or Regency lasses or, heck yes, billionaires and virgins, your story won't find a home. You don't know that.

None of this goes away once you sell, btw. There will always be another Susie Author out there with a similar idea, there will always be the temptation to complain about something or someone, and there will always be the desire to sleep or watch TV instead of work on the book that's due a month from now.

You just have to be a professional. Starting now. You are what you think you are. :)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Alpha, Beta, Omega: I Do Love Greek

Yesterday morning I caught the last hour of The Chronicles of Riddick and hopefully someday I’ll have time to see the whole thing. What I especially enjoyed was the interplay between Riddick (Vin Diesel) and Kyra (Alexa Davalos). Talk about alpha personalities.

That got me to thinking how alpha males really need an alpha female for their love story to work. Sure I’ve seen alpha males with beta females but the guys come across as bullies. Of course, in the midst of the story if the beta female finds an alpha side (usually protecting her child or man), then that’ll work.

And the same with beta males and alpha females, the females will be considered bitches. That can become rather interesting if the guy grows some big’ums and goes Rambo on the bad guys around her. She would back off then. Hmmm.

I guess that means to me the alpha-alpha pairing is easy to write. The alpha-beta pairing would take some fancy writing to make the story work and keep the reader from hating one or both of the characters.

What do you think? And what the heck is an Omega personality?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

What are you worth?

I've met some pretty interesting people in my travels and learned some even more interesting things. While on an Easter vacation trip to Amsterdam to visit the family of one of my singing buddies, Johanna, I met a young woman Johanna went to school with. This young woman worked as an escort. Yes, THAT kind of escort. She was beautiful, intelligent, sophisticated, cultured, well-educated and she slept with men for money. A LOT of money. I'll admit I was a bit put off by the whole idea at first. But, she was our hostess that night and took us to some great nightspots in Amsterdam - music and dance clubs and a fabulous restaurant and everywhere she was treated with a great deal of respect. As the evening wore on, I got comfortable enough with her to actually talk about her profession. I discovered she'd never worked in the famous "red light" district and she had definite opinions of those who did. She'd started as a high priced escort and her price and the number of "dates" she went on got higher and more prestigious as the years went on. I say years. She started at age 22 and I met her when she was 28. She fully intended to retire at age 30 and had the impressive stock portfolio and financial assets to do so. One of her regulars was an investment banker. This was in the late 80's when that was a good thing to be.

What does this have to do with writing? I'll tell you. When I asked her what the difference was between what she did and what those girls in the windows of the red light district did she said "The difference is, I think I'm worth more than that." Interesting concept. Now I would never want to decide how much sex with me was worth. It sort of boggles the mind, among other things.

I did know, however, what my musical skills were worth. I sang professional opera. I spent a lot of time and money training my voice, learning to speak 8 languages, taking dance lessons and practicing, practicing, practicing. My voice was worth something. Still is to some degree. (Some days its worth more than others. LOL) I charged a lot for singing certain pieces because they were hard and tough on the voice. I only do free concerts for churches. That's my tithe. Everyone else pays.

There were times I sang in night clubs and bars to make money. My voice teachers would have KILLED me if they knew. I mean really,truly killed me. They called that sort of activity "whoring" for lack of a better term. They saw it that way, but there were times when that starving musician gig was NOT what it was cracked up to be. Singing Patsy Cline's Crazy put food on the table before Mozart started paying.

As a writer, I don't know what I'm worth yet. And that brings me to the question. How do you decide what a book you have written is worth or do you leave that up to the editors and agents. I just spent a year of my life writing my second book. I spent the year before that writing my first book. Some of you can write a book in three months or six months and I am in COMPLETE awe of that. But I don't think the amount of time you spend writing it should determine the value of your book.

Do you send your manuscript off to every editor that requests it even if you KNOW the house consistently pays at the low end of the scale. Is it more important to make that first sale than it is to set a value on your work and then hold out for the better deal?

So, that's my question. How much are you worth? How much is your baby, the thing you've spent all this time writing worth? How do you determine the value? And more important than money, how much does it mean to you to be published. Forget the money, the fame (LOL) and everything else. How much is it worth to have completed a book, to have written "the end" and to know that you gave everything you had to tell a story?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What makes him sexy?

I recently read an article that described the ten traits that make a guy sexy. I agreed with most of them, but maybe not in the order that the author had them listed. It came as no surprise that having a good sense of humor scored high on the list. Pleasing looks were also a given. The others were predictable and not entirely unexpected. Still, I bet we would all agree that it is the entire package that draws us to a man. There is no one characteristic that clinches it and it's also the way he makes us feel.

Since coming to the realization that I am mainly visual, I have been trying to cast my characters as I write my story. For want of a better method, I use public figures--primarily those in the movies. My latest line up of characters runs along the following lines: Good looking Latin guy: Enrique Inglesias; dashing super hero type with a touch of sophistication: Hugh Jackman; all American heart throb: Josh Holloway; older good looking sophisticate: Pierce Brosnan; young sensitive cutie: Orlando Bloom and funny man: John Cusiack.

These are my personal favorites and you might not agree, after all, it is subjective. I've told you mine. Now, who would you cast in your novel?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Words and Actions

I recently read an opinion piece about words without action, or words that are used as euphemisms, cannot override the power of making decisions and following through on those decisions. This is true in a lot of ways. For instance, if I were to go to a doctor and get a dire diagnosis would I want the doctor to A) relate to my fears and tell me about her own grandmother having the same terrible illness and how awful that was only to send me off with no treatment plan? or would I want the doctor to B) clinically tell me how my disease would progress, my treatment options, and then proceed to set up my options without my input? or would I want the doctor to C) be empathetic and say this can be treated, we work as a team, and we will try all our options until we find a solution. We might not win, but we'll battle this together. 

I know what doctor I would choose. Do you? Dr. C reflects the type of people I'd want treating me or working with me in the editing process. But I wouldn't want a person to sugarcoat the truth just to help me feel better about my writing or my choices. Truth tellers are essential in my world. Are they in yours? 

Words without actions are useless to me. The wrong words are useless to me. Telling me I look thin won't help me fight to lose the extra ten pounds I'm carrying (or is it twenty?). And telling me, oh your writing is fabulous, when it in fact needs to be tightened or improved upon only sets me up for failure.

I'm glad I have a great CP/Reader in VA who can be honest about what she likes and doesn't like in my work. She's invaluable to me. I trust her to be real with me. And that is important in this business of writing.

But words without action mean something more to me in my writing now that I am a PRO. They mean I must do more than write my books, or revise the books I've written. They mean that I must stretch my neck out on the chopping board and send the work I've written out into the world as contest entries or as queries/partials.

Contests are easy. I can take the critiques with a grain of salt as long as there is something positive in the mix. But sending out queries and synopses? Now that is scary stuff to me. I'll admit it. If I don't submit and query, then it adds a level of comfort in that my work is not being rejected. Again. 

But what is the point of writing my stories if I don't act? Writing our books without following up and submitting them is pointless. Sure we might not get the results we want, but we must tuck our disappointment away and try again. There is only one way to get published. We must submit our work. Period. 

This year I am committed to broadening the scope of my PRO life. This means I must do the following on a very regular basis:

-write the dreaded synopsis (and if you were in the Heart of Dixie meeting this Saturday, Kira Sinclair's craft corner about conquering that demon was invaluable! Thanks Kira!)
-write a solid query letter for each novel I am currently trying to sell.
-tighten my first three chapters after a full revision (the millionth I think by now)
-prepare my pitches for two different novels

On a long term basis, I am creating a website on Mobile Me, and I am creating a PRO Facebook page. This means coming up with a great tag line for my writing style and target market. 

How are you putting actions behind your words? How are you promoting yourself? And when you get those rejections, how do you recuperate and forge ahead again into the great abyss?

Friday, April 10, 2009

What Have You Faced?


"Do one thing every day that scares you."
-Eleanor Roosevelt

I may not do something every day that scares me, but I have done things that I feared. When I was eighteen, I went to South Africa for a year as an Exchange student. Now that was stepping outside my box. I was halfway around the world, and I could not talk to my mother for months at a time. It was singularly one of the most self defining moments of my life. This experience made me realize I could meet challenges head on, and although it wasn't easy, I could learn, grow, and benefit from them.

Facing my fears sparked something in me, and I’ve found I’ve been facing them ever since (which leads to some interesting stories—like the time I rappelled off a castle wall). Still, confronting your fears is never easy.

As a writer I face many fears, some of them self imposed, some of them come with the territory. There are internal fears, those awful questions, such as: Will I ever finish my story? Will I ever be published? Will someone like my story? Why am I writing? Should I really attempt to write a certain type of scene? Is it even worth it? I could go on and on….

I am also facing external fears, such as: Am I writing enough pages/words? Am I making my self-imposed deadline (all right that’s an internal thing), and my decision to go to part time in order to write more and be with my family—will this give my family too much of a financial hardship?

So many fears.

I continue to write, and I am going to make this part time work. As for my other fears, I'll take them one at a time.

Are you doing something that scares you? What kind of fears have you faced, and overcome?



Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Cheers

Hey, everyone. I’m in a mooood today. I feel like I need to cheer people on ... get those dreams stoked.

So today I’d like to ask everyone--yes that’s you--to tell me where you’re at in your writing career? Are you actively seeking an agent? Perhaps you’d prefer to skip that part and go straight for the editor? Are you print-seeking only or welcoming e-publishers as well? Are you entering contests? If so, do you enter for feedback or just to get to that final judge? Maybe you’ve become a contest addict. I certainly want to hear about that. Or possibly, you just got started and you're dabbling in writing. You write a few sentences here or there, just to see how they look on the page. Or are you so overwhelmed with other responsibilities the closest you get to writing is a dream of dabbling? Me? I've done all of the above and not necessarily in that order.

Currently seeking agent.

Wow. That sounds like a want ad, doesn’t it? And maybe it is...

Tell me where you’re at in this process. I hope to hear from everyone on this blog. Let’s get those middle-of-the-week cheers going!!!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Everybody needs a little time away*

In the time-honored fashion of true procrastinators, I forgot I had to blog today until the last minute.

See, I had a pretty good weekend. Friday night, the hubby and I took an impromptu trip to Bridge Street, which is a really cool mall that's built like a European shopping area -- outdoors, cobblestone walks, bridges, and even a lake with a gondola. We sauntered up the street, encountered the Von Braun Astronomical Society out with their telescopes (totally cool), then wandered into a wine shop where we bought a bottle of wine and had a tasting of several nice wines.

Once we got home, we went up to hubby's man cave and watched a movie. He has a 106" movie screen and a popcorn maker. Who needs theater prices, right?

Saturday, we met friends for a wonderful dinner, then came home and repeated the movie experience. Sunday, we went out for a while, worked out, and then -- you guessed it -- repeated the movie experience.

I'm wandering, right? Desperate for a point?

No, not really. See, in between all that sauntering, shopping, eating, drinking wine, and watching movies, my brain was churning. I have a book due in June, and I'm only about 15k into it. I should be in panic mode.

I'll get there, no doubt, but this weekend I refused to panic. This weekend was about doing things other than writing. Refilling the well? Possibly.

I'm not sure what to call it, but I know that when I wasn't forcing myself to think about my characters, I suddenly started thinking about them all the time. I went to bed thinking about them. I woke up thinking about them. And I didn't write down a word. I think that might have made them evaporate, sort of like waking suddenly in the middle of a dream and being unable to recreate that world when you fall asleep again.

Hopefully, my weekend play will translate into words and scenes. Today, I *have* to think about the characters. But I think I'm ready for it. Sometimes, you have to give yourself permission to play in order to make the work fun again. Writing is hard work, but it's also supposed to be fun. If you aren't having fun, take some time away -- a day or two or three -- and just play.

I think the idea we have to write every single day is great in a work ethic way -- and lousy sometimes in a way that stifles that which we seek to create. What do you think? And what's your favorite way to recharge?

*From the Chicago song, Hard to Say I'm Sorry, of course. :)

Saturday, April 04, 2009

I Love Onion Soup

I'm currently reading a book I was given at a conference last year. The story has been okay, certainly different but not necessarily in a good way. The heroine bothers me. She's an inconsistent bitch. Sorry. No other way to put it.

When I write dialog and scenes, I'm constantly saying to myself, would this type of personality/person say or do this? It certainly helps with my plot and what my characters decide to do next. I've certainly learned not to force them to do or act a certain way just to get from point A to point B. Anytime I have, a little voice in the back of my head tells me something is wrong. And I've learned to listen to that nagging brat.

Plus I like to think though my characters may not have the most redeeming characteristics or conduct themselves in the best of light at the beginning, they're not mean or hateful, more like flawed. I can guarantee you'll see a good side to them before you've read the first third, if not quarter, of the book.

Then on the other hand, I rarely tolerate goody-two-shoes heroes or heroines in the books I read. You know the one who is always trying to do the right thing but others get in her or his way. Boring!

One of my favorite type of characters is the person who appears good and isn't or appears bad but isn't. Yeah. Those are the ones I love peeling back the layers and letting the reader see their growth, the true person underneath, even the bad guys.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Pick a Number, Any Number


I have a little book on my bookshelf called 10,000 Ways to Say I Love You. Wait; what's wrong with a simple "I love you?" Who the heck needs 10,000 ways, you may well ask.

Sometimes--well, a lot of times--in our writing, the simple "I love you" can't be spoken for one reason or another. That's where this book comes in. It's a great source of inspiration. The author, Gregory J.P. Godek, lists as number one "Honor your partner's individuality." Number 10,000 is "Live happily ever after."

And between those two are 9,998 other ideas. Granted, some take a bit of imagination to work (8,552: "Create two cartoon characters based on the two of you"); others aren't individual ideas at all (Number 4,305 is "Take a Romantic Cruise" and the following 27 entries are the Web sites for various cruise lines).

Still, even a few thousand ways to say I love you stirs the creativity. Interested? Give me a number, and I'll look it up.

Who's Watching Me? Writers!