Monday, June 29, 2015

Same Song, Second Verse



Back on August 27, 2013, I wrote the following post on my blog.

TBR should be TFB.

That is Tragically Forgotten Books.  I’ve wondered how many To Be Read piles out there have my books waiting for the owner to pick up and read.
For myself, I have over thirty . . . I think. Truthfully, I haven’t counted them, and I would probably be horrified by the number. A few months ago, I went through my pile and pulled every book that didn’t set me on fire to read it. Then I dropped them off at my day job, and let everyone pick out the books they wanted to place in their TBR pile.
Otherwise, I would be staring at the books and feeling guilty. I know the authors are hoping by giving away their books that they would get a new fan or two. If I let the books sit and not read them or give them away, I’m preventing that author from becoming successful. I know. No guarantee, but it’s a given it won’t happen at all if I don’t do something.
This year, I’m determined to read a TBR book between each one I purchase. So I’ve gone through five or so. That’s not many for the year to be almost over, but whenever I’m at home with extra time, I write. Reading is what I do when I’m burned out from writing and need a change.
The moral to this story is, if you have a large TBR pile, and some are more than a year old, it’s time to pass them on. Those authors will appreciate it.
~~~~
Present day
Of course, the one area we all have extra books is our e-reader. It's so simple to push that button. So easy and so tempting. But the same problem. If you don't read that book and possibly type a review somewhere or tell your friends about the wonderful book, you're betraying the promise you made to the author when you purchased the book or downloaded it free. So make a deal with yourself. Read a book you already have each time you download or receive/buy another.
So do you pledge to get rid or improve your To Be Read Pile? Don't let it be a Totally Forgotten Book Pile.
~~~~
Carla Swafford loves romance novels, action/adventure movies and men, and her books reflect that. She's married to her high school sweetheart and lives in Alabama USA.
Look for me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, & Google+
February 2016, HIDDEN HEAT, A Brothers of Mayhem novel
July 2016, FULL HEAT, A Brothers of Mayhem novel
Time Magazine, [Circle of Danger] ". . . involves deadly assassins, drug lords and doing it."
Action-Adventure-Romantic-Suspense

Monday, June 22, 2015

How do you do backup?

At one of the first Southern Magic meetings I attended two years ago, a member had recently lost a lot of her work and reminded everyone to be sure to backup your work. Well, her exact words were, "Backup your damn work, people!" And that stuck with me. :-)

About every four hours I backup my WIP. I work in Scrivener on the Dropbox cloud, which saves every two seconds (literally), but I wanted more protection that that. My internet is not reliable in the country.

So, I compile my WIP and save it on the desktop and a thumb drive. Finally I email it from my Yahoo to my gmail accounts.

I had a small scare recently, which made me wonder if that was not frequent enough. So, tell me, how do you backup your work and how often? Does it depend on your word count or pages or time you've spent?

Friday, June 19, 2015

Jogging, Writing, and the Journey

Haruki Murakami, one of my favorite novelists, compared his writing life to his running life. He said:
Most of what I know about writing I've learned through running every day. These are practical, physical lessons. How much can I push myself? How much rest is appropriate--and how much is too much? How far can I take something and still keep it decent and consistent? When does it become narrow-minded and inflexible? How much should I be aware of the world outside, and how much should I focus on my inner world? To what extent should I be confident in my abilities, and when should I start doubting myself? I know that if I hadn't become a long-distance runner when I became a novelist, my work would have been vastly different. How different? Hard to say. But something would definitely have been different. (Source: Haruki Murakami: Talent Is Nothing Without Focus and Endurance )
I really love this quote, because I understand the connection between training for something like long-distance running (or any other endurance sport) and writing a novel, and it makes perfect sense to me. Both training and writing are hard things to do.  You not only have to push yourself but also have to learn how to pace yourself. If you go too fast too soon, you can crash and burn--in a marathon, in writing, in life. And, specifically as it applies to the writer's life, if you don't take an attitude towards writing that emphasizes the journey, then you are likely setting yourself up for disappointment. Sure, we have heard of the first-time novelist who becomes an instant best seller, but for the most part, the majority of novelists write years before (or even if) they ever sell anything.

But back to running.

I am not a runner. I am more of a jogger. I have trained for marathons and half-marathons, but I am not fast and usually end up at the end of the group crossing the finish line. But this has never bothered me, because usually I am just happy I actually made it to the finish line. I think the most important thing about training for marathons or endurance events has to do with the journey. You do a little bit each day, building up your strength, going a bit farther each time. You work yourself up to a comfortable pace that doesn't wear you out but that you can maintain throughout your event. You prep beforehand with the right amount of water and are religious about self care before, during, and after the race. Eventually, you make it to the finish line. It doesn't matter if you are first or last, as long as you finish. The key is to put one foot in front of the other and keep going, one step at a time. 

Endurance sports have a lot in common with the writer's life, and each of the above steps have to be taken, in one way or another, in your writing life, too. Just for me, I like the comparison of jogging and writing much more than running and writing. Running implies a pace faster than I am comfortable with, but jogging permits a slow and steady pace that allows my body and mind to stay on track and tuned into my purpose.  I approach the process of working on a long writing project in the same way as I do when committing to an endurance test of any kind: As long as I push myself a little bit each day, I will eventually finish. The key is to keep going and look forward to the finish line.


Susan Sierra is a historical and contemporary romance writer. She loves books and old letters, adores her dog and family, and has a deep and committed love affair with coffee. She spent time as an undergraduate studying (having fun) in Mexico, went on to work for a large regional magazine as a copyeditor, and then decided that she hadn’t tortured herself enough in life...so she went to graduate school. After many years, she walked away with a PhD and an unhealthy relationship with Charles Dickens. She hopes to complete her first full-length novel in 2015. FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Grab Your Colored Pencils

Based on a drawing by
Pierre Denys de Montfort


So this year has been stressful for me. But I just published my first novel. And I made PRO. I'm actually doing fine--a little frazzled around the edges but on the whole okay.

One habit I've cultivated to combat some of my anxiety is coloring. Adult coloring has taken the world by storm with complex drawings that are both beautiful and fun.

Coloring is an activity most of us remember from our childhood. It evokes memories of simpler times when major life decisions were often whether to stay inside and watch cartoons or go outside and play pirates.

Art by SHRIJITNAIR
The shedding of adult worries and going back to simply picking out colors to decorate a page, swiping the crayon in small motions to fill a lined void is almost meditative. I have to admit--I love it.

So when deciding on what kind of marketing I wanted for my new novel, The Klockwerk Kraken, I thought about coloring pages. And I'm unveiling my new pages here.

Click the pictures to download their corresponding PDF. Print them off and then get out your colored pencils.

Spend a few moments doing something fun, something colorful, and something relaxing.

Come color with me.


AIDEE LADNIER is a writer who loves quirky characters. You can visit her website at http://www.aideeladnier.com or meet her at some of her favorite social media sites:
Twitter  |  Tumblr  |  Pinterest  |  Facebook


Friday, June 12, 2015

Objectionable Legal Writing


Nothing makes me want to punch a book in the face more than a legal scene where one lawyer calls another "counselor."  I don't care what you've seen on Law & Order, we don't talk like that  . . . EVER!

As a lawyer, here are my top five pet peeves when it comes to reading fiction dealing with the courtroom:

1.     The Rocket Docket

Cases take years to go to resolve. Years. YEARS. I stop reading any story where someone walks into a lawyer's office seeking representation and then is in trial a few weeks later.  I'm not saying it is impossible, because there are certain types of cases where that can happen (so do your research), but as a general rule, the wheels of justice move at a glacial pace.

2.     The Eleventh Hour Smoking Gun Document or Witness

As a general rule, witness and exhibit lists are filed well in advance of trial, and what is contained on them is often limited by information that has been previously exchanged and/or disclosed among the parties.  It is rare that a judge will allow a witness or document not previously disclosed to be used at trial.

3.     Hissy Fits in Court

If a lawyer grandstands or goes on a screaming tirade in a court room while examining a witness, he or she is going to get a knot yanked in his or her neck by the judge.  Lawyers are expected to behave professionally in court.  The judge will not let a lawyer get in a witness's face.  A jury is supposed to base its decision on the facts, not passion or prejudice. A judge will do a lot more than pound a gavel if a lawyer starts peacocking around the courtroom. Someone is going to be paying sanctions/a fine and may find himself or herself in custody of a marshal or bailiff.  

4.   Lawyer in a Big Firm Handling a Small Case

Big firms have big overhead. While lawyers in those firms can do some pro bono work, they also have a certain number of billable hours they have to meet to generate the necessary revenue for the firm to pay its rent, make payroll, etc. Practicing law isn't cheap. Lawyers have high hourly rates, and those rates typically increase based on the size of the firm and the size of the city in which the lawyer practices. A lawyer is not going to be working on a case that will generate a fee that results in the firm taking a loss. Doing so will drag the firm under (on a side note, when I took a class on class action litigation in law school, our professor had us read A CIVIL ACTION to learn the real moral of the story - one case can bankrupt a law firm).

5.     Procedural and Evidence Mistakes

If you are going to have a courtroom scene, research it. Audit a class on evidence, civil procedure and/or criminal procedure. There are rules about what can and can't happen in a courtroom.  There are rules about what can and can't be presented to a jury. Random misplaced objections and cases being heard in the wrong type of court are common mistakes in fiction, and they alienate people familiar with the legal community. 

If you want to avoid drawing objections to your legal writing, be sure to attend my workshop (Law and Order for the Writer: Avoiding Objections to Your Legal Writing) at the RWA National convention in New York.  My workshop will be Thursday, July 23 at 12:45: https://www.rwa.org/p/cm/ld/fid=1051 

Do you have a professional mistake that drives you nuts (don't get my mother-in-law started on medical dramas)? I would love to hear it.  Do you have any questions about writing legal scenes? I'm happy to help.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

How is it that birds can fly?

"Why are you working at Walmart?"

I get this question a lot. People find out I have a couple of college degrees. They find out I used to be a teacher. They find out I used to be an opera singer. They find out I am a published author. They find out .... well, you get the picture. 

Apparently there is a model for Walmart workers. GED? Yes. College degree? Not so much. Able to speak English without sounding like I belong on Duck Dynasty or Honey Boo Boo? Again. Not so much. No real discernible job skills? Yes. Experience as a high school teacher, college professor the night manager at a funeral home, a toll bridge manager, officer manager of a temp agency, veterinary technician, and full-time opera singer in some of the most beautiful opera houses in the world? Again. Why the hell are you working at Walmart?

The answer is fairly simple. I even have a fridge magnet that sums it up perfectly. 

Why I Work
A short essay
I like food.
The End.

I was forced to contemplate this subject recently after dealing with a customer at the bakery. My cake decorator was having trouble understanding what a lady wanted written on her cake. The decorator asked me to speak with the lady, who had a thick Russian accent. I was able to understand her and we took care of her cake. When she thanked me for my help I told her "you're welcome" in Russian. One thing you must know about the Russian people. They LOVE it when someone learns their language, no matter how little or how much the person has learned. (The French, on the other hand, despise it no matter how perfect your accent.) She and I began to converse in Russian, much to the surprise of my coworkers, and the lady asked the question. "Why are you working here?" I said "It's a job." She said "But you speak Russian." (Don't get excited. It has been years since I studied Russian and mine is terribly rusty. I wish I had the time to brush up on it.) 

Trust me. There are days, weeks, even months when I ask myself "Why are you still working here??" I hate my job, but I do it well because that is how I was raised. I hate most of the managers as they drink at the company kool-aid fountain and tend to work from the "A**holes R Us" Management Handbook. The job is an 8 hour a day, five day a week soul-sucking, monotonous descent into hell for anyone with even an ounce of creative yearning in their body. And there are days I come home with no desire to write because I have allowed my day job to deaden my passion for it. 

At least once a day I tell myself if I had any guts at all I would tell Walmart what to do with their job, cash out my meager 401K and spend the next six months writing like a fiend in the hope I can parlay my skills into a full-time, able to feed me and the furry kids job. Sounds like a great idea, right? It does to me too, until I look at the ledger I keep of the bills I have to pay every month. Reality is a big, fat, Bertha Butt, hairy *itch when it comes to launching a career as a full-time writer. And there are days I ask myself why on earth I am even bothering to try. 

Are you depressed yet? I sure as hell am.

And then I look at the framed picture of the cover of Christmas Revels hanging on the wall. I look at the framed certificates from all of the contests in which I have finaled. I look at the framed photo of the Holt Medallion Finalist banner on my wall. (Because yes, I am really that lame.) I look at the stack of index card boxes - each one containing a book idea and all of the little bits and pieces about each story I have jotted down on index cards. Those are my stories, given to me by the people in my head and if I don't tell those stories nobody will. I look at the old Smith-Corona typewriter my Nana gave me when I was nine years old and told her I wanted to be a writer. 

I have printed out every nice comment from contest judges, every nice review, every nice thing anyone has said about my writing. I have them all in a notebook so I can read them when I need a boost. Lame? Perhaps. Helpful? You have no idea!

I've been doing this for nearly eight years. I've published exactly one novella. There are days I sit in front of the computer for hours and don't get more than a sentence written. And still I refuse to give up. Even when my mind tells me I write too slowly and too inconsistently and too whatever else. (If I ever catch that heifer that lives in my head she is in for an All-Day-Alabama-A**-Whoopin' !)

I was reading over my pages from a few days ago and this little passage struck me. I didn't really remember writing it. Now I believe I wrote it for me and for anyone else who struggles with the "why bother's" of life.

Courage isn't always about facing death, my lord. Sometimes it is about facing life. Knowing you will rise to a day of misery, or abuse, or being ignored or having tiny bits of yourself torn away by the cruel words of others. Knowing it because every single day is the same and has been as long as you can remember. Knowing it and getting out of bed anyway. A dull sort of courage in your eyes, perhaps, but courage nonetheless.  
 

In all of this rambling (yes, I know I'm rambling!) I have discovered a few things I want to share with you in case you get to that "Why am I even bothering with this!" stage. If you are one of those writers who never gets to that stage please tip-toe away quietly so the rest of us are not forced to duct tape you to a bed and shave your head. (Not that I'd know anything about that sort of thing happening at an all girls college in Alabama mumble mumble years ago.)

1. The only person who can stop you writing is you. Success or failure, readers or no readers isn't
    always in your hands. Sitting down day after day and putting words on the page is. 

2. There is no one on earth who can tell your story in your voice. The story is given to you to tell
    in your voice. Doing so is never a waste of time. It is the fulfillment of a promise. 

3. Do not belittle, berate or beat yourself up. There are people lined up to do that. That is their job.
    Your job is to write. Leave the other crap to someone else.

4. If someone does belittle, berate or beat up your writing the response is the same whether the person
    is in your head or posting on Amazon. Do. Not. Engage. Ignore it. Leave it on the side of the road
    in a brown paper bag and watch it grow smaller and smaller in your rear view mirror until it is out
    of sight. And, Don't. Look. Back.

5. Allow yourself to write for no other reason than the sheer joy of doing so. Write it all down. Get it
    down and revel in the fact you are creating something that has never been seen before even if no
    one ever sees it. Remember, for all intents and purposes Michelangelo was painting the roof of
    some guy's house. He created something unique because he could and because he enjoyed it. He 
    had no idea he was creating THE Sistene Chapel. Harper Lee had no idea she was writing one of
    the greatest books ever written. To Kill a Mockingbird was simply a story she had to tell. Tell your
    stories because you have to, because it is in your heart to tell it. Do that and trust me, the readers
    will know it. 

6. Every now and again read some books on craft that are more than just how to write conflict, or a 
    great scene or great sex. Read something that makes you think about what writing means to your
    soul. Those books will come back to you like a favorite song when you are down and those words
    will lift you up and plop your butt back into that chair. Some of my favorites are :

On Writing - Stephen King

The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell

A Writer's Guide to Persistence by Jordan Rosenfeld

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield


Writing is not a career one chooses. A great deal of the time, the writing chooses. It is rather like the Hotel California.

You can check out, but you can never leave ! 

How is it that birds can fly?
They can because they think they can. 


Every single one of us has had days, weeks, months even years when we did what we had to do to survive. Some of us are still doing it and trying everything we can to keep our writing alive. With all of the inspiration of great words, and all of the help of fellow writers, and all of the support of friends and family - ultimately it is still the writer and the words sitting together in the dark making magic, joining a long line of human experience, and making something immortal out of lives meant for mere mortality. Words, like love, are stronger than death.


How do you survive those "why bother" days? Or, if you have reached the stage where you are a full-time writer, what did you do to keep going? Do you still have those "why bother" days? Please share your tips for going on when that heifer in your mind starts talking smack!    

    

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Some Contract Advice

Recently, I had an experience that I hope taught me something about what I need to look for in my book contracts and I thought I'd share that here for some of us who either haven't yet signed a contract or who have and may not have considered a paragraph such as I will be discussing. I was lucky enough to have it in mine in this particular instance but it was totally not because I knew to ask for it. Thank goodness the publisher thought it was important.

Anyway, I got a set of edits (not my first book with this publisher, by the way) not too long ago and I tell you what, that editor who was assigned to work on my manuscript was one of the unkindest people I have ever come across. For some reason, my story brought out the absolute worst in this lady. I don't know what struck her core but something sure did. She did not like one thing about what she was reading. She hated the heroine, the hero, the premise of the book, and even the villain was too villainous for her. Yep. She said that.

I'm not sure about how editors are assigned but I would hope if someone's story struck such a negative nerve in the editor that they could ask to be reassigned. This woman did not do any such thing; rather, she took her venom out on my poor psyche. Nasty comments abounded which made me hate my own work that I'd been so happy to submit and have accepted by the publisher. Now, that's pretty harsh treatment there.

A couple of examples: "You must not have worked very hard on this book as I've read one of your other books and it was better."; "You must not like your characters."; "I want to cold-cock your heroine." (AND this was not meant in a sexual way); "I want to tell her to go screw herself." and, after highlighting most of a chapter: "Rewrite this as it's nonsensical." No guidance, nothing - just rewrite it. And one comment was just, "You're kidding."

Somehow, I think editors are supposed to make the story shine, not tear down the manuscript or insult the author by basically calling her lazy and/or inept. I did the best I could with what the woman sent me but I looked over my contract to see if I could take my rights back since I was so unhappy. Before I did so, I emailed the editor in chief about the whole thing and asked her to look at the comments. I was then offered a fresh edit from scratch. The editor in chief also pointed out a contract provision I didn't notice in my haste to find the one about returning my rights to me.

Happily, the contract has what I am calling an "Author's right of last refusal" paragraph. This paragraph means I can refuse any and all of the edits. I have final approval of the manuscript. That makes me feel a whole lot better and I recommend making sure you have that kind of provision. A book going out with your name on the cover should reflect what you want it to, not what some woman who hates the book thinks it should.

The other thing that made me feel better was the editor in chief said she contracted the story as it was and she thought it was good. My poor lil ole ego that had been crushed to the core needed that. :) Yes, I admit, I let the vicious comments move into my head and make me think I was a terrible writer.

Why do we do that to ourselves? Why do bad comments tend to stick and the good get glossed over? Any ideas on how we, as writers, can learn to focus on the good? Let the negative go?

Monday, June 01, 2015

It's Hard Work, But Somebody's Gotta Do It

One of the really fun things about starting a new series (besides building a whole world, of course) is auditioning models and actors to represent your main characters. After all, an author has to have SOME fun amid the agonizing task of churning out a hundred thousand brilliant, er, inspired, er, functional words.

I'm in the throes stage of my new work-in-progress, WILD MAN'S BLUFF.

"The throes" is defined as the hair-pulling stage that occurs somewhere about the midpoint of a new manuscript at which point you're convinced:

a) it's all crap and will never work itself out,
b) it was a stupid idea for a book to begin with,
c) your plot has more holes than swiss cheese, and
d) you're not an author at all, but a sham, a fraud, and DESERVE to be exposed as such. Which is what will happen when this pile of crap is unleashed on an unsuspecting public.

So when one is wallowing in the throes, it is helpful to have eye candy upon which to gaze.

Confession time: I collect eye candy.

There's an innocent little folder on my Dropbox account called "Auditions," and inside it are "Heroes" and "Heroines" folders. People who've caught my attention or struck me as drool-worthy or had interesting features. (Funny how the interesting features are mostly in the "heroines" folder while the drooling happens while looking in the "heroes" folder.)

Anyway, while procrastinating brainstorming this week, I spent some time drooling agonizing over my folders to cast Gentry Broussard and Celestine Savoie, the hero and heroine of the book currently in the throes.

I knew Cele as soon as I saw her. She's curvy but petite, a spitfire, 28 years old, an artistic type who's trying to make it as a singer/songwriter. Like many of those deep in the wilds of southern Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, where the book is set, she and Gentry are both somewhat racially androgynous--Cajun and Creole and Native American have mingled greatly down in America's great swampland. Cele has many of the physical traits of her Chitimacha family members, though (the Chitimacha are the only tribe who are still in their aboriginal homeland in the Atchafalaya Basin). I knew she had black hair and olive skin, but striking blue eyes.

So you can see why actress Denise Vasi was perfect for her.



Then we have Gentry Broussard, a senior enforcement agent with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. He's 6-2, with curly brown hair and dark brown eyes. The LDWF enforcement agents are the most highly trained law enforcement officers in the state--they go through regular police training, marine law enforcement training, state game and wildlife training, advanced weapons training, and paramilitary extreme-conditions training. They're the state's lead search-and-rescue agency. So Gentry has to be ripped, in other words.

What a pity.

It was an arduous task, but I finally settled on Walter Savage to play Gentry. He has a kind of masculine ruggedness that I felt fit the character.


Did I mention he's even sexy with a bad case of bedhead?


Being an author is hard, hard work. Yes, indeed. But somebody's gotta do it.