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: www.peggywebb.com and www.elainehussey.com.
     
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 fantasy....it 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."

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Twelve Reasons Writing is More Fun Than Working at Walmart

Writing is a tough gig, as we musicians call it. It is one of the most difficult arts one can choose to make a life's pursuit. Anyone who says it isn't is either trying to sell you something or is the cheerleader in high school who rolled out of bed in full makeup with a perfect coiffure dressed in an immaculately fashionable outfit and bounced down the hall chirping "Hi ! Go Cougars!" at 8 o' clock in the morning. (Anyone else want to slap her perfectly plucked eyebrows off?) Ahem.

The famous novelist Ernest Hemingway said, “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

Lest we forget, ole Ernie drank. A lot. He isn't the only one. Many, many talented and famous writers drank. They did drugs. They had dismal private lives and no manners with the public. So, without launching into a rendition of "Gloom, Despair and Agony on Me" (Some of you are old enough to catch that reference.) let us agree writing can sometimes be a very lonely, painful, miserable endeavor. Knowing this, one wonders why anyone signs up for this sort of torture without a contract with a really hot millionaire, a limited engagement, and a safe word. 

There are nights I sit in front of my computer determined to crank out 1000 words before I surrender and go to bed and I ask myself...

WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING ?? 

On those nights if sucking down another cup of Earl Grey whilst scarfing another Reese's cup doesn't do it, I do my version of "It could be worse!" No matter how bad a writing hour or day or weekend gets, it still beats...

WORKING AT WALMART !

Okay, calm down. Sit back down in your chair. I scared myself typing those words. I am certain most of you had the same sort of reaction Jamie Lee Curtis had when Michael Meyers came lurching out of that closet.

NOOOOOOOOOOOO !!

      Here are my Top Twelve Reasons Writing is Better Than Working at Walmart.

1. No bra is required. Men don't get this. Most women do. Working sans bra is more comfortable than working strapped up like an astronaut for a shuttle launch. If you work at Walmart the dress code says you have to wear a bra and underwear. I'm not exactly certain how they intend to check for the underwear. I guess some things they will take on faith. Unfortunately there are no rules about customers wearing underwear of any kind. This does not, however, prevent said customers from dressing in such a way you either know exactly what sort of underwear they are wearing because it is hanging out like the national flag of the "Hey, Baby" Olympics. OR  You know they aren't wearing any underwear at all because you see skin where you shouldn't be able to see skin or those puppies are running down their chests like American Pharoah in the Kentucky Derby with the finish line in the vicinity of their knees.

2. You don't have to watch a never-ending loop of People at Walmart. I am fairly certain it is against the Geneva Convention, but some days that is exactly what working at Walmart is like. As a writer you get to dress your characters (or undress them) and the only people with scary moles, scars, tattoos, body odor, bad teeth, and a truly hideous fashion sense are your villains. Or your heroine or hero's relatives. And you can ship them all off to Trenton, New Jersey or Hell when you don't want to look at them anymore. We can't do that at Walmart. I asked.

3. You can eat, drink, go to the bathroom, or take a nap whenever you want. Now I know you need to spend most of your time writing, but until you have had a manager chase you into the bathroom and talk to you from the other side of the stall door about changing every label in your department, you will never know the joy of simply getting up and going to the bathroom in complete silence and without a stalker following you. Unless you count dogs. Apparently, to dogs going to the bathroom is a very dangerous endeavor and requires complete canine supervision. But they don't talk to you about price changes.

4. You can drink as much wine as you want. Yeah, they frown on that at Walmart. We asked. More than once.

5. You can start when you want to and finish when you want to and no one will tell you - "You can't go home until XX is done. And, by the way, if you work over your scheduled hours you will have to take it off at lunch." Which can result in your working from 7 to 8 AM, taking a lunch from 8 AM to 3 PM and then working from 3 PM to 4 PM. You can stay up all night writing and sleep until noon the next day and no one will tell you they want you to work until midnight and be back at work at 4 AM.

6. You can wear whatever the hell you want. There is no uniform for writing. Well there is, but it usually consists of pajamas or sweat pants and a t shirt. And shoes are optional. Once I finally quit Walmart for good, I swear I will burn every khaki and navy piece of clothing I own. And we are not going to discuss what will happen to those dorky little vests. It won't be pretty. 

7. While I am certain editors can be a pain, none of them can compare with some Opie-looking Walmart manager haranguing you every five minutes about the five hundred projects he gave you to complete in eight hours. And whilst your characters may give you the runaround and change their minds frequently, they are nothing like the schizophrenic, maniacal, ambitious dictators hired straight out of A**holes R Us you will encounter in almost every Walmart in the country these days. And many writers are in a position to switch editors if necessary. Working at Walmart you have to take what they give you. You can't knock them in the back of the head with a six day old baguette and hang them in the meat freezer. I asked.

8. You can read and no one will make fun of what you are reading. They won't ask why you are reading a book about the correct way to serve eel pie or the proper etiquette for a duel. You can read without country music so sad it would depress a hyena playing overhead. You can follow a research trail through your research library or through the rabbit hole that is the internet and no one will look over your shoulder and announce to the entire room that you are researching early nineteenth century brothels and the services they offered on your smart phone during your lunch hour. Talk about an E.F. Hutton Moment. 

9. You can look at pictures of half 'nekkid' men to your heart's content. And call it research. Your only chance to see half 'nekkid' men at Walmart usually involves flab, jiggling, and hair. SHUDDER. 

10. You feel as if you are working toward something enduring instead of something no one will remember ten years from now. You are creating something to touch someone's heart rather than lighten their wallet. You are creating a legacy, instead of a rising line on some CEO's graph. Walmart is about making money. Period. Writing is about making a connection, making someone's life better, giving someone hope, allowing someone to escape, to laugh, to cry - to be human. You cannot put a price on that.

11. You are allowed to be who you truly are, who you were always meant to be. Working at Walmart is about conforming and towing the company line. Everything must be exactly as the home office dictates. Writing is about expressing yourself and expressing those things you believe in, the things you hope to share with others in such a way they take home something to sustain them through those bad days and weeks we all have. Yes, your readers have to pay for the book (at least you hope they do) but what they gain from reading your books is limited only by your skill and their imagination. 

12. You spend your days in communication with people who are just like you. Writers are a species unto themselves. Spending time with my fellow writers, whether in person or online, fills my soul. I am not alone. I am not the weird chick who reads and writes all of the time. With other writers I am "normal," whatever that means. I am comfortable in my skin. I don't have to smile and pretend I am not insulted when people treat me like a piece of furniture or a second class citizen because I work at Walmart. Never underestimate the power of mutual respect, mutual understanding, and mutual craziness to make even the worst writing day bearable. 

 See ! Twelve really good reasons writing is better than working at Walmart. On the days I feel like throwing in the writing towel and resigning myself to working at Walmart until I have to use a grocery cart as a walker, I read over this list and heft my butt back into that chair. One other reason writing is better than working at Walmart is every once in a while I write something I think isn't half bad.


 
“Love is never wasted. Even if you never see a moment’s profit in it. Even if it takes you thirty years to find it. Love isn’t for the one who receives it, my dear boy. It is for the one who gives it.”

from A PERFECTLY UNREGIMENTED CHRISTMAS - CHRISTMAS REVELS II  



How about you? Do you have a list of reasons writing is better than your day job or better than whatever keeps you from writing full time? Share those reasons with us ! What keeps your butt in the chair?


And if you want to read more of A PERFECTLY UNREGIMENTED CHRISTMAS and three other fun, poignant and exciting Regency era Christmas novellas...
      
Hey, you knew there might be a commercial in there somewhere. I AM trying to write my way out of Walmart !