Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Keeping Up with the Times

In what era do your stories take place?  When I started writing my 'Forever Love' series almost eleven years ago, I decided to take a trip back in time to the late 1980s.  For me, it was a time of my life that held some of my happiest and most precious memories--college, making some great friends, meeting my husband, and getting married. Awesome music, awesome movies, awesome fashions (hey, I rocked those designer jeans, folks!)--I couldn't imagine a better time for my characters to live in. Most of the details poured into my manuscript were easily pulled from the corners of my mind.  Not much research was necessary to keep things factual.  Everything was perfect until....

I began working on Book 3.

Suddenly, I was faced with a dilemma.  First, I had to decide--based on the cliffhanger ending of 'Waiting for Tomorrow'--whether or not my hero would survive his tragic situation.  Second, regardless of which way I went, he would need to undergo at least a minimal amount of medical treatment.  This time around, my memories of working as a medical receptionist weren't going to suffice.  I had to figure out if what I was writing was true to the times.  Would it be correct for him to have an MRI scan or be given Vicodin for his pain?  (no, to both of those, by the way)  Who would be responsible for notifying his family of his accident (or death)?  And, most importantly, what sorts of injuries might he sustain, and how would they be treated?  Whew!  I was overwhelmed.  I turned to the internet, but wasn't able to find everything I needed to know.  I became frustrated.  What could I do?

Fortunately, there's a happy ending to my story.  God, in His infinite wisdom, led me to a friend who just happens to be an ER nurse at a local hospital.  She had read my books and knew my hero's spot.  After firing a barrage of questions her way, she was able to provide me with the answers  I needed to factually and accurately move my story forward.  All was right with the world once more!

The moral of the story:  If you're writing about any era other than the present one, be sure to do your homework.  Scan the internet, go to the library, talk to people who lived during that time.  We all know a book full of grammatical errors is horrific enough, but a book full of inaccurate information is just as bad.  You want your readers to see you as someone who goes all the way in making their work the best it can be.  There's never an excuse for sloppy writing. 

How do you research your book's era?  Tell me in the comments!

Until next time...happy writing!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

New Year, New Opportunities

Last year was rough.  Just downright rough.  You name it, and it probably happened around here.  It seems the only thing missing was a natural disaster, and if Lake Erie were capable of producing hurricanes or tsunamis, I'm not so sure we would have been spared.

But....  That's past history!  It's a brand new year, and with that comes brand new opportunities.  Three-hundred-and-sixty-five new days to wake up, get dressed, and conquer the world.  Right?

Well, okay.  Maybe we won't feel like conquering the world every day.  Realistically speaking, there will be days we feel more like flinging the alarm clock across the room, burrowing under the covers, and going back to sleep for the next 24 hours.  It's inevitable.  No one promised life would be perfect, but fortunately, those days are the exception rather than the rule for most of us.  However, when they hit, they can be a real downer.  It's those times you just have to put on your big girl (or big boy) pants and suck it up.  Move forward.  Keep going with the knowledge that the situation is only temporary.  Work it out the best you can, and be proud of your efforts.

The same holds true for our writing.  In the past year, despite the personal challenges I faced, there were days I sat down and cranked out great work.  I would reread my previous days' musings and feel a sense of accomplishment.  Other times, I would hate it all--'highlight' and 'delete' became my best friends.  There were even times I would go days--even weeks--without writing a single word.  It didn't matter if I had 500,000 thoughts all swirling around in my head dying to be a part of my manuscript.  If I wasn't feeling it, they stayed where they were, never to see the light of day. 

But, I kept going.

I didn't let those 'off' days get to me, and you shouldn't, either.  I've heard it's best to try to write something every day in order to keep the creative juices flowing, and I agree with that.  However, if there are days when the muse decides to go on vacation, don't sweat it.  I always say you can't force creativity.  It's either there, or it's not.  If it is, then by all means, grab it by the horns and don't let go.  Write until your fingers ache!  If it's not, step away from the computer and allow yourself to relax and regroup.  Take a long walk, a candlelight bath, catch a movie with a friend.  Have dinner with your significant other, play a game with your kids.  Do something that will take your focus off the writing for a little while.  Chances are, when you return to it, the words will come more easily.

Just keep in mind that today is only one day, and you still have 364 more opportunities to shine.  And you undoubtedly will!

Until next time, Happy Writing!

Monday, December 9, 2013

'Tis The Season

It's that time of year again, and everyone's focus seems to be on finding that perfect gift.  I understand how frustrating it can be to head to the local mall and spend hours flitting from one store to the next, only to go home empty handed or with something I "settled" on.  We authors are sitting on a goldmine of gift ideas not only for those on our own shopping lists, but dozens of others as well.  How do you use your gift of writing as a gift for others?

1--Let's start with the obvious--books make awesome gifts!  All of us know at least a few avid readers, so why not sign a copy or two of your work, wrap them up in pretty paper, and hand them out?  Or, set up a booth at a local craft or book fair and suggest your book(s) as the "perfect gift." 

2--Take Tip #1 a step further and offer to donate a portion of your profits from holiday sales to a charity or local homeless shelter, food bank, etc.  Offer a discount off the purchase price for donating a non-perishable food item or a small toy to be given to a needy child.   People will be encouraged to buy not only for the value of the book itself as a gift, but the added bonus of helping others.

3--Nothing says "I care" better than a handwritten note.  Is there someone you're thinking of who could use a word of encouragement during this time of year, or would simply love to hear from you?  Instead of picking up the phone, buy some pretty stationery and craft a meaningful letter to let them know they're on your mind.  If you're the poetic type, include a few original lines of prose.  They will cherish it!

4--Who doesn't enjoy looking through old photos and sharing memories?  Make up a small scrapbook or photo album and include a short story that correlates with each photo.  Reliving times past is the perfect way to spread the joy of the season.

5--Write the script for a short holiday play to be presented by your church, neighborhood playhouse, or just family members in your living room.  It can be fun and festive, or serious to reflect your beliefs.  Writers are often prompted to "show, not just tell" and this is one way you can do that!

Tap into that creativity and let me know what other ideas you might have in the comments section.  Wishing you a peaceful and joyous holiday season!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Don't Push Me Away!

Rejection.  As writers, we are more than familiar with the term.   It happens often to many of us, but never loses its sting.  Rejection is never fun and never welcome.  We tend to take it personally.  We allow it to ruin our ambition, to make us feel as if we have nothing worthy to offer.  It wraps us up in the blanket of "oh, woe is me" and won't let us go.  It comes in many forms, from the well-known letter from a publisher or agent to a less-than-stellar book review.  So, how do we unfold ourselves from rejection's grip and learn to use it to our advantage?

Wait--did I say "to our advantage?"  How is that even possible, you ask?

Negative feedback doesn't have to hold you back.  The next time you find yourself staring into the face of rejection, try these tips:

Rejection Letter--The publisher says you don't have what they're looking for.  So, what?  There are plenty of others out there!  Take the time to read the letter carefully, tweak your manuscript accordingly, and submit it to other companies.  Let each rejection you receive become a challenge to keep pushing onward.  Don't throw out your dreams of publication with the letter!

Negative Review--These always hurt, no doubt, but it's unrealistic to believe everyone will love your work.  Try to keep in mind that a review is simply one person's opinion and does not reflect the opinions of everyone.  Like the rejection letter, read the review carefully and take note of any ways you might be able to improve your writing.  Again, keep moving onward--for every one person who isn't satisfied by your work, there are probably ten or more who are!

Rejection from Readers--There will be times in your writing career when a reader gives negative feedback on your work.  Again, you can't expect everyone to love what you do.  People like what they like--it's as simple as that.  Keep that thought in mind and thank the reader for his/her input.  Unless you are getting the same feedback from a large number of readers, simply take it as a grain of salt.

What other types of rejection have you faced in your writing career?  How did you handle it?  Please feel free to share in the comments!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Speaking From Experience

I love public speaking--now, that is.  I used to hate it.  In fact, in years past, just the very thought of speaking in front of a group would put me into such a state of panic that I would almost become physically ill.  Now when I look back on those days, believe it or not, I can't for the life of me understand why I ever felt that way.  Public speaking engagements carry so many positives for an author that you can't afford not to do them, at least once in a while.  But what if you, too, find yourself shaking, sweating, and stammering when placed behind a podium?  Maybe these tips can help:
  • Know Your Topic:  Nothing causes a presentation to take a nose dive faster than a speaker who doesn't have knowledge of his topic.  I don't recommend speaking on any subject you don't have personal experience with or aren't willing to thoroughly learn or research.  Sticking to what you know has its benefits, and you'll be less flustered if the presentation goes off-course a little.  
  • Practice Makes Perfect:  Practice your presentation in front of friends and family, allowing them to provide honest feedback.  Does your voice trail off at the end of a sentence?  Do you make adequate eye contact?  Do you speak clearly?  Does your presentation cover interesting points or does it ramble on endlessly?  Use the feedback you get to improve the areas that need improving and strenghten your overall performance.
  • Timing is Everything:  Inexperienced or nervous speakers tend to either cut their presentations short or go over the time allotted.  Be sure you know exactly how much time you're expected to fill, and time your speech to stay within the limits.  I personally write my presentations to allow for at least 10-15 minutes of question and answer time at the end, or a writing activity--whichever is appropriate for the event.
  • Stay On Topic:  Many times a speaker gets a question or a comment from the audience and veers completely away from the original topic.  If this happens, go ahead and address it, but don't spend too much time away from the subject.  Gently guide everyone back to what they came to hear and learn.  Always keep in mind that you're on a schedule.
  • Relax and Have Fun:  Don't approach your presentation like a stuffy college professor.  Relax and enjoy your crowd.  Smile, make eye contact, and be animated if that's your personality.  Keep the audience interested by speaking in a conversational way, avoiding a monotone that's sure to bore everyone there.
Remember, speaking engagements are a great way for you to reach out to those who may be interested in reading your book and/or becoming writers themselves.  Don't be afraid to get out there and do it--the more you do, the more comfortable and experienced you'll become.  Happy writing--and speaking!

*Photo courtesy of Google Images

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Sweet Success!

Recently, my family had the privilege of seeing rock legend Elton John in concert.  Whether or not you are a fan of Elton's music, you can't deny that the man is a success.  At the age of 66 he continues to record music, tour extensively, and sell more records than many artists could ever dream of.   So, as I sat in the concert arena with my ears ringing and my throat hoarse from singing the strains of "Crocodile Rock", I started to think:  what made him the iconic celebrity he is today?

Hard Work:  If you've ever seen Elton perform, you know he's no slacker.  His concerts are two-and-a-half hours of non-stop energy.  He puts his all into every note he sings and every note he plays.  His tours generally encompass most major cities in the United States as well as some overseas.

Dedication to His Fans:  He knows what they want, and he delivers.  Elton made it a point to involve his audience, often inviting them to sing along with him, enticing them to clap to the beat, and addressing them after each song with a bow.  He thanked them for being there and believing in him, noting that they were the reason he does what he does.

Attention to Detail:  The stage was set perfectly, sound checks were done, a glass of his favorite beverage provided to keep him from getting cotton mouth.  Lights flashed at appropriate times, speakers were adjusted for the perfect sound.  Merchandise vendors knew what items to recommend, ushers made sure everyone found their seats, ticket takers made sure no one "slipped" in who hadn't paid to be there.  Every T was crossed, every I was dotted.  No detail was overlooked.

Working with the Right People:  Over the years, Elton John has networked with some of the finest in the industry, and in doing so, has helped boost himself to super stardom--Bernie Taupin (songwriter), Nigel Olsen (legendary drummer/musician), and of course, Billy Joel.  He has connections and uses them wisely.

How does all this relate to writing, you say?  Think about it.  If we work hard at our craft, remember the role our readers play in what we do, pay attention to detail in our work(engaging stories, strong characters, thorough editing), and surround ourselves with others who can help boost our careers, we are sure to find success as authors.  Elton's an artist, and we are as well.  Keep on the "Yellow Brick Road" and maybe someday you'll see your name in lights, too!  Happy writing!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

You're The Inspiration

I was having a chat with my niece during Easter dinner about music, particularly songs and artists from the 80s.  This is a favorite subject of mine: having been a teenager during that era, I hold a special fondness for the tunes which used to vibrate the speakers in my car, shake the windows in my home (but only when Mom and Dad weren't home!), and are responsible for at least 60% of my current hearing loss.  Even today, when I hear certain songs and artists, I'm reminded of a simpler time--of people, places, and events that helped shape me into who I am today.  It's for this reason that my Forever Love Series is set in the late 1980s.  And, thanks to a 45 rpm version of "I Can't Hold Back" by Survivor, my beloved Mitch Tarrington became a musician.

Why do authors write about the things that they do?  Where do the ideas come from?  While the initial inspiration for my books was born from an actual dream, I tend to take a lot from the things around me.  Sometimes a song will spark my muse; other times, a TV show or something I observe while I'm out and about in the world.  I find that ideas and inspirations for writing are everywhere, if one will only take the time to find them.  The way to your readers' hearts may very well be found in words from the waitress at your favorite restaurant, a painting at the local museum, or the child playing hopscotch on the school playground.  Maybe doing some people watching at the local mall will inspire a new character, or provide you with some traits you can use to spice up a current one.  Will your hero sweep the girl off her feet and carry her to that mansion you pass on your way to work each day?  Or will she rescue him from a life like the homeless man you read about in the newspaper?  One never knows.

Ideas and inspirations are everywhere, and you need to be ready when one hits you.  Carry a small notebook in your pocket, handbag, or briefcase to jot down things that spark your interest.  Invest in a handheld recorder if that works better for you.  Then take what you've gathered, mix it with your own imagination, and build a world that your readers can get lost in, if only for a few hours a day.  What inspires you? Share with me in the comments.  Happy writing!

*Photo courtesy of Google Images