Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year's Eve !

 2012 is about to sing its final song. Thank goodness. It's been an interesting years of successes, disasters and set backs. It's the time of year that we make resolutions, most of which we won't keep. Every year we hope to be better, slimmer and sexier than the year before. Every year at this time we're saddened by not having achieved those goals. If I've learned anything from living with a criminal defense attorney for almost 20 years is that often you need to redefine the term "win."

This year the main theme of my life seems to be change. My son changed schools. I've changed law firms. Opened a new office in Fairfax, Virginia. Had my paralegal quit for slightly more money. I became a professional writer, and am making head roads on my dream to make writing the day job. While it's been a volatile ride, I'm mostly happy with where things are.

Still, I think I'm going to adopt a Festivus tradition for this year. I've been thinking of this since I wrote last week's post on Christmas. One of the Festivus traditions is "the airing of the grievances." I think with a little tweak, it would really work. Here's my tweak: Rather than airing grievances at any one person, I think they need to be told to the Universe and then let go. After all, the New Year is all about new beginnings and a "fresh start." How can you get one of those if you're still holding on to last year's baggage?

So, at 11:55 pm tonight, tell your regrets, your slights and angers to the Universe and let them go at midnight. Start the New Year with hope and a clear heart. At least, that's what I'm going to do.

Wishing you health, happiness and good reading for 2013. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Everything I needed to know about the business of publishing, I learned at Superstars Writing Seminar

Three years ago my life changed.

Before dismissing that statement as being melodramatic, just hear me out.

It was 2010 and I was thinking that I might actually be interested in maybe someday pursing a writing career. I was receiving Dave Farland's Daily Kicks, and he mentioned he was putting together this seminar-thing (okay, he was far more eloquent than that) with a bunch of other top-notched and top-selling fantasy writers about everything you needed to know about the publishing industry but no one was willing to tell you. The other instructors - Kevin J. Anderson, Eric Flint, Rebecca Moesta and Brandon Sanderson - all had equally impressive resumes. The seminar-thingy was the Superstars Writing Seminar. I figured what the heck, I'd been going to "skills" seminars for about 5 years now, maybe it was time to get an insider's look at the industry I wanted to be part of.

Best (professional) decision of my life.


The information and insight into the publishing market, including the self-publish v. traditional publishing debate, was invaluable. Knowing the risks inherent for a publisher in taking on a new writer, I understood (and could work to circumvent) the barriers to publishing.

The time with the instructors was unprecedented. Remember that I said I'd been attending seminars for 5 years. Even with instructor intense workshops, there wasn't a whole lot of out of class time with the instructors. Superstars blew that distance out of the water. We went to lunch with the instructors. We went out drinking with Kevin Anderson. If you wanted a few minutes of their time, all of them where happy to oblige.

The instructor time ties in with a very important point. Brandon, Dave, Eric, Kevin and Rebecca are some of the nicest and most open people you could every want to meet. They genuinely want to help other writers succeed. They are invested in helping them do so. They are a wealth of information on many disparate topics and are more than happy to share that knowledge whether its publishing, queries, hiking, micro brew beers, mafia, European history or whatever.  For the price of asking, they've given us hours of their time to help the Superstars attendees move their careers forward.  The picture above is Brandon Sanderson talking to a group of Superstars alum at the 2012 World Fantasy Con. He gave us three and a half hours of his time to talk about anything and everything. I could spend many posts talking about the other instructors and how they've helped my career as well, and probably will in future posts. And the guest speakers are just as open and wonderful as the regular instructors.

Then, of course, there's the connections you form with the other attendees. The Superstars attendees are as amazing as the instructors. A group of the 2010 Superstars alums formed the a writing group We blog about writing and the writing life at Fictorians. The picture to the right is of some of us at World Fantasy 2012. In addition to Fictorians, Superstars alums have an active Facebook group. We encourage and commiserate with each other. We are our own best cheerleaders. That network of people going through exactly what you are is invaluable. It's also how I found my publisher.

Most of all, what Superstars did for me was give me the confidence to say, "I am going to be a professional writer." It's not a crazy dream. It's a goal. Superstars gave me an understanding of the business side of the industry that I couldn't get anywhere else.

So, I'm a repeat offender for Superstars. The 2013 session (May 14-16, 2013) will mark my fourth attendance. If you are interested in a career as a writer (or even if your just curious), I highly recommend you attend Superstars Writing Seminar, which will be held in Colorado Springs, Colorado this year. Prices go up on 12-21-12, so sign up now.

Feel free to e-mail me off-line if you have any questions about Superstars. And I hope to see you there.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Looking to make the holidays last longer - Forget the Mistletoe

Looking to extend the holiday season? Then check out fellow Word Wench Lizzie T. Leaf's Forget the Mistletoe. 
Marta's cold on the retail holiday season, but warming to the hot hunk from home office, even if he loves Christmas.
Marta Holt hates Christmas and all the fuss that goes with it, which isn’t a good way to feel about the biggest money making season in her chosen career field, retail management.

Linc Blanchard’s family owns the chain of retail stores and shows up in Denver to make sure that Marta, the temporary manager, doesn’t affect the bottom line of that store’s Christmas season with her lack of appreciation of his favorite holiday.

Mix in Claude, an elf with attitude that has been sent into the human world to help Santa correct the mistake he made with Marta when she was a little girl and you have a hot, humorous fantasy to relieve the stress of your holidays.


Aspirin. A whole bottle would be great about now Marta thought as she followed Linc to yet another department. His suggestions covered every area of the store. He asked, never told, managers to consider moving merchandise around. Change a display here, add something to a display there he said with too much enthusiasm for her taste.

In the fur department, he suggested to the manager that she and her employees wear the fur collars and scarves. He even pulled Marta over and demonstrated what he had in mind as he arranged a fur scarf around her shoulders.

They left the department with the manager salivating at his every word, just as all the managers in the prior departments did.

Personally, she’d rather have left with one of the sable coats, but that didn’t fit her budget now. She envisioned being wrapped from head to toe in sable.

Someday, she thought. Someday.

Linc strolled through the various departments greeting employees and customers alike. “There’re lots of very nice people in Denver. I can understand why my grandfather chose this to be one of the five cities for our stores.”

He left the employees fawning in his wake as he oozed charm and smiles. Marta didn’t know how much longer she could keep the grin on her face plastered in place. If this goodwill tour didn’t end soon she would have to excuse herself to puke.

“One more department to go, and then it should be time for lunch. We’ll eat in the fourth floor dining room. Does that work for you, Miss Holt?”

No way would she let his charm affect her. Instead, she ignored the reference to lunch and said, “From my calculations the last area to cover is the toy department. Right?”

“Thought we’d save the best for last.” Linc headed toward the back of the store.

Marta dreaded what ideas he’d throw out when they reached their destination. She didn’t trust this man since his suggestions turned out to affect everything she and Mr. Peterson thought worked. Who knew what he had in mind for toys? Then again, maybe he’d put Mr. Pain in the Ass elf in his place.

“Claude.” Linc greeted the head elf like an old friend.

“Linc. Good to see you again.” Claude reached up to shake hands with the man who loomed above him.

Good heavens, they’re on a first name basis.

Wonderful, Marta thought as she observed the interaction between the elf and her employer.

“Marta, you look a little pale today.” The little man turned his attention to her.

“Thank you, Claude. Nice of you to notice.” Yep, she needed to strangle the little shit.

“Claude, Marta and I are going to the dining room to grab a bite of lunch. I hope you can take a break and come with us. I’d like to hear more about the ideas you mentioned last night.” Linc placed his hand on the small man’s shoulder and the men walked away leaving Marta to follow.

Damn, damn, double damn. Marta felt like the outsider here. No way would they shut her out through their male bonding. She rushed to catch up.

Lunch confirmed what Marta had come to suspect when she and Linc toured the various departments. He loved Christmas. She fought to keep her lunch down when Linc and Claude got on the subject of Santa Claus. It sounded like the fools still believed, especially the pointy-eared fellow. Heaven save her from idiots.

“So shoot, Claude. What other ideas do you have that would make this season our best ever?” Linc poured himself another cup of coffee as he encouraged the elf to reveal his thoughts.

“Yes, Claude. Please share.” Marta clenched her teeth to keep the smile in place. Obviously head elf made more of an impression on the big shot than she did.

“I think things in the toy department are pretty well under control.” Claude stirred the coffee to dissolve the six packages of sugar he’d added. “I hear through the grapevine that the malls are offering incentives to lure the customers back to their Santas.” The elf wiggled his ears and continued to stir his coffee. “There is one suggestion I have, but it would affect the whole store.”

“I’m always open to new ideas. What do you have in mind?” Linc encouraged.

Marta watched in disbelief. With Claude she could understand the need to stir his coffee friggin’ forever with all the sugar he added, but why in hell did Linc start stirring the liquid in his cup? He took his decaf black. It must have something to do with the male bonding thing. Men were strange creatures.

“I think it would be a great idea to place mistletoe around the store in various areas. When an employee catches a customer of the opposite sex standing under it, they’d go over and give them a quick kiss on the cheek.”

The swallow of coffee that Marta had just taken spewed across the table. “That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard and you’ve come up with some doozies since I met you.” Marta glared at the elf.

“No. Wait a minute.” Linc held up one hand for Marta to stop as he picked up his napkin with the other and wiped off the coffee she’d deposited on his face. “This is an interesting idea. I can see merit here. Something no other store has done, and if we do it right… Yep, I can see the customers getting a good laugh out of it.”

“I disagree. Screw the mistletoe idea. Forget it. We’ll be the laughing stock of Denver.” Marta couldn’t believe he actually took the preposterous suggestion seriously.

“I don’t think so, Miss Holt.” Linc’s flashing dark eyes left no doubt in Marta’s mind she’d lost this argument.


To find out what happens next, you can check out Forget the Mistletoe here.
Learn more about Lizzie T. Leaf on her website and blog. Connect with Lizzie on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.lo

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Holidays

This time of year we hunker down with family to celebrate life. Whether that celebration is called Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Festivus, the winter holidays celebrate passing the darkest day of the year, passing through death, and moving toward the spring and rebirth (well, okay, maybe not Festivus).

To quote Frank Cross (Bill Murray) from Scrooged (1988) with a little editing since I'm a bit late on this post:

 It's Christmas . . .! It's... it's the one [day] of the year when we all act a little nicer, we... we... we smile a little easier, we... w-w-we... we... we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be!

Anyway, whether you celebrate around a decorated tree, group of candles or a stack of 23 Bud Lite cans, happy holidays to you and yours from me and mine. Let us all strive to be the people we always hoped we would be.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Toolbox Part II

I talked about having a Writer's Toolbox on Monday. A Writer's Toolbox contains, well, everything we know and learn about the people and world around us as well as the books and other reference materials we can consult. It's where we go when we're stuck. When you dig deep, it's these tools you are relying on. So, on Monday I gave you a list of my top 10-6th items in it., and today I round out my top ten.

5. The Three Hs – humor, humility, and hope.

Writing challenges on many levels. You can hit a wall and fight with your characters. You can become despondent waiting for and receiving rejections. Just the opposite happens when you get an acceptance or someone leaves a positive review. You have to take the positive and negative in stride otherwise you’ll give up.

4. On Writing by Stephen King, Million Dollar Outlines by David Wolverton, and Save the Cat by Blake Snyder

Of the writing books I’ve read, these three were the ones that spoke to me the most. On Writing is less about how to write than the writing life, but it should be a must read for everyone that wants to be a writer.

Million Dollar Outlinesand Save the Cat both focus on outlining to the “Hollywood Formula”. Between these two, I’m making the slow transition from discovery writer to outliner. Applying the structure to Falcon, one of my works in progress, during rewrite/ revision has made it a stronger story. I’m using the method to outline Nocebo Effect, an urban fantasy, and I’ll let you know how that process goes.

3. The Smithsonian Institute and the Library of Congress.

This is a resource I need to take better advantage of. I live a short distance outside Washington, DC. If I want to learn more about ancient Egyptian culture, I can take a trip to the museum. If I’m willing to put the time in, I could probably arrange to interview an Egyptologist.

2. My camera and photo albums.

I’m pretty visual and often have trouble making up features without a template to work from – see tool # 7 from Monday's post. One of the things I’ve done in the past is flip through my photos of people I know, and don’t know and assemble a new character from bits of many real ones. I’ve taken candid shots of strangers with interesting faces. By having this photo library, I’ve been able to add depth and detail to my characters.

1. My friends and family.

I couldn’t do half of what I do without the support of my family and friends. They’ve been sounding boards, alpha or beta readers, and my cheer leading team. Contrary to popular belief, not all of writing is a solitary exercise. To quote the Beatles, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

So, that’s some of the items in my writer’s toolbox. What’s in yours?

Monday, December 17, 2012

My Toolbox - Part I


 As a writer, you often hear about having a “writer’s tool box.” The first time I heard this phrase was on Orson Scott Card’s Hatrack writer’s workshop. Writer’s toolboxes vary. They are the reference materials and experiences we rely on when we find ourselves wrestling with a story. So, here are the top 10 things in my tool box:

10.  The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell.

Everyone needs inspiration from time to time. I love this little book.

 9.      Garner’s Modern American Usage, and other usage guides.

We’re writers. We’re supposed to get the grammar right. But, I have to confess, it’s not always my strongest skill. I have a number of usage books for reference.

8.      Every book, and podcast by Grammar Girl.

The rational is the same as #9, but sometimes I can often the answer faster with Mignon Fogerty’s (aka Grammar Girl’s) resources. And I’ll admit it; I like the funny little illustrations. Grammar Girl takes the often highbrow discussions about usage and makes them easy for everyone to understand.

7.      The Describer’s Dictionary by David Grambs

Okay. There are only so many ways to say someone has blue eyes. Or is there? The Describer’s Dictionary helps me vary my descriptive prose. It also helps when I’m suffering from the tip of the tongue phenomenon. Often I can visualize what I want but recalling the proper word escapes me. This little dictionary helps ensure I don’t have any malapropisms that I didn't plan.

6.      The Writer's Digest Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherrilyn Kennon.

I admit it. I’m crap at naming things. If it were up to me, the entire universe would be named “Bob”. My oldest son is. Anyway.  I’ll thumb through the book at least once a writing project.

That's enough for the moment. Please check back on Wednesday for the top 5 things in my toolbox.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Why writing is like farming.

Recently, I've heard writers lamenting about their sales and royalty checks. Some of them have gone as far as saying that the cost of writing a story so outweighed the financial benefit that they have received from that story that they will no longer write.

When I was talking to my husband about this, he said that it seemed to him that "writing was like farming."  I asked him to explain what he meant. It struck me that his analogy was a lot like Kevin J. Anderson's popcorn theory, and like Kevin's also particularly apt. The analogy that follows is Matt's:

Writing is like farming. First, when you start you have to work very hard to clear the land, prepare the soil, and plant the seeds. You work to weed and fertilize the crops. The first harvest is never what you want it to be. But it's a start. Once you've harvested that first crop, you have to work the land and reseed it for your next one. Then the weeding and fertilizing starts again. You have to move sites every once and a while so you don't use up the land and make it useless. And you have to do it year after year never knowing what the sun, rain and pests will do to your harvest.

When you have your very first harvest and take it to market, no one knows you or what you're selling. They don't come and buy that harvest in droves. If your lucky you have a few brave souls willing to take a risk on you. And you spend hours at farmers' markets and other venues trying to get those few precious sales.

After a couple of years, people begin to learn about you and come by to see if they like what you are growing. And if you have a bad year, some of your customers will go away and not come back. But you have to keep putting your harvest out there for sale, and tell people about it at the grocery store, gas station and every other place and time you can.

Then, years and years after you start, people will be coming by regularly for your crops. You will know them, and want to grow better crops for them.

And then a bunny will come and eat your lettuce, but you won't mind so much.

Nancy again -

Our neighbors across the street are farmers. They grow hay, corn and about half a dozen other crops, as well as, hogs, goats, chickens and cows. He and his family perform massive and exhausting labor every day. After Leighton's heart attack, his first question wasn't "should I give up farming" but "how long before I can get on a tractor again?" If I suggested he should stop farming just because his hogs aren't selling well this year, he'd look at me like I was insane. And he'd be right. You don't give up when one crop fails. You have other crops in the works because at some point every crop will perform poorly.

It seems to me that you can substitute the word "book" for harvest, and crops, and the word "writing" for growing fairly easily. Breaking out in the writing industry is hard work.  First, when you start you have to work very hard to come up with the idea and write the first draft. Then, you have to work at editing (weeding and fertilizing) the story. When you have your very first novel and take it to market, no one knows you or what you're selling. They don't come and buy that book in droves. You spend hours in promotions, blog hops and doing everything you can think of to sell that book. The first book is never what you want it to be. But, you keep writing.

Most writers who have "broken out" didn't do it with their first book, or the second. If I recall right, Kevin J. Anderson quit his day job after his tenth published book, and with a year of savings in the bank. A recent Daily Kick from David Wolverton advocated having no back-up plan for writing. If writing is what you want to do, you need to sink your heart and soul into it.

Leighton, Dave and my husband are all right. (Yes, Matt, I said that on the Internet so now you have proof).  If a story isn't performing as well as you'd like, and all your marketing isn't helping, work on your next one. Get more product to the market. Eventually, all your time, effort and energy will pay off.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Work in progress update for November

With the first two major fall holidays past, thoughts turn to the dying of the light, and the old year. While 2012's not over yet, it's been a heck of a ride so far. I expect December will keep pace.

I'm still experiencing transition pains with the new law firm. I (read that as my very manly husband) moved from the basement office where I was squatting into my new office on the second floor this weekend. That means Matt had to carry my very heavy (so he tells me) furniture up two flights of steps. For some reasons houses built before the Civil War don't have elevators.

New Bohemia was my NaNoWriMo novel this year. I added the 30,000 words I wanted, but like most discovery writers, I learned I was still 20,000 words from that magic phrase "the end." So, December's goal is to get that done. I did write nearly every day in November so NaNo was a sucess even if I don't get to put that little banner up.

Apollo Rising, which released on September 10, 2012 from Musa Publishing, is free on Amazon from December 3-5, 2012.  Please check it out. This is the buy link if you want a free copy and are reading this during the promotion period.

I've rewritten 130 pages of Falcon, the novel I took to Dave Farland's rewriting seminar. If my estimate on New Bohemia is right, I should be able to get half of Falcon rewritten by the year's end.

So, that's my plan for the rest of 2012. What's yours?