Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Out with the Old Resolutions, In with the New Goals

Cleaning emotional house is sort of what this turning-of-the-year holiday is all about. We reflect. We anticipate. We rue. We rejoice. It’s all part of that “year in review" thing we do in late December and early January. No doubt this reflection is the impetus for the old custom of “making New Year’s Resolutions”, which, if they’re lucky last a week or two. Maybe even three if you bought into the debunked theory that it takes 21 days to turn a behavior into a habit.

But it didn’t become a habit in 21 days, did it? Not even with a resolve to do so. And it fell off your radar with some regrets, but let’s face it, with no real surprise.

The dictionary definition for "New Year’s Resolution" that best fits is “a firm decision to do or not do something.”

Why does that “resolution” fall short of becoming a habit? New research indicates that it will likely take more than two months for a new behavior to become automatic, to become a “habit”. Whew. That would explain a lot about why those resolutions fall by the wayside and that making New Year’s Resolutions is the butt of many jokes.

Still hope does spring eternal and the buzz of good intentions brings the hope this year will be different with resolutions made.

But what if we didn’t make resolutions? What if we set goals? SMART goals--specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time-bound?

Here are some of my goals for 2015. Some of them I expect to become habits (like drinking more water and exercising) while others are goals to meet and be done with. And given a sound mind in a sound body, I am focusing in personal goals on my health. And if I lose some weight, even better.

1) Walk an average of 10,000 steps a day at least 5 days a week for six months.
2) Return to WBV water aerobics class for at least three days a week through Mid-May.
3) Plan weekly food menus and shopping lists for six months to control food costs and portion sizes.
4) Make a daily list of tasks that can be accomplished that day.
5) Keep 16 ounces of water at my computer desk during morning writing sessions.
6) Get up and get active for the five minutes between pomodori writing sessions.

1) Write for six pomodori at least five days a week.
2) Use the tomato timer to attack clutter piles for two pomodori a day for at least two days a week for eight weeks or until piles are gone.
3) Complete first draft of Prime Rib and Punishment by the end of January.
4) Send edited draft of Prime Rib and Punishment to editor by mid-February.
5) Send revised draft of Prime Rib and Punishment to publisher by end of February.
6) Complete first draft of Potluck by the end of February.
7) Send edited draft of Potluck to editor by mid-March.
8) Send revised draft of Potluck to publisher by the end of April.
9) Post two book reviews to Amazon each month.
10) Use 9-step plan to organize Ancient Grease, book four, by the end of June.

Is this too ambitious? I guess we’ll find out. At the end of six months, I’ll take a look at where I am with goals without beating myself up. I’ll make revisions, additions, deletions, and set up the next six-month goals.

I’ll let you know how it goes. What are your goals/resolutions and how do you intend to meet them?

Next Week: More on Twitter for Writers

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Twitter for Writers: Hashtags are Presents to Open

Wow, this is a big topic. No wonder Rayne Hall wrote her Twitter for Writers book. Too much! You know this is only a Twitter starter kit, right? There is so much more to Twitter than I will deal with in my posts. But, enough whining, today we focus on hashtags.

You probably noticed hashtags (#wordorphrase) in my examples in last week’s post about collecting tweets and sending tweets. Like this:

A month of ideas for “What Can I Write on My Blog Today?” #amwriting #MondayBlogs http://angelicafrench.blogspot.com/2014/12/a-month-of-ideas-for-what-can-i-write.html

1) Hashtags are one of the ways to get yourself re-tweeted by others. A hashtag is a label that gathers tweets with the same hashtag in one place. So, if you have an interest in writing, you might visit #amwriting after you finished your tweeting.

Use the search feature to find topics people are tweeting about by putting #amwriting (or #mystery or something else) into the search box and hit the little magnifying glass for the search. A list of tweets in chronological order with most recent first will pop up on the right. Scroll down and find some links you might want to explore and/or re-tweet. When you add a hashtag to your tweet, others might do the same.

Some hashtags are “live” 24/7. For example, #amwriting is always available. Others like #MondayBlogs (only blog posts, no book promos) only are used on Mondays. Posting other times, or not sticking to the blog-post-only rule, is bad form. Others will notice that you are abusing the hashtag and may not retweet you!

You can start your own hashtag category. But if you don’t let people know about it, they won’t use it, so what’s the point. I started one for sharing old (or new) blog posts (no books) on Thursdays. So each Thursday I post the hashtag rules on Facebook and tweet about #ShareBlogPost to build up an audience. Each week, I have more people using this hashtag. So my tweets are being sent to tens of thousands more people than would be true if I only tweeted from my accounts.

Here’s the deal with one-day-a-week hashtags. If you post to there, you need to visit the site two or three times that day and re-tweet others. That’s how it works. If people only used the hashtag, the tweets would just sit there undistributed. It only works if people re-tweet and/or visit the link in the post. 

2) Another thing I like about a topic-focused hashtag like #amwriting over the more general topic ones is that I can get a bunch of possible links to information on something I am interested in. I can scan #amwriting to find tweets on character development or plotting. They stay there, accumulated, so I can go at any time to peruse topics.

And I am shameless. If someone has a good topic, well, I can do my spin on that for a blog post I write. These hashtag sites are a great resource for topics for your own blog posts or novel topics.

Here are some of the hashtags that I regularly use. Not every tweet and not all at once, but I attach these more than others.

#SundayBlogShare (Sundays for blog posts only)
#MondayBlogs (Mondays for blog posts only)
#WWWBlogs (Wednesdays for blog posts)
#ShareBlogPost (Thursdays for old posts mostly, can be new)
#ArchiveDay (Saturdays for old blog posts)
#BlogHer (any day)
#WriteTip (any day for writing tips, not promos)
#amwriting (any day)
#amreading (any day)

3) A third use for hashtags is to have a Twitter party or gathering of like-minded folks. #StoryDam does this on Thursday evenings and authors have used it for a book release party using their #MyBookTitle (fill in your title) hashtag. Everyone in “attendance” attaches that hashtag to posts so everyone can see it at the same time. These gatherings can be even more frantic than the Facebook events you may have attended. Items get lost in the Twitter feed and sometimes you don’t know what was being responded to. It is critical at those parties to not only use the hashtag, but the @name you are responding to so the person has a shot at seeing it.

Having said that, it is like being at a cocktail party where everyone is talking at the same time. LOTS of energy, and you will no doubt find some new folks to follow who have interests aligned with yours. Bright and glittery things will attract your attention! It is crazy fun!

More on hashtags coming as well as the specifics for constructing a tweet that will get re-tweeted. Come back next week! Same time, same place!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Twitter for Writers: How to Collect and Send Tweets

Let me make a plug here for a terrific book recently released by Rayne Hall. Rayne writes novels, but she also writes great little how-to books that are specific and targeted. Her book, Twitter for Writers, is absolutely worth getting. This blog series (Thanks for the title, Rayne!) is Twitter 101. Rayne takes you through the entire undergraduate program and into grad school for Twitter. Seriously. This is a thorough tome.

Now onto today’s business. I told you to just read tweets for this past week. You may even have clicked on some links or re-tweeted others. Great! Now you are going to prepare to start posting. As a caution, like any of the social media sites, you can get sucked into a huge time drain. DO NOT LET THAT HAPPEN. I will address time management strategies in another post. For now, give Twitter a KISS (Keep It Short and Simple).

Caveat: When thinking to re-tweet something, make sure it is real content and not a link to a promo site or malware. Always check out the link to be sure it’s a good one you want for your followers.

Today, I deal with tweet content and the next two weeks will be how to construct and post tweets that will get re-tweeted or otherwise passed along by others.

What do I get tweet?
Nobody knows the exact percentages, but everyone says you’ll get more real followers and better engagement with your followers if you mostly tweet content related to your account’s focus. You remember. That stuff you put in your profile letting others know what you are writing.

What is content? I tweet a lot of links to articles I’ve perused, my relevant blog posts, factoids, quotes, daily holidays to be aware of, friends’ book releases, and other stuff along those lines. I also re-tweet others’ content on blogs.

I try to stick to 80% content (including links to my blog posts) and 20% book promotions (buy-my-book links and review links). That means, if I have 20 tweets on @Good2Tweat, I mostly stick with only 4 tweets about buying my book spread out across the day.

Here’s my system:
1) I read news articles on two sites first thing every morning. Some articles catch my attention because they’ll be of interest to my readers. I click on the article, “Five Painful Steps for Dating in the New Year”. Hmm. My readers at “Romance Righter” would like that.

2) I create six tweets for that article, one for each of the points and one that is just a link to the site. [That’s your formula. Points listed + 1.} These tweets write themselves since you are just using the points listed in the article. The tweets will be distributed across the number of times you post your tweets.

5 painful steps for dating in the new year: Find the dating site right for you http://www.hlntv.com/article/2013/12/31/online-dating-new-years-resolution-love?hpt=hp_bn17

5 painful steps for dating in the new year: Fill out your profile http://www.hlntv.com/article/2013/12/31/online-dating-new-years-resolution-love?hpt=hp_bn17

5 painful steps for dating in the new year: Keep filling out your profile http://www.hlntv.com/article/2013/12/31/online-dating-new-years-resolution-love?hpt=hp_bn17

5 painful steps for dating in the new year: Stress over your pictures http://www.hlntv.com/article/2013/12/31/online-dating-new-years-resolution-love?hpt=hp_bn17

5 painful steps for dating in the new year: Find true love http://www.hlntv.com/article/2013/12/31/online-dating-new-years-resolution-love?hpt=hp_bn17

5 painful steps for dating in the new year http://www.hlntv.com/article/2013/12/31/online-dating-new-years-resolution-love?hpt=hp_bn17

3) I file these created tweets in a document labeled “Future RR Tweets” (or for one of my other Twitter accounts).

4) Repeat steps 1-3 until I have a collection of future tweets. I do several articles a day, every day, so I never run out of content to tweet. You need to start yours.

5) I create a document for the 2014 year for Romance Righter (and my other two blogs. I use this doc all year to collect tweets for daily posting. I work ahead a couple of days so I am always ready to post the next day.

Here’s part of one day’s collection:
December 15, 2014
Food Holiday: National Lemon Cupcake Day  ‘Tis the season for citrus. My lemon tree is loaded!

For Lemon Cupcake Day try Daisy’s Mini-Lemon Cupcakes http://shine.yahoo.com/shine-food/daisys-mini-lemon-cakes-062800520.html

Here’s another good lemon cupcake recipe: Lemon-Ricotta with Lemon Frosting http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/lemon-ricotta-cupcakes-with-fluffy-lemon-frosting

Pinterest is yet another way for authors to develop and promote their writing #amwriting #MondayBlogs http://otpblog.blogspot.com/2014/12/pinterest-another-way-to-develop-and.html

No need to struggle with blog post topics. Try these. #amwriting #MondayBlogs http://angelicafrench.blogspot.com/2014/12/a-month-of-ideas-for-what-can-i-write.html

Many thanks to Heather Rivera for including MISSION IMPASTABLE in her book lovers gift-giving guide blog post! #MondayBlogs http://www.heatherrivera.com/2014-holiday-gift-guide/

A month of ideas for “What Can I Write on My Blog Today?” #amwriting #MondayBlogs http://angelicafrench.blogspot.com/2014/12/a-month-of-ideas-for-what-can-i-write.html

@PRNancarrow makes the case for NOT knowing your audience when blogging #MondayBlogs #amwriting http://paulareednancarrow.com/2014/12/15/4-great-reasons-not-to-know-your-blogs-target-audience/#comment-2265

If you like to write #mysteries try a PI mystery with these elements #amwriting #MondayBlogs http://writeonsisters.com/mystery-2/mystery-mysteries-13-elements-private-investigator-mystery/

Elements to include in your #steampunk #mystery #amwriting #MondayBlogs http://sharonarthurmoore.blogspot.com/2014/12/how-to-write-steampunk-mysteries-in-11.html

You can see a blend of referrals to my blogs, book promos, food content, and referrals to others’ sites.

6) I create 2-3 versions of tweets for each tweet’s content and file them in my year-long document for specific days. That allows me to post about the blog post more than one time each day. Twitter won’t let you send the exact message more than once a day. Here are some versions for the same blog post:

No need to struggle with blog post topics. Try these. #amwriting http://angelicafrench.blogspot.com/2014/12/a-month-of-ideas-for-what-can-i-write.html

Trouble identifying fresh topics for your blog posts? Read this and see if it helps. #amwriting http://angelicafrench.blogspot.com/2014/12/a-month-of-ideas-for-what-can-i-write.html

A month of ideas for “What Can I Write on My Blog Today?” #amwriting #MondayBlogs http://angelicafrench.blogspot.com/2014/12/a-month-of-ideas-for-what-can-i-write.html

When it is time for me to post to Twitter, I open the appropriate doc, highlight the first entry for the day, copy it, and then paste into the Twitter message box, and hit “Tweet”. On to the next one until I am done with that session.

Okay, that was quick and full of detail. This week, try posting the article points idea and links to your book(s). 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Twitter for Writers: Twitter Doesn't Mean Fritter

Let me say, it’s nice to be back after my hiatus. I was posting at another blog, but it just didn’t work out so I bailed to return here. I did keep up my other two blogs (www.sharonarthurmoore.blogspot.com and www.angelicafrench.blogspot.com) while gone, but I missed you guys! 

Twitter is ubiquitous. We’ve all heard the stories of tweets that go viral. And wouldn’t I love that to happen with one of my tweets about one of my blog posts or book titles?

I have vociferous friends who refuse to tweet, calling it yet one more time waster. They’d rather be writing (so would I) then spending time contacting virtual friends in the Twitterverse. But, as a realist, I know my professional reality is marketing my work as much as writing it. And Twitter gives me a good ROI, return on investment.

This week, I’m starting a series of posts on Twitter for Writers in which I will simplify the world of Twitter, what it is and how it works, as well as strategies use it more efficiently for your purposes.

In a nutshell, Twitter can help drive traffic to your blog and to book selling sites. Eye-catching tweets gets re-tweeted to others followers and captured in some of the hundreds of on-line Twitter newspapers. You build trust, name recognition and followers so that when you tweet something, they want to help you spread the word.

I believe that at minimum an author ought to have a regular blog with content (not just book
promotions), an author page (or several) on Facebook, a presence on sites like Goodreads, and a few Twitter accounts. On Facebook, authors should belong to and actively participate in affinity groups who are potential readers of your work. Anything you do beyond that is the gravy on the mashed potatoes.

Notice I said “a few Twitter accounts”. I’ll be addressing that topic more fully in an upcoming post on maximizing Twitter coverage.

Twitter is unique among social media venues for several reasons. To me, the biggest are you have limited message space (140 characters), and you have the potential to contact hundreds of thousands more beyond your own set of followers. Even more than Facebook, the reach can be astronomical.

First, a little history. Twitter was created in mid-2006 (and there are some interesting, and conflicting stories around the creation that you can investigate on your own), and by the fall it had thousands of users. As of stats from 2012,
100 million users posted 340 million tweets a day! As of 2014, there are more than 500 million Twitter users with more than half being active users.

That’s a lot of potential audience for buying your books.

So what is Twitter and how does it work?

You set up one or more free Twitter accounts at https:twitter.com and then you find some people to follow. Select a few, click you want to follow, and then watch the Twitter feed those users send. The messages they send are called “tweets”. Watching what the feed looks like, how people grab your attention with their tweets and what others do with those tweets is the best way to learn.

First, setting up your account(s):
Choose a name to identify yourself to your followers. I messed up when I did this. I chose “cute” names, not name easily searchable for those wanting to find my books or blogs. Today, I would choose my author names as most of my friends have done. You can search for @CarynMcGill or @BreaBrown or @JoannFluke. You can’t find me with @Good2Tweat or @RomanceRighter. So do it right. Pick Twitter handles that are the names you write under--like I should have.

Create an intriguing author profile. Be sure to list a book title so it’s in view. Pick an avatar for your profile. Right now I’m using book covers for two and an odd science picture for the last. Some people have fancy backgrounds. You can do that, but at first, concentrate of learning the system.

Second, selecting people to follow:
You know author names who write what you write or people whom you admire and want to know more about through what they reveal in tweets. Use the search function at the top of your account and type in a name. If they have an account it will pop up along with the Twitter handle they use. All Twitter handles begin with @.

Click to follow the selected people. Their tweets will start showing up on your homepage. Re-tweet what you find interesting. This calls their attention to you. If you regularly retweet them, they may follow you. No guarantees.

To find others to follow, I go to the homepage of a person I’m following and see who they follow. I select more people from those lists. You can rather quickly build up your Twitter feed. [Caution: Twitter puts limits on following people I’ll address in a later post.]

I follow most of the people who follow me. I do not follow blatant advertisers nor people whose tweets I find annoying or objectionable. I can’t stop them (normally, but there is a way) from following me, but I don’t have to follow back.

Some people I follow will never follow me back, but I still want to read their tweets. It was a huge thrill when I got a follow from Emeril Lagasse! I immediately followed back. Well, he (or his PA) was just getting started so they followed anyone food related. Now that he has over 650K followers, he only follows 950+. I am not one!

Third, a few basics:
You’ll notice a range of options under a tweet. You can send a message to a tweeter. You can re-tweet the message. That sends it to anyone following you. You can like it so much you file the tweet in your “favorites” list. And there are more things.

Many tweets come highlighted. Some of the highlights are live links so you can go to the site they are promoting. Some of the highlights are hashtags so that tweets marked with # get collected so you can go read just those tweets. I am doing a post or two on hashtags and their use.

I hope this starter kit will entice you to try out Twitter. Set up an account and just read tweets for a week until I post the next segment of this series. See you back here for more!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

I'm Baaack! New Topics and An Invitation

Hey, all of you wonderful people. I am re-activating this blog for general writing issues. I'm starting a series on Twitter; what it is and how authors can make it work for them. I hope you find it useful. I also will do more with other business-end topics just as in the past.

Stop back by next Tuesday and see what I am talking about.

Also, authors, if you are looking for a spot to guest post, I have three blogs. Pick the one that matches you best and send me a proposal at LEADMoore@gmail.com for what you'd like to do. Your post will be up for a week, and I promote it on FB and Twitter. I assume you will, too!

You could guest post on an appropriate topic or be interviewed by me. You would send me the well-edited post, a head shot, book cover(s) mentioned, and links for my readers to find you.

Pretty simple, eh? Take a look at my blogs and see which fits you best.

So contact me at LEADMoore@gmail.com if you want to appear on:

Write Away (general writing issues related to producing and marketing fiction)

Parsley, Sage, and Rosemary Time (food issues/recipes, mystery writing, women's fiction, historical fiction)

Romance Righter (relationship and/or romance issues, chicklit, or romance literature; can be adult content)

Also, I would be most appreciative if you'd buy one (or more!) of my books and leave an Amazon review! Reviews are so important to authors. Thanks in advance!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Please Come Visit

I am posting every Tuesday and the second Saturday at writeonsisters.com

My "sisters" are so accomplished that I am learning tons as I read their posts each day.

If you are looking for a smart, informative, engaging read to start your day, check us out. We get thousands of page hits a week, so we are doing something right!

My schedule is:
First, third (and fifth if there is one) Tuesday--general issues in the writing craft or writing business
Second Tuesday--writing in the mystery genres
Fourth Tuesday--writing in the romance genres

Second Saturday--review an adult book

I hope you'll come by to check out my posts and those of my sisters.  Happy writing!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Moving On

Some of you may know that I write three blogs and have three twitter accounts. Nuts, right? If not, blogs include, besides this site, www.sharonarthurmoore.blogspot.com and www.angelicafrench.blogspot.com You can find me on Facebook, of course, and on Twitter @good2tweat, @romancerighter, and @riverglynn. Hope to connect with you at one or more of these sites.

Why so many blogs and Twitter accounts? For me, writing in so many genres, it seemed necessary to keep the disparate sections for my writing life loosely integrated.

Recently a position opened up at Write On Sisters (http://www.writeonsisters.com) for a Tuesday blogger. I applied and am very grateful to Robin Rivera, Heather Jackson, and Caryn McGill for taking me on for that slot. I have wanted to be part of a group of bloggers for some time, so this fits with my goals perfectly.

If you don't know of this high-quality site, please check it out. Smart women writing about interesting stuff. It was a favorite blog of mine even before I had the chance to join.

But that means this blog will be mostly inactive. I may occasionally post here or even cross-post from another blog, but I will not regularly check in.

I appreciate my loyal followers and others who popped in occasionally to comment on articles I posted. Your support, questions, and interest kept me going.

I hope you will check out my posts and those of my fellow Sisters at www.writeonsisters.com  It's an active and engaging place to hang out.

Au revoir!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Promotion or Marketing? What's the Diff?

I am not in anyone’s mind a business person. I have struggled with learning the business end of this writing profession of mine, and sometimes I didn’t do that gladly. I have been known to whine, complain, belly ache and be a general PITA** about business issues.

I am so na├»ve I used to dump anything that was remotely connected to promotion and marketing into the same unsorted-items folder. Other people’s ideas that I would figure out at some unspecified future date.

Well, the future is here, and I am only marginally better informed than I was. So feel free, all you promotion pros and marketing mavens, to join into the discussion in the comments section below. I am here to learn at your collective knee.

I realized pretty early on that dumping everything into one computer file didn’t make sense. Especially, since the items were unsorted, there was no way to find and use anything even if I knew I needed to. First job: I sorted into two separate computer files: book marketing and book promotion.

Ta Da!

Except … I had to make double copies of some articles because I wasn’t sure which was which! Sigh.

And I’m not alone. Some stuff labeled by business professional as “promotions” are sometimes “marketing”. But while I have an excuse Mad Men do not. I’m not expected to know. And that’s scary in itself.

Here’s what I now understand to be the difference between promotion and marketing--1) the amount of information provided and 2) the intent seem to be the major delineating factors.

Okay. Here’s my understanding:

Promotions announce information about availability, access, and news. “The print version of Mission Impastable was released for sale by Oak Tree Press January 23, 2014.”  Streetwalker came out from Sizzler Editions as an e-book on Amazon on August 1, 2013.”  Mission Impastable got a 4.5 rating from Manic Readers.”  “I posted about how I wrote Mission Impastable at Sarah’s Reading Blog today.”

There is no pitch. No direct appeal for sales. Promotion merely tells or reminds the reader that a product is available.

Marketing has a different intent and provides much more information. I want you to buy my book, and sooner is better than later. I am offering you value-added to convince you to buy. “With Mission Impastable you get a two-fer: mystery + cookbook.” “Buy Mission Impastable today at  “This weekend only, get Mission Impastable for 99¢”

What confuses me is when promotion are marketing are conflated. I don’t know the term for that. Am I promoting or am I marketing? Announcing reviews with a buy link seems to be both. Things like book trailers with buy information are marketing because they’re trying to hook you into buying. Announcing a great review seems to be marketing.

I will do another post on some of my promotional and marketing ploys next time. This topic is rich with options.

I’m sure a business person could straighten me out, but for now . . . I’ll just keep on truckin’, and whether it is promotion or marketing, in the end, doesn’t really matter. Labeling my activity as promotion or marketing doesn’t sell books. But I hope whatever I’m doing, does!

**PITA: Pain in the Arse

Friday, April 18, 2014

Caught in the Author Web!

I was snagged to participate in a spider web blog challenge. Janet Greger snagged me; Ilene Schneider snagged her; and I snagged Sandra Bremser. You get to meet some bloggers you might not have encountered as we play this game! Additionally, you find out more about this blogger and her work as an author. Check the bottom for links.

Each of us has the same four questions to answer. Here I go! Tag! I’m it!

I am deep into two novel sequels, a romance short story for an anthology, and revisions of a mystery short story for a contest submission. The two sequels are Sex for Sale, sequel to Streewalker, my erotic romance series and Prime Rib and Punishment, sequel to Mission Impastable, my culinary mystery series.

In Sex for Sale, my protagonist, Carrie, and her business partner, Harlan still run their Upper East side brothel, but Harlan is distancing himself more and more as he develops his photography interest. Carrie is trying to get out of the brothel business and find more legitimate ways to sell sex as she opens an erotica art gallery and restaurant. Relationship misunderstandings interfere with their developing romance. Stuff happens. Will they part forever?

Prime Rib and Punishment picks up a couple of months after the end of Mission Impastable and finds the newly-minted personal chefs still struggling financially. They take part-time teaching jobs at a new culinary school but the head chef, forced to hire them by his boss, hates Alli and Gina. Unfortunately for them, that makes them prime suspects when he ends up dead. Filled with recipes, this two-fer, mystery and cookbook, will keep readers guessing as they try to solve the mystery alongside Alli.

In addition, I am writing a short story, “Just Say Something” (tentative) for a romance anthology to be published in October.

I am in the process of edits for an historical suspense romance, Lucinda, that I really want to publish later this year.

And for fun this summer, and as a break, I plan to finish my play about a single guy moving into a retirement community. Hot Dishes refers to the food the women show up with and how they view themselves.

I write in a wide range of genres because I let the story unfold. Sometimes that means paranormal, sometimes romance, and sometimes something else. I have to say I love writing culinary mysteries just as much as historical fiction or as much as erotic romance.

Each genre teaches me something more about the craft of writing as I struggle to master different genre elements. I think writing in a variety of genres is the sign of a healthy imagination rather than a sign of a dilettante who can’t focus! Right?

My protagonist, Alli, struggles with commitment and suffers from huge personal issues traceable to being abandoned as a youth. She is a hard worker, but Alli questions authority, and that hasn’t sat well with her dozens of employers over the years. She lives in the backyard casita of her friend from 2nd grade as part of her friend’s extended family.  She is a natural cook who finds measuring anathema. Her business partner in their newly-minted personal chef business knows they have to be more mindful of the details. The women struggle, not with their cooking, but with the business aspects of their chosen line of work.

I can be a pantser, a plotter, or (as one speaker identified in her session), a puzzler. A pantser lets the story roll out on its own. Sort of like mid-wifery. Just helping along a natural process. I am also, with some of my novels, a plotter (and I go into more detail on that). But at times, I am a puzzler. At a workshop recently, Lexi Post/Alexis Walker said that folks who don’t write chronologically, rather they write scenes out of order, are puzzlers. The pieces will fit together somehow.

I always work on more than one piece at a time. That shotgun approach staves off writer’s block. I also find that working on different genres helps me stay fresh with writing as well, as described above.

I start with a situation, question, or character and then play “what if?” to find plot lines to explore. “What if their first client died of food poisoning?” “What if Alli had a police officer boyfriend?” and so on.

I do major character sketches. I have the characters tell me, in first person, who they are, what’s important to them, what scares them, and so on.

I write the ten key events for the novel. I put the events spaced within a 40-line grid leaving grid spaces on either side to fill in as scenes. What happened before and after each of the ten? Then on either side of those. Each line of the grid includes who is in the scene, where/when is the scene, the point of the scene, and other stuff that needs to be there. This plotting does not restrict me (I veer off on side paths frequently), but it gives me a compass for finishing the novel.

However, as the puzzler, I have also written novels where I capture scenes that I write down and then weave together later. I write scenes from any place in the book. I’m afraid if I don’t get them down while they are pressing on me, I’ll lose them.

The spider who caught me in this web was Janet Greger. See her at www.jlgreger.com  She was caught by Ilene Schneider. See her at rabbiauthor.com. She was caught into the web Sandy Fairfax. See her at sandyfairfaxauthor.com. I snared Sandra Bremser into the web. See her blog at www.sandrabremser.tumblr.com   

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dump Your Critique Group!

Oh, boy! At my Left Coast Crime workshop, there was quite a reaction to the adamant directive that we should not be in writing critique groups. (I work with three throughout the year, so my ears perked up!)

This mandate came from Jan Burke (workshop leader) and Sue Grafton (guest author) during my day long, preconvention workshop. Jerrilyn Farmer (co-leader) moderated her response by saying it might be okay with the right people for a short time.

But no one of the three highly-successful writers thought that staying with a writing group for long periods of time helped make you a better writer.

In fact, the opposite.

Though none of them used the term, I connected their words with “learned helplessness” from my educator days. Learned helplessness is a condition of learning welfare that occurs when the student is given so much support to succeed that she cannot continue learning without the support. She abrogates her responsibility for learning, knowing she won’t be allowed to fail.

How does that relate to writing groups? My understanding of the views of Burke, Farmer, and Grafton is that they believe that writing groups hold authors back from being the best they can be. And, in fact, a writing group is the resort of the “lazy author” (my words as I interpreted theirs).

Sue Grafton said words to this effect: Why would you listen to other people who may write the same or less well than you? How does that make you better? It is YOUR job to know when something isn’t working in your manuscript, and you shouldn’t expect other people to do your job. Do the work. Put in the time. Brutally evaluate your own output. That’s your job if you call yourself a professional writer.

I can see both sides to the argument. (Of course I can. I’m a wishy-washy Libran.)

I realize that I do depend too much on my writing group colleagues to find and help fix my manuscripts. That is going to change. I am going to take more responsibility for being the professional I want to be.

By the same token, a part of me thinks that my critique groups also represent my potential readers. So isn’t that input helpful? To know what works or doesn’t? What is left out or extraneous?

"Nah," Sue Grafton, Jan Burke, and Jerrilyn Farmer would say. "That’s your job."

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Left Coast Crime Conference

I am sort of a conference junkie. In my previous professional life, it was expected that I attend and present research at several conferences a year. I always loved it. The kissing, the hugging, the renewal of old friendships, the introduction to new friends! And the chance to learn! What’s not to like?

In my current professional life as author, I have total control over what my life looks like from work schedule to continuing education to purchased resources to conference attendance. No more mandates from on high. I take on-line and in-person classes. I buy every writing book on Amazon. And I attend conferences. (But not yet as a presenter.)

An editor told me a bit more than a year ago that I needed to stop taking general writing classes and attending general writing conferences. I needed to focus attention instead, spending my time and money, on genre-specific resources. To that end, I attended my first-ever Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA) conference last July. Spectacular. I learned so much, and I am returning this July to get more.

At that conference, I was told that I had to attend the Left Coast Crime (LCC) conference. So I did. I got home last Sunday evening from that conference. Again, I learned a lot, but it was different.

PSWA is a craft-focused conference. Public safety workers in a range of fields present their expertise so you can bring a level of authenticity to your mysteries. You learn about DNA and how that is used (and abused in TV shows), what a vice cop does on the beat, and how to spin out clues at the right pace.

LCC is primarily a fan conference. There are lots of writers in attendance, but the majority of registrants are fans of mystery writing and writers. Thus, the sessions were geared to fans and how authors do what they do in their books. It may sound like a subtle difference between writing craft sessions and sessions for fans, but it is huge.

For example, I attended one session on what makes villains memorable. The panelists all described their villains and what made them villainous. As a writer, it was my responsibility to translate that into a craft lesson to see what lessons I could learn to apply to my own books. My brain got a workout!

Of course, in keeping with my major interest, I ate up, so to speak, the session by culinary mystery writers! And I was shocked to learn that several don’t cook or enjoy cooking but they like writing culinary mysteries.

Also a thrill was seeing Mission Impastable for sale at a conference bookstore for the first time. That is a rush!

And spending the day before the conference in an all-day writing workshop geared to authors was a special treat, especially since the fabulous presenters, Jan Burke and Jerrilyn Farmer, surprised us with a special session with Sue Grafton.

Oh, and did I mention the great bonding time Oak Tree Press authors had with publisher Billie Johnson at our own special session one afternoon?

There is much to be said for attending writing conferences featuring both tangible and intangible rewards. So where are you headed for your next conference? Maybe I’ll see you there.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Word Choice and Voice

Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.   Stephen King

Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say 'infinitely' when you mean 'very'; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.   C.S. Lewis

Say all you have to say in the fewest possible words, or your reader will be sure to skip them; and in the plainest possible words or he will certainly misunderstand them.    John Ruskin

Word choice. Which words do I choose and use? Why?

I’ve had mixed reviews from critique partners about vocabulary level in my various works. The range is from “I had to look up words. That interrupts the story. Lose the big words.” to “I love that you don’t insult my intelligence by talking down to me. Keep using vocabulary that challenges me.”

Truly, it is not that I am trying to demonstrate my facility with logo-gymnastics, but that’s the way I talk. The first word that comes to mind is what I type. I don’t sit with the thesaurus open and at the ready to insert an arcane word in place of a pedestrian one. Rather, why use a phrase when a single word would do?

Unless that language level is inconsistent with the character. Well, duh! That elusive characteristic of "voice" is, in part, signaled by word choice. Language identifies us.

When I have a character with education, why not have her use the language level she would use in real life? Oh, I know that if she sprinkles too many high-vocabulary words in, she will distract. But where is the line between voice illustrated through language level and interrupting the reader. I hate to think that readers’ vocabulary levels are so low they would avoid my great (!) books just because I have a character using less common words.

I hate to think that good vocabularies belong only to literary fiction. Genre fiction, commercial fiction—why can’t those characters be literate as well?

Okay. I do have a good vocabulary. I admit to being proud of that. But demonstrating language facility is not, should not be, tantamount to bragging or driving away readers. I remember the first time I read Sophie’s Choice (William Styron). Not only did the story fully engage me, but I had to look up a couple of words in the dictionary. Me, looking up words! I loved it!

I am a word game nut. I read the dictionary for fun. My favorite all-time Christmas present from DH was the compact version of the Oxford English Dictionary. Etymologies make me swoon. We’re always saying, “Let’s look it up.”

I LOVE WORDS! That passion showed through in my work with kids over 39 years. What a legacy to pass on, that words are cool. Why can’t I do that in my writing as well. In Streetwalker (my erotic romance), I have a character obsessed with words even though she is not educated.

So, Dear Reader, hang on for the ride. The vocabulary level in my works may be higher than some. But when I write, the right word comes to mind. I don’t go “dictionary diving” to find an obtuse way to say the same thing. If you might need a dictionary once or twice, enjoy the joy of words and the way they roll around on your tongue and in your mind.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Take Your Writing Vitamins

Everyone knows that a healthy mind in a healthy body blah blah blah. So you take care of yourself, right? Riiiigghtt!

Exercise, eat right, take the supplements you need. So we go for balanced meals, cut out the fast food, and snack on fruits and veggies. And we ingest our calcium, krill oil, and multi-vitamin for Vitamins A, B, C, D and the rest of the alphabetic iteration.

But exercise? For some of us, that’s harder. Our job is to plant our seat (not seed) and let words flow forth. Umm. That didn’t come out (this is getting worse) quite right. But you know what I mean.

Our job is to sit there until we’ve met some pre-established objective--number of pages, number of words, working out a knotty scene, and so on. Getting to the gym or even taking a walk can be tough to schedule in. There’s always one more blog to write, one more set of Twitter postings, one more scene that’s really close to coming together-maybe, sorta, kinda.

Not much I can do about that, but during the writing process I can assure you that taking your writing vitamins will help you be more productive. Just as you want your body fit, your writing soul also needs attention. Here are your writing vitamins so you can crank it out.

One of the most important writing vitamins for accomplishment is Vitamin G. Setting Goals gives you a target, a focus, a raison d’etre for writing. Intermediate and long-term Goals keep you on track.

Using Vitamin L--Learn--probably happens naturally for you every day. But be more mindful of your Learning about your craft or writing business and share it on your blog. Let others know what you have found out about writing. Writing is a mode of Learning (Janet Emig). When you write about what you learn, you cement it for yourself.

Vitamin S may be the most important one. Show up for work. Yes, writing is your work, your job, even if a second one at this point. Without recognizing that commitment to job responsibility, you can easily find reasons to not write. Trust me, writing every day, without fail, will result in Vitamin G having its full effect.

Vitamin P must be taken with Vitamin S. Protect your writing time. Be ruthless. Bargain. Lie (oh, not really). Do what it takes for you to be able to Show up and accomplish your Goals.

Vitamin M will aid your production by making you more efficient. Move at least every two hours. The data about sitting is really devastating! We need to stand and move when possible. Set a timer (I have to because I lose track of time) and take a potty or beverage break. Walk around the house. Jog in place. Return phone call and walk around as you talk. MOVE!

And your last writing vitamin is Vitamin I. Ignore writing advice (except for this, of course). Should you plot to within an inch of the scenes or should you get “in the flow” and let it roll? Should you stick with one genre and get really good at that one or bounce among genres depending on your interests and the stories batting at your head? Ignore any advice that doesn’t feel right with this story at this time. That is not to say that you can’t read others’ suggestions. Sure pick their brains. But remember, there is NO one way to write a book. Or someone would have found it and everyone would use it. So ignore what doesn’t mesh. And incorporate what does.

What are your writing vitamins? Attend to your writing health as much as that of your body and mind.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Mystery Author Marja McGraw: The Hand of Fate?

I am delighted to welcome Marja McGraw to Write Away today! I met her at a Public Safety Writers Conference last July and immediately connected with her warm personality and terrific sense of humor. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more cheerful demeanor in any room! And guess what? No surprise that persona manifests itself in her books. The cover of the latest is here. Check her out in the links at the bottom. You will be delighted with your find!

 Many years ago my young daughter and I lived alone due to circumstances. We were living in a small apartment, and there had been several instances of prowlers lurking and mysterious occurrences, like keys disappearing from apartments. Everyone in the building was on the lookout for each other.

One night I was awakened when I felt someone’s presence in the room. Surprisingly, I was sleeping soundly that night and it took me a moment to wake up. I was trying to figure out why I thought someone was in the room when I realized my hand rested on that of someone else. Mind you, I was very sleepy. I wondered if I was dreaming.

I started to feel the fingers of the hand. Yes, someone was definitely in my room. I wanted to jump up, grab my daughter from the next room and run, but I was so groggy.

I touched one more of the intruder’s fingers and suddenly I was wide awake! I was on the verge of screaming, when all of a sudden I realized… I was feeling my own hand. My head rested on my right arm and my hand had gone to sleep. Needless to say, my right hand had no feeling and didn’t know my left hand was touching its fingers.

The point of this story is, there are so many things that happen to us in real life that we can twist and turn until they’re fodder for a mystery. Think about your life. You must have had something odd happen at some time in your personal history. Use it.

A few years after the hand incident I’d moved and lived in a very old house. There was a local bum/drunk who watched my house, unknown to me until he began arriving on my doorstep. He’d tell me the things he’d seen me do, and he’d leave little “gifts” like a soft drink or a bag of potato chips on my porch when I wasn’t home. Without going into detail, he was a scary guy who really wanted me to let him in. Interestingly, I’d call the police and somehow they could never find him. There’s a story behind that, but it’s better left for another time.

When I wrote “Bubba’s Ghost”, I used the bum/drunk as a basis for the story. I created twists and turns galore and ended up with a pretty good murder mystery.

You can create a scene or an entire book out of one instance in your life. No one has to know your story or scene is based on something that really happened to you, or that you saw happen to someone else. Real life can become fiction, although sometimes it needs a little help.

That fickle finger of fate can actually cause the direction our lives are taking to turn down a side road. The same thing can happen to our protagonist or other characters in our books. Sometimes we can even turn a traumatic occurrence into a funny scene.

Don’t get me wrong. Not all of my books are based on real life experiences, although a menopausal woman takes down a mugger in “A Well-Kept Family Secret”. That scene was based on something that happened to a friend and me when she was mugged in a bank parking lot several years ago.
Hmm. I’ve lived kind of an interesting life. Maybe I was meant to be a mystery writer. I sure have enough life experience for it.

As a reader, I hope you enjoy what mystery writers write, and I hope you can relate to some of the lighter parts of stories. I don’t want anyone to relate to the dark parts, but things happen.
As a writer, I hope you’re watching and remembering. I hope you’re using memories as well as your imagination.

If anyone can relate, readers or writers, it might even be a little therapeutic. One can always hope.
Thank you so much for letting me share a little about turning reality into fiction, Sharon. You have a lovely site and I enjoyed visiting.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How Do I Kill Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

There’s something about writing murder mysteries that rubs me the wrong way. At heart, I’m a non-violent, make-love-not-war kinda guy. Until you put a blank document in front of me with one of my delectable culinary mystery titles at the top. Tequila Mockingbird. Roux the Day. Romeo and Julienned. Glazed and Infused. Berried Alive. You get the drift. How can you not write to one of those titles? {Speaking of which--did you get your copy of Mission Impastable yet?}

When the blank page pops up, I can’t help myself. I recall grisly details of murder methods and motives. I tap into my files of devilish dyings. I scour the Internet for undetectable poisons. I make note of various ways to die--advertent and inadvertent--in books I read. Think about it: an inadvertent death can be used as a plot point or red herring in a murder mystery.

I write cozy mysteries. In cozies, you protect the sensibilities of the reader by killing off-stage, mostly. You don’t let them see the blood and gore of grisly death, mostly. Cozies are analogous to the old movies where they are clutched in embrace, move as one to open the door to the bedroom, and the scene fades to black. You know what happened, but you don’t live it real-time.

You might wonder how a “cozy mystery” can even be called a “murder mystery”? I mean, doesn’t that seem a contradiction in terms? Cozy implies safe. Murder is far from a safe state.Why do we authors continue to kill people? Are all authors just psychopaths masquerading as normal? Could we authors really be Dexter, with just a nudge?

Oh, I hope it is not mere sublimination. Rather, the puzzle to be set then solved is the attraction for most mystery writers, I suspect. It is satisfying to plot out the puzzle with myriad clues and red herrings (perfect for culinary mystery, eh?).

Back to the case in point: how many ways can you kill people? There is some weird stuff out there, by the way, in case you go investigating “ways to kill people”.

And, as it turns out, there are a lot of ways to kill people. Think about it. I’ll give you a moment to jot down ideas.
<Jeopardy music softly in background>

How did you do? Did you find it’s easier to enumerate if you think about killing in categories?

Deprivation of oxygen: plastic bag over head, pillow smothering, drowning, fire, strangulation, bury alive, and so on.

Traumatic injury: electrocution, car accident, bludgeoning, stabbing, shooting, hack off limbs, pierce the brain, sever artery, freezing, mauling, and more.

Chemical: drug overdose, toxic household items, toxic plants, acid, inhaling 100% oxygen, paralytic drug so systems shut down, radiation, viral, etc.

Then of course there’s the mass murder and serial murder. So many options for a writer. The only answer for us, of course, is to keep writing books and use up all the ways there are to do somebody in.

But, why do we choose murder? Can’t we just have some theft, a little B&E, nobody gets physically hurt, and call it a real cozy?