The Value and Fun of Writers Groups by Linda O. Johnston

lindaphotoLinda O. Johnston, a former lawyer who is now a full-time writer, currently writes two mystery series for Midnight Ink involving dogs: the Barkery and Biscuits Mysteries, and the Superstition Mysteries.  She has also written the Pet Rescue Mystery Series, a spinoff from her Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime and also currently writes for Harlequin Romantic Suspense as well as the Alpha Force paranormal romance miniseries about shapeshifters for Harlequin Nocturne.  Her most recent release is her 44th published novel, with more to come.
*  *  *
I have been a writer for a long time, and love it.  And one of the things that I find particularly valuable to me and to my writing is joining writers groups. 
 
If you’re a writer and you don’t belong to any kind of writers group, I highly suggest that you find one or more to join. They provide knowledge, support, friendship and more.
 
I’m using the term writers group very generally here, to include all kinds of groups and organizations where writers, whether published or not, join together because they are writers.  The groups have various backgrounds and purposes–and so do their members.
 
One basic kind is a critique group.  I belonged to a wonderful one for twenty years or so before it disbanded.  Around four to six of us at a time got together often to read portions of our own work aloud and critique each other’s stories and writing.  The value was in learning what other people thought of something we’d written so we could determine if any changes were needed before submitting it to an agent or publisher.  Plus, there was a lot of value in simply getting together with friends whose actual day-job careers were different but who all loved something we each treasured: writing.
 
I also belonged to a couple of critique groups at different times where a number of people paid a published, sometimes noted author to belong to the group.  In one, we each could get a critique every time we met.  In another, we would each schedule when our critiques would occur and submit copies of several pages of our work at the session before our critique.  We received comments from each other, but also from the skilled and noted author, again providing help in what we were doing.
 
Those weren’t my only critique groups, either.  Some lasted a long time, but most others were only for a few weeks before they either disbanded because we didn’t gel right, or I simply withdrew because I didn’t get what I’d hoped for out of it.
 
Another kind of writers group that I value is belonging to organizations where members also love and promote a particular genre.  I currently belong to Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime, as well as chapters of those organizations that are local to my home in Los Angeles.  I enjoy them all!  I used to always suggest that everyone I knew who wrote fiction should join RWA because of the general writing support it provided, but lately it has narrowed its focus to–what else?–romance writing and reading.  It remains a wonderful organization but it’s not for everyone.  MWA and SinC are for those who write mysteries of any kind.  Sisters in Crime was started years ago when there was less support and regard for women who wrote mysteries.  That has changed over time but the organization goes on–and now there are also “mister sisters.”  And oh, yes.  I also belong to the Dog Writers Association of America. 
There are also more general writing groups which members join because of what they do and proximity to where they live, not necessarily because they write the same kinds of things.  Some of them are fairly large and have monthly meetings where members can hear speakers and schmooze as they eat and discuss what they’re up to in their writing.  That includes the Independent Writers Club of Southern California (IWCSC).  I’ve attended some of their meetings now and then but am not a regular member.
 
Then there are wonderful, supportive groups like Writers in Residence, which I was privileged enough to join recently.  It’s a group composed of delightful, caring and smart women who get together to discuss where we’re all going in our writing careers and support one another–in our discussions and online on social media and more.  Some of us write in similar genres but not everyone.  We’re all at different stages of our writing careers.  And I feel very fortunate and happy now to be a member!
 
There are probably plenty of kinds of writing groups I didn’t mention here–but feel free to add them in a comment.

HIDING UNDER THE DUVET….. by Rosemary Lord

just-rosie-3Rosemary wrote her first book when she was ten years old – for her little brother. She also illustrated it herself. It was later rejected by Random House!

She has been writing ever since.

The author of Best Sellers Hollywood Then and Now and Los Angeles Then and Now,  English born Rosemary Lord has lived in Hollywood for over 25 years. An actress, a former journalist (interviewing Cary Grant, James Stewart, Tony Hopkins, John Huston amongst others) and a Senior Publicist at Columbia Pictures, she lectures on Hollywood history. Rosemary is currently writing the second in a series of murder mysteries set in the 1920s Jazz Age Hollywood featuring Lottie Topaz, an extra in silent movies.

*  *  *

When it all comes plummeting down – what do you do?  When there seem so many small fires to be put out. And all around you people are having dramas – then turning to you for help. What do you do?

I just want to hide under the warm, plump duvet (a European eiderdown) and never come out. But I don’t have that luxury.

How do you keep your head – “when all around you seem to be losing theirs and blaming it on you.” As Kipling put it so well. “… if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowances for their doubting too. If you can wait and not be tired by waiting…”

But I digress.

So, how do you write when you’re snowed under?

How come other writers seem to have it all organized? Able to write at the same time each day, without distraction. Able to churn out book after book…..  I know that writer-mothers of young children seem to find the time to write their books – while the kids are napping or at school, waiting at soccer practice or for the laundry cycle to finish. My writer friends with full time jobs find a way. Sue Ann Jaffarian is a paralegal, Pamela Samuels Young an attorney. They write before going to work, in their lunch hour and at weekends.

Before I ever get to the office, the phone calls and urgent emails start early in the morning. And I can’t remember when I last stopped for lunch. For the last couple of years, I often work 6 or 7 days a week. So where am I going wrong?

(As Anthony Newley’s song “What Kind of Fool Am I?” floats around my head…)

Since my husband died so unexpectedly, I have been working day in and day out to save the Woman’s Club of Hollywood from being turned into an anonymous block of condominiums, instead of the charming Spanish-style historic property where Jean Harlow and Douglas Fairbanks went to school and where Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and a host of Golden Era celebrities helped served the Hollywood community for over 110 years. So I feel it’s worth saving. Worth fighting for. But at what cost – to me.

So here I am – an author, a writer who has so little time to write. One of my publishers has just asked me to do a new version of one of my Hollywood books. “How long do I have,” I asked, trying not to panic.

I’ve stayed up all night to finish a book by the deadline. Getting the copy sent off to London by eight in the morning – that is four o’clock in the afternoon in London time. But I did it. I’ve arisen at 5 am, in the dark, to get a couple of hours writing in before the day starts. But it doesn’t last. I get too tired, then find myself nodding off over the computer keys. And how is it that I seem to gain weight, when I hardly ever have time to eat? That’s just plain unfair!

Goodness! This sounds like whining. Not my intention. More a ‘Dear Abby, How do I get off this hamster wheel?” Or: I’m a writer – get me out of here!

I have so many voices in my head that need to be heard – or read. So many books to write, screenplays to finish. All the characters that float around my imagination, hoping that I will turn them into words on a page for readers to discover. All clamoring, ‘Me too! Don’t forget about me…”  And Lottie Topaz has been so very patient with me, waiting for me to finish her second volume and share her emerging adventures.

The people in my head, my wonderful characters that I can breath life into, they all have a song to sing – a story for me to tell.

So why are there so many things, big and small, going on in life that need my attention at the present? Am I avoiding something? Why can’t I be more disciplined and just focus on my writing. Ignore the pleas for help. Just tell people to get lost. Leave me alone.

Maybe I’m just going through a phase…

Although this week, after what seems like an eternity,  the court trial starts on behalf of the Woman’s Club trying to release itself of heavy financial burdens unfairly foisted on it by nefarious beings. So that will settle one long chapter in its saga. And hopefully offer me some respite.

Looking back, I could have taken a different path. Would it have been easier? Probably. But look how much I have learned, people I have met – characters and stories I have discovered.

But still, right now, what I’d really like to do is dive back under the warmth of my duvet – for a while.

Know what I mean?

 

GET YOUR STORY PUBLISHED by Miko Johnston

Have you ever tried to get a story accepted into a writing contest or juried anthology? Wouldn’t it be advantageous to have a confidential resource who can give you a competitive edge? If so, then read on because I am going to share with you my secrets for getting your work published.

First, some background. Several years ago, I tried to get a short story accepted into a Sisters In Crime anthology. I wrote what I thought was a good story that fit the theme and technical requirements. I ran it though a few critique groups to help me polish it. When I got the notification that the piece wasn’t accepted, I was heartbroken. I made it my mission to get my work accepted into the following anthology. The result: my story “By Anonymous” made it into Last Exit To Murder, published two years later. I succeeded in more ways than one; having a story in a prestigious anthology helped me win a publishing contract for my novels.

The experience taught me that it takes a lot more than just writing a good story to get your work into a competitive publication.

I       THE MORE SPECIFIC, THE BETTER

It’s hard enough to figure out what editors will consider ‘good’ or worthy of publication, but it’s even harder when they don’t clearly define what they want. If getting published is your goal, your odds are always better with a single genre competition and a clearly defined theme. Focus on competitions with a limited scope. ‘Stories under 500 words’ is vague , but ‘Heartwarming stories about rescued animals’ is more specific.

II      READ THE SUBMISSIONS GUIDELINES CAREFULLY AND BELIEVE THEM

Every contest or anthology will issue submission guidelines that contain vital information. Guidelines begin with an explanation of what the stories should contain or be about. For example, mystery anthologies generally want stories that include at least one murder or serious crime. If there is a theme, the guidelines will often state how the theme should be incorporated. Remember: the more specific the requirements, the easier it is to figure out what the editors want. Pay attention to technical information such as word count, page set-up, method of submission, and deadline for entries. Take that information seriously; consider them demands, not requests.

III     LEARN FROM THE PAST

Writing contests and anthologies are often sponsored by established organizations. Unless the sponsor is new, go back and read their previous publications. Determine what type of writing appeals to them. If everything they’ve published is dark, obscure and literary, your hilarious page-turner probably won’t get accepted. If the mysteries tend to be cozy, save your gruesome piece for another publication.

The sponsor’s website can provide invaluable help. Search online for any information about the selection process or editing of past competitions. I read through the Sisters In Crime L.A. website archives and located an old interview with the editors of an earlier anthology. All of them agreed that stories about previously unknown aspects of the city were more interesting than those that focused on familiar places and events. The anthology selections supported that. Which brings me to the next point:

IV      AVOID THE OBVIOUS

If the theme is U.S. landmarks, leave the most popular choices to ‘Family Feud’ and go with something less familiar. There are two reasons for this: First, many writers will select something famous like the Hollywood sign or the Statue of Liberty. Since editors may want one story based on that location there’s more competition. Or they might get bored reading story after story about the same place and reject them all. Secondly, as already stated, stories about unknown or unusual places and events appeal to editors. Think how omnipresent the White House has been in films, but we vividly remember Mt. Rushmore in “North by Northwest” or Devil’s Tower in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” because they stand out due to their uniqueness.

V       WORK IT, WORK IT, WORK IT!

Everything I’ve shared with you so far will give any writer a competitive edge. The rest is up to you, though. You have to write a unique story. Start early, as soon as the announcement comes out. Brainstorm a few possible themes and work on them until you have a strong idea for a story. Take every advantage you have. I submitted one story to that first anthology although two submissions were permitted. For the next anthology, I finished my story months in advance and decided to write another before the deadline. I’m glad I did; the first piece was rejected, but the second one made it into the anthology.

Will any of my tips guarantee your story will get published? Of course not, but I assure you it will increase your chances of success. Good luck!

 

 

What Kind of Music Pumps Up Your Writing?

headshotJacqueline Vick spent her childhood plotting ways to murder her Barbie doll. Mystery writing proved a more productive outlet. She is the author of over twenty novels and short stories including the Frankie Chandler Pet Psychic mystery series.

 

 

* * *

 

I have a confession to make. I work, think and play best to…silence.

I know, I know. I’ve tried. I had Foster make a compilation of super sappy music for those moments when the protagonist was going through an emotional moment. You know. Those heart-wrenching songs that you listened to in high school after breaking up with your boyfriend that made you feel as if someone understood your pain. (Not realizing that this was mere child’s play compared to the traumas that came with adult life.)

It helped set the mood a little, but I found that I was turning on Brian Eno’s ambient music instead.  Something soothing, but not enough to put one to sleep.

Brian Eno’s “The Ship”

Or chants.

Meditative Gregorian Chants – Male Chants

Female Chants – The Benedictines of Mary “Advent at Ephesus”

The problem with meditative music is that it goes best with meditating, not the frenetic thinking that goes with working out a new plot.

When I listen to music, which is not often, the songs make me think about when I first heard that song, or what a good guitar rift that was. I’ll pretty much listen to anything except pop music and anything with a thumping beat that makes my ears ring. Electronic dance music? Not a chance.

What about you?  Is there music that brings out your writing productivity?