A Boost Up!

By Jackie Houchin

Boost up2“A boost up”….when someone holds their clasped hands together next to a horse, and you put your foot in like a stirrup, and they propel you upward into the saddle.

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Sometimes a beginner (or lazy) writer needs a boost up into the writing saddle.  That’s where The Write Practice came into the picture for me. (I’m one of those lazy ones!)

The Write Practice

”If you want to become a better writer, you need to practice,” says Joe Bunting, creator of The Write Practice organization and blog. What’s involved? Fifteen minutes a day, five days a week, practicing with fresh writing prompts, unique lessons on technique, and getting feedback from a supportive community.

There are over 1000 practice exercises and lessons on the blog in such categories as; better writing, genre & format, characterization, grammar, journalism, plot & story, writers block, inspirational writing, publishing, and blogging. And it’s free.  http://thewritepractice.com/about/

I’ve attempted two lessons so far in the Short Story category. The first lesson was to read at least six short stories from the many magazine links supplied. The second lesson was to free-write for at least 15 minutes, post what you wrote in the comments section, read three of what other people wrote, and give them brief feedback.  Simple as that; practice writing and give feedback. It’s really the basis for everything Bunting does.

I wrote a short ditty on ‘Pig, Porcupine & Pineapple.’  It was totally fun!  Now to see with my fellow writers say about it

The Becoming Writer Community & Challenge

 If you are ready to go to the next level and start writing finished pieces (and get published), then the Becoming Writer community is the next step. Bunting compares this with what the “Inklings were for Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, the expats in Paris were for Hemingway, and the Bloomsbury group was for Woolf.”

I discovered Becoming Writer because membership in it (yes, it does cost a little) was a requirement to submit to The Write Practice’s quarterly short story writing contest. But what you get with membership is a lot more than the contest.

Like the free practice lessons above, you share your writing with a community of writers to get and give feedback.  Actually giving feedback on another’s work helps you when it comes time to edit your own piece.

The Challenge is to write ONE piece EACH WEEK, submitted on Fridays.  It can be a short story, blog post, poem, essay, or a chapter in a book.  This is what us “lazy” writers call accountability.

And finally, besides actually finishing your pieces (Yay!), you get opportunities to submit to magazines like Short Fiction Break, Wordhaus and others.

The feedback on my first piece, an essay I wrote about Africa, brought a suggestion for submission to a specific online magazine. I submitted it and am waiting to hear.  http://thewritepractice.com/members/join

The Fall Contest

This is what caught my attention at first, a writing contest that promised cash prizes, free books, and publication. The theme was “Let’s Fall in Love.” Stories had to contain the two elements FALL and LOVE and be no longer than 1,500 words.  I told myself, “I can do that.”

The name “Autumn Gold” sprang to my mind and I quizzed my writer friends on Facebook as to how a girl with that name might look. The first answer – a stripper – caused me to cringe because that’s not what I had in mind. But when another person confirmed what he said, it left no doubt.

The story I eventually wrote keeps the title “Autumn Gold,” but the girl’s name is Audrey Gould.  I wrote an outline of sorts, showed it to a friend for her opinion, and then pounded out a story about LOVE that takes place in AUTUMN. It was 1,948 words. Lots of cuts and edits later, I submitted it to the Becoming Writer Contest community.

For the contest (548 entrants) the community is divided into ten groups, A–J, with about 40-50 writers in each. I landed in Group D. There are 46 of us, and we’ve become a close-knit group.

I’ve gotten about nine feedbacks on “Autumn Gold,” and I’ve given at least many more on other stories.  Some are VERY good! Others will need some work.  Reading my story’s feedback and the feedback on the other stories has opened my eyes to what works and what doesn’t, and what readers “get” from what you write, even if it’s not what you intended.

Invaluable!

I’m considering rewriting the ending and running it past them one more time. The final deadline to submit the story to the judges is September 4.

Other Programs

The Write Practice offers other programs for writers and authors on building a platform, publishing & marketing, Twitter, and the 100 Day Book challenge.  http://thewritepractice.com/products

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Now I’m up in the saddle. I’m trotting around and loving it. I can’t wait to press my calves against my steed’s sides and rise into a canter.  I needed that boost up.  Do you?  Perhaps you should consider a writing community.

I suggest The Writing Practice. Take advantage of the discipline and the getting and giving of feedback.  Pick the lessons you are interested in and go for it. They are free! You might also consider Becoming Writer.

Or join a critique group and begin giving your work over to new eyes and opinions.

Get up there and get galloping!

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Currently the Becoming Writer and the 100 Day Book programs are closed until next semester.  Future contests in Becoming Writer will be on Flash Fiction, Essay writing, Novels, and Poetry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Long and Short of the Short Story

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

 

typewriterAfter writing my first three published short stories, something happened: Readers responded favorably to one of my characters. They liked this guy’s personality.

 

Of course a writer is supposed to craft memorable characters, but those are usually found in a novel. A writer has more room to flesh out characters in a 300-page novel, not a 25-50 page short story. But something was happening with my “Johnny Casino” character. His personality was too big to stay within 28 pages.

 

That’s when I realized I had more Johnny Casino stories in me. In fact, by the time I was finished, I had nine stories and 388 pages. That’s called a book. I had turned a one-shot story into what is basically a series.

 

But the journey was also a learning experience.

 

I wrote a batch of these stories and showed them to my agent. She liked them, but…she wanted more information about Johnny. She thought the stories needed a love interest, but I didn’t want the short stories bogged down with schmaltz. That wasn’t what I envisioned for my character. But I hadn’t written any reason why Johnny didn’t have a woman in his life, so I wrote a backstory. That’s when I learned a lot of new things about him. It was so detailed; it turned into the second story in the first collection, The Johnny Casino Casebook 1 – Past Imperfect.past-imperfect-cover-12

The backstory also gave me a different view of Johnny. He had his dark side as well as his sarcastic side. He was becoming a three-dimensional person. I started learning so much about him, more stories popped up. One was so compelling; it became the focal point of the second collection, The Johnny Casino Casebook 2 – Looking for Johnny Nobody.

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Since I had created a past for Johnny, I could write stories about him when he worked for the mob back in New Jersey when he was younger; after all, I had discovered that his father was a high ranking guy in the D’Abruzzo crime family. I could also do a story explaining how he became a private detective after he fled to California.

 

 

And here’s a heads up for all you multi-tasking short story/novel writers. The character I created who taught Johnny how to be a first class P.I. is the heroine in another mystery series I have been writing. I figured, if people like Johnny, they just might like the novel featuring Gin Caulfield. She is now in three novels, not short stories in this case.

 

The last thing I learned on this journey is that there is a different kind of short story out there. In classes I teach about The Anatomy of a Short Story I mention a short story is like an hors d’oeuvre. It consists of a few really good things served up in a small bite. Whether it’s a handful of cool characters in a terrific location involved in a catchy plot, the short story gets you to one location in the fastest way possible.

 

In contrast, a novel can take you far and wide with a cast of thousands with sub-plots and bits of interesting background stuff just for the fun of it, and the writer can use 300 to 400 pages to accomplish the task. But the short story writer has to chop out unnecessary characters, places, plot twists and trim down the description to its bare bones and do it in 10 to 25 pages, give or take. Or does he?

 

I think there is a new home for the short story. The Short Story Novel. The length of each individual story can be anywhere from 25 to 70 pages, but the main thing is to have a single set of characters, or in my case, one main character, in every story. Several characters make repeat appearances, and I mention one sub-plot in several of the earlier stories in any given collection that is resolved in a story of its own. Each story reveals more and more about my main character and the final story in Book One ends with a haunting question that will be answered in Book Two.

 

If this sounds like a television series, you betcha. I called it a “series” earlier in this blog and that is exactly how I visualize The Johnny Casino Casebook, whether it stays in book form or hits the TV screen. His stories might be in the “short story” format, but his entire life is a novel.

 

And for those of you who prefer to create something completely stand-alone in each short story you write, those individual tales can always be put into your own collection and published. I did just that in From Light TO DARK.

The Play’s the Thing – Plot is Everything - Some thoughts by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Second Chance Book CoverAnd to add one more thing to this blog, Johnny Casino isn’t the only short story character to be in a book of his own. Chance McCoy arrived this year. His first book is called Second Chance. There are more stories to come. And there is a second short story anthology called Only in Hollywood coming out next year. The book consists of various stand-alone stories, but one features a guy named Charles Miro, a former TV actor turned private eye. He works for a younger woman who owns the detective firm. There are several stories about these two coming up. You see, even a short story can magically turn itself into a book if you try.

Write on.

Only in Hollywood cover 2

 

My Book’s Been Published: Now What?

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Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the Fifth Grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and has authored novels, short stories and screenplays, as well as non-fiction articles and a newsletter for an American Red Cross chapter.

 

I am about as far away from being a book marketing expert as you can get, but I am slightly less clueless than I was three years ago when my first novel was published. At that time, I had no website, little knowledge of the power of social media, and Goodreads to me was a nifty place where I could learn about other authors’ books.
Things have changed a bit since then. I doubt you’ll ever see my name on the New York Times Best-Seller list, but when my second novel was published, at least I felt like I was doing a decent job of getting the word out.
Here are some tools I recommend all authors have in their marketing arsenal:

 

  • A website. I took the easy way out and hired a genius website designer to create mine, and she’s been worth every penny. However, you can do it yourself, and a lot of my fellow authors on this blog have created very attractive websites on their own. They’re smarter than I am—most of them write mysteries as further proof of that.
  • An Amazon Author Page. This is a great way for people who buy your books on Amazon to connect with you, learn a bit more about you, and perhaps discover another of your books to add to their library. It’s easy to do, and Amazon’s Customer Service is awesome if you run into trouble.
  • A Goodreads Author Page. Another very simple thing to set up and attract readers. In addition to displaying your books and biography, you can sign up for “Ask the Author” and answer questions from followers. You can stage a “Goodreads Giveaway” to promote a new book. You can also blog. When I remember to do igoodreadst, I copy posts from this blog onto my Goodreads blog, so I get extra mileage from it. When you have an “author event,” you can promote it on Goodreads. And unlike certain other websites that are mighty picky about who can and cannot review books, Goodreads lets you review your own books and give them five stars if you want to. What’s not to love about Goodreads?
  • A Facebook Page for your book(s), separate from your personal Facebook Page. You can post writing-related articles and photos from your author events. It’s a terrific way to publicize those events, too. I used it to invite Facebook Friends to my recent book launch and got 19 acceptances in just the first day.
  • Book Clubs. If you haven’t joined a book club yet, you’re missing out. Virtual or in-person, this is a fine way to connect to readers. I joined my book club long before my first book came out, because I wanted to learn what readers like and don’t like—and I just plain love to read. The club introduced me to books I might otherwise never have considered, I made some wonderful friends, and they’ve supported me when my books came out by choosing them for reading selectiBook Clubons. Book clubs are a terrific way to get your book noticed, but you can’t just wander in to any old club and ask them to read your book. You need to build a relationship first—but that’s half the fun! There are book clubs at most libraries and independent bookstores, and if you don’t find one, consider starting one yourself. Readers are everywhere; might as well make them potential readers of your books.

 

There are hundreds of other book marketing techniques, of course. I’m still trying to crack on the code on getting advance reviews. You can also hire a publicist if you have money to burn.

For someone like me, who just wants to give my books a fighting chance to find an audience, the steps laid out above have been easy to master and have given me the sense that I’m doing something besides crossing my fingers and hoping.

 

Moving Among Genres by Linda O. Johnston

lindaphotoLinda O. Johnston, a former lawyer who is now a full-time writer, currently writes one mystery series for Midnight Ink involving dogs: the Barkery & Biscuits Mysteries.  She has also written the Superstition Mysteries for Midnight Ink as well as the Pet Rescue Mystery Series, a spinoff from her Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime.  She additionally currently writes for Harlequin Romantic Suspense as well as the Alpha Force paranormal romance miniseries about shapeshifters for Harlequin Nocturne.  Her June release was her 46th published novel, with more to come.

 

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Versatility.  Keeping things fresh.  Using different voices.  Working in different points of view.  Multiple publishers.

Those are some of the good things about writing in multiple genres.

Confusion now and then.  Concern whether readers are focusing on one type of series and not the other(s).  Needing to belong to many different writing organizations rather than just one.

These are some of the not-so-good things about writing in multiple genres.

I should know.  I’ve written in several different genres, often at the same time.

My first published fiction was a short story in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and I won the Robert L. Fish Award for best first short story of the year.  After that, I had several more mystery short stories published, and have had additional ones published over the years.

But then I moved into time travel romance, where I wrote several novels for Dorchester Publishing.  I got my rights back to those stories, which was a good thing since Dorchester went out of business.  But I knew I enjoyed writing paranormal romance.

Next was romantic suspense.  I wrote several novels for Harlequin Intrigue.

From there, I somewhat segued into cozy mysteries, beginning my Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter Mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime.  But was I done with romance?  No.  I also wrote some paranormal romances for a different Harlequin line, Nocturne.  That turned into my Alpha Force miniseries for Nocturne, about a covert military unit of shapeshifters, which will be ending next year.  I’ll have one more Alpha Force Nocturne, to be published in November 2018, before the line ends.

Back to cozy mysteries.  My Pet Rescue Mysteries were a spin-off from my Kendra mysteries.  I was definitely hooked on cozies, and when it looked like the Pet Rescue Mysteries were ending, I began writing the Superstition Mysteries for Midnight Ink.  Then, at the same time, I started writing another series for MI: the Barkery & Biscuits Mysteries.  They’re continuing, although the Superstition Mysteries aren’t.

But was I giving up on romances?  No.  As I mentioned, I am still writing Nocturnes.  Plus, I went back to romantic suspense, writing for the Harlequin Romantic Suspense line.   I’m also still writing for HRS and will have a new miniseries starting there next March, the K-9 Ranch Rescue series.

Oh, and I haven’t mentioned yet that all the stuff I’m currently writing features dogs.  That gives my books a recurring theme.

So am I confusing you–or my readers?

One way to hopefully avoid readers’ confusion is to use a different pseudonym for each genre, or use your own name for one of them and pseudonyms for the rest.

I’ve never done that.  I’ve been published by different print publishers, sometimes at the same time, and no editor has even suggested it.  And I like the idea of my own name being associated with me and what I write, no matter what it is.

Would I take on a pseudonym someday?  Sure, if it made sense at the time.  But I’m just as happy remaining me.

In fact, that’s the important thing: being happy with what you’re doing.  If you like writing in one genre, that’s fine.  If you like writing in multiple genres, go for it.  If you’re not sure, concentrate on what you like to read–or just start writing and see where it goes.

That’s something I find especially inviting and exciting about being a writer.  There are no restrictions!  And if you’re settled into one or two genres, whether fiction, non-fiction or both, and get an inspiration to go in a different direction, you can always do it!  You may have to rethink the publication process, with traditional publishers that are major or smaller, or go for self-publishing, or both.  Any way you choose is just fine.

Where am I going?  I’ve got some ideas–I always have ideas–and we’ll all just have to wait to see where the next steps lead me.

OH, TO BE IN ENGLAND….by Rosemary Lord

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Rosemary 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.

 

OH, TO BE IN ENGLAND….

… So begins Robert Browning’s poem Home Thoughts From Abroad. Browning extols the wonders of the English countryside and the changing seasons as Spring emerges.

But it’s not the green fields, buttercups and bluebells that I am missing so much lately – although the thought of those always brightens my heart – but I miss the British magazines that I used to read and, indeed, where I was first published as a writer.

When you’re in the midst of writing a novel and you’re stuck at page 218, knowing you have a hundred or more pages to fill, writing a 1,000-word article for a magazine is most appealing.

But then too, reading a magazine is appealing, when you don’t have the time or the attention-span to devour a lengthy novel. Problem is that today’s magazines seem so frivolous; filled with glaring advertisements and little or no content.

We writers start young as readers. Growing up in England, we had a wide assortment of children’s magazines and comics to choose from: Twinkle, Mandy, Judy and my favorite, Bunty. Then we progressed to Schoolfriend, Girl and eventually Jackie – the teen magazine. I suppose the names are a give-away, that these were for us girls.

beanoThe boys had more serious comics and magazines such as The Boy’s Own Paper, The Beano, The Dandy. I guess adding a “The” made them more weighty. But then what about Buster, Topper and Beezer? Not so serious-sounding now, eh boys? As they got older, the boys progressed to The Eagle, Valiant, Look and Learn and Tiger. The Eagle was my older brother Ted’s favorite.

The paper-boy would deliver these treasures every Tuesday. They were a main form of entertainment for children until recent years and stemmed from the 19th century “penny-dreadfuls,” that led to the publishing of serial mystery stories such as Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes exploits. The magazines introduced pirate tales and adventures of such legends as highwayman Dick Turpin and detective Sexton Blake.

Scottish publishing house D.C. Thompson Inc, started The Beano and The Dandy in the 1930s. The Beano is still published today.

The Dundee-based D.C. Thompson was my first publisher, when I wrote articles for My Weekly, People’s Friend and ended up having my own column in Jackie Magazine for several years – including my Letter From Hollywood column, once I moved Stateside. They were the nicest people to work for and My Weekly and People’s Friend are still going strong.

I also wrote a lot of pieces for IPC Magazines in London, for their teen magazines petticoatPetticoat, Mirabelle  and New Musical Express, as well as the women’s periodicals Woman and Woman’s Own. IPC (International Publishing Corporation) was founded in 1963, but its’ umbrella group goes back to the 1800s and covered the Suffragette Movement, two World Wars, the Swingin’ 60s and today’s revolutions. Taken over by Time Warner in 2001 and renamed Time Inc.UK in 2014, the groups periodicals include Horse and Hound, Woman’s Weekly, InStyle UK, TV Times, Woman, Country Life, Homes and Gardens and seemingly hundreds more.

But back to the children’s magazines that are so dear to me and others of a certain age. They included cartoon-style comic strip stories, but mostly were filled with how-to articles, history pieces and tales of adventure, romance and mystery – letting imaginations run wild. Yarns of super-heroes, dastardly villains, schoolboys-and-girls-to-the-rescue and hilarious school-days tales of characters like Billy Bunter, filled the boy’s comics. Often very “un-PC” – or un-Politically Correct: Billy Bunter was very overweight and always eating cakes and buns. Not to be outdone, his sister Bessie Bunter turned up in the girls’ magazines, preferring cake to croquet or hockey.

For us girls, there was page after page of  “The Secret Adventures of…” – plucky-heroine stories, romantic tales (often nurses falling for doctors), legends, fairy-tales and Cinderella-finds-her-Prince-Charming stories. There was no noticeable class divide, either. We could all dream of being a ballerina, champion jockey, Olympic medalist, a pilot, hospital-matron or doctor – or a princess. There was usually a moral theme to these, where the baddy gets his or her come-uppance and a good deed gets rewarded. Where honesty and loyalty were the benchmarks for everyone. No wonder our generation grew up to be such virtuous, practically-perfect goddesses!

The backdrop for the girls’ tales were often ballet schools, nursing, Boarding Schools, pony-clubs, gymkhanas, ice-skating – and school-holidays in Scotland or England’s West Country: Devon and Cornwall, home of pirates, smugglers, Agatha Christie and cream-teas.

So, as a writer, this was a great market to get started in and learn one’s trade. The money was pitiful – not that it’s much better today. But there were so many magazines that devoured articles and stories every week, that editors would give unknown writers a chance.

Often those short stories developed into books, like the Bunchy, Milly-Molly-Mandy, Marigold books, for readers who grew into Enid Blyton, Noel Streatfield or Nancy Drew fans. My Aunty Marjory gave me Gene Stratton-Porter’s book, A Girl of the Limberlost and Freckles set in the Indiana wetlands. I read Eleanor H. Porter’s Pollyanna, too. (Were they related?) No wonder I ended living in America.

But it wasn’t just the stories we read in those childhood comics and magazines – there were gifts, too, taped to the inside. Perhaps a slim, brightly-colored plastic bangle, a teeny pink lipstick, a plastic ring, a packet of flower seeds for the garden or an envelope of colored sparkly dust for art projects. And the last page of Bunty featured a cut-out doll’s cut-out wardrobe. Such value for money in every edition!

Bunty survived until 2001, Jackie Magazine lasted longer. The Beano lives on.

Today’s magazines for the young seem filled with advertisements and gossip about pop-icons like Justin Bieber.  Not quite the same. Where are the fanciful tales for kids today, taking them to other worlds, other planets, even, to get their imaginations stirring? Harry Potter was the exception, of course. But that was a book – not a comic magazine. Hmmm. Thank goodness we had Bunty, Twinkle, Schoolfriend and Judy….

Methinks I’ll stay with my tales of plucky heroines and lonely ballerinas, thank you very much.