PAY IT FORWARD by Miko Johnston

I’ve supported many worthy causes throughout my life. In addition to monetary donations to charities, I’ve baked elaborate pastries to be auctioned off at a scholarship dinner, left canned tuna, dried beans and boxes of pasta for my local food bank, and brought gently used clothing and household goods to thrift stores. However, this year I made a new donation – myself – to what I believe is a very worthy cause. I began a volunteer program for students at a local high school.

 

It began when a teacher who offers a creative writing class at the school contacted my writers group. Several of her students wanted to pursue writing, either as a passion or a career path. However, they needed guidance and she asked if we could help.

 

I took the helm and gathered several writers, all published authors with years of experience, to begin a mentor program. Students in the class send us pages to critique and we supply feedback, guidance, and (I hope) encouragement. We began the program with a class presentation, where each of the volunteers had seven minutes to discuss some aspect of writing. I will share my contribution with you:

 

 

 

Miko Johnston: THREE HABITS ALL WRITERS MUST DEVELOP

Writers may differ in how and what they write, but most will agree to that be successful, all writers must know some basic principles. Here are three key ones:

 

I           Develop the writing habit:

Write and keep writing. Too often, writers will get a few pages or a chapter written and then go back and tweak them, over and over, until they have it ‘right.’ Or they’ll stare at a blank page, waiting for inspiration. Resist the temptation. Keep going, even if it isn’t perfect, or brilliant. Even if it isn’t good. Things may change as you progress in the story, but you won’t know that until you have more, or all of it, written. It’s why many writers begin with a ‘vomit’ draft, where you get it all out now and clean it up later. Remember: it doesn’t matter what you start out with, only what you’ve got when you’re finished. That’s what rewriting is all about. Develop the writing habit and practice it regularly. Finish what you’ve started, then begin again.

 

 

II         Develop the grammar habit:

Master the rules of writing. Learn how to use grammar and punctuation, because once you do, you can consciously break the rules without it seeming like you don’t know what you’re doing. To learn how todo it right, get a dictionary, thesaurus, and style guide.Then pick a style, any style, and stick to it. There are many ‘right’ ways to write. You can debate over whether to write 2017 or twenty seventeen, if a comma is needed after the next-to-last word in a list, or whether next to last should be hyphenated. For example, the current trend is to leave out commas except when they’re needed to make the point clear (“Time to eat, Dad” vs. “Time to eat Dad”) or put a pause in a sentence. Which style you use matters less than whether you’re consistent about it.

 

 

III        Develop the fearless habit:

There’s a tendency to keep your work private. However, you won’t know how people will react to your work unless you have the courage to share it with them. Join a critique group or find like-minded writers to form your own group. Meet with people who’ll read your work and offer genuine critique, which is different from criticism. You will do the same with their writing. You’ll be amazed at how much you will learn from evaluating others’ work. If you’re reluctant or afraid to show your work to others, don’t be. You might think that having someone read your work and tell you it’s bad would be the worst thing to hear, and you’re right. However, it’s not because their comment is hurtful, but unhelpful. What’s bad about it? If someone can point out what isn’t working in your story, and how to fix it, that isn’t negative. As for useless comments like, “It stinks”, ignore them.

 

     ****                                       *******                                    ****

 

It’s been such a pleasure working with these students. They’re anxious to learn and receptive to our feedback. I can see marked improvement in their work already. We’re on summer hiatus now, but all of my volunteers are looking forward to resuming the program this fall. A few of the students have real potential. Perhaps in the future, after they’ve been published, some of them will pay it forward and help a new generation of young writers.

 

If any of you are interested in starting a mentorship program for young writers, there are many opportunities to help in your community. Check with your local public or private schools. Community organizations like the Boys And Girls Clubs, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and other youth groups might welcome your help as well. You’ll be amazed by how much you’ll learn through teaching others.

 

You’re welcome to contact me at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com for more information.

 

 

Miko Johnston first contemplated a career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no ‘help wanted’ ads for poets in the classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from New York University, she headed west to pursue a career as a television and print journalist before deciding she preferred the more believable realm of fiction. She is the author of the A Petal in the Wind series as well as several short stories. Miko is currently working on the fourth Petal novel as well as a mystery set in a library. Contact her at: mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

PROMOTING BOOKS VIA IMPROBABLE PUBLICITY OUTLETS by Jill Amadio

MegaphoneWe’re always seeking new ways to promote our books. One of the benefits of belonging to this group as well as to national organizations of crime writers such as Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America (I also belong to a British one called Crime Writers Association) is sharing marketing ideas.

 

After promoting my new crime novel to the usual online, broadcast, and print mystery media where I hoped (okay, begged) for reviews and interviews I realized that there are many other publicity outlets worth approaching that are outside-the-box and neglected by many authors.

 

“Yes, indeed,” I wrote to a gentleman in Virginia, USA. “I believe I am definitely qualified to join your organization. My family played an active part in the St. Ives, Cornwall community when we lived there.”

 

Digging too deep_533x800-e1383673499772This email conversation with the Cornish-American Heritage Society came about after the first book in my mystery series, “Digging Too Deep: A Tosca Trevant Mystery,” was published. I had endowed my amateur sleuth with a vocabulary of Cornish cusswords and a penchant for brewing tongue-curling medieval mead from the land of the piskies (Cornish pixies). My initial reason for seeking out the Society was to get back in touch with my roots and because my main character is a Cornishwoman.  I was worried I’d forgotten parts of my heritage by living in California. Happily, I gathered a new vocabulary of naughty words.

 

CornwallThe Society has a newsletter that reports on various goings-on in Cornwall and on ex-pats. One delicious news item that caught my eye was that the Duchy of Cornwall (as we call provinces) was contemplating opening up an embassy in London now that the Cornish are finally recognized as an official minority! Tosca can have fun with that in her next book in the series, I thought. Then, lo and behold, I noted that the newsletter also ran book reviews. Well, icing on the cake. The review and a blurb of my book appeared in the next issue. I noted, too, that with the Society holding events all over the U.S they provide signing opportunities. When I attended the international Gathering of the Cornish Bards in Milwaukee, Wisconsin I had a book table, and quickly sold out.

 

PubAre your settings on your web site? On mine, www.jillamadiomysteries.com, I have added a page about the small fishing village of St. Ives that includes a photo of its 1312 pub, The Sloop Inn, which is still selling pints. — a topic for the brewing trade publications? On second thought, Tosca brews medieval mead but makes such a hash of it I wouldn’t dare query them although two of her recipes are being published in a new cookbook anthology.

 

I also sent a copy of the book to the St. Ives Archive which maintains an online site as well as a gift shop that sells books. (Shouldn’t I be hired by the Cornwall Council as a roving ambassador?)

 

Classical MusicAnother avenue for publicity came from a friend in New York, a leading classical music critic. He writes an internationally-syndicated column for ConcertoNet.com distributed in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and on the island of Karguella for all I know. He’d helped me with research for the music in both my mysteries and my current WIP, and surprised me with a lengthy review. After it appeared in the Bangkok Post, Thailand I heard from a reporter I worked there with years ago. She now owns a specialty music museum that I’ll include in a future book. Again, grist for the mill.

 

Some authors combine their non-literary careers with the fiction they write as a platform and pursue marketing on both fronts Sheila Lowe, president of the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation, bases her protagonist in the Claudia Rose series on her daily job. Lowe’s expertise and testimony in real court cases gains her entry and access to legal publications, legal blogs, and online sites where she can discuss cases involving forensic graphology and at the same time promote her novels, even if only as a tagline.

 

The list of custom blogs like ours here at The Writers in Residence is growing by the week and they are looking for content. If you write about wine, gourmet cheese or other foods are you or your publicist sending ARCs to baker and grocery organizations and their trade publications such as the Costco newsletters? To crafts and pet magazines? How about a review copy to women farmers’ associations? The Internet is chock full of hobby newsletters that probably one of your characters enjoys although I doubt there is a milkmaids fellowship.

 

Magazines NewspapersI used to write an automotive column and sent my book, which features a vintage Austin-Healey, to my pals at car magazines. Alumni and club publications, too, welcome notices of new books of grads and members. Hit them up for a talk and write on their blog. Platforms such as these provide ideas for finding new and unusual opportunities to promote your book. Turn over that stone! I wrote a biography of a World War II fighter ace and give power point presentations to which I bring along my mysteries, too, of course. Likewise, when I am invited to be a speaker on ghostwriting memoirs.

I’m sure there are many other unusual outlets worth exploring. Let’s share!

For Want of Brush or Pallet

Madeline (M.M.) Gornell is the author of seven award-winning mystery novels. Her current literary focus is Route 66 as it traverses California’s Mojave Desert in her “Rhodes” series. Madeline is a lifetime lover of mysteries, and besides reading and writing, is also an occasional potter. She lives with her husband and assorted canines in the High Desert. Visit her website and Amazon Author Page.


Several happenings on several fronts led me to this post. First off, in my books I occasionally go on and on about sunrises and sunsets—especially in my two Rhodes tales. A few evenings ago a particular sunset caught my

Beauty in the Mojave

fancy—they’re all beautiful to me—but some, depending on weather conditions, are quite spectacular. This was one such sunset, so I found my camera (easier said now than was actually done at the time), and took a few pictures. After some thought and really looking at those pictures, I honestly doubted I could ever express in words the colors, the striations, and the emotional content of those pictures. Not a happy consideration for me.

Secondly, in my current WIP[i]—I realized, “it” just wasn’t right—almost at the point of my tossing the whole thing out. I didn’t feel I was there with the characters, or the story. But before giving up, I did take a few moments to “think.” About my story line, about my characters, about my back stories, even about the underlining premises—and finally I realized what was wrong.

My opening didn’t take me there. And why? I haven’t painted an enticing picture—not taken the reader (in this case me) there. Not that I don’t know the picture I want to open with—but I hadn’t brought that world to my WIP. Sure, I had described the where and what in Billy Belleau’s (opening character) world, but I had not painted the picture.

Easier to do with cameras, or paints if you have artistic talent. For example, while pondering (translate: being lazy) I’m in the middle of a mystery series on DVD called Blood of the Vine. It’s French, with English subtitles, and is set in French wine country. The opening panoramic scenes through the Bordeaux and other wine country regions in each episode are so magnificent, so enticing—as a watcher I’m there immediately. Their plot be darned, script be darned—I want to experience whatever it is that’s about to be revealed.

So bottom line for me, my tale is renewed in my mind, and I have some ideas on what needs to be added to paint my picture to try to take my reader there. And the point of sharing all this? It is to say, sometimes you need to toss. And sometimes you can fix. But in my opinion, if you paint an enticing picture at the very beginning—invite your reader to see what you see, paint a place a reader wants to go—you’re off to a great start.

Not easy, I don’t think, painting with a word-pallet (though the English-language-hues are seemingly endless)—but well worth the effort. Which  leads me to another topic of writing discussions (and potters also banter this same question around)—Art or Craft? I vote both.

Happy word-painting trails!


[i] Rhodes The Caretakers

I Write Romance and I’m Proud of It!

Guest Post by Hanna Rhys Barnes**

I’m an author. I have books published by a publisher. “What an accomplishment,” you might say. But when I say “I write Romance,” I get this look like “Oh…how…nice.” As if the qualification “Romance” somehow diminishes the accomplishment.

Unfortunately, romance authors are subjected to this sort of backhanded treatment, especially by other authors. As if a #1 NYT or USA Today bestselling Romance title is not quite as worthy as some literary or memoir or inspirational author’s work!

As a romance author, I find this kind of behavior tiresome, especially since hands down, romance is the publishing industry’s largest, most profitable, steadiest genre.

Let me tell you, when the US economy was flagging, authors in the literary, poetry, and non-fiction section of the bookstore were happy the romance genre existed. While the bottom dropped out of many other categories, romance readers continued to buy one or more romance novels per month. The Romance imprints kept many-a-publisher afloat. And we still do today. Go into the book section at any big box store and see which fiction genre has the most shelf space. I’d be willing to bet a whole month’s salary it’s Romance. Per the Nielsen Books & Consumer Tracker, in 2014

  • Annual sales of Romance Novels were over $1 billion
  • Romance Novels were nearly 40% of e-book sales & over 30% of mass market
  • The Romance unit share of all adult fiction sold: 29%

Nearly 100 romance books are published every month. And publishers make sure they get on the shelf (whether brick & mortar or digital.) Why? Because romance readers are loyal buyers and always on the lookout for someone new to read. Because romance readers are prolific readers. Many read 4-8 books per month. And who’s buying billions of dollars’ worth of Romance?

  • 84% of romance book buyers are women 16% are men.
  • The U.S. romance book buyer tends to be aged 30-59 years.
  • Romance book buyers have an average income of $55,000.
  • More than 55% of Romance book buyers have read Romance for             more than 10 years

Romance fiction is smart, fresh and diverse. Whether you enjoy contemporary dialogue, historical settings, mystery, thrillers or any number of other themes, there’s a romance novel waiting for you! If you’re an author, next time someone says “I write Romance,” shake their hand and say “Thanks.”  Thanks for the hard work we do to help keep the lights on in the publishing world.

About the author

P1000920-230Hanna Rhys Barnes is one of those people with an evenly balanced right and left brain.  She has a BA in English but retired as a high school math teacher.

Hanna loves doing rewrites as much as she loves getting that first draft down and has been a freelance developmental editor and author coach for the last six years. She has worked on books for several well-known agents and published authors.

a Knights KissA member of RWA’s national organization and of several local chapters, she currently lives and works on Whidbey Island in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Hanna’s historical romances, Widow’s Peak and A Knight’s Kiss are currently available from the Wild Rose Press.

 

 

 

**This blog article is posted for Hanna Rhys Barnes by Jackie Houchin and Miko Johnston.