(RE)STARTING YOUR ENGINE

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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.

 

 

(RE)STARTING YOUR ENGINE

I was on an author panel recently, and a member of the audience asked us if we wrote every day. The other panelists confirmed that they did, and I had to confess that I do not. I know, call me Slacker.

 
It’s not like I don’t enjoy writing—most of the time. I usually have plenty of ideas of what to write, I know where my work in progress is heading, and I WANT to sit down and write, but there are days when it just doesn’t happen. The phone rings—Caller ID tells me it’s a friend I haven’t heard from in weeks, so of course I must answer. Or the computer goes on the fritz and I spend an hour in Help Desk Hell, listening to a robovoice assure me that my call is very important, so please stay on the line for the next available representative. Or the dog begs me for a walk with an irresistible, pleading expression on her furry face.

 
And there go my good intentions right out the window.

 
Generally, I make up for lost time, sooner or later. I turn off the phone, let the dog amuse herself in the yard for a while, and swear off Facebook until I’ve done at least 1000 words or put in an hour of writing, whichever comes first.

 
Recently, however, everything ground to a screeching halt—not for a day, or even a week.

 
For a month.

 
I had a good excuse: hip surgery. The surgery itself was uncomplicated and successful, and I’m making a rapid recovery. But in the days leading up to it, I had too many things to think about besides my current work in progress, where I was a little over the halfway point.

 
Post-surgery, there were many more distractions: follow-up doctor appointments, physical therapy, and fatigue that demanded frequent naps. Additionally, for a while I needed heavy-duty prescription pain meds—a creativity-killer if ever there was one. The opioid fog began to clear, but I still felt apathetic about writing. I’d abandoned the unfinished novel at a point where I wasn’t sure exactly what should happen next, which was a huge tactical error, but by then it was too late to remedy it.

 
I stared at the pile of pages on my writing table, overwhelmed with hopelessness. The novel reminded me of a car with a dead battery; the parts were all there, but the battery was drained and the vehicle was just a cold, unresponsive lump of metal—or, in this case, paper. Stalled car

At that point, I gave in to despair. Why bother? Who cares? Does the world even need another book from me?

 
Then I remembered that some people did care: my writers’ critique group. I soon would owe them 30 pages of new work. With that deadline looming, I sighed. How could I let them down? I must at least try to produce something for them. So I picked up the pages and re-read what I’d written before I went under the knife, all the while laughing at my foolish assumption that I would “catch up on my writing” while I was recuperating.

 
The pages I’d already written weren’t bad, and I’d gotten some positive feedback from my fellow writers. I started writing down words, reminding myself that if  I simply put them on paper, I’d have something to work on, something to build on and edit. I remembered a valuable saying: You can’t fix what’s not on the page.

 
I knew this approach as surely as I knew my own name, so I gritted my teeth and ground out five pages. They seemed flat and pointless. But at least I had something to show for my time and effort. And as I read over what I’d written, I had an idea for how to make them better. A flicker of hope beckoned. Hey, maybe this wasn’t a lost cause.

 

I wrote a few additional pages, and the more I wrote, the more ideas started to flow. First a trickle, then a stream. I lost track of time as I scribbled the outline of what needed to happen next, and a delicious enthusiasm flowed over me, that feeling I’d begun to fear was lost for good. That poor old dead engine had finally turned over. It sputtered a few times, but then it started chugging along.

 
I still have a long way to go to “The End,” but if I hadn’t sat down and made myself pretend to be a writer again, the muse would not have whispered in my ear. Why try and talk to someone who’s not listening?

 
So you see, magic can still happen. Believe in it. You may think the game is lost, but there’s always the chance it isn’t over yet. There may be a tiny spark of life left in that engine after all, but you won’t know unless you fiddle around with it a while.

Anybody out there who had to abandon a project and then fought to resurrect it after some time had passed? How did you get going again, or did you? Or perhaps now you’re thinking, maybe you will . . .?

 

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.

 

Launching a New Adventure

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Hi again! It’s me: Thunder, the PR Rep for some of the Writers in Residence. This job is taking up so much of my nap and play time that I hired an intern. That’s her, Bailey, behind me in the photo. She’s learning the ropes, but since she’s not even a year old, she’s easily distracted by squirrels and other moving objects.

But I digress.

I’m here today to tell you about a brand-new book by Bonnie Schroeder (that’s my mom.) We are beyond excited to share the news that Write My Name on the Sky has just been published by Champlain Avenue Books!

Here’s the official press release, written by Bonnie of course, since dogs don’t think this kind of stuff up themselves:

Write My Name on the Sky is the story of Kate Prescott, a 1960s college dropout who marries art student Jack Morrison and helps him become famous. Then things go off the rails, as they must in a novel.FrontCoverOnly300dpi (002)

The book’s title is a metaphor for ambition and its dark side. Many of the characters in the novel are wildly ambitious—and ambition often drives success, but at a cost, which comes out as the story progresses.

All names have been changed to protect both innocent and guilty, of course, and most of the story events are purely imaginary, but it’s grounded enough in reality to make it believable—and, I hope, entertaining to read. Based on the early reviews, readers seem to agree so far.

The book is available wherever good books are sold (online of course, and mostly by special order at physical bookstores, although Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse in La Canada will always have it in stock.)

 

All right, my work here is done. For now. It’s past my nap time. See you around the book universe.

Happy Summer Reading!Bonnie_Schroeder-McCarthy-Photo-Studio-Los-Angeles-7187

–Thunder and Bonnie

Holy Cow! by Bonnie Schroeder

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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’m wrapping up our series of pet-centric posts today and hope everyone has enjoyed reading about the animals in our lives. . . and our writing.

I’ve had pets almost all my life, mostly dogs and cats, but few have had starring roles in my fiction.

My very first “published” short story, however, featured a cow as a main character, and not just any cow. My pet cow.

Here’s how it happened:

As a child, I spent my summers on my grandparents’ farm in northern New Mexico. It was a kid’s paradise, with all sorts of animal life: dogs and cats and chickens and pigs and cows. Being semi-obsessed by Western movies that were all the rage back then (mid-20th-century, that is), I often lamented that there were no horses on the farm.

The reason? Simple economics. My grandparents were not wealthy, and a tractor can do the work of many horses, without the attendant feed bills. My grandfather tired of my yearning for a horse, and he offered me what was, in his opinion, the next-best substitute: a docile milk cow named Brindy.

Brindy and I became fast friends during my summer visits. When I arrived, I’d race out to the pasture, climb over the fence and call to her, and she always came to say hello. I’d tell her how my time in California had gone, share a few confidences, rub her forehead and give her a carrot. When she was lying down, I’d often climb on her bony back and stroke her bristly hide. She was always gentle with me and seemed to enjoy the attention.Brindy

My favorite thing, though, was to help with the milking! You need VERY strong fingers to milk a cow, and I wasn’t always successful, but I kept trying. Milk straight from the cow, by the way, is nothing like the stuff you buy at the supermarket. It’s warm and thick and has a distinct, earthy taste.

How did Brindy come to star in my short story? As the product of a “broken marriage”—which was not taken so casually then as now—I was something of an outsider in school; friends did not come easily. But in the 5th grade, I discovered—or rather my teacher discovered—that I had a knack for creative writing. I suppose it came from all the time I spent alone with my books, coupled with a wild imagination. My teacher gave the class an assignment to write a story about an animal, and without my even having to think too hard about it, a story emerged about a cow that wanted to be a horse. The cow in my story, of course, was named Brindy, and although she tried hard to act like a horse, she eventually came to realize horses didn’t have it all that easy: people riding on their backs, hauling heavy wagons, and so on. Brindy decided she was pretty darn happy being a cow.

The ”be yourself” message must have impressed my teacher, because she typed up the story, shared it with the class, and sent a note to my mother that my writing “talent” should be encouraged—which, of course, it was.

That summer when I went to visit Brindy, very full of myself for all the attention my story had received and the friends it had won me, my grandfather cautioned me that Brindy had given birth while I was away. Eager to see the new calf, I hurried to the pasture and climbed the fence. Sure enough, there was Brindy with the cutest little baby standing next to her. I called out to her and ran forward. At this point, Brindy lowered her head, bellowed, and charged. I was threatening her baby.

I turned and fled and barely made it to the fence without being trampled. When I told my grandfather what happened, he shook his head. “I warned you. She’s mighty protective of that calf.”

And so it was that I lost my friend on the farm. Brindy became a mom and had no more interest in me. It made me sad, but then my grandfather brought home a puppy, and when he presented it to me, my disappointment over Brindy melted away. We named the puppy Buck, and he lived a long and happy life, watching over me and protecting me from the many hazards a child encounters on a farm. I decided a dog was a more suitable pet than a cow, after all.

Brindy had abandoned me, true enough, but she was my first muse, and I have always been grateful to her for that. In return, I gave her a kind of immortality, at least on the written page. If cows have emotions—and I think they do—she’d be proud.

Respecting the Muse by Bonnie Schroeder

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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.

 

 

Most writers inevitably encounter the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” I’ve been on the receiving end more times than I can count, and I often wonder aLife after Lifebout other writers, too.

Where, for example, does Stephen King come up with all his intricate storylines? Where did Kate Atkinson get the idea for Life After Life? 

Actually, ideas are everywhere, and they’re often triggered by those magic words, “What if . . ..?”

In my experience, however, the initial spark tends to morph into something quite different when I begin to work on a story. My first novel, Mending Dreams, came about because I knew a woman whose husband did the same thing my protagonist’s husband did: came home one day and told her he was leaving her because he was in love. . . with another man. “What if,” I wondered, “that had happened to me? How would I react?” The eventual premise turned into something quite different than I expected, as themes of love and courage emerged from the mess I created in those first pages.

I was married to an artist in the 60s and 70s, and as I was looking over old photos from those days, I asked myself, “What if my husband had become really famous?” This led to Write My Name on the Sky, which will be published this summer. The story changed tremendously in the execution, but that first flash of inspiration arose from those old pictures.

A couple of years ago, during my annual physical exam, my doctor remarked that both my hearing and breathing capacity had improved in the past year. Hmmm. What if I was growing younger? That idea became the cornerstone of the novel I’m currently writing, and it’s become more than a case of mere wish fulfillment.

Webster’s New World Dictionary defines “Muse” as “a source of genius or inspiration,” but I have other names for her. She is quite a trickster, and if I don’t pay attention to her whispered ideas, they vanish like smoke. That’s why I am almost never without pen and paper—or in today’s world, without my trusty iPhone, which I use to record the Muse’s suggestions and sometimes even to photograph the source of them.

Yes, ideas are everywhere, but writers need to respect them when they appear; don’t squander them; nurture them and preserve them.

I believe the writing process is at least one part voodoo. Inspire

For me, it seems that once I set my intent to write about a particular topic, the creative universe springs into action. For my woman-getting-younger novel, even while I was sketching out the premise, articles started appearing in newspapers and magazines I read, about “age disruption” and “life extension.” My research file on the subject is over six inches thick!

I would love to hear from my fellow writers and readers about this subject. What inspires you? Where do you get your ideas? And how do you hang onto them when they appear? What do you do with them? Please share!

Bloodbath at the Keyboard

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Bonnie Schroeder has been a storyteller since the fifth grade, when her teacher suggested she put her vivid imagination to work as a writer.  She took the advice to heart and has pursued the craft of fiction ever since. In addition to her women’s fiction novel Mending Dreams, she is the author of numerous short stories, screenplays, and nonfiction articles. She lives in Glendale, California.

 

 

Over a year ago, I wrote a post about editing, full of measured and objective advice about reducing one’s word count. I boasted that I had trimmed 5,000 words from my Work in Progress and had “only about 10,000 words” more to cut. I achieved that goal almost painlessly.

Proof that the Universe has a sense of humor: I was offered a publishing contract, but only if I could remove another 3,000 to 5,000 words from the manuscript.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” I muttered as I started reading, convinced I had already pared the word count to the bare bone. At this point the manuscript consisted of about 109,000 words.stack-of-papers

This last read-through, performed after the manuscript had “cooled” for a couple of months, was a humbling experience.

There was still plenty of fat left in those pages.

I had apparently developed a fondness for the word “so,”—to the extent that it had become invisible to me on past readings. As in “So,” she said, “what have you been up to?” Or, “So, are you going to tell me what happened?”red-pen

Removing all those “so’s” made a tiny dent in the word count, but I had to get more aggressive.

You know the edict, “Kill your darlings”?

I’d done that, sliced them out with a push of the “Delete” button, and I was convinced I’d purged them all. But oh, no.

The number of darlings I found on this last go-round astonished me.

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Out went some of my favorite paragraphs, ones that looked lovely but added nothing to the storyline.

The bloodbath continued unabated, and this time there was pain. I loved some of those passages—I loved them too much. I’d labored over every sentence, every phrase, every word, and removing them from the manuscript was like ripping off pieces of my skin.

What made it worse, as I highlighted passages and pressed “Delete,” was the realization that no one but me would ever see these words arranged just so, words I’d sometimes had to wrestle onto the page to convey a certain image, a certain feeling. I hated myself for condemning them to obscurity.

“But wait,” cried a tiny voice at the moment of my deepest despair. These precious prose snippets weren’t really gone; they were safely housed in a prior version of the manuscript, safe within a digital file on my computer, backed up to the cloud and three separate flash drives. They could live on, forever if need be, waiting for me to resurrect them in another book, another time.

Maybe I will, and maybe I won’t, but I sleep better knowing they’re there, waiting patiently, and if they never get their moment in the sun, they won’t know.

After all, they’re only words.

Aren’t they?

I did meet my publisher’s requirement, so the agony was worth it. I trimmed another 3,998 words from the manuscript, and it is now a relatively svelte 105,000 words. But I still miss some of those paragraphs. . .

SPEAKING OUT

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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.

 

SPEAKING OUT

 An interesting fact: most people fear public speaking more than they fear death.

Having recently gone from reclusive novelist to active book promoter, I believe it, and I think writers are especially vulnerable to the terror of getting up in front of an audience and talking about anything, especially our own work.

My first experience in public speaking left an indelible scar, and it wasn’t even about my writing. At the time, I was a supervisor in my employer’s benefits department, and I had to participate in a presentation about certain changes to our plans. I wasn’t particularly nervous until I reached the front of the room. Then my mouth went so dry that my tongue felt like paper; dandelionmy hands trembled; and my previously well-organized thoughts scattered like dandelion fluff. I could tell from the pitying looks on my colleagues’ faces that my talk was a total disaster.

After that debacle, I enrolled in a public speaking class at the local community college, and eventually I got to the point where I could talk in front of a group without showing my nervousness. But I never enjoyed the experience.

In the years that followed, my hard-won public speaking ability eroded—like any skill, you either use it or you lose it.

Flash forward a couple of decades, and my novel Mending Dreams was published: a dream come true. That dream, however, came hand in hand with a nightmare: I had to once again venture into the spotlight, this time to promote my book.  I had to resurrect skills that had never been all that strong in the first place and were now mighty rusty. I needed help.

I found that help in Toastmasters 4 Writers, a delightful group of people who immediately understood my predicament and helped me get back on the public speaking horse. More than that, they made it fun. Since I’d already committed to a launch party for Mendintoastmastersg Dreams, I was able to jump right in and pitch my novel to the group, and their enthusiasm and encouragement carried me through the launch and on into a string of other appearances. Several of the club members even came to the book launch to show their support. The group has become a treasured part of my writing life.

I didn’t realize how far I’d come on my public speaking journey until recently, when I was asked to speak to a group of former co-workers at their monthly “alumni club” meeting. This talk needed to be longer than my usual 10-15 minutes, and the audience included not only people I had worked with during my career, but also some I had worked for. I was slightly intimidated.

However, I practiced the first part of the talk at my Toastmasters 4 Writers meeting and got some incisive feedback so useful that it pulled the speech structure into shape. Armed with that support, I felt ready to take on the (so far) biggest challenge in my book-promoter role.

From my point of view, the talk went really well. I kept the group awake after a carbo-loaded lunch, and they laughed at the parts where I hoped they would. But even more important, while I was talkingnov-2016-alumni-1, I realized I’m not scared anymore, and that awareness was the same kind of high I get when the solution to a thorny story problem suddenly comes clear.

This epiphany didn’t happen by magic. I’ve learned a few things since that disastrous speech many years ago:

  • First and foremost, preparation is crucial. Know your stuff and practice it every chance you get: if not in front of a group, at least to the mirror, the cat, or the dog. If you have the means to video it, do that.
  • Just as important—remember to breathe. Take a DEEP breath and exhale as you’re walking to the lectern, the podium, the front of the room—or simply standing up in place. You don’t want to be gasping for breath, and an oxygen-deprived brain won’t help you recall your talking points.
  • Bring water with you if possible. That dry mouth thing is a killer, and nobody notices if you pause to take an occasional sip of water in between sentences.
  • If your audience is larger than ten to 20, use a microphone. If you’re not strainimicrophoneng to make your words heard, you can focus on more important issues. I used to be afraid of microphones, until I realized how much easier they made things. Take whatever’s available—and if you’re using a hand-held mike, clamp that arm to your side and keep it there; gestures are great, but you don’t want to be waving that mike all over the place.
  • Even if I know the speech cold, I always bring a few notes, usually typed in 20-point Verdana so I can see them easily. This removes the fear of a brain freeze—which happens to even the most accomplished speakers sometimes.
  • If making eye contact is a challenge for you, seek out one or two friendly faces in the audience and return to them again and again for confidence, but focus on others as well. I bet you’ll find that most of them are smiling and looking interested, too.
  • Above all, if you’re speaking to a group interested in you and your writing, remember this: they’re already on your side. They want to like you. Got it?

 

I don’t know that I will ever enjoy public speaking, but thanks to my Toastmasters 4 Writers club, and my loyal friends who show up to support me, an invitation to come out and talk about my work no longer fills me with terror.

Conquering fear is a very empowering act. Maybe next I’ll tackle the Dreaded Blank Page Syndrome. Wish me luck!