Building a Platform… Continued

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Platform

 

We will continue where we left off last time. Here are several more things to consider while you are constructing that platform.

 

 

 

 

Point #5

  1. Acquire the ‘Write’ Type of Friends. Join a hands-on writer’s group in your area. These are groups that critique each others’ work. Knowing people who are trying to make their own work better and who want to help you as well is good for the psyche. You might have to join more than one group before you find one that fits your age group and temperament. (Trust me, there is a difference.) Some writers still appreciate proper grammar and spelling. (Some don’t.) And remember: you aren’t married to these groups, so leave if one doesn’t click. Or start your own group with people sharing your values, temperament, and needs. You want to improve your writing skills, so make sure this is a learning experience. And be very generous with your skills. Sharing your writing knowledge with others is part of the “platform” building. And you will improve all your editing skills by critiquing other people’s work.

 

Join on-line writers groups to keep your finger on the pulse of the business, and to make contacts and maybe get a few readers when your book comes out. This is another way networking pays off.

Writing 41

Point #6

  1. Stand Up and Be Counted. After you have joined a national writers’ organization like Sisters-in-Crime or Mystery Writers of America and you find you like what they offer, ask what you can do to help out. Volunteer. People will learn that they can rely on you. If the board members see that you are a good worker, you might find yourself on a committee or two. Get that face of yours out there. If you are willing to go the extra mile, see if you can get on the board and be one of those deciding what that group of writers can do to help each other as well as the community at large. This shows that you are a mover and shaker.

MicrophonesAfter I joined Sisters-in-Crime/Los Angeles, I was asked to join the board. I started out as Speakers Bureau Director. I set up writers’ panels all over the area. I first went through the roster of members, located websites for those members with one, learned what they wrote, and got an idea what types of panels I could offer local libraries based on the types of books these folks wrote. I did cozy panels, Noir, mysteries with a travel theme. 80 panels later, I pretty well know who wrote what.

While I was doing this, I was learning more and more about what I needed to concentrate on as a writer. I acted as coordinator for these events, not a panelist. Later, when I was asked to be on a panel or two myself, I came prepared because I could see what worked and what didn’t.

But it was still a learning experience for me. I spent a lot of time talking about the characters I had written. I thought they were interesting and talked to the audience about who they were.

Then one time when I was on a panel at a library I just happened to mention that I used to be a private detective. Bam! People wanted to know about that aspect of my life, not about the characters I had created.

That was when I learned that people were interested in the writer, the writer’s life, and how as a writer we came up with characters and plot, not necessarily about the book the writer had written. Sure the audience wanted some information about the book since that was what we were selling, but they really wanted to know about the writer, in this case: me. And I had something to tell them.

If you have a talent for teaching, you might try your hand at giving a class about writing or the business of writing. Pamela Samuels-Young teaches a terrific class on “How to Write a Novel and Still Keep Your Day Job.” She also does a presentation on marketing your book.

I have known writers who have taught classes on “How to Read Out Loud in Front of a Crowd” and “How to Get and Keep an Agent.” Their expertise led them to sharing their knowledge with others.

As for me, after turning out a collection of short stories of my own and the Johnny Casino Casebook series which consists of seven to ten stories per book, I was asked to teach a class on the short story. Since Sisters-in-Crime put out an anthology every other year, my class would fit right in.

Deciding that a game plan was in order, I went over the files for every one of those stories I had written up to that time and realized there was a method to this madness that I loved. I wrote down the steps I used in writing every story and turned out a fairly organized handout for the class. The class was a lot of fun and I got to teach it several different places.

Then another thought hit me. Why couldn’t I turn those class handouts into a book, a workbook? It wouldn’t be a lot of words, but rather a blueprint of how I actually wrote a story. Since I was using the same game plan for all my work, I used that as my road map.

So I wrote down the plan, provided numerous examples, and even put a few of my favorite stories in the back of the workbook. Since I basically dissected the short story I called the book The Anatomy of a Short Story Workbook.

 

Keep notes of your writing progress, experiences, and things you have learned. If you have a method in your own writing madness, that just might be the basis of a class you can give at a local library or at the next writers’ conference. It’s another presentation where your skills will come into play.

 

Your leadership skills are being polished and you didn’t even know it. It’s another “platform” to add to your collection.

 

Point #7

  1. Paddle Your Own Canoe. Submit articles to on-line writers’ magazines or write for your local weekly newspaper. You can submit book reviews or articles on local writers like yourself, or maybe cover community news or write special interest articles. Write newsletter articles for the groups to which you belong whether it’s your kid’s school or your church. You will be writing and people will be seeing your name in print.

As a freelance reporter, you can get out there and talk to people, the very people who just might show up at your first book launch. You will be somebody who is doing something in your community rather than sitting back and waiting for things to float your way. Paddle your own boat and you will get to your goal a lot faster.

Magazines Newspapers 

Point #8

  1. Planning Ahead. Okay, you have honed a few skills now. Maybe you have even sold a short story or two. You are contemplating the time when that brilliant publisher realizes that you have a publishable book and snaps you up. You will finally have something in print with your name on it. Hooray.

 

Question: What will you do then?

 

Answer: Find people who want to read it.

 

Problem: You hadn’t thought about this part earlier.

 

Solution: Let’s think about it now.

Friendly Mic

Selling one book at a time at a local bookstore might be a little slow. How about finding a group of people who might be interested in your particular subject matter? Sue Ann Jaffarian’s protagonist, Odellia Grey in Booby Trap, is a pleasantly plump paralegal. Sue Ann is a trained paralegal. She speaks at paralegal conventions. And lawyer conventions. She parlayed her real life job skills into a series of novels and then doubled down to promote herself and her books at conferences featuring the very same people. That’s a good marketing technique.

 

Say you wrote about a “super chef/sleuth.” You might try asking a cooking utensil convention to let you come and speak. Or a food convention. Or a cruise line that caters to foodies. Find groups of people with whom you have a connection. If your protagonist is over forty (or maybe even in their sixties), try senior citizen groups. If your plot centers on the aerospace industry, ask NASA if you can speak at their next get-together. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

Planning ahead sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? You might even rearrange your plot to put some big business entity in it (in a good light, of course) just so you can be invited to their next convention.

Market your book and yourself. Examine your skills, talents, interests, previous or current job and see how they can be used to promote that book of yours. Remember: You want to sell books, but mostly, you want to sell yourself.

…. Hang in there. There is one more posting to come later this summer. You can do this.

How to Write a Humorous Book (a not-very-serious version)

An Author Guest Post by Marc Jedel

People always ask me about my writing process for my humorous murder mystery series. They’re interested in how I get the ideas and how these turn into a novel. “Magic,” I tell them, but that rarely suffices. Some authors seem to swim in an endless pool of plots and characters, effortlessly plucking out one plot twist or character arc after another until they’ve burned through their keyboard.

Not me.

So how does it work for me?

Research. That’s a fancy term for my process. I start by collecting funny anecdotes, interesting people or snatches of overheard conversations. Back in the days when I used to leave my house, I would add notes to my phone about what I saw in daily life. (Don’t worry if you see me hanging around now, I’ll be wearing a mask.) I also change the names and exaggerate—or combine—the incidents to protect the guilty.

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed that I pay much more attention to my surroundings than I ever did. I also have become more willing to approach strangers and ask them questions. Who’d have expected that the solitary life of a writer would make me more social?

Plot. As plot ideas smack me in the face, I jot them down before I forget. My extensive study of bestselling books clearly highlighted the importance of having a plot. All those other successful authors must be on to something. I try to come up with ideas for challenges to throw at Marty (my protagonist) and then think about how he might solve the case despite those problems through his powers of self-delusion, attention to detail, and the inability to leave a coherent voicemail message.

Characters. Once I developed the concepts for a few of my regular characters, I find myself wondering how to make life more difficult for them during the course of the book and how they’d react to unexpected situations. Having my novels take place over the course of about a week has been a deliberate approach to force myself to increase the pace and make the characters act and react more often.

Humor. By setting up an imperfect character who’s not particularly good at the one thing the reader expects him to achieve in the story, and then making his life hectic, I’ve found plenty of opportunities for situational humor. Personally, I’ve always been better at coming up with a quick, funny comment in the moment than telling canned jokes. I can never remember punchlines so there’s no chance of my doing standup comedy even if I were funny enough.

Dad Jokes, Puns, Shakespeare Lines and Lyrics as Humor. These make me laugh as I’m writing my stories. Writing can be a long and lonely process, and editing even more boring. My dog is great company but not the best conversationalist so I have to entertain myself as I go. Sometimes that spontaneity happened months ago and I wrote it down and sometimes it comes to me as I’m writing. Typically, the use, or misuse, of parts of music lyrics as dialogue hits me on the spot. Same for most of the puns. Fortunately for readers, my editor is awesome and she removes the attempts at humor that aren’t quite funny enough.

A while back I read a good article about famous Shakespeare put-downs and quotes. That gave me the idea to develop a key character in my third novel, SERF AND TURF, who plays the Bard in Renaissance Faires and tries to use Shakespeare’s quotes whenever possible. He wound up as a fun character who starts off as a suspect and winds up … well, you’ll have to read the book.

Outline. Some writers are ‘pantsers’. This means they fly by the seat of their pants, writing without a detailed plan. Not that they wear pants. Some authors probably do wear pants when they write. That’s kind of a personal question best unasked of an author, especially in these days of shelter-in-place.

I outline. I admit to it. If I didn’t, I’d still be trying to figure out how the book would end, or who gets killed. Creating an outline with each scene on one line of a spreadsheet helps me to look at holes, try to spread out when different side characters show up, and make sure the action keeps moving forward at a good clip. Then I go through all my notes and put most of the notes into the relevant scene so I can include all the right amount of humor as well as balance tense vs wacky situations. Once that’s done, there are no more excuses. It’s time for the next stage.

Write and Edit. This part sounds simple — write, edit, repeat.  Eventually magic makes it good.

My books in the Silicon Valley Mystery series, starting with Uncle and Ants, are humorous murder mysteries. The first three are available as audiobooks from Tantor Audio almost everywhere that audiobooks are sold. The books can be read standalone but I think you’d enjoy reading all 4 of them—and probably enjoy it even more if you buy copies for everyone you know. I know I would.

Silicon Valley is not your typical cozy mystery locale and Marty Golden doesn’t fit the normal profile of a mystery protagonist. Despite finding himself thrust into challenging situations, Marty isn’t exactly hero material. He brings a combination of wit, irreverent humor and sarcasm mixed in with nerdy insecurities, absent-mindedness, and fumbling but effective amateur sleuthing skills. With an active inner voice and not a lot of advanced planning, he throws himself into solving problems. Sometimes, he even succeeds.

Hit and Mist, book 4, was just released on May 8 and can also be read standalone. The books are free to Kindle Unlimited readers. Buy them on Amazon at: amazon.com/gp/product/B07PHNT7XM.  For more about my books or me, please visit www.marcjedel.com.

*****

Bio for Marc Jedel

Marc JadellMarc Jedel writes humorous murder mysteries. He credits his years of marketing leadership positions in Silicon Valley for honing his writing skills. While his high-tech marketing roles involved crafting plenty of fiction, these were just called emails, ads, and marketing collateral.

For most of Marc’s life, he’s been inventing stories. Some, especially when he was young, involved his sister as the villain. As his sister’s brother for her entire life, he feels highly qualified to tell tales of the evolving, quirky sibling relationship in the Silicon Valley Mystery series.

The publication of Marc’s first novel, UNCLE AND ANTS, gave him permission to claim “author” as his job. This leads to much more interesting conversations than answering, “marketing.” Becoming an Amazon best-selling author has only made him more insufferable.

Family and friends would tell you that the protagonist in his stories, Marty Golden, isn’t much of a stretch of the imagination for Marc, but he accepts that.

Like Marty, Marc lives in Silicon Valley where he can’t believe that normal people would willingly jump out of an airplane. Unlike Marty, Marc has a wonderful wife and a neurotic but sweet, small dog, who is often the first to weigh in on the humor in his writing.

Visit his website, marcjedel.com, for free chapters of novels, special offers, and more.

Uncles ants    Chutes Ladders    Serf Turf   Hit and Mist

 

(To read my review of Serf and Turf, click here)

 

 

 

This article was posted for Marc Jedel by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)

 

 

Writers in Residence

by Linda O. Johnston 

 

Lock downYes, this is The Writers in Residence blog.  And what am I posting about here today?  Writers in residence.

That’s pretty much all of us writers, I assume.  Some writers can write anywhere, and I know of many who prefer taking their laptops to a Starbucks or a Panera or similar place and spending many days there, ignoring the crowds and discussions around them and getting a lot of their writing done.

Prefer it? Maybe so, but even though a lot of towns in this country appear to be “opening up” more than they’ve been recently during the Covad-19 virus pandemic, the most logical locations still require social distancing and, mostly, masks. Sitting at a table nursing cups of coffee as you write may be a beloved memory, and a beloved aspiration for the future, but I doubt that many people are engaging in it now.

Maybe some writers who also have outside jobs are able to write at their offices, at lunchtime or other off hours. At one time, years ago, I arrived at my in-house law office an hour earlier than our scheduled starting time and used that hour as my writing time. My coworkers knew that’s what I was up to, so for them, I wasn’t there during that hour.

But now–well, most offices currently also allow, or even insist on, their employees working from home.

kaitlyn-baker-vZJdYl5JVXY-unsplashSo most often these days, I assume we’re writers in residence. We all have homes–houses, apartments, condos or whatever–although maybe there are some homeless people out there who write, too. In any case, we reside somewhere.  And write.

Those of us who are members of The Writers in Residence all have homes, not necessarily near one another. And as far as I know, we also all have home offices, or at least places within our homes where we write.  If I’m wrong with respect to anyone, please tell me!

Me? Yes, I’ve been a writer in residence for a long time, no longer working as a lawyer. I have a messy office where I write, sitting in front of my computer nearly all day–except when one of my dogs comes in and stares at me and I need to figure out what she wants, which usually isn’t hard to do. But yes, I write a lot in my residence. I did so even before. And now, while we’re mostly confined to our homes, it feels even more appropriate.

virus readingOh, and by the way, I was very impressed by our last Writers in Residence blog, written by Rosemary Lord–focusing on independent bookstores near us in Southern California.  It’s a great idea to buy books from them, probably online and either have them shipped or pick them up outside the store.  And it’s not only the independents doing that now. I’ve picked up several books from outside my nearby Bookstar, which is part of Barnes & Noble.  I want that store, and the entire company, to survive, and the indies, too!

So how about you? Are you a writer in residence? A reader in residence? Both?

***

Linda O Johnston
Linda 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.
**
This article was posted for Linda O. Johnston by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)

PER ARDUA AD ASTRA – THROUGH ADVERSITY TO THE STARS…

      by Rosemary Lord

Just Rosie 2

Per Ardua Ad Astra – Through Adversity to the Stars – has been the motto of the Royal Air Force since 1912 and subsequently adopted by the Royal Flying Corps other nations flying corps. It seems an appropriate motto for what the world is experiencing just now with this Corona virus.

It’s important that we find the best of ways to get us through such times as this. Sometimes, when we may feel ourselves spiraling down and all the forces seem against us, it’s easy to give up. But as writers, we are fortunate to have our own methods to halt that negative direction. We are used to being isolated, stuck indoors, as we write. When we get ‘writer’s block’ – we have learned to distract ourselves with beautiful music, watching an inspiring movie, or reading a book. Or even the simple act of cleaning out the fridge or de-cluttering a closet. It gives the chance to focus on something else for a while. Then we can look at our writing – or even at our life – from another angle. A different perspective. We come up with new ideas and a fresh outlook.

So with all that we – and most of the world – have been going through in recent months, people have become resourceful in ways to manage their lives and families and continue their productivity. Indeed, some fantastic ideas have been formed out of this adversity. And many people will have created amazing new lives for themselves; some less stressful or more efficient. Others will have had time to re-assess where they are going and what they really want to do with their lives. Most of all, we have seen a wonderful appreciation of other people; of help given and help received. Countless people have focused on how they can show their gratitude to all the ‘front line’ workers – and how they can help other people in need. Most of all, we have a new appreciation of what freedom really means.

william-james-bookseller            As writers and readers, one of our easiest ways to help can be to support the small businesses that are straining to survive while closed to foot-traffic. Especially the small bookshops, that have been struggling desperately in the new world of online literature.      These small bookshops welcome writers, help us launch our new books, promote our work with book-signings and author events. I found a few where we have a chance to give a little something back. (I have been buying a book or two, including my own books, online from them.) Let us know if you have ‘hidden gems’ in the bookstore world that we can also help.

 

HollywoodThe most famous small bookshop in Hollywood is LARRY EDMUNDS and it is fighting for survival. Founded in 1938 and moving to Hollywood Boulevard in the 1950s, Larry Edmunds specializes in books, scripts and posters covering all aspects of Hollywood and its history. Famous for events with Hollywood celebrities such as Debbie Reynolds, Ernest Borgnine, William Friedkin and Tippi Hedren. Quentin Tarantino shot Once Upon a Time in Hollywood there. Current Proprietor Jeffrey Mantor began as a stock-boy 29 years ago, and today works closely with American Cinemateque and the Turner Classic Film Festival. But because these are both shuttered, this once-thriving store is not sure it can last and, since the shut-down, they are relying on mail-order sales alone – which doesn’t cover basic running costs. And so Jeffrey has set up a GoFundMe page to save this piece of Hollywood History. https://larryedmunds.com

ReadersSKYLIGHT BOOKS on Vermont Avenue is a real, old-style neighborhood bookstore that opened in 1996 on the site of a landmark book shop, Chatterton’s, known in the 1970s for its poetry reading events. A hangout for local writers, artists, musicians and scholars, Skylight normally features several evening Author/Artist/Musician events during the week and on weekends in the day-time, so during the shut-down they have an occasional Zoom event, but most have been postponed. Online book purchases continue. www.skylightbooks.com

 

bookstore-1129183__340THE LAST BOOKSTORE’s current and third incarnation began in a downtown Los Angeles loft in 2005. The 22,000 square feet of more than 250,000 new and used books and vinyl records is in the Spring Arts Towers at 5th and Spring Street. On their website in bold print it says, “WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR – WE WON’T BE HERE FOREVER.” How true for so many independent bookstore everywhere. The Last Bookstore is said to be “One of the 20 most beautiful bookstores in the World,” with comfy old sofas around every corner, vintage décor, an old sewing machine, old chandeliers, a resident cat or two – in an eclectic booklovers’ haven. You are welcome just to sit, read, hangout. And this is where, it is said, you can find books you cannot find anywhere else. Unfortunately closed during the shut-down, the store is relying on mail orders, like everyone else. But as soon as they are open for business again, try to catch one of their legendary author events. It’s worth the schlep downtown. www.lastbookstorela.com

 

freddie-marriage-w8JiSVyjy-8-unsplashIn Pasadena, one of the landmarks is VROMAN’S BOOKSTORE – I think most of us have attended book launches there. The oldest, still-running ‘bibliopole,’ Vroman’s was established in 1894 and when Mr. Vroman died in 1916, he left the store to his employees. Vroman’s Author lectures and book-signings have proved to be very popular and prestigious. Today their 200 plus staff and management are working remotely – some furloughed as the shut-down lengthens. Online sales continue and curb-side pick-up will resume as soon as local ordinances allow. www.vromansbookstore.com

 

MoreBooksIn West Hollywood, BOOK SOUP on Sunset Boulevard is the place for us book-lovers. I have a soft spot for them as Book Soup gave my Los Angeles Then and Now and Hollywood Then and Now a FULL window display of rows and rows of my books on the original launch. A favorite local hang-out for local famous personalities, Book Soup is known for celebrity author book-launches and signings. During the shut-down they are doing mail-order sales through Ingrams, online events for new releases and will open up once the stay-at-home orders are lifted. www.booksoup.com

 

Old BooksOver in Hancock Park, CHEVALIER’S BOOKS in Larchmont Village has served the book-loving public since book maverick Joe Chevalier opened his doors in 1940. They normally have a very busy calendar of a variety of author events and book launches and cover a wide variety of subjects. They sell gift-cards with “A book is a present you can open again and again” written on the card. But while they remain closed at this time, they have an online Fiction Book Club and a $25 Friends of Chevalier club and tote bags. They suggest you “lay off Netflix for just a bit” and order books online; they offer free door-to-door deliver in local zip codes, otherwise regular shipping costs. Curbside pick-up should open on May 15th. www.chevaliersbooks.com

 

LadyWritingBut a very specialized small bookstore on the west side in Culver City is THE RIPPED BODICE: A Romantic Bookstore. This is, as you would imagine, a romance only-only bookstore that is run by two sisters, Bea and Leah Koch. They normally have a variety of romance author events and created The Ripped Bodice Award for Excellence in Romantic Fiction. However, currently the store is closed to foot-traffic and all events stopped. The staff are staying home, so Leah is processing all mail orders and handling new orders of Care Packages of assorted romance fiction for yourself or friends. But they ask for your patience with delivery, so Leah doesn’t get overwhelmed. On their website the girls suggest: Send some love, support a small business.” Let’s do that!  www.therippedbodicela.com

 

So let us keep writing, keep reading – and ‘spread a little sunshine’ with our words and with our actions in supporting other individuals and small businesses and enterprises. Together we can get through this. Many public events have been cancelled – but, as someone recently reminded me – HOPE has not been cancelled.

………………………………………..

 

How Will YOU Tell The Story?

.

By Miko Johnston

I’ll cut straight to the chase: How will we write about this? For unless we write science fiction, fantasy, or historical fiction, we must.

Over the past few months we have been going through an experience unprecedented in our lifetime*.  Not a single person has been unaffected by the current situation, nor will the world ever get back to “normal”, whatever that means, anytime soon. Living through the Corona virus pandemic will fundamentally change us, as a world, a country, a state. A city. A neighborhood. A street. A home.

There is no way we will be able to ignore what we’re going through.

The repercussions will ripple for years, even decades. This time will become a pivotal point in many of our lives, much like Pearl Harbor, 9/11 or the 2008 financial crisis.

We’re hearing a lot about the Spanish Flu pandemic that ripped across the globe in the post-World War I period, largely because it’s the last time we’ve faced a medical crisis like this one. Unfortunately, like that pandemic, the current one is not only threatening our health, but our economy.

I think of how the Great Depression of 1929 affected people for the remainder of their lives. The vast majority became extremely frugal; the fear of losing everything, or going hungry, never left them. On the other hand, some moved in the opposite direction, spending every cent they made on frivolous things; their fear was depriving themselves of pleasure when they had the opportunity to enjoy it. Same story, different endings.

There has to be a moment when the reality of the new normal hits you in a unique way. Three months ago, one friend had to self-quarantine for five days – this was before sheltering in place became mandatory – after coming in contact with someone who had been in contact with someone with the virus (she’s fine). Another friend’s husband lives in a senior care facility due to other medical problems. She has been unable to visit him beyond standing in the parking lot and waving to him through a window since February, but she’s also been lax about remaining in quarantine. Social isolation seems to have aggravated the occasional periods of confusion and forgetfulness another friend experiences. I and others have been calling her, hoping to keep her mentally stimulated, but as we all know, it’s not the same as social contact. And some younger relatives have ignored the warnings and continue to hang out with friends, despite the fact that their parents fall in the high-risk category.

For me, it began with some rice. 

I’d rinsed a half cup before cooking it for dinner.  As I was cleaning up after the meal, I noticed a few uncooked grains in the strainer. Normally, I’d toss it without a thought; there couldn’t have been more than a dozen grains of raw rice there. It has been over forty years since I faced food insecurity, but at that moment I couldn’t help but wonder if I would be standing at the sink a year from now, wishing I had saved those grains as my empty belly rumbled from hunger due to food shortages.

Eventually, we will look back and see this time as we see all great stories, with a beginning, a middle, and an end – how it was before, during, and after the pandemic. We’ll have some amusing memories, like Zoom parties, cerebral conversations with the dog, and bizarre meals patched together from pantry staples (pasta, sardines, dukkah and lemon peel anyone?). And we’ll recall the unpleasant moments, of loneliness and fear, anger and frustration. Of sickness and death, which will remind us of the courage and sacrifices we’ve witnessed throughout this crisis by those who did their best to help protect us, and the failings of those who did not.

It’s too early to have an ending yet…

…but it’s not too soon to think about this: How will you tell the story of what we’re going through? Will you keep it in the background, just part of the world in which your characters exist, or will it loom so large it almost becomes a character? Will you show how your characters came through it, all the intimate details that illustrate for the reader how it affected them, or served as a pivotal point in their life? We want to know.

Maybe you’re keeping a journal, maybe you’re devouring news reports. Maybe you’re juggling family, home, work and writing. Maybe you’re hunkered down and working on your next novel. Whatever you’re doing, stay safe, be well and look ahead.

 

*with few exceptions, including my almost 105 year old Aunt Rose.

*****

mikoj-photo1

Miko Johnston is the author of the A Petal In The Wind Series, available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. Contact her at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

 

 

 

This article was posted for Miko Johnston by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)

 

Painful or Exhilarating? The Writer’s Process

by Jill Amadio

Taking a flight across country, from one coast to the other, isn’t a great idea during a pandemic but a family matter necessitated such a trip earlier this month (April).  Snatching a couple of books to read on the plane, and my kindle, I arrived at the almost empty-airport, a ghost town, only to have two flights cancelled. I finally boarded the third, only to have my ongoing flight from Dallas to New York also cancelled. And the one after that. And the one after that. So, plenty of reading time!

Writing of One novel (2)Turned out I had grabbed a paperback I’d bought second-hand years ago and never got around to reading, Irving Wallace’s “The Writing of One Novel.’  It relates the all-absorbing 16 years he spent researching, traveling for settings, and finally writing his bestseller, “The Prize.” In meticulous detail Wallace describes his exhausting, frustrating, and determined journey into the background of the Nobel Prize. He interviewed dozens of judges, winners, losers, and journalists who covered the event.  He kept daily journals and diaries of his efforts to get behind the politics, drama, and the decisions, all of which resulted in “The Prize” being almost non-fiction. Wallace discovered facts, regarded as explosive and titillating at the time, about all those involved over the years. Most of the characters were a combination of the real person and the author’s creativity but they were so obvious that the country of origin of the Nobel Prize, Sweden, refused to publish or distribute the book.

The PrizeThat aside, the tattered paperback I was reading, yellowed with age – it was published in 1951 – was the most honest and revealing of any author’s how-I-wrote-it book I have come across. It is more than a fascinating peek into Wallace’s writing process and method of research.  He lays bare the heart, mind, and soul of a writer’s inner workings. Would reading this book turn off a new writer? It’s a daunting task that Wallace set for himself because he wanted to know everything, and as he dove deeper and deeper into the history of the Nobel Prize he uncovered real data that he could not resist including in his novel. Luckily today we are armchair researchers, although I find that visiting locales can’t be beat for sniffing the atmosphere.

Story of NovelInterestingly, Wallace’s “The Writing of One Novel” mentioned another author who wrote a tell-all of his writing process. I immediately downloaded Thomas Wolfe’s “The Story of a Novel.”

Here was no jaunty, initially-optimistic search for far-reaching knowledge about a subject, but a gloomy, negative, and painfully writing process that produced the brilliant classic, Look Homeward Angel“Look Homeward, Angel.” Wolfe dredged up so many childhood and young adult personal experiences that the novel is considered practically autobiographical. His first draft was over one million words! Happily, Scribner’s genius editor, Max Perkins, sorted it all out and gave us Thomas Wolfe in all his glory. Perkins probably also heavily edited “The Story of a Novel” because Wolf admits at one point that all he did when writing it was jot down a few random notes.

End of the AffairBoth memoirs put me in mind of Graham Greene’s despondent “The End of the Affair,” another heart-breaker that makes one wonder how much of the author’s life it reveals. Faulkner called the book “true and moving.”

So, is today the day we sit at our keyboards, “open a vein and bleed,” as Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Red Smith (probably the originator of the phrase) described authorship? Surely the metaphor gives us pause.

Frankly, I find the creative process exhilarating, even when frustrated in creating my puzzles. Do you?

*****

JillAmadioHead

Jill Amadio’s mysteries are available in paperback and kindle on amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Nook. She is also the ghostwriter of 16 memoirs and biographies, and co-author of the Rudy Vallee life story, “My Vagabond Lover.”

 

 

 

This article was posted for Jill Amadio by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)

On the Road Again

My post today is more of an exclamation point to recent excellent posts by fellow authors here, and elsewhere. Ideas were suggested/promoted by other authors that started me thinking—as they hoped they would do—kudos all. Also, and expectedly, with our stay-at-home circumstances, I’ve been reading a lot, sometimes at the expense of writing(smile.) Consequently, given several of these mentioned recent posts, and my plethora of recently read books, I’ve been thinking anew about point of view.

I’ve thought about and talked about POV before because I consider it a big deal—but now thinking anew, I’m reassessing and enhancing. Mainly because as I’ve already mentioned, have plenty of time and many wonderful book-club selections to read (and my tendency to constantly nitpick and notice things-more often than I’d like. ) Also revisiting POV because what I think now that I’m well into my curving writing path—versus what I thought when I first started my journey, has changed some (on several fronts,) and my thoughts continue to evolve. Good thing, bad thing? Not really sure yet.

In taking the perspective of what I like to read—not genre, but style–indeed, in our book club, we read lots of books, most by famous authors, and selected based on the preferences of our members, whose tastes are luckily quiet eclectic, which is why I like book club so much. Many, many, books I’ve enjoyed reading, especially since I know I wouldn’t have read if it wasn’t the selection of the month. So, I’ve had many chances to evaluate and critique many styles of writing. And since most are quite famous and big time, my critiques are worthless analysis[i] except for my writing improvement and whether I’ll buy another book from said author. Unfortunately, weak or confused POVs sometimes have me skimming a lot, versus reading and getting into the story I was trying to read.

And finally, to my point here, to enjoy a story, and really “be taken away,” I need to experience the events of the book’s world through the protagonist eyes. Strong, clear POVs do that for me. But, not just POV in perspective of who’s telling the particular scene’s events, but what I’m going to start calling a “sensory filled perspective.” SPOV? (smile) Not just who’s talking and telling the story—revealing the sequence of events, seeing this story-world for the reader, but also touching, feeling, inhaling, hearing breathing the story. Sensually leading the reader into the special world and on the journey the author’s book is supposedly taking them. Below is an example from early on in my latest WIP…

So here’s what I had a couple days ago:

God, do I love this. Indeed, Donny very much enjoyed, even cherished what he was doing. Especially under a clear and beautifully-blue Spring sky like this morning’s. Being on the road, watching the pavement before him appearing in its unique visual perspective, “feeling” the road below his van as they moved forward, and seeing the miles fading behind him in his rearview mirror.

And here’s what I have now expanded that one little paragraph into(a rather wordy passage—sigh):

God, do I love this. Indeed, Donny very much enjoyed, even cherished what he was doing. Times like this, when thinking about being on the road, he could even feel his heart fibrillate a tad. And today, when bringing one hand to his face while keeping his other firmly on the steering wheel, his cheek felt warm to his touch. Unfocused excitement, or some kind of adventure longing? He wasn’t sure.

This morning, he was traveling under a clear and beautifully-blue Spring sky. Being on the road, watching the pavement before him appearing in its unique visual perspective, “feeling” the road below his van as they moved forward, and seeing the miles fading behind him in his rearview mirror—ahh. Sometimes though, the “road ahead perspective caused Donny to hurtfully rub his eyes behind his glasses. Not today. Thank goodness for surgery and strong glasses. He did however, experience a fleeting inner shudder upon thinking back about having his retina sliced.

So this morning, instead of his eyes, his hand went to rub his pricey fake Moroccan leather dashboard. Oddly, it felt cold to his touch, and almost prompted a shiver. Why, he wondered?

It’s still early days with this novella, many changes, modifications still to come! And going very slowly… But now, many edits will be prompted by my desire to enhance the reader’s sense of SPOV.

As usual, I’m sharing my writing-wanderings here on Writers in Residence because I’m thinking they may tickle your writing thoughts and goals as you continue down your own writing paths.

Happy Writing Trails!


[i] Happily they’re making bunches of moolah!  Sigh, I’m not. I need to learn from them…

Writing From Jeopardy!

by Sarah Beach

In 1990, I was hunting for my first job in the film & television industry, after spending about six years getting used to living in Los Angeles. I had social circles, a church home, and after four and a half years working at the County Law Library and then several months doing temp work, I finally got what seemed like a good prospect for an entry level job.

It was a blind ad in one of the trade papers, the Hollywood Reporter. “Wanted: researcher for quiz show. Send resume and cover letter to PO Box.” It gave the address. There was nothing more than that. I looked at that and thought, “Hey, I can do that!” After all, I had two degrees in English, which had included doing a lot of research on my own, for my own writing projects. And then there was over eight years of working in libraries, first at the University of Texas at Austin, and then the Law Library. Resume and cover letter were sent in, and then more temp work while waiting to hear anything back.

Then came the call: “This is Jeopardy! Can you come take the contestant test and a proofreading test on Saturday morning?” You bet I could! (Actually, I was very thankful it was on a Saturday. At that week, my temp job was full time weekdays and I would have been hard put to skip any work.) I showed up at the test location, and there were maybe 60 or so people sitting waiting. One guy looked around, fascinated, who said, “Are these all the people who answered the ad?” I don’t recall if I actually answered out loud, but I certainly thought, “No. These are just the people they called in based on the resumes and letters.” Once we filed into the testing location, it was explained to us that the producer was looking for people who were at least as smart as the show’s contestants.

Once the testing was done, we were let go, and then came another waiting period. By the time I got a call to come in for an interview, my temp job had been cut back to part time, so I was able to schedule my interview without losing any work time. I thought the interview went well, because certainly the prospect of working for the show had great appeal.

I like to think that my closing line of the interview helped cap it for me: I told the head writer that I was an info-junky, that I liked to collect fascinating information of all sorts.

A couple of weeks later, the last day of my temp job, in fact, I got a call from the producer. He told me the starting pay (precisely the minimum amount I had calculated I would need to meet my living expenses), and I said okay to that. He asked if I could start on Monday. And I said absolutely. So from doing temp work, I stepped straight into what is almost the only secure job on Hollywood, working for the quiz show Jeopardy! (and yes, the exclamation point is part of the title, which is trademarked).

The hallmark of Jeopardy! and what makes the audience trust it so much, is the level of attention paid to getting the facts correct. Everything, every little factoid in the clues is double sourced. In the office, the by-word was “There is no such thing as common knowledge.” Things like “Paris is the capital of France” were double sourced from two independent sources (usually something like an encyclopedia and an almanac). Only direct sources (quoting directly from a literary work, for instance) could be single sourced. So, a quote from Bartlett’s was not allowed to stand on its own, you had to find the original source (preferably) or another non-Bartlett’s quotation source.

On any particular day, as a researcher, I could be delving into five to seven different categories which could cover anything from Shakespeare movies to astrophysics to word play to the Crimean War. The object was to make sure the writers had read their original source correctly (they only had to cite the sources they used for their clues, the researchers had to find the second sources to verify the information). Then off we went to make sure everything passed muster. Sometimes it did, and sometimes it didn’t.

So how does this affect someone as a writer, outside of those specifically formulated clues for the quiz show?

As I had said in my job interview, I am an info-junky. I like learning things, and many of those little side bits of information have found their way into my own fiction. A day reading about plasma energy ended up giving some background to a science fiction story I was working on. I learned little tid-bits about stamp collecting and coin collecting that could be used in mystery stories. Researching a popular legend about an English historical figure for a game category ended up inspiring a novel I am currently working on (now, several years after leaving the show). Any writer should spend some time just wandering through encyclopedias, or other collections of information. Staying stuck in your own interests can leave you much too predictable in your choices as a writer.

But another thing those years working on the show did for me was really hone my research skills. I learned how to focus in on the points I needed to learn, and how to find them. Instead of trying to do all the research upfront for a novel, do the basic stuff that you need (details of locations, basic attire, diet, and such) and then get on with telling your story. If you reach a point where you want to add something, then you can stop and do spot research for those particular elements.

For instance, that novel I mentioned I’m currently working on: it’s set in the spring, in the medieval period, in England. I wanted to have a scene where an orchard of trees was in bloom, with wildflowers rampant in the grass below. All of a sudden I went, “Oops, I know about the date I have this story going. Are the apple trees in bloom yet, or do they bloom later – or worse, earlier?” Research ahoy! Turns out, those trees would indeed be blooming just as I needed them. Elsewhere at one point, I was going to have my female main character prepare for a feast, and I was thinking she’d put on a velvet gown. But then I went, “Wait. When did velvet come to England? What was it made of? Would she have had velvet?” Turns out, not likely. Fine wool it is, then. Not rough stuff, but tightly spun, tightly woven, high quality wool, dyed black. “Oops, wait again. What cloth dyes were available?” More research required on medieval dyes in England.

While I worked on the show, I often told people it was a great job for a writer who was not yet making a living from their writing. I looked at more material than I would have if left to my own devices. And I have pretty broad, eclectic interests. 

The other thing about working on the show that greatly influenced my writing was learning the importance of choosing the right word. Not just the most evocative one, but the most accurate. In a Jeopardy! clue, the wrong wording can throw the whole thing into inaccuracy. But also, word choice can influence the implications of what is being said. Do you mean this to be cast in a negative light, or in a positive one? How you choose to word something can make a great deal of difference about where your Reader’s mind goes. Do you mean to imply that your hero feels contempt toward the women he meets? If not, be careful about saying that he “smirks” at them, when all you really mean is that he is smiling. If you want him to be really vicious about it, then say he “sneers” at them.

Close is not good enough for storytelling. You are trying to weave a spell over your audience, ensnare them in the world of your tale, shutting out the “real world” for a time. Choosing the right word, with the right tone and connotation is important.

In conjunction with that, pay attention to the casual language you give your characters. It is very easy for our everyday idioms to creep into our writing when we are caught up in our first draft. We don’t always register when it happens. “Okay” is a prime example of this: it’s very modern and very American. “Plugging into” something belongs to the age of electricity and afterward. Not knowing the source of idioms is what gives us people writing things like “give free reign” to mean giving someone a wide open choice. Unfortunately, the proper phrase is “give free rein”, which literally mean to let the horse run where it would. To “reign” is to rule, and so “to give free reign” is actually a bit contradictory.

Eventually, the time came for me to get out of Jeopardy! and I moved on. It was a great job to have, and made a big difference for me as a writer.

   * * *

About the Author

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Now residing in Las Vegas, I was born in Michigan and moved to Texas when 16. After getting my Masters degree in English, I moved to Hollywood, because of the high demand for Medievalists (NOT!). As a freelance writer and editor, I find that Nevada offers better conditions for the wallet. I love writing all sorts of things, and occasionally also create some artwork.

Visit Sarah’s Website here

 

 

This article was posted for Sarah Beach by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)

 

 

Answer: A Jeopardy! Quiz Show Researcher. Question….

“What is Sarah Beach?”

If you stay tuned to tomorrow’s blog you will read the interesting story of how a former Clerical Assistant at the Los Angeles County Law Library snagged “what is almost the only secure job in Hollywood, working for the quiz show, Jeopardy!

She will reveal what it took to research and cross-check “every little factoid in the clues,” and the variety of category topics she had to delve into daily to make sure the writers had read their sources correctly.

Sarah will also share how working on the quiz show greatly influenced her own writing. (She currently writes screenplays, novels, short stories, and non-fiction.)  And finally, she will give us tips and examples to use when we write and edit our manuscripts.

So the answer is:  The Writers In Residence blog

And the question is:  “What online blog will I be reading on Wednesday, April 15, 2020?”

See you there!!

 

How it all began…

He hadn’t yet reinvented himself as the real estate tycoon that he became. But one-time big band singer, Merv Griffin, was already an established talk show host when he and his wife, Julann, came up with the idea for the hit game show Jeopardy! As it happened, they were flying somewhere. And Griffin, a lifelong aficionado of crossword puzzles, was lamenting the fact that there hadn’t been a successful question and answer show since the hugely popular The $64,000 Question was canceled due to a scandal.

“He was despondent,” says his son, Tony Griffin, describing how his parents began brainstorming game show ideas. “My mom turned to him and said, ‘Why don’t you give them the answers?’ My dad was like, ‘What?’ She said, ‘5,280.’ He said, ‘How many feet in a mile?’ She said, ‘221 B Baker Street.’ He said, ‘Where does Sherlock Holmes live?’”

With that, they nailed down the concept. However, says Tony, his dad felt there wasn’t enough tension. “He said, ‘How can I get more jeopardy into the show?’ She said, ‘Why not take the money away if they’re wrong. That’ll put them in jeopardy.’ He said, ‘Jeopardy! What a great name.’”

~~~ From “Merv Grillin: Hall of Fame Tribute by Ann Farmer, December 8, 2017.

 

(a teaser tidbit by Jackie Houchin about the GUEST for our regular Wednesday blog post)

 

 

 

Building a Platform

Platformby Gayle Bartos-Pool

………… As we continue the Points from a previous posting.

 

Point #2

  1. What makes you so special? Okay, you have taken inventory of yourself. You know the types of books you like to read and you know what types of books you want to write, (if you haven’t already penned your first or even second book.) You have some special skills that give you credibility or you have done a great deal of research into certain areas that you will be covering in your book. You feel fairly confident your research will interest an audience down the line. So what makes you different from every other author out there who writes a similarly themed book?

Costume 1

Say you like mysteries with a food theme: chef/sleuth, caterer/sleuth, food critic/sleuth. There are other books out there with those characters. Jerrilyn Farmer (Killer Wedding) writes a mystery series about a caterer who gets caught up in crime. Mysteries are notorious for having food-related themes. Amateur sleuths are constantly eating in their books. (They should all be fifty pounds overweight.) What makes your Ginsu knife-wielding sleuth more interesting than any of the others?

 

Knowing the answer to “What makes your character special?” can be the biggest selling point for your work. While you are building your platform, you will be building a platform for your main character.

 

When an agent says, “Yeah, you write well, but there are a hundred chef/sleuths out there.” What are you going to tell him or her that makes your guy or gal sleuth unique? If you are Oprah’s personal chef, boy do you have an in. If you cooked twenty years in the army, you just might have an edge. If your sleuth is a Martian with the best quiche recipe in the Solar System…You get the idea.

Writing 41

So, what makes your sleuth different? Have that answer at your fingertips before you submit your first manuscript.

Consider using the same simple technique screenwriters use to sell a script: the high concept idea. Have a short, pithy term to describe your main character. Maybe you have a blind chef, or a wisecracking Yenta chef, or a bi-polar chef. Make it memorable and you just might have a winner.

 

The main character in one of my mystery series is Johnny Casino. I bill him thusly:

Johnny Casino is a retired P.I. with a past. He just hopes it doesn’t catch up with him.

You can get 14×12 inch magnetic signs from places like VistaPrint for the side of your car with your book’s cover and your website on it along with your catchy phrase. You will be a driving bulletin board. People can see the sign when you’re driving down the freeway or across town. It’s (almost) free advertising. The sign costs around $10, plus shipping. And it’s fun.

 

Point #3

  1. Get yourself plastered… all over the Internet. Create a Web presence with a website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin – so people can find you. Even before you send out your first manuscript, create a website, preferably with your name in the title. You can even Photoshop a fun picture like this one.

PhotoFunia-1562086112

www.agathapenwrite.com will draw more people to you than www.im-a-greatwriter.com. Whether you use a pen name or your real name, remember: You are selling “you” out there. You are the product. And you want people to buy “you.” You want people to pick up a book with your name on it, recognize your name, and pay real money for that book. You want people to say, “Oh, Agatha Penwrite wrote this. This must be good.” And the next time they check out Amazon or the local bookstore, they will be looking for Agatha Penwrite, not some obscure domain name that could fit anybody. And frankly, those silly website names say that you aren’t quite a professional yet.

Sign on to Twitter, find people you know, other writers, old classmates, old boyfriends, ask them to follow you. Then document your writing journey. Using those 140 characters, let people know that you finished the first draft of your new book, you joined a writer’s group, you sent query letters to agents and publishers, and that you got some bites. Put a few notes on Facebook about who you are. Remember you already discovered the “real you” in the first bullet point in this series. Now it’s time to get your name out there.

While you are signing up for all these Internet presences, get someone to take a good picture of you to post on these sites. People want to know what you look like. If you settle for the generic silhouette people use when they have “no picture available” it says you don’t know who you are yet. If you are nervous about having a picture taken, rent a nice looking dog and hold him up next to you.

You are putting your name and face out there so people will know who you are. And they’ll love the dog. (The picture on some of my books is me with my dog Sherlock. I didn’t have to rent a pup.)

Get that new picture of you on your website and all those other sites. No time for being shy. And your publisher will love the fact that you are advertising the product (you) out there in cyberspace.

 

Point #4

  1. Is anybody out there? Now you are thinking, “OMG, this writing stuff is harder than I thought it was going to be. Do other people really do all this?” Find out by joining several writers’ organizations in your chosen writing genre. (Mystery writers have groups like Sisters-in-Crime and Mystery Writers of America. Romance Writers of America covers the more passionate side of writing. Check the Internet for your genre and see what’s out there.) After you join one of these groups, talk to other members and ask if they are as nervous as you are. (The answer is yes, but still ask.)

people group

Go to events sponsored by these groups. Meet other people who are going through the same things you are, and be sure to talk to those who have progressed a little further and learn more of the ropes from them, and share your experiences with others. There will actually come a time when you will be considered an old hand at this stuff and someone new to the business will be asking you questions. Learn as you go so you can pass along that knowledge to others. Say hello to the featured speakers at events. Make contacts. Remember, when you are out there selling your book at an event, you will want people sitting in the audience listening to you. Be there for others and maybe they will return the favor and be there for you.

We will have more in the upcoming weeks…