Editing Woes

God help me, editing can be a painful process. Editing a lengthily, complex book (that has been edited several times already) can make you want to stab yourself in face with a soldering iron.chri.png

Characters who were removed on the third round of edits might poke their little heads out to fu@# your day in the eighth. You may come to find the escape route you so meticulously mapped out for your characters eleven months ago is as plausible as Trump getting into the White House. (WAIT A MINUTE–you mean that actually happened??) The groundwork for plotlines you thought of while working in later chapters must now be staged from the BLOODY beginning. Editing a book has become a task of flipping between pages to make sure that everything connects in a cohesive, well written (or even vaguely entertaining) story.

And, sometimes you open the file for Chapter 24 to find that every word is garbage. Did you actually write this, or did a small child with weak wrists hack into your computer and delete your glorious, errorless prose to replace them with this complete and utter trash?

Sometimes it seems like there is no hope.kuyc

Sometimes you might show your work to someone you respect. Sometimes they tell you it’s okay to give up and start something new.

And now you have permission.

Now you may give up.

Let’s face it, kids. This is the hard part.

It’s important to remember that nothing worth doing is ever easy. And, because I am not-so-secretly actually talking about me, today I am reminding MYSELF that the only way a book gets written is word by word. 1f89qlStephen King puts his pants on one leg at a time. The sun always shines after the rain.  A diamond only forms with a lot of pressure. Yahda, yahda, yahda.

If you think you have found the book you truly want to write, the godforsaken TANGLE of yarn you want to weave into a story, be prepared to fight for it. And then, be prepared to find out that the only person you really have to fight for it is yourself: the side of yourself that is scared of a lot of effort . . . and the overwhelming possibility of failure.

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Shut up, Batman.

It’s okay to take a break to write a blog (like this one), apply for a grant, read a book, attend a conference, and mess around on Twitter. They’re great ways to give your mind a rest. The human brain is an organ that often works like a muscle . . . right?

It needs rest days.

At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

So, (maybe) today I’m doing myself a favor. I’m taking a little time to recalibrate. After I come home from work and the kids are in bed, I may even drink.

*coughs*

Heavily.

Not that that’s a solution. But it makes me feel better. And tomorrow I’ll start writing again, one sentence at a time. ‘Cause love it or lump it, THIS is the stupid, complex, lengthily book I want to write.


 

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NOT the cover. Maybe.

 


 

What’s up with Writers Conferences?


Last Wednesday I woke up in the wee hours in the morning, caught a quick shower, and made my way to the airport. Three planes and a very stern immigration officer later, I stepped out of Orlando International and into what all Floridians seem to refer to as “Paradise.”

They aren’t far off.
But, I didn’t leave my hellions at home with the ol’ hubster for the beautiful palm trees, the perfect weather, or the practically tax-free American wine that flows like milk and honey.

The main reason for going?


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A writing conference.

The great Allison Maruska and I were invited to Florida by Dan Alatorre. Dan a good friend of Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins, a great critique partner, and also the best-selling author of stack of books that are killing it on Amazon right now. Actually, Allison’s books are doing pretty furr-eak-ing amazing, too. Given the opportunity to chill out in the Florida sunshine with these two . . . who could possibly say no?

untitled.pngNot me.

And so, I got to partake in my very first writers conference. Over the course of the next couple of days, I participated in a plethora of workshops that ran from 6am till 9 at night. The conference was attended by agents, critically acclaimed and best-selling authors, blogging phenoms, and beginners.

Now, I am what many would refer to as a self-taught author. I decided to write a novel on a whim without having ANY idea how hard writing a godforsaken book actually is. (Did I mention it’s hard?) That said, it doesn’t mean that I went about learning how to write in a half-@s$ed daze. As a fiercely self-conscious/perfectionist/control freak, I hit google up for writing tips with the tenacity of a trick-or-treating eight year old. ocd-2I bought eleventy-billion writing books, and then I bought the audible versions so I could learn about writing (and torture my children) while folding laundry, washing the floor, and while getting ready for work. I joined multiple critique groups. When I ran into a problem with my story–be it grammatical, or to do with structure, plot, or outline–I was able to figure it out pretty quickly. (Or I just asked Dan.) I wrote short stories for competitions, and eventually sold articles to websites . . . for money.

I learned the skills to teach myself and then taught myself. And, immersing myself in a hotel filled with seven hundred authory types on a quest to broaden our writerly horizons has helped me realize something. I know a hell of a lot more about writing than I’ve given myself credit for.

That said, a fair number of workshops at the Florida Writer’s Conference were geared toward newbies.

The beauty of the schedule was that several workshops ran at the same time, so Dan, Allison, and I were able to sit through bits and pieces of what we found applicable.

By the time the end of the weekend rolled around, I found that I benefited greatly from the very act of immersing myself in author culture. As writers, we are responsible for plugging our own work. leather-bound-booksAt first, we’re the only person who CAN. It’s hard in the beginning. But, when you surround yourself with like-minded authory individuals . . . it gets easier. Because of the conference, I was able to identify a weakness–talking about Old Souls–and overcome it. I learned the importance of talking about my book with finesse. I wrote down and memorized a blurb to recite when people ask me about it. And, I started work on a killer elevator pitch. Not that I EVER plan on running into Eric Simonoff here. Prince Edward Island is rather un-surprisingly agent free . . . not to mention elevator limited. Which is great because sometimes I get nervous.

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GAAAWWWDDD!!

Looking back,  I don’t think attending a writers conference is crucial to authorly growth. But, talking to other writers is 100%, absolutely essential. It’s important to surround yourself with people who have attained the kind of career you want. So, find a place where you can submerge yourself in a pool of writerly kinship.

And–if you do go to a conference, it should probably be somewhere like Florida


A Quitter’s Conundrum

evictionSometimes you have to put a pin in it. Plan to come back to it later, lower the position of your “dream” from your theoretical tack board of priorities and get your real-life shit together.

Over the years, I’ve done it a lot: ‘Cause baby, the act of writing your first book ain’t gonna raise your kids, and it sure as HELL ain’t gonna pay your bills.

I’ve been writing my debut novel a FURREAKING long time. The idea for the story came just after my first son was born. And yeah, he’s ten. I won’t sit here and tell you it’s because Old Souls is going to be the next War and Peace. It’s not going to be the next Interview with the Vampire or American Gods. Sometimes when I read the manuscript, I wonder if my beloved book even deserves to be published at all.

So what’s taken so long?

In the last ten years I’ve worked hard to contribute financially to my growing family. My husband and I are now raising not just one, but THREE dastardly little hellions. My stepdaughters have grown into women.

Life happened.

The book waited.

And this summer, for the very first time, I thought about giving up completely.richard-simmons

I accepted another promotion at work. I turned my back on all things Old Souls, ignoring my social media accounts, Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins, and even my critique partners. I shut everything down . . . and worked at work. After all, it took years to write what I have. If I kept going the way I was, it might take years to edit. It begged the question: Was there any point in going on at all?

paulThe interesting thing is, without the dream of getting Old Souls published to keep me going I became surprisingly unhappy. Finding time to write has always been a struggle between a busy work and family life, but it turns out that not writing at all is . . . downright depressing.

I love to write. When I “grow up,” writing is what I want to do.

The moment I came to this realization, allowing myself to feel it in “the very cockles of my heart,” (as my ever so witty momma would say), I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. It’s okay to have dreams. It’s okay to make sacrifices for your dreams. For the last ten years, I’ve put a pin in my writing to make room for real life. But one day, if I want writing to be my real life, I’m going to have to sacrifice some of what I have going on now.

So, I’ve taken a step back at work. It seems that whether of not I’ll ever make $$$ writing, it’s what I want to do, and funnily enough–stopping it altogether is what made me realize that. After all this time, I still love my book. I still love the premise. And I still want other people to love it too. So here I am, back on the blogging train. Back in the writing game. Back in the Imma going to get published one day rollercoaster ride.


So let’s DO this thing.



 

Author Brand Building


In the age of self-published authors, where books are everywhere, no time is too early to start thinking about how to promote ourselves. claireEven if some fancy-shmancy publishing house scoops up your manuscript like the diamond in the rough it is, they’ll want to know how YOU’RE planning to contribute to the marketing.

That’s why it’s so important to build a following of people who TRUST us . . . who feel like they know us.

Blogs are a part of that. The way we present ourselves as authors is a part of that. Book covers, author tag-lines, and an easily recognizable brand are parts of that too.

Many authors write in a wide variety of genres: typing out whatever story they’re feeling in the moment. THAT’S OKAY. Because, despite what most people think, writing is hard. It’s a commitment to stick a story out for a year, or two, or even ten. If an author is feeling a pull toward another genre once their project is complete, then who are we to say “Hold on there, Tex: I thought you were a romance writer.”

quotescover-JPG-73The thing about flip-flopping between genres is this: it’s going to mean a lot more effort in the promotion arena. Each time these rogue authors come out with a new book, they’ll have to begin their promotions almost from scratch, seeking out the type of readers who’ll love their latest work.

Alternately, writers who focus on one genre can piggy-back off of the success of their last book (and get more reward for their promotion efforts) by building a die-hard readership within that genre.

This is the stuff I thought of before I started writing Old Souls.

I fought against writing the book for years, but, the story haunted me. So, by the time I sat down to write I had a plan. That plan: to build a world where my characters could get into a whole lot of trouble . . . for as many books as I want.

When Old Souls is laid down to “rest” next month, I’ll start the sequel. It’s a bit of a gamble without knowing whether the first book will sell, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. 222The idea behind this series is good. Not just good, but great. All I need to do is to learn to write the books at the level the idea deserves. In time I’ll have several books, all within the same world, each one of their successes piggy-backing off the last. And, in twenty-five years, I already know how I’m going to revive the furreaking thing.

That piggy-back marketing is part of what contributed to the success of Star Wars, Harry Potter, and of course, my beloved Vampire Chronicles. It’s what’s going to make Old Souls.


I talked about author branding and the importance of Swagger here. Last post, I talked about what it means to be a writer and why you should hold your head up high, no matter where you are in your journey. If you want to BE a success, it’s crucial to approach your work as if you already ARE. It doesn’t mean getting so cocky we stop improving. It means we  need to approach our work with the attitude that we’re creating an empire.)


Even if your writing suffers a little “Genre ADD,” (a term I stole from the great and powerful Allison Maruska), there are still many ways to brand our collection of work to establish a feeling of continuity within our readers.quotescover-JPG-11

One great way is by finding a font you LOVE. Spend time on picking it out. Use it on the covers of your books, website, and business cards. That font needs to be on anything and everything associated with your work. When your readers pick up your product, you want them to instantly recognize that font whether they realize it or not.

If the packaging is too different, you run the risk of:

A) the reader not recognizing your work

B) The reader thinking your book is too different from the last book they read (and loved) of yours to give it another go.

The type of font you choose is crucial. Look at STEPHEN KING. His name is always in caps. Same with JAMES PATTERSON. The print of both authors is ominous, letting you know exactly what kind of story you’re in for when you pick up one of their books. Despite that obvious similarity, the print used by the two authors are still easily distinguished from each other.


Another way to showcase who you are as an author is to build an author tagline. Here are a couple examples of the “bragging rights” version:

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If, like me, you don’t have those bragging rights (yet) you need to think of the types of writing you hope to include in your collection, the subjects you’ll address, the kind of stories you want to tell, or themes. Think about the type of customers you want to attract, the spin-off books you might publish, and/or the values you want to promote. If none of your books have a common thread, if you have “Genre ADD,” then your tagline can be about your voice. The way you tell a story like NO ONE ELSE can.


bAuthor branding is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, because despite all of the care I’ve put into branding the content of my books, the image I’m projecting is not quite right. I know this because when people read my work, one of the most common things they’ll say is, “Wow, that was dark, Jenny. NOT what I was expecting.”

After a quick look around the blog, it’s easy to see how these previously trusting souls who sat down to read my work were misguided into thinking I was about to tell them a heart warming tale about cupcakes. When people look at my picture, they probably expect me to sell them gluten-free cookies. Organic apple juice. Maybe a nice pair of warm and fuzzy socks.

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BUT, my fiction is kinda dark. And it’s not going to change anytime soon. It’s what I love to read. It’s what I love to write.

Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins started on a whim. Nonetheless, it’s been a wild ride. In the last couple months, traffic stats have surpassed every single one of my expectations. Last October, Anne Rice–one of my all-time favorite authors EVER–promoted my blog on her Facebook page to well over a million fans, sending a tsunami of people to check things out themselves. That, to me, was a pretty freaking huge deal. The blog has been a learning experience. In the short time it’s been up and running, it’s evolved substantially, which is great, because at in the beginning I didn’t have a hot clue what I was doing.

BUT because my fiction is a little dark, the website is going to have to be tweaked, subtly letting people know what they’re in for when the day comes that they are finally able to pick up one of MY books. An author tagline seems like a good place to start, and will be one of the changes I’ll implement across my social media outlets over the course of the next couple of weeks. If you look closely, you may notice a few other changes as well. It’s time that the way I’m presented as an author evolves.

And hey, change is good. Without change, without a little evolution, this is how Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins would still appear on cell phone screens:crop2


What do you think about Author Branding? How does your genre affect your author website and social media outlets?


Writing Frauds


largeSince attending a writing social last Saturday night, something’s been seriously bugging me. Okay, not in the keeping me up at night kind of way. More in the what the hell is wrong with me kind of way. Why can’t I talk to other authors? I’ve brushed it off by calling myself a writerly introvert, which is true, BUT I am not an introvert in general. Actually, talking to total strangers is one of the key components I get paid for at my “real job,” and most of the time I’m pretty effing good at it.

My favorite blog post on Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins is: Swagger in the Age of the Author Brand. Inspired by Kristen Lamb’s blog about bad girls becoming best sellers, Swagger talks about how important it is to market ourselves as (kick-ass) authors in today’s saturated, self-published market.

But it’s hard to do when we don’t feel like kick-ass authors.

quotescover-JPG-57It turns out that feeling like a fraud is a recurring theme among almost ALL authors, especially us newbies. In the comment section of my last post, Jonathan Giles mentioned that at writing events he often feels that someone taped a sign to his shirt that says “fake,” or “loser.” But, it’s not just the newbies that feel like phonies. DM Miller pointed out that Maya Angelou (coincidentally, one of my all time favorite authors) suffered the same affliction. After writing eleven books, she said she still felt like she could be exposed as a fraud at any time.

All of this self-doubt begs the question: What makes a writer . . . a writer? Since my catastrophic endeavor to network with local authors, I’ve given it quite a bit of thought. This is what I’ve come up with:

quotescover-JPG-41A writer is someone, anyone, who writes.

That’s it.

The problem we face with introducing ourselves as writers entirely in our minds. We see the greats: the Maya Angelous, the Agatha Christies, and the Leo Tolstoys, and we wonder how we’ll ever compare. Well, you know what? Many of us aren’t going to achieve that level of grandeur. But that’s okay. Because we’re out there in the trenches. We’re creating something from nothing: putting words on a previously blank page in the hopes of evoking a little emotion, and possibly even a change in perspective in our readers (and sometimes even in ourselves) that never would have transpired if the we, the writers, had never taken the time the sit down and type that shi# out.

Every time we show our work to other people, we’re putting our pride on the line. I’m still learning. I write weird fiction, and I’m a new author finding my way. My prose aren’t perfect, and sometimes I stare at a sentence way too long . . . just trying to figure out where the godforsaken HELL to put the bloody comma.

But I’m still a writer.

Because I’m still writing.


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After the attending the Writers’ Guild social, I did what any self-respecting writerly introvert does, and googled the local writers I recognized. Many had blogs just like this one. In no time at all, I was knee deep in short stories and novel excerpts of some of the best writers in Canada. What did I see? Dialogue tags. Adverbs. Run-on sentences. Comma splices. And confidence.

Confidence makes a writer. That, and the ambition to keep going, no matter what.

I’m a published short story author. I’m a paid freelance writer. I am almost finished my own awesomesauce 120,000 word novel.


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The only difference between them and me (is) WAS a state of mind. You don’t need a university education to be a writer. You don’t need to be published to be an author. All you need are the kahunas to keep writing, to keep learning and putting yourself out there even when you know you will never EVER be “perfect.” 

And on that note, I better get back to work.

Sometimes Writing Sucks


It’s true.

Sometimes writing sucks.

As a “new” writer (who’s been working on a book for about six years, off and on) sometimes writing REALLY sucks.

raining-money-250x250Unpublished novelists live between two worlds of thought. On certain days, we’re brilliant geniuses. We are the undiscovered J. K. Rowling, Anne Rice, and Stephen King. On those days, we feel like once our books are finished, publishers will be stepping over each other to thrust million dollar advances in our faces using words like, “merchandise royalties” and “movie rights.” On other days . . . it seems as if we’ve just wasted the last SIX YEARS of our lives writing a story no one will ever be interested in EVER, which should be printed off only to be burned in a barrel and then bombed with a nuclear warhead.

Today I am leaning toward printing off my book and calling in the warhead.

Every once and a while the stars align. I get a day off while the hellions are IN SCHOOL. These days are what it’s all about. I have *gasp* a whole SIX HOURS to write, uninterrupted, before they come back home and start scavenging the cupboards for sustenance like a pack of clumsy wildebeests.

I plan for these days all week.yvvpy

I have THREE chapters left to write, people. THREE.

At the end of the summer, in September, I had FIVE.

“So, what’s the hold up?” you may ask.

Given the proper attention each chapter should take about a week to hash out. Sometimes it takes longer. Sometimes a lot longer, depending on the hellions and our schedule (factor in Christmas, storm days, my “real” job, a few sick days, and carry the three). So, lately, each chapter has taken . . . about two months.

Finding time to write is hard. Aspiring novelists are a breed of people who come home from work, make dinner, take care of the house (and, in my case, shovel copious amounts of snow), spend time with the hellions, or dogs . . . or . . . the shopping channel, and then flick our computers on and go to work all over again: on our awful, stupid, (and sometimes utterly brilliant) books.

But, this week, I really thought I could scratch one out. Get one more chapter out of my head and onto the screen.

12509515_221355271536260_2801088508274429890_nThis week I sat down to write and . . .

nothing happened.

I stared at a blinking cursor for six hours. Well, that’s not entirely true. I checked my email. I went to town on Twitter. I cleaned the house and did two loads of laundry. I watched a few cat videos on Facebook.

AND I deleted two thousand words from my latest draft.

So today, I made backwards progress. Today my book sucks, and it’s never going to be finished. The beginning is still pretty good, and the middle, well, the middle’s actually pretty awesome, but the ending is a pile of garbage that smells like something that smells really bad, that smells like something . . . I CAN’T THINK OF RIGHT NOW, BECAUSE I’M NOT A REAL WRITER, OKAY?!?

Today, I’m not an author. I’m not even an aspiring author.

But, I’m still going to try again tomorrow.


Weird Fiction: Why it Matters

I’m sure there are countless authors like me out there. In fact, I’ve read a lot of their work. We are the dreamers. We are the creators of weird fiction. And, when we tell people the kinds of stories we write, more often than not we are the receivers of blank stares, and comments like:

“Oh, really?” Long, uncomfortable pause. “Isn’t that interesting.”

This is the elevator pitch of my baby, *ahem* –I mean, my upcoming novel, Old Souls:

LuluWhen a woman claiming to know Lucien Navarro from a life ten-thousand years before asks him to return to their great family, he abandons his antipsychotics to uncover the truth.

His soul is immortal.

Once the leader of three hundred beings who’ve incarnated over and over through the ages, Lucien must unite his kind again to rise up against the cult set on their destruction, take a stand in a war which has raged behind the veil of human awareness for millennia, and fight for a love that tests the boundaries of time.

*Insert blank stare here*

There’s no doubt about it. It’s weird fiction. And, do you know what? That’s okay. Why? Because real life doesn’t make sense. Not even a little bit. Strangely, fiction–good fiction–does.

All day long, we tell stories. We talk about the news. We tell each other what we did the night before. We crunch numbers. But all stories are told for a reason. They are the ties that bind us to each other. They unite us in our human experience. While telling these stories, we are saying: “This is the way I see the world.” We’re asking others to see it the same way we do, if even for a just few minutes.

Weird fiction isn’t any different just because pieces of it are pretend. In fact, it’s an exceptionally effective tool in pinpointing some of the more obscure ideas we want to share.

One of the key ways human beings were able to conquer the world we live in, populating almost every nook and cranny of the planet, is through language. “And then Muckoochu rubbed the sticks together, like this,” (storyteller rubs sticks together), “and made fire.”

twilight-eye8Weird fiction is, in fact, an elevated form of storytelling, and some might argue it also an elevated form of teaching. Weird fiction usually plays off of themes. It’s a view of the world from an entirely different angle.

Take the Twilight Zone, episode 42: The Eye of the Beholder. A patient is being operated on by a gathering of surgeons. Both the faces of surgeons and the woman’s face are hidden until the very end of the show. The doctors are doing the best they can to try and make the woman appealing, as she is described by the nurses as: “not normal,” with a face that looks like “a pitful, twisted lump of flesh.” When she’s revealed at the very end of the show–after what the doctors called another wildly unsuccessful surgery–we realize that by our standards, the patient is in fact, a beautiful woman. It was the doctors and nurses who were practically monsters. The closing narration is an in your face “moral of the story”:

“Now the questions that come to mind: ‘Where is this place and when is it?’ ‘What kind of world where ugliness is the norm and beauty the deviation from that norm?’ You want an answer? The answer is it doesn’t make any difference, because the old saying happens to be true. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, in this year or a hundred years hence. On this planet or wherever there is human life – perhaps out amongst the stars – beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Lesson to be learned in the Twilight Zone.

Lessons can be learned from all types of weird fiction.

The Hunger Games series almost serves as a warning to YA readers: “Hey, wake up! This is an example of what could happen to society if we don’t keep questioning our government.”

imagesHNX92SMHAnne Rice was able to connect with millions of readers, not just by writing about vampires and witches, but by writing about mankind’s eternal quest for salvation.

Old Souls isn’t about Lucien Navarro. Well, it is–but it’s also about the movable lines between reality and perception. The theme of the entire book can be found in this one line of the elevator pitch: “he abandons his antipsychotics to uncover the truth.” And then, the question is left in the readers hands . . . What makes reality real?

Fiction writing is not much more than the sharing of a dream: an alternate reality. We write books that say, here, take a look at this, does it mean something to you? Will you see the world the way I do, if even for just the briefest flicker of time? That desire to connect with one another, to teach, to learn, to grow together is one of the puzzle pieces that ultimately make us human–the species that took over the entire planet. And when that spark between writer and reader ignites, when we are connected by ideas, well, that’s just a downright beautiful thing.