The Enchanted Book Fair: Fall 2018

It’s the most crazy time of year again! Book Fair week! This time we did not get closed by a blizzard, thankfully.

This year’s theme was Enchanted Forest, and our Book Fair moms did a great job bringing the magic to the library. And the kids felt it. One mom commented that she loved watching the kindergarteners when they first rounded the corner into the section where the books are. Their eyes get huge and they stare and some even gasp. They feel the magic.

 

 

 

 

The early part of the week is the hardest part, when we need the most parents in to help. That is the time when the kids come in to create Wish Lists to bring home to their parents. Many of the kindergarteners can’t read or write yet, so they need helpers to get their lists in order. Some of the first graders do, too, although by second grade they’re pretty self-sufficient.

The latter part of the week, the children return with money (and hopefully their lists), and buy their books. Again, the kindergarteners need the most help, since most of them have no clue about money. One little boy was proud and excited because he was taking a penny home to his mom as change.

But the best part, to me, is seeing the kids hugging their books as they leave. Even the older kids—too cool to actually hug the books anymore—clutch them possessively, a quiet joy hidden under the laconic exterior. Every child, young or old, takes some of the magic out into the world with them, as if trailing pixie dust in their wake.

Enchanted, indeed.

 

 

Revision: The fun and the fear

Revision can seem never-ending. But when someone gives you feedback you know will make your story better, you have to act on it. I have embarked on yet another major rewrite and restructuring of my YA scifi. After some great feedback from an agent, I am now revisiting the story viewing it through a new lens.

I’m experiencing mixed emotions about this revision. On the one hand, I can see how her feedback will majorly strengthen my main POV story. So my body tingles with excitement when I think about tackling that part.

But the restructuring will also require cuts to my other two points of view characters. I will lose much if not all of my villain’s POV, which pains me because I love my villain. I fear she will become a two-dimensional cardboard character and that I will have trouble finding new homes for essential information that currently comes from her.

My other POV character is a secondary protagonist. I know I will need to keep SOME of his POV or the story will not make any sense. But I will probably have to lose much of his romance subplot. This is problematic for me because I envision this as a series, and the second book would focus more on him, growing out of the plot points in this book. The rest of his POV that remains I will need to tie even more closely to the main character’s plot.

So I am facing this revision with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Excitement for the way this will strengthen the story; trepidation because I am not certain my skills are up to the challenges ahead.

Now that my daughter is back in school, I can dig into the revision full bore. I’ll let you know how it progresses!

Do you experience the same emotional dichotomy when facing major edits?

Back to School, Back to Work

Today is my daughter’s first day back to school–which means it is also my first day back to work. Now I will have about 6 hours a day to accomplish things before she comes home. I like this schedule because it gives me quiet, concentrated time to work. Also, because I do it while she’s not home, I can be more present for her once she comes home. Over the summer it feels like a constant push-pull, wanting to spend the time with her but needing to get certain things done.

I have my plans in place (and we’ll see how those plans work out, LOL). Today I plan to catch up on PTA Treasurer stuff, and maybe squeeze in one or two other household things I’ve been putting off. Tomorrow I have to finish and send to the printer my brochure for my campaign for the local school board. I need them by Sept 22nd, and I have suddenly realized that is not all that far off!

Next week, with those large projects out of the way, I hope to settle into a school-year work routine. A couple of years ago I had one that worked well, but for reasons I still can’t pinpoint, it rather fell apart over the last year. As a result, my productivity slipped and my self-esteem as a writer with it.

I want to get back to writing every day. Doesn’t have to be much every day, but I would like to work on my fiction a little every day. Make it a priority again. Like many of us, I fall into the trap of putting everyone else first. Next thing I know, the day is gone and I’ve done nothing for me or my own work. I want to try to balance that a bit more. I know I’ll feel better about myself if I do, even though it’s hard.

So for me, back to school means back to work. Does back to school change things in your routine?

August Days: Lazy Yet Anticipatory

This time next week, my daughter will be back in school. The last lazy days of summer are winding their way past us.

Gone will be the days of sleeping in, reading for hours, spending afternoons in the park, and taking long evening walks as the sun lingers in the sky. Play dates, vacations, and excursions to interesting places and events will be replaced by early bedtime, homework, and normal extracurricular activities.

Also gone will be the days where writing time is scarce and schedules are a fantasy. As much as I cherish my summer days with my gal, I will be relieved to have my structure back. I work best with a routine, and that is brought home to me every summer vacation.

I have several projects I am dying to dive into, but I need some concentrated time to do the necessary revisions. I also have some non-writing projects that I have let slide over the summer that I want to re-energize.

The end of summer is always bittersweet. A time of enjoying the easy pace of summer and time with my girl, but also a time if looking forward to a return to productivity and focus.

Do you look forward to the end of summer?

Why Marketing Is So Hard For Authors

Many authors find marketing difficult. It’s awkward, embarrassing, and confusing. Even writing marketing copy can be a struggle.

Why is it so hard?

I think it’s because we are told over and over that WE are the brand, not our books. And many authors are introverts, so putting ourselves out there as a brand is tough.

Also, it is common to believe that you are nothing special. Many people suffer from Imposter Syndrome, writers perhaps more than the general population. That feeling that you are a fraud and everyone will find out is quite a deterrent to opening ourselves up to the public.

Another prevalent human condition is to assume that what you know, everyone knows. We literally cannot see how knowledge and skills that we use every day can be of interest to anyone else. To us they are ho-hum, and we fail to see the value.

I am currently writing campaign materials, so I am thinking a lot about marketing myself. And I am finding that this is easier than author marketing–perhaps because I am able to focus on the benefits I can bring to the position. Writing the campaign pieces is much like writing a resume–take your know skills and show how they apply to the potential job.

Many marketing gurus will say to sell the benefits of your books or the problem your book will solve for the reader rather than the book itself. I find it much easier to tout the benefits of a non-fiction book. Such a book usually has a clear purpose, a defined audience. I find this hard to do for fiction. My book is a middle grade fantasy. Hopefully one of the benefits is that the readers enjoy it. If they also pick up on and resonate with the themes of being true to yourself, protecting the environment, friendship, and not becoming an oppressive dictator, that’s a bonus.

How about you? How do you sell the benefits of your books, especially if it is fiction?

Control Your Inner Critic: The power of a name

Naming things gives you power over them. Years ago, my father got sick. His illness progressed from a persistent cough to weakness to dementia-like symptoms. He lost weight, got easily confused and forgetful, and fell asleep all the time, sometimes in mid-sentence. He had to stop driving, stop working, stop exercising, stop socializing. Doctor after doctor saw him but no one could name the disease. We were certain we were going to lose him. Finally, my mother dragged him to the ER in the middle of the night when his fever spiked yet again, and a young doctor there said, “You need to see Infectious Diseases right now” and called in the specialist. The diagnosis: strep infection in his heart valve.

The name gave us power. We, and the doctors, finally knew what to do. Thanks to that name, he is with us today, still running in 5Ks and playing tennis with his buddies.

My anxiety therapist told me that some people use the technique of naming their anxiety. Giving their anxiety a persona—a name—allows them to have control over it. Just as you can argue with another person, resist another person’s advances, they can push back against their anxiety persona. It also helps to remind them that their anxiety does not define them—it is only a part of them. And by thinking of their anxiety as something outside themselves, they can sometimes push it away, hang up on it, and slam the door in its face, at least for a while.

I never named my anxiety, but I wonder if I should name my inner critic–that little voice that tells me how bad my writing is and how I’ll never get ahead. You know the one I mean. You have one too. Don’t pretend you don’t, all writers have one. It came with your “I Am A Writer” starter kit.

Would naming your inner critic help you control him? Perhaps being able to call your critic by name would make him think twice about messing with you. After all, some demons can only be banished when you know their true names. By isolating the inner critic from your essential self, you are able to give yourself distance—and distance enables you to hear the lies he often tells.

I think my inner critic’s name is Shut Up. At least, that’s what I hear in my head. “Shut Up, I’m not listening!”  “Shut Up, I’m trying to think!” “Shut Up, I don’t need this right now!”

So what would you name your inner critic?

Top 5 Reasons to Cultivate a Writing Community

This week, while preparing the Author Chronicles’ Top Picks Thursday, I read an article from an antisocial writer who really didn’t want to participate in the writing community. Many writers are introverts, so being hesitant about reaching out to others is understandable. I am a raging introvert myself, but when I think about the writing community I am part of, I cannot imagine pursuing this career alone. Here are 5 reasons why:

Craft – Your community can help you hone your craft before you spend money on editors. From critique partners to beta readers, they will give you honest feedback and handy tips to bring your craft to the next level.

Companionship – If you are like me, it takes a lot to drag you out of your house. Offer me a Writers’ Coffeehouse, a Philadelphia Writers’ Conference, a workshop, or a critique group, and I’m there. Plus, writers are good at being alone together. It is not uncommon in my area to find a group of writers sitting together at a Wegman’s or Starbucks, completely silent except for the  furious clicking of their keyboards.

Camaraderie – This is different than Companionship, in that it references the deeper emotional support we get from our writing community. Who but other writers understand the frustration of not finding the exactly right word, or the pain of being rejected for the 100th time, or the elation of placing your first story in even a little-known publication? The emotional lift we get from other writers revs us up and sends us back to our writer’s grottoes ready to face the next challenge.

Collaboration – Usually we think of this in the creative sense, where two or more writers work together on a project. A writing community certainly fosters this, because how else can you meet people to collaborate with? But there are other types of collaboration, such as helping you negotiate a publishing issue or brainstorm a marketing strategy. Two heads are very often better than one.

Connection – Our writing communities are an invaluable resource for networking. We can find editors, agents, publishers, experts, beta readers, critique partners, marketing opportunities and collaborators through our community. The community can help spread the word when we have a new book out. Our community keeps us abreast of the latest news in publishing, the latest scams to beware, and the latest accomplishments of our friends.

I am forever thankful for the people in my writing community: the Writers’ Coffeehouse, the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference, workshop-mates, and of course my critique partners. There are so many people who have cheered me on, cheered me up, and made this journey so much more enjoyable.

Walk this path alone? Inconceivable.

Summer Reading 2018

A lot of people associate reading with summer, perhaps because we all have this vision of summer somehow being a more relaxed or leisurely time of year. Calling certain types of novels “beach reads” is a prime example of the summer reading mentality. Plus, many people have more time in summer to read, as this is traditionally a popular vacation time. People read while kicking back at their destination, and while they travel to get there. I don’t get much reading done on vacation, since my 8-year-old keeps me hopping!

It’s been an “indoor” summer here. We have had several heat waves, and now the rain greets us every day. Hot, muggy, and rainy—staying indoors is preferable. And reading is a great indoor activity, especially when you are trying to stay away from screen-time (or keep your child away from the screen).

My daughter has a summer reading contest through school (and the library). She’s coming up on 120 books read this summer. I don’t think she will match her total from last year (316), but that’s to be expected. She’s reading longer books, so it’s taking longer to finish them.

In my summer reading, I’ve actually read a lot of the books my daughter is reading, because I’m not looking for long, heavy reads right now (and I like to see what she’s reading). I did also join an online book club. Our first book was Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan, a novel about a young woman coming of age during WWII. We’re now discussing our second book, Dead Man Walking by Sister Helen Prejean, a nonfiction about the death penalty in America. Quite a wide range of topics in this group! But that’s okay, I joined in part to read outside my usual genres.

On the whole, my summer reading habits don’t vary much from my regular reading habits. Do you find that you read more, less, or the same in the summer as in the rest of the year?

Genetic Genealogy: Proving the paper trail

All my readers know genealogy has been a passion of mine for many years now. I’ve even written a book about my father’s side of the family (yes, Mom, your book is coming!). The advent of genetic genealogy has revolutionized the hobby and opened up secrets long kept in some families.

I have been using my DNA genealogy to try and confirm my long-established paper trails. My goal is to connect to all 8 of my great-grandparents. One more great-grandparent and I will have all 8. I also already have DNA matches that support 12 of my 16 great-great-grandparents.

My father’s side turned out to be laughably easy. Matches to him abounded, and in what seemed like no time at all I had matched through all 4 of his grandparents.

Then there was my mother. Her Scottish lines popped up rather quickly, but her Irish side…nothing. This was understandable, but frustrating just the same. You see, in order to really get anything out of DNA genealogy, you also need paper genealogy. You need names, places, dates, so you and the people you match with can figure out where your connection is. Scottish records are abundant. Irish records literally went up in flames, making anything much past the late 1800s almost nonexistent. Yet many of our DNA connections occur past the point where records exist, leaving us wondering how and who we connect to.

I had a specific group of matches who all matched each other—called Shared Matches. There were 6 of them: JW, BN, ME, FR, SC, and KN. I sent messages to all of them, and waited. I finally got an answer from JW—and we were able to find our link! Not only that, but it turns out JW was the first known connection to my mom’s Irish Hayden side. Yay!

So now I knew the other 5 must be on the same line, since we all matched each other. But none of them had trees posted, so once again I was stumped. I sent another message saying I believed they were on the Hayden-Bergin branch of my tree. And I waited. Just a few days ago, BN messaged me back! Not only did she know how WE were related, but she had personally known JW when they were kids, AND she knew how the remaining 4 testers were related to us. Whew! A ton of information in one fell swoop.

So now I know for certain that my mother’s mom was not an alien from outer space. Well, I know that at least half of her is human, LOL. I am still searching for that elusive Irish Sutton-Gorman line.

Perseverance and patience will bring answers, I am sure. Meanwhile, I will keep on with my paper genealogy as well, to expand my tree and make future connections easier to find.

What passion do you pursue when you step away from writing?

Summer Writing: Wading into the Words

It’s no secret that when you are a parent and the child is home, it’s harder to write. Harder to do anything, until they reach a certain age where they can take care of themselves. So I haven’t done much writing beyond blog posts this summer. To be honest, it’s been a while since I did any creative writing—ever since I finished the last project I’d been working on.

Part of that is normal. Once I finish a book, I need some down time to recharge the brain and fill the creative tank again. But I let it go too long, got busy with other things, and suddenly 5 months had gone by without any real creative writing done. I needed to get back on track…but then summer arrived.

However, last week I managed to have a real vacation for myself. I got someone to cover my work blogging for the week AND my daughter was away at sleep away summer camp. Free time! Actual free time!

I slept, of course. And did some cleaning (another chore that’s easier to do with no child around). But I also WROTE! I rewrote the first scene of The Oracle of Delphi, Kansas, which I had wanted to do for a long time. Although complete, the whole book needs to be reworked. I had it out on submission a couple of years ago, and something was not clicking with agents. I think I know how to fix it now, so that is a project I want to get to.

I also started outlining the second book in my Veritas series. I’m not normally much of an outliner, but this book will have three POV characters (as did the last one), so I know I need more forethought before I jump in.

Altogether, from then until now, I’ve put up about 3,000 words. Doesn’t sound like much to some writers, I know, but to me it’s a good number.

It’s certainly more satisfying than zero.

How is your summer creativity faring?

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