Jeanne: Writing Wisdom from Lee Martin

9781496202024-Perfect.inddOne of my favorite teachers of the craft of writing is Lee Martin, Pulitzer finalist for The Bright Forever and author of a number of other novels and short story collections.

Lee teaches in the MFA program for creative writing at the Ohio State University. I’m not in that program, but he also occasionally teaches at regional workshops, and I’ve had the good fortune to see him at a couple. At one of them that I attended in the early 2000’s, he read a passage from “The Open Boat,” a short story by Stephen Crane. With his voice and Crane’s words, he recreated the rocking motion of that lifeboat so clearly I wound up feeling a little motion sick. That was an epiphany for me: that the cadence of words (not their meanings but just the sounds of them) can generate sensation.

I just discovered that Lee has a craft book out: Telling Stories, the Craft of Narrative and the Writing Life.  I’m just started working my way through it, but here’s a tiny example of the wonderful stuff you’ll find within its pages. These are the highlights of a deeper discussion on how to intensify the trouble your character encounters.

  1. Increase the pressure from a source outside the realm of the original trouble.
  2. Make the character’s choices lead her into deeper trouble.
  3. Make the character’s troubles worse by having her let people believe something is true when it isn’t.
  4. Have the character create trouble for herself by trying to run away from what she’s done, or us afraid she’ll do.

As I was reading through these suggestions, I realized I tend to rely very heavily on #2. Having the character’s choices lead her into deeper trouble creates a really strong cause-and-effect linkage.

I also use #1. Sources outside the trouble are great for throwing a wrench into the best laid plans, making your character scurry.

I’m not sure I’ve ever used (or even thought about using) #3 and #4.

Numbers 3 and 4 are less confrontational than the first two. Number 3 is less about action than inaction–failing to step in and set the record straight when the opportunity presents itself. And #4 is the opposite of confrontational. These seem like believable actions for a character with a gentle, non-confrontational personality.

Hmm. I’m starting planning work on a series about five siblings who inherit their parent’s tour company and I’ve been thinking about how to differentiate them. Their level of willingness to confront others is a definite category for exploration.

Which of these intensifiers do you use? Which do you enjoy reading?

 

Jeanne: Anatomy of a Newsletter

On Friday I sent out my seventh newsletter.

When I started sending out newsletters last summer, just before releasing The Demon Always Wins, I planned on once a quarter. Current marketing wisdom says weekly, but who has something to say that often? Even book-factory authors who spit out books like they’re running an assembly line take six weeks or so to write and release a book. Also, I personally loathe getting author newsletters that frequently. And anything more often than once a week I consider spam and quickly unsubscribe.

Still, over the last few months, I’ve fallen into a monthly pattern because I have had news to share—contest finals, new covers, good stuff.! And now that I have a few newsletters under my belt, I feel like I have some useful ideas on what works.

  1. A header/template that reflects your brand. Here’s mine:

Header

2. News. This goes back to what I was grumbling about earlier. It’s only a newsletter if it contains news. In this case, it was the news that The Demon Always Wins won Best Paranormal Romance and Best First Book in the Detroit RWA Booksellers’ Best contest. It included a picture of my (very hard to photograph) awards: Continue reading

Elizabeth: Gifts for Writers

I was at the local craft store this weekend  to pick up something for a project I was working on.  They didn’t have what I was looking for, but it all turned out okay since once I got home I found that I actually already had what I needed, it had just gotten put away in the wrong place.

Perhaps there is such a thing as too tidy.

It’s lucky that I wasn’t planning to stock up on holiday items at the store, however, since deep-discounts on all things Christmas were well underway on the day I was there.  The shelves made me think of the food dish after the puppy has eaten – licked clean and knocked over to make sure there was nothing left underneath.

Fortunately, if you’re looking for gift ideas for that special writer on your list you don’t have to brave the craft store, or even leave the house.  Instead, why not consider one of the non-traditional items listed below? Continue reading

Michille: Summer Reading Lists

Research Isn't Just for HistoricalsAlternative title: Like our TBR Piles Aren’t Big Enough

I’m going to piggy-back on Nancy’s post from Memorial Day Weekend, which is generally viewed as the unofficial start of summer. In my county, we are in the midst of another one – high school graduation week (there are 7 high schools in the county) – so the summer starts for them now. Only two of these lists are specifically romance but most include at least one. One surprise is that there is very little overlap on these lists. Usually there are a couple of books that are on everyone’s list. Not this year, except maybe Circe – that’s been on a couple. Continue reading

Nancy: A Different Kind of Writer’s Gift List

As we’ve been discussing a lot here on the blog, ’tis the season for many things. Among these are lists of gift recommendations for the writer in your life (or for we writers to forward to our loved ones). Our own Michille and Jilly shared ideas and links to lists on other parts of the interwebs here and here. They contain writing-oriented games, fun writing tools, and caffeine delivery systems. I should add that Bourbon (or adult beverage of choice), chocolate, and fiction books should be priorities on your ‘what to buy for my writer’ list. But writers don’t just need things. Our care and feeding is complex, nuanced, and – as my husband would like you to know – exhausting.

So today, instead of discussing what others can give  me during the holiday season, I’m focusing on gifts I can give myself for the entire year of 2018. It’s going to be a big year for several of us here at the blog, with book launches and marketing, more books to write and revise, and readers to cultivate. Now is a good time to take a deep breath, get a warm cup of something to hold in our hands, and think about the foundations we’ll need to pull off this stellar year. To help jump-start your own thought process, here’s my list.

Self-Confidence. Dorothy had to learn this in the Wizard of Oz. Many of our protagonists have to learn it as part of their journeys, or even as their ‘big life lesson’ in our stories. Writers know how important belief in oneself is. Without it, we won’t have the audacity to brain-dump words onto pages and chip and chisel and shape them for months or years with the belief that someday, someone else will want to read our stories. But that doesn’t stop us from second-guessing ourselves at every turn. Imposter syndrome. Writers block. Sophomore slump. These are catchy phrases that strike terror in writers’ hearts, but at the core of all of them is a lack of belief that we can really do this audacious thing. Continue reading

Jilly: Practical Gifts for Writers

What’s on your wish list for Christmas, or your holiday of choice, or your next birthday? Do you prefer to receive pretty, imaginative gifts or plain, practical ones?

On Thursday, Michille offered a selection of cute and clever writing-themed ideas. I’d be delighted to receive any of them (my fave is the bathtub caddy with built-in kindle and wineglass holders) but if I had my choice I’d prefer something practical to keep my writerly bandwagon rolling.

Any of these would put a smile on my face:

Free: Creative Kickstarters
I’d love somebody to spend a little time and trouble curating (say) a dozen recommendations especially for me—could be novels, or biographies, music, movies or experiences. The idea would be to offer suggestions that the giver thinks would be new to me and that I would enjoy. Part of the fun for me would be to investigate the suggestions, to think about why the giver decided to recommend them for me, and to decide whether to go ahead and invest in them.

Inexpensive: Screen cleaning cloths
Do you use microfiber cloths to clean your phone and computer screen? It seems as though all my electronic devices are perpetually smeary, and there’s never a clean microfiber cloth to hand when I want one.

Inexpensive: Kitchen timer
When I’m in a good writing rhythm, I like to write for 45 minutes and take a break for 15, rinse and repeat as often as I can. At the moment I use the timer on my phone, but a mechanical timer for my desk would be fun and useful. The UK version of Amazon has a mind-boggling 173 pages of products to choose from. Continue reading

Michille: Gifts for Writers (and Readers)

Writers Charm BraceletWe’re heading into a big holiday season for many. Personally, I celebrate Christmas. Even if you don’t celebrate something in December, you likely have other times of year when you do, like birthdays, Mother’s Day, etc. I’ve gathered a few ideas for the writer or reader in your life that are a little different than, say, an Amazon gift card. Last year’s edition of this included Aqua Notes. I have since found Eureka Shower Idea Whiteboard. Amazon also has The Writer’s Toolbox: Creative Games and Exercises for Inspiring the ‘Write’ Side of Your Brain and I love this bracelet. Continue reading

Jilly: Eight Years of Kindle

According to various articles I’ve read on the interwebs this week, the Kindle was ten years old on 19 November 2017. I’m in the UK, where we didn’t get to join the party until a couple of years later, but still. Only eight years! Feels like a lifetime.

It’s the season for counting our blessings, and while the invention of the Kindle is by no means the best thing that’s ever happened to me, it transformed my reading life and I am exceedingly grateful for it. Here’s why: Continue reading

Jilly: Five Great Writing Craft Resources

What are your go-to references for improving your chosen skill–creative, mechanical, sporting, whatever’s important to you?

I decided a while ago that I wouldn’t spend any more money on writing craft—no books, workshops, courses or conferences—unless I come across something exceptional. It’s not that my writing is so good I don’t need it, but that I already have a great collection of resources at my fingertips and I’ve only scratched the surface of most of them.

Even if I write for another 20 years (and I intend to), I bet I could find the answers to 99.9% of my craft problems on my current bookshelf or the internet. My challenge is to digest all that great advice, evaluate it, select the bits that I need most in order to power up my strengths, bolster my weaknesses, and widen my skill-set, and apply those lessons until they become second nature.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago in this post that I was surprised to discover how much I’ve absorbed about the process of self-publishing. I’ve also learned that some craft resources hit the spot for me, while other famous names slide through my brain and out again, leaving no trace. I had fun choosing my favorite indie publishing resources, so I decided to play the same game with the writing craft references. I found it surprisingly easy to pick the ones I believe will support my writing journey all the way to the pearly gates.

Your mileage may vary (I’d love to know!), but here are my choices: Continue reading

Elizabeth: More Gifts for Writers

10393951_868673773164678_4771891598503378537_nMichille passed along some great gift ideas for Writers and Readers in her post a few weeks ago, and I thought I’d add a few more items to the list for those who are still searching for that certain something for the writer in their life.

Books

Reading is right up there with Writing as an important part of a writer’s life.  It is a great way to broaden horizons, learn new things, mentally refresh, and have some fun.  What better way to get your writer reading than with a gift-certificate for a local bookstore, an eReader, or some actual books.

Need some help selecting the right book?  Micheline recently recommended Nancy Mitford’s 1945 novel, The Pursuit of Love and Lois McMaster Bujold’s Penric’s Mission.  You can find many other suggestions in our “What have you been reading” posts here, here, here, or here.  The internet is also full of suggestions, like The New York Times’ 100 Notable Books of 2016.

Looking for something a little more “educational” for your writer?  Continue reading