As the end of my first NaNoWriMo * approaches, and I realize that I have five days left and 13,000 more words to write, (ack!) I’ve been feeling that struggle again- the struggle of the writing parent.
While some of my circumstances have changed a little since I first published this a year ago, the tension between these two parts of my hasn’t!
Does anyone else feel a twinge of guilt when they read an article detailing someone else’s carefully crafted ‘writing routine?’
I feel that I must confess: I don’t currently have a set daily time to write.
I don’t have any more written on my second novel-in-progress than I had last week.
I don’t even have the notes lined up for the article on the WW2 ‘elephant company’ that I’ve been meaning to write for…how many months has it been now? (Though I DO have another overdue fee on the book…sigh.)
What I do have is the responsibility of raising three very small humans.
And let me tell you, while I wouldn’t trade that job for a dozen published novels, it has been a wild ride of late.
It feels a bit like one of the board games our family likes to play, except the ‘bank’ would have vouchers for free time rather than fake money, and the cards would look something like the following. (Note: I tried to make them look more like cards- then the youngest tried to use me for a jungle-gym and I gave up.)
You Shall Not Pass
The children have taken every toy they own and covered the floor. Give up one hour free time to supervise clean up.
“Cat’s In the Cradle”
As you prepare to write, your child asks you to play with them. You are unable to resist. Give up one hour free time.
Roll the dice.
A 1 or 2 means that your child only vomited on himself. Give up 1 hour of free time. You may still have time to write while he naps.
A 3 or 4 means that it is projectile. Give up 3 hours of free time and get on that laundry.
A 5 or 6 means that it is a bug. Give up 24 hours of free time and hope you don’t catch it.
Your child awakes in the night, frightened. Roll the dice.
The number rolled indicates how many times they wake you up. If it is 3 or more, give up 24 hours of free time, as you will be too tired to be creative.
Give up 2 hours free time.
Roll once for each additional child. A 1 or 2 means that they picked up an additional illness from the waiting room. Give up 2 more hours for each additional doctor’s visit.
Give up two hours free time to participate.
You may give up an additional hour to provide the baked goods that the teacher requested.
Roll the dice
A 1,2 or 3 means the babysitter can make it! Gain 3 hours free time.
A 4,5 or 6 means she cancels. Too bad.
Your aroma is showing that you haven’t had much time for personal grooming. You may choose to give up 1 hour free time to shower, OR gain one extra hour free time and just ignore it.
AND, the grand finale…
Roll the dice.
A 1 or 2 means that you can’t get a sitter. Try to watch a movie after the kids are in bed. Fall asleep on the couch. No gain or loss of ‘free time.’
A 3 or 4 means you manage a date night. You are so relaxed and happy from time with your spouse that you are extra productive. Gain one hour ‘free time.’
A 5 or 6 means that you manage a night away. A month later, SURPRISE! Your family is growing. Give up all free time for the next 2 years.
What cards would you add?
As for me, I’m going to go give my kids a hug and I’m going to enjoy the blessings of these crazy years while they last…
…and maybe, just maybe they’ll sleep tonight, and I can WRITE!
Many thanks for visiting!
*NaNoWriMo stands for “National Novel Writing Month.” The challenge: Write 50,000 words in the month of November, thus completing a novel. It’s only 1,667 words per day. How hard could it be?!
A belated Happy Thanksgiving to all of those who live in places where the holiday was observed yesterday!
While I am still nearly buried under NaNoWriMo word counts and choir music, I emerged for a bit today to visit one of my favorite history blogs- “A Bit About Britain.”
“Mr. Britain’s” articles are always fascinating and well worth a read. Today, just past Veteran’s day and going into the holiday season during which many of my friends are missing loved ones who are serving far from home, his piece on the Cambridge American Cemetary seemed particularly fitting.
I hope you’ll stop by and check it out!
Something like 3 million US citizens passed through the United Kingdom during the Second World War. The Cambridge American Cemetery commemorates almost 9,000 Americans who died while based here, or en route, in those years of conflict. They died at sea on convoys transporting essential supplies, troops and military equipment, across the Atlantic; they died…
Choosing the right name is a difficult task- at least it is for me.
As a child, the internal debate over what to name our dog forced me to look for outside opinions to finally make a decision.
More recently, it took the threat of an extra night in the hospital to force my husband and I to decide on our son’s middle name. (Who knew they wouldn’t let us leave until his full name was on all of the paperwork?)
While naming fictional characters is not quite as high stakes- you never need to worry about whether your protagonist’s name will sound goofy when you call it across your backyard, or if playground teasing will find a way to rhyme it with anything unfortunate- it’s still a headache.
This is why, as I’ve been slogging through my first NaNoWriMo project, I was delighted to find a name for one main character that not only helped me develop her personality, but ALSO gave me a new historical tidbit to share with you.
Initially, my main female character’s name was Jane. She’d always been called “Janie” by friends and family, but had decided to leave the nickname behind. Then, as I was writing her story, another character started singing a song at her that I’d learned snatches of from my grandma: “I Dream of Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair.”
This greatly annoyed my character, so much so that I had to incorporate it into the story. Her name morphed to “Jean,” and her backstory expanded…
Before I got too excited and upped that wordcount, I stopped myself. I had to research. Would using this particular song fit in the time period well enough to make it worthwhile?
The answer was more interesting than I’d anticipated.
“I Dream of Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair” was penned in 1854 by Stephen Foster, though the spelling of the name of the lady in the title has changed several times over the years. Some have speculated that Foster was actually penning it to his estranged wife, Jane Denny McDowell, who was nicknamed Jennie.
From what I could find, the song neither won Jane’s heart back, nor earned its composer much money. However, 87 years later, it would become one of the most played songs on the radio.
The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (or ASCAP) was responsible for enforcing copyright laws during the early part of the 1900s, making sure that singers were paid when their songs were performed.
This was fairly simple to monitor when these songs were being performed live. However, once radio stations began playing recordings of songs it became trickier to track what songs were played when and by whom.
The ASCAP’s solution was to charge radio stations an annual fee for playing their artists’ music. This formula worked (more or less) during the 30’s, but in 1940 ASCAP tripled its fee.
The radio industry responded by boycotting all songs represented by the ASCAP.
Of course, for radio to function they still needed to find something to play. “Hillbilly” songs, songs from different ethnicities, and older songs that were under public domain were dusted off and filled the airwaves.
As you’ve likely guessed, one of these was “I Dream of Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair.” In fact, “Jeannie” visited the radio so often during these early days of WW2 that one Time Magazine writer reportedly quipped that Jeannie’s hair must have turned from light brown to gray.*
As a result of its popularity, (or at least availability,) this song has been sung by many, including a certain Warner Brothers-owned rabbit.
However, John McCormack’s 1934 more tuneful recording is probably more representative of the songs that would have graced the 1941 airwaves.
Happy listening, and many thanks for visiting!
Writers- how does music inspire your writing? Have songs given you titles, character names, inspiration for scenes?
Note: My information for this article came from the following sources. The reference to the Time Magazine joke was found in the two marked with an *.
Greetings readers and writers! On Wednesday, author, blogger and anthology compiler Dan Alatorre shared some of the rationale for creating anthologies with other writers.
Today, while I wrestle with my NaNoWriMo word counts, he’s back to share some more of the details of just how to work with a group of different people to create a sucessful anthology.
How To Put Together A Great Anthology, Part 2
I had everybody’s email addresses because they were sending the short stories to me for the contests, but to facilitate communication, I knew creating a private Facebook group would speed things up. Whenever somebody would post, everybody could get a notification immediately and could reply immediately. That is much faster and more efficient than a group email going back-and-forth; email chains quickly get out of control and out of sequence. In a private Facebook group, the comments stay organized.
That was a challenge because not everybody was on Facebook!
So for those who were not on Facebook, they were gently encouraged to join it. For those who were resistant to join, they missed out on a lot of education. More on that in a moment.
The idea of the anthology was to create a team. A team needs a leader, but the team is usually best led by somebody who listens to the team members. Because I had some experience in the different things we were about to do, and because they had all joined my writing contest, it made sense for me to lead the group.
But I encouraged everybody, whether they had experience or not, to leave comments about the process or ask any and all questions they had to the group. This is a big deal, because how I learned to do a lot of stuff was deciding to swallow my pride and embarrassment and ask my rookie questions publicly. I would go on author forms and I would ask even the most basic questions. I tried never to be afraid to admit what I didn’t know about, so that I could learn how to do it and improve that much faster.
Case in point, when I first started posting in a critique group, I didn’t know what a beat was or what a dialogue tag was. One very nice person said, “You should use a beat here.”
I emailed her and said, “What is a beat?” Because she was kind enough to tell me, I was able to learn that much faster – but it took me having the courage to admit I didn’t know what those things were, to ask for that help, and then of course to thank them profusely for helping me.
(You can usually spot quality writing that is rough; somebody who has great story ideas and has a great storytelling style, but who doesn’t know some of the finer things that make the manuscript a little more polished. So she helped me with that and then I was able to help her with other things.)
That type of synergy you get times 10 in a group anthology because different people bring different things to the table.
Somebody in England might have a good idea that works there but doesn’t work here, or they might have an a good idea that works in both. We would have 19 other people making a suggestion instead of me having to come up with all the answers. Most of the time, I had a good answer, but many times someone else came up with an answer – or had a better answer than mine.
People had tried different marketing things for books they had published. There was maybe 10 people who could give an opinion about which sites worked to market their book and which ones didn’t. That’s hugely helpful. That’s eliminating 90% of your mistakes right off the bat.
Additionally, with every decision we made, we aired it on the group site first, so everybody was aware. Everybody didn’t always agree, but at least there was a discussion and we usually went with the majority.
People got excited about the release of the book. People who had never been published before were about to become published. It was a big deal to them, and they were able to celebrate with 19 other people who knew the feeling but who also had blogs and Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, and who could interview each other and promote each other and share that excitement. Again, a multiplier effect.
Then the marketing starts, and of course then you have 20 blogs and 20 Facebook pages and 20 Twitter feeds and on and on. 20 sets of friends and family. 20 haircutters. All of that.
We went through lot of things – like picking a book cover – that we crowdsourced. We said, “Here’s an example, everybody post it on your Facebook page and see what your friends think.” This tends to ratchet up interest in the upcoming book. Same when we would format it. We would take a screenshot and show it to people in the group, and they would post that on their Facebook page. That times 19 other people is a lot of eyeballs being reminded that you have a book coming up, but the input on ideas forced the best ideas to be recognized.
As part of the package, we were going to publish an e-book, shortly after that we would publish the paperback, and shortly after that we would do an audiobook.
Using that same Facebook group, everyone was able to walk through all the stages of doing all of those things. The most fun was probably the audiobook, because most people don’t know how to get the book done on audiobook without spending a fortune. In this anthology, everything we did was done for free to the contributing authors. We did not do a lot of marketing as far as buying ads, but the marketing we did, I paid for. Remember, at $0.99 this thing was going to have to sell thousands and thousands of copies before its 27% royalties were going to generate a profit.
We had people donate their time and effort to do the formatting. We had people donate their time and effort to create a good-looking book cover, editing, proofreading, etc. So we avoided costs, which is the same as earning money. You have that money for marketing if you don’t spend it on the book cover, and in this case the book cover could be done quickly and easily inexpensively by a few team members, so it was well worth it.
Same with the formatting. Somebody else volunteered to do it and it turned out wonderful. Editing was done by me, since I’d read most of the stories for the contest anyway, and for proofreading we had sent each author’s story to two other people, to catch any mistakes, before sending the whole anthology to beta readers.
When it came time for the audiobook, I have done that numerous times, so I walked everybody through the process. How to post the listing for the book, how to get people to want to audition, how to listen to the auditions, how to select a narrator, and then finally how to quickly move through the narration process so you actually get an audiobook produced in a few weeks instead of six months.
By the way, many people post and wait six months to finally get an audition. With my books, we usually get our first interview within a few hours of posting the listing, and in our most recent case I think we had 12 auditions in the first 48 hours. We were able to select an enthusiastic narrator who was excited to work with 20 authors, realizing that was a chance to have quite a backlog of narration jobs lined up if she did a good job – which she did!
On to marketing!
When you have an e-book and then a paperback and then an audiobook, you have three different announcements of your book coming out. Yes, you can do it all at once, but if you split it up it gives your excuses to talk about it three times on your blog instead of just a one time.
Also you were showing potential readers you are willing to be available in whatever format they choose to enjoy your story, so even if you don’t ever sell a paperback, at least it’s there working for you and helping you get found. The same goes for an audiobook or an e-book. No reason not to be available in the format people want, especially if it’s not gonna cost you a lot (or any) of money.
Because we had the book available in lots of different formats, and because we had 20 different people all rowing in the same direction to make one book successful, we had 20 times the blogging power and 20 times the Facebook page effort. We did interviews with each other (which is basically a miniature blog tour.) We supported and encouraged each other.
But we did have one or two jerks.
Simply put, we had a few bad attitude folks who thought they were better than everybody else, and no I’m not talking about me. One of them actually went on to leave a bad review about the book they contributed to! So this person had shown themselves to be a jerk early on in the process, and their story really wasn’t that great, but I wanted to be nice to everybody. Lesson learned. In future anthologies, anybody who can’t get on board with the team gets escorted to the door – head first.
That is something that you are just gonna have to learn for yourself. People who are giving you headaches every day, that’s happening for a reason.
To me, it was more important to have 20 authors and more than 20 stories, than it was to get rid of the one stick in the mud. And to be honest, that’s still true. It’s better to have more authors helping than it is to have complete peace and harmony. Besides, you’re always going to have somebody who’s the least easy person to work with. Even if they’re all saints, one of them is gonna be a little less sainty than the others. Just know ahead of time, you don’t have to take any crap. Choose your philosophy and act accordingly.
Finally, what was the result?
The result was so much fun and so successful that I decided to do it every year. I think people are looking forward to the contest and the anthology each year. I look forward to volume three having upwards of 30 authors and maybe 50 stories. More is better.
At the same time, I’ve been working on another anthology! I was invited to join an anthology of New York Times best-selling authors and USA today bestselling authors for a murder mystery anthology.
I had never written a murder mystery before, but I was very interested in doing so, so I accepted the invitation. Each of us had to write a complete novel to be marketed as a set for $0.99. The whole goal was to make the USA today bestseller list or the New York Times bestseller list, and I just knew that working with that many other talented people, I would learn a lot.
In fact, what I learned was, most of the things I discovered creating my own anthology where correct. There were not any giant revelations in the “big” anthology, but those people had bigger newsletters and bigger reader bases, and they knew more about marking. I made friendships there just like I made friendships in my little short story anthology. But the biggest take away from everything was, working together as a team shows several things.
You’re not alone in the process.
You’re not alone in the writing and you’re not alone in the marketing.
You learn things from each other.
You can pick somebody up when their down and vice versa.
You get to share your ideas to a team and believe it or not, sometimes you’re not right with your idea and the team will hopefully tell you so.
We also learned about things like calling it scary versus calling it horror. Scary is relative. Different things scare different people. Spiders might scare Jenny, while something that goes bump in the night might scare me. However, scary is not a genre; horror is. Calling them scary stories in the subtitle was a mistake. Calling it a horror anthology takes that away.
This next thing is a small point, but it’s worth understanding. We made other mistakes that we were quick to catch and quick to fix. Each story started out with the title of the story, the link to the author’s website or Amazon page, the city and country in which the author lives (because some were UK and some were Canadian or Australian, and the spelling and punctuation is different for those countries, so we were trying to tell people hey it’s color not colour on purpose. It’s not a typo). By putting a message a the end of each story “Click here to read more by this author” some reviews said it felt like they were incomplete stories, designed to get you to go to the a book to read the rest of the story. That wasn’t the case, which shows you can’t always assume your reader is smart, but after a second early review mentioned it, we took those end links out anyway.
Also, we can only have so many names in the drop-down box on Amazon, but we were able to list all of them in the book description. That makes them almost as searchable on Amazon, but it also helps to be found on other search engines. It’s way cool to see your name in the book description.
There were lots of little things I learned between the first anthology and the second one, and I would list them all except the simple fact is, if you do this, you’ll discover your own unique problems – and you’re gonna probably come up with some really interesting solutions that I didn’t think of that probably work better than what we did.
Trust your team, and reach out when necessary.
Each author then creates an Amazon page and “claims” the anthology on their page. That was a bigger challenge for some than others, but everybody who really wanted to have that done was able to get it done. That’s also more ways for this book to be found, because when somebody goes to Allison Maruska’s site, the anthology is there. If they are reading The Fourth Descendant, they might want to check out her horror story in Dark Visions or The Box Under the Bed, and from that they discover a story by out Jenifer Ruff, go to Jenifer’s site, and buy Jenifer’s book. That kind of thing.
So it gets everyone a lot more exposure (and a lot more teamwork) but there was one more thing that came out of it – and this is not the most important thing, but it’s pretty important.
Many people who write books feel they are alone in the process.
When you create a private Facebook group to talk about your anthology with the other contributing authors, you really begin to feel like you’re part of a team – a group – and maybe even part of a family. Friendships grew out of that first anthology that exist a year later.
Writing need not be a solo effort.
The camaraderie created during the process, it’s a special thing. It’s fun and it’s dynamic. We’re still a team a year later. If you get a chance to participate in one of these anthologies, I highly recommend it.
Thanks for your thoughts, Dan, and thank YOU, readers and writers, for visiting!
Sometimes I have crazy ideas…but I’ve admitted that before.
When I started teaching a bit of 7th and 8th grade Creative Writing, I had this grand vision of compiling and polishing student stories, and maybe- why not?!- publishing our own little classroom anthology.
Then the school year started, and reality hit. I would have to duplicate myself to have enough time to take on that project.
However, I had already talked with Dan Alatorre, an author and fellow blogger who runs some great contests, (one of which I took part in,) AND compiles anthologies. He was willing to share the process he goes through when putting together an anthology of different authors.
It just happened that as I’m diving into my first NaNoWriMo, Dan got back to me with these great insights, which he was willing to share.
Take it away, Dan!
How To Put Together A Great Anthology, Part 1
I was recently asked to put together a blog post about doing an anthology. Actually, I was asked a little while ago and for some reason it took this long to get to it.
Because I was working on an anthology at the time! Actually, two anthologies.
Allow me to explain.
About two years ago, readers of my blog – mostly writers – suggested I should have a writing contest. I said no because I didn’t know anything about having a writing contest and wasn’t sure I wanted to do all that work. Would we need sponsors? We’d have to have prizes. That sounds expensive. What if nobody enters???
No, no, no, no, no.
But I did know that we had lots of talented people writers reading my blog, and it seemed like a writing contest might be a good idea to showcase some of that talent to the world…
We had a writing contest and the winner went on to publish the book.
And then we had another writing contest, and the winner of that went on to publish their book.
And then we have another writing contest, and the winner of that went on to publish their book.
Which reminded me that we had a lot of talent on my blog and that I should probably do something with it.
The beauty of the writing contest was not what I expected. It was a lot of fun and we got some recognition for my blog and some pride for myself, but we took people who had never been published before and they ended up getting published. But who were they before? Usually they were people who didn’t think their story was good enough for others to see – and after I announced it was the best story I read in the contest, they had the confidence to shop around to get it published. In other words, the little nudge they got made all the difference. And to play a role in that was hugely gratifying to me.
Somewhere in the midst of all that, I decided to go ahead and put together an anthology. The first would be horror-themed, with a horror-themed short story writing contest preceding it, and we – I – would take all the short stories from that and put them into a collection and publish it. This would be our first anthology, and we did it about a year ago. So we only had a few contests before we got full of ourselves – well, before I got full of myself – and decided to create a theme that we could publish in an anthology. It probably would’ve made sense to do them all that way, but what can I say? I didn’t think about it at the time. These things have a way of evolving.
That’s another lesson. When you are in the creative process, a lot of times that synergy creates other good ideas. Don’t be afraid to say yes to those ideas. Some will work and some will not, but you can quickly move on from the ones that don’t work. The ones that work out might be a source of pride forever. The number of new things I try on my blog each year is between six and 10. Most don’t work out. The one or two that do? They do well. That’s why tons of people read my blog.
Anyway, what’s the benefit of putting together an anthology?
Multiplication instead of division.
When a single author publishes a book, they are competing with every other book in the world. Now, it’s fair to say that a cowboy romance isn’t necessarily competing with a murder mystery, except they kinda do. Each book out there is taking up space that your book could be utilizing. Every other book out there is potentially grabbing eyeballs away from people seeing your book.
However, there are lots of ways to cross market with people who write in the same or similar genres you do, and let’s face it: somebody can read a book in about a week. Unless you can write 52 books a year, they’re probably going to read some other authors besides you – and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to buddy up with some of those book writers so you can refer your readers to them and so they can refer their readers to you. Most of you won’t do that because of jealousy and insecurity, but trust me – sharing is a smart thing to do.
Just about every author out there, including USA Today best selling authors, need to find more readers.
If someone has 1000 fans and you only have 10 including your cats, they still want your ten. They don’t wanna steal them from you, but they’re happy to network with you to expand both of your bases. That’s not true of everybody, but that’s true of most authors, so realize that. Those who learn to get out of their insecure comfort zone and cross market and network will be much more likely to succeed. Embrace that concept. One of the biggest takeaways in my contest and my anthologies was letting people know they are a better writer than they thought – and that other people would think so, too. Another was, this writing thing doesn’t have to be a solo effort.
Fast forward to us having a whole bunch of people in a writing contest, writing scary stories for an anthology, and at the end we have just that – a bunch of good stories that should be in in anthology. Also, from years of reading friends’ blogs and stories and stuff, I knew another dozen or so authors whose stories I thought should be in the anthology.
And the benefit would be this: instead of all of these people putting out books to compete against each other, they would have 20 or so people all marking and talking about and promoting the same book. That’s a double benefit. Fewer people competing and more people helping. Obviously, those who knew less would end up knowing more – about formatting, covers, marketing – all kinds of stuff.
And that has a multiplier effect. Frank’s audience wants to read his story, and so he pushes it to them. When they read his, maybe they flip around and find one from Allison and they read that. They potentially become fans of her work and go check out her other books.
Case in point, this actually happened. Because the lady who cuts my hair wanted to read my story, she also discovered Jenifer Ruff – and promptly bought two of Jenifer’s existing books.
So all the short stories were bundled and sold for $.99 (and occasionally free), as a marketing tactic to expose our work to 19 other audiences plus whatever ads we bought. Big or small, we need them all, right? If each author got us 1 review, that’s 20 reviews. With more reviews, we could get better ads and better results from those ads.
So there’s the rationale for doing it. Now, HOW exactly do you do it?
Well in my case, I almost fell into it. Once we had the writing contest, the people who entered said we should have a theme. That would make it more fun and more challenging. So, for the second contest, we created some kind of a theme. I don’t really even remember what it was. I could check but that sounds kind of like work.
But by the third contest I knew if we had the contest in July, I would have the winners by August, we could edit and publish an anthology shortly after that – which would be around October 1st. It seemed to make sense to go with a horror theme so we’d be releasing a scary book at the time people would be looking for those types of stories.
We had the contest, we picked a winner, and then we announced we were going to publish them in an anthology.
This is a bigger deal than you think.
For those of you who have been published, you know that is really just the start of a long, hard marketing road, but for a lot of people, they had never been published. They had no idea how to become published, and they were terrified that somebody might actually read their work.
So we… we… we… had a few challenges.
But the beauty was, by joining a team and having a leader – in this case, me – everybody understood we’re going to do certain things to make this successful.
Also, because they knew me from my blog, they saw me as a relatively nice guy who was instructional and helpful, who had helped several contest winners gain the confidence to get published… Seemed like the kind benevolent dictatorship an anthology project would need with a bunch of first timers.
End Part 1
Thanks for sharing the start of your journey, Dan. Stop by on Saturday for the second half and more on how to get an anthology rolling.
I’m a sucker for a good story, be it fiction, non-fiction, or something in between. Getting to read a great book before everyone else- that’s just a bonus!
My new friend, Vanessa Rasanen, was kind enough to let me be one of her early readers for her debut novel Soldier On, which she just released this week. (Congratulations, Vanessa!) She was also kind enough to make The Naptime Author a stop on her blog tour.
Today, she’ll share a glimpse into that wild and winding path known as Self-Publishing.
Thanks for visiting, Vanessa!
First off, I always like to hear about an author’s inspiration. Where did you come up with the idea for your novel?
I’ve been working on this story for so long the initial inspiration may be lost to my ever-worsening mom-brain. There may be some assumption from readers that my Afghanistan deployment setting is pulled from personal experience.
That assumption is correct.
I can’t deny it. Obviously, the characters and their backstory are not my own, but my experience with a military deployment*–and all my emotions that went with it–was a strong driver for the story.
My imagination ran from there.
(*Vanessa’s husband is a medivac pilot with the U.S. Army National Guard.)
Those sounds like some pretty powerful experiences to draw from. Once you had your story in mind, what did your writing process look like?
I think we all have this romanticized image of what it looks like to write a novel. Perhaps some authors fit well into that vision. I did when I first started getting the story down. We had two kids at the time, and I would get up at 5 A.M. a few days a week and drive to the only coffee shop open that early and write. I had a playlist of music–to help set the tone and get me into the scene–and I’d try to get words on the screen.
Coffee shops sound like great places to write. They aren’t. Not for me. I’m too distractible. The shop I frequented (closest to our house) had an awful layout, and every time someone came or went a blast of morning air would rush in. I had a hard time not people watching. It was hard to hit my word counts.
The story went on and off my proverbial shelf for years, and each time I picked it up, I honed my writing process. I’ve finally discovered what I need in order to write: a closed room in our basement in the early morning–sometimes as early as 3am, since our kids are also early risers.
I still have to have music (though the songs have changed a bit over the years). I am a plotter, absolutely. I can’t stand too messy of a draft, which makes sense given my day job as a data analyst and my background as an engineer. I have outlines and timelines and random plot ideas scattered across notebooks and scraps of paper.
Once I got the first draft done, I let it rest for a week, then jumped into self edits. This meant re-reading, starting from the end and editing backwards, checking for plot holes, revising phrasing, adding details where they lacked. I had a slew of beta readers who helped me find spots that need clarification or cleaning up, and fixed spots where a reader guessed the twist too early.
It’s not a glamorous process. It’s hard. It’s grueling. But it’s so rewarding!
I have to say, having read the story, I can see that all of that hard work paid off! So, what led you to choose self-publishing?
I had initially planned to get an agent and seek traditional publishing. I researched and made lists of agents to query. At one point I did submit it to a small publishing house. It didn’t pan out, and looking back, the book wasn’t ready. Not by a long-shot.
The book sat untouched for two years while I was battling postpartum depression. When I finally came back to it, I started looking at my publishing options again. The publishing world had changed a lot, too.
Did you have any doubts about changing directions?
I was hesitant to self-publish. I was. I was stuck in this mindset that self-publishing had this negative reputation–and it certainly does still have this reputation, unfortunately, in some circles.
As I met others who were going this route, though, I found it wasn’t just a fall-back option. It was the path I wanted for my own writing.
We laud and support small business owners all the time. We love to buy from friends and local families who run businesses on etsy or in their own shops. What I learned was there was a growing population of writers who were applying these entrepreneur skills to their writing and publishing.
As a self-publisher we own our own small business. We hire professionals to handle the pieces we may not have expertise in–designers, editors, proofreaders, etc. We write. We market. We network. We run our business. I love having full creative control over my work. I get to choose who I hire, what I write, and when I publish. It’s overwhelming at times, but I can’t imagine doing this another way.
That creative control is enticing, isn’t it? Now that you’ve gone through the process once, do you have any wisdom to share?
Overall, everything has gone fairly well. My biggest piece of advice is to roll with the punches as best you can. Nothing goes perfectly. Something will go wrong. You’ll hire the wrong freelancer. You’ll waste money on something you didn’t need. You’ll have people who don’t like your book.
Roll with it. I believe it was Chris Fox I saw who said “fail faster”. The faster you fail, the quicker you learn from your mistakes and can move forward.
What fantastic advice, Vanessa- thanks so much.
And many thanks to YOU, readers, for visiting!
As part of her book launch, Vanessa is hosting a giveaway! Check out these goodies:
Sometimes, I make questionable decisions. I have a tendency to get excited about new projects and pile ’em on.
Generally I talk with my husband, aka my “crazy filter,” and get his opinion on whether my new projects are a good idea or whether I’ll be weeping on his shoulder in a couple of weeks when I realize that I can’t do ten things on the same day. He’s good about being supportively realistic.
It might have been a good idea to chat with him before signing up for my first NaNoWriMo.
If you don’t know, “NaNoWriMo” stands for National Novel Writing Month. During the month of November, participants attempt to write a 50,000 word novel.
This means writing 1,667 words a day, every day of the month.
I’ve finished a longer book, but not at THAT speed.
Just where is this writing time going to fit into my life? I’m not sure. Somewhere between kids and teaching and correcting and choir and accompanying and Thanksgiving preparations…
Ah well. I like a challenge, and I’ve had my new story in mind for over a year now. I’m hoping that this push will get it out of my head and onto paper.
Just to share the fun, I’ve invited my 7th and 8th grade Creative Writing class to participate in an abbreviated form.
In case anyone is interested, here is the calendar I’ll be using with the kids, with daily word counts for three goal levels: 100, 200 or 300 words per day. Feel free to use it if you’re looking for a shorter writing challenge!
Writers, are any of you doing NaNoWriMo this year? Have you in the past? Do you have any wisdom to share?
During the twentieth century, the United States and others specially recruited bilingual speakers of obscure languages, then applying those skills in secret communications based on those languages. Among these, the story of the Navajo “Code Talkers” are probably best known. Theirs was a language with no alphabet or symbols, a language with such complex syntax and tonal qualities as to be unintelligible to the non-speaker. The military code based on such a language proved unbreakable in WWII. Japanese code breakers never got close.
The United States Marine Corps recruited some 4-500 Navajo speakers, who served in all six Marine divisions in the Pacific theater. Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Peleliu, Iwo Jima: Navajo code talkers took part in every assault conducted by the United States Marine Corps, from 1942 to ‘45.
The history of the Navajo code talkers of WWII is relatively well known, but by no means, unique. Indigenous Americans of other…
The mad rush of the school year has consumed our lives. Between keeping up with the kids’ homework and laundry and lunches, and managing teaching duties with the end of the first quarter looming ahead… well, let’s not think about all of that right now.
Fall break and family visits gave the Clare family excellent reasons for a little adventuring last week.
My husband kindly agreed to employ his photographic skills so that I could share our escape from the hustle and bustle. If you’d like, come along for a short tour of one of Washington’s jewels, Mount Rainier.
Rearing high as the tallest of the Cascade mountains, this quiet volcano’s snow-capped peak is impossible to miss when the sun is shining. (Clear days DO happen in western Washington…. occasionally. We should get another one in about five or six months.)
Rainier is nestled in the center of its own National Park. This protected status aids in keeping it and the surrounding wilderness beautiful, but also limits access points.
For this visit, we decided to use the Nisqually entrance and head to Paradise.
Paradise is the second highest point to which Rainier’s visitors can drive. (“Sunrise” is the highest.) Sweeping views of hill and valley awe passengers in the vehicle, while the drop-offs keep the driver focused and white-knuckled.
If attending to the road becomes stressful, there are some nice options for a break.
Pull-offs line the roadside with access to trails, some leading into deeper wilderness and some to views that are no less beautiful for being close to the road. One such is Narada Falls, which stretches its lacy veil across the rocks and plummets far down below the range of the camera’s lens.
The stops are enticing, but we really came to see the end of the road.
The “alpine garden” of Paradise looks a bit different in October than when we’ve come earlier in the year. The purples and pinks and golds of lupines and daisies and all of the other flowers that cover the meadows during the brief summer have long gone to seed.
Instead, we found the rich, warm colors of autumn.
Our little party wasn’t ready to venture too far on the trails- even our brief hikes in the high elevation reminded us that we didn’t walk nearly as far this summer as we’d intended to.
We passed the sign for the “romantic” Dead Horse Creek Trail, the spot where my husband proposed thirteen years ago, but it wasn’t the time for a revisit.
Instead, we took in some new views down the road at the well-named Reflection Lakes.
I could have spent a week or two reflecting by those lakes myself, but sleepy small people with tired feet needed attention too. It was time to descend.
I wish we could have managed to bottle a little of Rainier’s peaceful quiet and sweet-smelling air to carry along. Still, as we headed home, one of my favorite bits of “mountain poetry” sang in my ears.
I lift up my eyes to the hills— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
Psalm 121: 1-2
Returning to the flatlands and the craziness of life, it’s good to revisit these images, and lift my eyes to those hills again.
I hope you enjoyed visiting them with me!
Where do you love to go (or wish you could go!) when life becomes overwhelming?
There are plenty of things to poke fun at in Minnesota.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the state of my birth- even after years away, it still feels like home. But just as it’s easy to give a beloved family member a hard time for his quirks, it’s easy to laugh at the little absurdities of a familiar place.
Of course, it’s not comfortable for someone ELSE to poke fun at your family…or your home.
Thus, my first instinct is to cringe when the big movie companies attempt to set films in the Midwest.
Maybe you remember the movie that came out a few years back, “New in Town”? It was set in New Ulm, MN.
I spent a considerable amount of time in New Ulm, and no, I never met a cow in the road. Still, the little river town has plenty of quirks.
The movie missed them all.
Sure, they had a lot of jokes about snow, and yes, Minnesota gets a bit chilly. (Ok, fine. It’s cold enough that your snot freezes when you venture outdoors in winter. It toughens you up!)
The problem is, the “it’s cold in the north!” gag could be applied to thousands of locations.
New Ulm is fairly distinctive, as little Minnesota towns go. It has German immigrant roots, and it’s pretty proud of its heritage- hence the big glockenspiel downtown and the statue of Herman the German on the hill.
It also completely closes down by 8pm, so college kids, desperate for excitement, used to cruise around the aisles of the 24 hour Hy-Vee grocery store. (Rumor has it they even have a Wal-Mart now. Options!)
In choosing a setting for “New In Town,” the film’s writers chose a place that has some interesting quirks, but having never been there, they only took easy shots.
“Hey! Let’s talk about snow! Oooh, and at least one character’s gotta have that goofy Midwest accent!”
I don’t imagine that these decisions affected the success of the film. Plenty of friends with New Ulm connections saw it and enjoyed it.
I didn’t come out of it outraged, just a bit disappointed- disappointed, and frightened.
You see, while I’ve visited most of the of the lower 48 states, I haven’t had much chance to leave the country.
We made the occasional trip up over the border to Canada. These weren’t extensive, more along the lines of “Hey! I went shopping in Canada! Culture!!!”
The trip to Aruba for our honeymoon was amazing, and we were excited to get local money and go to local shops and sites rather than the touristy places.
It didn’t go quite like we planned. The poor kid at the store where we bought provisions was completely flummoxed when we didn’t hand him American dollars. He figured out how to make proper change…eventually.
Aside from a very seasick trip to Victoria, British Columbia, that’s it.
Now, here I am, trying to produce a realistic story, set in an era I don’t live in, and on a continent I’ve never visited.
I’ve tried, oh how I’ve tried, to do it well.
I’ve pored over maps and histories so that my characters are where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be.
I’ve lost count of the number of first-hand sources I’ve read to get the flavor of the times and places.
I’ve spent hours agonizing over cadences of speech and proper word usage. (I had no idea that ‘tea’ could mean so many different things!)
I’ve found travel books to get an idea for landscapes and of construction materials common to different areas.
I’ve checked locations of railway lines.
I’ve checked native plants and when they’d be blooming.
I’ve checked weather conditions… and so on.
While I keep telling myself that I’ve done the work and it should be fine, I still have this sinking feeling that if anyone who lives in any of the areas I write about reads this book, they’ll KNOW.
They’ll know that I’m writing as an outsider.
Here’s where the fear rears its ugly head: will my attempts be taken as they are meant, as an homage to the courage and suffering of the past, though perhaps an imperfect one?
I hope so.
Maybe next time I just need to come up with an exciting plot set in a corn field.
While I first published a version of this post more than a year ago, as I’ve actually set a publication date for myself, the concerns are back in full force!
Any thoughts, writers? How do you cope with writing in unfamiliar settings? (Or do you just avoid it?!)